I've been stuck in a continual loop of summer songs, thanks to a Facebook thread -- so I'm primed to see what surprises the Shuffle's gonna throw my way today....
1. "In the Bleak Midwinter" / Cyndi Lauper
From Merry Christmas -- Have a Nice Life! (2004)
Ha -- talk about a change of seasons! The irony is just too perfect. Yes, a traditional English Christmas carol from Cyndi "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" Lauper. I always liked Cyndi -- her Boho flake image seemed as genuine as Madonna's seemed calculated -- and an off-the-wall choice like this seems totally in character for her. Here she tenderly strums her autoharp and unleashes a pure madrigal voice to produce a true olde English sound, plaintive penny whistle and all.
2. "House of the Rising Sun" / Alan Price
From Rising Sun (1980)
No, not the Animals' version -- this is solo Alan Price, nearly 20 years later, reclaiming the song that made him famous (well, he did arrange the Animals' version, and still gets songwriting royalties). Somehow it works just fine, with a jazzy tempo, scolding sax, and a brand-new syncopated organ solo in the middle eight. It won't replace the original in my heart (one of my 100 Favorite Singles), but this rendition is perfectly delightful on its own merits.
3. "Think" / Aretha Franklin
From Aretha Now (1968)
Soul Sister No. 1, setting that man straight. I'll confess, I can't hear this anymore without picturing Aretha in her pink waitress uniform, reading the riot act to Matt "Guitar" Murphy in The Blues Brothers, while Belushi and Ackroyd watch from their diner stools and Lou Marini plays his sax atop the diner counter. (Here's the link: Think.) A great moment in film!
4. "All Day and All of the Night" / The Kinks
From The Kinks (1964)
Those first grating chords, and an idiot grin busts out on my face. That's how I know the Kinks are my favorite band -- the way the world stops for me when this song pops up unexpectedly. Not my fave Kinks track, not by a long shot, but compared to most of the rest of all music? No contest. Dave's churning solo could have been cut yesterday, that's how raw and vital that guitar sounds.
5. "I'll Fight" / Wilco
From Wilco (The Album) (2009)
I'm not a rabid Wilco fan, which is why I was immune to the backlash against this album. "Safe"? "Commercial"? It's like the R.E.M. thing all over again. Who cares? I enjoy Jeff Tweedy's music -- a burnished patina of Americana laid over hooky tunes with ambiguous lyrics. Though there's nothing ambiguous about that first verse: "I'll fight, I'll fight, I'll fight / I'll fight for you, I will." That absolute commitment buoys this upbeat track, a spectacularly non-whiny love song -- what a rare thing!
6. "Pastime Paradise" / Stevie Wonder
From Songs in the Key of Life (1976)
Fact of life: I will accept any political rhetoric if it's delivered in Stevie Wonder's blissfully tuneful package. Maybe I'm hypnotized by that supple Latin percussion, the fluid synthesizers, the lush symphonic texture that Stevie could mastermind at the height of his golden period. When I listen to the words, I think, What idealistic nonsense! But Preacher Stevie makes me believe.
7. "Rivertown" / Hayes Carll
From Little Rock (2005)
Roots, roots, roots. Or is it alt.country? My friend Jim emailed me a few twangy tracks by this guy, and I've enjoyed them without ever getting around to exploring more of his music. It's all in the Townes Van Zandt / Steve Earle / Robert Earl Keen line, but very likeable -- even this lugubrious story, told with a slouchy beat and the lonesome whine of pedal steel. (On other tracks, Carll balances that out with a goofy sense of humor). A bit generic, perhaps, but moody and mesmerizing.
8. "Younger Girl" / Kippington Lodge
Oh, how embarrassing. Yes, I'm such a Nick Lowe sap that I even have this rarity, a live-from-the-BBC recording of a Lovin' Spoonful cover by Kippington Lodge, Nick's first band when he was still a teenager. I don't even think it's Nick singing, more likely his schoolmate Barry Landerman. And that woozy, wheezy organ -- Bob Andrews? Chronology is hazy with obscure tracks like this. Is this version better than the Lovin' Spoonful's? Oh, come on, that question is not even relevant. It's Nick.
9. "Towers of London" / XTC
From Black Sea (1980)
Eccentric architectural musings from Andy Partridge (unless Alex tells me it's Colin Moulding). No wonder Andy and Robyn Hitchcock like to collaborate -- this could be the B-side to "Trams of Old London." A whole song about the navvies who built Tower Bridge for Queen Victoria -- now that's what I call a pop song! But it is, it's so catchy, with that New Wave-y quirky production. I really need to do a full post on this song.
10. "Oh, Gosh" / Donovan
From Troubador (compilation)
What gives this track such an airy texture? Is it the breathy jazz flute, the light brushes on the drums, the plucked upright bass -- or was there really a summer breeze flowing through the studio in 1968 when Donovan cut this track? Nobody could sell that flower child vibe like Donovan. The sincerity is what does it -- "Oh gosh! Life is really too much / (Life is really too much)" (I love how his doubled vocals split, jumping from speaker to speaker, doing a one-man call-and-response). Blissful.