Like a lot of people, the first time I heard him sing, I had no idea how much I needed to. It was late—1969 and I couldn’t decide what was troubling me more. The fact that I was the “new kid” at a boarding school packed, seemingly, with a cadre of rich, feckless jerks, or this ever-increasing nightmare that America was investing in called Vietnam. Actually, the two things, in my paranoid nature, seemed somehow intertwined. For music, during those troubled times, we had, essentially, two choices: Snarling or jokey protest songs about the War (courtesy of Steppenwolf and Country Joe), or simpleminded, whip-stupid paeans to how great the USA was like “The Ballad Of The Green Berets.”
The first weekend I was allowed off campus, I took the bus to the local record store. After checking out anything whose cover had pillowy letters, or was daglo pink or psychedelic (very important when you’re 13), the longhair behind the counter said, conspiratorially: “Kid, you don’t need that. This is what you want.” And handed me an ugly brown album, sporting a cover photo of a bunch of ornery, bearded guys who looked like they’d refused to surrender at Appomattox. I gave him four dollars and split.
—Peter Gerstenzang wrote a lovely memorial of Levon Helm.
I liked the Fats Domino-inspired groove of the first song and the kick-off-your-dancing-shoes ragtime of the second, but I was fated to hear the third song, sung by Mr. Helm. As this guy with the bottomless southern drawl began to sing, in the sad, outraged voice of railroad man turned farmer (no, forced to become a farmer), about what the Civil War had cost him personally, I sat down. And I started to shake. As this rich, twangy voice mournfully totaled up the cost of this tragic fight between North and South. And just knew I couldn’t be the only one who suddenly thought about how America was in the same kind of fight now, which was tearing Her right down the middle (which was cool to think). And how much it hurt because I loved Her so (which was totally uncool). But it was Levon Helm singing this song which made me realize our country’s situation was not new. This painful, bloody struggle for Her soul had always been going on. After three years of “Hell No, We Won’t Go” or “Love It Or Leave It,” there were actually deeper, more complicated ways of thinking about our country.
Gotye’s devastating breakup lament “Somebody That I Used to Know,” featuring duet partner-cum-foil Kimbra, moves into the Hot 100’s penthouse after selling a stunning 542,000 digital tracks. In reaching the top of the big chart, the Belgian-Australian born Wally De Backer evicted another Alternative Songs chart-topper, fun.’s megasmash “We Are Young” featuring Janelle Monáe, which headed the list for six weeks.
This is the first time we’ve had back-to-back U.S. No. 1 pop hits that were also Alternative chart-toppers—yes, ever. On the Alternative chart, ironically enough, the same two songs did the opposite do-si-do: After seven weeks on top, Gotye’s “Somebody” was replaced by fun.’s “Young.” That happened only last week—so these two songs were added to the all-time list of double-chart-toppers just in the last fortnight.” —Chris Molanphy examines alternative rock’s seemingly improbable return to the summit of the Hot 100, thanks to back-to-back chart-toppers by fun. and Gotye. (via sotc-nyc)