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.
Phil Ochs – In The Heat Of The Summer (I Ain’t Marching Anymore) 1965
It’s hot outside, and the heat can make people do crazy things. Phil Ochs reminds us in this song, where he talks about the Harlem riots of 1965. Ochs was a good ol’ fashioned folk hero, essentially a more obscure Bob Dylan, using his music to highlight injustice. In this song he meticulously describes the scenes of the riots and delves into the thoughts of the participants, the police, the public, the press, and the mayor. He succinctly captures the reason for the riots, “So wrong, so wrong, but we’ve been down so long, and we had to make somebody listen.” Father-daughter folk duo Jack and Amanda Palmer recently did a beautiful cover of this song on their album You Got Me Singing, demonstrating how this song transcends it’s time period and taps into the issues that still plague our society today.
Joy Division – Atmosphere (Licht und Blindheit) 1980
This powerful track, released two months before the death of frontman Joy Division, was recently featured in the instant classic Netflix series Stranger Things, at the “Dark Night of the Soul” moment where it seems all is lost. This song is a slow build, with the pulsing echoy drum fill, soft bass plucks, droning keyboard, and Curtis’s signature baritone crooning, repeating the line, “Don’t walk away in silence.” As the song goes on twinkling synths and crunchy guitar punctuate the instrumental breaks. This feels like the 80’s version of Lou Reed’s Street Hassel, with a similar composition and build, and in that song Lou repeats, “Don’t slip away.” This song was used so perfectly in Stranger Things, with the small town high school setting, it draws a comparison to Judd Nelson’s final scene in The Breakfast Club. This is a restrained yet inspiration song and, this isn’t the only song that will appear on this list, that is a beautiful send off to the artist who passed shortly after it was made.
Arrested Development – Tennessee (3 Years, 5 Months & 2 Days In The Life Of…) 1992
In the year 2000 my brother got the Millenium Hip Hop ccompilation CD with all the hits: MC Hammer’s Can’t Touch This Snoop Dogg & Dr. Dre’s Nuthin But a G Thang and Tennessee was the least party-ish song on the album. This song finds AD’s frontman Speech in a despondent place in life, after the death of his grandma and his brother. He has a conversation with his lord and seeks guidance for what to do next. While this song has a classic hip hop party beat, sampling Prince’s Alphabet St., the content is heavy yet the songs stays fun and playful (especially the bits about horseshoes and watermelon) while being very deep and contemplative.
Warren Zevon – Keep Me In Your Heart (The Wind) 2003
You may know this song from Judd Apatow’s Funny People, it’s perfectly placed in the movie as the lead character is dying of cancer and that was also the case with the song’s writer Warren Zevon. On his last of many appearances on The Late Show with David Letterman he shared how he hadn’t gone to the doctor in 20 years until he went for shortness of breath and found out he had lung cancer. This was the first song he wrote after the diagnosis, a tender acoustic farewell to the world. I won’t even quote a single lyric because the song says it all. This is one of the most beautiful and powerful songs ever written. On Letterman he talked about how artists have impressions and sense things and that perhaps in some way he knew what was coming. He absolutely taps into something cosmic and spiritual with this song. He was an amazing guy with boatload of charisma, a killer sense of humor, and a brilliant affinity for music, leaving behind this gorgeous song as a parting gift.
Father John Misty – Only Son of the Ladies Man (Fear Fun) 2012
Father John Misty recently had a self-describe “meltdown” during recent festival set where he gave a very insightful rant about the state of our country. While much of Fear Fun is about sex, drugs, and rock n roll, it is often peppered with apocalyptic prophesies. This song is one of the less political, more personal songs on the record, in which he talks about the death of “the ladies man,” presumably a mentor in the ways of breaking hearts in Hollywood. Seeing the “legacy of ruin,” left behind by his hero, he starts to question his lifestyle, and empathize with the ladies man’s past conquests, “Someone must console these lonesome daughters.” His second album is largely about his wife and their love story, this song gives us the story behind his shift from rockstar party boy to post-modern hippie husband. This is a beautiful, genuine folk song filled with Old Hollywood imagery, lead by Tillman’s booming voice singing an unforgettable melody.
Xenia Rubinos – Cherry Tree (Magic Trix) 2013
New York singer/keyboardist Xenia Rubinos has garnered some acclaim this year for her sophomore album Black Terry Cat, as her music is an eclectic blend of genres and influence that never fails to surprise and impress. This 6 minute song from her 2013 debut shifts and evolves, with vocals, lyrics, and rhythms appearing and reappearing in different ways. With elaborate syncopated compositions akin to Dirty Projectors, muscular keyboard stabs reminiscent of tUnE-yArDs, and dynamic vocals like Beyonce mixed with Regina Spektor this song is a force to be reckoned with. I could list a ton more elements and influences, but when it all comes together Xenia’s sound is innovative and original and this catchy, epic composition is the proof.