If my brain is going a mile a minute, I can frequently break the cycle with music. But it has to be more than simple background music, I need something almost “meta” about the song that pulls me out of the song and makes me think about the writing, or admire the lyricist’s choice of phrasing.
Harry Chapin’s songs from the 70s are almost all stories, from Cats in the Cradle to Taxi, so there’s lots of things in them that get me thinking about the backstory or the “other” elements that you could fill in if you were to flesh them out into a novel, for example. My favourite is probably A Better Place To Be, about “a little midnight watchman, a rotund waitress, and a woman he picked up one night” (the description he gives in his live album). It is also one of the few “LIVE” albums I like, other than Bob Seger. Most of the time I hate them, but his live album has a great feel to it.
This past week, I’ve been pulling songs that have the ability to distract me and pull me out of whatever funk I’m in. And they’re eclectic.
First up, Follow Me by Uncle Kracker. It’s likely the only song I would like of his, and the only one I can name. It’s a song about adultery, which you would think would automatically go nowhere good. But it’s presented as a completely up-tempo song with lyrics that are compelling:
I’m not worried about the ring you wear,
‘Cause as long as no one knows, then nobody can care.
You’re feeling guilty and I’m well aware,
But you don’t look ashamed and baby I’m not scared.
Follow me, everything is all right
I’ll be the one to tuck you in at night
And if you want to leave I can guarantee
You won’t find nobody else like me
It is a perfect picture, even if not salutary. You can picture the “addiction” in the song, a perfect representation of just about every “cheating” scene in TV or movies, people who are too afraid / disrespectful to end their marriage and go with the person they actually love. Every time I hear it, I start thinking of scenes I could write in fiction.
The next one is a slight nudge to the left of that above far-right position, but still harsh, and it is a double-version release. CeeLo Green has two versions of the same song, one explicit and one PG — F*** you and Forget You. I first heard the song on Glee, even though I wasn’t a regular viewer. I only tuned in for Gwyneth Paltrow’s visit, and when one of the students suggests she’s too old to be cool, i.e., “like 40 or something”, she replies, “Top 40 maybe”. Then she sings Forget You. I liked it enough to look up the original, partly because I love the beat. It has some amusing lyrics of course.
Yeah I’m sorry, I can’t afford a Ferrari
But that don’t mean I can’t get you there
I guess he’s an X-box, and I’m more Atari
But the way you play your game ain’t fair
While the song is average, I love multiple things about this song. First, the lyric above — an XBox and Atari metaphor? Cool. Second, they throw in some background responses to the lead that have some killer lines, particularly in the explicit version.
I pity the fool that falls in love with you oh (Oh ssh she’s a gold digger)
Well (Just thought you should know n*****)
In the explicit version, the song drops those lines like they’re natural conversation. Hard to believe, I know, but it WORKS perfectly. The imagery of the person saying them is clear, as is where they’re coming from in the “conversation”. A verboten word, correctly and expertly used in the only semi-acceptable version possible.
But the third reason, the part that blows me away, is that BOTH versions work. Explicit and raw or PG and pop-py, they both are viable songs that did well.
The next one in my list goes way over to the pop lists. Call Me Maybe by Carly Rae Jepsen. I won’t try to convince you that it’s the greatest song ever or anything, but there are two lines I love:
You took your time with the call, I took no time with the fall
Before you came into my life, I missed you so bad
The next two are from the country realm, and I like them both for the same reason — they take a phrase from pop culture or common language, twist it a bit, and give us a whole new picture. The first is Single White Female by Chely Wright. In it, she takes the SWF language from personal ads and turns it into her refrain.
Single white female
Looking for that special lover
To put it in a nutshell
A one women man who doesn’t want no other
Oh, you never can tell
She just might be your dream come true
A single white female
Is looking for a man like you
The second is from Bonnie Raitt, Something To Talk About. Before I get to the refrain, let’s talk for a moment about the song itself. It’s basically about one friend wondering if they shouldn’t have put someone else in the Friend Zone and missed out on something great. In movies and TV, the scenario is often portrayed as the shy, retiring librarian or nerd type longing for their best friend, who is chasing the latest hot guy/chick to walk by. Almost always, the person being longed for has seemingly NO IDEA of the other’s feelings. I find it unlikely that the thought NEVER occurs to two single people who regularly spend time together as best friends, but hey, no angst/no story. This one is a bit different. There’s no obvious longing, it is basically the girl being surprised that there’s a rumour about them, and it knocks her out of her innocent view of her friend enough to consider, “What if…?”.
And lastly, we come to a strange one for many reasons. The song is called Dragonhearted by, wait for it, TryHardNinja. This is an artist that is quite prolific in the gamer world, often adding words to what would be normal gamer background techno music.
Sometimes even shooting stars
Find wishes that miss their marks.
But when the night gets too dark
And the road home seems too far
We’ll see the sun come up again
We will climb higher than we’ve been
We got a fire that burns within
We are the Dragonhearted
We are the Dragonhearted
Jacob found them through gaming and YouTube videos, and while most of the songs he pulls out from gaming aren’t ready for mass consumption, there’s something about this one that rises above, in my view. I also like that it is a song I wouldn’t know existed if my son didn’t find and share it with me. I love listening to it while he sings along. But I do still like the upbeat message — we are the Dragonhearted!
I threw all of them into a playlist, and I’ll add others over time. They’re an eclectic mix, and I have others that will fit the bill for other reasons too. Ultimately, they’re my “anti-funk” mix, designed to pull me out of my head and embrace the light. Maybe I’ll write a story about a cheating lover who suddenly figures out she’s in love with her best friend, but has to find the courage of a dragon to give people something to talk about. Or, maybe they’ll just provide me with #morejoy.