While their time in the spotlight was short lived, The Zombies left behind an impressive legacy of music, from oldies radio staples like “She’s Not There” and “Tell Her No” to shoulda been hits like “Whenever You’re Ready” and “I Love You” to the psych-pop masterpiece Odeyssey and Oracle. A key component to their sound was their super talented lead vocalist, Colin Blunstone. Colin had the pipes to pull off R & B and garage rock songs, but he could smooth things out to sing the poppiest of melodies. Just listen to how he handles the breathy verses of “Time of the Season” and comfortably ups the intensity where needed. Blunstone, after a brief foray into selling insurance, had a very nice solo career, and for the past decade or so, he and Rod Argent have been touring in a new lineup of The Zombies. He is truly one of the underrated figures of the British Invasion. Let’s celebrate his birthday by grabbing your iPod or MP3 player, hitting shuffle and sharing the first 10 tunes that come up.
It’s time to wish Jello Biafra a happy birthday! The loquacious frontman of the Dead Kennedys brought a special wit and incisive commentary to American hardcore punk and has continued to comment on injustice, both as a solo act, and teaming up with others, in groups such as Lard. Who knows, maybe someday Jello will become Mayor of San Francisco. In the meantime, let’s pay tribute to Mr. Biafra by grabbing your iPod or MP3 player, hitting shuffle, and sharing the first 10 tunes that come up.
This week, we’ll be able to salute two for the price of one. Let’s pay tribute to Kim and Kelly Deal, the twins who combined forces in The Breeders. Of course, Kim was famous before that, as part of the Pixies, one and forever alt-rock gods (and, by the way, Joey Santiago also turns another year older today). With The Breeders, the Deal sisters provided a needed dose of girl power on the radio,with muscular and witty songs like “Cannonball”. In their honor, please get your iPod or MP3 player, hit shuffle and share the first 10 songs that come up.
Trend — She’s Hi-Fi (Yellow Pills: Prefill): The final installment of Jordan Oakes’ supremely awesome Yellow Pills compilations shifted the focus away from contemporary power pop nuggets to the ’70s, when the genre was defining itself. For every group that was a slave to the Beatles and Big Star, there were bands that found another way to take a simple and melodic approach. This song is perky skinny tie power pop grounded in ’50s and ’60s rock tropes, but with a percolating bass guitar and energy that’s proto-new wave.
Funkadelic — Can You Get To That (Motor City Madness): While George Clinton’s funk rock band is noted for Eddie Hazel’s hot guitar licks and great upbeat tunes, one of their best love tunes is this soulful folk rock anthem. Listening to this now, it’s hard to believe that: a) this wasn’t a smash hit, and, b) that it’s not a staple of classic rock playlists now. This is like a hippy Sly Stone with smart lyrics.
10CC — Baron Samedi (Sheet Music): A theatrical pop song from this arty bunch. The song is keyed by a faux-Latin rhythm which is mixed with busy backing vocals and a few different musical movements. This is a bit too clever for it’s own good, and one of the weaker tracks on one of the best 10CC albums.
Kid Creole & The Coconuts — Stool Pigeon (Tropical Gangsters): An excellent song from the album that made Kid Creole a star in Europe. This song has a great funk guitar riff mixed with nifty horn parts and clever lyrics about a turncoat witness. August Darnell knew how to balance sophistication with great dance rhythms. This song was released as a single in America and sank like a stone, which is a shame, because it may have been the Kid’s best bid for Stateside success.
The Minutemen — Afternoons (Post-Mersh, Vol. 3): A slinky Minutemen number with Mike Watt on vocals. This song covers a lot of ground in less than two minutes, from Beefheartian skronk to a genuinely melodic instrumental middle section, which heads back to the original riff before the song ends.
Hank Ballard & The Midnighters — Work With Me Annie (The Roots of Rock ‘n’ Roll): This overtly sexual song caused a bit of controversy in the day. It’s a bluesy stroll with a fat beat that is all allusion. They later followed this up with “Annie Had A Baby” (really, I’m not making this up).
Detroit Cobras — Just Can’t Please You (Baby): As the Cobras have gone on, they seem to have become a little less garage rocking and sound a bit more bluesy. It’s a subtle distinction, and it probably is just evidence that if you play lots of R & B tunes, you’ll get that sound down. This mid-tempo tune rocks and Rachel Nagy sounds as great as ever.
Roger Miller — Pardon This Coffin (King Of The Road: The Best of Roger Miller): Roger tells the story of burying his brother. Miller pithily (as he always does) details how his brother lost his job, which led to alcoholism, and the ultimate downward spiral. This song has a bit of a bluesy vibe that is a bit reminiscent of Merle Travis’ “Sixteen Tons”.
Mission Of Burma — Into The Fire (ONoffON): I was in disbelief as to how great the Mission Of Burma comeback was. The sound was still intact, with Cliff Conley’s heavy bass and Peter Prescott’s clangorous drumming, supporting Roger Miller’s inexhaustable supply of riffs and leads. Moreover, they had good songs at their proposal. This is one of Miller’s tunes, a heavy lurching rocker with a splash of melody and loads of intensity.
Pere Ubu – Thunder In The Mix (The Tenement Year): This is a synthesizer imitating an explosion. The track lasts 13 seconds. If this were by Nickleback, it would be the best song they ever recorded.
Since the late ’70s, The Fall has been the crap that talks back. As the late, great John Peel so aptly put it, The Fall always sounds different, the Fall always sounds the same. This is because of the sole constant in the band, the man who seemingly says “unh” after every phrase in his hectoring Mancunian accent, Mark E. Smith. Whether it’s careening off-kilter rockabilly or heavily electronic music, Smith’s torrent of acidic observations and musical adaptability have made The Fall one of the greatest bands ever, whose influence is immeasurable. In honor of Mr. Smith, please grab your iPod or MP3 player, hit shuffle and share the first ten tunes:
Being the brother of a legend can’t be easy, and the relationship between Dave and Ray Davies has always been perilous, but birthday boy Dave has carved his own deserved niche in rock history. Indeed, Ray has taken great pains to point out how essential Dave’s dirty, feedback laden playing was to putting The Kinks on the map, and, in so doing, sending rock into harder and louder territory. Dave also has been one of the great backup singers in rock history and has penned some fine Kinks tunes (such as “Death of a Clown”). Dave’s solo career has been pretty solid too. He has recovered decently from his stroke from a few years ago, but it remains to be seen if that will prevent any hope for a Kinks reunion. Let’s celebrate Mr. Davies by grabbing your iPod or MP3 player, hitting shuffle and sharing the first 10 songs that come up.
Let’s pay tribute to an artist who has melded genres and wielded considerable influence over the past 20 years, Tricky. Adrian Thaws was part of a crew that evolved into the innovative band Massive Attack. He rapped on Massive Attack’s first album, and then leaped into producing Martina Topley-Bird before striking out on his own with a series of acclaimed solo albums. Since Tricky digs being eclectic, I’m sure he’d dig being honored for his birthday with folks grabbing their iPod or MP3 player, hitting shuffle and sharing the first 10 songs that come up.
It’s time to salute the reclusive damaged blues singer with the four and one-half octave range who gave the world such memorable albums as Trout Mask Replica and Bat Chain Puller and important songs such as “Nowadays a Woman’s Gotta Hit a Man” and “A Carrot Is As Close As A Rabbit Gets To A Diamond”. Yes, it’s Happy Birthday time for Captain Beefheart (a/k/a Don Van Vliet), who deconstructed classic American music and made it modern and dangerous, inspiring countless bands along the way. To honor the good Captain, please get your iPod or MP3 player, hit shuffle and share the first 10 songs that come up.
He enrolled in a college in Connecticut, but split for New York City before he could attend. I’m sure his parents weren’t pleased, but it turned out pretty well for birthday boy Thurston Moore. Moore quickly immersed himself in the avant garde scene, but his first band in NYC involved a brief stint in the hardcore band Even Worse, with Big Takeover publisher Jack Rabid. A few years down the line, Moore and future wife Kim Gordon started playing together, leading to the formation of Sonic Youth. Lee Renaldo was pulled away from Glenn Branca’s guitar ensemble, and eventually, Steve Shelley took over on drums. Sonic Youth carved out a new path for rock music in the ‘80s and ‘90s, eventually making their music more accessible, but never straying too far away from something challenging. Moore and Ranaldo created new guitar sounds, with unusual tunings and an adventurous spirit. Moore was also a mentor for many artists and went on to make some fine solo records. And, I’ll always be a fan knowing that Moore and temporary Sonic Youth bandmate Jim O’Rourke used to sing Sparks songs in a karaoke bar in Europe. In honor of Mr. Moore, please grab your iPod or MP3 player, hit shuffle, and share the first 10 songs that come up.
Today, one of more talked about recording artists of recent times, M.I.A., turns 39 years old. Mathangi Arulpragasm was born in London of Sri Lankan decent. Her family moved to Sri Lanka where, according to M.I.A., her father was part of the rebel Tamil Tigers insurgency. Life in Sri Lanka with a rebel father was unusual, with constant threats, and eventually, her family, minus her father, came back to London. She first pursued visual arts, and only in 2001, with encouragement of Peaches, did M.I.A. start making music. Using basic drum machines, she cut her first demo, and eventually met up with Diplo and releasing the Piracy Funds Terrorism mixtape, which introduced a larger audience to M.I.A.’s multi-cultural music with some hip-hop aspects and sloganeering lyrics. This was a precursor to the more polished debut album, Arular, named after her father. With songs like “Bucky Done Gun” and “Sunshowers”, she established herself as a major new artist. The follow up, Kala, founder her expanding her artistry further, but the divisive Maya album, with radically altered song structures, stalled her momentum, along with controversies surrounding her authenticity as a politically motivated artists and stupid Super Bowl hi-jinks. She regained some artistic footing with last year’s Matangi album, as she still stands as someone who is imitated. In honor of M.I.A., please grab your iPod or MP3 player, hit shuffle and share the first 10 songs that come up.
Today is the birthday of a Chicago original. Andrew Bird went to high school in Lake Forest and got his degree in violin performance at Northwestern. After releasing a solo album, he spent some time working with The Squirrel Nut Zippers before forming his Bowl of Fire band. Their records were acclaimed, but they never broke through. Bird went back to solo work and his multi-genre stew and unique lyrics and melodies gradually gained an audience. Bird has certainly staked out his own turf and stayed true to the city, playing multiple show stands fairly regularly. Let’s pay tribute to the skinny whistling violinist by grabbing your iPod or MP3 player, hitting shuffle and sharing the first 10 songs that come up.
In a parallel universe, Jeffrey Lee Pierce didn’t die young, he made more great records, got the recognition he deserved belatedly and headlined the Pitchfork festival as a legacy act. Well, some of those things haven’t come true, but the frontman of The Gun Club deserves a further look by current music fans. Pierce and company looked at blues rock through a post-punk lens and produced great album after great album, all of which still hold up to this day. Perhaps the closest contemporary may have been X, as both bands were rooted in certain rock traditions, but added something different to the mix. Pierce also put out a terrific solo album, Wildweed, that showed he could thrive outside the band format and how much depth and dimension he possessed. The late ‘80s and early ‘90s were rough for Pierce, as drugs and other problems really took their toll, likely contributing to his death at age 37 in 1996. In honor of Pierce’s birthday, please grab your iPod or MP3 player, hit shuffle and share the first 10 songs that come up.
He was two years old when he heard “Rhapsody in Blue”, and it resonated with him. This toddler with sophisticated taste soon joined family members in creating the most commercially successful American rock ‘n’ roll band, The Beach Boys. Brian Wilson got the songwriting bug early on, co-writing the first Beach Boys hit, “Surfin’”, in 1961. He grew by leaps and bounds as a composer, producer and arranger. In 1962, he wrote the sublime “Surfer Girl” and with each Beach Boys album, and they were quite prolific, he mixed old time rock ‘n’ roll, California style with introspective songs with increasingly complex structures. This culminated in one of the signature moments in pop music, the Pet Sounds album. Perhaps no album creates such emotional resonance just with the music, with lyrics just adding to what Wilson had brilliantly portrayed in sound. After Pet Sounds, Brian was still capable of brilliant work and he has had a new career touring with his band. This led to the actual completion of his other masterwork Smile. I saw Wilson on that tour at the Auditorium Theater, and it is certainly one of the best concerts I have ever attended. In honor of this musical genius, please grab your iPod or MP3 player, hit shuffle, and share the first 10 songs that come up.
In 1954, Levi Stubbs formed a singing group with three high school friends called The Four Aims. Two years later, they changed their name to The Four Tops. Over 43 years, those four performed together, with Stubbs in the front. Initial recording efforts were not successful, but after they signed with Motown, the hits came one after the other. Stubbs was known for his passionate voice. Although a baritone, he was given songs written for tenors, to get that desperate passionate sound heard on classics like “(Reach Out) I’ll Be There” and “Bernadette”. Stubbs became one of the most distinctive voices in soul music, but spurned chances to go solo out of loyalty to his friends. He also became a noted voiceover talent, providing the voice of Audrey in the 1986 remake of the movie Little Shop of Horrors. Stubbs kept on singing for the Tops until he suffered a stroke in 2000 and passed away in 2008. In honor of Stubbs on his birthday, please grab your iPod or MP3 player, hit shuffle and share the first 10 songs that come up.
People say that punk rockers didn’t have great musicianship. That was a broad and oft-incorrect generalization. For example, today’s birthday celebrant was dubbed “the Human Drum Machine” by producer Sandy Pearlman, due to his impeccable timing. Topper Headon had that and more. He may have been the second drummer for The Clash, after Terry Chimes was bounced, but he was definitely the best. Without Headon’s underrated playing, The Clash couldn’t have achieved the stylistic breadth displayed on classic albums such as London Calling and Sandinista!. Moreover, he also contributed songs, such as “Ivan Meets G.I. Joe” (which he also sang) and the band’s biggest hit single, “Rock the Casbah” (on which he played drums, piano and bass when he got tired of waiting for his bandmates to get to the studio). In honor of Topper, grab your iPod or MP3 player, hit shuffle and share the first 10 songs that come up.
Today we celebrate one of the most important figures in music over the past half century. This man wasn’t a musician – he was an inventor and innovator. Robert Moog (last name rhymes with ‘vogue’) got his start making theremin kits. By 1964, having taken a keener interest in electronic music, he developed a prototype Moog synthesizer that was designed to make electronic music markedly easier to play. The next year, Moog was making custom synthesizers and by 1967, the machines came into somewhat more common use, aided by Switched on Bach creator Wendy Carlos, who made many suggestions on how to improve the instrument. The instrument was featured on recordings by The Supremes, The Monkees, The Rolling Stones and The Byrds. Over time, Moog continued to improve and make his instrument smaller and more portable. Throughout the ‘70s, the instrument became more prominent, in the hands of masters like Giorgio Moroder. Moog passed away in 2005, but his legacy lives on, both in music and in the festival in Asheville, North Carolina that bears his name. In honor of Mr. Moog, please grab your iPod or MP3 player, hit shuffle and share the first 10 songs that come up.
Band of Horses – No One’s Gonna Love You (Cease to Begin): I presume this song is used a lot at weddings and on Valentine’s Day, etc., even though it starts off with the line “nothin’ like a limb torn off.” So it’s not just the sappy song it sounds like on the surface and melodically, it’s awesome. Cee-Lo Green did a nice cover of it.
Maple Mars – Midsummer Day Dream (Welcome to Maple Mars): A pretty acoustic number from the first Maple Mars album. While one could list some of this band’s inspirations, I admire that fact that Maple Mars has its own sound.
Madness – Sweetest Girl (Mad Not Mad): This song was where Scritti Politti took the full plunge into pop music. This Madness cover adds a few Nutty Boys trademarks, but stays faithful to the reggae-soul center of the tune, which wasn’t a stretch for the band. This is a great song.
Cloud Nothings – Fall In (Attack On Memory): One of my favorite songs on the break through Cloud Nothings album. I like how it is a bridge between the melodic punk-pop of their earlier work and the more raw and emotional approach that they have fallen into. It’s really a best of both worlds.
J. Geils Band – Givin’ It All Up (Nightmares...And Other Tales From the Vinyl Jungle): A mid-tempo pop oriented number from the great Boston blues rock band. This almost gravitates a bit towards Southside Johnny territory. A nice tune that had to have transformed into something big live.
Doves – There Goes the Fear (The Last Broadcast): This song isn’t as melancholy as a typical Doves tune, with some sweet melodic touches. Lyrically, it verges on a lullaby, reassuring a child that it’s okay to go to sleep.
Mission Of Burma – Fake Blood (ONoffON): The first Mission Of Burma reunion album was so reassuring. The band sound like it hadn’t ever taken time off and the playing, if anything, was more muscular than ever. This is one of drummer Peter Prescott’s songs, and it goes to a few places, some crunchy, with a pretty guitar break before winding up with the refrain.
Maximo Park – Overland, West of Suez (Quicken The Heart): A beefy guitar dominated number from this literate post-punk pop band. I find that the later day Maximo Park albums seem a bit samey, but once I hear individual tracks on my iPod, they sound better and that holds for this track. The production is real dense, with some subtle backing vocals contrasting to the rougher texture on top.
Radiohead – Karma Police (OK Computer): Think how inaccessible people said this album was when it came out, which was, to some extent, a reaction to the first single, “Paranoid Android”. Of course, the album was different, but to hear a track like this, and realize that other than some production, it was a logical extension of what they were doing on The Bends. One of my favorite Radiohead songs.
Pet Shop Boys – How Can You Expect to Be Taken Seriously? (Behaviour): A nice song from the third Pet Shop Boys album. They may be the only band that could somehow weave that unwieldy title into a hooky chorus. Maybe the first Pet Shop Boys song to feature a prominent guitar, in the chorus.
He led the first great band to build on The Velvet Underground, which didn’t mean as much as it could, as The Modern Lovers’ sole album was released in 1976, two years after they band broke up. In the meantime, Jonathan Richman reinvented himself into an acoustic troubadour with a strong ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll bent and, at times, a childlike innocence. Of course, this was considered terminally uncool by some, but Richman persevered, as his direct songs helped garner him a rabid fan base. Since then, he’s had bouts of fame (especially from his appearance in the movie There’s Something About Mary), but generally, he’s been a reliable performer who has explored other genres and various nuances in his core style. Jonathan Richman is a rock original. In honor of his birthday, please grab your iPod or MP3 player, hit shuffle and share the first 10 songs that come up.
Today is the birthday of the man with the 12 string bass, Cheap Trick’s Tom Petersson. Before he even started playing that special bass, Petersson’s presence as a player was obvious. On Cheap Trick’s debut album, his bass playing on songs like “He’s a Whore” and “Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace” showed that he was already a master of the instrument. He finally unleashed his signature instrument (designed by Hamer Guitars) on the band’s third album “Heaven Tonight”. His style truly fit the power pop style, as he has such a strong rock presence, but can play as melodically as needed. Tom had a hiatus from the band as he tried to start a solo career, but eventually came back and still rocks out at shows all over, getting his turn in the spotlight on his one Cheap Trick lead vocal, “I Know What I Want”. In Tom’s honor, please grab your iPod or MP3 player, hit shuffle and share the first 10 songs that come up.
Some say he’s the man who invented the power chord. Today is the birthday of Link Wray (full name Frederick Lincoln Wray), one of the early rock ‘n’ roll guitar innovators. The distorted instrumental classic “Rumble”, a 1958 hit, was his calling card, and his career had its ups and downs, but found him collaborating with ‘70s rockabilly revivalist Robert Gordon, singing back up on an NRBQ record, playing live on stage with Jason & The Scorchers and many other things. Pete Townshend once said that if it wasn’t for Link Wray he would never have picked up a guitar, and many other great players (and not-so-great ones) would say the same thing. Let’s pay tribute to Link by grabbing your iPod or MP3 player, hitting shuffle and sharing the first 10 songs that come up.
Are you ready? Are you ready, are you ready, are you ready, are you ready, are you ready....at the close of yet another fantastic show, as drummer Mike Zelenko would launch into the famed drumbeat of Sweet’s “Ballroom Blitz”, Material Issue frontman would pick out someone from the audience and point at him or her, insistently asking “Are you ready” until that person said yes, and the band would then launch into a rocking cover of a glam classic. Skinny, arrogant, passionate and talented as hell, Ellison led one of the best power pop bands of the era, a power trio out of the suburbs of Chicago. Ellison loved the classic tropes of the genre, but injected them with the inspiration of Cheap Trick, glam rock, punk and even some classic ‘60s acts like the Bee Gees. The music was sharp, forceful and hooky as hell, with lyrics that were often as astute as Chuck Berry’s, if he was a teen growing up in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. Their first album, International Pop Overthrow seemed to be the start of something big and is an acknowledged power pop classic. The next two albums had tons of great tunes but never caught fire. But even when their national profile descended as fast as it had flashed brightly, Material Issue was still a giant here, playing to packed houses. Sadly, for reasons no one really knows (the contents of a note have never been revealed by his family), on April 18, 1996, Jim Ellison took his own life. Very few rock deaths have affected me more – he was such a talent. On the first Material Issue song I ever heard, “She’s Goin’ Thru My Head”, he brags about the girl who is “playing my very most favorite Sweet record.” Years later, Sweet (well, half of the band, guitarist Andy Scott and Mick Tucker with some other guys) came to Cubby Bear, and at the side of the stage, there was Ellison. And he was rocking out with total abandon, just as I was, at seeing an all-time favorite. It made what was already obvious even clearer – he lived for rock ‘n’ roll. On the anniversary of Jim’s birthday, please grab your iPod or MP3 player, hit shuffle and share the first 10 songs that come up.
The legendary BBC DJ John Peel once referred to this man as “Britain’s answer to Jimi Hendrix.” I don’t know how many people shared that opinion, but there is no doubt that Stuart Adamson could do so amazing things on his guitar. Adamson got his start in the post-punk band Skids, playing fantastic songs such as “Working For the Yankee Dollar”. Once Skids ran its course, Adamson really hit the big time, fronting the powerful Big Country. Big Country may have been a victim of “amazing first single syndrome,” as “In a Big Country” was so powerful, it was tough for the band to match. But Adamson and crew put out some fine records and he continued to grow as a guitarist (and, of course, he was famous for making his guitar sound like bagpipes). Sadly, Adamson passed away in 2011. In honor of Adamson on his birthday, please grab your iPod or MP3 player, hit shuffle and share the first 10 songs that come up.