Thursday, April 28, 2005

It's Not Just a Boring My Favorite Songs Post, Really, It's Different

Is Tosy and Cosh back? Will it stay back? Will anyone read it? Will the rhetorical questions never cease? Only time will tell (except on that last one; this sentence right here has answered that one pretty definitively), but I am going to give this another go, just to see what sticks. Who knows, maybe this time I'll hang around. Comments are welcome and encouraged; I can be reached at

Well then--into the fray, shall we?

Peter Filichia, the New Jersey Drama Critic for the Newark Star-Ledger, writes, not a blog, but an old-fashioned column, at This past Monday's column, entitled "Peter Filichia Picks Music that Matters to Him," took as its inspiration the "Artist's Choice" CDs Starbucks has started selling in the past few years, compilation CDs put together by songwriters featuring, in Starbucks' words, "music that inspires them, the music they grew up with, the CD that's in their car stereo right now, and what they think is the saddest song in the world."

Filichia's column featured 15 selections that more or less fit the above criteria, for him. His rules, which I've followed, were to stay away from obvious or popular songs and to limit himself to one artist/composer per selection. Peter, being a theater critic, and, more importantly, a musical theater fan of epic proportions, has listed naught but musical theater songs. I have included in my little list both rock/pop songs and musical theater songs, but have stayed away from the jazz and classical realms, "songs," not really being falling in either of those genre's sweet spots. In compiling this list, I've come to realize that I have an odd but very obvious affinity for melancholic, slower, sad songs. What this says about me I'd rather not plumb at this moment in time.

So: my 15.

"Check It Out"--John Mellencamp, off of Lonesome Jubilee
There's something indefinable about the way a melody can capture a very specific mood. Mellencamp does it here with a song about accepting the compromises of adulthood. "This is all that we've learned about happiness," the lyric goes, and the way it meshes with the melody does, for me, so much. This has always stood as one of my favorite songs, and I've never been entirely sure why--again, it's that indefinable something that he captures. Not sure why it works, but it does.

"Please"--U2, off of Pop
A little-known U2 song, this is in some ways a typical, almost clich├ęd song, about wanting peace. But the mode of delivery is what sets it apart--it's not a strident call for peace, or a lament for the brutality of war, but rather a naked begging for peace, an emotionally unguarded plea. Stark and beautiful.

"When the Angles Cry"--Sting, off of The Soul Cages
A beautiful, slow ballad about a loss of faith, notable for being almost uplifting about that loss, rather than shattered or demoralized. You don't see many songs that address atheism as a thing to be admired, but Sting does it here. "Take your father's cross, gently from the wall/A shadow still remaining." Indeed.

"Sugar Baby"--Bob Dylan, off of Love and Theft
The last song off of Dylan's last album, it could stand as an epilogue to his entire career. Such resignation in the voice and the arrangement, that slow, understated beat--all the elements combine to form a sad but dignified coda.

"God Give Me Strength"--Elvis Costello & Burt Bacharach, off of Painted from Memory
Man, could this guy write a few musical scores if he wanted. In fact, last year he released his first CD of orchestral music, a ballet score entitled Il Sogno. Costello's talent, as has been oft-noted, is far-reaching. Give this one a listen and get a taste of the gift for melody and the way he can work in less rock-oriented structures. And a voice that just keeps getting better, one of the few rock-era singers who knows how to handle a lyric and who's not afraid to just SING, damn it.

"Like an Angel Passing through My Room"--Anne Sofie Van Otter (originally written and performed by ABBA), off of For the Stars
I don't know hardly any ABBA, and didn't know this song from Adam before hearing Otter's rendition. It's a gorgeous song, with a slow, melancholy melody that sounds obvious once you've heard it.

"No More"--Stephen Sondheim (from Into the Woods)
This is a duet in the show, but is often done as a solo number. A bittersweet, almost tragic, but resigned song about the messes one generation hands down to the next, and how that generation must resign itself to dealing with them, no matter how much they'd rather run away from them.

"How Glory Goes"--Adam Guettel (from Floyd Collins)
Sung by a man who's been trapped in an underground cave for days and is about to die; he questions God about what's going to happen next. Chilling stuff.

"The Next Ten Minutes"--Jason Robert Brown (from The Last 5 Years)
This is a two-character show about a relationship. The show covers the characters meeting, falling in love, developing problems, and breaking up, but it does it from both ends at once. Each character alternates solo songs, the man starting from meeting the woman and progressing to the breakup and the woman starting with the breakup and going backwards to their meeting. This is the middle song, where they meet in time briefly, and, for the only time in the show, and for only the briefest of moments, sing together.

"To Each His Dulcinea"--Mitch Leigh and Joe Darion (From Man of La Mancha)
Everyone knows Impossible Dream and Man of La Mancha, but this song is probably the show's prettiest, and a touching ode to the power of a dream.

"Tom"--Michael John LaChiusa (from Hello Again)
A song about an imagined affair, held down by an insinuating little bass figure, that does a marvelous job of outlining the sad desperation of a lonely married woman.

"Come Down in Time"--Sting (originally written and performed by Elton John), off of Two Rooms: celebrating the Songs of Elton John and Bernie Taupin
Little-known Elton John song that I fell in love with via a stripped down, piano-bass arrangement sung by Sting. This may well be the saddest song I know.

"Hearts and Bones"--Paul Simon, off of Hearts and Bones
Not a hit, but Simon doing what he does best--melancholy love songs. The shuffling rhythm here foreshadows his African-inspired work on Graceland by a few years.

"Once Upon a Time"--Charles Strouse (From All American) (the rendition I know is by Mandy Patinkin, on his Mandy Patinkin album.
This, to me, is just one of the most beautiful melodies ever. The show is obscure, but the song has become something of a standard.

"For You"--Tracy Chapman, off of Tracy Chapman
Off of her first, and best, album, this closing song, with just her voice and a guitar, was the kind of elegant and simple song she should have focused a little more on in subsequent albums. She kind of drifted away from the spare acoustic thing and it?s a shame. The spare accompanying figure here is just lovely.

So those are mine. Each song one I truly love and cherish, and each one that can always, no matter how many times I've heard it, elicit a strong emotional response.

Until Whenever

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