You’ve got to fight for your right to birthday party! Hey ladies (and gents), it’s a Beastie Boy b-boy b-day for Mike D. So get out your iPod/iTunes/MP3 player, put it on shuffle, then hold it now hit it, and share the first 10 tunes that come up with everyone.
Mandy Barnett — Falling Falling Falling (I’ve Got A Right To Cry): Mandy Barnett is a wonderful country vocalist who has, unfortunately, not recorded much. She put out a couple of records back in the ‘90s, but once those didn’t hit, she earns her dough playing Patsy Cline in a musical revue, and sometimes appearing at the Grand Ole Opry. And Patsy Cline is certainly one of the reference points. Mandy is a natural classic country singer. On this album, she works with Nashville session pros, and the result is a time warp — this loping honky-tonk number sounds like it could have come out in 1965.
Mott The Hoople — Crash Street Kidds (The Ballad Of Mott: A Retrospective):* Mott is often lumped in with the ‘70s Brit glam rockers, primarily due to their association with David Bowie, who wrote their breakthrough song, “All the Young Dudes”. But, for the most part, Mott didn’t have a glam sound. The bands songs were more in line with Bob Dylan and The Faces. They also had a proto-heavy metal side, more evident on their earliest work. This song edges towards that, powered by a crunchy guitar riff. The song also has a surprising use of dynamics, dropping into silence before launching into some more guitar tomfoolery.
Dogmatics — MTV O.D. (1981-86): In the wake of punk, there were bands all over America that played basic rock, but with a snotty edge. Once a while, a band like that became The Replacements. More often, the band was like Dogmatics. This music isn’t quite as retro as garage rock, but it works traditional elements in a fresh way. The band had relatively interesting lyrics, as on this slow bluesy dirge which laments a life wasted watching Quiet Riot and Martha Quinn for hours on end.
John Hiatt — I Could Use An Angel (All Of The Sudden): Hiatt is best known as a Adult Alternative pioneer, with a gruff voice and clever rootsy tunes. Before he broke through with Bring The Family in 1987, Hiatt was actually positioned as an American alternative to Elvis Costello, Graham Parker and Joe Jackson. His third and fourth records were very much in the Costello mode, but with thin production. That wasn’t a problem for his Geffen Records debut. Tony Visconti (production credits include David Bowie, T. Rex, Sparks, The Boomtown Rats) provided lush, dense backing for Hiatt’s snide, tense tunes. This is one of the best songs on the album, a propulsive slice of drama.
Prince — Dirty Mind (Dirty Mind): The early-‘80s were such a rich period musically, because so many artists were disregarding genre boundaries and bringing different styles together. Prince certainly did his part, bringing together his deep understanding of R & B and funk with the keyboard oriented sounds of the so-called New Wave. This produced fabulous pop music. I think one of the secrets is that the trebly keyboards and computer drums mixed with a heavier bottom that made Prince’s sturdy songs all the more appealing. This song works a constant chilly rhythm with just enough melody to make it work.
LCD Soundsystem — Thrills (LCD Soundsystem): I’m sure that somewhere in the world, there is an LCD Soundsystem backlash, but I haven’t seen it. Both LCD albums have been universally acclaimed. James Murphy has mastered a modern electronic dance music vocabulary, but he has a strong sense of history, so influences like Kraftwerk, David Bowie, Television and The Fall, just to name a few, pop up in his work. This song is a good fit after the Prince tune, as it also works a single rhythm to death, but Murphy layers the various percussive sounds and adds other variations to keep this lesser cut fairly interesting.
Hepcat — Mama Used To Say (Right On Time): This L.A. band played a more traditional R & B inflected version of ska than many of punkier ska outfits of the ‘90s. This really is more of a pure reggae number, with bright horns and sunny vocals. Singer Alex Desert was in the supporting cast of the shockingly long lived Ted Danson sitcom Becker.
The Young Nashvillians — Eagle Man (The Sad Smiles Of The Young Nashvillians): A lot of high school and college students got together to jam in basements throughout America. Some cut their teeth on “Gloria” or “2112”. Others wrote silly songs, inspired by some of the post-punk and New Wave sounds of the time. Most never recorded those songs, but The Young Nashvillians were discovered by members of The White Animals, a popular Nashville band of the early-‘80s, and they put out a couple of records, compiled onto one CD. The playing is suspect in spots, but, for the most part, it’s good enough. The songs are inspired fun. This is somewhere between white boy funk and The B-52s, with some relatively ambitious harmony vocals. Good stuff.
The Beach Boys — Girl Don’t Tell Me (Today!/Summer Days and Summer Nights): This is one of those pre-Pet Sounds songs that indicated what a terrific composer Brian Wilson was. This is an mid-tempo acoustic love lament that sounds simple on the surface, but is full of sophisticated melodic tricks. At different points, the melody rises and falls, in such an unconventional fashion, but without sounding dissonant or odd. This wasn’t a major hit for The Beach Boys, but it ranks among their best songs.
Peggy Lee — Don’t Smoke In Bed (Miss Peggy Lee): I think Peggy Lee has one of the sexiest voices ever. It’s honeyed and enticing, mixing a sweetness with a knowing edge. Her readings of lyrics are always brilliant. She captures the essence of the song. On this break up tune, she balances the sadness of leaving a relationship with the knowledge that she is doing the right thing. I’m no expert on torch and saloon singers, but that won’t stop me from declaring that next to Sinatra, Peggy Lee was the best pop singer of the pre-rock ‘n’ roll era.