Playlist | Song of the day
Welcome, visitors. I'm a tad behind on this. I'll be catching up toward the end of November, rounding this project out at 100 songs. There's still great reading to be had, so scroll down to your heart's content, dear reader.
100 songs of the day
"Fossa Saeeda" by The Scorpions & Saif Abu Bakr
"Dance of Maria" by Elias Rahbani
"Ayonha" by Hamid Al Shaeri.
The only thing I could find out about this artist is on his Wikipedia page. This song is so buoyant and beautiful; it reminds me of "Ventura Highway" by America, one of my favorite songs.
There's something especially satisfying here about the combo of peppy funky and hazy harmonies — I could see some bedroom producer still mourning the fact that Ariel Pink went MAGA trying hard to replicate this sound. It also sounds eerily similar to the song "Cannock Chase" by Labi Sifre.
"Ana Damir El Motakallim" by Issam Hajali.
I'm obsessed with the backstory to the album that I pulled today's SOTD from. Mouasalat Ila Jacad El Ard is the debut album from Issam Hajali, the leader of the Lebanese band Ferkat Al Ard.
Issam funded his weekly recording sessions with busking money when he was living in Paris after Syria began occupying Lebanon.
At the same time as he was recording his solo debut, he was assembling Ferkat Al Ard with musicians from France, Algeria, Lebanon, and Iran. Issam returned to Lebanon in 1977 with dubbed copies of his debut, which he circulated however he could. (The owner of a record shop hated the music so much, he hid the tapes in the back.)
One of these 100 tapes — most of which did not sell — made its way to the fabled composer Ziad Rahbani, who helped kickstart Farkat Al Ard's career as one of the funkiest bands of Habibi Funk.
"Just a Lifetime" by The Legendary Pink Dots.
This is near the top of my Most Post-Apocalyptic Songs of All Time list.
The song is lyrically a picaresque gothic poem describing three distinct aspects of a nightmare world in which the different narrators (all sung by Edward Ka-Spel) whose lives all amount to a sadly, half-ironic punchline of having waited a truly horrific lifetime to arrive at for some small recompense or reprieve.
The single-tempo trudge continues from segment to segment as the instrumentation and vocal effects change, making it feel like a musical triptych followed by a long, instrumental fourth.
"Greasy Street" by The Red Krayola.
The Red Krayola were one of the first art-house rock bands. Frontman Mayo Thompson is to Red Krayola what Mark E. Smith is to The Fall.
But in the early days, the drummer of The Red Krayola was the future-great-minimalist-fiction-writer Frederick Barthelme, brother of the disruptive master of the short story, Donald Barthelme.
Frederick has a great account of the early days of The Red Krayola that I can't recommend more highly. It gives a bemused insight into the youthful enthusiasm of music-making by people who cannot, in the traditional, make music. So what follows from that is an explication of everything they did to go one better than mere music.
Here's an excerpt:
"We all did whatever we wanted without regard for any of the conventions of rock music, or any other music, and the performances became squeak and blister fests—a raucous attack of unordered and unlicensed aural disturbances from a disconnected bunch (sometimes three, sometimes one hundred and three ) of, well, hippies."
"We were fond of Cage’s “chance music,” too, and figured out we could accomplish some of the excitement and freedom and happy accident of that kind of aleatory work by encouraging fans and hangers-around (sometimes a few, sometimes scores) to get up on stage and “play” with us.
"We provided them with microphones and electronics and miscellaneous noisemakers, sometimes instruments, asking only that they do something audible, a request that not everyone respected, and which we came to accept as part of the drill. The guy who kept striking kitchen matches right up in the microphone’s face really was never heard until the recordings we did at Walt Andrus’s studio, for example, whereas the guy who “played” motorcycle, well, you could almost always hear him.
"All these folks were pleased to be invited onstage to perform in the “free” portions of our shows, and it became routine that half the audience would end up on stage with us, bleating and haranguing the microphones and instruments in long, exhausting “free pieces” that often had some sort of rhythmic beginning, and more often than not devolved into a lovely cacophony—squealing and banging and scratching and smacking and hollering and rattling and so on."
"Feel Too Good" by The Move.
While they may not be big in the states, The Move was truly massive in the UK in the 60s and 70s.
With songs penned by the great Roy Wood, The Move would score nine Top-20 singles in five years before they evolved into the Electric Light Orchestra.
After that first ELO album, Wood left the group to form Wizzard, an oversized freak flag of a group that only lasted a few years. Wood continued life as a solo artist and Jeff Lynne's ELO went on to be ELO.
This final The Move album, Looking On, was largely overlooked at the time of its release because Wood and Co. had already announced ELO by the time of its release, so excitement was running high for something new.
"Dead Man's Curve" by Blackouts.
This early 80s Seattle punk group went through a lot of lineup changes and only released four demos with no more than four songs each.
Blackouts formed shortly after the dissolution of The Telepaths with most of the original membership intact. After the band's 1985 breakup, drummer William Rieflin, synth player Roland Barker, and brother and bass player Paul Barker joined Ministry. Paul continued to collaborate with Al Jourgensen in Revolting Cocks, Lard, and other projects.
Rieflin worked through the 90s with industrial rock groups like KMFDM, Pigface, Swans, and Nine Inch Nails. He later joined King Crimson and was R.E.M.'s studio and touring drummer. Rumor has it that Roland Barker is playing industrial-tinged soft rock, but I can neither confirm nor deny.
"Blue Eyes" by Fall of Saigon.
This band was a one-off post-punk project based in France and masterminded by Pascal Comelade. The album was written with a super simple drum machine, a basic synth, and some toy instruments. Vocalist Florence Berthon brings to mind Cathy Lucas of Vanishing Twin, which is an especially interesting comparison when you look at the album artwork:
"Billy Two" by The Clean.
One of the stand-out Flying Nun acts of the 80s New Zealand garage-rock explosion, The Clean is interesting because in a time when the unit of the rock band was sacred, members of The Clean were never interested in the careerist focus on just one project.
Formed in 1978, The Clean — led by brothers Hamish and David Kilgour — didn't release a proper full-length until 1990. This is likely because the Brothers Kilgour dropped The Clean for much of the 80s to record more experimental work elsewhere.
Since 1990, The Clean only released five full-length albums, though David has released 10 solo albums (many recorded as David Kilgour & The Heavy Eights) and Hamish released three.
"(I Used to) Believe in You" by Human Switchboard.
This song comes from the truly great and underrated Who's Landing in My Hangar? from 1981.
The story of Human Switchboard follows the all-too-familiar trajectory of early promise in 1977 coming up alongside Pere Ubu followed by small but mounting successes in New York City until the midpoint zenith with this 1981 Rough Trade release, after which they saw a long, slow decline during which they tried and failed to capture a more commercial sound.
They finally broke up in 1985. Still, this is a punk classic.
"Spanish Dance Troupe" by Gorky's Zygotic Mynci.
This charmer of a ditty comes from a 90s Welsh psychedelic group (that last word in their named is "monkey" spelled phonetically in Welsh), a band that was lumped into the category of Cool Cymru, though they never gained the recognition of fellow Welshfolk Super Furry Animals or Manic Street Preachers. That said, they were still John Cale's favorite band. And one of their former early members went on to form Tystion, a Welsh rap group.
"He Keeps You" by Boscoe.
Listening habits like mine often uncover unjustly overlooked music, but Boscoe is another level of disappointment.
From their self-titled 1973 debut, this dynamic funk group is at least as good as contemporaries Earth, Wind, & Fire. They are at the same time raw and refined: just scrub over to the two-minute mark to hear an attention-getting group staccato that's just stunning in its accuracy.
I can't imagine what these cats were like live, but I have no doubt it was stunning. Definitely check out the next tune on the album, "We Ain't Free."
"Untitled Melody - Live" by Unknown Artist.
From the album There Where The Avalanche Stops - Music From The Gjirokastra Folk Festival, Albania, 1988, Volume One released by Touch Records out of the UK. Bird whistles, flutes, and wind chimes make for what could sound like the new age bargain bin or meditative stock music. But there's variation and intent to this music.
At just past the minute mark, it starts rocking in its own subtle way, moving into a trance-like wordless incantation like when you wonder if all the crickets and cicadas out there are planning something with all their shrieks.
Though the melody is untitled and the artist is unknown, this much we do know (from Boomkat):
"Revealing a spectrum of folk styles to the vast majority of us who have never visited the quinquennial folk festival, held in a castle overlooking the town of Gjirokastra in southern Albania, the set speaks to the remarkable breadth of unique instruments and styles native to the region since ancient Iliryrian times (pre-Roman).
"It’s a truly enchanting collection presenting selections from six of the 26 participating districts – Vlora, Gjirokastra and Lorca from the south, and Shkodra, Debra and Tropoja from the north – and covering a gamut from spine-freezing, elegiac, layered vocal harmonies to bouzouki-sounding strings and flutes, and pinch-yourself scenes of pastoral bliss in the ‘Untitled Melody’ piece that is worth the price of entry alone."
"Blue Railroad Train" by Geoff & Maria Muldaur
This couple of hippie folksters met playing in Jim Kweskin's Jug Band. They were married for eight years and — after the Jug Band split — they released two albums, including 1972's Sweet Potatoes from which I pulled "Blue Railroad Train" for my daily investigations.
This song stuck in my head at some point because lyrically it reminds me of Elizabeth Cotton's "Freight Train" but with a buoyant, billowy Byrds feel juxtaposition.
"Freight Train" was a sad, worldly song of longing to escape one's circumstances written by Elizabeth Cotton when she was all of 12 years old. "Blue Railroad Train" is a song of chipper adventure and rambling, sung in harmony by (white) lovers at a time when the appropriation of early African-American music was so complete, this wouldn't have even registered.
Still, it's a pretty song and worth a listen.
"Chant wagogo : Dunia chant" by Hukwe Ubi Zawose
This collection of traditional Tanzanian folk music was recorded at Paris's Mason des Cultures du Monde in 1992. Tanzanie: Chants des Wagogo et des Kuria presents instrumental and vocal music of the Wagogo people of the Dodoma province of central Tanzania, and the Kuria, who live along Lake Victoria.
My attraction to this music stems from a love of unusual-to-me instruments, and this album offers more than its share: the ilimba and chilimba (lamellophones), zeze (two- and multi-string fiddles), mlanzi (grass flutes), and rattles. The Kuria tunes feature the litungu, an eight-string, bowl-resonated lyre.
Researching today's SOTD, I learned that:
"Wagogo music is highly polyphonic and draws on a tonal-harmonic system that includes the singing of partials over fundamentals. The Wagogo, together with the Xhosa, are the only two ethnic groups in Africa known for practicing such diphonic or overtone singing."
"KASPAR'S STATEMENT" by Saeko Suzuki
Researching distantly foreign musicians is never easy, even now. From what I can tell, Suzuki was pretty central in the Tokyo city pop scene.
City pop was to Japan what new wave or the new romantics or yacht rock were to the west. Because I have an allergy to certain kinds of pop music, I don't always find myself able to dedicate much earspace to city pop, though I'm curious about it.
This tune, however, is an interesting, cinematic piece of sound art with distorted voices buried in the mix providing more of a rhythm variation than melodic vocals. The textures and tones are giddy and humble — not unlike Mort Garson's Plantasia — but the effect is pathetic and boppy.
"Fuubutsushi" by Sage, Prymek, Shiroishi, Jusell
A song and album of its time recorded by four musicians in four different states via Dropbox through the 2020 pandemic summer. The album was recorded within two weeks and released in September 2020.
This is gently rustling jazz of the type one can imagine being recorded and basked in during a time known as The Great Slowdown, and one can't help but wonder how such relaxingly gelled playing can be the result of a handoff-type of collaboration.
Such a situation calls to mind the mysterious Bitches Brew sessions. The quartet is already working on their follow-up, and I hope one day to see them live, though from what I can tell, they haven't even all met in person yet. That's the Roaring 20s for you.
"Boule (Viens ici)!" Ptose
More weird early electronic music, this time from French group Ptose: if you take The Residents, subtract the circus/sea-shanty tendencies and replace it with a Kraftwerkian rhythmic sensibility, you're starting to get closer to the weird world of Ptose.
This tune is by far their most popular — it's either about a ball that the narrator refers to as a dog or it's about a dog named Ball. Regardless, it did inspire a 1985 cassette compilation of covers of just this one song: Boule, featuring Half Japanese, The Legendary Pink Dots, Renaldo & the Loaf, and a lot more.
"Die Haut der Frau" by Pyrolator
Otherwise known as Kurt Dahlke, this erstwhile core Der Plan member has had the most active music career of the Der Plan clan, though after the departure of Mortiz R. in 1993, he and Frank Fenstermacher worked together in A Certain Frank and Fehlfarben. This song, which translates to "Woman's Skin," is as frantic as it is a perfect representation of the entire wacky 1981 album Ausland from which it springs. Between this tune and the album's magnum opus, "True Love," this album is an early but obvious bridge between early electronica and the sample-heavy world of hip-hop and plunderphonics still to come.
"Lass die Katze stehn" by Der Plan
Der Plan were one of the great German rock bands of the 1980s, having pioneered a noisy hybrid of post-punk and new wave to help create a genre that would come to be known as Neue Deutsche Welle (German new wave).
This jaunty little ditty is a departure from their earlier Throbbing Gristle-inspired fare, but it does come 25 years after their 1993 breakup, so there's that.
I strongly recommend time traveling to their debut album "Geri Reig" for a truer taste. Then why did I pick a new tune for the song of the day instead of one from "Geri Reig?" Not sure.
"Lime Jelly Grass" by Renaldo & The Loaf
The opening backward talk is this, forward:
I sprang from my chair, I was annoyed since I'd sat opposite you all the morning
I have heard you say, there are no data
I could hardly keep from smiling at you.
In my atmosphere, gazing at the diaL
If I remember, you made inquiries.
Why, of course, I know you're right on both points
But how in "the name" did you get these facts?
What can be said of Renaldo & The Loaf? They used acoustic instruments and weird recording techniques to imitate synthesizers and were signed on the basis of a self-released tape and a recommendation from The Residents, which if any band association should NOT come as a surprise, it's Loaf and The Residents.
The band basically comprises two wacky guys who make wacky music and have been doing so since the mid-70s. What else do you want from me?
"Görünmez Hava" by Anadol
I adore Anadol, the project of Turkish electronic composer Gözen Atila.
Much like Capitol K, Anadol combines native Mediterranean sounds with a sound-artist's experimental sensibility to create organic-feeling soundscapes.
Here's this about Anadol's third album from her Bandcamp:
Her third album "Uzun Havalar" is based on collective improvisations of middle eastern folk songs called „uzun hava“. They turn out as rich, atmospheric synth ballads. A diverse roster of improvising musicians creates their fascinating complexity. Anadol recorded them during extensive sessions in Istanbul. You can hear drummers laughing and playing guitars, composers howling, announcements in French and screams in no language, record collectors playing oscillators, and trumpets through spacious echoes.
Later in the description comes my favorite part — this album marked Anadol's breaking free of the doldrums of academic compositions to once again find joy in her music. I love hearing that. I this album is perfectly paired with Capitol K's "Goatherder."
"So Dam Funky" by Hot Chocolate
Not to be confused with the other 70s funk band called Hot Chocolate, the one that got famous with "You Sexy Thing." This instrumental hails from the band's only album, a 1971 release of only 500 pressings that calls to mind The Meters. Its lo-fi, almost garage-funk reminds me of the African psychedelic bands of the 70s like the Ofege or The Psychedlic Aliens.
After the trio learned of the other Hot Chocolate, they changed their name to Seven Miles High.
"Slowburner" by Swithold
From what I can gather, this is the sole single recorded by Dayton, OH natives Swithold, who were trying to hybridize rock and disco as a means of breaking into the mainstream. They failed at that ambition but created a murky funk banger in the meantime.
The story of its lead singer and only mainstay member Ed Lamb is a familiar story of slowly crushed dreams. He consistently led his name-changing, lineup-changing group from 1967 to the mid 1990s, working blue-collar jobs to support himself and his musical projects.
Ed Lamb is exactly the kind of guy who might have produced some amazing bedroom pop but instead he toiled in obscurity hoping for enough money just to get into the studio.
"Landlocked" by Capitol K
From "Goatherder," one of my favorite albums from my pandemic lockdown. Here's a bit about how the album was made from Kristian Craig Robinson, Capitol K himself:
“I’ve been collecting bamboo flutes, horns, pipes, and percussion around the world for over a decade. Gathering together these naturally resonant forms I took them to my native Malta and built a temporary studio in a five hundred-year-old carved rock cave basement which was the former goat shelter of a farm dwelling.
"Some elements of all six of my Capitol K albums to date have been created in Malta and, wishing to expand on that rhythm, I chose to make a solitary concept album in Malta, drawing on my individual imagination of place and history.
"The idea was to create in the present a personalized and fictional re-imagining of a Mediterranean, particularly Maltese, diasporic music that fuses ancient and modern techniques.
"During days spent exploring ritualistic process and practice, fieldwork and location experiences developed to awaken genetic memory, reaching back far beyond my present time and allowing me to freely interpret the opaquely resonant vibrations of the Maltese land and experience”.
"Years and Elements" by Plone
Plone were a mid-90s English electronic group that came alongside other groups like the aforementioned Plaid and one of my all-time favorites, Broadcast. They released one album in 1999 and disbanded before releasing their second already-recorded album. The members of Plone went on to join other groups (including Broadcast! and the Modified Toy Orchestra!).
Mike Cancellara, one of the founding members, is now a DJ and magician's assistant, according to Wikipedia.
After years of their unreleased second album making the rounds of torrent sites, Plone reconvened to write a new album using material from the abandoned release, and so "Puzzlewood" was released, and that's where "Years and Elements" comes from.
"Dancers" by Plaid
Just going to point out the amusing juxtaposition of how Plaid describes the album from which "Dancers" is pulled versus how their record label Warp describes it:
PLAID: The themes of the album "Polymer" are "the problems and benefits of polymers" and "the natural versus the synthetic, silk and silicone, the significant effect they have on our lives."
WARP: "Polymer" features "energetic bangers, bright melodic visceral rhythms, and hypnotic wombic textures."
"No Golden Throat" by Lizzy Mercier Descloux
An unjustly unsung genius of the no wave era, perhaps because unlike most popular no wave groups that hailed from NYC, Descloux was French. Her music easily stands up to the best of The Slits or The Raincoats or James Chance and definitely exceeds the quality and thoughtfulness of her most readymade comparison: the (IMO overrated) Lydia Lunch.
In addition to music, Descloux was a painter, poet, and writer. She died of ovarian cancer in 2004, leaving behind a still-unpublished unfinished novel and a lifetime of artwork.
Not all of her albums have been reissued, but it's among my many obscure biopic dreams to write a Descloux film starring Celia Rowlson-Hall.
"Camille" by Bill Fay
From the 2004 release, "From The Bottom Of An Old Grandfather Clock (A Collection Of Demos And Outtakes 1966-70)." I don't know how anyone neglected such a beautifully haunting song, on par with Dylan's "Ballad of a Thin Man" in its shadowy evocations.
Someone came and took Camille away today Everybody who watched had so much to say Looking at the ground she hid her face Still refusing to scream out her hate
Check out this NYTimes article for the story of Bill Fay's rediscovery and latter-day successes.
"Cowboy" by A Giant Dog
The opening two lines: "Yeah, I'm gonna get drunk / Fuck another eyesore."
"Blaxploitation" by Noname
I might be biting off more than I can chew with this one, as it seems this is a song that's been written about quite a bit.
But while researching this song, I did uncover a mystery: Noname's video for this song has disappeared from the internet.
A quick Google search will reveal that the video got quite a bit of press upon its release, but it's not viewable anywhere. There's one unofficial homemade music video, but I know that's not the one because it doesn't match up to the description in all these articles.
Also, from what I can tell, the disappearance of the video has not yet been mentioned anywhere online.
If anyone knows how it went missing, let me know!
"Eating People" by Sons of Raphael
I'm tired today. Just listen to the song. And Google them because they've got a real cool look.
"Cannock Chase" by Labi Siffre
Reading lyrics can tell you a lot about a songwriter's strengths. While heavily metered lyrics are by no means a bad thing — just look at Leonard Cohen's output — one can infer a greater melodic aptitude from someone with a great song but who's lyrics look like a meter-less mess.
Such is "Cannock Chase."
Reading the lyrics would never give you clues to the melody, just as you'd have a hard time imposing a three-act structural analysis on movies by masters like Bergman, Kubrick, or Altman.
Siffre, a trained jazz guitarist and poet (with whom I share a birthday 40 years apart), displays his poetic and melodic gifts in full force here in a song he wrote in the backseat of his car in Cannock Chase, convincing me all the while that he could turn IKEA instructions to his purpose for his next undeniable melody.
"Tonight" by Sibylle Baier
This is a hauntingly poetic narrative tune. In it, I imagine the speaker getting home from a double at the restaurant where she works. Maybe she's recently divorced or broken up after a long-winded relationship.
When she gets home from work, there's her ex, pretending like they're the best of friends, re-connecting with the cat they once shared and asking for help with his car troubles.
She probably hasn't heard from him in a long time and might not even know he's in town — hence her surprise. But it's nice to have someone around, even if it's him...or because it's him. And she receives him with a warm reluctance, a guarded hospitality.
The next day, he'll be gone. Tomorrow night, when she comes home from work, he won't be there.
I hope you'll listen to the entire album, made of 70s cuts from this mysterious German singer-songwriter, a Vashti Bunyan of the Rhineland, whose songs were re-released in 2006 as Colour Green after J. Mascis passed a copy to Orange Twin Records.
"A Doughnut in My Hand" by Ivor Cutler
An artist I desperately need to investigate further, Ivor Cutler was a Scottish poet, singer, musician, songwriter, artist, and humorist. He wrote 15 albums, 6 books of prose, 13 of poetry, 14 children's books, and a collection of stickers called Befriend a Bacterium — one used copy on Amazon currently running just shy of $900.
My first unwitting encounter with Ivor Cutler was by way of a cover by Jim O'Rourke of "Women of the World" from the same album as "Doughnut."
The thing that I learned from this song that I found worth pondering is how pop music's greatest strength — mesmerizing melodies — is exactly what sabotages the song form's less dominating features.
If ever there was a modern troubadour, it seems like Cutler was probably a prime suspect. To carve out room in the reader's ear for the tale and its main character, he purposely subverts the song's melody, slowing it down, cutting it off, and generally letting the words mutilate any chance at an earworm. In so doing, he makes sure the listener catches the meaning, not just the sound, of the words.
"The Barrel" by Aldous Harding
I don't know if this song would've burrowed into my brain as deeply without the mesmerizing video, a piece of art that seems custom-built to provoke grad school readings of obtuse meanings.
Whatever "The Barrel" is actually "about," it's likely about pregnancy, perhaps unwanted, perhaps terminated, perhaps miscarried, or perhaps only dreamed about. Harding's lyrics seems to pass by on clouds when carried by her quietly assertive vocals, though I honestly can't fully fathom what they mean.
Regardless, lines like these are worth pondering without finding answers:
"I rushed in to hold down your page And now I sleep 'side words you do not read with me I hear a song from inside the maze, the very one you made You shook at the ivory mantle As a poet, I knew to be gentle When you have a child, so begins the braiding And in that braid you stay."
Plus, when she sings "so begins the braiding," I always think she's said, "so begins the Brady."
"Auction Block" by Paul de Jong
You don't need to know me that well to know that The Books' album "Lemon of Pink" is in my top five most influential albums of all time.
There was just enough song structure to ground my 18-year-old self who was raised on radio rock, but those structural pieces were built out of bizarre readymade found sound. Since The Books broke up, Nick Zammuto has gone in a more standard indie rock direction, and Paul de Jong revealed himself as the true textural composition genius behind The Books' sound (no offense to Zammuto, who I still love).
The opener from de Jong's debut solo outing seems purposely curated to create the impression that he engineered The Books' unique sound — the crickets, the scissor-snapping percussion, the sped-up and incomprehensible vocals. It's a mini-masterpiece of pop sound art.
"The Unicorn" by Peter Grudzien
Like so many outsider musicians, the music of Peter Grudzien evokes a childlike joy and wonder, but his biography is depressing AF.
An openly gay, psychedelic country warbler living with his twin sister and aging father in Astoria, Queens, Grudzien wrote, recorded, and self-released music between 1974 and his death in 2013.
I can't more highly recommend the documentary about his life The Unicorn. Here's a quote from documentarian Isabelle Dupuis about how Grudzien lived, worked, and sought refuge in music:
"In a moment of crisis, the songs — his lyrics and choices — completely match the anguishes and mood in the house.
"He has a confrontation with his dad, and he starts playing a country song about the coal mines — where his father spent his childhood.
"Terry [Grudzien's sister] is having issues with their father, she's longing to meet someone, he's playing songs about forlorn loves.
"It was uncanny to realize how much what he was choosing to play was reflecting the mood in the house at the moment."
"доле риска" by Cheese People
Being married to a Russian woman, I'm forced to listen to a lot of unfortunate Russian music that still hasn't shaken the 80s obsession with reverb and all things cheese (no reference to the band in question intended).
Cheese People don't consider themselves a Russian group but instead a European group. If you've heard mainstream Russian music, you probably wouldn't want to fit in that category either. This song caught my attention for being both epically operatic, totally plunderphonic, and at the same time, quite short and catchy.
"Death Cab for Cutie" by The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band
This Elvis parody, which came first got attention on The Beatles' ill-fated Magical Mystery Tour film, is likely better known these days as the source of a well-known band name.
Written by the fascinating Vivian Stanshall (whom I'll definitely write more about someday) and Neil Innes, who would later spearhead Beatles parody group The Rutles, the song of doo-wop moralism tells the story of Cutie, who takes a cab for a night on the town against her lover's wishes but dies when the cab runs a red light and gets into a car accident.
According to Wikipedia, "Innes's inspiration for the song was the title of a story in an old American pulp fiction crime magazine he came across at a street market."
"Boeing, Boeing 707" by Robert Miller
Not a lot to say about this frantically paced novelty hit from the singer of "King of the Road" other than pointing out how beautifully the verses and chorus snap together. One would be hard-pressed to defend this song as a work of genius, but it does in fact take a rare kind of genius to smash together such disparate pieces while making the whole seem deliberate and cohesive.
"High on a Rocky Ledge" by Moondog
Long before I felt like I had truly crossed over into becoming a "jazz fan," Moondog had already become a mainstay of my listening rotations. Moondog became famous just as much for his persona as his music.
In the 50s and 60s, the blind composer stood on the corner of 6th and 54th, wearing a Viking costume, selling compositions, eating chocolate bars, and chugging grapefruit juice from an animal horn. He created instruments, released music as both an outsider and an insider, and was subject to profuse praise from the biggest composers of the day, like Steve Reich and Philip Glass.
While he's known mostly for his marimba- and sax-dominate instrumentals, H'art Songs (from which I pulled this tune) is a disarming, almost childlike collection of songs featuring Moondog's warm, simple voice.
"Millions of Sensations" by Dub Oven
This was my hype track for a while back in 2019. This strange, lo-fi garage disco tune was re-released by Music from Memory, three tracks from a demo by Dub Oven.
Back in 1982, after Dub Oven failed to get much traction with labels, they apparently dispersed, with Gary Miles departing to Voice Farm and Blaise Smith to Minimal Man. I have no idea where singer Celeste Miller went. If anyone's seen her, solve this mystery for me!
"Cymryd Mewn Sioe" by Datblygu
On June 23, 2021, David Edwards, frontman of Welsh band Datblygu died at age 56. I know very little about this band, and writing anything would just be regurgitating facts I literally just read. I did just learn that cymryd mewn sioe means "to take in a show." The circus feel of the tune — like The Fall hurriedly estimating what The Residents might sound like — makes sense in that light. But the thing that I love about this song and band is being opened up to the sonorous Welsh language. Hearing music in a strange, new-to-you language can sometimes feel like discovering an entirely new instrument, the same way a French chanteuse is a different instrument than, say, Nancy Sinatra.
"Small Car" by Marvin Pontiac
The invented biography of John Lurie's musical alter ego is worth the price of admission. Pontiac was the son of a West African man and a Jewish-American woman, born in Mail and essentially abandoned in his youth. He lost a fistfight to Little Walter after the latter accused him of stealing his harmonica style. Pontiac retreated to Lubbock, Texas to work as a plumber's assistant and go nuts in the conviction that he'd been abducted and probed by aliens.
The song itself is also a work of narrative brilliance, a kind of children's story or folktale about tiny farmers who drive small cars made of cans and go out on a quest to learn why the stars shine. My only complaint is that Lurie's growl of a voice is too low in the mix, so you have to really pay attention to catch the story.
"Seyu Sayonara" by Yamasuki Singers
This faux-world music concept record, Le Monde Fabuleux Des Yamasuki, was released in 1971 by Frenchmen Daniel Vangarde and Jean Kluger. The duo learned Japanese and hired a judo master to hang around the studio. Though they were going for exotic Orientalism, the songs are tightly constructed pop tunes.
The song "Aieaoa" was later recorded, as "Aie a Mwana" by both Black Blood and Bananarama. Also noteworthy: Daniel Vangarde is the father of Thomas Bangalter of Daft Punk.
"Waltzing with Charley" by Petunia Liebling-MacPumpkin
I don't remember how I came across this Florida-based weirdo, but I've enjoyed the journey down the rabbit hole. While much of her work is reminiscent of The Residents, Petunia has a melodic streak, in evidence here in this song about dancing with a ghost.
"Valentine's Day" by Klaus Nomi
To be overly reductionist, Belgian-born Klaus Nomi is what we might have gotten had David Bowie been more into opera than pop. The comparison is simplistically easy to make since Nomi's signature attire was openly lifted from a one-time costume of Bowie's, but personal aesthetic is pretty much where the comparison should stop.
"Valentine's Day" is the second track on the never-finished Nomi opera Za Bakdaz, its recording cut short by Nomi's 1983 death due to AIDS-related complications. Even if I didn't know the title of this song, I would hear it is a commiseration with the lonely, that mix of bitter gratitude, wistful sadness, and heavy contentment.
"Time Beat" by Ray Cathode
This was the first commercial release from the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, which was a BBC sound effects unit created in 1958 to produce incidental sounds and new music for radio and television. I first learned about the BBC RW by discovering the work of Delia Derbyshire,
The Mother of Electronic Music. This little ditty was created by Maddalena Fagandini, who left audio-engineering in favor of producing, and George Martin, who obviously went on to produce The Beatles.
"Fire by the River" by Harumi
This tune is from the only album by psychedelic disappearing act, Harimi Ando, AKA Harumi. Turns out that no one seems to know much about this album. Like who played on it, when exactly it was released, or who Harumi is. Nothing is known about this mysterious guy, but it's not just the cool story; this meld of Japanese folk music and psychedelic deserves the cult following it got.
"In a Station" by Karen Dalton
Though Karen Dalton didn't record much in her troubled lifetime, I'm grateful that her ineffable rasp was captured at all. Dalton was an original in the Greenwich Village Cafe Wha? scene of the early 60s. Dylan said of her, "My favorite singer...was Karen Dalton. Karen had a voice like Billie Holiday and played guitar like Jimmy Reed... I sang with her a couple of times."
Dalton, long estranged from at least one of her children, died at age 55 from AIDS-related complications, probably related to her long relationship with heroin.
This song of existential loneliness was penned by Richard Manuel of The Band and first released on their 1968 album Music from Big Pink. Manuel had his own substance abuse issues and ended his own life at the age of 42 because of it.
By my reading, the song is about longing for a perfect future without really knowing what it would look like, just that it would be better somehow. But because the idea of "perfection" is so vague, nothing concrete can be associated with it. A dreamer is constantly revising the dream. So the very first lines of the song are:
"Once I walked through the halls of a station Someone called your name"
But near the end of the song:
"I could sing the sound of your laughter Still I don't know your name."
"Didn't I" by Darondo
William Daron Pulliam, AKA Darondo, may have one of the most interesting music bios under his belt — which is a tall order.
He had some modest hits in early 70s, cultivated a reputation that extended to a rumored career as a pimp, drove a Cadillac with a minibar and the vanity plate DARONDO, and hosted both a late-night variety show and a children's show at the same time while also sustaining a brutal cocaine addiction.
He stepped away from showbiz to travel and get off the white, got a gig as a cruise ship guitar player, then went on to have a career as a physical therapist and speech pathologist. And that's the quick-and-dirty version. "Didn't I" was his biggest hit.
"Rye Whiskey" by Tex Ritter
It wasn't long after I'd first heard this tune — maybe three years ago — that I came across this old documentary interview with a Cajun man who could very likely be in my hometown in this clip. At the end, he references an old town drunk who used to sing the chorus of "Rye Whiskey" as he caroused around Acadiana.
"Thanks A Lot" by Ernest Tubb & His Texas Troubadours.
My family first became addicted to this song on a drive from El Paso and Marfa, TX. It was coincidental that I had recently listened to the first episode of Cocaine & Rhinestones, in which Ernest Tubb is the main character.
The most fascinating thing I came across learning about this album and this song, in particular, is the life of its primary songwriter Eddie Miller — the other writer listed is Don Sessions, about whom I can't find
much. But Eddie Miller! A high school dropout, former train engineer-turned country music legend who wrote a full-length country opera and a full-length gospel opera! ...!?!?!?
"No Halo" by Kevin Morby
The thing that has always impressed me about Kevin Morby from the first time I heard "Harlem River" is how casually he approaches song structure.
His vocals and distinct arrangements distract from how shockingly simple this song actually is. And yet the lyrics about a strict religious childhood don't need gussying or variation. Instead, it's pretty blunt what Morby is obliquely saying:
When I was a boy No rooftop on my joy When I was a child Nowhere, no how, no one, nothing was not made of fire.
And then, at a certain point, Morby's childhood self realizes that there are no halos. No need to go deeper than that, since both religious and anti-religious experiences share at least one quality: they're impossible to fully communicate. Morby's solution? Simply report the facts and move on.
"Preta Pretinha" by Novos Baianos
At about 1:20, you can hear perhaps the best 12-string solo of all time. This 1972 tune from Brazilian rock group Novos Baianos brings an almost proggy structural ambition to this simple, nearly bossa nova song of love and yearning.
I've put this song on so many times, my daughter Cleo — who doesn't speak a word of Portuguese — can flawlessly phonetically sing it from beginning to end.
"Not Given Lightly" by Chris Knox
I'm no expert, but as far as I can tell, Chris Knox may be the most important figure in the 80s NZ garage scene, forming the bands The Enemy, Toy Love, and Tall Dwarfs while also released solo albums and comix.
The main lyric and title of the song is taken from The Velvet Underground's "Venus in Furs": Taste the whip, in love not given lightly. Unlike the source material, it is a straightforward love song to Knox's partner and "John and Liesha's mother," Barbara Ward.
"Hyacinth Threads" by Orange Bicycle
I don't know if any other British band of the 60s did quite such a good job at ingesting Brian Wilson's harmonic genius and retooling it in the service of a very different song.
Orange Bicycle were one of those bands that seemed to have a shadow career of much more famous acts. Much like the Beatles, they started off as a poorly named skiffle group. They were the first rock group to play on the other side of the Iron Curtain. They played the Isle of Wight Festival alongside T. Rex, Jefferson Airplane, and Fairport Convention. And yet they remain a gem-like obscurity.
NB: Their most famous member, drummer, keyboarder, and singer Wilson Malone, went on to produce albums for Iron Maiden, Todd Rundgren, Black Sabbath, Depeche Mode, Massive Attack, and The Verve.
"I Go to Sleep" by The Applejacks
I'm very happy to be doing Song of the Day because otherwise I would've never learned that this oft-covered Applejacks tune was actually written by but never formally recorded by none other than Ray Davies of The Kinks.
I also learned that the tune was recorded and released the same year (1965) by Cher.
According to Wikipedia, it's been recorded 27 times. The first time I remember hearing this song was from Anika and then Rasputina. It wasn't until I searched for the song and found all the other versions that I realized it had such a long history.
"Incident in a Greatcoat" by The Cleaners from Venus
This dream-logic garage tune is one of my many favorites from this underground cassette band.
The album was written while Martin Newell was quarantined with chickenpox, and the lyrics about slipping through a portal into a bar packed with beautiful celebrities whilst in one's early 20s strike me as a familiar quarantine wistfulness.
As a bit of a non sequitur re this song, in particular, is my special affection for this quote from Newell in reference to his early inspo, like The Who, The Beatles, and The Kinks:
“I don’t want to copy those singles. I want to find what they were looking for. I’m not following in the footsteps of the ancients; I’m trying to seek what they sought.”
"TIME AND SPACE" by THE DOOPEES
THE DOOPEES are a fictitious Japanese duo made up of Suzi and Caroline — both voiced by Yumiko Ohno.
They were the space-age exotica brainchild of Yann Tomita, who wrote this concept album to describe a young girl's journey to — I think — better understand a recent breakup and grasp how one finds meaning in a world that just seems to be happening to you without your permission.
The intrepid listeners who dedicate at least a few concentrated listens through the 1h13m runtime of the full concept album "Doopee Time" will find some unexpected rewards to be had in its musical maze.
"Tactile Sob" by Bona Dish
This co-ed Hertfordshire quartet is the perfect upbeat jangly antidote to another one of John Peel's pet favorites (and mine), The Fall.
Inspired by the same musical energy but probably not as much synthetic energy as Mark E. Smith, Bona Dish could've gone on to be a John Hughes soundtrack go-to, but they disbanded after releasing only two cassettes, gathered and released by Captured Tracks in 2013.
"Promises I've Made" by Emitt Rhodes
Rhodes is one of the great mysteries of pop music. He wrote and self-recorded three hit records between 1970 and 1974, playing all of the instruments himself and managing to occasionally — as in this song — sound like a better version of Paul McCartney's solo efforts of the time.
He sunk back into the shadows as a recording engineer for the next three decades until his final album was released in 2000.
"Peepers" by Polar Bear
This British jazz ensemble sounds positively African on this hit from their 2010 album by the same name. Led by drummer Seb Rochford, the remarkable thing is how restrained Rochford's playing is.
My favorite drummer-led jazz groups are much more in the Art Blakey or Sunny Murray veins, both of whom are play much more selfishly with the groove. If you like Mulatu Astatke, you'll dig this tune.
"Shapeshifter" by Paleo
Unfortunately, David Strackany's music project was named in 2004 and came to connote a very different scene than the one he came from.
You may remember him for his early genius usage of the internet as a tool to promote himself and his music when, in 2007, he embarked on a roadtrip during which he wrote and recorded a new song every day for 365 days.
This song reminds me of early Modest Mouse fused with The Dead Milkmen.
"Your Touch" by Saâda Bonaire
A strange disco/world-music hybrid from Germany featuring two Nico-esque front-women. They were produced by Dennis Bovell (The Slits, The Pop Group, Matumbi) in Kraftwerk's studio.
This sultry groove calls to mind an image hookahs in The Hacienda, and it's sad to know that ICM abandoned this group for their manager's budgetary indiscretions. What could have been the future of mutant world-disco?
"Hollywood Dream Trip" by Syrinx.
On the heels of his earlier group, Intersystem, John Mills-Cockell — an early champion of the Moog synth — formed Syrinx in 1970 with Doug Pringle (no relation to the potato chip family) and Alan Wells.
Between '70 and '72, the group shared the stage with the likes of Miles Davis and Ravi Shankar before disbanding. This tune is perhaps the most unsettling vision of what a "dream trip" might sound like, but it was an appropriate companion through the doldrums of Portland winter. Not good for party mixes.
"Dark Red" by Steve Lacy.
My six-year-old daughter is sick of this song by now, but I'm not! This is from Lacy's first solo release, Steve Lacy's Demo, recording entirely on his iPhone.
It feels like the perfect song to drive around L.A. just before magic hour, at that point where the sun is a potentially fatal traffic hazard and the only thing preventing you from panic is the way Lacy delivers his paranoid lyrics with the utmost cool.
"strongboi" by honeythighs
One of only a few songs released under this moniker and side project from Alice Phoebe Lou, a psychedelic singer-songwriter from South Africa whose captivating voices calls to mind Molly Burch or Aldous Harding.
Until I discovered the voice behind the band, I was a tad frustrated about the lack of output from honeythighs, so I was thrilled to learn that Lou has already released three albums under her own name. Check out her 2020 single "Witches" for another taste of her sandpaper-sweet voice.
July 6th, 2021, "Pacific 202" by William Fairey Brass Band.
I don't know how I came across this, but it immediately became a go-to writing loop — a song that I put on repeat so I can concentrate without being distracted by learning about each song that catches my ear.
Then, months later, I heard the original by 808 State and got really confused because I didn't know the culture of UK brass bands like the Fairey Band — being from southern Louisiana, a brass band is a very different thing. Turns out it was a cover.
One of these days, I'd like to write something about how originals can often just feel like covers of the more-familiar cover, but I will not write that today.
"Shebeen Queen" by Rikki Ililonga & Musi-O-Tunya
A shebeen is an Irish word for speakeasy. The word spread to other parts of the globe, including Namibia, South Africa, and Zambia, where the godfather of Zamrock, Rikki Ililonga, wrote this ballad to a barmaid. It set the stage for what would become a vibrant psychedelic scene that's currently one of my favorite time-space eras in music history.
"Lonely Woman" by Ornette Coleman
Perhaps my favorite jazz song to sit and occupy at the moment because the tension between Charlie Haden and Billy Higgins' unsteady rhythm and Coleman and Don Cherry's near-dissonant mournfulness creates an unnameable uncertain emotional instability that only living inside of this song provides.
In doing some cursory research for this write-up, I came across this bit about the song from an interview Coleman did with Jacques Derrida.
Before becoming known as a musician, when I worked in a big department store, one day, during my lunch break, I came across a gallery where someone had painted a very rich white woman who had absolutely everything that you could desire in life, and she had the most solitary expression in the world.
I had never been confronted with such solitude, and when I got back home, I wrote a piece that I called "Lonely Woman."
"Seabird" by The Innovations.
The A-side of a two-song demo released in 1977 by a Peruvian duo about which I know little else is a cover of the schmaltizer Alessi Brothers version.
It sounds like the grandfather of Drugdealer and current-day L.A. bands of that ilk. Just as worth a listen is their one original tune, "Put a Little Away," the best song about saving money that I personally have ever heard.
"Sunny" by Bobby Hebb.
I feel like I'm late to this song, but it grabbed me and didn't let me go back in October 2020. The restraint in Hebb's voice is what's most arresting, even toward the end when he starts to belt. Knowing that it's dedicated to his brother, who had just been stabbed to death, is no surprise if you zoom in on just how bittersweet Hebb's voice is.
"Last Night the Moon Came" by Jon Hassell.
Hassell died at age 84 on June 26th, 2021, my son Lazlo's third birthday. This is possibly the late Hassell's most popular composition outside of his collaborations with Brian Eno.
It's the (more or less) titular track from his 2009 ECM release, Last Night the Moon Came Dropping Its Clothes in the Street. Listen to the whole album or just put this song on a loop and drift into a graceful oblivion along with the creator of the genre known as Fourth World, music for unknown and imaginary regions, who's now floating in the realms he spent his life conjuring from trumpet and electronics.
He'll be missed.
"Master Blaster (Jammin')" by Stevie Wonder.
The most perfect blend of reggae rhythms with hot funk energy, there's perhaps no better summer driving song than this burner from 1980's Hotter Than July.