If you write a blog, you want to write about what you love. That is definitely the case this month. I love November. The air grows crisp. Leaves crackle and descend in vivid, unabashed, glorious color. Magnificent pies make their way across dinner tables throughout the land. Once the election is over this month will be perfect! In the meantime, if you need a hand planning a more palatable month, add some of these extraordinary tunes to your November playlist and get out there and make nice with one another.
Few artists achieve both commercial and underground success, and fewer still live to enjoy it. Tom Waits, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee (2011), is just such an artist. The gruff-voiced, impassioned songwriter pens music often described as a mixture of beat poetry and small-combo jazz-blues. His songs have been covered by both The Eagles (“Ol’ 55”) and The Ramones (“I Don’t Wanna Grow Up”), not to mention Screaming Jay Hawkins, Solomon Burke, Marianne Faithfull, the Neville Brothers, Robert Plant, Alison Krauss, and the Blind Boys of Alabama. A songwriter’s songwriter, Tom Waits is easily one of the most influential artists of his generation.
Why not November? Dark and brooding, it might seem Waits’ November would be the perfect song to segue from our October top ten list to our new November list. Well, frankly I just like Hold On better. If you disagree, or are white knuckle clinging to October, Tom Waits’ Cemetery Polka offers another gem from his disturbing side.
9.) Heart Beats – JohnnySwim
Stephanie and I love husband/wife duos for obvious reasons, and Johnnyswim caught our eye on The Today Show not long ago. Since then we have come to enjoy many of the songs from their latest Georgica Pond album and think you will do the same. The album was produced by Johnnyswim‘s Abner Ramirez and recorded at the couple’s home studio in Los Angeles, with bass and drum parts added at the Castle in Nashville. Vince Gill makes a special appearance on the album and crushes the guitar solo on Lonely Night in Georgia.
From the album Girl, Gust of Wind is a joint effort between Pharrell Williams, Daft Punk, and the legendary Hans Zimmer. It might make you Happy to know Gust of Wind turned out to be Pharrell’s personal favorite on the album. For me, Hans Zimmer’s string arrangement alone is worth the money.
Four-time Grammy award winner Keith Urban might have a reason or two to give thanks. He is the first Horizon Award winner in history to go on to win the CMA’s Male Vocalist of the Year, a title he’s picked up three times, and if that weren’t enough he’s also captured the coveted Entertainer of the Year Award. He’s jammed with practically everyone, but his live performances with John Mayer of late have been particularly inspiring. On top of that, about a decade ago Keith married a struggling actress named Nicole Kidman.
The band Small Faces started out as a British Invasion-era soul band before they transitioned into to a more laid-back and experimental psychedelic outfit. They got their name because the band members were all under five feet six inches. They changed their name to The Faces in 1969 when Rod Stewart and Ron Wood joined. Both were much taller than the other members, so the band really wasn’t small any more. To learn more about the incredible talent of Small Faces’ founding member Steve Marriott, check out this biographical video documenting the span of life between his early child actor days to his self inflicted death by fire in 1991.
A melancholic ballad with a simple, clear yet warm sound, The Autumn Stone is the title track to the Small Faces final critically acclaimed compilation album released in 1969. The double LP presents the band in its prime while hinting at a future that should have been.
Adele’s heart wrenching song cuts as deep as it did the first time we heard it, but watching SNL’s hilarious sketch featuring the song was a Thanksgiving miracle last November. We should all be grateful for that kind of comedy.
4.) Autumn – Paolo Nutini
This blustery ballad from Nutini’s debut album is best served with hot chocolate while watching autumn leaves blow in the wind. The song lyrics offer a glimpse into the life experience of 12 year old boy and his heartbroken Grandfather.
3.) Girl From The North Country – Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan’s songwriting talents are legendary. This fact is proven time and again by the talented artists who choose to cover his songs. Girl from the North Country has been covered by a who’s who of the music industry. Take a moment to check out Eddie Vedder’s (Pearl Jam) version, or Johnny Cash & Joni Mitchell’s version from decades earlier, or Robert Plant’s version, or The Black Crowes version, or Crosby, Stills, and Nash’s version, or Neil Young‘s version, or Lion’s version (Sons of Anarchy), or George Ezra‘s version (my favorite),…the list goes on and on.
The song was also prominently featured in the Silver Linings‘ soundtrack and once again proved its perfection.
2.) Tie: Autumn Leaves – Eva Cassidy, Autumn Leaves – Ed Sheeran
I don’t remember the first time I heard Eva Cassidy‘s soul-stirring voice, but it was long before she became an internet sensation. A native of the Washington D.C. area, Eva was little-known during the bulk of her 33 years of life. She earned a local reputation as a masterful interpreter of standards from virtually any genre. Her take on “Over the Rainbow” is mesmerizing. You owe it to yourself to check it out. She died on November 2, 1996 after a fierce battle with skin cancer.
Ed Sheeran knows how to paint a pretty picture with his music. His original song Autumn Leaves boasts stunning lyrics coupled with masterful yet gentle acoustic guitar. I am pretty sure he is an alien from another planet.
1.) November Rain – Guns N’ Roses
This epic guitar driven power ballad from the early nineties is my guilty pleasure for this November list. Axl Rose, like many of us, has faults. November Rain is not one of them. The song peaked at number 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, making it the longest song (eight minutes and fifty seven seconds) to enter the top ten of that chart.
In the big budget music video directed by Andy Morahan, Axl Rose marries his then-girlfriend Stephanie Seymour and two sequences later, he attends her funeral. As with most Guns N’ Roses tunes, “best man” and guitarist Slash is prominently featured and his guitar solo holds the record for longest guitar solo in a top ten single. During one of the many legendary video sequences he marches to a spot outside the lonely little church and wails on his Gibson Les Paul as swooping helicopters fly all around him. After a tumultuous decade or so (who’s counting), Guns N’ Roses is back together and on the road for a raucous new world tour. It seems likely “November Rain” will make the set list. Hard to deny six hundred eighty million (and counting) You Tube views.
Bold bands make bold moves and Guns N’ Roses is no exception. The band released Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II at the same time (September 1991) and due to the band’s enormous popularity both albums sold very well. The only other time an artist had the top two albums at the same time was in 1974 when Jim Croce held the top two spots shortly after his death.
Vashti Bunyan, considered one of the most unique folk-pop talents to come along during the late 1960s and early ’70s, left the music business for more than 30 years. During the “freak-folk” movement of the 2000s, she made her triumphant return with the album Lookaftering  and more recently Heartleap . The BBC Collective interviewed the soft spoken singer-songwriter in 2007 and provided a glimpse into her rustic and all-together wonderful personality.
The name John Coltrane evokes a deeply emotional and reverent response from even the most casual jazz listener. Considered to be arguably one of the top two saxophonists of all time, Coltrane felt we must all make a conscious effort to effect positive change in the world, and his music was an instrument to create positive thought patterns in the minds of people.
Autumn Serenade was composed by Peter DeRose (1900-1953) in 1945. As a jazz and pop composer, DeRose’s songs were often written and performed as instrumental compositions. Ironically, the collaborative efforts of Coltrane and vocalist Johnny Hartman helped establish Autumn Serenade as a jazz standard, and to this day most available sheet music is still modeled after this duo’s definitive version.
Ok my friends, there you have it. These are just a few of the many greats songs (from many different genres) worth exploring during the month of November. I encourage you to seek them out and offer some feedback for next year. In the meantime, I leave you with a few more tunes having November in the title: November Has Come – Gorillaz, Dirge for November – Opeth, November Moon – Lindsay Wynn, November – Sleeping With Sirens.
By the way, let me know if your birthday is in November. We might share the same day!