The Heart wants what it wants

Today, it occurred to me that a lot of excellent songs have titles containing the word “Heart”. After appreciating this truth, I decided I should arbitrarily rank them and create a playlist based upon the results.

While this exercise was initially prompted by the song “Heartbeat” by Cloud Nothings, I decided to exclude song titles, which include the words “Heartbeat” or “Heatless”. I also tried to skip songs I’ve written about before, or plan to write about,  so “Open your Heart” by The Men and “I am Trying to Break Your Heart” by Wilco were cut. Oddly, this also eliminated “Heart in a Cage” by the Strokes.

Anyway, in honor of the worst Planeteer, Ma-Ti, here are the best songs with “Heart” in the title.

1. “Heart of Glass” by Blondie.

This was incredibly easy. “Heart of Glass” is a stone-cold classic and an absolute jam. While it may represent Blondie selling out and embracing a commercially appealing disco song, it is also probably the single greatest song that genre ever produced.

2. “Young Hearts Spark Fire” by Japandroids.

Shockingly, this song was not event clearly the best Japandroids “Heart” song. It wasn’t even clearly the best “Heart” song on Post-Nothing. “Heart Sweats” is pretty awesome and devolves into a raucous scream-along when performed live. However, “Young Hearts Spark Fire” pretty much encapsulates Japandroids’ nihilism with a sighed admission of mortality aesthetic.  “We used to dream/ Now we worry about dying/ I don’t wanna worry about dying/ I just want to worry about those sunshine girls” sums it up beautifully.

3. “Heart of the City (Ain’t No Love)”

This Bobby “Blue” Bland sampling hit features one of the best beats Kanye West ever produced. It is also arguably the best song on Jay-z’s best album. This automatically catapults it onto this playlist.

4. “Heart in Your Heartbreak” by the Pains of Being Pure at Hear

This song is wordplay about heartbreak over a springy, twee bass-line. It’s pleasant enough, and then a surprisingly gruff guitar bridge hits, and suddenly it’s the fourth best song featuring the word “Heart” in my iTunes library.

5. “Heart Skipped a Beat” by The xx

Although, “Intro” is by far the breakout song from The xx’s eponymous debut, “Heart Skipped a Beat” is by far my favorite song by The XX. Of course, I’m a sucker for guy-girl trade off vocals, and the stuttering drumming meant to evoke a heartbeat is a nice touch.

Heavy petal: 5 songs that bring the flower power

Today, while listening to Shannon and the Clams shortly after a song by Wilco, it occurred to me there are actually a lot of songs about flowers that at least sort of rock. I decided to make a quick list of songs that concern flowers, but which aren’t particularly flowery. Despite the title of this post, the songs aren’t extreme, I just cannot pass up a good or bad pun.

 

  • Shannon and the Clams- “You Will Always Bring Me Flowers”

 

Warm lofi production, Shannon Shaw’s infectious barking of a veritable bouquet of floral species and a vintage sound make this strange song thoroughly enjoyable.

 

  • The White Stripes- “Blue Orchid”

Technically, an orchid is a flowering plant, but without a colored flower this song would have no title, so I made the executive decision to include it. It’s a classic White Stripes rocker with simple drums and killer guitar. “Blue Orchid” is part of a proud lineage of incredible White Stripes album openers as it kicked off 2005’s Get Behind Me Satan with a bang.

 

  • Outkast- “Roses”

“Roses” is one of the stranger songs in the Outkast catalog, but it is also a stone cold classic, and it is undeniably catchy. The chorus is undeniably silly, but it will reverberate around the inside of your skull for the rest of time. The music video for this song is also incredible, and it subverts music video expectations in such a way, that even more than a decade later, I don’t want to spoil it.

 

  • Japandroids- “The Nights of Wine and Roses”

This song is prototypical Japandroids. It is anthemic, catchy and robustly energetic. If you can vocalize a “long O” sound, you can, and should, sing along.

 

  • Wilco- “Forget the Flowers”

“Forget the Flowers” finds Wilco in fine, alt-country form. It’s a simple, hummable tune that expresses a sadly pragmatic thoughts on romantic gestures. In other words, this is a classic Wilco song.

The song remains (mostly) the same

I took this post’s title from a Led Zeppelin song. It seemed only fitting that a title for a list of sound-alike songs should come from a band whose members are no strangers to allegations of not properly crediting their inspiration and plagiarism.

Of course, not all similar songs have nefarious origins. Great minds think alike, and even when circumstances are less coincidental, sometimes the influence of another artist’s work can be subliminal. However, occasionally songs bear a resemblance to each other so uncanny that the similarities are nearly impossible to write off as coincidental.

In preparing this list, I tried to steer clear of some of the more famous examples of this phenomenon, but still found plenty of songs with strong similarities.

 

1. Killing Joke- “Eighties” and Nirvana- “Come As You Are”

The iconic, murky intro to Nevermind standout, “Come As You Are”, bears more than a passing resemblance to the guitar riff from “Eighties” by seminal post-punk band Killing Joke.

The songs are so similar Kurt Cobain feared legal action, although Killing Joke would never file for copyright infringement.

 

2. Tom Petty- “Last Dance With Mary Jane” and Red Hot Chilli Peppers- “Dani California”

Q:Aside from both of these songs being incredibly overplayed, what else do they have in common?

A:Well, pretty much everything. The two songs are more or less interchangeable, but Tom Petty seems cool about it.

 

3. Tom Tom Club- “Genius of Love” and Magic Wands “Teenage Love”

Magic Wands are probably best known for being the band that ripped off Sleigh Bells’ aesthetics. This is inaccurate. While Sleigh Bells are much more well known than Magic Wands, both bands formed in 2008 and released debut EP’s in 2009.

However, Magic Wands did seemingly take from a less obvious source.

If the bouncing bassline in “Teenage Love” makes you nod your head in a familiar way, imagine someone intermittently screaming James Brown, and you might realize your essentially listening to Tom Tom Club’s 1981 hit “Genius of Love”. I feel validated knowing I’m not the only one to notice the similarity.

4. The Beatles- “I Should’ve Known Better” and The Vaccines- “Blow it Up”

There are definitely worse sources of material for an aspiring British guitar-driven band than the Beatles. However, as Marc Hogan pointed out in his review of What Did You Expect From The Vaccines? for Pitchfork the similarity is blatant.  All things considered it seems like a fitting tribute for a band whose members had their own problems avoiding plagiarizing others.

5. New York Dolls- “Personality Crisis” and Titus Andronicus- “Food Fight”

The mostly instrumental track by Titus Andronicus is an homage to proto-punk rockers, New York Dolls, rather than an attempt to crib an awesome tune, but the two songs do sound nearly identical.

6.Bo Diddley- “Bo Diddley” and everyone

“I opened the door for a lot of people, and they just ran through and left me holding the knob.”

Bo Diddley popularized a beat so instantly recognizable it has its own Wikipedia entry, which concludes with a partial list of songs that make use of the Bo Diddley beat.

Use of Diddley’s signature riff is so rampant, not even a 117-song list contains the title of every song to employ the Bo Diddley beat.

A lack of compensation for the wide-spread use of the Bo Diddley beat was a sore spot with the wildly influential bluesman until his death in 2008.

“I opened the door for a lot of people, and they just ran through and left me holding the knob,” Diddley told the New York times in a 2003 interview.

 

 

A Week’s Worth of Songs

This is a list of seven songs with days of their week in the title, which I would actually recommend to people. This isn’t an incredibly inspired idea, but it is a good collection of songs. Wednesday and Thursday do not receive anywhere near as much songwriting attention as other days of the week, but there are still some excellent songs with those days in their title. Alternatively, you could also just listen to the Happy Days theme song every day of the week.

1. The Velvet Underground- “Sunday Morning“: This is one of the prettiest songs The Velvets ever released. It slowly twinkles its way into existence, and it coupled with “I’m Waiting for the Man” to give The Velvet Underground & Nicco a fantastic 1-2 punch.

2. New Order- “Blue Monday”: This never ending early dance anthem is the biggest selling 12” of all-time, which is pretty incredibly. It definitely provides a kick in the pants everyone needs on Monday.

3. The Rolling Stones- “Ruby Tuesday”: On the surface this is a short, simple song about fleeting romance with a free spirit. It’s easy enough to appreciate it at that level, but it also has an interesting back story. In Keith Richards’ autobiography Life, Richards claims the song is about an ex-girlfriend, who had taken up drugs and Jimi Hendrix.

Oddly, there are at least 10 good songs about Tuesday, including songs by The Pogues and Lynyrd Skynyrd.

4.Charles Mingus- “Wednesday Night Prayer”: While researching for this article, it became apparent Hump Day doesn’t serve as a muse to many. However, this driving, bluesy cut from Jazz great, Charles Mingus, is excellent .

5. The Weekend- “Thursday”: Thursday’s field of competition was even narrower than Wednesday’s, but  Thor can be proud this spacey, impassioned R&B takes its name from the day named after him, even if it isn’t particularly thunderous.

6.Spider Bags- “Friday Night“: While songs by The Cure or Rebecca Black are undoubtedly more famous, Spider Bags’ brand of disheveled debauchery is absolutely fitting for the wildest night of the week.

7. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart- “Come Saturday“: This song is from fantastic self-titled debut from The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. It’s a jangly, shoe gaze-y pop song about the joys of a simple night in with someone. Despite being entendre-laden, this excellent song’s sentiments are actually sweet.

Bonus Song: The Beatles- “Eight Days a Week“: This is an absolute layup.

 

A tough concept to grasp

There are few traditions in music as openly derided as the concept album.

They have a reputation for being too long, too verbose, grandstanding too much and sacrificing song quality to serve an album’s theme. These perceptions are considered doubly true when the concept album in question is a double album or rock opera.

Even legendary efforts such as The Who’s “Tommy”and Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” are usually used as shorthand for overstuffed bombast or to exemplify empty calories music.

However, there are exceptions to the rule. This is a short list of some good, great and all-time classic concept albums.

These are concept albums for people who normally hate concept albums.

1. The Beatles- “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”

A psychedelic, classic rock album is typically not the direction one should look when searching for a lean listen, but “Sgt. Pepper’s” clocks in at just under 40 minutes. The album is filled with classic songs, poppy hooks and is one of the most exalted albums in the oeuvre of the greatest band ever. Only the Beatles could close an album with a song featuring an orchestra and dog whistle without feeling even slightly excessive.

2. Cloud Nothings- “Attack on Memory”

Cloud Nothings started as a catchy, lofi solo project by Dylan Baldi, but on “Attack on Memory” they had matured into a full-fledged band. As the title suggests this album set out to attach previous conceptions of what the Cloud Nothings were. Also, songs tend to be thematically focused on battling with the past. This theme encapsulates everything from overcoming lingering memories of failed relationships to accepting failure to realize past goals. Sludgy guitars and Albini-produced dry drums let the sound quality match the quality of the song writing. “Attack on Memory” is a hook-laden, angry, wonderful concept album,

3. Fucked Up- “David Comes to Life”

With blaring guitars, multiple characters and female guest vocals there is no mistaking this for anything than a Rock Opera.

However, “David Comes to Life” is to Rock Operas what Thomas Pynchon is to novelists. There are multiple unreliable narrators, the fourth wall is shattered and substantial stylistic shifts. Without a guide it is almost impossible to actually follow the plot.

Also, the topics of death, love, loss pessimism and faith are dealt with in a mature measured way. This is particularly surprising for a band called Fucked Up.

4. Candy Claws- “Ceres and Calypso in Deep Time”

This albums is the chronicle the adventures of an adolescent girl and her prehistoric seal-like companion through time. It is entirely impossible to deduce this from listening to the album. This dream-pop album is so reverb intensive the vocals are barely present over the shimmering buzz. Just kick back and enjoy the pretty grooves.

5.   Titus Andronicus- “The Monitor”

This is a gruff, thoughtful punk album with a novel premise. “The Monitor” takes its name from a Civil War era submarine, and it is a breakup album that parallels a relationship’s end with the war between the states. The album is funny, painful and honest. Its references range from Shakespreare to the Gettysburg Address to “The Dark Knight” to Bruce Springsteen. Plenty of the songs have a running time in excess of five minutes, but they never wear out their welcome.

6. The White Stripes- “Elephant” 

According to Jack White this album is dedicated to the death of the sweetheart. This theme is far from heavy handed, but it does provide a thread through all of its songs. I’ve extolled this album’s virtues many times, but I can never recommend it enough.

7. Jay Z- “American Gangster” 

This is definitely Jay Z’s best post-“Black Album” work. It loosely mirrors the Denzel Washington movie of the same name, but instead of real-life gangster Frank Lucas it focuses primarily on Jay Z’s own meteoric rise. It features some of latter day Jay Z’s hungriest rapping and slick production. The songs even hold up when performed live.

5 Songs about Spider-Man

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For more than five decades Spider-Man has been a prominent figure in print, film and television. He’s brought joy to millions, and his likeness earns truckloads of money. To paraphrase Jay Z: he’s not just a Spider-Man, he’s a business, man. Spider-Man has also made some notable appearances in music. Everyone’s favorite web slinger may be an unlikely muse, but Spidey has inspired some exceptional, or at least interesting, music.

Disclaimer: The actual Spider-Man musical is still bad.

1. The Ramones- “Spider-Man”: This is a faithful cover of the iconic 1967 Spider-Man cartoon’s theme song. It’s performed with The Ramones’ trademark sneer and relentless speed. It rules.

2. Black Lips- “Spidey’s Curse”: This song from the raucous Atlanta lo-fi rockers draws its inspiration from a dark Spider-Man story about molestation. It’s a perversely funny song and catchy to boot.

3. Los Campesinos!- “Broken Heartbeats Sound Like Break Beats”:  A standout cut from the amazing, unapologetically twee album “Hold On Now Youngster”. The song’s chorus contains an admonishment from the female half of a dysfunctional couple, “You know he’s so much more like Spiderman[sic] than you will ever, ever be.”If high-energy, twee-pop-punk sounds appealing this is worth a listen.

4. Weird Al- “Ode to a Superhero”: This song is a straightforward parody of Billy Joel’s piano man, and it details the plot of the first Spider-Man film. It’s a joke song built around the punchline, “Sling us a web, you’re the Spider-Man.”

5.Wu-Tang Clan- “Protect Ya Neck”: Calling this classic off of “Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)” a song about Spider-Man might be a stretch, but the song does give him a shout out. Peter Parker is a New York resident, and has probably spent some time in the Shaolin Land.

Seven Awesome Of Montreal songs.

Of Montreal’s “Lousy with Sylvianbriar” is the band’s 12th studio album and the best received  of their last few efforts.

However, even in the releases between the nearly flawless “Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?” and Of Montreal’s latest record there have been gems among the aggro-feedback-psych-freakouts.

For more than a decade Of Montreal have been responsible for some incredible songs ranging from stereotypical indie pop to Bowie-esque glam rock. This is a career-spanning list of some of their absolute best work.

1. “It’s Just So”

A sweet, gentle piano ballad which sounds equally influenced by Jiminy Cricket and Brian Wilson.

2. “My British Tour Diary”

This song is bouncy, funny and strange in the way some of the best Of Montreal songs are. It also features unexpected dalliances into bloozey guitar riffs complete with backing cowbell.

3.”Eros’ Entropic Tundra”

As great as funny, quirky Of Montreal songs can be, Kevin Barnes has a penchant for writing songs that perfectly express darker, cynical emotions.”Eros’ Entropic Tundra” is the catchiest representation of the frustrations of unrequited love and the sense of being slowly left behind imaginable.

4. “So Begins Our Alabee”

A self-loathing space-operatic welcoming Barnes’ daughter into the world. The lyrics dedicated to Alabee are saccharine while those concerning Barns are cutting. He just wants to be her, “friendly little abject failure.”

5. “Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?” the entire album.

This album is amazing. Pain induced from marital hardships inspired the most poignant, self-aware, well-crafted material in all of Of Montreal’s discography. It is also the introduction of Barnes’ alter-ego Georgie Fruit. The entire album flows together as a cohesive piece. Anyone with a spare hour should give it a listen.

6. “Our Riotous Defects”

Fittingly, this song is riotously funny. It chronicles a romance started at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting doomed by insanity.

7. “We Will Commit Wolf Murder”

As tuneful as a jumble of funk, psych-rock and harmonic vocals could possibly be.

Birthday songs in order of tolerability

Today, April 7, is my birthday, so I decided to rank songs that celebrate birthdays in order from most to least likable.

  1. Happy Birthday Party“- DOM: This group of Massachusetts based deviants are responsible for my all-time favorite birthday song. This song has a ridiculously huge, swirling hook undercut by hypnotic, surging bass. It also includes the masterwork lyrics, “It’s time to get gnarly/ happy birthday party, party.” This song is incredible.
  2. Birthday“-The Beatles: This song is pretty inane, even for a birthday song, but it’s harmless and fun anyway. Some lively guitar from George Harrison and Ringo hammering away at the drums really drive the festive theme home. This “White Album,” cut is immortalized as the go-to ‘cool’ birthday song for past generations, and it mostly holds up.
  3. Unhappy Birthday”-The Smiths: A characteristically morose Morrissey has come to wish you an unhappy birthday, because you’re evil. The song still gently rocks and has a gloomy ambiance that somehow comes off as pleasant. It’s short, deadpan, funny and catchy.
  4. Birthday Song“-2 Chainz: At this point the final two songs on the list begin to become much more grating. The artist formerly known as Tity Boi dominated 2012.  2 Chainz was pretty inescapable, and this is maybe his most quoted song, because of the instant classic sentiment, “She got a big booty, so I call her big booty,” and an energetic verse from Kanye West keeps the song from fully drifting into Lonely Island territory.
  5. Birthday Sex“-Jeremiah: This song was a massive hit, and it’s awful. The chorus is just the title repeated until your brains slowly begin to ooze out of the side of your skull. Mind numbing, repetitive and totally devoid of redeeming qualities.