The National Playlist: Spring Break
Each week we ask our writers to submit their choice of songs for a given theme. This week, our writers pick their favorite songs to celebrate the arrival of Spring.
“Springtime for Hitler” by Mel Brooks, from the movie The Producers
My parents used to sing this to me when I was a baby, moving my eensie weensie wittle feetsies in time like I was part of the Sturmtruppen kick line. The Jewish side of my family was none too pleased by this. But hey, pretty sure I was the only kid in my Pre-K class with a basic understanding of the Second World War, so there’s that.
“Maggie’s Farm” by Bob Dylan
I’ve always thought of this as a springy song, both for its nominal subject material and for its underlying tones. At it’s surface, it’s a song about working on a farm, or rather not working on a farm, and farm work starts up again in spring, right? But this is really a song about rebellion, about being fed up with some established order and finally saying “no more.” Critics have tried to narrow the song’s focus to a particular subject of protest, arguing that Dylan was writing about racism, capitalism, the service industry, or even the folk music scene itself, as Dylan famously went electric with this song at the Newport Folk Festival, ostensibly turning his back on the community and musical style through which he had reached prominence.
Whatever your interpretation, start this season with the awareness that spring is a time for old dogmas to decay into mulch and for new ideas to bloom and flourish. This is the time of year to reject the established order and make big changes happen, especially for young people. Mai 68, the Paris Commune, the Prague Spring, and the Arab Spring are all celebrating anniversaries. Student strikes and campus occupations at places like Columbia, Cornell, and Northwestern took place during consecutive springs in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Spring has sprung. Go stir up some shit.
“Legal Man,” Belle and Sebastian
This relentlessly upbeat song feels like you’ve woken up from your winter hibernation and are ready for spring to overtake you. The cheery, light, female vocals from Rozanne Suarez and The Maisonettes instantly gives this song a sunny tone, balanced by cool twangy guitar riffs that prevents the song from going all the way to summer. Just a nice breezy, fun love song that reminds you the world isn’t always a hellacious frozen tundra. If you aren’t sold on “Legal Man”’s place as the perfect spring song after the first minute, Belle and Sebastian make things pretty easy on you when the second half of the song turns into the whole chorus of vocalists repeatedly telling you to “Get out of the city and into the sunshine/ Get out of the office and into the springtime.” Thanks for the advice Belle and Sebastian—with a glimmer of sun ahead in the forecast, I can’t think of anything I’d like to do more.
“Talking Backwards” – Real Estate
This mix theme is perfectly opportune for me, as I am currently in the midst of formulating my personal spring 2014 playlist so I can listen to it for the next three months and then use it as a time capsule to this time and place down the road. I’m still working on it, but I already know that one of the principal tracks will be this highlight from Real Estate’s recent album Atlas. I like Real Estate (their last album, Days, is one of the chilliest pieces of chill music I’ve ever chilled to) but even I find them somewhat boring at times, and Atlas certainly has some dull songs. “Talking Backwards” is not one of them. Bouncy but relaxed, “Talking Backwards” is the perfect jam for those of us who won’t be spending the next week on a SPRIIIIING BREEEAK-type adventure but rather using it as a brief respite between stressful academic quarters.
“Onions” by The Mountain Goats
There’s something so visceral and primal about the coming of Spring. It’s like the instinct that wills trees to bud and squirrels to oscillate in panicked circuits, something that surges up through the Earth and makes your blood run warmer. It’s hard to realize how oppressive Winter is until its weight is finally lifted. The song “Onions,” typical of The Mountain Goats’ first decade, is lo-fi and ragged, a track from a string of albums recorded on John Darnielle’s Panasonic RX-FT500 boom box. The pagan energy of Springtime courses through Darnielle’s voice, bending it with the anticipation of better days to come. The track vibrates with raw, untamed excitement and a primitive, almost naïve hopefulness I can’t help but feel during Spring.
“Sitting Still” by R.E.M.
So R.E.M.’s debut album Murmur gets talked about a lot, and rightfully so, but really it should be talked about more, because not only is it quite possibly the greatest album to come out of the 80s, but it was also their debut. THEIR DEBUT. And it’s not like R.E.M. is some no-name one-album-wonder band: in their lifespan (RIP) they released 15 albums, and two of those albums are the mesmerizing (but for different reasons) Reckoning and Automatic for the People. I don’t know how they did it. But I digress.
Anyways, I honestly could have put any song from that album on this list – others that come to mind that especially reflect “Spring” are “Talk About The Passion” and “Shaking Through” — but “Sitting Still” especially has a magical hint of renewal about it. It’s hard to explain, because honestly, “Sitting Still” is just a stupid, simple pop song. Maybe it’s because you can’t understand a goddamn word Michael Stipe is saying (possible lyrics: “Up to plot a Katie farm / A kitchen sight, but not May Anne”). Maybe it’s the brightness of Peter Buck’s guitar. Whatever. For some reason whenever R.E.M. gets to that “I can feel you” chorus – that enveloping, blossoming chorus – it’s as if you can feel the snow melting around you. Then again, R.E.M.’s from Georgia where there isn’t really snow ever. I don’t care. Let me have my moment.
“Old Old Fashioned,” Frightened Rabbit
Like every other song on Frightened Rabbit’s incredible breakup album The Midnight Organ Fight, “Old Old Fashioned” isn’t about Springtime. Rather, it’s a song about a miserable Scottish man hanging out and working through some heavy shit in his miserable Scottish way. But in my mind the mood of “Old Old Fashioned” embodies all of the major themes of Spring: regeneration, warmth, regret over what transpired during the cold of winter, but excitement for the new possibilities that lie ahead. The song exudes excitement for new adventures, but it’s all perceived and appreciated within the context of what happened in the past.
“Springsteen,” Eric Church
Spring Break is full of perfect complements: Burnett’s and farmer’s tans; bikini tops and jean shorts; Luke Bryan and cargo shorts. But no dyad goes together better than cans of Bud Light and Eric Church’s “Springsteen.” I truly believe that the bedrock of this great nation can be heard at the intersection of superior drinkability and nostalgic twang somewhere on a beach south of the Mason-Dixon line.
“Going Up The Country,” Canned Heat
I always think of spring as the time when all I want to do is lay outside in the grass and not give a fuck about anything. This song — called the “rural hippie anthem” and the “unofficial anthem of Woodstock” — captures that sentiment about as good as any. It has multiple flute solos and consists of lyrics about just going away somewhere for the hell of it. If I ever go on the perfect road trip with my friends to go drink moonshine and hunt large game in the Smoky Mountains, and then I make a movie about it, this song will most certainly play during the trailer. It’ll be just like Deliverance, but hopefully without, you know, that one thing that happens in that movie.