Sunday, January 12, 2014

5 Songs About Nostalgia (in no order)

1) Jonathan Richman - I Like Gumby

To be fair, over half of Richman's discography probably qualifies as nostalgic, even The Modern Lovers' 1975 hit "Roadrunner," itself an ode to the glory days (sorry, Springsteen's song was #6) of radio, Boston, and (to quote Woody Guthrie) driving in the car, car. Yet when music critic Greil Marcus called "Roadrunner" "the most obvious song in the world, and the strangest," one gets the impression that he never heard "I Like Gumby." This is exactly why I like "I Like Gumby," because it typifies Richman's desire to be the manchild of 2-chord cacophony, the Pee-Wee Herman of (according to people who aren't me) punk rock. Airplanes, dinosaurs, insects, ice cream? Try Gumby, a beloved children's Saturday morning claymation character created by Los Osos' own Art Clokey. At other stages of his illustrious career, Clokey would go on unwittingly inspire the creators of  VeggieTales with his own Christian claypeople Davey and Goliath and even more infamously, create
"Moody Rudy, he's a real cutie?"
Moody Rudy, a toy which bombed on the market and nearly bankrupted him because it looked too much like the illegitimate child of Clark Gable, Saddam Hussein, and Mr. Potato Head, were such a thing possible. Throughout the three verses of the song "I Like Gumby," Richman takes everyday situations like seeing a railroad crossing, and is instantly reminded of his favorite childhood TV program. He also claims to "remember the spooky parts" of the show, though unfortunately neither Richman nor his backup singers care to elaborate. For those of you who are continually unable to track down a copy of Moody Rudy on eBay (the last one I saw went for $93 not including shipping), the next best step in my opinion is The Green Album, which features this and more songs about Gumby than you probably thought existed, including ex-Turtles and ex-Mothers of Invention mudshark sympathizers Flo & Eddie's "We Are All Gumby," a style parody of Magical Mystery Tour-era Beatles. Which brings us to:

2 & 3) The Beatles - Strawberry Fields Forever/Penny Lane (tie)

Penned by Lennon and McCartney respectively, this 7'' single fully represents the yin and yang of childhood and nostalgia, with the more upbeat track stereotypically being a McCartney composition. Unfortunately for Lennon, his cut also became the only major international Beatles single to not chart at #1, spending six weeks as second banana to Engelbert Humperdinck (who now?)'s cover of the 1946 popular song "Release Me," paradoxically cheesier than anything McCartney did (before his solo period) and even more depressing to listen to than "Strawberry Fields." As I was formally introduced to The Beatles via their #1 singles package 1 in the early 21st century, my own childhood was spent chuckling at the cheery sound effects of "Penny Lane" while never paranoidically pondering who "buried Paul" on the opposite A-side. Unlike many inclusions on this list, both tracks are omnipresent nearly 50 years later, seemingly having inspired everyone from Elephant 6 Collective indie pop group the Apples in Stereo, whose single "Strawberryfire" is a near-rewrite of the former hit, to whoever decided to name a street in San Luis Obispo "Penny Ln."

4) Mojo Nixon & Skid Roper - Lincoln Logs

 One of the most common words used to describe Virginian psychobilly musician Mojo Nixon is "raunchy," which easily explains why MTV VJs like Martha Quinn were so hesitant to play Nixon's politically-charged and pop culture-busting music videos like "I Ain't Gonna Piss in No Jar," "Debbie Gibson is Pregnant With My Two-Headed Love Child, "Don Henley Must Die," and least offensively, "Elvis is Everywhere" (and why Nixon's videos only appeared on the then-music network's Beavis and Butt-Head). But there will be none of that when Mojo's often-forgotten and much-maligned Skid Roper takes lead vocals and lyrics on the childhood ode "Lincoln Logs." Similarly to "I Like Gumby," Skid Roper obsesses over his favorite childhood toy, though he is considerably whinier here, getting annoyed at his mother for possibly throwing said logs out after he outgrew them. For this reason, Village Voice critic Robert Christgau, who praised several of Mojo's cuts (though understandably not the more ambiguously misogynist ones), viewed Skid Roper as vestigial (he gave a similar sentiment toward the much better known also-ran Art Garfunkel). "The poor folkie misses his boyhood toys[,] boo hoo," sneered Christgau in his review of Bo-Day-Shus!!!, the album that produced "Lincoln Logs," further scorning Roper's apparent lack of lyrical ability on the duo's next and final album together, Root Hog or Die.

5) Lou Reed - Egg Cream
Though Skid Roper let his innocence shine on "Lincoln Logs," Nixon's music only became raunchier come his solo career, releasing the X-rated Christmas album Horny Holidays at his moral nadir. As a result, the late Velvet Underground frontman Lou Reed's "Egg Cream" from his 1996 album Set the Twilight Reeling comes across as more shocking considering it is but an ode to Reed's favorite summertime dessert as a child growing up in the Big Apple. Gone are the days of "Heroin" as Reed now embraces a treat with weight gain as its only side effect, and makes it abundantly clear that he enjoys egg creams instead of blankly describing the sensations without praise or condemnation, as he did in the earlier track. And no, Reed didn't devolve into what too many people erroneously dismiss "Weird Al" Yankovic as, America's most popular jingle writer for snack foods. Set the Twilight Reelings is not The Food Album; skip five more tracks until you hear a track entitled "Sex With Your Parents," and you'll be assured that the same Lou Reed every hipster loves stuck around until 2013 (though the A.V. Club agrees to disagree). And as of January 2014, this blogger has not yet taken Reed's advice and tried an egg cream.

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