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song reviews

Taylor Swift

Today Was A Fairytale

7

Fairy tales, princes, damsels in distress — yep, it's a Taylor Swift song. Her costume-drama vision of romance may get old someday. But for now, her tunes are so shapely that you hardly notice. Her latest, from the Valentine's Day soundtrack, is more or less a song-length hook bolstered by muscular guitars and a big, arcing chorus. And Swift remains a great lyricist, filling the story with touching details, like when she sings, "You told me I was pretty when I looked like a me... | More »

February 4, 2010

Jimi Hendrix

"Valleys of Neptune"

8

"Lord, I feel the ocean swaying me/ Washing away all my pain," Jimi Hendrix sings at the start of this magnificent discovery. The title track of a new album of previously unreleased Hendrix studio recordings, "Valleys of Neptune" was important to the guitarist, a heavy-rock hymn to rebirth that he worked on at multiple sessions starting in February 1969, yet never finished, at least to his satisfaction, before his death. But this version is perfection, cut on May 15th, 1970, with drummer Mitc... | More »

January 21, 2010

Beck feat. Feist

"Weighted Down"

6

Beck's ever-changing covers band continues on its Skip Spence project with this slow-as-molasses song from the Moby Grape frontman's 1969 solo album, Oar. Beck adds light funk and makes the chorus a group singalong, but between the depressed lyrics and Feist's smoky murmur, Spence's pain shines through. | More »

December 10, 2009

Beck

"Little Hands"

7

Ten years ago, Beck paid his first respects to Oar – the 1969 solo album by Moby Grape singer-guitarist Alexander "Skip" Spence – by covering "Halo of Gold" on the tribute compilation, More Oar. This version of "Little Hands," Oar's opening happiness prayer, is the first installment of Beck's remake of the entire LP, with guests Wilco and Feist, for his online Record Club. Beck's vocal is an eerie double of Spence's jaunty-ghost delivery, and the arrangement st... | More »

November 12, 2009

Rihanna

"Russian Roulette"

5

This harrowing glimpse into the mind of an abused woman will stifle all snickers. Over a constricted electro-R&B pulse, Rihanna abandons all hope: "It's too late to think of the value of my life." A single gunshot follows. | More »

October 29, 2009

Beck

"Winter Lady"

6

After covering the Velvet Underground and Nico for his "Record Club," dude takes on Leonard Cohen with help from Devendra Banhart and the guys from MGMT, Little Joy and Wolfmother. It's a predictably ramshackle project, but this tender, ramblin' girl come-on is some impressive slacker overachieving. | More »

Lady Gaga

Bad Romance

4

Gaga's new tune — a snippet of which she recently debuted on SNL — isn't up to the star's trashy-chic standards: The booming beat feels oppressive, the wordless hook is a little annoying, and on the chorus- "I want your lovin', I want your revenge" — Gaga's emoting takes her into bad-Cher territory. | More »

August 20, 2009

The Flaming Lips

Silver Trembling Hands

6

A classic Lips freakout with nods to Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd: screams, harp arpeggios and a bass line that bears down like a speeding trucker while Wayne Coyne sings about a girl who sees scary stuff, except – cue mellow soul-fusion guitar chords – when "she's hiiiii-iiiigh." Like 2009 compressed into 3:59. This story is from the August 20th, 2009 issue of Rolling Stone. | More »

May 14, 2009

Clipse feat. Kanye West

"Kinda Like A Big Deal"

8

This seductive cut finds the world's best coke-rap duo crowing cleverly over DJ Khalil's rumbling beat about diamonds, cars and how "it's a blessing to blow a hundred thou in a recession." Kanye nearly outbrags the Clipse, calling himself "the black Marshall meets Jay." | More »

The Flaming Lips

Borderline

6

Oklahoma's psychedelic-pop giants team up with local pals Stardeath and White Dwarfs for an arresting reinvention of Madonna's Eighties disco-pop classic. They start out by crafting a dubby haze: a minimal electro beat, some toy-box keyboard plinking and Wayne Coyne giving genuine depth to lines like "Stop playing with my heart/Finish what you start" with his high, earnest falsetto. But brace yourself for the chorus, where the song explodes as the crew unleashes dazzling space-rock ... | More »

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Song Stories

“Nightshift”

The Commodores | 1984

The year after soul legends Marvin Gaye and Jackie Wilson died, songwriter Dennis Lambert asked members of the Commodores to give him a tape of ideas. "And the one from Walter Orange has this wonderful bass line," said co-writer Franne Golde. "Plus the lyric, 'Marvin, he was a friend of mine' ... Within 10 minutes, we had decided it should be something like a modern R&B version of 'Rock 'n' Roll Heaven,' and I just said, 'Nightshift.'" This tribute to the recently deceased musicians was the band's only hit without Lionel Richie, who had left for a solo career.

More Song Stories entries »
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