Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers – “Affection” (1979)
In honor of Fathers’ Day, today I’m sharing one of my Dad’s favorite songs (at least of those I’ve shared with him over the years). It’s one my faves, too. I’ve known Dad to play this song several times in a row–and it deserves it. Jonathan Richman is one of the few people I’ve ever seen who seems genuinely imbued with real, unadulterated kindness and an openness to the goodness of the people around him; and in that way he’s a lot like my Dad, one of the world’s true idealists, who makes it his business create the good he knows we’re all capable of achieving. “Affection” is sweet, silly, and as a bonus it has that musical spookiness and energy we all love from the early Modern Lovers. Happy Fathers’ Day, Dad!
Nico – “Frozen Warnings” (1969)
Neither Nico’s contributions to the Velvet Underground, nor the lovely ‘Chelsea Girls,’ could suggest the breathtaking mystery and utter timelessness of her first two incredible albums, ‘The Marble Index‘ and ‘Desertshore‘. Those records might also be the best examples of prime John Cale at the crossroads between his avant-garde and drone-based experimental work, and his “friendlier” singer-songwriter work. Dark doesn’t come close to capturing the shimmering depths of this work; and from a purely sonic standpoint, this is minimal but careful production at its finest, surely influencing later masterworks like Talk Talk’s beloved couplet or Arthur Russell’s more introspective work. This track is relatively “pretty,” but even the more challenging tracks remain stunningly beautiful and emotionally gripping. [Nico is featured on one of my favorite mixes at Musicophilia.]
“Bob” Darin – “The Harvest” (1969)
Walden Robert Cassatto briefly emerged from his better-known persona, Bobby Darin, to create a couple (very) surprisingly great singer-songwriter-rock-funk albums in the late 60s. I guess it could’ve been a cash-in on the rising hippie tide, but to my mind the risks of alienating his established crooner audience for the ears of (most likely highly skeptical) kids doesn’t seem to make a lot of financial sense. Especially when it turns out the music is pretty great, and the politics are pretty pronouncedly progressive–it seems sincere to me. In any case, the resulting music is sometimes beautiful, sometimes funny, and always enjoyable, as on this rollicking, jumpy track that warns of the hubris of man and the folly of power with a series of clever couplets. [The funky feeling of this track is found throughout this mix that features Mr. Darin at Musicophilia.]
Beck – “Satan Gave Me A Taco” (1994)
I haven’t followed him closely the last decade or so, but I still think Beck is a pretty great merry prankster for the straight world, a real well-intentioned goofball (apparent Scientology notwithstanding). “Satan Gave Me A Taco” is wonderfully absurd narrative, an exploration of the giddy excesses of corporate Rock And Roll, or, something. It’s lyrically epic in its not-quite-four-minutes.
Leda – “White Clouds” (1978)
“White Clouds” caps off a mini-them this week on Musicophilia Daily of less-heard music by well-known artists. The album attributed to Leda is perhaps the least likely offshoot of Tangerine Dream, apparently created by Peter Baumann. Even on the dancier/disco tracks there’s a definite touch of the cosmic TD sensibility, and it’s apparent on “White Clouds”. Floating female vocals are doubled by a sanguine synth line, above double-time arpeggiated synths and “epic” drums. It’s a lot of fun, and you should grab it from the Synopsis Elektronika blog. [And if you get going on the electro-space-disco trip, you can hear more Leda on the ‘Les Rythmes du Monde‘ “box set” at Musicophilia.]
Pascal Comelade & Robert Wyatt – “September Song” (2000)
Pascal Comelade has made a lovely career of making smart music with toy instruments, and this collaboration with Robert Wyatt brings out the sweetest warmth from both. Nostalgic, whimsical, and simple, this song is the sound “golden days” captured perfectly. [Robert Wyatt is featured in varied contexts in several mixes at Musicophilia.]
Fever Ray – “Dry and Dusty” (2009)
I have Jon at Portland’s Anthem Records to thank for The Knife. In curmudgeon mode, I’d written them off, guilt-by-association with that farming implement-entitled nexus of hipster ephemera–to my loss. Jon got me to listen to ‘Deep Cuts,’ and I was instantly won over–the warmth, the electronic buzzing, the wonderful melodies, the taste of experimentalism: who could resist. ‘Silent Shout‘ was released the next year, and while I missed the pop sensibilities at first, the album now strikes me as a classic of the genre. Fever Ray is the Knife in all but name, with little appreciable fall-off from the main body of work despite being the work of 1/2 its personnel–it’s no singer-songwriter side-project or noodley indulgence. That multiple-personality-disorder vocal approach is as haunting as ever.
Nina Simone – “Black Is the Color Of My True Love’s Hair” (1966)
Of all the Queens of vocal jazz, when she’s at her best (and with the most sympathetic production) nobody tops Nina Simone, for me. Her voice isn’t the unbelievably singular instrument of Lady Day, nor does she have the stylishness of Sarah Vaughan; but the tremble, shake, just-controlled fire and depth of her voice makes the emotional impact of her ballads greater than anyone else. Hers is the voice of wisdom, hard-won, of grace amidst the day-to-day. This is one of those tracks that makes my hair quite literally stand on end every time, and brings a lump to my throat, imbuing a traditional tune with immense heartbreak and a sense of meaningfulness (in political context) that is astonishing. The use of space in the mix is absolutely mastered here.
Flatt & Scruggs – “We’ll Meet Again Sweetheart” (1949)
I don’t know much about bluegrass and country music–but I know I tend toward the pre-electric forms that emphasis vocal harmony. This track from Flatt & Scruggs has always stuck with me. It has the sweetness and simplicity of earlier Carter Family tracks, wonderful banjo playing, and a nice bit of fiddle.
Arthur Russell – “Terrace of Unintelligibility” [Part 2] (1985)
This is an excerpt from the short film that was included with the first copies of Audika Records’ reissue of ‘World of Echo,’ featuring live performances of tracks from that album (especially “Answers Me”). The meditative fullness that Russell could achieve breaks my heart every single time, hundreds and hundreds of listens on, after so many years. I can’t begin to fathom how he could do so much with so little, but I’ve heard nothing truly like it. This film nicely reflects the intimacy one feels when hearing ‘World of Echo’ in the dark through headphones. [Find previously featured incarnations of Mr. Russell at Musicophilia Daily here, and mixes which incorporate his music at Musicophilia here.]
Shape Note Singers – “Travelling On” (1959)
Beautifully recorded in stereo by Alan Lomax in 1959, this Shape Note Choir exemplifies the slightly odd, but undeniably stirring sound of shape note hymns. Expressively rhythmic for white European-derived music, the four sides of the choir create a roller-coaster ride of canon-like melodies and harmonies.
Huun Huur Tu – “Exile’s Song” (1994)
I don’t know enough about traditional Tuvan throat-singing and instrumental music to tell you if what Huun Huur Tu do is “traditional”. Some is obviously not; this high-and-lonely sounding lament might be; some of the instrumentation and double-note-singing surely is. I do know it’s beautiful, beguiling, and in this meditative, wind-like droning form, it’s emotionally captivating. [Huun Huur Tu can be heard dueting with Luc Ferrari and The For Carnation here in a mix at Musicophilia.]
Billie Holiday with Lester Young, Gerry Mulligan – “Fine & Mellow” (1957)
Despite being visibly emaciated and quite possibly stoned in this very late performance (from CBS’ ambitious ‘The Sound of Jazz‘) all the musical strength and grace is there. The one good thing that came of Ken Burns’ horribly skewed ‘Jazz’ documentary for me was seeing the context to this performance, and realising just how emotional a moment it must have been for Holiday and Young, estranged for so long, performing together one last time. It’s all there in the music, and in her eyes.