She was thinking of getting out of the music business entirely, when a Decca Records executive asked her if she’d cut a record. She said yes, since they would pay her $125 for the session, but she didn’t think it would go anywhere. So Kitty Wells cut “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels” and it wasn’t much longer before she became the first queen of country music. The proto-feminist song was controversial but paved the way Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton and other independent thinking female country singers. Wells became the first female to top the country chart and then had an amazing run of chart success from 1952 through 1969. She blazed trails all the time. For example, she was the first female country singer to record a full album. Her influence resonated for decades, as shown by her appearance on k.d. lang’s Shadowland album (along with Brenda Lee and Loretta Lynn). Nowadays, she’s not remembered enough, but her impact cannot be understated. Let’s pay tribute to Kitty by grabbing your iPod or MP3 player, hitting shuffle, and sharing the first 10 songs that come up.
TV On The Radio – Red Dress (Dear Science): I ignored TV On The Radio when they took off, based on a lackluster performance as a support act for some band I liked better at the Empty Bottle. So it took a while for me to discover that the mix of soulful vocals, funk and post-punk, with an extra dab of artiness was something that I should be listening to. This song is like a blend of afro-pop, Talking Heads, Sly & The Family Stone and something else that I can’t quite identify at the moment.
Slant 6 – Become Your Ghost (Soda Pop Rip Off): Another Slant 6 appearance. More angular, post-punky stuff. This song is a simple guitar jangle-grind (if that’s possible) with a surprisingly sweet melody. Still an obvious debt to Wire, but that’s a good thing.
Nikki Jean – Rockaway (Pennies in a Jar): Nikki Jean is retro-pop soul artist who hit up on a cool gimmick for her debut album - collaborate with some of the greatest songwriters alive. She co-wrote this tune with Carole King, and this song has a nifty rhythm and the bridge to the chorus is vintage King. I thought this album was alright when I got it, but when a song from it pops up on my shuffle, I’m always impressed.
Too Much Joy – If I Was a Mekon (Son Of Sam I Am): The song starts with an audio clip from Jon Langford. This was a bonus cut on the CD reissue of their second album and it is a classic B-side. It’s catchy, fun and silly (which were all attributes of Too Much Joy), but not so well developed that it should have been on the album. Sample lyric: “If I was a Mekon/I would be from Leeds/If I was Mekon/maybe I could sleep with Sally.”
Warren Zevon – I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead (Stand In The Fire): The biggest problem with Warren Zevon’s live album is that it was only one disc. Zevon was a fiery performer and this album, while not perfect, does a nice job of capturing it. This is one of Zevon’s most fun early songs and it’s darned good.
Fools Face – Land of the Hunted (Tell America): An excellent track from the greatest American indie power pop album of the ‘80s. This is a crisp, new wavey number, with a sturdy bass line and a terrific drumming. Fools Face stood out by incorporating social commentary into their music, as on this song. Moreover, there constant gigging made them one of the tightest bands around, and this song must have killed live.
Roky Erickson featuring Okkervil River – Bring Back the Past (True Love Cast Out All Evil): Okkervil River’s backing is robust on this number from Roky’s fine comeback album. This song has a bounce that is akin to a lot of Richard Thompson material.
Killer Mike – Don’t Die (R.A.P. Music): This was my favorite hip hop album of 2012. El-P came up with some killer (how appropriate) music for Killer Mike to declaim his way through. This is a scary revenge fantasy where Mike goes after two racist cops, which Mike connects to the government’s hatred of rap music. Anger at its best.
Dwight Yoakam – Try Not to Look So Pretty (This Time): A slow honky tonk number from a darned good Dwight album, really his last big hit album. Musically, this is pretty solid, but I think beyond thinking of the title, the lyrics weren’t that well thought out.
Joni Mitchell – River (Blue): I’m not very well versed in Joni’s music, but I’ve picked up a few of her albums over the past few years. And Blue is a stunning effort, with Mitchell’s sophisticated compositions seeming to effortlessly pour out of her. This song melds singing styles of folk, jazz and pop in an amazing manner. Of course, it’s much easier when you can sing like Joni Mitchell.