Here in Chicago, folks like Frankie Knuckles and Ron Hardy got the house music scene going. And at the forefront of the second wave of Chicago house was none other than Felix da Housecat. In honor of a great contributor to Chicago’s musical legacy, please grab your iPod or MP3 player, hit shuffle and share the first 10 songs that come up.
Johnny Paycheck — Wherever You Are (The Real Mr. Heartache): The tough guy country singer, best known for “Take This Job and Shove It”, also had a tender side. This is a weepy honky tonk number well sung by Paycheck. I could easily here Buck Owens doing this, though he wouldn’t sound as pathetic as Paycheck.
The Oranges — White Cloud (Young Now): A bubblegummy ballad from a bubblegummy quartet of shag hair Japanese guys. The Oranges try to replicate the cuddly side of glam rock, a la Slik and Bay City Rollers. They wear colorful, garish (and, of course, coordinated) outfits, singing in their native tongue with the sporadic English phrase thrown in here or there. Very fun.
Robert Palmer — Give Me An Inch (The Very Best of the Island Years): Palmer explored various types of R & B and blues-styled rock during his career. This breezy song is pitched somewhere between Philly soul and Boz Scaggs (which is a fairly narrow crevice). Palmer got some stick from critics for his laid back approach, but for his fans, that was the appeal. He projected a certain intensity while never needing to shout. This is a really nice tune.
Neko Case — Blacklisted (Blacklisted): While Neko’s artistry continues to progress, I think the blend of country-western, desert rock and other American influences is pretty much perfect on her third album. The spacious backing music, with twangy guitars and light drumming provides plenty of space for her gigantic gorgeous voice.
Doves — The Sulphur Man (The Last Broadcast): More majestic melancholy from Doves, who just put out a best of compilation. These guys carved out a sound and just live in it. They might add a few wrinkles on a track or two on any given album, but generally it’s more downcast pop with hints of shoegaze and dance pop lurking underneath. Their music is so enveloping and warm, I’m surprised they aren’t a bigger band in the States.
The Fall — Choc-Stock (Dragnet): A ranty, wobbly Fall tune, with tinny production, off-key strummed guitars, plodding drums and a wandering bass line. All the better for Mark E. Smith to caterwaul to. Even admidst the atonal music, they conjure up a catchy sing-a-long refrain. A sadly overlooked Fall album. It’s really good.
E’Nuff Z’Nuff — Fly High Michelle (E’Nuff Z’Nuff): I’m sure it seemed like a good idea for this Blue Island band to hitch its wagon to the then burgeoning hair metal scene, but EZ was, at heart, a band that had a lot more in common with Cheap Trick and other power pop bands. Other than a few hair metal trappings, their songs have strong Beatle-esque melodies and strong vocals from Donnie Vie. This was the band’s big ballad, the second single from their debut album. It is a big assed pop song and holds up really well, thank you very much.
Jethro Tull — Songs for Jeffrey (Aqualung): I think this is a bonus track from one of Tull’s two acknowledged classic albums. Unlike other heavy bands of their era, who were blues based, Tull had more of a folk vibe (with some blues, sure). They just played their folk in a heavy, plodding style. A lot of bands have taken a crack at the Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath sounds — why can’t someone try to bring Tull into the 21st Century?
The Fall — Cheetham Hill (The Light User Syndrome): This is one of the best Fall albums, a one shot with Jet Records (the label Electric Light Orchestra recorded for). This was the second album of the second era with Mark E. Smith’s ex-wife, Brix Smith. Her presence has always resulted in catchier tunes that don’t neglect the odd musical stylings one associates with The Fall. This song has a strong melodic foundation, supported by a pea-soup disco beat and lots of mid-level industrial keyboard and guitar sounds that pop up from time to time. Mark E. is a little less excitable, enunciating as clearly as he ever has, while Brix brings in the chorus.
Sweet — Sixties Man (Waters Edge): From the penultimate Sweet album, and the band’s second as a trio, singer Brian Connolly having been kicked out of the band for his excessive drinking. On this album, Sweet reconstituted a pure pop band, leaving the pretensions of their prior two albums behind. They even relied on some outside songwriters, and some hack penned this ode to staying in the flower power mode forever, laden with pop culture references. Despite the lyrical banality, the tune is rather catchy and Steve Priest is a rather enthusiastic vocalist. This is poor man’s E.L.O. And I really dig it, nevertheless.