Wednesday, February 18, 2009

I Wish I'd Written That (#15-11)

Here are numbers 15 through 11 of the songs that plunge me into the sin of covetousness every time I hear them. Again, I'm not saying they're the best songs ever written or even the (technically) best songs by the particular artist. They just capture something that I (and millions of others) connect with and, when I hear them, I say to myself, "I wish I'd written that." Numbers 20-16 can be found here . Look for #10-6 soon...

*Why not start with another brilliant Don Henley song? In addition to the fact that I'm a fan of the simpler, more "zen" westerns (e.g. Clint Eastwood spaghettis and Cormac McCarthy books), this song has a personal connection for me, perfectly conveying for me--even as a child--what I wanted to say to a wayward father.

Also, just a damn fine piece of songwriting. The piano and lyrics give it that "western" feel, the vocals are expansive and pleading, and the brilliant lyrics could be about an "old west" desperado or just a 21st century lost soul.

*Well, forget all I said about my father on "Desperado." This song about a kid blowing himself away at school has nothing (or little) to do with my upbringing. This is just a perfect mix of lyric, music, and performance.
That opening line, "At home drawing pictures of mountaintops / with him on top, lemon-yellow sun, arms raised in a V. / And the dead lay in pools of maroon below." Amazing! The music matches the lyric in moving between major/carefree and minor/angry. And Eddie's performance...sheesh! I sang this for fun with some friends once and felt as if I'd been through a year of therapy. Very cleansing, yet troubling. And the fact that this pre-dated Columbine, Va. Tech, etc., is also a testament to the prophetic power of the arts. "King Jeremy, the Wicked, ruled his world!" Heavy stuff.

*In 1979, two full years before MTV debuted, my big brother and I watched this video on a show called "Video Concert Hall." In my 8-year-old bones, I knew this was rock n' roll. To this day, whenever I hear this or the Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again" on the radio, I have to crank the volume! That guitar...that scream (which many know from TVs "CSI" incarnations)...primal!

The song is plenty, but to watch Roger Daltry swing that mic and Pete Townshend swing that arm and jump is pure rock swagger. If Taylor's "Sweet Baby James" is Songwriting 101, this is Rock n' Roll 101. Also keep in mind, this band held the Guiness Record for loudest band. So, imagine what it sounds like in an auditorium when Pete's guitar comes in. "The exodus is here!"

*When the title itself paints enough of an image to sum up the whole song, you know you're onto something. Anyone who has paid attention on road trips knows what Mellencamp is talking about. And anyone who has paid attention to politics and the devolution of the American dream the last 30-odd years knows what Mellencamp is really talking about.
The perfect marriage of lyrics like "They told me when I was younger, / they said, 'Boy you're gonna be president.' / But just like everything else / those little crazy dreams just kinda came and went. / Aw, but ain't that America..." and a great acoustic guitar riff. Mellencamp has many great songs, but this is the one that really put him in line with Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, and Bruce Springsteen.

*This is the song I'd use in the Songwriting 101 class after "Sweet Baby James." It defies my comments.

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