Late Greats: My Favorite Tracks from Michael Been of The Call

michael been I can’t remember the last time an artist’s death struck me as deeply as the loss of Michael Been of The Call. I guess I can attribute it to several factors: Been’s incredibly human, affecting delivery; their status as a “never-quite-was” band; the fact that they had only hit their stride with 1990’s Red Moon and then called it quits; but most of all his music. I suppose I feel that the humility and emotional depth of the band’s music serves as a sort of antidote for the trite product that we often label “music.” I don’t intend to look down on anyone, but Been was a bird of a different feather from your average pop star, both then and now. No one wrote or performed songs quite like Michael Been.

So I guess what I want to do here is run through a few of my favorite tracks, tracks that reach a little deeper into The Call’s back catalog, and give a little more exposure to this man’s beautiful music. I hope his memory lives long – I think he was a sort of under-recognized treasure to the world of music, an artist who never fit any particular mold but made great music that was completely true to his own vision. So enjoy the clips…

”Red Moon”
Although this track is certainly not typical of The Call’s sound, it’s just beautiful. Been paints a lyrical picture that seems to follow a man through the stages of his life, dressing it in a simple song that almost comes off as a lullabye. And I guess that’s what I love about this track – it’s almost as if Michael is addressing the song to a child, a subtle admonition to take nothing that comes in this life for granted.  “A warm wind and a red moon and the world goes by…”

”What’s Happened to You”
Michael takes a cue from Van Morrison on this gorgeous track, the opening cut from Red Moon. Notably, he’s joined on the chorus by Bono, who (thankfully) lets Been take the lead. The track seems addressed to someone who has emerged into joy from a deep darkness. This is the sort of track that you can’t help but sing along with, and Been masterfully plays the song leader. “Did you see some great vision/Did you finally break through/Did you shake the foundations/What’s happened to you?”

”You Run”
”…but you can’t escape the reach of love.” I wonder how autobiographical this particular track is, especially coming just on the heels of the intensely dark Into the Woods. Again, the intensity and immediacy of Been’s vocal delivery makes for sonic gold.

”A Swim in the Ocean”
The Call uncharacteristically took a shuffling blues approach on this track, employing a poor man’s music style to deliver a rebuke to the wise of the world. They prove their musical flexibility, giving me one more reason to lament the fact that they didn’t continue into their second and third decades.

”I Don’t Wanna”
This is perhaps Been’s most powerful vocal performance. There is a point in this song where he sounds like he might just come apart at the seams. I can only imagine how transcendent it would have been to see this song performed live. I get chills just thinking about it.

“Become America”
This song was actually recorded as part of the band’s attempted comeback in the mid-90’s. There is a sort of heartland quality to this track, with Been delivering a spiraling lyric that seems to lift America up to the Almighty, asking for mercy for all her sins.

I can’t think of a more fitting way to say goodbye to the man. There is something so final and vulnerable about this track. There’s really no use describing it in words – it simply must be heard. The closest touchpoint is Dire Straits’ “Brothers In Arms”, but just listen already…

There’s plenty more goodness to “uncover” with The Call. While most of their LPs are out-of-print, if you like what you hear, you can purchase mp3s through Amazon, and most of their old records and CDs can be found in hard copy via eBay.

So long Michael. Rest in peace…

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