By Dennis Hartley
(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on November 6, 2021)
Heard about the restaurant on the Moon? Great food…no atmosphere.
Yeah, I know. You rolled out of your crib in hysterics the first time you heard that one. But let’s face it – “atmosphere” is essential; not just for breathing, but for setting a mood.
I’ve curated a noir mixtape that is all about atmosphere; 15 songs evoking dark alleys, rain-slicked streets, low-rent rooms, beautiful losers, and broken dreams. In other words, this ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco. Besides …everyone knows tough guys don’t dance.
STAN RIDGWAY: Drive, She Said – Harry Chapin’s “Taxi” meets Edgar G. Ulmer’s Detour in this cinematic cabby’s tale from the former Wall of Voodoo lead singer.
THE ALLIES: Emma Peel – The Allies were an early 80s power pop band from Seattle who should have gone places. Unrequited love in the sickly glow of a cathode ray.
Emma, I’ll be your Steed
I’ll be all you ever need
If I cry and if I bleed
Will it help me?
ELVIS COSTELLO: Watching the Detectives – Another two-dimensional dream. She’s filing her nails while they’re dragging the lake… Damn, that’s cold.
THE DOORS: Riders on the Storm – There’s a killer on the road. Distant thunder, the cascading shimmer of a Fender Rhodes, a desolate tremolo guitar and dangerous rhythms.
JULEE CRUISE: Summer Kisses, Winter Tears – And nothing can light the dark of the night/Like a falling star. Somehow, that’s less than reassuring. Ms. Cruise’s Elvis cover is nothing, if not atmospheric.
BLUE ÖYSTER CULT: Then Came the Last Days of May – Wasn’t until the car suddenly stopped/In the middle of a cold and barren plain… A tragic tale of a drug deal gone terribly, terribly wrong.
Steely Dan: Don’t Take Me Alive – I’m on the lam, but I ain’t no sheep.
Got a case of dynamite
I could hold out here all night
Yes I crossed my old man back in Oregon
Don’t take me alive
WAS (NOT WAS): Somewhere in America (There’s a Street Named After My Dad) – Our luckless protagonist is trapped in an asphalt jungle; dreaming of a pleasant valley Sunday.
At night only crickets
No prowlers, no sirens
No pinky ring hustlers
No angel dust Byrons
No bars on the windows
No saber-toothed neighbors
Just good simple folks
In a rainbow of flavors
MICHAEL FRANKS: Nightmoves – An instrumental version of this moody piece played under the opening credits for Arthur Penn’s eponymous 1975 neo-noir.
I keep you in frame and I whisper your name till the picture fades
The feeling is already gone, I don’t know why I’m going on
Can’t remember the ending
DAVID BAERWALD: A Secret Silken World – I don’t know what war-torn region of the human soul Baerwald went to find the characters for this story, but I don’t ever want to go there, even just to snap a few pictures.
The seats of his car were like a woman’s skin
Made me think about all those places I’ve been
It made me understand murder and the nature of sin
I leaned back and I listened to his music
AL STEWART: Broadway Hotel – According to Al Stewart, “It’s a very strange song. It’s about a woman who checks into a hotel in order to be alone. She’s alone for a little while and she orders room service. The man who comes up and brings the trey begins a lengthy relationship with her. They lock themselves in the room for about a week and then they order room service.” Oh, what does he know about it? I’m still picturing the flickering light of a neon sign stabbing through the blinds of the hotel room window…
You’re seeking a hideaway
Where the light of day
Doesn’t touch your face
And a door sign keeps the world away
Behind the shades
Of your silent day.
CAFÉ JACQUES: Boulevard of Broken Dreams – Al Dubin’s 1933 composition has been covered many times, but I’m partial to this 1978 version by art-rockers Café Jacques. The message is evergreen: life is hard on the street, and everything is for sale.
Walk alone the street of sorrow, boulevard of broken dreams
Gigolo and gigolette take a kiss without regret
Here is where you’ll always find me, always walking up and down
But I left my soul behind me, in an old cathedral town
COCKNEY REBEL: Mirror Freak –Steve Harley’s enigmatic tale of skins, spivs, and other assorted night creatures.
Oh you’re too cute to be a big rock star
But if you’re cool you may not push it too far
Oh just believe in yourself and take a tip from the elf
And sing a boogie to the image fatale
GIL SCOTT-HERON: Pieces of a Man – Everyone has their breaking point. Gil Scott-Heron’s soulful vocal, Brian Jackson’s transcendent piano, the great Ron Carter’s sublime stand-up bass work, and the pure poetry of the lyrics render a heartbreaking tale.
Pieces of that letter
Were tossed about that room
And now I hear the sound of sirens
Come knifing through the gloom
They don’t know what they are doing
They could hardly understand
That they’re only arresting
Pieces of a man
ROBYN HITCHCOCK: Raymond Chandler Evening – And with this selection, our coda, have a pleasant one.
It’s a Raymond Chandler Evening,
And the pavements are all wet,
And I’m lurking in the shadows
‘Cause it hasn’t happened yet.