Today is the birthday of a man who made Chicago his home (and later, Westmont) and became one of the giants of the blues. McKinley Morganfield was 30 years old (or so) when he finally made his way from Mississippi to Chicago. He had been to the city before and had done some recordings for Alan Lomax. Muddy was looking to make it here. It took a few years before Muddy (who got the nickname from his grandmother and added the surname later on) finally hooked up with a label, run by the Chess brothers. In 1948, he broke through with the songs “I Can’t Be Satisfied” and “I Feel Like Going Home”. He also became a big live attraction, with an ace band which included bass player Willie Dixon. This led to the creation of blues standards like “I Just Want to Make Love to You”, “Hoochie Coochie Man” and “I’m Ready”. With these songs, Muddy established an electrified version of the Delta blues sound that fit the urban, working class lifestyle of Chicago. These songs were popular at home and influenced future blues rockers on both sides of the Atlantic. Of course, as you probably know, The Rolling Stones took their name from a Muddy Waters song. After a brief dry patch, Muddy revived his career in the ‘70s and kept performing until he passed away in 1983. His legacy lives on both at home and abroad. Let’s celebrate his birthday by grabbing your iPod or MP3 player, hitting shuffle and sharing the first 10 songs that come up.
Pere Ubu – Breath (Cloudland): The opening cut on an amazing album from avant-garage-sters from Ohio. Working with producer Stephen Hague, Pere Ubu kept some of the weirdness, but focused on a spacious sound and more melodic elements. The result is a quirky, happy pop masterpiece. Hague did a great job of balancing the elements of the band, making choruses like the one in this tune shimmer while still finding room in the mix for synth squiggles.
The Long Blondes – Giddy Stratospheres (Someone To Drive You Home): Excellent post-punk from a band that sadly disbanded after two wonderful albums. Singer Kate Jackson sounds like the mid-point between Debbie Harry and Sarah Cracknell while the music mixes some Gang of Four inspired white funk with some pop sophistication.
Richard Thompson – The Ghost of You Walks (You? Me? Us?): A pretty acoustic number from Thompson’s one double album. Even for a songwriter as talented at Thompson, two discs was a bit of a stretch. But this is a superb tune with a haunting melody.
Randy Newman – You Can Leave Your Hat On (Sail Away): This song became more famous when Joe Cocker’s version was used in the movie 9 1/2 Weeks. The song is ostensibly sexy, because of the lyrical content, but when Randy sings it, it sounds utterly perverted.
Peter Hammill – If I Could (The Future Now): The Van Der Graf Generator frontman has put out plenty of awesome art-pop solo records. They make nice companions to contemporaries such as Brian Eno and John Cale, though he sometimes goes in a different direction. This is a floaty number with a predominant acoustic guitar being joined by some lush synths and Hammill’s edgy warble. This is a very sincere song with one of his best vocals.
Split Enz – Nice to Know (Dizrhytmia): This track from the third Split Enz album has a rhythm track with a bit of an uncharacteristic R & B feel, while the rest of the song is a bit more in a Beatles/Kinks music hall vein.
Yello – Ballet Mecanique (Claro Que Si): The second Yello album found the band slowly gravitating towards more accessible song structures. But not on every track. Some really neat layered keyboard meld with strong drumming and piercing guitar, with Dieter Meier telling a story that vaguely makes sense. Somehow this Scandinavian-Latino band made synthesizer music that mixed spaghetti western vibes with art rock.
The Beach Boys – Gee (The Smile Sessions): A little in-between-full-songs interlude from the classic lost album.
The Thermals – When I Was Afraid (Now We Can See): A crunchy riff, passionate vocals, smart lyrics, this song just builds tension with the committed playing of this trio. This band has a bit of a Superchunk vibe – not they sound exactly like them, but they have a not-classic lead singer and play balls out catchy music that reminds me of the ‘chunk.
Archie Bronson Outfit – Run Gospel Singers (Coconut): I dig both albums from this British band that has no discernible style other than eccentric. This song is a low fi guitar clatter, sounding somewhat like Guided By Voices trying out a British folk rock tune from the ‘70s.