Welcome back for another arts round-up! This week, we’re featuring songs and albums. Although it can be difficult to choose just one recording, every staff member has shared thoughts about a selection.
Before reading on, prepare for a wide range of emotions. Music moves us in powerful yet different ways. Keep a box of tissues, party horn, and reality check nearby.
Elvis Presley, “Aloha Oe,” Blue Hawaii (1961)
Office Manager Jeannie Lalau remembers listening to Elvis on cassette tapes, vinyl records, and eight-tracks belonging to her father, who introduced the family to the King of Rock and Roll. After Blue Hawaii aired on television, Jeannie’s father wouldn’t rest until he could buy the soundtrack.
For the film, Elvis performed several traditional Hawaiian songs, including “Ku-u-i-po” (“My Sweetheart”) and “Aloha Oe” (“Love to You / Welcome / Farewell”). “Seeing Elvis singing those songs in the movie was priceless,” said Jeannie, who was born in Hawaii to Samoan parents. “This made me so proud to call Hawaii home.”
The album means more as life goes on. Jeannie confided that it commemorates “a moment in time where my Dad and I shared a love and passion for music, great music.” She misses him now but thinks of him whenever Elvis plays.
The Clash, “Clampdown,” London Calling (1979)
Although Community Outreach Consultant Adam Krentzman mentioned Cosmic Thing by the B-52s and Speak Up by Paul Kalkbrenner, he has taken a longer journey with London Calling by The Clash. According to Pitchfork, this album is the band’s “creative apex, a booming, infallible tribute to throbbing guitars and spacious ideology.” Adam has particularly enjoyed “Clampdown,” a song about sticking it to the man.
In high school, Adam listened to “Clampdown” while “skateboarding in some local park at midnight with friends.” Today, he queues it up when he needs “a feel-good song in the car on the way to dinner.” Don’t be fooled by the latter quotation, which sounds relatively placid. Wearing his tiger-emblazoned jean jacket, Adam is racing around to recruit new members for the fight against Big Tech and digital piracy.
Cyndi Lauper, “When You Were Mine,” She’s So Unusual (1984)
Senior Director of Policy and Communications JC Taylor grew up in small-town Illinois listening to musicians like John Prine. Prine remains a favorite, but upon moving to Boystown Chicago, JC discovered quite another kind of music. He recalls, “I became fascinated by Madonna, I grooved along to ABBA and Robyn, I cherished Bowie and Cher, but it was Cyndi Lauper that stood above the rest for me.”
Lauper’s debut album, She’s So Unusual, offers much to admire. Even the cover photograph, an inspired collaboration between Lauper and Annie Leibovitz, makes JC ecstatic. He loves how Lauper transformed “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” from misogynistic parody to “feminist anthem” – so much so that Lauper’s version has eclipsed the original. His favorite track is another cover, “When You Were Mine.”
The original by Prince is, of course, incomparable. To JC, “it has a tone of spitefulness and snark, which fit very well into Prince’s character at the time.” Lauper reimagines the song as “an emotional ballad,” vividly conjuring images of “desperation, abandonment, and loneliness.” As JC exclaims, “What a feeling I get from this song!” Sounds like the big city done this country boy some good.
Aaron Neville, “Don’t Take Away My Heaven,” The Grand Tour (1993)
Chief Executive Officer Ruth Vitale listens to rap every day, so she almost chose her favorite song by Drake. However, he topped the 2021 charts, and Ruth likes to remember earlier artists. She searched further back in time, swearing, “I’ll educate those young people.”
Now, Ruth has us grooving to Aaron Neville’s “Don’t Take Away My Heaven,” the crowning glory from his album The Grand Tour. It turns out that Ruth’s friend Diane Warren wrote the words, which came as a pleasant surprise. “I find the song soulful and haunting,” Ruth said, perfectly capturing its mood. “The combination of Diane’s lyrics and Neville’s voice is near perfection for me.”
Enraptured by Neville’s “angelic balladry,” we were thrilled to learn about his contributions to soul, R&B, and funk. His band the Neville Brothers left their mark especially on New Orleans, where “[a]ll their songs now are firmly embedded,” according to a local insider. As Ruth explained, Neville is “the foundation of all that came after him.” At our next staff meeting, we anticipate that she’ll trace the connections from “Don’t Take Away My Heaven” to “Hotline Bling.”
Daft Punk, “Doin’ it Right,” Random Access Memories (2013)
If Executive Vice President of External Affairs Brett Williams had to pick one song, it would be Carly Simon’s “Let the River Run” from Working Girl (1988), directed by Mike Nichols. Brett explained, “It’s one of the best soundtrack songs in one of my favorite films by one of my favorite directors. And it’s a great New York movie to boot.” Who would have guessed that Brett’s favorite song, film, and director would have a New York connection, just like his favorite newspaper, podcast, and photograph?
Brett chose Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories as “an entire album that I love start to finish.” He has good taste: Pitchfork praised the album for being “rendered with an amazing level of detail, with no expense spared.” Brett recalls that it “was the soundtrack to my move from NY to LA during the three-week cross-country trip.” Did Brett shed a tear while listening to “Doin’ it Right,” even though Pitchfork claims it is “a terrifically uplifting bit of electro-pop”? The world can guess but might never know.
Kendrick Lamar, “untitled 02,” untitled and unmastered. (2016)
As we have learned from past roundups, Coordinator Connor Leak is an old soul – but apparently not when it comes to music. He loves rap so long as it is “lyrical” and not “too hype-beast or mumble rapperish.” As a favorite example, Connor named Kendrick Lamar, whom Pitchfork has praised as “the promotionally frugal, preeminent thinking-person’s rapper of a generation.”
While Lamar contributed to the Black Panther soundtrack, Connor prefers the “free-form authenticity” of untitled and unmastered. Its second track, “untitled 02,” merits special attention. Connor describes it as “a fast-paced ballad set over an ominous bass with jazzy supplements.” It tells a tragic story of “succumbing to the highs of stardom and influence.” We hope that won’t happen to Connor, our bona fide Thinking Person!
Phoenix, “Telefono,” Ti Amo (2017)
Communications Manager Davis Read chose Ti Amo by Phoenix, the “decadent and beguiling” French indie electro-pop band. As Davis noted, the Italian title means “I love you,” and “the whole record reflects feelings of romance and the euphoria that love brings to life.” Oh, my! Could it be that young Davis has fallen for someone?
We gathered clues while he discussed “Telefono,” his favorite track. “In the song, the narrator describes the feelings he has for a long-distance lover,” Davis explained, becoming more and more agitated. “We hear him lament about the fact that he can’t be with this person, and he’s stuck up late at night because the two are in different time zones and he can’t sleep when he knows this person is awake.”
There we have it. Clearly, employment in LA has wrested Davis cruelly away from a fair Indiana peony, which still wafts perfume upon the tranquil prairie of his native state. We’d better see about some vacation time for the sleepless, lovesick lad.
Muse, “Thought Contagion,” Simulation Theory (2018)
Senior Writer Bryan Alkemeyer didn’t realize how much he liked English art rock until he had to pick an album for this arts round-up. He settled on Simulation Theory by Muse, which remains the only band he has seen live in concert. This guy really needs to get out more.
As The Guardian knows, Muse is at their best “when you feel yourself seized by an unaccountable desire to march through the streets waving a massive flag, warning your neighbours that the robots are coming to kill us all.” Cynicism and technophobia have never sounded better. That’s why Bryan calls Simulation Theory “music for the tech-lash.”
His favorite track is “Thought Contagion,” which uses vampirism as a metaphor for virulent misinformation. Asked to comment on the song, Bryan put his soul in his eyes and belted out, “Whoah-oh-ah-ah-oh-oh-oh thought contagion!” Muse has already done homage to George Orwell’s 1984 in their previous album. Bryan hopes their next one will take inspiration from another dystopia, China Miéville’s The City & The City.
That’s our round-up of favorite songs and albums! We hope you survived the emotional rollercoaster.
We’ll feature a new category of art in our next round-up. Unless we hear a better suggestion from you on social media, it just might be knock-knock jokes or decorative pillow-making.
Until next time, find some creativity wherever you can, stay safe, and be well. #StandCreative