I’ve always thought that for all of his fame, Lou Reed remained underrated in many regards. Obviously, there’s the inarguable impact of the Velvet Underground, which makes Reed one of the many godparents of punk; the hit-yielding Transformer phase; the many years of love letters to the metropolis of New York. All great. But what I always come back to when it comes to Lou Reed is his romantic heart. He was a nasty guy who showed a cracked and kind side, and it’s often true that people with nasty outsides have the keenest insight on how precious and hard to find tenderness can be. Love sometimes happens in between the nasty business of living. It’s something you hide beneath your leather jacket. That’s the kind of a love song I can relate to. (In sharp contrast to the kind of love songs written by people who just want to hug all the animals in the world.)
This is Paul McCartney at damn near his most McCartneyish. It’s everything that makes a McCartney a McCartney. It’s a love song that’s trite and daft and sugary and lyrically lazy – and inescapably whistleable. You can’t get this tune out of your head, and you just bob along to it whether you like it or not. Whether you find it heartwarming or nauseating really depends on how devout your faith in love is. Honestly it’s hard not to feel at least a little warm and fuzzy, or at the very least envious at how unabashedly happy one has to be to write a song comparing their loved one to delicious gravy. Paul McCartney, of course, happened to be extremely lucky in love, so he wasn’t dragging around the residual angst of repeated heartbreaks the way most of us do. He just loved being in love, with no trace of irony or self-consciousness. Since most of us see the experience of being in love as a mixed blessing at best, that kind of soppy-eyed optimism can be a little hard to relate to. We fall in love with a little wariness. This is why Paul McCartney’s brand of sentimentality grates on a lot of people. However, McCartney also happens to be the kind of musical wunderkind who snores out bank-breaking hits in his sleep, and even the harshest critics can’t argue about that. You will take your sugar and like it, because it’s such a flawless meringue.
Bryan Ferry does interesting things with cover tunes. It’s kind of one of his main things. Take something completely unexpected and obscure and make it over in campy lounge lizard drag. I don’t think anybody has made unusual covers such a strong career sideline. Who else would take a Jimmy Reed song and turn it into high glam? It takes away everything from the blues that makes it the blues and comes up with… a Bryan Ferry song. And it works, like glitter magic.
When we want to hear songs spilling over with bruised emotion and intimate personal revelations, Bob Dylan is not who we usually turn to. Dylan’s not one of those guys who constantly mines his own inner life for material. Dylan has better things to write about than his stupid feelsies. But even the mighty break down sometimes. Facing an oncoming d.i.v.o.r.c.e. even Bob Dylan finds that his heart is suddenly right there on his sleeve, bleeding all over the place.
Al Stewart’s Year of the Cat is a record you should all own, on vinyl of course: if nothing else you can spend hours looking at the album cover. That was something I liked doing when I was a child. Now I don’t actually own that record and it makes me sad. Unfortunately, none of the songs are about cats, not even the title track. On the other hand, none of the songs are about Hitler either, so it’s a little bit less of a challenging listen than some of his other records. It’s still Al Stewart, though, so it may be dressed as 70’s soft rock, but it’s music for people with PhD’s. As opposed to all of the high school dropout types who usually listen to music.
Ça fait rien. Wings are really criminally underrated. They’re not, like, The Beatles or anything but… But of course that’s woefully unfair to say. It’s Paul McCartney at or very near the top of his game, which is always a welcome thing to hear. McCartney’s lifelong problem, notoriously, is that he badly needs someone to bring some pith to his sweetness. None of the members of Wings were ever near John Lennon’s level of salty, but they provided just enough leavening. A good-natured attitude is an underrated quality in entertainment, and people with la-di-da attitudes were nearly their most unfashionable in 1976. But, come on, have some positivity.
Okay, here’s one you probably all know. It’s one of Bob Marley’s most popular songs. I’d say that for many of us, it’s been part of the wallpaper of our lives since childhood. It’s just one of those songs that’s about as universal as a composition can be. It’s nice to see a little video and get a sense of who made the music. Funny how Bob Marley and the Wailers were rarely asked to appear on Top of the Pops-type television shows. It’s probably because they didn’t look much like most of the artists who appeared on those shows. Ahem. Well, they probably didn’t love miming in front of a blank studio screen either.