Classic Songs of My Youth Revisited #17

Chilliwack – My Girl (Gone, Gone, Gone)

I never much cared for Chilliwack, or most of the other Canadian groups that got lots of airplay, like Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Trooper and April Wine, when I was growing up in Cape Breton in the 1970s. (Rush was the notable exception.) Their songs were fine, but that’s a pretty mealy-mouthed bit of non-praise. I never bought any of their albums or singles, and only rarely recorded them off the radio for replay. I didn’t leave the room when they came on: I was simple apathetic about their existence.

I wonder if Canadian content rules hurt some artists creatively while helping them fiscally. It certainly gave lots of acts a boost, guaranteeing that more of them got on the air. But sometimes that protection granted an unearned spot that could have gone to a better, non-Canadian band. As an example, I coincidentally (because I would never play it on purpose) heard “California Girl” by Chilliwack while browsing in a Halifax thrift shop just two days ago. I hated this song in 1977, and I still think it sucks in 2022. My local rock station could’ve used that time on a whole bunch of classics that never made it to their airwaves: Television’s “Marquee Moon” on its own could’ve replaced two plays of “California Girl” (though radio stations everywhere were missing out on this particular masterpiece in 1977). On the flip side, if those MAPL protections are the reason for “My Girl (Gone, Gone, Gone)” coming along four years later, I guess it was worth it. I guess.

Nope, it was totally worth it, because “My Girl” still kicks ass 41 years later. As a measure of this, I bought the album it came from, “Wanna Be A Star”, and the one that came after it a year later out of pure continuing good will. I first heard the song in the basement of Jay Galpin’s house. Jay and I were in the same grade, but ran in different circles. (Well, Jay probably ran – I hung near the back and slunk in when I saw a gap.) I briefly dated his younger sister Jill, and one Saturday night, as Jill and I were hanging around in their basement listening to music, Jay came in, barely acknowledged our presence, and commandeered the stereo. He played two songs – “Destroyer” by The Kinks and “My Girl” – then fucked off without another word. It was pretty gangster, in retrospect, and I had heard two amazing new songs.

“Destroyer”, which I hadn’t listened to in years, is still fantastic, but we’re here to talk about “My Girl”. There’s a real ‘50s doo wop feel right out of the gate, like a bunch of guys standing in a tunnel over a trash can fire or scattered around a high school washroom, snapping their fingers to set the beat for the echoey “gone, gone, gone” intro. It’s a song that was made for singing along to. It quickly turns into a modern pop song, with a really solid toe-tapping backbeat, but never loses that air of nostalgia, including a nice Beach Boys-esque “woo ooo” just before the 1:00 mark. The obligatory guitar solo is pleasant enough, and they get it out of the way early, so you haven’t lost interest by the time the chorus kicks back in at 2:13, upping the drama with just the tiniest uptick in tempo. Then, right when they should be winding down, the energy kicks up just before 3:00, and it becomes a balls out race to the fade out.

One thing that makes it great is the interplay between the lead and backing vocals. And while it hasn’t been covered widely, all three versions that made an impression on me were completely faithful to the original, while taking advantage of that dynamic. The Stanford Mendicants, the Treblemakers of this particular tale, though hopefully less dickish than Bumper, do a classic a capella take, and Bailey Pelkman has a gals only countrified version that feels like this is a song The Andrews Sisters and their ilk could’ve knocked out of the park. But the version that really reveals the song’s strength comes from a dedicated ‘80s covers act, The B.A. Baracus Band, who hit it with their unique blend of acoustic guitar, djembe and kazoos (the singer is no match for Bill Henderson – he’s game as fuck though, so major props to him). Pity the fool who doesn’t appreciate the effort.

This was Chilliwack’s biggest hit by far, though “I Believe” from the same album also did well. Amazingly, “Fly at Night”, a Canada-only hit from 1976, is more popular than “My Girl” on Spotify, and I don’t understand that at all. In 1982, they tried to recapture the magic with “Whatcha Gonna Do?”, and it sort of worked, but it was no “My Girl” and had nowhere near the success. By the next year, they were a band in name only. But they left us one perfect 4:14 record of their time on our airwaves.

Favourite “New” Music – April 2022

After the latest edition of the Grammys, a list was circulated on Twitter of artists who have never won the music industry’s most prestigious (for all that that’s worth) award. It’s an impressive group – Hendrix, Queen, Joplin, The Who, Buddy Holly and Diana Ross (that one shocked me) were all there. But the purpose of the list seemed to be more about pointing out that Kanye West has 22 of the little gramophones, and that their lack and his surfeit was a travesty. And that’s just some first-rate bullshit.

Let’s start with the premise that awards shows are aimed at honouring the “best” of a given year. Taking a glance at any list of critics’ favourites in any year and then comparing it to the major award winners for that year will quickly reveal the folly of such a belief. Sometimes, it takes time for a work of art to be appreciated properly: people were so incensed by what they heard that there was a riot after Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” debuted in 1913 (no Grammy for Igor that year, though he already had a pair for “The Firebird” and, in a controversial win at the time,  “Petrushka”).

Awards are also a form of committee decision, and thus reflect a con­sensus, and sometimes a capitulation, and such a process tends to squeeze out greatness in favour of something pretty good that everyone can live with. It’s how A Taste of Honey beat out Elvis Costello and The Cars for the Best New Artist Grammy in 1979 (though good old commerce played a big part there, too). And, of course, that isn’t limited to music. It’s also how “Dances with Wolves” beat “Goodfellas “for best picture at the Oscars, and how Jim Parsons won four Emmys for “The Big Bang Theory” while it took Jon Hamm’s eighth and final try to get just one for “Mad Men”. Weird shit happens at award shows.

Another problem is that the list of unrewarded worthies included Journey. Look, I have screamed along with “Don’t Stop Believin'” just like everyone else. But if there was ever a year when something from Journey was the very best those 365 days had to offer in any category of endeavour, then that was one weak-ass year. (There is no such year.)

And Kanye is the guy they go after? If you don’t get that he’s a musical genius, one of the true masters of our era, then I can’t help you, but I also probably can’t take anything you say all that seriously unless your reason is that he just isn’t your thing, which I totally get: I don’t get all the love for Ariana Grande, and probably never will. Taste is personal. Any other rationale, though, is very much an old man yelling at kids to get off his lawn scenario. You can dislike Kanye – and I get that, his music isn’t always user friendly – but don’t try to turn that into him being overrated. And if you don’t like him, know that you are in my thoughts and prayers.

And, with that, I present my favourite “new” music of April 2022. There are 21 albums instead of my usual 20 because I just couldn’t make that last cut without re-listening to about half of these, and we’re already halfway to the next list, so screw it, I can change the rules whenever I want, right?

  • Dave Mason – Alone Together (1970)
  • The dB’s – Stands for Decibels (1981)
  • Talk Talk – Spirit of Eden (1988) (Probably best to listen to in a dark room with really good headphones.)
  • The Records – Smashes, Crashes and Near Misses (1988)
  • John Hiatt – Perfectly Good Guitar (1993) (This crowded out a really good record from Little Village, a supergroup that Hiatt was a part of.)
  • Lyle Lovett – The Road to Ensenada (1996)
  • Failure – Fantastic Planet (1996)
  • Sleater-Kinney – Dig Me Out (1997)
  • The Juliana Theory – Understand This Is A Dream (1999) (In retrospect, this should have permanently been in my CD player for most of the 2000s.)
  • Jimmy Eat World – Bleed American (2001 (This one, too.)
  • Depeche Mode – Delta Machine (2013)
  • Kelsy Karter – Missing Person (2020)
  • Mr Twin Sister – Al Munro Azul (2021)
  • Natalie Gelman – Moth to the Flame (2021)
  • Maren Morris – Humble Quest (2022)
  • Letting Up Despite Great Faults – IV (2022)
  • Wet Leg – Wet Leg (2022)
  • Guerilla Toss – Famously Alive (2022)
  • Mom Jeans. – Sweet Tooth (2022)
  • Tanika Charles – Papillon de Nuit: The Night Butterfly (2022)
  • Girlpool – Forgiveness (2022)

Favourite “New” Music – March 2022

In early March, my wife and I were discussing the latest Ed Sheeran plagiarism news, and, as is often the case during such chats, my position changed mid-conversation. Initially, I thought Ed might be the Robin Williams of pop music, absorbing ideas and influences until they became a part of him, only to later emerge from his subconscious without any actual knowledge of their origins. But I soon decided he had done nothing untoward, not even through inadvertence, and not just because the song he’s accused of stealing from completely sucks (you’ve been warned, so it’s on you if you click on the link).

A tremendous amount of music is released every year. I could find no authoritative source on this, but one conservative estimate put it at 100 new albums each week, so let’s use that. At approximately 45 minutes each, that would total 75 hours of new music. If you have around 11 hours each day to spare, you could get through it all with an attention level that would likely vary greatly.

Now the true number is probably much, much higher. Two years ago, Spotify was adding about 40,000 tracks each day, which at four minutes apiece, would come to almost 19,000 hours of content each week. This doesn’t include the hours and hours of un-Spotified content from places like Soundcloud and Bandcamp. And whatever the number for new recordings, there’s also the long history of music that came before today. At this writing, Spotify has over 5 million hours of music in total. That number is insane.

I love the TwinsthenewTrend guys, but when I first saw them I was puzzled by how they’d never before heard “In the Air Tonight“. But then I considered that they were two modern teens who maybe weren’t inclined to (at least initially) go looking for music that was twice as old as they were, and definitely would not be considered cool in their circle (unless it was a retro ”Miami Vice” crowd, which I would pay to see). Or consider Sam Smith, who claimed never to have heard Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” until its similarity to his “Stay With Me” was pointed out to him. (For what it’s worth, I don’t hear it – this is no “Got to Give It Up”/ “Blurred Lines” or Olivia Rodrigo/ half-the-music-business scenario.) Is it so unusual that Sam maybe didn’t grow up listening to a classic rock track that peaked at #28 in his home country three years before he was born? Is it a song we would expect a gay chubby musical theatre nerd to be hunting down for a listen? I don’t think so.

So, no, Ed didn’t steal the “oh I, oh I, oh I” part of “Shape of You” from a shitty song that has – even after all the recent attention – a mere 274,000 streams (around $1,000 in revenue) on Spotify. (For perspective, “Shape of You” tops 3 billion, or around $12 million in revenue.) The odds of him even having heard that song are astronomical. I’m sure Ed has better things to do than looking for shitty songs to plagiarise.

The point of this – other than slamming a song I don’t like (hey, Jethro Tull can’t carry the entire burden) – is to play my little part in cutting through some of that noise. Below are the “new” albums I enjoyed most over the month just ended. It was a great month – I cut several records that I genuinely loved (including, to my shock and delight, one from Alicia Keys) to make this of reasonable length. May you find something in there to love – and, if nothing else, I will have spared you the horror of “Oh Why”.

  • Sparks – A Woofer in Tweeter’s Clothing (1973)
  • T-Bone Burnett – Trap Door (1982)
  • The Del Fuegos – The Longest Day (1984)
  • Hindu Love Gods – Hindu Love Gods (1990) (Warren Zevon and three-quarters of R.E.M. playing classic blues and a kick-ass Prince cover? Yes, please.)
  • Madonna – Ray of Light (1998) (It might have been a mistake to spend the last quarter century trying to ignore her music.)
  • David Byrne – Look into the Eyeball (2001)
  • Julien Baker – Sprained Ankle (2015)
  • Franz Ferdinand – Always Ascending (2018)
  • Lana Del Rey – Blue Banisters (2021)
  • Tyler, the Creator – Call Me If You Get Lost (2021)
  • Tears for Fears – The Tipping Point (2022) (I might like this more than their classic albums from the 1980s – no longer angsty youths, Roland and Curt have seen some shit, and come out the other side reinvigorated.)
  • Conway the Machine – God Don’t Make Mistakes (2022)
  • Nilüfer Yanya – Painless (2022)
  • Charlotte Adigéry and Bolis Pupul – Topical Dancer (2022)
  • Dashboard Confessional – All the Truth that I Can Tell (2022) (A mature and introspective return from one of my favourite emo bands of the 2000s. (Others on that list: Something Corporate, Brand New, A New Found Glory.)
  • Young Guv – GUV III (2022) (Delightful power pop that, at its best, puts me in mind of peak Matthew Sweet.)
  • Dave East – HDIGH (2022) (Fast becoming one of my favourite rappers.)
  • Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard – Backhand Deals (2022)
  • midwxst – better luck next time. (2022) (It’s like the whiny parts of Drake were filtered out and replaced with DNA from Fall Out Boy.)
  • The Boo Radleys – Keep On with Falling (2022)

Favourite ”New” Music – February 2022

I recently spent some time browsing through the genre section on Acclaimed Music. It was educational to discover all sorts of categories of music that I hadn’t considered. Darkwave? UK garage? Indietronica? Sophisti-pop? Breakbeat?

Some of these are obvious. The heartland rock genre is ruled by Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty and Bob Seger, and of course Bob Dylan tops folk rock AND singer/songwriter. But would you consider The Everly Brothers a traditional country act? Or Michael Jackson a disco artist? (“Off the Wall” is top ranked in that category.) Is Sufjan Stevens really indie folk, and how is there an Aretha Franklin album that is traditional folk? In what parallel universe is Neu! progressive rock?

A lot of records and artists don’t fit into a neat box, and those are often the most interesting. I try to mix up my listening, moving among eras, styles, production values, etc. The list below reflects this, though it’s very heavy on new releases. 2022 has already seen some fantastic records, with hopefully more to come. This list could have been twice as long, but that would have seemed indiscriminate. These are the records that pleased me the most in the year’s briefest month.

  • 10cc – 10cc (1973) (These guys made some gloriously fun records in the ‘70s – “Sheet Music” is another great one.)
  • John Martyn – Solid Air (1973)
  • Yo La Tengo – Fakebook (1990)
  • Paul Westerberg – 14 Songs (1993)
  • MC Solaar – Prose combat (1994) (Hiphop from France – a most unexpected pleasure.)
  • Silver Jews – Starlite Walker (1994)
  • Caroline Rose – Loner (2018)
  • Playboi Carti – Whole Lotta Red (2020)
  • Julien Baker – Little Oblivions (2021) (Fast becoming one of my favourites – her 2015 debut will definitely be on my March list.)
  • CHVRCHES – Screen Violence (2021)
  • Mitski – Laurel Hell (2022) (I have stanned for Mitski many times, and will continue to do so. Happy to see her finally having some commercial success after a string of consistently delightful records.)
  • Adekunle Gold – Catch Me If You Can (2022)
  • The Wombats – Fix Yourself, Not the World (2022)
  • Years & Years – Night Call (2022)
  • Pinegrove – 11:11 (2022)
  • Spoon – Lucifer on the Sofa (2022)

Photo by Glen Carrie on Unsplash

Favourite “New” Music – January 2022

There was a (very) minor kerfuffle in recent weeks over a piece from Ted Gioia – whose “Music: A Subversive History” is high up on my to-read list (so many books!) – about how little people are listening to new music these days. Other than the issues this raises for the music industry – who are just the next generation of artist-fucking-over sharks who’ve always been drawn to the business – and current artists struggling to find their place in this messed-up economy, I don’t see this as a giant concern. As he notes towards the end, art is a bottom-up process, not top-down, and, inevitably, good work does find its place. Hopefully, that comes soon enough for the artist to profit from it, as opposed to a sort of “A Confederacy of Dunces” situation (though at least the writer’s beloved mother made out well in that particular mess).

One thing he skirts around is that a lot of this older music that is being played is, in fact, new music to a lot of these listeners. I started my Pazz & Jop project because I was woefully uninformed about much of the best music of my lifetime. I have a 30+-year head start on the people of my daughters’ generation, so for those among them who love music, there is an insane amount of ground to make up. While I am completely on board with newer artists becoming as insanely wealthy as some of their predecessors (please do your part to help Mitski get there – I can’t do this on my own), putting another penny in the pockets of Sting or Bruce because you just discovered “Every Breath You Take” or “The River” and can’t get enough of them is a magnificent thing that should absolutely be encouraged. “New” music isn’t determined by the calendar – it’s the moment in time when you encounter it that matters.

Anyway, this is all a preamble to a new list of recommendations. When putting together my 2021 favourites list, I realized I need to do a better job of tracking the things I like going forward in case I’m still writing this blog in January 2023. (I hope to be.) So this is the first of a monthly listing of things I listened to and liked over the previous 30 days or so. (It’s a long list, but maybe only 15 or 20%, at most, of the things I’ve listened to.) It won’t include anything from Pazz & Jop or any other focussed pieces that I might post. They’ll generally be without comment, though I reserve the right (see below, for example) to change that whenever the mood strikes me. Hopefully, you’ll find some things here that will reward the effort that you put in to listen to them. And it doesn’t really require that much effort – the Skip button will quickly take you to the next song waiting to be discovered.

  • The Zombies – Begin Here (1965) (I was floored by how much I loved this. Never really gave them any attention before, and will definitely be trying to make up for it going forward.)
  • Roberta Flack – First Take (1969)
  • Isaac Hayes – Hot Buttered Soul (1969) (This warmed me immensely as I shovelled our cars out after this winter’s biggest storm (so far).)
  • Al Green – Al Green Gets Next to You (1971)
  • Dire Straits – Making Movies (1980)
  • Marshall Crenshaw – Marshall Crenshaw (1982)
  • R.E.M. – Reckoning (1984)
  • Sad13 – Slugger (2016)
  • Sarah Shook & the Disarmers – Years (2018) (From my PopNotes Twitter account (liked by the artist!): “Is punk country a thing? Alt bluegrass? Country blues? There’s so much happening here that labels are pointless.”) New album coming in nine days!
  • Indigo De Souza – Any Shape You Take (2021)
  • Spelling – The Turning Wheel (2021) (Definitely a Kate Bush vibe here if you’re into that (I sort of am, obviously).)
  • Faye Webster – I Know I’m Funny haha (2021) (Twitter again: “A gentle, woozy gem of a record, like the feeling of drifting off to sleep after one too many margaritas on a sticky summer evening.”)
  • Silk Sonic – An Evening with Silk Sonic (2021) (I was pretty much done with Bruno Mars – everything was starting to sound too much alike – so I hope this collaboration reinvigorates him, because I loved his first two albums.)
  • Angèle – Nonante-Cinq (2021) (This was great to work out to.)
  • Magdalena Bay – Mercurial World (2021) (Glittery female-sung indie pop – sort of my kyptonite.)
  • Cassandra Jenkins – An Overview on Phenomenal Nature (2021)
  • Sturgill Simpson – The Ballad of Dood & Juanita (2021)
  • Dot Allison – Heart-Shaped Scars (2021)
  • Courtney Barnett – Things Take Time, Take Time (2021)
  • The Weeknd – Dawn FM (2022)
  • Elvis Costello & the Imposters – The Boy Named If (2022) (His most instantly enjoyable record in over 20 years.)

Photo by Glen Carrie on Unsplash

Welcome to PopNotes!

First up, thanks for stopping by. If you read the mission statement on the main page, you know this project started on Facebook. A special thanks to any and all who were reading along there and decided to check out what else I might get up to.

Now that all my old FB posts are up, it’s time to get to the “new” stuff, which started earlier today with Neu!. (The jokes just write themselves.) Before you decide whether or not this is worth a follow, you should know that I intend to clutter your in-box two or three times per week. I’ll be continuing with my Pazz and Jop project, of course, but have a few other ideas that don’t fit inside that particular box that I will get to in time. It will all be music focused, through the usual filter of my personal cultural history. If you have found any value or entertainment in what I’ve done to date, this will be more of the same.

I have an Instagram where I will only post pictures without much text – my wall is pretty cool, and you should at least take a look at it one time (thanks to my beautiful wife for the idea) – and a Twitter where I will post links to music-related articles and to new posts here (in case you don’t want to subscribe).

Finally, please do engage. This is a passion project, and a big part of that passion is sharing with others. I love music, and while I may not have particularly profound insights, maybe you do, and I hope you’ll share them. And please tell me about the music you love so I can check it out for myself. That’s the real point of all of this.

Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

My (sort of) mission statement

Like most people, I love listening to music. I love the comfort of a familiar tune that I can awkwardly sing along to, but I also love discovering new things. But the world is full of music: unless you are part of the music press, and probably not even then (Pitchfork, for example, posts over 20 reviews each week, which makes for over 1,000 albums each year that the site deems worthy – good or bad – of a deep dive), how do you decide what to give your time to?

I’ve always been keenly aware of the blanks in my listening history: Until recently, I had never played an album by The Who, Joni Mitchell or Steely Dan, among others, straight through. Early in 2021, I set out to change this. I had long had the notion to listen to great music of the past – things I had missed because I was too young, because I didn’t know about it, or because I made a different choice – but I didn’t want it to be random. I could go with a “greatest ever”-type list, but preferred an approach that would allow me to follow along as an artist developed. And I also knew I was going to write about it, and post those writings somewhere on social media, which would make me (1) give each record enough attention to allow me to formulate a hopefully coherent opinion and (2) have the discipline to stick with the project.

My solution to (1) was to start by following along with the old Pazz and Jop polls from the Village Voice, which were an institution to me and many others for years. They (sort of) started in 1971, and while they reflect a narrower offering than other lists with larger voting bases and the perspective of time, they also are a comment on what (some) people thought was good in the moment.

For (2), I turned to Facebook, where I hoped a few of my music-loving friends might read my posts and join my explorations by listening to the records I wrote about. I don’t know how successful that was – mostly, people seem to engage when I write about the things they already love – but a few have told me they enjoyed discovering something for themselves that I recommended, and that’s been quite satisfying.

Two years on the calendar and over 40 posts later, I’ve decided that I’m committed enough to this project to expand it. Hopefully, my Facebook friends will follow me here, and maybe some new people will discover this site. I’m no expert – I don’t read music or play an instrument, and while I can carry a tune, it isn’t always pretty. I don’t think I’m a critic, though I definitely offer opinions on the records I cover. What I am is a music lover who hopes he can help other music lovers, fatigued by playlists, find listening pleasure in records they never knew existed. Music is life, and it evokes memories and creates experiences, and those are also what I write about.

While this is the first post of PopNotes, I will soon be adding the Facebook posts from earlier this year if anyone stumbling onto this site wants to check out my journey so far. And if you’ve been following and still haven’t listened to Can or Big Star or Clube Da Esquina, then I grieve for you. What are you waiting for?