The Letter K might present more of a challenge this week, save for all the songs that start with “Kiss.” (Though if any of you pick “Kiss From a Rose” by Seal, Imma just shake my head and say, “It’s okay. Middle school nostalgia. I feel ya.”) So let’s get going with this K extravaganza:
1. Kate – Ben Folds Five
From the beginning, one line reminded me of my friend Amanda, “Her mix tape’s a masterpiece.“ Amanda introduced me to Ben Folds Five (right before “Brick” became ubiquitous), and she was once my source for filling in the gaps in my Oasis b-sides collection. We share many of the same musical favorites in general. “Kate” has always reminded me of driving around in Amanda’s old, grey Buick, blasting her mix tapes and discussing everything from the music, to my writing, or shaking our heads at other’s unnecessary drama (or her shaking her head at my unnecessary drama). If there’s one thing I’ve always admired about her, it is her ability to stay above the bullshit – she’s usually got a plan, almost always completes that plan and if not, well, then she has another idea ready. Backbiting teenage gossip was never in any of those plans (Really, what was the point?) and the attitude is refreshing.
When she first told me about the album, Whatever and Ever Amen, she didn’t recommend listening to it while trying to fall asleep. She was just about asleep when, “I hear “˜Fuck you too! Give me my money back, you bitch! I want my money back! And don’t forget to give me back my black t-shirt.’” I went out and bought a used copy of the album within weeks. “Song For the Dumped” almost warrants an honorable mention in the Letter S, but it’s a very full letter.
Aside from personal connection, “Kate” is just plain catchy. What I’ve always liked about Ben Folds is that he pounds on that piano as though it were a guitar. Sure there are plenty of more traditional piano ballads on the album that I like, but the upbeat songs sound like he and the other guys found some old instruments in the corner of a crowded bar, picked them up and banged out a song. The fuzzy bass and crashing drums sound made to get above the noisy crowd, with the loud and battered piano getting everyone’s attention. I imagine that when the band first started out, that was exactly what they had to do – grab the attention of otherwise distracted bar patrons. The songs tend to be a little bit funny too, which helps.
When I listen to “Kate” now, I find myself also thinking of my daughter, Grace. “She plays “˜Wipe out’ on the drums/ the squirrels and the birds come…“ Grace is the sort of kid who is interested in a million things (drums and animals included), and she has the big “I can do anything” attitude that I think is great for a girl to have. I hope she holds onto the notion that finding what makes you happy is at the base of a good life.
2. Kamikaze – PJ Harvey
Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea ranks at the perfection level. There’s not a bad song on it, and I know that some hipster kids who were listening to PJ Harvey long before 2000 like to discount it as being “too approachable,” but that’s just proprietary snobbery. I find value in all the albums I own, but Stories… can be played from start to finish, on repeat, and play several times through before I tire of listening to it.
I had only limited familiarity with PJ Harvey when I heard “Kamikaze” for the first time on Q Magazine’s Best of 2000 CD. Almost all of the songs on that disc led me to buying the albums, if I didn’t already own them. Q Magazine always makes me wish I had money to blow on an imported magazine subscription because they tend to like the same music I do.
I don’t want to presume what exactly the song is about, but best I can tell, the message is, “You will fail trying to bring me down, and you’ll only kill yourself in the process.” Unclear meaning never prevented me from singing along, however. The high-pitched chorus is one of those that would leave me embarrassed were someone to overhear me trying to attempt it in the car, but it’s still so much fun to try. The verses build into that explosive chorus, and the lines come out of her mouth in such a deliberate way. When I went to think of songs that start with The Letter K, this was the very first song that came to mind.
3. Kid – Pretenders
Before my family’s trip to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, where my aunt and uncle would give me their “˜88 Volvo, I visited the House of Blues website. Just weeks from turning 16, I let out the appropriate “EEEEEEEEE!” when I saw that Pretenders would be playing at the HOB on a Saturday we’d be there. My parents were casual enough fans to where I convinced them to buy tickets for all of us to go. While everyone else went up to find seats in the balcony, my brother Luke and I bolted down to the front. It was the first “˜real’ concert for both us, and he was around 13 at the time. I don’t even know if he knew any songs, other than ones from the new album we’d purchased some time before the show.
What made the gig a little bit more entertaining, especially while waiting for it to start, was the guy standing behind us. Clocking in the mid-range of his thirties, he looked a little bit like a middle school basketball coach I knew, and his girlfriend couldn’t have been more than 18 or 19 (in fact, I remember him joking that she couldn’t have a sip of his beer). He joked to us about that the last time he’d seen the Pretenders on the HORDE tour (ah, the ’90s). “Chrissie was thiiiiis big,” he said and held his index and thumb about two inches apart. When a guy came out to put gaffer tape at the end of the stage, he said that it was a job you give to “someone’s little brother. Oh, hey, your brother wants a job on the tour? Umm… here! Go tape the stage!”
When the horrible opening band played – I don’t remember their name, but they sounded like Dave Matthews Band singing in Swahili – we yelled out, “Bring back Little Brother!” To this day, I call the person who comes out with gaffer tape “Little Brother.” Or “Little Sister,” as the case may be.
Chrissie Hynde purrs like a tough ’60s girl-group singer giving into a moment of vulnerability: “All my sorrow/ All my blue…“ She has a way of making rough moments go down more smoothly, like the right drink at the right time. Only when I quit focusing on the drift of the music do I start to notice the real sadness in the lyrics:
Kid, precious kid / your eyes are blue / but you won’t cry, I know / Angry tears to hear / you won’t let them go
What I love about Pretenders songs is how genuine they are – all the feelings of sadness, anger, love and declaration never sound forced. Watching Chrissie Hynde perform, I never had the sense that she was putting on an act, never felt that she tried to fool the audience into thinking that she had cultivated her attitude in an attempt to be popular. She’s the girl smoking with the bikers out back. And the bikers love her, that’s for sure – one of them dropped his cigar ash on my brother’s shoulder during the concert while singing along. She’s that wonderful mix of a woman who has found a way to be strong, the commanding frontwoman, and still let her weaknesses show. In fact, Chrissie Hynde reminds us that you’re not worth her respect if you can’t admit when you’re down.
4. Kids’ Song – Mic Christopher
Mic Christopher was a great musician that, unless you were a fan of a particular type of Irish music in the early 2000s, you’ve probably never heard of him. He started as a busker, then later played in the band The Mary Janes. Along the way, he befriended The Frames (whose singer, Glen Hansard, was in the movie Once) and other notable Dublin-based bands. In 2001, after gig with The Waterboys, Christopher slipped on some steps and hit his head. After falling into a coma, the swelling on his brain became too much and he died at the age of 32.
At the time, he had been working on a solo album, Skylarkin’, and friends were able to finish it based on his notes left behind, and it was released in November 2002. It’s a fantastic album, one of my favorites from the decade. This wont be the last time you see Mic Christopher in this series, but K is a harder letter to fill, so I wanted to make sure to include him here, having a K song and all.
How comes this girl that I knew? / Sometimes she don’t look so good / Well her mom says it’s flu / But she wears coats in the gym class at school
It take a couple of listens before I thought, “Ah, yes. A song about teenage pregnancy.” It’s easy to be initially thrown off by the first line, “How comes your sister’s in drag?”
I am not even sure if Skylarkin’ was ever released in the US. An Irish friend of mine sent me a copy shortly after its release. There’s so much talent in it, and it’s such a shame that Mic Christopher never had more time.
5. Kingdom of Rust – Doves
Good lord, I love this song. Speaking of bands discovered through Q‘s Best of 2000 mix, Doves were one of them. I bought their album Lost Souls and have been in love ever since. Like Glasvegas, they have a lot of sad songs that feel so good. “Kingdom of Rust” comes from their fourth album of the same name, an album that’s really solid overall. And let it be clear – the bands name is Doves. There is no “The” at the beginning.
“Kingdom of Rust,” the song, has a rambling sadness backed by strings, piano and a great drum beat. Every time Jimi Goodwin sings, “My God, it takes an ocean of trust,” I feel a swelling in my chest. The ash-scattering in the video is especially touching, knowing that this album is dedicated to Goodwin’s deceased father.
This song is beautiful and perfect, and there’s nothing more to say.
Play us out, tiny Purple One.