Tag Archives: John Lennon

Happy Birthday Walrus Man!

When I get older losing my hair,
Many years from now.
Will you still be sending me a Valentine
Birthday greetings bottle of wine
If I’d been out till quarter to three
Would you lock the door,
Will you still need me, will you still feed me,
When I’m sixty-four
It’s funny to think that the man who first started writing those words as a teenager turned 64 years old 11 years ago. Sir Paul McCartney was born James Paul McCartney in Liverpool, England on June 18, 1942 and celebrated his 75th birthday yesterday (when love was such an easy game to play….)
What is there to say about the man who is a god among musical men and nothing short of the greatest living rock and roller that has not already been said? With all due respect to Ringo Starr and George Harrison, McCartney and John Lennon were the dominant creative forces of The Beatles, especially where the songwriting was concerned. Even though they had an agreement to to share credit for all the songs either one wrote and often collaborated on writing, there are some songs entirely or mostly written and performed by Paul that showcase his talent, personality, and charm. I have compiled a list below of these songs from each Beatles album for you to sample to hear from the birthday boy and his buds. I have included video links where there are some available. My top 10 are highlighted in bold.

Please Please Me

“I Saw Her Standing There”*

“Love Me Do”

“P.S. I Love You”

 

 

With The Beatles

“All My Loving”

“Hold Me Tight”

 

A Hard Day’s Night

“Can’t Buy Me Love”

“Things We Said Today”

 

Beatles For Sale

“I’ll Follow the Sun”*

“Eight Days a Week”*

“What You’re Doing”

 

Help!

“Another Girl”

“The Night Before”

“I’ve Just Seen a Face”

“Yesterday”

 

Rubber Soul

“Drive My Car”

“You Won’t See Me”

“Michelle”

“I’m Looking Through You”

 

Revolver

“Good Day Sunshine”

“For No One”

“Got to Get You Into My Life”

 

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band/With a Little Help From My Friends” -Okay, Ringo sings the latter half of this medley, but Paul still wrote it and these two songs are each part of a larger whole that is terrific together.

“Getting Better”

“Fixing a Hole”

“She’s Leaving Home”

“When I’m Sixty-Four”

“Lovely Rita”

“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Ban – Reprise”

 

Magical Mystery Tour

“Magical Mystery Tour”

“The Fool on the Hill”

“Your Mother Should Know”

“Hello Goodbye”

“Penny Lane”

 

The Beatles (a.k.a. The White Album)

“Back in the U.S.S.R.”

“Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”

“Martha My Dear”

“Blackbird”

“Rocky Raccoon”

“Why Don’t We Do It In The Road?”

“I Will”

“Mother Nature’s Son”

“Helter Skelter”

“Honey Pie”

 

Yellow Submarine

“All Together Now”

 

Abbey Road

“Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”

“Oh Darling!”

“You Never Give Me Your Money”

“She Came in Through the Bathroom Window”

“Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End” – Like Sgt. Pepper/With a Little Help, I’m counting this as one.

“Her Majesty” – Just a quick, funny tidbit from Paul to end the album.

 

Let It Be

“Two of Us”

“Let It Be”

“I’ve Got a Feeling”*

“The Long And Winding Road”

“Get Back”

 

Beatles singles:

“From Me to You”*

“She Loves You”*

“I Want to Hold Your Hand”*

“We Can Work It Out”*

“Paperback Writer”

“Eleanor Rigby”

“Lady Madonna”

“Hey Jude”

* – co-written with John Lennon

 

A bonus for you! The Best of Paul post-Beatles – Solo and Wings career:

“Maybe I’m Amazed”

“Band on the Run”

“Jet”

“Hi Hi Hi”

“Say Say Say” – with Michael Jackson

“Take It Away”

“Live and Let Die”

“With a Little Luck”

“Helen Wheels”

“Here Today” – tribute to John Lennon

Thanks for reading and listening! Happy birthday to Paul and thanks for the music! Be sure to come back here next week for some more something or other!

Happy Birthday,

Alex

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With a Little Help from My Friends

The recent shameful departure of my country on the Paris Agreement on global climate change is the dominant story in the news and the most pressing issue on my mind, but I just don’t have the energy (and that is not a pun) to restate the same facts about how we humans, and especially me and mine in America, are responsible for rapidly heating up this one habitable planet we have always known, and until the ignorance of greed consumed too many of us, has been a world we loved as well. I love it still, and the billions of humans and wildlife that live upon it, which is why I worry so much. In the interests of not wishing to belabor a point that needs to be repeated, but not so much to my audience who already understands its severity, and for the sake of not wishing to deviate from my original plan for this post, I will not personally cover (at least for this week) the Paris Agreement tackbacksies that my poorly-led nation idiotically enacted, however, my favorite late night host and his team have put together another fantastic segment this time covering just that:

Thank you, John. You make it easier to endure this madness, and though I’ve never met you, I feel like you could be a friend, which is precisely what we all need through hardships and celebrations, and as it happens, it was 50 years ago last week The Beatles taught the world to cherish friends, as well as to embrace the nature of change for the better and the mixing of culture and art in one of the grandest musical contributions of all time.

On May 26,1967 in England, and June 2 in America, the greatest band to ever play music released one the greatest records ever cut. The Beatles were already at the top of the musical world as they had been for a few years thanks to their tremendous popularity with young pop rock and roll fans. Yet the group felt tired of playing music for screaming girls and wanted to make some “serious music”. They stopped touring concerts to ease their exhaustion and focus on their music. Some people were pissed about this, but regardless of those frustrations from fans and the members of the band itself, all were rewarded with a masterpiece set into motion with about 11 seconds of orchestral warm-up and ambient crowd chatter eagerly awaiting a show that strikes out of the theater noise with drums and guitar that instantly grab our attention so that we are all ears when Paul McCartney starts singing in the fabulously fictitious Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Sgt. Pepper’s remains one of the most influential and unique albums of all time for a variety of reasons. It was pioneering, not just for rock and roll and pop music, but for all music, containing an assortment of instruments and musical styles that culminate in one of the most masterfully varied records, but one with a terrific flow, thanks in large part to the first time omission of the few seconds of silent space between songs. On Sgt. Pepper, Beatles producer George Martin was once again the man behind most of the technical effects that lend a certain feel to the album as a whole. The band had been experimenting with new sounds for their last few records, like Rubber Soul and Revolver, records that really allowed The Beatles to rise above the pure pop that many desired them to be. Sgt. Pepper’s was not the first instance of The Beatles breaking away from the mainstream – honestly, I’m not sure they ever were in the mainstream as much as they were paving the way for it – yet the discography of the band truly took off into an unforeseen level of the musical and cultural atmosphere with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The Beatles were essentially the first band to walk on the musical Moon. They had been approaching their desired destination with their previous work, but Sgt. Pepper’s was their Apollo program, and led them and many, many others to a new world of musical production.

One fascinating example of this is in the lively album cover that depicts a wealth of celebrities from many walks of life and eras. The Nerdwriter declares it to the “Holy Grail of album covers”, and he is not wrong as the artwork is multi-layered with meaning and references to the essence of the band and its members. He explains this in one of his excellent video essays:

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is revolutionary in many respects, but chief among its merits is the quality of its songs and their arrangement. Rolling Stone considers it to be the best album ever made, and while its influence is undeniable and a major reason for their favoring of it, the great music and lyrics that defined The Beatles better than anything else ever could are exceptional throughout the record.

Starting off with the opening I mentioned earlier, the titular “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” provides a terrific introduction both as a song and the theme of the journey we are about to take. It also provides a bookended finish with a short reprisal of “Sgt. Pepper’s” as the penultimate song of the record. It was Paul McCartney’s idea to make the album’s premise be a concert sang by a fictional band. This fit his and the band’s characteristic whimsy, but also allowed them to push the envelope a little further with the safety of being able to let any controversy fall back upon the fictitious group in place of the real one. Oh that wasn’t us; that was Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club.

The title track segues perfectly into what is probably the most popular song on the album, and is certainly one of the band’s best songs. I mean, I did name this post after it. After his alter ego Billy Shears’ introduction at the end of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, Ringo Starr begins to sing the classic “With a Little Help from My Friends”. This is one of my favorite songs for its joyful melody, harmonious vocals, and encouraging message that friendship is the key to enjoying life through the good and bad. Despite their differences and the trials each of them were going through at the time, it is clear that The Beatles worked so well, not just on this record, but throughout the years because they were friends. This song is the epitome of that love for one another. It’s all you need after all – wait, that’s the next record.

From the epitome of friendship we roll on to the epitome of psychedelia with “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”. There are many references to drug use on featured within the album, including an overt one in the previous song, but John Lennon always maintained that this song was based on a drawing his son made of a girl in his class named Lucy. As one radio host on the newly launched Sirius Beatles Channel said, Lennon never shied away from discussing drugs and did write “Cold Turkey” in his post-Beatles career, so even though the nouns in the title begin with the letters LSD, drugs did not inspire this song. However, that does not mean they did not influence this song, which they almost certainly did, although not just in the trippy description of Lucy’s land as the song (an album entire) serves as an allusion to the flower power movement that saw the cultures of East and West blending together like a tie-dye T-shirt. This is certainly apparent on the one song on the album John Lennon and Paul McCartney did not write, George Harrison’s “Within You Without You” which is driven by Harrison’s sitar and other Indian instruments.

The highlight of the album for many is the closing orchestration that is “A Day in the Life”. I say orchestration because Martin and The Beatles brought in an actual orchestral arrangement to play the unnerving transitions between the two wildly distinctive tones of the song. The reason for these drastically different pieces from Lennon and McCartney is simple as they began as two different songs. Lennon needed something to connect his song that was inspired by stories in a newspaper, and McCartney offered a separate song he had been working on and they sandwiched it in and spread the orchestra to make it more cohesive. The final piano note was actual multiple pianos played simultaneously and then stretched out by Martin in the sound mixing booth. The end result is a slightly disturbing note of finality to a slightly disturbing song that perfectly punctuates the album.

The album has a perfect transition from song to song which is all the more impressive given its great variation of styles. This could have been a magnificent failure for a lesser group, but as I’ve said before and will say again, The Beatles are the greatest band of all time and they managed to make a clash of genres and technical trials (Paul McCartney is credited with playing a “comb and tissue paper”) into their defining work… until next year’s release of their best album, but we can talk about that next year. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was a massive success from the start and continued to establish The Beatles as the master musicians they were and deserve to be recognized as. I encourage you to listen to this and all their other albums. It’s easy to call The Beatles great, and not hard to recommend such a well loved band, but these guys are in another league. Remember when I said Sgt. Pepper’s was like The Beatles landing on the Moon? Well, their continued career took them across the universe to places other musicians can only dream of. That pun was absolutely intended, but also absolutely true. The Beatles are not my favorite band – anyone who’s read my previous posts knows that honor belongs to another British rock band – but I will defend until my dying breath that they are the best band because they are. No one is more varied, talented, and has such an extensive body of work that is as high quality as The Beatles’ discography. Also, they are my second favorite band, so it’s not like it’s hard for me to admire them, but it helps that they’re really, really good.

Thanks for reading, watching, and listening! Be sure to check out anything you can from The Beatles even if you’ve heard it all before. They certainly are worth listening to more than once. If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions, please send them to monotrememadness@gmail.com. Be sure to revolve back here next week for more hopefully good news or fun topics. Whatever I write about, I promise I’ll throw in a joke or two.

I hope you have enjoyed the show,

Alex

Don’t Forget to Bring a Towel

Is it December 18th yet? I have never been so eager to just skip all of summer as we’re finally upon it in order to get back to the unforgiving cold and mounds of snow. Summer is my favorite season for a few predictable reasons such as the nice weather, but I also love the blockbuster movie season, and as I said before, this year has me very excited for many a summer film, especially sequels and reboots of old and new classics like Avengers 2 and Jurassic World. Go ahead and add Mad Max, Ant-Man, and Fantastic Four to that list after the latest wave of trailers. I’m very excited to go to the theaters and watch all of these and more films this summer, yet I would be willing to skip them all, even November’s continuation of the Bond franchise, Spectre, and all the summer holidays and vacations I have planned to get to frigid mid-December because the prospect of seeing a good Star Wars movie released in my lifetime has me so excited that even adhering to the reminder I’ve used as a title was insufficient as preparation for what just happened as I typed that sentence. It’s not even related to the subject of today’s post but watch this for the hundredth or so time:

Yes we are Han, yes we are.

While my world is abuzz with visions of stormtroopers vainly trying to improve their atrocious aim, for many people today, the world is abuzz in a more illicit way except in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington, for today is the twentieth of April, more commonly known as 4/20, the day that caused the Colorado Department of Transportation to create a highway sign that marks the 419.99 mile on I-70 because of the constant theft of the original 420 signs.

I have never been a partaker in any drug culture, thanks very much to my upbringing at the hands of a police officer and a nurse, but as I made clear in last week’s post, and others before it, I love rock and roll, and I can appreciate the effects that drugs have had on the genre in good and bad ways. The bad very much outweighs the good, as too many musicians have lost their talents, friends, and even lives to drug abuse. I do not condone the use of any drugs beyond what is prescribed by a doctor (and some of that is more than what is necessary), however I will not deny that many great songs contain their fair share of drug discussion in one way or another. Some are very obvious; you don’t see too many Harvard professors analyzing the depth of the lyrics of Afroman’s “Because I Got High”. However, even some of the more overt introspections into drug use and abuse are highly entertaining, deeply moving, and some just fuckin’ rock. Many are autobiographical, telling tales of the troubles that plagued the band members when they got into heroin/cocaine/etc. Some are pioneers of psychedelia, the sub-genre of rock and roll that flourished in the late 1960s along with the increased use and availability of drugs from naturally growing plants like marijuana to synthetics like lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD). So whether the artists were blazing, snorting, inhaling, tripping, or tying off, here are my favorite songs about drugs and a little information about each of them.

“The Pusher” by Steppenwolf – Steppenwolf scored big with the 1969 classic film Easy Rider. Their biggest hit, “Born to Be Wild”, was the anthem to that film and motorcyclists riding across America since its release, but the beginning of the film, which shows Peter Fonda’s character Wyatt profiting from transporting some drugs in his chopper, plays Steppenwolf’s version of the Hoyt Axton song about the man who “don’t care if you live or if you die”.

“Hurt” by Nine Inch Nails – This is the “Quiet” version of the song which sounds a little smoother through headphones than the warping original appropriately released on the album The Downward Spiral in 1994. “Hurt” offers a somber glimpse into the decaying life of a heroin addict. Trent Reznor’s original is often overshadowed by the excellent cover version performed by Johnny Cash which he made his own by looking back at his legendary career and often troubled life in a very Last Supper kind of way. Of course, the Man in Black had his own drug-inspired contribution to make many years early.

“Cocaine Blues” by Johnny Cash – Based on the traditional song “Little Saddie” written originally by “Red” Arnall, Johnny Cash famously played the song at his concert at Folsom Prison. As with many of his songs, Cash breathed such passionate life into his performance it feels as if he’s singing about himself, adding a feeling of authenticity to the tale he tells.

“Cocaine” by Eric Clapton – Slowhand showed his stuff more impressively on the instrument he is a god with more than he did with the lyrics on this one, but the guitar work is so solid that we’re able to overlook the shortcomings and enjoy it for what it is: a simple jam with a great solo.

“Journey to the Center of the Mind” by the Amboy Dukes – You’ll recall this song’s inclusion in last week’s post when I, among other things, argued for guitarist Ted Nugent’s inclusion into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The Detroit band scored their biggest hit with this hard rocking song that is so obviously about drugs to everyone except Ted Nugent. Whatever Ted, this song wouldn’t be the same without you so you can live in your own little world as long as you come up for a string shredding breath in ours every once in a while.

“Under the Bridge” by Red Hot Chili Peppers – This song has picked me up many a time I’ve felt down, but lead singer Anthony Kiedis went through much worse with his addiction to and withdrawal from heroin. He also felt separation from his bandmates and longing for his ex-girlfriend Ione Skye (I wonder if he tried winning her back by holding a boombox over his head outside her window). Kiedis drew upon all of these troubles of his past and the pain of his present to craft what might be the Chili Peppers’ finest song. It is certainly one of their most played; it’s second only to the wildly sexual “Give It Away”, the coda of which contains the riff from our next song.

“Sweet Leaf” and “Snowblind” by Black Sabbath – Ozzy Osbourne has tried just about every drug that has ever been invented, so you can trust him as an authority on the subject of marijuana and cocaine. “Sweet Leaf” is a love letter to pot and has one of the best riffs. The coughing at the beginning of the track is apparently Tommy Iommi coughing after a drag on a joint.

“Snowblind” is a love letter to cocaine and that’s just about it. Awesome song.

“Got to Get You into My Life” and “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” by The Beatles (this is the live version Lennon performed with Elton John at Elton’s Madison Square Garden Concert in 1974) – The former sounds innocent enough but according to Paul McCartney it is an “ode to pot”.

The latter sounds much more drug-based and is a psychedelia classic that’ll leave you wondering if Lennon and McCartney took one lump or two with their tea. The Beatles fan in me loves this song for being another incredible compilation of musical styles and beautifully poetic lyrics that don’t have to mean anything, and the biologist in me reveres it for being the origin of the namesake of the most complete skeleton of early hominid Australopithecus afarensis that was discovered in 1974 in Ethiopia (anthropologist Donald Johanson and his team frequently listened to a tape of the song in camp near the excavation site).

It is widely believed that the song describes a vivid acid trip as the nouns in the title begin with the letters “LSD” and its narrative is filled with the fantastic. Despite all the psychedelic speculation, John Lennon always maintained that the song had nothing to do with drugs and was derived solely from a drawing made by his son, Julian, that he made of a girl in his class named Lucy – sidenote: the real Lucy died in 2009 at the age of 46 from lupus. For real, fucking lupus! Somebody call George Costanza and Dr. House! –  and inspiration from the Wool and Water chapter of Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, the book which continues the tale of Alice’s adventures in Wonderland that would also serve as the basis of another 1967 psychedelic classic that was much more upfront about the influence drugs had on it.

“White Rabbit” by Jefferson Airplane – My dad and his Marine buddies referred to the quartermaster at their base in Vietnam as “White Rabbit” because he took all the pills he could get his paws on. Of course the original White Rabbit is from the aforementioned Carroll stories of Wonderland, and Jefferson Airplane used the already trippy tales to parallel the active drug culture of the flower power era. This brilliant song is a hallmark of psychedelia and acid rock thanks to lead singer Grace Slick’s clever lyrics and haunting and ringing vocals.

“Mother’s Little Helper” by The Rolling Stones – This one is a bit different in that it addresses the real-life increase of prescription drug abuse by housewives that occurred in the Sixties. Keith Richards may be the only man on Earth to have used more drugs than Ozzy Osbourne, but the standout guitar work on this song is done on a 12-string by Brian Jones.

“Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)” by Kenny Rodgers and the First Edition – As you can see from that clip, this was the song The Dude danced to in his erotic bowling dream in 1998’s comedy noir The Big Lebowski. Dude culture is especially prevalent today (and I mean specifically on this day), and this song is another great addition to the list, albeit a different one. Instead of singing praises for a drug or recounting the pain it’s caused, “Just Dropped In…” was actually written as an anti-drug song to advise against “dropping out” via LSD. The Dude’s dream sure looks… interesting, but we’re not really sure what drug was in his system to trigger the hallucination as he didn’t take it knowingly. Listen for symbolic lyrics like “eight miles high”, which is a reference to The Byrds’ influential song of the same name.

“Little Green Bag” by George Baker Selection – What d’ya mean you don’t tip? This catchy little ditty was the introductory song for Quentin Tarantino’s wide release directorial debut Reservoir Dogs, but it’s not actually meant to be about drugs. The lyrics are actually “little greenback” meaning dollars, not marijuana, but a mistake led to the song being mislabeled and misconstrued. Either way, it’s a pretty awesome tune and further proof that while Tarantino may be weird as fuck, he’s got a great taste in music.

“Low” by Cracker – This was the closing song I heard at a Counting Crows concert in Richmond, Virginia and I remember thinking, “Why the hell did they end with a song they didn’t write?” and then “Wait, is that song about heroin?” The meaning of the line “a million poppies gonna make me sleep” had never registered in my mind before then. At least I picked up on the “junkie cosmonaut” and “like bein’ stoned” parts previously.

“The Needle and the Spoon” by Lynyrd Skynyrd – The boys from Alabama (actually they’re from Jacksonville, Florida) had a few songs that placed drugs like heroin in the crosshairs, but this one is the best and has more finesse than “That Smell”. Still, the man who infuriated them so much they wrote “Sweet Home Alabama” in retaliation managed to top them with a warning against picking up the needle.

“The Needle and the Damage Done” by Neil Young – Young actually wrote and performed this song three years earlier than Skynyrd put out the previous listing. He had already been part of a number of bands by 1971, and he had seen many of his fellows wage a losing war against heroin, specifically his friend Danny Whitten, who served as his guitarist for the band Crazy Horse. The night Young kicked Whitten out of his band in 1972, Whitten died from an overdose of Valium, which probably wasn’t helped by his years of using the potent opiate.

“Comfortably Numb” by Pink Floyd – Pink Floyd are the epitome of progressive rock, as well as the kings of music that makes you ask, “Should I be high right now? Is listening to this making me high?” Many of their songs delve into the inner workings of the human mind under the influence of psychotropics or psychosis, and this is the most forthright of the former. David Gilmour’s guitar solos (is it still a solo if there are two of them in the same song?) are incredible and considered some of the best in any rock song.

“Purple Haze” by The Jimi Hendrix Experience – My favorite song on this list is also one that supposedly has no basis in drugs. Jimi Hendrix claimed to have written this song based on his dreams, like one he had of walking under the ocean, but when a man soaks his headbands with LSD so that it drips into his eyes as he sweats onstage, you can bet his song lyrics are probably at least partially influenced by his drug habits. The final cut of the song, which is one of the greatest songs ever produced in any genre, has a narrative about a man so caught up with his affections for a woman it makes him dizzy. Just how he came to be so compelled by her and the nature of his tumbling mind is left up to the listener, and ultimately, as is often the case with Hendrix, who the fuck really knows or cares; this song is extraordinary.

“Cold Turkey” by Plastic Ono Band – John Lennon and wife Yoko Ono briefly dabbled in heroin and didn’t enjoy the comedown and withdrawal, so he wrote this song about that experience and how hellishly racking it was. Like “Purple Haze” it’s coda features the protagonist of the song expressing his pain and confusion in a less melodious way than the words he just sang. Gotta love that riff.

“Heroin” by The Velvet Underground – Lou Reed’s magnificent musing on heroin addiction is the best song definitively about drug use I’ve ever heard. Simple, even crude, yet artistically incredible, it neither condemns or condones heroin use, but rather gives what I imagine to be an accurate representation of the rollercoaster ride of highs and lows, terrifically represented here by changes in tempo. The simple chords, the bongo backbeat, the growing hum, the scratching guitar, and the rambling trail of thought that comprises the lyrics, these all meld together perfectly to create a visceral song that is horrifying and beautiful all at once.

Thanks for reading! I hope you’ve enjoyed the last two rockin’ and rollin’ weeks and that you stay safe with whatever you do today, especially if you’re rockin’ or rollin’. My sympathies for those working the window at Taco Bell today. If you have anything to say about anything, say it to me here or at monotrememadness@gmail.com. Make it back here in less than 12 parsecs if you can by next week for more fun.

Only 242 days to go,

Alex

Songs That Everybody Must Hear to Better Themselves (Or at Least Ease Their Whining With)

Hello everybody! This week we say goodbye and good riddance to the holidays, especially Christmas, which you’re probably sick of reading about it here and everywhere else. Although, I suppose you could be a sentimental soul for Season’s Greetings, in which case it’s time to accept that the holidays are over and move on with the rest of us. What? What do you mean, “No. There is another?” And where do you get off reciting Star Wars lines to me? Oh, now I get it. You’re one of those people who don’t want to stop the festivities and latch onto the next available date to have a shindig for. You like to give one last hurrah before you lose the Hanuchristzaa buzz. You celebrate New Year’s Eve.

Not that there’s anything wrong with having a party, especially one that allows you to meet up with the people you actually wanted to see on Christmas (I mean, I love my family! I just hate how they drank all my beer. ALL MY BEER.) However, seeking to actively enjoy swapping out calendars is unnecessary and feels forced. Yeah, I watch the ball drop with my friends too, but if I didn’t have the 400 football games to look forward to on January 1st then I couldn’t care less if it is January 1st.

Maybe I’m too pragmatic. I’m always the first of my friends to say something like, “Time is constant, uncaring, and unforgiving. It moves forward at the same pace always towards the future. It is really just half of the measurement of space-time which takes into account where we are at a certain point in time…. blah blah blah Neil deGrasse Tyson said…. blah blah Stephen Hawking…. blah blah I know, nearly three hours and that shirt was ever affixed to his torso….”

Then again, maybe I’m just sick of the same old shit, different year cycle New Year’s Eve and Day are so branded with. Every year the people packing Times Square without yet realizing what horror they have gotten themselves into may be different, but I can’t tell watching them on TV. The celebrity guests and singers may be new to the whoever-the-hell’s whatever-body-motion-synonymous-with-popular-music-genre’s New Year’s Eve bash is on your favorite far-from-unique network, but I’ve seen them performing at this award show and that sports halftime all year long. Plus, they were on the ABC platform for the same thing last year. What’s so different now? Oh, you’re going to make yourself better this coming year? Right after midnight, of course. Sure. So you say you want a resolution, well, you know, we all wanna change our winter weight. Listen, resolving to make yourself and your world better – whether it’s a little or a lot at once – is an admirable thing, and I sincerely wish you the best with it. Make the most of your newfound confidence; rock that overly-expensive and thankfully easily opt out-able gym membership; be all that you can be in the Army! Whatever you set out to do to make 2015 your best year yet, you’ve got my support (Legal Disclaimer: Alex is not responsible for any actions that are considered rash and/or illegal that the reader may do in reaction to this, nor can he be held accountable for anything lost or stolen within the confines of this blog). Meanwhile, I will keep my tradition of not making resolutions as I always hope to better myself at all times of the year, even with the knowledge that my apathy will prevent this from ever occurring.

Fear not though! Tomorrow is a doper, phatter, latter day, and I am here for you! One New Year’s tradition that I do like is hearing John Lennon’s “Imagine” played right after everybody drops out – I mean, the ball drops. It’s not so much that I like the tradition as I like the song. “Imagine” is the best song John Lennon made after The Beatles split. Hell, it’s the best song he ever wrote, and it endures as one of the greatest ever written. It is truly beautiful, and sometimes I cry a little when I hear it, like how an incontinent geriatric piddles into an adult diaper every so often when it’s Newman-Redford movie night at Babbling Brook Retirement Home. It echoes throughout Times Square each year because it calls for the ultimate New Year’s resolution: a world where everyone lives in harmony. Hate and evil have no place in any paradise, even Lennon’s hippie-dippy dream of it. Again, I’m the guy playing the pessimistic realist card and pointing out how this seems to be a very unlikely scenario, yet even I think it’s one worth striving for. Hearing a song like “Imagine” helps to warm the heart and free the mind to be a little more open to pushing toward such a noble purpose as only the best songs can.

Today I have included a list of other (mainly rock) songs that I feel everyone should hear to help lead a better life for oneself and others. These songs aren’t all going to lift your spirits though. Some will, yet others will drop you right back down to Earth and put things in perspective, but we all need some leveling in our roller coaster lives, so buckle up, hang on tight, and let your ears take a ride in better living for now and forever.

You Can’t Always Get What You Want” by The Rolling Stones – Here is the happiest sounding reality check you’ll ever hear. Ironically, it comes from the band who yelled at you for attempting to make them see things realistically and to get their heads out of the, well, you get it. With this life lesson in missing out on your desires (or at least what you think they are) the Stones show that they’ve come far from complaining about their constant lack of satisfaction (which is an awesome song; I just felt like I needed to put a negative spin on something for the sake of contrast). “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” is pretty clear from the get-go about its message, but it’s definitely worth taking a listen or two or 2000 to.

Touch of Grey” by The Grateful Dead – The Rolling Stones let us know that not everything works out as planned, but sometimes it still works out, occasionally for the better. Jerry Garcia and his Haight and Ashbury pals reiterate this by encouraging you to look on the bright side, remember that it’s not as bright as it can be, and relax with the knowledge that it’ll be alright after all. Got it? Whether you do or not, give it another listen because this one’s a good one and catchy too!

The Sound of Silence” by Simon and Garfunkel – Whether you first heard it watching The Graduate, on the radio while driving through the American west, or being horrendously butchered by a barefooted wannabe bard strumming his second-hand acoustic against a blossoming dogwood on the quad on a sunny spring day at your college, Simon and Garfunkel’s best known song never gets old. The duo (well, mainly Paul Simon) had many meanings woven into their patchwork of words on every album, and you can decipher new ones with each return. Whenever you come back to this one that can make you feel small, angry, frustrated, enraged, confused, angsty, and in general like a person who has many more questions than answers be sure you turn off the lights and close your eyes to shut out the world and all its noise to listen to the sounds… of a guy named Art Garfunkel. Try not to focus on that aspect too much.

Night Moves” by Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band – Nobody looks back on his youth quite as profoundly yet simply in that old fashioned rock and roll as Bob Seger. This classic of summer nights as a fresh and frisky teenager in the Midwest is my favorite from him, and I think it merits a place here for the lesson of remembering your younger days with a smile, especially as you recall how blissful it was to have so few answers as you kinda sorta looked for some with the number one priority being directed somewhere farther south. When he sings “Waited on the thunder” he’s not simply talking about an approaching storm, or just how his load is about to blow; Seger’s singing about feeling love more than just physically. He’s a young gun at the beginning of the song, looking for fun and something more he hasn’t quite figured out yet. By the end he’s become wiser with age and thinks back fondly at the distant rumble of thunder. And while we’re on the subject of sounds bringing back sweet memories….

More Than a Feeling” by Boston – This is one of my favorite songs ever. I clearly really like all of these tunes to even think of including them, but this song is sooooo good. It’s not just that the guy who wrote it hails from the same hometown as I do, or that the song was possibly recorded in his basement there, this song has all the components of a rock and roll ultimate hit, but there’s something deeper in there than just wailing guitars. “More Than a Feeling” describes the indescribable sensation you get when you hear that song, or get in that car, or do whatever it is that really, really means something to you and touches you deeply with nostalgia.

Take It Easy” by The Eagles – This is my favorite song, my motto, my farewell greeting to friends, and my excuse for being lazy. There is such a thing as taking it too easy, and I think I’ve been firmly on the “too” side of it for many a year now. Still, as a registered lazitarian I can very easily spot people who take it too hard. I mean, they aren’t easy-going. There is a major grind in everything we do in our lives, from home to school to work and back home again. Even going on vacation is a chore sometimes! Anytime we can actually step aside, or in more drastic circumstances, flee far away from our tasking tasks is good for realizing that managing monotony is not all there is in life. It’s not good for you and it’s not good for society if you go bonkers trying to make the in-pile empty by the end of the day when you damn well know it’ll never stay that way. Just ask Newman how it goes. Oh, and to all of you aspiring to lose weight for next year: follow Wayne Knight’s lead. The man is Newman no more.

‘Heroes’” by David Bowie – David Bowie is the most versatile artist to ever walk the earth. Some of his songs are drug-fueled nonsense, some are drug-fueled brilliance, and some are magnificent blend of the two. I haven’t got Bowie’s music and remarkable transition of styles completely figured out, just as no one has Bowie figured out (probably most puzzled of all is Bowie himself), but with “Heroes” the gist is pretty clear. What’s more, the passion is there. He exalts the imperfect heroes who may die physically but who endure forever in a testament of love. Specifically this song was inspired by Bowie’s bandmates making out next to the Berlin Wall, but it represents the sentiment of love conquering all, even governments that quash freedom. Feel the music call you to action to sacrifice yourself with less finality. Be a hero anyway you can to friends and strangers alike. This doesn’t mean you should stand with your arms sprawled out in the back of a pickup traveling at high speeds screaming in joy while this song blares on the radio to feel alive, but I’ve already included a legal disclaimer, so I won’t belabor the point of caution by pummeling a no-longer living equine.

Ten Years Gone” by Led Zeppelin – Sometimes love works out just right and you and your missus or mister or unmarried partner or “we’re not putting a label on it even though we’ve been together eight years and have three kids” live happily ever til death does you in. Not always though. More often than we’d like we get the opposite where everything but death does the parting. Whether the break-up is sour or not, there is a lingering curiosity of your ex-whatever long after things have ended. Robert Plant thought about one of his old girlfriends ten years after they split and wondered if she ever did the same, so he wrote the lyrics to this song that Jimmy Page crafted the melancholy music to. It isn’t bitter, but it isn’t really regretful either. It’s just another older man musing on his younger days. He’s content where he is now, probably even happy, but that doesn’t stop the memories of that long-past love from resurfacing.

The Wind Cries Mary” by The Jimi Hendrix Experience – While we’re rolling along with soft music from a band that isn’t exactly known for slowing down (though they did on many occasions) we’ll ease into another soft serenade from the only Jimi (or rocker as far as I’m concerned) better with a guitar than Page. Not quite as clear lyrically, as Hendrix had a poetry all his own that was helped by a very active creative imagination (and occasionally some other factors). Possibly inspired by a fight with his girlfriend, I’m guessing there’s a lot more to this beautiful ballad since Hendrix could take the smallest thing and run with it. Some of the best and brightest – as in burned out too brilliantly and quickly – often did (“Kurt smells like Teen Spirit”). Whatever the start was, the finish is an incredible piece of soothing sadness that to me is a song of guidance and a reminder of that unforgivable onward march of time I described earlier.

Let It Be” by The Beatles – Just like my Christmas music post, I couldn’t include John and not mention the other Beatles. This song is an obvious choice to anyone who has ever heard it – which should be everyone. Of course I’ve assembled this list of songs in the hope that everybody listens to them and feels something more than sound waves stirring their tympanic membranes, but this one is really special. Paul McCartney may call upon wisdom from Mother Mary, but it doesn’t matter whom you ask for help with the big, little, and in-between decisions in your life. “Let It Be” is a great piece of advice and music, and this one comes from McCartney more than a Madonna. The best part of it all is that it’s not even the best song he wrote.

Hey Jude” by The Beatles – That honor goes to this greatest hit of the greatest band to ever pick up instruments. I certainly couldn’t leave out this gem of a song that does a better job of making everyone sing and sway in unison than “Imagine” or any other on this list. Written by McCartney for Julian Lennon, John’s son, in the aftermath of his parents’ divorce, the song (originally called “Hey Jules”) evolved into an uplifting jam session that has a coda longer than the actual lyrical body of the song. This makes it all the more remarkable that we all sing along to it for longer than it actually goes on. Why this song is so beautiful is hard to explain. Perhaps I’m at the end of my long trail of thought that I’ve sustained longer than anticipated (once more), or it could be that I’m just out of steam. But maybe, just maybe “Hey Jude” is that song that we all have more than a feeling for.

Thanks for reading! Be sure to have a happy new year doing whatever you do – just make sure you do it responsibly. I’m looking at you guys with your Jesus and hooker boots party! You know who are! To the rest of you (if there is a “rest a you”) disregard the latter sentence, but heed the former for sure. Questions, comments, nude photos (supermodels and Chris Pratt only please), and future topic ideas can be sent to monotrememadness@gmail.com. Be sure to come back next year for more riveting writing, musings, and last minute post submissions.

Yours in unforgivable forward-moving space-time,

Alex

P.S. Go Bucks!

Crap, It’s Christmas Again

Ready or not, here it comes. The ever encroaching celebration of Jesus’ birthday that is the true date of the savior of all (Christian) mankind and has nothing whatsoever to do with being placed on the date of a Roman winter festival that celebrated the sun god, and of course, all of the traditions we celebrate on Christmas today stem from Jesus’ direct teachings and are not at all an assimilation of other cultures rituals in an attempt to convert pagans to God’s Almighty Word. Whatever your feelings on the matter, Christmas is the most celebrated and commercial holiday in the United States and much of the world. It is a day that has grown to become an entire “season” of joyful anticipation of fun-filled time spent with family and friends where we learn to enjoy giving as much as receiving, and good, tasty, food that is sometimes literally sitting in pools of delicious fat awaits us with tantalizing smells and flavors. It is a time for warmth in the midst of cold weather, where we festoon our homes and businesses in bright colors, and the beer is stronger and more spice-filled! Everyone has a smile on their face as they sneeze and spread the flu and cold viruses by pushing through their sicknesses to get those last precious hours they are allotted by the yearly budget. Growing up in a temperate clime where the change of seasons is a beautiful thing to observe, and school breaks for 2-4 weeks, I have always loved everything Christmas has to offer enough to even tolerate sitting through a Christmas Eve mass as a growing agnostic and following it with almost 24 straight hours with my horrendously Polish family whose speech rivals a sonicboom in volume. Yet there is one thing that spoils it all and makes me sick of Christmas before December even begins: mother fucking Christmas music.

We’ve got many ways to listen to our own preferred music these days, but those of us driving cars older than many of today’s chart toppers don’t have access to much beyond the good, old fashioned radio. That same device is playing in the offices of many a workplace and shopping center, so chances are if you go outside of your house between now and Christmas you’ll hear some of the season’s signature songs. All eight of them.

Okay, there’s many more than that, but there can be no denying that only a select portion of all Christmas music ever made is what gets wide radio playtime. And those stations that switch over completely from their usual programming to full-on Christmas usually play the same cluster again and again and again and again and again. Sometimes they’ll mix in different versions as there are plenty, but you stand a very good chance of hearing the same song, even the same version, two, three, maybe more times a day on the same station. There are a few reasons for this. One is that there is an established set of songs that, like many other things related to Christmastime, are considered traditions, and traditions were meant to be done and overdone time and again. This is why hundreds of people have recorded versions of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”. Another reason is that songs outside of that specific set of traditional songs or those that aren’t deemed “family-friendly” (and admittedly, some aren’t) don’t get played, so they stick with the safe-bet, proven classics and nothing else. But there is a greater reason as to why you get the same festive fanfare time after time, and it’s one that I’ll get to right after I vent about Christmas songs I hate and praise those that I like.

Where does one begin in an assessment of music? Why not with the greatest band of all time? The Beatles were so important in increasing the popularity of rock and roll and for changing the formula of not only that genre but every genre of music forever. They made some of the greatest songs and albums ever listened to on this earth. Their Christmas stuff however, eh, not so great. Obviously, their best music was made when the fab four were playing as one, but each made at least one original Christmas song in their careers after their break-up, and none really resound today as good classics, yet that hasn’t stopped two of them from getting way too much radio playtime.

If you’re not aware, today is the 34th anniversary of John Lennon’s murder, and while I love almost all of his musical work, I’m gonna kick him while he’s down about one song that I don’t particularly care for. I know I’m not the only one who groans at the opening whispers and notes of Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)“. You know, that depressing Xmas tune that begins with the bland then accusatory lines, “So this is Christmas / And what have you done?” Who are you to judge me, John Lennon? Okay, technically it’s a song by The Plastic Ono Band, Lennon’s post-Beatles group named after his wife/Beatles-break-up-scapegoat that he powered to unfortunate notice. Inspirational dreamer that Lennon was, even he wasn’t daft enough to believe the lines, “War is over / If you want it”, was he? Sadly all it takes is one crazy person to push the button or pull the trigger. I’m going to give Yoko credit for those lines.

It’s all good though because I’m more of a Paul man myself and it’s not like he had a bad Christmas song like – oh… yeah, that’s right. I tried my damnedest to forget “Wonderful Christmastime“, the seasonal song filled with a bad synthesizer score and stupid simplicity. There’s good minimalism, and then there’s crap like this. Sir Paul is forgiven by me especially for putting on the most memorable concert I’ve ever seen in July 2013. It was the best thing to happen for me in Indianapolis until this past weekend.

George Harrison also had a fairly successful career that included a Christmas album after the Beatles broke up. His original holiday song “Ding Dong, Ding Dong” is more of a New Year’s song and is definitely the best by a Beatle yet with a video that is classic wacky George to accompany it. Does this mean it’s a good song? No. Catchy yes, enjoyable every December-January, uhhh, not tremendously.

As expected, Ringo Starr followed suit with his own abomination, “I Wanna Be Santa Claus“. Do you really want to be Santa Claus, or are you just saying it because your friends made original Christmas songs?

The one thing that is to the credit of each of the Beatles’ songs is that they are original. Some Christmas classics are just fine, like Bing Crosby’s oft-covered  “White Christmas” (just make sure your university doesn’t draw upon that as a theme for a winter formal dance bearing the name “I’m Dreaming of a White Cleveland” without realizing the potential reaction from the student body), and even the more recent yet still established “Last Christmas” by Wham!, a more modern romantic narrative that has been covered a few times itself, including recently by Taylor Swift. (What! Taylor Swift chose to cover a song about a break-up? What a departure from her usual subject matter!) Nevertheless, other songs have some issues with aging. Radio stations have kept alive many older (and to their credit, often original) versions of songs that probably should have been left to die out in peace. Some just suck when you hear them millions of times though. Gayla Peevy’s been asking for a hippopotamus for Christmas for the last six decades and I don’t think she’s getting one anytime soon. While we’re on the subject of animals involved in Christmas songs let simply say, fuck those chipmunks and that goddamn donkey. And if I have to hear Andy Williams one more fucking time – and we all will at least a dozen or so times this week probably – I’m going to scream. Thankfully, not all updated versions of songs are bad. While it probably is going to help along little Billy’s nightmares and therefore won’t make it onto most family stations, I love Alice Cooper’s version of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” aka “Santa Claws is Coming to Town“. Gotta love how it accentuates the inherent creepiness of lyrics like “He sees you when you’re sleeping / He knows when you’re awake” with Cooper’s special freaky flare.

Now I’m sure some of you are like, “Whoa! Alex! I like some of those songs you don’t!” and your tastes are probably different with some songs that I like as well. For example, I really enjoy Bruce Springsteen’s rendition of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” (which is much more in line with the traditional lyrics than Alice Cooper’s) but I know a few people who aren’t crazy about The Boss talking to his band before they jam out. But c’mon, it’s funny to hear him lose his composure and laugh at the Santa laughter done by one of his bandmates.

In terms of more serious sounding songs you gotta love “Thank God It’s Christmas” from Queen, sung by the best rock vocalist to ever live. Where’s this on the radio?

Some good dark-humored original Christmas songs do get played, albeit sparingly, including The Kinks’ “Father Christmas” and Slade’s “Merry Christmas Everybody“. Then there are those artists who live for Christmas humor in their music, such as Bob Rivers, who usually misses for me, but “The Twelve Pains of Christmas” is pretty good. “Now why the hell are they blinking!” If you liked that then you’ll probably also like Red Peters’ “Holy Shit, It’s Christmas“. But nobody outdoes the master of harmonious humor, even on Christmas. Weird Al Yankovic has two holiday gems in “The Night Santa Went Crazy” and “Christmas at Ground Zero“.

Those are certainly original or original takes on Christmas songs, but if you’re pining for some real Christmas music then all I’ve got to say is man, this is Christmas music!

Now not every original song is going to endure as a classic. Take The Youngsters song for sobriety “Christmas in Jail“. Drink responsibly this Christmas folks.

Thank goodness for my favorite Christmas song, Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You“. Yes, it really is my favorite, and no, it’s not for the video. I think I have female parts somewhere inside me.

As you can hear, not all Christmas songs are bad, including some covers of old classics, but that’s not really the issue here. It’s become an American tradition for musical artists to make a Christmas album when he/she/they come to a certain level of recognition. This is the only reason Bob Dylan actually made one; he felt obligated to do so. Barbara Streisand made a few, and she’s Jewish! Christmas itself is a much more secular holiday than it once was, and despite Jon Stewart’s joking wish for Hanukkah to overtake it as the most popular December holiday, Christmas will always reign supreme this time of year. I recognize that fact and am totally okay with it. I also realize that musical artists will continue to cut Christmas albums and make new versions of old songs. As long as they throw in some new compositions I guess I can live with it.

However, I cannot abide the trend of playing such music out of the confines of the Christmas season. I get that that’s an arbitrary mark, but it is starting earlier and earlier each year and I’ve had enough. Christmas is always going to be on December 25th, so why does our eagerness to get to that date have to be before October 31st now? No joke, I heard Christmas songs being played on the radio during the week before Halloween. Sure, stores want to sell Christmas stuff as soon and often as they can because we’ll buy it as soon as it’s shelved with a price tag, but that’s a separate world from the airwaves. If people want to fight over marked down items at an ungodly hour the day after Thanksgiving that’s fine, and you can start playing Christmas music for them then to pump them up or soothe the throbbing pain in their foreheads from where somebody smacked them with a picture frame.

This once may have been how things worked, but it isn’t anymore. Well, the shopping scuffles are more prevalent than ever, but now the shopping season for Christmas starts prior to Thanksgiving and is causing most big retail stores (way to stay cool Costco!) to open up on the holiday that is meant for spending time with family, eating too much delectably fattening food, and watching the Detroit Lions lose (wait, they won this year?! Wow! Thanks Jay Cutler!). In many respects, it’s a rehearsal dinner for Christmas, but a separate holiday. Christmas can’t even keep out of Thanksgiving’s business from the shopping side of things, and it’s been jumping in with the music too. Herewith lies the big problem I alluded to earlier: Christmas is a chance for radio stations to be lazy and just play a loop of the same songs that lasts a few hours. You cut in some commercials and traffic and weather reports and you’re good to go with as minimal effort/staff as possible. If you’re running a radio station and have this option it’s tempting to stretch it out as long as you can. Who’s going to stop you if you want to play continuous Christmas music before the start of fall? No one! MWAHAHAHAHA!

But that’s just the point. Radio stations have to hold themselves accountable for their material – well, unless they get crazy enough for the FCC to step in, but I’m looking at things in a much more tame way for this. Just because you can do a thing doesn’t necessarily mean you should, and I think that holds true with making the choice between the super easy phone-it-in approach of a long, yet stale family-friendly, multi-month Christmas playlist on repeat versus the still quite manageable mix-it-up-a-little approach of more than just the same old same old cluster of songs (which can still be family-friendly) for just a month: post-Thanksgiving to Christmas (New Year’s if you must). You can do it, American radio stations both local and national! I still believe in you and say you’re not in so deep. You can and must become less Christmas obsessed for the sake of the holiday and our sanity. Regarding the need to bring back the usual listening for a while longer and not fall into the easy and too early ways you’ve exhibited lately, I say this to you American radio,

If you, if you could return, don’t let it burn, don’t let it fade.

I’m sure I’m not being rude, but it’s just your attitude,
It’s tearing me apart, It’s ruining everything.

I swore, I swore I would be true, and honey, so did you.

Okay, that’s not from a song from this season, but Cranberries are a Christmas staple. Too much of America and Western Society is driven by money, and I know you radio stations all are too, but you can come back from this quagmire of Capitalistic Christmasness. In fact, I need you to! Don’t ruin Christmas before Halloween; that’s not your job (it’s the job of Christmas in July). Your job is to bring us new music and good classics, not so-called classics that only achieve the status because of strong association with the season that dominates the cultural landscape for a time. You did this once, and you can do it again. Be true, American Radio, be true.

Thanks for reading! If you’ve got a question, comment, or a general beef with Christmas songs let me hear about it at monotrememadness@gmail.com. I hope you’re not sick of Christmas yet because I’m going to talk about it again next week, this time about what to watch during this holly jolly season.

Stay Frosty, my friends,

Alex