Song of the Week – Shameika, Fiona Apple; Shameika Said, Shameika Stepney (feat. Fiona Apple)

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Today’s SotW was written by a special guest contributor – my daughter Abby.  Abby has a very wide-ranging, eclectic interest in music.  She also has a steel-trap memory for lyrics.  She originally gave me an idea for a SotW topic, but I persuaded her to write it herself.  Here it is!

In April 2020 Fiona Apple released her fifth studio album, Fetch the Bolt Cutters

The album garnered a lot of buzz, as the moody, experimental album dropped during peak shelter-in-place and mirrored the confusion and frustration many of us were feeling at the time. The album secured a spot on many ‘Best of the Year’ lists, including the track “Ladies” as one of Rolling Stones’ top 10 songs of 2020.  But the track that really caught my attention was “Shameika,” one of today’s SotW. 

In the song, Apple remembers a moment from her elementary school days where she was bullied.  In an interview with Vulture, Apple recalled, “I was probably 11 or so… I just remember being in the cafeteria, a bunch of girls at one end of the table.  I came over to sit with them, and they started laughing at me.  So I sat one seat away but still tried to be close to them.  Shameika came up, and she was like, “Why are you trying to sit with those girls?  You have potential.”  This quote from Shameika is the chorus of the song: 

Shameika said I had potential (x4) 

In the Vulture article Apple confesses, “when I first wrote the song, I was not entirely convinced she existed.  Because I have this one memory and it’s a very big memory for me.  But maybe I created this person.” 

Back then I didn’t know what potential meant 

And Shameika wasn’t gentle and she wasn’t my friend but 

She got through to me and I’ll never see her again 

She got through to me and I’ll never see her again 

As it turns out, they would see each other again.  Over the years, Apple had kept in touch with a teacher from her elementary school.  This teacher remembered and kept in touch with Shameika Stepney as well, and reached out to both of them after the song was released, hoping to link the two. 

Stepney and Apple reconnected, and in an interview with Pitchfork, Stepney admits “I’ve always been a protector of anyone else who’s smaller, who can’t defend themselves.”  Stepney is also a musician, and in November released her own song “Shameika Said,” which features vocals from Fiona Apple. This is today’s second SotW. 

Pitchfork interviewed Shameika on her life and her music career – read the full story here.

These songs and the story behind them are a true testament to the fact that our actions, big or small, can impact others in a life-changing way.  We should all try to remember this when we interact with others!

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Picking Up After You, Tom Waits & Crystal Gayle

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Happy Valentine’s weekend!  The holiday-inspired me to draft a SotW that fits the occasion… in a way.  It’s not a love song but it is a song about love.  Or maybe about how infatuation is whisked away by mundane, daily life.

This Tom Waits/Crystal Gayle duet is arranged in the conversational style that I explored last Valentine’s weekend.  This isn’t simply a duet, but a conversation between the singers.  They bicker:

Waits:

Looks like you spent the night in a trench
And tell me how long have you been combing your hair with a wrench
Gayle:

The roses are dead and the violets are too
And I’m sick and tired of picking up after you

In the end, the tune’s payoff line gives it a twist:

Waits:

Take all your relatives and all of your shoes
Believe me, I’ll really swing when you’re gone
I’ll be living on chicken and wine after we’re through
With someone I pick up after you

Gayle:

With someone I pick up after you

Both:

With someone I pick up after you

“Picking Up After You” was written for the Academy Award nominated soundtrack for the Frances Ford Coppola film One from the Heart that was released Valentine’s weekend, 1982.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week Revisited – Armando’s Rhumba, Chick Corea

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It was just announced that Chick Corea died of cancer last Tuesday at the age of 79. The following SotW post was written Match 27, 2010.

The song of the week is “Armando’s Rhumba” by Chick Corea.  It is from his 1976 double album, My Spanish Heart

Corea is one of the most important keyboardists in modern jazz.  In the 60s he gained experience playing with a who’s who of the jazz world, including Herbie Mann, Stan Getz, and on landmark albums by Miles Davis (In A Silent Way, Bitches Brew).

In the early 70s he formed his own group, Return to Forever, with Stanley Clarke.  The band later added Al DiMeola and moved more in the direction of the rock fusion that most people associate him with.

With My Spanish Heart, Corea chose to explore the sounds of his Latin heritage.  The album and “Armando’s Rhumba” in particular capitalize on the superb playing of Steve Gadd (drums), Stanley Clarke (bass) and especially Jean Luc Ponty whose violin gives the song its bounce and charm.  The flamenco hand claps add spice to the rhythm and help propel the song.  The result is a gypsy sound reminiscent of the classic Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli recordings.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – When the Stars Go Blue, Ryan Adams and The Coors w/ Bono

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This week marks the 13th anniversary of the SotW.  Thanks to all for your faithful support and encouragement after all these years.

It’s happened again!  A coincidence that prompts me to write a SotW post.  This time for “When the Stars Go Blue.”

I recently read Elton John’s 2019 autobiography, Me.  In one of the final chapters, he mentions how much he likes and respects the music of Ryan Adams.  Comparing his album The Big Picture (which Bernie Taupin hated) to Adams’ Heartbreaker, John reported:

“I’d been listening to Ryan Adams’ album Heartbreaker a lot.  He was a classic country rock singer-songwriter, really – I could imagine him onstage at the Troubadour in the seventies.  But there was a toughness and a freshness about it that did make The Big Picture sound weirdly dated and staid.”

Around the same time, I read an article in Far Out titled “From Bob Dylan to The Beatles: 8 songs horror hero Stephen King couldn’t live without.”

Adams’ “When the Stars Go Blue” was on the list.  And it is a fabulous choice!

I think Adams’ recording is spectacular, but many of you may be more familiar with the version by the Irish family band, The Coors, that featured Bono as well.  That version is awesome as well.  You can’t beat a great song!

When the band I’m in, Rockridge Station, was formed over 10 years ago, “When the Stars Go Blue” was one of the first songs added to our repertoire.  And there’s a good reason.  You can’t beat a great song!

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Space Girl, Frances Forever

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OK, so maybe I’ve lost my mind!!!  Today’s SotW is a track that went viral on TikTok, the short-form, social media app that targets guys like me as their key demographic.  Right!

As I put together my “best of 2020” playlist, one of my favorites was “Space Girl” by Frances Forever.

I’m a sap for a good power pop song and “Space Girl” checks all the boxes.  It has energy, charm, and a good hook.

Frances Forever is a young Massachusetts based singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist.  She grabbed some attention after a 2019 appearance on NPR’s Tiny Desk concert series featured “Space Girl.”  From there it went viral on TikTok, then Spotify and Apple Music.

The lyrics remind me thematically of another power pop classic – “Another Girl Another Planet” by The Only Ones – the SotW on February 4th, 2012.

Let’s wait to see if this is a one-hit-wonder or if Frances Forever will show some lasting power.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Romeo’s Tune, Steve Forbert

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Meet me in the middle of the day
Let me hear you say everything’s okay
Bring me southern kisses from your room

Back in 1979, singer-songwriter Steve Forbert had a Top 20 hit with “Romeo’s Tune” from Forbert’s second album, Jackrabbit Slim

The sweet love song is driven by a lively piano riff played by Bobby Ogdin who was the pianist in Elvis Presley’s TCB band.

But the final arrangement of the song didn’t come easy.  It was originally slated to be on his debut album, but he wasn’t satisfied with the recordings from those sessions and decided to hold it back.  Over the next year, he tried various arrangements before he came up with the final with help from the album’s producer, John Simon.

Simon was responsible for producing several of my favorite records – The Band’s Music from Big PinkThe Child is Father to the Man by Blood Sweat & Tears, and Bookends by Simon & Garfunkel.  He also produced the hit “Red Rubber Ball” by The Cyrkle (written by Paul Simon).

Forbert dedicated the song to Florence Ballard, of the Supremes, on the Jackrabbit Slim album cover, though it isn’t about her.  He has often said that the track is about girl he knew when he was a teen but has never identified her by name.

On a side note, Forbert played Cyndi Lauper’s boyfriend in the video for her song “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.”

Meet me in the middle of the night
Let me hear you say everything’s alright
Let me smell the moon in your perfume

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Get Off the Stage, Chuck Prophet

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Today’s SotW is “Get Off the Stage” from Chuck Prophet’s 2020 album, The Land That Time Forgot.

This may be the shortest SotW post I’ve ever written.  I’ll let the song, and this cartoon, do the talkin’.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – I’m Livin’ In Shame, Diana Ross & The Supremes

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Sometimes my favorite song by a particular artist isn’t one of their most popular hits.  That could be because the big hits get overplayed, so the deeper cuts are a pleasure to hear as a change.

Take, for instance, “I’m Livin’ In Shame” by Diana Ross & The Supremes.  “I’m Livin’ In Shame” made it into the Top 10, so it was hardly a failure.  But by the standard set by The Supremes, it was a modest hit.

The Supremes got off to a slow start at Motown.  None of their first six singles, released between 1961 and 1963, reached the Top 40.  That earned them the Motown studios nickname “The no-hit Supremes.”  But in 1963 “When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes” made it to #23 on the Billboard Hot 100.  1964’s “Where Did Our Love Go” began a hitting streak of five consecutive #1s – ending with “Back In My Arms Again.”  Another four release streak of #1s began with “You Can’t Hurry Love” and ended with “The Happening.”  Several other #1s and Top 10s were sprinkled all around.

“I’m Livin’ In Shame” was a sequel to “Love Child” (#1 in 1968).  Its story goes like this:

The Love Child is grown up and embarrassed by her mother’s poverty.

Mama was cookin’ bread
She wore a dirty raggedy scarf around her head
Always had her stockings low
Rolled to her feet just didn’t know

She wore a sloppy dress
Oh no matter how she tried she always looked a mess
Out of the pot she ate
Never used a fork or a dinner plate

She needs to hide her background from her wealthier friends so she lies to them about her upbringing.

I was always so afraid that
The uptown friends would see her
Afraid one day when I was grown
That I would be her

In college town away from home
A new identity I found
That I was born elite
With maids and servants at my feet

She goes so far as to make up a story that her mama died.

I must have been insane
I lied and said mama died on a weekend trip to Spain
She never got out of the house
Never even boarded a train

Then she has a baby and never tells her mom.

Married a guy, was living high
I didn’t want him to know her
She had a grandson two years old
That I never even showed her

When she learns her mom really died, she has regrets and shame.

Came the telegram
Mama passed away while making homemade jam
Before she died she cried to see me by her side

She always did her best
Ah cooked and cleaned and always in the same old dress
Working hard, down on her knees
Always trying to please

Won’t you forgive me mama
For all the wrong I’ve done
I know you’ve done your best
Oh I know you’ve done the very best you could
Mama I thought you understood
Working hard, down on your knees…

The music is cooks along just as you would expect from The Funk Brothers.  It’s also unusual (for Motown, at least) in that it doesn’t have a distinctive chorus.

By the time of the release of “I’m Livin’ In Shame” in 1969, the Supremes had become Diana Ross & The Supremes.  But even that is a distortion.  The background vocals were not sung by Supremes Mary Wilson and Cindy Birdsong.  They were provided by a group of session singers called The Andantes.

Shame.  That word resonates today.  After the horrible siege on the Capitol this week, we’re all living in a different kind of shame.  At least we ALL should be.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – This Year, The Mountain Goats

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Whew!  2020 is finally over.  We can all agree that 2021 has to be better.

My final send off to 2020 is today’s SotW by the Mountain Goats.

This song is perfect for today if for no other reason than the signature line in the chorus – “I am going to make it through this year if it kills me.”

The version above is the studio version from The Mountain Goats’ 2005 album, The Sunset Tree.  But the song translates even better live, including the performance of it that the band did with Stephen Colbert in July 2019.  Wow, how did Colbert have such prescience?

Happy New Year!

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – A Christmas Celebration, BB King

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Today’s post was written by repeat guest contributor, Michael Paquette.  This is Michael’s third SotW essay this year.  Merry Christmas!  TM

Before launching his career as a blues artist B.B. King worked as a disc jockey for a radio station in Memphis in the late 1940s under the name Riley B. King.  There he became known as the “The Beale Street Blues Boy” which was later shortened to Blues Boy and eventually to B.B.

He recorded more than a dozen hit songs in the 1950s and 1960s before he released “The Thrill Is Gone” in 1969 which became a global sensation and introduced him to a much wider audience.  It also earned him a spot as an opening act for The Rolling Stones.  In his time his career would last more than 50 years and he would become America’s most famous blues musician.  He traveled the world with his trusted guitar Lucille, thrilling audiences with his brilliant solos and his heartfelt vocal treatments.

In 2001 he released his 39th studio recording which was a Christmas album — A Christmas Celebration of Hope — and one of my favorites of this genre.  It peaked at 151 on the Billboard Top 200 and it hit number one on the Billboard Blues list.  The album earned him two Grammy Awards for the Best Traditional Blues Album and his take on “Auld Lang Syne” earned him the Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental Performance.

The “title cut” is my choice for SOTW.

It showcases King’s distinctive jazz-influenced blues style with a big band arrangement that features a rhythmic piano accompaniment punctuated by short bursts of rhythm and blues brass.  This song was originally recorded in 1960 and it harkens back to his earlier big band style.

The lyrics are appropriate for an intimate gathering on Christmas with the singer professing his love and holiday wishes to his sweetheart.  As many couples will likely enjoy a more secluded holiday gathering this year this song seems to fit the bill.

The last part of the song says:

We’ll enjoy ourselves together, Christmas dinner and everything

We’ll share every bit of pleasure, every Christmas brings

Here’s to you

May Christmas bring you happiness

I want you to have a good time

Like we did on all the rest.

I wanna be home with you baby when New Year’s rolls around

We’ll make our resolutions before the sun goes down

Here’s to you honey

May Christmas bring you happiness

I want you to have a good time 

Like we did on all the rest.

Merry Christmas to all from the King of the Blues.

Enjoy… until next week.