Monday, July 28, 2008

What a Wonderful World, Part II

I’m leaving later this week for a couple of weeks overseas, so the world is on my brain. Not literally; that would hurt.

I’ve been staring at maps, which has brought back memories from my extensive geography knowledge—the result of an unfortunate childhood obsession with atlases.

Hey, don’t mock me. It’s better than playing with dolls.

So I'm following up my post from about a year ago about our wonderful world with a few geographical factoids that you might find interesting.

Or not. But at least you’ll learn something.

Family-named countries: Only two countries still have names in English reflecting their founding dynasties: Saudi Arabia (the Al Saud) and Liechtenstein (Liechtenstein).

Oddly enough, the Liechtenstein family takes its name from a castle in Lower Austria, not from the area where today’s Liechtenstein sits.

Landlocked countries. The world has more than 40 countries without direct ocean access, ranging alphabetically from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe and geographically from Bolivia to Mongolia.

Only two are “double landlocked,” meaning they border only other landlocked countries: Liechtenstein and Uzbekistan.

Muslim populations: If you assume Muslims are Arabs and vice versa, wise up. The most populous Islamic country, with around 200 million Muslims, is Indonesia—almost as far from the center of the Arab world as the United States is.

Next in line are Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, and Turkey—not one of which is Arab, and one of which (India) is a majority Hindu country but still has a huge Muslim minority.

If you’re curious, Liechtenstein has about 1,400 Muslims.

Now a question for you:

What is your favorite country name—and why?

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Underappreciated '80s: Robert Plant, "Heaven Knows"

Robert Plant had his first and only truly massive solo hit in 1988 with "Tall Cool One" from his smash album Now and Zen. This single was so popular that Coke subsequently bought the rights to use the song in its ads, a sure--albeit sad--sign of obscene success.

Much more impressive, but less well remembered, is the opening track of the album, "Heaven Knows," which features the former Led Zeppelin lead singer at his best.

Although he didn't write the lyrics, Plant couldn't have picked better words to start off his first true solo album since 1985:

A brand new human being
Razor sharp, all firm and tan
All clean, all pure
With a 30 second attention span

Look at that album cover. He DID look razor sharp, after some questionable fashion and musical choices in the early and middle '80s. (Not to mention that it was good to see him again embracing, at least visually, the vibe of "Kashmir.")

"Heaven Knows" moved quickly enough between verses, chorus, and interludes to prove that a 30 second attention span wasn't all bad. Especially with lyrics like this, which would have seemed much cheesier coming from a less smooth voice:

Now I find myself fully occupied
And half alive
With your hands, heart, arms, and legs
Wrapped around my family pride

Not that I really wanted to picture a middle-aged Plant in such a position ... but it was good to HEAR him back in the proverbial saddle.

Especially when we get a Zep-era scream at the end of the bridge, when he follows the word "anything" with an eleven-syllable rendering of the word "goes."

Zen indeed.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Young Ain’t What It Used To Be

Shuffling the songs on your iPod can be illuminating.

The random selections from one’s digital music catalog (I keep about 5,550 songs on my iPod) often spur new thoughts about artists, song titles, or lyrics.

This week, the presence of three songs in the space of a couple of hours led to a lyrical revelation:

Over time, rockers singing about the young women they want to boink have raised the ages of their desired conquests.

I’ll admit that my argument suffers from methodological weaknesses. Most notably, it is based only on songs that appear on my iPod. (Worse still, it is based only on songs that popped up in my random mix.) There may be several other songs in my catalog—and dozens elsewhere—that would refute the notion.

Nevertheless, here are the songs that led my to my conclusion.

KISS, “Christine Sixteen” (1977). Gene Simmons crooned about someone way too young for him (even in the 1970s)—and probably sparked many community watch programs—with lines like:

I don’t usually say things like this to girls your age
But when I saw you coming out of the school that day
That day I knew, I knew
I've got to have you, I've got to have you!

Let’s all say it together: Eww.

Winger, “Seventeen” (1988). Also below the age of consent was Kip Winger’s target. He creeped out a generation when, at 27 years old, he sang about his 17 year old lover:

And just when I thought
She was coming to my door
She whispered sweet
And brought me to the floor
She said, I’m only seventeen
I’ll show you love like you’ve never seen

Sure, she was a year older than Simmons’ prey … but, to this day, the most common reaction to this song is a resounding chorus of “Eww!”

Eagles of Death Metal, “I Gotta Feeling (Just Nineteen)” (2006). Lesser known is this song from the very fun (and not actually death metal) band Eagles of Death Metal, featuring Josh Homme from Queens of the Stone Age. In it, we hear about a slightly older—and finally legal—young lady:

I gotta feeling that you wanna come over
I get you here and I will make you roll over
Now look it baby, you're just nineteen
I got the flesh and I will make you scream

Finally, we have it. A song about playing around with younger women that doesn’t also involve a felony.

Which, of course, reminds me of another song on my iPod, “Felony” by Dokken (1983):

Felony in tight blue jeans
I did not know she was so sweet
Felony, what you did to me
The judge said sorry—first degree …
Those tight blue jeans that drove my wild
I did not know she was just a child