My iPod #562: They Might Be Giants – I Can Hear You

I can’t vividly describe the first time I heard ‘I Can Hear You’. There was no situation I found myself in life where the song was playing on the radio and felt a wave of emotion. It just happened when I listened to Factory Showroom in full in 2010 or so. I can’t remember how I felt about the song on that first listen, though revisits to it revealed another noteworthy gem of the group’s within their illustrious discography.

The performance of ‘I Can Hear You’ was recorded at the Edison Historic Site in New Jersey on wax cylinder alongside three other songs on 27th April 1996, explaining the low audio quality of the track. Its thin sound also makes it quite hard to decipher what instruments are being played on it. All these years I never thought there was a bass being played in it, yet close listening made it much clearer. It also has quite a simple yet punchy rhythm to it which makes it that much enjoyable to hear.

The lyrics are sets of dialogue from other low-quality transmissions that you may come across in daily life, whether it be from a passenger in a plane calling a close friend from the sky to those intercom towers you order your food from at a fast-food drive-through. There’s a sad feeling I get from this song, I can’t explain it. There’s something about the sound of it and its cyclical nature – the ‘chorus’ at the beginning of the song comes back around at the end – that sometimes gets to me. It’s far from being one of the band’s best songs. Though I enjoy it a lot. Good tune.

The band replicated the recording process of the song as part of a Millennium special of Jon Stewart’s Daily Show in 1999. This version is just as good, if not probably better, given some string flourishes that enhance its effect.

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My iPod #561: The Rolling Stones – I Am Waiting

I’m not the biggest Rolling Stones fan. Not that I have anything against them as people or the music they make. I listened to what is considered to be their golden streak of albums from 1968’s Beggars Banquet to their 1972 double album Exile on Main St. I even gave Their Satanic Majesties Request a try. But from all of those there are only a few songs that I really enjoy. They’re just not for me. But that’s alright. They do their thing for millions of other people.

Same as ‘I Am the Cosmos’, The Rolling Stones’ ‘I Am Waiting’ appeared in my Discover Weekly playlist on Spotify one day at some point last year. The track is from their 1966 album Aftermath. I haven’t listened to that album and probably should, but from what limited knowledge I possess this was produced in a period of time when they weren’t so bluesy in their musical approach – experimenting their sound whilst still remaining quite poppy.

What I like most about ‘I Am Waiting’ apart from its melody is how its instrumentation manages to match the lyrical content. Mick Jagger sings about waiting for something to happen in the sneaky quiet verses, and when the anxiety gets too much the drums come in with a thump and the song builds in intensity for the chorus. A dynamic that has worked well for many a band in history.

See the band perform it on British 60s music TV show Ready Steady Go! below. Jagger has a creepy-creep stare going on halfway through.

My iPod #560: Wilco – I Am Trying to Break Your Heart

The story goes that Wilco were going through some inner turmoil during the making of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, particularly between lead singer and guitarist Jeff Tweedy and fellow guitarist and composer Jay Bennett. Their original record label weren’t so impressed with the final result of their work, rejected it and told the band to get out of their faces, leaving them with an album to provide but no label to release it. Eventually things all fell into place. Wilco got signed again. The album, originally slated for September 2001, was physically released to the masses months later in May 2002. Critics ate it up, fans loved it. Still do to this day. It has gone down as one of the best albums of the opening decade of this century.

‘I Am Trying to Break Your Heart’ is the album’s opener. It’s seven minutes long. It takes about a minute of that time for the song’s main chord progression to make itself known after a sort of instrumental prelude of pianos, percussion and organs. Tweedy’s mellow voice comes in with the album’s first (and possibly most quoted) lines “I am an American aquarium drinker/I assassin down the avenue/I’m hiding out in the big city blinking/What was I thinking when I let go of you?”, and it all goes on from there really. You have to listen to it for that full experience.

Tweedy doesn’t have the greatest singing voice. Not soulful, or belting from the stomach or whatever. But it’s just perfect for the whole mood of the track. And the album in general. The vocal melody is the most simple thing. But it’s great. It will get in your head. And accompanied by the very full mix provided by Jim O’Rourke, it’s an enrapturing listen. It’s hard to not find yourself in a bit of a trance when hearing this. You probably won’t feel it on your first listen. It’ll sink in.

Above is the supposed demo of the tune, as recorded by Jay Bennett before it went through remixing for the album. Some prominent smooth Rhodes(?) piano in there, but not quite the same.

My iPod #559: Chris Bell – I Am the Cosmos

Working for a year at a music magazine gave me a lot of opportunities. I interviewed Tiken Jah Fakoly. Received free tickets to festivals. Some manual labour thrown in there. A space to get my creative juices flowing, generally. It was also there that I was able to explore my Discover Weekly playlist on Spotify which, to anyone not so familiar, compiles a two-hour or so list of songs based on a user’s preference of genres they listen to when using the application. It was one week that today’s song made it on there; had it not…. well, I wouldn’t be talking about it now. Funny how things can work out.

Chris Bell was a founding a member of the 70s power pop band Big Star, a group who didn’t get its just dues in its day but have since been recognised by many a cool musician person as one of the best of its time. Bell only appeared on the band’s debut album #1 Record, a great album and a favourite of mine but that’s talk for another time, before departing after its 1972 release to pursue a career of his own.

During this time he laid down ‘I Am the Cosmos’, a beautiful song concerning loneliness, longing and inner turmoil. The narrator of the track tries to come back around at the end of a relationship by telling himself that he is the universe and the wind, but knows that in doing so his partner is unlikely to return. It is a downer, but the production here shines. It feels like I’m flying through a California blue sky when I hear this song on some good headphones, especially when the guitar solo comes in. It sounds like the album cover. But there’s a lingering sense of melancholy to the whole thing which can make it hard to listen to on some days. I really appreciate this song. Love it to bits.

Sadly, Bell was never able to witness the acclaim his music would receive as the years rolled on, he passed away in a tragic car crash in the winter of 1978. The music lives on.