Showing posts with label they might be giants. Show all posts
Showing posts with label they might be giants. Show all posts

Saturday, April 16, 2011


Anybody else tired of April showers?  Better turn the music up loud.

1. Addicted to Love / Robert Palmer

 From Riptide (1985)
From the very first beats on those whomping drums, I start to grin despite myself.  "The lights are on, but you're not home / Your mind is not your own... One of the classic MTV videos, with sultry scarlet-lipped models gyrating and strumming guitars, and Palmer in a devastatingly well-cut gray suit.  That mesmerizing rhythm line drove this song straight to #1; a great 80s throwback.   

2. Every Planet We Reach Is Dead / Gorillaz
From Demon Days (2006)
Damon Albarn gets his funk on.  The comic-book element of this project is lost on me, but I sure do dig their sound -- electronica that manages NOT to be tedious or repetitive. It can be done!  

3. Uncorrected Personality Traits / Robyn Hitchcock
From I Often Dream of Trains (1984)
A cappella psycho-babble whimsy from the delectable Mr. H.  One of the funniest songs ever.

4. I Was Watching You / Rosanne Cash 
From Black Cadillac (2006)
Rosanne's album-length elegy for her parents -- who just happened to be Johnny Cash and June Carter -- is pretty good proof that talent is genetic.

5. Some Other Guy / The Searchers
From Sugar and Spice (1963)
I think Johnny Kidd and the Pirates (remember them?  no, me neither) recorded the original hit single of this snappy little Lieber-Stoller teen love song, but every British Beat band did a cover of it; there's grainy film somewhere of the Beatles singing it at the Cavern Club. For my money, though, the best is the Searchers, with the extra zing of their guitars.      

6. I Bet You Won't Stay / The Cascades
(1965 single)
Sorry, no link for this one -- an obscure pop single which I have in bootleg only because Ray Davies wrote it.  And you thought the Cascades' only song was "Rhythm of the Rain"? In fact they recorded a couple of Ray's early songs, when he was still hedging his bets with a little freelance songwriting. Oddly jazzy, with a jangly electric piano and tons of reverb -- they do perfect justice to the wistful neurosis of this song.

7. Another First Kiss / They Might Be Giants
From Mink Car (2001)
There's always a daffy angle to every TMBG song, but they can also do earnest surprisingly well. Of course there can only be one first kiss -- but that won't stop the ever-winsome John Linnell from trying.

8. Vanity Press / Graham Parker & the Figgs 
From Songs of No Consequence (2005)
The object of today's high-energy satire: unscrupulous journalists, for whom Graham Parker seems to have reserved a special circle of hell.  Clever lyrics fly thick and fast; you gotta listen close to get every flash of wit. But never fear, GP still packs in a killer hook in the chorus. 

9. Die Die Die / The Avett Brothers
From Emotionalism (2007)
I love these guys, with their hoarsely sweet folky harmonies, plucky banjo, and soaring melodies. This earlier album, before their "breakthrough" I and Love and You, proves that they've got the chops to be around for a while.

10.  Without Love / Nick Lowe
From Labour of Lust (1979)
Sigh...I know I've written about this song before.  But now that Labour of Lust's been reissued, it's on my daily playlist all over again. "Without love, I am an island / All alone, in a heartbreak sea...."

Sunday, March 06, 2011


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. 

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

The Wednesday Shuffle

Back to Wednesdays, and it feels so right. (Anything rather than go outdoors in this weather...)

1.  "The Bad Thing" / Arctic Monkeys
From Favourite Worst Nightmare (2007)
Are the Arctic Monkeys over?  I hope not. Here's what I wrote about this scrappy track a couple years ago when the album first came out...

2. "Isn't That the Thing To Do?" / Maria Muldaur
From Love Wants to Dance (2004)
Nice little palate cleanser, with Maria letting out her jazz side on this Gershwin standard.

3. "How Can I Sing Like a Girl?" / They Might Be Giants
From Factory Showroom (1996)
"I want to raise my freak flag / And never be alone" -- yes, it's another off-kilter nerd anthem from the Johns.  That nasal whine of John Linnell is perfect for this song.

4. "There Ain't Half Been Some Clever Bastards" / Ian Dury and the Blockheads
From Reasons to Be Cheerful (1978)
Speaking of raising freak's my favorite Ian Dury tune ever (here's why). Which reminds me -- I've just got the new biopic Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll from Netflix -- must watch!

5. "Sleepwalker" / The Kinks
From Sleepwalker (1977)
Or, "How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Insomnia," by Ray Davies. Another freak flag raised!  This bouncy track IMHO isn't one of the Kinks' best -- odd it should be the title track of an album. But there are Kinks fans who love it, so what do I know?

6. "Money Talks" / The Kinks
From Preservation Act 2 (1974)
Now this is more my Kinks -- savage satire with histrionic flair.  Being deep into Keith Richards' Life at the moment, I realize what a pitch-perfect Stones impression this is.  I'm noticing the dirty slide guitar and lovin' it.

7. "New Slang" / The Shins
From Oh, Inverted World (2001)
Charming folk-pop jangle from James Mercer and Co., spiked with stream-of-consciousness absurdity.  Yes, I'll admit it, this song on the Garden State soundtrack was my back-door introduction to these indie darlings.  There is an art to a great soundtrack, though.  Must blog about that sometime... 

8.  "Don't Bug Me When I'm Working" / Little Village
From Little Village (1992)

Talk about dirty guitar -- Ry Cooder gets just plain nasty on this one. Oh, and Johnny Hiatt's snarling lead vocals, with Ry and Nick Lowe each insinuating a verse. ("I can't even work with my baby at night -- Lord have mercy!") Tell me again why Little Village didn't work out?

9. "Full Moon in My Soul" / Robyn Hitchcock
From Spooked (2004)
More folk-pop jangle, with Robyn out-absurding even the Shins -- "I'm out of here, I'm taking off / You can have my cigarettes and, mister, you can have my cough." The loungy rhythm of this number is simply too delicious, and dig that lazy slide guitar in the bridge. 

10. "This Is A Low" / Blur 
From Parklife (1994)
Mmm, what a lovely sonic haze enfolds this modern bit of BritPop psychedelia -- I sink right into it. My sentimental favorite Blur album.  Should have known Damon Albarn would be a Kinks fan... 

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


Anybody else watching The Singoff on TV?  I have to admit, it has screwed up my Monday and Wednesday night schedules.  But I can't pass up the chance to watch Ben Folds deconstruct each a capella group's technique (the other night he actually told a bass percussionist that he sounded like James Jamerson).  So yes, the Shuffle's a little late tonight...

1. "Lie Still, Little Bottle" / They Might Be Giants
From Lincoln (1988)
It's probably just aspirin in that bottle, but the Johns make it sound totally wicked and depraved.  I love it when they go finger-snapping jazzy like this.

2. "Wild Honey Pie" / The Beatles
From The Beatles (1968)
Filler?  Sorry, but not one note of this album is filler. I prefer to think of it as an essential segue -- it's impossible for me to hear this sloppy bit of cacophony without expecting the Spanish guitar fill to lead us next into "Bungalow Bill."

3. "Holloway Jail" / The Kinks
From Muswell Hillbillies (1971)
My favorite album from my favorite band, and -- since my middle name is Holloway -- I've always felt a particular connection to this song.  A droll bit of comedy, about a floozy who takes the rap for her no-good lover, but the Kinks absolutely nail that old-timey country sound.  Nail it.  

4. "I Forgot to Remember to Forget Him" / Wanda Jackson
From I Remember Elvis (2006)
Talk about old-timey country -- here's the queen of rockabilly, strutting her sassy way through a tongue-in-cheek kiss-off song. 

5. "Moments" / The Kinks
From Percy: The Soundtrack (1971)
More Kinks? I'll take it -- even though this is one of their lesser albums, it still offers up a few incredible gems, including this winsome track. "We got to learn to share these moments in our lives," Ray warbles, and campy as it is -- dig those movie music strings! -- it also makes me mist up.  

6. "Too Hot" / The Kinks
From Word of Mouth (1984)
No misting up here.  As the mid-80s Kinks impersonated arena rockers, Ray Davies leaned heavily on the social satire -- like here, where he lampoons the fitness craze.  (Remember leg warmers?)  Best part: the steel drums in the middle-eight.

7. "Windfall" / Son Volt
From Trace (1996) 
Back to the country, son, with Jay Farrar's post-Uncle Tupelo act, Son Volt.  Lots of wheeze and twang, with more fiddles than you can shake a stick at, but I love this track's gently rambling valediction: "Let the wind take your troubles away..."  

8. "Artificial Man" / The Kinks
From Preservation Act 2 (1974)
A fourth Kinks track! What a coincidence. Well, here's Ray in campy vocal mode again, and deep into the satire as well.  Preservation is not for the casual Kinks fan, but it goes without saying, it's one of my faves. Even this cobbled-together mess of a track is near and dear to my heart.

9. "I'm Ready" / Muddy Waters
From Fathers and Sons (1970)
One of the reasons I had to buy a turntable again was to listen to this amazing blues album, which brought old masters Muddy Waters and Otis Spann together with a new generation of acolytes like Paul Butterfield and Mike Bloomfield. One of Muddy's iconic tracks, played with reverence and joy.

10.  "Bidin' My Time" / Georgie Fame
From Somebody Stole My Thunder (compilation)
British 1960s pop star Georgie Fame kept defying the hitmakers to indulge his twin passions for soul and jazz -- or rather, for a snazzy fusion of the two. This track's a perfect example, ineffably cool and yet upbeat. "Bidin' my time / My heart is beating faster / Hope it's the time / To make you happy ever after..."  Makes me want to put on a mini-skirt and white lipstick and tease my hair.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


A few songs to be thankful for as you gobble your turkey tomorrow!

1. "Save Me" / Aimee Mann
From the Magnolia soundtrack (1999)
I never saw this movie -- Tom Cruise really puts me off -- but I know I should.  Any movie with Phillip Seymour Hoffman, John C. Reilly, Al Molina, AND William H. Macy has to be worth watching; all the Aimee Mann songs on the soundtrack are the icing on the cake. Talk about spiky emotions? This chick wrote the book.

2. "Kansas" / Fred Eaglesmith
From Milly's Cafe (2007)
"It's always Kansas, that's where I always break down" -- could be a touring musician, could be a trucker, could be a traveling salesman, but in the dead-center of the country, his still-raw heartbreak trips him up, every time.  For grit and twang, it's hard to beat Fred Eaglesmith; he puts the folk right back in

3. "Warming Up to the Ice Age" / John Hiatt
From Warming Up to the Ice Age  (1985)
John Hiatt before he properly found his own grit and twang. My shuffle sure does love this song. 

4. "A Little Bit of Sunlight" / The Kinks
From Picture Book (box set compilation)
Here's a little mono gem -- an early Kinks demo for a Ray Davies composition that would be a modest hit for the Majority, way back in the Swinging 60s. "A little bit of sunlight is all that I want from you" -- I've always thought Ray was channeling the Beach Boys when he wrote this one.   

5.  "Have Another Drink" / The Kinks
From Soap Opera (1975)
Fast-forward another 10 years to the middle of the Kinks' "theatrical period." A perfect pub singalong -- "if you're feeling down and you're under the weather / Have another drink and you'll feel all right." It's the missing link between "Have a Cuppa Tea" and "Alcohol," all summed up in that gullible refrain: "Don't stop and think / Have another drink."

6. "Lola" (live) / The Kinks
From Everybody's in Showbiz (1972)
A Kinks trifecta!  But only a snippet, really, a rowdy crowd singalong of the obligatory hit song from Disc 2, the live concert half of this quixotic double album. (The first disc being all about the hell of touring.)  Everybody put your hands together! PS If I never hear Ray sing "Lola" again I won't be disappointed. 

7. "I Don't Want To Do Wrong" / Gladys Knight and the Pips
From The Ultimate Collection (compilation)
Ah, one of the Queens of Motown Soul -- the fiery, passionate Gladys Knight. Her man's been gone a while, and  . . . well, the flesh is weak. "I don't wanna do what my heart keeps telling me to / I know I'm trying with all of my might / I think I've lost this fight." Dig the Ray Charles-esque strings.

8. "I'm In Love With You" / Georgie Fame
From History of British Pop #5 (compilation)
Not Georgie's usual thing -- a pitch-perfect retro R&B number, back-up singers and horns and all. No link, as I converted this off an old vinyl compilation.  Obscure, but tasty indeed -- take my word for it.   

9. "Birdhouse in Your Soul" / They Might Be Giants
From Flood  (1990)
Hey, this song cropped up the other night on one of my favorite TV shows, HBO's Bored to Death (starring the ever-adorable Jason Schwartzman). Quirky Brooklyn comedy, quirky Brooklyn band: a perfect match. "Blue canary in the outlet by the light switch / Who watches over you / Make a little birdhouse in your soul" -- if it were any other rock band, I think this was a metaphor, but TMBG? It really IS about a bird nightlight.

10. "Never Been Done" / Ron Sexsmith
From Blue Boy (2001)
From blue canary to Blue Boy -- here's another plucky, bouncy bit of uplift from one of my favorite Canadian troubadors.  (Notice, Scott, I said "one of my favorites" -- there's still room for you).