After four years in retail, I developed Christmas Music Aversion. An overload of festive cheer generally has made me a Scrooge when it comes to the holiday tunes. But a few songs are so good, they break down my resistance. One of those songs is from Little Miss Dynamite, the classic “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” by Brenda Lee. So I thought it would be a great idea to honor Miss Lee on her birthday, for making this season a little more tolerable. If everyone could grab his or her iPod/MP3 player, hit shuffle and share the first 10 tunes that come up, maybe there really could be peace on earth and good will to men, in a new old fashioned way.
Eggstone — The Dog (Somersault): An amazing modern power pop track from this Swedish band. A lot of ’90s power pop showed some influence from Husker Du (loud melodic guitars) and Pixies (dynamics). That’s evident on this song, which mixes chirpy verses with explosive guitar fueled choruses, and then moves on to a whimsical sing-song middle eight, a killer twang guitar solo and then a pretty instrumental coda to bring it to a close. Of course, they never equaled this on either of their albums.
John Lee Hooker — Tease Me (The Legendary Modern Recordings): Boy, my iPod is in love with this John Lee Hooker compilation. I won’t complain about that.
Buck Owens — Nobody’s Fool But Yours (The Buck Owens Collection): This was not a major Buck Owens hit, but it is sure cut from the same cloth. Yep, maybe some of Buck’s honky-tonk songs were forumulaic, but his expressive voice that is sunny on top, wtih heartbreak underneath, and Don Rich’s pithy lead guitar parts and perfect harmony vocals always sound great.
The Wonder Stuff — Unbearable (Eight Legged Groove Machine): In the late ’80s, The Wonder Stuff were an aggressive Brit pop band with an ultra-sarcastic lyrical stance:* “I didn’t like you very much when I met you/and now I like you even less.” Lead singer Miles Hunt could really craft a hook and the band was really tight and this debut album holds up pretty well today.
The Negro Problem — Father Popcorn (Welcome Back): There was a great L.A. pop scene in the mid-‘90s, featuring creative bands like The Wondermints, Cockeyed Ghost and The Negro Problem. This band was led by Stew, who went on to win a Tony Award for his semi-autobiographical musical Passing Strange. Stew’s music encompassed a lot of territory, from classic songwriters like Burt Bacharach and Jimmy Webb, to some of Love’s hippier stuff, with just the right amount of muscle. This song showcases Stew’s expressive voice, which is a bit gruff but more than able to handle his fantastic melodies.
The Shangri-Las — Right Now And Not Later (The Best Of The Shangri-Las): I love the classic ’60s girl group sound and The Shangri-Las were to the girl group sound what The Sonics were to garage rock. With Mary Weiss on lead vocals, they were the baddest girls on the block. This is a proto-feminist song with Weiss demanding that her guy commit to her, and if not, she’s finding someone else.
Yello — Swing (You Gotta Say Yes To Another Excess): Unfairly pigeonholed as a novelty act due to the ubiquity of “Oh Yeah” (featured in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and many other movies, subsequently), Yello started off as a really bizarre synth-rock act on Ralph Records, and graduated to being a quirky synth-pop act on a major label. I’d give 2-1 odds that The Cure’s Robert Smith listened to this song before penning “Love Cats”, as there are some foundational similarities. This is a cool faux-jazz head bopper with a debonair vocal by the always debonair Dieter Meier.
Happy Hate Me Nots — When I Die (The Good Thats…): Dale Gardner introduced me to this smoking Aussie punk band. They put their own twist on the R & B fueled punk sounds of The Saints, developing a distinctive sound. The Happy Hate Me Nots simply explode out of the speakers, the urgency and passion of their music evident with every note.
Uncle Tupelo — Postcard (Still Feel Gone): The evolution of Uncle Tupelo from a rocking band with some rootsy influences into alt-country standard bearers is a great story. But I wish they could have stayed in their rock phase for an album or two longer. This Jay Farrar song does a great job balancing aggressive guitars with quieter country moments. Although the band’s identity morphed a great deal, there was never a point where they weren’t distinctive, and part of that is due to Farrar’s great voice (and that Tweedy fellow wasn’t too bad either, as I recall).
Jethro Tull — Locomotive Breath (Aqualung): I became a Jethro Tull fan when a friend of mine was able to get me some stray promos of some of the band’s older albums. I had no real opinion on Tull one way or another before then, that I recall. Listening to these scattered albums, I was struck by how whatever Ian Anderson did, he was usually working with basic English folk song structures, in a way I found appealing. On Aqualung, these motifs are married to some terrific guitar riffs, while Anderson, when he’s not rocking the flute, rants about the evils of organized religion. This is second tier classic rock staple and Anderson’s anger and disgust is palpable.