Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Songs #372 & 373 - It's TWOsday!

Song #372 of 9999                                          Song #373 of 9999

Title: Back to Black                                        Title: That Teenage Feeling
Artist: Amy Winehouse                                  Artist: Neko Case
Year: 2006                                                      Year: 2006
Album: Back to Black                                    Album: Fox Confessor Brings the Flood


It's TWOsday and I thought I would feature two powerhouse female vocalists who borrow from a previous generation on their 2006 releases.

Amy Winehouse's entire sophomore effort is sonically set in the early 1960s, when girl groups ruled the charts. Producer Mark Ronson paints the title track from a palette of boomy bass drums, tambourines drenched in reverb, spaghetti-western guitars, unison strings, ringing vibes and clangy chimes. The syncopated bass set against staccato minor chord crotchets (she was British after all) is practically quoted from "Baby Love" but where The Supremes' song quickly takes a turn toward a major key, Winehouse's song gets darker and darker. A persistent four-chord progression (i-iv-VI-V) supports a lyric that would have made Diana Ross blush: He left no time to regret/Kept his dick wet/With his same old safe bet. Blunt, caustic, direct (and very obviously from the modern pop era), these lines initially belie but ultimately strengthen the underlying sentiment, which could have come from the early 60s or any other era for that matter: 

We only said good-bye with words
I died a hundred times
You go back to her 
And I go back to black

In Neko Case's case (heh), the instruments are modern but the chord progression and 12/8 feel evoke 15-year-old Brenda Lee's 1960 hit "I'm Sorry." But Case doesn't pretend to be twenty years younger as she considers the fear that accompanies the realization she may never again find love. This is adult subject matter and the song is more pensive than pouty. The chord progression is as complex as the sentiment, relying heavily on diminished chords that seem to suggest uncertainty. And it's hard to know if her "brave friend" is a real person or an alter ego but we do know she sounds like she stepped right out of the Brill Building when she sings I don't care if forever never comes/'Cause I'm holding out for that teenage feeling. It's a chorus I long for later in the song but Case doesn't deliver, choosing to end the song as abruptly and harshly as any I've heard. No happy or sad endings here—the projector just eats the film.

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