Certainly one of the most beloved and influential bands from the American indie world of the ’80s, The Replacements are legendary for their early bratty records, their unpredictable live shows, their indie swan song (the classic Let It Be) and their maturation on Sire Records. And the straw who stirred most of the Placemats’ drinks was frontman Paul Westerberg. The speed at which his songwriting grew is amazing, if you compare a song from Stink to something like “Unsatisfied”. He has settled down into comfortable adulthood, putting out records that still please his adoring core of fans. Let’s celebrate Paul the only way we know how — by getting your iPod or MP3 player, hitting shuffle, and sharing the first 10 tunes that come up.
Paul Nicholas — Heaven on the Seventh Floor (Have a Nice Day – Volume 24): A cheesy fun 1977 Top 40 hit from this British singer/actor who also appeared in the film version of Tommy (as cousin Kevin). This song seems perfect for the Me Decade and notions of free love, casual sex and songs with a light disco feel.
Judas Priest — Metal Gods (The Essential Judas Priest): Judas Priest? Metal Gods? Isn’t that redundant. What intrigues me about the Priest, is that their earlier material, which was very much in the vein of heavy metal of that era, was very good. But they seemed to find a foothold during the New Wave of Heavy Metal, and found a way to mix the usual hammer and tongs approach with defter compositions and rhythms. This song is a prime example. The Glen Tipton/K.K. Downing guitar combo is as heavy as ever, but the rhythm section is playing a pea soup beat that could fit on a dance record (if speeded up a bit). And the chorus is delightfully subtle. Yes, they are Metal Gods.
Steve Wynn — Wait Until You Get To Know Me (Crossing Dragon Bridge): This is a self-deprecating waltz tempoed tune. Wynn bangs out the rhythm on his acoustic, his vocals are overmodulated and double tracked, and a wobbly lead jazz guitar line holds it all together. This is a song about a guy trying to take advantage of beer goggles near closing time and the sleazy aspect of the lyric is captured by the music.
Bo Diddley — Say Man (I’m A Man —- The Chess Masters 1955-1958): One day, Bo Diddley and his maracas player Jerome Green started throwing down the dozens over a Latin rhythm. The dozens is an African-American tradition of two men taking turns throwing down (hopefully!) good natured insults at each other. They rolled some tape on this, it captured the public’s imagination, and Bo found himself back on the Top 40 charts. He came back to this format again and again, often taking both roles by speeding up his voice to provide one of the competitors.
King Khan & The Shrines — Que Lindo Sueno (The Supreme Genious Of): One thing I love about King Khan is how thorough his love of R & B is. While he’s best known for James Brown style frat rockers, he does it all, forging ahead behind his powerful personality. This song has a gentle samba beat, driving horns, spy movie guitar and a typically engaged vocal. Cool stuff.
Orange Juice — Moscow Olympics (The Glasgow School): Edwyn Collins’ recent come back after two strokes and the new Orange Juice box set have brought well deserved attention to one of the greatest Scottish rock bands ever. Collins had a knack for combining accessible R & B foundations with classic post-punk style guitars and melodies, making something familiar sound just a little bit off, and therefore, fresh. This instrumental sounds like it was recorded in a subway station and has a twinkling ’60s mod feel. Collins’ guitar playing is charming.
The Sugarplastic — My Heart Lately (Will): On Will, this criminally underrated L.A. band really gravitated towards its psychedelic pop side. This is a hazy dream of a song, with delicate piano, Ben Eshbach trading lead vocals with disembodied voices and wandering choruses. This is truly a brilliant use of the studio as an instrument, from how the instruments are placed in the mix to how each element of the song is stitched together to create a brilliant whole. This sounds like a ’40s Disney movie song cycled through the haunted house repeatedly and then sprinkled with some Abbey Road era Beatles.
Surfer Blood — Floating Vibes (Astro Coast): A fine 2010 debut album from a band who, at times, reminds me a bit of The Shins and Rogue Wave, sort of. This song has a big fat lead guitar part, which sets up the soothing melody. This song actually reminds me a little bit of third album era Translator mixed with a bit of the classicist side of XTC. Which is another way to say this is damn good indie pop.
Pere Ubu — Monday Night (Cloudland) Pere Ubu’s second go round, found the band taking on a more accessible tack, especially on this masterpiece of avant-garde pop, produced by Stephen Hague. The band that had deconstructed rock was putting it back together, sometimes just for hooks, but often achieving emotional resonance. This song is driven by big drums and somehow mixes a girl group structure with a Western campfire singalong, with a big twangy guitar in the background. For all of his quirks, David Thomas is a great singer, and this song is an example of that.
White Plains — My Baby Loves Lovin’ (Bubblegum Classics — Volume Two): A lot of British bubblegum was a bit more sophisticated, relying less on double entendre, and more on just driving home a simple hook. The song is aided by the vocals of session singer Tony Burrows, who took the lead on many Brit bubblegum hits by fake groups such as Edison Lighthouse, The Pipkins, The Brotherhood of Man and others.