While I will admit to not being the world’s biggest Who fan, I had not meant to leave them off of an Eclectic Playlist Series mix until this, the seventh year of our mutual adventures. And so they make a belated appearance with one of their earlier classics, when the band seemed nearly to be inventing power pop versus the brash, anthemic material they generated as Tommy led to Who’s Next led to Quadrophenia. Now that I think about it, I guess my playlists have in fact been resistant to including much in the way of recognizable classic rock, even as I always dip into the classic rock time frame, chronologically. What can I say?: I have a hard-wired distaste for songs that have been over-exposed and over-played, and most everything considered to be canon in the classic rock realm at this point qualifies. (Thus my effort to construct a playlist of “classic rock you aren’t tired of”: see “Rescuing Classic Rock,” posted back in June 2018). Anyway, here’s the Who, along with a fair number of artists, this month, you’ve likely heard of (Stevie Wonder, PJ Harvey, Miles Davis, New Order, Suzanne Vega, et al.). I think I needed some reassurance during these challenging times. Does democracy lead inexorably to cravenness and idiocy? Historians may some day sort that out; in the meantime, aural comfort food is, sometimes, the order of the day.
Notes for the extra curious:
* This is the second time I’ve opened a playlist with a Warren Zevon track, both of which, now, have been songs that were side-one/track-one offerings from the late great singer/songwriter. He was especially good at crafting songs with the ineffable introductory panache ideally characterizing an album’s first song. Probably half of the songs I’ve launched playlists here have themselves been side-one/track-ones. That said, I also do like hearing opening-track potential in songs buried deeper down on an album, turning them into opening statements. I guess I draw no conclusions.
* Accidental discovery while constructing this playlist: the song “It Would Be So Easy,” from Cassandra Wilson’s 2006 album Thunderbird, has incorrect lyrics posted, across the entire web. That is, every single lyrics site has the same lyrics posted for this song, and these lyrics are wrong—they’re for an entirely different song (which for no apparent reason is “I’ll Find a Way,” by Rachel Yamagata). It’s a bizarre enough mistake, but the fact that you’ll see these same wrong lyrics posted on every lyrics site in existence is not only aggravating, but disconcerting. Sure, let’s put the robots in charge. What could possibly go wrong?
* PJ Harvey released the album Let England Shake back in 2011, years before the country’s current challenges…or, maybe not.
* I’m not sure there’s ever been an artistically and commercially successful band as able as New Order to combine scintillating music with really ditzy lyrics. What they seem to have been able to do is take the well-established reality that rock lyrics, read on their own, can seem insipid, and just flaunt it. I mean: I’d tell the world and save my soul/But rain falls down and I feel cold/A cold that sleeps within my heart/It tears the Earth and sun apart ?? And yet the song is sheer magic from start to finish. (Bonus: don’t miss the segue into “Doctor Monroe”: it’s an accidental keeper.)
* This web site’s namesake is the multi-track epic “Fingertips,” by They Might Be Giants, but I’ll take Emiliana Torrini’s very different song with the same name under my wing here too.
* Speaking of side-one/track-ones, “Look Around” opened the album Where I’m Coming From, which in 1971 became the first Stevie Wonder album that the artist (only 21 at the time) was able to produce without interference from Berry Gordy. This underrated album—unfavorably compared at the time to Marvin Gaye’s concurrently released What’s Going On, for its social consciousness—contains songs ranging from very good to classic, and even so merely hints at the brilliance soon to come in albums like Talking Book and Innervisions.
* Gone, tragically, now for nearly 20 years (!), Kirsty MacColl will always live on in my musical life. This Billy Bragg cover is definitive: she took a skeleton of a tune, layered it with harmonies, and even got Bragg himself to add a verse because she thought it was originally too short. And just to show that not all rock lyrics are insipid, is this awesome or what?:
Once upon a time at home
I sat beside the telephone
Waiting for someone to pull me through
When at last it didn’t ring, I knew it wasn’t you
Full playlist below the widget.
“Johnny Strikes up the Band” – Warren Zevon (Excitable Boy, 1978)
“If You Wanna” – The Vaccines (What Did You Expect From the Vaccines?, 2011)
“A New England” – Kirsty MacColl (single, 1984)
“So Sad About Us” – The Who (A Quick One, 1966)
“It Would Be So Easy” – Cassandra Wilson (Thunderbird, 2006)
“Fingertips” – Emiliana Torrini (Love in the Time of Science, 1999)
“To Cut a Long Story Short” – Spandau Ballet (Journeys to Glory, 1981)
“Let England Shake” – PJ Harvey (Let England Shake, 2011)
“You’re Gonna Miss Me” – Cletus Marland (single, 1965)
“All I Need is Everything” – Over the Rhine (Good Dog Bad Dog,1996)
“Windows” – Utopia (Oops! Wrong Planet, 1977)
“Carmine St.” – Kaki King (Everybody Loves You, 2014)
“Sunspots” – Julian Cope (single remix, 1984)
“River of Dirt” – Marisa Nadler (Little Hells, 2009)
“Look Around” – Stevie Wonder (Where I’m Coming From, 1971)
“World Before Columbus” – Suzanne Vega (Nine Objects of Desire, 1996)
“Shellshock” – New Order (single, 1986)
“Doctor Monroe” – Casey Dienel (Wind-Up Canary, 2006)
“Seven Steps to Heaven” – Miles Davis (Seven Steps to Heaven, 1963)
“Me at the Museum, You at the Wintergardens” – Tiny Ruins (Brightly Painted One, 2014)