If there is a distinct thread of nostalgia running through this month’s playlist (and trust me, there is), I did not consciously plan it; the music just came out that way. But perhaps it’s not surprising as I constructed this list while in the middle of moving out of a house my wife and I have lived in for 17 years. Nostalgia is in the air. So, here on 2.06 it turns out there are the obvious throwbacks such as Jesse Winchester’s unspeakably gorgeous “Sham-a-Ling-Dong-Ding” (and if you’ve never seen the late singer/songwriter do a live version of this on Elvis Costello’s old “Spectacle” series, drop everything and watch it now) and Patti Scialfa’s girl-group-ish “As Long As I (Can Be With You)”; there are also songs by Amy Rigby and Waxahatchee that offer contemporary spins on early-rock’n’roll-ish melody lines. But the nostalgia here, I see after the fact, runs subtler and deeper than that, via both the older songs that show up and the lyrical recollections featured in a few of the more contemporary tracks. And then you have the Pat Benatar track (Pat Benatar?), which manages to be doubly nostalgic, burying its Phil Spector-ish beat beneath an ’80s patina that was of course very contemporary at the time. Musicians today please take note.
Speaking of Amy Rigby, is “All I Want” one of the most adult love songs ever written, ever? “I just want a little pat on the back from you/Not another little subtle attack from you”—now that is a grown-up lyric (and a brilliant one to boot). Or: “I feel kind of furious/And you’re not even curious.” Note I called it a love song even though it sounds more like a break-up song. But it’s an adult love song because rather than veering towards an adolescent “You suck, I’m leaving,” it’s an effort at mature communication, of the “What you do X, I feel Y” variety. It’s just the kind of thing that couples who want to figure out how they can stay together even if they are driving each other crazy are instructed to do. This entire Amy Rigby album, Middlescence, is something of a lost classic, as clever lyrically as it is skillful musically. As a bonus, Rigby remains one of the rare musicians who blogs interestingly; check out what she’s up to here: https://diaryofamyrigby.wordpress.com/.
And speaking of grown-ups, and best things ever, is Cassandra Wilson’s cover of the Monkees’ “Last Train To Clarksville” one of the best cover versions ever done of anything? I’d suggest so. She managed to turn a very pleasant but rather fluffy song into something deep and memorable. And it’s not just because she inserts that wordless vocal refrain in 9/8 time, but honestly that doesn’t hurt.
“Boy With a Coin” – Iron & Wine (The Shepherd’s Dog, 2007)
“Last Train to Clarksville” – Cassandra Wilson (New Moon Daughter, 1995)
“More…” – Wilco (Star Wars, 2015)
“This Town” – The Go-Go’s (Beauty and the Beat, 1981)
‘I Don’t Want to Take a Chance” – Mary Wells (single, 1961)
“All I Want” – Amy Rigby (Middlescence, 1998)
“Sham-a-Ling-Ding-Dong” – Jesse Winchester (Love Filling Station, 2009)
“Thick as Thieves” – The Jam (Setting Sons, 1979)
“She Came” – Fé (single, 2013)
“Perfidia” – Janet Dillon (single, 1967)
“Neighborhood Girls” – Suzanne Vega (Suzanne Vega, 1985)
“Bodhisattva” – Steely Dan (Countdown to Ecstasy, 1973)
“Betray My Heart” – D’Angelo and The Vanguard (Black Messiah, 2014)
“We Belong” – Pat Benatar (Tropico , 1984)
“No Excuses” – Alice in Chains (Jar of Flies, 1994)
“Goodbye” – The Argument (Everything Depends, 2009)
“All the Diamonds in the World” – Bruce Cockburn (Salt, Sun and Time, 1974)
“As Long As I (Can Be With You)” – Patti Scialfa (Rumble Doll, 1993)
“Calling For Your Love” – The Enticers (single, 1971)
“Swan Dive” – Waxahatchee (Cerulean Salt, 2014)