Tag Archives: On Music

20 Big Ones: A Summer Mixtape

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on June 8, 2024)

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OK, it may not be Summer yet on the calendarbut try telling that to Mother Nature:

Excessive heat warnings are set to expire this weekend after daily temperature records have been set across the US Southwest.

Extreme temperatures are expected to continue in California, Nevada and Arizona into Saturday.

An excessive heat warning in Las Vegas will expire Saturday night with temperatures remaining around 115F (46.1) on Saturday and dropping to 112F (44.4C) on Sunday.

Similar to the trend throughout last week, temperatures will remain high at night hovering around the low 80s.

On Thursday, the heat hit 113F (45C) in Phoenix. Record-breaking temperatures led to 11 people taken to the hospital while waiting to attend a Donald Trump rally on Wednesday.

Phoenix will see some slight relief after the heat warning expires Friday night, but the high temperature remains in triple digits for Saturday at 108F (42.2C) and 104F (40C) on Sunday.

National Weather Service (NWS) alerts remain in place on Friday for the wider area, covering a population of around 20 million people.

The heat marks the first round of dangerous temperatures this season with the possibility of excessive heat persisting into next week for some areas, according to the NWS Weather Prediction Centre.

Scientists say extreme weather events are becoming more frequent and intense as a result of climate change.

Although the official start of summer is still two weeks away, NWS has advised people in the affected areas to limit outdoor activity and stay hydrated.

It earlier warned that there would be little overnight relief from the scorching temperatures.

On Thursday, NWS thermometers showed new highs for 6 June in locations that included Las Vegas and Death Valley. The latter location hit 122F (50C).

The fire department in Clark County, home of Las Vegas, responded to at least 12 calls since Wednesday related to heat exposure, the Associated Press reported. Nine of those callers needed to be treated at a hospital.

Reporting the reading of 113F (45C) at Sky Harbour, the NWS’s Phoenix office said this exceeded the previous high for 6 June that was set in 2016.

Phoenix is America’s hottest big city, and there were 645 heat-related deaths last year in the wider Maricopa County. […]

Temperatures are about 20-30F above average for this time of year.

While heat domes were once described as rare, they are becoming more common and intense because of human-induced climate change, scientists say.

The European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service announced on Wednesday that the world has surpassed one full year of back-to-back monthly heat records.

The climate change service also found that May marked the 11th consecutive month that the global average temperature was at least 1.5C above the pre-industrial average of the late 1800s, which references a period before there was a significant increase in emissions of greenhouse gases.

Scientists say the high temperatures were driven by human-caused climate change combined with the El Niño climate phenomenon.

“We are living in unprecedented times,” Carlo Buontempo, director of Copernicus, said earlier this week.

By the time I get to Phoenix…I’ll be melting.

Hot damn, summer in the city. Speaking of which-here are a few of my fave songs of the season. You’ve heard some a bazillion times; others, not so much.

Stay cool!

Martin Newell– “Another Sunny Day” – Despite the fact he’s been cranking out hook-laden, Beatle-esque pop gems for five decades, endearingly eccentric singer-musician-songwriter-poet Martin Newell (Cleaners From Venus, Brotherhood of Lizards) remains a selfishly-guarded secret by cult-ish admirers (guilty as charged). This summery confection is from his 2007 album A Summer Tamarind.

First Class – “Beach Baby” – UK studio band First Class was the brainchild of singer-songwriter Tony Burrows, who also sang lead on other one-hit wonders, including “Love Grows Where My Rosemary Goes” (The Edison Lighthouse), “My Baby Loves Lovin’” (White Plains), and “United We Stand” (The Brotherhood of Man). This pop confection was a Top 10 song in the U.S. in 1974.

Jade Warrior– “Bride of Summer” – Here’s a summer tune you’ve never heard on the radio. This hard-to-categorize band has been around since the early 70s; progressive jazz-folk-rock-world beat is the best I can do. Sadly, original guitarist Tony Duhig passed away in 1990. His multi-tracked lead on this song is sublime.

Bananarama– “Cruel Summer” – A more melancholy take on the season from the Ronettes of New Wave. I seem to recall a rather heavy rotation of this video on MTV in the summer of ’84. The video is a great time capsule of 1980s NYC.

Takuya Kuroda – “Everybody Loves the Sunshine” – Japanese trumpeter Takuya Kuroda’s 2014 cover of a Roy Ayers composition is a hypnotic, transporting “headphone song”. Immerse yourself.

The Beatles – “Good Day Sunshine” – The kickoff to Side 2 of Revolver finds Paul McCartney in full cockeyed optimist mode. Everything about his song is “happy”, from the lyrics (I feel good, in a special way / I’m in love and it’s a sunny day) and the bright harmonies, to George Martin’s jaunty ragtime piano solo. Paul has said that he was inspired by the Lovin’ Spoonful.

Pink Floyd – “Granchester Meadows” – This is from one of Pink Floyd’s more obscure albums, Ummagumma. Anyone who has ever sat under a shady tree on a summer’s day strumming a guitar will “get” this song, which is one of David Gilmour’s most beautiful compositions. I love how he incorporates nature sounds. Aaahh…

Joni Mitchell– “The Hissing of Summer Lawns” – The haunting title cut from Joni’s 1975 album, co-written by drummer John Guernin (who also plays Moog). The song also features Victor Feldman on keyboards and James Taylor on guitar.

Sly & the Family Stone– “Hot Fun in the Summertime” – A quintessential summer song and an oldies radio staple. And don’t forget…I “cloud nine” when I want to.

Walter Egan– “Hot Summer Nights” – While it didn’t achieve the gold status of his 1978 chart hit “Magnet and Steel”, Walter Egan’s first single (taken from his 1977 debut album Fundamental Roll) is a minor classic that still sounds so right blasting out of your car radio.

Mungo Jerry– “In the Summertime” – It wouldn’t have worked without the jug.

Marshall Crenshaw– “Starless Summer Sky” – In a just world, this power pop genius would have ruled the airwaves. Here’s one of many perfect examples why.

The Isley Brothers– “Summer Breeze” –  Seals & Crofts wrote and performed the original version, but the Isleys always had a knack for making covers their own. Ernie Isley’s guitar work is superb.

Weekend –”Summerdays” – Weekend was a spin-off of The Young Marble Giants.  Formed in 1981, the Welsh band only released one studio album (1982’s La Variete), but they created a distinctive sound that ages well, compared to many of their indie contemporaries. This breezy number encapsulates the vibe-an infusion of jazz, samba, pop and world beat topped off by Allison Statton’s soothing vocals.

The Lovin’ Spoonful– “Summer in the City” – All around, people lookin’ half-dead/walkin’ on the sidewalk, hotter than a match head. Written by John Sebastian, Mark Sebastian and Steve Boone, this 1966 hit is a clever portmanteau of music, lyrics and effects that quite literally sounds like…summer in the city.

XTC– “Summer’s Cauldron/Grass” – A mini-suite of sorts, all about summer romance, lazy days, and the uh, things we did on grass. Produced by Todd Rundgren.

Blue Cheer– “Summertime Blues” – Eddie Cochran wrote and performed it originally, and the Who did a great cover on Live at Leeds, but for sheer attitude, I have to go with this proto-punk (some have argued, proto-metal) classic from 1968.

The Kinks– “Sunny Afternoon” – This poor guy. Taxman’s taken all his dough, girlfriend’s run off with his car…but he’s not going to let that ruin his summer: Now I’m sittin here/ sippin’ at my ice-cooled beer/ lazin’ on a sunny afternoon…

Central Line– “Walking Into Sunshine” – Gotta walk into the sun, ah-ah. A hook-laden jam by the now-defunct UK funk outfit. If this 1984 club hit doesn’t brighten your day…I’d seriously look into it.

The Beach Boys– “The Warmth of the Sun” – This song (featuring one of Brian Wilson’s most gorgeous melodies), appeared on the 1964 album Shut Down Vol 2. Atypically introspective and melancholy for this era of the band, it had an unusual origin story. Wilson and Mike Love allegedly began work on the tune in the wee hours of the morning JFK was assassinated; news of the event changed the tenor of the lyrics, as well as having an effect on the emotion driving the vocal performance.

Praise the Law and Pass the Kutchie

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on April 20, 2024)

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Dreadlocks can’t smoke him pipe in peace Too much informers and too much beast Too much watchie watchie watchie, too much su-su su-su su Too much watchie watchie watchie, too much su-su su-su su

-from “Tenement Yard”, by Jacob Miller

Happy Holiday! How about some good news? Via the AP:

Saturday marks marijuana culture’s high holiday, 4/20, when college students gather — at 4:20 p.m. — in clouds of smoke on campus quads and pot shops in legal-weed states thank their customers with discounts.

This year’s edition provides an occasion for activists to reflect on how far their movement has come, with recreational pot now allowed in nearly half the states and the nation’s capital. Many states have instituted “social equity” measures to help communities of color, harmed the most by the drug war, reap financial benefits from legalization. And the White House has shown an openness to marijuana reform.

The origins of the date, and the term “420” generally, were long murky. Some claimed it referred to a police code for marijuana possession or that it derived from Bob Dylan’s “Rainy Day Women No. 12 & 35,” with its refrain of “Everybody must get stoned” — 420 being the product of 12 times 35.

But the prevailing explanation is that it started in the 1970s with a group of bell-bottomed buddies from San Rafael High School, in California’s Marin County north of San Francisco, who called themselves “the Waldos.” A friend’s brother was afraid of getting busted for a patch of cannabis he was growing in the woods at nearby Point Reyes, so he drew a map and gave the teens permission to harvest the crop, the story goes.

During fall 1971, at 4:20 p.m., just after classes and football practice, the group would meet up at the school’s statue of chemist Louis Pasteur, smoke a joint and head out to search for the weed patch. They never did find it, but their private lexicon — “420 Louie” and later just “420” — would take on a life of its own. […]

Some celebrations are bigger than others: The Mile High 420 Festival in Denver, for example, typically draws thousands and describes itself as the largest free 4/20 event in the world. Hippie Hill in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park has also attracted massive crowds, but the gathering was canceled this year, with organizers citing a lack of financial sponsorship and city budget cuts. […]

The number of states allowing recreational marijuana has grown to 24 after recent legalization campaigns succeeded in Ohio, Minnesota and Delaware. Fourteen more states allow it for medical purposes, including Kentucky, where medical marijuana legislation that passed last year will take effect in 2025. Additional states permit only products with low THC, marijuana’s main psychoactive ingredient, for certain medical conditions.

But marijuana is still illegal under federal law. It is listed with drugs such as heroin under Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, meaning it has no federally accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.

The Biden administration, however, has taken some steps toward marijuana reform. The president has pardoned thousands of people who were convicted of “simple possession” on federal land and in the District of Columbia.

The Department of Health and Human Services last year recommended to the Drug Enforcement Administration that marijuana be reclassified as Schedule III, which would affirm its medical use under federal law.

According to a Gallup poll last fall, 70% of adults support legalization, the highest level yet recorded by the polling firm and more than double the roughly 30% who backed it in 2000.

Nice to see more and more forward-thinking states joining the “over-the-counter”-culture, with a new shopping list: Milk, bread, eggs, and ganja. In Washington state, we’ve been smoking our pipes in peace since 2014. So I thought I would welcome the newbies to our cannabis club by sharing my picks for the top five Rasta movies, in alphabetical order…seen?

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Countryman Writer-director Dickie Jobson’s 1982 low-budget wonder has it all. Adventure. Mysticism. Political intrigue. Martial Arts. And weed. Lots of weed. A pot-smuggling American couple crash land their small plane near a beach and are rescued by our eponymous hero (Edwin Lothan, billed in the credits as “himself”), a fisherman/medicine man/Rasta mystic/philosopher/martial arts expert who lives off the land (Lothan, who passed away in 2016, was a fascinating figure in real life).

Unfortunately, the incident has not gone unnoticed by a corrupt, politically ambitious military colonel, who wants to frame the couple as “CIA operatives” who are trying to disrupt the upcoming elections. But first he has to outwit Countryman, which is no easy task (“No one will find you,” Countryman assures the couple, “You are protected here.” “Protected by who?” the pilot asks warily. “Elements brother, elements,” says Countryman, with an enigmatic chuckle). I love this movie. It’s wholly unique, with a fabulous reggae soundtrack.

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The Harder They Come– While the Jamaican film industry didn’t experience an identifiable “new wave” until the early 80s, Perry Henzel’s 1973 rebel cinema classic laid the foundation. From its opening scene, when wide-eyed country boy Ivan (reggae’s original superstar, Jimmy Cliff) hops off a Jolly Bus in the heart of Kingston to the strains of Cliff’s “You Can Get It If You Really Want”, to a blaze of glory finale, it maintains an ever-forward momentum, pulsating all the while to the heartbeat riddim of an iconic soundtrack. Required viewing!

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Rockers– Admittedly, this island-flavored take on the Robin Hood legend is short on plot, but what it may lack in complexity is more than compensated for by its sheer exuberance (and I have to watch it at least once a year). Grecian writer-director Theodoros Bafaloukos appears to have cast every reggae luminary who was alive at the time in his 1978 film. It’s the tale of a Rasta drummer (Leroy “Horsemouth” Wallace) who has had his beloved motorcycle stolen (customized Lion of Judah emblem and all!) by a crime ring run by a local fat cat.

Needless to say, the mon is vexed. So he rounds up a posse of fellow musicians (Richard “Dirty Harry” Hall, Jacob Miller, Gregory Isaacs, Robbie Shakespeare, Big Youth, Winston Rodney, et. al.) and they set off to relieve this uptown robber baron of his ill-gotten gains and re-appropriate them accordingly. Musical highlights include Miller performing “Tenement Yard”, and Rodney warbling his haunting and hypnotic  Rasta spiritual “Jah No Dead” a cappella.

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Stepping Razor: Red X– Legalize it! Nicholas Campbell’s unflinching portrait of musician Peter Tosh (who co-founded the Wailers with Bob Marley and Bunny Wailer) is not your typical rockumentary. While there is plenty of music, the  focus is on Tosh’s political and spiritual worldview, rendered via archival footage, dramatic reenactments, and excerpts from a personal audio diary in which Tosh expounds on his philosophies and rages against the “Shitstem. “

One interesting avenue Campbell pursues suggests that Tosh was the guiding force behind the  Wailers, and that Marley looked up to Tosh as a mentor in early days (I suspect that it was more of a Lennon/McCartney dynamic). A definite ‘must-see’ for reggae fans.

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Word, Sound, and Power – Jeremiah Stein’s 1980 documentary clocks in at just over an hour but is the best film I’ve seen about roots reggae music and Rastafarian culture. Barely screened upon its original theatrical run and long coveted by music geeks as a Holy Grail until its belated DVD release in 2008 (when I was finally able to loosen my death grip on the sacred, fuzzy VHS copy that I had taped off of USA’s Night Flight back in the early 80s), it’s a wonderful time capsule of a particularly fertile period for the Kingston music scene.

Stein interviews key members of The Soul Syndicate Band, a group of studio players who were the Jamaican version of The Wrecking Crew; they backed Jimmy Cliff, Bob Marley, Burning Spear, and Toots Hibbert (to name but a few). Beautifully photographed and edited, with outstanding live performances by the Syndicate. Musical highlights include “Mariwana”, “None Shall Escape the Judgment”, and a spirited acoustic version of “Harvest Uptown”.

Bonus tracks!

OK …if you’d rather chill, here’s a mixtape. Headphones and munchies on standby:      

Celestial seasonings: A total eclipse mixtape

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on April 6, 2024)

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Depending on your worldview, this coming Monday’s super-hyped solar eclipse may be interpreted as: a). A sign of the impending apocalypse, b). A sign that once in a blue moon, the moon blows in and obscures the sun, giving humanity the impression (for a few heart stopping moments) that the apocalypse has, in fact, arrived, or c). A dollar sign for event promoters, hoteliers, tow truck drivers, and people who sell cheap cardboard sunglasses.

I know. I’m a cynical bastard.

If the “Great North American Eclipse” forces people to tear themselves away from their 5 inch iPhone screen to gaze up at The Big Sky, and ponder the awesomeness and vastness of the cosmos (and most importantly, humankind’s relative insignificance in the grand scheme of things)…then I’m for it (I Googled “can you view the eclipse with a…” and right after “mirror”, “sunglasses” and “welding mask”, there it was- friggin’ “iPhone”).

Do me a favor. If you’re lucky enough to make it through the horrendous traffic and wriggle through the madding crowd to snag a perfect observation point in one of the areas that will experience totality…don’t view it through a 5-inch screen…LOOK at it! Utilize some form of eye protection, of course, but experience the ACTUAL PHENOMENON! Thanks.

After all, as Carl Sagan observed:

“We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology.”

BTW, here’s evolutionary perspective on why we sophisticated, technically-advanced humanoids still get the tiniest little lizard brain-fueled twitch when Big Light Go Away:

With that in mind, please enjoy this special mixtape that I have assembled to accompany the solar system’s ultimate laserium show (don’t worry-I didn’t forget the Floyd, man!).

The Rolling Stones- “2000 Light Years from Home”

Paul Weller- “Andromeda”

Tommy Keene- “Astronomy”

The Orb- “Backside of the Moon”

Kate Bush- “The Big Sky”

Soundgarden- “Black Hole Sun”

Pink Floyd- “Brain Damage/Eclipse”

Crosby, Stills, & Nash- “Dark Star”

The Ian Gillian Band- “Five Moons”

Moxy- “Moon Rider”

King Crimson- “Moonchild”

Nick Drake- “Pink Moon”

Elton John- “Rocket Man”

David Bowie- “Space Oddity”

Liz Phair- “Stars and Planets”

Yes- “Starship Trooper”

Bonnie Hayes- “Total Eclipse of the Heart”

The Church- “Under the Milky Way”

Paul McCartney & Wings- “Venus + Mars”

Gamma- “Voyager”

Fab Faux: The 25 Best Songs the Beatles Never Wrote

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on March 23, 2024)

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Warning: This post is fake news. But it’s got a back beat, you can’t lose it. [Ed Sullivan voice] “Ladies and gentlemen, NOT The Beatles…”

THE ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA: “10538 Overture” – ELO’s eponymous 1971 debut album is my favorite in the band’s catalog, due to the presence of Roy Wood. I suspect that Wood (who split during the early sessions for the band’s sophomore effort) tempered his fellow Move alum Jeff Lynne’s tendency to overproduce everything he touches. At any rate, this cut (which sounds like a mashup of “Dear Prudence” and “I Am the Walrus”) is the album’s highlight-setting the mold for ELO’s signature Baroque rock vibe.

BADFINGER: “Baby Blue” – Considering the band’s history, it’s a no-brainer to include a Badfinger song. Originally calling themselves the Iveys, they were “discovered” by Beatles inner circle stalwart Mal Evans, who persuaded the Fabs to sign the band to their then-fledgling Apple Records label in 1968 (Paul McCartney penned their first Top 10 hit “Come and Get It”). This Top 20 hit (very much in the vein of of “And Your Bird Can Sing”)  is  on the 1971 album Straight Up (it was co-produced by George Harrison and Todd Rundgren).

KLAATU:  “Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft” – We’ve been observing your Earth! I’m old enough to remember the breathless speculation that surrounded this moderately successful Canadian pop-prog outfit back in the mid-70s…were they really The Beatles, recording under a pseudonym? Of course they weren’t; but they undeniably wore The Beatles’ influence on their sleeves, particularly on their biggest  hit (later covered by The Carpenters).

20/20: “Cheri” – Straight outta Tulsa. Band founders Steve Allen and Ron Flynt relocated from Oklahoma to Hollywood in the late 70s and became key movers in the burgeoning L.A. power-pop scene (I had the pleasure of seeing them perform twice in the early 80s; once  at the Golden Bear in Huntington Beach and when they opened for The Vapors at The Warfield in San Francisco). Beatlesque harmonies abound in this memorable cut from their debut album.

NICK HEYWARD: “Closer” – In the early 80s, Nick Heyward was best-known as chief songwriter and lead vocalist for the poppy UK band Haircut 100 (he left shortly after their debut album was released to pursue a solo career).  Throughout the 90s, he came to embrace the Britpop sound; infusing a heavier guitar tone into the mix while retaining his McCartney-like gift for melody. This cut is one of the highlights from his excellent 1998 album The Apple Bed.

XTC: “Earn Enough For Us” – Tough choice here, as there are any number of tunes by this prolific UK New Wave/Power Pop band that reflect a heavy Beatles influence. If hard-pressed, this cut from their 1986 album Skylarking (produced by Todd Rundgren) would be my fave faux-Fab XTC song-which has strong Revolver-era vibes. In fact, the entire album has a 60s psychedelia/Revolver vibe…which was allegedly a major point of contention between band and producer. Whatever went on behind the scenes, the end product is top-shelf.

CAPTAIN SENSIBLE: “Exploding Heads and Teapots (Past Their Prime)” – Prolific singer-songwriter-guitarist Raymond Ian Burns (aka Captain Sensible) has taken the odd time out from his longtime tenure as  a premiere member of The Damned to build a pretty decent catalogue of his own. This catchy, psychedelia-tinged selection is from his third solo effort,  Revolution Now (1989).

KEN SHARP: “Floating on a Corn Flake” – Ken Sharp is a sort of power pop Renaissance man; in addition to releasing a number of singles and albums, he has authored/co-authored 18 music books-including tomes on Cheap Trick, The Raspberries, The Small Faces, and Rick Springfield. No mistaking the Lennon influence on this cut!

NICK NICELY: “Hilly Fields” – I was hooked on this haunting, enigmatic song from the first time I heard it on a Bay area alt-rock station in 1982. It sounded like the Beatles’ Revolver album, compressed into three and a half minutes. The artist was Nick Nicely, an English singer-songwriter who released this and one other song, then vanished in the mists of time until reemerging with a full album in 2004 (which was basically a compilation of material he had accumulated over the previous 25 years). He’s since put out several albums of new material, which I have been happily snapping up.

CHRIS BELL: “I Am the Cosmos” – Founded in 1971 by singer-guitarist Chris Bell and ex-Box Tops lead singer/guitarist Alex Chilton, the Beatlesque Big Star was a seminal power pop band. Released as a single, this beautiful, wistful song (recalling “Across the Universe”)  is featured on Bell’s solo album, which was issued posthumously in 1992 (tragically, he died at age 27 in a 1978 automobile accident).

THE TIMES: “I Helped Patrick McGoohan Escape” – UK power pop genius Ed Ball was the man behind several bands: Television Personalities, ‘O’ Level, Teenage Filmstars, and The Times (settling on the latter from 1981 through the late 90s, vacillating with a number of self-billed albums along the way). This song is a sly pastiche of 1960s pop culture references, including musical quotes from The Spencer Davis Group’s “Keep on Running”,  The Beatles’ “I Wanna Hold Your Hand”, references in the lyrics to “The Prisoner” TV series and something about “…plans to kidnap Paul McCartney”.

THE RAIN PARADE: “I Look Around” – The Rain Parade was part of L.A.’s  “Paisley Underground” scene in the early 80s. This hypnotic, psychedelia-drenched song (in the vein of the Beatles’ “She Said She Said”) is from their 1983 debut, Emergency Third Rail Power Trip.

AIRWAVES: “Keep Away the Blues” – I discovered this UK band when I espied their album New Day in a cut-out bin circa 1978. I knew nothing about them, but in those days it was worth the 99-cent gamble (old-school vinyl junkies know what I’m talking about). Truth be told, I still don’t know much about the band (a Google search reveals little) but the album was full of melodic pop rock numbers, including this cut with its George Harrison-worthy riff.

EMITT RHODES: “Fresh as a Daisy” – Emitt Rhodes sounds like both Lennon and McCartney rolled into one on this piano-driven number from his self-titled 1970 debut album. In addition to vocals, Rhodes plays all instruments (he recorded it on a 4-track in his home studio). The multi-talented artist passed away in 2020, after a spotty career.

THE DIVINE COMEDY: “Perfect Love Song” – The Divine Comedy is essentially a pseudonym for Irish singer-songwriter Neil Hannon. Blessed with a rich baritone voice, Hannon is a gifted musical composer with a penchant for penning wry, tongue-in-cheek lyrics:

Give me your love
And I’ll give you the perfect lovesong
With a divine Beatles bassline
And a big old Beach Boys sound
I’ll match you pound for pound
Like heavy-weights in the final round
We’ll hold on to each other
So we don’t fall down

THE SPONGETONES: “She Goes Out With Everybody” – From their formation in 1979 until they stopped recording in 2009, North Carolina-based power poppers The Spongetones made no secret as to who inspired them: Beatles, Kinks, Hollies, Gerry & the Pacemakers, et. al. Essentially, they really dug that fab and gear British Invasion sound, apparent on this obvious nod to the Beatles’ “Please Please Me”. Still, they manage to put their own stamp on it.

THE KORGIS: “Something About the Beatles” – This selection pretty much speaks for itself. It’s quite a lovely tribute, actually.

Why did the apple fall to the ground…

THE THREE O’CLOCK: “Stupid Einstein” – The Three O’Clock is one of my favorite bands from the L.A. Paisley Underground scene (see The Rain Parade above). They actually lean more toward power pop than psychedelia, but I won’t split hairs. This breezy song (taken from their 1983 album Sixteen Tambourines) is chockablock with the band’s signature Beatlesque guitar riffs and gorgeous harmonies.

THE KNACK: “Sweet Dreams” – Love ’em or hate ’em, this was the band that brought power pop into the mainstream (well, for a minute…until the unfortunate “Nuke the Knack” backlash). Taken from Round Trip, this cut is an unabashed nod to “I’m Only Sleeping”.

CHEAP TRICK: “Taxman, Mr. Thief” – Another track that requires minimal explanation for its inclusion. It’s right there in the lyrics!

He hates you, he loves money
And he’ll steal your shit and think that it’s funny
Like the Beatles he ain’t human
Now the taxman is out to get you

THE BROTHERHOOD OF LIZARDS: “The World Strikes One” – Despite the fact that he writes hook-laden, Beatlesque pop gems in his sleep, and has been doing so for five decades, endearingly eccentric singer-musician-songwriter-poet Martin Newell (who has also recorded and performed as The Cleaners From Venus and The Brotherhood of Lizards) remains a selfishly-guarded secret by cultish admirers (guilty!). This selection (reminiscent of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”) is taken from the 1989 album, Lizardland.

THE JAM: “Tonight at Noon” – I never gleaned Beatles influence in the Jam’s music (The Who and The Kinks, maybe), but they are definitely in full Fabs mode here (from 1977’s This is the Modern World).

THE RECORDS: “Up All Night” – One of of the finest power pop bands to emerge from the UK in the late 70s. Chiming guitars, catchy melodies and harmonies to die for. This is from their self-titled 1979 debut album (issued as Shades in Bed in the UK).

THE JETSET: “You Should Know By Now” – Led by vocalist/songwriter Paul Bevoir, this UK band put out 5 great power pop albums in the 1980s. This selection is taken from their 1986 album Go Bananas!.

THE FLAMIN’ GROOVIES: “You Tore Me Down” – While they started out as a proto-punk garage band, this San Francisco outfit made a profound transformation after they traveled across the pond to Wales in 1976 to work with producer Dave Edmunds. The result was an album power pop aficionados consider the gold standard: Shake Some Action. Nary a weak cut on there; but this one is a standout.

Bonus track!

Longtime Seattle radio personality Bob Rivers and his “Twisted Tunes” cohorts produced this short but hilarious spoof of Tears for Fears’ early 90s hit “Sowing the Seeds of Love” (a song that was so self-consciously derivative I didn’t bother to include it in my list).

Blu-ray reissue: American Pop (****)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on February 24, 2024)

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American Pop (Columbia/Sony)

Within the realm of animated films, Ralph Bakshi’s name may not be as universally recognizable (or revered) as Walt Disney or Studio Ghibli, but I would consider him no less of an important figure in the history of the genre. During his heyday (1972-1983) the director pumped out 8 full-length feature films (Fritz the Cat, Heavy Traffic, Wizards, et. al.) using his signature blend of live-action, rotoscoping, and  traditional cel animation.

In his 1981 film American Pop, director Bakshi  and screenwriter Ronni Kern ambitiously attempt to distill the history of 20th Century American popular music (essentially from Vaudeville to Punk) in 90 minutes. The narrative is framed via the triumphs and travails of four generations of a Russian-Jewish immigrant family (all of whom are involved one way or the other in the music business). Intelligently written, beautifully animated, with an eclectic soundtrack (everything from “Swanee” to “Pretty Vacant”).

Columbia/Sony’s release is bare bones; no commentary tracks or extra features. The transfer, while a definite improvement over my 2009 Columbia DVD edition, does not appear to be a “restored” print (the “mastered in high definition” notation on the back of the keep case is a tell). The 2.0 DTS-HD MA audio track is adequately robust for this engaging musical-drama.

Arousal, Valence, and Depth: 10 Essential Albums of 1974

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on February 17, 2024)

“They” say that your taste in music is imprinted in your high school years. Why do you suppose this is? Is it biological? Is it hormonal? Or Is it purely nostalgia? According to a 2021 study, it may have something to do with “arousal, valence, and depth”. Say what?

Have you wondered why you love a particular song or genre of music? The answer may lie in your personality, although other factors also play a role, researchers say.

Many people tend to form their musical identity in adolescence, around the same time that they explore their social identity. Preferences may change over time, but research shows that people tend to be especially fond of music from their adolescent years and recall music from a specific age period — 10 to 30 years with a peak at 14 — more easily.

Musical taste is often identified by preferred genres, but a more accurate way of understanding preferences is by musical attributes, researchers say. One model outlines three dimensions of musical attributes: arousal, valence and depth.

“Arousal is linked to the amount of energy and intensity in the music,” says David M. Greenberg, a researcher at Bar-Ilan University and the University of Cambridge. Punk and heavy metal songs such as “White Knuckles” by Five Finger Death Punch were high on arousal, a study conducted by Greenberg and other researchers found.

“Valence is a spectrum,” from negative to positive emotions, he says. Lively rock and pop songs such as “Razzle Dazzle” by Bill Haley & His Comets were high on valence.

Depth indicates “both a level of emotional and intellectual complexity,” Greenberg says. “We found that rapper Pitbull’s music would be low on depth, [and] classical and jazz music could be high on depth.”

Also, musical attributes have interesting relationships with one another. “High depth is often correlated with lower valence, so sadness in music is also evoking a depth in it,” he says.

“They” may be right…I graduated in 1974, and the lion’s share of my CD collection/media player library is comprised of  (wait for it) albums and/or songs originally released between 1967-1982.

The music of 1974 in particular looms large in my memory; not only because that is the year I graduated, but that was also the year I landed my first steady radio gig, hosting the midnight-6am shift on KFAR-AM in Fairbanks (it’s one of the oldest stations in Alaska).

At the time, KFAR’s  format was Top 40. When I came on board in July of 1974, I was spinning then-current hits like “Rock Your Baby” by George McRae, “Annie’s Song” by John Denver, “Rock the Boat” by The Hues Corporation, “Billy, Don’t Be a Hero” by Bo Donaldson & the Heywoods, “Sundown” by Gordon Lightfoot, “On and On” by Gladys Knight & the Pips, “Rock and Roll Heaven” by The Righteous Brothers, “The Air That I Breathe” by The Hollies, and so on.

While mid-70s Top 40 fare was nothing if not eclectic, there was a demarcation between music I was being paid to play (and feign enthusiasm for), and what I preferred listening to during off-hours.

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Off-hours, 1974.

That said, on occasion the twain would meet; after a few months on the job I began to sneak in a deep cut here and there from my personal LP collection. That was all hi-ho pip and dandy until the night the PD happened to be monitoring at 3am when I played “Heroin” by The Velvet Underground. I wasn’t fired, but he made it quite clear that I was never to play that cut again (several years later at another Fairbanks AM station I worked at, the music director admonished me for playing “Marakesh Express” by Crosby, Stills, & Nash; he cited “…blowing through the smoke rings of my mind”…oy.)

Arousal, valance, and depth…oh my!

Anyway, here are my top 10  LPs of 1974 (note “the next 10” below).

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Autobahn – Kraftwerk

HAL 9000’s cruisin’ jams. While they already had three albums under their gürtels, Autobahn marked the debut of Kraftwerk’s now-signature “sound” (i.e. drum machines, synths, and robotic vocalizing). The album’s centerpiece is the hypnotic title cut, which eats up Side 1.Profoundly influential on a broad spectrum of artists, from Bowie (it informed his “Berlin period”) to seminal hip-hop acts.

Choice cuts: “Autobahn”, “Morgenspaziergang”, “Kometenmelodie 1”.

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Court and Spark – Joni Mitchell

In 1976, a friend and I caught the L.A. Express at The Troubadour. I remember being disappointed to learn that the group’s founder, legendary sax player Tom Scott, was no longer with them (ditto ace guitarist Robben Ford). Not that the musicians who replaced them were slouches (David Luell and Peter Maunu, respectively). Still, it was a tight set (all the members were top echelon session players).

Near the end of the evening, Luell took the mic and said, “Hey-we’d like to invite a couple friends up to sit in on a number or two.” I nearly had a heart attack when Robben Ford and (wait for it) Joni Mitchell casually sauntered onto the stage. I was so in thrall that I can’t even remember what songs they did (I’m not a New Age kinda cat, but believe me when I tell you Joni Mitchell had an aura. Wow).

Singling out the “best” Joni Mitchell album is a fool’s errand, but her 1974 release Court and Spark (backed by most of the original L.A. Express personnel) is damn near a perfect “10” in my book.

Choice cuts: “Court and Spark”, “Help Me”, “Free Man in Paris”, “People’s Parties”, “Car on a Hill”, “Just Like This Train”.

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Feel – George Duke

Like many other rock fans, I was introduced to jazz player/vocalist George Duke via his affiliation with Frank Zappa from the early to mid-70s.  But when I heard this album (his fourth), I realized he was no mere side player; Duke was a tremendously gifted artist in his own right. A strong set of funk, hard fusion and smooth jazz, fueled by Duke’s distinctive keys and bass synthesizer. Duke enlists some heavyweights: Brazilian musicians Flora Purim (vocals) and Airto Moreira (percussionist), and a guitarist credited as “Obdewl’l X”- aka Frank Zappa (“Love” features one of his best-ever solos).

Choice cuts: “Love”, “Feel”, “Cora Jobege”, “Yana Aminah”, “Rashid”.

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Phaedra – Tangerine Dream

Like  fellow German electronic music pioneers Kraftwerk (see above), 1974 was the year that Tangerine Dream found their “voice”. The magic number for them was album #5, Phaedra. The (figurative and literal) key was sequencers; a then-emergent technology Pink Floyd had  flirted with on Dark Side of the Moon (and not really popularized until Donna Summer’s sequencer-heavy 1977  hit “I Feel Love” ). Tangerine Dream opted for a more ambient, textural approach than Kraftwerk. With its mesmerizing, cinematic soundscapes Phaedra has held up well as a “headphone album”.

Choice cuts: “Phaedra”, “Mysterious Semblance At The Strand Of Nightmares”, “Movements of a Visionary”.

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Pretzel Logic – Steely Dan

I still marvel at how Donald Fagen and Walter Becker were able to find such massive commercial and critical success without compromising their willfully enigmatic and ever-droll worldview.  While the duo were famously fastidious and nit-picky from the get-go, this was (to my ears) their last album with an organic “band” feel; successive efforts, while all top-shelf product, had a more clinical vibe (as the saying goes on my favorite coffee mug: “The race for quality has no finish line, so technically it’s more like a death march.”)

Choice cuts: “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number”, “Night by Night”, “Any Major Dude Will Tell You”, “Pretzel Logic”, “With a Gun”, “Charlie Freak”.

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Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal – Lou Reed

Lou Reed’s “stadium rock” album. Sporting only 5 cuts (4 Velvet Underground classics and one cut from Berlin), its a pure slab of heavy metal thunder, largely propelled by the dynamic guitar duo of Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner (the arrangement of “Sweet Jane” approaches prog). Lou sounds like he’s having…fun? Regrettably, I never caught Reed in concert, but I did see Hunter and Wagner in 1975, backing Alice Cooper on his Welcome to My Nightmare tour.

Choice cuts: “Intro/Sweet Jane”, “Heroin”, “Lady Day”.

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Sheer Heart Attack – Queen

It was a bit of a tough choice here, considering that Queen released not just one, but two fine albums in 1974 (the other was Queen II). What I like about Sheer Heart Attack is how it strikes the perfect balance between the band’s hard rock foundation and its harmony-driven pop sensibilities (the latter of which would dominate in subsequent releases, and not always for the best, I’m afraid).

Choice cuts: “Brighton Rock”, “Killer Queen”, “Now I’m Here”, “Stone Cold Crazy”, “Misfire”, “She Makes Me (Stormtrooper in Stilettoes)”.

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Sweet Fanny Adams – The Sweet

Dismissed by many at the time as a novelty bubblegum act (not completely unfounded, considering early U.K. hits like “Funny Funny”, “Co-co”, “Poppa Joe”, “Little Willy”, and “Wig Wam Bam”), this 1974 U.K. release (featuring some tracks that would appear later that year on the U.S. version of Desolation Boulevard) proved that lurking beneath all the glitz, glamour, and shag haircuts was a ballsy, hard-rocking quartet of superb musicians. Years later, bands like Def Leppard would cite this fine album as a major influence.

Choice cuts: “Set Me Free”, “Heartbreak Today”, “No You Don’t”, “Rebel Rouser”, “Sweet F.A.”, “Restless”, “Into the Night”.

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Todd – Todd Rundgren

In a post I did back in 2020 regarding that year’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominees, I made my case for Todd Rundgren’s induction:

It’s shocking to me that the Hall waited until last year to nominate Todd; he had my vote (it didn’t take…they never listen to me). After all, he’s been in the biz for over 50 years, and is still going strong.  He is a true rock and roll polymath; a ridiculously gifted singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and record producer extraordinaire. He is also a music video and multimedia pioneer.

Granted, his mouth gets him into trouble on occasion (he is from Philly you know), and he does have a rep for insufferable perfectionism in the studio-but the end product is consistently top shelf (including acclaimed albums by Badfinger, The New York Dolls, Meatloaf, The Tubes, Psychedelic Furs, and XTC). Whether he’s performing pop, psych, metal, prog, R&B, power-pop, electronica or lounge, he does it with flair. A wizard and a true star.

Todd finally did get inducted in 2021; but true to form, he crankily refused to accept it in person (he is a long time critic of the Hall). This 2-LP set is one of the highlights of his substantial catalog.

Choice cuts: “I Think You Know”, “A Dream Goes on Forever”, “The Last Ride”, “Useless Begging”, “Heavy Metal Kids”, “Don’t You Ever Learn?”.

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Veedon Fleece – Van Morrison

Speaking of cranky geniuses, 1974 saw the release of two of the finest albums of Van Morrison’s career: the superb live album Too Late to Stop Now, and this equally superb studio effort (another coin toss decision). While I have to hold my nose regarding his anti-vaxxer shenanigans of recent years, I still get lost in this beautiful, soulful and pastoral set of songs. The muse was strong here.

Choice cuts: “Fair Play”, “Linden Arden Stole the Highlights”, “Streets of Arklow”,  “You Don’t Pull No Punches, but You Don’t Push the River”, “Cul de Sac”.

Bonus Tracks!

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Here are 10 more gems from 1974 worth a spin:

Bad Co – Bad Company
Crime of the Century – Supertramp
Fullfillingness’ First Finale – Stevie Wonder
Here Come the Warm Jets – Brian Eno
The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway-Genesis
Mysterious Traveller– Weather Report
Odds ‘n’ Sods – The Who
On the Beach– Neil Young
This is Augustus Pablo – Augustus Pablo

Blood at the root: an MLK Day mixtape

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo January 13, 2024)

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I came into this world on April 4, 1956. 12 years later, to the day, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. left it. My intention is not to attach any particular significance to that kismet, apart from the fact that I have since felt somewhat ambiguous about “celebrating” my birthdays (I could push the weird cosmic coincidence factor further by adding Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated 2 months later on June 5th, 1968 – my parents’ wedding anniversary…cue the Twilight Zone theme). But this holiday weekend is about celebrating Dr. King’s birthday; so I have curated 10 songs to honor his legacy:

“Abraham, Martin, & John” – Late 50s-early 60s teen idol Dion DiMucci reinvented himself as a socially-conscious folk singer in 1968 with this heartfelt performance of Dick Holler’s beautifully written tribute to JFK, RFK, and MLK. Seems they all die young

“Blues for Martin Luther King” – In 1968, music was our social media. The great Otis Spann gives us the news and preaches the blues. Feel his pain, for it is ours as well.

“400 Years” – The struggle began long before Dr. King joined it; sadly, it continues to this day. A people’s history…written and sung by the late great Peter Tosh (with the Wailers).

“Happy Birthday” – A no-brainer for the list. Good to remember that Stevie Wonder was also a key advocate in the lobby to make Dr. King’s birthday a national holiday.

“Is it Because I’m Black?” – Syl Johnson’s question may sound rhetorical, but he pulls no punches.

“Pieces of a Man” – Gil Scott-Heron’s heartbreaking vocal, Brian Jackson’s transcendent piano, the great Ron Carter’s sublime stand-up bass work, and the pure poetry of the lyrics…it’s all so “right”.

“Pride (In the Name of Love)” – The inclusion of U2’s most stirring anthem feels mandatory.

“Shed a Little Light” – James Taylor’s uplifting, gospel-flavored paean to MLK is featured on his 1991 album New Moon Shine.

“Strange Fruit” – “Black bodies swinging in the Southern breeze.” Billie Holiday’s performance of this song (written by Abel Meeropol) was powerful then, powerful now, and will remain powerful forever.

“Why (The King of Love is Dead)” – Like the Otis Spann song on this list, Nina Simone’s musical eulogy (written and performed here just days after Dr. King’s death) is all the more remarkable for conveying a message at once so timely, and so timeless.

Getting better all the time (can’t get no worse): A New Year’s Eve mix tape

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on December 30, 2023)

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All is quiet, on New Year’s Day. Except for this mixtape (you may adjust your volume per hangover conditions Monday morning). Cheers!

“This Will Be Our Year” – The Zombies – Starting on a positive note. Lovely Beatle-esque number from the Odyssey and Oracle album.

You don’t have to worry
All your worried days are gone
This will be our year
Took a long time to come

At least…we can always hope, right?

“Time”David Bowie – A song as timeless as Bowie himself. Time, he’s waiting in the wings/He speaks of senseless things

1999″ – Prince – Sadly, it’s a perennial question: “Mommy…why does everybody have a bomb?”

“1921” – The WhoGot a feeling ’21 is gonna be a good year. OK, back to the drawing board …let’s make ’24 a better one.

“Time” – Oscar Brown, Jr. – A wise and soulful gem…tick, tock.

“New Year’s Day” – U2 – I know… “Edgy pick, Captain Obvious!” But it’s still a great song.

 “Year of the Cat” – Al StewartOld Grey Whistle Test clip. Strolling through the crowd like Peter Lorre, contemplating a crime

“Reeling in the Years” – Steely Dan – A pop-rock classic with a killer solo by Elliot Randall.

“New Year’s Resolution” – Otis Redding & Carla Thomas – Ace Stax B-side from 1968, with that unmistakable “Memphis sound”. Speaking of which… check out my review of the Stax music doc, Take Me to the River.

Same Old Lang Syne” – Dan Fogelberg – OK, a nod to those who insist on waxing sentimental. A beautiful tune from the late singer-songwriter.

Bonus track!

Not a “New Year’s song” per se, but an evergreen new year’s wish.

Blu-ray Reissue: Dance Craze (****)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on December 16, 2023)

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Dance Craze (BFI; Region ‘B’ locked)

In the book Reggae International, a collection of essays compiled by Stephen Davis and Peter Simon, sub-culturalist Dick Hebdige writes about the UK’s short-lived yet highly influential “2-tone” movement of the early 1980s:

Behind the fusion of rock and reggae lay the hope that the humour, wit, and style of working-class kids from Britain’s black and white communities could find a common voice in 2-tone; that a new, hybrid cultural identity could emerge along with the new music. The larger message was usually left implicit. There was nothing solemn or evangelical about 2-tone. It offered an alternative to the well-intentioned polemics of the more highly educated punk groups, who tended to top the bill at many of the Rock Against Racism gigs. […]

Instead of imposing an alienating, moralising discourse on a popular form (alien at least to their working-class constituency), bands like the Specials worked in and on the popular, steered clear of the new avant-gardes, and stayed firmly within the “classical” definitions of 50s and early 60s rock and pop: that this was music for Saturday nights, something to dance to, to use.

In 1981, a concert film called Dance Craze was released. Shot in 1980 and directed by Joe Massot (The Song Remains the Same), it was filmed at several venues, showcasing six of the most high-profile bands in the 2 Tone Records stable: Bad Manners, The English Beat, The Bodysnatchers, Madness, The Selector, and The Specials.

I’d heard about this Holy Grail, but it was a tough film to catch; outside of its initial theatrical run in the UK (and I’m assuming very limited engagements here in the colonies) it had all but vanished in the mists of time…until now.

This film is nirvana for genre fans; all six bands are positively on fire (this is music for Saturday nights-I guarantee you’ll be dancing in your living room).  Thanks to cinematographer Joe Dunton’s fluid “performer’s-eye view” camerawork and tight editing by Ben Rayner and Anthony Sloman, you not only feel like you are on stage with the band, but you get a palpable sense of the energy and enthusiasm feeding back from the audience.

Luckily for posterity, Dunton originally shot the film in super 35mm. Coupled with the meticulous restoration (using 70mm materials), it looks and sounds superb (especially for a concert film of this vintage). Extras include a 34-minute episode of the BBC program Arena examining the 2-tone movement (from 1980), outtakes, previously unseen interview footage, and more. (Please note: This is a Region ‘B’-locked Blu-ray, and requires an all-region player!).

Such a clatter: A holiday mixtape

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on December 9, 2023)

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I’m guessing you’ve already had it up to “here” with holly jolly Burl Ives and Rudolph with his frigging red nose so bright wafting out of every elevator in sight. Christmas comes but once a year; this too shall soon pass. I promise I won’t torture you with the obvious and overplayed. Rather, I have curated 15 selections that aren’t flogged to death every year; some deeper cuts (and a few novelty items) for your Xmas creel.

Happy Crimble, and a Very New Year!

All I Want For Christmas – The Bobs

The Bobs have been stalking me. They formed in the early 80s, in San Francisco. I was living in San Francisco in the early 80s; I recall catching them as an opening act for The Plimsouls (I think…or maybe Greg Kihn) at The Keystone in Berkeley. I remember having my mind blown by a cappella renditions of “Psycho Killer” and “Helter Skelter”. Later, I resettled in Seattle. Later, they resettled in Seattle. I wish they’d quit following me! This is a lovely number from their 1996 album Too Many Santas.

Ave Maria – Stevie Wonder

There are songs that you do not tackle if you don’t have the pipes (unless you want to be jeered offstage, or out of the ball park). “The Star Spangled Banner” comes to mind; as does “Nessun dorma”. “Ave Maria” is right up there too. Not only does Stevie nail the vocal, but he whips out the most sublime harmonica solo this side of Toots Thielemans.

Blue Xmas – Bob Dorough w/ the Miles Davis Sextet

The hippest “Bah, humbug!” of all time. “Gimme gimme gimme…”

Christmas at the Airport – Nick Lowe

Wry and tuneful as ever at 74, veteran pub-rocker/power-popper/balladeer Nick Lowe continues to compose, produce, record and tour. This is from his 2013 Christmas album, Quality Street. I think a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nomination is overdue.

Christmas in Suburbia – The Cleaners From Venus

Despite the fact that he writes hook-laden, Beatlesque pop gems in his sleep, and has been doing so for five decades, endearingly eccentric singer-musician-songwriter-poet Martin Newell (Cleaners From Venus, Brotherhood of Lizards) remains a selfishly-guarded secret by cultish admirers (of which I am one). But since it is the holidays, I’m feeling magnanimous-so I will share him with you now (you’re welcome).

Christmas Wish – NRBQ

NRBQ has been toiling in relative obscurity since 1966, despite nearly 50 albums and a rep for crowd-pleasing live shows. I think they’ve fallen through the cracks because they are tough to pigeonhole; they’re equally at home with power-pop, blues, rock, jazz, R&B, country or goofy covers. This is from their eponymous 2007 album.

I Yust Go Nuts at Christmas – Yogi Yorgesson

I first heard this tune about the “joys” of holiday gatherings on “The Dr. Demento Show” . It always puts me in hysterics, especially: “My mouth tastes like a pickle.”

Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring – Leo Kottke

In 1969, an LP entitled 6- and 12-String Guitar quietly slid into record stores. The cover had a painting of an armadillo, with “Leo Kottke” emblazoned above. In the 50+ years since, “the armadillo album” has become a touchstone for aspiring guitarists, introducing the world to a gifted player with a unique and expressive finger picking technique. Kottke’s lovely take on a Bach classic is a highlight.

River – Joni Mitchell

Not a jolly “laughing all the way” singalong; but this is my list, and I’m sticking to it. Besides, Joni opens with a “Jingle Bells” piano quote, and the lyrics are stuffed with Christmas references. Oft-covered, but it doesn’t make a lot of holiday playlists.

Santa – Lightnin’ Hopkins

Best Christmas blues ever, by the poet laureate of the Delta.

Now, I happened to see these old people learning the young ones,
Yeah just learning them exactly what to do.
So sweet, it’s so sweet to see these old people,
Learning they old children just what to do.
Mother said a million-year-ago Santa Claus come to me,
Now this year he gone come to you.

My little sister said take your stocking now,
Hang it up on the head of the bed.
Talkin’ to her friend she said take your stocking,
And please hang it up on head of the bed.
And she said know we all God’s saint children,
In the morning Ol’ Santa Claus gone see that we all is fed.

Sleigh Ride– The Ventures

I’ve never personally seen anyone “hang ten” in Puget Sound; nonetheless, one of the greatest surf bands ever hails from Tacoma. This jaunty mashup of a Christmas classic with “Walk, Don’t Run” sports tasty fretwork by Nokie Edwards and Don Wilson (sadly, co-founder and rhythm guitarist Wilson passed away last year at the age of 88).

Sometimes You Have to Work on Christmas – Harvey Danger

Ho-ho-ho, here’s your %&#!@ change. We’ve all been there at one time or another. I have a soft spot for this music video (It’s a Wonderful Life meets Clerks) because it features one of my favorite neighborhood theaters here in Seattle-The Grand Illusion.

Stoned Soul Christmas – Binky Griptite

“Man, what’s the matter with you…don’t you know it’s Christmas?!” A funky sleigh ride down to the stoned soul Christmas with guitarist/DJ Binky Griptite (formerly of The Dap Kings). A clever reworking of Laura Nyro’s  “Stoned Soul Picnic.” Nice.

A Winter’s Tale – Jade Warrior

Not a Christmas song per se, but it certainly evokes a cozy holiday scenario:

Ivy tapping on my window, wine and candle glow,
Skies that promise snow have gathered overhead.
Buttered toast and creamy coffee, table laid for two,
Lovely having you to share a smile with me.

A beautiful track from an underappreciated UK prog-rock band.

‘Zat You, Santa Claus? – Louis Armstrong

The great jazz growler queries a night prowler who may or may not be the jolly old elf.

Bonus track!

What begins as a performance of “Everlong” turns into a rousing Christmas medley in this 2017 performance by the Foo Fighters on Saturday Night Live. Good grief!