“Polaroids” is as majestic and affecting a song as a singer/songwriter could hope to write and record, complete with an ear-catching rhyme scheme, emotive vocal work, and nimble interplay between the hypnotic melody and a chord pattern so elegant that its unanticipated gambits register as predestined. Together these elements transform a leisurely-paced six-minute narrative into a spellbinding classic, albeit a classic not a lot of people may know a quarter-century after its release.
Ideally that’s a good part of what I’m offering here–lost classics of one kind or another, from this or that genre, flecked with the intermittent crowd-pleaser for balance and character. I sometimes think of this–whimsically, if not especially accurately–as an exercise in aural feng shui, where the interaction is between the ears and the music rather than the body and physical space. The goal, however, isn’t good luck or bad luck, it’s a sense of aliveness and potency, of the subtle kind that one song, certainly, can offer but I think a disparate and well-blended group of songs can deliver with extra power and, I hope, delight. A playlist should delight, shouldn’t it? Delight is often fostered by a sense of the unexpected. But how unexpected can music be in the context of a single-genre playlist? You see where I’m going with this. I’ll be quiet now and let the music do the rest of the talking.
* I loved “Indian Ocean” from the moment I heard it back in 1996; it struck my ears as an unusually successful modern (at that point) update of the power pop I’ve long held dear. And yet I never ended up learning much about the unusually-named band that recorded this gem, outside of knowing that The Frank & Walters came from Cork, Ireland. By the 2000s, I had assumed they had disbanded without a trace, but now that I’ve belatedly investigated, it turns out that they are still an active band, although more of a regional than an international outfit. I just listened to a song called “Stages,” from their 2016 album Songs For The Walking Wounded, and wow, they’re still doing what they do, still creating music with a distinctive but accessible air about it. The band was originally formed by brothers Paul and Niall Linehan; Paul still fronts the band, while Niall left in 2004. But the beat goes on. Time for me to go back and listen to more of their stuff.
* So in the process of constructing this playlist I discovered that “Midnight Confessions,” a song I’ve had a soft spot for since pre-teenager-hood, was not a Grass Roots original, but a cover of a song recorded the year before by a band called The Ever-Green Blues. Although slightly slowed down from the original, the Grass Roots’ version employed a strikingly similar arrangement, and had the benefit of Hal Blaine, Carol Kaye, and the Wrecking Crew as backing band. You can check out the Ever-Green Blues version on YouTube if you’re curious. While the original version went nowhere chart-wise, a year later the same song became the Grass Roots’ biggest hit.
* So “The Stand” has a needlessly complicated history, made more complicated by robotic internet misinformation. The song came out as a single in April 1983, and then was wrapped into the band’s debut eponymous EP in June that same year. In 1984, a longer version of the song was released on a 12-inch “maxi-single” called The Chant Has Just Begun. And then in 1990, this longer version was released on a compilation album called Standards (“Stand-ards”; get it?). But a good portion of the internet is fooled by the presence of a one-minute, fifteen-second song called “The Stand (Prophecy)” that appears on the group’s full-length 1984 release, Declaration: on YouTube, the long version of “The Stand” comes accompanied by the Declaration album cover, and on Wikipedia, “The Stand” is identified as a single from the album. The super-short version on the album–not the single–seems to be a glimpse at the more acoustic-based way the song was originally written. The lyrics by the way were inspired by the post-apocalyptic Stephen King novel of the same name, and intended as a heartfelt protest against nuclear proliferation. Some things never get old.
* You had of course the Beatles and the Stones, Hendrix and The Who, and all sorts of other iconic artists that come to mind when you think of the music of the 1960s. But for me, in my own childhood memory of that time, probably nothing says “the ’60s” to me as potently as the music of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. Ridiculous? Maybe, maybe not. Look at the facts: between 1965 and 1968, the Brass released seven albums; five of them went to #1 on the charts, the other two peaked at #2 and #4. If you happened to be a musically impressionable youngster at that exact moment in time, the stuff just imprinted itself on your psyche. There, it seems, it remains, for some of us.
* And then there’s Lene Lovich, a singular star in the new wave firmament of the late ’70s and early ’80s, who rose and faded abruptly, her quirkiness at once her advantage and her undoing. “It’s You, Only You (Mein Schmerz)” comes from her neglected 1982 album No Man’s Land, which I picked up a while back for a few dollars on vinyl in the discount crate of a local record store. As it turns out, after many years away from the music scene, Lovich released an album in 2005 called Shadows and Dust, which I missed entirely; she started actively touring again in 2015. She is now 70, which causes me mein own kind of schmerz. Time time time. You can by the way, rather unexpectedly, check No Man’s Land out on Bandcamp.
Full playlist below the widget.
“Indian Ocean” – The Frank and Walters (Indian Ocean EP, 1997)
“Nova” – Baula (Nova, 2017)
“Was I On Your Mind” – Jesse Baylin (Firesight, 2008)
“Stand!” – Sly and the Family Stone (Stand!, 1969)
“Loneliness” – Horslips (The Man Who Built America, 1978)
“Polaroids” – Shawn Colvin (Fat City, 1992)
“More and More Amor” – Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass (Going Places, 1965)
“It’s You, Only You (Mein Schmerz)” – Lene Lovich (No Man’s Land, 1982)
“I Wasn’t Her” – The Blueflowers (Watercolor Ghost Town, 2009)
“Joanne” – Michael Nesmith (Magnetic South, 1970)
“Motion Sickness” – Phoebe Bridgers (Stranger in the Alps, 2017)
“Something to Believe In” – The Ramones (Animal Boy, 1986)
“How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” – Al Green (Let’s Stay Together, 1972)
“Pot Kettle Black” – Wilco (Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, 2002)
“Midnight Confessions” – The Grass Roots (single, 1968)
“Not Too Soon” – Throwing Muses (The Real Ramona, 1992)
“Ponteio” – Astrid Gliberto and Stanley Turrentine (Gilberto With Turrentine, 1971)
“I Already Forgot Everything You Said” – The Dig (Midnight Flowers, 2012)
“The Stand” – The Alarm (long version; single, 1984)
“Adventure” – Be Your Own Pet (Be Your Own Pet, 2006)