· · Music
· · · 5 Stars
SotD: That’s Right!
· This is a cheery bright fast polyrhythmic acoustic guitar instrumental by Jesse Cook. Like a few other number here at Song of the Day, I discovered this one by killing time in a record store; mind you, this was HMV in its declining days, not one of the cool-magnets of yore. But I loved the tune and asked the clerk and bought the record ...
· My favorite living jazz musician, and sometimes my favorite living musician, is Patricia Barber, a Chicagoan songwriter, singer, piano player, and bandleader. She’s really good at all four of those things, and an evening with her band is one of the most intense musical experiences you can track down at this point in the twenty-first century. Modern jazzbos don’t have “greatest hits” as such, but if they did, Persephone would probably be hers ... [1 comment]
SotD: I Put A Spell On You
· This song was written in 1956 by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins as a ballad, but he claims the producer got him drunk in the studio and that’s when he started Screamin’, and people loved it, so he never stopped. Since then, it’s been recorded a whole lot. I’m here to recommend a mini video festival’s worth of takes, and one recording, and this may be a little weird but I think it’s the best out there, by Creedence Clearwater Revival ... [1 comment]
SotD: Spanish Pipedream
· John Prine, now there’s an original. He’s an ordinary guy with a beat-up face and a beat-up voice, and his songs get played by folkies and rockers in bars and basements across America. Not outside it though I bet, he is just so American, and I mean that in the best possible way. Spanish Pipedream is a cheerful little uptempo number that’ll make you smile. It’s from a long time ago but the sentiment is fresh: Blow up your TV / throw away the papers / move to the country / build yourself a home. ... [2 comments]
SotD: The Dry Cleaner
· I already blogged about The Dry Cleaner From Des Moines, by Joni Mitchell and Charles Mingus, eleven years ago, so if you want a deep-dive on the music and context, go read that. Today, just listen to it, and if it doesn’t get you smiling and bopping, there’s nothing I can say that will help you ...
SotD: Downpressor Man
· In the earliest days, The Wailers were Bob Marley, Bunny Wailer, and Peter Tosh. Peter was the guy in the band who was a foot taller than everyone else; also the only one who could play any instruments. A huge guy with a huge voice, his songs never in a hurry, and there are a few that people will be listening to centuries from now. For instance, Downpressor Man ... [1 comment]
SotD: Barrett’s Privateers
· I suspect every Canadian of a certain age has heard this, probably on CBC or maybe sitting up late of a hazy evening. It’s a sad boisterous story of ruin at sea, men’s music written for men’s voices, and you’ll never forget it once you’ve heard it even once ... [1 comment]
SotD: Gimme Sympathy
· I think I’m probably a big Metric fan even though I’ve never actually sent any money their way, because whenever a song comes on the radio I find myself humming and smiling. Especially Gimme Sympathy ...
· I believe its official name is Mozart’s String Quintet No. 3 in C, but saying “K” then a number tells everyone that it’s by Mozart, and since he wrote like fifty instances of every known form of classical music, it’s easier to just remember your favorite K-numbers. 515 is right up there among mine; strong Mozart, which is all you need to know ... [1 comment]
SotD: After Midnight
· After midnight, it’s gonna be peaches and cream… mmmmm. This, originally by J.J. Cale, is one of the Twentieth Century’s sweetest little electric-music outings, gentle, sexy, and fast. Now, J.J. made a whole lot of money on this song when Eric Clapton decided to put it on a couple of albums and play it at a whole lot of concerts, and both versions are worth hearing ...
· Oh… your hair is beautiful — well, that lyric divides people. I’ve read high-falutin’ rock critics slam its superficiality, embedded in a track that hardly has words anyhow, and certainly none that make sense. But you know, every time she sings that phrase, I melt. And love the whole song ... [1 comment]
SotD: Phase Dance
· So back in the Seventies, if you were a college student and it was summer, you’d sit around smoking weed and then someone would say “Let’s go to the record store.” And in those days the people who worked there knew all the coolest music. So in the middle of the head-banger era, you’d float into the record store and there’d a fast brilliant jazz-guitar instrumental, and you’d suddenly find you’d become a fan of Pat Metheny ... [1 comment]
SotD: Love Me Like a Man
· This was composed by Chris Smither (no, I’d never heard of him either) but was a hit for, and is now sort of a trademark of, Bonnie Raitt. Bonnie’s recorded a lot of good music over the years, but the thing with her is you need to see her play live, it’s at another level entirely ...
SotD: Riding On The Rocket
· I’ve probably seen Shonen Knife (Wikipedia if you don’t read Japanese) more than any other currently-performing rock band. When they get on stage you can count on a couple of hours of pure high-energy high-melody high-rhythm hard-rockin’ fun, and you just can’t have too much of that. Riding the Rocket is just one of a couple of dozen totally great as-good-as-Rock-gets tunes ... [1 comment]
SotD: Ashes to Ashes
· It’s hard to pick a Bowie because, obviously, there were so many Bowies. One time my son and I, he then fifteen or so, were driving somewhere, and he asked me “Dad, who’s David Bowie?” and I said “A musician who…” then I was stuck. For me, there are really two big Bowie songs, Heroes and Ashes to Ashes, and while the former has more emotion, I think Ashes has more musical depth. Oh, yes, and This Is Not America, but that’s a niche taste ... [1 comment]
SotD: Brothers in Arms
· Dire Straits’ records have always been notably good-sounding, and Brothers in Arms became the occasion for the purchase of a brand-new CD player back in the day for many music geeks — I was one of them. The title song sounds good too, but today we’re acknowledging its beauty and sadness and message ... [3 comments]
SotD: Am I Blue?
· Well, since yesterday I reached all the way back to the Nineteen Twenties for a show tune that went through many hands including Willie Nelson’s, let’s do it again today! Am I Blue was written by those big stars Harry Akst and Grant Clarke (Who? A couple of Tin Pan Alley types) in 1929 for the screen, and Wikipedia says it’s made it onto 42 different screens. It’s a cool tune and up to the Song of the Day standard, but mostly here because I was charmed by video ... [2 comments]
SotD: Blue Skies
· From waaaay back in 1926, this one. What happened was, I wanted the series to drop by Willie Nelson, and my fave Willie album is Stardust, and song on it is Blue Skies. That whole album is salve for the wounded soul I think, and Blue Skies maybe the sweetest and strongest. But, boy, does this one ever have a history ...
SotD: I’m a Man!
· “Wait…” you say, “that’s two Steve Winwood songs in a row!” Indeed. Only, this one is shorter and hotter. And anyhow, it’s a Spencer Davis Group song, so there ... [1 comment]
SotD: The Low Spark
· The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys was the album and the song, and it’s a song that’ll never die. It was recorded by Traffic, written by Winwood/Capaldi, and last time I checked, Winwood still goes out on the road and plays it for people. Play it for yourself, but sit back and listen carefully, there’s a lot happening ... [3 comments]
SotD: Wish I Knew You
· Another Song of the Day that got here because it’s on the radio right now, and I smile every time they play it. The lyric in full says “I wish I knew you when I was young.” It resonates pretty deep for someone of my age. Of course, the guys in the band (The Revivalists) are young, but that doesn’t seem to get in the way ... [1 comment]
SotD: Can’t Get There From Here
· For a lot of bands, there’s one song that’s special because it’s the first one you heard on the radio and you thought Who’s that?! I don’t know if Can’t Get There From Here is my absolute favorite R.E.M. song; Man on the Moon has great surge-and-flow, Losing My Religion is the greatest car singalong ever. But anyhow, it’s a fine piece of work ... [2 comments]
SotD: Cello Suite #5
· Today features the first artist to make a return Song-of-the-Day appearance: J.S. Bach. The music is the Cello Suite #5, a showpiece for basically every cellist who’s ever performed, and an object of study for every serious student who gets a couple of years into the instrument ... [2 comments]
SotD: Mannish Boy
· This eventually became Muddy Waters’ signature tune, which is sort of a pity because there were usually more interesting songs in his set, but he seemed to genuinely love it, and brought so much to each performance that you had to join in the love ...
· This my fave Prince song, by a mile. I suspect that makes me a heretic, and is also wildly inconsistent because it’s got none of his guitar shredding on it, which always makes me grin ear-to-ear. But it’s a pure pop gem, a thing no song should ever apologize for in any company, no matter how august ...
SotD: Spinning Centers
· This is from Unknown Rooms, a very beautiful collection by Chelsea Wolfe. It’s a little unusual for this series in that it’s hardly a song all, just a floating, ethereal musical moment three minutes and nine seconds long. But you won’t regret listening to it ...
· Submission was a late addition to (most versions of) Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols, which anyone will tell you is Culturally Important. But mostly it’s just a really great rock song, which reveals that in among being Culturally Important, the Pistols were a highly competent and heavily rehearsed hard-rock band ... [1 comment]
SotD: Walk Like an Egyptian
· By The Bangles; OK, one of the most cheerful songs ever recorded, with a hilarious video. But it’s got a good beat, you could dance to it. And at 50° North Latitude where I live, we’ll take any February smiles we can get. Seriously, listen to the song, watch the video, you’ll smile, how could that not be a good thing? Even better, stand up and do the dance around the office ... [3 comments]
SotD: Take Me To The River
· You can call this one of the great songs in just about any musical conversation and you’ll get no argument. A great big swirl of the sacred and the sensual, with a razor rhythm and lots of chances to show off ... [3 comments]
SotD: Into the Dark
· In full, I Will Follow You Into the Dark, by Death Cab for Cutie off their album Plans. This is a solo acoustic thing, stripped down to nothing but a lovely tune and a haunting message; both will stick to you, even if you heard them a million times on the radio a decade back ...
SotD: Do You Love Me?
· Normally I write Song of the Day a few days ahead, and today I woke up on Valentine’s day and realized that day’s “song” was symphonic stuff by Brahms, which is great but not perhaps the Language Of Love. To make up for that, I’ll send you all along a Happy Valentine’s for a few days back with a song that’s about nothing but love, by Nick Cave ... [1 comment]
SotD: Fine and Mellow
· This is a song not only performed but written by Billie Holiday; it was a hit in 1939, the flip side of the beautiful but gruesome Strange Fruit (the fruit was a lynching victim). Fine and Mellow is sad too, but a fairly standard man-treats-me-bad blues. It’s a treat for the ears and the heart ...
SotD: Ashes the Rain and I
· The James Gang was a stripped-down band that mostly played primitive rock and roll (which I love) very well, and Rides Again is an example of that, but Ashes the Rain and I isn’t primitive at all; five minutes of contemplative beauty ...
SotD: Brahms’ Variations
· Today, let’s do classical music, as in a great big splodge of orchestral goo by a dead German. Brahms op. 56a and 56b is a set of variations on a theme; he thought the theme was Haydn’s, thus called it Variations on a Theme by Joseph Haydn. But now they think the Haydn attribution on the theme is sketchy, so now you’ll see ’em labeled sometimes as the Saint Anthony Variations. Anyhow, this is a super tasty splodge of goo, the kind of thing orchestras exist to play ...
SotD: Jah Glory
· Third World have always had had a different sound, leaning quite a bit on sweet harmonies and instrumental flavors. It’s reggae all right, but impure like most great music, and sounds as tasty as anything you can imagine. Jah Glory is such a sweet welcoming thing, a soaring song of worship. (You don’t have to believe in Jah.) ...
SotD: Dear Darling
· Mary Margaret O’Hara, a daughter of Toronto, hasn’t recorded much and hasn’t had hits and these are terribly sad things because she’s a gem, a wonderful unconventional songwriter and singer. Her stuff gets pretty far out over the edge sometimes, but Dear Darling is a lovely straight-up country tune, hardly weird at all, or only in places ... [1 comment]
SotD: Mercy Street
· Nobody could call this obscure; Peter Gabriel’s So sold a kazillion copies and was right in the center of the zeitgeist for months back in the late Eighties. The songs were good, the sound was good, and (especially) the videos were good, which really mattered in 1986. Mercy Street was not one of its big hits, which always astonished me; I thought it by far and away the album’s highlight ...
SotD: Fantaisie Impromptu
· After the hot guitar a couple days back, I thought some more flashy soloing would be fun, and the world currently has nobody flashier, on any instrument, than pianist Yundi Li, who seems to have rebranded himself as YUNDI. But I ended up at this Frédéric Chopin Fantaisie which has, yes, flash, but lots of music among and between it, and Mr Li really seems to understand Mr Chopin ...
SotD: Pride and Joy
· It’s been mostly gentle and sophisticated around here recently. Let’s turn to Texas and fix that; Pride and Joy, by Stevie Ray Vaughan, is about the simplest blues holler you can imagine, with a happy message and some smokin’ hot guitar ... [1 comment]
· Cesária Évora is probably the only person you’ve ever heard of (now that you’ve heard of her) from Cabo Verde, which is an island group 570km west of Africa’s westernmost point. She was a really great singer and recorded lots of fine collections of music. It’s hard to pick from among them, but Sodade is a fine example ...
SotD: Both Sides Now
· Anyone’s list of top songwriters would include Joni Mitchell, and any list of her top songs would include Both Sides, Now. There’s little I can say that will add value here, just give it a listen and it’ll improve your day, any day ... [1 comment]
· Today’s song comes from Africa (first in the series); Diaraby is a slow dreamy electric African blues with exquisite singing and guitar, by Ali Farka Touré; seven minutes of pure musical joy ... [1 comment]
· The song-of-the-day recently has been trending a little bit to the eclectic and the obscure. Enough of that, let’s dish up a hearty serving of meat-and-potatoes rock-n-roll. Happy is a simple stripped-down hard Stones rocker, vocals by Keef, with a nice tune, tasty chord changes, and you know what? I need a love to keep me happy too ...
SotD: Ne Nehledej
· I’m pretty sure Ne Nehledej, which is said to mean “Stop Searching”, is in the Czech language, because Iva Bittová is Czech. I don’t know that much about her and frankly this Song of the Day mostly exists to highlight remarkable video, but Ne Nehledej is a nice song and Bittová is a great entertainer while also being out there on the edge. She sings and plays violin, and is as much performance art as music. But (unlike some performance artists) this performance is all about music ... [1 comment]
SotD: More White Flags
· Yesterday’s White Flag isn’t the only song of that name. I want to share one in particular, a minor hit by a minor band (“one-hit wonder” would be charitable) called the Leggatt Brothers, because I think it’s brilliant, a forgotten gem. But there’s no live video and it’s not for sale digitally, so I loaded up the entry with a few extra White Flags ...
SotD: White Flag
· Here we have a sweet sad love song by Dido (full name Dido Florian Cloud de Bounevialle O'Malley Armstrong) who was born in 1971 and is thus younger than many other Songs of the Day. It was a huge hit, hardly obscure (the album Life For Rent sold 10+ million copies). It’s OK to be mainstream sometimes, and White Flag is more than OK, it’s brilliant ... [1 comment]
SotD: If I Had a Rocket Launcher
· Bruce Cockburn is sufficiently Canadian that his name may ring no bells. But I think If I Had a Rocket Launcher made a few waves back in the day and may jog a memory. He’s an interesting guy, and this is a nice, lilting melodic song about wanting to kill people ... [2 comments]
SotD: Canones Diversi
· Almost a month in, and we haven’t had a visit with J.S. Bach yet. Long past time, and we’ll be back a lot too, if this series stretches out much. We’re going to start out with minimal Bach; we’ll get around to thunderous Bach, passionate Bach, and show-off Bach in later installments. Today we’ll sample from a small series entitled Canones diversi super Thema Regium, part of a larger work called Musikalisches Opfer, or in English The Musical Offering, composed in 1747, BWV 1079. Today we’ll take on the Canon a 2, per augmentationem, contrario motu and the Fuga canonica in Epidiapente. They’re not the two deepest fragments, but they’re a good place to start. This is seriously beautiful thoughtful, patient music ...
SotD: Slavery Days
· I sure do love me some reggae; my island-music tastes are mainstream, but once you get past Marley, the names are fading from memories. Maybe I can reverse that a bit. Let’s start with Winston Rodney; his first band was Burning Spear, then he just adopted the name for himself. His music is a little deeper, his singing a little edgier, his horn arrangements excellent. Slavery Days has all of those things, and deserves to live forever ... [1 comment]
SotD: Beck + Call
· I run a lot of old music but I’m not someone who really thinks it was all better back in the day, or is all trash now. So from time to time, the Song of the Day is going to be something I liked on the car radio while I was driving around today. Today, it’s Beck + Call by July Talk. Who knows if it’ll still have listeners decades from now like most of the selections here, or even centuries like some. Who cares? It’s a nice tune, needn’t hang its head in the current company, and July Talk are hot stuff live ...
· The full title is L’amour est un oiseau rebelle (“Love’s a rebel bird”), a big soprano aria from Carmen, written by Georges Bizet in 1875. That’s right, an opera! We’re into scary territory here, at risk of chasing away followers of this quixotic New Year’s Resolution. But bear with me, it’s quite a song ... [1 comment]
SotD: I Thank You
· Mr Moore and Mr Prater dropped their last names and were big soul stars as Sam & Dave between 1961 and 1981. That kind of music has been pretty far off the charts for a lot of years, although they got some help from the Blues Brothers. They’ve got two or three performances that belong in this series. I think that I Thank You was the first ever soul song that penetrated my consciousness, and is maybe still my favorite ...
SotD: The Heart of the Sun
· In full, Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun by (the very early) Pink Floyd. While Floyd written some beautiful music, if you want something that’s new to, well, anyone, you pretty well have to go way back in time to before Dark Side of the Moon. Set the Controls is an easy, pleasing, soaring listen, with or without the help of hallucinogenic drugs ... [3 comments]
SotD: Visions of You
· Jah Wobble grew up in East London with the Sex-Pistols-to-be, and his handle comes from a drunken Sid Vicious attempting to pronounce his real name (John Wardle). He joined John Lydon’s post-Pistols Public Image Limited and then formed Invaders of the Heart. Visions of You is the lead-off track on the Invaders’ Rising Above Bedlam disk, which I often play end-to-end. It’s a lightweight pop song with an icy slow-funk background, a real treat for the ears ...
SotD: Lust For Life
· I suppose that in 2018 Lust For Life is an obscurity, something you might have heard on the radio or in an ad. That’s insane, it’s obviously one of the great rock songs of all time, and has given Iggy Pop, who co-wrote it with David Bowie, a performance vehicle that he’s taken a long, long way ... [1 comment]
SotD: Cry Me a River
· Occasionally, the Song of the Day idea starts with a Greatest-Hits record that has multiple candidates, and I pick based on which turns up the best live video. Today’s Greatest Hits are those of Julie London, and it was a tough choice, but what a beautiful piece of singing Cry Me a River is ... [4 comments]
· The summer I turned fourteen, Israelites by Desmond Dekker and the Aces was the biggest hit in the world. I thought it was the best song of that summer and maybe the next summer too. I’d go to the beach, where everyone had a radio, and as you walked along you’d hear Israelites coming at you in super-stereo from a dozen directions; it sounded so great ... [2 comments]
SotD: Travelin’ Prayer
· In the mid-Seventies, a women we found with a classified ad moved into my student house, and of course brought her record collection. It included something called Cold Spring Harbor by a guy I’d never heard of, Billy Joel. We were pretty well a heavy-music joint that didn’t listen to fluff without guitar solos, so Billy got no respect then, just like he gets no respect now. But, in among the cheesy ballads there was this song that got way under my skin, and still does: Travelin’ Prayer. It’s great, pretty well flawless ... [1 comment]
SotD: No Woman, No Cry
· Bob Marley’s been gone a long time; longer than most people reading this have lived, I bet. But more than most deceased musicians, it feels to me like he’s still out there; a quiet dub track woven into the universal quantum background hum. Try to prove me wrong. No Woman, No Cry is a good first entry for reggae in Song of the Day; Warm-sounding warm-heartedness; what could be better in a Northern-hemisphere winter? ... [3 comments]
SotD: Pärt’s Cantus
· Since I’ve been rocking the house the last couple of days, let’s do serenity instead. Specifically, Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten, for string orchestra and bell, by Arvo Pärt, one of my musical heroes. Here’s how good this is: It just about got me killed, the first time I heard it. Which was on a rented car’s radio in England, heading up the M3, where they drive fast; I was jet-lagged and I caught myself closing my eyes at 85mph to savor the fading tones of the church bell ... [1 comment]
· Yesterday, I used the phrase “best Rock song ever recorded”. Well, why not two days in a row? Because another fine candidate is Clampdown from the Clash’s wonderful London Calling album. That record was a highlight of 1980 and Clampdown was a highlight of the record ... [2 comments]
SotD: Day Tripper
· If someone asked me what the greatest rock&roll song of all time was, I wouldn’t be able to pick. But if they kept asking, and you got a serious conversation going, Day Tripper would be in that conversation ... [2 comments]
SotD: Missionary Man
· If I actually had any serious musical talent, I would have chosen rock&roll over all other professions. I guess I haven’t been running that many pure simple rock songs here, and that’s wrong. So let’s turn today’s space over to Annie Lennox, Dave Stewart, and Joniece Jamison of the Eurythmics for some nice polished passionate BritRock ...
SotD: Gravity’s Angel
· Possibly you haven’t encountered Laurie Anderson, and possibly if you did you wouldn’t like her, because she’s pretty far out there. Gravity’s Angel is at the near end of out-there, a simple-ish song with a lovely tune and a cool arrangement; a good place to start ...
SotD: Please Don’t
· I mean Baby, Please Don’t Go of course, the blues chestnut to end all blues chestnuts. Nobody knows who wrote it, although apparently Muddy Waters first made it a hit; Wikipedia offers several plausible backgrounds dating from slavery days up to about 1925. The version I’m chiefly recommending was recorded by Lightnin’ Hopkins in the early Sixties ... [1 comment]
SotD: The Other 5:15
· No, I’m not talking about the Who song from Quadrophenia (though it’s a fine tune), I’m talking about the song by Chris Isaak. No, I’m not talking about Wicked Game either, which I may feature here some day. I’m talking about Chris’ 5:15, one of the several excellent songs on San Francisco Days, one of the several excellent albums Mr Isaak has released ...
· I bought Sinéad O’Connor’s debut, The Lion and the Cobra, because Mandinko was on the radio and I liked it. The first time I played it, not having looked at the track listing, I noticed some meditative crooning about “Dublin in a Rainstorm”; the next time, a gut-grabbing throaty chant: “You should have left the lights on”; and then another time a howling declaration about rising, a phoenix from the flame. It took me a while to notice that all of these were from the same track: Troy. It’s a hell of a song ... [3 comments]
SotD: Temporary Ground
· This is the best song from Jack White’s 2014 Lazaretto album, and it was the centerpiece of the show last time I saw him play. It’s mostly acoustic, thus has to stand on its own sans bombastic guitar flourishes. Don’t get me wrong, I like Jack’s bombastics, but it’s good to let a song speak for itself, and Temporary Ground has a lot to say ...
SotD: Voodoo Runner
· Today’s song is Miles Runs the Voodoo Down, from Bitches Brew. In the series intro I said “I won’t be recommending abrasive free-jazz jams…” and well, this is kind of abrasive and while it might not be free jazz, it’s pretty loose. But it’s wonderful improvisation and production, full of deep musical intelligence, and if you like anything at all in the electric-jazz space, you’ll probably like this a lot. If you’ve never checked the space out, this might be a good place to start ... [3 comments]
SotD: Solveig’s Song
· Hey, there are songs in Classical Music, too! Maybe you think you don’t like that stuff? Stick around and give this one a listen. This Song is the last movement of Peer Gynt Suite #2 by Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg, dating from 1876. It’s exceptionally beautiful, one of the great melodies of all time. I encountered it some decades ago, when my cello teacher assigned it to me, and it works well on that instrument. I loved playing it and now I love listening to it ... [2 comments]
SotD: Pete’s Blue
· This is a minimalist guitar instrumental by Roy Buchanan (1939-1988). Genuinely obscure stuff, but I’m pretty sure you’ll find it worth seven minutes and seventeen seconds of your time ...
· Music comes in lots of flavors, most of which I’d hate to have to live without, but the ones closest to my heart involve well-played electric guitars, female voices, and raw rock energy. The Breeders’ Cannonball has all three ingredients ... [4 comments]
SotD: Ooh La La
· This by The Ditty Bops, from their self-titled debut album in 2004. I’d never heard of them before, nor have I since; but this is a remarkable song and more than one friend, hearing it in the background, has stopped talking and asked “What’s that?” ... [3 comments]
SotD: Western Stars
· Nobody, and I mean nobody, brings more to a performance than k.d. lang. But she’s not on the road that much, so you might have to settle for recordings. A good recording to settle for would be Shadowland, featuring production by country-music legend Owen Bradley and guest appearances by other divas-with-twang. This is probably the best song on Shadowland ... [2 comments]
Songs of the Day
· Here’s my New Year’s Resolution: I’ll try to try to publish a short piece every day recommending a song that I think is excellent, and apt to please at least some readers. Let’s see how far into 2018 I get; a quick run through the collection turned up around 240 candidates, so a whole year’s worth of songs would be a stretch goal. Read on for motivation, logistics, and mechanics. Or just read the song notes, starting tomorrow. Or don’t ... [4 comments]
SotD: New Year’s Day
· Back in the late Eighties, for a few months I went to aerobics class, and once every session the instructor put this U2 chestnut on and every time my beats-per-minute cranked right up. Not in the slightest obscure, but worth revisiting at least once a year, ideally on this day ...
5★♫: The Köln Concert
· What happened was, I was gonna make the traditional Sunday-morning pancakes and bacon and, as I do every other week or so, told the eight-year-old to turn the damn cartoons off already because I wanted music. I threw the ancient vinyl of The Köln Concert by Keith Jarrett on the turntable and all these years later, I kept having to stop making pancakes because Keith had grabbed me where you have to listen when they grab you there ... [2 comments]
5★♫: Jeff Beck Rock ‘n’ Roll Party
· I saw the LP on the new-vinyl rack in a record store and was surprised, because I’ve been a pretty big Jeff Beck fan for quite a few years now, but I’d never heard of it. It turns out the Rock ‘n’ Roll Party is a collection of traditional pop chestnuts with a super hot band, not like a Jeff Beck record at all, and excellent. This is happy, happy music. But maybe the YouTube version is all you need. (“5★♫” series introduction here; with an explanation of why the title may look broken.) ... [3 comments]
5★♫: Hard Again
· In the mid-Seventies, old Mississippi/Chicago bluesman Muddy Waters had record-label problems, but still an audience. Young Texas bluesman Johnny Winter had never been a pop star, but had one too. So Johnny producing and playing on an album by Muddy wasn’t really a long shot; and Hard Again came out great. (“5★♫” series introduction here; with an explanation of why the title may look broken.) ... [2 comments]
· What happened was, I glanced at my browser and saw a random turn of phrase, The freedom to be who you want to be…, and thought “That reminds me of something”. It turns out that it reminds me of With You There To Help Me, a lovely song on the album Benefit, a 1970 offering by Jethro Tull. So I pulled out the vinyl and have listened to it three times in the last two weeks; it’s really just unreasonably good. (“5★♫” series introduction here; with an explanation of why the title may look broken.) ... [15 comments]
5★♫: Jets Overhead
· Wow, it’s been 2½ years since I did a Five-Star Monday piece, and this is for a disc I just bought today, so it may well be too early as well as too late. Jets Overhead are from Victoria, BC, which is near me; what I think deserve the stars are the first two songs from their 2009 No Nations, I Should Be Born and Heading For Nowhere; brilliant pure-pop tunes and can they ever sing. Also there’s a geek angle. (“5★♫” series introduction here; with an explanation of why the title may look broken.) ... [3 comments]
5★♫: Mixed Up
· I’m not a fan of The Cure, particularly. I am not nor have I ever been a Goth, and I laugh cruelly at Emos given the opportunity. I think Robert Smith looks ridiculous. But Mixed Up, a 1990 set of remixes and retakes (I own none of the original versions), which was poorly reviewed and sank like a stone on the charts, well, it’s just outstandingly great music. (“5★♫” series introduction here; with an explanation of why the title may look broken.) ... [11 comments]
5★♫: Arrau Plays Chopin
· Yet again, one dead guy playing another’s music (I promise a return to the living after this): The Nocturnes by Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849), as recorded in 1977 and 1978 by Claudio Arrau (1903-1991). Each of the last three (this, Mozart/Brain, and Bach/Kremer) are fine music which has been recorded by many fine performers, but where I never bothered checking any other performances out after hearing the record in question. The Nocturnes have no raw edges, no starkness, but are ravishingly romantic and irresistibly pretty, while still being involving and deep. They’re nocturnal all right; two solid hours of sweet dark-brown ebb and flow, bedtime music for sure. (“5★♫” series introduction here; with an explanation of why the title may look broken.) ... [4 comments]
5★♫: Brain Plays Mozart
· Continuing the theme (from August, argh, maybe I don’t have a 5★ life) of music written by dead guys, and in this case also played by a dead guy. The dead composer is Mozart, the performer Dennis Brain. I refer to Brain’s 1955 recording of the Mozart horn concertos with the assistance of Von Karajan and the Philharmonia Orchestra. You already know this music. You may not think so, but trust me, as soon as it starts playing you’ll think “Oh, yes”. I’m not sure whether it’s everyone actually having heard it, or whether Mozart tapped into something so smooth, polished, and elemental as to convince us that we’re on familiar and well-loved territory. Nobody could call this obscure, it’s sold a kazillion copies; but perhaps not in recent decades. (“5★♫” series introduction here; with an explanation of why the title may look broken.) ... [2 comments]
5★♫: Kremer Plays Bach
· I’ve been fishing in Twentieth-century five-★ waters of late, so let’s cast our eyes back on music written by dead guys. There have been a few classical works that I’ve heard one artist play, then never bothered to take the time to listen to anyone else’s take. For example, Gidon Kremer’s 1980 recording of the Violin Sonatas and Partitas by J.S. Bach. This might be a tough sell: two hours of music containing no notes much below middle C, and no more than two notes ever played at the same time. And Kremer is all about Truth not Beauty, which is to say he doesn’t sugar-coat Bach’s rough edges. But I think that truth is beauty, and I think that this music has so much of both that you really ought to sit down sometime and listen to all of it. Well, and it sounds good. (“5★♫” series introduction here; with an explanation of why the title may look broken.) ... [7 comments]
5★♫: Cinquième Saison
· This one is kind of obscure, but worth hunting down; the full title is Si on avait besoin d’une cinquième saison, recorded by Harmonium in 1975, who were a Big Deal in Québec back then. I’m sure it would appear in my personal top-ten-of-all-time list, computed by how many times I’ve listened; mind you, that’s with 32 years of accumulation. But I still put it on, and I’ve never played it for anyone who didn’t like it. It’s mellow, sweeping, and full of beautiful melodies, beautifully performed, that you’ll find yourself humming while you walk down the street. (“5★♫” series introduction here; with an explanation of why the title may look broken.) ... [7 comments]
5✭♫: The Texas Campfire Tapes
· Just like the title says, this was recorded by a campfire in Texas in 1986 (on a pre-digital Sony Walkman). Voice and guitar and brilliant music bursting out in all directions by Michelle Shocked, one of my personal musical heroes. But there’s some controversy about which version to get. (“5✭♫” series introduction here; with an explanation of why the title may look broken.) ... [7 comments]
5✭♫: Coltrane and Hartman
· That’s short for John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman, recorded in one session—most songs in one take—on March 7, 1963. It sold a zillion copies back then, and was infamously nominated as the Greatest Recording Of All Time by some rock&roll-hating snob in a glossy mag in I think the early Eighties; but that was then, and I’m betting that a lot of people who’d really like it have never heard of it. (“5✭♫” series introduction here; with an explanation of why the title may look broken.) ... [10 comments]
5✭♫: The Hot Spot
· Dennis Hopper directed The Hot Spot in 1990, and I’ve never seen it. He hired Jack Nitzsche to write the music, and they got Miles Davis, John Lee Hooker, Taj Mahal, and some other really good musicians to play on it. It’s the only record I know of in which Miles Davis plays straight blues solos in front of a straight electric blues band, and while there’s some other good stuff too, that would be enough for me. (“5✭♫” series introduction here; with an explanation of why the title may look broken.) ... [2 comments]
5✭♫: Misa Criolla
· Ariel Ramírez is an Argentinean composer born in 1921; Misa Criolla, a 1964 mass for tenor, mixed chorus, percussion, keyboard and (especially) Andean folk instruments. It appears on several disks; I’m going to recommend two featuring José Carreras and Mercedes Sosa. (“5✭♫” series introduction here; with an explanation of why the title may look broken.) ... [2 comments]
5✭♫: Rough Mix
· This is a 1977 album by Pete Townshend of the Who and the late Ronnie Lane of the Faces. It’s a rarity in that most of it, while unquestionably rock music, is also gentle. Of its eleven songs, eight or nine are extremely beautiful, the singing is tuneful and heartfelt, the playing (lots of stars sitting in) is great, even the lyrics will grab you. (“5✭♫” series introduction here; with an explanation of why the title may look broken.) ... [3 comments]
5✭♫: Brahms’ First & Haydn Variations
· If I were asked to pick my favorite symphony, well, I couldn’t. If I were backed into a corner and really pressured, I still couldn’t. But if it were a matter of life and death and I were making short lists, Symphony No. 1 by Brahms would be on all of them. Some have argued that the First isn’t really his first symphonic work; that would be Variations on a Theme of Haydn. Which, if granted, might not change my answer. (“5✭♫” series introduction here; with an explanation of why the title may look broken.) ... [7 comments]
5✭♫: Patti’s Gloria
· Patti Smith is an interesting person and a fine musician, always worth listening to; I particularly enjoy her recent recordings. And in her youth, she recorded Gloria by Van Morrison; it’s a contender for the best single-song rock performance ever. (“5✭♫” series introduction here; with an explanation of why the title may look broken.) ...
5✭♫: Tabula Rasa
· This is the title of an album of music by Arvo Pärt, and of a composition on that album. I have a lot of music by Pärt, but if I had to recommend one record, or one piece, both would be Tabula Rasa. It’s complex, deep, and austere; and contains some of the most beautiful sounds ever recorded. (“5✭♫” series introduction here; with an explanation of why the title may look broken.) ...
5✭♫: Israelites and More
· Desmond Dekker just died; I had to do a quick rip on his Greatest Hits so he’d qualify for the 5-✭ treatment. A lot of people under 45, and a lot of Americans of all ages, won’t know about Desmond, and you’re missing some pretty good music. You might only have heard Israelites and that’s an outstanding song, but there are lots more, and a greatest-hits disc is a no-brainer investment. (“5✭♫” series introduction here; with an explanation of why the title may look broken.) ...
5✭♫: Wrecking Ball
· The last 5-✭ song, Dylan’s One More Cup of Coffee, got there in large part due to harmonies from Emmylou Harris. Emmylou’s never really been a Big Star I think, which is unfair; she’s sung more beautiful songs beautifully than almost anyone. Wrecking Ball, her 1995 outing with Kanadian Karmick Konsultant and overproducer Daniel Lanois and featuring lotsa Big Stars, is perhaps not absolutely her finest work; but it’s what I have on my computer and it’s very good. (“5✭♫” series introduction here; with an explanation of why the title may look broken.) ...
5✭♫: One More Cup of Coffee
· I’m not really a Bob Dylan fan. A voice like that, and a tunesmithing talent like that, come along only a few times per century, but he’s still kind of irritating. That aside, the song One More Cup of Coffee, from the 1976 album Desire, can’t be ignored; wonderful tune, wonderful orchestration, wonderful performance. (“5✭♫” series introduction here; with an explanation of why the title may look broken.) ...
5✭♫: Take Five
· You’ve all heard this, it’s the biggest hit Dave Brubeck’s band ever had, only Dave didn’t write it nor does he play a solo. The tune’s cool enough, you’ll hear it and think “Oh, I know that” but actually you probably don’t, it’s an altogether astounding performance and rewards lots of close listening. (“5✭♫” series introduction here; with an explanation of why the title may look broken.) ...
5✭♫: Rock n Roll Animal
· The last five-star piece, from two weeks ago, was about the Cowboy Junkies. They covered Sweet Jane on their excellent The Trinity Sessions album, and Lou Reed was quoted as saying that their version was definitive. He’s wrong; his own take on this 1974 live set is at another level entirely. So is much of the record. If you had to name the greatest live rock record of all time, well you couldn’t, but if you had to name the top five, this would be one: it shows how hard rock ought to be played. There are some problems: it’s kind of bombastic in places, and it does glamorize the use of addictive narcotics; but let’s not be picky. (“5✭♫” series introduction here; with an explanation of why the title may look broken.) ...
5✭♫: Pale Sun, Crescent Moon
· Three tracks from this 1993 album by the Cowboy Junkies earned five stars, pretty good for pop music. Plus there’s one from The Trinity Sessions, but let’s leave that for later. There are a lot of Cowboy Junkies albums, and they’re all good as far as I know; I find myself ashamed that I haven’t bought any for a decade or so, so I’ll fix that Real Soon Now. Read on for an appreciation of good songs, good singing, good playing, and good words. (“5✭♫” series introduction here; with an explanation of why the title may look broken.) ...
5✭♫: Plutonian Nights
· This is a track by Sun Ra from his album The Lady With The Golden Stockings, recorded around 1958 and released in 1966. Sun Ra, full legal name “Le Sony’r Ra”, born Herman Blount, said a lot of crazy stuff and played some crazy music, some of which I like. But this isn’t crazy, it’s 4:22 of low-voiced cool funk perfection. (“5✭♫” series introduction here; with an explanation of why the title may look broken.) ...
5✭♫: Come On-A My House
· This song was made famous by Rosemary Clooney, but the version I’m writing of here is by Julie London, who recorded 32 albums but is no longer a household name. Julie’s version of Come On-A My House is just the thing for Valentine’s-Day week: Come on-a my house (my house), I’m gonna give you candy... Pure, pure sex. (“5✭♫” series introduction here; with an explanation of why the title may look broken.) ...
5✭♫: Burning Farm
· Shonen Knife formed in Osaka in the early Eighties and, a decade later, suddenly had a North American audience; it helped that they opened for Nirvana on a 1993 tour. Burning Farm was the title of their first record but also of a song; the version I have is off of 1993’s Let’s Knife, probably the group’s essential album. It has a lot of good songs with great melodies, superb light-hearted vocals, high-energy performances, punk guitar, and amiable Japanese looniness; but Burning Farm stands out. (“5✭♫” series introduction here; with an explanation of why the title may look broken.) ...
5✭♫: Any Time
· Leon Redbone is alive and performing, but he’s not actually a contemporary artist; he performs sentimental and jazz songs from the first half of the 20th century, with acoustic accompaniment and period arrangements. Which doesn’t sound very compelling; except for, Redbone picks terrific tunes and sings them beautifully. The song in question is the title track from his 2001 album Any Time, and it might just be the single best vocal performance of our young century. (“5✭♫” series introduction here; with an explanation of why the title may look broken.) [Update: Samples at the iTunes UK store.] ...
5 ✭ ♫ Mondays
· The idea came from JWZ in late 2005: why not rate all the music in your jukebox? If your jukebox is iTunes, you create an “unrated” smart-playlist containing all the tunes with no stars, then you set up the Party Shuffle to draw from it, then you rate them as they go by except when you’re not listening, and after a few months, you have them all rated. I haven’t got them all rated, but I have quite a few labeled ✭✭✭✭✭, which means “a tune that in some way gives me as much pleasure as music can.” I care a lot about (and am reasonably literate about) music, so I decided I to share some of this five-star stuff with the world. I’ll try to post something most Mondays. [Does the title look broken? Here’s why (Updated 2006/01/30).] ...
5✭♫: BWV 131
· I think I should start with J.S. Bach, since we have a special relationship. BWV 131 is one of his cantatas, based on Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, Herr, zu dir (from Psalm 130), composed in 1707, and if you buy it you’ll like it. (“5✭♫” series introduction here; with an explanation of why the title may look broken.) ...
By Tim Bray.
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