All things considered, I've decided that Amazon is not really so evil -- which is why I'm adding a widget for you to sample, or even buy, the music I'm writing about here. (Always looking for a way to post mp3s easily without ripping off the artists.) Let me know what you think...
1. No Baby I / The Old 97s
From Blame It On Gravity (2008)
The twangy roots of this alt.country band keep drifting closer and closer to pop -- an intersection I love. Rhett Miller has that husky good-boyfriend earnestness down just right. "Blame it on gravity, yeah / Blame it on being a girl" -- ooh, we ladies LOVE a man who understands.
2. "In My Life" / The Beatles
From Rubber Soul (Remastered) (1965)
This is one song I often forget to add to my Favorite Beatles Songs list -- why? Tender nostalgia for "people and friends that went before" might seem odd, coming from musicians in their early 20s -- but I bet their Liverpool past truly seemed like another lifetime by the time of this masterpiece album. Love that Bach-like twiddle in the middle eight!
3. "Ram On" / Paul McCartney
From Ram (1971)
Not more Beatles, but pretty damn close. I do love the lounging, slightly scruffy vibe of this song. Despite the naif mandolin strumming (or is a uke?), this song is layered, jazzy, hazy -- stoned, man.
4. She Gets Me Where I Live / Al Kooper
From Easy Does It (1970)
This spangly, synthy soul-rock track swims in its own psychedelic haze, with some seriously cool-cat horns spinning out of control (not to mention oceans of strings, sometimes with spiky little plucked notes). When Kooper was on his game -- and he was really on his game with this album -- he was like a painter, slapping sounds onto his canvas.
5. "Mr. Reporter" / The Kinks
From The Great Lost Kinks Album(1973)
Dave Davies' early stab at satire (the Kinks never did have an easy relationship with the press). On this album of bootleg tracks, the tinny quality of this song -- not to mention Dave's quavery vocals -- are more like a demo, but it's still a spunky bit of fun.
6. Elizabeth Jade / Robyn Hitchcock
From Jewels for Sophia (1999)
Talk about music as painting -- sometimes Robyn Hitchcock's lyrics are almost like Cubist art, layering cryptic fragments of description onto a boppy track of bouncy punk-pop that is way too danceably fun to resist.
7. Steppin' Out / Joe Jackson
From Night And Day (1982)
Jeez, I love this album. Joe Jackson steered New Wave music daringly far in the direction of George Gershwin and Cole Porter. A gorgeous champagne cocktail tribute to Manhattan, and just about as far from punk music as you could get.
8. Stop / Lizz Wright
From Dreaming Wide Awake (2005)
A beautifully languid, deeply sexy track. Wright's voice has an almost Nina Simone-like richness, with all those dark tones underscoring the desire that simply saturates this song.
9. Hit The Road Jack / Ray Charles
From Genius -- The Ultimate Ray Charles Collection (2009)
Soon as you hear that descending riff from the horns, you know it's this sassy bit of R&B. Those finger-wagging back-up singers are half the show; I love their saucy interplay with Ray, his slightly craggy vocals full of exasperated pleading.
10. This Is How I Know / Ron Sexsmith
From Exit Strategy of the Soul (2008)
With every album, Ron Sexsmith dares to get more and more explicitly spiritual, while his folk pop takes on more jazz tinges. I suppose this track doesn't have to be about sensing God's presence (are you kidding? that would be pop suicide), but that's the level where it works best for me.