My Musical Girlfriends – Part I

miloHey Pal:

Thank-you for your last post, especially for reminding me of the greatest rock poster of all time.


A sort-of appropriate segue into my issue of the week, perhaps.

Do you like chick music? Do you dig it when the ladies rock out? Do you swoon when they croon?

I think you do, but I get the feeling a lot of dudes don’t. They’d rather get punched in the mouth than be caught singing along with Alicia Keys’ part of “Empire State of Mind” , even though it’s their favourite part.

I have no hang-ups. I have openly loved many albums by many women over the years. I have had some deeply emotional love affairs with some of these lady albums. I have also had some casual flings. Some have been challenging. Some have been easy. Some have been downright heartbreaking.

But I have loved them all in their own way.

Let me now take you through my top 10 musical “girlfriends” and attempt to describe the sort of “relationship” I enjoyed with each of them.

10. Hole – Live Through This  Live_through_this[1]

When the rest of the world was all over Kurt Cobain I was all over his wife. I’m not saying Live Through This by Courtney Love’s Hole is better than Nevermind – I’m just saying I listened to it waaaay more. Me and Courtney hooked up in university. I was entranced. Never has a train wreck sounded better. It was loud and raunchy, but still pretty and melodic. But mostly raunchy. Not the kind of album you bring home to Mom. Not the kind of album you marry. We had our fun. I moved on.

taylor-swift-600[1]9. Taylor Swift – Red

Be still my aging heart! A man my age simply cannot be caught cavorting with a 22-year-old’s album. It’s unseemly. It’s inappropriate! And yet there’s no fighting its charm – the perfect balance of pop and twang. Infectious! How can a girl so immature in love and lyrics be so astute in musical sensibility? It’s all too confusing. I can’t be involved in such a thing. I can’t be caught driving with the window down bellowing out: “You go talk to your friends talk to my friends talk to me/But we-e-e-e are never ever ever getting back together/Like, ever…”.  No. This will not do. Farewell, sweet Taylor. Be gone, child. Entertain someone your own age.

8. Lady Ga Ga – The Fame Monster The Fame Monster (2 CD)[1]

Filthy, this one. Pure filth. Like a lost weekend in a dank and dingy dive at the dying end of the Vegas strip; waking up on a broken mattress, head filled with nothing but a ferocious pounding and hazy memories of unmentionable sin and degradation.

My introduction to Lady Ga Ga was stumbling upon the video for “Lovegame” when it was throbbing its way up the charts. I saw this ugly, sexy woman in the middle of a gay orgy demanding a ride on my disco stick. I hadn’t known it was possible to be repulsed and aroused at the same time. It was baffling. I spent some time exploring these new emotions. Then Mrs. Pal and I went to see the meat-wearer in concert. She was two and half hours late and I dumped her on the spot. I don’t care how fascinating you are, or how pristine your song-writing and pop sense may be – you disrespect my time you are dead to me.

watson twins7. Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins – Rabbit Fur Coat

A delightful little gem of twang and harmony from an adventurous artist with a restless soul and her twin sister buddies. Beautiful voices delivering stark, biting lyrics about the joy and pain of existence, and the unlikeliness of God. The title song is a stand-out – a twisted little tale about the downward spiral of greed, covetousness and revenge. All the indie angst is balanced out when Jenny and her friends (including Conor Oberst and M. Ward) come together for a jaunty take on the Traveling Wilburys’ “Handle With Care”.

Jenny and I had some good times. Then she left. Like I said, she’s a restless soul, doesn’t know what she wants. Always leaving. Nothing to do but watch her go…

jenny - milk

6. Dixie Chicks – Taking the Long Way DixieChicks_LongWay[1]

This is the girlfriend who’s out of your league – pretty, talented and mammothly popular. So just enjoy your time before she realizes she’s slumming it, and goes on to marry a TV star.

Most Chicks aficionados cite Home as their crowning achievement, but I like what happened after they got lippy at George Bush and alienated all of the country fans not worth having: Natalie Maines’ righteous indignation bloomed, they starred in a kick-ass documentary called “Shut Up and Sing”, did the best Entertainment Weekly cover ever…

dixie - cover

…and made Taking the Long Way – 14 songs with not a dud among them. Not easily done. And when Natalie’s cry of – “And how in the world can the words that I said/Send somebody so over the edge/that they’d write me a letter/sayin’ that I better shut up and sing/ or my life will be over!” – segues into that anthem of a fiddle solo, well, that’s just about the purdiest darn “f@#$ you” I ever done heard.

cd_raising_sand[1]5. Robert Plant and Alison Krauss – Raising Sand

Maybe this one shouldn’t count – it is after all not strictly a woman’s album. That guy from Led Zeppelin is there as well. It was an unexpected pairing, and it produced one of the most startlingly pretty and profound albums of the 2000s. Mrs. Pal and I also saw these two perform live and unlike Ga Ga, they were not late. Nor were they filthy. They were sweet and quirky. Robert hammed it up, a legend with nothing to lose having a blast, and Alison was like his put-upon wife trying to keep the songs under control amidst his nutty vocal antics.

Ah, Alison.

Alison. Alison. Alison…

Uh, excuse me, Robert? Listen, I know this whole thing couldn’t have happened without you. The album is awesome, really it is. And I hate to be a third wheel. But would you mind stepping back? Like right back. Like right out of the frame? Just for minute? And could you take that microphone stand with you?


No? OK. I understand. Yes. You’re right. You’re the man. I shouldn’t have asked. Thanks anyway.

4. Lucinda Williams – Car Wheels on a Gravel Road car wheels

Alt country before alt met country. Americana before Americana was a thing. Ragged Lucinda had wandered the back roads of folk music for years until 1998’s Car Wheels on a Gravel Road was universally praised and made everyone love her, myself included.

Some albums are for snuggling, and some are for deep thinking, and some are for you-know-what. But this album is for drinkin’. Good hard drinkin’. Listen to her rough voice – she sounds hammered. Maybe she is. So be it. It’s beautiful story-telling.

So me and Lucinda would pound some beer and tequila and spend all night slurring and ranting some of the best lines in alt-country ever.

I’ll give you just one sample, the closing to “Metal Firecracker”. You want to know how to tell the story of an entire crazy relationship with all its manic ups and downs in just 17 short lines? Here’s how:

Once you held me so tight
I thought I’d lose my mind
You said I rocked your world
You said it was for all time
You said that I would always be your girl
We’d put on ZZ Top
And turn ‘em up real loud
I used to think you were strong
I used to think you were proud
I used to think nothing could go wrong
All I ask
Don’t tell anybody the secrets
Don’t tell anybody the secrets
I told you
All I ask
Don’t tell anybody the secrets
I told you

wrecking ball3. Emmylou Harris – Wrecking Ball

Pal, if you haven’t felt the sweet caress of an older woman in your earholes, you haven’t lived. I’d flirted for years with lovely Emmylou, of course. I knew Ms. Harris well. She was a legend for her harmonizing abilities – for making great cowboys like Gram Parsons and Steve Earle sound even greater – and for her solo work. But it was with 1995’s Wrecking Ball that this sophisticated, sultry woman – and I mean woman – got all up in me.

She roused me hard with this 12-song masterpiece featuring perfectly chosen and executed covers like Neil Young’s “Wrecking Ball” alongside nostalgic and profound originals like “Blackhawk”, a song about the fading of a small-town hero and the woman who’s riding him to the bottom.

So what made this album so special amongst her already huge body of work? Pal, you know as well as me – it was the stunning production of Daniel Lanois: lush and orchestral, shaving away all the rough edges for the most sublime sound imaginable. (Yes, Pal, I am picking a fight. It’s on.) Emmylou and I have been together ever since. Whether she’s serving up lush pop or honky-tonk stripped bare, the lovely Ms. Harris hits all my notes.


Oh, one last thing – you have spoken on occasion about songs to play at your funeral. Do me a favour. If I expire tomorrow, please make sure the sombre halls of the funeral home echo with the aching strains of Steve Earle’s “Goodbye”, as performed by Emmylou. I want no dry eyes in the place and this tune is guaranteed to detonate every tear duct in range.

OK. That’s it.

What, no 1 and 2?

That’s right. This post is long enough as it is. And my relationships with 1 and 2 are too deep and complex to sum up in just a paragraph or two. They get their own post.

So you’ll just have to wait.

Later, Pal.


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