Topical Tuesday: Rolling Stone’s Playlist Issue

The current issue of Rolling Stone magazine is titled “The Playlist Issue”.  As the name suggests, it is full of playlists submitted by several of the movers and shakers in the music industry.  Artists from Ozzy to Tom Petty to Drake talked about their favorite songs from an era, a genre, or even a particular artist or group.

I’m always fascinated by these types of lists.  It’s not the songs (or books or whatever) that intrigue me, but the reasons behind those choices.  On what level does the work connect with the person–the “why” instead of the “what”.  Nightline has been running a recurring segment along these same lines and I always watch to see what the artists have to say about the music they love.

So, considering that I really don’t have much new to report on the writing front, I’m going to do my own series of playlists this week.  I’m normally reluctant to talk about my musical tastes as I reached a point several years ago where I gave up trying to appreciate all the new music coming out so I could go back and see what I missed while I was waiting in the queue in my mother’s ovaries.  I can’t tell you much about what’s new and hip, but that’s okay as I am neither of those things.  For example, I give you . . . .

Playlist #1:  Elton John

I’ve mentioned before on here that I’m a huge fan of Elton John.  He has a unique vocal style and, with Bernie Taupin’s lyrics, he creates stories out of song, even if I can’t always tell you what the story is.

Your Song–Elton’s first big hit, the simple melody and simple lyrics tell a simple story that reflected the beginnings of his and Taupin’s long career and belie all the complexities (e.g. drugs, scandal, Madonna, etc.) that would follow.

Tonight–I’m more fond of the Live in Australia version of this song, which opens with a three-minute instrumental before moving into a deeply emotional song about a couple arguing and the toll it takes on their relationship.  Great feeling, great imagery, great song.

The Greatest Discovery–One of the best story songs ever, about a little boy who wonders what all the fuss in his house is about, then discovers that his parents have given him a little brother.  As an added bonus, my wife loves this one, too.

Candle in the Wind–The original is fine.  The Lady Diana tribute is fine, if a little clunky lyrically.  But my favorite version is again the one from Live in Australia.  At the time the concerts were recorded, Elton was finishing his tour down under and mortally afraid that lesions found on his vocal cords were cancerous.  He went out night after night, barely able to speak during the day, and delivered as gutsy a vocal performance as I have ever heard.  Plus, of course, it’s simply a fantastic song that could have been about anyone taken from us too soon.

The Bridge–Another example of a song with simple lyrics and a powerful message.  It’s about not giving up, despite the odds, and following your dreams.

Empty Garden–The only place Elton every performs this John Lennon tribute song is at Madison Square Garden.  This song is even more poignant, with its startk imagery and haunting metaphors, as we arrive upon the 30th anniversary of Lennon’s murder.

A Word in Spanish–Another great story song about the universal language of love.

The Last Song–I have no idea what the song is exactly about, but it’s haunting and Elton’s vocals are superb in conveying the emotion of whatever the hell he’s singing about.

This Train Don’t Stop There Anymore–One of Elton’s more recent songs, it is, in some ways, the opposite end of the spectrum from Your Song, about the culmination of a long career rather than it’s inception.  Also, look up the video and see how amazing Justin Timberlake looks as a young Elton.

I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues–Elton said in an interview that this is one of his favorite songs to perform because he can do it so many ways–pop style, bluesy, just about any way you can do a song, this one will work.  I like it because it’s cool no matter how it’s done.

Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters–One of Elton’s “New York Songs”, this one describes the bustle of the Big Apple in as poetic a way as another other you can find.

Rocket Man–The best song about space exploration, with apologies to David Bowie, ever.  Also, a wonderful metaphor about celebrity and how lonely it is at the top.

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About Lee Smiley

I write things. Maybe you'll read them.
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