Philip Seymour Hoffman is an actor, sure, but he’s also got some rock and roll in him. Whether it’s his first big appearance in Boogie Nights, his Oscar winning turn in Capote, playing a DJ in that pirate radio movie, or his fantastic portrayal of legendary rock critic Lester Bangs in Almost Famous, Hoffman has rocked. Accordingly, let’s celebrate his birthday by grabbing an iPod or MP3 player, hitting shuffle and sharing the first ten songs that come up.
The Boomtown Rats — Mood Mambo (Mondo Bongo): Coming on the heels of the twin successes of Tonic For The Troops and The Fine Art Of Surfacing, this Irish rock band turned from new wave pop to more of a post-punk direction, incorporating more world music influences into their sound. The opening cut off of Mondo Bongo made this obvious, with its crazy percussion and rubbery basslines. This song is not very faithful to Afrobeat, but that’s okay, as it works well with Bob Geldof’s stream of consciousness lyrics. While the Rats never fully turned away from catchy pop rock, this track announced that they were going to find more interesting ways to do it.
Catherine Wheel — Judy Staring at the Sun (Happy Days): This is a warm melodic piece from the British band, with Tanya Donnelly of Belly accompanying Rob Dickinson on vocals at points during the track. This is a very insinuating track with an understated yet intense lead vocal from Dickinson and a wonderful pop chorus. This song always feels like it’s on the verge of exploding, and even with a spirited guitar solo, the tension between the sweet melody and the seething undercurrents makes it very compelling.
The Saints — Memories Are Made of This (Eternally Yours): The first two Saints albums are blistering punk classics, with furious guitars over R & B fueled songs. The band then shifted a bit, keeping the R & B base and extreme intensity, but using more acoustic guitars. This tune from the second album basically foretold the direction The Saints would maintain for the next 20 years. This song has a grandeur and a great lead vocal from Chris Bailey, who had very little range but a compelling personality.
Public Enemy — You’re Gonna Get Yours (Yo! Bum Rush The Show): This song is about Chuck D.‘s Oldsmobile 98, and the samples fromThe Bomb Squad give this tune the feel of a cinematic car chase. This is the first track on Public Enemy’s debut album and it announced a truly unique group. Chuck D.‘s authoritative voice, the contrast of Flavor Flav (who is a bit limited on this track) and the constant energy of the music tracks. Yet this sounds positively primitive compared to the album that followed it.
Hot Chocolate — Brother Louie (Every 1’s A Winner: The Best of Hot Chocolate): The first big British hit for this multi-ethinic pop/soul band who later scored in the U.S. with “You Sexy Thing”. This dramatic tale of interracial lovers was covered by The Stories, and was a smash here two. The Stories’ version has a much more over-the-top vocal, whereas here, Hot Chocolate is a bit more low key. Moreover, this version has two spoken word interludes, where the lovers’ parents explain how they don’t want either a “honky” or a “spook” in their family. I think this version, which is much more in the urban soul vein of Issac Hayes and The Temptations, is superior. It’s one hell of a song.
Free — Travelling Man (Molten Gold: The Anthology): Free is pretty much only remember for one song, “Alright Now”, but they put out a lot of swell blues rock records int he ’70s. Unlike Paul Rodgers’ next group, Bad Company, Free was not as decidely commercial, though the music was certainly accessible. This song showcases a great Rogers vocal and some nifty lead guitar work. This is music for people who wish Led Zeppelin hadn’t been quite so bombastic.
Blur — Trouble in the Message Centre (Parklife): For a few albums, Blur reached Brit-pop perfection, mixing trenchant (but rarely condescending) observations about middle class life with music that followed in the footsteps of everyone from The Kinks to Madness to XTC. This song is a bit new wavey and behind the glossy mid-tempo pop, there’s a hint of sadness.
The Oranges — Saturday Night (Right To Chews: Bubblegum Classics Revisited): This Japanese ’70s bubbleglam revivalist band was clearly inspired by The Bay City Rollers, so having them do the Rollers best known tune on a bubblegum tribute was a natural. Since the band usually does not sing entirely in English, this track shows they can handle the second language. More importantly, they have a ball with this dumb fun classic.
Air Miami — I Hate Milk (Me, Me, Me): This side project from Mark Robinson of Unrest was a mix of hyper-caffienated pop numbers with some dreamier detours. This lead track from the band’s sole album simply percolates with energy. The verses are static buzzing guitars and crimped drumming which opens up in the chorus (“Please, please, someone kill me soon” — upbeat!), while retaining the stifling repetitive chords in the background. Paranoid fun.
The Shazam — Fallin’ All Around Me (Tomorrow The World): The third Shazam album should have broke them. Little Steven had been playing them on his show and Hans Rotenberry crafted a great mix of rocking power pop and mid-tempo charmers that sounded like lost ’70s rock classics. This song falls in the latter category, sounding like a Cheap Trick song leavened with a little California Laurel Canyon pop. One of about six should-have-been hits on this excellent album.