January always strikes me as the most elusive of months; it takes the entire 31 days to grow used to it and then, poof, it’s gone. Yes the weather is brutal and the general news is desperate, as usual, but I try to hold onto January, without ever the hope of succeeding. By the way, semantic sleight of hand aside, Yoda was wrong. There not only is “try” but that’s about all we’re ever really doing when we “do.”
I digress. I meant merely to offer the usual January boilerplate here about how the Eclectic Playlist Series works—how my self-imposed rule decrees that no artist appears in more than one playlist in any given year (at least not on purpose; I’ve done it by mistake at least once), and how in January everything is reset and all artists are up for grabs again. The EPS is now in its ninth year, and doing a quick survey of the past mixes I can report that only one artist has so far placed a song in a playlist in all previous eight years, and that artist is David Bowie. I’m surprised that none of my other favorites have managed the same feat, not Radiohead (seven), not Kirsty MacColl (seven), not Elvis Costello (six), not Kate Bush (seven). It’s kind of encouraging, to me, that I haven’t had to lean too heavily on my stalwarts, that the diversity upon which these playlists are founded has kept the mixes truly mixed. The other ongoing dictate here is a conscious spread through the decades, with each mix offering at least two and usually three (sometimes four) songs from each decade of the rock’n’roll past—typically starting with the ’60s but sometimes going further back. It’s been fun these past two years to begin to incorporate yet another decade into the canon as we now start the third year of the 2020s.
I do these for myself—my master Spotify list incorporating nearly every song featured to date has become my in-house radio station when I can’t decide on something specific to listen to—but I am really happy to offer them as well to whatever small number of like-minded music fans who find their way to this off-the-beaten-track, non-commercial, anti-algorithmic musical oasis. I’m okay on my own but a little bit of company is nice too.
“Sorry About That” – Michael Guthrie Band (Direct Hits, 1981)
“Can’t Hide It” – Curtis Harding (If Words Were Flowers, 2021)
“Like a Woman Can” – Kim Taylor (Love’s a Dog, 2013)
“Who Gets Your Love” – Dusty Springfield (Cameo, 1973)
“Come to Me” – Björk (Debut, 1993)
“What I’m Trying To Say” – Stars (Set Yourself on Fire, 2005)
“Space Age Love Song” – A Flock of Seagulls (A Flock of Seagulls, 1982)
“When Will I Be Loved” – The Everly Brothers (single, 1960)
“The Calculation” – Regina Spektor (Far, 2009)
“I Wanna Be Your Lover” – Prince (Prince, 1979)
“Girl of My Dreams” – Charles Mingus (Mingus Ah Um, 1959)
“Dishonor the Stars” – Elvis Costello & The Imposters (Look Now, 2018)
“Guinnevere” – Crosby, Stills & Nash (Crosby, Stills & Nash, 1969)
“Paprika” – Japanese Breakfast (Jubilee, 2021)
“Somebody to Shove” – Soul Asylum (Grave Dancers Union, 1992)
“Remember Me” – British Sea Power (The Decline of British Sea Power, 2001)
“The Name of the Game” – ABBA (ABBA: The Album, 1977)
“Dear Prudence” – Siouxsie and the Banshees (Hyæna, 1983)
“It’s Cold Outside” – The Choir (single, 1967)
“Tomorrow” – Waxahatchee (El Deafo original soundtrack, 2022)
* There were all sorts of regional and semi-regional bands in the US and the UK churning out some pretty sweet power pop during the new wave years and the Michael Guthrie Band, a trio from Virginia, was one of them. Their debut album, Direct Hits, isn’t streaming anywhere (a mint copy of the LP is selling on Discogs for $99.99), and their much-delayed follow-up, 1994’s Right Honourable Friend, has disappeared entirely. “Sorry About That” was the lead track on the debut album and works as the lead track here as well. The band appears to have had a bit of a 21st-century re-emergence; a 2011 song called “Now We’ve Started” is on Spotify, and their Facebook page is active, with 1,000+ followers.
* Speaking of melody (power pop being the most melody-forward genre in the rock universe), Elvis Costello is on hand to deliver a couple of melodies so strong and appealing I almost can’t believe my ears. And maybe neither can he, since he breaks “Dishonor the Stars” into disparate sections, as if the main melodies, like food that’s both amazing and a bit too rich, can only be taken in limited portions. Initially this frustrated me but I’ve learned to embrace the entirety of this short but intricate composition. It’s not clear what is verse and what if anything is chorus, and it’s not clear what he is singing about specifically. But, when he allows you to hear them: those melodies! Note that Elvis & the gang have another new album just out; this one comes from their briefly-paid-attention-to-but-since-forgotten 2018 album, Look Now.
* Might as well not waste time getting a 2022 release into the EPS, and also might as well not waste time getting Fingertips favorite Waxahatchee back into a mix here as well. Katie Crutchfield has been in quite the groove these past few years and can do no wrong as far as I can hear. This song comes from the just-released soundtrack, an EP, to the new Apple+ TV series El Deafo.
* If you are familiar only with Linda Ronstadt’s top-10 version of “When Will I Be Loved,” from 1974, I think you’re in for a treat when you hear the Everly Brothers’ 1960 original. Ronstadt did a fine job, don’t get me wrong, but she sped up and regularized a song that, in the Everlys’ hands, was full of nuanced, behind-the-beat singing and subtle hesitations. The song is both immediately recognizable and, compared to the ’70s cover, marvelously transformed.
* Curtis Harding is a singer/songwriter who was born in Michigan and raised in Atlanta. He’s been recording since 2014 but I only managed to come across him recently. I’m eager now to catch up on his work, which walks a wonderful line between the retro and the contemporary, with psychedelic undertones (or overtones; and hm what’s actually the difference?). “Can’t Hide It” is a song from his third album, 2021’s If Words Were Flowers. Harding cites an impressive variety of influences, from Mahalia Jackson and MC Lyte to Bob Dylan and (them again!) the Everly Brothers.
* Bonus note for the Elvis Costello curious: I just posted a playlist on Spotify featuring the best of his 21st-century releases. Despite his ongoing output and prodigious capacity for growth and variety, Elvis seems culturally stuck in the past, with his early output being the only music people seem able to remember and refer to. And yet to my ears the breadth and ongoing quality of what he’s been up to for decades now renders his later work even more notable than the early stuff. I offer up 20 songs in support of this idiosyncratic argument.