B-sides: Hearts and Bones

If you hadn’t noticed (and why would you?), I recently removed the personal/professional part of this site and transferred it elsewhere. There were two main reasons for this: 1) I was tired of constantly switching between using my personal domain and blog URL—which, up until last month, both led to the same place—depending on the context (“well what the h*ck is it, a blog or a portfolio??” my inner brand manager kept yelling at me, as I switched my website link on Twitter from fliptherecord.blog to nikkicollister.com for the seventeenth time), and 2) I miss the days of having a plain ol’ blog; it’s just more fun (see also: my newest 11ty experiment, a winter break project). Oh and I guess 3) I recently signed up with bringback.blog and this made things a little easier.

So, anyway, welcome (back) to Flip the dang Record. This is gonna be a blog because that’s what it’s always been.

In celebration, I’m going to take the name quite literally and embark on a new little project, at least for the month of January: B-sides and side twos, baby! For every record I pull from the shelf, I’m going to start with side two, and write a little mini review. Why side two? Why not? It’s the type of nostalgic, hipster thing you can only do with vinyl or cassettes. I see it as a new way of listening to some of my favorite albums, and will be an interesting approach to those I’m not that familiar with.

But first, no fewer than THREE disclaimers:

  1. On one hand, I recognize that some would consider this an act of sacrilege. I get it; I am also of the old school opinion that that albums should be listened to in full, each track in the exact place it was intended. But on the other hand, I’ve listened to so many of these albums so many times that mayyyybe this deliberate deconstruction will present a new perspective or two. I know that my attention inevitably wanes as an album goes on, I can’t help it. Shouldn’t it be just as exciting when you flip the record (see what I did there?) and put the needle on side two??
  2. My record collection is evolving, but obvi still leans heavily towards classic rock. There are lots of Beatles albums, Beatles solo albums, Beatles-adjacent albums, Rolling Stones, The Who, etc. etc. And a disproportionate amount of Michael Nesmith. BUT, thanks to a husband whose musical tastes don’t always overlap with mine, hopefully I’ll be exploring some records outside of my classic rock bubble.
  3. I’m not a music critic and I’m not even very good at casually writing about music. I know many people whose musical observations and opinions are a thousand times more interesting than mine—I’d much rather see them do this than me. But I’m the one who signed up for the blog challenge and has the spare time, so you’re stuck with me!

underrated album cover, IMO

To start us off, I’ve chosen Hearts and Bones by Paul Simon. The title track has been the soundtrack of our lives recently, thanks to Alex’s recent guitar goals. It’s always been one of my favorite songs, now even more so! But of course it’s an A-side affair. Let’s jump right into the B-side!

  1. “Think Too Much (a)” – 3:05
  2. “Train in the Distance” – 5:11
  3. “René and Georgette Magritte with Their Dog after the War” – 3:44
  4. “Cars Are Cars” – 3:15
  5. “The Late Great Johnny Ace” – 4:45

Ok first of all, “Think Too Much (a)” is very enjoyable for me, personally. I love hearing it without the context of “Think Too Much (b)” from the first half of the album. (Also, no idea why the A-side version is called (b) and the B-side version is (a)….what a funny way to start this whole thing off.) Anyway, this track stands firmly on its own. Lyrically, it is not one of Paul’s finest (maybe blindfold her / and take her away….can’t decide if this is sinister or romantic; either way, “(b)” paints a more interesting picture). But sonically, it’s a fun little jaunt! I like the backing vocals (sorry Artie, I heard this was originally your job), and the unexpected synth swells behind the “elephant dance” line. From one overthinker to another, I dig it.

In the car we have a Paul Simon hits CD in heavy rotation called Negotiations and Love Songs, which gets its name from “Train in the Distance”, our next track. Unfortunately this one suffers from being further down in the track listing, both on Hearts and Bones and the compilation album. But when it’s among the first songs you’re hearing in the day, “Train in the Distance” is a very lovely song, in its own quiet way. It’s obviously a personal story (about Paul’s first wife Peggy, I assume) which appeals to the unabashed autobiography-loving side of me. It also has that excellent Rick Tee Rhodes sound from this era, and the calmly devastating lyrics the thought that life could be better / is woven indelibly into our hearts and our brains.

“René and Georgette Magritte with Their Dog after the War” always felt like a questionable inclusion on the aforementioned hits CD, but just like “Train in the Distance”, it’s easier to appreciate when it’s not stacked up against your Kodachromes and Gracelands. And, having gone to the Magritte Museum in Brussels (recommended!), I can say that I enjoy the subject matter of this quirky little tune. The Harptones provide the catchy doo wop groove in the chorus, one of at least two 1950s callbacks PS deploys on this B-side. Most excitingly, I did not know until today that a Magritte-inspired music video exists for this song, feat. Carrie Fisher, whom most of the album is about.

“Cars Are Cars”. Could this be the least Paul Simon-sounding song in existence?? It’s become a meme in our household, and I’m just now realizing how much we feel the need to inform each other that indeed, cars are cars (all over the world). I could see this being a song that triggers some epiphany if you’re high enough (people are strangers / they change with the curve…they stand on their differences / and shoot at the moon….BUT CARS ARE CARS). Maybe it’s just a matter of time before I see the light.

OH wow, talk about a quick transition right into “The Late Great Johnny Ace”. So, this song is always my skip track when watching/listening to The Concert in Central Park (the combination of unnerving chord progression + the guy storming the stage stresses me out), which has unfortunately seeped into my overall impression of the song. But now, reading the lyrics from the liner notes as the B-side wraps up, I’m getting surprisingly emotional listening to it. It’s a tribute to both Johnny Ace and John Lennon (written 1981), and just a beautiful piece of storytelling. TIL the coda was composed by Philip Glass! Unmistakable, now that I’ve read it. The whole vibe of this song is uneasy, unfinished, and a really compelling way to end an album.

I’ll probably go back and edit this later, but now it’s time to eat dinner! Bye!

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