Many musicians dwell on the past, reminiscing about past heartbreak or loss, as we see with clichéd love ballads. Others look to the future, embellishing or postulating about forthcoming success. Surprisingly enough, relatively few musicians have the existential wherewithal to look at the present, unless of course they are telling their beloved how much they love them, which is really more about ensuring a future love. So with that in mind, I thought it would be appropriate to do a catalogue of the best songs that celebrate the present. So without further ado, here are my five favorite songs about ‘Today’!
5: Let’s Live For Today; The Grass Roots
The Grass Roots “Let’s Live For Today” is on this list for two reasons: it fits the subject, and is catchy as all hell. It is last on the list because of its overwhelming naivety and utter lack of foresight. The refrain, of course, is the poetic voice prescribing that he and his beloved should “live for today”, which is all well and good, but what about tomorrow? Lines such as “We’ll take the most from living/ Have pleasure while we can” sound like something that would come out of the mouth of a big business lobbyist securing a Republican candidate’s support for legislation that will surely turn an immense profit whilst simultaneously and irreparably destroying the environment so that their grandchildren will have to live in a dystopian future akin to the one featured in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. This seems ironic considering the group has a name rooted in the natural realm. Still, the song is so incredibly catchy that it was deemed more contagious than syphilis in the spring of 1967. Making the song all the more interesting is its homoerotic subtext. By employing the second person, the gender of the beloved is obscured, but given that the poetic voice is performed by a man, and that he says “Baby, I need to feel you inside of me/ I got to feel you deep inside of me”, it seem overtly that the suitor is a ‘size queen’ who is in dire need of a John-Holmes-sized phallus ‘deep inside of’ him. Pretty progressive. Of course, he may be completely heterosexual and just really happens to enjoy anal stimulation, which is totally fine if that is your cup of tea. For those who might contest this analyzed interpretation, it is important to note that this ‘couplet’ was actually added to the song by The Grass Roots, as it was not featured in the original version by The Rokes. Interesting addition to the song, gentlemen.
4: Today; Jefferson Airplane
Before Grace Slick lost all her artistic integrity and recorded the song “We Built This City” with a bastardized version of Jefferson Airplane dysphemistically known as Starship, she was a rock goddess who recorded classic rock with a real band: the aforementioned Jefferson Airplane. One of the classic tracks from the band’s trove of musical treasures was the melodic “Today”. The moody and soulful track is perfect for melancholy evenings, and though the lyrics are well suited to the tone, they can simultaneously come across as a bit passive-aggressive, or rather, aggressively passive. With lyrics like “I feel like pleasing you more than before” and “To be living for you is all I want to do” sounds like it was written by a person whose romantic life is on the verge of collapse and is exposing the true colours of her/his dependent personality disorder. It seems songsters Marty Balin and Paul Kantner may have used bandmate Grace Slick’s vocals to plant the seed for the whole emo trend. Still… when you are in a desperate kind of love, it’s a great track to play, and the fact that it’s framed in ‘today’ and not ‘forever’, as most love ballads are, alludes to the fleeting nature of love, making it all the more painfully bittersweet in an existentialist kind of way.
3: Boyz N’ Tha Hood; Eazy E
One of two tracks penned by Ice Cube that made it onto the list, “Boyz N’ Tha Hood”, originally recorded by Eazy E, was an instant hip-hop classic. Part of the reason it isn’t a little higher on the list is because it is almost like a karaoke track. Eazy E didn’t write the lyrics, and wasn’t even able to rap at the time the track was recorded. Dr. Dre and Ice Cube have noted how it took over a day to lay the vocals down, as Eazy E had to say each line by itself and took a number of tries to get the right inflection down. Thanks to Ice Cube’s lyrics, and Dr. Dre’s masterful ear, it sounds as if Eazy E were speaking his own words, but there remains something inauthentic about the process that taints the track. Still, the record contributed to the tone that would shape an entire sub-genre of hip-hop and asserted that rap had a depth that went beyond the top-40 fodder that earned Ton Loc and Young M.C. spots in Billboard’s top ten; it had a social message. The song catalogs the typical happenings of an archetypal day in Compton for a young man of colour. The poetic voice needs to bring a weapon with him in preparation for over-zealous gang bangers, witnesses drugs being brought to recreational areas like public basketball courts, hears about a friend who has turned to freebasing and steals from his own friends to pay for his habit, and details an instance of police brutality as a neighbourhood man “got beat for resisting arrest”. The song is problematic, not because of its inclusion of domestic violence, which from a sociological reading could be interpreted as a descriptive approach to an artistic synopsis of a case study, but rather because of the comical tone Eazy E takes with the last three refrains. This comical tone is perhaps understandable since somebody in the track gets charged with obstruction of justice for flatulating in court, only to follow it up with a melodramatic gun fight in the court room, but still, Eazy E’s boastful approach to slapping a ‘hoe’ weighs down the track. The social commentary kind of goes out the window with the courtroom fart jokes.
2: Today; Smashing Pumpkins
As far as grunge/alt-rock goes, there are few songs that are considered as classic as The Smashing Pumpkins’ “Today”. The song sounds upbeat on the surface, repeating the refrain that “Today is the greatest day I’ve ever known”, but what makes the day so great? It is obvious that the lyrics allude to some sort of past trauma with the references to “pink ribbon scars” in the final verse, but was this some sort of reference to cancer? An operation? Oh, I know… it’s about a kid who just got his/her appendix taken out, which totally fits because the poetic voice sings that her/his “belly stings”. Perhaps after the operation the pain went away and the youth is being served ice cream and is therefore euphoric in seeing his/her pain replaced with ice cream! Oh, wait, the song’s author, Billy Corgan, said he wrote it whilst contemplating suicide. So that, “cant’ live for tomorrow” line is not a call back to The Grass Roots “let’s live for today” mentality, but rather an assertion that he doesn’t want to live period. Oh… that means those pink ribbon scars are from a suicide attempt. This is starting to sound more like a cry for attention than a cry for help. Still, the tune is as infectious as SARS, and the band as current, so even though Corgan really pick up with Jefferson Airplane left off with the pity party bit and help to usher in the emo genre, I still love this song.
1: It Was a Good Day; Ice Cube
Ice Cube is the only song writer with two songs on this list, and deservingly earns the top spot with his old-school classic “It Was a Good Day”. Though similar structurally and thematically to “Boyz N’ Tha Hood”, “It Was a Good Day” is more refined, the former being a practice run for an emerging voice still weighed down by remnants of adolescence, and the latter being the matured perspective that has a deeper understanding of his own context. The song contrasts “Boyz N’ Tha Hood”, because rather than being an archetypal day, it serves to be an anomalous day, but the quality of the day if not strictly defined by what happens, but also through the negation of what doesn’t happen. The poetic voice, for instance, doesn’t get stopped by carjackers, get shot at by ‘cowards’, stopped for no reason by the police, hear of any friends being killed, didn’t have to use his AK-47, and didn’t see police searching through his neighbourhood looking for murderers. There is a sexual component to the song that is almost boastfully comedic, but there is an absence of domestic violence, which sullied “Boyz N’ Tha Hood”. Ice Cube’s reference to drug and alcohol use, as well as casual sex and gambling, seems to allude to victimless crimes and activities that serve as instances of escape in a social context that would be otherwise unbearable, and the only drug use in “It Was a Good Day” was marijuana. There are elements of Ice Cube’s work with NWA that illustrates a context that is slightly harsher in Compton than the one represented in “It Was a Good Day”, but his collective oeuvre certainly fills out those details. Also, no fart jokes. The song may not have a melody as pleasantly diverting as “Let’s Live For Today”, but it’s lyrical content is far more engaging, and challenging than any other track on this list, and it also manages to circumvent the ‘hardness’ associated with gangsta rap whilst relaying a message that is as socially relevant and potent as those dealt with in “Straight Outta Compton”, “Fuck Tha Police” and “Boyz N’ Tha Hood”.
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