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Albums of the Year: 1950s

October 30th, 2007 3 comments

A new series of (more) old music. In an anorak-y moment, I decided to identify my top 10 favourite albums of all time. Variables such as subjective affection and objective quality aside, the challenge with such a venture is to not forget any contenders. So I sorted through my fairly extensive music collection, including stored away vinyl LPs, taking notes for my shortlist. But lots of old favourites have been lost in one way or another: so I trawled lists of album releases for each year on t’Interweb. And thus was born the entirely unoriginal idea of posting my top 10 favourite albums year-by-year on this blog. My monthly 3GB bandwidth limit would not allow me to post full albums, so we’ll have to make do with one or two songs per album.

Before I get bombarded with complaints about notable omissions: I can rank only those albums I actually know. Many artists are represented in my collection by way of compilations. So I can’t list artists of whom I might have a best of double CD sampler and a few individual tracks I have downloaded. My top 10s are also not representative of the “best” albums of the year. Some are, but others will be included simply because I like them, knowing well that they are not as innovative or influential as others I have listed.

I’ll kick off with the 1950s in one post. I have a fair amount of “50s music, but very few albums. I think my list reflects that. I’ll also deal with the “60s up to the year of my birth in one post. Thereafter, we’ll go year by year.

1. Frank Sinatra – Songs For Swingin’ Lovers (1956)
This is really Sinatra’s Pet Sounds, the album everybody points to as the definitive Sinatra album (until, in ten years time, the style authorities spot another definitive Sinatra album). I am unsure whether there is such a thing as a “definitive” Sinatra album. If there is, then Songs For Swinging Lovers is as good a pick as any. The concept is obvious, and with the theme being love, Francis is at his most exuberant. Our man did dejected better than most, but Sinatra in love was always great fun. This album also offers much evidence for all that talk about Sinatra’s phrasing. Just listen to You Make Me Feel So Young and imagine how less brilliant singers have interpreted the song.
Frank Sinatra – You Make Me Feel So Young.mp3
Frank Sinatra – Pennies From Heaven.mp3

2. Various – Singin’ In The Rain soundtrack (1952)
If I had to choose one DVD to take with me to exile on a desert island, I might very well pick Singin’ In The Rain. It is the perfect movie (except the ballet sequence is a touch too long. Still, Syd Charisse’s legs….mmmmm). The songs, a hotchpotch of numbers that had long ago appeared elsewhere (and in one case is a shameless rip-off of Cole Porter), range from the sublime “” the title track or Good Morning “” to standard crooning “” You Are My Lucky Star (nonetheless a song I cannot help but croon along to). The orchestral score is very good indeed, but in the company of these exuberant songs, it is somehow intrusive. Stripped down to the show tunes, the album captures the energy of the movie, which is all you can ask from a soundtrack.
Gene Kelly – Singin’ In The Rain.mp3
Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor & Debbie Reynolds – Good Morning.mp3

3. Miles Davis – Kind Of Blue (1959)
Ah, I know what you’re thinking: this is Any Major Token Jazz Album. In a way, that would be correct. I used to listen to jazz a lot (mostly fusion of the Grover Washington Jr and Eric Gale variety, though), and now I rarely do. If I feel moved to play some jazz, Kind Of Blue-era Miles Davis is the guy I turn to. The kicker is: when I used to listen to jazz a lot, I rarely listened to Davis (whose Witch’s Brew-era fusion stuff actually turned me off his music), and never to Kind Of Blue, which I didn’t even own. So where to many people Kind Of Blue serves as an introduction to jazz, to me it is a late discovery. And a very happy one. It is the kind of album that you can relax to “” a reading album “” as well as listen to for those brilliant twists and turns. And don’t let anyone sell that revisionist nonsense about Kind Of Blue lacking innovation, a notion that can be bought only if one thinks that innovation must equal excessive wankery. For that, there are plenty of other Davis albums.
Miles Davis – So What.mp3

4. Ella Fitzgerald – Ella Fitzgerald Sings The Cole Porter Songbook (1956)
This was part of a series of Ella Fitzgerald’s songbook albums. Previously, she had recorded sets of compositions by George Gershwin, later she gave the songbook treatment to such canons as those of Irving Berlin, Duke Ellington, Harold Arlen, Rogers & Hart and the Gershwins again. Her tribute to Cole Porter is the most popular, and rightly so. Much of it has to do with the quality of Cole Porter’s songs: the wonderful lyrical and musical wit of songs such as I Get A Kick Out Of You, the sweet romance of Do I Love You, the articulation of a desperate heart on Night And Day”¦ I could listen to Porter all day, even if his songs are being performed by Alanis Morrissette and Robbie Williams, as on the De-Lovely soundtrack. Happily, that is not necessary “” though the soundtrack’s version of Night And Day is quite wonderful “” because Ms Fitzgerald has applied her musical stylings to the Porter catalogue. While none of the versions are necessarily the best available interpretations, Fitzgerald sustains a high measure of quality throughout, a consistency which few other singers working with the same material have matched “” even Sinatra, at his best a great interpreter of Porter’s music, could get patchy.
Ella Fitzgerald – It’s De-Lovely.mp3

5. Frank Sinatra – In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning (1955)
During his Capitol years, Sinatra was apt to produce concept albums. Songs For Swingin’ Lovers was all about being in love, Come Fly With Me (1958) was a collection of travel-related songs, Only The Lonely (1959) was drenched in self-pity. Likewise, In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning paints a mood in line with the album title. Our man is in a reflective mood here, maybe after a solitary night of propping up a bar. Perhaps he is sharing his reflections with the bartender. Life isn’t necessarily bad, but is it really good? This isn’t an outpouring of self-pity, it is introspective. Few of this album’s songs rank among Sinatra’s biggest hits; you’ll find none of them on your average karaoke mix. This is an advantage: as you listen, you don’t wait for the big hits, but buy into the mood of the album, and join Francis in his introspections.
Frank Sinatra – What Is This Thing Called Love.mp3

6. Elvis Presley – Loving You (1957)
By 1957, Elvis was in his pomp. On his third proper album, he was still rockin’ and rollin’, but had also acquired a sense of musical subtlety. His cover of Fats Domino’s “Blueberry Hill” might have been a disaster if approached as a rock ‘n roll song. Elvis didn’t, and it isn’t. On “Teddy Bear” (with the excellent backing vocals by the Jordanaires), Elvis’ pleading sounds sincere, the silliness of the lyrics notwithstanding. In this way, the vocals are presaging the rock-pop of the Beatles rather than organic roots of rock, which find expression in songs such as Party and Got A Lot O’ Livin’ To Do. By now, our boy also had learned how to sing slow songs — not the crooning he’d later subject us to, but the sort of soulful, country-inflected music that let him casually show off his great voice, as on the title track. Elvis would still make a few good albums before going to Germany to do his duty to Uncle Sam, screw underage girls, and return as the Colonel’s cashcow by appearing in a long succession of astonishingly banal movies. Albums like Loving You (itself a soundtrack) remind us of how great Elvis really was before his descend into gimpdom.
Elvis Presley – Loving You.mp3
Elvis Presley – (Let Me Be ) Your Teddy Bear.mp3

7. Miles Davis – Porgy & Bess (1958)
Miles Davis was an objectionable human being. Scarred by his experiences, perhaps, but not admirable in any way but in his artistry. And it was here that Davis (unlike many, I will not refer to the man by his first name as if he was a pseudo-chum; I’d probably not have wanted to be his friend) revealed the beauty inherent in most people, even the obnoxious kind. That beauty rarely shone brighter than on his interpretation of Gershwin’s Porgy & Bess, a sensitive, almost tender take, aided by Gil Evans’ wonderful orchestration. Take “Prayer”, a song that passed me by entirely on the soundtrack LP my mother used to own. In the hands of Davis and Evans, it gently lures you into its depth, so much so that it comes as a something of a jolt when the thing ends. The standard number of Porgy & Bess, of course, is Summertime. It’s a song that invites, almost demands vocal stylings “” it’s hardly possible to screw up singing it. All the more credit to Davis and Evans as they deliver a most evocative interpretation without recourse to the human voice.
Miles Davis – Summertime.mp3

8. Various – High Society soundtrack (1956)
The late ’40s and ’50s were the golden age of MGM musicals. High Society, the musical remake of the great Katherine Hepburn vehicle The Philadelphia Story (1940), did not represent the zenith of the genre. Bing Crosby was nothing on Cary Grant, and Sinatra (an otherwise fine actor) no match for the performance by James Stewart in the original. High Society is to be enjoyed purely for Cole Porter’s incredible songs: Crosby’s languid energy of Now You Has Jazz with Louis Armstrong, Crosby crooning with Grace Kelly about True Love, Sinatra and the wonderful Celeste Holm being sardonically envious about obscene wealth. And then there is the set’s absolute high point: Frank & Bing slaying each other with wit in Well Did You Evah, a duel of two iconic crooners in which neither manages to upstage the other even as they raise the stakes, culminating in that wonderful pay-off line by Sinatra: “Don’t dig that kind of crooning, chum”. Swellegant indeed.
Bing Crosby & Frank Sinatra – Well, Did You Evah.mp3

9. Various – An American In Paris (1951)
The film was not as good as Singin’ In The Rain, except for a few stunning setpieces (the charming street scene of I Got Rhythm, the big production of Stairway To Paradise, the lovely painting montage), but it was this Gene Kelly musical that won an Oscar. Arguably, the majesty of Gershwin’s eponymous symphony contributed to what the Academy might have mistaken for sophistication. It is the combination of Gershwin and the memorable set-piece songs — I Got Rhythm is so infectious, one needs self-control not to copy Kelly’s “aeroplane!” move — that create a hugely appealing album. The musical light-heartedness of songs like ‘s Wonderful provide the cream on the strawberries of Gershwin’s score. Or something.
Gene Kelly & Georges Guetary – ‘s Wonderful.mp3

10. Various – Gigi soundtrack (1958)
The last great MGM musical in the old tradition, Gigi came at a time when the genre was slowly dying. The film itself is a cutting satire on gender and class relations, cushioned of course by the obligatory Tinseltown glamour and conventional resolution. The music is key to the masking of the brutal commentary. Charming old Maurice Chevalier croons about little girls (as one could in those days without being considered a paedophile), the old Vichy collaborator and Louis Jourdan discuss the latter’s sense of disillusionment in It’s A Bore (Gaston, it would appear, was a depressive. Did Collette intend that?), and then there is the sweeping, montage-like title track. To me, the highlight of the film and soundtrack is the aging Chevalier and Hermione Gingold nostalgically recounting a date they had many, many years before. Chevalier misremembers with grand charm every detail (“You wore a gown of gold”), and Gingold corrects him (“I was all in blue”) before tenderly “acknowledging” that the old coot’s memory is indeed accurate. Gingold then recalls what a stud muffin the old man used to be, Chevalier responds with self-satisfaction: “Ah yes, I remember it well”, because that he actually has not forgotten. It is at once very funny and very touching. As a film and as a collection of music, Gigi eclipses that other Lerner & Loewe work, My Fair Lady.
Maurice Chevalier & Hermione Gingold – I Remember It Well (Gigi).mp3

Halloween: Getting ready

October 28th, 2007 2 comments

To those who care about such things, collecting Halloween songs is a bit like collating music for Christmas: you can never have enough. In that spirit, here are some offerings that didn’t find their way on the Halloween Mix I posted a month ago.

Alan Price Set – I Put A Spell On You.mp3
An intense track from 1966 which might have been recorded by Procol Harum. The organ solo totally rocks, echoing the sound Price previously created for the Animals. Alan Price is totally underrated.

Donovan – Wild Witch Lady.mp3
By 1973, the mellow yellow fellow had turned psychedelic. “Wild Witch Lady” is heavy, man, with our boy going all Robert Plant on our sorry asses. Great witch’s cry in the beginning.

Box Tops – I Must Be The Devil.mp3
The Box Tops are most famous for their ’60s British Invasion hit “The Letter”. This is nothing like the big hit. This is a seriously stoned blues work-out.

The Moontrekkers – Night Of The Vampire.mp3
This instrumental is a Halloween must, not just for the song itself (a great Halloween instrumental), but also for the background story of its producer Joe Meek, whose sad life ended with him killing his landlady and then himself in 1967.

Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs – Haunted House.mp3
You’ll know Sam the Sham as the performer of “Wooly Bully”. This Rock ‘n Roll track was the b-side to the performer’s big hit. It has a great Halloween intro, and is great fun afterwards.

Golden Earring – The Devil Made Me Do It.mp3
Widely under-appreciated Dutch rockers Golden Earring were rather forgotten by 1982, a few years after their huge hit “Radar Love” (still one of the greatest rock songs of all time). On this fine track they sound like Adam Ant and Dexys Midnight Runners had joined them, with a bridge that might have been written by the Little River Band. You have to hear it, really.

Check out Touched Mix blog for a series of great Halloween mix-tapes, including one consisting of “AmbientDubHopStep”.

In the middle of the road: Part 3

October 26th, 2007 3 comments

And more music from the middle of the road, the yacht club, the West Coast, the adult-orientated radio. More music to play while driving with the warm win in your hair.

Blue Öyster Cult – (Don’t Fear) The Reaper.mp3
Ah, that guitar riff. And the great drums in the outro! I imagine that this song would be one of the few in this series to unanimously pass the Taste Police test (perhaps because the Pixies ripped off the riff?). You can bet that this track will feature in many Halloween collections next week, which will be a spectacular piece of point-missing, akin to those clowns who play James Blunt’s “You’re Beautiful” at weddings because the title says “You’re beautiful” and the bride is, you know, beautiful. “The Reaper” is about love transcending death. And, FFS, it is not about suicide.

Asia – In The Heat Of The Moment.mp3
A fine example of Cocaine Rock, presaging the advent of Big Hair Rock. “Heat Of The Moment” came out in 1982. It was like punk never happened as a supergroup of hoary ’70s rockers from groups punk was supposed to kill “” Yes, ELP, King Crimson “” set the scene for the success and/or survival of all those acts that would proceed to populate crappy soundtrack albums.

Alessi – All For A Reason.mp3
One of the great telephone songs. I never know whether to laugh or cry when the girl hangs up on this guy pleading at her with such sincerity, and he goes “hello?…hello?” Which person who has experienced the pain of lost love cannot empathise with our hero, even if he comes across like a bit of a stalker? Still, it is sweetly pathetic that he still blabbers on about his love when “Ann” clearly is not only uninterested in his shtick, but is also very rude about it (possibly due to the time of night the drunk fool is calling her). For goodness’ sake, Ann, dude just hit you with a line like “can’t you see I’m just a man in love and it’s driving me insane”, and you put the phone down on him? What luxury, and how harsh! The song itself is a lovely slice of ’70s AOR, and far superior to the twin brothers’ big hit, “Oh Lori”. I tend to sequence “All For A Reason” with that other great telephone song by England Dan & John Ford Coley.

Eddie Rabbitt – Suspicions.mp3
A smooth country-rock classic to be filed alongside Rupert Holmes’ “Him”. I can’t say I know much of Eddie Rabbitt’s music (other than “I Love A Rainy Night”), but this song is great. It has a flute in it, so it has to be. Tim McGraw covered “Suspicions” on his latest album, doing a fine job. Poor Eddie had a tough time of it when his career began declining. First his little son died, and in 1998 Ed followed, of lung cancer, at the age of 56.

Jim Messina – Love Is Here.mp3
In a classic episode of The Simpsons, Lisa makes friends with a girl who eclipses all of her prodigious talents. Friendship turns to rivalry as Lisa feels as though she is living in Alison’s shadow. In one sequence, Lisa imagines herself on stage at a concert of the second bananas in famous duos,. including Garfunkel, Oates and Jim Messina. Stupendously funny though the gag is, it’s a little unfair on poor Messina. His 1979 Oasis album is far superior to anything Kenny Loggins has done. “Love Is Here” is a joyous ode to, well, finding love, scored by a bouncy sound Boz Scaggs would kill for, and a fantastic duel between guitar and saxophone.

Bobby Caldwell – What You Won’t Do For Love.mp3
When “What You Won’t Do For Love” first appeared in 1978, promotion for the song would show Caldwell only in silhouette to obscure the man’s race “” it was as though if it became known that the cat was white, black radio would not play this soul-rock number. Whatever the case, this is one catchy toe-tapper with a great keyboard-, sax- and basslines, judicious use of Stax style strings, and a brilliant delivery. The song has been frequently covered and sampled, sometimes to good effect (Natalie Cole & Peabo Bryson), sometimes competently (Go West), sometimes uselessly (Boyz II Men), and sometimes weirdly (sampled in 2 Pac’s “Do For Love”).

Toto – Georgy Porgy.mp3
And another funky kinda song which combines the best of soul and AOR. The female backing vocals are Cheryl Lynn’s (she of “Got To Be Real”, possibly the greatest disco song ever). Everything works in this song; it’s as tight as spray-on jeans. Bobby Kimball sounds like Boz Scaggs (on whose albums Paich, Hungate and Pocarco played), allowing Lynn to steal the show. Which she does, and then some. And the ending to the song is just fantastic.

Carly Simon – You’re So Vain.mp3
Put-downs have rarely come as good as this. The double-edged insult of being told: “you’re so vain, you probably think this song is about you” is like a slap in the face followed by a backhander. Carly Simon has never let on who the song addresses. As a consequence, fingers of suspicion have pointed at anyone Carly had had affairs with before its release in 1972: Warren Beatty, Cat Stevens, Kris Kristofferson and Mick Jagger (who does backing vocals on the track). Personally, I picture Beatty sauntering on to the yacht. Of course, the song needn’t be about anyone in particular…

The Eagles – I Can’t Tell You Why.mp3
Here’s a group due some rehabilitation. The legacy of the bloated and overplayed “Hotel California” has soiled the Eagles’ whole career. “I Can’t Tell You Why”, from their final studio album before hell froze over, is a tender song about a relationship hanging by the thinnest thread of love. Don Felder’s guitar solo that plays out the song is utterly lovely.

Nazareth – Love Hurts.mp3
This song makes me laugh. To begin with, it is entirely unrepresentative of Nazareth’s hard rock sound. The man’s hammy vocals sound like he had lost a bet to sing this. The Gram Parsons & Emmylou Harris version is, of course, infinitely better. But that isn’t the point: the Nazareth version is a whole lotta overwrought fun. It was also brilliantly placed in one of my favourite movies, Dazed And Confused.

Journey – Wheel In The Sky.mp3
More CocRock! Released in 1978, “Wheel In The Sky” helped shape the template for all that rubbish radio rock of the ’80s, of which Journey and Steve Perry would become frequent perpetrators themselves. Oh, but what a great song this is.

Intros quiz: Vol 2

October 23rd, 2007 2 comments

Another intros quiz. You know the drill: 20 intros to songs from the ’60s to ’00s, about 5 seconds each. Answers on Sunday in the comments to this post. And do feel free to leave a comment yourself…

As ever, if you really cannot wait to find out what that blasted number 12 is, e-mail me at halfhearteddude at gmail.com, and I’ll post you the answers.

Intros Quiz 2.mp3

Categories: Intros Quiz Tags:

The Songbirds: Vol 5

October 21st, 2007 5 comments

After a hiatus, here’s a new instalment of The Songbirds. Given the name of this series, it seems odd that I’ve never thought of uploading the song that gave inspired title. So here, in its original incarnation and as covered by a previous Songbird nominee:
Fleetwood Mac – Songbird.mp3
Rosie Thomas – Songbird.mp3

Kate Earl
I really hope Kate Earl‘s fine 2005 debut Fate Is the Hunter will not be the final offering by this engaging Alaskan LA-based songbird. Critics tend to compare Earl with Fiona Apple, without the neurosis. Not being a great fan of Apple, I am inclined to differ. Though vocally they are not dissimilar, Earl plays with different genres, from guitar-folk to piano-driven ballads to what one might call folk-torchsong and folk-blues. Joni Mitchell and Carole King are obvious influences. “Cry Sometimes” is a slowed-down AOR number of the kind those who like the interminably dull Norah Jones ought to hear just to realise just how deficient Jones’ music is. The critics point to the fine “Hero” as the stand-out track on Fate Is the Hunter. I recommend that the reader seeks it out immediately after being acquainted with the songs below. “Sweet Sixteen” is a torchsong-type number which innovatively samples some old shellac record tune.
Kate Earl – Cry Sometimes.mp3
Kate Earl – Sweet Sixteen.mp3

Jill Sobule
Jill Sobule has been around for a long while, but has only ever had one proper hit, 1995’s “I Kissed A Girl”. Audiences presumably looked for more of the same, in the Lisa Loeb mould, and lost interest when Sobule did not pander to expectations. And so Lisa, not Jill, became a bit of a star (not that I’d begrudge the bespectacled one her success). Sobule is a storyteller who dips her lyrics in liberal amounts of irony. Some of her music is quite brilliant, but the real attraction resides in her lyrics, and the delivery thereof. I’ve mentioned this line from “One Of These Days” before: “One of these days I’m gonna touch the sky, like that awful song ‘I Believe I Can Fly’, [pause for effect] I believe I can fly.” The song comes from 2000’s Pink Pearl album, which also features the Bacharach-as-produced-by-Spector style “Rainy Day Parade”, a song about depression and loss. Get the stunning “Lucy At The Gym” and CD-quality live MP3s on the regularly updated download section of Jill’s excellent homepage.
Jill Sobule – Rainy Day Parade.mp3
Jill Sobule – I Kissed A Girl.mp3
Jill Sobule – One Of These Days.mp3

Colbie Caillat
One of the success stories of musicians bypassing the A&R goons via the Internet to find recognition and, in this case, commercial benefit, Colbie Caillat has found favour among bloggers and MySpace trawlers alike. The thing is, purely on paper Caillat’s debut album should not deserve such favour. Its title is Coco, her childhood nickname for crying out loud. The lyrics are cute and sweet, but not particularly poetic. Her sound is breezy and sunny, almost begging comparison to boring old Jack Johnson (who, in fairness, is one of the host of influences Colbie — or her PR — lists on her My Space page). On top of all that, Colbie is very pretty, looking nothing like a grungy or introspective folk chick (all this recalls the case of Tristan Prettyman, whose new album is out in February — hurrah! — and whom I featured in The Songbirds Vol 3) . And yet! And yet, Coco is one of the most appealing albums of the year. We need music for all moods; Caillat provides the soundtrack for happy moods, a bit like early Rickie Lee Jones. If there is a sound that can replicate the feeling of just having falling in reciprocal love, this is it.
Colbie Caillat – Realize.mp3
Colbie Caillat – One Fine Wire.mp3

Kate Walsh
Another singer who created a buzz on the Internet, rather than thanks to conventional promotion methods, Kate Walsh channels the spirit of Nick Drake and Joni Mitchell. Her home-recorded album is intimate, touching and immediately engaging. It is a quiet album — basically a girl and her guitar — but also one thickly layered with credible emotion and exquisite melodies. Tim’s House has accomplished a respectable amount of attention, acclaim and some commercial success through innovative marketing on iTunes Store. But there is more to the album than that. I’ll stick my neck out and predict, hopefully without undue hyperbole, that in some time to come, it will be recognised as a minor classic in the Songbird genre.
Kate Walsh – Don’t Break My Heart.mp3
Kate Walsh – Is This It.mp3 (previously uploaded)
Kate Walsh – Talk Of The Town.mp3 (previously uploaded)

Shawn Colvin
I have been debating wit

h myself whether to include Shawn Colvin in this series, having focused on female singers who have not received much wider exposure or, as in the cases of Rickie Lee Jones and Suzanne Vega, whose new album merited mention. Colvin also released a new album late last year, These Four Walls, which also went rather unnoticed. A pleasant affair, it had a couple of notable songs (“So Good To See You” being particularly good). Colvin’s back catalogue includes some gems, handily compiled on 2004’s Polaroid album. But what I really like about Colvin is that she voiced a character in The Simpsons (the Christian rock singer whom Ned Flanders fancied) and appeared on The Larry Sanders Show. Which is pretty cool. Colvin was also the unfortunate singer whose Grammys acceptance speech (for Song of the Year “Sunny Came Home”) was hijacked by Ol’ Dirty Bastard who expressed his justifiable disappointment at losing a nomination to the revolting Puff Daddy, sartorial stylings notwithstanding, and how Wu Tang is all about the children.
Shawn Colvin – So Good To See You.mp3
Shawn Colvin – Never Saw Blue Like That.mp3

The Songbirds Vol 1: Rickie Lee Jones, Mindy Smith, Michelle Featherstone, Missy Higgins, A Fine Frenzy
The Songbirds Vol 2: Harris Tweed, Brandi Carlile, Hello Saferide, Sarah Borges, Suzanne Vega
The Songbirds Vol 3: Rosie Thomas, Catherine Feeney, Sarah Bettens, Kathleen Edwards, Tristan Prettyman
The Songbirds Vol 4:
Deb Talan, Brooke Fraser, Emiliana Torrini, Maria Taylor, Jenny Lewis

In the middle of the road: Part 2

October 19th, 2007 7 comments

More music for long drives and such things.

Ace – How Long.mp3
I love the way this song begins. A bassline, then a discreet percussive beat, enter the guitar and launch straight into the chorus with its West Coast rock harmonies. Like Rupert Holmes in “Him”, the good woman at home has been cheating, and like Holmes, our man isn’t “as dumb as [he] seems”. He figured it out even without give-away cigarettes on the window sill. Except… “How Long” is actually about their former bassplayer who played with other bands, apparently. Maybe the callous-fingered cheat left his Marlboros on the wrong amplifier.

England Dan & John Ford Coley – I’d Really Like To See You Tonight.mp3
One of the definitive AOR driving tracks, thanks to its great chorus. It’s quite a sad song about a guy trying to hook up with an ex (or object of unrequited love, perhaps) whom he really misses. He just wants to meet her as a friend, and then proceeds to suggest a whole lot of romantic things to do. Sounds a bit pathetic, but it isn’t. England Dan (Seals) is the bother of Jim Seals in the next act.

Seals & Croft – Summer Breeze.mp3
Jim Seals and Dash Croft started their career as members of the Champs, a group that also included Glenn Campbell, and had a hit in 1958 with “Tequila” (yes, that “Tequila” song). By the time they recorded under their surnames Jim and Dash had dropped the faux-Latin novelty hits in favour of evocative country-rock. Fantastic as their original version of “Summer Breeze” is, the cover by the Isley Brothers a year later, with Ernie Isley’s superb guitar solo, is even better. Lyrics about metereological phenomena don’t get much better than this: “Summer breeze, makes me feel fine, blowing through the jasmine in my mind.”

Rickie Lee Jones – Chuck E’s In Love.mp3
I think Rickie Lee Jones had one of the sexiest voices in pop, in a cute way. Rickie Lee Jones’ vocal performance, especially the way she toys with the vowels, is hugely appealing. I fall in love with her whenever I hear the “Look in the poolhall, is he there?” part. The lyrics of this song are quite wonderful, with that lovely denouement.

King Harvest – Dancing In The Moonlight.mp3
When singing along to this, can one do so without copying the singer’s accent? Uvraborday is executing rhythmic movements outdoors at night, apparently. Even the shortlived British outfit Toploader replicated the accent on their inferior cover version a few years ago. Unlike the cover, King Harvest’s 1973 version exudes joy and visions of a hippie party where nurborday’s wearing clothes.

Bob Seger – Night Moves.mp3
Poor man’s Springsteen, they called him. And, hey, he’s singing about riding in a “60 Chevy. Seger has always been a bit underestimated. The man had some great tunes, especially his mid-tempo tracks and the occasional ballad. I can do without his rocking out stuff . “Night Moves” is a fine summer sex song, which really gets good when he goes all emotional with sexual nostalgia, then goes quietly reflective with just some soft acoustic guitar strumming, before the whole thing picks up to the great extended climax with the female backing singers urging the Night Moves and Bob riffing about memories and thunder and such things (yup, another metereological theme). Glorious.

Linda Ronstadt – You’re No Good.mp3
A couple of years ago, Linda Ronstadt performed at the Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas when she praised Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11. A shitstorm broke loose, with members of the audience exercising their right to free expression by booing the singer, throwing stuff at her and vandalising promotional material. Aladdin Hotel’s management then threw Ronstadt out of the hotel. Which isn’t very nice. She possibly sang “You’re No Good” at that concert (how’s that for a link?). It’s a very interesting song. Originally recorded by soul singer Betty Everett, it is heavily R&B-influenced (especially the backing vocals) yet still in the country-rock genre with guitars that sound like George Harrison’s on the White Album and Abbey Road, and strings which, during the long outro, borrow from Philly soul-disco. And it all comes together (geddit?) admirably.

Christopher Cross – Sailing.mp3
I suspect that having had a hit with the theme for the Dudley Moore rom-com Arthur killed Cross” career. As fine a song as it was (it’s the one about the moon and New York City), it was hardly fashionable. Indeed, “Sailing” and the equally good “Ride Like The Wind” were not exactly hip either even when they came out. They were big hits, but they were not hip. I’m not sure whether the Taste Police would approve of “Sailing” even now. Well, it does have a great chorus, and the piano interlude at 2:44 is rather lovely. And, yes, the song actually is about sailing.

Boz Scaggs – Lowdown.mp3
A song to groove to. Try sitting still when “Lowdown” comes on, and try not to sing along when Scaggs goes “Low low low low loooow down” and then play the old air guitar with the solo that follows. A strange hybrid of a song that did well on pop, adult contemporary and black radio. The story goes that Scaggs declined to have “Lowdown” included on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack: a triumph for artistic integrity, a Decca moment for Boz’s bank balance.

Peter Frampton – Baby, I Love Your Way.mp3
In 1976/77, Frampton was one of the biggest stars in the world. A couple of years later, our curly-haired pal was as unfashionable as John Travolta. Unlike the cardinal in the “Church” of Scientology, Frampton never became cool again. Frampton Comes Alive (in its time the best-selling live album of all time) is better than collective memory suggests. Recorded in San Francisco, it captures a great atmosphere. It is strange that rational people will claim to hate this song when they secretly love it. A scene in Hi Fidelity captures that attitude nicely: John Cusack’s character “” doubtlessly a high-ranking member of the Taste Police, a colonel probably “” professes to despise the song, until he hears a girl he likes sing it. He then loves it. Just cut out the middlewoman, dude.

Little River Band – The Night Owls.mp3
Earlier I uploaded an incorrectly filenamed track under this title. The tune is in fact Pablo Cruise’s “Whatcha Gonna Do” (1977). I’ve uploaded the correct file now. So, to avoid confusion, if you DLed Little River Band – The Night Owls.mp3, change the file name to the Pablo Cruise song. The real “Night Owls” is filenamed Little River Band – The Night Owls (halfhearteddude.blogspot.com).mp3 Sorry about the confusion…
Pablo Cruise – Whatcha Gonna Do.mp3 (rename incorrectly slugged file)

Lame hip hop for lame whiteys

October 14th, 2007 2 comments

Take a look at ‘The Top 10 Rap Songs White People Love’. Not because it hits the nail on the head (it doesn’t), not because it’s amusing (it mostly isn’t), not because we can learn anything from it (we can’t). I’m flagging it because the idea is at once interesting and ridiculous. Is the dude saying that white people are lame for supposedly liking these tracks, or is he saying that the tracks are lame for white people supposedly liking these songs? Either way, is he advocating some kind of a Taste Apartheid?

Of course, it seems evident that cap-in-yo-ass-bustin’ charlies such as 50 Cent, The Game or Fabolous, and even Snoop Dogg, are now marketed primarily at an audience in the ‘burbs, not that in the ‘hood. It would be fair to say that “Whitey” digs Fiddy probably more than Whitey’s African-American counterparts do. But by establishing a racial link between music and perceived audience, one risks engaging in the same silly stereotype which assumes that black people cannot possibly like rock or pop music due to some cultural or genetic proscription. Which, of course, is not true (and here is a blog about non-hip hop music black people like ).

Some rap acts will lack credibility, for a variety of reasons. Some had cred, and lost it when they sold their image to be used in kids’ cartoons (MC Hammer); some entered with no credibility in first place (any number of cash-in copycat herberts); and some are accused of not having any credibility when that is just uninformed nonsense, sometimes based on race (Beastie Boys, by people who know nothing; I’ve heard that even Vanilla Ice had credibility on the rap circuit before he sold out to MTV). Surely credibility cannot be based on whether a melanin-disadvantaged character dances poorly to Eazy E. Because — ha ha ha — Whitey ain’t got no rhythm. Flip that stereotype for a laugh.

A poster on my favourite message board suggested the following juxtaposition: “Transpose the post as ‘Top 10 country songs that black people love’ written by some redneck and see what responses it would garner.” Nail. MC Hammer. Bang.

Incidentally, the latest poll suggests that most readers here don’t give much of a damn about hip hop. I asked: What is the state of hip hop today?

Better than ever…………………..1%
Doing OK………………………………4%
Dying on its arse…………………26%
Who gives a 50 Cent…………..67% (that would be the Sir Mix-A-Lot fanbase, presumably)

Count me in the ‘dying on its arse’ constituency. But, frankly, hip hop has become so corporate that I’ve stopped giving much of a 50 Cent. Can rap be saved? We’ll have our old CDs and the memories should all these gimps invariably featuring Akon on their albums succeed in killing rap.

In the spirit of rap songs being liked by white people, a few random tracks which this (non-nasal) “whitey” likes:
Scarface – On My Block.mp3
Common – Real People.mp3
Jay-Z – Izzo (H.O.V.A.).mp3 (live unplugged)
Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five – The Message.mp3
De La Soul – Me, Myself And I.mp3
Gil Scott-Heron – The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.mp3 (proto rap track)

And for the fun of it:
Chris Rock – Rap Standup.mp3 (“love rap, tired of defending it”)
Chris Rock – Real People Of Ignorance.mp3 (a few laugh-out-loud moments!)
Ben Folds – Bitches Ain’t Shit.mp3 (live on 3FM)
Richard Cheese – Hey Ya.mp3

(Image borrowed from gregslab.com)

Intros quiz: TV themes

October 14th, 2007 5 comments

You asked for it, so here’s the second intros quiz on the theme of, er, TV themes. 40 of them, ranging from classic series to cartoon shows. Though almost all are US shows, all were internationally syndicated. Numbers 6, 11 and 21 are British shows.

Answers in comments by Wednesday. If you really can’t wait, e-mail me at: halfhearteddude at gmail.com

TV Themes Intro Quiz.mp3

Categories: Intros Quiz Tags:

In the middle of the road: Part 1

October 12th, 2007 3 comments

I suppose one might label the songs that will populate this series as “Guilty Pleasures”. I have used the term myself, but actually object to the notion that one should feel embarrassed about enjoying music, even if our friends from the Taste Police might not approve of it. Far better than conceding a “delicious embarrassment” at enjoying the mid-tempo sounds of Boston or the Doobie Brothers, one should acknowledge that this is damn good stuff best played on the long road with the windows down as the wind blows through one’s hair. Embarrassment is for losers.

Player – Baby Come Back.mp3
The song which inspired this series. The chorus is utter genius, and listen to the bassline and that distinctive guitar part. But the best moment comes at 2:35 when the backing singer hits the falsetto in echo of the vocalist’s “nothing left for me”.

Nicolette Larson – Lotta Love.mp3
This song was written by the Ronald Reagan endorsing whiner Neil Young. I don’t remember him singing it, but it probably sucks (you may have noted that I’m not a huge admirer of Mr Young). In the hands of Nicolette Larson, however, it is a wonderful cruising song (I’m talking automobiles here, folks). It has a flute in it, which is all I ask of a song. Hell, Boney M could have placed a flute in “Hooray! Hooray! It’s A Holi-Holiday”, and I’d be uploading the bastard in tribute as we speak. Happily, Boney M didn’t and I don’t. Instead, this slice of MOR heaven from 1978. Nicolette Larson never enjoyed a great career, and died on 1997 at the age of 45.

Boston – More Than A Feeling.mp3
That riff surely is one of the most famous in rock history (are that handclaps in the background?). Amazingly, this was recorded in a home studio. Brad Delp’s soaring vocals as he sings “I see my Mary-Ann walking away” just before the guitar solo, at 2:18, the “slipped away” line (3:30) and then the long note at the end are quite stunning. Sadly Delp died earlier this year.

Ambrosia – Biggest Part Of Me.mp3
One of my happy songs. It is also one hell of a great love song. Another track with great vocals, and excellent harmonising. In fact, when a capella outfit Take 6 covered “Biggest Part Of Me” (changing the lyrics to turn it into a gospel number), they lifted the harmonies almost faithfully from the original.

Steely Dan – Reelin’ In The Years.mp3
The earliest song in the series, from 1972, kicks off with a killer guitar solo, races through the first verse, and then rocks a glorious sing-along solo. The piano on the track is quite wonderful.

Rupert Holmes – Him.mp3
If any song in this series could justify the “Guilty Pleasure” label, it is this. The lyrics are remarkably poor (“three is one too many of us”), and that opening gambit about cigarette brands is hilariously bad — but, by Jove, this song insidiously lodges itself into the listener’s ear. By the time Rupert launches into the “ooooh-hooo-hooo”, one involuntarily hooooos along.

Doobie Brothers – What A Fool Believes.mp3
Michael McDonald is not exactly the poster boy for hipness, and that dreary “On My Own” hit with Patti LaBelle didn’t help to compensate for the man’s rock dad beard. But the dude can sing. On “What A Fool Believes”, with its driving keyboard hook, McDonald delivers a vocal masterclass.

Bill LaBounty – Livin’ It Up.mp3
A lost classic. Bill LaBounty’s1982 track bounces gently along to a catchy keyboard groove until that wonderful chorus comes in, and one simply has to sing along with it. The lyrics are pure pathos, but, hey, who has not put on a facade of happiness to mask a broken heart?

More Middle of the Road

Pissing off the Taste Police with Carpenters

October 6th, 2007 5 comments

OK, I’m cheating a bit. There are factions of the Taste Police who adore Karen & Richard’s music. Read this post as pissing off those branches of the Taste Police who would prosecute their Carpenters-loving colleagues.

It is a little odd that the same members of the Taste Police who will defend the Carpenters are quite prepared to heap scorn on far edgier acts — for lacking edge. Let’s face it, you can’t really screw to the Carpenters (“Song For You” and “This Masquerade” being exceptions), they were mostly a cover act, and fans of the Carpenters are likely to like James Blunt as well. And many Carpenters song were utter crap. But when the Carpenters were great, they were indeed great. Richard’s arrangements could be exquisite. Perhaps the Taste Police forgives that. But Richard Carpenter, surely, is the least rock ‘n roll man ever to have worn the pop mantle. All I’m left with is Karen Carpenter: one of the finest vocalists in pop ever, blessed with an astonishingly beautiful and versatile voice.

Carpenters – (They Long To Be) Close To You.mp3
This Bacharach-David composition was the Carpenters break-through hit, and the best-known version of the song, which has been recorded by artists as diverse as Dionne Warwick, Isaac Hayes (whose symphonic version is incredible), the Cranberries and the Barenaked Ladies (the late Gwen Guthrie recorded a lovely upbeat version of it in 1986). The Carpenters were discovered by Herb Alpert and signed to his A&M label; it was Alpert who suggested they record “Close To You”, and it sounds like he is playing on it too.
Gwen Guthrie – (They Long To Be) Close To You.mp3

Carpenters – Superstar.mp3
Oh, Karen’s plaintive, yearning voice on this can move you to tears. Another Taste Police target, Luther Vandross later took this song, stirred in some Stevie Wonder, and created a 9-minute epic which should be regarded as one of the great cover versions of any song. I’m not quite sure how a song written from the perspective of a groupie (begging the question of why it wasn’t used in Almost Famous) came to become a big hit for the wholesome Carpenters. No doubt, they knew what the song was about; they even toned down the lyrics in one instance. A host of other artists recorded “Superstar” in the two years between its composition and the Carpenters’ hit version, including Rita Coolidge and Bette Middler, whose TV performance of the song alerted Richard to it.
Luther Vandross – Superstar/Until You Come Back To Me.mp3

Carpenters – Rainy Days And Mondays.mp3
This might be my favourite Carpenters song. Its undramatically but touchingly describes the condition of depression, with the promise of finding refuge and comfort from melancholy from “the one who loves me”. Karen invests much emotion into her delivery; presumably this was a song she could identify with more than the one written from a groupie’s perspective. I’m with Karen on Mondays being a bit of a downer, but rainy days cheer me up. As does this sad but hopeful song.

Carpenters – Goodbye To Love.mp3
This song breaks my heart. What fatalistic lyrics (” And all I know of love is how to live without it”) delivered with such a range of emotion. But it’s not the sad lyrics and Karen’s vocals that get me as much as that fuzzy guitar solo which captures the entire sentiment of the song. It’s a guitar solo that reaches inside me and wrenches my guts. Never mind “Rainy Days”, I think this is my favourite Carpenters song.

Carpenters – Hurting Each Other.mp3
A cover of a fairly obscure ’60s track. As this song begins, Karen sounds bit like Dusty Springfield. At 0:38, the chorus kicks in and it’s pure Carpenters. Richard’s arrangement is wonderful, making it sound like a Bacharach song. The climax at 2:13 is possibly the finest Carpenters moment: Karen’s phrasing of the lines, ” Making each other cry, breaking each other’s heart, tearing each other apart”, with her emphasis on the words “each other” as the strings go all soul on us…phew!

Carpenters – A Song For You.mp3
“A Song For You” was the title track for their best album by far, released in 1972 (it also featured the previous two songs). Karen’s vocals are incredibly intricate and emotionally beautifully judged, a real masterclass of singing (which Christina Aguilera might have taken note of on her attempt of a cover). I love the way Karen sings the word “better”. It seems difficult to top this version, but Donny Hathaway’s version, recorded a year earlier, is even better. Imagine Donny and Karen had lived to record it as a duet (hmmmm, Karen, dead; Gwen, dead; Luther, dead; Donny, dead…)!
Donny Hathaway – A Song For You.mp3

Carpenters – This Masquerade.mp3
If a song has a flute in it, I’m almost certain to love it. And “This Masquerade” has some of the best flute in pop. Like “A Song For You”, it was written by Leon Russell. George Benson’s version, from Breezin, is better known. Good as it is, the Carpenters’ take pisses all over it. Another intricate vocal performance, a wonderful jazzy arrangement — and Richard rocks a lovely piano solo, just before the first flute solo. Amazingly, this was only the b-side to the appalling cover of the Marvelettes‘ “Please Mr Postman” (the one with the Disneyland promo). And here’s a key as to why some members of the Taste Police still disregard the Carpenters’ genius: many of the great moments are obscured by the rubbish that was released to score hits.

The Carpenters – There’s A Kind Of Hush.mp3
And this is the sort of song I blame for that. The arrangement is cheesy and shoddy, the melody is pretty but lacking in substance, and the lyrics are so generic as to give Karen nothing to do with them. Of all the rubbish Carpenters songs, it’s not even remotely the worst. To his credit, Richard is unhappy with his reworking of the Herman’s Hermits hit, especially the use of the synth. (Previously uploaded on the Time Travel: 1976 post)