This week, the New Pornographers release their fifth album, Together. To celebrate, we asked singer-songwriter A.C. Newman to take over the RS blog to write about the new album and songs that have inspired him over the years. Check out his first post, How the New Pornographers Became Black Sabbath, and read his second dispatch, on Felt's Ballad of the Band 12":
I was in the store Odyssey Imports on Vancouver's Granville Street when I picked up Felt's Ballad of the Band because it looked like the popular records of the time. That classic trick. It looked like a Smiths 12", though it was full color. The face on the front looked sort of like Michael Stipe. It was on Creation, the label that gave us the first Jesus and Mary Chain single. That was enough. It turns out that my first impressions weren't that far off of the mark.
I immediately loved it and I still do. It holds up better than almost anything from its time. Anyone who loves their Smiths with some Bob Dylan and Lou Reed thrown in should love it. That's the over-simplified version, and it only really refers to the last half of their career, the third-quarter of their career, but that is the time of this 12", so let's go with it. The intro ranks up there with the best jangling moments of classic R.E.M. Lawrence Hayward was/is a genius, and with Ballad of the Band, he said what many musicians think but never say out loud.
The song has always stayed with me. Now that I have spent half my life in a band, I understand the song more than I possibly could have at the age of 18. But even then, the chorus of, "Oh yeah, and I feel like givin' in" rang so true. A paraphrase of that line even found its way into the liner notes for our first album Mass Romantic. I believe I thanked all of our friends who "spurred us on when we felt like givin' in." At that point, I didn't even remember it was a Felt reference, the line had become part of my consciousness.
"It's all my fault, yes I'm to blame/Ain't got no money, ain't got no fame/And that's why, I feel like giving in" is, to me, the greatest ever couplet about being in a band. Second place? Felt's "How Spook Got Her Man": "I was going to be like royalty/I was going to come to the throne/I was going to be a personality/I was going to be so well known /What went wrong I don't know."
Not that Lawrence only wrote about failing in his music career. I guess I was looking for someone to sing along with my own feelings, so I noticed when he occasionally did it. Lawrence was also a master of the odd personal details thrown into songs that somehow sound universal. Like this one: "And where were you, when I wanted to work? You were still in bed/You're a total jerk." Then he ends with the self-referential final verse where he mentions how much he loves their songs "Crystal Ball" and "Dismantled KingÃ¢â‚¬Â¦", but not so much that he doesn't feel like givin' in, of course.
The next song on the 12" has the classic line (and title): "I didn't mean to hurt you/but you've gotta understand I was trying to enjoy myself." So he also sang about failing at love, but with that wounded asshole romanticism that I have always loved, the same one that you find in Gordon Lightfoot's "I'm Not Sayin'." The same one that you find in Belle and Sebastian's "The State I'm In." You know Stuart Murdoch must love Felt. Wikipedia will back me up on this.
I love how Felt's career spanned the exact length of the decade. Every release was in the '80s. Ten albums and 10 singles. It was conceptually perfect. They were literally the quintessential '80s band, yet they were also outside of their time. It all sounds like it could have been made today or tomorrow. If you listen to their collected works from beginning to the finish, it is surprisingly focused all the way through. It's like an epic novel. It's just a little over six hours. You should try it.