Months tick by. I hope you all are hanging in there, and trust that if you have the time and energy and life circumstances to be reading this right now, that you’re doing basically okay, which is to say better than many. But it’s still weird and stressful and surreal, all the more surreal because we’ve all kind of gotten used to the surreality: the people in masks, the deliveries, the not-gatherings, the endless Zoom-ing.
So here’s the latest playlist to accompany our collective dream state, which isn’t a dream at all, sadly. We open with an indescribably great track from the indescribably great new Waxahatchee album (a song with the all too appropriate title “Can’t Do Much”) and travel on from there: we’ve got classic rock nuggets, obscure garage rock, an all-time Northern Soul standard, and (wait for it) Wham!. Among others. We aim for joy, surrounded by a “chain of sorrow,” to use the indelible words of the late great John Prine. To belatedly join in the outpouring honoring his brilliant-humble memory and legacy, I found myself latching onto one of his strangest and most affecting songs, from a Bruised Orange album that came at the height of his powers. You can read about the back story elsewhere but I don’t think it’s necessary to enjoy its quiet grace. Full playlist below the widget.
“Can’t Do Much” – Waxahatchee (Saint Cloud, 2020)
“No Matter What” – Badfinger (No Dice, 1970)
“I Walked” – Sufjan Stevens (The Age of Adz, 2010)
“A New Love Today” – The Debutantes (single, 1966)
“You’ve Had Me Everywhere” – Of Montreal (UR Fun, 2020)
“Freedom” – Wham! (Make It Big, 1985)
“City Morning Song” – Sarah Shannon (City Morning Song, 2006)
“Eleventh Earl of Mar” – Genesis (Wind & Wuthering, 1977)
“Precious Little” – Eleanor McEvoy (What’s Following Me?, 1996)
“Charlie Don’t Surf” – The Clash (Sandinista!, 1980)
“He Will Break Your Heart” – Jerry Butler (single, 1960)
“Stay Alive” – Hollie Cook (Vessel of Love, 2014)
“Kiss Them For Me” – Siouxsie and the Banshees (Superstition, 1991)
“Sabu Visits the Twin Cities Alone” – John Prine (Bruised Orange, 1978)
“New Orleans Blues” – Tom McDermott & Lucia Micarelli (Treme: Music From The HBO Original Series, Season 1, 2010)
“(You) Got What I Need” – Freddie Scott (single, 1968)
“Put On Your Light” – Hezekiah Jones with Clare Callahan (Come To Our Pool Party, 2007)
“Das Model” – Kraftwerk (The Man-Machine, 1978)
“May Queen” – Liz Phair (Whip-Smart, 1994)
“See How We Are” – X (See How We Are, 1987)
More notes to note:
* To my ears the Of Montreal album UR Fun deserved a bit more attention than it seemed to get. There were any number of songs I might have selected, settling on one that just seemed to fit best into the playlist flow. I will take a side swipe at the perpetually imperious critic class, some of whom with tiring inevitability blind themselves with preconceptions and misperceptions, such as the Pitchfork critic who said that UR Fun “often sounds more like a patchwork of soft-boiled singles than an album with a cohesive narrative arc.” All of a sudden an album requires a “cohesive narrative arc”? The thing is musical, endearing, and, yes, fun. Give it a stream if you get a chance.
* While I hesitate to too readily turn each month’s playlist into an “in memoriam” segment, it’s hard to resist reaching into the catalog of a just-passed artist to remember and reflect and, sometimes, even to re-assess. So, me, I was never a big Kraftwerk fan back in the day. But as the decades passed it became clearer and clearer what a visionary band this was. Sometimes it seemed to me music to appreciate more than enjoy but a lot of great artists were far more tuned in to them and their accomplishments from the outset than I certainly was—their focus on repetitive rhythms often obscured their melodic sensibility, to my ears. With the death this month of the band’s co-founder Florian Schneider, I took some time to go back and check out some things I’d never properly listened to. This little pop number is from an album, The Man-Machine, that came out the same year as Bruised Orange. The ’70s were a wonderful thing, musically.
* I managed to overlook Liz Phair’s terrific Whip-Smart for many years. As in love as I became with her next one, Whitechocolatespaceegg, I finally tip-toed back into album number two and discovered lots of great things, including the little gem of a tune presented in this month’s mix. The way she sings the words “Got any what?” is so brilliant (listen to how she slightly delays, draws out, then snaps closed the word “what”) I had to bring extra attention to it here. What a fantastic, intuitive singer and songwriter she is; just about everything she’s done turns out to seem even better in retrospect, including her much-decried self-titled album in 2003. I am super excited about her upcoming album, Soberish, due for release some time later this year.
* I think I’m turning into a Siouxsie and the Banshees fan after all these years; in any case, their singles in particular are never anything but a welcome addition to a playlist.
* “New Orleans Blues” is a short, appealing instrumental found on the soundtrack to the great, semi-forgotten HBO show Treme, one of my favorite television programs of all time. (Everyone knows The Wire, another David Simon co-creation, but seems to ignore this one.) The violinist here, Lucia Micarelli, was also an actress in the show, which featured incredible music and a mix of real-life and fictional musician characters. Steve Earle had a regular role, playing a character, but (slight spoiler) don’t get too attached to him.
* Yes it’s Wham! Always loved this song and probably always will.