I never don't have a song stuck in my head, or a guitar riff, a bass line, a drum lick or a vocal melody. I genuinely enjoy thinking about the songs stuck in my head, and once in a while, I like to write about them too. Writing about the songs stuck in my head (or albums, or guitar solos, or movies) is probably a form of journaling in that the accompanying thoughts flow so freely. Here are some songs that have recently been stuck in my head and why. These aren't necessarily my favorite songs, but I should point out that songs I dislike never get stuck in my head — with the exception to the opening theme song from Barney the purple dinosaur television program. I'll be adding to this list in the future, so please check back if you're interested.
The Great Beyond - R.E.M.
R.E.M. are on a short list of my favorite artists. They have a distinct sound as comfortable as old blue jeans or a drink with a dear friend. Why, then, are my favorite R.E.M. songs ones that don't sound like R.E.M.? That's like saying "I love pizza, just not oregano, mozzarella, pepperoni, tomatoes or pizza crust." Time for me to reconsider how much I really like the band? I've never wondered that before. Be that as it may, "Beyond" sounds like Michael Stipe solo, not the whole group. It's a power ballad at its heart, and these guys just don't make power ballads. It should be whimsical but it’s not. It should be fun but it’s not. What it is perhaps best described by a word often associated with Andy Kauffman himself - mercurial. Condensing a man's life and work to a 4-minute song is impossible, yet here we are. Once, while working on a serious deadline, I listened to "The Great Beyond" in my car on the way to my office. Once I got to work, I was enjoying the jam, so I put it on repeat. I ended up leaving it on repeat and adjusted only the volume throughout the day. It's possible I listened to the song over 150 times during my shift. That I'm still fond of the song is a statement about its enduring quality. Even more likely, it is a marker for mental illness.
In a Lifetime - Clannad
Speaking of lopsided vocal duets ("Say Something" is still on my mind), this tune with lead vocals from Marie Brennan (Enya's older sister) and Bono Vox (from U2) is as unlikely as it is obscure. Clannad are an Irish band of siblings. The sister sings lush, ethereal, gorgeous lead on most songs, while instruments and harmonies are handled by her TWO pairs of identical twin brothers. Marie has one of my all-time favorite voices (find their song "Harry's Game" to hear her sing to heaven in toe-curling Gaelic), and for reasons she may have regretted ever since, she invited Bono into this as a duet (which probably seemed like a good idea at the time but clearly wasn't). It's built around a romantic keyboard flourish straddling New Wave and Folk (how unlikely is THAT?), and her vocals are wonderfully rich and seductive. She sings us through the first haunting verse by herself, then an unexpected guest arrives and yanks the rug completely out from under her. Bono enters the song almost timidly, humbly, as if he were grateful just to be there - but that lasts for two lines. He was only faking and wanted this song himself. I've often wondered if perhaps Bono just didn't like the Brennan family, because by the time we get to the chorus, he has exploded his voice all over the track like a hand grenade, like an IED, and Clannad are writhing in pain in the background of their own song. Marie and her brothers sing their talented, bloody hearts out, but Bono destroys them one and all like a musical terrorist. It's like watching Neo battle the Agents inside The Matrix. They are no match for the hero, and clearly, Bono not Marie is the hero of this song. If I were a Clannad fan, I would hate "In a Lifetime." As a U2 fan however, I am perfectly accustomed to Bono chewing up and spitting out the scenery and everything else in his path, musical piranha that he is. It's as if she were a deer, Bambi's mother let's say, singing sweetly in a meadow on a tranquil sunlit morn, then a musical Apache attack helicopter swoops in and vaporizes her with a voice like a rail gun firing 3,000 rounds per minute. The producer of this CD ("Macalla") probably had to mop up blood and bits of pelt and venison from the studio walls and off the instruments and equipment. One of the finest pop rock songs ever recorded, Bono didn't even rate a "featuring" on the record cover or on the music video. (The song is credited to Clannad only, as if for legal reasons Bono's lawyers were afraid to acknowledge their client's bombastic, over-the-top performance with actual words.) In a just world, Bono's legal team would pay Clannad punitive damages and reparations for, I dunno, voicing them to death, and the song would show up on Spotify as "In a Lifetime - Paul "Bono" Hewson featuring The Band Formerly Known as Clannad." Probably all the Brennans, even Enya who wasn't involved, got PTSD from recording this gorgeous song.
A poignant and beautiful ballad of longing by a gifted vocalist. I haven't just loved but have actually been IN LOVE with this song for 30 years. It's always been among the saddest I've ever heard (Tori Amos's "1000 Oceans," Bush's "Letting the Cables Sleep," and R.E.M.'s "Nighswimming" are other examples of songs that broke my heart on first listen). Now, I know why this made me sad decades ago... today was always going to be the result of my life's love and my life's work.
"You can travel by railway, you can travel by Trailways
You can reach me by a speeding boat, you can reach me with your mind
You can travel by caravan, cross the desert like an Arab man
I don't care how you get here, just get here if you can"
Ordinary World - Duran Duran
A sappy and infectious ballad of longing by an average vocalist. Double D have been near the top of my favorites list since 1982, but probably more because of Nick Rhodes' keyboards than Simon LeBon's vocals. It didn't hurt that my fun friend, also Double D, was in love with the band and all the boys in it when we reconnected in college. After their 1981 New Romantic-New Wave debut called "Duran Duran," their mid-90s Alternative album (also called "Duran Duran" but informally dubbed "The Wedding Album" to avoid confusion) is their most consistently excellent release. "Ordinary World" was their first of a string of hits off this CD, but World hit hardest and hit biggest. As far as comeback albums go, this was one for the ages. As far as comeback songs, it may be the best ever. The acoustic guitar riff anchoring the song is pure ear candy. Note: the radio edit is awful. Stick with the album version.