I am no music aficionado and my opinion certainly isn’t as authoritative as an NPR critic’s, but after spending innumerable hours with Rick Berlin over the past four months, I thought it would be fun to make a list what songs of Berlin’s speak most to me. These tunes all ended up on here for various reasons, which are listed below.
Paper Airplane: I Wish I Could Talk To My Dad
The lyrics have a personal resonance for me, but aside from dads, the words also speak to any type of difficult relationship that one wishes could be different.
“I wish that I could talk with my dad
Most of the time, he seems so distant and sad
I know it’s hard to know, but I got this idea in my head
We just standing on a rock somewhere
With a night as cold as death.
…I wish that I could talk with my dad
Most of the time, he seems so bitter and sad.”
Orchestra Luna: My Little Sam
This is a song off Orchestra Luna’s eponymous album, the band with whom Rick had his first taste of fame. “My Little Sam” was written by Rick and beautifully sung by his sister, Lisa, about her brother-in-law’s son.
Live at Jacque’s: The City is Empty
Berlin worked at Jacque’s for ten years, from 1994 to 2003. While there, he was able to perform his cabaret act every week. He recorded this album live over the course of three nights at the club. If you listen closely to the whole album, you can hear the queens chatting in the background.
Old Stag: Happy Lesbians
This is a song inspired by a night at the Midway Café —a bar in Jamaica Plain — when lesbians take over the scene and the men stand around, according to Rick, “wishing they were lesbians.”
Listen for Berlin’s spoken interlude:
“Will they close the Iron Curtain?
And keep the boys from hanging out
Will they close the Iron Curtain?
And keep the boys from hanging out.
Happy World filled with girls…”
And another from Old Stag: Yr Light is On
This song — recorded on a Hammond Organ at Woolly Mammoth Sound Studio — is all about the organ and the voice. It’s so easy to picture a cold, pitch-black night and two lit-up windows, two people brought together by loneliness and a desolate evening.
“Are you awake, are you alone?
Are you awake, are you alone like me?
I picture your face, it’s beautiful, looking at the moon
…When you step outside, will you think of me?
If it were possible, I’d call you up, wouldn’t say a word.
But you’d know me, in your heart. And I’d know you, in mine.”
Me and Van Gogh: “Buddha”
The perfect companion to a cold and solitary night.
“It’s a cold cold night
Outa work and outa love
Standing single file
It’s a cold cold night
I am the Buddah”
Rome Is Burning: “Why We Dream”
Epic power ballad. I can absolutely picture this as the redemptive song playing as the main character brings an 80s film to its finish.
Rick Berlin The Movie: “People Live”
Three words: Gospel Power Ballad. Give me a GPB and you got me, every time.
Shelley Winters Project: “Blood”
Tell me this doesn’t make you want to whip your head in the wind. Rick’s got the funk.
Half in the Bag: Can’t Get It Up
This song is a fun twist on what can be unfortunate and common occurrence, particularly among alcoholics and college students. Billie Best, Rick’s former manager of many years, is doing the vocals on this. Berlin is the one apologizing.
Berlin Airlift: Over the Hill
Outa Control (The Nickel And Dime Band): Slut
This song is orginally from Berlin’s album, Me And Van Gogh, but the song link is from a gig at the Brendan Behan Pub in Jamaica Plain.
“I’m a slut
I’m a ho
I’ll do anything
you lookin for
& I’ll listen
& I’ll laugh
I am yr pornographic
piece of ass”
And another from this album: Salut
“I salute you
tip of finger
to my eyebrow
w/ a smile
+ a nod
i salute you
cuz ya know me somehow
+ i feel less lonely
when yr around”
Always a sucker for the sax and the piano, the simple lyrics are slow and quiet, letting the instruments tango with Berlin’s voice for the center of attention. I also love this unexpected and lively interlude:
“The older I get, the less I know
One thing I learned, is when it’s time to go
The older I get, the less I know…”
Rick Berlin — The Movie: Rock and Roll Romance
My final pick, not because it’s my least favorite, but because I believe the title and lyrics of this song aptly describe the romance that has lasted through all of Rick’s musical reinventions: Rock and Roll.
Check out this Spotify playlist with these featured songs — throw it on, grab a PBR and enjoy the music.