Category: When You Hear This Song (Will You Cry)

When You Hear This Song: “Pack it Up” by Pretenders (1981)

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Andrew Gerhan of classic pop purveyors & satanic majesties Nevada Nevada exalts his number # 1 song for looking in the rear view mirror and screaming “Burn Baby Burn” : “Pack It Up” by Pretenders

I first became aware of the Pretenders “Pack It Up” through Jawbreaker. Now I had probably heard the Pretenders version already, at least spilling out from under the bedroom door of an older sibling in the 80’s (mine were cool), but “Pack It Up” wasn’t one of the radio singles so I didn’t become truly acquainted with the song until Jawbreaker sort of covered it. It was on their “Chesterfield King” EP which I bought from the band at their merch table after a show at ABC No Rio in the the dawn of the 90’s. I then spent the rest of the night and following day trying not to bend the record as I stayed up wandering NYC before heading back home upstate. I say that Jawbreaker only sort of covered “Pack It Up” because in place of the original lyrics, they sang the words “don’t play…” followed by a list of their own song titles. At this point in time I didn’t know the original lyrics, but I saw the songwriting credited to “Chrissie Hynde”, which seemed odd as Jawbreaker were tiny then and she probably wasn’t writing her songs about their songs.

Skip ahead several years and I live in Oakland and am working as a bike messenger in San Francisco. On the weekend my friend Dominic and I would go to Amoeba Records in Berkeley and sift through the used vinyl. It was the mid-late 90’s and at this point in time people were busy buying cds and jettisoning vinyl collections so it was easy to snap up entire artist’s catalogue for 99 cents per LP. I bought all kinds of great stuff this way : most of Springsteen, CCR, Byrds, Waylon Jennings, Emmylou Harris and… The Pretenders. This is how I ultimately closed the loop and solved the riddle of just what the hell “Pack it Up” actually was: a track on side 2 of “Pretenders II” from 1981, a “deep cut”. For me though, it is the zenith of the album.

 

 

It begins with a great mid-tempo chorus riff and just seconds into it, Chrissie Hynde belts “You guys are the PITS OF THE WORLD !”. Whoever the “guys” are have already been leveled, and she hasn’t even started to sing yet…guns are blazing. She then claims “this is no place for me…” and begins to indict a person or perhaps a series of people, seemingly men, seemingly lovers, but it could really be anyone who is crappy with their influence or authority. They are of the party/industry set with all the usual trappings : jacuzzis, suntans, Porsches. Perhaps record executives luring artists into bad deals with fake promises ?

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She ends the first verse by fuming “But I know my place…where’s my suitcase?”, then the chorus hits and she rails “Pack it up or throw it away, what I can’t carry, BURY !”. This gets me to the core of my own motion-loving soul. 

I love travel, touring, and nomaderie of all kinds and under strife my instincts usually try to point me out the door and away from whatever is getting under my skin. In real life I don’t do this nearly as much as I want to, still the temptation to “pack it up” is strong sometimes.

If this was the whole song I would still love it but what really gets me is that she goes on to claim a portion of dignity while packing her meager scraps and stomping out : “When you pass me in your Porsche, please don’t offer me a ride, I may be a skunk, but YOU’RE a piece of junk!”. Then she says “And furthermore…”and reads off litany of ills starting small with “I don’t like your trousers” and zooming out to “all you scumbags around the world, you’re the pits of the world!”. And with that the song comes full circle, the narrator has left, and a smoldering crater is all that remains. Here is the recognition that you may just be a dirtbag rock n’ roll urchin, but you can still claim dignity and agency. You can still pack it up.

Check out Nevada Nevada’s new EP “Wild and Glowing” right here. Pack it up y’all:

When You Hear This Song : “Never Forget You” by Noisettes (2009)

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Ed Zed speaks on the song that completely shreds his soul, brings the rain, and lives eternally in his heart : “Never Forget You” by Noisettes

Pop music. The gasoline in our veins. The cobra in our hips. The tears lying in wait so close behind those misty, unreliable eyes.

The first time I heard ‘Never Forget You’ by Noisettes, a great tear was rent in my emotional fabric that I knew could never be repaired. Nor would I want it to be.
As that taut, muted bassline is joined by the achingly gorgeous, soul-kissed voice of frontwoman Shingai Shoniwa intoning ‘Whatcha drinkin’? Rum or whiskey? Wontcha have a double with me?’ I can already feel the tears gathering.

I love ambiguity in pop music, particularly when a seemingly ambiguous song has the power to stir with such profundity it’s almost painful. ‘Never Forget You’ could be a paean to a former lover, friend, fling, bandmate, none of the above, but it is very definitely imbued with a yearning for those fragile human connections consumed by the inexorable march of time.

But despite its nostalgic pathos, ‘Never Forget You’ is also undeniably jaunty, perhaps even hinting at some bold future whilst reveling in the bittersweet present. That it at once sounds so utterly timeless and like the greatest Motown song you’ve never heard seems very fitting indeed.

I cannot listen to ‘Never Forget You’ without crying. Crying for the past, for the present and the future. Crying for the beauty that radiates from its every note. Crying with sheer joy at the canon of incredible pop music to which it belongs, and of which it is so vital a component. At this point I cannot even think about it without crying, which is presumably why people keep glancing at me uncomfortably as I sit here writing this on the subway. May it always, always be so.

When You Hear This Song : “Hey There Lonely Girl”

Andy Moreno talks on the song that saved her soul and everything else: Eddie Holman’s 1969 classic Hey There Lonely Girl

As a pre-tween heading into what I could only imagine at the time as a very bleak future, I fantasized romantic notions of suicide or dying a tragic death.  Not all the time but too often, and these thoughts became an ongoing comfort food for my mind, to help me move through dim periods.  It doesn’t sound healthy now but I argue that in a sad way, it was a clever use of the tools in my box.  While I completely embraced the highs and beauty of most music, I probably stayed much too long swimming in darker sounds. Because of this though, I did gain a huge appreciation for the power of a single song, of how a chord change or vocal intonation could change the room, and thereby my entire world.
Before I became entrenched in the wailing rock guitars of the 70’s, I synched cosmically with the soul music that saturated Midwest radio. All their sad, orchestral chords and falsetto voices, where old souls like mine could find respite. The Chi-lites. The Delfonics. The Motown Sound. A playground for a young girl’s melancholy.  Love songs to my own already weakened spirit. And I distinctly remember listening to Eddie Holman’s “Hey There Lonely Girl”. Maybe that was the first time I fully understood the scope and depth of a song’s reach. It took me years to develop an intelligent understanding of lyrics and meanings of songs and at that age, honestly, I could only feel them as a whole: the mood a certain one could bring, how it could put a salve right on the wound or drive a dagger in it.
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The introduction to that song was such a bare and gentle stage to place my emptiness.  And this kind stranger promising to make it all better.  It’s a little deep for a kid but goes to show just how resilient and rooted we are as humans.
The new feelings these sweet soul songs ignited made me feel so much more alive than I was able to muster on my own. “Lonely Girl” broke the numbness and from that point on I became addicted. This music was so powerful. It had the ability to move me up or down and I would never forget or ignore that.
I won’t say I came out the other end of a depressed youth. I reside more in a side door alcove.  The main thing is I stay among the living and no longer glamorize destruction of any sort. The good life that music feeds me is one of the main reasons I choose to keep on keepin’ on to this day.

When You Hear This Song: “I Would Die 4 U” by Prince (1984)

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“I’m not a woman, I’m not a man, I am something that you’ll never understand”

Okay, I think that’s one of the best opening lines of any pop song ever. Up until I heard Prince sing those words in 1984, I’d been convinced that Morrissey was the only person who really and truly understood me. I even wrote him and told him so ( still waiting for a response). This song changed all that.

I didn’t really get into Prince until the 1999 album came out which, as hardcore fans go, is kinda late. At the time I had a secret crush on this guy I went to school with named Manuel who had pretty eyes, an eternally serious expression, and was a talented artist. I would daydream about him for hours on the train every day while my 1999 cassette played in an endless loop on my Walkman…or at least I did for a little while, until I had my epiphany. Well, not a sudden one, maybe it was more of a realization over time, which was that my affection for him was solely based on his slight resemblance to Prince in the Little Red Corvette video. Why was I wasting time on the middle man (Manuel) when it was Prince I was actually in love with ?

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“You were only fooling yourself girl…”

 And so pretty soon, upon that inner acknowledgment, it was all about Prince and I wanted more. When the release of Purple Rain was announced a year later, both album and movie, I could, not, wait.

When Doves Cry was the first single released off the album and…I didn’t like it. I know, I know, I have no excuse for myself other than to say I’d grown up listening to ELO records and wasn’t “sophisticated” enough to appreciate it’s genius at the time .What I liked was big swooping synthesizers, a lot of big orchestral junk, and whale sized hooks, and…that was it. ELO provided that plus cardboard spaceships inside the albums.

Of course as it turned out, Prince had something up his sleeve.

I bought the album the week it came out and for some inexplicable reason, never removed the shrink wrap, I just opened the slit to remove the record. And tragically there it remains to this day, hanging desperately off the sleeve, baggy, wrinkled and distended, being kept alive for no other reason than “well I’ve had it this long why get rid of it now”.

And yes, the record store was actually called “Slipped Disc”.

See Photo Exhibit A below :

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 Let go, and let God…no,no, I just can’t.

The Song: On side 2, right after Doves it appeared. Layers of big fat synth. A radiant hook. And the lyrics, oh man. I Would Die 4 U dammit. I loved everything about it. It did all those things a brilliant song is supposed to do, made you feel overwhelmed, exposed, sick, and like you were starring in your own epic movie…and maybe made you feel like you were actually cool because it made all your desperate thoughts sound positively valiant and beautiful. It ticked all the boxes and I played it over, and over, and over again.

The Words: There are 2 ways you can interpret the lyrical content, as in it’s either Prince talking or it’s, well you know, “Him”, Jesus…of course with any genius pop song, it’s your voice too ( in this case it’s you at your most histrionic, self-important, and love consumed). I’d like to say something noble like I always hear it as Jesus’s voice, but no…It’s only ever Prince or uh, me.
The Movie:Someone” was very excited to see Purple Rain, so much so that “someone” insisted on seeing it the day it was released at a theater some distance from their town. I went with a friend, and no expectations to that first afternoon showing and from the moment Prince mounted that motorcycle in his heels, I was with him. I felt an ecstatic energy in me every time a song started. When people laughed at some scenes that were clearly not meant to be funny, I took it personally, felt protective of him, thought “God, what is wrong with you people”. He wasn’t a joke, they just didn’t get it :“I am something that you’ll never comprehend”.
Yes. I really thought this. I know.
Anyway, how much did I love the movie ? Well I went to see it again the next day alone.
Our union was sealed ( Prince and me).
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April 2016: The first weekend after Prince died, screenings of Purple Rain were scheduled all over the U.S. I bought tickets thinking it would be the perfect way to mourn with other Prince fans. I pictured scenes akin to “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”, with everyone singing, reciting dialogue affectionately back to the screen, and spontaneously dancing in the aisles to Let’s Go Crazy…but it wasn’t like that. Not at all. Apart from some brief laughter during the early scene where Prince sidles up behind Apollonia, in his giant fly sunglasses and plays hard to get, it was a pretty somber event.
And 2 things were abundantly clear since I’d seen it years before in my initial fog of infatuation :
1. The acting was wooden and occasionally really terrible
2. It’s pretty misogynistic
That’s usually how it is when you see a movie you loved when you were young years later through more mature and maybe cynical eyes i.e. it’s never as good as you thought it was, and maybe, not good at all.
…but despite all that, there was also a revelation, which was that the live performances were absolutely transcendent.
Up on a giant screen in the dark they were more beautiful and stirring than I ever remembered. As in you couldn’t believe what you were hearing, or that this guy was ever real. And while Purple Rain, the song, triggered waves of tears and audible sniffles all over the theater from it’s opening notes,  I Would Die 4 U was the one that I fell apart to.

When the song starts, we see him onstage, and after a minute cut to a scene where Prince is in the basement cleaning up the rage inspired mess he made, gathering strewn sheet music, and all of sudden finds the earring he gave Apollonia, that she threw at him during an argument ( justifiably I might add) on the floor. He gently fondles it, smirks ( see lead photo above, that’s a freakin’ smirk) and tosses it backward with laser accuracy to Apollonia, who it turns out is actually there with him because they made up.

I cried through the whole song. Even that corny scene. Crying over his death but mostly thinking about how much this song meant to me as a teen/loser/geek who didn’t know who the fuck I was, if I mattered, or if I was ever going to fit into this world or be understood. “I’m not human, I’m a dove, I’m your conscious, I am love”. Yeah.

And while there’d been no singing or aisle dancing, at the end of the movie, everyone applauded for several minutes for this miraculous guy we got to experience in real time.

Sometimes I can hear I Would Die 4 U, and feel fine, wash dishes or whatever…but other times it’s tears. Still, to this day. It’s never been Purple Rain, it’s always been this.

Last year, I got on a ladder with a handful of crumbling colored chalk, and wrote out the lyrics on a wall at Rough Trade in Brooklyn. A tribute to Prince of course, the one who created it, but also to the damn song itself…and for the infinite amounts of unconditional love it gave me when I needed it.

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Oh yeah, here’s the song in all it’s glory:

SPECIAL NOTICE : Meet Our Newest Feature Column…

A friend was recently telling me about a particular song he loved even though it always made him cry. He spoke passionately about how any time he heard it, it would trigger floods of tears. He couldn’t help it. I immediately assumed it was a ballad because, you know, it made him cry…but it turned out to be this shiny, straight up pop song which kind of fascinated me. It’d been a a top 20 hit in the UK a while back, and was by a band who never got beyond a certain level of notoriety. If you heard it, it wouldn’t strike you as a tearjerker, it’s far more likely to make you dance, but for him it was, is, and always will be a heart twisting, sob inducing, bear hug of a song.

And with that, let us introduce you to a new column called :

When You Hear This Song ( Will You Cry)

The name is a slight twist on the title of a song by Chic that appears on their classic (!) 1979 album “Risque”, and is about as lonely and sad as a disco-soul song can possibly get ( Listen above).

The column is not strictly about songs that make you cry, it’s people talking about a particular song that stirs something in them, ignites sad/happy/crazy/calming/deranged feelings. A song that when you hear it, no matter where you are, just triggers something in you, good or bad or weird.

This is primarily a guest column though I’m gonna write an embarrassing,over the top one to kick it off ( hint: it’s the next post) but mostly I can’t wait to read about everyone else’s songs.

P.S.You’ll notice I didn’t mention which song my friend was talking about which is because he’s gonna write about it here 🙂 I promise it will be awesome.