Death is just a part of life, you know? It's one of the few things we're all guaranteed to experience at some point, so it's no surprise it turns up as the subject of so many popular songs. What is surprising, though, is when those songs about what's traditionally the saddest of all possible subject matter come out sounding like feel-good party anthems. We talk about that on this week's Unpopular Opinion podcast ...
5Foster the People -- "Pumped Up Kicks"
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Right off the bat, is that even Foster the People in that picture? I honestly wouldn't be able to tell you. Anyway, I wrote a couple of articles that were somewhat similar to this a while back, and at the time, the comments section was all aflutter with outrage that I'd consider leaving Foster the People's "Pumped Up Kicks" off of a list about songs you didn't realize are secretly depressing.
In my defense, I just assumed everyone already had at least some idea what this song is about. According to the artist who wrote it, a guy named "the lead singer of Foster the People," it's told from the perspective of a troubled teen who's daydreaming about orchestrating a mass shooting. He also added in a later interview that the upbeat melody is intended as a "fuck you song to the hipsters," which makes absolutely no sense to me, but an explanation is an explanation, I suppose.
Hipsters cause school shootings.
Also, it seems I was wrong in assuming the meaning of this song was readily apparent to anyone who's heard it before. Not a single guest on the podcast caught the various references to freakishly gifted children outrunning guns and being faster than bullets and such, nor did the person who wrote this review of Torches, the album that spawned the hit single, and the site he's writing for literally has the word "psychiatrist" in its name. Sure, it's not a psychiatry-related website in any way and it recently went out of business, but still, the comments section was right for a change, a lot of people missed the meaning of this song.
It's easy to see how that happened, though. In addition to that peppy melody, the verses are sung in that far-away, muffled sort of tone that bands sometimes use in situations where their actual voice sounds like garbage. I imagine casual listeners spent the chorus mostly wondering if the song was about those ridiculously ugly and needlessly inflatable Reeboks that came out in the '80s.
Finally, a way to make your shoes fit tighter!
On top of all of that, this song was everywhere for the better part of a year. When songs get that huge, people who don't become immediate fans of the band in question (in this case, Foster the People, so everybody) tend to forever hear those songs as background noise. Sure, they know them, but they don't really know them.
I wouldn't be surprised if people said the exact same thing about most of the school shooters of the world after they committed their crimes.
4Norman Greenbaum -- "Spirit in the Sky"
If the artist's name isn't immediately recognizable, you should at least be able to place his most (only) famous song as "that one from the Guardians of the Galaxy trailer" ...
It's called "Spirit in the Sky" and, coming from a dude named Norman Greenbaum, it's got way more talk about meeting Jesus after you die than one might expect. Sure enough, he's Jewish, but that doesn't make a person immune from seeing Porter Wagoner singing a gospel song on television and thinking, "Yeah, I could do that."
Just a few short minutes later, Norman Greenbaum had a hit song that probably made his mother cry, but it's mostly for bullshit reasons, so it's cool.
Unsurprisingly, "Spirit in the Sky" is said to be one of the most requested memorial service songs of all time. Even less surprisingly, it was Norman Greenbaum who said that. As far as I can tell, funeral homes don't make statistics about this kind of thing widely available, so you're just going to have to trust that he's telling the truth.
His days of writing hit songs may be over, but Norman Greenbaum will never stop finding ways to teach us exactly how having faith works.