Hello and happy Monday, folks! Today is not only the 100th playlist, but also my birthday! As a result, I’m changing things up a little. Instead of giving you a playlist of ten songs, it’s a playlist of ten albums, my (current) ten favorite albums of all time. Well, eleven albums. I can’t just play it straight. Let’s go:
- The Gaslight Anthem, Handwritten: One of my absolute favorite bands from the past fifteen or so years, the Gaslight Anthem are always energetic and heartfelt and wear their Bruce Springsteen obsessions on their sleeves. While The ’59 Sound and American Slang are both brilliant, near-perfect albums as well, my favorite songs are all on Handwritten: “Howl,” “Biloxi Parish,” “Here Comes My Man,” “Too Much Blood,” and “Desire” are all-time greats, and the rest of the album doesn’t miss a shot.
- Tom Petty, Wildflowers: My love for this solo Petty outing is already well-documented, but I’d like to reiterate here that it’s still one of the most compelling, thoughtful albums ever recorded. I’ve only come to appreciate it more as I’ve grown older.
- The Beatles, Rubber Soul: The transitional albums for the Beatles – Rubber Soul and Revolver – have always been my favorites. They’re still putting out great pop music, but they’re experimenting with it more, trying new things, adding new instruments into the mix. It’s endlessly fascinating to listen to, and the songcraft and care they put into each song only grows on me year after year.
- Pink Floyd, Dark Side Of The Moon: I only recently gushed about this best of Pink Floyd’s albums, but it bears repeating: this is one of the best albums of that or any other decade, filled with daring experiments, soaring guitars, and the best damn wordless vocals ever delivered.
- Andrew Bird, Break It Yourself: It’s hard to pick a single Andrew Bird album as my favorite, as every one of his albums appears as a concise, well-mannered cosmos in and of itself, filled with interesting arrangements and beautiful violin. It was really down to this one or Things Are Really Great Here, Sort Of…, and honestly the only thing that made Break It Yourself top Things Are Really Great Here is the inclusion of “Orpheo Looked Back.”
- Bruce Springsteen, Nebraska: The first and best of the Boss’s stripped down, acoustic-based albums. It features some serious subject matter and excellent songwriting, including some of my favorite Springsteen songs to play on guitar (including “Atlantic City” and “Open All Night”). It’s great to put on late at night with headphones.
- Bob Dylan, Love And Theft: You knew Dylan had to appear on this list. But did you suspect this particular album? Probably not. Maybe Blonde on Blonde or Highway 61 Revisited, or Blood on the Tracks, right? And while those are all amazing albums (and among my favorites, don’t get it twisted), my favorite is still Love and Theft. It’s Bob Dylan after he’s stopped caring what other people think about his music (which, admittedly, happened sometime around 1967, but I digress). He’s just making the music he enjoys, and damn does it sound good. His backing band is impeccable, his lyrics are sharp and incisive, and he even throws in a knock-knock joke.
- Gin Blossoms, New Miserable Experience: This one was a little out of left field for me. I didn’t listen to the Gin Blossoms back when they were popular in the ’90s. I was too busy listening to Pearl Jam and Pink Floyd. I totally missed their effective, heartfelt M.O.R. alternative rock. They just write good songs, songs that hold up even thirty years later (damn, New Miserable Experience came out 31 years ago. I’m dust). There’s not a bad song on this album (“Cheatin'” aside), and it’s one that I’ll throw on in the background for just about anything. It’s also great driving music.
- Wilco, A Ghost Is Born: While Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is the one that received all the critical acclaim and success, and rightly so, Ghost is still my favorite. From the noisy opener “At Least That’s What You Said” to closer “The Late Greats,” it’s just a series of well-written, well-executed songs, covering the American condition as it was in the early 2000s.
- Neko Case, Fox Confessor Brings The Flood: Best Neko Case album, hands down. Sure, it’s got the megahit “Hold On Hold On” on it, but the rest of the album slaps just as hard. It’s moody and atmospheric and wistful all at once, full of sadness and hope and anger and so much more than I can ever even begin to describe here. If you haven’t listened to it, just go listen to it. You can thank me later.
- The National, High Violet: I knew I wanted to include an album from The National on the list, and it was down to between this one and Boxer. High Violet just barely edges Boxer out, though. From the opening strains of “Terrible Love” all the way through to closer “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks,” there is not a single bad song on this album. It is just . . . perfect. No notes. Personal favorites include “Sorrow,” “Anyone’s Ghost,” and “Bloodbuzz, Ohio.” And the entire rest of the album, honestly. It’s wall to wall awesome.
We spent the weekend up in New York, attending a funeral for my wife’s grandfather who passed suddenly late last week. It got me thinking about things like when I die and, me being me, the music I’d like played at my own funeral. This list is by no means exhaustive; a true funerary playlist would have to be at least three times this long. But these are the top ten songs I’d like played when I die.
- Iron & Wine, “Hard Times Come Again No More”: Funerals are often somber affairs. They don’t have to be, but they often are. This song carries that tone well.
- The Beatles, “Let It Be”: Preferably one of the versions with a George Harrison guitar solo, because I like George Harrison guitar solos.
- Harry Nilsson, “Many Rivers To Cross”: Sure, Nick Hornby may prefer the Jimmy Cliff version, but this is the one for me.
- Van Morrison, “Caravan (Live)”: Again, much like Nick Hornby, I love the live version of this song from the Too Late To Stop Now double live album, even if it does have the unfortunate circumstances of including band introductions halfway through. But all those guys will probably be dead by the time I die, and I’m willing to share the spotlight a bit.
- Bob Dylan, “I Shall Be Released”: I mean, it’s more about getting out of jail than getting out of this life, but I think it still works.
- Sean Watkins, “Let It Fall”: This song always felt like it belong over the closing credits to some heartfelt romantic drama. Or the end of one’s life.
- George Harrison, “All Things Must Pass”: No one does the transitory nature of existence better than George Harrison.
- Gin Blossoms, “Pieces Of The Night”: Life could just be one long night at the bar, trying to find someone, anyone, to spend just a moment with, a moment that might mean something. Or maybe I’ve already had too much gin.
- The National, “Gospel”: “Hang your holiday rainbow lights in the garden.”
- Wilco, “What Light”: This song is very simple. Many Wilco songs are. But it’s also transcendent. And I think it’d be nice to have a choir of my friends sing it.
Happy Tuesday, folks! It’s officially summer break time! That doesn’t mean I’ve slacked off over on Patreon, though. There’ll be a new song each month, just like usual. Anyway, here’s this week’s playlist.
- Old 97s, “Holy Cross”: It’s just such a bleak song with such a great rhythm.
- The Wallflowers, “Sleepwalker”: “Now, Cupid, don’t draw back your bow/Sam Cooke didn’t know what I know.”
- The Minus 5, “Wasted Bandage”: Favorite line is, “dear physician, won’t you heal yourself?”
- Golden Smog, “Until You Came Along”: Love the jangly twelve string in this one. It’s an alt-country Byrds song, essentially.
- Gin Blossoms, “Just South Of Nowhere”: Early Gin Blossoms stuff is just so damn good.
- Justin Townes Earle, “Flint City Shake it”: A song that calls GM out on the carpet for its treatment of the auto workers in Flint, Michigan. Gotta love it.
- Jesse Malin, “Addicted”: I will never not love Jesse Malin, and this song – about the problems of modern society and its addiction to smart phones and Instagram – hits a lot of good points.
- Josh Ritter, “Getting Ready To Get Down”: “If you wanna see a miracle/Watch me get down.”
- Glen Phillips, “Men Just Leave”: I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Glen Phillips’ first solo album, and this song – about how men often suck – still hits too real.
- Wilco, “You Are My Face”: I love the middle part of this song, where the band really cuts loose. It’s awesome.
Monday Tuesday, everyone! I was off yesterday for Memorial Day here in the US, so here’s this week’s playlist. It’s sponsored by the fact that the Wife and I watched the new Kids in the Hall season, which was quite good (and featured far more old man dong than I anticipated). You can also support me on Patreon, where I just released May’s new song!
- Shadowy Men On A Shadowy Planet, “Having An Average Weekend”: The theme song from Kids in the Hall! Still slaps.
- Primitive Radio Gods, “Standing Outside A Broken Phone Booth With Money In My Hand”: The song title is too long, there’s no more time to say anything else about this song! Other than it features a B.B. King sample.
- Shawn Mullins, “Lullaby”: This song was completely inescapable for like a month in 1998. Looking back, one has to wonder why. Was it the novelty of the spoken-word verses, or the Inside Baseball nature of the way it pokes at Hollywood? Or did we just not have high expectations for music in 1998? I think it’s maybe that one.
- Polaris, “Hey Sandy”: For a hot minute, I thought about making this playlist 100% great TV show theme songs from the ’90s, but it was really just this one and the one from KITH that I had for that list.
- Wilco, “A Shot In The Arm”: Wilco put out a new album last week! It’s pretty good. Here’s another pretty good Wilco song from over 20 years ago.
- Matchbox Twenty, “Mad Season”: Why do I enjoy listening to Matchbox Twenty so much? They’re so middle of the road, tailor made inoffensive that it’s hard not to enjoy their stuff, I guess.
- Barenaked Ladies, “It’s All Been Done”: Damn, that chorus gets really, really high at the end. I can never sing it right.
- Ben Folds Five, “Kate”: “She plays Wipeout on the drums/The squirrels and the birds come/Gather round and sing the guitar,” the song begins. And only gets better from there.
- Foo Fighters, “Everlong”: Have I included this song on a playlist already? Probably. It’s still so damn good.
- Gin Blossoms, “Hold Me Down”: Why have I come to love the Gin Blossoms so much? Is it this song specifically, or New Miserable Experience in general? I can’t say for certain.
Back in the day, I used to play on Sundays at a place up in DC called the Mansion on O Street. It’s a neat museum/hotel that features loads of nifty musical keepsakes. I sat in with a band that used it as a practice space on Sundays, having been invited by the flautist/singer of the group. It was loads of fun, and I’m kind of sorry I stopped playing with them after a while (mostly, they wanted to turn it into real rehearsal time, and I wasn’t a member of the band, so…). Anyway, here are some of the songs we used to play there.
- Brandi Carlile, “Turpentine”: Having recently re-discovered Brandi Carlile (due in large part to her involvement in the Highwomen), I have to say this song is a fun one to play. As with many of the songs we played, it was an easy one, with just a few chords, but the harmonies in the chorus were always great.
- Ethan Hipple and Podunk Road, “Cakewalk”: The other guitar player (who was actually a bass player by inclination and training) sang this one. It’s a fun country blues number.
- Bonnie Raitt, “Angel From Montgomery”: A John Prine cover. Beautiful. Another one where the harmonies really came through.
- 4 Non Blondes, “What’s Up?”: Like I was gonna put this song in any position other than number four.
- Gin Blossoms, “Until I Fall Away”: They were always impressed that I knew all the backing vocals to this song.
- Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, “Breakdown”: You know me, I love a Tom Petty tune.
- The Animals, “House of the Rising Sun”: I have never been able to sing this one to my own satisfaction. The singer in the band, though, she could do it.
- Kate Wolf, “Across the Great Divide”: I prefer the version the band did to this version. This one is too polished and too ’80s-sounding. Our version was better.
- Linda Rondstadt, “When Will I Be Loved?”: The country covers band my uncle used to play in played this one every night, so I was pretty damn familiar with it when this group broke out in it and I was able to contribute to backing vocals.
- The Mystiqueros, “Good”: The band introduced me to this song, as to so many others. It’s beautiful, in large part due to the backing harmonies, which the band always killed.
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.