This is Past Sounds. Every Friday Ghettoblaster Magazine is looking back and finding great music from various eras. Below are songs that sound great no matter what decade they’re played in. So strap in as we take a musical journey, back in time.
Wreckless Eric – Whole Wide World (Wreckless Eric, Stiff Records) 1978
This track from the debut album of Eric Goulden, aka Wreckless Eric, is a sweet simple love song with a punk edge to it. Will Ferrell serenades Maggie Gylenhall with this song in the film Stranger Than Fiction (and gets totally laid), and it is often used as a beginner guitar song because it is easy to learn and a lot of fun to play. Eric sets up the song’s premise with the first line, “When I was a young boy my Mama said to me, ‘There’s only one girl in the world for you and she probably lives in Tahiti,'” and he vows, “I’d go the whole wide world just to find her,” (I think Mama Goulden just wanted to get him out of the house). This song is given it’s bite with Eric’s scratchy vocals and signature crunchy Rickenbacker, driving the song with a muted stroke in the verse and furious strums in the chorus. Songwriting legend Nick Lowe produced the album and offered guitar contributions on this song and others. Eric has continued making music into his 60’s and put out a great album last year. This song is just one of many gems from his early work.
Otis Redding – These Arms of Mine (Pain In My Heart, Volt Records) 1964
This is another love song, but it’s a different kind of love song, Otis long’s for the love of a woman that he cannot have. Soft staccato piano saunters along with an occasional jangly surf-rock guitar note, as Otis bares his soul with his staggering vocals. The instrumentation is adequate and very much what you would expect from a melancholy 50’s/60’s love song, but Otis’s voice is the real star, we hear the Pain In His Heart pour out through his voice. There is a man who plays guitar and busks around midtown Detroit, and I heard him playing this song and it was so beautiful that it stuck with me and wound up on this list.
Bombadil – Honeymoon (Tarpits And Canyonlands, Ramseur Records) 2009
This dark comedy of a song teaches the dangers of keeping secrets, juxtaposing dark lyrical content with jaunty folk instrumentals. Initially lead by a catchy acoustic guitar part, this song begins with the lyrics, “throw the body in the lake and take a chance that no one finds out.” The lyrics tell the story of someone with skeletons (whether real or metaphorical) in their closet and how they hide these secrets from their future spouse. In the chorus they pose the question, “Even if you knew, what lies beyond that honeymoon?” The song builds from there, elements are slowly layered in: first a treble piano run, then strings and various percussion, and the final crescendo is foreshadowed, giving us only 4 bars when we want 16. The bridge is a stream of consciousness run with clever rhymes, flanked with the repeated phrase, “what lies beyond that honeymoon.” The climax of this song is breathtakingly epic, finally delivering the crescendo teased earlier, as the piano notes pound and crash cymbals exploding on every beat. Just like the comedy group Stella, this oddball trio wears matching suits on stage. They opened for Kishi Bashi last year and see these guys live, suit-clad, giving a smashing performance of this song was one hell of a sight to see.
Beat Happening – Indian Summer (Jamboree, K Records) 1988
Calvin Johnson started K Records back in 1982, which was home to great bands like Beck, Modest Mouse, Built to Spill, and Johnson’s own bands Halo Benders and Beat Happening. This song is essentially the description of a picnic in a cemetery between Johnson and a lover, listing different treats and delicacies that they’re consuming. They have a wonderful experience and vow, “We’ll come back for Indian Summer.” This track is lo-fi and raw, very representative of indie-rock from this era, with hisses and crackles, notes missed, Johnson’s wonderfully imperfect voice drifting on and off key. The influence of The Velvet Underground is very strong on this track, and the song has been covered by many bands, most notably by Death Cab for Cutie, on their album Codes & Keys. This is a creative, quirky indie-rock love song, a clever and beautiful anthem for outcast lovers.
Bone Thugs-N-Harmony (feat. Phil Collins) – Home (Thugs World Order, Ruthless Records) 2002
Like everyone else in the metro Detroit area, I’ve been listening to 105.1 Detroit’s throwback rap and R&B, and they’ve been playing a lot on Bone Thugs, so I tracked down this gem. This song is basically Bone Thugs reflecting on their success and talking about the struggles and the comforts of “the ghetto” that they once called home. The verse is reserved and smooth leading to the swell of the chorus as Phil Collins sings, “Take me home.” The African influenced explored by artists like Collins and Sting in the 80’s, is prominent here and it gives the song a hopeful tone. This is a strange combination of artists, but it works very well and has held up after all these years.
Mase – Welcome Back (Welcome Back, Big Beat Records) 2004
Welcome Back marked Mase’s triumphant return to the rap world after a 5 year hiatus following his second album, Double Up. With a celebratory beat built around John Sebastian’s Welcome Back, the theme song for the 70’s sitcom Welcome Back Kotter. Mase brags about girls and being a rap legend, but he has also undergone a change, “I’m just a Bad Boy gone clean.” This line shows Mase’s religious transformation, as he left the rap game to become a pastor, though a return is imminent. This is a feel-good rap song from one of the greatest, accompanied by a classic video with a goofy Mr. Rogers parody in the beginning. Blasting this in your car, with your windows rolled down makes any day feel like a glorious homecoming.