Desert Island Singles: “If She Knew What She Wants” by The Bangles (1986)

Image from cat45.com

Image from cat45.com

“When (The Bangles) first started out as fresh-faced kids back in the mid-’80s, they captured the jangle of The Byrds, the melody of The Left Banke, the attitude of The Shangri-Las, and the rich harmonies of The Mamas and The Papas (without the Papas, of course) and wrapped them all up in a sweet and catchy package.” – Tim Sendra

“One of the two (well-selected) covers on the Bangles’ ‘Different Light’ album, ‘If She Knew What She Wants’ comes from the pen of Jules Shear whose band Jules and the Polar Bears were cult favorites, certainly of the Bangles. A mini-folk-rock gem, the song’s melody recalls some of Gene Clark’s stately work in the early Byrds canon, particularly ‘She Don’t Care About Time.’ The breezy arrangement and the band’s Mamas and Papas-inspired vocal arrangement is the cornerstone here; and overall it succeeds brilliantly, making the song one of the finest moments on the album. Although a seemingly perfect single (it was indeed released as such), the song was dwarfed in terms of commercial success by the somewhat disposable novelty cut, ‘Walk Like an Egyptian.’” – Matthew Greenwald

“You can keep ‘Manic Monday’ and ‘Walk Like An Egyptian,’ and I’ll take Susannah Hoff’s finest hour as a Bangle singing lead on ‘If She Knew What She Wants’ from ‘Different Light.’ The song only reached number 29 on the singles chart, but the video is a pure delight as it features The Bangles doing what they do best: combining harmonies and great musicianship, while looking great in the process.” – Steve Spears

Image from thebangles.org

Image from thebangles.org

I was long a fan of Jules Shear since his days with the Polar Bears and later as a solo singer/songwriter. I also was long a fan of The Bangles, ever since I saw this clip from 1984 on “Late Night with David Letterman” and instantly developed a life-threatening crush on drummer Debbi Peterson.

Jump ahead to 1986 and The Bangles’ second album “Different Light.” It spawned a single written by Prince, “Manic Monday,” a novelty song/video, “Walk Like An Egyptian,” and an excellent cover of Big Star’s “September Gurls.” The album is consistently great, but by far the standout song is Jules Shear’s “If She Knew What She Wants.” It kicks off with a soaring guitar riff, and when the band kicks in it’s magnetic. Hoff’s sultry voice is a little more subtle than usual, and the harmonies and musicianship of Debbi Peterson, guitarist Vicki Peterson (her sister), and bassist Michael Steele are stellar. Reminiscent of The Byrds and Big Star, it’s as close to a perfect folk-pop song as I can imagine.

This is the UK version of the video. Nice dance moves by Debbi. The American version, sadly, is god-awful stupid as it features cutaways where, one by one, each of the four women get smoochy with off-camera guys. No idea where they were going with that one.

If she knew what she wants
(He’d be giving it to her)
If she knew what she needs
(He could give her that too)
If she knew what she wants
(But he can’t see through her)
If she knew what she wants
He’d be giving it to her
Giving it to her

But she wants everything
(He can pretend to give her everything)
Or there’s nothing she wants
(She don’t want to sort it out)
He’s crazy for this girl
(But she don’t know what she’s looking for)
If she knew what she wants
He’d be giving it to her
Giving it to her

I’d say her values are corrupted
But she’s open to change
Then one day she’s satisfied
And the next I’ll find her crying
And it’s nothing she can explain

If she knew what she wants
(He’d be giving it to her)
If she knew what she needs
(He could give her that too)
If she knew what she wants
(But he can’t see through her)
If she knew what she wants
He’d be giving it to her
Giving it to her (giving it to her)

Some have a style
That they work hard to refine
So they walk a crooked line
But she won’t understand
Why anyone would have to try
To walk a line when they could fly

No sense thinking I could rehabilitate her
When she’s fine, fine, fine
She’s got so many ideas traveling around in her head
She doesn’t need nothing from mine

If she knew what she wants
(He’d be giving it to her)
If she knew what she needs
(He’d be givin’ it too)
If she knew what she wants
(But he can’t see through her)
If she knew what she wants
He’d be giving it to her
Giving it to her

But she wants everything
(He can pretend to give her everything)
Or there’s nothing she wants
(She don’t want to sort it out)
He’s crazy for this girl
(But she don’t know what she’s looking for)
If she knew what she wants
He’d be giving it to her
Giving it to her

(He’d be giving it to her)
(He could give her that too)
(But he can’t see through her)
Ooooooh, giving it to her
Giving it to her now


Desert Island Discs: “Other Voices, Other Rooms” by Nanci Griffith (1993)

Image from elektra60.com

What strikes one first about the album is the generosity it shows. Griffith is a notable songwriter in her own stead but she uses this album to sing songs written by the best of her peers – Kate Wolf, Townes Van Zandt, Bob Dylan, John Prine, Tom Paxton, Woodie Guthrie, Janis Ian, Gordon Lightfoot, Malvina Reynolds, the 1870s “Are You Tired of Me Darling” which was recorded by the Carter sisters, and “Wimoweh,” which closes the record and includes many of the guest performers from other songs. And that’s the second way in which this album is generous: Bob Dylan plays harmonica on it, Arlo Guthrie sings harmony vocal on Van Zandt’s “Tecumseh Valley,” Iris DeMent sings harmony on one song and John Prine on his own song, Chet Atkins graces two cuts with his exquisite guitar, and Odetta takes the first verse on “Wimoweh,” which comes across as a fitting close to an album of musical celebration. – David Keymer

Nanci Griffith was a teenager in the 60s and thus was introduced to music by her older sister, music of the late 50s-early 60s folk music era. I first got this as a cassette from the Minneapolis library, soon after it was released. I had heard Nanci’s name before but had never heard her music. This made me a fan in short order, and is a go-to album that never fails to make me happy.

Image from amazon

As the reviewer noted above, many of the songs’ writers join Nanci on their own numbers. It’s a virtual folk music all-star team, especially on the last track, “Wimoweh.” I appreciate the historical significance of the song – it features members of the legendary folk group The Weavers, who popularized it in the early 50s – but it’s the only one I skip. (Too much exposure to the bubble-gummy versions by The Tokens and Robert John, I guess.) But that’s a small criticism at best: there’s lots more to appreciate. Here’s a few. Buddy Mondlock’s “Comin’ Down In The Rain”:

Comin’ down in the rain
Washin’ outta the sky
Loaded down with the pain
There just ain’t no way to fly
You can read him as clear
As the wall where he once wrote his name
It was right next to hers
But it’ll only come down in the rain

Dylan’s “Boots Of Spanish Leather,” which he plays harmonica on:

That I might be gone a long long time
And it’s only that I’m askin’,
Is there something I can send you to remember me by,
To make your time more easy passin’?

Oh, how can, how can you ask me again?
It only brings me sorrow.
The same thing I want from you today,
I would want again tomorrow.

I got a letter on a lonesome day,
It was from his ship a-sailin’,
Saying, I don’t know when I’ll be comin’ back again,
It depends on how I’m a-feelin’.

“Are You Tired Of Me Darlin'”:

Are you tired of me, my darlin’?
Did you mean those words you said
That have made me yours forever
Since the day that we were wed?

Tell me, could you live life over?
Would you make it otherwise?
Are you tired of me, my darlin’?
Answer only with your eyes.

John Prine’s “Speed Of The Sound Of Loneliness,” which he plays and sings on:

Well, I got a heart that burns with a fever
And I got a worried and a jealous mind
How can a love that’ll last forever
Get left so far behind?

So what in the world’s come over you
And what in heaven’s name have you done?
You’ve broken the speed of the sound of loneliness
You’re out there running just to be on the run

It’s a mighty mean and a dreadful sorrow
It’s crossed the evil line today
Well, how can you ask about tomorrow
When we ain’t got one word to say?

Nanci recorded a sequel in 1998: “Other Voices, Too (A Trip Back To Bountiful)”. It’s good, naturally, but doesn’t grab me like this one does. This is absolutely a Desert Island Disc.


Desert Island Singles: “Candy Everybody Wants” by 10,000 Maniacs (1992)

Image from 45picturesleeves.com

My life-threatening crush on Natalie Merchant has been well-documented heretofore.

If lust and hate is the candy,
If blood and love tastes so sweet,
then we give ’em what they want.
Hey, hey, give ’em what they want.

So their eyes are growing hazy
‘Cos they wanna turn it on,
So their minds are soft and lazy.
Well, hey, give ’em what they want.

Well… who do you wanna blame?


The funniest column ever, from the funniest man in the known universe.

Image from kqed.org

Of course I speak of Dave Barry. From 1986, his funniest column ever: “Total Amnesia Is The Only Way To Forget.”  I resonate with this column more than I can ever tell. (“Get outta my head, Dave!”) Excerpts:

If you’ve ever done anything humiliating, you’ve probably noticed that your brain never lets you forget it. This is the same brain that never remembers things you should remember. If you were bleeding to death and the emergency-room doctor asked you what blood type you were, you’d say: “I think it’s B. Or maybe C. I’m pretty sure it’s a letter.” But if the doctor asked you to describe the skirt you were wearing when you were doing the Mashed Potatoes in the ninth-grade dance competition in front of 350 people, and your underwear, which had holes in it, fell to your ankles, you’d say, without hesitating for a millisecond, “It was gray felt with a pink flocked poodle.”

– –

My own personal brain is forever dredging up the time in 11th grade when I took a girl, a very attractive girl on whom I had a life-threatening crush, to a dance. I was standing in the gym next to her, holding her hand, thinking what a sharp couple we made — Steve Suave and His Gorgeous Date — when one of my friends sidled up to me and observed that, over on the other side, my date was using her spare hand to hold hands with another guy. This was of course a much better-looking guy. This was Paul Newman, only taller.

– –

It just occurred to me that she may be out there right now, in our reading audience, in which case I wish to state for the record that I am leading an absolutely wonderful life, and I have been on the Johnny Carson show, and I hope things are equally fine with you.

Twice. I was on Carson twice.


Whatever happened to..

Image from theskinnyonbenny.com

Image from cbskool2.wordpress.com

“Every sentient straight male in the country developed a schoolboy crush on Martha Quinn, one of the first (MTV) V.J.’s, fresh out of New York University and so cute she could make your cranium detonate.” – Dwight Garner, New York Times

Image from quotationof.com

Image from quotationof.com

Image from allthingskevyn.com

Image from allthingskevyn.com


In need of a “Liberty Meadows” fix.

Image from gocomics.com

 


Desert Island Discs: “Souvenir (1989-1998)” by The Rankins (2003)

Image from homercat.blogspot.com

I spent most of September 2010 traveling around Nova Scotia, particularly Cape Breton. Discussed it here and here. This two-CD set was my constant traveling companion, the soundtrack of my journey. I still play it at home and on the radio, as a reminder of one of the best times of my life. Hence a Desert Island Disc.

And yes, it’s another greatest-hits compilation.

From the beginning it was clear the group was about so much more than just music, that there was a tradition to be respected and passed on, but not without ensuring its audience had a damn good time in the process. Young and energetic, The Rankins showed the rest of the country, and much of the world, that Cape Breton music was strong and vital and had a relevant place in the commercial market…The Rankins had a tricky balancing act on their hands, satisfying the folk music fans that bought the first 10,000 or so copies of their first two CDs and helped raise their music industry profile, and meeting the needs of a major label with commercial airplay that enabled them to fill arenas across the country…The Rankins were about tearing down barriers and bringing the music of their home to new listeners. – Stephen Cooke, Halifax Chronicle-Herald

“Souvenir 1989—1998” is a two-disc greatest hits compilation that came out in 2003. It is a great overview of the decade when the Rankin Family rose to prominence in the Canadian pop/folk scene and opened a floodgate of likeminded musicians who brought Celtic influences into the contemporary scene. It is evenly focused on their entire career, and also serves as a memorial to the late John Morris Rankin (1959-2000). Mrs. homercat introduced me to The Rankins and I love them. Just one listen to “You Feel the Same Way Too,” “Borders and Time,” or “The Mull River Shuffle” and you’ll be hooked too. The family is blessed with wonderful voices, particularly the women. The harmony is dense and absolutely pure. The voices are clear and crisp, the lyrics are full of meaning, and the music is just fantastic. The men in the group are excellent instrumentalists and the late John Morris’s fiddle playing is superb in an authentic Gaelic style. Truly one of Canada’s best kept secrets. – homercat.blogspot.com

Image from last.fm
Jimmy, Raylene, Heather, Cookie, and John Morris Rankin

The Rankin clan hails from Mabou, a town of 1,300 on the western coast of Cape Breton. A family of 12, they all performed in various groupings, at ceilighs and fairs, across the island for years and years. The youngest five got national attention (in Canada) and signed with EMI in 1989. So they became another incredibly talented band that was huge in Canada, but barely known in the US. See also: Great Big Sea, Blue Rodeo, Sloan, et al.

John Morris Rankin
Image from edgecastcdn.net

The band went on hiatus in 1998, took on side projects, and raised their families. As homercat mentioned above: in 2000 John Morris Rankin, the older brother and virtuosic instrumentalist, was killed in a roadside accident not far from his home in Mabou. The remaining members were in shock to say the least. Since then Jimmy, Cookie, Raylene, and Heather have reunited as a foursome and in smaller groups, and continue to take on solo and other side projects. “Souvenir” chronicles the music made by all five of them together.

The Rankins’ style of tight harmonies, outstanding instrumentation, and Celtic influences has become known in Canada as “East Coast Music.” This is in part because it’s primarily based in Atlantic Canada, the Maritimes and Newfoundland and Labrador with their strong Scottish and Irish populations. Although some Acadian elements have seeped into the music as well. According to wikipedia:

The Maritime Provinces are best known for the strong influence of Scottish and Irish settlers on the sound of the region’s traditional music. This Celtic-derived music is most strongly expressed on Cape Breton Island, which is especially well known for the Scottish influx in the late 18th century and early 19th century. Scottish-style fiddle music, sometimes accompanied by the piano, was popular at the time, and these traditions survive today. In some cases, like Cape Breton Island, Scottish folk traditions are better-maintained than in Scotland itself…New Brunswick has seen a roots revival of their own Acadian traditions, dating back to before the French settlers of the area were expelled to Louisiana and became the Cajuns…While closely related to the three Maritime provinces, Newfoundland and Labrador is culturally and politically separate. However, the two areas share a regional awards show, the East Coast Music Awards, and a common musical heritage.

As I say, this CD set was my traveling buddy throughout Nova Scotia. With a backdrop like that it’s obvious why it has a special place in my collection, but I’m not fickle; I continue to listen now that I’m back home.

John Morris’s contribution was his amazing musicianship on piano, guitar, and fiddle. He rarely took a lead vocal, but the other four made up for it. Cookie (real name, Carol) takes the lead on several numbers, including “Borders And Time.”

Cookie Rankin
Image from cbc.ca

Blue are the ocean waters
Along a lover’s shoreline
You will not be forgotten
But now that you’re gone
The heartache lives on

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