I know, I haven’t been around in months. Things are hectic on the job front and even when I do get the inspiration to write these days, I find myself going, “But… I’m just going to be writing so much tomorrow. So what else is on T.V.?” I know, selfish. Especially for all you followers wondering where the hell else you can get turned on to great music.
Well, I want you to know I’d never abandon you entirely, and I do promise that one day posts will return with nice frequency. I’m just not sure exactly when that will be. In the meantime, I missed the unofficial start of summer, but I’m still a couple weeks early for the unofficial start, so I think it’s high-time for the fourth installment of summer is a mixtape.
As always, this is the only soundtrack you need until the Tuesday after Labor Day. Play it loudly at your cookouts, parties, road trips, beach visits, boat outings, lake visits, camping trips and any applicable social function. Hell, even if you’re alone and need a pick-me-up, play it. Summer is here, says I.
Download Part 1 (tracks 1 – 10 in a .zip file)
Download Part 2 (tracks 11- 20 in a .zip file)
01. The Style Council – A Solid Bond in Your Heart
Quite likely the best Northern Soul song of the 1980s, Paul Weller wrote this as the Jam’s time was coming to an end, and first thought it might make a good swan song for his first group. Then he thought it was too good to be a last word and pocketed it so he could help launch his new outfit, The Style Council, with the song. The Style Council still catches a lot of guff to this day — even from fans of Weller — and while god-awful 1980s production techniques marred plenty of their output, you can’t deny that the Modfather had plenty of good songs in him through the decade. The great thing about “Solid Bond” is that it’s not only a fab song, but it came in before that horrible 1980s production moved into the Style Council’s studio chambers. Overloaded with strings, horns, multi-tracked vocals and one of the liveliest basslines ever to anchor a Weller song, this is just 12 kinds of glorious and a fitting tribute to the music that still motivates the guy to this day.
02. Bebel Gilberto – Chica Chica Boom Chic
Have no idea what 97% of this song is about, pretty sure about 65% is nonsense, though, and I don’t care. Bebel is a summer staple, and this single from last year’s All in One is as ridiculously sun-kissed as just about everything she’s put her name to. Bebel’s stepmom (technically, I guess) Astrud recorded this tune years ago and now as Bebel is home on the Verve label that housed Astrud and Bebel’s father, João, I guess it’s more than appropriate that she gets a crack at an old standard. The fact that she knocks it way out of the park is completely unsurprising. And completely welcome.
03. Black Grape – Kelly’s Heroes
Black Grape’s 1995 debut, It’s Great When You’re Straight… Yeah is not only one of the finest summer records ever, but hands-down one of the finest records ever made. Coming off a rather dismal end to the Happy Mondays, Shaun Ryder sounded 110% rejuvenated here, and undoubtedly spurred on by new rapping/singing foil Kermit. The two’s exchange at the 0:40 mark (“Jesus was a black man!” “No, Jesus was Batman!” “No, no, no, no, no, no — that was Bruce Wayne!”) is hilarious on every listen, and the rejection of anyone tabbed a “hero” might just be enough to make you disavow the person or persons you might follow. I mean, admit it. They’ve never been categorically dismissed with as good a backing track as this, have they?
04. Paolo Nutini – 10/10
I never bought into the Nutini craze a couple years ago with the These Streets album and all that hubbub surrounding “New Shoes.” That song wasn’t as good as “Jenny Don’t Be Hasty” anyway. So when Nutini last year released Sunny Side Up, I wasn’t paying attention and really had no intention of checking it out until I overheard “Pencil Full of Lead” somewhere and thought someone had stumbled into a whole vault of unreleased Louis Prima material. “10/10,” the album’s opening cut, would have made me think the same thing had I heard it first instead. You gotta hand it to Paolo — taking a step away from an adoring flock of girls aged 14 to 28 and gravitating toward a style of music that appealed to their mothers and maybe grandmothers is a bold step to take. But the guy’s got the chops to do it and doesn’t sound contrived or forced trying it. It hasn’t made me a full-fledged Nutini Nut or anything, but I tip my hat to him for this track and a few others on Sunny Side Up. Takes some stones to go running in a direction far away from your first solo album the next time out.
05. Robbie Nevil – C’est La Vie
Big slice of 1980’s pop for you here, and indeed this smacks of all the downfalls of ’80s music — overreliance on synthesizers, phased beats and group participation choruses. Then again, this song has the same traits that make you still secretly like Hall & Oates (or, hell, even a lot of the Style Council), and that’s the fact that this is just a great, great pop song. White boys taking on R&B with all the 1980s trappings is always a case of venturing into treacherous waters, and few ever made it out unscathed, but “C’est La Vie” sounds like pretty clear sailing to me. Indeed the testament to the song is that the synths, beats, and group insistence in the chorus (“THAT’S RIGHT!”) fail to sink the song. Christ, even a comedically inept music video, featuring Robbie as perhaps the most dispassionate artist ever to star (and look really bad wielding a stratocaster) in a video couldn’t bring this song down. Impressive. But more importantly, fun. That’s what summer’s about.
06. Rebirth Brass Band – It’s All Over Now (Live)
N’awlins music is just going to put you in a sunny state of mind, if not remind you of some glorious days (and long nights) out, so it seems more than appropriate to put a Second Line staple in the mix here. Rebirth and some other New Orleans great are getting a little more exposure in the new HBO series “Treme,” which might be where you’ve heard a similar rendition of this old blues classic. And I’m sure anyone who’s ever heard Rebirth’s take on the song will agree that it just doesn’t get any better. Forget the Stones. Forget Rod. Forget Bobby Womack. This is where it’s at. If this can’t get you over a break-up, you’re hopeless. Seriously. The table’s turning and it’s turning tonight. Viva the next opportunity!
07. Edgar Jones & Friends – Seven Years
Edgar made his ASBTTIS mix debut last season on the third volume of “Spring Chicken,” and he’s back for a consecutive seasonal mix with this cut from his splendiferous 2008 record, The Masked Marauder. The guy’s well known around northern England as one of the premier guitarists and R&B/blues enthusiasts, and listening to his stuff, it’s sometimes hard to imagine he’s not a product of toiling away in Chicago’s blues scene. The music comes to the guy so naturally. This is like Chic if Chic was fronted by Eddie Kendricks. Even though the subject matter is kind of a drag — looking at a relationship and realizing you’ve wasted years on it — the groove is chill enough to let bygones and be bygones and dance into the future. Or, I guess, if it’s too much of a drag, you can just skip back two tracks to Rebirth. Still, you’ll never hear cooler music coming from a guy named Edgar.
08. The Rolling Stones – Tumbling Dice
The recent re-release of 1972’s Exile on Main St. reignited all those well-worn music snob debates: Is it the best Stones album? How important, really, was Mick to this whole thing? What’s the best cut out of the double album’s 18? It’s terribly easy to go with “Tumbling Dice,” you know. I mean, could you be more obvious? The first single? Really? I mean, hell, you can go for cool points and rattle off “Ventilator Blues.” I certainly like to make impassioned arguments for “Rocks Off.” I even have my days where I forget just how much I really do like “Happy.” But see, then you HEAR “Tumbling Dice,” and kind of have to go, “…oh yeah.” I mean, it’s just the confluence of ingredients here. Charlie’s drumming. That plodding piano line. Mick’s just-buried-enough vocal. Keith’s ramshackle harmonies. The bit where Mick insists “You can be my partner-in-crime.” This is musical medicine. It’s very hard not to feel good after cranking this.
09. Bobby Darin & Johnny Mercer – My Cutey’s Due at Two-to-Two Today
Probably the best moment on 1961’s Darin/Mercer duet album, Two of a Kind. It’s a pretty solid pairing and, actually, I could probably do with another album or two from the combo, but maybe it’s better that there was just one solid offering. Both Darin and Mercer had pretty defined personalities and deliveries, and as you can hear, they play off each other quite nicely. But what I particularly like about the record and this song in particular is you can hear that Darin counted himself as a bit of an understudy to Mercer. Each man interrupts the other’s verse with smart-ass little comments, but Mercer never cracks, try as Darin might. Darin on the other hand, not only verges on the giggles a couple times, he also tries to extend the funny by laying a cowboy accent on the “And how those western stars can fight” line. It could get kitsch in lesser hands, but here it just ends up being a fun swing with some nice wordplay.
10. Suede – Beautiful Ones
Being a big Bernard Butler fan, I didn’t really ever get deeply into Suede, because the guitarist didn’t stick around long enough to make it seem like it would be worth my time. Especially in the mid-90s when he was doing the exquisite “Yes” with David McAlmont and releasing two still-under appreciated solo albums of his own. Brett Anderson? Smart guy, but a little too flamboyant vocally and stylistically for my own tastes. But hell, who am I to deny a great pop song? This cut, from Suede’s 1996 record, Coming Up, is just a great pop song. I know the point of the song is to take aim at all the trappings and dismalities of being in the “in-crowd,” but jeez, the way Mr. Anderson lists diesel gasoline, drum machines, sex and glue, I kind of wonder what I was missing by studiously never allowing myself to conform. Maybe it would’ve been fun. At least when I was 22.
11. The Black Crowes – Ozone Mama
I’ve never been able to buy into the Black Crowes at fill tilt. I don’t have an aversion to southern-tinged rock, just bands that stake the majority of their career on it. Two or three (maybe four, depending upon the depth of your catalogue) albums worth? OK. But a whole discography? That said, I’d vociferously defend 2001’s Lions as one of the better rock albums ever created, and this track is a great summation of the reason the album works. This track is just plain silly. How many times does Chris Robinson say “y’all”? What are the odds the lyrics were written on the spot? How unnecessary is screaming “I LIKE IT LIKE THAT!” at the end? Ah, but then again, you’re tapping your foot as you listen, aren’t you? You’re thinking this would sound quite nice at your next Saturday barbecue, aren’t you? There’s no pretension here — it’s just “Eh, let’s try having a little fun.” Great bridge in this song, and the one-two punch of an electric piano AND organ? Hats off, boys.
12. T. Rex – Mambo Sun
Easily my favorite Marc Bolan composition and very possibly the sexiest song ever written. There’s probably not much I can say about T. Rex or 1971’s Electric Warrior that hasn’t already been said a million times, so I guess the trick is just to listen to this. This is a one off. You could try for a million years to recreate the vibe and sound that was captured here for just over three and a half minutes, but it’s not going to happen. Aural magic. F*ck John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. THIS is Summer Lovin’
13. Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes – Home
A friend showed me this track a few months ago, and to date this is all I know about Mr. Sharpe and the apparent Zeroes with whom he surrounds himself. This is a stunningly charming track — a dude and his lady basically singing each other’s praises and saying that being in love with each other is preferable to Alabama, Arkansas, love for Ma and Pa, hot and heavy pumpkin pie, chocolate cake and Jesus Christ. Pretty random list, but I think the point gets across and it’ll put a smile on your face. When my friend played this for me, I remarked to him it’s the kind of music She & Him should be making. “If She & Him were, you know…” I began, before my friend interjected with “…good?” I don’t know if I’d be that critical, but Ms. Deschanel and Mr. Ward should pay attention. Kudos to these guys for thinking up this one first, though.
14. Ocean Colour Scene – Up on the Downside
The masses forgot about OCS after 1998’s Marchin’ Already and even the lingering diehards are hard-pressed to make a case for any album to compare with their last truly great LP, 1999’s One From the Modern. But the people who’ve given up or looked the other way have missed out on a lot of great tunes scattered amongst an ever-growing array of folk ballads. Tracks like this, from 2001’s so-so Mechanical Wonder, are the exact reason you still need to pay attention. This cut rivals the very best things the Scene ever released and even goes further in terms of fun and dance-ability than some of their designated classics. I still don’t quite get exactly what point Foxy’s trying to make in these lyrics, but I think it’s about paying your dues during the week to enjoy the hell out of the weekend. You know, like you do in summer.
15. The Traveling Wilburys – New Blue Moon
George Harrison and Jeff Lynne’s voices just sounded wonderful together, didn’t they? I mean, you put George, Jeff, Tom Petty and Bob Dylan in a studio and you don’t figure you’re going to get a lovely calypso-tinged ballad, but lo and behold, this is one of the finer moments on the 1990’s Vol. 3. Letting Dylan taking the solo on the bridge still kind of throws a little cold water on the mood of the song, but I have to imagine George especially was having a good laugh when Bob stepped to the mic for his part. Particularly the last line, when he pulls out a falsetto (you-you-ya-you-hoo-OOOH!) that, even 20 years later, I can’t tell whether it’s serious or a piss-take. I guess it doesn’t matter. Some gorgeous slide-playing by George, some incredible percussion by Jim Keltner, and George and Jeff’s voices winding around each other on the verses… this is a starry night on the beach right here.
16. Elastica – Car Song
Like all the best tracks on Elastica’s 1995 self-titled debut, this one doesn’t even crack 3 minutes. Most of the best pop songs leave you wanting more, and this song is chock-full of stuff I’d love to hear much more about. Be it Justine Frischmann’s sexual connotations with Ford and Honda jalopies (you wouldn’t want to hear more from her?), why exactly we need to count to ten and how anything in a Fiesta can possibly go too far. Hell, I could take another four minutes of repeating that chorus. This is just catchy as sin.
17. Alejandro Escovedo – One More Time
Alejandro’s getting a lot more play in mainstream thanks to duets with Bruce Springsteen and a continuing stream of solid albums that is set to continue this summer. Those who take the time to really dig into his catalogue will find that the solid songwriting’s always been there, and this song from his 1992 solo debut, Gravity, just proves the point. It’s got a early 1970s Stones feel to it, but as much as it tips its hat to the ramshackle rock ‘n’ roll Alejandro grew up loving, it doesn’t really strike you as derivative — just really fun. My guess is even if you try to be a critical curmudgeon about it, you’ll be singing along by the time the second chorus comes around.
18. The Kinks – Drivin’
There’s a reason Ray Davies is my single favorite songwriter of all time and I can explain that reason by pointing to both the singles and albums the Kinks put out between 1966 and 1969. The stuff before and after was good — much of it DAMN good, in fact — but anything bearing the Kinks’ name released in 1966, 1967, 1968 and 1969 was perfect. Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire) was the last entry to the run of perfection, but Davies himself has always rated it lower than it should be because the original idea for the album was to serve as the soundtrack to a televised musical. The TV end fell through, so all that came out was a 12-song concept album about a dude who gets all put off by England and the fighting in World War II and leaves with his family for Australia. It’d be a tough pitch for any TV or film exec and the idea of it for a concept album is also pretty flimsy. But my God, the songs are perfect and the album is one of the best of all time (and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the Who — who’d been following the Kinks since 1965 anyway — released Tommy a few months later). Taken out of the context of the album, “Drivin'” sounds pretty f*cking smarmy and borderline irritating, but there’s enough English charm to carry it through. Really, Davies’ deliberately cockney delivery is probably the only way a lyric such as “The sandwiches are packed, the tea’s in the flask, we’ve plenty of beer and gooseberry tarts — so take a drive with me” would ever work in a pop/rock song. And really, if there’s plenty of gooseberry tarts, what more convincing do you need?
19. The Silver Seas – Catch Yer Own Train
I could try to be hip and original and claim I’ve been onto these guys for years and 2006’s High Society has been in my CD tower since its release, but I’ll be honest and say, “Look, I heard the song on ‘Breaking Bad’ and really dug it, so get off my back.” Had I tried to get into the Silver Seas another way, I might have given up quickly — I don’t know if this kind of music is poor man’s Dylan, or hell, even poor man’s Stealers Wheel. But for the sake of appreciating a 3-minute pop song, let’s just dispense with the cynicism, shall we? Rest assured I’ve already tested it — roll down your windows on the highway and blast this one on a sunny day. Works exceedingly well.
20. Frank Sinatra – Love is Just Around the Corner
Pulled from the chairman’s 1962 Reprise LP, Sinatra and Swingin’ Brass, this is a pretty fabulous take on the old Gensler/Robin standard. Frank gets a little carried away toward the end — going all Frank with his delivery of the Venus de Milo middle section (“I must inform you that that Venus de Milo…”, “and what’s more, you got-uh de arms! — WOW!!” etc.), but it’s still a great version. Like Frank’s other early records on Reprise, there’s a real sense of command here. By this time, he’d done swing records so much that it could have easily verged on old hat, but there’s still a good amount of vigor. It would be a few years yet before the coasting became audible. Neal Hefti’s arrangements play to Sinatra’s vocal strengths here — kicking in some unique musical ticks to match Sinatra’s delivery, and it all amounts to a fun, breezy little tune. Perfect conclusion to a summer mix, even.
Happy summer, all.