We Insist! Jazz's Five Greatest Protest Songs

Candid Records
Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln's Protest Aria
The writer and journalist Harriet Martineau said, "If a test of civilization be sought, none can be so sure as the condition of that half of society over which the other half has power." That same test, if applied today, would reveal certain improvements in American society. Yet, based on the recent turbulent events in Ferguson, Mo., and Staten Island, N.Y., much remains to be done to rectify the present injustices forged upon America's most marginalized.

The seeds of protest due to grave miscarriages of justice for those in pursuit of the same happiness promised by our Declaration of Independence sprung from the soil that yielded the only exclusively American art form, jazz. In the 1950s and 1960s, jazz musicians began eagerly addressing inequality and bigotry, bringing to the foreground the sounds and images of the struggle for equal rights. Max Roach and Charlie Mingus confronted specific incidents head on while Billie Holiday transformed a song composed by a white school teacher horrified by the mass lynchings in the South.

Jazz, at the time America's most widely popular music, listened to by blacks and whites alike, felt the urgency to speak for those yelling from outside of the margins, for those who wanted nothing more than the decency that should be afforded to all men regardless of skin color.

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The Five Best Songs About the End of the World

The end of the world as we know it is an idea we're simultaneously petrified of and completely fascinated by. We see it constantly in fiction. The zombie apocalypse is one of the hottest ideas in fiction today, being exploited on TV constantly. Man-made and natural disaster films keep selling, and people keep craving more.

Maybe it's dissatisfaction with our own world, or just the same fixation we have on our own mortality, that fuels us to obsess over the mortality of our Earth. Regardless of the reason, it's been inspiring songwriters for ages, and it's produced some of the most blistering metal songs and inspiring anthems.

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Five Songs Much Darker Than You Remember

Photo by Groovehouse
Black Sabbath
"Darkness" is a term that doesn't always go over so well among mainstream audiences. For those of us into more experimental works of art or just inherently more extreme forms of music like metal, it comes with those genres' very nature. But in pop literature, film and music? Darkness is practically a bad word.

The darkest kind of film you'll get in the mainstream is The Dark Knight, and the darkest kind of music you might hear is angsty 94.5 The Buzz BS. But when it comes to real darkness made by mainstream artists? It often ends up on the cutting-room floor in favor of light brushstrokes.

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Five Songs That Were Grossly Misinterpreted

Photo by Abrahan Garza
Songs get misinterpreted all the time. Sometimes it's because they have vague lyrics, others it's because singers can't enunciate properly -- looking at you, Eddie Vedder -- and still others it's just because they're misleading and people don't take the time to think them through all the way.

That happens with satirical songs a lot, and these five have for sure been taken too much at face value. Especially in the realm of pop, it's easy to just look at a title and assume you know what it's about, but satire can take on many different forms, as seen here.

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Five Songs Written by People You'd Never Expect

Photo by Jim Bricker
The Beach Boys
As we continue the transition to digital media in the modern age, one thing we've lost is liner notes. These were usually just credits and weren't really that important in the grand scheme of things, but sometimes they revealed some interesting facts. Specifically, they often listed who wrote certain songs, and could change your perception of a band.

Either that or they'd just shock you. Most of the time, you'd just see the guitarist's name next to the song, but other times you'd see some crazy name you'd never expect. Here are five that jumped out at me the first time I found out about them.

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K-OTIX Redux: Houston's Legendary Anti-Gangstas Reunite

Photos by Marco Torres
"We'll do the pause, then when we're ready..."
- Russell "The ARE" Gonzalez

What if I told you that Houston rap is much more than slow, loud, and bangin', syrup-dripped, gangster, pimped-out, and/or trill? That a certain rap crew from Houston that headlined SXSW's very first official hip-hop showcase in 1994, and has performed and successfully toured nationally and internationally (with De La Soul, Talib Kweli, and the Black Eyed Peas), and whose members continue to be instrumental in the city's rich musical tradition? That their debut LP Universal (2001) is perhaps one of the best Houston rap albums, ever?!

Such a group existed, and, at times, exists still. I'm talking about K-OTIX, a.k.a. The Legendary K.O. Lead by the MC duo of Micah Nickerson (Mic or Big Mon) and Damien Randle, backed by beat master and DJ Russell "The ARE" Gonzalez, K-OTIX took what they learned from the East Coast sound and integrated a pensive delivery combined with the grittiness absorbed from living in the tough H-Town environment of the mid-'90s through the early '00s.

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Where Is Lil Wayne In the Lyrical Hot Water Hall of Fame?

Proving that it is almost never wise to compare the results of rough sex to Emmett Till's face, Lil Wayne was dropped from his Mountain Dew campaign last week. Emmett Till, for those of you who aren't familiar, was a 14-year-old boy who was beaten to death, shot, and dumped in the river for whistling at a white woman in Mississippi in 1955.

I would have thought it was a no-brainer, the idea that society does not condone comparing anatomical parts with the face of a victim of a horrific racial crime, but indeed it was not. The controversial lyrics that cost Weezy his contract were taken from a remix of Future's "Karate Chop," which leaked onto the interwebs in February of this year. During Lil Wayne's part, the rapper proclaims that he'll "Pop a lot of pain pills/ 'Bout to put rims on my skateboard wheels/ Beat that pussy up like Emmett Till."

Classy, I know. Sorry about the visual.

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Strange Encounters: Five Great Metal Songs About Aliens

Faceless Planetary Duality.jpg
In the metal pantheon, lyrical subjects go in and out of style almost as fluidly as fashion and whether a song should have breakdowns or not. It seems almost a guarantee that every few years the entire scene will shift to a new fixation. Just a few years ago, everyone was screaming about their feelings and how much they hated their ex-girlfriend for breaking up with them. Now? To quote Giorgio A. Tsoukalos, I'm not saying it's aliens, but... it's aliens.

That's right. The allure of the extraterrestrial has lately overtaken the world of metal, especially extreme metal and the popular "djent" form. Of course, there were earlier examples, including Megadeth's classic "Hangar 18," but the fixation really took hold around 2008 with the release of the Faceless' Planetary Duality.

Ever since, aliens are the thing. How has that turned out? Well, it's a hell of a lot better than the misogyny that pervaded metal in the mid-'00s and it's actually produced some awesome tracks like these.

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aliens, metal

Sometimes Uncomfortable Doc Resurrects '70s Superstar Paul Williams

Paul DVD cover.jpg
Paul Williams: Still Alive
A Film by Stephen Kessler
Virgil Films, 84 mins, $19.99.

In the 1970s the diminutive Paul Williams was everywhere. And I mean, everywhere.

The singer-songwriter was best known for penning hits for others like the Carpenters ("Rainy Days and Mondays," "We've Only Just Begun"), Three Dog Night ("Just an Old-Fashioned Love Song," "Out in the Country"), Helen Reddy ("You and Me Against the World"), and Kermit the Frog ("The Rainbow Connection").

But he was also a performer himself and very frequent guest and co-host on talk shows (appearing on "The Tonight Show" some 50 times), had acting spots on many shows like "The Love Boat" and "The Odd Couple," scored films and made a few big screen appearances.

Oh, and he won an Oscar for Best Original Song (with Barbara Streisand) for "Evergreen (Love Theme from A Star Is Born)". You know, "love...soft as an easy chair..."

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Liam Gallagher Is My Hero. Don't Judge Me.

Beady Eye 250pix.jpg
Solly Darling via Wikipedia
Liam Gallagher is a literary genius.

Yes, I said it. And I won't take it back.

But wait. Don't start typing out your "Beady Eye sucks and their album tanked" rant just yet. I can explain.

I say this based not on Liam's musical prowess but on his inane ability to drop pearls of bitchy wisdom aimed at the likes of everyone from UK football star Wayne Rooney to the Scissor Sisters, while managing to keep the press interested in his work with a band that has thus far, well, sucked.

His liquid-gold rants are any reporter's wet dream, and have managed to create a cult following for the former Oasis front man that has extended well past his musical glory days.

If Liam Gallagher could write lyrics like he slings out bitchy potshots, Beady Eye would be a huge commercial success. But he doesn't, and it's not.

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