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Five random songs on my iPod (Zach's birthday edition)

May 2, 2014 - Zach Baker
It is my birthday, and since there's no baseball on (it's 3:44 a.m.) and I want to write, let's put the old iPod on shuffle.

1. We Just Disagree, by Dave Mason.

Why it's here: Probably goes back to my ill-fated country music phase in the early 1990s, when a country singer named Billy Dean covered this song and had a hit with it.

Of course, since I was 11, I had no idea the song was at least 15 years old, and had been recorded by folk rocker Dave Mason. It wasn't until years later, in college, that I became familiar with Mason's version. It soon became a favorite of mine because it's pleasant and the lyrics, while melancholy, avoid the usual pop clich├ęs. This song is not about losing a lover, or about trying to get that lover back. It's not about being in love. It's about accepting that a relationship from the past can't be rekindled, and the particulars in said relationship are OK with that.

It's an acceptance, not a longing. Not many songs from that era feature that type of message. Musically, it's folk/country pop. Well produced, almost overproduced and slick, but never to the point where it overwhelms things.

2. Summer Breeze, Seals and Crofts

Why it's here: One time, about 15 years ago, I heard this song on the radio, and my father was with me. I remarked to him that to me, the most important part of the song was the lead guitar riff that comes after each singing of the chorus. It's an electric guitar; six notes, as far as I can figure. But it's very special.

My father agreed with me, and then said "you have no idea how popular this song was."

I had some idea, since it has been a fixture on adult contemporary and oldies stations for most of my life.

But he said the song was everywhere in the 70s, and it's easy to see why. Easy to listen to, catchy lyrics and riff. I must have played this song about 15 times between January and April, in a futile attempt to escape the Ohio winter, if only for a few minutes.

This song is good, but even it has its limits.

3. Ain't That a Shame, Fats Domino

Why it's here: In the late 80s, a gas station sold what it called "Cruisin' Classics" cassettes. My dad had a number of them. It was here that I became aware of Fats Domino.

Domino's powerful voice and key-pounding ballads (quite a trick, if you think about it) have the ability to take you places you haven't been, like a sock hop, or a scene from Grease.

At least that's how I felt at the time. What I knew about the late 50s at the time consisted of scenes from 80s movies. But the songs stayed with me, even as the stereotypes were replaced by history lessons.

4. Arc of a Diver, Steve Winwood.

In 1997 when I was a junior in high school, a big kid named Travis approached me.

On the surface, he and I had little in common. He was a big senior, I was a practically frail junior. He smoked, I detested the habit, and still do.

He was seen as cool, because he was actually in a band, playing guitar and singing for a group that actually played and recorded in studios. Big deal at the time.

But he and I had one thing in common: We loved old rock. We'd talk Beatles, the Who, Led Zeppelin. I was learning guitar at the time, and we'd talk about that.

On this day, he came up to me, and, without any explanation or buildup, asked "Why isn't Steve Winwood in the Rock Hall of Fame?"

I had no answer. Winwood was a fixture of classic rock. The Spencer Davis Group. Traffic. Blind Faith. Then he had a pretty remarkable resurgence in the '80s, scoring huge hits with "If You See a Chance," and later "Back in the High Life."

Back in the High Life remains a favorite album of mine, actually. Arc of a Diver comes from an earlier album, which shared its name.

This song possesses some of the best (if not always easy to figure out) lyrics of Winwood's career. The chorus goes like this:

"Jealous night and all her secret chords; I must be deaf. On the telephone, I need my love to translate."

Deep, huh? Well, the song does feature a diver. (If anyone else wrote that I'd groan).

5. Caravan, Van Morrison (Live from the Last Waltz)

Why it's here: Huh, the greatest recording of my favorite song of all time. Well, it IS my birthday.

There's thousands of things I could write about this, but yes, Caravan is my favorite song of all-time. Van Morrison is in my top five favorite musicians/performers of all time, trailing only Bob Dylan, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.

The studio recording is on Moondance, my favorite Van Morrison Album. This version, which is shown in edited form in Martin Scorsese's 1976 film The Last Waltz, is done with The Band acting as Van's backup band. I own the film and the album, and while the Band played behind a number of stars that night (Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Muddy Waters, Neil Young, Neil Diamond (?) and Dr. John, among others), there is no one who it seemed better suited for. Only Dylan and Ronnie Hawkins compared in stage chemistry, and those men had toured regularly with The Band at times.

So Van is out in the film, wearing the ugliest suit of the 1970s (think of the ground THAT covers) and blisters through Caravan, removing the microphone from its stand and finding a ridiculous groove, seeming to react physically to every note, every word. As the song reaches it's conclusion, Morrison kick steps across the stage as he prepares to make his exit.

Van looks like a man possessed, while Robbie Robertson (the lead guitarist) and Levon Helm (drummer) grin in seeming bewilderment as Van leaves the stage. Robertson looks offstage as if he expects Van to return. When he doesn't, he remarks "Van the man!" as Helm slams the drums one more time.

As for the recording itself, Helm's book "This Wheel's on Fire" revealed that some of the instrumentation was re-done in a studio. But the essence of the performance remains. Just incredible to watch or listen to.


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