September Artist – Lana Del Rey (Part 3)
This post is part of my Deep Dive Music Project. This month I’m listening to some music by Lana Del Rey. Be sure to check out the Lana Del Rey playlist I have on Spotify. Note: Chemtrails Over The Country Club wasn’t released when this post was first published, but I have added it to this playlist. This post has all my thoughts about the music I’ve listened to this month, and is broken up into three parts including this one. Click on a link below if you’d like to read another section.
For this post, I’m taking a couple of songs from the Lana Del Rey albums I’ve been listening to this month, and writing a little something about them. And again I don’t know what I’m doing or if this is good, but I just want to write. These songs were chosen for random reasons I can’t explain, but these were the songs I kept hitting repeat on. This doesn’t necessarily mean they’re my favourite songs, or that the other songs are less good – these were just the songs I got a little obsessive over for whatever reason. Some of writings below are about the song themselves, others are more about my experience with the song. These entries may or may not have anything to do with the actual subject matter and/or artist’s intentions for the songs. The songs are in order of album release (oldest album first).
Lolita: Born to Die – Paradise Edition
When it came to listening to the Born to Die album I found myself at first repeating the songs I already knew like “Born to Die” “Blue Jeans” and “Summertime Sadness.” There is something to be said for the familiarity bias (a psychological effect where people tend to prefer/like things they are familiar with). After a few times of repeating the songs that I knew I then started repeating the new-to-me song of “Lolita.” Holy hell is this song an earworm. I love when singers do different vocalizations and even accents (Kate Bush and Regina Spektor do this kind of thing in their songs a lot). The higher-pitched breathy vocalizations Lana Del Rey does in this song is great and adds to the whole “Lolita” theme. I should point out I haven’t read the book “Lolita” or seen the Stanley Kubrick film adaptation, though I know what it’s about (including the whole unreliable narrator aspect). More to the point the term Lolita is one that has permeated pop culture; Wikipedia says the term “Lolita” has been assimilated into popular culture as a description of a young girl who is “precociously seductive…without connotations of victimization.”
This song seems to allude to the idea of a group of people (perhaps related to gender, though not necessarily) using society’s over-sexualization of them to subvert this expectation (lines like “I know what the boys want, I’m not gonna play”). It’s a song that points to the narrator having desires (“I want to have fun and be in love with you”), which to me is about how powerful our desires (not necessarily sexual, though in this song that seems to be the idea) can be. Also, when Lana Del Rey sings “D-a-r-k, dark do it my way” seems to be a commentary on consumerism and capitalism (fast-food company Burger King had the slogan “have it your way” until 2014). I don’t mean commentary on consumerism in a “eat the rich” kind of way, but showing how love and infatuation can be an all-consuming obsession (“gonna make the boys fall like dominoes”).
Bel Air: Born to Die – Paradise Edition
When this song came on I thought “oh that piano part at the beginning is pretty. Is that an arpeggiated chord?” So I had to figure that out. The long story short is I found the chord progressions for the song online (and there is an arpeggiated chord in the left hand) and I started playing the song on my keyboard. Now I’m not saying this because I’ll be uploading a video of me playing the piano because that’s never happening. I have a weird relationship with the piano where I like piano-heavy songs (or piano-focused songs), but I have difficulty playing the piano myself. I took piano lessons as a kid, but playing the piano wasn’t easy (particularly when it comes sight-reading and piano theory). I don’t “play piano for fun.” No, I play the piano when I get this urge to try to figure out (usually by ear at first) how the melody of a song goes. I’ve always had a good ear for figuring out intervals and notes and such, but I’m not as good at it now as I was before. I want to retrain my ears to be better at figuring out notes, and maybe chord progressions (chord progression isn’t something I did much ear training with). Is this is a necessary thing to have in my life that will fix all the problems of humanity? No, but I enjoy trying to figure out songs by ear, and “Bel-Air” reminded me that I want to get back into that.
Plus this song is really good too. It’s pretty (I’m a sucker for pretty songs). I love the drum (or maybe drum machine) inclusion in the chorus. Also, something I love in songs is when an artist adds in real-world/non-music sounds in a song, like the kids (I’d assume) chattering in the background. I realize that this was probably added during production on purpose, but gives the feel of a song that isn’t perfect, and was recorded impromptu. Again I know it’s not, but I like some non-music sounds in a song.
West Coast: Ultraviolence
I could have picked any two songs from this album because I fucking loved it, but something about West Coast pulled me in right away, the opening drums, the 70s rock vibe – it just works (for me anyway). Then the tempo change at the chorus, where it slows down and pulls back (apparently from 123 bpm to 50 bpm) – fucking loved that. I listened to the radio version of the single too, which has an even tempo (no changes), has some lyrics changes, is overall shorter (as radio singles can be), and has a more acoustic rock feel to it. The radio version isn’t bad, but I prefer the album release of this song – it’s a bit more of a trip.
Referring back to the album version of “West Coast” I love the soft (very hard to hear) part where she does the “mic check” after the first chorus. When a song has a “flaw” like this I find it really compelling because that could have easily been edited out. The “ooh baby I’m in love” is seems to be a call out to Stevie Nicks song “Edge of Seventeen” adding to the whole nostalgic SoCal music vibe that you can hear on this album. And then the synth (I’m assuming it’s some kind of synth near the end) yes I fucking love it. This was the song I listened to 20 times in a row, and then listened to it again because I just loved this song. It’s a moody surf rock aesthetic that I didn’t know I needed until I heard it.
Pretty When You Cry: Ultraviolence
This song opens with part of the chord progression from “Hotel California” by The Eagles. Now, this isn’t me making some “Aaah!!! she stole that song” accusation because there are enough differences throughout both songs to make them different. But as soon as I heard this I was like oh “Hotel California” 70s guitar rock/Laurel Canyon vibes.”
“Oh yeah I’m definitely not going to mention music theory in these posts for sure,” Alouise said lying like a lying liar. Anyway here are the chord progressions for the two songs.
“Pretty When You Cry”
Verse: Am, E, G, Dm, E
Chorus: F, Am, G, F, E
Verse: Am, E7, G, D, F, C, Dm, E7
Chorus: F, C, E7, F, C, Dm
According to the Guitar tab website where I researched this because obviously, it says “Hotel California” is in B minor and “Pretty When You Cry” is in B Flat Minor (semitone lower). And I don’t know if those chord progressions above are in the right key or this is a transposed key because the chord progressions above don’t make sense to me in Bm or Bbm. If I’m looking at the chord progressions above I’d assume the songs are in A minor. And if that’s the case going from the I chord to the V chord isn’t some crazy thing, cause many other songs have done this (particularly in mainstream western music). I know that minor chord progressions tend not to always stick to the minor. For example, in A minor chord progression the V chord would be Em, but for both “Pretty When You Cry” and “Hotel California” it’s E major (and E7 in “Hotel California” which is essentially the E major chord with a 7th note – or the d above the b). Essentially the point I want to make without relearning 2 years of music theory and teaching it to you, is the songs sound similar at first but don’t stay the same.
But again I love the vibe of this song, and of course, Lana Del Rey’s vocalizations float above the melody and are just wonderful. But I just drove myself crazy looking up chord progressions and googling terms like “what is it called when you’re in A minor and then go to E for the V chord, but it’s E major and not E minor.” My internet stopped working, so I don’t know the answer. I’m assuming you probably don’t care, but this is the stuff that’s in my brain and I want to figure it out.
High By The Beach: Honeymoon
After hurting my brain from the last song (which to be clear I do love) I wanted to go with something more simple. And not that “all I want to do is get high by the beach” as the chorus goes I have to admit that doesn’t sound bad at all. You got some spacey synths at the beginning, which adds to this relaxing chill vibe of the song. Then the slow beat adding in the chorus, pulling back at the verses. Also, this song has some great vocal layering, which a lot of Lana Del Rey songs seem to have. And I find it really interesting that she uses the Spanish term acción in the bridge instead of the English action. I’m assuming to fit the rhythm of the song. She sings a short line in Spanish in “West Coast” as well. The spoken poetry lines at the end are great, which seems to reiterate the idea of the best revenge is living a good life. Or maybe for Lana Del Rey the best revenge against critics is making some great music, which she continues to do.
Swan Song: Honeymoon
The opening of this reminds me of the opening part of “I Want to Break Free” by Queen. This isn’t in the same key (“I Want to Break Free” is in E Major and “Swan Song” is in Db Minor). But they both start with this piano synth thing and that’s what my brain thought of when I first heard the opening of “Swan Song.” The term “Swan Song” of course is referring to the idea of the big/last final performance that someone gives before they retire or passes away. Lana Del Rey teases this idea with the line “And I will never sing again.” Luckily for us, she does sing again, but “Swan Song” has this fatalistic element to it that a lot of Lana Del Rey songs have. It’s a sad, slow tempo ballad, which isn’t always my jam but this song I kept repeating.
Also sometimes my brain does this thing where I think if they made a jukebox musical using songs from a particular artist or band what songs would work best? To me “Swan Song” is one of those songs I could picture/hear in a jukebox musical using Lana Del Rey songs (check out my podcast episode on jukebox musicals to learn more about them). Not saying that there should be a musical of Lana Del Rey songs (often jukebox musicals are thinner on plot and character development because they shove in songs that people know and are popular). But if on the very slim chance a Lana Del Rey based jukebox musical is ever made I feel “Swan Song” would be a great choice for an 11 O’clock number (the big usually solo number before a finale that a female often sings like “Cabaret” from Cabaret or “Rose’s Turn” from Gypsy).
13 Beaches: Lust For Life
Out of all the Lana Del Rey albums I listened to Lust for Life was the hardest for me to get into. Not saying it’s a bad album, and it’s probably on that I’ll get more into this at a later point (which can often happen with me). I read that “13 Beaches” was written after Lana Del Rey had to visit 13 different beaches (around Los Angeles) before finding one without paparazzi. I think the idea of obsessing over celebrity tying into an obsession over love is really apt parallel. The spoken part at the beginning is apparently from a 1962 horror film called Carnival of the Souls. In my first post for this month, I mentioned that I thought Lana Del Rey would be similar to Kate Bush in her songwriting style. Well, Kate Bush has several songs with clips to movies or alluding to specific films like “Hounds of Love” and “The Wedding List” and “Wuthering Heights” (to name a few). That’s another connection to the Kate Bush style of songwriting I didn’t even consider Lana Del Rey would have as well.
Cherry: Lust For Life
“Cherry” is the song that comes right after “13 Beaches” on Lust For Life. In the previous song Lana Del Rey sings about “dripping peaches” and in this song, she sings “and all of my peaches are ruined.” This song seems to be a darker take on unrequited love. The chorus with the line of “rosemary and thyme” seems to be a shoutout to the old English ballad “Scarborough Fair” (part of the ballad was featured on the 1966 Simon and Garfunkel album Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme). Also, I love the spoken swears during this song, which remind me of that little voice in your head that goes “fuck!”
Mariner’s Apartment Complex: Norman Fucking Rockwell
This is just a nice sounding song. I mean not that the other ones aren’t, but this has a nice acoustic feel to it (in the beginning). It feels like it’s a song that could be or may be started as a poem. I love how Lana Del Rey sings “I’m your man” with a bit more breathiness the first time, and then with a bit more force on subsequent times. I mentioned this in the last post, but a singer being able to sing with a breathy voice (would assume this is a head voice, but I don’t know much about singing in that regard) while maintaining a consistent volume (and not devolving down to a whisper) is pretty intriguing to me. I was more of a belter as a singer, and I find we’re often intrigued by the talents we lack. The speak-singing that happens in this song is great, and I think is used effectively. It doesn’t seem to be the case of, “she’s speaking this because she can’t hit the notes.” The guitar, not sure if it’s a reverb there, but it’s great, particularly with the outro. It’s a song that starts with an acoustic feel (though I know it’s not entirely) and then builds up to more of an electronic ending (though I’m not saying the song is electronica by any means). I mean you get more of a fuzzy guitar sound at the end and I fucking love it.
happiness is a butterfly: Norman Fucking Rockwell
“If he’s a serial killer what’s the worst that can happen to a girl who’s already hurt.” When I heard that line my first thought was “damn girl.” I love it when someone writes something that makes you go oh, yeah never consider that words could be put in this particular order to express this particular feeling or thought. The idea that love is painful, love hurts, etc is a big cliché that has been said/sang a lot. And not that this sentiment shouldn’t be written about or sang or expressed in some other artistic way, but I find it refreshing when someone can say something like this in a new way. I really love the sparseness of this song, and how the music builds up during the chorus when she starts with the line “I said don’t be a jerk, don’t call me a taxi…” The end of the chorus sounds like the keyboard (it might be a synth instrument) does a slide down part of the scale, but it’s slightly distorted and I’m obsessing over this sound. What is it? See this is another thing that’s gonna keep me up at night.
Well, I think this is going to be the last Lana Del Rey post for September. I am sad her new album Chemtrails Over the Country Club wasn’t released this month, but then again I know with Covid a lot of new album releases are being pushed back since artists can’t tour these albums right now. No matter when the album comes out I’ll give it a listen (though I might not get to writing about the album like these ones). The expectations I had for Lana Del Rey albums and songs were met and exceeded, even in some ways I wasn’t expecting (like all of Ultraviolence for example). And while there are probably a few songs of hers I couldn’t find and listen to, overall this was a really enjoyable month.
What’s your favourite Lana Del Rey song? Is there a Lana Del Rey song or album I’ve missed and should check out?