This post is the second installment in our ongoing feature, the History Professor Shuffle, in which we ask a professor from the History Department to put his or her playlist on shuffle and then explain what’s going on with the first five songs that come up. This time around, it’s Professor Dubrulle who has to explain himself.
Because it cost money, I didn’t get in the habit of using iTunes. Instead, I use Spotify (which my thirteen-year-old son says is for “losers”). If you don’t get the premium service (which also costs money—do you see a pattern here?), and you don’t have wifi, your Spotify playlist goes automatically into shuffle mode. I created one playlist consisting of 614 songs which amounts, apparently, to 41 hours and 27 minutes of music. I went into shuffle mode, and this is what I picked up.
1) The Pretenders, “My City Was Gone” (1983)
When I was in high school, The Pretenders were not cool the way other bands were: the Violent Femmes (who have dropped off the face of the earth since then), U2, (remember, this was a long time ago), Def Leppard (our school had an official “smoker’s corner,” and everybody there listened to Def Leppard), or the Talking Heads (required listening for everybody who wanted to look like an intellectual). The Pretenders were never my favorite band in the way that, say, The Clash or Led Zeppelin at different times were my favorite bands. But I always liked The Pretenders, and I never got tired of them. And Chrissy Hynde had a great voice. This song has always stuck with me because among other things, it says that you never can go home again which is the situation I find myself in. As some of you might know, the beginning bass line served as the opening theme for Rush Limbaugh’s show. Apparently, he liked the bass line, and he was tickled pink about using a song by Hynde who was a well-known liberal, environmentalist, and animal-rights activist. Hynde and Limbaugh apparently got in some sort of dispute about his use of the song which was eventually resolved when he started paying a fee for it, and she donated the proceeds to PETA. In the end, somewhat surprisingly, everything was settled amicably between the two, but I think Hynde kind of won that one.
Historical connection: Not one that I can think of, aside from the fact that the song chronicles the disintegration of America’s Rust Belt (primarily Akron, Ohio).
2) Kasabian, “Fire” (2009)
I originally ran into this song because an instrumental version was the official theme song for the English Premier League from 2010 to 2013. Every time I watched game highlights or recaps, this song would come on. It’s kind of catchy. With vocals, it’s not that bad either, but the video is so dumb, it makes me cringe. The instrumental EPL version is below.
Historical connection: Nothing, aside from the fact that it was the EPL’s theme song for three years.
3) Camper van Beethoven, “Tania” (1988)
I have no idea how or when I first heard Camper van Beethoven. They were headquartered in Santa Cruz for a spell, so they were sort of local for me, and I know they were very popular on the college circuit in California when I was an undergraduate. But I am positive that I bought Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart, the album on which “Tania” appears, as a cassette in 1988. I remember listening to it on my Walkman (!) while hanging out with a girlfriend on the beach that summer. Camper van Beethoven was an iconoclastic band that mixed all sorts of styles together. For a long time, they had a violinist, too (you can hear him on this track). I really like the duet between the violin and the guitar in this song. David Lowery, the lead singer for Camper van Beethoven, later went on to form Cracker which had several fairly big hits, including “Euro-Trash Girl” and “Low.”
Historical connection: This song has the best one of all. It’s about when Patty Hearst (granddaughter of William Randolph Hearst, the fabulously wealthy newspaper publisher) was kidnapped from her Berkeley, California apartment in 1974 by the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA), an organization devoted to the overthrown of capitalism. The SLA wanted Hearst’s father to use his influence to free some of their people from jail and distribute food to the needy. Meanwhile, they brainwashed Hearst, and she joined the group under the code name “Tania” (hence the title of the song). She participated in a number of crimes, including a bank robbery. She was arrested, tried, and convicted. President Jimmy Carter eventually commuted her sentence. The image above was part of some SLA propaganda that showed Hearst had joined the organization as Tania. The song refers to the “seven-headed dragon” behind Hearst which was a symbol of the SLA.
4) Black Sabbath, “War Pigs” (1970)
Am I glad this showed up on the shuffle. Ozzy Osbourne is a joke now, but there was a time when he was really cool, and this might be the best song he ever did. This song came out when I was a toddler, but it wasn’t the kind of thing you heard on the radio. I had to wait until high school to hear things like “Iron Man” and “Crazy Train” (which actually was from Osbourne’s first solo album). But something like “War Pigs” was a bit different, and I don’t remember hearing that until I was in college. I’m thankful that many of my college friends were in rock bands, so I received quite a musical education. Say what you want about this video, which is as over-the-top as the song, but it has a certain tableau vivant quality that I enjoy.
Historical connection: Geezer Butler, the bassist and chief songwriter for Black Sabbath, claimed the song was a protest against Vietnam. Ozzy Osbourne argued the band knew nothing about Vietnam and that the song was just anti-war in a general sort of way. I wonder who has the better memory here?
5) Gorillaz, “19-2000” (2005)
“DARE,” “Feel Good, Inc.” and “19-2000,” all of which are by the Gorillaz, are among my daughter’s favorite songs. She really likes the videos, and the one for “19-2000” is definitely her favorite, but it’s clear she thinks the songs are a lot of fun. Every year, her elementary school has a father-daughter dance. Every year, we’d go, and she’d ask the dj to play “DARE.” And every year, the dj would just keep playing Katy Perry instead. So every year, we’d come back home, play “DARE” on YouTube, and dance to it at the house. The video kind of gives me the creeps (a gigantic moose by the freeway–what’s up with that?), but my daughter doesn’t seem to mind.
Historical connection: I can’t think of any, can you?