June 2011

The Beatles – “Something” – (1969)

I figured I needed a Beatles song on here and was going to go with one of many, but then realized that the song had to be from Abbey Road. I was on my own when I went to try and find the real Abbey Road crosswalk and studios. I exited St. John’s Wood Tube station and instead of just kind of going straight (the correct way – I didn’t have a map or GPS) I bore to the left and ended up wondering around a very nice part of town. I saw what was probably the automotive highlight of my trip just as I was finding the famous crosswalk (a Ferrari 250GT Lusso). Also, much thanks to the lady in the nearby park who tried to point me in the right direction. The walls outside the studio are covered in handwritten fan messages – a testament to the lasting power of The Beatles. Earlier that day I was sitting in Regent’s Park on a Sunday (which was actually the 4th of July) watching people go about their lives while I listened to The Beatles. It was surreal. “Something” was one of the songs written by George Harrison (it has that distinct George Harrison-feel to it). It’s a beautiful song and one of the best that The Beatles ever did.

Plan B – “She Said” – (2010)

Seemingly every Tube station in London had giant posters for The Defamation of Strickland Banks – the second album from London-based rapper Plan B – the entire time I was in London. The song sounds like it’s being sung by two different people but it’s not and when I first saw the music video I was like “Whoa, that is not what I was expecting him to look like. I remember catching the video a few times on TV, at least once in the U.K. and again in Italy. The song is just plain good. Also, recently I watched the movie Harry Brown with Michael Caine and Plan B (or Ben Drew) played the tough punk kid. He was very convincing in that role.

Lily Allen – “LDN” – (2006)

“Sun is in the sky oh why, oh why would I wanna be anywhere else?” That’s the question Lily poses throughout the song and she’s right. London is amazing and I wish I was still there. I was really hoping to just be walking down the street in London and have Lily Allen walk by… because she’s awesome (and gorgeous). “LDN” might not be her best song but it’s still pretty good and it’s all about the town – but not in a good way. It paints this pretty picture with a chipper beat but every happy lyrics takes a turn and people that at first appear to be just hanging out are actually drug dealers. Which is something I experienced. Maybe I’m just glorifying the city in my mind because I enjoyed myself so thoroughly, but then I remember walking to my hotel in Canning Town and there are people just chilling on the street corners and then we heard a siren in the distance and everyone that was just standing around all went running down an alley so the cop driving by wouldn’t see them. Nice. I’d still go back in an instant.

Professor Green feat. Ed Drewett – “I Need You Tonight” – (2010)

Generally speaking, I really don’t like rappers taking pop songs from the past and just rapping over them. It’s not original. Write your own music. That said, I love this song. That has a lot to do with INXS being able to write incredibly catchy hooks and some to do with the really cool accented rapping from Professor Green. I found this song on the U.K. singles chart before I left for Europe and I found myself listening to it on the train to London. It’s quite British – I don’t think the song has ever been played on American radio but it was a top 5 in the U.K.



Paul Simon – “Graceland” – (1986)

Another song here that doesn’t really make sense. But this was the song I was listening to when one of the most surreal experiences of my life occurred. I was riding a TGV at full speed – 186 mph – through France as the sun was setting. The sky was orange and pink and blue and then we just went blasting through an expansive field of sunflowers – as far as the eye could see for what seemed like forever but must’ve really been about 30 seconds. Paul Simon singing about going to Graceland to this awesome beat and me with my head sideways on the headrest staring out the window as the sunflowers wilted in the breeze of the train. It was incredible.

James Horner – “Southampton” – (1997)

This is a weird one. It’s one of the best pieces of instrumental music… yeah. I was going to qualify that more but I won’t. It’s the best piece of music from Titanic – it’s very epic sounding. So what does it have to do with me going to Europe? No, I didn’t travel by “unsinkable” steamship. Towards the end of my time in France, I would come home in the late afternoon and this song (as well as the rest of the soundtrack) would be blaring at full volume in the house. Every window open and James Horner just screaming from the speakers. I found it hilariously odd but it did make sitting in my room fairly epic. It was tempting not to just stand in an open window with the curtains whipping in the wind behind me and this song playing. I swear I remember hearing a movie-mix version of this song back on the radio in 1997/98 but I can’t find it anywhere. I guess I was mixing this and “My Heart Will Go On” in my mind. I don’t like it when people mock Titanic, like it’s the worst movie ever made. It’s actually quite amazing. Sure, James Cameron is pretty annoying but you gotta hand it to the guy – he knows how to do special effects right (and make money).

Beltuner – “Improbable” – (2008)

I can’t find this song online anywhere to let you listen, so the video below is actually for group’s song “No Comment,” which comes from the same album, Beltuner Album#1 – which I can’t find on Amazon either. Both songs are modern takes on classical French music. All the stuff you’d expect to hear in Paris, but don’t.

Juliette Gréco – “Sur Les Quais du Vieux Paris

Juliette Gréco’s career has spanned more than 50 years and is one of the finest examples of Chanson music. This song was featured in the excellent film An Education, which I watched shortly after returning from Europe. That movie, like many, makes Paris look so wonderful – a viewpoint I did not share after my time there… although I’m sure the cool, rainy weather didn’t help. I don’t have a year for this song, all I know is that it came out on the album The Best of Juliette Gréco in 2000 – but I know it was recorded long before that. I guess the French don’t keep very good records of the recording industry – or at least they don’t post them online.

Kraftwerk – “Tour de France Étape 2” – (2003)

German electronic music legends Kraftwerk released the Tour de France Soundtracks in 2003, their first original album since 1986. The entire Soundtracks album is amazing but “Tour de France Étape 2” really is the best track from the record. If you can’t picture people racing bicycles while listening to this song, there might be something wrong with you. There is something about it that just screams “European.” I can picture it playing on European TV… like during the Tour de France. Also, this song (and Kraftwerk’s music in general… we’ll get to another one in a few weeks) is essential European train-riding music. There’s just something amazing about blasting through the French countryside at dusk at 186mph with this song playing.

Thomas Dutronc – “J’Suis Pas d’Ici” – (2007)

Again, here I have no idea what he’s saying nor what the song title translates to (okay, I’ll look it up)… and I’m back. It roughly means “I’m not here to.” And that doesn’t really clear up what the song is about to me. It has a great beat. It’s what I call a “walking beat” – meaning that you if you were walking down the street this would be a good song to have blasting because it would keep pace with your steps (another example of “walking beats”: Clapton’s “Lay Down Sally”). I randomly came across this song a year or two ago and it’s one of my favorite foreign-language songs and I’m pretty sure I listened to it in France.

Joe Dassin – “Les Champs-Elysées” – (1969)

Joe Dassin was born in Brooklyn, New York and moved to France at some point in his life. And he wrote a bunch of songs about it – this one probably being the most famous. The song is about the famous Avenue des Champs-Élysées that runs through Paris and the Arc de Triopmhe which was built by Napoleon. It’s also the street where the big celebrations occurred when Paris was liberated during World War II. The song is quite catchy considering I have no idea what he’s saying and it’s one of – if not the – song that reminds me of Paris.

Muse – “Uprising” – (2009)

So I figured since Muse was the other “big band” in France last summer that I’d include it in the France portion instead of leaving it for England (which filled up quickly). “Uprising” is one of those badass rock songs that transcends radio pigeonholing. Yeah, it was a smash on rock radio but it made its way over to the pop stations too. The fact that it appeared in promos for every TV show known to man as well as a few movies… or so it seemed… certainly didn’t hurt. This song really was everywhere. It rivals “Supermassive Black Hole” as my favorite Muse song.

Phoenix – “1901” – (2009)

My first day in Nantes I had lunch with some locals and I inquired about what bands were currently popular in France and was quickly told in wonderfully accented English that Phoenix and Muse ruled the stage. Phoenix is actually a French band from Versailles, while Muse is British. “1901” has appeared in several television commercials and is listed among the best songs of 2009. It is the bands biggest international single to date.

Yann Tiersen – “L’Autre Valse d’Amelie” – (2001)

So we’re taking a break from the 80’s for a while. Over the next 6-8 weeks we’ll be covering (and possibly introducing) songs that correspond with my travels that took place one short year ago. I took a grand European tour last summer that started June 9th. This thing starts a few days later but we’ll cover the same ground. So, for every country I went to we’ll be covering songs that either I listened to/discovered while I was there or songs that exemplify the region – which is what this song does. Amelie is one of my favorite films and this is one of the more popular original pieces composed by French musician Yann Tiersen for the film. I spent the first weekend and the following week in Le Mans then Nantes, France. Paris came the following week and this is the type of music I expected to hear on every street corner. Needless to say it didn’t happen. I found that Paris is much more magical in the movies.

Sade – “Smooth Operator” – (1984)

Sade – pronounced SHAH-DAY (don’t make the mistake of saying pronouncing it SAYD in front of one of the group’s fans) was both the name of the group and of the leader singer, Sade Adu. Diamond Life was the group’s debut album and it contained “Smooth Operator” which is one of the smoothest and coolest songs I can think of. This is a gateway song – fall in love with it and pretty soon you’ll be listening to the entire Sade catalog. This is their best known hit and they’ve got a fair number of pretty solid, awesome smooth jazz songs, but this remains my favorite.

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – “If You Leave” – (1986)

A little more new wave/synth pop – this time from Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – probably more well known in abbreviated form as OMD. The song was from the movie Pretty in Pink – another 80s classic. Have you noticed that today’s movies don’t feature original music as they used to? It kinda sucks. How did this song not end up on our top 100 countdown? Somebody’s getting fired!

Duran Duran – “Rio” – (1982)

“Her name is Rio…” Duran Duran had one of their biggest hits with the title track to their 1982 album Rio. The song features a catchy synth hook and lots and lots of sax. So yeah, it’s pretty 80s. So is the video with the band in colorful suits hanging out on a yacht in the Caribbean – which makes sense because the song has a very tropical feel – the title referring to many of the Rios of Brazil and the song mentions the Rio Grande.

The Go-Go’s – “Our Lips Are Sealed” – (1981)

Although it never ventured higher on the charts than #20, this song stayed on the charts for over a year and became one of The Go-Go’s biggest hits as well as scoring a spot on Rolling Stones‘ list of the 100 Greatest Pop Songs. One thing I really like about this song is that it’s not really all that clear what they are actually saying – but I’m sure I’m not missing out on some profound truth. Quick: name the members of The Go-Go’s. Belinda Carlisle. That’s all I know. Good enough.

Men At Work – “Who Can It Be Now?” – (1982)

This song hit #1 before Men At Work’s most famous single, “Down Under” and most people don’t remember it nearly as well – which I think is fair as “Down Under” was pretty big. This doesn’t ooze “Australia” like “Down Under” does but it does have that kickin’ saxophone which was seemingly de rigueur throughout the 1980s.