(Video): The Kenny Rogers My Generation Never Knew…

Most of us know Kenny Rogers as Mr. Light Pop-ish Country (or Country-ish Pop, depending on your perspective). I bet many people don’t realize that Kenny’s first hit was this little psychedelic number. The effects on this video trip me out (no pun intended), but I actually like Kenny’s surprisingly soulful singing…enjoy!

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Melodies I Love

It’s no secret that I’m a music lover. And I’m a sucker for a good melody. I’ve compiled a list of ten songs that I think are notable for their melodies. This isn’t a countdown, and it isn’t necessarily a list of my favorite songs, though some of my all time favorite songs are on the list. I’ve tried where possible to link to videos of the songs.

Note: I stuck to vocal music. I could’ve included some wonderful instrumentals (like “Jessica” by The Allman Brothers Band or “First Breath After Coma” by Explosions In The Sky), but I chose to make the playing field level, as it were.

Here we go, in alphabetical order by song title:

“Came To The Rescue,” Hillsong United — This is one of my favorite worship songs for many reasons, not the least of which is the melody, especially on the bridge.

“Fall At Your Feet,” Crowded House/Jennifer Kimball — This is one of Crowded House’s more obscure songs, so obscure in fact that I was familiar with Jennifer Kimball’s version (which I couldn’t find on YouTube) before I was the original. It’s become my favorite Crowded House tune.

“Flame Turns Blue,” David Gray — This is one of my absolute favorites; it’s so elegantly simple. Check out a video on the inspiration for the song here.

“Green Summer Lawn,” Vigilantes Of Love — My friend Bill Mallonee has written a bunch of amazing songs, many of them rousing rockers. But this one is a beautiful, Brit-pop masterpiece and one of the most encouraging songs I know.

“Long Time Gone,” Dixie Chicks — Say what you want about their politics; say what you want about country music. But you’d be hard pressed to deny that this song’s melody is innovative and just fresh and fun. One of the highlights of a stellar album. Here’s a live version by the songwriter, Darrell Scott.

“Polaroids,” Shawn Colvin — This beautiful, wandering story song kicked off the Fat City album, and I rewound the tape (did I date myself here?) over and over. Thank God I have the CD and mp3 now! (On a side note, does she look totally uncomfortable talking about the song onthe video, or what?)

“Sound Of Melodies,” Leeland — This was the first song of Leeland’s that I heard, and of all the great melodic songs they’ve done, this is my absolute favorite.

“Suddenly I See,” K T Tunstall — This song makes the list for one line of melody. Check out the melody on the lines “Everything around her is a silver pool of light” and “She fills up every corner like she’s born in black and white.” Innovative, and proof that a single melody line can lift a song to a whole new level. (Two other songs of hers, “Other Side Of The World” and “False Alarm” get honorable mentions.)

“Useless Desires,” Patty Griffin — Here’s another really beautiful, sad story song. I think the melody really helps convey the sadness and resignation of the song.

“You Never Give Me Your Money,” The Beatles — Paul McCartney wrote some of the Beatles’ most enduring melodies, and this song about the precarious state of the band’s finances in their waning days together is one of them. The three distinct sections of the song, each with its own strong melody, combine to create a whole that’s more than the sum of its parts.

I’m sure I’ve left something out, and maybe I’ll come up with a Part 2 list one of these days. In the meantime, what are some of your favorites?

Helvetica

Last week I watched a pretty fascinating documentary called Helvetica. I know what you’re thinking…”he watched a movie about a font?” Yes, I watched a movie about a font. But underneath the surface of the subject, this documentary, which was released in 2007 to mark the 50th anniversary of Helvetica’s debut, revealed a lot about the nature of graphic design and, to a lesser extent, advertising in the late 20th century through the dawn of the new millennium.

Whether you realize it or not, Helvetica is everywhere. Designed in 1957 in Switzerland (hence the name…Helvetica is the Latin word for Switzerland.), Helvetica was designed to be a “neutral” typeface for everybody. The idea was that Helvetica would be free of any particular national identity or style and that the universality of it would be clean and simple.

The American Airlines logo was designed in 1967 by Massimo Vignelli. It is the only major airline logo that has remained the same since that time.

The development of Helvetica as a font came about during (and as part of) the modernist movement in architecture and design. The designers of Helvetica saw it as the ultimate in clean, modern style. As the 1960s dawned, the trendsetters and iconoclasts in design and advertising began to employ Helvetica all over the place. Logos, letterheads, signage, print ads…you name it, and chances are Helvetica was somewhere in it. Major corporations and organizations like American Airlines, Coca-Cola, and the New York City Transit Authority chose to create logos, ads, and signage in Helvetica for its modernism and readability.

Massimo Vignelli and the late Bob Noorda designed the New York City Transit Authority in 1966, choosing Helvetica for its readability.

Fast forward to the end of the 1960s and the dawn of the 1970s. A new crop of young designers have taken hold of the graphic design world, and they see Helvetica as a sign of an antiquated, corrupt generation. Feeling burned by the Vietnam War and blistering changes in politics throughout the world, this new generation of designers view Helvetica as the official font of the people in power. (One designer in the documentary says that she purposely didn’t use Helvetica during that time because she felt like it represented the politicians she held responsible for Vietnam; she went on to take a predictable cheap shot saying that she equates it in 2007 with the Iraq War.)

QuikTrip’s logo is another one that employs Helvetica.

In the 1980s, the postmodern movement in both architecture and graphic design dawned, and many designers shied away from a font seen as plain. Today, Helvetica has its passionate admirers and vehement detractors. Some designers, especially in Europe, will work with no other font, while others refuse to use it at all. Helvetica is a default font in Apple programs like Pages (and you’ll see it on your iPod if it’s new enough); the sickly Arial font on PC is the closest approximation.

Personally, I come down somewhere in the middle. I can see why people like the clean, modern look of Helvetica, but at the same time, there are plenty of cool fonts to choose from, and none of them are as ubiquitous as Helvetica.

Helvetica the movie was fascinating because it revealed just how the attitude and politics of graphic design has changed as much as the style of design. As crazy as it sounds, one font did spark a revolution in design, not to mention the reactions and ripples that have followed in the past 50-plus years. And again, as crazy as it sounds, Helvetica was a documentary worth watching, especially for anyone who is as intrigued by graphic design as I am.

Target uses Helvetica in its logo as well as in much of its advertising.

Summer Songs

Now that summer is officially bearing down on all of us, it stands to reason that I, the Listmaker, would put together a list of the songs that represent summertime to me. They’re songs that I listen to all year round, but they especially speak to me in the summer. This idea has actually been rolling around in my head for a while now, so here’s my list of summer songs, in no particular order:

Jimmy Buffett, pretty much everything he’s ever done — Love him or hate him (and I love him), nothing says “summer” like Buffett and his music. There’s nothing like seeing him live, but I can listen to any of his many live recordings or anything he’s done in the studio and be taken away to the beaches of my mind.

Zac Brown Band, “Where The Boat Leaves From” — I probably could’ve done the same thing with Zac Brown Band that I did with Buffett, but this song is head and shoulders above them all in representing summer to me. I love nearly everything ZBB has done, but when it comes to summer, you can’t beat “Where The Boat Leaves From.”

Dakoda Motor Co., “Grey Clouds” — Christian surf rock? It sounds crazy, but Dakoda Motor Co. did it with such excellence over two albums* (Into The Son and Welcome Race Fans) that they remain timeless. You could pick any song from either album, but this is my favorite one…and one of my favorite songs of all time. I especially love that steel guitar…

Pat Green, “Somewhere Between Texas And Mexico” — Pat Green is another artist whom, for me, you can’t go wrong with, but this song in particular just makes me think of sitting by the pool soaking up the sun. I can’t help but feel caught up in the vibe of the song.

Melanie Penn, “Ordinary Day” — I’ve been extolling the virtues of Melanie Penn to anyone I can lately. Her debut album, Wake Up Love, is just amazing; so far I’m going on record to call it the best album of 2010. While most of it is fairly melancholy, “Ordinary Day” has a bouncy quality that fits summer well. It’s a terrific year-round song, but it’s gotten me through some hot summer days lately.

The Mamas & The Papas, “I Saw Her Again” — The Mamas & The Papas are second only to the Beatles in terms of my favorite 60’s artists. Their amazing, and quintessentially California, harmonies and knack for choosing amazing material really solidify their place among my favorites. This is probably their most upbeat song, so it’s a natural choice for my list of summer songs.

Delta Spirit, “Trashcan” — I got hooked on this song through Friday Night Lights, so I really don’t know anything else about this band. But this song has such a windows-down kind of quality, that I can’t help but turn it up when I hear it.

The Allman Brothers Band, “Back Where It All Begins” — ABB is another band whose entire catalog I could listen to, but I highlighted this one because it’s a lesser-known gem among their songs. I just love the vibe of this song…

Vigilantes Of Love, “It’s Not Bothering Me” — Perhaps it’s just a coincidence that this song appears on the Summershine album, but I like to think not. I love the whole Brit-pop sound on this album (my favorite cut is the beautiful “Green Summer Lawn,” though it’s not a particularly summer-y song), and “It’s Not Bothering Me” is a standout cut. I love singing along to it, and it has an intriguing lyric, so I guess it’s my cerebral summer song.

I’m sure I’ll think of more songs; maybe I’ll have enough to come up with a volume 2 of this list before summer’s over…

*Yes, I know Dakoda Motor Co. made three albums, but I don’t know anything about Railroad. Besides, Davia Vallesillo didn’t sing on it, so as far as I’m concerned it doesn’t really count.

A Classic, “Must See” Movie That Escaped Me

Sometime last year, I compiled a list of old movies that I want to see. They range in date from the 1930s to the 70s, and cover a wide variety of genres, from comedies to foreign films, to movies I’m not really sure about, only that I’m told I should see them.

I’ve been able to mark a few off the list: On The Waterfront, Days Of Wine And Roses, and Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner were good, and The Apartment has become one of my all time favorites. Rashomon was the first subtitled foreign film I’ve ever been able to sit the whole way through. Network was dreadful; there wasn’t a single likeable character in the whole movie.

I’m discovering the best ways to see these movies. You can rent from iTunes, usually for $2.99 or $3.99. You can check many of them out at the library; I was amazed to see that the Social Circle library had more of the ones on my list than the Covington library. Some of these movies I may never be able to find for rent or to check out.

Last week I rented The Graduate. I’ve wanted to see it for a while; it’s supposed to be the statement of the baby boom generation. I’ve read about the making of the film, and I know the pedigree: Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft, director Mike Nichols, and all that… Maybe it’s a generational thing, but I just couldn’t get into it. I can’t even bring myself to finish it.

Dustin Hoffman’s character, Benjamin Braddock, is supposed to represent the alienation that baby boomers experienced. As good a performance as it was, all I saw was a petulant, spoiled, and…dare I say…bratty young man. Anne Bancroft’s character, Mrs. Robinson (y’all know the line: “Mrs, Robinson, you’re trying to seduce me… Aren’t you?”), is hilarious, and the awkwardness of their exchanges was the most fun I had watching what I did of the movie.

What I saw didn’t even have much of a plot. It was a series of vignettes to me: Benjamin mopes around his parents’ house; then he has a tryst with Mrs. Robinson. He reacts in exasperation at the lameness of his parents; he has another fling with Mrs. Robinson. It got too predictable by about an hour in. Granted, it could just be a slow starter, and the second half may contain all the plot, but I just couldn’t bring myself to go any further.

Basically, Anne Bancroft and the Simon & Garfunkel songs were the best things about The Graduate. I suppose I shouldn’t judge a film without seeing all of it, but I just couldn’t bring myself to finish the movie and see what all the fuss was about. Maybe one day I’ll find the courage (or desire…or whatever it takes) to check it out again and watch the last half.

Meanwhile, it’s back to my list…

I Just Don’t Care

Writers are always taught to write about what they care about, what they’re passionate about. It stands to reason; if nothing else, it’s simply easier to write about what excites you, and it’s easier to achieve excellence with a topic about which you are passionate.

I’m going to flip that notion on its head with this post and write about something I don’t care about: the World Cup. Frankly, not only do I not care, but I’m completely sick of hearing about it. And it hasn’t even started yet! ESPN has hyped the World Cup to no end, and I still can’t bring myself to care.

Why?

  • Because I can’t bring myself to like soccer. I played it as a kid, but that doesn’t make me a fan. I don’t have much use for a sport in which there’s a high probability that two teams will tie.
  • The sports media continually try to equalize soccer with the “mainstream” sports in the United States, like football, baseball, and NASCAR. Sorry, it just doesn’t work.
  • The World Cup is full of athletes I’ve never heard of from countries of little or no consequence to international affairs. And chances are, I won’t hear of these athletes again until ESPN tries to shove the World Cup down my throat the next go around.
  • Even the American athletes aren’t all that well known.
  • International soccer fans are frighteningly violent. I can’t bring myself to support a sport with fans like these.

I could go on and on, but I find myself sounding increasingly cynical (and that’s a side of me I don’t like). The fact of the matter is that I just don’t care. My apologizes to soccer fans and World Cup fans everywhere (and there appears to be plenty of them or the media wouldn’t crow about it so much), but I don’t forsee anything anyone could do that would bring me to care.

A New Blog That Will Certainly Be Worth Reading

I want to share a new blog from a friend of mine. I’ve had the privilege of literally watching Brandon Daniel grow up; he’s a godly young man with a heart that’s second to none and talent and intellect to spare. He’s taking a solo trip this summer to explore some of God’s creation, and he’s blogging about it. Check out http://brandondaniel22.wordpress.com/; I have a good feeling he’s going to have a lot of good things to say in the coming weeks.

“Guilty Pleasures”

One of my mind-numbing summer TV shows kicked off this week, so I thought I’d take this momentous occasion to talk about some of my favorite “guilty pleasures.” I classify them as “guilty pleasures” because a lot of people would be ashamed to admit they like them, but I don’t really care. Here goes:

Hell’s Kitchen/Kitchen Nightmares/The F Word: A lot of people don’t like Gordon Ramsay; in fact, a lot of people despise him. Sure, he’s loud and obnoxious, he can be rude, and he can employ profanity in ways that can make sailors blush. What I love about Chef Ramsay is the fact that he doesn’t hesitate to tell things like they are, but the coolest thing about him is his passion for food. Hell’s Kitchen kicked off its sixth or seventh season this week (I’ve lost count), and it’s still fun to watch these young punk chef-wannabes bow up in front of the confessional camera but wilt in his presence. Kitchen Nightmares is good; I prefer the UK version to the US one. But Gordon Ramsay’s best show is The F Word on BBC America (the F word is food, silly); there’s where you can see his true passion for food, and I guarantee you’ll gain respect for him with one episode.

The Carpenters: Make fun all you want; I can take it. My mom got me hooked on their music when I was just a little kid. They’re the prototype for vanilla flavored, 70’s AM radio pop music, and they’re nothing wrong with a little vanilla once in a while. But if you dig beyond the surface of their music, there’s amazing stuff there: Karen’s beautiful alto, especially suited for heart-breaking love songs; impeccable arrangements, mostly done by Richard and Karen themselves; smart, if sappy, songwriting; those thick, multi-tracked harmonies. The Carpenters are most decidedly underrated as musicians, arrangers, and producers.

Vince Flynn’s novels: Vince Flynn writes thrillers that are gory, profanity-laden, and adrenaline-pumping. His protagonist, Mitch Rapp, makes Jack Bauer look subdued. They’re not for everyone, and they’re sure not for the faint of heart. But I love ’em, and I appreciate how Flynn doesn’t pull punches about the terrorist threats we face here in America.

Imported Mexican Coca-Cola: They’re made with real sugar, not corn syrup, just like we used to drink when we were kids. Need I say more?

The Carol Burnett Show: Still timelessly funny, I look for reruns of Carol Burnett anytime I can, and I’m dying to find DVD’s of the show without having to subscribe to that service they offer on the infomercials. I defy anyone to find anything currently on television that’s as funny time and time again as The Carol Burnett Show was.

I could go on and on, but you’re probably bored to death if you made it this far, so I won’t… What are your favorite “guilty pleasures”?

Sleepless Nights

I’ll freely admit that I’m not much of a sleeper. I’m often getting to bed fairly late and waking up pretty early, despite my best efforts to do otherwise. From time to time I’ll have a night where I just can’t sleep. No matter what I try to do, it’ll take a long time to get to sleep, or I’ll wake up in the middle of the night and stay awake for a while.

Typically, I’ll simply toss and turn. I’ve heard stories of people who can’t sleep because they have something on their mind; it’s quite the opposite for me. I’ll lie in bed literally wishing I had something to think about (notice I didn’t say worry…). It’s infuriating, mainly because I don’t want to get up (usually because I’m praying the sleeplessness won’t happen for long, but just as often out of laziness), but I can’t make myself go to sleep.

Not long ago, I had one of those nights. After at least half an hour of tossing and turning, I decided to get up, turn on the computer, and write. I’m a writer; I always have been, and there’s no getting around it. I had a couple of ideas bumping around in my head, and it just made sense to put them down. So I did. In about 45 minutes, I had two complete posts done and scheduled. I went back to bed pretty satisfied, and Now I think I know how to spend those sleepless nights.

How do you endure when you can’t sleep?

My 007 Favorite James Bond Themes

On the heels of the announcement a couple of  weeks ago that the next James Bond film has been placed on indefinite hold due to MGM’s budget restraints, I’ve been watching a few of my DVDs. One of the things that the 007 franchise is best known for is a long list of cool theme songs and title sequences. So…being the listmaker that I am, here are my seven (Get it? 007? I crack myself up…) favorite theme songs, with a couple of honorable mentions.

Honorable Mentions:

“We Have All The Time In The World,” Louis Armstrong, from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) — This one isn’t exactly a theme song, and let’s face it: Louis Armstrong isn’t exactly who you’d think of to sing a song in a Bond film (about as likely as a duet between Jack White and Alicia Keys…oh wait, that happened). But “We Have All The Time In The World” is a sophisticated, sweet love song that I actually read a few years ago was used as a worship song in some churches in England.

“License To Kill,” Gladys Knight, from License To Kill (1989) — To be brutally honest, the Timothy Dalton movies were nothing short of terrible. And this song doesn’t really sound like a 007 theme, but it’s a good song, and Atlanta girl Gladys Knight gives a really solid performance on this one.

Now…on to the countdown…

007: “You Only Live Twice,” Nancy Sinatra, from You Only Live Twice (1967) — So it lacks the dynamic punch of most of the rest of the 007 theme songs. So it’s a slightly lackluster performance from the woman who brought us “These Boots Are Made For Walking.” It’s still actually a fascinating song, particularly because of the Japanese elements brought into the score, fitting the theme of the film perfectly. For a bonus, check out Coldplay’s cover version

006: Tomorrow Never Dies,” Sheryl Crow, from Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) — I remember that there was a bit of controversy over this song. k d lang had written and produced a song for the film, and the producers passed it over for Sheryl Crow’s song; I remember some critics being up in arms over the choice, but I can’t help but think that the producers made the right decision. It’s a cool song, and I think it’s one of Sheryl Crow’s best performances.

005: “Thunderball,” Tom Jones, from Thunderball (1965) — In 1965, Tom Jones was the epitome of cool. His schtick looks corny today, but I think he’s a heck of a vocalist. He was probably the obvious choice for this theme song, and the song shows his vocal capabilities well. I’d say it’s a good follow-up to “Goldfinger” as far as the theme songs go, and it set the stage for even more great songs to come.

004: “You Know My Name,” Chris Cornell, from Casino Royale (2006) — After the themes from the last two Pierce Brosnan films veered sharply in a techno/dance direction, it was nice to see the first Daniel Craig theme song really ROCK! Chris Cornell was the perfect choice to write and perform this song (Why didn’t they ask him years ago?), and the song and clever title sequence went a long way to establish the gritty, realistic tone of the new films.

003: “Diamonds Are Forever,” Shirley Bassey, from Diamonds Are Forever (1971) — Shirley Bassey, arguably one of the most melodramatic vocalists of all time…but in a good way, recorded the themes to three Bond films: Goldfinger (probably her best known song), Diamonds Are Forever, and Moonraker. Her second time up is the best song; it’s a textbook slice of sophisticated early 70s pop, delivered with Bassey’s trademark vibrato. The song offers quite a nice vocal range for her, and the melody is both catchy and classy.

002: “Nobody Does It Better,” Carly Simon, from The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) — Even if it hadn’t been a Bond theme, it’s an incredible song, and probably Carly Simon’s finest performance. Cleverly written and perfectly produced, it’s a theme song that transcends the kitsch of a late 70s Roger Moore flick.

001: “Live And Let Die,” Paul McCartney & Wings, from Live And Let Die (1973) — I guess it would stand to reason that the Bond theme by one of the Beatles would be my favorite, but would you believe that he almost didn’t record it? Even with a McCartney-written theme song and a score by George Martin, the producers almost hired Thelma (“Don’t Leave Me This Way”) Houston to sing it! I’m sure she would’ve done a fine job, but could you imagine anything better than the amazing record that it turned out to be? The song threads the line between rock and classical/film scoring and its driving energy helps set the tone for the movie. Hands down, it’s the best.

There’s my Top 7. Let me know what you think…