Another 30-Day Song Challenge: Days 15-21

When I last left off, I had completed 14 of the 30 songs on this challenge. Here are my picks for Days 15 to 21. Apologies for this taking a little long to update.

Day 15: A Song That’s a Cover By Another Artist

“Hurt” by Johnny Cash

This may be one of the best covers ever recorded; it’s become so legendary that YouTube channel Polyphonic recently included the song in a video about legendary cover songs. The original version was written by Trent Reznor, who also recorded it as part of his band/project Nine Inch Nails, and the original version is featured on the band’s second album, The Downward Spiral (which also features the band’s best known song, “Closer”). Coincidentally, Nine Inch Nails is set to join Johnny Cash (who was inducted in 1992) in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame later this year as part of the Class of 2020 (the induction was supposed to happen this spring, but got pushed back tentatively to the fall due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic). Cash recorded his version of the song in 2002 for his album American IV: The Man Comes Around, which ultimately ended up being the final album he released in his lifetime. Where the original version comes from the point of view of a suicidal addict trying to find some sort of feeling or meaning in his life, Cash’s version becomes sort of a bookend not just of a man’s life, long and troubled, but essentially of his own life, which had its share of pain, addiction, and ultimately redemption and salvation. Cash changed one word from the original lyrics (“I wear this crown of shit…” became “I wear this crown of thorns…”), which brought the symbolism from a man in a place of shame and filth to one of a man about to become a martyr, a sacrificial lamb to atone for his many sins. Cash was a man of deep faith and his gravelly bass voice was able to evoke a lifetime of mistakes in the hope that he can find his way in the end. Upon hearing Cash’s version, Reznor said, “…that song isn’t mine anymore.” I’m going to include both versions here because they are both so worth hearing.

Day 16: A Classic Favorite

“Could It Be I’m Falling in Love” by The Spinners

This song is such a classic example of what is known as “Philly soul”, a subgenre of soul music pioneered in the late 1960s and early 1970s by Philadelphia-based producers and songwriters such as Gamble & Huff, McFadden & Whitehead, Bobby Martin, and Norman Harris. Philly soul had a distinct break from the Motown sound that dominated the 1960s, which was largely beat-driven and pop-influenced with notable songwriters and producers like Smokey Robinson, Holland-Dozier-Holland, and Norman Whitfield. Philly soul featured lush, orchestral arrangements, with emphasis on strings and horns, and a much more melodic sound overall. Philly soul would ultimately lay the roots for what would become funk music. Funny enough, The Spinners were originally from Detroit (the original home city for Motown Records, although the label had moved to Los Angeles by the early 1970s, and with whom The Spinners had recorded in the 1960s), but their most influential recordings and biggest commercial success came from their work with the producers and songwriters in the Philly soul movement.

Day 17: A Song You’d Sing As a Duet with Someone at Karaoke

“You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” by The Righteous Brothers

I’m not a huge fan of Tom Cruise, but I have to admit that the scene in Top Gun where his character Maverick and the other Navy pilots are singing this to his flight instructor/love interest (played by Kelly McGillis) in a bar is pretty classic. Now, the part I’d be singing would probably depend on the gender of my duet partner. If my singing partner is a woman, I’d probably take Bill Medley’s part because I kind of have a low singing voice for a woman (thanks to my maternal grandmother, who had a speaking voice almost as masculine as Bea Arthur’s — albeit with a thick New England accent — and a singing voice that could conjure up thoughts of Lou Monte and his infamous cover of “C’e na luna”, an Italian folk song popular among Neapolitan and Sicilian immigrant communities). If my singing partner is a man, though, I’d have to take Bobby Hatfield’s higher-pitched part. Either way, the song is a classic.

Day 18: A Song From the Year You Were Born

“Never Gonna Give You Up” by Rick Astley

I’m not Rickrolling you! I really was born the year that this song was released! It was released in July 1987, when I was about 4 months old, and it became a #1 hit in the United States in March 1988, the same month as my first birthday.

Day 19: A Song That Makes You Think About Life

“One Thing” by Finger Eleven

Although this song was initially used in WWE’s tribute to Chris Benoit (before the facts of the double murder-suicide he committed publicly came to light), I actually associate this song more with his best friend Eddie Guerrero, a fellow wrestler who died of heart disease in 2005, about two years before Benoit. (WWE’s tribute video for Guerrero actually used Johnny Cash’s version of “Hurt”). The whole Benoit story is incredibly sad, tragic, and anger-inducing (when it comes to the double murder of his wife and son), and I strongly recommend watching the Dark Side of the Ring episode about his life and the actions of his final days. Anyway, I think this song really gets to the spirit of what Eddie Guerrero’s life was all about, and I think this song really makes us all look back on what we could have done in our own lives.

Day 20: A Song with Many Meanings to You

“Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac

While Stevie Nicks wrote this song at a major crossroads in her life: she was deciding between continuing her education or continuing her professional partnership with Lindsey Buckingham, who was also her boyfriend at the time. There’s a lot of contemplation and fear of the unknown expressed in the lyrics, which I think a lot of people can relate to. But this song is also very personal to me: it was my mother’s favorite song. She adored Stevie Nicks and my mother’s face would light up whenever she’d hear this song come on. Now that she’s in the late stages of Alzheimer’s, I don’t know if she’d recognize this song now…or even if the sensation of hearing it feels familiar to her. But I’ll always associate this song with her.

Day 21: A Song You Like with a Person’s Name in the Title

“Jane” by Jefferson Starship

I may have used this song in my first challenge as well. Of the three incarnations of Jefferson Airplane, Jefferson Starship seems to be the most underrated (Jefferson Airplane had all the iconic songs in the ‘60s while Starship had all the commercial success in the ‘80s). “Miracles” (off of their album Red Octopus) is my favorite song of all three incarnations of the band, but this song features a slapping vocal performance by Mickey Thomas (who also sang lead on Elvin Bishop’s “Fooled Around and Fell in Love” and would become one of Starship’s two lead singers in the ‘80s, along with Jefferson Airplane vet Grace Slick). This song does bring to mind Jane Fonda, who was a huge star but also a controversial one in the 1970s, when this song was released, although I don’t think this song is explicitly about her.

Stay tuned for the final part of this challenge, when I will be covering days 22-30.