Monday, April 04, 2005

She said her life was like a motorway: dull, grey, and long, 'til he came along

Stephin's favorite recording of 1994, a song which he said moved him to tears when he first heard it, is Saint Etienne's "Like a Motorway," one of the band's finest and saddest moments and a fan favorite. Saint Etienne represents all that is right about full-on, unabashed dancey pop music. Although they are a bit more popular over the ocean than in the States, most American Stephinfans probably know lead singer Sarah Cracknell's silky vocals from the 6ths' track "Kissing Things."

One notable thing about "Like a Motorway" is that it lifts, note for note, the melody of the traditional song "Silver Dagger," which has been covered by many, including Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, and Dolly Parton. (Another tip of the hat is the line "In her right hand, she clasps a letter" which shadows the latter's line "In her right hand is a silver dagger.") This practice of borrowing elements from public domain songs is not uncommon, and even our own favorite songwriter does it. In a conversation between Stephin and Claudia, documented in 1994 in Chickfactor #6, Stephin said:

...I used to write songs by going through Alan Lomax's Folk Songs of North America and lifting the best parts of these folk songs [which are in the public domain], and I use samples. Welcome to 1994, darlings, originality is passé.

"Like a Motorway" is from the nearly-flawless album Tiger Bay, and I recommend obtaining the fifteen-track European version (which has bonus songs that are actually great, has superior sequencing, and doesn't tack on unnecessary remixes like the U.S. version.)

In the 69 Love Songs booklet, Stephin says:

There's an incredible Aphex Twin song, on the new Experimental Musical Instruments album, where he explores the sounds of bouncing [...] It's beautiful on speakers, but on headphones it's one of the major achievements of the 20th Century. Amazing. It's the best piece of electronic music I've ever heard.

Actually, the Experimental Musical Instruments album to which Merritt is referring is the Orbitones, Spoon Harps, & Bellowphones compilation, named by Merritt in TimeOut New York as one of the best releases of 1998. It's full of strange tracks performed on unusual musical inventions, and I recommend it to just about everyone including the most jaded listeners.

Just listen to Merritt's instrumental piece "Tea Party" from the Eban & Charley soundtrack album and tell me that it wasn't inspired by that Aphex Twin track - in particular, the sound of plastic cups succumbing to gravity.


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