One of the most popular features of the blog at its former address was the seasonal mix, and as we’re just into a new season (and spring of all, the season of rebirth and so on and so forth…), it seems most appropriate to musically launch this new incarnation with the second volume of Spring Chicken.
The goal of this compilation is to not only give you a great selection of tunes worthy of an iPod playlist or burning to CD and putting in your car stereo for a spring drive, but also to perfectly soundtrack the warming weather and melting snow (condolences to my fellow Wisconsinites and Illinoians who bore the brunt of a rather frustrating afterburst from Old Man Winter this weekend). But this music should help soundtrack the quick melting process.
In addition to nice, breezy acoustic tunes and foot tappers about revival and so forth, the key to a spring mix is also to have a few tunes in there for the grey and rainy days, which are always a little more frequent then any of us would probably like. But a good song always helps, doesn’t it?
SPRING CHICKEN, VOL. 2
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01. Bobby Darin – Hello, Dolly!
Pulled from Darin’s 1964 LP, From Hello Dolly to Goodbye Charlie, in which Darin essentially tackled a host of showtunes with his signature verve. This version of “Hello, Dolly!” probably isn’t the best one out there (I’d first look in Louis Armstrong’s direction), but the way it builds up from the bassline and hi-hat backing to full on swing is nice and apropos of spring. Take note of how the song’s arrangement repeatedly tips its hat to Darin’s reading of “Mack the Knife” from five years earlier. Even Darin’s closing remark recalls it.
02. The Kinks – Sweet Lady Genevieve
Critics and even several Kinks fans like to lambast the band’s early-to-mid 1970s output, when Ray Davies got way too hung up on drawing out concept albums and rock operas and ended up forsaking smart, standalone pop songs that had comprised all their classic 1960s albums. But while albums like A Soap Opera, Schoolboys in Disgrace and Preservation Acts 1 & 2 might not have the same immediacy or staying power as Something Else or Face to Face, it’s not to say they’re all a wash. This track, the best song on Preservation Act 1, marries near-crippling regret to one of the sunniest melodies ever. Based on Ray’s own divorce to his first wife, Rasa, Ray’s younger brother Dave claims the song made him feel so bad for his brother that he had trouble playing it live. While I imagine that’s out of natural brotherly love, they also famously never got along, so maybe it just made onstage fisticuffs too difficult if one of them had to harbor any feelings of pity for the other.
03. Cilla Black – It’s For You
A 1964 Lennon/McCartney composition (although it sounds way more McCartney than Lennon) that the Fabs’ handed off to Black, who was also a client of manager Brian Epstein. The song was also produced by Beatles producer George Martin, so the connections to Beatledom were everywhere. Beautiful, if somewhat dark, this song’s always struck me as a good example of just far ahead the Beatles were of even their own time. While songs like this would become more prevalent on the Beatles’ own records in 1965 and 1966 (“Tell Me What You See,” “Norwegian Wood,” “For No One,” etc.), this was popular when the Beatles were doing “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “A Hard Day’s Night.” While orchestras hadn’t yet made it to their own records, they were still beefing up their compositions elsewhere.
04. McAlmont & Butler – Bring it Back
So “Yes” was a great track and ended up becoming a mid-1990s anthem, it also spelled immediate doom for the pairing of David McAlmont and Bernard Butler in that a singles-devouring public soon demanded an album, and the duo’s plan to release singles as they came soon collapsed under market pressure and the resulting 1996 album The Sound of McAlmont & Butler sounded like a lot of unrefined ideas with a few good tunes buried amongst the excess. When they reconvened in 2002 without demand and allowed to relax, they delivered a far better resulting album, and the title track is just one of the many great pop/soul confections the two conjured up. It’s also a perfect sunny spring day song.
05. Jellyfish – Now She Knows She’s Wrong
Jellyfish apparently were pretty popular amongst the college crowd in the early 1990s and their two albums, Bellybutton and Spilt Milk certainly contained enough great songs to make them viable contenders amongst any of the mainstream and overpopular acts from the same age, but they never quite broke through. Maybe it was down to timing — the advent of grunge and alternative wouldn’t really lay the way for Beatles and Beach Boys revisionism until later on in the decade with the Britpop boom. Had Jellyfish put their albums out just a few years later, who knows if they’d have been on the Knebworth bill. This cut from Bellybutton certainly proves they had just as many pop smarts as the bands that were.
06. Neil Innes – Lazy Days
A musty home demo from the Rutles’ own Ron Nasty (or, if you don’t get that reference, then perhaps the minstrel who sang about “Brave Sir Robin”?) It comes and goes almost pathetically quickly, but even with the tape hiss, premature fade out and theme-song feel of it all, this song’s charms are so overbearing that it had to be included. Another great sunny spring day song. Plus, it’s got whistling.
07. Robbie Williams – It’s De-Lovely
I’m pretty sure that Mr. Rock DJ’s foray into big band swing with Swing When You’re Winning helped lock up his inclusion on the soundtrack to the Kevin Kline-starring biopic of Cole Porter, and while several popular artists got to take swings at classic Porter tunes, Robbie’s is actually one of the best on there, and what’s more — this reading of “It’s De-Lovely” is actually better than anything on Swing When You’re Winning. He actually isn’t a half bad crooner. So why he reverted and started doing things like “Radio” and “Rudebox,” I’ll never know. After all, it only makes it that much harder to justify his inclusion on any proper mix, doesn’t it?
08. Van Morrison – Caravan
Probably obvious, but you need one or two songs that are going to get everyone involved, and this is just a great song to mark winter’s passing. For better or worse, I’ve never been able to fully delve into Van’s catalogue — I know the big and important stuff, but the call to really dig in just never reached me. I don’t know, does it get better than this song? If it does, OK, but I’d almost rather believe it doesn’t. There aren’t many songs that better this. Especially that ending “Turn it up, turn it up, radio” bit. Brilliant stuff.
09. 747’s – Rainkiss
The best pull from the Arctic Monkeys cohorts lone album, Zampano. A lot of that album is actually pretty brilliant, and while I get bothered that it never got the same press as their famous friends’ stuff, I actually hear this song and just get depressed that they’re not even together anymore. If you get a perfect verse, or perfect bridge or perfect chorus on its own, you still got enough to say you have a great song. But when you get all three together? Forget about it. Organs, horns, Beatle-esque melodies and harmonies — it’s the sound of spring. And if you don’t believe it, just try not to clap along with the chorus.
10. Ricky Nelson – Fools Rush In
This song’s backing is rickety enough to almost sound incohesive, but the power of Ricky’s young voice and delivery is that it was sound enough to pull everything together. It’s breezy and, yeah, maybe a little trite too, but when Ricky sings that chorus, forget about it. As good as anything he did, and as good as the best pop records of the late 1950s and early 1960s.
11. Belle & Sebastian – (My Girl’s Got) Miraculous Technique
Prior to 2003, any Belle & Sebastian song could’ve been put on a spring, autumn or winter mix — then they found their muscle on Dear Catastrophe Waitress and found the way to get on summer mixes too. But this song, constructed primarily from loops and only ever recorded for posterity in 2001 BBC session (thankfully just released to the masses on their recent The BBC Sessions compilation) is probably the most spring-like thing they ever did. Also makes you remember how great Stuart’s and Isobel’s voices were when they merged. Not to discount either’s work since, but hearing The BBC Sessions defintely provided fans with a bittersweet “Oh, that’s right!” memory.
12. Faces – Richmond
Ronnie Lane and Ronnie Wood get all wonderfully slidy on this fantastic cut from the Faces’ sophomore effort, 1971’s Long Player, but the true charm of this song is really in Lane’s delivery and lyrics. Particularly that last bit — “The women, they may look very pretty — and some they know it. Some look good, they show a leg and smile. But they all look like the flowers in someone else’s garden…” Doesn’t get much more carelessly poignant.
13. Michael Penn – No Myth
Another kind of obvious inclusion, and maybe (judging by Penn’s reaction to a request for the song when I saw him in 2005) the bane of his existence at this point, but look, Mike and everyone else — this song is f*cking brilliant. This is perfect, sunny pop and while Penn’s written several songs that are just as good that never got the same acclaim, at least this one did. That’s a lot more than Jellyfish can say. And trust me, “maybe she’s just looking for someone to dance with” is a creed that’s defined most of my dating experience for the last ten years.
14. She & Him – Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?
I don’t think that Volume One is a bad album at all, but I think a lot of indie heads got so excited about the pairing of wonderful M. Ward with dear, sweet Zooey that an almost unattainable level of perfection was expected, and the album fell kind of short of that. But when it works, it’s perfectly nice and pleasant. And when you’ve got a perfectly nice and pleasant moment or two, like you do here, well, demanding anything more would just kind of amount to being a bit of a dick.
15. Wilson Pickett – Hello Sunshine
Some brilliant soul from Pickett’s 1968 album I’m in Love. Got a tight enough backbeat for Motown and an awesome enough horn section for Stax, but Atlantic proved to be the lucky benefactor here. Plus it’s always good to unearth some of Wilson’s lesser known tracks — no knock on “In the Midnight Hour” or “Mustang Sally,” but the guy sounded his amazing voice on a lot more than that.
16. Travis – I Love You Anyways
There’s a big part of me that *knows* I should hate this song. This is the song that really steered Travis’ 1997 debut, Good Feeling, off the rock and roll road and toward that acoustic lament stuff that then dominated “The Man Who” and made it such a hit in 1999 and 2000, consequently justifying everything they’ve done since, and, in turn, the creation and inherent frustrations that came with bands that climbed to higher peaks like Coldplay and Keane. But my senior year of high school, I was hung up on a girl that did not care for me at all, and the day she told me as much was a rainy, dreary April day. I just rode around town listening to this song over and over and over. And it made me feel a little better. It’s a perfect rainy day song, and if there’s some young teenage downloader out there right now having similar unrequited love problems, I can offer this as solace.
17. Fred Astaire – New Sun in the Sky
The pairing of Astaire in 1952 with jazz pianist Oscar Peterson and his tight band still sounds just a little off. Astaire’s delivery still recalls the straight performances he gave in movies in the decades prior, and when he tries to go jazzy and scatty, it sounds just a little square. But that said, it doesn’t sound completely off, and the thing about Astaire is that he had enough of a likeable quality — even in just listening to him — to make you think “Aw shucks” yourself. Sure, maybe Ella Fitzgerald might’ve sung this better, but this is still pretty damn charming.
18. Primal Scream – The Glory of Love
The music is charming, the backing vocals are bright, and then there’s good old Bobby Gillespie droning on about “the glory of love” in an ironic sense, right, since all love ends up doing is destroying people. Yes, how positive. But the thing is, there is something really positive and reaffirming about this song. Maybe it’s the music, with those faux-chimes driving proceedings along, maybe it’s the fact that, yeah, love oftentimes does suck and come to rather anticlimatic ends, but at the end of the day, you keep going back. One of the highlights from last year’s ridiculously overlooked Beautiful Future.
19. Nina Simone – Feeling Good
Sure, everyone from Michael Buble to Muse these days is bringing down huge concerts with this tune, but Nina’s reading of it from the I Put a Spell on You LP is still the template and has yet to be bettered. And I highly doubt that it ever will. The descending chords almost give it a bit of a terrifying feel, but the “this is my day” sentiment of it takes that terror and just turns it into sheer excitement. Enough to make you feel big enough to challenge the biggest guy at the bar to a fistfight. But remember that it just makes you feel that way. Don’t get overexcited and clocked.
20. The Coral – Lovers Paradise
This brilliant little piece closed out the Coral’s demented 2004 mini-album Nightfreak and the Sons of Becker, and I think it serves as a perfect ending to a spring mix. Draws on simple charms with the whole thinly mixed and overstated vinyl crackle effects, but like most great Coral songs, the fact is that funny effects aside, the core of this thing is a friggin’ snappy little song. Plus they mention winter, summer and fall in it, but not spring. It should be, I think, because this is such an obvious inherently spring song.