Letsee, a little bit about me, eh?
Well, I front the band Lisa Savidge (which recently released the greatest album ever), I help run Black Cactus Records (which recently released the greatest album ever), I'm a recording engineer and occasional producer at the studio audioconfusion (which recorded the greatest album ever), and formerly a DJ and Promotions Director at Radio Phoenix (a station upon which you can hear the greatest album ever). That should do it.
Now, on to the mix. I've decided to follow the format of my old radio show, where I would intermix well-known and obscure songs based on some kind of common theme that they share. The theme this time around?
Bands Complaining About Being in Bands
Call it self indulgent if you must, and it probably is. Some people would say that this theme has been beaten to death, but if that were the case, every single time I tell somebody I'm in a band they wouldn't react like THIS (which they totally do). Oh, there's plenty to complain about: When you're starting out (also known as the time between picking a name and going broke for the 15th time) there's the cut-throat rat race where you had expected to see a bohemian love fest; while for the select few that do "make it" (only went broke 14 times before a miracle descended from on high) there's the pressure for continued success, shady dealings, and the like (see: every episode of VH1's Behind The Muisc, EVER). Of course, there's a lot of upside, too (that's why we do it right? I mean, that or we're really, really stupid) which is the incomparable feeling of getting to express yourself by creating something new and possibly beautiful.
For me, I'm kind of on both sides of it - getting to be in the lovely position of hating the bands for being so entitled as well as hating the industry for not giving me all of the things that I'm entitled to - so this is going to be a pretty tongue-in-cheek list. Just pick your side and read everything you disagree with as sarcasm, and we'll get through this just fine.
So, anyway, what to do when you're trying to whine about the downside while experiencing the upside? Write a song about it! Here's a few artists who I think did it the best:
Life During Wartime - The Talking Heads
Now here's a rather dramatically written song that's inspired quite a few different interpretations over the years. The band, however, has always been clear about the fact that this song was written about living in alphabet city as they were trying to get going. Everybody had told them that the whole thing was going to be a big party - a disco if you will - but it turned out that it ain't that. It ain't no fooling around, either. No sleep, no food, and fashions changing so fast that one could easily lose their own identity.
Of course, a million yuppies didn't really get the message, and I'm thinking there aren't a lot of artists who can afford to live in the village these days. Meanwhile, now you can go down to Brooklyn to get robbed, broken, and starved to death along with a million other artists who didn't get the message either.
Here's the live version from Stop Making Sense
Bohemian Like You/All the Money... - The Dandy Warhols
Speaking of the not-really-bohemian lifestyle, here's a rather sarcastic tune to that effect. I've always been a big fan of the Dandys, so it kind of pains me to use their most well-known song here, but the shoe fits. I love how in the lyrics it is literally assumed that both of the people talking have bands.
It reminds me of one night when we were hanging out in front of the Yucca Taproom, talking about how we should go about getting this great new record (the greatest album ever, you could say). Anyway, this extremely drunk girl butted in looking for a cigarette, and upon hearing that we were in a band (having heard nothing of the prior conversation) exclaimed "You're in a band, I'm in a band, everybody is in a band! Who gives a fuck?!?!?" You know, just one of those great poetic moments.
Oh, and for bonus points, let's also throw in All the Money or the Simple Life Honey by the Dandys as well. The music video certainly seems to match the theme here.
Bohemian Like You
All The Money or the Simple Life Honey
Have a Cigar/Welcome to the Machine - Pink Floyd
Well, this one is pretty obvious, isn't it? Still, since you knew it had to be in here, I figured we might as well get it out of the way.
It works here anyway, since the last two were about starting out/relatively obscure bands, but as the Floyd fellows show, even being some of the richest and biggest rock stars in the world doesn't mean you need to stop complaining.
This one is as self explanatory as they come, though I will add that the overall theme of the album (Wish You Were Here... If you didn't know, then shame on you!) - well, besides the title track and Shine on You Crazy Diamond which was part of the whole Syd Barrett thing - was inspired by the band's frustration at their label/management insisting that they "do another Dark Side of the Moon." Bearing in mind that that album ended up spending 1,500 weeks on the Billboard charts, it's not hard to see why they wanted one, but the band wanted to keep growing and trying new things. Anyway, both of these tracks sum it all up, and failing that you could just look at the album cover or the disc art to get the rest of the picture.
Have a Cigar (with the aforementioned album art)
Welcome to the Machine (Fan Video)
The Story of an Artist - Daniel Johnston
So we've covered the culture and the industry a little bit (there'll be more of that later, I'm sure), but what about the public perception? What about that guy at the copy shop? What about the day to day ups and downs of struggling with your own self doubt? Well, I think Daniel Johnston covered that aspect quite nicely in that innocent, childlike way that only he can.
I think it's interesting that, between bouts of literally battling satan, he found this an issue of enough import to warrant a song. I guess I feel a sort of kinship that way in that I've got my own history, and I've done the same (more on that later). In any case, this one just gets me every time.
Story of an Artist
Money For Nothing - Dire Straits
Another obvious choice, but not so obvious that MTV didn't get it completely wrong and use it as a promo. There are two other reasons I think this warrants inclusion. One, I really love the way that Mark Knopfler is able to do more with a rhythm line than most of the over-the-top shredders were able to to do with a decade's worth of leads. Two, because this is a great example of art imitating life - the song was based on an overheard conversation between appliance store workers. Meanwhile, this band definitely made disliking their status as musicians a cause celebre, even naming the band after its own financial status.
Money for Nothing
Sounds Good To Me '83 - The Necronauts
What's that? Conflict of interest? Surely it couldn't be that this very band is on Black Cactus Records and recently released the second greatest album ever! Well, maybe they are, and maybe they did, but this is still a great song and it fits right in here.
In this case, they seem to have followed along the lines that Dire Straits had set forth and taken it a step further. Dripping with sarcasm, and with a bit of a wink to the audience, Billy Goodman & Co. call the nonsense of the scene that celebrates itself (originally said about shoegaze, but that title goes to "indie" these days) the way they see it.
As a matter of fact, I like this song's catchy chorus so much that I'm even going to overlook its breaking of my cardinal rule of choruses (ending the last line with a tacked-on "tonight" - I'm looking at YOU Pat Monahan of Train). Hey, when it works, it works.
Sounds Good To Me '83
on the band's Myspace Page
EMI - The Sex Pistols
So, here's a band that had pretty much everything. They were basically had it all going on from the get-go, and when they managed to get themselves fired from one record company, another swooped in to take care of them. Then, they only had to do one record to be critically acclaimed as one of music's sacred cows forever. Oh, and they never even had to learn to play (well, Syd Vicious anyway)! In a lot of ways, these guys make it look like the Backstreet Boys had it rough.
Don't get me wrong, I have the one record in question proudly displayed on the shelf behind me as I type this, and I've loved listening to it time and time again. But jeez,
talk about your free rides.
So what do you do after all of this? End your one record with a song bragging about the whole ordeal!
E.M.I. - Fan Video
Appalachacha (Pts. 1&2) - Lisa Savidge
Ok, so here's the REAL conflict of interest. But as I mentioned before, I'm following the format of my old radio show, which itself borrowed a lot from Alice Cooper's show - to include an element of shameless self promotion (in case it wasn't shameless enough with my repeated insistence on our having the greatest album ever).
But here's the thing... As I was going over the list, it struck me that this particular song is exactly the perfect thing for it - and a really great, depthy sort of counter-balance to the Pistols' in-your-face straightforward songwriting.
In any case, this particular piece sets up the battle of dream vs. reality as it applies to a rock band as a sort of grand metaphor for life in general. We're all idealists at some point, and we all seem to lose that somewhere along the way for practicality's sake.
So it goes where the bohemian lifestyle gives way to nuts-and-bolts execution, anxiety builds over the gods we have created for ourselves (in this case, Mount Olympus being the Capitol Records building - but it could just as easily be wall street or the white house or even Greenpeace headquarters for that matter), the hopeless feeling that the world is outside of your control to the point where there's nothing you can do at all, the dreadfulness of the day-to-day that you've created, and finally some hope for redemption in the realization that it was you who created it in the first place. Give it a listen and you'll see what I mean...
Appalachacha - Official
Common People - Pulp/William Shatner
Here's a clever little tune that I've loved for a long time, and a nice way to keep that kind of huge production feeling from the last song going until we can bring it back down at the end. This one sort of takes the other side of the issue, looking at the person who is looking at the artists and applying the assumptions as to what that life would be like. Well, not artists in particular, actually "common people." I guess that's the point I'm making by including it, actually... It's that people think that there's this sort of charmed life that comes with being an artist, but it's mostly dancing, drinking, and screwing because there's nothing else to do. And that's the thing about it... I don't spend half my time standing in front of bars smoking cigarettes because it's romantic (it isn't, by the way), I do it because the other choices I've made in my life have limited my options to exclude almost anything else. But try telling that to the hipster who's trying to ape the same behavior in this song.
Oh, and there's another thing I love about this one. The subject of the song isn't met with wrath or hatred or vitriol, which would actually make it a really ugly song. More of a decent-spirited wonder, I'd say, which, although it doesn't solve the miscommunication, certainly doesn't make things worse either.
I actually chose to use the William Shatner cover here because 1 - I unironically love the way he delivers the lyrics, the way the duet with Joe Jackson works out, the production that Ben Folds did... all of it. And, 2 - I think the whole song takes on a whole extra level of meaning when William Shatner, one of the most uncommon people around for practically a lifetime, takes it on.
Common People - William Shatner Version
Sweet Jane - The Velvet Underground
Really, I could've used anything from "Loaded" on this list... The title is actually a joke on the record company for insisting that this, their final album under their original contract, be "loaded with hits" since the band had not performed well commercially up to that point. As a matter of fact, this album did end up spawning a number of very popular songs, though I hardly think that was on purpose.
Anyhow, I really like this song because it takes another perspective still. In this case, it almost feels like Lou Reed - one of music's most notorious megalomaniacs, by the way -
is actually envying the "common people" who look up to him. There seems to be a real longing in the way this is put together for the simple life of a banker and a clerk... Getting home from the office to sit by the fire and turn on the radio. Keeping up the 24 Hour Party People kind of lifestyle precludes ever having this kind of routine, and I think that's why he actually mentions himself in the song, specifically being in a rock and roll band, but then doesn't give himself a part in the narrative at all.
It's a little bit sad, you know, but the grass is always greener.
And I guess that wraps it up. If you've stuck around this long... Well, thanks. I hope you've enjoyed my ramblings.