Mike Mills is often overshadowed by Michael Stipe and Peter Buck in R.E.M., but he’s been a vital component from Day 1. In addition to his steady bass playing, he’s a wonderful harmony singer and even took the lead on the band’s hit cover of The Clique’s “Superman”. To top it all off, he’s a really nice guy. So let’s salute Mike Mills on his birthday by grabbing your iPod or MP3 player, hitting shuffle, and sharing the first 10 songs that come up.
Wilco – Camera (More Like The Moon): This is a fuzzy rocker that sounds like it was recorded around the time of Summerteeth but was deemed too heavy for the album. Or perhaps it was committed to tape during The Ghost Is Born sessions, but somehow didn’t fit. Regardless, this is a sunny pop-rocker with a mix that emphasizes the guitars and bass with Jeff Tweedy’s voice coming from under all this fun noise.
Emitt Rhodes – Holly Park (The Emitt Rhodes Record): This is an Anglophile’s delight, with the cult popper doing a baroque pop number that is pure 1967, even though it was recorded a few years later. This is an immediately appealing song.
Little Richard – Can’t Believe You Wanna Leave (The Georgia Peach): This is a brassy blues number that would be well suited for Nat King Cole or Fats Domino. Little Richard keeps his piano playing in check, but can’t tame his soul shouting. And there’s nothing wrong with that, as it elevates what is otherwise a merely decent song.
Madness – House Of Fun (Ultimate Collection): One of Madness’s all-time great singles, a jaunty number about…buying condoms? Yep, and the band’s use of coded language isn’t sniggering. Instead, it serves to amplify the nervousness of the spotty faced teen protagonist who is at the chemist’s shop asking for a plunker. The carnival style music makes this one of the most creative pop singles of the ‘80s.
Wings – Spin It On (Back to the Egg): Macca wasn’t immune to punk rock and one of his characteristically packed to the gills ‘70s albums, he tipped his hat to this new wave with this speedy pop ditty. The song is so simple and McCartney is having a blast. A hidden gem.
Martin Newell – The Greatest Living Englishman (The Greatest Living Englishman): Newell is an eccentric British pop artist who led the cult bands Cleaners From Venus and The Brotherhood Of Lizards. On this album, he worked with XTC’s Andy Partridge and while this is a low budget affair, Partridge brought out the classic ‘60s foundation in Newell’s writing, and the result sounds like a collaboration between Syd Barrett, The Move and The Kinks. This is a swell album.
Julianna Raye – Tell Me I’m Alright (Something Peculiar): Raye was related to some big wig at Warner Brothers Records. Thus, she got a deal. And thus, she got Jeff Lynne to produce her album. As it turns out, this wasn’t just nepotism in action. Raye has a great smoky baritone voice and penned some swell ‘60s inspired pop songs. Of course, Lynne has a way to make that type of stuff shimmer, and the jangly music is a perfect vehicle for Raye’s wonderful singing.
The Yardbirds – The Nazz Are Blue (Ultimate!): The title might make it seem like this is one of The Yardbirds’ psychedelic forays. However, this is just an oddly named blues rocker with the expected red hot guitar work.
Bad Religion – Hooray For Me (Stranger Than Fiction): A melodic mid-tempo track from a band that is better known for high velocity rock. This song almost has a ‘50s rock foundation and even with a typically declamatory Greg Graffin lead vocal, there’s an uncharacteristic wistfulness underlying this song, even as the lyrics are defiant. Cool track.
Shudder To Think – She Wears He Harem (Get Your Goat): On this album, Shudder To Think double the arty and weird quotient, with the guitars becoming more angular and the bass lines adding to the dissonance. This only encouraged Craig Wedren to stretch his voice to its limits, adding new feats of vocal acrobatics. This is not for everyone, but I like how Shudder To Think underpins everything in basic hard rock sounds, and then messes with conventions, while still creating oddball hooks.