September 10, 2013
I could spend all day every day putting songs into an order that I think is somehow perfect if I didn't have a house and kids and other responsibilities.
Let me start by explaining a little something- I LOVE making mixtapes. There's something so physically visceral about it. Hitting stop and record and play... timing it just right, interspersing bits of dialogue from the middle of Broadway songs in betwen Kanye an Radiohead, it's just... there's nothing that really compares these days.
(Just start this one playing while you read. Go ahead.) I'll wait for you.
These days, making mix CDs is almost a lost art. You just send somebody a playlist, and they incorporate it into their own music collection to listen to as they want to listen to it. You don't get to control the experience. And part of the delight of making somebody a mix tape is taking the reigns on it- on what they listen to, and hopefully how it makes them feel.
When I make a mix tape, you can sit back and LISTEN to that mix tape. It's not background noise- it's an experience.
So when Jen said that this week's theme was simply "Beautiful Songs," I kind of had to do it.
To give you an idea of my process, I decided to keep it mix tape legit- which means no classical. No Andrés Segovia, no Sarah Brightman, no spectacular solo slide guitar. We're talking songs in terms of instruments AND voice. And occasionally, voice without instrument. But the context is essentially radio-friendly. Just not pop or mainstream. Because that's not how I listen to music.
In this case, I started with a playlist of nearly forty song. Seriously. But what followed was a process of elimination based on... what songs I can find on youtube. Seriously, Pearl and the Beard and Noe Venable, GET ON IT! I would love to share their songs with you, but it just doesn't work right here.
I narrowed down from there, excruciatingly, to ten.
So, for your enjoyment, here is my mix tape.
As you may have noticed, I started with Pink Floyd's "Shine On You Crazy Diamond." This is, without a doubt, the most beautiful song that can possibly have the word "rock" attributed to it. It's a masterpiece of harmony, of lyrical meaning, of orchestration, and of technology. I'm not saying it's the best rock song out there, or the best Pink Floyd song out there. But I will tell you, you would find it a hard sell to convince me that there is a more beautiful rock song in the world.
Next up- Fiona Apple.
Her voice is so unbelievably beautiful. Clear, clean, precise, but deep and soulful. There's a sadness to it that makes my heart break a little every time, and opens my ears to the wrenching hopelessness in some of her refrains. (Does that scare you? Make you run away?)
Moving on to...
I think "beautiful" is the key word to describe the Kings of Convenience. Everything about them. Their harmonies, the minimalism of their guitar playing, the images they evoke in their songs... pure beauty.
Next on the list, another kind of beautiful music. A warning- this video is somewhat NSFW.
I have to confess, I find a certain beauty in sadness. I can't be alone in this. So many love songs rely on sadness to convey the intensity of their feeling. This is a song that lingers in the sadness more strongly, and a video that uses emotional pain as a visual metaphor. A beautiful, but disturbing set of images.
Now let's think a bit about beautiful lyrics.
This song is so simple. And Stephen Merritt, although incredible, doesn't have a voice that one would automatically consider beautiful. But it is the perfect voice for this song, which is in of itself about beauty. And how love is so brilliant that it can blind us to such things and objective beauty.
While we're on the topic of dreaming...
Ah, Mama Cass. One of the greatest voices in pop music history. But I have to say, her solo version of this song just can't hold a candle to this one- with the rest of The Mamas and the Papas backing her up. Her voice might only just have been pretty, but there's an airy wistfulness to it that just melts me.
While we're on the topic of spectacularly beautiful voices, let's take a moment for Martin Sexton.
I could have put his entire catalog under the heading of "Beautiful." The man has the sweetest, but simultaneously rawest voices I can think of. You can hear the deepest pits of his heart and soul. Whenever I hear Jason Mraz or Ben Harper... all I hear is the gaping pit between what they can do and what Martin Sexton does.
And now, one of the most beautiful voices in the history of recorded music, with her signature song:
Go ahead, call me a sap. I almost sang this song at my wedding. True story.
But I changed my mind because I know that with all the emotions overwhelming me on that day I would probably just cry into the microphone, and nobody wants to hear that. (A close runner up with "I'll Cover You" from Rent, but considering the circumstances around our wedding, that would have made just about everyone weep. We wanted to keep the tone happy and optimistic.) But I will belt this song for you anytime. Just don't expect me to hold a candle to the original.
Let's wind down with Rachel Sermanni.
If you've never heard of her, take a minute, and hear. She's amazing. She's incredibly. She's so talented, and so young. I'm looking forward to listening to better and better music from her until I die. Because she's young enough that I'll probably die first. And so long as she can soundtrack my deathbed, I am all for it. It would be an unspeakably beautiful death. (That got morbid fast. Moving on.)
Let's get some rock back into this list as we finish up.
Pink Floyd doesn't corner the market in beautiful songs that also rock. So let's take a moment to escape from our irritation that Bono is Bono and appreciate what beauty he really has brought to the world.
Enjoy, lovely readers! Enjoy!