Ray Davies is one of the most important figures in ‘60s rock music. He’d be deserving praise if he had only written “Waterloo Sunset”, which former Village Voice music critic Robert Christgau called (and I’m paraphrasing) the best song in the English language. Utilizing the same blues and rock ‘n’ roll influences as his British Invasion counterparts, Davies (with the help of brother Dave) created some of the first riff rock on classics like “You Really Got Me”, planting the seeds for heavy metal and punk. He quickly advanced to more sophisticated territory. In so doing, he got away from aping American sounds (especially vocally) and really creating a British vocabulary for rock music. His initial observational songwriting was closer to Dylan in spirit, but soon he was creating lovely vignettes that touched on specific experiences that were sometimes witty and sometime poignant. While their commercial prospects waned somewhat, The Kinks reeled off one of the great album sequences in history, from Face To Face to Something Else to Village Green Preservation Society to Arthur (and one could argue Lola... too). Davies’ influence loomed large on many British acts, including XTC, Madness and Blur, inspiring even more classic music. Of course, he couldn’t keep up that pace, but he is still a warm and wonderful live performer and still might have classic song or two in him. Let’s celebrate Ray’s birthday by grabbing your iPod or MP3 player, hitting shuffle and sharing the first 10 songs that come up.
Motorhead -- Capricorn (No Sleep “Til Hammersmith): “This one is a slow one so you can...mellow out.” So Lemmy introduces a somewhat mid-tempo song that is only slow by Motorhead standards. This great live album was my introduction to Motorhead and it still sounds great today. This simple tune is a testament to the virtues of the Motorhead approach, with Lemmy’s sturdy bass playing anchoring the tunes, while Fast Eddy and Philthy fill most of the remaining sonic space with their guitar and drums, respectively.
The Blasters -- Barn Burning (American Music): A basic jump blues song from the first Blasters album. Wow, the production on the first Blasters album is really flat, with Phil Alvin’s voice not well recorded and the drums and guitars not being mixed properly. I can imagine how much better this sounded live.
Myracle Brah -- Talk To Me (Life On Planet Eartsnop): This track from this classic power pop debut illustrates both what was great about ‘70s power pop and what wasn’t so great. The song itself is clearly inspired by Badfinger, The Raspberries and their ilk, with rock guitars and strong melodies. But, unlike the tamer ‘70s inspirations, the rhythm section on this track really kicks. The song rocks more and is all the better for it.
The Ladybug Transistor -- The Great British Spring (The Albemarie Sound): A jaunty, brass augmented instrumental from this retro-60's orch-pop band.
Beck -- Devil’s Haircut (Odelay): And with this album, Beck went from being an oddball novelty to an oddball serious artist. I actually don’t think this album overall holds up as well as what followed, but this is one of the songs that still sounds great, with so many great production touches.
Chad & Jeremy -- Last Night (Painted Dayglow Smile): This folk-pop duo, who appeared on the old Batman TV show, usually trafficked in (relatively) mellower stuff. This actually has a slight pop-rock bounce, like a peppier Simon & Garfunkel number, I suppose. Great arrangement.
Yo La Tengo -- Swing For Life (May I Sing With Me): When I think of Yo La Tengo, I think of a track like this, with its low key sense of majesty, Mo Tucker-ish drumming, a distinctive lead guitar part and a bit of a droning vibe. It took me a while to appreciate YLT, but I am totally down with songs that get into a languid groove like this one.
General Store -- The Space Between Us (Local Honey): Tam Johnstone is the son of Davey Johnstone, who played with Elton John back in his heyday. Tam has that ‘70s vibe in his mellow acoustic guitar pop songs that touch upon George Harrison, the Laurel Canyon sound and other tuneage from that era. This song subtly builds to an emotional release in the chorus that is rendered very effective by Tam’s excellent lead vocal performance.
Cheap Trick -- Oh Claire (Heaven Tonight): The final track on Trick’s 3rd album is a faux live snippet, with the band playing a riff while Robin Zander sings in Japanese, with the title being a punny reference to Eau Claire, Wisconsin. A rocking inside joke.
Lady -- Please Don’t Do It Again (Lady): A great slice of retro soul from one of my favorite albums of 2013. The braintrust of Truth And Soul Records threw the two women who comprise Lady together and then penned a slew of great retro ‘70s soul-pop tunes. It’s like the best album Honey Cone never made, or rather, a lost greatest hits album (if you could have 12 hit singles and be forgotten).