Category: songs

individual songs

Cliffs of DoverCliffs of Dover

by Eric Johnson

~ We all wanted to be Eric Johnson ~

A confession – I spent waaaaay too many hours in a college dorm room trying to play this song.  I can get the main ‘chorus’ riff semi-competently, and that’s about it.  There’s just too much.  I can move my fret fingers fast enough for most of the song, and even if I could, I couldn’t pick just the right strings for it.  There’s a reason I was a rhythm guitarist.

That didn’t stop me from the delusions of grandeur of wanting to be Eric Johnson.  In the early 90s, everyone wanted to compose an instrumental that was so melodious you wanted to try to sing along with it.


by G’n’Fn’R

~ Layla, only more ~

If Rocket Queen was an up-and-down encapsulation of a bi-polar relationship, then Locomotive put it all on steroids, cocaine, Jack & coke, and then flipped the record up to 78rpm.  With an endlessly-chugging riff utterly worthy of the song title, and bridges and choruses that alternate around the brilliantly-written verses, Locomotive packs more emotion into a single 8-minute opus than almost, well… anyone has in an entire career.
(I was at a loss of who to fill in for “anyone” here, but pick ‘em – James Taylor, Kanye, Michael Bublé, Justin Bieber, Beyonce, Barry Manilow, Counting Crows, Gwar – it really doesn’t matter.)

It’s clear there’s a love-hate relationship here, as Axl swings between “I opened up the doors when it was cold outside / Hopin’ that you’d find your own way in” and “You know I’d like to shave your head / and all my friends could paint it red”.  Does he have to “peel the bitch off my back” or just “live and learn and then sometimes it’s best to walk away”.  And just when you think it’s time to blow up the entire thing and start over, he admits that “if love is blind I guess I’ll by myself a cane” as the piano takes over, and GnR’s note-perfect counterpoint to Layla devolves into it’s own extended piano-fueled alternate-groove guitar solo, showcasing the best of everything Slash has to offer – the wah-pedal effects that mimic the drums underneath the groove, the lead lines that blend between the piano chords and seem to live within the song, rather than on top of them, and the low-octave dives that mimic the bass line to drive the groove forward while he lets the listener take a breath before his next trick on the frets.


by Medeski, Martin & Wood

~ “Groove” jazz ~

I don’t even think that’s a real term, but it’s what I use to describe guys like this and David Holmes. It’s jazzy music with odd time signatures and a solid groove that is outside the usual showcased musicianship and softer instrumentation that you find with contemporary jazz or smooth jazz. It’s mostly instrumental and some of the beats underneath almost sound like a hip-hop producer put them together. I got this soundtrack for 50¢ on sale and bought it mainly for the U2/Sinead O’Connor collaboration. That turned out to not be a great tune, but this one was.

The TrooperThe Trooper

by Iron Maiden

~ Is there a more literate heavy metal band? ~

I’m sure a bunch of you are going to scream “Rush” until your tonsils come out of your nose, but are they really a metal band?

The PMRC and every church-loving conservative housewife are going to holler about how satanic Iron Maiden are, largely on the strength of their third album being called The Number of the Beast. But have you ever taken a step back to look at their broader lyrical themes across their entire catalogue? This one is straight up the Charge of the Light Brigade as a pulse-pounding heavy metal song. You can viscerally feel the action as the British make their ill-fated charge into the Russian guns in the Crimean War. It doesn’t glorify the battle in any way and the protagonist dies at the end of the song.

It’s also just one of a bunch of externally-inspired songs from that album. On Piece of Mind alone, You have the myth of Daedalus and Icarus, the story of Frank Herbert’s Dune novels, the World War II shoot-’em-up movie Where Eagles Dare, the Charge of the Light Brigade, and a 17th century British hymnal. Not bad for one album huh?

Shout to the TopShout to the Top

by Style Council

~ My Son’s First Favorite Song ~

I’ve been a fan of Paul Weller since the mid-80s when I saw a Style Council video on an MTV videotape that was sent to me while I was living in Germany. Cafe Blue was the soundtrack to a great birthday weekend trip that my wife and I took up the California coast one year.

Their greatest hits exude cool.

This track was mixed in with several others on a CD I used to keep in my old convertible and my son used to ask for me to play this one over and over when he was about 3 years old and cruising around in his car seat with the car top down. It’s a rock song with a string section as the lead instrument and it’s a perfect slice of heavenly britpop with the Modfather smoothly crooning over the top.

Flat TopFlat Top

by The Goo Goo Dolls

~ Lyrically ambiguous genius ~

It’s not one of the hit singles from the Goo’s, but it might be one of their best lyrical performances.  Sandwiched between 5 other classic tunes on what was arguably one of the half dozen or so best album sides of the entire 90s, Flat Top gets political in a way that comments on all of 90s-era US society, and not just the half that someone hates, like you find all over social media today.

A television war between the cynics and the saints / flip the dial and that’s whose side you’re on

Was far more prescient than it was given credit for at the time

A visionary coward says that anger can be power / As long as there’s a victim on TV

Seems so tailor made for today that it’s hard to believe this a 25-year-old song

Is That Me?Is That Me?

by The Uninvited

~ How many times can you record one song?

To the rest of the world they were from San Francisco, but to folks who lived in Northern California and knew their way around a map, they were actually from Santa Rosa. The Uninvited were one of those fringe bands you hear on the radio once or twice in your life and would play to sold-out club crowds all over the country but somehow would hit a ceiling of about a few hundred fans in any given market.

We’ll talk later about how many times we’ve seen these guys live, but for now just chill with this song of wistful regret that they’ve managed to record about five different times. The best version is the one that was on the last independent album before they got signed to a big label (Tragically Hip); it’s the one with the acoustic guitar higher in the mix and with Bill’s harmony vocals over the outro. This one here is from their self-titled major-label debut, that didn’t make a major dent in the music world largely because the record company didn’t seem to give a shit.

Checking out while we’re still young? Sure, the first time I saw these guys over 20 years ago…

Incidentally, Celtic-rockers The Young Dubliners recorded a pretty solid cover of the song, too, with a fiddle in the mix