WARMER MIXTAPES #1311 | by Erin Hill [Erin Hill & Her Psychedelic Harp]
1. David Bowie | Space Oddity
I am a life-long Science Fiction fanatic, and I’ll never forget the first time I heard Space Oddity – it was on TV, and Bowie was probably lip-synching, but it was just him and his guitar, he was staring straight at the camera and came across a little like an alien, which for me was perfect. I was transfixed. And I could hardly believe – here was a combination of my two favorite things, Pop Music and a Science Fiction story! What could be better?! Before I could read, my dad would tell me Sci-Fi stories that he’d read, not reading them from the book, but telling them in his own words, especially when we were on long car trips. One of my favorites that he told me was Ray Bradbury’s Kaleidoscope. When I heard Space Oddity, I immediately associated it with Kaleidoscope, which also features an astronaut, lost and alone, able to see Earth, but stranded in Space. Space Oddity inspired me to write my own Science Fiction songs, combining my two great loves, Music and Sci-Fi. Whenever people look at me funny when I describe one of my songs as a Sci-fi Pop song, I add: You know, like Space Oddity (Major Tom)? and then their eyes widen, they nod in understanding and hopefully grok that I’m not a total weirdo – I have precedent!
3. Johnny Cash | I Walk The Line
When I was around 2 years old, I announced to my mom and dad: Johnny Cash is my music guy. I simply loved his voice! And I loved when he sang about trains. I’m from Kentucky, so I grew up listening to a lot of Country Music. In I Walk The Line, I loved how he hummed when the key changed, to get his starting note for each new verse. At that time, I’m sure I didn’t realize why he was humming in between each verse, but it was totally cool. I would try to sing like him and make my voice really low.
4. The Beatles | Penny Lane
I remember the first time I discovered The Beatles – I was around 7 years old, and my mom and sister and I were driving from Kentucky down to Florida to visit my mom’s brother, Uncle Thom. Uncle Thom had been in the Vietnam War, and was one of my two favorite uncles. Well, Mom had tapes of the Beatles’ red-and-blue-balcony greatest hits albums, and we listened to them over and over on the way down to Florida. It was this cornucopia of Beatles Music that was just poured over me all at once. When we got to Florida, I ran out of the car to my uncle and burst out Uncle Thom! There’s this great new group! They’re called The Beatles! You’ve got to hear them!! And my uncle nodded and said Yeah, I think I’ve heard of them!... Penny Lane is one of the songs that really stuck out to me on that road trip. When you’re a kid, that song is just a big bucket of candy! For one thing, it talks about all these wonderful fantasy things – first and foremost, it mentions a queen! And queens are beautiful Fantasy characters. I had no idea that there was a real Queen in England. So Penny Lane was about a magical land with a queen, and there’s a banker who wears a mask! I didn’t know what a Mac was, so my head made it into a mask -- like maybe a mask of a big bird with feathers, who knows? Or maybe different masks on different days, like Halloween every day! And there’s an hourglass, just like in The Wizard Of Oz and a shiny fire engine that probably rushes to the rescue of the queen, and there are poppies, again like in one of my favorite movies The Wizard Of Oz, and other magical things like a roundabout, which I imagined was possibly a big slide that went round and round, a motorcar (must be like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, that’s the only time I’d ever heard of a motorcar), and there’s a play, with a pretty nurse, maybe a puppet show play, fish pies (never heard of such a thing!), and blue skies over this magical candyland… Plus, the song has one of the best solos of any Beatles song, which I learned at a very young age to sing along with in near-perfect trumpet vocalese.
5. Eagles | Hotel California
This is another song that means something completely different to a child. For me, when I heard it, I had no idea about drugs or any of that. For me, it was a Twilight Zone song!! I was a huge Twilight Zone fan, and the story of this song was mysterious and it had that required component – a twist ending!! At this hotel, once you’ve checked in, you can decide to leave, and go through the motions of checking out, you can pay your bill and turn in your key, but then when you head out the exit, you enter a room which is – the foyer! And you are back! You can never leave, you can only check in again!! I didn’t know what the Mercedes Benz was, but I figured it was like when you go deep sea-diving, and then you get the Mercedes Bends, so the mysterious girl had probably been deep sea-diving, which made her even more mysterious. I was puzzled by Some dance to remember, some dance to forget… – I though it was wow, that was some dance! Some dance to remember, eh?, but then why would it also be some kind of dance to forget? My dad explained that one to me. And the desert setting, for a Kentucky girl, well, that was quite exotic. The solo guitar duet at the end of the song made me want to learn Guitar. I play and sing this song on the harp now; I love it.
6. a-ha | Take On Me
I first heard this song on the radio, and I had just switched stations and caught the tail end of it, the final choruses. Just from this, I knew I loved it. I asked my sister, What song is this?! I LOVE this song!!! and she said It’s Take On Me! After I finally then heard the whole song and saw the video, I loved it even more. It’s a perfect song, and a perfect voice singing it. The coolest thing about this song is that later then, I got to meet Pal Savoy, who wrote the song, and ended up opening for a-ha on their 2008 European and UK tour. I played solo harp and opened for them at a sold-out Royal Albert Hall, where, among other songs, I performed my version of David Bowie’s Space Oddity – and had the entire, sold-out audience at RAH counting down 10, 9, 8… and doing the handclaps all together! And I also performed my harp version of Take On Me, with the entire audience singing along! It was thrilling!
7. Jefferson Airplane | White Rabbit
Grace Slick – not only did she write the song, but she sings the hell out of it. Her voice is brilliant, and so is the song. This song gave me the confidence to write songs inspired by books and stories that I read and loved (like Lolita (Lo and Behold) for example). Jefferson Airplane had lots of literary references in their songs, including some Science Fiction references that I’ve come across just by accident in my Sci-Fi reading. And I know that there’s the way of looking at White Rabbit from the drug perspective, but it can also just be plain old Alice In Wonderland, which is awesome! White Rabbit is a direct inspiration for my song Giant Mushrooms -- if you want to look at Giant Mushrooms from a psychedelic drug perspective, that’s totally cool. But it can also be plain old Science Fiction (which is actually what I was thinking when I wrote it).
8. Judy Collins | Sunny Goodge Street (Donovan Cover)
Donovan wrote this song, but I first heard it with Judy Collins singing it, in my dad’s record collection. What great lyrics! The Magician, he sparkles! The firefly platform! I’m pretty certain now that there are drug references here, but to me, it’s always just a sparkly gorgeous, wonderful song I first heard as a kid. I didn’t think about it at the time, but the song also has – a harp! To me, it was a normal sound, since I started playing the harp at 8 years old. So to hear the harp on a record didn’t sound unusual, although I know now that it was. It was also cool to hear a song in 3/4 ‘cause the majority of Pop songs are 4/4. I loved this song so much, I choreographed a dance to it in College for a Ballet assignment. I made a story where the Music Box girl comes alive and has adventures and falls in Love, but in the end has to go back to being the Music Box doll. Kind of like Anne Francis in The Twilight Zone episode The After Hours. The lyrics lend themselves to telling a story. And Judy Collins voice is so beautiful! I especially love her My… My…They sigh…
9. Neil Young | After The Gold Rush
I dearly love Neil Young – his voice, his music, his lyrics… I remember when both his song and Bruce Springsteen’s songs were up for Oscars for the movie Philadelphia, and Neil’s song was so clearly miles above the Springsteen song, I could not understand how they gave Bruce’s song the Oscar instead of Neil’s. Unfathomable. I recorded a version of After The Gold Rush with voice, harp and pedal steel, and it’s just about my favorite Neil song. I love singing it! Another great thing about it is that it can count as a Science Fiction song because of the silver spaceships that come at the end! And the part about Mother Nature being on the run in the 1970’s… It makes me think of one of my Top Ten favorite Science Fiction films, Silent Running, from 1972. And still, today, Mother Nature is on the run, more than ever. It’s a frustrating, uphill battle, trying to save our planet, environmentally. Note that I didn’t say losing battle, because I really do not want to give up hope.
10. The Shangri-Las | Leader Of The Pack
Oh, my sister Heather and I LOVED this song!!! First off, what could be better than pretending to rev the engine of a motorcycle on cue?? Second off, what fantastic backups, and Musical conversations. Great for two sisters to sing back and forth to each other. What a story. And so sad! I have a nod to Leader Of The Pack in my song Lookout, Science, so if anyone has listened to Lookout, Science, they will immediately know that I’m a big fan of Leader Of The Pack!
+11. The Ames Brothers | The Naughty Lady of Shady Lane
This song is special to me because I’ll never forget the lesson I learned from it. My dad has the greatest record collection, and he would always play me songs – he introduced me to so much Music, from the 1930’s on up. One time, he said Okay, here’s a song by The Ames Brothers, it’s called The Naughty Lady Of Shady Lane, and I want you to listen to the words. I listened to the song, but my mind had wandered. The song finished and my dad looked at me with a big smile and an expectant expression and asked me What’s the song about?... I answered, Oh, it’s about some lady who goes around flirting and drinking and scandalizing this town, she’s bad. He shook his head and said I hadn’t really listened to the lyrics. So he played it again, and the second time, I really listened and I got the joke at the end! And I have never forgotten that – to pay attention, and that you can’t listen to a few lines and think you know what a song is about. You have to listen to all the words, take all the lyrics in, in order to really know and understand a song.
+12. Devo | Going Under
I could list so many Devo songs that I love beyond reason. I am constantly quoting Devo songs (like a stone inside my shoe). Going Under -- what is this song about? One summer vacation at my Grandma Hill’s house in Gridley, Illinois, I remember lying in bed listening to it over and over and over on my headphones. What happened to the guy singing the song? He got a lobotomy I think, because he fell in Love, and it was not allowed in this 1984-type Future. Tragic!! I don’t know if that’s what it’s really about, but that was one of my top theories. It’s also possible that he fell in Love despite having had the required lobotomy and he defied his programming. Either way, I do not think it has a happy ending, my friend. Most definitely tragic! Here’s a story – in my song The Eighth Sea, I have a Devo nod/quote (from Uncontrollable Urge) and I emailed Devo to ask them if it was okay, and what I should do. They basically gave me permission and wrote in the email We will not sue you. Which is now one of my favorite Devo quotes that no one else recognizes besides me!
+13. Bruce Springsteen | I’m On Fire
I fell in love with James Dean the first time I came across Rebel Without A Cause on TV. Around the same time, I heard I’m On Fire, and I’ve always associated the two together. The song makes me think of a lonely highway in the 1950’s. It’s interesting that the drum part/rhythm also is kind of Johnny Cash-like, so I guess it makes perfect sense I would love this song. I also do my own version of this song on the harp, singing and playing it. It’s very trance-like, and it has that painful-but-heavenly crush feeling to it. Later, when I got my driver’s license, I took a road trip from Louisville, Kentucky up to Fairmount, Indiana, where James Dean grew up and is buried. I made a mix to play on the way, and the first song on it was I’m On Fire.
+14. Lana Del Rey | West Coast
I first heard this song on the radio, and I was immediately entranced. This September, I played every day at the US Open Tennis Championships in Queens, in the Hospitality Pavilion. I heard West Coast on the way to my gig one morning, and I loved it so much, as soon as the song ended, I turned off the radio and just sang it to myself. Then when I got in, I started playing it on the harp, and gradually worked out my own arrangement of it right there, on the job. That first time I played it, working it out, just getting carried away, I didn’t realize I’d gathered a little crowd, and when I finished, they burst into applause and I came back to reality, feeling as if I’d time-traveled somewhere else… It’s another song that is very trance-like, and just takes you away – and it feels very James Dean-like to me as well. I also love that it has two very different sections. It’s like you’re getting two, two, two songs in one!
+15. Avril Lavigne | Complicated
I loved this song and immediately made my own arrangement of it on the harp after I heard it the first time. And then, after a year of playing and rocking out on it, I got "Weird Al"’s Poodle Hat album and discovered A Complicated Song – it is hysterical!! It’s even better than the original. And now, when I sing and play the song, I sing "Weird Al"’s version (extra cheese). Brilliant. You know, "Weird Al" has a fantastic voice, really impressive. Now that his new album has done so well, I think he’s getting a lot more respect, but I have always loved him!
+16. Everly Brothers | Take A Message To Mary
When I was probably 12 or 13, my dad and my sister and I went to Chicago to visit our cousins and see a Cubs game. While we were in Chicago, we stopped into an old record store, and I found this album called The Fabulous Style Of The Everly Brothers. It was a gorgeous album cover, and I decided I had to have it. I loved every song on this album, and was also thrilled to discover that the Everly Brothers had been born in Kentucky, just like me! I would record myself singing one of the Everly Brothers parts on my tape recorder, and then sing harmony with myself as I played it back. I loved doing that. I especially loved Take A Message To Mary because I’ve always been a big fan of Westerns. One of my earliest crushes was on Chuck Connors in The Rifleman, just to give you an idea. So this was a great, and tragic, Western tale. In the same vein as On The Road To Fairfax County. The Everly Brothers have been a huge inspiration to me. I’m pretty sure you can hear it on every song of mine that has harmony, which is most of them. I’ve had a hard time sometimes convincing mixers that my two parts are EQUAL – I always say Imagine this is the Everly Brothers, because there’s no better way to explain it. I’ve so often had to fight to not have a harmony be placed off in the background as the backup. When I play live, I say to the sound person, My backup singer’s parts are just as important as mine – we need to be equal. And on the album credits for Girl Inventor, I credit harmony vocals instead of backups – because I’m still singing with myself (or my harmony partner) the way I was being my own two Everly Brothers with my tape machine. There is nothing better to me than two voices like that, side by side.