"Queen of California" is the opening track to John Mayer’s Born and Raised. The opening guitar notes sound like they could have been pulled straight from a James Taylor catalogue from thirty years ago. John Mayer showcases his talents in vocal timing in this song, in the ways he manages to get words in the places he wants them, whether there seems to be room and timing for them or not!
Mayer sings of a “Queen of California,” a presumably vain woman who is “stepping down” from her position. Perhaps she has been dethroned by another worthy crown-holder? While we ponder the likelihood of this scenario, the instrumentals and arrangement of them are mesmerizing. John Mayer, in his previous works, had proved himself in the rite, but he truly does a beautiful job arranging “Queen of California.” The various guitars, pianos, added vocals, and synthetic beats melt into one another like they were meant to sound this way. As an opening track for his new album, John Mayer sets the bar really high for the remainder of the album! With the tempo of the song and the progression of the instruments, the bluegrass and bluesy underpinnings of Born and Raised come to life. I am truly hoping “Queen of California” is rereleased as the next single so it gets some radioplay!
Aaaaaaand we’re back!
This week will feature songs from John Mayer’s new album Born & Raised. The album is set to be released on Tuesday, 22 May. Born & Raised is already #1 on the U.S. iTunes Albums Chart, and it has yet to officially be released!
"Shadow Days" is the lead single from John Mayer’s new album, and it is pretty indicative of the positive energy Mayer is trying to put out. After his fall from grace a couple of years ago, Mayer managed to pull off one of the most successful examples of "laying low," truly disappearing from the public eye for months on end. In the interim, John Mayer created Born & Raised, penning and recording “Shadow Days” to relay the significant soul-searching he went through.
Mayer claims that his “shadow days are over now,” presumably replaced by positivity and “love [he] can finally feel.” “Shadow Days” is full of really intense guitar solos, capitalizing on John Mayer’s insane ability to completely control a guitar to make it sound like whatever the hell he wants it to. Indicative of the rest of the album’s sound, this single showcases the bluegrass tendencies of Mayer, mixing meaningful soul into superb music. “Shadow Days” sounds like classic John Mayer with a twist of serious regret for past actions. “Shadow Days” peaked at #42 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and #49 on the Canadian Hot 100 and managed to snag some charting positions in the Netherlands and Denmark. After the official album release on Tuesday, the single will likely rise to a higher position. In the meantime, enjoy the first taste of new John Mayer in quite some time!
In light of Adam Yauch’s death this past Friday, I think it is more than fitting that I feature a track by the Beastie Boys. “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party!)” was released as one of the singles from 1986’s Licensed to Ill. This single is a prime example of the ’80s’ fusion of rap and rock. The Beastie Boys rap (with just a little actual singing) along to hard guitar riffs and powerful percussion. “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party!)” is simply a heavy rock song with rap vocals.
One of the Beastie Boys’ most popular and successful songs, “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party!)” reached #7 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and #11 on the U.K. Singles Chart. In regards to the songs charting position in the United Kingdom, it really was considered a great accomplishment, considering the song is still categorized as really “American.” The single has been covered countless times, as a classic ’80s song outlining the trials and tribulations of being a teenager in high school who just wants to paaaaaaaaartay. Coldplay played ”(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party!)” at the All Points West music festival in 2009 as a tribute to the Beastie Boys, who backed-out last-minute from their performance at the festival after Adam Yauch’s cancer diagnosis. Again, Coldplay played the song this past Friday, the day of Yauch’s death, at the Hollywood Bowl. It is one of the best covers I’ve ever heard. Although true to the meaning of the song, Chris Martin applies Coldplay’s twist and sound to it, and it just came out beautifully. Rest in peace, MCA!
Yellowcard released “Ocean Avenue” from its aptly-named Ocean Avenue album in 2003. A pop punk band from Jacksonville, Yellowcard stads out from the rest with its (brace yourselves for it) electric fiddle. And boy, does the band capitalize on it. “Ocean Avenue” was played all the time on the radio in 2003, and the single helped to propel Yellowcard into the mainstream music rotation at the time.
According to the band, “Ocean Avenue” is about the lives the bandmembers led in Jacksonville: “sleeping all day, staying up all night,” “walk on the beach in our bare feet,” etc. “Ocean Avenue” reached #37 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, #34 on the New Zealand RIANZ chart, and #65 on the U.K. Singles Chart. The single has all the glitz & glamour of American pop punk, with the addition of the electric fiddle. The lyrics are simple, nostalgic, and are sincere enough to make the song memorable.
"I Want It That Way" is from the Backstreet Boys’ 1999 Millennium. One of the greatest-selling albums in recent history, Millennium as a record was nominated for a whole myriad of Grammy Awards, including a few for its lead single “I Want It That Way.”
Many consider “I Want It That Way” to be a timepiece, a song descriptive of the late 1990s/early 2000s. It stands as one of the highest-selling and highest-charting singles by a “boy band” ever, reaching #1 in over 25 countries. The beats are all electronic and synthesized, lending a dance feel to the song as a whole. The vocals are harmonized and inter-woven between the five band members, and the chorus is basically etched into the memories of everyone my age.
The music video for this iconic song takes place in Los Angeles International Airport, full of overhead flying planes, people waiting in line at ticketing, and one private jet that never leaves… The cheesy 1998 video graphics only make it better. The five guys dance in sync with each other, wear white denim jackets, and the transitions have the featured singer seeming to dissolve from one scene to another — it’s everything from the ’90s you love to hate, and it’s so good! The lyrics, of course, verge toward the point of becoming overbearing, yet they remain just meaningful enough to evoke genuine compassion and sympathy for these heartbroken members of an internationally-acclaimed boy band.
"I Want It That Way" was nominated for a Grammy Award for Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal, but it lost in all three categories. The single spent 31 weeks on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, peaking at #6. It made #1 on the U.S. Billboard Pop Songs chart for 26 weeks. It also reached #1 on the U.K. Singles Chart, Italian Singles Chart, German Singles Chart, Swiss Singles Chart, New Zealand Singles Chart, Austrian Singles Chart, Canadian Singles Chart, etc., etc. In short, “I Want It That Way” defined a period of pop music, and it made a monstrous international splash.
An oldie but goody, Coldplay released “Yellow” as the lead single from their debut album Parachutes in 2000. “Yellow” set the tone for how Coldplay recorded its music, how Chris Martin could manipulate his voice, and for how insanely successful the band would become.
"Yellow" was blessed with a lot of radioplay, in the U.K. and abroad. To this day, "Yellow" is one of Coldplay’s most popular songs. The opening lyrics, "Look at the stars / look how they shine for you," were inspired by the actual stars Chris Martin saw in the sky one night. Martin uses the stars as an eternal gift to symbolize his love for the person being sung to. In terms of the background behind "Yellow," Chris Martin has admitted to making up the stories as he goes along!
Even though the composition and instrumentals of the single would lead one to believe it were a sad song, it is actually a happy one. It sounds somber, but it is truly a love song in the brightest way. During the Viva La Vida Tour in 2009, Coldplay sent out large yellow balloons into the audience during this song, and they balloons would be bounced around the crowds like beach balls. (I would know — I was there!) “Yellow” reached #48 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and reached #4 on the U.K. Singles Chart!
Jet released “Are You Gonna Be My Girl” in 2003 from its album Get Born. Australian, the band’s purist take on legitimate rock is refreshing in the American music scene. The single is garage rock at its finest. Electric guitars and tambourines are key players in “Are You Gonna Be My Girl,” in addition, of course, to the semi-screamo vocals.
"Are You Gonna Be My Girl" is a fast-paced song, full of a whole bunch of energy. It reached #3 on the U.S. Billboard Alternative Songs charts and #29 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. Jet may not have seen much success with consecutive singles and albums, but “Are You Gonna Be My Girl” stands as pretty incredible music.
Gavin DeGraw released “I Don’t Want to Be” in 2003 from his album Chariot. One of DeGraw’s most successful singles, “I Don’t Want to Be” reached #10 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and peaked at #38 on the U.K. Singles Chart. Used as the theme song for the WB’s One Tree Hill, “I Don’t Want to Be” sold over two million individual units, certifying it as Double Platinum!
The lyrics to “I Don’t Want to Be” talk about DeGraw’s want to be nothing more than his predetermined destiny. He is perfectly content with being a “prison guard’s son” or “a specialist’s son.” And his lyrics are pretty accurate, considering his parents’ professions are exactly what he sings about! Especially for teens beginning the college admissions process, “I Don’t Want to Be” is fairly descriptive of the feelings that will go through their heads very soon. DeGraw is saying that you do not need to be anything more than yourself. “I Don’t Want to Be” provides the same message as Lady GaGa’s “Born This Way,” but in a totally different way. The single sounds like a product of Matchbox 20! And in an awesome way!
Eiffel 65 released “Blue (Da Ba Dee)” in 1999, and it did extraordinarily well worldwide. We have all heard this single, whether voluntarily or not. The song has a nice beat with distorted vocals that sound distant and… alien-y. The lyrics to “Blue (Da Ba Dee)” are interpreted in seemingly endless ways, from the title’s “I’m blue, da ba dee, da ba dye” to the more grim “I’m blue, I believe I could die.”
"Blue (Da Ba Dee)" was nominated for a Grammy Award in 2001 for Best Dance Recording but lost to "Who Let The Dogs Out?" by the Baha Men. Far less happy-go-lucky than "Who Let The Dogs Out?", "Blue (Da Ba Dee)" features a blue man whose entire world is blue, indicating that his emotional state is horribly depressing. The song, in terms of quality, is not too impressive. But in regards to the song’s likeability factor, "Blue (Da Ba Dee)" can’t be beat. The song is just so darn catchy, and it personified an era of euro-dance music that had jumped the pond to the United States.
"Blue (Da Ba Dee)" reached #6 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. Essentially everywhere else (ie the Australian ARIA, French SNEP, New Zealand RIANZ, and U.K. Singles Charts), though, it reached #1.
James Blunt released “1973” as the lead single to his 2007 album All The Lost Souls. As the record following his hugely successful Back To Bedlam in 2004, “1973” helped to give a good precursor to how the remainder of the album would sound. This single would peak at #4 on the U.K. Singles Chart and at #73 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. However, all around Europe, “1973” did exceptionally well, making the Top 10 in numerous countries, like Austria, Belgium, Switzerland, Italy, Norway. The song even reached across oceans, reaching #9 on the New Zealand Singles Chart and #11 on the Australian ARIA Singles Chart.
James Blunt’s vocals are relatively unedited, exposing an English-accented and nervous-sounding singer with pretty cool instrumentals. The bridge is impressive, with thumping beats and softly accelerating guitar chords. The wording in the lyrics is sweet, as Blunt forces himself and his significant other to remember themselves in “a club in 1973,” when they were presumably happy. The song’s subject, Simona, is being plead to by an apologetic James Blunt, as he sing-remembers the grand times they shared. And even if this relationship is permanently damaged, Blunt seems happy with just the memories he carries with him. Relative to “Beautiful,” “1973” is a lesser-known James Blunt song, so have a listen and tell me what you think!
As a little bit of a throwback, let’s talk about LMNT’s single “Juliet”! (By the way, LMNT is pronounced like the word ‘element.’) If you listened to Radio Disney or had a childhood in any form during the early 2000s, you know “Juliet.” Unfortunately for LMNT, “Juliet” was the only single the band would ever release, leaving them with an only moderately successful teen pop single whose radio-play would not last very long at all…
"Juliet" is sung by the whole band in unison, indicative of true boy band prowess. Honestly, it could pass for an *NSYNC or Backstreet Boys single, too. The lyrics are pretty lame (see "I think you’re fine / you really blow my mind"), but there is something horribly wonderful about this single. Perhaps it’s the needless lyrical echoing, the way over-produced "instrumentals" (I highly doubt any real instruments were used in this song), or the truly uncreative wording.
When it all boils down in the end, “Juliet” defines a darker time for Radio Disney and its listeners on the way back from Little League practice. “Juliet” is cute and perhaps a little creepy, being sung by men far too old to be crushing on the intended girl. The single never charted (or did much else). If you think I’m being a tad too harsh on this song, think again. “Juliet” was definitely a fan favorite for a while, and I hope reading about it and listening to this timepiece gem will put a smile to your face!
Sum 41 released “Fat Lip” as a single in 2001 for its album All Killer No Filler. Eleven years afterwards, “Fat Lip” has remained Sum 41’s most successful single. The single climbed to #8 on the U.K. Singles Chart and #66 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100.
"Fat Lip" includes a whole myriad of musical genres, between punk rock, hip hop, and hard rock. The song’s title is a reference to the swollen lip one gets from getting in a fight and being punched in the mouth. Considering the song is about hangin’ with the wrong crew and having a generally ignorant outlook on life, it’s fitting!
The single is often associated with impulsive, teenage stupidity, and although that may be an accurate comparison, the song really is a timepiece. In the early 2000s, a lot of teenagers around the world could relate to this song, where they did not want to be come a “casualty of society” or a “victim of conformity.” Composition-wise, the instrumentals are really cool. Yes, the song has all the qualities of rock: heavy guitar, lots of percussion, and strong vocals. Head-banging and mosh-inducing aside, “Fat Lip” does a great job of summing-up the beginning of the 21st Century in three minutes!
Snow Patrol released “Run” as a single from 2003’s Final Straw. “Run” was Snow Patrol’s first major success, charting at #5 on the U.K. Singles Chart. The composition of “Run” is largely acoustic, with a steady guitar strumming and healthy amount of percussion. Although everyone would probably consider “Run” an alternative song, it is also soft rock. The instrumentals are meaningful, but they also stay curbed, second to the vocals.
"Run“‘s opening vocals are borderline creepy, but for the choruses, they, appropriately, "light up, light up." Between choruses, the instrumentals subside, exposing the stripped-down vocals and the conveyed promise of companionship, regardless of the situation the couple will face.
Notable covers of “Run” include Leona Lewis’ and Katharine McPhee’s (for NBC’s Smash). Lewis’ cover was critically acclaimed and took a more “barebones” approach to the song. She also utilized a gospel choir to finish-off the song. Snow Patrol’s Nathan Connolly would neither endorse nor criticize her cover. Lewis’ cover charted at #1 on the U.K. Singles Chart and reached #81 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100.
Katherine McPhee’s cover is superb. Her vocal range in this version of “Run” is pretty impressive. She gives the song a more pop-y sound but in a really good way. The song debuted on TV two days ago, so it hasn’t yet had the opportunity to chart, although I’m sure it will do just fine!