A Late Night Shuffle
Lately, the playlists I've been concocting for my iTunes library have been more about mood than era, genre, or theme. (Sample titles: Trippy, Mellow, Groove, Upbeat and Laid-back.) Sometimes you just want a certain sound, a certain slant of light.
Take my new playlist, Late Night, for example. I know exactly what I mean by that term: haunting, reflective, disassociated. Whether you're high or just bone-weary, you're not entirely in your sensible daytime mind. And there are certain tracks that perfectly nail that frame of mind.
So, herewith, a curated shuffle from that playlist, for your late-night listening pleasure. Click on the blue titles to see YouTube versions of the songs, if you don't know them.
1. "Billy's Blues" -- Laura Nyro
From More Than a New Discovery (1967)
Oh, Lord, the hours I spent in my teenage bedroom mooning over -- well, I won't say who, but Laura Nyro was my enabler then, and I can never resist the moody urban soul-inflected sound of her music. "Billy's blue / With his head hanging to / His shoes" -- and I'm right there with him.
2. "Somewhere Friday Night" -- The Turtles
From Turtle Soup (1969)
Okay, I'll admit I have this album in my library specifically because Ray Davies of the Kinks produced this album. But I truly loved the Turtles, back in the day -- their song "Happy Together" scored high on my 100 Favorite Singles list -- and who could fail to love this jazzy, trippy track? As it morphs restlessly from major to minor keys, insisting "there's something wrong here" -- stylish paranoia indeed.
3. "Not Cause I Wanted To" -- Bonnie Raitt
From Slipstream (2012)
As I've mentioned before, this recent Bonnie Raitt album is a magnificent example of #MusicforGrownups. I love how Bonnie's grown into the rasp in her voice, as the songwriting underscores her rueful world-weary persona. Deconstructing the end of a long-term relationship -- a late-night exercise invariably served with a side of regret.
4. "Something About What Happens When We Talk" -- Lucinda Williams
From Lucinda Williams (1998)
I'll admit it -- I'm jealous about the way male rock fans swoon over Lucinda Williams. I sincerely wish she wasn't so good. But she IS that good, and sometimes even I can't resist her grit-edged voice and her truth-telling lyrics. Here she's kicking the tires on a relationship that could go one way or the other -- and why is it that I'm willing her to take that leap?
5. "Out in the Parking Lot" -- Guy Clark
From Workbench Songs (2006)
"Sitting on a fender / Of someone else's truck / Drinking Old Crow whiskey / Hot Seven-Up..." How's that for scene setting? West Texas's singer-songwriter Guy Clark is a national treasure, and a storyteller par excellence; let me count the ways..
6. "Endless Sleep" -- Nick Lowe
From Jesus of Cool (1977)
Actually, this didn't make it on the album; it's a bonus track on the recent re-release of my idol Nick's seminal 1977 album. I can kinda see why this woeful low-fi track, with its intimate match-strike intro, whispery mike-kissing vocals, and misery-dogged lyrics -- "When you're walking in the street / Spoiling for a fight / Hoping for a miracle / And there's no miracle in sight" -- didn't make it onto this masterwork of pop deconstruction. But late at night, isn't this just where we want to schlump around?
7. "I'm in the Mood Again" -- Elvis Costello
From North (2003)
Ah, Nick's old partner in crime, Elvis Costello, indulging his jazz side on this idiosyncratic 2003 album. You can't blame him, besotted as he was with his new wife jazz pianist-singer Diana Krall. But I have to say, he makes it work, in this stylish ode to the City That Never Sleeps.
8. "Superstar" -- The Carpenters
From Carpenters (1971)
Did I say "haunting"? This brilliant track is haunting on SO many levels, as I explain here.
9. "Walking After Midnight" -- Patsy Cline
From Patsy Cline Showcase (1961)
Probably the best late-night song ever. Forget the jaunty beat; this is an ode to doggone lonesomeness, with Patsy's trademark heart-on-her-sleeve wistfulness. I love how this 1961 re-recording of her 1957 hit foregrounds her amazing voice; yeah, the added background singers throw in a note of cheese, but hey, it was 1961.
10. "It's Getting To Be Evening" -- Charles Brown with Johnny and Shuggie Otis
From Great Rhythm and Blues Oldies Vol. 2 (1974)
R&B royalty indeed. The great singer Charles Brown, bandleader Johnny Otis, and his prodigy son guitarist Shuggie Otis, coming together for this laidback, boozy, sexy stroll through the wee small hours. This track absolutely defies you to be in a hurry. Where else could you possibly be going at this time of night?