For those keeping score at home, I operate here under the self-imposed rule that Eclectic Playlist Series artists may only appear once in any given calendar year. January is when everything resets, and all artists are available again. It’s fun to regain the unlimited choice but this does make the January list troublesome in that anyone I feature in this initial mix is immediately excluded for the rest of the year. If I over-eagerly populate the January playlist with some of my all-time favorites (e.g., Elvis Costello, Liz Phair, and Suzanne Vega, to name three), then poof, I’ve already used them up for the year. It’s a first-world problem.
While I’m in new year introductory mode, I’ll offer another couple of tidbits that you may or may not have figured out on your own over time. First: the horizontal graphic you see at the top of any playlist post is excerpted each month from the cover of one of the albums featured (via one song) on each mix. Next: the playlist’s title likewise is a phrase from a lyric in one of the songs in the mix. Usually these two things do not derive from the same song but I think it’s happened once or twice (for those keeping score at home).
As always, the widget for listening is below the playlist. The extra curious can scroll further and find extra notes about some of what you’ll be hearing.
Lastly, regarding the Mixcloud situation: I am leaving everything available there, at least for the next month or so. Feel free to pipe up if you have any helpful input on the matter; for all I know nobody is going back to listen to the older lists in the first place. I do tend to be more of an archivist than is seemingly necessary in an online realm oriented towards what’s next rather than what was here last month (or last year, or last decade). And yet I remain hesitant to have only 10 mixes live at any one time. Still, to keep all the playlists online is going to be pricey moving forward, and Fingertips is–go figure–hardly a money machine. If I take them down it’ll render this page largely superfluous, but maybe that’s not a big deal.
On to the music:
1. “The Lunatics (Have Taken Over the Asylum)” – The Fun Boy Three (single, 1981)
2. “Collider Particles” – Madison Cunningham (Revealer, 2022)
3. “Say Something” – James (Laid, 1993)
4. “Zebra” – Beach House (Teen Dream, 2010)
5. “Somebody Who Loves You” – Joan Armatrading (Joan Armatrading, 1976)
6. “The Death of Magic Thinking” – Elvis Costello & The Imposters (The Boy Named If, 2022)
7. “Wish I Was” – Kim Deal (b-side, 2013)
8. “Perfume” – Sparks (Hello Young Lovers, 2006)
9. “(There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me” – Lou Johnson (single, 1964)
10. “West Gwillimbury” – Ron Sexsmith (The Last Rider, 2017)
11. “Giving It All to You” – Liz Phair (Somebody’s Miracle, 2006)
12. “She’s In Love With You” – Suzi Quatro (Suzi…And Other Four-Letter Words, 1979)
13. “The Ways of the Wind” – P.M. Dawn (The Bliss Album…?, 1993)
14. “Satellites” – Rickie Lee Jones (Flying Cowboys, 1989)
15. “Keep On Dreamin'” – The Arcs (single, 2022; album coming in 2023)
16. “Sophie” – Jeff Beck (Wired, 1976)
17. “Fat Man & Dancing Girl” – Suzanne Vega (99.9 F°, 1992)
18. “Long and Lonesome Road” – Shocking Blue (At Home, 1969)
19. “Reynardine” – Isobel Campbell (Milkwhite Sheets, 2006)
20. “Hope” – Bauhaus (Burning From the Inside, 1983)
The fine print:
* Two prominent but unrelated factors led to this month’s opening track. There was on the one hand the sad news of the death of the British singer/songwriter Terry Hall, best known here for his prominent role in the bands The Specials and The Fun Boy Three. And there was on the other hand the clown show that opened for business earlier this month in the U.S. House of Representatives. I’m not sure what they were specifically addressing in 1981–it sounds like they had an understandable beef with Ronald Reagan, among other things–but honestly, the lyrics to this debut single strike me as more on point than ever. (Note that the band over time lost the “The” in front of their name, but initial releases were in fact credited to “The Fun Boy Three.”)
* Speaking of newcomers to the EPS univertse: obviously one way to go is to select artists who are relatively new to the music scene. One of my favorites of this group is the singer/songwriter Madison Cunningham, whose songs can be knotty and catchy at the same time. As a bonus, she plays a mean, jazz-inflected guitar. The song “Hospital” was my introduction to her, and it’s a great one if you don’t know it, but it turns out the album, Revealer, is packed with goodies. Check it out if you get a chance.
* All the songs as he’s already written, all the musical paths he’s wandered down, and he still comes up with something like this? I’m talking Elvis Costello and this selection from his most recent LP, 2022’s A Boy Named If, which is as fresh and interesting as his best songs always are. And hey if you’re one of those people who has vaguely good feelings about EC but has maybe lost touch with his 21st-century output, have no fear: my “Elvis Costello: the 21st century” playlist is the thing for you. Twenty-one songs from his 21st-century oeuvre that range widely away from his “angry young man” phase and why shouldn’t they? He is no longer young and no longer angry, but he’s still as good a songwriter as rock’n’roll has ever produced.
* I am not a Pixies superfan and I don’t know a whole lot about Kim Deal and nothing about what prompted a series of five seven-inch singles she released, without an album, between 2012 and 2014. But I do know that the instrumental “Wish I Was” is weirdly magnetic to my ears, and I suspect that anyone fond of subtle droning guitar lines will feel similarly. The song establishes a deliciously laid-back groove and doesn’t deviate; the deep charm is in Deal’s ongoing choices in both the lead and rhythm parts (I assume she plays both). There are hesitations, minor atonalities, fuzzy patches, fitful melody lines, and an imprecise island vibe. Marvelous from beginning to end.
* “(There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me” is about as Burt Bacharach-y a song as there is (check out those modulation!; and that eccentric opening parentheses!), and later versions are better known, the Naked Eyes cover in 1983 most of all, it was first a modest hit for the singer Lou Johnson back in 1964. It became a big hit in the UK when covered by Sandie Shaw later that same year. Dionne Warwick is also associated with this song; she recorded a demo version in 1963 but didn’t put out a full recording of it until her 1967 album The Windows of the World. Everyone does a pretty good job with this song but I’m especially enjoying Johnson’s take, with its unburdened, almost offhanded arrangement and the singer’s nonchalant delivery.
* I am not aiming to turn these playlists into requiems–my goal is to be as outwardly appreciative as possible while some of these older musicians are still with us–but it seems only natural to mark notable passings from time to time. There was Christine McVie last month and now the news about the so-called “guitarist’s guitarist,” Jeff Beck. I’m not a big fusion fan but only a grump is going to resist the various memorable guitar riffs baked into the eight songs on his 1976 album Wired. “Sophie” is a bit on the long side but it earns the ear space for its engaging, split-personality unfoldings, and the undeniable appeal of Beck’s soaring lead lines, here playing off some extra show-off-y stuff from Jan Hammer.
* If known at all, the Dutch band Shocking Blue gets pigeonholed into the “one-hit wonder” category based on their indelible 1969 song “Venus,” as sneaky-great sounding today as ever. But there was a good deal more to the band than that, thanks in large part to front woman Mariska Veres’ effortless vocal charisma. With a bluesy-folksy psychedelic palette that places them squarely in their late-’60s/early-’70s time frame, Shocking Blue carved out something of their own sound, at least for a while–the later few of their nine studio albums, released between 1967 and 1974, veered often towards either a more generic sound, as if the band were simply running out of ideas, or songs too deliberately evocative of “Venus” (see “Eve and the Apple,” from 1972’s Attila)…as if the band were simply running out of ideas. Through it all, however, Shocking Blue maintained an appealing, home-baked charm that mixed menace and innocence in an especially ’70s sort of way.
* How can you not love “West Gwillimbury”? As noted at Ron Sexsmith’s last appearance here (EPS 9.08), his 2017 album The Last Rider is a keeper, and this song is too delightful for words, featuring the sort of laid-back but insistent melodicism that characterizes his finest efforts. Ongoingly prolific, Sexsmith has not only released two more albums since then, but has another one, entitled The Vivian Line, his eighteenth, coming out next month.