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Entries on the topic of “Ipod” 220 results

Mike Bennett writesFriday iPod/MP3 Shuffle—Happy Birthday Chan Marshall Edition

Happy Birthday, Cat Power! Yes, Chan Marshall turns 38 today. It’s been a long, winding journey for Ms. Marshall, starting out working with members of Sonic Youth and Two Dollar Guitar on oddly written songs, gaining more notoriety, dropping out, coming back, developing a reputation for erratic live performance and eventually breaking through to a larger audience, playing blues based rock that spotlighted her wonderful voice. Moreover, it seems like she is finding herself on stage and overcoming personal problems. Thus, the best may still be to come. In Chan/Cat’s honor, get out your iPod,, hit shuffle and please share the first ten songs that come up.

  1. The Everly Brothers — I Wonder If I Care As Much (24 Original Classics): A lesser known Everly song which starts off with a strong lead guitar snippet before heading into pretty harmony territory. The melody of this song and the arrangement seem like a big influence on the British beat groups, especially The Searchers and The Hollies. I should check to see if they covered this. The electric guitar part really provides a nice contrast to the self-flagellating pathos of the lyrics.
  2. Frisbie — Shakin’ The Tree (New Debut): The second iteration of this great Chicago band was a bit more rock, even though the original line up rocked quite a bit. This is a great example of the band’s smart approach to pop, with precise parts played by each member. Indeed, this song may sound simple on the surface, but it was actual one of the more difficult tunes for the band to pull off live. While not the type of anthemic roof raiser that Frisbie built its reputation on, this is a great display of how you can have a bit of an art-pop edge without losing accessibility.
  3. Steve Dawson — Goodbye (I Will Miss The Trumpets And The Drums): Dawson, the lead singer of Dolly Varden, has made two top notch solo albums. On each album, he makes some forays into R & B inflected pop. This is right in the wheelhouse of his wonderful white soul voice, which is reminiscent of singers such as Darryl Hall and Van Morrison. This song is somewhere between Memphis and Philly, with a sublime middle eight.
  4. Chris Stamey — Kierkegaard (Travels In The South): Speaking of soul, Chris Stamey let some R & B influences seep into his Carolina power pop on this album. That is certainly true on this number, where he also busts out some impressive lead guitar licks, augmented by a Hammond organ. These R & B touches merely frame the primary melody, which is more in the wistful vein of Stamey’s earlier solo work. And yes, the song definitely touches on philosophy.
  5. The Clash — Groovy Times (Super Black Market Clash): This song first came out in the U.S. on a bonus 7-inch single that came with the band’s self-titled debut. This song is more in the vein of Give ‘Em Enough Rope or London Calling, with Joe Strummer declaiming over a spry rhythm and acoustic guitars. This song is much more in the vein of Clash heroes like Mott The Hoople and even includes a Spanish guitar solo. Not a great Clash song, but an interesting one nevertheless.
  6. The New Pornographers — Moves (Together): There is a bit of Electric Light Orchestra influence in the ominous chords that begin this song, which A.C. Newman contrasts with one of his chirpiest melodies. This is one song where Newman has the lead vocal, but Neko Case’s accompaniment nearly dominates. Moreover, Newman finds a way to throw in three or four different catchy parts and blends them expertly.
  7. Richard & Linda Thompson — A Heart Needs A Home (The Best of Richard & Linda Thompson): The gossamer voice of Linda Thompson over a song that’s three parts bluesy rock and one part folk, with Richard supplying tasteful lead guitar ornamentation. This would be a great song for Mavis Staples to cover, as there is a great soul song wanting to burst out of this tune.
  8. Eurythmics — Love Is A Stranger (Sweet Dreams): The band’s second hit single is icy synth-pop perfection. Annie Lennox is simultaneously angelic and sinister, showing amazing vocal control, starting out low key, and slowly picking up her intensity as the tune goes on. The electronic percussion track is also brilliant, mixing a few different parts into pulse that gives the song momentum. A true classic.
  9. The Gun Club — The Master Plan (The Las Vegas Story): While not acknowledged as a classic, the final proper Gun Club record cements them as a band that blew up the blues to cinematic proportions, with big guitar parts and stomping percussion and the out of control vocals of Jeffrey Lee Pierce. This is a dramatic instrumental.
  10. Sagittarius — The Keeper of the Games (Present Tense): This legendary soft-pop aggregation was the creation of producers Gary Usher and Curt Boettcher, who composed pretty harmony infused pop with a baroque feel. The result was a more psychedelic variation on what bands like The Beach Boys and The Association were doing. This is an instantly memorable song that is sadly, only a couple minutes long.

Share January 21, 2011 Share on Facebook Tweet This!

Topics: cat power, ipod, mp3

Mike Bennett writesFriday iPod/MP3 Shuffle—Happy Birthday LL Cool J Edition

While Krush Groove is a so-so hip-hop movie, there are two essential scenes in the movie: 1) watching The Fat Boys sing “All You Can Eat” in a Sbarro’s pizza place, and, 2) the galvanizing performance by a young LL Cool J of “I Can’t Live Without My Radio”. L.L. was a nice middle class boy with a great flow who played his part in giving hip hop more mass appeal. He was a malleable rapper who would rap over anything, whether it was Rick Rubin’s hard beats or a soppy ballad like “I Need Love”. While he wasn’t the first to rap over live instruments, when he did so on MTV Unplugged, he helped show how hip hip was really music. Sure, LL has cashed in his charisma to mediocre acting gigs and line of Sears’ clothing, but you can’t take away his significant legacy. In James T. Smith’s honor, everyone should grab his or her iPod or MP3 player, hit shuffle, and share the first 10 tunes that come up:

  1. Solomon Burke — Don’t Give Up On Me (Don’t Give Up On Me): After Burke’s passing, I picked up a compliation of his classic singles and got an even fuller understanding of why some consider him the best soul singer of all-time. His mix of smoothness and grit and how he, nearly as much as Ray Charles, brought the sounds of the African-American church into pop music, and his incredible phrasing made him a true original. Yet as great as those songs are, this Grammy winning comeback album, in my opinion, stands as Solomon’s best work, as the songs were all terrific and he kept becoming a better singer, knowing when and how to deploy his many gifts. This is a passionate song sung passionately.
  2. Dusty Springfield — Just One Smile (Dusty In Memphis): Speaking of soul, Dusty Springfield did a great job of mixing it in with more standard Bacharach style pop. Her voice is pure but has a slight roughness in it that gives her readings of songs a lot of feeling. This song, with its strings, is very cosomopolitan, and Dusty makes it more than just a pop song, investing her all into it.
  3. Jacques Dutronc — Les Metamorphoses (Et Moi Et Moi Et Moi): This ’60s French pop star got a lot of mileage out of loping, jangly songs sung with a bit of Dylan-ish phrasing. This song makes a good use of reverb on the guitar and even some reverb on Dutronc’s vocals in the refrain (a la Donovan’s “Hurdy Gurdy Man”).
  4. The dB’s — Espionage (Stands For Decibels): If you want to hear the influence of Big Star’s Radio City album on a power pop tune, this dB’s classic is a great example. Chris Stamey takes inspiration from the odd time signatures and shifts and comes up with a song whose melody drawls as much as Stamey’s North Carolina accent. Using a telegraph keyboard line and Will Rigby’s on the verge of falling apart drumming with some spy movie guitar, the band monkeys around with these simple pieces, while not neglecting a rousing chorus. Incredible song.
  5. Nada Surf — Inside Of Love (Let’s Go): Nada Surf kind of fits into the wealth of bands who took a lot of notes while spinning Radiohead’s The Bends. But instead of taking the Coldplay route and simplifying the approach and upping the bombast, Nada Surf dive into the emotional center of the sound, finding a midpoint between Radiohead of that era and bands like Death Cab For Cutie. This is a typically heartfelt and memorable tune.
  6. John Lennon — Borrowed Time (Lennon Legend): One of the last tracks Lennon recorded. This has a slight reggae feel to it. It’s pretty consistent with the other songs he made in the end of his life, as the composition is pretty simple but, of course, the song is certainly catchy. Not a classic by any means.
  7. Mission Of Burma — The Mute Speaks Out (The Obliterati): This is my favorite of the three MoB reunion albums, as the songs are grounded in the foundation of their classic sound, but they aren’t hemmed into it. This instrumental has some lovely guitar work from Roger Miller, while Clint Conley’s bass manages to both support the guitar work melodically while also adding a harder edge to the repeating guitar figures. Peter Prescott does a great job of pushing this song, which keeps building and building, while not overshadowing the dominant elements of the track. I think there are very few bands who I enjoy hear playing more than Burma, and this song is a great example of why, as all of the members play their roles perfectly.
  8. XTC — Knights In Shining Karma (Apple Venus, Volume 1): This album contains so many swelling and dramatic songs, this restrained Andy Partridge number is lost in the shuffle (but not this shuffle!). It’s not a classic, but it is a pretty and haunting song, whose sparse instrumentation gives it a sad beauty that pulls at the heartstrings. And it’s a nice respite from the more orchestral songs on the album.
  9. Elliot Smith — Bled White (XO): I could add Elliot Smith to the comparisons I made above with Nada Surf. Elliot Smith mixed folk with splendid melodies that ranked up there with folks like Paul McCartney and Harry Nilsson. XO is my fave Smith album, because the quality of the production is just right, making every song as full as it needs to be.
  10. Superchunk — Tiny Bombs (Come Pick Me Up): Remember when Superchunk was referred to by some folks as emo? I think it’s slower numbers like this that led to such a designation, which no one uses any more. As welcome as Superchunk’s most recet album was, with them rocking out on every track, one of the things that made Superchunk beloved was how they weren’t content just to bash out the three-chord winners, adding so much depth and dimension to their sound. This song is so basic, with the bass and drums carrying, with simple lead guitar ornamentation while Mac emotes like only he can, in that awkward warble.

Share January 14, 2011 Share on Facebook Tweet This!

Topics: ipod, mp3

Mike Bennett writesFriday iPod/mP3 Shuffle—Happy Birthday Kathy Valentine Edition

The Go-Go’s were a historic band. There had been other all-female bands, such as Fanny, The Joy Of Cooking and The Runaways, but none had ever had a real hit. The Go-Go’s changed that, managing to combine a fun persona with convincing rock music. Kathy Valentine was the last piece necessary before The Go-Go’s took off, her steady bass combining with Gina Schock’s energetic drumming to fuel the band’s classic songs. So in honor Kathy’s birthday (and The Go-Go’s in general), grab your iPod/MP3 player, hit shuffle and share the first 10 tunes that come up.

  1. Neko Case — Rated X (The Tigers Have Spoken): This live album showcases, at times, the more purely country aspect of Case. And nothing could be more purely country than a cover of a Loretta Lynn classic. Case tears into it with gusto, showing off the same honky-tonk skills that came to the fore on her debut album, The Virginian.
  2. The Hotrats — Damaged Goods (Turn Ons): This is Gaz and Danny of Supergrass, doing a bunch of covers. The album title is a bit of a tip of the hat to David Bowie’s all-covers album, Pin Ups. On almost every song, the Rats try a different arrangement. Sometimes, the rearrangement is a bit radical, other times it’s slight. It’s almost like they challenged themselves to tweak the songs without destroying what makes them special. That holds true for this Gang Of Four cover. Only at the end do they introduce the familiar jagged guitar, relying on the bass to provide a funk aspect, while accompanying it with an acoustic guitar. This remake eventually comes closer to the original and retains its catchiest elements, making for a nice reinvention.
  3. They Might Be Giants — The Guitar (The Lion Sleeps Tonight) (Apollo 18): Three covers in a row? Of course, They Might Be Giants reinvent the African song, giving it a faux ’70s R & B vibe and then changing the lyrics up. Moreover, there’s a subtle use of dynamics, with the verses horn fueled, contrasted with the quiet chorus, sung by special guest Laura Cantrell (who later became known for acclaimed alt-country records).
  4. Elton John — I’m Still Standing (Jump Up!): Even as his star waned in the latter half of the ’70s, Elton John still had hit records, they just dwelt in the bottom part of the Top 40. Who would have thought that Elton John would benefit from MTV. While always a flamboyant performer, one would not think a pudgy heading to middle-age pianist could captivate viewers. But this song pretty much revived Elton as a commercial force, because of the dynamic video that managed to have lots of crazy visuals and still showed off the artist’s personality. And the song was pretty damned good too, and a perfect vehicle to launch a comeback.
  5. Supergrass — Moving (Supergrass): The lead track off of the underrated third album from this great British pop band. This album showed the band further moving away from wise ass pop songs and showing a real maturity. Gaz Coombes’ melodies have always had a melancholy undercurrent and this really comes to the forefront. This song starts off pretty and then adds a spirited R & B middle eight, and then bounces from the lusher sounds to the more robust parts. Great track.
  6. Masters Of Reality — Tilt-A-Whirl (Sunrise On The Sufferbus): For a brief period, it looked like Masters Of Reality were going to bring an old school hard rock sound back into vogue. On this second album, Goss signed on legendary drummer Ginger Baker, and this album is the next best thing to a Cream reunion (perhaps even better), with peppy blues based songs that mix a bit of heaviness with a deft touch. Goss has been a direct influence on Josh Homme of Queens Of The Stone Age, who carried on the Masters’ mission of keeping a blues base and traditional ’70s elements in hard rock/heavy metal.
  7. Bad Religion — 21st Century (Digital Boy) (Stranger Than Fiction): This is a mid-tempo rant (as opposed to the band’s usual speedy rants) that became an alternative radio hit in 1994. The song was a re-recording of a song that came out on a prior album. While I love this album (and a lot of Bad Religion fans think that this was the beginning of things going downhill), but think this is actual one of the lesser songs.
  8. Adrian Belew — Laughing Man (Desire Of The Rhino King): This comes from a compilation of Belew’s initial solo records for Island. These albums showed off the three main sides of Belew the solo artist: 1) the guy who was in King Crimson, doing slightly more accessible takes on his work in that band, 2) a Beatles’ loving pop artist with a bit of a psychedelic jones, making memorable songs, and 3) a former Zappa sideman who liked to noodle around with cool guitar sounds. This song fits in Category 3, as it’s a sweet instrumental. The keyboard sound is very reminiscent of Todd Rundgren.
  9. The Easybeats — Let Me Be (The Definitive Anthology): An early Easybeats tune, this is basic blues rock/pop. The song sort of chugs along with a solid vocal from Stevie Wright. This isn’t too far away from what the early Who was doing, but it’s much more subdued.
  10. Generation X — Ready, Steady, Go (Perfect Hits 1975-1981): The band that gave Billy Idol his start seems to have been forgotten. And while they weren’t quite up to the level of Buzzcocks, The Boys and The Undertones, they had a bunch of great poppy punk songs. While Idol didn’t have a great voice, even early on he had the personality. This is nearly bubblegummy, nicking the title from the old UK pop performance show. Fun!

Share January 7, 2011 Share on Facebook Tweet This!

Topics: ipod, mp3

Mike Bennett writesFriday iPod/MP3 Shuffle—Happy Birthday Paul Westerberg Edition

Certainly one of the most beloved and influential bands from the American indie world of the ’80s, The Replacements are legendary for their early bratty records, their unpredictable live shows, their indie swan song (the classic Let It Be) and their maturation on Sire Records. And the straw who stirred most of the Placemats’ drinks was frontman Paul Westerberg. The speed at which his songwriting grew is amazing, if you compare a song from Stink to something like “Unsatisfied”. He has settled down into comfortable adulthood, putting out records that still please his adoring core of fans. Let’s celebrate Paul the only way we know how — by getting your iPod or MP3 player, hitting shuffle, and sharing the first 10 tunes that come up.

  1. Paul Nicholas — Heaven on the Seventh Floor (Have a Nice Day – Volume 24): A cheesy fun 1977 Top 40 hit from this British singer/actor who also appeared in the film version of Tommy (as cousin Kevin). This song seems perfect for the Me Decade and notions of free love, casual sex and songs with a light disco feel.
  2. Judas Priest — Metal Gods (The Essential Judas Priest): Judas Priest? Metal Gods? Isn’t that redundant. What intrigues me about the Priest, is that their earlier material, which was very much in the vein of heavy metal of that era, was very good. But they seemed to find a foothold during the New Wave of Heavy Metal, and found a way to mix the usual hammer and tongs approach with defter compositions and rhythms. This song is a prime example. The Glen Tipton/K.K. Downing guitar combo is as heavy as ever, but the rhythm section is playing a pea soup beat that could fit on a dance record (if speeded up a bit). And the chorus is delightfully subtle. Yes, they are Metal Gods.
  3. Steve Wynn — Wait Until You Get To Know Me (Crossing Dragon Bridge): This is a self-deprecating waltz tempoed tune. Wynn bangs out the rhythm on his acoustic, his vocals are overmodulated and double tracked, and a wobbly lead jazz guitar line holds it all together. This is a song about a guy trying to take advantage of beer goggles near closing time and the sleazy aspect of the lyric is captured by the music.
  4. Bo Diddley — Say Man (I’m A Man —- The Chess Masters 1955-1958): One day, Bo Diddley and his maracas player Jerome Green started throwing down the dozens over a Latin rhythm. The dozens is an African-American tradition of two men taking turns throwing down (hopefully!) good natured insults at each other. They rolled some tape on this, it captured the public’s imagination, and Bo found himself back on the Top 40 charts. He came back to this format again and again, often taking both roles by speeding up his voice to provide one of the competitors.
  5. King Khan & The Shrines — Que Lindo Sueno (The Supreme Genious Of): One thing I love about King Khan is how thorough his love of R & B is. While he’s best known for James Brown style frat rockers, he does it all, forging ahead behind his powerful personality. This song has a gentle samba beat, driving horns, spy movie guitar and a typically engaged vocal. Cool stuff.
  6. Orange Juice — Moscow Olympics (The Glasgow School): Edwyn Collins’ recent come back after two strokes and the new Orange Juice box set have brought well deserved attention to one of the greatest Scottish rock bands ever. Collins had a knack for combining accessible R & B foundations with classic post-punk style guitars and melodies, making something familiar sound just a little bit off, and therefore, fresh. This instrumental sounds like it was recorded in a subway station and has a twinkling ’60s mod feel. Collins’ guitar playing is charming.
  7. The Sugarplastic — My Heart Lately (Will): On Will, this criminally underrated L.A. band really gravitated towards its psychedelic pop side. This is a hazy dream of a song, with delicate piano, Ben Eshbach trading lead vocals with disembodied voices and wandering choruses. This is truly a brilliant use of the studio as an instrument, from how the instruments are placed in the mix to how each element of the song is stitched together to create a brilliant whole. This sounds like a ’40s Disney movie song cycled through the haunted house repeatedly and then sprinkled with some Abbey Road era Beatles.
  8. Surfer Blood — Floating Vibes (Astro Coast): A fine 2010 debut album from a band who, at times, reminds me a bit of The Shins and Rogue Wave, sort of. This song has a big fat lead guitar part, which sets up the soothing melody. This song actually reminds me a little bit of third album era Translator mixed with a bit of the classicist side of XTC. Which is another way to say this is damn good indie pop.
  9. Pere Ubu — Monday Night (Cloudland) Pere Ubu’s second go round, found the band taking on a more accessible tack, especially on this masterpiece of avant-garde pop, produced by Stephen Hague. The band that had deconstructed rock was putting it back together, sometimes just for hooks, but often achieving emotional resonance. This song is driven by big drums and somehow mixes a girl group structure with a Western campfire singalong, with a big twangy guitar in the background. For all of his quirks, David Thomas is a great singer, and this song is an example of that.
  10. White Plains — My Baby Loves Lovin’ (Bubblegum Classics — Volume Two): A lot of British bubblegum was a bit more sophisticated, relying less on double entendre, and more on just driving home a simple hook. The song is aided by the vocals of session singer Tony Burrows, who took the lead on many Brit bubblegum hits by fake groups such as Edison Lighthouse, The Pipkins, The Brotherhood of Man and others.

Share December 31, 2010 Share on Facebook Tweet This!

Topics: ipod, mp3

Mike Bennett writesFriday iPod/MP3 Shuffle—Happy Birthday Will Oldham Edition

Let’s wish a Happy Birthday to a man who put his own stamp on Americana, and did so under a number of different monikers. Will Oldham a/k/a Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, has recorded as Palace Brothers, Palace Songs and Palace Music. He’s even recorded under his own name. Along with kindred spirits like Bill (Smog) Callahan, Oldham has led a sort of anti-folk movement, with recordings that make him sometimes sound like an old man. In addition to his recorded work, he’s made well-received forays into film acting. Let’s salute Bonnie Will by grabbing your iPod or MP3 player, hitting shuffle, and sharing the first 10 songs that come up.

  1. The Bongos — Three Wise Men (Drums Along The Hudson): An appropriate start on a Christmas weekend. But this percussive pop song has nothing to do wit the tale of baby Jesus. Instead, it’s a hyper tune that actually shares a bit in common with the early work of The Feelies. The drums and the strumming guitar dominate the proceedings on this cool tune.
  2. Yello — Desert Inn (Stella): One thing that made Yello stand out from many of their synth rock brethern was their use of guitar and drums on a lot of their songs. Here, it’s a cool stuttering guitar part mixed with prominent electronic percussion and some great atmospheric synths. Stella might have been Yello’s best album in terms of having a cinematic quality on almost every song. This tune goes in a few different directions, in a cohesive manner, in just a few minutes. And it has some real catchy parts.
  3. Danny Wilson — Charlie Boy (Be Bop Moptop): In the late ’80s, there was a small explosion of sophisticated UK pop groups. Some were teeth grindingly annoying (like Johnny Hates Jazz and Curiosity Killed the Cat), while there were others, like Swing Out Sister, Deacon Blue and Danny Wilson who did themselves proud. Danny Wilson sounds at times like a cross between Divine Comedy and Steely Dan. Some of their songs aren’t really hooky, but sound great nonetheless, like this one.
  4. The Insomniacs — Maryanne Lightly (Switched Out): A garage rock band with a strong mod influence (their logo is a heart shaped variation on the classic mod target), The Insomniacs cranked out consistently good albums for a few years. This song has a great fuzz guitar part and would make any freakbeat fan freak, with its strong drumming and deceptively sturdy melody lines.
  5. Ramones — Ramona (Rocket To Russia): It didn’t take to long for Ramones to wax some tunes that were not even slightly punk and simply showed what a fantastic pop group they were. Moreover, songs such as this one are pretty much homages to the classic girl group sound. Some Pipettes type group should cover this tune.
  6. Roxy Music — Out Of The Blue (Country Life): The evolution of Roxy Music from a hyper glammy/Velvet Underground inspired band to the lush lounge lizards that gave the world the make out classic Avalon is fascinating. Country Life is a key step in that journey, primarily because of epic songs like this one. This song is so swirling and beautiful with a palpable sense of drama. And Bryan Ferry milks it for all its worth. As with Yello, this has cinematic flair.
  7. House Of Freaks — King Of Kings (Tantilla): This Virginia band may have been the first guitar/drums duo that I was aware of, a decade or so before The White Stripes and so many others. Bryan Harvey wrote urgent folk rock songs and drummer Johnny Hott lived up to his name, matching Harvey’s intensity at every turn. This song is pretty urgent from the get go, but really builds up in the chorus. Underrated band.
  8. Shudder To Think — Trackstar (Pony Express Record): Shudder To Think is the rare band that got a major label deal and then made a record that was even more inaccessible than the indie releases that proceeded it. On this album, Nathan Larsen made his presence felt, pushing the odd tempoes and dissonant chords, finding places where melodies could bloom and riffs could rock along the way. This provides a great showcase for the vocal acrobatics of Craig Wedren. This is a moody number with a jazzy feel that eventually devolves into something more grinding and menacing.
  9. Nothing Painted Blue — Career Day (Placeholders): A nice jangly mid-tempo tune from this California band noted for Franklin Bruno’s clever lyrics. Bruno has a distinct, albeit limited, voice and he always did a good job finding musical settings that didn’t highlight his weaknesses. Something about this song has a bit of an Elvis Costello feel, but a bit more relaxed.
  10. Jimmy Cliff — The Harder They Come (The Harder They Come): The soundtrack to The Harder They Come is an essential reggae album, and the title song, from the star of the movie is a sunny yet defiant anthem. This is a stone cold classic and there isn’t much more to say about it.

Share December 24, 2010 Share on Facebook Tweet This!

Topics: ipod, mp3

Mike Bennett writesFriday iPod/MP3 Shuffle—Happy Birthday Mike Mills Edition

Mike Mills is often overshadowed by Michael Stipe and Peter Buck in R.E.M., but he’s been a vital component from Day 1. In addition to his steady bass playing, he’s a wonderful harmony singer and even took the lead on the band’s hit cover of The Clique’s “Superman”. To top it all off, he’s a really nice guy. So let’s salute Mike Mills on his birthday by grabbing your iPod or MP3 player, hitting shuffle, and sharing the first 10 songs that come up.

  1. Wilco – Camera (More Like The Moon): This is a fuzzy rocker that sounds like it was recorded around the time of Summerteeth but was deemed too heavy for the album. Or perhaps it was committed to tape during The Ghost Is Born sessions, but somehow didn’t fit. Regardless, this is a sunny pop-rocker with a mix that emphasizes the guitars and bass with Jeff Tweedy’s voice coming from under all this fun noise.
  2. Emitt Rhodes – Holly Park (The Emitt Rhodes Record): This is an Anglophile’s delight, with the cult popper doing a baroque pop number that is pure 1967, even though it was recorded a few years later. This is an immediately appealing song.
  3. Little Richard – Can’t Believe You Wanna Leave (The Georgia Peach): This is a brassy blues number that would be well suited for Nat King Cole or Fats Domino. Little Richard keeps his piano playing in check, but can’t tame his soul shouting. And there’s nothing wrong with that, as it elevates what is otherwise a merely decent song.
  4. Madness – House Of Fun (Ultimate Collection): One of Madness’s all-time great singles, a jaunty number about…buying condoms? Yep, and the band’s use of coded language isn’t sniggering. Instead, it serves to amplify the nervousness of the spotty faced teen protagonist who is at the chemist’s shop asking for a plunker. The carnival style music makes this one of the most creative pop singles of the ‘80s.
  5. Wings – Spin It On (Back to the Egg): Macca wasn’t immune to punk rock and one of his characteristically packed to the gills ‘70s albums, he tipped his hat to this new wave with this speedy pop ditty. The song is so simple and McCartney is having a blast. A hidden gem.
  6. Martin Newell – The Greatest Living Englishman (The Greatest Living Englishman): Newell is an eccentric British pop artist who led the cult bands Cleaners From Venus and The Brotherhood Of Lizards. On this album, he worked with XTC’s Andy Partridge and while this is a low budget affair, Partridge brought out the classic ‘60s foundation in Newell’s writing, and the result sounds like a collaboration between Syd Barrett, The Move and The Kinks. This is a swell album.
  7. Julianna Raye – Tell Me I’m Alright (Something Peculiar): Raye was related to some big wig at Warner Brothers Records. Thus, she got a deal. And thus, she got Jeff Lynne to produce her album. As it turns out, this wasn’t just nepotism in action. Raye has a great smoky baritone voice and penned some swell ‘60s inspired pop songs. Of course, Lynne has a way to make that type of stuff shimmer, and the jangly music is a perfect vehicle for Raye’s wonderful singing.
  8. The Yardbirds – The Nazz Are Blue (Ultimate!): The title might make it seem like this is one of The Yardbirds’ psychedelic forays. However, this is just an oddly named blues rocker with the expected red hot guitar work.
  9. Bad Religion – Hooray For Me (Stranger Than Fiction): A melodic mid-tempo track from a band that is better known for high velocity rock. This song almost has a ‘50s rock foundation and even with a typically declamatory Greg Graffin lead vocal, there’s an uncharacteristic wistfulness underlying this song, even as the lyrics are defiant. Cool track.
  10. Shudder To Think – She Wears He Harem (Get Your Goat): On this album, Shudder To Think double the arty and weird quotient, with the guitars becoming more angular and the bass lines adding to the dissonance. This only encouraged Craig Wedren to stretch his voice to its limits, adding new feats of vocal acrobatics. This is not for everyone, but I like how Shudder To Think underpins everything in basic hard rock sounds, and then messes with conventions, while still creating oddball hooks.

Share December 17, 2010 Share on Facebook Tweet This!

Topics: ipod, mp3

Mike Bennett writesFriday iPod/MP3 Shuffle—Happy Birthday J. Mascis Edition

He’s an alt-rock guitar hero who bridged the gap between Neil Young and Husker Du. J. Mascis turns 45 years old today! Dinosaur Jr. remains a powerful rock force, and an inspiration to indie bands everywhere. The old saw goes, “If it’s too loud, you’re too old” and Mascis defies that maxim every time he takes the stage, as he still plays some of the loudest concerts anywhere. In honor of Mr. Mascis, please get your iPod or MP3 player, hit shuffle, and share the first ten songs that come up.

  1. Steve Wynn — Believe in Yourself (Crossing Dragon Bridge): The former leader of Dream Syndicate is more known for rocking stuff. But for this 2008 album, he recorded some spare guitar songs and then traveled to Serbia, where his producer figured out what pieces to fit around the songs. The album was decidedly more intimate than anything Wynn had recorded, showing new facets to this outstanding artist. This song is minimally augmented — it’s really just a good folky song and a nice bit of affirmation.
  2. The Original Sins — Rather Be Sad (The Hardest Way): This underrated late-‘80s garage band featuring John (Brother JT) Terlinsky mixed barn burners with more paisley flavored ’60s-isms, drenched in rocking guitars. This is one of their best ever songs, a paean to wanting to feel pain. Masochistic, yes. But if you’ve ever wallowed in a funk and taken a perverse pride in it, this song is for you.
  3. Wax — Snappin’ Away (What Else Can We Do): A nice dose of punk-pop from this L.A. band with substantial Chicago roots. One thing that made Wax stand out is that they made sure the basic elements of their songs were simple, but creatively played with arrangements and tempos, without ever destroying the essential catchiness of their music. On this song, they use dynamics and tempo changes to build anticipation, with the song finally exploding enough to justify the wait.
  4. Ronnie Dawson — Rockin’ Bones (Loud, Fast & Out of Control): Not so much rockabilly as a hillbilly jump blues song with Dawson’s extremely nasal vocals. This song makes a great use of sonic space to emphasize the bouncy percussion that makes it perfect for sock hop jitterbugging.
  5. Fleet Foxes — White Winter Hymnal (Fleet Foxes): A perfect song for this time of year. When the Foxes became famous, they often garnered Beach Boys comparisons for their elaborate harmony vocals. But the Fleet ones really have more of a church choir type vibe to their harmonies, appropriate for a hymnal that starts out with a “Row Row Row Your Boat” type choral intro. This pastoral album has aged well and set the bar high for their 2011 follow up album.
  6. Stan Ridgway — Walking Home Alone (The Big Heat): Ridgway’s first solo album didn’t just go in the direction of Wall Of Voodoo, while maintaining the cinematic vibe of that band. Ridgway established himself as a great storyteller who could meld his music to fit the lyrics. This song has the mood of a ’50s Sinatra classic, mixing electronic instruments with the “sad trombone” he references in the lyrics. And Stan even credibly sings on the killer middle eight. I would love to hear a traditional crooner take this on with a retro arrangement.
  7. The Rolling Stones — You Can’t Always Get What You Want (Let It Bleed): This classic, from one of the Stones’ best LPs, was (and might still be) overplayed. Of course, it gets so much play because it is a striking song, from the children’s chorus intro to memorable opening words to the way the song builds to epic heights.
  8. Sloan — C’mon C’mon (We’re Gonna Get It Started) (Navy Blues): A wonderful ’70s inspired pop piece from the pride of Nova Scotia. This sounds like it was made to fit in between Stealer’s Wheel and Todd Rundgren on some great AM radio station, not only with it’s piano pop bounce, but with the compressed production that gives the track an older feel. This song has a gigantic hook and an awesome middle eight with spectacular harmony vocals.
  9. Outkast — Spaghetti Junction (Stankonia): A nice mid-tempo slice of funky hip-hop. This song is interesting because of how Big Boi and Andre 3000 trade off within the verses, sometimes with one or the other rapping under the other.
  10. The Fleshtones — The Girl From Baltimore (Up-Front): This song appeared on the band’s first EP for IRS Records and it’s a great garage rock tune, perfect for doing all of the classic ’60s dances that are mentioned in the song. Keith Streng’s twanging guitar sounds like it was borrowed from a B-52’s record. This song quickly established that the ‘tones had mastered R & B flavored rock that is perfect for parties.

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Mike Bennett writesFriday iPod/MP3 Shuffle—Happy Birthday Ozzy Osbourne Edition

He’s the Prince of Darkness, the man driving the Crazy Train, the drug/alcohol waste case who we can laugh with while we also laugh at him. There was a time when Black Sabbath was merely a critically reviled, commercially successful heavy metal band, who many figured would fade out memory. Instead, the Sabs are now highly respected and Ozzy is both a musical and comedic icon. Perhaps he’s lost his menace, but he’s now a pop culture touchstone. Regardless, those Sabbath platters and early solo albums still sound great. So let’s wish Ozz a happy birthday by grabbing the iPod or MP3 player, hitting shuffle and sharing the first 10 tunes that come up.

  1. Jim Carroll Band — Three Sisters (Catholic Boy): When I was in high school, this was punk rock. Carroll wrote aggressive, sometimes raunchy or tasteless lyrics, with hyper backing. As time as passed, the music sounds a bit tamer (slightly more spunky than The Rolling Stones or New York Dolls), but Carroll’s attitude still carries the day. This is a really playful number.
  2. The Jam — In The Street Today (This Is The Modern World): An early Jam number that sounds like a cousin of the classic “In the City”. It has a nice Mod bounce, with Rick Buckler’s drumming really keeping things peppy.
  3. The Dismemberment Plan — A Life Of Possibilities (Emergency & I): The Dismemberment Plan are a band who either you know about and have a high opinion of, or you have never heard of them. If you are in the latter category, you should really give them a listen, or, better yet, see them live, now that they are doing a reunion tour. There is an emo aspect to their music, but their best music mixes in some arty ideas, especially some of the most interesting use of rhythms (both through drums and bass and guitar lines) since the heyday of the Talking Heads. This is intelligent music that is still pretty darned accessible. They may have been ahead of their time.
  4. Chuck Berry — Johnny B. Goode (Gold): Chuck will be playing in town on New Year’s Day, and I’m excited to have tickets for the show. You can’t overstate his greatness, both as an early rock ‘n’ roll innovator, or as one of the best lyricists in rock history. This song is his calling card, with the classic oft-copied lead guitar line, acting as the primary hook. But one should also appreciate Chuck’s interplay with the rollicking piano during the instrumental break.
  5. Pansy Division — Best Revenge (Absurd Pop Song Romance): Between the Illinois civil union law’s passage and the debate over rescinding Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, we are learning who has a really hard time dealing with gay people. This Pansy Division song has a great message on how to deal with the homophobes — as Jon Ginoli sings, “Happiness is the best revenge.” This is a stomping rocker that PD tears into with gusto, a highlight from their best full length.
  6. The Smugglers — To Serve, Protect & Entertain (Growing Up Smugglers): A short sharp shock of punk-pop from this underrated Vancouver, B.C. band. Compared to most punk-poppers, the Smugs have a real affinity for traditional rock ‘n’ roll and then just play it like they had a few cups of coffee too many. They lived up to this song’s motto.
  7. Flop — Mendel’s White Trash Laboratory (Whenever You’re Ready): Flop was kinda punky and kinda power pop — they sometimes sounded like a cross between Buzzcocks and Game Theory, which was accentuated by Rusty Willoughby’s sorta whiny vocals. Their second album is full of whimisical melodies with odd lyrics married to pile driving rock.
  8. Fabulous Poodles — Pinball Pinup (His Master’s Choice): Due to a couple of singles that could pass of as “new wave,” the Poodles were marketed as a hip band. But they were really a Kinks-inspired observational pop band, who stood out because the lead instrument on most of their songs was a violin. This is a lesser song of their, but it would sound real good next to The Kinks’ “Celluloid Heroes” with its dramatic sound.
  9. Cherrelle — I Didn’t Mean to Turn You On (Fragile): This is one of the best Jimmy Jam/Terry Lewis productions. The melody is a little pinched, but that’s okay, because Cherrelle wasn’t the greatest singer of all-time (but much better than Janet Jackson). But the rhythm track is killer. Jam and Lewis pull out all of the stops, using an array of keyboards and some wild programmed drums to create a hyper catchy dance floor monster. Sadly, this song never broke big and Robert Palmer later did a pallid third-rate cover of it that was a bigger hit.
  10. The Nines — Distance That Remains (Properties of Sound): The Nines are a Canadian pop band whose singer sounds a fair amount like Andy Partridge. The Nines’ music is a mix of ’60s Beach Boys sunniness and ’70s AM gold. This is a really pretty number.

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Mike Bennett writesFriday iPod/MP3 Shuffle—Happy Birthday Jodie Foster Edition

Not a great day for rock birthdays, but a great one for thespians. So let’s pay tribute to a modern great, Jodie Foster. She got her first Oscar nomination for Taxi Driver as a teen, and later won the best actress prize for both The Accused and Silence Of The Lambs. Why she didn’t even get nominated for Maverick remains a mystery (though an easily solved mystery). She even appeared in the musical Bugsy Malone. So she must like music. So grab your iPod or MP3 player, hit shuffle, and share the first 10 tunes that come up.

  1. The Minutemen — Have You Ever Seen The Rain (3-Way Tie (For Last)): The final Minutemen studio album showed the band’s increasing musical scope. They still were capable of fierce rock, but with their considerable compositional and playing ability, they stretched out considerably. They also did some covers, including this famed Creedence Clearwater Revival number. John Fogerty was a working class spokesman, so it’s no wonder The Minutemen gravitated toward this kindred spirit. This is a very respectful version with a passionate vocal from D. Boon.
  2. The Raspberries — Starting Over (Collector’s Series): Wow, not only have The Raspberries been getting a lot of airplay on CHIRP, and my iPod feels the same way. This is a piano ballad with Eric Carmen singing at the top of his range.
  3. The Band — I Shall Be Released (Music From Big Pink): Another slow piano song. This isn’t as cheesy and is more soulful. It is one of many songs by The Band that sounds timeless and classic, and no wonder, it was written by the man they used to back, Bob Dylan. It is extremely resonant.
  4. Loretta Lynn — High on a Mountain Top (Van Lear Rose): One thing that is so great about Jack White’s production of Ms. Lynn’s comeback effort is that for every attempt to inject some modernity into the proceedings, he balanced out with something really traditional. This is a mid-tempo footstomping sing-a-long that is a showcase for Lynn’s still wonderful voice.
  5. Husker Du — The Girl Who Lives On Heaven Hill (New Day Rising): Zen Arcade gets so much attention that people may forget about New Day Rising and Flip Your Wig. They shouldn’t. They are wonderful albums that show both musical and tonal range. This is a Grant Hart number augmented by liberal application of Bob Mould’s fuzzy guitar. The chorus is simple and memorable.
  6. Oneida — $50 Tea (Secret Wars): This is Oneida at their caffienated Kraut rock best. The drums sound like metronome at 10 times the speed and the rest of the band tries to keep up, all while laying down a reptitive rhythm with a mantra like vocal melody. This is just a vibrant, in-your-face song.
  7. Shoes — Not Me (Black Vinyl Shoes): Black Vinyl Shoes is one of the ultimate DIY recordings, laid down on a 4-track recorder in the Murphy brothers’ home. Low-fi acts should check this out to show how you can still have production values even with an ultra-low budget. Of course, the album wouldn’t have gotten the attention of the press if it wasn’t for the glistening pure pop songs that are describe unrequited love — the essence of power pop.
  8. Comsat Angels — Zinger (Fiction): This terminally underrated post-punk band had a very specific spin on moody music with washes of dark guitar jangle, strong drumming, elastic bass lines and vocals that sounded weathered and bruised. Innocence had already been lost a long time ago. This number has a very slight funk edge, a la Shriekback.
  9. Kylie Auldist — Kiss and Tell (Made of Stone): This Australian R & B singer is the main vocalist for the hot soul-funk revival band The Bamboos. Her solo records are a little bit less dance party oriented, and more in line with the fine retro soul of everyone from Amy Winehouse to Sharon Jones. Auldist can hold her own with any of these retro soul singers as a vocalist. Her voice is strong and expressive. And the songs, which are mostly originals, such as this one, hold up their end of the bargain.
  10. The Streets On Fire — Fire (This Is Fancy): This is a real standout amongst the many fine Chicago based releases in 2010. The Streets On Fire have a post-punk vibe on many of their songs. This song gravitates a little bit closer to swamp rock, based on the guitar line and the vaguely tribal drummer. The song ends too soon. Good stuff.

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Mike Bennett writesFriday iPod/MP3 Shuffle—Happy Birthday Neil Young Edition

He isn’t just a living legend, he’s an active one. From his time in Buffalo Springfield (who may reunite for a tour in 2011) to this year, Neil Young rarely, if ever, stops creating. He has created one of the most impressive bodies of work in rock history, mixing accessible roots based music with some of the dirtiest, grimiest music ever committed to tape. He has also dabbled in film and theater, experimented with many styles (remember Trans? Or Everybody’s Rockin’?) and influenced tons of musicians. Today is the great Neil Young’s birthday. Let’s celebrate by getting out the ol’ iPod or MP3 player, hitting shuffle and sharing the first 10 songs that come up.

  1. The Features — The Beginning (Week One)(The Beginning): This is a bashing number from the Tennessee band. Musically, it sounds a little bit like a faster Elvis Costello & The Attractions (Armed Forces era), with tinny keyboards and busy drums. This song does a good job contrasting between a cacophony and more controlled sounds.
  2. New York Dolls — Chatterbox (Too Much Too Soon): A typically energetic track from the Dolls’ second album. David Johansen takes a back seat to Johnny Thunders on lead vocals on this track. While this song is rooted in blues rock, the playing and attitude clearly show why the Dolls were a major precursor to punk.
  3. The Blasters — Common Man (Hard Line): One of two songs on the The Blasters’ fourth album that show how big of an influence John Fogerty was on David Alvin. Alvin plays some swampy guitar over a nice groove, while brother Phil sings a stinging indictment of Ronald Reagan. This predates What’s The Matter With Kansas? in pointing out how politicians get people to vote against their interests by appealing to things that distract them from real issues.
  4. Maximo Park — The Kids Are Sick Again (Quicken The Heart): On their third album, Maximo Park plays better than ever and has their formula down pat. This is a blessing and curse. The songs sound great, but they are less thrilling. Hence, this album took a number of plays to sink in. But it eventually did. This is one of those building song which ebbs and flows and only reveals the big chorus in the end. So it builds tension as you keep waiting for the song to peak. An odd choice for a first singe.
  5. The House Of Love — Christine (1986-88: The Creation Years): This band wasn’t quite a shoegazer band, and they were catchy, but not quite poppy enough to be classified as Britpop. Forget subgenres — for a few years, they cranked out a lot of great singles and albums tracks with big guitar sounds and melodies that were somehow both ethereal and sinister. This was one of their best known songs.
  6. Robert Gordon — Someday Someway (Are You Gonna Be The One?): This Marshall Crenshaw classic was first waxed by rockabilly revivalist Gordon. His version is just a bit peppier and punchier and nearly made the Top 40 (which Crenshaw’s version just grazed in 1982). Gordon was a great interpreter of Crenshaw’s songs, as his confidence is a contrast to Crenshaw’s constant wistfulness. I remember seeing Gordon perform this on SCTV.
  7. The Monochrome Set — Expresso (Tomorrow Will Be Too Late): The Monochrome Set are an underappreciated post-punk pop band from the early ’80s. Fans of Orange Juice, Josef K, early XTC and any sort of music with herky-jerk rhythms and oddball guitar lines should check them out. This is a jaunty shuffle that, for some reason, reminds me a bit of the Bonzo Dog Band. The mix of strumming and jangly guitars is sublime.
  8. Fastball — Fire Escape (All the Pain Money Can Buy): When “The Way” became a smash hit, this veteran power pop band got a well-deserved moment in the sun. Whereas their big hit had a bit of early Costello drama, this song is more in the vein of The Gin Blossoms or Tom Petty, jangling about until they hit the utterly professional hook. Give them an A for craftsmanship.
  9. Fuzzbubble — Same Time, Same Place (Demos, Out Takes & Rarities): This L.A. power pop band fell somewhere between the glossiness of Jellyfish, the fizzy energy of Redd Kross with a bit of guitar edge similar to School of Fish. This tune has big guitars and a robust lead vocal. Cheap Trick would do a fine job covering it.
  10. Neko Case — This Tornado Loves You (Middle Cyclone): The thing about Neko Case is that she outgrew any genre descriptions. Yes, country is the foundation of her songs, but she has developed a wide, spacious sound that can incorporate folk, soul, rock or anything else she may think of. And, of course, she’s a marvelous singer — it’s not just the quality of her voice but how she invests herself in her always worthwhile lyrics. This is a breathtakingly brilliant song.

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Mike Bennett writesFriday iPod/MP3 Shuffle—Happy Birthday Gram Parsons Edition

Some say he’s the father of country rock. He kicked off his career with The International Submarine Band, joined The Byrds and was a major contributor to their classic Sweethearts Of The Rodeo album. After leaving The Byrds, he formed the Flying Burrito Brothers, and was booted from that band, and then made the acclaimed solo albums GP and Grievous Angel, passing away before the latter was released. His influence can be felt to this day with some alt-country artists. In honor of Gram, get out your iPod or MP3 player, hit shuffle and share the first ten tunes that come up.

  1. Nick Lowe — She’s Got Soul (The Convincer): The Convincer is perhaps the best of the recent Nick Lowe albums, now that Basher has reinvented himself as a mellow rock and roll crooner. The songs are so economical and Lowe’s voice may be a limited instrument, but he makes the most of it on this light R & B track. I could here a modern R & B act turning this into a more up tempo cut.
  2. Happy Hate Me Nots — Nothing Short of Paradise (The Good That’s Been Done): An Australian band that followed in the footsteps of The Saints, with a punky sound that is heavily infused with R & B influences. The playing and songwriting is more controlled and anthemic than the early Saints. The HHMNs have an ability to send a song soaring at the drop of a hat. This song relies on the time tested device of moody verses with bright and shiny expansive choruses. Hope their reunion album comes out soon.
  3. Nothing Painted Blue — Go To Waste (Emotional Discipline): An early NPB cut from the odds and ends compilation Emotional Discipline. While you’d never call Nothing Painted Blue a punk band, this song tends in that direction, as the band pushes the pace on a ragged but intent recording. This shows how early on the band’s modus operandi was established — Franklin Bruno fills verses with dense word play that he crams into a melody (when the song is faster) which ends up in a terse refrain that provides a bit of a hook.
  4. The Viscounts — Harlem Nocturne (Loud, Fast & Out of Control): This comes from a great Rhino Records box set of hot early sides from the ’50s. Akin to Rhino’s Nuggets box sets, a few familiar names are surrounded by lesser lights. This song is moody instrumental that is an excuse for a hot sax solo. This is kind of a cool down from all the hot rockabilly on this set.
  5. Splitsville — Dotcom (Repeater): From the band’s third, and most impressive, album. Splitsville were a power pop band that showed a bit of inspiration from Jellyfish and Fountains of Wayne, but certainly had their own direction. Touches of new wave and psychedelia float throughout their songs. This is more on the psychedelic end, an atmospheric mid-tempo number with a great arrangement and a variety of guitar sounds. This song slowly builds to a pretty bravura ending.
  6. Don Byron — Hagalo (Nu Blaxploitation): This is an inventive genre blending jazz album. On most of the tracks, Byron combines jazz and funk. But this song here has more of a Brazilian vibe, with a lively horn section and some percussive piano playing.
  7. Slow Jets — False Alarm (Worm Into Phoenix): A typical arty indie rock song from a band I discovered through Reckless Records. They are certainly influenced by groups like Wire and Pere Ubu, but also have a lot in common with less studied outfits like Archers Of Loaf and The Embarassment. The hooks here are a bit more subtle, but nothing less than satisfying.
  8. The Raspberries — The Party’s Over (Collector’s Series): One of the original power pop bands. As was often the case back in the ’70s, when not trying to emulate The Beach Boys and Beatles, or singing wussy ballads, a band had to have a few standard issue rockers. This is one of the ‘berries’ rockers, working some basic bluesy hard rock, like a lower key Humble Pie. Credible but not their strength.
  9. Arcwelder — I Hear And Obey (Xerxes): This Minnesota band mixed the melodic punk aspects of Husker Du (and their drummer, who wrote and sang about half the songs, sounded a bit like Bob Mould), with some more dissonant guitar sounds, a la Fugazi and Jawbox. They found just the right balance of edginess and catchiness, especially on Xerxes, their third album. This song works off a repeating guitar figure that could have been nicked from Television and hurtles into a passionate chorus. These guys had such a firm grip on song structure that could take detours and not get lost.
  10. Sloan — I Understand (Never Hear The End Of It): This 30 song album is arguably Sloan’s masterwork. Keeping the song structures tight, this Nova Scotia quartet shows its utter command of ’60s and ’70s inspired pop and rock. Their inspirations are often obvious, but the band has developed a distinctive sound. They aren’t imitating their heroes, they are trying to equal them, and they succeed more often than most of their contemporaries. This is wonderful mid-tempo song in the tradition of Badfinger, Paul McCartney and Big Star, without sounding quite like any of them. Marvelous.

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Topics: gram parsons, ipod, mp3

Mike Bennett writesFriday iPod/MP3 Shuffle—Happy Birthday Harvey Pekar Edition

Today, we honor someone who recently passed a way, a giant in the world of comix, Harvey Pekar. Pekar’s personal stories, illustrated by some of the greats of underground comics, such as R. Crumb, showed the capability for depth in a medium that was originally targeted for kids. Of course, Pekar was also one of the all-time great David Letterman guests and the movie based on his life, American Splendor, is a classic. To celebrate Harvey’s birthday, why don’t you grab your iPod or MP3 player, hit shuffle and share the first 10 tunes, and if some vintage jazz comes up, all the better.

  1. Adam Franklin & Bolts of Melody — She’s Closer Than I’ve Ever Been (I Could Sleep For A Thousand Years): This is a mellow track from the latest from the frontman of Swervedriver. This is his best solo project yet, as some songs conjure up the hard shoegazing rock of his former band, while other songs are simply lovely pop, such as this one. This has a nice swirling guitar bed that makes this song feel like it’s floating.
  2. The Syn — 14 Hour Technicolour Dream (Nuggets II): A piece of psych-pop from a band that featured some future members of Yes. The Syn actually got back together a few years ago and toured. This is alright, nothing exceptional. It’s really more notable for who is in the band rather than the quality of the song.
  3. Bob Seger — Rock And Roll Never Forgets (Night Moves): Bob Seger seems pretty reviled by a lot of people with self-proclaimed good taste. There certainly are songs that deserve utter contempt (such as “Old Time Rock ‘n’ Roll”). But Seger, who has a great weathered voice, is unfairly maligned, in my opinion. For years, his music mixed a love for rock and R & B basics with some more singer-songwriter elements. This is why he was sometimes lumped with Springsteen. He was not nearly as ambitious as Bruce. But on Night Moves, everything crystallized, and he had a batch of great songs. This is the album opener, a passionate call to arms. The Hold Steady should cover this.
  4. Sparks — Pulling Rabbits Out a Hat (Plagiarism): Leave it to Sparks to take over their own tribute album. The band redoes a bunch of their old songs, sometimes with guests (such as Faith No More, Erasure and Jimmy Sommerville), but most of this album has them recontextualizing old songs either as dance music or with orchestration. The latter songs are much more interesting. Producer Tony Visconti arranged these numbers to great effect. This song, which was a somewhat sterile synth-pop number in its original release (on the 1984 album of the same name) becomes baroque drama with an aggressive orchestra backing Russell Mael.
  5. The Boo Radleys — I’ve Lost the Reason (Giant Steps): A powerful tune from another band that dipped a toe into the shoegazer movement, though they blended that with some great ’60s baroque influences (everything from Love to The Beach Boys). This is a true ’90s song, in that it leans heavy on dynamics, with pretty orchestrated verses that ramp up into fuzz guitar percussive choruses.
  6. The Housemartins — Think For A Minute (London 4 Hull 0): This British band mixed the jangly indie rock that was typical of that portion of the ’80s with a genuine soulfulness, which is manifested in the aching voice of Paul Heaton. Moreover, their lyrics were often thoughtful political commentary that was somehow not at odds with the poppy music. That really holds true on this intent ballad which could be compared favorably to a Curtis Mayfield protest song, though with less of an R & B base.
  7. Gil Scott-Heron — I’m New Here (I’m New Here): My only beef with Scott-Heron’s new album is how short it is. Some of these songs pair his still authoritative voice with electronic backing, which works extremely world. Other songs are on the other end of the spectrum, pairing Scott-Heron with minimal backing. This is a simple rhythmic folk-guitar backing, as Scott-Heron half narrates, half sings this tune. At times his voice is surprisingly gruff, yet when he hits the refrain it smooths out. It’s different than his usual declamatory style (which comes through on other tunes), but it’s just as effective. He is now a voice of experience and there’s no doubt how much he’s feeling the words he is singing.
  8. The Gaslight Anthem — The ’59 Sound (The ’59 Sound): If there’s one song this band should be known for, this is it. In the tradition of everyone from Bruce Springsteen to Social Distortion, the Anthem romanticizes working class life and rock and roll. I think there’s is little that’s really original about their sound. But they invest their songs with scads of passion and plenty of personality. There is always a need for this music that is empathetic and kick ass at the same time. Their latest album is more mature and an acceptable refinement, but I think they should take a step back on the next one and make a bid to play arenas, which they deserve.
  9. Foghat — Take It Or Leave It (The Best of Foghat): Maybe putting this mellow mid-tempo Foghat tune on my iPod was not such a good idea. This plays to none of their (limited) strengths. This actually has more in common with Steely Dan than one might expect from these bluesy rockers.
  10. Crowded House — She Goes On (Woodface): Woodface is a beloved album amongst Crowded House fans, chock full of some of the band’s best known songs. This is not one of those songs. Yet it is one of the dozens upon dozens of superbly constructed songs from the pen of Neil Finn. It has a light Latin inflection and a neat horn and string instrumental break. But the heart of the tune is the simple melody and the indelible chorus. This is why Finn can be mentioned in the same breath as writers like Paul McCartney and Andy Partridge.

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Topics: harvey pekar, ipod, mp3

Mike Bennett writesFriday iPod/MP3 Shuffle—Happy Birthday Steve Jones Edition

While Johnny and Sid got all the ink, Steve Jones was part of the backbone of the snotty roar that was the Sex Pistols. His beefy riffs powered the many classic tunes on their one proper album. After the Pistols fell apart, Jones didn’t rest on his laurels, doing everything from playing in The Professionals with fellow Pistol Paul Cook to backing Iggy Pop for a spell in the late ’80s. He gained new popularity with his fantastic radio show (broadcast from Los Angeles), showing off his great music taste and fun loving personality. While the ideal way to celebrate Jonesy’s birthday would be raising a pint with him, the next best thing would be taking out your iPod/MP3 player, hitting shuffle and sharing the first 10 songs that come up.

  1. Dolly Varden — Apple Doll (The Dumbest Magnets): This is where Dolly Varden, Chicago’s very own, went from being a nice, somewhat rootsy band, to an undefinablely wonderful adult pop band. While most of the band’s material is the product of the amazing Steve Dawson, his wife Diane Christiansen’s contributions are also key. Some of her best songs are reminiscent of Roseanne Cash. But this languid number, built around a simple guitar figure, is probably a bit closer to the more atmospheric Lucinda Williams’ material. It’s a beautiful song.
  2. Liz Phair — Johnny Feelgood (Whitechocolatespaceegg): Hey, another Chicago artist! This is from Phair’s last album before she decided to (unsuccessfully) become a pop star. Although the production values are better than Exile In Guyville, this song comes from the same sensibility, with Phair’s typically insightful take on female sexuality. It’s like she was a one woman Sex in the City, before there was a Sex in the City.
  3. The Beach Boys — When I Grow Up (To Be a Man) (Today!/Summer Days (And Summer Nights)): This song straddles between the surf-pop of early Beach Boys hits and Brian Wilson’s more sophisticated compositions. This is one of the band’s more clever lyrics and the mix of Mike Love’s lead vocal and Brian Wilson’s soaring falsetto in the chorus (with typically fantastic harmonies) is pretty classic.
  4. Santigold — My Superman (Santigold): One of the few tracks from Miss Santi White’s debut album that was not licensed for a television commercial. Maybe because this moody slice of new wavey synth-pop isn’t driving enough to sell beer or whatever. So what. While this isn’t one of the best tracks on the album, it’s closer to killer than filler. One thing I appreciate is White sounds like she’s having fun singing this song.
  5. The Saints — Crazy Googenheimer Blues (Prehistoric Sounds): This is a bit more playful than the typical Saints song from their early days. This is a bouncy R & B based number with the guitar in the background and a bouncy piano. When Ed Kuepper does break into a guitar solo, he throws in a little twang. This song really highlights the unique qualities of Chris Bailey’s lower range. It’s a bit forced, which shouldn’t work, yet somehow it does.
  6. The Fall — Two Steps Back (Live At The Witch Trials): Early lurching rant from Manchester’s finest. The song is built on a repetitive guitar riff, augmented by some keyboard noodling. The rhythm section moves things along, while Mark E. Smith still sounds young, yet he’s clearly already a curmudgeon.
  7. Kaiser Chiefs — Like It Too Much (Off With Their Heads): While not innovators by any stretch, Kaiser Chiefs come up with some fine Britpop nuggets on each album. They seem to have really studied past greats like XTC, Madness and Blur. This song works a simple riff in the verse but blossoms with a soaring melody, which provides an excellent contrast to what came before it. At their best, they make good songwriting seem fairly easy, which, of course, it isn’t.
  8. Thin Lizzy — Roisin Dubh (Black Rose) (Black Rose: A Rock Legend): Thin Lizzy had its first success with a boogie-fied take on the folk ballad “Whiskey In A Jar”. And Irish and English folk was a vital component of this great hard band’s sound. Ted Leo once noted that his seeming Thin Lizzy influence is more of a by-product of his trying to write in similar folk idioms. This track takes the Irish folk to the extreme, telling an Irish legend in classic Lizzy style, dual lead guitars and all, stretched to an epic length (with a shout out near the end to the aforementioned “Whiskey”). It’s a great closer to Lizzy’s best album.
  9. The Four Tops — Bernadette (The Singles +): This song seems to have escaped perpetual rotation on oldies radio, which is a shame, as it is one of the two or three best Four Tops’ songs. It is an insistent, driving number, in the vein of The Supremes’ “You Keep Me Hangin’ On”. Insistent and driving and Levi Stubbs go together like peanut butter and jelly, making for a perfect record.
  10. Motorhead — Rock ‘N’ Roll (Rock ‘N’ Roll): How could Motorhead screw up a song with this title? Guess what, they don’t. This is a two-chord song pounded into submission by Lemmy and crew. Sometimes simple is best.

Share September 3, 2010 Share on Facebook Tweet This!

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Mike Bennett writesFriday iPod/MP3 Shuffle—Happy Birthday Pee Wee Herman Edition

You say Pee Wee Herman isn’t rock and roll? How can you, after the way he danced to The Champs’ “Tequila” in his movie debut? And who can forget Joeski Love’s hip-hop novelty classic, “Pee Wee’s Dance”? Today is Paul Reubens’ birthday, the man who created Pee Wee. The Pee Wee Herman Saturday morning show is one of the great children’s shows ever, and surely has inspired some of the artists we play on CHIRP. Even if that’s not true, Pee Wee is a lot of fun, which is reason enough to pay tribute to Mr. Reubens. So grab your iPod or MP3 player, hit shuffle and share the first ten tunes that come up!

  1. Ray, Goodman & Brown — Special Lady (Ray, Goodman & Brown): These guys were originally called The Moments, and had a big hit with “Love on a Two Way Street”. But when they wanted to leave their record label, they found that the label owned the name. So they decided to just use their own monikers. They were a classic R & B vocal band, with sterling harmonies. This was their signature hit, a lush ballad that started with a nod to their street corner singing roots. As they harmonize the first chorus, they also “ad lib” advice to each other, to make sure they are in sync. The song is really good, too.
  2. Elton John — This Song Has No Title (Goodbye Yellow Brick Road): Oh how clever Elton John and Bernie Taupin were. It’s the rock equivalent of Rene Magritte’s This Is Not A Pipe painting. But enough about the title. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road is arguably Sir Elton’s best album, and the deep cuts, such as this one, are pretty darn good. This is a melodic mid-tempo song that sounds great, though its hook isn’t as strong as a typical Elton single.
  3. Chitlin’ Fooks — Did It Again (Did It Again): The title cut from the second collaboration between Carolyn Van Dyk of Bettie Serveert and Pascal Deweze of Sukilove. There is a country rock gloss on all of these songs, with bits of steel guitar and other twang showing up. But the songs don’t stray too far from the artful pop of Deweze’s regular gig. This starts off twangin’, and then adds some beefy guitars and horns to make this a very nice hodgepodge.
  4. The Sorrows — Bad Times Good Times (Teenage Heartbreak): This is another skinny tie power pop band that snagged a major label deal in 1980, when everyone was trying to find the next Knack. The Sorrows had more of a traditional rock and roll base than some of the other bands of this stripe, so their songs were more ’60s oriented. Some, like this one, are as much garage rock as power pop. This has an authentic sound, except for the drum sound, which is very late ’70s.
  5. Missy Elliott — Teary Eyed (Respect M.E.): A relatively melodic mid-tempo number from Missy, which showcases her vocal skills more than her rapping. As a result, it doesn’t have the usual attitude one would expect from Ms. Elliott. This could be one of a number of R & B divas. Nevertheless, this is a pretty good song, with typically inventive production.
  6. The Sweet — Daydream (Funny How Sweet Co-Co Can Be): Sweet started out as a bubblegum band. Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn wrote the Archies-esque A-sides (like “Funny Funny” and “Co-Co”), the band got to release rocking B-sides (which they played on, while the A-sides were performed by session dudes — only the vocals were Sweet). When it came time to make an album, it was padded with more session music, including this sugary cover of The Lovin’ Spoonful’s hit. This is nothing special, but it shows how versatile singer Brian Connolly was. He could sing with great power, or sound like a more manly Davy Jones, as he does on this track.
  7. Sukilove — Woe (You Kill Me): On Sukilove’s second album, the aforementioned Pascal Deweze broke away from the sunnier, Aztec Camera-like surfaces of his band’s earlier work. Some of the strong melodies remained, but there was more aggressive blues-based guitar, often distorted, as the songs became moodier. Actually, maybe bitter would be a good word. On this song, the guitar and a distant drum are eventually met by distant choral vocals that are hard to pick up. In some respects, this conjures up a similar mood to the more paranoid side of Radiohead (is that the only side of Radiohead?), but with a somewhat more organic sound. Sparklehorse might also be a good comparison point.
  8. Rank and File — Coyote (Sundown): After the punk band The Dils dissolved, Chip and Tony Kinman went in a totally different direction, playing a very Everly Brothers-inspired take on cow punk. Their version of twang rock is so unique, both in the spacious way they played it, and how the sweet harmonies were usually contrasted by the distinctive baritone voice of Tony Kinman. How authentic their songs were is open to question, but they certainly had the right feel. This is such a simple composition, with all of the right elements in place.
  9. The Kinks — Johnny Thunder (Village Green Preservation Society): Whether this is the best Kinks album is debatable, but the five album run from Face To Face through Lola, with Village Green falling smack dab in the middle, is about as good as any artist as ever had. This album is the height of the band’s pastoral period, with songs suffused in nostalgia and traditional values. Ray Davies was spinning out classic song structures one after the other. Just from this song, you can hear how it influenced everyone from Bowie to The Smiths to Blur and more.
  10. Chris Isaak — Talk To Me (Silvertone): The first Chris Isaak album was a revelation. The album cover tried to make him look as much like a young Elvis as possible, and the music was steeped in melodramatic ’50s and ’60s balladeering. It sounded like nothing else at the time. This is a very typical track, which starts at a slow burn, with Isaak finding a moment to show off his vocal range and unleashing the anguish that builds up in each verse. He’s spent the rest of his career refining this style, with generally good results. But he will never top this timeless debut.

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Mike Bennett writesFriday iPod/MP3 Shuffle—Happy Birthday Phil Lynott Edition

He was the charismatic black Irishman who melded Irish folk music with hard rock, sometimes sprinkling in some Van Morrison, yielding the indelible classic, “The Boys Are Back In Town”. If you ever see a video of Thin Lizzy, one thing is obvious — Phil Lynott was a rock star. While U.S. success was fleeting, Lynott fronted the band known for its dual lead guitars, cranking out dozens upon dozens of great songs and top notch albums like Jailbreak, Live And Dangerous and Black Rose (A Rock Legend). When punk and new wave came blasting out, Lynott didn’t run and hide. He rubbed shoulders with them, paying tribute on the tune “Back in ’79” (from his first solo album) and working with Midge Ure of Ultravox. Today, you can hear other bands influenced by Thin Lizzy, such as Ted Leo + Pharmacists (check out “Timourous Me”, which is pure Lizzy homage, though Ted claims otherwise). Let’s pay tribute to the great Phil Lynott on his birthday by grabbing the ol’ iPod/MP3 player, hitting shuffle, and sharing the first 10 tunes that come up.

  1. Jawbox — Send Down (Novelty): A number from the second Jawbox album, which found the band starting to really define its angular post-punk sound. This tune isn’t as intricately constructed as later song and has more of an early emo anthem vibe. In that respect, it plays a little bit closer to a Naked Raygun song. J. Robbins has a powerful enough voice to pull it off.
  2. Neil Finn — Souvenir (Try Whistling This): Finn’s first solo album did a great job of building on what he had been doing with Crowded House. This means Finn continued to pen superb sophisticated pop songs with layered instrumentation, articulate lyrics and melodies on par with John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Andy Partridge and Robyn Hitchcock. This song has a neat structure, using synthesized strings in the verses to play static parts to build tension, released by a jangly guitar that kicks the chorus in. The song has many parts to it, and they flow together seamlessly.
  3. The Sights — Talk To You (Are You Green?): These Detroit area garage rockers came in early during the wave of revivalists — i.e., right around the time of the The White Stripes. The band see-sawed between riffy proto-punk and cheerful Kinks-y pop tunes. On this song, both sides are on display. Which is very cool.
  4. Mott The Hoople — Momma’s Little Jewel (All The Young Dudes): A mid-tempo track with a little barroom piano added to the mix. This song sounds like a more playful version of Free.
  5. Big Dipper — Wet Weekend (Supercluster: The Big Dipper Anthology): A spin off of the likeminded Kansas post-punk pop band The Embarrassment, Big Dipper specialized in catchy rock tunes that were just a little bit askew. The lyrics often were a bit off-beat and the rhythms and melodies had little wrinkles that indicated they came from a post-Velvet Underground/Big Star world, rather than a more mainstream perspective. This is a very typical song, with a bouncy rhythm and a strong lead guitar line throughout the entire track, building up to a big chorus. This is the essence of ’80s college radio.
  6. Kitchens of Distinction — In a Cave (Love Is Hell): The Kitchens, on their first album, hadn’t fully fleshed out their big dramatic rock sound, but it was already pretty big. This is a slow burner of a song with ample helpings of the reverbing My Bloody Valentine-ish guitar work that was their trademark. Unlike MBV, the Kitchens had a much more spacious song, which was needed so vocalist Patrick Fitzgerald could have room to emote. These guys were lumped in with the shoegazer movement, for good reason, but they had the most vocal personality by far.
  7. The Guess Who — Baby’s Birthday (Shakin’ All Over): Before this Winnepeg, Canada band became stars for hits like “American Women”, they were a pretty typical ’60s rock band. They had a garage rock phase, but even during that period, they tried on all sorts of styles. This is a jangly rock tune that sounds somewhat like a Mike Nesmith Monkees’ tune. Randy Bachman’s twangy guitar sounds great.
  8. The Jam — Strange Town (Direction, Reaction, Creation): A fantastic tune that combines a Motown rhythm with a classic Brit pop tune. This is one of those songs that clearly inspired bands like Blur, The Smiths, The Stone Roses and others. Paul Weller at his best.
  9. All — Sugar and Spice (Allroy Sez): After Milo left The Descendents, Bill Stevenson formed the similar All. The first All album is an outstanding pop-punk record, chock full of great songs. Moreover, the playing, especially in the rhythm section, is really creative, giving the songs a unique stamp. This song is a warning about a girl who is going to break a friend’s heart. It has a dramatic, ominous feel to it, and has a super cool middle eight where the song breaks down to a whisper before slamming into the urgent chorus.
  10. Watermelon Men — Seven Years (Children of Nuggets): If someone hasn’t put together a compilation of this ’80s Swedish garage band, they should. The Watermelon Men really captured the feel of the original era of garage bands, with better fidelity. This song is one of those doomy folk-psych garage tunes.

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Mike Bennett writesFriday iPod/MP3 Shuffle—Happy Birthday Feargal Sharkey Edition

His insistent ultra-Irish voice was the perfect vehicle for songs about teenage kicks, Mars bars, perfect cousins and wanting to be a male model. Feargal Sharkey was urgent and powerful, a perfect combination of bravado and uncertainty (the former, of course, masking the latter), and an energetic, lantern-jawed frontman for the pride and joy of Derry, Northern Ireland, The Undertones. While it’s possible that the ‘tones would have been successful with another singer, due to the high quality of the songwriting, Sharkey was the spirit that made the songs reach their full potential. Sadly, he has not come along with the boys since the band reunited, and wisely, the band found another Derry singer who sounds a fair amount like Feargal. Let’s pay tribute to Mr. Sharkey by grabbing the ol’ iPod or MP3 player, hitting shuffle and sharing the first 10 tunes to come up.

  1. Kenickie — Millionaire Sweeper (At The Club): A short-lived British all-female rock band who were named after a character from Grease (I think Jeff Conaway played him in the movie). Kenickie was somewhere in between Voice Of The Beehive and The Primitives, They specialized in wistful mid-tempo observational pop songs like this one. Romance never went very well in their songs, and this tune has a slight girl group vibe with a modern edge, and it comes across as sad but not utterly resigned to the prospects for love in the future. This is worth checking out as it is in dollar bins throughout the country.
  2. The Swingin’ Neckbreakers — Little Miss Copycat (The Return of Rock): The Neckbreakers are an excellent example of why garage rock will never get old. The blues chord progressions are standard, while the playing is spirited and Tom Jorgenson’s rough vocals are full of personality. The Neckbreakers were more than capable of Sonics-like intensity, which they balanced with lighter tunes such as this one.
  3. Glen Mercer — Whatever Happened (Wheels In Motion): The name might not be familiar, but Mercer is one of the main men behind The Feelies. He released his first solo album a few years ago, and it’s exactly what you’d expect from a Feelie. A heavy Velvet Underground influence and a mix of quieter songs with slow burning rock tunes ornamented with percussion fills. This is the best song on the whole album, and it fits in the burner category, creating a droning groove that could last forever as far as I’m concerned. I hope Mercer (or The Feelies) have something in the pipeline, as he is still a creative force.
  4. Steve Forbert — You Cannot Win If You Do Not Play (The Best of Steve Forbert): One of many artists who was unfairly saddled with a Bob Dylan comparison, Forbert was a talented folk-pop songwriter with a raspy voice. His biggest problem wasn’t as prolific a songwriter as he needed to be to put out really top notch albums. But every album had some gems on it. This is an upbeat bluesy folk-rocker. Nothing amazing, but Forbert is fully engaged and this song must have killed live.
  5. Divinyls — Back to the Wall (Essential Divinyls): The Aussie band best known for “I Touch Myself” started out as a ferocious rock act. I saw them open for the Psychedelic Furs in 1983, and they remain one of the loudest bands I ever heard. Saucy singer Christian Amphlett had one of the coolest raspy voices around. The band always had a penchant for hooks and their sound smoothed out as time went on. This is a mid-tempo slice of drama with a bit of ’60s pop influence. Good tune.
  6. Little Richard — Slippin’ and Slidin’ (Peepin’ and Hidin’)(The Georgia Peach): This is one of Richard’s own, but it sure sounds like a Fats Domino song, because of the distinctive voice of the one and only Richard Penniman. He’s not as crazed as on his best known songs, which only allows one to hear what a fabulous singer he was when not pushing the needle in the red. One other thing — his early sides always feature great musicianship, especially the drumming, which really swings.
  7. The Clash — Somebody Got Murdered (Sandinista!): As time marches on, more and more people are appreciating the greatness of Sandinista!. Obviously, over the course of nearly 3 hours of music, not every song works. But so many do. Joe Strummer and Mick Jones were spinning out some of the most amazingly diverse rock ever. This song is almost the flip side of the band’s angry cover of “Police On My Back”, with Jones full of empathy, decrying the taking of a life. The melody is fairly simple and guitar riff that drives the song is anthemic, but played in a toned down fashion.
  8. Sparks — How You Getting Home? (Indiscreet): My iPod is on an Indiscreet kick, apparently. This is Sparks’ take on ’50s rock and roll. You can hear some basic traditional rock, but with loads of extra chords and tempo changes that take traditional song structures and twist them. This song actually has about five or six different sections that mix together so fluidly that they might go by unnoticed. This is a second tier Sparks song, yet it still provides another example of the genius of Ron Mael.
  9. Wondermints — Darling (Wonderful World of Wondermints): The second Wondermints album is chock full of covers. This is a fantastic treatment of a song by The Stories, who are best known for their cover of Hot Chocolate’s “Brother Louie”. “Darling” is much more in the vein of The Left Banke, which is no surprise, since there were two former Left Banke members in The Stories. The Wondermints should do another covers album.
  10. To My Boy — Outerregions (Messages): This British band was a throwback to the ’80s post-punk synth-pop groups. This song sounds like Orchestral Maneouvres In The Dark meets Erasure (or any Vince Clarke project). This song is excellent on many levels, from the big hooks to the layered arrangement to the fine use of dynamics. A shame this didn’t capture the public’s fancy.

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Mike Bennett writesFriday iPod/MP3 Shuffle—Happy Birthday Elliot Smith Edition

This week we are paying tribute to one of the more recent tragic figures in rock music, Elliot Smith. Smith got his start with the band Heatmiser, and then went on to an influential solo career, playing delicate songs with his voice rarely above a whisper, that often unfolded into beautiful melodic pop songs. The beauty never overshadowed the vulnerability that seemed to lurk in every song. Sadly, he died in 2003, and the mystery as to whether he took his own life or was murdered has still not been resolved. But today, on Mr. Smith’s birthday, let’s celebrate the great music he gave us by getting out your iPod or MP3 player, hitting shuffle and sharing the first 10 songs that come up.

  1. The 1900s – Acutiplantar Dude (The 1900s): This local band is still playing out, but they are taking their own sweet time recording a follow up full length to their debut platter. At their best, as on this song, they traffic in an orch-pop sound that lies between the urbane Belle and Sebastian and more retro outfits like The Ladybug Transistor. Please put another album out soon, guys (and gals).
  2. Porter Wagoner with Merle Haggard – I Haven’t Learned a Thing (The Essential Porter Wagoner): A cautionary tale from Porter, joined by Merle Haggard, of a boy who played songs in church but ignored the message, becoming a drinkin’, sinnin’ musician. What makes this duet odd is that suddenly, during the second verse, Merle starts singing, with Porter narrating the same lyrics over Merle’s vocal. What I find most interesting is that whatever lessons there are in the Bible, I don’t recall any strong anti-alcohol messages. But if this song saved one person from a life of alcoholism, it was well worth it.
  3. The Move – Mist on a Monday (Movements: 30th Anniversary Anthology): This is very proper baroque British psych pop with woodwinds and dainty keyboards and strings and stuff. It was just a couple of steps from this song to the formation of Electric Light Orchestra.
  4. Sparks – The Lady Is Lingering (Indiscreet): Indiscreet was Sparks’ Sgt. Peppers. The Mael brothers collaborated with legendary producer Tony Visconti on an album with lots of orchestration and augmentation, with the Maels trying on a lot of new styles. In comparison to most of the album, this song is incredibly conventional – just a catchy mid-tempo guitar track. Which, in its own way, makes it the most unconventional song on this delightful album.
  5. Empire – Electric Guitar (Expensive Sound): This band was led by Bob Andrews, formerly of Generation X. The music certainly has roots in the classic catchy punk of that band, but there are some darker post-post punk overtones. This song could certainly have been an anthem for Billy Idol to wave his fist to, but it is subtler, as the guitar (which is awesome on this song) is celebrated with suspicion.
  6. The Lackloves – Hallmark Stars (Take a Seat) (Cathedral Square Park): Mike Jarvis is a master of retro pop songs that evoke the best of the lighter side of ‘60s (and even ‘50s) rock. This song has some majestic power pop jangly power chords that set up the Buddy Holly-meets-The Beau Brummels verses. Then the song downshifts into the sweet chorus – it’s dynamics in reverse. The harmonies also kick ass. These guys still play Milwaukee from time-to-time and are always worth seeing.
  7. Mott The Hoople – Sweet Jane (All The Young Dudes): Around the time David Bowie was producing Mott and giving them commercial viability, he was also working with Lou Reed. Perhaps Ian Hunter and crew already knew of this Velvet Underground classic, but, if not, then Ziggy Stardust surely turned them onto it. Mott doesn’t mess around with the arrangement, and Hunter turns in his usual bang up glam-Dylan lead vocal to make this version, to some people, the definitive one.
  8. Pernice Brothers – Goodbye, Killer (Goodbye, Killer): The new Pernice album has more of a spontaneous feeling and Joe’s vocals are a bit looser (it’s a subtle difference). This is very noticeable on the title cut. This jaunty acoustic number sounds a little bit like an old Faces number, mixing with a typically buttery smooth Pernice melody. Very nice.
  9. Santigold – Shove It (Santigold): Santi White’s debut album is such a great summer pop record, mixing everything from new wavey pop to R & B to reggae inflected songs such as this put down song. Alas, until she follows up this platter, we’ll have to live with this LP for one more summer.
  10. Bob Seger – Shame on the Moon (Greatest Hits II): This is probably the song that Bob lifted the melody for “Fire Lake” from and Bob felt guilty, so he had a hit with this too. This was originally written and recorded by country singer Rodney Crowell, who was, for many years, Roseanne Cash’s husband. While some folks look at this as MOR cheese, this is one hell of a song and Bob knows enough not to mess with Rodney’s tune. It is a well-suited for Seger’s sandpapery voice.

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Mike Bennett writesFriday iPod/MP3 Shuffle—Happy Birthday Kate Bush Edition

Her theatrical art-pop songs took England by storm during the frenzy of the post-punk years. When you can succeed even though you are totally out of fashion, that’s a sign of a major talent. And Kate Bush was an artist who commanded attention from the moment “Wuthering Heights” came out. She was the complete package, a dazzlingly original songwriter who controlled all aspects of her work, leading to watershed albums such as The Dreaming and The Hounds of Love, and elaborate live shows. Sadly, she has a fear of flying, so other than a single appearance on Saturday Night Live early in her career, she has never played live in the States. However, if we all pay tribute to this influential artist by grabbing the ol’ iPod/MP3 player and hitting shuffle and sharing the first 10 tunes that come up, maybe she’ll have a change of heart and come across the pond to amaze us.

  1. Robert Palmer — Sailin’ Shoes (The Very Best of the Island Years): I’m a fan of Palmer’s low key blues and R & B inspired rock. This is a really nice cover of the Little Feat track, and I believe that Little Feat actually backed him on this track. This has a funky New Orleans vibe and Palmer’s lead vocals are a bit more aggressive than usual. This is actually a medley with the song “Hey Julia”, but on this compilation, it cuts off midway through.
  2. Lou Reed — The Last Shot (Legendary Hearts): A great slice of matter-of-fact decadence from Uncle Lou. This is from the follow up to Lou’s amazing Blue Mask album. It’s not as fiery, but it’s a tight mid-tempo rock tune with the great line, “shot a vein in my neck and coughed up a Quaalude.” Reed does black humor very well, making fun of addiction while taking it seriously at the same time.
  3. Cheap Trick — Big Eyes (In Color): One of a dozen near perfect power pop songs on Cheap Trick’s second album. This song is centered around Bun E. Carlos’ insistent drumming and Tom Peterson’s beefy bass. The Move was certainly an influence on this song. But what puts this song over the top is the amazing instrumental break that simply soars into the atmosphere, setting up an economical Rick Nielsen guitar solo.
  4. Pernice Brothers — Endless Supply (The World Won’t End): This Pernice tune has a fantastic ’70s mellow gold vibe. The use of mellotron compliments Joe Pernice’s quiet vocals. The only thing that separates this from America or England Dan and John Ford Coley is that the Pernice boys don’t pump the chorus to epic dimensions. Instead the song is more intimate and thus, more insinuating.
  5. The Mysteries — Give Me Rhythm And Blues (The Girls’ Scene): A fantastic slice of British ’60s girl pop. These gals aren’t the best singers, so the producer wisely added a slight bit of echo to their voices. The song is a trifle but has a bit of a haunting quality. This would be a good song for bands in the Vivian Girls mode to cover. In fact, the Hollows would absolutely kill this song.
  6. The Jesus & Mary Chain — It’s So Hard (Psychocandy): Other have tried to capture the amazing sound of the the JMC’s debut, and no one has quite succeeded. The mix of cotton candy melodies, Velvet Underground rhythms and reverberating guitars that sound like the album was recorded in an auto plant is still compelling to this day.
  7. Split Enz — Albert of India (Corroborree): A stately instrumental track that showcases Eddie Rayner’s keyboard skills. This song sounds like a throwback to the band’s early art-rock days.
  8. Bruce Woolley & The Camera Club — Video Killed the Radio Star (English Garden): The Buggles had the big hit with this tune, which Woolley co-wrote with Trevor Horn. Unlike the fey and ornate Buggles version, this recording is more of a rock number, though the overall arrangement is fairly similar. This version just shows what an indelible song this is, though I’ll concede that The Buggles’ version is definitive.
  9. The Merry Go Round — On Your Way Out (The Merry Go Round): Another slice of ’60s pop magic from Emitt Rhodes’ original band. This song is more in the vein of The Byrds, with folk rock jangle. The Youngbloods (of “Get Together” fame) would also be a good comparison.
  10. Big Black — Stinking Drunk (The Rich Man’s Eight Track Tape): A pretty typical slice of noise and aggression from this legendary Chicago post-punk band. The drum machine is set on rapid fire, Santiago Durango plays slicing lead guitar parts while Steve Albini shouts out lyrics ripped from the underbelly of life. The band’s use of dynamics is effective and Durango throws in some suprisingly melodic bits amongst the requisite fury.

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Mike Bennett writesiPod/MP3 Friday Shuffle — Happy Birthday Philip Seymour Hoffman Edition

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

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Mike Bennett writesiPod/MP3 Friday Shuffle — Happy Birthday Stewart Copeland Edition

Let’s celebrate the birthday of the most famous son of a CIA agent in rock history. Stewart Copeland brought something special to his drumming with The Police (and put up with Sting and his massive ego), and has also done a number of interesting solo projects. In Stewart’s honor, please grab your iPod or MP3 player, hit shuffle and share the first 10 tunes that come up.

  1. The Swingin’ Neckbreakers — Mad Tea Party (The Return Of Rock): A hammering fuzz guitar riff keys this slamming track from the great New Jersey garage rock band. This is very much in the vein of classic Yardbirds with a slight tinge of psychedelia. I wish these guys would put out another record, but I have a feeling that they’ve rocker their last rock.
  2. Broken Bells — Sailing to Nowhere (Broken Bells): This collaboration between Danger Mouse and James Mercer of The Shins is a bit disappointing, mainly because there aren’t enough top shelf tunes. I wonder if DM might be stretching himself a bit thin, or rather, he’s reaching the limits of his vision. Of course, not everything has to be classic and this is an album with some fine moments. This tune stitches together a ’60s soft-pop vibe with some Air-like electronica and even some synth-strings, while Mercer sounds terrific.
  3. Midnight Oil — Cemetary In My Mind (Redneck Wonderland): After Diesel and Dust made the Oils international stars, the band’s music started slowly but surely blanding out a bit. However, they made a bit of a comeback on Redneck Wonderland. The album was a reaction to the rise of conservative politics in Australia. While the album doesn’t go back to the artier rock of the bands classic 10, 9, 8 and Red Sails In The Sunset albums, the music is much more forceful. This song is more in the vein of Diesel and Dust with a large scale and passionate performances.
  4. Andrea Perry — Gettin’ To Know You (Two): A lot of Perry’s songs are so precisely arranged. It’s not just the composition but how she puts the instruments and her vocals together to make pop songs that incorporate a wide array of inspirations. This song has a very basic melody and rhythm but is chock full of embellishments that keep it fresh, along with tempo changes that create little hooks. Combined with her soothing voice and nifty guitar work and the result is a little gem.
  5. Blue Oyster Cult — Mistress Of The Salmon Salt (Quicklime Girl)(Tyranny and Mutation): Early BOC is so brilliant. The songs are heavy enough to satisfy Black Sabbath fans, but the psychedelic elements are more upfront. Moreover, the band knew how to put together catchy riffs and lead guitar lines, along with memorable refrains, which made the bizarre lyrics go down all the easier. I wish they had kept the organ as a prominent instrument.
  6. The Isley Brothers — Harvest For The World (It’s Your Thing: The Story of The Isley Brothers): During the early to mid-‘70s, The Isleys balanced some funky jams with some really swell ’70s pop-rock that was well-suited for FM radio play. This song fits in the latter category, with a utopian world view on par with songs like The O’Jays’ “Love Train”. This sounds like a Todd Rundgren tune.
  7. Les Fleur de Lys — Circles (Nuggets II): I’m so glad Rhino decided to expand on the Nuggets concept with a four-disc set of garage, freakbeat and psychedelic music from outside the borders of the U.S. of A. This is a solid take on a tune by The Who, though it’s not as good as the original.
  8. The Sinners — Barbed Wire Heart (Children of Nuggets): I’m also glad Rhino went even further and put out this collection of ’80s and ’90s artists who followed in the footsteps of the original Nuggets bands. This is a good brooding number in the vein of The Kinks’ “I’m Not Like Everybody Else”.
  9. Luke Jackson — Goodbye London (…And Then Some): Jackson is a great British pop artist. He mixes upbeat jangle rockers in the vein of Kimberly Rew and Cosmic Rough Riders, like this one, with some nice orch-pop inflected tunes. I love the full arrangement on this track, as he layers backing vocals and other instruments over the core of the track. I have to throw some Luke on one of my upcoming shows.
  10. Translator — Another American Night (Translator): The first Translator album mixed folky rock with a bit of post-punk. The second album was simply devoid of solid tunes. The band bounced back with an album that favored the folky/power pop-ish side of their sound. This song is about as close to anything on the debut, but with a much brighter vocal sound.

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