Hey, have you ever heard of The Beatles? Those kids from England were pretty good. I was on a discussion board where someone expressed the opinion that The Beatles aren’t that great and he doesn’t even like their songs. I don’t usually engage in such discussions, especially since he was probably a troll. However, in that case I was moved to respond that I guessed he was a twenty-something who has no idea how every band he likes is standing on their shoulders. He didn’t respond but I got a chorus of agreement from other readers.
Of course, they were arguably the most influential pop act of the 20th century. They were great singers (except Ringo), gifted songwriters (except Ringo), talented players (INCLUDING Ringo), and strong personalities. John had a huge impact on popular culture, obviously, and Paul has been knighted. Today, I’m actually writing up an album by the quiet one, George Harrison.
George left behind a fantastic body of work both musical and charitable. I enjoyed the Traveling Wilburys and lots of his later work, but my favorite Harrison album remains 1970’s “All Things Must Pass.” This was the first album he released after the breakup of The Beatles and it is a treasure trove of wonderful songs. There might have only ever been 1 band where a songwriting genius like George Harrison couldn’t get songs onto a record. With the potent writing combination of Lennon/McCartney populating albums, George was often frustrated that there wasn’t room for some of his great work. When ‘Isn’t It a Pity’ didn’t make the cut, Harrison considered offering it to Frank Sinatra. Instead, it and other gems were released on this triple album.
“All Things Must Pass” was a breakout album by a recently frustrated musical genius in his prime. A lot of Harrison’s more famous Beatles songs were on the mellow side, but if you’re familiar with ‘I Me Mine,’ ‘I Want to Tell You,’ ‘Savoy Truffle,’ and ‘Taxman,’ you know Harrison rocked as well. He did plenty of both on this album. All the songs are good, but these are my favorites.
- I’d Have You Anytime – The album kicks off with this gorgeous love song. It still makes me sigh every time he lays down that lick. He doesn’t let up either, and plays fantastic accompaniment throughout.
- My Sweet Lord – This song is about the Hindu god Krishna and though he originally wrote it for Billy Preston, Harrison released it himself. Harrison was famously sued over similarities between this song and The Chiffon’s “He’s So Fine.” He was found to have “subconsciously copied” the song and was forced to surrender some royalties for that song and his entire album.
- Wah-Wah – Harrison said “Wah Wah” was Liverpool slang for a headache in his book I Me Mine. Probably. It was certainly written after he and Paul had a fight during the “Let It Be” sessions. In the song, he says “you made me such a big star,” and “I don’t need no wah-wah. And I know how sweet life can be if I keep myself free from the wah-wah.” Could be a headache from the business of music.
- All Things Must Pass – A little melancholy, a little hopeful, but very wise. This has always been an uplifting song for me.
- Let It Down – Do you know this song? If not, you’re welcome. This is one of the best songs you’ve never heard. The intro and chorus is as big as the guitar end of ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’ but the verses are beautiful. The whole thing is brilliantly constructed and I have never heard it on the radio.
- Apple Scruffs – This song is so much fun I put it on my daughter’s mix on my iPod. Sunny harmonica, a happy melody, and goofy lyrics make this a wonderful love song.
- I Dig Love – Ringo played on this album and his percussion makes this weird little groove really roll. Love this song.
If you’ve never heard this album, definitely pick it up. If you haven’t listened to it in a while, dust it off. It really has staying power.
I had heard good things about the debut album from The Magic Numbers. The band is two pairs of siblings (Romeo and Michele Stodart and Sean and Angela Gannon) all from England who apparently play friendly, sunny pop. I don’t usually go in for music that is described that way, but I kept reading that it was good so I decided to check it out.
The Magic Numbers debut album, “The Magic Numbers,” is indeed full of sunny, playful pop that is nearly cute. The thing is, the hooks are irresistible, the instrumental arrangements are interesting, and the vocals, while occasionally almost saccharin, are unlayered and give the album the feel of seeing a show in a small venue. It is undeniably good, though some of it is just too sweet for me. Still, I recommend you give at least these 4 a listen.
- Long Legs – Energetic percussion and girlish harmony vocals back this tale of a guy who as near as I can tell has two girls and doesn’t want to lose either of them. This sounds like a demo version or something. It’s not the album version, but it is studio and it is the whole song so I’m linking you to it.
- Love Me Like You – This has an old-fashioned pop feel to it, particularly with the backing vocals again. The guitar and bass both do good work on this track.
- Don’t Give Up the Fight – Still straight-ahead pop, but it’s a little more complicated than the first two. It’s an emotional little song about a girl who wants to keep trying to make a relationship work.
- Love’s a Game – This is my favorite song on this album. I think it’s because the catchy verses give way to dark and sad choruses. Even with the soulful guitar work it still sounds like a couples’ skate song.
Interestingly, their second album sounded a lot like this one but in June of 2010 they released “The Runaway,” which premiers the band’s “new sound.” They seem to have grown up a bit – at least from the few samples I heard. I’ve ordered the album and I’m certainly going to give it a spin. As usual, I’ll let you know.
Every now and then I dip back into my collection and pull out an old favorite, rather than write up something I’ve recently discovered. I started doing that today because I haven’t had a lot of time this week to listen to my new stuff. I was surprised to discover I have never written up a favorite from the late 1990s, “Villains” by Verve Pipe. You may remember ‘The Freshmen’ from this album. It was a wildly successful single and it’s pretty and evocative. I actually haven’t had this song on my iPod though I do have 5 others from “Villains.” I think radio kind of killed this song for me, but after hearing it again today, I think I’m going to put it back in rotation. Anyway, “Villains” hit #24 and went platinum after its release in 1996. I think it’s one of my favorite sophomore albums, certainly among bands that aren’t in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
The Verve Pipe came out of East Lansing Michigan. As I researched them, I kind of expected there to be a link to The Jellyfish or some of their alumni because Verve Pipe reminds me a little of the Jason Falkner/Roger Joseph Manning Jr./Jon Brion group of bands that produced ear-friendly power pop throughout the 1990s. There was no such link in terms of shared members or co-touring that I could find. Still, the sound is there. Pop music was still reeling from the body blows grunge threw at it and songs that might have been sunnier pop a few years earlier or later were tinged with slightly darker themes and heavy guitar.
“Villains” struck my ear just right. along with a lot of other people, obviously. If you never heard it, you should give these a listen. It was a strong album full of deep and catchy songs. If you remember it only vaguely, dig it out again. I still like hearing these come up in rotation.
- Drive You Mild – Some of these songs, like this one, are heavy post-grunge tracks. Donny Brown is positively bruising his drum kit on this track.
- Myself – The pace is halting and the percussion plods through it but the guitar work is cool and the vocals are edgy.
- Photograph – The keyboards, bass, and drums lay down a head bobbing groove and I’m not sure which I like more, the odd lyrics or their smooth delivery.
- Ominous Man – OK, so the title and subject are a little ham-fisted. The catchy guitar hook and the pretty vocal melody win me over.
- Penny Is Poison – This is one of the mellower tracks on the disc. It’s a beautiful, dark love song and I really like it.
I found today that The Verve Pipe got back together and released an album in 2009 called “A Family Album.” I was psyched. Then I discovered it’s… wait for it… a children’s album. I listened to the samples on Amazon. I’ll give them the nod. They’re certainly children’s songs and it ain’t Raffi. Some of them kind of rock. Then there’s stuff like this: “Why do you call it bacon? You ain’t bakin’ it. That French toast isn’t French and you ain’t toastin’ it. Why do you call it a milkshake? You ain’t shakin’ it.” I have to say I did not see that one coming.
My iPod reached back and spun me a little vintage Chris Isaak today and I decided to write him up. Isaak is an interesting fellow. He has released 14 albums, acted in many movies (including The Informers, Married to the Mob, and Silence of the Lambs), appeared in many TV shows (including Friends, Wiseguy, and Ed), and had two different shows of his own. I honestly can’t tell if he’s insanely good looking or not. I know he has great hair. Judging from the amount of acting he’s done, I think he must be. I’ve seen his show, too. It was engaging and funny. Anyway, he’s talented, funny, good-looking, rich… I hate him.
Kidding! I’m kidding. Well, maybe I hate him a little. However, that doesn’t keep me from liking his 1993 release, “San Francisco Days.” If you’re familiar with any of his music, there’s a good chance it’s either ‘Wicked Game’ (from “Heart Shaped World”), the video for which featured a smoking hot Helena Christensen, or ‘Baby Did a Bad, Bad Thing” (from “Forever Blue”), which Stanley Kubrick picked for inclusion in the Eyes Wide Shut soundtrack. Personally, I like “San Francisco Days” better than either of those albums.
Like his 50s greaser hair, Isaak’s music has a throwback feel to it. Mixed rockabilly and country guitar is scattered through songs of lust and breakups. His crooning generally sounds like he’s channeling Roy Orbison, though he sometimes descends into a throaty growl or a husky whisper. “San Francisco Days” was his first album in 4 years when it was released and he spent the time writing some good songs and updating his sound a little bit with some occasional rhythm machine and production effects. I remember the disc stayed in my player for several weeks when I got it and I still like to hear songs from the disc come up in rotation. Check out some winners and go get it if you don’t already have it.
- San Francisco Days – This track kicks off the disc and it’s a great, high-energy pop tune. I linked you to a live performance but it’s in a studio so they come very close to the album version.
- Round N’ Round – It’s too bad this whole song isn’t on YouTube because it’s great. The rhythm machine rears its head in this one while Isaak lays down a dirty guitar riff and moaning vocals.
- Can’t Do a Thing (To Stop Me) – This track is simply gorgeous. The clean guitar is so gentle and the backing vocals caress the chorus. The highlight of the song, though, is Isaak’s voice, which is as sweet and smooth as caramel.
- I Want Your Love – The guitar vamps a full on rockabilly groove while Isaak does his wailing-with-longing thing. I love the energy.
If you’re just dipping your toes in Isaak’s collection, his 2006 release, “The Best of Chris Isaak” is a rare best-of collection I would actually recommend.
I haven’t been sleeping. First off, I seem to have trouble actually going to bed. I putter around and I mean to get to bed, but I don’t actually lay down until it’s already pretty late. Then I often have trouble actually falling asleep. Last night I actually was sleeping and I had a dream that woke me.
I was on a hillside somewhere and noticed that I had sat down next to a little garter snake. Harmless little fellow. Well, then it pulled its head out from its coils and I noticed it was quite a larger snake than I had thought. Not a python or anything, but maybe a 5-footer of some kind. I scooted about 3 feet away from it figuring it wouldn’t be interested in me. It looked at me and then struck suddenly. I was so startled that I jumped and woke myself. It was 4:30 AM and I was wide-awake, heart pounding. I didn’t get back to sleep last night.
As I lay there contemplating the vague outlines of my dark room, it occurred to me that a sleep mix might be a good topic for today. This isn’t sleepy music, but all of the songs have sleep in the title (save one). Sleep has inspired some great music. I hope you enjoy them.
- Sleep – Crack the Sky
These guys were a classic 70s act that never quite broke through, but I was into them back in the day and they’re still great. A lot of their songs are tongue in cheek, but this alternately energetic and beautiful song is one of their more serious tracks.
- Sleeping Beauty – A Perfect Circle
Well, you’d never fall asleep with this one on but it’s fantastic. Guitarist Billy Howerdel wrote songs for Tool’s Maynard Keenan to sing and their album “Mer de Noms” is packed with winner after winner.
- Majik City / Sleep Logging – Glocca Morra
Glocca Morra’s vocalist spends a fair amount of time screaming on this album, but the melodies are pleasing and the arrangements are interesting. I like this two-parter.
- Can I Sleep in Your Arms? – Willie Nelson
I’m not a big country music guy, but Willie’s “Red Headed Stranger” is a masterpiece. Give a listen to this gorgeous track. Most of the album has this emotional, mellow feel.
- Sleeping Lessons – The Shins
This is apparently what I need. Kind of a cool fan-made video for this song of two distinct halves. I really like how the unusual melody Mercer sings plays with the repeating keyboard and guitar arpeggio.
- A Song for Sleeping – Stone Temple Pilots
This was the best song on “Shangri-La Dee Da.” My daughter just aked me to put it on her mix, too, for anyone still looking for more kid’s music. Incidentally, how many hundred times do you have to play this song on Guitar Hero to nail it like this?
- Sleepless – Soul Coughing
“I got the will do drive myself sleepless. Skeedunt. Stunt the runt, smoking Buddha blunt.” Where do the lyrics come from?
- Sleepwalk – Santo and Johnny
What a fabulous vintage instrumental, circa 1959. I can see the bobby soxers slow dancing with their letter-wearing boyfriends now.
- Go To Sleep (Little Man Being Erased) – Radiohead
Radiohead kind of lost with Amnesiac / Kid A but, man, they came roaring back on Hail to the Thief. These guys remain the best current band I have never seen live.
- A Pillow of Winds – Pink Floyd
Out of their entire impressive body of work, I believe this is the most beautiful song they ever wrote.
- Sleepyhead – Moke
These guys only put out a few albums before they broke up in 2001, but the one to pick up is “Superdrag,” which has this one.
- Sleep to Dream – Fiona Apple
Apple was only 19 when this was released so presumably she was even younger when she wrote it. It’s a remarkably mature song to come from such a young woman.
- Sleep on the Left Side – Cornershop
“When I Was Born for the Seventh Time” has a bunch of fascinating, irresistible songs like this one and, sadly, some weird stuff that is hard to listen to. This one always makes me happy when it comes up.
- Sleep Comes Down – The Psychedelic Furs
Not the typical sound you expect when you think about the Furs. It’s a cool track, though, that has aged really well.
Enjoy this with a Daylon’s Bedtime and get to bed. Have a great weekend.
I wrote up “Stereotype A” by Cibo Matto back in April. It was a great album that featured some cool beats and beautiful melodies. The band didn’t put out a lot of work together – just 2 albums and 2 EPs – so I started looking for work the artists put out after the band broke up. In addition to the prolific and well-connected Yuka Honda and the son-of-a-Beatle Sean Lennon, the band featured the talents of Miho Hatori. Hatori has done some interesting projects, like showing up as a character on an Xbox game and voicing the character Noodle on Gorillaz’ eponymous debut. She released her only solo album in 2005, an interesting project called “Ecdysis.”
“Ecdysis” is full of music that I almost want to call ambient or electronica, but the instruments are so often organic that it doesn’t fit. The percussion in particular features handclaps, bottles, and other natural sounds. The whole project reminds me a little of early Bjork, in that the arrangements are often sparse and the melodies are dreamy, but the singer’s voice is so beautiful, strange, and compelling the package works very well. There are several ballads on the album and a few up-tempo pieces, but the album hangs together well without any jarring transitions. If you liked Cibo Matto, you will not be disappointed by Hatori’s solo release. Listen to my favorites.
- A Song for Kids – Hatori sings this in Japanese which just makes it more appealing to me. We get vibes and some keyboards, but Hatori’s voice is the star.
- Barracuda – I wish I had found this video for my Halloween mix. It’s mostly dark and creepy, though it ends happily enough. The instrumentation is typically spare, but I love Hatori’s harmony vocals.
- Today Is Like That – This song is delicately constructed with what sounds like gentle accordion and percussion played on bottles and put lids. Despite the mix of instruments, Hatori’s voice makes this pensive track beautiful.
- River of 3 Crossings – Hatori’s voice is hypnotic as horns, piano, and vibes noodle occasionally behind plodding percussion. This one in particular reminds me of a Bjork tune.
Now if she would just get back into the studio and release a few more.
I picked up a disc called “Sharpen Your Teeth” by a band called Ugly Casanova a few weeks ago at the library. I liked it, but it sounded veeeery familiar. I couldn’t place it. On the Ugly Casanova website, there is a long and slightly too-quirky-to-be-true story of Edgar Graham, a.k.a. Ugly Casanova. Ostensibly, Graham was an odd character who impressed the band Modest Mouse. After hanging around with the band a bit while they were on tour, he began to share some of his own music and even performed some of it before a few shows, always disappearing after the impromptu performances with a look of anger and shame. He created a few recordings and then vanished. Members of Modest Mouse took up his music and have been performing it in the hopes that he would return someday. Well, that’s the story, anyway.
In fact, Ugly Casanova is a side project involving Isaac Brock and Dan Gallucci of Modest Mouse, Pall Jenkins and Brian Deck from Black Heart Procession Tim Rutili of Califone. Brock invented Edgar Graham perhaps to add interest to the project, perhaps to deflect attention away from himself in interviews. Whatever.
The music is interesting. It’s more stripped down than either Modest Mouse or Califone. There aren’t as many elements or as much polish as in these guys’ permanent projects, but there is plenty of interest. The melodies are appealing and the guys are adept at laying back to serve the song – or sometimes to lay down a canvas for another musician to paint. They keep things pretty organic, even to the point of sounding a little like Tom Waits from time to time. It won’t be for everyone and I didn’t like every song, but check out these 3 absolute winners.
- Parasites – There are horns that play a pretty steady riff and the percussion is patient and groove oriented. The guitar and various affects noodle around behind a brief description of what happens to your body when you die.
- Things I Don’t Remember – The percussion marches along with vamping guitar. The vocals are layered and interact but the real interest comes from the bizarre lyrics. “There was dressed up alligator. There was cum on the piano. Disco dancing neighbors who were born in mashed potatoes.” OK, then.
- So Long to the Holidays – This is the album’s closer, and as often happens, this one doesn’t sound like a lot of the rest of the album. It’s a little more electronic and there is a fuzzy white noise permeating the song. The wailing vocals sound like something from Animal Collective. It’s a beautiful piece.
Ugly Casanova put out “Sharpen Your Teeth” in 2002 and only released the follow-up this year, the soundtrack to 180° South: Conquerors of the Useless. Fortunately for me (and you perhaps), I didn’t discover these guys until their follow-up was out already so I don’t have to wait 8 years like people who liked it when it was new.
I can’t always immediately lay my hands on copies of discs I want to hear. Sometimes a friend recommends something at a party. Sometimes I’m not confident I’ll like something so I want to get it from the library if possible and that can take time. I keep a list in my phone of stuff that I have read about or that has been recommended. The name White Rabbits has been in my phone for months and months. I finally got around to finding an album by them and picking it up. The album is called “It’s Frightening” and I want to thank whoever it was who recommended it to me. You know who you are. I hope. I don’t remember, but thank you all the same.
White Rabbits is a six-piece out of Columbia, MO, though they operate out of Brooklyn, NY now. They are billed as an indie rock band, though they pull a lot of different influences. I hear some early Radiohead in their music, though producer Britt Daniel’s (of Spoon) fingerprints are all over the sound. What I really ask for in this genre is good playing and songs that don’t go right where I expect. White Rabbits deliver both of these. I ripped 6 of 10 tracks, which is a good ratio. Check them out.
- Percussion Gun – Cool percussion and harmony vocals make this a good opener.
- Rudie Fails – I love the vocal melody in this track. This song makes me think of The Beatles meets TV on the Radio.
- They Done Wrong / We Done Wrong – The percussion is built to fit around the cool piano and vocal work.
- Company I Keep – This acoustic groove sounds familiar, but I’m not sure if I’ve actually heard it somewhere or if it reminds me of something I’ve heard. Either way, I like it.
- The Salesman (Tramp Life) – This is another surprising vocal melody and the harmony work is good too.
- The Lady Vanishes – The odd chord progression keeps this from being a standard indie rock song, but ultimately it’s unusual enough to keep my interest,
This was their sophomore effort, which is often a weak one. I’ll have to go back and check out their debut, “Fort Nightly.”
Someone organized a blogging event today called “Love Beats Hate.” I’m down. I wanted to blog about love today. Romantic love, brotherly love, family love. There is a lot of hate and fear in the world but though hate can win some devastating advances, I truly believe love triumphs.
I usually do a mix on Fridays, but in participation with this great event, here is a collection of songs about love and peace. I hope you enjoy them, but more than that I hope you are inspired to make more room in your heart for love, respect, tolerance, and peace.
- Love’s in Need of Love Today – Stevie Wonder
Stevie is a spiritual and peace-minded musical genius who just wants to increase the peace. “Hate’s going round breaking every heart. Stop it, please, before it’s gone too far.”
- Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth) – George Harrison
And speaking of peace-minded musical geniuses…
- Better Way – Ben Harper
Harper is a modern preacher of peace and love. He feels it, he believes it, and he makes you believe it too with this beautiful song.
- Any Love – Massive Attack
Good old Massive Attack leaves behind the dark and ominous vibes they often lay on us for this upbeat pop song. “Any love that you feel is for real.”
- Peace – Los Lobos
I am the biggest Los Lobos fan I know. This is from a kind of breakthrough album for them, “Kiko.” David Hidalgo is a great songwriter and he penned a great song here about bringing peace to the world through love.
- Border Song – Elton John
Eric Clapton does a pretty cool, rollicking cover of this song, but John’s original version is gorgeous and more moving.
- Love in a Trashcan – The Ravonettes
So this one is here mainly because it’s a great song. My point, though, is that the worst love you can think of is better than any hate at all.
- Message of Love – The Pretenders
Chrissy Hynde lays it out for us. “And the reason we’re here as man and woman is to love each other, take care of each other.” Can I get an “amen?’”
- P.S. You Rock My World – Eels
This is a beautiful love song all about living in the moment and living for love and if someone wrote this for you or even if they just dedicated it to you it’s a good, good thing.
- Funny How Love Is – Queen
Some seriously vintage Queen, from their second album in 1974. Freddy sounds like he’s 12, but the harmony vocals and May’s buzzing Red Special are there. Listen to Deacon’s work on bass as well. It’s a little saccharin, but God help me, I like this song.
- Give Me Every Love You Got – Gravity Wave
This is kind of oozy and a little strange, but I like the vibe and I love the lyrics. “Give me one of every love you got. Have you got the one with youthful courage, blowing off tomorrow’s test?”
- I’m Always in Love – Wilco
Wilco has put out some amazing, deep, and textured albums, but I think my favorite remains the sunny “Summerteeth.” Here’s a typical uplifting pop song from the album.
- Crazy Love – Van Morrison
When Van fell in love, he got it bad. This is as sweet and gentle a love song as you could ever ask for.
- Love Is Best – World Party
This seems to be a sad and pretty song of loss, a cautionary tale by a man who has realized that love is the most important thing.
I didn’t put any John Lennon on here, but you could have picked any one of a half dozen songs. If there was ever a musician more dedicated to increasing love in the world, I don’t know who it would be. Anyway, enjoy this mix with a glass of milk and some cookies for dunking, because I love that.