We’re one week away from Christmas, and if you’re stuck for a gift idea for those you really love, here’s an idea — a 100% blood transfusion, to help clean out the ol’ system, or what those in the transfusion business call The Keith Richards Special. Keith turns 66 today, and doesn’t look a day under 80. This man, who has done more than any one individual to prop up the economies of Colombia, Afghanistan and Jamaica, defies death every day. Perhaps he made a pact with the tortured soul of Robert Johnson to keep the blues alive. Or maybe he’s just lucky. Regardless, Keith keeps rocking on, and so should you. So grab your iPod or MP3 player, hit shuffle, and, in honor of one of the Glimmer Twins, share the first 10 songs that come up with the world.
Smokey Robinson & The Miracles — I Can’t Stand To See You Cry (Anthology): This is one of those heart melting ballads that Smokey mastered (by that I mean perfected, not actually mastering the recording). This is the song that you are supposed to play when you get into a spat with your significant other. Left unsaid in the song is what Smokey did to cause his lady to cry.
Robyn Hitchcock — Do Policeman Sing? (Black Snake Diamond Role): The recent Yep Roc Hitchcock reissues gave me a chance to revisit the bastard child of Syd Barrett, Bob Dylan and John Lennon (not sure how that worked, but I’m sure it happened). And I found that I had been taking Robyn for granted, as he has so many great songs. This is a silly track from Robyn’s second solo album, which doesn’t sound too far away with some of XTC’s material from around the same era. But Andy Partridge wouldn’t write this: “And are policeman gay?/Depends on what you mean/They are not lewd or queer/but they all dig the queen.” At least I don’t think so.
The Dickies — She Loves Me Not (Dawn Of The Dickies): Speaking of silly, they don’t much goofier than this L.A. pop-punk band that has been playing out for over 30 years. This is from their second, and best, album, which combines frothy, somewhat glammy pop tunes with adrenaline bursts of punk aggression (with a smiley face). This is one of those latter songs.
Times New Viking — My Head (Rip It Off): Times New Viking is at the forefront of a number of contemporary artists who are not just low-fi, but in your face low-fi. The band writes simple retro pop songs (somewhere in between Guided By Voices and Ramones, at least on this one) and not only records them like crap, but does so with the needle not merely pushed into the red, but pushed beyond it. This is a fairly decent song which kind of reminds me of Outrageous Cherry and The Like Young. But as an overall aesthetic approach, it’s seems purposeless — if you can’t write a challenging or irritating song, record your simple song in an irritating fashion. It’s debatable if this enhances the song or even meshes well with the composition, as opposed, for example, to the ultra-feedback approach of the Jesus & Mary Chain, where the excess noise was tailored to the track.
The Who — The Real Me (Quadrophenia): This is probably my second favorite Who album (The Who Sell Out being the first). As a story, the thing is a mess, but here, Pete Townshend’s proggier aspirations were held in check by the obvious empathy he had for the semi-autobiographical protagonist, Jimmy. The end result is gigantic, important songs that manage to fall one step shy of self-indulgence. It helps that Roger Daltrey is in prime form, Keith Moon finds a way to shoehorn his maniac tendencies in a more controlled environment (creating some real teacher) and John Entwhistle outdoes himself. Indeed, The Ox’s bass playing on this song is amazing.
Bobby Womack — Lookin’ For A Love (Can You Dig It? The ’70s Soul): A nifty soul gem from the well-respected Bobby Womack. His voice is a bit gritty while the backing is a tad more urbane. This was later covered by The J. Geils Band, and was an FM radio staple in the ’70s.
King Missile — The Boy Who Ate Lasagna and Could Jump Over a Church (The Way To Salvation): I wonder if John S. Hall, the poet/singer for King Missile, ever hung out with Robyn Hitchcock. Hall would sometimes sing, but usually, as on this song, he would narrate a poem in a matter of fact matter while his mates provided sufficient backing. The title of this song is halfway deceptive.
Hank Williams — I’d Still Want You (The Complete Hank Williams): This song is in the same vein as a number of Hank’s classics, both structurally and melodically. Williams writes in simple four line verses, getting right into the chorus. There’s a pithy middle eight after the second and third choruses. It’s all so economical and perfect. And he even provides a little bit of that ol’ Hank moan. This is a good song to play after the Smokey tune, as it’s a song of total devotion.
Squeeze — Pulling Mussels (From a Shell) (Argybargy): Around 1982 or so, there were critics who mentioned Chris Difford and Glen Tilbrook in the same breath as Lennon-McCartney. Yeah, that was a bit over the top. But at their peak, Difford and Tilbrook wrote literate songs full of creative melodies and crammed with hooks. This song is a vaguely new wavey pub rock number with a great guitar solo followed by a nifty turn at the piano by the one and only Jools Holland. This is textbook pop songwriting.
The Dambuilders — Delaware (Encendedor): During the height of the alternative rock frenzy, major labels signed any band who might appear to have credibility. The Dambuilders never equaled the quality of this major label debut. This song, like a lot of the band’s work, mixed indie pop sensibilities with some burst of guitars, with the added bonus of Joan Wasser (a/k/a Joan As Policewoman) on violin. While certain aspects of this record are pure early ’90s, this sounds, for the most part, like it could have come out this year.