Category Archives: music

test your musical knowledge with my favorite game

Hello, old pal, it’s been a long time. Too, too long. So long, in fact, that I wasn’t sure I was going to remember my login and password. But my long-term memory came through, and here I am. Continue reading


the Robin’s sweet tunes

Anyone who has ever worked in a restaurant knows it is an experience that will never leave you. It’s been ten years since I last worked in a restaurant, but I still regularly wake up in a panic after having the nightmare in which I get slammed with tables when I’m the only one on the floor, and I’m running around with a tray full of drinks, inexplicably unable to serve them to anyone.

The majority of my restaurant career was spent at Red Robin. I worked there for nearly seven years, first as a hostess and then, once I turned 19, a server. Even now, after the many jobs I’ve held, I still believe that many of my most important life lessons were learned at the Robin. Some are oddly practical, like investigate every bottle of ketchup for the tell-tale signs of over-marrying — a gray tree-like rings creating layers in the ketchup and the presence of bubbles. I’ll bet not too many people know that when ketchup gets old it can literally explode right out the top of the bottle. It’s true. It’s happened in my hands before. Other lessons are more profound, like kill everyone with kindness. And there’s no use crying over spilled milkshakes…especially when they tip over on the tray you are holding and you end up with whipped cream in your mouth and ice cream in all the pockets of your apron.

So much of the years spent at Red Robin are etched in my brain. I still remember many of the thousands of numbers in the ridiculous computer ordering system. Case in point: Monster Burger =14, No Mayo = 9 modify, 27 modify. Seriously, what is that information still doing in my brain?

But nothing takes me back to the Robin faster than hearing certain songs. I usually encounter them while shopping at Walgreens or Walmart or riding in an elevator, thanks to the glorious selection of Muzak channels management had to choose from.

The list is vast and varied, but here are just some of the songs that make me stop in my tracks and want to ask someone if they want a fry refill to go with their California Chicken Burger.

The Year of the Cat and Time Passages, Al Stewart
I honestly don’t know if Al Stewart exists outside the brass-handled doors of Red Robin. But there’s one thing I do know: this guy, with his smooth as Belvedere voice, was seriously preoccupied with time.

Stumblin’ In, Suzi Quatro
No one is cooler than Leather Tuscadero. This  is exactly what makes this goofy song by Leather’s alter ego, Suzi Quatro, even more of a mystery.

Signed, Sealed, Delivered, Stevie Wonder
Before it was the official song of the United States Postal Service, this peppy tune kept all the Red Robin  employees tweeting as they delivered breaded and fried taste treats to the masses.

Jessie, Joshua Kadison
Who the hell is Joshua Kadison? Apparently he’s a one-hit wonder who enjoyed some success in 1994 with this sappy as all get-out song of unrequited love. But I can still see those pictures Jessie painted…

Pets, Porno for Pyros
Every now and again, management would indulge our need to hear music that was actually produced in our lifetimes. That’s when we got to listen to the cool alternative station. This was the mid-’90s, so the selection was mostly grunge and super-charged pop. This minor hit from Jane’s Addiction frontman Perry Ferrell’s side project was always one of my favorites…and one of the oddest choices for a family restaurant.

The Sign, Ace of Bass
I can’t even explain how bad this song used to drive me bonkers while standing at the Red Robin hostess stand. After listening to it just now, I’ve confirmed it still does.

1979, Smashing Pumpkins
This song brings back a lot of memories of college, both at the Robin and beyond. It’s also one of the few Smashing Pumpkins songs I can still stand to listen to. I’m not sure why exactly, but the Pumpkins just have not stood the test of time for me.

And now, for the ultimate Red Robin song…

Morning Train (Nine to Five), Sheena Easton
My love for this song, as well as the accompanying memories of ranch dressing and chick-a-dees and freckled lemonades and mud pies and oyster crackers in my apron pockets, knows no bounds. It is the ultimate in cheese, and Sheena Easton is the cheese ambassador. But to this day this song will turn my frown upside down, no matter how bad a day I’m having. It got me through many bad tips and mean customers and broken glasses and pitchers of iced tea spilled down the front of my uniform. Now that I think about it, I should really add it to my iPod. It’s magic.

To all my Red Robin co-workers, or to anyone who ever worked in a restaurant for that matter, what songs take you back to your food service days?

some top ’80s music picks for the bday

I turned 36 today, and this blog turned 1. I was planning on writing some big retrospective about how blogging this past year has taught me so many life lessons and made me a better writer/thinker/person. But then I had some birthday wine, and a friend asked me what my top 10 songs of the ’80s were. So now I’m going with that. But really quick before I do, I’ll pat myself on the back for posting 57 times in the last 365 days (this will be 58). That’s more than once a week, so I’m pretty happy about that.

Now on to more pressing matters: how to pick the Top 10 songs of the ’80s. No one, not even VH-1 and their listmaster generals, could do that. So I’m going to give you a list of my top 10 right at this moment. This means the first 10 ’80s songs I can’t live without that come to my head, so don’t chastise me when I leave off  “Billie Jean.” It’s a great song, I know. But they can’t all make the list.

1. Jumping Someone Else’s Train, The Cure. As with The Smiths (see #10), it’s impossible to pick one Cure song. But I chose this one because I play it for my high school students all the time. Such a great metaphor for high school life.

2. Love Will Tear Us Apart – Joy Division. The brilliance is in the haunting beauty: I love you, but that will kill me. Bonus points for appearing in Donnie Darko.

3. Don’t Change – INXS. Such an inspirational message, set against Michael Hutchence’s gorgeous vocals. My favorite in a long list of favorite INXS songs — when I hear that opening synth I get so excited.

4. Goody Two Shoes – Adam Ant. What can I say? It’s a classic. And I always loved this video.

5. Heat of the Moment – Asia. The supergroup Asia, featuring members of  Yes, Emerson, Lake & Palmer and Roxy Music, might not have been so super, but this song left an indelible mark in my musical memory. These lyrics never cease to get to me — especially now that I’m 36:
and when your looks are gone and you’re alone
How many nights you sit beside the phone
What were the things you wanted for yourself
Teenage ambitions you remember well

6. Hey Ladies – The Beastie Boys. I am a huge Beastie Boys fan. I liked License to Ill, but I always felt it was a little juvenile. I really fell in love with the Boys when I heard Paul’s Boutique. This is also one great video.

7. Our Lips Are Sealed – The Go-Go’s. You couldn’t be a young girl in the ’80s and not be profoundly affected by this all-girl band. Such an influence they had on what I believed it meant to be a woman (I can be anything! Even a rock star! I can wear clothes from a thrift shop and dance in a fountain!). I was in love with Belinda Carlisle and her haircut well into the ’90s.

8. The Metro, Berlin. Terri Nunn is another one of those powerful women who had an influence on me. I finally lived out a fantasy related to this song when I rode on the Metro in Paris earlier this year and said to Tim in my nastiest snarly singing voice, “I remember hating you for loving me!”

9. Wild Wild West, Kool Moe Dee. I used to record Yo! MTV Raps on my VCR in middle school. I loved it all – Big Daddy Kane, Sir Mix-A-Lot (My Posse’s on Broadway is the first song I ever knew all the words to), Queen Latifah, MC Hammer (before his Hammer Pants got crazy), LL Cool J, L’Trimm…you get the idea. But for some reason this song has always stuck with me. I particularly like all the shout-outs at the end.

10. Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now, The Smiths. It would be impossible for me to even pick 10 Smiths songs for a list, so I just had to blindly choose one. I do so love this one, and I sing it almost every day when I take on a task I don’t want to take on. In my book, Morrissey can do no wrong.

I have left off a million songs that I love, songs that would make the list tomorrow. I’ve steered clear of ’80s hair bands — a genre I was a huge fan of — and most of the massive ’80s pop singers like Madonna and Prince. I also neglected some favorite bands like Depeche Mode, Rush, Duran Duran, Guns N’ Roses, REO Speedwagon, etc. One day they will get the proper attention they deserve. For now I’m satisfied enough with my list to close the book on this post…and this birthday.

a tribute to the best song tributes

I’ve been curating a list of my favorite cover songs for quite a while now, but I just learned that a former student hosts a radio show called Take Cover at KLSU 91.1 FM in Baton Rouge, so I thought it was about time I get to posting it.

I’m not sure if it’s a coincidence that most of the covers are female artists covering male artists, or that many of them were originally Beatles (or members of the Beatles) songs. But for whatever reason, I find many of these covers to be at least as awesome — if not even an order of magnitude more awesome — than the originals.

The Dum Dum Girls covering The Smiths’ There Is A Light And It Never Goes Out:
Maybe the best cover of the best song by the best band ever. Ever.

Roxy Music covering John Lennon’s Jealous Guy:
I know there’s only one John Lennon, but there is just something about Bryan Ferry’s silky smooth voice.

The White Stripes covering Tegan and Sara’s Walking With a Ghost:
This song is pretty cool whether it’s sung by doll-voiced twin sisters or the master of the weird warbly voice, Jack White.

The Bad Plus covering the Flaming Lips’ Feeling Yourself Disintegrate:
I love the jazzy sadness The Bad Plus brings to this beautiful song.

Neko Case and Nick Cave covering The Zombies’ She’s Not There:
Although I have never seen an episode of True Blood (curse you, HBO, and you’re high subscription rates!), I do love this sort-of scary cover, which reminds me a bit of that creepy Little Red Riding Hood song by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs for some reason.

Siouxsie and the Banshees covering the Beatles’ Dear Prudence:
I believe the incomparably cool Siouxsie Sioux did this beautiful song, which was written about Mia Farrow’s sister Prudence, justice … and then some.

The Sundays covering The Rolling Stones’ Wild Horses:
This is just such an emotional song, made all the more poignant by Harriet Wheeler’s sad vocals:

Kindness covering The Replacements’ Swinging Party:
Credit must go to my dear friend Katy Page (and perhaps her husband Ryan?) for introducing me to this fantastically groovy cover.

Fiona Apple, Rufus Wainwright, David Bowie, Roger Waters (and everyone else) cover the Beatles’ Across the Universe:
Who doesn’t love this song? And furthermore, who doesn’t love every version of it (for a complete list, visit the song’s Wikipedia page)?

What are your favorite covers?

bad, bad = good, good

They say there are no new ideas, a thought that is particularly evident in today’s cineplexes — Friends with Benefits/No Strings Attached, anyone? (Thanks to Blind Film Critic, now you don’t have to see either of them.)

But in the world of music, I would think it’s especially difficult to come up with unique titles for songs. So I don’t blame musicians for going with one-word titles that will inevitably get (or already have been) co-opted by others. In fact, I think it’s pretty cool that one song title can represent two (or more) entirely different but equally awesome songs. I took a quick trip through my iTunes and found these musical homonyms, which I present to you face-off style. Any more to add to the list? Any thoughts on your favorites? Post a comment below!

Bad, U2 vs. Bad, Michael Jackson:  The ultimate same-name song-off, and also the genesis of this blog post, thanks to Tim’s astute observation (thanks for the blog title idea, too, dear!). Although both are marquee tracks in their respective artists’ libraries, I think we all know I’m gonna go with U2 on this one. If I could (vote for both), you know I would, if I could, I would…

All I Want, The Cure vs. All I Want, LCD Soundsystem: This is a tough one — do I go with the moody aggressiveness of the former, or the up-tempo melancholy of the latter? I think LCD Soundsystem takes it by a nose.

All I Need, Radiohead vs. All I Need, Jack Wagner: Can I really choose an ’80s soap opera star over one of the greatest bands of all time?  Yes, I can. Frisco Jones, come home to Port Charles ASAP.

Amsterdam, Coldplay vs. Amsterdam, Peter Bjorn and John: I much prefer the peppy Peter Bjorn and John version, even if they do tend to abuse the whole whistling thing. This song better captures what I believe Amsterdam to be like…and I just think it’s fun.

Black, Pearl Jam vs. Black, Pete Yorn: This is one of my favorite songs from both artists. One makes me feel a little sad, and one makes me feel a little happy. So I think this one has to be a tie.

Bye Bye Love, The Everly Brothers vs. Bye Bye Love, The Cars: As adorable as The Everly Brothers are, and as much as I love a good harmony, no one beats The Cars in my book.

Cherry Bomb, The Runaways vs. Cherry Bomb, John Mellencamp: It’s been tough for me to forgive Hollywood for casting Kristen Stewart as Joan Jett, but obviously I’m gonna go with The Runaways on this one. To be fair, I should mention this is probably my least favorite John Mellencamp song (not to mention one of the stupidest music videos ever made), so it was never really a competition. P.S. How great are the Japanese subtitles on the Runaways clip?

Crazy For You, Best Coast vs. Crazy For You, Madonna: As I much as I love Best Coast and the short and breezy version of this song title, Madonna takes this round. Mainly for her terribly off-key performance in the best ever ’80s wrestling movie starring Tim-doppelganger Matthew Modine. You’re going to have to watch the movie to hear how horrible she sounds — this video uses the studio recording. I’m sure Madonna has expunged every clip of that performance from the Internet. But she can’t destroy all the copies of Vision Quest, now can she?

Creep, Radiohead vs. Creep, Stone Temple Pilots vs. Creep, TLC: This is hardly my favorite song from any of these beloved groups. But TLC clearly is the winner for a number of reasons: 1) They use creep as a verb. 2) They use creep to mean how they go about cheating on their man. 3) They were gigantic oversized pajamas with waistbands that make them look like boxers (the fighters, not the underwear).

You Talk (Way) Too Much, The Strokes vs. You Talk Too Much, Run DMC: Okay, the titles aren’t exactly the same, but I just love both of these songs so much. A total tie.

Dreams, Fleetwood Mac vs. Dreams, Van Halen: I happen to be a Van Hagar fan, and I always loved the Blue Angels video. In fact, when I would watch those cool planes fly by during SF Fleet Week this song always played in my head. But Fleetwood Mac’s is undoubtedly the superior Dreams-related song.

Forever Young, Rod Stewart vs. Forever Young, Alphaville: Not even a fight. While the cheesy, graduation-song sentiment of both songs really turns me off, only Stewart’s version actually makes me want to vomit. And you don’t have to be a musical genius to know that Jay-Z was never going to sample that crap.

Gloria, U2 vs. Gloria, Laura Branigan: Bono, I love you, but Laura Branigan always wins this fight. Watch this performance on VH-1, you’ll see.

I Go Crazy, Flesh For Lulu vs. I Go Crazy, Paul Davis: I truly had no idea that Paul Davis could be mistaken for a member of ZZ Top until just this minute, which kind of makes me want to choose him. Never has a voice less fit a face (except for maybe Christopher Cross). It’s a beautiful song and it brings back fond memories of cruising around with my parents in their maroon Chevy Caprice Classic in the ’70s. But it’s not featured in Some Kind of Wonderful, which is the best movie soundtrack of all time. So Flesh For Lulu wins, because I have even more fond memories of the ’80s.

Honorable Mention — Boys Don’t Cry, The Cure vs. I Wanna Be a Cowboy, Boys Don’t Cry: So it’s not exactly the same thing. But I always loved that there was a band called Boys Don’t Cry and that this song of all songs is what they sang. It just makes me laugh — and the video is absolutely remarkable. As for the Cure’s version, it’s definitely in the top 5 of their catalog.

celebrating 20 years of pearl jam

Most days, my musical tastes skew more toward the big hair and neon of the ’80s. But being a teenager in the ’90s definitely influenced my musical tastes. I mean, it was practically considered heresy to be a young adult during that decade and not enjoy The Grunge. I donned some flannel at times (as a “nod to the crisp Seattle weather”), and my very moody  teenaged mind felt a real connection to the angry, anti-social, existential, poignant lyrics that came from the bands offering up the Seattle Sound. I enjoyed it all, from Nirvana to Alice in Chains. But the band that stood out amongst the rest for me was Pearl Jam. From the hardest rock jams to the deepest, darkest ballads, they held the top spot in my stereo for a long time. It’s hard to believe they are celebrating their 20th year as a band, because that means I’m definitely not 20 anymore. They will be embarking on an anniversary tour at the end of summer…too bad it’s all in Canada, save for one show in Wisconsin. I might just have to make the trek to the Great White North for the occasion.

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thanks a lot for ruining carly simon, kate hudson

Driving to school this morning I heard Carly Simon’s classic “You’re So Vain.” I’ve never been the hugest fan of this song, but I always appreciated the guess-who-this-song-is-about-(James Taylor) back story. That is, until I saw How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days. Now I can’t hear that song without also hearing Kate Hudson’s off-key, piercing voice stabbing my ears out, singing, “Ben Berry, you’re so vain.” Continue reading