What we read while President Obama’s position on gay marriage was intelligently designed…
In yesterday’s Pretty Little Liars recap Tim called the opening line of The Outfield’s “Your Love” his favorite opening line to any song ever. He even dared me to come up with a list of songs topping it.
Well, in the immortal words of Barney Stinson…
And I have bad news for you, Tim, “Your Love” doesn’t even crack my Top 50.
Of course, the topic raises several tricky questions: What constitutes an opening line? The first complete sentence? The first rhyming couplet? Until the first pause? And what criteria should we use to evaluate “the best” opening line? The catchiest? The most memorable?
I ended up being pretty flexible on both questions. Some of these lyrics were chosen because they are legitimately great lyrics. Others were chosen because of how they’re sung. Others are chosen because they are the most iconic moments of great songs. I’m sure I’m forgetting some great ones (I had only one day, chill out!), but here is an initial draft of the Top 50 opening lines in music history: Continue reading »
Our old friend and adversary Paul Shirley has gotten into some trouble recently, for saying something even more controversial than that he doesn’t like The Beatles:
I haven’t donated a cent to the Haitian relief effort. And I probably will not. I haven’t donated to the Haitian relief effort for the same reason that I don’t give money to homeless men on the street. Based on past experiences, I don’t think the guy with the sign that reads “Need You’re Help” is going to do anything constructive with the dollar I might give him. If I use history as my guide, I don’t think the people of Haiti will do much with my money either.
Not so surprisingly, this statement, which was part of a larger essay on the misguided nature of donations to Haiti, got Shirley into a lot of trouble. He was a trending topic on Twitter yesterday (a worse fate has befallen no man) and he lost his job at ESPN.
Part of me feels for Shirley. For one, I’ve always enjoyed his writing, and he was nice enough to respond to our blog review of him. I also like it when people take unpopular stances and generally hate when people get fired for them.
Continue reading »
“4th Time Around” is an easy song to forget about, coming towards the end of Side Three* of Blonde on Blonde, sandwiched between two more up-tempo, absurdist numbers, “Absolutely Sweet Marie” and “Obviously 5 Believers.” On an album as groundbreaking and epic as Blonde on Blonde, “4th Time Around” is something of a throwback: a breakup song set in simple waltz time.
*It’s a little odd that we still refer to “sides” of albums that originally came out on vinyl, even though hardly anyone still listens to it regularly in that format anymore.
This song is often compared to The Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood,” with some going so far as to call it an “homage” or “parody” of John Lennon’s tune. Lennon himself even implied as much in interviews. Such comparisons are probably a stretch—I don’t think Dylan was ever concerned with responding to The Beatles the way The Beatles were concerned with responding to Dylan—but there are a lot of similarities in the songs: the waltz time, conversational lyrics, etc. For The Beatles, though, such a song was a notable step forward—for Dylan it was more of a return to form. Continue reading »
Et tu, Paul?
Listen Mr. Shirley, we like you here at NPI. We like sports. We like books. We like people who write good books about playing sports. You even tweeted at Tim. But if forced to choose between you and the Beatles, well, we’re gonna have to go with the Beatles.
Now, I have no problem with unconventional stances; in fact, I like them a lot. And I have no qualms with someone’s personal tastes. It’s also true that people who don’t like the Beatles are unfairly maligned (you guys should form a support group with people who don’t think The Godfather is that great and people who think Shakespeare is overrated).
Some of what you say is certainly true: “[T]he mythology that surrounds the Beatles has overwhelmed rational humans’ ability to judge the band by its music.” There is no denying that when you are brought up and essentially conditioned to think something is good, that is going to affect your judgment of that thing, whether your judgment is positive or negative. Continue reading »
I’ve long thought that people who write letters to the editor aren’t held accountable for much of what they write. This is an attempt to change that.
Dear John James,
Your letter to Esquire, which received its own byline online, starts off so promisingly. You come off immediately as more than the standard reader, as one who thinks deeply about music, about art, about music as art. Your case for the cover song is a good one, and one I appreciate and endorse.
However, John James, like Brett Favre, you lose credibility the more you continue. First, you are unable to resist the human urge to write at length about your own experience. You can argue that I care about why you love cover songs: The whole “art as a crossroads of the predictable and unexpected” is a theory that transcends personal tastes. You cannot argue, though, that I care about how you came to love cover songs. The intimate details of your adolescence, your strong sense of personal nostalgia for a bygone era of music, and the editorialization that almost inherently accompanies them are of no interest to me.
Continue reading »
First off, John, thanks for pointing out that you’re kind of a contrarian. Based on your posts earlier this week that attacked typical American villains in Atticus Finch and checks and balances, I was afraid you were going too mainstream. I was waiting for your next post: “How To Strangle Puppies.”*
*With special co-blogger… that’s too easy.
Second, it is interesting to note, as I did oh so long ago, that it’s far easier to hold the stance you do—that some things’ greatness is ineffable—when those things are considered great by the general populace. It’s not often that one really challenges you on your love for The Beatles, Dylan, Shakespeare, The Godfather, or The Wire. They are all part of the cultural canon by now, perceived as the best of the best. (It’s also notable that another work of culture that you once explained in your typical terse “You just don’t get it” manner, Rihanna’s “Umbrella,” didn’t make this list; maybe because it’s not considered part of the canon, and you know how ludicrous it sounds now to claim that the song is great because it just is.)
The point is it’s a lot harder to say these things about less beloved artists; someone along the lines of, oh I don’t know, Barenaked Ladies. Individuals with non-conformist tastes are forced to defend them far more often; how many times have you or Josh condemned my preference for BnL? And how many times have you been condemned for your disbelief in God?
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What we read while not drinking beers with President Obama:
- You may have noticed we used the word “meme” a second ago. And here’s a little secret: When we started the blog, we weren’t sure whether to call our running features “memes” or “tropes.” Turns out, we weren’t alone. (P.S. We settled on “treme.”)
- We’re obviously pleased with the conclusion here and exhilarated by the kudos to the Beatles and Chuck Klosterman. But we’re not so sure about the gratuitous shot at Saved by the Bell. Because we like Saved by the Bell. And the only thing we hate more than the people who don’t like Saved by the Bell are the people who don’t like us because we like Saved by the Bell.
- This article is from last week, but we couldn’t overlook one of the most devastatingly self-aware quotes we’ve ever seen: “I don’t have any nostalgia for reality.” We at NPI can’t disagree more: We’re suckers for nostalgia in all its forms.
5) Rubber Soul, 1965
John S (3): Rubber Soul is the band’s first truly great album; it features the beginning of the band’s more sophisticated songwriting (“You Won’t See Me,” for example, was the longest song the band had recorded to that point, coming it at a whopping 3:22), both in terms of lyrical depth and musical arrangements, and them finally finding the right equilibrium of their wide-ranging sensibilities. The first four songs (“Drive My Car,” “Norwegian Wood,” “You Won’t See Me,” and “Nowhere Man”) may constitute the best balance of Lennon and McCartney’s different styles in The Beatles’ entire oeuvre—at least until the “Penny Lane”/“Strawberry Fields Forever” double A-side. Both of Harrison’s songs, “Think For Yourself” and “If I Needed Someone” are great, and even the token Ringo song (“What Goes On”) is an exciting stylistic change of pace (though Josh disagrees). The album’s finale, “Run For Your Life,” is maybe the most underrated song in the Beatles’ canon. Also, the vocals at the end of “In My Life” are beautiful.
Josh (7): This is my most controversial rank and—frankly—I feel a bit badly about it. I have a bias towards later albums largely because I love the Beatles’ more psychedelic work: that’s why I ranked Magical Mystery Tour higher in my own rankings. There is no doubt that this was a huge leap for the Beatles, shifting from a more lighthearted pop style in Help! to a more sophisticated style in Rubber Soul. But I think Side Two is a bit weak. With the exceptions of “In My Life” and “I’m Looking Through You,” all of the side two songs are mediocre (once again, by Beatles’ standards) at best, bad at worst (“What Goes On” comes to mind). Side One is very good though: “Think For Yourself” is the most underrated George Harrison song and the harmonies in “Nowhere Man” are beautiful. But, the fact that it’s fairly brief and contains a number of subpar songs gives Rubber Soul its relatively low rank. Continue reading »