The Letter S is truly jumbo-sized this week. So, so many good songs start with this common letter, and even though I have a lot to talk about this week, believe me when I say that I am still holding back. We can gush in the comments instead.
The Letter S
1. She Bangs the Drums – The Stone Roses
Your life will be better having listened to this song. This is a Musical Truth.
I can feel the Earth begin to move / I hear my needle hit the groove
I once had a friend joke that I was born in the wrong country, a decade too late. If I’d turfed out into the world in 1973 Northern England, instead of 1983 Montana, perhaps I would’ve not come very, very late to The Stone Roses party. Though I was aware of the band through other bands talking about them, I didn’t start seriously listening to them until around 2007. Because they didn’t have a huge U.S. presence, stumbling across their music in the shops still felt like a discovery. When I finally did buy a “Best Of” type CD – which is a lot of the first album and only a few from their second – I played it roughly eleventy-gerbillion times. Especially “She Bangs the Drums.”
Have you seen her / have you heard / the way she plays / there are no words / to describe the way I feel
Singer Ian Brown is a pint-sized-rock-n-roll-mega force of nature. “She Bangs the Drums” is every brilliant all-nighter, every exhilarating party, the best gigs and great conversations all rolled into one. It is youth and possibility and that bassline at the beginning is amazing. I can listen to it a dozen times in a row and not tire of it.
If I had stupid amounts of money, I would’ve flown over to England to see their recent reunion gigs. If any of you were able to go, consider me officially envious. I may have come two decades too late, and they may only have a couple albums to their name, but they are still one of my All-Time Favorites.
Because I made the glaring omission of not including The Stone Roses in The Letter I, can I also direct your attention to two of their other outstanding songs?
I Wanna Be Adored – Haunting, brilliant. “I don’t need to sell my soul / he’s already in me…”
I Am the Resurrection – Those drums, get in.“Don’t waste your words / I don’t need anything from you…”
Play them loud, friends. Air drumming is totally allowed.
2. Songbird – Fleetwood Mac
Christine McVie and I share a birthday, July 12th, forty years apart. I always preferred her over Stevie Nicks, even though Stevie’s great, and discovering our shared day made it seem all the more meant to be. Christine always seemed more straightforward, less wrapped up in the theoretical. Her songs remain in her immediate feelings at the time of writing, and I prefer that over Stevie’s sometimes forced storytelling. Christine talks about herself; Stevie talks about herself while also pretending to be someone else. Or maybe Stevie really is all those characters in one, I don’t know. I do know that I identify more with Christine’s vulnerability, and the first time I heard “Songbird,” I had to stop what I was doing and listen. I had never desired the ability to play piano more in my life, as knowing it would be one more way to get inside the song, to feel it as it was meant to be felt. Hearing “Silver Springs” on the radio may have turned my attention to the band, but Christine’s voice made me stay. I’m not sure she gets enough credit for how much she added.
When I first started listening to Fleetwood Mac, I did not have any of the music myself. My dad’s Greatest Hits CD disappeared into my room for a little while, but most of their music that he owned was on vinyl and some of that was dubbed onto cassette. The cassettes, unused by him 90% of the time, disappeared into my room with the understanding that I would not take them out into my car. The newer stereo in my room could be trusted, but inserting an old cassette into the tape player of an old car made it 50/50 on whether or not it would eject intact.
After binging on the self-titled white album, Rumours, Tusk and Mystery to Me, I made my own mixes. I had a cassette that was half Christine, half Stevie. (At the time, I under-appreciated Lindsey Buckingham, but now he’s the one making the most interesting music.) I played the Christine side more often, and every time “Songbird” came on, I paused to listen:
To you, I would give the world / To you, I’ll never be cold / Cos I feel that when I’m with you, it’s all right / I know it’s right.
Christine wrote the song for Mick Fleetwood, a man battling all sorts of personal issues at the time, but it came to represent the hope that they could all overcome their troubles. Playing the song as a set-closer, Christine has said that she found it impossible not to cry each time.
And I wish you all the love in the world / But most of all, I wish it from myself
What I like about Christine’s songwriting is the mix of melancholy and optimism. Every time her heart is broken, I can feel it, and every time she is swept up in new romance, I remember my own experiences. She’s very real, aware of her weaknesses and above all, not afraid to devote herself to another person.
3. Swallowed – Bush
From the moment I heard, “Warm sun, feed me up…” I felt like a new person. I made the transition from an R&B-listening middle-schooler to the Q Magazine reading, rock history-learning, obsessive music connoisseur I am today.
I never paid attention to Bush when Sixteen Stone’s videos were plastered all over MTV. I only knew that Bush was a rock band with a singer who had brown curly hair, and that was about it. One night, I turned on Saturday Night Live. Something within me knew that Bush should register on my radar and without knowing why, I pressed “Record” on my VCR, marking the moment they became an indispensable part of my life. That singer with curly brown hair became who he really was – Gavin Rossdale, the one whose face would cover my walls, the one whose face I would analyze and remember every line and eyelash. I was, as they say, a teenager in love. Despite my girlhood obsession with him in particular, I still maintain that the music won me over first. Surely, good music makes its performers all the more attractive, right? I know, I know. Gavin can still stop traffic without a band, but I wouldn’t have known who he was without the songs.
After I saw them play on SNL, I had a feast of new interviews paired with older videos to consume. Between 120 Minutes, KROQ Acoustic Christmas and all the magazine promotion that comes with a new album, my VCR worked overtime and my bedroom began a transformation. I needed as much information about the band as I could get. Whether or not a guy liked Bush became a deal-breaker in high school relationships. I actually said to one guy before I agreed to go out with him, “I just need to know one thing: Do you like Bush and Oasis? Because you’ll be hearing them a lot.” He told me that he thought they were okay (Pink Floyd fan, that one), and the answer was good enough for me.
I just don’t have time for someone who is going to tease me about my very favorite things.
If I needed any convincing that my husband and I were meant to be, hearing that Bush’s Deconstructed (an album nobody but the most devoted buy) was the very first CD he owned sealed the deal. Also, he liked Gavin almost as much as I did. Telling me all that was worlds better than “They’re okay.”
“Swallowed,” since I’m in the habit of ranking things, is my third favorite Bush song, after “Glycerine” and “Bonedriven.” It’s a great rock song, with big guitars punctuated at the right times. It’s easy to sing along, even with the abundance of minor notes. “I’m with everyone and yet not” may as well be the theme of my life.
“Just wanted to be myself”: I’ve often thought that during the most lonely of moments, when being myself felt like it came at the expense of connecting to other people. During the times I’ve felt without a best friend, without a person who might ring me on a whim, I would wonder how people fell into each other without effort. Maybe I had above average self-esteem for a teenage girl, but the feeling that I didn’t have a partner in it all could really shake that confidence. I still feel a bit disconnected sometimes, but that’s my own chronic loneliness that I never can seem to shake.
Though I did not pick up on all the specifics when I was thirteen, I realize “Swallowed” has Gavin singing about being high (among other things), wondering what he’s doing with himself: “Hey you said you would love to try some/ Hey you said you would love to die some…” He feels alienated, his poor decisions made in an effort to experience the opposite. “Gotta get away from here…” – The song is the desire to move from the past, but without an idea of how. It is midway through the rubble, and it wonders if optimism is too much to ask.
On a side note: I miss that original lineup.
4. Seven Day Mile – The Frames
Everyone expected me to love college. I would go off to my classes, learn all the great and necessary things and then after four years, I would flap my little wings onto bigger things. I lasted a year, and I say it was partially a money issue. While that’s true, there’s much I could have done to remedy that. I also say that there was no point in spending a ton of money and time on a creative writing degree when I could just as easily write and find a critique group on my own. That’s also true. However, the third reason, that I don’t often get into, is that something about college didn’t feel right. I felt somewhat claustrophobic and more anxious than I already tend to be. I don’t know what brought it on – an ineffectual therapist managed to narrow it down to somewhere in the vicinity of “˜expectation’ – but I just couldn’t get myself motivated to buckle down and finish. I just couldn’t be arsed, as they say.
It’s a threat that’s real enough / We can burn this bridge or stay here
The Frames started to work their way into my brain, as I grabbed songs where I could through downloads. The purchased albums would come into the collection eventually, but for a while, I had only a handful of Dance the Devil songs on my laptop. They seemed to follow me through what I could refer to as my Mysteries of Pittsburgh period.
The unfortunate byproduct to internal turmoil is that it extends to poor relationship choices. While I could have handled the end of one relationship better (namely, by not starting another while still in it), I tend to think of it as a learning period, with faults on both sides. That excuses nothing, but I’m not sure I’d still value the same things in a relationship had I not gone through it.
One morning, in a fit of sudden forced creativity, I tried to cobble together the ending to a short story I had due that afternoon. Wrapped in my green fleece jacket (that’s a story in itself) and cursing my procrastination, I sat on the couch of the guy I hadn’t been seeing long. He’d gone to work, and the place still smelled of peanut chicken curry and peach sorbet from dinner the night before. I had The Frames playing and playing, the same few song over and over. I had roughly four hours to finish and print out enough copies for everyone. It was the last day of class before we left for Thanksgiving break.
Well this might take awhile to figure out now / So don’t you rush it, hold your head up high right through the doubt now / cos it’s just a matter of time / you’ve been running so fast
It was raining when I left and walked the few blocks back to my room, the air filled with a mix of wet leaves and cigarettes. My roommate had already left for class. We didn’t intersect often. I got to work printing twenty copies of my twenty-seven page not-so-short story, but on copy sixteen, my ink started to fade. Somehow I managed to wait in line at the copy shop across campus, pay for my remaining four copies, and still have time for lunch.
“There,” I said, slapping my 540 sheets of paper on the table in the food court. I had found a face to which I could complain. “It’s rushed, I finished it this morning, but it’s done and now I can turn it in and drive back home to my very angry boyfriend.”
Tyson – my now-husband, but then just a guy in my class – sat across from me, his stack of papers also on the table. Only our stories were due that day, in a fateful bit of scheduling from the beginning of the semester. He had a very suspicious grin on his face. “You probably finished yours weeks ago,” I said.
“I wrote mine in an hour and a half this morning,” he answered.
“I hate you,” I said, but I smiled. I had the beginning of liking him rolling around in the back of my brain, but I obviously had other things on my mind and wasn’t really wanting to devote the brain space. He liked me, but knew it wasn’t the time. At that moment, he was a friendly guy who had the maddening quality of being very good at things with little effort. He sat there and listened to me complain over my tuna sandwich and pasta salad. We walked to class together.
Time will be the judge of all here.
5. Slide Away – Oasis
(If you listen to this and STILL don’t get why I am unabashedly Team Noel Gallagher, then I don’t even know what to say to you.)
Some nights, I have dreams where I am able to have conversations that never had a chance to begin or have been too scary to initiate in my waking life. I dream of the people who have impacted me in a big way, whom I have loved in ways both overlapping and independent of one another. I am brave, I am reverential, and when I hear all the answers I need to hear, it is heartbreaking when I open my eyes. Some nights, the dreams are too real.
I dream of you / and all the things you say / I wonder where you are now.
If Noel sings “Slide Away” when I see him perform next month, I may die of happiness. Liam’s voice on the studio version is pure, full of young and romantic idealism. “This one’s for all the girls,” he likes to say. Coming from Noel, the lyrics are more than a declaration. They are almost pleading, “Please, please tell me you feel as strongly as I do.” No matter the version, this may be one of the best love songs ever. Ever. I can hear you starting to argue otherwise, but no. No, ma’am, this here’s the business:
All the world’s asleep / I need you now / You got me on my knees / And I dream of you / and the thought of growing old
In a way, this column has been nothing but a glorified love letter to a handful of people. Maybe a couple of them I’ve never met, maybe a couple I’m never going to see again, and then there are the spaces between. There are hundreds of songs that ask “Do you think of me as I think of you?” and this song gets it so right that sometimes I’m only brave enough to sing along. Some days, I get it right and say what I can.
Let me be the one that shines with you / In the morning, I don’t know what to do / We’re two of a kind / We’ll find a way to do what we’ve done
I spend thousands and thousands of words in my (as-yet-unpublished) novel trying to articulate what can happen when all we want in the world comes at the expense of something valuable, and the attempt to work for a balance between the two. What happens when we put ourselves out there? What happens when the one person who believes in you the most makes everyone else lose faith? I am interested in perseverance, the balance between fate and control, and how love doesn’t always happen in the way that is most convenient.
Some days, I see faces on the streets that, out of the corner of my eye, make me believe. For one moment, my heart stops and I wonder what I will say. One more chance at conversation. One more chance to connect. The faces come closer and my eyes adjust, and I see they are not who I hoped. Some days, I wonder if I’ve constructed glossy memories. I wonder if I’ve got it all wrong.
I don’t know / I don’t care / All I know is that you can take me there / Take me there.
Many, Many Honorable Mentions Which Are Favorites But They’ll Only Let Me Go On So Much Here:
Silver and Cold – AFI (“Light like the flutter of wings / feel your hollow bones rushing into me/ as you’re longing to sing” – This is my favorite AFI song. I’m embedding it here even though it’s not in the Top 5 because I do what I want! )
Sandalwood – Lisa Loeb (“I want to kiss the back of your neck / the top of your spine where your hair hits” – also one of my favorite love songs.)
Sweet Transvestite – Rocky Horror Picture Show (I know the words to every song from this musical, yet sadly, I’ve never gone to a live performance.)
Step Out (live) – Oasis (One of the best sets of lines ever: “I’m alive when you walk that way / Can you hear what I can hear / it’s the sound of a brand new day.”)
She is Love – Oasis (An under-appreciated gem on the Heathen Chemistry album: “I don’t know where you come from / and no I haven’t got a clue / All I know is I’m in love with someone who loves me too.”)
Sunday Morning Call – Oasis (Is this the 4th Oasis song I’ve mentioned in this letter alone? Yes. Do I care if that’s excessive? Nope. Get in: “When you’re lonely and you start to hear a little voices in your head at night / you will only sniff away the tears so you can dance until the morning light / at what price?”)
Suspicious Minds – Elvis Presley (My favorite Elvis song, easily. When a friend of mine covered this song during one of his gigs, I fought the urge to hug his face off. Then again, he plays a lot of songs that make me feel that way.)
Something – George Harrison / The Beatles (George is my favorite Beatle, and these lines? “You know I love that woman / and I need her all the time” – never has such a simple sentiment felt so life-changing.)
All right, people, thanks for sticking with me through this massive outpouring of self-serving love. Let’s hear ’em, your Favorite Songs for The Letter S.