Morning Countdown #6 (5/17/09)

1) You’re the Inspiration – Chicago
2) The Hollows – Why?
3) We Go Down Together -The Decemberists
4) Tellement J’ai D’Amour Pour Toi – Celine Dion
5) U Rock My World – Michael Jackson

Have you ever seen “Love Actually”? It’s a sweet piece of romantic drivel, and the whole point of it is that love is all around us. Well, the same thing can be said about music, really.

Just the other day, I was eating lunch in the main teachers’ room with several other teachers when I heard our vice-principal humming as he was looking through some paperwork. The melody sounded awfully familiar, and I realized after a few moments that it was “Amazing Grace.” It was an unexpected and rather sweet thing to hear (especially when I remembered our vice-principal’s mother had passed away the week before).

An even more unexpected musical moment at my school occurred a few weeks back. It was afternoon, my classes for the day finished, and I was playing chess with a group of my kids as I do pretty much everyday. As I was waiting for my kid opponent to make a move, I started softly singing Chicago’s 80s hit, “You’re My Inspiration”: “You’re the reason in my life…” Not looking up from the board, my Korean, born-in-the-late-90s, 6th-grade student joined me for the next line, “You’re the inspiration~~.”

I was stunned. “How in the world do you know that song?” I asked. “Rhythm Hero,” he replied matter-of-factly while a few nearby kids nodded. The kids quickly filled me in. Apparently, Rhythm Hero is the name of a Nintendo DS game where you have to push buttons to the rhythm of various songs (according to Wikipedia, the game is known as Elite Beat Agents in the U.S.). The game is quite popular among my students, which means they’ve become quite familiar with dance cover versions of, among others, “You’re the Inspiration,” David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance,” Cher’s “Believe,” Good Charlotte’s “Anthem,” the Village People’s “Y.M.C.A.” and Destiny’s Child’s “Survivor.” Since I found that out, I regularly find myself in sing-alongs with my kids in the midst of our afternoon chess games (“Y.M.C.A.” seems to be the kids’ favorite). It’s a nice way to unwind after classes, and “You’re the Inspiration,” the first song on today’s countdown, was the genesis of it all.

The next song is not quite as kid-friendly, to say the least. It’s “The Hollows” by the indie band Why?, and the lyrics refer to dying demons, Joanna Newsom’s left hand, “under done under tongue lung long frontmen,” and oh, two German men getting hot and heavy on a basketball court. What does it all mean? Your guess is as good as mine, but the song definitely casts a witchy voodoo, black magic kind of spell.

The Decemberists are up next, with “We Go Down Together,” my favorite track from their brilliant Crane Wife album. Interestingly, the lead singers from Why? and the Decemberists sound remarkably alike, all alterna-God-like, allowing the songs to play seamlessly.

Then we have the as-unalternative-as-humanly-possible Celine Dion with “Tellement J’ai D’Amour Pour Toi” (I Have So Much Love For You). The song was released when Celine was only 13 or 14, and it’s amazing to hear how precocious she sounds at such a young age. I had very mixed feelings about Celine for quite some time, but my ex was absolutely crazy about her, and eventually, I came around to be a fan. She’s an easy target because she’s so hopelessly sincere, and she has some loopy moments, but there’s no denying she’s got one heck of a voice. Me and the ex went to see her in concert here last year when she came to Seoul, and it was actually pretty awesome. And there was a really nice moment near the end when she made special mention of one of her back-up dancers who was adopted from Korea when she was a baby. So a great voice and a nice person, why knock that?Why?

The singer of the last song on our countdown probably knows more about being knocked about and around more than anyone: Michael Jackson. “U Rock My World” isn’t one of his best songs, but it’s still toe-tappingly catchy. That being said, I really wish it didn’t have the Michael/Chris Tucker dialogue at the beginning. Chris Tucker comess off annoying beyond belief, and Michael’s boasting (“I know I can get that girl…”) just sounds… well, a bit wacko. You know what I mean. Still a fan, though, Michael. I hope you rock the world at the London concerts!

So we definitely have an interesting mix of songs to choose from this week. “You’re the Inspiration” takes the runner-up spot for being so gosh-darn sing-able (just ask my students!). But for the top spot, it’s gotta be Why?’s “The Hollows.” Why? (pun intended) Well, the music is dark and awesome, but it’s really the indelible abstract lyrics that tattoo the song onto your brain. Again, it’s tough to know what the heck the singer is trying to say, but there’s something there that leaves no doubt that he’s singing from a place of truth. And whomever the “under done under tongue lung long frontmen” are, I wish I were one of them. Why ask Why?

Winner: Why? – The Hollows

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