Sunday, September 09, 2012

If you like Stornoway, thank Nick Drake

I stumbled across the song "Zorbing" by British indie band Stornoway (who are, ironically, not from Scotland), thanks to the Song of the Day project that actor/director/fellow Kenyon grad Josh Radnor has been doing on Twitter (which I cannot recommend highly enough):

It has the haunting, harmonic beauty of the British folk revival of the '60s (which ultimately inspired the corresponding folk revival in America). But there's also that infectious brass band riff that comes in halfway through the song, which is an element of the folk revival that is distinct to the U.K.

Which is why I was immediately reminded of one of the last British folk revivalists to have a national following -- the incomparable Nick Drake. Compare "Zorbing" to the song "Hazey Jane II" from Drake's 1970 release, Bryter Later

You'll hear the same haunting vocal quality, though admittedly with less harmonizing than Stornoway applies. And yes, those are electric guitars rather than acoustic. But the brass band riffs take on a leading role in this song, driving the whole rhythm and energy forward, and it's suddenly easy to hear where Stornoway got the inspiration for "Zorbing."

So remember, if you like Stornoway, thank Nick Drake.

Friday, September 07, 2012

If you like John Legend, thank the Staple Singers

Heard this classic soul gem on the oldies station by the incomparable soul/R&B family, The Staple Singers:

It ran around my brain all day, sounding so very familiar. Where, where, where had I heard that string arrangement before? Just before bed, it came to me: it was the sample John Legend used in his breakout hit collaboration with Kanye West, "Number One":

Hear it? I think it's sampled directly from the Staples. And in borrowing the loop, John Legend turned the sentiment of the original song on its heel -- what was initially a song about getting busy with the one you love is inverted to a desperate apology for cheating on the one you love. By doing this, it's almost as though he's questioning the authenticity of the sentiment of the original song, calling the notion of faithfulness into question in the most dulcet possible way. Which I guess shouldn't be so surprising. John Legend is an Ivy League grad, after all.

So remember, if you like John Legend, thank the Staple Singers.