Girl Songs

The new, self-titled Ryan Adams album came out this week. I got a chance to hear the song “Kim”, that I hoped would be good. I like it. It’s probably silly to be excited about a song with my name. I mean, it’s obviously NOT about me. But I think it’s cool to have my name included in the long list of songs with lady-names in the title. I don’t think my name in a title will ever be as catchy as Toto’s “Rosanna” or as recognizable as Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May”. Hopefully it’s not as annoying as Sarah McLachlan’s “Adia” (Sorry Sarah. I think you’re cool…just hate that song). It got me thinking about how many girl-inspired songs I love. I brainstormed some and the list was bigger than I expected…and included songs from way before my time, up to ones just recorded in the last year or two. I narrowed it down to 15. Here they are, and the reasons why I think they’re pretty neat.

15) “Rosealia,” Better Than Ezra (1995): I had a huge thing for Better Than Ezra during my first few years of university. I especially liked this song, which was fun to sing along to. It’s not particularly deep, but it brings back good memories for me. And I think the name Rosealia is just so pretty.

14) “I Wish I Knew Natalie Portman,” k-os (2009): My favourite thing about this song is that it pretty much has nothing to do with Natalie Portman, and k-os apparently just came up with that title on the spot. It’s a great song, by a fantastic Canadian rapper and I dig the sampling of the Phantom Planet song “California.” Better to associate that tune with this song than with the old TV show “The O.C.” Plus, doesn’t EVERYONE wish they knew Natalie Portman? (A complete aside: this song title also brings to mind the hilariously titled “I’ve Got A Crush On Wendy Mesley” by Canadian indie band Showbusiness Giants…but I don’t actually like the sound of that song very much, which is why it isn’t officially on my list).

13) “Angie,” The Rolling Stones (1973): This is one of my favourite Stones song. I am not always a fan of the acoustic ballads, but this one is heartfelt. I used to think it was such a nice love song for someone either Mick or Keith really dug, but I’ve since read that it’s actually about Keith’s love-hate relationship with heroin. I’m sad that rock stars struggle with addiction, but damn if it doesn’t make for some good music.

12) “Natalie,” Bruno Mars (2012): When Bruno’s not making sweet love songs declaring his devotion, admiration and lustiness for the ladies in his life, he apparently likes to sing about killing them. Normally not something I would be down with, but I don’t actually think this is a misogynistic song. Guy’s got a right to be mad at a lady who steals his money and bolts, no? It’s a funky little story of a song, complete with handclaps and background “oooos”.

11) “Edie (Ciao Baby),” The Cult (1989): This song is here because it rocks. It was one of my favourite “hard” songs when I was young, and I still like it. Ian Astbury is a great singer. It’s an art inspiring art song. A tribute to actress and model Edie Sedgwick who became famous for her work in Andy Warhol’s short films.

10) “Suzie Q,” Creedence Clearwater Revival (1968): This is actually a cover of a song by Dale Hawkins, but it took John Fogerty’s gritty growl to make it big. Their version is a sprawling jam that goes on for eight-plus minutes. It was shortened for radio play, understandably. To me it’s the kind of song that demonstrates how great simplicity can be. The vocals and lyrics are sparse but powerful. The guitar just shines on top of the uncomplicated percussion.

9) “Cecilia,” Simon & Garfunkel (1970): I had a best of Simon & Garfunkel tape (yes, tape) when I was a kid. I played it repeatedly on my treasured Sony ghetto blaster. This song was my favourite. It just makes me feel like dancing. Lyrically, it’s not-so-happy, lamenting the easy way a love moves on, but it sounds upbeat. I sing it to my daughters at bedtime. Or at least I did, until my older one asked about the meaning of the line “When I come back to bed someone’s taken my place.” I didn’t really have an appropriate answer, and it’s now been removed from bedtime melody rotation.

8) “Darling Nikki,” Prince (1983): So I have to give props to Prince for this raw little song about the title sex-fiend, but I actually prefer the 2003 cover version by Foo Fighters. Prince’s version is more smooth and seductive (or maybe sleazy), but the Foo’s is rocky and fun. Either way, Nikki is a bad-ass, liberated chick.

7)”Meg White,” Ray LaMontagne (2008): This is a song I like more for the lyrics than the sound. It’s a tribute to the drummer of The White Stripes, and I am partial to it because I, too, champion Meg and defend the fact that she did more than play second drumstick to frontman and musical wonderboy Jack White. When I first heard it, I assumed LaMontagne knew her, but I’ve since read that he never met her before recording this. He was just a big fan. Kind of stalker-ish and cool at the same time. I love the simple, banging drums in this song, and think they’re reminiscent of her own style in the White Stripes.

6) “Jolene,” The White Stripes (2000): Of course this is a classic by living legend Dolly Parton, but I had never heard it until I heard the White Stripes’ version. It’s a bit strange for Jack to beg the beautiful seductress, Jolene, not to steal his “man.” But even still, with his weirdly awesome voice and the pared down vibe of many White Stripes song, it just so earnest.

5) “Ruby,” The Kaiser Chiefs (2007): This is a catchy, sing-able song from The Brit rockers, and that is the main reason I like it. It’s fun. They’ve said it’s not about anyone in particular, but “if you know someone called Ruby, it’s about them.” The only Ruby I know is my friend’s very sweet and beautiful dog, so I guess I can think about her, and her waggy little nub of a tail, when I sing this song.

4) “Rhiannon,” Fleetwood Mac (1975): Back in July I wrote a whole big post about this song, because I lurve it. Not much more to be said, except I had to think long and hard about where to place it on this list. It’s near and dear to my heart. But so are a few others, as it turns out.

3) “Layla,” Derek and the Dominoes (1970): Everyone knows the guitar riff to this song, and everyone attributes it to Eric Clapton. He’s a rock legend of course, but not solely responsible for this song. It was a co-write between him and Jim Gordon, and the original recording showcases the musical talents of the whole band, including Duane Allman. It wasn’t particularly well-received on first release, and had its biggest day decades later when Clapton recorded a slowed down acoustic version for his Unplugged album. I like both, but the original goes from that fantastic blues-rock vibe, and Clapton screaming his love for Layla, to the pretty, quiet piano interlude. It’s rich and layered. It’s supposedly written about Clapton’s love for George Harrison’s wife, Pattie Boyd. Juicy.

2) “Mustang Sally,” Wilson Pickett (1966): I am sure I heard this song when I was little. I wasn’t born in the ’60s, but it was part of my Dad’s musical youth, and he liked to educate me about the oldies but goodies. I can pinpoint the time I fell in love with the song though: when I watched the 1991 movie The Commitments. I was obsessed with that movie. And I played the soundtrack into destruction. I love how the band covers it, but I’ve come to appreciate the less flashy, slightly slower Pickett version more. I believe it more when he shrieks “whoa!” and “Oh Lawd!”  It’s not even the original, as it happens. Pickett re-recorded it after The Rascals, and the original recording by R & B performer Mack Rice. It was originally called “Mustang Mama” until Aretha Franklin suggested “Mustang Sally.” If I could sing without embarrassing myself, I would totally cover this song. Or at least bring it out at some drunken karaoke extravaganza.

1) “Jane Says,” Jane’s Addiction (1988): This song was an easy number one “girl-name” song for me. Jane’s Addiction reminds me of my youth, so it’s got that nostalgic factor. Musically, it’s quite unlike many punk/rock/alternative (whatever you want to label it) songs of that era. It has a distinctive steel drum beat in the background. It has a repetitive chord structure. It has lead singer Perry Farrell’s completely bonko vocals — screechy and bizarre, yet somehow so great. It feels like the band members are all just sitting around a fire or something, someone starts up on the steel drum, joins in with a guitar, and then the sing-along starts. But what makes this song so amazing for me is the story. The character “Jane” is a real friend and former roommate of Perry Farrell. She’s the namesake for the band, too. And her drug addiction, and attempts to kick it, are what this song is about. From a writing perspective, the lyrics tell such a great narrative. You get a complete sense of character in just a few lines. It’s like a short, short story set to music. Every time I heard the song when I was young, before I knew it was about a real person, I always wondered what happened to Jane. The real-life Jane kicked the drugs, and her relationship with the dealer, Sergio. Apparently this Jane partly inspired the “Jane” character on Breaking Bad too, which is cool.

Anyone on board with my choices? Have I overlooked some obvious and iconic song? Do you have songs with your name in the title? My picks are totally personal and subjective (as any preference in art really is). But I LOVE debating rock ‘n roll!! So feel free to disagree.


5 thoughts on “Girl Songs

  1. You referenced Jolene, and Ray LaMontagne, but you didn’t reference Jolene by Ray LaMontagne (and original song). It is a true gem. Off the top of my head, I would have to say “Anna Begins” by Counting Crows is my favourite. The Crows have also hit it with “Goodnight Elizabeth” and “Amy hit the Atmosphere. Elvis Costello immortalized the name Allison in song, but one of my favourites is “Veronica” from 1989. Gordon Lightfoot has a song called “Poor little Allison” that I quite like. This one requires more serious thought.

    • I don’t generally like Ray LaMontagne that much, so I had never heard that song. I looked it up, and it’s ok, but not in my top 15. Of course “Anna Begins” is a great song too. “Veronica” is a great and touching song, but I am not so much a fan of Costello’s singing. You know how I feel about Gordon Lightfoot.

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