Am I endorsing Taylor Swift? Well, sort of. Is this a tepid recommendation of someone who already gets way too much pub? Probably. Did I still enjoy Taylor’s live rendition of her hit song “Mean” at the Grammys? Well, yes. I couldn’t help it. And my Twitter feed seemed to agree.
So here’s a new, hopefully recurring series I’m working on. I’ll dissect chosen songs from the ever-complex world of popular music. I will attempt to do this in a sort of literary fashion, discussing characters, the summary, the setting, the conflict and a proposed solution for that conflict because let’s face it, sometimes these songwriters just leave us hanging.
Oh, and a quick note: Being that this is March, I should have a good college bball post up tomorrow and possibly another on Thurs. or Friday.
1. Akon “Sexy (Chick)”
Summary: Akon is at bar, and a dancing woman piques his interest. He wants to find a way to describe her, a respectful way, but is struggling with this concept.
Setting: Nighttime, at a bar where most of the other girls, except for the one of Akon’s focus, look like, we can assume, “neighborhood hoes.”
Character list Akon: A performer of Senegalese descent, his first single was “Locked Up” from 2004. He was once criticized for allegedly simulating improper on-stage acts with a 15-year old. Gwen Stefani also once kicked him off their tour. Sexy Chick: This is a girl who is a diva and could be on the low down and who people say needs to slow down. Others have also said that she’s the baddest thing around town. Akon finds himself infatuated with Sexy Chick.
Universal Conflict: Man vs. Self
Specific conflict: Akon vs. His inability to describe this so-called “Sexy Chick”
Akon is battling the limitations of his own vocabulary. He’s trying to find the words to describe this girl without being disrespectful. If he could find these words, perhaps he could walk over toward her, hope that she is not underage as is allegedly his past mistake, and make a move.
Proposed solution: As a writer, I can totally relate to this conflict. Finding that perfect word is sometimes impossible. In that sense, there really is no feasible solution. There is, however, a recommendation. Instead of finding a way to describe this girl without being disrespectful, Akon simply starts chanting: “Damn, girl, you’s a sexy chick” (and it’s sexy bitch in the unedited version). Now, maybe I’m not as much of an expert at life as Akon, but I do know that describing a girl as a “sexy bitch” is not respectful. He says he is trying to not be disrespectful, and he obviously is. So here’s my suggestion: Akon should say, “Damn, girl, you’s an upstanding citizen.”
2. Lady Gaga and Beyonce “Telephone”
Summary: Lady Gaga and Beyonce are out at a club, presumably with several friends, and someone, presumably a male, calls each of them. At first, it seems that Gaga tries to answer but isn’t getting any service. But for the rest of the song it seems that neither woman can answer their cell phones because they are too busy dancing.
Setting: Nighttime at a bar that is a dead zone for phone service. It also just so happens that Gaga’s favorite song is about to come on.
Character list: Lady Gaga: Talented performer and singer who has risen to “Fame” (get it?) in the last year. She loves to dance. This is evident from the song, “Just Dance.”
Beyonce: Another talented performer and singer who has been around for a long time. She is married to Jay-Z. Although she hasn’t previously professed to be as much of dancer as Gaga, we can assume she also enjoys the pastime.
Unknown caller: Someone is obviously trying to contact these two. It is unlikely that this person is Jay-Z because Beyonce would likely want to speak with her husband. He has their cell phone numbers and thinks for whatever reason that he could meet them at this club. Gaga may have wanted to meet him earlier when she was free, but now, clearly, she is not. Beyonce also says that it’s not that she doesn’t like this caller, but it is just not a good time.
Universal conflict: Man vs. Technology
Specific conflict: Beyonce/Gaga vs. Their cell phones.
Both Gaga and Beyonce are having problems with their phone, whether it is from bad service or that it won’t stop ringing. Really, all they want to do is dance, one of the most primal forms of human entertainment, and their phones, technological devices, are preventing them from doing so. They are romantic beings trying to enjoy the simpler forms of life without relying on science or technology.
Proposed solution: The easy way out is to throw away the phone. But who would want to do that? You would lose your sim card, and it would be a waste of money. I suggest that Gaga and Beyonce suck it up and try to text while dancing. They argue that they can’t dance, hold a drink in one hand and text with the other. Why not? They could even implement the phone and their texting motion as part of the dance.
“It’s like the every other decade theory… The fifties were boring. The sixties rocked. The seventies, oh my God, they obviously sucked. Maybe the eighties will be radical. You know, I figure we’ll be in our twenties. It can’t get any worse.” — Dazed and Confused
I first saw the movie “Dazed and Confused” when I was 10 years old. It was 1996. This of course, was a year when people still rented movies, still popped VHS tapes into VCR’s, and still had to push play.
Anyway, my older brother had returned from a movie-rental place with a friend. And they planned on watching some movie I’d never heard of.
Sometimes I wonder why I remember this night. Nothing eventful happened. Nothing memorable happened.
But I do remember it. I remember watching the beginning scene at the high school. And I remember the next scene when they go to the middle school and yell at Mitch Kramer through the loudspeaker.
I’ve always had mixed feelings about the movie. On one hand, I feel it’s wildly underrated. Richard Linklater directed it. He’s the same guy that directed Before Sunrise and Before Sunset — two masterpieces that I’ve always loved. On the other hand, I feel it’s still pretty flawed and a little bit phony.
*I’m pretty sure that my contradictory feelings stem from my high school experiences. I remember being in high school in Overland Park in the early 2000’s. And for some reason, the kids in the burnout clique adopted Dazed and Confused as their favorite movie. Of course, I was friends with most of these people. But I always thought they were missing the point. They all wanted to drive around and listen to music — like the people in the movie (and when you’re in high school, who doesn’t?). But it seemed like three or four guys started talking exactly like the stoner archetype from the movie.
“Hey, man, you just don’t understand, man. Martha Washington, man, she was a good lady, man. Yea, yea. Yea. Whoa, man.” So, yea, maybe my view of the movie was tarnished.
But here’s the thing: If I’m watching television, and Dazed and Confused comes on — I just can’t turn the channel.
This happened again last Tuesday. Dazed and Confused was on television for the 1,713th time. And I had to keep watching. And that’s when I heard Cynthia, the nerdy redhead from the movie, say that quote about her “Every other decade theory.”
“It’s like the every other decade theory… The fifties were boring. The sixties rocked. The seventies, oh my God, they obviously sucked. Maybe the eighties will be radical. You know, I figure we’ll be in our twenties. It can’t get any worse.”*
*I’m fairly certain that Linklater was trying to add a little ironic humor.
Of course, I can’t remember the 80’s… so I can’t be sure. But I’m fairly certain that most people would never describe the 80’s as “radical.”
I’m not exactly sure why, but on this particular viewing, on this particular night, these words made me think a little deeper.
Maybe it was the chilly winter weather. Maybe it was because it was 1:30 in the morning. But mostly, I think it was because I’ve been thinking a lot about decades recently.
We’ve been inundated with lists the last couple weeks. The Top 10 Movies of the Decade. The Top 500 Songs of the Decade. The Top 10 Moments of the Decade. On and on and on.
And at its core, Dazed and Confused is simply a cheap little piece of 1970s nostalgia. It’s about a bunch of high school kids in 1976. They cruise around town, drink, smoke, and listen to music (for all intents and purposes, they basically listen to a greatest hits collection from the 1970s).
They throw ragers at the local park, attempt to throw keggers in their basements, and shoot pool at the local pool hall.
I’m sure there were a few people that did these kinds of things in the 1970s. For all I know, maybe there were lots and lots of people that did these things. But I’m guessing — in fact, I’m fairly certain — that the majority of high school kids did not do these types of things in the 1970s.
Sure, some probably drank. Some probably smoked. Some probably did illicit drugs. After all, it was the 1970s. But that’s not my point.
And here’s the thought I’m stumbling to get to.
One movie cannot define the youth culture in the 1970s. It just can’t.
But here’s the sad truth. For millions… that’s how it works.
Pop culture — movies, music, television — has totally corrupted our views of the past.
When I think of the 1970s, I think of Dazed and Confused.
When I think of the 1980s, I think of Back to the Future and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Sixteen Candles.
When I think of the 1990s, I think of Empire Records and Can’t Hardly Wait and Clueless and all those other average Generation X films.
And all that pop culture clouds my perception of those decades.
I guess I’ve been thinking about all this as all these “Lists of the Decades” and “Retrospectives of the 2000s” have been coming out.
For some reason, we feel compelled to peel away the complexities from each decade, and repackage 10 years into a nice, short, easy-to-digest synopsis.
The 1920s – a roaring good time with flappers and drinking and excess. Sign me up.
The 1930s – a dusty decade immersed in a depression… and, oh yes, the New Deal.
The 1940s – WAR! …World War II …and the beginning of the Cold War.
The 1950s – A decade of innocence; moving out to the suburbs; the American Dream
The 1960s – A chaotic period; assassinations, protest, civil rights and more war.
The 1970s – Drugs and disco and long hair.
The 1980s – A new decade of excess and yuppies and Reagan and the end of the Cold War.
The 1990s – Microsoft and computers and the Internet and the tech boom.
…And so on.
So what short synopsis will come to define this decade? How will we remember these long 10 years?
Well, if you’re listening, it’s already started to develop.
And I’m sure we’ll hear about 9/11 and the two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And we’ll remember Bush and Obama – their differences and similarities. We’ll remember Google and the iPhone. We’ll remember Katrina. And we’ll remember the financial collapse.
So I suppose people will remember this decade as a period of struggle. A lost decade of calamitous events. Tragedy and terror and more bad news.
And I guess that’s OK. I’ll remember all those things.
But then, some hot young director will make a movie in 2027 — a piece of cheap nostalgia about high school kids in the 2000s — and I’m not sure I’ll totally be able to recognize it.
Because if you strip away all the stuff that the the 2000s were “supposed to be about,” you might just be left with your own memories and your own experiences.
You might just realize that the 2000s were a pretty damn-good time to be alive.
…And yet, as I try to make sense of the decade, and the things that resonated with me. I’m left thinking about the music I listened to. Each song, each album, each downloaded piece of music helps me reflect on 10 years of memories and friends and growth.
So, to make sense of it all –- and to cure a little Christmas-break boredom, I knew I had to make a list of The 10 Best Songs of The Decade. The only problem… I couldn’t stop at 10.
So here’s 20 songs that shaped the decade. Well, they shaped my decade. And that’s the point. We all have our own 20 songs. Listen to your songs. Don’t listen to everyone else’s.
The Late Greats
In 25 years, young hipsters will still be wearing Wilco T-shirts. Jeff Tweedy, Wilco’s incomparable frontman, will be ordained a music legend. And Tweedy will be on some stage somewhere, collaborating with some young hip band trying to steal a little of Wilco’s mojo.
And I’ll tell my kids, “You know, I loved Wilco when I was growing up.” I’ll say this because I’ll assume that it will give me some marker of credibility, some points in the coolness quotient. I’ll assume that my kids will care. Of course, we know they won’t
19. Empire State of Mind
Jay-Z , ft. Alicia Keys
So, I was convinced to replace Jay’s “Roc Boys (And the winner is…)” with “Empire State of Mind”. After all, “Empire” is one of the newest songs on the list.
Of course, it’s one of the best tracks of 2009, and Jay and Alicia performed at the World Series at Yankee Stadium — and that was a great moment.
But I am curious to know what we will think about this song in 20 years.
Will kids be humming it, like they hum “Sinatra’s “New York, New York?” But in the end, Jay-Z — the new Sinatra — had to be on the list.
18. My Love
Justin Timberlake Ft. T.I.
17. Road to Joy
This is the final track on Conor Oberst’s seminal 2005 record, “I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning.”
…The sun came up with no conclusions
Flowers sleepin’ in their beds
The city cemetary’s hummin’
I’m wide awake, its mornin’
16. The Needle has landed
She’s one of the best artists of the last decade. She was the lead singer in the New Pornographers — one the most underrated bands of the decade. And her voice is iconic.
Around the time I first started to listen to Neko Case, I was in a record store in Fort Collins, Colo. This song was playing in the background. I asked the guy behind the counter if it was Neko Case. He said, “Yea… I think she’s going to be an all-time great.”
15. Paper Planes
It suffered a little bit from being overplayed. But if you weren’t jamming to this song in 2007-08, you just weren’t paying attention.
Simply put, it’s the most danceable song of the last 10 years.
Plus, anytime you can have a hit record with the lyrics, “We pack and deliver like UPS trucks,” you’re doing something right.
14. New Slang
Artist: The Shins
When I was 17 years old, my older brother took me to a show at Liberty Hall in Lawrence. We saw two bands I’d never heard of. The Rapture and The Shins. When you’ve never heard a band before, it can be hard to totally enjoy their live show. The Shins were different. Within the next year, I had both their albums — “Oh, Inverted World” and “Chutes Too Narrow”.
And then the movie “Garden State” came out. You know, the indie hit starring Zach Braff and Natalie Portman. Of course, it became my favorite movie — mostly because it had three Shins songs featured in it.*
*One time, when I was a senior, I used my nerdy Student Council connections to get like seven kids out of class, and we went to my house to eat lunch and watch this movie.
Well, this song, according to Portman’s character, was supposed to “totally change your life.” I’m not sure it changed anyone’s life — except for Braff’s. But it introduced the world to The Shins. And it made me feel cool because I was a high schooler listening to some quality “college rock.” And that was good enough.
13. Remix to Ignition
Here’s why this song is on the list. If you had a time machine, you could travel back to the year 2003.
And if you travelled back in time, you could walk into any high school lunchroom in America, and within a few minutes, you’d hear somebody singing “And after the party, it’s the hotel lobby…”
12. Fred Jones Pt. 2
This song is about an old newspaper man who loses his job. It was great in 2001, and it means even more to me now.
Let’s hope people don’t forget about the greatness of Folds’ first solo album, “Rockin’ the Suburbs.”
11. Whatever You Like
For me, this song means college. And in 20 years, this song will mean college. And in 30 years, this song will mean college. And when I hear it, I’ll be in college again. And there aren’t many things better than that.*
*Oh, and I guess T.I. just got out of jail. Good for him.
10. I And Love And You
The Avett Brothers
Haven’t listened to the Avett Brothers? Then you’re missing out on the best rock song of 2009.
9. Crazy in Love
Here’s my Beyonce story. If you live in Kansas City, you surely know about the radio station 95.7 “The Vibe.” Well, once upon a time, 95.7 decided it was going to try to challenge 103.3 Jamz, the top Hip-hop station in Kansas City. So 95.7 started playing the top 20 hip-hop and and R&B songs in the country. And that was all it played. It was annoying, but at the same time, it was comforting.
For example, if The Vibe was around in 2003, you would have been able to turn to it and hear “Crazy in Love” withing the next 20 minutes… guaranteed. And that’s what I think about when I think of “Crazy in Love.”
You might not want to listen to it forever, but in a decade that was defined by downloading and iTunes and all the rest, it’s the perfect single. You hear it once, and you want to hear it again. And that’s why I liked 95.7 The Vibe. I wasn’t crazy about the music. (Sure, I enjoyed it enough.) But I knew I was going to hear the same 20 songs.*
*Oddly enough, 95.7 still calls itself The Vibe, but it plays Nickelback and other atrocious mainstream rock songs.
8. This Year
The Mountain Goats
My brother introduced me to The Mountain Goats sometime during the first couple years of the decade. It was essentially one guy, John Darnielle, playing lo-fi, folky, indie-rock. It was raw, and it felt like you were listening to the greatest secret in the word.
A few years later, I was driving on K-10, on my way back to school at KU. This song came on the radio — 90.7 KJHK, the student-run radio station at the University of Kansas. For the next three minutes, I sat and listened. I downloaded the song a few hours later, and it still has the greatest chorus of the decade.
“I am gonna make it, through this year, if it kills me…”
7. What Am I To You?
…What am I to you
Tell me darling true
To me you are the sea
Vast as you can be
And deep the shade of blue
6. Do You Realize?
The Flaming Lips
…And instead of saying all of your goodbyes – let them know
You realize that life goes fast
It’s hard to make the good things last
You realize the sun doesn’t go down
It’s just an illusion caused by the world spinning round
5. Where’s the Love?
The Black Eyed Peas
This song introduced us to the Peas, to will.i.am, and to Fergie.
Justin Timberlake stops in for a cameo, and against all odds, we somehow get one of the best peace anthems and protest songs of the last 25 years.
4. The Decemberists
The Crane Wife 1&2
The Decemberists spent the decade spewing out sophisticated indie-rock. Songs with inspired lyrics, and albums with actual themes.
They had a pseudo-rivalry with Stephen Colbert, and they wrote the second-best rock album of the decade (the first is coming up).
Here’s my Decemberists story. When I was in college, I worked at the college radio station. I mostly did sports broadcasting stuff, but occasionally, I’d fill in and do a D.J. shift. Sometimes I’d bring my brother to help me with D.J. shifts. Anyways, one time, my brother decided to play The Decemberists’ song, “The Shankill Butchers,” perhaps the most depressing song ever.
Basically, it’s slow and creepy, and it’s about butchers killing people with cleavers and knives. Like I said, it’s depressing.
So my bro puts the song on, and within two minutes, this really laid back dude calls. He’s real laid-back, talking deep and slow. And it seems the laid-back dude thought we were a real downer. I guess we ruined his day by playing such a depressing tune.
As I recall, he said something like this: “Yo, man… come on guys. It’s just not right. Just not right. You gotta bring people up. Bring ’em up, man. Give ’em some hope. This song is just a real downer, man. A downer, man. I mean, I don’t want to tell you how to do your jobs. But let’s bring a little joy to the world, let’s bring people up…”
It was a strange conversation. But I think the weird laid-back Lawrence townie had a point.
3. Death Cab For Cutie
Not sure who said it, but here’s the greatest way to describe this song…
You just never want it to end.
2. Hey Yea
The most ubiquitous hit of the decades. If Outkast is the artist of the decade — and they just might be — this is their “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.”
Andre 3000 and Big Boi have had their Lennon/McCartney moments, but I really hope we haven’t seen the last of Outkast.
1. Neighborhood Pt. 1 (Tunnel)
You could pick any song off Arcade Fire’s 2004 album “Funeral” to put in this slot. In fact, I almost chose “Rebellions.” But this is the first song, your entrance to the best album of the 2000s.
So go listen to the album straight through, and you’ll never hear music the same again.