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.
Donny Hathaway – Flying Easy (Extension Of A Man): Hathaway’s story is ultimately a tragic one, as severe depression led to him taking his life at a relatively early stage. Prior to his death, he showed the potential to be an artier analog to ‘70s Stevie Wonder, mixing soul with jazz and other influences and one of the great voices in pop and soul music. This is a sophisticated slice of jazz-soul with wonderful work on the keyboards by Mr. Hathaway.
Nicole Atkins – The Worst Hangover (Slow Phaser): While Lana Del Rey gets the plaudits, the artist who she borrowed so much from has to make it on her own. The latest Nicole Atkins finds her continuing to expand the range of her sound without losing sight of the torch singer she is at heart. This song builds an atmosphere and then surprises with a nifty pop hook.
Diana Ross & The Supremes – Some Things You Never Get Used To (Anthology): This 1968 single was a relative stiff for one of the most successful acts of the ‘60s, stalling out at number 30 on the pop charts. This Ashford and Simpson composition is an attempt to slightly update the Motwon sound. It’s a good song, but it is not as compelling as the best Supremes singles.
The 88 – Coming Home (Over and Over): This superb Kinks inspired song helped land this band a major label deal. It was also used by some chain retailer (I forgot who) in their ads for a while. Unfortunately, as often happens, once on a major label, the inspiration seems to have waned.
Lewis Taylor – Hide Your Heart Away (The Lost Album): The Lost Album is wonderful pop album with a great Laurel Canyon-meets-The Beach Boys vibe. A good comparison would be Jonathan Wilson, but Taylor’s songs are more poppy and when he reaches his falsetto, he reminds me of Henry Gross. This song has a chorus that builds and builds. Very impressive.
Joe Jackson – Is She Really Going Out With Him? (Look Sharp!): Jackson was lumped in with Graham Parker and Elvis Costello as one of the angry young men of the new wave (and by then, Parker wasn’t that young), and he was the one to break through on pop radio. And he was certainly deserving with this super smart and haunting song. Of course, this whole album is a classic and this song makes current oldies radio sound just a little bit better.
The Angels – Outcast (Face to Face): Apparently my iPod wants to keep paying tribute to the late Doc Neeson. This is an atmospheric tune from the hard rocking Aussies. This is a solid change of pace track with good lyrics on an otherwise more upbeat album.
Joe Jackson – Throw It Away (Look Sharp!): Hey – another song from Look Sharp!, but we’re in deep cut territory. If the guitars were heavier, this could pass for an Angels number. This is a careening rock number, where the chorus seems to come from a different song, but Jackson still makes it work.
The Church – Two Places At Once (Sometime Anywhere): A languid ‘90s Church tune that has a big singalong chorus. Oddly enough, I could also hear The Angels doing this. The verses are lovely and the choruses rousing.
K.C. & The Sunshine Band – Please Don’t Go (The Best of K.C. & The Sunshine Band): After a lengthy series of great disco smashes, Harry Casey showed that he could score with a ballad. He also showed that having great vocal range isn’t a pre-requisite. If anything, his straining falsetto makes this track more compelling.