Happy Monday, folks. Here’s a new set of tunes to carry you through the week:
- Ben Caplan, “Southbound”: My friend Brandon got me into this guy a while back. It’s a weird mish-mash of folk, singer-songwriter, and klezmer music, and it oddly works.
- Ben Harper & the Blind Boys of Alabama, “Well, Well, Well”: I’m a sucker for Gospel-inflected harmonies, and the Blind Boys of Alabama (all of whom are, quite literally, blind old dudes) do it better than anyone else. And it’s a Dylan tune, too.
- Taylor Swift, “exile (feat. Bon Iver)”: A “he said/she said” song featuring the guy from Bon Iver. It’s pretty damn good.
- Zager & Evans, “In the Year 2525 (Exordium & Terminus)”: Fantasy space opera nonsense about the far-flung year 2525. Futurama used it to great effect in one of their time traveling episodes.
- Young Dubliners, “Last House On The Street”: My uncle’s band, the Regular Joes, used to play this song at shows. I always enjoyed hearing them play it, and I finally tracked down the (tremendously hard to find) EP that it’s on and listen to…well, pretty much just that song over and over again.
- Stephen Stills, “Wooden Ships (Demo)”: I love this demo. If they’d released the demo as the finished version of the song, I think it would’ve been one of the best studio tracks ever.
- Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox, “No Diggity (feat. Ariana Savalas)”: I dig me some ’40s-style, and I dig me the song “No Diggity.” Putting them together? *chef’s kiss*
- Robert Randolph & The Family Band, “Why Should I Feel Lonely”: If you ever wanna hear a guy just absolutely go to town on pedal steel guitar, Robert Randolph is your man.
- The Police, “Canary In A Coalmine”: There’s really not a bad song on Zenyatta Mondatta, is there? No, there is not.
- Jennifer Paige, “Crush”: For years, there was a song that came out back in like summer of ’98 that I heard on the radio over and over again that summer, and then…I forgot about it. And then I tried to find it again for years. I think this is it? I’m pretty sure this is it. It’s a great little pop song.
Happy Monday morning and Happy Indigenous Persons Day! Today, I feel like dancing.
- Elliott Smith, “XO (Waltz #2)”: “Here it is, the revenge to the tune/You’re no good” is just one of the best lines ever.
- Bruce Springsteen, “Dancing In The Dark”: Who doesn’t want to drag Courtney Cox up onto stage to dance with the Boss?
- ABBA, “Dancing Queen”: Oddly enough, not the first song I thought of when I came up with this theme.
- Frank Turner, “Four Simple Words”: This is the song that inspired the playlist. “I want to dance/I want to dance/I want lust and love and a smattering of romance/But I’m no good at dancing/But I have to do something.” C’mon, that’s a great chorus.
- Van Morrison, “Moondance”: Van has gotten progressively weirder and more irascible as he’s aged, but this song (and the whole album of the same name) remains solid gold.
- jeremy messersmith, “It’s Only Dancing”: Dude decided a couple of years ago to decenter his ego by no longer capitalizing his name, which…that’s not how proper nouns work, Jer. That’s not how they work at all. Still a good song, though.
- John Mellencamp, “Dance Naked”: Excellent advice, as long as nobody’s watching.
- Dire Straits, “Walk Of Life”: I’m pretty sure the walk of life is a dance. If it isn’t, it ought to be.
- Calexico, “Sunken Waltz”: Any excuse to include a Calexico song on a playlist is fine by me.
- Tom Waits, “Tom Traubert’s Blues”: Included due to the “Waltzing Matilda, waltzing Matilda/You’ll go waltzing Matilda with me” in the chorus. It’s sad and sweet and touching and heartbreaking all at once.
A new volume of the long-running Bootleg Series came out recently, which means I found myself digging into some new-to-me Dylan music over the weekend. My poor wife, bless her, does not care much for mid-80s Bob Dylan (it is an acquired taste), and got really upset with me when she thought I was about to subject her to it yesterday (I wasn’t, in fact, because I know it’s not her thing and I’m not a complete asshole). But it did inspire me to create this week’s playlist, which is full of lesser-known Dylan songs that I really like. These are by no means unknown songs; I’m sure several of you will recognize several of these right off the bat. But they’re not usually going to appear on any best of or greatest hits collection.
- “Girl From the North Country (Featuring Johnny Cash)”: Yes, Cash screws up and sings the wrong verse as the second verse, and yes, Dylan does that weird Nashville croon thing that he did for a while in the late 60s and early 70s. But this is still just a gorgeous read on this song.
- “Blind Willie McTell”: The latest Bootleg Series features a full-band workup of this song, and while it’s a neat treat to hear, I still prefer this stripped-down, piano-and-acoustic-guitar-only version from Volume 3 of the Bootleg Series. It plays up the melodic relationship to “St. James Infirmary” more (by which I mean it’s just “St. James Infirmary” with different words), and Mark Knopfler’s guitar work is just beautiful.
- “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues”: I’ve enjoyed playing this one on guitar for years (there’s even an old Youtube video of me doing it, if you’re so inclined), and the last verse, with its “I’m going back to New York City/I do believe I’ve had enough” just gets me every time.
- “Isis”: Yes, the name is problematic these days, but back when this song was written (for 1976’s Desire), that organization didn’t exist yet. It’s a story of grave robbery, revenge, and love.
- “Dead Man, Dead Man”: From the much-maligned “born again” series of albums in the late 70s/early 80s. This one’s a banger, if you ask me.
- “Up To Me”: From Biograph. It’s an interesting story song, though I still think I prefer the Roger McGuinn cover to the original.
- “Corrina, Corrina”: A subtle song from Dylan off of Freewheelin’. Yeah, I know Dylan’s usually about as subtle as a sledgehammer, but he manages to pull it off on this one. I like the faint drum and bass backing.
- “When the Night Comes Falling From the Sky”: Empire Burlesque suffers from 80s overproduction, but this song actually makes it work. The over-processed drum and the synthy horn section really work for me.
- “Song To Woody”: From his debut self-titled album. One of Dylan’s earliest originals, and still a sad, heartbreaking song.
- “Where Are You Tonight? (Journey Through Dark Heat)”: I love this song primarily for the guitar solo at the end. Whoever’s playing lead on this one just tears it up.
Happy Monday, folks. Have a list of songs.
- Jay Farrar, “Feel Free”: For years, I thought NPR stood for “Non-Profit Radio.” It made sense, right? That is not what it stands for, by the by.
- The Gaslight Anthem, “Mama’s Boys”: The most Rolling Stones-iest song they ever recorded. It’s fun to sing along at the top of your lungs as you drive way too fast down the road.
- Ra Ra Riot, “Ghost Under Rocks”: I don’t even remember how it is I came to know about this band, but I’ve always liked the promise of this song (even if I haven’t cared as much for the rest of their output).
- Lil Nas X, “THATS WHAT I WANT”: First off, can we discuss the lack of an apostrophe in the title? That always annoys me. Grammar aside, the song slaps.
- Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit (Featuring John Paul White), “Driver 8”: Did you know the REM song “Driver 8” had discernable lyrics hidden within it? And that they’re about a train driver? True story.
- ABBA, “Waterloo”: I’m a sucker for songs about historical subjects, and this is the second-best song about the Napoleonic Wars ever (the best is the 1812 Overture).
- The Mountain Goats, “Get Famous”: The continued prominence of the Mountain Goats gives me hope that even someone with a voice like mine could someday make it.
- George Harrison, “Cheer Down”: Not enough has been written about the wordplay and wry humor of George Harrison’s songwriting. This song is a great example of all that, and the guitar work is killer.
- Rhett Miller, “The El”: The way I found out about the Old 97s was by hearing this album by Rhett Miller first. Then I found Too Far To Care and it was all downhill from there for me.
- Gillian Welch, “Revelator”: So damn downbeat and depressing, melancholy and bittersweet and beautiful. So beautiful.
As with so many other people my age (or just anyone who is living through these interesting times), I feel like I’m constantly tired. Here’s a list of songs to wake you up.
- The Beatles, “I’m So Tired”: My theme song for this week. This month. This year. This…decade, probably? God, was there ever a time I wasn’t tired?
- The Pretenders, “I Go To Sleep”: Wouldn’t it be lovely to just drift off to sleep right now? I think it would be.
- The Beastie Boys, “No Sleep Till Brooklyn”: NO! SLEEP! TILL BROOKLYN!
- The Barenaked Ladies, “Who Needs Sleep?”: The jauntiest song about insomnia ever.
- The Wallflowers, “Asleep At The Wheel”: For years, the Wife was always concerned I’d fall asleep while driving. She probably still worries about it, she just doesn’t bring it up anymore.
- Billy Bragg and Wilco, “California Stars”: Much as Woody Guthrie said, I’d like to lay my weary bones down. Not necessarily on a bed of California stars, but a regular bed, maybe? Yeah, a regular bed would be just fine.
- Hem, “I’ll Dream Of You Tonight”: I don’t often remember my dreams, which is probably a blessing since the ones I do remember are usually not at all pleasant. This is possibly something I should discuss with my therapist.
- Iron & Wine and Calexico, “Burn That Broken Bed”: I mean, if the bed is broken, you could just leave it out by the dumpster or something. Burning it seems extreme, guys.
- Josh Ritter, “Can’t Go To Sleep (Without You)”: Though I do not fault her for this at all, the Wife and I usually go to bed at vastly different times, and I frequently struggle to sleep until she is in bed. Dunno why.
- Cake, “When You Sleep”: Is this song about masturbation? I think this song might be about masturbation while you’re asleep, which is an impressive skill, I guess? I don’t know, I’m tired.
Last night, I didn’t sleep much. I was too busy processing the end to the pencil and paper RPG I’ve been playing with some friends over Discord for the past year or so.
It’s not that any of us don’t want to play anymore. We’re all going to turn around and jump straight into a new game with new characters here in a week or two. But the game had reached a certain point. We’d done what the game master, my dear friend Ev, had wanted the game to do. It wasn’t that he didn’t like the characters or the setting. No, far from it, we all loved where we were and who we were in this game. But that was part of the problem: to run the game, Ev had to be at least a little detached from the characters we were playing in case one of them accidentally died. And that distance didn’t exist anymore. And the reasoning behind the game – Ev, as a social scientist, always has so many layers to what he wants to do and why he wants to do something – well, we’d kinda accomplished what he wanted to with it. We all agreed we’d reached a natural stopping point for the game.
It’s not that we couldn’t or wouldn’t have gladly run those characters until we died. We would’ve. My character – a young woodsman named Hogarth who’d become a shaman and an avatar of a dragon god, who’d fashioned himself into a magical living weapon who could do more damage with a punch than he ever could with his bow and arrow – was a chance for me to have entirely too much fun doing ill-advised things and just hoping the healer would have enough pieces of me leftover afterwards to put me back together (he usually did). I kinda love Hogarth, that goofy sunnuvabitch. But we’d helped Ev reach his goal – which I’m being purposely coy about, because it’s his business and not yours – and so we stopped.
And that was hard. We hated to end it. I hate knowing that Hogarth will go on more adventures that I won’t get to be a part of. That we may never return to this setting, these characters, ever again. It’s a lot to process. I didn’t get as invested in the characters as my fellow players did – just not in my personality to do so, I guess – but I admit to being a little sad that we’re done with that game, while I’m also looking forward to what we do next.
The school year is settling in (except for my freshmen, maybe), so here’s some tunes to cruise into mid-September to.
- Fleetwood Mac, “Tusk”: I love the drums on this one. The high school marching band that joins in halfway through is also pretty neat.
- Frank Turner, “Get Better”: “I’m trying to get better ’cause I haven’t been my best,” Turner sings, and damn if I don’t feel that most days.
- U2, “Hawkmoon 269”: Just what the heck is a hawkmoon, anyway? My Google-Fu is useless, at least since Destiny 2 released an exotic gun of the same name.
- Tom Waits, “(Looking For) The Heart of Saturday Night”: I’m a sucker for any song title that starts with parentheses. And this song is just sad and sweet and gets me every time.
- Sublime, “What I Got”: I dare you not to sing along. You can’t not sing along.
- Walk the Moon, “Shut Up And Dance”: My niece likes this song. I think it’s pretty catchy, to the point that I find myself occasionally listening to it even when she’s not around (and sometimes putting it on a playlist, like this one).
- Elvis Costello & the Attractions, “Pump It Up”: It’s got a very insistent bassline and drumbeat that just gets into your brain and won’t let go.
- The Horrible Crowes, “Behold The Hurricane”: Brian Fallon just writes such catchy songs.
- Iron & Wine, “Claim Your Ghost”: Speaking of songs that are sad and sweet…
- The Jayhawks, “I’d Run Away”: The harmonies these guys got up to just send shivers down my spine.
Week three of the school year rattles on. Here’s some tunes to carry you through.
- Gin Blossoms, “Just South of Nowhere”: The Gin Blossoms have become one of my favorite bands from the 90s, and this is one of my favorites by them. Pre-New Miserable Experience.
- Electric Light Orchestra, “Daybreaker”: An instrumental from the Jeff Lynne-led band. It’s off of On the Third Day, where ELO really became ELO.
- Rhiannon Giddens, “Better Get It Right the First Time”: This woman can write a damn song, lemme tell you. She also plays a mean banjo, though that’s not present on this track. This is more of an old-school R&B number, with a rap break that actually really works well.
- Robert Earl Keen, “The Road Goes On Forever (Live)”: “The road goes on forever/and the party never ends,” he sings, and I’m still not sure if that’s a statement of undeniable fact or a plea to never let go.
- The Who, “The Seeker”: Any song that references the Beatles, Bob Dylan, and Timothy Leary in the same verse is some kinda wonderful.
- Patti Smith, “Because The Night”: When Bruce Springsteen gives you an unfinished song, you take it and you rock it out. Patti Smith definitely did.
- Paul McCartney, “Brown Eyed Handsome Man”: Shortly after his first wife, Linda, passed away, Paul got into the studio with a bunch of buddies (including guitarist David Gilmore) to record a bunch of old 50s rockers and a few new tracks written in the same vein. They slap. They all slap. This one especially.
- Dawes, “That Western Skyline”: The first song off their first album is filled with so much promise. So much. Those Laurel Canyon harmonies are just perfect. The rest of the album – and honestly, everything they’ve put out since – feels like a failure of that promise.
- fun., “Some Nights”: Another band that falls flat right after their first song or two. Maybe what I expected from this song and what the band actually want to do are two very different things.
- Elliott Smith, “Either/Or”: It strikes me to this day that Elliott Smith died far too young. If I can be half – hell, even a quarter – of the guitar player or musician or songwriter that he was, I’d be perfectly happy with that.
It’s playlist time! Here it is on Spotify.
- David Bowie, “Starman”: We can all agree that Ziggy Stardust is, like, one of the best albums of the last fifty years, right? Right. It’s obvious.
- Bruce Springsteen, “My City Of Ruins”: the Boss’s paean to New York City following the September 11th attacks. I know he’s never really been known for his subtlety, and this song definitely ain’t subtle, but it’s uplifting and beautiful and I kinda love it.
- Pure Prairie League, “Aime”: While I was in Oklahoma a couple of weeks ago, we (meaning my father, my uncle, their cousin, and me) tried singing this song and recording it for posterity. Sadly, the backing vocals were “lost” (according to my uncle) and no one will ever hear it ever. Ever.
- Pearl Jam, “Hail, Hail”: When you just wanna crank up the volume on the car stereo, roll the windows down, and jam the hell out, it’s hard to top Pearl Jam.
- Owen Danoff, “Never Been Kissed”: I found this dude through a tweet from Nathan Fillion. That man has never led me wrong.
- Old 97s, “Champaign, Illinois”: If you’re going to rewrite Bob Dylan’s “Desolation Row” and turn it into a raucous rave-up, this is what it would indeed sound like. Exactly this, since that’s exactly what they did.
- The Gaslight Anthem, “Here Comes My Man”: With the “Ooh, sha-la-la”s this is like a punky version of a girl-group song, yelped by Brian Fallon instead of the Ronnettes.
- George Harrison, “Isn’t It A Pity”: George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass is the best post-Beatles Beatle album and I will fight you over this.
- Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, “Sad But True”: I don’t really listen to much Metallica, but if more of it sounded like this I probably would.
- The White Stripes, “Offend In Every Way”: Sometimes you just need a good stompin’ blues-like song.
It’s back to school for good ol’ me! Here’s a list of ten songs to get you back into the learning mood. Here’s the playlist on Spotify, for those so inclined (I’ve added all of the playlists there so far, so feel free to go back and listen to ’em).
- The Call, “Let The Day Begin”: Back when I was in high school, we listened to 107.7 FM, KRXO, out of Oklahoma City. And the morning show always played this song. Every morning. It was a ritual. A call to action. And so it is now.
- Genesis, “Just A Job To Do”: Sure, this song isn’t about teaching. It’s about a hitman hunting down his next target. But isn’t that what teaching is, really? (No, it isn’t)
- The Good, The Bad, and the Queen, “History Song”: Look, there aren’t nearly as many songs about teaching and the subject of history out there as you’d think there are, but this one has history in the title, so…
- Pink Floyd, “Another Brick In The Wall, Part 2”: Yeah, I was gonna do a playlist about returning to school and not include this song. “We don’t need no education!”
- Sting, “History Will Teach Us Nothing”: The old adage “those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it” comes to mind here.
- The Hollies, “Teach Your Children”: The Hollies covering the CS&N classic. I’m starting to think the Hollies were just a really well-liked cover band, for the most part.
- Paul Simon, “Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard”: Has absolutely nothing to do with school other than the title. But I think Julio is up to no good and you should probably avoid him, Paul.
- John Legend, “History Has Its Eyes On You”: John Legend takes the Hamilton tune and turns it into a glorious Gospel number. I dig it.
- Chuck Berry, “School Days”: “Hail, hail, rock and roll!”
- The Mountain Goats, “Fall Of The Star High School Running Back”: If you were thinking, “Gee, I wonder if this Mountain Goats song will be about a star high school football player who suffers a career-ending injury and turns to selling drugs and then gets caught,” well, have I got news for you. And the news is you are 100% correct and it’s as awesome as you think.