Request Line: “No Ordinary Love,” “One Last Breath,” “The Wanton Song,” “America We Stand as One”
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on July 29, 2010
Reader Garret Writes:
Because there’s no sense in waiting to give you my four songs, I’m just gonna plop them in this post’s responses section and see what happens:
Sade – “No Ordinary Love”
Creed – “One Last Breath”
Led Zeppelin – “The Wanton Song”
Dennis Madalone – “America We Stand As One” (song + video combo)
Well Garret, now this is happening.
Growing up, I never gave Sade a second thought. As far as I was concerned, she (and I know it’s technically a “they” but who the fuck cares and I’m not spending the next however-many words fretting about pronouns) was more of a musical punchline than an artist of any particular merit. At best she was the singer that the girls in my high school listened to feel deep or soulful, at worst she was the musical equivalent of Skinemax, or at the very least some very very sleazy late-night infomercial. “Sexual Healing” is my least or second-least-favorite song of all-time, and from the clips of it I heard in cheesy compilation commercials, “Smooth Operator” seemed not all that dissimilar. Eventually I heard “Operator” in full and realized it wasn’t so bad, but I don’t think it was until I discovered “No Ordinary Love” that I realized what short shift I had been giving Ms. Adu all these years.
First off, when considering the great missed opportunities in the history of musical collaboration, you have to rank Sade and Massive Attack as one of the all-time whiffs, no? The Attack have spent the entirety of their career seeking out these smoky, mysterious, dolorous sirens to wail over the top of their back-alley ballads–Shara Nelson, Tracy Thorn, Liz Fraser, Sinead O’Connor–but somehow they never hooked up with the queen of them all. This is a point painfully borne out by “No Ordinary Love,” which is essentially a dead ringer for Massive Attack’s single from a few years earlier, “Safe From Harm,” but with a vocal performance infinitely more layered, soulful (hard to get away from that word here) and suggestive than the impressively-piped but relatively-characterless Nelson’s could ever really muster. The music these people would have made together could have stopped the world in its tracks–assuming it was after 10:00 PM, anyway.
Yeah, night time, huh. I don’t know, a song like “No Ordinary Love” probably sounds pretty good on a sunny summer afternoon as well, but it’s the kind of song that twilight-hour “Between the Sheets” blocks on classic soul and smooth jazz stations were invented for. It’s alluring and seductive, but dignified and never cheap–Sade’s voice is so powerful and confident that everything she sings sounds borne of a lifetime’s worth of sexual exploration, so when she insists (in effectively over-ennunciated syllables) that “This. Is. No Ordinary Love.” she commands such authority that we really have no choice to believe her. Maybe an even more interesting collaboration for Sade would have been with Prince as a songwriter–how would the Purple One have handled a female conduit who didn’t need Sugar Walls, Sex Shooters, or any of his other exhausting single-and-a-half-entendres in order to sound impossibly sexy?
Of course, I need to devote at least one paragraph here to the Deftones cover of the song, which I at least heard of before I heard the original, and which I believe to be fairly close to the equal of Sade’s version. The Deftones are the only–Repeat, The Only–metal band of note who could have covered this song without it coming off as schtick, but given the band’s proclivity for tortured, heavily-atmospheric love songs (See: Every other song covered on B-Sides and Rarities) the choice makes perfect sense. And while Chino’s broken warble obviously gives the song a different spin than Sade’s stately siren call, turning it into more of a lament of crippling obsession, it’s a credit to the original song being dense enough to being easily open to such interpretations without it coming off as parody or obvious revisionism. What’s more, it shows just what a jam the song is–the Deftones version really punches up the rhythm track, making the Massive Attack comp totally unmissable, but the song’s seductively low-key shuffle was there all along, not unlike INXS’s classic after-hours hit from the same year, “Not Enough Time.” (And trust me when I say I mean that as a compliment.)
Good stuff. And if any of you out there have continued to sleep on Sade’s recent comeback single, “Soldier of Love,” know that it’s a near-lock Top Ten single of 2010. Ol’ girl’s still got it, for serious.
It should come to the surprise of absolutely no one that my stance on Creed has softened significantly over the years. I mean, yeah, they kinda sucked–probably more as people than as musicians–but really, how much of a grudge can you hold against a band as ridiculous as this? There’s something to be said for human beings with absolutely no concept of irony–a decidedly retro mindset given the era in rock music that Creed came from–and their willingness to demonstrate that ignorance with every single and music video. Plus, the riffs were kinda righteous (I’ve ranted before about how a certain pop-punk band ripped off the “Higher” intro for their breakout hit) and, uh, Scott Stapp’s feud with 311 was pretty funny. I dunno, maybe it’s just the whole “comedy = tragedy + time” formula at work, but I can’t help but rally a little behind a band who was going Diamond just a decade ago and has since been so systematically written out of rock history that it feels like they pre-dated the hair-metal era, at the absolute latest.
Anyway, believe it or not, I’d never heard “One Last Breath” before. Crazy, I know, but the height of the song was during my Popular Music Blackout period of the first few years of the 21st century, and by the time I came back, Creed were so popularly shunned that I can’t imagine what radio station would have dared to play them. (And unlike many other songs of the period that I missed, I never had the heart to search it out on my own.) To their and my defense, this is certainly a fairly terrible song, with a mediocre riff that finds the exact mid-way point between their own “What’s This Life For?” and “My Sacrifice” (which both also kind of sound like every other Creed power-ballad–variety was not a strong selling point for the band), a pointless “Get Busy Living or Get Busy Dying”-type message (or maybe it’s just “Kill Yourself,” not entirely sure), and a chorus that gets far too hung up on metric logistics. Listening to it for the first time I assumed I’d eventually recognize it as one of Those Songs that I’d heard a million times but couldn’t identify, but a minute or so in, it became clear it would be a song I probably never had and never would hear played voluntarily by someone else.
Still, it’s kind of fun, isn’t it? That’s the great thing about self-righteous rock music–even at its absolute worst (and maybe especially at its absolute worst), it’s still guaranteed to pack some kind of divine punch, especially come chorus-time. Now that I’ve heard enough to be relatively familiar with it, there’s no way I could ever resist belting out that chorus on the super-off chance that I ever heard it on the radio or a bar jukebox or something. And the video…my lord, the video. Just read the Wikipedia summary:
The video for One Last Breath starts with each band member on individual rock formations. Scott Stapp’s rock collapses, and he falls. Just as he hits the ground below, he and the band are hit by a sandstorm. When the storm clears, Stapp approaches fragments of a large statue, and various people are convened around it. Finally, Stapp is standing at the top of a long stair overlooking the land.
I mean, what other band would ever have a music video whose description hinged on the phrase “individual rock formations”? (Okay, maybe Linkin Park.) Just about any single frame in this video is guaranteed to be hilarious–faces forming out of sandstorms, muddy statues reaching from the sides of cliffs, women crying tears of blood. It’s like a nightmare someone would have while feeling guilty about sleeping through church, except with lousy CGI special effects. And really, the funniest part of it all is Scott Stapp, just…doing his Scott Stapp thing. Say what you will about the man, we’re not likely to see his equal again anytime soon.
Plus, you know, the guy from Slate likes them.
Showing off. That’s what “The Wanton Song” is all about. It’s a band that had written so many of the greatest riffs and grooves in rock history in their first five-six years of existence that they deemed it necessary to flex a little. That little second in between fret-board-racing that takes place during the song’s main riff–that part where it’s just Bonham working the drums before Page comes zooming back in–it’s a taunt. It’s Led Zeppelin (Page specifically) saying “Yeah, we’re the greatest band in the world, we can totally fit in a totally kick-ass riff into three beats of a measure and just take the fourth beat off because why not.” Same goes for that flat-sounding chord (you know the one) in the song’s bridge. Whatever. What are you going to do about it? Say it’s not awesome? It is awesome, if for no other reason than because it’s awesome. This is Led Zeppelin in 1975, and there’s not shit that you or anyone else can do about it.
It’s showing off because I’m not even really sure there’s a song attached to “The Wanton Song.” I’ve heard the song dozens of times but couldn’t sing a single word–much less a whole line–that appears in it. I don’t think there’s a chorus or a bridge or even much of a verse to be found vocally. I used to think the song was called “The Wonton Song,” and as far as I can tell the song has just as good a shot as being about delicious Chinese soup as it does about what, lust or something? Who the fuck knows. It’s just riff after riff of a band at the absolute top of its game, the confidence brimming from a truly historical and absolutely deserved high. ‘Coz “The Wanton Song” is fantastic, a groove 99% of 70s hard rock bands would have absolutely killed for, but I can easily name 15-20 Led Zeppelin songs off the top of my head that are obviously better, and probably another dozen or so that convincing cases could be made for. It’s a self-perpetuating cockiness that can get dangerous if unchecked for too long (ahem, Presence, ahem) but can make for a fairly intoxicating contact-high when performed responsibly.
Physical Graffiti. No bad songs on that one.
Eh. I like the Creed video more.