Archive for the ‘Seasonal Mix’ Category

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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…

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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!

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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.