Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Songs of the Season, Part 3

The Beatles - Here Comes the Sun

Pink Floyd - Flaming

Pink Floyd - The Gnome

R.E.M. - Green Grow the Rushes

R.E.M. - The Flowers of Guatemala

XTC - Summer's Cauldron/Grass

And since I couldn't find it on YouTube:
Robyn Hitchcock - Acid Bath

Great Summer music is hard to get your head around, because there's so much of it, so many musical moods that I associate with Summer. Almost anything that sounds good sounds good in the summertime. But Spring has, in my mind, a very specific sound: jangly, chimey guitars. So above is a canon of songs that I associate with the arrival of Spring, green grass, blooming flowers, and the rebirth of the world from the symbolic death of winter (and, this week, my own rebirth from the symbolic death of the worst fucking flu I can remember having. Spring is not without its own hazards, though, as I emerge from my flu into an atmosphere so full of sadistic pollen that I can barely stick my head out my back door without feeling as though I'm being kicked in the sinuses by crazed football hooligans).

If Spring has an official theme song, it must be George Harrison's "Here Comes the Sun," which welcomes the season in a way appropriate to Spring's temperament: not a mad rush of release like Alice Cooper's welcome to the Summer, but a sort of joyous relief: "It's been a long and lonely Winter...it seems like years since it's been here." So maybe it's that song that made me associate the sound of jangly, chiming guitars with the arrival of Spring.

Pink Floyd's first album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, was named after a chapter in Kenneth Graham's The Wind and the Willows. Appropriate, since the opening paragraphs of Graham's book are perhaps the most evocative celebration of the arrival of Spring in English literature, and the album contains some of the Spring-iest songs I've ever heard. Songs like "Flaming" just sound so organic--all those weird noises propelling the song along, like the sounds of birds and insects chirping, of worms burrowing beneath you, squirrels running around in the bushes, wind blowing through the trees. It just sounds ALIVE. "The Gnome," a goofy Tolkien-meets-eath-hippy tune, carries on the theme of marveling at nature in dorky lines like "Look at the sky, look at the river, isn't it good?"

The quintessential Spring band is REM, especially in their Reckoning period. Neither of these songs are actually from Reckoning, but they both have thoset jangly Peter Buck guitar arpeggios, The Sound That Made Athens Famous. I don't know how "Green Grow the Rushes" manages to sound so lush, green and organic, but it makes me think of an entire world being slowly covered in kudzu. "Flowers of Guatemala" is a song they rarely perform live. I saw them start to perform it on the Pageant tour, but just as they were reaching the climactic guitar solo some kid ran up on stage and touched Peter Buck's guitar, causing him to throw it down and walk off stage in frustration in the middle of the song! Anyhow, both of these songs sound like songs about blooming flowers and growing grass, but I later found out that "Flowers" is actually about mass graves left by CIA-backed death squads in Guatemala, and "Rushes" is about, I dunno, the Iran-Contra hearings or some shit.

The XTC songs here are, I guess, explicitly Summer songs, but I'm gonna call them Spring songs anyway, especially "Grass", which (obvious double-entendre aside) is all about enjoying the outdoors. If you haven't listened to this album in a long time, give it a spin. There are some great songs you probably forgot even existed.

My favorite song of this genre is this Robyn Hitchcock song from Black Snake Diamond Roll, which is listed as "Acid Bird" on the album cover and "Acid Bath" on the label (I went with the latter, because I think it's a cooler title). I got on a huge Robyn Hitchcock kick for a few years starting in '87, but really haven't listened to him in years. That tingly guitar sounds like little effervescent bubbles popping in my head.


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