I’ve been a musician my whole life, the singer songwriter type. I remember waking up Saturday mornings and hearing all kinds of different music being blared out of my dad’s hi-fi stereo. It seemed that no genre was off the table when it came to the music my folks listened to, as long as it was “good.” Good meant that it evoked feeling in one way or another. The music I heard would lift you up or make you laugh, get you in an introspective mood, make you dance, make you think, make you cry, it would move you in some form or another. There was sixties rock, blues, bluegrass, folk, southern rock, country, storytelling, classical – hell, there was even a little polka from time to time. I know that this foray into music affected my desire to play myself. I picked up the guitar at 12. I’ve since learned the banjo, the mandolin, the harmonica, and bass. I dabble on piano and drums and I sing like I know what I am doing. And sometimes I even do.
I think that my lifelong affair with music affords me a unique catalogue of songs. In this blog post I will link to some songs that I love for one reason or another. I’m going to focus on the eclectic music that I have been fortunate to hear. These are songs that you may have heard before but for a majority of you, probably not. Some are good because of the music but all are unique because of the lyrics. Songwriting is art. It is a distinctive form of poetry. And for this reason I present to you:
Tom Waits – Step Right Up
I love this song for its lyrical complexity, musical simplicity, and Tom’s unique ability to tell a story. It is also fun and funny!
John Prine – Please Don’t Bury Me
I used to jam this with my farming Uncle Jim. I need to get up north soon and break out the guitars with him. It’s been too long! John Prine is one of my favorite musicians and storytellers. What a writer!
Leo Kottke – Jack Gets Up
I love this song because it reflects Leo’s ability to tell a story. And as one critic states it is a “sardonic statement on his quietly desperate lifestyle.”
Leo was the reason I picked up the guitar in the first place so here is one more.
Leo Kottke – Vaseline Machine Gun
Before you say anything about this one not having any lyrics – I know – but sometimes an instrumental can tell the story all by itself. And this song was the reason I got a twelve string guitar when I was fifteen.
Joe Purdy – Can’t Get It Right Today
I love this song because it is one of those songs that is written in such a way that you can relate to the lyrics, and by doing so it can either help make you feel better because you are not alone, or it can cause you to dig even dipper into the abyss. If it does the latter, perhaps that is where you are supposed to be for the moment.
Malvina Reynolds – Little Boxes
Some of you may have watched the HBO series Weeds, in which case you heard this song weekly. However, I heard it long before that show came out and found it to be lyrically genius. I selected this specific link because you can learn a little more about Malvina, the person behind this brilliant song.
David Bromberg – Sharon
I love David Bromberg for his rendition of Mr. BoJangles, but you’ve all heard some version of that. I love this song in particular because I embrace weird! Weird is good.
Frank Zappa – Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow and Nanuk Rubs It
Did I mention that I embrace weird? Well Frank has it nailed down in spades. He is also a lyrical enigma and I can’t help but like him – as much as I try.
Sam McGee – Railroad Blues
“I met a little gypsy in a fortune-telling place. She read my mind, and then she slapped my face.” I love so many blues songs but this one happens to come to mind right now.
America – A Horse With No Name
The only song I like by America – this is it. Not only does it tell a story phenomenally well but it reminds me of how big of hippies my parents were back then. I’ve forgiven them for that.
The Band – Up on Cripple Creek
The Band is one of those bands that influenced music in ways that few people realize. Levon Helm is, to me, a consummate musician, right up there with John Prine.
Ralph Stanley – Clinch Mountain Backstep
This song is another instrumental because it is just too hard for me to wade through all of the bluegrass that I love. This song puts a nice exclamation point on this post.
So there’s ten songs with lyrics and two instrumentals out of hundreds that I would like to post but it’s time I do some work that doesn’t feel so much like play. I hope you found a couple songs in here that moved you in some way or that told you a story you haven’t heard yet. Notice that none of these songs outside of Joe Purdy’s was written within several decades. I’ll just say that Joe was lucky to make the list. There is great music being written today but you’ll have to dig for most of it and you won’t be hearing it on the radio unless you listen to college stations and happen upon a DJ that had parents like mine. This, of course, is all personal preference and opinion and if you are into musicians like Miley Cyrus – well, you may not like my opinion. No matter, this post was fun as hell to write and I leave you smiling!