Song Musings

What you always wanted to know about that tune

Welcome to another Song Musings, my weekly recurring feature that takes a closer look at a tune I’ve only mentioned in passing or not covered at all to date. My pick this time is Walls (Circus) by Tom Petty, one of my favorite artists of all time. In fact, I was really surprised it took me six and a half years to write about this song.

Walls (Circus), written by Petty and featuring then-Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsey Buckingham on backing vocals, first appeared in late July 1996 as the lead single of Songs and Music from the Motion Picture “She’s the One”, the ninth studio album by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. As the title implies, the album served as a soundtrack to She’s the One, an American romantic comedy picture written and directed by Edward Burns and starring Jennifer Aniston and Cameron Diaz. Here’s the official video clip.

Incredibly, Walls (Circus) only reached no. 69 in the U.S. on the main pop chart Billboard Hot 100, though it did much better on other Billboard charts, including Mainstream Rock (no. 6) and Adult Alternative Airplay, which it topped. In Canada, it peaked at no. 2.

The album fared better overall, climbing to no. 14 on the Billboard 200. Elsewhere, it did best in Sweden (no. 5) and also charted in various other countries, including Germany (no. 20), Norway (no. 22), Austria and Switzerland (each no. 27) and the UK (no. 37).

The soundtrack album also featured a different faster version of the tune titled Walls (No. 3). It has the same lyrics and melody, but the intro is different and the song in general has less emphasis on the instruments. It was later covered by Glen Campbell on his 2008 album Meet Glen Campbell and by The Lumineers on the first anniversary of Petty’s death. Walls (No. 3) also appeared on Angel Dream (Songs and Music from the Motion Picture “She’s the One”), a reconfigured and remastered 25th-anniversary reissue of the soundtrack album, released in July 2021, which I reviewed here.

Following is some additional background on Walls from Songfacts.

Not to be confused with the 2011 track by The View, this 1990s ballad is a favorite of Tom Petty’s fans. It is also the song he “lost,” as he explained to a live audience in a 1999 episode of VH1 Storytellers: “One time this guy come to me and asked me to write some music for his film and that’s another way you can jog your mind into things. I wrote this song for him and I liked it so much I wanted to take it back, but he wouldn’t let me take it back.”

Tom Petty was going through a transitional phase when he wrote this song. In 1994, he released Wildflowers, his second album without The Heartbreakers (following Full Moon Fever in 1989). After touring for the album, his marriage fell apart, and in 1996 he got divorced from his first wife, Jane, whom he married in 1974. He was living on his own in a rented house when he wrote “Walls,” which explores the swingline of life in very poetic terms, starting with the first verse:

Some days are diamonds
Some days are rocks
Some doors are open
Some roads are blocked

In the end, it’s a hopeful song, aimed at a girl with a heart so big she could “crush this town.” She’s bound to reach him eventually, because even walls fall down.

When he played this live, Petty would typically do a downtempo, acoustic version, which is how he played it on Storytellers.

The “Circus” version of this song got a high-end music video directed by Phil Joanou, who also did Petty’s “You Don’t Know How It Feels.” It takes place at a psychedelic circus, where the elephants are purple and the horses are green. It doesn’t contain any footage from She’s The One, but does feature cameos from two of its stars: Jennifer Aniston shows up is leaning against the tiger cage, and Edward Burns is the taxi driver.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

Advertisement

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Is it only me, or is 2022 already starting to feel old? Regardless of my sentiment, let’s focus on the positive – it’s Saturday and time to take a fresh look at newly-released music! Unlike some of the recurring feature’s other previous installments, this week, I didn’t have much of a challenge to identify four picks I sufficiently like to highlight in a post. Next week, it could be entirely different, so I should enjoy it while it lasts! All tunes are on albums that appeared yesterday (January 14).

Elvis Costello & The Imposters/Magnificent Hurt

I’d like to start with a longtime artist who I trust doesn’t need much of an introduction: Elvis Costello, who started his recording career in 1977 and has been on a roll over the past few year. After Hey Clockface from October 2020 and a Spanish re-interpretation of his 1978 sophomore album This Year’s Model released in September of last year, he’s out with a new studio album, The Boy Named If. Based on sampling some of the tunes, I’m quite excited about it. As reported by Ultimate Classic Rock, Costello is backed by The Imposters, “essentially the classic Attractions lineup minus bassist Bruce Thomas, replaced by Davey Faragher.” UCR characterizes The Boy Named If as sounding similar to Look Now, his 30th studio album from October 2018. I’ve listened to some of Costello’s early music, especially his 1977 debut My Aim Is True, which I dig. Clearly, I have much more to explore. Meanwhile, here’s the Magnificent Hurt. I love that cool retro sound – check out that seductive keyboard!

The Lumineers/Reprise

The Lumineers first entered my radar screen in July 2017 when I saw them open for U2 in New Jersey. Prior to that, I had only heard their 2012 hit Ho Hey. This prompted me to review their sophomore album Cleopatra released in April 2016. At the core, The Lumineers are songwriters Wesley Schultz (vocals, guitar) and Jeremiah Fraites (drums, piano), though there have been additional members over the years. At the time they started collaborating in the early 2000s, they performed under various different names, including Free Beer, 6Cheek and Wesley Jeremiah. In 2005, they became The Lumineers. When I saw them in 2017, they were a trio that also included cellist and vocalist Neyla Pekarek who left the following year. Reprise, co-written by Schultz and Fraites, is a track off their fourth and latest studio album Brightside. They also played most of the instruments.

Cat Power/Pa Pa Power

Cat Power (born Charlyn Marie Marshall) is a singer-songwriter born in Atlanta, Ga. According to her Apple Music profile, Growing up in the South, Charlyn “Chan” Marshall was influenced by church hymns, country music, the blues played by her musician father, and her stepfather’s rock ’n’ roll records. After seeing a man wearing a trucker cap emblazoned with the words “Cat Diesel Power,” she named her first band Cat Power, before adopting the moniker for herself. Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley and Two Dollar Guitar’s Tim Foljahn were so impressed by her live performances that they became her bandmates during the mid-’90s. Eddie Vedder and Dave Grohl contributed to 2003’s You Are Free, the first Cat Power album to make the Billboard 200 chart…After helping Marshall through a time of self-doubt, Lana Del Rey collaborated with her on the feminist anthem “Woman,” which became one of Cat Power’s biggest hits. The single appeared in August 2018. To date, Marshall has released 11 studio albums, including her latest, a collection of covers appropriately titled Covers. Here’s Pa Pa Power, co-written by Ryan Gosling and Zach Shields who make up the rock duo Dead Man’s Bones (gotta love that name!) and included the tune on their 2009 eponymous debut album. I’m intrigued by Cat Power’s sound!

Punch Brothers/Church Street Blues

Let’s wrap things up with Punch Brothers, a folk band that has been around since 2006. Wikipedia notes their music has been described as “bluegrass instrumentation and spontaneity in the structures of modern classical” and “American country-classical chamber music” – couldn’t have said it any better! 🙂 Their current members include Chris Thile (mandolin, vocals, mandola, bouzouki), Gabe Witcher (fiddle, vocals, drums), Noam Pikelny (banjo, vocals, steel guitar), Chris Eldridge (guitar, vocals) and Paul Kowert (double bass, vocals). Since their debut album Punch, which remarkably gave the Punch Brothers a chart-topper right from the get-go on Billboard’s Bluegrass Albums, five additional full-length records by the group have come out. Their latest is titled Hell on Church Street. Here’s the opener Church Street Blues, written by guitarist and singer-songwriter Norman Blake. He first recorded the song for his 1976 studio album Whiskey Before Breakfast. Punch Brothers do a beautiful job with their rendition. I really dig the warmth that comes across in their music, which makes me want to hear more, even though I don’t listen much to bluegrass. But beautiful music remains beautiful, no matter the genre!

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify playlist featuring the above tunes. Hope there’s something for you there!

Sources: Wikipedia; Ultimate Classic Rock; Apple Music; YouTube; Spotify

What I’ve Been Listening To: SUSTO/Ever Since I Lost My Mind

Until earlier today when I coincidentally came across a CBS This Morning clip on FacebookI had never heard of SUSTO. And, no, while Mr. Zuckerberg apparently is trying hard to stop spreading misinformation, I’m happy to report this ain’t fake news! If you’re like me and basically have given up on most contemporary music because you feel it sucks, I suspect this may be your first time to hear about SUSTO and the latest studio album Ever Since I Lost My Mind, which came out on February 22nd on Rounder Records.

Okay, who or what exactly is SUSTO? While technically being a five-piece alternative rock-oriented band, SUSTO really is a music project by singer-songwriter Justin Osborne. The above mentioned clip captured a performance of the album’s opener Homeboy. There was something about this tune that grabbed me immediately – the catchy melody, Osborne’s voice, the fact that it involved real musicians, meaning folks who actually know how to play an instrument instead of programming a computer. I don’t know exactly. I’m fairly confident it wasn’t because I lost my mind! 🙂

Justin Osborne.jpg
Justin Osborne

Osborne, who if I correctly interpret his Facebook page is 32 years old, hails from Charleston, S.C. According to the bio on SUSTO’s website, he wrote his first songs at age 14 on his grandpa’s parlor guitar he wasn’t supposed to touch. “So I’d go steal it out of my dad’s closet whenever they were out of the house,” Osborne recalls. “It only had like three strings on it. I remember figuring out how to do barre chords, and I wrote a three-chord song about a girl I liked.” Apparently, his family’s concern was about ensuring he and his young brothers wouldn’t break the inherited instrument from their grandfather, not Justin’s early attraction to music.

Osborne played in bands throughout high school, military school and college. SUSTO was established in January 2013 – just in time. After years of booking and playing gigs and a feeling of going nowhere, Osborne was about to call it quits. Prior to leaving for a foreign semester in Havana, Cuba as part of this anthropology studies, he set up a website for SUSTO, “a holding tank for demos he couldn’t quite bear to toss.” While Osborne was in Havana, he became friends with Cuban musicians and artists, who apparently convinced him to stick with music.

SUSTO

Six months later, Osborne returned to the States and recorded SUSTO’s eponymous debut album that appeared in April 2014. According to Apple Music, following the release of sophomore & I’m Fine Today in January 2017, SUSTO had their TV debut, which was also on CBS This Morning. This was followed by a tour with The Lumineers. Ever Since I Lost My Mind is SUSTO’s third studio release. Osborne catalog to date also includes a live record, two EPs and a couple of singles.

BTW, in case you’re wondering about the meaning of the name, according to SUSTO’s website, the word describes an intense fear understood as a condition of the soul––an ongoing, spiritual panic attack. All of the letters of susto also appear in Osborne’s full name. “SUSTO was this combination of phonetics and meaning––it felt like me, like a name for myself,” he [Osborne] says. “I chose the name SUSTO for the project because the meaning behind the word––that deep fright––was something I was experiencing, and songwriting felt like it was helping me cure it by helping me to process what was happening. Personally, it was a time of so many powerful transitions: abandoning my religion, losing touch with my family, and just having a general sense of being lost, without direction.” With that explanation being out of the way, it’s time to get to some music!

Let’s start with the album’s above noted opener Homeboy. The ups and downs in the song create a nice dynamic. I think it’s a cool tune, even though it gets bit grungy at times, and grunge is generally not so much my cup of tea. Then again, I’m a huge fan of Neil Young, who obviously has written many songs that couldn’t be more grungy. Oh, well, I suppose there are always exceptions to rules! 🙂

Here’s the record’s second track If I Was, a quieter tune setting a nice contrast to the opener. It’s got a soothing feel to it, which I like. This somewhat contrasts the lyrics. Here’s an excerpt: …But I am just a singer/With electric guitar in my hands,/ Trying to work through my own set of problems,/Trying to do the best that I can,/The best I can./ And I’m your man…

Livin’ In America is another rocker.

Next up: The album’s title track, another mellow sounding tune. The music and lyrics are credited to Osborne and Ryan “Wolfgang” Zimmerman, Osborne’s longtime creative sounding board, who also co-produced the song with the album’s lead producer Ian Fitchuk.

Let’s do one more: Cocaine.

Ever Since I Lost My Mind is very personal,” Osborne notes. “This collection of songs came together over the course of a couple of years, and they all represent different moments. It felt cathartic writing all of them, and they were also all fun in different ways.”

According to SUSTO’s website, while it began as a band and still benefits from collaboration with peers, the new record also positions the project finally and firmly as what it’s really always been: Osborne’s vision. “I come from a background of being in bands, so it’s hard for me to be comfortable taking complete control,” he says. “Even being the only person in a promo photo was a hard thing for me to get used to. It’s taken years for me to realize what SUSTO should be––what it really is.”

In addition to Osborne, SUSTO’s current lineup features Dries Vandenberg (guitar),  Steven Walker (keyboards), Jordan Hicks (bass) and Marshall Hudson (drums). The band has a pretty active tour schedule. After a gig this evening in Washington, D.C., they are off to a series of shows in Europe before returning to the States in mid-May.

Sources: Wikipedia, Justin Osborne Facebook page, SUSTO website, Apple Music, YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening to: The Lumineers/Cleopatra

The folk-rock trio’s sophomore album proves staying power in the wake of gaining overnight fame

Until a few days ago, Ho Hey was the only song I had ever heard from The Lumineers. The catchy tune was the lead single from their eponymous 2012 debut album, which brought them overnight fame and two Grammy nominations. On Thursday night, they played their 13th and last gig opening for U2 at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey during the Irish rock band’s ongoing Joshua Tree Tour 2017. I liked what I heard, so I decided to take a closer look at this Americana trio from Denver.

The Lumineers are songwriters Wesley Schultz (vocals, guitar) and Jeremiah Fraites (drums, piano), who have been writing music and playing together since 2005. Cellist and backing vocalist Neyla Pekarek joined them in 2010. During live performances the trio is supported by Stelth Ulvang (piano) and Byron Isaacs (bass). Cleopatra is the band’s most recent studio album, which was released in April 2016.

20151116_the_lumineers_shot_02_059
The Lumineers (from left): Neyla Pekarek, Jeremiah Fraites and Wesley Schultz.

According to band’s website,  the record “is the result of three years of non-stop touring in the heady whirlwind of growing fame, six months of secluded writing in a small house in Denver, and two months of recording in the rural isolation of Woodstock.” The band had tried to write new music while being on the road, but realized touring almost 300 days a year since 2013 made that impossible. “It was such overkill for what we needed.” Schultz told Rolling Stone last April. “What we quickly realized is it would be just as useful to have our iPhones with the voice memo on it.”

Apparently, The Lumineers had become wary about the wide popularity their debut album had brought them and wanted to prove they have staying power while remaining true to themselves. “Even a little bit of fame can distort perceptions, if people see you and react abnormally,” says Schultz on the band’s website. “Back when we were working as bus boys to support our music, I felt invisible to the world. I remember thinking I could be naked and pick up a plate and no one would even notice. That’s an interesting place to write from and I’m wary of losing it.”

The album opens with Sleep On the Floor, written by Schultz and Fraites who also wrote or co-wrote all of the album’s additional 10 tunes. The song has a nice dynamic, starting off with Schultz’s vocals and guitar and Fraites’ sparingly played drums, picking up in the middle, and slowing down again toward the end. It became the album’s fourth single in November 2016.

Next up is Ophelia, which was the record’s lead single released in February 2016. With “Oh, Ophelia” in its chorus, it is a bit reminiscent of Ho Hey. While the song received mixed reception from critics, the public evidently liked it. The tune reached the no. 1 spot on Billboard’s 2016 year-end charts for alternative songs and rock airplay songs.

The album’s title track was co-written with Simone Felice, formerly a member of the Felice Brothers, a folk-rock band that has inspired The Lumineers. He also produced Cleopatra. The tune became the record’s second single in March 2016.

Another track I’d like to call out is Angela, which is also a co-write with Felice, and the album’s third single released in April 2016. Together with Sleep On the Floor, it’s my favorite tune on the record. Here is a nice clip of a live performance.

Cleopatra is a convincing sophomore album from a band that after years of making music in obscurity quickly rose to stardom and had to prove they are more than a one-time phenomenon. Even in the absence of another anthem like Ho Hey, the record was generally well received by critics and performed strongly in the charts. In the U.S., the album reached the top of the Billboard 200, even outperforming its predecessor that peaked at no. 2. It also hit no. 1 on the UK Official Charts and the Canadian Albums Chart.

As for his reaction when U2 invited The Lumineers to open for them, Schultz told Rolling Stone last month, “We said yes quickly, and I think the reason was because we had said no to at least two bands that are all-time amazing bands, and at the time we were like, ‘We’d rather play to 200 people than 20,000 or 40,000, because those [200] people will be listening to us.’ At the time, that was our mantra, that made sense. But I look back and I would have loved to be around those bands and seen … there’s something about being around that energy, and I think that authenticity, that’s really a privilege to be around.”

Sources: Wikipedia, Lumineers website, Rolling Stone, YouTube