Hey, I don’t want to brag or anything, but have you noticed how there’s a lot of music around? Go turn on your radio right now. Check it out. Music, right? Y’know why it’s still there? Cause I saved it, that’s why.
Well, okay, maybe I didn’t save the whole thing by myself, but I did my part. I mean, it’s a big job. Saving the music. You have to break it down into manageable, bite-size chunks. So, to be completely accurate, I guess I should say that I saved as much music as could be saved by buying the For the Kids CD. That much.
But that could be a lot, who knows? According to the liner notes, “a portion of the proceeds of this album will go to VH1 Save the Music Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the quality of education in America’s public schools by restoring music programs in cities across the country, and by blah blah blah.” It just goes on like that. But check out this part: “Since 1997, VH1 Save the Music has provided more than twenty-one million dollars worth of instruments to 900 public schools in 75 cities nationwide.”
Twenty-one million dollars worth of instruments! Think of it. That’s 23,333 dollars per school. So if your average trumpet sets you back, what, let’s say eighty-five dollars, then that works out to about 275 trumpets put in the hands of one single fourth-grade class.
Now, what if we brought all those kids and all those instruments together in one place! Twenty-one million dollars worth of musical instruments, all wielded by enthusiastic eight-year-olds, all hopped up on sugar cereal and cola drinks! Imagine the unholy racket that would make!
Just thinking about that has inspired me; I’m going to dedicate the rest of my life to Saving the Music. Don’t try to stop me! It’s something I have to do. Not just for me… not just for the kids… it’s for the Music. Y’know? Now, I know I have a bunch of kettle drums lying around here somewhere, just gathering dust. I bet there’s a nine-year-old in Santa Fe who could put them to good use.
Well, while I’m rummaging around my junk drawer for clarinets and tambourines, I’ll tell you a little bit about the CD.
It starts off with Cake, who do an absolutely tremendous get-down on “Mahna Mahna.” Now, I’ll admit right up front that Cake is one of my favorite bands. Cake can do no wrong in my book. Cake — just to catch you up — is the band that sings “Never There,” which, if you listen to a lot of college radio, is the song that starts with a dial tone. They also sing “Going the Distance,” which sounds a lot like “Never There,” except that it doesn’t start with a dial tone.
All Cake songs sound pretty much the same, actually, because somewhere around 1996, they decided on a little collection of noises that they put into the background of every song they ever record. They’re all in “Mahna Mahna.” There’s a kind of “YEAAaaahhh!” noise. There’s a sharp blast on a whistle. There’s a sort of a cowboy “Whoooo-huh!” noise. There’s a “HEY!” So your individual patience level for Cake songs pretty much depends on how much you groove on that particular set of sounds. I think they’re lively and fun, so Cake is tops for me.
The interesting thing about this version of “Mahna Mahna” is that Cake wisely chooses not to imitate the comedy aspect of it at all. They just play it like it’s a real song, which basically makes it like a jazz riff based on a comedy sketch. They actually turn the Mahna Mahna-Snowth dynamic upside down, delivering the “Mahna Mahna” line as a completely deadpan, robotic lyric — and giving the Snowths’ “doo doo bee doo doo” part to the guitars and horns, making the meat of the song richer and more fun. It’s basically not so much a version of “Mahna Mahna” as much as it is a song about “Mahna Mahna.” There’s really nothing else like it in the world. I can confidently say that if Saving the Music means listening to Cake do funky versions of Muppet songs, then let’s go out there and Save some Music.
The second track is by Barenaked Ladies, who do an Ernie and Bert song — which is great, but then they go and change the name of the song on us. The song they’re covering is called, as every right-thinking person knows, “La La La.” But that’s not good enough for the Barenaked Ladies, no no. They have to change it to “La La La La Lemon,” which seems like shameless self-promotion to me.
I mean, you wouldn’t do a cover of “Raspberry Beret” and call it “Raspberry Beret, The Kind You Find At A Secondhand Store,” would you? Of course not. The very idea. You wouldn’t do a cover of “It’s In His Kiss (The Shoop-Shoop Song)” and call it “It’s In His Kiss, That’s Where It Is, Whoa-oh-Whoa, It’s In His Kiss, That’s Where It Is (The Shoop-Shoop Song).” Well, not if you’re on a tight schedule, you wouldn’t. As for me, I’m arranging for this crate of cornets to be airlifted to a fifth grade in Wichita. I’m a busy man. I have no time for song-title inflation.
Anyway, “La La La La Lemon” is kind of an unexpected little track, because it turns out that the thing they do right is to imitate the Ernie and Bert comedy, which you wouldn’t think they’d be able to do well. But the little spoken intro to the song is actually really cute and genuine sounding. The leads only directly imitate Ernie and Bert’s voices for the first two lines, and then they start sounding like themselves, and it flows pretty nice. Then they start the song, and unfortunately, it turns out that “La La La” was kind of a corny tune even back in 1973. It would have been nice if they’d gone all the way with it, and really turned it into a rock song, which would have improved it no end. As it is, it’s a cute imitation of Ernie and Bert, but it doesn’t really add anything to the song as it is.
But it really only gets worse from here, because the third track is Sarah McLachlan taking a swipe at “The Rainbow Connection,” and what a swipe it is. Apparently, Sarah was involved in organizing this whole thing; the “Sarah McLachlan Music Outreach” program is listed on the CD as the Canadian beneficiary, so she’s pulling the strings somewhere. And I suppose it’s a good thing that Sarah is involved in music education, because at some point maybe some of it will rub off on her.
The problem is that Sarah makes the mistake of taking “The Rainbow Connection” entirely literally. The lyrics talk about dreams and rainbows, and damn it, Sarah’s gonna give us fistfuls of dreams and rainbows if it chokes us. When Sarah sings “have you heard voices,” then gosh darn it, you are gonna hear some damn voices. Here they are! Voices! And you’re hearin’ em! The upshot is that she turns what was already a pretty slow, reflective song into a soupy, ethereal mess, kind of Celine Dion and Enya jamming over a bottle of Valium-laced bourbon. There’s all kinds of twinkly background bits — LOOK, Sarah is shouting, grabbing you by the collar, IT’S THE FREAKIN’ RAINBOW! IT’S MAGICAL FOR FUCK’S SAKE!
Even worse than that, there’s this breathy angelic backing track that accentuates random phrases in the most incredibly distracting way, so it sounds something like this:
HAVE YOU been half asleep,
And HAVE YOU HEARD voices?
I’ve heard them calling my name.
Is this the sweet sound,
That CALLS THE YOUNG SAILORS?
The voice might BE ONE AND THE SAME.
I mean, what IS that? And then the song ends with this incredibly piercing clinker of a note. It’s like, La dee da, dee de da da, la dee da, la dee da… DOO-OO-EWWWW!
Sarah, Sarah, Sarah. First thing, we get you a double espresso to perk you up a bit. Then we get cracking on those music lessons. Because if you want to Save the Music, Sarah… then first you have to be willing to save yourself.
And finally on the hit parade, we have “Sing.” The singer credited here is Ivy, who I’m not familiar with, but it’s just as well, because the track is completely forgettable. It’s sung in a completely earnest laid-back samba style, which makes it completely indistinguishable from any of the other versions of “Sing” recorded over the last three decades. Yes, thank you, we’ve heard “Sing.” We’ve heard it sung just like this, in fact, by people I’ve heard of.
At this point, actually, the only version of “Sing” that I would possibly be interested in hearing is an ironic, post-modern one — maybe a “Sing” that sounds as self-consciously bad as possible, in order to really highlight the gruesome promise of the line, “Don’t worry if it’s not good enough for anyone else to hear.” I propose that someone record a “Sing” that invites us, in sort of a nihilistic German expressionist way, to examine our illusory preconception that there is such a thing as “Music” that makes us feel “Good.” I’d like a “Sing” that is so breathtakingly discordant that it invites its own destruction.
Hey, maybe we could get Sarah McLachlan working on that. At this moment, I can’t think of anyone better suited for it.
C’mon, Sarah, I bet you could do it. Step up to the plate. This is no time for false modesty. We’ve got Music to Save.