By Marco den Ouden
Substitutes are more than just alternatives. An alternative doesn’t become a substitute until it is chosen. Substitution, at its core, is about making a choice. And more than that, a substitution means making a choice to replace an existing thing, person, or relationship with another.
Not surprisingly, most of the songs nominated dealt with relationships – the replacement of one lover with another a common theme. These involved a lot of variations as we shall see, but we’ll start with a sports substitution – Fio Maravilha by Jorge Ben. “January 1972. Flamengo vs Benfica at the Maracaná Stadium. At 0-0 with 15 minutes to go, the Flamengo coach brings on Joao Batista de Sales – the 'Wonder Boy'," writes pejepeine, and translates a lyric line: “It was an angel’s goal, truly a brilliant goal which the thankful crowd adored.” Wikipedia tells us the “Wonder Boy” is now a pizza delivery man in San Francisco where he also coaches youth soccer.
Our first pick for a romantic substitute is the compelling tale of a soldier – Woods of Darney by Richard Thompson. “He becomes the substitute husband for the one who'd died on the battlefield. But though he finds her and marries her, does she still think of her first love? Fabulous story-telling,” writes Suzi.
If taking the place of a fallen fellow-soldier is complicated, how much more so when the one you’re replacing is still living. The Other Man by Sloan is a “great song that looks at a love affair from the unusual point of the other man - who finds himself as a desired substitute and yet gets no sympathy from other quarters,” writes philipphilip99.
“Ms Millie Jackson has something to tell us about being caught up with a married man - being a substitute lover, an extra. And she wants us to know there are two sides to this story,” writes magicman. Millie gives us The Rap in compelling style.
One theme is the wannabe lover who thinks they’re a better choice than the current partner. Severin offers a song from The Modern Lovers. “Jonathan wants to take the place of the girl's boyfriend. He likes the guy OK but ‘he's always stoned’. Jonathan on the other hand …” I’m Straight – a wry number from Mr Richman.
Then there’s infidelity - the casual fling, the one-night stand. A problem often encountered by rock stars swarmed by groupies. “Away from home, he can't resist temptation,” notes Suzi pithily about The Rolling Stones’ The Spider and the Fly. An early Stones classic.
But magicman says the philanderer better beware. “A warning to all men who become entitled once they've scored a woman, she's not happy with you and she wants you out.” You’re not Irreplaceable sings Beyoncé.
“Dr John finds a very interesting way to tell us a story about infidelity. When you have been replaced in your dog's affection then you are truly in a fine mess,” writes Ravi Raman. How Come My Dog Don’t Bark When You Come Around?
Then there’s the post-breakup inability to move on. “The substitute proves no substitute through no fault of hers: sadly all passion has died beyond resurrection within him,” writes attwilightlarks of Tom Odell’s Another Love – a powerful and passionate song.
Pejepeine recommends Synthetic Substitution, a song regretting the modern world “in which Melvin fears his girlfriend will be (replaced by) a love machine.” Melvin Bliss is the artist.
Indeed, even robot lovers can come a-cropper. “Neil Young is asking for his third ‘unit’ substitution in Sample and Hold, he obviously hasn't enjoyed the company of the angry one, nor indeed the lonely one; both of which, the listeners have to assume were returned to the manufacturers, presumably under a no-quibble guarantee.” Thanks to FretlessBasser for those notes! Young uses a talk box in this one, a very different outing from his usual fare.
Then there’s the ersatz Online world, a world that often substitutes fantasy for reality. Amylee offered two numbers, both about “dorks who live with their moms. (Brad) Paisley just wants to be a stud.”
And for a closer, a song where the lyrics aren’t what’s interesting. It’s the artist. “Just one example of, perhaps, the ultimate musical substitute, one that doesn't, in a real sense, exist outside of the digital world for, gentle reader, Hatsune Miku is a "vocaloid", a programme of the computer that mimics a real voice and can be used to create songs ( in Japanese) by twiddling knobs and pressing buttons,” writes TarquinSpodd. One Thousand Cherry Trees is the song. I should add that Ms. Miku actually gives wildly successful live concerts where she appears as a hologram. She even appeared on Letterman. Max Headroom has met his match!
The Actual, Not Alternate, A-List Playlist:
Fio Maravilha - Jorge Ben
Woods of Darney - Richard Thompson
The Other Man - Sloan
The Rap - Millie Jackson
I’m Straight - The Modern Lovers
The Spider and the Fly - The Rolling Stones
Irreplaceable - Beyoncé
How Come My Dog Don’t Bark (When You Come Around)? - Dr. John
Another Love - Tom Odell
Synthetic Substitution - Melvin Bliss
Sample and Hold - Neil Young
Online - Brad Paisley
One Thousand Cherry Trees - Hatsune Miku
The Even Better Than The Real Thing B-List Playlist:
Substitute - The Who
Substitute - Clout
Substitute - Gregory Isaacs
Jolene - Strawberry Switchblade
Black Velveteen - Lenny Kravitz
Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing - Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell
What It’s Like - Everlast
I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man - Prince
It’s Alright With Me - Frank Sinatra
Love Me Like You - The Magic Numbers
Till Somebody Better Comes Along - Billie Jo Spears
Two Weeks - FKA Twigs
Le Moribund - Jacques Brel
She’s Not You - Elvis Presley
Someone to Lay Down Beside Me - Karla Bonoff
The Monkey and the Engineer - Jesse Fuller
Pastime Paradise - Stevie Wonder
Whispering Your Name - Alison Moyet
Let’s Invite Them Over - George Jones & Melba Montgomery
I’ll Never Find Another You - The Seekers
No Substitute Love - Estelle
Turn of the Century - Yes
Big O Motel - Tarnation
Automatic Lover - Dee D. Jackson
Worthless Lie - The Beautiful South
(Marie’s the Name) His Latest Flame - Elvis Presley
Add Me - Chumbawamba
Stacy’s Mom - Fountains of Wayne
Why Don’t You Try Me Tonight - Ry Cooder
Come On Over (Turn Me On) - Mark Lanegan & Isobel Campbell
Guru's Wildcard Pick:
Shawn Mendes – Treat You Better
These playlists were inspired by readers' song nominations from last week's topic: World Cup? Not quite. It's songs about substitutes. The next topic will launch on Thursday at 1pm UK time.
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