Saturday, May 22, 2010

Day 25-and-a-half: BONUS CONTENT

Because I've been a bit shit about updating this recently, I figured some extra content wouldn't go amiss. And with a dual remit of "songs which make me laugh" and "not wanting to put any actual effort in", that means something whose comedic value should be obvious to all but the clinically-dead. But I've already mentioned Six Feet Under.

So, instead:

There's something rather heartwarming about the way that, after decades of trying to run from his innate ridiculousness, and making even more of a laughing-stock of himself in the process, William Shatner has finally become genuinely cool by embracing all the things about himself which had previous ensured that he wasn't. The album I mentioned in my last post - 2004's Has Been - really is worth checking out, by the way. I'm sure most people reading this will already be aware of the utterly-majestic cover of Pulp's 'Common People' (if not, what have you been doing with your internet access for the past six years?), but beyond that comedy highlight, there's a lot to enjoy about the record in a completely non-tongue-in-cheek way.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Day 25: A song that makes me laugh

This one would be ridiculously easy if I went with a straight-up comedy song. Spinal Tap, Randy Newman, Tom Lehrer, almost anything from the first 8 years of The Simpsons, nerd-du-jour Jonathan Coulton...plenty of options. Hell, if I hadn't already mentioned it last month, I'd just throw up a video of Richard Thompson's 'Read About Love' ("He gave me a book / The cover was plain / Written by a doctor with a German name / It had glossy pictures, serious stuff / I read it seven times, and I knew it well enough") and call it a day. But I figured it would be more interesting - marginally-so, at any rate - to go with a funny song by a songwriter who doesn't normally go quite so obviously for the laughs.

Of course, there are still plenty of choices here, too. Plenty of normally-serious artists have tried to lighten things up over the years, to do something which offsets the relentless po-facedness of their 'normal' output. But unfortunately, most of them suck. This one, though, doesn't. Well, I don't think so, anyway.

The words "produced by Ben Folds" wouldn't normally fill me with confidence. Aside from his work on the surprisingly-excellent, no-really-it-is William Shatner album Has Been from a few years ago, I've never been fond of Folds' strain of self-consciously quirky college rock, and coupled with the trying-too-hard video, this sort of thing would normally set my teeth on edge. And works. For me, at least. It's not exactly a major piece of work from Palmer, and it sticks out like a sore thumb on the album it comes from - Who Killed Amanda Palmer, a record dominated by thoughtful, sensitively-arranged pieces of musically- and lyrically-literate art-pop - but it made me laugh the first time I heard it, and it still does. A song about rape, abortion and teenage ostracism wouldn't normally be the most obvious subject for an infectiously-catchy bit of comedy-pop, but it works here.

I forget when exactly I first heard this song, but it was actually one of the first Amanda Palmer songs I really listened to - I was vaguely aware of her former band, the Dresden Dolls, but they'd never quite grabbed me, so when she released a solo album, it rather passed me by. But I came across this song on Youtube one day, quite by accident, and it clicked with me, making me curious enough to check out the rest of the album. As I mentioned above, 'Oasis' is miles removed from the rest of the album in terms of content, style and tone - many critics seem to single it out as the weakest track, in fact, and while I don't agree, I can understand why - but it was the one which first introduced me to her music, so I retain something of a soft spot for it. The album would, to be fair, almost certainly be stronger without this song - it's funny, but out-of-place, and it drags down the far more overtly serious songs surrounding it, arguably harming the overall thematic cohesion - but on the whole, I'm still glad it's there.

It takes an aggressively light-hearted approach to a serious topic, and while that's a trick which plenty of people have attempted before, to manage it without trivializing the issue in question is still a neat trick to pull off. I reckon thatshe manages it perfectly, although I can understand why some people disagree strongly - the bottom line, as Palmer herself has pointed out, is that if the same lyric were set to a minor-key dirge, no-one would have batted an eyelid. That there's a disturbingly fine line between the comic and the tragic is hardly a new discovery, but this is about as good an illustration of the principle as any other I can think of.

More importantly, though, it's laugh-out-loud funny, in that gleefully-embracing-the-tasteless way which still so often works for me, however juvenile or crass. And the video is perfect - the high-five at 1:06 cracks me up.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Day 24: A song I want played at my funeral

I'm just going to go ahead and assume that absolutely everyone played this game at some point, so I'll skip over the likes of 'Highway to Hell', 'Another One Bites The Dust', 'Going Underground' and other, similarly-hilarious gems, and just get straight to the song.

On a tear-jerkingly self-indulgent note (and really, if you can't be tear-jerkingly self-indulgent when choosing a song for your own funeral, what's the point?), there's always be Warren Zevon's 'Keep Me In Your Heart', which I wrote about a few weeks ago. But that'd be senselessly cruel - if people are (hopefully) going to be pretty sad already, there's no need to push them over the edge. While I'd be less inclined to go with a "wittily" inappropriate song than I would have been a decade or so ago, I still suspect that the best choice would be something a little more upbeat, more positive. Funerals are a downer to start with, there's no need to pile on the misery. And since I've already written about the Rolling Stones, which according to my own arbitrary and self-imposed rules means I can't write about 'Shine A Light', which would probably have been my first choice...

It's a great song, obviously, but this version is particularly brilliant. I'd hope that I wouldn't need to explain why I love the Ramones so much - they're quite clearly one of the greatest pop groups ever formed - but this cover is a particular highlight of their career, for me. It may not be a blindingly-obvious funeral song (which is, of course, one of the reasons I'm choosing it), but it works better than it might initially appear. Like most of Dylan's songs from this period, the underlying meaning is buried under a slightly-purple lyrical overload, but at its heart, the song is a simple enough iteration of the "it's better to regret what you've done than what you didn't do" principle, and as such, perfectly-suitable for the occasion. Besides, the gloriously-simplistic guitar solo from 1:18 - 1:33 is about as life-affirming a musical moment as I can think of, and its presence would have substantially improved 100% of the funerals I've ever attended.

Yes, the deeply uninspired nature of this entry is part of why I haven't updated the blog in over a fortnight. But it's not most of it. Sorry, it shouldn't happen again any time soon.