My iPod #531: Green Day – Hitchin’ a Ride

Green Day’s 1997 album Nimrod exhibited a change in the band’s musical direction. Differing vastly from the angst and rough punk rock sounds delivered two years prior on Insomniac, Billie Joe, Mike and Tré decided to branch out from their origins and make an album where they weren’t confined to one type of sound. This new sense of freedom resulted in a total of thirty songs being recorded before they were whittled down to create one of Green Day’s most eclectic record to date.

“Hitchin’ a Ride” was the first single to be released from Nimrod. Whilst not explicitly showing the experimentation that was to come in the album, one could tell that there was something different about the band. It is much different from the first single used to promote the previous album. A mysterious violin opens the song, before its chugging four note riff takes over. Remaining relatively calm for the majority of the beginning, bar the instrumental break where the riff is played with more venom, things don’t get very rowdy until halfway through. The chorus finally arrives for the first time and all hell breaks loose shortly after Armstrong yells “SHIT” from the pit of his stomach.

“Hitchin’ a Ride” manages to symbolise the change in style Green Day were going through at the time whilst also giving off the vibe that this was the same Green Day who had released “Basket Case” a few years earlier. It was a wise decision to use it as the first song to represent their new material. People would at least be a bit more prepared for what was to come.

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My iPod #524: They Might Be Giants – Hey, Mr. DJ, I Thought You Said We Had a Deal

“Hey, Mr. DJ, I Thought You Said We Had a Deal” was originally going to be released on the Purple Toupee EP, when the title track was to be released as a single in 1989. For some reason the EP was shelved and the song was later placed as the opener to the band’s B Side/Remix compilation Miscellaneous T, two years later in 1991. The compilation is loved by many a They fan due to the fact that for a B Side album, the stuff on there are as brilliantly written and performed as any other song you would find on the three albums they had released by that time.

The song is a tale of a lad who is eager to get his new song on the radio, going to the local DJ to see if he can sort some things out. From the wordy title, you can probably tell that things don’t go as planned. The tale is told accompanied by catchy rhythms, an infectious melody and a delightful Carribean-like (xylophone? glockenspiel?) line and backed up by the witty lyrics of John Linnell. Notice how he cleverly pulls of a ‘Glass Onion’ and sneaks in some references to other TMBG songs in a verse. So much fun.

I could imagine this being a lead single for any album. Seeing as it was to be released with “Purple Toupee”, I assume that it was recorded during the Lincoln sessions. Goodness. I enjoy Lincoln enough as it is, but it would have been cool to have this on there. Though it’s title would have stuck out like a sore thumb on the track list.

My iPod #510: Kanye West – Hell of a Life

“Hell of a Life” is the tenth track on Kanye West’s arguable magnum opus My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, his fifth album released in November 2010. In it, Mr. West thinks he’s fallen in love with a porn star and raps to the listener about the various escapades and sexual shenanigans she and him would get up to.

I can remember it becoming one of my favourites straight away upon first listen. There’s a dark undertone to it that is maintained throughout despite the humorous but graphic lyrics Kanye provides, plus there are so many little things that made it so much more enjoyable for me – like the little arpeggio lick that plays after every chorus or the sudden appearance of the background vocals from “Dark Fantasy” during the final verse. It’s one of those songs where every time you listen to it again, you may always hear something new that you never paid attention to before.  It took a few more listens for me to realise the chorus takes its melody from “Iron Man” by Black Sabbath; that may sound strange because it’s very obvious that it does from the get-go, but I was into the melody that much that it went right over my head.

A song with lyrics with sexual imagery and a hard-hitting beat carried by a fuzzy bass line, “Hell of a Life” probably marks the peak of Kanye’s “fantasy” before reality finally hits him in “Blame Game“.

My iPod #502: The Strokes – Heart in a Cage

“Heart in a Cage” was the second single released from First Impressions of Earth, the third album by rock band The Strokes released on New Year’s Eve 2005, or New Year’s Day 2006 depending on where you lived.

It’s good to be able to recall the memories of a certain time when an album was about to be released and there was a certain hype around it. First Impressions was the comeback of the band who symbolised the return of indie rock in the 21st century, and whilst “Juicebox” was somewhat the wild ride – to put it lightly – with its action-flick sounding bassline and controversial music video, “Heart in a Cage” was the straight comedown with its black and white video and depressing subject matter.

Before being released officially, I had already heard the song when The Strokes performed it at an exclusive live show in London which was aired on MTV2 during December. Just a side note. Check it out if you want.

But the official video came out a few months later, and features the band members performing the track around various locations in New York City. Most notably, Julian Casablancas mimes to the track whilst lying on the ground and avoiding being trampled on at the same time. You can’t help but feel sorry for the guy as he sings about feeling abandoned, unmotivated, and restricted. He’s not allowed to feel free. His heart beats in its cage.

My iPod #493: Pink Floyd – Have a Cigar

“Have a Cigar” is the second track on Pink Floyd’s great album Wish You Were Here concerning Roger Water’s cynical takes on the music industry. Whilst “Welcome to the Machine” focused on the band’s disillusionment with the whole thing , “Cigar” is from the perspective of the sleazy, hypocritical businessman who is only interested in the money, having no idea as to what the band stand for, what they trying to say with their music, or even who the names of the members are.

The track is the most rock-oriented from the album, beginning with groovy guitar licks amidst a mix of sliding synthesizer phrases and electric piano which provide the back-bone for its duration before concluding on an electric guitar solo by David Gilmour. It is also noted for being one of only two songs which are sung by other vocalists apart from Gilmour and Waters. The story is that Waters had strained his voice singing on “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” and could not sing to his full potential, and Gilmour was unhappy with the results when he did his take.

Up stepped folk singer Roy Harper who, “for a price”, carries it out with great aplomb, a hefty weight behind his voice and a unique delivery that I don’t think would have been the same had Waters or Gilmour done it instead. The voice crack on ‘just greeeEEEEEn’ at 2:40 makes me laugh every time I hear it, but within the context of the entire song it sounds very fitting.

My iPod #486: The Beatles – A Hard Day’s Night

John Lennon took on the task of writing the theme song for The Beatles’ movie debut; something that grabbed the audience’s attention as soon as the first shot of the film hit appeared on the screen, would get the crowd excited for what was to come. He did so over one night. He then came up with a final lyric whilst on the way to Abbey Road Studios to record the track the next morning. Less than three hours later, “A Hard Day’s Night” was complete.

Taking its name from an accidental but witty remark by Ringo Starr, “A Hard Day’s Night” begins both the album and film of the same name with a strident, hard-to-replicate guitar chord, before launching into its first verse in which Lennon declares to us that it has been ‘a hard day’s night’ because he’s been working too much. He wants to sleep, but when he gets home to his lady all the stress goes away. Pretty standard subject matter, right? But Lennon used it to make one of the most exciting album openers of the 1960s. Paul McCartney provided some help too.

You have probably heard it already, if not, take some time now. It’s only two and a half minutes.

My iPod #474: Weezer – The Greatest Man That Ever Lived (Variations on a Shaker Hymn)

“The Greatest Man That Ever Lived” is one of the most confusing Weezer tracks to exist. It can also be considered to be their most epic, depending on your taste. Lyrically, the song finds Rivers Cuomo at the height of hubris. In every line he is adamant on telling you he’s the best, no one can tell him he’s not the best, he will show that he is the best if you don’t believe him, he’ll mess with you if you get in his way leading into the final verse in which he defiantly declares that he is the song’s title, and it is his destiny to give to the world.

The other thing about this song is, for every verse that is delivered the band sing in a different style ranging from rap, to Slipknot, to Beethoven and Bach. Quite the mindfuck. Though it does make for an adventurous and unpredictable six minutes of your life. On listening to it years ago, I still have the thought that what happens in this just shouldn’t work. I shouldn’t like this at all. But it does. And I do. It is weird.

So either Rivers had just cracked during the writing of this, or it is the sign that the man is some sort of crazy genius.