A shout-out to the #1 Song of the Year on Sirius XM’s Spectrum station: S,O.B. by Nathaniel Ratefliff and the Night Sweats. Although the title is abbreviated, the song’s principal lyric is “son of a bitch,” sung in a raucously infectious style. How long ago was it that “son of a bitch” would not have been allowed on the air? Then there is the other lyric, “Gimme a God-damn drink.” Not to mention the apparent subject, desperate alcoholism. More significantly, no one seems to notice or care. I should add that the song is highly original, damn good and well deserving of its #1 ranking.
Announcing a new category: Song of the Year. The first winner, for 2011, is Dawes, A Little Bit of Everything. For 2007, if I’d started this sooner, it would be Plain White T’s, Hey There Delilah. Also retrospectively, for 2009, the honor goes to Michael Franti & Spearhead, Say Hey (I Love You). I’ll fill in other missing years as and if songs of sufficient merit come to mind.
I was introduced to Dawes when The Current began playing Time Spent in Los Angeles before it was available on iTunes. (I know because I tried to buy it.) The clean, somber, thoughtful sound seemed anchored in the best part of L.A. When I next heard A Little Bit of Everything I was blown away, and the more I listened, the more it hooked me. It starts with a simple piano playing the tune and you can almost hear the piano singing the words. When they do come, they paint a picture and tell a story that is specific and intelligent, rhyming ‘San Francisco traffic’ with ‘join a demographic.’ An Andover classmate committed suicide this way (I think it was the Bay Bridge, not the Golden Gate, whichever bridge is in the song). The despair in these lyrics is palpable, but not so extreme that you can’t relate.
The song, however, doesn’t linger – it moves into an old folks’ home, and the places where our mothers now live come immediately to mind, even if they don’t have a buffet line. The old man, too, is sad as he looks back on his life; but for him, “a little bit of everything” is how he copes. By this time, too, a drum has been added to the lone piano, building momentum. In the instrumental break, a guitar begins to wail. We have been sucked in; now we are committed.
Then comes the capper: a young couple planning a fall wedding starts out as one more bit of sadness. “Baby,” the groom-to-be says, “you don’t seem to be having any fun at all.” Bride-to-be, however, tells him off and issues an affirmation: “Love is so much easier than you realize/ If you can give yourself to someone, then you should.” Out of hopelessness, hope. We pare down again to the simple piano notes. And amid some elliptical but deep-sounding phrases we are given a little bit of philosophy at the end, telling us, “Hey – don’t overthink everything”: “It’s like trying to make out every word when they should simply hum along.”
Of course, the fact that Serin and Marc were planning their wedding – albeit for August, not September – when this song came along, made it that much more personal. Three verses, three stories I could relate to. And the song ends, leaving you wanting more. Rhythmically, when Dawes sings “little bit of everything” there are two empty beats where you expect the phrase to end.
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