As with so many of these categories, this one can be interpreted in several ways. Should I pick a song that appears in a movie but wasn’t originally written for the film? Some of my favorite filmmakers have worked wonders with the “drop the needle” approach of using popular songs as score. Wes Anderson, Paul Thomas Anderson, Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese all come to mind among countless others.
Every so often I’ll hear an old song on the radio and fall for it in a way I never managed to the first time around. This usually happens with songs released in the late 70s through early 80s, a time when I was between 6-11 years old and not exactly in control of my own musical landscape.
Olivia Newton-John’s ‘Magic,’ from the 1980 movie Xanadu, is the most recent example. I heard it on an easy listening or oldies station (remember when “oldies” meant 50s and 60s?) and immediately succumbed to the glossy perfection of peak Newton-John.
The Cars are another band who passed me by in the 70s and 80s (to be fair, I was between 6-10 years old at the time). I’ve since picked up a couple of their albums, spurred on by $3.99 sales at Amazon.
One is their self-titled 1978 debut, which features such hits as ‘Good Times Roll,’ ‘My Best Friend’s Girl,’ ‘Just What I Needed’ and ‘You’re All I’ve Got Tonight.’ That’s one hell of a start.
Bruce Springsteen’s 2007 album Magic is one of the most resonant artistic commentaries on the G.W. Bush years. It’s loaded with songs about economic and cultural disillusionment and tracks critical of the war in Iraq.
Springsteen’s gift in protest songs like today’s random SOTD is to make these political issues personal. ‘Devil’s Arcade’ is told, at least in part, from the perspective of the wife or girlfriend of an Iraq war veteran. She focuses on their intimate moments, not the violence of the war, but the effect is just as shattering.
Paramore’s hit ‘Ain’t It Fun’ could have been ripped from a No Doubt or Save Ferris album. Nico & Vinz’s ‘Am I Wrong?’ has a similar, though more laid-back, vibe.
Today’s SOTD, Billboard’s #15 for the week I sampled, is another example.
In the late 2000’s, Bruce Springsteen went on a tear, releasing four studio albums in five years. I’m skipping over one of those — We Shall Overcome: The Pete Seeger Sessions — in order to wrap things up this week.
That record is Springsteen’s only album of non-original material. It features covers of a dozen folk and protest songs made popular by Pete Seeger. It’s a great listen and features some terrific musical interplay with a group of musicians Springsteen assembled for the cause, but I’m sticking to Springsteen’s own songs during this three-week series.