Some Thoughts on “Alone” by Heart

Selected tracks from my Wicked Game playlist, which is basically the songs I fell asleep listening to on adult contemporary radio circa 1989 – 1991.  Some songs are older than that, but were still in rotation when I was 9, 10, 11.  

Alone – Heart: They were perfect in the 70s. They were perfect in the 80s and 90s.  They are perfect now.  The way Ann delivers “Till now…” gives me chills.  I know the Wilsons didn’t write this song, but Ann perfectly interprets and embodies it. Great, measured production ensures that the opening musical phrase actually evokes the lyric:

“I hear the ticking of the clock

I’m lying here the room’s pitch dark 

I wonder where you are tonight

No answer on the telephone”

And then the deft crawl:

“And the night goes by so very slow

Oh I hope that it won’t end though..”


And then Ann Wilson destroys you.

Some Thoughts About “With or Without You”

Selected tracks from my Wicked Game playlist, which is basically the songs I fell asleep listening to on adult contemporary radio circa 1989 – 1991.  Some songs are older than that, but were still in rotation when I was 9, 10, 11.  

With or Without You – U2:  I knew of U2 before The Joshua Tree in whatever way a seven-year-old knew about such things in the 80s, but I don’t think I consciously knew any of their music before “With or Without You.”  Everything about this song is beautifully and earnestly straightforward, almost deceptively so.  Here’s what Edge has to say about his approach to the guitar parts: 

“Notes actually do mean something. They have power. I think of notes as being expensive. You don’t just throw them around. I find the ones that do the best job and that’s what I use. I suppose I’m a minimalist instinctively. I don’t like to be inefficient if I can get away with it. Like on the end of ‘With or Without You’. My instinct was to go with something very simple […]. I still think it’s sort of brave, because the end of “With or Without You” could have been so much bigger, so much more of a climax, but there’s this power to it which I think is even more potent because it’s held back.”  (Flanagan (1996), p. 43, via Wikipedia).

The same could be said for Adam Clayton’s baseline, which, while driving in time with Larry Mullen’s kick drum, is beautifully simple.  Taken together, the bass and guitar parts imply the D–A–Bm–G progression, and remind me very much of the D-A-G progression from “I Think We’re Alone Now.”  “With Or Without You” sounds nothing like “I Think We’re Alone Now” in any other way, but I like this little bit of consanguinity.  I don’t have the technical vocabulary to say much more about other parts of the composition: what Brian Eno is doing on synth, how Edge arpeggiates and sustains (how Edge is Edge), what Lanois is up to on other points of production. What matters is what we’re left with: each of these men being exactly who they are.  Bono’s vocals are reserved and retreating (matching the sparse but well-constructed arrangement) until they soar (while Edge trusts his gut and holds back).  The vocal melody matches the lyric (the longing, the turn from tentative to certain), the rhythm section carries us forward in much the same way,  the guitar ebbs and flows perfectly, instinctively. 

I love what Edge says about notes meaning something and costing something.  A perfect summation of his signature sound, perfectly evident here.

Highways and Hunger on Substack

A new piece up on Substack. Check it out here.

An excerpt:

Built in 1955 to augment the nation’s first true superhighway, the Northeast Extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike runs from Plymouth Meeting to Clarks Summit, connecting the east-west route from the Philly Metro through the Lehigh Valley, the Poconos, and into Lackawanna County. 

Before and after the Lehigh Tunnel, bored by Army engineers in the 50s, there are stunning views of expansive green…

…Adam Smith’s invisible hand, is, for far too many people, more like a middle finger. Whether or not you contribute to food banks, you likely have accepted them as a para-capitalist solution to a problem capitalism itself was supposed to solve…

Old Tom Petty Songs I’ve Only Come to Know as a Full-Grown Man

But not me, pretty baby
I still love Tom Petty songs
And driving old men crazy…

Gaslight Anthem, “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues”

I love Tom Petty and always have. Full Moon Fever (near perfect) came out when I was nine, and I remember stopping on the video for “Running Down a Dream” because it was a cartoon. I got to know “Don’t Come Around Here No More” because it was still in constant rotation on VH1 even four or five years after Southern Accents. Into the Great Wide Open came out when I was in fifth grade and I remember Tom looking like a glorious paisley pirate on SNL. In between those things was the Roy Orbison renaissance, so the Wilburys were always there, too. The greatest hits record came out when I was in junior high, and by then I probably knew all of the big radio hits except “Refugee.” Wildflowers was huge, of course, and then there was “Walls (Circus)” which is maybe one of the best songs ever written.

So, from about 9 to 17, I grew up on the radio, video, and soundtrack hits. Then I started listening more closely to the greatest hits disc (and classic rock radio) and realized the amazing piece of work “Refugee” is. But for whatever reason (probably lack of cash) I didn’t run out and buy the old records. Then came The Last DJ, which I also loved.

So it wasn’t until I was in my late 30s and sprung for satellite that I hard songs like “Shadow of a Doubt (A Complex Kid)” and “Louisiana Rain” and “A Woman in Love (It’s Not Me).” They are amazing. Here they are.

Radio Jesus

My dear friend John Hardt just released a new track for which I wrote the lyrics (and he cleaned them up to fit). He said “I want to write an Oasis song called ‘Radio Jesus.'” I think we pulled it off.