The brilliance of RUNNING UP THAT HILL by Meg Myers

Yes, this is a cover, so the original credit goes to Kate Bush–yet the Meg Myers version is hotter than a supernova. Take a listen.

And here’s the Kate Bush OG version, then we’ll talk.

The videos

Kate Bush took a risk here with the dancing, a risk that didn’t quite pay off, though anything is superior to the standard, “Watch the lead singer emote into the microphone for three minutes.” Only a few people can really pull that off, like Sinead O’Connor’s cover of NOTHING COMPARES 2U.

The video for Meg Myers is different and brilliant. Motion capture plus kids coloring each page? YES.

The music

Since the lyrics are identical, what matters for a cover is execution.

And this is where Meg Myers and her producer rock us like a hurricane. I heard the Meg version on the radio, fired up the Series of Tubes and went after “running up that hill.” Up popped the Kate Bush version, which sounded like the right song, and made me wonder if fumes in my car, my mood, or mind-control beams from Elon Musk satellites had made me simply enjoy that scratchy car-radio version more than a pristine cut on good headphones.

Which made me have a sad. Because my memory of the song on the radio was crazy good.

Then I stumbled on the Meg Myers version, and no longer believed the whole Elon Musk mind control theory AT ALL, and played her cover approximately 5,923 times in a row.

Her cover is that good.

The deeper meaning

Bad pop songs are like bad dialogue in a movie or novel: they’re on the nose, with no room for ambiguity, no hints at something more. 

The lyrics here are interesting and deep. Here they are:

It doesn’t hurt me
Do you want to feel how it feels?
Do you want to know, know that it doesn’t hurt me?
Do you want to hear about the deal that I’m making?
You, it’s you and me
 
And if I only could
I’d make a deal with God
And I’d get him to swap our places
Be running up that road
Be running up that hill
Be running up that building
See if I only could, oh
 
You don’t want to hurt me
But see how deep the bullet lies
Unaware I’m tearing you asunder
Ooh, there is thunder in our hearts
 
Is there so much hate for the ones we love?
Tell me, we both matter, don’t we?
You, it’s you and me
It’s you and me, won’t be unhappy
 
And if I only could
I’d make a deal with God
And I’d get him to swap our places
Be running up that road
Be running up that hill
Be running up that building
Say, if I only could, oh
 
You
It’s you and me
It’s you and me, won’t be unhappy
 
Oh come on, baby
Oh come on, darling
Let me steal this moment from you now
Oh come on, angel
Come on, come on, darling
Let’s exchange the experience, oh
 
And if I only could
I’d make a deal with God
And I’d get him to swap our places
I’d be running up that road
Be running up that hill
With no problems
 
Say, if I only could
I’d make a deal with God
And I’d get him to swap our places
I’d be running up that road
Be running up that hill
With no problems
 
So if I only could
I’d make a deal with God
And I’d get him to swap our places
I’d be running up that road
Be running up that hill
With no problems
 
Say, if I only could
I’d be running up that hill
With no problems
 
I believe the lyrics hit a sweet spot between “completely on the nose” and “so obscure and esoteric that seven different MFA students have written papers about it, and they all disagree.”
 
Meg Myers explains this a little during her Tiny Desk Concert with NPR, which is worth a listen for an acoustic version of the song, and for what she says about her motivation for doing the cover.
 

Verdict

Thanks for the original, Kate Bush.

And give us more like this, Meg Myers–swing for the fences, knowing you won’t hit a home run every time. Just keeps swinging. Because this cover was amazing.

Bonus content: here’s how they made the video. Impressive.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

You can pitch ANYTHING except quality

Quality matters. Oh, it matters a lot.

Nobody wants to pay money to see a movie that stinks, a book that you can’t get past Chapter 1 or an album where every song hurts your ears.

You want quality. I want quality. Everybody wants it.

But you can’t pitch quality.

And you can’t package it.

So unless you’ve got something else — a quirk, a hook, a unique twist — quality alone won’t get you anywhere.

It won’t get people to look, listen or read in the first place.

So let’s pitch and package random, made-up things. Why? Because it takes practice and because you’re too close to your own stuff to do it right. And because it’s fun.

First up: two different bands.

Band A is a trio: drummer, guitar and bass / lead singer. They’re all recent music school graduates in their late twenties. They’re serious, seriously talented, good-looking and ready to break out. Let’s say they play a lot of punk rock and post-grunge.

Band B looks like a sure-fire loser. They’re all five years old. College degrees in music? Try “Hey, we’re potty trained, and we know our ABC’s.” They don’t know how to read music, write music or understand music theory like the other band. The guitarist knows one trick: crank up the distortion and make it loud. But they know the rough melodies and words to three different Metallica songs, and they do a cover of ENTER SANDMAN that’s close enough to be damned funny.

Here’s a real-life example of this sort of thing. A ton of people — 383,000 plus — have watched this kid sing, DON’T BRUSH MY HAIR IN KNOTS while her brother or neighbor kid banged on the drums.

Alright, here’s your homework: Write a one-sentence pitch for each band. Four words, if you want to ace this. Six words if you feel like a Cheaty McCheaterface.

Do it now. Find a piece of paper or fire up Word and do a pitch for each. Don’t even think about it.

I’ll go find silly videos on YouTube about swamp monsters in Louisiana or whatever.

OK, time’s up. Let’s compare pitches.

My best shot at the music majors: “Nirvana minus flannelly angst.” Four words, and I’m sort of cheating by turning flannelly into a word. Hard, isn’t it? You can’t get anywhere saying any kind of variation on, “This band, they’re really, really good.”

My pitch for the kids: “Kindergarteners cover Metallica.” Three words. Doesn’t have to be poetry here. Are you going to click on a link that says “Nirvana minus flannelly angst” or “this band is amazing?”

No. Not when there’s another link that has five-year-olds playing heavy metal?

Who wins the quality test? The serious music majors, by a mile.

Who wins the pitch and packaging test? The little kids who play bad covers of heavy metal. It’s so much easier. I would have to kidnap reporters to get them to cover our post-grunge band of music majors.

Could I get free ink and airtime with the Heavy Metal Monsters of Hillman Elementary? Absolutely.

Next: two different books

Our quality book is a literary masterpiece that will make you cry while snorting coffee through your nose, then take a fresh look at life and possibly quit your job and join a Tibetan monastery. It’s about a middle-aged man who works in a cubicle farm and lives in surburbia with a wife who’s on industrial amounts of Prozac and a teenage daughter who’s too busy thumbing her iPhone to notice who provides her with food, shelter, clothing and a VW Passat with only 13,000 miles on it. The hero’s life changes when he gets mugged on the way home. Also, a mime is involved, and a janitor who lives in a shack but says witty, wise things before he gets hit by a train.

The other book is a cheesy sci-fi novel with horrible dialogue. The premise: dinosaurs didn’t die off after some asteroid hit. They were smart. Really smart. And they left the planet in a fleet of spaceships to escape Earth long before that asteroid screwed things up for millions of years. Now they’re headed toward earth. And they want their planet back.

Ready? One sentence pitch for each. Four words.

GO.

OK, let’s see what we’ve got. Here’s my instant, no-thinking pitches.

Literary book: “Hell is a cubicle farm.” Five words. More of a title than a pitch. It sings to me, though, in a small, squeaky, off-pitch voice.

Sci-fi nonsense: “Space dinosaurs invade earth.” This is a kissing cousin to “Comet will destroy earth,” which has been the basis for about six different movies, including five by Michael Bay, with the other one starring Morgan Freeman for some reason, despite the fact that Morgan Freeman has ZERO CHANCE of flying up in a space shuttle with Bruce Willis and that dude who is an old college buddy of Matt Damon to blow up the comet,  asteroid or whatever with nuclear bombs.

VERDICT

The bottom line is, quality is one thing. In the end, it’s probably the most important thing.

Yet nobody will read your masterpiece, listen to your amazing album or see you act like no actor has acted in the history of acting-hood if they don’t get hooked by your pitch and packaging. They have to know you exist first.

Quality isn’t a pitch. “You should see that movie — it’s really good” doesn’t work. Your friends and family will ask, “What’s it about?” and if you don’t have four words to explain it, to give them a pitch, then forget it.

The next time to read a book, see a movie or listen to a great new song, think of four words.

How would you package it? What could you possibly say, just to your friends so they could see it, but to a reporter or a TV producer?

Two great music videos that cost zero dollars

These days, you need to put up music videos on the Series of Tubes to make a living as a musician, which is great, except it costs the gross domestic product of Paraguay to do proper music video. Which makes it tough for scrappy bands trying to make it.

So it’s refreshing to see bands do good videos shot on their friend’s iPhone and edited in MS Paint or whatever, all for a total budget of $593.93, most of that budget going for pizza.

What’s even more impressive than a cheap music video?

One that cost absolutely zero dollars.

Here are two short little snippets of music on video that warmed my heart in two completely different ways.

First up is a man playing the Careless Whispers saxophone bit for cows. 

Why do I love this? Because it’s pure joy, on his part and from the cows. He’s just learning the sax and isn’t world class yet. The man won’t be going on tour. But my God, these cows are into it, which gives him, and anyone watching the video, a pure sense of joy and wonder. 

Next up: one minute of pure talent.

She’s using a couch cushion, a baby toy and I don’t know what else for drum equipment and it just doesn’t matter. 

I would pay cash money to watch her live. Right? Moar moar moar.

Also: I wonder what the cows would think of drumming like this. Are they into all music, or just horns?

 

Why BAD GUY by Billie Eilish is so damned good

BAD GUY by Billie Eilish pulls off some neat tricks, doesn’t it?

Here’s my take on why this works so well.

SUBVERSIVE PUNK-POP

Don’t know what category that folks with doctorates in music would put this in. I’m gonna call it punk-pop, because it’s not as dark and industrial as NIN, or as grungy as Nirvana, but it’s got a subversive edge in the images and lyrics.

Yet the melody and beat is radio-friendly pop. And I think that’s brilliant.

UNAFRAID

With most artists, image is everything. Pop divas work hard to look perfect at all times. Rock stars and rappers work hard to look tough. Billie isn’t trying to look tough here.

Billie’s unafraid of coming off as weird and goofy. No pop star would dance like this, or let her eyebrows go off in their own fashion directions. 

She’s not going full on theater-of-the-grotesque like Marilyn Manson, but she’s letting people see her as human, which makes her far more relatable than the stars who try to maintain a perfect, photoshopped image. It’s gritty and real.

LYRICS

The lyrics are clever, interesting and fun.

Most pop songs have terrible boring lyrics.

I mean, I’m not a giant fan of country or rap, but by God, country lyrics tell a story every time and rappers are absolute poets with lyrics you can do dissertations on.

For a popular song all over radio and YouTube, these lyrics are a win.

IMAGERY

It’s perfect. There’s a great intro, with Billie immediately showing she’s a real human by busting through the yellow paper wall, taking out her Invisalign and dancing in a way no boy band or diva would ever be caught dead doing.

Unlike 90 percent of music videos, the only repetition is there for a purpose. You get an echo of the beginning in the end, with reversed footage of her coming through the yellow paper wall. And in between the intro and the end, there’s a nice mix of images that fit the lyrics. It all works.

STINGER ENDING

Marvel movies became famous for putting stingers after the credits. This is the first stinger ending to a music video that I can remember, and it rocks.

You’re not sure how she’s levitating at first, then the words match the video in a nice revelation. Yes! 

VERDICT

Well done, Billie the Eilish, well done. Give us more like this!

MEET ME IN THE LADIES ROOM by Klymaxx

Sometimes, you can’t make this stuff up.

SNL has been working hard lately to do insane music videos, and the latest one seems too absurd to be anything based on reality.

But you’d be wrong.

Here’s the parody:

And here’s the original:

VERDICT:

Well played, SNL — you got all the details right. I’m just sad the original didn’t feature parachute pants.

The sweetness of WHEN I TASTE TEQUILA by Dan + Shay

Most music videos are meh, and I say that as a huge fan of music and music videos who grew up watching this thing we called MTV, back when it played music videos instead of insipid reality shows.

It’s hard to find videos that truly stand out, ones that I remember and want to watch again. Even if I love the song itself.

It’s doubly tough for a country music video to hit me, for I do not speak twang. 

So when I heard this song on the radio, it was a nice surprise. Then I saw the video, which is really a short film. Oh my.

Take a peek.

Haunting, isn’t it?

What stands out are the shots. Just beautiful cinematography, scenes I want to linger over. The acting is spot-on and the musicians make the smart choice of staying in the background.

What makes it truly work is telling an actual story with a beginning, middle and end. 

There are all kinds of music videos that look impressive, paired with good songs. 30 Seconds to Mars is the king of these videos, with Jared Leto having the massive advantage of being a star actor who knows how to stage and shoot film. But you don’t see complete stories very often. You see themes and ideas, but not stories where people are in conflict and make decisions.

This music videos is full of conflict and choices. It’s a sweet love story, and it fills in missing pieces you don’t see in the lyrics (below).

Great job, Dan + Shay–I’m happy to have stumbled onto this.

WHEN I TASTE TEQUILA

I can still shut down a party
I can hang with anybody
I can drink whiskey and red wine
Champagne all night
Little Scotch on the rocks and I’m fine, I’m fine
 
But when I taste tequila, baby I still see ya
Cutting up the floor in a sorority t-shirt
The same one you wore when we were
Sky high in Colorado, your lips pressed against the bottle
Swearing on a bible, baby, I’d never leave ya
I remember how bad I need ya, when I taste Tequila
When I taste Tequila
 
I can kiss somebody brand new 
And not even think about you
I can show up to the same bar
Hear the same songs in my car
Baby, your memory, it only hits me this hard
 
When I taste Tequila, baby I still see ya
Cutting up the floor in a sorority t-shirt
The same one you wore when we were
Sky high in Colorado, your lips pressed against the bottle
Swearing on a bible, baby, I’d never leave ya
I remember how bad I need ya, when I taste Tequila
When I taste Tequila
 
I ain’t even drunk, I ain’t even drunk
And I’m thinking
How I need your love, how I need your love
Yeah, it sinks in
 
When I taste Tequila, baby I still see ya
Sorority t-shirt, the same one you wore when we were
Sky high in Colorado, your lips pressed against the bottle
Swearing on a bible, baby, I’d never leave ya
I remember how bad I need ya, when I taste Tequila
When I taste Tequila
When I taste Tequila
When I taste Tequila

The Red Pen of Doom analyzes I WANT YOU TO WANT ME by Cheap Trick

As part of my ongoing mission to explore all music, and go where MTV no longer goes anymore, here’s another video: I WANT YOU TO WANT ME by Cheap Trick.

Why show this old thing from 1879 or whatever, when they had to plug their guitars into steam engines?

Three reasons why:

IT.

IS.

AWESOME.

This is a case where simple and repetitive works, because there’s a nice little pattern here with the words: “I want you to want me. I need you to need me.” And so forth. Nothing fancy. Nothing complicated. But it is inspired, and it’s the kind of song a moderately talented punk band could learn to play, you know, the kind of band that knows four chords and forgets two of them in the middle of the show after they finish off two bottles of cheap vodka.

So in that way, this thing is genius. You don’t need a degree in music to play it. You don’t need a great voice to sing it. It’s the perfect cover song, which is why so many other bands have covered it.

Also, it’s one of the few songs that sounds good live versus all auto-tuned and cleaned up in the studio. A gritty garage band can play it and fudge notes without ruining the thing.

You — yes, you — could probably do a decent job singing this thing at a karaoke bar, even if you are TOO DRUNK TO SPELL KARAOKE.

Bottom line: a simple, study, lovable song. A punk-rock deal with interesting twists in the lyrics.

I like it, I love it, I want some more of it.

;

Special bonus: my favorite cover of I WANT YOU TO WANT ME by Letters to Cleo. (This cover doesn’t have a music video. Somebody made one with scenes from the show CHUCK, and they did alright. Here you go.)

 

The lyrics are way, way below, just for fun. Straight-forward stuff – no need to dissect or improve these. They’re perfect. 

I WANT YOU TO WANT ME

Written by Rick Nielsen
Performed by Cheap Trick

I want you to want me.
I need you to need me.
I’d love you to love me.
I’m beggin’ you to beg me.
I want you to want me.
I need you to need me.
I’d love you to love me.

I’ll shine up my old brown shoes.
I’ll put on a brand new shirt
I’ll get home early from work
if you say that you love me.

Didn’t I, didn’t I, didn’t I,
see you cryin’ (cryin, cryin’).
Oh, Didn’t I, didn’t I, didn’t I,
see you cryin’ (cryin, cryin’)
Feelin’ all alone without a friend
you know you feel like dyin’ (dyin’, dyin’).
Oh, didn’t I, didn’t I, didn’t I,
see you cryin’ (cryin’, cryin’).

I want you to want me.
I need you to need me.
I’d love you to love me.
I’m beggin’ you to beg me.
I’ll shine up my old brown shoes.
I’ll put on a brand new shirt
I’ll get home early from work
if you say that you love me.

Didn’t I, didn’t I, didn’t I,
see you cryin’ (cryin, cryin’).
Oh, Didn’t I, didn’t I, didn’t I,
see you cryin’ (cryin, cryin’)
Feelin’ all alone without a friend
you know you feel like dyin’ (dyin’, dyin’).
Oh, didn’t I, didn’t I, didn’t I,
see you cryin’ (cryin’, cryin’).
Feelin’ all alone without a friend
you know you feel like dyin’ (dyin’, dyin’).
Oh, didn’t I, didn’t I, didn’t I,
see you cryin’ (cryin’, cryin’).
Feelin’ all alone without a friend
you know you feel like dyin’ (dyin’, dyin’).
Oh, didn’t I, didn’t I, didn’t I,
see you cryin’ (cryin’, cryin’).

I want you to want me.
I need you to need me.
I’d love you to love me.
I’m beggin’ you to beg me.

The Red Pen of Doom shoots up Train’s DRIVE BY

Here is an interesting song, and I mean “interesting” in a tragic, train-wreck sort of way.

Because it’s a decent melody by a good band with some of the WORST LYRICS EVER.

And the music video itself isn’t horrible at all. It’s fine. The words, though, they hurt me.

And I say this as a fan of Train, a man who has some of their songs and believes MEET VIRGINIA has creative lyrics for a pop song.

First up: the video, which I hope the evil known as VEVO lets you watch.

See? The song isn’t bad. The video is fine.

It’s the stupid lyrics.

Let the red ink flow.

DRIVE BY by Train

On the other side of a street I knew
Stood a girl that looked like you
I guess thats deja vu
But I thought this can’t be true
Cause you moved to west L.A or New York or Santa Fe
Or where or ever to get away from me

(OK, so far, this is alright. Nothing great, nothing horrible. The horribleness is hiding and saving its strength for an ambush.)

Oh but that one night
Was more than just right
I didn’t leave you cause I was all through
Oh I was overwhelmed and frankly scared as hell
Because I really fell for you

Oh I swear to you
I’ll be there for you
This is not a drive by

(I believe the singer — or whoever wrote these lyrics — is trying to say, “This isn’t infatuation, or a one-night stand, but something longer lasting and meaningful, possibly leading up to a white dress, a white picket fence and three years of white Pampers.” This phrase means, “A gang murders that utilizes one driver and one or more shooters, who send a wall of lethal lead at the homicide victim while making a rolling getaway from the crime.” So the message is kinda-sorta mixed. People hear this and don’t think of happy love. They think of Glocks and funerals.)

Just a shy guy looking for a two ply
Hefty bag to hold my love

(Because the only thing more romantic than a drive-by shooting is the leading national brand of garbage bags.)

When you move me everything is groovy
They don’t like it sue me
mmm the way you do me

(The bad pop trifecta: a word from the ’60s that needs to be retired, a reference to litigation and a crude reference to sex.)

Oh I swear to you
I’ll be there for you
This is not a drive by
On the upside of a downward spiral

(If he were definitely referring to NINE INCH NAILS, he’d get bonus points, but he’s not, so he doesn’t.)

My love for you went viral

(A tiny bonus point for not completing the cliche by name-dropping Facebook or Twitter.)

And I loved you every mile you drove away
But now here you are again
So let’s skip the “how you been”And 
get down to the “more than friends” at last

(“You didn’t really like me before, and you drove far, far, away, but now that you’re back, please pay attention to me as a boyfriend instead of some man you don’t really care about.” I believe that sums it up.)

Oh but that one night
Is still the highlight
I didn’t need you until I came to
and I was overwhelmed and frankly scared as hell
Because I really fell for you

Oh I swear to you
I’ll be there for you
This is not a drive by
Just a shy guy looking for a two ply
Hefty bag to hold my love
When you move me everything is groovy
They don’t like it sue me
mmm the way you do me
Oh I swear to you
I’ll be there for you
This is not a drive by

(The songwriter got ALL the bad cliches and phrases of this song into one tidy package right there. Bam-bam-bam-bam-bam-bam! Kind of like a emptying the clip during a drive by shooting. No. Just no.)

Please believe that when I leave
There’s nothing up my sleeve but love for you
And a little time to get my head together too

(To woo somebody, it’s not overly bright to hint that you’re not quite right in the head.) 

On the other side of a street I knew
Stood a girl that looked like you
I guess thats deja vu
But I thought this can’t be true
Cause

Oh I swear to you
I’ll be there for you
This is not a drive by
Just a shy guy looking for a two ply
Hefty bag to hold my love
When you move me everything is groovy
They don’t like it sue me
mmm the way you do me
Oh I swear to you
I’ll be there for you
This is not a drive by

(A repeat and recap of all the bad lines from before, in case we hadn’t heard them the first, second or third time.)

Bottom line

A successful band like Train probably hires songwriters for some — or a lot — of their stuff. Which is fine. You need to focus on touring, performing and shooting music videos. None of those are bad things.

The words, though, actually matter. They matter as much as the bass line, the lighting on the set and the type of leather jacket worn by the lead singer.

Spend a little more time and money on the words, because I used to hear “Train” and think of two good songs. Now, the first two things that pop into my head will be “drive-by shootings” and “Hefty bags.” Which is too bad.

A Tour De Force of ’80s Videos

If you were breathing during the ’80s, you will remember these songs and videos. If you weren’t alive, use this chance to learn about the songs coming to Classic Rock stations after they get done with their rotation of ’60s folk and ’70s disco-funk.

You may recognize some tunes from this thing they used to call the radio, which plays random songs and ads you don’t control, no matter how many buttons you push, though you could use these things called telephones to call the DJ to request a song, win prizes or try to get on live air to say something horrible, clever or horribly clever.

This era is actually important, in a musical sense, because ’80s rock and pop stars were the first to deal with music videos and MTV, so they broke a lot of ground in terms of visuals. It’s hard to go from “here’s some live footage of a concert” to “which Hollywood director should we hire for our $3 million shebang that *might* hold a candle to Thriller?”

Check it out:

The clip from Top Gun still cracks me up. How did we ever think that movie was cool?

Violins and cellos gone wild

Classical music can be a wonderful sleep aid, which is unfortunate because NPR switches from news (interesting!) to classical music right at 9 a.m., when I want to stay awake all day. Not helpful, NPR, not helpful at all.

However: These musicians prove you don’t need a guitar loud enough to shatter boulders to make good music. No. All you need is a violin–or a cello, which I’m told is a violin on steroids, but they could be lying to me–plus a whole bunch of talent.

First up is an Alaskan wunderkind, Bryson Andres, who has some kind of magical electric violin.

Second: Lindsey Stirling in an ice castle wearing an outfit that remind you of Peter Pan or an elfin extra from LORD OF THE RINGS, but maybe in a good way.

And finally, our clean-up hitter: Four British women with three electric violins and one super-powered cello, covering Led Zepellin.