Tori Amos is an important artist, but not necessarily an enjoyable one. Uncomfortable intimacy is her forte. How hard her music makes you squirm depends on how intensely you relate to it. Deliberate anathema to dudebros who resent being reminded that women have dimensions beyond sexual receptivity, Tori’s songs were an early torchlight of nascent feminist awareness for a generation of girls. Her ideal audience is young women in flux, making the journey (as described on this track) from being their mother’s possession to being their own. Like baby turtles scrambling unguided for the relative safety of the ocean, girls must reach fully realized personhood without falling prey to the many, many (mostly male-inflicted) dangers that would hinder their growth and liberty. Tori Amos serves as a guide, teaching the impressionable that romantic love can be a trap or an open door, depending on your luck and your judgement; parental relationships can nourish or hinder you, depending on same; learning to be yourself takes years of trial and error; and oh yeah, getting raped sucks, but you can survive it. Mapping her own journey, Amos (now a mother of girls herself) helped others understand their own, like a helpful older sister pointing out to the likes of ten-year-old me what lies ahead.
You can almost dance to this, which is generally not what Bob Dylan is for. He’s worn a lot of hats in his day, but he’s yet to conquer the club scene. For an artist of such fame and influence, Dylan really is not very accessible. He’s an artist nearly everyone has at least heard of, but not that many people actually enjoy. That’s by design, it seems, judging by his habit of doing bizarre things whenever the acclaim gets too intense. For some fans, though, that’s part of the appeal. For the less dedicated, it’s necessary to shrug off the weirdness and hold on to the good bits. This is about as bibbity-bobbity as it gets with him, and as lyrically straightforward too, and for that reason, not one of the most legendary tracks in the oeuvre.
An ode to a happy marriage. Courtesy of Frank Sinatra, who knew his way around beautiful ladies. Sinatra was a low-life who slid by on charm and convinced the world he was class incarnate. Not a likable character by any means, but an enduringly fascinating one. Even if you’re not intrigued by the legends or attracted to the glamour (not even a little bit, really? You lie!) there’s still the music to contend with. The man could command a tune, no question. He was one of those rare vocalists of such charismatic distinction that once he claimed a song it was his and his rendition was the one to live up to, even if perhaps someone else may have sung it better. (He had that effect on everything from hats to women.)
Yes, it’s one of the most hideous album covers of all time (and not without appropriately disturbing videos, of course) but don’t let that throw you off. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs have always been dangerously stylish, and pushing the envelope into questionable taste is inevitable. Don’t let the hype throw you off either. This might be their best album. (So far, though, so far!) They’ve been around a while; unbelievably enough, they were the cool next big thing way back in 2003. Being the next cool big thing, or the spearhead of the rebirth of NYC punk rock, or the indie darlings of the minute, can be a heavy burden, and plenty of bands have sunk under the weight of such titles. So it’s pretty exceptional when someone actually succeeds in becoming more interesting over the years. Karen O has showcased her range with a variety of side projects, both solo and in collaboration, and proved herself an artist with the diverse skill set and increasing maturity to stick around a long, long time. And does it not take a uniquely creative mind to write an ode to blood-sucking, disease-carrying, pestilent, hideous insects? Anyone who has that idea and then brings it to brilliant fruition is a keeper.
Bible study time with Peter Tosh. Normally, you’d lose me at Bible study, but this is Tosh, and Biblical themes were a big thing for him. I’m familiar with the story of Moses, and vaguely aware of those other guys mentioned in the song, but how they all tie into Rastafari, I’m not sure. Though I know Ras has deep roots in the Old Testament, the exact theological relationships escape me. Nor is this the time and venue to delve into a study of the Abrahamic faiths. But do keep in mind that Reggae music wasn’t just invented to sell tie-dye objects to gullible American stoners, and no, the Rastafari faith is not waiting for you as a fun-loving alternative to the usual Judeo-Christian mumbo jumbo. They are fun-loving, but they also do study the Bible, and also, trust me, they don’t want you. But doesn’t Matisyahu being a thing make a lot more sense now?
This is Paul McCartney at his most weird. For anyone who thinks he slipped quietly and entirely off into Silly Love Song Land after his best collaborators parted ways. In 1978 McCartney was still in full possession of his melodic superpowers, and ready to invest them on topics of complete randomness. Such as a song about a ghost ship. When you stop and consider it, though, you’ll be amazed how much of Paul McCartney’s output would be mere novelty songs in anyone else’s hands. A lesser musician couldn’t write a song about a ghost ship and not sound ready for an episode of Doctor Demento. But this is Paul McCartney, who has composed some of the catchiest tunes of all time and doesn’t mind if some of them are about puppies, or ghost ships, or stinky feet. Seriously, McCartney has composed so many classic, world dominating songs, that for him it’s no loss to throw away a potentially chart busting tune just as a joke.
Cat Stevens reminding you that all is well in the world. Truthfully, the world is far from anything resembling wellness, but some corners of it are better than others, and if you can find them, enjoy the hell out of them. You can decide for yourself whether or not it is ironic that this song began as a traditional Christian hymn (though known now mostly as a Cat Stevens song.)