Whether or not you buy into the whole idea of New Year’s resolutions, sticking a new calendar up on the wall does provide a convenient starting point for new endeavors. We’ve probably all got something in our lives we’d like to do more or less of (in our case, it’s less drinking, especially with today’s monster hangover). Plenty of musicians have committed similar feelings to song over the years, which probably isn’t surprising considering that the music industry isn’t exactly a place whose denizens are known for their restraint or self-control. So let us aid your transition to the new year with a selection of songs about making changes — hopefully, for the better.
Iggy Pop — “Lust for Life”
Although the lyrics are actually somewhat ambiguous, this is ultimately a song about cleaning up, even if Iggy doesn’t exactly sound like he regrets sleeping on the sidewalk a great deal. Anyway, come on — if the man who once described his lifestyle as “[waking] up with bumps on the head, blood on my shirt and something green coming out of my penis” can clean up his act, so can you.
Los Campesinos! — “My Year in Lists”
Los Campesinos! and their shouty high-school-music-department pop are an acquired taste, at best, but this song is perfect for this time of year — it’s pleasantly cynical (“I decided that I do not believe in the new year anymore”) but also ultimately hopeful (“And I accept that it’s time for a change but not/ In places like this with people like these”).
Bob Dylan — “Maggie’s Farm”
If you’re thinking of ditching your stupid-ass job next year, then this all-time classic could well be your perfect soundtrack. Setting aside the various levels of allegory with which the lyric’s invested (it may or may not be about Dylan’s split with the folk movement), it’s ultimately about throwing down your tools and making a spectacular exit from a situation you’ve come to hate. We’d like to think Steven Slater might have been humming this as he slid down the escape chute, beer in hand.
Patti Smith — “Piss Factory”
On a similar note, Patti Smith’s very first single had this on the b-side, a poem that catalogued the shitty job she held as a 16-year-old, working in a “piss factory inspecting pipe”. Smith describes standing on the assembly line, shoved up against women who’d been in the job for most of their lives and who would remain there for the rest of them. The difference? “We look the same,” sang Smith, “Both pumpin’ steel, both sweatin’/ But you know she got nothin’ to hide/ And I got something to hide here called desire… And I will get out of here.” And she did.
Talib Kweli — “Get By”
Arguably Kweli’s finest moment, this samples Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman” and describes wanting something more out of life than just continued existence. It launches from Kweli’s grittily matter-of-fact description of his life into a joyous neo-gospel chorus: “This morning, I woke up, feeling brand new/ And I jumped up, feeling my highs and my lows/ In my soul, and my goals/ Just to stop smoking, and stop drinking/ And I’ve been thinking, I’ve got my reasons/ Just to get by…”
The Wallbangers — “Kick the Drugs”
The Wallbangers were a supergroup of sorts, featuring The Bad Seeds’ Mick Harvey along with various other compadres from around the Australian music scene. Their one and only EP featured this anti-drug garage stomper as the title track — the lyrics are hilarious (“GHB is a motherfucker/ Ecstasy will make you pucker/ Angel dust is just for suckers”) but ultimately also heartfelt. If you’re trying to cut down on your consumption in 2012, here’s your theme song.
Kirsty MacColl — “A New England”
Of course, it mightn’t just be a bad job or bad habits you’re wanting to leave behind in 2012 — it might be a bad relationship, too. And sometimes being the dumper in the end of a relationship can be just as hard as being the dumpee — a subject that this classic addresses with both tenderness and a healthy measure of dry wit. (And, yes, we know that Billy Bragg wrote this song — we just like MacColl’s version better.)
John Cale — “Changes Made”
There’s a school of thought that says the often-overlooked 1982 record Music for a New Society is Cale’s masterpiece. It’s a strange and difficult album — the music is often rather beautiful, but it’s also largely devoid of conventional song structures, while the lyrics are heavily laden with paranoia and depression. The ominous “Changes Made” — the only song with a full band, and one that Cale apparently wanted removed from the record — implies that its creator wasn’t going to stay in this situation forever, although quite how the necessary changes were going to be made didn’t necessarily bear thinking about, especially since the rest of the album was well-stocked with songs about both murder and suicide.
Saddam Hussein — “I Can Change”
Oh, for some of the acid that Trey Parker and Matt Stone must have been munching when they came up with the idea of Saddam Hussein being consigned to eternal damnation and spending it in a tempestuous gay tryst with Satan. This song finds Saddam trying to sweet talk his way out of the Satanic doghouse by promising to change his ways, with words that we can all relate to: “It’s not as if I don’t try/ I just fuck up/ Try as I might.” Satan, however, has his doubts — “What,” he asks, “if you remain a sandy little butthole?” Well, yes, there is that.
REM — “Walk Unafraid”
Whatever your wishes/resolutions/etc. for the new year may be, this is a song that probably applies to them, an anthem for following your heart and being yourself, not what other people might want you to be… even if that involves tripping and falling on your face a few times along the way. Given his general fondness for lyrical obliqueness, this is one of Michael Stipe’s most direct and open lyrics, and it’s about as close as we come to motivational music here at Flavorpill.
Spiritualized — “The Straight and the Narrow”
And finally, a dose of realism, from a man who’s probably more familiar with these things than most. “The trouble with the straight and the narrow,” notes Jason Pierce sagely, “is it’s so thin I keep sliding off to the side.” True, that.