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CHIRP's fall fundraising drive is in the books, and it was a great, humbling success. It also got us thinking about the music world's greatest fundraising weapon: the charity single. In the spirit of pop philanthropy, I went back into the archives to answer an age-old question: has there ever been a charity single that didn't suck?
1) Artists United Against Apartheid - "Sun City" (1985)
Benefits: Anti-apartheid charities
Organized by: Steven Van Zandt
Notable Acts Represented: Miles Davis, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen & Little Steven, Gil-Scott Heron, Joey Ramone, Lou Reed, Peter Gabriel, Ringo Starr, Keith Richards & Ron Wood, Run-DMC, Afrika Bambaataa, Kurtis Blow, Grandmaster Melle Mel, Jimmy Cliff, George Clinton, Bonnie Raitt, Darlene Love
Why It Doesn't Suck: The subject matter. Most charity singles are used solely as fundraisers, following the well-meaning (but sometimes misguided) Western tendency to throw money at a problem until it goes away. "Sun City" did that, too, raising millions for anti-apartheid charities upon its release in 1985. However, Artists United Against Apartheid took their commitment a step further. In addition to singing on the record, every artist involved took a pledge not to play Sun City, the infamous whites-only resort that became an emblem of South African inequality. The song was a form of self-policing, calling out both the horrors of aparthied and the tacit approval of those horrors given by artists (including Elton John and Queen) who chose to accept gigs at the resort.
Tiki bars are hip again; can lounge music be far behind? It's been 20 years since the last lounge revival and, Mad Men theme parties notwithstanding, that means we're just about due for another. While you polish your cocktail shaker, I'll get your hi-fi ready with recommendations for five must-have lounge records, and the situations in which they'll come in most handy.
1) Ferrante & Teicher - Heavenly Songs in Hi-Fi (1957)
Useful when: You need to defend lounge music from naysayers.
It's important to remember that lounge acts weren't all made up of square dudes with loud jackets and thick glasses. I mean, most were, but that doesn't mean that hip dudes didn't lurk beneath the polyester. Before they earned their reputation as purveyors of inoffensive easy-listening music, piano players Arthur Ferrante and Louis Teicher were faculty members at Julliard. That pedigree makes it less surprising that the two Muzak masters once drew inspiration from avant garde composer John Cage. Cage's "prepared piano" techniques make thrilling appearances on the duo's early collaborations; jammed with precisely placed debris including "metal chains, glass, wood and cardboard," Ferrante & Teicher's dueling pianos reinvented decades-old standards with percussive, alien effects previously unheard in pop music. The duo's run of albums from 1956's Soundproof to 1959's Blast Off contains no duds, so grab Heavenly Songs in Hi-Fi for its hypnotic rendition of 1930s hit "The Moon Was Yellow."
It's been almost 18 months since the Village Voice ignited the Emo Revival brushfire; since then, the internet's musical commentariat has found time to go to some shows, churn out some clickbait, and even debate whether or not the "revival" is actually reviving anything. While the journalists have been occupied, the bands themselves have continued knocking out more of the records that make scene kids sad and thirtysomethings nostalgic. This week's Top Five brings young and old together, pairing lyrics by five Emo Revival bands with some cringeworthy situations that many of us might've gone through the last time this music was popular.
1) A Great Big Pile of Leaves - "Ambiversion"
The line: "I get so extroverted/ But only when no one else is looking"
Emo level: Low
Might remind you of: Nervously eating a Taco Bell burrito in the backseat of a Pontiac Grand Am while the couple in the front argues about the Promise Ring.
When they were originally collected in the 1850s by folklorist Francis James Child, the 305 songs of the Child Ballads codified English and Scottish oral folk traditions dating as far back as the 1400s. In the 1960s, they helped folk revivalists like Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and Fairport Convention add authentic dashes of ghostly romance and gratuitous swordplay to their setlists. Today, they're still creeping up on records, often assuming the shape of an artist's own musical vision. This week, I tracked down five contemporary acts who weren't afraid to add their own spin to songs that are older than all of their ages combined.
1) Ween - "Cold Blows The Wind" (1997)
Based on: "The Unquiet Grave"
Ballad synopsis: A girl cries on her lover's grave hard enough to wake him up. Fearing increased traffic in the cemetery, he asks her to let him stay dead.
How they made it their own: Surrounding it with weirdness. "Cold Blows The Wind" appears on the second half of The Mollusk, Dean and Gene Ween's woozy nautical send-up of '70s Hobbit-prog excesses. By the time listeners get there, they'll have heard a warped vaudeville pump-up track ("Dancing In The Show Tonight"), a nihilistic Irish drinking song ("The Blarney Stone"), and a song about a mystical conch ("The Mollusk"). Amid these musical tricks, a 600-year-old sea ballad about an undead lover seems downright relatable.
Thanks to two decades as the theme of Monday Night Football, Hank Williams, Jr.'s NFL-centric remake of "All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight" remains the most recognizable song about football not called "The Super Bowl Shuffle." America, we can do better. In honor of football season, here are five superior songs about the gridiron, and all of the promise and peril it contains.
1) Pavement, "Lions (Linden)" (1992)
The Linden Lions are real. They play football in California's tiny Mother Lode League, facing off against teams from other farm towns irrigated to life by the reservoirs of the Central Valley. Stephen Malkmus attended high school in nearby Lodi, balancing his slacker whateverness with a red-blooded love of sports. Both aspects of his personality come out in this track from 1992's Watery, Domestic. The freak in Malkmus criticizes the usual targets: small-town provincialism, civic mismanagement, the rah-rah that fills stands and funnels money to booster clubs while the surrounding infrastructure decays. Despite all that, the fan wins out. Malkmus understands the escapist appeal of autumn weekends spent sitting in a rickety stadium, rooting for the kids from the next county over to get their teeth kicked in.