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30 Day Song Challenge, Day 24: A song by a band you wish were still together

Heart times soul equals rock and roll.

It’s probably a bit of a cop-out considering Polaris didn’t “really” exist. The band, formed by Miracle Legion’s Mark Mulcahy, Dave McCaffrery, and Scott Boutier, only existed in the context of Nickelodeon’s The Adventures of Pete & Pete. Polaris finally stepped out of the TV set and onto the stage in 2012, leading up to a 2014-15 US tour and a couple of new records. As of this writing, the band has once again separated to concentrate on their own solo careers, but one can hope that–eventually–we’ll get a moment to catch another glimpse into that rock and roll world of Wellsville, USA in our favorite club venue.

30 Day Song Challenge, Day 23: A song you think everybody should listen to

A classic from “the greatest tearoom orchestra in the world”.

I shouldn’t have to justify this one. If you’ve never heard it, do yourself a favor and listen. You’ll be singing along by the end.

30 Day Song Challenge, Day 22: A song that moves your forward

I might be the only person that actually enjoyed the entirety of this album.

This viral hit by UK anarcho-socialist pop punkers Chumbawamba came out during a seminal time of my life. All hell was breaking loose with me personally: I was transitioning to high school, trying to figure out my place in the social hierarchy of teenage politics while attempting to keep my idea of life together as my family fell apart due to divorce. This was the time in my life that I dedicated myself to exploring computers and the burgeoning World Wide Web–fancying myself another “Zero Cool” or “Cereal Killer” from Hackers (The Matrix wouldn’t be released for another two years). This was one of the anthems of my rebellious phase, which might explain why I enjoyed the whole of the album when most folks (at least, around me) were repulsed by the underlying messages of anti-authoritarian, radical progressiveism, and social liberation.

My mother took my sister and me to see Chumbawamba during Atlanta’s inaugural “On The Bricks” concert series. I had only heard the song on the radio at that point, but her fellow “mid-life crisis” mom friends were going and thought it would be a good way for her to “spend time with the kids”. They played a few tracks that I had not heard before, and I was getting into their odd brand of musical anarchy when Alice Nutter, who had disappeared during a set change, came back to the stage dressed in full habit and swigging from a freshly-opened bottle of Jack Daniels for their performance of “Mary, Mary”. It was at that moment that I “got” them. My mother was confused, her friends flustered, my sister blissfully ignorant (she was only 5 at the time), but I was enthralled. I was forbidden to listen to their “trash”, a demand at which I scoffed before turning them up to 11. They weren’t just musicians, they were artists making a statement–a surrealist, absurdist, antiestablishmentarianist statement–and I ate it up!

“Tubthumper”, besides being a super-catchy pub song, embodied the spirit of rebellion and the attitude of irreverence that helped define my personality. This was the song that played loudly when things would come crashing down around me, and when you’re an angsty teenager, even “trivial” inconveniences could seem like world-ending cataclysms. This was also early into my “British Phase” where–in an attempt to flesh out my identity–I embraced all things UK, especially comedies (Monty Python and Red Dwarf among others, thanks to the local PBS affiliate), James Bond, The Beatles, and punk rock. This is when I developed the characteristic “mid-Atlantic” affectation that I still often display, leading to so many people exasperatedly asking “Where are you from, exactly?” and scoffing in disbelief when I answer (I may write further about that in a later number, but it’s probably beyond the scope of this article).

More to the point, this was a song that punctuated some weirdly dark times in my life. This was the song that reminded me that, no matter the odds against you, you can get up again.

You’re never gonna keep me down.

30 Day Song Challenge, Day 21: A song you like with a person’s name in the title

Do it, Rockapella!

Man, that ACME Pocket-sized color television and world band radio would’ve been a sweet prize to win! Too bad I never had a chance to school those other gumshoes on that gigantic map….

30 Day Song Challenge, Day 20: A song that has many meanings to you

Is it a snarky song of misplaced optimism or is it a darkly satirical song about impending nuclear war? Is the subject really optimistic about his post-collegiate future or is it just sarcastic angst regarding his lack of clear direction?

30 Day Song Challenge, Day 19: A song that makes you think about life

Besides every song ever? Probably this one:

What can I say about Tom Scholz’s breakout hit that isn’t covered in a new documentary on PBS? This 70s power ballad has always held a spot in the back of my mind that helped be get through both good times and bad. This was the first song I memorized on Guitar Hero and often used it to “shark” other players during the early days of the game’s rise to prominence. I used to tease the ex by substituting her name for “Mary Ann” in that haunting line “I see my Mary Ann walking away” before breaking into that face-melting solo.

I think, for me, the song really is about life in general, and the ups and downs we experience–love gained and lost, new careers and old, moving–the song plays like a memoir of a man looking back on his life so far, but the major chord structure lets us know that it’s all going to turn out okay. Ever the optimist, this is a song that reinforces that worldview for me.

30 Day Song Challenge, Day 18: A song from the year you were born

1983: One of the single best years in music history!

So. Many. Awesome. Tracks. One. Thrilling. Album. Thriller was a tour de force on the pop charts in 1983, smashing every record and selling over 66 million copies! In addition to being an unstoppable one-man hits machine, Michael Jackson knew how to make amazing music videos–he teamed up with some of the brightest minds in cinema (Landis, Coppola, Scorsese) to create not just music videos, but complete short-subject (and sometimes feature-length) films that centered around his tracks.

30 Day Song Challenge, Day 17: A song you’d sing a duet with someone on karaoke

If you see a painted sign at the side of the road that says “15 miles to the….”

Everyone loves this track, and no one ever does it correctly. My goal is to fix that. Who’s in?

30 Day Song Challenge, Day 16: A song that’s a classic favorite

There’s nothing quite cruising around with The Beach Boys.

So many tracks by this timeless group from Hawthorne, California that it’s hard to pick just one, but for the purest of good times, I’ll go with their summertime classic “Fun, Fun, Fun”.

30 Day Song Challenge, Day 15: A song you like that’s a cover by another artist

We all should dream to be as cool as Myke Scavone in this video.

How many essential 70s rock track could trace its origins back to at least 1939, with some scholars arguing that even that was an adaptation of a mid-18th-century marching cadence? Ram Jam’s cover of “Black Betty” is a staple of every “road rock” compilation album on the market, and for good reason: its driving beat, marked by a simple bass drum and cymbal couplet and punctuated by a grungy electric guitar riff marks time almost perfectly with the hashed lines down the center of the tarmac!

“Black Betty” is a song always in motion, and has always been associated with driving for me–especially long overnight road trips up, down, and across the entire North American continent. This track was also the namesake of my 2001 Mazda Miata–a name that conjured the attitude and the panache that newly single me was looking for in a faithful steed when I bought her in 2008. She lived up to her name, and helped me get to so many places not only in our travels, but in life as well. I’ll miss her, but I’m grateful for the time we had.