Eight fall classics: An autumn playlist for Thanksgiving
Yes, that's a Bob Dylan cameo in "Gone Till November."
By Peter Gerstenzang
All of us rock and roll kids have some reason to be thankful this holiday. Maybe it's the beautiful orange foliage. Or the fact that we just defeated a really bad guy running for President. A former missionary, who probably ate cannibals. In that spirit of the season, of Thanksgiving, I offer up a handful of songs that invoke autumn. In imagery, vibe, sometimes by their very title. Listen, then. And be grateful.
8. The Band - "King Harvest (Has Surely Come)" from The Band
According to both Robbie Robertson and Levon Helm (who'd soon become each others' Superman and Lex Luthor), this classic Americana album is all about Autumn. "When the harvest is in and the carnival is in town," said Helm. While Robbie's Fender clucks like a sick chicken and Levon's drums beat like a life-threatening arrhythmia, Richard Manuel spins the tale of a farmer whose life has reached its breaking point. His barn's burned down, his horse has gone mad, then things get really bad. He prays his union will save him. But sounds so hopeless, he could be working at Wal.Mart. Hear Richard and Levon sing, "Corn in the field/Listen to the rice when the wind blows cross the water." Feel the chill.
7. Neil Young - "Harvest Moon" from Harvest Moon
For years, Neil's hippie fans had been begging him to stop with that discordant squall capable of shattering precious metals. And to play something so mellow it'd inspire deep hits on a bong. The kind that make you sound like you're breathing with an iron lung. In 1992, Young assented and brought forth this gem, the sequel to his biggest-selling album. Sung to the accompaniment of detuned guitar, brushes and Spooner Oldham's recessive organ, Young yowls about cool nighttimes, slow dancing and one big-ass moon. In an unsurprising bit of bi-polar behavior, his next album was as grungy as a 20-year-old shower mat.
6. Wyclef Jean - "Gone Til November" from The Carnival
Hip-hop star turned Ritz Cracker shill, Wyclef made this rangy, woozy mini-masterpiece about our eleventh month. Beautifully approximating the schizziness of November's extremes, redolent of both beauty and sadness. The real treat is the video, where Clef wanders woefully in one surreal freaking airport. And if he's not having a hard enough time? At one point, sitting next to him, is Master Thespian Bob Dylan. Bob nods. Wyclef wonders, 'Who is this weird little spider monkey?' The tune is gorgeous; the strings, sick!
5. Yo La Tengo - "Autumn Sweater" from I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One
A Fall classic, delivered neurotically by rock's Alvy Singer and Annie Hall. Over Georgia Hubley's complex drum pattern and Ira Kaplan's minimalist organ, this husband-and-wife team conjure up the season, by performing this tune. This quiet song may also remind you of our current U.S. Congress. Hushed and secretive. But you just know something bad is going on here. And it's echoed in the lyrics: "We could slip away, wouldn't that be better/ Me with nothing to say, and you in your autumn sweater."
4. The Kinks - "Autumn Almanac" from Kinks Kronikles
Even when Ray Davies was young, he was old. On this cult classic, an old geezer rhapsodizes about caterpillars, sweeping leaves into a sack and other mundane tasks of the season. But it's all okay, because after the raking, he can look forward to tea and "toasted, buttered currant buns." With better detail than most novelists and a great music hall chorus, The Kinks illumine a quiet corner of life usually passed over in British rock. Except by Queen. Kidding!
3. Fall Out Boy - "Grand Theft Autumn" from Take This to Your Grave
Even funny-looking emo boys with questionable taste in hats aren't immune to the effects of fall. Most particularly, Fall Out Boy. On this bracing pop-punk rocker, Patrick Stump wails about (what else?) a girl who's with the wrong guy. Fall is never mentioned explicitly on this song, but 'Grand Theft' does have a truly autumnal vibe. "You were the last good thing about this part of town," Stump sings. It's all about lasts. Last chances, last months and hopefully, the last time Stump sports that just-had-electroshock-therapy-haircut. And in case, I haven't made it clear: a great freaking song.
2. Frank Sinatra - "Autumn In New York" from Come Fly With Me
When he wasn't smoking or sucker punching unsuspecting journalists, Ol' Blue Eyes apparently sang. And well. Here, against the lush orchestration of Nelson Riddle, Frank croons about fall in Manhattan; when the trees are turning and the muggers wear weather-appropriate sweaters. This Vernon Duke classic seems designed for Sinatra. Like the fedora he wears on the album cover. Which sets up an interesting comparison with Fall Out Boy. We've come very far with recording techniques. But made such little progress with hats.
1. Van Morrison - "Autumn Song" from Hard Nose the Highway
Don't be fooled by the worst cover art in rock history. Or the many slack tunes on this follow-up to St. Dominic's Preview. What was my point again? Oh yeah, this is a beautifully-nuanced, jazzy celebration of fall pleasures by one of rock's few reigning geniuses. He sports both a great musical gift and the personality of that cantankerous troll who lived underneath the bridge. Still, here, the notes fall like brown leaves, Van's phrasing is humorous and easygoing. And who else describes the sun as having "glamor"? Only Van, who can make a season sound like a life-changing event. Hopefully, he's finally ditched the mirror-studded leisure suit he wore at The Last Waltz. That noxious ensemble could make you forget anything. Yes. Even glorious Autumn. The season now upon us.
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