As a mental exercise recently I decided to see if I could figure out what are my favorite songs from my favorite musician. It took a while. Some of my choices might surprise you! But here is what I have:
10: Motorcycle Bong
An instrumental (a rarity for JM), this song is all funk and swagger and some great bombast. It’s like the Best 1970s Cop Action TV Theme Song Ever.
9: Here Is a Stone Wall
This is just lovely and heartfelt, with only Julia’s voice and a single guitar. The lyrics are meditative and celebratory, about small moments and well-lived lives. Just reading through the lyrics gets me all teary-eyed.
Ugh, so catchy. A very distinctive synth hook anchors this song and the added choir effect during the chorus really elevates it into something special. The lyrics are about passing time and death and the impermanence of all things, but are also super-uplifting (so, pretty much the usual Julia Massey lyrics :P). But even if I’m just some ash that kicks up in the wind, I know I’ll find my way to fields of wheat in Ireland.
This song is just pure pop goodness. It’s peppy, it’s upbeat, there’s some really cool bass stuff going on from Geoff. Sometimes I picture Julia Massey and the Five Finger Discount going on a late-night talk show to perform (usually Conan), and this is the song that they always play in my head. Also: you should listen to the previous song on the album (“#712” – an adaptation of poem 712 by Emily Dickinson) before listening to this one, because they blend seamlessly into each other and it makes “Spaceships” even better.
This one is just a masterpiece. It’s epic, it’s loud, it’s got awesome drums and bass and it just kicks ass. The intro and outro instrumental segments are some of the finest instrumental segments that JM+FFD have ever put out. And the lyrics are sweet and funny. It’s also more than five-and-a-half minutes long, but it’s so interesting a song that the time just flies by.
5: There Is a Song
This is an anthem. This is the most exquisitely-sung song on any of JM+FFD’s albums. Julia’s voice is full of power; she belts this song, and it is glorious. The swing tempo is delightful, and the sleigh-bell outro give it a magnificently gentle ending. The lyrics are very empowering; it’s like Julia is standing behind you and shouting, “You can do it!” while you’re trying to do something difficult. JM+FFD would often end their live sets with this song, and it is so complete and final a song that it’s sometimes hard to imagine anything else coming after it.
4: Montana Capri
This song is not high on this list just because it was written about my daughter. That’s right: we didn’t want to announce the baby’s name until she was born, so “Montana Capri” was the fake codename we used for the baby while my wife was still preggers with her. It’s not just because of that; It’s also just a great song. The first part of this song has such a strong, focused drive to it. It’s like a train speeding through a tunnel, chugging forward relentlessly. And then in the second part it completely opens up and becomes epic and spacey. It’s like the train comes out of the tunnel and bursts into a beautiful moonlight vista, all mountains and stars and valleys. It’s awesome.
3: Jenny Towner
A beautiful and funny portrait about a real-life person whom I’ve never met. My favorite lyrics are the adorable (and slightly creepy) “Got the goddamn cutest face / It’s already in my suitcase / She’s coming with me everywhere I go.” One time JM+FFD did a full-band, rockin’ version of this song for me on my birthday. “Jenny Towner” hasn’t ever been released on an album. There used to be a link to download it on Julia’s website, but I can’t find it anymore. Alls I can find is this YouTube video of a live version from a long time ago.
2: Don’t Worry ‘Bout Us
A loud, almost-bluesy, piano-banging romp with a fascinating time signature. It is nothing but unadulterated happiness for six full minutes. Gobs of solos show off each of the instruments, and the music is just so voluminous it’s hard to imagine that it was all made by just three people. This song is just joy, joy, joy.
This was no contest. Not even close. And it’s completely bizarre: I usually do not like repetitive songs at all, and “Catacombs” is basically just the same set of lyrics sung three times in a row. But this song pushes all of my musical buttons. From the opening drums to the opening piano riff, to the vocals coming in, then the strings and bass and backing vocals. It all just such a lovely build to the first time Julia belts out the chorus. I’m a sucker for songs that build like this. And the lyrics about “I know somehow you’re more than memory / ‘Cause I feel you in my bones, weaving caves in my marrow / Where I feel the echo of your memory / Where I feel the echo of your Earthly dream.” When Julia finally does belt out the chorus, “I’m not hollow” sounds almost like a statement of defiance. The world may take from us, but it cannot take our memories of each other. You fill me up. I’m not hollow. I would love this song to be played as a sing-along my funeral—I’m completely serious!—with everyone there belting out “I’m not hollow!” all together. Beautiful.
These are the songs that were all fighting to get the coveted #10 spot.
Turn It Into Everything
This song is a clever little pop ditty metaphor about games turning into something more. It’s just so catchy I can’t resist it.
Always Been There Anyway
An early song that was never put on any albums. Like “Jenny Towner” you used to be able to download it from Julia’s website, but I can’t find it anymore. It has a very different feel from any of her other songs due to a fascinatingly different choice of instruments like a sitar-sounding thing and some bongos. I guess you’ll just have to take my word for it.
Come Here, You
This one I can’t post any links to audio because it hasn’t been recorded yet! And I couldn’t find a video of it uploaded to the internets anywhere. But this song has a great part towards the end where the audience starts clapping along to the song, and then the song ends. And every time I’ve seen this song performed, the audience just keeps on a-clappin’ even after it ends! It’s very charming. If you go to a show nowadays it’s very likely that you’ll hear it!
And there you have it. What do you think? What songs would you add and/or remove from my list in order to make your own?
I’m very looking forward to Julia’s next album; there are some really good new songs happening in her live sets these days. If you’d like to experience more Julia Massey, you should come to her next show! It’s this Friday, November 20th at Columbia City Theater in Seattle!
We shalle seee yeeee theeeeere!