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.
The Reading List is a weekly collection of interesting, important, and thought-provoking articles about music from around the Web. Click here to suggest an article.
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Jawbreaker was a groundbreaking emo band, and their legend has only grown over the years. Indeed, when their sole major label effort, Dear You, came out, a lot of folks felt they had sold out. Now, the album is pretty beloved (at least that’s what I’ve heard). The voice of Jawbreaker was Blake Schwarzenbach, and his sore throated vocal delivery (and he had throat surgery before, by the way) is real distinctive. He went on to form Jets To Brazil, and I personally think Four Cornered Night, the band’s second album, is a classic. Blake has tried two other bands since Jets dissolved and he now teaches English at Hunter College in New York. Let’s pay tribute to this emo godfather by grabbing your iPod or MP3 player, hitting shuffle and sharing the first 10 songs that come up.
- Nicole Atkins — War Is Hell (Mondo Amore): The new Nicole Atkins album is pretty darned good sophomore release, as she tries to expand her stylistic range while making sure she plays to the strengths of her debut. This song falls in the latter category, as its a beautiful ballad that could have fit well on her wonderful debut, Neptune City. Atkins has a terrific voice and a classic songstress sound.
- Robyn — Include Me Out (Body Talk, Pt. 2): I’ll be the millionth person to say it: Why isn’t Robyn a big star? There is nothing non-commercial about her dance pop. Her songs are hook filled, have great beats and she has a bit of personality. Hmm…maybe that’s the problem, having personality. Well, she goes over gangbusters in Sweden and if she keeps turning out great songs like this slamming electro number, she’ll break through.
- The Jim Jones Revue — Big Len (Burning Your House Down): Jones used to be in Thee Hypnotics, and now leads a traditional garage rock band that definitely comes across as a descendant of Jerry Lee Lewis and The Sonics. Jones shouts pretty well and the band plays with a lot of fire. Their live show is already legendary.
- Ann Peebles — Until You Came Into My Life (The Complete Ann Peebles): My wife did not know the original song when she suggested that we use this for the first dance of our wedding this past October. She had heard a cover by Joe Henry. That was nice, but it didn’t have the magic of Ms. Peebles’ version. Willie Mitchell’s Hi Records crew gives this just the right groove, and Peebles, best known for “I Can’t Stand the Rain”, penned an incredible live song.
- The La’s — Feelin’ (The La’s): One of the great one shots of all time, The La’s just wrote great ’60s styled pop songs. This number is a bit Beatle-y, especially in the little guitar hook at the end of every verse, which is sounds like George Harrison could have played it.
- Henson Cargill — WIldflower (A Very Well Travelled Man): Cargill had a crossover country hit in the ’60s with his anti-racism song “Skip A Rope”. He had a low key style, but his records were produced to ring every bit of drams out of his baritone delivery. Here, a wildflower is used as a metaphor for not falling in love with a prostitute (“I know I can never own her…never take a wildflower home.”).
- The Clash — Koka Kola (London Calling): A lesser track from what may be the best rock album ever. Of course, The Clash were so on top of their game at this point, that this less than two minute track is still energetic, has interesting lyrics and really cool middle eight.
- June & The Exit Wounds — Hey Hey Hey (“A Little More Haven Hamilton, Please”): This Parasol Records release is a hidden soft pop gem. The album is littered with ’70 AM gold styled songs that conjure up the best of Bread, Todd Rundgren, Danny Wilson and other like minded artists. It’s a shame that the band never followed this up.
- Kid Creole & The Coconuts — Imitation (Tropical Gangsters): This was the album that made Kid Creole a star throughout Europe. It was the first of his albums to finally capture both his mastery of mixing up everything from funk to Broadway to R & B to salsa to calypso and beyond, with production that fully made the grooves sound great. Three more top notch albums followed this one.
- Supergrass — Eon (Supergrass): The third Supergrass album is really underrated, as the band further delved into softer sounds. Gaz Coombes is a master of conjuring melodies that are wistful and sad, yet still a tad hopeful. This song has the grandeur of ’70s Who without the bombast. Lovely stuff.