Can one birthday wish be enough for the man originally known as David Robert Jones, who changed his name to David Bowie so as not to be confused with Davy Jones of The Monkees? Or does one have to wish a Happy Birthday to The Thin White Duke, The Earthling, The Man Who Fell To Earth, Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, and so on and so on? Perhaps the best way to celebrate the birthday of a man whose career was premised on versatility and change is to show him your musical diversity. So give David a special birthday wish in his golden years by grabbing your iPod or MP3 player, hitting shuffle, and sharing the first 10 songs that come up.
Cockeyed Ghost — I’m OK You’re Not OK (Neverest): Cockeyed Ghost was a cool power pop band that sprang from a rich late-‘90s L.A. scene that also spawned Wondermints and The Negro Problem. They didn’t get quite the same notoriety of those two acts, but the band added punkish energy and finely honed sense of classic pop (a la Elton John and The Beach Boys) to create a distinctive sound. Moreover, frontman Adam Marsland is a creative lyricist who manages to be prolix without getting in the way of the music. This song moves from driving sunny pop-rock to quiet melodicism and ends with a spunky guitar breakdown.
James Brown — Let Yourself Go (The 50th Anniversary Collection): This is one of the Godfather of Soul’s early funk tunes. Or rather, this song is one of the bridges from Brown’s primal R & B to something a bit more fluid and grooving. Even in the early stages of developing funk, the depth of the arrangement is pretty amazing. And it would only get better from here.
The Hives — You Got It All…Wrong (The Black And White Album): I love how these guys have evolved without losing their garage-y essence. This song has great bursts of guitar but contrasts it with some relatively pretty guitar passages. This makes the driving parts of the song sound all the more rocking.
Ray, Goodman & Brown — Stay (The Best of Ray, Goodman & Brown): When the ’70s R & B vocal group The Moments ran into some contractual problems with their record label, they changed their name, signed with a major label and finally moved from the R & B charts to the pop charts. Their classic vocalizing had its roots in street corner doo-wop singing, best exemplified on their Top 5 smash “Special Lady”. This wasn’t a smash, but the smooth vocals and beautiful harmonies meld well with a mid-tempo song with a few disco production touches.
The Greenberry Woods — You Know The Real (Yellow Pills, Volume 3): The Woods had two major label albums in the ’90s, playing sweet power pop, falling somewhere between Jellyfish and Fountains Of Wayne. This outtake is featured on one of the classic Yellow Pills compilations, which are essential for power pop fans. This is a psychedelic pop number with an obvious Beatles influence. It features strong vocals from the Huseman brothers, who later went on to form Splitsville.
Muddy Waters — (I’m Your) Hoochie Coochie Man (The Anthology): Waters was an innovator, who was one of thousands of African-Americans who migrated from the Deep South to Chicago and brought the Delta Blues with them. Muddy was at the forefront of bringing the electric guitar to Mississippi blues and that has resonated throughout music, from contemporaries like Bo Diddley to Led Zeppelin to The White Stripes. This song is such a standard bearer. Even if you haven’t heard it before, you have heard before.
The Left Banke —I’ve Got Something On My Mind (There’s Gonna Be A Storm): The band that hit big in the ’60s with “Walk Away Renee” had plenty of other baroque pop delights. This song has massed harmony vocals and amazing keyboards (one of them kind of sounds like a harpsichord) and strings. The Left Banke has inspired a lot of modern orch-pop bands, such as The Ladybug Transistor.
The Lightning Seeds — Like You Do (Dizzy Heights): This British band, led by Ian Broudie, had a minor hit during the alt-rock era with a song called “Pure”. They were a Brit-pop band with a strong ’60s Swingin’ London vibe, but Broudie, who was also a successful producer, added lots of cool contemporary production tricks. This song is a dazzling showcase for Broudie’s songwriting, with its melodic twists and turns and inventive dense production, with strings, backing vocals, loads of percussion, and a whole lot more.
Billy Bragg — Moving the Goalposts (Don’t Try This At Home): A pretty number from Mr. Bragg, which belies the hangdog lyrics about love and romance. But, to be honest, the lyrics don’t fully hang together on this song, which isn’t typical for Billy. But the music makes it worthwhile.
They Might Be Giants — Hope That I Get Old Before I Die (They Might Be Giants): If you have any affinity for They Might Be Giants and haven’t seen the documentary Gigantic, by all means do so. It’s not earth shattering cinema, but it’s an affectionate look at John Linnell and John Flansburgh. The main premise of the film is how incredibly unlikely it is that the two Johns ever found a relatively large audience, and, you know, it is hard to believe. This silly nugget from the band’s debut has Linnell’s accordion up front and awkward drum machines playing a modified polka tempo. And it’s a lot of fun.