What’s the iPod/MP3 Shuffle? It’s just a way to get people to share music and foster some discussion. I started doing this on my Facebook page a while back and it’s been great seeing friends exchange comments on each others lists. Every Friday, I get out my 120 GB iPod (which has about 24,000 songs now), hit shuffle and write about the first 10 songs that come up. Sometimes the 10 songs are kind of conventional, sometimes there’s a lot of obscure stuff. So check mine out and please add your own shuffle or discuss other people’s shuffles!
Everybody knows that she was a femme fatale — the late, great Nico, whose model-tastic looks and chilly vocals added a sophisticated yet decadent dimension to the early work of the Velvet Underground. In her honor, let’s celebrate by grabbing your iPod/iTunes/MP3 player, hitting shuffle and sharing the first 10 tunes that come up (no cheating!) with everyone!
Madness — The Sun and the Rain (Ultimate Collection): This is majestic, ’60s Beatles/Kinks/Move inspired Brit-pop balladry at its best. This came out in America on the Keep Moving album, but I don’t think it was included on the British version. This is keyed by the piano and is augmented by horns and strings, propelling this song into lush pop heaven. There isn’t a moment on this song that isn’t melodically appealing and it ranks up there with the best of this brilliant band.
Stevie Wonder — Girl Blue (Music Of My Mind): I’m still in catch up mode on Stevie’s amazing run of ’70s albums. This song combines a pretty melody that has been stretched out, and has a bit of a psychedelic vibe to it. Not only is Stevie’s vocal a bit distorted, but he sings over spare ornamentation with lots of creative drumming used to fill in the ample sonic space. He could have tightened this up into a happy pop song, but instead decided to go for something more textured.
The Model Rockets — The Dress Up Girls (Tell The Kids The Cops Are Here): This Seattle band plays fun jangly pop rock with whimsical lyrics. This music touches on pub rock, power pop and some of the ’60s British Invasion. Nothing earth shattering, but it raises a smile.
The Jam — Private Hell (Direction, Reaction, Creation): They started out as a punked up Mod band, and really progressed so much. This song, originally on Setting Sons, matches classic Townshend/Davies quality pop craft with a doomy, post-punkish approach in the verses. Rick Buckler lays down a steady beat, Paul Weller plays atmospheric guitar chords, and Bruce Foxton is a bass fiend on this song, providing clever melodic and rhythmic accents. This is a song The Stone Roses had to have listened to a lot.
The Pointed Sticks — Somebody’s Mom (Waiting For The Real Thing): This late-‘70s Vancouver punk-pop band comes with the endorsement of Jack Rabid of The Big Takeover Magazine. They offer a different approach than either Buzzcocks or The Undertones, while having similar virtues. This song is angular and kind of new wavey. And, compared to a lot of their material, it is in the vein of Buzzcocks and Wire, with the clipped guitar line.
Robyn Hitchcock — The Devil’s Radio (Moss Elixir): Robyn is becoming a shuffle regular. This is off my favorite of his solo records. This album isn’t as stripped down as the previous Eye, but it had Robyn going back to the basics, stripping some of the gloss that was on the last couple of albums he did with The Egyptians. This is simply a very inviting folkie tune, with just the right amount ornamentation to supplement Robyn’s voice and guitar.
Harry Nilsson — Cuddly Toy (Legendary Harry Nilsson): This frothy pop concoction was first recorded by The Monkees, a bouncy ditty that was tailor made for the voice of Davy Jones. Nilsson’s version isn’t nearly as produced, but the strength of the song is apparent. The fact that this song is dissing a groupie for having sex with a whole lot of guys is masked by the seemingly innocent metaphors used by Nilsson (“You’re not the only choo choo train/who was left out in the rain/the day after Santa came.”) makes it quite disturbing.
Sparks — Academy Award Performance (Number One In Heaven): This 1979 album is most influential album that nobody has ever heard of. At an artistic and commercial crossroads, Ron and Russell Mael heard Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love” and immediately sought out the track’s producer, Giorgio Moroder. The three collaborated on what was an historic electronic dance album. The combination of sequenced electronics, heavy BPMs and Russell Mael’s soaring falsetto announced the beginning of Hi-NRG dance music and provided inspiration for countless synth-pop duos like Pet Shop Boys and Erasure, and singers like Jimmy Sommerville of Bronski Beat. This pulsating track is about sexual role playing and faking orgasm. Really.
The Fall — Hey! Student (Middle Class Revolt): This was an old Fall song (1977’s “Hey Fascist”) revived and rewritten a bit for their 1994 Middle Class Revolt album. This brings back memories of the band’s creaky take on rockabilly, but it’s a little bit faster and a little bit more forceful. And Mark E. Smith is at the forefront, spitting out the lyrics with his patented sneer.
Ultimate Fakebook — Soaked In Cinnamon (This Will Be Laughing Week): This Kansas band was fun to see live — the singer was a bespectacled geeky looking sort, while the rhythm section looked like the jocks who would have beaten him up freshman year in high school. This album was released on an indie and got picked up by a major. I’m sure the thought is that they could tap into the same audience as Weezer. That’s a facile comparison, but this is a band that is clearly informed by The Replacements and Cheap Trick. This song has a real strong guitar riff, which combines with a neck snapping stop-start rhythm, with a great melody to boot.