It’s that time of year again, for those keeping score at home, and while I’ve been putting this CD swap playlist together all year, and had been listening to a draft version in my car last week until my ER visit and subsequent vertigo bullshit kept me out of the driver’s seat, I realized today that I’d best get this done before the holiday had come and gone. And so I have, because I’m good under pressure like that.
This year’s theme was a vague “Images, Words, & Movement” that left open too many possibilities, Ghost (tsk, tsk), but some of these songs I chose because of specific images that I dig, or just how they groove, and many of them because they were story songs, which are like audio movies, and movies are what I think of when I see the words “Images, Words, & Movement.” So that’s the connection, at least in my head, even if it doesn’t seem that way to the listener. My thoughts on the choices below. If you’d like this playlist for your very own, hit me up with your request and mailing address, and I will oblige you with an old-school CD, because that’s how we mix swappers roll on the eve of 2017. It’s all part of the sensual experience; trust. But if you can’t wait that long, you can grab the songs here, though they may not be in the proper order, because I wasn’t going to change all the names. (I told you to get the CD, didn’t I?)
Without further ado…
Motions, King Of Spain
I didn’t even realize I had this song/band. It popped up on my iPod one day, and while it starts like it’s going to be kind of monotonous and relentless, that is a feint, and it actually encourages you to listen to the lyrics carefully. And I think they’re really interesting. Plus, you know, “Motions”=“movement.” Theme bullseye, no?
My Silver Lining, First Aid Kit
There is a rhythm that sounds like a moving train that I really love, in any song I hear it in, and this song has it, too. I don’t know how two young Swedish women came to write this kind of lonesome Western song, but I dig it. It FEELS like it’s rolling out on the prairie. You’d queue this song up for some kind of epic, soul-searching roadtrip and listen to it again and again.
Good as Gold, Dala
I confess, I included this song because it’s pretty, and the color fit with “Images,” plus I liked juxtaposing it with the title of the previous song. Silver and gold, silver and gold… My word nerdery knows no bounds.
Cleo’s Mood, Jr. Walker & The All Stars
This song moves, and it brings the funk. Every time I hear it, no matter what I’m doing, I have to dance. I’m doing it now, even as I type. I’d be very surprised if many babies were not created to this song.
The Curse (live from Iveagh Gardens), Josh Ritter
This is a fantastic story song. The first time I heard it, I was mesmerized, and appreciated Ritter’s flair for fiction. I fictionalize elements of the songs I write to make them work, to broaden their appeal, or to hide a little too much truth, but I’ve never written a whole story that wasn’t true in any of them. I’ve always been an essayist and poet; I don’t think I’ve written any serious fiction since 9th grade. But he created this whole, perfect mummy tale, with nothing wasted, and nothing missing, in six minutes and change. You can see it all, the imagery is so clear. It’s masterful songwriting.
Living A Boy’s Adventure Tale, a-Ha
Believe it or not, a-Ha wrote more songs than just “Take On Me” in 1985. Which was 31 years ago. Jesus, I’m old. Anyway, Hunting High and Low is an album worth absorbing. The idea of your life being as exciting as your favorite adventure story is kind of sweet, I always thought.
If I Saw You in a Movie, Heather Nova
Now we’re really getting meta. A story/movie song about seeing someone in a movie and falling in love? It’s. Too. Much. But speaking as someone who regularly falls in love with men in movies, going back to when I was 6 and fell in love with Luke Skywalker in the first Star Wars movie, and continuing until right this second, where my current favorite movie crush is Chris Evans, particularly as (but certainly not limited to) Captain America. I recently wrote a song about my propensity to fall in love with romantic movies and the actors therein. Romantic movies are addictive and dangerous. Just sayin’.
Airwaves, Thomas Dolby
“She Blinded Me with Science” is what most people remember Thomas Dolby for, and granted, it’s a really fun song, but I had kind of dismissed him as a novelty one-hit wonder back in the day…until I heard this one. It always seemed so wistful and yearning to me. I like that. Bittersweet is my favorite flavor of art.
Last Man Standing, Duran Duran
I haven’t gone back to check, but it seems highly unlikely that I’d do a mix that doesn’t include at least one Duran Duran song. This is this year’s. It’s from 2007’s mostly forgettable Red Carpet Massacre, an album that even the band isn’t terribly fond of. They worked with both Timbaland and Timberlake on it, and that seemed bizarre to me at the time it came out, and still. It’s not an album I can recommend, but this song I do like. Simon is usually the lyricist on their songs; that’s why they hired him, and his imagery is always interesting, if sometimes opaque, though it’s gotten less so as he’s matured. And I can say that Simon LeBon’s voice, an improbably sexy, nasal whine, was, is, and shall remain, unique. There’s no one else in the biz that sounds like him, and I love him for it; I never tire of hearing him sing. The last time I drove out to California, I listened to nothing but Duran Duran for 7 hours straight, and I gotta tell ya…it was one of the better days of my life.
Don’t Go, Yaz
I just really love how this drives. I kind of wish sometimes I could sing like she does, but those are not the vocal chords I was given. Neither does that kind of music come out when I sit down to write. I always wonder what’s going on in the heads of people who can write fast, hard rock and pop.
40 Mark Strasse, The Shins
I love what’s going on musically in this song…and then there’s this:
“Cause every single story
Is a story about love
Both the overflowing cup
And the painful lack thereof”
I think this may be the song that made me a Jewel fan, though that was nearly 20 years ago, so I can’t be sure. Picture it: Annandale, Minnesota, 1997ish. I was teaching Spanish and English in a small town, and it was my practice during work time to play music–almost always classical, because it encouraged my little worker bees, put their brains into productive learning patterns (if the research was to be believed), and wasn’t distracting. But every once in a blue moon, a kid would bring in an album and ask to play it, and if I were in a generous mood, I might pop it in the boombox with the caveat that if I didn’t like it, it was over. Pieces of You was a pretty good album, though the song that used the word “faggot” I skipped over real quick, though not quickly enough, to my chagrin. But I ended up buying the album myself in time. The story in this song is so sweet and so very sad. Tragedy and philosophy in under 7 minutes. The bridge of this song, both melodically and lyrically, breaks my heart every single time I hear it. I don’t think there will ever be a time when it won’t.
Lilly’s Prayer, Sweetwater Drive
I don’t even know this band, but this song was on a KXCI Presents: Locals Only album I got from a friend, and this is such a clear vision of what it’s like to live out here in the desert. It’s an audio postcard to my swap pals.
The Toad’s Song, Justin Farren
Justin Farren played at a house concert hosted by my guitar teacher and his wife, and this was my first introduction to his music. Farren has an uncanny knack for being simultaneously silly and deeply thoughtful. The first time I heard this song, I was taken with the ridiculous idea of a toad weaving himself a shawl out of kittens’ whiskers, and I thought, “oh isn’t this adorable!” And the imagery of all that’s going on at the Toad Shawl Ball is pure delight, both for what it evokes and Farren’s wordcraft: “And should your judgment shrink from too much drink, there will be lodging in the tractor tire…” That line kills me–the image! The rhyme! Oh me! And I got so caught up in all of that when the end of the story came, it punched me in the gut and broke my heart, and with tears in my eyes, I thought, “Well done, Mr. Farren. Well done.” And then I listened to it again.
Silver Light, Simon Lynge
Simon Lynge was the opener when I saw Emmylou Harris a few years ago, and I left a bigger fan of him than her, in truth. A native of Greenland, he came to us by way of Washington state, and offered beautifully nimble vocals and impressive guitar, not to mention some really good imagery and hooks that won’t quit. Not to mention what was unquestionably the best cover of “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay” I have ever heard. But what I really liked most was the irrepressible streak of hope and strength, and belief that we were better than this world might currently suggest, in his lyrics. That seemed like something I needed to hear in Trump’s ‘Murica, and a good message to end this mix with. Sign me up for the revolution of the human soul!
Nuages, Gipsy Kings
I wanted to go out on this upbeat instrumental number. It’s got movement galore, and, at least to me, suggests a relaxed, sunny Saturday afternoon in some country I’ve never been to, but where anything might happen. All that without words. Instrumental music has often suggested entire stories to me, and I often wonder what stories other people hear in them.