I love this stuff. I love learning the background, the genesis for a work, be it a book or painting, tv episode or – obviously – a song. Websites like SongFacts are huge rabbit holes that I can and do fall into and lose ridiculous amounts of time. And this collection of 45 tales, originally articles in the Wall Street Journal, derived from the author’s interviews with those who participated in the songs’ creation and recording, are (more or less) fascinating.
There’s a fairly common bit of trivia about the Beatles’ “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”, about how although everyone pretty much assumes it’s about an acid trip (the capitals of the song title are LSD!), John Lennon always denied it, said it was based on a crayon drawing from one of his kids. Similarly, Steppenwolf’s “Magic Carpet Ride” is not, as – oh, come on, as everyone who’s ever heard it – thinks, about any mind–altering substances. It makes so much sense when you hear the story. (“Lucy” is not one of the 45 songs in this book, by the way – consider this a bonus.)
I do love this stuff. I love inside information, inspiration, in–jokes – I will never hear “Groovin'” the same again, now that I know about the Misheard–Lyric Joke the band used to make, which ranks up there with “There’s a bathroom on the right” and “Hold me closer, Tony Danza”.
I still find the selection of songs a little surprising. Despite never having heard of several, I have no argument with the songs and artists included (except for “Suspicious Minds” – I despise that song) – but I do wonder about so many artists who are not represented. Billy Joel, Simon and/or Garfunkel, Rush, Melissa Etheridge, Elton John, Styx, Bruce Springsteen. Bob Dylan. Michael Jackson – any of the Jacksons. Prince. David Bowie. Hell – the Beatles. I mean. There were two songs from the Rolling Stones, though. That doesn’t work for me. But it’s not my collection. I just wonder why. In a perfect world would these 45 songs be the 45 songs he would have chosen out of all the songs ever? Or did the songs choices depend on the interviews – whether people involved in the production were still alive, were willing, were otherwise available?
Why “Mercedes Benz” and not “Me and Bobby McGee?” I mean, it’s a great story, but how do I know “Bobby McGee” doesn’t have just as cool a background?
In audio format it took a bit of adjusting for me. Jonathan Yen did an excellent job of narrating, but still – knowing that the essays were based on taped interviews, it seemed off not to have the artists’ own voices telling the stories. To sit with them, talk with them and extract the answers, edit everything down and write an article, and then give it to someone else to read – verbatim, with all of each person’s idiosyncrasies – into a microphone – it just feels a little crazy. I mean, it does make sense, in that having to get the rights and permissions would have taken time and money from the book’s budget, and the edited-down versions of the interviews were, I’m sure, pretty choppy. It just took a little time to adapt to the same voice reading Grace Slick and Loretta Lynn and Stevie Wonder and Michael Stipe. I absolutely commend the narrator and the producers for the decision not to try for impersonation of any sort – no accents, none of those characteristic speech tics, only a slightly lighter voice used for women’s contributions. None of my problems with the book were due to the narrator – he was very good.
I think – apart from that – my only real complaint about this book is that it ended quite abruptly. The last song, “Losing My Religion”, is featured, and then … that’s it, no wrap up. Some kind of coda would have been nice. Other than that, it was a well–put–together compendium of articles.
But seriously, why two Stones songs?
1. Lloyd Price – Lawdy Miss Clawdy
2. Little Willie Littlefield – K.C. Loving
3. The Isley Brothers – Shout
4. The Marvelettes – Please Mr. Postman
5. Dion – Runaround Sue
6. The Dixie Cups – Chapel of Love
7. The Kinks – You Really Got Me
8. The Righteous Brothers – You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling
9. The Temptations – My Girl
10. The Four Tops – Reach Out I’ll Be There
11. The Lovin’ Spoonful – Darling Be Home Soon
12. The Doors – Light My Fire – (7 min)
13. The Young Rascals – Groovin’
14. Grace Slick (Jefferson Airplane) – White Rabbit
15. The Stone Poneys – Different Drum
16. Otis Redding – (Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay
17. Loretta Lynn – Fist City
18. The Rolling Stones – Street Fighting Man
19. Tammy Wynette – Stand by Your Man
20. Steppenwolf – Magic Carpet Ride
21. Creedence Clearwater Revival – Proud Mary
22. The Edwin Hawkins Singers – Oh Happy Day
23. Elvis Presley – Suspicious Minds
24. Led Zeppelin – Whole Lotta Love
25. Janis Joplin – Mercedes Benz
26. The Rolling Stones – Moonlight Mile
27. Rod Stewart – Maggie May
28. Joni Mitchell – Carey
29. The Staple Singers – Respect Yourself
30. Jimmy Cliff – The Harder They Come
31. Gladys Knight and the Pips – Midnight Train to Georgia
32. The Allman Brothers – Ramblin’ Man
33. The Hues Corporation – Rock the Boat
34. Aerosmith – Walk This Way
35. Stevie Wonder – Love’s in Need of Love Today
36. Steely Dan – Deacon Blues
37. Elvis Costello – (The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes
38. Blondie – Heart of Glass
39. Pink Floyd – Another Brick in the Wall
40. The Clash – London Calling
41. The Neville Brothers – Brother John/Iko Iko
42. Merle Haggard – Big City
43. Cyndi Lauper – Time After Time
44. Bonnie Raitt – Nick of Time
45. R.E.M. – Losing My Religion