While Johnny and Sid got all the ink, Steve Jones was part of the backbone of the snotty roar that was the Sex Pistols. His beefy riffs powered the many classic tunes on their one proper album. After the Pistols fell apart, Jones didn’t rest on his laurels, doing everything from playing in The Professionals with fellow Pistol Paul Cook to backing Iggy Pop for a spell in the late ’80s. He gained new popularity with his fantastic radio show (broadcast from Los Angeles), showing off his great music taste and fun loving personality. While the ideal way to celebrate Jonesy’s birthday would be raising a pint with him, the next best thing would be taking out your iPod/MP3 player, hitting shuffle and sharing the first 10 songs that come up.
Dolly Varden — Apple Doll (The Dumbest Magnets): This is where Dolly Varden, Chicago’s very own, went from being a nice, somewhat rootsy band, to an undefinablely wonderful adult pop band. While most of the band’s material is the product of the amazing Steve Dawson, his wife Diane Christiansen’s contributions are also key. Some of her best songs are reminiscent of Roseanne Cash. But this languid number, built around a simple guitar figure, is probably a bit closer to the more atmospheric Lucinda Williams’ material. It’s a beautiful song.
Liz Phair — Johnny Feelgood (Whitechocolatespaceegg): Hey, another Chicago artist! This is from Phair’s last album before she decided to (unsuccessfully) become a pop star. Although the production values are better than Exile In Guyville, this song comes from the same sensibility, with Phair’s typically insightful take on female sexuality. It’s like she was a one woman Sex in the City, before there was a Sex in the City.
The Beach Boys — When I Grow Up (To Be a Man) (Today!/Summer Days (And Summer Nights)): This song straddles between the surf-pop of early Beach Boys hits and Brian Wilson’s more sophisticated compositions. This is one of the band’s more clever lyrics and the mix of Mike Love’s lead vocal and Brian Wilson’s soaring falsetto in the chorus (with typically fantastic harmonies) is pretty classic.
Santigold — My Superman (Santigold): One of the few tracks from Miss Santi White’s debut album that was not licensed for a television commercial. Maybe because this moody slice of new wavey synth-pop isn’t driving enough to sell beer or whatever. So what. While this isn’t one of the best tracks on the album, it’s closer to killer than filler. One thing I appreciate is White sounds like she’s having fun singing this song.
The Saints — Crazy Googenheimer Blues (Prehistoric Sounds): This is a bit more playful than the typical Saints song from their early days. This is a bouncy R & B based number with the guitar in the background and a bouncy piano. When Ed Kuepper does break into a guitar solo, he throws in a little twang. This song really highlights the unique qualities of Chris Bailey’s lower range. It’s a bit forced, which shouldn’t work, yet somehow it does.
The Fall — Two Steps Back (Live At The Witch Trials): Early lurching rant from Manchester’s finest. The song is built on a repetitive guitar riff, augmented by some keyboard noodling. The rhythm section moves things along, while Mark E. Smith still sounds young, yet he’s clearly already a curmudgeon.
Kaiser Chiefs — Like It Too Much (Off With Their Heads): While not innovators by any stretch, Kaiser Chiefs come up with some fine Britpop nuggets on each album. They seem to have really studied past greats like XTC, Madness and Blur. This song works a simple riff in the verse but blossoms with a soaring melody, which provides an excellent contrast to what came before it. At their best, they make good songwriting seem fairly easy, which, of course, it isn’t.
Thin Lizzy — Roisin Dubh (Black Rose) (Black Rose: A Rock Legend): Thin Lizzy had its first success with a boogie-fied take on the folk ballad “Whiskey In A Jar”. And Irish and English folk was a vital component of this great hard band’s sound. Ted Leo once noted that his seeming Thin Lizzy influence is more of a by-product of his trying to write in similar folk idioms. This track takes the Irish folk to the extreme, telling an Irish legend in classic Lizzy style, dual lead guitars and all, stretched to an epic length (with a shout out near the end to the aforementioned “Whiskey”). It’s a great closer to Lizzy’s best album.
The Four Tops — Bernadette (The Singles +): This song seems to have escaped perpetual rotation on oldies radio, which is a shame, as it is one of the two or three best Four Tops’ songs. It is an insistent, driving number, in the vein of The Supremes’ “You Keep Me Hangin’ On”. Insistent and driving and Levi Stubbs go together like peanut butter and jelly, making for a perfect record.
Motorhead — Rock ‘N’ Roll (Rock ‘N’ Roll): How could Motorhead screw up a song with this title? Guess what, they don’t. This is a two-chord song pounded into submission by Lemmy and crew. Sometimes simple is best.