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Monday, Jun 23, 2014
They cornered the genre known as "party-pop", dressed in '60s thrift store kitsch, and poured jokes and humor into all their lyrics. Oh, and their debut album is actually one of the greatest rock albums ever made. No, really.

There are a lot of iconic B-52’s one-liners. Most of them are funny. Some of them are downright surreal. Yet virtually all of them leave you feeling like you’re going down to where the love honey grows, and picking just one to sum up the entire aesthetic of these fearless Athens, Georgia New Wavers is actually harder than you’d think. Do you pick a zinger from “Love Shack”? The bizarre “Song for a Future Generation”? The wonderful guitar strut of “Private Idaho”?


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Friday, Jun 20, 2014
You should know compared to people on a global scale our kind has had it relatively easy. Jason Isbell gets that -- and a lot more as well. His 2013 release is this week’s Counterbalance.

Klinger: As much as we music nerds like to praise our rock stars for their untamed excesses, weaving their tales of substance-fueled debauchery into the grand narrative of pop mythology, we don’t often spend much time thinking about the realities of the lifestyle. For all the talk about Led Zeppelin’s mud sharks or Sid Vicious’ bad night at the Chelsea Hotel or Fleetwood Mac’s coked-out romantic recriminations, it’s easy to forget that these are the actions of actual people, who had to wake up the next morning and look at themselves in the mirror. Jason Isbell, former partner in the songwriting triumvirate Drive-By Truckers, has crafted an incredible new album, Southeastern, that chronicles the aftermath of people’s excesses, especially his own. It also reveals him to be a songwriter of uncommon depth and humanity.


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Thursday, Jun 19, 2014
The press is buzzing about YouTube's threat that it will remove content by labels that do not agree to the terms of its forthcoming subscription-based service. Is this good for YouTube?

There’s a lot of chatter and speculation going on right now regarding YouTube’s impending launch of its subscription-based service. Namely, that independent record labels are up on arms about the terms the video hosting website is supposedly offering, which according to the trade body Worldwide Independent Network disproportionately favor major labels Sony, Universal, and Warner Bros. at the expense of the indies. Even more alarming, an article by the Financial Times this week has stated that YouTube will start blocking material by those who have not agreed to the company’s new terms “in a matter of days”. Given YouTube’s popularity and ubiquity, these moves have been seen as essentially throwing independent artists under a bus if they don’t play along.


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Wednesday, Jun 18, 2014
Dolly Parton was perhaps the first country mega-star, and the first to successfully cross-over into the world of pop music. Today, we celebrate her 10 finest achievements as a performer, plus another one that we simply couldn’t forget to mention.
11. “Islands in the Stream”
(Eyes That See in the Dark, 1983)


The reason this list is 11 songs and not a nice, round 10 is because of this one. It would be a sacrilege to leave out her biggest hit.


Written by the venerable Bee Gees, co-sung by Kenny Rogers, and destined for karaoke machines around the world, it’s a sparkling, lovey-dovey, pop monster as only the Brothers Gibb could write. It only makes it to the 11-spot on our list because Parton’s catalog of solo hits is just too rich on its own.


Longtime pals and collaborators, Rogers and Parton got together again this year to sing “You Can’t Make Old Friends” off of Blue Smoke


 
10. “Why’d You Come in Here Lookin’ Like That?”
(White Limozeen, 1989)


If you thought the phrase “painted-on jeans” was a recent country western ideal for women, think again. Way back in 1989, Parton used it to describe her cruel, flirtatious beau. And he looks seriously good in those things.


Though the song was written for her by two men, it still flips the script in an impressive way. It’s usually men who sing about women who can stop traffic during a night on the town, but Parton can’t peel her eyes off her dreamy cowboy. It’s a fun, lighthearted ode to jealousy in a way that is distinctly Dolly. The track’s upbeat, cut-time drive and happy, bouncing fiddle are enough to make you want to throw on some tight jeans and cowboy boots and cut a rug of your own.


 
9. “9 to 5”
(9 to 5 and Odd Jobs, 1980)


Who among us can’t sympathize? A ragtime piano drives away on a dark, major chord while Parton comes to grips with yet another day as a workaday wage slave. Country music is—or at least used to be—the balm of the working class. Her distinctive voice reminding you that “You’ve got a dream he’ll never take away” is about the sweetest medicine there is.


It’s impressive how Parton—who’s enjoyed a successful performing career since her teen years, maybe never working a 9 to 5 job in her life—can get away with performing this song with a straight face. But, as we’ll discover as this list unfolds, Parton’s warmth and sincerity is one of the keys to her appeal. You feel the conviction in her voice, which goes down as smooth and invigorating as the morning “cup of ambition” she describes in the first verse.


Oh, and the typewriter percussion is pure genius.


 
8. “Blue Smoke”
(Blue Smoke, 2014)


More than 45 years (!!) since her first top 10 Country single, “Blue Smoke”—the title track from her newest release—is pure, distilled, raw country. With bluegrass instrumentation and momentum, it trundles ahead like a locomotive, eager and earnest. You can hear her age manifesting itself in raspy, throaty tones when she sings first several lines—which only makes the song better. It lends itself well to a song about a long-suffering, mistreated lover who declares over the bridge, “I’ve had just about all the heartbreak I can stand!”


 
7. “Down From Dover”
(The Fairest of them All, 1970)


Today, it must be hard to believe that country music—with its rock and hip-hop collaborations, songs about beer, parties, trucks and more beer—used to be notoriously depressing. “Down From Dover” is old-school country, one of the darkest songs you’ll ever hear.


Parton’s warbling soprano mourns as she tells the tale of a young girl, pregnant and jilted by the father, is turned away by her family. With nowhere to turn and nothing to cling to but the hope her lover will return from Dover, the baby is a stillborn. And oh yeah, the father still isn’t coming home. Ouch.


“Down From Dover” is Parton’s songwriting at its most visceral, a story song in the country tradition that starts out sad and only becomes sadder. Her ability to paint the emotions of her protagonists is richly on display.



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Monday, Jun 16, 2014
For the last proper song on The Beach Boys Today, Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys craft their most inventive and sublime track to date, "In the Back of My Mind".

For the last proper track on The Beach Boys Today!, Brian Wilson and the rest of the group don’t hold anything back. “In the Back of My Mind” is a huge step forward musically, lyrically, and production-wise, and even tucked away in the back of this album, the song has taken on an iconic status among fans and critics for being a true masterpiece.


It’s notable, then, that “In the Back of My Mind” was recorded in the same session as “Good to My Baby”, the Beach Boys Today! track that I discussed as sounding the most like the group’s earlier music. In contrast, “In the Back of My Mind” really sounds like nothing they’ve ever done before, even with all the experimentation and sophistication we’ve previously seen on this album. Philip Lambert comments, “The chord progressions of ‘In The Back Of My Mind’ are virtually unprecedented in Brian’s previous work”, but it’s not just the chord progressions: the masterful lyrics from Brian Wilson and Mike Love, as well as Wilson’s sublime orchestral arrangement, are innovative in their own right.


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