Alphabet Soup: Favorite Songs for the Letter “B”

Alphabet Soup is an ongoing project where I write glorified love letters to my favorite songs for each letter of the alphabet. This week, we cover the letter “B.” I include all sorts of decades this time, but what do you know, I’ve even got a newer song in there, too.

1. Big Love (acoustic) ““ Fleetwood Mac

My uncle once asked my dad if he was the one who influenced my interest in Fleetwood Mac. “No, it’s all her,” my dad said. He liked Fleetwood Mac well enough to have a handful of albums (mostly in the Stevie/Lindsey incarnation, with the exception of Mystery to Me), but I don’t remember them being played all that often.

Honestly, I’m not sure how I started listening to the band. When they reunited in 1997, I remember complaining that the concert was all that was on TV. Maybe something grabbed me when “Silver Spring” and “Landslide” were on the radio a lot, but I found myself picking up those old albums and eventually buying The Dance, the reunited live album. I finally watched the concert when PBS reran it during a pledge drive.

The original version of this song, a single from Tango in the Night, makes me giggle a bit at its ’80s-ness, and I do have a soft spot for it. However, the re-tooled acoustic version that Lindsey Buckingham now plays just leaves me in awe that anyone can play the guitar like that. I don’t know how anyone can get that many different notes and sounds out of one instrument with only two hands. The song serves as proof that Buckingham is continually underrated as a guitarist. I’m not sure that I’ve seen him mentioned more than once whenever a roundup of “Greatest Guitarists” is published, and it’s really too bad. Sure, there are times when he can be a bit indulgent, dragging the guitar solos out a bit too long (“I’m So Afraid” being a major culprit), but at least he does it well.

“Big Love” is song that builds and builds to the point where even the odd grunts at the end do not seem all that out of place in the emotional release. This song always get huge cheers from the audience, as it did when I had the chance to see them live in 2004. It’s one of those rare songs where I barely consider the lyrics – the appeal lies entirely in the unrestrained acoustic arrangement. “Big Love” is part exorcism, part primal scream, and lives entirely up to its name.

2. Be My Wife ““ David Bowie

Sometimes you get so lonely
Sometimes you get nowhere

One of my all-time favorite David Bowie songs, “Be My Wife” is a fantastic piano assault with guitar dressing and a vaguely disco drum beat. Bowie, of course, was one of the first to create music videos with any regularity, and this video goes along with the 1977 release of Low – an album I bought for 25 cents on cassette when the local Hastings was clearing out all their cassettes in the late ’90s. My 1988 Volvo did not yet have a CD player, so I was still perfectly happy with the format, and even though I don’t listen to cassettes very often now, I still make sure I have a working player in the house.

Please be mine
Share my life
Stay with me
Be my wife

I’m only half-joking when I say that David Bowie is my patronous. I love that he has made an entire career doing exactly what he wants, regardless of popular opinion. I once heard someone say that if his music could at first seem out of place, one should wait a few years and then everyone would attempt to sound that way while he had already moved on. I’ve never done a year-by-year comparison of his music vs. popular music, but I bet it’s not far off.

This video is kind of funny because it’s post-Ziggy Stardust but pre-Thin White Duke incarnations. The regular guy ’70s clothes and his haircut all seem borderline “normal,” so of course he’s got to have make-up like an overzealous Mary Kay saleswoman. I do love a man in make-up, but this is not his best look.

No matter, though, for this is an outstanding love song that gets right to the point. Let’s not fool around with the flowers and the grand declarations; let’s make this official.

3. Bedroom Eyes ““ Dum Dum Girls

Hey, look, I’m able to include new songs. I’m not completely out of the loop yet! I came across Dum Dum Girls through the music site Hard Candy, when they posted the video for “Bedroom Eyes.” Confession time: I do dig excellent hosiery, and there are four sets here. Not that I’m objectifying. –Cough- I mean… Great tune!

No, in all seriousness, I really do love “Bedroom Eyes.” It’s like a cross between Phil Spector’s ’60s girl groups and ’80s alternative like you might see on VH1 Classic’s version of 120 Minutes. (Do they still air that? They did 2 years ago when I still had satellite.) Despite the upbeat music, it’s a song all about missing someone. I love this bit:

The hours to the sunrise creep, but I don’t care
There is no hope for any sleep if you’re not here
In another scene, in another bed you’re sleeping
So won’t you come and visit me when I’m dreaming

I’m not a great sleeper to begin with, but I’m even worse now if I’m in the bed by myself. My husband was out of town for just one night last week, and I was up until 3:30 a.m. I imagine that if it were a more regular occurrence, I would learn to get used to it, but the nights here and there seem long. We’ve spent over 10 years together, and we’re spoiled by relatively constant proximity. Because my love for this song is somewhat new, I don’t have a specific memory attached to it yet, but I will say that, in the mister’s absence, the bed feels entirely too cold.

4. Bonedriven ““ Bush (the album version and the Mekon/Beat Me Clever Remix)

After seeing Bush on Saturday Night Live and forever cementing my love (more about that when we reach the letter “S”), MTV ran a special about their second album, Razorblade Suitcase. (I know. Try to recover from the novelty of MTV still giving a shit about music, but I suppose 1996 was the beginning of the wind-down into 16 and Pregnant hell.)

The band recorded RBSC at Abbey Road, and in some of the footage, they showed Gavin Rossdale singing along with a string quartet. Strings in rock make my heart go a’pitter-patter, especially when the sound goes beyond the violin. I was 13, and I’d just switched to playing cello after three years of viola. The prominently featured cello bits had me further enamored.

“Bonedriven,” the album version, is gorgeous and spare, though a bit heartbreaking. Gavin’s voice aches at the demise of a relationship and the depression that follows. “I was wrong and I will wait” grabs me on a literary level, and it is one of those lines that is a story in itself. The song captures a contradiction, which is feeling so empty and yet being so consumed by emotion that identifying a single emotion feels impossible. Sixteen years later, I am just as in love with this song as I was the first time I heard it.

Now, the remix. Well, the story with it is considerably more light. My friend Kristen and I had (and still have) a tendency to go through odd and (what we think is) funny trains of thought, particularly if we have some time on our hands. While listening to Deconstructed, Bush’s 1997 remix album, we started dancing. At the 13-second mark, we came up with this funny foot-hopping, arm-circling move that was intentionally reminiscent of the Elaine dance from Seinfeld. Doing it in unison (harder than you’d think) added to the comedic effect, so of course we had to show all our friends. It didn’t catch on like my dad’s “Old Man Shuffle” – his joking attempt at dancing – but I bet a few people still remember it. I get the urge to jump up and do it every time I play the song.

5. Brass in Pocket ““ Pretenders

Cos I’m gonna make you see
There’s nobody else here, no one like me
I’m special (so special!)
I gotta have some of your attention
Give it to me

During the summer I turned 14, I spent a lot of time grounded, mainly for running off to meet boys without saying where I was going. As you do. I wasn’t supposed to be on the phone, nor was I supposed to be touching my dad’s records without asking, but there I was talking to Kristen and putting albums on the turntable.

Kristen and I would occasionally play songs that had caught our attention over the phone to one another. Earlier in the conversation, I’d played the original “Iron Man” from Black Sabbath, as we’d only heard The Cardigans’ cover. Then, in the process of putting The Singles on to play “Brass in Pocket,” I knocked out the needle from its cartridge. I looked all over the shelf and the floor, but I could not find it. Last thing I needed was to be grounded longer, so I put the record back and said nothing. My dad would obsessively vacuum, so when he discovered the missing needle, he assumed that he’d inadvertently sucked it up while cleaning. And really, I bet he did, but I never told him that it was me that knocked it out in the first place. Eventually, my parents replaced the needle, and I don’t think I’ve ever told them.

“Brass in Pocket” has always been my favorite Pretenders song. I don’t know when I heard it the first time – probably on the radio – as I was 3+ years away from being born at the time of its release. When I sing along, I probably botch the words, and I’m horribly off-key, for it’s the sort of song that perhaps only Chrissie Hynde can do well. She’s badass, man. Pretenders are the first band I ever saw live, and she moved the burliest bikers to tears. Her voice was fantastic originally, still great at that 1999 gig, and with the live version of the song I have posted here, she’s still got it.

Side note: How many bands as long-lasting as the Pretenders do you see that still have their original drummer? I mean, yes, there was a period in the ’80s when he left, but for the last 20 years, Martin Chambers has sat behind the kit. And though it was for only a brief time, ex-Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr even had a stint in the band. That? Also badass. Even with the newer members who look like children compared to Hynde, I would love to see them live again.

Honorable Mentions:
“Bittersweet Symphony” ““ The Verve
“Beyond The Sea” ““ Bobby Darin (This link goes to a great live performance.)
“Baby Talk to Me” ““ Bye Bye Birdie Soundtrack (I have the original soundtrack, but here, have a link to the revival with John Stamos. STAMOS! He’s not as good of a singer as Dick Van Dyke, but that’s all right.)

So what about you? Tell me the songs you love that start with the letter “B.”

By 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.

19 replies on “Alphabet Soup: Favorite Songs for the Letter “B””

Okay, I’ve got more. I love this column, and not just because it’s going to provide me with a Wednesday playlist for the next 24 weeks.

“Broken Hearted Savior” Big Head Todd and the Monsters. It’s just a great song.

“Big Time” by Peter Gabriel. I roller skated to this song all the time in the late-ish ’80s. It’s got a great video.

“Band On The Run” by Wings. Like U2, there are not a lot of Wings’ songs I like, but this one always makes me car dance when it comes on the radio.

“Brand New Key” by Melanie. This reminds me of drinking bottom shelf alcohol with my g-friends in college.

“Black” by Pearl Jam. I once spent a weekend in college drinking bottom-shelf vodka and listening to this song and “How Soon Is Now” on repeat after a silly boy broke my heart. I was somewhat melodramatic in college.

“Ballad of Dorothy Parker” by His Royal Purpleness. It’s unlike any other Prince song, which you can say about a surprising number of Prince songs.

“Bad Medicine” by Bon Jovi.  Because hell yeah, that’s why.

“Back in Your Head” – Tegan and Sara (yes more Tegan and Sara, but this song always felt like it was written about me and my stupid relationship hangups)

“Beyond Here Lies Nothing” – Bob Dylan

“Birdhouse in Your Soul” – They Might be Giants

“Blackbird” – The Beatles

“Born in the USA” – Bruce Springsteen (the whole album is awesome too)

“Brian Wilson” – Barenaked Ladies (another song that feels like it was written about me on days when I hate myself)

I could probably come up with more, but I think I’ll stop here.

Okay, now I’ve read it! You did a really great job articulating the time and place (mental and physical) of that album, and also what it meant to you.

I heard once (maybe it was on one of those VH1 Legends things they used to play) that when David Bowie and Brian Eno first got their synths, they didn’t really know what to do with them, so they just started hitting buttons to see what would happen and went from there. That’s a pretty cool way to learn.

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