Keane’s “Somewhere Only We Know,” released in 2004, seems like it’s from another lifetime, because everything has changed so much since then. It seems like the world was more innocent then and so were we. Fourteen years is a long time, but not so long to make me feel like we’re in an entirely different eon. This piano rock ballad, already melancholy enough, is made even more so for me for this reason. I still love this song.
Rock and pop music in recent decades (since the 1960s) have always had iconic songs and music styles that define the angst and existential concerns of generations that were coming of age when those songs and music styles were popular. For the Boomers, it was The Beatles, Jefferson Airplane, or The Who’s “My Generation” or “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” For “Generation Jones” (my own age group) — those straddling the Boom and Gen-X (who were born approximately 1956-1966) — their iconic music was punk rock and the new wave of the early 1980s. For Gen-X, it was Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” or Alice in Chains’ “Man in a Box.” For Gen-Y (those straddling Gen-X and Millennials), Green Day’s “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” or Blink 182’s music might be good examples.
What about Millennials? Since 2009 or so, rock music as we knew it seems to have died as a genre, at least on mainstream radio. It’s been usurped by EDM, hip hop influenced R&B, and pure pop. But there are still a few mainstream bands that retain rock sensibilities (even if they’re not exactly rock) and produce music expressing this generation’s own unique sort of angst. Twenty-One Pilots — a newish band that mixes elements of hip hop, rock, pop, and EDM — seems to get them best, and of course it doesn’t hurt the bandmembers are themselves Millennials.
I really enjoy the music of 21 Pilots, even though I’m way past Millennial age — in fact I have adult Millennial children. Their 2015 rap-rocker, “Stressed Out,” I think captures Millennial angst best: the feelings of pressure to succeed in a society that has made their entry into the adult world so incredibly difficult, coupled with a nostalgic longing to return to the childhood world of fantasy, when adults promised them they could be and do anything they wanted. The bleak economic reality that faces them as they enter the adult years has proven everything they were promised they could achieve as children was a lie. “Stressed Out” is an anthem that describes that frustrating experience that– to a lesser degree or another — affects my own kids and all of their friends. It’s also just a great song, well-crafted, with extremely catchy hooks and very listenable.
“Peace Train” was a huge 1972 hit by singer songwriter Cat Stevens (now Yusuf Islam). He is actually Greek/Swedish and was raised in England and attended Catholic schools. Cat Stevens was one of the first “adult” musicians I loved when I was still in grade school, and “Peace Train” was one of my favorite songs from 1972.
I think there couldn’t be a better time to post this almost forgotten song, with the horrible things going on in our country (and the world) right now. Cat Stevens converted to Islam in 1977 and now devotes himself to philanthropic and educational causes and promoting peace. So much for Islam being a violent religion. That’s a stereotype due to a few fundamentalist extremists within Islam. There are loony fringes of all religions. Christianity is not immune and includes its own kind of terrorists driven by hatred and fear, and they’re right here in America.
Here is what he said immediately following the September 11, 2001 attacks:
I wish to express my heartfelt horror at the indiscriminate terrorist attacks committed against innocent people of the United States yesterday. While it is still not clear who carried out the attack, it must be stated that no right-thinking follower of Islam could possibly condone such an action. The Qur’an equates the murder of one innocent person with the murder of the whole of humanity. We pray for the families of all those who lost their lives in this unthinkable act of violence as well as all those injured; I hope to reflect the feelings of all Muslims and people around the world whose sympathies go out to the victims of this sorrowful moment.
He wrote this about his religion:
In Islam there is something called the principle of common good. What that means is that whenever one is confronted by something that is not mentioned in the scriptures, one must observe what benefit it can bring. Does it serve the common good, does it protect the spirit, and does it serve God? If the scholars see that it is something positive, they may well approve of what I’m doing.
Cat also continues to make music but it’s an avocation now, something he does because he loves making music. He has added Islamic music to his repertoire.
I heard this song several times today during my almost 700 mile ride home, and can’t get it out of my mind. It’s incredibly addictive and I think it’s a perfect driving song too.
I think this is one of the best songs played on mainstream pop radio I’ve heard in a LONG time–both lyrically and musically it stands above most mainstream music today. It sounds more like indie or alternative. I’m not even sure how you’d classify this. Is it indie rock? Indie pop? Hip hop? Reggae? EDM? 1980s or 1990s retro? Something else entirely? I’m not sure but it seems to have elements of all those genres and probably a couple others too. Somehow it manages not to sound chaotic and disjointed–all the various genres flow together well.
I was going to wait until I do another Monday Melody (sorry, I’ve been slacking on that series the past few weeks), but I’ve been a bit obsessed with this ’80’s hit by the Cure today and had to go ahead and post it now. Enjoy!
I’ve always had a weak spot for Elton John tunes, especially ballads penned by his long-time partner and collaborator, Bernie Taupin. “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters” is one such ballad from John’s 1972 album Honky Chateau. Why this moving and meaningful song never became a hit (and why the despicable, irritating “Crocodile Rock” did instead) I have no idea.
It’s also a song that makes me cry every single time I hear it.
I love the slow buildup, but it never overpowers you. The lyrics touch your heart without being too saccharine. It’s gritty like the big city it serenades but it’s tender at the same time. The simple message seems to be that at the end of the day, as Barbra Streisand sang, “people who need people are the luckiest people in the world.” No man is an island and all that.
Because it was never a hit (and I never owned a copy of “Honky Chateau”), the first time I heard “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters” was in 2000, when I heard it in the movie “Almost Famous” (an incredibly good movie and if you haven’t seen it you must!)
Have you ever been hit by an intense blast of nostalgia that almost knocks the wind out of you?
On the radio today I heard this Europop song for the first time since late 1983/early 1984 and was overcome by that sweet sadness that comes from realizing just how many years have elapsed. I was very young then; now I’m bordering on old. Wiser and more stable but more cautious and world-weary. I had no children; now I have adult children. I worried less, acted out more. I’m happier today than I was then, or at least more content. But I can’t help wishing I could go back sometimes, if only to do everything over the way it should have been done.
This song haunts me. I remembered it immediately but never knew who did it. I typed the lyrics in my browser and was able to find out who the artist was. We have the miracle of the Internet now; in 1983 doing such a thing would have seemed like science fiction.