Protest Songs: Let’s Not Make Another List

The world is hurting. From the earthquake in Mexico, the hurricanes in Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico, and those being savagely ripped apart at the hands of war, lives are being stolen all around us.

The heart and soul of our nation, world, and human race are hurting, bleeding more and more with every catastrophe. What adds even more wounds to the mix is the attitudes of people. There are some amazing people with great means stepping up to help victims of these tragedies, yet the same political, cultural, and meanness of society is in full force.

Just go on any social media medium and scroll through the feeds. Hate is all around us, even in these most trying times. I will never understand how to look at others through the lenses of race, religion, sex, or orientation. None of that denies the basic rights of being a member of the human race.

Lately, I’ve been fascinated with “protest” songs. I like to call them songs with a purpose. There are great compositions from yesterday that both remind us of how far we’ve come, but even more so, how far we need to go. Here’s a list of a few songs speaking to me today.

1. “Strange Fruit”

“Strange Fruit” is one of the most haunting, socially aware songs ever produced. It laid the groundwork for songs with a purpose. It was truly the pioneer. What does it mean for us today? I never want to loosen this songs ties to the brutality the African American community faced in the past and current day, but for me, at this moment, the bodies in the trees are those that you choose not to associate with just because you are different. This can range from race all the way to political party. This disassociation only causes deeper divides amongst humans and provides nothing for solutions.

2.”Blowin’ In The Wind” 

This song was originally written by Bob Dylan and has been covered by countless artists. My favorite version, and I would argue the most popular version, is Peter, Paul, and Mary’s. As Paul points out in this video, this song is composed of 9 questions. Although for me, each question can only be answered by another question. The two questions that strike me the most are “How many years can some people exist before they’re allowed to be free?” and “How many deaths will it take till he knows that too many people have died?” These questions were relevant in the 1960’s and they are especially relevant to this day, yet these question are so simple and can be easily answered.

3. “What’s Going On”

Again, I do not want to cheapen this song’s meaning to the people of African American decent and it’s purpose in the Civil Rights movement. I agree with every sentiment and hardship this song portrays against African Americans, but today so many more prejudices have come into light. The questions this song asks should be archaic. They should not even be applicable to today, yet here we are years later still wondering what’s going on.

4.”Mississippi Goddam”

Nina Simone’s voice on any track speaks straight to my soul, but this one catches me on a different level because she wrote it. The word “Mississippi” can be replaced with so many different locations like Ferguson, Charlottesville, or Flint, just to name a few. This song evokes anger, but more importantly it brings about frustration. It’s not about hiding our flaws as a society of humans, it’s about fixing them. Let’s never say “goddam” again.

5.”I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free”

Although this song was originally made popular in the 1960’s by Nina Simone, I wanted to provide a more updated version for two reasons. First, I didn’t want to list two Nina Simone videos in this list, although you can never have enough of Ms. Simone. Second, I wanted to show how relevant this song is today. As I sit at my piano and look over this song, the line that always strikes me is “I wish I could share all the love that’s in my heart.” If we all showed love, with no strings attached, then there would be no reason for this list or a single “protest” song.

In the end, giving love and expecting nothing in return is all our world needs. It’s so simple that we just don’t get it. Even the best of us that try, will fail, but if we all work together, we can create a movement. There is a solution. Let’s start showing kindness through love today to prevent a list like this being created tomorrow.

Meeting Royalty in Your Own Backyard

This week Mary and I had the pleasure of finally meeting her royal rockness, the Queen of Rock’n’Roll, Ms. Wanda Jackson.

Meeting Jackson was a huge honor and it had been a dream of mine as I am sure many of you can tell by my multiple posts. She was IMG_5307gracious and very kind. She held my hand as she told me the story of my favorite song and was amazed to hear that I have all but two of her albums. I told her how her music has touched my life, and that her later gospel recordings helped me through a rough patch in my life. She turned to me and responded, “Well sounds like I’ve been a big part of your life.”

Fun Fact: The jacket she has on in the picture was given to her by Jack White and she wore it in GQ magazine.

So in honor of meeting Jackson and considering her extensive recording career, I have decided to countdown my top 7 favorite albums.

Number 7: I Gotta Sing

This album was released in 1971. Since I’m only limiting myself to two favorite songs per album, I would have to say my choices for this one is her cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and her cover of “Fancy Satin Pillows.” This is a great album that shows the reason for Jackson’s longevity.

Number 6: Praise the Lord

Amazon.com

Amazon.com

I am a sucker for country gospel, and this album doesn’t disappoint this musical facade. Released in 1973, my two favorite songs off this album are “How Great Thou Art” and “Am I Not My Brother’s Keeper.” The liner notes for this album are interesting due to the fact her then pastor, Rev. Paul Slayer of South Lindsey Baptist Church in OKC, wrote the liner notes.

Number 5: Unfinished Business

This album is her latest and was released in 2012. My two favorites from this album is “Am I Even a Memory” and “California Stars.” This album was produced by Justin Townes Earle and he duets with her on “Memory.” This album shows that Jackson is still on top of her game.

Number 4:  The Many Moods of Wanda Jackson

This album has great covers that spread across a wide array of topics. “Fever” and “If I Had a Hammer” stand out for me. This album was released in 1968 and is a must have for any Jackson Fan.

Number 3: Right or Wrong7 Digital

This album shows Jackson’s soft and rock style in full 50’s form. The first side, properly entitled “The Sensitive Side” on the liner notes contains my first favorite, “Right or Wrong.” Jackson originally wrote this song for Brenda Lee, but she said she already had more hits then her, so she was going to keep it. My second favorite from “The Rockin Side” is “Who Shot Sam.” This album solidified Jackson in the recording industry as one here for the stayin’.

Number 2: The Party Ain’t Over

Mary's signed copy of "The Party Ain't Over."

Mary’s signed copy of “The Party Ain’t Over.”

Every Jackson fan was elated when this album was released. It came out in 2011 and was produced by the great Jack White. To be honest, every song on this album is a favorite and narrowing it down to two is tough. I would have to say her cover of Bob Dylan’s “Thunder on The Mountain” is top and then “Dust on the Bible.” There’s also these two really great songs, the late Amy Winehouse’s “You Know I’m no Good” and “Busted.” Then there’s “Blue Yodel #6.” Just buy it. You won’t be disappointed.

Number 1: Rockin’ with Wanda

LastFM.com

LastFM.com

This album defined women in Rock’N’Roll. This album is pure rockabilly, but with a twist only a woman could handle. “Hot Dog! That Made Him Mad” and “Fujiyama Mama” are barely the surface of this landmark album. “Hot Dog” was one of the first songs I heard of Jackson’s. To me, this is the album that set everything into place for Jackson’s career establishing women in Rock’N’Roll and the defining of a genre.

These brief summaries barely describe these albums or touch on Jackson’s legacy. There are many more outstanding albums in her catalog. I’m still reeling from the fact that I was able to meet her. I no longer have to keep my album covers in the back of my car just in case I run into her at the Wal-Mart.

Spinning and Reeling,

Gabe

An Unfinished Party

I am going to go a little rogue on this post. Instead of posting about one album, I am going to post about two that were made in the last 3 years. But do not worry, I have both of these exceptional albums on vinyl and that’s where I heard them first.

As one who frequents the record stores in the OKC area, I have seen a lot of hype and advertisement for Wanda Jackson. I Wanda_Jacksonam not sure how I had not heard of this legendary songstress before seeing her records in these stores, but I always love finding new favorites. Now that I have embarked on her material, I haven’t been able to stop listening to it.

Jackson’s career is wide and vast. She is a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee for early influence. She has sang rockabilly, country, rock, and gospel. She is the queen of Rockabilly and many artists, including Adele, have cited her as an inspiration to their music. Then, to top all the interesting facts I have learned, she is also a fellow Oklahoman.

Now in her mid 70s, Jackson has not slowed down. In 2010 Jackson worked with Jack White for her album The Party Ain’t Over. This album will probably run out of spins. Her vocals encompass wisdom, a vibrant youth, a little party, harshness, and delicateness. I am not sure there is an exact word to describe them.

This is an album of covers. The album opens with “Shakin’ All Over,” a number originally performed by Johnny Kidd and the Pirates in 1965. It’s a perfect beginning to this album, especially with it’s “shaky” sound effects during the chorus. The song reminisces 60s pop and rockabilly.

My next favorite is “Busted.” At first it was hard for me to listen to a song about an older lady with a child being broke, but that’s when I saw the wisdom. Her voice expresses experience. It is both in the past, the present, and the future. At the end of side one she goes into the Bob Dylan penned “Thunder on the Mountain.” This song possess all qualities of a typical Dylan song, genius lyrics, story telling, and unending interpretations. Jackson’s voice is so well suited for this song that it’s hard to not declare her the queen.

Side two holds all the same promises from side one. One of the best songs on the whole album is “You Know I’m No Good.” At first, I didn’t think it could be the Amy Winehouse version, but it was, and Jackson brought a new dimension to the song. You can see her sitting on a stool crooning this song from years of life experiences.  The song, and better yet the whole album, comes from deep within a her inner complexion.

These are just a few outlines of some of the songs, but in reality, each song is amazing.

Jackson then followed up with 2012’s, Unfinished Business. From the cover this album is unique. As I was reading wanda-jackson-unfinished-businessthe notes on the back of the album, I realized they were written by the famed author Stephen King. She truly touches all across every realm. This album opens up with “Tore Down,” a song about hitting rock bottom, yet her voice gives it hope. It’s one that every age group can relate to.

My favorite tune on this album is “Am I Even a Memory?,” a duet with her producer Justin Earle. This song does not have an age. It brings tears as you hear it. Jackson swoons over the lyrics, wondering if she meant anything to a past lover. Then Earle comes in and brings a very naive feel to the song. It’s pure musical genius. The song shows heartache at different  times, decades apart. It’s the telling of a 40 year old relationship, to a fresh one.

On side two there are many highlights, including “Two Hands” and “California Stars.” The first reaches back to her gospel years, declaring praises to the Father. “California Stars” is lyrically short, and professes that she would like to lay her weary bones on the California stars, yet I find that ironic, because I just saw her releasing tour dates last week.

These two albums are really touching me in a poignant part of my life. I find comfort in the lyrics and vocals. I feel lifted by a party of unsurpassed emotion. Without getting to musically “ooey gooey,” these albums are giving me strength at a time in my life, and everyone elses, to remember the world never stops spinning. I’ll survive.

WandaJacksonAll in all, I really hope to one day run into Miss Jackson at Wal-Mart or a local 7-11. I’d love to just thank her for her music and what it means to me and  her contributions to music world. I am sure she hears this everyday,  but it’s always nice to get things off your chest. I guess I am going to have to carry a sharpie and my album covers everywhere in my car just in case.

Jackson’s whole career is a party of rockabilly, salvation, and tremendous influence, but most parties don’t last nearly 60 years. I believe Wanda Jackson is going to continue to party for years to come and the invitations keep coming. This is one party you won’t find your self asleep on the couch, hung over the next morning, or begging for a ride home.