Finally got an iPod, certainly one of the great inventions of modern times. Here’s the annual list, with a bonus feature, The Shuffle, which is how I’ve been listening to music for the past six months. Selected CDs and tracks are as follows:
Show Your Bones, by Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Okay, Karen O sounds like P.J. and Siouxsie Sioux, but the key is that the songs are songs, not platforms for wailing vocals, and damn near every one’s a winner. I like the varied tempos on this one, and the use of unusual instruments that add color to the guitar/skins/voice format. “Way Out,” “Cheated Hearts,” “Dudley,” and “Turn Into” are just four of the highlights. “Phenomena” is like the Runaways getting down on a Sabbath riff, the kind of song you hope the DJ will spin as the night begins to heat up. One question, though: what’s with the trend of no bass?
Claudine, Original Soundtrack
Claudine, a film about a working class woman (Diahann Carroll) with six kids and the proud trash collector (James Earl Jones) who falls in love with her, was released in 1974 at the tail end of blaxploitation cycle. It was an anomaly, a non-violent movie about a black family, and is fondly remembered by those who were lucky enough to see it at the time of its release. A portion of its artistic success has to be attributed to the score, composed by Curtis Mayfield and performed by Gladys Knight & the Pips. Enough has been written by me about Curtis Mayfield, one of my music and spiritual heroes. I am here to praise Miss Gladys Knight, who has always been one of my favorite soul artists, and is a seriously underrated singer and stylist. It’s true that, despite a string of terrific singles, Knight’s albums have always lacked a certain something due to an unfortunate choice of ancillary Vegas-style material and schmaltzy arrangements. But not here. The Mayfield compositions on Claudine are among his finest, with his trademark combination of the symphonic and the funky in full effect. Songs include “Mr. Welfare Man,” “On and On,” “The Makings of You,” “To Be Invisible,” “Hold On,” “Make Yours a Happy Home,” and two fine instrumentals. Gladys Knight, obviously inspired by the material, sings as if touched by God. I bought the vinyl, on Curtom, when it was released, and it is one of the most prized records in my collection. The Claudine soundtrack is currently unavailable on CD, though three of its strongest tracks can be had on Rhino’s Soul Survivors, a GK & the P Best-Of. To the powers that be: please make it happen.
Sam Cooke, Portrait of a Legend, 1951-1964
I picked this up after reading Peter Guralnick’s Sam Cooke biography, Dream Boogie. While I had always thought Cooke was too pop for my tastes, I recognized the craft in his songs and also his place as a popular artist expressing his voice as he came into his own in the tide-turning years of the civil rights movement. Guralnick makes the era come alive, detailing the lives of those who made the sometimes rocky transition from gospel to r&b and rock and roll. This 31-track CD, which includes gospel tunes, the well known pop hits, covers, and the still-stunning “A Change is Gonna Come,” makes a case for the genius of Sam Cooke. With track-by-track notes by Guralnick and a complete list of musicians, this is one CD you shouldn’t cherry pick for your MP-3. You need to hold this one in your hands. And if it’s too pop for you, check out the gritty Cooke on Live at the Harlem Square.
Charles Kynard, Legends of Acid Jazz
In the late 90s, Prestige reissued many albums originally recorded in the 60s and 70s and gave the series the Legends of Acid Jazz moniker, presumably to cash in on a movement that only briefly caught fire. Many of the recordings in the series are heavy on the Hammond organ, which makes them “psychedelic,” I suppose, and separates them from the moog-heavy stylings of Jan Hammer and his ilk, who came later on. Soul Jazz is more like it. This release, engineered by Rudy Van Gelder, is a package of two of the late Kynard’s records, Afro-Disiac and Wa-Tu-Wa-Zui. Afro-Disiac, the better of the two discs, features Kynard on keys, Houston Person on reeds, the legendary Grant Green on guitar, Jimmy Lewis on bass, and Bernard Purdie on drums. Quite a lineup, and not just on paper–wait until you hear them lock into a groove. Tracks 3, 4, and 5, “Trippin,” “Odds On” and “Sweetheart,” are twenty four minutes of continuous jam, and worth the price of the CD. Put this on at a party and let it roll. If you’re into Booker T and the MGs, but have played them out, this is you.
Gas Food Lodging, by Green on Red
Green on Red’s Gas Food Lodging was a high point for the band, a lasting document of 80’s post-punk rock, and a precursor to the alt-country movement of the 90s. That’s quite a bit of hyperbole, I know, but this record, first released in 1985, does have staying power. The addition of Chuck Prophet on guitar amped up and roughened up the band’s twang, but just as integral were core members Dan Stuart (vocals, guitar) and Chris Cacavas, whose organ gave the group its signature sound. As the title suggests, this is a road record, equal parts Kerouac and serial killer. It sounds, at times, like Crazy Horse, minus the freak-flag-fly romanticism of Neil Young. The record’s centerpiece is the three song raveup, “Sixteen Ways”/”The Drifter”/”Sea of Cortez,” which ends with Stuart’s primitive, anguished wail crashing against a wall of guitars, keys, and drums. As a bonus, the re-release includes the self titled, 7-track debut, which includes gems like “Hair and Skin.” Now it’s time for a double of Gravity Talks and No Free Lunch, the Mercury release currently available only as an import. Gas Food Lodging, along with records like The Days of Wine and Roses and Rum Sodomy and the Lash, will disabuse you of the notion that 80s rock totally sucked.
Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall
I went to high school with a guy named Larry Appelbaum. Larry and I didn’t run with the same crowd, but he was one of those easygoing people who made friends across the spectrum and was liked by everyone. So I was happy to see that it was Mr. Appelbaum (a musical historian who I’ve heard on the radio over the years, now with the Library of Congress) who discovered these tapes, a rare recording of a Monk/Coltrane date at Carnegie Hall in 1957. At the time, Coltrane had been dismissed from Miles Davis’s band because of his drug use, and had not yet recorded his landmark solo records, Giant Steps and A Love Supreme among them. Monk had lost his Cabaret Card in New York City and had not played live for some time. Out of these struggles came this, a kind of release in which frustration and built-up knowledge created art. This is history, destined for the essential section of your jazz collection. Congratulations, Larry. Nice work.
The Essential Sly and the Family Stone
Here’s where one music movement began. Or, Rock and Soul had a baby, and they named it Sly. This two-CD collection features the big radio hits, most of Stand (with the exception of the instrumental jam, “Sex Machine”), a big chunk of There’s a Riot Goin’ On, some of Fresh, and, for completists, bits and pieces from the early A Whole New Thing and the later Small Talk, previously available only on Japanese pressings. For me, Stand (one of my first album purchases, back in 1970) is the full realization of Sly’s vision. Critics point to Riot as the apex, but I think that depends on how much you romanticize the artist-inspired-by-drugs myth (Riot is a drugged-out record, and sounds something like the down side of a high, the excellent “Family Affair” and “Runnin’ Away” notwithstanding), which I have never bought into. I also like the tracks from Fresh (another vinyl purchase, circa 1973, with the Richard Avedon cover), though by then bass-man Larry Graham had left the group, and the lack of bottom shows. Which brings us to the music itself: Sylvester Stewart wrote the songs, but don’t forget the Family, ’cause the musicians made it cook. For proof, just check out the pulsating “I Want To Take You Higher” (#38 Pop, #24 R&B), one of the greatest singles ever to come from a dashboard radio, and “Somebody’s Watching You,” which is plain genius. The band’s secret weapon: the horn section.
You Only Live Twice, Original Soundtrack, by John Barry
Yes, I like Goldfinger, Thunderball, and especially From Russia with Love (Bond Geeks, please, don’t even hit me with that jive about the “purity” of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service; the book was Fleming’s best, but the George Lazenby factor cannot be ignored.) Argue with me all you’d like, and I’m sure you will, but it would be difficult to dissuade me from my conviction that You Only Live Twice is the best Bond film. It certainly contains the best score, by the master, John Barry. Recently remastered, this new release features extra tracks that have been missing from previous pressings for almost forty years. From its opening title theme, sung by Nancy Sinatra, to the recurring “in space” theme, to the strong “Fight at Kobe Dock-Helga,” to the ultra beautiful “Mountains and Sunset,” this is the Bond soundtrack to own. As for the film, detractors have suggested that Sean Connery slept-walk through this one, and is carrying a few extra pounds, but so what? It’s still Connery, the only Bond who will ever matter. And we have 60’s Japan (fully industrialized, fully hip, city and countryside in glorious color), ninjas, swordsman, sumo wrestlers, piranhas, fetching Bond girls (Akiko Wakabayashi, Mie Hama), a tough friend (Tetsuro Tamba as Tiger Tanaka), Blofeld (Donald Pleasance) in the flesh for the first time, and a fantastic climatic set piece. Hell, the first act is nonstop action, culminating in the greatest fight of the series, (yeah, that’s right, it’s hotter than the train-compartment fight with Robert Shaw) between Connery and Peter Maivia, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s grandfather. Bond: “Yes, I’m on my second life.” Blofeld: “You only live twice, Mr. Bond.”
Love is a Gas, by Paul K and the Weathermen
File this under The Ones that Got Away. Love is a Gas (released in 1997) flew way under my radar, but it found its way to me circuitously, and eventually, as most good music does. It’s a great rock record with genuine feeling from Paul K., who is unafraid to express his positive outlook on life in the face of cynics. In the liner notes Paul writes: “Years of listening to radio broadcasts in which 19 year olds positively ache over the unfairness and venality of the world have made me just angry enough to put aside anger and embrace those few things in life which are universally considered ‘good.’ Life is neutral. Money is neutral. Love is always good.” Produced by Maureen “Mo” Tucker.
Tim, by The Replacements
Why Tim? As a card-carrying guy from that era I am almost obliged, maybe even pressured, to talk about Let it Be, the one that is generally considered the masterpiece. No argument there. Let it Be is a monumental record, both on its own terms and in terms of music history. But honestly, in 2006, I play Tim more. It doesn’t have the punk purity of the Twin Tone stuff but, taken as a whole, the songs are better. For a young-and-in-love tune you can’t top “Kiss Me on the Bus.” The beauty and tragedy of the bar life? “Here Comes a Regular.” A killer opener in “Hold My Life,” the C&W sneer of “Waitress in the Sky”…but mostly, I choose this for the side-two sonic assault of “Bastards of Young,” “Left of the Dial,” and “Little Mascara,” three of the greatest rock and roll tracks ever laid down on wax. Here the band—Westerberg, the Stinson brothers, and Chris Mars—rage and burn like they’ll never see another sunrise. When Bob Stinson died the Washington Post’s miniscule obit found fit to mention that the guitarist was sometimes known to wear a dress onstage, as if that is the one thing for which he should be remembered. To that I say, Bullshit. Listen to Tim to find out why this band matters.
Sparkle in the Finish, by The Ike Reilly Assassination
People call this a cross of Dylan and The Clash, but the more apt comparison is to a group like Marah. Like those guys, Reilly is exhilarated by the possibilities of rock and roll. And like, say, Ryan Adams, he’s brash, maybe even a little arrogant, and has the talent to back it up. Here he rebounds off the usual major label problems and performs like a guy just happy to be alive. Great party record, and you know they’ve got to smoke live.
Tanglewood Numbers, by The Silver Jews
David Berman’s collective, which includes ex-Pavements Malkmus and Nastanovitch, Bonnie “Prince” Billy, and others, returns after a four year break for their most rock, and best, album to date. The rather somber lyrics, detailing Berman’s addiction history, are brightened by the energetic playing. The songs are intricate and challenging, but when they sink in it’s hard to shake them. Don’t look to love this right away, but eventually it will grab you.
I’ve Got So Much to Give, by Barry White
The debut from the Barrance is still, to my mind, the one to have. Sure, he didn’t invent the love rap or the dramatic strings (give that honor to Isaac Hayes) but he perfected it, and sold it in a genuine way. The record kicks off with a cover of “Standing in the Shadows of Love,” a strong instrumental intro (complete with moans) building to a, well, great release. It also includes the hit “I’m Gonna Love You Just a Little More Baby,” and the fantastic title track. But for me, the penultimate Barry number is “I’ve Found Someone,” a beautiful, chill-inducing declaration of newfound love. After the middle rap, where he says, “There’s no more words to this song,” Barry keeps singing anyway, moving into the final chorus, the Love Unlimited ladies backing him up, his sincere, unbridled vocals announcing pure elation to the world in an unparalleled moment of symphonic soul. Yeah, I’m from that era, and yeah, I used to put this record on the platter when I was trying to get next to girls, and do the same with the next l.p., Stone Gon’. But this is more than nostalgia. Let third rate comics mock him, but all of their lame routines put together cannot match the art of one minute of this record. When he died, a piece of romance died, too. R.I.P., Big Man.
“Discover a Lovelier You,” by the Pernice Brothers. Joe Pernice does Johnny Marr, and does him proud.
“Two Mules for Sister Sara” (Main Theme), by Ennio Morricone.
“Peace in the Lily of the Valley,” by Duff Durrough. A real roots record from a gentleman I met at a Thacker Mountain Radio event in Oxford, Mississippi.
“Not for Hire,” by The Hiss. Atlanta punk metal, nice guys play fierce.
“Welhorn Yards,” by Richmond Fontaine. Uncut favorites, still relatively unknown in America, well worth a listen.
“Fireflies,” by The Yards
“Where Eagles Dare,” by Ron Goodwin. Completely ridiculous, highly entertaining WWII film starring Clint Eastwood and Richard Burton (Broadsword calling Danny Boy) with a rousing Goodwin adventure score. Saw this at The Silver with my dad in ’69.
“In the Garage,” by Weezer
“Out of Africa,” John Barry
“The Earth is the Sky,” by Tom Verlaine. That unmistakable guitar sound is back.
“Soul Meets Boy,” by Death Cab for Cutie
“You’re My Miss Washington, D.C.”, by Nation of Ulysses, from the punk rock classic, 13-Point Program to Destroy America.
“Kern River,” by Merle Haggard. Beautiful, immortal.
“I’ll Take Care of You,” by Mark Lanegan
“The Dark Don’t Hide it,” by Magnolia Electric Company
“Starlight,” by Fugazi
“Marbles,” by John McLaughlin, from Devotion. Drums: Buddy Miles. Organ: Larry Young. Bass: Billy Rich. Guitar: God.
“North by Northwest (Prelude),” by Bernard Hermann
“Broken,” By Lauren Hoffman
“Trouble Man,” by Marvin Gaye
“Soft,” by Kings of Leon
“Double Edged Knife,” by Slant 6
“Float On,” by The Floaters (long version)
“Little Bonnie,” by Drive By Truckers.
“All Her Favorite Fruit,” by Camper Van Beethoven. Colonialism meets rock, great imagery.
“Broken One,” by Luke Doucet
“The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll,” by Bob Dylan (Live, 1975)
“The Deep End,” by Steve Wynn & the Miracle 3. Epic.
“Thumb,” by Dinosaur Jr. Mascis does Page, Murph does Bonham.
“The Modern World,” by The Jam
“We Are Nowhere and It’s Now,” By Bright Eyes and Emmylou Harris
“My Love Has Gone,” By Josh Rouse
“Who the F**k are Arctic Monkeys,” by Arctic Monkeys. And bring on the backlash.
“Tell Me You Miss Me,” by the Hurricane Lamps
“Dirt,” by The Stooges