I could easily title each playlist “I can’t go on, I’ll go on” at this point in the story of our beleaguered world. Just as soon as we (kind of) pushed one fucked-up narcissist off the world stage we are terrorized by another, with a pandemic still spiraling around in the background. Regarding the cowardly, insecure war criminal holding court in the Kremlin, it seems a kind of evolutionary mistake at this point, the idea that humans are so easily hornswoggled by malevolent madmen. Someone should look into that.
In the meantime, we go on, as we do, and must. Here are the latest 20 songs that find themselves collected, from a variety of points of origin, into one (somewhat) coherent whole. Enjoy what you can, when you can:
1. “Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others” – Janice Whaley (The Smiths Project: The Queen is Dead, 2010)
2. “When You Awake” – The Band (The Band, 1969)
3. “Cherry” – Anna Fox Rochinski (Cherry, 2021)
4. “Driven to Tears” – The Police (Zenyatta Mondatta, 1980)
5. “Here I Dreamt I Was an Architect” – The Decemberists (Castaways and Cutouts, 2002)
6. “State of Independence” – Donna Summer (Donna Summer, 1982)
7. “Tiny Town” – David Byrne (Uh-Oh, 1992)
8. “If That’s What You Wanted” – Frankie Beverly & The Butlers (B-side, 1967)
9. “Sure” – Hatchie (Sugar & Spice EP, 2018)
10. “Ricochet in Time” – Shawn Colvin (Steady On, 1989)
11. “All I Want” – Ronnie Spector (The Last of the Rock Stars, 2006)
12. “All That You Dream” – Little Feat (The Last Record Album, 1975)
13. “Stabilise” – Nilüfer Yanya (Painless, 2022)
14. Prelude & Fugue #21 in B Flat – Keith Jarrett (Dmitri Shostakovich: 24 Preludes and Fugues op. 87, 1992)
15. “Aptitude” – Novillero (Aim Right for the Hole in Their Lives, 2005)
16. “Rene and Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After The War” – Paul Simon (Hearts and Bones, 1983)
17. “Awkward Waltz” – Acapulco Lips (Acapulco Lips, 2016)
18. “Dosage” – Liz Phair (Soberish, 2021)
19. “A Secret Place” – Grover Washington Jr. (A Secret Place, 1976)
20. “Darling Be Home Soon” – The Lovin’ Spoonful (You’re a Big Boy Now – The Original Soundtrack Album, 1967)
* The Smiths Project, from British singer/songwriter Janice Whaley, is one of the most impressive acts of committed artistry I have ever encountered. I missed it at the time of recording and release in 2010 and 2011, only stumbling upon it in the last few weeks. What Whaley did, almost unbelievably, is create, in the span of a year or so, an a capella version of all 71 Smiths songs from the band’s six major releases (four studio albums and two compilations of singles, B-sides, and assorted non-album recordings). You can read more about it on Bandcamp, where you can listen to everything and buy what you’d like. For a more concise introduction, Whaley also released an 11-track “Best of the Smiths Project.” She did use pitch-altering technology to create bass lines, but everything you hear was originally voice-generated. As for the odd but compelling “Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others,” the final track on The Queen is Dead, I’ve always been attracted to this song for a variety of reasons, and it’s one where Whaley’s treatment is particularly transformative. And don’t miss what’s hiding in plain sight: what a great voice Whaley has.
* I am no classical aficionado by any means but I do, somehow, find Dmitri Shostakovich to be one of the rock’n’roll-ier composers of the 20th-century. I was introduced to his suite of 24 linked Preludes and Fugues via Keith Jarrett’s 1992 recording, so that’s where I’m landing here–while readily admitting I haven’t the ears or the experience to know how his interpretations stack up to others. I do want sometimes to mix things up here with a classical track but have only managed it once or twice so far, because it does present a bit of an aesthetic challenge. Still, it’s worth a try every now and then. Note that Shostakovich modeled this series after something Bach had done centuries earlier–composing a prelude and fugue for each major and minor key.
* So great to hear from Liz Phair again after more than a decade since her last album, and nearly two decades after falling out of favor with those who had previously lionized her, thanks to her (unfairly) vilified self-titled album in 2003. Soberish is not necessarily a “Wow!” experience but it is a rewarding one. Her voice is subtly singular, her songwriting gift still underrated; I offer “Dosage” as a case in point. Note the lyrical call-back to Henry the bartender, from 1998’s “Polyester Bride.”
* A story has it that Jimi Hendrix once told his friend Ronnie Spector that her voice “sounds like a guitar.” In retrospect, we never quite heard enough of that voice, given the unfortunate path her life took after marrying the disturbed, controlling Phil Spector. While Ronnie attempted, in the ’70s and ’80s, to overcome the idea that she was merely an oldies act, her limited solo work never gained a lot of mainstream traction–although Eddie Money’s tribute, by way of his 1986 hit “Take Me Home Tonight,” did return her to the spotlight and rejuvenated if not her career than at least her status as a rock icon. Her death this January, at the age of 78, gave many of us motivation to re-examine her work and reacquaint ourselves with her influential style. It’s so cool that she found the Amy Rigby tune “All I Want” for her 2006 album The Last of the Rock Stars: a brilliant synthesis of retro rock’n’roll and contemporary brio, the song gave the former Ronettes’ front woman a chance to sing lyrics like “I feel kind of furious/And you’re not even curious/You’re way too oblivious/Where I’m concerned.” Listen carefully and see if you don’t get chills along the way. (Note that Rigby’s original functioned as the “title track,” as it were, for EPS 2.06 back in August 2015: “A list of things I didn’t do.”)
* “What began as a world-weary warning about how we are all limited by our inherent capabilities reveals itself (if I’m hearing it right) rather poignantly as a philosophy borne from disappointment in love”: that was my summary of the song “Aptitude” at the time (2005), and I stand by it. A terrific piece, at once catchy and complicated, both musically and lyrically, “Aptitude” came from the cleverly titled album Aim Right for the Hole in Their Lives. The Canadian band Novillero was formed in 1999, disbanded in 2010, sprung back to life in 2016, and had posts on their Facebook page as recently as 2020; current status unclear.
* Paul Simon’s visibility and commercial viability as an album artist both took a big dip following his popular 1975 album Still Crazy After All These Years. His last ’70s hit, “Slip Slidin’ Away,” in 1977, was a new track on a greatest hits album; a few years later, the soundtrack to his movie One Trick Pony (1980) didn’t sell up to his previous standards, despite a hit single (“Late in the Evening”). His next regular release, Hearts and Bones (1983), generated no hits and little interest, becoming the least popular of his career to date. In retrospect this only shows how wrong the marketplace can be at any point in time. Personally, I loved Hearts and Bones from the first time I heard it; thankfully, its reputation has been corrected over the years, the album now widely regarded as one of his best. “Rene and Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After the War” is a magical bit of singer/songwriter surrealism, and a song Simon concocted based on the title of two photographs he came across by the German photographer Lothar Walleh.
* The song “Driven to Tears” was identified in my digital library as being released in 1979; only as I was writing this post did I discover (or re-discover; I probably knew this once) that the album Zenyatta Mondatta was actually released in 1980. This matters only to my ongoing efforts to distribute music somewhat evenly through the decades in each mix. Meaning: I thought I had put three songs from the ’70s and three songs from the ’80s in this playlist, three being the number I aim for (if all goes well, one decade of seven gets two, the rest get three). But now it turns out there are actually just two songs from the ’70s and four from the ’80s. For what it’s worth, Sting did write it in 1979. That’ll have to do, this month. Much more important: the song remains sadly relevant, year after goddamned year.