Monthly Obsessions – April 2023

Kicking off this past month with a stadium-sized banger in “To the Top” by Twin Shadow. I’ve got two other favorite songs of his, “Too Many Colors” and “Beg for the Night,” both of which are quieter – pensive, even. His husky voice really has range.

“Sedona” is a jangly favorite revisited. I like its Old West vibes and slightly twangy guitar line. I had forgotten the song existed until the lyrics came back to me – as so often happens – and I rediscovered it. I love when that happens. I feel like I’m reopening a treasure box.

The Who kind of turned into a comfort band this month. “Baba O’Riley” is just such a good song. I’ve written extensively about it, here and elsewhere, so I don’t know what more there is to say. Other than that I reach for the song when I need something beautiful. And “Won’t Get Fooled Again” has been memed to death, but that howling yeeeaaahhhhh is pure rock’n’roll.

I don’t know if “So Weird” by Veruca Salt will show up on the playlist, but it was another song on repeat. I like the beginning of the song in particular. The guitar is a slow, careful drone that eventually explodes, while the drums are incredibly heavy. I reach for this song when I need not to care.

What are your comfort songs?

Covers Corner: “Whole Wide World” by Billie Joe Armstrong

One of my favorite songs is “Whole Wide World” by Wreckless Eric. It’s deceptively slow punk with a chugging start and soft vocals that crash into the chorus. The chorus itself has the signature sneer of punk, but it’s so heartfelt that the posturing sheen wears away quickly.

Billie Joe Armstrong took a turn at the song and pulled it off. A big reason for this is because of his accent. I believe I’ve linked to this article before, but the surf rock culture that gave rise to California punk also gave rise to its own distinctive vocal style. As Armstrong once said, he’s an American faking a British accent faking an American accent. That’s perfectly suited to a classic punk song like “Whole Wide World.” He doesn’t have quite the same grit, nor is his voice nearly as exaggerated, but it’s pretty near perfect to my ears. I feel like I don’t often feature covers that are so closely matched to each other like that. Recently, covers seem to be slow acoustic renditions of pop songs. Which isn’t a bad thing! I’m fascinated by those trends. But here, I like the strong echoes of the original that run through Armstrong’s rendition of “Whole Wide World.” As usual, I’ve included both below. Give a listen and let me know: are they really that closely matched? Which do you like better? (I honestly can’t say myself.)

Monthly Obsessions – March 2023

More of an EP this go-round, but these are a couple of the songs I had on repeat this past month.

Two songs from the Drive soundtrack, which is a unique choice given that I… haven’t seen the movie. Idk, man, the soundtrack is excellent. And I was listening for the nostalgia factor more than anything else. Whenever I hear the opening drone of “A Real Hero,” I’m transported back to college when it was on repeat for everyone else, too. (Plus the “real human bean” meme, which I was only tangentially aware of.)

Two “oldies” songs close out the EP. I always think that “Video Killed the Radio Star” is an ’80s song, but it actually came out in the late ’70s! And it was the kickoff song for MTV, fittingly enough.

Throwback Thursday: “You and Me” by Lifehouse

This song might not be at the top of “catchiest songs in the world” lists, but it really should be a contender. It’s been stuck in my head off and on pretty much ever since I first heard it. Part of it is because the song is 90% repetition: “’cause it’s you and me and all of the people with nothing to do/Nothing to lose” (or “nothing to prove” in other verses) and then it jumps into the rest of the chorus. The chord progression is slow and meditative before it bursts into the chorus, which makes it easy fodder for an ear worm.

This song also instantly takes me back to high school. (Hence why it’s on the Throwback Thursday list.) Now that I’m older and a writer myself, I pay more attention to the lyrics from a structural standpoint than an angsty, am I that girl perspective. “This clock never seemed so alive” is a great line, as is the pair “I can’t keep up and I can’t back down/I’ve been losing so much time.” It’s that pair in particular that’s been stuck in my head of late, and the reason why I sat down to write this post.

Did you ever listen to this song? If so, do you grab onto the lyrics or the melody? Are there any memories you associate with it?

Covers Corner: “Only You” by The Flying Pickets

I first heard The Flying Pickets’ cover of this song when it was used to creepy effect on The Americans. (I get a lot of song recommendations from TV, now that I think about it.)

What’s fascinating to me about these two versions is the tone they take. Even though it’s the same song, the arrangement makes the perspective completely flip. The Yazoo original is spare and electronic, with a tight beat that’s ’80s to the core. Its tone is more hopeful, more of a love song. The lyrics seem to be describing a current relationship with a pensive sort of joy.

Meanwhile, The Flying Pickets took a mournful route. Because theirs is a choral/acapella version, the song echoes. This makes it sound like they’re reminiscing about the past. “Only You” isn’t somber in their hands, exactly; it’s just melancholy.

For this reason, I like the original better. To be sure, I can get in my feels when I listen to music, and there’s a time and a place for that. But here, with lyrics reaching out, talking about no one else, only you – I’d like to hear about someone in love.

Monthly Obsessions – February 2023

The one constant song this month was “She Is Beautiful” by Andrew WK. This was actually a friend’s recommendation that I didn’t get into at first. Funny how that works. Now whenever I play it, I have to resist the urge to get up and pump my fist. “Whole Wide World” by Wreckless Eric has similar lyrical themes and is a vocal precursor to Andrew WK.

I watched an interview with Lil’ Wayne earlier in the month, which inspired me to revisit his back catalogue. I have very clear memories of watching the music video for “A Milli” back when MTV still played music. “How to Love,” though, is my favorite of his. It’s slow, smooth, and almost casual. The beat is unassuming and of course the lyrics are wonderful.

“Wake Up” by Arcade Fire is a banger if there ever was one. Those crunchy guitars at the beginning! The droning, heavy drums! The angsty classic lines, “Something filled up/My heart with nothing/Someone told me not to cry/Now that/I’m older/My heart’s/Colder/And I can/See that it’s a lie.”

I fell back into The 1975, as one does. “A Change of Heart” is just so damn catchy. It’s one of my favorite of their songs, up there with “Medicine.”

Speaking of catchy: “Lola” by The Kinks rounds out this month. “Well, I’m not the world’s most physical guy/but when she squeezed me tight she nearly broke my spine, oh my Lo-la.” I always jumble up the lyrics when I try and sing it from memory, though.

What was on your list for this month?

“All Tomorrow’s Dance Parties” album review

Ever since I went to that Lou Reed show last September, I’ve been listening to his early group The Jades. There are three songs in particular that I wanted to cover today, which are: “Your Love,” “So Blue,” and “Leave Her for Me.”

“Your Love” is classic doo-wop: simplistic lyrics, backup acapella, and earnest descriptions of teen runaround relationships. I didn’t recognize his voice at first. It’s much more energetic, and besides, these are songs about love rather than drugs and New York.

His voice comes out much more clearly on “So Blue.” It’s my favorite of the album’s songs, perhaps because of that. I also love the guitar and the little, subtle drum line in the back. “So Blue” just makes me picture a sock hop and teenagers dancing together.

“Leave Her for Me” made me confused at first. I thought it meant that the guy Lou Reed was addressing should leave the girl and have a relationship with Lou Reed instead. It wasn’t until recently that I realized the lyrics meant don’t date the girl and let Lou Reed date her instead. Although the bridge is kind of weird, with its echoing declarations about nature, the lyrics provide a glimpse of Lou Reed’s poetry. I particularly love the way he talks about roses blooming.

These songs are fun for me, not just because I enjoy ’50s garage rock, but because they provide an early look at Lou Reed as a musician. On Spotify, at least, the album cover is his senior portrait. He’s looking off to the side and has the slightest smile. In the photo, he’s boyish; innocent, even; nowhere near the rock icon he would soon become. And in the songs I’ve described here today, his voice is boyish and innocent, too. His voice is remarkably well-suited to both doo-wop and disaffected art house rock.

Monthly Obsessions – December 2022

It’s hard to believe that it’s already the end of the year. I thought about doing a “best of 2022” post, but then I realized that many of the songs on these playlists aren’t from ’22. So there’s that.

This month’s playlist is a weird little one. I listened to “Wake Up” a lot at the beginning because it’s kind of the perfect angst anthem. It’s really too bad that the lead singer of Arcade Fire is a trash bag. Meanwhile, “10,000 Miles” by Cam’ron and “Live & Direct” by Sugar Ray were both Tumblr finds. (How old am I?)

As for “AA” by Walker Hayes, I never thought a bro-style country song would appear on one of these playlists. Never. It’s not a genre that I gravitate towards. Yet one of my Uber drivers this month had excellent taste in music, and this song is so incredibly catchy.

We round out the playlist with “Co-Op” by the cast of “Co-Op.” It’s a fake Broadway musical that appears in the satirical TV series Documentary Now! All of the songs on the album are hilarious, but I felt like the opening number sums up the idea best.

Monthly Obsessions – November 2022

This month started out ’80s and ended up ’10s. “Where Do Broken Hearts Go” is so, so catchy. I had to keep stopping myself from belting the lyrics at work. It’s also weirdly euphoric for the subject matter. Maybe it’s the stadium-sized production.

I’m sure I’ve mentioned Alex Melton before; he’s appeared on at least one other Monthly Obsession playlist. His cover of “Iris” is beautiful. It retains the emo of the original (“yeah you bleed just to know you’re alive”) while creating something nearly profound.

Speaking of “oof” songs, I don’t know why, but “Back In The High Life Again” just gets me. It’s both hopeful and wistful. Also, Steve Winwood’s voice was tailor-made for easy listening.

History Lesson: Frat Rock

I listened to a lot of frat rock relatively recently, so this post has been on my mind. The genre always makes me think of Animal House, which perhaps isn’t surprising, given that “Shout” plays a prominent role in the plot. It might surprise you that “Shout” counts as a frat rock song in the first place, but it does. The loose criteria seems to be simplistic lyrics that are easy to memorize, along with chords that are equally simple and easy to memorize. I did a history lesson on surf rock not too long ago, and this post could be considered a pair to it: surf rock’s twangy, vibrant guitar (think “Miserlou”) appears in frat rock as well.

The ur-example of frat rock is “Louie Louie” by the Kingsmen. It’s been the target of many urban legends about just what was in those lyrics. Regardless of the actual content, they were investigated by the FBI and banned from many radio stations as a result of those rumors. I like “Louie Louie” a lot. There are similarities between it and “Twist and Shout” by The Beatles, not least in the ragged, ill vocals of John Lennon.

The 1960s came and went, and frat rock eventually evolved, as genres do. It became punk: the guitar turned more raw, the lyrics even more abbreviated. As a genre, frat rock doesn’t really exist today, except in echoes within garage rock.

Below are a few of my favorite frat rock songs.