Song 329: Aerosmith, “Sweet Emotion” (1975)

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The 1993 film Dazed and Confused has one of the best first shots of any movie: An orange GTO moves in slow-motion around a high school parking lot, as if there’s never been anything more important or more heroic in the history of time. As the car turns the corner, slowly and triumphantly, “Sweet Emotion” plays. It works because the opening minute of “Sweet Emotion” contains what may be the most confident bassline in pop music, a thing so substantial and sure of itself that it sounds like it could power the GTO itself. By the time the song has kicked into high gear, you’ve been primed for the greatness to come (car puns, believe it or not, unintended).

Aerosmith is often written off as Led Zeppelin Lite, but that’s actually what I like most about them. They’re like Zeppelin without the Tolkein mysticism and blues fixations. “Sweet Emotion” was supposedly written about band discord (fueled by tension among the band members’ wives), which is another fun thing about Aerosmith: they’re all id. This isn’t to say their music is chaotic or uncontrolled, just that there’s something unhinged about Steven Tyler (especially these days), and that serves the music well. That’s what makes him one of the great rock frontmen, and what makes Aerosmith such a weird, fascinating band.

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Song 142: The Staple Singers, “Let’s Do It Again” (1975)

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Every time I hear “Let’s Do It Again,” I’m amazed that the Staple Singers were originally a gospel group. The thing is just so damn sexual – you can’t even call it “sexy,” because that usually implies some sort of coyness or mystery. This song is clearly about getting it on, and that doesn’t seem like it would jibe well with a gospel act (though what do I know; I was raised Catholic) (insert inappropriate joke here).

Don’t get me wrong: though I don’t understand how the Staple Singers ended up with this song, I’m glad they did. After all, whether she’s singing about God or sex, Mavis Staples has one of the sultriest voices in the universe, and the group knows its way around a soul song. Curtis Mayfield, who also knows a few things about R&B, wrote “Let’s Do It Again” for the movie of the same name, a Sidney Poitier-Jimmie Walker-Bill Cosby joint with a poster that doesn’t seem to match this song’s… lack of caricatures from a street fair. I know nothing about the movie, but I don’t want to know if it features Bill Cosby getting romantic with someone other than Clair Huxtable, because I wouldn’t be able to handle that.

You may recognize parts of this song from John Legend’s Kanye West-produced “Number One,” or maybe Ice Cube’s “It Was a Good Day.” I’m surprised, with its lush strings and mellow vibe, that it hasn’t been sampled more. But at the same time, I’m glad it’s its own thing, Cosby movie aside. It deserves to stand with “I’ll Take You There” and “Respect Yourself” as the family’s best work.


Song 26: Paul Simon, “Still Crazy After All These Years” (1975)

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I rock my almost-two-year-old daughter in a rocking chair every night before bed, and last night my wife and I both rocked her in the middle of the night because she had a fever. At three o’clock or so this morning, as I was singing “The Wheels on the Bus” for the second time, it occurred to me that, when Lilly was born, I would sing her the strangest songs. The simple reason for this is that there are very few songs for which I know all the lyrics. One of them is “Grand Canyon” by Magnetic Fields; another is “Still Crazy After All These Years.” The former song happens to have a beautiful, lullabye-like melody, but I have no idea why I started singing a Paul Simon song about aging (that not only mentions beer but includes the phrase “I fear I’ll do some damage one fine day”).

I do know that, after Lilly was born, I suddenly loved “Still Crazy After All These Years,” a song that I’d never given much thought to before. We have a copy of the album on vinyl, a hand-me-down from Lizzie’s parents, and it was one of many records I put on while we were housebound during our maternity and paternity leaves. In many ways, including my musical taste, I’ve been an old man for a long time now, but having a kid has made me much more comfortable embracing songs like this. Vibraphone and a smooth sax solo? Don’t mind if I do! I’ve been putting diaper cream on a butt all day; you’re damn right I deserve some relaxation!

This song isn’t nearly as simple as it seems. For one thing, I like how funny it is, which I hadn’t noticed before. While I didn’t think Paul Simon considered himself a crazy guy, I didn’t think it was straight-out sarcasm until recently. Additionally, this song isn’t all smoothness: that orchestral thing after the bridge is full of unrest, and then there’s that subtle key change at the end, which Simon slips in by preceding it with the “five” chord of the new key (fifths resolve to their root chords, so in this song, our ears are expecting the new key, which makes it hard to notice). It escalates the song ever so slightly, as if the middle-aged narrator is getting up from his chair with a sigh. Unrest comes in different forms the older you get.

Speaking of which, if this post is full of nonsense, it’s because of lack of sleep. You can blame everything on kids!

Now get off of my lawn.