I’m thrilled that Kate Bush is having a moment; I’ve been a fan for decades, and, 37 years later, I still place Hounds of Love at the top of my Favorite Albums of All Time list. Bush is an artist with an exceptional individual vision and the fortitude to remain her own person throughout her career–an unusual combination in this profit-fixated world of ours.
That said, I’ll admit there is likewise something discomfiting about this abrupt burst of Bushmania. While I am happy for the well-deserved exposure, in the U.S. in particular (“Running Up That Hill,” here in 2022, has become her first top five U.S. hit ever), the fact that it’s been generated so randomly, based on some music supervisor’s suggestion for a so-called “sync,” leaves me a bit unsettled. How randomly are the fruits of capitalism distributed to creative people! Kate Bush is just as brilliant and singular an artist now as she was before her song was featured in Stranger Things. The fact that the wide world is now paying attention to her is terrific on the one hand but highlights on the other the fact that our most deserving artists often lack the rewards they ideally merit. Our culture has brainwashed itself, through the ascendancy of “poptimism” in the 21st century, to treat our most popular artists as the most artistically deserving of their popularity but that’s a lie we tell ourselves to avoid having to operate in the slippery land of quality versus the concrete territory of quantity.
Even so, I’m trying not to be too much of a grump about it. Kate Bush will always be one of my favorite artists (she’s now been featured here 8 times, tied at the top with David Bowie and Radiohead) and I should only be happy that more of the world now knows about her. (Note that she has rarely allowed her music to be licensed in this way in the past; she only agreed this time because she was already a fan of the show.) My disgruntlements, such as they are, have to do with the capitalist-driven materialism that overwhelms the Western world, about which, alas, there seems little right now to be done.
In any case, here we are again. Even as Fingertips remains on a summer hiatus with respect to individual song reviews, the Eclectic Playlist Series carries on. Enjoy the mix, which this month features 14 artists not previously heard here. Oh, and that Kate Bush song? Watch the 1986 video and see how naturally it aligns with the Stranger Things vibe, so much so that it makes me wonder if the Duffers had her in mind all along.
Bonus commentary below the playlist and the widget:
1. “Nowhere Girl” – B-Movie (single, 1980/1982)
2. “Saddest Day” – Ephemera (Sun, 2000)
3. “Don’t Forget” – Sky Ferreira (single, 2022)
4. “I’ve Seen the Saucers” – Elton John (Caribou, 1974)
5. “’74-’75” – The Connells (Ring, 1993)
6. “Our Life is Not a Movie or Maybe” – Okkervil River (The Stage Names, 2007)
7. “Face of the Sun” – Shana Cleveland (Night of the Worm Moon, 2019)
8. “Children’s Songs: No. 6” – Chick Corea (Children’s Songs, 1984)
9. “Play Me” – Marcia Griffiths (Sweet & Nice, 1974)
10. “Down on the Corner” – Creedence Clearwater Revival (Willy and the Poor Boys, 1969)
11. “The Spur” – Joan Shelley (The Spur, 2022)
12. “I Lost the Monkey” – The Wedding Present (El Rey, 2008)
13. “Experiment IV” – Kate Bush (single, 1986)
14. “900 Hands” – Elskling (single, 2014)
15. “Don’t Change Your Love” – The Five Stairsteps (single, 1968)
16. “I Can’t” – Radiohead (Pablo Honey, 1993)
17. “Liquid Numbing Pain” – Lucy Francesca Dron (Leftovers, 2021)
18. “Only Skin” – The Spring Standards (Yellow/Gold, 2012)
19. “You Got It (Release It)” – Pearl Harbor & The Explosions (Pearl Harbor & The Explosions, 1979)
20. “Glory Box” – John Martyn (The Church With One Bell, 1998)
* Radiohead, like Kate Bush, is here for the eighth time this month, and this time I dip all the way back to their typically overlooked if not disparaged debut. I think it’s unfortunate that this album doesn’t get more respect–sure, the band will grow a lot from here onward (understatement) but it’s still an admirable slice of ’90s guitar rock. Song quality is a notch down from their follow-up but The Bends is about the highest bar possible. Trust me, there’s more to Pablo Honey than “Creep”; start with “I Can’t” and explore from there. Among other things it’s interesting to be reminded of quite how much they were influenced at the outset by U2.
* Texas-based Okkervil River was a semi-regular presence here on Fingertips during the indie rock glory days of the middle ’00s. Featured four times between 2004 and 2008, and once more in 2011, they rightly or wrongly faded away from my awareness through the rest of the 2010s, even as they remained and still remain an active–if shape-shifting–ensemble; front man Will Sheff is the only one left from Okkervil River’s ’00s incarnations. “Our Life is Not a Movie or Maybe” comes from the record that represents their commercial, and possibly their critical, high water mark, 2007’s The Stage Names. The band’s most recent album is In the Rainbow Rain, released in 2018.
* Is there a reason, I wonder, that Neil Diamond songs have been so gracefully transmuted into reggae songs? There’s “Red Red Wine,” of course, which UB40 made so much their own that few knew that Neil Diamond was the original songwriter. John Holt’s cover of “Holly Holy” is considered a classic by aficionados. And then there’s Marcia Griffiths and her marvelous cover of “Play Me,” which manages to convert a slightly cheesy tune into something welcoming and delightful. Might it possibly have to do with Diamond’s song “Reggae Strut,” which appeared on his 1974 album Serenade (and on the B-side of the single “Longfellow Serenade,” a pleasingly bombastic song which I’d entirely forgotten about until right now)? To our contemporary ears, “Reggae Strut” may sound, um, a little colonial. But for better or worse it’s possible the attention worked both ways? After all, 1974 was still pretty early for Diamond, a huge mainstream success at that point, to be tuned into reggae enough to write a song about it. Maybe the reggae community decided to check him out, if they hadn’t previously? Lord knows that by now there are more reggae versions of “Sweet Caroline” than you probably care to know about.
* I am not much of a jazz guy or a classical guy, although I dabble in both as the mood strikes. The 1984 LP Children’s Songs, by the late Chick Corea, is an album that shows how blurry, sometimes, the line between these two ostensibly separate genres can be. Featuring 20 original piano compositions–most shorter than two minutes–the album was inspired by one of Corea’s musical heroes, Béla Bartók, combining an unadorned simplicity of feel with a gratifying melodic and harmonic complexity. I stumbled on it a few months ago and found myself struck in particular by the playful movement and tension embodied by “No. 6.” I hope it works as a friendly interstitial within this wide-ranging mix.
* I was speaking earlier of the random nature of what draws our cultural attention to some artists and not to others; with the advent of social media over the last 10 years or so the situation has become something of a travesty, as the endless jockeying for clicks and followers has debased our collective interactions greviously. This is obvious at a political level but applies in the arts as well. With everyone seemingly seeking popularity at all costs, what cultural room is left for the acquired tastes, for quality that whispers as opposed to quantity that overwhelms? I listen to Brisbane-based Lucy Francesca Dron and am saddened by how much less attention a musician of her quality and taste seems at this point to be receiving versus all the shiny, interchangeable popsters dominating the charts and feeds. I featured Dron’s song “What Is Next?” last year here, and later in the year was taken as well by a follow-up single, “Liquid Numbing Pain.” I make it a policy not to review two songs by the same artist within one calendar year but am happy to present that second single here within a 2022 playlist. The song can be found on her 2021 EP, Leftovers.
* Sky Ferreira has had a troubled go of it from the outset of her intermittent career. While pretty astonishing at the time, her 2013 debut album Night Time, My Time if anything sounds even better in retrospect for its adroit blending of processed pop with grungier edges not usually heard on the charts at that point. Her very long-awaited second album is due–supposedly–later this year. “Don’t Forget” is the second single now available from the upcoming LP. Don’t believe Pitchfork’s sniffing dismissal; to my ears, the track rewards far more listens than this particular reviewer seems to have given it.
* When I first heard John Martyn’s version of “Glory Box” I thought hm, how clever of the Bristol-based trio to have found a song from that veteran blues-folk pioneer and given it the Portishead treatment. I was properly abashed to find out at some point that it was Martyn who grabbed the tune from Dummy. Without actually changing it all that much, Martyn excavates the blues swing hiding in plain sight in the original. Some covers succeed by thoroughly re-interpreting the first version, some work by hewing close to the original in a act of homage; a rare few manage somehow to do both at the same time.
* Formed in 1978, Pearl Harbor & The Explosions were one of the first new wave bands in the U.S., and scored a minor indie hit with the song “Drivin'” in 1979. Warner Brothers scooped them up for a major label deal, but, despite the listener-friendly hooks of “You Got It (Release It),” the album sunk and nothing much stuck after that. (Note that lead singer Pearl E. Gates, born Patricia Gilbert, named the band as she did because her parents were married on Dec. 7, 1941.) Relocating to the U.K. after the band broke up, she there adopted the British spelling (Harbour) because that’s how her name kept appearing in the press. In 1982, she married Clash bassist Paul Simonon, who played without credit (along with Mick Jones and Topper Headon and other notable British musicians) on Pearl’s debut solo album, the rockabilly-infused Don’t Follow Me, I’m Lost Too. She and Simonon divorced in 1989, at which point she moved back to California, where she’s been ever since. Pearl is still active online (see IG:@pearlharbourmusic) but doesn’t seem to have released any music since 1995. (Thanks to The Forty-Five for some of the background information here.)