A Few Winter Songs

Tori Amos

My favorite Tori song, from before she lost the plot. Did she become more obscure because of her success or was she headed that way? We’ll never know. But at this point this is my favorite winter song, the one I think about when the day is gray.

The Rolling Stones

Coming after “Exile On Main Street,” “Goats Head Soup” was highly anticipated, and almost as disappointing. The song that got all the pre-press was “Star Star,” whose name was unfortunately changed from the f-word and lost its power as a result. The best song is the unfortunately titled “Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker),” you know, “The police in New York City”… I love the way Mick sings PO-lice. Actually, the best tracks on “Goats Head Soup” are the ones that got no press, not only “Heartbreaker,” but “Hide Your Love,” with that great piano groove, sounding like an outtake from “Exile,” “Can You Hear The Music,” slow and dreamy, and “Winter.”

Of course the album contained “Angie,” but I prefer the moody “Winter.”

Speaking of unheralded Stones tracks, do you know “Hand Of Fate” from “Black And Blue”? This is the Stones I love, the one wherein Mick is not coy, not cloying, but belting. That’s when they work best live, when the manipulation takes a backseat to the song. And, of course, the duet with Dave Matthews rescued “Memory Motel,” “Black And Blue”‘s best song, from obscurity.

And since I’m on a Stones tear, after Bobby Keys died I got a bunch of e-mail about “Ventilator Blues.” I’ll let Charlie Watts tell the story from Wikipedia:

“Bobby Keys wrote the rhythm part, which is the clever part of the song. Bobby said, ‘Why don’t you do this?’ and I said, ‘I can’t play that,’ so Bobby stood next me to clapping the thing and I just followed his timing. In the world of Take Five, it’s nothing, but it threw me completely and Bobby just stood there and clapped while we were doing the track – and we’ve never quite got it together as well as that.”

And while we’re on unheralded “Exile” tracks…

The best is “Let It Loose.” It’s the backup vocal at the end. Remember lying on your bed after dark listening to “Exile” on headphones? I do.

And having said that, the track that got me into “Exile” is the very last one, “Soul Survivor,” it’s the tonality of the intro guitar, the piano-playing, and the machine gun guitar after the chorus. From back before it didn’t need to be a hit to get notice.

“Song For A Winter’s Night”
Gordon Lightfoot

No song I know embodies the feel of winter as much as this. It captures being inside when it’s snowing outside, when you’re alone in your cocoon. What makes it so great is the strings, from back when there was debate whether to use them, before they were replaced by synthesizers and ultimately ostracized.

“A Hazy Shade Of Winter”
Simon & Garfunkel

This is not the best song on “Bookends,” and it’s now more famous in its Bangles iteration, but “Bookends” is one of the best albums ever made, even though it’s been nearly forgotten.

How did this happen?

Could it be that Paul Simon is not a warm guy? Could it be his eighties MTV success eclipsed his earlier work? But the truth is “Bookends” and “There Goes Rhymin’ Simon” are two of the best albums ever made.

Old friends
Sat on their park bench
Like bookends
A newspaper blown through the grass
Falls on the round toes
On the high shoes
Of the old friends

Can’t you see it? If you’ve been to NYC you can. The people who’ve lived in the city for their entire lives who’ve got nothing left to prove, who are not worried about being judged.

Can you imagine us
Years from today
Sharing a park bench quietly
How terribly strange
To be seventy

This lyric flows through the brain of all baby boomers. We thought it was impossible, but we got old. Replaced by people with unbroken bodies, who like us believe they know everything. That’s what’s so weird about life, you look into the mirror and you no longer recognize yourself, you feel about thirteen, but the truth is time has passed by.

The best song on “Bookends” is “America.”

We were disillusioned, the country was no longer the empire they told us it was in the fifties, but that did not mean we didn’t love it, didn’t want to experience it, didn’t want to know everything about it back before we grew up and got rich and sent our children to Europe and wanted nothing to do with flyover country which is now just as sophisticated as the coasts.

But there’s nothing like taking to the highway, driving in the middle of nowhere, watching the endless miles go by. You can fly across the USA in a few hours, but if you get behind the wheel it takes days. Only when you slow down can you really understand our country.

Laughing on the bus
Playing games with the faces
She said the man in the gabardine suit was a spy
I said ‘Be careful, his bowtie is really a camera’

That’s love. The shared experience. When your world is your own. Back before you shared every private moment on Instagram and Facebook looking for acknowledgement, recognition. Used to be the moment was enough. It still is.

For a long time, “Fakin’ It” was my favorite cut on “Bookends.” But the most famous is “Mrs. Robinson.”

Mike Nichols made it famous. Putting it in “The Graduate,” which I caught a bit of on TCM after the man died.

Lost. Finding yourself. That’s the essence of a baby boomer. We were a searching generation. And we’re still looking.

A Few Winter Songs – Spotify

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