Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Would You Like to Feel Sublime?

Ding Dong - Nellie McKay

One of my favorite albums of this century, twelve years in, is "Get Away From Me," the 2004 debut from singer/songwriter/keyboardist Nellie McKay.  Uniquely for a first album, it was a double CD.  What ties together the mix of pop and rap and cabaret and more is McKay's good humor and intelligence.  Playful both lyrically and musically, GAFM holds up well today.

It was hard choosing which song from GAFM to use for this post.  I landed on "Ding Dong" for its juxtaposition of melancholy lyrics with a bouncy melody and the way its lyrics are open to various interpretations.

Speaking of interpretations, I try to avoid asking musicians what their songs "mean," as I feel that the best songs mean different things to different people - including the songwriter.  Also, it would be like asking a comedian to explain a joke - it's either funny or it isn't.  A song either works for you or it doesn't.

"Ding Dong"

After the jump, seven questions get answers from a witty Nellie McKay.
 Which came first, the music or the lyrics for "Ding Dong"?  Or did you write them simultaneously? 

Nellie McKay: My cat wrote them! Honestly, like Ronald Reagan, I do not recall - often melody & lyrics hopscotch.  

Are you singing this song as Nellie McKay or as a character - or isn't there any difference? 

NM: I just don't know anymore. I think the story comes from some obscure Greek myth. 

Geoff Emerick of Beatles' engineering fame produced your debut album.  Since then you've produced yourself.  Listening now to the original recording of "Ding Dong," are you satisfied or are there things you wish you had done differently? 

NM: There are always things you think you might have done better - maybe 'Ding Dong' could've used some sitar & a goat - also I am quite attached to the demo. 

This is a wonderful example of a song whose lyrics and music contrast; if you don't pay attention to the words, it sounds like a simple, jolly tune.  Can you think of songs you like by other artists that use the same technique? 

NM: Hmmm..  offhand 'The Fixin to Die Rag' by Country Joe and the Fish; 'Don't Worry Bout Me' and 'I Get Along Without You Very Well' spring to mind. 

"I Feel Like I'm Fixing to Die"

There are a handful of live performances of "Ding Dong" on youtube; the song seems to work well with an audience.  What was the most memorable performance of the song for you? 

NM: I did enjoy the Later with Jules Holland show - Elvis Costello and Green Day were there - it was a real mixed bag.

Do you ever go online to and elsewhere out of curiosity about how people interpret your songs? 

NM: No I never go there - how about that election?

"Don't Worry 'Bout Me"

Have you ever lived in a home where the doorbell actually went "ding dong"? 

NM: In Harlem but it had a kind of rythym and blues tang to it.

Check out Nellie's website and look here to see when she's performing in your neck of the woods.


  1. i love nellie mckay!

  2. I love her too, especially that album. She also does a cool cover of the Beatles' (George Harrison) "If I Needed Someone."