Sweltering hot here in New York City the past few days -- how has it been where you are? Too hot to do anything else but switch on my shuffle!
1. "Hey Scenesters!" / The Cribs
From The New Fellas (2005)
Snappy guitar riffs, crisp drums, and the Jarman brothers shouting "Hey scenesters! Hey, hey scenesters!" over and over. It's like a BritPop version of the Tremeloes' goofy, genial "Even the Bad Times Are Good," right down to the lo-fi production qualities -- except for a certain tunelessness (think the Strokes on a lager high) that betrays it as a 21st century track. Infectious energy -- you've just got to giggle.
2. "Back on the Corner" / John Hiatt
From Master of Disaster (2005)
Hard to believe this was released the same year as The Cribs' -- it's a little vintage soft shoe, sung in John's creaky old-guy voice, with banjo and slide guitar to give it that O Brother Where Art Thou? style. It almost sounds like a throwaway track, but hell, nothing Hiatt writes is ever a throwaway -- listen carefully and you'll pick up nuggets of survivor wisdom.
3. "If You've Got to Make A Fool of Somebody" / Jackie DeShannon
From For You (1967)
Ah, mid-60s pop. Strings, back-up choirs, even a bloopy trombone here and there -- pour on the lush studio effects! Still, you have to hand it to Jackie -- who else was going to move the girl group sound into the hippie era?
4. "I Want to Say a Prayer" / Colin Blunstone
From Echo Bridge (1995)
I don't care who knows it -- I have a fangirl crush on Colin Blunstone, or at least on his dreamy, creamy voice. His soft-rock solo albums are nothing compared to his work with the Zombies, but sometimes this romantic mush is just what I need. (Picture big-haired Colin with his jacket slung over his shoulder and shirt unbuttoned halfway down his chest.) Anyway, it's appropriate to hear this today, as today -- July 7 -- is the birthday of the wonderful Jim Rodford, who's played with Argent, the Kinks, the Animals, and nowadays with Colin in the modern-day Zombies. (Also Ringo Starr's 70th birthday, but who's counting?)
5. "She's Got You" / Loretta Lynn
From I Remember Patsy (1977)
Very few singers can cover a Patsy Cline song and hold their own -- but there's a reason why Loretta is the queen of country music. Her take on this Hank Cochran number is just a shade lighter and more kittenish than Patsy's, and in a way it works even better -- while Patsy's original was underlaid with steel, Loretta actually sounds just like a moony high-school girl, carrying a torch for her ex-steady guy.
6. "Garden Party" / Rick Nelson
From Garden Party (1972)
Oh, man, Ricky Nelson goes country. I remember being amazed by this amiable, lilting late hit -- like "American Pie," which had come out a year earlier, it's a riddling string of coded references to other musicians. But it's also Ricky's declaration of independence, casting aside the teen idol and coming into his own as country-rocker Rick. "You can't please everyone, so you got to please yourself," he tells us with a wink and nod. Life lesson.
7. "Funny Face" / The Kinks
From Something Else (1967)
A Dave song! I love Dave's voice, and this is a charming, quirky little love song, with a bit of music hall bounce. But when you're always being compared against a talent like his brother Ray . . . .
8. "How Kind of You" / Paul McCartney
From Chaos and Creation in the Backyard (2005)
And now here's Ringo's ex-bandmate. No surprise -- I've got A LOT of this guy's stuff on my iPod, and (ahem) not all of it good. I do wish Paul McCartney would pay somebody -- somebody like me, perhaps -- to warn him off of gooping up simple little songs. That muddy harmonium, or whatever, tries to build this into an anthem, a status this slight song can't carry. I'd have rewritten a lyric here or there, kept the track acoustic, and cut the whole thing off at three minutes. Then we'd have had a beauty!
9. "Seesaw" / Don Covay
From Seesaw (1966)
Classic R & B, with a sassy horn section, handclap rhythms, and an innuendo streak a mile wide. "Your love is like a seesaw / Up, down, and all around..." I wonder who that is doing the crazy talking alongside Covay's honey-sweet vocals. Covay's one of those guys whose fingerprints are all over 1960s R&B; he started out in The Rainbows with young Marvin Gaye, but he's best known as a songwriter ("Chain of Fools," "Mercy Mercy," and many others). He wrote this one with resident Stax genius Steve Cropper, which may account for the perky Booker-T-style beat. Deee-lish.
10. "Oklahoma USA" / The Kinks
From Muswell Hillbillies (1971)
Now this is how it's done. That harmonium is so light, just a sigh here and there, against a tinkling upright piano; and Ray's breathy, yearning vocals. I think of this as an early version of "Come Dancing," soaked with nostalgia for the American culture that fed North London teens in those lean postwar years. It makes me cry every time. "All life we work, but work is a bore / If life's for living, what's living for?" Words to live by.