First of all, a belated happy birthday to psych-folk-punk troubador and all-around free spirit Robyn Hitchcock. And now, let's welcome spring!
1. I Feel Fine / The Beatles
From Past Masters, Vol. 1 (compilation)
Ah, 1964 -- the Beatles were in their heaven and all was right with the world. That jangly lead guitar riff, just slightly behind the beat; John's insinuating vocal, hovering chromatically above an uneasy 7th chord; that alternating backstop of harmonies, in lush major-key resolution -- it wasn't simple, but it was exciting. Does this guy really feel fine? Maybe, but he doesn't trust it, which is why he keeps repeating "you know, she said so" and "I feel fine." And what an opener: that single guitar note, warping into feedback (an early version of the "Hard Day's Night" chord strum?) -- they had us at hello.
2. Good Vibrations / The Beach Boys
From Smiley Smile (1967)
Genius, sheer genius -- a scant three years after "I Feel Fine," and music had traveled light-years. As I said here, one of the great singles of all time. Forty-four years later, it still hits it out of the park.
3. Alienation's For the Rich / They Might Be Giants
From They Might Be Giants (1986)
Proving once again that there is a place for accordions in rock music. I love Flansburgh's drunken growl and howl here, the strangled cry of a common working stiff. Watching Spanish TV, drinking Miller Hi-Life -- nope, he's not alienated or nothing.
4. Seven Miles an Hour / Marshall Crenshaw
From Miracle of Science (1996)
I like to think of this as Marshall's answer to "Expressway to Your Heart" -- he's stuck at work, watching the clock, longing to get home to his girl (or at least someone he hopes will become his girl). Except when he leaves, the traffic jam he's caught in isn't on a Philly roadway, but on the crowded sidewalks of New York. Ever try to walk fast in New York at 5pm? I can manage about four miles an hour, tops; he's doing seven, AND playing a killer guitar riff. Please, if you listen to only one song on today's shuffle, listen to this one.
5. Wintertime Blues / John Hiatt
From Master of Disaster (2005)
A jaunty little street-corner buck-and-wing from Johnny H., full of pickin' and grinnin'. But man, can I relate: "There's no spring, there was never any spring / Spring's a long gone thing, there won't never be a spring no more / At least that's the way it feels when your skin is cracked and peeled / And you've been livin' under 60 pounds of blanket and the snow's driftin' up to your window.."
6. Spiderman / Jill Sobule
From California Years (2009)
Now here is a delicious little bit of Hollywood whimsy -- pair this up with the Kinks' "Hollywood Boulevard." Our singer's dressed up as Spiderman, riding the L.A. subway to work (no one's ever on the train, of course), working the crowd outside Grauman's Chinese. I love the amiable guitar strum, like something out of a 50's Western. A sweetly etched cameo about the death of American dreams, the sort of thing Jill does better than almost anybody.
7. Out of Time / Chris Farlowe
From Out of Time (compilation)
Now we're jumping back in time, to 1966, when Chris Farlowe scored a UK hit with this Stones song (lucky they shared a manager). But oh, what a great blues voice he had. "You're out of touch, my baby / My poor old-fashioned baby / Oh, baby, baby, baby you're out of time." Of course, in the end he's blowing her off (I told you it was a Stones song), but at least Farlowe sounds a little regretful. Dig the "Soldier Boy" strings in the intro.
8. UK Jive / The Kinks
From UK Jive (1989)
I've said it before, and I'll say it again -- even weak Kinks albums are full of gems.
9. Down Among the Wines and Spirits / Elvis Costello
From Secret, Profane, and Sugarcane (2009)
Elvis goes old-timey Americana, Dobro and steel guitar and mandolin and all. What saves this is a tap dancing syncopation that helps him stuff in way more words than any bluegrass song would ever need. But hey, it's Elvis -- Elvis always needs a lot of words. And it's worth it for a verse like, "Down among the wines and spirits / Where a man gets what he merits / Lives with the echoing words of their final quarrel / The vacant chamber / The empty barrel" -- well, there's a whole novel right there.
10. Right Now For You / Al Kooper
From I Stand Alone (1968)
Starts with an exploding grenade and gunfire, then a swell of spooky orchestration, heard as if in the next hotel room -- a tasty sliver of this unjustly neglected masterpiece album by Al Kooper. I suppose this is the sort of record that led to the over-produced crap of 1970s prog rock; still haunts and mesmerizes me, though.