Category: One Song

How Stevie Wonder sparked Drake's 'Marvin's Room'


Before a late-night drunk dial became the anchor of Drake’s bitter breakup jam, “Marvin’s Room,” his phone buzzed during a studio session with a surprising voice on the other end: Stevie Wonder.

“He’s one of the kindest, most spontaneous individuals. He said, ‘I’ll be there in 20 minutes,’” the Canadian rapper-singer recalled from a booth in the Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel. “So we started cleaning up.”

Drake was already in the legendary Marvin’s Room studios in L.A. when he received the call from Wonder, who, true to his word quickly, arrived. Drizzy and his longtime producer Noah "40" Shebib were cutting “Doing It Wrong" when Wonder requested to go into the booth.

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One Song: 'Party Rock Anthem' by LMFAO is not worth celebrating

Party rock is in the house? Please, no.


Two-hundred twenty-eight million people have watched the “Party Rock Anthem” video on Vevo since it was uploaded in March 2011, so we're a little late in the game to argue against it. It's the 15th most viewed video on YouTube ever, and no doubt nearly a billion other people worldwide have heard that squirrelly 130 beat-per-minute rhythm and squiggly melody in an ad, booming out of some teenager's car or torturing an inner consciousness as an earworm. The anthem to rocking the party has been the most ubiquitous, and loathsome, song in America for the last six months. It's not going away, ever.

It's not just the music — which seems to steal the worst ideas from every cheesy house track of the past two decades — but the message. How many tweens are rapping along to the words “I'm running through these hos like Drano,” and therefore equating sex with getting the muck out of a sink?

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One Song: 'Boy Blue' by Hercules and Love Affair

Hercules and love affair
Sometimes on an album, there’s one song that reaches the dream ideation of a band’s sound, and the rest of the songs only blanche in comparison. “Boy Blue” from Hercules and Love Affair’s problematic sophomore effort is such a song. The musical project spearheaded by New York’s Andy Butler first turned heads in 2008 with its melancholy disco debut, memorably centered on vocals from the saddest swan of the dance floor, Antony Hegarty. On Hercules’ latest, “Blue Songs,” Butler and crew try to find the meditative pulse in the otherwise frenetic beat of deep house music ripped straight from the Frankie Knuckles era, with mixed results. “Boy Blue” is one of the quiet successes, a sumptuous suite that opens with lush guitar and then twists and turns around new member Shaun Wright’s aching then strong vocals, eventually lifting off into the kind of transcendental bliss that disco philosopher Arthur Russell spent a lifetime chasing. Perfect for the taxi cab ride home alone, in the darkest hour before the dawn.


One Song: Wooden Shjips' 'Lazy Bones' rides a single relentless riff

One song: Kid Congo and the Pink Monkey Birds, 'Goldin Browne' [MP3]

One song: Lucinda Williams' "Copenhagen"

--Margaret Wappler

Photo: The band Herclues and  Love Affair. Credit: Jimmy Edgar

One Song: Wooden Shjips' 'Lazy Bones' rides a single relentless riff

A seemingly simple formula is seldom as engaging as when the San Francisco group does it.


Wooden Shjips, “Lazy Bones” 

“Lazy Bones” rides a single, relentless riff all the way through its four minutes, a distorted bass, drum and guitar mantra that suggests other such rock meditations: the Velvet Underground's “Sister Ray,” Spacemen 3's “Revolution,” the entire output of Australian punks Feedtime. It's a seemingly simple formula but one that's seldom as engaging as when Wooden Shjips does it: Lock into a basic two- or three-chord distorted groove and ride it as if you've just caught the perfect wave — or, to mix metaphors, like you're a rolling stone gathering no moss.Pour some feedback-drenched guitar chords on top of it, offer a brain-melting solo, and explore the space within.

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One song: Kid Congo and the Pink Monkey Birds, 'Goldin Browne' [MP3]

Kid Congo and the Pink Monkey Birds, “Goldin Browne” (In the Red Records)

The lyrics to “Goldin Browne” bear noting in full, though they hardly do justice to Kid Congo Powers’ sinister delivery: “Dark colors, black leather,” sings the La Puente native, best known for his work with the Gun Club, the Cramps and Nick Cave’s Bad Seeds, while a lazy but menacing rhythm pushes forward. “Stray pets, bad habits,” he continues, and an echoed Fender guitar strums casually. A wobbly organ note hums. He keeps listing non sequiturs: “Medicine cabinets, Chairman Mao, Aladdin Sane, Goldin Browne.” After a weird guitar interlude, the band carries the song back to the beginning, Powers repeats the words, and the song ends.

Is it a magic spell? An S&M shopping list? Who knows, but whatever he’s conveying on “Goldin Browne,” from the band’s raw, magnetic new album, “Gorilla Rose,” sounds sinful, if not felonious.


Kid Congo & the Pink Monkey Birds, "Goldin Browne" [MP3]


Album review: Arctic Monkeys 'Suck It and See'

Album review: Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.'s 'It’s a Corporate World'

Album review: Ronnie Dunn's 'Ronnie Dunn'

-- Randall Roberts

One song: Lucinda Williams' "Copenhagen"

6a00d8341c630a53ef010536132ea4970b-800wiIt’s a song about wonder, about loss, about heartbreak — about a moment. But Lucinda Williams can tell the story of “Copenhagen,” a song from her return-to-form new album, “Blessed,” which comes out March 1 on Lost Highway, better than anyone, which she does in a series of perfectly crafted lines.

She hears bad news while standing outside in Copenhagen. It’s snowing hard, and the snowflakes seem to attack her, “covering my face in fine powdery mist and mixing in with my tears,” she sings in that heartbreakingly graceful voice, “and I’m 57 but I could be 7 years old ’cause I will never be able to comprehend the expansiveness of what I’ve just learned.”

It’s here that the chorus comes in, and the listener begins to understand: This is a death, and she’s just hearing of it, and attempting to capture one of those vivid moments that makes the world glow. Williams does her best to explain the expansiveness: “You have disappeared/You have been released/You are flecks of light/You are missed.” Or is it mist?

For Williams die-hards, “Copenhagen” is one of those gentle, mournful songs that the L.A.-based songwriter excels at, songs about lost souls living just outside the edges of redemption, struggling to live right but ultimately failing, as in “Little Angel, Little Brother” and “Drunken Angel.” On “Copenhagen,” as on much of “Blessed,” she connects words and ideas together delicately and with great precision, like she’s building a rose petal by petal, leaf by leaf. The album comes out March 1 on Lost Highway Records.

—Randall Roberts

Photo: Lucinda Williams performing at the Wiltern in 2008. Credit. Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times

One Song: Daniel Bejar's Destroyer finds a different angle on Kara Walker's words

Daniel Bejar forces listeners to hear Kara Walker's words from a different angle on ‘Suicide Demo for Kara Walker.'

Appropriation -- the act of making something your own by copying it -- has been a hot topic in the art world at least since Andy Warhol first closely examined the can that contained his lunch. It's become increasingly relevant in popular music circles too, leading to big questions about intellectual property and the nature of originality.

“Suicide Demo for Kara Walker” employs appropriation in fascinating ways. It's on “Kaputt,” the new album from Vancouver-based bard Daniel Bejar's semi-solo project, Destroyer. “Kaputt” rethinks Destroyer's noisy, rococo indie rock within the startling context of New Romantic smooth jazz, in the process changing the meaning of clichés like “mellow” and “art rock.”

All the songs on “Kaputt” pose this challenge, but “Suicide Demo” goes furthest by featuring lyrics Bejar cut up from text-filled cue cards sent to him by the fine artist Kara Walker. Walker herself is an appropriation genius, known for work that fearlessly interrogates the deep history of African American and female oppression through refashioned imagery. Singing loaded phrases like “Seen you consorting with your Invisible Manhole” or “Don't talk about the South, she said,” in his quavery Canadian tenor, Bejar doesn't become Walker but forces the listener to hear her words in a different voice, from a different angle. Disturbing and illuminating, “Suicide Demo” leads us somewhere new.

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One Song: John Hawkes brings a slice of Americana to 'Winter's Bone'

One Song is a new Pop & Hiss series in which an overlooked track is given a second look.


The indie film “Winter's Bone” is a fairy tale with a cold wind running through it -- a stark and realistic representation of rural poverty today that resonates with the timelessness of an ancient hero's quest. Young Ree Dolly must fight her own family of Missouri meth dealers to claim the birthright left by the father who's vanished on her.

Supervised by Ozarks preservationist Marideth Sisco, and featuring mostly Missouri musicians, the film's soundtrack is a slice of Americana free of any artificial toppings.

One outstanding song, though, comes from a surprising source: actor John Hawkes, who formerly played with Austin, Texas, band Meat Joy and still enjoys writing songs. He penned “Bred and Buttered” as a gift to “Winter's Bone” director Debra Granik. She loved it and put it on the soundtrack. It's a fine example of a murder ballad that needs no fake patina to feel as old as death, as intimate as family love.

Listen below:

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