2012: 15 of the Best. #11 …

December 7, 2012


11. Rhett Miller – Sweet Dreams

From: The Dreamer
Released: June 5, 2012
Label: Maximum Sunshine
Buy it: Here

Rhett financed The Dreamer through one of those Kickstarter campaigns that’s already become rather tedious and a little controversial in music circles. But instead of just doling out “thank you”s in the liner notes, I’ll give Rhett credit for putting some nifty merchandise up for sale that fans could appreciate (rare 7” copies of “Help Me, Suzanne,” old guitars, wardrobe). It was a self-financed and self-produced affair, which can be a double-edged sword for an artist. You get freedom, sure, but you also lose second-guessing of someone in the big chair. As a result, The Dreamer came out sounding a little flat between the one-two punch of the Old 97s’ The Grand Theatre project last year and the 15th anniversary celebration of Too Far To Care this year. The songs on The Dreamer weren’t as punchy as some of his previous solo efforts, but he still knocked out a little classic in “Sweet Dreams,” which closes the album. Sure, the music is just another knock on that chord progression that’s been basing little pop lullabies since “Sh’Boom,” “Blue Moon” and “I Will,” but the reason artists eventually mine it is because it always delivers a bit of gold. But beyond cribbing a tried and true chord progression, the thing that really makes “Sweet Dreams” work is that it sounds like Rhett’s a lot more relaxed performing it. The lesson? Relax. It sounds great here and for a guy who’s always been renowned for making up slightly crazy stories for his lyrics, self-assuredness and sincerity have always been the key to selling it.


2012: 15 of the Best. #12 …

December 6, 2012

12. Lyle Lovett – One Way Gal

From: Release Me
Released: February 28, 2012
Label: Curb/Lost Highway
Buy it: Here

Because Lyle’s such a good songwriter, the idea of him doing a covers album feels a little like a con on his fans. I get the point of it—Release Me is his farewell letter to Curb, the record label that’s housed him since he started and the idea here is to tap into influences from throughout his career. Moreover, the 1998 covers (double) album Step Inside This House was pretty damn good and included “Bears.” But if I’m going to be a whiny fan boy here, I want more “I’ve Been To Memphis,” “Her First Mistake” and “No Big Deal.” OK, Release Me does include two originals, one of which lands on this year’s Christmas mix, but here’s hoping that whatever label gets him next gets another great set of Lyle’s dry wit. Also you can’t fault him for his song selection here—“One Way Gal” is an old William Moore tune that dates back to 1928 and really, when you hear Lyle do it, it doesn’t sound too far detached from anything he would’ve composed himself 84 years later.


2012: 15 of the Best. #13 …

December 5, 2012

13. Miles Kane – First of My Kind

From: “First of My Kind” EP
Released: April 21, 2012
Label: Sony
Buy it: Here

Only UK audiences got access to the actual vinyl for Record Store Day (what, being able to call all my favorite bands your own isn’t enough for you?), but at least we got to hear the next step in Miles continuing progress toward solo stardom. Of course, the next step kind of sound likes a step backward—the orchestrational swells behind this tune don’t sound too unlike the ones that fortified his and Alex Turner’s The Age of the Understatement a few years ago, but that was a very good album. So using past success as a template for future ideas isn’t a totally horrible idea (I am an Oasis fan, aren’t I?), and when it comes down to it, the worst thing I can say about this is that it’s very good, but not great. I can say a lot worse about other songs I’ve heard this year.

Official video:


2012: 15 of the Best. #14 …

December 4, 2012

14. Bonnie Raitt – Right Down the Line

From: Slipstream
Released: April 10, 2012
Label: Redwing
Buy it: Here

With due respect to Gerry Rafferty (my grandfather was a huge fan), hearing Bonnie’s cover of his tune “Right Down the Line” this year reminded me of a famous Keith Richards quote: “There’s rock, but it’s the roll that counts.” OK, so “Right Down the Line” has always been a nice enough song, but Gerry’s version never had any real groove to it. It was too stiff, sounded too “My day job is a songwriter, and this is a song as much as a job.” No real feel to it. Thirty-four years later, old blues pro Bonnie comes in as if to say “I think this is what he meant …” and voila, the feel, the groove—THE ROLL—it’s all here. Finally. This song needed it.

Official video:


2012: 15 of the Best. #15 …

December 3, 2012

Ah yes, another year, another countdown. Like the Christmas mixes, I’ve been doing these “15 of the Best” rundowns since 2006 and the one thing about them that never changes is that the following year, I discover some song that was released the year prior and totally should’ve been on that year’s list. Frustrating. Nevertheless, every year manages to make way for at least 15 songs that I think are the particularly fantastic and while other blogs, magazines and websites are happy to tell you what the best albums of the year, I’m happy to tell you what some of the best songs are and even provide ’em for you.

Two changes to this year’s list: First, check the comments. Secondly, if an official video was released to accompany the song, I’ll post that too so you can have an instantaneous preview of what I’m talking about. But this isn’t about ranking videos. Some videos are crap. Some videos are cool. Just remember this rundown is about the songs, not the videos.

15. Donald Fagen – I’m Not the Same Without You

From: Sunken Condos
Released: October 16, 2012
Label: Reprise
Buy it: Here

This song probably won’t change the minds of everyone who’s already decided that they don’t like Steely Dan. For fans of Steely Dan, they might go on a little too much about how genius this is. I like Steely Dan OK, but I’m not going to say this is genius. Of course, if I’m pressed, I argue the genius of Steely Dan was not the common B.S. that everyone spews (The production! The session musicians! The craft, maaaaaaaaaan!), but the fact that they always plugged some pretty funny lyrics and stories into what sounded like some high-brow R&B/jazz fusion. This continues that tradition. Usually with a title like “I’m Not the Same Without You,” you’d expect a tired old love-lost thing, but the old smarty-pants Donald turns it on its head and talks about how positive life in general has been since the split. “I’m evolving at a really astounding rate of speed into something way cooler than what I was before … Since you’ve been gone, it’s like somebody switched the stars back on,” he sings in muted (OK, OK … more smartass than muted) wonderment. Anyone who’s come out thinking more clearly after such a breakup can relate. So then maybe this is genius by my own Steely Dan-rating standards? Well, it’s at least very, very good.


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

November 23, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

(Check the Comments Below)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All the best to you and yours this season!


When I sit and close my eyes, a gentle thought comes in my mind.

September 27, 2012

You’re gonna sit there and be pissy about something this idiot does? Really? You can’t find a better way to spend your time?

I don’t know why the news of Mike Love “firing” Brian Wilson, Al Jardine and David Marks from the Beach Boys touring band has caught such fire in the last 24 hours—the news is already more than a week old. And in a day and age where people can wake up and rant their heads off on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr or whatever social media realm you favor and then forget what they were so angry about 15 minutes later, this seems like a horrible lag on the public at large’s part.

But here’s a quick hit of what comes up when you type “Mike Love” into Twitter’s search bar right now.

The last one made me laugh. But go ahead and see for yourself how much hatred and vitriol there is toward this guy.

Now think about this time last year before you even knew that the Beach Boys were going to be touring together again—let alone releasing a new album—and think about what your opinion of Mike Love was then.

If you are a Beach Boys fan of even modest repute, it was probably about the same.

So what, really, are we so pissed about? That a 71-year-old who’s had a long history of being a dick (here’s that famous Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction clip — go on to 3:49 for Love’s infamous rant) comes out and makes another dick move? Wow, and this from a crotchety old guy who decides the best place to defend his good name with cuddly old Bill O’Reilly! Never saw that coming …

I suppose the idea of Brian Wilson and Mike Love sharing a stage again this summer worked as some metaphor for being able to get through whatever bullsh*t threatens your bond during a lifetime. The fact that Love and Wilson are cousins and somehow found a way past 40 some years of disagreement, lawsuits and general backbiting maybe made it more special. I think the Stone Roses managed to pull off the “we really do like each other now” act a little more convincingly than the remaining Beach Boys did this summer, but that’s merely from my review of videos posted on the Internet. I didn’t actually see the Stone Roses this summer, nor did I see the Beach Boys.

So maybe I’m out of line in suggesting that the Brian Wilson ( … OK, and Al and David) not being part of Beach Boys anymore is really not that big of a deal. Maybe if I had made it to one of the shows this year, I’d have been impressed and/or inspired by what I saw before me. But the thing is, I saw Brian Wilson when he performed the whole of Pet Sounds with a symphony. I saw him on the SMiLE tour. And any day of the week, I would rather see this than I would this. I did see the Beach Boys back in 1994 when Carl was still around and to hear that voice sing “God Only Knows” live was something special. The fact that Uncle Jesse was the drummer at that show was a bit surreal, but it was still a show worth remembering. And even then, at 12 years of age and before I got interested in the band’s history and everything else, I sat that there thinking, “Mike Love is really not that great of a frontman.”

And let’s not kid ourselves into thinking Mike doing this is akin to him robbing the world of another SMiLE. Yes, Brian has recently suggested that he’d like to make another album with the Beach Boys (gasp, “a rock ‘n’ roll album” even!), but I don’t want any of you trying to tell me that That’s Why God Made the Radio was this year’s pristine gift to music lovers everywhere. I’ve heard it, and I’m sure you’ve heard at least some of it if not all of it, and I can tell you that I didn’t actually pay money for it and I’m pretty sure you didn’t either. Were there some surprises on it? Yes. I found myself in love with one of the tracks (it’s almost a shoo-in for a spot on the “15 of the Best” list at the end of the year), but when you’re expecting a possible catastrophe, a couple songs that would’ve made better-than-average fillers on the albums around the Friends and Wild Honey era sound that much more impressive. I’m all for Brian Wilson continuing to write and record, but I’m not expecting another “Cabin Essence” from a guy who’s more happy of late to give a Beach Boys swing to Gershwin or Disney tunes. Hell, I’m still demanding my money back for that goddamned collaboration with Paul McCartney 8 years ago. THAT is the result of Brian Wilson and Paul McCartney getting together?! Does Brian Wilson have the right to do whatever he damn well pleases at this point of his life and career? Absolutely, and I’m not going to criticize it (unless you build me up with the thought that Brian Wilson and Paul McCartney have collaborated on a track for the first time in history and we get “A Friend Like You”). But I’m also not going to demand or expect any more genius from him. I think he’s given us enough.

So Mike Love wants to go back to playing county fairs and and village parties with a band of guys who, if it weren’t for Mike Love’s wishes, might instead be playing in a Lynyrd Skynyrd tribute act or with 2 guys out of the Buckinghams on the same county fair circuit. Big f*cking deal. THAT’s what you want Brian Wilson to be part of? That’s where you want the Beach Boys legacy to have its final living flickers? Not in hushed reverence of Brian Wilson at the Royal Albert Hall or in some revered theater in a major American city? ‘Cos I, for one, think that’s a hell of a lot more appropriate.

But if you don’t, then OK, go ahead and get mad at Mike Love for denying Brian Wilson the chance to sing “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times” as some dude in a tanktop and floral board shorts half-listens while he orders a $6 burrito and $3 cotton candy from a stand set up by a suburban Mexican restaurant.

It just seems like a really wasted emotion to me.

And trust me, there are better things to be angry about than a 71-year-old asshole being an asshole.

P.S. For all of Mike Love’s idiocy and dickishness, he did cowrite this. So there is that.


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

September 21, 2012

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

Autumnal, Vol. 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Fall-ing, everyone.


Been going on so long, you know it’s a sin.

September 7, 2012

Earlier this week, I was afforded the opportunity to speak to Edgar “Summertyme” Jones, which longtime readers will guess was a pretty big deal for me. The guy’s name (and playing and/or singing) peppers the lineage of the best British music of the last 20 years (he’s served time with the La’s, worked with Ian McCulloch, played with and benefitted from the recording equipment of Johnny Marr, had his bass anchor Paul Weller’s touring band and has made some of the best—if criminally undervalued music—under his own name and with his groups the Stairs, the Big Kids and the Isrites … and that’s still just a fraction of the story). Edgar’s name is on two brand-spanking-new releases that dropped this summer: a deluxe reissue of his 2005 classic Soothing Music For Stray Catsand a brand new LP called Sense of Harmony under the Edgar Summertyme pseudonym he used while with the Stairs. Americans can get quick and easy access to the albums through iTunes or eMusic, but if you’ve got an extra coupla bucks in the account and like to support music in its purest form, do some direct shopping from The Viper Label, which is run by former La’s Paul Hemmings and Mike Badger. They have a stunning collection of music in their stable that’s more than worth the minimal extra costs for overseas shipping.

In all my years of interviewing musicians, the thing that’s obvious to remember but still easy to forget is that musicians are first and foremost pretty big fans of music. You’re always going to get a better conversation out of a shared knowledge of some deep cut or B-side of a moderately-successful album or single than you are by going, “So … uh, are you looking forward to playing anywhere on this tour that you haven’t before?” In a perfect world, I’d have lived next door to Edgar for years and we’d be swapping records and pointing out box-set deals on Amazon to each other on a daily basis. As it stands, he lives in Liverpool, England and I live in Chicago, Illinois. That sucks. But you’d be surprised how quickly someone like John Sebastian can seemingly minimize that distance.

Below is a transcript of the bulk of our conversation. I encourage fellow Yanks to keep their ears and wallets out. Maybe, just maybe, we can coax him over here for a few dates at some point.

Keepin’ Up With the Jones
A Conversation with Edgar ‘Summertyme’ Jones

PS: Well, first off I want to say thanks for doing this. I’ve been a big fan for a while and it’s an honor to get to talk to you.

Edgar: I appreciate the thought. Sort of a bit of an honor for me, right. This really surprised me. Nice one.

PS: Good to know you’re known in Chicago, right?

Edgar: Oh, is right, la, yeah. I do like Chicago. I discovered the Easybeats in Chicago. I was playing a gig with Ian McCulloch and there was a record shop underneath the venue. It was kinda—it looked a bit like it might have been an old Victorian theatre or something. There was a record shop outside and they were blasting “Gonna Have a Good Time” and I bought the album there and then. So, yeah, at 19 years of age, la, so yeah.

PS: So it’s been awhile since you’ve been back?

Edgar: Erm, let’s see. I was there with St. Etienne about 12 years ago. Oh no, probably about 15 years ago, actually. Same venue as well. Weird. Can’t remember the name of it, though. [Editor’s note: Some gigography research suggests the venue was the Metro.]

PS: Alright, well yeah, looking forward to talking to you about the new album and also the reissue and your career, because I’m going to be jealous here and ask you all the questions I’ve wanted to ask you for years.

Edgar: Sure thing, yeah. You might—I’ve done a thing for a British, well a local Liverpool thing called “Bido Lito!”

PS: And I read that interview, I actually did see that.

Edgar: Oh, excellent, man. There’s a “Shindig” one as well. It’s just—I’m just informing you so if there’s anything from the past that I might not mention or whatever. The last Shindig I was in as well, a “20 Questions.”

PS: Oh, OK. Well building off the “Bido Lito!” interview, you talked a little bit about this new album, working through ill health and kind of finding your voice again. And I think in that interview you said you kind of ran it into the ground with Free Peace.

Edgar: Yeah, yeah, well me health and generally I’ve not looked after myself for many years. And there was complications in me life which just caused my system to rupture, really.

PS: Oh, really?

Edgar: Yeah, yeah, I kinda carried on as normal, but around the time I started—I was in a group with Dave McCabe and I did two gigs and the week after I was back in the hospital, so I thought, “Uh, no way.”

PS: Right.

Edgar: And a healer fellow that I know, I bumped into him and he started helping me out with various things like healing things that he does. And just generally opening me up to meself again, y’know? ‘Cos life and stuff, it can stop you being yourself sometimes, and you really don’t realize, ‘cos you’re still in the same body, but erm, you’re not operating as you. It was really good that he really made me realize that I wasn’t operating as me. [Laughter]

PS: So coming out of that and coming through the other side of it, how did that affect the writing and recording of Sense of Harmony in a different way than any of your past albums?

Edgar: Well the big thing is still being ill while I was doing it. This old friend of mine was really encouraging me to write songs, and I got back into the art of the song. And I listened to what I see as strong songs a lot—I was deliberately spending sometimes whole days checking out Brill Building stuff, Motown, Neil Young, Beatles, Bowie. Just getting back into really ordinary staple diet music, ‘cos for many years—I don’t know if you can make this separation yourself—but there’s great songs and there’s great records. Eddie Bo makes some of the best records ever, but he hasn’t really wrote many songs. D’you have to have a brief explanation of where I’m coming from?

PS: I think I get it.

Edgar: Yeah. All respect to him, he’s one of—he’s a God to me. But he’s not a strong songwriter as such, whereas Neil Young or I dunno … he’s probably capable, but he’ll probably never write a “Life on Mars.” [Laughter] You got what I’m saying then. The attention was directed that way more.

PS: And did it affect the vocals too? Because I notice like in “What’s a Boy To Do” or “I Would Do Anything,” you have a lot gentler delivery than you’ve had maybe on the Joneses albums or on The Masked Marauder.

Edgar: Yeah, definitely. Erm, yeah, it was just I didn’t have that much strength in me voice, really. I suppose I was more nervous singing at a voice level, which is something I’ve learned a lot from, but when I do gigs, I end up using me throat again. It’s one of those things.

PS: Well is it something—I mean did that contribute to the ill health? Was it overtaxing your voice in any way?

Edgar: Eh, well they were kind of final nails. The roots of the whole thing was bad diet, way too much milk and sugar, coupled with bad teeth, so I never chewed me food properly. And the bad teeth also led to me having like in me teens and early 20’s, not having a painkiller addiction, but being able to neck a whole bottle in a day without it affecting me stomach, cos I didn’t need me stomach pumping. But obviously years later, it’s just a lot of small things combining together over a period of 20 years and I suppose the Free Peace thing was the straw that broke the camel’s back, really.

PS: And jumping from—I got the Stormy Weather album too—and jumping from that into Sense of Harmony, the song style changes quite dramatically.

Edgar: Yeah, it does. And the whole Free Peace album you won’t have heard—what was it called? I think we called it Born Too Loose or something like that, that got abandoned because, uh, they were all in open keys … In order to sound big, I wrote a lot of songs in open keys and that album kind of got abandoned. We done all the backing tracks, and it got after about a month of trying to do the vocals, I abandoned it, like. So the ones on the album that you hear, they’re actually much easier vocals. [Laughter] It was a real situation of—I suppose it was that thing of getting lost from meself and not realizing what I was doing. I was doing things that were actually damaging meself.  I suppose someone said in a review recently, “it sounds like Jones is having the time of his life,” and what connects to that earlier is I was having—over the years heading toward Free Peace—I was having a go at this and I was having a go at that. And I was finding that I could do this and I could do that, so I thought, “Oh I can do this, too,” and I couldn’t. I met me nemesis and it was trying to sing like a teenage Ozzy Osbourne when I was nearly 40. It didn’t work. [Laughter]

PS: Well, you never know unless you try, right?

Edgar: Yeah. It made me really ill.

PS: But yeah, just on Sense of Harmony, I can really pick up a Paul McCartney influence …

Edgar: Yeah, and I was amazed when you said [in an email] Lovin’ Spoonful, ‘cos John Sebastian was another of the said songwriters.

PS: Yeah, I was totally hearing “Didn’t Want To Have To Do It.”

Edgar: That’s one of me favorite songs ever.

PS: It’s just great. So when you’re talking about listening to those kinds of songs—what else were you listening to at the time?

Edgar: I got back into the art of 1966 music that I loved around the Stairs time. I think a major difference as well was I stopped listening to so much atonal classical music and started getting into the early romantic stuff, y’know—Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, things like that. ‘Cos my entry to classical music was through tipoffs from things I’d read, ‘cos I love Charlie Mingus. He was as atonal as it got, but I can’t remember what it was that turned me round to it. I think it was just the cheapness of the dodgy Gramophone box sets on Amazon. [Laughter] I was a bit skint and I wanted to buy a lot of music for very little and you know, you can get a complete Mozart box set with all his symphonies, you know they used to be 200 pounds and now they’re a tenner, so I think it was partly that. So yeah, listening to a lot more tonal music and getting turned on by that again, not needing so much atonality. I think it has its place, the tonal as well, y’know.

PS: Speaking of Charlie Mingus and you going over “Freedom” in a couple different ways on Soothing Music For Stray Cats

Edgar: That’s right.

PS: So let’s talk about that rerelease. It’s only been 7 years since it first came out, so what was the idea with putting it out again right now?

Edgar: Well it was partly the return to health. We’d been thinking about it for a year, but we’d been waiting to run out of them, basically. I guess it just seemed a nice thing to do to reintroduce meself with a popular album a coupla weeks before the new one came out.

PS: Well yeah and obviously it got a lot of people talking. I know every time that album’s mentioned, Noel Gallagher’s quote comes up about it, and NME and stuff calling it “The Best Album You’ve Never Heard.” So when you get treatment like that, how does that sit with you?

Edgar: It’s pretty nice actually. It’s funny—one of the songs on the reissue, “Careful What You Wish For”—it ties in with that. I kinda wrote that song because when I was in the Stairs days and stuff like that, I suppose it’s something that’s not changed about meself. So what I’m saying is relevant. And, you know, the Stairs records weren’t massive. We weren’t a massive band. We were liked by musicians, and I guess I’ve always liked that kind of thing where they got name-checked by other musicians. That really means a lot to me. But I remember going into record shops on Portobello Road in London in the Stairs days and looking at the Standells and Chocolate Watch Band albums when they were like 50 pounds, and I was thinking, “Wouldn’t it be great if the Stairs album was next to the Standells one for 50 pounds?” And then 10 years later, it was. [Laughter] You know, it kind of ties in with the “Careful What You Wish For” thing. I guess it’s something about me that hasn’t changed. I find it just as gratifying to be noticed after the fact as I do when things are happening. It’s a shame, really, for me bank account that that’s the case. [Laughter] But I get by, so it’s not really a problem. Yeah, I guess it keeps you going, these things, don’t they? I think I’d keep going if I never released anything anyway. I’m drawn to the muse constantly. But yeah, these things do help.

PS: Well and one of the songs which I’m really, really glad to have finally put on CD too was “Don’t Break My Heart.”

Edgar: Yeah I was glad to have that on a CD too finally. [Laughter]

PS: Yeah, ‘cos the only way I knew that song—there’s a little clip of you doing it in Japan on YouTube.

Edgar: That’s right, yeah.

PS: And I had never heard the song, so I’m like, “What is this? This is great!”

Edgar: Yeah, there was a few Mark Lamarr sessions that we did. We couldn’t find the tape of one of ‘em. There’s a whole band version of “Huny Brown” knockin’ around somewhere, but I had to put out my own demo, like.

PS: Was that just something that you guys had written later on, did that come after Gettin’ a Little Help From the Joneses?

Edgar: Yeah, we were planning on doing a third Joneses album. We had about 90 percent of the material ready for it. We had about 8 strong songs. I was looking for 2 or 3 more before we committed to an album, but yeah, the likes of “You Want Me to Want You Back,” “Another Side of Huny Brown,” “Hey Joseph,” “Don’t Break My Heart.” There was a few instrumentals, one called “Cigarettes and Coffee” that was rather good. Kind of like a Blue Note jukebox record from the early 1960s kind of thing. Yeah, we were nearly about to look into recording a third.

PS: Well I’m glad we got at least some of those songs out. And I know there was acoustic version of “Hey Joseph” on the live album too.

Edgar: Oh on the Japanese one, yeah it was just the radio station thing that that was from, yeah.

PS: Great cover of “My Babe” too on that, by the way.

Edgar: Oh, sound, yeah! It’s actually a copy of an Art Neville version that might just be an acetate or something. It was on a New Orleans, you know, what’s the label called? Night Train Funky Delicacies? It was on one of them—y’know the way they put them CDs out that they don’t bother doing on record? They’re just mastered off knackered records. It was well better. I’m just copying what he did there, la. Nice one. [Laughter]

PS: I haven’t heard that version of it.

Edgar: It’s a great arrangement, isn’t it?

PS: It is! You hear that song pretty much everywhere you go around Chicago, I mean every local band around here seems to know that one and I’m always thinking, “I think Edgar’s got the best version.”

Edgar: Oh, sound. Ah well check out Art Neville’s version anyway. I’m even copying the way he sings it. But what a tune.

PS: So another thing I wanted to ask you about—you were in an early incarnation of Johnny Marr’s Healers.

Edgar: That’s correct, yeah.

PS: With Zak too, and I know that by the time the actually got released it was at least a couple years later.

Edgar: Yeah, well that was the reason I offed ship, really. We’d kind of been playing and getting together over, sometimes, months apart. Took two and a half, maybe three years and things didn’t look like they were speeding up, unfortunately. So yeah, I got the phone call for the Weller job and I accepted. It was a tough choice to make, because we were quite the hot three-piece, like.

PS: Yeah, well I can imagine. What was it like—I mean you’ve played with some great drummers: Zak, Steve White with Weller …

Edgar: Yeah, Sean Payne and Paul Maguire as well. Paul is probably me favorite to play with out of all of them, actually. I don’t know, maybe it’s ‘cos we grew up together, but when I was doing—me band were backing Candie Payne. For a while, the drummer left to join Cherry Ghost. And Paul, because Candie was actually going out with his brother at the time, so Sony were there paying for them to fly over from Iceland to play for us, so we had a little remarriage  for 6 or 8 weeks on a tour, like. So we both grew up, lovely. So yeah, Paul’s me favorite to play with. Ever. Put that down, hopefully he’ll get to read it one day. [Laughter]

PS: Going back to what you said about the Healers, you said you took the Weller job because the Healers thing wasn’t taking off. I mean obviously you’ve worked with a lot of different artists—is that something that you look for? I mean if you’re gonna join in this, play on this, whether it’s live or on an album, does it have to be cooking? ‘Cos I know your time in the La’s never really produced anything, right?

Edgar: Yeah, it was about like two years, really, I mean I was only there for the second year of it, where Lee was living in London and just not pulling his weight, really. You know, during the year I was there, I think the whole band got up to play maybe for a couple of songs on two occasions. It was very messy to see, like. It’s a shame, really, I still see him as the main talent in town, really. As we get further from the fact, it gets more distressing.

PS: I know he played out a few months ago with Gary out of the Bandits.

Edgar: That’s correct, yeah. I believe they fell out recently and it’s all over again.

PS: Oh, really?

Edgar: Yeah.

PS: But when he does resurface like that, does it encourage you at all, or is it just “Well, he’s still doing the same stuff he was doing all those years ago …”?

Edgar: Erm, I kind of—it’s one of those things where you spend so many years on the edge of your seat hoping that something’s gonna happen that you kind of get fed up with wasting your energy on it, really. Again, a great shame, but it’s hard to break out of the cycle of behavior isn’t it? You know, it’s something that I’ve been working on meself in the past year, you know to diet and just have a healthier outlook on life and not to let things stress me out and stuff like that. And I guess when you’re in that cycle, it changes slightly all the time, but at the end of the day, you’re still orbiting the same sun, aren’t you?

PS: Gotcha. And now going forward, are you looking to put together a band again or do you think doing the solo thing for a while is going to suit you?

Edgar: Erm, well, I’m putting a band together to do the solo material. Actually one of the reasons I was demoing so hard the other week was when I made Sense of Harmony, because I didn’t really know what—it wasn’t really a planned album as such, I was just recording tracks if you know what I mean. ‘Cos I was writing them, a lot of the time with the idea that they were gonna be performed by someone else, but basically as soon as I got an idea, I’d go to the tape machine and build up the idea on the tape machine. But when I could see that the album was finished as such, I started writing after that. The plan was to live with them and perform them, because I found that if I was gonna go out and have a career again, that it was too itty bitty—Sense of Harmony—to go out and perform live. Things will need rearranging. I mean, I’ve got arrangements for about 5 or 6 of them that I can use, but for the lot of it, it’s kind of a bit too easy rolling to do the kind of show that I like to do. You know, we can always sort of Otis-up “I Would Do Anything”—give it the “Just One More Day” treatment, y’know what I mean? Elongate it. But some of the other stuff I don’t really see as the kind of stuff I like to project on stage. So anyway this is a long answer, so yeah I continue to perform these new songs, and I promised myself that I wouldn’t record any of these until Sense of Harmony came out.


Edgar: Like basically the other week, I was head down, demoing and I’ve got about 10 of them half-finished anyway, so the album probably won’t appear ‘til this time next year, but the songs are all ready and willing anyway.

PS: Cool. Well that’s exciting to hear.

Edgar: Sorry, what was your question? [Laughter] I’m sure the answer was right somehow.

PS: Yeah, it was there, so the next one will …

Edgar: Ah, yeah, you were asking planning to do a band. I am. But it will be a band to pursue me solo.

PS: And then any other projects? Anyone calling you to play bass?

Edgar: I’ve knocked back a few bass playing things, just because I really want to concentrate on this. If there were some decent tours, I’d probably take it up because I do love playing the bass and having less vocal responsibilities when I do it. Yeah, if the right call came along, but I do have plenty to focus on at the moment.

PS: It sounds like it. And I prefer to hear you have an album coming out as opposed to you’re playing bass with someone.

Edgar: Yeah. Nice one, nice one. I’ve been around the past couple of months, I’ve started doing gigs again, but just on me own, like a little Vox amp with tremolo on the 330, which sounds really nasty. So it’s a bit like the acoustic shows. I’m mostly doing support slots, cos I don’t really think solo performances should go on for more than a half hour, really. But there’s this thing at the end of the month—Liverpool’s Psychedelic Festival—and ‘cos I didn’t think, ‘cos my stuff is very soul-y like a lot of the stuff off the new album. There’s another side to the new album that I didn’t really wanna perform on me own, ‘cos there’s a lot of like three- and four-part harmonies again. I’m introducing me band at this gig. But they’re not playing. They’re only singing with me. [Laughter] Without being too big-headed, I know the people are kind of waiting for me to do a band, so I thought this might do.

PS: Now how long were you with Weller during Heliocentric? I know you did the Royal Albert Hall show, cos I know that DVD’s around. You did a Jools Holland appearance too, right?

Edgar: Yeah, there was a Jools Holland and there was a John Lennon tribute thing. We did “Instant Karma” on that as well. I was the only scouser on the program and I was the only member of Weller’s band who didn’t get name-checked. So I’ve had a gripe with Jools Holland since I was a knee-high and I was in Ian McCulloch’s band and I was the only one in that band he didn’t name-check. [Laughter] I can’t remember what the other one was, but he done it to me 3 times anyway. Ah that was it, it was the Lennon thing, and the Weller appearance and he name-checked everyone in the band apart from me.

PS: Did you guys record anything or was that just a touring gig?

Edgar: No, because he was kind of in between days. He was recording Heliocentric. It was rather unfortunate how it came to an end, really.  The reason why he got me and, initially, his cousin in was because Ocean Colour Scene were rather busy and he wanted an independent band of his own. But his cousin left a few days before and it was kind of stressing him out too much. And it’s a shame ‘cos he was really good, but I guess he just had a mental picture of it being more than he could handle, which wasn’t the case, but once that’s there, it can be fatal. So Steve was brought back in. And the Heliocentric year, which was a bit of a disaster with the record company releasing the single, withdrawing them after two weeks and putting them out again three weeks later, it was quite the messy year on the record company-front in this country. And possibly in the States as well, because our American tour was cancelled. I remember that.

PS: I remember that too. I had tickets to a Chicago show and then we got the notice that it was cancelled.

Edgar: Ah, well, another time, mate.

PS: Hopefully.

Edgar: Yeah, so at the end of it, someone suggested doing a few acoustic shows on his own and just 5 or 6 around the south. And they went so well that he ended up being on the road doing that for a year and a half.

PS: Yeah, and actually I caught him on that tour in Boston with Gem out of Oasis.

Edgar: Right. Sound. There you go, then. So it was kind of thing, if he did need a bass player, Damon was in London and no longer busy. It’s kind of very much like an old man’s social club, the Weller thing. If you been around long, then loyalty’s shown to you. It’s good. I didn’t mind at all.

PS: Any Liverpool bands at the moment that are really on your radar or that you’re really excited about?

Edgar: There’s some nice things coming up. Well I’ve name-checked the Wicked Whispers who’ve kinda got a nice little British psychedelia thing going on. They just get better every time I see them. I’m trying to think, there’s a lad who’s a cousin of one of the Coral, I just can’t remember the name of the band. It’s escaping me. We’re gonna be playing with them. Ah, the Sundowners. Just happy little mid-Sixties pop. The next generation’s coming up and doing their bit, really.

PS: I’ve got a friend here who’s got a friend in a band called By the Sea and he’s been trying to pump me up on them. Have you heard of them?

Edgar: I’ve heard of them meself. I haven’t come across them, but the name definitely rings a bell. Another one, not Liverpool, but Manchester, there’s a kind of a mutual friend and mate of me girlfriend’s called T.G. Elias. Paul [Hemming]’s putting something out by them in October. He’s made little albums on his own, so Paul’s kicking it off by compiling the best of his 3 albums that he sells at gigs if you know what I mean. He’s just got one heck of a voice on him, he’s really look after him. I’ll try to make sure that Paul sends something over to you or something.

I was just gonna say one of the things—hopefully we’re either doing a download single or possibly pressing vinyl early in the new year. There’s a couple of tracks that didn’t quite make it on to this and aren’t suitable for the next one. There’s a bit Edgar Jones Jonesy as well. Rhythm and blues. There’s another band in Liverpool that I forgot about. They’re called the Blind Monk Trio. It’s basically jazz—Thelonious Monk, but without piano. It’s the drummer who plays on “What’s a Boy To Do”—Colin Lamont—I got about 4 drummers to do that and he was the only one who could do it, you know, could play a light jazz over it. Everyone else just started playing a waltz and made it too heavy. But if you can find ‘em, they’ll probably have some recordings on the net, but because there’s no piano in it, I don’t know if—do you like Thelonious Monk?

PS: Yeah.

Edgar: There’s no piano in it. It’s just double bass, drums and saxophone, there’s a hell of a lot of space. Colin’s brilliant at breaks. I’m trying to get a label in Japan to release some stuff, because jazz isn’t really Paul’s thing, like. It’s more the rhythm and blues side that got him.

PS: Well if there is a vinyl pressing, shoot me a line, ‘cos I’ll get my wallet out.

Edgar: Is right, la. Nice one. It won’t let you down, either.

Paul: Alright, well thank you so much for helping me out with this.

Edgar: Cheers, Paul. It was an absolute pleasure, mate.

Check out Edgar’s contribution to the “Give Me Five” series here.


I won’t need to say “I told you so.”

September 7, 2012

You can check out my chat with Edgar here, but the good man was also kind enough to indulge me by answering the 5 questions I’ve thrown out to a handful of artists already (and plan to throw out to more than a few more in the coming months … keep checking back).

Give Me Five.
Five Burning Questions with Edgar ‘Summertyme’ Jones

What’s your favorite Beatles song and why?
Probably “Strawberry Fields Forever” as it’s so lateral and off the wall on paper, but such a smooth pop song to the ears.

Who are three songwriters—living or dead—that you wish you could sit down and write a song with?
Hmm. Harold Arlen, Cole Porter and Jacques Brel. Someone who could help me out with ornamentation and beauty and lyrics. Lyrics especially with the latter two.

If you had to pick one song that you’ve written that you really think sums you up as a songwriter, what would that be?
I think that one’s yet to appear, but of the old probably “Do Doh Dontcha Doh” or “Oh Man That’s Some Shit.” Songs where I’ve essentially taken the aura of the past, but found an angle that wasn’t fully explored back then. It’s all about contributing to the lineage, man. Also, I guess, who else was gonna write them?

What’s the one song that you wish you could’ve written?
Brian Wilson’s  “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times” (from the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, 1966). Imagine how many millions of folk have listened to it and thought, “Yeah, that was wrote just for me.” Yep, I’d like some of that action.

Is there anything you’re listening to these days that you’re particularly digging?
Teddy Randazzo
‘s soul productions with Little Anthony, the Royalettes, etc. But the lushness of those has also made me revisit Charles Stepney‘s fine productions again—especially the Dells’ “Make Sure You Have Someone Who Loves You” and the Rotary Connection’s beautifully spooky “Didn’t Want To Have To Do It.” And Charly have done an excellent Brel 2-CD comp and I got myself a copy of the Jacques Brel is Alive and Living in Paris stageplay soundtrack for those vital translations.