I’m still over here (Eclectic Playlist Series 6.11 – Dec. 2019)

So you already know that I don’t buy into the internet’s addiction to one-type-of-music playlists. Turns out this holds true for me even for holiday music. Personally, I’d rather hear a few choice holiday nuggets sprinkled into a diverse playlist than an unending parade of Christmas songs. As such, this isn’t a holiday playlist in any meaningful way. And yet, I do like how the seasonal offerings mixed in here seem sometimes to infuse a subtle holiday spirit—joyful or melancholy, it can go either way—into their secular neighbors. “My Heart is a Drummer,” “Everybody Come Down,” and even the decidedly temporal folk song “Sally Ann,” these all seem to take on something of the season here, as, maybe most of all, does the Paul Simon masterpiece “Something So Right.” And then the even more interesting twist: I like how much more naturally we can hear the Christmas songs as actual music in this setting. Fittingly, I guess, we end with a Christmas song in name only: “Anorak Christmas,” from the reclusive and now-retired Sally Shapiro, makes the barest mention of a “cold December night,” but other than that, there’s no Christmas here, and no anorak either—unless (this is a stretch!) we go with the informal British meaning of “a person who is extremely interested in something that other people find boring,” and figure that the singer is commenting on an incomprehensible crush. I doubt it but it’s a theory.

Lots of other stuff:

* Payola$, eventually known as the Payolas, were a Canadian band formed in the late ’70s. Born with a punk-ish sound, they signed with A&M Records and evolved into more of a mainstream outfit over the course of four albums. According to the internet(!?), they never made much of a dent in the U.S. because radio stations didn’t want to say their name on the air (because: guilty consciences). I always loved this simple, new-wave-y Christmas song, and can’t remember ever hearing it anywhere except on my record player. The album, Hammer on a Drum, released at the tale end of the original vinyl era, has never been released on CD, and isn’t on Spotify either.

* I’m still absorbing the new New Pornographers album, released in October, but I’ll admit that I so enjoy the opening track, the second song you’ll hear in this mix, that I haven’t given the rest of it as much attention as I know I should. I just keep playing this one, which features the mighty Neko Case on vocals, and the sort of wonderful melody A.C. Newman is supposed to be known for but (to my ears) doesn’t deliver as often as he’s credited. This one is great.

* There was a strange and unheralded moment in the history of American rock’n’roll radio when pure, free-form progressive formats were morphing into the more commercial album-oriented rock (AOR) concept. This soon enough turned into an artistic disaster, but for a few years there, before the consultants kicked in with their tiny playlists, there were commercial FM stations that were simply trying to play good, album-track songs, with more playlist discipline than free-form idiosyncrasy favored. It was during that era in the mid-’70s that a beautiful and distinctive song such as “Love and Affection” ended up an FM staple, and a popular one at that. Imagine hearing something like this on the radio now. Of course you can’t; hell, it was bumped off the radio within three or four years, thanks to Consultant Rock, rarely to be heard from again.

* Vanity Fairy is the newer musical incarnation of a 2010s Fingertips favorite artist, the musician previously known as Daisy Victoria. She was featured three times between 2014 and 2016, then seemed to disappear. When she reemerged in 2018, she had changed her name to Daisy Capri, and began to put music out as Vanity Fairy. Moving beyond her earlier, Kate-Bushian soundscape, Daisy has embraced her inner disco diva and now pays homage to a different type of ’80s music. But to my ears, talent is talent. I’m glad to have found her again. Check out what she’s done so far at https://soundcloud.com/vanityfairy.

* This playlist contains within it an unplanned salute to three of the most notable and long-lasting musicians of the classic rock era. All three were launched in the context of a group setting; all three here are presented via overlooked songs from later endeavors of theirs. We have Paul McCartney’s terrific “To You,” from the last, little-regarded album he made with Wings, Back to the Egg, released in 1978. Further down you’ll stumble upon one of the great lost tracks of rock’s aforementioned AOR phase, Pete Townshend’s “Slit Skirts,” from what I believe to be his best solo record, 1982’s All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes (okay, not a wonderful title). That forced on me a segue into Paul Simon’s “Something So Right,” which was on his popular There Goes Rhymin’ Simon album, of 1973. It was not single material, and as such was overshadowed by the huge hits “Kodachrome” and “Loves Me Like a Rock,” not to mention the downcast, resonant beauty of the progressive-era favorite “American Tune.” “Something So Right” makes a series of thorny chords sound as natural as an in breath; and those lyrics!:

When something goes wrong
I’m the first to admit it
The first to admit it
And the last one to know
When something goes right
Oh it’s likely to lose me
It’s apt to confuse me
It’s such an unusual sight
Oh I can’t, I can’t get used to
Something so right

Full playlist below the widget.

“The Invisible Man” – Elvis Costello & The Attractions (Punch the Clock, 1983)
“You’ll Need a New Backseat Driver” – The New Pornographers (In the Morse Code of Brake Lights, 2019)
“The Man in the Santa Suit” – Fountains of Wayne (Out-of-State Plates, 2005)
“You Beat Me to the Punch” – Mary Wells (single, 1962)
“To You” – Paul McCartney & Wings (Back to the Egg, 1978)
“My Heart is a Drummer” – Allo Darlin’ (Allo Darlin’, 2010)
“Good King Wenceslas” – Dixieland Ramblers (Dixieland Snowman, 1998)
“Walk Away” – The English Beat (Wha’ppen, 1981)
“Love and Affection” – Joan Armatrading (Joan Armatrading, 1976)
“Overture (Nutcracker Suite)” – Duke Ellington (Three Suites, 1960)
“Sally Ann” – The Horseflies (Gravity Dance, 1992)
“The Fading” – Joan Shelley (Like the River Loves the Sea, 2019)
“Everybody Come Down” – The Delgados (Universal Audio, 2000)
“Christmas is Coming” – Payola$ (Hammer on a Drum1983)
“You’re Absolutely Right” – The Apollas (single, 1965)
“He Can Be Your Lady” – Vanity Fairy (single, 2018)
“Field of Fire” – For Stars (For Stars, 1998)
“Slit Skirts” – Pete Townshend (All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes, 1982)
“Something So Right” – Paul Simon (There Goes Rhymin’ Simon, 1973)
“Anorak Christmas” – Sally Shapiro (Disco Romance, 2006)

Every dream has a name (Eclectic Playlist Series 6.10 – Nov. 2019)

Iteration 6.10 of the Eclectic Playlist Series, featuring music from seven decades, and many genres. Because you can handle it.

As noted in my recent review of a song by Sarah Lee Langford, the Ken Burns documentary on country music, recently airing on PBS here in the U.S., pretty much blew my mind. I may not have been actively anti-country but I was never a fan, just generally ignoring the whole genre. Sixteen hours of spellbinding television later, I have, to paraphrase Hank Williams, seen the light. Not because I now love everything I used to not like, but because I now know the genre’s origin story—the fascinating and circuitous paths both the music and the musicians took through the years, and the differing branches of music that too often gets glumped into one generic bin. It brings a neglected but huge area of music into my range of knowledge and interest and that can only be a good thing. I somehow especially loved learning that the stereotypical look and sound of what most generically has come to be seen and heard as “country music” (the cowboy hats and clothes, the twangy vocals, the banjos and fiddles) was, from the very start, a self-consciously inauthentic effort to sell “old-time” music to everyday people suddenly equipped with radios and record players. The fact that the mainstream version of country music has always been a bit of a marketing ploy was oddly reassuring in a way I can’t exactly explain.

Anyway, yes, here’s a Hank Williams song, in and among the more usual (but still unusual) array of genres and decades, as the Eclectic Playlist Series nears the end of its sixth year. As maybe a tie-in to what I’ve generally done here, I didn’t select a Hank tune from the documentary, but one that I had first heard via Elvis Costello: “Why Don’t You Love Me,” slightly re-named, was the super-short lead track on his out-of-left-field, widely misunderstood record of country music covers back in 1981. Elvis’s version rather defiantly upended the original in a way that in retrospect seems brilliant. If you’ve never heard it, here it is via YouTube. As different as they are I now love both versions.

More stuff:

* You’ll notice that this mix includes three tunes that offer up 21st-century re-boots of artists associated most closely with the 1970s: Jeff Lynne, Blondie, and Robert Plant. Mr. Plant I salute in particular, for managing in our current century to create a new and mature version of his musician self that feels strong and secure. The other two present trickier situations, first and foremost because it’s hard not to suspect economic motivations. But then again, William Shakespeare wrote for money. What counts is the output when all is said and done. Blondie’s 21st-century oeuvre strikes my ears as erratic at best but this little-heard song, from their 2003 album The Curse of Blondie, is mysteriously compelling. As for Jeff Lynne, as off-putting as it is that he has clearly been required to label his new stuff “Jeff Lynne’s ELO” versus Electric Light Orchestra (lawyers no doubt were involved), and as un-hip and written-off as his old band has variously been through the years, the man’s musicianship (he’s playing all the instruments these days), ear for melody (always superb), and vocal chops (I mean, that voice! come on!) seem undiminished by the years. This new one, laced with melancholy, is very ELO-y indeed, and I see nothing wrong with that.

* The new Bon Iver record is nearly as thick with texture and inscrutability as the band’s last one, but with more straightforward vocals and a bit more of an organic feel. It seems to be rewarding repeated listens, but the stately “Hey, Ma” was an immediate winner, to my ears.

* Many years after the somewhat confusing back story marring the True Stories album by Talking Heads has faded from memory, the songs remain in place, and some of them, including this long-time favorite of mine, “Dream Operator,” are terrific indeed. The 1986 album, the band’s seventh, consisted of songs David Byrne had written for a movie of the same name, which he directed and co-wrote. In the movie, the songs were sung by the actors (who included John Goodman and Swoosie Kurtz), in situations that you would have no clue about just listening to the band’s versions. At the time it was all seen as kind of a mess, the movie not well received, the band’s album seen as something betwixt and between, somehow not a “real” Talking Heads album. Adding to the muddle was the release that same year of the album Sounds From True Stories, which was a partial soundtrack recording. In retrospect, the film has gained a bit of cult status, and the album, taken on its own terms, while not the band’s best, is actually pretty good. Hey, Thom Yorke and friends liked it enough to name their band after one of its songs; that’s an impressive seal of approval right there.

* Generally speaking I aim for these playlists to be composed of songs that are each accessible and easy to absorb, because that’s generally my taste. And yet there are times when a song that’s a bit more ornery and/or less straightforward seems like just the thing—especially when couched inside a generally easy-going playlist. Towards that end, we this time encounter Kate Bush’s “Sat In Your Lap,” the lead track from her rather ornery and unstraightforward album, The Dreaming. The album is not an easy listen from start to finish but the more you give yourself over to it, the more engaging it becomes. Plus, if nothing else, this was the album that led, three years later, to the treasure that was and is Hounds of Love, which makes me inclined to keep digging into The Dreaming after all these years.

Full playlist below the widget.

“Tilted” – Christine and the Queens (Christine and the Queens, 2015)
“This Old Heart of Mine” – The Isley Brothers (single, 1966)
“Dream Operator” – Talking Heads (True Stories, 1986)
“Being Number One” – Black Box Recorder (Passionoia, 2003)
“From Out of Nowhere” – Jeff Lynne’s ELO (From Out of Nowhere, 2019)
“Alison” – Slowdive (Souvlaki, 1993)
“Four on Six” – Wes Montgomery (The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery, 1960)
“Crayon Angels” – Judee Sill (Judee Sill, 1971)
“3 Bells in a Row” – Tenpole Tudor (Eddie, Old Bob, Dick and Gary, 1981)
“Why Don’t You Love Me” – Hank Williams (single, 1950)
“Freefall” – Laurie Anderson (Bright Red, 1994)
“Rules for Living” – Blondie (The Curse of Blondie, 2003)
“Songs Out of Clay” – Al Stewart (Orange, 1972)
“I Got My Baby Back” – Lorraine Ellison (b-side, 1966)
“Hey, Ma” – Bon Iver (i,i, 2019)
“Sat In Your Lap” – Kate Bush (The Dreaming, 1982)
“Shake Some Action” – The Flamin’ Groovies (Shake Some Action, 1976)
“The Highest Tree” – The Eighteenth Day of May (The Eighteenth Day of May, 2005)
“Power World” – Sam Phillips (Omnipop (It’s Only a Flesh Wound Lambchop), 1996)
“The May Queen” – Robert Plant (Carry Fire, 2017)

We tried but there was nothing we could do (Eclectic Playlist Series 6.09 – Sept. 2019)

I started this playlist more towards the beginning of this month, and had landed on opening with “Since You’re Gone,” only to bump within days into the sad news of Ric Ocasek’s passing. This was always one of my favorite, less-heralded Cars songs; in it, Ocasek sounded, to my ears, a bit more emotionally tender than the icier and/or more ironic tone he employed more generally, and to great effect I might add. Tenderer doesn’t necessarily makes the song better, but in this case the hint of poignancy strikes me as a sort of magic ingredient. And, randomly, I’ve always loved “I took the big vacation” as a wayward description of heartache and its aftermaths. The fact that Ocasek was indeed 75 was a bit disconcerting; he was the same generation as the first wave of classic rock stars, even as he did not fully emerge on the rock’n’roll scene for ten additional years or so. In retrospect his extra experience may well have been one of the secrets of the Cars’ success; they weren’t just another bunch of 20-something wannabes hopping on the new wave bandwagon—they were savvy musicians, helping to create the bandwagon in the first place. I’ve always felt the Cars to be underrated in the annals of rock music. The outpouring occasioned by Ocasek’s death was a sign that this music had more substance and style than his band was often given credit for.

A few random notes:

* I don’t know as much about reggae as I’d ultimately like to; my ears too often hear reggae songs generically, for lack of better awareness. But every now and then a reggae tune slays me melodically, and “Book of Rules” is one of those. I really have to go dive into the sub-genre known as rocksteady, because it’s starting to seem to me that the reggae songs I most enjoy are related to this sound. In any case, this one is so good; thanks to the mighty curators at Radio Paradise for introducing it to me.

* For all the critical fuss that was made about new wave style power pop in and around 1978 to 1981, this became one of those moments in music history where a few well-worn (but, don’t get me wrong, absolutely fantastic) songs stand in for the entire period. There’s “Starry Eyes,” there’s “Another Girl, Another Planet,” a few other chestnuts, and there’s your power pop. Of course there were more bands and more songs now partially lost to the ages, most, probably for good reason–just glomming onto a coveted sound doesn’t guarantee quality. One band perhaps not entirely deserving of its obscure fate was the London band The Keys. Although a major-label release, on A&M, produced by none other than Joe Jackson, this was never widely heard; coming near the end of the original vinyl age and never ending up released as a CD didn’t help. Neither did the colossally generic album cover. But “I Don’t Wanna Cry” does have the sound of a missed power pop classic. Now you don’t have to miss it.

* Tom Waits, man. Check out that chord progression on “And if you don’t want my love/Don’t make me stay.” Gorgeousness wrapped in sandpaper, which somehow makes it extra gorgeous.

* Most people know the late Robert Palmer, if at all, for his ’80s and ’90s output, both solo and with the briefly popular “supergroup,” The Power Station. But he had made a lot of music of quite a different ilk back in the ’70s, aiming at a sound that sprang eclectically from New Orleans-style funk and soul, with a dash of Caribbean influence as well. “Best of Both Worlds” epitomizes the breezy, sophisticated pop of his pre-MTV days. Simpler times, people, simpler times.

* I can’t decide if 2004, back when Fingertips was a year old, seems like only yesterday or forever ago. These days I’m leaning towards forever ago. In any case, Nellie McKay’s playful, variegated double-disc debut album, Get Away From Me, came out that year, on Columbia Records, to a good amount of critical acclaim and a certain amount of radio play back in that more innocent age. (Note the album’s sly rejoinder to Norah Jones’ blockbuster Come Away With Me.) “David” sounded charming back then and maybe even a bit more so now, if only for how unlikely it would be for someone to release something like this today. McKay proved to be too idiosyncratic and un-tameable for a major record label. She has released six albums since then, including three albums of cover songs. She’s been on Broadway, she is an outspoken advocate for human and animal rights, and is in general one of those folks not easily pigeonholed into one category. As none of us should be, if you think about it.

Full playlist below the widget.

“Since You’re Gone” – The Cars (Shake It Up, 1982)
“Wisteria” – Death and the Maiden (Wisteria, 2018)
“Book of Rules” – The Heptones (Book of Rules, 1973)
“Backdrifts” – Radiohead (Hail to the Thief, 2003)
“Little Bird” – Annie Lennox (Diva, 1992)
“Just Say You’re Wanted (and Needed) – Gwen Owens (single, 1966)
“Me and the Farmer” – The Housemartins (The People Who Grinned Themselves to Death, 1987)
“Best of Both Worlds” – Robert Palmer (Double Fun, 1978)
“Night in Tunisia” – Dizzy Gillespie (1946 recording)
“Patience of Angels” – Eddi Reader (Eddi Reader, 1994)
“Sing to Me” – Cumulus (Comfort World, 2018)
“Ordinary Joe” – Terry Callier (Occasional Rain, 1972)
“David” – Nellie McKay (Get Away From Me, 2004)
“I Don’t Wanna Cry” – The Keys (The Keys Album, 1981)
“Don’t You Care” – The Buckinghams (Time & Charges, 1967)
“Celebrity Skin” – Hole (Celebrity Skin, 1998)
“Back in the Crowd” – Tom Waits (Bad As Me, 2011)
“Without You” – Sasha Dobson (Modern Romance, 2006)
“Lovefool” – The Cardigans (First Band on the Moon, 1996)
“Ships in the Night” – Be Bop Deluxe (Sunburst Finish, 1976)

Not many make it this far (Eclectic Playlist Series 6.08 – August 2019)

The latest incarnation of the Eclectic Playlist Series, featuring music from many different decades and genres.

We are sometimes treated, in August, to a fleeting bit of weather that carries in it a subtle tinge of autumn, which always feels lovely after a long hot summer. I’m still waiting on that this year, fingers crossed, through this one last (?) heat wave. Waiting for all sorts of fevers to break here in 2019 as a matter of fact. (One can always hope.) In the meantime, the Eclectic Playlist Series strides onward, with its distinctive mix of genres and eras. One thing I don’t usually point out about my curated playlists is that in addition to making the conscious effort to distribute music relatively evenly across the decades, at least the decades from the ’60s through the present, I also work to balance the music between male and female voices. Given the male-centric history of rock’n’roll this is something I have to make a conscious priority, otherwise the lists would all too easily, well, list towards the men. Personally I’m friggin’ tired of men so each month I make sure there are no more than 11 of them, out of 20 slots. Ten is better, nine is best. Maybe one month I’ll whittle it down to eight. One can always hope.

Random notes:

* The T-Bone Burnett project known as The New Basement Tapes kind of got shunted aside as quickly as it came to public awareness back in the middle of our current decade. The back story is that Bob Dylan had recently come across a batch of lyrics he had written around 1967 or so—the same Dylan era in which the legendary Basement Tapes recordings were made. Dylan gave the lyrics to Burnett, his old Rolling Thunder compatriot, to do something with. What T Bone did was call Elvis Costello, Marcus Mumford, Rhiannon Giddens, Jim James, and Taylor Goldsmith together into a studio for two weeks to create music for the lyrics. A surprisingly engaging documentary about the project aired on Showtime back in 2014, of which, mysteriously, no trace remains on Showtime’s web site. The best thing I can find is a clip from the doc of the song from the project that I’m featuring on this month’s playlist: Marcus Mumford’s “Kansas City,” one of the standout tunes from the album. You don’t get the build-up drama of Mumford stressing out from writer’s block as the project unfolded around him, but you still do get a frisson of delight watching as the song picks up steam. Elvis had another commitment that day so for unexplained reasons, Johnny Depp was sitting in on the guitar.

* Fingertips has been at this long enough to warrant a “Where are they now?” series were I so inclined. A band that might be thus featured would be the one-time Santa Cruz quartet Division Day, which put out three albums between 2004 and 2009 and were heard from no more. The song “Colorguard” came from their highest-profile release, 2007’s well-regarded Beartrap Island. Post-Division Day, the members are somewhat hard to locate. The eminently Google-able singer Rohner Segnitz did put out a three-song release labeled “Stuff for Films” in 2013, on Bandcamp. Bassist Seb Bailey, meanwhile, landed in an L.A.-based band named Geronimo Getty that released an album in 2014 and was active at least up until last year.

* Patrice Holloway’s “Stolen Hours,” released to little notice in 1966, earned a second life as a Northern Soul gem in the 1970s, as happened to so many previously obscure R&B records. Holloway’s sister, Brenda, had a more visible career, having recorded at least one big hit for Motown/Tamla (“Every Little Bit Hurts,” 1964), but she ended up another major talent that Berry Gordy couldn’t or wouldn’t develop properly. Patrice, meanwhile, a genuine child prodigy, found employment through the ’60s and ’70s largely as a session singer, with one especially curious side gig: providing the singing voice for Valerie Brown, one of three band members in the Archie Comics’ TV spin-off, “Josie and the Pussycats.” Valerie, for what it’s worth, was the first African-American lead character in an American cartoon series.

* If you zoom in on the picture of the record label for the 1967 Dana Valery single on Columbia Records with the slightly odd title of “You Don’t Know Where Your Interest Lies,” you will see the writer listed as “P. Simon.” And yes that would be Paul, as you can probably tell when you listen to the song and hear that male speaking voice in the background, rather nerdily snarling “You don’t begin to comprehend.” Born in Italy, Dana Valery had been a recording star in South Africa, where she grew up, before coming to the U.S. and somehow—I can’t find details on this—hooking up with Paul Simon in Nashville and recording this song of his in 1967. Simon & Garfunkel made their own recording of the song, also in 1967, released on a single with the Bookends song “Fakin’ It”; listen here if you’re interested.

* I’ve long been a fan of David Bowie’s perpetually overlooked Black Tie White Noise album, which feels like one of his most cohesive efforts, and is highlighted by his playing the saxophone again after many years away from the instrument. The album received positive reviews at the time, but Bowie was at something of a career low point when it came out—he had followed up two mediocre albums with a five-year stint in the hard rock group Tin Machine, which in the long run served rather to diminish his cultural and artistic stature. And so while Black Tie White Noise seemed to creatively rejuvenate him, his next few albums were not especially accessible, leaving him further off by the cultural wayside through the rest of the ’90s and into the ’00s. There was a lot of fine music released during this period, but most people seemed to have stopped paying attention. Finally, in the 2010s, came the full-fledged Bowie revival we seemed collectively starving for at that point, with 2013’s The Next Day and especially, if tragically, the all-but-posthumous release in 2016 of Blackstar. As for “Jump They Say,” the lyrics have very vaguely and impressionistically to do with Bowie’s step-brother Terry, who suffered from mental health issues and committed suicide. The song made the dance charts but not the pop charts here in the US; over in the UK, however, it was Bowie’s only top-10 single between “Absolute Beginners” in 1986 and “Where Are We Now?” in 2013.

* The Band was rare if not unique in rock’n’roll history for having three terrific lead singers. And while Rick Danko might not have been the most powerful or obviously talented, he was always my favorite; there was something in that forlorn quaver of his that reassured me on many different levels. His debut solo album, self-titled, came out in 1977 to solid reviews but generated very little interest, especially as The Last Waltz was released not long afterward and far overshadowed it. But Rick Danko a solid effort, with a bunch of fun and hearty songs, and the benefit of hearing Danko sing on every one. While it was eventually released on CD, it’s not that easy to find. If you ever see it selling for a few bucks in a bin somewhere, scoop that baby up. I’ve closed out the playlist this month with the album’s closing track.

Full playlist below the widget.

“Velocity Girl” – Primal Scream (b-side, 1986)
“Dog” – Widowspeak (Expect the Best, 2017)
“Stolen Hours” – Patrice Holloway (single, 1966)
“Jump They Say” – David Bowie (Black Tie White Noise, 1993)
“Grafton Street” – Dido (Safe Trip Home, 2008)
“Summer Soft” – Stevie Wonder (Songs in the Key of Life, 1976)
“Calcutta” – Lawrence Welk (Calcutta!, 1961)
“So Here We Are” – Gordi (Clever Disguise EP, 2016)
“I Can’t Forget Tomorrow” – Sylvain Sylvain (Syl Sylvain and the Teardrops, 1981)
“Until You Came Along” – Golden Smog (Weird Tales, 1998)
“It’ll Take a Long Time” – Sandy Denny (Sandy, 1972)
“Colorguard” – Division Day (Beartrap Island, 2007)
“Kansas City” – The New Basement Tapes (The New Basement Tapes, 2014)
“You Don’t Know Where Your Interest Lies” – Dana Valery (single, 1967)
“Gates of the West” – the Clash (single, 1979)
“Between the Lines” – Sambassadeur (Sambassadeur, 2005)
“Where Will I Be” – Emmylou Harris (Wrecking Ball, 1995)
“The Desert Babbler” – Iron & Wine (Ghost on Ghost, 2013)
“Ain’t Nobody” – Rufus & Chaka Khan (Stompin’ at the Savoy, 1983)
“Once Upon a Time” – Rick Danko (Rick Danko, 1977)

Nothing surprises me anymore (Eclectic Playlist Series 6.07 – July 2019)

Lost classics of one kind or another, from this or that genre, flecked with the intermittent crowd-pleaser for balance and character: I sometimes consider what I do here an exercise in what might be whimsically considered aural feng shui, where the interaction is between the ears and the music rather than the body and physical space. Here’s the latest iteration of the Eclectic Playlist Series, mix 6.07.

“Polaroids” is as majestic and affecting a song as a singer/songwriter could hope to write and record, complete with an ear-catching rhyme scheme, emotive vocal work, and nimble interplay between the hypnotic melody and a chord pattern so elegant that its unanticipated gambits register as predestined. Together these elements transform a leisurely-paced six-minute narrative into a spellbinding classic, albeit a classic not a lot of people may know a quarter-century after its release.

Ideally that’s a good part of what I’m offering here–lost classics of one kind or another, from this or that genre, flecked with the intermittent crowd-pleaser for balance and character. I sometimes think of this–whimsically, if not especially accurately–as an exercise in aural feng shui, where the interaction is between the ears and the music rather than the body and physical space. The goal, however, isn’t good luck or bad luck, it’s a sense of aliveness and potency, of the subtle kind that one song, certainly, can offer but I think a disparate and well-blended group of songs can deliver with extra power and, I hope, delight. A playlist should delight, shouldn’t it? Delight is often fostered by a sense of the unexpected. But how unexpected can music be in the context of a single-genre playlist? You see where I’m going with this. I’ll be quiet now and let the music do the rest of the talking.

Random notes:

* I loved “Indian Ocean” from the moment I heard it back in 1996; it struck my ears as an unusually successful modern (at that point) update of the power pop I’ve long held dear. And yet I never ended up learning much about the unusually-named band that recorded this gem, outside of knowing that The Frank & Walters came from Cork, Ireland. By the 2000s, I had assumed they had disbanded without a trace, but now that I’ve belatedly investigated, it turns out that they are still an active band, although more of a regional than an international outfit. I just listened to a song called “Stages,” from their 2016 album Songs For The Walking Wounded, and wow, they’re still doing what they do, still creating music with a distinctive but accessible air about it. The band was originally formed by brothers Paul and Niall Linehan; Paul still fronts the band, while Niall left in 2004. But the beat goes on. Time for me to go back and listen to more of their stuff.

* So in the process of constructing this playlist I discovered that “Midnight Confessions,” a song I’ve had a soft spot for since pre-teenager-hood, was not a Grass Roots original, but a cover of a song recorded the year before by a band called The Ever-Green Blues. Although slightly slowed down from the original, the Grass Roots’ version employed a strikingly similar arrangement, and had the benefit of Hal Blaine, Carol Kaye, and the Wrecking Crew as backing band. You can check out the Ever-Green Blues version on YouTube if you’re curious. While the original version went nowhere chart-wise, a year later the same song became the Grass Roots’ biggest hit.

* So “The Stand” has a needlessly complicated history, made more complicated by robotic internet misinformation. The song came out as a single in April 1983, and then was wrapped into the band’s debut eponymous EP in June that same year. In 1984, a longer version of the song was released on a 12-inch “maxi-single” called The Chant Has Just Begun. And then in 1990, this longer version was released on a compilation album called Standards (“Stand-ards”; get it?). But a good portion of the internet is fooled by the presence of a one-minute, fifteen-second song called “The Stand (Prophecy)” that appears on the group’s full-length 1984 release, Declaration: on YouTube, the long version of “The Stand” comes accompanied by the Declaration album cover, and on Wikipedia, “The Stand” is identified as a single from the album. The super-short version on the album–not the single–seems to be a glimpse at the more acoustic-based way the song was originally written. The lyrics by the way were inspired by the post-apocalyptic Stephen King novel of the same name, and intended as a heartfelt protest against nuclear proliferation. Some things never get old.

* You had of course the Beatles and the Stones, Hendrix and The Who, and all sorts of other iconic artists that come to mind when you think of the music of the 1960s. But for me, in my own childhood memory of that time, probably nothing says “the ’60s” to me as potently as the music of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. Ridiculous? Maybe, maybe not. Look at the facts: between 1965 and 1968, the Brass released seven albums; five of them went to #1 on the charts, the other two peaked at #2 and #4. If you happened to be a musically impressionable youngster at that exact moment in time, the stuff just imprinted itself on your psyche. There, it seems, it remains, for some of us.

* And then there’s Lene Lovich, a singular star in the new wave firmament of the late ’70s and early ’80s, who rose and faded abruptly, her quirkiness at once her advantage and her undoing. “It’s You, Only You (Mein Schmerz)” comes from her neglected 1982 album No Man’s Land, which I picked up a while back for a few dollars on vinyl in the discount crate of a local record store. As it turns out, after many years away from the music scene, Lovich released an album in 2005 called Shadows and Dust, which I missed entirely; she started actively touring again in 2015. She is now 70, which causes me mein own kind of schmerz. Time time time. You can by the way, rather unexpectedly, check No Man’s Land out on Bandcamp.

Full playlist below the widget.

“Indian Ocean” – The Frank and Walters (Indian Ocean EP, 1997)
“Nova” – Baula (Nova, 2017)
“Was I On Your Mind” – Jesse Baylin (Firesight, 2008)
“Stand!” – Sly and the Family Stone (Stand!, 1969)
“Loneliness” – Horslips (The Man Who Built America, 1978)
“Polaroids” – Shawn Colvin (Fat City, 1992)
“More and More Amor” – Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass (Going Places, 1965)
“It’s You, Only You (Mein Schmerz)” – Lene Lovich (No Man’s Land, 1982)
“I Wasn’t Her” – The Blueflowers (Watercolor Ghost Town, 2009)
“Joanne” – Michael Nesmith (Magnetic South, 1970)
“Motion Sickness” – Phoebe Bridgers (Stranger in the Alps, 2017)
“Something to Believe In” – The Ramones (Animal Boy, 1986)
“How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” – Al Green (Let’s Stay Together, 1972)
“Pot Kettle Black” – Wilco (Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, 2002)
“Midnight Confessions” – The Grass Roots (single, 1968)
“Not Too Soon” – Throwing Muses (The Real Ramona, 1992)
“Ponteio” – Astrid Gliberto and Stanley Turrentine (Gilberto With Turrentine, 1971)
“I Already Forgot Everything You Said” – The Dig (Midnight Flowers, 2012)
“The Stand” – The Alarm (long version; single, 1984)
“Adventure” – Be Your Own Pet (Be Your Own Pet, 2006)

Keep your eyes open (Eclectic Playlist Series 6.06 – June 2019)

The latest iteration of the Eclectic Playlist Series–a willful blend of genres and decades, unique on the internet.

I thought last month’s mix was one of the better ones I’ve concocted, and yet there it was, with the meagerest number of listeners to date. Good thing I’m not doing this for fame and fortune! Thanks to the loyal core here–you know who you are. I believe in the value of creative work, and in the value of our culture’s diverse musical legacy. If 2019’s hyper-capitalist, click-centered world is screwed up beyond the ability to separate the worthy from the worthless, the delightful from the despicable, well, how surprising is that? Elizabeth Warren says, rightfully, that capitalism without regulation is theft; I would add that capitalism without human values is, well, capitalism. Where we have ended up, with the failed steak salesman as leader of the free world, is pretty much the logical end result of an amoral system. A microscopic audience for quality playlists is the least of my worries. But, if you’re here, I hope you enjoy the ever-eclectic mix….

Random notes:

* The accepted story is that the Strokes lost their magic after their first two albums, but here’s a song from their 2011 album Angles that stands up to anything else they’ve recorded, to my ears. I have no idea what Casablancas is singing about, of course, but “Under the Cover of Darkness” nevertheless acquires so much delightful musical momentum as it unfolds that it makes me want to jump out of my seat with glee by the time it’s halfway through.

* I recently saw a short video essay by Jeff Tweedy in which he extolled the benefits of listening to music that you don’t like. He says he’s learned that his initial reactions to music can be based on preconceived notions and/or aversions that may be irrational, and that it’s worthwhile to make an effort to overcome these things. Which brings me to Rush, a band I definitely used to have an aversion to, preconceived notions about, you name it. These were formed when I worked in college radio, caught up in a cohort as passionate about music as we were unintentionally close-minded. I still don’t love Geddy Lee’s voice but I have to admire the musicianship on display, and the band’s efforts to pack complexities into radio-friendly material. As soon as I was able to open my little mind up to the possibility that I didn’t hate everything they recorded, a song like “Limelight” was able to reveal its charms.

* Brenda Kahn, back in the ’90s, gave us one of the sharpest and most distinctive singer/songwriter albums of the era. Epiphany in Brooklyn, released in 1992, had enough muscle and momentum to break through to alternative-rock radio stations (remember “I Don’t Sleep, I Drink Coffee Instead”?), and enough craft and spirit to promise great things to come. Then her record company–a Columbia Records imprint–folded two weeks before her follow-up release. She continued touring and releasing records independently through the ’90s but without the mainstream notice the first record garnered. Eventually she left music behind, to concentrate on raising her children. I only recently discovered that she’s been making music again here in the 21st century; I entirely missed Seven Laws of Gravity when it came out in 2010, but happily stumbled upon it a couple of months ago.

* Cate Le Bon has the distinction of being the answer to a trivia question no one asks, which is: have I ever, by mistake, featured the same song by the same artist twice within the Eclectic Playlist Series? Turns out I have: the Cate Le Bon song “Are You With Me Now”?” ended up both in EPS 3.03 in March 2016 and in EPS 4.05 in May 2017. Go figure.

* Graham Parker, on the other hand, I haven’t managed to feature until now. He fell into that category of “hard to choose just one so I won’t choose any” artists. And, to be frank, despite how vital and wonderful many of his songs remain, his overall sound just doesn’t seem to want to blend in to an overall mix, somehow. I’ve tried many times, for instance, to work the amazing “Discovering Japan” in and it just won’t go. “Something You’re Going Through” has its pseudo-reggae-ishness going for it in the context of a eclectic mix, plus its perennially useful advice, which I’ve borrowed this month for the title.

Full playlist below the widget.

“Under the Cover of Darkness” – The Strokes (Angles, 2011)
“There’s Nothing Else to Say” – The Incredibles (single, 1967)
“Falling is a Form of Flying” – Pal Shazar (There’s a Wild Thing in the House, 1995)
“Something You’re Going Through” – Graham Parker & The Rumour (Heat Treatment, 1976)
“St. Thomas” – Sonny Rollins (Saxophone Collosus, 1956)
“The Consequences of Falling” – k.d. lang (Invincible Summer, 2000)
“Limelight” – Rush (Moving Pictures, 1981)
“Chelsea Morning” – Joni Mitchell (Clouds, 1969)
“I’m On My Way” – Rhiannon Giddens & Francesco Turrisi (there is no Other, 2019)
“Guitar Swing” – The Winks (Birthday Party, 2006)
“I Wish I Was Your Mother” – Mott the Hoople (Mott, 1973)
“Regular Job” – Brenda Kahn (Seven Laws of Gravity, 2010)
“Wheel of Evil” – In Tua Nua (The Long Acre, 1988)
“I Really Love You” – The Tomangoes (single, 1968)
“The Crying Scene” – Aztec Camera (Stray, 1990)
“Black Hearted Love” – PJ Harvey (A Woman A Man Walked By, 2009)
“99 Miles From L.A.” – Art Garfunkel (Breakaway, 1975)
“Daylight Matters” – Cate Le Bon (Reward, 2019)
“Moment of Weakness” – Syreeta (With You I’m Born Again [import], 1990)
“Grey Seal” – Elton John (Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, 1973)

Drop the other shoe (Eclectic Playlist Series 6.05 – May 2019)

You know the drill: it’s another mixed-genre, multi-decade playlist, inspired as always by the heyday of so-called “progressive” radio stations. Only think about how many more decades of music we have at our disposal than the DJs had back in the mid-’70s! Such opportunity here, once we break out of this fever-dream of separation and isolation. Give it a try, tell your friends, and stay strong. You may notice a bit of a netherworld-related interlude here; let it serve to remind us of Churchill’s famous piece of advice: “If you’re going through Hell, keep going.”

Random notes:

* “We All Go Back To Where We Belong” was the last official R.E.M. release and maybe we had a bit of R.E.M. fatigue at that point, still unconvinced that the Bill-Berry-free version was ever really any good, but I feel in retrospect this song was kind of just kind quickly heard and then forgotten. To my ears, it’s a fabulous song, with bonus points for the charming and somehow poignant video, which is just a black-and-white close-up of the actress Kirsten Dunst listening to the song in real time. (As the story goes, Michael Stipe was actually singing it to her live, a capella, which she found something of an overwhelming experience, as a long-time fan herself.)

* The Smiths were such a singular-sounding band that they couldn’t really influence anyone else without the influencees sounding merely like pale imitators. “The Headmaster Ritual” was I think the Smiths song that really turned my head around back in their heyday. Who writes these words? Who finds these melodies, and employs these chords? Still gives me goosebumps if I really stop to listen.

* “Presidential Rag” sounds kind of quaint now, huh? Being worked up over a president who didn’t admit everything that he knew? Now we have one who is too stupid to know what he doesn’t know, leading a cult of hatred and resentment whose members don’t give a fuck. Someone should write a song as good as this about *that*.

* Hadestown, now on Broadway, was just nominated for 14 Tony Awards last month. But the project has been around since 2006, when singer/songwriter Anaïs Mitchell first put it together as a community theater production in Vermont. Four years later, with the help of Ani DiFranco, Hadestown became a concept album, on DiFranco’s Righteous Babe Records, with a number of stellar guest vocalists, including Justin Vernon, Greg Brown, and DiFranco herself. The song “Flowers” first came to my attention early in 2010 as a free and legal download, which was featured here in February of that year. Still a stunning piece of music. (Also stunning, especially in retrospect, is the song “Why We Build The Wall,” which you might want to check out here—https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8sQ8R54C53o—and think about in conjunction with Arlo’s sense of righteous grievance.)

* Were Adam and the Ants, all the rage in the UK for a year or two, merely a novelty band? Probably. But a song like “Antmusic,” as silly as the words may be when simply read, was constructed with such great pop know-how that I find it irresistible still, nearly 40 years later.

* “In a Long White Room” is a fun example of a straight-laced standards-oriented songwriter doing their best to dive into the psychedelic vibe of the late ’60s. The end result is not really psychedelic at all, but it’s oddly engaging in the effort. The lyrics here came from Martin Charnin, whose career soon enough led him to Broadway, where he hit it big for having conceived, directed, and written the lyrics for the musical Annie. The music was written by Texas songwriter Clint Ballard, Jr., who also wrote the songs “Game of Love” and “You’re No Good,” among many others that were not big hits. As much as I appreciate talented singer/songwriters, I guess I remain rather entranced by the pre-singer/songwriter days, and connecting unexpected dots between who wrote what. On top of all this, kind of a weird song for Nancy Wilson, but it’s the one of hers, from my long-ago childhood, I recall most vividly.

Full playlist below the widget.

“Presidential Rag” – Arlo Guthrie (Arlo Guthrie, 1974)
“Pedrinho” – Tulipa Ruiz (TU, 2017)
“Angels” – Peter Holsapple & Chris Stamey (Mavericks, 1991)
“To Be Gone” – Anna Ternheim (Halfway to Fivepoints, 2008)
“Antmusic” – Adam and the Ants (Kings of the Wild Frontier, 1980)
“Ask the Lonely” – The Fantastics (single, 1970)
“Come a Long Way” – Michelle Shocked (Arkansas Traveler, 1992)
“Heart Full of Soul” – The Yardbirds (single, 1965)
“The Headmaster Ritual” – The Smiths (Meat is Murder, 1985)
“Imposter” – Jonatha Brooke (Imposter EP, 2019)
“In a Long White Room” – Nancy Wilson (Nancy, 1969)
“Carolyn” – Steve Wynn (Kerosene Man, 1990)
“See No Evil” – Television (Marquee Moon, 1977)
“Flowers” – Anaïs Mitchell (Hadestown, 2010)
“Lucifer Sam” – Pink Floyd (The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, 1967)
“The Pharaohs” – Neko Case (Middle Cyclone, 2009)
“Caught” – Anna Domino (Anna Domino, 1986)
“A Hit By Varèse” – Chicago (Chicago V, 1972)
“Didn’t Cha Know” – Erykah Badu (Mama’s Gun, 2000)
“We All Go Back to Where We Belong” – R.E.M. (single, 2011)

Look how I remember (Eclectic Playlist Series 6.04 – April 2019)

Maybe it’s somewhat obvious to those who’ve been around here a long time, but I will say this out loud: when all is said and done, the Kinks are my favorite band of all time. Which maybe makes it a little strange that for this year’s presentation of a Kinks song in a playlist–and remember, no artist appears in a mix here more than once in a calendar year–I have selected a little ditty of a song of theirs that I have never really thought much of one way or another. They after all have so many many great songs, and over the decades found such deft ways to communicate via rock’n’roll. So, why did I choose “Monica,” among a multitude of others that I probably like more? I am not actually sure, except to note that these playlists are constructed as intuitively as possible. I can’t usually explain why I put any of these songs in here. But maybe, with the Kinks, an extra factor was this: because I can’t play all of my favorite-favorite Kinks songs in the context of these mixes, it’s easier to go for a left-field choice like “Monica”; in this case, all the favorite-favorite songs are treated equally–i.e., overlooked (for now). Another potential explanation: there’s no way to understand any musical preference, for anybody, when you get right down to it. This song just highlights the serendipitous beauty of what catches the ear and makes the world feel right, if for a moment or two.

Other random notes on this month’s playlist:

* I’m still happily absorbing Mitski’s well-regarded 2018 album, Be The Cowboy, and while I particularly like the single, “Nobody,” the song I ended up with here, “Why Didn’t You Stop Me?,” grabbed me after a few listens, with its insistent pulse, crunchy guitars, looney-bin synth motif, and remarkable conciseness. The whole album is a study in how to be succinct; only two songs out of 14 are longer than 2:36, and nothing is even four minutes long.

* Marvin Gaye would have been 80 earlier this month; instead, he died tragically, murdered by his own father, the day before he would have turned 35. This song is one of the many great unreleased songs of his that have floated around over the years. This year, at long last, a group of songs that had been recorded in 1972 and intended to be made into a follow-up album to What’s Going On had their long-awaited release as an album–it’s called You’re The Man, and while it might not represent exactly the album Gaye had planned, it’s good to hear this stuff.

* Leonard Bernstein, meanwhile, would have been 100 years old this past August. He died rather too young too, but at age 72 he at least had a pretty good run of it, and boy did he do a lot of things in the time he had. This little overture from the Broadway revival/reinvention of his musical Candide, in 1974, is super charming–a great example of music that can be both complex and accessible at the same time, which is my sweet spot in all genres.

* “Helpless,” by Kim Weston, is another one of those great lost Motown singles that for one reason or another didn’t really hit the big time, despite its terrific appeal. I’ve never wanted to dive too far into what went on at Motown and why some artists got more support than others but Weston appears to have been one of those who never quite got a fair shake there despite her great talent. This was her last recording for the label; she later sued them in a royalty dispute. I’ve previously featured another fine single of hers, “I Got What You Need,” back on EPS 4.11 in 2017, that one being her first post-Motown release.

* Matthew Sweet’s Kimi Ga Suki was initially released in Japan only, as a thank-you to his legion of Japanese fans. While it did get a US release a year later, it has remained somewhat beneath the radar, despite its actually being something of a reunion for the band with which he recorded his seminal Girlfriend album. He wrote the songs in a week and recorded without any initial demos. There’s something to be said, at least sometimes, for spontaneity.

* Bonus Kinks tidbit: lacking any successful single or chart position around the time of its release, The Kinks are the Village Preservation Society, where you’ll find “Monica,” has gathered a slow but steady following over the decades, and was just certified gold in the UK last year, at age 50.

Full playlist below the widget.

“Halo of Ashes” – Screaming Trees (Dust, 1996)
“Why Didn’t You Stop Me?” – Mitski (Be The Cowboy, 2018)
“I’m Gonna Give You Respect” – Marvin Gaye (previously unreleased, 1972)
“Loud and Clear” – The Last Town Chorus (single, 2008)
“King of the Bayou” – Joe Strummer (Earthquake Weather, 1989)
“The Rain, the Park & Other Things” – The Cowsills (single, 1967)
“The Conservation of Energy” – Vanishing Twin (Choose Your Own Adventure, 2016)
“Overture” – Leonard Bernstein (Candide – Broadway Cast Recording, 1974)
“Don’t Go” – Yaz (Upstairs at Eric’s, 1982)
“Helpless” – Kim Weston (single, 1967)
“Breakable” – Ingrid Michaelson (Girls and Boys, 2006)
“Corduroy” – Pearl Jam (Vitalogy, 1994)
“See The Sky About to Rain” – Neil Young (On The Beach, 1974)
“Joanna” – Southern Boutique (Southern Boutique, 2014)
“De Cared A La Pared” – Lhasa (La Llorona, 1998)
“Monica” – The Kinks (The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society, 1968)
“The Ocean in Between” – Matthew Sweet (Kimi Ga Suki, 2003)
“Known Better” – Meg Mac (single, 2013)
“Tell Me When My Light Turns Green” – Dexy’s Midnight Runners (Searching for  the Young Soul Rebels, 1980)
“Mister Magic” – Esther Phillips (What a Diff’rence a Day Makes, 1975)

Some kind of solitude (Eclectic Playlist Series 6.03 – March 2019)


Each month I feel inclined to introduce the new playlist with yet another harangue about the benefit of diversity in music (and everywhere else!). I do try to resist the urge; the exhortation after all is to show, not tell. So, putting aside all my cultural and socio-political theorizing (executive summary: diversity is beneficial!) here we are, yet again: a 20-song playlist featuring music from six different decades of rock’n’roll, incorporating a good variety of genres and sub-genres, this time including classic rock, new wave pop, art punk, rocksteady, jazz fusion, singer/songwriter music, R&B, and various stripes of alternative and/or indie rock. You know: the usual suspects.

If you just happen to be arriving at one of these playlists for the first time, you might want to check out the landing page for the whole series, here, which not only explains a little of the underlying intention, but offers up a link to all previous EPS mixes, of which there are 62 now, including the new one below.

A few notes:

* Revisiting the wonderful “Somerville” from the Pernice Brothers convinces me I really need to investigate Joe Pernice’s back catalog–with which, I admit, I’m entirely unfamiliar. So much music!

* I suppose I couldn’t give Jules Shear the only word on the disintegration of his relationship with Aimee Mann back in the day. That’s apparently what “If She Knew What She Wants” was about, which was featured here last month. Mann in turn wrote pretty much a whole album about the break-up: ‘Til Tuesday’s last release, the quite excellent Everything’s Different Now. Featured here is the final track, and hardly the only one about Mr. Shear.

* Jenny Lewis is doing a fine Stevie Nicks imitation all of a sudden.

* According to reliable accounts, “Hey Bulldog” was the last song recorded by the Beatles as an honest-to-goodness group, with all contributing in the studio at the same time. And, as luck would have it, there was actually a film crew on the spot. For a good time, check it out on YouTube–this was them as they actually recorded it, not staged after the fact.

* Portishead seem to exist in their own separate musical world. Their last album, released in 2008, still sounds as if we haven’t caught up to what they’re doing.

* Ellen Foley had a bit of a moment in the late ’70s into the mid-’80s, not least because she was going out with Mick Jones of the Clash for some of that time. So: do you have any idea what the Clash did after recording Sandinista!? They played as Foley’s back-up band on Spirit of St. Louis. All four of them. What’s more, Strummer and Jones co-wrote six of the album’s 12 songs (including the extravagantly titled “The Death of the Psychoanalyst of Salvador Dali”). The LP has kind of gotten lost over the years, probably because it didn’t make much of an impact at the time in the first place–but it’s a fascinating and often entertaining artifact. In the end, Foley ended up better known either for dueting with Meat Loaf on the rococo classic “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” (that’s her: “What’s it gonna be, boy?”) or for being in the cast of the hit comedy Night Court for a couple of years in the mid-’80s. She has at long resurfaced as a musician in the 2010s, releasing an album called About Time in 2014, and doing some touring since then.

Full playlist below the widget.

“Hey, St. Peter” – Flash and the Pan (Flash and the Pan, 1978)
“Future Me Hates Me” – The Beths (Future Me Hates Me, 2018)
“It Ain’t No Big Thing” – The Radiants (single, 1965)
“The Disappointed” – XTC (Nonsuch, 1992)
“Torchlight” – Ellen Foley (with Mick Jones) (Spirit of St. Louis, 1981)
“Somerville” – The Pernice Brothers (Live a Little, 2006)
“Twelve Thirty (Young Girls are Coming to the Canyon) – The Mamas & The Papas
     (The Papas & The Mamas, 1968)
“Ask the Angels” – Patti Smith Group (Radio Ethiopia, 1976)
“The Man Who Played God” – Danger Mouse & Sparklehorse (feat. Suzanne Vega)
      (Dark Night of the Soul, 2010)
“Cinnamon Girl” – Prince (Musicology, 2004)
“Right By Your Side” – Eurythmics (Touch, 1983)
“Baby Why” – The Cables (single, 1968)
“On The Inside” – Rosanne Cash (Interiors, 1990)
“Red Bull & Hennessy – Jenny Lewis (On the Line, 2019)
“Lovely Day” – Bill Withers (Menagerie, 1978)
“Magic Doors” – Portishead (Third, 2008)
“Pretend We Live Forever” – Chelan (Equal Under Pressure, 2015)
“Hey Bulldog” – The Beatles (Yellow Submarine, 1969)
“How Can You Give Up?” – ‘Til Tuesday (Everything’s Different Now, 1988)
“Beauty and the Beast” – Wayne Shorter (Native Dancer, 1974)

Just say you tried (Eclectic Playlist Series 6.02 – Feb. 2019)

Did you like me associate “Wild is the Wind” with the late, great Mr. Bowie? He does astonish, with his version on Station to Station. But it was my friend George, from over at Between Two Islands, who alerted me a few years ago to the fact that the song is an old one–from a 1957 movie of the same name–and was originally sung by none other than Johnny Mathis. I should have known this but then again one can’t know everything when it comes to music (unless you’re George). The song, which was nominated for an Oscar in 1958, was composed by the Russian-born composer Dmitri Tiomkin, who specialized in scores for American Westerns. The lyricist was Ned Washington, perhaps best known for penning the words to “When You Wish Upon a Star” and–who knew?–“Town Without Pity.” (The rabbit hole of forgotten songwriters and their work is deep and compelling.) Bowie by the way was inspired by Nina Simone’s version, which she recorded live in 1959, and then on a studio album in 1966. It isn’t necessarily the easiest thing to mix Johnny Mathis into a playlist that also includes Björk, Taj Mahal, and Warren Zevon but that’s my job–easing out into Jane Siberry’s majestic “The Valley” certainly gave it a smooth landing.

Random bits:

* The Tourists were a British band, most notable these years later for being the band in which Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart first met and played together. They were active from 1976 through late 1980. Eurythmics emerged in the Tourists’ aftermath, and released their debut album in 1981.

* I am not notably either a blues aficionado nor a Billie Holiday devotee, but Cassandra Wilson’s album of jazz standards associated with Holiday, 2015’s Coming Forth By Day, strikes my ear as monumentally good. Working with producer Nick Launay (known for his work with Nick Cave in particular but with dozens of impressive credits), Wilson imbues these old songs with smoky atmosphere at once quirky and incisive.

* Warren Zevon is celebrated mostly for his early (’70s) and later (’00s) work but the stuff in the middle, in retrospect, isn’t too shabby either. I have particular fondness for the title track to this 1991 album, as full of humor, chaos, and melody as any of his most memorable material.

* Sharon Van Etten’s new album, Remind Me Tomorrow, is pretty great, in part because she’s just pretty great in general. Did you read about how she’s studying to be a psychologist? In addition to her being a singer/songwriter, an actress, and a mom? I was already very impressed by her and now all the more so.

* The Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose: two fantastic hit songs, and then a bunch of forgettable filler. How did this happen? Who knows. But now I’ve given you both of the good ones here, so their days populating the Eclectic Playlist Series are officially over.

* Speaking, earlier, of forgotten songwriters, or partially forgotten, or in any case under-appreciated, I give you Jules Shear, who has had a preternatural knack for pop-rock melodies. The Bangles made this one a hit a year after his version. Yup it’s very ’80s. And completely wonderful.

* Lastly: if you have somehow managed never to have seen the “Bachelorette” video, a classic directed by Michel Gondry, do yourself a favor and go here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XJnhaXwK86M. And this advice coming from a guy who never usually sees the video. What a sensational song this is, still.

Full playlist below the widget.

“O Lucky Man!” – Alan Price (“O Lucky Man!”: The Original Sountrack, 1973)
“So Good To Be Back Home Again” – The Tourists (Reality Effect, 1980)
“I Love You So Bad” – Ezra Furman (Transangelic Exodus, 2018)
“Treat Her Like a Lady” – Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose (single, 1971)
“How Soon” – Martha Wainwright (Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole EP, 2005)
“Billie’s Blues” – Cassandra Wilson (Coming Forth By Day, 2015)
“Bachelorette” – Björk (Homogenic, 1997)
“She Loves to Be In Love” – Charlie (Lines, 1978)
“Horse and I” – Bat For Lashes (Fur and Gold, 2007)
“If She Knew What She Wants” – Jules Shear (The Eternal Return, 1983)
“Kiss of Life” – Sade (Love Deluxe, 1992)
“I Scare Myself” – Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks (Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks, 1969)
“The Mountain” – Dave Carter & Tracy Grammar (Tanglewood Tree, 2000)
“Mr. Bad Example” – Warren Zevon (Mr. Bad Example, 1991)
“Part Time Love” – Ann Peebles (Part Time Love, 1971)
“Last Wave” – They Might Be Giants (I Like Fun, 2018)
“Wild is the Wind” – Johnny Mathis (A Certain Smile, 1957)
“The Valley” – Jane Siberry (Bound By The Beauty, 1989)
“Take a Giant Step” – Taj Mahal (Giant Step, 1969)
“No One’s Easy to Love” – Sharon Van Etten (Remind Me Tomorrow, 2019)