Let’s pay tribute to the biggest star of the British folk rock movement, Donovan. Mr. Leitch started off in the thrall of Bob Dylan, but didn’t take too long to progress, both as a lyricist (for example, the great protest song “Universal Solider”) and composer (great pop songs like “Sunshine Superman” and “Wear Your Love Like Heaven”). He may have been the victim of Dylan’s contempt, as shown in the documentary Don’t Look Back, but Donovan carved out a very impressive and varied career. And, as of four or five years ago, he showed Chicago he still had his charm, charisma and talent. He played a show at Park West that got raves, and I saw him promote his memoir at the old downtown Borders and he told stories and played short versions of nine of his songs. Whatta guy! In honor of Donovan’s birthday, please grab your iPod or MP3 player, hit shuffle, and share the first 10 songs that come up.
Erykah Badu – Fall In Love (Your Funeral)(New Amerikah Part Two: Return Of The Ankh): Badu’s most recent album wasn’t as audacious as its predecessor, but found a midpoint between her classic neo-soul sound and the grittier funk material of New Amerikah Part One. It took me a while to warm to the album since I loved the prior one so much, but the solid grooves and Badu’s voice and personality won me over. This is a very relaxed tune with a bit of percussion punch to keep things from getting stagnant.
Persephone’s Bees – Way To Your Heart (Notes From The Underworld): This Bay Area band played peppy, new wavey tunes. The songs have strong melodies and clever arrangements, making everything sound really fresh. It sounds like they put some thought in the studio on how to embellish this tune without overwhelming the simple ditty at the center of it.
Mannequin Men – Pattern Factory (Fresh Rot): One of my favorite Chicago bands of the past ten years. This is from their second album, and it’s just sleazy, dirty rock and roll. They sound like a cross between the Rolling Stones, Eleventh Dream Day and Television. This song is a bit more on the Stonesy side, but with more serrated guitar playing.
Athletico Spizz 80 – European Heroes (Do A Runner): Caffeinated post-punk band led by the inimitable Spizz. This is one of the first arty punk bands that I ever heard, and while not the best, they were a great introduction, because whatever pretensions Spizz harbored, the spirit, enthusiasm and directness of the whole affair made it easy to get into.
Ted Leo & The Pharmacists – Squeaky Fingers (The Tyranny Of Distance): If I was listing favorites songs off of this album, this wouldn’t immediately come to mind. But this is such a quintessential Ted Leo tune, with high energy, guitars buzzing around an intent melody and a nifty juxtaposition with a delicate guitar figure after the verses.
Linton Kwesi Johnson – Man Free (for Darcus Howe)(Dread Beat ‘n’ Blood): If you like on LKJ song, you’ll like ‘em all. His authoritative voice articulates his poems over solid reggae grooves. The effect is often, as on this song, hypnotic.
The Morells – Sour Snow (The Morells Anthology “Live”): Second week in the row this great Springfield, Missouri roadhouse band comes up on the shuffle. This tune is sung by lead guitarist D. Clinton Thompson, and it’s a nice NRBQ-ish power pop tune written by Springfield music producer Nick Sibley. This was later recorded by The Morells’ off-shoot band, The Skeletons.
Sparks & Faith No More – Something For The Girl With Everything (Plagiarism): Plagiarism started as a Sparks tribute album produced by Ron and Russell Mael, but then it became Sparks redoing some songs and working with other artists on other tracks. This is one of two team ups with Faith No More, which adds some metally guitar to the fast paced pop tune. Here, Mike Patton has a more limited role, unlike the combo version of “This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us” (which skimmed the British Top 40) where he bellows too much for my taste. Faith No More guitarist Dean Menta eventually joined Sparks for a few albums.
Arcwelder – Pint Of Blood (Jacket Made In Canada): Early music from this fantastic Minneapolis trio who mixed melodic American punk (a la Husker Du) with post-punk (a la Mission of Burma) and bit of Sonic Youth-y noise from time to time. This is a brooding number sung by the drummer, who has a Bob Mould quality to his voice that I love. They were good from the start, but the best was yet to come on their next two LPs.
Cheap Trick – I Want You To Want Me (In Color): Cheap Trick had recorded this song for their first album, in the live arrangement we know and love from At Budokan. For whatever reason, it didn’t make the cut. When they took a second whack at it, they took an ultra-poppy approach to the number. While I agree with pretty much everyone (including the band), that the version that became the hit is the best, I like this one too. It really shows what a timeless pop song it is – not just in a rock context – it could have been a hit in the ‘40s.