KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #340: I Am A Scientist by Guided By Voices.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #340: I Am A Scientist by Guided By Voices.

Creativity is its own drug. There are many people who paint and sculpt and sing and dance, not for monetary gain but, more for the joy of making something worthwhile where once there was nothing. Bands that fall into this category tend to be labelled as “Indie” bands. These are bands that do not have a major record deal in place and are producing and releasing their music in order to (a) create a catalog of music that will end up getting them a deal or else, (b) they are making music because they enjoy the sounds they make more that the silences that existed previously. “Indie” bands tend to play locally a lot and, if they’re able to produce a record, quantities will be limited and, sometimes, the album cover will be designed with ‘original artwork by the artist”. Money is often in short supply, as is the reach of the band. For some artists, this is motivation to work harder, network more extensively and grow, as a brand. For other artists, the freedom that comes from making the type of music that pleases you and your friends, without worrying about pleasing anyone else, is payment enough. Initially, the latter philosophy suited the members of a band called, “Guided By Voices”.

Formed in the early 1980s, “Guided By Voices” were led by singer/songwriter, Robert Pollard who, along with his family and friends, released over 30 full-length albums and EPs. The albums were recorded in the garages and basements of whoever was available at the time. Early albums were printed in small quantities and usually ended up being bought by locals in the Dayton, Ohio area. The lineup of the group was fluid, with only Pollard staying in the group throughout its entire career. Not surprisingly, for a band that produced so much music, “Guided By Voices” developed somewhat of a cult following locally. Apparently, their live shows were quite interactive and fun and soon, by way of word of mouth, the legend of “Guided By Voices” began to spread beyond the confines of their town. The band was picked up by “College Radio” in the US and then, by other Alternative/Indie bands like “Sonic Youth” and “The Breeders”.

Because their career as a band began to ramp up, Pollard quit his day job as a teacher and devoted himself to “growing the band”. His first successful effort was an album called, “Bee Thousand” which ended up being hailed as one of the best Indie albums of all-time by a variety of music magazines and organizations. The most well-known song from “Bee Thousand” was one called, “I Am A Scientist”. Robert Pollard has been described as an “Indie Bob Dylan” because of his skill as a wordsmith. “I Am A Scientist” is proof of his skill, with lines such as:

“I am a lost soul.

I shoot myself with rock and roll.

The hole I dig is bottomless.

But, nothing else can set me free!”

If you are familiar with GBV then, you will probably be very happy that they made this list of the Top 500 Songs of All-Time. If you are unfamiliar with “Guided By Voices” then, prepare to have your day brightened. “I Am A Scientist” is such a fun bit of pop perfection. I am confident that it will make you smile. And, if you like that song then, feel free to check GBV out on YouTube, where their extensive catalogue of other perfect pop gems can be found. Have a terrific day. Here is “I Am A Scientist” by the Kings of Indie Rock, “Guided By Voices”. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “I Am A Scientist” by Guided By Voices, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Guided By Voices, can be found here.

Thanks to KEXP for playing great Indie music and promoting Indie bands like Guided By Voices. The link to their official website can be found here.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #341: You’ve Gotta Fight For Your Right To Party” by The Beastie Boys.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #341: “You’ve Gotta Fight for Your Right To Party” by The Beastie Boys.

This song and post are dedicated to my beautiful wife, Keri MacInnes.

The song, “You’ve Gotta Fight for Your Right to Party” by “The Beastie Boys” was originally meant as satire; spoofing the keg-draining antics of Frat boys and local louts, made famous in such songs as “Thin Lizzy’s, “The Boys Are Back in Town”. Ironically enough, my wife, who goes around all day singing phrases and snippets of songs (but never the whole song) likes to sing the chorus to both of these songs. My wife is the coolest wife I know, just saying. 🙂

Anyway, “The Beastie Boys” were a Rap group from NYC that formed in 1981. They were comprised of Adam Horowitz (Ad-Rock), Adam Yauch (MCA) and Michael Diamond (Mike D.) Originally, their rhymes were comedic, in nature and, although their skills were clearly evident, they weren’t always taken seriously as Hip Hop artists. This is why the reaction was what it was when they released, “You’ve Gotta Fight for Your Right to Party”. Most people thought the group was endorsing out-of-control house parties when, in fact, they were attempting to spoof them. As they career progressed, audiences began to “get” who “The Beastie Boys” were and what they were trying to do and, as a result, the group had numerous hit songs such as “Hey Ladies!”, “So Whatcha Want?”, “Sabotage” and many more. They have sold over 20 million albums worldwide and were inducted to The Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 2012 (only the third Hip Hop group so honoured at the time).

In 2012, Adam Yauch passed away due to cancer causing the remaining members to retire the name “Beastie Boys”, going forward. But, while he was alive and the group was writing and performing, “The Beastie Boys” were among the top Hip-Hop groups in the world. And, to think that it was a Hip Hop song sung by my wife, Keri K., that got them started. Here is, “You’ve Gotta Fight for Your Right to Parrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrty!” Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “You’ve Gotta Fight For Your Right To Party” by The Beastie Boys, can be found here.

The link to the official website for The Beastie Boys, can be found here.

Thanks, KEXP, for always supporting good music in all genres. The link to their official website can be found here.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #342: Graceland by Paul Simon.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #342: Graceland by Paul Simon.

There is a lot going on in this song, this album and with this singer so, let’s dive in and have a look around, shall we?

“Graceland”, the song, comes from “Graceland”, the album, which was released in 1986. That album was crammed with hit songs including, “Call Me, Al”, “The Boy in the Bubble”, “Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes”, “I Know What I Know” and “Graceland”. “Graceland”, the album, won the Grammy Award that year for Album of the Year. It is a wonderful album, from start to finish but, it was not without a bit of controversy.

Paul Simon was heavily influenced by African musicians on this album. The controversial part came in two phases: 1- Just as Peter Gabriel, Steve Van Zandt and a whole host of others musicians announced a complete boycott of South Africa because of that country’s Apartheid racial policies, Paul Simon announced that he was travelling there. He ended up working exclusively with black, South African musicians; recording tracks for several songs with musicians there and introducing African rhythms into many of the songs that came to be on the album. Not everyone was happy that he travelled to South Africa, even though he did nothing at all with the Government. 2- Paul Simon always said that one of the joys of making an album like “Graceland” was the African influences and, furthermore, being able to shine a brighter light on some of these musicians, back in America. The most famous of the musicians he invited back to America was the choral group, “Ladysmith Black Mambazo”. They got to tour with him and appear on TV, which was good. But, there were many naysayers that accused Simon of a form of “cultural appropriation” by profiting from African music under his own name. Overall, Paul Simon produced a fantastic album and that has ended up being his lasting legacy.

The song, “Graceland” recounts a journey he and his son took across the southern US, to see Elvis Presley’s home (which is called, “Graceland” and is now a museum that honours his memory). As is always the case with a wordsmith like Simon, his descriptions of the things he and his son see and do along the way is very poetic and descriptive. This journey happened in real life and came about because of a divorce. Simon references this in the verse that starts,

“She comes back to tell me that she’s gone.

As if I didn’t know that.

As if I didn’t know my own bed……..” and, it goes on from there.

Later on, he mentions a woman from NY called, “The Human Trampoline”. I always figured that was a sexual reference but, as it turns out, Simon says that he saw a billboard for an exhibit in a museum that involved someone known as “The Human Trampoline” and thought that sounded interesting so, he included it in his own lyrics. Ironically enough, Paul Simon never intended this song to be called, “Graceland”. That word was simply a placeholder title until he came up with something that pleased him more. But, as the recording process went on, Simon grew more comfortable with the mythology around what Elvis meant to America and how special places can feel like Home. In light of that, he opted stick with “Graceland” as his title and, the rest, as they say, is history.

So, without further delay, here is the song, “Graceland” by Paul Simon. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “Graceland” by Paul Simon, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Paul Simon, can be found here.

Thanks, as always, to KEXP, for helping to inspire the writing of this post. The link to their official website can be found here.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #343: The End by The Doors.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #343: The End by The Doors.

Whenever I go to write one of these music posts, I always start by conducting my own research. Sometimes, I already know the story behind the song and am just searching for details such as record sales totals or the exact year the singer/band was inducted to The Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame. But, sometimes, while I may be familiar with the song, I don’t know the story of how it came to be so, I read as many sources as I can and then, I try to figure out the best avenue for storytelling that these new facts present to me. This was the case with “The End” by “The Doors”.

Of course, I was aware of who “The Doors” were. Jim Morrison was a legendary frontman who, along with Ray Manzarek (on keyboards), Robbie Kreiger (on guitar) and John Densmore (on drums) produced some of the most famous songs of the 1960s and 70s such as “Break On Through”, “L.A. Woman”, “Light My Fire” and, the one featured in this post, “The End”. I already knew that “The End” was a hit at the time of its release and that it gained a second wind when it was used over the opening credits in the Academy Award-winning movie, “Apocalypse Now”. But, I never knew the story of how Morrison came to write “The End”. I have to tell you, it is incredibly bizarre……the most bizarre background information I have read about any singer or group so far. Here is my report.

Initially, “The End” was written about the break-up of a relationship he had with his girlfriend. That, in and of itself, is not bizarre in the least. But, as many of you know, Jim Morrison was into drugs in his 20s and, as such, he began to have visions and revelations about what his life was becoming and how he saw himself evolving as a human. One of the things that influenced him and his vision-quest was the song, “The End”. The more he performed it, the more meaning it began to hold for him. The meaning changed to include focussing on the old classic tale of Oedipus Rex. There are many live recordings of “The End” in which Morrison speaks aloud about killing his father and “f**king” his mother. His reasoning was for him to cast off any and all residual influences they may have had in shaping who he had become so that he could, like an insect molting, be reborn, totally new and unsullied by past baggage.

I kid you not.

This is the information I found, from multiple sources, including eye witness accounts from Densmore and Manzarek. If any of you know differently, feel free to let us all know in the comments. But, for now, that is my story about Jim Morrison and “The End” and I am sticking to it. There are many live versions of this song out there on YouTube and the Interweb. Many are quite long and quite a few are filled with Morrison’s rambling monologues about his mother. If you want to hear him talk about “f**king” his mother, check out the video from Madison Square Garden. For this post, I am going with the opening scene from “Apocalypse Now” because that is one of my favourite movies of all time. So, there you have it. Here is “The End” by “The Doors”. Have a wonderful day, all!

The link for the video to the song, “The End” by The Doors, as used in the motion picture, “Apocalypse Now”, can be seen here.

The pin to the official website for The Doors, can be seen here.

Thanks, as always, to KEXP for helping to inspire the writing of this post…..even if the research that went into it is kinda disturbing! The link to their official website can be found here.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #344: My, My, Hey, Hey (Out of the Blue) by Neil Young.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #344: My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue) by Neil Young.

There are a great many reasons why a song may stand the test of time and become legendary. One of my favourite reasons is that the song possesses an iconic line that ends up taking on a significance that, in some cases, even transcends the song, itself. The writer in me, loves a good line. I was thinking about this when I wrote about “Me and Bobby McGee” by Janis Joplin, a few days ago. I have always admired the line, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose”. For me, “Me and Bobby McGee” is just another song but, that line always makes me smile and want to be a better writer, when I hear it. Another song that has an iconic line is “My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue) by Neil Young. The line in question is, “Its better to burn out than fade away”. That one line has become one of the foundational pillars of Rock n’ Roll; an attitude that is the essence of Rock for many. That line is all tongues sticking out, devil horns stretched to the sky. It is one of the most requested musical lines by people requesting tattoos. In fact, the line means so much that Kurt Cobain even referenced it in the letter he left behind on the day he took his own life.

When Neil Young wrote this song, the 1970s were just coming to an end. Young was one of the leading names in the Music scene and had already accomplished much on his own and as a member of “Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young”. But, one thing that has always characterized Neil Young is his reluctance to settle in and become predictable. While some artists have one hit album and milk that for all it is worth and then, continually head out on “nostalgia” tours, where they recycle their couple of hits, again and again; Neil Young has always sought to re-invent himself and, by doing so, stay relevant and meaningful. So, it was not surprising that, by the end of the 1970s, he had become aware of a new form of musical expression called Punk Rock. Young was fascinated by how completely different and vital Punk Rock seemed when compared to what he felt he and his contemporaries were playing. You can call it a mid-life crisis, if you want but, truth be told, Punk Rock made Neil Young question his place in the musical hierarchy. All of a sudden, he felt old.

“My My, Hey Hey! (Out of the Blue)” is his response to the simultaneous passing of Elvis Presley and the emergence of performers like, Johnny Rotten, of “The Sex Pistols”. In this song, Young proclaims that Rock n’ Roll will always exist because it can withstand the passing of legends due to the fact that new talent is always knocking on the door, ready to carry the fortunes of Rock onward. Then, he offers up his iconic line that it is better to burn out than fade away. His advice to all who follow in his wake: give everything you’ve got, every show, every song. Play it loud! End your shows soaked in sweat! Always be creative and trust your voice! No compromises! There is no reason to play it safe because Rock n’ Roll was meant to be played with swagger and joy. And, if you become tired of it all…..no worries. Someone fresh and new is standing by. Rock n’ Roll is immortal.

Neil Young took his own advice to heart and has enjoyed a long career that has seen him switch creative gears several times along the way. From Rockabilly, to harder Rock, to Country, Neil Young has constantly re-invented himself and, as such, he has remained relevant for over half a century now. Part of his secret is embracing new performers when they come along. For instance, he has co-headlined concerts with Pearl Jam. “My My, Hey Hey! (Out of the Blue)” was written and fleshed out by Young and Mark Mothersbaugh, the lead singer of Alternative Rockers, “Devo”. Rust may never sleep and neither does Neil Young, Rock’s master chameleon. So, without further delay, here he is, with “My My, Hey Hey! (Out of the Blue)”. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “My, My, Hey, Hey (Out of the Blue)” by Neil Young, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Neil Young, can be found here.

Thanks, as always, to KEXP, for supporting creative, original Rock, in all of its many forms. The link to their official website can be found here.

KTOM: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #345: All These Things That I’ve Done by The Killers.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

KTOM: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #345: All These Things That I’ve Done by The Killers.

I will start by thanking my friend, John Barr, for, not only suggesting that I write about this song but, as well, for pointing me in the direction of the cool back story that is associated with “All These Things That I’ve Done” by The Killers. Thanks, John!

I have featured “The Killers” before when we took a look at one of their other hits, “Mr. Brightsides” a while back. “The Killers” are an American band out of Las Vegas. They released one super big album called, “Hot Fuss” in 2004 and from that album came a whole host of terrific songs such as “Mr. Brightsides”, “Smile Like You Mean It”, “Somebody Told Me”, “Andy, You’re a Star” and “All These Things That I’ve Done”. Like most of their songs, “All These Things I’ve Done” is a crowd-pleasing favourite and is often used to close their shows. But, what many people don’t know is that this song is based upon a real person who, as it turns out, is doing something noteworthy with his life. Here is the story of “All These Things I’ve Done” by “The Killers”.

Before “The Killers” became famous, the band consisted of a bunch of guys who were all struggling to make ends meet. All of the band members had second jobs that put food on their tables and a roof over their heads. For lead singer, Brandon Flowers, his “real job” was at a local casino. The story is that one day, he and his bandmates (who had recorded some demo tracks and were shopping them around to various companies) met a record executive named Matt Pinfield. Matt was unsuccessful in signing the band but, after the meeting was over, he asked if one of the guys could give him a lift back to his hotel. Flowers offered Pinfield a drive. That drive lead to a meal and a few drinks and, in the course of this alone-time, Pinfield told Flowers about an organization he volunteered with that helped mentor US soldiers who were music-oriented but, who were suffering from PTSD from being on duty in the Gulf War. Flowers was so moved by the stories Pinfield told him about returning US soldiers and music therapy that, immediately after they went their separate ways, Flowers took pen to paper and wrote the rough lyrics to what was to become, “All These Things That I’ve Done”. The two have become fast friends ever since, with Pinfield subsequently titling his biography as, “All These Things I Have Done: My Insane, Improbable Rock Life”.

The lyrics to “These Things That I’ve Done” speak directly to Pinfield’s story. The song begins:

“When there’s nowhere else to run,

Is there room for one more son?

One more son?

If you can hold on,

If you can hold on,

Hold on.

I wanna stand up!

I wanna let go!

You know, you know No, you don’t,

you don’t I wanna shine on in the hearts of men.

I want a meaning from the back of my broken hand.

I’m so much older than I can take……” and, on it goes.

I have friends who have served in active duty and have read much about how doing so has changed them. This song touches upon that very well and then, adds in Pinfield’s intervention with the oft-repeated line, “I’ve got soul but I’m not a soldier”. “All These Things That I’ve Done” comes across as a fun, anthemic arena sing-a-long but, there is a more serious side to its’ message. God Bless all those who have put themselves in harm’s way for peaceful purposes. Never having served in such dire situations, I will never know what you know nor feel how you feel. But, I imagine that it must have been tough and so, in a tribute that is small and insignificant compared to what you have done for us, I offer you a song. I hope that you accept the gesture and find some comfort there. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “All These Thing That I’ve Done” by The Killers, can be found here.

The link to the official website for The Killers, can be found here.

KTOM: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #346: Biko by Peter Gabriel.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

KTOM: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #346: Biko by Peter Gabriel.

When I was growing up on Cape Breton Island as a young man, I had no real understanding of the political atmosphere in South Africa. In those pre-Internet days, information was more difficult to come by. What I knew about South Africa came mainly from magazines like National Geographic that came to our house and from what was written in the set of Encyclopedia Britannica that I used for my school work. Conversely, in those pre-Internet days, it wasn’t always easy to get information out to the world if you had something to say. With the mainstream media sources being radio, television and newspapers and, with those sources often owned by companies that factored political considerations into what issues were covered and how, an activist could toil away in anonymity for a lifetime and never be heard outside of their own, immediate area. So, like many, the first time I ever heard the name, Steven Biko, was when his death at the hands of South African police was announced one evening on the CBC news. There was no follow-up coverage or in-depth probing of his death by reporters. His death was simply noted. The anchorman moved on to the next story and, that was it. It wasn’t until I had left Cape Breton and moved to Toronto for university in 1982 that I heard Peter Gabriel sing the haunting song, “Biko” for the first time. That’s when I started to understand more about what was happening in South Africa and what had happened, specially, to Steven Biko. That is when I started to grow up.

South Africa had been functioning under a government-sanctioned set of policies known as “Apartheid” or “Apart-ness”. These were policies that governed every aspect of life for all citizens of South Africa. The thing about Apartheid was that the policies enacted by the ruling National Party were aimed at helping white South Africans maintain a favoured status within the country. By extension, it meant that all black South Africans (the entirety of the native population) were forced to accept rules that restricted where they could live, where they could work, the amount of political organizing they could do, how much of their culture and history were permitted to be displayed and much, much more. The rules of Apartheid were inherently unfair; which was the whole point of those policies. Needless to say, most black South Africans detested those policies and looked for ways to fight back. One of those who tried to affect change was a young student activist named Steven Biko. Biko was a writer, speaker and organizer who worked for an alliance of student groups across South Africa. The ruling Party viewed him as a threat to the status quo and sought to silence him by forbidding him to publish his writing, meet with more than one person at a time and, as well, he was forbidden to travel beyond the borders of his small, homeland area. Biko refused to be gagged in such a way and continued to speak out. The Authorities arrested him and, in the course of being interrogated, he was beaten and left for dead in his jail cell. Steven Biko died on September 12, 1977.

Like me, Peter Gabriel heard of Steven Biko for the first time when his death was announced. But, unlike me, Peter Gabriel was already a worldly adult when Steven Biko was killed. At that time, Gabriel was preparing to write the songs that would become his third solo album. Previously, Peter Gabriel had been the lead singer of the original incarnation of the band, “Genesis”. Gabriel would go on to have a very successful solo career filled with hit songs such as “Solsbury Hill”, “Games Without Frontiers”, “I Don’t Remember”, “Shock the Monkey”, “Sledgehammer”, “In Your Eyes”, “Don’t Give Up (with Kate Bush), “Red Rain” and so on. But, it was “Biko” that launched Peter Gabriel into the stratosphere of cultural recognition and political activism.

The song, “Biko”, is a musical eulogy that tells the story of Steven Biko’s life and his death at the hands of South African police. It honours his legacy and makes a public vow to not forget who he was and why his work was important. “Biko” begins with a sample of a song sung in the South African language of “Xhosa”. All throughout the song, there is a sombre, forceful drum beat (heart beat). There are, also, synthesized bagpipes, of all things, that really act to raise the spirits of those listening, as if in a battle cry. In the course of the song, Gabriel talks about how he has been affected by what he has learned and about how the whole world is now aware of South Africa’s “dirty little secret” of Apartheid and the injustice and hardship those policies had caused. The song ends with an actual Xhosa song that was sung at Biko’s real funeral.

Because of this song, many people in the world became aware of what was going on in South Africa. Other artists, like Steve Van Zandt (of Bruce Springsteen’s E-Street Band) helped organize boycotts by artists who had, previously, given concerts at a Whites-only resort called Sun City. Soon, pressure was applied internationally by governments from around the word, including Canada, in the form of economic sanctions against the ruling South African Government. As is often the case, money talks and not long afterwards, another long-time political activist named Nelson Mandela was freed after being imprisoned for 27 years on Robben Island. Free elections were held and Mandela’s Party came to power thus, ending the policy of Apartheid in South Africa. It is probably not correct to credit the song “Biko” with ending Apartheid in South Africa. Life is more nuanced and complicated than that. However, Peter Gabriel’s song did play a significant part in shining a spotlight for the world to see and understand how an entire Race or group of people could be legally and systemically oppressed. It, also, helped many understand our own complicity in propping up such regimes because of our willingness to remain ignorant as to what was really going on, as well as, our continued economic support of what was, for all intent and purposes, an ideology based upon racial superiority. I have said it before and I will say it again, in times of darkness, it is often the poets and singers and artists of the world that lead the way into the light. Peter Gabriel did that by honouring a brave man who spoke out for those at a time when few were listening. Steven Biko paid for his courage with his life. May he always be remembered as a symbol, not only for South Africans but, also for people everywhere who find themselves under the thumbs of oppressors. In a perfect world, life should be fair and just. #215.

The link to the video for the song, “Biko” by Peter Gabriel, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Peter Gabriel, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Amnesty International…an organization decimated to advocating for political prisoners all around the world,,,,can be found here.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #347: Fairy Tale of New York by The Pogues.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #347: FairyTale of New York by The Pogues.

One of the stories that has become woven into the fabric of America is that of immigrants sailing to the US in search of a better life. Over the course of several centuries, this has certainly been true of people from Ireland. While those escaping the great “Potato Famine” may be among the most well-known Irish immigrants who came to America; in reality, the Irish have been sailing away from their homeland for generations. When Irish immigrants leave Ireland for America, their arrival point was often Ellis Island, near The Statue of Liberty, in New York City. One can well imagine what a relief it must have been to see the end of their storm-tossed journey across The Atlantic Ocean in the form of a glorious statue beckoning them forth into a new land, where anything is possible and all of their dreams could come true. It is not surprising that such a sight has come to inspire poets, artists, singers and writers to put their emotions into words. Among the many songs that have been written about the Irish coming to America, one of the most famous and beloved is “FairyTale of New York” by The Pogues.

“The Pogues” are a Irish band that some call a Punk band. But, from my point of view, while they may have a reputation for being drunk and disorderly, they have managed to create some of the best written and most heartfelt songs in Modern Music History. Their musical catalogue includes such classics as, “Fiesta”. “If I Should Fall From Grace With God”, “Dirty Old Town”, “Turkish Voyage of the Damned” and their biggest hit, “Fairy Tale of New York”. One of the characteristics of most songs by “The Pogues” is their ability to tell stories based in human terms. For example, in “Dirty Old Town”, the crux of that song is the boyhood thrill of being able to sneak a kiss from a pretty girl. “Turkish Voyage of the Damned” is actually about the journey, via boat, across the ocean to America. And, “Fairy Tale of New York” is about two people who meet once they have arrived and are starting their new life in NYC.

“FairyTale of New York” is sung by lead singer, Shane McGowan and a woman named Kirsty MacColl. Kirsty MacColl is an interesting figure in the story of this song. She was a singer/songwriter from the UK who had some minor hits of her own, most notably, a song called, “They Don’t Know” which was covered by singer Tracy Ullman and which became a big hit for Ullman in the 1980s. MacColl married a well-known record producer named Steve Lilywhite and, via that association, came to sing on a number of records by bands that he was producing, including, “The Smiths”, “Alison Moyet”, “Talking Heads” and “Abba”. For most of those sessions, MacColl worked as a background singer but, when “The Pogues” came to record “FairyTale of New York”, McGowan needed a female foil for the character he played in the song. MacColl, because she was available, became the woman in the song and has gone on to forever be associated with this hit. However, in reality, when “The Pogues” perform this song live, a revolving cast of female singers (some well known and others, brand new) have filled MacColl’s role. So, when you see a video or live performance, don’t assume it is Kirsty MacColl up there. It really could be almost any female singer.

As for the song, itself, there are many who claim that it is one of the most romantic songs of all-time. The basis for their claim lay in the depth of feeling expressed throughout the lyrics by McGowan’s character for his female companion. The story is that McGowan’s character finds himself in the NYPD drunk tank on Christmas Eve and is taking stock of his life based upon the men he sees around him at the time.

“It’s Christmas Eve, babe, in the drunk tank.

An old man said to me, “Won’t see another one.”

And then, he sang a song. A rare old mountain dew.

I turned my face away And dreamed about you.”

MacColl’s character is having none of McGowan’s waxy nostalgia and holds him to account all throughout the song. The back-and-forth dynamic unfolds like a Broadway play, culminating in the closing verse, where each character exchanges the following lines:

McGowan: “I could have been someone.”

MacColl: “Well, so could anyone. You took my dreams from me, when I first found you.”

McGowan: “I kept them with me, babe. I put them with my own. Can’t make it all alone. I’ve built my dreams around you.”

There aren’t many songs in which the storylines between two characters are so richly drawn and so deeply told, as is the case with “Fairy Tale of New York”. “The Pogues” may not be a band filled with pretty boys but, for my money, they have made some of the most memorable music I’ve heard in my adult life. They are one of my Top Ten favourite bands of all-time and, “Fairy Tale of New York” is, definitely, my favourite Christmas song. So, without further delay, here are “The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl” with “FairyTale of New York”. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “Fairy Tale of New York” by The Pogues, can be found here.

The link to the official website for The Pogues, can be found here.

The link to the website for radio station KEXP, can be found here.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #348: Me and Bobby McGee by Janis Joplin.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #348: Me and Bobby McGee by Janis Joplin.

“Busted flat in Baton Rouge, waiting for a train……….”, so begins one of Rock n’ Roll’s most memorable journeys.

Originally written by Kris Kristofferson for veteran singer, Roger Miller, “Me and Bobby McGee” tells the story of two lost souls who found each other for a short while, as they drifted around America. The song may hold a romanticized view of finding yourself via a journey but, there is nothing romantic about this story. The two lovers have little beyond the clothes on their backs and each other as they bum rides from truckers and sleep on empty freight trains. But, sometimes, it is enough to just have a warm body beside you when you need it and all of the feelings of safety and belonging that emanate from that shared moment in time. That is the story that this song tells.

There is a lot of trivia associated with this song; the first being that “Bobby McGee” is based upon a real person. Her name was Bobbi McKee and she was a record producer’s secretary. Kris Kristofferson had, apparently, taken a shine to her at one point or another and was inspired to create this memorable character about her. However, over the years, many people have sung this song and, over that course of time, the character has become “genderless”; meaning that male singers sing about a girl named “Bobbi McGee” and female singers sing about a man named “Bobby McGee” and, regardless, the crux of the song remains the same.

“Me and Bobby McGee” is most associated with Janis Joplin. She recorded this song for her album, “Pearl”. It is said that Kris Kristofferson never heard her sing her version of “Me and Bobby McGee” until after she had passed away at age, 27 but, once he did hear it, he felt it was destined to be the definitive version of his song. The song was released after her death and became her biggest hit, surpassing, “Piece of My Heart”. “Me and Bobby McGee went to #1 on the charts, making it one of only two songs ever to do so posthumously. (The other being, “Dock of the Bay” by Otis Redding). There are several audio tracks of Joplin singing this song but, I cannot find any video of her actually singing “Me and Bobby McGee” live. Her most famous rendition occurred at Woodstock in 1969. At the time, she was a relatively unknown, bluesy, husky-voiced up-and-comer, leading a band called “Big Brother and the Holding Company”. But, by the time her Woodstock set was over, Joplin was a star.

Janis Joplin didn’t have too much time to revel in her stardom and fame. For much of her adult life, she had battled one form of drug addiction or another. Initially, just out of college, she experimented with harder drugs and her health became jeopardized. Friends and family intervened and brought her back home, where she recovered. She was about to follow a more traditional lifestyle, working in an office as a stenographer, when a former musician friend asked her to front his band in San Fransisco. Joplin’s family made everyone involved promise to keep her away from any and all drugs. While this promise was kept for a short while, soon enough, drug use surfaced among her bandmates and Janis gave in to temptation and began using again. Once her habit kicked back in, there was no turning back and, as a result, Joplin dealt with drug-related health and creative issues right up until the time of her death in 1970.

Janis Joplin was a unique personality in a sea of singers who often charted similar courses with their careers. She was pro-desegregation in the deep South. She was often the only female in bands filled with men and yet, she was often the face and driving force those same bands. And her voice! What a voice! That voice which rose up from the very depths of her soul, coupled with a dynamic stage presence, made her one of the most mesmerizing performers of her time. Janis Joplin didn’t have a long career but, the career she did have left an indelible mark in the History of Modern Music. Here is one of her biggest hits, “Me and Bobby McGee” from the album, “Pearl”. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “Me and Bobby McGee” by Janis Joplin, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Janis Joplin, can be found here.

The link to the website for KEXP, can be found here. Thanks, as always, for supporting the very best songs and the people who sing them.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #349: Ruby Tuesday by The Rolling Stones.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #349: Ruby Tuesday by The Rolling Stones.

Break-up songs are a staple of songwriters in all genres of music. Some singers have made entire careers out of writing about those who disappointed them, broke their hearts and did them wrong. Some songwriters pen angry songs, such as Alanis Morrisette did with, “You Oughta Know”. Some singers write confessional songs about breaking up such as Taylor Swift does. However, there aren’t too many songs that look at the topic of breaking up from the point of view of friendship and regret. That’s what Keith Richards does in the song, “Ruby Tuesday”.

“Ruby Tuesday” came from an album by “The Rolling Stones” called “Between the Buttons”. It was released in 1966. At the time of its release, “The Rolling Stones” were approaching a point of transition for the band. Like their contemporaries, “The Beatles”, “The Rolling Stones” had enjoyed a string of hits early in their careers and were starting to immerse themselves in Eastern philosophies, as well as, experimenting with new types of instruments. In particular, Brian Jones was really pushing the rest of the group to expand their musical horizons beyond merely using drums and guitars. In the midst of all this, “The Rolling Stones” were touring relentlessly and honing the skills which would make them the most dynamic live band in the world. All of the members of the band were merely young men when their careers exploded.

As fame and fortune enveloped the band, Keith Richards fell in love for the first time. The lady, in question, was named Linda Keith. She was a model and socialite, with a look that drew comparisons to Audrey Hepburn. Keef is on record as stating that he was dazzled upon meeting her and couldn’t believe that someone with her looks and social pedigree could fall for a “bloke” like him. Well, she did and he did for her, in reply. They became each other’s first love. But, to hear Richards describe it, as much as he had a soft spot for her, the timing just wasn’t right for them to make a real go of it. The demands of being a member of “The Rolling Stones” at the height of their newfound status as one of the biggest rock n’ roll bands in the world, proved to be too much for any relationship to flourish. And, so it was that, in New York, on a US Tour, Keith Richards and Linda Keith met an up-and-coming guitarist named Jimi Hendrix. Richards continued on tour. Linda Keith stayed behind and brought Hendrix the words to a song Richards had written called, “Hey, Joe!”, along with a Fender Stratocaster guitar of Richards. The two became a new couple and Keith Richards moved on with his life. But, he never stopped caring about Linda. Later on, when Richards heard that Keith had developed a drug dependency that was threatening her life, he arranged for her father to come to NYC to take her home and get her the help she would need in order to become healthy and happy, once again.

Linda Keith is “Ruby Tuesday”.

Richards stated that this was one of the easiest songs to write because his feelings for her were still so close to the surface. Mick Jagger, who usually co-wrote all of the songs “The Rolling Stones” performed, had no part in the writing of “Ruby Tuesday”. It was all Keith Richards’ work. But, Jagger said that he thought that the song was lovely and that, even though he had no part in the writing of it, “Ruby Tuesday” was always one of his favourite songs to sing.

“Ruby Tuesday” gained airplay in the US and UK, mainly because it was the “B”-side to the single the band was actively promoting, “Let’s Spend the Night Together”. Because of the sexually-explicit nature of “Let’s Spend the Night Together”, many radio DJs felt uncomfortable playing it. So, they tried flipping the 45 over and ended up playing, “Ruby Tuesday”, instead. The song proved popular with fans and soon took on a life of its own and became a hit, too. Both songs were the only hits from “Between the Buttons”, which was the final album produced by long-time producer, Andrew Loog-Oldham. As it turned out, “The Rolling Stones” were about to go on a magnificent run of albums starting next with “Their Satanic Majesties Request”, “Beggar’s Banquet”, “Let it Bleed”, “Sticky Fingers” and “Exile on Main Street”.

But, despite all of the experiences Keith Richards has had in his life, he still looks back upon his relationship with Linda Keith with fondness. Fortunately for her, Richards intervention in the 1970s and her subsequent time spent in rehab, all helped put her on a path to a more stable and happy life. Linda Keith married a record producer and, together, they enjoyed a peaceful, contented family life. Both Richards and Keith remain alive today and see each other, on occasion, with their respective family members in tow. While they may have broken up, there are ties of friendship and affection between them that have bound them together for over half of a century. Not all break-up songs have to be bitter, as “Ruby Tuesday” makes clear. So, without further delay, here is Keith Richard’s ode to his first love, Linda Keith, “Ruby Tuesday”. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “Ruby Tuesday” by The Rolling Stones, can be found here.

The link for the official website for The Rolling Stones can be found here.

Thanks, as always, to KEXP, for helping to inspire the writing of this post. The link to their wonderful website can be found here.