Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween

Hoping your pumpkin patch is the most sincere. . . .

And that you don't get any rocks when you go trick-or-treating.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Danger of Sarah Palin

I'm going to try this again.

The latest issue of The New Yorker features a good article by Connie Bruck, "Odd Man Out," about Chuck Hagel, the Republican Senator from Nebraska.

While Democrats may know Hagel for his opposition to the war in Iraq, and for accompanying Barack Obama on a trip to Baghdad in July, they may not realize that he's still very close friends with John McCain and served as Co-Chair of McCain's presidential campaign in 2000. It must be especially galling, then, for McCain to read what his friend has to say about the woman he chose as his running mate.

Hagel may be the only senior Republican elected official who has publicly criticized McCain’s choice of Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate. “I don’t believe she’s qualified to be President of the United States,” Hagel told me. “The first judgment a potential President makes is who their running mate is—and I don’t think John made a very good selection.”

For Hagel, almost as disturbing as Palin’s lack of experience is her willingness—in disparaging remarks about Joe Biden’s long Senate career, for example—to belittle the notion that experience is important. “There’s no question, she knows her market,” Hagel said. “She knows her audience, and she’s going right after them. And I’ll tell you why that’s dangerous. It’s dangerous because you don’t want to define down the standards in any institution, ever, in life. You want to always strive to define standards up. If you start defining standards down—‘Well, I don’t have a big education, I don’t have experience’—yes, there’s a point to be made that not all the smartest people come out of Yale or Harvard. But to intentionally define down in some kind of wild populism, that those things don’t count in a complicated, dangerous world—that’s dangerous in itself.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Marvin Gaye on the Election

Marvin had three Top-Ten singles from his great 1971 album What's Going On, and two more Top-Ten hits with "Trouble Man" in 1972, and "Let's Get It On" six months later.

In between, however, he released a two-part single called "You're the Man," which, unfortunately, didn't do that well, reaching only #50 on the pop charts. Originally intended as the title track for a full album, the project was eventually scrapped when the single didn't do well and the offer came up to work on the Trouble Man soundtrack.

The song more or less vanished for the next 23 years. Not until the 1995 box set, The Master, 1961-1984, did the complete version re-appear. (It's also available now as a bonus track on the CD of Let's Get It On.)

Too bad, because it might be one of Marvin's best songs. Released during the tumultuous 1972 presidential campaign that featured Richard Nixon running for re-election against George McGovern, "You're the Man" offers some stinging lyrics about the plight of African-Americans under the Nixon administration, as well as anger at all of the empty promises made to blacks by white politicians. That anger powers some of Marvin's most emotional and riveting singing, especially in the last part of the song.

I wish he were still around to see what was happening now. How would he react to Barack Obama and this election?

Youre the Man, Pts. 1-2 - Marvin Gaye

(Marvin Gaye/Kenneth Stover)

Talkin', talkin' to the people
Tryin' to get them to go your way
Tellin' us not to worry
That we won't be led astray
So blind, unsignified
Your opponents always lying
Think about the mistakes you make
I believe America's at stake
You know, busin', busin' is the issue
Do you have plan with you?
If you have a plan
If you have a master plan
Got to vote for you
Hey hey, got to vote for you
You're the man

We don't wanna hear no more lies
About how you plan to economize
We want our dollar value increased
And employment to rise
The nation's taxation
Is causin' all, all this inflation
Don't give us no peace sign
Turn around and rob the people blind
Economics is the issue
Do you have a plan with you?
'Cause if you've got a master plan
Got to vote for you
You're the man

[8 times, over scat singing:]
Don't you understand?
There's misery in the land

People marching on Washington
Better hear what they have to say
'Cause the tables just might turn against you, brother
Set around Election Day
Politics and hypocrites
Is turning us all into lunatics
Can you take the guns from our sons?
Right all the wrongs this administration has done?
Peace and freedom is the issue
Do you have a plan with you?
If you've got a plan
If you've got a master plan
Got to vote for you
Hey hey, got to vote for you
'Cause you're the man

[Repeat and fade:]
Got to vote for you

Friday, October 24, 2008

A Gershwin Friday: I Got Plenty O' Nuttin'

Don't panic! Barack Obama Sammy Davis Jr. analyzes the global economic meltdown and tells you how to survive the crisis. Forget Paulson - Sammy's going with the Gershwin Plan.

I got plenty of nothing
And nothing's plenty for me
I got no car - got no mule
I got no misery

Folks with plenty of plenty
They've got a lock on the door
'Fraid somebody goin' to rob 'em
While there out (a) making more - what for?

I got no lock on the door
That's no way to be
They can steal the rug from the floor
That's OK with me
'Cause the things that I prize
Like the stars in the skies - are all free

I got plenty of nothing
And nothing's plenty for me
I got my gal - got my song
Got heaven the whole day long
No use complaining

Got my gal - got my Lord - got my song

I ain't a-frettin 'bout hell
'Till the time arrives
I'll never worry long as I'm well
Never one to strive
To be good, to be bad
What the hell
I am glad I'm alive

I got plenty of nothing
And nothing's plenty for me
I got my gal - got my song
Got heaven the whole day long
Man, there's no use complaining

Got my gal - got my Lord - got my song

"I Got Plenty O' Nuttin'"
from Porgy and Bess
Music by George Gershwin.
Lyrics by Ira Gershwin and DuBose Heyward.

How Democracy Works in New York

Over a million people in the City of New York voted for term limits for their Mayor and City Council members.

Not once but TWICE!

And the measure passed easily both times: 59%-41% in 1993, and 54%-46% in 1996.

One billionaire mayor decides he doesn't like the term limits.

Twenty-nine sycophantic City Councilmen say, "That's okay, you can run again. What do the idiot voters know anyway?"

At a time when many people are trying to move beyond their well-earned cynicism towards the political process in the United States, Michael Bloomberg lays a big steaming turd in the punch-bowl of Democracy.

So, go ahead, drink up. Isn't this the change you wanted?

If we're really lucky, George W. Bush will ask the Supreme Court to get rid of the term limit for presidents.

Don't think this is what Democracy looks like? Let the Monarch Mayor and City Council know. Even if you're not in New York. In fact, especially if you're not in New York. Because, in the end, this isn't about Bloomberg or New York or term limits. It's about respecting the democratic process.

Contact the Monarch:

Contact Christine C. Quinn, Speaker of the New York City Council, who helped win over the necessary clowns for Boss Tweed. (Click on "Contact Speaker Quinn" for an email form.)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Undecided Voter

How can anyone be an "undecided voter" at this point of the election? In this week's New Yorker, David Sedaris contemplates these people:

“Who are they?” the news anchors ask. “And how might they determine the outcome of this election?”

Then you’ll see this man or woman— someone, I always think, who looks very happy to be on TV. “Well, Charlie,” they say, “I’ve gone back and forth on the issues and whatnot, but I just can’t seem to make up my mind!” Some insist that there’s very little difference between candidate A and candidate B. Others claim that they’re with A on defense and health care but are leaning toward B when it comes to the economy.

I look at these people and can’t quite believe that they exist. Are they professional actors? I wonder. Or are they simply laymen who want a lot of attention?

To put them in perspective, I think of being on an airplane. The flight attendant comes down the aisle with her food cart and, eventually, parks it beside my seat. “Can I interest you in the chicken?” she asks. “Or would you prefer the platter of shit with bits of broken glass in it?”

To be undecided in this election is to pause for a moment and then ask how the chicken is cooked.

I mean, really, what’s to be confused about?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Reason #47 To Keep the Tums Handy Until November 5

(See Also: Reason #119 To Stay Drunk Until November 5.)

From today's Political Wire: "Obama Poll Shows Tighter Race in Pennsylvania."

An internal poll from Sen. Barack Obama's campaign in Pennsylvania has him just two points ahead of Sen. John McCain, according to The Hill.

"WILK radio host Steve Corbett said Tuesday he obtained an Obama campaign e-mail about the internal poll showing a tight race." The Obama campaign "wouldn't confirm the internal poll numbers, but said that the e-mail was sent without permission."
I will not look at poll numbers.
I will not look at poll numbers.
I will not look at poll numbers.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Result of the McCain-Palin Negative Attack Campaign

From today's New York Times article, "Obama Appeal Rises in Poll; No Gains for McCain Ticket."

In the last month, Obama's Favorable rating among Independents has gone from 34% to 51%, +17 points. Biden went from 31% to 47%, +16.

In the same time period, McCain's Favorable rating among Independents went from 42% to 39%, -3 points. Palin's rating went from 42% to 38%, -4 points.

McCain's Unfavorable rating went up an astounding 20 points, from 24% to 44%. Palin's Unfavorable rating jumped 14 points, from 19% to 33%.

Click on the image for a closer view.

Across the board, Obama and Biden made significant gains, whereas McCain and, especially Palin, went down, down, down.

The nasty attacks by McCain and Palin may have pleased the right-wing extremist Republican base, but there aren't enough of them to win an election without moderate Republicans and Independents.

What a bizarre campaign McCain has run. In a year when he absolutely had to court Independents, he seems only to have pandered to a dwindling extremist base.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Long Ago and Far Away

From Mark Halperin at The Page.

When was the last U.S. presidential election the Republican Party won without a Nixon or a Bush on the ticket?


Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Song Stuck in My Head When I Woke Up This Morning

If you've ever wondered what it would sound like if Tom Waits recorded Bob Dylan's "The Man in the Long Black Coat" with a little groove, it might go something like this.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: "Red Right Hand" from Let Love In (1994).

Take a little walk to the edge of town
Go across the tracks
Where the viaduct looms,
like a bird of doom
As it shifts and cracks
Where secrets lie in the border fires,
in the humming wires
Hey man, you know
you're never coming back
Past the square, past the bridge,
past the mills, past the stacks
On a gathering storm comes
a tall handsome man
In a dusty black coat with
a red right hand

He'll wrap you in his arms,
tell you that you've been a good boy
He'll rekindle all the dreams
it took you a lifetime to destroy
He'll reach deep into the hole,
heal your shrinking soul
But there won't be a single thing
that you can do
He's a god, he's a man,
he's a ghost, he's a guru
They're whispering his name
through this disappearing land
But hidden in his coat
is a red right hand

Don't got no money?
He'll get you some
You don't have no car? He'll get you one
You don't have no self-respect,
you feel like an insect
Well don't you worry, buddy,
'cause here he comes
Through the ghettos and the barrio
and the bowery and the slum
A shadow is cast wherever he stands
Stacks of green paper in his
red right hand

[Organ solo]

You'll see him in your nightmares,
you'll see him in your dreams
He'll appear out of nowhere but
he ain't what he seems
You'll see him in your head,
on the TV screen
Hey, buddy, I'm warning you
to turn it off
He's a ghost, he's a god,
he's a man, he's a guru
You're one microscopic cog
in his catastrophic plan
Designed and directed by
his red right hand

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Palin as President

Go to the website, move your cursor around, and click on things. Enjoy.

Of course, if McCain manages to win, it won't seem very funny anymore.

Monday, October 13, 2008

McCain Stunt Level Alert System

From Nate Silver at

I would say we're at ORANGE right now. Maybe peaking into RED.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Beatlemania: The Most Underrated Beatles Songs

Another pointless listing exercise that I seem to enjoy far more than I should. This one has the added element of being particularly silly and impossible to determine. Not that I was daunted by that.

Nor, evidently, are many other people, as a quick Google search revealed countless web pages devoted to the same quest. I am not alone in my freakdom. After my own list, I include some other results. (Mine, naturally, being far more authoritative.)

Ah, well, it's a fun excuse to talk about good songs.

"Underrated" is always in the eye of the beholder. You can't really prove it; you just know it when you see it. Basically, something you love doesn't seem to be valued as highly by other (less knowledgeable) people. I decided not to include any of the Beatles big hits. That part was easy. But I also wanted to exclude songs that were/are played on the radio a lot, or have always been fan favorites, or that have been written about extensively. That wasn't so easy.

My first choice for the most underrated Beatles song was "Tomorrow Never Knows." It's one of my favorite songs by the Fab Four, and it was enormously important, not just in their own body of work but in the history of 20th century popular music. Many non-Beatles fans may not even know it. But it's been written about at length. George Martin, in his book With a Little Help from My Friends: The Making of Sgt. Pepper, has to include a whole section on the song, even though it was on Revolver, because it marked the beginning of the Beatles serious experimentation in the studio. There is no Pepper without "Tomorrow Never Knows." So, sadly, I didn't include it on the list.

I offer ten songs, in the order they came to me. You can hear them by clicking on the title, which will direct you to a YouTube video. (Several of the videos have additional information about the songs available under the "more" link on the right.) After the first ten are others I considered. I'm sure I've missed some good ones. If I did the list again tomorrow, the first six would probably remain the same, but the others could easily change.

And, of course, I'd love to hear what others think. (Unless you're going to mention "Yesterday." Then I will have to ask you to step outside.)

Rain (B-side single "Paperback Writer") - I'm partial to a certain strain of psychedelic Beatles. Not the flowery songs, but those with an edge and a deeper groove. It's an artistic trajectory that begins, I would argue, with "Norwegian Wood" and ends with "The Inner Light," and is made up almost entirely of work by John and George. "Rain" is one of those Beatles songs that seems to capture the essence of what the group was trying to do at a certain period of time. It's the perfection of a sound that hovers about all of their 1966 output but comes to full fruition on this track.

Recorded during the April 1966 sessions for Revolver, the song's strange atmosphere resulted in part from the group's new-found love of toying with technology. It marks the first time they used backwards guitar, an accidental discovery. As John recalled later, "I got home from the studio stoned out of mind on marijuana, and as I usually do, I listened to what I'd recorded that day. Somehow I got [the tape] on backwards and I sat there, transfixed, with the earphones on, with a big hash joint. I ran in the next day and said, 'I know what to do with it, I know . . . Listen to this! . . . That was a gift from God - of Jah, actually, the god of marijuana. Jah gave me that one. The first backwards guitar on any record."

In addition to the backwards guitar and John's backwards vocals in the last verse, the band also tinkered in the studio by playing the rhythm track incredibly fast and then slowing it down on tape, giving the song much of its dreamy quality.

Beyond the technological innovations, however, the band simply produced some excellent music on this one. Ian MacDonald, in his book Revolution in the Head, says, "[i]nstrumentally, the twin focuses of 'Rain' are Starr's superb soloistic drumming (which he reckons to be his best recorded performance), and McCartney's high-register bass-line, sometimes so inventive that it threatens to overwhelm the track." The song is also helped greatly by John's vocal, which MacDonald highlights for its "acerbic quality. There is nothing innocent here, the observing eye is critical, and the song's chanting phrases verge on a sneer ('Can you hear me.')"

What gets lost forty years later when discussing the Beatles psychedelic era, is that most people think colorful Sgt. Pepper costumes and "All You Need Is Love." But the best Beatles songs of that era - the John and George work I mentioned earlier - have a darker hue, a questioning and often cynical edge. "Rain" is one of the best examples. Unfortunately, by making it the B-side of "Paperback Writer," the song never really received the attention it deserved.

I'm Only Sleeping (Revolver) - Another excellent, dreamy John song from the Revolver sessions. More backwards guitar. A fragment of an early take that appeared on Anthology 2 features vibraphone, which adds to the dreamy quality. For some reason, I always imagine this song as the birth of Yo La Tengo.

Hey Bulldog (Yellow Submarine) - The Summer of Love turned into the Winter of Discontent. The Christmas 1967 broadcast of Magical Mystery Tour on BBC was a critical and popular disaster. Brian Epstein's death seemed to have left his four charges in an emotional and creative lurch. They hadn't been in the studio as a group for several months. Their psychedelic period was crashing to an end and the last tragic epoch of over-exercised egos and crumbling relationships was about to begin. In between the two eras came a strange little session over the course of a week in early February, 1968, just days before they embarked on their ill-fated group pilgrimage to India. They had no overarching project to work on yet, but they needed a single, so they knocked out Paul's "Lady Madonna" and an early version of John's "Across the Universe." The two argued over which should be the A-side, but John's offering wasn't really in great shape, so the nod went to Paul's song.

In the meantime, the band worked on another half-formed John tune first called "Hey Bullfrog." It was somewhat of a nonsense piece, knocked out in a single day (fast work for them at that point), and eventually relegated to the dust-bin of the Yellow Submarine soundtrack. But propelled by a driving James Bond-like theme pounded out on piano by John and Paul's groovy bass-work, the song has more energy than many of their better-known tunes, and it remains fresh after 40 years. Part of the excitement comes from John's snarling vocals. He seems to have woken up from his by-then perpetual LSD reverie and decided to become a more physical rock and roll singer again. Maybe because the band wasn't trying to be great on this song, they were able to deliver a simple yet powerful reminder of just how great they could be. One of their best pure rock and roll cuts.

The Inner Light (B-side single "Lady Madonna") - For twenty years, this was probably the most obscure song in the Beatles catalogue. Available only as a b-side to "Lady Madonna," and then on an expensive (for me at least) ten-LP Beatles collector's set, I didn't hear "The Inner Light" until it was finally released on CD (Past Masters Volume Two) in 1988. Recorded during the same February 1968 session that produced "Hey Bulldog," it would be George Harrison's last and, perhaps, most successful experiment with Indian music.

During the creative lull after Brian Epstein's death in August 1967, George had been invited to Bombay to do a soundtrack of Indian-influenced music for a film called Wonderwall. While there, he also recorded some basic tracks with some of the best musicians in India. To one of these songs, he added transcribed text from the Tao Te Ching by Lao tzu, and thus was born "The Inner Light." Mark Lewisohn notes that Harrison had to be coaxed to sing the song, however. "Strangely, for so beautiful a song, George seemed reluctant to record his vocal, according to tape operator Jerry Boys. 'George had this big thing about not wanting to sing it because he didn't feel confident that he could do the song justice. I remember Paul saying, 'You must have a go, don't worry about it, it's good.'" MacDonald, generally dismissive of Harrison's work, calls it "spirited and charming - one of its author's most attractive pieces."

I don't know why the song fell into obscurity for as long as it did, but I do know that some of its lines often pop into my head, especially the affecting way George sings, "The further one travels, the less one knows."

It's All Too Much (Yellow Submarine) - Another George song unfairly dismissed over the years. This psychedelic epic was recorded a few days before the release of Sgt. Pepper and used for the Yellow Submarine project. To me, the song strikes an excellent balance between the mystery of spiritual unity - evoked by guitar feedback, church organs, droning rhythm and chanting - and the resulting joy that can almost be unbearable. In an ecstatic state, the mind, heart and spirit can definitely feel overwhelmed, and suddenly being connected to THE ALL literally becomes "All Too Much." But Harrison uses his sense of humor to keep the song balanced between powerful mystical experience and our quotidian concerns. "Sail me on a silver sun, where I know that I'm free. Show me that I'm everywhere and get me home for tea." The line is reminiscent of another 20th century British mystic disguised as a popular artist, T.S. Eliot, who writes in "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" that there is time for "a hundred visions and revisions before the taking of a toast and tea."

Harrison also does a deft job of connecting spiritual experience to physical love. On one level, "It's All Too Much" is simply another Beatles love song. George opens this six and a half-minute mystical journey in the earthly realm, staring into his lover's eyes: "When I look into your eyes, your love is there for me. And the more I go inside, the more there is to see." Immediately, though, this love from his partner becomes something greater than themselves. "It's all too much for me to take, the love that's shining all around you." What's in her eyes is also that which surrounds them. At the end of the song, after several verses of ecstatic experience, George returns to the physical realm and his beloved: "With your long blond hair and your eyes of blue, You are too much." She, the lover, has now become an earthly embodiment of Love and The All, which has been so mind-blowing. The two shall become One.

There is an earlier and even longer version (8:35) of the song, with additional lyrics, available on some bootlegs. Harrison basically cut out one of the middle verses.

Flying/Blue Jay Way (Magical Mystery Tour) - This is really two distinct songs that follow one another on Side One of the original album. They create such a single mood, however, that I always think of them as being one piece. "Flying," originally known as "Aerial Tour Instrumental," was written specifically as incidental music for the Magical Mystery Tour film and is one of the very rare Beatles instrumentals. In its early incarnations, it stretched to nine minutes long and included at different times an experimental jazz saxophone at the end, and in a bootleg version I have, a Cowboy TV Theme thing. Luckily, both were eventually dropped. What remains is, in my eyes, a tremendous kind of psychedelic groove, and a pathway I really wish the Beatles would've pursued more in their work. Something was happening here that never really shows up anywhere else. Maybe in "I Want You (She's So Heavy)," on Abbey Road. But even that was different.

"Blue Jay Way" continues the mood and deepens it. Some people are lost in a fog. The narrator, George, is simply hanging out waiting for them. How existential and/or spiritual. Nothingness. That's what these two songs conjure up. A beautiful and womb-like nothingness.

There's also a sly, wonderful George poke at the authorities he was always suspicious of. "Ask the policemen on the street; there are so many there to meet." And later, as he repeats the line, "Please don't be long," it suddenly transforms into "Don't belong." Dark fluid psychedelic groove. I want more!

Two of Us (Let It Be) - We forget sometimes that in addition to being one of the great composing partnerships in 20th century music, John and Paul were also best buds going back a long way. One of those rare super-intense friendships. And it fell apart quickly like a passionate romance. "Two of Us," one of their last songs together, is a sad and poignant piece that they somehow manage to pull off emotionally, though they were hardly talking to each other at that point. It's like a married couple singing a lovely, painful duo about their own divorce.

Baby It's You / Twist and Shout (Please Please Me) - John Lennon was a great rock and roll singer, perhaps never more so than in the group's early days. He had an unaffected and energetic, almost wild voice. Over the years, I think drugs and an increasing seriousness (ego) caused him to lose some of the vitality of the first recordings. Listening to the Please Please Me album is to be reminded of his great singing. Nowhere is that more evident than on "Twist and Shout," and though I wouldn't call that exactly underrated, I think it's worth mentioning. It was the final song recorded at the end of a long arduous day on February 11, 1963. Beatles historian Mark Lewisohn, in The Beatles Recording Sessions: The Official Abbey Road Studio Session Notes, 1962-1970, calls it "arguably the most stunning rock and roll vocal performance of all time; two-and-a-half minutes of Lennon shredding his vocal chords to bits." He describes the scene well:

"The group was not exactly at the peak of physical condition before the day even started, having worked up and down the country through one of the coldest British winters on record. John Lennon had a particularly heavy cold. . . .It was now something like 10:00 pm and the studios were due to close down for the evening. But there was one more song to be recorded. . . . Someone suggested they do 'Twist & Shout,' the old Isley Brothers number, with John taking the lead vocal. But by this time all their throats were tired and sore -- it was 12 hours since we had started working. John's, in particular, was almost completely gone. . . . John sucked a couple more Zubes ["throat sweets"], had a bit of gargle with milk and away we went."
MacDonald says that at 10:30, with Lennon "stripped to the waist and the others 'hyping' themselves by treating the control-room staff as their audience, they went for it. The eruptive performance that ensued stunned the listening technicians."

If "Twist and Shout" doesn't count as "underrated," one can hear Lennon's great singing on other tunes from that session. "Baby, It's You," a Shirelles song, was the track the group recorded just before "Twist and Shout." Lennon's voice is obviously already raw, but while the tune may be kitschy in parts, you can still hear why he was such a great singer. "Anna" is another good example from that session.

I'll Be Back (A Hard Day's Night) - John considered this one of his own personal favorites, and it's easy to see why. MacDonald calls it "a melancholy essay in major/minor uncertainty mirrored in the emotional instability of its lyric. The most unorthodox thing Lennon had yet written."

The Night Before (Help!) - One of my favorite Paul songs. For some reason, it never gets talked about much, but I think it's a great example of Beatles "pop" at its best.

Others I considered, in no real order:
Julia (The Beatles) - One of John Lennon's most personal and beautiful songs. Mother-Sister as muse. Perfect yin-yang balance to his great song "Mother" from Plastic Ono Band.
Love You To (Revolver) - Harrison's first full attempt at mixing Indian music with rock and roll. Cool, cynical lyrics give it an edge.
Oh! Darling (Abbey Road) - My vote for Paul's finest vocal effort as a Beatle. At least as a rock and roll singer.
Yes It Is (B-side single "Ticket To Ride") - MacDonald calls this Lennon's "most yearningly romantic song . . . positively 19th century in its haunted feverishness, its Poe-like invocation of the colour scarlet, and its hint that the lost lover of the lyric is dead." Yeah, whatever. It is one of John's most romantic songs.
You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away (Help!) - Lennon in full Dylan mode. Not sure this can really be considered underrated. It gets a fair amount of attention.
I Want You (She’s So Heavy) (Abbey Road) - One of the heaviest Beatles' jams tacked onto John's minimalist lyrics.
This Boy (B-side single “I Want To Hold Your Hand”) - Lennon starting to stretch out as a songwriter. A lovely little ballad.
I Need You (Help!) - More neglected Harrison. A meditative, almost melancholy love song with great atmosphere. Though George was the youngest in the group, this tune seems to have more genuine emotional authority than what John and Paul were doing at that point. George seemed born with an older man's questioning nature.
You Won’t See Me (Rubber Soul) - One of my favorite Paul "pure pop" songs. Sounds very "sixties" now, but it's still catchy.
I Want To Tell You (Revolver) - Revolver may have been George's best album as a songwriter (Taxman, Love You To, and this one), and this was only his third best cut on it. His lazy, cynical vocals and the kind of off-kilter, brooding quality of the song give Revolver some of its essential weight. Provides a needed counterbalance to the dramatic brightness of many of Paul's efforts on the album.
Cry Baby Cry (The Beatles) - MacDonald's take: "[A] haunting and haunted creation. . . . Of all The Beatles, Lennon had the most direct access to childhood, and this song, with its deceptive sunshine and mysterious laughter behind half-opened doors, is one of the most evocative products of that creative channel." Lennon called it "a piece of rubbish." I go with MacDonald on this one.
I’ll Follow the Sun (Beatles for Sale) - Paul's musing folk ditty, actually written in Hamburg in 1960.
I’m Happy Just to Dance With You (A Hard Day's Night) - Another one of those songs that seems to capture what the Beatles were all about at a certain point in their trajectory. George singing a tune John wrote for him.
No Reply (Beatles for Sale) - A pivot point between early and mid Beatles. Their first attempt at an operatic feel.
I found a Beatles web site where over 50 people listed their FIVE choices for most underrated songs. I tallied up the scores and here are the Top 20, along with the number of votes:
1. Rain (B-side single “Paperback Writer”) - 12
2. You Wont See Me (Rubber Soul) - 11
3. Hey Bulldog (Yellow Submarine) - 10
4. I'm Only Sleeping (Revolver) - 8
5. I've Got A Feeling (Let It Be) - 7
6. Dig A Pony (Let It Be) - 6
7. And Your Bird Can Sing (Revolver) - 5
7. The Night Before (Help!)- 5
7. Piggies (The Beatles) - 5
7. Savoy Truffle (The Beatles) - 5

11. Baby You're a Rich Man (Magical Mystery Tour) - 4
11. I Want You (She's So Heavy) (Abbey Road)- 4
11. I've Just Seen a Face! (Help!) - 4
14. I Me Mine (Let It Be) - 3
14. I'm Looking Through You (Rubber Soul) - 3
14. Long, Long, Long (The Beatles) - 3
14. Revolution 9 (The Beatles) - 3
14. She's Leaving Home (Sgt. Pepper) - 3
14. This Boy (B-side single “I Want To Hold Your Hand”) - 3
14. Two of Us (Let It Be) - 3
14. Yer Blues (The Beatles) - 3

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?

February 1959. Buddy Holly and the Crickets are touring with Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper. Holly hires a four-seat airplane to take his band to Fargo, North Dakota. The Big Bopper has a cold, so one of the Crickets, Waylon Jennings, offers him his seat on the plane. A few minutes later, Holly, Valens and the Big Bopper would be dead, the plane crashing in snow shortly after take-off.

In 1965, after struggling a few years with grief and guilt, Jennings headed to Nashville, where he eventually made it as a country singer. But he grew increasingly frustrated with the stuffy attitudes and limited artistic freedom in Music City USA. Along with another rebellious Texan named Willie Nelson, he rejected the "rhinestone suits and new shiny cars" of the slick Nashville scene and began experimenting with a new sound.

By the early 1970s, Jennings and Nelson had started blending a rock and roll sensibility with the country tradition of Hank Williams, Bob Wills and Johnny Cash. It was an edgier form of country, musically stripped down and lyrically more complex, and it became known as "progressive country" or the Outlaw movement. One of the influences on the new sound was Johnny Cash's own friendship and musical exploration with Bob Dylan in the late 1960s. Dylan wrote "Wanted Man" for Cash, who included it on his 1969 live album, At San Quentin. (Real outlaw music.) And, of course, Dylan himself was greatly inspired by Hank Williams. So, it shouldn't have been a surprise when Dylan went country. Or when country went Dylan.

Or when one of Buddy Holly's Crickets dug back into his rock and roll roots to lament what Nashville had become.

Here's Waylon in 1975, singing what became a kind of anthem for the outlaw country movement: "Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?"

Lord, it's the same old tune, fiddle and guitar
Where do we take it from here?
Rhinestone suits and new shiny cars
It's been the same way for years
We need to change

Somebody told me when I came to Nashville
Son, you finally got it made
Old Hank made it here; we’re all sure that you will
But I don't think Hank done it this way
I don't think Hank done it this way

Ten years on the road, making one night stands
Speeding my young life away
Tell me one more time just so I'll understand
Are you sure Hank done it this way?
Did Ol' Hank really do it this way?

Lord, I've seen the world with a five piece band
Looking at the back side of me
Singing my songs and one of his now and then
But I don't think Hank done 'em this a'way
I don't think Hank done 'em this a'way

Friday, October 03, 2008

The Sarah Palin Debate Flow Chart

From Aden Nak, via Andrew Sullivan.

Biden Wins the VP Debate (and More)

It seems boring and obvious to say that Joe Biden won the VP debate, but the vast majority of the media and political pundits have been so focused on the Sarah Palin Sideshow ("Wow, she can string together nouns and verbs!") that the real story from last night needs to be repeated so that it can escape the NoiseDome: Joe Biden easily won last night's debate, especially in the eyes of the only people who really matter at this point: Independents and Undecided Voters.

Media Research did real-time polling of Independents on issues that matter most to them. Here are some of the results from Biden Won Independents in VP Debate:

Who won the debate?
Biden 69%
Palin 31%

Washington Bailout Reaction
Biden 62%
Palin 38%

VP Responsibilities
Biden 72%
Palin 28%

Biden 72%
Palin 28%
An instant CBS poll of Undecided voters on who won the debate:
Biden 46%
Palin 21%
Tie 33%

The over-emphasis on Ms. Governor Sideshow not freaking out on stage neglects the fact that Biden had to walk a tightrope last night in how he dealt with his opponent, and he handled the situation very, very well.

Some comments from Joe Klein (certainly not a raging liberal) at Time:
The fact that Palin made it through the debate without running off the stage shouting, "I can't do this!" should not obscure the fact that there was only one person tonight whom anyone with any sense—even John McCain, I imagine—would trust as President. Biden's performance was strong and, happily, gimmick free. He used no gotcha soundbites, no consultant-driven silliness—a fact driven home by the lameness of Palin's snark lines like, "Say it ain't so, Joe" and—pace, Gipper—"There you go again, talking about the past."

She had that folksy thing down—although I did notice, watching the squiggly lines down at the bottom of the CNN screen, that when she tried to get cutesy with her folksiness, it didn't work.

What she did show was some folksy charm and some energy—qualities that might get her selected for Dancing With the Stars, if not Jeopardy.

Joe Biden, by contrast, demonstrated a real knowledge of the issues in question. . . . He was genuinely moving when he talked about being a single parent after the death of his wife (he almost began to weep, but held it together); in fact, that moment was more real than anything Palin said all night. He also closed with a devastating point: McCain was, sure enough, a maverick on some things, but not on any of the issues that really mattered in this election—and he listed those issues, and where McCain stood on them, to great effect.
Drama Queen John McCain's poll numbers have been steadily slipping, both nationally and in several key swing states. His campaign, and many pundits, think that Gov. Sideshow's performance last night will stop the bleeding.

Because she didn't totally screw up.

But she still looked completely outmatched - and unprepared to be Vice President of the United States of America.

Republicans were so happy last night that Gov. Sideshow had done okay. And I'm sure the "base" was pleased.

But I'd bet money that at least a few undecided and Independent voters woke up this morning and - in the cold, sober light of day - realized that Sideshow actually didn't do that well last night. And when they think about a future that could be one of the most challenging and insecure times in the history of our country, the idea of McCain and Palin running the country could and should scare them to death.

The bottom line: John "Drama Queen" McCain and Sarah "Sideshow" Palin simply aren't presidential.

It's rather stunning, really. In one of the shakiest times since most of us have been alive, the Republican Party has chosen TWO people for the ticket who fail the simplest test of all - at least seeming like they have what it takes to be president of the country. Over the last two weeks, in the midst of an economic crisis, McCain has behaved like a fading prima donna gone off her meds. Or some boozer trying to hijack a school bus full of kids so he gets on the evening news. "Erratic" doesn't even begin to cover it. For God's sake, take the keys away from this guy before he gets behind the wheel.

And no matter how much Palin exceeded expectations last night, she seemed absolutely vacuous and immature next to her Democratic opponent.

Biden, on the other hand, seemed as presidential as Obama. It's a solid ticket in a time of crisis.

Joe Biden won the debate. And much more.