Hey, this is exciting, or weird: for the first time since the Eclectic Playlist Series was launched in 2014, we now have, or very shortly will have, a new decade to represent in the playlists. I hadn’t thought about this until right now. As you probably know, the mixes here have always incorporated music from six decades, the ’60s through the ’10s, and have sometimes reached into seven, when the ’50s (or earlier) are intermittently sampled. But now, soon, I will be able to offer up playlists blending together music from eight different decades. That seems crazy. But fun! Let’s see the robots do that.
So, the new decade grabs the early headlines, but a more recurringly relevant fact here at the Eclectic Playlist Series is the new year, which yet again sets the artist roster back to zero. By which I mean: outside of mistakes (hey, it’s happened), no artist is featured more than once in an EPS mix in any given calendar year. Come January, everyone is available again. Even so, for those keeping score at home, you’ll note that 14 of the 20 artists featured in this month’s mix are brand new to the Eclectic Playlist Series, even now, as we launch a seventh year of these things. There’s so much good music that, by my reckoning, only four artists have had a song in a playlist in each of the first six years (and this quartet did not, somehow, include sure-fire favorites like Elvis Costello, They Might Be Giants, or Radiohead; trivia answer below). Moral of the story: there’s so much good music. Secondary moral: look how hijacked by the confluence of marketing and lowest-common-denominator tastes most music outlets are by comparison. Final moral: worshiping quantity without considerations of quality makes everyone grumpy without even knowing why. And remember, at the end of the day, the robots can only determine quantities. Because when all is said and done, a computer only knows the difference between zero and one. That’s why they’re making everyone grumpy.
A smattering of notes:
* The Late Show was a power pop band founded in the heart of new wave’s power pop era, right there in the heart of the U.S. (Indiana, to be specific). Their debut album, 1980’s Portable Pop, was something of a cult classic; “I Won’t Play the Clown” always struck my ear as the standout gem, but there are a bunch of superior power pop numbers on the album. I’d long considered the thing lost to the ages, but here are two unexpected postscripts: first, Portable Pop has been available on Bandcamp since 2012 (I only just noticed this); second, a more recent news flash is that the band in 2018 released its (very) long-awaited follow-up to Portable Pop, called Sha La La, which is also available on Bandcamp. I’m not inherently a huge fan of decades-after-the-fact band reunions but there’s no harm checking it out.
* Jenny Hval’s 2019 album The Practice of Love is a record thick with ambition, intellect, electronics, and, somehow, through it all, great warmth. The resplendent “Ashes to Ashes” may be the most accessible song (of hers, ever?) but the entire 35-minute work from the Norwegian avant-garde singer/songwriter is worth your directed attention.
* I am fascinated by the twisting history of pop standards from the pre-rock’n’roll era, especially as many of them illustrate how elusive the dividing line between pre-rock and rock actually was. “You Belong To Me” had its origins as a WWII love song (originally conceived as “Hurry Home To Me”), written by an amateur female songwriter in Louisville. Via her work at a radio station, she had a pre-established relationship with a pair of professional songwriters—“Tennessee Waltz” their previous calling card—and allowed them to promote the song and oh, by the way, change the lyrics around a little, with the idea of making it more universal. The song grew into a beloved, often-covered standard. Jo Stafford had the first hit with it in 1952; a Dean Martin version released around the same time was also a hit. The tune’s torchy swing lent itself to versions by both early rock’n’rollers—Gene Vincent released it as a single in 1958—and big-time country stars (Patsy Cline put it on a 1962 album of hers). But when the song found its way into a doo-wop arrangement it arguably found its peak setting, as you’ll hear here in what became a top-10 hit for New Jersey harmonists, the Duprees—their first and most successful release, coming rather on the tail end of the doo-wop era. But, not to be missed, check out, too, the 1990s Bob Dylan version, just because:
* Radiohead’s attempt at a James Bond theme probably never had a honest chance with the film’s producers, but it runs laps around the Sam Smith song sadly selected instead—especially if you look at the work of some dude on YouTube who edited the Radiohead song into the movie’s actual title sequence, in place of Mr. Smith. Wow. Oh and while “Spectre” is not necessarily the most notable thing you’ll find graphically pinned to the band’s brand new “Radiohead Public Library” web site, it’s definitely there, along with plenty of other links to videos and streams from the band’s long history. If you’re a fan, the “in the basement” performance of In Rainbows is a particular treat.
* Dee Dee Sharp found the soul hiding in plain sight in “I’m Not In Love,” which was no small task. I mean, the original 10cc song is an all-time great rock’n’roll single, for sure, but I would never have heard it as soulful without Ms. Sharp’s wide-ranging and emotive take, released the same year as the original.
* I knew nothing about Bill Fay before seeing this recent article about him in the New York Times. Just when you think the internet has found all the great lost musical geniuses of the ’60s and ’70s, another turns up on the doorstep. Fay’s 1971 album The Time of the Last Persecution was never originally released in the U.S., but a 1988 re-release of Fay’s first two (and at that point, only) albums ended up (long story) on Jeff Tweedy’s radar; Wilco began performing the Fay song “Be Not So Fearful” on stage in 2002. Eventually (another long story), Fay found his way back into the music industry; the indie label Dead Oceans has released three new albums of his here in the 21st century, including 2020’s Countless Branches, which came out last week.
* Regina Spektor often strikes me as a talent in search of the right material but the urgent, appealing “All the Rowboats” is a hint of what happens when the stars align for her.
* C’est C Bon is the most neglected release of Carlene Carter’s long and eclectic career, and maybe with good reason. It was the last of her rock-era albums; she was still married to Nick Lowe, still operating in the Rockpile universe, still produced by Roger Bechirian, but the end result—dominated by what now strike the ear as ’80s production touches gone wild—didn’t quite gel. This is a nice little song though, well worth rescuing from the slush pile of overlooked 20th-century pop music. That’s what I’m here for.
* The four artists who have each had one song per year for each of the first six years of the Eclectic Playlist Series: David Bowie, Kate Bush, The Kinks, and Jane Siberry. Behind them, only Björk, Elvis Costello, Sam Phillips, Prince, and Matthew Sweet have been here five times in the six years.
Full playlist below the widget.
“All the Rowboats” – Regina Spektor (What We Saw From the Cheap Seats, 2012)
“I Don’t Want to Cry” – Chuck Jackson (single, 1961)
“America’s Boy” – Broadcast (Tender Buttons, 2006)
“Love Like a Glove” – Carlene Carter (C’est C Bon, 1983)
“Ashes to Ashes” – Jenny Hval (The Practice of Love, 2019)
“Love to Love You” – Caravan (In the Land of Grey and Pink, 1971)
“Hell = Other People” – Bettie Serveert (Bare Stripped Naked, 2006)
“Murder or a Heart Attack” – Old 97s (Fight Songs, 1999)
“You Belong to Me” – the Duprees (single, 1962)
“Bags” – Clairo (Immunity, 2019)
“Time of the Last Persecution” – Bill Fay (Time of the Last Persecution, 1970)
“Ghost” – Indigo Girls (Rites of Passage, 1992)
“In a Manner of Speaking” – Nouvelle Vague (Nouvelle Vague, 2005)
“I Won’t Play the Clown” – The Late Show (Portable Pop, 1980)
“The Heel” – Eartha Kitt (Down to Eartha, 1955)
“Spectre” – Radiohead (single, 2015)
“I’m Not In Love” – Dee Dee Sharp (Happy ‘Bout the Whole Thing, 1975)
“On The Way Home” – Buffalo Springfield (Last Time Around, 1968)
“Can’t Forget” – Yo La Tengo (Fakebook, 1990)
“Calling You” – Javetta Steele (Bagdad Cafe [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack], 1988)