Nothing stays the same

Eclectic Playlist Series 7.11 – December 2020

You don’t need me to remind you what a poisonous year this has been so I’ll sidestep the rants and simply express gratitude for surviving, gratitude to everyone who has persevered, everyone who has displayed resilience in the face of 2020’s twin plagues (COVID-19, malignant ignorance) and still dares to look ahead to something better. As I mentioned in the most recent Fingertips email, the writer Deborah Eisenberg noted in an essay this fall that “if things could only get worse, we would all have been dead millennia ago.” And I added that I find that this offers a weird sort of consolation during the kind of year 2020 has been.

Music is an ongoing consolation as well. I don’t need songs to be outwardly cheery to be consoling; for me, beauty will do it, or finesse, or even just the way this chord turns into that chord, the way a particular voice sings a particular word. Kirsty MacColl’s “Autumngirlsoup” is truly one of the saddest songs I know but at the same time, its grace and brilliance provide a bittersweet sort of inspiration; that someone could write that and sing that means that the world isn’t a lost cause, even if the singer herself met a tragic end (more below). I like that this playlist leads ultimately to Jenifer Jackson–whose timbre has a Kirsty-like smoke to it–and her anthemic declaration of “We Will Be Together,” complete with the mighty Spector beat and an indefatigable spirit. Enjoy the music, look to the horizon with curiosity and hope and we will be together again next year.

The playlist:

“Back of My Hand” – The Jags (UK single, 1979)
“The Magic” – Joan as Police Woman (The Deep Field, 2011)
“Without a Doubt” – Major Lance (single, 1967)
“Radiation Vibe” – Hem (No Word From Tom, 2006)
“Careless” – Paul Kelly and the Messengers (So Much Water So Close to Home, 1989)
“Off My Mind” – Hazel English (Wake UP!, 2020)
“Take Me For a Little While” – Jackie Ross (single, 1965)
“Something in 4/4 Time” – Daryl Hall (Sacred Songs, recorded 1977; released 1980)
“Say Anything” – Aimee Mann (Whatever, 1993)
“Don’t Know How to Keep Loving You” – Julia Jacklin (Crushing, 2019)
“Everything Under the Sun” – The Walker Brothers (Images, 1967)
“That Year” – Uncle Tupelo (No Depression, 1990)
“Autumngirlsoup” – Kirsty MacColl (Tropical Brainstorm, 2000)
“Turn Your Lights Down Low” – Bob Marley and the Wailers (Exodus, 1977)
“Never Stop” – Echo & The Bunnymen (Songs to Learn and Sing, 1985)
“Shouting at the Dark” – The Mynabirds (Be Here Now, 2017)
“Footsteps” – Alison Moyet (Hoodoo, 1991)
“Surrender” – Will Butler (Generations, 2020)
“The Things That I Used to Do” – Guitar Slim (single, 1953)
“We Will Be Together” – Jenifer Jackson (So High, 2003)

Bonus explanatory notes:

* If you’ve been around here a while you’ll know I have a hard time resisting power pop nuggets from the late ’70s and early ’80s and this month’s mix launches with one of the most nuggetty of all. The Jags were one of any number of bands who got lazily tagged as Elvis Costello wannabes; like most of those bands, their story was neither that simple nor mercenary. The sound was in the air back then, and it flowed through a lot of outlets. “Back Of My Hand” is top-notch power pop, but it has somehow faded further than some of the era’s other hits. I blame part of that on the record company, which took the original UK single and mucked it up for the US release with a revised version (additional production provided by Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes, otherwise known as The Buggles), which added a hermetic sheen that retained the hooks but, to my ears, took some ineffable part of the charm away. I think the Buggles-infested version sounds soulless and calculated and I gladly present you here with the earlier UK iteration.

* From roughly the same era but an entirely different space comes a song from Daryl Hall’s first solo album, Sacred Songs. This has an even worse record-label-messes-with-things story, as the album was recorded, in a collaboration with King Crimson’s Robert Fripp, in 1977, but the record company, RCA, didn’t think it sounded commercial enough and simply shelved it, with no intention of release. For three years. Hall at some point went rogue and began sending bits of it to journalists and disc jockeys; eventually RCA relented and released the album in 1980. I think it’s excellent work, showing off both Hall’s ever-impressive vocal prowess and his willingness to venture musically beyond the realm of whatever you’d call what Hall & Oates were doing. Note that this was recorded after Hall & Oates first go-round with top-40 success and before the duo went platinum (and multi-platinum), which started later in 1980 when Voices came out, during a somewhat fallow commercial period for them. I really like the vibe on Sacred Songs, but then again my favorite Hall & Oates album by far is 1978’s Along the Red Ledge, a release from their supposed “lean years.”

* As one more 2020 nod in the direction of the late great Adam Schlesinger, here is one of my favorite covers of all time, because first of all it’s a such a friggin’ good song and second of all the subtle but sure means by which the band Hem has transformed it. Typically a cover version is either super loyal to the original or works hard to find a whole new approach. What Hem does here is rather magically splits the difference. As sung by the very appealing Sally Ellyson, and arranged by whoever arranges their stuff, “Radiation Vibe” is both instantly recognizable and rendered different and new. The amusing backstory to the song is that Chris Collingswood once told an interviewer that the song “was written in less time than it takes to play.” He also confirmed what you kind of have to suspect, even as your brain works hard to overcome the suspicion: that the song quite literally doesn’t mean anything. It’s a bunch of words that sound cool together.

* And, yes: Kirsty MacColl. This month marks the 20th anniversary of her death in the ocean in Mexico, at the hands of a reckless motorboat driver, a fate that stings doubly for both how unfair and how horrific. I’ve featured her a few times here over the years because my heart beats strongly for her still, and while I’ve so far presented her catchy and flashier material, at the end of the day I’m not sure she wrote and performed anything quite as deep and moving as “Autumngirlsoup,” from what turned out to be her final album. An unexpected bonus is that the thing is also pretty hilarious; her extended metaphor (woman as a dish devoured by man) is both over the top and razor sharp, at once skewering and despairing over the ingrained misogyny of human history. I mean who would think to write this?: “Carve up my heart on a very low flame/Separate my feelings then pour them down the drain.” Kirsty did. A singular presence, and talent.

* As for Jenifer Jackson, consider her another talented musician all too easily lost in the unending waves of digital music that have washed up on our cultural shores in the 21st century. (She doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page, something that I might go about fixing.) Her 2003 album So High, her third, released on the acclaimed Bar-None label, was well-regarded and remains a pleasure to listen to; succeeding albums drew successively less attention, with no notable drop-off in quality. She continues to make records to this day–her most recent is the album Paths, released last year. You can find all her stuff here. (Note that a  bunch of her older albums were just this year put up on Bandcamp, so their release dates are off.)

Until you get heard (Eclectic Playlist Series 7.10 – Oct. 2020)

(Note from the future–November 6, to be precise: The original post accompanying this playlist in October has gotten lost in the transition to the new hosting service and the accompanying site redesign. It’s maybe just as well–that post was a pre-election rant that, while still relevant to the extent that our country remains deeply wounded by misinformation and disinformation, we at least managed to elect a decent human being. That the horrific man currently occupying the White House wasn’t rejected by everyone is worrisome to say the least. How awful would a person have to be, now, to be obviously unworthy of elected office? Not a rhetorical question. Anyway: here’s the playlist.)

“Worried Man Blues” – The Carter Family (1930 recording)
“You Want It Darker” – Leonard Cohen (You Want It Darker, 2016)
“Don’t Talk To Me About Love” – Altered images (Bite, 1983)
“Bloodline’ – Orenda Fink (Invisible Ones, 2005)
“13 Questions” – Seatrain (Seatrain, 1970)
“Vow” – Garbage (Garbage, 1995)
“Thousands are Sailing” – The Pogues (If I Should Fall From Grace With God, 1987)
“Ole Man Trouble” – Otis Redding (Otis Blue: Otis Redding Sings Soul, 1965)
“Shark Smile” – Big Thief (Capacity, 2017)
“Bored By Dreams” – Marianne Faithfull (A Secret Life, 1994)
“Sing the Changes” – The Fireman (Electric Arguments, 2008)
“Can You Get To That” – Funkadelic (Maggot Brain, 1971)
“Everything Works If You Let It” – Cheap Trick (All Shook Up, 1980)
“Here Goes Nothing” – Jess Cornelius (Distance, 2020)
“Dusty Trails Theme” – Dusty Trails (Dusty Trails, 2000)
“Say Goodbye” – Sophie Barker (Seagull, 2011)
“Someday, Someway” – The Marvelettes (b-side, 1962)
“Put The Message in the Box” – World Party (Goodbye Jumbo, 1990)
“The Walls Are Coming Down” – Fanfarlo (Reservoir, 2009)
“I Know The End” – Phoebe Bridgers (Punisher, 2020)

Between reality and madness (Eclectic Playlist Series 7.09 – Sept. 2020)

The famous Becket line keeps playing in my head: “I can’t go on. I’ll go on.” That pretty much describes my head space here in September 2020, with corruption institutionalized, the pandemic yet untamed, and democracy itself on the ballot. We’ve been stuck, somewhere between reality and madness, for months on end. Someday this will all make sense, in retrospect, like everything else. In the meantime, I invite another playlist into your lives. And I’ve done you the service of putting the song I’d most like you to hear right at the top this month, so you won’t miss it—it’s a song from the Paris-based Brit Kate Stables, who does musical business as This Is The Kit, and it’s itchy and insistent and preternaturally wonderful. (“You thought you didn’t like the banjo but you were wrong pal,” says her Bandcamp page.) “This Is What You Did” came out in June; her album is coming in October. I of course would like you to listen to all the rest of the songs too but I know how life goes. But if you happen to have the time, I hope you enjoy the latest meandering adventure through the years and the genres, this time including three from our damaged new decade. Music doesn’t help, music helps. Stay strong.

The playlist:

“This Is What You Did” – This is the Kit (single, 2020; album due in October)
“Ain’t Nothing Gonna Change Me” – Betty Everett (single, 1971)
“Wounded” – Nik Kershaw (To Be Frank, 2001)
“Mary’s Prayer” – Danny Wilson (Meet Danny Wilson, 1987)
“Lost On You” – LP (Lost On You, 2016)
“Queen of the Night” – Michel van der Aa feat. Kate Miller-Heidke (Time Falling, 2020)
“Little Red Book” – Love (single, 1966)
“She’s a Girl and I’m a Man” – Lloyd Cole (Don’t Get Weird On Me, Babe, 1991)
“No Man’s Woman” – Sinéad O’Connor (Faith and Courage, 2000)
“Lay This Burden Down” – Mary Love (single, 1967)
“Panic in the World” – Be Bop Deluxe (Drastic Plastic, 1978)
“Class” – Chicago – The Musical (feat. Bebe Neuwrith, Marcia Lewis) (1996 Broadway
Revival Cast album, 1997)
“Been Here Before” – Jeremy Enigk (World Waits, 2006)
“Hum Dono” – Joe Marriott, Amancio D’Silva Quartet (Hum Dono, 1969)
“She’s a Sensation” – The Ramones (Pleasant Dreams, 1981)
“Placeholder” – Hand Habits (Placeholder, 2019)
“Late Night Conversation” – Josh Rouse (Dressed Up Like Nebraska, 1997)
“Feels Like the First Time” – Corinne Bailey Rae (The Sea, 2010)
“Summer, Highland Falls” – Billy Joel (Turnstiles, 1976)
“I Do” – Misty Boyce (single, 2020)

Bonus explanatory notes below the widget…

* Kate Miller-Heidke is a long-standing Fingertips favorite (first featured back in 2005), not least because of her idiosyncratic range of musical interests. And of course that incisive, wide-ranging voice. Here she has hooked up with a Dutch composer named Michel van der Aa, who has previously written in “contemporary classical” mode but has a background in indie rock; this comes from his first effort to make something of a rock album–Time Falling, released back in January. Idiosyncratic and prickly, it’s apparently a bit of a concept album, circling around the concept of infinity, and inspired by the likes of Jorge Luis Borges, Federico García Lorca, Emily Dickinson, and others. Miller-Heidke handles all the lead vocals, and co-wrote two songs, including this one. You can check the whole thing out, and purchase it, on Bandcamp.

* I’m hoping that Lloyd Cole’s insistently catchy “She’s a Girl and I’m a Man” is intentionally sexist-sounding, in order to make a point, but just in case I’m reading this wrong (it was after all released in 1991), let’s run that one into Sinéad O’Connor’s blazing anti-patriarchy anthem, 2000’s underrated “No Man’s Woman.” And no, Sinéad doesn’t always write lyrics that scan, but for my ears anyway her voice makes up for it.

* Where has “Lay This Burden Down” been all my life? I only recently stumbled upon it, which I guess goes to show what great soul nuggets remain out there to be found. That chorus with the delayed melody line (i.e., how those opening lines each begin on the measure’s second beat): it’s as iconic sounding as an old soul record can be, and no doubt became so some years after its original release, on the UK Northern Soul scene. All of Mary’s original singles, most recorded for the L.A.-based Modern Records label, were first gathered onto an album in 1994, along with songs from the gospel-oriented second phase of her career, in the 1980s. A more recent version of her collected singles was released in 2014.

* Danny Wilson, from Scotland, was a band, not a person. They were originally named Spencer Tracy, but got some blowback from the actor’s estate. This was the song they were known for, although the album had some other good things. The band split with no hard feelings after two albums. Front man Gary Clark went on to a successful career as a songwriter and producer, which continues as we speak.

* At this point, the methodical, reclusive musician Jeremy Enigk seems like a figure from another time and place entirely. First coming into some renown as leader of the somewhat mysterious and influential band Sunny Day Real Estate, in the 1990s, Enigk has had a slow-moving solo career, highlighted by a long hiatus or two and the distinct lack of a public-facing persona. “Been Here Before” is a stately, gorgeous piece from his 2006 album, World Waits, released 10 years after his first album. His most recent recording is 2017’s Ghosts.

* I’ve always loved “She’s a Sensation,” a somewhat forgotten gem in the Ramones catalog. You can really hear their Brill Building fandom cooked into this one, and the way Joey funneled his adenoidal pique into something that veers into genuine tenderness by the second hook.

I’ve been through enough lately (Eclectic Playlist Series 7.08 – August 2020)

Even as I take pains to keep it from dominating these playlists, good old classic rock, my long-time area of focus and expertise, is always going to have a place here. It is something of my task, in fact, not only to keep worthy classic rock songs in people’s awareness, but to enhance their impact, by mixing them in and around music from other genres and other eras. A simple idea, so rarely done in this age of siloed listening. I would draw your attention to all three classic rock entries this month, as two of them in particular epitomize the kinds of great songs that have been generally ignored by what’s become of the genre both on the radio and on the internet. First there’s the opener, Thin Lizzy’s “Do Anything You Want To Do,” which is wonderfully emblematic of this underrated band’s sound without (thankfully) being “The Boys Are Back In Town.” And then, about halfway down, you’ll hear “Immigration Man,” a song that was regularly heard on FM radio in the ’70s—it even cracked the top 40—but dropped off the radar with the passing of years. This was Crosby and Nash without Stills (or, of course, Young), from the first of four studio albums they made as a duo. A few songs later you’ll hear one of Steely Dan’s finest compositions, perhaps a little less forgotten, and about which more below. In and around these chestnuts, I’m offering the usual mix of the unusually mixed—old soul, 2020 pop, Brazilian instrumental, new wave, singer-songwriter, indie rock, reggae: it’s all in here, and then some, including at least one great if accidental segue. Stay safe, stay strong, and happy listening…

The playlist:

“Do Anything You Want To” – Thin Lizzy (Black Rose: A Rock Legend, 1979)
“What It Is” – Angel Olsen (All Mirrors, 2019)
“Un bacio è troppo poco” – Mina (b-side, 1965)
“I’m In Love With a German Film Star” – The Passions (Thirty Thousand Feet Over China, 1981)
“Heart’s Desire” – Ron Sexsmith (Cobblestone Runway, 2002)
“Flavor of the Month” – The Posies (Frosting on the Beater, 1993)
“Daisy” – Kate Davis (Trophy, 2019)
“Me and the Wind” – XTC (Mummer, 1983)
“Immigration Man” – David Crosby & Graham Nash (Graham Nash David Crosby, 1972)
“My Future” – Billie Eilish (single, 2020)
“Stronger Than Love” – James Carr (A Man Needs a Woman, 1968)
“Westby” – Kathleen Edwards (Failer, 2003)
“Doctor Wu” – Steely Dan (Katy Lied, 1975)
“Best Intentions” – Satchmode (Collide, 2014)
“2:1” – Elastica (Elastica, 1995)
“Got To Be Tough” – Toots and the Maytals (Got To Be Tough, 2020)
“Glamour Boys” – Living Colour (Pride, 1988)
“Maria Moita” – Sérgio Mendes (The Swinger From Rio, 1968)
“Lightning Strikes Twice” – Saint Etienne (Tales From Turnpike House, 2005)
“After This” – Kate Rusby (Ghost, 2014)

Bonus explanatory notes below the widget…

* Kathleen Edwards released her first album in eight years this month as I was curating this playlist. I’m still absorbing the album—it’s good!—and in the meantime felt moved to return to her stellar debut for one of its many incisive tunes. “Westby” is jaunty, mischievous, and brazenly catchy, a sure sign of a 25-year-old singer-songwriter with a promising future. That she, burnt out and disillusioned, interrupted her musical career to run a coffee shop in Ottawa (named Quitters) for eight years merely enhanced her credentials as an honest to goodness human being. Now 42, she sounds sharp and unfettered. Check out the new album at Bandcamp: https://kathleenedwards.bandcamp.com/album/total-freedom.

* Public service announcement: I suggest that you do not search for the Sérgio Mendes album A Swinger From Rio without your “safe search” settings on, unless you are sure you are alone. And even then.

* “Doctor Wu” is a high-water moment for Steely Dan, and (I’d argue) for rock’n’roll. Its flowing melodicism, harmonic craftiness, lyrical flair, and exquisite musicianship speak to the goals of a different generation, maybe, but it still sparkles to my 2020 ears. (#TwinstheNewTrend actually did dive into some Steely Dan a while back; a simpler song—“Do It Again”—but well worth watching: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EqITzPGD0Ko) It’s moronic to me that the Dan caught any backlash for their craft but I guess there will always be those who choose, to quote the poet, to criticize what they can’t understand. My only complaint about Fagan & Becker is that they seemed to lose their melodic gifts in their advancing years (as many older artists do for one reason or another), rooting their later-catalog songs in groove and atmosphere. Not that there’s anything necessarily wrong with that, but I will always prefer “Doctor Wu” and “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” and “Deacon Blues”—songs that manage to be easily accessible and musically interesting at the same time.

* For a number of mental-health-related reasons, I have trained myself to steer clear of the over-heated, insta-feedback world of social media, so I have no idea where Billie Eilish stands in this precise moment within that culture. All I know is what I hear with my ears and as such, from my perspective, this still very young musician (she’ll be 19 in December) is proving herself to be a durable and dynamic star, capable of blending up-to-date sounds and rhythms with a sense of melody and musical know-how that feels wise beyond her years. I respect most of all those who themselves show respect. (Note that if this were more generally true we could not be in the pickle we’re in, a country led by a human with no respect for anything or anyone.) I look forward to witnessing whatever Ms. Eilish chooses to do with her future.

* For you Elvis Costello fans who appreciated “Sulky Girl” last month, I have an Elvis-adjacent nugget this time around—the song “Un bacio è troppo poco,” from the Italian songstress Mina. Born Anna Maria Mazzini, she was and still is a huge star in Italy, having recorded some 79 albums (!), including four since 2015. The Elvis connection, which is how I know this song: the sultry beginning of “Un bacio è troppo poco” is used as an offbeat, ongoing sample throughout EC’s offhandedly monumental “When I Was Cruel No. 2,” the semi-title track to his 2002 album.

* Accidentally great segue of the month, for you segue fans: “Daisy” into “Me and the Wind.” I’m generally aiming for reasonably effective segues but this kind of thing I pretty much stumble into without planning it. Simple pleasures feel especially powerful right now.

You wouldn’t believe me if I said (Eclectic Playlist Series 7.07 – July 2020)

Little did Natalie Laura Mering, doing musical business as Weyes Blood, realize what a wild time was yet in store when she released Titanic Rising last year. Or maybe she did: “Everyone’s broken now and no one knows just how/ We could have all gotten so far from truth.” I will spare you the rant that I wrote after this in my first draft, and move us right into the mix. Just note that it’s up to any of us who are trying to remain sane and well-informed and compassionate to continue to find the wherewithal to be a human being, and offer comfort and solace to others attempting the same bravura feat. Let music be an ongoing gift through these wild times.

The playlist:

“Slow Burn” – David Bowie (Heathen, 2002)
“Tired of Toein’ the Line” – Rocky Burnette (The Son of Rock’n’Roll, 1979)
“Glass Jar” – Tristen (Sneaker Waves, 2017)
“Think Too Hard” – Syd Straw (Surprise, 1989)
“Feeling Good” – Nina Simone (I Put A Spell On You, 1965)
“Sulky Girl” – Elvis Costello (Brutal Youth, 1994)
“Jaco” – Pat Metheny Group (Pat Metheny Group, 1978)
“Julia’s Call” – Lake Ruth (Birds of America, 2018)
“Mississippi” – Bob Dylan (Love and Theft, 2001)
“No New Tale To Tell” – Love and Rockets (Earth Sun Moon, 1987)
“Look The Other Way” – Lesley Gore (b-side, 1968)
“Wild Time” – Weyes Blood (Titanic Rising, 2019)
“Your Racist Friend” – They Might Be Giants (Flood, 1990)
“Read My Mind” – The Killers (Sam’s Town, 2006)
“Detroit or Buffalo” – Barbara Keith (Barbara Keith, 1972)
“Black Metallic” – Catherine Wheel (Ferment, 1992)
“Tesla Girls” – Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark (Junk Culture, 1988)
“Band of Gold” – Freda Payne (Band of Gold, 1970)
“I’m Not Getting Excited” – The Beths (Jump Rope Gazers, 2020)
“Night Train” – Oscar Peterson (Night Train, 1963)

Bonus explanatory notes below the widget…

* “Feeling Good,” rendered extraordinary by Nina Simone, is a song from the 1964 musical The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd, composed by Anthony Newley and Lesley Bricusse. Simone’s now-classic interpretation takes the song into a new place, and so richly that the source has been all but forgotten. (Newley’s own take, though, is actually quite good if differently nuanced [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aYF__H4PSUA], and exhibit A for anyone wondering who David Bowie’s biggest influences were.)

* Speaking of Mr. Bowie: of all the various “comebacks” of the great man’s career, one of the more overlooked is his return to form in the early ’00s, with the albums Heathen (2002) and Reality (2003). These accessible and high-quality releases followed 15 years of post-Let’s Dance albums dominated by experimentation and musical wandering that largely disappointed both critics and fans (the one exception being 1993’s underrated Black Tie White Noise). This time frame saw his veering off into the Tin Machine era, and culminated in three difficult to digest albums in the later ’90s that each found a smaller following than the last (ending with 1999’s oddly titled ‘hours…’). Heathen, conversely, sounded like a Bowie album for the ages, its melancholy grandeur aligning rather bleakly with our post-9/11 world. And yet, in all the career summaries emerging after his death in 2016, it seemed largely forgotten. I offer “Slow Burn” as a reminder of the album’s power, generated in part by Pete Townshend’s heroic guitar work. And now you can’t not hear Anthony Newley.

* There is oddly little information out there about the trio Lake Ruth, but I do know that I have a particular affinity for front woman Allison Brice’s vocals—she’s got that rounded, smoky tone that you don’t hear very often, and remains difficult to describe. Vocally, I am reminded of dear, departed Kirsty MacColl, which prompts immediate hearts here in Fingertipsland. The music is synthy but warm, and quite different from Brice’s work with the ’00s London-based sextet The Eighteenth Day of May (previously featured in a playlist this past November, in the before days.) This song comes from the band’s second full-length release, 2018’s Birds of America.

* “Your Racist Friend”: always, sadly, in season.

* Rocky Burnette, as per the title of his album, is in fact the son of early rock’n’roll star Johnny Burnette. This song is by and large Rocky’s only claim to fame to date, but it’s a fun one; what “Tired of Toein’ the Line” lacks in depth it makes up for in earnest glee and unrelenting hookiness. It was a top 10 hit in the U.S., and a number of other countries, back in 1980. Burnette is still out there somewhere, but not musically active since a spurt of new activity in the ’90s.

* One more note about Weyes Blood: check out the album cover when you have a chance—the scene was constructed and photographed under water, for real.

* While I continue to try to take in Bob Dylan’s latest ramblings (i.e., the intermittently compelling, extravagantly praised Rough and Rowdy Ways), I feel compelled to return to what to my ears was his last great album: Love and Theft. This too is tied to 9/11 (released that very day, in fact), but has otherwise little to do with that calamity, being instead a loose, often humorous, ongoingly offbeat collection of songs and performances. While this album introduced us to the shuffly, old-timey persona Dylan was unexpectedly morphing into, it also contained honest to goodness musical variety and lyrical sharpness. To this day I count “Mississippi” as his last masterpiece, a song that stands up to most anything in his ’60s and ’70s pantheon.

* Speaking of later compositions that belong in an artist’s pantheon, I will tip my hat here to the fierce and melodic “Sulky Girl,” a generally disregarded gem from Elvis Costello’s Brutal Youth album. The release was notable to us Elvis lovers for reuniting the Attractions for the first time since 1986; his long-time backing band, complete with personality kerfuffles, recorded together on five of the album’s 15 tracks. “Sulky Girl” is a standout, calling to mind the vehemence of his “angry young man” days tempered with the mature dynamism of his ongoing artistic evolution.

* And then we have “Band of Gold,” one of 20th-century top 40 radio’s shining moments, a song with such mysterious pull that its lyrical enigmas and/or unconventionality glide right by. Without listening too closely, you can read this as a standard tale of heartbreak. But the lyrics reveal a marriage in which the man, for unstated reasons, can’t perform sexually, and abandons his newlywed bride, leaving her frustrated and disappointed. Not the usual pop song fare in those days. Written by the mighty songwriting team of Holland-Dozier-Holland, the song was credited to two other names, for contractual reasons at the time. But it is one of their very best.

A chance to talk (Eclectic Playlist Series 7.06 – June 2020)

I’m not here to preach, but I am here to try to be a human being, however lost a mere human being has become in the chaotic sea of systems, policies, memes, propaganda, and brutality that characterizes life in 2020. First and foremost, at this consequential moment in time, I recognize, in my own humanity, many flaws and failings. (By the way, name one honorable and effective person in the history of civilization who claimed always to be the best, who could confront detractors only with insults. I’ll save you time: you can’t.) I recognize that for all my liberal ideals and progressive tendencies, I have lived a long adult life without deeply considering the lived experiences of people of color in America. I mean, I knew about it, and was in pain about it at some abstract level—but at another level, I can see that I simply went about my (privileged) day, unable and/or unwilling to let the uncomfortable reality sink in. Of course I’ll never know, experientially, what it’s like and what it’s been like to live as a person of color in this pseudo-democratic and deeply hypocritical country of ours. But here’s what I can do: I can put myself in the position of needing to learn, needing to have new conversations, needing to have new responses to this world we’re in, this congenitally damaged country that looks much better on paper than it does on the streets where we live.

But: there’s no doing this with a playlist. I won’t even pretend. The best I can do is offer a mix of songs this month, similar to my usual efforts, some of which you may find thoughtful and relevant to the present moment, others of which have no particular connection besides being intangibly part of the flow I put together as someone striving to observe and feel into this fateful hour. As I said, I’m not here to preach. I am simply here to say that we can and must do this together. I’ll let the musical current of this latest mix pull us eventually towards Rickie Lee Jones’ world-weary grace, in the elegiac “Running From Mercy”:

Oh sacred patience with my soul abide
There’s a rainbow above me that the storm clouds hide

Keep hope alive, through the darkness. It’s what humans do.

Full playlist and extra notes below the widget:

“Keep On Keeping On” – Curtis Mayfield (Roots, 1971)
“Praise Song For a New Day” – Suzzy & Maggie Roche (Zero Church, 2001)
“Everybody’s Gotta Learn Sometime” – The Korgis (Dumb Waiters, 1980)
“Cara de espejo” – Juana Molina (Halo, 2017)
“Love You To” – The Beatles (Revolver, 1966)
“Actor Out Of Work” – St. Vincent (Actor, 2009)
“Can’t Fight” – Lianne La Havas (single, 2020)
“Spinning Away” – Brian Eno & John Cale (Wrong Way Up, 1990)
“Smile” – Cristina (Sleep It Off, 1984)
“Try to Remember – The Fantasticks (featuring Jerry Orbach) (Original cast album, 1960)
“Baedeker” – Gabriel Kahane (Book of Travelers, 2013)
“Freedom Rider” – Traffic (John Barleycorn Must Die, 1970)
“Maiden Voyage” – Herbie Hancock (Maiden Voyage, 1965)
“The Charade” – D’Angelo and the Vanguard (Black Messiah, 2014)
“Held Down” – Laura Marling (Songs For Our Daughter, 2020)
“No Mermaid” – Sinéad Lohan (No Mermaid, 1998)
“Zero Hour” – Attention (single, 1983)
“Solace” – Scott Joplin/ Richard Zimmerman (Scott Joplin: His Greatest Hits, 1974 [1909 composition])
“Albert” – Ed Laurie (Meanwhile in the Park, 2006)
“Running From Mercy” – Rickie Lee Jones (Traffic From Paradise, 1993)

* This is the second song I’ve featured here from Gabriel Kahane’s ongoingly impressive Book of Travelers. It was released in the aftermath of one tragedy—the election of an historically ill-prepared and unprincipled man to the U.S. presidency (these are facts, not political statements)—and continues to fit the mood of the country, in its effort to find dignity in our individual stories, despite where we find ourselves collectively.

* From its origins in an unadorned Off-Broadway show, “Try To Remember” became a drippy standard covered by several zillion crooners and divas and wedding singers over the years. There’s a part of my ear that overlooks all that to remain charmed by the song’s plaintive melody and semi-miraculous chord changes. I keep hearing something elusive and profound in the simple progression in the verse—the movement from “When life was slow” to “and oh so mellow.” Extra points here for a chance to recall that the late great Jerry Orbach was far more than a network procedural fixture.

* “Zero Hour” from the NYC band Attention is a song with next to no internet trail. I discovered it via a Spanish blog offering a thrillingly exhaustive overview of semi-forgotten and entirely forgotten new wave songs, El ABC de la New Wave. I was mostly scanning the offerings for songs I used to know but have lost track of, but along the way I’ve unearthed a few gems I’d never heard before, including this one. According to Discogs, there was the “Zero Hour” single in 1983, a five-song “mini-album” in 1985, and that’s that. Given the generic nature of the band’s name, even if there’s some biographical information buried somewhere online, it’s not going to be easy to find; to make matters worse, another band named Attention has come along in the 21st century, so the earlier band is effectively a ghost.

* And then we have Zero Church, the album released by two of the three Roche sisters, originally slated for a 9/11/01 release, but delayed four months in the aftermath. It’s an unusual album; the origin story is too complicated to explain in a brief note, but the album’s exploration of complex social issues via prayers set to music seems as timely as ever.

* Laura Marling gets deeper and more astonishing with each album. And she’s only now 30. That she has been in a master’s program studying psychoanalysis for the last couple of years endears her to me all the more. Too many of today’s musicians seem so relentlessly one-dimensional, and all too ensnared in our culture of shallow digitalia. I’ll take a singer/songwriter working on her master’s degree over a YouTube sensation singing about his girlfriend every time.

* The trailblazing singer and writer Cristina Monet Zilkha, who performed simply as Cristina, died at the end of March of complications related to COVID-19; she was 64. A pioneer in a new musical realm combining punk attitude with pop sensibilities, Cristina has been retroactively credited with laying the groundwork for the mainstream success of a series of acclaimed pop stars, from Madonna through Lady Gaga. She was associated with the legendary “no wave” record label ZE Records, recording the label’s first-ever release. The song “Smile” was recorded for her second album, 1984’s Sleep It Off, but didn’t appear until a 2004 re-release, as a bonus track. Its sure-handed chops—you might almost call this power pop, with an edge—are due as much to Cristina’s vocal presence as to songwriters Don and David Was, whose band Was (Not Was) was originally signed to ZE Records.

* Lastly, I’m going to let D’Angelo speak for himself. That song came out six years ago.

Got any what? (Eclectic Playlist Series 7.05 – May 2020)

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.

The green grass down below (Eclectic Playlist Series 7.04 – April 2020)

I didn’t plan it this way but I see now that this month’s playlist, reacting to the anxiety and insecurity of the current moment, has been populated by many familiar names. Good, solid ones they are: The Smiths, Emmylou Harris, U2; Björk, Depeche Mode, Fiona Apple. The Monkees, for crying out loud. The Zombies, the Cars. Led Zeppelin! The gang’s all here. Not that there aren’t a couple of curveballs too. And in any case, as always, few songs you’re likely to hear on any kind of radio station or playlist at this point, certainly not gathered in one place like this. Do the restrictive policies of mainstream radio stations make any sense at all? Or today’s playlist norms, for that matter? Life may actually end up being literally too short for mindless capitalist repetition, not to mention algorithmic blunders. Which is all to say: join the humans while you still can. Tell another human while you’re at it. Such great, accessible music out there, decades and decades of it, and at best it’s been consigned to playlist silos, and winnowed down to the usual suspects via the web’s mindless, click-based leveling impulse.

All that aside: just as I was finishing this mix, the awful news about Adam Schlesinger sprang onto the internet, further attacking our already beleaguered psyches with a gut-punch of targeted sadness. While I cannot claim expertise in all things Schlesinger—the guy was super-prolific, and worked in a wonderful variety of settings, with a wonderful array of collaborators —I have long since counted Fountains of Wayne among my all-time favorite bands. The lilting, literate dirge that closed the band’s final album provides an apt coda to this month’s playlist. I wish strength and fortitude to Adam’s family and friends following this inconceivable turn of events. Alas, I guess we are all going to need such attributes with us as we move slowly through the grim days that yet lie ahead. Lean on music as you can; it seems unusually able to provide solace. Stay safe and keep the faith….

Full playlist below the widget, and the widget is below the following random bits of explication:

* In among the name brands this month, don’t miss the 21st-century power pop gem that is “The Devil and the Jinn,” from the redoubtable Joe Pernice, and his most recent go-round as The Pernice Brothers, 2019’s Spread the Feeling. All I can say here is wow. And warn you that the song is likely to stick semi-permanently in your head.

* I feel that Portishead’s uncanny take on the old ABBA standard “SOS” went oddly unnoticed, at least here in the U.S. It was recorded for the British film High-Rise, directed by Ben Wheatley and starring Elisabeth Moss and Tom Hiddleston. The film, based on a J.G. Ballard novel, is billed as “dystopian,” which maybe you can ascertain from this version of what had previously been pop fluff. To date this is the last thing this mighty band has released.

* Björk’s Vespertine was released not long before 9/11, and, for me, its gentle, isolated soundscape seemed icily soothing in the uncertain weeks and months that followed. I go back to it here intentionally, given this new crisis, and the ongoing need to find solace and resilience where one can.

* “Cloudburst”: a bit of joy in the middle of it all. I love it when it’s not words but the music and performance itself that brings a smile to the face. We can still allow this to happen, and must.

* Oh and let me once again extol here the awesome talents of the Australian band Middle Kids, who make songs so well-built they all but bring happy tears to my eyes. After a brilliant debut album in 2018 they came back last year with an EP that was just as good. Please check them out if you haven’t yet.

* More tears prickle in the corner of the eyes, for me, at the sheer beauty of Emmylou Harris’s “Michelangelo,” which never fails to move me deeply, that combination of glorious melody and indelible voice. The iconic singer/songwriter turned 73 this month.

* And then just the sadness, as Fountains of Wayne close us out for the month. This piece in the Guardian is one of the best tributes I’ve seen so far.

“This Charming Man” – The Smiths (single, 1983)
“He Gets Me High” – Dum Dum Girls (He Gets Me High EP,2011)
“Friends of Mine” – The Zombies (Odessey and Oracle, 1967)
“It’s Not Up To You” – Björk (Vespertine, 2001)
“Enjoy the Silence” – Depeche Mode (Violator, 1990)
“The Devil and the Jinn” – Pernice Brothers (Spread the Feeling, 2019)
“As The Wind Blows” – Christina Rosenvinge (Frozen Pool, 2000)
“Out of the Blue” – Roxy Music (Country Life, 1974)
“Cloudburst” – Lambert Hendricks & Ross (The Hottest New Group in Jazz, 1960)
“SOS” – Portishead (single, 2015)
“Gimme Just Another Try” – Betty Wright (Wright Back At You, 1983)
“Love Is Only Sleeping” – The Monkees (Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones, Ltd., 1967)
“Acrobat” – U2 (Achtung Baby, 1991)
“One Fine Summer Morning” – Evie Sands (Any Way That You Want Me, 1970)
“Needle” – Middle Kids (New Songs For Old Problems, 2019)
“Hots On For Nowhere” – Led Zeppelin (Presence, 1976)
“Michelangelo” – Emmylou Harris (Red Dirt Girl, 2000)
“Be My Baby” – The Cars (Panorama [outtake], 1980)
“Fast As You Can” – Fiona Apple (When The Pawn…, 1999)
“Cemetery Guns” – Fountains of Wayne (Sky Full of Holes, 2011)

Shifted out of place (Eclectic Playlist Series 7.03 – Mar 2020)

What a difference a month makes.

Music however remains something we can all access, and something that may be more necessary than ever. Music is about human connection (sorry, robots!), and operates across space and time–surely helpful treatment in the face of the disconcerting and unprecedented current circumstances. This month’s playlist wasn’t constructed with our abrupt new collective lifestyle in mind but it’s somewhat suggestible, from stalwart attempts to remain hopeful–cf. Lindsey Buckingham’s soaringly catchy “In My World” and Ian Dury’s evergreen, smile-inducing classic “Reasons to Be Cheerful, Part 3”–on through Pet Shop Boys timeless lament (complete with a star turn from Dusty Springfield) and Norah Jones’ plainspoken, open-ended final word this month. 

If you enjoy this sort of mixed-genre playlist, don’t forget there are dozens of similar (but different!) mixes available via my Mixcloud page.

Full playlist below the widget; widget below the following bonus explanatory notes:

* As ubiquitous as Dionne Farris was for a while there back in the ’90s, between her featured vocal on Arrested Development’s “Tennessee,” her big solo hit “I Know” in 1994, and a variety of high-profile soundtrack placements, she has had a very low 21st-century profile. It’s kind of great to hear the big hit again.

* Speaking of someone else with a history of laying low musically, Canadian singer/songwriter/activist Sarah Harmer released an album last month that was her first since 2010’s Oh Little Fire. I’m still absorbing the new one; here in the meantime is the terrific single that emerged from the last one.

* I am not often a fan of Baby Boomer musicians putting out new music after a long absence, and this album featuring Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie, from 2017, wasn’t stellar from top to bottom, but the song “In My World” is a wondrous thing that just didn’t really capture a lot of attention at the time. But any song is new that you haven’t heard before.

* Sam Phillips has long been among my uppermost favorite singer/songwriters, as much for her literate, borderline spiritual lyrics as for her musical inventiveness. On the Beatleseque Martinis & Bikinis album, produced by then-husband T Bone Burnett, “I Need Love” stands out to me as one of the best-ever Beatlesque songs because in my mind it’s one of the best-ever songs of any kind. Gorgeous, concise, mysterious, memorable.

* If you’re of a certain age and/or a fan of Americana music, I heartily recommend the new Robbie Robertson documentary, Once Were Brothers. Yes it is a history of the Band seen pretty much only through Robertson’s eyes, but what a compelling story, and what historic and evocative music. After enjoying the movie, I couldn’t resist throwing a Band song into the mix this month, and went with one of the deeper tracks, from their near-mythic debut album, Music From Big Pink.

“Genesis” – Jorma Kaukonen (Quah, 1974)
“Romance” – Great Aunt Ida (Nuclearize Me, 2011)
“Revenge” – Ministry (With Sympathy, 1983)
“One of These Days” – Jill Sobule (Pink Pearl, 2000)
“Mi Chiquita Quiere Bembé” – Tito Puente (Lo Mejor De Lo Mejor, 1958)
“I Found Out” – John Lennon (John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, 1970)
“I Know” – Dionne Farris (Wild Seed – Wild Flower, 1994)
“In My World” – Buckingham/McVie (Lindsey Buckingham Christine McVie, 2017)
“Why” – Gina Villalobos (Rock ‘n’ Roll Pony, 2005)
“Reasons to Be Cheerful, Part 3” – Ian Dury & The Blockheads (single, 1979)
“Ferry Cross the Mersey” – Gerry & The Pacemakers (single, 1964)
“I Need Love” – Sam Phillips (Martinis & Bikinis, 1994)
“Take My Heart” – Kool & The Gang (Something Special, 1981)
“Captive” – Sarah Harmer (Oh Little Fire, 2010)
“We Can Talk” – The Band (Music From Big Pink, 1968)
“Never You Mind” – Semisonic (Feeling Strangely Fine, 1998)
“What Have I Done to Deserve This?” – Pet Shop Boys feat. Dusty Springfield (Actually, 1987)
“Good Girl” – Astrid Swan (Poverina, 2005)
“If They Left Us Alone Now” – Wool (Wool, 1969)
“Uh Oh” – Norah Jones (Begin Again, 2019)

I await the day (Eclectic Playlist Series 7.02 – February 2020)

While I will admit to not being the world’s biggest Who fan, I had not meant to leave them off of an Eclectic Playlist Series mix until this, the seventh year of our mutual adventures. And so they make a belated appearance with one of their earlier classics, when the band seemed nearly to be inventing power pop versus the brash, anthemic material they generated as Tommy led to Who’s Next led to Quadrophenia. Now that I think about it, I guess my playlists have in fact been resistant to including much in the way of recognizable classic rock, even as I always dip into the classic rock time frame, chronologically. What can I say?: I have a hard-wired distaste for songs that have been over-exposed and over-played, and most everything considered to be canon in the classic rock realm at this point qualifies. (Thus my effort to construct a playlist of “classic rock you aren’t tired of”: see “Rescuing Classic Rock,” posted back in June 2018). Anyway, here’s the Who, along with a fair number of artists, this month, you’ve likely heard of (Stevie Wonder, PJ Harvey, Miles Davis, New Order, Suzanne Vega, et al.). I think I needed some reassurance during these challenging times. Does democracy lead inexorably to cravenness and idiocy? Historians may some day sort that out; in the meantime, aural comfort food is, sometimes, the order of the day.

Notes for the extra curious:

* This is the second time I’ve opened a playlist with a Warren Zevon track, both of which, now, have been songs that were side-one/track-one offerings from the late great singer/songwriter. He was especially good at crafting songs with the ineffable introductory panache ideally characterizing an album’s first song. Probably half of the songs I’ve launched playlists here have themselves been side-one/track-ones. That said, I also do like hearing opening-track potential in songs buried deeper down on an album, turning them into opening statements. I guess I draw no conclusions.

* Accidental discovery while constructing this playlist: the song “It Would Be So Easy,” from Cassandra Wilson’s 2006 album Thunderbird, has incorrect lyrics posted, across the entire web. That is, every single lyrics site has the same lyrics posted for this song, and these lyrics are wrong—they’re for an entirely different song (which for no apparent reason is “I’ll Find a Way,” by Rachel Yamagata). It’s a bizarre enough mistake, but the fact that you’ll see these same wrong lyrics posted on every lyrics site in existence is not only aggravating, but disconcerting. Sure, let’s put the robots in charge. What could possibly go wrong?

* PJ Harvey released the album Let England Shake back in 2011, years before the country’s current challenges…or, maybe not.

* I’m not sure there’s ever been an artistically and commercially successful band as able as New Order to combine scintillating music with really ditzy lyrics. What they seem to have been able to do is take the well-established reality that rock lyrics, read on their own, can seem insipid, and just flaunt it. I mean: I’d tell the world and save my soul/But rain falls down and I feel cold/A cold that sleeps within my heart/It tears the Earth and sun apart  ?? And yet the song is sheer magic from start to finish. (Bonus: don’t miss the segue into “Doctor Monroe”: it’s an accidental keeper.)

* This web site’s namesake is the multi-track epic “Fingertips,” by They Might Be Giants, but I’ll take Emiliana Torrini’s very different song with the same name under my wing here too.

* Speaking of side-one/track-ones, “Look Around” opened the album Where I’m Coming From, which in 1971 became the first Stevie Wonder album that the artist (only 21 at the time) was able to produce without interference from Berry Gordy. This underrated album—unfavorably compared at the time to Marvin Gaye’s concurrently released What’s Going On, for its social consciousness—contains songs ranging from very good to classic, and even so merely hints at the brilliance soon to come in albums like Talking Book and Innervisions.

* Gone, tragically, now for nearly 20 years (!), Kirsty MacColl will always live on in my musical life. This Billy Bragg cover is definitive: she took a skeleton of a tune, layered it with harmonies, and even got Bragg himself to add a verse because she thought it was originally too short. And just to show that not all rock lyrics are insipid, is this awesome or what?:

Once upon a time at home
I sat beside the telephone
Waiting for someone to pull me through
When at last it didn’t ring, I knew it wasn’t you

Full playlist below the widget.

“Johnny Strikes up the Band” – Warren Zevon (Excitable Boy, 1978)
“If You Wanna” – The Vaccines (What Did You Expect From the Vaccines?, 2011)
“A New England” – Kirsty MacColl (single, 1984)
“So Sad About Us” – The Who (A Quick One, 1966)
“It Would Be So Easy” – Cassandra Wilson (Thunderbird, 2006)
“Fingertips” – Emiliana Torrini (Love in the Time of Science, 1999)
“To Cut a Long Story Short” – Spandau Ballet (Journeys to Glory, 1981)
“Let England Shake” – PJ Harvey (Let England Shake, 2011)
“You’re Gonna Miss Me” – Cletus Marland (single, 1965)
“All I Need is Everything” – Over the Rhine (Good Dog Bad Dog,1996)
“Windows” – Utopia (Oops! Wrong Planet, 1977)
“Carmine St.” – Kaki King (Everybody Loves You, 2014)
“Sunspots” – Julian Cope (single remix, 1984)
“River of Dirt” – Marisa Nadler (Little Hells, 2009)
“Look Around” – Stevie Wonder (Where I’m Coming From, 1971)
“World Before Columbus” – Suzanne Vega (Nine Objects of Desire, 1996)
“Shellshock” – New Order (single, 1986)
“Doctor Monroe” – Casey Dienel (Wind-Up Canary, 2006)
“Seven Steps to Heaven” – Miles Davis (Seven Steps to Heaven, 1963)
“Me at the Museum, You at the Wintergardens” – Tiny Ruins (Brightly Painted One, 2014)