It’s some kind of miracle that every Blondie song sounds like a Top 10 hit. Every single one of them. Album after album where even the third-from-last song would be anyone else in the world’s once-in-a-lifetime masterpiece. How did they do it? There’s been no lack of bands that have tried to replicate the formula; you got your pretty blonde singer, you got your girl-group harmonies, your post-punk tempos and your synths. And it’s mostly led to lots and lots of mediocre punk-pop. No, thanks. I guess that Blondie is just magic.
This Jethro Tull song is barely over a minute. That makes it a tiny speck in the universe of a band given to epics in the 15 to 25 minute range. A minute is barely enough time for Ian Anderson to draw a deep breath before a mighty flute solo. It’s a blink of an eye, a fruit fly’s lifespan. Yet, there have been artists aplenty, from the Ramones to Tierra Whack, who’ve said all that they needed to say entirely in one and two minute songs. There’s time enough to say all you need to say in one minute, and if you can’t do that, you don’t deserve to be writing epics in the first place. Ian Anderson, for all of his ambitions, knows this. He can slide a quiet slip of a song in between all of the big thoughts and say what he has to say. I’ve always loved this, as a breather, a small moment of contemplation. And if nothing else, I love the line “and you press on God’s waiter your last dime, as he hands you the bill…”
Nobody does poignancy like Paul Simon. That’s why we pay him the big bucks. Because he writes the songs that make us think about all of the ups and downs of the human journey and get a little bit dewy in the eye. I don’t know if you can pinpoint an exact time when he crossed over from being the angsty and acerbic fellow he’d been in the 60’s towards becoming the philosophical old man he is today, but I guess the late 70’s a good place to look. Like everybody, of course, he must’ve done a lot of cocaine in the 70’s, which is conducive to some people’s creativity, but not everyone’s. Some people’s creativity flourishes better with a sober brain, and I suspect that Paul Simon might be one of those latter types. All conjecture, of course, I don’t know that much about his life. But it’s a compliment – and not a compliment that I would give to just anyone – that this song sounds like it could have been written by a man of 75.
When I was in high school I spent a lot of time alone in my room listening to T. Rex records. I didn’t have very many friends, but I did have a lot of art projects. Marc Bolan was some of the best company a weird and socially maladjusted kid could have, with his soothing baby-lamb voice and personalized cosmology populated equally by talking woodland critters and sexy mamas in glitter. Bolan was quite the teen idol, in his brief heyday, but he long ago became an obscure curio. Other teen idols have cycled in and out since his time, a new one every 2.5 years or so, because teens and their burning passions have very short shelf-lives. I, meanwhile, am 35 years old now, and I still spend a lot of time alone in my apartment listening to T. Rex records. I don’t have very many friends, but a lot of unfinished art projects. There are many more things in my life than when I was 15, obviously; I have a career, I do socialize and go out sometimes, men vie for my attention, there’s a lot of new music to listen to, etc… But amidst all that, oftentimes I just want to stay home and listen to T. Rex records. Marc Bolan has been a lifelong friend, and his cosmology is part of my cosmology now. Some things in the world don’t ever change.
“This song is about reincarnation, but most people think it’s about cosmetic surgery” says Lena Lovich. That’s a big leap in meaning and philosophy, but I can see how most people take words at face value. It’s nice to see Lovitch still up there doing it, shaking her crazy old lady bones. She doesn’t seem like one to espouse cosmetic correction of any kind. She seems like more the kind to tell everyone to let their freak flag fly. Weirdo types like Lena Lovich really blossom with age, don’t they? Especially women, who delight in outliving expectations of prettiness and acceptable behavior. It’s admirable to see the creativity of old ladies who’ve embraced the role of the crazy spinster aunt or witch in the hut in the woods. It’s so much less of a battle after you’re through being young and attractive.
I have no memory of how I stumbled across this little treasure. Some random playlist or compilation package, I suppose. Wherever and however it was, though, Horace Andy’s distinctive vocals drew me in. It’s always nice to make an obscure discovery, though Horace Andy is actually well known enough among aficionados as a roots reggae trailblazer. He was a main player on the scene in the early 70’s when reggae music was breaking out of Jamaica and gaining worldwide popularity. Andy obviously never found the recognition that some of his other peers did, but he helped form the sound that we all know and love. He also found a second wave of fame later in life for his collaborations with Massive Attack, so he’s got that going for him, and unlike many of his more famous peers, he is very much still alive.
Before there was Moby, there was Eno. That is obvious. Before there were most things, there was Eno. MGMT even wrote a song about it. Brian Eno is the slow, inexorable trickle-down effect of personal weirdness bleeding influence into everything around it until it’s come to subtly dominate huge swaths of popular culture. This is why you have half-ambient car commercial pop music as its own genre now. This is why we have a lot of the pop trends that we have, but as always, the original is better and more interesting.