Yeah, yeah, yeah, I'll get back to Philly Soul Week. Later today, in fact. But I enjoy these Wednesday spins around my iTunes too much to skip it...
1. "Blackbird" / The Beatles
From the White Album (1968)
Paul McCartney, an acoustic guitar, and the tapping toe of a Spanish boot. (At least that's how I imagine that beat -- I read somewhere it was a metronome, but I don't care, I still picture Paul's boot tapping away.) That insanely beautiful melody never needed anything more. We all know it's a civil rights metaphor, possibly Paul's response to the King assassination, but somehow it rises above being a mere protest song. I always forget about the bird chirps and whistles in the middle eight; they're like a glorious surprise, nature bursting into the song, every time.
2. "Goodbye Nashville, Hello Camden Town" / Chilli Willi and the Red Hot Peppers
From Bongos Over Balham (1974)
Lovely little pub rocker, banjos and all. Chilli Willi was one of the funnest bands playing their scruffy brand of country rock in the pubs of London -- a geographic irony not lost on this band, as this song's title suggests. They didn't last long (two years, two LPs), but then neither did pub rock. Footnote: Their manager was Jake Riviera, soon to found Stiff Records, and their drummer was Pete Thomas, who'd soon join Elvis Costello's Attractions. Small world.
3. "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa" / Vampire Weekend
From Vampire Weekend (2008)
How to dance to an Afro-Pop beat while wearing Topsiders and J. Crew. (What's that line about "It feels so unnatural, Peter Gabriel too"? Peter Gabriel doesn't feel THAT unnatural.) Brisk, bright, and totally irresistible.
4. "Magdalene" / Guy Clark
From Workbench Songs (2006)
That sweet spot between folk and country-western pretty much belongs to Mr. Guy Clark. A story, of course -- there's always a story in Guy Clark songs -- he's sneaking out in the dead of night with his lover, probably a married woman, skipping town before they get caught, escaping their suffocating small town. "Don't forget your passport, Magdalene," he murmurs huskily just before the fadeout. Achingly tender, with a loping gait and just enough twang -- oh, I sure do love Guy Clark.
5. "Slave Chain" / The Fortunate Sons
From The Fortunate Sons (2008)
From Scotland? You gotta be kidding me! This debut album by a youthful crew from Glasgow totally has the Delta sound down -- it's almost eerie. Don't get them mixed up with the Creedence revival band of the same name; these kids write their own stuff, and it's gooooood. This song reminds me of Sam Cooke's "Chain Gang" (dig the clanks and lugubrious hums of the intro), though here it's a a metaphor for being trapped in a demanding love affair. A great tripping guitar line, some sweet fiddle, and a wailing lead singer with a killer falsetto.
6. "How Deep Is the Red" / Elvis Costello
From Secret, Profane, and Sugarcane (2009)
Elvis does the Depression-era blues.
7. "Scum of the Earth" / The Kinks
From Preservation Act 2 (1974)
The apex of Ray Davies' theatrical period...
8. "Modern Love" / David Bowie
From Let's Dance (1983)
And speaking of theatrical . . .
9. "Like A Freight Train" / John Hiatt
From The Open Road (2010)
Back to faux-vintage blues, apparently the Shuffle Theme of the Day. Here it's updated with wry humor by my fellow Hoosier John Hiatt. "I used to roll through here like a freight train / But my wheel's come off..." It's Hiatt's strategy for aging, with a sardonic chuckle and a mean riff.
10. "Spy Vs Spy" / Dr. Feelgood
From Classic (1987)
"I'm checking on you, you're checking on me / The moment we walk out the door..." Dr. Feelgood's last Stiff album, full of R&B wail and punk snarl, featured several tracks co-written by their former producer Will Birch (Kursaal Flyers, the Records). A scathing portrait of a poisoned relationship, but with a damn snappy beat.