Tag Archive: Paul Simon


#80: “Imagine” by John Lennon

Imagine

“Things were different then.  All is different now.  I tried to explain.  Somehow.”, EV, Hard to Imagine (1993)ish

Edward Louis Severson III recently covered the song “Imagine” at a solo show and in doing so he called it “the most powerful song ever written.”  He’s 100% right.  Beautiful, yet controversial, the song “Imagine” is John Lennon’s masterwork.  One of the rare pop songs that truly makes a person think, “Imagine” offers a glimpse of what the world could be if the human race could ever remove the barriers the separate us (specifically: religion, politics, and material possessions).  Sure, it’s a utopian ideal, but it never fails to make me wonder if I could live without those things, let alone whether the rest of the human race could live without them.  And that is the ultimate power of the song for me…it’s more than just a vision, more than just a dream…it’s a challenge to be a better person.  To be a little nicer.  To be a bit more open to others.  To respect diverse cultures and people.  To be less judgmental.  A powerful song indeed, and it’s all wrapped up in a perfect little 3 minute pop tune with a beautiful melody and a simple piano accompaniment.

The rest of the album is pretty great too.  The yin to Plastic Ono Band‘s yang, Imagine offers the same honest, and at times scathing, look at the world, but sugar coats it in the pop music sensibilities John mastered when he was a part of that other band with which he was once associated.  The result is much less stark than Plastic Ono Band, even if the message is largely the same.  All in all, it’s an attack on the establishment, with John eviscerating business men on “Crippled Inside”, the military on “I Don’t Wanna Be a Soldier Mama”, politicians on “Gimme Some Truth”, and Paul McCartney on “How Do You Sleep?”.  Yet, despite the anger, he still finds time for some honest self-reflection on “Jealous Guy”, “It’s So Hard”, and “How?”, and at the end he is even able to show just a glimpse of happiness in “Oh Yoko!” (and yes, despite her, ahem, eccentricities, Yoko made John happy [most of the time]…and she also inspired him to take his artistry to a whole new level in his solo career).  Top to bottom, the album is a masterpiece, and second in my mind only to Plastic Ono Band in the John Lennon catalogue.  Actually, these two albums were the highwater mark in John’s solo output, as sadly his next several albums were largely forgettable, but that is a story for another time and page…

As much as I like this record, I only picked it up a couple of years ago.  I was heading home from a road trip to the great northern coast and I found it for $7.99 (minus my 10% discount for being a beacon of truth to the underprivileged youth of America) at the Half Price Books in Mentor.  Actually, that Half Price Books always seems to have a great selection of John Lennon albums (I’ve picked up Shaved Fish and Live in New York City there, among other titles).  Why?  Because Northeast Ohio people get it.  Well, most of them do.  Or at least a few.  Anyhow, this album has been in my rotation ever since, along with the rest of the John Lennon catalogue.  I’ve pretty much decided he was the most important musical artist ever, and I will always thank mi madre for spinning Double Fantasy non-stop when I was a kid and the Whiskey Saint for spinning this album and Plastic Ono Band and the Great Ranch in Trumbull Township during my formative years.  As a lyricist, Lennon’s only peer is Bob Dylan.  As a vocalist, he ranks up there with both the great rock and rollers and the great balladeers.  And as a political activist, he did more for the good of the human race than any other artist I can think of (even you, Bono).  Power to the people, right on.  Lennon was the real deal, and obviously it’s a tragedy that his life was cut so short.  For the past year I’ve put together a collection of every solo album, live album, and compilation album (there are a ridiculous number of these), and even the few books he wrote.  The Princess says I am obsessed, but my goal is to make a page dedicated to Lennon on this blog sometime in the near future.  Anyway, it’s something to look forward to, I hope 🙂

Other lists:  “Imagine” is #3 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.  See the very first post on this blog (Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band) for a list of John Lennon’s other RS accolades.

Ch-ch-changes: This album also dropped four spots from its original position at #76 due to the addition of CCR’s Chronicle and the rise of Radiohead’s Kid A, Paul Simon’s Graceland, and James Brown’s Star Time.

My favourite track: “Imagine”

Honourable mention: “Gimme Some Truth”

Quote 1: “I don’t wanna be a soldier mama, I don’t wanna die.”

Quote 2: “I’ve had enough of reading things by neurotic, psychotic, pig-headed politicians.  All I want is the truth.”

Quote 3: “Imagine all the people living life in peace…”

 

 

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Otis Blue

It’s been awhile, I know.  Too long.  Grad school has been kicking my ass.  Finished the first draft of a 25 page paper yesterday, and while I wait for my professor to rip it apart and send it back for revisions, I thought I’d get back to the Exile.  Been waiting to write about this album for awhile.  I wish I had more to say about it, but I loves me some Otis.  I grew up with Otis around the house (and when I say house, I mean that ugly brown and yellow trailer on Myers Road).  Mi madre is a huge Otis fan, and to this day she is still sad that he died so young.  She played a lot of Otis while I was growing up, and she was forever going on about how great the Stax horn line was and stuff like that.  Otis Redding’s posthumous album, “The Dock of the Bay” was actually one of my first CDs back in the day, but I guess I’ll talk more about that when that album comes up on the list (along with a discussion of Pearl Jam’s stellar cover of that album’s title track).  This album was one I picked up at the Half Price Books on High Street near Worthington a year or so ago.  I snagged it for $6.99 (minus my 10% teacher-of-children discount), and I frequently use it to psyche myself up for work in the morning.

Historically, this album has some gems on it.  There is the original version of “Respect”, which Otis wrote, but of course it was the Aretha version that became famous.  There are some other great Otis originals as well, like “Ole Man Trouble” and “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long”, but otherwise it is the covers that stand out.  Chief among them are Otis’ version of Sam Cooke’s classic “A Change is Gonna Come”, Smokey Robinson/the Temptations’ “My Girl”, and the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction”.  All throughout, that famous horn line brings the energy to the music, but it is Otis Redding’s voice that dominates this record.  Otis had none of the smoothness associated with his Motown R&B contemporaries (think the Temptations, Smokey Robinson, young Marvin Gaye, etc.).  No, Otis  was a southern soul artist in the vein of Little Richard and Ray Charles who always seemed to be pushing his voice to the breaking point.  It is that powerful, yet scratchy voice, that made Otis such a stellar musician.  There really isn’t much range to his voice, just pure emotion.  He did most of his own arranging too. It is a shame that his life was cut short so prematurely, but like so many others, I am grateful for the music he gave the world before he died.

Other lists: “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” is #111 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.  Otis is ranked #8 on the list of the 100 Greatest Singers and he is #21 on the list of the 100 Greatest Artists.

Ch-ch-changes: This album dropped four spots from its original position at #74 due to the addition of CCR’s Chronicle and the rise of Radiohead’s Kid A, Paul Simon’s Graceland, and James Brown’s Star Time.

My favorite track: “Ole Man Trouble”

Honorable mention: “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long”

Quote: “All I’m asking for is a little respect when I come home”

Graceland

So I think I mentioned in the Bridge Over Troubled Water post that mi madre was a big Simon and Garfunkel fan, and growing up there were always S&G albums around the house.  Well, when I look back, maybe it would be better to say that she was a big Paul Simon fan, because she also had a bunch of his solo records.  And she always liked to quote the song “Still Crazy After All These Years”…well, actually, she still quotes it from time to time.  So when this album came out, she didn’t hesitate to pick it up.  It was the 80s and she had it on cassette (I’m guessing it was probably a delivery from Columbia House), and we had a small cassette stereo in the living room that she would play this on.  At the time, the “You Can Call Me Al” video was out with Chevy Chase (who was probably at the height of his career) lip-syncing Paul Simon’s part, chair dancing, and playing trumpet (it is a funny video).  Years later, we even played “You Can Call Me Al” in marching band, and we even had horn motions modeled after that Chevy Chase dance.

So yeah, all of this was probably my first exposure to “world music”.  Due to the success of this album, Paul Simon seemed to be all over the place on T.V. performing with African choirs and such in the background.  And I put “world music” in quotation marks because it really is world music lite.  I don’t mean any disrespect to Paul Simon or any of the performers on the record (it really is a great record), and there certainly are African rhythms and vocal parts and stuff, but its all filtered through a very western lens of electric bass, guitar, and drum set.  Hell, even some of the African choir parts on “Homeless” have some distinctly western harmonies (no doubt due to the plethora of Christian missionaries that flooded Africa trying to bring religion to the masses).  Really, the only distinctly African part on the album to my ear are the Gaza Sisters’ background vocals on “I Know What I Know”.  But as I listen now to this CD copy of the album that I bought for $3 at Used Kids Records (actually it’s an enhanced CD, but I need to find a computer that’s still running Windows 95 to see what’s on it!), I realize how ground breaking this album was back in 1986 when it was released.  And kudos to Paul Simon for braving the political ramifications of going to South Africa and doing something that actually helped to bring about the end of apartheid.

Other lists: Paul Simon doesn’t seem to get as much acclaim for his solo work as he does for the stuff he did with Art Garfunkel, but this album does rank at #5 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 Best Albums of the Eighties.

Ch-ch-changes: This album jumped up 10 spots from its original position of #81 on the 2003 list.  I don’t know why.

My favorite track: “You Can Call Me Al”

Honorable mention: “The Boy in the Bubble”

Quote: “A man walks down the street, he says ‘Why am I soft in the middle now? Why am I soft in the middle? The rest of my life is so hard! I need a photo-opportunity!  I want a shot at redemption! Don’t want to end up a cartoon in a cartoon graveyard!'”