Categories
Sound Salvation

Four-Letter Words

Four-Letter Words

If you saw this title and worried about profanity, never fear: Outside a couple of selections, this is a pretty clean listing; title-wise, the most scandalous word you’re going to see is the name of Beelzebub’s stomping grounds.

Nope, this list is purely literal: Every song included has a title comprised of just one word made up of four letters.

Credit where due: I was inspired by the great Richard Blade on putting this one together. On his show on Sirius XM’s 1st Wave, he happened to play two of these back-to-back and mused that it made for a mini version of his Themed Thursday feature, during which he plays a handful of songs that – like this column and its playlists – all have something in common.

“Stop” – Jane’s Addiction

There’s a certain irony to starting a playlist with “Stop,” but the Jane’s Addiction classic has one of the greatest spoken-word intros in the history of music, so it just sounds right at the start of a playlist.

“Zero” – The Smashing Pumpkins

One of two songs with this title to make the playlist. The Pumpkins became massively popular in the era of this song, so much so that they were subject to a lot of indie disdain, but the best stuff from “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness” – this one included – has aged very well.

“Rope” – Foo Fighters

One of two songs from one of the indisputable greatest live bands working today. If you’ve never considered yourself anything more than a casual fan of Dave Grohl and co., go see them live – they’ll convert you.

“Rise” – Public Image Ltd.

This high-concept, generic-themed album – titled “Album,” or, if you bought it in non-LP formats, “Cassette” or “Compact Disc” – could have put several songs onto this playlist, as in keeping with the concept, all songs were limited to one-word titles, several of which were four letters long. But this one is a standout in the overall PiL catalogue, and one of John Lydon’s most enduring songs.

“Cars” – Gary Numan

“Burn” – The Cure

First of two songs from Robert Smith and co. on this list, both of which are relatively obscure non-singles. This one was written and recorded for the soundtrack of the 1994 film “The Crow,” and while it is very memorable to fans of that film (and the band), it was never a single.

“Evil” – Interpol

“Laid” – James

This beautiful, brilliant and short song is amongst my all-time favorites; when it was initially released, I listened to nothing but this song on repeat for a week. It still bears repeating on a regular basis.

“Kiss” – Prince

“Lies” – Thompson Twins

“Maps” – Yeah Yeah Yeahs

First of two songs on the list for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and one of the most beautiful ballads of the 20 years.

“Stay” – Oingo Boingo

People tend to focus on the more frenetic, upbeat side of Oingo Boingo, but this moodier, more downtempo song has always been one of my favorites from the band – and indeed, from throughout Danny Elfman’s stellar songbook of compositions. I mean, I like “Dead Man’s Party,” too, but there’s something irresistible about the melancholy hook of this song: “Girl, don’t you go, won’t you stay with me one more day if we get the room one more night?”

“Hell” – Squirrel Nut Zippers

“Fool” – ALL

Just a couple of minutes of pop-punk perfection and easily my favorite ALL song, among the first with the band’s second lead singer, Scott Reynolds. I recently had the pleasure of dancing to this with one of the people who introduced me to the band at her wedding.

“Rush” – Big Audio Dynamite

“Push” – The Cure

The second Cure song, this album track from 1985’s “The Head on the Door” absolutely could have followed “In Between Days” and “Close to Me” as the third single from that album – but didn’t. (The same is true of that album’s gorgeous “A Night Like This,” but that wouldn’t fit this theme.)

“Zero” – Yeah Yeah Yeahs

“Rent” – Pet Shop Boys

“Stan” – Eminem

There’s a certain irony to Eminem following the Pet Shop Boys, whose 2001 song “The Night I Fell in Love” is a very thinly veiled tale of a young male fan having an affair with the rapper, whose character pieces have occasionally had homophobic themes. The 2001 Pet Shop Boys song – which Eminem responded to on 2003’s bootleg track “Canibitch” – even name-checks “Stan.” But really, the motivation for placing these two songs together is more artistic than trivial; they simply sound really good together.

“Jump” – Kris Kross

“Slam” – Onyx

“Walk” – Foo Figfters

“Fame” – David Bowie

“Icky” – They Might Be Giants

For such a prolific band – this track comes from their 16th studio album, 2013’s “Nanobots” – They Might Be Giants have a significant dearth of four-letter titles. I could only come up with one more, the classic “Dead” from 1990’s seminal “Flood,” coming up in a few more tracks.

“Roam” – The B-52’s

There’s a significant backlash against the B-52’s “Cosmic Thing” album – their 1989 commercial breakthrough and most popular album to date. I’ve heard many people who happily drop “down, down” with “Rock Lobster” and enjoy living in their own “Private Idaho” respond with indifference or outright hatred to “Love Shack,” and I don’t see a significant difference, save for the production on “Cosmic Thing” being a bit more polished. The tracks are split, production-wise between Don Was of Was (Not Was), who handled the first two singles, “Channel Z” and “Love Shack,” and Chic’s Nile Rogers, who did most of the rest of the album, including this amazing, pure pop single.

“True” – Spandau Ballet

“Luka” – Suzanne Vega

“Stay” – Shakespeare’s Sister

“Dead” – They Might Be Giants

“Yoda” – “Weird Al” Yankovic

Sure, I could’ve gone with the Kinks’ original, “Lola,” but where’s the fun in that? OK, it’s an amazing song, yes, and plenty of fun on its own. But we’re at the end of the list, and this is the standard last song performed at every “Weird Al” show, so it’s absolutely the best way possible to wrap up this playlist.

Categories
Sound Salvation

2020 on Fire

2020 on Fire

I’ve been working on this playlist for several weeks, as the protests following the death of George Floyd have continued and the battle for social and racial justice rages on, as the Black Lives Matter movement continues to win more and more support, as more and more people have had enough of institutional racism.

Here, then, is something of a soundtrack for this modern age, made up of music old and new, all of which continues to fight the good fight.

“White People for Peace” — Against Me!

Against Me! has been a protest band from the very start, so what better place to start than this track from 2007’s landmark “New Wave” album, a protest song about singing protest songs? The title has never been more relevant, with the number of white people who’ve finally had enough of racism being a driving force as part of the current protest movement.

“Ghost Town” — The Specials

This song was written and released during a different series of riots — 1980 in the UK was rife — but it almost feels more timely now, with COVID-19 making all of our towns even more like ghost towns, and absolutely, “bands don’t play no more.”

“The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” — Gil Scott-Heron

The prescience of Gil Scott-Heron’s seminal song may seem somewhat questionable now. The revolution is being televised… and streamed. But the message is really that revolutions don’t happen from your sofa.

“What’s Going On” — Marvin Gaye

“This is America” — Childish Gambino

Did the current movement start here, with this utterly prescient song and video from Donald Glover? There’s an argument to be made that it did, with this song debuting at No. 1 on the Billboard chart and sweeping the Grammy Awards, it certainly did as much to sharpen focus and draw attention to what’s happening than virtually anything else in pop culture.

“Polaroid Baby” — Bratmobile

“Bang! Bang!” — Le Tigre

One of many songs of this list to reference previous police killings of unarmed black men, this song includes “newcaster” voiceovers directly discussing the killing of Amadou Diallo in New York City in 1999. The countdown to 41 reflects the number of shots fired at Diallo, 19 of which hit him.

“Make America Great Again” — Pussy Riot

Released two weeks before Donald Trump was elected president, this song envisioned what the world would be like under his rule. It’s sadly and eerily accurate.

“White Privilege II” — Macklemore & Ryan Lewis feat. Jamila Woods

Macklemore is never given enough credit for what he says. Listen closely to all 8:45 of this song, in which he analyzes his own privilege, the way other white people react to him and weighs all of that against his own desire for change. This is required listening.

“Hands Up” — Daye Jack feat. Killer Mike

“Fuck tha Police” — N.W.A.

“Fight the Power” — Public Enemy

“Sound of da Police” — KRS-One

Of course, this list would be incomplete without these three seminal hip-hop classics, but I wanted to take a moment to update on some things happening with these artists today.

N.W.A.’s Ice Cube — who has, of course, become a hugely successful actor, artist and entrepreneur — has been advocating for “A Contract with Black America,” a document that represents “a complete paradigm shift in how we run our institutions and operate our country,” which outlines ways to combat racism including education, legislation and police reform. Follow @icecube on Twitter to keep up with the developments.

Public Enemy, meanwhile, recorded an updated version of “Fight the Power” that kicked off the recent BET Awards, with new verses from Nas, Rapsody and Black Thought honoring recent victims George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Check it out at www.youtube.com/watch?v=sHQolYuO6Ew.

“Baltimore” — Prince

Sometimes it seems as though, much as there is a “Simpsons” reference to fit almost all occasions, that there is likewise a Prince song to pair with virtually any sentiment. Prince wrote this one in response to the 2015 death of Freddie Gray.

“(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang” — Heaven 17

“Youth Against Fascism” — Sonic Youth

“American Idiot” — Green Day

As the current president edges the country closer to a fascist state than ever before, it’s noteworthy to consider that musicians have been predicting and agitating against this slide to the right for decades, from Heaven 17 at the dawn of the Reagan era and Sonic Youth at the tail end of the George H. W. Bush presidency to Green Day’s brilliant concept album taking on the George W. Bush administration.

“Clampdown” — The Clash

The only band I allowed two songs on this list, and honestly, I could have included a half-dozen others. Once known as “the only band that matters,” the Clash made a career of fighting for social justice in song. Dating to 1979’s seminal “London Calling” album — one of the very best albums ever made — this is yet another song that sounds eerily prescient today, so much so that Beto O’Rourke used it in his aborted presidential campaign.

“I Wanna Riot” — Rancid

“Don’t Pray on Me” — Bad Religion

“American Crisis” — Bob Mould

The newest song on this list, the great Bob Mould has been speaking out through music for decades, and he’s continuing in 2020. “I never thought I’d see this bullshit again/To come of age in the ’80s was bad enough/We were marginalized and demonized/I watched a lot of my generation die/Welcome back to American crisis,” he opens before continuing to rail against “evangelical ISIS” and “a fucked-up USA.” He’s tired, but unbowed.

“The Only Good Fascist is a Very Dead Fascist” — Propagandhi

“Nazi Punks Fuck Off” — Dead Kennedys

“If the Kids Are United” — Sham 69

An uplifting message? Yes, because overall, wheat’s being fought for is an uplifting goal, and it’s important that those who are doing the fighting remember to stand together as one and to never be divided.

“Know Your Rights” — The Clash

“All You Fascists” — Billy Bragg & Wilco

From the vaunted “Mermaid Avenue” sessions, this is a song that goes some distance to illustrating how far back these issues go. The song was recorded for 2000’s “Mermaid Avenue Vol. 2,” but the genesis of the project was a book of unused lyrics by the legendary folk singer Woody Guthrie — writer of, among other things, “This Land is Your Land” — that were unearthed by his daughter and handed to British folk singer Billy Bragg, who brought the great American band Wilco in on the project. Guthrie wrote these lyrics in 1942, while the U.S. was fighting fascism in World War II.

“Riot Van” — Arctic Monkeys

“Freedom” — Beyonce feat. Kendrick Lamar

I wanted to end things on an uplifting vibe, and this gospel-tinged rave by Beyonce fits the bill. “I break chains all by myself/Won’t let my freedom rot in hell/Hey! I’ma keep running/’Cause a winner don’t quit on themselves,” she sings, and that’s a message we can all do with. Keep up the fight.

Categories
Sound Salvation

Covid-19

Covid-19

Sound Salvation began as a radio show on a now-defunct alt-rock station out of Fort Walton Beach, Florida. My dear friend Chris Wilkes, a longtime concert promoter who’s been the talent buyer for Pensacola’s Vinyl Music Hall since its inception, and I, a veteran of writing about music and entertainment for more than two decades, were recruited to create a show by former program director and all around great guy Matt Stone. Matt had caught us passionately discussing music and showing off our nigh-bottomless reservoirs of musical trivia on Facebook, and thought there could be a show in it.

We hit upon the idea of themed playlists pretty quickly. Rather than just have a seemingly random collection of songs, we’d find some way for each show to feature an overall connection. This could be as simple as “songs about cars” or holiday shows to more esoteric topics such as songs featuring guest appearances or tracing the history, lineage and influence of an act, such as the Husker Du-themed show we did following the passing of Grant Hart.

As the show aired on Sundays, we hit on the name “Sound Salvation,” taking a page from Elvis Costello’s “Radio Radio” — music being our church, in a sense.

We had a blast doing the show and were disappointed when, some months after Matt left the station, the station left us. (And not too long after, changed format.)

But the dedication to themed playlists has remained. I enjoyed putting them together, picking songs (then, in conjunction with Chris), setting them up in the best possible playing sequence and talking about them to an audience, hopefully introducing people to new and exciting sounds. Since the show ended, I’ve continued the hobby here and there, making occasional new playlists and sharing them with friends.

Now we find ourselves in the age of the coronapocalypse, and music is one of our only means of connection in a world where we aren’t supposed to get physically close to anyone and there’s little to do outside the home but buy groceries. It’s a perfect time to bring Sound Salvation to a wider audience via the Internet, albeit in a different form.

So, with Chris’ blessing, I’m doing just that. Twice a week, I’ll present a new themed playlist with some accompanying text talking about the theme and a few key bits of business on some of the acts and songs therein. I may delve back into some topics we covered on the old show, now no longer encumbered by a need to keep the show (quite broadly) within the station’s alt-rock format. But mostly, I’ll tackle new topics and new ideas.

I’m starting by addressing the elephant in the room: The ‘Rona. Just putting together a list of songs that deal with illness, in title or in content, would be easy enough, but I wanted to address more about what this particular virus is bringing to the world; not just disease but the “social distancing” of it all — the isolation and loneliness, the inability to hug or shake hands, the constant handwashing, the boredom … all of it.

I think this collection of songs does that without getting ponderous or exacerbating the situation — after all, it still has to be worth a listen and hopefully offer some respite, too. So here is it, the COVID-19 playlist.

Mudhoney — “Touch Me I’m Sick”

I mean, it’s right there. Mudhoney’s greatest song advocates that you do exactly what you SHOULD NOT DO right now. If someone around you is sick, get some gloves, wash your hands and isolate. And rock out to this amazing song.

Nirvana — “Stay Away”

Joy Division — “Isolation”

Depeche Mode — “Shake the Disease”

When everyone was doing those “wash your hands to a song” graphics, I couldn’t believe nobody had hit on this one before me. The title is obvious, but it’s also all about distance and isolation, albeit more on a romantic level. For those old enough to remember the original release in the middle of the AIDS epidemic, 35 years ago, who read those times into the song, this will be all too familiar.

Ramones — “I Just Wanna Have Something to Do”

You’re getting bored, right? So’s everyone. This should be the anthem of the quarantine.

The Smiths — “Hand in Glove”

Could’ve gone with “Still Ill,” but the Smiths’ brilliant debut single works on multiple levels for this theme. Not only is the title something you really must be doing if you’ve got to go out and touch, say, an ATM screen or a checkout device at the pharmacy, the lyrical theme, in Morrissey’s own words, is “complete loneliness.” Yes, it’s a recurring theme for miserable ol’ Steven Patrick, but nobody does it better.

Matthew Sweet — “Sick of Myself”

This one’s really all in the title. But any excuse to play this power pop gem is a good one.

Stubborn All-Stars — “Wash Away Evil”

Do you know there are surprisingly few songs about washing or scrubbing? Maybe that’ll change in the near future. But this soulful number from Stubborn All-Stars’ sadly overlooked 1999 album, “Nex Music,” would be a standout even in a more populous lyrical field.

The Magnetic Fields — ” ’92: Weird Diseases”

MGMT — “Mystery Disease”

Sometimes when I’m putting these together, I’ll throw in a few Google searches on relevant topics and come across things that are new to me, too. While I was certainly familiar with both bands before, I didn’t know these particular tracks, but I quickly came to really love them, especially the Magnetic Fields track from the ambitious 2017 concept album, “50 Song Memoir,” begun on frontman Stephin Merritt’s 50th birthday and encompassing an autobiographical song for each year of his life.

Tame Impala — “Solitude is Bliss”

Phantogram — “Bill Murray”

I’m not sure why Phantogram titled this ode to loneliness for American treasure Bill Murray, but if I had to hazard a guess, it has something to do with Sofia Coppola’s classic 2003 film, “Lost in Translation.”

Buzzcocks — “Why Can’t I Touch It”

This is where Spotify’s feature that shows you what your friends are listening to comes in handy. While I was working on this playlist, this song popped in my feed courtesy of my old friend, Amazing Royal Crowns frontman Jason Kendall. I was happy for the reminder.

Paul Simon — “The Boy in the Bubble”

Laurie Anderson — “Language is a Virus”

I probably hadn’t heard this 1986 avant-garde classic since 1986, when it was something of a fixture on MTV, but the ‘Rona brought it roaring back to mind, and I’m glad it did.

KMFDM — “Virus (12″ Mix Edit)”

Oingo Boingo — “No One Lives Forever”

As I write this, there’s literally a full moon in the sky. I don’t know whether it’s the hour of the wolf, but I don’t want to die, so sorry, Danny Elfman, I won’t be having a party. Still, this cheerful tune reminds us to enjoy life while we can.

The Police — “So Lonely”

Initially, I had the seemingly more obvious “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” in the mix, but that song really only fits in title alone, where this gem off the band’s debut, 1978’s “Outlandos d’Amour,” speaks more to today’s sense of distance.

Cake — “I Will Survive”

We have to end on a bright note, right? Cake’s take on the Gloria Gaynor classic adds a sardonic edge, so it’s not TOO upbeat, but still, we persevere.