You know the drill: it’s another mixed-genre, multi-decade playlist, inspired as always by the heyday of so-called “progressive” radio stations. Only think about how many more decades of music we have at our disposal than the DJs had back in the mid-’70s! Such opportunity here, once we break out of this fever-dream of separation and isolation. Give it a try, tell your friends, and stay strong. You may notice a bit of a netherworld-related interlude here; let it serve to remind us of Churchill’s famous piece of advice: “If you’re going through Hell, keep going.”
* “We All Go Back To Where We Belong” was the last official R.E.M. release and maybe we had a bit of R.E.M. fatigue at that point, still unconvinced that the Bill-Berry-free version was ever really any good, but I feel in retrospect this song was kind of just kind quickly heard and then forgotten. To my ears, it’s a fabulous song, with bonus points for the charming and somehow poignant video, which is just a black-and-white close-up of the actress Kirsten Dunst listening to the song in real time. (As the story goes, Michael Stipe was actually singing it to her live, a capella, which she found something of an overwhelming experience, as a long-time fan herself.)
* The Smiths were such a singular-sounding band that they couldn’t really influence anyone else without the influencees sounding merely like pale imitators. “The Headmaster Ritual” was I think the Smiths song that really turned my head around back in their heyday. Who writes these words? Who finds these melodies, and employs these chords? Still gives me goosebumps if I really stop to listen.
* “Presidential Rag” sounds kind of quaint now, huh? Being worked up over a president who didn’t admit everything that he knew? Now we have one who is too stupid to know what he doesn’t know, leading a cult of hatred and resentment whose members don’t give a fuck. Someone should write a song as good as this about *that*.
* Hadestown, now on Broadway, was just nominated for 14 Tony Awards last month. But the project has been around since 2006, when singer/songwriter Anaïs Mitchell first put it together as a community theater production in Vermont. Four years later, with the help of Ani DiFranco, Hadestown became a concept album, on DiFranco’s Righteous Babe Records, with a number of stellar guest vocalists, including Justin Vernon, Greg Brown, and DiFranco herself. The song “Flowers” first came to my attention early in 2010 as a free and legal download, which was featured here in February of that year. Still a stunning piece of music. (Also stunning, especially in retrospect, is the song “Why We Build The Wall,” which you might want to check out here—https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8sQ8R54C53o—and think about in conjunction with Arlo’s sense of righteous grievance.)
* Were Adam and the Ants, all the rage in the UK for a year or two, merely a novelty band? Probably. But a song like “Antmusic,” as silly as the words may be when simply read, was constructed with such great pop know-how that I find it irresistible still, nearly 40 years later.
* “In a Long White Room” is a fun example of a straight-laced standards-oriented songwriter doing their best to dive into the psychedelic vibe of the late ’60s. The end result is not really psychedelic at all, but it’s oddly engaging in the effort. The lyrics here came from Martin Charnin, whose career soon enough led him to Broadway, where he hit it big for having conceived, directed, and written the lyrics for the musical Annie. The music was written by Texas songwriter Clint Ballard, Jr., who also wrote the songs “Game of Love” and “You’re No Good,” among many others that were not big hits. As much as I appreciate talented singer/songwriters, I guess I remain rather entranced by the pre-singer/songwriter days, and connecting unexpected dots between who wrote what. On top of all this, kind of a weird song for Nancy Wilson, but it’s the one of hers, from my long-ago childhood, I recall most vividly.
Full playlist below the widget.
“Presidential Rag” – Arlo Guthrie (Arlo Guthrie, 1974)
“Pedrinho” – Tulipa Ruiz (TU, 2017)
“Angels” – Peter Holsapple & Chris Stamey (Mavericks, 1991)
“To Be Gone” – Anna Ternheim (Halfway to Fivepoints, 2008)
“Antmusic” – Adam and the Ants (Kings of the Wild Frontier, 1980)
“Ask the Lonely” – The Fantastics (single, 1970)
“Come a Long Way” – Michelle Shocked (Arkansas Traveler, 1992)
“Heart Full of Soul” – The Yardbirds (single, 1965)
“The Headmaster Ritual” – The Smiths (Meat is Murder, 1985)
“Imposter” – Jonatha Brooke (Imposter EP, 2019)
“In a Long White Room” – Nancy Wilson (Nancy, 1969)
“Carolyn” – Steve Wynn (Kerosene Man, 1990)
“See No Evil” – Television (Marquee Moon, 1977)
“Flowers” – Anaïs Mitchell (Hadestown, 2010)
“Lucifer Sam” – Pink Floyd (The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, 1967)
“The Pharaohs” – Neko Case (Middle Cyclone, 2009)
“Caught” – Anna Domino (Anna Domino, 1986)
“A Hit By Varèse” – Chicago (Chicago V, 1972)
“Didn’t Cha Know” – Erykah Badu (Mama’s Gun, 2000)
“We All Go Back to Where We Belong” – R.E.M. (single, 2011)