Ever listened to music and felt a tremendous surge of inspiration - when the music took a greater meaning and had a life of its own? You were transported to this wonderful place where the individual sounds and lyrics brought a personal surreal experience. Here are some of my favorite musical experiences of all time to the best of my memory, arranged in chronological order.
CAKE/Juliana Hatfield - Rock n' Roll Lifestyle, Universal Heart-Beat
Rock n' Roll Lifestyle was the first CAKE song I heard. I remember thinking it had a very unique, honest feel to it. In the first place, there was more talking than singing, and some chorus chants in the background. Great lyrics too such as: "And how long will the workers keep building him new ones… (chant) as long as you're drinking those red white and blue ones." I felt I was entering a new undiscovered musical era.
There was this other song that was a minor hit on the same station that played Rock n' Roll Lifestyle. It was Juliana Hatfield's Universal Heart-Beat, which had equally disturbing lyrics: "Beauty can be sad. You're proof of that. When the damage is done, you're damaged goods." Combined with extending a single syllable "heart" to fill in an entire verse. I kept thinking of these two songs for the duration of 1995, which coincided with the first time I was out of school. There was just something cool about both songs.
Lizards Convention - Wooden Heart, Rock the Boat
A short time after, this small Singaporean band composed of teenagers had a minor hit across southeast asia - Wooden Heart, a remake of the Elvis Presley song. I was also pleasantly surprised to hear that their other song 'Rock the Boat' (also a remake) was as good or even better than their radio hit Wooden Heart. What made this a great listening experience was that it brings back memories of the time I spent playing basketball with co-dangerous review roehl and a bunch of fun guys. We also started having cable at home where I could watch and enjoy WWF wrestling. And see my favorite tag teams The Body Donnas and The Quebecers, in action.
Barenaked Ladies - Stunt: One Week, It's All Been Done, Call and Answer, Alcohol
I remember seeing the music video of the Barenaked Ladies singles One Week and It's All Been Done. At first I was amazed at the versatility of the band. For instance, it had two lead singers, Steven Page and Ed Robertson. They could rap in One Week, and belt out a corny old fashioned song in It's All Been Done, complete with hand claps, and whoo hoo hoo's. I got their CD of course, which opened up an entirely new musical experience. I remember listening to their song Alcohol and thinking "now that's a song I can relate to".
New Radicals/Jennifer Paige - You Get What You Give, Technicolor Lover, Crush, Sober
The year was 1999, a particularly carefree and prosperous time. We didn't worry about terrorism, or global warming, or nuclear weapons… just this little thing called Y2K that could result in worldwide destruction but could be fixed in software. The year also was the source of one of the best surreal listening experiences I had, courtesy of the (now disbanded) New Radicals and Jennifer Paige. Their songs epitomized the emotions of that era.
You Get What You Give has a nice uplifting, yet slightly rebellious message. Technicolor Lover - the unreleased song is a guilty pleasure of mine, as well as Paige's Crush, which I felt was overplayed, yet still retained its fresh quality. Sober could probably be one of the most underrated songs ever made, and the best music video ever made.
Barenaked Ladies - Maroon: Conventioneers, Sell Sell Sell, Baby Seat
When I first heard Maroon, Barenaked Ladies' follow up to Stunt, I was disappointed. It didn't have the catchy stuff that their previous album had. So I gave it one or two listens, and promptly stashed the CD. Only to uncover it several years later. That's when I "got it". And it's now my most favorite BNL album so far. To really appreciate it, you have to listen closely to the lyrics. I love the song 'Sell Sell Sell' because it's so over the top, in a ridiculously exaggerated way, describing in vivid detail the whole situation of the song.
CAKECAST - CAKE Finally Does Europe
This was a fantastic listening experience! Probably the best, most surreal listening I've had so far. Here's what happened. CAKE was supposed to go to Europe for a couple of live concerts. Then 9/11 hit, and their whole Europe tour dates were canceled. So to fix this, they played a live concert freely available via yahoo on the internet.
By this time, it had been more than five years since I first heard Rock n' Roll Lifestyle. And I had forgotten about CAKE. But I gave this a try, and the floodgates opened. I loved the songs. I loved how honest and sarcastic John Mccrea could be in the webcast. And of course I heard all the songs released by the band that I've missed all this years. I remember listening to the webcast from the office late at night, then coming home close to 12 midnight, feeling all pumped up.
Suzanne Vega - Caramel, World Before Columbus, Thin Man, Stockings
I only remembered Suzanne Vega from her hits Tom's Diner and Luka. They were ok songs, but nothing really remarkable about them. That changed completely after I listened to her Retrospective - Best of Suzanne Vega collection, along with the Nine Objects of Desire CD. I didn't realize that such rich songs with great lyrics, some of them dark, some of them amusing, existed. Although this particular set from Nine Objects reminds me of a sad, empty time in my life, I still love these songs for the imagery they give.
David Benoit/Smash Mouth - Then the Morning Comes
How can the same song sound so different, yet so good in both its instrumental (Benoit) and singing (Smash Mouth) forms? And for some reason, I felt like I could totally relate to Smash Mouth's lyrics, as if it was a wake up call to get up and make a comeback from obscurity.
Barenaked Ladies - Gordon: Hello City, Box Set
Ironically, the first Barenaked Ladies CD released was the last one I bought. This completes my BNL collection. To my surprise, I had another enjoyable time listening to this one, in particular the two songs Hello City and Box Set. Hello City is actually a hate song directed towards a particular city that the band performed in which they weren't treated well. Amusing because it sounds 'feel-good', yet filled with sarcasm. And my favorite song in this one is Box Set which describes how the band will eventually fade into obscurity. They tell the story of how they will release their complete collection on a single box set. The lyrics mention "Disc one it's where we begun, it's all our greatest hits" which is kind of self-fulfilling as BNL released their greatest hits CD with the title: "Disc One - all our greatest hits".
Frente - Horrible, Jungle
I remember many days of driving in the rain and darkness during the rainy season listening to Frente. First of all, Angie Hart has probably the most attractive female vocals in history. Second, these are excellent 60's-style songs, but made with an edge to it. The songs are all about depression, self-hate, jealousy, low self-esteem, only sung in Angie Hart's angelic voice. Is this good or what?
Barenaked Ladies/Frente - Footprints, Let the Sunshine In
Footprints came from Barenaked Ladies' first Christmas CD. Only a few songs were good, but I felt that Footprints stood out. There are several interpretations to the song, but I prefer my own interpretation that it is a song about a stalker in Christmas time. That thought alone qualifies the listening as a surreal experience in my book. It was during this time that I played Frente's 'Let the Sunshine In' repeatedly. Even though it had nothing to do with Christmas, it felt like a Christmas song.
Suzanne Vega - Knight Moves
Listening to this song puts me in another world and sends chills across my skin. It's a very honest song, one in which many thoughts are jumbled up. There is pleading, negotiating, reasoning out, and a lot of random ideas blurted out. Suzanne Vega described it as coming from many of the conversations she had with friends and acquaintances in the city.
Tears For Fears - Call Me Mellow, Everybody Loves a Happy Ending
Tears for Fears makes a triumphant comeback! I was instantly blown away with their single Call Me Melow. It felt Beatle-esque, yet unique, with booming vocals and a rich array of instruments to back up Orzabal's voice. The song Everybody Loves a Happy Ending will take over your thoughts and inspire you to do greater things than you thought you could accomplish. OK maybe I'm overselling the song a bit, but check out these lyrics: "Wake up you're on your own agenda. Give up the great pretender. With baby eyes of green. Wake up you're holding on to nothing. You know you're only bluffing. As dead as autumn leaves."
What bothered me was that none of the singles amounted to a radio hit in the US. These were fantastic, one of a kind songs, yet were largely ignored. This was when I realized that no longer were the Top 40 hits on radio a reliable measure of good music. I had to search and find on my own the music I really liked. A new era in what was once popular music.
CAKE - Pressure Chief: No Phone, Carbon Monoxide, Tougher Than it is, Guitar Man
This was the highlight of 2004 for me. Strange that a music CD would be a highlight, but it was. I had super-high expectations for CAKE's Pressure Chief, being four years since their last album and the CAKECAST. And to my amazement it even exceeded my expectations.
Two factors made this a great listening experience. I was out of town for a whole week for work, leaving the day the CD had arrived. I rushed to get in a couple of listens before taking off. It was also a particularly stressful week out, making coming back to Pressure Chief much more enjoyable. Another factor was seeing CAKE live in concert a week or so after the CD was out. I didn't realize there was that many CAKE fans who knew and loved the lyrics and songs that were a part of me. This made it more special. All in all, this ranks up there with CAKECAST.
Minnie Driver/New Order/Weezer - Complicated Man, Krafty, Beverly Hills
Last year was kind of a boring year, but a couple of underrated artists more than made up for it with their unique brand of music. I was excited to hear Krafty by New Order. It was like the 80's new wave tune reinvented for modern times. Again, I was disappointed that it didn't become a hit on radio. Beverly Hills by Weezer did become a minor hit, and had that good loser lyrics and catchy tune. Finally, the surprise was Minnie Driver (yes, the actress) performing this bonus single on Carson Daly called 'Complicated Man'. Wow, what a song. I'm still not tired of listening to this threesome of unique 2005 songs up to now.
Now you know the greatest musical experiences I've had so far. To save on space, I neglected to mention a few that were equally memorable. Maybe I'll write about them next time.