With apologies to the ever under-valued piano, this month’s mix offers an inadvertent salute to rock’n’roll’s two quintessential instruments, the electric guitar and the synthesizer. I’m pretty sure the guitar wins this round (see Weezer, Bowie, Davies, Trynin, and, fiercest of all, that second to last track from the Motels), but it’s close. The enticing Canadian experimental popster Bernice gives us all sorts of electronic bips and twiddles (note, though, the analog piano winding its way in and out); the defunct Bay Area band Dealership offers warm, bell-like digital tones; and, wrapping things up, the mighty Toronto foursome Metric goes all fidgety-synth-poppy on us with the portentous but danceable “Cascades.” Guitars win but synths have the last word.
For the record, note that 13 of the 20 artists this month are making their first appearance on an EPS mix, and two songs this time around are songs formerly featured as MP3s here on Fingertips: the Dealership song “Forest,” and “The Sun Ain’t Shining No More,” from the Danish band Asteroid Galaxy Tour, whose most recent record dates to 2014; they are currently on hiatus.
“Monday Morning Rock” – Marshall Crenshaw (Field Day, 1983)
“Benny” – Allen LeRoy Hug (single, 2021)
“Dirty Work” – Steely Dan (Can’t Buy a Thrill, 1972)
“The Good Life” – Weezer (Pinkerton, 1996)
“Forest” – Dealership (Action/Adventure, 2004)
“Maybe” – The Chantels (single, 1957)
“The Next Day” – David Bowie (The Next Day, 2013)
“What Do Pretty Girls Do?” – Kirsty MacColl (Kite, 1989)
“One Track Mind” – The Knickerbockers (single, 1966)
“It’s Me, Robin” – Bernice (Eau de Bonjourno, 2021)
“The Sun Ain’t Shining No More” – The Asteroids Galaxy Tour (Around the Bend EP, 2009)
“About Her Eyes” – Jerry Jeff Walker (Five Years Gone, 1969)
“From the Lonely Afternoon” – Flora Purim (Carry On, 1979)
“I’m Not the Guy” – Dan Bern (Dan Bern, 1997)
“Cry Cry Cry” – Nicole Atkins (Mondo Amore, 2011)
“Imaginations Real” – Dave Davies (AFL1-3063, 1980)
“Better Than Nothing” – Jennifer Trynin (Cockamamie, 1994)
“Spark” – Over the Rhine (Drunkard’s Prayer, 2005)
“Dressing Up” – The Motels (The Motels, 1979)
“Cascades” – Metric (Pagans in Vegas, 2015)
* The singer/songwriter duo of Tennessee Kamanski and Sarah De La Isla, known together as Allen LeRoy Hug, are one of my favorite new acts of recent years. Featured in May for the mysteriously charming song “Saturnine Boy”, their more recent song “Benny” is another winner, highlighting the twosome’s elusive allure—the offbeat chords, the delayed but brilliant hooks, the fetching vocals, it’s all here, and wrapped up in less than three minutes. Captivating stuff for the discerning listener, and it’s the second song in so no excuse for not checking it out!
* Among the varied chronological destinations this month is year-end 1957, which is when the stone-cold early-rock’n’roll classic “Maybe,” by the Chantels, was released. The Chantels were one of the earliest female, all-Black vocal groups to have crossover national success. They were fronted by the classically-trained Arlene Smith, who not only sang but also wrote both words and music. (Not surprisingly, her co-songwriting credit for “Maybe” was never officially recognized.) A transitional song between straight-ahead doo wop and what would soon be known as the “girl group” sound, “Maybe” comes to us in 2021 as a visitor from another planet, and yet there’s something so foundational here that it cannot be denied, and well deserves being heard within a 21st-century sandwich, as happens here.
* My well-established love for the Kinks necessarily extends to the overlooked brother, Mr. Dave Davies, who can never get enough credit both for his archetypal guitar playing and his very occasional but incisive songwriting for the band. Whatever rough patches he and Ray have gone through relationally, it’s notable that neither brother has felt the need to do a whole lot of solo work over the years. Dave’s 1980 album AFL1-3063 remains an enjoyable glimpse of a bygone era, but sounds as sturdy as ever, what with all the guitars, and that inimitable Davies vocal style, related to Ray’s but not at all the same. (Note: the title was the album’s actual bar code; the cover showed the bar code displayed where his face should be. This was when bar codes were just starting to be slapped on everything. Don’t mess with Dave.)
* “Monday Morning Rock” presents us with a verse melody as muscular as it is humble, embedding itself in the ear with a casual, “you-mean-this-old-thing?” manner, but please let us bow down before its casual brilliance. It doesn’t sound like something someone had to write, so inviting and inevitable is its arc. I do apologize in advance if you have trouble getting it out of your head but there are many worse things that might be filling that space so I’m not really sorry at all.
* Jennifer Trynin had a brief alt-rock moment in the ’90s, appearing in the wake of Liz Phair’s world-shaking debut, with major labels competing with one another to sign her. But there was, as usual, no happy ending, just the usual narrative: the musician ends up with little of the money, the label loses interest when she doesn’t hit it big, moving on in search of the next big thing that almost never pans out. Trynin pretty much left the business after her critically well-regarded first LP and less well-regarded second LP (the one where the musician tries to make amends with the record company) go nowhere commercially. She was able to have something of the last word with a memoir she published in 2006 called Everything I’m Cracked Up To Be, which sounds like a good read. And she has apparently tip-toed back into performance in the 2010s, but no solo work at this point.
* For the uninitiated, this wonderful Steely Dan song is one of two that Donald Fagen did not sing lead on on the band’s debut album; the alternate lead singer at that point was a guy named David Palmer, who may have been suggested by the record label, perhaps due to Fagen’s lack of confidence at that point as a singer. (I am doing my best to sort through internet “facts.”) Palmer was last heard with the Dan on backing vocals on the second album, Countdown to Ecstasy. Fun (internet) fact: the Can’t Buy a Thrill was derived from the Bob Dylan song “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry.”
* There is one unartful segue here this time, sorry to say. It happens sometimes: the songs go pretty well together but not how they specifically fit where the first ends and the second begins. I won’t mention it to draw any extra attention to it, but if you hear one that you think is pretty ugly, know that I know it too.