Maybe it’s somewhat obvious to those who’ve been around here a long time, but I will say this out loud: when all is said and done, the Kinks are my favorite band of all time. Which maybe makes it a little strange that for this year’s presentation of a Kinks song in a playlist–and remember, no artist appears in a mix here more than once in a calendar year–I have selected a little ditty of a song of theirs that I have never really thought much of one way or another. They after all have so many many great songs, and over the decades found such deft ways to communicate via rock’n’roll. So, why did I choose “Monica,” among a multitude of others that I probably like more? I am not actually sure, except to note that these playlists are constructed as intuitively as possible. I can’t usually explain why I put any of these songs in here. But maybe, with the Kinks, an extra factor was this: because I can’t play all of my favorite-favorite Kinks songs in the context of these mixes, it’s easier to go for a left-field choice like “Monica”; in this case, all the favorite-favorite songs are treated equally–i.e., overlooked (for now). Another potential explanation: there’s no way to understand any musical preference, for anybody, when you get right down to it. This song just highlights the serendipitous beauty of what catches the ear and makes the world feel right, if for a moment or two.
Other random notes on this month’s playlist:
* I’m still happily absorbing Mitski’s well-regarded 2018 album, Be The Cowboy, and while I particularly like the single, “Nobody,” the song I ended up with here, “Why Didn’t You Stop Me?,” grabbed me after a few listens, with its insistent pulse, crunchy guitars, looney-bin synth motif, and remarkable conciseness. The whole album is a study in how to be succinct; only two songs out of 14 are longer than 2:36, and nothing is even four minutes long.
* Marvin Gaye would have been 80 earlier this month; instead, he died tragically, murdered by his own father, the day before he would have turned 35. This song is one of the many great unreleased songs of his that have floated around over the years. This year, at long last, a group of songs that had been recorded in 1972 and intended to be made into a follow-up album to What’s Going On had their long-awaited release as an album–it’s called You’re The Man, and while it might not represent exactly the album Gaye had planned, it’s good to hear this stuff.
* Leonard Bernstein, meanwhile, would have been 100 years old this past August. He died rather too young too, but at age 72 he at least had a pretty good run of it, and boy did he do a lot of things in the time he had. This little overture from the Broadway revival/reinvention of his musical Candide, in 1974, is super charming–a great example of music that can be both complex and accessible at the same time, which is my sweet spot in all genres.
* “Helpless,” by Kim Weston, is another one of those great lost Motown singles that for one reason or another didn’t really hit the big time, despite its terrific appeal. I’ve never wanted to dive too far into what went on at Motown and why some artists got more support than others but Weston appears to have been one of those who never quite got a fair shake there despite her great talent. This was her last recording for the label; she later sued them in a royalty dispute. I’ve previously featured another fine single of hers, “I Got What You Need,” back on EPS 4.11 in 2017, that one being her first post-Motown release.
* Matthew Sweet’s Kimi Ga Suki was initially released in Japan only, as a thank-you to his legion of Japanese fans. While it did get a US release a year later, it has remained somewhat beneath the radar, despite its actually being something of a reunion for the band with which he recorded his seminal Girlfriend album. He wrote the songs in a week and recorded without any initial demos. There’s something to be said, at least sometimes, for spontaneity.
* Bonus Kinks tidbit: lacking any successful single or chart position around the time of its release, The Kinks are the Village Preservation Society, where you’ll find “Monica,” has gathered a slow but steady following over the decades, and was just certified gold in the UK last year, at age 50.
Full playlist below the widget.
“Halo of Ashes” – Screaming Trees (Dust, 1996)
“Why Didn’t You Stop Me?” – Mitski (Be The Cowboy, 2018)
“I’m Gonna Give You Respect” – Marvin Gaye (previously unreleased, 1972)
“Loud and Clear” – The Last Town Chorus (single, 2008)
“King of the Bayou” – Joe Strummer (Earthquake Weather, 1989)
“The Rain, the Park & Other Things” – The Cowsills (single, 1967)
“The Conservation of Energy” – Vanishing Twin (Choose Your Own Adventure, 2016)
“Overture” – Leonard Bernstein (Candide – Broadway Cast Recording, 1974)
“Don’t Go” – Yaz (Upstairs at Eric’s, 1982)
“Helpless” – Kim Weston (single, 1967)
“Breakable” – Ingrid Michaelson (Girls and Boys, 2006)
“Corduroy” – Pearl Jam (Vitalogy, 1994)
“See The Sky About to Rain” – Neil Young (On The Beach, 1974)
“Joanna” – Southern Boutique (Southern Boutique, 2014)
“De Cared A La Pared” – Lhasa (La Llorona, 1998)
“Monica” – The Kinks (The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society, 1968)
“The Ocean in Between” – Matthew Sweet (Kimi Ga Suki, 2003)
“Known Better” – Meg Mac (single, 2013)
“Tell Me When My Light Turns Green” – Dexy’s Midnight Runners (Searching for the Young Soul Rebels, 1980)
“Mister Magic” – Esther Phillips (What a Diff’rence a Day Makes, 1975)