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Song Of The Week

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Call It What You Want by Taylor Swift

Posted on 2017-11-19 08:00

Belated song for last week--  this one has scored more plays for me so far than anything else on her new album, "Reputation". Midtempo, intimate, beguiling. Shows off her knack for: telling universalist tales with sparkles of diaristic detail. And: enough wordplay to compel, but her undemanding metaphors are easily digested. I'll call that a skill, you can call it what you want.

(My personal runner-up on the album is another Jack Antonoff collaboration, "Getaway Car", in his signature driving pop mode, also worthy of your time.)

"All the drama queens taking swings
All the jokers dressing up as kings"


Here's Where The Story Ends by The Sundays

Posted on 2017-11-08 08:00

Jangly British alt-rock from the cusp of the 1990s. From The Sundays' debut album "Reading, Writing & Arithmetic". (With "Reading" pronounced redding, as in the town in England where they hailed from.)

"Oh I never should have said
The books that you read
Were all I loved you for."


Holiday Rap by MC Miker G & DJ Sven

Posted on 2017-10-31 07:00

Not far into the lengthy itself-a-kind-of-meta-joke "oral history" of last year's David S Pumpkins Halloween sketch on Saturday Night Live is a surprising bit of trivia: the blooping tune the skeletons dance to is an homage/ripoff of the breakdown bridge in this 1986 European hit single, "Holiday Rap".

I remember the song from high school. When my family first moved to Geneva in the early 90s, a British neighbor a couple years older gave me an old mix tape with a bunch of unfamiliar songs (what played big on Swiss radio was really different than in Massachusetts). This track was on it, a sort of juvenile parody rap about school vacation, by a couple Dutch guys over (essentially) samples of Madonna's "Holiday". It's pretty terrible, but I liked it when I was 14, I haven't heard it in a long time, and it's still kind of dumb and fun. The part that SNL reinterpreted starts at 3 mins in. Happy halloween-- any questions???

"I can understand things most rappers say
Cause rappin' is my thing and I do it every day"


Dear To Me by Electric Guest

Posted on 2017-10-25 07:00

Indie-electro-soul-pop (?) out of LA. Worth noting that the frontman is the kid brother of one of the Lonely Island guys, and looks just like him in the video for this tune (a few other familiar faces in there, too). Thanks to Greg for the recommendation. From this year's "Plural". 

"Always underwater
When the day runs out"


Second Hand News by Fleetwood Mac

Posted on 2017-10-19 07:00

Lead track from "Rumours" (1977) and I think one of their most fun. It's among the many (many) songs by and about Buckingham and Nicks-- Pitchfork called it "perhaps the most euphoric ode to rebound chicks ever written." 

"Won't you lay me down in the tall grass 
And let me do my stuff?"


Viva La Sauna Svedese by Piero Umiliani

Posted on 2017-10-14 07:00

How did a scrap of cast-off soundtrack from an Italian sexploitation documentary turn into something that you'll recognize instantly from your childhood? Funny story. 

Piero Umiliani was an unbelievably prolific Florentine composer in the 1960s and 70s, putting out and appearing on literally hundreds of records under his own name and dozens more credited to pseudonyms. He wrote mostly "background music" -- instrumental compositions used in TV, film, and advertising -- and worked in many genres but produced a lot of what today you'd think of as jazzy, cool, loungey easy-listening stuff. The records of this material are referred to as "library music" records, they're musically excellent, and super fun. Frequently he was also hired to score particular films, which included doing the music for many (s)exploitation genre movies of the era. 

One such film, "Svezia, inferno e paradiso" (aka "Sweden: Heaven and Hell") from 1968 appears to be mainly concerned with the sex lives of Swedish women. In it, there's a scene showing women in a sauna and Umiliani wrote a throwaway ditty to match, calling it "Viva the Swedish sauna". Long story short, the later American soundtrack release for the movie included it as a phonetically-renamed track and promoted it as a single. Jim Henson heard it, and turned it into the Muppets bit you'll recognize as "Mahnamahna". 

Funnily enough, the tune had been such an afterthought that it was not included on the movie's Italian soundtrack record. Its very first appearance was on a 1968 record of collected Umiliani odds and ends, "Psichedelica," pressed in limited quantities for his friends and associates.


Dead Man Walking by Sean Nelson & The Coastal Elite

Posted on 2017-10-05 07:00

Cover of the late-period David Bowie gem. I knew the original from the better-than-its-movie soundtrack to The Saint-- so this was probably, weirdly, the first Bowie song that I could name as being his. Here's a pretty faithful (sans the electronics) version by Seattle polymath Sean Nelson with some friends; we've heard from Nelson in several other forms on this list over the years.

"And I'm gone, like I'm dancing on angels
And I'm gone, through a crack in the past"


Hide And Seek by the Harvard Opportunes

Posted on 2017-09-30 07:00

Impressive a cappella arrangement of Imogen Heap's 2005 indie haunt. The trick here is that Heap's original used a vocoder to auto-tune and auto-harmonize her solo voice-- these singers collectively recreate the absurdly intricate sonics without electronic assistance. The result feels more potent; an unusually good use of the form. From 2008's "Off The Page". 

"Ransom notes keep falling out your mouth
Mid-sweet talk; newspaper word cut-outs"


Bike Dream by Rostam

Posted on 2017-09-24 07:00

Lead single from Rostam Batmanglij's first solo album since officially departing Vampire Weekend last year. Swirly and punchy. Its evolution and story are covered on the Song Exploder podcast. Album is "Half-Light", just out.

"On 14th Street I feel my head between my knees
And orange swimming through the trees"


Break My Stride by Matthew Wilder

Posted on 2017-09-15 07:00

This song was everywhere when I was a kid but I think it must have fallen off a cultural cliff-- I'd forgotten it until Emily suggested a re-listen. I remembered the vivid first verse where he describes an absurdist dream. Now I read the whole lyric and can't figure out if the rest of the story is supposed to be part of that dream-- first she leaves him, then it turns in a weirdly dark bridge, and he recovers. What happened to you, Matthew Wilder? From 1983's "I Don't Speak The Language".

"You said you had to get your laundry clean
Didn't want no one to hold you, what does that mean?"


Sausalito Summernight by Diesel

Posted on 2017-09-08 07:00

Last week's record-breaking temperatures in northern California have cooled, but the hot season probably isn't over yet. Here's a 1980 power-pop ode to the Bay by Dutch band Diesel. From their debut "Watts In A Tank", also recommended.

"Another mile or two to Frisco,
Two hundred gallons from LA"


Just Can't Get Enough by Sheer Mag

Posted on 2017-08-31 07:00

Young practitioners of old-school rock, out of Philly. From their new debut full-length, "Need To Feel Your Love", all of which is great if you like the sound.

"When I blink my eyes it’s written there in the stars--
In grocery aisles, in the shade of a smoky bar"


Hard Rock Hallelujah by Lordi

Posted on 2017-08-25 07:00

Bonkers Finnish project bends parody back around to sincerity. Screaming guitars and ridiculous costumes hide a chorus that soars and a funky bridge you can dance to. They won the Eurovision song contest with this in 2006-- it's an ode to, well, what else? From "The Arockalypse".

"On the day of Rockening
It's who dares, wins"


Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard by Lorde w/Jack Antonoff

Posted on 2017-08-17 07:00

Live audience recording from Outside Lands festival in SF this past week--  just a fun throwaway Paul Simon cover they did sitting on the edge of the stage. Neat to hear Lorde's ethereal take on a classic. 

"Goodbye to Rosie, the queen of Corona"


Make It Big by The Beach Boys

Posted on 2017-08-09 07:00

I don't know. It's Kokomo-era Beach Boys, and this song was written (and not by Brian W) for the Troop Beverly Hills soundtrack. I guess I always kind of liked it. From 1989's critically-maligned "Still Cruisin'" collection. 

"Baby welcome to the neighborhood"


2+2=? by The Bob Seger System

Posted on 2017-07-19 07:00

Raucous Vietnam war protest song from really early Seger. Jack White (of the Stripes) said at one point that this was his favorite song-- and once you're listening for it, the connection with Seven Nation Army is striking. Off of 1969's "Ramblin' Gamblin' Man".

"I'm no prophet, I'm no rebel,
I'm just asking you why"


Strange Overtones by Poolside

Posted on 2017-07-12 07:00

Summertime cover of the great tune by Eno & Byrne. The original appeared on this list way back, and vibe aside it's a faithful version. Poolside are the guys who did a surprising Neil Young interpretation a few years ago. This is off their brand new sophomore album "Heat".

"This groove is out of fashion
These beats are twenty years old"


La Cabane du Pêcheur by Francis Cabrel

Posted on 2017-06-24 07:00

When I was learning French in high school, this song was all over the Geneva radio-- Cabrel was a popular French singer-songwriter. Before lyrics websites and Google Translate existed, I liked this one because the words were slow and simple enough that as I got better at French, I could decode more of the story. Nice tune, too. From 1994's "Samedi Soir Sur La Terre". 

"Va faire un petit tour, respire le grand air
Après, je te parlerai de l'amour 
Si je me souviens un peu" 


While My Guitar Gently Weeps by Jake Shimabukuro

Posted on 2017-06-07 07:00

Undisputed virtuoso shreds on the ukulele. Watch him do it live here. Thanks to Brian for the recommendation.  

---

SOTW update: I've archived the full history of these emails on a little site here -- embarrassing choices, dumb opinions, bad music theory and all. Maybe you'll find something good in there. It's not a public site-- please keep it in the family, thanks.


Sugar, Sugar by Ike & Tina Turner

Posted on 2017-05-26 07:00

Summertime cover of the Archies classic. Tina's lyrical gender swap transforms allusion into entendre, and entendre into dirty talk. (Can't find the source for this, but it's end of the 60s, or early 70s.)


Fineline by Ned Doheny

Posted on 2017-05-17 07:00

Sunny 1970s yacht rock (alternatively, "marina pop"). Doheny flitted around the Laurel Canyon scene but never hit any real success, unlike fellow-travelers Jackson Browne and the guys from the Eagles, who appeared on his records. 

This is the lead track off of his self-titled 1973 debut. Rolling Stone said it was "a sort of Southern California Astral Weeks". He's a skilled musician with good tunes and he probably deserved a wider audience than the record label's marketing got him.

"This old rock & roll
Break your heart, or make you whole"


Ol' Shoshone by Chris Remo

Posted on 2017-05-13 07:00

A little neat guitar tune about running away to the woods, from the soundtrack to recentish game Firewatch. Song composed and performed by Chris Remo. The clever album cover for the soundtrack was designed by Olly Moss. 

"And if you're wondering where's my ass been,
It's been cavorting amongst the aspens"


Poor House by the Traveling Wilburys

Posted on 2017-05-05 07:00

The Wilburys were an unlikely late-80s supergroup comprised of George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison and Jeff Lynne. They put out a couple fun albums before walking away from the project. The first had a couple legitimate hits (you'd recognize 'em if you heard 'em). This track is off the lower-key followup, 1990's inaccurately named "Vol. 3". Orbison had died shortly after the first record, so they're down to four on the straightforward country rocker.

"Serving me with papers,
Calling me obscene"


I Love The Sound Of Breaking Glass by Nick Lowe

Posted on 2017-04-26 07:00

Fun UK new wave power pop. Off of Nick Lowe's solo debut "Jesus Of Cool", from March 1978.

"I need the noises of destruction
When there's nothing new"


Shake Some Action by the Flamin' Groovies

Posted on 2017-04-19 07:00

I long knew this tune in a cover version on the Clueless soundtrack in the 90s (you might have too if you're my age). Here's the original from 1976, off the Flamin' Groovies album of the same name.

"And I won't come back this way again.
'Cause I don't need a friend."


Whiteout Conditions by The New Pornographers

Posted on 2017-04-12 07:00

A legit banger that inhabits a narrow well of melancholy. This song gives me goosebumps. From their just-out album of the same name-- the best in a few years, I think, from the long-running (mostly) Canadian indie super group.

"The sky will come for you once"


Don't Take The Money by Bleachers

Posted on 2017-04-04 07:00

Someone crossed (young) Paul Simon with (young) Woody Allen and ended up with America's Max Martin. Unlike the Swedish writer/producer, triple-threat Jack Antonoff is also a performer-- here as Bleachers, but also in Fun, Steel Train, and on tracks he cowrites for others. This latest one is apparently about his girlfriend (Lena Dunham).

"You steal the air out of my lungs"


Remind Me by Röyksopp

Posted on 2017-02-19 08:00

Röyksopp's debut "Melody A.M." from 2001 has always been a desert-island-shortlist favorite-- it's a Norwegian downbeat electronica album, or something, and it's tuneful and has a unique soundscape to it. This is the track that led me to that album, but I got to it via the video, which is a fantastic animated narrative that sort of treks through a set of textbook infographics. Check it out.

(The album version of this track is actually quite different, so all the stuff I said above about tuneful and unique soundscape apply somewhat less here. I've never found the exact mix that matches the video, but the attached one is really close.)

"Brave men tell the truth
The wise man's tools are analogies and puzzles"


Gimme Shelter by the Rolling Stones

Posted on 2017-01-30 08:00

An all-time favorite. From 1969's "Let It Bleed", with Merry Clayton duet vocal.

--

Oh, a storm is threat'ning my very life today
If I don't get some shelter, Oh yeah, I'm gonna fade away
War, children, it's just a shot away, It's just a shot away
War, children, it's just a shot away, It's just a shot away

Ooh, see the fire is sweepin' Our very street today
Burns like a red coal carpet, Mad bull lost your way
War, children, it's just a shot away, It's just a shot away
War, children, it's just a shot away, It's just a shot away

Rape, murder! It's just a shot away It's just a shot away
Rape, murder! It's just a shot away It's just a shot away
Rape, murder! It's just a shot away It's just a shot away

The floods is threat'ning my very life today
Gimme, gimme shelter
Or I'm gonna fade away
War, children, it's just a shot away, It's just a shot away
It's just a shot away
It's just a shot away
It's just a shot away
I tell you love, sister, it's just a kiss away
It's just a kiss away
It's just a kiss away
It's just a kiss away
It's just a kiss away
Kiss away, kiss away


Touch of Grey by the Grateful Dead

Posted on 2017-01-09 08:00

(P)optimism in the face of pessimism. The only top-40 single the Dead ever had, from 1987's "In The Dark".

"Oh well, a touch of grey kind of suits you anyway."


In The Hall Of The Mountain King by Edvard Grieg

Posted on 2016-12-30 08:00

We are closing out this Orwellian annus-frequently-horribilis with a classic symphonic piece you'll recognize from the pop culture. It's short, it's frenetic, and it feels right-on for wrapping up 2016. Play it loud. From Grieg's score to Ibsen's 1876 play Peer Gynt (this recording by London Philharmonic). Thanks to Brendan for helping me identify the maddening tune.

This is the 300th song of the week (!). Thank you for tuning in, and happy new year.


Merry Christmas, Anyway by Love Hotel

Posted on 2016-12-21 08:00

Garage rock, with sleighbells. Love Hotel was a favorite short-lived band in Seattle in the early aughts. This is the title track from a whole album of catchy little holiday tunes that are by turns arch, ardent, and lonely.

The "Merry Christmas Anyway" set of songs was such a one-off that it is criminally unavailable anywhere on the internet for either love or money; unless you bought a CD at a show or know someone who did, its very existence seems a fable. I snared a handful of ancient crappy MP3s from somewhere a decade ago and the songs were so endearing that most every December I've gone out in search of a better and complete set, never with success. This year I stepped it up and tracked down the erstwhile singer of the band on Facebook. To my happy surprise, she responded by attaching seven audio files to an email with the words: "Since we are in the midst of the holiday I want to get these to you STAT! Christmas Emergency!"

And so here's one of them-- Don't miss the Bach minuet repurposed as a guitar bridge. Love Hotel's only properly-produced release was an excellent EP which did eventually migrate to Bandcamp, and you can check that out here. Happy holidays everyone!

"I can wave goodbye, but I can't shut the gate.
Merry Christmas, anyway."


Conscious Club by Vulfpeck

Posted on 2016-12-16 08:00

From their new album "The Beautiful Game". Unpredictable party funk with their signature narrative conversational snippets. These guys are super tight musicians making wildly sui generis recordings. The whole album is great if you dig this track.

"Relax your face and say the password
Ich bin Dart"


Gold by Kiiara

Posted on 2016-12-10 08:00

I know this isn't news and you've all heard it a million times, but in case you haven't been listening to the radio or been spending time in the club... From her EP "Low Kii Savage". I'm fascinated by the chopped up chorus vocal, and can't figure out how you can perform this live without sort of undermining the point of it. A neat trick.

"I could leave the party without ever letting you know"


Fool 4 You by Mr Little Jeans

Posted on 2016-12-02 08:00

Synthy-indie-pop from a Norwegian expat in LA. Feels a lot like recent Tegan & Sara. The song's a little uneven but the "so I can breathe" punch in the choruses is 💯 and it soars at the end. From this year's "FEVERS" EP.

"It sinks in like honey
A fiction just for me"


Miami 2017 (Seen The Lights Go Out On Broadway) by Billy Joel

Posted on 2016-11-26 08:00

This song has come back to me a few times over the last weeks. I loved it in high school, learned the piano bit and never forgot it. A dystopian rocker about the destruction of New York City, written by a young man in the mid 1970s, but titled with a kind of prophetic year, and well, here we are, aren't we? He never says who the "they" are. Original version can be found on 1976's "Turnstiles" but this is the definitive (live) recording-- from Madison Square Garden in 1980, off "Songs In The Attic"

"We held a concert out in Brooklyn
To watch the island bridges blow
They turned our power down
And drove us underground
But we went right on with the show"


Rockin' In The Free World by Neil Young

Posted on 2016-11-08 08:00

Happy Election Day! The first song of the week email was eight years ago this week (!). This track from 1989's "Freedom" is an arch protest song with a complex message but I've had complex feelings about this torturous election cycle, so I'm going with it.

Play loud. 🎸 Go vote, America. ✅🇺🇸


Call Me Sometime by Becky Warren

Posted on 2016-11-01 07:00

Indie Nashville. You've heard her voice before on this list fronting the Great Unknowns. This is from her solo "War Surplus", out last month.

"If you think a good lost cause is exactly what you need..."


Honeycomb by Kadhja Bonet

Posted on 2016-10-25 07:00

Psychedelic blues chanteuse from L.A. This song off her debut album "The Visitor", out this week.


So Lonely by The Police

Posted on 2016-10-19 07:00

Live in 1979-- frenetic take with an extended jam that's less an exercise in virtuosity than it is gratification management.

Sting says: "I mean let's be honest here, 'So Lonely' was unabashedly culled from 'No Woman No Cry' by Bob Marley. Same chorus. What we invented was this thing of going back and forth between thrash punk and reggae."

"In this theater that I call my soul, I always play the starring role."


Worn Me Down by Rachael Yamagata

Posted on 2016-10-05 07:00

From 2003's "EP".

"She's so pretty, she's so damn right"


Love The Way You Lie by Skylar Grey

Posted on 2016-09-28 07:00

Rihanna's hook in the Eminem track by this name is so strong and so iconic that it feels to me like it's existed forever. Writing credit belongs to songwriter Skylar Grey and producer Alex da Kid. Grey wrote an entire song on the theme of an abusive relationship around that hook/chorus in 2009.

Here's Skylar Grey's original demo, all bare piano and voice like fuzzy honey. This is a complete work that fulfills the promise I always heard in the Rihanna vocal. (Thanks to Amy for letting me know about the existence of this.)

"But you'll always be my hero,
Even though you've lost your mind"


Not Enough by Xylos

Posted on 2016-09-21 07:00

A fun summery tune for the last day of summer. From Xylos' 2011 self titled.

"Tomorrow, I've got no plans,
it's just a one-night stand,
so let's go, go, go..."


Life Is Beautiful by Tim McMorris

Posted on 2016-09-02 07:00

Today I present a bit of a conundrum. This song walks like a pop song, talks like a pop song, but it was created by songwriter Tim McMorris primarily for licensing purposes-- in other words, specifically to be used as the soundtrack to other things. (I know it because the place I used to work used it in a marketing video for the app I used to make.) It is catchy a.f., a fully-crafted work.

We're supposed to look down on deliberately commercial work as something less than art. But it's hard to listen to this song and not be confused by that alleged line in the sand. It pays off like a pop tune, and although it is breezy and inconsequential, it's no more so than your standard-issue Jason Mraz hit. Mraz is in it for the girls, not the licensing fees-- does intent follow the bullet?

"A colorful life, a work of art, a brand-new day, a brand-new start"


Royals by Postmodern Jukebox ft Puddles

Posted on 2016-08-19 07:00

I'll confess to being super late to Lorde's achievements from 2013 but really liking the songs. Here's a surprising, successful cover of "Royals" that I also am late to, but really like. Postmodern Jukebox is a twee outfit that mostly irritates me by deploying virtuoso musicianship in service of wrecking contemporary songs, recasting them as big-band-era novelties. But they hit a sweet spot with this one, largely because of the guest vocalist: a weird super tall dude who dresses as a clown, calls himself Puddles, and has a remarkable voice. His interpretation here has some oompf to it-- doesn't feel like a genre exercise. The piano part through the prechorus complements, too. I don't usually put video links in this mailing, but in this case the video is probably the best way to experience the thing. The song is off PM Jukebox's 2014 album "Twist Is The New Twerk" (ughhhhhh). Hat tip to Amy for the recommendation.

"We don't care, we're driving Cadillacs in our dreams"


Starlight by The Elevator Drops

Posted on 2016-08-09 07:00

That particular kind of earnest indie anthem that tiptoes in but surges louder and louder, as if more drums and bigger vocals will convince the shy girl that his heart is big enough for not just his pain, but hers too. Death Cab and others are better at this move, but this one's an earworm. From 1997's obscure "People Mover" by obscure Boston group The Elevator Drops.

"Mystery impersonation's a working man's blow" (??)


Let The River Run by Carly Simon

Posted on 2016-07-26 07:00

I'd entirely forgotten about this song until it got dislodged from the recesses of my childhood memories last week. Carly Simon was part of the cohort of east-coast-aristocracy folk that came up in the 70s and 80s-- a sort of Martha's Vineyard version of the parallel Laurel Canyon sound-- along with James Taylor, who she was incidentally married to for a bit. She's unrelated to folkster Paul Simon, but is the daughter of the first half of Simon & Schuster (publishing). She was also kind of a babe.

She's best known for 1972's "You're So Vain", about which rock critic Robert Christgau praised: "If a horse could sing in a monotone, the horse would sound like Carly Simon, only a horse wouldn't rhyme "yacht," "apricot," and "gavotte." Is that some kind of joke?"

I find this song more beguiling than it should probably: syncopated percussion, the double-time section in the dead middle, the soaring 80s multistage chorus. From the soundtrack to the 1988 film Working Girl. She won a Grammy, an Oscar, and a Golden Globe for it. (Shortly after it came out, the Stanley School 6th grade class performed it for their parents at 6th grade graduation in Swampscott, Massachusetts.)

"It's asking for the taking."


Heroes by Hey Marseille

Posted on 2016-06-29 07:00

Seattle's Hey Marseilles takes Bowie's shambling anthem and squares it up into a punchy indie one. (No Ben Gibbards or Bonos were harmed in this cover version.) From their recent self-titled.

"And the guns shot above our heads
And we kissed as though nothing could fall"


Your Best American Girl by Mitski

Posted on 2016-06-24 07:00

Mitski is getting a bit of positive coverage as she rises to some prominence in the indie rock world on the strength of her latest album. This is the lead single from "Puberty 2". I've been struggling to pin down what else this sounds like to me, but anyway I like it lot-- tuneful and her voice is compelling (and there's no shortage of thematic stuff to wade into in the album if you're interested).

"But big spoon, you have so much to do
And I have nothing ahead of me."


Twisted Nerve (Pop Theme) by Bernard Herrmann

Posted on 2016-06-02 07:00

You'll recognize the little whistling motif from its creepier original form, repopularized by the Kill Bill soundtrack. Tarantino resurrected that tune out of the 1968 thriller movie Twisted Nerve, scored by Bernard Herrmann. Herrmann composed for lots of well-known films including a handful of Hitchcock's most famous soundtracks. His final score was for Scorsese's Taxi Driver, and he'd just finished it when he died in 1975.

Anyway, Herrmann's Twisted Nerve theme was turned into little (never used) pop and jazz versions intended to promote the film way back. This is the short & sweet pop version conducted by Howard Blake.


Saviour Child by Sophie B Hawkins

Posted on 2016-05-12 07:00

Sophie Hawkins was probably better and more interesting than critics and listeners gave her credit for. Her 1992 debut album "Tongues And Tails" has remained one that I keep coming back to, decades (!) later. She was already in her late 20s when it was released, and it's an eclectic reflection of prior work in jazz, rock, and other domains. The lead track "Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover" was a quirky kind of hit but Hawkins mostly disappeared after that. Too bad. Half of the rest of that album was at least as strong-- tuneful, rhythmic, sexy, searching-- and the other bits were merely good, including a vulnerable reworking of Bob Dylan's "I Want You". She did a couple more for Columbia yielding one more widely-heard single and then vanished to start-your-own-label twilight. (She's still making music but seems to be playing mostly little clubs these days.)

This is the track I return to most often. She's a strong melodist, and this has moments both anthemic and intimate. I like the New York found street sounds that add texture to the production (as they do on much of this album).

"There won't be an answer for a long, long while."


Summer Elaine and Drunk Dori by Weezer

Posted on 2016-05-02 07:00

Weezer's fourth self-titled "color" album came out last month, this time it's their White Album, and this is my favorite tune from it-- one of the catchiest of theirs I've stumbled across since the green album fifteen years ago.

The construction of this song is chronicled, in absolutely riveting detail, by frontman/writer Rivers Cuomo on a recent episode of Song Exploder. It harvested from multiple spreadsheets tracking lyric snippets, and a rather brazen description of how he lifts chord progressions from other songs he likes on Spotify, but takes blind-study steps to prevent himself from stealing too much. It's completely bloodless, and the resulting lyric is total nonsense. So is it a great song? Maybe it can't be. It does employ an unorthodox key shift between verse and chorus that gives it a little extra hook.

Robert Christgau, my favorite of all rock critics, wrote this about Weezer in a short review of their 2002 album:

They're annoying because Rivers Cuomo is the punk Tom Scholz--a solitary genius in love with big and precise. In Boston's arena-rock, this made sense even though it was annoying. In Weezer's arena-punk (slightly more arena on this outing, and less annoying as a result), it totally misses the point, which from the Ramones to the Libertines has been to achieve concision and economy while just barely remaining erect. Onstage, that is. How Cuomo has comported himself in other areas of endeavor I haven't a clue.

This song, and the story of its creation, reinforce exactly Christgau's problem with Cuomo. (And the comparison to Boston and Scholz is super interesting-- both guys also have fancy college pedigrees unusual in rock stars.) But the result makes me want to turn it up, so no matter how write-by-numbers and retrograde this track is, I still dig it.

"Oh, she swam away
And flexed her mermaid tail
She was out too deep
When lightning struck the bay"


If We Don't by 94 East

Posted on 2016-04-24 07:00

There's only so much re-listening to Prince's 1980s output that can be done this week. So let's memorialize him by pushing a bit farther back, to when the purple one was just a kid in Minneapolis. As a gifted teenaged guitarist, he was in demand as a session musician and played with lots of people in the small Minneapolis R&B and funk scene. A group he was a regular in was 94 East, formed and fronted by a guy called Pepé Willie. Not a lot of recorded work exists, but this song is from a set of early demos ("The Cookhouse 5") found and issued not long ago from tapes made in 1975. Here's the lead track. Prince is playing guitar and is credited as "Prince Rogers Nelson". He was 16 at the time.

(If you haven't yet got your fill of Prince-as-Prince, I highly recommend the videos of the first public performance of Purple Rain, from which the album version was sourced, and his total dominance of the 2004 Rock n Roll Hall Of Fame performance of While My Guitar Gently Weeps. Recommended readings include Questlove's story of being invited roller skating with Prince, and Jody Rosen's piece this week on his musical competitiveness, )


Two Gunslingers by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers

Posted on 2016-03-23 07:00

This week I keep getting drawn back to this little allegory song from 1991's (!) "Into The Great Wide Open".

"And a stranger told his Mrs.
That's the last one of these gunfights
You're ever gonna drag me to"


Otis In The Dark by Otis Spann

Posted on 2016-02-16 08:00

Chicago blues from one of the great pianists, off of 1960's "Otis Spann Is The Blues"


Other Side Of You by Sam Means

Posted on 2016-02-09 08:00

Sam Means stayed in Phoenix when Nate Ruess packed up and left indie band The Format to seek fame as the frontman of Fun. Ruess flourished in the new gig, but we haven't heard much from the other half of The Format. He's just put out a debut solo album, "10 Songs", of low-key tunes. I don't find him as consistent or appealing without Ruess onboard, but the pop instincts are sharp and this track is a standout.

"Don't pretend to open up the pages of my destiny"


David Duchovny (The Reboot) by Bree Sharp

Posted on 2016-01-27 08:00

The X-Files is back on the air as of this past weekend, a couple decades after its two leads were crush objects everywhere. Embracing the moment, indie songstrix Bree Sharp has sweetly re-booted her super-catchy 1999 love letter "David Duchovny (Why Won't You Love Me)". If you don't know it, be sure to watch the original music video through, now a fun 90s pop culture time capsule.

"David Duchovny, I want you to love me,
To kiss and to hug me, de-brief and de-bug me"


Genghis Khan by Miike Snow

Posted on 2016-01-19 08:00

New indie dance jam out of Sweden. Enjoy the song but more importantly, very definitely watch the video. From the forthcoming album "iii".

"I wanna make up my mind
But I don't know myself"


Starman by Seu Jorge

Posted on 2016-01-14 08:00

Are you over all the David Bowie veneration this week? Cool, here's a classic David Bowie song. But it's an acoustic cover/reinterpretation in Portuguese by Seu Jorge, the Brazilian musician-- he was cast in the 2004 movie The Life Aquatic and his performance involved doing several Bowie tunes like this. They were so delightful that there's a whole companion soundtrack album of them called "The Life Aquatic Studio Sessions", which I heartily recommend if you like this sort of thing.


Back In The USSR x 100 by The Beatles/Rutherford Chang

Posted on 2016-01-07 08:00

A clever and lovely and weird art project by a guy who collects original vinyl copies of the Beatles' 1968 "White Album" in any condition he can get them. In addition to a gallery show in New York a few years back where he set up a faux record store installation just to display his hundreds of copies, he has also created this crazy hybrid by overlaying the audio playback of 100 different copies of the record, scratches, glitches, worn-groove-time-dilation and all.

Back In The USSR (attached here) is the first song on the first side, so it starts (and proceeds) mostly coherently, but by the end you can feel it starting to fuzz out of sync with itself. If you listen to the whole side here, you'll find that very quickly the slipped synchronization begets a ghostly wash punctuated by familiar echoes.

"Let me hear your balalaikas ringing outttttttttt
Come and keep your comrade warmmmmmmmmm"


Andrew In Drag by The Magnetic Fields

Posted on 2015-12-31 08:00

In best Magnetic Fields tradition, it's short, punchy and quirky. It's also a "monorhyme" as I learned from the Song Exploder podcast episode in which songwriter/frontman Stephin Merritt details the song's forgotten creation and complex construction. From 2012's "Love At The Bottom Of The Sea". Happy New Year all.

"The only girl I'll ever love is Andrew in drag"


Christmas in L.A. by Vulfpeck

Posted on 2015-12-21 08:00

If the title don't tell you, the sleighbells always will. When you're tired of yuletide standards, there are lots of great indie takes on the holiday song out there. This one's light and funky. From this year's "Thrill Of The Arts". (Thanks to Brian and Jared for the band and song recs.) Happy holidays, all!

"Kris Kringle's drivin' a Chevrolet"


Temple of Aesthetic Action by Jordan de la Sierra

Posted on 2015-12-15 08:00

Recently been submerged in this meditative proto-new-age soundscape. Attached is the second of the four (quasi-indistinguishable) sides from the long 1977 album "Gymnosphere: Song of the Rose". The recording was done first on a piano in a basement studio, which was then played back inside San Francisco's Grace Cathedral and recaptured with the echoes and natural reverb of the space. It's spacey and droning and pretty and was a total commercial flop, but just recently dredged up and reissued. (Thanks to Mike P for the long-ago recommendation to check out the Numero Group's catalog.)


Boom Shaka La by Benji Hughes

Posted on 2015-12-07 08:00

This little Benji Hughes ditty just sort of alternates between two different rhythmic and melodic ideas for a couple minutes, and deploys a minimum of lyric. That both ideas are great, and are maybe sort of squandered in this oddball format, doesn't seem to bother the prolific and obscure Hughes. From 2014's "Songs In The Key Of Animals".

"Boom it up, to the top."


Major Tom (Coming Home) by Peter Schilling

Posted on 2015-10-30 07:00

This is now the second one of these songs of the week that I've found by using Shazam in a chain retail establishment. An unnecessary 80s German retelling of the story from Bowie's Space Oddity (or is it The Martian?), but with a totally money chorus.

"Trying to relax up in the capsule
'Send me up a drink,' jokes Major Tom"


Queen of California by John Mayer

Posted on 2015-09-24 07:00

Nice blues piece about seeking Laurel Canyon forty years later. I'm not sure what to think of Mayer, but the best guitarist I know tells me he's something akin to a modern Clapton, so: respect. From 2012's "Born and Raised"

"Looking for the sun that Neil Young hung
After the gold rush of 1971"

----

SOTW has been anemic this summer, and will pick up again but I'll probably send a resubscribe mail soon; keep your eye out if you want to stay on board.

Meanwhile, if you want some new tunes, you could do much worse than tuning into Grace Mitchell's great, driving track NoLo.

Ryan Adams has also just released his track-by-track reinterpretation of Taylor Swift's 1989 album. This is making for a lot of noise in the music internet, which tends to be of the variety of "isn't it impressive and validating for Taylor's songwriting that respected hipster musician Ryan Adams did this" which is tiresome given that TSwift is near-inarguably more impressive to begin with. Anyway, Adams' covers are mostly just fun genre party tricks that ape Springsteen's Nebraska and wind up being less than either Swift or the Boss. But if you're interested, his take on Wildest Dreams (maybe my final favorite off 1989) works. (Father John Misty then mocked the whole premise with a terrifyingly sharp Lou Reed impression doing a Velvets' version of a couple of the tracks.)


Jitter by Grace Mitchell

Posted on 2015-08-20 07:00

Can't tell if this is a total mess, or genius, or both, but I like it. New genre-bending track from young lady Grace Mitchell, off the new-this-week "Raceday" EP. We've heard from her before here; her "Broken Over You" has been a favorite in the half-year, but this is a big step into new territory. An artist worth keeping an eye & ear on.

"It got crazy really quick.
All these kids are lunatics."


1965 by Zella Day

Posted on 2015-07-15 07:00

In the end, Lana Del Ray's gift to the popular culture will not be the persona or her uneven songwriting; it will be her vocal delivery: once unique, suddenly ubiquitous. Zella Day is 20 and is as far removed from the venerable mid-1960s as I am from the Normandy invasion. This is from her first major label, this summer's "Kicker".

"I never had nobody touch me like I'm glass."


(Nothing But) Flowers by Guster

Posted on 2015-06-11 07:00

Rare vision of dystopia as a pastoral post-post-apocalypse. A somewhat rambling Talking Heads tune tightened up by Guster in this live rendition; a natural fit for their bongo percussion and harmonies. From 2004's "Guster On Ice".

"I dream of cherry pies, candy bars and chocolate chip cookies.
We used to microwave; now we just eat nuts and berries."


Reminiscence by Ólafur Arnalds ft Alice Sara Ott

Posted on 2015-06-06 07:00

From "The Chopin Project", Arnalds' recent album of interpretations. Thanks to Brendan for the recommendation.


Wildest Moments by Jessie Ware

Posted on 2015-05-30 07:00

From 2012's "Devotion". (Thanks to Nicole and/or Pete for this.)

"Wherever there's smoke, there'll soon be fire."


First Time Caller by White Lies

Posted on 2015-05-22 07:00

An English 80s pastiche so puréed that I'm not compelled to pick out the strands. From 2013's "Big TV".

"And I got nothing but time"


From a Window Seat by Dawes

Posted on 2015-05-17 07:00

Neo Laurel Canyon folk rockers sounding like the 70s. From 2013's "Stories Don't End".

"Maybe I'm in town for someone's birthday
Maybe I make trouble everywhere."


Nobody But Me by The Human Beinz

Posted on 2015-05-07 07:00

Originally an Isley Brothers tune, the Human Beinz chop-shopped it in '67 into this weirdly menacing rendition. They threw out most of the original form but thoughtfully updated the names of the then-current dance fads in the lyrics.

From their album of the same name (or in this case from the soundtrack to The Departed). Don't be too put off by the opening seconds of feedback.

"Nobody can do the shing-a-ling like I do"


Radio Free Europe by R.E.M.

Posted on 2015-04-24 07:00

R.E.M.'s first-ever single (1981), predating their debut album by two years, is a formal exercise in delayed gratification. The song structure presents four slots for the chorus, the first of which is ignored (right back to a verse). The middle two choruses reveal increasing quantities of lyric, but shove you back into the verse before you want to go. All of which keeps you hanging on until the final 35 seconds for the full double-chorus hit, including the apex of the arrangement, one great single-bar drum fill.

Even if you think you already know this tune, definitely try this original version! The energy got completely neutered when it was re-recorded for the Murmur album to fit their sleepy opaque soundscape vibe. This recording sounds more like the actual rock band that emerged from the murmurs later in the 80s.

"Calling out in transit
Calling out in transit
Radio Free Europe
Radio Free Europe"


Right as Rain by Adele

Posted on 2015-04-16 07:00

From her 2008 debut album, "19".

"There ain't no room in my bed, as far as I'm concerned."


Everybody My Dick Tonight by My Dick

Posted on 2015-04-09 07:00

Proceed only if you have some tolerance for juvenilia and/or absurdist humor. These two musicians hit upon the concept of replacing lots of words in famous songs with "my dick". But instead of chuckling once and then instead going to watch, say, Game of Thrones like normal people, they manifested it, again and again. They completely re-recorded 20+ full tracks this way. And it's not like they've rewritten the lyrics as toilet humor parody. It's not even grammatical, most of the time! They're just my dick in all the my dick songs. All tracks are free to stream and download on the bandcamp page.

Attached is but one (somewhat tightly-scripted) example, based on the Wang Chung classic. Ironically, the number of times the word "wang" shows up has diminished to exactly one. If you want more, may I also suggest trying the Enya and the Rafferty ones?


Turn Up by Judith Hill

Posted on 2015-03-31 07:00

Hardworking vocalist Judith Hill (the young one in the great documentary "20 Feet From Stardom") released her first full solo album "Back In Time" as a free download briefly last week. Prince (!!) produced it. This track is maybe the worst showcase for her incredible voice, but I'm stuck on it because it's so ridiculously Prince-y that it's hard to tell which parts are hers and which are (presumably) his. Except the epic unhinged bit where definitely-Prince screeches about her, in the guise of a fan.

"Don't want a date-uh
But you can call me later
And thank me for this beautiful life"


The Best Is Yet To Come by Frank Sinatra & Count Basie

Posted on 2015-03-12 07:00

A great tune that might have been sweetly romantic; in Frank's swaggering grip it's nearly indecent. From 1964's "It Might As Well Be Swing" with Count Basie and his orchestra. (Quincy Jones arranging/conducting!)

"We've only tasted the wine
We're gonna drain the cup dry"


Once A Servant by Psychic Friend

Posted on 2015-03-07 08:00

Intriguing little piano pop number, from album filled with same, by musician Will Schwartz (usually of other bands). Off of 2013's "My Rocks Are Dreams".

"Follow the sign, the sign.
Perfect design, design."


Race One by Andrew Lloyd Webber

Posted on 2015-02-26 08:00

Jock Jams as musical theater?? Soundtrack to a race scene from "Starlight Express" that surfaced recently out of the long forgotten depths of my music library. If you're familiar with the show (international toy train competition via cast on rollerskates, sort of?) then you might hear motifs for some of the characters woven into this track. Original stage production was in the 80s, I think this is from a 90s revival.

"TRAINS GONNNNNNNNNE!"


No Cities To Love by Sleater-Kinney

Posted on 2015-01-21 08:00

Universally-acclaimed northwest rockers Sleater-Kinney put down their guitars a decade ago to take up other challenges, but returned this week with an unexpected, triumphant new album. I always had a hard time with their music-- I'm lame of course, and most of their catalog is screechy, bombastic, and unruly. Signs of passion, natch, but challenging to listen to. I liked them on principle: after plowing through three long encores at a show I attended in Seattle, they came back onstage a fourth time to thundering applause and admitted sheepishly that they had actually run out of songs to play, but thank you everyone so much for coming.

This new album has the same unmistakable sonic signature, but crucially, some small production changes render the guitars less piercing and the vocals more intelligible, and as a result their gifts are suddenly more accessible to me. This is the tuneful title track.

"It's not the weather, it's the people we love."


I Couldn't Be Your Friend by Tegan And Sara

Posted on 2015-01-15 08:00

Indie duet goes full-on pop with an encyclopedia of breakup bummers as bouncy numbers on 2013's "Heartthrob". If you like this track, you'll like nearly every other one on the album as well. Thanks to Pete for the recommendation.

"Now you wanna say I was a liar
Led you astray, I won't deny it
I did what they thought would be good for me"


Come Baby Come by K7

Posted on 2015-01-08 08:00

Sorry, you probably already know this freeze-dried artifact of the early 90s. (Or you can retrieve it from your middle school memories?) This song is ridiculous, and that's why it's so great. Also it's catchy as hell. Features a catalog of New Jack Swing tropes including the classic "uh... come on!" sample, plus a torrent of innuendo so brazen that he's tossing out like one-and-a-half entendres:

"Two balls and a bat, the pitcher wears a hat,
Sliding into home base, trying to hit a home run
Swing batta batta batta batta batta swing!"


Red Eyes by The War On Drugs (plus bonus!)

Posted on 2014-12-30 08:00

A highlight from the gauzy, depressive, beautiful album "Lost In The Dream" from earlier this year. Pitchfork nails this track as "what would happen if Springteen’s simmering “I’m on Fire” was actually set aflame"-- right down to the whoops. Thanks to Pete for the recommendation.

"Come and ride away
It's easier to stick to the earth
Surrounded by the night"

BONUS Song-Of-Two-Weeks-Ago: I sent out Grace Mitchell's great cover of Maneater because it was great and Hall & Oates are great. But I've realized that I was doing her a disservice in picking a cover song. Attached is a very good original from her EP "Design". Give it a spin.


Same Old Lang Syne by Dan Fogelberg

Posted on 2014-12-24 08:00

The worst song ever... or an underrated gem?? Underrated songwriter Benji Hughes defends it thusly:

“There’s some deep cheese going on there, for sure. It’s got that sax at the end. There’s some funny shit, too: ‘I stole behind her in the ­frozen foods /And I touched her on the sleeve.’ It sounds like he’s stalking her in the grocery store. But that song kicks the shit out of just about any other song that’s out right now, because he opens his heart and he says ­something. He’s not scared to do it. And it’s touching—the song has some power.”

(Bonus: true story!)

Happy & safe holidays!


Maneater by Grace Mitchell

Posted on 2014-12-12 08:00

Who likes hipster covers of Hall & Oates classics? Maybe you do!! Teen Portlander Grace Mitchell (sounds like: Lana Del Rey. looks like: That girl you had a crush on in high school art class) just put out an EP of originals, but this is her contribution to last year's Mitty soundtrack. Thanks to John S for the recommendation.

"So many have paid to see what you think you're getting for free."


The Letter by Al Green

Posted on 2014-12-01 08:00

Great reinterpretation of the Box Tops' classic. Trades the original's urgency for spacey, smoldering pleading. From 1969's "Green Is Blues". Thanks to Emily--who has always had better taste than her older brother--for the suggestion. (90s hip-hop fans: the intro was sampled by a Biggie track that you may recognize.)

"Listen mister, can't you see, I got to get back to my baby once more?"


Style by Taylor Swift

Posted on 2014-10-28 07:00

Apologies for another Taylor tune not long after the first one; the full new album ("1989") is out this week, and I'm doubling down. She's super skilled, has chosen great collaborators (Max Martin!, one of pop's legends), and is now working in genres that resonate more broadly than country. This song has a mesmerizing throwback guitar groove and dripping synths under an intoxicating lyric.

"And when we go crashing down, we come back every time
'Cause we never go out of style, we never go out of style"


Runaway by Bon Jovi

Posted on 2014-10-09 07:00

Of all the works of the Jersey Turnpike's second-favorite son, Runaway has always stood apart. Bon Jovi's first single from 1984 feels to me like a pastiche of something, maybe a hard-rock minor-key interpretation of a 50s crooner tune. Also Roy Bittan, one of my musical heroes (and not normally a Bon Jovi member), played the keyboard line.

"You know she likes the lights at nights on the neon Broadway signs
She don't really mind, it's only love she hoped to find."


Light Will Keep Your Heart Beating In The Future by Mike Doughty

Posted on 2014-09-30 07:00

Back to the Doughty well, recently replenished with his new album "Stellar Motel". This one features pleasantly punchy percussion production, and a bubbly banjo loop. Nonsense lyrics as usual (title apparently from a med-tech article he came across), but he sounds serious.

"City bus. Ketamine. Lucy Lawless. Magazine."


Birds Dont Sing by TV Girl

Posted on 2014-09-24 07:00

A little lo-fi indie tune with a little summery (sampled?) riff. From their recent debut full-length, "French Exit". (Apostrophe ran away; was not kidnapped.)

"I wasn't trying to avoid the confrontation
She isn't crying, she's just making conversation."


Shake It Off by Taylor Swift

Posted on 2014-09-18 07:00

I know, I know. Don't bother. I've been thinking about this song because it's kind of brilliant, built on only a single 4-bar repeating chord pattern for the whole thing. Pop drama is all in the melody and the arrangement. From her forthcoming "1989".

"And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate."


Breaker by Chaos Chaos

Posted on 2014-09-10 07:00

The Saavedra sisters continue to work past their precocious child-indie-band years. New single from Chaos Chaos' upcoming EP "Committed To The Crime." A little rough around the lyrical edges but the most accessible (and synthpoppy) track they've made yet.

"Always gets this way"


Sexotheque by La Roux

Posted on 2014-08-11 07:00

Turns out this is the summer for great bands incommunicado since 2009! La Roux is back with a new (tropicalesque) synthpop outing. This tune is the catchiest little number off of "Trouble In Paradise".

"He turns and looks around, he doesn't hear a sound.
No one's around, no one's around"


Start Again by Bishop Allen

Posted on 2014-08-01 07:00

Bishop Allen, one of my favorite bands, is back after five years of quiet with a whole new album. I'm conflicted. With a couple exceptions (this track being one of them), this isn't a great album or more importantly, a real Bishop Allen record.

The band was started in the early aughts by two just-grads who put out the amazing, exuberant "Charm School", a quirky self-made record of breezy hooks and reflections on early-20s life. The delightfully Brooklyn existence of the bandmates seeped through every song; they apparently recorded in their apartment one instrument at a time to avoid angering the neighbors. Over the next several years, they put out EPs and albums that explored those original sensibilities, with a rotating cast of musicians helping out on the albums and tours.

After 2009, though: radio silence. I assumed the project was wrapped up. In the real world (as seen via Twitter), the band was growing up: one guy married one of the rotating musicians and moved upstate. The other was busy co-founding OkCupid (!), authoring the Internet-famous OkTrends blog, and is soon publishing a guaranteed-bestseller on big data.

So I was surprised to hear that another album was forthcoming, but the ingredients in the stew are changed: upstate guy has taken primary authorship, and OkCupid guy only has some guitar credits. They used to write arch ditties that painted vivid vignettes; this collection retreats to abstraction and reduced tunefulness.

The days of rescuing discarded pianos from New York sidewalks has ended for Bishop Allen, and that's fine; we all grow up. Though certainly not unrecognizable, the personnel shifts and the toothless songs highlight that Bishop Allen isn't the same band, and the music isn't quite the same music, and they're getting old and things are changing, which means I'm getting old too. So actually this is all about me. OK, nevermind. The album's probably great. This is the lead track from "Lights Out". Enjoy!

"If I could give away the keys to the kingdom I would.
I'm sorry, sorry, but I think you may have misunderstood."


I'm Lonely by Beautiful Small Machines

Posted on 2014-07-22 07:00

Beautiful Small Machines out of NYC is back with their first full-length album, merely a half decade (!) after their remarkably awesome debut EP. From "The DJ Stayed Home".

"I’m gonna take me back to home with you."


Rollercoaster by Bleachers

Posted on 2014-07-16 07:00

Pop kindling: lights fast, burns bright, gone to ashes in the blink of an eye. Bleachers is the solo (?) project of Fun's Jack Antonoff (I'd assumed that Nate Ruess was the primary auteur in that band, but apparently Ruess brings the theatrical sensibilities and Antonoff contributes the drive). This is from the just-out debut, "Strange Desire".

"It's a hundred miles an hour on a dirt road running away."


I Am Not Afraid by Owen Pallett

Posted on 2014-06-16 07:00

A few months back, Canadian composer Owen Pallett did a series of insightful (and entertaining) articles dissecting the pop hits of Katy Perry, Daft Punk, and Lady Gaga. More recently he released an album of his own, a shifting, swirling series of soundscapes and ruminations. It could be "orchestral pop", but that calls to mind all of the underutilized classical musicians that pop bands have leaned on for live albums and cachet; Pallett knows his stuff, and the result is painterly and surprising. This is the lead track from "In Conflict."

"Open chord forever unchanging. Holy eternal drone."


Stop In Nevada by Billy Joel

Posted on 2014-05-29 07:00

Billy's been following me around this week, playing softly on the radio in somehow every bar and cafe I've been to, so I dug back in to his wild and wonderful catalog. His music was my first pop obsession, and was I think the first concert I self-motivated to, 20 years ago this summer. Shlock though it all may be, I predict a renaissance in appreciation and popularity-- the millennials aren't old enough to remember that Billy was never really cool, and it's hard to argue with deft songsmithery. Exhibit A: here's an obscurity from the 1972 record "Piano Man"-- this one was never on the radio, never a Greatest Hit, never covered or played live, but yet! A compelling little gem-- he lands it every time.

"Oh, and now she's heading out to California
And she doesn't know what's coming
But she's sure of what she's leaving behind"


Holland, 1945 by Neutral Milk Hotel

Posted on 2014-05-12 07:00

Best track from the highly-respected 1998 indie album "In The Aeroplane Over The Sea." Fuzzy-sounding pop that fuzzily alludes to the Anne Frank story.

"Now she's a little boy in Spain,
Playing pianos filled with flames"


Hej Hej Monica by Nic & The Family

Posted on 2014-04-30 07:00

Yet a second entry in the (surprisingly durable) foreign-language-unintelligible-pop-tune-that-repeats-a-girl's-name-over-and-over category. This one comes from one-off Swedish outfit "Nic & The Family." And why not? From 2004's "Hej Hej Skiva", their only album. Thanks to Nitin for sending it in.


Linda Linda by The Blue Hearts

Posted on 2014-04-22 07:00

This was the theme song to a film I saw at a festival years ago, and dates back further to the Blue Hearts' self-titled debut album from 1987. That album is apparently one of Rolling Stone Japan's favorites of all time. Anyway, I have no idea what this is about (something about rats??) but it's fun 80s rock once you get past the intro.

"Linda Linda,
Linda Linda Linda."


This Year by Shearwater

Posted on 2014-04-14 07:00

Vivid vignette of a suburban late adolescence in the 80s. The original version by the Mountain Goats has long been a favorite track, and was a Song Of The Week here waaaay back in Jan '09. This brand new awesome cover by Shearwater (a long-running spinout of Okkervil River) trades up folk- for dance-rock; it's groovier and no less earnest I think. Thanks to John for the reference.

"Trading swigs from the bottle all bitter and clean
Locking eyes, holding hands
Twin high-maintenance machines"


Overkill by Men At Work

Posted on 2014-04-08 07:00

The third-best-known (?) single from the illustrious Men At Work œuvre, this is from sophomore album "Cargo," released exactly 31 years ago. Less reggae, more pop. Lyrically moody, but the groove always felt to me like a hot afternoon. And hey, what do you know.

"I worry over situations
I know will be all right"


Gloria by Umberto Tozzi

Posted on 2014-04-02 07:00

Italo-disco guy Tozzi scores minor European hit with this 1979 original, then sees his song reworked by Laura Branigan who proceeds to storm all charts with it in 1982/3. Lyrics are totally different, iconic synth line is intact.

"per me che senza Gloria
con te nuda sul divano
faccio stelle di cartone
pensando a Gloria."


Who'll Pay Reparations On My Soul by Gil Scott-Heron

Posted on 2014-03-27 07:00

Scott-Heron was a prominent poet/musician in the black arts movement from the early 70s. This is from his first album, a really compelling live recording called "Small Talk at 125th and Lenox" (1970). Much of the record is spoken word; this is a song.

"Written on the cue cards
That were never really there"


Awake by Tycho

Posted on 2014-03-21 07:00

New album out just this week from SF-based ambient/electronica artist Tycho; this is the title track. This song, like the others on the album, moves; has a momentum that I find missing from most ambient genre work. Added bonus: the album's graphic design is stunning and minimalist.


My Name Is Mathias by The Burning Hell

Posted on 2014-03-07 08:00

A dating profile you can groove to. From 2011's "Flux Capacitor", which claims a genre of "neo-klezmer". ('Nuff said, right?)

"One day I might get hit by a bus or get cancer,
But right now all I am is a fabulous dancer."


If You Want My Love by Cheap Trick

Posted on 2014-02-12 08:00

You'd think more bands would sound like the Beatles given their impact, but successful style pastiches are uncommon, maybe because they were actually quite subtle. Cheap Trick--apparently more talented than their two or three widely known singles suggest--seems to have done it here. In an alternate universe, if Lennon and McCartney had got together 20 years later instead, I think they'd have started out with tunes like this rock ballad from 1982's "One On One".

"Lonely is only a place."


Tourist by RAC ft Tokyo Police Club

Posted on 2014-02-03 08:00

Pretty midtempo electropop; think Atomic Tom meets College. From RAC's 2013 "Don't Talk To" EP.

"Are we strangers forever?
Or are we strangers for now?"


Don't Stop Me Now by Queen

Posted on 2014-01-27 08:00

A short while back, we had a track demonstrating Queen-as-normal-blues-rock-band, and today we go all the way to the other side with Queen-as-70s-glam-musical-theater-rock-and-roll-ensemble. Freddie Mercury is brilliant as always, and he sneaks by a quick line about being "a sex machine ready to reload", perhaps encouraging a reading of the whole thing as a self-absorbed plea for noninterruptus coitus? From 1978's "Jazz."

"Like a tiger defying the laws of gravity
I'm a racing car passing by like Lady Godiva"


Elevate by St. Lucia

Posted on 2014-01-23 08:00

Sunny summer synth pop in the middle of January. Sounds like Poolside with more Michael Jackson (the coda of this track has echoes of Wanna Be Startin' Something's "mama-say-mama-sah-ma-ma-co-sah" outro). St. Lucia is a one man shop, this is from 2013's "When The Night." Thanks to Pete for the recommendation.

"And no one can make up it
You wait for the sun to make the sky"


Joey by Concrete Blonde

Posted on 2014-01-08 08:00

They just don't make an alt-rock ballad like they used to. (Or a name: Joey peaked in the 60s, which makes him the right age for the subject of an alt-rock ballad from 1990.) Off of "Bloodletting". (Thanks to Phil for Concrete Blonde recommendation.)

"And if you're somewhere drunk and
Passed out on the floor
Oh Joey, I'm not angry anymore."


Let My Love Open The Door by Pete Townshend

Posted on 2013-12-27 08:00

I'd nearly forgotten about this conundrum when it came up today in a best-of-classic-rock radio countdown. It's twee, cheesy, bizarrely conceited and yet... a well-chiseled tune. From 1980's "Empty Glass." Happy holidays, all.

"You're so lucky I'm around."


Can't Let Go by Lucinda Williams

Posted on 2013-12-10 08:00

Bluesy with the freight train guitar. From 1998's "Car Wheels On A Gravel Road."

"I'm like a fish out of water, a cat in a tree
You don't even want to talk to me"


Empire City by Bishop Allen

Posted on 2013-11-28 08:00

One of the best bands no one's heard of. Approachable, infectious indie debut album "Charm School" was my soundtrack to 2004 and one of my all-time favorites. Happy thanksgiving.

"Somewhere in the wings there's a sensible whisper:
When you wield the knife, learn to carry the blame"


M.A.S.K. Theme by Shuki Levy

Posted on 2013-11-20 08:00

You remember how cartoons in the 80s had really great theme songs? Did you also know that one guy basically composed all of them? Shuki Levy has since gone on to do production and other stuff, but shall be forever heroic as the creator of themes for Inspector Gadget, He-Man, and Heathcliff, among zillions of others. Of all cartoon themes, though, this one for M.A.S.K. was always my favorite when I was a kid, and as far as I can tell, it's as goddamn catchy now as it was then.

Levy's website has a page of his work that collects tracks (like this one) that are hard to find anywhere else in complete form.

"Working all the time,
Fighting crime!"


Need Your Loving Tonight by Queen

Posted on 2013-10-31 07:00

Not just a novelty/glam outfit, Queen could straight-ahead rock when they wanted to. This track from 1980's "The Game" may be overshadowed in the popular consciousness by its album-mate "Another Ones Bites The Dust", but is no less worthy. Fun Queen fact: Freddie Mercury's real name was Farrokh Bulsara; he grew up in India.

"I read your letter so many times
I got your meaning between the lines"


It's The Same Old Song by The Four Tops

Posted on 2013-10-24 07:00

And oldie and a goodie-- maybe second to their towering "Sugar Pie Honey Bunch"; the meta-joke is that it was written and recorded (in 24 hours) using those same chord changes but in reverse.

"But the melody
Keeps haunting me"


Jesus Christ You're Tall by Harry Nilsson

Posted on 2013-10-07 07:00

Harry Nilsson was a prolific songwriter, had an angelic voice, and attained almost no meaningful commercial success. The Beatles apparently loved the guy, though, so that's worth something. This is a rocking (though rough and incomplete) track with a winning title, from 1975's Duit On Mon Dei.

"Well we could dribble our way down a courtship"


Don't Save Me by Haim

Posted on 2013-10-02 07:00

OK, I know that SOTW is turning into a Haim (or Mike Doughty) pandora station, but bear with me on this one. Haim's finally put out a full album, this week, and it's just as damn good as all their singles have been. Pitchfork's review is pretty insightful, but you just need to listen. This track pushes all the right buttons with the little ascending three-note vocalization just after the title lyric in the chorus. From "Days Are Gone."

"Take me back, take-take-take me back to the song, how'd it used to go? Oh?"


Diamonds and Guns by Transplants

Posted on 2013-09-24 07:00

If you recognize the riff from a bunch of shampoo ads last decade, the rest of the track will surprise you-- it's dark and compelling. The jaunty piano and Stonesy "whoo whoo" elevates above rap-rock mediocrity. Transplants is an occasionally-active supergroup composed of members from, basically, Blink-182 and Rancid (!), and this is off their 2002 self-titled.

"In the dice game of life, who gets the last roll?"


Mr. Bitterness by Mike Doughty

Posted on 2013-09-18 07:00

I know we had a Mike Doughty just recently, but this is great: He just put out an album of self-covers, all of them old Soul Coughing tracks reinterpreted by just him. I expected kind-of-lame "acoustic" versions, but it's not like that. The dark, out-there lyrics are clearer, and the sonic edge has only morphed-- the backing goes all the way to sampled/experimental stuff. In some cases he pulls melody from what was self-indulgent beat poetry. Anyways, I dig the mood on this track, and the story in its opening lines.

"Desire is a grassfire drinking gasoline."


Never Say Trevor Again by Et Tu Brucé

Posted on 2013-09-06 07:00

Great throwback tune, too fun to take seriously its jealousy/schadenfreude storyline. Listen for the "Runaround Sue"-inspired intro and the cute lyrical switcheroo after the break. Hard not to smile, or at least smirk. From this year's "Suburban Sunshine".

"Listen girl and you'll agree
There's guys you just can't see
Especially instead of me"


Dead In Your Head by Bleached

Posted on 2013-08-13 07:00

The title sounds like garage rock and eventually so does the music, until you realize it's more tuneful than you expected. Bleached is two sisters from LA (Haim gone underground punk?). From this year's "Ride Your Heart". Thanks to Aaron for the recommendation.


"Time to think about what you want
Cause you know maybe it's our timing that was off."


I Hear The Bells by Mike Doughty

Posted on 2013-08-09 07:00

A few moments of expansive connectedness with the world. Everything really is awesome. From 2005's "Haughty Melodic".


"I'm seeking girls in sales and marketing
Let's go make out up in the balcony."


I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man by Prince

Posted on 2013-08-02 07:00

This is my favorite Prince song, and I will tell you why:
1. The engaging story, told economically and vividly across only two quick verses and choruses. (Check it out!)
2. The catchiest prechorus in all pop music. (A railroading, double-time-like vocal rhythm in contrast to the verse and chorus around it).
3. The lovely turn of phrase "he was gone to stay" and the awesomely unnecessary time detail of "10:35" (on that lonely Friday night).
4. Prince the narrator casts himself as a player with a heart of chivalrous gold.
5. Prince the guitarist totally shreds despite not really being widely-appreciated for that skill.

It's not all paisley and roses: the descending (guitar? synth?) riff in the intro/choruses feels overbearingly cheesy and dated, but if you can get past that, the rest is brilliant. From 1987's masterpiece "Sign O' The Times".

"She asked me if we could be friends
And I said, Oh, Honey, Baby, that's a dead end."


I Told Her On Alderaan by Neon Neon

Posted on 2013-07-25 07:00

The best Cars song that the Cars never wrote? Neon Neon's 2008 album "Stainless Style" is a whole concept album loosely based on the crazy life of John Z. DeLorean (of the car fame), which is by turns hilarious and awesome. It also has great cover art. Most of the album is 80s throwback pop, and this is the most gratifying track-- I have no idea what it has to do with DeLorean, but whatever. Thanks to Brendan for the album recommendation.


"And all the patients, they started to mock her
For ever thinking that someone would leave her"


Song For Zula by Phosphorescent

Posted on 2013-07-19 07:00

This is the 200th (!) edition of Song of the Week. Launched with a Beach Boys tune in November of 2008, we've come a long way. Thanks for listening, suggesting, and responding. I have been hoping to put the archives online (it's a pretty solid playlist at this point) but haven't got to it yet...


Phosphorescent is mainly just one guy putting out earnest folk rock. This track starts with a lifted Johnny Cash lyric and otherwise sounds like Dylan singing atop an 80s U2 groove. (The bassline is cribbed from "With Or Without You".) So it sounds sort of polished and instantly familiar the first time you hear it, and it's very likable anyway. I do wish it built to some sort of arena chorus, but you can't ransack your influences entirely. Off of "Muchacho", out a few months ago. Thanks to Aaron for the recommendation.

"Now my heart is gold, my feet are right
And I'm racing out on the desert plains all night"


Falling by Haim

Posted on 2013-07-12 07:00

Another adventure with the three Haim sisters. (We had their first single "Forever" a while back.) They haven't put out a full album yet, just a dribble of excellent, high-gloss singles-- an eventual collection would be world-slaying. Somehow they've nailed Michael Jackson meets Fleetwood Mac meets... something else more contemporary. Even when they're not making as much sense ("Forever" is a stronger song), it's hard not to be totally transported by the sound.


"Feeling desire, feeling tired, hungry too"


Love Lies Bleeding by Elton John

Posted on 2013-07-01 07:00

I used to listen to this tape on the bus to high school, with those Walkman headphones that had the the metal band going over your head and the foam earpieces that leaked sound to everyone around you. One morning a younger kid on the bus asked me what I was listening to, and couldn't believe that the screaming guitar came from an Elton John song.


Mr. John was at that time well into his lame 90s lite FM revival, but this track, from 1973's epic-in-all-senses "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" album, rocks hard. It was a favorite of mine then, and still is, long since graduating to earbuds and MP3s.

Definitely check out the awesome fluttering sound of the A.R.P. analog synthesizer at about the three-minute mark, and tell me it doesn't sound just like the old Reading Rainbow theme song.

"Sorry honey, if I don't change the pace, I can't face another day."


Born Without A Heart by Sean Nelson

Posted on 2013-06-05 07:00

My most-anticipated album of the last 5+ years is out this week: Sean Nelson's solo debut "Make Good Choices". He was the frontman of my much-beloved-but-now-defunct Harvey Danger. The new album collects his work outside/after Harvey Danger. An early download of the excellent title track was a Song of the Week last year.

"Born Without A Heart" is a Chris Walla (Death Cab) collaboration, and you can hear it in the catchy, jangly guitar. But the wordy, sad-sack lyrics and the whoo-whoo vocal arrangement are all Nelson. Stream the whole album from NPR here if you like what you hear-- it's all tuneful, and tramps through genres from indie rock to chamber-pop to near-showtune.

"We fell together, and then we fell apart."


Brandy by Looking Glass

Posted on 2013-05-24 07:00

A tuneful tale of sailors, barmaids and longing, told in three minutes. From 1972's self-titled "Looking Glass".


"Brandy, you're a fine girl,
What a good wife you would be.
But my life, my love, my lady
Is the sea."


Tre Parole by Valeria Rossi

Posted on 2013-05-15 07:00

Irresistible Italo-pop of dubious lyrical sense. From 2001's "Ricordatevi Dei Fiori".

"Arrabbia gatto che
Gioca con la buccia
E gira in tondo"


Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings by Father John Misty

Posted on 2013-04-18 07:00

Title sounds like a jumble of words until you find out it's a place where the (dark) narrative is set. Song sounds, says Pat, like "ELO's 'Don't Bring Me Down' on ludes". Exactly (and thanks for the recommendation). From 2012's "Fear Fun". (Fans of Parks & Rec's Aubrey Plaza may enjoy the video.)


"Retracing the expanse of your American back"


The Break Up Song by Greg Kihn Band

Posted on 2013-04-11 07:00

They just don't write 'em like that anymore. From 1981's "Rockihnroll".


"Unh unh unh unh unh unh unh oh"


The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys by Traffic

Posted on 2013-04-05 07:00

There's a tight four minute song here, deconstructed across a groovy 12-minute expedition. Steve Winwood-- well known from a dubious poppy 80s solo career-- is here a keyboard god with an unassailable tenor. Put it on and give it some time to warm up. From the 1971 album of the same name.


"Don't worry too much, it'll happen to you."


Cissy Strut by The Meters

Posted on 2013-03-30 07:00

Instrumental funk classic, the lead track from their first album. (1969, self-titled). Happy Saturday night.



Harvest Moon by Poolside

Posted on 2013-03-24 07:00

As a beautiful weekend slips into evening, it feels like the vibe on this ambient/electronica interpretation of Neil Young's (!) "Harvest Moon". From Poolside's 2012 debut, "Pacific Standard Time"; a nicely meandering record in languorous mode. (Hat tip to Marina for the recommendation.)


"There's a full moon risin', let's go dancin' in the light"


Paris (Ooh La La) by Grace Potter & The Nocturnals

Posted on 2013-03-13 07:00

Pop but it rocks, and what a voice. From 2010's self-titled.


"If I was a blade I'd shave you smooth."


Running Wild by Odds Of Survival

Posted on 2013-03-06 08:00

I'm not sure if they coined the brilliant "doomgrass" for this sound, but take a listen and it'll quickly make sense. Demands either your undivided attention or the space to let it wash over you from the background. From Odds Of Survival's expansive and beautiful debut album "You Will Be Rescued". Bonus: the bassist is one of you (hi Altay). Run-don't-mope over to the band's page for the rest of the album if you like what you hear.


"This is the only life that I have lived
And I try to forget what I can't forgive."


A Tattered Line of String by The Postal Service

Posted on 2013-02-25 08:00

And lo, ten years later, there's a new song from the indie darlings! Blending moody indie pop with glitchy electronica must have seemed novel in 2003 when "Give Up" was released as a one-time actual-USPS-based collaboration between Death Cab's frontman Ben Gibbard and LA glitch guy Jimmy Tamborello. This track is released in advance of a "decade" celebration for Give Up that will feature nice reissues but more to the point, the first live shows since they closed out 2004's Sasquatch festival. I was *at* that final show, and fell in love with the entire set as the sun set behind the stage over the Columbia River Gorge (thanks again Vlada for making us stick around). Favorite live show, and easily top-5-desert-island album. I'm cautiously optimistic that they're back, even in limited form.


So what of this new stuff? Well, you know, it sounds like the Postal Service you know-- all the pieces are there, but it doesn't hold up after more than a couple listens. Its beat is constant, its form is verse-chorus-verse, and the swirling moody schizoid space that all of Give Up blissfully inhabited is gone in favor of simple message/easy metaphor. It's catchy; you'll like it. But maybe it's harder to phone it in when you're really mailing it in.

"When we woke, we agreed
That we would not ever speak
Of this night to anyone that we both knew."


Good Girls Go To Heaven (Bad Girls Go Everywhere) by Meat Loaf

Posted on 2013-02-08 08:00

OK, so, yes, Meat Loaf. He is laughable and easily dismissed, and you have my permission to insta-delete. But I recently spent a whole week listening to nothing but 1993's "Bat Out Of Hell II: Back Into Hell" album on repeat and I am like-crack addicted to Jim Steinman's huge, huge, bombastic, over-the-top opera-rock songs. At just shy of seven minutes, this is one of the shorter tracks on the album, by comparison a tightly built pop machine. It's not even especially iconic. But it exalts in its own ridiculousness and if the buildup and the hook don't snare you, nothing will. Short on time? ffwd to 1m in.


"All the seconds go on forever, but the thirds and fourth ones are even better."


I'm Not Talking by A.C. Newman

Posted on 2013-01-11 08:00

First 30 seconds are tentative, swirling; the bewitching motif that follows demands your earnest attention. Rest of the song good too. Lovely solo work by the prime mover behind the New Pornographers, from 2012's "Shut Down The Streets".


"No, I've never been close, I've never been close.
But I've never been far away."


Out On The Town by Fun

Posted on 2013-01-04 08:00

One phrase from this track has been running around my head all week, so song of the week it shall be. Fun is more than meets the eye-- frontman Nate Ruess has been honing his theatrical compositions since acclaimed indie outfit The Format, and he's got one of the notable voices in contemporary pop. A wise collaboration with a hip-hop producer resulted in the grammy-nominated "Some Nights", a glossy assemblage of tunes & beats & soaring arrangements. You know it from at least a couple overexposed singles, but check out this slam-dunk album closer.


"Your name comes up a lot when I talk to my mom
Oh, I think she can tell."


Winter Wonderland by Harry Connick Jr

Posted on 2012-12-27 08:00

Great instrumental jazz piano rendition by Harry Connick. From his excellent "When Harry Met Sally" soundtrack (1989), which is entirely a showcase for Connick and his trio interpreting various standards-- everyone should own a copy of this album. Happy holidays.


Whatever You Like by Anya Marina

Posted on 2012-12-12 08:00

One-liner that turns out to undersell: Cute singer-songwriter from Portland does T.I. What I usually dislike about genre-bending covers is the temptation to skate by on ironic juxtaposition alone. Anya Marina owns this by turning the rapper's throwaway bravado into a wry come on. Bonus surprise: rocking backbeat! From 2009; thanks to Nitin for the recommendation.

"Everybody know it ain't trickin' if you got it."


Summerlong by Xylos

Posted on 2012-11-26 08:00

Just in time for the wrong season, a moody electro-pop dance piece from Xylos. (If you like your pop less "haunting" and more saccharine like I usually do, check out runner-up "Not Enough" from their self-titled album.)


"Running in circles around you giving you away"


Headache by Frank Black

Posted on 2012-11-14 08:00

After the Pixies disbanded in the early 90s, weirdo frontman Black Francis embarked on a low-key solo career under the grown-up moniker Frank Black (still not his real name). This great tune from his second album, 1994's "Teenager Of The Year", sounds almost nothing like the Pixies; it's a driving pop number, organs and tambourines and all.


"My heart's crammed in my cranium
And it still knows how to pound."


Winner by Chaos Chaos

Posted on 2012-11-02 07:00

Chaos Chaos are sisters who started making records as a precocious keys-and-drums combo called Smoosh when they were tweens in Seattle. They've grown up, moved to New York, shed the goofy name, but kept making interesting music. This is the lead track from "S", their new EP. I think all the percussion is done with bottles and other found objects. There's an almost-inexplicable saxophone part that I'm fascinated by. The lyrics are as indecipherable as back when they were muttering about soccer practice; it's a great soundscape.


Working For The Weekend by Loverboy

Posted on 2012-10-27 07:00

Just for fun, and the cowbell count-in. Classic stuff. From 1981's "Get Lucky".


"Everybody's going off the deep end.
Everybody wants a second chance."


Blame It On The Bossa Nova by Eydie Gormé

Posted on 2012-10-18 07:00

Sunny Latin-inflected hit from 1963.


"And when our kids ask
How it came about
I gonna say to them without a doubt...
Blame it on the bossa nova"


Thrown Down by Fleetwood Mac

Posted on 2012-10-11 07:00

These guys have been inexplicably inescapable for the last couple weeks, so I'm sharing. This is a latter-day Stevie Nicks composition, from 2003's "Say You Will." Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham are the stormy creative duo that have fueled all of Fleetwood Mac's most successful works-- Buckingham's contribution here is the nervous, minimal guitar figure. A tuneful, moody song for a gloomy afternoon. Thanks to Kim for the recommendation.


"You're not like other people, you do what you want to."


Robots In Love by Beautiful Small Machines

Posted on 2012-10-03 07:00

My new favorite pop song. A clear idea, nicely executed: steal a riff from New Order, add a breezy man/machine metaphor, and bless it with wistful vocals and an insidious hook. From 2009's great EP of the same name by Beautiful Small Machines. (The singer you hear was once famous for wondering why David Duchovny wouldn't love her.)


"It's a simple computation,
You take easy conversation,
Add erotic exploration, adoration,
But when he said I Love You, Girl,
It should have come with a warning."


5 Years Time by Noah and the Whale

Posted on 2012-09-27 07:00

Delirious hipster love, though isn't this really just what everyone wants? From 2008's "Peaceful The World Lays Me Down". (Check your cynicism at the door.)


"I'll put my hands over your eyes, but you'll peek through."


Mi Música by Alexander Abreu and Havana D’Primera

Posted on 2012-09-20 07:00

This week's Song Of The Week is a joint production with Aditya's Track Of The Week, featuring special guest contributor Sarah Siebold. Sarah is expert on all things Cuban, and has written up a really excellent, detailed tour through this Timba track for close listening. Aditya's TOTW list inspired my own, and he's cross-posting Sarah's contribution as well for this week. If you're not on his list yet and want more "curated" music in your inbox, in particular of the dance/hip-hop/electronic varieties, hit him up at hyperionab@gmail.com and get involved; you won't regret it.


Now without further ado, we'll turn it over to Sarah....


This week’s song is Mi Música by Alexander Abreu and Havana D’Primera, along with an introduction to Timba music and a guided tour through the song.
Timba is a modern Cuban genre of music that shares a common ancestor with salsa. It has strong Afro-Cuban roots and is highly influenced by American jazz, rock, and soul. Timba is often referred to simply as “Cuban pop music.” I love this because, in contrast to a typical American pop song, a timba song often requires 10 or 15 classically trained musicians! I like to think of Bruno Mars recording alone in a studio, versus 10 Cuban masters jamming together and orchestrating their talents for the enjoyment of the Cuban masses. Timba tends to have an intense, high energy, aggressive sound. It is known for being masculine, and if the lyrics are not about social or political upheaval, they are usually about showing off, showing up the competition, or finding a new way to say, “I’m the shit”.
Mi Música is a fantastic, classically structured timba song. Follow along!
Beginning: This is the cuerpo section. It is melodic and lyrical, and usually has one singer. The song starts off very “pretty”, and the lyrics reflect this sound – he sings of “music floating in air”, love, happiness, destiny, blah blah.
1:58: Here you can hear the song begin to transition and you know it’s about to get really good. Underneath the piano and vocals, you can hear that high-pitched noise that sounds like two wooden blocks hitting each other. That’s the clave loud and clear, the building block of any salsa song. For dancers, it’s fun when the clave shines. You can geek out about clave here.
2:08: This is the start of the montuno section, where there is traditionally a call and response between the main singer and the chorus. As the music gets more aggressive, so too do the lyrics. The chorus sings, “I can’t believe you can’t understand my tumbao [1], it’s not even that complicated!” The singer brags about how great his tumbao is. He calls it “100% natural”, “transparent” and “the essence of my people”. In the call and response, many singers (like in this song) often shout “listen to the chorus” or “listen to my people”, as if the chorus were wise and all-knowing.
2:38: This is the mambo section, where the horns take center stage. Best part! I’ve noticed that I almost always fall in love with a timba song when I like the mambo section. The singer yells, “check out the mambo!” Agreed; they are awesome.
3:00: The instruments get very loud, and the singer really goes for it. He sings of his musical heritage that has been passed down to him. This song is about being proud of where you come from. The chorus shouts, “I am the feeling, the spice, and the chili pepper. I am lucumi!” [2] There is also a clear religious undertone to this song. The singer blesses his ancestors, his African roots, and calls out to some of the Orishas (Cuban Santeria gods).
3:23: That’s not Spanish! That’s Yoruba – the liturgical language of Santeria, the main religion of Cuba. It is peppered throughout the song, which increases the religious feeling.
3:40: You can hear the horns again, some percussion, and some of the other instruments more clearly as the song gets a little quieter for a minute. I think there are sub-sections here called “gears” and marcha but I’m not yet wise enough to know about that.
4:00: As a dancer, you’re into the song now. Like the music, the dance (called casino) is also aggressive, athletic, and often focuses on the guy. So on the dance floor, the guy is showing off now and doing fancy stuff. Despite the religious sentiment of this song, the singer is still cocky and sings about how great the song is. He says, “I want to put my tumbao at the center of the earth.”
5:00: More showing off and bragging. The chorus now succinctly repeats, “It’s great!” (I assume they mean their music). I like this song because to me it feels about being proud of your abilities, acknowledging and accepting who you are, and being totally pumped about it. It is self-declaration and celebration, which is not a bad way to feel once in a while, especially when you’re out and having a good time.
Hope you enjoyed Timba 101 and Alex Abreu’s beautiful music.
Here’s some other fun facts about timba if you are still reading:
  • Timba uses many traditional Caribbean and African percussive instruments and an American drum set!
  • It’s the bandleader that rises to fame, not the lead singer. In the case of this song, Alex Abreu is the trumpeter, bandleader and singer.
  • The opportunity for so many classically trained musicians to also be pop stars is rare, I think, and definitely a testament to the Cuban government’s dedication to training classical musicians. There are simply many more opportunities for people to enter the arts in Cuba.

[1] What is tumbao, you might ask? It’s a set of rhythmic patterns played by the piano and bass, and each timba band creates their own, so they like to compete about whose is best. Tumbao can also mean “swagger”, “swing”, or the “it” factor. Like, “check out her tumbao!”
[2] Lucumi means Afro-Cuban, or being of the Santeria religion.


Flower Dance by DJ Okawari

Posted on 2012-09-06 07:00

Japanese jazzy-hip-pop-? instrumental. Lightweight but enjoyable, from 2010's "A Cup Of Coffee" EP. Some of his other tracks/albums use more actual jazz collaborations and are less melodic (check out the title track from this EP) but the general style is pretty consistent. Good ambient listening. Also, all of his album covers use the same designer who does these amazing intricate illustrations of women with birds.


Forever by Haim

Posted on 2012-08-30 07:00

Seductive pop by three-sister (!) trio Haim. The sound is beguiling and novel though built on some interesting influences. (The production wouldn't be out of place on an old Lionel Richie record, along with other neo-80s elements.) My guess is that we'll see great things from these ladies. From this year's "Forever" EP. (I think I owe the Staffords a shout out for the reference on this?)

"Go go go go get out, get out of my memory.
No no no not tonight, I don't have the energy."


Valerie by Amy Winehouse

Posted on 2012-08-17 07:00

Originally an indie rock track by the Zutons (and a great one at that), Amy Winehouse's version of Valerie shows off jazzier chords and a cocktail groove you could just go build a house and live in, to say nothing of her inimitable voice. From the "Back to Black B-Sides".

"Well since I come home,
Well my body's been a mess,
And I miss your ginger hair 
And the way you like to dress."


Ichiro's Theme by Ben Gibbard

Posted on 2012-08-01 07:00

Ichiro Suzuki, famed and longtime Seattle Mariner, was traded to the Yankees last week. Famed and longtime Mariners fan Ben Gibbard, better known as the frontman for Death Cab for Cutie and the Postal Service, used the occasion to make public an ode to the Japanese hit machine he'd written a couple years ago. It's joyous, catchy, totally unironic, and hilarious to hear the emo god singing about the literal kind of stolen bases.

"At any given moment he could completely blow your mind
So don't you take your eyes
Off Ichiro."


Forever Young by Youth Group

Posted on 2012-07-23 07:00

A classic pop tune nicely interpreted by an otherwise forgettable band. Alphaville's 1984 original didn't make a splash on its release, but "Forever Young" has risen in esteem through years of being woven into the popular culture. This 2006 cover's lush soundscape complements the wistful plea for either time or aging to stop. The song feels eternal; its original writer and singer is currently 58 years old, and counting.

"Can you imagine when this race is won?
Turn our golden faces into the sun."


The Other Side by Bruno Mars (ft Cee Lo/B.o.B.)

Posted on 2012-07-11 07:00

Bruno Mars ends up with my grudging respect: his lyrics can be unfortunately lazy, but he's gifted in melody and songcraft. 2010's "Doo-Wops & Hooligans" is certainly one of the sharper pop records of the last few years. Yeah, I know I'm very late in recognizing that, so I'm picking the standout track that you're least likely to be already sick of (?). It's not quite as tight as "Runaway Baby" or as indelible as "Marry You", but I really like "The Other Side"'s Cee-Lo-style retro groove.

"You won't know what it's like until you try.
I'll be waiting on the other side."


Detroit Medley by Bruce Springsteen & E Street Band

Posted on 2012-07-04 07:00

The E Street Band live in London, really early-- 1975-- powering through a cover medley of Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels hits. Infectious American rock and roll. Happy 4th of July.

"Not too skinny, not too fat,
She's a real humdinger and I like it like that."


Hot Knife by Fiona Apple

Posted on 2012-06-25 07:00

Fiona Apple is among my favorite artists, and she's low-maintenance, too, putting out only four albums in the last decade and a half. Always a fascinating, talented, genre-defying composer and performer, she's trending even more earnest and introspective. Her brand new album, "The Idler Wheel..." (full title much longer) is excellent but a hard listen: most tracks are barely tuneful, with a lot of lyrical rawness coming across as something like beat poetry. 

But this final track is a little different (and my favorite)-- a mesmerizing sort of layered chant, harmonized, underpinned by a bass thrum. It's somewhere between roots music, kid's rhyme, tribal dance, and jazz vocal. 

"Makes my heart a cinemascope screen"


Under the Cherry Blossom by IQU

Posted on 2012-04-23 07:00

In honor of these summery daytimes in San Francisco and the end of the cherry blossom season. IQU was an interesting duo doing mostly non-vocal electronic pop out of Seattle in the first half of last decade. Their output ranged from experimental stuff to pretty, evocative soundscapes (like this one).  They rock a mean theremin, too. This is the lead track from 2004's "Sun Q".


Karate by Kennedy

Posted on 2012-03-31 07:00

A funky disco cruisin' tune for a Saturday afternoon. From 2006's "Special K". (Thanks to Jared for this one.)

"I keep a healthy state of mind
I only drink and drive at night"


Time Bomb by The Format

Posted on 2012-03-21 07:00

Long before there was Fun and this year's world-charging anthem "We Are Young", Fun's frontman Nate Ruess led an earlier band called The Format that put out his big sweeping pop confections on indie labels. More than just a proto-Fun, The Format was weirder, meaner and scruffier, but no less catchy. "Time Bomb" is the infectious summer song you can't shake, so might as well put the top down and sing along, but don't listen too carefully. From 2006's "Dog Problems".

"So starting now, I'm starting over
I'm throwing bottles and I'm taking showers."


In Every Dream Home A Turntable by Lifestyle

Posted on 2012-03-17 07:00

So authentically 80s that you could mistake it for a Duran Duran dance mix, but it's only a month old. Lifestyle was a side project of Freezepop's Sean Drinkwater that's apparently just been un-mothballed-- this is the teaser track from an upcoming album.

"Sometimes I will look at you on my phone, it makes me feel alright.
Digital might get me through the day but it won't get me through the night."


All I Need Is A Miracle by Mike + The Mechanics

Posted on 2012-03-07 08:00

What a fertile collective was the band Genesis! Formed way back in 1967, they not only took prog rock and the charts by storm (70s incarnation, and 80s incarnation, respectively), but Genesis was also breeding ground for the huge solo careers of alumni Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins. Another founding member, Mike Rutherford, helmed this successful side project in the 80s, "Mike + The Mechanics," with its own short string of singles. 

You probably already know this song, but it's great, and due to some label-rights black hole, is very hard to find in the digital-download world. I had to acquire their 1985 debut self-titled CD to get this track (you're welcome). It is a blissfully flawless pop stomp, so much a product of its time. Just the right harmonies and that amazing "whoosh" sound just before the chorus so you can be prepared for the awesome sentiment about to drop on you.

"I know you were never right
I'll admit I was never wrong."


Lay Your Cards Out by Poliça

Posted on 2012-02-29 08:00

Gauzy, moody, electro-something from Poliça, out of the Twin Cities. From recent debut album "Give You The Ghost". 

"In these little moments, get your cards out"


Maracas by Mates of State

Posted on 2012-02-22 08:00

Mates of State is a married pop duo, sort of like an indie John and Yoko. Here's a pretty catchy number off last year's "Mountaintops". Ignore the gratuitous analog synth thing and rock along with the rhythmic shifts between sections.

"Syncopated breathing!"


The Visitors by ABBA

Posted on 2012-02-13 08:00

Come back with me to the dusty bargain record bin. Look, here's ABBA's (yes, ABBA's) eighth and final studio album, "The Visitors", from 1981. The Swedish pop juggernaut composed of two couples (their first initials form the name of the group) had dominated the European airwaves for nearly a decade by the time this was released, spawning single after single of synthy, jingly pop. Their most iconic hits were behind them at this point, and both couples had divorced, resulting in this swan song dealing with serious topics using relatively adventurous compositions.

Here is the title track from that album, maybe the best ABBA song you've never heard. It fuses a few different genres, being a both a dance track pulling from contemporary prog rock and Indian chant influences. There's a long nervous build to the pop/disco refrains. Worth the wait. (Listener note: Check out the plinky effect that first appears at 18 seconds in, that sounds for all the world like grabbing a coin in Super Mario Bros, which was itself another 4 years off.) 

"None of my friends would be so stupidly impatient
And they don't dare to come here
Anymore now"


Diet Mtn Dew by Lana Del Rey

Posted on 2012-02-06 08:00

She's a freshly-minted, controversial pop starlet with a debut album ("Born To Die") out last week. Panned by critics; en fuego on international charts. This is a (superior) two-year-old demo of one of the album tracks. Beguiling low-energy vocal skips across a beguiling low-energy groove. It could end up very played out, but for now I'm into this. (Hat tip to Aditya for a heads-up on the album and to Timoni for the reference to this demo.)

"I'm not gonna listen to what the past says
I've been waiting up all night."


Sounds Like Hallelujah by The Head and The Heart

Posted on 2012-01-30 08:00

"Indie folk" out of Seattle. This song's a mini-rock-opera with a couple distinct sections to it. I have a hard time reading it closely, but the title refrain that kicks up in the back half is a melody worth the wait. From 2010's self-titled debut. (Thanks to Nikki C for the reference on this one.)

"I’m not walking away
I’m just hearing what you’re saying
For the first time"


Synthesizers by Butch Walker and the Black Widows

Posted on 2012-01-23 08:00

A old man's rollicking lament: you can still get out there and dance! The problem with such you-go-guy boosterism is that the rash of similes belie self-pity, where you'd hope instead for the glory of an actual party. (Not sure if it's validation that they somehow managed to exhume Matthew McConaughey and his best character ever for their video.) Catchy tune, though. From last year's "The Spade".

"I don't have any feathers or neon clothes,
But I can stay out all night
Like Sacajawea in a paint fight."


Make Good Choices by The Vernacular

Posted on 2012-01-16 08:00

I realized after namechecking this track in the last email that it had never featured as a song of the week. So I'm correcting that in a somewhat late start to 2012. 

"The Vernacular" was a short-lived, apparently-abandoned collaboration between Sean Nelson (Harvey Danger), Chris Walla (Death Cab) and Nathan Good (ex-Death Cab). They put just 3 songs or so on the MySpace page back in 2006, and this was one of them. It was the most-played ever track in my iTunes library for years.

"Make Good Choices" is a great Nelson composition-- wordy, playful, dark, and sporting surprising hooks. Walla and Good keep up an intensely nervous instrumental heartbeat as the story arcs from wistful to misanthropic, and they layer in two or three nice little bits of word painting (listen for the gimme bells but also the crash after "breaking down my esprit de corps").

"Your smile was disarming
Because nothing is more charming
Than a narcissist with whom you've just agreed.
Make good choices, thank you very much indeed."


Pancake by Youn Sun Nah

Posted on 2011-12-31 08:00

Endearingly wacky original by Korean jazz vocalist Youn Sun Nah, from this year's "Same Girl".

"I've got five bucks.
I've got ten minutes.
Need some nice food."

-------------------

2011 Song of the Week Personal Notes:
My two most-loved tracks from the past year were back to back way back in January: Vampire Weekend's cover of Springsteen's "I'm Going Down" and Tomboyfriend's "Almost/Always". Gotye's "Making Mirrors" may have been the new album I spent most time with this year. Robyn's "Body Talk", which I loved in 2010, continued to dominate my airtime in 2011, with her "Cry When You Get Older" recently claiming my all-time-most-played slot in iTunes from its longtime former owner, the Vernacular's "Make Good Choices". 

Happy New Year.


Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies by The Larry Clinton Orchestra

Posted on 2011-12-21 08:00

Big Band swinging Tchaikovsky, from late 1930s/early 40s. Happy holidays!

(This is the Song of the Week #150, sports fans. Thanks for riding along.)


Better Off Without A Wife by Tom Waits

Posted on 2011-12-13 08:00

Probably-drunk live crooner from 1975's "Nighthawks At The Diner", before the iconic Waits hit his really weird stride. The final throwaway joke about how "she been married so many times" is alone worth the price of admission.

"As long as I can be with me, we get along so well, I can't even believe it."


Lexington by The Great Unknowns

Posted on 2011-12-04 08:00

Hooky alt-country, featuring a bassist I went to college with. They put out a strong debut album in 2004 or so, then promptly disbanded. Recently reconvened, this is the lead track from the upcoming "Homefront".

"Never think about how you look in the television light."


It's My Party by Lesley Gore

Posted on 2011-11-16 08:00

Expert two-minute classic from 1963. This was producer Quincy Jones' first hit single. Lesley Gore was all unironic pop in the 60s, but should you think less of her for it, check out her cover of AC/DC's "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap" (!) done forty years (!!) later.

"Oh what a birthday surprise!"


Take It Easy (Love Nothing) by Bright Eyes

Posted on 2011-11-09 08:00

Youth, sex, and memory, trapped in a song tied to a mel...o...dy. A longtime favorite from 2005's "Digital Ash In A Digital Urn". 

"That weatherman's a liar. He said it'd be raining.
But it's clear and blue as far as I can see."


O Valencia! by The Decemberists

Posted on 2011-11-02 07:00

Surprised to realize these guys haven't come up yet on a Song of the Week. The Decemberists are a great oddball group out of Portland, jigging between sesquipedalian histories and sea shanties, and more listenable stuff. When they hit a sweet spot towards the latter, they have a great sound. "O Valencia!" is one such song, off 2005's "The Crane Wife". This one gives it up a little too easily, but it's too easy to stomp my foot to to think thrice. 

It tells a bloody star-crossed-lovers revenge story, obviously.

"And I swear to the stars
I'll burn this whole city down."


Ultraviolet (Light My Way) by The Killers

Posted on 2011-10-26 07:00

Everyone on the music-related internet seems to be celebrating the 20th anniversary of U2's landmark "Achtung Baby". I'm happy to go along with this, because Achtung Baby is not only U2's best work (yes, I went there) but it's also one of my desert-island all-time favorite albums by anyone. Introspective, heavy, sonically iconic, and somehow still danceable. 

The front 2/3 of the record is riddled with what became radio staples, leaving the back third somewhat less traveled but no less excellent for it. This is a cover from that territory by The Killers, one track from a pretty impressive tribute album put together by Q Magazine. (Jack White's "Love Is Blindness" is superb.)

The opening is a little off-kilter, and The Killers are no U2 (though they try really hard here), but it takes all the oompf and plays up the throbbing bass and percussion that made the original a sleeper anthem in the 80s U2 style. I think I like it mainly because it's a bunch of guys given permission to rock out like the unselfconscious gods they're covering.

Amazon is offering a series of reissues of Achtung Baby, including the $425 Uber-Deluxe Edition ("Band members sold separately").

"When I was all messed up 
And I had opera in my head
Your love was the lightbulb 
Hanging over my bed."


Call And Response by Or, The Whale

Posted on 2011-10-19 07:00

An catchy indie-alt-country tune about New Orleans and Katrina. Recommended if you like the sound of the Avett Brothers or Mumford & Sons, but it's straighter pop than those bands. From 2007's "Light Poles and Pines" (this one's been lingering in the queue since SOTW started). "Or, The Whale" is a dumb name with a cool provenance, and apparently they're an SF local 7-piece.

"Used to think that the world is round
But now I've found it's a pyramid"


Na Na Nothing by Mike Doughty

Posted on 2011-10-12 07:00

Doughty was once the frontman for famous unhinged-slacker-jazz combo Soul Coughing. Now he writes little pop/folk songs, usually slightly-askew with a hook and an acid tongue. It's consistently great stuff. Lead track from his new album, "Yes And Also Yes". 

"Now I'm bound to the bend of your bone-white wrist.
Shun the pill-popper, love the pharmacist."


Save It For Later by The English Beat

Posted on 2011-09-28 07:00

Like waffles in Belgium, the English Beat was just "The Beat" at home in the UK. They were part of the so-called "2 Tone" ska revival in the late 70s, and you know them for the instrumental at the very end of Ferris Bueller (as he's running home). This danceably great song is from 1982's "Special Beat Service", and features a driving pop beat, with restrained horns, strings and piano making guest appearances. 

"Two dozen other stupid reasons 
Why we should suffer for this."


Heat of the Moment by Asia

Posted on 2011-09-21 07:00

I keep around a list of well-crafted, catchy songs with thoughtful lyrics and great backstories. But today the sun is shining and I'm not feeling any of those. So instead I present to you one of the best-worst 80s rock anthems, which I declare to be unironically awesome. It's the lead track off the debut album (1982's self-titled) of a band I don't know anything about. Karaoke, anyone? (SOTW will return to regularly scheduled hipster obscurities soon.)

"And now you find yourself in '82
The disco hot spots hold no charm for you."


You Only Live Once by The Strokes

Posted on 2011-09-17 07:00

I get goosebumps every time I hear the riff, and the whole thing radiates a beautifully uncomplicated joy. I've never really known what it's about, but it feels like life-is-grand, and it may be the best three minutes Julian Casablancas will leave behind. High volume recommended. From 2006's "First Impressions of Earth".

"Sit me down, shut me up."


Somebody That I Used To Know by Gotye

Posted on 2011-09-07 07:00

Great track from this up-and-coming Belgian-Australian guy. (Something in the arrangement feels a little like that Manu Chao song, but this one is lightly tragic with a much better chorus.) From the new album "Making Mirrors", which I'm really liking and seems very promising. He's got a knack for soundscapes.

"Felt so lonely in your company"


On The Ocean by Guster

Posted on 2011-08-31 07:00

Long occupying a lonely middleworld between indie pop and major-label adult contemporary, Guster is underrated and underrespected. They were originally a "northeast college rock" band back in the mid/late 90s, though unusually tuneful. The excellent "Lost And Gone Forever" (1999) almost never faltered, and if there's a downside to the honing of their craft over the ensuing four albums, it's that they've polished the edges off. But that's OK. Unlike (say) the Barenaked Ladies who plunged pleasantly from college to middle-aged irrelevance, Guster brings the listener along while they grow up, and all the songs on 2010's earnest and aptly-titled "Easy Wonderful" have soul. This is my favorite from that album.

"I think we're taking on water."


Portions for Foxes by Rilo Kiley

Posted on 2011-08-25 07:00

Jenny Lewis is one of my favorite voices in indie rock. From 2004's "More Adventurous".

"And then there is no mystery left."


Dancing in the Dark by Pete Yorn

Posted on 2011-08-19 07:00

Prettyboy rocker Pete Yorn has too little personality of his own, but on this acoustic Springsteen homage he's more Bruce than Bruce himself, even one-upping the original. From the bonus disc of 2001's "Musicforthemorningafter". (Preemptive apologies to Emily P for the kinda-swipe at her boy.) Today in SF feels like autumn somewhere, and so does this song.

"I'm sick of sitting around here, tryin' to write this book."


Chicago by Lucy Wainwright Roche

Posted on 2011-08-12 07:00

Quietly emerging from a musical family, Lucy is Loudain's daughter, and Rufus's half-sister. She's put out a couple folk albums without a ton of attention. I love her voice, and this my favorite of hers. It's a slow-gratifying tune, with pretty harmonies, lyrical descriptions of moments in summer, and a build that makes me think someone could do a great dance mix of it. From 2008's "8 More" EP.

"Everyone clapped.. Heralding justice, hoping for change, and spilling their soda."


Tainted Love by Gloria Jones

Posted on 2011-08-03 07:00

The story of how this awesome-but-unknown 60s original ended up storming the world as a Soft Cell cover in the 80s takes us to the north of England in the 70s. A dance movement called Northern Soul that sprung up in clubs there was fueled by (American) Motown and Motown-like records, but insisted on staying away from the soul singles that everyone knew. Instead, DJs competed by looking for ever more obscure singles to get people out on the floor.

Gloria Jones released this song as the B-side of a single in 1965, both sides of which promptly vanished from anyone's awareness. A northern British DJ found a copy in an record shop while on a trip to the States in 1973 and brought it back with him; its style exemplified Northern Soul perfectly. 

Soft Cell came along in UK several years later, and familiar with the song through its club popularity, chose to cover it for their second single in 1981. Bonus trivia: The long version of the Soft Cell recording blends in some lines from the Supremes' "Where Did Our Love Go", which only makes sense when you know that the main track goes back to Motown, too. 

Anyways, I was surprised to come across this. I never loved the Soft Cell song-- it always felt a little limp to me-- but this recording is fantastic. It's tight, and really moves, and shows off a nearly flawless pop song.

"Don't touch me, please
I cannot stand the way you tease"


Gli Scatenati by Ennio Morricone

Posted on 2011-07-25 07:00

Ennio Morricone is the most famous of the 1960s "spaghetti western" film composers, going beyond just that genre to score over 500 (!) films, including such classics as "The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly". His back catalog is often mined by more modern directors (Quentin Tarantino) for period effect.

Morricone's work has extended well beyond the 60s, though, and the cowboy tunes. This track is from 1977's "Il Gatto", and is basically an out-there psychadelic funk instrumental, whose title translates to "The Unrestrained". You might or might not find it accessible, but it's got atmosphere and a groove.

--------

NB: Thanks to Monica for reporting last time that the melody of Eiscafe's "Quitting You Is Harder Than Candy" is a nearly note-for-note ripoff of the Violent Femme's "American Music". Good ear.


Quitting You Is Harder Than Candy by Eiscafe (ft Liz Enthusiasm)

Posted on 2011-07-13 07:00

A neat, throwaway little pop duet by Eiscafe featuring Freezepop frontwoman Liz Enthusiasm, released as an internet one-off a couple months back.

(The tragedy of this song is its squandered potential: a couple really solid hooks, the sunny metaphor, and knowledgeable instrumentation are the ingredients of an indelible classic. Unfortunately, it's half-baked; the lyrics don't go anywhere, the sections are sequenced to build up to not-that-much, and the production demonstrates why pop demands studio perfectionism. I keep coming back to it though, because there's such promise in these two and a half minutes. I'm hoping these guys decide to workshop this one some more.)

"A sugar rush shouldn't end in heartbreak now."


Wouldn't It Be Nice (vocal mix) by the Beach Boys

Posted on 2011-07-06 07:00

Veering back to our occasional behind-the-music series, this week we have an early mix of the Beach Boys' iconic "Wouldn't It Be Nice", stripped of all instrumentation, showing off just the great vocals, from the Pet Sounds (1966) sessions. (Pet Sounds was in many ways songwriter Brian Wilson's response to the Beatles' Rubber Soul, and is now considered one of the few best rock records of all time.) 

"Wouldn't It Be Nice" is a paean to grown-up domestic bliss, seen through the eyes of a bunch of earnest boys. They make you want to believe in that kind of adulthood. The Beach Boys were three brothers, a cousin, and the guy from down the street, and their unique, tight, harmonies are instantly recognizable, and were never duplicated.

"Wouldn't it be nice if we were older
Then we wouldn't have to wait so long."


The Stroll by Wizzo Band

Posted on 2011-06-29 07:00

In the grand tradition of The Twist, The Electric Slide, and the Macarena comes the Roy Wood Wizzo Band's possible attempt at a new craze for 1977. It's not clear to me whether this was related to the 1950s dance by that name, or was supposed to be ironic, or what. What I do know is this: this single completely failed to chart. It was therefore not included on the Wizzo Band's actual album ("Super Active Wizzo"), and thus was never released on CD or made available in any digital format. The attached MP3 is an amateur conversion from vinyl that someone posted on Youtube, where it has a sad 2500 views. Now THAT's obscurity! Thanks to Monica for unearthing it.

Even though no one was doing the Stroll in 1977, it's got a promising funk groove, a couple sections that sound like someone accidentally spliced a Meat Loaf song in just for kicks, and a recurring weirdo goose-stepping bit, all of which make it well worth a listen. 

"Too late to rock and roll."


Changing by Lifestyle

Posted on 2011-06-22 07:00

Sounds like an 80s sitcom theme in search of a home. (Imagine this paired with "Friends" if that show had started its run five years earlier.) Synthy, poppy, with a big, sexy hook. I can find almost nothing about the song or band, except that this track is from about 2000. Listen for the goofball pronunciation of "great" in the first verse. 

"I thought by now that I'd grown up a bit"


Lights Out by Santogold

Posted on 2011-06-15 07:00

A "chugging" guitar and lovely lilted refrain. Santogold (since rechristened "Santigold") put this out on her self-titled debut in 2008. Inconsequential but fun on a sunny afternoon.

"Darling, don't got to worry, you're locked in tight."


Mudhouse by Bob Schneider

Posted on 2011-06-08 07:00

Hitting bottom, with a sexy funk groove. This is my favorite from the swaggering style chameleon, off of 2006's The Californian. Rock it.

"Milk does a body beautiful, baby."


Iko Iko by Dr. John

Posted on 2011-06-01 07:00

Iko Iko is a New Orleans R&B song from the 50s (?) with a bit of a murky history, probably originally called "Jock-a-Mo". It was popularized back by the Dixie Cups, and you may know it from the 80s Belle Stars version that was in both Rain Man and The Hangover.

Dr. John is one of the New Orleans blues greats, and his version here (from the 1972 collection "Dr. John's Gumbo") is more mellow, more swinging, and showcases his fluent piano.

"My spy boy told your spy boy
I'm gonna set your tail on fire"


Rum and Coca Cola by the Andrews Sisters

Posted on 2011-05-25 07:00

The biggest single of 1945-- the Andrews Sisters were a huge girl group back in the day. They were three real sisters from Minnesota, which makes this faithful cover of a Trinidadian near-lament-about-Americans maybe a little problematic. But that aside, it's a nice song on a sunny day. Much, much more information than you care about about the history of this song is here. Thanks to Emily Z for this one. 

"Oh you vex me, you vex me."


55566688833 by James Figurine

Posted on 2011-05-18 07:00

The RAZR-compatible storyline plants this song firmly in the brief but memorable moment after we started texting but before we had iPhones. James Figurine is one of the many solo monikers of Jimmy Tamborello, who's best known as the electronica half of the Postal Service. This is the lead track from his 2006 album "Mistake Mistake Mistake Mistake". It's plaintive, twee, and my favorite of all his tracks sans Ben Gibbard. I didn't grok the title until very recently.

"I turned off my phone; you did the same,
and we fought face-to-face like it was the 90s again."


Jack Sparrow by The Lonely Island (feat Michael Bolton)

Posted on 2011-05-11 07:00

This is ridiculous, but I can't stop laughing at it, and it won't get unstuck from my head. Lonely Island is the trio of guys led by Andy Samberg that's done all the great comedy tracks from SNL (e.g. "Lazy Sunday", and the Grammy-nominated "I'm On A Boat") over the last few years.

"Jack Sparrow" aired last weekend, and is also off their just-released album, "Turtleneck & Chain". It features a completely absurd Michael Bolton and as far as I'm concerned, totally redeems that guy. Song is attached and mad catchy, but the real value is in the video. What other song do you know that could rock both of the following lines?: "I ain't your Mr. Nice Guy. I'm more like the meet you, take you home, f*** you twice guy" and "A mystical quest, to the Isle of Tortuga!" 

Here's the video. Definitely watch it:

"I wrote you this big, sexy hook that I think you're gonna love."


The Good Life by Weezer

Posted on 2011-05-05 07:00

This is new to me, since I apparently missed the mid-90s altogether. But today feels like a day for it. Man, Weezer had a real knack for a tune. Radio edit from 1996's "Pinkerton". 

"Hear me? I want sugar in my tea!"


Just Like Heaven (Instrumental/Demo) by The Cure

Posted on 2011-04-27 07:00

Last week's Disney work-in-progress track was a surprise hit, so I'm following up with another (admittedly less insightful) non-final version. This is a 1986 demo of The Cure's stupefyingly awesome "Just Like Heaven". It's all instrumental, recorded before there were any lyrics for it, early in the band's writing of their 1987 "Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me" album. 

Even though it's early and a little rough, it's completely recognizable. Listen and reach a zen one-ness with the craftsmanship of the pop hook. Full lyrics are provided below so that you can sing along where applicable. Warning: they are terribly saccharine when presented in text form; more fun when sung. 

---

"Show me how you do that trick 
The one that makes me scream" she said 
"The one that makes me laugh" she said 
And threw her arms around my neck 
"Show me how you do it 
And I promise you I promise that 
I'll run away with you 
I'll run away with you" 

Spinning on that dizzy edge 
I kissed her face and kissed her head 
And dreamed of all the different ways I had 
To make her glow 
"Why are you so far away?" she said 
"Why won't you ever know that I'm in love with you 
That I'm in love with you" 

You 
Soft and only 
You 
Lost and lonely 
You 
Strange as angels 
Dancing in the deepest oceans 
Twisting in the water 
You're just like a dream 

Daylight licked me into shape 
I must have been asleep for days 
And moving lips to breathe her name 
I opened up my eyes 
And found myself alone alone 
Alone above a raging sea 
That stole the only girl I loved 
And drowned her deep inside of me 

You 
Soft and only 
You 
Lost and lonely 
You 
Just like heaven 


Under The Sea by Menken/Ashman

Posted on 2011-04-21 07:00

Another installment in the "behind the music" song of the week series, with an awesome view of songwriting process.

Alan Menken (composer) and Howard Ashman (lyricist) were the unstoppable team behind all the music for Disney's epic animated renaissance of the late 80s/early 90s (Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin). It's amazing that these two guys created so much cultural value in such a short time. Ashman died of AIDS complications in 1991 just before finishing all the Aladdin songs.

Here's a fascinating look at the evolution of "Under The Sea" (Little Mermaid). I spliced together three segments: first (and best) is some of the "work tape" on the song. It's literally from a cassette recorder sitting on top of the piano while they worked out rhythms for the track by vocalizing, singing and jamming. (The lyrics aren't final and the song's instantly-recognizable riff isn't there yet.)

Then there's a full demo, with the guys faking a carribbean accent, backed by an bleepy synth orchestra, and intended as a guide track for the real orchestra and singers. Finally, the actual soundtrack recording.

These are all from a great 1994 box set based on those three movies called "The Music Behind the Magic." (There are sadly too few of the great "work tape" snippets, and there's not even a full demo of one of the best opening musical set pieces ever, "Belle" from Beaty and the Beast. But otherwise it's super deep.) It's rare to get such a detailed look at the craft. 

"Along those lines, but that's the uh, that's the concept..."


Strange by Freezepop

Posted on 2011-04-13 07:00

Another artist three-peat, but if you've been on the list you know how much I like these guys. Boston-based indie synthpop. This is another standout track from their recent (and excellent) "Imaginary Friends" album. Great little glitchy electro-percussion and a big chorus.

"Stranger at a party, suddenly you're a friend of a friend.
Strange, the way these things work out in the end."


Shilo by Neil Diamond

Posted on 2011-04-06 07:00

Neil Diamond is an extremely talented fellow, who for a couple shining albums in the late 60s absolutely owned by crafting a string of flawless pop songs. Then he tragically descended into schlock and lite rock for most of the rest of his career. (OK, I have a soft spot for that latter one.)

If you're not convinced on that first point, check out Exhibit A, his second record: "Just For You" from 1967. He wrote every song on it. Check them out. Really. He wrote all those! On a single album!

This week's song, Shilo, may or may not be his best from that era, but it's the one I keep going back to.

"Had a dream and it filled me with wonder...
She had other plans."


Fox On The Run by Sweet

Posted on 2011-03-31 07:00

Digging through the vault for something to crank up in your convertible on this gorgeous summery day. Sweet was a pioneering British glam band. Originally from 1974's "Desolation Boulevard". See you all at the drive-in.

"You, you talk about just every band.
But the names you drop are second hand."


Young San Francisco by Boy In Static

Posted on 2011-03-23 07:00

I'm suspicious of songs about large, heterogeneous places. (I prefer the ones about girls.) This ode to my adoptive home squeaks by on the strength of a nice toy-piano-plus-cello riff, a pop-by-numbers structure, and a couple worthy turns of phrase. It's from 2009's "Candy Cigarette", which by critical accounts is not a good album. I found the song hiding in the soundtrack to the recent SF film festival trailer (thanks Aditya).

"Bring your coat, and bring your youth.
Leave your history and leave your shoes
Back home"

---

Thanks for the contributions to last week's thread about Tubular Bells, esp to Benjy for the scholarly discussion of prog rock. Loved it. Anyone should feel free to pitch in if you're inclined. I should also say that as always if you are not really interested in being on this list, just drop me a line-- no offense ever taken.


Tubular Bells by The Brooklyn Organ Synthesizer Orchestra

Posted on 2011-03-16 07:00

"Pretty Ladies Playing Vintage Keyboards," advertises the musician and arranger behind this project. A very listenable recording featuring 20+ women from the hipster NYC music scene playing on old and new instruments. "Tubular Bells" was Mike Oldfield's breakout 1973 prog-rock jam. (Only in 1973 could you have a breakout recording that's a 50-minute instrumental. Yikes.) This track is only a short (!) subsection of that. It moves along much more agreeably than the original due to the frequent instrument and sound shifts and modern percussion sensibility.

The video, however, is totally awesome with indie hipsterism and music geekery out in full force:

(Thanks to Brendan for the tip on this one.)


L'Aventurier by The Kingpins

Posted on 2011-03-09 08:00

Québecois ska?! From The Kingpins' "Plan of Action" (2000). Functional for your running playlist, it really works best as the soundtrack to your awesome stop-motion film about your epic world travels, like this guy's.


L.O.V. by Fitz and the Tantrums

Posted on 2011-03-03 08:00

These guys aren't really new news, but despite the immediate appeal of their neo-soul sound, it took me a little while to really get into it. This is my favorite off the 2010 debut Pickin' Up The Pieces. It's got a soul verse and a straight-up 60s pop chorus. Thanks to Aditya for spreading their gospel last year.

"If you could find your way back home
I'd never ever ever let you go."



Christie Lee by Billy Joel

Posted on 2011-02-23 08:00

This week's dispatch is sent on location, via spotty Internet, from Argentina. All pop radio here seems to be American Top 40 throwbacks, a frozen world in which the late 90s are just about to happen. I was reminded of good old Billy Joel after hearing "Uptown Girl" today for the first time in ages. (BTW: that song is a classic. I'm not knocking it.)

"Christie Lee" is blues-rock with great piano, a pop hook, and a story about a musician being seduced by a woman who won't have him. This recording is not the final album version (on 1983's An Innocent Man)-- it's a livelier demo, which is great because you hear Joel yell out the sections to the band as they rehearse through them ("bridge!" "second chorus!"). I really like hearing "behind the music" variations that give some insight into the way songs get put together-- plus they're playing like they're having a blast.

Anyone who's known me long enough is aware that Billy Joel looms large in my formative music tastes (for better and worse). He doesn't get much airplay on my iPod these days, but the man did have a run of great songcraft. If you're interested, I'd encourage you to read this short article about his "squandered genius", which is one of my favorite written pieces about pop music. It's insightful and the author's experience cuts close to home for me:

"He couldn't see that Christie Lee was a woman
Who didn't need another lover...
All she wanted was the sax."


Need You Now by Cut/Copy

Posted on 2011-02-16 08:00

It starts like you think you're at Burning Man, but it's pop in disguise, mastering the delayed gratification. It takes minutes for the hook to slice through the thumpathumpa and deliver a swift kick to your adrenal glands. Headphones recommended. This is the lead track off of Cut/Copy's new Zonoscope (cool cover art, too). Thanks to "Crazy" John Stafford for insisting that I should give these guys another chance.

"I know I'm running, baby, but I need you now."


One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer by John Lee Hooker

Posted on 2011-02-09 08:00

Good blues. Originally a 50s Amos Milburn hit, remade better with a growl by John Lee Hooker a decade later. I like how the refrain vocal line feels like it's pinned a half-measure off where you expect it to be. There's probably a technical term for that.

"I want to get drunk, get her off of my mind."

---

PSA courtesy Karen M: Last week's artist, Two Door Cinema Club is playing at the Fillmore in SF on 4/14. $30 GA. I'm planning on going as I think are Karen and Ross. Come along!


What You Know by Two Door Cinema Club

Posted on 2011-02-02 08:00

Low-stakes indie dance pop! Sounds like: Death Cab for Cutie sending up Franz Ferdinand? From last year's "Tourist History." Produced to within an inch of its life for danceability though I wish it were a little scruffier. The infatuation will be short-lived, but it's catchy as all get-out. Thanks to Emily P for this one.

"And I can tell just what you want
You don't want to be alone"


Almost/Always by Tomboyfriend

Posted on 2011-01-26 08:00

The most obscure-indie-est thing I've sent out in a while. Tomboyfriend is from Toronto, and this is from last year's "Don't Go To School". Song rises above the limp emo ghetto with a great bass groove and subtle hooks. Give it a minute to get into full swing and listen up: it tells a meandering, extremely wordy story (cheat sheet here) of a mismatched courtship with some great images and a couple vividly awful ones, ending somewhere near nuclear armageddon.

"He wanted someone who would stay forever.
She wanted someone who could last an hour.
[...]
Breakfast came too early. Hesitation set in too late."

---

Thanks to Ross for the public affirmation last week. 


I'm Going Down by Vampire Weekend

Posted on 2011-01-19 08:00

The first artist three-peat on this list. This is a cover: "I'm Goin' Down" is a great unheralded Springsteen song, from the back side of 1984's blockbuster "Born In The USA". Vampire Weekend covers it nicely here with a minimalist groove and their unique sound. This recording is from an iTunes EP from last month. 

I do love Vampire Weekend's style enough to keep pimping out their music. They also have awesome visual design across all of their releases. Bold, clean type on great images. 

(Also recommended is the original one, backed by the fully rocking E Street Band.)

"I used to drive you to work in the morning.
Friday night, drive you all around.
You used to love to drive me wild but
Lately girl you get your kicks from just a-drivin' me
Down, down, down, down..."


It's All Coming Back To Me Now by Meat Loaf

Posted on 2011-01-12 08:00

Yes, it was a hit for Celine Dion. Yes, it's operatic, melodramatic, and inexcusably long. But for my money this is the ur-power-ballad, possible the most awesome of its kind ever written.

Jim Steinman is pop's Wagnerian auteur; he's best known as the main writing/producing force behind Meat Loaf's "Bat Out Of Hell" albums, responsible for the classic "Paradise By The Dashboard Light" etc but also Bonnie Tyler's crypto-masterpiece "Total Eclipse of the Heart". The original version of this song was recorded by Steinman's own "Pandora's Box" one-off band in 1989. Celine covered it a couple years later, and here, finally, we come all the way around to Meat Loaf's own take on it, where it works well with the male lead and female duet part (Marion Raven). From "Bat Out Of Hell III" (2006).

Stab yourself with some insulin and give it another listen. Give in to the epic. And if you start to take it too seriously, remember that the guy singing is the same guy who played Bob in Fight Club. Enjoy.

"BABY, BABY, BABY!!!"


Saskia Hamilton by Ben Folds (+Nick Hornby)

Posted on 2011-01-05 08:00

Ben Folds teamed up with author Nick Hornby to write last year's collaborative album "Lonely Avenue". This track is endearingly manic, tumbling all over itself, propelled through its three minutes with drums, shouts, banging on pipes. The brief respites from the chaos come in sections that sound vaguely like they're ripped from the Flashdance soundtrack. 

Apparently the subject of the song is a poet whose name was so interesting on paper that Hornby wrote about her sight-unseen.

"She got more assonance than she knows what to do with"

---

Gratuitous Mind-Bend:  The following landmark albums are TWENTY YEARS OLD this year:
- Nirvana's Nevermind and Pearl Jam's Ten.
- U2's even-underrated masterpiece Achtung Baby
- R.E.M.'s Out Of Time 
- Metallica's "Black Album"
- Guns N Roses' Use Your Illusion I+II 
Happy 2011!


King of Spain by The Tallest Man On Earth

Posted on 2010-12-29 08:00

Sounds like Mumford & Sons meets Bob Dylan. Tallest Man On Earth is just one (Swedish) guy. From this year's "The Wild Hunt". (Unrelated to the goofy Moxy Fruvous track of the same name.)

"I will settle in Pamplona,
And I'll provoke the bulls with words."

-----

Ben's Totally Offhand 2010 Most-Listened-To New(ish) Albums List:
-Robyn's "Body Talk" album(s). Best song that didn't make SOTW: "Dancing On My Own"
-Avett Brothers' "I And Love And You", which I came to late, but which is truly fantastic-- I'm on the bandwagon.
-Ad Frank's "Your Secrets Are Mine Now". ("Winterthru" was my most-played to song of 2010.)
-Harvey Danger's "Dead Sea Scrolls" freebie B-Sides/Rarities compilation.
-Thao With The Get Down Stay Down's "Know Better Learn Faster". Title track is great.
-Vampire Weekend's "Contra"
[Would love to see your list if you're read this far and are inclined to share.]


Sometimes You Have To Work On Christmas (Sometimes) by The Long Winters

Posted on 2010-12-23 08:00

It was a tossup between this track and a jazzy rendition of the Sugarplum Fairy song, but this features sleighbells, so it gets the holiday nod. It's a decade-and-a-half old Harvey Danger obscurity, covered (and tightened up) by The Long Winters. Comes from a great lineage of not-necessarily-joyful holiday songs. Featuring several Seattle references for those who'd know them.

Merry Christmas all, particularly anyone (and I know there are least a couple of you) who will be putting in work hours this Saturday.

"My vodka-and-snow is melting...
The alcohol isn't helping."


Down River by David Ackles

Posted on 2010-12-15 08:00

Since I got so much crap last week for sending a song that everyone already knew, I'm taking revenge this week by picking a 60s obscurity that I guarantee you've never heard. It's a great song, but it's a grower, and not everyone will love it.

David Ackles was an American songwriter/performer who put out 5 albums in the late 60s and early 70s before retiring from the music game to go teach at USC (I think). He's a songwriter's songwriter, hailed by the leading UK pop artists in that era (Elvis Costello, Elton John, even Phil Collins (!) ) as influential and groundbreaking, but no one else really ever listened to him. Which is one reason this un-remastered track sounds so quiet and unloved.

"Down River" is from his self-titled debut (1968). It's a story-song: the entire thing is the prisoner's side of a conversation with his visitor, a former lover, who has settled down with a guy named (of course) Ben.

"I still remember our song,
when you were mine, Babe."


Little Lion Man by Mumford & Sons

Posted on 2010-12-08 08:00

Great track from solid UK folk-rock outfit Mumford & Sons, featuring conspicuously-un-English banjo, etc. From last year's "Sigh No More" (is that a pun in a Brit accent? Or maybe an Aussie one.). Thanks to Kim and Pete independently for the recommendation.

The part that should give you goosebumps is right after the rising, rising, rising bridge: they plow back into the chorus only to suspend all instruments under the vocal harmony for four clean beats before the band comes crashing back in (~3m28s). Awesome. I wonder if they're that tight live?

"Your boldness stands alone among the wreck."


Gimme Sympathy by Metric

Posted on 2010-12-01 08:00

Metric takes us for the century lap-- this is the 100th (!) Song of the Week. From last year's very good "Fantasies" album. (Thanks to Aditya for the tip on Metric long ago.)

In addition to the two great hooks back-to-back in the prechorus and chorus, "Gimme Sympathy" name checks some classics in the lyrics, and gets its title (I assume) from shoving together the names of two great Stones tracks (exercise for the reader). 

"After all of this is gone
Who would you rather be:
The Beatles or the Rolling Stones?"


Doppelganger by Freezepop

Posted on 2010-11-24 08:00

Infectious new single from Freezepop in advance of their upcoming album next month. (I know this is a repeat artist from relatively recently, but their latest tracks are really excellent, and I'm hoping they start getting the broader recognition they deserve.) Good lyric about seeing an ex dating someone just because they're like you. 

"I never really got her name...
Guess it's all just a blur
When you're looking in the mirror at midnight, at midnight..."

(Happy Thanksgiving.)


10,000 Feet by The Beautiful South

Posted on 2010-11-18 08:00

Franken-duet, with a prominent mid-90s britpop groove (think Blur) wrapped around pretty folksy verses. Took a couple spins for it to coalesce for me. Beautiful South is a UK band that apparently never got much play stateside. This is from 2000's Painting It Red. The runner up track was a great acoustic folk song of theirs with a refrain that repeats "don't marry her, f**k me". Interesting band.

"Are you asking me down your runway?
I'm asking you to be watchtower."

----

PSA: Girl Talk (the awesome DJ who strings together complex layered samples into whole albums-- we had a SOTW of his a while back) has a new album out, "All Day". Free download. http://illegal-art.net/allday


Time Warp by the Rocky Horror Show cast

Posted on 2010-11-10 08:00

Shamelessly latch onto the current pop culture zeitgeist? Who, me?

Totally bitchin' piano rock number, recorded by the original (1974) LA stage company production of "The Rocky Horror Show." 

"You're spaced out on sensation, like you're under sedation."


If It Wasn't For Bad by Leon Russell ft. Elton John

Posted on 2010-11-03 07:00

Country/soul-tinged, slowly-adamant piano pop from 60s songwriter and performer Leon Russell. Elton John sings on there too, and the song comes from the pair's brand-new collaboration album, "The Union". 

The story goes that they performed together back in the 70s, and lost touch for 40 years before the aging John plucked the aging Russell from Nashville obscurity and encouraged the new songs. John claims that Russell's writing, and especially his piano style, was highly influential, and it's amazing to hear this on the record-- I'm familiar with a lot of early Elton John work, and the stylistic resemblance is uncanny. Most of the album is unfortunately given to Elton's compositions, and he's long past his ability to surprise. This track is a Russell composition, and it's the best of the lot.

"If it wasn't for you, I'd be happy
If it wasn't for lies, you'd be true
I know you could be just like you should
If it wasn't for bad, you'd be good."


Soul Man by Sam & Dave

Posted on 2010-10-27 07:00

Would have been more sly/topical last week, but the internet wasn't cooperating then. This one truly is a classic, recorded by Sam & Dave in 1967 for Stax. Isaac Hayes cowrote it, long before reaching greater career heights as the Chef on South Park. Get down!

"Comin' to you... on a dusty road."


Can't Nobody by 2NE1

Posted on 2010-10-27 07:00

From the Department of What The Foreign Kids Are Listening To These Days: 
This recently released pop track seemed to be everywhere in Korea. I'm not saying it's a quality song; to be clear, it's terrible. It's put out by an explicitly manufactured corporate girl group whose first ever song was for an LG commercial. Written by Teddy Park, off 2NE1's debut full-length.

[This week will be a twofor, since we skipped last week, and I don't want this one to be the stuck in your head.]


(I Don't Want To Go To) Chelsea by Elvis Costello

Posted on 2010-10-14 07:00

From one of the great songwriters of the new wave, this is from Elvis Costello's great sophomore album "This Year's Model", released eight days before I was in 1978. 

I find the most interesting pop musicians are the ones who stay actively engaged with the history and vanguard of their craft. This decade-old Vanity Fair article details his top 500 recommended albums, after tossing off my favorite music maxim: "When in doubt, play track 4; it is usually the one you want."

"She gave a little flirt, gave herself a little cuddle.
But there's no place here for the miniskirt waddle.
Capital punishment, she's last year's model."


That Thing You Do! by "The Wonders"

Posted on 2010-10-07 07:00

This is the title song to the 1996 Tom Hanks film, which I recently saw again. It's a cute movie, about a group of teenagers in the 60s enthusiastically forming a band and accidentally making a hit record. The song is a well-executed pastiche 60s British Invasion tune complete with harmonies about the pleasant maddening-ness of a girl. (Liv Tyler, in this case, who is nearly by herself worth watching the movie for.)

What I love about this song is how much of a challenge it would have been to write. Here you have a movie that is literally about a band that scores a big hit in the 60s with one song. That song is therefore the a priori protagonist of the movie, and for the whole enterprise to even hold up, we have to believe that the song could have been a big hit in its time. Writing songs is hard; writing songs that MUST be good enough to top the charts is presumably a bonus challenge (and if it could be done on demand, wouldn't everybody?). 

Apparently the producers (Hanks) put out a call to musicians for the task, and it was answered by Adam Schlesinger, one of modern rock's behind-the-scenes auteurs. (He's the force behind Fountains of Wayne and some other stuff.) Schlesinger answered the challenge on a whim, because he was a student of that form of 60s song, and he nailed it: in the movie, the song reaches #2 on the fictional Billboard chart. Outside the movie, it charted to #18 on the Top 40 in 1996. Not shabby. The only real giveaway are the sparkling 90s production values-- I wish they'd done a dirty mono recording instead.

(Schlesinger took up a similar gauntlet when he wrote the song-in-the-movie for 2007's "Music and Lyrics".)

"Well I try and try to forget you girl,
But it's just so hard to do."


Vaxxine by Visqueen

Posted on 2010-09-30 07:00

I was planning a wordy email about some behind-the-scenes pop stuff, but I'm not in the mood. Maybe next week. Here's some chick punk instead. Short and loud. 

"Vaxxine" is from 2003's "King Me". I saw Visqueen at the legendary (for me) Sasquatch festival the following year, where I also first heard The Postal Service (thanks Vlada), the Shins, and the New Pornographers, among others.


Temptation by New Order

Posted on 2010-09-26 07:00

This is my favorite New Order song, and one of my favorite dance tracks in general. New Order was a UK act that rose from the ashes of Joy Division after the lead singer of that band committed suicide in 1980. They were one of the pioneering 80s dance bands, probably best known now for the classic "Bizarre Love Triangle".

This recording of "Temptation" is longish, but worth your time. It feels almost sad in a way that dance music usually doesn't-- the friend who turned me on to it years ago described it as the only dance song that makes him want to cry. Beautiful, surprisingly organic guitar melodies and vocal parts in a driving structure. This is the 1987 version re-recorded for the "Substance" collection. The original 7" single is more raw, and also excellent. This song is also notable as the only successful DJ request I've made at a club.

The reward at the very end is the percussion hiccuping off the rails as the song closes out. 

"Oh you've got green eyes
Oh you've got blue eyes
Oh you've got grey eyes
I've never seen anyone quite like you before
No I've never met anyone quite like you before."


X by Gavin Guss

Posted on 2010-09-17 07:00

From this year's "Mercury Mine", solo debut from a longtime northwest music scene guy. This song is fun. (Though I can't recommend the album overall).

"You were flirting with the waiter.
You aroused him while he waited,
Our service soon accelerated, 
as his tip degenerated"

------
PSA: Freezepop (synthpop band from a couple weeks ago's song of the week) is playing in SF at the Elbo Room next Saturday night. Should be a blast. I'm planning to hit the show, if you're local and want to join, let me know. 


The Show Must Not Go On by Harvey Danger

Posted on 2010-09-09 07:00

This song is brand new, and it's the final release by what might be my favorite-ever band. You already know Harvey Danger, if not by name, then by the sound of their one hit single, 90s pop-punk anthem "Flagpole Sitta". But to stop there is to miss everything else, right up to this track. 

----

I was several years late to the party when "Flagpole Sitta" hit my radar. Living in Seattle, in 2003 or so I stumbled on a copy of their debut album for $1 in a music store bargain bin. I bought it on the basis of that single and the cool silkscreened cardboard slipcase, but it surprised me with gloriously hooky songs and cerebral lyrics that ran throughout the whole disc. It quickly found pride of place in my car's CD collection, where it remains today.

Serendipity struck one evening while ordering a cappuccino; next to the cash register was a photocopied flyer for an upcoming Harvey Danger "10th Anniversary Reunion" show at the renowned Crocodile Cafe. Turned out these guys had been a Seattle act, put out another album after the debut, and then fallen off the map four years previously. Now they were giving it a spin for kicks at a tiny club-- the kind of club where you can't help chatting with the musicians between acts, because they're fighting you for drinks at the bar.

They didn't look like rock stars, certainly not ones who had been on MTV. The frontman was tall, pale, and bookish, with a white man's afro. The lead guitarist was a preppy Asian guy. The drummer from the opening act was filling in on percussion, since the original drummer had moved to Chicago in the intervening years. But the show was incredible. The air was electric; this night was clearly the second coming for a band that everyone in the club really loved. (People don't love one-hit wonders like that.) It went on for ages, they went through the songs I'd come to love, and many that I didn't know. The frontman, who I'd learn was local Seattle renaissance man Sean Nelson, was self-deprecating and witty at the microphone between songs.

I came at just the right time-- the show at the Croc kicked off what became a two- or three-year indie-scale rebirth, during which Harvey Danger played many small shows locally and several outside the northwest. They released a third album (this time without a record label) and their style continued to evolve towards more mature and diverse arrangements. I saw several of the shows, dug up the other albums and various rarities and B-sides, and my esteem increased with every new find. 

The Beatles, the Stones, and Nirvana belong to everybody. But Harvey Danger was my favorite band, in the way that all favorites are more valuable when they're personal. These guys were not artistes or culturemakers, and national fame never suited them. They were students of pop-- underappreciated craftsmen who found a unique voice, and for that I admire them. Their music is consistently tuneful, but their songs stay for the conversation-- referencing literature, and film, with honest stories and emotional ambiguity, laced with wit and wordplay. This is the music I would write if I could write songs.

And they were just regular guys! Living in my neighborhood! Lead singer/songwriter Sean worked at the Seattle weekly paper "The Stranger". I accidentally met him once over a plastic cup of wine at my neighbor's apartment party. We talked for a few minutes; I could only pretend I was vaguely aware of his band, because I didn't know how to tell him he was a hero without feeling like an idiot. Jeff, the aforementioned preppy guitarist, was a Computer Science grad student at the time, and his advisor was an old acquaintance of mine. Apparently his affectionate nickname around the advisor's house was "rock star Jeff". I saw Harvey Danger's bassist Aaron shooting pool at a bar once and bought him a beer, just on principle.

Time went on, though. The regular-guy lives-- and the other local musical projects-- of the members probably overshadowed the spare-time Harvey Danger part, and after a couple years of almost no band activity, they announced in 2009 that they'd be playing final shows in a couple cities, ending with a last-ever show in Seattle. I'd moved to San Francisco in the meanwhile, and I'd seen them enough times that I didn't fly back. 

They wrote one last song to play at the final shows, so that they'd have something new to accent the nostalgia of a farewell tour. It's existed on live recordings since then, but wasn't otherwise released in any way, until today.

"The Show Must Not Go On" is Harvey Danger's uptempo swan song. It's about love, but you can also read it as a goodbye. It showcases signature stylistic elements: wistful, catchy, bass-driven, with fun bah-dah-dah nonsense in the chorus. More prosaic than their most ambitious work, it's still an archetypal Harvey Danger track, bringing it back together once before they quietly ride off in separate directions. A classy finish from a great band.

----

If you like what you hear, they have their final album (Little by Little), and a full collection of great rarities (Dead Sea Scrolls) up for free download on their site at http://harveydanger.com/downloads.


Who Fingered Rock'n'Roll by Cornershop

Posted on 2010-09-01 07:00

A great Stonesy stomp for the start of summertime (!). You might remember these guys from last decade for Brimful of Asha. This is from their 2009 album "Judy Sucks A Lemon For Breakfast". The twangy instrument you hear in the intro and throughout is a sitar. Awesome.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah!"


Fuck You by Cee Lo Green

Posted on 2010-08-27 07:00

OK, I know that I'm playing all fast and loose with the one-song-per week rule, and I promise to return to restraint soon, but it's Friday, and my brother just forwarded me this, and it's the awesomest new thing I've heard in ages. Seems worthy well beyond the sensationalist title.

New single by Cee Lo (he's half of Gnarls Barkley, and this is in the R&B style). Song is attached, but it's best experienced by watching his video for it, which is a surprisingly riveting typographic adventure:

"I guess he's an Xbox, and I'm more Atari."


Stakeout by Freezepop

Posted on 2010-08-24 07:00

It's meltingly hot in SF today, and the album cover on this jangly synthpop favorite looks very appealing. Freezepop is out of Boston, and specializes in goofy, inconsequential tunes; this one is the most danceable from their 2004 album "Fancy Ultra Fresh". These guys are masters of the synth, the vocoder, and sometimes even a Speak & Spell--they exist in some alternate universe where the 80s kept on evolving instead of being blown away by grunge.

(Also, never before or since has a band been paired with a name so perfectly apt as Freezepop.)

"Watching and waiting.. the feeling is elating."


E Isso Ai by Ana Carolina and Seu Jorge

Posted on 2010-08-19 07:00

Live version of Damien Rice's "The Blower's Daughter" by Brazilian artists Ana Carolina and Seu Jorge. She (Ana) sings in a surprisingly low contralto, and you might recognize him as the crew member who sang all the awesome Bowie songs in The Life Aquatic. This is from 2005's "Ana & Jorge: Ao Vivo", a triple-platinum smash down south.

Rice's original in English is, stunning, heartwrenching stuff-- listen at your own risk. That version is amazing, but I'm giving the nod to the Brazilians on the theory that love, longing, and loss somehow sound more comfortable in Portuguese.

(Tip of the hat to Team Jamaica Plain for this version.)


Death Cab for Cutie by The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band

Posted on 2010-08-11 07:00

Yes, that's right, the name of the song is "Death Cab for Cutie". When Ben Gibbard was looking for a name to give his indie rock project back in the 90s, he decided to use the title of this now-obscure bit of 60s pop. The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band was apparently a sort of eclectic, artsy British outfit. This track is from their 1967 debut album, "Gorilla." 

It sounds for all the world like an hommage to Elvis' "All Shook Up."

"When he saw Cutie, it gave him a thrill.
Don't you know, baby, cabs can kill?"


Cry When You Get Older by Robyn (b/w Konichiwa Bitches)

Posted on 2010-08-04 07:00

After reading the (what else?) New Yorker profile discussing the latter-day career of Swedish pop singer Robyn, I've found myself immersed in her music for the last week. It's great, especially compared to her one iffy 90s hit. She seems to have matured into a sort of eclectic pop auteur. It was hard to pick just one track of hers for this week's song, so for the first time we have a special two-for-the-price-of-one deal!

"Cry When You Get Older" is from this summer's new album "Body Talk Pt. 1". I can't stay away from a well-executed upbeat, hooky electropop number. I love the smothering insistence of the synth riff, and the lovely melody in the prechorus. I wouldn't be surprised if this track starts making radio rounds eventually.

"Hold up a second now, I got something on my dirty mind."

"Konichiwa Bitches" (off 2005's self-titled album) is probably the more interesting song, and a totally different kind of track. It's got a punchy groove-- sounds like an Odelay-era Beck track-- over which Robyn basically throws down to any (?) haters, in a sort of adorably wordy Scandinavian rap. Between lines like "I'll count you out, like a mathematician" and "I'll run you down, like a marathon", she drops at least one lyric that would make DMX blush. The title, of course, is stolen from Dave Chappelle.

"On the north pole, I'll ice you, son."


Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood by Santa Esmerelda

Posted on 2010-07-28 07:00

Latin/disco club hit from 1977, more recently featured on the soundtrack to Kill Bill. This great song was written for Nina Simone, who recorded it to little fanfare in '64, but it found a broader audience the next year when The Animals covered it, producing the de facto standard recording. But that version always felt like an energetic guy trapped in a suit that's a little too restrictive for the kind of dancin' he's trying to do. This Santa Esmerelda dance mix fulfills the song's promise.

"I'm just a soul whose intentions are good..."


Cecilia Ann by the Pixies

Posted on 2010-07-22 07:00

Dirty surf rock instrumental from 1990's "Bossanova". 

The Pixies were an influential rock band out of Boston. They put out five records in the late 80s and very early 90s, pioneering a "loud-soft" dynamic that would be copied by more well-known acts. (Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" was an intentional ripoff of the Pixies' sound.) The Pixies themselves never really got to mainstream recognition, but they were respected as a "band's band". 

It took me a while to get into their music-- the lyrics are usually bizarre and incomprehensible, and the music is loud and noisy. But listen closer, and most tracks are well crafted pop songs (even ones with names like "Wave of Mutilation"). 

"Cecilia Ann" is one of my favorites-- there are no words, and although it's nominally a cover of a 60s recording by the Surftones, it distills the underbelly of the Pixies' sound into one high-octane shot.


Teenage Kicks by the Undertones

Posted on 2010-07-14 07:00

Earnest power pop from 1978, by UK band the Undertones. This song is notable for being legendary BBC DJ John Peel's favorite song (his career spanned from 1967 to his death in 2004). Short, punchy, and simple, it'll grow on you. 

(Thanks to Benjy for the recommendation with the Peel history.)

"Teenage dreams, so hard to beat,
Every time she walks down the street."


Letter From An Occupant by the New Pornographers

Posted on 2010-07-08 07:00

I'm breaking my own rule about artist repeats here, but I recently found this gem buried in the New Pornographer's debut album, "Mass Romantic" (2000). I've praised these guys before, so I won't go on again. Neko is singing on this one (as she is on most of their greatest tracks). The clincher here is the sublimely gibberish harmonies in the the climax of the bridge (~2:05). 

"What the last ten minutes have taught me: 
Bet the hand that your money's on."


Hit 'Em Up Style by the Carolina Chocolate Drops

Posted on 2010-06-30 07:00

I'm a fan of the decade-old Blu Cantrell original, which is a groovy pop revenge song at its finest. Finally it's no longer a purely guilty pleasure, as the traditional folk trio Carolina Chocolate Drops cover it-- wisely dropping the "oops!" part and using all sorts of cool instruments (fiddle, jug?, other stuff)-- on this year's "Genuine Negro Jig". 

Thanks to Hema for this one.

"When you go then everything goes,
From the crib to the ride and the clothes."


Comptine D'un Autre Ete, L'apres-Midi by Yann Tiersen

Posted on 2010-06-23 07:00

Short, pretty piano piece by Yann Tiersen, most known from the soundtrack to Amelie. 

Learn to play it yourself by watching one of the many tutorials on YouTube!


Wichita by The Billys

Posted on 2010-06-16 07:00

An evocative road song about long distances late at night by obscure, defunct folk duo The Billys. It's sometimes overcute, but the persistent acoustic groove and the quick minor chord turn before the chorus redeems the unnecessary theatric tics here. Listen closely for the mathy "word problem" about the driving distance shot through the lyrics, leading to a sly Zeno's paradox in the bridge. Good to listen to when you are, in fact, driving long, late at night.*

From 1993's "The Time Has Come." I first heard this many years ago in an a cappella (!) cover version via Misty (thanks) and probably in turn via Jen (hi). Tracking down this obscure original turned out to be its own rewarding challenge... 

"It's good if it's engaging...
It's better if it hurts."

(Bonus lyric note-- contains the phrase "We're racing, we're pacing, [...]", three years before Cake used similar words in almost the same phrasing in "The Distance")

*thematic dedication to Losho and Slick Johnny.


Winterthru by Ad Frank and the Fast Easy Women

Posted on 2010-06-12 07:00

Just stumbled on this song by Boston-based sorta-retro sorta-glam outfit Ad Frank and the Fast Easy Women. Catchy new wave homage and/or pastiche electropop ditty. From 2009's "Your Secrets Are Mine Now".

"All the winter through, I'll be missing you.
When you forget about me, I want to forget about you too."


Growing Up with GNR by Aqueduct

Posted on 2010-06-02 07:00

Like a sweet chestnut, this song is all spiny and angular while you work your way into it. But then you break through, finally--two whole minutes in!--to the delicious chorus, and it was all worth it. 

From 2005's "I Sold Gold". Aqueduct is a Seattle-based indie band.

"Welcome to the jungle,
you're much-too-much to handle,
I wish I weren't in love with you"


Ballroom Blitz by Tia Carrere

Posted on 2010-05-26 07:00

In honor of teenage crush Cassandra's recent divorce filing, this week's song is Ballroom Blitz, from the Wayne's World soundtrack (1992)-- she even did her own soundtrack vocals.

The Ballroom Blitz was originally a catchy, campy 1973 single by UK glam band Sweet. This is the best-known cover, smoothing over the rougher edges and simplifying the bridge into basically just a long drum break. It's lots of fun, if not especially significant (is it about a rock show? maybe zombies?). 

Personal note: this MP3 was ripped from the actual Wayne's World soundtrack CD I bought in 8th grade with my allowance; third album I ever owned. This soundtrack has aged well, with a killer mix of hair metal, early Chili Peppers, Hendrix, Queen, etc. Party time! Excellent!

"Oh my dreams are getting so strange
I'd like to tell you everything I see"


Daylight by Matt & Kim

Posted on 2010-05-19 07:00

I've had this song rolling around for a couple years, and was never really sure if I liked it-- if it was better than the sum of its parts: a tiny, angular, aggressively repetitive piano melody paired claustrophobically with in-your-face drums. 

But the jury is in: It's good. There's heart and soul in the words, and joy bursting from the seams in the structure.

(I had a somewhat more somber choice lined up for this week, but I'm calling an audible to let this one through.)

"Slip and slide on the subway grates
These shoes are poor man's ice skates"


Hazy Shade of Winter by the Bangles

Posted on 2010-05-15 07:00

I'm a sucker for interesting covers. You probably are familiar with the Bangles' "Walk Like An Egyptian" and their middle school torch song "Eternal Flame".

But their secret excellence was in being more of a polished folk quartet than a straight-up pop group. Given the folk sensibilities, it's less surprising that they are here covering Simon & Garkfunkel's great "Hazy Shade of Winter" (late 60s). It's faithful to the mood and harmonies of the original, but a LOT louder. The only two missteps here are a noncommittal synth horn in the first chorus, and dropping out the second (edgier) bridge verse from the original. The Bangles knew how to ROCK. This track is (almost) great enough to redeem them for Eternal Flame.

"Down by the riverside, 
It's bound to be a better ride
Than what you've got planned."


Big In Japan by Alphaville

Posted on 2010-05-05 07:00

Back after a several-week hiatus. I sort of wish I had something more meaningful than this song to share, but it's wound its way onto my recently played playlists, and I kind of dig it. 

Alphaville, a German synthpop/new-wave outfit from the 80s, seems to really own the ridiculous/awesome genre, which their better-known track Forever Young also falls into.

"Should I stay here at the zoo,
Or should I go and change my point of view?"


Pleasant Valley Sunday by the Monkees

Posted on 2010-04-15 07:00

Yeah, those Monkees. Ridiculed in the 60s for being a prefab wannabe-Beatles boy band put together by TV execs (which they were), the Monkees put out a string of great songs, and even some weird and challenging ones. This track was written by the power hit team of Carole King and Gerry Goffin. The Monkees weren't usually allowed to play instruments themselves on their recordings, but eventually life imitated art; they pushed their contractual boundaries, got good, and toured as a proper band, and later got critical respect.

"Another Pleasant Valley Sunday, here in status symbol land."


Crash Years by the New Pornographers

Posted on 2010-04-01 07:00

Brand new single from the New Pornographer's upcoming album. They're a really fun power-pop "supergroup" out of Canada that have put out a series of excellent albums over the last decade or so (including 2003's Electric Version, one of my all-time faves). The female voice is Neko Case, who has her own impressive alt-kinda-country career (we heard from her on SOTW last year). The prime mover/writer of the group is Carl (AC) Newman, who occasionally records solo albums that feel similarly melodic to Pornos albums but tend to be a little darker.

Nothing special to say about this song-- Neko's singing, and it features some nice whistling noises and a pleasantly surprising (to me) jaggedness to the harmonized chorus melody. No idea what it's talking about; haven't listened closely enough yet. Looking forward to the album.

"Windows were closed in the crash years
Honey child you're not safe here"


Sweet Disposition by The Temper Trap

Posted on 2010-03-23 07:00

I had missed this single from last year by Aussie band The Temper Trap. It doesn't signify much to me, but the structure is compelling and the soundscape is pretty. 

(Although I got them from separate sources at different times, it turns out--thanks, Wikipedia--that both this song and last week's sit shoulder to shoulder on the soundtrack to "500 Days of Summer", which I haven't seen, at this point on principle. So much for original music selections!)

"Don't stop till it's over"


You Make My Dreams by Hall & Oates

Posted on 2010-03-19 07:00

A killer song for a sunny Friday morning. From 1980.

Especially impressive is this video by a high school outside of Seattle that filmed a lip dub of this song, starring hundreds of students... entirely in reverse, catching the attention of Hollywood cinema types for its technical challenges: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T7TI-AJi2O8

TGIF!


When We Swam by Thao with the Get Down Stay Down

Posted on 2010-02-24 08:00

Thao Nguyen writes the songs and fronts her group, the Get Down Stay Down (currently reigning as my favorite band name, ever). It's scruffy indie pop, but lyrically raw-- last year's album "Know Better Learn Faster" is a hurt breakup album layered over some deceptively upbeat tunes. This song (from that album) is definitely the most accessible of the bunch, but it's not the most sophisticated. (If you like the style, give a few spins to the title track which features Andrew Bird, of previous Song of the Week fame.)

"The fall of your face / the wish of the well
The rush of the push / The length of the spell
And you won't bring your hips to me"


I Drove All Night by Cyndi Lauper

Posted on 2010-02-19 08:00

Cyndi Lauper is one of my favorite female pop vocalists. Her mid-80s debut release "She's So Unusual" is a near-flawless album, containing a couple originals but mostly covers and songs written by other people-- she excels at interpretation. (This list has seen two original songs by others that were also covered on her debut.) 

Here's a cover of hers-- not from that album-- this soaring, near-perfect song written for and originally recorded by Roy Orbison at the very end of his career; he's one of my favorite male vocalists and it was a toss-up over which version to include, but I'm going with Cyndi because hers is a little better for the relative restraint in the instrumentation. (You still need to get over the 80s synth if that's not your cup of tea.) I strongly recommend also checking out out the Orbison one though, with its killer video featuring Jennifer Connolly (good), but also Jason Priestley (less good).


Angel of the Morning by the Iconics feat. Sean Nelson

Posted on 2010-02-12 08:00

Sean Nelson is the former frontman of Harvey Danger, and one of my favorite musicians. Here he joins a random assortment of Seattle musicians in a live performance of Merrilee Rush and The Turnabouts' 1968 hit "Angel of the Morning". It's a faithful cover, and I dig the male vocal. For what it's worth, I'm told by my family that I claimed this as my favorite song when I was a wee child. (Seems about right.) 

"If morning's echo says we've sinned
Well, it was what I wanted now."


Tonight She Comes by The Cars

Posted on 2010-02-05 08:00

The Cars found a unique sound at the intersection of a few different genres as they came to popularity through a string of albums in the late 70s to early 80s-- synthy new wave, power pop, some guitar punk. Their signature, beyond the driving melodies, was flawlessly airtight production and vague emotionlessness--  easy to sing and dance to, but drifting away without a lot of significance.

This track is a quintessential Cars song, and was released only on their 1985 Greatest Hits album-- a rare example of the tacked-on-Greatest-Hits-bonus-filler-track going to #1 on the charts. The double-entendre of the title is so ridiculous that I can't help but think it's probably just a single-entendre.

"She tells me it's easy
When you do it right."


Long-Forgotten Fairytale by The Magnetic Fields

Posted on 2010-01-31 08:00

This is one of the sixty-nine (!) tracks from the Magnetic Fields' 1999 masterwork "69 Love Songs". It's common to describe albums of that ambition with words like "sprawling" and "epic," and those adjectives are deserved-- possibly more the former than the latter. The Magnetic Fields are a nebulous indie group centered around singer/songwriter Stephin Merritt, with some of his friends. He undertook this project to write 100 love songs, but that proved too much, so he settled on (of course) 69 of them, running across all notions of love, with titles from "I Don't Want To Get Over You" to "The Cactus Where Your Heart Should Be" to "Papa Was a Rodeo", and across genres as diverse as country and chamber pop. Most songs are pretty short, some are pretty dumb, but all together it really does sprawl and achieve greatness.

Thanks to Nitin for repointing my attention to this song, which I had basically missed in the years I've had the album. The album's 3 CDs long (!), so there are always new good ones to find.

"I saw you last in summertime
You said you hated long goodbyes
You said 'There's nothing to explain; 
in every life a little rain'... etcetera."


Giving Up The Gun by Vampire Weekend

Posted on 2010-01-20 08:00

This is the closest thing to a dance track on their sophomore album "Contra", released last week, almost exactly 2 years after their awesome debut. I've already raved about Vampire Weekend here. People say their most direct parentage is "You Can Call Me Al"-era Paul Simon worldbeat pop, which is probably close to true, but I think sells their wacky prep school/Cape Cod languor a little short-- they build a casual world in lyrics and groove and totally own that. The new album goes a little deeper than the first one, sometimes at the expense of fun, but I think that's an OK tradeoff for them to make. This song is less weighty than some others, but that's also OK.

-----
Song of the Week bulletin board:
I have a couple coupons for MP3 album downloads that came with records I bought that I don't need. I have a virgin Avett Brothers coupon for that whole album (see last week's SOTW). And I think my Vampire Weekend code might have another couple downloads on it, but not sure. Hit me back if you're interested in one of these albums. Both are very worthy albums. First come, first served...


Losing My Edge by LCD Soundsystem

Posted on 2010-01-14 08:00

[bonus makeup song for last week]

This is an epic tale of an artist (a DJ, in this case), becoming slowly irrelevant as he ages. James Murphy, the man behind LCD Soundsystem, talk-sings his way through over 7 minutes of hand-wringing on top of a rough electronica groove. Even if you don't love electronic music, I strongly suggest that you bear with this one-- the story is worth it.

It starts off simply, with one voice and a simple track, lamenting that he's "losing his edge" to the younger kids "whose footsteps I hear when they get on the decks". Soon the spoken voice gets multiple tracked, schizophrenically reflecting the anxiety he's describing. Periodically, he'll pull it together to slam down a "but I was there!", where the beat coheres again and he tells us he was at Ibiza, or playing at CBGB's, but then the nervous foot-tapping buzzing energy comes back. Towards the middle he starts name dropping to show both what he knows and what he's scared of the new kids knowing. Eventually, he falls apart into a new tune: "We all know what you really want..." to close it out. Such an awesome story.

"I've never been wrong; I used to work in a record store."

From 2002, LCD Soundsystem's first single.

(Thanks to Pat for pointing me to this track a couple years ago.)


Kick Drum Heart by The Avett Brothers

Posted on 2010-01-12 08:00

I don't know too much about the Avett Brothers, but apparently they were more of a scruffy independent bluegrass/country act, until their major label debut "I And Love And You" from last year. Rick Rubin, legendary producer, did the record-- he turns down the banjos and brings his trademark super-clean polished sound around acoustic performances that he also used for Johnny Cash's last albums, recent Neil Diamond and others. I haven't gone super deep on this album yet--just got it--but my sense is that there's greatness here. There are more significant songs, but this one, "Kick Drum Heart" was way too fun to pass up. It has a perfect little indie melody, buffed to a shinyness that most indie bands can't afford.

"It's not the chase that I love / It's me following you."

(Song of the week took last week off; I'll be making up the absence with a track from the archives later this week.)


Witch Doctor by David Seville

Posted on 2010-01-02 08:00

From 1958, here's a hit novelty rock song that features the very first recording of the voice that would become "Alvin" and the Chipmunks. David Seville was the stage name of Ross Bagdasarian, who essentially pioneered the variable-speed-tape technique that led to the creation of the Chipmunks' distinctive voices. This was his first single using the trick (he's doing both parts), which was followed soon after by "The Chipmunk Song", and the rest is history. (Bagdasarian seems to have been a man of many talents; he also had a minor part in Hitchcock's famous "Rear Window" in '54.)

"Ooo Eee Ooo-Ahh-Ahh Ting Tang Walla Walla Bing Bang"

(Thanks to Sarah for prompting the research on the Chipmunks.)

---
Note: Skipping the New Year's theme this week. If you're looking for that, I recommend you go back and listen again to the excellent "This Year" by the Mountain Goats.


Joy To The World by Three Dog Night

Posted on 2009-12-25 08:00

When I was in college, my residential house had a (surprisingly WASP-y, even for Boston) tradition of getting together to drink and sing Christmas carols one evening each December. The faculty member who oversaw our house was a music scholar, so he'd lead the singing. My senior year, a fantastic fellow in my class by the name of Nick Weiss was there and volunteered to accompany on the piano. He was naturally talented, and rolled along holiday song after holiday song, playing and singing with the crowd. As the evening came to an end, Nick opened the music book to the wintry carol "Joy To The World", announced the title, drew in a breath, winked at the crowd, and then slammed down the opening riff of the Three Dog Night song by the same name, yelling "Jeremiah was a bullfrog!" Thirty people followed his lead through the whole thing, glasses raised.

Merry Christmas!

"I'm a high night flier, and a rainbow rider,
a straight-shooting son of a gun."


(This Is) The Dream of Evan and Chan by Dntel feat. Ben Gibbard

Posted on 2009-12-17 08:00

This is the original collaboration between Jimmy Tamborello (aka Dntel) and Ben Gibbard (frontman of Death Cab for Cutie). From Dntel's "Life is Full of Possibilities" album (2001), this song worked so well that the pair went on to create a full album of songs under the name "The Postal Service." It's somewhat of a challenging listen, but will reward your attention with a beat and a song rising up from fuzz, outlining the (titular) dream, and then receding back into the haze.


Song of the week bonus: Some of Ben's Favorite Albums of the 2000s.

I've been consuming music (I could say collecting, or buying, but neither alone captures the act) since middle school, but only in the early to mid 2000s did I get really serious about it, with weekly trips to the record store and frequent live show attendance in Seattle. As this decade closes, it's not a bad time to look back and take stock of music I've heard this decade that has worn its grooves into my brain forever. It's just one view-- I'm going with albums, and not songs, and they're not in an especially special order, but the important criterion I imposed is that I have to love the entire album; there's no track skipping when these albums are on. Got your own list? I'd like to hear it.

1. "Give Up", The Postal Service (2002)

It was late at the Sasquatch Festival on Memorial Day Weekend in 2004. We were at the Gorge, an outdoor amphitheater on the banks of the Columbia in nowhere, Washington. We were tired, it was getting dark. But one friend (and current SOTW subscriber) demanded that we stay for one more group, these Postal Service guys. The 45 minutes that followed was probably the best show I've ever attended, Jimmy Tamborello in the back spinning and making beats, and Ben Gibbard (otherwise of Death Cab for Cutie) frantically switching between guitars and drums while singing immediately likeable electronic pop songs. 

I play their sole album when I miss Seattle-- you can hear the drizzle and see the grey clouds reflected in the lakes throughout. "Give Up" had some instant classics: "The District Sleeps Alone Tonight" and "Such Great Heights". Over time, other tracks revealed their excellence, and now, half a decade later (!), my favorite has come to rest at "Brand New Colony." Only the final instrumental track is a misstep here; everything else is of equal brilliance. 

2. "King James Version", Harvey Danger (2000)

Long-winded and intricate, packed with tunes, a masterpiece by an underrated band. Fundamentally a pop song outfit, Harvey Danger created its own stylistic space by adding the snarl of punk to lyrical wit over electric guitars and organs. Come for the songs, stay for the conversation-- KJV is home to some of my favorite lyrics: 
  "The moon is a toenail, the stars are a guardrail, my heart is a sandpail. And you're Toluca Lake."
  "She took one last gulp of his soft city condescension, and blasted off from her little launch pad to points West."
  "It's so much harder to be underfed than under-understood, he said."
  "Let's empty all the minibars and leave this town in flames."

Harvey Danger was briefly famous for a flash in the late 90s with hit "Flagpole Sitta", then they shrank back to being just a northwest indie band. (Maybe their lasting legacy is having supported local unknowns Death Cab for Cutie.) I saw these guys many times live in small venues in Seattle, each show excellent. They've disbanded for good as of this year, and pop music has lost something.

3. "Transatlanticism", Death Cab for Cutie (2004)

By turns contemplative, wry, loud, and pained, this (concept?) album is heartache over gorgeous soundscapes. Distance, coming of age, and the intense sense of winter are writ throughout the record. No other Death Cab album before or since has come close to its consistency and its raw personal pleas. Highlights: the long, building title track and "We Looked Like Giants."

4. "Charm School", Bishop Allen (2003)

These guys write catchy, witty little pop numbers and perform with carefree glee. Bishop Allen released a bunch of music this decade, including two more albums and a series of 12 (!) EPs. But their debut album remains the most consistently excellent yet thematically broad set of songs, ranging from the hand-clapping singlalong "Penitentiary Bound" to the Talking Heads homage "Empire City," and its unironic joy throughout makes it the real keeper.  

5. "Smile", Brian Wilson (2004)

The Beach Boys' intended response to 1967's Sgt. Pepper's, a mythically unfinished album that grew in legend for three decades before Brian Wilson came out of rehab to finally piece it together. Even for being a step out of its time, it resonates and uplifts, psychadelic surf pop as an Americana concept album. Would have given Lennon and McCartney a run for their money back in the day. Highlights: finally contextualized recordings of "Heroes and Villains" and "Good Vibrations". See also "Surf's Up," the pivot point of the album.

6. "Vampire Weekend", Vampire Weekend (2008)

These guys are young and inexperienced, but there's something wonderful and unique about their sound. It's carefree, danceable pop (some critics call it "afro-pop", which seems wrong to me, but does describe the drums) with unusual instrumentation and neat little lyrical figures. It's a summer day in the park, captured on tape. Highlights: "Walcott", "The Kids Don't Stand a Chance", "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa".

Some Honorable Mentions: 
"Chutes Too Narrow", The Shins (2003)
"Fox Confessor Brings The Flood", Neko Case (2006) 
"Electric Version", The New Pornographers (2005)
"Golden Delicious", Mike Doughty (2008)
"Comfort Eagle", Cake (2001)
...along with others I've surely forgotten.


Proud Mary (Live) by Ike & Tina Turner

Posted on 2009-12-09 08:00

Came across a great live concert recording of Ike & Tina Turner from 1971. Their cover of Creedence's Proud Mary ended up being one of their signature songs over the years, and it's great live-- it's rearranged from the original to be less country, and lot more soul. I like how their version starts slow and gospelly, breaks into rock n roll, and turns into a party over the course of 8 minutes. Plus, check out Tina's intro-- who knew she was so hot?


16th & Valencia Roxy Music by Devendra Banhart

Posted on 2009-12-02 08:00

I'm a sucker for a local reference; I'd like to imagine this is about Saturday nights at Delirium. Disco/funk/folk? From the new album "What Will We Be."


The Disappointed by XTC

Posted on 2009-11-27 08:00

From 1992's Nonsuch. This song pairs a surprisingly infectious tune with a total sad-sack story.


The Ballad of John and Yoko by the Beatles

Posted on 2009-11-20 08:00

This was a recent find for me-- it's a breezy, bluesy autobiographical song by Lennon about the people who were getting all up in his business about his thing with Yoko. It's notable for being recorded on all instruments by Lennon and McCartney; George and Ringo happened to be out of town when inspiration bit, so they missed the boat. For such a late Beatles track, I like how straightforward it is. Released as a single in May '69.

"Drove from Paris to the Amsterdam Hilton
Talking in our beds for a week.
The news people said, "Say what you doing in bed?"
I said, "We're only trying to get us some peace!"

Christ, you know it ain't easy..."


Days by Sambassadeur

Posted on 2009-11-15 08:00

New boppy pop single from Swedish group Sambassadeur, off of their upcoming unnamed album. Good listening, although the backing track writes a check that the song ultimately can't cash. (Reminds me of "Bittersweet Symphony" in this respect.)

****
In other news, Song of the Week is back after an (unintentional) monthlong hiatus. For those keeping score at home, this month marks the first birthday of SOTW. "Days" is the 48th (!) installment. The subscription list has grown from 9 to the current 29 (as always, let me know if you want off). My least favorite pick, in retrospect, is Bishop Allen's "South China Moon"; that album had several better tracks. The most prescient was "Jai Ho" from Slumdog Millionaire, which at the time I called "trashy", which was apparently code for "Oscar winning." Based on iTunes play counts, the three newly-found songs that I have ended up listening to the most are "People Got A Lotta Nerve" (Neko Case), "In For The Kill" (La Roux), and "Money Changes Everything" (The Brains). Let me know if you've had any sleeper favorites. Thanks for listening.


Last Train to Trancentral by The KLF

Posted on 2009-10-16 07:00

From 1991's "The White Room". I was not a connaisseur of "late-80s acid house" when I ordered this album as part of the 10-CDs-for-a-penny deal that I got from Columbia House in 8th grade (!). I'm no more of one now, but apparently critical history has been kind to the record. (Unlike with the Amy Grant CD that I ordered at the same time.)

Anyways, I'm not much for hard core dance music unless it's got a melody, and this has that and then some. The style's also apparently referred to as "stadium house". If you find it a little in your face up front, try putting it on your workout playlist. You might also recognize this song from the end of the original Blue Man Group show.

Awesome grace note in this track if you listen carefully: buried in all the synthesizers and production, in the middle of the bridge, there's the single organic sound of a horse whinnying.

Have a great weekend.


Horchata by Vampire Weekend

Posted on 2009-10-07 07:00

Newly released advance track from their second album "Contra", which is due in January.

This song isn't really especially memorable on its own merits, but it's shiny and new and has the trademark sound that makes Vampire Weekend one of my favorite bands. Enjoy it for the warm vibe as we head towards colder weather.

"In December, drinking horchata
Look down your glasses at that Aranciata"

(N.B. I reserve the right to send out another of their songs when the new album is fully out.)


Spinning Away by Brian Eno and John Cale

Posted on 2009-09-30 07:00

I'm not always in the mood for this song, but this morning I am. Get past the dated production and pretend you're in a movie montage: on top of a mountain, smiling up at the sunshine, turning around with your arms flung out. Turns out, sometimes the world is wonderful place to be in after all. 

From the album "Wrong Way Up" (1990). We've seen both Eno and Cale on this list before-- the first for his collaboration with David Byrne on "Strange Overtones" in Feb, and the latter for his awesome "Hallelujah" cover in April.

"... as the day dissolves, with my pencil turning moments into lines."


I Saw Her Standing There by John Lennon and Elton John

Posted on 2009-09-23 07:00

Live at Madison Square Garden, in November 1974, from Elton John's "Here and There" album.
(This is Beatles month, with their full catalog remastered and reissued on CD, but this is a recording you won't find in the box sets.)

John Lennon was four years past the Beatles and never performed live anymore when he lost a bet to Elton John, agreeing to join him on stage for a few songs at one of Elton's concerts. This was the last of three songs they played together that night. and as fate had it, was the very last song Lennon would ever play for an audience. How fitting then that "I Saw Her Standing There" was also the first track on the Beatles' first record in the UK.

This live track, with rock piano by Elton, guitar by Lennon, and vocals by both, kicks the ass of the then-decade-and-a-half-old original version. Check the tambourines, the guitar solo in the bridge, and Lennon's whimsical description of his former songwriting partner.


Parentheses by The Blow

Posted on 2009-09-14 07:00

From 2006's "Paper Television". Indie electro pop from Oregon. 


Sleepyhead by Passion Pit

Posted on 2009-09-03 07:00

[Today's a twofer, since I skipped last week.]

Now back to our regularly scheduled indie stuff. This is off of last year's "Chunk of Change" EP, which is basically a one-man computer-synthesized song cycle. The guy recorded it for his girlfriend, and then apparently decided that other people should hear it. Good call: he and his band are playing the Treasure Island Festival next month. Or not: the girlfriend in question is referred to in press as his "then-girlfriend." Oh well.  It's got a unique sound and a hook too.


Poker Face by Lady Gaga

Posted on 2009-09-03 07:00

Sorry to be both late to the party and so obvious, but the implanted memory of this song woke me up every couple hours last Saturday night. It has no real staying power, but rocks a mighty hook.

"Cause I'm bluffin' with my muffin'..."  Classy lady.


Beggin' by The Four Seasons

Posted on 2009-08-20 07:00

From 1967. Frankie Valli and his troupe put out a bunch of awesome songs in the 60s (and 70s). About the mid-60s, their style turned more from pop/doo-wop to rock. This track has an unusually excellent groove to it.  

"Don't even stand a devil's chance to win my soul."


Heartbeats by The Knife

Posted on 2009-08-14 07:00

The Knife is a reclusive Swedish electropop duo. This is from 2003's "Deep Cuts." Might take a listen or two to find the hook.

This song was slightly more recently covered in a surprising acoustic version by Jose Gonzalez and used as the theme track to the best Sony/San Francisco ad ever: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-zOrV-5vh1A [definitely click the "HD" button if you haven't seen this yet.] 


Holiday Road by Lindsey Buckingham

Posted on 2009-08-08 07:00

John Hughes died this past week. He was the 80s film writer and director behind Ferris Bueller and The Breakfast Club, among many others.

This song is the title track from National Lampoon's "Vacation," one of his early writing successes. Lindsey Buckingham (formerly of Fleetwood Mac) wrote the song, and it's a hard one to track down-- the soundtrack album for the movie hasn't ever been widely in print in any digital form. The song is awesome-- it's basically one hook repeated for two minutes. It's ripe for some sort of Kanye treatment.

"Jack be nimble, Jack be quick-- take a ride on a West coast kick."


Singular Girl by Rhett Miller

Posted on 2009-07-29 07:00

From "The Believer" (2006). I came across an oddball acoustic version of this song for a few years ago, and loved it then-- upbeat with nicely quirky lyrics-- but only recently rediscovered it when I found with the full album it originally came from. That's the attached version. Rhett Miller is also known for being the frontman of the Old 97s.

"Talking to you, girl, is like long division."


Peace of Mind by Boston

Posted on 2009-07-22 07:00

Maybe I'm the only one that didn't hear this epic classic rock track until recently, but if you haven't either, it's worth your time. From the 1976 self-titled debut album by Boston. (The very same album that brought you "More Than A Feeling", and "Foreplay/Long Time", and "Motownphilly". OK, not the last one. But it's a solid album.) Crank up the 8-track in your Firebird!


Fitz and the Dizzyspells by Andrew Bird

Posted on 2009-07-15 07:00

From this year's "Noble Beast." Bird is one of indie pop's current darlings, known for whistling in his songs. This track's got a nice hook to it.

"Soldier on, soldier on..."


Wanna Be Startin' Something by Lulu Joppert

Posted on 2009-07-10 07:00

Song of the Week returns from summer vacation in Asia to note the sad passing of pop luminary Michael Jackson. This is a fun bossa nova cover of my favorite MJ track.

"You're a vegetable, and they hate you"
Mamma say mamma sa ma ma coo sa, indeed. 


Combination Pizza Hut And Taco Bell by Das Racist

Posted on 2009-06-17 07:00

High concept track by these guys, remixed by somebody named Wallpaper. I mainly just love that there's a song inspired by conjoined fast food restaurants. ("Hah! Ha-hah!").


Vine St. by Harry Nilsson

Posted on 2009-06-11 07:00

This one kicks off with a great 60s pop romp, but don't be fooled; it's just a song within a song that ends too soon, to serve a meandering narrative that you have to pay more attention to if you want to like it.

Harry Nilsson was an influential pop artist, and this song is from his "Nilsson Sings Newman" album from 1970. The unusual record featured only covers of songs by then-unknown artist Randy Newman, who helpfully played the piano for it. Newman had decades of quirky successes, including recently scoring a bunch of Pixar films.


Two Weeks by Grizzly Bear

Posted on 2009-06-05 07:00

Indie pop by Grizzly Bear, from their new album "Veckatimest". This song's been a grower for me; it gets by on being more of a soundscape than a tight track.


Don't Stop Believin' by Glee

Posted on 2009-05-28 07:00

If Katy Perry counts as a "guilty pleasure," then I don't even know what to call this. Is it Thursday already?


Meet Me In The Garden by Dent May & His Magnificent Ukulele

Posted on 2009-05-22 07:00

From the aptly named "The Good Feeling Music of Dent May & His Magnificent Ukulele" album. This track is an unholy mix of retro lounge crooning and polynesian tiki bar. Grab a Mai-Tai and a seat at the bar; this might be just the backgrounder to kick off your long weekend with.


Don't Trust Me by 3OH!3

Posted on 2009-05-14 07:00

From the Department of What The Kids Are Listening To These Days. This is a worthless rock/dance track with a catchy chorus that they stole from lots of other songs. The grabber lyric "Do the Helen Keller and talk with your hips" would be subtler if they didn't repeat it so much. Former residents of Colorado might recognize the band name as the local area code there.


When You Were Mine by Prince

Posted on 2009-05-07 07:00

Early Prince, from 1980's "Dirty Mind." A fantastic song, which was also covered by Cyndi Lauper on her debut record (like "Money Changes Everything", from a long-ago song of the week mail). Prince is one of the best contemporary pop songwriters, and he's a talented musician (especially underrated as a guitarist) as well.

"You were so strange; you didn't have the decency to change the sheets."


Words Unspoken by Steve Martin

Posted on 2009-04-29 07:00

You know him for his awful movies, but maybe you know his amazing 1970s standup comedy... in which case you probably also know that Steve Martin is an unusually talented banjo player. Earlier this year he released his first album of original banjo songs, called "The Crow," with the help of several notable collaborators (Earl Scruggs, Dolly Parton, even Eugene Levy). 

This track is "Words Unspoken," and it's something like bluegrass, not at all like comedy. But if you need a fix of both, try the theme from Ramblin' Man.


Hallelujah by John Cale

Posted on 2009-04-22 07:00

I've known this song for a long time, but I've only became fixated on it over the last couple weeks. It's originally a Leonard Cohen song from the mid 80s, but it's better known from several cover versions, especially Jeff Buckley's. I never liked either of those performances very much, but realized that the underlying song is a lovely combination of evocative story and a simple/classic chord progression. 

I found John Cale's 1991 version, attached here, which strips the song to a straightforward piano-vocals arrangement-- it's much better. Cale is best known for forming the Velvet Underground with Lou Reed in the 60s. His accent is Welsh, if you're curious.

I could quote any bit of this song here as a teaser, but instead here's the final verse of the Cohen original, which doesn't appear in any of the covers even though it nicely concludes the story.

"I did my best; it wasn't much.
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch.
I've told the truth;
I didn't come to fool you.
And even though it all went wrong
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah."


Then He Kissed Me by The Crystals

Posted on 2009-04-14 07:00

"And then he kissed her"... with his gun. In honor of legendary record producer Phil Spector's conviction on 2nd degree murder charges this week, Song of the Week presents one of the best examples of his revolutionary "wall of sound" production technique from the 1960s. Spector was behind a ton of excellent music that you probably know, and he co-wrote this song as well as produced it; it's a pretty amazing pop song.

Spector is a scary dude, though. The only thing he's on record as saying about the murder charges is: "She kissed the gun."


Sex on Fire by Kings of Leon

Posted on 2009-04-08 07:00

I think this was a huge hit last year and I missed it. There's something I really like about the sound, even though I can't understand any of the lyrics or figure out why it should have been so popular, and I've listened to it on repeat for a few days. Thanks to Aditya to sharing it with me last week. For whatever this is worth, it feels like a rainy-day version of Stereophonics' Dakota.


Suspicious Minds by Elvis Presley

Posted on 2009-04-02 07:00

My favorite Elvis song. His eighteenth and final #1 hit, released in 1969.


Assknocker by Bob Schneider

Posted on 2009-03-27 07:00

I'm going back to the well this week. This is a ridiculous yet awesome song by Bob Schneider, recorded live in Seattle at a great show I was at way back in 2004. (Thanks to Pat for that.) His best songs are a southern-rock/quasi-rap fusion, sometimes with a latin tinge, and often NSFW. On a beautiful early spring day like today, nothing goes better.

"Stop over with the goodies and get it on!"


Ahoy, Supercool! by Love Hotel

Posted on 2009-03-18 07:00

The only "single" by my favorite band that nobody's heard of. Sadly, the only trace that remains of one of this former Seattle group is a vestigial MySpace page. This is the fun lead track from their one recording, an EP called "Masculine Feminine." 

"Please call me when you get there..."


Play Your Part (Pt. 1) by Girl Talk

Posted on 2009-03-11 07:00

Girl Talk is the name a Philly DJ goes by; his deal is that he constructs entire albums of music by mixing and matching samples from all across the board. There's generally a rap vocal over beats and melodies that come from the pop/rock world. He's very skilled at this, and the result is manic but surprisingly compelling to listen to. At the very least it makes for good workout music.

This is the first track from last year's "Feed the Animals" album. If you like it, the whole album is available for download off his website as a donate-whatever-you-want thing (including nothing). 


South China Moon by Bishop Allen

Posted on 2009-03-04 08:00

Bishop Allen's new uber-poppy album "Grrr..." is out this week, and this track grabbed my ear. These guys have been favorites of mine for years. I haven't listened enough to the whole album to know if this is the best choice, but I'm going with it for now. If you like them, they have a few more freebie downloads from their website, including 2 more from the new album. 

This is a great week for good music. Neko Case's album Middle Cyclone is finally, and it's wonderful. U2 also has their first in a half-decade out. 


In For The Kill by La Roux

Posted on 2009-02-25 08:00

La Roux is a new 80s-ish UK synthpop act (sounds like somewhere in the Eurythmics area of the map). This is their current single, and took me a couple listens before it lodged in my head, but now the chorus is firmly stuck there. Thanks to my sister Emily for directing me to this one (and as always, having more respectable taste than me).

Song Of The Week would like to congratulate December alumnus song "Jai Ho" (from Slumdog Millionaire) for its recent Academy Award win for Best Original Song.


I Got The Drop On You by Mike Doughty

Posted on 2009-02-18 08:00

From Golden Delicious. Doughty is turning quickly into my favorite folk-pop artist. He is most well known as the frontman for the awesome 90s "slacker jazz" outfit Soul Coughing. The newer solo music is very different. I had a hard time picking one song, and this one is more raw than almost any of the rest of them. (Let me know if you like it enough to try another, poppier track.)

"I got the drop on you, it was easy-Japanesey.."


Strange Overtones by Brian Eno & David Byrne

Posted on 2009-02-11 08:00

My New Favorite Song. From last fall's "Everything That Happens Will Happen Today".  You know Byrne from the Talking Heads, and Eno is a longtime "soundscape" pop experimentalist/producer.  This collaboration album feels something like the Postal Service, in that you got one guy worried about the sounds, the other guy crafting the sounds into songs.  The chorus features a neat word-painting with a sort of unusual sixth? or tritone? resolving on the word "harmonize".  (If you know music theory and can tell me what's happening there, you get a bonus free song next week.)

"Your song still needs a chorus; I know you'll figure it out.
The rising of the verses... a change of key will let you out."


Miss Shanghai by Shanghai Restoration Project

Posted on 2009-02-04 08:00

From the self-titled 2006 album.  These guys blend hip-hop and electronica with traditional Chinese instruments, specifically inspired by the rapid changes in the city of Shanghai.  Or something like that.  Anyways, they're stylistically all over the place-- this song is much more straight pop than some of the other ones, but that's probably why it catches my personal ear.  Sample some others if the style is interesting.

We also welcome new members Jon, Sean, and Christine this week.  (Coffee will be held on the front lawn after the listening.)


People Got A Lotta Nerve by Neko Case

Posted on 2009-01-29 08:00

From her upcoming album "Middle Cyclone".  It's a typically catchy country-tinged pop song with wingnut morbid lyrics.  Listen for the bit where she compares herself to a killer whale.  I love her music; the recent(ish) "Fox Confessor Brings The Flood" is a dark masterpiece.


Photobooth by Death Cab for Cutie

Posted on 2009-01-21 08:00

This is an oldie, from their now-old-school "Forbidden Love EP", but it's my favorite of their songs.  It's got a good beat, a nuanced story, and is thoughtful without overstaying its welcome.  I also highly recommend their latest album ("Narrow Stairs"), which I didn't think much of at first but has really grown on me recently. (But it's no "Transatlanticism.")


Golden Age by TV On The Radio

Posted on 2009-01-16 08:00

A little late this week..  This is from last year's "Dear Science" album.  TV On The Radio is a tough one for me to describe-- they're somewhere between disco funk and indie rock, and pretty good at that.


This Year by The Mountain Goats

Posted on 2009-01-07 08:00

From the album "The Sunset Tree."  This song, like last week's, is about a new year, but is not as simple or happy as the Zombies.  It is catchy, though, and tells a sparse, interesting little story.  One of my longtime favorites.

"I played video games in a drunken haze; I was seventeen years young."


This Will Be Our Year by the Zombies

Posted on 2008-12-31 08:00

Another week, another holiday.  This is from 1968's "Odessey & Oracle".   You might know the Zombies from their bigger hit, "Time of the Season" (what's your name, who's your daddy), but this is another great one, a little more Beatlesy.  Best wishes for 2009 to everyone!


Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, by Casiotone for the Painfully Alone

Posted on 2008-12-24 08:00

A nicely hipster instrumental.  From a cool for-charity indie holiday album, last year's edition.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Ben


Autumn Leaves by Eva Cassidy

Posted on 2008-12-18 08:00

From Live At Blues Alley.

(Tech note: I've gotten some reports of attached mp3s not appearing right in Gmail.  I tried to rename this one to work better.  Ping me if it doesn't seem to.)


Up The Ladder to the Roof by the Supremes

Posted on 2008-12-10 08:00

This is the Supremes in 1970, without Diana Ross, who'd just left the group for her solo career.  It starts out sounding like going "up the ladder to the roof" is a figure of speech, but I think by the end it's pretty clear what they're really talking about, if you know what they mean.


Jai Ho by A.R. Rahman

Posted on 2008-12-03 08:00

I think I count at least three different languages in this awesomely trashy Indian hip-hop song. It plays over the closing credits of Slumdog Millionaire. "Jai Ho" from the soundtrack of same.  Good movie too.


Sing the Changes by The Fireman

Posted on 2008-11-27 08:00

I wanted to find a track from the new Guns N Roses album that I loved enough to send out this week, but haven't yet been grabbed by anything. Instead, I'm temporarily obsessed with this chorus-in-search-of-a-song throwaway by The Fireman.  This is the pseudonym used by Paul McCartney and some other guy for occasional experimental pop and electronica (!).   They probably have better tracks, but I'm too busy humming along with this one to find out.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!


Money Changes Everything by the Brains

Posted on 2008-11-20 08:00

This song is from The Brains' self-titled debut album, 1980.  These new-wave guys achieved little fame-- they sound like the love child of the Cars and the Talking Heads to me. 

This song, however, would be turned into a hit a few years later by Cyndi Lauper, who covered it on her debut album. 


Sharpen Up Those Fangs, by the Presidents of the United States of America

Posted on 2008-11-13 08:00

This is "Sharpen Up Those Fangs," from this year's "These Are the Good Times People".  I like the unusual, angular meter.
You may remember these guys from Peaches and Lump, etc, in the mid-90s.  They're still occasionally rocking as an indie-ish outfit in Seattle. 

"She's got an ace with sleeves stuffed up it."


Darlin' by the Beach Boys

Posted on 2008-11-07 08:00

Hey pop music fans,
With this mail I am starting a little once-weekly-ish mp3 list for songs I'm digging, inspired by friend Aditya's excellent long-running one for "tracks".  Let me know if you want off.  If you stick around, you're likely to get recent indie pop/rock, as well as random other stuff from the vaults that catches my ear.

In honor of this surprisingly spring-like day in San Francisco-- now darkening-- I offer you Darlin' by the Beach Boys.  It's from 1967, off of Wild Honey.

Have a hopeful and changeful weekend,
Ben