tell me it truer
by Sean
Please note: MP3s are only kept online for a short time, and if this entry is from more than a couple of weeks ago, the music probably won't be available to download any more.


The "My Funny Valentine" Contest continues apace... You have until Sunday night to send me the best version in the world (vocal or instrumental, it don't matter). Submissions as of midnight Thursday UK-time include renditions by Chet Baker, Chris Botti, Elvis Costello, Etta James, Frankie Machine, Gotan Project, Jackie Gleason, Matt Damon, Miles Davis, Tom Barman, Over the Rhine, the Ray Brown Trio, Victoria Williams. (Several of these have been repeatedly submitted.) Do keep them coming - but only if they'll win.

Entries should be emailed to, or, if you're worried about the attachment being too big, via the ever-wonderful dropload.

Two people have sent versions that were not by the artist they thought, but rather by Chet Baker. Yay for P2P! :)


Yo La Tengo with Daniel Johnston - "Speeding Motorcycle". How to put this song into words? How to say that this is, tonight, my favourite song in the world? How to say that it is as funny as true love, as true as the best jokes, as crazy as a wedding, as joyous as the end of a very, very bad day.

Yo La Tengo play like it's their first date, like they're not really sure. (This is of course because they are on live radio, trying to remember the song, trying to cooperate with this man who's yelling over the phone.) Daniel Johnston, meanwhile, goes wild, goes glad, goes angry and jubilant and desperate and proud. Yo La Tengo have an agreeable acoustic guitar, an organ, a pinch of drums. Daniel Johnston has his swaying, crackling voice: a voice so rich that it's sprouting vines, little bursts of flower, feathers and heartbeats.

It starts out like a comedy: a strange conversation and then Johnston's skewed accapella. But when the guitar comes in, Daniel gains an Elvis swagger, a James Dean unh. The strength comes into his jellybones. And now he can high-kick, jump-start, catch bouquets and tear off clothes. It's hilarious, it's ecstatic, it's tender as a fresh cut and red as all that blood.

Daniel Johnston recorded "Speeding Motorcycle" on 1989's Yip/Jump Music. He is a splendid, crooked songwriter who you should read about. Yo La Tengo covered "Speeding Motorcycle" on 1990's Fakebook. They are a sweet noisy pop band who you should read about. Late in 1990, Yo La Tengo were playing on Jersey City's WFMU (as they do), and Daniel phoned in. They decided to play a song. The song would be "Speeding Motorcycle". Yo La Tengo stood in their half-circle at the studio, all hesitant glances and grins. Over in Texas, Daniel stood in his socks in the kitchen and boy, he yelled his heart out.

(thanks to _highatus and bug138)

[buy Daniel Johnston stuff]

[buy Yo La Tengo stuff]


The Pipettes - "Dirty Mind". Shimmy-shammy doo-la-la, clapclapclap and shiny guitar. The Pipettes are Brighton's polka-dot girl-group, the Cassettes are their back-up band, and "Dirty Mind" is their first single for Memphis Industries (see also The Go! Team, Dungen). It's got lipstick sass and the upward flit of skirts, lyrics that fall somewhere between Rachel Stevens and The Lucksmiths; it's got coordinated dance-moves and bumper-car backup vocals.

It's not retro, though, not quite - there's too much of today in the girls' flirting, in the songwriting. These kids have studied The Cure as much as they have The Shirells; they take some Lady Sovereign with their Diana Ross. They drink Guinness floats not Shirley Temples, and I bet they smoke cigarettes. (Then again, the 20th Century girl-groups probably did too.) It also sounds like they must have degrees in songcraft - this is such a perfect pop composition, all those bridges and choruses that fit together like girl and boy. Or, less scandalously, like man and woman. (Okay, or less scandalously again, like hand in hand.) In short: it's a hit.

[you really ought to pre-order the single at Amazon (the b-side is fantastic too)]


In real life:

Frances are playing at NYC's Pianos tonight, at 10:30, with a horn section too.

Me, though, I'm a continent away -- I will spend Friday night at The Skinny's Glasgow Launch Party, at The Bastille: howlin' blues from Uncle John and Whitelock, DJing from the Reindeer Section (aka members of Mogwai, Snow Patrol, Arab Strap, etc), and lots lots more music. Free till 11. Say hello to the Canadian with beard and glasses. I might even buy you a drink.

Posted by Sean at October 21, 2005 8:39 AM

When I first bought "Genius+Love=Yo La Tengo" I was staying at my Aunt and Uncle's place. I was listening to it on my headphones and was immediately stunned by "Speeding Motorcycle". I went into my cousin's room and got him to play it on his stereo. He was laughing so hard that before I returned home, he made a tape of this song over and over because he wanted to hear it over and over again. I think everyone in our 2 houses had to hear that song a number of times that summmer. The ending where he says in the tiniest voice possible "Are we done?" is too perfect for words.

Posted by caley at October 21, 2005 1:35 PM

great song sean! i've long loved YLT's version from Fakebook, it's got one of my favorite ira vocals on any of their songs. i bought the daniel johnston tribute album last year and stuck that song in - it didn't feel right without speeding motorcycle.

Posted by Ambrose Chapel at October 21, 2005 7:14 PM

great post, sean. i always enjoy your writing, and this is right on. i've had fakebook on repeat this week, so it was great to hear this version again. is it possible to listen to this and not come away with a huge grin?

Posted by kyle at October 22, 2005 10:33 PM

I'd love to hear more of the Pipettes! Doesn't look like I'll hear any of this in the US. If anyone has more stuff, please send it my way because they are spectacular.

Posted by Taryn at October 23, 2005 2:35 AM

Sean, you once asked for feedback, saying something about wanting to know what you're doing right, what's not working as well. So a month ago you posted Walk of Shame by Thee More Shallows. I liked the song enough that I went to their website and downloaded three other songs by them (A Perfect Map, Freshman Thesis, and 2 am). The website also mentioned that they would be coming to Montreal on October 22nd.

This is October 23rd. Last night I went to their show. Heard them play. Bought their three CDs. It was awesome. And basically none of it would have happened had you not posted that song. I gues what I'm saying is, thanks.

Posted by christopher hearns at October 23, 2005 1:29 PM

I was in college in Nj at the time of that fmu show. I believe it was sunday night, we always tried to tune in as they had bands in the studio that night. hearing yo la tengo at their peak and then having daniel johnston call in was my #1 radio moment of all time (it was goose bumps good!)


Posted by craig at October 24, 2005 3:30 PM

Looking for a song or a soliloquy that Jackie Gleason did way back years ago - about a Father talking to his Son while his son slept. If anyone has any ideas on the words or what the name of the song is - it will be greatly appreciated.

Posted by Marie at January 23, 2008 6:34 PM


I used to have a recording of Yo La Tengo with Daniel Johnston - "Speeding Motorcycle" radio session.
I really really really adore that version. Any ideas where i could get hold of it again.
kind regards

Posted by Mel at May 18, 2010 7:08 AM

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Sean Michaels is the founder of Said the Gramophone. He is a writer, critic and author of the theremin novel Us Conductors. Follow him on Twitter or reach him by email here. Click here to browse his posts.

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