Today it’s the birthday of one of the most talented performers from the incredible CBGB’s scene of the ‘70s, Tom Verlaine. Born Thomas Miller, the future Television guitarist made friends with Richard Meyers a/k/a Richard Hell in boarding school. They ended up leaving school, moving to New York City, where Tom appropriated the last name of French poet Paul Verlaine. After forming The Neon Boys with Hell and Billy Ficca, they eventually added guitarist Richard Lloyd and became Television. While uninformed writers, to this day, talk about the CBGB’s scene as punk, it was really where ideas from the ‘60s were retooled into something contemporary, and Television combined some Velvet Underground, some precision sophisticated composition and an amazing instrumental attack into two classic albums (and their later reunion album was quite good). When Verlaine left, he carried on with a terrific solo career, with great art-pop songs, amazing guitar playing and odd but compelling lyrics. Let’s salute Tom by grabbing your iPod or MP3 player, hitting shuffle and sharing the first 10 songs that come up.
Lime Spiders – Save My Soul (Headcleaner): A slow burner from the Australian garage rock band fronted by screamer Mick Blood. He doesn’t take the initial lead on this ‘60s-centric that builds up like a classic Animals tune with a bit more modern guitar crunch.
Tangiers – Love Rackets (Never Bring You Pleasure): Tangiers wasn’t riding on the coattails of The Strokes, but their angular, new wave rock was right for the times after The Strokes broke. For my money, this album beats any Strokes release and ranks up there with the best of Spoon, another band that’s a good comparison. A nifty choppy riff with some hints of melody a couple of different hooks.
Mose Allison – Foolkiller (Allison Wonderland: Anthology): Allison is just one of the coolest cats ever, with his bouncy piano playing. Here, he bangs out a great solo at the beginning of this track before launching into this pithy tune that’s a scattered bit of commentary.
St. Vincent – Neutered Fruit (Strange Mercy): Annie Clark’s records are the full package. Great production, great arrangements and fine songs. This starts with stacked vocals before heading into its post-punk pulse. I can see David Byrne hearing this and thinking, “I need to work with this woman.”
Merle Haggard – Silver Wings (Down Every Road: 1962-1994): A ballad number with nice harmony vocals. This is a pretty number that can’t obscure the pain of this tail of a man watching his love leave him on an airplane, never to come back.
Glen Campbell – Southern Nights (20 Greatest Hits): One of the best songs of Campbell’s mid-‘70s revival, after “Rhinestone Cowboy” got him back on the charts. The legendary Allen Toussaint wrote this number, which just radiates pure joy, and not many singers can pull that off as well as Glen Campbell. Listening to this now, I notice that in the first stanza, the guitar is playing almost a reggae part, though the backing changes on the second stanza. A lot going on with the instruments. Great frickin’ tune.
Todd Rundgren – Black Maria (Something/Anything): A stinging moody rocker from Todd’s first flat out masterpiece. The contrast between the nasty guitar and the melodic overlay is simply marvelous.
Roxy Music – All I Want Is You (Country Life): Certainly one of the all-time great songs, with Phil Manzera’s guitars setting the tone, and the bridge emphasizing the longing that Bryan Ferry sings about. He’s super cool but still vulnerable on this track.
Gaza Strippers – Transistor (Electric Bible): The first single from Rick Sims’ band after Didjits. The Strippers didn’t often play at quite the velocity of Didjits, but a lot of the best qualities of Didjits are still there, such as Sims fine song structure. This is a catchy number with tons of buzzing, kick ass guitar.
Simon & Garfunkel – Feuilles-O (Old Friends): S & G singing a little ditty in French. So chic.