What, it’s Tuesday? I accidentally forgot to post a playlist yesterday because I took the day off from work and forgot that the rest of the world keeps spinning while I sit and play Persona 5? Inconceivable!
- Sting, “We Work The Black Seam”: I’ve been working on notes and slideshows for next year, when I’ll be team-teaching a World History II class (my favorite class content!). This week, it’s the Industrial Revolution, so terrible conditions and black lung for everyone! Hurray!
- Taylor Swift, “Betty”: Am I including it because it’s a sweet song possibly about a same-sex crush she had as a teenager, or because my grandmother’s name is Betty? Who knows! And I’m not willing to examine that question any further.
- Pink Floyd, “Lost For Words”: Included for no other reason than to hear David Gilmour sing, “And they tell me to please go fuck myself/You know, you just can’t win.”
- Glen Phillips, “The Next Day”: Love this song, though I frequently got it confused with a David Bowie song of the same name.
- David Bowie, “The Next Day”: Love this song, though I frequently got it confused with a Glen Phillips song of the same name.
- Wilco, “The Late Greats”: “The best life never leaves your lungs.” Damn, ain’t that true. Or is it? I dunno. It’s a great line, though.
- Jars Of Clay, “Much Afraid”: Could this be a theme song for our time? It feels like it could be. It feels like there’s so much out there to be afraid of.
- Billy Bragg, “A New England”: I’ve loved this song since I first heard it many years ago. Grad school, maybe? There’s a simple charm to it, a searching quality that’s tricky to pull of and not sound like an asshole. Bragg manages it.
- Bob Dylan, “Where Are You Tonight? (Journey Through Dark Heat)”: The way this song builds and builds until it finally explodes in that blistering, cathartic guitar solo at the end? *chef’s kiss*
- Rodney Crowell, “Oh Miss Claudia”: I’ve only started listening to this guy last week, but I already like his style and his songwriting. It’s just superb. I could have picked any song off the recent The Chicago Sessions and it would’ve been a good example of what he does, but I like the shuffley tempo and slightly off-kilter tone of this one.
Happy Monday, folks. I spent last week visiting family in Oklahoma; specifically, I went to see my grandparents. They’re all getting up there in years (all of them are now well into their 90s), and their health is in decline. They take it with the same sort of Okie stoicism I’ve come to know from them over the past 40-odd years, but it doesn’t make it any easier to see these remarkably strong people become increasingly weaker and less able to do things they used to do with such ease.
Of particular concern is my maternal grandmother. She, like her husband before her, has started to suffer from dementia. We finally got her into an assisted living center last month, but that was a trial and a half and thank God it’s over. While she seemed resistant to it at first, she seems to have settled in and is doing quite nicely. She likes all of the staff and she’s made friends and is participating in activities. Everyone keeps talking about how sweet she is, to which I replied, “Really? My grandmother? The sour-faced lady?” But she does seem to be genuinely happy for the first time in . . . years, I’d say. Since before my grandfather got poorly, at least.
Anyway, all of that had me thinking about memory and the things we carry with us and the things that we try to carry with us but, ultimately, can’t, and this playlist popped out.
- Glen Campbell, “I’m Not Gonna Miss You”: Glen Campbell suffered from Alzheimer’s, and toward the end of his life couldn’t really do much as that disease robbed him of everything that made him, him. But he gave us one last song, and damn if it isn’t a doozy. Contemplating life, death, and loss, he reflects on the fact that while the Alzheimer’s might be destroying him, it’s really those around him who will suffer from it.
- The Pixies, “I Can’t Forget”: The Pixies cover a Leonard Cohen song. About trying to remember but being unable to do so.
- Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed”: A long, sinuous jam of a song, the sort I’m usually not that in to. But this one is pretty good, as those things go.
- Billy Bragg & Wilco, “Remember The Mountain Bed”: Woody Guthrie’s words are so evocative here, so painfully, painstakingly clear, that I can picture the mountain bed of the title in my mind. I can picture the girl, and the leaves, and the boy lying beside her, whispering things to one another that are just on the edge of hearing. And it feels a little bittersweet. This is clearly a moment from the distant past, a stolen piece of time between two people who are no longer in each other’s lives. And it’s beautiful and ephemeral and it’s one of my favorite songs ever.
- Jars of Clay, “Unforgetful You”: Now, just for a minute, forget that the song is a Jesus song. I know, it’s hard to take it out of that context, but work with me here. It’s still a fun song about someone who absolutely refuses to forget about you, and we all kinda need someone like that in our lives.
- The Mountain Goats, “You Or Your Memory”: Once more proving the adage that there’s not a playlist yet that can’t be improved with a Mountain Goats song, we’ve got this one. As per usual, Darnielle cuts through the noise and rips out your heart, and he does it all in under 2 and a half minutes. That’s just efficient.
- Neko Case, “Don’t Forget Me”: It’s an old cover. It’s beautifully sung, because it’s Neko Case. I don’t know what else you need to hear.
- Peter Gabriel, “I Don’t Remember”: This song and the Glen Campbell song were the two that sparked this whole playlist. The Gabriel song is edgy and nervous, anxious about the loss of memory, while the Campbell song is resigned to it and leaning in.
- Ryan Adams & the Cardinals, “If I Am A Stranger”: There were quite a few Ryan Adams songs I could have put on this list (and more than one from the album Cold Roses), but I settled on this one because I remember my grandfather going from knowing everyone who was around him to being surrounded by strangers. I think it scared him sometimes, not recognizing our faces.
- George Harrison, “All Things Must Pass”: The song I always come back to for comfort. George understood the world and our place in it better than just about any other musician, and he understood that death comes for everyone eventually. And he accepted that with grace and dignity. It’s just wild to me, and helps me come to terms with things myself.
Happy Tuesday, folks. Got sick over the weekend, and took yesterday off to recover. Still feeling under the weather, but good news! It’s not Covid this time.
- Kate Bush, “Running Up That Hill”: We finally got around to starting Stranger Things season 4 over the weekend, and it’s quite good. The use of the Kate Bush song is perfect. I’m not ashamed to say I haven’t listened to much Kate Bush over the years; her stuff always struck me as too weird for my tastes. But this song slaps and deserves the attention it’s getting.
- Glen Phillips, “Held Up”: Sorta went through a Glen Phillips thing over the weekend, and this song especially spoke to me. Sung to me. Whatever.
- Bear Cub, “Hey B”: My brother used to play with this guy way back in the day (back when both of us had full heads of hair). He and his current singer, Kelly, did a cover of it about eight years ago. It’s quite good.
- Michael Penn, “No Myth”: Man, does this guy know how to write a bad song? No, no he does not.
- The Mountain Goats, “Wage Wars Get Rich Die Handsome”: Speaking of great songs, this one’s title tells you everything you need to know about it and then some.
- Paul McCartney, “Beautiful Night”: I rather liked McCartney’s Flaming Pie album, with its Beatles allusions and smooth early aughts production values and him obviously playing most every single instrument on the thing. Plus, it frequently featured Steve Miller (Mr. Space Cowboy himself), who is coincidentally still alive and still touring, God bless ‘im.
- Rhett Miller, “Terrible Vision”: I dig the Old 97s, and actually found them through the backdoor of lead singer Rhett Miller’s first solo album, The Instigator. This is the closer from that album, and it’s beautiful and flawed and wonderful.
- Jars of Clay, “Frail”: The re-recorded version of this song from the Furthermore collection. Their second album left me rather underwhelmed, compared with their debut and their third album, If I Left the Zoo.
- Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit, “Hope The High Road”: I don’t think anyone else out there writes songs like this right now, and that’s a shame. Isbell is great at the hopeful, rocking anthem, and we could use more of those in these dark days.
- Toad the Wet Sprocket, “Enough”: Sounds like a classic Toad song with modern production, which is exactly what new Toad the Wet Sprocket albums should sound like.
Happy Tuesday! We enjoyed our Labor Day weekend, and I came up with this new playlist for you! Aren’t you lucky?
- Cory Branan, “When In Rome, When In Memphis”: Became obsessed with this song over the weekend. Jason Isbell and Brian Fallon (of Gaslight Anthem) add guest vocals, and the repeated refrain of “When I go, I ghost” just gets me.
- The National, “Weird Goodbyes (feat. Bon Iver)”: I’m a sucker for any new song by the National.
- Bob Dylan, “What Was It You Wanted”: Unofficial ADHD anthem, for the line “What was it you wanted/Tell me again, I forgot,” if nothing else.
- Jakob Dylan, “Will It Grow”: Is it gauche to follow up one Dylan with another? I don’t care. I like the song.
- Jars of Clay, “Age Of Immature Mistakes”: Well, if this isn’t just the song that ought to soundtrack most of my life choices.
- Pure Prairie League, “Amie”: There exists a version of this song sung by me, my father, my Uncle Randy, and Cousin David, and if there is any God it will never see the light of day. It is bad.
- Paolo Nutini, “New Shoes”: One of my students, many years ago, was absolutely obsessed with this song. I saw the music video for it. Did you know they were still making music videos in 2007?
- Nouvelle Vague, “Ever Fallen In Love”: The world needs more bossa nova covers of DC punk songs.
- Juliana Finch, “This Year”: You know I love me a Mountain Goats cover.
- John Prine, “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore”: Prine recognized the idiocy of this stuff back in the 1970s. Dude knew what was up with performative patriotism.
Happy Fourth of July, folks! I survived my trip to Utah with my mother (it was beautiful and I’m glad I went, even if she did try to kill me a couple of times). As per usual, you can support my making music over on Patreon. Anyway, let’s get on with this week’s playlist:
- Joe Baxter and the Lost Cause, “Mt. Nebo Blues”: My uncle’s old bandmate mostly does folky, acoustic-based stuff nowadays, though back in the day they could tear it up.
- Brad Paisley, “All I Wanted Was A Car”: My mom really likes Brad Paisley, as it turns out, and he is a pretty damn fine guitar player. Who apparently only wanted a car when he was young.
- Kings & Queens, “I’m Looking”: Who doesn’t love a doo-wop-inspired love song? Commies, that’s who.
- Lapdog, “I Don’t Mind”: Half of Toad the Wet Sprocket formed this band back after Toad split around the year 2000 and put out a couple of solid albums before Toad reunited and started working on new material again. This song is pretty great and features some good guitar licks.
- Hank Williams, “Why Don’t You Love Me”: I love me some Hank Williams, Sr., and this is one of my favorites to play on the guitar.
- The Hotdamns, “Yankee By Birth (Southern At Heart)”: Friend Danielle was in this band back in the day, and they do some fun country-ish stuff.
- Jackson Browne, “In The Shape Of A Heart (Live)”: I sorta love the live acoustic setting for a lot of Jackson Browne songs, where his craft and songwriting skills really shine through. This one is no exception.
- James McMurtry, “Just Us Kids”: Growing up kinda sucks, and is definitely hard, but you gotta face it with some humor.
- Jars Of Clay, “Trouble Is”: “Yeah, the trouble is/We don’t know who we are instead.” Same, guys.
- Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit, “What’ve I Done To Help”: A song that examines the ways we do and don’t help our fellow man, and what it means to be a compassionate and caring person in this day and age.
Last week was a rough week, if I’m being honest. I was mostly over my case of covid, but still couldn’t return to work, and my wife…well, we had to take her to the hospital on Thursday because her O2 sats dropped dangerously low frighteningly quick. It’s only been in the past day or two that we’ve come to find out just how bad off she was. If we hadn’t taken her to the hospital when we did, she would not have survived the night.
So, she’s still at the hospital (in a covid isolation room where I cannot visit her), but thankfully on the mend. On Saturday, my old college advisor passed away suddenly from a brain aneurysm, which…yeah, still haven’t processed it. All of that probably explains the slower tempo and more downbeat list of songs on this week’s playlist.
- The Horrible Crowes, “Sugar”: I always thought it was more than a little daring to open the album with this song, which is by far more downbeat and subtle than what follows.
- Iron & Wine, “Hard Times Come Again No More”: I don’t know how I found this particular recording. I think it’s from the TV show Copper, if anyone remembers that (I never actually saw it, but still somehow heard this version of the song).
- Jars of Clay, “Faith Enough”: A song filled with contradictions and paradoxes.
- Jason Isbell, “Cover Me Up”: Beautiful and heartfelt and far more subtle than most of the songs I prefer by him, but no less glorious for it.
- The Wallflowers, “Up From Under”: If Breach isn’t the best Wallflowers album, it’s definitely top two. And while this isn’t my usual go-to song from that record, it’s still simple (for a song with a string arrangement) and beautiful.
- Willie Nelson, “The Rainbow Connection”: A voice and a song that I’m surprised it took so long to put together, though I have to ask – aside from this one and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” just how many songs are there out there about rainbows?
- The Beach Boys, “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times”: “Sometimes I feel very sad.” Sometimes Brian Wilson just cuts right to the damn chase.
- The National, “I Need My Girl”: I would like my wife home from the hospital now, please.
- The Flaming Lips, “Do You Realize??”: The happiest song about death that I know.
- Glen Phillips, “Train Wreck”: This one just sorta…feels right at the moment? That’s probably not good, is it?
Happy Monday after Thanksgiving, AKA “Online Consumer Armageddon.” I posted a list of stuff you can buy that benefits me back on Friday, for those who are curious. And now here I am with this week’s playlist, a set that features songs that are all about being long (but most of them are actually quite short).
- The Beatles, “Long, Long, Long”: Off the White Album, this quiet George Harrison gem is gorgeous and simple.
- Bruce Springsteen, “Long Time Comin'”: Features two of my favorite Boss lines: “Let your mistakes be your own” and “I ain’t gonna fuck it up this time.” Good stuff.
- Counting Crows, “A Long December”: With one of the best opening lines in any song, “A long December/And there’s reason to believe/Maybe this year will be better than the last.” Your lips to God’s ears.
- The Doobie Bros., “Long Train Runnin'”: My brother and I used to try to perform this one back in college. I…could not sing it then, and maybe sorta kinda can now, just not the way they do it.
- Green Day, “Longview”: I love how this song is mostly about the bass.
- The Hollies, “Long Cool Woman (In A Black Dress)”: That one song that you always kinda thought was CCR but you weren’t 100% sure.
- Jars of Clay, “The Long Fall”: I’ve been a fan of these guys since I was back in high school dating a preacher’s kid. I kinda fell off for a few years, but their most recent stuff is still pretty darn good.
- Little Richard, “Long Tall Sally”: How do you not include Little Richard on this playlist, hmm? That’s the real challenge here.
- Bob Dylan, “Tomorrow Is A Long Time”: I originally had a different Dylan song here (“The Man In The Long Black Coat”), but I think this one fits the general vibe and intent of the playlist better.
- Charlie Sexton, “It Don’t Take Long”: The train horn at the beginning of this song always throws me off, but it’s still lovely and all that.
It’s popular across the internet to bag on Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime” as the worst Christmas song ever. It sounds like it was written in ten minutes on a dare with a Casio keyboard as the only instrument allowed. And it is, objectively, a terrible song. I myself have used it on multiple occasions to torture students.
But there are worse holiday songs out there. Oh, so much worse. I’d personally like to nominate “Little Drummer Boy” as the worst of the worst. It’s got it all: ridiculous repetition of the “pa-rum-pa-pum-pum” nonsense, a kid who thinks a woman who just gave birth needs to listen to a drum solo, and a slow, plodding tempo that leaves me wanting to pa-rum-pa-pum-punt the songwriter right into the Magi.
In fact, there’s only one version of the song I can stand: one done by Jars of Clay, the Contemporary Christian band famous for the song “Flood,” did as a charity single back in 1997.
The band sped things up a bit, turned the drums into a beat loop, and added some lovely folky acoustic instrumentation to the song. It’s still crap, but it’s listenable crap.