New Music for Old People: The Lyrical Complexities of Relationships in Song

By , Columnist

Ronnie Milsap

This column is like the title says - its intention is to fill the gap for those of us who were satiated musically in the '60s and then searched desperately as we aged for music we could relate to and get the same buzz from nowadaze. iTunes was the answer for me in 2003 and I have been following the new releases every Tuesday ever since I realized there was an endless stream of music I could enjoy there.

I also include older items that I felt were obscure originally and might not have been heard back then. The reason I am writing this column is to make sure others don't miss this wonderful music. These are not top ten items; but they SHOULD'VE been!

Below is a jukebox containing all the songs I picked this week. After you read about them below, go back and listen to whatever you like by just clicking on that title in the jukebox, or stream the whole playlist by clicking on the "play" icon at the top. It's free and it's the entire song. We're not selling anything. We're just in the business of hopefully making your days better by listening to great music.

The Lyrical Complexities of Relationships in Song

Songwriters have tackled this challenge for centuries and somehow it continues on. The key to descriptive love songs is to say what's been said for eons IN A NEW, FRESH WAY. I think these ten songs do that quite well and they come from every different direction. I don't think ten examples cover it, but we will return to this category in the future, so if you think I'm missing anything superb, post your favorite in the comments section and we'll get to it at a later date. Meanwhile, I hope this is a good start for everyone.

1. "She's Gone" — PJ Morton (2:35)

What better way to start out The Morton Report! PJ records modern, old-fashioned, rap, hip hop, and any kinda soul music there is. Here he’s in old-fashioned mode (my fave) and you hear the classic tale of a man who made a mistake, regrets it — but he’s gone too far and cannot convince the woman he knows better. Merely the first of many stories for this week.

2. "Don't Tell Me What To Do" — Air Traffic Controller (2:46)

So Dave Munro is in the Navy overseas actually being an air traffic controller and bangin’ out songs on a four-track machine and sending them home. He gets back to Boston, hooks up with his drummer-brother Rich, and they start the band named after his Navy gig. One of their favorite musicians, Bleu, hears their demo and signs on to produce them. In April 2010, their first album comes out with this track leading off. Unlike PJ, Dave is telling his girlfriend off, telling her she ain't the right girl for him and she’d be happier with someone she could ... control. A great track with occasional rare feedback on the vocal.

3. "What the F*** Was I Thinking?" — Jenny Owen Youngs (3:11)

Equal time versus Dave in the last song. This lady is pissed off: “Skillet on the stove is such a temptation, maybe I’m the lucky one who won’t get burned...” Seriously angry here. Well done as a cello-driven waltz as well. This is a great record for relationship-trampled women and also good-hearted men who know better than to behave like the protagonist in this wicked waltz.

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4. "Heart of the Matter" — Easy Pieces (3:10)

Hamish Stuart and Steve Ferrone, fresh out of The Average White Band in 1987, formed with studio bassist Anthony Jackson and Australian female wunderkind soul singer Renee Geyer and formed this quakin’ quartet in LA and released a pretty great album in 1988. This song, written by Hamish, is a more introspective approach to solving problems in a relationship — sit down and talk out the REAL problems; hence the title. Probably not many real-life scenarios replicating this lyric, unfortunately. But a great track for dancing just in case you don’t listen to the words.

5. "Please Don't Tell Me How the Story Ends" — Ronnie Milsap (2:58)

A Kris Kristofferson song, but the definitive version. This was Milsap’s major label debut in 1971 on Warner Bros. Prior to that he had singles on various indies in the blue-eyed soul vein. This track was one of the first clues he could sing the hell out of country music which he did later on RCA Records where he compiled an amazing array of #1 chart singles. Producer/songwriter Dan Penn produced this and it’s a sensitive production befitting Milsap’s strong vocal. Kris’s lyric is typical of his love songs; basically, I love you, I can see we’re in potential danger, but just let me enjoy it now and then the title. One of the gentler persuasions of this bunch. Over the years I have always rated this vocal performance over everything else on this great track.

6. "Blackmail" — Ryan Shaw (3:09)

This song has been recorded by David Ruffin, Candi Staton, Bobby Taylor, and a few other soul singers over time but remained obscure. I think this is the best version, but the most obscure of them all as it has never been released! My dear friend Jimmy Bralower, who produced it, played it for me a while ago, but it amazingly didn’t make Ryan’s Grammy nominated album cut. So I kept a copy and it has remained in my playlist. I asked their permission to run it here as it has another relationship story that comes up every now and then — a one-time-only slip by the guy and then a blackmail threat from the one-night stand. One and a half men wouldn’t understand.

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7. "I Need You" — Lynyrd Skynyrd (5:23)

From Lynny’s second album in 1974. I include this for one line in the lyric. I was producing them at the time and was a huge fan of Ronnie Van Zant’s Southern-tinged wordplay. This song is a flat out admission of strong love, but only a certain geographically placed plaintive man could say “I’m trying to tell you I love you in each and every way / I’m trying to tell you I need you much more than just a piece of leg...” That stuff just don’t work in New York or Boston. But I was there and I can tell you that a real sincere person wrote and sang that line. God bless ya, Ronnie; your words will forever put a smile on my face and a tear in my eye.

8. "After You've Gone" — Len Price 3 (2:53)

This is basically the veiled male pleading song; although thinly veiled once it gets to the chorus. I love the recurring line “and I’m only an hour away from a breakdown.” This is trio garage rock a la the early Kinks and the Who but won’t be confused with either as they do have their own sound. However all publicity deigns to mention their individual names so don’t blame me. This is on Little Steven’s label (another Van Zandt) Wicked Cool and it is from their third album.

9. "You Can Have Him (Live)" — Nina Simone (5:29)

You shouldn’t just play this in the background. To me, this is one of the greatest lyrics ever written (Irving Berlin) and the interpretation is in a class with Billie Holiday or Sarah Vaughn. In my eyes this is one of Nina Simone’s triumphant five and a half minute displays of singing, playing, and song selection genius. A woman talkin' to the woman who bested her in a contest to win the man... God knows what year this was written in, but women’s minds haven’t changed that much, but to be penned by a mere man — well, that’s something else. I hope I write a lyric this good in whatever life.

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10. "Just One Minute More" — Mike Finnegan (3:29)

I have known Mike for many years but we live at opposite ends of the country so we hardly ever see each other. We also do the same thing — play the organ and sing — and he is far better than I am at both. So years ago when he made his only Columbia album, the producer asked for songs I had written that Mike might be able to sing well (he could sing the phonebook well). This composition was inspired by The 4 Tops and Mikey loved it so they recorded it. It’s a despair-filled lyric as the singer’s woman is leaving him for another guy and he is pleading his case, basically. Levi Stubbs inspired me in “Bernadette” to write the line “He wants you for decoration but I need you just to live” and there’s a few other 4 Top lyric permutations in this lyric. Finnegan learned the song from the demo I made and pretty much imitated my phrasing but that rotten bastard sang me under the table, thereby preventing me from putting the song on any of my own albums. Ahhh, ya know I still love ya anyways, Mike! This is waaaaay outta print, by the way. See ya next Friday!

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