Archive for the ‘Seasonal Mix’ Category

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Whoever named the fall sure did a bang-up job.

October 15, 2010

Is anyone still out there?

I’ve taken a lot of guff in the last few weeks from a certain host of Madison’s finest 2-hour radio block for becoming entirely too lax in my blogging duties — it started with kind chiding about the need of an autumn mix that recently morphed into a “maybe you can write a f*cking blog about it” after I posted a Facebook update relaying my excitement about revisiting Rolling Stones Records in Norridge after a years-long absence. Such language from a Grandma!

There’s a good explanation why I’ve drifted away from this medium. Well, maybe that’s up to you to decide whether or not it’s good, but there is an explanation. Over the summer I relocated from Madison to Chicago. I found new employment and also that a lot of my nearest and dearest friends were more than happy to have me back within the distance of a few-minute El or taxi ride as opposed to the 3-hour jaunt between the two cities. This led to me being out fairly often when not in my new office, and I also survived in my new Chicago digs for quite sometime without Internet.

I could be snooty and say that there’s simply too much to do in Chicago to devote time to a blog, but that’s not the entire truth. The truth is, I just got out of habit — my former job stripped me of a lot of my desire to write in free time, even if it was about music. I wouldn’t say I’m back in habit yet, but I’m a lot more positive about writing than I was when I posted the summer mix. Moreover, I’ve got some ideas for new posts (why the hell is Paul McCartney re-re-releasing Band on the Run?), and with the year-end now quickly approaching, I’m realizing it’s time to start compiling my annual “15 of the Best” and, of course, the Christmas mix.

All that in due time. I know it’s been fall for a little while now and I’m a little late in posting this. Blame it on the prolonged summer-ish weather in the Midwest, but today was the first day I was driving to work and felt the crisp tinge of autumn in the air. The smell of it too. Fortunately, I had Volume 4 of the “Ain’t Superstitious, But These Things I’ve Seen…” autumn mix with me. Now you can have it too.

Are you happy, Grandma Cyd?

Autumnal, Vol. 4
Download Part 1 (tracks 1-10) HERE
Download Part 2 (tracks 11-20) HERE

01. Billy Bragg & Wilco – Walt Whitman’s Niece
It’s a blustery opener to the first (and superior) volume of Bragg & Wilco’s Mermaid Avenue, and it sounds a right nice way to open the fourth volume of this blog’s autumn mix. While I wouldn’t tag this tune as breezy – there’s certainly a stiff wind about it, and a bit of fun as the boys put music to Woody Guthrie’s 1946 lyric about a friendly seaman leaving the song’s protagonist alone in a room with some (but not which) niece of Walt Whitman’s. Enjoy the double entendres of seamen, heads and laps. And remember even though the music is just over a decade old, the lyric itself is more than a half century old.

02. Wyclef Jean – Gone Till November
I’ve always wanted to like Wyclef much more than I’ve ever been able to, simply because his output is so consistently spotty. There are moments of genius, and maybe 1997’s The Carnival was the most ready-loaded of the bunch, but when it comes to one good song on 19-track or more albums, I just can’t be bothered. Couple that with the fact that most people saw the writing on the wall when he considered Haitian presidency, I’m as uninterested now in the details of his relationship with Lauryn Hill and/or Pras as I was in 1998 and I’m more likely to hear him shouting basic Spanish over a Shakira single than I am to hear something completely his, and it’s just… meh. Ah, but this is the track that spawned my hope for him. A beautifully lush single that sugarcoats the hard-to-see-through familial commitments of a drug dealer and produces a strong enough emotional swell to surf upon. I would love an album of this kind of stuff. And I more than believe he has the talent in him to arrange and produce an album that merges hip-hop, soul and orchestration like this. The problem is his focus for it seems to be as fleeting as that shot of Dylan in the song’s video.

03. Michael Penn – Out of My Hand
Probably the best cut from Penn’s 1997 album, Resigned. Michael’s always had a knack for writing a good song, but after “No Myth,” the public at large seemed to stop caring. I’ve been a proponent of his on this blog before and I’m sure I’ll continue to be – his songwriting runs in the same vein of Beatle-esque whimsy that Neil Finn frequents. This is a song that never comes immediately to mind for me if I’m thinking of good Michael Penn songs to show people or, much less, putting together a mix, but every time it comes up at random or alongside a host of other Michael Penn tracks, I always stop and go, “Oh yeah … I like this one … a lot.” So if you haven’t heard it, enjoy. There are some pretty phenomenal chord changes in here. I know it’s kind of a tepid thing to compliment, but once you hear it, I believe you’ll think so too.

04. Ride – Starlight Motel
A lot of people are pretty hard on Ride’s final album, 1996’s Tarantula, and I can understand why. Andy Bell’s foil Mark Gardener is virtually absent from the album, leaving Bell to front a three-piece band that seems hellbent on building an album based on the Oasis blueprint—a trait Bell would carry into the Hurricane #1 days before inevitably becoming a member of Oasis himself. Most Ride fans yearned for more of the band’s early 1990’s output, shoegazing stuff of hushed vocals buried in layers of reverb-heavy guitar. I actually enjoyed them more when they went retro, beginning with 1994’s Carnival of Light. I just thought the songs made more sense and the vocals were more intelligible. Call me simple, but there you go. Anyway, I wouldn’t rate Tarantula as one of the finest albums in rock’s history, much less in 1990s history, but the slating it got at the time of release was unjustified. It was a decent album buoyed by some charming little tunes, and this one probably being the best, or at least most charming, of the lot. It’s a pretty obvious veer into Buffalo Springfield territory, but at the end of the day, what’s so bad about that? It’s an optimistic end to a rather pessimistic album, and it’s a nice audio accompaniment to some of fall’s more simple pleasures.

05. Electric Light Orchestra – In My Own Time
I hate the fact that this is an ELO song. I hate the fact that 2001’s Zoom is even referred to as an ELO album, despite the fact that besides Jeff Lynne, only one other member of ELO plays on it. And that other member plays on only one track. George Harrison and Ringo Starr play on more of the album than any other ELO-er besides Lynne, which, maybe makes it the ELO album that Lynne always wanted to make anyway, but still – just make it a damn solo album. Zoom is actually a surprisingly fabulous album, full of the glossy production and sturdy songwriting you would want from the shaded-n-bearded one, but the decision to put it out under the ELO moniker and force some kind of sentimentality from a public that absolutely did not want it (the album tanked and the ensuing tour was cancelled after a few shows) forever nullified this album to the point of general obscurity. Which is annoying on several fronts, the least of which being that this shimmery take on basic 1950s blues gets more propulsion from one of my seasonal mixes than it did from the creator himself. Listen to this on an autumn afternoon and try to tell me it’s no good.

06. Elvis Presley – (Marie’s the Name of) His Latest Flame
It’s by no means a stretch when I tell people I can count the number of Elvis songs I truly adore on one hand. Actually it is. I can count the number of Elvis songs I really like on one hand. I can count the number of Elvis songs I truly adore on one finger. Here it is. My personal opinions and critiques on the man and his oeuvre aside, he delivers a damn fine vocal here, but it’s the backing track that always gets me. It’s a picture perfect shuffle that uses only sparse amplification. The dance-ability of this considering the heavy use of acoustic instruments (and brush sticks, no less) just astounds me. Great, great stuff and a stiff musical counterpoint to one of the most heartbreaking little lyrics ever. And is it just me, or does this song seem grossly appropriate for the Facebook age of people who can’t help but to stalk exes?

07. Happy Mondays – Stinkin’ Thinkin’
This song is the absolute opposite of what made the Mondays so fantastic. It never explicitly asks the listener for forgiveness, it actually asks that all the hedonism and access that the Mondays condoned in their glory years (and bigger hits) be acknowledged. But the whole tone of the song drips with regret, and given where Ryder & Co. were in 1992 (the Yes! Please album being a terrific underwhelm, despite the sheer ridiculousness of its Barbados-birthed backstory), the fallout from Ryder and Bez’s quasi-homophobic rent-boy bashing, and the implosion of Factory Records—it all seemed to make for a downtrodden epitaph. Still, there’s something uplifting about this tune, even if it’s sighing that things probably won’t ever change (for better or worse). It’s the perfect morning after song.

08. Fiona Apple – Extraordinary Machine
The very first time I listened to NPR, this song was playing. It was a dreary fall day in Madison, Wisconsin and I usually avoid the radio at all costs – a symptom of growing up in a family prone to radio-soundtracked roadtrips that required constant channel changing to maintain signals or find something listenable. The odds of finding anything good were too slim for my liking so I started crafting roadtrip mix tapes, and as long as I’ve been able to drive my own car, the radio has never stayed on for an extended stretch (unless it’s an important Cubs game and Pat and Ronny have the call). But I was switching CDs one day and this was on the radio (I don’t know why it was tuned to NPR, but it was) and all I could think was, “F*ck me, this sounds incredible.” I didn’t associate it with Fiona at first, nor did I associate it with the fabulous Jon Brion, but lo and behold, it was both of their handywork. Thankfully, the people at Epic believed this was one track worth saving from Apple and Brion’s original Extraordinary Machine sessions (which trump the properly released album) and it got to see the proper light of day. The second time I heard this song was at a New Year’s Eve Party in 2005 and I thought, “God, this even sounds good at a party. I must find this album.” Something about it is appealing to me at any time of year, but when the weather runs just a bit colder, it seems to make this thing more effective. And yes, it still amazes me as a listener as it did on that first NPR airing. Oh, and my radio is always set to NPR now, too, just incase you know, something good ever comes on between my CD changes.

09. Elliott Smith – Angeles
I’ve been listening to this song for years, whether it comes up on Smith’s 1997 album Either/Or, or as part of that phone call/Minnie Driver leaving sequence whenever “Good Will Hunting” shows up on basic cable channel in weekend syndication. After all that, I still don’t know exactly what this song means, but having said that, I almost prefer it that way. It sounds cold and lonely and whatever positive sentiments bubble up in the lyric, some cynical undertone pops them—particularly the “I could make you satisfied” closing verse. Still, as cold as could be, this song always leaves me decidedly forward-looking. As if this is the soundtrack to the kind-of-crummy bit, but something better is waiting around the corner. Funny, that, because while I profess to not know what the song is about, I can tell it’s almost certainly not about that. But I digress.

10. Massive Attack – Blue Lines
Every time I listen to Massive Attack, I always think, “God… I really need to dig into this band more,” but to this day, I still haven’t. Maybe someday. This track, the title cut from their 1991 opus always just sinks its teeth into me. I’m not an avid trip-hop fan of any sorts and I seldom find myself singing, er… rapping along to this, but I always listen intently and at the very least nod my head. Something about the whole tone of the song, it’s just very beguiling. And when it came on my iPod the other day during a cool walk by Chicago’s lakefront, it seemed even more effective. For Chicago listeners, I also recommend this driving at night along Lake Shore Drive. For everyone else, find your place to put it on and groove. It’s a very cool groove.

11. Paul Weller – Cold Moments
I believe Weller has the distinction of making every autumn mix to date, so why stop at No. 4? Depending on what day you ask, I’ll probably say that this is the best moment on his 2008 album, 22 Dreams (then the next day I’ll go back to “Have You Made Up Your Mind?”). To my knowledge, it’s the last solo song of his to feature Steve White on drums, and you can audibly notice a tighter beat here than elsewhere on that album, but everything about this song is just so windy-overcast-fall-day crisp, if you will. As someone who positively despises being made to wait for phone calls (I should probably pick a different line of work), I can lock right in with the song’s sentiment, but additional kudos for the sparingly effective organ and “sha-la-la-la-la-la”s. I’m all for Weller’s recent creative burst, but my criticism has been the general loss of songs like this in favor of minute-and-a-half soundscapes with stream-of-conscious lyrics. I like a bit of structure. And where there’s good structure there, it doesn’t even bother me that this song clocks in at five minutes. Frankly, I could take another five.

12. Cilla Black – It’s For You
One of the great Lennon/McCartney originals that the Beatles never actually took on themselves, this was instead lofted over to Cilla – another artist tied to Parlophone Records and under the management of Brian Epstein. The fact that it had the John & Paul songwriting credit helped its popularity (it peaked at #7 in the UK), but the maturity in the production and, dare I say, songwriting, might not have appealed to the same group of kids putting “Can’t Buy Me Love” atop the charts. Though this is a bit of a melodramatic song, it also sounds quite pastoral, and it must have been nice for George Martin to produce something that could employ his ear for larger orchestrational arrangements (the Beatles were still about a year away from doing that themselves).

13. Souvenir – Ne Dis Pas
This is Souvenir’s contribution to the 2000 Beach Boys/Brian Wilson tribute album, Caroline Now! “Girl Don’t Tell Me” just might be my all time favorite Beach Boys tune, so to hear it in French in the breathless vocals of Patricia De La Fuente is interesting enough, but even more enjoyable in that they kept the right balance between the original’s breeziness and immediacy. There are few people that could compete with Carl Wilson as a singer, and I don’t think this version is even a threatening competitor to the original, but kudos for an interesting angle and atmospheric production that sounds right at home on a fall mix.

14. Rhett Miller – Haphazardly
If there is a downside to Rhett Miller’s 2009 self-titled solo album, it’s that it’s a little back-heavy with dreary ballads that veer away from the cleverness for which he’s known and respected. “Haphazardly” could have fallen into that category, save for the absolutely brilliant line “Whoever named the fall sure did a bang-up job – they might as well have been talking about me.” It’s an easily identifiable line for any listener prone to even a slight mood swing, but getting some heavy accentuation from the crack studio band backing Stuart Ransom II, the song carries some bombast to bulk up its self-critical protagonist. Doubt is always a little better when there’s some muscle behind it … don’t ask me why.

15. The Beatles – For No One
It’s probably not fair to call any Beatles song underrated, but even when thinking about Revolver, how many people have “For No One” come right to the fore as an example of why that album’s so great? I would wager not many, although I would also wager that not many people would have a bad thing to say about the tune. The thing that still astounds me is McCartney’s songwriting chops by 1966. The guy’s 24 years old and he’s writing a ballad like this about the pain of middle age. Whether the lady’s muse in question is  actually dead or just a sad case of unrequited love, I guess that’s up to the listener, but the Beatles were handling topics like this even 2 years before with songs like “Baby’s in Black.” It’s really pretty amazing to think about when you think about pre-facial hair Beatles, and it’s why I’ll never understand anyone that really wants to argue about anyone in the history of popular music being better. They do here in two minutes what most bands could never even think to conjure.

16. Dean Martin – Who’s Your Little Who-Zis!
This is the lead cut from Dean’s first LP, 1953’s Dean Martin Sings. Martin had actually done the song in his 1952 movie with Jerry Lewis, “The Stooge,” and the LP basically worked as a catch-all for songs that had featured in that movie and a few other cuts (the 12″ version featured Dean’s standard “That’s Amore”), but this little number has always charmed me. In my entire life, I’ve known only one lady who vehemently defended Martin as the greatest crooner of all time. I grew up in a Sinatra-adoring extended family. Dean was always respected, but never considered to be a patch on Frank. In my own rebellious way, I’ll actually staunchly defend Bobby Darin as the greatest crooner, but I think Martin outdid Frank on a number of fronts. Frank had the arrogance and the implied cool about him. Dean just had the cool — listen to the way his voice goes up when he sings “melts your heart LIKE butter…” You can visualize him almost shrugging when he sings it, and it’s just that offhandedness about it that always gets me.

17. Emmitt Long – Call Me
I know very little about Mr. Long and about this song, actually, as I unearthed it on some old Northern Soul compilation. I will say that being in Chicago has freshened my ears for good, rare soul and R&B music — you just don’t get “Mod Night”s in Madison, sadly. This song has an incredibly dusty overtone that I don’t know is a quality of simply not being well-known enough to merit a proper CD remaster or was simply recorded in such simple circumstances that it will be forever how the tape sounds. But really listen to this thing — it sounds like a classic-era Al Green demo. And I mean that in the best way possible. Even the little spoken interlude isn’t too ridiculous. Nice one to do a slow float around the floor to, and you can easily groove to it with or without a partner.

18. Heavy Stereo – Cartoon Moon
I have a lot of faith in Gem Archer, which is what’s holding my interest in Beady Eye as I wait (maybe forever) for a Noel Gallagher solo album. Gem’s writing wasn’t put to good use during his Oasis tenure – he wrote some moderately enjoyable songs, but nothing like the best stuff he penned during his days fronting Heavy Stereo, and I want to believe it was because he was constantly writing in Gallagher Sr.’s shadow. But look back a little ways and you’ll see that Gem has some fine songwriting chops of his own. “Cartoon Moon” could have been a huge Oasis hit (the heavier, full-band version can be found on Heavy Stereo’s lone LP, Deja Voodoo), but this acoustic treatment can be found as a B-side to their rollicking 1995 single, “Smiler.” Sure, the lead guitar lick is an obvious knock off of the lick from “Supersonic” (which, in itself, is an obvious knock off of the lick from “My Sweet Lord”), but listen to that simple lyric – particularly when Gem insists “Shine on me.” He can be quite affecting, you know. I really hope he steps back up to it with Beady Eye.

19. Morrissey – The Loop
I was heartened to learn that Morrissey reestablished this song as part of his live sets in recent years, but it’s still too grossly underrated and generally unknown for my liking. The rockabilly thump is exhilarating enough, but what’s really key about this tune is something that Morrissey never does nowadays – subscribe to the idea that less is more. All the lyric is is one simple verse that’s repeated just once. Yes, friends, there was a time when Morrissey had the ability to say what he meant in the fewest, choicest words possible and not mercilessly drag out a point over an uninspired (and tuneless) backing track. Here’s a glorious reminder.

20. Joe Brown – I’ll See You in My Dreams
I was surprised how frequently I was moved to tears the first time I saw “The Concert for George.” The big reasons for me are as follows: 1.) I’m not a big cryer. During uncomfortable moments, I’m much more likely to burst into laughter – it’s a defense mechanism, and don’t think for a minute it hasn’t got me in a lot of trouble at times. Wakes and funerals, in particular. 2.) I’m incredibly wary of tributes – particularly ones that merit DVD release and big spectacle concerts. I’m all for George Harrison’s music, but do I need to hear Tom Petty singing “I Need You,” when I can just go upstairs and plug in my own copy of Help!? No. Nevertheless, I found myself teary-eyed on multiple instances watching the DVD. From when the Pythons saluted the portrait of George after “The Lumberjack Song,” to Billy Preston’s reading of “My Sweet Lord,” and yes, even Petty’s version of “I Need You” (singing it to/about a dead person just makes it that much of a sadder song). But Joe Brown’s finale of a ukulele-led “I’ll See You in My Dreams”? I was watching it was five other people, and I had to leave the room. It’s the sweetest song, and doing it ukulele style just absolutely killed me. Brown isn’t the first to do it with a ukulele leading it – Cliff Edwards recorded it as such multiple times, but something about Brown’s voice and gentle delivery just makes it the ultimate version. Thankfully, the only time I get really emotional is when I see the DVD. I can listen to the song and just appreciate the tune without getting particularly emotional, and this version, from Brown’s 2004 LP Hittin’ the Hi Spots is a fabulous studio rendition and a perfect closing to this year’s autumn volume.

Happy Falling.

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Let all the Russians and the Chinese and the Spanish do the fighting. The sun is shining.

June 8, 2010

I know, I haven’t been around in months. Things are hectic on the job front and even when I do get the inspiration to write these days, I find myself going, “But… I’m just going to be writing so much tomorrow. So what else is on T.V.?” I know, selfish. Especially for all you followers wondering where the hell else you can get turned on to great music.

Well, I want you to know I’d never abandon you entirely, and I do promise that one day posts will return with nice frequency. I’m just not sure exactly when that will be. In the meantime, I missed the unofficial start of summer, but I’m still a couple weeks early for the unofficial start, so I think it’s high-time for the fourth installment of summer is a mixtape.

As always, this is the only soundtrack you need until the Tuesday after Labor Day. Play it loudly at your cookouts, parties, road trips, beach visits, boat outings, lake visits, camping trips and any applicable social function. Hell, even if you’re alone and need a pick-me-up, play it. Summer is here, says I.

Download Part 1 (tracks 1 – 10 in a .zip file)
Download Part 2 (tracks 11- 20 in a .zip file)

 

01. The Style Council – A Solid Bond in Your Heart
Quite likely the best Northern Soul song of the 1980s, Paul Weller wrote this as the Jam’s time was coming to an end, and first thought it might make a good swan song for his first group. Then he thought it was too good to be a last word and pocketed it so he could help launch his new outfit, The Style Council, with the song. The Style Council still catches a lot of guff to this day — even from fans of Weller — and while god-awful 1980s production techniques marred plenty of their output, you can’t deny that the Modfather had plenty of good songs in him through the decade. The great thing about “Solid Bond” is that it’s not only a fab song, but it came in before that horrible 1980s production moved into the Style Council’s studio chambers. Overloaded with strings, horns, multi-tracked vocals and one of the liveliest basslines ever to anchor a Weller song, this is just 12 kinds of glorious and a fitting tribute to the music that still motivates the guy to this day.

02. Bebel Gilberto – Chica Chica Boom Chic
Have no idea what 97% of this song is about, pretty sure about 65% is nonsense, though, and I don’t care. Bebel is a summer staple, and this single from last year’s All in One is as ridiculously sun-kissed as just about everything she’s put her name to. Bebel’s stepmom (technically, I guess) Astrud recorded this tune years ago and now as Bebel is home on the Verve label that housed Astrud and Bebel’s father, João, I guess it’s more than appropriate that she gets a crack at an old standard. The fact that she knocks it way out of the park is completely unsurprising. And completely welcome.

03. Black Grape – Kelly’s Heroes
Black Grape’s 1995 debut, It’s Great When You’re Straight… Yeah is not only one of the finest summer records ever, but hands-down one of the finest records ever made. Coming off a rather dismal end to the Happy Mondays, Shaun Ryder sounded 110% rejuvenated here, and undoubtedly spurred on by new rapping/singing foil Kermit. The two’s exchange at the 0:40 mark (“Jesus was a black man!” “No, Jesus was Batman!” “No, no, no, no, no, no — that was Bruce Wayne!”) is hilarious on every listen, and the rejection of anyone tabbed a “hero” might just be enough to make you disavow the person or persons you might follow. I mean, admit it. They’ve never been categorically dismissed with as good a backing track as this, have they?

04. Paolo Nutini – 10/10
I never bought into the Nutini craze a couple years ago with the These Streets album and all that hubbub surrounding “New Shoes.” That song wasn’t as good as “Jenny Don’t Be Hasty” anyway. So when Nutini last year released Sunny Side Up, I wasn’t paying attention and really had no intention of checking it out until I overheard “Pencil Full of Lead” somewhere and thought someone had stumbled into a whole vault of unreleased Louis Prima material. “10/10,” the album’s opening cut, would have made me think the same thing had I heard it first instead. You gotta hand it to Paolo — taking a step away from an adoring flock of girls aged 14 to 28 and gravitating toward a style of music that appealed to their mothers and maybe grandmothers is a bold step to take. But the guy’s got the chops to do it and doesn’t sound contrived or forced trying it. It hasn’t made me a full-fledged Nutini Nut or anything, but I tip my hat to him for this track and a few others on Sunny Side Up. Takes some stones to go running in a direction far away from your first solo album the next time out.

05. Robbie Nevil – C’est La Vie
Big slice of 1980’s pop for you here, and indeed this smacks of all the downfalls of ’80s music — overreliance on synthesizers, phased beats and group participation choruses. Then again, this song has the same traits that make you still secretly like Hall & Oates (or, hell, even a lot of the Style Council), and that’s the fact that this is just a great, great pop song. White boys taking on R&B with all the 1980s trappings is always a case of venturing into treacherous waters, and few ever made it out unscathed, but “C’est La Vie” sounds like pretty clear sailing to me. Indeed the testament to the song is that the synths, beats, and group insistence in the chorus (“THAT’S RIGHT!”) fail to sink the song. Christ, even a comedically inept music video, featuring Robbie as perhaps the most dispassionate artist ever to star (and look really bad wielding a stratocaster) in a video couldn’t bring this song down. Impressive. But more importantly, fun. That’s what summer’s about.

06. Rebirth Brass Band – It’s All Over Now (Live)
N’awlins music is just going to put you in a sunny state of mind, if not remind you of some glorious days (and long nights) out, so it seems more than appropriate to put a Second Line staple in the mix here. Rebirth and some other New Orleans great are getting a little more exposure in the new HBO series “Treme,” which might be where you’ve heard a similar rendition of this old blues classic. And I’m sure anyone who’s ever heard Rebirth’s take on the song will agree that it just doesn’t get any better. Forget the Stones. Forget Rod. Forget Bobby Womack. This is where it’s at. If this can’t get you over a break-up, you’re hopeless. Seriously. The table’s turning and it’s turning tonight. Viva the next opportunity!

07. Edgar Jones & Friends – Seven Years
Edgar made his ASBTTIS mix debut last season on the third volume of “Spring Chicken,” and he’s back for a consecutive seasonal mix with this cut from his splendiferous 2008 record, The Masked Marauder. The guy’s well known around northern England as one of the premier guitarists and R&B/blues enthusiasts, and listening to his stuff, it’s sometimes hard to imagine he’s not a product of toiling away in Chicago’s blues scene. The music comes to the guy so naturally. This is like Chic if Chic was fronted by Eddie Kendricks. Even though the subject matter is kind of a drag — looking at a relationship and realizing you’ve wasted years on it — the groove is chill enough to let bygones and be bygones and dance into the future. Or, I guess, if it’s too much of a drag, you can just skip back two tracks to Rebirth. Still, you’ll never hear cooler music coming from a guy named Edgar.

08. The Rolling Stones – Tumbling Dice
The recent re-release of 1972’s Exile on Main St. reignited all those well-worn music snob debates: Is it the best Stones album? How important, really, was Mick to this whole thing? What’s the best cut out of the double album’s 18? It’s terribly easy to go with “Tumbling Dice,” you know. I mean, could you be more obvious? The first single? Really? I mean, hell, you can go for cool points and rattle off “Ventilator Blues.” I certainly like to make impassioned arguments for “Rocks Off.” I even have my days where I forget just how much I really do like “Happy.” But see, then you HEAR “Tumbling Dice,” and kind of have to go, “…oh yeah.” I mean, it’s just the confluence of ingredients here. Charlie’s drumming. That plodding piano line. Mick’s just-buried-enough vocal. Keith’s ramshackle harmonies. The bit where Mick insists “You can be my partner-in-crime.” This is musical medicine. It’s very hard not to feel good after cranking this.

09. Bobby Darin & Johnny Mercer – My Cutey’s Due at Two-to-Two Today
Probably the best moment on 1961’s Darin/Mercer duet album, Two of a Kind. It’s a pretty solid pairing and, actually, I could probably do with another album or two from the combo, but maybe it’s better that there was just one solid offering. Both Darin and Mercer had pretty defined personalities and deliveries, and as you can hear, they play off each other quite nicely. But what I particularly like about the record and this song in particular is you can hear that Darin counted himself as a bit of an understudy to Mercer. Each man interrupts the other’s verse with smart-ass little comments, but Mercer never cracks, try as Darin might. Darin on the other hand, not only verges on the giggles a couple times, he also tries to extend the funny by laying a cowboy accent on the “And how those western stars can fight” line.  It could get kitsch in lesser hands, but here it just ends up being a fun swing with some nice wordplay.

10. Suede – Beautiful Ones
Being a big Bernard Butler fan, I didn’t really ever get deeply into Suede, because the guitarist didn’t stick around long enough to make it seem like it would be worth my time. Especially in the mid-90s when he was doing the exquisite “Yes” with David McAlmont and releasing two still-under appreciated solo albums of his own. Brett Anderson? Smart guy, but a little too flamboyant vocally and stylistically for my own tastes. But hell, who am I to deny a great pop song? This cut, from Suede’s 1996 record, Coming Up, is just a great pop song. I know the point of the song is to take aim at all the trappings and dismalities of being in the “in-crowd,” but jeez, the way Mr. Anderson lists diesel gasoline, drum machines, sex and glue, I kind of wonder what I was missing by studiously never allowing myself to conform. Maybe it would’ve been fun. At least when I was 22.

11. The Black Crowes – Ozone Mama
I’ve never been able to buy into the Black Crowes at fill tilt. I don’t have an aversion to southern-tinged rock, just bands that stake the majority of their career on it. Two or three (maybe four, depending upon the depth of your catalogue) albums worth? OK. But a whole discography? That said, I’d vociferously defend 2001’s Lions as one of the better rock albums ever created, and this track is a great summation of the reason the album works. This track is just plain silly. How many times does Chris Robinson say “y’all”? What are the odds the lyrics were written on the spot? How unnecessary is screaming “I LIKE IT LIKE THAT!” at the end? Ah, but then again, you’re tapping your foot as you listen, aren’t you? You’re thinking this would sound quite nice at your next Saturday barbecue, aren’t you? There’s no pretension here — it’s just “Eh, let’s try having a little fun.” Great bridge in this song, and the one-two punch of an electric piano AND organ? Hats off, boys.

12. T. Rex – Mambo Sun
Easily my favorite Marc Bolan composition and very possibly the sexiest song ever written. There’s probably not much I can say about T. Rex or 1971’s Electric Warrior that hasn’t already been said a million times, so I guess the trick is just to listen to this. This is a one off. You could try for a million years to recreate the vibe and sound that was captured here for just over three and a half minutes, but it’s not going to happen. Aural magic. F*ck John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. THIS is Summer Lovin’

13. Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes – Home
A friend showed me this track a few months ago, and to date this is all I know about Mr. Sharpe and the apparent Zeroes with whom he surrounds himself. This is a stunningly charming track — a dude and his lady basically singing each other’s praises and saying that being in love with each other is preferable to Alabama, Arkansas, love for Ma and Pa, hot and heavy pumpkin pie, chocolate cake and Jesus Christ. Pretty random list, but I think the point gets across and it’ll put a smile on  your face. When my friend played this for me, I remarked to him it’s the kind of music She & Him should be making. “If She & Him were, you know…” I began, before my friend interjected with “…good?” I don’t know if I’d be that critical, but Ms. Deschanel and Mr. Ward should pay attention. Kudos to these guys for thinking up this one first, though.

14. Ocean Colour Scene – Up on the Downside
The masses forgot about OCS after 1998’s Marchin’ Already and even the lingering diehards are hard-pressed to make a case for any album to compare with their last truly great LP, 1999’s One From the Modern. But the people who’ve given up or looked the other way have missed out on a lot of great tunes scattered amongst an ever-growing array of folk ballads. Tracks like this, from 2001’s so-so Mechanical Wonder, are the exact reason you still need to pay attention. This cut rivals the very best things the Scene ever released and even goes further in terms of fun and dance-ability than some of their designated classics. I still don’t quite get exactly what point Foxy’s trying to make in these lyrics, but I think it’s about paying your dues during the week to enjoy the hell out of the weekend. You know, like you do in summer.

15. The Traveling Wilburys – New Blue Moon
George Harrison and Jeff Lynne’s voices just sounded wonderful together, didn’t they? I mean, you put George, Jeff, Tom Petty and Bob Dylan in a studio and you don’t figure you’re going to get a lovely calypso-tinged ballad, but lo and behold, this is one of the finer moments on the 1990’s Vol. 3. Letting Dylan taking the solo on the bridge still kind of throws a little cold water on the mood of the song, but I have to imagine George especially was having a good laugh when Bob stepped to the mic for his part. Particularly the last line, when he pulls out a falsetto (you-you-ya-you-hoo-OOOH!) that, even 20 years later, I can’t tell whether it’s serious or a piss-take. I guess it doesn’t matter. Some gorgeous slide-playing by George, some incredible percussion by Jim Keltner, and George and Jeff’s voices winding around each other on the verses… this is a starry night on the beach right here.

16. Elastica – Car Song
Like all the best tracks on Elastica’s 1995 self-titled debut, this one doesn’t even crack 3 minutes. Most of the best pop songs leave you wanting more, and this song is chock-full of stuff I’d love to hear much more about. Be it Justine Frischmann’s sexual connotations with Ford and Honda jalopies (you wouldn’t want to hear more from her?), why exactly we need to count to ten and how anything in a Fiesta can possibly go too far. Hell, I could take another four minutes of repeating that chorus. This is just catchy as sin.

17. Alejandro Escovedo – One More Time
Alejandro’s getting a lot more play in mainstream thanks to duets with Bruce Springsteen and a continuing stream of solid albums that is set to continue this summer. Those who take the time to really dig into his catalogue will find that the solid songwriting’s always been there, and this song from his 1992 solo debut, Gravity, just proves the point. It’s got a early 1970s Stones feel to it, but as much as it tips its hat to the ramshackle rock ‘n’ roll Alejandro grew up loving, it doesn’t really strike you as derivative — just really fun. My guess is even if you try to be a critical curmudgeon about it, you’ll be singing along by the time the second chorus comes around.

18. The Kinks – Drivin’
There’s a reason Ray Davies is my single favorite songwriter of all time and I can explain that reason by pointing to both the singles and albums the Kinks put out between 1966 and 1969. The stuff before and after was good — much of it DAMN good, in fact — but anything bearing the Kinks’ name released in 1966, 1967, 1968 and 1969 was perfect. Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire) was the last entry to the run of perfection, but Davies himself has always rated it lower than it should be because the original idea for the album was to serve as the soundtrack to a televised musical. The TV end fell through, so all that came out was a 12-song concept album about a dude who gets all put off by England and the fighting in World War II and leaves with his family for Australia. It’d be a tough pitch for any TV or film exec and the idea of it for a concept album is also pretty flimsy. But my God, the songs are perfect and the album is one of the best of all time (and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the Who — who’d been following the Kinks since 1965 anyway — released Tommy a few months later). Taken out of the context of the album, “Drivin'” sounds pretty f*cking smarmy and borderline irritating, but there’s enough English charm to carry it through. Really, Davies’ deliberately cockney delivery is probably the only way a lyric such as “The sandwiches are packed, the tea’s in the flask, we’ve plenty of beer and gooseberry tarts — so take a drive with me” would ever work in a pop/rock song. And really, if there’s plenty of gooseberry tarts, what more convincing do you need?

19. The Silver Seas – Catch Yer Own Train
I could try to be hip and original and claim I’ve been onto these guys for years and 2006’s High Society has been in my CD tower since its release, but I’ll be honest and say, “Look, I heard the song on ‘Breaking Bad’ and really dug it, so get off my back.” Had I tried to get into the Silver Seas another way, I might have given up quickly — I don’t know if this kind of music is poor man’s Dylan, or hell, even poor man’s Stealers Wheel. But for the sake of appreciating a 3-minute pop song, let’s just dispense with the cynicism, shall we? Rest assured I’ve already tested it — roll down your windows on the highway and blast this one on a sunny day. Works exceedingly well.

20. Frank Sinatra – Love is Just Around the Corner
Pulled from the chairman’s 1962 Reprise LP, Sinatra and Swingin’ Brass, this is a pretty fabulous take on the old Gensler/Robin standard. Frank gets a little carried away toward the end — going all Frank with his delivery of the Venus de Milo middle section (“I must inform you that that Venus de Milo…”, “and what’s more, you got-uh de arms! — WOW!!” etc.), but it’s still a great version. Like Frank’s other early records on Reprise, there’s a real sense of command here. By this time, he’d done swing records so much that it could have easily verged on old hat, but there’s still a good amount of vigor. It would be a few years yet before the coasting became audible. Neal Hefti’s arrangements play to Sinatra’s vocal strengths here — kicking in some unique musical ticks to match Sinatra’s delivery, and it all amounts to a fun, breezy little tune. Perfect conclusion to a summer mix, even.

Happy summer, all.

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Spring wind blowing straight through the window.

March 20, 2010

Well, everyone in Madison’s a bit bothered this weekend, because winter’s decided it’s not quite done. It decided to show up for a few more days after a week of fabulously spring-like weather that took care of all the snow accumulated over the past four months. And so we got a little more snow.

But checking any good calendar will reassure Madisonites and other people throughout the world that spring is indeed upon us, and well, I guess that means it’s time for the blog’s annual spring mix. Good for spring drives, walks, or yes, even soundtracking spring cleaning.

Bonus points to anyone who appreciates the reference on the cover art.

Spring Chicken, Vol. 3
The “Ain’t Superstitious, But These Things I’ve Seen…” Spring Mix

Download Part 1 (Tracks 1 – 10 in a .zip file)
Download Part 2 (Tracks 11 – 20 in a .zip file)

01. The La’s – Son of a Gun
The opening to the La’s one and only self-titled album is also the perfect opening for a spring mix. It’s the sound of running full throttle into a promising day, with a beat that’s as simple as it is complicated. It still astounds me that Lee Mavers despised this album so much. I mean, this song isn’t even the best thing on it, but it’s still better than what most bands spend their whole careers trying to achieve. I mean if this is the sound of fantastic songs being submarined by modern production techniques, then the album Mavers was hearing in his head must have been f*cking incredible. Without an earpiece to plug into his skull however, I’m quite happy to listen to this.

02. Blur – Coffee & TV
I remember when 13 was released and the big deal about it being Damon Albarn’s diary about breaking up with Elastica frontwoman Justine Frischmann. So people listened to “Tender” and “No Distance Left to Run” and thought “Oh wow…” as if no one in the history of popular music had written a breakup song before, let alone about somebody popular. So Graham Coxon’s spritely contribution to the album — even if it is a bit of a lyrical drag — is a nice change of pace. Coxon always kind of hated the fact that Albarn wrote the fantastically catchy chorus, so he tried to rewrite the song entirely on his own in 2004 with “Bittersweet Bundle of Misery,” which was pretty great, but this still seems to be where it’s at. And how great of a spring message is the ending coda of “Oh, we can start over again”? Seriously. Oh, by the way — still one of my all time favorite music videos.

03. Lily Frost – Lover Come Back To Me
Lily’s version of “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm” landed on last year’s Christmas mix, and this cut is also pulled from her Billie Holliday tribute LP, Lily Swings. This track opens the record and is what immediately endeared it to my heart. Lily’s in wonderful voice, the Dukes sound great and the production sounds straight out of 1948 instead of 2008 (not only a good thing, but exceedingly appropriate for the record’s spirit). Surely I’m not the only one who smiles when this one starts.

04. Dr. Robert – The Coming of Grace
My only knowledge of Dr. Robert (the artist, not the Beatles song) was that the dude showed up a bit on Paul Weller’s 1995 album Stanley Road. Weller returned the favor, showing up on the doctor’s 1996 album, Realms of Gold. Weller’s involvement is what led me to this track, although I’m not sure I can detect the man’s presence. Ah well, the song’s still a laid-back, sunny 3:46 of general goodness. It’s not made me investigate the dude’s career any further, be it the Blow Monkeys or solo work, but maybe in time. For right now, this song is pretty great on its own and a fabulous addition to a spring mix.

05. Michael Penn – Bunker Hill
Michael showed up on last year’s spring mix too, and he should show up on a lot more mixes and critical “Best of” lists, but I have a feeling he’s just never going to get the kind of notoriety his brother Sean will, so he can just keep writing awesome little tunes and playing to those in tune enough to pay any notice. This track is from 1992’s Free-for-All, which wasn’t too famous because it didn’t have “No Myth.” But with “Bunker Hill” and “Look What the Cat’s Drug In,” it’s hard to say it wasn’t worth a listen. There’s something rudimentarily charming about this song — maybe it’s the simple piano runs or the lyrics (I’ve always loved the line “The only points of light are fires on Vermont” — I’m not sure what it means, but it sounds great) — I can’t put my finger on it, but something about this song just demands listens again and again. It’s not the best thing you’ll ever hear in your life. But it’s far from the worst. And it has a funny way of burrowing into your brain.

06. Elvis Costello & the Attractions – Secondary Modern
This song is an absolute obsession of mine at the moment. Severely. Like, Top 10 greatest things about life… right up there with girls and the feeling Cubs fans have during spring training. The fact that the song doesn’t last two minutes and covers the former subject only makes it more incredible. Costello’s 1980 album Get Happy!! had a distinct R&B tinge and A LOT of songs on it, but none better than this. I believe it’s about the trials and tribulations of the crushes experienced during middle school years, but that’s just my interpretation. Doesn’t really matter what age you are — girls will destroy your psyche, but it’d be a real problem if they weren’t around at all. Listen to that drum fill after the middle section and the way Costello sings “Nobody makes me sad like you, now my whole world goes from blue to blue.” Incredible. And yeah, it’s a bit of a downer, but spring has its crappy days. And the beat is brisk enough to keep you moving along.

07. Nicholas Tremulis – Perchance to Dream
Tremulis, one of Chicago’s best-kept musical secrets, is known to bust out the banjo during solo slots and play this song, and since I first heard it in that form way back in 2005, the song’s just captivated me. And it takes a hell of a song to captivate me if all that’s pushing it is your voice and a banjo. It works fine in that form, but a bit of left-field accompaniment for the 2008 album Little Big Songs. I don’t know if my own predilection to pore over travel books and dream of visiting places makes this song hit closer to home, but I’m actually pretty sure it’s the way he repeats  “She said that it would be a miracle if we could rest for just one day” that is the real zinger. This song is really like nothing else I’ve heard from Nick, and I love it for that very reason.

08. Sam Cooke – Rome (Wasn’t Built in a Day)
The best moment on 1964’s Ain’t That Good News, and (in my opinion) the best moment in Cooke’s catalogue. Nevermind the fact that Sam could sing a song like nobody else — it’s the way he delivers this song, a bit of advice for anyone considering giving up on another person or even pursuing a person, that just knocks it out of the park. I always have this song somewhere in my mind if I’m working up the gumption to get a first date, but when my offer is rebuked, the song usually leaves my mind and my mental jukebox pulls up something like “Secondary Modern.” Still need to process the message here, you see, but there’s time, dammit. There’s always time.

09. Rhett Miller – Sunny
Stuart Ransom Miller just recorded this song for a one-off single issued on iTunes earlier this year, and while pretty much everybody has done a version of Bobby Hebb’s classic, this version has a lot going for it that others don’t. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m a Rhett fan and have a bit of bias anyway, but I just love the delivery here. Rhett’s vocal grows a bit more impassioned with every key change and the urgency just builds as the song progresses. It’s the way Bobby did the song back in the sixties and as much as I love alternate versions that reinvented the song in jazz or easy listening formats, the style changes always seem to abandon the urgency. This song is a guy standing up and thanking the sun for being fantastic. But it’s not just a thank you. It’s a “No, seriously. Thank you. I really mean it.” Which is the best kind of thank you anyone (or any celestial body) can get.

10. The Robbie McIntosh Band – Oh Judy
A lot of people know Robbie as a former member of the Pretenders. I’ll always remember him first as the lead guitarist in the greatest of any of Paul McCartney’s post-Beatles groups (the glory years from 1989 to 1993). But Robbie’s a decent enough songwriter in his own right and has put out a couple fantastic solo albums. This cut, from 2000’s Emotional Bends, is by no means a knock-out, but it’s effective. I don’t know if it’s that cajun accordian or the middle bit — “I’ve been towing the line, I’ll be better in time” — but something about this song screams “throwaway,” and yet when you actually listen to it, it holds your attention magnificently. Cheers, Robbie.

11. Nat King Cole – Just For the Fun of It
I’m a big fan of Nat’s 1957 LP Just One of Those Things (And More), it’s a good breakup album, but it has a nice swing to it as opposed to the suicidal tendencies of some of his contemporaries (I’m looking your way, Sinatra Sings for Only the Lonely, but I still love you). I don’t know what it is about this song, depressing as it should be, it just puts a smile on my face. I don’t think listening to Nat can be depressing. It can be tedious at times to be sure, but it can never be depressing.

12. The Supremes – Come See About Me
My mother was a big Diana Ross fan when I was growing up and whenever Supremes songs came on oldies radio in the family car, the volume would inch a few clicks higher. I never really got it. I know every word to “Baby Love,” “Stop! In the Name of Love,” “Where Did Our Love Go” and a bunch of others, but they never really got to me. I always preferred Martha & the Vandellas. Ah, but “Come See About Me” is different. I don’t know what it was, but at some point during my teenage years, I actually HEARD that bassline. And the beat. My God, the beat. To me, this beat is the preeminent example of the Motown pocket. It doesn’t get any tighter. And as bleak as this song could be, it’s just all kinds of hopeful. You’ve got to love it.

13. The Beatles – Mother Nature’s Son
I’ve always thought of this as one of the most underrated bits on the White Album. Yes, I actually called a Beatles song underrated. I know. But calling a Beatles song underrated within the context of 29 other Beatles songs is different. Anyway, this is far from one of the popular cuts on the album, and even when you think of that album’s best acoustic, folky moments, the mind seems to veer quickly to “Rocky Raccoon” or “I Will” or “Julia.” Maybe it’s this song’s position on the album. Tucking it between Lennon’s monstrous “Yer Blues” and “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey” is a nice breather, but it also obviously slows the roll Macca himself had started with “Birthday.” At any rate, this song is gorgeous. Just listen to it. The arrangement. The melody. That guitar line. Oh right, it’s the Beatles…

14. Edgar ‘Jones’ Jones – Freedom
This guy releases music under different plays on his name – sometimes it’s Edgar Jones, sometimes it’s Edgar Summertyme Jones, sometimes it’s Edgar Jones Jones, sometimes it’s Edgar Jones & Friends… but this Edgar cat, who apparently hails from Liverpool and is well-revered by pretty much any British musician or music fan who matters, tends to put out solid stuff no matter what moniker he’s working under. It’s all retro fabulous, and this cut, from 2004’s typically solid Soothing Music for Stray Cats is pretty much a microcosm of his best traits. I’m not sure I understand this song, but I do know I like it. And I do know it revs me up.

15. Frank Sinatra – S’posin
This song comes right out of the Sinatra era I love most — right at the end of his Capitol tenure and on the brink of running his own Reprise label. From about 1958 to 1963, Sinatra just had an audible cockiness in his voice. He sounded great, don’t get me wrong, but his delivery just seemed to imply, “I’m Frank F*cking Sinatra, and don’t you forget it.” Despite that, everyone talks up Sinatra’s Swingin’ Session!!! (And More) as his last great triumph for Capitol and I listen to it and am left underwhelmed. It’s a good album, but it doesn’t really have the oomph that Swing Along With Me does. Nevertheless, “S’posin” is a fabulous little under 2-minute party and is one of Swingin’ Session‘s truly remarkable bright spots. And the perfect kind of song to add a kick to a spring day.

16. Nick Drake – Northern Sky
For everything everyone says about Nick Drake, I’ll just say this: I’ve made three summer mixes, three autumn mixes, two winter mixes and three spring mixes to date. Nick Drake has only shown up on two of those mixes — both spring ones. Sure, he’s more of a winter artist and one deep cut off Pink Moon could add an even colder chill to such a mix, but for as tragic and depressing as the guy’s supposed to be, 1970’s Bryter Layter is just through and through gorgeous and uplifting. And as cynical as I am about romantic comedies, I freely admit I applauded the use of this song at the romantic climax of “Serendipity.” It was a perfect choice. This is a stunning tune and the sound of life blooming.

17. God Help the Girl – Funny Little Frog
I was talking to a friend a few years ago, after Belle & Sebastian’s The Life Pursuit was released. I was staunchly defending the album and citing specific lyrics and musical bits to make the point as to why it was underrated and categorically fantastic, when the friend just said, “Yeah I know. It’s a great album. It’s just so … happy.” It’s not the word I would’ve used, but it was the right word. There’s nothing wrong with happy music. Happy music done right can wind you up to the point where you’re over-defending an album to someone who agreed with you all along. And “Funny Little Frog” was probably the happiest track on that album. When Stuart Murdoch recycled it last year for the God Help the Girl project, he put contest winner Brittany Stallings in front of the band and souled up the arrangement to devastatingly fantastic effect. It’s not as happy as its predecessor, but thankfully, that’s not at the cost of brilliance.

18. The Libertines – What Katie Did
It’d be a lot easier for me to dismiss the Libertines — all the hype surrounding them, all the unnecessary romanticizing of Pete Doherty, all the “this is the band of our generation” crap — if they didn’t have songs like this. Part of it annoys me, because I really want to be able to not like them with good reason, but I can’t. The very reasons I want to dislike them — they sound shambolic and incoherent over chords that a lot of other artists have and will continue to use more effectively — are the very reasons this song is so wonderful. It’s just too bad these gems are in the minority of the band’s oeuvre (fire away in the comments section, Libs fans, I’m waiting).

19. Travis – Follow the Light
I sat on the fence for a long time as to whether or not to include this. This is one of the few cuts on The Invisible Band that I genuinely like, yet it irritates me to pieces because it sounds at best like a children’s song and at worst like Christian pop. And don’t tell me there’s not anything wrong with Christian pop. But somehow, the music just makes everything OK. I mean I actually like the rhythm guitar in this song. It’s hard to usually identify a good rhythm guitar bit. This isn’t even a GOOD rhythm guitar bit. It’s just a nice piece of the whole. And this sounds absolutely blinding in a car on a nice sunny day. So I jumped off the fence and stuck it on.

20. Paul Weller – It’s a New Day, Baby
Unless you’re a Weller completist, chances are you haven’t heard this track, which first debuted as a tucked-away B-side on “The Changingman” single in 1995. But the Fly on the Wall compilation and Stanley Road reissue gave it new airings (ironically, to the people who would probably have sought out the single in 1995 anyway). But this has always been one of my favorite Weller cuts. Dave Liddle’s slide playing is not to be underestimated, but the charm of this song is really the Modfather’s gruff delivery of sunny lyrics over one of the sunniest, simplest backing tracks he ever concocted. It’s spring encapsulated in song.


So yeah, roll on spring! Enjoy the mix.

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Car seat is freezing.

January 9, 2010

I last did a Winter Mix in 2008, but I skipped it last year because of the conversion to the new blog site and a general apathy towards the season last year anyway.

But seeing as how the blog is getting more frequent (relatively, of course) updates now, it seems mighty unfair to leave all you good readers with no mix until spring rolls around again. After Christmas, there’s still a hell of a lot of winter to go, you know, and it’s only natural that a handful of good tunes could make the insufferable days a little more sufferable.

Here’s 20 I think should help.

The Winter’s Tale
The “Ain’t Superstitious, But These Things I’ve Seen” 2010 w
inter mix

Download Part 1 (tracks 1-11 in a .zip file)
Download Part 2 (tracks 12-20 in a .zip file)


01. The Bird and the Bee – Last Day of Our Love
This song is culled from Inara and Greg’s 2008 EP “One Too Many Hearts,” which is a very charming little set of songs (as all their EPs and LPs are). This may not be the finest moment on that EP (that honor has to go to the faithful cover of “Tonight You Belong to Me”), but this song is awash in that Bird and Bee sheen and the pulsating strings and keyboards just add a lovely little soundtrack to the coldness of the season. May not warm you up in itself, you know, but still brings a bit of a smile to your face.

02. Jon Brion – Theme
One of the many lovely instrumental bits Brion composed for the 2004 film “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” Maybe I think this song has a winter feel because of the movie — the scenes of Joel and Clementine driving around on cold days and nights and that great scene during the memory erasure montage where they jump out of bed on a snow-covered beach. This piece has a beautiful tone to it and a very beguiling charm that seems to innately makes you that happy kind of sad.

03. Oasis – Waiting For the Rapture (Alternate Version #2)
This outtake was pinned onto the deluxe edition of Oasis’ fabulous 2008 album Dig Out Your Soul, and likely represents the way Noel Gallagher originally intended the song to be heard. The “Five to One” pastiche of the final version that made the album certainly has its own brand of awesomeness, but there’s also a great brooding feel to this version that gives you a little chill. Noel sings in a voice just a little above a whisper, exchanging all the conviction of the final version for a bit more foreboding. Still romantically tinged, of course, but something about slowing the song down and delivering like this makes it a bit more dangerous than with the electric guitars and big rock and roll stomp.

04. Joy Division – Atmosphere
This song was originally a French-only B-side, but after Ian Curtis’ suicide, the song gained new legs and kind of worked as his (and Joy Division’s) almighty epitaph. Like the whole of Joy Division’s catalogue, there’s no really friendly sing along feel to this, but there’s a certain indefinable quality here that makes it 10 times more hopeful and optimistic than anything else they ever did. Maybe it’s the synthesized strings and chimes, or maybe it’s the repeated orders of “Don’t walk away in silence.” Pretty much any Joy Division song could be on a winter’s mix, but this is more for those sunny winter days that are brutally cold. Yeah, it’s still a pain to be outside, but something about the sun being out makes everything slightly more bearable.

05. The Raveonettes – Here Comes Mary
Everything about this song sounds straight out of 1958, which I’m sure was Sune and Sharin’s intention, but it still baffles me that this is actually a product of 2005 and their excellent album Pretty in Black. The melody and harmonies bear a striking similarity to the Everly Brothers’ “All I Have to Do is Dream,” but with a lyric about a suicidal girl who’s just had her man die, the comparisons probably don’t go too far. Although I wonder if the Everly Brothers could’ve sung a song like that on Ed Sullivan in the late ’50s… Anyway, the bleak storyline aside, this song positively shimmers and for my money, is the best thing the duo has done.

06. Damien Rice – Lonelily
I never got onto the whole Damien Rice train that everyone else did in 2004 and 2005. It was all just a little too college-popular for me, but I was also chasing a girl for a little while in 2005 that was absolutely crazy for him and I thought if I was to have any shot with her, I would have to do my due diligence and try to get into him myself. This was the only song that ever struck me. Maybe it’s appropriate as it kind of describes what happened between me and her, but my chief memory of this song is a late-April snowstorm (as we’re prone to in Wisconsin) and driving to meet her for lunch as this song played. Something about it seemed very promising, and so this song has always carried a winter feel for me.

07. Electronic – Can’t Find My Way Home
Johnny Marr and Bernard Sumner didn’t venture into other bands’ material too much when they were working together as Electronic, but this Blind Faith deep cut provided them a lovely little opportunity to pay due respects to the past and put their own unique stamp on the song. Pulled from 2000’s sorely overlooked Twisted Tenderness, this is the kind of thing I think a lot of people would have enjoyed a lot more from Electronic — some incredible Johnny  Marr acoustic and electric guitar work, prominent but not overbearing synth and programming work by Barney, and a fabulously direct but unimpressive vocal.

08. Ben Folds Five – Brick
A recent entry in my “Confessions of a ’90s Survivor” series, but the song really is too good to be hamstrung by its popularity in wildly expansive musical decade. I don’t know of any other songs dealing with abortion that were this popular or this effective, but if the plodding bass and drum lines don’t stir up a bit of coldness, Folds’ description of the fateful day — down to the smells and feel of the journey between the apartment and clinic probably will get you. Of course, the chorus is still pretty gorgeous and saves the song from making you want to down all the Prozac you have left. It sent the Whatever and Ever Amen album into the stratosphere and pretty much unfairly pigeonholed the band of smartasses as a troupe of heavy balladeers, but eh… between tongue-in-cheek covers of “Careless Whisper” and “Bitches Ain’t Sh*t,” Folds is doing a pretty good job of keeping the stigma at bay.

09. Betty Carter – I Can’t Help It
Beautiful pull from Carter’s 1958 album Out There With Betty Carter, this song just sounds to me like a Saturday inside watching a crazy snowstorm outside the window. Of course, many great female jazz singers should be able to deliver that kind of calm in the storm feel, but the production here — and the way Carter backs off the mic to wail “That’s the way that I am, I don’t know how to share” at the 1:24 mark — it’s a great combination to illustrate calm in the storm.

10. Billy Bragg – Ash Wednesday (Band Version)
A lot of Bragg fans missed this track, as it was tucked away as B-side to the 2008 “I Keep Faith” single, and, to my knowledge, only made available to those who could track down the single on iTunes. I don’t know if there is an acoustic or non-band version, like the rest of the Mr. Love & Justice album, but something about this minimalist melody and furrowed-brow delivery makes me think it probably found its most powerful delivery in this state.

11. Phoenix – (You Can’t Blame it On) Anybody
My personal favorite Phoenix track and the centerpiece of 2004’s Alphabetical album (“Everything is Everything” is good, but it ain’t this good). Like many of their tracks, the productive gives the track a cold sterility, but the groove is just perfect and warms any listener up to it. If this is the sound of falling in love with bespectacled Italian girls, well I’m looking that much more forward to my trip over there come this summer. They also need major kudos for using the line “Let me misunderstand you” in the chorus. In writing, it doesn’t look like much, but listen to that line. Very powerful. Maybe I’ll use that next time I’m picking a girl up…

12. Noonday Underground – Go it Alone
Noonday Underground is the kind of band you don’t know enough about and definitely need to check out, because it’s categorically enjoyable groove music. Everything great about the band is captured on their 2002 album Surface Noise, which includes this ice cold cut. Simon Dine is the brains behind the outfit and you can tell by the soul grooves he puts together that it’s no surprise Paul Weller is eager to work with him time and again. Daisy Martey’s vocal on this thing is all kinds of cool. Listen to how she lets go at the 1:50 mark with that “What do I need to erase?” line. It’s those little moments that make you love music.

13. Sleeper – Come On Come On
It’s probably a good thing I didn’t know about Sleeper in the 1990s. Between Justine Frischmann, the Spice Girls and Diane out of “Trainspotting,” my teenage mind had enough UK ladies to think about, but since finding out about Sleeper a couple years ago, I’ve fallen desperately in love with the Louise Wener of 1995-1999. One view of the “Nice Guy Eddie” video should more than explain why, but the other thing about Wener is that she could write a fabulous little song time and again. This ethereal little piece never got much exposure since it was a B-side to the overlooked-even-in-England single “She’s a Good Girl,” so I feel a sense of civic duty in making this as available to the masses as possible. That way I can go, “You know, that Louise Wener…” and more of my American male friends can say, “Oh, dude… I know.”

14. Elliott Smith – Twilight
I don’t often listen to Smith’s posthumous album From a Basement on the Hill, because aside from the opening “Coast to Coast,” it just feels a bit too much like a funeral record to me. Posthumous albums should be more like wakes, I think. Given’s Smith’s suicide, the album just invited all sorts of lyrical overanalysis, and while his output during him time on earth wasn’t exactly of the “Hooray for Everything!” variety, there was a bit more charm. The crickets on “Twilight” kind of make it a bit less wintery, but the way he just seems to hit the guitar and the absolutely-defeated delivery… this thing is just cold. I’m sure everyone’s been in a relationship and thought “This other person seems to get me a lot better,” and while that’s probably served as a lot of couples’ ruin, it’s never sounded quite as painful as when Elliott sang about it. Still, this is kind of pretty.

15. Keith Richards – Hate it When You Leave
This song is the single reason why Keef should be everybody’s favorite Stone. Forget the riffs, forget the “cockroaches and Keith Richards” jokes, forget the complete embodiment of rock and roll that he is. Just listen to this. He’s not a great singer, this song features no flash guitar solos — just a bit of musing on a tired Motown-era beat — but it’s more effective than anything Mick Jagger’s ever done on his own and it’s more powerful than anything the Stones have done since Some Girls. The rest of 1992’s Main Offender isn’t a patch on this song, but this is the kind of track that makes an otherwise iffy album entirely worth the price of purchase.

16. Fiona Apple – Tymps (The Sick in the Head Song)
I know I said in a recent “Vs.” that I prefer the Jon Brion-produced version of this song that featured fabulous live drumming and a carnival-esque backing, but this version from the “proper” version of Extraordinary Machine, is a bit more appropriate for a winter mix. The keys and beat just sound like icicles falling, and while this version lacks the verve of Brion’s, Apple’s take-no-sh*t delivery mirrors the mindset of pretty much everyone (in Madison at least) around the time of the third or fourth big snowfall of the season. The camaraderie and willingness to help neighbors shovel is out the window as everyone takes an “everyone for themselves because this now is everyone else’s fault” mindset.

17. Tom Waits – Christmas Card From a Hooker in Minneapolis
A lot of bloggers put this song on their Christmas mixes, and while I’ve noodled with the idea, I just don’t see this song as a Christmas song. I can listen to it any time of year, although the sentiment does seem tailor made for a cold winter day. Waits reads the letter with no defined lyrical form, just in his pained growl over a sad piano and electric piano backing, but it suits the song so perfectly. And while I find parts of it absolutely hilarious — “Still have that record of Little Anthony and the Imperials, but someone stole my record player, now how do you like that?” But I also find the end of the song where the author admits everything is a lie and she just needs a bit of cash heartbreaking every damn time I listen to it. From 1978’s Blue Valentine, this is not only the best moment on the album, but it’s one of the best moments of Waits extensive catalogue.

18. Radiohead – 15 Step
Radiohead’s kind of like Joy Division in the sense that you could probably make a winter mix out of their songs alone, but this thrilling opening to the In Rainbows album is one of the better (if less obvious) candidates. Something about the frenetic beat reminds me of driving down a just-cleared road after a big snowstorm. Hitting a few patches of ice, newly popped potholes — never really getting into a comfortable groove and gripping the steering wheel just a little tighter than you normally would. Of course, when the guitar comes in, it’s kind of that chill moment you get when you realize driving is far from ideal, but it’s also not quite as treacherous as you thought it would be.  Doesn’t mean you don’t continue squeezing the wheel, though.

19. Morrissey – Late Night, Maudlin Street
I’ve always thought this song was a little too over the top, and one of the prominent reasons most people think of Morrissey the way they do. It’s more than 7 minutes of melodrama, there’s nothing about the music that makes you want to move — in fact, it almost forces you to sulk as you listen. But the reason I don’t skip ahead to the next track every time I’m listening to Viva Hate is that lyrically, there’s some genuine Morrissey brilliance in here. The admission of sleeping with a framed picture being “silly,” the profession to love at first sight being real, and the potent quotable: “But you without clothes, oh, I could not keep a straight face. Me without clothes? Well, a nation turns it back and gags.” Unless you’re a through-and-through Morrissey-phile, it’s hard to find a proper place to put this song for good listening. Even on Viva Hate, its a little more laborious than it needs to be. But a winter mix? Ah, we just might have found a home, Moz.

20. Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan – Hang On
Partly because you need something sprightly to follow “Late Night, Maudlin Street” and partly because you need a bit of brightness to pull you through the always unreasonably long winter, Isobel’s porcelain voice breezing over a great little guitar hook is a good send off for this kind of mix and the bright spot that makes the rest of winter not look so bad. Even when the f*cking groundhog sees his shadow. A lot was made about Isobel and Mark’s first teaming on Ballad of the Broken Seas, but 2008’s Sunday at Devil Dirt — which this comes from — also deserves a good listen. 


Stay warm, folks.

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That crazy Santa Claus keeps knock-knock-knockin’ on the roof.

November 27, 2009

Alright cats and kittens, Black Friday is upon us, which means the official start of the Christmas season.

As has been tradition for the past four years I’ve been running the blog, 2009 brings a new Christmas mix as a present for all you dear readers and background music for whatever shopping excursions you’re mad enough to go on today and all the travels you’ll take throughout the next month. I’ve felt the mixes really started hitting their stride in 2007, and this year’s certainly lives up to the standards set by its predecessors.

Obviously the year’s end is always a good time around this blog — the “15 of the Best” series will debut next week — but the fun always starts with the Christmas mix and here’s hoping this (like the three Christmas mixes before it) adds a fabulous soundtrack to the season. Let’s get on wiffit!

Everybody’s Waitin’ For The Man With The Bag.
The “Ain’t Superstitious, But These Things I’ve Seen…” 2009 Christmas mix

Download Part 1 (tracks 1-10)
Download Part 2 (tracks 11-20)

01. Shawn Lee’s Ping Pong Orchestra – Do You Hear What I Hear?
I know I’m going to catch flack from (and consequently maybe never make another radio appearance with) Grandma Cyd for going with the Ping Pong Orchestra’s take on this Christmas classic instead of Bing Crosby, but this version is just too cool to be swept under the rug. Kicking off a mix with an instrumental (nevermind one that passes the 4-minute mark) is a calculated risk to be sure, but I defy you to try not grooving out to this. Impossible. Plus the instrumental saves me from hearing my long-detested lyric in this song – “A child, a child, shivering in the cold, let us bring him silver and gold.” I’ve said it before and I say it again. Bring blankets, for Christ’s sake. Literally.

02. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers – Christmas All Over Again
Even if you never bought the second volume of that A Very Special Christmas series (which I still believe is a con – all those albums and you MAYBE get two good songs on each), you knew this song was a stone cold classic from the little snippet you heard while Kevin missed the flight announcement that he was on his way to New York City in “Home Alone 2.” Several of Petty’s latter day sins post-She’s the One can be forgiven because this song has reached a level of popularity that’s put it on the cusp of yearly carol-standard popularity not seen in a long, long time. I would say since “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” but I’m sure all the Pogues or John Lennon fans would come bellowing at me. This is popular and somewhat obvious, sure, but it’s also incredible fun.

03. Lily Frost – I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm
I’ve fallen desperately in love with Lily’s 2008 album, Lily Swings, from which this is culled. For the album, she basically hired the Dukes and recorded 11 songs that Billie Holliday made famous. She held to faithful dusty arrangements, and the entire album is really a fabulous purchase, but this is one of the best versions I’ve ever heard of this song. The ultimate, probably, is Dean Martin’s, but Dean gets space elsewhere here and I think Lily’s delivery brings a little something new to proceedings, with a nice warm-me-up winter vibe.

04. Oasis – Merry Xmas Everybody
No doubt the Slade original is classic and this song has been butchered by many since its 1973 release (I’m thinking of Steps, mainly). I never gathered how many actual Oasis members are on this track – I always thought it was something Noel did especially for BBC radio during the 2002 Christmas season, but the next year it showed up on an NME compilation entitled 1 Love, where a bunch of contemporary artists covered old classics and this was listed as “Oasis” and not “Noel Gallagher,” so… With Oasis (definitely maybe) reaching the end of their rope this year, it’s a nice little memorial for this year’s mix, and Noel’s delivery does emphasize how sweet this song really can be.

05. Marcy Playground – Keegan’s Christmas
I feel like including Marcy Playground in anything is leaving me wide open to snide remarks or a general dismissal of this mix as a whole. I openly admit that the only other Marcy Playground song I’ve ever heard in my life is the one you have, “Sex and Candy,” and I still have no interest in pursuing their catalogue further. However, this cut landed on the Alternative Rock Xmas compilation and I was sold straightaway. Not because it’s the smartest or best thing I’ve ever heard, but that bouncing two-chord exchange during what I guess would be constituted as the song’s choruses are just irresistibly hooky. I have no idea who Keegan is and I’m not really moved by his conviction to his father that he knows Santa is on the roof, but I’m also nowhere near Scrooge-ish enough to deny a good hook when I hear one. I put Big Bad Voodoo Daddy on last year’s Christmas mix. What do you want from me?

06. The Jackson 5 – Up on the Housetop
I’m guessing this and other selections from the Jackson 5’s lone Christmas album are going to be hitting the various music blogs and Christmas mixes with additional frequency this year because of Mike’s breaking on through to the other side this summer. I actually listened to the whole album and was hard pressed to find a song to include here, and that’s for a number of reasons: 1.) terrible, hokey Christmas messages built in to the recordings, 2.) frightening lack of coolness (this is actually a recurring problem with several Motown Christmas albums – few diamonds in a lot of rough) 3.) perceived insincerity with the whole Jehovah Witness thing. But this recording stands out for a few reasons: 1.) You get to hear Marlon solo (very momentarily) 2.) You get to hear Tito solo (damn) 3.) You get to hear Michael totally sell out Jermaine. After Michael ribs him for asking Santa for girls, Jermaine counters that all his younger brother wants is toys, but since Michael’s got the mic, he curbs that by saying, well, he ALSO wants peace for everyone. If my little sibling pulled that kind of crap on me, I’d deck ‘em. Afterthought: Why doesn’t Jackie get a solo? It must have sucked being the oldest in that family.

07. The Cameos – Merry Christmas
Every year when I’m putting these Christmas mixes together, I dig through albums and albums of material to the point where my eyes and ears kind of go numb and all the packaging and music starts to sound the same. The bad thing about this is that it’s exhausting to the senses. The good thing about it is that it refines your ears to perk up when you hear something that’s really good. This track comes off a box set (box set, damn you!) of 1950s doo-wop Christmas tunes. Most are originals and are every bit as corny as you would expect. But I don’t know. There’s something really charming about this one, which was released as a standalone single in 1957. On Cameo Records. Crackerjack job they did in deciding on a group name, eh?

08. Count Basie and his Orchestra – Good Morning Blues (Real Tuesday Weld Clerkenwell Remix)
If my research is correct, I believe this track was originally recorded all the way back in 1937 with Jimmy Rushing taking vocal duties in front of Count Basie’s orchestra. It was updated for the 2008 Verve Records compilation, Christmas Remixed, to nice effect. Remixes have become a habitual inclusion on my mixes since the 2007 mix, and although there are heaps upon heaps of old Christmas songs remixed out there, it’s truly a long trudge to find the good ones. You see, the best remixes don’t simply put a loud, pulsating backbeat behind one line of a song repeated over and over and over. They should enhance the song. Give it a bit of new sheen. And give it a healthy (but not overbearing) groove. This is done to good effect here.

09. Peggy Lee – Winter Wonderland
The thing about “Winter Wonderland” is that everybody and their grandmother has done a version of the song, and it becomes increasingly difficult to find really good versions. This song seems like it was specially composed to walk the line between nice and hokey like a drunken backwoods barcrawler, and too often artists just stumble helplessly into hokey territory. To her eternal credit, Peggy found a nifty little groove to propel the song on her 1965 Happy Holiday album, but she damn near blows it by using a bit of her trademark “ad libbing” technique (perhaps most famously displayed in “Fever”) by substituting “Parson Brown” for “Santa clown.” It sinks that whole bit of the lyric. The image of being hopeless enough to have a snowman marry you is something everyone can subscribe to at Christmas time. But if the thing’s just a Santa clown, well… it’s only fun until the jerky kids down the street come destroy it. Even so, this is still one of the finest readings of the song out there.

10. Money Mark – Stuck at the Airport
I don’t know that this is strictly a Christmas song, but in that it was on last year’s Christmas compilation, This Warm December, it counts. And I will admit that as quirky as this song is, I really dig it. It likely will date itself in just a few years’ time by decrying a broken iPod and an inability to text (which sounds like a bullsh*t excuse to whoever’s awaiting said text – just my opinion), but given the headaches of being anywhere near an airport between the day after Thanksgiving and Christmas, I think there are a lot of people that can understand where this guy’s coming from. Plus the song unwittingly gets extra points this season for the “Someone is sneezin’ on my carry-on bag” lyric. With H1N1 (I still prefer calling it swine flu) not having run its course in society yet, that’s definitely an added demerit to holiday traveling this year. Let’s hope the lyric stays observational and not ultimately tragic.

11. Kay Starr – (Everybody’s Waitin’ For) The Man With the Bag
Apparently Kay Starr had a pretty big career in the 1950s, but I’m hard-pressed to remember or think of anything to her name besides this cut. I mean, even in the case of Brenda Lee, I do know ONE of her non-Yuletide tunes. But if you’re stuck with a seasonal hit, I guess the best you can hope for is the good fortune to have said tune played at bombardment level every December, which this song has since its release in 1950. It’s not the best holiday tune out there, but it’s nice enough, and it provides a bit of familiarity – which every Christmas mix truly needs. Don’t let the other bloggers fool you with unending streams of rarities.

12. Rosie Thomas – Why Can’t it Be Christmas All Year?
I’ll admit that I know jack about Rosie’s non-holiday repertoire, but was pushed to include this track after hearing it in passing during some shopping run last winter. I’m usually a sucker for piano-pounding numbers, but you had some horns on top of it, and forget about it – I’m sold. This song was one of the few originals to pepper Thomas’ 2008 stocking stuffer, A Very Rosie Christmas, which might have done better if it hadn’t shared a titular similarity with one of those god-awful compilations Rosie O’Donnell did when she still had her own talk show and inexplicable popularity. Thomas’ album is much better, of course, but buyers can be completely forgiven if they saw the title on a loved one’s Christmas list and said, “No, I’m not encouraging that.”

13. Dean Martin – A Marshmallow World
The most famous version of this song for the last few years has probably been Martin’s comedic duet of the song with Rat Pack pally Frank Sinatra off one of his old variety shows and enlisted for duties as closer of the “Christmas with the Rat Pack” collection released in the former part of this decade. Martin originally recorded the song for The Dean Martin Christmas Album, issued in 1966 on Frank’s Reprise label. Now it’s popping up almost annually on Dean Martin Christmas compilations. Seriously, the estate is getting a little too free and easy about all these compilations. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. You want to be productive, a lot of us would love some remastered original albums as opposed to the umpteenth reissue of “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head” or “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.”

14. The Waking Eyes – Everybody Needs Somebody at Christmas
In continuing my personal crusade to get this Canadian band the increased international exposure they deserve, putting this track on the Christmas Mix was a must. Unless I’m mistaken, the song actually made its debut on the band’s MySpace page two years ago, but given that they had a lot of momentum last year with the release of the fantastic Holding On To Whatever It Is, the track was spruced up and released as a download-only single. The song’s muscular pop is everything you’d expect from the boys and while the thought of Matt Peters single-handedly saving Christmas because “Santa musta given up tonight” is a good chuckle – he has at least enough humility to admit he doesn’t look the part. But hey, if someone’s gotta save Christmas, I’m all for it being these guys.

15. Ledisi – Be There For Christmas
I mentioned the hokey messages built into Christmas songs in my little write up for the Jackson 5 track, but I feel inclined to reiterate the point here. I don’t know what it is about Christmas records, but artists for whatever reason feel some godforsaken need to mar their songs with little raps about the reasons for the season, and why all the listeners should have a Merry Christmas, and what they’re looking forward to at Christmas. I’ve never understood it. Good music should make you want to sing along. Those little messages are impossible to sing along to. And one of those little messages kicks off this cut, from Ledisi’s 2008 record It’s Christmas. I’d be a hell of a lot more critical of it if the song didn’t have the groove it does. The good thing is the nonsense is dispensed with quickly and it goes right into solid soul, so Ledisi gets a pass this time. But next time – and please, everyone else keep this in mind – if you’ve got thoughts to put on a Christmas song, just sing them. And try to do it in a catchy melody.

16. Charles Brown – I’ll Be Home For Christmas (Ohmega Watts Remix)
I still haven’t been able to track down where or for what exactly Brown originally recorded this track – which is not the “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” everyone is expecting. The original track with its guitar and prototypical synth effects sounds like a product of the 1970s, but it got a colorful boost from whoever the hell Ohmega Watts is for the Holiday Lounge compilation in 2004. The song doesn’t have too much extracurricular work done to it (which, as always, is the sign of a great remix), mostly just a heavy backbeat designed to make you dance a bit.  It loses focus a little toward the end, but for saving what would have otherwise been just a lost or rather unspectacular Charles Brown Christmas song from total obscurity, this remix gets a lot of credit. I mean, Brown did give us “Merry Christmas, Baby” and “Please Come Home For Christmas.” Most people are lucky to COVER one good Christmas song in their careers.

17. Thurl Ravenscroft – You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch
Sometime in the 1990s, this became a popular choice for punk and indie bands to cover in concert and on lo-fi Christmas compilations, but in all the years of other people doing it now, I’ve realized there’s simply nothing that matches with Thurl’s original vocal and delivery from the 1966 TV special “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” My favorite lyric always changes any time I hear the song, but I think it should be everyone’s New Year’s resolution to call somebody they find particularly displeasing a “nauseous super-naus.” If not that, then certainly “you’re a crooked, jerky jockey and you ride a crooked horse.”

18. Chris Isaak – Hey Santa!
I’ve always kind of wanted to like Chris Isaak, but every time I see him in an interview he always comes off a little too smug for my liking, and the fact that he’s still getting mileage on “Wicked Game” (which I never thought was that sexy of a tune to begin with) also bothers me. However, I still dig “Somebody’s Cryin’” and I’ll be damned if this isn’t one of the best rockabilly Christmas tunes I’ve ever heard. From the tone of that electric guitar to the impassioned “Honey, please come on home,” I’m sold. It’s really the only great thing on his Christmas album, but hey, better than nothing, right? Now stop being so smug.

19. Allen Toussaint – Silent Night, Holy Night
Another instrumental, but anybody who’s ever seen or heard Allen alone at a piano understands what a fabulously regal experience it is. This cut showed up on the 1997 compilation, A New Orleans Christmas, released on Toussaint’s NYNO label. I liked “Silent Night” a lot when I was a little boy, but my attitude toward it has become less favorable as I’ve aged. Mainly because it’s such a religious song and whenever artists try to do it, they seem to feel like Jesus is right there in the studio with them, furrowed brow like an A&R man, going “Now come on guys, this is about my birth. Let’s class it up. OK. Take 2.” So you end up with a lot of very “proper” versions that are all well and good, but have all the fun of a Catholic mass. Give Toussaint endless credit for at least putting a little boogie into the keys.

20. Otis Redding & Carla Thomas – New Year’s Resolution
Not really a Christmas/holiday tune as much as a general male/female duet about the trials and tribulations of that funny old thing called love. Great soul ballad from 1967’s King and Queen album, but it’s hard to think of any instance where Otis misfired. And I feel it’s a more than appropriate end to this year’s mix as 2009 turns into 2010. But that just might be because my love/relationship-related resolutions always end up being about as solid as your resolution to exercise more and that one’s resolution to eat less McDonald’s. If we make it into February, fabulous, but if not, well, who remembered what was pledged Dec. 31 anyway?

Happy Holidays, everybody.

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The leaves touch the ground one by one.

September 14, 2009

Autumn’s official start is still a few days away, and here in the Madison area it seems we’re gonna get a few more days of summer weather (which I guess is appropriately after a full summer of almost autumn-like weather).

But you can see the leaves already changing, and with the first weekend of the football season in the books, I’d say now’s as good a time as any to get the third annual Autumn Mix up.

We’ve been through the rules of a good autumn mix twice before, so I’ll skip over those this time around (if you’re interested, check the archives). The point is (like all seasonal mixes) is that this is the quintessential soundtrack for the season — be it an autumn drive down a rustic road or a nice brisk afternoon walk through the colors and falling leaves. Get on wiffit, then…

autumnal3

Autumnal, Volume III
The official “Ain’t Superstitious, But These Things I’ve Seen…” autumn mix

Download Part 1 (Tracks 1-10)
Download Part 2 (Tracks 11-20)

01. Alfie – Your Own Religion
I really wanted to like Alfie. Nice British name, they hail from Manchester, their singer sounds like a slightly more tuneful version of Ian Brown, but they just didn’t put out enough solid music to sink their claws into me, and shortly after they put out their 2005 album Crying at Teatime, they split for good. Maybe it’s just as well, but if this tune is an indication of the kind of stuff that could have come forward after, then I guess the split is kind of sad. Sure, this song is a little unfocused, and might have been served well by having its producers tighten the one or two loose screws, but this is still blindingly pastoral and a brilliant soundtrack for an autumn drive down a rustic road.

02. Paul Weller – Don’t Make Promises
I blogged just a short while back about the Wella fella’s 2004 covers album, Studio 150. This might be my favorite cut from it, actually – a nice acoustic pop at an old Tim Hardin folk song. Adding horns to songs – especially acoustic driven ones – is a bit like playing Russian roulette, but the gamble works out here and should put a little groove into your step for a nice fall walk through the park. Also – I like the song’s message. I broke up with a girl after she broke a relatively small promise. It wasn’t just because of that, but the point is, she broke a promise. Not cool. People need to take promises more seriously. I listened to this song a lot after that split. It’s still very affirming.

03. Ranchero Brothers – Sweet Thing Pine Bluff
I believe this is the sole recording available under the credits of Paco and Taco Ranchero, who you might better know as Rhett Miller and Murry Hammond from the Old 97’s. The Rancheros were almost as busy as the 97’s in the late 1990s, but solo albums and tours mixed with 97’s albums and tours (and domestic life) seems to have made their appearances all the more fleeting in this century. It’s too bad – there’s a real lulling charm to the way Rhett and Murry’s voices blend over acoustics (might take you a couple listens to realize this song’s about falling in love with a decidedly older woman). You can find this cut on some obscure compilation called Sunny Teriyaki Hamburger Breakfast, but I think it’s high time we call for a proper Rancheros album.

04. The Turtles – You Showed Me
Some people REALLY like the Turtles. I’ve always thought they were alright enough, but I never got into them full stop. I’ve always figured they’re one of those bands where a greatest hits compilation can more than suffice, but I will say that they do often get dismissed to much as that one band that did “Happy Together.” They do have other good songs in their repertoire, and this has always been one of my favorites. Originally part of their 1968 album, The Turtles Present the Battle of the Bands, this song has been covered a lot in the years since and always seems to show up on every odd soundtrack. There’s a reason — it’s got a good chilly breeze to it. Just as appropriate on an artsy soundtrack as it is on an autumn mix.

05. Madeleine Peyroux – A Little Bit
Madeleine’s 2006 album Half the Perfect World is still my favorite offering of hers – it’s an incredibly intimate and smoky sounding affair, that plays to all her vocal strengths. I suppose it also helps I saw her on the tour for that record, and ever since that show, this has been far and away my favorite song of hers. It’s as cool as it is relaxing and passionate as it is wistful. Plus you gotta love that organ. You just gotta.

06. Paul McCartney – Broomstick
For fans, this is a pretty sought after cut by Mr. McCartney, having only ever made public appearance as a B-side to a limited edition CD single of “Young Boy” in 1997. McCartney teamed with joker, smoker and midnight toker Steve Miller to record “Young Boy” and “Used to Be Bad” on the Flaming Pie album and this was the other product of their collaboration/jam. Kind of sucks that it ended up as a short-run B-side, because for my money, it’s easily the coolest song of the three. Maybe it’s because I got the CD off eBay in the fall many moons ago, but this song always just sounds like a warm house during a cold October afternoon to me. I’ll try not to be that ridiculously poetic about every song.

07. Frank Sinatra – You’d Be So Easy to Love
This old Cole Porter number was dusted off for Sinatra’s debut album on his Reprise label, 1960’s Ring-a-Ding-Ding! The rest of the album was pretty upbeat and swingin’, but he throttled down a bit with this number, although not to the point of the bleak despair that had defined his late 1950s “torch” albums on Capitol. There’s still a healthy beat to this, but there’s so much regret and “damn it all” counteracting the wistful beat and horns that it makes it a really interesting dichotomy. Listen to the way he sings the first “future” at the 0:56 mark. Sure, he was one of the greatest singers of all time — but even with all the tracks he ever put his name to, he seldom hit a single lyric with such perfect inflection.

08. The Last Shadow Puppets – My Mistakes Were Made For You
A lot of people I talk to about the new Arctic Monkeys album are drawing comparisons to last year’s Alex Turner-side project album, the Last Shadow Puppets’ The Age of the Understatement. I can kind of see parallels in a couple tracks, but for my money, the Puppets record still sounds a lot more grandiose and cinematic than anything the Monkeys have done (for better or worse). Turner’s always had a penchant for writing great storyteller/commentary type lyrics and the big, dark orchestration here suits it quite perfectly — admit it, you’ve never heard “smithereens” used so effectively in a song, have you?

09. Dusty Springfield – Summer is Over
The prerequisite “seasonal” song that every seasonal mix requires. But I’m quite fond of this pick — which comes from a B-side of a very early single by Dusty Springfield, 1964’s “Losing You.” Is it as effective as “Son of a Preacher Man” or “The Look of Love”? No, not really, but the fact that Dusty’s long career always seems to get whittled down to those two tracks seems wholly unfair. When you’re listening to today’s retro R&B callback artists such as Duffy or Adele, it’s good to have a point of reference. This is the kind of stuff they’re pulling out from cobwebs for reference.

10. Randy Newman – When She Loved Me
Unless you’re collecting Newman’s soundtracks alongside his commercial albums, it’s pretty easy to forget that underneath the soured voice and brutally sharp tongue is a guy that has a penchant for writing an absolutely heartbreaking melody. This is a piece he wrote for “Toy Story 2,” but it’s performed solo on the piano here from his 2003 “retrospective,” The Randy Newman Songbook, Vol. 1. It’s only about a minute long, but it’s really a poignant little piece that pulls at the heart strings.

11. Buddy Holly – Dearest
I’ve never seen “Garden State” for two reasons – I despise Zach Braff and everyone assumes I would love the movie, or at the very least, the soundtrack. In case you couldn’t tell from reading this blog, I’m very touchy when it comes to things people THINK I’ll like. I did check out a Garden State soundtrack, only to see that it had basically pilfered my music collection and made it “hip” for the masses. The Juno soundtrack did the same goddamn thing, although I did see (and kind of like) that movie. I had Holly’s final apartment demos long before that soundtrack – I just want you to know. And I’ve always thought this was a sweet little love song. Even if it is a pretty blatant rewrite of “Words of Love.” Or “Listen to Me.” Regardless, it works very nicely on this kind of mix, and it’s nothing to do with “Juno.” So there.

12. The La’s – I Am the Key (Key 103, Jan. 1989)
Perhaps the greatest La’s song that never got a proper recording (true blue La’s fans can argue over this or “Was it Something I Said?” until they pass out), the great abandoned Liverpudlian hopes were nice enough to perform this song for a live radio session in 1989 in stripped down acoustic fashion, and I find it moves at a crisp, breezy pace. The session was tagged onto the recently remastered version of their seminal 1990 self-titled debut album, which still holds as the only testament to their genius. That is, of course, unless Lee Mavers follows through with recording with Babyshambles’ bassist. I suppose we’d all love to see what comes of it, but anyone who knows Lee’s history probably stopped holding their breath as soon as he mentioned he’d like to record an album with Babyshambles’ bassist.

13. Dean Martin – Sleepy Time Gal
Dean Martin had such a relaxed delivery that you could virtually put just about anything he ever recorded on an autumn mix. Unfortunately, he’s also at that point of back-catalogue raping (see the recently released Forever Cool for reference — does anyone honestly need a Dean Martin and Kevin Spacey duet? Really?). Besides entirely superfluous duets albums, the other problem of overzealous revisitation is the annual (or semi-annual) releases of “essential” collections. So we all get the same 20 songs over and over and over. Why not just remaster and reissue his back catalogue. I, for one, would LOVE a remastered version of Swingin’ Down Yonder, or the album that this cut comes from, 1957’s Pretty Baby. But I’m sure the revisionists would just love to give me another rehash of “Ain’t That Kick in the Head.” Le sigh.

14. Johnny Marr – Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright
I believe the Healers’ first single, “The Last Ride” was released in 1999, and I’m pretty sure the Bert Jansch tribute People on the Highway came out in 2000, so by the time this cover of Bob Dylan’s greatest-breakup-song-ever-written trickled out in 2002, Marr’s voice had already been heard in a lead vocal forum. But I still think this is my favorite vocal from him, and my favorite version of this oft-covered song. It’s not overstated at all, but Marr carries it lightly with just acoustic guitar, piano and harmonica and his voice draws out all the implied pain and frustration the song carries. It’s gorgeous. Perfect autumn song, and hey, if someone happens to break your heart this season, you’ve now got an automatic go-to track.

15. Sam Cooke – Trouble Blues
Pulled from Cooke’s 1963 album, Night Beat, which (on the whole) is about as cheerful an affair as a bottle of barbituates chased by a bottle of whiskey. But as inviting as that sounds, you know what they say about pain producing some of the best art. A lot of people think of Cooke as a pretty wistful dude given some of his more popular recordings (“Cupid,” “Another Saturday Night,” “Chain Gang”), but the guy could sing the blues with the best of them, and with the organ wailing over the minimalist arrangement here, this one runs on downright late-autumn frosty.

16. Travis – Pipe Dreams
The Invisible Band kind of permanently strained my relationship with Travis. A lot of it just felt like a conscious rewriting of The Man Who (which I loved), but there just wasn’t the same “wow” factor in the songs on The Invisible Band. If anything, it kind of felt like they were pulling punches, but “Side” became a huge hit and the album did well to roll out the red carpet for Coldplay’s quick-to-follow domination of this pale-faced, wide-eyed genre. I’ve kind of been skeptical of Travis ever since, but however hard-heartened I may be, sentimentality still resides. Nevertheless, “Pipe Dreams” was one of the two songs on The Invisible Band I really liked (I’ll let you guess the other, and I bet you won’t get it on the first go). The lyrics here kind of shoot themselves in the foot (I think Fran was consciously trying to say something important and tried too hard), but the melody and arrangement is wonderfully warm and stark at the same time.

17. The Rifles – A Love to Die For
The personal jury’s still out on this British group. I was introduced to them last year when I saw them open up for Paul Weller in Chicago and decided that I really liked two of the songs they performed (while one of my best friends dismissed everything they did that night as “utter sh*t”). The songs I liked were enough for me to look into their catalogue, and while I’ve only found a couple more songs I like (this being one of them), I’m still not willing to go to the mat for them just yet. But I’ll gladly promote their better songs, and this lovely little B-side is definitely worth inclusion on this mix. Atmospheric, reminiscent, quite lovely.

18. The Rolling Stones – If You Need Me
Pulled from one of the Stones’ first albums, 12×5, the reason for this is party because of the organ (obviously), but more because I’m a sucker for young Keith Richards’ vocal abilities. In his youth (and even today… just a bit less so), Richards was a perfect harmony singer for Jagger. Listen to how his vocal sails over little Mick’s flash. This song is really quite wonderful, but if Mick had sung it alone, it wouldn’t have had the same pull.

19. Elliott Smith – Happiness (acoustic)
I’m pretty sure this comes from a little French EP that was released around the time of Elliott’s last (during his life, at least) studio album, Figure 8. “Happiness” was always one of my favorite tracks from the album — beat out only by “In the Lost and Found” — but it sounds so much more plaintive in the acoustic format. Mainly because the multi-tracked vocals are 86ed and Elliott’s thin but lovely voice has to carry the song singularly, and it does so quite effectively. Listen to the little quivers on the first “Oh my, nothing else could’ve been done” or the ending coda of “What I used to be will pass away and then you’ll see…” It’s absolutely fabulous. Simultaneously chilling and uplifting.

20. Brenda Holloway – Every Little Bit Hurts
This was Holloway’s first (and maybe only real) hit with Motown, and it spawned a 1964 album of the same name, but listening to it, it really doesn’t have the feel of a hit Motown single. The drumbeat is tight, but buried further back in the mix. The instruments and vocals sound really spread out and it’s almost like there’s a layer of air over everything, keeping the song itself at a bit of a distance instead of right in your face. Of course, it’s also so gorgeous that none of that really matters. While the Supremes and Martha and the Vandellas were using singles to sing about young love and fun, Holloway kind of brought a tangible air of regality to the label with this single. And it’s still just as effective 45 years later.

Happy fall, everyone.

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And guess who sighs his lullabies through nights that never end?

June 3, 2009

Alright, so the technical start of summer is still a few days away yet, but let’s face it, the weather’s getting warmer, the leaves are on the trees, weddings are upon us, kids are getting out of school and weekend trips are being planned all over the place. It’s summertime, folks.

And as always, this blog has another fabulously fantastic mix to soundtrack the season. Songs to make you groove, songs to make you smile, songs that sound good in the background with friends and drinks and songs to put you in a generally sunny state of mind (well, except “I Can’t Stand the Rain,” I guess…) — they’re all here.

And for the first time, there’s no need to go to SaveFile. You can download both parts of the mix right off this site, so that’s pretty cool, eh?

Get on wiffit!

summer3

summer is a mixtape. vol. III
The official “Ain’t Superstitious, But These Things I’ve Seen…” 2009 summer mix.

Download Part 1 (tracks 1 – 10)
Download Part 2 (tracks 11 – 20)

01. Primal Scream – Loaded
The first time I heard this was on a compilation that came with “Loaded” magazine called Disco Machine Gun. I had no idea who Primal Scream was, but this track kicked things off. It was a hot summer’s day, I had my girlfriend in the car and the groove was just perfect. In the UK, this song was one of the defining moments of the 1990s. Over here, it’s barely known. Criminal. This song is seven minutes of pure musical heaven, and I’m completely obsessed with Primal Scream now. So much so that I actually think the song this was remixed from – “I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have” – is miles better, but this is a bit more joyous.

02. The Jackson 5 – ABC
Perhaps little Michael Jackson’s finest moment with his brothers. The rhythm section on this track is so fat it threatens to audibly bust out of your sound system, and the vocal play between Michael and Jermaine is impeccable. Even the “Sit down, girl…” bit – cheesy as it is – is guaranteed to make even the squarest dude on the beach mimic it. Maybe it’s counterintuitive to put an educational-type song on a mix meant for summer vacation, but this is the kind of schooling I’d argue we all still need.

03. Blondfire – My Someday
The title cut from Blondfire’s last album sounds like a product of 1986, but it was actually released last year and even with the dearth of synthesized instrumentation (which I get very wary about), this is still sunny and all kinds of wonderful. People should attack each day with that “this could be my someday” belief. I know it’s impossible to do it every day – once in awhile bills are due and someone somewhere’s pissing you right off, but as the old adage goes, you never know. Anything can happen.

04. Mungo Jerry – In the Summertime
I grew up never paying much attention to this song. It would come on oldies radio every now and again and it always just seemed like a novelty song to me. Of course, I only recently found out that this isn’t some obscure American soul artist, but actually a British band of hippies that put this out as a single. Which I guess makes it even more of a novelty…  Nevertheless, in the context of a summer mix, I suppose it’s about as appropriate as sticking “Heat Wave” or something on (which the ASBTTIS faithful will know I did on the first summer mix). You got a nice day, a drink in your hand and this song’s on in the background, you know, life’s not so bad.

05. Oasis – Who Feels Love?
I loved this song from the moment I heard it on Oasis’ now-considered-tremendously-unimportant 2000 album, Standing on the Shoulder of Giants, and now even Oasis fans don’t rate this one very highly, but I still think the groove here is fabulous. Noel lays down a McCartney-esque bassline and layers Liam’s sneer with some fabulous harmonies. If there is a lack of general sentimentality for it, I’d blame the live performances from the era (particularly Wembley) where Liam got more than a little off the track to bitch about his divorce to Patsy Kensit and devolved the chorus into “Who Deals Drugs,” but I think if you go back to the album, things still sound pretty fabulous.

06. The Lovin’ Spoonful – Daydream
I love me some Lovin’ Spoonful. So many of their songs are perfect summer affairs, but “Daydream” just has such a fantastically lazy grace that it might arguably even be better summer-equipped than something like “Summer in the City.” Plus it mentions a new-mowed lawn, which wins extra summer points for me. Nothing like the smell of fresh cut grass to both make me happy and grimace about terribly trying summer jobs of years past.

07. Astrud Gilberto – The Face I Love
The Brazilian songstress has a stacked catalogue that’s about as synonymous with summer as tans and mosquito bites. This gorgeously breezy cut is culled from her 1967 album Beach Samba, which unfortunately came at the beginning of her commercial decline. Granted, it’s no “Girl From Ipanema,” but really, what is? The thing about downward slides by artists is that while maybe the majority of work ends up kind of uninspiring, there are still a few fabulous cuts to be found. Case in point.

08. Crowded House – Weather With You
From Tim Finn’s short-lived stint in his younger brother Neil’s band, “Weather With You” might be the best thing about Woodface (which had a lot more going for it than critics ever let on), and is also a prerequisite singalong for any Neil Finn-related live appearance. My family always blamed whoever was visiting in an instance of inclement weather, and maybe that’s why I appreciate what Finn brothers are doing here. But then again, maybe they’re celebrating the fact that someone brings nice weather with them? It’s kind of unclear. But I like the duality of it.

09. Bob Marley – Is This Love
Cliché as it may be to put Bob Marley on a summer mix, I’ll point out that at least I didn’t choose “Jamming.” Besides, this song, from 1978’s Kaya, has always been my favorite of Bob’s. I could never afford a bed bigger than a twin sized one throughout the whole of college, which I often was understandably frustrated about. But listening to this song always made me feel justified about it. Morrissey once alluded a double bed as a dream of poor lovers, but Marley said love should transcend bed size. Come to think of it, that might be the best thing he ever said.

10. Steely Dan – Blues Beach
As per the previous two summer mixes, this would not be complete without a latter day Steely Dan song. Listening to Donald and Walter this century has been really interesting, because the music’s become exponentially breezier, but the pair of them have only grown older, increasingly jaded and even more prone to dole out smartass barbs. “We could rent a paranymphic glider, my hypothetical friend,” anyone? At any rate, the vocal merry-go-round between Fagen and his female backups that concludes the song is particularly fantastic.

11. George Harrison – If Not For You
Only the Quiet Beatle could make Bob Dylan sound this sunny and this wistful. And whatever you want to say about Phil Spector, he helped craft this sound. I’m not saying it justifies him shooting a woman or any of those wigs, but … he helped craft this sound.

12. Ronnie Wood – I Can’t Stand the Rain
There are certain songs out there that just don’t seem to merit covering, and I would think Ann Peebles’ “I Can’t Stand the Rain” is one of them. Yet, everyone wants to do it and so many people fall (understandably) miles short. I guess it makes it all the funnier that a guy who can only barely sing himself is the guy behind probably the best cover of this song ever. The organ also helps tremendously.

13. Cliff Edwards & the Wonderland Jazz Band – June Night
You might not recognize the name, but you’ll recognize the voice as that of Jiminy Cricket’s. Cliff Edwards’ story is kind of a sad one – he battled an alcohol addiction and would hang around Disney’s studio and offices waiting for someone to offer work, but he was great on the uke and seemed to carry a natural charm at least in his voice. Disney commissioned Edwards (under his pseudonym of Ukulele Ike) for a children’s album in 1956 called Ukulele Ike Sings Again and this short little number is just one example of the simple greatness that lies within.

14. Old 97’s – Barrier Reef
The 97’s 1997 album Too Far To Care is arguably one of the greatest summer barbecue/drinking albums of all time. It’s got the alt-country energy that several of the bands of the time were tripping over themselves to attain and with a young Rhett Miller’s unashamedly smug lyrics washed over a bit of honky rock madness, the whole album is kind of a big happy middle finger to whatever bug is up your butt. There’s been some great one liners and couplets about sex throughout the history of rock and roll songs, but “My heart wasn’t in it, not for one single minute – I went through the motions with her, her on top and me on liquor” effortlessly swaggers its way to sitting amongst the best. You gotta love it.

15. Allen Toussaint & Chet Atkins – Southern Nights
Just one of several well-known songs that Allen penned and other artists found fame with (in this case, Glen f*cking Campbell), Allen’s reading of the song has always been a lot more soulful, but this version from the 1994 compilation Rhythm, Country & Blues, is far and away the best. It gives Allen room to deliver a sly and funky reading and guitar great Chet Atkins to pepper the whole affair with some fine country-tinged picking.

16. Hugh Masekala – Grazing in the Grass
My father’s a big fan of the Friends of Distinction’s 1969 vocal cover of this song, but I think the original instrumental from Masekala in 1968 is unbeatable. Sometimes you don’t need words to capture a good feeling – as “Loaded” already illustrated. This, too, is the sound of pure fantasticity on a summer day.

17. Delta Spirit – Trashcan
I was only recently turned on to this band, and the energy and goodwill this one song exudes was enough to sell me. It’s bound to get some part of your body moving. The English major in me appreciates the fact that he notes he didn’t get the well spoken gene, and then proceeds to inform us that he can “barely hardly wait” for his love to arrive. Not that not acknowledging the redundancy in a roundabout way would have detracted from the song. I’m just saying it’s nice of him to point it out.

18. Billy Bragg & Wilco – California Stars
I’m more of a Bragg fan than a Wilco fan, so listening to the Mermaid Avenue albums always sets off personal conflicts in me when I find myself thinking Bragg came up short on a song and Wilco really nailed one. I know their own egos kind of staved off the possibility of another album ever materializing, but credit where credit is due, and Tweedy’s reading of Woody Guthrie’s stargazing ode is another example of what it sounds like to be completely besotted with someone.

19. The Stills – Being Here
I don’t love the Stills, but I like them a hell of a lot. I think there’s a lot of angst in their personalities, and I think there’s a creative imbalance between Dave and Tim that leaves some of their songs sounding like they’re missing something. But when they can buckle down and focus their energy, they can produce some of the most expansive sounding rock and roll to come from anywhere, much less French Canada. The chorus of this song is a big, f*cking sunny field on a perfect day. I just wish their albums would have more than one or two of these songs.

20. Lyle Lovett – Summer Wind
A fabulous songwriter himself, Lovett’s established himself as an extraordinary cover artist in Hollywood, lending his voice to interpretations of classics ranging from “Blue Skies” to “Chicago” to “What I’d Say” for various Hollywood pictures. His reading of “Summer Wind” was used in 1999’s let’s-try-to-make-another-cool-Kevin-Costner-baseball-vehicle, “For the Love of the Game.” This was really the best thing about the movie. And it’s a nice closing to the mix, wouldn’t you agree?

Enjoy the weather, folks.