Wednesday, June 09, 2010


Today's blog is dedicated to Rafaela Filippi, a fellow Kinks fan, who just passed away Monday night. So what if the shuffle isn't all Kinks music? That wouldn't have bothered Raf. With her generous smile and open heart, she was a music lover of wide enthusiasm. I'll miss you!

1. "Yakety Yak" / Phantom Planet
From The Mumford Soundtrack (1999)
When I was a kid, we inherited a box of 45s from our older cousins, one of which was the original 1958 "Yakety Yak" by the Coasters (written by Leiber and Stoller, I now learn). How cool, then, to find it covered on this excellent soundtrack to a sweet little 1999 indie film, and by Phantom Planet, one of my favorite alt bands. Back then, Phantom Planet had only one album out and Jason Schwartzman (yes, that adorable indie actor, one and the same) was still their drummer. I love how Phantom Planet stays true to that old platter's charm, including the cheeky sax and the stern baritone retort to "Yakety yak!" -- "Don't talk back."

2. "The Wreck of the Barbie Ferrari" / John Hiatt
From Perfectly Good Guitar (1993)
My pink plastic Barbie Sportscar wasn't a Ferrari, but I get the picture. "It ain't the end of the world, it's just the wreck of the Barbie Ferrari" -- Hiatt plays it for comedy, with the frustrated family man opening fire on a box full of toys while the wife and kids are off at church. Still, underneath that satire lies a lot of repressed rage -- a LOT. I love Hiatt, our great rock chronicler of the ebbs and flows of family life, but this song misses the mark for me.

3. "A-Punk" / Vampire Weekend
From Vampire Weekend (2008)
I guess there are words to this song, but I never catch more than a word here and there. The main thing is the tight collage of sounds, a frantic ukelele-like strum alternating with a surge of synths, dense as cotton-wool, punctuated with Ezra Koenig yelping "Ay! Ay! Ay!" It doesn't sound like it should work, but somehow, magnetically, it does.

4. "Next Time You See Me" / Sir Douglas Quintet
From Soul Jam (2000 compilation)
A CD I picked up for $1 on a binge in a used-record store in Amherst -- and I'll never regret it. (Do we ever really regret those bargain-bin splurges?) In my opinion, Doug Sahm could do whatever he damn well pleased, and here we find various incarnations of his band whipping out note-perfect covers of old soul classics, with a lazy funky groove that just does not quit. On this track, they work their magic on a 1957 Junior Parker classic that's been covered by everybody from Frankie Lymon to the Grateful Dead.

5. "Western Union Man" / Al Kooper
From I Stand Alone (1968)
Must be Soul Covers Night. This was one of my most-played LPs in college, and I loved this track long before I ever heard Jerry Butler's honey-dripping original. In the grand old tradition of Letter Songs, this one's too urgent for standard delivery -- no, we gotta reach that girl now, and damn the cost. (Somehow a text message just doesn't have the same flair.) Al punches it up a little, but it's still a loose-limbed seduction, underlaid with a funky bass and steamy horns. My favorite part: When the back-up singers and Al rat-tat-tat, in offbeat staccato: "Send a tel-e-gram, send a tel-e-gram!"

6. "I Worry 'Bout You Baby" / Brinsley Schwarz
From What IS So Funny 'Bout Peace Love and Understanding? (1973)
Ah, the Brinsleys, bringing their conception of a lazy Nashville stroll to the pubs of North London -- blissfully genial and more than a bit stoned. This track is totally, and I mean totally, derivative, but it is nevertheless feel-good music of the highest quality.

7. "All In Good Time" / Ron Sexsmith
From Time Being (2006)
I highly recommend this album for times of trouble. Canadian singer-songwriter Ron Sexsmith has a knack for philosophizing without sounding preachy, especially on this album -- a gently rocking meditation on mortality and acceptance. A perfect song for me to hear tonight.

8. "Both Ends Burning" / Richard Thompson
From Hand of Kindness (1983)
I love how Thompson grafts together bluegrass, Cajun swamp, and Celtic folk song in this rollicking two-step, a shaggy dog tale -- or rather shaggy horse tale, about a broken-down nag turned racehorse. The story's just a pretext, though, for this spicy gumbo of sassy guitar licks, chipper accordion, and finger-wagging sax.

9. "Man of a Fool" / Nick Lowe
From The Abominable Showman (1983)
Nick Lowe's commentary on the battle of the sexes: "For every woman who ever made a fool of a man / There's a woman made a man of a fool." If Nick hadn't yet gone full country, there's still a certain Nashvillian snappiness to this track. A forgettable Nick track, from an odd mishmash of an album -- but it's still a pretty fab, fun bit o' music.

10. "May You Never" / John Martyn
From Solid Air (1973)
Another album I played the grooves off of in college, and especially this jazzy acoustic track, Martyn's rueful take on a traditional Celtic blessing. "May you never lay your head down / Without a hand to hold / And may you never make your bed out in the cold." Words of wry wisdom, and a fitting benediction in memory of a dear friend lost.

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