Playlist #84: Covers!

Happy Monday! It’s December now, somehow, and as usual I have a new playlist for you. But this one is all cover songs!

  1. The National, “Ashamed Of The Story I Told”: They don’t even really change all that much about the song, except the drum pattern is completely different and it somehow manages to totally change the feel and nature of the song.
  2. Johnny Cash, “Hurt”: It’s downbeat, somber, and a little harrowing. It’s also one of those covers that I would argue is better than the original.
  3. Old 97s, “Mama Tried”: The original Merle Haggard version is damn good (as are most Merle Haggard songs), but this one has the slightest edge on it, I think.
  4. The Byrds, “My Back Pages”: The Byrds could have easily just been a Bob Dylan cover band and I’d have been happy with that. They manage to transform every single Dylan tune they cover into a jangly, poppy slice of ’60s joy.
  5. Pomplamoose, “Maneater”: Watch out, boys, she’ll break your heart, huh? I’m more concerned with being eaten, personally.
  6. Spoon, “Held”: I just love the grit and thump of this song. So good.
  7. The Dirty Knobs, “Rumble”: Mike Campbell (formerly of the Heartbreakers) and some buddies got together to form this band, and they covered Link Wray’s ode to distortion and fuzz here. I love everything about the story of how this song got created, from Wray punching holes in his amplifier’s speaker with a pencil to radio stations refusing to play it because they thought it might incite juvenile delinquency.
  8. Jesse Malin, “You Can Make Them Like You”: Malin has been using this Hold Steady track as his closer for years, usually just him and an acoustic guitar. It’s pretty great.
  9. Tom Waits, “The Return of Jackie And Judy”: The Ramones were pretty ballsy. Case in point: they reference the two main characters in this song going to a Ramones show in the song. The chutzpah.
  10. Creedence Clearwater Revival, “I Put A Spell On You”: Fogerty and Co. had a good ear for an excellent cover song, and this rendition of the Screamin’ Jay Hawkins classic is no exception.

Playlist #83

Happy post-Thanksgiving Monday, folks. I know we’re all still waking up from the Turkey Coma and preparing to buy all the things (it is Cyber Monday, after all), but in the meantime I whipped up a new playlist for your aural enjoyment.

  1. Neil Young, “Rockin’ in the Free World”: The anti-consumerism, anti-capitalism of the song – especially the video – just hits the exact right spot for late-80s Neil.
  2. Arlo Guthrie, “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree”: Is there a more famous song about an event that sorta, kinda, maybe sorta actually happened? It’s one of the best shaggy dog stories ever.
  3. Stephen Stills, “Wooden Ships”: I love this solo acoustic version of the song. It’s just gorgeous.
  4. Tom Waits, “I’ll Be Gone”: “Tonight I’ll shave the mountain,” Tom begins, and it just gets weirder from there. But it’s a Tom Waits song, what did you expect?
  5. The Gaslight Anthem, “Boxer”: “You’ve got your pride and your prose/Tucked just like a Tommy gun,” the song begins, and I have a little point of contention to raise with Brian Fallon: who, exactly, tucks a Tommy gun under their arm or their jacket or wherever? Are Tommy guns really that common anymore? I wouldn’t think they are.
  6. Soul Coughing, “True Dreams of Wichita”: One of my favorite songs ever. Can’t really explain why.
  7. Jackson Browne, “Fountain of Sorrow”: No one writes a sad, bittersweet song like Jackson Browne. No one.
  8. The National, “Lucky You”: In my mind, this is the song where the National became the National. It’s the final track on their second record, Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers, and it perfectly encapsulates what (especially early) the National was all about.
  9. Peter Gabriel, “San Jacinto”: I can’t explain what it is about this song that appeals to me. It’s probably the build to the end and the refrain of “I hold the line.”
  10. Pink Floyd, “Wish You Were Here”: Early last week, we sat and watched a series of videos on the Polyphonic Youtube page about most of the songs off the Wish You Were Here album. They’re the reason we listened to the album on our way to Ohio Wednesday. It still reigns as one of the best albums ever, and this song is the keystone to the whole thing. Everything else revolves around this one track, either building to it or coming back down from its height.

Playlist #82: Give Thanks!

Happy Monday, everyone! It’s a short week here, as Thanksgiving is this Thursday. A two-day work week? How will I ever survive? With a new, Thanksgiving-inspired playlist, that’s how!

  1. Neil Young, “Harvest Moon”: What is Thanksgiving if not a harvest festival? One without sacrifice to the harvest gods, that’s what. And you can’t tell me that’s right. The old gods grow hungry and angry. Hangry old gods. Don’t ignore them this year, I beg you.
  2. Alanis Morissette, “Thank U”: I’m not 100% sure why Alanis is thanking India and disillusionment, or quite what she’s thanking them for, exactly, but it’s a good song anyway.
  3. Wilco, “The Thanks I Get”: Yeah, this one was just featured a few weeks ago on another one of my playlists. It still slaps. What else do you want?
  4. Dido, “Thank You”: Remember when this song was everywhere for, like, a month in 1999? Man, turn of the millennium was a weird time. We were all pretty sure society itself was gonna collapse when January 1, 2000 rolled around, so we just listened to damn-near anything.
  5. Glen Phillips, “Thankful”: I always really enjoy Glen Phillips songs. They’re quirky and catchy and I just really dig them, okay?
  6. John Mellencamp, “Thank You”: I was listening to Mellencamp for most of the weekend (the newly-released extended version of Scarecrow, which is alright), so it only seemed appropriate to include one of his tunes on this list. Thematically appropriate, too.
  7. The National, “Sailors In Your Mouth”: It’s a Thanksgiving song, I swear.
  8. The Flaming Lips, “Thank You Jack White (For the Fiber-Optic Jesus)”: It’s truly, deeply weird, as all good Flaming Lips songs are.
  9. The Beatles, “Thank You Girl”: Sure, this is less about giving thanks in the traditional Thanksgiving sense of the word, and more “thanks for the sex stuff, lady friend.”
  10. The Band, “King Harvest (Has Surely Come)”: And to round things out, here’s another song about harvesting. I’m pretty sure King Harvest is some sort of simulacrum, a wicker and cornhusk concoction – or maybe even abomination – brought to life to bring the horror of the new harvest straight to you.

Playlist #77

Happy Monday! Today brings with it ten fresh, exciting songs in the form of today’s playlist!

  1. Queen, “Face It Alone”: A “new” Queen song with previously-unreleased Freddie Mercury vocals? Count me in.
  2. HAIM, “Now I’m Into It”: Heard it in She-Hulk this weekend. Dig it.
  3. The Rolling Stones, “Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)”: How ballsy do you have to be to name a song “Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo?” That’s not a song title (or a chorus), that’s the filler my father sings when he can’t remember the lyrics to the song.
  4. Langhorn Slim & the Law, “Put It Together”: I love the piano in this one. I wish I could play like that.
  5. M. Ward, “One Hundred Million Years”: “And this love, this love between you and I/Is older than that burning ball of fire up in the sky.”
  6. Pearl Jam, “Spin The Black Circle”: Sometimes, you just have to put on a loud, angry song, crank up the volume, and headbang. I do still have enough hair to headbang, right?
  7. The Wallflowers, “Some Flowers Bloom Dead”: And sometimes you need some rootsy rock and roll.
  8. Wilco, “Tried And True”: And sometimes you need to feel like you’re tripping out on shrooms while listening to the Beach Boys.
  9. Leonard Cohen, “Anthem”: “There is a crack, a crack in everything/That’s how the light gets in.”
  10. The National, “Fake Empire”: I’ve been reading a book about the making of the album this song is from, Boxer, and I really just want to sit and listen to the record on repeat.

Playlist #71

Happy Tuesday! We enjoyed our Labor Day weekend, and I came up with this new playlist for you! Aren’t you lucky?

  1. 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.
  2. The National, “Weird Goodbyes (feat. Bon Iver)”: I’m a sucker for any new song by the National.
  3. 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.
  4. Jakob Dylan, “Will It Grow”: Is it gauche to follow up one Dylan with another? I don’t care. I like the song.
  5. Jars of Clay, “Age Of Immature Mistakes”: Well, if this isn’t just the song that ought to soundtrack most of my life choices.
  6. 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.
  7. 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?
  8. Nouvelle Vague, “Ever Fallen In Love”: The world needs more bossa nova covers of DC punk songs.
  9. Juliana Finch, “This Year”: You know I love me a Mountain Goats cover.
  10. 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.

Playlist #70: Death At A Funeral

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.

  1. 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.
  2. The Beatles, “Let It Be”: Preferably one of the versions with a George Harrison guitar solo, because I like George Harrison guitar solos.
  3. Harry Nilsson, “Many Rivers To Cross”: Sure, Nick Hornby may prefer the Jimmy Cliff version, but this is the one for me.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. George Harrison, “All Things Must Pass”: No one does the transitory nature of existence better than George Harrison.
  8. 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.
  9. The National, “Gospel”: “Hang your holiday rainbow lights in the garden.”
  10. 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.

Playlist #56

Another school year is winding towards a close. Here in Northern Virginia, seniors are taking their final exams this week, and they graduate next week. Week after that, school’s over for everyone else. It’s been a…challenging year, to say the least. I’ll be glad to see the back of it.

Support me on Patreon! I’m about to release the song for May, and it’s a good one, if I do say so myself.

  1. Maria McKee, “Never Be You”: This song was written by Tom Petty and Mike Campbell, and man, does it sound like it. Classic late ’70s/early ’80s Heartbreakers tone and style, through and through. I’d never heard this song before this weekend, but it’s good.
  2. The Black Keys, “Burn The Damn Thing Down”: Bluesy? Or Bloozy? It’s good, either way.
  3. Mike Doughty, “Fort Hood”: It takes some chutzpah to totally lift the coda from “Age of Aquarius” and use it as your chorus, but Mr. M. Doughty pulls it off.
  4. The National, “The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness”: They don’t usually do guitar solos, but they do one here, and it makes you wish they did them more often.
  5. Wilco, “The Thanks I Get”: Still the best Rod Stewart song Rod’s never sang.
  6. She & Him, “This Is Not A Test”: Fun and poppy. Whenever I need a pick-me-up, I still go back to this album. It’s just fun.
  7. Franz Ferdinand, “Do You Want To”: I’ll never understand how these guys aren’t bigger than they are. They do great, straight-ahead rock numbers with lots of arch humor and and nudging asides.
  8. Bruce Springsteen, “Radio Nowhere”: Even on later Boss albums, you can still usually find a good track or two. This one’s pretty solid. Avoid the remake of “Ghost of Tom Joad” he did with Tom Morello on 2013’s High Hopes. Those two are two great tastes that don’t taste great together.
  9. The Jayhawks, “I’d Run Away”: Love me some two-part harmony.
  10. Mark Knopfler, “Speedway at Nazareth”: I just love how this song builds. Not just in terms of the music – though the build to that coda is fantastic – but lyrically as well. Just a master class in how to write a great song.

Playlist #43: Presidents’ Day

Happy Presidents’ Day, ‘Murica! Here’s some executive branch love in aural form. And hey, don’t forget I’ve got a Patreon, where February’s song is about to drop!

  1. They Might Be Giants, “James K. Polk”: Educational, entertaining, and a banger. Yup, it’s a TMBG song, alright.
  2. The Presidents of the United States of America, “Lump”: I get exhausted just typing out the name of the band. Thank goodness the song title is so short.
  3. Hamilton, “History Has Its Eyes On You”: The only song from the show I can play on the guitar, and a great vocal delivery from Christopher Jackson.
  4. Mark Knopfler, “Don’t Crash The Ambulance”: A changing of the guard. A handing over of the keys to the kingdom. And a brief explanation of just how things work around here.
  5. The National, “Mr. November”: “I was carried in the arms of cheerleaders.”
  6. Billy Bragg & Wilco, “Jesus Christ For President”: We could do worse, honestly.
  7. Molly Lewis, “Our American Cousin”: A three-part look at Mr. Lincoln’s infamous trip to the theatre. Funny and dark and heartbreaking.
  8. XTC, “Here Comes President Kill Again”: The ’80s? Subtle? No.
  9. Drive-By Truckers, “The President’s Penis Is Missing”: A damn tragedy, to be sure.
  10. Over The Rhine, “If A Song Could Be President”: Again, we could do worse. And I have a whole murderer’s row of talent in mind for the Cabinet.

Playlist #38

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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).
  3. Jars of Clay, “Faith Enough”: A song filled with contradictions and paradoxes.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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?
  7. 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.
  8. The National, “I Need My Girl”: I would like my wife home from the hospital now, please.
  9. The Flaming Lips, “Do You Realize??”: The happiest song about death that I know.
  10. Glen Phillips, “Train Wreck”: This one just sorta…feels right at the moment? That’s probably not good, is it?

Playlist #30: “Poor, Hard-Working Televangelist”

Happy Turkey Week, folks! Just two days of work for me this week, then it’s off to Ohio to visit some family and stuff myself with more food than is advisable because, hey, Thanksgiving. Before that, though, we have this week’s playlist, which features songs about religion!

  1. Jeremy Messersmith, “Jim Bakker”: The song that inspired this list all about the life of that “poor, hard-working televangelist.” If you don’t know, Jim Bakker was a snake-oil salesman of the worst sort and fleeced his lovely old congregants for every dime he could.
  2. Genesis, “Jesus He Knows Me”: Could also be about Jim Bakker, for all I know. I just remember how tongue-in-cheek this song sounded when I first heard it, and it still resonates with its strong anti-bullshit message even today.
  3. The Doobie Bros, “Jesus Is Just Alright”: I mean, he’s okay, I guess.
  4. Norman Greenbaum, “Spirit In the Sky”: How confident do you have to be in your soul’s eternal destination to write and record this song? Confident enough that Greenbaum, who is Jewish, said he had a friend in Jesus. That’s ballsy.
  5. George Harrison, “My Sweet Lord”: Admittedly, George was the most spiritual of the Beatles. While Paul was tossing out pop songs like most people breathe and John was pushing avant-garde art on anyone who came to close (and Ringo was…um…Ringo), George was the one who got into Transcendentalism and Eastern religions and the sitar and all that. “My Sweet Lord” isn’t the end result, it’s a symptom.
  6. The National, “Gospel”: What does this song actually have to do with anything related to the Gospel? Nothing, as far as I can tell. But it’s a beautiful song and lovely and I really like it, okay?
  7. Bob Dylan, “With God On Our Side”: Dylan’s a man who knows what’s up. This song was written in like ’64, which is damn-near peak Cold War (or near enough as it doesn’t matter), and he’s coming out so strongly anti-war that I’m surprised the FBI didn’t have a file on him a foot thick.
  8. Billy Bragg & Wilco, “Blood of the Lamb”: I love me some Mermaid Avenue, and this one – off the second collection – is a stompy, apocalyptic slice of what made the collaboration great.
  9. Aretha Franklin, “Son of a Preacher Man”: Damn, if this don’t just send tingles down your spine, I think you might be dead.
  10. Blind Faith, “Presence of the Lord”: More for Steve Winwood than Eric Clapton, really, ’cause Clapton’s finally shown his true (rather hateful) colors and eff that guy.