2019’s very first Top 5 Music Obsessions features some “on the nose” choices, two of my forever favorite artists, a throwback to my childhood, and a new discovery song/artist. This year I’d love to hear more from you, what you’re listening to, what songs you are obsessing over, and what artists and bands you’d like to see featured here. Send your recommendations and musical wish lists to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What do you like to do on the first day of the new year? I like starting my resolutions. I like starting a new book, a new binge-worthy TV series, and a new project. I like getting up early (even if I’ve stayed up late), getting outdoors, and writing in a new page of a paper journal. I like to cook something from scratch, too.
Oh, and I like listening to a lot of music…but that’s pretty much every day of the year, for me. How about we start with these 5 tracks I’m currently obsessed with. Turn them up and sing-a-long if you want to, and have a very happy first day of 2019!
Top 5 Music Obsessions – Tuesday, January 1, 2019
1. “The New Year” by Death Cab For Cutie
from the album, Transatlanticism (2003)
“So, this is the new year,
and I don’t feel any different.”
“The New Year” is the opening track off of Death Cab For Cutie’s quintessential album, Transatlanticism.
Released in 2003, the album has become synonymous with the early aughts and Indie Rock. The album features an over-arching theme of long-distance love.
“The New Year” was one of the first singles released, along with “The Sound of Settling”. It reached #86 on the UK Singles Chart.
“The New Year” has been described as a melancholy look at a New Year’s Eve party amid an uncertain future, Ben Gibbard of Death Cab For Cutie explained that it’s not about him or even a specific person, but the girl in the song is an amalgamation of various women he’s encountered.
That opening line (see above) really delivers a punch, doesn’t it? The song and that opening lyric speak to the naive side of me that eagerly awaits, and welcomes, fresh starts and the kind of changes a New Year promises. The kind that has the inevitable disappointment following close behind because new starts never really live up to their potential, just like resolutions are hardly ever able to be kept.
Maybe I don’t feel all that different today, but I do feel inspired and motivated, and that has to count for something. Right?
“The New Year” (live) by Death Cab For Cutie
2. “She Was Weird” by Pete Yorn
from the album, ArrangingTime (2016)
“In the time,
I got to know her,
she revealed she was weird.
I would never,
try to leave something real.”
Pete Yorn’s “She Was Weird” is the 5th Song and 3rd Single released off of 2016’s Arrangingtime.
Pete has stated that it was one of the first tracks he wrote for the album, possibly written in 2011. He has likened the track to a Tom Petty kind of sound but went on to explain that he came to the song wanting a different kind of feel and production than a Petty-kind-of-number. He ultimately achieved this by adding a bit of an R&B sensibility to the song, which is especially noticeable in the beat of the song’s chorus.
The song has been compared to My Morning Jacket taking on Radiohead’s “High and Dry”, by Entertainment Weekly’s reviewer Eric Renner Brown. I can hear his comparison and recognize it, but to me, there’s something more going on in the song, something with pop-meets-power-pop, with a catchiness that is tempered by the complexity in the songwriting, both lyrically and sonically.
“She Was Weird” (live) by Pete Yorn
Lyrically, “She Was Weird” hits me more than most Radiohead songs tend to. And, as with other Pete Yorn songs, there is that element of mystery to it. I listen and think I can see the story, identify the characters within, and interpret the emotional landscape, but honestly, it’s always just out of reach, and never quite 100% definable.
To me, that’s a brilliant way to write a song. It creates an open field for listener interpretations to play and allows us all to attach our own personal definitions. By doing that, we make the songs our own, which is one of the ways in which music becomes something permanent in our musical muscle memories. It is what helps songs affix to our sonic hard drives.
“She Was Weird” also possesses a sing-a-long quality that builds as we near the end of the song. It feels as if the song was crafted, in part, with a live audience in mind. Can’t you just hear the crowd synching up at that juncture when the lyrics overlap? When “got left on the side of the road” meets up with “I’m looking for you”?
3. “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” by Elton John
from the album, Captain Fantastic (1975)
“And someone saved my life tonight, sugar bear.
You almost had your hooks in me,
didn’t you dear?
You nearly had me roped and tied.
sweet freedom whispered in my ear.
You’re a butterfly.
And, butterflies are free to fly.
high away bye bye.”
70’s Elton John is a mainline passport to my childhood.
Yes, The Beatles and Fleetwood Mac and Joni Mitchell were the heavy rotation trio, but it was Elton that I took for myself. I hid most of my Mom’s Elton albums in my room, including two that were rumored to have belonged to my long-disappeared father. That last detail? I think it’s at the core of my attachment to Elton, and why the music seemed all mine. I tied up my fantasies of my missing father in the albums, and songs, assigning them more story – my personal stories – to each track.”
I remember hearing this track last year, on the way to meet up with my then boyfriend. Had I known what I was driving toward, that he would end our relationship moments after I got there, in the parking lot, I would have recognized this song as foreshadowing.
Even if it didn’t feel like it at the time, he did save my life that night, and I’m strangely grateful. My life got exponentially better after he left me. Even the rough times.
“Someone Saved My Life Tonight” concludes side one of the album Captain Fantastic’s narrative, chronicling the early history of John and lyricist, Bernie Taupin, and their struggles to find their place within the music industry.
When released as the album’s only single in 1975, it was the first to ever enter at the highest position in the history of music on the Billboard Hot 100 and entered the top 25 on the UK Singles Chart. In the U.S., it was certified Gold in September of 1975 by the RIAA. In Canada, the single narrowly missed being his ninth number one there, hitting #2 on the RPM 100 national Top Singles chart, in August of the same year. (from Wikipedia)
“Someone Saved My Life Tonight” (live) by Elton John
4. “Ruby” by Dave Rawlings Machine
“Ruby, let down your golden hair.
When I’m standing at the bottom of your stairs.
Ruby, I can see your TV on.
But the people there,
they flicker and they’re gone.“
Dave Rawlings Machine, and the song “Ruby”, are both new musical discoveries of mine.
Another gem from Spotify’s Discover Weekly playlist curated for me. Last year I found so many great bands, artists, and songs from Discover Weekly. I anticipate more aural goodies in the new year.
I love Gillian Welch’s voice, and presence, in this “supergroup”. Dave Rawlings is Gillan’s longtime producer. Along with her, Dave Rawlings Machine includes Willie Watson, Paul Kowert, and Brittany Haas. Sometimes Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones stops in and plays mandolin with the band, too.
“Ruby” (live) by Dave Rawlings Machine
5. “Pretty Good Year” by Tori Amos
from the album, Under the Pink (1994)
“Hold onto nothing as fast as you can.
pretty good year.”
The opening track to Tori’s 1994 album, Under the Pink, one of my all-time favorites.
I wrote this “once upon a time” about Under the Pink:
Once upon a time, there was a girl who was hidden within the body and the casings of a life of a woman. She was afraid all the time though she hid the fear well. She had survived battles and breakdowns and pain that few knew of before she was able to name them or understand. Her skills to survive made her feel older than her years, but they also haunted her, the feeling that at any moment she would have to choose to fight or flight, kept her tied up in knots, sleepless and shaky.
Doubt beckoned at every turn, and she clung to a man who thrived on coldness and control. It seemed at first that the freezing nothing of his stare, and the flat commands he gave, were a safe place to hide. So, she hid away and wore a mask of a happy wife, happy life, happy mother, happy family, and she wrapped herself up in a false coat of strength.
Every morning she would lie in bed, awake before the sun, and wonder how she would last another day. She would hold her breath until her chest ached and the pressure to exhale became unbearable. Ten steps and a closet door tiptoes to a top shelf, and there she would find a suitcase. Some mornings, in that lie awake time, just knowing it was there was enough. One day she might just run away.
So many secrets were held in that year. She filled pages and pages of truths and lies in composition books, trying to make sense of it all, or maybe it was more like she was trying to dispel it, throwing it on to the page as an act of throwing it away. Perhaps she just wanted someone to find her words, find her, and take her far away from all of it. How did she get here?
All the music that was stacked on a tall bookshelf, and in crates and bins all around their overcrowded apartment, they were what got her out of bed eventually; music forever saving the girl’s life, over and over again. Under the Pink was one of those life-saving albums, an ode to the confessions, the stories, the hopes and pleas she put down in all those notebooks. So many of her secrets and deep down emotions were let loose when she would put this CD in and push play, she can still hear them now. I can still hear them now. (from Tori Amos Under the Pink My Favorite Albums)
“Pretty Good Year” (live) by Tori Amos