Songs That Elate You

The other day, new mom Laura was scolding me for listening to the Cure while I was fretting about housecleaning. “Listening to the Cure is not going to make you feel like you can get your house packed up!!” (It was the repeated exclamation point that got my attention.)

Rather, she admonished me, I should be getting into that sabbatical spirit by listening to, for instance, “Joy To the World” by Three Dog Night. When I recovered my muscle control from the involuntary shudders that suggestion provoked, we struck up a conversation about songsd that played the role opposite to last weekend’s “songs that make us cry” — — what songs lift our spirits, elate us, kindle joy and delight under even the bleakest circumstances?

Laura nominated “Joy To the World” as the happiest song ever, but I was very, very quick to deflect the discussion to a different trajectory. We agreed that the songs of which we were thinking had to be brightly positive without being saccharine, delightful without being stupid (or being stupid so cleverly that the stupidity counted as part of the charm), not “hanging on admirably in the face of bleak despair” but exhilarating, encouraging, joyous music. What qualifies?

Laura thought of “Twist and Shout,” and I nominated “Johnny B Goode.” Laura noted that the Stray Cats tried for this but missed by being too ironic, which made me think of boogie-woogie and good old R & B — Louis Jordan style. Buddy Holly also approximates what we were after.

Then we hit the motherlode: Funk. Parliament/Funkadelic — “Tear the Roof Off the Sucker” and “One Nation Under a Groove,” for intance, or Sly and the Family Stone and Stevie Wonder.

(Since at this point we were touching on sacred music — Motown and Atlantic soul — I will not call public attention to the possibility that one of us mentioned musical theater, including such suggestions as “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead.”)

Laura chimed in with Joan Armatrading, commending “Bottom to the Top,” while I cheered for “Back to the Night.” The accordion connection reminded Laura appositely of Beausoleil, and I flashed ahead to the various recordings of the Finn Brothers (they’re brilliant at “poignant” — cf. “Don’t Dream It’s Over” or “History Never Repeats” — but they’ve got a sense of whimsy and exuberance that predominate on other tracks. We agreed on Billy Bragg’s Buoyant moments (Laura chose “A New England,” I chose “Greetings to the New Brunette”) and that tapped delight with Kirsty MacColl (say, “Mambo De La Luna” or the whimsical ̶There’s a Guy Down At the Chip Shop Swears He’s Elvis,” but also “Golden Heart,” “Us Amazonians,” and “In These Shoes”).
“Golden Heart” makes me happy, but not in this riotous way.

Then: Talking Heads. Say no more.
That settled things; our work here was done.

Since transcribing our chat and posting this, several other favorites came to mind. Plastique Bertrand’s “Ça Plane Pour Moi,” for one, and various items from Magnetic Fields’s 69 Love Songs: “Electric Guitar,” “The Luckiest Guy On the Lower East Side,” “Kiss Me Like You Mean It.” More as they come to me.

Derek rejoins:

What blasphemy is this!?!

You can’t tell me that a combo of “Fascination Street”, “Hot Hot Hot”, “Mr. Pink-Eye”, “Meathook”, “Plastic Passion”, “Do the Hansa”, “Wrong Number”,and “One Hundred Years” couldn’t get you off to a heck of a start. And that’s without getting into obscure stuff and covers!

Bryan said:

“Hey Man (Now You’re Really Living)” by the Eels seems to work for my two little boys!



Margaret adds,

“Tubthumping” [by Chumbawamba]

and some Rolling Stones

[My sweetheart is a Stones advocate of long standing, and I admire them a lot myself, but I have a hard time thinking of a Rolling Stones cut that makes me smile and picks me up the way that, say, Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ “Come on Eileen” or BNL’s “One Week” does — without argument relative to the overall merits of the compositions. Maybe “Shine a Light.”

“Tubthumping” is a funny case, since I take it partly as an ironic deprecation of the indomitable spirit of its drunken protagonists, but whether the Chumbas intended it or not, I do hear a winning persistence in the singer’s affirmation. Thanks, honey!]

The Young Fogey proposes,

Carlos Santana’s first hit, his cover of Michael Babatunde Olatunji’s ‘Jingo’. I think he played it at Woodstock.

The young fogey

[Early Santana provides a number of elative singles — “Oye Como Va” works for me, too. Well played!]

I just remembered: “Thunder,” by Prince — played as loud as you can bear to hear it.

Some topics just don’t go away. Margaret compiles a further lengthy list:

Asleep at the Wheel, “Boogie Back to Texas”
Ben Harper, “Steal my Kisses”
The Buggles, “Video Killed the Radio Star”
The Housemartins “Get Up Off Our Knees”
Joan Jett, “Crimson and Clover”
The La’s (and Sixpence NTR and the Trash Can Sinatras), “There She Goes”
Commander Cody, “Beat Me Daddy (Eight to the Bar” and “Smoke Smoke Smoke”
John Prine, “Illegal Smile” and “Dear Abby” [I add, “Ain’t Hurting No One”]
Pet Shop Boys, “Go West”
Plastic Bertrand, “Ça plane pour moi”
Camper Van Beethoven, “Where the Hell Is Bill” [Excellent!]
Ben Folds, “There’s Always Someone Cooler than You”
R.E.M., “Stand” and “It’s The End Of The World”
The Romantics, “What I Like About You”
The Rolling Stones [and I add the Temptations], “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg”
Shocking Blue, “Venus”
BNL, “One Week”
The Traveling Wilburys, “Wilbury Twist”
and the Velvet Underground makes her smile, too [The Modern Lovers’ “Velvet Underground” makes me smile]

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