Sean Michaels received the 2014 Scotiabank Giller Prize for his novel Us Conductors. He is the editor of the music blog Said the Gramophone.
Charlotte Dada – Don’t Let Me Down (1971)
In 1969, the Beatles recorded a song called Don’t Let Me Down. Two years later, in Ghana, Charlotte Dada did the same. She borrowed Lennon and McCartney’s lines, their teetering chord progressions, but built this new rendition out of swooning high-life guitars and clangorous metal percussion. Her voice is assured and helpless at the very same time. She is bare-hearted, happy, imploring: “I’m in love for the first time / Don’t you know it’s gonna last / It’s a love that lasts forever / It’s a love that has no past!”
Then that echoing plea, “Don’t let me down!” Over and over again, Dada’s appeal to her crush. That he be the man she fell in love with, that he be the man she wants him to be.
This week, 46 years after the birth of this song, Canada is singing Don’t Let Me Down to a wavy-haired new prime minister. He had some nice things to say. He made beautiful promises. But I don’t trust pillow talk. I don’t trust his friends. There’s lots to do and lots that’s wrong and I insist that we skip the honeymoon.
If you’re reading, Mr. Trudeau, all I ask is for you to be true.
Majical Cloudz – Downtown (2015)
A love song that seems painted like a line across the horizon. A straight line, steady and even, almost indiscernible. Montreal’s Majical Cloudz make their songs from synths and loops and then the sturdy baritone of Devon Welsh’s voice. It is sturdy even when it is smitten, even when it’s dotty. “Nothing you say / will ever be wrong,” he marvels. “I’m running with you / as fast as I can / singing to myself I Want To Hold Your Hand.”
Welsh knows that he is lovesick. There is a reckless swoop to the way he sings. But devotions like these mend wild pleasure with quiet, almost heartbreaking sincerity. Despite the nods to Petula Clark, the lyrics about how “cool” and “fun” this feels, or Welsh’s silly declaration that he’s “going crazy / crazy for you”, all this kookiness is mediated by quiet, radiant conviction. Downtown is loopy and beautiful. It’s love at magic hour, when everything’s ridged in gold.
Perhaps it’ll pass. Perhaps, one night, that clear horizon will disappear into a black sky. Welsh knows it could; he’s a fool undeterred. “There’s one thing I’ll do / if it ever goes wrong,” he promises. “I’ll write you into all of my songs.”
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