National speed-reading

I’ll be on CBC radio’s National Playlist tomorrow morning at 11:30, and every day after that, at the same time, until Friday. I’ll be part of a team of “music makers, music critics and music lovers” - there will be four of us including host Jian Gomeshi - who will engage in a spirited debate about our favourite music.

Each guest brings in two songs (one new, one old) that they think should make it to the playlist. 8 songs are debated but only 4 make it to the weekly top ten - like ‘Survivor’.

I’ve written two “pitches” for the songs I’m proposing and I’ve massaged them into fifty-second sound bites for the show. This has necessitated multiple re-writes followed by a crash course in reading them very quickly. Tomorrow I will sit in a downtown CBC studio by myself and pretend I’m hanging with the other panelists in Toronto. At some point in the week I’ll be asked to present my pitches. I don’t think anyone at CBC will mind if I share them with you now. I enjoyed writing them and it seems like such a waste to have them go by so quickly on the air.

So here they are:

The Motown Records building in Detroit may have been demolished in January but the power and glory of the Motown Sound lives on, forty years after The Temptations recorded their first number one hit: My Girl. The song opens with one of the most famous bass lines in pop music history, followed by the most recognizable guitar hook of all time. When David Ruffin sings the opening line – the musical sun comes out and stays out. Written by Smokey Robinson and Ronald White from the Miracles, sung by one of the most successful groups in black music history - backed up by the world’s greatest house band - My Girl was destined for Hitzville - but the track has an additional magic that transcends the sum of its parts. Structurally, the song is pure genius and the seamless and brilliantly detailed arrangement contains one of my favourite bridges. Where else could the words “hey hey hey” convey so much meaning while simultaneously uniting the world in a blissful singalong moment.

I was preparing to write my pitch for The Arcade Fire’s “Crown of Love” when it occurred to me to check and see if it was, in fact, released in the last 12 months as the criteria for the show requires. Sadly, neither the AF album nor the most recent Weakerthans album made the cut. I defaulted to a great song from the new Bright Eyes record. This is what I will (quickly) say:

I was not a convinced fan of Connor Oberst and his band Bright Eyes, until I heard the quirky, jerky and totally engaging track – ‘The Arc of Time’. Mr. Oberst must be tiring of his “boy wonder” status. It’s hard enough to create a recording that is both innovative and listenable, lyrically meaningful and musically engaging without having to deal with the complication of a critical press with high and often specific expectations. It takes courage to confound your fans, and I admire this well crafted entry into the critically dangerous pop-song arena that confidently avoids any pop formula that I know about. Built on the dated bones of a Bo Diddley beat, this track knows instinctively when to change up – when to add and when to take away. The performances are infectious, the lyric cuts “to the deepest part of the human heart” … but most of all - I like the way it moves.