Monday, August 13, 2012

Welcome to Project Noir Songs

Sunday was a day of research for what could be an interesting and enjoyable project involving noir and crime songs, and you can help.

First, what I realized during the day's listening and thinking: My favorite crime and noir songs grab me with their atmosphere more than with their plots. Some, in fact, are not about crime at all, at least not in the traditional crime-story sense.

I realized, too, that I'll have to listen to more Dream Syndicate and Nick Cave if I'm to learn to appreciate them. I found their songs, often recommended in crime-song discussions, too arch, too deliberately weird, too aware that they are recreating tradition. But a coffee server/smoothie maker in my local café recommended a song by Jack White that will make my list, so I'm not totally past it musically.

Here's where you come in: What else belongs on my list of great noir and crime songs? Why? What make a great noir song great? Do particular songs remind you of particular noir or crime writers?
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[Here are the previous Detectives Beyond Borders posts about crime songs. (Click the link, then scroll down.) Extra points for suggesting songs that have not come up in previous posts and comments.]
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What does noir mean to you? Get down in the Gutter, answer in 75 words or less, and you might make it into a book.

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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49 Comments:

Blogger Paul D Brazill said...

Can't remember if I mentioned this before, but I've put my thing about Randy Newman's In Germany Before The War up again:

http://13shotsofgrit.wordpress.com/2012/08/13/in-germany-before-the-war-by-randy-newman-2/

August 13, 2012  
Blogger Dennis Tafoya said...

Great idea, Peter! I always thought 'Walkin' After Midnight' would make a great opening song for a movie or TV show about a serial killer, with its lonesome/menacing take on wandering around in the dark.
I'd also nominate Randy Newman's 'Bad News From Home,' which expresses a sentiment that could have come right out of a James M. Cain novel.

August 13, 2012  
Blogger Bill Crider said...

As I say often, my favorite is Robert Earl Keen's "The Road Goes on Forever," a great noir song and a Gold Medal novel in miniature.

August 13, 2012  
Blogger Loren Eaton said...

I don't know if Elvis Costello's "Psycho" would count. It's definitely crime-based, but it has more of a horror vibe.

August 13, 2012  
Anonymous proper manky said...

Decemberists - The perfect crime #2
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vt0q6uflFMU

August 13, 2012  
Blogger Richard Godwin said...

How about Alex Harvey's rendition of Delilah. The Sensational Alex Harvey Band.

August 13, 2012  
Blogger verymessi said...

Rory Gallagher, the late great Irish blues guitarist, had two songs I can think of that fit the bill. One, "The Continental Op" about you know who, and "Philby" about the British double agent Kim Philby.

The terrific neo noir author Eric Beetner has a very good essay on Tom Waits regarding the topic. See link

http://www.criminalelement.com/blogs/2011/09/crime-waits

August 13, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Paul. here’s the link to your piece in handy, one-click form. That's one chilling song, all right. And thanks for the big up.

August 13, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Paul, I'm trying to post a comment on your piece, but the blog keeps rejecting the comments, as Wordpress blogs sometimes do.

I tried to say there what I said here, with the addition that those lyrics are so chilling that I want to listen to them without the music. That's one sign the song is a good story.

August 13, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dennis, I once said that "Walkin' After Midnight" is almost good enough to redeem country music. I haven't heard "Nad News From Home," but I've made myself a list of YouTube clips so I can list to all the songs that are new to me from these comments. A number of them are, so you all get extra points. Thanks.

August 13, 2012  
Blogger Paul D Brazill said...

Thank, Peter. I'm still trying to get the hang of Wordpress but Blogger has been such a pain recently that I've decided to defect!

August 13, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Paul: Maybe I got sent to your spam folder by mistake.

The problems I often have posting comments on Wordpress blogs were one reason I did not switch to Wordpress when I was having problems with Blogger some time back.

August 13, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

P. Manky, my only previous experience with the Decembrists is their musical version of "The Tain." That suggests they could well be potential performers of noir songs. Thanks.

August 13, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Loren, I did write that "Some, in fact, are not about crime at all, at least not in the traditional crime-story sense," so I'll allow genre-bending here. That's a creepy. moving song, so it makes the list!

August 13, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Richard, I never thought any song associated with Tom Jones would make this list, but I confess that I liked his version. I had never heard of anyone else performing the song, so thanks.

August 13, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Bill, a fine song, nearly as fine as the singer's name. "Robert Earl Keen" is an even dustier name than "Jimmy Dale Gilmore." Thanks.

August 13, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Verymessi, I knew about "The Continental Op" but not "Philby." I'll have to listen to the former a tme or two more before I get used to thundering guitar riffs in a crime song.

I wounder if Adriam McKinty knows that Beetner essay.

August 13, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The Beetner-on-Waits essay in one-click form.

August 13, 2012  
Blogger Sean Off-key said...

For me, The White Buffalo's 'Oh Darlin' What Have Done?' is as noir as it gets. It's a haunting tale of murder and twisted love in a moody folk rock song. Enjoy:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aDBydo01f60&feature=youtube_gdata_player

August 13, 2012  
Blogger Sean Off-key said...

Edit: Oh Darlin' What Have I Done?

Surprisingly harder than I thought to type this out on my phone.

August 13, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks for the comment and congratulations on your nimble fingers. That's another song I don't know.

August 13, 2012  
Blogger Lou Boxer said...

No selection of noir music would be complete without honoring the ultimate connoisseur of noir music - David Goodis. These works include (but are certainly not limited to): "How High Is The Moon" [lyrics by Nancy Hamilton and music by Morgan Lewis. The earliest recorded hit version was by Benny Goodman & His Orchestra. It was recorded February 7, 1940 and released by Columbia Records as catalog number 35391];‘Texas Shuffle’, ‘Lester Leaps’, ‘Every Tub’, Shuffling at the Hollywood, with a solo by Chew Berry, Noro Morales, Pupi Campo,Oscar Levant, Art Tatum, Walter Geiseking, Duke Ellington, Cozy Cole and Clyde Hart

August 13, 2012  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

A steady diet of suicidal hopelessness doesn't work for me and if by noir you mean there has to be a death or two, then I'm off base. I'm a romantic Chandler, Goodis, Macdonald sort of girl, so my favorite noir songs tend to be those about love and loss. For this, I can start and end with "Frank Sinatra Sings for Only the Lonely."
Check out the lyrics to "Only the Lonely," "Angel Eyes" (true noir, mentioned by me here before), "Blues in the Night," "Guess I'll Hang my Tears Out to Dry," and "One for my Baby (and One More for the Road.)" Sinatra had the incredible gift of making you feel he was singing a song to you alone. He didn't just sing some tunes about love and loss; he knew about it the same way you knew about it. There is so much human empathy in his styling. Nothing (for me) is worse than some joe whining about his woman done left him and all he wants is the listener's shoulder to cry on, toe "feel his pain."

What about some of the great Medieval love songs? Especially of unrequited love, like Guillaume de Machaut's "Douce dame jolie." That's a 13th century tearjerker.

August 13, 2012  
Blogger Vanda Symon said...

The linky thing wont work for me, so I don't know id anyone has mentioned Art Garfunkle's Down in the Willow Garden, which has charming lyrics like 'I drew my sabre through her...'

August 13, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Lou, someone who knows Goodis better than I do could talk about his taste in music at Noircon 2012. In one novel. maybe Dark Passage, the narrator talks about "real jazz" without, however, specifying in the passage what "real jazz" is. One interesting question: Goodis' writing career parallels the rise of be-bop almost perfectly, but I have the idea that his tastes were for music that had come before. Was his "real jazz" a cry of protest against be-bop?

August 13, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth, suicidal hoplessness is not required. A song I discussed last week, the Pogues’ “Rain Street,” reminded me of David Goodis precisely because of its bleak story that ends, however, with a note of hope. In re medieval poets, your man Francois Villon would make a good criminal protagonist, wouldn’t he? It would not shock me of those bandes desin ées-loving Frenchmen have made him the hero of a crime comic already.

I noticed that Johnny Mercer wrote the lyrics to a few of your songs. Damn, but that man could write anything. I don't think any lyricist has ever been as good.

August 13, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Vanda, I don't know that song, but before I listen to it, I'll say that is sounds like it could be an old English ballad.

August 13, 2012  
Blogger Unknown said...

Peter,

You might want to listen to KROM, a group out of Cambodia. They've produced an album around the theme of noir. http://vimeo.com/44207715 Haunting, beautiful music.

August 14, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks. I can see at least one instrumental and one vocal resemblance between that and what one might call typical noir songs.

August 14, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Christopher G. Moore has asked to be identified as the author of the "unknown" comment above. A technical glitch rather than a desire for anonymity is responsible for the "unknown" tag, he says. Moore is author of the Vincent Calvino mysteries and editor of the forthcoming Phnom Penh Noir .

August 14, 2012  
Blogger Brian Lindenmuth said...

For what it's worth here's the link to my old Crime Song Wednesday column.

14 songs, some classics and some that don't get discussed as much.

I should start a dedicated blog to this topic.

August 15, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Here’s the link. Thanks. It’s a mix of some on my list, some that commenters had suggested, and some I don’t know. Thanks.

August 15, 2012  
Anonymous Fred Zackel said...

The theme to Chinatown. Uan Rasey played the sax in the Chinatown theme. He died last September, 2011; he was 90 years old. God bless him, he was surrounded by family and friends.

August 15, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I had not heard the name. I shall look him up, maybe have him as a guest in spirit and sound at Noircon. Thanks.

August 15, 2012  
Blogger Richard L. Pangburn said...

A classic noir was Cornell Woolrich's PHANTOM LADY, which he originally published under the pen name William Irish.

A man argues with his wife, stomps out of the house and has a casual dinner with a woman he meets. When he returns home, his wife has been murdered. Not only does he carry the guilt of leaving her alone, he now is accused by the police of murder.

The song that haunts me along with this novel is the 1964 rocker, "She's Not There."

The lyrics of the song make no sense unless you hear them with the noir novel in mind:

http://trackofthecat.blogspot.com/2011/10/earworm-of-day-shes-not-there-by.html

August 16, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I don't know the story, but I do know the song. It's a fine, non-cliched sleeper candidate for the list, so thanks.

August 16, 2012  
Blogger Paul D Brazill said...

'She's Not There' was also featured in (written for?) the film 'Bunny Lake Is Missing'.

August 17, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Hmm, while the Zombies did perform the soundtrack, "She's Not There" is not listed on the soundtrack album. Nor does the Wikipedia entry for the song mention the movie.

August 17, 2012  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Because Blogger will not permit me to search for it... I can't discover whether or not the Rolling Stones' "Paint It Black" is on the earlier list. If not, it should be placed on it.

PS You are in for an extra-special treat when Sartarelli translates La caccia al tesoro (The Scavenger Hunt); one of the best Montalbanos ever. And done of the most serious. From hilarious to moving and to sickening and all around again. Includes some fun literary references you may want to dissect, too.

August 20, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I've never nominated "Paint It Black," and I'm uncertain if any commenters have mentioned it. So thanks.

I will look forward to that Montalbano. A tendency toward greater seriousness and interesting literary references would be in keeping with the series' direction in recent books, I think.

August 20, 2012  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Speaking of typos... That's "one", not "done"...

August 20, 2012  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Just sweet sixteen, and now you're gone
They've taken you away.
I'll never kiss your lips again
They buried you today. -- "Teen Angel," 1959.

August 27, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'm not sure that's a noir song unless someone tampered with the angel's brakes to make her death look like an accident.

August 27, 2012  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Ah, but that's because you and I (and everyone else) have varying opinions on what constitutes "noir." For me, it doesn't have to have a criminal crime, but just a crime against the future, a crime against l'amour.

August 27, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Ha! I know noir need not mean crime. As a matter of fact, I'm listening to Tom Waits now.

Maybe those teen death songs are the schmalyzt side of noir.

August 27, 2012  
Blogger Richard L. Pangburn said...

Tanya Tucker's "That Georgia Sun Was Blood Red And Goin Down":

"...and Daddy left them both, soakin up the sawdust on the floor."

Lloyd Price's "Stagger Lee." Kind of a noir classic, along with "Mack the Knife."

Johnny Cash..."I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die...."

Lots of Tom Waits songs, as others have pointed out. "A fifty dollar bill inside of Paladin's hat, and nobody's sure where Mr. Knickabocker's at."

Waits' "Christmas Card From A Hooker" certainly has noir elements, and it was nicely covered by a female singer, name escapes me at the moment.

Starts out as a cheerful fantasy from a down-and-out, gets blacker verse by verse, mixed with crime elements. Turns out the narrator admits she's serving time, with the final ribbon of hope that might she get out by Valentine's Day.

September 01, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Would one soak up sawdust? Wouldn't the sawdust be the thing that's doing the soaking up, whether of blood, whiskey, or some other bodily fluid?

In any casel "Stagger Lee" and Johnny Cash are perennials on any list of noir or crime songs. The Tanya Tucker is new to me, though, so thanks. And I once sneered at Tom Waits, buyt I've been listening to a lot of his music the past few weeks, and I ain't sneering anymore.

September 01, 2012  
Blogger Juri said...

Is Elvis's "Heartbreak Hotel" really not mentioned? I can't believe that. Check out John Cale's version if you don't believe it's noir.

I would also say this is a perfect noir song. Don't know nothing about it, I just came across it via Spotify's Pitchfork application:

http://open.spotify.com/track/2e7VdXMFi8M2pDhobLyUcs

September 03, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Juri: I'll download that app and look for the song.

At first listen, Cale's "Heartbreak Hotel" strikes me as mannered in the Nick Cave manner. But your suggestion is good; Elvis' version is noir, or at least high melodrama, but is so familiar that I suspect many people will overlook it when trying to think of noir songs.

September 03, 2012  

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