Her debut album came out 30 years ago, a piece of R & B and dance inflected pop that was diverting. Then her videos hit MTV, and Madonna became a star. But no one anticipated that she would become the best selling female solo artist of the rock era. Today is Madonna’s birthday, and let’s face it, anyone who can stay fairly relevant over three decades in pop music is a formidable talent. She went through as many image changes as any singer since Bowie. She made headlines in the gossip columns and so often shocked sensibilities. More importantly, she wrote and performed scads of great songs. And you can never count her out. Sure, she’s had her share of lackluster releases, but she is capable at any time of putting out something great. Let’s pay tribute of Madonna by grabbing your iPod or MP3 player, hitting shuffle, and sharing the first 10 songs that come up.
New Radicals – Someday We’ll Know (Maybe You’ve Been Brainwashed Too): This one shot release has aged very well. This is because Gregg Alexander’s classic songwriting, steeped in Todd Rundgren, Hall & Oates and Prince, is pretty darned timeless. This is a cool soulful acoustic guitar ballad that builds in intensity.
Maximo Park – Distance Makes (Our Earthly Pleasures): A typical breathless post-punk pop tune from this fine band from its debut. As time goes on, it’s clear Paul Smith has specific cadences to his lyrics that dictate the tunes. Thankfully, his lyrics are strong and the band finds way to make punchy, catchy rock songs to support those words.
Brian Eno & John Cale – Crime in the Desert (Wrong Way Up): A collaboration that should happen again. The art-pop records from Eno and Cale in the ‘70s shared a certain sensibility, so it’s no surprise they could team up so well. This song mixes a metronomic drumbeat with a boogie woogie piano and a kind of country melody to sound offbeat yet totally familiar.
Wondermints – Louise (Wonderful World of the Wondermints): The core of Brian Wilson’s band made some nice music on their own, and could certainly pen a good tune, but my fave Wondermints album is their covers record. This is a cover a Paul Revere and the Raiders song, and the arrangement is dazzling. They don’t change the core of the tune, but they just add some much magic with creative instrumental and vocal choices.
Hank Williams – Howlin’ at the Moon (Complete Hank Williams): One of Hank’s happier honky tonk numbers, with Mr. Williams explaining how crazy he has gone over a girl. Not one of his big hits, but this is a real fun tune.
Richard & Linda Thompson – Wall Of Death (Shoot Out The Lights): One of the signature tunes on the final Richard & Linda Thompson album. On this song, Richard takes the lead with Linda singing a wonderful harmony. This is typical of Richard, mixing a jangly happiness with bitter lyrics. Warren Zevon could have done a great cover of this.
The Monkees – The Kind Of Girl I Could Love (More of the Monkees): Michael Nesmith co-wrote this tune from the second Monkees’ album and it is cut from the same cloth as his later classic “You Just May Be the One”. The drums really rumble along, while this mix between garage and country rock is perfect for his Texas baritone.
Wire – The Agfers of Kodack (Send): One of the best songs from the third iteration of Wire, with Robert Gray’s steady pulsebeat drumming surrounded by guitars running through a gazillion effects. On a lot of songs from this era, the guitars were more harsh in an industrial way. While these are distorted, sound is less metally and the textures augment what is a fairly typical Wire composition in many respects.
Slant 6 – Blood Song (Soda Pop Rip Off): A short near ballad from this short lived Dischord post-punk band that threw in some surf rock and girl group moves into their Wire inspired minimalist guitar rock.
Lucinda Williams – Can’t Let Go (Car Wheels On A Gravel Road): This is a classic back porch bluesy shuffle from what is definitely Williams’ signature album. Williams’ mentholated voice oozes sensuality, surrounded by so much great blues and country styled picking.