Why “Echoes” Is Pink Floyd’s Best Song

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YouTube is the greatest web site of all time. Don’t believe me? Think of something that interests you, anything at all.  Like birds? Trees? Shark attacks? Plane crashes? UFO sightings? Enjoy watching baseball brawls or that one time your favorite band was on Letterman? Nine out of ten times you will find it on YouTube along with a ton of other related and un-related content. You just won’t find any Neil Young albums on there but that’s a whole different blog post for another time.

Why do I bring up the necessary evil of the James Bond villain-esque evil conglomerate of Google’s YouTube? Because just this morning I was lurking around listening to music on there (note: YT is one of the best sites for actually listening to music. Their slogan should be “It’s not just for videos anymore!”) when I came upon some David Gilmour clips and found myself checking out a live version of the Pink Floyd song “Echoes” with the late, great Richard Wright. It got me thinking–yet again–about one of my all time favorite bands, because here I am 30+ years later after hearing Pink Floyd for the first time and I am still enamored with them just as I was the first time my brother put on “Dark Side of The Moon” and my adolescent brain couldn’t comprehend it.

Pink Floyd is/are/were one of the biggest “classic rock” bands of all time. I say classic rock in “quotes” because I, personally, don’t view The Floyd as classic rock. I know they are thrown in with the rest of their contemporaries but can you honestly tell me Floyd is rooted in the same sounds as The Who or The Stones or The God-Forsaken Eagles? I see them as having more in common with The Velvet Underground and Bowie than Led Zeppelin or Hendrix. The early Floyd didn’t write songs with your typical pop structures, melodies, or hooks. They were a “sound scape” band that were often misinterpreted as a “drug band” or “acid rock.” They would sound more at home on a sci-fi movie soundtrack than on Top of the Pops.

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Saying Hello to Goodbye

Special to Bums Logic:  Guest columnist Mike Short on the beauty and impact of Steve Earle’s song “Goodbye,” recorded by Emmylou Harris.

Alternative country music is extraordinarily difficult to define. Musical labels can be meaningless and irrelevant at the best of times: after all is said and done, it is about the song. If they are used to pigeon-hole artists, then these generic labels go beyond that – listeners are effectively putting their favourite artists in musical straight-jackets, and setting themselves up for disappointment. But as long as no insurmountable barriers, masquerading as objective arbiters of truth, are erected, then the use of the term ‘alt-country’ as a loose guide, backed up by pertinent example and suggestion, can open up an enriched study of some of the highlights of modern American music.

As an example, let’s think about one particular recording of a specific song – one which, as I grew increasingly obsessed by alternative country, became my favourite song. The subjectivity of this choice of song is highlighted by the year of its release. Emmylou Harris released her album Wrecking Ball in 1995, by which time some of the other landmark alt-country bands had taken shape, made their seminal albums, and in the case of Uncle Tupelo, disbanded. How, then, can one song from this album, “Goodbye,” be considered an inspiration for a musical movement? Surely temporal realities put paid to any claims of significance the song may have? Well, to an extent this argument is magnetic and unanswerable. But the truth is somewhat deeper. Countless albums throughout the history of popular music could have founded a genre. As it turned out (and hindsight is a wonderful thing), some did and some didn’t. What brings a small number of isolated musical coincidences together and helps bring about some sort of loose coalition is a mysterious process. It may be down to overlapping personnel or social change. But in the case of alt-country, the song “Goodbye” at least represented, and even encouraged, the growth and coalescence of alternative country as some kind of organic phenomenon.

Steve Earle’s presence on this recording is no accident, and it is certainly not another celebrity guest spot, adding little but an interesting name on the sleeve: he wrote “Goodbye” himself. He is there to pass on the soul of the song, the essence of its story, from one of America’s great songwriters to the country’s foremost interpreter and shaper.

The song starts with a gentle, unobtrusive acoustic guitar figure, played by Earle himself. There are then some tentative spoken words in the background, and then Earle’s Southern drawl emerges, sounding far more laid back than when he is assaulting us with his usual barrage of acerbic verbiage: “two…one, two, three, four.” On cue, the acoustic introduction is overlaid by a firm but delicate hit of producer Daniel Lanois’ sound, as a rolling, muted, electric band enters the fray. And with that, Earle hands over his tragic ballad to Emmylou Harris and Lanois, to do with it as they see fit. Earle has been quoted as saying that to have Harris perform one of your songs is the highest compliment a songwriter can be paid, and his humility comes through in those couple of seconds: here’s my song. It starts like this. Okay, now it’s yours. The end result is a combination of Earle’s song-writing abilities, and Harris’ genius for interpretation. And what a combination it is. Continue reading →

Songs I Wish I Wrote: “If I Had A Heart”

Every now and again a new artist I have never heard before comes across my musical radar. More often than not, it’s either a friend or co-worker who turns me on to something. “You need to check out [insert name here] because I really think you will like them.” Other times it might be that I have read something about them or heard one of their songs on the TV/radio/movie. I discovered Jeff Buckley via The West Wing, got turned on to The Stones “Thru and Thru” via The Sopranos, and just recently during the Season 4 episode “Open House” on Breaking Bad I discovered the artist Fever Ray and her song “If I Had A Heart”.  Just like Buckley on WW or The Stones on The Sopranos, the song was used perfectly to project a certain mood of the scene.  It had me at hello.

Fever Ray is the solo project of Karen Dreijer Andersson (from Swedish duo The Knife). Before this episode aired, I had never heard one note of The Knife or Fever Ray, though I had seen the names in various places over the past year or two. It’s hard for me to separate the song from the scene at this point. If you watch Breaking Bad then you already know what the show is all about. If you don’t watch it, let’s just say the song sounds like what one of the characters was going through during this particular moment of the show: intense dread.

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Songs I Wish I Wrote: “Red Right Hand”

Ever hear a song that just grabs you the first time it hits your ears? The instant connection you feel while thinking you understand exactly what the songwriter/artist/band wants you to hear? While I can easily say I love hundreds, if not thousands, of songs, there are still a few out there that I hear and just think, man, I wish I wrote that song!

In the first of a new series entitled, “Songs I Wish I Wrote,” I am going to start with Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds 1994’s classic “Red Right Hand” off the Let Love In album. There is a good chance you have heard portions of this song used in movies such as Scream and Hellboy, or the television show The X-Files. With its minimalistic structure and just-creepy-enough musical interlude it’s as close to a perfect piece of you music you can get for a film or show with spooky undertones.

I came late to the Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds (birthday) party. I recall seeing him perform in the mid-90’s at one of the Lallapalooza festivals and using his set as a beer and bathroom break. My younger self was not ready to intake his bands atmospheric grooves and heavy-handed lyrics. I just didn’t “get it” at the time. If only we could go back in time…

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