Sunday, January 26, 2014

What a journey

Musical Journey, Part II.  I know, it's kind of lame to do this twice, especially when I don't have a lot of interesting things to say about music. But there's SOMETHING here--something of interest in the way Youtube creates constellations of musics and links. And until I figure out how to express that, I'm going to keep this going. Or until I get bored. Maybe what it's missing is a running commentary. Let's give that a go.

Today's starter: The White Stripes. "Seven Nation Army." The video's giving me a headache. The mis-en-abyme thing is very... distracting.

Alien Ant Farm. "Smooth Criminal." Well, we did the Michael Jackson original last time. It's... okay. Clearly a tribute to Jackson, but the original made it clear that it was about Jackson's performance as much as the music, and these guys... the music's great, but they can't match him move-wise. It feels very 2001 alt-rock, what with the punk kid dancing, and a monkey for no apparent reason.

Fall Out Boy. Dance, Dance. 2005. Oh, THAT's this song. Up until about 2008, all the music I listened to was basically what was ever on the radio, or what someone else was listening to. So I knew of this song, since it was playing everywhere back then, but I had no idea what it was called. I guess the video's trying to invoke the "feel" of a high school dance--awkwardness vying with uncertain sexuality. Or something. I didn't go to very many high school dances. Awkwardness tended to trump everything else.

Panic! at the Disco. "I Write Sins, not Tragedies." 2006. Oh, THAT's this song. Repeat above statement. I have a feeling I'm going to be saying that a lot. So... I guess the song is about a groom who finds out his bride has been cheating on him, and the video is about the same thing, only with a circus cabaret. Songs by all guy bands tend to have a very male-centric view, don't they? In the next video, watch me notice how there appears to be a connection between music and sexualization.

The Killers. "Mr Brightside."2003.  Okay, this one I know, though largely because I slurred through it while playing Rockband at a party once. It's basically the same song as "I Write Sins, not Tragedies," in terms of themes at least: male protagonist goes through hell as a result of female infidelity. I think the fear that the one we love doesn't feel the same way we do is fairly universal, but it becomes weird when situated in issues of trust and possession. The video also has a cabaret vibe, although burlesque is closer. And Eric Roberts is there, for some reason. I love the checkers match between him and the male lead.

Blink-182. "I Miss You." 2003. There's a blast from the past. My youngest brother was a big Blink 182 fan. So was the middle one, I think. And since most of the songs on my computer at the time were chosen by them, that meant I heard a lot of them. They're okay. They felt a little like they were going for punk and hit juvenile pranksters, but that also describes 90% of all teenage boys I've ever known. (Although they were in their late 20s to 30s at the time, so that's less an excuse.) This song is sweeter than a lot of their ensemble, but yeesh that's a voyeuristic lesbian kiss.

Oaisis. "Wonderwall." 1995. Man, we jumped back in time there. This is another one I recognize, as it was a song I played it on loop while I was going through the last dungeons of Grandia, which means it's closely associated with increasingly difficult fights and dungeons with "the dungeon is a living organism" sort of theme. As for the video: creepy clowns? Spinning cameras? Ick. But oddly, the most disconcerting thing was the swinging saws.

REM. "Losing My Religion." 1991. I guess I'm just going to be stuck in the 90s now. At least I know this song. It's fine, I guess. The singing part isn't quite catchy enough for my tastes; too close to regular speech, if that makes any sense. The video is kind of a hodge-podge of religious iconography, and I think I like it for the weird mix of earnestness and tongue-in-cheek.

No Doubt. "Don't Speak." 1996. Wikipedia would have me believe that this song was composed by Gwen Stefani (who is in her forties, which amazes me. When did everything from my teenage years get so old?) regarding her break-up with bandmate Kanal. I know it's common for singers to write songs about their personal lives, and it gets some really emotional songs, but there's also a uncomfortable edge to such music, a mix of private and public knowledge, and putting your life on display. Though I suppose a lot of art is like that, when you get down to it. An added weird factor is that Kanal stays with the band, which makes the video a mix of artifice and, presumably, some real tension. And the band has been together (with some hiatuses) for decades, so I guess it works for them.

Toni Braxton. "Unbreak My Heart." 1996. Well, this certainly took a turn from Alien Ant Farm. The video's very much what the song suggests it would be, featuring Braxton and the collapse of her relationship with a man who doesn't seem to own very many shirts. I like that one of the couple activities is Twister. Twister has to be the dirtiest all-ages game. I can't say Braxton ever made much of a ripple on my music awareness ocean, but I know this song--if for no other reason that it seems to get recycled for romance-oriented storylines every now and then.

Whitney Houston. 1992. "I Will Always Love You." Apparently, the original version is by Dolly Parton. Huh. They're not singers I associate with a lot of overlap. Although I suppose this song calls on similar strengths of voice that they both possess. The video has clips from the Bodyguard, for obvious reasons. It was produced by David Foster, which seems to be what it shares in common with Un-break my Heart. I just listened to it, and I don't remember a word of it beyond the obvious part, the chorus.

Righteous Brothers. "Unchained Melodies." 1955. And there's another weird turn. I guess I've hit a "songs from romantic scenes" patch. Considering the accompanying video is Ghost, I guess there's not a lot of doubt. I like Demi Moore's haircut here. Very 80s/90s, but it suits. I suppose I should watch Ghost at some point. It's one of those movies that's been copied so many times in pop culture that the surrounding paratext has outshouted the original source material.

John Lennon. "Imagine." I want it understood that my choices here included "Nothing Compares to You," "Stand By Me," "The Power of Love," and "Take My Breath Away." This was the only way out--although given that I'm now going to be stuck in Beatles era, it may be a cure that's worse than the disease. I don't think I've got anything to add to Imagine that hasn't been already said, content-wise. Personally, I'll remember it for being the number one entry in CBC's top songs of the millenium list circa 2000. I was still prepping for the driver's test then, so I spent a lot of time ferrying my folks around. At some point, I was waiting for one parent or the other, and this list started, and I slowly listened my way through. Funny the things you remember.

Louis Armstrong. "What a Wonderful World." Oh, not Beatles. Just general sentimentality, then. It works though. Armstrong has an amazingly expressive face. I wonder if the nature of Youtube is to eventually gravitate towards these massively popular, vaguely feel-good (I say vaguely because "Imagine" isn't really a feel-good song, and yet it is), nostalgia-trip songs.

Simon & Garfunkel. "The Sound of Silence." I can't hear this song without thinking of the Simpsons parody. "Hello Grandpa, my old friend. Your busy day is at an end. Your exploits have been sad and boring. They tell a tale that's worth ignoring. When you're alone, the words of your story will echo down the rest-home hall. 'Cause no one at all, can stand the sound of Grandpa." Its brevity means that it's one of the more underrated Simpsons songs, but I think it's top shelf, all the way. The video is a 1981 performance--hugely massive crowd. Kind of humbling.

Neil Young. "Heart of Gold." All right, I maybe should have stayed in the realm of romance films. Speaking of pop culture allusions, it probably says a lot about me that this song makes me think about Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, instead of a the other way around. He first performed it in 1971, when he was 26. 26! And now I'm the one who feels like he's growing old.

Kansas. "Dust in the Wind." Fun fact: I sang this in choral class in high school. Which my parents made me take, for the extra credit. Which I didn't need, because I was already getting an extra credit from my piano lessons. And because I had a 94% average. And I was the only male in my class taking it, which did not help my social rep. On the other hand, I really liked singing. Catch 22. This song is... interesting, because during the instrumental part, an  Au Capella version can only compensate by going "oooooh" in different notes. It's kind of fun.

Toto. "Africa." 1982. This is another song I basically only know the chorus to. Man, is this a product of its time. I love that a portion of the floor is just labeled "Africa," in case you missed the point of the song. He pulls out a book... and its title is Africa. And now it's burning. And he's sitting on a giant version of it. Sometimes, the less subtle the symbolism, the less sense it makes.

A-ha. "Take on me." Quote the wikipedia: "Take on me" is a song by Norwegian synth pop band A-ha. Truly, the 80s were a magical time for such thing to exist. Their farewell concert tour was called "Ending on a High Note," which is a truly awe-inspiring pun. I kind of dig the animated comic book thing that the video does.

Twisted Sister. "We're Not Going to Take It." The verbally abusive father in this video is the best thing. Everything about him is ridiculous and over the top, from his exaggerated rage to his obnoxious knocking down shelves. I have to say, I never really went through a rebellious youth phase. Not that I've got a particular respect for older authority. Rather, it just seemed to me that the kind of rebellion songs like this were selling was just a younger authority. Are you rocking hard enough? ARE YOU? No? Well, then, you're just a square. ...Okay, calling yourself a square in this context was the most square way I could have phrased that. But the whole "rebel against conformity by doing what we do" always bugged me. Fun video, though. I love the ending: "This time, I WON'T stand near and window, and THEN---" and then he gets tossed through a house wall, as you do.

Europe. "The Final Countdown." I was hoping I'd be able to steer this back to modern times via an Arrested Development connection. It doesn't look like that's going to happen. Still, those are some righteous mullets. And if you like fireworks with your concert, man, is this the song for you.

Van Halen. "Jump." 1983. It was apparently inspired by a martial arts guy, which is a field you don't hear of often when it comes to Western musical inspiration. Paul Anka apparently did a cover, which sounds like a good time. And it was the opening game sound of the Winnipeg Jets, despite the fact that jumping with skates on is an inherently bad idea.

Bryan Adams. "Summer of 69." Yet another classic. Bryan Adams was a singer that everyone in my family--growing up at least--was sort of mildly in favor of, so he got a lot of play in the household. Fun fact: if you were a teenager in 1969, you're at least 45 now. That drive-in movie looks like fun. I'm not exactly sure why there's an apple fight in the middle of the song. Big Cider probably forced their hand.

Nickelback. "Rockstar." Well, I made it out of the classics. No offense to Nickelback, but... well, it's no "Final Countdown."  It's kind of a goofy song, but the montage of celebrities mixed with average off the street folk (and they show you the street, to make sure you get it) is nice and pleasant. It's lightyears away from Twisted Sister-style rock, but it has its place too, I think. And the whole song is about the stereotype of the rockstar, and the commodification, so it's only fitting that it's a rockstar that has had some of the rock edges smoothed down. (Although to paraphrase the Incredibles, if everyone's a rockstar, no one's a rockstar.)

Puddle of Mudd. "She Hates Me." Aaaaaand we're back where we started, with a disgruntled youth singing about his sour girlfriend. I like that this one is kind of a caricature of rage. I've got a vivid memory of watching this on a student lounge TV while I was waiting for class to start.

Hey, we really are back where we started--one of the next options is Alien Ant Farm's Smooth Criminal! What a journey we've been on. And when you've been through something like this with someone, you never want to see them again. (Simpsons reference.)

Later Days.

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