Intensities in Ten Suburbs

Just another weblog

Archive for the ‘Request Line’ Category

Request Line: “Maxine,” “Peg”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on June 11, 2010

Reader James Kushner e-mails:


Friday request:

“Maxine” by Donald Fagen

Thirty or so years later, I’m still blown away by the whole Nightfly album– how the prince of hip cynicism released an album that looked back on his hopes for maturity and sophistication from when he was a kid, and did so with no irony or cynicism at all. The frustrated adolescent sexuality and dreamy longing of “Maxine” is the high point of that album. And oh, those close harmonies.

Or, you might have a stab at “Peg” by Steely Dan. I regard this as the defining Studio Pop Construction of its era, in the same way that “Good Vibrations” was the defining Studio Pop Construction of the ’60s. (Rick Marotta is the hero of that recording.)

P.S. Re “Jessie’s Girl”: I remember reading, long ago, that that song did not have any bass guitar in it. Listening to it closely through my crappy computer speakers, I couldn’t tell if that was true or not. If so, that would be remarkable for a radio-friendly rock hit, no?

I think I can probably make time for a stab at both.  One I know extremely well and one I don’t really know at all, so hopefully they’ll balance out.

I’ve heard about The Nightfly for a while, and I think I even had it downloaded at one point, but all I’d really heard from it before this point was the hit single “I.G.Y.,” a delightfully breezy number that I always assumed carried some seething undercurrent of regret and/or resentment. Of course, the more I read about The Nightfly (and from your request itself), I gather that this may have been the one time in his career when Donald Fagen’s snazzy pop songs didn’t disguise sordid tales of gang rapes and last-stand benders, and weren’t delivered through a sneer and a double-scotch, but were rather just straight-faced, wide-eyed takes on the era of his adolescence. A little weird for me to think about–Fagen (and by proxy, Steely Dan) without the snide wit seems like it would make as much sense as an Andrew W.K. album with only a mild sense of enthusiasm. An interesting experiment, though, so let’s see.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Request Line | 2 Comments »

Request Line: Sam Cooke Pandora Station

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on June 9, 2010

Friend of the blog Kyle writes:

Step 1 – Create a Pandora station with “Sam Cooke” as the only criteria.
Step 2 – Listen to it for an hour
Step 3 – Tell us how much better your life is

I can definitely do at least two of those, Kyle. Tell you about the third in a bit.

I should say that my experience with Pandora is rather limited. I’ve only used it once, really, and signing into my long-dormant Pandora account months after reveals that when I did, I created three stations, each based on single songs: Pearl Jam’s “State of Love and Trust,” The Meters’ “Cissy Strut” and (surprise) Icehouse’s “Electric Blue.” I vaguely remember them all being vaguely unsatisfying for largely the same reason–they were all too random, and yet not random enough. As someone who tends to eschew traditional LP listening for more of a song-oriented, varied approach in his personal music-listening time, and as someone who invariably spends many time-killing hours in front of a computer a day, it would seem that Pandora would be perfect for me. But little things about its uncontrolled atmosphere end up irking me–the way it would opt for live versions of songs instead of their obvious studio counterparts, the way it would repeat artists with precious little discretion, the way it chose songs that were either superficially similar but conceptually very different, or the other way around. For whatever reason, I guess I need a human element in my random music listening–the feeling that someone who knows what they’re doing is programming or at least overseeing the schedule to make sure that it never gets homogeneous, and never devolves into complete chaos.

Anyway, despite not opting to use Pandora much on my own time, for such business as this, I could certainly think of worse ways to spend an hour. Here’s what Pandora came up with for a Sam Cooke-themed station, from 12:16-1:16 AM EST on June 9th, 2010:

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Request Line | 2 Comments »

Request Line: “Breaking Glass,” “Stevie Nix,” “The Obvioius Child,” “Only Wanna Be With You”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on June 8, 2010

Reader Justin writes:

Ok, as a long time reader, occasional commenter, here are my four carefully chosen picks:

Breaking Glass – David Bowie
Stevie Nix – The Hold Steady
The Obvious Child – Paul Simon
Only Wanna be with You – Hootie

Carefully chosen. I respect that.

The best song on Low, perhaps? Certainly the most underappreciated. I guess Low made its reputation largely on the weirdness of its instrumental second side, but it’s the crazy new wave stuff on side one that actually holds up as really being ahead of its time, and as some of Bowie’s most purely badass work. “Baby, I’ve been / Breaking glass in your room again.” Fantastic opening line for any number of reasons, mostly that it implies so much resignment and truly pathetic desperation without actually saying anything particularly damning–Bowie was never the type to dwell in self-pity, so he just kind of lays it out there in one mundane but surreal detail and lets you draw your own conclusions. Combined with the last line, in which Bowie appears to give the game away by suddenly blurting out “YOU’RE SUCH A WONDERFUL PERSON!!!,” but holds on to add the tempering qualifier “…but you got problems!“–it’s really a wonderfully snide, cutting, fucking funny little song.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Request Line | 5 Comments »

Request Line: “Turn My Swag On,” “Summer Babe,” “1979,” “Creep”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on June 1, 2010

Reader David writes:

I thoroughly enjoyed your previous Soulja Boy Tell ‘Em analysis, so here goes:

Turn My Swag On – Soulja Boy Tell ‘Em
Summer Babe (Winter Version) – Pavement
1979 – Smashing Pumpkins
Creep – TLC

I thoroughly enjoyed writing my previous Soulja Boy Tell ‘Em analysis, so good call.

I got a question why they hatin’ on me?” asks Soulja Boy Tell ‘Em in one of the crucial lyrics to “Turn My Swag On.” To be fair, DeAndre, we had pretty good reason. My love for breakout hit “Crank Dat Soulja Boy” is very well-documented, but as I mentioned, it was the last I wanted to hear from Soulja for at least another decade–a second hit made about as much sense to me as hearing how Los Del Rio were going to follow up “Maccarena.” And when second and third singles “Soulja Girl” and “Yahhh!” graphed a decidedly downward slope for Soulja’s career trajectory, I figured we were pretty much out of the woods. Then the new album’s “Kiss Me Thru the Phone”–a somewhat cute but largely deplorable puppy-love tune, featuring former kid R&B star Sammie in some weird display of young’n solidarity–began its slow trek to the top five. Much to my horror, it looked like the public was no longer ticking down the seconds until they could forget about SBTE, but getting ready to accept him as a legitimate pop star.

So how to his explain his absence from recent works disparaging pop successes who failed to heed the call to GTFO? Well, simple: Because “Turn My Swag On,” his very next hit, was about 100 times better than it had any right to be.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Request Line | 4 Comments »

Request Line: “I Got You,” “Hurts So Good,” “Another Girl, Another Planet,” “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on May 30, 2010

Reader Jonathan writes:

I’m a huge fan, have been for many years. My requests: “I Got You” by Split Enz, “Hurts So Good” by John Cougar Mellencamp, “Another Girl, Another Planet” by The Only Ones and “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” by Deep Blue Something.

Good to hear from you after all these years, Jonathan. And some fine choices, if I may say.

Maybe the tensest love song ever written. Which is a little odd, considering if you looked at some of its lyrics on paper–namely, the classic opening line “I got you / And that’s all I want”–it’d seem sentimental almost to the point of sap. Even that starter couplet carries a wave of unease to it, though–the way singer Neil Finn seemingly jumps into the measure a step too early with the “”I got YOU!!,” reeking of over-anxiousness, before catching his voice betraying him and settling into the by-comparison disarmingly reversed “…and that’s all I want.” Of course, with that musical backdrop–the creeping minor guitar chords, the slinking drum shuffle, and those endless layers of twilight synths–even the first verse and chorus of “Love Grows Where My Rosemary Goes” could probably be made to send like something off Disc 2 of The Wall. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Request Line | 3 Comments »

Request Line: “Rock and Roll Friend,” “Relief,” “Mr. November,” “Delirious”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on May 26, 2010

Reader (and one-time Stylus co-writer) Ian Mathers writes:

Here’s my four songs request:

The Go-Betweens – “Rock and Roll Friend”
Sam Amidon – “Relief” (it’s an R. Kelly cover, by the way)
The National – “Mr. November”
Vistoso Bosses – “Delirious”

Some new faces to the program in that bunch. Cool by me.

Not sure why I don’t know more about the Go-Betweens than I do. As one of the more beloved of 80s alternative bands, they’ve certainly never been too far from my wheelhouse (and at one point in my life were undoubtedly smack dab in the middle), but aside from scattered singles here and there, I’ve never really delved to deeply. Maybe it’s just the sound. The Go-Bees (fans call them something like that, right?) really seemed to master that whole wistful, pained, sublimely sad kind of feeling with their mid/late-80s sound, and my heart can only take so much of that in one sitting. For whatever reason, I have a much higher guttural tolerance for music that’s cartoonishly miserable or just unapologetically pathetic than the kind of sepia-toned yearning that these guys seem to be selling. Not that it’s not great, or that it can’t be great– I at least like all the songs I’ve heard of theirs, “Part Company” probably being my favorite–but man, if I had to sit down for a 42-minute LP’s worth of it, I just don’t think I could make it through without collapsing to the floor in a twitching ball. No logical explanation, just how I’m built. (Maybe I should stick to the early stuff instead–“People Say” and “Lee Remick” are splendid.)

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Request Line | 5 Comments »

Request Line: “Is This Love?”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on May 25, 2010

Reader Kevin Writes:

Hey, longtime reader here. Following up a reference in a previous “Request Line”, how about four songs of the same name:

Bob Marley “Is This Love”
Whitesnake “Is This Love”
Survivor “Is This Love”
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah! “Is This Love?”

Few things I love more than comparing random songs that happen to have the same title, Kevin. By all means.

Few artists are as hard for critics to talk about as Bob Marley. That’s because for a guy who probably should inspire the same kind of reflexive reverence as Bob Dylan or Joe Strummer, Marley comes with the weightiest of musical-discourse albatrosses around his neck: The Fratboy Seal of Approval. In just the three decades or so since his death, Marley’s legacy has been reduced in American culture from that of a political figurehead, musical innovator and cultural ambassador to a poster in a head shop and a copy of Legend in the CD binder of your high-school classmate with the tie-dyed t-shirts and the ratty hair. (The Onion brilliantly summed up this phenomenon about a half-decade ago with their classic “Bob Marley Rises From Grave to Free Frat Boys From Bonds of Oppresson” article–sample Bob quote: “Professor, he flunk you all the time. Policeman, he ticket you for the noise. Board of Regents, they make so many rule, try to keep the fraternity music down.”) It’s not Marley’s fault, and really, it isn’t even the fratboys’ fault–it’s not their fault that Marley’s rebel rock and songs of freedom happen to sound very, very good at Saturday morning wake-and-bakes. But it can make it distressingly difficult to talk seriously about a song like “Get Up, Stand Up,” when in the back of our mind will always be an image of a twenty-year-old bearded and beaded white male, cup of beer in one hand, pointing to nowhere in particular with the other one, chanting “Don’t geev up da fiiiight!” (I understand the appeal–I did it myself when I saw the sans-Marley Wailers open for 311 in concert once. It’s fun.)

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Request Line | 4 Comments »

Friday Request Line: The Andrew Bujalski Filmography

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on May 21, 2010

Hey–it’s been too long, I know. There’s been family crises and NBA/NHL playoffs and other stuff that gives me too much of an excuse not to write more. But you guys have been giving me really good stuff to write about recently, and I do appreciate that. Over the course of the next week I’m going to knock off a whole bunch of the requests, and hopefully try to sprinkle in one or two originals as well. I can’t go every day on this blog like I used to, but I shouldn’t be missing whole weeks at a time. Hope you can forgive and forget, and continue to give me great shit to work with. Speaking of which…

Longtime friend of the blog Garret writes:

I just watched “Beeswax,” the predictably very good new Andrew Bujalski film that starting making the rounds last year and became available on DVD a few weeks ago. I know you’re a fan of this guy and understand why his films are treasures of American independent cinema. What I’m getting at is that the Intensities tribute to Andrew Bujalski’s filmography is long overdue. Consider it.

I am most certainly a fan, and am glad that you gave me the necessary motivation to finally watch Beeswax, which I’d been putting off watching, as I put off watching all movies that aren’t shown in multiplexes for months on end or appear on my parents’ endless stream of pay movie channels the few weeks I stay there each year. Consider it considered.

The first Bujalski movie I watched was Mutual Appreciation. I saw it in the theaters with my friend and a couple of girls he knew. I can’t recall ever having my mind blown by a movie like that–at the very least, it was the first time I could actually feel my brain squirming uncomfortably at what I was seeing and hearing. Usually when one testifies about a revelatory experience, it’s the tale of experiencing something that they’d never experienced. In the case of Mutual Appreciation, my shock and awe was at experiencing something that I actually experienced just about every day of my life, but in the context of watching a film instead of, well, living. One of the girls I saw it with didn’t care much for it–“I could’ve just hung out with my friends for two hours instead,” she explained. She was right, probably, but to me, that was sort of the whole point.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Request Line | 6 Comments »

Friday(-ish) Request Line: “Bad Romance,” “NY State of Mind,” “Plateau,” “Go Your Own Way,”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on May 8, 2010

Reader Dan writes:

Here is my request:

“Bad Romance” – Lady Gaga
“NY State of Mind” – Nas
“Plateau” – The Meat Puppets
“Go Your Own Way” – Fleetwood Mac

Kinda dispensing with the formalities, huh guys? Anyway…

The crazy thing for me with regards to Lady GaGa is that when she first came out, I totally thought she was just another faceless pop chick. (I also thought for months that she was black–not entirely sure why.) “Just Dance” was a good song, sure, but it wasn’t the kind of song that really screams New Horizon–it was just a highly above-average song about loving pop music. I actually liked that song a lot, and “Poker Face” might have been even better–it had a couple really original-sounding, ear-worming hooks that absolutely screamed mega-hit, and it surprised me little when it quickly reached that fate. But by then it was starting to get clear that GaGa had loftier goals in mind. Her videos, her interviews, her wardrobe…it all started to stray off the beaten path a little. Then, the 2009 VMAs happened, and it was clear that there was no going back: GaGa was weirdo performance artist first, disposable pop musician a distant second.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Request Line | 12 Comments »

Friday Request Line: “Jessie’s Girl”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on April 30, 2010

Reader Noir writes:

As long as I’m here, how about Rick Springfield’s “Jessie’s Girl” for the Friday request line? Nobody I have ever known named Jesse has spelled their name with an i.

Me neither, actually. I would think that the “ie” spelling would imply femininity, too, because that makes  it look like it was a nickname for “Jessica.” (Which very briefly inspired me to wonder if there were gender layers to this song that I had not yet considered, but the “he’s a good friend of mine” line in the opening stanza kinda puts that to rest. Oh well.)

Anyway, it’s just as well that you bring that up, since as far as I can tell, it’s the only semi-legitimate grievance one can really have with “Jessie’s Girl.” In the post-MTV era in popular music (which actually can be defined as the “post-‘Jessie’s Girl'” era, since that was the #1 single in the country when the channel launched) you’d be hard-pressed to find a dozen hit songs as note-perfect as this song, as immaculately crafted and structurally sound. It blows my mind a little bit that according to, music criticism’s most reliable aggregate compiler of consensus opinion, the song is not even one of the 3000 most-acclaimed songs of all-time, beaten out by such timeless classics as The Coral’s “Pass It On,” Beastie Boys’ “Ch-Check It Out” and Primal Scream’s “Country Girl.” (Seriously, “Country Girl”? I don’t even think Primal Scream liked that song). It’s always a shame when the rock critics of the world are outclassed by web comic Penny Arcade, whose  Gabe was once absolved of co-protagonist Tycho’s murder on the grounds that he said that “Jessie’s Girl” wasn’t “all that great.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Request Line | 7 Comments »