Howlin’ Wolf – “No Place to Go (You” (1959)
There’s no denying Howlin’ Wolf’s absolutely singular, absolutely thrilling voice is key to his appeal. But his early records stand out in the realm of mid-century electric blues for their rhythmic qualities, too. Here the not-what-you’d-expect emphasis on the three, and a subtly swinging jazz-like emphasis to all the instrumentation is spooky and captivating, and feels somehow exceptionally modern. It certainly adds a menacing quality to the desperation of the “old and gray” protagonist’s story. I don’t know if it appeals to electric blues purists, but it certainly goes a long way toward dispelling the “it all sounds the same” prejudices of the non-initiated and the casual listener.
Uncle Tupelo – “Wait Up” (1992)
I’m not in love with any Uncle Tupelo album in its entirety, but this Tweedy-penned tune has stuck with me over the years. The quiet desperation, pleading from a point of exhaustion, in the three-note melody and lyrics is affecting and simple. The tantalizingly brief shifts from the jaunting banjo to the half-speed, cavernous wailing of Peter Buck’s electric guitar is like a sonic metaphor for a glimpse beyond the surface of workaday fondness into the occasionally realised, sometimes beautiful, sometimes dangerous depth of love.
Sam Prekop – “Showrooms” (1999)
Prekop’s first solo album winningly calls to mind the bossa-lite cocktails served up by Stan Getz in his collaborations with Charlie Byrd and João Gilberto, with a nice dash of West Coast sunshine pop and chamber pop. Most indie rock absorbs the surface trappings of other forms, but remains at its core unambitious indie rock. Prekop has managed to break free of such shackles, tapping into a timeless feel that is elusive to most of his peers.
Curtis Mayfield – “(Don’t Worry) If There’s A Hell Below, We’re All Going To Go” (1970)
Curtis Mayfield can have a lot going on in his tracks, but they never feel over-stuffed. Mayfield could absorb larger-scale soundtrack-ready arrangements of brass and strings without losing any of the sharp melodicism or the funk, a balance he was one of the first to master. In that vein, this track has long been one of my favorites–a real gateway drug to the musical joys of the 70s. Here the strings feel especially integral, not aloof in that great Gainsbourg/Vannier way but sharp and directly interacting with the rhythm instruments. But the tops is that fuzz-bass and the dubbed-out echos whenever Mayfield refrains, “don’t worry”.
Big Black – “Steelworker” (1982)
Albini was already doing his dark weirdo shit in ’82, and while you’d say it’s post-punk in the big umbrella, he’s doing something that sounds pretty unique–rooted perhaps in Suicide’s bare-minimal synthetic beats, but with unabashed single-note distorted guitar (if not to say “soloing”) over it, and lyrics that are more brutal and less comic-book violence. Not everyday listening, but compelling if you can get in touch with a little anger.