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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Great Expectations/The Gaslight Anthem

Great Expectations, from The Gaslight Anthem's 2008 album The '59 Sound, takes its title from Charles Dickens' 1861 novel Great Expectations, and makes a specific reference to it in the lyrics: I sat by my bedside/With papers and poetry about Estella/With Great Expectations/We had the greatest expectations. The hero of the novel, Pip, frequently visits the home of Miss Havisham, an embittered spinster who was jilted on her wedding day and now haunts her rundown house wearing a faded wedding gown. There Pip meets Estella, Miss Havisham's beautiful adopted daughter, and falls in love with her. But Estella has been raised to be cold and heartless, to inspire love in men that will never be returned, so that Miss Havisham can have her vicarious revenge. Judging from the women in the singer's life (Licking young boys' blood from her claws/And I learned about the blues from this kitten that I knew/Her hair was raven and her heart was like a tomb), the reference seems entirely appropriate.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Alan Watts Blues/Van Morrison

The title of this song, from Van Morrison's 1987 album Poetic Champions Compose, refers to Alan Watts, an author and student of theology and comparative religion, who helped popularize Buddhism and other Asian philosophies in the West. Watts wrote dozens of books and articles, and the song makes a specific reference to one of them in the repeated refrain I'm cloud hidden/Cloud hidden/Whereabouts unknown. The last book Watts published before his death in 1973 was Cloud-hidden, Whereabouts Unknown: A Mountain Journal, a collection of essays on a variety of topics, most dealing with aspects of Eastern philosophy. It sounds as if the song's narrator has taken inspiration from the book and is planning some extended meditation time (I'm makin' some plans for my getaway/There'll be blue skies shining up above) but for the moment has settled for a pause in the countryside (Well I'm waiting in the clearing with my motor on/Well it's time to get back to the town again). Morrison also makes use of a familiar phrase that originated with Robert Burns and was immortalized by John Steinbeck: I'm tired of the ways of mice and men.

Submitted by RJ

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Stop Talking About Comic Books or I'll Kill You/Ookla the Mok

This week Classics Rock! is featuring songs based on comic books in honor of Comic-Con 2009, taking place in San Diego July 23-26.

On this, the last day of Comic-Con 2009--when even die-hard fans may have had their fill--we close out our weeklong tribute to comic books on a contrarian note: Stop Talking About Comics Books or I'll Kill You, by Ookla the Mok, from their 1998 album Super Secret. Best known for their filk songs, Ookla the Mok (named after a character from the animated TV series Thundarr the Barbarian) actually have great sympathy for comic book fans and are a popular draw when they perform at science fiction and comic book expos. As the title of this song implies, the narrator simply doesn't share his partner's enthusiasm for comic books: I don't care if the Hulk could defeat the Man of Steel/I'm gonna rearrange your face if you continue to debate/Whether Logan's claws could pierce Steve Roger's shield. . . Stop spending all our cash on back issues of the Flash/Or I swear to God you're gonna spend your twilight years alone. The song also touches on a distinction that is significant to writers, artists, fans and publishers, but lost on most neophytes: Okay, you can call them graphic novels/But they're still just plain old comic books to me. Near the end is a reference that comic insiders will appreciate, The Official Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide--for serious collectors.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Batman/Jan and Dean

This week Classics Rock! is featuring songs based on comic books in honor of Comic-Con 2009, taking place in San Diego July 23-26.

The sixties pop duo Jan and Dean capitalized on the craze stirred up by the campy Batman television series, based on Bob Kane's DC Comics character, with a tribute album called Jan and Dean Meet Batman, released in 1966. It featured zany sound effects and comedy bits mixed in with songs about the Caped Crusader, including this track, simply called Batman. Heavily influenced by Neal Hefti's guitar-driven theme for the TV show, the song lays out the basic facts behind the Batman mythos to a peppy sixties beat: He's known as Bruce Wayne by day, wealthy socialite/But incognito in dress, he fights crime by night. The Riddler, Penguin, and Joker are all mentioned (the Joker's laugh can be heard at one point), as are Robin the Boy Wonder, the Batphone, the Batcave, and even the Commissioner. The lyric Criminals are a superstitious cowardly lot sounds like a line Adam West would have delivered on the show. No one can deny the truth of the song's repeated refrain: We need the Batman!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Nobody Loves the Hulk/The Traits

This week Classics Rock! is featuring songs based on comic books in honor of Comic-Con 2009, taking place in San Diego July 23-26.

There's not a lot of information out there about The Traits or "Nobody Loves the Hulk," their musical tribute to Marvel Comics character the Hulk, created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. It was released as a single in 1969 and appears to have been a promotional item, since the copyright is held by Marvel Comics. The song relates the origin story of the Hulk: Dr. Bruce Banner, testing his new gamma bomb, saves the life of Rick Jones, a teenager who has wandered into the test area, but is himself exposed to the blast: Well he saved the boy/But at what a change/The explosion made him feel so strange/For his molecules had been rearranged/Into the Hulk! The Hulk! The song describes the Hulk as "a monster"--Ugly, oversized and green/His strength is fantastic/And his disposition is mean. The focus is on the personal rejection Hulk suffers (Whenever people see him/All they do is run around and scream, cause/Nobody loves the Hulk!) and the social ostracization he must endure (We don't allow no green skin people in here!). The lyrics also reveal a surprising bit of personal motivation for the Hulk that you probably weren't aware of: All he wanted to do was settle down/And get employed.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Green Lantern/Camberwell Now

This week Classics Rock! is featuring songs based on comic books in honor of Comic-Con 2009, taking place in San Diego July 23-26.

Originally created by Bill Finger and Martin Nodell in 1940, and published by DC Comics, the Green Lantern refers to not one but several superheroes, all members of an interplanetary police force known as the Green Lantern Corps, which is administered by the extraterrestrial Guardians of the Universe. Each Green Lantern has a special ring that grants him certain super powers. He often works alone, but at others times has various partners, including, occasionally, another Green Lantern. All are associated with either the Justice League of America or the Justice Society of America. At least five different individuals have served as the Green Lantern, including one named John Stewart; another had a daughter who exhibited Green Lantern-like powers, who became the superhero Jade. . . If all this seems complicated, the song Green Lantern by Camberwell Now, from their 1986 album The Ghost Trade and currently available on the compilation CD All's Well, is a surprisingly simple musical recitation of the Green Lantern's Oath, spoken by every Green Lantern since the 1940s: In brightest day, in blackest night/No evil shall escape my sight/Let those who worship evil's might/Beware my strength, Green Lantern's light. The world premiere of the new Warner Brothers animated film Green Lantern: First Flight will take place at Comic-Con tonight.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Ghost Rider/Suicide

This week Classics Rock! is featuring songs based on comic books in honor of Comic-Con 2009, taking place in San Diego July 23-26.

Ghost Rider, created by Roy Thomas, Gary Friedrich and Mike Ploog and published by Marvel Comics, is a motorcycle stunt performer named Johnny Blaze who tries to sell his soul to the devil in order to save his stepfather's life. The deal goes awry, and Johnny finds himself sharing his body with a demonic entity named Zarathos. Each struggles for dominance but when Zarathos is in control, Johnny's head becomes a skull consumed by satanic fire as he rides a flaming motorcycle, shooting bursts of hellfire from his hands. The song Ghost Rider, from the 2000 self-titled album by Suicide, features the lyrics Ghost Rider, motorcycle hero/Baby baby baby he's lookin' so cute/Sneakin' around in a blue jump suit. . . he's a blazin' away/Like the stars stars stars in the universe. Reportedly the band took its name from a Ghost Rider issue called Satan Suicide.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Magneto and Titanium Man/Paul McCartney & Wings

This week Classics Rock! is featuring songs based on comic books in honor of Comic-Con 2009, taking place in San Diego July 23-26.

Magneto And Titanium Man, from the 1975 album Venus and Mars by Paul McCartney & Wings, collects an assortment of Marvel Comics villains: Magneto, aka Erik Magnus Lehnsherr, the mutant supervillain in Marvel's X-Men series, who was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby; Titanium Man, created by Lee with Don Heck, who has repeatedly bedeviled Iron Man; and the Crimson Dynamo (Lee and Heck again), a known associate of Titanium Man and also a nemesis of Iron Man. Since there have been three different individuals known as Titanium Man, and at least twelve different Crimson Dynamos, it's hard to know exactly which incarnations of these villains McCartney is referring to in the song. The three bad guys try to convince the narrator that his friend or lover is planning a bank robbery, and he almost falls for it before coming to his senses: Then it occurred to me/You couldn't be bad/Magneto was mad/Titanium too/And the Crimson Dynamo/Just couldn't cut it no more/You were the law. This last line seems to imply that the individual under suspicion is a law enforcement officer. Magneto is the only villain with a speaking role in the song: Magneto said, "Now the time has come/To gather our forces and run!"

Monday, July 20, 2009

Jimmy Olsen's Blues/The Spin Doctors

This week Classics Rock! is featuring songs based on comic books in honor of Comic-Con 2009, taking place in San Diego July 23-26.

A line from The Spin Doctors song Jimmy Olsen's Blues provides the name for the 1991 album it appears on, Pocket Full of Kryptonite. The song refers to characters from the Superman mythos, created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster and published by DC Comics. The narrator is the hapless Jimmy Olsen, photographer for the Daily Planet. The lyrics have poor Jimmy hankering for his colleague, reporter Lois Lane (I think I'm going out of my brain/I got it so bad for little miss Lois Lane) and jealous over her relationship with Superman (I can't believe my dilemma is real/I'm competing with the man of steel). He fantasizes that he can win Lois and neutralize Superman (Lois Lane please put me in your plan/Yeah, Lois you don't need no Super Man/Come on downtown and stay with me tonight/I got a pocket full of kryptonite). Might Jimmy's "pocketful of kryptonite" have another meaning, besides referring to a substance known to be harmful to Superman? We'll leave that up to the listener to decide. The song also mentions an object often associated with Superman, a telephone booth (It drives me up the wall and through the roof/Lois and Clark in a telephone booth), and the album's cover art features an empty phone booth.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Comic Books/Deborah Harry

All next week Classics Rock! will feature songs based on comic books in honor of Comic-Con 2009, taking place in San Diego July 23-26. Here's a preview...

"Comic Books," by a post-Blondie Deborah Harry, can be found on her solo album Def, Dumb & Blonde, released in 1989. The song features references two Archie Comics characters--Archie himself, created by John L. Goldwater; and Josie, the character created by Dan DeCarlo who originally appeared as "She's Josie" and then just "Josie," before morphing into "Josie and the Pussycats": Long before I was 12/I would read by myself/Archie, Josie, super-heroes/I would read them by myself. There's also a reference to the popular 1960s TV series based on Bob Kane's DC Comics character Batman: 14 was a gas for me/Batman on TV/I would cheer the super-heroes/They were all I wanted to be. In the end, Harry concludes: It's so funny how I got to look/Like all the people in my comic books--no doubt another reference to fellow rock-and-rollers Josie and the Pussycats, rather than Archie. Or Batman.

Monday, July 13, 2009

1984/Anaïs Mitchell

Previously we looked at David Bowie's take on George Orwell's novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. Here's another perspective, Anaïs Mitchell's song "1984" from her 2004 album Hymns for the Exiled. Mitchell compares life in America under the Patriot Act to Orwell's vision of an intrusive totalitarian government that spies on its own citizens and demands complete allegiance: Baby, don't look so nervous, they just want the facts/And it's all written out in the USA Patriot Act. Mitchell also makes reference to Big Brother, the enigmatic despot featured in Orwell's novel: Oh, honey, what did I tell you about the house being bugged?/They can hear us making breakfast, they can hear us making love/But excuse me a minute - Big Brother's at the door/And he's ready to party like it's 1984.

Submitted by Sarah Hughes

Friday, July 10, 2009

Shah of Shahs/Al Stewart

Shah Of Shahs, from Al Stewart's 2008 CD Sparks of Ancient Light, is based on Ryszard Kapuscinski's 1982 book Shah of Shahs, about the overthrow of the last Shah of Iran. In an interview on nevillejudd.com, Stewart says the song "is taken from the wonderful and eminently readable book of the same title by Ryszard Kapuscinski. . . . It's a series of snapshots of the Shah of Iran's sudden fall from grace in 1979, which happened very quickly indeed, about how he cried in the car on his way to the airport,a soldier bending down to kiss his feet before he got on the plane, his statues being pulled down almost at once. . . . a series of events that I have pieced together into a song." He cried inside the limousine and at the airport too/Where the soldier knelt before him and kissed his shoe/He flew across the desert and the open sea/While they tore down all his statues and his legacy.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Each Year/Ra Ra Riot

Each Year, from Ra Ra Riot's 2007 EP Ra Ra Riot, is drawn from Harper Lee's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel To Kill a Mockingbird, published in 1960. "I had recently read To Kill a Mockingbird, which had a huge impact on me," says band member Wesley Miles," and John [Ryan Pike] and I talked a lot about it on our way down to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Those experiences served as the lyrical inspiration." Set in a small Alabama town during the Depression, the story concerns two children, Scout and Jem, and their widowed father, attorney Atticus Finch. In the course of the novel, Atticus tries to defend a black man unjustly accused of rape, in a trial tinged with racism. This is alluded to in the line Coverin' a fault with trials and show displays. The song also addresses another focus of the book, the children's relationship with their mysterious and reclusive neighbor, Boo Radley, a figure only glimpsed through a window because his abusive father keeps him locked up in the house: Silhouettes in a window frame/Better run if it's Boo's old man/He won't know if you're white/Oh, in the night. Other lines seem to allude to young Scout and her role model, the admirable Atticus: Never mind what your/Daughter is taught in school/What she remembers is/What she has learned from you. There are other allusions to To Kill a Mockingbird in popular music (including the names chosen by the bands The Boo Radleys and Atticus) which will feature in future posts.