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.
By the age 11, Sylvester Stone had mastered piano, guitar, bass and drums. All the better to eventually lead a large band that mixed soul, rock, pop and funk in the most sublime combination. He got the nickname Sly in grade school (after a classmate misspelled his name as Slyvester), and grew up to be a popular DJ in San Francisco. He went on to produce The Beau Brummels, The Mojo Men and Grace Slick’s first band, The Great Society. Finally, he formed one of the greatest bands in American history, Sly and the Family Stone.
Over the course of six albums and many singles, Sly Stone and his band showed incredible breadth, putting out classic after classic. Of course, Sly is a recluse and eccentric now, but his legacy is staggering. Let’s pay tribute to the legend by sharing the first 10 songs that come up on your iPod or MP3 player.
He was the brawling tough guy who cleaned up real well when The Who became the ultimate Mod band. He has always been a rocker who provided balance to the sensitive artist side of Pete Townshend. And while he was not the best of the bluesy British Invasion singers, he came into his own as The Who shifted into a bigger arena rock sound, with his scream in “Won’t Get Fooled Again” being one of the signature moments of ‘70s rock. Moreover, Daltrey is a fan and seems fairly in touch with his working class roots. One of my favorite moments in the documentary on Brian Wilson’s revival of Smile is Daltrey visiting Brian backstage before the first performance, clearly in fanboy mode. Let’s pay tribute to one of the first true rock god frontmen by grabbing your iPod, hitting shuffle, and sharing the first 10 songs that come up.
Today we pay tribute to a member of one of the most influential post-punk bands of all-time, Wire. Graham Lewis has been playing bass for the band since its inception in 1976, and, he’s been typically steady, providing the pulse on so many great recordings. Lewis has been involved in a myriad of side projects, generally in a support role. He’s let his music do the talking, and that alone is worth saluting. So grab your iPod or MP3 player, hit shuffle and share the first 10 songs that come up.
Her smooth tones and songs that touched upon jazz, R & B and pop turned her into a star and a major influence on a generation of singers, including Lauryn Hill. And to think, Roberta Flack might not have had a hit record if not for Clint Eastwood. Flack’s debut album came out to nice notices and dismal sales. But the song “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” was used in the movie where Clint plays a DJ — Play Misty For Me — in 1972, which led to it becoming the smash hit that got Flack’s career going. From there, she had other hits, including the massive “Killing Me Softly”, along with some great duets with Donny Hathaway. She’s still active today, having just released an album of Beatles songs that is getting good reviews. Let’s pay tribute to this genre blender by grabbing your iPod or MP3 player, hitting shuffle and sharing the first 10 tunes that come up.
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.
This week, let’s pay tribute to a guitarist who had a major influence on punk rock, James Williamson. He joined The Stooges after their first two albums, when the band needed a jolt of fresh energy. He provided it, co-writing the entire Raw Power album with Iggy Pop, and working with me on other records thereafter. It’s not just punks who worship Williamson — Johnny Marr has cited Williamson as an influence. Williamson is back in the fold, taking the place of the late Ron Asheton in the reunited Stooges. In Williamson’s honor, please take out your iPod/MP3 player, hit shuffle, and share the first ten tunes that come up.
Fishbone — Everyday Sunshine (The Reality Of My Surroundings): This was an uncharacteristically happy track on the album where Fishbone really went in a more metal influenced direction. This horn driven song was much more in the vein of Sly and the Family Stone and the performance feels like it was recorded live (though I’m sure it’s not the case). This is a very good thing, as Fishbone, at this time, was one of America’s premier rock acts. This song has a great breakdown at the end.
J. Geils Band — Flamethrower (Freeze Frame): During the ’70s, the J. Geils Band was a smoking R & B band, but in the late ’70s, they started exploring other directions. After some success with a new wave foray on the Love Stinks album, they pushed that angle more on the megahit Freeze Frame album. Although the production is very dated, there are some really good songs on this album. This track is a funkified R & B song with some interesting percussion touches and a great hook. Luther Vandross is among the backing vocalists on the song.
Oneida — The Winter Shaker (Secret Wars): A great balance of Oneida’s psychedelic and Krautrock influences, with a repetitive clanging psych-guitar part supplemented by the usual precision drumming and droning and oscillating keyboards. Generally, I think of Oneida as Krautrock band that explores different textures within an established style, though their recent instrumental records go way beyond that description. Sadly, their most recent two albums bore me.
The Isley Brothers — (At Your Best) You Are Love (It’s Your Thing: The Story of the Isley Brothers): A smooth soul ballad from the Isleys. While Smokey Robinson really started the whole Quiet Storm sound, there are some Isley tracks, such as this one, that allow them some claim to helping kick off that trend, for better or for worse.
Tom Petty — Learning To Fly (Into the Great Wide Open): I’m a gigantic Jeff Lynne fan and I really dig his work with Tom Petty. Yes, Lynne’s production relies a lot on somewhat artificial drum sounds and overly perfect background vocals, but that’s compensated for the great arrangements and how he finds away to get the right elements of a song in the right place. Petty was really on his game when he worked with his fellow Wilbury, and the two albums they collaborated on are among his best.
Ed Kuepper — Black Ticket Day (The Butterfly Net): Ed Kuepper left The Saints after three albums to lead his own band, The Laughing Clowns. After they played out, he continued to make great solo records. Oddly enough, his records were certainly in the same vein as those The Saints were making at the same time with lead singer Chris Bailey. Not as bluesy, but sophisiticated acoustic rock with a subtle intensity. This song is like a punchier Go-Betweens.
The Fall — Bound (The Marshall Suite): Mark E. Smith was backed by a great set of musicians on this somewhat wide-ranging Fall release from 1999. This song, but for the cleaner production, sounds like it could have come from an early-‘80s Fall album. Not a great song, but a solid album cut.
Smokey Robinson & The Miracles — I’ve Been Good To You (Smokey Robinson & The Miracles Anthology): An early song from this seminal Motown song. This sounds more like a ’50s song, like The Drifters or Platters might have done. Of course, it sounds really good.
The La’s —- Timeless Melody (The La’s): It’s a shame that Lee Mavers, for whatever reason, whether drugs, mental health, whatever, never did anything but create this great record. “There She Goes” is deservedly a Britpop classic, but I think this song is as good, if not better. It lives up its title, as this melody is so fully yearning and a subtle urgency. The relatively harsh guitar break only adds to the intensity.
The Nils — Scratches and Needles (Green Fields In Daylight): A terrific Canadian punk band who had a sound that seemed to meld The Clash and Husker Du, among others, mixing a large anthemic feel with personal lyrics. So the songs felt big but had an underlying intimacy. This is one of their best.
While Ian McKaye is the first name most people think of when Fugazi is brought up, it should be remembered that Guy Picciotto has sung on many a great Fugazi song, and lectured just as many annoying punks about how Fugazi does not condone abusive behavior. Guy also ruled in Rites Of Spring, making many contributions to punk and post-punk music. So, in his honor, wish him a happy birthday by grabbing your iPod or MP3 player, hitting shuffle and sharing the first ten 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.