I’m in a hotel room in Kingman, Arizona (yes, I-40 follows Route 66 in the desert Southwest) so I’ll keep this short, but I have to say everyone’s lists from yesterday’s blog blew my mind. I hope none of you cheated. It gives me hope for mankind.
The lovely and enchanting Caren asked that we name three important (to us, anyway) songs that not many people would know, and I thought of my three somewhere outside Needles, CA:
1. XTC – “Season Cycle”
You can have a weeklong debate about XTC’s most gorgeous song, but I keep coming back to this sparkling gem on their fabulous Skylarking. It ends the first side of the album, the “youth” side, from birth to the splendor of being in your twenties. It is unabashedly twee, but it is what would happen if Paul and John stopped arguing, Brian Wilson never went crazy, and the entirety of Britain became the pastel chalk puddles of “Mary Poppins.”
I think this song is important because it’s emblematic of the music business’ absolute lack of meritocracy. If gorgeous melodies were properly rewarded, then Andy Partridge, Colin Moulding and Dave Gregory would be millionaires able to retire in Swindon without constant fear of financial crisis (hence the songs you probably know, “Earn Enough For Us” and “Love on a Farmboy’s Wages”). Rumor has it, early on, the lads had to work at a movie theatre between albums. This is not fair, a lesson everyone should learn as they learn their first three chords.
2. Cocteau Twins – “Heaven or Las Vegas”
The Twins took pop idioms, beautiful hooks, classic song structure and threw out the playbook. Before they began to sound homogenous on their last two albums, “Heaven or Las Vegas” was the bridge between their less-accessible work and the bubblegum of their future. This song is so powerful, it needs to be played at 90 decibels – otherwise you’re just being ginger with a chainsaw.
They sang in Gaelic, they sang in nonsense, they just made these unearthly heartbreaking noises – R.E.M. may have started the “singer as another sound” philosophy, but the Cocteau Twins brought it to apotheosis.
Liz Fraser has one of those four-and-a-half octave ranges without getting screechy (like early Kate Bush) that is a Scottish brogue orchestra in voice. I have so many daydreams to this song, and I do believe it saved my life one night on the red-eye train from Madrid to Barcelona. More on that story some other time.
3. 41st Symphony (“Jupiter”) – W.A. Mozart
I’m not going to get all musicologist on your ass, but there are bits of this very short, very brilliant symphony that presaged the Romantic movement, jazz, and having sex to music. Written at the end of his life, this (his last) symphony became the work by which all composers measure themselves – which, of course, is impossible, because they wouldn’t exist in the first place if it weren’t for the Jupiter symphony.
Usually on a CD with the almost-as-fabulous 40th Symphony, buy or download them both, hop in the car, and take one last speeding jaunt through the autumn leaves with the volume way, way up.