Month: January 2015

Me & Mr Jones

“What kind of fuckery is this?” What a legendary line. Only Amy Winehouse could deliver such profanity with so much panache. According to every source on web, Winehouse wrote this withering-yet-affectionate torch song about her friend Nasir Jones, better known to the world as Nas, the acclaimed hip-hop artist. Winehouse was a big Nas fan, and even sampled one of his songs on her first album. After she became well known, they met and became friends. I have no idea if the two were ever romantically involved; I’m pretty sure their friendship developed whilst both were married to other people. Nas and Amy shared the same birthday, a fact she references. Although Amy calls Nas her ‘best black Jew’, as far as I know, he is not Jewish, though he has publicly spoken out against anti-semitism.  There’s also no record I could find of any Slick Rick-related incidents. Whatever that story was, it hasn’t come out yet. It still may, though. Nas has confirmed that the song is totally all about him, so maybe at some point he’ll share the story of what happened the day of the Slick Rick gig.

Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard

The million dollar question is, what were you and Julio doing down by the schoolyard, anyway? Unfortunately, even Paul Simon doesn’t know;  “I have no idea what it is… Something sexual is what I imagine, but when I say ‘something’, I never bothered to figure out what it was. Didn’t make any difference to me.” There you have it. Imagine what transgressions you like most. It’s that open-ended mystery that makes it the most risque Paul Simon song. I don’t think Paul Simon has ever written a genuinely risque song, so you really have to plug the innuendo in yourself. And in contrast to any possible filth you might be picturing in your head right now, Simon presented an adorably wholesome little video of himself playing sports with inner-city youth at his very own alma mater in Queens. Stop being so lovable all the time, Paul Simon! (If the video looks like it might have been filmed in 1988 while the song was released in ’72, well, that’s because Paul Simon is a time lord, obviously.)

Me and Bobby McGee

“I’d trade all my tomorrows for one single yesterday…”

Some things we consider ‘classic’ are overrated; some are classics for a reason. Janis Joplin’s Me & Bobby McGee is one of the most touted songs of the sixties. It’s been hammered half to death with anthem-of-a-generation boomer nostalgia. And yet, and yet. It remains impervious to cheap sentimentality. Through the hands of dozens of disparate musicians, it remains a gem. Most people consider Joplin’s bleeding-soul rendition the definitive one. Some prefer Kris Kristofferson’s twangier version. There’s probably someone in Sweden who thinks that Caroline of Ugglas absolutely nailed it on her Joplin tribute album. Whichever way you swing, it’s one of the greatest odes to lost love and road weariness ever written. Somewhat ironic that the idea first came to Kristofferson as a bit of a joke; “The title came from [producer and Monument Records founder] Fred Foster. He called one night and said, “I’ve got a song title for you. It’s ‘Me and Bobby McKee’.” I thought he said “McGee”. Bobby McKee was the secretary of Boudleaux Bryant, who was in the same building with Fred. Then Fred says, “The hook is that Bobby McKee is a she. How does that grab you?” (Laughs) I said, “Uh, I’ll try to write it, but I’ve never written a song on assignment.” So it took me a while to think about.”  Not even a good joke, but inspiration strikes in weird ways.

Me and a Gun

I’ll just leave this here with no comment except to say that this is the single most chilling and uncomfortable song anyone has ever written, and Tori Amos deserves the deepest respect for having had the courage to write it.

Maybellene

Chuck Berry is a huge fan of ladies’ makeup products, and that’s why he wrote a song shilling for the Maybellene cosmetic company. The end. No. Chuck Berry was such a huge fan of Bob Wills & The Texas Playboys that he just had to rip off their song Ida Red. Because if there’s one problem with American pop culture, it’s black people always stealing ideas from men who wear cowboy hats. *sarcasm* Actually, it’s a little bit of both. Berry was inspired by Wills’ tune. He often covered it in concert, and even wanted to record his own version, until Chess Records’ Leonard Chess dismissed it as ‘too rural’. It was Chess who had the idea to market “a hillbilly song sung by a black man.” Thus Berry’s signature sound was born; designed to crib from the blues for black appeal, and ‘hillbilly’ country for white appeal. And, yes, he totally lifted the name Maybellene from the cosmetics manufacturer, if you were wondering which came first.

Maybe You’re Right

Contrast with the young Cat Stevens from a few days ago. This is Cat Stevens at his metier. It’s the difference between an artist who hasn’t yet established who he wants to be, and one who has. Mona Bone Jakon was only his third album, and compared to the previous two, I have to say that it should be considered the first real Cat Stevens album. Stevens put out his first music on Deram Records, a Decca affiliate label best known for also being home to an equally uncomfortable with himself young David Bowie, as well as important artists like Whistling Jack Smith and Martin’s Magic Sounds. It was a record label that seemed to specialize in a certain type of music hall-ish campiness, and Cat Stevens was, for a time, their biggest attraction. They tried very, very hard to shove him into the role of peppy little pop star, and he was so intensely stressed out by the pressure that his immune system gave out and he nearly succumbed to tuberculosis. Fortunately, the near brush with death led to a quantum leap in maturity, and after a long convalescence, Stevens returned to the scene his own man. He grew a beard, started wearing comfortable clothes, found himself a real record company, and wrote intelligently about meaningful things. He became the Cat Stevens we know and love. Until another close brush with death brought about a radical transformation…

Maybe This Time

Once I had a lover who played for me, in bed, on his phone, a song that was, I guess, not ‘our song’ but his song for me and our relationship. I won’t say what that song was, but it was depressing and not very optimistic. The affair ended badly, as most of them do. He never asked me what I thought our song was, or what I would have picked to summarize my own feelings. He was both kind and impenetrably self absorbed like that. I never volunteered the info, and we never spoke about it again. But if he had thought to ask, I would have picked this one. It’s an optimistic song, which makes it all the more depressing, because optimism is so often dashed to pieces. Like Sally Bowles, I sometimes get caught up in optimistic illusions that deep down I don’t truly even have faith in. Like Sally, I know I’ll always go back to criss-crossing continents; inch by inch, mile by mile and man by man.