Stu On Songs

Long winded & unnecessary explanations of why I do or do not like songs

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16 Plays
Aaliyah
Age Ain't Nothing but a Number

Aaliyah’s “Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number” is about as classic ’90s R&B as it gets. The song was written and produced by her mentor, R. Kelly, who just happens to be one of my favorite artists of all time. The two were introduced by Barry Hankerson, an entertainment lawyer, Aaliyah’s uncle, R. Kelly’s manager, and husband to Gladys Knight in the ’70s. I’ve talked before about how, sometimes, listening to R. Kelly-produced Aaliyah tracks from this era can get a little uncomfortable knowing what we know about their relationship, but that can’t stop the music from being some of the best in class.

The album sounds extraordinarily mature for someone who was just 14-15 years old at the time of recording. Obviously, this has much to do with the entire album being written and produced by Mr. Bump n’ Grind himself. The title track, “Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number,” is absolutely one of the best songs the man ever wrote.

Slow jams hold a special place in everyone’s heart, including my own. Aaliyah’s vocals are silky smooth over Kelly’s early signature slow jam style. The thing that I always liked about Aaliyah’s vocal stylings is that she never tried to be something she wasn’t. The songs were not full of complex melismas and various vocal runs; she kept it simple and to the point. If you think about it, shouldn’t that always be the goal of a sexy song?

There is a reoccurring interpolation of Bobby Caldwell’s oft-sampled 1978 classic “What You Won’t Do For Love.” It’s very fitting for the song’s subject matter. Also, it’s such a good song on its own that I welcome pretty much any track that chooses to sample it.

Filed under Aaliyah Age Ain't Nothing but a Number R. Kelly R&B Slow Jams Slow Jam Quiet Storm Barry Hankerson Bump n' Grind Bobby Caldwell What You Won't Do For Love Interpolation Good Music

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Playlist Challenge

You can tell a lot about someone by the type of music they listen to. Hit shuffle on your iPod, phone, iTunes, media player etc.. and write down the first 20 songs. Then pass this on to some people. Only one rule : no skipping.

I was tagged by @blesseddare. Thank you!

1. The Postal Service - We Will Become Silhouettes (Featuring Jenny Lewis on background vocals!)
2. Ozma - Natalie Portman (The first Ozma song I ever heard. Still great.)
3. Stevie Nicks & Tom Petty - Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around
4. Norah Jones - I’ve Got to See You Again
5. Betty Wright - I’ll Love You Forever Heart and Soul (Tonight’s the night like Betty Wright and I’m chillin’)
6. Passion Pit - American Blood
7. Heavy D & the Boyz - Something Goin’ On
8. The Presidents of the United States of America - Basketball Dream
9. Jay-Z - Imaginary Player
10. Marva Whitney - What Do I Have to Do to Prove my Love to You
11. Ahmad Jamal - The World is a Ghetto
12. Aerosmith - Love in an Elevator (I regularly ask myself why I own Aerosmith’s Big Ones album. Today is one of those days)
13. Mac Davis - Watching Scotty Grow (Remember that episode of The Simpsons “Saturdays of Thunder" where Homer helps Bart build a soapbox derby racer? That’s how I know this one)
14. Danger Radio - Used and Abused (I once wrote a piece for a show during grad school that ripped off the chord progression from a Danger Radio song. It wasn’t this one)
15. The Raspberries - Let’s Pretend
16. Keith Jarrett - Nomads
17. Jodeci - Come & Talk to Me
18. Tyler Brunsman and Joe Moses - Guys Like Potter (Darren Criss, now of Glee fame, wrote all the music for this show. He’s very good and Glee doesn’t do him justice at all)
19. Zapp - Coming Home
20. Mandrill - House of Wood

All y’all should totally do this. I always have a fun time with this sort of thing.

Filed under Playlist Challenge The Postal Service Ozma Stevie Nicks Tom Petty Norah Jones Betty Wright Passion Pit Heavy D & the Boyz The Presidents of the United States of America Jay-Z Marva Whitney Ahmad Jamal Aerosmith Mac Davis Danger Radio The Raspberries Keith Jarrett Jodeci Tyler Brunsman Joe Moses Zapp Mandrill blesseddare

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379 Plays
Blink-182
Going Away to College

This week was the 15 year anniversary of the release of Blink-182’s album, Enema of the State. The album, along with Green Day’s Dookie, was probably the most influential rock record of its time and served as the basic starting point for countless high school punk bands that followed. I’m fairly certain that anyone who went to middle or high school during this era personally knew at least one local band that was pretty much trying to sound like Enema of the State-era Blink-182.

The band had been kicking around for about seven years prior to the release of the record releasing a couple albums which were also popular underground hits for the people who listened to this kind of music. However, Enema of the State was the point when the pop music-loving audience jumped on board and suddenly songs like “What’s My Age Again?" and "All the Small Things" were on a regular rotation on rock radio and MTV. They were suddenly just as popular as the likes of ‘N Sync and Britney Spears. The late ’90s and early ’00s where a crazy time.

"Going Away to College" is typical of the kind of sound the band had been known for their whole career up to this point. The intro, which returns several times, is the most interesting part of the tune. The guitar part plays the same riff in the upper register, changing just one note to switch between a B and Bsus2 chord, but then by adding an E in the bass, it suddenly sounds like it’s going between Emaj7 and E6, which is pretty cool for such a simple pop punk song. The rest of the song is standard pop punk with vocal harmonies in thirds, palm muted guitar, and a few instances of stop time.

It’s well done, if not a little predictable. But hey, no one’s listening to pop punk to be surprised unless they’re 14 years old. I still look back fondly on those days when I watch old concert footage or music videos of the band. It was just silly, fun, energetic music very much of its time that will surely leave a larger mark on popular music as a whole than their later “mature” releases.

Filed under Blink-182 Going Away to College Enema of the State Pop Punk Pop Rock Punk Mark Hoppus Tom DeLonge Travis Barker Green Day Dookie High School Punk Bands What's My Age Again? All the Small Things Good Music

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87 Plays
The Cure
Why Can't I Be You?

The Cure were known as being one of the most somber and serious bands of its time. While they did produce a number of goth rock classics, they also could put out something that went completely against that stereotype and was more danceable and fun than anything you could imagine coming from someone who looks like Robert Smith. “Why Can’t I Be You” from Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, their first top 40 hit album, is a perfect example of what they were capable of.

From the very first second you hear that guitar riff kick in at the beginning of the tune, you know it’s something special. The drums are simple and driving which makes it feel like a dance track. The synth lines emulate what would normally be played by trumpets and if they were, this might sound almost like a classic funk song. I can picture choreographed horn moves in a similar manner to the dance moves that you see in the video.

While the backing track itself screams visceral energy and fun, it wouldn’t be The Cure without Robert Smith’s iconic vocal track over the top of it. The way he chews certain words, the way the pitch rises and drops and morphs into a kind of growl at a moment’s notice, you just know that no one could possibly execute something like this except The Cure.

The video features Smith in a bear costume doing choreographed dance moves to the music. It’s easily one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever seen in a music video while still remaining true to something you would have come to expect from The Cure. Simply elegant.

Filed under The Cure Why Can't I Be You? Why Can't I Be You Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me Rock Goth Rock Pop Dance New Wave Jangle Pop Robert Smith Porl Thompson Lol Tolhurst Simon Gallup Boris Williams Synth Good Music

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35 Plays
Weezer
Waiting On You

Weezer got this reputation of being a band that relies heavily on synth leads and, growing up, I never really understood why. If you listen to their first two studio albums, there’s little to no synth. Those albums are, primarily, just straight-forward rock music. However, it’s in the b-sides that you actually hear the synth come out in force. I don’t know if they consciously decided to leave the songs with a ton of synth off the albums or not, but it’s a crazy coincidence if they didn’t. Either way, I think the people that think of Weezer as a synth-heavy band are actually confusing them with The Rentals, Matt Sharp’s side project.

The b-sides and rare tracks from that time almost always feature synth: “Susanne,” “You Gave Your Love to Me Softly,” “Devotion,” “I Just Threw out the Love of My Dreams,” “I Swear It’s True,” and “You Won’t Get With Me Tonight" all prominently feature synth. Then there’s the track I’ll speak about today, "Waiting on You" which is included on that list.

Although every single one of those tracks I just listed is great, “Waiting on You” is one of the best. It’s got everything there is to love about early Weezer: Crunchy guitars, tuneful melodies, passionate vocal delivery, and vocal harmonies. The only thing it’s really missing from the Weezer playbook is a guitar solo, this being one of the few to not feature an actual solo. It’s got a great 12/8 feel which is something you didn’t hear much from the ’90s rock scene.

Rivers Cuomo’s vocal delivery really steals the show on this one, though. The second verse is where this really shines. The first verse is fairly calm, but by the second verse Cuomo starts to passionately belt out lines like “I’ll bet he lives close by, I’ll bet he’s just a friend” and it cuts right through to the heart. I can’t get enough of the way his voice almost cracks as he shouts “Oh!” after the line “Mine is the loneliest of numbers.” Then there’s the coda where the vocal harmonies and distorted guitar noise come together while Cuomo sings lyrics over the synth melody that’s heard throughout the tune. It’s a very crafty way to tie the whole tune together.

It’s incredibly sad that Weezer could never really get back to this level of craftsmanship. Weezer (Green Album) was so bland and Weezer-by-the-numbers and by the time Make Believe came out, the well had been poisoned and no one really noticed when Weezer (Red Album) was pretty good. They have flashes of reaching this level every once in a while, but never with the same consistency.

Filed under Weezer Waiting on You Pinkerton The Good Life EP B-Side Rare Track Rivers Cuomo Matt Sharp Patrick Wilson Brian Bell Vocal Harmonies The Blue Album The Green Album The Red Album Make Believe Synth Good Music Pop Rock Power Pop Susanne You Gave Your Love to Me Softly Devotion I Just Threw out the Love of My Dreams I Swear It's True You Won't Get With Me Tonight The Rentals Waiting

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49 Plays
Mariah Carey
Emotions

Mariah Carey has always been a huge part of my musical development. She was around before I even started paying attention to music and by the time I was actively seeking it out, she was a mainstay in my collection. While her album tracks are pretty inconsistent, her singles always managed to not only reach a huge audience, but be musically interesting while doing so.

With the release of her second album she was afforded a bit more artistic freedom than on her self-titled effort. With that freedom, she chose to play down the straightforward modern pop of her debut and infuse her music with a bit more of the style that she grew up with and loved — ’60s and ’70s Soul/R&B. Due to this, Emotions remains a much stronger effort than Mariah Carey.

The title track from this album, “Emotions,” is one of Carey’s absolute greatest songs in her long and storied career. It was the first song of hers to really put her vocal talents on display. “Emotions” is a show piece for Carey to demonstrate exactly what she’s capable of. She had demonstrated the whistle register on tracks like “Vision of Love" in passing, but this was a track clearly crafted with the intention of putting her vocal range at the forefront and you had better believe it’s fantastic.

"Emotions" is an uptempo dance tune with heavy disco influences. The bassline even sounds a bit like "Got to Be Real" by Cheryl Lynn. It’s built around a catchy piano riff that really gives the gospel influences of the song the opportunity to shine through. The song was written by Carey, David Cole and Robert Clivillés of C+C Music Factory fame. Cole passed away in 1995 due to complications from AIDS and the song “One Sweet Day" (Record holder for most consecutive weeks at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts - 16 weeks) was written as tribute to him. 

I can’t forget to mention how Carey was my first celebrity crush. I spent last night watching clips from this 1993 Thanksgiving concert special and I found myself wondering “Do you think you’ll ever be more attracted to anyone than you are to ’90s Mariah Carey?” It’s been 20 years and I’m fairly certain the answer is still “No.”

Filed under Mariah Carey Emotions Pop R&B Disco David Cole Robert Cilvilles Vision of Love Soul Whistle Register Piano Bassline One Sweet Day Got to Be Real Cheryl Lynn Good Music