“Keep On Pushin’” wasn’t just a Curtis Mayfield song, it defined the philosophy of this legendary Chicago soul man. He started in The Impressions, and after some success in the late ’50s, the group relocated to Chicago and with Mayfield writing the songs, they were one of the leading R & B vocal groups of the decade. And Mayfield changed with the times, and by the second half of the decade, The Impressions were adding social commentary to their silky soul sides, resulting in classics like “People Get Ready”. In 1970, Mayfield went solo, adding urban and funk elements and influencing disco, as best reflected on the classic soundtrack to the blaxploitation movie Superfly. Sadly, he was paralyzed when a light tower fell on him at a concert, yet, from a wheelchair, he managed one more critically lauded album, New World Order. Let’s pay tribute to a soul giant, by grabbing your iPod or MP3 player, hitting shuffle, and sharing the first ten songs that come up.
- The Fuzztones — Cinderella (Lysergic Emanations): The first time I ever heard this classic garage rocker from The Sonics was via this cover by these ’80s garage revivalists. This version isn’t quite as manic, but Deb O’Nair’s Farfisa organ and Rudi Protudi’s solid vocal make this work pretty well. Rudi is still at it, as The Fuzztones recently put out a new album.
- The Shazam — Sleepy Horse (The Shazam): A nice mid-tempo Dixie fried power pop song from this Nashvile band’s debut. Hans Rotenberry sings with a nice drawl, while the song mixes a McCartney-esque melody with a rhythm section that’s between The Move and Faces.
- Toots & The Maytals — Desmond Dekker Came First (Time Tough — The Anthology): This is a history lesson, with the great Toots Hibbert paying tribute to the first ska star to break through around the globe. This has a loping, skanking beat, swell horns and Toots sings like he means it, because, well, he does mean it.
- Freddie Scott — Are You Lonely For Me (Beg, Scream and Shout!): It’s no longer in print, sadly, but if you can snag this incredible six CD box set, you will have one of the finest collections of ’60s soul ever compiled. Rhino Records set out to make a soul compilation that only had a smattering of well known hits, mixing in lots of lesser known gems. This Freddie Scott tune is a fine example — this is a great deep soul side, with Scott showing off an impressive voice.
- The Meters — Cissy Strut (Beg, Scream and Shout!): Apparently, my iPod can’t get enough of this box set. Not a problem. The Meters are a classic New Orleans combo, who were led by Art Neville (yes, as in The Neville Brothers). The Meters put their own stamp on funk, using New Orleans second line rhythms to move R & B in a new direction. This was one of their best loved songs.
- Randy Newman — Rollin’ (Good Old Boys): The Onion recently had a good interview with Mr. Newman that is well worth checking out. Many consider Good Old Boys to be his masterpiece. Certainly, Newman honed his mix of classic American songwriting and pithy commentary to a sharp peak. This manages to be bluesy while still fitting in a swell string section.
- Jay Reatard — Man Of Steel (Watch Me Fall): Hmm…the title of Jay’s last album was kinda prophetic, huh? This song is pretty typical of his later output. He wastes no notes, moving into the verse and quickly to the chorus. He knew how to use dynamics and could manipulate melodies to make things so catchy. The instrumental break is a good example of how his music was growing in sophistication. It’s like he was the 21st Century garage punk Buddy Holly.
- Jamey Johnson — Can’t Cash My Checks (The Guitar Song): Johnson has a smooth voice that’s as thick as molasses. His low key country extends the tradition of Merle Haggard, Don Williams and John Anderson, with a bit of Southern rock blended in from time to time (like the extended guitar solo at the end). He is great at singing laments about how low he has sunk and can’t go any lower, as exemplified in this song.
- Lyle Lovett — What Do You Do/The Glory Of Love (Lyle Lovett and His Large Band): Whereas Johnson is trying to bring country back to its roots, Lovett spent the ’80s using it as a springboard to tie together many forms of American music. Here, Lovett, duetting with Francine Reed, marries a bluesy original with a classic song that was a hit for Benny Goodman in the ’30s. He contrasts marital squabbling with a paean to the joys of love to great effect.
- Stevie Wonder — Living For The City (Innervisions): Curtis Mayfield blazed a trail for Stevie Wonder, who also pushed soul music forward. This is the most famous of his social commentary songs, with an amazing vocal, Wonder’s clavinet playing and the stunning synthesizer line that takes the song out of the chorus — an truly indelible melody whose sad beauty contrasts the gritty urban feel of the rest of the track. And the spoken word portion before the last verse inspired a similar section in Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five’s hip-hop classic “The Message”.
At the tender age of 17 years old, Neil Finn joined his older brother Tim’s band Split Enz. Sporting thickly hornrimmed glasses and an artificially large cowlick, he initially stayed in the background. But within just three years, he finally brought the Enz to the attention of U.S. music fans, as his composition “I Got You” became a big FM radio hit. From that point forward, Neil’s canny pop instincts were a perfect compliment to his brother Tim’s slightly more arty efforts. The Enz were a commercial force through the early ’80s. But no one could have expected that Crowded House, Neil’s next band, would become world wide stars. But Finn’s modern update on classic rock/pop tunesmithing hit elevated him to the ranks of the most respected songwriters around. Finn is still out there, working with everyone from his son and wife to Jeff Tweedy and members of Radiohead. Whatever he does, it is always interesting, intelligent catchy music. Let’s wish Neil a happy birthday by grabbing your iPod or MP3 player, hitting shuffle, and sharing the first 10 tunes that come up.
- Parts & Labor — Prefix Free (Receivers): This song begins with an electronic equivalent of a freight train chug before a melodic keyboard line comes in. The more I listen to these guys, they remind me a lot of the Minneapolis band Arcwelder in how they put their songs together. However, instead of relying on loud guitars and faster tempos, they chug along with copious layers of various keyboards. They have such a big sound. I really need to see them live some time.
- Feist — The Water (The Reminder): Leslie Feist deserves so much credit for pursuing her sophisticated, at times jazzy, pop without any consideration of trends, what’s indie or what’s popular. As a result of her focus on what interests her, she found there’s a market for what she does, and thank goodness for her. This is a torchy ballad, with minimal accompaniment and a wonderful vocal.
- Billy Joel — Don’t Ask Me Why (Glass Houses): I find Joel to be a true Tin Pan Alley songwriter who happened to blossom during the rock era. While he’s had his share of clunkers, he is a true craftsman. This song finds a midpoint between Paul Simon and Paul McCartney and is simply a wonderful piece of pop songwriting.
- The Thought — Tonight Again (The Thought): Every once in a while, I Google this ’80s Dutch band to try to find more info about them, but come up empty. They put out one LP in the U.S., and it’s a nifty foray into psychedelic rock and pop. Mixed in with the punchier numbers, are a couple of atmospheric pieces, of which this is one. This is a dramatic tale, just vocals and keyboards. It reminds me a bit of The Zombies’ “The Butcher’s Tale”.
- The Go-Betweens — This Night’s For You (Oceans Apart): Grant McLennan’s untimely death put an end to one of the better comebacks in rock history. After a decent first comeback effort, Oceans Apart was a terrific album, finding McLennan and Robert Forster writing songs as well as ever. This track mixes a simple melancholy melody with some well-deployed guitar crunch, making for a track that musically churns a few conflicting emotions.
- The Orange Alabaster Mushroom — Rainbow Man (Space And Time): If The Thought were psychedelic, this band (really just a guy) was ultra psychedelic. The Orange Alabaster Mushroom’s tinny psychedelic pop songs sound like lost transmissions from 1967, touching on everyone from Tommorrow to early Pink Floyd to The Thamesmen. This is twee whimsy and really fun.
- Sloan — The Other Man (Pretty Together): This is Sloan at their AM Gold-iest. This sounds like it could have come from Firefall (remember their hit “Strange Way”?). It’s a dramatically rendered first person character study of the guy who is cheating with your woman. The song sets the mood right away, the chorus swells and if you slipped this into an oldies playlist, there would be people who would swear they heard this song before.
- Three Dog Night — One (Celebrate: The Three Dog Night Story 1965-1975): Not much to say about this. Harry Nilsson wrote it and Three Dog Night showed their usual impeccable taste in material and amped up the emotions in the song and had a smash. Three Dog Night isn’t really talked about much, because they are considered a singles band rather than an album act, but they really recorded a lot of great sides. Underrated band.
- Stories — Brother Louie (Have A Nice Decade): Back -to-back ’70s Top 40 smashes! This is a cover of a song that was a big hit for Hot Chocolate (yes, the “You Sexy Thing” guys) in England. Of course, this is terrific song. The original version is slower, with a more haunting feel and spoken interludes that bring home the sting of the racism that the song indicts. The Stories version is also dramatic, but has a wee bit more of an anthemic feel, with a nifty soulful vocal. The original is better, but this is pretty darned good too.
- The Isley Brothers — Make Me Say It Again Girl (It’s Your Thing: The Story of The Isley Brothers): While the Isleys initially made their name with frat party dance numbers and were a fine funk rock act, with a singer as skillful as Ronald Isley, they were made to do sexy ballads. Isley’s tenor and falsetto are in fine form on this lovely tune.
Time for Chicago to make up for its annual eight months of winter. With this summer’s upcoming music, art, and food festivals, there’s officially no excuse to be home on the weekends until October. CHIRP Radio will be at many of these events, so make sure to say hello!
The next step in music distribution is supposedly going to stick everything in “The Cloud.” Apple is close to joining Amazon.com in the race to become Cloud-Bearer of Choice. What could possibly go wrong? That is, other than the constant threat of getting hacked?
Speaking of hackers, Lollapalooza is beating them to the punch by giving access to their concert data to anyone who wants it, and awarding prizes to those who can do cool things with it.
Want to know where the next hot music scene is? Look south. Alternative music is booming in Mexico.
In the music business, sometimes you have to go mainstream to survive. eMusic did just that. So how’s it working out?
Music manager, publicist, journalist and photographer Wyndham Wallace writes a passionate and detailed account of how the music industry is killing music and blaming the fans.
Bob Seger’s polished, radio-friendly pop songs are on permanent rotation all over the dial everywhere in America. There was a time, though, when he walked more on the wild side.
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