100 Favorite Songs: 11-15

Listy list face.

11. “Miami 2017 (See the Lights Go Out On Broadway)” by Billy Joel (1976)

I've rarely been a good sleeper, so I tend to listen to music in bed to distract me into relaxing my brain. "Miami 2017" was a guaranteed relaxer my sophomore year of high school. I'd usually space out somewhere in the upbeat middle and realize I was tired enough to sleep at the beautiful piano outro, causing me to turn off my CD player, take off my headphones, and fall asleep.

Not to say this song is soporific. It's lovely.

12. "Blood" by The Middle East (2009)

This is the newest song on this list, but I think my love of it will endure. It was one of those songs I instantly loved. The music is sad and hopeful and gives life the lyrical portrait of a family.

Love this video, too.

13. "Birdhouse in Your Soul" by They Might Be Giants (1990)

It's just so catchy, and once you learn all the bizarre lyrics, you can't not sing along.

The one song My 99.5 FM overplayed that I liked.

14. “Don’t Stop Me Now” by Queen (1979)

I think I've featured this song multiple times on this blog, but can you ever get sick of this song? Ever?

Also, this song is part of the best scene in Shaun of the Dead.

15. “Swallow” by The Wailin’ Jennys (2006)

Canadian bluegrass. Awesome. I'm mostly in love with brief Wailin' Jennys member Annabell Chvostek's voice in this song. I love a lady with rich low voice.

Also known as one of the few songs I can play on guitar.


100 Favorite Songs: 6-10

Numbers 6 through 10 of my unintentionally randomized list of favorite songs.

1. "I Want You Back" by the Jackson 5 (1969)

As much as listening to prepubescent voices sing love songs is weird, lil' Michael Jackson did it well. This is one of my favorite vocal performances ever, and set to classically catchy Motown music to boot. Here's a fantastic performance:

Too bad it's way too high to sing along to.

2. "Karma Police" by Radiohead (1997)

Haunting, lovely, bizarre, transcend at "For a minute there..." Love love.

Even live it captures the same ethereal feeling.

3. "Sax and Violins" by Talking Heads (1991)

Talking Heads' songs are usually pretty hit-or-miss for me, but I love "Sax and Violins." The chorus absolutely soars (I may or may not bust out in tribal dance every time I hear this song), and the lyrics are playful with intraline rhyming. And it somehow manages to sound timeless and early 90s at the same time.


4. "What If" by Coldplay (2005)

I have this uncontrollable desire to hate Coldplay, but I just can't when Coldplay comes out with songs like "What If." Not one of their released singles, it's part of their extremely listenable album X&Y. It combines a gorgeous verse melody with powerful chorus. I don't even hate the falsetto in this song, and that's saying a lot.

The voice of my old piano teacher Judy is telling me that Chris Martin is sitting too high up and that his forearms should be parallel to the stage.

5. "Once" by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglová (2007)

As underwhelmed as I am with most of the movie Once, I'm entrance by the title track from it. A lot of that has to do with the fact that Glen Hansard's yell-singing makes sense in this context (I love it, but for every song?), but also because I can't resist good brush drumming in conjunction with well sung harmonies.

Better audio here:


Cannonball Read #10: The Only Alien on the Planet

In the last few years, The Only Alien On the Planet by Kristen D. Randle has become one of those chicken soup, curl up in bed, and listen to the rain sort of books. It's comforting and ends with a life-affirming message. Also, as a quick read, it means I can catch up a little bit on this Cannonball Read.

The story begins with Ginny's family moving east on the adventurous whim of her parents. She's a new student for her senior year of high school, and she feels pretty down about having no friends and her older brother/BFF Paul leaving for college. But Ginny quickly becomes friends with her neighbor and classmate, Caulder, who introduces her to "The Alien" in the class, Smitty Tibbs. Most everyone in town has gotten used to Smitty, but Ginny becomes fascinated by him. He doesn't speak and he doesn't interact with anybody. He's not stupid--he's actually quite the genius--but he just doesn't talk.

So Caulder, who's been looking out for Smitty for years, recruits Ginny to help him pull Smitty out of his shell. First, they have him help Ginny with her math homework by having him write out step-by-step instructions. They then invite Smitty to go with them to the local film society where they screen old classics. All of this is much to the chagrin of Smitty's mother, who seems confused that anyone would try to befriend her clearly disabled son. But eventually, the two of them, although mostly Ginny, are able to break through the barriers that Smitty has kept up for so long.

If this sounds a little made for TV, it's a little like that. But the characters are written so fully, and the relationships are so organically grown, it rises above what could have been a saccharine plot. Ginny as a character just makes sense to me. Her doubts about herself, her fears at adjusting to a new life, and her relationship to her family seem natural. I'm mostly making this point because I read this book shortly before reading the first Twilight book which also features a "new girl becomes intrigued by weird but pretty guy everyone ignores and begins a tenuous relationship with" plot, but with a dislikable protagonist who is only defined by a list of dislikes. Unfortunately, I think I imprinted my love of The Only Alien on the Planet to Twilight which fooled me into thinking it wasn't that bad of the read. But I can't reread more than a couple chapters of Twilight, even though I could reread The Only Alien on the Planet hundreds of times.

Granted, the latter half of Kristen D. Randle's novel may be oversimplified, but it's genuine, never predictable, and you go with it because the characters are so interesting. For me, it's a page turner and a fully inhabitable book.


Penelope (2008)

For whatever reason, I'm always keeping tabs on movies/tv shows/books that I will recommend future daughters/nieces/little girl BFFs. I'm keeping an eye for my fellow sisters, I guess. Anyway, I perused the young adult section of the library today and remembered that there are slim pickin's for anyone looking for something not obsessing about image or boys or wallowing in self pity (take a look at the series described as "Desperate Housewives for teens." Gag). Anyway, I'll just take whatever dreck future little girl in my life is watching/reading and burn it, and then make her watch Penelope.

Penelope is fairytale of sorts about a girl cursed with a pig nose thanks to an old family curse. Forced into hiding by an oppressive media, she meets possible suitors (fellow bluebloods) that can break her curse through a two-way mirror. Unfortunately, once she shows her face, men tend to run out of the second story window. One of her especially repulsed suitors (Cranford's Simon Woods) manages to leave before signing a gag agreement and tries to tell the media about the pig-monster that he saw. His only sympathy comes from a reporter (Peter Dinklage) who lost his eye in pursuit of this story years before. They hire Max (James McAvoy), a down on his luck gambling blue-blood with shaggy hair, to help break the story with pictures. Max becomes one of the suitors and while he's waiting to see Penelope's face, develops a friendship with her. But of course he's outed as helping reporters, and cast out of the house despite his affection for her.

So Penelope decides that she's had enough of being rejected and watching guys run out of her house and decides to go out to the real world with a scarf around her face and her mom's credit card. She soon meets leather wearing delivery girl Annie (Reese Witherspoon) who quickly befriends her, despite the scarf. Penelope learns to be on her own without her parents, and eventually takes the scarf off and learns to like herself--even with her nose.

Some things I like most about Penelope:

1. Penelope learns to love herself and become her own person first and foremost. The romance isn't front and center of the movie. For example, the reveal that Max is working for reporters isn't the biggest drama in the movie and happens fairly early on in the movie. If anything, the romance is just icing on the cake. Delicious, delicious icing on the cake.

A cute game of chess across the window where Max tries to convince Penelope to go out of the house with him.

2. Reese Witherspoon as Penelope's real world friend is adorable. I haven't seen Witherspoon in anything recently that I've enjoyed, so it was refreshing to see her play a low-key supporting role. And I enjoyed that the friendship seems genuine and sweet, like girl friendships should be.

Manic pixie dream girl?

3. It's stylized without being too twee. The set design and costuming are quirky, but not bizarre or wholly unrealistic. And the characters are a little stereotypical, but are refreshingly subdued. Even Catherine O'Hara's overbearing mother role keeps from getting too shrill.

Even the payphone is a little offbeat.

4. Christina Ricci is now officially my actress of choice for interesting girl-friendly movies. I may have been mildly obsessed with Casper, Golddiggers: The Secret of Bear Mountain, and That Darn Cat at certain times in my life. Penelope may or may not join that list now.


100 Favorite Songs: 1-5

So, I like the idea of doing a top 100 list, but some things just don't seem feasible. Like top 100 albums? Dude, Napster came on the scene during my formative middle school years defeating any chance that I'd buy complete albums of most musical artistes (sorry). And top 100 movies just seems like a lot of work to figure out what movies I have seen let alone rank them. But I figured out a lazy list of top 100: my top 100 songs .

Disclaimer: The songs picked have to have been good enough to be obsessed with at some point, but not so much that I'm sick of it now. Also, I didn't put jazz standards in since so many people cover those songs. In fact, the list is primarily rock and pop songs with just a dash of country and R&B. And I don't really listen to enough rap or techno or heavy metal to list any of those songs as favorites--sorry fans of those genres. Mostly, this is just to say that this list is completely arbitrary and an excuse to talk about songs I like.

So, in the order I thought of them, my top 100 songs, 5 at a time:

1. "Caught Up in You" by .38 Special (1982)

This hit from the extremely average looking .38 Special (when they still had punctuation) is an example of the perfect rock song. Perfect short intro, perfect verse length, perfect chorus with catchy enough melody to cover mistaken words, a perfect guitar solo (harmonizing guitar!), but most of all, a perfect bridge. This song may feature my favorite bridge from any song ever (at 2:13 and 2:53). I love the way they break it down with the unison rhythm of the instruments. I just love it too much!

Although the awkward flirting going on in this video dampens the song's effect a bit.

2. "I Want it That Way" by The Backstreet Boys (1999)

In the boy band war of the late 90s, I was staunchly a BSB fan (better music and better singers, duh). Their iconic song "I Want it That Way" is my favorite of their songs, and stands as a perfect example of how successful incomprehensible lyrics set to a catchy melody can be (the alternate version of the lyrics just sounds weird). Plus, it featured the voices of every one of the boys at some point in the song, including my beloved Kevin at the bridge of the song (of course).

'99 was also the summer I watched a ton of TRL. Worth it.

3. "I Can't Make You Love Me" by Bonnie Raitt (1991)

Best song if you're in the mood for a good cry. 'nuff said.

I have nothing to add.

4. "When the Levee Breaks" by Led Zeppelin (1971)

Led Zep at their grittiest. The drums are monstrous, the vocals are strong, the harmonica and slide guitar bring the sound out west while the guitar is a steady onslaught of awesome. It never feels like a 7 minute no matter how many times I hear it.

Great song to work custodial to, FYI.

5. "Baba O'Riley" by The Who (1971)

Also proving that long doesn't mean boring is the Who. There's such a perfect build to the song that gets more and more urgent as the song goes on, finally ending on a fast folk rhythm. And they use synthesizer so well that it sounds organic in the song. Seriously, a violin/synth duet? Brilliant.

Their live version with a harmonica is pretty great, too.

There's a reason these were the first 5 I thought of when making this list. From here on out the choices get increasingly more random. Until next time.


Things read out loud are instantly funnier

For your enjoyment, here's the fifth installment of my favorite thing to come out of the Twilight phenomenon: Alex Reads Twilight.

British accents help, don't they? Also, the fact that he gets down to the heart of awful so concisely.

In case you want to watch it from the beginning (you know you do), here's part 1.


Incredibly apt observation of the day

From my roommate Same-Name:

It's impossible to describe Gregory Peck with any other word besides handsome.

Too manly for cute, too classy for hot. He's just handsome.

Goal: Become a legit Led Zeppelin Fan: In Through the Out Door

My takes on Led Zeppelin I, Led Zeppelin II, Led Zeppelin III, Led Zeppelin IV, Houses of the Holy, Physical Graffiti, and Presence.

I know y'all were concerned I'd never finish this series, but here it is, the last Zeppelin album (more or less): In Through the Out Door released in 1979.

1. "In the Evening" - Synthy and repetitious, this song is kind of boring. While Page comes in with some sweet guitar action at about 3:45, it's too little too late.

2. "South Bound Saurez" - One of the few songs that Jimmy Page had no part writing (he and John Bonham consistently showed up late for song writing sessions for this album), it's a fun and piano-heavy song. It's one of the more organic songs on the album, and I love that John Paul Jones really gets to shine through. Bonus awesomeness: "sha-la-la-la"s lead out the song.

3. "Fool in the Rain" - It was about 3 years ago I asked someone who this song was by and my interest in Led Zeppelin was piqued because it was so unlike the rest of their stuff I had heard. Little did I know it was mostly because Plant and Jones were the main writers for this album. Anyway, fun fact: the samba rhythm in the song middle was influence by the 1978 World Cup in Argentina. One more reason to love soccer. Also, some of my favorite Bonham drumming happens in the transition back to the original rhythm and temp from the samba.

4. "Hot Dog" - An English band doing American rockabilly. It's basically 1950s rock but with harder core(?) soloing.

5. "Carouselabra" - THIS SONG IS SO LONG! AND INCREDIBLY SYNTHESIZER HEAVY. Ahem. Back on track, this song reminds of "The Song Remains the Same" in that it's almost a little too upbeat. Unfortunately, it gets really repetitious and there's just not enough guitar to rock my socks off; it's hidden by obnoxious synthesizer insanity except for the merciful (although long) slow middle portion. At least they acknowledge the ridiculousness in the fact the song is named after carousel music.

6. "All of My Love" - This is the second song on the album that was completely written by John Paul and Robert. It's almost a little too synth-tastic for me to really get behind, mostly because the keyboard is set to "strings." If you're going to go synthesizer, use as a unique instrument, not as a replacement, you know. Anyway, it's kind of distracting from all the cool things going on musically, like the Spanish guitar solo in the middle. Also, this song features a key change, and it's kind of weird.

7. "I'm Gonna Crawl" - Speaking of keyboards set to "strings." The beginning of this song almost feels like a spiritual you would sing in middle school to a prerecorded track. Anyway, I really enjoy the swaying 6/8 time of the song that offers a great background to some prime Jimmy solo action which is a refreshing change from the rest of the album.

Overall assessment: It's unfortunate that the two musically harder members of the band were wasted and late during the recording of this album because it's missing the bluesy grit I love most about Led Zeppelin. There are some interesting songs on the album, but it suffers from a severe case of the synthesizers that prevents me from listening to it straight through.


Cannonball Read #9: A Separate Peace

Everyone has a moment in history which belongs particularly to him. It is the moment when his emotions achieve their most powerful sway over him, and afterward when you say to this person "the world today" or "life" or "reality" he will assume that you mean this moment, even if it is fifty years past.

A Separate Peace
by John Knowles takes place mostly in a summer session at Devon School during WWII. The boys at the boarding school are at the cusp of enlisting or being drafted into the military, but they have one last summer before the reality of war reaches them. Our main character, Gene, is reflecting on this time in his life 15 years before, when a boy names Phineas overwhelmed his life. Phineas is a fascinating boy, naturally athletic and friendly, willing to break rules, easily charming. But our narrator is Gene, so we view Phineas from the outside, knowing him only from how Gene felt about him.

Gene is an introverted character, revealing things to the reader that most people would keep private, like wanting the worst of your best friend, fancying some rivalry. Like showing how a shy personality can be taken in by a strong personality despite skepticism. Like showing how you can care so much for someone without ever telling them. Like honestly trying to figure out how to apologize and how to do right.

More than anything, the book captures the detached feeling of looking back a big moment in your life. It still holds power, but you've had time to look back at it and analyze, to realize what sort of an idiot you were at the time, but also to realize that the magic of that time can never be recaptured. A Separate Peace ached for that school year in the details remembered and forgotten by older Gene and how it would define his future.


Pop culture around the world: Arashi

This may or may not become a regular thing. Mostly, it's a way to do shoddy research about awesome/cheesy/fun stuff from not America. Enjoy.

I try to keep my ends out for girly crap all over the world when I can. This time, it's Japanese pop sensations Arashi. Put together in 1999 Lou Pearlman-style by Johnny & Associates, this 5 member boys band has managed to stick around and remain popular for over a decade. Their music is blandly pop, exhibiting one of the great mysteries in life: why have a group with multiple singers if they rarely harmonize?

"Sakura Sake" (2005)

The one rapping is Sho. I think I love it.

But adding to their fame all members of the band Ryan Seacrest it and have jobs in every media modality possible. Not only are they singers, but actors in both television (need I mention my love for Asian drama?) and movies, radio and television variety show hosts, etc., etc.

My roommate is a fan and exposed to the band through their show "VS Arashi" where celebrities come and compete against team Arashi in ridiculous Japanese-style games. It is as ridiculous and colorful as you think it is. Showing me an episode featuring fellow male pop star and super pretty Gackt, she translated enough for me to understand what was going on--enough to pick a favorite member of Arashi: Nino!

After doing further YouTube and Wikipedia research, I conclude that my gut reaction of choosing the teasing Nino as a favorite is vindicated. Not only is he adorable, he seems to consistently have the least styled hair, which is a plus if you look at the other guys. Otherwise known as Kazunari Ninomiya, he's best known to American audiences as playing Private Saigo in Clint Eastwood's Letters from Iwo Jima. He's also starred in several Japanese drams and films with and without his bandmates.

Also, he shows that he has musical competency with his solo song "Niji" (2007) from Arashi's Time album:

Glasses? Rolled-up sleeves? Vest? Loosened tie?!! Win.

So there you have it: you're new favorite boy band, Arashi.


Dear Indie Rock Bands

Stop making the girls sing so damn high. It's not in their range, and it makes your music sound like an 8th grade choir concert instead of awesome. Honestly, it ruins perfectly good songs. Check it:

"Chimbley Sweep" by the Decemberists (2003)

The incriminating singing happens about 2 minutes into the song. Every time, I cringe at the nasal highness of those notes. Couldn't you find someone else to sing the girl's part? Answer: yes. The song is narrated, so it doesn't matter who sings it, we'll get the message. Next time get someone competent, like the lead singer, to sing it.

The downside of Indie bands? You can't find good videos on YouTube. Please enjoy a "Teen Titans" interpretation.

"No Cars Go" by Arcade Fire (2007)

The singing starts at 1:10 seconds in. I mean, at least the girl's going for the notes, but is really necessary? Answer: no. It's obnoxious.

Film school project!

"Fools Gold" by The Middle East (2009)

This song's got a lot of great things going for it, but from :30-1:30 you have painfully high notes sung by the chick in the background. Did you really need that sung an octave up? Answer: no. But good use of the girl at the end. Those harmonies in her range really sound nice.

Another class project that was honestly my only option. Try not to cut yourself.


Cannonball Read #8: Darcy's Story

It's official: I'm a Pride and Prejudice slut. I've seen countless adaptations of the story in film and literature (latest travesty: Lifetime's 12 Men of Christmas), but today I admit that I stooped to reading novelized fan fiction. Something about it being $5 and on an end display spoke to me, and I knew I had to read Darcy's Story by Janet Aylmer.

Granted, the book isn't as bad as it could have been. As far as having a writer use a dead author's work as a starting off point, it could be worse. Take Scarlett, for example. It's hundreds upon hundreds of pages of some writer I'm too lazy to look up trying to get Scarlett and Rhett back together, never capturing the fully fleshed-out and beautifully written characters of Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind. Instead, you have bizarre plot choices, a trip to Ireland, and PG-13 love scenes only fit for reading late at night at sleepovers of bookish girls.

Although Darcy's Story has an advantage of being the story of Pride and Prejudice only from Mr. Darcy's perspective, so no bizarro shark jumping moves are made. In fact, it's a fairly tasteful book give it's sole purpose is to answer "OMG, what was Mr. Darcy was THINKING and FEELING and DOING the whole time!!?" more or less. It takes a view that seems to conducive to his character, showing him justifying his sometimes snobby behavior logically. It also fills in what he was up to during the moments in Pride and Prejudice that he was gone. Darcy's sister Georgiana benefits in this version, showing up in some sweet, if rather expository, sibling scenes.

Unfortunately the answer to what he was doing (as shared in this novel) is mostly thinking about Elizabeth Bennet. Certainly, that makes sense, but it's got to the point where the short chapters seemed to list the number of weeks he was at a certain place before Darcy met up with Elizabeth again and played out scenes that closely resemble the original work itself. And while there are additional scenes with Elizabeth that develop the storyline further, it's not enough to make this a novel in and of itself.

Surely it wasn't supposed to be taken as more than a companion to Pride and Prejudice, but it's not spectacular. Darcy's behavior and thoughts in this adaptation didn't surprise me in the least, having drawn similar conclusions about the character on my own. At the end of the day, Pride and Prejudice is best in its original form--full of wit, satire, a lovely and humorous heroine, and the suspense of not knowing how Mr. Darcy would behave next. But I guess I know now that he rather blandly obsessed about Miss Eliza Bennet. What an anticlimax.


Cannonball Read #7: Catching Fire

Book 2 of the Hunger Games series, Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins picks up a few months after the conclusion of book 1 (Hunger Games). For anyone who hasn't read the first book, a future dystopic nation has 12 impoverished districts that are under the thumb of the wealthy and corrupt Capitol. To remind the districts of their dependence on the Capitol, they hold annual Hunger Games, in which one boy and one girl ages 12-18 are chosen from each district to compete in a death match where there can only be one victor. The Games are required viewing for citizens and are televised to every home. What makes it an even sicker practice is the facade of honor the Capitol puts on the Games, creating instant celebrities out of these teenagers who will struggle to survive in the harsh climate of the Games. Our protagonist is the scrappy 16-year-old Katniss from the coal mining district 12. She's a skilled hunter with a vast knowledge of fauna, but has severe deficits in her ability to work the media in her favor. In other words, she's an interesting character to follow.

The rest of this review is spoilery if you haven't read Hunger Games. Just go read it. You won't regret that decision, I promise. It's young adult literature at its best.

Anyway, book 2 picks up a few months after Katniss and Peeta's shared victory of the annual Hunger Games. They're keeping up their fake romance for the media to keep the government from thinking their move to pull a double suicide at the end of Games was a ploy to defy the government. However, it's too late, as Katniss and Peeta's act has sparked rumblings of rebellion from all the districts.

So we end up following Katniss as she comes to accept her role as a symbol for revolution. I like that we only know as much as she knows about the state of the districts and the government's power, although most readers will probably catch onto what all the clues mean before she does. We also follow her journey in finding out where she stands with her old hunting buddy Gale and the spurned Peeta. Both of them love her, but how does she feel about them? Fortunately, this last issue was dealt with, I felt, realistically and organically. Part of that has to do with the fact that romance isn't the only focus of the book, although it's a delightful thread that gives more weight to the choices Katniss has to make.

And while Catching Fire book might not be as perfectly plotted or surprising as Hunger Games, it's just as engaging. It was exciting to see the characters grow and connect with one another within this very dangerous context. I can't stress enough how much it heartens me to read literature about a teenage girl that's actually good. Katniss seems like a real person and has real (and scary) choices to make, and I can't wait for the next book to see where she ends up.


Medley of the Day: A practical list of don'ts for you edition

Just in case you're in need of a little musical inspiration to start your year off right. Mostly, as a list of don'ts.

"Seize the Day" from the motion picture Newsies (1992)

A little warm-up from my favorite street urchins, exhorting you to "don't be afraid and don't delay."

"Don't Look Back" by Boston

Boston: most energizing band of all time?

"Don't Stop Believin'" by Journey

Is there anything more inspirational than this song? Performed awesomely LIVE?

"Don't Stop Me Now" by Queen

Hopefully we can all get to this point this year. Namely, overconfident and oh-so-catchy.