So you already know that I don’t buy into the internet’s addiction to one-type-of-music playlists. Turns out this holds true for me even for holiday music. Personally, I’d rather hear a few choice holiday nuggets sprinkled into a diverse playlist than an unending parade of Christmas songs. As such, this isn’t a holiday playlist in any meaningful way. And yet, I do like how the seasonal offerings mixed in here seem sometimes to infuse a subtle holiday spirit—joyful or melancholy, it can go either way—into their secular neighbors. “My Heart is a Drummer,” “Everybody Come Down,” and even the decidedly temporal folk song “Sally Ann,” these all seem to take on something of the season here, as, maybe most of all, does the Paul Simon masterpiece “Something So Right.” And then the even more interesting twist: I like how much more naturally we can hear the Christmas songs as actual music in this setting. Fittingly, I guess, we end with a Christmas song in name only: “Anorak Christmas,” from the reclusive and now-retired Sally Shapiro, makes the barest mention of a “cold December night,” but other than that, there’s no Christmas here, and no anorak either—unless (this is a stretch!) we go with the informal British meaning of “a person who is extremely interested in something that other people find boring,” and figure that the singer is commenting on an incomprehensible crush. I doubt it but it’s a theory.
Lots of other stuff:
* Payola$, eventually known as the Payolas, were a Canadian band formed in the late ’70s. Born with a punk-ish sound, they signed with A&M Records and evolved into more of a mainstream outfit over the course of four albums. According to the internet(!?), they never made much of a dent in the U.S. because radio stations didn’t want to say their name on the air (because: guilty consciences). I always loved this simple, new-wave-y Christmas song, and can’t remember ever hearing it anywhere except on my record player. The album, Hammer on a Drum, released at the tale end of the original vinyl era, has never been released on CD, and isn’t on Spotify either.
* I’m still absorbing the new New Pornographers album, released in October, but I’ll admit that I so enjoy the opening track, the second song you’ll hear in this mix, that I haven’t given the rest of it as much attention as I know I should. I just keep playing this one, which features the mighty Neko Case on vocals, and the sort of wonderful melody A.C. Newman is supposed to be known for but (to my ears) doesn’t deliver as often as he’s credited. This one is great.
* There was a strange and unheralded moment in the history of American rock’n’roll radio when pure, free-form progressive formats were morphing into the more commercial album-oriented rock (AOR) concept. This soon enough turned into an artistic disaster, but for a few years there, before the consultants kicked in with their tiny playlists, there were commercial FM stations that were simply trying to play good, album-track songs, with more playlist discipline than free-form idiosyncrasy favored. It was during that era in the mid-’70s that a beautiful and distinctive song such as “Love and Affection” ended up an FM staple, and a popular one at that. Imagine hearing something like this on the radio now. Of course you can’t; hell, it was bumped off the radio within three or four years, thanks to Consultant Rock, rarely to be heard from again.
* Vanity Fairy is the newer musical incarnation of a 2010s Fingertips favorite artist, the musician previously known as Daisy Victoria. She was featured three times between 2014 and 2016, then seemed to disappear. When she reemerged in 2018, she had changed her name to Daisy Capri, and began to put music out as Vanity Fairy. Moving beyond her earlier, Kate-Bushian soundscape, Daisy has embraced her inner disco diva and now pays homage to a different type of ’80s music. But to my ears, talent is talent. I’m glad to have found her again. Check out what she’s done so far at https://soundcloud.com/vanityfairy.
* This playlist contains within it an unplanned salute to three of the most notable and long-lasting musicians of the classic rock era. All three were launched in the context of a group setting; all three here are presented via overlooked songs from later endeavors of theirs. We have Paul McCartney’s terrific “To You,” from the last, little-regarded album he made with Wings, Back to the Egg, released in 1978. Further down you’ll stumble upon one of the great lost tracks of rock’s aforementioned AOR phase, Pete Townshend’s “Slit Skirts,” from what I believe to be his best solo record, 1982’s All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes (okay, not a wonderful title). That forced on me a segue into Paul Simon’s “Something So Right,” which was on his popular There Goes Rhymin’ Simon album, of 1973. It was not single material, and as such was overshadowed by the huge hits “Kodachrome” and “Loves Me Like a Rock,” not to mention the downcast, resonant beauty of the progressive-era favorite “American Tune.” “Something So Right” makes a series of thorny chords sound as natural as an in breath; and those lyrics!:
When something goes wrong
I’m the first to admit it
The first to admit it
And the last one to know
When something goes right
Oh it’s likely to lose me
It’s apt to confuse me
It’s such an unusual sight
Oh I can’t, I can’t get used to
Something so right
Full playlist below the widget.
“The Invisible Man” – Elvis Costello & The Attractions (Punch the Clock, 1983)
“You’ll Need a New Backseat Driver” – The New Pornographers (In the Morse Code of Brake Lights, 2019)
“The Man in the Santa Suit” – Fountains of Wayne (Out-of-State Plates, 2005)
“You Beat Me to the Punch” – Mary Wells (single, 1962)
“To You” – Paul McCartney & Wings (Back to the Egg, 1978)
“My Heart is a Drummer” – Allo Darlin’ (Allo Darlin’, 2010)
“Good King Wenceslas” – Dixieland Ramblers (Dixieland Snowman, 1998)
“Walk Away” – The English Beat (Wha’ppen, 1981)
“Love and Affection” – Joan Armatrading (Joan Armatrading, 1976)
“Overture (Nutcracker Suite)” – Duke Ellington (Three Suites, 1960)
“Sally Ann” – The Horseflies (Gravity Dance, 1992)
“The Fading” – Joan Shelley (Like the River Loves the Sea, 2019)
“Everybody Come Down” – The Delgados (Universal Audio, 2000)
“Christmas is Coming” – Payola$ (Hammer on a Drum1983)
“You’re Absolutely Right” – The Apollas (single, 1965)
“He Can Be Your Lady” – Vanity Fairy (single, 2018)
“Field of Fire” – For Stars (For Stars, 1998)
“Slit Skirts” – Pete Townshend (All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes, 1982)
“Something So Right” – Paul Simon (There Goes Rhymin’ Simon, 1973)
“Anorak Christmas” – Sally Shapiro (Disco Romance, 2006)