Today we pay tribute to a giant of American popular music, composer Richard Rodgers. He is the first person to garner an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and a Tony award. Oh, and he won the Pulitzer Prize too. Teaming with Oscar Hammerstein and Lorenzo Hart (each who penned lyrics), Rodgers composed some of the greatest melodies in American popular song. From “My Funny Valentine” to “The Lady Is a Tramp” to the amazing run of musicals he did with Hammerstein (Oklahoma!, Carousel, South Pacific, The King and I and The Sound Of Music), Richard Rodgers’ music has had so much impact and still delights audiences to this day. So in honor of Mr. Rodgers, please grab your iPod or MP3 player, hit shuffle and share the first 10 songs that come up.
Devo -- R U Experienced (Shout): This synth-driven cover of the Jimi Hendrix Experience classic is by far the best thing on the fairly sterile Shout album. The band comes up with a neat arrangement that is faithful to the song but makes good use of the electronics. The video for this song is great, with noted Jimi impersonator Randy Hansen doing his thing.
Little Richard -- The Girl Can’t Help It (The Georgia Peach): One of the Little Richard’s best, which is the music bed for one of the all-time great movie openers, from the classic comedy with Jayne Mansfield and Tom Ewell. This is a relatively poppy song, but Little Richard can never be fully tamed.
Labi Siffre -- If You Have Faith (The Best of Labi Siffre): The singer who is best known for “It Must Be Love” (covered by Madness) was a pop-folkie, somewhat in the vein of Bill Withers and Terry Callier, but much less earthy. He was great at really affirmative songs, and this is certainly one of those.
The Scene Is Now -- Grenadine (Object Lessons: Songs About Products): This is from a five song EP for the zine Beer Frame, which was dedicated to product packaging and design. This is a breezy tune with spare lyrics explaining how grenadine is used. Probably the weakest song of the bunch.
Count Five -- Psychotic Reaction (Nuggets): This garage rock classic was on the original two LP Nuggets set compiled by Lenny Kaye for Sire Records. It sounded even better after getting the remaster treatment from Rhino for the four CD expanded Nuggets box set. It’s a basic blues riff with little instrumental freakouts in the middle, and still sounds great.
Jason & The Scorchers -- Self-Sabotage (Clear Impetuous Morning): The Scorchers have never put out a bad album, and Morning was a breath of fresh air in 1996, with the band sounding as good as ever. This is quintessential rocker, an amped up honky tonk tune with a fantastic Warner Hodges’ guitar solo.
Neko Case And Her Boyfriends -- The Virginian (The Virginian): The first Neko Case album is more of a straightforward country/honky tonk LP, but even then, on songs like this ballad, you could get an idea of where she was heading. Neko’s voice fills so much space and has that elusive quality that fits the more mysterious material she was soon to begin composing. She really tears into this song. She was special from the get go.
The Byrds -- Wild Mountain Thyme (Fifth Dimension): The jangly guitar, the harmony vocals and the folk-rock melody. A pretty song from an important ‘60s band that seems to be ignored more often these days.
Kirsty MacColl -- They Don’t Know (Galore): One of the truly perfect pop songs, breezy and sweet on the surface and teeming with hurt and longing underneath. Tracey Ullman did a fine job on her hit version of the song, but MacColl’s original is just amazing. She pays homage to girl group sounds, with a lead vocal that has so much depth. This song always stops me in my tracks.
Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats -- Devil’s Work (Mind Control): This British band combines a bit of old school heavy metal (a la Black Sabbath) with some stoner rock and a melodic sense in line with The Beatles or more recent bands like Supergrass. The music is heavy, and sometimes has psychedelic overtones, but those melodies are so strong, and many songs have big hooks. This is more ominous and atmospheric and simply wonderful, coming from one of the best albums of 2013 so far.