Originally posted May 5, 2009
I’ve written in passing at various times about what I call “time and place” songs, songs that are so interlaced in memory that just hearing a few notes pulls me back elsewhere and elsewhen.
I think anyone who loves music has a number of songs that do that. Some of the moments my songs take me to are significant. Others are not, and I think one of the joys of time and place songs is that they remind me of the little bits of everyday life, things that would otherwise go unmarked. One that comes to mind as I write is from 1966: Rick and I were locking our bikes to the rack outside a long-gone St. Cloud discount store called Tempo when we heard the strains of the Seeker’s “Georgy Girl” coming from somewhere. For better or worse, whenever I’ve heard the song for many years, I’m back on St. Germain in the west end of downtown going to Tempo for some reason.
Probably the most potent time and place song for me is Pink Floyd’s “Us and Them,’ from Dark Side of the Moon. As soon as I hear the first notes of the long slow introduction, I’m gone. And as the introduction flows into Dick Parry’s sweet and sad saxophone solo, I’m standing in a doorway between the small lobby and the lounge at the youth hostel in Fredericia, Denmark, so many years ago. A few feet away stands the kiosk where three of our college gals earn a little spending money, selling the rest of us soda, beer, cigarettes and some snacks.
In the other direction, in the lounge, some of the kids are sitting in low-slung chairs near the fireplace, which is never used. They’re studying or reading letters from home or maybe writing their own letters back. Over by the window, a bunch of the guys are playing poker for matchsticks, and right near them, a couple more are hanging around the pinball machine. Just a normal evening in an extraordinary time.
And as the song moves on, I have the choice of digging further into the memories or pulling back and listening in the here and now. The memories are sweet, but my here and now is good, too. Either way, “Us and Them” always has that little tug, whenever I hear it. And I imagine that’s why it’s one of my favorite songs.
All-Music Guide lists just more than a hundred CDs that contain a version of “Us and Them.” Not all of those listings are of the song written by Roger Waters and Richard Wright. I’d estimate that about ninety percent are, though. And of those listings, twenty-two are recordings by Pink Floyd itself.
So that leaves about seventy listings of covers of “Us and Them,” including versions done by Between the Buried and Me, the East Star All-Stars, Ron Jones, David Ari Leon, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, German singer Nena, Out of Phase, Sarah Slean, Jeff Scott Soto, the Squirrels, Supermayor, Switch, Walt Wagner, John Wetton and Holly Wilson.
Two names intrigue me in that list: Nena and Holly Wilson. Nena, because her recording of “Us and Them” is the closer to a double album of covers, one CD of German songs and one CD in English of some of the more interesting songs of the rock era. Along with “Us and Them,” Nena tackled “Blowin’ In The Wind,” “Big Yellow Taxi,” “After the Goldrush,” “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue,” and a few more. I’m not sure I’d listen often to the German songs, but I might like the second CD of the set pretty well.
Then, there’s Holly Wilson. I know pretty much nothing about her, just that she’s a singer who likes to record songs in bossa nova style. For some reason, I’ve recently been digging into albums released during the bossa nova craze of the early 1960s, trying to decide which of the classic albums I want to add to my CD collection. In doing so, I’ve come across some interesting performers and performances. Wilson has recorded four themed albums of covers in bossa nova style in recent years, including Genesis en Bossa Nova in 2005, Queen en Bossa Nova in 2006 and Frank Sinatra en Bossa Nova in 2007. And there was the album I found, Pink Floyd en Bossa Nova, also from 2006.
The CD seems , oddly, to hold up pretty well, though at first there is a little bit of cognitive dissonance in hearing, say, the gloom of “Brain Damage” performed as a sprightly dance tune.
Seven of the ten tracks on Wilson’s Pink Floyd CD are pulled from Dark Side of the Moon, and Wilson’s interpretations of them and of the other three tracks – “Another Brick In The Wall,” Goodbye Blue Sky” and “Wish You Were Here” – make for interesting listening. One of the reasons I think the album works is that Wilson and her producers – whoever they were – made good use of electronic sounds as well as standard instrumentation. And Wilson sings them well, though she might overuse the breathy half-spoken approach a little too much.
I don’t post much that’s been released after 1999, but this was too interesting a cover to let it go.
“Us and Them” by Holly Wilson from Pink Floyd en Bossa Nova (2006) [Buy it here.]
10.11 MB mp3 at 192 kbps
As the Texas Gal and I wandered through some garage sales Saturday, I kept my eyes open for LPs. And at one sale on the south side of the city, I found a crate full. Lots of country, some Christmas albums, a little bit of rock and pop (things I already have) and one interesting find in near mint condition.
It’s a 1982 album by a group that had eight Top 40 hits between 1958 and 1962. The covers range from “Leader of the Pack” to “Take A Chance On Me” and beyond, with the most surprising being the track I’m sharing today. I’m not going to tell you the name of the group. You’ll have to download the track to find that out. And I’m using Boxnet for this particular mp3 so you can listen to it right away.
“Whip It” (By Alvin & The Chipmunks)
3.6 MB mp3 at 192 kbps