Funny thing about my iPod -- almost all the songs on it have some subtle Nick Lowe connection. Just for fun, let's see if I can do Six Degrees of Nick Lowe for everything that shuffles up today.
1. "This Boy" / The Beatles
From Past Masters, Vol. 1 (compilation)
Okay, I'll admit, I was a Beatle fan LONG before I ever heard of Nick Lowe. (Flash to the instrumental version of this song, in A Hard Day's Night, when Ringo is wandering around down the docklands, communing with the street urchins.) But Nick's first band Kippington Lodge recorded several Beatles covers, and then Brinsley Schwarz toured with ex-Beatle Paul McCartney's band Wings. I think it's safe to say Nick was a Beatle fan as a teenager. With lush harmonies and a fox-trot tempo, this song sounds to me like a bid to charm our parents, so they'd let us listen to the frantic rock & rollers. But you know what? Even when they were trying to do schlock the Beatles could do no wrong.
2. "String Pull Job" / John Hiatt
From Two Bit Monsters (1980)
Obvious Nick link, since Nick produced and played bass on Hiatt's breakthrough album Bring the Family, then joined him in the band Little Village. (Even though I knew Hiatt as a kid, growing up in the same neighborhood, it was the Nick link that finally led me to Hiatt's grown-up music [smacks self on forehead].) But here's a bonus connection -- listen to this song's jerky tempo, the brittle grating guitar, the hostile lyrics ("She's doing that jerk, she's pulling it tight-err..."). During this period, Hiatt styled his music to fit being marketed as "the American Elvis Costello" -- and we all know that Nick was Elvis's first producer.
3. "Trouble in Mind" / Merle Haggard
From Down Every Road (compilation)
Here's a 180-degree turn from Hiatt's edgy early days, closer in spirit to Hiatt's current alt.country sound. A shuffling two-step full of twang, with a fiddle solo in the first break, honkytonk piano in the second, and Merle's dreamy vocals. Far from his outlaw image, here Merle sounds positively laidback -- even though his life's going wrong, he seems to know it'll all straighten out some day. Nick Lowe connection? Well, Nick just recorded this Merle Haggard song on Bill Kirchen's latest album.
4. "Baby My Heart" / Bobby Fuller Four
From Never To Be Forgotten: The Mustang Years (compilation)
Clean, uncomplicated rock & roll, circa 1966, with crunchy guitars, strict time cymbals, and loads of reverb on Fuller's boyish vocals. "You gotta baby my heart / Treat it gentle and kind . . . " IMHO, Bobby Fuller was the missing link between Ricky Nelson and fellow Texan Doug Sahm -- if only he hadn't died young in a tragic car crash! In the liner notes to Nick Lowe's Wilderness Years CD, he sets up his song "I Don't Want the Night to End" thusly: "With the ghost of Bobby Fuller riding shotgun, this one composed in the back of a Queensgate-bound mini-cab sometime in 1977."
5. "Run" / Vampire Weekend
From Contra (2009)
The diametric opposite to Bobby Fuller -- jump forward 40 years, to East Coast privileged smart kids with a knack for complex rhythms and world-beat sounds. Dig those layered keyboards, alternately stabbing and shimmering, laid over a slapping drum track. Textures like crazy, from the anxious tension of the verse to the waterfall of sound in the chorus, to the poppy syncopation of the bridge "(honey it's you /oo / oo / And a battery radio)"... I am coming up empty on any Nick Lowe connection for this one, I have to admit.
6. "That's Not the Way That It's Done" / Minus 5
From Down With Wilco (2003)
Several members of this band are also in the Venus 3, musical collaborators of Nick's label-mate and sometime opening act Robyn Hitchcock. I love the slightly boozy, woozy good-times vibe of this band. Picture graying beards and flannel shirts, with a sweetly snarky sense of humor. All he's trying to do is put her in the mood for love...
7. "Black Lincoln Continental" / Nick Lowe
From Pinker and Prouder Than Previous
Yippee!! Graham Parker's rockabilly romp, as faithfully rendered by Nick Lowe on one of his most obscure and underrated LPs. Grrrr-EAT organ counterpoint by Paul Carrack. This track is so adorable I could eat it up. (Sorry, Graham, but I actually think I prefer Nick's version...)
8. "Sing A Song For Them" / Jenny Lewis
From Acid Tongue (2008)
I loved Jenny's autobiographical, country-inflected debut album; I never warmed to this self-consciously poetical second one, despite all the guest artists -- INCLUDING the aforementioned Nick Lowe colleague Elvis Costello. (Though getting Elvis Costello to sing on one track of your album is apparently not that difficult these days.)
9. "Pistol on the Shelf" / Eggs Over Easy
From Good 'N' Cheap
Ah, the band that gave birth to pub rock and inspired Nick's band Brinsley Schwarz -- a bunch of American visitors to London, led by the much beloved Austin DeLone (that's him on the piano), who later played in the Moonlighters with the aforementioned Bill Kirchen. Mellow, mellow, MELLOW country-rock, with not a jot of angst.
10. "Ordinary Millionaire" / Robyn Hitchcock & the Venus 3
From Propellor Time (2010)
Speak of the devil! Keep this on the Q.T., but some days I'm nearly as besotted with Robyn Hitchcock as I am with Nick Lowe, though it was the Nick connection that first led to Robyn. I never 100% know what's going on in an RH song -- it seems like there's always a little novel hidden in it, which only Robyn has read -- but this one sounds like a love affair running aground on mistrust and thwarted ego. "I don't know where you've gone from me / I know you don't belong to me / I only know you're there." But man oh man, the sinuous melody, the fluid rhythms, the shifting key changes -- I'm hyp-mo-tized!