Playlist Friday: For lovers of similes and metaphors

I can’t promise to do this every Friday, so some Fridays will be more special than others.

This Friday’s playlist was inspired by the lyrics of the Tom Waits song “After You Die,” which are composed entirely of similes. Similes and metaphors, as you know, are the basic literary trope much abused by poets and songwriters of all ages. So it’s pretty impressive that some of them are still managing to cram songs full of really good ones.

“After You Die” – Tom Waits

What is it like after you die? Pretty surreal, according to this bonus track on Tom Waits’ latest album, Bad as Me. A few great suggestions as to what the afterlife may be like include “Like a rich guy clapping” and “Like a wild-ass painting.” At least that’s how I always heard this line – “a wild-ass painting,” as in “a painting that blows your mind.” But I just saw this written on a lyrics site as “a wild ass painting,” as in “an undomesticated donkey creating a piece of visual art.” I think this interpretation rift may turn into a breakaway religious movement one day.

Rain On the Midway - Single, Kevin Quain“Rain on the Midway” – Kevin Quain

A haunting love song from my favorite Toronto goth blues songwriter is a gripping answer to that age-old question once tackled in a Victorian sonnet – “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways”:
   I love you like tornadoes in spring,
   Like old guitar strings,
   Like Nina Simone sings…
Listen to it on iTunes and see if it doesn’t send shivers up your spine.

“Turn Me On” – Nina Simone

As for how Nina Simone sings – here she is, waiting to be turned on “like a light bulb in a dark room.” Gorgeous, heartbreaking song pleading for the return of a lover who left, which ends – appropriately enough – with a request for some fresh ice-cubes in her drink.

“Wild is the Wind” – David Bowie

It was Nina Simone’s cover of “Wild is the Wind” that inspired David Bowie to record his own version of this song. It compares the intensity of his love to the wildness of wind, which is as romantic as the wildness of the painting ass we encountered earlier is not. Incidentally, did you know David Bowie’s new album The Next Day is coming out in a couple of weeks and that he recently released a new wild-ass video for it, starring Tilda Swinton?

“Close to You” – Muddy Waters

In “Wild is the Wind,” David Bowie asks his love to cling to him “like a leaf clings to a tree.” Muddy Waters also wants to get real close:
   Close to you, baby, as cold is to ice
   Close to you, baby, as a egg is to a hen
   Close to you, baby, as Siamese twins…
Listen to it not just because the song is brilliant, but because I know you want to hear how “hen” and “twins” can be made to rhyme.

“Down Home Girl” – The Rolling Stones

And of course you know which band took their name from a Muddy Waters song? Damn, I just broke my own heart by discovering that The Rolling Stones did not actually write “Down Home Girl” – it’s a cover. Overly conscientious research has its drawbacks apparently. Though I doubt anyone but The Stones can make these lyrics sound stunningly sexy:
   I swear the perfume you wear
   Is made out of turnip greens
   Every time I kiss you girl
   It tastes like pork and beans

“May You Never Be Alone Like Me” – Hank Williams

Did you like “Down Home Girl”? Then you can handle some Hank Williams. I know you’re thinking, “If I have to listen to country, can I at least hear the song that prompted The Stones to sing I’m gonna take you to the muddy river / And push you in’ “- but that song doesn’t have any similes or metaphors in it. This one does.

“Crazy He Calls Me” – Billie Holiday

This song plays off well-known metaphors by promising to take them literally – from moving mountains to walking through fire. Besides being one of my favorite love songs of all time, it also has a great refrain, which can be adopted as an inspiring – though admittedly crazy – motto in many contexts:
   The difficult I’ll do right now.
   The impossible will take a little while.

“Is This What You Wanted?” – Leonard Cohen

The one Leonard Cohen song which is a shoe-in for this playlist is “Bird on a Wire.” But I don’t really like “Bird on a Wire,” whereas I love this lyrical eruption of paired metaphors describing the rise and fall of a love affair in Cohen’s libidinous style:
   You were Marlon Brando, I was Steve McQueen.
   You were K-Y jelly, I was vaseline.

“Love is a Losing Game” – Amy Winehouse

This playlist began with an upbeat song about death and it ends on a dispirited song about love. For the late and very talented Amy Winehouse, love is a losing hand. It sounds like she was in love with a gambler, though. Which reminds me of another Leonard Cohen song, but I’m getting carried away. Enjoy!

P.S. If you were trying to think of more songs with great similes in them and now you can’t get the aural chewing gum of Celine Dion’s “River Deep, Mountain High” unstuck from your metaphorical shoe, I feel your pain. Having landed myself in the same predicament while compiling this playlist, I nevertheless remembered that Celine’s perniciousness is an opportunity to tell you about a really great book on the nature of musical taste and how we let it define us. Let’s Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste by Carl Wilson is a short, well-researched, sweet and sensible book detailing the journey taken by its highly educated music-connoisseur author to discover why millions of people love Celine Dion. His findings will surprise you.


Playlist Friday: For lovers of similes and metaphors — 1 Comment

  1. Amazing playlist! Such a cohesive mood, and intense feel… perfect for a Friday afternoon :)

    Love love love Waits and Cohen and Simone and most of all Quain!