Float Down Stream: The Beatles are on Spotify!

Naturally, let’s celebrate with a Spotify playlist.

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The Beatles are notorious for playing hard-to-get with digital music platforms. The band didn’t appear on iTunes until 2010, and they’ve neglected streaming services since their existence — until now. Starting today, you can stream their entire catalog on Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon, etc. Let’s just say my playlists are going to get a lot more ‘Fab.’

If you’re a casual Beatles fan, or you only have meager “greatest hits” albums, then this opening-up to the streaming world gives you an opportunity to explore some Beatles tracks that you haven’t heard before. To celebrate, I’ve compiled a Spotify playlist of 30 of my favorite Beatles songs that are NOT considered hits. They won’t show up in the “popular tracks” section and they won’t be featured on compilations like the best-selling 1, but these 30 songs are treasures not to be overlooked.

So come on. Turn off your mind, relax, and float down stream. Click the link here or listen below.

 
Related post: My Insane Devotion to Vocal Harmonies as Used by the Beatles

The 10 Grittiest Songs by the Rolling Stones

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In honor of the Rolling Stones’ recent reissue of Sticky Fingers, perhaps their grittiest album ever, let’s celebrate the 10 “grittiest” Rolling Stones songs. These are the ones where Keith Richards’ riffs are dirty and Mick Jagger’s yowl hits you right in the stomach. These are not the ones with cheesy keyboards or smooth-jazz sax solos or wannabe-Beatles piano pop or Mick’s yellow pants. The Rolling Stones could excel when they put on the sheen and glitz (see “Miss You”), but nothing beats the Stones at their most gritty and grimy. Here are the 10 best examples. (Note: All the songs are collected in a Spotify playlist at the bottom!)

10. Brown Sugar | Sticky Fingers (1971)
The opening guitar riff is one of the best of all time, and Mick’s voice is all blues. Plus, this is one of the few songs where a sax solo actually adds to the grit rather than subtracts from it (it probably helps that it’s a tenor sax).

 
 
9. (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction | Out of Our Heads (1965)
Take yourself back to 1965. The “Sixties” as we know it hadn’t taken hold yet. The hair was still short and slicked back, and the culture at-large was still a little uneasy over the foothold that rock and roll was taking. Then out come the Rolling Stones, more sinister than the Beatles, with easily the grittiest song to ever reach #1 at that point in time — “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” This was when the Stones first introduced their brand of grit to the masses.

 
 
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10 Beck Songs to Listen to Instead of ‘Morning Phase’

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I love Beck. I say that about a lot of artists, but I really mean this one. While I was still in my “classic rock is the only acceptable form of popular music” phase, Beck was one of the few post-1980 musicians I actually liked. His breakout hit “Loser” is an all-time favorite. His celebrated follow-up album Odelay was not only great, but introduced Beastie Boys-style sampling to an even broader audience. I love almost everything he’s done, from the funk of 1999’s Midnite Vultures to the muted psychedelia of 2008’s Modern Guilt. He’s a weird, eccentric guy with an extremely diverse catalog, incorporating almost every genre under the sun.

But Morning Phase is not good. Sorry.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that it’s probably his worst album. It didn’t deserve the Grammy for Album of the Year. Let me be clear: it’s not bad. It’s actually quite pleasant, with a few tracks that are undeniably beautiful (“Morning” and “Waking Light” are highlights for me). But stacked up against Beck’s body of work, it’s just incredibly bland.

The inferiority of Morning Phase is especially apparent when you compare it to his 2002 masterpiece Sea Change, which is similarly melancholy, with its slow, swooning songs, sweeping strings, and sad melodies. But Sea Change is impeccably gorgeous. Many heralded Morning Phase as the sequel to Sea Change, which is very true, but instead of maintaining the same quality as its predecessor, it plays like a collection of Sea Change B-sides.
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Blast From The Past: Death Cab for Cutie – “Summer Skin”

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Photo courtesy of Rolling Stone

Your favorite band from middle school is coming out with a new, post-Zooey Deschanel album entitled Kintsugi. They played a few of the songs live already and they honestly sound fantastic. A wave of nostalgia caused me to revisit some long-lost Death Cab songs, and in the process, I remembered just how good “Summer Skin” is.

In 2005, Death Cab released Plans, which contained some of the band’s biggest and saddest hits (you’ll of course remember “Soul Meets Body” and “I Will Follow You Into the Dark”). But my favorite track off that album (and maybe in all of Death Cab’s catalog) is “Summer Skin.” The band’s famously melancholic lyrics may have resonated with me more in 2005, but they still pack a punch: “I don’t recall a single care / Just greenery and humid air / Then Labor Day came and went / And we shed what was left of our summer skin.”

But anyone who knows me, knows that while I appreciate good lyrics, it’s the music that hits me hard. “Summer Skin” has the most underrated, killer bass line I’ve ever heard. Seriously, listen to that bass moving up and down the scale. It’s inspired pages upon pages of bass covers on YouTube (I mean, check out this dude’s fingers — they’re going all over the place). Bassist Nick Harmer is channeling some real Paul McCartney-level melodic bass here. Take a listen:

My Insane Devotion to Vocal Harmonies as Used by the Beatles


(Photo Credit: The Telegraph)

I have an irrational love for vocal harmonies. An absurd love, really. When two or three human voices mesh to create chords, that is the epitome of beauty and purity to me — I’m serious. I maintain that this is the greatest moment in music, even though I’ve been laughed at for saying so.

The Beach Boys were probably the best in the business when it comes to harmonies, but in many cases, the Beatles were just as amazing. Well, not Ringo really. Sorry Ringo. A huge factor in their signature sound was John Lennon and Paul McCartney singing together in harmony, with George Harrison occasionally getting in on the action to add a third part. Those three could blend their voices in spectacular fashion, but they also had the songwriting chops to put that ability on full display.

I decided to come up with the 10 songs that best capture the Beatles’ harmonizing. To be clear, these rankings are based specifically on the role that the vocal harmonies play in the songs. The criteria include, but are not limited to: the ease at which John, Paul, and (usually) George’s voices blend; the nuance and complexity of the vocal lines, as well as the group’s ability to execute them; the difference that the harmonies make in augmenting and improving the song; and the overall goosebump-causing, “this-is-incredible” factor. Sounds like an intense rating system, but let’s be honest, I mostly just focused on the goosebump-causing one.

(Related: “50 Years of ‘Strawberry Fields Forever,’ the Greatest Pop Song Ever”)

Quick Honorable Mentions go out to “Paperback Writer”, for its opening 6 seconds of harmonic joy, and “Baby’s in Black”, for its solid John/Paul two-part harmony. And now, on to the top 10!

10. In My Life | Rubber Soul (1965)
This selection may not be as readily obvious as some of the other choices on this list, since this Lennon masterpiece isn’t really known for its harmonies, but listen for those subtle vocal touches. They make an incredible song even better.

 
9. Ask Me Why | Please Please Me (1963)
“I love you-woo-woo-woo-woo.” This Please Please Me deep cut is proof that even in the beginning, the boys were perfectly in sync.

 
8. Sun King | Abbey Road (1969)
The Beatles were throwing around random Spanish words long before Troy and Abed (with some Italian and Portuguese for good measure). John said, “We just started joking, you know, singing ‘cuando para mucho.’ Paul knew a few Spanish words from school, you know. So we just strung any Spanish words that sounded vaguely like something.” And their harmonies while doing it are incredible, as per usual.

 
7. Nowhere Man | Rubber Soul (1965)
The a capella opening to “Nowhere Man” is so striking! I love it.

 

6. If I Needed Someone | Rubber Soul (1965)
I have stated that “It’s All Too Much” is the Beatles’ most underrated song. Well, “If I Needed Someone,” another George composition, comes in a close second as far as under-appreciated songs are concerned. The whole thing is great, but it attains an even higher level when they get their second wind after the bridge at 1:22. They get in a zone and really lock into Ringo’s steady drumming.

 
5. And Your Bird Can Sing | Revolver (1966)
This is my sister’s favorite Beatles song, and I have no arguments here. You can hear the joy emanating from every line.

 
And, as a bonus, here’s a take of John and Paul messing around while trying to record the song.

 
4. This Boy | Past Masters, Volume 1 (1963)
When “This Boy” was released, that was the moment when the Beatles entered the harmony big leagues. This was the first manifestation that John, Paul, and George could really pull it off. And by the way, John doesn’t do too badly singing the chorus by himself.

 
3. If I Fell | A Hard Day’s Night (1964)
Two heads are better than one. Three-part harmonies are better two. That’s just how it is — usually. However, “If I Fell” — with just two parts — is amazing enough to hang up here with the three-parters and land in the top 3! This is Lennon and McCartney doing what absolutely they do best.

 
2. Yes It Is | Past Masters, Volume 1 (1965)
“Yes It Is” was so close to being #1. The intricacy and nuance of the three vocal parts, with all its gorgeous dissonance, is incredibly compelling. This is one of those instances where the harmonies augment and improve a song immensely, as per my previously mentioned criteria. John actaully insisted that “Yes It Is” was crap, saying that he tried to rewrite “This Boy” only to have it turn out badly, but he was just plain wrong. Not only does “Yes It Is” show, on a purely technical level, the complex chords swirling around John’s head, but it is also succeeds at being heartbreaking and amazingly beautiful.

 
1. Because | Abbey Road (1969)
That goosebump-causing, “this-is-incredible” factor I was talking about? Check. Times a million. Really, how could anything beat “Because?” John, Paul, and George all recorded each of the three vocal parts and put them all together, effectively creating nine voices, but you wouldn’t believe it based on how well they execute it. The way their voices blend together is stunning, capitalizing on their years of growing familiarity with each other. As a prominent cut on the Beatles’ calling card Abbey Road, it showed John, Paul, and George putting aside their differences (albeit briefly) and coming together one last time to blow our minds.

 
If you think that was good (or, on the contrary, if you’re not a big fan of that harpsichord), then listen to the version below. It’s just the vocals. I dare you to not be blown away. It’s even better than the original version.

 
I’m a sucker for harmonies and I’m a sucker for the Beatles. So when you combine the two… game over.

 
Related post: Float Down Stream: The Beatles are Now on Spotify!

Blast From The Past: Björk – “Jóga”

One casualty of being obsessed with music is the jadedness that results. When there is so much solid music coming at me all day, from all different genres, it’s difficult to truly love a new song. Enjoyment is inevitable, but making an emotional connection with a song is somewhat elusive for me. Then I heard “Jóga” by Björk and I was blown away. Björk is an artist that, for some reason or another, I’ve mostly avoided. It hasn’t been for any particular reason–I just had no interest. But my introduction to Björk hit like a rock, thanks to NPR’s All Songs Considered and their Valentine’s Day Dedications show.

The story behind the dedication involved a female listener who was given a mixtape by her then-boyfriend 12 years ago. “Jóga” was the first track and it made a lasting impression on the listener. She said she “was so emotionally and physically awakened and embarrassed. It was like someone for the first time had seen my soul.”

“Jóga” is a mix between a passionate string arrangement and electronic bass grooves, with Björk’s powerful and compelling voice adding to the emotional tension. The gradual introduction of the bass and subtle beats causes a build-up until the end, when Björk’s ethereal voice fades out with a repeated phrase that seems to fade into a night sky.

Part of the reason that most songs don’t resonate with me as much I’d like them to is due to unreached expectations. If I hear there’s a new song out from a favorite band of mine, I expect perfection, causing imminent, slight disappointment in said great, but imperfect new song. “Jóga” came out of nowhere and took me to a new place. Now, of course, I’ve built it up so much that I’m now ensuring disappointment in you, the reader. But just take a listen. And I insist that you plug in headphones or use good speakers, because its effect won’t be the same on crappy laptop speakers.

Björk – “Jóga”