Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
May 22, 2004
POP CULTURE: Five Songs, Vol. I
I'm kicking off a new intermittent feature here on the site (bearing in mind the unfinished nature of many of my prior serieses of posts): Five Songs, in which I'll post about five selected songs that I've been listening to lately. Hope you enjoy.
1. Forgotten Years, by Midnight Oil - "Who can remember, we've got to remember" - a heartfelt tribute to the tribulations of generations that fought wars (written in that whole "end of history" mood of the early Nineties), with a driving beat and a moving video shot amidst rows of crosses. Of course, it's no longer entirely true of America (though for the moment it remains true of Midnight Oil's native Australia) that "Our shorelines were never invaded, our country was never in flames".
2. Night Train, by Guns n' Roses - The Gunners at their best. One funny thing: there's a line in the song where Axl, in full "see how much of a badass I really am" mode, sings, "I got a dog eat dog sly smile." But until I read the lyrics, I thought he said, "I got a dog he doubts my smile" (listen some time and you'll see what I mean), which conveys a much more menacing thought - a man whose dog doesn't even trust him. Two bonus Guns n' Roses items. First, the band did a demo cover of the Rolling Stones' "Jumpin' Jack Flash" that got leaked to New York's Z100 back when I used to listen to the station (hey, I was in high school), and it went in heavy rotation for a few weeks until some sort of legal action quashed it. I hope they find a way some day to unearth this one - it was just dynamite, fast-paced full-tilt rock that made the classic original sound pokey by comparison. Second, and listen closely before you laugh at me: listen to the "sparks flying" part of the bridge in "Welcome to the Jungle" (the part leading up to where Axl screams, "you're in the jungle baby, you're gonna dieeeee); then listen to the sound of Satan's fiddlers in The Charlie Daniels Band's 1979 novelty country tune "The Devil Went Down To Georgia." Tell me they aren't basically playing the same sound.
3. Comfortably Numb, by Van Morrison - The Pink Floyd original is definitive, of course, but Morrison's interpretation, from the concert at the Berlin Wall, is quite different; while David Gilmour's purposely flat vocals give expression to the singer's drug-induced distance and emotional alienation, Morrison invests the song with a lot more emotion, singing about the pain of loss rather than portraying absence.
4. I'm the Ocean, by Neil Young with Pearl Jam - Young, famously, is a master of both heavy metal and easy listening; this is in the former vein. The "Mirror Ball" album he did backed by Pearl Jam is uneven, but has some good stuff, this song among it.
5. Human Wheels, John Mellencamp - Another song for just the right mood - melancholy, without being depressing, and with a hypnotic, cycling beat. Should rank with Mellencamp's best.