December is the time for Christmas songs, but what do you listen to when Christmas is over? That thought led me to organize my music collection into twelve playlists, one for each month. I also try to rank the songs over the span of a year to find the best ones, the ones I’m not going to mind listening to several times on a sixty song or so playlist. The idea is that each month I listen to my favorites songs that follow a theme of that month, and then the next month I listen to another set of songs. I get the pleasure of knowing the words better and getting the nuances that come from repeated listenings, but I don’t get too sick of the songs before the month is out.
For this year (2020) I’ve decided to write a blog about my monthly playlists for anybody looking for songs to add to their own sets. There are probably fifteen apps that do that for you automatically. Still, Pandora, I Heart Radio, and some others I’ve tried don’t seem to be eclectic enough. They all operate under the idea that you’re going to like songs that are similar to other songs you like. This works to some degree, but just because I like Pearl Jam, doesn’t mean I only want to hear 90s grunge for the rest of my life. So I’m stuck actually creating my own playlists, which is a time-consuming, but entertaining endeavor. It also gives me an excuse to clean out some duplicate mp3 files, delete some songs that are just stinkers, and revisit ones I’ve forgotten about. And often, oddly, I find out new things about artists I like that actually lead me to new music.
I also kind of wanted to write more blogs and this gives me something to write about. So here’s my list for January 2020 I’ve written a bit about the first three, songs but the rest I’m just leaving as exercises for the reader.
January is a cold month. It’s a month about beginning, and time, and making resolutions. In a vaguer sense, it’s about figuring out what’s important, and having the courage to leave behind what’s not…
Nothing Else Matters- Metallica
- “So close, no matter how far
- Couldn’t be much more from the heart
- Forever trust in who we are
- And nothing else matters”
A classic Metallica song. One of the reasons why Metallica’s music exists outside the bounds of the heavy metal genre is songs like this one. This song is in some ways a call to arms, in some ways a love song. It’s all about being true to something and moving on, which is why I think it fits into January. This is a song about resolve and January is a month about resolutions.
Nocturne/ Bohemian Rhapsody-Lucia Micarelli
Back when Netflix sent out DVDs in the mail there was a little more drama in the process. You would select what DVDs you wanted to see, but usually you’d forget what you had selected by the time they arrived in the mail. Also Netflix’s recommendations seemed like a bigger deal (they still are a big deal, but they aren’t as obvious as they were back then), they’d suggest things to watch based on what you’d liked previously and they’d be right maybe half the time. So you’d get the red envelope in the mail, and you’d open it and read the description on the disc sleeve, remembering all the reasons why you thought the movie might be good and wondering if your bet would pay off, or if it would be a dud. A lot of times even the duds had something worthwhile in them though. Such was the case with this one disc I got, which was a live recording of a Josh Groban concert.
Now Mr. Groban was something of a sensation back in the early Aughts. There were fan message boards (like reddit only less convenient) dedicated to Josh Groban, which, in their off time raised millions of dollars for a charity. Clay Shirkey ended up writing about it in his book Cognitive Surplus, which was about how people on the internet can get amazing things accomplished in the time they’re spending not doing traditional work. But this Netflix disc arrived a couple years before I read Shirkey’s book. Netflix had been trying to push it on me for a while. “No, really,” Netflix was saying “This will be right up your alley!”
For the most part, however, it wasn’t. Groban’s genre is basically good, pretty-sounding music. I liked a rendition he did on Vincent, a song praising Vincent Van Gogh, but nothing else really jumped out at me, and even that was a little too…nice.
Groban had a guest musician however, and that guest was Lucia Micarellii
You can see her performance in the YouTube video, but for the full effect, imagine you’ve listened to an hour or so of elevator music. Elevator music that’s expertly, and lovingly performed, mind you, but elevator music nonetheless. And now here’s this lady walking on stage barefoot, looking like some kind of forest spirit. She starts playing this mournful, heartrending piece of music. It’s quite pretty and you can see the passion she has for the music in her playing, and then…wait a minute…Holy shit! That’s Bohemian Rhapsody! Drums join in, along with other instruments. Everything rises in intensity until it hits a breaking point and finally returns the original mournful music. Just awesome.
This was the first time I heard about Lucia Micarelli. Later though she showed up as an actress in a series created by David Simon (who created the shows Homicide and The Wire) called Treme. I didn’t care for the Treme much. There were too many characters and not enough focus on any one storyline. Furthermore, the tone was dismal and it got a bit too political. Still, one of the bright spots was the music in general, and Lucia Micarelli in particular. Her character, Annie, had her faults, but she was always looking for ways to improve herself and the situation around her. While everyone else in the show was pursuing political gain, investigating murders, and committing suicide, she was playing music. Of course that was a fictional character, but still, it was a role Micarelli chose to play and she played it well.
So I think of all that when I hear the song, but of course the original Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen is a classic. The new movie starring Rami Malek was pretty good, and it also reminds me of the scene in Wayne’s World where they are all head banging in the car. The lyrics in the original are also about resolve (“Time to leave you all behind and face the truth…”) . It fits January for that reason, but the Nocturne bit at the beginning and end make me think of a cold, January morning, when it’s still too early to see by the sun, and everything’s trying to remember a good reason to wake up.
Fire Escape – Fastball
- “I’ll be the rain falling on your fire escape
- And I may not be the man you want me to
- I can be myself, how ’bout you?”
This song is 90% about saying “Screw you! I’ll do what I want!”… but then there’s that odd poetry of the chorus and some of the lines that mellows it somewhat and makes it more than it would be otherwise. Rain falling on a fire escape. I suppose that’s a dangerous thing, something that makes things less safe. The feeling I get from the song though is more that the rain is kind of nice, just providing atmosphere, existing outside and informing what goes on inside, but not really being a part of things.
It reminds me of James Joyce’s book Ulysses, which follows a character Leopold Bloom as he makes his way home on a day’s journey. The places he goes mimic the places the character Ulysses goes to in the original epic by Homer. In the chapter that relates to Ulysses’ encounter with Circe. Leopold and his friend Stephen Daedalus find themselves in a brothel. Things start to get a bit strange later on, but there’s one part where there is a commotion outside the window and someone wonders what it is. Someone else replies that it is God. God is the commotion outside the window.
God, then, could also be the rain falling on the fire escape. So sure this is actually most likely a song about a guy setting boundaries in a relationship , but halfway in my head I also kind of see it as a god (or more secularly the Universe) explaining itself to its creations. I may not be what you want me to be, but I can be myself, what about you? Like, maybe, stop asking me for crap and do some work yourself, huh?
Other good January songs
- New Years Prayer – Jeff Buckley
- Mission – Chris Cornell
- In the Year 2525 – Zager & Evans
- Wild Wild West – Escape Club
- Little Green Bag – George Baker Selection
- Last Stop: This Town – Eels
- Boom Boom Ba – Metisse
- Journey of the Sorcerer – Eagles
- Lady Marlene – Katzenjammer
- Winds of Change – Scorpions
- Young Folks – Peter Bjorn and John
- Ukifune – Go!Go!7188
- Older – They Might Be Giants
- Knights of Cydonia – Muse
- Long Way Home – Norah Jones
- I Will Survive – Cake
- Mr. Roboto – Styx