DJ Jim Q's Playlist: Fantasy
From modern superheroes and zombie movies to sci-fi fantasies like Star Wars and Aliens to the Brothers Grimm fairy tales to Greek mythology, fantasy has been a tool for creative minds to express ideas and concepts beyond the limits reality would permit.
Fantastical ideas are exciting and tantalizing, especially to artists. Imagining something new and outside the constructs of the real world is liberating. Fantasy is often a clever vehicle for the expression of controversial or subversive topics through allegory. George Orwell’s Animal Farm, for instance, explores themes of socialism and communism through anthropomorphized animals. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz has been interpreted as a parable filled with allusions to pro-populism themes in reaction to the gluttony and greed of the Gilded age. Fantasy sometimes helps us better express reality. I guess as Mary Poppins says “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.”
This month’s Fantasy playlist is replete with illusion, fantastic tales, and the unreal.
I opened up the playlist with Nas’s 1996 hit “If I Ruled the World”. In this acclaimed classic, Nas updates an old Kurtis Blow track by the same name. Nas’s version is a bit more practical, while the Kurtis Blow version is more fantastical or aspirational as he imagines literally being king of the world. Kurtis Blow does however address some very real issues, this verse in particular is pretty awesome:
“Cause we gotta stop war, and use unity
To fight crime and hunger and poverty
‘Cause the African baby is dyin’ overseas
While you sucker mission politicians bustin' out Z’s
Huh, twenty million people all unemployed
While the rich man try to play Pretty Boy Floyd
While the working class just struggles hard
Try to make ends meet against all odds
While the poor man can’t even deal with life
You know he tried to escape, and smoked the coke on the pipe”
Plus it opens up with a go-go beat. Great song, but I’m still partial to the Nas version, you just can’t beat that Lauren Hill hook.
I’m bringing back William Onyeabor on this month’s playlist. He’s pretty out-there, perfect for a fantasy playlist. Onyeabor was an eccentric Nigerian musician active in the 70’s, who fused psychedelic rock, early synthesizers and traditional African rhythms and vocal stylings to produce something truly unique. About three years ago, a compilation of his work emerged, and made it’s way onto every music nerd’s playlists and he has become a bit of a cult hero amongst musicians. The Vice affiliated Noisey created a documentary about the man and his music, check it out. I included his song “Fantastic Man”. In the song, Onyeabor after constantly praising his lover, demands she recognize his greatness, every man’s fantasy right? Give it up buddy.
This next one is a bit of an odd pick, but I wanted to pay homage to Gene Wilder, one of the all-time great comedic entertainers, who passed away in August of this year. I included Wilder singing “Pure Imagination” from the magnificent 1971 film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Known for his comedy more than his singing, Wilder was a rare talent. He was a comedic genius and he left the world with a wealth of brilliant work to keep us smiling for years. Below are a few great pieces on Gene Wilder:
I struggled with this next pick. Dan Hartman’s 1984 break out hit “I Can Dream About You” is a super catchy song in spirit of his contemporaries Hall and Oates. It’s a little cheesy, but what a song, you’ll be singing it in your head for days (you’re welcome). I first heard the song in the equally cheesy (but awesome) film “Streets of Fire”, I was pretty into that movie when first I saw it as a kid, I think I bought the 45 and listened to it incessantly for weeks.
The Lima chapter choose this months theme. I included some great 60’s Peruvian garage rock by the Los Yorks. In the track, “Ayer Tuve un Sueño”, vocalist Pablo Luna sings about his dreams of an idyllic fantasy world where there is kindness, peace, and happiness, only to be disappointed upon waking to reality. I also wanted to represent current Lima, after browsing through bandcamp, listening to an exciting and diverse collection of bands, I stumbled upon the Almirante Ackbar/Mundaka split release. Named after the fictional fish-headed Star Wars admiral, Almirante Ackbar has a great upbeat indie pop sound. I love the organ/synth textures on “Cientos Truenos”, great stuff. Check them out. I also included a track from La Lá, a great Peruvian band with bosa, jazz even calypso, influenced songs, along with beautiful vocals. The song “Selva Negra”, was a great song for the playlist with the themes of escapism and fantasy. I think… although my translation may be off, either way it’s a dreamy and beautiful track. In fact the whole “Rosa” album is fantastic.
There are a few tracks where artists are imagining better days, often there is a sense of fantasy or maybe it’s hopeful delusion.
In “Fairytale of New York”, Shane MacGowan of the Pogues paints a flawed vision of Christmas Day from the confines of a New York city drunk tank. In this duet, he sings to his unamused lover, as he fantasizes about a better world where all their dreams come true. She sings back to him with scorn and reprimands him for his false promises and for stealing her hopes and dreams. There’s a sad poetry in his misery and a charm in this tragic losers delusion as he continues to promise her the world.
This verse sums it up:
She sings, “You took my dreams from me
when I first found you.”
he replies,“ I kept them with me babe
I put them with my own,
Can’t make it all alone
I’ve built my dreams around you.”
What a great song.
From an East coast Christmas to a West cost fairy tale, Ice Cube’s classic 90s hit, “It Was a Good Day” is a great example of Ice Cube as a storyteller. Granted, his stories are often ultra-violent, and at times misogynistic and dark, especially his early stuff, uh yikes. However, he also explored substantive issues of race, violence, and police aggression. His narratives painted a vivid portrait of daily life in South Central Los Angeles, a community struggling with drugs, gang violence and police brutality. His stories exposed a reality that was largely ignored by 90’s America. In contrast to all the darkness and violence on the album, this track stands out as hopeful, a fantasy of the way things could be, and sometime are.
Lou Reed imagines his own good day in the 1972 classic “Perfect Day” The songs pollyannish lyrics contrast with the somber music to create an eerie tension throughout. The innocent lyrics about days in the park alternate with some rather sinister lines like “You’re going to reap just what you sow.” Many interpretations exist for this song, some rather innocent, but with his notorious struggles with heroin, I think Reed was painting a drug-induced fantasy world for us. He sings, “You make me forget myself, I thought I was someone else, someone good,” he is clearly escaping reality. “Oh such a perfect day, you just keep me hanging on.” I love the juxtaposition of darkness and light with this song, it’s powerful stuff.
Well I hope you enjoy this month’s playlist, Thanks for listening. If you enjoy these playlists, I would appreciate it if you shared them and please give me a holler on Twitter @jiquin. See you next month.