A Veterans Day Eve Shuffle
[that has nothing to do with Veteran's Day...]
TIP: Click on the title to see a video of the song, if there is one.
1. "Tell Me More and More and Then Some" / Nina Simone
From Pastel Blues (1965)
Lordy, lordy, lordy. That husky contralto with just a quaver of emotion -- that languid tempo, the growly piano and persistent counterpoint of harmonica -- I don't know the Billie Holliday original but I can't imagine she captured the raw sexual longing of this song any better than this.
2. "Modern Love" / David Bowie
From Let's Dance (1983)
Ah. One of the classics, as I rhapsodize here.
3. "We Were Both Wrong" / Dave Edmunds
From Repeat When Necessary (1979)
Dave Edmunds and his back-up band Rockpile charge through this number by guitarist Billy Bremner (credited to his pseudonym Billy Murray) with their characteristic finger-snapping sexiness, all straight-legged jeans and a cigarette pack in the rolled-up shirtsleeves. How, when all the other kids on the block were going all jangly and New-Wave-y, did Dave E convince his pals to commit so totally to rockabilly? That swaggering retro guitar intro sounds so Nashville, it's amazing it came out of London.
4. "One (Blake's Got A New Face)" / Vampire Weekend
From Vampire Weekend (2008)
Mmm-hmn. Now, that I mention it, there's something jangly and New Wave-y about this song, 30 years later though it may be. Stitching together musical styles in a world-music montage, this song weaves a cryptic spell. But mostly I love how Ezra Koenig yelps "Blake!" in the hypnotic refrain. Sometimes that's all it takes.
5. "Working in a Coal Mine" / Lee Dorsey
From The New Lee Dorsey, 1966
And here's another yelp that makes the song. It's that hooky refrain, the monotonous "working in a coal mine, / going down down down / working in a coal mine / Whoop! about to slip down" that's forever branded on my musical memory. Dig the sound effect of pick axes hitting metal, too. Written by Allen Toussaint, memorably covered by Devo -- it's one of the great pop songs about physical labor, a worthy companion to Sam Cooke's "Chain Gang."
6. "Shoplifters of the World Unite" / The Smiths
From Louder Than Bombs (1987)
No monotony here, just Morrissey's campy enervated vocals -- but it's about oppression, all the same. (Or is it? I never know with the Smiths...)
7. "Don't B Movie Me" / Georgie Fame
From Georgie Fame 1973
Two minutes into his teen-idol career, Georgie Fame was already shrugging off the pop shackles to became the jazz keyboardist he'd always really been, borrowing happily from ska and blues as well. I'm sorry I couldn't find a video for this one; you may not even be able to find a video link. (My version was lifted from vinyl -- it would not be an exaggeration to say that I invested in a turntable and software mostly just to capture my old Georgie Fame LPs). Sigh. Sometimes I wonder if Elvis Costello knew this song when he wrote "B Movie" on Get Happy! Any other artists, I'd say it was a coincidence, but you never know with Elvis...
8. "Just A Thought" / Gnarls Barkley
From St. Elsewhere (2006)
No trouble finding a video for this one. I promise you, I had this song on my iTunes long before I discovered Cee Lo Green as a judge on The Voice. Glad to see he was always a musical chameleon -- what is this song? It's not hip-hop, it's not R&B, it's not indie pop (not with all those grating musical effects). Weird song, sublime vocal. Sometimes I think this guy is from Mars.
9. "I Pray Now" / Fred Eaglesmith
From Tinderbox (2008)
And while we're at it, what label would you slap on Fred Eaglesmith? He's like the Canadian heir to Pete Seeger's populist folk mantle, but only if you throw in crunchy Tom Waits guitar effects and dead-eye Neil Young political commentary. "I pray now / I pray now / I didn't use to pray" -- it's prayer on the edge of desperation, and you have to fear whatever drove this man to his knees.
10. "For Debbie Reynolds" / Robyn Hitchcock
From Shadow Cat (2007)
Ah, a perfect confection to end on, from the master label-eluder Robyn Hitchcock. I imagine Robyn dashed this song off at 4 am after watching Singing in the Rain on TV -- which doesn't mean it's not profound, not by a long shot. "It's all about success," he croons, "What are you doing this time tomorrow, baby?" And all I can see is Debbie Reynolds' scrubbed face and ponytail as she tap danced her way into Gene Kelly's arms -- oh, if only the fairy tale ended there. Robyn, of course, knows it doesn't, and sadly so do I.