We all know the knocks against Spotify; heck, I've leveled some them myself. But there are pleasures, too. And some of those pleasures reflect the exact reason that I'm glad to have transitioned to Spotify. In particular, the chance to go back and experience half-remembered songs and overlooked albums (which they were when they came out), music that isn't affected by Spotify's cheap reimbursement rates, makes the service an almost-daily unexpected pleasure. What can I think of that I once liked but haven't heard in forever?
Well, today, I have a song and an album on my mind. The song I listened to all morning as I was driving around. Then, I found the chords to it online and tried it out as a possible song for the band I am in. The album I've been listening from the afternoon, coming from Costco, into the evening. I'm listening to it as I type this.
The song is "The Horses" by Rickie Lee Jones. The album is Little Stevie Orbit by Steve Forbert.
Jones' song came out in 1989, the opening cut on Flying Cowboys, produced by Walter Becker of Steely Dan. It's a good record, but "The Horses" is, by far, the standout track, arguably one of the best verse/chorus songs in the history of popular music. Yes, I'm making that claim. To hear it, you can imagine a crooner singing it, or you wish Springsteen had dueted on it when he brought Jones out at Jazzfest last year.
The lyric, perhaps aimed at a child, transcends time and place, transcends the rules of the universe. It embraces all of human imagination, especially for a child who doesn't yet grasp those rules:
We will fly
Way up high
Where the cold wind blows
Or in the sun
Laughing having fun
With the people that she knows
And if the situation
Should keep us separated
You know the world won't fall apart
And you will free the beautiful bird
That's caught inside your heart
Can't you hear her?
Oh she cries so loud
Casts her wild note
Over water and cloud
That's the way it's gonna be, little darlin'
We'll be riding on the horses, yeah
Way up in the sky, little darlin'
And if you fall I'll pick you up, pick you up
The words are beautiful, but the musical transition from verse to chorus is among the most redemptive I've ever heard. Find it, on Spotify, YouTube, or elsewhere and see if you don't hit replay. Repeatedly.
Forbert's album came out in 1980. It is a perfect, but lost, companion to Springsteen's The River, matching that double album song for song with exuberance, whimsy, and frenetic production. From the charging opening number, "Get Well Soon, " a mixed message love letter to a Paris Hilton-style heiress to the last song, "A Visitor," Little Stevie Orbit rocks and pops with a relentless menu of tuneful, commercially-friendly songs with sharp melodies and witty, sometimes distempered, lyrics.
Forbert's view of our world tends to be more bemused than jaundiced, but he can do the misanthropic put-down song as well as just about anybody. "Laughter Lou" and "If You Gotta Ask, You'll Never Know" fill the bill nicely here, especially with the latter's "You're just too fucking slow" to know what is happening around you. "Cellophane City" effectively captures the everybody-knows-everything-about-everyone nature of modern life.
But it is Forbert's paeans of love that distinguish this record. The similarly-named "Song For Carmelita" and "Song For Katrina", the latter a concert favorite when I've seen him, fulfill the sweet, commercial promise of his biggest hit, "Romeo's Tune." The man can write a love song.
Forbert is the "folksinger" who figured out early on that his songs play better with pacing, powerful bass, and assertive drumming, and this record demonstrates that from beginning to end, except when he gets a bit cosmic ( in ways that I enjoy) on "One More Glass Of Beer" and the last song. Little Stevie Orbit plays well in a party setting or a contemplative solo late night from beginning to end. It yielded no hit single and so it is forgotten, but if you give it a listen, you will hear many songs that could have been.