Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Lost Musical Treasures in My Closet # 1: Todd Snider - Songs for the Daily Planet

Every once in a while, you go digging through your old CDs and find one you've been dying to hear, but you just hadn't thought about it for awhile. Here's an oldie but a goodie. I'm pretty sure it was Todd Snider's first CD, and it's called Songs for the Daily Planet. It's a little alt-country, a little blues, a little folk, a little of a lot, and rootsy more than anything. Not everything is dynamite on any Snider CD in my opinion, but the gems are priceless. Todd's witty, intelligent, self-deprecating, wry, and sensitive, and his music is all his own. If I have to toss out some comparisons, maybe Jimmy Buffett, John Prine, Robert Earl Keen, John Hiatt... but only when these guys are at their best.

Heading down to the Destin beaches back in '95, I was listening to a modern rock radio station, and the song, Alright Guy played. It had been a long time since I had heard anything like this tune, and it was immediate, irreverent, and laugh out loud funny. Although the material in the song is dated, the music stands the test of time. Here's a link to a YouTube video of Alright Guy. That was my introduction to Todd Snider, and impulse buyer that I was in those days, I had to go get the CD. Am I glad I did. It's gotten a ton of play over the years, and it's one I force-feed upon unsuspecting friends when they least expect it!

I'll hit the highlights of the CD:

It starts out with My Generation, Part 2, a cool, little satirical number poking at today's society. Obviously, it harkens back to The Who's My Generation, but Snider's tune is totally its own. Similar to Alright Guy, the lyrical content dates it, but for this one, that's precisely the point. The song is a stellar intoduction into some of what you're going to get with Songs for the Daily Planet. Here's a lyrical sample:

We were raised up in the hallowed halls
Of half a million shopping malls
And there ain't any price that we're too proud to pay
We'll buy anything from Diet Sprite
To one thousand points of light
Hey, I admit we're not that bright
But I'm proud anyway

Here's to hair gel
Hanging out at the health spa
Using condom sense
Watching Arsenio Hall
Here's to drum machines
Stone-washed jeans
Credit cards, fax machines
Big bow-headed chicks and frat guys
Wearing forty dollar tie-dyed t-shirts
And big, bold paisley ties
Here's to living off dad as long as we can
And blending into the crowd
Oh, my generation
My generation
My generation
God, I hope I die before I get old

The fourth, fifth, and sixth songs are an incredible trio. This Land Is Our Land leads off the trifecta, and here's a live rendition of the tune on YouTube. The end of it breaks into CCR's It Ain't Me. It's pretty good, but because I'm touting the CD itself, you should also hear the studio versions of all these ditties. Here's one more live version and it's more straightforward. This Land Is Our Land rails against the extravagances and wastes of America and Americans today, reminding the listener that Native Americans were here before Western Europeans and were the better stewards of the land. The aforementioned Alright Guy follows. This tongue-in-cheek crack at the point of view character in the song is so perfect, you sing or hum along with a smile on your face the whole way. The last song of the three, I Spoke as a Child, is absolutely wonderful. The lyrics speak with a wisdom that comes only after the the tempests of life wring out the soul. Here's what I mean:

I'd like to find that old time feelin',
Somewhere in between what I've become,
Somewhere down the line it must have seemed appealing,
So I suppose that it must work for some,
But I wanna go back to going crazy,
Believing every word that I was told,
You know sometimes growing up I think I'm getting wiser
And then other times I think I'm getting old.

When I was a child I spoke as a child,
But all I heard was how I should get ahead.
Now growing up it ain't anything but all this indecision
With these debts and doubts and worries hangin' over my head.
When I was a child I spoke as a child,
I wish I could remember what I said.
When I was a child I spoke as a child,
God I wish I could remember what I said.

For me, the high point of the CD is the song, A Lot More. It won't be everybody's, but that's okay. It's mine. Although probably not written to be so, it's anthemic to me and a song I can plant my heart's flag in and want to claim for my own. Sorry to do this to you, but it's worth it on this one to lay down all the words to the song:

Some guys are looking for diamonds,
some guys just wanna pay their bills,
some guys are climbing up mountains,
while others are digging for thrills.
Some guys just wanna win trophies,
some guys just wanna get girls,
and some guys swear they won't stop working
till they own everything in the world.

Well, good luck at the end of that rainbow
if you think thats what your here for,
but make no mistake about it, baby,
I want a whole lot more.
I want a whole lot more.
A whole lot more.

Sometimes I see people out here,
playing every single one of their cards
for bigger this or better that,
or greener grass 'round the pools in their yard.
They work and they slave
just so they can save up a whole lot to leave behind.
Yeah, some guys are just so certain success
is the key to their piece of mind.

Well, good luck at the end of that rainbow
if you think thats what you're here for,
but make no mistake about it, baby,
I want a whole lot more.
I want a whole lot more.

I want a whole lot more than treasures
that I can store down here on earth.
Price 'em any way that you want to,
hey buddy, I know what they're worth.
Yeah, some guys want attention,
some guys want girls,
and some dig kickin' down doors.
Some guys will want everything in this whole wide world;
I want a whole lot more.
I want a whole lot more.

There's a whole lot more.

Subsequent to A Lot More is the tragic You Think You Know Somebody about two friends, one of who is abused by his father unbeknownst to the other until they grow up and the cycle repeats itself, but in a sorrowful ending. Really, really good song. I really like Suzanne Vega's Luka and how it illustrated child abuse, but this one is just as good at the very least.

Somebody's Coming is a rocker that heartens the downtrodden that Somebody is coming back for His children. While it might bother a few folks that in one song, Snider is singing about smoking dope, quitting school, or getting drunk off his arse, then in another, he's proclaiming Christ's return, well, let me just say, that's what you're going to get with Todd Snider. And I love it.

The final song, Joe's Blues, transitions into the ghost track, Talkin' Seattle Grunge Blues. Hilarious and sardonically cutting at the music scene in the 90s, here's a YouTube video of the song. When the CD first came out, this track was the one about which I heard the most buzz. Over time, as the grunge wave went its course, the song may not have the impact it once did. However, I dare you to listen to it without cracking a grin. Can't be done.

Songs for the Daily Planet is laced throughout with fantastic songwriting and is part of what's best in the Alt-Country music genre. If you've never heard it, I'm heartily recommending it. Take a listen! On every Snider CD, there're always jewels to be found. Songs for the Daily Planet is a crown full of them.

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