Saturday, June 25, 2011


A lovely summer night -- crickets chirping, night breezes whispering -- time to blast it all open with some rock 'n' roll!

1. This Is Where I Belong / Ron Sexsmith
From This Is Where I Belong: The Songs of Ray Davies (2006)
Probably the best collection of Kinks covers I know, with dynamite tributes from Fountains of Wayne, Fastball, Minus 5, Yo La Tengo; best of all, this was the album that first introduced me to the work of Bill Lloyd and of Ron Sexsmith, both of whom have since landed several albums in heavy rotation on my music players. Ron delivers this early Kinks tune with such earnestness, I just had to hear more. And that's how it all started...

2. Next To You / Tim Easton
From Ammunition (2006) 
Here's another bit of serendipity -- I discovered Tim Easton through this track on a New West Records sampler, that I picked up who knows where.  Just goes to show you should always listen to those samplers.  I love his slightly scratchy voice, the harmonica, the loping rhythm of this track; sometimes the simplest expressions of love ("Just let me be next to you / I want to understand . . . ") are the best.

3. Look a Little on the Sunny Side  / The Kinks
From Everybody's In Show Biz (1972)
One of my first Kinks albums, Show-Biz holds a special place in my heart; to me, every track is a winner.  Here we get campy Ray mincing about this bouncy little tap dance (that old music hall influence), innocently (HA!) describing the vagaries of the music business. And I do mean vagaries: "Sing 'em the blues and then they ask for a happy tune / And when you start to smile, they say / 'Gimme the rhythm and blues,' and when you  / Give 'em the rhythm and blues, they simply smile and say / 'We didn't want to hear you play, we didn't like you anyway.'"  Well, that's the Kinks' career in a nutshell, no?

4. Keep This Party Going  / The B-52s 
From Funplex (2008) 
I was really sorry that this recent B-52s CD didn't live up to those great 80s albums.  I can't quite figure out why -- this is a fun number (I bet it's a hoot live), but it lacks that extra wackiness that made them the quirky dance queens of New Wave.  All the elements are here -- Cindy and Kate's almost offkey harmonies, Fred's lounge-lizard rapping, over an insistent dance-party rhythm track -- but it just doesn't measure up. Thank god we've still got The B-52s, Whammy!, and Cosmic Thing...

5. I'll Follow the Sun  /  The Beatles
From Beatles 65 (1965)
Okay, I know this now appears on a CD called Beatles for Sale, the British version knocked out in a hurry for the Christmas 1964 sales season.  But the American album I grew up with was Beatles 65, and I played that baby so much, the album cover is now only held together with masses of stiff masking tape. And this little folker is one of my top tracks from this album, a standard-issue kiss-off song sung with that special tender Paul McCartney charm.  "One day / You'll look / And see I've gone / But tomorrow may rain so / I'll follow the sun."  Those odd climbing intervals, that alternation of short lines with a long fluid phrase, and then he reverses it:  "And now the time has come / When so my love / I must go / And though I lose a friend / In the end you will know / Oh oh-oh oh.."  Sheer instinctive genius.

6. Road Trippin'  / Red Hot Chili Peppers
From Californication (1999)
Proving that even a psych-punk-funk bunch of skateheads from California could turn out yearningly beautiful folk-rock -- with strings, even! -- so wistful it'll break your heart.  I like most everything of RHCP I've heard, but to me this album stands head and shoulders above the rest.  One of my favorite albums of the 1990s. Granted, the 1990s, but still...

7. Love Is an Outlaw / Tom Gallagher
From Age of the Wheel (unreleased)
The early and untimely death of my dear friend Tom Gallagher prevented him from ever getting the audience he deserved.  His unreleased album is full of superb tracks like this, with its lazy, loungy beat, plangent guitar riffs, winsome melody, and sage lyrics.  I'm happy to email this track to anybody who's curious: it's how we keep his memory alive.

8. Big Boys / Elvis Costello 
From Armed Forces (1978)
Another Iconic Album for me.  And this song has so many great lyrics, from that opening "I am starting to function / In the usual way"  through " to "Worrying about your physical fitness / Tell me how you got the sickness" and "I was down upon one knee / Stroking her vanity."  So what if it's more clever-sounding than truly wise?  He's drunk on allusive word play, and to me that tempers the Angry Young Man cynicism with his giddy enthusiasm.  I love the thrusting bass and drums giving him his marching orders, and those Steve Nieve organ riffs? Perfection.

9. On a Promise / Fine Young Cannibals 
From Fine Young Cannibals (1985)
The hoarse soulful voice of Roland Gift, matched with the English Beat's David Steele and Andy Cox -- well, Fine Young Cannibals had all the right elements lined up, that canny mix of R&B and ska and New Wave smartness. "She Drives Me Crazy" is IMO one of the best songs of the 1980s, but it was a pretty solid debut album all around, as this brooding track attests....

10. If I Said  / Colin Blunstone
From Echo Bridge (1996)
So what was Colin Blunstone doing all those years between being in the Zombies and being in the Zombies again?  Lots of things, but this solo album is perplexingly lovely -- it should have been a big hit.  This guy has one of these greatest voices in pop music; it's just heartbreakingly beautiful (yes, and sexy as hell).  Sure, he loads it up with reverb and romantic production values, all strings and maracas and a sax solo in the middle eight. It should sound cheesy, but it doesn't, because Colin Blunstone can sell wistful yearning like nobody else in the biz.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Sunny Afternoon / The Kinks

All right, I'll admit it, my nose was a little out of joint.  Here I was, acting carefree, blogging about all sorts of other music, when in fact I was perfectly aware that last week was one of the Kinkiest weeks in recent memory.  Ray Davies curated the Meltdown Festival at the Southbank Centre in London this past fortnight, and in a stroke of brilliance, he turned it into a celebration of the 1960s British pop music revolution.  Oh, I should have been there; I wanted to go in the worst way, but . . . circumstances conspired to keep me home.

For the past few days -- to rub salt in the wound -- glowing reviews have been pouring in, all of them promptly posted on Facebook where I couldn't ignore them.  As promised, Ray opened and closed the festival himself, joined by all sorts of special guest stars, and, this past Sunday,  he capped it all off with a full-album performance of the Kinks' great 1968 album The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society.  And as if that wasn't enough, on the evenings in between the festival featured (get this) Alan Price, Nick Lowe, Ron Sexsmith, Yo La Tengo, Monty Python's Michael Palin and Terry Jones, and a special tribute to the British music TV show Ready, Steady, Go! (When the still-beautiful long-legged Sandy Shaw stepped barefoot onto the stage, I'd have lost it, I know). There was even a set with the Kast Off Kinks, that rowdy crowd-pleasing combo composed of various ex-Kinks members like Mick Avory, Ian Gibbons, and Jim Rodford.  Ray couldn't have designed a festival I'd love more. In my secret hearts of hearts, I like to think that he planned it just for me.  And I missed it.

I was so jealous of those who got to be there (yes, even you, Michelle!) that I pretended to forget that it was Ray Davies' 67th birthday on Monday.   I know, I know, I'm usually able to rise above such a snit.  Even I am surprised how this one affected me.

Well, I'm over it now.  (Not really over it, but I'm moving on.)  So sorry I missed your party, Ray -- I still love you.  And to prove it, here's one of my favoritest Kinks vids ever . . .

I'm amazed to find that I hadn't written about "Sunny Afternoon" before, even given my tendency to avoid the most iconic, and therefore obvious, tracks. This one's so charming -- and so distinctly Kinksian in its English satire -- I should have covered it long ago.

I'll admit I have no distinct memory of listening to this song 35 years ago, in the summer of 1966, but I read that it rose to #14 on the US charts (#2 in the U.K.), so the DJs must have been playing it alongside the Lovin' Spoonful, Herman's Hermits, the Beatles' Revolver, "God Only Knows" by the Beach Boys, and "Red Rubber Ball" by the Cyrkle. (Man, what an era!)  And my response to it is primal:  The minute that great bass line begins -- two notes plopped wearily on each step of a descending minor scale -- I'm hooked.

Satire?  Sure, on one level Ray's mocking the self-pitying plaint of a rich Establishment type, bemoaning  Wilson-era tax policies -- "The tax man's taken all my dough / And left me in my stately home..."  (Cue up George Harrison's less subtle "Taxman," written the same year.) But as usual with Ray Davies, autobiography creeps in too.  Despite his working-class upbringing -- just think of all those political songs that will soon crop up on Lola V. Powerman and The Moneygoround Part 1 and  Muswell Hillbillies -- in 1966 Ray Davies must have also felt some sneaking secret sympathy with the property-rich, cash-poor protagonist of this song, as he waged a lawsuit against his publishers and former managers to recover withheld royalties. Put this together with two other songs from Face to Face, "House in the Country" and "Most Exclusive Residence for Sale," and you've got an intriguing suite of songs, showing Ray Davies grappling with his new social status. That emotional conflict runs just beneath the surface, charging this song with ambivalence.

Meanwhile, that supremely enervated tone -- Ray's vocals sliding into campiness -- betrays the nervous breakdown Ray had suffered in March of 1966.  While the Kinks went on tour in Europe with a temporary replacement (did they think the French and Belgians wouldn't notice?), Ray's erratic behavior back home in London made some skeptics wonder if the Kinks were washed up for good. "Save me save me save me from this squeeee--eeze," he wails in the bridge -- and funny as it is, I can imagine that Ray's also exorcising some demons, taking his recent existential despair and turning it into comedy.  

And what are we to make of this memorable line: "My girlfriend's run off with my car / And gone back to her ma and pa / Telling tales of drunkenness and cruelty"?  I love the melodramatic spin Ray gives that last line, though notice he never clarifies whether the "tales" are truth or fiction.  Seven years later, Ray's wife Rasa would finally move out, taking their two daughters -- leaving him on his birthday -- but this song has always suggested to me that the troubles between them had been going on for years.

"Help me help me help me sail awaa-aay," Ray begs in the second bridge.  ""Well give me two good reasons why I oughta stay." Ah yes, there's the trademark Kinksian longing for escape. That dream of unruffled paradise is just out of his grasp, so close he can taste it:  "'Cause I love to live so pleasantly / Live this life of luxury."  What should be a sybaritic declaration become a cry of woe, with jerky rhythms and yo-yoing intervals. "Lazing on a sunny af-ter-noooon" -- it's practically a howl of misery, not a blissed-out mantra. Put these same lyrics to the Young Rascals' "Groovin" and it would be a different song completely.

In the video, watch how Ray forgets to look doleful and starts to grin; brother Dave and Pete Quaife have a hard time keeping a straight face too.  And if this is such a summer song, why are they playing on Hampstead Heath in the snow? (Love how Mick Avory reaches up to knock snow off the overhanging branch with his drumstick.)  Since this song was recorded in May and released in June, I guess this video was an afterthought, filmed in the winter to promote the December 1966 release of Face to Face.  Doesn't matter; it's still charming to the max.  (Those dogs spilling out of the limousine -- priceless.)

By some miracle, all of this campy moaning and misery translates into one of the most delicious singalongs ever. Really, how did Ray pull this off?   The tongue-in-cheek humor cancels out the minor key, and that plinky goodtime piano (bravo Nicky Hopkins!) turns a mopey shuffling rhythm into something tailor-made for hoisting a pint. How hard it is to listen to those high harmonies (bravo Dave!) and NOT join in on the "Save me's" and "Help me's," to croon along with that drawn-out "afternoon," or to chant those repeated "in the summertime's."  Personally I think that the Beatles -- always eyeing the competition -- heard crowds in the pubs or in the football standings sing along to this song (it became the unofficial anthem of England's 1966 World Cup victory) and determined to outdo Ray, with John soon writing "All You Need Is Love" and Paul "Hey Jude" a year later. It's all connected.

Today wasn't particularly sunny -- more like "A Rainy Day In June," yet another Face to Face track.  (Honestly, you don't have this album yet?  Shame on you.)  But somehow, as soon as that bass riff starts, I'm in another place -- a place where the beer flows and my mates are close at hand.  So what if I had to let the butler go?        

Friday, June 17, 2011

Radio Girl / Marshall Crenshaw

This is just a reminder -- tomorrow night (June 18th) at 10 p.m. EDT, the inimitable Marshall Crenshaw premieres his new Saturday night radio show on WFUV FM out of Fordham University, here in New York.  Too far away to catch WFUV on your radio dial?  Not to worry -- you can listen to a live stream of the show on the internet.

To celebrate this momentous occasion, I'd like to share with you a little tune off of Marshall's unjustly neglected 1989 album Good Evening (which apparently can be bought for next to nothing on It's not the same thing as John Hiatt's "Radio Girl" by the way, which is also a great song . . . just sayin'....

One thing that computers have taken away from us -- the pleasure of listening to the radio, late at night, when nothing else is going on and your attention is focused one-hundred-percent on that audio experience.  As a kid, sneaking my little transistor radio under my pillow so I could listen after light's out, it was a lifeline to something cool and distant and impossible hip.  Yeah, I know radio's not like that anymore, at least not most of the time.  But you find a good station, like WFUV, and you can still recapture some of that magic. 

That's at least part of what Marshall evokes here, in this ode to a female nighttime DJ ("from one a.m. to four").  I love how the song just sort of tunes in, with a slide guitar (played by David Lindsey) homing in like a radio signal. (Sonny Landreth's on there too, playing something that the liner notes call "weird experimental guitar").  She may just be a disembodied voice, but there's something deeply sexy about his connection to her -- "I take her into my bed each night."  And he's not just an anonymous listener -- he does phone-in requests to her too, asking for vintage James Brown ("It's a Man's Man's World," of all things.)  Yeah, she probably flirts with him when he phones in, and she faithfully plays the song, every night.  Who's to say that's not a real connection? 

I could use a little help from you, dear readers -- what's this reference in the third verse? "Hey, what's that sound? / What do you call that sound?" The only thing I can think of is the Replacement's "Alex Chilton," so it may be a reference to some Box Tops or Big Star song (how cool that I got to see Marshall sing at the City Winery Alex Chilton tribute, by the way). 

As opposed to today's narrowly defined radio channels, Marshall's radio girl plays an eclectic range of music, just like my buddies on the Sirius/XM station The Loft.  I'm thinking here of Meg Griffin, my own favorite radio girl, whose musical tastes are uncannily like my own.  But I digress. "I like the stuff you play / and the things you say," Marshall croons to his radio girl; "Come on, give me some rock music, / Or some rhythm and blues / Or anything you wanna play-yay / Anything you choose."  That's the peculiar satisfaction that radio listening gives you, as opposed to clicking through an iPod playlist or surfing YouTube: You surrender to the DJ, let him/her select what tune to come up next, and if you can escape the inevitability of Top 40 radio -- the same narrow range of new tracks recycled endlessly, shoot me now!! -- there might even be a few total surprises coming your way.  To reflect that eclectic mix, this track's sound is a little boogie-woogie -- dig that Jerry Lee-like piano in the bridge (Steve Conn) -- and yet a little cha-cha-like too, the drums swiftly  ticking along.

That eclectic musical taste is what I expect to hear on Marshall's radio show tomorrow; the man has an enormous musical catalog in his head, and he's likely to pull out stuff you've never heard before -- and you'll be glad he introduced you to it.  Me, I can't wait.  He'll be on every Saturday night from now on, following the classic sound of Vin Scelsa's Idiot's Delight.  (So tune in earlier for that as well.)  What else were you planning to do with your weekend?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Stay Young, Go Dancing / Death Cab For Cutie

I don't go with the party line on Death Cab for Cutie -- you know, the one that says that everything Ben Gibbard writes is depressing.  Depressing music should be minor-key, draggy, and mumbled, not soaring and brightly melodic.  I hear plenty of irony in songs like "The Sound of Settling" and "Title and Registration"; and come on, what is "I Will Follow You Into the Dark" if not a brave statement about the redemptive power of love? "No Sunlight"?  It may be about the loss of idealism, but it's way too jaunty to be truly depressing.

So when people seemed shocked that gloomy ol' Ben Gibbard would marry the world's perkiest actress, Zooey Deschanel, I just thought -- Perfect Indie Couple!!  The sly humor behind Ben's "depression" is perfectly matched by the melancholy behind Zooey's doe-eyed "perkiness."  A classic yin-yang pairing.

Death Cab's got a brand-new album out -- Codes and Keys -- and I bought it immediately, no preview necessary(These guys are on my short list of bands whose music I don't need to preview.)  I couldn't honestly tell you how it's different from their previous album, Narrow Stairs;  the arrangements seem to have more texture, a little less glossiness, but mostly it just sounds like more Death Cab.  It's hard enough for a band to craft a distinctive sound, and then you expect them to change it with every album?

But now that Ben's a married man, he gets to write an uncomplicated love song for once -- and here it is, last track on the CD, "Stay Young, Go Dancing":


Now, isn't this a lovely thing?  Not only a love song, but a waltz, gently syncopated and swinging happily along. Imagine that!

Believe it or not, Ben launches into the song with a ringing, positive affirmation: "Life is sweet." Will wonders never cease?  Granted, right afterwards he adds, "In the belly of the beast, in the belly of the beast," but hey, he's not wrong.  And he's got a talisman to help him weather life's slings and arrows: "And with her song in your heart / It could never bring you down, it could never bring you down."  Immediately I think of Zooey, with those big blue eyes of hers, artlessly singing in Elf, or scatting through "Sugartown" ("I got my troubles, but they won't last") in 500 Days of Summer.  Zooey can be enchanting indeed.

Verse two follows a similar pattern ("Lost in a maze / Of a thousand rainy days, of a thousand rainy days / And when I heard her voice, / Well it led me to the end, yes it led me to the end") before he swings with an upward key change into the chorus: "Cause when she sings, I hear a symphony / And I follow its sound as it echoes through me / I'm renewed / Oh how I feel alive / And through autumn's advancing, we'll stay young, go dancing."  Okay, so he can't leave the "autumn" out (and in the last verse, it's become "winter").  But Keats pulls the same trick in several of his poems; it's the knowledge of autumn that makes summer so sweet, the awareness of gloom that makes sunshine so glorious.

There's more of this hopeful stuff on Codes and Keys --  "Doors Unlocked and Open," "Unobstructed Views," "Under the Sycamore," "Portable Television" -- it still sounds like Death Cab, but those lyrics are less depressing than ever.  Sure, there are still vultures waiting by the side of the road, but we just might be able to avoid them awhile more. For a change, Ben Gibbard's glass is beginning to look half-full.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Take It All / Adele

Well, in case you haven't heard, Nick Lowe is releasing a new album this fall.  It's called The Old Magic and from what I've seen of the track list, it's chock-full of new songs, several of which we heard at various Nick shows over the past few months. Here's a link to the Yep Roc Records press release.

I should be thrilled, right?  So why am I so ambivalent?

In 2005, when I first became a Nick Lowe fan -- okay, a rabid Nick Lowe fan -- the chap hadn't put out a record in several years; some people even referred to him as "semi-retired."  But since then, Nick has released not only the new album At My Age (2006) but long overdue reissues of Jesus of Cool (2008) and Labour Of Lust (2011), a "best of" collection (Quiet Please, 2009),  and somewhere else in there a boxset of his 1994, 1998, and 2001 albums (The Brentford Trilogy).  To date, I have seen him live over a dozen times, and that's with hardly any major traveling. (Really., I was going out to Chicago anyway...).

[So what does this have to do with Adele? Wait for it.....]

So here's my question:  Did I discover Nick Lowe because he was already heading for a late-career revival -- or did I cause it?  Because, you know, I have blogged about this guy A LOT, usually in raving, swooning tones. I still feel personally invested in Nick and his career, but -- and this is an odd feeling for me -- being a Nick Lowe fan doesn't make me special anymore.  Being a Kinks fan, or a Marshall Crenshaw fan, or a Graham Parker fan, or a Greg Trooper fan, or a Robyn Hitchcock fan, will always feel like joining an elite club of music lovers. (The Paul McCartney thing, I'll grant you, is an aberration...). I like that inner circle feeling.

Okay, so clearly I've got to go sort all this out.  In the meantime -- since I've clearly got WAY TOO MUCH invested in being a "special" fan -- let me send myself to the woodshed, and prove that I can also love a #1 hit...

Liking Adele is a wonderfully uncomplicated thing for me.  C'mon, I'm a Dusty Springfield fan; how could I not love the power and the passion Adele pours into her voice?   Three years ago, when her first album 19 came out, all the buzz was about Amy Winehouse, with the public fascinated by her trainwreck behavior.  (Really, people, you should be ashamed.) But here was Adele on the scene at the same time, and I couldn't understand why she wasn't being touted as the real deal in comparison to Amy Winehouse. I'm delighted that she's now been vindicated with a smash hit album (where is Amy Winehouse these days?), and even after being temporarily nudged aside by the heavily subsidized Lady Gaga juggernaut, Adele has quietly returned to the top of the charts.  It's refreshing to see that quality sometimes does win out. (Okay, so maybe that explains Nick Lowe too. Maybe.)

If you listen to the radio at all, you have no doubt heard Adele's magnificent "Rolling in the Deep." It's probably been overplayed, in fact, and if you're like me, an overplayed hit single is anathema.  So just let me introduce you to this other track from her album, so you can see that the girl has legs.  It's a solid, solid album, track after track.  Just because it's a hit doesn't mean it's not good.

I realize that the Dusty comparison isn't just because of Adele's range, or the way she plays with her voice, or the back-up vocals -- it's also her no-holds-barred approach to love.  "Take it all, take all my love" -- isn't that the sentiment behind all of Dusty's oeuvre?  "You're giving up so easily / I thought you loved me more than this" -- it's easy to characterize her as the submissive female, but the fact is, she humbles her male lover with her unconditional passion.  Whether or not he deserves it is totally beside the point.  Dusty's lovers never deserved it; we only listened to her because she herself was so operatic in her passion.  The word is used too loosely these days, but Dusty was a diva -- and I believe that Adele inherits that mantle.  I am thrilled to hear she's got a #1 hit.  If life were only that fair always!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Okay, okay, the book's done, the kitchen's back in working order, the kids have finished school. I've run out of excuses -- I'm back in the saddle. (Thanks for the nudge, Lori!) 

1. I Know What You're Thinkin' / Bill Lloyd
From Set To Pop (1993)
If you like jangly guitar pop -- and you know I do -- you've gotta check out Bill Lloyd. Despite a turn in Nashville as half of Foster and Lloyd, he really shines when he goes electric, revealing his debts to the Beatles and the Kinks (I first learned of him from his cover of "This Is Where I Belong").  Don't let those catchy melodies and hooks fool you -- he slices and dices relationships like nobody's fool.  Jangly guitar pop with an edge; that's even better.

2. Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa / Vampire Weekend
From Vampire Weekend (2008)
Why, yes, thank you, I will go to the Cape this summer!  An irresistibly catchy bit of indie polyrhythm; love that little Bach fugue they throw in on the organ towards the end.

3. Summer in the City / The Lovin' Spoonful
From Hums of the Lovin' Spoonful (1966)
Probably THE best song ever written for an urban summer night, as I've mentioned before. The back of my neck's been getting pretty dirty and gritty lately, now that you mention it. 

4. Ackee 1-2-3 / English Beat
From Special Beat Service (1982)
But you know, Vampire Weekend didn't invent this indie polyrhythm sound; the English Beat and all their ska revival pals had it down in the early 80s. Another great urban summer song, with sassy horns, a touch of steel drums, an infectious sloppy singalong chorus, even a dog barking at the end.   

5. We Won't Dance / Greg Trooper 
From Noises in the Hallway
Aw, what a great song, and Troop's original is sooooo much sexier than Vince Gill's cover (from the album that made him a star, 1989's When I Call Your Name). The premise is, he's saying goodbye to an old girlfriend, with a shiver of regret that they won't, ahem, dance together anymore.  (Wink wink, nudge nudge...) "You won't dance with him / The way you danced with me..."

6.  Hollywood / Guy  Clark
From Someday the Song Writes You (2009)
Well, speaking of brilliant folk-country songwriters, here's the Texas master, spinning another gently weary cautionary tale about tinsel dreams going all tarnished.  I love Clark's scuffed-up voice, the acoustic twang of his guitar, but what I love most about his songs is something even rarer -- hard-won wisdom.       

7. Radar Love / Golden Earring  
From  Moontan (1973) 
Surprise! Not my usual fare, I'll grant you.  But I often listen to my iPod in the car, and well -- sometimes you need to put the pedal to the metal, and this is the song that'll do it for you.  Who are Golden Earring?  A Dutch heavy metal band?  I'm pretty sure I never heard another song from them, but Wikipedia tells me they're still together, still performing, still recording, with multiple hits in Holland, so what do I know? This is one hell of a track. 

8. Tell You / Ron Sexsmith
From Grand Opera Lane (1987)
Sure, there's poppy jangle here, but Sexsmith's sweet yearning vocals make it hard to be cynical.  I can't think of many modern songwriters who can honestly write about things like joy and  faith. Refreshing.

9. I Can't Love You Anymore  / Lyle Lovett
From The Road to Ensenada (2008)
You know, if that "Anymore" were spelled "Any More," this would be a different song.  And I know that Lyle knows this.  Compared to the usual dumbed-down Nashville fare, Lyle's intelligence and songcraft amaze me over and over. (I don't even consider him country, anymore -- well, maybe Western.) No wonder he's buddies with Hiatt.  

10. Wild Honey Pie / The Beatles
From The Beatles (The White Album) (1968)
A minute of anarchy -- and I hang on every note.

11. Trusted  / Ben Folds
From Songs for Silverman (2005)
Okay, let's say "Wild Honey Pie" doesn't count.  Because how could I cut off Ben?  This was the first of his albums I ever bought, and it absolutely astonished me -- those perfect pop hooks, the emotional melodies, the sharp lyrics, the edgy relationships.  I can't get certain lines out of my head -- "I thought  you could read my mind / Then I came home early and saw that a drawer'd been opened / Looks like you were reading my diary instead" or "That's when I know / She's gonna be pissed when she wakes up / for terrible things I did to her in her dreams."  These ARE the sorts of things that drive people apart, and it's horrible, and Ben dissects it with fearless ferocity, sailing along on crashing piano chords and arpeggios.  This guy's stuff absolutely rivets me....