He’s the garbage man. He’s got 96 tears and 96 eyes. He’s a teenage goo goo muck. The late Lux Interior, frontman for The Cramps, was all these things and more, as the Cleveland native, with his partner in crime Poison Ivy, gave rockabilly a creature features twist, saturating a classic form with cult pop culture and inspiring countless bands. The skinny oddball in tight leather pants and high heels was a crazed performer, but a lot of intelligence went into the look and sound of the band, who wrote originals that equalled the obscure covers that The Cramps made famous. Let’s do Lux a solid by grabbing your iPod or MP3 player, hitting shuffle, and sharing the first 10 songs that come up.
Washed Out — Before (Within and Without): Genre names can be pretty forced, but chillwave isn’t so bad. It seems to describe this reiteration of good ol’ synth pop, and the blend of icy electronics that are somehow warm, which certainly applies to this one man band from Georgia. The best Washed Out songs have simple mid-tempo beats and layers of gauzey, comforting keyboards, with gentle melodies. The songs aren’t hooky, but they envelope in such a pleasant way. At some level, this is probably just cotton candy for the ears, but I really like it.
Ray Davies — Working Man’s Cafe (Working Man’s Cafe): Unlike many, I’ve been fairly unimpressed by Mr. Kinks’ solo albums, which are, at best, on par with mid-‘70s Kinks efforts like Sleepwalker and Misfits. And that’s not too bad, but the lesser songs expose Davies inability to write big important songs. He works best when he’s looking at details, rather than grand statements. But he is so talented, that some of his statements do work, and I like this song quite a bit, as hamfisted as his lyrics get in spots.
Prince — Something In The Water (Does Not Compute)(1999): This is the type of song the manager of First Avenue told The Kid audiences couldn’t relate too. But I like Prince’s forays into arty new wave. This isn’t a great song, but with it’s spartan keyboard backing and odd lyrics, it never fails to hold my interest.
XTC — Yacht Dance (English Settlement): This double album is an embarrassment of riches, as XTC seemed to anticipate that touring wasn’t in their future and mounted a number of intricate yet melodic compositions that were going to be tough to pull off live. This is built around a great lead acoustic guitar line and a steady Terry Chambers rhythm, with Andy Partridge sending a melody aloft and letting it execute loop-de-loops.
Johnny Cash — Guess Things Happen That Way (The Legend): An early Cash tune. This is a bit in the vein of “Ballad of a Teenage Queen”, more of a pop song than rockabilly or country. It lopes along and Cash sounds great, but it isn’t much more than a pleasant ditty.
Richard Hawley — The Ocean (Coles Corner): Hawley brings together a lot of strains of various dramatic rock singers in his lush ballads. He follows in a tradition of folks like Roy Orbison and Scott Walker. He builds atmosphere with his baritone voice and economical lyrics, creating music that is full of feeling and comes close to going over the top without ever feeling cheesy. This might be his best album, but you could say that about any of his LPs.
The Blasters — Crazy Baby (American Music): The first Blasters album is not the best produced effort, so it doesn’t fully showcase the energy that made them one of the best live bands ever. But they were too good to let stiff production hold them back. I don’t have the album with me, but I think this is a rockabilly cover that bops along nicely. Phil Alvin’s train whistle voice sounds great and Dave Alvin supplies a wonderful guitar solo.
Jets To Brazil — ******* (Four Cornered Night): A forceful acoustic number from the second Jets To Brazil album, which remains a big favorite of mine. Blake Schwarzenbach’s hoarse vocals have a quality that reminds me a bit of Joe Strummer, and on this album, the band showcases some real versatility. A short sharp song.
Guided By Voices — Shocker In Gloomtown (The Grand Hour): A fantastic GBV tune, which makes use of a cool repeated guitar figure and spectacular drum fills over an oscillating Robert Pollard melody. The Breeders did a ripping cover of this track.
Public Enemy — Raise The Roof (Yo! Bum Rush The Show): While the production on the first PE album is thinner than what The Bomb Squad unleashed one year later, the album still established Public Enemy as a force to be reckoned with. This song actually relies on spare percussion and keyboards in the verses, which is fine, because Chuck D. doesn’t need much more. The noise is brought during the scratch-a-licious chorus. Good tune.