You may recall back in June that I wrote a post devoted to several songs that are not so obvious but are perfect representations for the LGBT community. It was in that post that I informally challenged myself to add another recurring topic to this blog concerning interesting songs I’ve heard once or occasionally in the past.
And there are indeed quite a few worth writing about, so with that I launch a new recurring topic called [drum roll] “Allison’s Jukebox.” Now, I must confess that I was wanting to start this topic with some epic wide-ranging dissertation on all the music I prefer now and grew up with, or at least a series of such. But I’m so rip-roaring to get this started that the long essays will wait for another time.
So, let’s start with a song from Don Henley’s 1989 album The End of the Innocence. I have this album in my possession and had the chance to listen to it again a few weeks back. With its combination of razor sharp lyrics and beautiful melodies from Henley and his collaborators, nearly every song on the album looks back on what marked the decade of the 1980s: Greed. Consumerism. Military buildup. Desires for material things. The corruption of many a celebrated idol. And for the baby boomer generation, a yearning for much simpler times that were well back in the past. Alliterations and biting commentary, obvious and otherwise, are prominent in the lyrics. And while no idol is spared the critiques, there is still some room saved for retrospection and optimism.
Now, singling out The End of the Innocence‘s title track would be too obvious, although it is a pleasing listen in itself (just try to get Bruce Hornsby’s piano and Wayne Shorter’s soprano sax out of your head). Instead, I’ll single out and embed in this post another song from the album, one that literally sends chills down my spine when I hear it — “New York Minute.” It’s the 5th track on the album and clearly the darkest in content and composition. Have a listen to it first, but brace yourself: This is not a joyous tune.
See, I warned you it would be a dark song. The instrumentals fit that dark tone perfectly: The spare yet jazzy intro of piano and strings has a bit of a Big Apple feel, but it’s only a harbinger to that foreboding 4-beat tone that permeates the verses; when combined with Steve Madaio’s trumpet solo in the bridge, it creates a heavy weight the listener cannot shake.
That darkness is also prominent in “New York Minute’s” lyrics: Henley sings of successful people who get lost in dead-end corners (“And he won’t be down on Wall Street in the morning”), as well as others struggling to stay hanging on to relationships and success in a literally and figuratively dark town. Despite the despair, he saves room for a heartfelt belief that things will brighten up, and that someone — anyone — who will “make these dark clouds disappear” can arrive soon.
Now, I know that things seem dark for some right now, what with political uproar weighing so heavily on everyone’s minds. And highlighting here a song as dark as “New York Minute” will not uplift anyone’s spirits. But I like to think of the optimism at the song’s conclusion. That driving refrain cuts through the song’s dark tone, continuing unabated into the fade out. Perhaps it can serve as a reminder that rays of light — and hope — come along to destroy the night that frustratingly envelops all of us. Stay strong and optimistic, for better and brighter times do come. (And, yes, I promise that happier songs will be a part of this topic in the future.)