Friday, March 29, 2019

One More (?) Go Around: A Hundred Songs I Absolutely Must Have With Me on 1/48/50

 #382) "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" by Crosby, Stills and Nash - Over time, I've had an unreliable relationship with Crosby, Stills and Nash. For years and years, the only song of theirs that ever wound up on any playlist of mine was "Southern Cross", a tune from later in their career - that is, after their peak in popularity - that appealed to me the first time I heard it on Top 40 radio at the age of ten, and still very much does.

Aside from that, I didn't really pay attention to CSN, and what I actually knew about them, as compared to what I knew about other acts from the late 60s/early 70s that were considered "classic" by the time I came of age, was spotty at best, factually inaccurate at worst: I always assumed David Crosby was the leader of the group, merely because his name appears first. Nowadays, I wouldn't suggest there is or ever was a leader, per se. All three members of this "supergroup", each coming from a notable band before (Crosby from The Byrds, Graham Nash from The Hollies, Stephen Stills from Buffalo Springfield), contribute something valuable to the overall sound. I knew that Neil Young (also from Buffalo Springfield) made them a foursome for a short while (CSNY!), but that it didn't last. I always thought "Teach Your Children" was lovely, an anthem for a generation and all that, but for some reason, I never wanted to listen to it all the way through. Same with "Our House".  And "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" was just a song I caught fragmented stretches of on "classic rock" radio while at work on a Tuesday morning, a tune I never bothered to listen to for more than a minute. I'm not sure why. It always seemed a little too of the 1960s to be relatable, I just can't possibly explain what I mean by that.

I do know that the fact that I felt that way is a real shame. I'd give anything to have been able to experience this song, really listen to it, make it relatable, when I was twenty. For my money, the seemingly disjointed, rambling lyrics are anything but. Rather, they so capture the rarefied torture of going through a breakup when you're young. Stills wrote the song about his imminent breakup with singer Judy Collins, whom he'd been dating for a couple of years. He was 23 or 24 at the time, and you can tell, and I mean that in a good way. The professions and confessions sprinkled throughout the seven-minute masterpiece would seem to be torn straight from the pages of every young man's romantically muddled psyche, a little bit of everything: raw and random, earnest, pathetic and potent, easily distracted, ever anguished, restless, meaningless and inspired all at once. Gorgeous and awkward. Too much, and at the same time never quite enough.

This has to be true, because it's all pretty much the same stuff I used to write in notebooks when I was an emotionally muddled young man, the very same kind of addled all-over-the-place emotional imagery I tried mightily to work into my fiction, in days when I had everything before me and a much loftier sense of relevance driving me forward.  

It's something every young person who has ever been in - and/or lost - love can relate to, hitting its mark without ever being too specific, too much about Stephan Stills and Judy Collins, and that, coupled with stellar musicianship (moments of true floral notes both in the trio's vocal harmonies and Stills' expert guitar work) makes "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" nothing short of immortal ... far outlasting the mere 1960s, or Crosby, Stills and Nash, or me.

I mean come on, "Friday evening ... Sunday in the afternoon ..."  Nothing else needs to be said, right? ;-)

"I've got an answer / I'm going to fly away / What have I got to lose?"

#383) "Stray Cat Strut" by The Stray Cats - This is one of those songs that some might be inclined to dismiss as a novelty. It's so catchy, the subject matter borderline silly, lending itself to cartoons and other pop culture fare. The Stray Cats, with their upright bass and pompadours, were themselves a "novelty" act, decidedly retro if nothing else, although I do not mean that in any disparaging way. 

How could I? Brian Setzer is a talented guy musically speaking, and if you take a moment to do so, "Stray Cat Strut" is downright beautiful to listen to. The restless lyrics, equally restless rhythms, the angsty and theatrical chord progressions, bring out silliness, longing and sass in equal measure, all dressed in Setzer's wet, wonderful guitar work.

"Howling to the moonlight on a hot summer night ..."