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....