Best Beats: A Comenian Playlist

Photo provided by Creative Commons under Creative Commons License.

Photo provided by Creative Commons under Creative Commons License.

“Laugh and Be Happy,” Randy Newman (2008)

Do you ever have one of those days where life just kinda seems to get to you? Where nothing seems to work out in your favor? I certainly do. I know everyone has their own process for dealing with such days, but a very important part of my process is listening to “Laugh and Be Happy” from Randy Newman’s 2008 album, Harps and Angels.

Randy Newman isn’t exactly a household name, but his music forms part of the basis of a lot of people’s childhoods. He has scored many fantastic movies, including eight Pixar films, including all of the “Toy Story” series and “Monsters, Inc.” While his musical scores for those movies are fantastic, he has many other great pieces in his collection, such as “Laugh and Be Happy.”

“Laugh and Be Happy” is a song that has one sole purpose in mind. And that purpose is to get you to cheer up and hold your head up. The opening lines of the song talk about why you could feel bad and ask you to stop the self pity for a moment and listen to the message of the song. The rest of the song goes on to tell you to just “laugh and be happy” and believe in your dreams and yourself no matter what life throws your way. The last line of the song, “Laugh and be happy, believe me when I say everything is going to go your way, you’ll be on top of the world” is just a really great end to a song about just rolling with the punches. It really can help out on those days where life seems out to get you.

-Luke Gratkowski

“I’m Only Sleeping,” The Beatles (1966)

The Beatles’ album Revolver is one of my favorites, but is often overshadowed by other more well-known albums, such as Abbey Road or Yellow Submarine when mentioned in Beatles discourse. It also seems to be much less played on retro radio stations. Revolver was released in 1966,  the band’s 8th album. “I’m Only Sleeping” is a unique song that fits with the psychedelic and Indian-influenced style of the rest of the album. The lyrics will certainly resonate with any college student or adult alike, telling of a narrator who yearns to “stay in bed” when he “wakes up early in the morning.” The tune is catchy and dream-like, using unique stylings and tempos to go back and forth between the chorus and verses. One highlight of this Beatles song is the use of the reversed guitar solos. They add another interesting element to the song that makes it all the more fun to listen to. John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s nasally charming vocals add to the nostalgic sound of the song, and make it one of my Beatles staples.

-Corinne Philbin

“Exhuming McCarthy,” R.E.M (1987)

During the 1980s, bands as diverse as Dead Kennedys (a hardcore punk band) and R.E.M (an alternative rock band) could find one thing they could agree on: their dislike of President Ronald Reagan.

The Iran-Contra affair, which occurred in early 1987, lit a fire under R.E.M, inspiring them to take on more political subjects in their music. Lead guitarist Peter Buck described in an interview how “all you have to do is turn on the TV, and you’re inundated with complete lies from people who are supposed to be running the country.”

R.E.M also thought that the rise of American exceptionalism against the backdrop of the AIDS crisis and Wall Street excess was the perfect catalyst for a demagogue’s rise in American politics. Buck told United Press International that “this is the kind of year Joe McCarthy would come back. People would start hailing him. If he was still alive, he’d be a hero.”

In case you need a history review, McCarthy alleged throughout the 1950s that many government workers were Communist sympathizers. He often had little to no evidence and relied on smear campaigns to get his point across. McCarthyism, as it later became known, climaxed in Joseph Welch’s rebuke of McCarthy during the Army-McCarthy hearings, a recording of which was used in the bridge of R.E.M’s 1987 song “Exhuming McCarthy,” from their Document album.  

R.E.M injected their concerns about the return of a McCarthy-like figure into the lyrics of “Exhuming McCarthy.” They related 1983’s Buy America Act to empty jingoism. The image of a mob preparing for an execution is evoked as Michael Stipe sings of people “sharpening stones.”

By the end of the song, Stipe sings that McCarthy is being exhumed and asks that people meet him at the book burning. This connects the rise of a demagogue such as McCarthy with the acts of a totalitarian government.

However, McCarthy was not exhumed during the Reagan years, as R.E.M thought he would be. Eventually, a new movement longing for a return to American greatness led by a man with seemingly no regard for truth led some opponents to bring the word “McCarthyism” back into the public consciousness.

Then on November 8, 2016, Americans made the choice to fully exhume Joe McCarthy.

-Nathaniel Rhoads

Thriller, Michael Jackson (1982)

Halloween is right around the corner, and I know that I can’t stop listening to Halloween-themed radio stations. And what better album to listen to to get in the All Hallow’s Eve spirit (no pun intended) than Michael Jackson’s Thriller?

The iconic album, released in 1982 as Michael Jackson’s sixth studio album, is a staple in anyone’s music collection. A year after it was released, the album became the best-selling album of all time, a record it still holds to this day. Since it was released, Thriller has sold 66 million copies across the globe. The album is a showcase of Jackson’s talent and creativity, combining the genres of pop, rock, and disco in new and innovative ways to create songs that everyone can pick out.

The album features 9 tracks, which turned out to be some of Jackson’s most popular and recognizable works. One of these tracks is, obviously, “Thriller,” an upbeat, fun tune filled with supernatural and horror tropes about ghosts, ghouls, and goblins. Others include “Billie Jean,” a funk staple that tells the story of a crazed fan who claims the singer fathered her child, and “Beat It,” a more hard-rock classic that meditates of the negatives of gang violence and the pointlessness of fights to prove that “you want to be a man.” While these classics are hard to overlook, there are some other lesser-known gems that are worth a listen. “Baby Be Mine,” a classic love ballad set to an upbeat disco tune, and “The Girl is Mine,” an easygoing track featuring Paul McCartney telling the story of two men quarreling over a shared love interest, are wonderful additions to the album, showing the range of Jackson’s talents as a singer and entertainer.

So if you’re looking for something to spice up your Halloween hangout, check out Michael Jackson’s full album, which is perfectly named for the holiday season.

-Elizabeth Horn