I Love that Song! #9 (Special Valentine’s Day 2015 Edition): “Leanne,” by the Davenports

the-davenports-leanneRegarding the Davenports’ tremendous new power pop number, “Leanne,” now playing in rotation on Pure Pop Radio, the following is mostly speculation. Well, it’s mostly speculation on my part, weighed down by many questions. A wigged-out, sneaky electric guitar riff, followed by a quickly-rendered, handclap-adorned bridge, leads into the first verse of this catchy, sneaky, almost anti-love song, and we’re off to the races.

For one thing: Is the dirty drip that’s referenced up top in the song a leaky faucet filling a sink with shmutzy water, deposits on a drip pan, or something else entirely? “In the spring we lunged for the dirty, dirty drip,” one half of the relationship spouts. “I kicked out your heel to make you, make you trip.” Question answered, then: The “dirty, dirty drip” is just the thing, the thing that this guy uses as an excuse to make his lady friend  see the floor tiles up close and personal.

It’s a playful yet quite possibly tenuous relationship, one that survives the allegorical wrestling move detailed in the lyrics’ second verse: “After the final slat of sun/The violet volley cartwheel run/You held me on a mat of Monday mowings.” When the sun sets on Sunday night, and the last, partial rays peek through the vertical blind slats, closed but not totally, and the sky fades into a violet hue, it all comes out–the this and that and yes, that again, that she’s held in ever so tightly since the last time she mowed you down, and it all comes out on Monday morning in the shreds of emotion as if they were the product of a lawn mower’s chopped grass shards.

“I called you Buttercup,” the boyfriend lays out as a kind of gesture, “I called you Buttercup, Leanne/But now, now I just call you, call you Leanne.” Because the cute-as-a-button nickname that relates back to the time when isn’t realistic anymore as the couple sheds their outer skin and reveals their collective, inner sleeve. “…now I just call you, call you Leanne.”

And then there’s the standoff: “Then we swarmed around each others’ stares like bugs/And we sat securely in our mugs.” Sizing up the considerable situation, the two lovebirds find themselves in excelsis, boiling as the temperature rises higher and higher still, each relegating their ids to their respective corners, pushing and pulling and pushing and pulling again, still, not willing to budge.

“Then,” the guy sings, “we ate to excess after that/And we stole the others’ turn at bat,” because, well, one can only disagree on the same punctuated point so much. “And we said we should grow old and fat together…” Because, well, that’s their love: fiery one minute, I-love-you-lots-and-lots-with-strings-astride-but-make-no-mistake-about-it, we’re meant to be.

“I called you Buttercup,” the guy sings. “I called you Buttercup.” But now, in the springtime of our lives, I call you who you are: my love, my life, my Leanne. All the while, crunchy guitars, a steady 4/4 beat, and a determined bass guitar lead the way through the romance of two people obviously meant for each other.

“Sing along whether you’re a lover, brokenhearted, or some place in between,” say the Davenports. Sounds about right.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

by Alan Haber

Swoon with “Leanne,” playing as part of your Valentine’s Day soundtrack. Pick it up here.

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I Love that Song! #8: “Don’t Be Mad at Me,” by the Davenports

the-davenports-don't-be-mad-at-meThe subtly pounding, lithe piano run which appoints itself at the start of the Davenports’ achingly beautiful new song, “Don’t Be Mad at Me,” now playing in rotation on Pure Pop Radio, is joined by a gregarious, almost romanticized string section pleased to acquaint itself with a very “Martha, My Dear” ambiance in tow, an ambiance that later trades off with a lovely pop melody and, at the end, an even harder-edged, slightly manic, giddy even, melodic electric guitar attack straight out of the Carpenters “Goodbye to Love” school, but for now leads into the first words of the opening verse, which themselves lead to a cautionary plea: “Betty, don’t be mad at me, Betty,” delivered by the always soothing and satisfying voice of Scott Klass as he seeks to make it all better with more than a few dollops of sincerity. “Don’t cry girl, I’ve got your keys,” he sings, because the time has come to take pause and leave the driving to someone else.

“It’s not conspiracy, revenge or trying to hurt your feelings, Betty,” Klass asserts, lovingly. It’s just the way it is, is what it all means, and you barely wrestle with the idea that at a certain point in everyone’s life–yours, for example–time will come to change the course and allow a loved one or a friendly neighbor or someone else with the power of love in his or her pocket to help, just help, just help steer the course. “But it’s clear now that you’re mixing up your Christophers and Larrys…”

And so it goes as Klass, who wrote the song, sings a litany of wise words that make it all clear as we tumble along the way in our lives. This gorgeous creation, just such a grand achievement and a raise of the bar in the ongoing songwriting life, blinks brightly with all the hallmarks of a Davenports song: the way the words match the rhythm of the melody around quick breaths; the seemingly disparate instrumental elements that come together perfectly to create a winsome, winning musical base; and the idea that a whole life, and all its twists and turns, can be communicated quite clearly in only four minutes and 13 seconds with lively invention and the truth of the songwriter’s craft.

the davenportsYes, this is a pop song with strings and a catchy melody and percussion and swooping background vocal harmonies reminiscent of the closing sections of Andy Partridge’s “1,000 Umbrellas,” and it just begs, literally begs that you sing along with it (and you can, because the video, which you can watch below, includes some of the lyrics right there on the screen) and, even if there wasn’t any begging going on, you’d want to sing along anyway, because it’s that kind of a delightful number and that’s what great pop music does: it includes you as if you’re a member of the family, and, of course, you are.

The Davenports have never been anything less than top-flight purveyors of fanciful, melodic pop songs. Here, as stated above, they have upped their game and delivered a momentous achievement. There is nothing like this song in the whole wide world–a world, as depicted in this song’s video, that is alive and well within the confines of a View-Master lying in a box left silently on a sidewalk. A young girl, curious as to the box’s contents, takes hold of the View-Master and there is Betty’s, or someone’s, life, conveyed to the girl in one snapshot after another; little wisps out of time that tell a story.

“Generally,” it is said on the band’s website, this song is “about salad days to sad days, youth to old age, power to weakness, forefront to backdrop. ‘Betty’ is an old great aunt who was once almost like a matriarch of the family–strong, with style, a leader, who drove a huge old Caddy. The narrator is a younger relative who has to take away the keys to the Caddy because Betty has grown old and demented.”

“Betty, don’t be mad at me…” Undoubtedly, this song could be about someone in your life, which makes the message universal. Betty, well, could well be you, some day.

Buy the Davenports’ “Don’t Be Mad at Me” on iTunes

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I Love That Song! #7: “Why Don’t We Do It In the Road?” by The Beatles

the-beatles-white-albumBuried near the end of side two of the Beatles’ 1968 self-titled masterwork (more commonly known as the White Album), and coming right before the sweetly sung romantic ballad “I Will,” “Why Don’t We Do It In the Road?” finds Paul McCartney posing a musical question still not properly and conclusively answered so many years later.

“Why don’t we do what in the road?” Why don’t we have a bit of a frolic, play catch, dig for buried treasure or reach for the stars on a hot summer’s day? And what are the chances of being caught? “No one will be watching us,” McCartney assures. So there’s that guarantee of walking, or perhaps limping silently, away scot-free.

paul-mccartney-white-albumMcCartney has explained the song’s meaning before, or answered the question with a loaded retort. Quoth Wikipedia: “McCartney wrote the song after seeing two monkeys copulating in the street while on retreat in Rishikesh, India, with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. He (marveled) in the simplicity of this natural scenario when compared to the emotional turmoil of human relationships.” So that theory goes. It’s the “fish and finger pie” thing all over again–a smutty little joke…a wink wink, nudge nudge between singer and listener and, you know, say no more.

Or is it? If McCartney were asked today about this song, he’d probably say he doesn’t remember what in God’s name it was about. “That was so 46 years ago,” he would probably opine. Or he might suggest that Ringo has the skinny. But Ringo would probably laugh and, with the wave of his hand, dismiss the question outright. “Don’t we have better things to talk about?” he might ask. Ha ha, and all that.

And so, I ask: What’s more fun than playing the “What is Paul talking about?” parlour game? Nothing, really. So, as we’re doing that, let’s up the ante a bit more and note that “Why Don’t We Do It In the Road?” is only four seconds shorter than “I Will.” Believe it or not, it takes McCartney about the same amount of time to express his undying love for his woman as it does to comment on copulating monkeys. Or preparing a will. Or having a contest to see who can suck a lollipop down to the stick in less time.

the-beatles-white-album-labelThe song, musically speaking, is simply, yet powerfully, stated: basic percussion, piano, bass, guitar and McCartney’s in-and-out Little Richard vocal stuck together for less time than it takes to fry an egg. “Why don’t we d-do it in the road? Why don’t we do it in the road? Uh, why don’t we do it in the ro-oad, mmm, why don’t we do it in the road? No one will be watching us, whyyy don’t we do it in the road?”

And one minute and forty-one seconds later, the song ends suddenly, abruptly–defiantly even, with a last “Why don’t we do it in the road?” The simultaneous slam on the piano, a fat pat on the snare drum, and a rigorous crash of the cymbal are all it takes to clear the aural decks and move on.

I must admit that I was one of those people who spent hours on end dissecting the obviously intended backwards messages in “Revolution 9,” stalling the motors on two, count ’em, two Symphonic all-in-one, fold-’em-up stereo turntables. I spent hours trying to figure the meaning of it all: Was Paul dead? Had my fab Paulie left this mortal coil? “You try to play that record backwards again,” my father warned, “and you won’t see another turntable in your room until you’re 25!” So I settled on letting other devoted Beatles fans figure out what the state of the Paul union was and concentrated instead on what it was that Paul, or his stand-in, was doing in the proverbial road.

It’s funny, really, how these odd, eccentric abnormalities associated with Beatles records stay with us in our creeping-up-slowly old age. In truth, it was all so silly, but it sure kept us busy and fixated. The prize at the end of all of the detective work was that all was well. Paul was alive and well and pouring a bucket of water on Life magazine’s photographer at his Scottish farm. I got another Symphonic turntable.

Perhaps the answer to the musical question, “Why don’t we do it in the road?”, is, simply, “I Will.” There. That takes care of another mystery in this life. You’re welcome.

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I Love that Song #6: “European Rain” by the Big Dish

big dish 2Three albums and six years was all it took for Scotland’s The Big Dish to create a few ripples and take its final bow. Centered around Steven Lindsay’s lovely melodies and gorgeous,velvety voice, the group should have fared better, but for some reason never built up enough of an audience to convince their label, Virgin Records, to think long-term. The label released the incredible Swimmer in 1986 and Creeping Up on Jesus two years later. A third album, Satellites, helmed by Deacon Blue’s producer Warne Livesey, showed up in 1990 on Warner-Elektra-Atlantic’s EastWest imprint. And then…poof.

Which is a shame, because exceptional, catchy songs like Swimmer’s “Prospect Street” and “Christina’s World” and Satellites’ “Miss America” and “25 Years” don’t come along at every turn around the pass. Neither do songs like “Waiting for the Parade” or the miraculous pop song’s pop song, “European Rain,” both from Creeping Up on Jesus.

“European Rain” is the kind of song a writer wishes for and hopes desperately to bring into the world–a song that, without question, will make his career. It’s the kind of song that seems borne perfectly formed, a golden creation whose melody is almost God-like, whose construction is without a single shred of excess. A perfect specimen, if you will–a lucky strike for a writer adept at the best, most lasting kind of song craft.big-dish-1

This is the kind of song that invites–no, demands repeat listens. Ushered in with a quick, commanding mash of snare drum, the enchanting verse melody leads naturally into the quick, hooky chorus. Come to think of it, the verses are as hooky as the chorus, the second instance of which is followed by a lovely horn part that slides into a tasteful electric guitar reiteration of the main melody. And so it goes–more verse, more chorus, and more instance of the hook. The pizzicato guitar notes that ever-so-gently play atop the hook near the end of the song add another layer of mesmerizing charm. If it’s true that great songs sometimes fall from out of the sky into the laps of waiting artists, this is more than ample proof. It’s another example of the perfect pop song.

People whose lives are pretty much defined by music hear all manner of great song. It’s hard, over so many years and so many spins, to latch on to a number that rises above all others, a song that the memory can call up with just a whiff of a trigger. But when such a song comes about–a song such as “European Rain”–it’s easy to let the memory take you to another place. The best songs–the greatest songs–do that.

 

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I Love that Song! # 5: “Put It There” by Paul McCartney

That's what a father said to his young son...

That’s what a father said to his young son…

The best songs are well-drawn maps to your heart that trigger long suppressed memories, memories that swell to great heights as you remember that warm, beautiful glow you felt when you were eight and your father patted your head, smiled and told you not to worry about what the kid next door said because everything was going to be all right and that was enough for you, enough to last a lifetime.

The best songs–the greatest songs–and the best and greatest songwriters know how to unravel just enough of a tale to function as emitters of clues that lead to the emotions they’re wanting to convey and wake up in you. The best songs change you in sometimes mysterious ways, ways you never can see coming. The best songs solve puzzles you’ve been taking apart and putting back together in your brain for so many years–puzzles and problems stored in the little compartment in your noggin that stay there, figuratively and literally, until the time comes to solve them and move on.

Imagine that your father–the man who taught you how to throw and catch a ball; who sprinted along next to you on your street as you passed in a rickety manner from training wheels to full-fledged bicycle tires but stopped after 30 or 40 seconds and claimed victory anyway; who snapped pictures of you and your prom date in the hallway by your front door and embarrassed you in that soon-he’ll-be-grown-up-and-away-from-my-gaze kind of way; who upped your weekly allowance to $1.25 from $1.10 after you promised, with tears welling in your eyes, to be a better brother to your sister; and who went with you to the library to stand up for you to the bitter librarian who wouldn’t let you take out a book marked with an “adult content” stamp that didn’t really need one and who didn’t know you were an advanced reader but you were and your father knew it.

The best songs open a flood of memories to your consciousness and light up your brain with effusive fireworks that celebrate with glee the times in your life that were so alive. In “Put It There,” Paul McCartney looks back on times spent with his father. “I want to show you I’m your friend,” Jim Mac says. “It’s all that matters in the end.” “Put it there if it weighs a ton,” he relates, and Paul remembers “That’s what a father said to his young son.” “I don’t care if it weighs a ton,” Jim Mac notes. “As long as you and I are here, put it there.”

Everything is going to be alright. Everything is going to be alright no matter what happens, because fathers can fix anything. Anything! “The darkest night and all its mixed emotions is getting lighter,” McCartney sings, urging the listener to become part of his memory. “Put it there if it weighs a ton,” he sings, and all of a sudden you remember that day in the park when your kite flew away, and that time at the ballpark when you almost caught a ball in your official Little League glove but got beaned just a hair instead and you cried and your father put his arm around you and said “Almost! Good job!”.  You remember those winsome moments–the ones that caress you and hold you tight and give you hope.

The young son

The young son

The beautifully understated, emotive arrangement of “Put It There” starts sparingly with some acoustic picking, a shaker, some perfunctory percussion, and McCartney singing towards the upper edge of his register alongside Hamish Stuart’s bass, basic with a bit of a pack of flash as the tale unravels, some gorgeous, assured orchestration from McCartney and old salt George Martin, as the grown man remembers the way he was assured that life would treat him well, that he could traverse through course changes with confidence, even if his stomach rumbled just a bit and the road ahead looked potentially treacherous. “If there’s a fight I’d like to fix it,” Jim Mac explains. “I hate to see things go so wrong.” Go on and wear this invisible suit of armor and go forth–nothing can hurt you.

And because we know that nothing can really hurt us–not really–we go forth, the simple memories of our fathers smiling at us as we recall them passing around plates of sloppy joes at the dinner table, explaining why Uncle Joe shows up in every picture taken at family functions. These memories happily swirl around the inside of our beans as we make our way, the soundtrack of our lives playing with knee-slap percussion, a bit of acoustic guitar, and that voice that conveys any emotion it chooses.

In Paul McCartney’s “Put It There,” there is a mound of emotion, and if we listen carefully, we can take so much from it. Because that’s the magic of great songs composed with that special spark that opens up a well of memories and changes you for all time. That is the well-drawn map, the one that you follow as you pedal to new destinations on your path. That is the song, the song in your heart.

 

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I Love that Song! #4: “All Together Now” by the Beatles

The Beatles in Yellow Submarine

The Beatles in Yellow Submarine

When the soundtrack to the Beatles’ animated film Yellow Submarine was released in January 1969, fans were gifted with four brand-new songs and two they already had–“Yellow Submarine,” which originally appeared on Revolver in 1966; and “All You Need is Love,” which was included on 1967’s Magical Mystery Tour, released in the U.S. as an album on November 27, 1967 and in England as a double-pack EP on December 8, 1967.

Although one of the new songs (“Hey Bulldog”) was finished in February 1968, the other three were recorded in 1967. One of those songs was a seemingly simple and catchy little ditty from Paul McCartney entitled “All Together Now.” It served as the closing number to the film, beginning hot on the heels of the only scene in which the actual, human Beatles appeared. After George, Paul and Ringo show off souvenirs they picked up on their journey (George had the submarine’s motor, Paul had a little “Love,” and Ringo had a hole in his pocket (“Well, half a hole, hanyway”). Then, the Beatles gave the enthusiastic countdown–Ringo: “One!”, Paul: “Two!”, George: “Three!”, John: “Four!”–and, as they gave their shout out, the acoustic strum of “All Together Now” began.

Using “All Together Now” as the closing number of the movie was a masterful stroke by the filmmakers. Following a lively, if brief, onscreen appearance by the Beatles, the song seemed more important and, perhaps, mysterious. “Newer and bluer meanies have been sighted within the vicinity of this theater,” John warned. “There’s only one way to go out.”  “How’s that?” asked George. “Singing!” said Lennon, smiling a deeply, broad smile.

“All Together Now” is basically a children’s song full of nonsense lyrics (“One, two, three, four/Can I have a little more?/Five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten/I love you”), although a later verse is aimed directly at the adults in the audience: “Black, white, green, red/Can I take my friend to bed?”, which is followed by the psychedelic wash of nine simple words: “Pink, brown, yellow, orange and blue/I love you.”

"Newer and bluer meanies have been sighted within the vicinity of this website!"

“Newer and bluer meanies have been sighted within the vicinity of this website!”

On screen, the song’s title is translated into a variety of languages and, at the song’s end, the tune honks and the movie is over. The song speeds up a bit towards its finale, engaging the audience and inspiring them to applaud, to stand up and cheer, which is what I remember doing way back in 1968 when my family went to see Yellow Submarine at a movie theater in Syosset, Long Island. I was 13 and a, b, c, d and all of the other letters swirled around me. I had just seen a wonderful film, full of wonderful Beatles music, and the real, honest-to-God Beatles were actually on the screen! I looked around to see if any Blue Meanies had indeed infiltrated the theater. I might have looked under the seat! Thankfully, they had not. They had, however, infiltrated my imagination. Would my father have known how to defend us against their bluish attack? I don’t think so.

When the question is asked–“What are your favorite songs that Paul McCartney wrote while in the Beatles?”–I would highly doubt that “All Together Now” is listed very often. It would be on such a list if I were making it, though. It takes a whole lot of natural talent for a songwriter to put pen to paper and create a song so seemingly simple yet utterly complex–a song that people would be singing to themselves on the way out of a movie theater and then again at home, singing along with the record. “All Together Now” is magically catchy–a song that sinks its hooks deep into your soul. It showed another side to McCartney’s talents, and let’s face it, to go from the rough-and-tumble wildness of “Helter Skelter” to a catchy children’s song is no easy task.

For people of a certain age, the experience of seeing Yellow Submarine was quite special. Mom and Dad may not have “gotten it,” by the kids did. And after the pace of the film ramped up as “All Together Now” reached its final seconds, and the theater lights brightened and the crowd started heading for the exits, entered their cars with the kids in the back seat, there was quiet in the vehicle. The vinyl upholstery was quiet as a mouse, in fact, as the parents wondered if their kids were going to be good citizens and go to bed with little or no fuss. Secretly, on the ride home, and as they fell asleep in their beds, the kids were singing the songs to themselves, reveling in some of the best scenes swirling around in their head. All, actually, was  great and so spectacular.

After so many years of crawling inside the Beatles’ golden catalog, I never get tired of reliving the thrill and majesty of the first time I heard, say, “Lady Madonna” or “Hey Jude.” “All Together Now” reminds me of being in that movie theater, going on such a wild and imaginative adventure along with my favorite group in the whole wide world. Even now, as I type these words, in my mind I am munching on popcorn and singing along.

Alan Haber | April 8, 2014

 

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I Love that Song! #3: “Red Dragon Tattoo” by Fountains of Wayne

Fountains of Wayne's "Red Dragon Tattoo": "I got it for you!"

Fountains of Wayne’s “Red Dragon Tattoo”: “I got it for you!”

Amongst the parade of sad sacks, losers and miscreants that populate the breadth of Fountains of Wayne’s considerable catalog, the guy who gets a gnarly tattoo in an effort to woo and then snag a girl he’s got his eye on is top of the screwy, creepy guy molehill. Never has anyone worked so hard with so little brain power to make romantic things happen. The doofus in “Red Dragon Tattoo” is so wrongheaded and lightly starched that a game of Candy Land would be beyond his capabilities. Imagine, then, that a song about a walking fit of nothing could be so cheery and bright and catchy–a melodic, power pop classic from Fountains of Wayne’s Utopia Parkway album.

The song bops along in a carefree way, lightly percussive, guitars and drums keeping the steady beat. I love the way the lyrics work in tandem with the melody. And I love the portrait of the song’s subject, the poignantly-misguided you’ve-got-to-feel-sorry-for-a-loser-so-sure-of-himself dude.

This guy’s a champion plotter. He’s got the day picked out, the route mapped with certainty–a robber without a purse. “With the money I saved/Gonna get me engraved,” he sings, happily, forthright and stout. He downs a backyard pool’s worth of some fancy shmancy Basil Hayden’s bourbon to get himself ready to do the deed, even as he presupposes that he will get “kicked out” of the tattoo parlour “when” he “can’t see straight.” A tax planner or life coach in the making? No, probably not.

Armed with a solid plan to put into rubbery motion, this dude’s either talking to the tattoo he hasn’t yet gotten or he’s hearing wobbly voices. “In you I confide/Red Dragon Tattoo/I’m fit to be dyed/Am I fit to have you,” the guy sings, perhaps unsure of himself or just plain dumb from the start.

Upon entering the tattoo shop, the guy is given some design choices: “A mermaid and a heart that says mother,” but he’s a little weary because he doesn’t “know from maritime” and “never did hard time.” This genius then divulges that he “brought a .38 Special CD collection” (missing the coolness factor by leaps and bounds) and, in a moment of health conscious self-reflection and possibly a scary premonition that the folks who work in the tattoo shop don’t practice cleanliness next to their Godliness, “some Bactine to prevent infection.” And if that weren’t enough, on the off chance that he might “get queasy, a photo of Easy Rider.” Dude’s a thinking man’s man, after all.

Red Dragon Tattoo?

Red Dragon Tattoo?

The Red Dragon tattoo inked, applied and resplendent on his person, the guy pleads with his intended: “Will you stop pretending I’ve never been born/Now I look a little more like that guy from KorN/If you came a little bit closer/You’d see it isn’t painted on/Oh no no.” Cool, manly tattoo equals gold-plated boyfriend material, indeed.

Does this guy get the girl in the end? That’s left up to the listener. My guess? As Bon Jovi sings in “You Give Love a Bad Name,” “Shot through the heart and you’re to blame/Darlin’ you give love a bad name.” And, as Pete Townshend wrote in the song “Tattoo,” ” Welcome to my life, tattoo/I’m a man now, thanks to you.” But this guy really doesn’t know who he is. Really, it doesn’t much matter. Perhaps someone should put up a plaque somewhere–possibly the tattoo shop–with the words “He tried, He failed, Didn’t get the girl although he took a whirl.”

Alan Haber | April 2, 2014

 

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Click on the image to listen to Alan Haber’s Pure Pop Radio through players like iTunes