Autumn’s official start is still a few days away, and here in the Madison area it seems we’re gonna get a few more days of summer weather (which I guess is appropriately after a full summer of almost autumn-like weather).
But you can see the leaves already changing, and with the first weekend of the football season in the books, I’d say now’s as good a time as any to get the third annual Autumn Mix up.
We’ve been through the rules of a good autumn mix twice before, so I’ll skip over those this time around (if you’re interested, check the archives). The point is (like all seasonal mixes) is that this is the quintessential soundtrack for the season — be it an autumn drive down a rustic road or a nice brisk afternoon walk through the colors and falling leaves. Get on wiffit, then…
Autumnal, Volume III
The official “Ain’t Superstitious, But These Things I’ve Seen…” autumn mix
Download Part 1 (Tracks 1-10)
Download Part 2 (Tracks 11-20)
01. Alfie – Your Own Religion
I really wanted to like Alfie. Nice British name, they hail from Manchester, their singer sounds like a slightly more tuneful version of Ian Brown, but they just didn’t put out enough solid music to sink their claws into me, and shortly after they put out their 2005 album Crying at Teatime, they split for good. Maybe it’s just as well, but if this tune is an indication of the kind of stuff that could have come forward after, then I guess the split is kind of sad. Sure, this song is a little unfocused, and might have been served well by having its producers tighten the one or two loose screws, but this is still blindingly pastoral and a brilliant soundtrack for an autumn drive down a rustic road.
02. Paul Weller – Don’t Make Promises
I blogged just a short while back about the Wella fella’s 2004 covers album, Studio 150. This might be my favorite cut from it, actually – a nice acoustic pop at an old Tim Hardin folk song. Adding horns to songs – especially acoustic driven ones – is a bit like playing Russian roulette, but the gamble works out here and should put a little groove into your step for a nice fall walk through the park. Also – I like the song’s message. I broke up with a girl after she broke a relatively small promise. It wasn’t just because of that, but the point is, she broke a promise. Not cool. People need to take promises more seriously. I listened to this song a lot after that split. It’s still very affirming.
03. Ranchero Brothers – Sweet Thing Pine Bluff
I believe this is the sole recording available under the credits of Paco and Taco Ranchero, who you might better know as Rhett Miller and Murry Hammond from the Old 97’s. The Rancheros were almost as busy as the 97’s in the late 1990s, but solo albums and tours mixed with 97’s albums and tours (and domestic life) seems to have made their appearances all the more fleeting in this century. It’s too bad – there’s a real lulling charm to the way Rhett and Murry’s voices blend over acoustics (might take you a couple listens to realize this song’s about falling in love with a decidedly older woman). You can find this cut on some obscure compilation called Sunny Teriyaki Hamburger Breakfast, but I think it’s high time we call for a proper Rancheros album.
04. The Turtles – You Showed Me
Some people REALLY like the Turtles. I’ve always thought they were alright enough, but I never got into them full stop. I’ve always figured they’re one of those bands where a greatest hits compilation can more than suffice, but I will say that they do often get dismissed to much as that one band that did “Happy Together.” They do have other good songs in their repertoire, and this has always been one of my favorites. Originally part of their 1968 album, The Turtles Present the Battle of the Bands, this song has been covered a lot in the years since and always seems to show up on every odd soundtrack. There’s a reason — it’s got a good chilly breeze to it. Just as appropriate on an artsy soundtrack as it is on an autumn mix.
05. Madeleine Peyroux – A Little Bit
Madeleine’s 2006 album Half the Perfect World is still my favorite offering of hers – it’s an incredibly intimate and smoky sounding affair, that plays to all her vocal strengths. I suppose it also helps I saw her on the tour for that record, and ever since that show, this has been far and away my favorite song of hers. It’s as cool as it is relaxing and passionate as it is wistful. Plus you gotta love that organ. You just gotta.
06. Paul McCartney – Broomstick
For fans, this is a pretty sought after cut by Mr. McCartney, having only ever made public appearance as a B-side to a limited edition CD single of “Young Boy” in 1997. McCartney teamed with joker, smoker and midnight toker Steve Miller to record “Young Boy” and “Used to Be Bad” on the Flaming Pie album and this was the other product of their collaboration/jam. Kind of sucks that it ended up as a short-run B-side, because for my money, it’s easily the coolest song of the three. Maybe it’s because I got the CD off eBay in the fall many moons ago, but this song always just sounds like a warm house during a cold October afternoon to me. I’ll try not to be that ridiculously poetic about every song.
07. Frank Sinatra – You’d Be So Easy to Love
This old Cole Porter number was dusted off for Sinatra’s debut album on his Reprise label, 1960’s Ring-a-Ding-Ding! The rest of the album was pretty upbeat and swingin’, but he throttled down a bit with this number, although not to the point of the bleak despair that had defined his late 1950s “torch” albums on Capitol. There’s still a healthy beat to this, but there’s so much regret and “damn it all” counteracting the wistful beat and horns that it makes it a really interesting dichotomy. Listen to the way he sings the first “future” at the 0:56 mark. Sure, he was one of the greatest singers of all time — but even with all the tracks he ever put his name to, he seldom hit a single lyric with such perfect inflection.
08. The Last Shadow Puppets – My Mistakes Were Made For You
A lot of people I talk to about the new Arctic Monkeys album are drawing comparisons to last year’s Alex Turner-side project album, the Last Shadow Puppets’ The Age of the Understatement. I can kind of see parallels in a couple tracks, but for my money, the Puppets record still sounds a lot more grandiose and cinematic than anything the Monkeys have done (for better or worse). Turner’s always had a penchant for writing great storyteller/commentary type lyrics and the big, dark orchestration here suits it quite perfectly — admit it, you’ve never heard “smithereens” used so effectively in a song, have you?
09. Dusty Springfield – Summer is Over
The prerequisite “seasonal” song that every seasonal mix requires. But I’m quite fond of this pick — which comes from a B-side of a very early single by Dusty Springfield, 1964’s “Losing You.” Is it as effective as “Son of a Preacher Man” or “The Look of Love”? No, not really, but the fact that Dusty’s long career always seems to get whittled down to those two tracks seems wholly unfair. When you’re listening to today’s retro R&B callback artists such as Duffy or Adele, it’s good to have a point of reference. This is the kind of stuff they’re pulling out from cobwebs for reference.
10. Randy Newman – When She Loved Me
Unless you’re collecting Newman’s soundtracks alongside his commercial albums, it’s pretty easy to forget that underneath the soured voice and brutally sharp tongue is a guy that has a penchant for writing an absolutely heartbreaking melody. This is a piece he wrote for “Toy Story 2,” but it’s performed solo on the piano here from his 2003 “retrospective,” The Randy Newman Songbook, Vol. 1. It’s only about a minute long, but it’s really a poignant little piece that pulls at the heart strings.
11. Buddy Holly – Dearest
I’ve never seen “Garden State” for two reasons – I despise Zach Braff and everyone assumes I would love the movie, or at the very least, the soundtrack. In case you couldn’t tell from reading this blog, I’m very touchy when it comes to things people THINK I’ll like. I did check out a Garden State soundtrack, only to see that it had basically pilfered my music collection and made it “hip” for the masses. The Juno soundtrack did the same goddamn thing, although I did see (and kind of like) that movie. I had Holly’s final apartment demos long before that soundtrack – I just want you to know. And I’ve always thought this was a sweet little love song. Even if it is a pretty blatant rewrite of “Words of Love.” Or “Listen to Me.” Regardless, it works very nicely on this kind of mix, and it’s nothing to do with “Juno.” So there.
12. The La’s – I Am the Key (Key 103, Jan. 1989)
Perhaps the greatest La’s song that never got a proper recording (true blue La’s fans can argue over this or “Was it Something I Said?” until they pass out), the great abandoned Liverpudlian hopes were nice enough to perform this song for a live radio session in 1989 in stripped down acoustic fashion, and I find it moves at a crisp, breezy pace. The session was tagged onto the recently remastered version of their seminal 1990 self-titled debut album, which still holds as the only testament to their genius. That is, of course, unless Lee Mavers follows through with recording with Babyshambles’ bassist. I suppose we’d all love to see what comes of it, but anyone who knows Lee’s history probably stopped holding their breath as soon as he mentioned he’d like to record an album with Babyshambles’ bassist.
13. Dean Martin – Sleepy Time Gal
Dean Martin had such a relaxed delivery that you could virtually put just about anything he ever recorded on an autumn mix. Unfortunately, he’s also at that point of back-catalogue raping (see the recently released Forever Cool for reference — does anyone honestly need a Dean Martin and Kevin Spacey duet? Really?). Besides entirely superfluous duets albums, the other problem of overzealous revisitation is the annual (or semi-annual) releases of “essential” collections. So we all get the same 20 songs over and over and over. Why not just remaster and reissue his back catalogue. I, for one, would LOVE a remastered version of Swingin’ Down Yonder, or the album that this cut comes from, 1957’s Pretty Baby. But I’m sure the revisionists would just love to give me another rehash of “Ain’t That Kick in the Head.” Le sigh.
14. Johnny Marr – Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright
I believe the Healers’ first single, “The Last Ride” was released in 1999, and I’m pretty sure the Bert Jansch tribute People on the Highway came out in 2000, so by the time this cover of Bob Dylan’s greatest-breakup-song-ever-written trickled out in 2002, Marr’s voice had already been heard in a lead vocal forum. But I still think this is my favorite vocal from him, and my favorite version of this oft-covered song. It’s not overstated at all, but Marr carries it lightly with just acoustic guitar, piano and harmonica and his voice draws out all the implied pain and frustration the song carries. It’s gorgeous. Perfect autumn song, and hey, if someone happens to break your heart this season, you’ve now got an automatic go-to track.
15. Sam Cooke – Trouble Blues
Pulled from Cooke’s 1963 album, Night Beat, which (on the whole) is about as cheerful an affair as a bottle of barbituates chased by a bottle of whiskey. But as inviting as that sounds, you know what they say about pain producing some of the best art. A lot of people think of Cooke as a pretty wistful dude given some of his more popular recordings (“Cupid,” “Another Saturday Night,” “Chain Gang”), but the guy could sing the blues with the best of them, and with the organ wailing over the minimalist arrangement here, this one runs on downright late-autumn frosty.
16. Travis – Pipe Dreams
The Invisible Band kind of permanently strained my relationship with Travis. A lot of it just felt like a conscious rewriting of The Man Who (which I loved), but there just wasn’t the same “wow” factor in the songs on The Invisible Band. If anything, it kind of felt like they were pulling punches, but “Side” became a huge hit and the album did well to roll out the red carpet for Coldplay’s quick-to-follow domination of this pale-faced, wide-eyed genre. I’ve kind of been skeptical of Travis ever since, but however hard-heartened I may be, sentimentality still resides. Nevertheless, “Pipe Dreams” was one of the two songs on The Invisible Band I really liked (I’ll let you guess the other, and I bet you won’t get it on the first go). The lyrics here kind of shoot themselves in the foot (I think Fran was consciously trying to say something important and tried too hard), but the melody and arrangement is wonderfully warm and stark at the same time.
17. The Rifles – A Love to Die For
The personal jury’s still out on this British group. I was introduced to them last year when I saw them open up for Paul Weller in Chicago and decided that I really liked two of the songs they performed (while one of my best friends dismissed everything they did that night as “utter sh*t”). The songs I liked were enough for me to look into their catalogue, and while I’ve only found a couple more songs I like (this being one of them), I’m still not willing to go to the mat for them just yet. But I’ll gladly promote their better songs, and this lovely little B-side is definitely worth inclusion on this mix. Atmospheric, reminiscent, quite lovely.
18. The Rolling Stones – If You Need Me
Pulled from one of the Stones’ first albums, 12×5, the reason for this is party because of the organ (obviously), but more because I’m a sucker for young Keith Richards’ vocal abilities. In his youth (and even today… just a bit less so), Richards was a perfect harmony singer for Jagger. Listen to how his vocal sails over little Mick’s flash. This song is really quite wonderful, but if Mick had sung it alone, it wouldn’t have had the same pull.
19. Elliott Smith – Happiness (acoustic)
I’m pretty sure this comes from a little French EP that was released around the time of Elliott’s last (during his life, at least) studio album, Figure 8. “Happiness” was always one of my favorite tracks from the album — beat out only by “In the Lost and Found” — but it sounds so much more plaintive in the acoustic format. Mainly because the multi-tracked vocals are 86ed and Elliott’s thin but lovely voice has to carry the song singularly, and it does so quite effectively. Listen to the little quivers on the first “Oh my, nothing else could’ve been done” or the ending coda of “What I used to be will pass away and then you’ll see…” It’s absolutely fabulous. Simultaneously chilling and uplifting.
20. Brenda Holloway – Every Little Bit Hurts
This was Holloway’s first (and maybe only real) hit with Motown, and it spawned a 1964 album of the same name, but listening to it, it really doesn’t have the feel of a hit Motown single. The drumbeat is tight, but buried further back in the mix. The instruments and vocals sound really spread out and it’s almost like there’s a layer of air over everything, keeping the song itself at a bit of a distance instead of right in your face. Of course, it’s also so gorgeous that none of that really matters. While the Supremes and Martha and the Vandellas were using singles to sing about young love and fun, Holloway kind of brought a tangible air of regality to the label with this single. And it’s still just as effective 45 years later.
Happy fall, everyone.