More Songs to Enjoy and Improve Yourself With

Greetings and Happy Celebration of an Arbitrary Point on Our Planet’s Revolution Around the Sun! Perhaps I should simply say the more familiar, yet less accurate Hello and Happy New Year! I hope the start of 2016 finds you well. How are those resolutions holding up? Same as always? That bad, huh? Don’t sweat it – unless of course your goal is to work out more, in which case you should perspire a few beads. Anyone who read my blog at the change of 2014 to 2015 will remember my sentiment regarding New Year’s and unattainable resolutions that I described in “Songs That Everybody Must Hear to Better Themselves (or At Least Ease Their Whining With)“. I have no problem with developing goals with the intent to improve yourself and our world, but I just think that they should be reined in to a realistic standard, and they should not cause you more trouble than you can handle. If you’re not going to listen to me, at least listen to John Oliver or brutally honest Roger. If you’re not going to listen to any of us, at least listen to the dozen songs I included in my previous New Year’s post to help you to find your center for a healthy and enriching life. Once you finish with those I’ve got a new batch for you to sample and help set things right with, and this time it’s a baker’s dozen!

Once again, these jams are mostly rock or from a rock-blended genre because that’s what I predominantly listen to. Furthermore, they are songs that I personally enjoy and have found themes and messages that help me to keep on the proverbial track of life. Some have obvious connotations; others I simply feel the groove with. Hopefully while listening to them, you will too.

One” by U2 – Released on their famous album Acthung Baby, “One” was, and still is, regarded by many as U2’s best song ever, which is really saying something. Written while the band recorded in Berlin in the midst of the fall of the Berlin Wall and communism across the Soviet states, the song reflects the band’s own doubts and near break-up coming together in harmony as much as it does the gluing back together of Germany. I hear it as a reminder that we are all human and need to work with each other to achieve the greatest society we can make. This requires those of us who are in positions of power, or at least those of us who have it a little better, to give back some of our time, money, food, and most importantly love to our fellow humans who are not as lucky. “We get to carry each other/ Carry each other….” I referenced this song and its sentiment back in March with my post “Hoosier Homophobia: The Latest Chapter in the Book of Intolerance“.


I’d Love to Change the World” by Ten Years After – Sometimes, though, it’s hard to know how to best give back, especially when you feel helplessly small compared to everything plaguing the world here, there, and everywhere. It seems easier to just leave it to someone else. There are definitely people who have dedicated their lives to charity and are more well-versed than the common man on what is most helpful, yet we cannot leave everything to them with the sentiment of “I don’t get it; I can’t really make a difference; I’ll let someone else take care of it.” That uneducated apathetic stance on social justice is what Alvin Lee and his band who formed in 1965 (ten years after when they agreed rock and roll was born) were critiquing in their biggest hit. Take a listen and enjoy the incredible guitar solos by Lee while remembering that his lyrics are more representative of 1960s counterculture than what he actually desired. The world was changing because of Vietnam and the staring contest between the U.S. and Soviet Union that was the Cold War, but no one really knew what to make of it all and a search for answers comes up with more questions.


It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” by R.E.M. – Sometimes that feeling of being overwhelmed by the world’s problems is too much to handle. That is when I invite you to listen to this fast tempo, seemingly free-written apocalyptic anthem that regurgitates everything rambling through your brain up onto a pile and sets it ablaze to free you from the worry of it all. Sang in a style called “stream of consciousness” made famous by Billy Joel’s more historically based tune “We Didn’t Start the Fire“. Believe it or not, R.E.M. beat him to the punch and released this song two years earlier that his! However it was all started by Bob Dylan with “Subterranean Homesick Blues“. And if we’re going to talk about stream of consciousness ramblings then we cannot leave out Weird Al’s palindromic take dedicated to Dylan simply called “Bob“.


Don’t Worry, Be Happy” by Bobby McFerrin – In case R.E.M. didn’t while away your worries enough, take a dose of Bobby McFerrin’s a capella classic that uses nothing more than his own voice and is often wrongly accredited to Bob Marley who had plenty of life-shaping classics himself, but would have had a hard time writing this song considering he died seven years prior to its release. McFerrin invites us to chillax about our daily doubts and put a smile on. The video for his song features him and two American comics known for their goofy happiness dancing around and having fun. The obvious one is Robin Williams who needs no introduction; the other is Bill Irwin who is more well-known on stage as a both a comedic and serious actor, but he has a few film and TV credits including roles on Elmo’s World, CSI, and as the voice of TARS in Interstellar. Of course, the star of this show is McFerrin, who brings an infectious charm that will have you singing along with your own smile. Just try not of think of Big Mouth Billy Bass too much.


Changes” by David Bowie – Written about his own numerous style changes over the years, Bowie’s “Changes” has also been taken up as a memorandum for elders taken aback by the behavior of youth. This notion was latched onto by filmmaker John Hughes who used the lines

And these children that you spit on

As they try to change their worlds

Are immune to your consultations

They’re quite aware of what they’re going through…

from the song’s second verse to open his classic film The Breakfast Club.

“Changes” is good reminder that things never stay the same and that that’s not a bad thing. Often it is good to shake things up. Frequently, changes are necessary to make, both in the world and for yourself.


 

Changes” by 2pac – Tupac Shakur sang of different changes than Bowie. Calling for an end to racism and poverty, he realizes full well those things are not just going to go away as is stated in the chorus sampled from Bruce Hornsby and the Range’s song “The Way It Is” that focused on the Civil Rights movement in America. “The Way It Is” may not be as potent today as 2Pac’s version which also uses the music and melody from it, but it is a lesson that simply acknowledging “that’s just the way it is” does not make something right. With both songs the message is that oppression, racism, and hate should not be tolerated, and neither should privileged or ignorant apathy towards them.


 

Man in the Mirror” by Michael Jackson – One of Michael Jackson’s biggest hits commercially and critically, this song is more than just hot pop. Akin to something you might hear from the choir in a Baptist church, “Man in the Mirror” goes further than pretty harmony and rightly pinpoints where the most integral change of all must take place before anything Earth-shattering is to be accomplished.


 

We Gotta Get out of This Place” by The Animals – Sometimes the change you need is a geographic one. Whether it is to boldly blaze your own trail somewhere new, or to escape from a place that holds nothing for you (we’ll talk about that one next), moving on to a different locale can be beneficial and this is the anthem for it. My dad frequently told me this was the unofficial anthem of U.S. soldiers in the Vietnam War for obvious reasons. He and his platoon frequently played it and sang it and it’s hard to imagine anyone else truly connecting with a song as they did.


 

Baker Street” by Gerry Rafferty – Hopefully you don’t find yourself in an abusive relationship that makes you sing along with The Animals, but a dead-end one isn’t good either. For that matter, being stuck in a bad routine that is draining you in a place that clearly is not what you hoped it would be is far from desirable. Finding the strength to pick up and move on and realize that you’re in control of your life (“The sun is shining, it’s a new morning”) is a significant epiphany that must be made to reclaim your true happiness, and the real you.

Gerry Rafferty was feeling burned out after his band Stealers Wheel (the “Stuck in the Middle With You” guys) broke up in 1975, and constant threats of lawsuits made it so that he could not release any new stuff for three years. Jaded by it all, Rafferty bounced back and forth between his native Scotland and London where he would stay and jam out with a friend who lived on Baker Street. One day he realized it was a “new morning” and he managed to put together his album City to City which featured “Baker Street”. The song is immortally famous for its alto saxophone riff that created the “Baker Street phenomenon” that skyrocketed saxophone sales and the use of the instrument in more songs. It’s one of the first pieces Lisa Simpson ever learned to play, and a favorite of Rick Sanchez’s to gloat with. As long as I’m handing out advice, I might as well say DO NOT combine cesium and water.


 

Won’t Get Fooled Again” by The Who – Of course, as necessary as change is in all our lives we have to remember to avoid making the same mistakes as we did before. Just as change is required to remedy persecution in society, we have to also keep out of the pitfalls that ruined the previous leadership. Pete Townshend was thinking mostly of the latter when he wrote this iconic rock song. The moral of his story – which almost was an actual story; this was supposed to be the ending song of a rock opera he was writing after the success of Tommy -is that the flurry of revolutions, like the ones in the ’60s and ’70s, do not do anything other than change the man in charge, hence the final line “Meet the new boss/ Same as the old boss”. Meant to highlight the unpredictability of political revolution, the song has lines that come from someone who has seen the wheels turn enough times to know better than those blindly following a cause without really knowing what it’s about or what to do when they overthrow the governing body. He’s just going to collect his things and play his guitar and live his life like he always has. It’s a lesson that while change is often good, too much can be bad, and certain people who have lived long enough know when things are going to go too far like they did before.


 

All You Need Is Love” by The Beatles – The greatest band ever had quite a few of the greatest songs ever and many of them have words to live by. “All You Need Is Love” is actually far from my favorite Beatles song (which does not at all imply I don’t like it), but it bears a superb (and obvious) message that is worth repeating.

With a Little Help from My Friends” by The Beatles – This one also has a terrific (and obvious) message. You are as good as your actions and philosophies, and as good as the friends around you. If you want to be a better person, surround yourself with good people. Furthermore, be there for them and they’ll be there for you. This song highlights how life is made easier and more enjoyable when shared in the company of others.

As a bonus, the video clip I included also has a piece of Paul and Ringo singing “Cosmically Conscious”, another message I like, although I think I look at it in a more scientific manner-Carl Sagan kind of way than what Maharishi Yogi was talking about.


Walk on the Wild Side” by Lou Reed – When I say surround yourself with good people I did not include instructions on how to find good people or what good people look like. This is because you’ll figure it out by getting to know someone by spending time with them. Their appearance can offer clues as to their interests and what they identify with, but it is not an assurance of their character – that you determine by their actions and philosophies (you know, those things I just said). Essentially, this is the song that reminds me to not judge a book by its cover. Everyone is different, and some people look very different. However, that does not predispose them to being bad in any way. They could be, but you never know until you talk to them. Who knows? You might meet your best friend in the last place you’d expect dressed as the strangest thing you’ve ever seen.

This song also serves as my reminder to not be afraid to go out of my comfort zone and try new things, visit new places, partake in new experiences, etc.

 

Thanks for reading! As always I can be contacted at monotrememadness@gmail.com for any feedback you may care to share. Be sure to make like Batman and return. As was the case last year and the year before, I’ll have a new post every Monday. Usually late Monday, but Monday.

Wah nah nanana! Wa na na nanana!

Alex

 

 

 

 

 

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