February 5, 2009

NT's greatest hits, vol. 2

Hey-o. I'm going to continue my ever-so-brief commentary about entries on my list of favorite songs ever. Earlier I tackled "OK Apartment" by the Oranges Band and "Just What I Needed" by the Cars. Behold, another random two:

"Objects of My Affection" by Peter Bjorn & John
Oh, man. This is probably my favorite tune of the past couple years, and it is an absolute gem of simplicity. PB&J are a Swedish trio that had a monster international hit in 2006 with "Young Folks" (yes, that song; great video); "Objects of My Affection" was the following single from that same album, Writer's Block. A martial repeating drum pattern, a frantic guitar strum, and a distant, echoing whistle, and the narrator: a laconic, defeated man, who engages in a bit of nostalgia, which always gets to me. His thoughts are loopy and nonspecific, ideally nostalgic. In the second verse, he describes his dejection and ennui in the plainest terms ("Some days, I just lie around and hardly exist, and can't tell apart what I'm eating from my hand or my wrist"). But then, in the chorus, he collects himself and comes to this fairly profound realization:

And the question is,
Was I more alive
Then than I am now?
I happily have to disagree.
I laugh more often now.
I cry more often now.
I am more me.

There's a slight awkwardness to the lyrics, perhaps due to the band writing in their second language, but it only makes the words more endearing. Too often, when a rock band writes about depression, the emotion takes a simplistic, clichéd form, as if nothing could be worse and all hope it gone. But it's the indecision and negotiation of "Objects of My Affection" that makes it so powerful, and truly inspiring. (By the way, the video I've linked to above is great, but it's an inferior version of the song, so you should seek out the album recording; try Songza.)

"Crimson and Clover" by Tommy James and the Shondells
First, this is absolutely the greatest make-out song ever. Tommy James and the Shondells were a garage band from Pittsburgh of the late '60s—actually, Tommy James wasn't from Pittsburgh, and it's a pretty interesting story how he ended up there. They were huge at the time: the original versions of "I Think We're Alone Now," "Mony Mony," "Crystal Blue Persuasion," all big hits. And "Crimson and Clover," which is an incredibly economical distillation of the pop-psychedelia era into three minutes and 30 seconds. If you don't believe me, believe every one of the thousands of TV shows, commercials, and movies that have referenced this song over the decades when they needed to effortlessly get across any kind of "hippie" vibe. I know of what I speak.

There's not much to "Crimson and Clover" lyrically, but there wasn't much to psychedelia other than faux profundity and weirdo effects, and that's precisely what you get here. It's a very soothing song, a delightfully surprising one, and even a little funny (dig the echoing vocal effect at the end). And seriously; listen to it while you're making out. Not having sex—making out.

More to come: 15 more parts in this series!