Sure, the Memorial Day long weekend threw us all off -- it still feels only like Tuesday. But it isn't! It's Wednesday! So let's shuffle!!!
1. "For the Girl" / The Fratellis
From Costello Music (2007)
High-energy beat, crunchy guitars, rapid-crammed lyrics, and cheery la-la-la la-la-la's -- a bracing jolt of Brit Pop indeed. I love the shifting minor and major keys in this track. "She was into the Stones when / I was into the Roses" -- whoever this girl is, he's sure ambivalent about their never-quite-meshing relationship.
2. "Pontiac" / Fred Eaglesmith
From Lipstick, Lies & Gasoline (1997)
Fred who? One of America's best-kept secrets, a true grass-roots music treasure, with an unwavering connection to real American music fans. I won't give away the story this track tells -- it's a heartbreaker -- find it online and listen for yourself.
3. "What Is Wrong, What Is Right" / Herman's Hermits (1966)
From The Very Best of Herman's Hermits
A deft satiric character sketch that even Ray Davies could appreciate. It was only on the B-sides that Hermits Derek Lekenby and Keith Hopwood got to feature their own compositions, but while the band's radio hits sound trite today, those original numbers are a revelation.
4. "Michelle" / David and Jonathan (1967)
Yes, that "Michelle" -- but it's not Paul McCartney singing. Not a bad cover, though, all things considered.
5. "End of the Party" / The English Beat
From Special Beat Service (1982)
Ska-flavored jazzy pop from Dave Wakeling and company. There's always a soap opera embedded in these English Beat songs, a series of betrayals and frustrated love affairs played out in dingy flats and grubby streets. It seems the girl here is keeping our singer on tenterhooks, making him wait to sleep with her -- the tension is palpable in every word-crammed line, the yelp of every leaping, offbeat interval.
6. "The Crush" / John Hiatt
From Warming Up to the Ice Age (1985)
Having shed his proto-New Wave punk pose, Johnny Hiatt went into neo-soul mode on this album, recorded at the tail-end of his boozy California years. Oh, sure, I know that Hiatt's seriously great work would come later, once he got his life together -- but I hafta admit, his voice is in spectacular shape here, and his guitar licks sizzle. For a flop album, this is a neglected gem, 80s synths and all.
7. "Sinister But She Was Happy" / Robyn Hitchcock
From Moss Elixir (1996)
Neurotic rhythms, non sequitur lyrics, and a frenzied sawing of fiddle and cello -- ah, Robyn Hitchcock lets his English eccentric freak flag fly. There's something baroque about this track, with surreal lines like "Sinister but she was happy / Like a chandelier festooned with leeches," but it's also a totally nifty acoustic rocker, with an addictive loose-limbed beat. I can just imagine Robyn, in a loose flowered print shirt and jeans, gray hair flopping across his forehead, strumming madly away. Imagine? I've seen him sing this, with a wicked glint in his mad dark eyes. Delicious.
8. "I Am Your Singer" / Wings
From Wild Life (1971)
I know I'm supposed to look down on this stoned mishmash of an LP. The songs make no sense, they go on too long, the rhymes are infantile, and Linda is encouraged to sing way too much. (Any Linda vocals are too much in my book.) Well, sorry, folks, I love Wild Life. IMO Paul McCartney is at his best when he isn't trying to score radio hits or prove a critical point; he's just reveling in melody, rhythmic patterns, and musical textures. Wings would become a hit machine soon enough -- let's enjoy this freeform debut album for what it is.
9. "No Other Baby" / Paul McCartney
From Run Devil Run (1999)
And then Linda died and a grief-numbed Paul was spinning his wheels, unable to write new material for the first time in his fertile career. For some reason I think it was Elvis Costello who suggested that Paul try his hand at a covers album, paying tribute to the early rock 'n' roll numbers that first inspired him; this one is an old 1957 Dickie Bishop hit. You can pretty much hear Paul healing his heart on every track of this CD.
10. "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" / Death Cab for Cutie
From Maybe This Christmas (2004)
Death Cab's winsome cover of the classic Darlene Love Xmas tune, this has just enough tinsel shimmer (dig Ben Gibbard's reverbed vocals!) to put the frost on your holiday listening. It's from one of those me-too all-star charity Christmas albums (god forbid any hipsters should record a Christmas album without the air quotes of a do-gooder objective). It's weird to hear a Christmas tune in June -- but hey, that's what the shuffle's all about!