The Queen of Motown, the voice behind dozens upon dozens of classic hits fronting the Supremes, and an accomplished solo artist celebrates a birthday today. So let’s all raise a sonic toast to Diana Ross, by grabbing your iPod/MP3 player, hitting shuffle and sharing the first 10 tunes that come up.
The Monochrome Set — Martians Go Home (Tomorrow Will Be Too Long): The Monochrome Set were on the poppier side of the post-punk spectrum, playing cool tunes with circular rhythms. This might appeal to fans of early XTC, Orange Juice and Josef K. This is a short, peppy tune with a number of tempos crammed into just over 2 minutes.
The Castaways — Liar Liar (Nuggets: Original Artyfacts of the Psychedelic Era): A great organ fueled garage rock tune. This is definitely a song that is two parts R & B and one part psychedelia. The playing is just tight enough to be good, but amateur enough to give it a real charm. Debbie Harry did a swell cover of this song. I’m sure it was an influence on early Blondie.
Johnny Cash — I Still Miss Someone (The Legend): Not one of Johnny’s best know songs, but this is in his classic style. His drawling vocal, the twanging guitar, the light shuffle rhythm and bluesy song. Great stuff.
Ted Nugent — Cat Scratch Fever (Cat Scratch Fever): Sweaty Teddy’s sole Top 40 hit on an album that was streamlined for maximum 1977 radio play. Or was it 1978? Yes, I know Nugent is a right wing cartoon now, but he used to be a mainstream cartoon, playing catch blues based rock with a sense of humor. And he’s a pretty good guitarist.
Solomon Burke — Stepchild (Don’t Give Up On Me): Burke’s “comeback” album merely had better known songwriters providing material on an album that has excellent production. Burke never retired and his voice weathered just enough that it really had never sounded better. This is a simple blues song and his phrasing is so fantastic. There’s no one quite like him.
The Beach Boys — Good To My Baby (Today!/Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!)): Prime pre-Pet Sounds Beach Boys, where Brian Wilson’s increasing sophistication is evident in the number of different musically ideas in this song, the great backing vocal arrangements and the sublime percussive resolution to the chorus. It turns a big hook into a monolithic hook.
Bob Dylan — On The Road Again (Bringing It All Back Home): From Dylan’s early electric phase, this is a pretty silly song about getting away from home. People who criticize Beck for the lack of substance to his lyrics should listen to this song and you can see that Beck took this “let’s see what I can rhyme” approach to its logical conclusion.
Urge Overkill — The Candidate (The Supersonic Storybook): One of the best songs from this Chicago alt-rock band. The song subverts ’70s hard rock with a subtle funkiness and infuses that with a strong sense of drama. The song is surprising melodic and poignant. The video is well worth checking out — it was directing by a college pal of mine, Paul Andresen, and my first college radio music director, the late, great Ken Krause, is briefly featured as a bartender in a scene that was shot at the bar Crash Palace, which is where Delilah’s is now located.
The Pillbugs — The Cat Who Dropped the Bomb (The 3-Dimensional In-Popcycle Dream): This Ohio band has been cranking out fantastic psychedelic pop for years. This might be their best album, which touches on everyone from The Beatles to Electric Light Orchestra to bands to obscure for the Nuggets collections. Most of their songs, but for the modern recording techniques, could pass for authentic ’60s songs.
XTC — The Man Who Sailed Around His Soul (Skylarking): A fantastic Andy Partridge composition from the album most folks deem the band’s high water mark. This is the first XTC song to have a real pronounced jazz influence — it’s got finger snapping cool, awesome percussion and cool keyboard and wind instrument accompaniments. Indeed, Todd Rundgren outdid himself in the arrangement, giving this song a full soundscape for all of its spectacular faux drama.