Alphabet Soup: Favorite Songs for The Letter N

Songs that start with The Letter N (somewhat predictably) often have the words “Never” and “New York” in their titles. We’ve got that here, plus some ’90s classics. Get in.

The Letter N

1. Never is a Promise – Fiona Apple

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After seeing the video for “Never is a Promise” in 1997, I remember being aware of how the release of a video can affect how I hear a song. I don’t remember what sort of images ran through my head before the song became a single, but I do know that it was this specific video that made me consider the impact it could have on the listening experience. In fact, I remember feeling disappointed that the song had a video, but it ended up not getting much play. It was the last single from Tidal, and in 1997, from what I remember, MTV first began its more major transition away from music content.

With her last name getting my attention, I first noticed Fiona Apple when she performed “Shadowboxer” on Saturday Night Live. Her voice sounded unlike anyone else’s out there, and honestly, it took me until about halfway through the song to figure out whether or not I liked it. I bought the CD at Wal-mart, of all places (I was 13, so cut me some slack), shortly before they began editing everything in sight.

She used oddball words like “undulate“ that somehow fit just right, her music rendered in a clear and ardent way. The songs were crafted with a real care for music, and I liked that. I know it’s a complaint as old as music itself, but there’s something to be said for musicians who aren’t puzzled by words like “time signature” or “eighth note.” It’s not like I require that in my favorite musicians, but it’s just a nice surprise when it happens.

Tidal is an album that easily lends itself to personal connection, especially to a teenager looking for meaning in her life. “I don’t know what to believe in/ You don’t know who I am.” If memory serves, Fiona Apple was only nineteen when this album came out, meaning that these songs were written at an age not too far off from my age first listening to it. I know she had a complicated childhood that would make many people grow up fast, but I found it refreshing to have a young person singing about something beyond the superficial. No one prepackaged her the way other singers under the age of twenty can be.

I found comfort in her uncertainty and how she could revere others instead of tearing them down – “I’ll never glow the way that you glow.” She struggled – and continues to, really – with others misinterpreting her character, and how “your presence dominates the judgments made on you.”

For all my show of being independent and not caring about what others think, nothing quite gets me like the idea that someone might think poorly of me over something that isn’t true. Be it a rumor, a misinterpretation of my words, or some other unsubstantiated impression, those are the thoughts that really shake me. Judge me for the mistakes I’ve actually made – I’ll probably be the first to admit them. I find it hard, however, to not let some incorrect thoughts out there bother me. I suppose it’s an exercise in letting go of control. I have to remember that if it does not really affect my life, then overall, it does not matter.

My feelings swell and stretch / I see from greater heights / I realize what I am now too smart to mention – to you / You’ll say you understand / you’ll never understand

More than anything, I love this song because I keep a handful of subjects guarded, and sometimes music is the only way to sort through the feelings that accompany them. I always say that I’m an open book when asked, but some subjects are more difficult than others. That’s not to say that I’m misrepresenting myself, but every writer has to make a decision regarding their level of vulnerability. I have to trust that I’m clear. I have to trust that it’s enough.

2. Never Going Back Again – Fleetwood Mac

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Lindsey Buckingham has modified his delivery of this song compared to the original Rumours recording, and I suppose that after singing songs from one of the all-time bestselling albums, for over thirty years, I would want to change arrangements too. Again, his finger-picking skills on the guitar make a person wonder how it comes out of just one instrument, and the harmony with Stevie Nicks is spot-on, as usual. The original is great, but the drawn out lines of the updated version make it shine all the more. Whereas the original sounds like a quiet resolve to stop seeing the person you just can’t shake, the later performance seems amused, knowing that no matter how many times he may say “”˜no more,” this person is always going to be involved in his life.

You don’t know what it means to win / So come down and see me again / I been down one time / I been down two time / I’m never going back again

Buckingham’s done several tours and a Presidential inauguration since “quitting” Fleetwood Mac in the late ’80s. The song may have started being about Stevie, but save for Christine McVie (who quit after The Dance tour), the whole lot of them can’t ever really stop making music together in some way. They’re all getting up there in age, but Lindsey seems to have weathered the least. He still has his voice, his hair, and a way of inviting attraction that doesn’t seem like an old man trying to relive his late-twenties. The piles of cocaine the band did in the ’70s hardly seems to have affected him, which is probably a small miracle. I suppose he comes from good genes. His brother was an Olympic swimmer, and Lindsey also swam before going into music. Maybe he really did have to scrape himself together in the ’90s, but he had the good sense not to let everyone else see it.

3. Never Forget You – The Noisettes

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I became mildly obsessed with this song when it came out in 2009. Back when I still had satellite TV, I’d DVR Subterranean on MTV2, and they would play the video quite a lot, and the band made the rounds on the late night shows. “Never Forget You” is just so much fun to sing, and I totally covet singer Shingai Shoniwa’s hair. It is magnificent here, isn’t it? I don’t have the patience to do big, complicated hair styles, but I certainly wouldn’t object to someone else trying them out on my head. I have sturdy hair; it’ll survive just fine…

Anyway, yes, about the music: In a way, it remind me of a Phil Spector production, with the string section and the backing vocals, but it doesn’t feel dated. Shoniwa’s voice is distinctive, and I suppose the easy comparison is to Billie Holiday, but I think she’s got her own thing going on. Yes, there are splashes of the jazz singer in there, but Shoniwa has a rasp and a sense of fun that I don’t get with Holiday.

I’m sorry I’m a little late / you know the stripes on a tiger are hard to change / and oh this world feels like an empty stage / I wouldn’t change a thing / so glad you’re back again

It’s a fantastic song about reconnection, friendship, love, and good laugh about past bad behavior. Supposedly, The Noisettes have a new album coming out at the end of the month. I’m eager to hear it.

4. No Rain – Blind Melon

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When Kurt Cobain died, I remember noticing how sad other people were, but not feeling too sad myself. I was too young and my parents too old to “get” Nirvana while they still existed. I didn’t have a knowing older sibling. My dad sort of shrugged it off as “Yeah, well, he shot himself in the head and that’s that,” attitude. Not investing much in the death of people you don’t know probably comes easier to a police officer. I remember thinking he was being a little dismissive, but then, it did not affect me either. I was tired of hearing Nirvana’s Unplugged session on the radio 24/7, even though I like it now.

However, I felt sad after hearing about the death of Blind Melon’s singer, Shannon Hoon. I don’t know why; I only knew the one song at the time. The deaths happened near each other, Hoon’s from a drug overdose. Both left daughters behind. Blind Melon, of course, did not have the same impact as Nirvana, and maybe the fact that they didn’t have a chance to be known for more than “No Rain” (and the bee girl) is what feels so sad.

Years later, I rediscovered Blind Melon through Old Boyfriend. When he was a kid, his uncle died suddenly, and he was able to find comfort by sorting through the man’s CD collection. Blind Melon’s self-titled album, bee girl on the cover (not the same girl who was in the video, mind you), sat among the albums. He loved it and found that the band had two other albums released with tracks collected before Hoon’s death – Nico, named for his daughter, and Soup. Nico is the album I have now, and it has a stripped-down version of “No Rain.”  Both versions are good, but I prefer the original. The lyrics are more clear on the “ripped away” version, but it does lack my favorite line from the original: “You know I like to keep my cheeks dry today, so stay with me and we’ll have it made.”  The grip on sanity isn’t so firm in the second version.

Nico is full of great songs like “All That I Need,” “Soup“ and a cover of John Lennon’s “John Sinclair.” It’s a shame that they never received more attention because there’s real energy and talent behind the songs.

5. New York – Richard Ashcroft

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Richard Ashcroft’s first solo album Alone With Everybody was a gift for my eighteenth birthday, but it took another five years or so to fully marinate in my brain. I don’t know how it took that long to catch my attention because I love the album now, along with his other releases I’ve purchased since. Start an album with a swell of strings and all the happy parts in my brain light up. “New York” doesn’t have strings, and the lead-in is reminiscent of The Verve’s “The Rolling People.”

There’s no time to unpack here / Let’s get straight out on the street

If the US can be divided by the sort of people who feel at home in Los Angeles and the people who are at ease in New York City, then I fall in the latter camp. Granted, I was ten years old when I visited New York, but I went to Los Angeles in high school, and I know I’m not that person. “It’s a state of mind.” I like having different seasons, I don’t like driving, and I don’t tan.

And I wanted to go / half my life / and I feel kind of strange / like I’ve never lived that life / and I’m trying hard to control my heart / and I always want to know / and I always want to go

I think everyone creative wonders at some point what it would be like to live in the city. I’ve always wanted to go back as an adult, to really spend awhile there and see more than I did. (I can say I’ve been on the viewing deck of the World Trade Center, a thought that’s now a little unsettling.) Of course, I’m not seriously thinking about going there for more than a vacation–“Need some money and some time” – but you never know where life will take you and when.

Honorable Mentions:

Night in My Veins – Pretenders (“He’s got his chest on my back across a new Cadillac / It feels good / it’s all right / even if it’s just the night in my veins…”)

New York – Ryan Adams (especially this piano version)

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Sara Habein

Sara Habein is the author of Infinite Disposable, a collection of microfiction, and her work has appeared on The Rumpus, Pajiba and Word Riot, among others. Her book reviews and other commentary appear at Glorified Love Letters, and she is the co-manager of Electric City Creative.

12 thoughts on “Alphabet Soup: Favorite Songs for The Letter N”

  1. Never No More by Aaliyah. Very sad song about a young woman in love with a guy who gets increasingly hostile and violent through the duration of their relationship. Beautifully melancholy song, plus, it led to her establishing the Never No More Foundation for victims of domestic violence.

     

  2. I’m gonna have to disagree with you. I like the original “Never Going Back Again” better. But then I have a serious fondness for Rumors.

    I’m actually struggling to pick a BNL song for N. There’s “New Kid” and “Next Time” but those songs aren’t anything I get super excited about. Although I did always like the lyric, “Now I’m a New Kid on the Block, / Well, I’m twenty-three and they won’t let me grow up.”

    “Northshore” by Tegan and Sara. I actually didn’t like this song the first time I heard it. It sounds nothing like previous Tegan and Sara songs. But it grew on me, like a fungus. It’s a good song to be angry too.

    http://youtu.be/YE-4ekeMv0Q

    1. I do really love the original too, but there’s something about the updated one that gets me.

      Also, somehow I’ve ended up with 5 copies of Rumours. I started out with it on CD. Then I got it in vinyl. Then I stumbled across a Mexican printing of it that had all the song titles in Spanish, so I thought that was amusing and the record was only a couple bucks, so I bought it. Then I acquired another vinyl copy when a friend of my dad’s was giving away a bunch of old records and it was in the pile. And then after my dad died, I inherited his record collection, which had Rumours as well. Also, for some reason, I’ve also got 3 copies of Led Zeppelin III on vinyl.

  3. I love Never Is A Promise, but my first thought was another Fiona song: Not About Love. It’s just so great, with the amazing piano and some of my favorite lyrics from her. “The early cars already are/ drawing deep breaths past my door/ and last night’s phrases, sick with lack of basis/ are still writhing on my floor”.

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