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Beatles Songs About Real Places - What You Didn't Know

Posted 2 weeks ago by Penguin Pete

Here at the Lyric Interpretations Utility Muffin Research Kitchen (does everybody get that reference?), we're contractually obligated to plonk out a blog post about The Beatles once in a blue. So this time: The intrigue, the mystery, the forgotten lore and arcane knowledge behind five Beatles songs about real places.

Back in the U.S.S.R.

The Beatles were at their sunny best when they were taking the piss, and this song is McCartney taking the piss out of the global political climate of 1968. British Prime Minister Harold Wilson had just launched a campaign called "I'm backing Britain," which is Ministry-of-Truth double-speak for "everybody should work extra hours for free." Then there was the whole Cold War thing going on at the time. Musically it's several kinds of piss-take, being a musical parody of the Beach Boys in their doo-wop era, "Georgia" referring to the Soviet Republic but also to Hoagy Carmichael's "Georgia on my Mind," while the title is a tribute to Chuck Berry's "Back in the USA." How's that for music-geek Easter eggs?

Blue Jay Way

The place of this song is a street in Hollywood, California, where George Harrison was waiting on a friend, Derek Taylor, to show up. Said friend was late, so Harrison just got bored and wandered about the house, which was rented, so he wasn't familiar with it. So he just stumbled upon a Hammond organ there and plonked out this song, because you can do that when you're George Harrison. Some mornings he would just get up and yawn and a song would fall out.

Octopus's Garden

The place is Sardinia, Italy. To be more specific, the place is a boat that happened to belong to Peter Sellers. Ringo Starr was on this boat, and it came time to order lunch, and Ringo, being the pragmatic sort, ordered fish. Turned out the chef was a couple of bubbles left of level that day, because Ringo ended up with squid, which he gamely tried to chew but pronounced to be a bit rubbery. the crew then joked with him, since it was his first time eating tentacle, that octopuses (NOT octopi!) mill about the ocean floor collecting seashells and building gardens out of them. Being Ringo, he just had to make a song about it, and nobody has had any idea ever since.

Penny Lane

Penny Lane is a very real place in Liverpool, England. So real, in fact, that the local law enforcement had a problem with feverish fans stealing the street signs off the place. They gave up and painted the name of the street on the sides of brick walls along the street, which themselves proved far too difficult to steal - yes, even for feverish Beatles fans. It's not like you can't buy a sign in a local gift shop. Most of the landmarks from the area are gone now, but the "shelter in the middle of the round-about" is still there, and was briefly the location of a Beatles-themed restaurant. Please don't anybody steal that.

Strawberry Fields Forever

Like "Penny Lane" is Paul McCartney's nostalgia trip, this is John Lennon's. Strawberry Fields was an orphanage near his childhood home, and he was familiar with it from the little band they would organize to play in the park next door; young John would beseech his aunt to take him to see the band every year, and this might have even been his first inspiration for music. The lyrics are typical deep Lennon riddles, so "no one I think is in my tree, I mean it must be high or low" means that it was at this time and place that John noticed he wasn't like other kids and concluded that he must be either a genius or a fool, while "living is easy with eyes closed, misunderstanding all you see" is talking about how your memories of your childhood home never match up to the present when you revisit the place as an adult. What a beautiful, deep soul.

Beatles fans, we await your further enlightenment in the comments section below...

Five World Cup Songs That Don't Totally Suck

Posted on 13/6/14 by Jon O'Brien

The World Cup may be regarded as the pinnacle of the beautiful game, but as evident by Pitbull and J-Lo's trashy official theme for Brazil 2014, "We Are One (Ole, Ola)," its musical accompaniment is usually as dodgy as the FIFA committee. However, not every football anthem deserves the red card treatment. In honor of the four-week tournament kicking off this month, here are a handful of tracks which still remain listenable once the Jules Rimet trophy has been lifted.

New Order-- "World In Motion"

Liverpool winger John Barnes' previous attempt as a rapper had resulted in one of the worst football records of all time. Meanwhile, Manchester electro New Order had readily admitted they had hardly any interest in the sport at all. Expectations weren't exactly high then for their unlikely collaboration with comedian (and Lily's dad) Keith Allen, "World In Motion." And yet its anthemic blend of Italo house chords, terrace chants and sampled commentary, not to mention Barnes' laid-back delivery, proved to be one of the defining moments of Italia '90, providing the soundtrack for England's semi-final run and scoring the band's one and only UK chart-topper in the process. No-one has come even close to reproducing its majestic quality since.

The Lightning Seeds feat. Baddiel & Skinner - "Three Lions' 98"

Tapping into the whole Cool Britannia zeitgeist, indie-pop quintet The Lightning Seeds and laddish comedians David Baddiel and Frank Skinner first recorded England's most popular football anthem for 'Euro 96. But by updating the song's references, mentioning the country that the 1998 World Cup was staged in (France) and changing the previous '30 years of hurt line' to something less specific, "Three Lions" became the first song to top the UK chart on two separate occasions with two sets of different lyrics. A 2010 South Africa reworking featuring Robbie Williams and Russell Brand didn't quite make the same impact. But for nearly a decade, this jaunty Britpop sing-along was inescapable.

Shakira-- "Waka Waka (This Time For Africa)"

Married to Barcelona defender Gerard Pique, Shakira perhaps had more right than most to record a song celebrating the joys of football. Whereas most official World Cup themes are forgotten about by the time they've been performed at the opening ceremony, "Waka Waka (This Time For Africa)," took on a life of its own, racking up an incredible 700 million views on YouTube, reaching number one in over 16 countries and even entering the Top 40 in the notoriously soccer-phobic US. The Colombian has tried to strike gold twice with this year's "Dare (La La La)," but while it's certainly an improvement on Mr. Worldwide's offering, it can't compete with the triumphant blend of hip-swinging soca beats, Afrobeat guitars and traditional African chants here.

Dario G - "Carnaval de Paris"

Having tackled Dream Academy's "Life In A Northern Town" on their breakthrough hit, "Sunchyme," British dance trio Dario G then opted for something a bit more ambitious on their follow-up, namely representing the national music of each and every one of the 32 competing countries in France '98. What sounds like a chaotic mess on paper, in fact turns out to be a cleverly-structured and hugely uplifting celebration of diversity which features everything from the bagpipes of Scotland to the steel drums of Jamaica to the spoons (yes, spoons) of England.

Fat Les - "Vindaloo"

Proving what a boom time 1998 was for great World Cup songs, "Vindaloo" saw mischief maker Keith Allen round up the likes of Blur's Alex James, artist Damien Hirst and future Little Britain star Matt Lucas for a comedy song apparently named after the British football fan's favorite dish, which somehow managed to be surreal and strangely patriotic at the same time. Allen's Ian Dury routine, the utterly basic 'na na na chant,' the "Bittersweet Symphony" video pastiche - everything about "Vindaloo" is utterly ludicrous and yet it remains one of football's most entertaining guilty pleasures.

Point/Counterpoint: The Ukulele

Posted on 1/6/14 by Carley B

Welcome to a friendly little discussion between me and my friend Em about the merits and drawbacks of the ukulele. First, some history: the ukulele dates back to the 1880s as a derivation of several Portuguese guitar-like instruments. -It was brought to Hawaii by Portuguese immigrants, and has since become strongly associated with Hawaii. -It experiences ebbs and flows in mainstream popularity as it dances on the line between twee novelty prop and legit musical instrument. -Now that we've got some backstory, let's get to the conversation.

 

Me: First of all, Em, thank you for agreeing to talk to me about the ukulele, which I know is your favorite topic.

 

Em: No, no, thank you. For the coffee that you bought me, as a bribe.

 

Me: Okay, so it's pretty clear that you are taking the 'anti' stance in this discussion. Why all the uke hate?

 

Em: It's not hate. Hating a ukulele is like hating macaroni artwork. Sure, it's aesthetically offensive, but it's so benign that there's no real point to hating it. But I do not enjoy the ukulele, and I think it's that whole doe-eyed-Zooey-Deschanel schtick that really ruins it for me. Also, the word 'uke'.

 

Me: Well... okay. So you're not a fan of the cutesy ukulele thing. I get that. But there's a whole lot of non-pigeon-toed actual artists making actual music with the uke...ulele (sorry, almost said it again). What say you of them?

 

Em: What, like tUnE-yArDs? That seems like everyone's go-to these days. First, just that weird capitalization of the name bugs me. The music is alright, I guess, but it still seems gimmicky to me. There, that's it. The ukulele is a gimmick, and I think that if the music is really that good, it shouldn't need to rely on gimmickry.

 

Me: I think that's fair to say, but I think your distaste for gimmickry is unfairly spilling over onto the ukulele. I mean, for every Tiny Tim, there's a Jake Shimabukuro, who's like a ukulele savant. Or what about George Harrison? He loved them so much he used to buy them just to give them away. For heaven's sake, even Eddie Vedder, the most un-twee musician you could imagine, recorded a ukulele album.

 

Em: Yeah, and how's Pearl Jam doing these days? I'll give you George Harrison, but Eddie Vedder's foray into the ukulele world, I would argue, was more about him using it to try and be relevant again.

 

Me: Ouch, dude.

 

Em: -Nothing but love for Pearl Jam, I rocked out so hard to them. In 1992, where they belonged.

 

Me: Well, moving on. The list of ukulele enthusiasts is a long one. Elvis Costello, Elvis Presley, will.i.am, The ROCK. Come on, man, even Dwayne "THE ROCK" Johnson loves the ukulele.

 

Em: Okay, you've been playing defense this whole time. How about you tell me why it's so great?

 

Me: Okay. First of all, as a uke player myself--

 

Em: Bias!

 

Me: Yeah, okay, you got me. But anyway, as a uke player myself, I love it for its portability. I love that the tone is different from a guitar, but that it still functions in a similar way. I love that it's accessible; something about only having four strings makes it a lot less intimidating than a guitar. And I love that there are always people taking it out of its niche. Like I said, for every Tiny Tim, there's an Amanda Palmer or a James Hill-- someone who goes beyond making "ukulele music", to making music that just happens to be on a ukulele.

 

Em: Hmm. I guess I just haven't heard too many of those.

 

Me: I think perhaps you avoid them because you see "ukulele" and you immediately tune out.

 

Em: That could be true. Well, I tell you what: you give me your list of the ukulele songs that will make even the most calcified hater warm up to the instrument, and I'll give it an honest, open-minded listen, and tell you what I think.

 

Me: It's a deal!

 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

 

Five Ukulele Songs for Ukulele Haters

 

Victoria Vox- "Out The Back Door"

Amanda Palmer - "Creep" (Radiohead cover)

James Hill - "Ode To A Frozen Boot"

Beirut - "Elephant Gun"

Jake Shimabukuro - "Ukulele Weeps"

 

Epilogue: Em, being the exceptional friend that she is, gave all of these a listen. While she's still not entirely sold on the ukulele as a legitimate instrument, she finally recognizes that it's not the exclusive domain of cutesy twee hipster girls, and that's as much of a triumph as I could've possibly expected.

The Lovable Nonsense of 1994

Posted on 21/5/14 by Carley B

Recently we reminisced about Weezer's Blue Album, which turns 20 years young on May 10th of this year. In my researching of that album, it became apparent that 1994 had a lot to offer in terms of quality musical output. The tunes were solid, and the lyrics were... kind of bizarre. But that was the name of the game in the mid-'90s: quirky and off-beat was comfortably in the mainstream. Here, for your consideration, are some of the best-known songs of 1994, most of which contain lyrics that still don't make any damn sense-- but we love them anyway.

Stay - Lisa Loeb

Show me a girl who listened to the radio in 1994 and doesn't know all the words to this sing-along classic, and I'll just stop you there because you can't. They don't exist. Literally every female in America knows the words to this song, and I'm pretty sure we all learned it through osmosis, because suddenly it was just there, in everyone's consciousness, three minutes of mid-'90s alt-pop perfection. (It probably has something to do with it being the lead single from the movie 'Reality Bites', but since I've never seen the movie, I can neither confirm nor deny this.) The song features Loeb's side of a break-up, as she recounts events in breathless prose. So breathless, in fact, that even longtime lovers of the song trip their way over the more verbose passages, often mumbling or approximating whatever they think she's saying. All you have to do, though, is hold on tight until you get to, "And you say... stay...", and you're home free.

Loser - Beck

Beck's latest release, Morning Phase, has been in heavy rotation in my house, so it was fun to go back and listen to the track that launched him onto the national stage. According to Wikipedia, the song's creation was a spontaneous affair, with the chorus actually coming from Beck's own disappointed reaction to his rapping. The vocals and the raps are all first-takes, and, according to Beck (and Wikipedia again), if he'd known at the time how much of an impact it was going to make, he might've put "something a little more substantial in it." However, it is arguably this lo-fi approach that endeared the song to the self-deprecating slackers of Generation X, and unfortunately lumped Beck in with said slackers. ("Slacker my ass," he has said, rebutting the claims that he belonged to that crowd, going on to detail his near-poverty at the time and how hard he worked to escape it.) Regardless, the song became an anthem for the detached cynicism that was beginning to gain a cultural foothold. The words didn't really mean much, but for the cynics and the slackers, nothing really meant much, so no one really cared.

Soundgarden - Black Hole Sun

This was one of 1994's biggest songs, in part because its Beatles-esque guitar sound and psychedelic lyrics made it a Gen-X "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds", but also in part because of the incredibly creepy music video that accompanied it. Chris Cornell has said that he wrote the song in 15 minutes, and that he wasn't even sure the band would like it. Out of all the songs on this list, this one most exemplifies the fact that words do not have to be coherent in order to be a monster hit. Cornell admits he wasn't trying to communicate any larger idea, so much as he was simply "painting a picture with the lyrics." The picture was post-apocalyptic, surreal and strange, but oddly beautiful, in a way that felt truer than any literal song lyric could hope to feel.

Tori Amos - Cornflake Girl

This cryptic tune was an alt-girl favorite. -According to Amos, the "cornflake girls" stood in contrast to the "raisin girls", a breakfast cereal reference that implies that raisin girls are harder to come across than cornflake girls, who are far more plentiful and all exactly the same. Beyond that, the song tells a compelling story of female betrayal, which is hard to glean on first listen. I had to do some sifting to figure out what the pre-chorus ("peal out the watchword") meant; turns out it's from a hymn by Francis R. Havergal, and it means, essentially, to sound the battle cry. But we didn't need to know what the words meant in order to understand it was a rallying call; Ms. Amos's rocking piano groove made that abundantly clear.

Blues Traveler - Hook

It seems fitting to end the list with this track, because John Popper's lyrics demonstrate, in a very meta way, what the other songs simply take for granted: you can sing about anything, or nothing, and as long as there's a good hook, people will listen. Popper's take on it is a little frustrated, perhaps, as he decries the fact that "it doesn't matter what I say". Even with the frustration, though, the song is such a perfect bit of self-reflection that it becomes a good song despite having its emptiness exposed. Combined with the fact that the chord progression is that of Pachelbel's Canon in D, a ubiquitous piece of classical music that you've probably heard at every wedding you've ever attended, the "hook" idea works on multiple levels. Popper even adds a bit about Peter Pan to throw another meaning of "Hook" into the mix. The breakneck speed of the third verse makes it seem at first like more nonsense, but even then Popper is lambasting the "catchy little tunes" and "hip three minute ditties" that are made of nothing. This song is a rare example of turning that nothing into something worth listening to.

5 Classic Love Songs that Stand the Test of Time

Posted on 28/4/14 by Adam Field

Love. It can make you feel like a million bucks or tear your poor little heart right out of your chest. It's wonderful, it's terrible, and there have been a gazillion songs written about it. We enjoy a good love song as much as anyone else, and we've decided to go a little old school with our list of 5 Classic Love Songs that Stand the Test of Time.

Without You

Where to start with this one. "Without You" is a song that damn near everyone has heard, and it's been covered over 180 times since its original release way back in 1970. The song was composed by Pete Ham and Tom Evans of the group Badfinger (who later killed themselves), and as you'd expect, love played a big part in its conception. While Ham and Evans wrote the song, the song didn't become a bonafied hit until Harry Nilsson covered it a year later. You've probably heard Mariah Carey's version as well which tore up the charts in the 1994, but never hit No. 1 in the US oddly enough. Nilsson's killer version of the song was the only one to hit the top of the charts and it did it in several different countries upon its release.

At Last

Played at countless weddings and Obama's inauguration, "At Last" is a song that still holds up well today. The song was written in 1941 by Harry Warren and Mack Gordon for a musical film called the Orchestra Wives. In 1942 new version was recorded that charted, but the song didn't really find its foothold until Etta James put her voice to work on the tune in 1961. -If you've been to a wedding reception or watched a commercial in the past 30 years, there's a good chance you've heard Etta's version of At Last, and it's definitely a love song worthy of a spot on our list.

Something

The Beatles are responsible for some of the greatest songs of all time, and "Something" is widely regarded as one of their best by a lot of fans. The song was written by George Harrison, and while he initially dismissed the song it was held in high regard by Lennon and McCartney. The song was believed to have been inspired by Harrison's wife (at the time) Patty Boyd, but Harrison later said he was actually thinking about Ray Charles at the time the song came to life. Needless to say, the song went on to become very, very successful. Something has been covered well over 150 times, and the BBC declared it the 64th-greatest song ever well after its initial release.

 

God Only Knows

When you think of "classic" American music Elvis and The Beach Boys certainly come to mind. The Beach Boys entry onto our list comes in the form of "God Only Knows" from the hit album Pet Sounds which was released in 1966. Brian Wilson played producer and composer while tony Asher handles the lyrics and Carl Wilson took the lead vocals. What they produced was magical and a bit unusual with a whole lot of instruments in the mix including a Flute, French horn, a Hammond organ, and an Accordion. God Only Knows is a song that makes you think about the people that make you who you are, and it's a song that still strikes a chord in a lot of us 40 years later.

The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face

"The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," has been around since the 50s, and while it's been sung by many artist over the years I think most folks would agree Roberta Flak's version is the best cover to date. It's a song about love, but you might not know that originally it was a folk song penned by a British fellow by the name of Ewan MacColl. MacColl wrote the song for Peggy Seeger while they were lovers... the only problem is that Peggy was married to someone else at the time. It's also worth noting that MacColl has gone on record as saying he "hated" every cover version of the song aside from the original and called them travesties.

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