Thursday, March 13, 2008

Five Songs I Must Have On My I-Pod

Geoffrey tagged me with this one. Strangely enough, it’s easier to write a 1500 word screed against homophobia. This would be the perfect time to get on my soapbox on how I-tunes and the I-pod have ruined the album experience. I just went back to vinyl—pretentious, I know, but you won't think so when you remember how accommodating vinyl could be. Just last month I listened to Tears for Fear's Song From the Big Chair, amazed at the stuff I forgave on LP that I would never tolerate on CD. But back to the topic. As I said this stumped me for a good while (OK 10 Minutes) until I realized that maybe the I-pod should tell her own story. I plugged the thing into I-tunes, searched under 'play count' and stumbled upon these, the five songs I play the most. Right now anyway. I eliminated those played under special circumstances, like jogging or the gym in favour of those played simply because I cannot bear to be apart from them too long (Sorry Justice, whose "Stress" I've played 33 times.)

1. "No, No, No," by Yeah Yeah Yeahs. (42 times)

I swear to God that I did not make this up. This must be one of those stylistic coincidences that makes even God go all goosepimply. Or maybe my I-pod has a wickeder sense of irony than I do. Coming from Yeah Yeah Yeah's bananas debut Fever To Tell, No No No attacked quiet-loud as if Smells like Teen Spirit's chorus was just a semi-forgotten after thought. And the dub coda at the end sent this most earthy of punk songs into the stratosphere of white-people ganja haze. I would quote lyrics, but when the chorus for one song goes uh huh/uh huh/ uh huh/uh huh-ow! and the other goes uh-uh/ awooowooo! lyrics are beside the point.

2."All I Need," by Radiohead (38 Times)

I'm into schadenfreud as much as the next person. So half of the joy of this song is knowing that Coldplay are right now stupefied with the task of trying to rip it off. All I Need must have them at a strange impasse —a band that more than any other, benefited from Radiohead's curious season of not wanting to be Radiohead anymore. But enough about them. I've remarked on this before, of Radiohead's stunning descent/rise into sheer loveliness, but this is a luminous wonder, startling even by their own stiff standards. It's even sexy, which is perhaps the greatest surprise of all. Like No No No, All I need shoots up in the end, but for them it's a not a dubwise no mans land but a glorious crescendo, like a carnival of bursting lights.

3."Emily," by Joanna Newsom (32 Times)

Let me tell you a story about Nick Drake. Years ago, Mystic Urchin, back when he was pretending to work at Island (ha!) gave me Nick Drake's compilation, Way To Blue. I had no idea who he was except for a review in an old issue of Spin and was expecting at the least something like Paul Weller. Way To Blue went into CD in my changer in 1993 and stayed there until 1997—and only because the laser went bad. I say this because Newsom is a similar spellbinder, whose acoustic beginnings hint barely at the universe of sound yet to come. Lazy critics call her medieval Bjork and there is some merit to that. But there is so much more as well. Emily is a 12-minute masterpiece that starts with gentle harp but ends in the thunderous full tilt of an orchestra. The lyrics itself are similarly arcane, expansive and not a little comic book geeky: "The meteoroid/is a stone that's devoid/of the fire/that brought it to thee/" Yes she said thee. It's that kind of song. And If you're stuck on a desert island you'll be glad for such flights of fancy.

4. “Spanish Joint,” by D’Angelo (28 Times)

What can I say—I’m as surprised as you are. This is not even my favourite D’Angelo song. But I remember skipping to it on the subway, thinking perhaps that a gentle latin-esque showstopper with horns was as far away from subway grit as one could get on 45th street. Or maybe it’s the aural equivalent of sunshine. I’m not sure. Either way, I play this an awful lot.

5. “Like Cockatoos,” by The Cure. (20 times—so far)

Had you asked me ten years ago which song do I play the most on my Walkman, Like Cockatoos would come out on top, despite fierce competition from Prince’s Crystal Ball (Which come to think of it makes more sense on a desert island since it takes near forever). Happily or sadly, technology hasn’t change my habits much still I still listen to this song way too much. I’m not sure why either. I would never call it the finest Cure song or even the finest song on that album (Kiss Me Kiss me Kiss Me), but Like cockatoos has this strange transfixing power over me, swirly, even psychedelic as if I had taken the very best drugs. Or maybe it’s the woozy bass. Or maybe it’s the way the strings come in at the end —I seem to have a thing for orchestral crescendos. Maybe some things should stay a mystery. Maybe If I find out why I listen to it so much I just might stop.