I did get a new iPod Shuffle this week -- an absurdly tiny device, in neon green metal, that only holds about 500 songs. Half of the thing consists of a steel clip (engraved with my name!) on the back, a definite clue that it was developed mainly to carry gym music. So yeah, I loaded all my uptempo tracks on there -- but don't worry, today I'm spinning tunes from the full library, just like always...
1. "I've Got to See You Again" / Norah Jones
From Come Away With Me (2002)
Steamy slow samba about an affair, probably illicit, and definitely with an older man. (Older than Norah, that is.) The main thing is the refrain, "I can't help myself / I've got to see you again." I love how she groans, just a little, on that line -- it's simply dripping with desire.
2. "Laurel Canyon" / Jackie DeShannon
From Laurel Canyon (1968)
Was Jackie DeShannon America's answer to Dusty Springfield? No way, but I do enjoy her California soul take on the late 60s, with hippieism just beginning to creep in. ("I'm sewing flowers on my blouse...") The laidback boogie of this ode to her hip L.A. neighborhood paints a pretty inviting portrait -- almost enough to make me want to move there. Almost.
3. "Grass" / XTC
From Skylarking (1986)
Ah, the sublime Andy Partridge. I sure do dig this slidey melody (and how the guitars and synths slide around too). Even though he sings, "Over and over let us flatten the clover," I suspect I know which kind of grass this song is about. Bird effects at the end, too -- how springlike!
4. "White Blank Page" / Mumford & Sons
From Sigh No More (2010)
Though these guys are from London, they sure remind me of the Wood Brothers or Fleet Foxes or the Avett Brothers -- must be the banjo, the fiddles, and the saturated harmonies. Their homespun folky sound sure works for me, though this album is kinda heavy on downer songs. There' s plenty of passion to rescue this tune about an affair gone sour -- it simply aches with love denied.
5. "Oh Me Oh My (I'm Fool For You Baby)" / Lulu
From New Routes (1969)
This was probably the only other Lulu song we ever heard in States, after "To Sir With Love," and its R&B sound was so authentic, I always thought it was a cover. (Maybe because Aretha sang it a couple years later.) Turns out it was written for Lulu by a songwriter from her native Glasgow -- go figure. At least they recorded it at Muscle Shoals. "I'll stage a ballet on a tabletop" is a great line, but even better is the next verse, "We'll blow a genie from a cigarette / And then we'll take a magic carpet ride." Why, Lulu!
6. "Love Song" / Brinsley Schwarz
From Despite It All (1970)
Vintage Brinsley tune, a quite serviceable imitation of forgettable country-rock (Brewer & Shipley, anyone?). But hey, it's written by Nick Lowe, so you know it's loveable. "This here is a love song / I got to get back to my baby's heart again / This here is a love song / I got to sing it till I get back home." By the last verse, we find out she's broken up with him, but this does not seem to dim his conviction one bit. Hang in there, Nick!
7. "Back to the War" / John Hiatt
From Two-Bit Monsters (1980)
We just had early Nick Lowe, now we've got early John Hiatt -- from the days when he was being promoted as "the American Elvis Costello." Trying to live up to that comparison, John let no metaphor go unexplored, and all relationships were by definition nasty and contentious. "I've got this dynamite / I know you're sitting tight / Waiting for news / Well, I'm lighting the fuse." I didn't discover Hiatt until much later, when he'd settled into his own groove, but as a sophomore effort this still ain't bad.
8. "Keep It Simple" / Keb' Mo'
From Keep It Simple (2004)
"Two cars, three kids, six loans / A whole lot of confusion in my home / Six hundred channels on my TV screen / Six hundred versions of the same damn thing." Oh, sure, Keb's music sounds like the most ancient dirt-caked Delta blues -- but do not be misled. It's sly, funny, and totally perceptive social commentary, just topped off with a little pedal steel. "Decaff latte cappucino, said the cashier / Gimme a small cup of coffee, I said, and get me outta here!"
9. "Everything But a Heartbeat" / The Searchers
From Play For Today (1980)
Though it's late Searchers, the sound is solid British Invasion gold, in the jangly-guitar vein of their classic "Needles and Pins," thanks to songwriter Will Birch (of Kursaal Flyers and the Records), who also penned "Hearts In Her Eyes" for them. It's a skewering Bad Girlfriend song, from a guy who's fully prepared to twist the knife (a Will Birch specialty). She's got a great smile, a great way of walking, all the pop cliches -- "But I want to tell you what she's all about / She'll wind you up and then she'll spit you out." Ouch.
10. "Ashes to Ashes" / Steve Earle
From Jerusalem (2002)
No, not the Bowie hit -- a pity, because that's the one I really like. Instead, this is a twangy sort of talking blues, as Steve Earle slouches towards Bethlehem, spewing political aspersions and dark apocalyptic visions. I know Steve Earle is supposed to be a great songwriter. Hell, he probably is, I just haven't heard the right tracks. Why is this one even on my iTunes?
Pity it had to end on that note -- the next track would have been Wanda Jackson's "I Forgot to Remember to Forget Him", a much more appropriate sign-off for this chick-lit cluster of songs. Oh, well, the Shuffle genie apparently had other plans...