Monday, May 04, 2009

Songs for May

Today's scheduled YouTube concert will be posted here at NOON CST. It is live footage of an unreleased song, "Edge of the World." I hope y'all enjoy.



Growing up in Memphis, May was always a big month. There was BBQ Fest, Musicfest, Italianfest, Sunset Symphony, etc. Throw in the end of the schoolyear, the beginning of bodacious summer weather, fond memories of soccer tournaments, and the NBA playoffs, and you've got a month worth writing about.

Now, there's slightly less to love. My calendar doesn't follow the schoolyear (except when football starts), so May feels less climactic than it used to. Nashville, for whatever reason, doesn't have many citywide events in May. Baseball abounds.

Maybe the biggest holdover from Mays of Yore are:
1) Great weather.
2) Wanderlust.

Something about the summertime makes me want to go, and the beauty of May is that it triggers that urge without actually starting the summer itself. May's the sound of pent-up energy and a half-tank of gas, countless hours of daylight, and zero place to be. It is, for the most part, a joyful and anticipatory month.

Here, now, Thirty-One Songs for May, sunsoaked and revved-up and ready to go anywhere.

(Be sure to listen on the handy-dandy player to the right.)

1) Big Star, "Ballad of El Goodo"
No surprises here. "El Goodo" sets the late springtime tone, upbeat and hopeful but unshakably sad. It's the beginning of something, but the end of something, too.

2) The Who, "Join Together"
Why does harmonica sound like early summer to me?

3) Beach Boys, "I'm Waiting for the Day"
I've always associated relationships-on-hold with the summertime, specifically the end of the schoolyear. This song actually details a different type of waiting game, but it's a waiting game nonetheless.

4) REM, "The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight"
Melodic, whimsical, and full of infectious energy.

5) Counting Crows, "Richard Manuel Is Dead"
The Crows' wonderful homage to Richard Manuel and the Band. Maybe the song's greatest achievement is that it communicates the same late-spring feeling of so many Band songs.

6) The Thrills, "Santa Cruz (You're Not That Far)"
The first of several California-inspired songs on this list. It's not just that May makes me want to travel, it's that it makes me want to go west, young man.

7) Phantom Planet, "Always On My Mind"
I can't (and refuse to) rationally discuss how great this song is, and the May-specific memories I have with it.

8) Pearl Jam, "Down"
Something of a holdover from the April list: yet another bouncy song about feeling sad. There's plenty of sunny melancholy in May, after all.

9) Teenage Fanclub, "Don't Look Back"
Teenage Fanclub records should come with sunscreen. Cheerful harmonies? Check. Wheels? In motion. This song's got it all, but gets special mention for the lyric, "I'd steal a car to drive you home."

10) White Stripes, "My Doorbell"
May works well with the keyed instruments and lyrics about anticipation.

11) North Mississippi All-Stars, "Shake Em On Down"
When you're driving in Mississippi, windows down, and catch your first whiff of honeysuckle, make sure this is playing. Loud.

12) Lucero, "Watch It Burn"
Lucero almost has a monopoly on "songs about putting a relationship on hold while traveling during the summer." I could've picked anything.

13) Kings of Leon, "California Waiting"
To my ear, the Kings' first great song. About heading toward an uncertain future but a set destination, it's chock-full of angst, excitement, and more than a little sadness.

14) New Pornographers, "Use It"
Some bands are best enjoyed in only one season. The New Pornographers, to me, are strictly for warm weather months.

15) Cory Branan, "Hellbent and Heartfirst"
A rollicking song about a euphoric night, very much in the spirit of "I'd steal a car to drive you home."

16) Gin Blossoms, "Mrs. Rita"
Most Gin Blossoms sound like fall to me, but something about Rita feels like late-spring.

17) Stone Temple Pilots, "Big Empty"
The sound of hour twenty of a roadtrip, when everyone else is asleep, it's way too late in the day, and half of you wants to turn around.

18) Atherton, "California"
You're damn right I discovered this song on an episode of Laguna Beach.

19) The Beatles, "I'll Follow the Sun"
Probably the best thing about Beatles for Sale, the first of many Paul-rattles-off-an-acoustic-quickie moments. The type of short song you wish were five-minutes long, but know it shouldn't be.
(No Beatles in the iMeem catalog, so it's not on the playlist. Sorry y'all.)

20) Jack White, "Never Far Away"
The yin to Lucero's yang, acoustic versus electric, roots versus rock, returning to the girl versus driving away from her. May's big enough for the both of them.

21) Whiskeytown, "Mirror, Mirror"
An incredibly weird song in the middle of Pneumonia, "Mirror Mirror" gets the nod for its production alone. Jangly guitars and bouncy keys sound like early summer to me.

22) My Morning Jacket, "Mahgeetah"
Sometimes, the anticipation of something is better than the thing itself. I spend so much of May anticipating the summer, and realize later that I enjoyed it more than June and July. "Mahgeetah" is the sound of finally relaxing and enjoying the moment as much as the moment after it.

23) Weezer, "Holiday"
No shortage of SoCal bands here.

24) Smashing Pumpkins, "Muzzle"
Arguably my favorite Pumpkins song, it's a four-minute tribute to euphoria on a record devoted to sadness. The music itself communicates joy so effortlessly, the lyrics are incidental.

25) Stereophonics, "A Thousand Trees"
Another warm-weather band. "A Thousand Trees," more than their others, is about leaving something behind and not looking back.

26) Bob Dylan, "Buckets of Rain"
Happy and wistful, silly and poignant, and it sounds like a warm rainshower.

27) The Killers, "I Can't Stay"
Had to include just a morsel of island instrumentation.

28) The Strokes, "Someday"
This is what May sounds like when it finally slows down and gives you a second to think. Thinking, as always, isn't necessarily a good thing.

29) Creedence Clearwater Revival, "Long As I Can See the Light"
For such a restless song, it feels perfectly at home. Some folks are just more comfortable on the move, and some things are better kept in the future.

30) Four Tops, "Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever"
May isn't just breakups and unfettered roadtripping. The Four Tops got enough late-spring lovesongs to go around.

31) Wilco, "Dreamer In My Dreams"
Too wild to be stable, too anxious to be quiet, too true to make sense. It's the sound of someone who's having too much fun to stop.

What are your Songs for May?

Swinging from the beams,

P.S. Live video of "Edge of the World" goes up at noon today!


ross k. said...

Chris, big proppers on rocking "Long as I Can See the Light." This was my favorite CCR song as a teen. I was lucky to happen on it when a best-of included it, and I felt like the song was my secret, that I was the only one who knew about it and they sang it just for me. It's definitely about wanting to move and come home at the same time, having to leave but wanting something to come back to. Good tune. (Props whenever you even mention Phantom Planet as well. The Guest nailed it down.)

Chris Milam said...

Word! Phantom Planet's got their own post coming at some point. The Guest is comparable to #1 Record/Radio City in terms of the gap between its artistic success and business failures. It's a stunning record that, were it not for the O.C. theme, would've been COMPLETELY neglected by pop culture at large.

The lesson, as always: trust the Schwartzman.

Chris Milam said...

Oh, gotta give my brother credit for "Long As I Can See the Light." He reintroduced me to it a few weeks back. It's exactly what I like about CCR, with none of what I don't.

TownCharacter said...

James Taylor sings (with Linda Ronstadt) a version of an old English folk song, "One Morning In May." Very nice.

ross k. said...

This isn't a seasonal song necessarily, but since you mention Ronstadt, I'm grateful for her version of "When Will I Be Loved" (written by the Everly Brothers). I never cared about Ronstadt before I heard this, but it's a great song.

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