Songbook

I just finished reading Songbook by Nick Hornby. It’s a light book of short essays about 31 songs. They’re not necessarily his favorite songs, or even overwhelmingly important to him, they’re just songs he had something or other to say about. It was a very nice read.

I’d not heard most of the songs, and frankly, was a bit skeptical of some of them. I’m only in my mid-30s, but I already feel like I’ve heard all the Rod Stewart I ever need to hear in my life, even the old, “good” stuff. Nevertheless, I went in search of them online IN MY RECORD STORE. Oh, fine, I looked for them online. Oddly enough, I was neither the first person to read the book nor to come up with the idea of listening to the songs, so two people I found had already done the work for me! I downloaded the directories and cued up the tunes, eager to hear this music that had inspired him so.

I don’t think you’ll be surprised to find out that I was somewhat underwhelmed. I found most of the tracks to just kind of “be there”. There wasn’t much I wanted to skip past (even “Frankie Teardrop” by Suicide, a song best described as “harrowing”) but nothing immediately yelled “mixtape!” to me either. And now, for my troubles, I’ve got a damn Rod Stewart song that could leap out at me from random play at any moment!

Now, this is the entire point of the book. Hornby is fully aware that these songs aren’t going to have the same effect on others as they have on him. The idea behind the book is not that these are songs you need to listen to and appreciate, it’s that most people have songs that fill the same psychological niche for them as these fill for him. For him, Nelly Furtado’s “I’m Like a Bird” is an example of a stupid, disposable, and yet completely enthralling pop song. A “guilty pleasure,” if you will. (Except I think he (and I) would bristle at the use of “guilty”. There’s nothing wrong with liking a song that neither is nor wants to be a genius work of musical art.) Furtado’s song might not do a damn thing for you, but I guarantee there’s a song you love that you feel like you shouldn’t.

So of course, the next step was to try and thing of what those might be. If I were to write such a book, what songs would I want to talk about? The ones I came up with were (in mere alphabetical order):

  • “Bad Reputation” — Freedy Johnson
  • “Down in Splendour” — Straightjacket Fits
  • “Heart and Soul” — T’Pau
  • “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” — Wilco
  • “I Only Want to Be With You” — Dusty Springfield
  • “I Will Survive” — Cake
  • “Just Like Honey” — The Jesus and Mary Chain
  • “Lined Up” — Shriekback
  • “One More Time” — The Cure
  • “Pocket Calculator” — Kraftwerk
  • “Prove My Love” — Violent Femmes
  • “Say Hello” — Miracle Legion
  • “Seven Nation Army” — The White Stripes
  • “She Bangs the Drums” — The Stone Roses
  • “Strange” — Galaxie 500
  • “The Power is On” — The Go! Team
  • “There She Goes” — The La’s
  • “You Are the Everything” — R.E.M.

I’m sure that once I got going I’d change my mind. I’d add songs, realize I didn’t have much to say about some of them, change my mind about some of them, whatever. This was going to be phase two of the Cool New Music Page, actually…I was going to get up under the hood and go through each one song-by-song. I may do that eventually, still.

So you, gentle reader. Which songs would you write about? You don’t need to specify what you’d say about them, and again, the purpose isn’t favorite songs, but songs that have some kind of meaning, some kind of resonance with you that goes beyond “I dig it a lot.” I love the song “Driver 8” by R.E.M., but I’m not sure I’d have much to say about it.

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4 Responses to Songbook

  1. Nik says:

    I’d have to think about those songs for a bit. I do dig Hornby’s book too, and admit I was similarly “eh” about the CD (I love the Badly Drawn Boy track and the Teenage Fanclub stuff, though.) Another great similar book is his “Polysyllabic Spree” which is a similar tome but about books and what he’s read and “been meaning to read.” I really enjoy Hornby’s nonfiction, great style.

  2. Nik says:

    Oh, and nice songs on your own list! I thought I was the only one who knew of Freedy Johnston’s existence. What a great CD that is.

  3. Anarkey says:

    Hmmm, this is a matter that merits some thought, but if I stop to think about it too much it will be one of those things I meant to comment on but never did…so I think I’ll go with whatever floats to the top of my head right now…

    Songs I would write an essay on:

    Control – Poe
    Warlock – Skinny Puppy
    Where Do I Begin – Chemical Brothers
    More – The Sisters of Mercy
    Armageddon Days Are Here Again – The The
    Sleeping In The Flowers – They Might Be Giants
    Toss up (I’d say similar things about these two songs) between I Should Know by Dirty Vegas or That’s What I Get by Nine Inch Nails
    And I’d like to write something about a Rush song too, probably the Fear songs trio Witch Hunt, The Weapon, and The Enemy Within.

  4. Dave says:

    Hey Nik, the copy I have didn’t come with the CD. Just curious, which songs are on it?