The CHIRP Blog
Entries on the topic of “Ipod” 220 results
Pitchfork is a week away, so let’s celebrate a birthday of someone who is headlining there next Friday. Issac Brock is not just the frontman for Modest Mouse — he also plays banjo. Moreover, he and his band paid their dues in the indie rock world, eventually breaking through with mainstream success with the hit “Float On”. Heck, he even got the great Johnny Marr to join the band for a spell. All the while, the band maintained its credibility. Maybe Isaac will find some time to come to the CHIRP Record Fair at Pitchfork (if not, you all should come out to it). So let’s help Isaac celebrate his birthday by grabbing the ol’ iPod/MP3 player, hitting shuffle and sharing the first 10 tunes that come up.
- Tiara — Expert Eyes (Chained To The Crown): This Ohio band is akin to bands like The Kingbury Manx and New Radiant Storm King, making good indie rock songs with solid melodies and hooks. The only thing these bands don’t have is a real upfront vocal personality. But the quality of the songs and performances make them a joy to listen to. This is a sweet mid-tempo song with nice jangling guitars and a slight Velvet Underground influence (think “Sweet Jane”).
- Comsat Angels — Ju Ju Money (Waiting For A Miracle): This is an early recording of a song that ended up on the band’s Fiction album and is a bonus track on the reissue of their debut. The first Comsat Angels album is a post-punk classic, with spare bass and guitar soundscapes augmented by prominent drums creating a constant sense of tension. Some songs have an air of exhaustion and resignation to them. That’s true of this track too, but it has a fuller sound than what’s on the debut and this recording points to where the band would go on its next two efforts, which are also terrific.
- Was (Not Was) — Spy in the House of Love (What Up, Dog?): One of two hit singles from Was (Not Was)‘s third album. Although the first two albums had some wonderfully catchy pop tunes, they were both eccentric enough that they didn’t have much commercial potential. Moving to Chrysalis, the band decided to cut more straight R & B flavored songs, and reduce the wacky factor. This is a solid tune, but the late ’80s production dates it severely.
- Nick Lowe — People Change (At My Age): Lowe’s past few albums have been clinics on how to write a song, drawing from his depth of knowledge about country, rock and soul music. This song tilts a bit towards the R & B side, with a simple message, a nice bounce and a true economy — no notes are wasted. He’s making the best music of his career right now.
- Anton Barbeau — Stewart Mason (Guladong): This Bay Area oddball writes catchy pop songs with twisted lyrics to match his offbeat voice. This song is bass driven and rhythmic, paying tribute to the music writer and former label owner (and my online pal), though only Stewart could vouch for the accuracy of any of Anton’s lyrics. A short, snappy fun song.
- The Bears — Save Me (Rise and Shine): A lot of music fans hoped that this band, which combined Adrian Belew with members of the great Ohio rock band The Raisins might turn into America’s version of XTC. Unfortunately, the band split after two albums (though they later reunited a few years ago). Still, The Bears released two albums of high quality rock that bore the influence of The Beatles and various psych-pop bands, but had plenty of its own personality. One thing that was great about The Bears is that Belew did not dominate. All of these guys could sing and play and they complimented each other so well.
- Rockpile — Now and Always (Seconds of Pleasure): Nick Lowe strikes again! Rockpile played on both Lowe’s and Dave Edmunds’ albums for a few years, with Terry Williams on drums and Billy Bremmer on lead guitar. When they finally did their own album in 1980, it was highly anticipated and a lot of folks were disappointed by the final product. Critics thought it was alright, but they wanted classic. Well, time has been kind to the album, and the relaxed, friendly vibe, and the mix of pub rock and pop works really well. This is a Lowe tune that sounds like a long lost Everly Brothers song.
- The Kinks — Last of the Steam Powered Trains (Village Green Preservation Society): While most of this Kinks’ classic fits the pristine pastoral template, this is a bouncy blues number. This is probable one of the lesser songs on the album, but its simplicity is truly a virtue. Moreover, Ray Davies displays his whimsical side, and that’s never a bad thing.
- The Nomads — Frying Pan (Showdown! 1981-1993): A typically forceful garage rock band from this Swedish band. The Nomads operate under the theory that there’s no garage rock song that can’t be improved with some more raunchy guitar. Often, they are right.
- Fleetwood Mac — Silver Springs (Rumours): This Stevie Nicks tune was the b-side of “Go Your Own Way”. When Rumours was given the deluxe reissue treatment back in 2004, the Mac decided to tack this song onto the original album. This wasn’t a good idea. This is a lesser Nicks’ tune, pleasant but not up to the high standard of the album. It does have a nifty slide guitar solo from Lindsey Buckingham.
On this day in 1897, Guglielmo Marconi obtained the first ever patent for radio, in London. Granted, it wasn’t broadcast radio — Marconi built on Heinrich Hertz’s discovery of electomagnetic radiation and developed the first wireless transmission of telegraph messages over significant distances. Others had been able to transmit over extremely short distances, but it was Marconi who figured out how to do it over many miles, sparking a communications revolution that reverberates to this day. Of course, someday we here at CHIRP hope that we can take advantage of Marconi’s initial innovation with our own terrestrial radio station. In the meantime, I have no doubt the Guglielmo would have really dug iPods and MP3 players, so grab yours and help celebrate the father of radio’s first patent by hitting shuffle and sharing the first 10 tunes that come up.
- Pernice Brothers — Our Time Has Passed (The World Won’t End): One of the quintessential Pernice tunes, a mid-tempo pop song with a melody that sounds like it could have come from Jackson Browne or The Eagles in 1974, overlayed with a little ’60s British pop gloss and superb lyrics. The swelling middle eight is pretty much perfect, as the song mixes resignation with celebration of a relationship that was but wasn’t meant to be that long.
- Mano Negra — Amerika Perdida (Amerika Perdida): A jazzy bopping number from the French band led by Mano Chao who were the godfathers of the rock en espanol movement. Mano Negra was conversant in so many styles, from the hardest of rock to ska to traditional folk to this Cuban styled offering, and they could mix and match without any difficulty, binding everything with their incredible energy.
- Supergrass — Lose It (I Should Coco): An early energetic Supergrass song that already showed Gaz Coombes’ skill at marrying punchy rock (this tune sounds like it’s rooted in The Move and ’70s glam rock) with dollops of the most bittersweet melodies. It creates a special tension that makes Supergrass compelling and makes their brand of pop feel a bit weightier, regardless of the lyrical content.
- The Dukes Of Stratosphear — Collideascope (Psonic Psunspot): After the brilliant 25 O’Clock EP, which sold better than XTC’s other releases of the period, a full length album had to be made. And it was almost as good as the EP. This is a terrific Andy Partridge psych-pop song. This is arguably the greatest rock side project ever. It’s a shame that the bubblegum-glam Dukes album Andy planned never got off the ground.
- Iron & Wine — Resurrection Fern (The Shepard’s Dog): Sam Beam’s whispery folk songs are so comforting and manage to sound hip while also not really being that far, at times, from something that Bread or America might have recorded. The differences are both lyrical and how Beam never lets his choruses explode like those AM radio giants did. Beam has created his own musical world. This song would have fit in well on the prior two Iron & Wine LPs, but this album does a nice job of adding some bluesy edges to add variety to his sound.
- XTC — Meccanic Dancing (Oh We Go!)(Go 2): XTC’s second album is a bit disjointed, as the band seemed unsure of where to go. This was exacerbated by keyboardist Barry Andrews wanting a larger role. Ultimately, Andrews left and was replaced by guitarist David Gregory, which helped Andy Partridge to evolve into a songwriting genius. Even with the creative tension, Go 2 is still a respectable effort, as exemplified by this spiffy piece of post-punk pop. This sound inspired so many British bands of the past few years (like The Futureheads for example), with spiky guitars and a cod disco beat.
- Guided By Voices — Tractor Rape Chain (Bee Thousand): Like most people, this album was my first exposure to GBV and hooked me for life. Robert Pollard knows how to craft a tune that mines from the great British rock bands of the ’60s and ’70s. This song has the grandeur of The Who, but with a melody that more fits a band like The Hollies or The Jam. The band hit on psych-pop, classic rock and power pop, often in the same song. While they had their share of so-so songs, not many bands of their era had as many great songs, like this one.
- Tangiers — Spine To Your Necklace (Never Bring You Pleasure): Tangiers were a Canadian act that fit somewhere with Spoon, The Strokes and some of post-punk poppy Brit acts of the past six or seven years. Their songs are catchy as hell and rely on clipped guitar parts and rhythms with just enough melody to keep them from being monochromatic. They had three albums, and this one is the best. This song works a Wire like riff but mixes in some ’60s psych-pop touches, all over a vaguely Bowieesque glam beat.
- Aztec Camera — Jump (Just Say Yesterday): This originally appeared on the Oblivious EP. Frame does the Van Halen smash in near cocktail jazz version, with a mellow vibe, featuring primarily his acoustic guitar and a piano. He’s clearly taking the piss out of the song. I’m conflicted on this. I think “Jump” is a very well-written slab o’ pop and this is fairly condescending. However, since this is a good song, even this snarky version has appeal.
- Adrian Belew — The Rail Song (Twang Bar King): This is the best song from Belew’s wonderful second solo album. It’s an excellent moody slice of psychedelic pop with some Eastern undertones. The song is very forceful, yet there’s an elegance at its core that really strikes an emotional chord.
While his younger brother Neil ended up with larger commercial success in Crowded House (though Tim was with the band on its most successful album), Tim has been a great pop musician since he co-founded Split Enz in the early ’70s, making everything from arty pop to fun new wave to plain old fashioned good singer-songwriter stuff. Although his recent solo records have been hard to find, he still writes terrific songs. Moreover, it’s still a kick to think that one of the most handsome rock singers ever used to wear garish makeup, crazy costumes and the oddest haircuts that anyone has ever worn on stage. This man deserves a birthday tribute, so grab your iPod or MP3 player, hit shuffle and share the first 10 songs that come up.
- Rich Creamy Paint — I Found Love (Rich Creamy Paint): During the mid to late ’90s, there was a fleeting moment where it looked like the indie power pop revival might make the mainstream, and the major labels signed a few acts. One of these acts was Rich Painter, who performed under the unfortunate moniker Rich Creamy Paint. His sole major label platter is big and brassy teenage pop (in the ’70s sense, not the modern sense) with lots of big hooks. This is a mid-tempo ballady number that still manages to find a couple of spots for crunchy guitars.
- Psychedelic Furs — All That Money Wants (All Of This And Nothing): The first three Furs albums are all great, though each takes a somewhat different approach. From that point forward, the Furs were a lot more hit and miss. This track, which was appended to a “hits” compilation, is somewhat in the Talk Talk Talk mold (and could have been recorded for that album for all I know). It has some psych-jangle guitar and Richard Butler’s sore throated world weary voice.
- Nazareth — Ship Of Dreams (Malice In Wonderland): The Scottish hard rock band, best known for its cover of “Love Hurts”, took a mellower direction on this 1980 album. This has a bit of a California ’70s rock vibe, and the band shows some heretofore unknown harmonizing skill. Moreover, some of the songs, such as this one, have a bit of a darker aspect than the typical Laurel Canyon tune, making for music that is inviting yet a bit unsettling. A real underrated gem of an album.
- Dolly Parton — Highway Headin’ South (Mission Chapel Memories): A great upbeat Dolly tune with a bit of a gospel feel. The tune is basically a hooray for the South number, though it makes the good point that living where it’s cold isn’t always fun. Who cares about the lyrics when Dolly is singing so joyously.
- Green Pajamas — Carmilla (In a Glass Darkly): This cult band is a favorite among those who like baroque psychedlic pop. As time went on, Jeff Kelly and his crew went in a bit more of a chamber pop direction, as on this song. This is a sweet and haunting track that reminds me a bit of the folkier side of Led Zeppelin in spots, mixed with The Left Banke.
- Wax — Continuation (What Else Can We Do): Although based in L.A., three of the four members of this band (who achieved brief fame for the controversial Spike Jonze directed video for “California”) were from the western suburbs. In fact, I worked for three years with Wax bass player Dave (Burdie Cutlass) Georgeff. Wax was a snappy pop-punk band that seemed cut from the same cloth as bands like All, mixed melodic hooks with some odd tempo shifts and arrangements. This song works a simple groove relentlessly, building up to a nice refrain.
- Screaming Blue Messiahs — Too Much Love (Bikini Red): This trio, which sprung from the ashes of Motor Boys Motor, mixed some traditional ’50s rock ‘n’ roll with streamlined punky rock, without sounding like either a punk or a rockabilly band. The band’s rhythm section was ultra steady and tight, alllowing frontman Bill Carter plenty of room to dazzle with his guitar playing. The first two SBM albums, this is from the second, are packed with hooky songs that don’t sound much like anybody else.
- The Rutles — I Must Be In Love (The Rutles): This Beatles parody from the late ’70s was the brain child of Eric Idle of Monty Python and Neil Innes of the Bonzo Dog Band. Innes whipped up 20 Beatle soundalike tunes, many of which sounded as good as the originals that he was spoofing. This track amalgamates the ideas of a few different tracks and is a fun early ’60s rock romp.
- The Raspberries — Rose Colored Glasses (Capitol Collectors Series): Since I’m a big power pop fan, I’ve tried to fully embrace The Raspberries. While I love their hits, many of Eric Carmen’s soppy ballads do nothing for me. Such as this one.
- Nothing Painted Blue — Couldn’t Be Simpler (Placeholders): Hyperliterate indie rock band fronted by Franklin Bruno. Bruno had a limited whiny/drawly voice, but it was well suited for his clever lyrics. The band’s music didn’t fit in any particular bag — it’s pretty much catchy guitar rock, with influences such as Elvis Costello, The Smiths, The Kinks and many others. This song mixes an industrial strength guitar riff with a detour into Burt Bacharach land before heading back into the rock.
The Beatles loom so large in rock music history, and rightfully so, that sometimes it’s hard to keep them in perspective. This is especially true when their respective solo careers managed to, unsurprisingly, fall short of the peaks of the band’s career. Certainly, these four men weren’t perfect, and criticism of their lesser work is warranted, but it in no way can it diminish their accomplishments. This is particularly true of Paul McCartney, who is unfairly painted as a lightweight in comparison to John Lennon. Yet Macca was actually as experimental as his great counterpart, along with being one of the greatest rock and roll singers ever and arguably the best rock bassist ever. And he still goes out on the road and puts on 2 1/2 hour shows (though his voice is going — see, I can knock him too!), because he loves the music. Let’s salute one of the true legends, by grabbing your iPod or MP3 player, hitting shuffle and sharing the first 10 tunes that come up.
- XTC — Knights In Shining Karma (Apple Venus, Volume 1): The penultimate XTC album is full of rich compositions, some with orchestration. This low key track is kind of a respite from the more largely scaled tunes that take up the rest of the album. This sounds like a soft latter day Beatles track, using a basic blues rock progression but then adding some interesting jazz undertones. While Skylarking is widely acknowledged as XTC’s masterpiece, I think that Apple Venus is even better, littered with great songs.
- Keith — Ain’t Gonna Lie (Bubblegum Classics, Volume 1): This isn’t as bubblegummy as most songs on this collection. By that, I mean it wasn’t as geared towards the younger set. This is really just a wussy innocuous pop song. It may be time to remove it from the iPod.
- Roseanne Cash — Blue Moon With Heartache (The Very Best of Roseanne Cash): While she has had some commercial success, Roseanne Cash’s talent hasn’t fully been appreciated. She’s such a smooth and subtly emotional singer. Moreover, she’s a heck of a songwriter, who, although she had some country hits, doesn’t really fit in any particular pigeonhole. Her songs are simply classic pop, with a hell of lot more intelligence than most pop. This song does have some steel guitar, but it also has some jazzy session guitar that could have come from a ’70s Laurel Canyon classic.
- The Loud Family — Spot the Setup (Plants and Birds and Rocks and Things): The signature tune from the debut album from the band led by Scott Miller of Game Theory. The music was really a continuation of what Miller was doing with his prior band — really arty power pop, with influences from Big Star to oddball post-punk pop like The Monochrome Set. This song is premised on some simple blues chords, but the middle eight is a total breakdown, as the song grinds into cacophony, before some banging guitar chords allow Miller to exit a bit more gracefully. Catchy and weird.
- Gem — Your Heroes Hate You (Hexed): This short lived Ohio band was led by Doug Gillard (ex-Death of Samantha and Guided By Voices) and played solid indie pop. This T. Rex homage was a highlight of this album. Plain and simple, this song is a Rutle-ized version of the Marc Bolan classic “Solid Gold Easy Action”, with the exact same rhythm and just a slightly different structure, with a blissfully damaged guitar solo from Gillard. Ultra fun.
- The Wedding Present — Mars Sparkles Down On Me (Take Fountain): I don’t know if you can call this a comeback album, because David Gedge was making great albums with Cinerama. I think this album is a bit more guitar oriented, but Gedge melds in some of the ’60s influences that were so prominent in Cinerama. And I have no problem with that. Very few songwriters are as good at detailing what it’s like to have your heart ripped out by a former lover, as exemplified by this softer number which features string accompaniment.
- Michael Carpenter and Kings Road — King’s Rd (Kingsroadworks): One of Michael’s favorite artists is Steve Earle, and the Aussie power pop master manages to graft a Earle-esque country/Irish folk vibe onto one of his pulsing melody fests. This is one of those songs where the inspiration is obvious, but it doesn’t come off as derivative, as it’s only used to augment the artist’s well established style. For example, Earle wouldn’t have a “na na na na” middle eight, which is pure bliss, by the way.
- Hank Williams — I’m a Long Gone Daddy (The Complete Hank Williams): The essence of songwriting. Williams learned his stuff from an old blues guitarist sharecropper, and that informed his country songs. Everything is so economical, with pithy verses, instantly relatable lyrics and indelible choruses. Throw on Williams voice, which was part hillbilly twang and part smooth blues, and you have tons of classic songs like this one.
- Sweet — Lost Angels (Off The Record): The second single off of the band’s fifth album. At this point, the glam rock sun was settling, and Sweet was settling in as a hooky hard rock band. Unfortunately, this wasn’t where British music fans were going, and, for some reason, this didn’t get a foothold in the States. This is a shame, as the album is pretty good, and this song is one of the highlights. It has a tough Brian Connolly vocal, a nice mix of melody and guitar crunch and a propulsive instrumental breakdown that fuels a thrilling middle eight. Had this hit, the band’s career may have been markedly different, and they might have made a handful of great hard rock albums. On the other hand, drink and drugs and record biz b.s. may have still sabotaged them.
- New Radicals — I Don’t Wanna Die Anymore (Maybe You’ve Been Brainwashed): This one shot album yielded a big hit in “You Get What You Give”, which is indicative of the high quality of the rest of the effort. These are big pop songs with some old school Philly R & B, and once you get past the gloss, they seem very much in the vein of early ’70s Todd Rundgren and Hall & Oates. This song is no exception.
While so much attention is focused on lead singer Wayne Coyne (and he is the frontman, after all), when you want to know why the Flaming Lips are such a great band, you have to give a substantial amount of credit to Steven Drozd. Not only is he the lead guitarist for the band, but he plays many other instruments (sometimes switching from guitar to keyboard in mid-song when on stage). He has a great deal of responsibility for the texture and sound of the band. Moreover, he has managed to overcome a destructive heroin habit, poignantly chronicled in the documentary The Fearless Freaks, and the Lips solider on, still making great records (like 2009’s Embryonic). Let’s give Steven a birthday salute, by grabbing your iPod/MP3 player, hitting shuffle and sharing the first 10 tunes that come up.
- The Fall — Bremen Nacht (The Frenz Experiment): Yet another fun number from the band’s first Brix Smith era. This song has a cool ping-ponging keyboard part that contrasts the steady drumming and sets up the slight melody. The whole structure is inherently catchy and despite the odd structure, it sounds poppy with a fairly peppy performance from Mark E. Smith.
- Joe Pernice — Found a Little Baby (It Feels So Good When I Stop): This is from Joe’s first solo album, which serves as a soundtrack to his debut novel. The protagonist is a musician, so many songs come up in the book. The album is primarily covers, with one song from the fictional band of the protagonist. This gem is a gentle cover of Chicago’s very own Plush. It sounds like a Pernice Brothers tune, really.
- Robbie Fulks — In Bristol Town One Bright Day (Couples in Trouble): This sounds like a British folk number with a bit of Southern blues underneath (of course, there is some sort of intersection between those styles). This comes from Robbie’s masterpiece, an album where he takes on a bunch of styles with an uncharacteristic seriousness and intensity. However, it’s never pretentious. Every song is a world unto itself with Fulks’ splendid vocals and incisive lyrics. Wish he could follow this up.
- The Morells — I Can’t Dance (The Morells Anthology Live): Wow, I have a ton of Morells on my iPod due to this live compilation (four full shows). D. Clinton Thompson steps up to the microphone for a bouncy early ’60s R & B/beach music type of tune.
- Dirty Looks — Accept Me (Dirty Looks): This Staten Island trio put out one of the all-time great debut albums on Stiff Records in 1980. This is mod-inflected power pop. Unlike the swoony nature of most power pop, the songs here are aggressive with razor sharp playing. Someone should get Ted Leo a copy of this album, as I could easily hear him covering a bunch of these tunes. This is one of the relatively lesser numbers on the album, but it still has a great hook.
- The Zombies — I Got My Mojo Workin’ (Zombie Heaven): Although The Zombies are famous for their unique, often baroque, Brit pop sound, they started out as an R & B based beat group. And they were pretty darned good at that. This take on an old blues chestnut features Rod Argent on lead vocals, and he acquits himself very well.
- Blow Pops — 7 Days With You (American Beauties): Milwaukee band led by Mike Jarvis, who now fronts the similar Lackloves. Jarvis specializes in ’60s styled pop that touches on the janglier side of the British Invasion and those it influenced. So a typical Blow Pops tune can conjure up The Beatles and The Byrds, along with lesser lights like The Beau Brummels and The Searchers. I can’t resist saying this — the Blow Pops are truly ear candy.
- Three Dog Night — Black and White (Celebrate: The Three Dog Night Anthology): I guess rock critics will never go back and reassess Three Dog Night. But these guys had a gazillion hits in the ’70s, and most of them still sound great today. This compilation has some early songs and non-singles, but not enough to get an idea if this band could carry albums. But why should this matter? If you can release a couple fistfuls of great singles, doesn’t that make you a great band? I did how this song has a modified reggae rhythm.
- The Adverts — Quickstep (Anthology): The early British punk band led by T.V. Smith flamed out after only two albums, but they made a real impact. The Adverts’ tunes are well constructed and owe a little less of a debt to older styles of rock than some other punk bands of the era. Indeed, I wouldn’t be surprised if some early U.S. post-punkers like Effigies and Wipers were fans. A typically explosive track.
- J. Geils Band — Southside Shuffle (The J. Geils Band Anthology): One of the earlier tunes from this Boston band who went on to have surprising success during the new wave era. This is typical mid-tempo blues rock with a strong vocal by Peter Wolf. Their early studio stuff doesn’t fully capture how greasy and rocking they were.
Illinois has been the home of heavy rockers from Trouble to Big Black. But no one was heavier than Robert Earl Hughes, who for many years was listed as the heaviest man ever at…are you ready for this…1041 pounds. The behemoth of Baylis, in Pike County, Illinois, weighed 200 pounds at the age of six. Let’s honor this record setting Illinoisan in the only way we know — by grabbing your iPod/MP3 player, hitting shuffle and sharing the first 10 tunes.
- The Spinners — The Rubberband Man (The Very Best of The Spinners): Silly and addictive ’70s soul-funk from the Detroit vocal group with the Philly sound. This song is so darned catchy. But whenever I hear it, it conjures up an image of The Captain and Tennille performing it on their old variety show, and the cutaways to The Captain (Darryl Dragon) wearing rainbow five-toed socks, stretching a rubberband between his toes and plucking away at it. I hope that show never makes it to DVD.
- The Church — Almost With You (Under The Milky Way: The Best of The Church): I guess The Church is a one hit wonder (“Under the Milky Way”), but this Australian band is not as ephemeral as the one hit wonder tag usually implies. Indeed, they are still going strong with their blend of Byrds-y jangle and classic psychedelia. It’s an enduring sound that they do so well. This is more of a straight ahead jangler with a great acoustic guitar solo by Marty Willson-Piper.
- The Chills — I Love My Leather Jacket (Kaleidoscope World): One of the quintessential Chills songs, and thus, one of the quintessential Kiwi indie rock songs. Like so much New Zealand music from the ’80s, the influence of The Velvet Underground looms large. Chills leader Martin Phillips brings a unique melodic sensibility to the bouncy drone pop, along with a low key vocal charm. This is a laid back anthem.
- Myracle Brah — Action Reaction (Life on Planet Eartsnop): From the Brah’s classic debut, this is one of the 20 short, sharp shots of power pop perfection on this platter. The song works a Beatles/Badfinger styled riff with psychedelic undertones, keyed by a prominent bass line that the guitar seems to tether to. Andy Bopp doesn’t waste a note on this song, leaving one never more than 30 seconds away from a hook.
- Pulp — Trees (We Love Life): The final Pulp album was appropriately produced by Scott Walker, one of the few artists with a firmer sense of the dramatic than Jarvis Cocker. However, the album only has a couple of songs that take it to the hilt. Instead, most of the album is measured. On this song, which was a single, the layers of acoustic guitars and keyboards create a sense of resignation as Cocker sings of how he should have seen that his heart was going to be broken. A lovely and sad record.
- The Streets — Blinded By The Light (A Grand Don’t Come For Free): I suppose that it’s unfair to wonder if Mike Skinner can ever equal this album. On his second full length, he had perfected his blend of hip-hop with modern British minimalist dance sounds, and his tale of a geezer who has found a woman to love at the same time that he has lost 1,000 pounds is well rendered. This song has a pulse beat that Massive Attack might appreciate, while Skinner gets stuck in a club, waiting for his mates.
- Missy Elliot — The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly) (Respect M.E.): This is not as earth shattering and innovative as Missy’s best work with Timbaland, but any song that uses Ann Peeble’s “I Can’t Stand the Rain” as the hook and lays down a mellow groove for Elliot to lay down her attitude has to be a good one.
- Jawbox — Send Down (Novelty): Not as angular as later Jawbox, this is more of an explosive guitar number with J. Robbins singing just loud enough to be heard above the din. In some respects, this song manages a combination of melody and muscle in the rhythm guitar playing that is reminiscent of Mission Of Burma and Naked Raygun.
- Loretta Lynn — Little Red Shoes (Van Lear Rose): Lynn frequently tells stories in concert with her band providing some musical accompaniment. Producer Jack White thought it would be cool for Loretta to record one of those stories. Hence, this song. There’s something remarkable about this, as Lynn is so conversational. This was an inspired decision by White and it makes a great album that much greater.
- Rockpile — You Ain’t Nothin’ But Fine (Seconds Of Pleasure): The sole album by this long running band that featured both Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe is perhaps a step shy of classic, but the mix of Lowe’s pure pop and Edmunds’ ’50s rock mojo made for a fun LP. This is a pure rock ‘n’ roll song, Chuck Berry style. Some critics found the band too laid back, but their relaxed approach works because drummer Terry Williams really had a good sense of swing.
For a few years in the ’60s, John Fogerty created a legacy. His mix of blues and country and the swampy vibe he added to it, along with a classic lyrical sensibility, resulted in quintessentially American music. But Fogerty was no flag waver — he commented on the Vietnam War with songs like “Fortunate Son” and “Who’ll Stop the Rain”. He also filled pages in the Great American Songbook, creating a wedding staple with “Proud Mary”. And Fogerty is still performing today, with his equally distinctive voice and guitar playing. Let’s salute Mr. Fogerty by grabbing your iPod/MP3 player, hitting shuffle and sharing the first 10 tunes.
- Ed Kuepper — Nothing Changes In My House (The Butterfly Net): Kuepper, the original guitarist for The Saints, left the band after the third album and stuck out to play intelligent high energy rock with The Laughing Clowns and The Aints. When Kuepper is solo, the music is usually acoustic guitar centered and fits somewhere between The Go-Betweens and, oddly enough, the ’80s work of The Saints (led by singer Chris Bailey). Kuepper is simply good at what he does. This is a bouncy little number.
- Syd Barrett — Baby Lemonade (The Best of Syd Barrett): The L.A. band who ultimately backed Arthur Lee in the latter day incarnation of Love was named after this song. This is excellent psychedelic pop that is in line with Barrett’s classic Pink Floyd singles like “Arthur Layne” and “See Emily Play”. Barrett’s amelodic vocals were a big influence on Robyn Hitchcock. On this song, I can also hear where Brian Eno might have picked up an idea or two.
- Sly & The Family Stone – I Cannot Make It (The Essential Sly & The Family Stone): Not only was Sly Stone a father of funk, but he also was an amazing pop writer with a great ear for melody. This song balances strong melodic passages that could have come from a Four Tops song with rocking proto-funk, punctuated by horns. So many things go into the mix on this track.
- Silvery — Revolving Sleepy Signs (Thunderer and Excelsior): With the circus-style organ, this song sounds made for a fairground. When it hits the chorus, it sounds a bit like an old Supergrass track. This is fine over-the-top Brit pop which fell on deaf ears a couple of years. I hope they stick it out.
- Jason & The Scorchers — Broken Whiskey Glass (Reckless Country Soul): Original version of song that ended up on the band’s debut album. This song skips the slow weepy country intro verse and goes right to the rocking country. The sophisitication of the song, especially the melodic twist out of the chorus, comes through loud and clear, despite the low quality of the recording.
- Elvis Costello & The Attractions — Chemistry Class (Armed Forces): Boy, was Elvis on a roll early in his career. On his third album, he and Nick Lowe went with a more ornate pop direction, and Elvis whipped up songs that were perfect for the concept. This song views romance as fraught with danger, and Elvis plays on chemistry terms as much as he can, and also slips in a reference to Hitler. Yes, he was an angry young man.
- The Damned — Looking At You (Machine Gun Etiquette): An energetic, ramshackle cover of a great MC5 tune (I played the original single version of it last week on my show on CHIRP Radio). The band loosens up the arrangement a bit to allow for more guitar theatrics and to give it a feel akin to Damned winners like “Ignite”. I presume this was, at some point, a staple of their live shows.
- Montage — I Shall Call Her Mary (Montage): After The Left Banke broke, Michael Brown formed Montage. He purveyed the same style of baroque pop that he used to pen classics like “Walk Away Renee” and “Pretty Ballerina”. Perhaps the music was a tad less ornate, but there are still stylish piano parts and stacked harmony vocals and dramatic touches everywhere. Hard to believe this didn’t succeed.
- Bob Dylan & The Band — Going To Acapulco (The Basement Tapes): I love this album, as Bob and The Band are clearly just having a great time writing songs steeped in blues, folk and Americana, but still connected to rock. Robbie Robertson takes the lead on this song, which certainly would have fit in on one The Band’s early albums. Garth Hudson’s organ embellishes this perfectly.
- Los Campesinos! — Death To Los Campesinos! (Hold On Now Youngster…): This is classic British indie pop, pumped up with tons of sugar and caffiene. The underlying song is solid and relatively catchy, but nothing amazing. However, the playing and performance take it up two or three notches, between the great vocals to the hopped up rhythm section to the active guitars. One heck of a production.
The weather is getting warmer and the spring is bringing big thunderstorms. Which brings to mind the music of My Bloody Valentine, who mixed warm fluid undercurrents with ear shattering volume to create a tremendously influential sound. The main architect of that sound was (is?) Kevin Shields. The man who inspired tons of shoegazers and guitar players in general deserves a shuffle-riffic celebration. So grab your iPod or MP3 player, hit shuffle, and share the first 10 songs that come up.
- Brian Eno & John Cale — The River (Wrong Way Up): A collaboration between two renaissance men yields a really smart pop record. This album highlights the places where their respective genius intersects, and had this come out as either a John Cale or Brian Eno solo record, it would have sounded consistent with their individual bodies of work. This is a nifty, spacious song with a bit of a Western feel, primarily utilizing electronic instruments.
- Mano Negra — Indios de Barcelona (Puta’s Fever): These guys, led by Manu Chao, were godfathers of the rock en espanol movement, even though they were French. Chao was of Basque origin, however, and he and his mates cheerfully blended rock ‘n’ roll, ska, traditional ethnic music, folk, rap and anything else in their radar screen into high energy music. This song has military horns and crazy percussion and is a highlight of their incredible second album.
- Eleventh Dream Day — Southern Pacific (Prairie School Freakout): The great Chicago band topped off their debut full length by tipping the ol’ hat to a big influence, Mr. Neil Young. But they weren’t content to go with a standard. Instead, they went with the sole single pulled from Neil’s Reactor album. It’s a train song with a chugging riff. Eleventh Dream Day’s version is looser and adds a paranoid edge to the more straightforward original. An outstanding cover.
- Poor Luther’s Bones — Devil’s Broth (Next To Nowhere): A Pennsylvania band who moves from roots music to Tom Waits oddball stylings to wicked psychedelia from album to album. This is from a psych-blues work, with nasty guitar and sleazy vocals. Great stuff.
- Micachu — Vulture (Jewellry): The opening track from the fantastic 2009 debut album from Mica Lewis, a/k/a Micachu. She apparently learned a lot from the current British electronic scene, which accounts for the way she cuts and pastes sounds. But the dissonant song structures and odd shifts also owe a lot to classic post-punk. And she manages to twist these concoctions into catchy tunes. Can’t wait for the follow up.
- Los Bravos — Coca Cola jingle (Things Go Better With Coke): The Spanish beat group who had a #2 smash with “Black Is Black” sold their souls to do an ad for Coke.
- Jim Basnight — Tonight (Yellow Pills Volume 3): Basnight led The Moberlys, a Seattle power pop outfit, and since then has led the Rockingtons and done his own solo thing. His music is best compared to The Plimsouls and Tom Petty. It mines great ’60s and ’70s sources and is played with tons of passion. A cult figure in the Pacific Northwest.
- Nat King Cole and Dean Martin — Open Up The Doghouse (The Nat King Cole Story): Cole was so effortlessly cool, a naturally swinging singer and pianist, whose mix of jazz, pop and blues was perfect for the post-war era. Of course, add Dean Martin to the mix and the cool factor goes off the charts. On this number, Nat and Dean trade stories about screwing up with their ladies and ending up in the you know where. Not sure about Nat saying that you need to treat women “rough” and “slap ‘em” to show them who’s boss.
- ABBA — Super Trouper (Gold): Not one of there mega gigantic worldwide hits, just an international hit. Overall, not as melodically rewarding as the best ABBA singles, but the vocal arrangements are fantastic, making a decent chorus sound much more special.
- Foghat — Stone Blue (Stone Blue): The last rocking hit single for the British boogie band. Foghat was a pretty limited band, but they eventually got to a point where you could count on them to whip up two or three really catchy rock ‘n’ roll numbers (three or four if they had the sense to throw in a Chuck Berry or Bo Diddley cover). This song has some pretty cool bottleneck guitar leads.
A Rhode Island art school student who led one of the most successful bands of the post-punk era, a man who exposed the United States to great sounds from Brazil, a composer who continues to explore with his music, a guy who recorded a landmark innovative album with Brian Eno and followed it up with a brilliant art-pop collaboration — that’s David Byrne, a renaissance man beyond compare. While his solo career couldn’t equal the Talking Heads, Byrne’s solo work has only burnished his considerable legacy. Let’s celebrate David’s birthday by grabbing your iPod/MP3 player, hitting shuffle and sharing the first ten songs that come u
- Hawksley Workman — Is This What You Call Love? (Los Manlicious): This album was originally intended as a tour only release, but it made a good rocking alternative to the mellower Between The Beautifuls. Workman mixes buzzy, slashing guitars with kind of a new wave funk feel on this upbeat number. This sounds tossed off, but Workman’s toss offs are better than most people’s A material.
- The Jesus Lizard — A Tale Of Two Women (Blue): Typical later day Lizard — chugging mid-tempo rock with plenty of room for David Yow to rant and for the guitars to criss-cross and slash, before resolving itself into a surprisingly melodic chorus. This band started great and pretty much stayed that way.
- The Who — Bargain (Who’s Next): If I’m going to listen to The Who, I’m going to grab Sell Out or Quadrophenia, but it’s hard to deny that Who’s Next is a classic rock album that really lives up to its billing, full of larger than life songs. I never need to hear the whole thing, but hearing an awesome track like this is always great on shuffle.
- Wilco — Hate It Here (Sky Blue Sky): A lot of Wilco fans who are all about Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost Is Born are not fond of this album. Regardless of what you think of those two albums (and I think they are overrated), I think with Ghost, Wilco had gone as far as they could with the ultra-experimental stuff. So heading back to just focusing on the songs and the emotional content was the best idea. This is a total ’70s throwback tune, played just right. Not the best song on the album, but it works.
- Flop — Parasite (Flop & The Fall of the Mopsqueezer): A cool grunge-era power pop band from the Seattle area. Rusty Willoughby (also of Pure Joy) was the leader of this band. He had a thin voice that somehow worked, even when the guitars are way up in the mix. This song has Buzzcocks and early (darker) Cheap Trick vibes, though it’s not as hooky as most Flop material.
- Tommy Keene — Your Heart Beats Alone (Ten Years After): This is one of my favorite Tommy Keene albums. It was this cult power pop legend’s first album of original material since he had been dropped by Geffen and he had clearly stockpiled a lot of top drawer material. His songs are invariably mid-tempo and usual are full of big guitars supporting melancholy melodies with Tommy’s reedy voice up front. This is a quieter mid-tempo song and it goes down real easy.
- Linus Of Hollywood — Good Sounds (Your Favorite Record): Linus used to lead the pop-punk band Size 14 (who had a minor hit with “Clare Danes Poster”), but came into his own doing retro soft-pop records that conjured up memories of Harry Nilsson, The Beach Boys, Spanky and Our Gang and Margo Guryan. This is the quasi-title cut and this song is bursting with a sunny melody and a cool backing vocal arrangement. This music is so decidedly unhip that it is ridiculously cool.
- Todd Rundgren — All The Children Sing (Hermit Of Mink Hollow): Todd went off the deep end years ago, whether it was CD-Rom interactive B.S. or doing his old songs in a bossa nova style. But whenever he’s decided to do a pure pop album, he has hit a home run. This late ’70s effort spawned the hit “Can We Still Be Friends?”, and there’s more brilliant songwriting where that came from. This is a perky number with an odd feel to it — something about the Todd does everything in the studio thing that makes this both happy and haunting at the same time.
- The Beatles — I’ll Be Back (A Hard Day’s Night): A splendid John Lennon song. This downcast tune seems to draw from Buddy Holly and the Everly Brothers, and maybe even Roy Orbison, but adds a Latin accent that makes the song so distinctive. This has a bit of a folk rock vibe too, going a step beyond what The Searchers were doing at that time.
- The Morells — Double Shot of My Baby’s Love (The Morells Anthology Live): The Swinging Medallions’ classic is tailor made for the great roadhouse band from Springfield, Missouri. Bouncy inane fun.
Here in Chicago, folks like Frankie Knuckles and Ron Hardy got the house music scene going. And at the forefront of the second wave of Chicago house was none other than Felix da Housecat. In honor of a great contributor to Chicago’s musical legacy, please grab your iPod or MP3 player, hit shuffle and share the first 10 songs that come up.
- Johnny Paycheck — Wherever You Are (The Real Mr. Heartache): The tough guy country singer, best known for “Take This Job and Shove It”, also had a tender side. This is a weepy honky tonk number well sung by Paycheck. I could easily here Buck Owens doing this, though he wouldn’t sound as pathetic as Paycheck.
- The Oranges — White Cloud (Young Now): A bubblegummy ballad from a bubblegummy quartet of shag hair Japanese guys. The Oranges try to replicate the cuddly side of glam rock, a la Slik and Bay City Rollers. They wear colorful, garish (and, of course, coordinated) outfits, singing in their native tongue with the sporadic English phrase thrown in here or there. Very fun.
- Robert Palmer — Give Me An Inch (The Very Best of the Island Years): Palmer explored various types of R & B and blues-styled rock during his career. This breezy song is pitched somewhere between Philly soul and Boz Scaggs (which is a fairly narrow crevice). Palmer got some stick from critics for his laid back approach, but for his fans, that was the appeal. He projected a certain intensity while never needing to shout. This is a really nice tune.
- Neko Case — Blacklisted (Blacklisted): While Neko’s artistry continues to progress, I think the blend of country-western, desert rock and other American influences is pretty much perfect on her third album. The spacious backing music, with twangy guitars and light drumming provides plenty of space for her gigantic gorgeous voice.
- Doves — The Sulphur Man (The Last Broadcast): More majestic melancholy from Doves, who just put out a best of compilation. These guys carved out a sound and just live in it. They might add a few wrinkles on a track or two on any given album, but generally it’s more downcast pop with hints of shoegaze and dance pop lurking underneath. Their music is so enveloping and warm, I’m surprised they aren’t a bigger band in the States.
- The Fall — Choc-Stock (Dragnet): A ranty, wobbly Fall tune, with tinny production, off-key strummed guitars, plodding drums and a wandering bass line. All the better for Mark E. Smith to caterwaul to. Even admidst the atonal music, they conjure up a catchy sing-a-long refrain. A sadly overlooked Fall album. It’s really good.
- E’Nuff Z’Nuff — Fly High Michelle (E’Nuff Z’Nuff): I’m sure it seemed like a good idea for this Blue Island band to hitch its wagon to the then burgeoning hair metal scene, but EZ was, at heart, a band that had a lot more in common with Cheap Trick and other power pop bands. Other than a few hair metal trappings, their songs have strong Beatle-esque melodies and strong vocals from Donnie Vie. This was the band’s big ballad, the second single from their debut album. It is a big assed pop song and holds up really well, thank you very much.
- Jethro Tull — Songs for Jeffrey (Aqualung): I think this is a bonus track from one of Tull’s two acknowledged classic albums. Unlike other heavy bands of their era, who were blues based, Tull had more of a folk vibe (with some blues, sure). They just played their folk in a heavy, plodding style. A lot of bands have taken a crack at the Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath sounds — why can’t someone try to bring Tull into the 21st Century?
- The Fall — Cheetham Hill (The Light User Syndrome): This is one of the best Fall albums, a one shot with Jet Records (the label Electric Light Orchestra recorded for). This was the second album of the second era with Mark E. Smith’s ex-wife, Brix Smith. Her presence has always resulted in catchier tunes that don’t neglect the odd musical stylings one associates with The Fall. This song has a strong melodic foundation, supported by a pea-soup disco beat and lots of mid-level industrial keyboard and guitar sounds that pop up from time to time. Mark E. is a little less excitable, enunciating as clearly as he ever has, while Brix brings in the chorus.
- Sweet — Sixties Man (Waters Edge): From the penultimate Sweet album, and the band’s second as a trio, singer Brian Connolly having been kicked out of the band for his excessive drinking. On this album, Sweet reconstituted a pure pop band, leaving the pretensions of their prior two albums behind. They even relied on some outside songwriters, and some hack penned this ode to staying in the flower power mode forever, laden with pop culture references. Despite the lyrical banality, the tune is rather catchy and Steve Priest is a rather enthusiastic vocalist. This is poor man’s E.L.O. And I really dig it, nevertheless.
If Willie Nelson’s career had ended in the late ’60s, he would deserve a place in musical history for writing such great songs as “Hello Walls”, “Funny How Time Slips Away”, “Pretty Paper” and, most famously, Patsy Cline’s signature tune, “Crazy”. Thankfully, it didn’t end there. Willie eventually tired of the Nashville scene and struck out in a different direction, coming into his own with the classic song cycle, Red Headed Stranger. From there, Willie blurred the lines between country, pop, jazz and other American musical forms, singing his own great compositions and interpreting the great American songbook with his clear voice and unique phrasing. Along the way, Willie became a bit of movie star, a tax cheat and a hero to High Times subscribers worldwide. Let’s pay tribute to an American icon, by grabbing your iPod/MP3 player, hitting shuffle, and sharing the first 10 songs that come up.
For this week’s shuffle, I used my iPod Nano, just to show that I have things in my music collection that have come out in the last five years. Let’s see how this plays out.
- The Resonars — Yes Grovesnor (That Evil Drone): The Resonars specialize in retro ’60s rock tunes that usually sound like The Hollies, if The Hollies were a rocking psych pop or garage band. This song, however, is a respite — a sweet acoustic guitar instrumental with a middle section that is a bit ominous. One could easily hear this developed into a full bore rock tune.
- Raphael Saadiq — Sure Hope You Mean It (The Way I See It): The former front man for Tony! Toni! Tone! really hit the jackpot with his 2008 solo record. Going back to the late ’80s, Saadiq had always had one foot in classic R & B, and here, he planted both feet in that sound, making a record that conjured up memories of Marvin Gaye, Sam Cooke, The Temptations, Curtis Mayfield and others. Since he’s an ace songwriter, he came pretty close to equaling his idols. How sweet this song is, if you get my drift.
- Electric Light Orchestra — Calling America (Balance Of Power): A low key pop tune from a group known for bombast. Okay, the chorus is a typical Jeff Lynne humdinger, and it’s a nice contrast to the quieter verses. Balance of Power was the final E.L.O. album until Lynne revived the name for the Zoom L.P., and like this track (which was a minor Top 40 hit), it’s a hidden gem.
- Happy Hate Me Nots — Everyday (The Good That’s Been Done): Another ferocious rocker from this fiery Australian band that took some cues from The Saints and came up with its own distinctive brand of R & B fueled punk. This is from a great 2 CD anthology of the band. They have reunited and will have a new album out soon.
- The Knux — F!re (Put it in the Air) (Remind Me In 3 Days): The two brothers who front the hip-hop band The Knux were displaced from New Orleans because of Katrina and ended up in L.A. The Knux are a throw back to ’80s hip hop in a lot of ways, with some songs using a fair amount of rock instrumentation. This song is a nice mid-tempo number that’s reminiscent of Naughty By Nature, with a big back beat and a nifty sampled snare drum backing.
- Jay Reatard — Florescent Grey (Matador Singles 08): This is a cover of a Deerhunter song. This is a masterpiece of garage rock paranoia. With its simple repeating guitar motif and Reatard’s strained vocal, this is the aural equivalent of a horror movie. Outstanding.
- Jason & The Scorchers — Mona Lee (Halcyon Times): The 2010 comeback from this band makes it sound like they haven’t left. This is the band for whom the phrase “cowpunk” was coined. The Scorchers could whip up a great country tune and then rock it up like nobody’s business. Mainstays Jason Ringenberg and guitarist Warner Hodges sound as good as ever, on the band’s best record since their debut album.
- Pretty & Nice — Peekaboo (Get Young): Herky-jerk post-punk perkiness that would appeal to fans of earlier XTC, The Monochrome Set, Field Music and The Sugarplastic. This is mellower than most of the material on the album, but very good nevertheless.
- Franz Ferdinand — Come On Home (Franz Ferdinand): I think that Franz Ferdinand’s debut album is nearly perfect. The songs are so well constructed and the performances are so good. They brought sexy back to the post-punk movement. This is probably a second tier song in the context of the album, which shows how incredible the first tier of songs is.
- Leatherface — Diego Garcia (The Stormy Petrel): As with Jason & the Scorchers, this is another comeback album that sounds like a continuation of prior greatness. Franklin Stubbs still has a voice that sounds like he gargled two bottles of Drano. It’s a deceptively expressive instrument which tinges everything he sings with a measure of resignation and sadness. Meanwhile, the band creates a punk maelstrom around him, with just enough melody to make it accessible.
Although the early ’60s is considered by some a somewhat fallow period for rock ‘n’ roll music, Roy Orbison is one of the notables who made that era worthwhile. Behind those shades lurked one of the most stunning voices in rock history. He brought operatic intensity and range to the rock era, with tales of romantic angst and longing that have stood the test of time. His influence has reached vocalists from Chris Isaak to k.d. lang to Glenn Danzig (really). Let’s pay tribute to Roy by grabbing your iPod/MP3 player, hitting shuffle and sharing the first ten songs that come up.
- The Guess Who — Baby’s Birthday (Shakin’ All Over): In its early days, The Guess Who were a fairly typical ’60s rock band, playing a mix of garage rock, pop and light psychedelia. This song, off of a cool Sundazed compilation of those early days, sounds a bit like on of Mike Nesmith’s tunes from The Monkees.
- Loretta Lynn — You’ve Just Stepped In (From Stepping Out on Me) (All Time Greatest Hits): Doesn’t the title say it all. Another great Lynn wounded woman song, with Lynn telling her straying man that if he doesn’t change his ways, she going to be “stepping out on you someday.” In this song, Lynn hits upon the dilemna of a woman who wants to leave but is scared to.
- Guided By Voices — Ester’s Day (Bee Thousand): Like a lot of people, this album was my first exposure to GBV, who were at the forefront of the low fi movement. Of course, this was due to circumstance, not artistic intent. But they learned how to work it to their advantage, especially on the little song fragments that glued together their albums. The lower fidelity gives this track, and many others, a haunting feel.
- The dB’s — Love Is For Lovers (Like This): Peter Holsapple, the front man for the latter day dB’s, wrote a great piece on this song for the New York Times. This was it, the perfect hit single. Which never came close to being a hit. He talked about the process and the frustration. And frustrating it had to have been, as this song is awash in hooks, full of twists, and has great lyrics. An awesome tune indeed.
- The Boys — Heroine (Alternative Chartbusters): This underrated British ’70s pop-punk band threw a curveball on this slow piano based song. This has a whiff of Beatle-ish psychedelia and arm waving Slade glam balladry. A nice change of pace.
- Fools Face — What You Hide (Fools Face): Fools Face are heroes to a select group of power pop fans who have their limited release albums from the ’80s. This Springfield, Missouri band had four equally adept songwriters who mined the best of pop and power pop from the ’60s and ’70s. The band’s 2002 reunion album was a jawdropper, because other than the beefier production (one of the members had gone on to becoming a big time recording engineer), it otherwise picked right up where its 1983 Public Places album had left off. This is a muscular psychedelic rocker that sounds like a less arrogant Oasis.
- The Saints — Demoltion Girl (Wild About You: 1976-1978): The Saints are true contemporaries of the Ramones, and they were starting up punk Down Under the way the Ramones did in NYC. Whereas the Ramones revved up classic ’60s pop archtypes like Phil Spector, The Saints were turbo-charging basic R & B. Along with Radio Birdman, The Saints established a special hard edge that is always associated with Aussie punk.
- Redd Kross — Secret Life (Show World): Show World was the final Redd Kross album, though there is still a possibility that Steven and Jeffrey McDonald might get another one out. If they don’t, this was quite the finale. After starting out as a teen punk band, Redd Kross settled into classic power pop mode. And with Show World, they perfected their sound. This is a rather powerful soaring ballad that sounds like it was made for ’70s AM radio.
- Split Enz — Marooned (Frenzy): This album was the break away from the earlier art-pop of the first three Enz albums into the radio friendly new wavish-pop that made them known around the world. Frenzy was not quite as slick as the subsequent efforts and had an energy befitting the album title. This song sounds like a mid-point between early XTC and Field Music.
- k.d. lang — Tickled Pink (A Truly Western Experience): The first k.d. lang effort is a bit uneven, but it established that she loved country music so much that she couldn’t take it too seriously. Thus, she brought a fresh perspective to music that respected traditions, while tweaking them to give it a feel that fit her clever lyrical sensibility. The album also let everyone know that k.d. lang is an amazing singer. This song manages to have a country structure, but also has a bluesy feel, augmented by the use of a Hammond organ. Nice.
There was more to Carl Perkins than “Blue Suede Shoes”. Perkins was a great songwriter and guitarist who brought a stronger country influence to rockabilly and rock ‘n’ roll (as compared to Sun Records colleagues Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis). The Beatles knew that, covering a number of his songs, including “Honey Don’t”. And if you want to hear Carl at his best, track down classics like “Movie Magg” and “Dixie Fried”. The last time Perkins played Chicago before he passed away, he was at the House of Blues. Two of his sons were in his backing band (his third son worked in Western Tennessee at the same company as my Uncle Frank). During the set, one of his sons had a heart attack. Really. An ambulance came and took him away. There was a delay, as you can imagine. But eventually, Carl came back out and finished the show. What a trouper! Carl Perkins always let the show go on and you should let the shuffle go on. Get out your iPod or MP3 player, hit shuffle and share the first 10 tunes that come up.
- The Insomniacs — Crystal Clear (Out Of It): A really durned good garage rock band with a mod orientation. The Insomniacs are super tight, with powerful drumming, a mix of fuzzy and jangly guitars and some deceptive melodies. This song sounds like The Jam mixed with the best of the Nuggets collection.
- Northern State — Signal Flow (You Can’t Fade Me)(Dying In Stereo): A mid-tempo number from these three ladies who conjure up memories of the Beastie Boys. Of course, they aren’t that good, but they have loads of personality, and with decent tunes like this one, it entertains me.
- Translator — Come With Me (Translator): Translator had many facets, from songs that blended the Paisley Underground with post-punk vibes to jamming bluesy rock. They also had a pure pop song, best represented by this soaring jangle rocker that is inspirational and has an indelible chorus.
- Jerry Lee Lewis — Red Hot Memories (Ice Cold Beer)(Southern Roots & Boogie Woogie Country Man): A basic honky-tonk number with a big chorus of back up singers, a weepy harmonica and just a little bit of The Killer’s piano magic. Oh, and Jerry Lee’s oversized personality. He refers to himself about 20 seconds into the song.
- The Balancing Act — Fishing In Your Eye (Curtains): Overlooked folk-pop group of the ’80s who recorded for a subsidiary of the IRS label. This song is premised on a cool offbeat jazz rhythm, with the bands usual smooth vocals and a good use of a melodica (though is there ever a bad one?).
- Franz Ferdinand — Send Him Away (Tonight: Franz Ferdinand): A mid-tempo tune from last year’s FF release. I don’t think they’ll ever top the debut, which was pretty much perfect. But Tonight has some really good songs, and this was a respite from the more upbeat numbers.
- Nicole Atkins — Neptune City (Bleeding Diamonds): This is a stripped down version of the title song from Atkins’ debut album. Here, Atkins and her amazing voice are accompanied primarily by a piano. Though the Neptune City album is characterized by lush production, Nicole’s songs are so strong that she doesn’t need all those extras to impress.
- Pernice Brothers — The Ballad Of Bjorn Borg (The World Won’t End): One of my five favorite Pernice Brothers songs. This has Peyton Pinkerton’s wonderful guitar embellishments accompanying a melancholy and romantic melody, which all leads to gigantic chorus: “And we killed the endless summer.” It’s pithy and memorable phrases like that which I offer as proof of Joe Pernice’s brilliance as a lyricist.
- Thee Oh Sees — Peanut Butter Oven (Help): Primitive songs with oddball production. I’m not sure that low-fi is the right way to describe it, as there is a lot going on in the mix. This song just works a two chord vamp with ghostly male and female vocals, punctuated with guitar at just the right time. This band shows that you can always find new wrinkles for old garage rock tropes.
- Lilys — The Lost Victory (The 3 Way): A pithy Kinks-y pop tune from an album that is generally complex as all hell. Lilys have dabbled in a few different sounds, but I’m most taken by their forays into this fey ’60s pop that goes in totally unexpected directions. The songs are catchy but never obvious. Even this short song has a curveball or two.
Let’s pay tribute to a French legend and the father of someone who we’ve played a fair amount of at CHIRP Radio (his daughter, Charlotte). Serge Gainsbourg is the poster child for post-war French decadence, his pop songs drenched in sex, cigarettes and copious amounts of alcohol (and come to think of it, copious amounts of sex). He evolved as an artist, making increasingly outrageous statements about many aspects of life, while steeping himself in controversy after controversy — the biggest, perhaps, being his duet with a young Charlotte, “Lemon Incest”. Many have tried, but no one can equal the sleazy cool of Monsieur Gainsbourg. So let’s pay tribute to Serge. Grab your iPod/MP3 player, hit shuffle, and share the first 10 tunes that come up.
- Sparks — Saccharin and the War (Sparks): One of two songs on the original Halfnelson demos that made the band’s first album (with Halfnelson changing its name to Sparks a few months after their first album’s release). Producer Todd Rundgren captured the demo’s wiggy twee psychedelia on this bizarre song about women and weight loss that must have made sense to Ron Mael at the time he wrote it.
- The Lilac Time — She Still Loves You (Paradise Circus): Stephen Duffy was an original member of Duran Duran who left to form the synth-poppy Tin Tin. After that well dried up, he did u-turn and put out pastoral pop music as The Lilac Time (and he obviously tired of double names). His songs have an elegant air with precise vocals that remind me a bit of Al Stewart. Really good folk pop.
- James Brown — I Got You (I Feel Good)(50th Anniversary Collection): Hmm…a classic JB tune. But one that has been done to death in commercials and soundtracks of movies that aren’t so hot. Granted, they only play the first 40 seconds usually. Nevertheless, this is a great song that I’m tired of hearing. Maybe this will have to be taken off the iPod.
- *Paul Revere & The Raiders — Just Like Me (Just Like Me): A classic Paul Revere garage rock tune. Songs like this had to have been influential on Tommy Boyce & Bobby Hart, as this sounds like the template for the garagier songs that duo penned for The Monkees. Mark Lindsey does a great job building up from his measured singing in the verses to more passion and frenzy as the chorus builds.
- Roger Miller — Train Of Life (King of the Road: The Genius of Roger Miller): The ’60s revival on my shuffle continues. This is a wonderful country blues about a guy who is worried that he’s sitting on the sidelines while life passes him by. This has characteristically sharply observed lyrics, a great economy of language, and Miller’s singing has rarely been better. This builds on the great work of Hank Williams.
- The Morells — I’m a Hog For You Baby (The Morells): A slice of roadhouse R & B from the great Springfield, Missouri bar band led by Lou Whitney and D. Clinton Thompson. When The Morells originally dissolved, Whitney and Thompson formed The Skeletons, who were a little less roots rock then the Morells. About 10 years ago, they revived The Morells, and the new stuff came a bit closer to The Skeletons’ sound. Regardless, this is simple fun rock ‘n’ roll.
- Rod Argent & Chris White — Unhappy Girl (Into the Afterlife): A demo recording by two-fifths of The Zombies, from a cool compilation that collects the immediate post-Zombies work of Argent, White and Colin Blunstone. This song sounds like an outtake from the Odyessey and Oracle sessions — a classic moody mid-tempo ’60s pop song.
- Roger Miller — When Two Worlds Collide (King of the Road: The Genius of Roger Miller): This is a tender ballad from Miller. Miller posits that opposites attract is not a truism. The lyrics on this song are so simple and say all they need to say, with the weepy music taking care of the rest.
- Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band — Alley Oop (Gorilla): A bonus track from a reissue of a classic album from the comedic British band. This is a cover of the old Hollywood Argyles’ hit, with Viv Stanshall practically narrating the lyrics in his veddy proper English. A band made for Dr. Demento.
- Chuck Berry — Back in the U.S.A. (Gold): This oldies laden shuffle ends with a classic Chuck Berry song. Berry’s genius lay in his ability to: 1) rev up 12-bar blues into a pop context, while learning lessons from country and jump blues (especially the influence of Louis Jordan), helping create rock ‘n’ roll, and, 2) his amazing skill as a lyricist. Berry loved iconic images and notions, as exemplified on this celebration of America that looks at it from a contemporary teenage pop culture context. He simultaneously fueled and chronicled the post-war rise of youth culture, and because of that, his influence is still felt to this day, albeit indirectly.
The Queen of Motown, the voice behind dozens upon dozens of classic hits fronting the Supremes, and an accomplished solo artist celebrates a birthday today. So let’s all raise a sonic toast to Diana Ross, by grabbing your iPod/MP3 player, hitting shuffle and sharing the first 10 tunes that come up.
- The Monochrome Set — Martians Go Home (Tomorrow Will Be Too Long): The Monochrome Set were on the poppier side of the post-punk spectrum, playing cool tunes with circular rhythms. This might appeal to fans of early XTC, Orange Juice and Josef K. This is a short, peppy tune with a number of tempos crammed into just over 2 minutes.
- The Castaways — Liar Liar (Nuggets: Original Artyfacts of the Psychedelic Era): A great organ fueled garage rock tune. This is definitely a song that is two parts R & B and one part psychedelia. The playing is just tight enough to be good, but amateur enough to give it a real charm. Debbie Harry did a swell cover of this song. I’m sure it was an influence on early Blondie.
- Johnny Cash — I Still Miss Someone (The Legend): Not one of Johnny’s best know songs, but this is in his classic style. His drawling vocal, the twanging guitar, the light shuffle rhythm and bluesy song. Great stuff.
- Ted Nugent — Cat Scratch Fever (Cat Scratch Fever): Sweaty Teddy’s sole Top 40 hit on an album that was streamlined for maximum 1977 radio play. Or was it 1978? Yes, I know Nugent is a right wing cartoon now, but he used to be a mainstream cartoon, playing catch blues based rock with a sense of humor. And he’s a pretty good guitarist.
- Solomon Burke — Stepchild (Don’t Give Up On Me): Burke’s “comeback” album merely had better known songwriters providing material on an album that has excellent production. Burke never retired and his voice weathered just enough that it really had never sounded better. This is a simple blues song and his phrasing is so fantastic. There’s no one quite like him.
- The Beach Boys — Good To My Baby (Today!/Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!)): Prime pre-Pet Sounds Beach Boys, where Brian Wilson’s increasing sophistication is evident in the number of different musically ideas in this song, the great backing vocal arrangements and the sublime percussive resolution to the chorus. It turns a big hook into a monolithic hook.
- Bob Dylan — On The Road Again (Bringing It All Back Home): From Dylan’s early electric phase, this is a pretty silly song about getting away from home. People who criticize Beck for the lack of substance to his lyrics should listen to this song and you can see that Beck took this “let’s see what I can rhyme” approach to its logical conclusion.
- Urge Overkill — The Candidate (The Supersonic Storybook): One of the best songs from this Chicago alt-rock band. The song subverts ’70s hard rock with a subtle funkiness and infuses that with a strong sense of drama. The song is surprising melodic and poignant. The video is well worth checking out — it was directing by a college pal of mine, Paul Andresen, and my first college radio music director, the late, great Ken Krause, is briefly featured as a bartender in a scene that was shot at the bar Crash Palace, which is where Delilah’s is now located.
- The Pillbugs — The Cat Who Dropped the Bomb (The 3-Dimensional In-Popcycle Dream): This Ohio band has been cranking out fantastic psychedelic pop for years. This might be their best album, which touches on everyone from The Beatles to Electric Light Orchestra to bands to obscure for the Nuggets collections. Most of their songs, but for the modern recording techniques, could pass for authentic ’60s songs.
- XTC — The Man Who Sailed Around His Soul (Skylarking): A fantastic Andy Partridge composition from the album most folks deem the band’s high water mark. This is the first XTC song to have a real pronounced jazz influence — it’s got finger snapping cool, awesome percussion and cool keyboard and wind instrument accompaniments. Indeed, Todd Rundgren outdid himself in the arrangement, giving this song a full soundscape for all of its spectacular faux drama.
I first read about Big Star in Village Voice music critic Robert Christgau’s first Consumer Guide collection. But reading about Big Star and finding their records was a tricky proposition in 1981. Then one day, I found a copy of Radio City in a cutout rack at Rose Records. It was a great introduction — I was fixated for months on “O My Soul”, which took so many familiar ’60s rock elements, but rearranged them in new and exciting ways. Eventually, I came to love the other songs on the album. And that was all I heard by them for years, since Big Star didn’t have anything in print. Even when Radio City and #1 Record came out in CD, it was import only. But eventually I had all the albums, which are so distinctive, and have become part of the power pop canon. Big Star ran the gamut, from the teenage ecstasy of “In The Street” to the tender defiance of “Thirteen” to the blissful longing of “September Gurls” to the desperation that permeates the Third/Sister Lovers project, this was pop music that had strong emotional resonance.
Alas, things weren’t so easy for main man Alex Chilton. A teenage star with The Box Tops, his preternaturally mature soulful voice keyed hits like “The Letter”. But the band was controlled by the record company and producers. And he never made much money from the Tops. He began to explore his own sound, captured on Chilton’s 1970 album, which eventually came out in the ’90s. Finally, with the talented Chris Bell, Andy Hummel and reliable drummer Jody Stephens, Big Star was born. The name wasn’t intended to be ironic (thought that’s how it turned out) — they took it from a local supermarket chain.
Signed to the local label Ardent (an affiliate of Stax), there was no promotional muscle for the band’s music, and perhaps they weren’t quite as mainstream as, for example, The Raspberries. So the records didn’t sell. This took it’s toll. It took years for the cult to expand, and Chilton and Big Star were championed by artists like R.E.M.s Peter Buck, Teenage Fanclub, The Posies, and, most famously, The Replacements, in the classic song, “Alex Chilton”. From these ripples, more and more bands have shown the influence of Big Star.
Chilton’s death just two days ago, at age 59, is such a shame. I wonder if he’d realize just how many people he touched, as illustrated by scads of Facebook updates and tweets in his honor.
I only saw Chilton once, when Big Star (featuring Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow of the Posies, with Stephens on drums) played Metro. It was an amazing night, as I saw the great local band Frisbie for the first time, and they raised the roof. Fortunately, Big Star was up to the task of following that set. And I started following Frisbie, which led to friendships and contacts that are why I’m now at CHIRP. So Chilton’s music has touched me on many levels.
The first song played on CHIRP, just two months before Chilton’s death, was Big Star’s “Thank You Friends”. It was the perfect song to kick CHIRP off, and typical of Chilton’s ability to capture feelings, both lyrically and melodically. We’ll all miss him, but we’ll always have him around.
In Chilton’s honor, please grab your iPod/MP3 player, hit shuffle and share the first 10 songs that come up.
- Parasites — You’re Gonna Miss Me (Retro Pop Remasters): I must have read a review of a Parasites album, which led me to picking up the band’s album Pair. Despite the ugly name, the Parasites are a sugar rush of punk-pop. Unlike bands of the Blink 182 stripe, Parasites are grounded more in classic pop with stronger vocals. They really get the balance right, with punky energy and strong swoony melodies. Maybe this would be better described at power X 2 pop.
- Blur — Colin Zeal (Modern Life Is Rubbish): On Blur’s second album, they were in the process of honing their Brit pop approach, with a character study of a middle class twit, in the tradition of Ray Davies and Andy Partridge. The verses in this song are static, but they set up the big hook. At the time, this sounded so good, but there were even better things to come.
- Radio Birdman — Murder City Nights (Radios Appear): Radio Birdman was strongly influenced by Detroit proto-punk (The MC5 and The Stooges) and surf rock, and came up with a sound that really defined Australian punk rock. There were some garage and R & B undercurrents, with fantastic guitar parts. Deniz Tek has a typically slashing guitar solo here. I was so happy to see them on their reunion tour, as Tek was a monster and the whole band ripped. One of my favorite songs on the band’s classic debut.
- Aimee Mann — Choice In The Matter (I’m With Stupid): Nick Hornby has wondered how Mann can marry such downbeat lyrics with such upbeat melodies. I don’t know, but it’s her greatest talent. On her second solo record, it sounds like she was reaching for a warm sound akin to Matthew Sweet’s Girlfriend album. Her later records got a bit prettier, but all the ingredients that led her to greater prominence as a solo act were all on this disc.
- Duke Ellington & His Famous Orchestra — Caravan (Highlights from the Centennial Edition): The music fits the title, as the band chugs along in rhythmic fashion, setting up a wonderful clarinet solo. The interplay between the drums and the piano is splendid, with a bass guitar also playing along. Then a violin solo gives an Eastern feel to the song. This just sounds so cool.
- M.I.A. — Galang (Arular): The song that really broke M.I.A. in the U.K. Her tracks almost always have bright and insistent rhythm tracks. There is so much going on and the rhythms are catchy unto themselves. M.I.A. isn’t really much of a rapper, but she has a ton of personality and her Sri Lankan/Brit accent adds to the third world meets first world sensibility that is the essence of her recordings. Both her official albums are essential.
- New Model Army — Ballad of Bodmin Pill (Thunder And Consolation): Musically, are punk in attitude, with hard guitars mixed with post-punky bass lines and music that sometimes is Clash-y and sometimes folk-y. Lead singer Justin Sullivan is articulate and passionate, railing against the injustices of the world. Like Midnight Oil, the band makes it go down easier with anthemic choruses. This is vital, as otherwise this would just be monochromatic hectoring. Instead, New Model Army provides a platform to channel anger. This is from my favorite album of theirs. It positively seethes.
- The Four Tops — Ain’t No Woman (Like The One I Got)(The Singles + More): A ’70s hit for the Tops. This has more of a Philly soul vibe. It’s a great song, but it doesn’t sound much like a Four Tops song until they finally let Levi Stubbs take the lead. And even then, it’s not typical. Good, but not typical.
- The Undertones — Listening In (The Undertones): The first two Undertones are about as good as punky pop has ever been. The songs are so tight and well constructed, with a combo of hooks in the chorus and the lead guitar figures. On top of that, Feargal Sharkey’s warble is quintessentially teenage and the rhythm guitar tone is simply awesome. Not one of their best known songs, but it’s still great.
- The Grip Weeds — Every Minute (The Sound In You): This New York power pop group mixes it’s love for groups like The Who and The Move and big guitars with an affinity for folkier rock in the vein of The Byrds. So the drums pound and the melodies soar, while guitarist Kristen Pinell comes up with some amazing solos. This band makes good records, but really must be seen live — they are explosive.
This week, let’s pay tribute to a cornerstone of the Chicago music scene, Leonard Chess. Over 60 years ago, he and his brother Phil launched Chess Records, the label that launched the careers of Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley, among others, releasing some of the most vital records in blues and rock ‘n’ roll history. Sure, Leonard may have engaged in questionable business practices, but the list of honest record executives starts (and may end) with Corey Rusk (NOTE: this is an exaggeration). But Chess is simply a seminal label that changed the face of music — and it happened here in Chicago. So pay tribute to Leonard and the Chess roster by grabbing your iPod/MP3 player, hitting shuffle and sharing the first 10 tunes that come up.
- Nada Surf — Blonde on Blonde (Let Go): This Anglophile band managed to shake their novelty one-hit wonder status and make some really good albums in the vein of The Bends-era Radiohead. Unlike their British contemporaries, such as Coldplay and Keane, Nada Surf is not about overkill. Indeed, there’s a distinct measure of ’80s college radio rock in their sound, meaning that even when the band ups the drama, they don’t go over the top. This is a low key mid-tempo tune that reminds me a little bit of The House Of Love.
- Simon & Garfunkel — The Dangling Conversation (Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme): What’s amazing about S & G is how their many hits, for the most part, only reveal a few aspects of Paul Simon’s amazing songwriting talents. The duo added a pop lushness to folk-rock and combined with Simon’s acute lyrics and sense of grandeur, this made for some of the best music of the ’60s. Since they were such a major pop act, I think they aren’t considered with the more conventional rock acts of the period. This is a shame. Their music may have been softer, but Simon is right up there with Ray Davies when it comes to observational songwriting.
- Ohio Players — Sweet Sticky Thing (): While best know for their funk hits “Fire” and “Love Rollercoaster”, the Ohio Players had their softer moments too. This is a mid-tempo number that appears to have been an attempt to ape The Isley Brothers’ loverman shtick. It’s not as good as the Isleys, but it has such a winning soft vibe and some cool saxophone work.
- Slow Jets — Dreams Come Out (Remain in Ether): A Baltimore band who followed down the path blazed by bands like The Embarrassment. This is off-kilter indie rock, catchy but not straightforward. This song has a bit of a Pere Ubu touch with spacey keyboard noises and tones augmenting the guitar based song. Good song.
- Ross — LaughCream (Supersonic Spacewalk): Ross is a Spanish power pop artist with a wavering command of the English language. His songs are laden with guitars and sweeping harmony vocals. This song has a bit of an Electric Light Orchestra vibe with some psychedelic pop tricks.
- The Cars — Moving In Stereo (The Cars): A great nocturnal driving track from one of the great debut albums of the ’70s. The Cars were considered a new wave band when they began, and with their wide variety of influences, including the Velvet Underground and Roxy Music, that was as a good a spot for them as anywhere. This is such a great piece of mood music, with Greg Hawkes’ gloomy keyboards and Elliot Easton’s atmospheric guitar work. And producer Roy Thomas Baker should get credit for the mechanistic drum sound, which fits the rest of the track so well.
- Kid Creole & The Coconuts — Things We Said Today (To Travel Sideways): A nifty take on the well known Beatles song. Kid Creole finds a way to fit the tune into his patented supper club funk/salsa mix, while not messing with the classic haunting melody.
- Supergrass — Cheapskate (In It For The Money): While the first Supergrass album is probably the favorite of most fans, its on the brilliant second album where Gaz Coombes’ songwriting fully flourished. Indeed, when this came up, I had to check which album it was off of, since the band has generally been so consistent from this point forward. This song has a great R & B rhythm base and is a fine example of how good pop-rock songwriting often involves building up tension in the verses and then releasing it with a wide open melody in the chorus.
- Merle Haggard — I Made the Prison Band (Branded Man): Has anyone done a compilation of Merle Haggard songs about being in prison, committing a crime or getting out of prison? It would cover at least two CDs. During the late ’60s, Haggard was bursting with great honky-tonk tunes, especially on this fantastic album.
- Real Cool Killers — Something’s Wrong (The Violence Inherent In The System): French band rocking out on a track from a stellar compilation of European bands put together by Steve Gardner, who used to publish the Noise For Heroes fanzine and later wrote for The Big Takeover. The songs on this compilation are inspired by the Stooges, New York Dolls, The Cramps among others. This song could be passed off as the work of some Aussie punk band of the early ’80s.
In 1972, I was in the living room with my mom and dad watching the Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon. Johnny Cash was singing a song live from the WLAC-TV studios in Nashville. During the performance, there was a camera shot from behind the Man In Black, and there, in the front row, was my Grandmother and Grandfather Booth. I was so excited. I would have been even more excited had they not cut away from the local feed after the performance, as my Grandfather went on the stage and gave Johnny a check for Muscular Dystrophy from the insurance conglomerate for which he worked. I have a picture of that presentation in my home. It’s hard to sum up Johnny Cash in a few words. He was a special part of American music, representing rebellion and a gentle spiritual side, but his religious songs didn’t proselytize — they dealt with the complexity of human behavior. Moreover, he was always, always cool. So in honor of Johnny, grab your iPod or MP3 player, hit shuffle, and share the first 10 tunes that come up.
- Donovan — Hurdy Gurdy Man (Love Is Hot, Truth Is Molten): Of course, I already knew this song (and also enjoyed the Butthole Surfers’ version), a fey psychedelic classic when I got this Australian compilation from the awesome Raven label. This generous comp spans Donovan’s prime ’60s work, from his days as a slavish Dylan imitator until he discovered his own flower power voice. Donovan isn’t great overall, but he did a lot of great work.
- Scissor Sisters — Lovers In The Back Seat (Scissor Sisters): This album was a revelation. A band that mixed disco, sometimes in a Pet Shop Boys-ish fashion, and classic ’70s pop, with a strong Elton John influence, and was proud to be pop. I haven’t listened to the whole thing in a while, but I think it may be a classic. The follow up was a bit overdone and I’m anxious to hear album number three, whenever that is. This is just a really good song, probably not too far from Robbie Williams’ better material.
- The Kinks — You Still Want Me (Greatest Hits): A rare early Kinks number that doesn’t really have a distinctive personality. This sounds more in the vein of The Searchers, a solid beat group harmony vocal number. It’s nice, but not a Grade A Kinks tune.
- Blur — Fade Away (The Great Escape): The Great Escape is my favorite Blur album, because it is the most multi-dimensional of their Brit pop efforts. On this album, the influence of Madness seems pretty strong, as illustrated by this ska-inflected number with a melancholy horn section and a haunting chorus. The trilogy of albums — Modern Life Is Rubbish, Parklife and The Great Escape — is one of the better runs of the era.
- Jackie Brenston & His Delta Cats — Rocket 88 (The Roots of Rock ‘n’ Roll): This three CD compilation gathers early rock sides along with key pre-rock jazz, blues and country numbers. When musicologists debate what is the first rock ‘n’ roll song, this tune is certainly part of that conversation. The up-and-down rhythm on the bass, the swinging drumming and the lively piano and sax are all touchstones of the early rock ‘n’ roll sound. Regardless, an enduring classic.
- The Shazam — Oh No! (The Shazam): A great track from the best power pop band of the past 10 years or so. Hans Rotenberry has mastered the punchy pop sound typified by certain sides by The Who and The Move and perfected by Cheap Trick. Of course, none of this would mean anything if the band didn’t have such a big sound, with a beefy rhythm section and great guitar playing. And Rotenberry has scads of personality as a vocalist. Someday, when there’s a Nuggets of Late ’90s/early ’00s power pop, The Shazam will be one of the dominant bands on the collection.
- The Move — Wild Tiger Woman (Movements: 30th Anniversary Anthology): Hey, speak of the devil! Here’s the real thing. The early Move was full of masterfully melodic proto-Brit pop songs. Then, as time went on, they began to rock more and more. Sometimes it was with pure brute power, in a way that may have influenced fellow Birmingham rockers Black Sabbath. Other times, there was more of a ’50s vibe, as on this Roy Wood composition. Everything The Move did deserves attention.
- The Yardbirds — Here ‘Tis (Ultimate!): My iPod is leaning to the ’60s today. This is an early Yardbirds tune, when they were one of the most authentic blues/R & B bands amongst the British Invasion brigade. This song has a bit of a Bo Diddley feel, though it doesn’t have a classic Bo Diddley beat. This is the blues accelerated, and it blows away about 99 percent of the garage bands working today.
- The Sights — The Hott Seat (Are You Green?): This Detroit band was 80 percent garage rock with the other 20 percent being other ’60s rock influences. The debut mixes some great pop hooks with some intense rocking. This song is lifted a bit from Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady”, using the basic rhythm as a jumping off point for some guitar freakouts. A fairly decent instrumental and quite short.
- Tubeway Army — It Must Have Been Years (Replicas): The album that made Gary Numan a star in England holds up so well. He made the most of his limited voice, making it a vehicle for his paranoid sci-fi fantasies. Replicas is a concept album, which, like most concept albums, isn’t well fleshed out in the lyrics. As Numan explained it, the British government has determined that it must program computers and robots to solve the country’s intractable problems. The computers determine that the real problem is humans, and seeks to kill them all. Cheery stuff. This tune is the best showcase for Numan’s underrated guitar playing. It really rocks.
I’m passing on some major birthdays (Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath, Dave Wakeling of The English Beat and, of course, Falco) to honor Peter Holsapple, who, with and without Chris Stamey, did some amazing work with The dB’s in the ’80s and has gone on to The Continental Drifters and further work with Mr. Stamey. I got to interview Peter in college, when The dB’s opened for R.E.M. in Carbondale in 1984. He was a really nice guy with a great sense of humor. Me and my friend Dale ran into him after the gig, he had his hands full, so I opened the door for the band’s van…and a jar of peanut butter rolled out and shattered on the sidewalk below. Holsapple put down his stuff, said in a ceremonious voice, “He broke the jar of peanut butter!” and then said I was entitled to a prize for this deed. He reached in the van and gave me a copy of the new dB’s album, Like This. As an 18-year-old college student, this made me feel really cool, which happened so rarely back in those days. So please honor Mr. Holsapple and grab your iPod/MP3 player, hit shuffle and share the first 10 songs that come up.
- The Liquor Giants — I Don’t Know Why (Something Special For The Kids): This is off of the Giants’ all covers album. Unlike most such affairs, the songs are, for the most part, quite obscure. This song was originally done by Sons Of Thunder, who I know nothing about. Ward Dotson and crew bust out the Farfisa for this tinny light garage rock song with almost a girl group feel.
- Pavement — Stare (Crooked Rain Crooked Rain): I am such a Johnny Come Lately to the Pavement party. Other than Slanted and Enchanted, there’s no Pavement album I love, as my iPod is introducing me to some of their music. That includes this low key track with a lot of reverb guitar. Not one of Pavement’s shining moments.
- Maximo Park — Going Missing (A Certain Trigger): One of the better new wave revivalists of the last decade, the band revolves around Paul Smith’s sharp lyrics and intent personality, which are supported by the tight playing of the supporting band. There are some slight post-punk nods here, but in the service of hooky, melodic ends. Oddly enough, though the band’s sound gets better with each album, the songwriting is a bit weaker each time out. So this debut album is the one to go with, if you’re only having one.
- Husker Du — No Promise Have I Made (Candy Apple Grey): Some folks ripped Husker Du a new one back in 1985, when they released their first major label album. Songs like this piano ballad from Grant Hart are why. This is an achingly tender ballad with a raw vocal performance from Hart. While this may have ticked off punk formalists, for those of us who were fans of Hart and Bob Mould as writers, hearing them expand their sound, retaining their emotional core was a great thing. A good song off a darned good album.
- The dB’s — Dynamite (Stands For Decibels): Hey! A birthday match!!! A very typical Chris Stamey song from the first dB’s album. Stamey was heavily influenced by Radio City-era Big Star and it’s reflected in this quirky power pop tune. Stamey drawls and draws out the melody, while Will Rigby punctuates and moves along the proceedings on the drums. Peter Holsapple adds some roller rink keyboards on one of many outstanding songs on this LP.
- Randy Newman — Mr. President (Have Pity on a Working Man)(Good Old Boys): The fact that Newman got any traction in the rock world is partially a testament to the notion that a well written song is a well written song. Other than the rhythm of this song, this tune could have been written in the ’30s, with its hint of a ragtime influence. The lyrics are more acerbic, of course. This is a second tier Randy Newman song, which is better than most writers first tier material.
- Pere Ubu — Heaven (Datapanik In The Year Zero): I got into Pere Ubu after they reunited, and had to work my way backwards to their early stuff. Some of it is dark, some of it is inaccessible, but some songs show that the band’s alleged pop moves in the late ’80s were foreshadowed. This is a pretty jaunty song, but for the industrial humming keyboard that oscillates throughout the song. Pere Ubu is the embodiment of one of the few maxims of music that I live by — you can’t screw with song form unless you know how to write a good song in the first place. This is a straightforward good song — most of the time they are messing with that form.
- Buck Owens — A-11 (Buck Owens Collection): This is one of Buck’s classic hits, a honky tonk lament about a guy who doesn’t want to hear a song on the jukebox that will dredge up awful memories. Of course, I’m sure Buck actually wanted people to play “A-11” on jukeboxes in honky tonks throughout the land, and I don’t know if anyone was averse to this song, even if wasn’t selection number A-11 on an actual jukebox.
- The Cardigans — Life (Rise & Shine): The first two Cardigans albums are soft-pop classics and it seems like subsequent releases found the band distancing itself from its past, as if it were embarrassed. They should be embarrassed about the sleepy serious recent efforts which waste the talents of Nina Persson, who is made for these sunny retro-‘60s pop numbers. One key to these songs is that The Cardigans were a rock band, so they played these soft numbers with a lot of punch, without overwhelming them.
- The Four Tops — Something About You (The Singles): I’ll have to check, I think this is a Holland-Dozier-Holland number … it is! This is classic Motown, with a driving rhythm and typically strong vocals (though Levi Stubbs does not take the lead) from the Tops. This is still the sound of Young America, for my money
Today, let’s pay tribute to the late, great Grant McLennan, one of the two songwriters who fueled the wonderful Australian band, The Go Betweens. Their warm and pensive melodic guitar songs often had subtle undercurrents of The Velvet Underground and post-punkers. Both McLennan and his partner, Robert Forster, played literate and humanistic songs, sometimes sparely and sometimes with grandeur, but almost always extremely compelling. In honor of Grant, please grab your iPod/MP3 player, hit shuffle and share the first ten tunes that come up.
- Sex Pistols — New York (Never Mind The Bollocks): Yes, the music sounds comparatively tame 33 years after the fact, but in the context of the 1977 rock scene, the Pistols were a gob of fresh air. And the music does still rock and Johnny Rotten sounds more menacing that almost anyone he inspired. This is a lesser number from one hell of a rock and roll album. One other thing — the most important aspect of the Sex Pistols’ legacy is how they fueled the D.I.Y. movement. The number of Brits who saw them and formed a band is staggering, and one of those bands, Buzzcocks, put out Spiral Scratch, the first true indie release, and started a movement that CHIRP is effectively part of.
- Blue Oyster Cult — Godzilla (Spectres): This hilarious tribute to everyone’s favorite mutant dinosaur killing machine awakened by nuclear testing showed that the Cult could not only traffic in subtle black humor, but also in up front fun. I’m baffled why this was never released as a single. If you want to explore some truly cool ’70s heavy metal, BOC is the place to start.
- Original Sins — Rather Be Sad (The Hardest Way): John Terlinsky, who later went on to do the Brother JT thing, led this great garage rock band during the late ’80s and early ’90s. Terlinsky is a really good songwriter, with a strong sense of melody, and then throws in some fuzzy guitars and the requisite garage rock organ on this tale of a guy who’d rather be sad, because he knows he’s going to get hurt by love in the end.
- The Brothers Johnson — The Devil (Look Out For #1): This is about as funky as George and Louis Johnson got, in a cautionary tale of how sinning will get “your ass burnin’” for a really long time. These guys were funk lightweights, but working with mentor Quincy Jones, they often threw melodic twists into their songs that gave them a distinctive stamp. There are a couple of those on this tune to render it above average.
- Scritti Politti — Small Talk (Cupid & Psyche 85): Green Gartside’s transformation from ultra-leftist amelodic post-punker to subtly poltiical smooth synth-soul star is one of the more amazing stories of the ’80s, well chronicled in Simon Reynolds’ excellent book Rip It Up & Start Again. This is the album where the transformation was complete. Gartside’s airy tenor vocals managed to thread his wordy lyrics through some of the happiest darn white R & B you’ve ever heard. Dated, yes, but still catchy as hell.
- The Sames — There’s No Mystery Here (You Are The Sames): At one level, this is a fairly standard indie rock record, released in 2005, tailor made for college radio airplay. But this North Carolina band both fits in with and stands out from The Shins and The Arcade Fire and other contemporaries. How? By writing excellent songs, each which has a strong chorus or memorable instrumental hooks that really stick. If they were on Sub Pop, I think The Sames would have been big, as this was one of the best albums of 2005.
- E’Nuff Z’Nuff — In Crowd (Strength): This is not a cover of the ’60s hit by Dobie Gray. Blue Island’s pride and joy jumped on the hair metal bandwagon and was touted by Rolling Stone magazine as the next big thing. For some reason, perhaps because they were not sexist enough or didn’t have an androgynous frontman, they didn’t take off. And once you stripped away the bad make up and ignored the garish clothes, E’Nuff Z’Nuff were a Beatles/Cheap Trick inspired hard rock band with some metally trappings (especially in the flashy guitar solos). This is the best song on their second album, with strong vocals from Donnie Vie.
- Fine Young Cannibals — Love For Sale (Red, Hot + Blue: A Tribute to Cole Porter): This album, which benefited AIDS research, is chock full of great modernized versions of classic Cole Porter tunes. I believe this is the final recording by the Cannibals, and they play this song in a jazzy acoustic guitar dominated arrangement, with Roland Gift emoting in characteristic fashion.
- Eleventh Dream Day — There’s This Thing (Lived To Tell): Wow, when my iPod is in Friday Shuffle mode, it loves Eleventh Dream Day. Not that I have a problem with it. This is a percussive cooker that uses a pretty basic blues chord progression and a variation on the Bo Diddley beat. You can actually dance a bit to this one.
- The Beat Farmers — California Kid (Tales Of The New West): The first Beat Farmers album came smack dab in the middle of a country rock revival in the mid-‘80s. Unlike the ’70s country rock, the bands tended to rock a bit more. The Beat Farmers were a bit less countrified than Jason & The Scorchers and The Long Ryders, but could twang away pretty well. This song spotlighted their drummer Country Dick, who had a rumbling baritone voice that was perfect for this tale of a horny outlaw.