Archive for the ‘Seasonal Mix’ Category

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Those happy J-I-N-G-L-E B-E-double-L-S …

November 23, 2012

And so it begins again. Another Black Friday, another holiday season, another slew of sh*tty new Christmas albums staring you down from the iTunes home page and whatever physical music stores remain out there. Seriously, stop staring at me, Rod Stewart. It won’t work. You either, John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John.

As I have been for the past 6 years, so I return to give you the only real holiday mix you’ll need this year (‘cos it’ s all good, and I’m guessing you’ve only heard SOME of the tracks)—the SEVENTH installment of this blog’s annual Christmas mix. How do I do it? How do I keep finding these gems when there’s so much sleigh-bell-laced aural manure to sift through? I don’t know. But I have to gift you a gift, don’t I? So there. That’s reason enough.

My lone rule about not repeating any songs used on previous mixes (even if they’re done by a different artist, done in a different key or done with a bossa nova beat), as always, is making each successive mix a bit more of a pain to compile, but the rewards for the hard work are yours for the taking. If you’ve been keeping track since 2006, you can now compile a playlist of 140 awesome Christmas songs without having to worry about hearing “Jingle Bells” 6 times. By my average, that’s better than listening to your local radio station that’s switched over to Christmas programming and is already on it’s 203rd play of “Feliz Navidad.” Trust me when I say it’s the perfect playlist for your holiday party (because I know it is for mine).

Here’s to building that playlist to 160 songs next year. No promises, though.

Forget About That Sleigh
The 2012 “Ain’t Superstitious, But These Things I’ve Seen …” Christmas mix

(Check the Comments Below)

01. The Puppini Sisters – Step Into Christmas
The Puppini Sisters made their Christmas mix debut here last year with an old-timey take on Mariah Carey’s ubiquitous “All I Want For Christmas,” and I enjoyed it enough to bring them immediately back with a similarly-styled cover of Elton John’s “Step Into Christmas.” I’ve never enjoyed Elton’s version of the song, although I can’t explain why exactly. It doesn’t seem like a focused Christmas song, it just seems like a tossed-off B-side. OK, OK, a lot of artists’ original Christmas songs fit that description, but “Step Into Christmas” managed to get really popular for some reason. At least with the Puppini Sisters, they add a bit of spark to it and that old-timey shuffle at the “hop aboard the turntable” bit. If you’d have asked me when I started doing these mixes if “Step Into Christmas” would’ve ever been included, I’d have laughed you out of the room. So the fact that it’s now opening one is a testament to my appreciation of these gals.

02. Gruff Rhys – Post Apocalypse Christmas
Mr. Rhys has been getting a lot of play on my seasonal mixes of late, and I suppose that’s down to good timing … No, no. It’s good tunes. Rhys released his “Athiest Xmas EP” last year and while the little holiday offering is packed with good tunes, this is easily the catchiest of the lot. A 1950s groove via 2011-Super-Furried production tricks, Rhys waxes poetical on spending Christmas in a concrete bunker during a nuclear winter. I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest he makes it sound not half bad, but at least you can dance a little. As an aside, I was in Rhys’ native Wales the day this was released on vinyl last year. But instead of hunting down a record store in the Welsh countryside, I harassed some sheep. So, no, I might not have a musical momento of my brief journey in the land of too many consonants, but I have the sheep memories. Which, I’m told, is actually a more common Welsh souvenir.

03. Ella Fitzgerald – Santa Claus Got Stuck in My Chimney
All things fair and equal, it surprises me a little that it took seven Christmas mixes to finally find a slot for this. Maybe I thought it was too obvious. The thing is when you’re trying to find material for a seventh Christmas mix without repeating any songs you’ve used before, you stop being so discerning about obviousness. Fitzgerald originally recorded the song back in 1950 and, surprise surprise, never appeared to be too eager to see it rereleased on compilations in any new musical format (cassette, 8-track, CD, etc.) She would’ve been 33 when she recorded the song, so if it was that “embarrassing,” you’d have thought she would’ve passed on it in the first place, but hey, I ain’t her manager. Only after her death in 1996 did this song start making its way back into the mainstream and making everyone raise an eyebrow, put on a smarmy grin and inquire of anyone within earshot, “You know what she’s talking about, right?” Here’s the thing I don’t get though. If all the innuendo is to be believed, then why (how?!) did her father make her a new … uh … netherregion? And why would he do it in time for Santa’s return next year? That’s where it gets derailed for me. You know, on second thought, I don’t think I really want to know your theories.

04. Josh Weller & Paloma Faith – It’s Christmas (And I Hate You)
It’s kind of funny that pretty much any old artist that releases a Christmas album (Hello, Rod Stewart) feels the need to cover “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” and further perpetuate the idea of a man who might soon depend on Depends drugging and clumsily trying to seduce some old-enough-to-know-better female counterpart. That’s the standard holiday duet, and horrific-when-you-actually-think-about-it context aside, everyone’s OK with that. Josh Weller (no relation to Paul) and Paloma Faith kind of turn the holiday duet on its head—showcasing a young married couple who’ve both pretty much realized that they (as G.O.B. Bluth would say) “made a huge mistake.” Although the sentiment of a cynical and loveless Christmas has been fodder for holiday tunes for some time now, Weller and Faith handle it nicely by employing a finely produced, catchy-as-hell tune that’s also easy to start singing along with on your first listen. Their gripes might seem a bit trivial (“You said you that you were 19 when you were 23,” “It’s your turn to walk the dog”) and the potshot at Diana Krall might terminate a possible future collaboration with Elvis Costello, but whaddayawant? They’re silly kids.

05. The Staple Singers – Who Took the Merry Out of Christmas
Because what better to follow Josh and Paloma’s juvenile “we moved in together too soon” laments than a bit of gospel-tinged reflection? If you’ve been keeping tabs on each Christmas mix over the past few years, you’ll know I try to veer away from the religiously-heavy tunes, but when you got Mavis Staples on board and it’s a single from the Stax label, well, it’s hard to say no. To the singers’ chagrin, wars, Mars, toys, Santa’s joys, fun and drinking with everyone have unfairly usurped the public at large’s attention of what Christmas is really about. So if Linus can’t remind you, the Staple Singers will. Although I’m not sure if by “fun,” they’re talking about the general activity or that “we are yooooooung” band. If it’s the band, then yeah, seriously. I’ll take religion over that.

06. Rithma – Psycho Jingle Funk 
I’ve been including remixes since the 2nd annual Christmas mix, so now it’s really become a force of habit. As I always say, I’m not really a big fan of remixes, although with tired old Christmas songs, sometimes there are ways for kids with MacBooks and GarageBand to make a dusty old standard sound a bit new and energetic. Then again, sometimes it just serves as a 4-minute, repetitive mood piece. This definitely is the latter, but my reasoning for including “Psycho Jingle Funk” is this: The best thing about Sinatra’s 1957 version of “Jingle Bells” is those backing singers spelling the title out. However, I rendered Sinatra’s rendition of the song unusable by including Booker T. and the MG’s version of “Jingle Bells” on the 3rd annual Christmas mix. So this is kind of hung out there as a compromise. You get the backing singers’ spelling lesson but without all that “Dashing through the snow …” and “Oh what fun …” business. Plus you can boogie—if you want, that is.

07. Lyle Lovett – The Girl With the Holiday Smile
I’ve been a fan of Lyle’s for a long time and if I may humblebrag here, even had the opportunity to chill with him on his tourbus and shoot the breeze a bit. He’s without question one of the nicest dudes I’ve ever come across and much too humble for a man of his talent, but it just goes to show you that not everything that comes out of Texas is bad news. Now, Lovett’s always been a master of angling for the subtle and clever in his lyrics to get a smile or laugh from the listener (not entirely unlike one of his heroes, Randy Newman), so to get introduced to a “hooker … a pretty little whore” in the song’s first couplet was kind of a blunt how-do-you-do, but hey, it works. This was released last year on his “Songs For the Season” EP (along with another cover of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”—which made me all the more thankful to hear a song about a man just being forthright and chasing a hooker to get what he wants) and again this year on his Release Me album. And now again here, where it’ll really get an eclectic audience.

08. Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Fred Waring & the Pennsylvanians – We Wish You the Merriest
My girlfriend asked me a few days ago what my least favorite Christmas song was, and it’s a question that absolutely stumped me. You’d think after years of mining through both traditional and new original holiday tunes, there’d be something that perpetually stuck in my craw, but I couldn’t think of anything on the spot. After a few days of rumination, however, I think it lands on “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” I’ve always thought it seemed like a brainless tune that takes a sudden, unexpected demanding turn with the “Oh, bring us a figgy pudding” bit. So am I just being wished a merry Christmas with the expectation that I’ll compensate those wishes with food? Humbug. I say all this to explain why “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” (probably) never will grace one of these mixes. And why should it when we’ve got Frank and Bing vamping on a similar theme AND without the food demands. All that said, however, this song—from an interesting1964 Sinatra/Crosby/Waring “collaborative” LP called 12 Songs of Christmas—is pretty brainless as well. At least it’s a lot catchier than “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”

09. The Stridells – I Remember Christmas
There’s not a whole lot of information out there on the Stridells—they were a relatively short-lived R&B group that came out of Washington D.C. and this was the B-side of their first single, “Mix it Up,” which was released on Curtis Mayfield’s Curtom label in 1970. This is the last song I found for this mix and I can’t tell you how thrilled I was to discover it. The sound’s a bit in your face as this was ripped directly from the vinyl (to my knowledge this has only been remixed for CD/MP3 on one European-released odds and ends soul collection), so some of the lyrics get a little muddled, but the brilliance is it puts that great late 60s/early70’s bass and horns combo right down your gullet. Isn’t it great to find a B-side of an obscure single and discover that it’s better than almost all of the drivel that the iTunes Holiday Section is pushing on you today? Isn’t that really what Christmas is all about?

10. Emmy The Great & Tim Wheeler – Christmas Moon
I don’t know much about Emmy The Great besides from the fact that I think she’s Ash frontman Tim Wheeler’s girlfriend and she’s actually got the gall to capitalize “The” in her stage name. As an English major and professional editor, I can’t tell you how much that annoys me, but c’est la vie. They did a Christmas album together last year (as young lovers would do, I presume) and this original caught my ear. My editorial laments about her title withstanding, this is a great bit of early rock/R&B-flavored balladeering that would’ve been great for Elvis, or really, anyone’s Christmas album. Well done.

11. Albert King – Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin’
Originally recorded as a single for the Stax label in 1974, this song has become a popular favorite on the blues circuit, sometimes for misinformed white boys like Lynyrd Skynyrd, but my mother always taught me how important sharing was around Christmas time, so I guess I’ll keep my complaints to a minimum. This isn’t as innuendo-laden as “Santa Claus Got Stuck in My Chimney,” because King here is basically straight-up saying he wants to get stuck in a chimney, although to his credit, he’s saying he wants it (in his perceived role of Santa Claus) and not the actual big man up north. Right? At least I’m guessing that “trying to fix that old bicycle” without finding his pliers is not the kind of handiwork the actual Santa Claus takes up in the middle of a round-the-world-in-one-night trek. Sounds more like the gripes of a suburban dad whose wife hasn’t been quite as giving as he might like as of late. So, basically, this is just a traditional blues song … throw in a few references to Santa Claus and Christmas eve and it’s a holiday song. Voila.

12. Tony Bennett feat. the Count Basie Big Band – Silver Bells
“Silver Bells” is a weird song. I’ve been trying to find a version of it for at least the last five years to include on the Christmas mix, but I’ve ended my search in frustration every time. I’ve always liked the tune and the sentiment of the song, but the thing about the melody is that it lurches its way to the end like a drunk guy trying to walk home after 5 or 6 hours on a stool knocking back booze.  This arrangement, from Tony Bennett’s 2008 album A Swingin’ Christmas should’ve existed 50 years ago, really. For God’s sake, the lyrics include “This is Santa’s big scene …” like some swing crooner should’ve been doing this at the Copa all along. Instead, you look at Dean Martin or Bing Crosby’s versions and they’re the sleep-inducing, string-heavy lolls into the next track. Fortunately old pros Bennett and Basie concocted something worth saving, but really it’s sad that this kind of arrangement was so sorely lacking for so many years.

13. Holly Golightly – That’s What I Want For Christmas
This is pulled from the Holidays Rule compilation that Starbucks put out this year. I read a good point somewhere about it being kind of ridiculous that a bunch of supposed indie stars lending their talents to a conglomerate compilation seems a little hypocritical, but tis the season to be snarky. Holly’s shown up on a previous Christmas mix with a song about a Christmas tree burning down her house, and many many years ago, I briefly featured her song “Christmas Solo”—about a domestic dispute relating to the dude forgetting to bring ham home—on the blog. She’s a great little artist, but this is a more gentile turn from her—all wistful guitar and organ and instructions on how to make her happy on Christmas. Given some of the other artists’ more adult-themed suggestions on this mix, this also comes across as very wholesome.

14. Louis Armstrong with the Benny Carter Orchestra – Christmas Night in Harlem
Louis elbowed his way into my first three Christmas mixes but hasn’t been heard from since, so let’s welcome Satchmo back to the fold. To my understanding, “Christmas Night in Harlem” was originally a bit more of a segregated song, with lyrics that included “every black and tan feelin’ mighty good” and “every coal-black Joe,” but Armstrong’s 1953 take on the song that was backed by Benny Carter’s crew knocked out those lines to make the song a bit more applicable for all. Having never been to New York myself and being born 29 years after this song was recording, I can’t verify how many white folk were actually inspired to spend a Christmas night in Harlem upon hearing this, but even if they weren’t, it still sounds awfully nice, doesn’t it?

15. Bob Dylan – Must Be Santa
The only people who I can imagine that really appreciated Bob Dylan’s Christmas in the Heart album from 3 years ago are hardcore Dylanphiles or sadists. I can understand why he did it, I can understand that there will be a lot of people out there harping on about the genius of it, but I just can’t imagine anyone imploring anyone else to “Put on that Dylan Christmas album—I NEED to hear his version of ‘I’ll Be Home For Christmas.’” That said, however, there is a mad brilliance to “Must Be Santa.” Maybe it’s the inclusion of latter-day Presidents into the song’s finale, maybe it’s the fact that a Jewish dude is embracing a German polka that’s not too far detached from “Schnitzelbank” (and what does that say about unity, my friends?), or maybe it’s the fact that it mercifully departs before it crosses the 3-minute mark, but OK, Mr. Zimmerman. Kudos.

16. Kyle Andrews – Frostbite
I found this song when I was scouring for material for last year’s Christmas mix, but I ended up holding it back. It seemed just a little too … I dunno, emo? Well you can hear it, you know what I’m getting at. But I never deleted it because I thought the chorus was rather well-crafted. So I spent the better part of this year listening to it and telling myself, “If only the verses were a little bit better,” and you know what happened? I heard the damn thing enough to think, “This actually isn’t all that bad.” So combine that with what I said earlier about being less discerning when you continue making these mixes and here you go. I have no idea who Kyle Andrews is, nor do I have a big interest in where his career’s gone since he did this for a Bands Under the Radar Christmas compilation, but lamenting about how girls can be a little frosty during the colder months—I can see that. We’ll just tuck your track nicely away here as we approach the finish line.

17. The Flirtations – Christmas Time is Here Again
By this point, I must say that I’ve exhausted most of the Motown label’s great-to-really-good Christmas output from the 1960s, so then it’s on to the Deram label and New York’s own Flirtations. The girl group had a minor hit in 1968 with “Nothing But a Heartache,” which is one of the more Motown-wannabe (in a good way, of course) sounding singles ever released. On the B-side was this seasonal thang. Veering a little away from the Motown-aspring sounds, producer Wayne Bickerton tried to outfit this one with a Spector-ish wall of sound and, to his credit, did a commendable enough job. A lot of soulsters have been hip to this song for ages, but it’s never really made its way into any of the mainstream Now That’s What I Call Christmas-type compilations, which is all the better for me. ‘Cos now I get to show it to you and make you go “Wow! What’s this?” I need that kind of satisfaction in my life, y’know.

18. Cass Eager and the Mo’ Debleys – Stay a Little Longer, Santa
The last song this mix has to offer in the, “Hey, let’s sexualize an old dude that kids have been taught to love since they were first able to comprehend this story—doesn’t that sound like fun?” line of songwriting. I haven’t reviewed the tracklists for the previous mixes, but between Ella, Albert and Cass appealing to Santa’s baser instincts and Lyle going on about a hooker, this might be the most adult of this blog’s Christmas mixes yet. I don’t know why women are so tempted by the thought of Santa—really, the image of an overweight geriatric with flying reindeer pulling him around the world in one night just sets an unreasonable standard for the rest of us men—but Cass Eager is ready and willing to fight Eartha Kitt, Ella Fitzgerald and any other woman that’s made her own desperate plea for attention. Whether or not Santa does stick around is left up to you. By the way, 50 plus years of women singing about how they stay awake for Santa’s arrival … how long until Mrs. Claus has her Elin Nordegren moment and goes after the sleigh with some golf clubs? How long until Santa has to do a press conference apologizing for all the affairs? How come all the songs that these wannabe-homewreckers are so jazzy and easy on the ear and ripe for inclusion on my mixes?

19. Irma Thomas with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band – May Ev’ry Day Be Christmas
Also culled from this year’s Holidays Rule compilation. Louis Jordan was the first to make this song popular more than a half century ago, but Irma’s voice combined with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band gives this mix the real hit of N’awlins my mixes need (apologies, Satchmo). Although to his credit, Jordan’s version had a wailing organ, which is pretty awesome. But this arrangement fits nicely and after all the talk of Santa lovin’ and spousal hatin’ and whatever else, we kind of need a Christmas blessing at this point.

20. Johnny Marr + the Healers – Free Christmas
Johnny boy’s new “solo” album (I don’t know yet if that means the Healers will be credited or not) drops in February, but last year he up and offered this pastoral little instrumental to tide us over. He made it available through his website only and since it takes a special kind of obsessive to check Johnny Marr’s site regularly ( … Hi, my name is Paul … ), my thought is that some of you might have missed it. It’s pretty much exactly how you’d expect a Johnny Marr Christmas-themed instrumental to sound, which is truly complimentary to the man’s distinctive and lovely style.

All the best to you and yours this season!

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Give up your secrets and let down your hair and sit with me here by the firelight.

September 21, 2012

Well my calendar informs me that Autumn officially begins tomorrow, so here we are for the sixth (6TH?!) time with your soundtrack for the season. I inherited a convertible this summer from my grandfather, so I’m not as excited to embrace the cold weather as I might have been in years past. Nevertheless, the car comes with heated seats and I can always roll the windows up for a little bit more insulation. If the top’s down, this’ll be the soundtrack for the next few weeks. Just must be careful that the leaves don’t fall in …

Autumnal, Vol. 6

01. Jimmy Ruffin – What Becomes of the Brokenhearted
David’s older brother never quite got the notoriety (for better or worse) of his younger sibling, who was arguably the most famous of the Temptations. Still, he did manage to get his hands on this song, which was released as a single in 1966 (pretty decent year for popular music, it turns out), and remains one of the most powerful and long-standing cuts to come out of Motown’s stable. The song threatened to get bastardized by a run of cheesy covers throughout the 1980s and early 1990s that culminated with Paul Young’s dreadful cover. It’s still a popular choice for artists looking to pad their albums or soundtrack albums, but thankfully common knowledge seems to conclude that Ruffin’s original take with the Funk Brothers’ backing is the best of the lot. It is. Listen—is there a better way to kick off a fall mix?

02. The Doors – The Spy
I’ve been a big fan of the Doors for many years, but I have a relationship to their music that’s different from your typical, high school, Doors T-shirt wearing dude with an interest in bad drugs and even worse poetry. I actually think Jim Morrison’s a good singer, I think some of his lyrics are fairly decent, but in general, I’m a big fan of the band itself. For whatever mythology Morrison has come to symbolize, it’s taken away far too much from the fact that Manzarek, Krieger and Densmore were fabulous musicians and found a way to put some really listenable hooks underneath what could often be under-the-influence psychobabble. I think The Soft Parade is their best album, but in recent years, I’ve been coming back to Morrison Hotel, or, as it’s more generally known, “the one where they tried to become a rock band again … to varied results.” It’s known because it boasts “Roadhouse Blues” and “Peace Frog,” but I think this song’s the show-stealer. It’s slinky, sexy, more than a little stalker-ish and has some fantastic little builds before falling back to just being a little rolling tumbleweed of a thing. It just sounds cool. Every time I hear this, I want to hear it again.

03. Centro-Matic – Triggers and Trash Heaps
People who’ve been following this blog since the long, long ago—you know, in the before-time—will remember that this song actually landed on the “15 of the Best” from 2006. I knew nothing of Centro-Matic at the time, the Fort Recovery album had been sent to me for review in a Milwaukee magazine and I just fell madly in love with this song. Of course, as 2006 became 2007, 2008, 2009 and on and on, this song slipped out of my rotation. My parents gift of an iPod Classic for me last year saw me dive back into my piles of CDs and I quite happily rediscovered this. I don’t know why this song conjures up such a Fall-ish feeling in me—maybe I was listening to it a lot during the Autumn of ’06, or maybe it’s just that blend of a cold lyric with a nice musical backdrop. It’s a magic little thing to hear.

04. Billy Preston – When You Are Mine
I was a bit disappointed when that huge rerelease of Apple Records’ catalogue landed a couple years ago, because there were so many records that for years had just gone completely missing that we now had access to and it was kind of startling to learn how little of it was thoroughly good. For the most part, the albums that you were able to get fairly easy over the years (read: Badfinger’s Apple output) represented the good stuff. But one noticeable exception was Billy Preston’s second Apple offering, Encouraging Words from 1970. Working with a core group of musicians that included George Harrison, Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr and Bobby Keys, Billy laid down some fabulous originals and actually got to release his own versions of “My Sweet Lord” and “All Things Must Pass” more than a month before George Harrison unleashed All Things Must Pass on the masses. This is one of the soulier cuts from the record—something that has both a relaxed and danceable groove to it, and one of the main reasons that proves that the huge Apple catalogue reissue wasn’t a total waste of time.

05. John Lennon – Watching the Wheels
As a staunch defender of Paul McCartney’s post-Beatles career, it’s often Lennon’s half of Double Fantasy that I turn to every time some John Lennon apologist wants to make the tired argument that Lennon was the only ballsy Beatle and/or the only one who did anything worthwhile after 1970. Lennon’s murder in 1980 reframed the argument, of course, but if you look within the space of the 7 studio albums he released after the Beatles’ demise and before he was killed, only Plastic Ono Band stands as the all-out classic. Imagine is very good indeed, but it’s not as thoroughly solid as you might want to remember. And if you look at his half of Double Fantasy, with a love song to his son, a love song to his wife, and a few songs that muse on the effects of growing older, it seems to me we’re dabbling in a tried and true McCartney formula. Could Lennon handle it better lyrically? History would suggest as much, but “Watching the Wheels”—to my ears—comes straight out of the Macca playbook, and wouldn’t have sounded at all out of place on Tug of War. That’s not a knock—“Watching the Wheels” has always been fabulous. It was used to great effect in “Wonder Boys” and it makes Lennon’s murder seem all the more tragic in that it’s a (finally) relaxed glimpse into the mindset of a guy who spent most of his life trying to be a character because he was a bit frightened of actually facing himself. It’s a brilliant song. Just don’t defend it and try to tell me McCartney’s post-Beatle career was sh*t.

06. Gruff Rhys – If We Were Words (We Would Rhyme)
Super Furry Animals man Gruff Rhys made a stunningly pretty little solo album last year called Hotel Shampoo. Although I chose “Sensations in the Dark” to represent the album on my “15 of the Best” countdown last year, I wrestled with it being this song instead. I think “Sensations in the Dark” got the nod because of the horns and the fact that I like having a bit of a boogie to it. Plus, this slides into an autumn mix so nicely, so I knew that’d be around the corner for it in 2012. This is a lovely little song, although I still can’t figure out if it falls into the straight up “love” or “heartbreak” category. Maybe a little of both. Eh, if it sounds good, who cares? I know dudes who dig it and girls who dig it. Take from it what you will, just enjoy it.

07. Pisces – Sam
I really have no clue what to make of Pisces, and I don’t think many people do. They were a Rockford, IL-based psychedelic outfit in the late 1960s, but they didn’t get any real momentum or notice behind them until The Numero Group record label cobbled together a few singles and released the album A Lovely Sight in 2009. This is one of the cuts from the album, and it just blows me away on two fronts. For one, this sounds more advanced than most of the things I’ve heard this year, and it’s already 44 years old. WTF? The second thing is that this amazing little piece of music has ties to Rockford, IL? I’ve driven through Rockford many a time. Wisconsin state senators have holed up there. It’s not a particularly amazing place. So to even have some hand in this piece of music’s creation is just all sorts of a pretty flower breaking through concrete. Breathtaking little piece of music here.

08. The Monkees – As We Go Along
I saw the Monkees’ 1968 film “Head” a couple years ago, and apart from it being entertaining in the same strange way as “Magical Mystery Tour” is (although I think “Head” edges it out in terms of general oddball-ness), you can’t really deny the soundtrack. “Porpoise Song” is arguably the best thing the Monkees ever did and this song is not only one of the greatest love songs ever, it’s the go-to counter-argument for anyone defending the Monkees from a “Ah, they never did anything substantial” rant from a non-believer. As trying as all the mugging and “I’ve often equated it to Leonard Nimoy really becoming a Vulcan” soundbyting in interviews can be, Micky Dolenz could sing. Go ahead, try singing this song. It ain’t easy. It’s beautiful.

09. Billy Bragg & Wilco – When the Roses Bloom Again
This track was originally recorded for the first Mermaid Avenue set in 1998, and footage of the band working on the song even made it to the album-accompanying documentary “Man in the Sand.” However, as release date neared, someone pointed out that the song’s lyrics weren’t actually those of Woody Guthrie (whose previously-unseen lyrics the band wrote music too for three volumes worth of Mermaid Avenue discs), but had been copyrighted by A.P. Carter of the Carter Family. Well, then. The Wilco arranged version did make it out on some soundtrack a few years back, but found it’s place back in the Mermaid Avenue corral with the release this year of The Complete Mermaid Avenue Sessions. It’s a lovely lyric, but it’s the arrangement and Jeff Tweedy’s fragile delivery that really push the emotions up to 10. Not ashamed to admit that the ol’ lip will quiver now and again when it gets to that last verse.

10. Belle & Sebastian – Blue Eyes of a Millionaire
Belle & Sebastian basically is a band that’s specially designed for Autumn mixes. Poetic, gently delivered lyrics over lulling arrangements. Sure, you can always find a spring or summer tune out of the Scottish crew, but the world they sing about seems to me to be one of a permanent grey Autumn day. This was recorded with the stock of songs for 2010’s Write About Love album, but didn’t actually find its way out into the mainstream until a year later when it was released as a B-side on the “Come On Sister” single, continuing their tradition of autumnal little B-sides such as “The Loneliness of a Middle Distance Runner” and “I Know Where the Summer Goes” etc.

11. The Impressions – Can’t You See
Curtis Mayfield’s last stand with the Impressions, 1970’s Check Out Your Mind! is a pretty great record in general, but this track is the out-and-out stunner. For as heralded as Mayfield became for being a socially-conscious writer, I kind of look at his love songs in the same way that I do for both Bob Dylan and Billy Bragg: I always find myself thinking, “I’d rather have a bit more of that, actually.” This is everything you’d want in a soul love song, from the big roaming bass line, the orchestrational swells and the beautiful vocal interplay between Mayfield’s falsetto and Sam Gooden’s bass. Sweet love songs seem to suit spring mixes more, but this is both cool and warming at the same time—seems more appropriate for autumn.

12. Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – Alone on the Rope
This track surfaced and disappeared in odd fashion last year. It was put on offer as a bonus track for people who downloaded the Oasis man’s solo debut off Amazon’s German site, but only a day later it was removed and never to be asked about or alluded to in any interview with the Chief since. Of course, we live in a connected world, where one day on Amazon.de means all Oasis fans will find a way to get it up on YouTube and into their own personal iTunes collections. Maybe Noel’s holding it for another album, maybe it’s just another in a line of those amazing songs that pepper the Oasis legacy (see also: “Underneath the Sky,” “Angel Child,” “Flashbax,” “The Boy With the Blues,” “I Believe in All”) that show up on a B-side or some remote deluxe edition of an album that never gain the fair shake they deserve, but the fact is it’s out there and it needs to be heard. This pretty much shatters everything on Noel’s debut and finds him in a moody and soulful corridor that he doesn’t usually go down, but when he does (“Talk Tonight,” “Sad Song”), the results are almost always stunning.

13. Nat King Cole – Looking Back
This would’ve been particularly poignant (or maybe creepy) if it had been released closer to Cole’s 1965 death, but the single from 1958 is still a lovely little gaze into the rearview mirror. What I dig about Nat’s stuff as the 1950s turned into the 1960s is that he didn’t mind chasing up and coming sounds. Although his legacy is pretty firmly planted as a crooner and fantastic pianist, you can turn to his stuff and find blues or even a bit of rock and roll (“Send For Me”), even if it is quite muted. It’d still be years before Sinatra or Martin would feature an electric guitar so prominently on one of their records, but Cole didn’t shy away from it. Maybe he didn’t attack the musical shift with the same gusto as Bobby Darin, but the fact that he could merge the stuff that the old folks liked with the stuff that the new kids were into is something not a lot of his contemporaries tried. Sinatra does in 1958 and it’s an entirely orchestrational arrangement. Cole does it and he has a guitar-bass-drums trio anchor the ornamental orchestration.

14. Bebel Gilberto – Words
This song closed Bebel’s 2007 album Memento, and despite the lack of musical augmentation, it’s ended up as my favorite track from that effort. Giving credence to the notion that sometimes a lone guitar can pull more emotion from a song than a full orchestra, Bebel shifts gears between English and Portuguese to make sure her fan bases in North and South America (and wherever else people understand those languages) get the message. Of course, having a voice that’s as seductive as Bebel’s helps matters too.

15. Dexys Midnight Runners – All in All (This One Last Wild Waltz)
Still not entirely sure who this song is directed at—maybe an old teacher or a hard-to-please parent, but damned if it doesn’t sound gorgeous. This comes from Dexys’ 1982 classic Too-Rye-Ay, or as you might know it, “The one where they wear Dungarees and do ‘Come On Eileen.’” For better or worse, Dexys is little remembered stateside beyond “Come On Eileen,” and although that song is pretty fantastic (yes, it is), it’s time for a reappraisal. Kevin Rowland not only penned some magnificent songs, his delivery is close to inimitable. This song seethes disappointment and a specific level of frustration, but also a real sense of making peace with it all. Perfect metaphor for the season, and I can’t imagine any other singer nailing it like this.

16. Lucinda Williams – Still I Long For Your Kiss
Amazing bit of countrified soul from Williams’ 1998 breakthrough album, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road. This is one of those songs that sounds like it’s been around forever—you could imagine a Patsy Cline or Loretta Lynn version resting in the vaults, but you could also imagine someone like Dusty Springfield or Janis Joplin having had a go at it too. That’s a hard feat to accomplish, but it always seems to happen on the simplest songs. On another note, why does the accordion sound so friggin’ good on this? I suppose you have to have a country twinge about you to think “accordion” when it comes times for overdubs, but maybe more rock and pop artists should consider it. Here I was thinking it was just for polkas …

17. Edgar ‘Jones’ Jones & The Joneses – Another Side of Huny Brown
This song was originally released as a B-side to the “Mellow Down Pussycat!” single in 2007, but resurfaced this year on the reissued and expanded edition of Soothing Music For Stray Cats. Mr. Jones told me a couple weeks ago that had the Joneses stayed together, this song would’ve found a place on the follow up to Gettin’ a Little Help From the Joneses, but alas, that was not to be. At least the song has found its way onto a couple releases and it’s got all the cool briskness of a jazzy little blues number warning you about the dangers of female kind (and to my knowledge, there are plenty more). Some of those dangers are covered in other songs on this mix or other songs in your collective consciousness. Choose not to heed those songs’ warnings at your own peril.

18. Donny Hathaway – Jealous Guy
Lennon gets another crack on this mix, and from his solo career to boot. (Ack, what kind of Macca fan am I?!) Although this song, which was candy-coated with strings and gentle piano for the aforementioned Imagine album here gets reworked as a thumping little soul number for Donny Hathaway’s Live album from 1972. I’m seldom if ever a fan of covers of Beatles or solo-Beatle songs, but this is one of those extremely rare cases in which I actually find the cover preferable to the original. Not to take away from Lennon’s version, but Phil Spector’s strings-heavy arrangement veered the track into that same “pity me” territory that kids use when they employ big eyes or crocodile tears to soften their parents’ anger. Hathaway’s reading actually brings the pain of the matter home more effectively. Seems more genuine to me.

19. The Waking Eyes – Digital Glue
One of my favorite bands ever to come out of the cold, friendly fields of Canada, the Waking Eyes seemed to have disappeared over the past couple of years. I didn’t monitor them that closely to see what they’ve got up to, but I’m sure “side projects” of which I’m not aware abound. This track closed their last LP, Holding On To Whatever It Is, and with Rusty Matyas’ pained vocal leading the charge, this is one of the great unheralded torch songs of the last decade. The fact that it’s actually about recording a song digitally adds some meta-level to it that makes it more awesome. I’ve recorded plenty of bedroom demos on my little MacBook. This song makes me believe it’s a much more beautiful practice than it probably is. But that’s what great music should do, right?

20. Candie Payne – Turn Back Now
From a young Liverpudlian songstress who got a bit more recognition out of her Mark Ronson-produced single “One More Chance,” this track is actually where I like to think it’s at. The slow burner closed her 2007 album I Wish I Could Have Loved You More, and it serves as a brilliant little closer to an autumn collection. Onto the cold days, then, with all the sweet sighs and tinges of regret over things we missed in sunnier days. Ah well, that’s what next summer’s for. Provided it doesn’t all come to an end by New Year’s Eve. At least ‘til then you’ll have the Christmas mix to look forward to.

Happy Fall-ing, everyone.

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It’s so fine. It’s sunshine.

May 25, 2012

Well, my father’s beckoning me to accompany him to our cottage in the Northwoods of Wisconsin for the annual “time to put the pier and boats in the water and kick off another summer” routine. So that means that, yes, it’s Memorial Day weekend, and yes, another summer is upon us.

Our last summer? Who knows? The Mayans thought so, but now apparently we’ve found another Mayan calendar (presumably they just ran out of space on the first piece of paper or something), so maybe we all got a little too excited about the end of the world before we knew the whole story. Then again, the Stone Roses are back together, Manchester City rules the EPL and Brian Wilson and Mike Love are now sharing the same stages. Apocalypse might truly be near. If the Cubs find a way into October baseball, start saying your goodbyes to family and call your long-lost crushes to make sure they know how you feel before we all leave this planet.

I’m not trying to be bleak, trust me. I’d LOVE a Cubs World Series win. Perfect way to go out.

But looking at the Cubs season thus far, it seems much more likely that we’re set for another 104 years of misery on this f*cking rock and I’ll be back with another batch of sunny tunes this time next year.

So use this to soundtrack your possible last summer on Earth, but also every good drive, day out or sun-kissed experience you undertake between now and when I post the Autumn mix. I’ve been listening to this in thing in the car all week and I can report with no false modesty that I hit it out of the park with this sixth volume of summer is a mixtape.

Enjoy.

summer is a mixtape. vol VI

01. Louis Armstrong – Skokiaan
Some songs have a beat that’ll just get you every time. This is one of them. In a day and age of computers and iPods where you can pinball to any one of thousands of songs in an instant (this is something which I’m guilty of, by the way), I never find myself able to skip ahead when this comes on. Armstrong recorded this in 1954 with Sy Oliver’s Orchestra, and by the time he got to the tune, it had become an interesting hybrid. Unsurprisingly, the tune started out as an instrumental that was composed by South African composer August Musarurwa with a title that referred to some kind of alcoholic beverage that I’ve never tried. As things go in North America, the white man got a hold of it by way of Four Lads (yes, of “Istanbul”and “On Top of Spaghetti” fame) and added some lyrics that probably were perfectly acceptable by 1954 standards, but if you had a white man today basically equating the language in “happy happy Africa” to “a-bing-a-bing-a-bingo!” I’d imagine there’d be a lot of talking heads pontificating on the cable news networks. Apparently Louis didn’t have too big of a problem with it, and if you can get past the blatant-condescension-by-2012-standards in the lyrics, it’s pretty damn enjoyable. You’ll even find yourself singing along quite happily.

02. Nick Miller – Raunch
I saw this guy perform at the Metro in the fall of 2010. He used this song to open his set, and I’ve been obsessed with it since. I don’t know if it’s the lyrics (“I’m not a nice guy—No, I just play one on TV, but I’ve rehearsed extensively, so enjoy the show” doesn’t look that great on paper, but it sounds really damn good) or just the general groove of this thing, but it’s a beast. I have no idea whether this guy is known outside of certain Chicago circles, but if me putting this song on this mix gets him a little more interest outside the Windy City, then I’ll be happy.

03. The Big Kids – For a Moment
This is Edgar Jones in one of his first post-Stairs outfits during the 1990s. Like most outfits that Edgar Jones has been a part of, the Big Kids’ reputation never traveled too far beyond the streets of Liverpool, but ever since being hooked by his Soothing Music for Stray Cats album and his work with the Joneses, I’ve been on a mission to find everything Jones has put his name too. This came into my collection by way of a compilation called 21st Century Liverpool Underground, which I believe contains pretty much everything the Big Kids committed to tape for release since they never did a proper album. They did a few great tunes (go searching for “I’m Bored” and “Too Much Baby” also), but this is easily the best of the lot. Total laid back summer tune that sounds like it could’ve been plucked straight out of 1968. Great track, but of course it is. It’s Edgar.

04. Spoon – Written in Reverse
I’m interested to see where Spoon go next, because I was left a little flat after Transference. It felt like an odds and ends collection rather than a solidly built album like pretty much everything they’d done previously. Still, even in that mixed bag was this song, which is one of my all-time favorites from them. They have a way about them of getting a pulse out of a piano (see also: “My Mathematical Mind,” “The Way We Get By”) and this song is kind of like a stressed heart. Pumps hard, makes you feel a bit uneasy, but also excitable at the same time because it just shifts into slightly higher gears as it progresses. Truly wonderful. That reminds me, though, I should probably schedule a checkup.

05. Harvey Fuqua – (Dance) Any Way You Wanta
Getting into Northern Soul music a few years ago led me to this song. Fuqua is actually pretty well known as a member of the Moonglows, songwriter and talent scout who worked with Etta James and brought Tammi Terrell to Motown. This is a song (released as a single in 1962 and subsequently covered by Junior Walker and the All Stars) that I heard out on a dance floor one night and something about it just hooked me. I still don’t know what it is. It’s a pretty ridiculous song, but it’s tight as hell, fun to listen to and entertaining if you’re on the floor with some good dancers. The vibe is playful and choppy and it just seemed to slide into this mix perfectly. Who am I to argue with sound logic?

06. The Beatles – Drive My Car/The Word/What You’re Doing
When Love was first released in 2006, I was generally indifferent. Yes, I’m a massive Beatles fan, but when you get to the point where you’re reconstructing songs because there’s nothing else to put out, it starts to stink of barrel-scraping. Of course, I was hearing it out of context. When my employer sent me to Las Vegas in January, I decided to take a night and see Cirque du Soleil’s “Love” show and I was absolutely blown away. And yes, within that production, the music makes complete sense. Now when I hear the mashups, I think about the performance and the feeling of seeing it for the first time and it excites me rather than making me think “Um, OK. I guess.” Plus to include “What You’re Doing” (which has always been one of the most overlooked and underrated songs in the Beatles oeuvre) is just awesome. The fact that this splices together a handful of songs (listen also for the “Taxman” solo and “Savoy Truffle” horns) and still comes and goes in less than 2 minutes is amazing. Great bit of fun here.

07. The Stone Roses – Waterfall
Still holding out hope that the guys make the reunion “world tour” a little more global and start looking at some dates in the States. Very happy that these guys patched up all the hurt left over from their split 17 years ago and are getting back out there (and getting the paychecks they deserve for it). The Stone Roses’ debut is summer music to me. I know I’ve put other cuts from it on previous summer mixes, and like any other track on the album, “Waterfall” belongs on one too. The guitar break just before it goes into the wild instrumental outro is one of my all time favorite guitar parts ever and reason why I’ll always think John Squire is a genius (and staunchly defend his two solo albums too). This track is better than anything on either of those solo albums, though. Pure bliss.

08. Bobby Darin – Jive
This song first bubbled up into my consciousness last year when someone compared it to Beady Eye’s “World Outside My Room” (which, you’ll recall, topped my list of the 15 Best of 2011). The fact that the Beady Eye boys might be drawing inspiration from a really rare Darin track piqued my interest, but this song also just found its way into my own rotation because of its awesomely laid-back feel. Something about hearing classic crooners taking steps down Recreational Drug Use Lane always makes me laugh (see also: Sinatra’s cocaine allusion in “I Get a Kick Out of You”), as it seems a little out of place for, you know, the artists our grandparents loved. So “been stoned since half past one” or “got my papers rolled” might sound kind of hokey, but hell, it’s Bobby Darin. The guy always had a great level of cool about him. This song was recorded very late in Darin’s career, when he was signed to the little-known Direction label. It hails from his 1969 album Commitment. I’ve not heard anything else from that album, but given my appreciation of this, maybe I’ll take a listen.

09. Mayer Hawthorne – The Walk
I’m a big fan of Mayer now, but this is the song that started it all for me just a few months ago. Funnily enough, my first exposure to it was in the Limited, whilst my girlfriend was in a changing room trying on new pairs of pants. Trying thought that may have been on my patience, something good came of it. Mayer’s 2011 album How Do You Do is quite phenomenal and worth your investigation. By now, most of my friends have probably heard this as the CD has not left my car and the LP is quite frequently on my turntable, but if you’ve not heard it yet, you’re welcome. Perfect summer tune, even if the subject matter is a little blacker than the other songs on this mix. And I think we’ve all been in the type of relationship described here within.

10. Andre Williams & His Orchestra – Sweet Little Pussycat
This is sleazy as hell, but it’s an unbelievable groove and a lot of fun too. I have a good friend who convinced me to see Williams recently, and believe me, however sleazy this record sounds, you must believe that a recording from 1960 isn’t half as filthy/fun as a 75-year-old, frazzled soul survivor belting out in 2012 is—particularly when he gets to the “You wanna know why? Because you’re MINE!” bit. If you get the chance to see Williams live, do it. But if this is enough of an incentive for you to start checking out some of his other work, I’ll also be happy. The guy’s name is affixed to a few tunes you already know. Some of the stuff you don’t know is what you really want to hear, though.

11. Ritchie Valens – Come On Let’s Go
Ritchie was only 17 when he cut this single in 1958, and he was also only about seven months away from boarding a plane with Buddy Holly and J.P. “Big Bopper” Richardson that would crash shortly after takeoff and kill all of its passengers. Valens only amassed an album’s worth of studio recordings before he died, and that self-titled studio album would be released after his death. But while most of his recognition lies with “La Bamba” and “Donna,” this is often the overlooked gun in Valens’ limited arsenal. Which is a bit as it’s as much a classic recording (and representation) of the early rock and roll era as anything by Elvis, Gene Vincent or Bill Haley.

12. Gruff Rhys – Gyrru Gyrru Gyrru
Last year’s summer mix had a Gruff-penned tune sung entirely in Welsh too, so maybe this will become a tradition for the summer mixes. I’ll have to think about it. I have to believe that whatever language this song was in though, it would’ve merited a spot on this mix. The track, which comes from Gruff’s solo album Candylion, hooks you right away and thanks to my Welsh friend, I can tell you exactly what the title and all the choruses mean. You ready? “Driving driving driving driving driving driving driving driving driving driving driving driving driving driving driving driving.” Now if you’re ever lost in Wales and need a method of transportation away from all the sheep, you know what to say. There’s some other Welsh lightly scattered about that I haven’t worked out yet, but admit it: This is already the song you want in your car for all the $4/gallon trips you make this year. It makes the pain at the pump a little more tolerable. Only a little, yes, but still more tolerable.

13. Pharrell – Prettiest Girls
I waited eons to see “Despicable Me” because I have this “Pixar is better than anything else out there” attitude about me that manifested itself after I saw (and disliked) the first “Shrek.” But last summer, a friend visited and we had an afternoon to kill and we decided to rent a movie. We stared at the Redbox machine for probably way too long and finally just decided on “Despicable Me” and lo and behold, not only was it very entertaining, but Pharrell’s soundtrack work was pretty great too. Both “Fun, Fun, Fun” and this track jumped out at me—I actually first thought there was new Earth, Wind & Fire material I hadn’t been aware of when the songs played in the movie. This is the best cut from the soundtrack, and even though it’s music for a kids movie, it works for all ages.

14. Phoenix – Too Young
When Phoenix are at their best, they’re giving you a hook and a piece of melody that makes you want to move some part of your body. This was a lot of people’s first introduction to the band via the (still very good) soundtrack for “Lost in Translation.” It originally stems from the band’s 2000 album, United and is evocative enough to make you not think about middle aged Bill Murray wandering around Japan. In the years since this song has been released, it’s popped up in my rotation at various parties and get togethers and someone invariably says, “This is good. What is this?” So if there’s anyone left out there who hasn’t heard it, here you go. And if you have heard it, well, you probably dig it all the same.

15. The Archies – Sugar, Sugar
The story goes that this song was originally offered to the Monkees and given that Monkees puppetmaster Don Kirschner put together the studio musicians that play on this cut, it’s believable. Of course, by the time it was to be pitched to them, the Monkees were looking beyond this kind of music, so their involvement with it was not to be. Apparently one of the song’s composers says it was never meant for the Monkees, but who knows. I kind of like the idea that they were silly enough to turn it down and instead release Instant Replay and The Monkees Present in 1969. What, you don’t remember those albums either? So instead, a bunch of studio musicians laid this track down, released it under the guise of comic book characters and it becomes a huge hit. Sure it’s kind of corny, but admit it, you kind of like it too. Hell, Homer Simpson liked it enough to put it in his Walkman, so you’re gonna argue with him? I don’t think so. Not the guy who got a Starland Vocal Band tattoo. Wait …

16. Paul Weller – Starlite
The Wella fella released this as a standalone single last year, although I’m sure there are some bonus-tracked editions of this year’s Sonik Kicks album that contain it. I’ve been a bit down on some of Weller’s output lately, and feel that he gives space to too many “experiments” on recent albums as opposed to well-structured songs (which he’s always been pretty good at writing). I like that this is well-structured (and the groove is fabulous), but I like it moreso because it’s the first thing he’s done since his 1992 solo debut that actually can recall a bit of the Style Council. I can’t pin a specific Council trait on this one—it’s too easy to say the tinkling piano line does it—but the overall breeziness of it kind of harkens back to that stuff. And that’s a great thing as the Style Council too often get screwed over by Weller fans when they look at his career. They had a lot of good stuff besides “Shout to the Top” and “My Ever Changing Moods.” Also—take it from a guy who’s cruised through downtown Chicago at night with the sunroof open. This is GREAT summer night driving music.

17. The Traveling Wilburys – Dirty World
Probably my favorite Wilburys song. I like the way it chugs along and I think raspy old Dylan going on about a girl’s sexy body and wanting to park his pickup truck where the sun don’t shine is charming in its own odd way. I also think that this kind of song represents the point of the Wilburys in that it sounds like five dudes busting out their guitars and just having a laugh. Nevermind the names, the history, the egos, whatever. If it couldn’t provide a good time, then there probably was no point. You get the vibe that this was a good time all around. Has there ever been official affirmation that an “F” bomb is dropped in the last line, by the way? Is that a handy bit of editing or are they just saying “it’s a clean dirty world”? I’d prefer to believe the former.

18. The Dave Clark Five – Glad All Over
My earliest memories of listening to the radio go back to when I was about four years old and my mother would drive my infant sister and me around the streets of Denver to the sounds of modern radio. This is why I still have a deep affinity for Hall & Oates—their music is so deeply entrenched in my head. But sometime around 1990, my mom decided that she wasn’t that into the form modern music was taking, and the preset radio stations changed over to oldies stations. I think I was about 11 when I first heard “Glad All Over,” and this song, as much as anything Ringo Starr ever did, made me want to learn the drums. It’s not a terribly complex beat, but it just pounds and makes the song that much more exciting (this was also done to great effect on “Bits and Pieces,” which coincidentally came from the DC5’s same 1964 Glad All Over album). Nowadays when I listen, it isn’t the drumming that wows me, but Mike Smith’s lead vocal and that top harmony (particularly on the “So glad you’re mine” line). One of the most exciting and fun recordings ever.

19. Raphael Saadiq – It’s a Shame
For Raphael to cover this early Spinners tune seems just about right. Raphael’s 2008 album The Way I See It was incredibly steeped in 1960s Motown flavor, so his cover of this song (co-written by Stevie Wonder and the best cut on the Spinners’ Motown LP Second Time Around) is just what you’d expect. And even though it hits every mark you think it will, you can’t help but love it. Saadiq did this cover in 2010 for some kind of project to promote Levi’s jeans. I guess we have a certain amount of commercialism to thank for this cut, but I think the job does a better job promoting summer. Maybe it’s just me.

20. Frank Sinatra – Blue Moon
I did mention that Manchester City won the Premier League right? Beady Eye’s version just wouldn’t work as a closer. Besides, City affinity or not, “Blue Moon” is a classic little ditty, and Frank’s version from Sinatra’s Swingin’ Session!! is probably the classiest reading of the song ever committed to tape. It just sounds like the end of a nice summer night, doesn’t it? Life is good, things are relaxed, the air is warm and there are a few stars out to boot. Viva verano and all that …

Download. Listen. Enjoy. Feel the sun shining.

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I’m in a brightness I can feel surround me.

March 20, 2012

For the past 11 years, I’ve lived on my own during winters.

In Milwaukee I would walk around Marquette’s campus some days in winds that were so biting, they would cause you to tear up.  Then when the small tears ran down your cheeks, they would freeze. Then, for reasons that I’ve still not made sense of, I decided to do this for five hours a night for minimal pay as part of the school’s safety patrol program. One night my fingers were so frozen that I couldn’t turn the doorknob to get back into my apartment at 12 a.m. Moments after my roommate awoke to let me in, I removed my boots and socks to gaze down on toes that were the most beautiful shade of purple this side of a proper paisley shirt.

In Madison I got to know the concept not only of bitter cold, but lots of snow. I was there during the winter that saw more than 100 inches of snow accumulate. Left turns became “try it ‘n’ see” gambles as you couldn’t see oncoming traffic due to the snow piles stacked up on medians. In addition to getting nailed by every snowstorm that picks up steam over the Midwest (as Madison is smack dab in the middle of that jet stream time and again), you also get horribly bitter temperatures. Rhett Miller once had the cajones to make a tour stop to Madison on a subzero February night. He regaled the audience with a tale of playing in Madison during the Old 97’s formative years, crossing a street to run a quick errand before the show, and ending up flat on his back in the middle of the street after losing his footing on ice. “As I laid on my back, looking at the night sky,” he told the crowd, “I thought to myself: ‘People DON’T have to live here.’”

He has a point. My sister wasted no time in moving to Tampa after graduating college.

But after 9 consecutive Wisconsin winters, I thought moving to Chicago would be a bit more bearable. For one, technically, Chicago is south of Madison and Milwaukee. As such, it’s out of the smack-dab-center of the jet streams that would bury Madison every December-through-March. But then last February, we got snowmageddon. The worst snowstorm to hit Chicago in 44 years, and one that left running cars buried on Lake Shore Drive.

I mention all this to say that this past winter has been very, very weird.

I thought I had a good plan of attack in that I stuck a 10-day vacation to the UK into December (not that British winters are that much more attractive than Chicago winters, but at least you find yourself crossing the street in Manchester at the same time as Johnny Marr—true story) and a weeklong getaway to Las Vegas in January. I thought it would break up the unbearable frozenness of winter nicely. Thing is, the weather in Chicago really did that for me and everyone else in the city. Sure, we had a few snowstorms. But the snow rarely stuck around more than three days as for every snowstorm or deep freeze we entered, a three- or four-day stretch of unseasonable warmth was right around the corner to do away with the snow and give everyone a nice break.

Did I mind it? Hell no. No one in Chicago did. And after the past decade of winters I’ve endured, it was a nice break.

But it also reminded me of my former newspaper job in Madison when I would talk to various state lawmakers. Every winter, without fail, I would find myself on the phone with some GOP senator or representative and to kick off the call, I’d start the conversation off with a banality such as “Cold enough for ya?” or “Didn’t think it could get worse than last winter …” Without fail the GOP senator or representative would reply to this with a hearty laugh and banality of his/her own: “And the Dems are still trying to make us buy into this global warming business!”

Look, I’m not about to go political or Madison-granola-friend-of-the-Earth on you. This blog isn’t the forum for that. But given the weather we experienced these past few months (which should put the Farmer and his “bad winter a-comin’!” Almanac right out of print), well, something’s f*cked.

Ironic then that I just caught that “Mr. Plow” episode of “The Simpsons” which ends with this Kent Brockman comment:

Could this record-breaking heat wave be the result of the dreaded “Greenhouse Effect”?  Well, if 70-degree days in the middle of winter  are the `price’ of car pollution, you’ll forgive me if I keep my old Pontiac.

My old Pontiac is starting its expensive decay into old age.

But at least warm days and the shedding of heavy jackets on a consistent basis is something we can look forward to in spring. Feel the sun. And the rain. And the wind. Here’s your spring mix.

Spring Chicken, Vol. 4
Download

01. Big Audio Dynamite – Medicine Show
I only discovered Big Audio Dynamite recently and am kind of kicking myself for being late to the game—particularly as the band were just in my area last year on a reunion tour while I was completely unawares. I picked up a vinyl copy of their 1985 debut, This is Big Audio Dynamite a couple months ago and that was my first time hearing this cut, which opens the LP. Sure, it meanders a bit and goes a bit overboard on movie samples (I can spot “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” and “Fistful of Dollars”), but it’s a got a nice steady drive about it that made me smile and say aloud on my first listen: “This is really cool.” It’s kind of like that first day of warm weather after a few months of winter. That renewal of hope. Sure, the song’s about a roving band of cons that eventually get punished for hoodwinking consumers, but … well, it gets cold again after that first day of warmness, doesn’t it? (At least most winters it does.)

02. Ann Peebles – I Can’t Stand the Rain
You know, ‘cos April showers and all that … right? Anyway, I’ve known this song for years through various covers and samples, but I only got around to hearing Peebles’ 1973 take on it within the past couple of years and I was surprised that it spawned so many covers and samples. Obviously it’s a great song, but I’ve always bought into Paul Weller’s theory that songs should be covered only if you feel you can improve on them or add something. That’s why you seldom see him recording Kinks or Small Faces covers. This song is so fabulous in this form, I don’t see the need to slice it or reassess it. Sure, it’s a fun song to sing along to and probably jam on, but this is so good as is. Why not just constantly defer to it?

03. Icarus Himself – Girl>Boy
I’m a big fan of this Madison outfit and I’ve seen them live on a couple occasions. Every time they’ve performed this song, I’ve thought “God, that’s great.” Still, I don’t actually know how to pronounce the song’s title. Like “Digging Holes,” the other song I adore from the band’s 2010 “Mexico” EP, there’s a lot of uneasiness on the track, but its tempered with an air of hope and a hint of celebration. This is a band that deserves more attention. Pay ‘em some.

04. The Kinks – Misty Water
“Misty Water” was recorded in early 1968 and intended for the “most successful flop of all time,” The Village Green Preservation Society. But after Pye Records got a bug up its collective arse when Ray Davies pitched the album as a double, a lot of whittling down occurred to make 15 songs fit on one piece of vinyl and some phenomenal tracks got shelved in the shuffle. “Misty Water,” a whimsical ode to the days of fog and haze was one of the unlucky ones stranded in the vaults (or on bootlegs) until the 3-CD deluxe edition of Village Green came to light in 2004. Thank God that happened, eh?

05. Dean Martin – Louise
This is a cut from Dean’s first LP, 1953’s Dean Martin Sings. Like a lot of mid-tempo to upbeat stuff that Dean tackled, this song just has a wonderful ease about it. Feels nice and breezy, and that’s really enough to make this particular mix. Although, can I add this: I’m always amused at how easily a Dean track slides in between modern tunes and vintage British rock? He’s just a hell of a bridge for any mixer. I’m kind of surprised more people haven’t cottoned on to that.

06. The Temptations – I Could Never Love Another (After Loving You)
A few days ago I was pleasantly surprised to see David Ruffin’s name trending on Twitter. Apparently he’d been highlighted on some show or other and so people felt compelled to say (in 140 characters) what a great voice he was. Can’t argue with that, but the other Temps might have a few things to say after: “Yeah, he could sing, BUT …” Ruffin was just a bit of an asshole which explains why, despite great performances like on this track from 1968’s Wish it Would Rain, the Temptations would see fit to dismiss him, despite him still being such a powerful vocal presence. Not like David’s the first or last ego to find himself in a musical group, but the nice thing about music groups is that they tend to leave work behind that makes you forget all that extraneous BS and go, “GodDAMN they were good.” Besides, David needs a bit more exposure than just “My Girl” or “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg.”

07. Paul McCartney & Wings – Get on the Right Thing
Originally laid down during Paul & Linda’s sessions for the 1971 LP Ram, “Get on the Right Thing” wouldn’t find its way onto disc until 2 years later when Macca’s new outfit, Wings, put out Red Rose Speedway. Likely included at the urging of Denny Laine (Laine once said in an interview that though he loved it, McCartney never felt satisfied with it, the vocal was an end-of-the-day afterthought with no finalized lyrics that he feared McCartney would fail to improve upon if he tried again), it probably ambles on a bit too long and comes off as a bit nonsensical. How, pray tell, is a penny kind? But Macca’s raw vocal, particularly when the song dives into its first chorus, is one of the finest he laid down and proves Denny had a point when he suggested it was too dangerous to risk losing that flare in favor of a more concentrated set of lyrics and/or structure. Loose as it may be, you can’t deny the power contained within. And without it, the cringe-worthy Red Rose Speedway would’ve only been worse.

08. The Association – Windy
Despite its titular subject matter, the song is really more sunny, isn’t it? For years I’ve been meaning to dig into the Association a little deeper. Still need to do it. They had a run of some great singles, including this, from 1967’s Insight Out, “Along Comes Mary” and “Never My Love,” and something about their whole vibe whenever they’d show up on Ed Sullivan clip shows amused me. It’s a California band, but they never really exuded laid back calm as much as a “OK, we’ve come straight from the office where we just spent some time crafting a really, oh, what’s the word you kids use, far out new pop smash!” You can’t argue with the product though. Earworm though this song may be, you’ve loved it for years and its use in “Breaking Bad” to soundtrack a montage of sleazy-motel-hooker Wendy’s various dealings only made it cool for a new generation. Dig that harmony over the outro.

09. Crowded House – Archer’s Arrows
Since Crowded House reformed in 2007 with Time on Earth, I haven’t paid much attention. True, “Nobody Wants To” made my 2007 “15 of the Best” and this track, from 2010’s Intriguer now gets elbow room on a seasonal mix, but aside from a few great tracks too sparsely peppered on the albums, they don’t have the magic that they did in the 1980s and early 1990s. Or Neil Finn’s solo albums for that matter. Maybe it’s a petty complaint, maybe I’m just growing old and a bit more cynical myself. But what’s frustrating about it is “Nobody Wants To” and this song are as good as the best of Neil’s back catalogue, so I find myself wishing he’d step up to the plate with these kinds of efforts with a bit more regularity. If not, OK. We’ve had a lot of great stuff from him. And when a tune like this comes along, I suppose it’s just gravy.

10. Belle & Sebastian – Write About Love
The title track to the Scots’ fine 2010 album, “Write About Love” doesn’t sound quite as 21st century as it does like a summer 1965 single. And there ain’t nothin’ wrong with that. The other surprising factor? We learn how good of a singer actress Carey Mulligan is. She had to have a bit of game to step up to the plate here – it’s an immaculately crafted pop song with tight production, brilliant orchestrational flourishes and (as would be expected by now from B&S) cleverish lyrics pertaining to a school assignment. Mulligan handles it easily. Maybe if the acting thing doesn’t work out, you know, the Belles will leave a spot open.

11. The Rolling Stones – Sad Day
I got into an argument a few years ago with one of my best friends because I had the gall to call this song one of the top 3 Stones songs of all time. Given the depth of the Stones catalogue, it’s a ballsy statement to make, but to this day, I still stand by it. I don’t think many people would agree with me (that’d mean it places above at least one of the following: “Gimme Shelter,” “Tumbling Dice,” “Satisfaction,” whatever your favorite Stones song is), but there’s so many things about the song that strike me. For one, lyrically it’s built as a classic blues lament—guy wakes up to find his “Dear John” letter with the morning mail, and includes the immortal line: “There is the only one thing in this world that I can’t understand—that’s a girl,” yet it’s a sunny (by Stones standards) backing track. For two, the piano/keyboard parts by Jack Nitzsche are absolutely ramshackle and weave in and out of time, but they’re brilliant. For three, the song was an absolute afterthought for the Stones. Recorded in 1965, they stuck it on the B-side of the American “19th Nervous Breakdown” single in February 1966, but completely forgot to show it to UK audiences until 7 years later when it was included in a compilation. I love when bands just completely forget about perfectly wonderful tunes like that. Makes a music fan’s catalogue scouring that much more rewarding. Maybe it’s not as good as the Stones’ 10 best. But you know what? It always affects me much more than many of the Stones’ best. So I stand by my top 3 placement.

12. Badfinger – Sweet Tuesday Morning
I go through two phases with Badfinger. One in which they’re completely off my radar for months at a time. And then I hear one song—maybe it’s “No Matter What” or “Day After Day” on the radio, or maybe something like “Midnight Caller” pops up when I set my iPod to “shuffle”—and all of the sudden its “I must listen to this band incessantly now for the next few weeks.” The recent rerelease of the non-Beatles Apple catalogue has prompted me to repeatedly play their 1971 pièce de résistance, Straight Up. This cut, a Joey Molland-penned and sung tune, has been there all along throughout my fascination with Badfinger, but for whatever reason, it’s just begun to sink in recently. It’s in the same vein as a “Here Comes the Sun”; obvious joy at the dawning of a new day with new prospects, but that kick drum gives this thing a great pulse without ever letting the song veer into schmaltz.

13. Robbie Fulks – When I See an Elephant Fly
Fulks is an excellent songwriter, even if his popularity may suggest otherwise. Stick any Fulks-penned tune onto your nearest sound system and there likely will be at least one lyric that makes you smirk, but if you’re the curmudgeonly type that would rather not appreciate a smarmy turn of phrase, perhaps you’re better served taking in a cover that seems out of place for an alt-country pioneer to embrace (Cher, No Doubt, ABBA … the guy just wheeled off a whole album of surprisingly good Michael Jackson covers). Here he takes on one of the finer tunes from the Disney catalogue and whittles away the pretty overt racism the singing crows delivered in “Dumbo” so that you can enjoy it (seriously—dig those lyrics) in a folksy, well-harmonized setting. Quite endearing.

14. The Monkees – Cuddly Toy
I’ll be honest: if Davy Jones hadn’t passed recently, this cut wouldn’t have made it. I’ve always fashioned myself as a Monkees fan/critic/apologist (as all real Monkees fans are), but in going back through the tracklists of all my seasonal mixes since 2006, I was astounded to see that I’d never included a Monkees song in any of the ranks. Maybe it was a gross oversight on my part, or maybe I was endlessly waiting for the right opportunity to drop. More than likely, I just looked over the Monkees as I was assembling these things. That’s OK. They’re an easy band to look over because when you’re presented with a set of Monkees albums, you think, “OK, one great song on this one, three great songs on that one, two great songs on this one” and it gets to be a bit daunting to think of cherry picking through so much material. But with Jones’ passing, I found myself actively searching through Jones-sung tracks, and just as with “Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow)” for my memorial piece a couple weeks ago, I remembered “Cuddly Toy”—Harry Nilsson’s original that the band included on 1967’s “we’ll let the pros play the instruments again” album, Pieces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. Sunny as hell, and don’t Jones and Dolenz sound great together? Fun legend: Apparently the suggestion that this song is about group sex sent the group’s management into a rage. Given that Nilsson wrote it, the jury might still be out.

15. The 88 – Love is the Thing
Introduced to the 88 in Madison in November when they opened for and then backed up my all time favorite songwriter, Ray Davies. I dug a few of the songs from their opening set, but this is the one that made me think, “OK, I’m gonna go out and get some of their stuff.” Few of their other songs charge me up like this one does, but that’s OK, because it’s always a wonderful thing to find a new tune to get excited about. Especially as you grow older and more curmudgeonly towards “the music of today.” To the best of my knowledge (that is, Google and YouTube searching), the basic tracks on this song were laid down on an iPhone. As a current Android customer, that’s intriguing. But to pull back and look at the larger picture, boys, if love isn’t a wonderful thing, then certainly technology is.

16. Nat King Cole – Almost Like Being in Love
Because what is spring if at some point you don’t feel like you’re in one of the happy bits of a Nora Ephron movie? You know, the world where business tycoons fall hopelessly in love with their competition and men willingly give up their fiancées without putting up so much as a hint of a fight? Spring, baby. Hope springs eternal. And if Nat’s voice doesn’t make you feel hopeful, well, sucks to be you. This might be the runaway favorite from his 1953 album Nat King Cole Sings for Two in Love, but that whole album is worth your time. Lots of good stuff on there, so when the bookstore closes (as it surely will), or you flip out about the goddamn wagon wheel table, have the album on hand to brighten your spirits.

17. Fountains of Wayne – Hey Julie
I have an ongoing debate about Fountains of Wayne with my girlfriend. She’s dismissive of them as lightweight, easy “bubble gum” pop, and I always find myself shaking my fists above my head like a gorilla and exclaiming “That’s not a bad thing!” The funny thing is that I tend to dismiss most of Fountains of Wayne’s material myself. I usually end up enjoying one-third to, at best, one-half of their albums. But when they hit the nail on the head, as they do here, (from 2003’s Welcome Interstate Managers, or, as you know it, “That ‘Stacy’s Mom’ CD”), it’s so good. My argument for good Fountains of Wayne material is that it hits me in the way the good stuff from the Beach Boys circa 1965 did. You know they’re on the cusp of something great, but they’re still kind of finding their legs and falling back into early pop sensibilities. Again, not always a bad thing—I still get pumped if “Help Me Rhonda” pops up on shuffle, but you know the good stuff that you REALLY want to show your friends is still to come. The only problem with Fountains of Wayne is that we’re kind of perpetually waiting on that cusp. But that’s OK. Give me a “Hey Julie” or two per album, and I’ll continue the argument with my girlfriend.

18. The Reflections – (Just Like) Romeo and Juliet
This is one of those songs that just makes you feel good. I had a CD a few years ago with this song on it, and I was driving an old friend around Madison and this song comes on. The friend goes, “I love that you have this song.” I reply, “Well, of course.” Not another word. We both just sat there listening to it and doing our respective foot tapping/head nodding/steering wheel and dashboard drumming. As it goes, this song, which was a single on the Golden World label in 1964, would prove to be the Reflections’ only hit. But coming out of Detroit and being a hit on an R&B label tells you that for a group of four doo-wopping white boys, they had a bit of soul and boogie about them. I always say that this drumbeat is still probably pounding inside Lee Mavers’ skull.

19. Beady Eye – In the Bubble With a Bullet
You know, last summer I went to see Beady Eye’s first American show with some of my dearest friends. It fell on a beautiful summer Saturday, it was a small gig with a lot of energy and I was on an absolute high because I’d spent a few minutes chatting with Liam f*cking Gallagher at the hotel bar the evening prior. After the gig, we came out and remarked what a great show it was, how Liam’s voice was absolutely electric and we were buzzing off all the power generated in the Metro that night. Then Beady Eye left town and we began waiting for Noel’s album and his eventual arrival in Chicago (April 1). I kind of feel like most of my friends took the same attitude toward Beady Eye that the media did, (e.g. “OK, that’s very nice, boys. Oooh! Noel’s coming. Why don’t you go back and play in the sandbox while we talk to daddy…”). It pisses me off. In the end, yes, Noel’s album is better than Beady Eye’s. But that doesn’t mean Beady Eye should be waved off completely simply because Noel’s back in the fold. Sure, Beady Eye are squandering arguably their best songs on the B-sides of limited edition vinyl singles that you probably won’t acquire unless you have more than a passing interest in the band, but listen to this. Just listen to this! This is as good as anything latter day Oasis pulled together, and frankly, I like it just as much as classic-era Oasis stuff. This is sunshine. When that bass drum kicks in and you’ve got this on in a car that’s cruising, there’s no denying good times are coming.

20. Irma Thomas – Time is On My Side (live)
On my first pass of putting this mix together, I included Irma’s original 1964 take on the song (which was only a B-side with lyrics that were finished in the moments before Irma arrived at the studio), but after watching the first season of “Treme” and picking up Treme: Music From the HBO Original Series, Season 1, I opted for the live take of the song that includes Allen Toussaint on piano and Dave Bartholomew blowing his horn. It’s a bit tighter than the original, particularly in the “Time. Time. Time. Is on my siiide…” bit, but also, I’ve always adored how Irma’s voice has aged with time. It’s seriously aged like fine wine, which is a rare quality in many singers, whether they’re female or male. I find myself digger her vocals a lot more in recently recorded tracks. There’s an air of sophistication to her soul, which I love. And if you haven’t seen Treme, by the way, you should check it out.

Happy spring, everybody.

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Snowflakes in the air, carols everywhere.

November 25, 2011

Look.

I’m a big enough person to admit when I’ve been wrong. And it’s that time of year when I’m wrong again.

2007: “… there’s no way I’m doing another one next year. I probably couldn’t be bothered again, BUT the other thing is that the fruits of my labor this year have produced quite simply (and with no false modesty) the greatest Christmas mix ever. There’s no topping this.”

2008: “So I’m a liar.”

2009: N/A (No damning statements to be found. Seems like I resigned myself to becoming an annual Christmas music supplier.)

2010: “…it’s likely this will be the final Christmas mix. For one, giving listeners a 100-Christmas song playlist should be enough to satisfy soundtracking needs for any Christmas party you’ll be throwing in the next month. We’re talking about 6 hours of music. Could I find 20 more songs that haven’t already been done by another artist throughout this five-year series? I bet I could, but … as it goes with Christmas albums, true quality is hard to come by … So the chances I’ll have one out in 2011? If you ask me right now I’ll say slim.”

And if you ask me right now, I guess I look like a big, fat liar. Again. Because as much as I hate the annual process of sifting through so many horrible Christmas songs, the deeper I dig each year means the good ones I do find sound that much more magical. Plus every year there are new ditties added to the barrel and I get to skim around the top and pick out good recent tracks too.

In a quick exchange with my comrade Grandma Cyd earlier this week, I told her that Lyle Lovett and Gruff Rhys have likely bullied me into a 2012 mix too, because both artists will be releasing Christmas-themed records this year after this mix is posted. She opined: “Out of a two-song lemon you will squeeze a 20-track lemonade? Good luck.”

My response?

“That’s how the last 3 mixes have gone. Two new songs come out after I finish the mix and I have a few months to decide whether it’s worth listening to hours and hours of crap to find 18 more good tracks. I think you’ll agree that the last 3 mixes have been good lemonade. And this year’s is pretty fabulous as well.”

Of course, that’s just me. Why don’t you decide for yourself and download It’s Been Christmas Here For a While, which is this blog’s 6th annual Christmas mix and adds 20 new songs to your ever expanding ASBTTIS Christmas playlist.

(And for tradition’s sake, ahem … this is the last one.)

(… maybe not though.)

It’s Been Christmas Here For a While
The 2011 “Ain’t Superstitious, But These Things I’ve Seen …” Christmas mix


01. Kermit Ruffins – This Christmas
Obviously you’re all so happy to get a sixth installment of this blog’s Christmas mix that we might as well kick things off with a party piece. Who better to lead it, then, than a co-founder of the famed Rebirth Brass Band? This is from Kermit’s 2009 holiday album, Have a Crazy Cool Christmas, and I think it beats out every version of the song that I’ve heard, including Donny Hathaway’s signature version. While Hathaway’s version is laudable, it always seemed to be lacking something. Maybe it wasn’t Hathaway’s fault … it could very well be a product of the song, which is why I’ve struggled to find an enjoyable version of it. But you give it that street steppers beat and New Orleans brass, and pretty much any song can be made to sound absolutely wonderful. Plus Kermit’s gravelly vocal wipes away the sheen that’s annoyed me so much in every other version I’ve heard.

02. Kula Shaker – Snowflake
Kula Shaker have been pretty good to their fans every year since reforming in 2007. Members of their mailing list are usually alerted to special Christmastime recordings made by the band, and last year we got two tracks—a psychedelic meshup of the Beatles’ “Christmas Time is Here Again” and “Flying,” and this track, which was written by the band Bucky. Sung from the (cold) perspective of a snowflake who always is made to wait just a little too long (e.g. after Christmas) before falling to Earth. I particularly dig the laundry list of Christmas annoyances that anyone pick from to relate to (“Away in a manger and three wise men, ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ is on TV again, Santa and his elves are looting the shelves, your alcoholic uncle’s having dizzy spells, an hour-long extension of the worst TV shows, get a nosebleed under the mistletoe …”). Not exactly the most cheery thing, but you wouldn’t be able to tell from the music. It’s pretty fun.

03. Vince Guaraldi Trio – Christmas Time is Here (Vocal)
There are a handful of friends and family every year who harp on me when I say “This is the last Christmas mix.” I really wanted last year’s to be the end because it would’ve meant 5 mixes of 20 songs each—100 songs total with no repeats or alternative versions—but my father of all people lambasted me for failing to put any cuts from Vince Guaraldi’s soundtrack to “A Charlie Brown Christmas” in the original 100. OK, OK. Here, Dad. But besides just appeasing the guy who always collaborated with my mom to make sure my sister and I had an awesome Christmas every year, one must stay applied to the rule that every good Christmas mix needs a few familiar pieces in them. Not that you all wouldn’t have enjoyed non-traditional fare from Kula Shaker, Flash Atkins or the Cute Lepers, anyway, but everyone needs a couple things to sing along to on the first go-round, don’t they? This is another one that people have tried to cover for years and years since “A Charlie Brown Christmas” first aired. Maybe it’s the sparse production (sounds like it was recorded in a drafty barn in the middle of a windy December night), but there’s something just a little haunting about this that makes it all the more endearing.

04. The Moonglows – Hey Santa Claus
Apparently this song’s been popular for a while? Not popular in a “Feliz Navidad” sort of way, but popular for people who get really into Christmas music (despite evidence supporting the contrary, I do not consider myself some who’s “really into” Christmas music. I just like finding good tunes for you lovely people). I had no knowledge of it prior to this year, but I’m sure it’s shown up in a few Christmas-themed big Hollywood movies. The thing that caught me about it was that the Moonglows were one of Harvey Fuqua’s first outfits. Fuqua was an underrated R&B pioneer who had connections with both the Chess and Motown labels and was actually responsible for bringing Tammi Terrell to Motown. Thank you, by the way. The best thing he’s done to my mind is a rare number called “Any Way You Wanta.” Find it after Christmas. It’ll hold you over until the next Christmas season. This track isn’t anything overly spectacular, but it’s 2 and a half minutes of fun, and with a collection of songs like these, it dutifully serves a purpose, even if it’s underground popularity makes it fodder for all those hipsters hanging around Wicker Park. Sorry to non-Chicagoans who can’t appreciate that zinger.

05. The Cute Lepers – All I Ever Wanted Under the Christmas Tree
This is a song that featured on a compilation a couple years back called Blackheart Christmas. This is the only song I know by the Cute Lepers, but if it ends being the only one I know by them forever after, that’s enough for me. With Christmas songs, there’s something you can hear. You can deduce within 10 seconds whether a Christmas song is going to go pear-shaped because it’s oversaturated with cheesiness. In fact, most times I’m compiling Christmas mixes, I’m listening to song after song waiting for the “Yikes, this fails” moment. I’ve heard plenty of nice musical setups only for a particular lyric or vocal delivery to make me roll my eyes and move on to the next one. I kept waiting for the other shoe to fall here, but it never did, and by the end I was even doing a bit of foot-tapping. So well done, lepers of varying degrees of cuteness. It’s got that “It’s Still Rock and Roll To Me”-era Billy Joel quality to it, which isn’t a horrible thing if it comes in quick doses and doesn’t overstay its welcome.

06. Good Lovelies – Maybe This Time
This Canadian trio came to my attention earlier this year when I did a weeklong series on the blog with WSUM’s Grandma Cyd about new artists doing songs in old-time styles. I got into them enough to include their cut “Crabbuckit” on my summer mix, and when I found out later that summer they had a Christmas album (Under the Mistletoe, 2009), well, I had to see if there was anything interesting on there. The fact that I found this original cut, which is just a simple, enjoyable tune—nothing more, nothing less—actually kicked me into doing a third Christmas mix. I’d already thought, “Boy this Kula Shaker cut is pretty fun,” and had my dad on my case for failing to include anything from A Charlie Brown Christmas in the first five mixes. Once I found this track, I figured, “Hell, why not start digging for 17 more?” Odds that’ll happen again next year? (Sarcastic guffaw)

07. Jimmy Charles – Santa Won’t Be Blue This Christmas
I found this tune while scouring through a bunch of 1950s and 1960s rare doo-wop Christmas singles and of the 50 or so songs included on the collection this is the only one that caught my ear. This was a 1960 single for Charles that was written by Phil Medley (who earned his most famous credit by co-writing “Twist and Shout”). Lyrically, the subject of domestic disputes during the holidays have probably been handled better elsewhere, but you can’t deny the hook here. It’s happy enough to make “Yeah yeah! And a diddlee-dee” sound appropriate.

08. The Mills Brothers – Here Comes Santa Claus
I noticed a little late in the compiling of this mix that I’d shied away from crooners this time around, presumably because I don’t want the mixes to be subject to 2nd-rate Frank, Dean, Bing, Bobby, Peggy, et. al tunes because the “A” material’s already been used. Also because when you set forth a strict policy not to repeat songs (even if done by a different artist) on future Christmas mixes once it’s already been spoken for, the well runs dry pretty fast. Thankfully, some great vintage material could be found to appease my old Madison pal Grandma Cyd with the Mills Brothers. This track, from the bros.’ 1959 LP, Merry Christmas, is done in their signature cool style (something that Dean Martin grew up adoring, mind you) and handles one of the season’s cheesier songs in more-than-tolerable measure. I still kind of laugh at the “Santa knows we’re all God’s children—that makes everything right”  line, though. It’s like Gene Autry (who co-wrote the song) tried to fix this “reason for the season” business in one fell swoop. “It’s about God sending his only son, Gene …” “Yeah, well, I know that. Don’t you think Santa KNOWS that?! It’s cool.”

09. Flash Atkins – All I Want For Christmas is You
Looking at the title, you might think it’s that ubiquitous Mariah Carey song, but you’d be wrong. Actually, I don’t know anything about Flash Atkins … from rudimentary research I’ve deduced that he very possibly is UK-based and may or may not dress as a superhero and/or live in a camper van. When he’s not doing that, he’s mixing up old records for all our delight. As I’ve said in many Christmas mix writeups before, I’m not the biggest fan of random mashups or remixes, but for some reason, I do enjoy running through Christmas-based ones to see if any hit that holiday sweet spot. This one does nicely. Based on nothing more than a bassline looped from the Bee Gees’ “Fanny (Be Tender With My Love),” a spruced up backbeat and a couple lines from Julie London’s “I’d Like You For Christmas” (which I always thought was a yawner on its own), these ingredients together make for a nicely chilled holiday groove. The fact that you get to hear Barry Gibb whisper, “First I rise, then I fall …” a couple times also helps.

10. Nat King Cole – The Christmas Song
I’ve avoided putting this on previous Christmas mixes because it is just so absolutely ubiquitous, but once I got to the third installment, that “you need to include some classics amongst the rarities” mindset kicked in. I searched high and low for a version of this song that carried it’s own kind of cool and unique flavor, but there’s really no hope with “The Christmas Song.” This is the version. That’s it. There’s no need to ever hear another recording of this song. What you might not know is that this particular version is actually the fourth that Nat released in his career. He took his first stab at it in 1946 for a radio session and another later in 1946 that was the first time it was put on record with his name on it. His third go at it took place in 1952 for a single that would be one of his first with Capitol Records before doing this in 1961 (the year AFTER his Christmas album, The Magic of Christmas was released). Capitol realized the power of this recording, tacked it onto the front of the album and every subsequent release of Cole’s Christmas album has since been retitled The Christmas Song. This isn’t the first Christmas song I ever fell in love with, but this is the first version of a particular song that I ever fell in love with. Since I’ve been about 12 years old, I’ve scoffed at a lot of other pretenders’ takes on the song.

11. Lee Rogers – You Won’t Have to Wait Till Xmas
For as many good R’n’B Christmas cuts I’ve found throughout the years, finding some true Northern Soul Christmas gets a little tough. That’s what makes this find so cool for me. Rogers put this song out as a single in 1965 and it did pretty much nothing, but hell, didn’t all the very best Northern Soul songs do the same? Originally released on the D-Town label, a Detroit imprint that was obviously trying to hitch its wagon to Motown’s star, this song bears no resemblance to any typical Christmas song. No bells, no wistful melody—all this is is an R’n’B love song infused with some basic Christmas references (“under the mistletoe,” “sheltered from the snow,” “you’re my Santa Claus and I believe in you”). As part of a Northern Soul night, it’d be pretty stock, but amongst its peers here, it stands out nicely.

12. Brenda Lee – Christmas Will Be Just Another Lonely Day
I never knew who Brenda Lee’s audience was. Most people just know here for “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” but she recorded scores of Christmas songs, so maybe it’s just Christmasheads who go nuts for her. Then again, she’s got some good non-Yuletide fare like “Dynamite,” so maybe it’s not just Christmasheads. I took a trip down to Nashville last winter and judging by the amount of Brenda Lee material I found in record stores down there, I think it’s safe to say I came close to finding her fanbase’s home base. It’s a country thing, I suppose. This song is another in Lee’s Christmas canon that isn’t named “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” so lots of points for that. Sometimes it’s a little thing that can hook me and in this case it’s the drumbeat. It’s got that strong late 1950s/early 1960s rock-via-surf feel to it but that blends nicely with the whole country “oh-woe-is-me”ness of spending Christmas solo.

13. David Ian featuring Andre Miguel Mayo – Christmas Time With You
I don’t know anything about David Ian. This cut comes from an album released this year (way to get it out early and be considered for the mix, Dave). The album’s called Vintage Christmas and it’s a piano-led jazz trio thing, so that’s will pique my interest enough to make me have a listen. Sounds like it could have been recorded in the late 1950s or early 1960s, which again, is alright by me. Good chill feel to it, and it’s got that good end of Harry Connick, Jr.-ness about it where things stay cool instead of going overblown and gaudy. Harry’s kind lost perspective of that in putting out three Christmas albums, so it’s good that someone else is there to pick up the pieces.

14. Berlin Symphony Orchestra – Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy (Red Baron Remix)
Another pull from the remix bin. I like this because it’s basically just augmenting a well-known instrumental with a great piece of live drumming. Did you ever think you could air drum to “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy”? Well, friend, neither did I. But, alas, whoever this Red Baron is (and if you do find out, please tell Snoopy) has come to save us all from the injustice of another Christmas in which we can’t air drum to “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy.” The jury’s out on whether this will make future viewings of “Home Alone” any less enjoyable.

15. The Puppini Sisters – All I Want For Christmas
Looking at the title, you might again think it’s that ubiquitous Mariah Carey song, and this time you’d be right. Look, it’s out of my hands now when it comes to judging that song. Popular opinion has already made it a Christmas standard and despite my own annoyance with it, I did kind of enjoy the way it was used in “Love Actually” a few years back. My own annoyance with it also kept me from putting it on earlier Christmas mixes, particularly because everyone seemed to cover it, but nobody (frustratingly) matched or bettered Mariah’s original. And there was no way Mariah was going on one of these mixes. Why? Because f*ck Mariah, that’s why (and bah humbug to you, too). She had a pretty good run for a few years in getting into that rarified air of having a writing credit on a tune so popular that it’s become a holiday standard, but when you use it as an excuse to anchor more annoying holiday albums as she did last year with Merry Christmas II You, well then I’m kind of done with you. Besides, this take on the song, from the UK’s Puppini Sisters (who apparently are neither named Puppini nor are Sisters … discuss) is ridiculously more charming. They go the Andrew Sisters/hint of Dixieland route with it and while it hurtles toward campiness, it avoids going over the guardrail and actually manages to make me smile. It’s a hard thing to do after trolling through loads of garbage to put a SIXTH Christmas mix together, you know …

16. Fitz and the Tantrums – Santa Stole My Lady
After I’d decided I was going to do this Christmas mix, I delved into a bunch of 2010 releases to see what I’d missed last year and this song bubbled up as one of those one-off digital only Christmas releases from Dangerbird Records. I don’t know much about Fitz or his gang of Tantrums, but if the rest of the catalog is anything like this, I’ll have to check them out. This is the kind of holiday song that Hall & Oates should’ve done instead of that godforsaken “Jingle Bell Rock” cover. Having your woman two-time you with Santa can’t be any easy pill to swallow, but at least Fitz and the gang allow you to groove a little through your seething anger. This is actually one of my favorites from this year’s mix and I thank the band profusely for allowing me not to have to tread through an array of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” covers for yet another year. This song handles the sentiment way better anyway.

17. Chris Standring & Kathrin Shorr – Send Me Some Snow
Another piano jazz thing that’ll sound good under the din of a Christmas party. Someone posted this song somewhere last year—it was part of a compilation called Share the Gifts from A-Train records. Apparently this duo got enough good response out of it to put a whole holiday album out this year under the title of Send Me Some Snow. If I’m being entirely honest, after snowpocalypse last year and the annual “this is going to be the worst winter ever” reports, I’m not particularly looking forward to the heavens’ sending of snow. I even feel a little skittish playing it too soon, as if I’m tempting fate. But that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the sentiment. Especially when it’s on a Christmas mix. And it has a chorus that is that sweet.

18. Harry Crafton with Doc Bagby Orchestra – Bring That Cadillac Back
Why? Because I’m not going to let Brenda Lee and a white boy moaning about his wife’s infidelities with Kris Kringle represent the blues component of the mix. I will get some proper blues in here, dammit. It’s a familiar story here. Boy loves girl, girl loves boy, boy buys Cadillac, boy and girl have a tremendous fight before Christmas morning, girl takes Cadillac, boy demands Cadillac back. We’ve all been there. My girlfriend is steadfastly against me even considering this a Christmas song, but just because she’s never absconded with somebody’s Cadillac on Christmas morning doesn’t make it any less of a Christmas song. Maybe I’ll buy her a Cadillac and then severely tick her off just to prove a point. No. Well … not this year at least.

19. Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings – Ain’t No Chimneys in the Projects
This is a one-off single that Jones and her Dap-Kings released last year that can not only be appreciated by her own sturdy fanbase but all the rest of the “Hey, you know, that Amy Winehouse wasn’t such a bad singer, I should check out some more of that good R ‘n’ B stuff” offshoots. The moral of the song? Even though there aren’t chimneys in the projects, your mother will lie to you about the existence of Santa Claus just like the mothers in chimney-equipped suburban homes will. In the end, there’s really so much that ties us all together. So how about a little peace on Earth?

20. Blondfire – It’s Been Christmas Here
Blondfire actually worked their way into my consciousness four years ago when I was compiling the 2nd annual ASBTTIS Christmas mix, Shake Hands with Santa Claus! I found their tune “Underneath the Mistletoe” quite charming and it actually sent me headlong into Blondfire fandom—their EP “Don’t Whisper Lies” from when they were still called Astaire is particularly fabulous. This cut comes off the same EP that featured “Underneath the Mistletoe.” I don’t know why I look passed it all those years ago, maybe I was just consciously searching for more upbeat stuff, but thankfully I went back and reassessed this tune, and by God, if it isn’t just a beautiful little song and a perfect note to end this mix on. Hell, it’s so good it can even give this mix its title.

A happy holiday season to all my readers. Check back next week for the start of the annual “15 of the Best” countdown.

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Everyday you watch the colors fall, fall, fall …

September 22, 2011

Right-o, well summer ended up being a busy season for me and it looks like autumn shall be that way as well. These are the perils one faces living in a major city, you know. Things to do. Egad. BUT! Second to the summer mix (which is second to the Christmas mix), this is the next most popular seasonal mix that I provide on an annual basis. Something about grey days and leaves changing colors make people want to listen to appropriate tunes as they go out on brisk walks or curl up by the window with a cup of tea and book e-book reader.

In addition to the Christmas and summer mixes, the “Autumnal” mix is the third of the seasonal compilations that I’ve offered each and every year since this blog’s inception once upon a long ago. This is Vol. 5 of the mix, and I hope it serves all you dear people as well as Vols. 1-4 did. Oh and I hope it brings even more people around. For although my posts now may be (extremely) limited in nature, seasonal music never goes out of season. Or something. Enjoy.

Autumnal, Vol. 5

Download Part 1 (tracks 1-1o) HERE
Download Part 2 (tracks 11-20) HERE

01. Jon Brion – The Break-Up Theme
I’m a massive Jon Brion fan, and one thing I love about him that absolutely separates him from nearly every other artist I adore is that when he does instrumental work, be it for film scoring or whatever else, he keeps me absolutely entranced. I haven’t even seen “The Break-Up.” I know it includes Cubs games and an Old 97’s concert, so it seems like it’d be right up my alley, but I’m not a huge Vince Vaughn fan and as far as Jennifer Aniston goes, well, she needs to let the Brad Pitt thing go. If I was still talking about the girl I was with 6 years ago, I think it’d be hard to keep potential new mates interested too. Anyway, musically speaking, this is just a wonderful moody little piece that sets the stage perfectly for the mix. I think it owes so heavily to Paul McCartney’s “Big Boys Bickering” that it deserves a co-writing credit, but if that means Brion is listening to Off the Ground era B-sides from Macca, well, that really just makes me love him so much more.

02. The Stills – Halo the Harpoons
Probably my favorite cut from the Stills’ 2006 album Without Feathers, which took a pretty nasty beating from critics, but remains a solid favorite for me. Lyrically, this song teeters on ridiculous in terms of pushing metaphors. I don’t really know what any of them mean, but it’s all saved by the lovely piano and Tim Fletcher’s emotive vocal.

03. The Jackson 5 – Never Can Say Goodbye
I never understood why “I’ll Be There” was always the sentimental favorite when it came to J5 ballads. It’s a nice enough song, but it’s always just come off a bit too syrupy for me. This is where it’s at as far as I’m concerned. Listen to the bassline and harmonies—the song has far more showmanship than “I’ll Be There,” and as is ever the case with Jackson 5 songs, a blinder of a vocal from little Michael. The rest of the 1971 Maybe Tomorrow album was well-crafted, but song-wise the rest of the stock proved to be forgettable next to this one. It’s hard to sit beside perfection, after all.

04. The Everly Brothers – All I Have to Do is Dream
There’s not much to say about this song that hasn’t already been said. In fact, it’s kind of puzzling that it took me five years to put this on an autumn mix. Breezy, wistful, gorgeous harmonies and guitars that modern acts (anyone else hear an obvious cover from the Last Shadow Puppets lurking?) are now falling over themselves to return to. In terms of subject matter, it’s kind of the less spooky predecessor to something like “Every Breath You Take,” but full-fledged stalking seems imminent once the guy awakes. Also—this song should never be done as a boy-girl duet. I have a version of Bobby Darin and Petula Clark trading verses on this song. It’s ridiculous. Why tell the other sex about how you fall asleep to have them? He/she is right there. Just proposition him/her.

05. Natalie Merchant – The King of China’s Daughter
I was really excited last year when I found out Natalie was going to be releasing a new album. Ever since the 10,000 Maniacs Unplugged session, which I must’ve seen at 11 years of age or so, there was something about Natalie that struck me. I’ve stuck with her throughout the solo career, despite facing derision for it from my friends. I just think she’s been fairly consistent. Then The House Carpenter’s Daughter came along and I just kind of lost interest as she was going into this rustic folk dalliance that seemed devoid of hooks. Last year’s Leave Your Sleep had it’s moments, but the concept of the album—setting old poems to new music—seemed like one of those “Oh dear, this is one of those ideas that sounds good but actually turns out to be a bit of a shambles” ventures. For the most part it was, but there are a few good cuts on the album and this is one of them. Don’t know who wrote the poem, but I dig the Far East flavor.

06. Frank Sinatra – I Don’t Stand a Ghost of a Chance With You
I can’t count how many artists have recorded this tune since it’s 1932 inception, but I think the fact that it has been so many is testament to what a cool tune it is. First off it’s a great title and while the concept for the song (“I thought at last I’d found you, but other loves surround you”) is so worn over in the songwriting pantheon to be laughably cliché, it still says something that almost 80 years later, musicians are still trying to chase this. Sinatra did a take on this in his younger days when he was signed to Columbia, but when he revisited it for his 1959 LP No One Cares (with one of the very best sleeves of Sinatra’s career), he nailed the merger of being both resoundingly forlorn while also breezily resigned. Harder than it sounds, you know.

07. Conway Twitty – Lonely Blue Boy
This song was supposed to be included in the Elvis-starring movie “King Creole,” substituting the name “Danny” for “Lonely Blue Boy,” but for whatever reason, it got axed from the picture. Conway Twitty took the discarded song, washed it in country rockabilly guitar and although basically doing his own impression of Elvis in the song, he nailed down a stronger and more emotive vocal than the King ever managed with the tune. Jon Brion and Paul Thomas Anderson should also get some props here for inserting Conway’s take on it into “Punch-Drunk Love” in that great scene where Adam Sandler stands toe-to-toe with Phillip Seymour-Hoffman and delivers that great “I have a love in my life, it makes me stronger than anything you can imagine” monologue.

08. Primal Scream – Gamblin’ Bar Room Blues
This was recorded by the Scream in the Riot City Blues era and actually ended up on the B-side of their “Christmas” single “Sometimes I Feel So Lonely.” There’s not a lot to discuss about the track, it’s obviously about an alcohol-fuelled scrap and carries all the aura of a bender in the Old West … it even probably goes on a little longer than it should, as drunks tend to do. But I can’t criticize it too much because like many of Primal Scream’s songs (far more than your average critic will admit), it’s far more alluring than they’d ever get credit for.

09. Jon Langford and His Sadies – Strange Birds
From a 2003 collaboration album between Langford and the Sadies (brilliantly titled), The Mayors of the Moon, this song has always struck me and I’m not quite sure why. It’s a beautiful lyric, even if it is oblique—“If I had bounty on my head, they’d never raise the money. I’d wake up laughing in the night, and wonder what’s so funny.” It’s just such a dreamy little tune but it’s got this very real foreboding air about it. Langford’s always a safe bet to give you a kick up the backside, but more often than not it’s in his delivery as much as it is in his lyrics. Here, he sounds totally resigned, which is odd, but there’s still potent food for thought. Again, I don’t know what it is exactly, but it makes you think a little, doesn’t it?

10. Randy Newman – Dixie Flyer
“Dixie Flyer” originally opened Newman’s 1988 album Land of Dreams, but the full band treatment always kind of betrayed the intimate nature of the song. Newman has staked his claim in the songwriting pantheon as someone who gives voice to characters and personas that are more often than not willfully forgotten—ridiculous bigot (“Short People”), tunnel-vision homer (“Birmingham”), cake-eater with an overinflated sense of entitlement (“My Life is Good”), cradle-robbing rich old man (“Shame”), the list goes on. With “Dixie Flyer,” Newman dropped his characteristic role of becoming a character and actually sang about his parents and his mother’s move with him to New Orleans shortly after his birth. Lightly referencing the unorthodoxy of a Jewish family in religious right stomping grounds (“An American Christian—Goddamn!”), there’s a lot of close-to-home matter here for the author, but it still comes off like any number of his assumed identity classics. The piano-only version here from this year’s The Randy Newman Songbook, Vol. 2 finally gives this cut the up-close-and-personal feel it’s lacked for 23 years.

11. Bobby Darin – I Wanna Be Around
One of the very best post-breakup Eff-You songs of all time, Bobby characteristically nails the delivery, going from passive to aggressive in the span of about two minutes. What really intrigues me about this cut, from his 1965 LP, Venice Blue, is the drumming. Listen to it when it picks up at the end – it’s actually more aggressive than most rock and roll drumming of the time. For whatever reason, downbeats on the snare drum seemed to be discouraged from vocal/crooner tunes before about 1962 (probably to keep your attention on the singer), and drummers would instead always rely on beat-keeping through the ride or hi-hat cymbals. Maybe the advent of rock and roll changed things, and if so, great. It doesn’t drown out Bobby’s singing, doesn’t it? If anything it just makes him rise to the occasion and sing with an even stronger voice.

12. Major Lance – It Ain’t No Use
I discovered Major Lance just a few months before I moved back to the Chicago area from Madison last year and I’ve been absolutely entranced by his early-to-mid 1960s output ever since. Hailing from Chicago and actually using the Impressions on most of his OKeh Records-era tunes (an overwhelming amount, including this one, happened to be written by Curtis Mayfield), the songs he got were just R&B perfection. They lacked the polish and some of the punch of output from Motown and Stax, but they more than made up for it in pure heart. This is an absolute bummer of a song when you sit down and listen to the lyrics, but if you’re hearing the music at the same time, you can’t help but be pretty happy. Even better, it’s a B-side.

13. New Radicals – Someday We’ll Know
I never got that deeply into the New Radicals when they were all the rage around 1998 or so. I liked “You Get What You Give,” but the first time I heard it, I was sure it was a cover of an old pop tune because that bridge and chorus just sounded liked they’d been there forever. It wasn’t until about three years later that a friend of mine gave me the album and I ended up thinking “OK, I like the singles and that’s about it.” “Someday We’ll Know” is an interesting one, though, because as saccharine as it is and as much as it seems like an obvious go-to for every quasi-dramatic moment in a teen movie or TV drama of that era, there’s something about this version that hits the landing. I don’t know why. Hall & Oates covered it (with Todd Rundgren to boot) for some adult contemporary album and it sounded like cheese. Whenever anyone attempts to do this song it just sounds like schmaltz. But something about this version has power, enough even to carry it through a eye roll-inducing line like “Did the captain of the Titanic cry?”

14. Sasha Dobson – Without You
I first heard this song when I was going through a bunch of music that had been featured on “Breaking Bad” (devoted seasonal mix downloaders should notice a pattern here as both “It is Such a Good Night” and “Catch Yer Own Train” share similar backstories), but I couldn’t place when this song had been used. In subsequent DVD viewings, I found it’s the song on in the background of that shoestore when Marie pinches that pair on display. This tune bears a resemblance to the music of one of my favorite artists, Bebel Gilberto, but as summery as Bebel’s stuff is, this one just a bit more wistful and cool.

15. Kula Shaker – Ruby
Kula Shaker’s last album Pilgrim’s Progress went generally unnoticed, which, as a Kula Shaker fan, is disappointing but also not at all surprising. The problem is that it actually is stronger than its 2007 predecessor Strangefolk, which got a bit more buzz just by virtue of a band that every critic had long since dismissed reuniting. I’d say almost any cut on Pilgrim’s Progress would make a good addition to a fall mix, but what with this mentioning leaves falling, it’s kind of the shoo-in. I will say this was the one track that really struck me on the first listen though—it’s a love song from a broken place and while it apes a couple George Harrison (or I guess, Eastern religion) “beware of darkness” sentiments, it’s a gorgeous little chilled song throughout.

16. Ann Peebles – Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You
Early on when I was putting this mix together, my girlfriend heard a few of the tracks and commented that I’d loaded it with too many depressing break-up songs. I shrugged and said “Well it’s not a spring mix, is it? Things are getting cold and falling apart. It’s a thematic theme.” She countered that people stay together in autumn and that our relationship in fact began in the thick of autumn. I fully concede she has a point, but if you think about it, “Sunshine and Lollipops” just doesn’t fit on an autumn mix, does it? Anyway, as much as she loathes me placating her, here you are. This is from a magnificent 2005 compilation called I Believe to My Soul, that was done under the eye of Allen Toussaint and featured the likes of Peebles, Irma Thomas, Mavis Staples and Billy Preston. This cover of Dylan’s classic from the Nashville Skyline album just oozes sensual soul, but I guess it’s kind of ironic that Peebles voice actually might be a tad more gravelly than Bob’s given his “Pee Wee Herman” adopted voice on Nashville Skyline. Still, I prefer Peebles’ take. Stunning.

17. The Bee Gees – To Love Somebody
The big story with this song is that the Gibb brothers had actually pitched this song for Otis Redding and he’d said he planned to record it. Unfortunately, despite crappy weather, Otis decided to fly in to Madison, Wisconsin, but the plane went down in Lake Monona instead of Dane County Regional Airport and took Redding with it. Really would’ve loved to hear Otis’ take on this, but credit where credit is due—the Bee Gees aren’t as crappy as a lot of people after 1977 wanted to believe and this fits very nicely in line with a bunch of their unimpeachable 1960s oeuvre, including “Massachusetts” and “I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You.” Fabulous stuff.

18. The Dave Clark Five – Because
Much as I love the Beach Boys and I love the Beatles’ take on “Words of Love,” this song has always kind of been the go-to example when pointing out a song with extraordinary harmony singing. This is an absolutely perfect pop song, and it always blows me away that in spite of how (stunningly) simple it is, the harmonized vocals make it a tough nut to crack when it comes to trying to cover it. It’s really better left as is.

19. Morrissey – Trouble Loves Me
My Smiths obsessions started after Morrissey released Maladjusted in 1997. It was right in that 7-year drought between albums and although I’ll pass kind judgment on a couple You Are the Quarry tracks, I’ll also say (and have said many times before), it’s not worth it anymore. The humor’s gone and so have the remarkable turns of phrase. He’s turned into the old grump that he envisioned (and we all laughed about) when he was younger. And he’s also stepped over that line he warned other aging rockers off with “Get Off the Stage.” In hindsight, he should’ve walked off with Maladjusted, which overall is a terribly average album, but it does have a few majestic moments—this being the best. This should’ve been the farewell single—“Ready with ready wit” and “In the half-light, so English, frowning” are just glorious little sighs. Ah well. We can bid adieu to summer with it.

20. Ronnie Lane – Sweet Virginia (live)
It’s probably some form of sacrilege to say I prefer this cut to the Stones’ original from the thou-shalt-not-speak-ill-of-THIS-one album Exile on Main St., but where the Stones original wore itself with shambolic pride, Ronnie keys in on the gospel aspects of the song and turns it into an outright prayer of thanks. It sounds glorious, particularly because it seems to be tainted with just the smallest bit of heartbreak. Quite autumnal, no?

Happy fall, everyone.

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Summer ’92, I remember it clearly, when he choked on the olive in his dry martini.

June 9, 2011

Well, it’s that time of season again. Though the posts have dwindled year to year (I’ve decided I can’t be faulted for developing a life), the summer mix is always here. As it should be. What is summer without a good soundtrack? Just a bunch of hot days designed to make you bitch about heat, that’s what.

I know I’m in that nowhere land of posting a seasonal mix. Perhaps I should have had this ready for Memorial Day weekend, but then again at the time, the Chicago weather was dwindling in the 50s with a lot of rain, and it didn’t quite seem opportune to post then. By that Monday, there was a 40-degree jump and it seemed like summer wanted to make an early statement (the official start is still 12 days away, you know), but as schizophrenic as the weather’s been here, I thought I might as well do it now before the snow decides to make a brief encore (you can never be too sure) and put me off the mixing mood entirely.

This year’s mix goes a bit of a different route thematically. While this is still fabulous road trip or cookout music, it also shifts focus away from hot sunny days and beachside drinks and so on and so forth to the goings-on once the sun goes down. After all, it’s like that Scientologist and that “Physical” Aussie said in that ridiculous movie: “Oh, those summer nights!”

Again, this is not a strictly nighttime mix (seriously, it sounds great during any one of the 24 hours a day allots), but more than any of it’s four predecessors, this year’s summamix pays tribute to summer moon and all that happens underneath it. So, as Krusty the Clown once said (for some reason attributing it to former President Ike Eisenhower): “Let’s get bizzzay!”

summer is a mixtape. vol. V
The “Ain’t Superstitious, But These Things I’ve Seen…” fifth annual summer mix

DOWNLOAD PART 1 (Mediafire) (Tracks 1 – 10)
DOWNLOAD PART 2 (Mediafire) (Tracks 11 – 20)

01. The Charlie Steinmann Orchestra and Singers – It is Such a Good Night
I firmly believe that this song rests on different production studios’ shelves for moments when a writer or producer bursts through the door in a panic, going “We got a great comedy bit that we need some bossa nova type kitsch to soundtrack!” Boom. “It is Such a Good Night.” The answer every time. Where it comes from eludes me, the earliest debut my research turned up was an album called Stereo Explosion, but suffice to say, I’m not a Charlie Steinmann Orchestra and Singers-phile, so I failed to dig deeper. However, I think it works as a great opening to a summer mix and actually if this song makes you think of slinging meth around the shadier spots of Albuquerque, I salute your television taste.

02. Raphael Saadiq – Staying in Love
It’s pretty easy these days to point to Raphael Saadiq and say, “That guy’s pretty damn good.” Everyone knows that. What perplexes me is why more “R & B” acts don’t follow his template. Sure, he’s pilfering the Motown sound with more audacity than even Oasis pinched Beatles’ tunes, but when you do it this well, it’s pretty hard to cry foul. Maybe this song isn’t the perfect summer love song, but if it doesn’t stink of truth, then I’ll be damned. But even a hard truth goes down easy when it’s got a 4/4 pocket like this and a fabulous bassline. Check out the rest of 2008’s The Way I See It—it’s all just as good.

03. Harry Connick, Jr. – (I Could Only) Whisper Your Name
I remember when Connick’s 1994 album She came out, and my mother—who roundly enjoyed his career of easy listening piano ballads and big band throwbacks—got a bit taken aback by the updated “funky” sound Connick was producing. As I recall, the album didn’t do as well as others, but it wasn’t without its charms, namely this song and the title track. Even though the album drifted somewhat amiss, this song was saved and put onto the soundtrack for the Jim Carrey vehicle “The Mask,” which garnered it a little more time in the public consciousness, and with good reason. It’s a damn good tune, and I’ve enjoyed it since I was 11.

04. Peggy Lee – He’s a Tramp
For everyone who finds themselves in the proverbial dog pound this summer, here’s one for you from the “Lady and the Tramp” soundtrack. While this tune does well to turn my image of Peggy Lee into a rather spent Maltese who pops Lady’s vision of her man, it’s also got a warm sultry swing to it that—salacious innuendo aside—is pretty damn endearing. May all you Ladies find your Tramps this warm season.

05. Good Lovelies – Crabbuckit
I’ve only just discovered these Canadian lasses, and earlier this year when I ran a series on modern tunes that sound like old timey classics with Grandma Cyd of WSUM in Madison (not nearly enough of you participated in that, by the way, but I hope you enjoyed the music all the same), another track from this year’s Let the Rain Fall found its way into that mix. “Crabbuckit” actually cropped up on my iTunes as I was putting the album together and listening to it, I couldn’t help but think, “Yes. This would sound right at home on this mix.” Hopefully I raise a little American awareness for these girls and help coax them into a U.S. tour sometime. They’re quickly winning me over.

06. John Hiatt – The Open Road
I’ve  recently discovered Mr. Hiatt, thanks to his connection with Lyle Lovett, and every song that floats into my ear from this man sticks there like a good dinner would stick in my stomach. Satisfying, like. This song is the title track to his 2010 album of the same name (obviously), and it always entrances me. Bit of a daytime driving song than a “good night out” tune, but here’s one for the road trips for sure. I also appreciate that he calls the open road a “sonabitch.” I share the sentiment. I have even less kind feelings for a congested road, however.

07. Stereophonics – Have a Nice Day
The runaway hit (at least stateside) from the ‘Phonics’ 2001 album Just Enough Education to Perform. Within the track, the Welsh trio release their inner Beach Boys and while Kelly Jones’ leather voice is not quite reminiscent of Brian Wilson in his prime, the “ba-ba-da-ba-ba-ba-da-da-da” backing vocals and sunny backing track more than compensate. I have a Welsh friend who informs me that the land is not quite as bright and cheery as this song would suggest, so maybe it’s significant that Kelly would use the sunny backing to go awful on a San Franciscan trip. The lyrics aren’t actually all that bright and cheery, but it’s usually the chorus that sticks with you, doesn’t it? And how can you not enjoy a bit of this under the sun?

08. Liz Phair – Never Said
It’s interesting living in Chicago again and getting into discussions about Ms. Phair. If whitechocolatespaceegg didn’t get right up this city’s hipsters’ noses, then certain her highly sheened pop albums since 2003 have left many people more than scratching their heads. But talking to them, you’d think even Exile in Guyville was a knife in the city’s back … something that was theirs but then became consumable for the rest of the country, if not world. I always opine that getting beyond a city’s borders is pretty much every artist’s dream, but some people can’t be convinced. For what it’s worth, people really love Liz in Wisconsin. So there you go. Anyway, I’ll still go to bat for Exile, and as “obvious single” as this is, you can’t argue. If the legend is correct, then this is the answer to the Stones’ “Tumbling Dice” and it seems about right to me.

09. Maurice Williams & the Zodiacs – Stay
I blogged about this years ago and implored readers to try to appreciate it outside of its connotations with “Dirty Dancing.” I revive that request right now. Just enjoy it for what it is, a perfect breeze of a pop tune that says everything it needs to say in a paltry 1 minute and 39 seconds and leaves you aching for more. I don’t know how they got that drum sound, and I don’t know why more artists don’t strive for it. Williams wrote this song when he was but 15 years old, and it hit the number one spot 7 years later in November of 1960. There’s a lot to the argument that rock and roll has digressed a bit from its formative days. Proof’s in the pudding?

10. The Clash – Rudie Can’t Fail
For as aggressive as their songs (including this one) were, the Clash knew how to bring a bit of sunshine to proceedings too. Critical as it may be of growing boys that can’t act like responsible adults (or maybe critical of those who are doing the criticizing), it’s all done over a horn-spiked bounce from the seminal London Calling LP and ranks as one of the best moments (if not THE best moment) from that album. Guaranteed to having you moving some part of your body for its duration and more than likely singing along by the end.

11. The Rifles – The Great Escape
This is from the Rifles 2009 album of the same name. I saw these boys open for Paul Weller back in 2008, and I can see why he would be behind them—they’ve got that observational aggression within which he’s so well versed. The lyrics read like a to-do list for summer (the British summertime’s just great—whatever), although I might advise against purchasing a brand new semi next door to the Taliban. The government’s just going to end up getting really annoyed about how you didn’t KNOW they were living so close.

12. The Bird and the Bee – Heard it on the Radio
Longtime visitors to the blog will know of my admiration of Inara George, so putting her voice in this mix should be no surprise. This catchy little ditty is actually an original that they included on a 2010 album consisting (otherwise) solely of Hall & Oates covers. And yes, it captures the H&O framework for a perfect pop chorus nicely. Part of me wishes they’d shot an appropriately cheesy video for it featuring superfluous hamminess from G.E. Smith. But life’s full of disappointments, isn’t it?

13. Dean Martin – Carolina Moon
This is the lead cut from Dean Martin’s first 12” LP for Capitol, Swingin’ Down Yonder, which was released in 1955. As one might guess from the title, all the songs revolved around southern states or cities. New Orleans and the Carolinas got three songs apiece, so maybe Dean didn’t take in as much of the south as he could’ve for a 12-song LP, or maybe songwriters from Arkansas and Tennessee were just a little bit behind the guys putting the likes of “Georgia on My Mind” or “Mississippi Mud” together. Of the three Carolina-based songs, this one’s far and away the best. Actually wants to make me see the moon in North (or South) Carolina. Could it be THAT much better than what I’ve seen over Chicago? Or the Northwoods?

14. Kula Shaker – Moonshine
If you don’t have access to a moon over North or South Carolina, then perhaps this should suit you just as well. Kula Shaker bring a bit of Eastern ambiance to this track, which was a B-side to the “Tattva” single before emerging in the United States as part of the (appropriately titled) “Summer Sun EP.” The guitar solo’s a bit undercooked, but the swelling organ and the catchy-as-all-get-out chorus are more than redemptive.

15. Gruff Rhys – Gwn Mi Wn
This is from Gruff’s solo album, Yr Atal Genhedlaeth, which is done entirely in Welsh and makes for cool, but entirely incomprehensible, reading for Yanks like myself. Gruff’s description of the song: “It’s a bit of a long story. It literally means, ‘Yes, I know.’ It’s also a play on words; extended. It’s about this MC called Glyn Kysgod Angau, which means ‘The Valley of Death’ and his mate called D. Chwaeth [Ob Scene]. So it’s kind of biblical. It’s a track about these two fictional MC’s who have a battle with bows and arrows that shoot words, and they pour beer on their cornflakes in the morning. It’s just bragging really.” Beer on cornflakes and MC duals. Summer! Fact is, you’re going to have this thing stuck in your head for eons and we all owe Gruff a debt of gratitude for saving that drumbeat from forever being linked to “Mickey.”

16. Old 97’s – Bel Air
Certainly, the 97’s have written more summer-y themed material (“She Loves the Sunset” and “Melt Show” come immediately to mind), but something about this chestnut from 1995’s Wreck Your Life always reminds me of a night on the town after a sweltering day on the job. I suppose that it starts out in a boiler room gives it that feel, but from fooling around in the backseat to whiskey-spiked Slurpees to scaring kids on motorcycles, it just contains all the debauchery a good summer eve should. Maybe the chorus’ sentiment of “I’ll stomp a mudhole in your heart” doesn’t give a lot of hope for a sunny tomorrow, but hey, seize the moment.

17. Brenda Holloway – We’ll Keep on Rolling
I’m a huge, huge fan of Brenda’s and for the limited amount of material that was actually released during her heyday with the Tamla Motown set, it was all pretty top notch. Thanks be to the big one then, that she also left the vaults pretty well stocked. This cut, which I believe was recorded in 1966 was made available on the 3rd volume of the Cellarful of Motown series. Got everything the great Motown hits did as far as drive, a sharp pocket and sing-a-long-able chorus, but as 1966 went, a lot of potential classics had to be set aside (grave injustice to Tammi Terrell too) for what that label was actually issuing. The problems with having so much good material, you know.

18. Sleeper – Nice Guy Eddie
Ah, that ever present story of the seemingly sweet young British lass who takes up with an elder man with eyes on the man’s fat stacks. Sure he may be old, but he’s rich and kind. And rich. Because I’ve always held a spot of affection for Louise Wener (the video still knocks me out), I’ll assume that the olive-choking incident was purely accidental, but the tragic (or commonplace) story unfolds over an unflinchingly catchy backing track and the coquettish coos over the chorus, well… give me a moment.

19. The Stone Roses – What the World is Waiting For
The Stone Roses were unstoppable in that time surrounding their through-and-through perfect debut album, even stocking the singles with A-level non-album B-sides. So high was the swell after that debut album hit that they wanted to release a follow up single with this song destined for the A-side. The record company brass put on the other side first, however, which just happened to be “Fools Gold.” The rest is history. Even drunk college kids who don’t know who Ian, John and Mani are – let alone would care about the fact that the three recently shared the same room for the first time since 1996 – know this song. While “What the World is Waiting For” did achieve “Double A-side” status, it quickly got washed away in the tides of history too. Reissues of the debut include “Fools Gold.” This one can be a little trickier too find. But there it is … like a splash of cool water on a brutally hot day. Refreshing as ever.

20. Nat King Cole – Walkin’ My Baby Back Home
The perfect way to end the great summer evening … walking the gal back in the wee small hours. This tune was an early hit for Nat and featured on his 1952 album Top Pops, and with all the petting and talcum on the vest and whatnot, it’s amazing those tightly wound execs made any room for it at all it to become such a smash. Maybe they too had affinity for stopping at barbecue stands. The only part of this song I don’t get is when they park. The whole song is about a walk home. Then in the middle of the song they’re in a car for some reason. WTF? Regardless, still a good closer.

And so there you have it. Now load it up, bust the speakers out and get off your computer and into the sunshine (or moonlight).