MP3 Monday: June 26, 2006

Welcome to another MP3 Monday. I’d previously threatened to theme one of these things around the World Cup, but was daunted by the sheer labor required for a 32-team field. Well, thanks to competitive balance and the passage of time, we’re down to 12 teams. Much more manageable.
First, the four teams that, thanks to this weekend’s play, are on to the quarterfinals.
ARGENTINA: “Azúcar Amarga” by Vox Dei. From the album Mandioca Underground (1969).
Mandioca (whose name means cassava in English) was the first Spanish-language rock label in Argentina, and this compilation was their first release. The humbly named Vox Dei (“Voice of God”) was one of the bands featured, and they went on to a healthy career as one of Argentina’s biggest bands in the 1970s (including a rock interpretation of the Bible).
ENGLAND: “Acquiesce” by Oasis. From the album The Masterplan (1998).
Of course there are a thousand possibilities for a song to represent the Jolly Ol’. I opted for this one because (a) Oasis is about as English as they come, annoyingly so, and (b) the song is apparently about Noel Gallagher’s support for his favorite football club, Manchester City.
GERMANY: “Reality Check” by Schneider TM. From the album Zoomer (2002).
The Germans have contributed relatively little to the history of rock and roll. Well, I guess they hang pretty well with the rest of Continental Europe — Kraftwerk, Neu!, Can, Tangerine Dream, and of course Scorpions — but the rise of German techno in the 2000s has brought about as much prominence to the country as anything outside David Hasselhoff. I can’t stand most of it, to be honest — it all sounds soulless and cold to me — but this Schneider TM track at least seems human.
PORTUGAL: “Gaivota” by Amália Rodrigues. From the album Com Que Voz (1970).
Amália Rodrigues was the Elvis and the Beatles (combined!) of fado, the fatalistic, sorrowful ballad style of Portuguese music. Quoth Wikipedia: “The music is usually linked to the Portuguese word saudade, a word with no accurate English translation. (It is a kind of longing, and conveys a complex mixture of mainly nostalgia, but also sadness, pain, happiness and love.)”
Now, on to the 12 teams who’ll play in the remaining Round of 16 games this week:
AUSTRALIA: “Under the Milky Way” by The Church. From the album Starfish (1988).
Australia has given us many fine bands, including many more recent than The Church, but this was one of the first songs I ever liked that, in retrospect, made me kind of cool. (To be clear, I was not very cool in eighth grade, when I first heard this. But compared to the other stuff I was listening too — Jethro Tull, mostly — The Church had indie cred out the proverbial wazoo.)
BRAZIL: “Solidão Gasolina” by Curumin. From the album Achados e Perdidos (2005).
I love Brazilian music. (iTunes tells me I’ve got 376 Brazilian songs.) I was making the argument to someone the other day that Brazil is probably the most undercovered country in the world in the Western press. South America is completely ignored in comparison to the eastern hemisphere, and it’s easy to forget Brazil is the fifth-largest country in the world. (Not to mention one of the most culturally significant. Brazil feels like the future to me.) Anyway, Curumin is a terrific young samba-funk musician who specializes in a laid-back, soul-soaked groove.
FRANCE: “Puzzle” by Tahiti 80. From the album Puzzle (2000).
Tahiti 80 was, for a window of time, as good a summery pop band as existed on either side of the Atlantic. Xavier Boyer’s vocals had the breathy naivete of a 14-year-old virgin, and the band had a nice bounce that got your knees moving. Sadly, the wheels came off a bit with their last album (the still-unreleased-stateside Fosbury), which made an ill-advised play for the discotheque crowd, but their first few albums are divine.
GHANA: “Bukom Mashie” by Oscar Sulley & the Uhuru Dance Band. From the album Gilles Peterson in Africa (2005).
As I’ve mentioned before, the name Gilles Peterson is gold here at HQ; the man’s musical tastes match up 1:1 with my own, and I love his eclecticism and his musical generosity. His Africa album is as good as you’d expect (as are his Brazil and U.S. R&B albums), including this track of early ’70s big-band Afrobeat. Sounds like Fela Kuti backed by Tommy Dorsey’s horn section.
ITALY: “Talk About the Passion” by Samson and the Philistines. From the album Surprise Your Pig: A Tribute to R.E.M. (1992).
This is from an almost hilariously bad R.E.M. tribute album. (Although I’ll make minor exceptions for the Jawbox version of “Low” and, for sheer humor value, the hardcore version of “Losing My Religion” by Tesco Vee’s Hate Police.) For some reason, it included this remarkably faithful version of “Talk About the Passion” (roughly the 2,474,237th-best R.E.M. song) sung in Italian. I can’t find anything else about the band.
SPAIN: “La Nina de Puerta Oscura” by Paco de Lucia. From the soundtrack to The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004).
I was a little stuck finding a song for Spain. I considered going with the band Spain instead of the country, or maybe some appropriate Miles Davis. But I found this Paco de Lucia track (from the Wes Anderson vehicle) to save you from a flamenco-less MP3 Monday.
SWITZERLAND: “Eat the Rich” by Krokus. From the album Headhunter (1983).
Switzerland: Pride of neutrality and producer of lame music. I considered cheating here again (by including Les McCann & Eddie Harris’ Swiss Movement, which was recorded at Montreaux in 1969). But instead, I tracked down the one Swiss band to dent the American charts: Krokus, purveyors of bad pop-metal in the early 1980s. Eat the rich, indeed!
UKRAINE: “Tsilkom Vakantnyy (Pretty Vacant)” by The Ukrainians. From the album Respublika (2002).
I was going to be forced to use Ukraine’s Eurovision 2006 entry (a bland English-language trifle entitled “Show Me Your Love”) until I stumbled on The Ukrainians. They were originally a side project of the British band The Wedding Present, in particular bassist (and ethnic Ukrainian) Peter Solowka. The idea is to play high-energy rock versions of traditional Ukrainian folk songs — or, alternately, to add some Ukrainian flavor (and language) to punk rock. This track is a cover of the Sex Pistols’ classic “Pretty Vacant.”

MP3 Monday: June 12, 2006

It’s a big week in sports. The world is enthralled by the the FIFA World Cup, which began Friday. I had big plans for a World Cup-themed MP3 Monday, but bailed out when I realized I didn’t have any songs from Costa Rica, Cote d’Ivoire, or Angola. (Although one presumes that Gal Costa‘s “Não Identificado,” Sound Directions‘ “Theme for Ivory Black,” and the Weary Boys‘ version of “It Takes A Worried Man” performed live at Angola Prison could have subbed in.)
Aw, hell, here’s that Weary Boys track anyway.
But instead this week’s MP3 Monday focuses on the mania du jour here at HQ: the NBA Finals, which pit the Dallas Mavericks — force for all that is good, wholesome, and German in the world — against the bloated, retrograde Miami Heat, a team so awful it can’t even afford a plural noun for a name. This week’s schtick-to-match: Dallas songs vs. Miami songs.
First off, the Big D.
Southside Funk” by The Soul Seven. From the album The Funky 16 Corners (2001).
The Soul Seven were a funk band formed in 1969 at Bishop College, the since-closed historically black college on Dallas’ south side. (Its campus is now Paul Quinn College.) The band didn’t last long and would have been forgotten long ago were it not for Eothen Alapatt (a.k.a. Egon), the soul-collector genius who compiled The Funky 16 Corners, a great amalgam of old funk 45s for Stones Throw Records. (The Soul Seven also appears on the Egon-produced South Dallas Pop Festival 1970 live album.)
(For the non-locals, South Dallas is the traditionally black part of the city — hence the name of the song.)
Check out Egon’s narrative of roaming the country, tracking down old funk tracks and bowling every night.
Felo de Se” by Bedhead. From the album Beheaded (2001).
Bedhead were probably the biggest indie band to come out of Dallas in the 1990s. I saw them live twice. The first time was in a small space in Cleveland, on Fourth of July weekend 1996. I was visiting my buddy I-Huei, who was interning in Cleveland while I was interning in Toledo. Bedhead was great. The second time was with then-girlfriend Kelly in Detroit, at The Magic Stick. They were horrrrrrible. Lead singer Matt Kadane was sick, and his brother Bubba sang everything in his place. There was a reason Bubba was not the regular lead singer. The energy drained out of the place, and I ended up apologizing to Kelly for submitting her to the show.
“Felo de Se” is one of their later songs, and one of their peppier ones. The title means suicide. Having song titles in Latin makes perfect sense for a smartypants like Matt Kadane, who got his Ph.D. from Brown last year (dissertation: “The Watchful Clothier: The Diary of an 18th-Century Protestant-Capitalist”) and is now a lecturer at Harvard.
Shake For Me” by Stevie Ray Vaughan. From the album In the Beginning (1992).
People think of Stevie Ray as an Austin product, but he was born and raised in Dallas (Oak Cliff, more specifically, also on the south side), and that’s where he’s buried. I haven’t yet been to the SRV Museum, but that’s a field trip for some upcoming weekend. This is from a radio broadcast of a Stevie Ray show on April Fool’s Day 1980, when he was still just an Austin club rat, three years before his first album. (It’s also my favorite SRV album, if you’re looking to pick one up.)
Dallas, Airports, Bodybags” by American Music Club. From the album Mercury (1993).
AMC wasn’t from Dallas, but how could I pass up this song title? The surprisingly upbeat shuffle doesn’t give any clues what the title refers to, but my best guess is Delta Flight 191, which crashed at DFW on landing in 1985.
The last time AMC lead singer Mark Eitzel played a show in Dallas, I yelled out a request for this song. It was ignored.
The Best Ever Death Metal Band Out of Denton” by The Mountain Goats. From the album All Hail West Texas (2002).
The Mountain Goats aren’t from Dallas, either. And I didn’t even choose their one Dallas-based song, the Casio-fueled “Blues in Dallas” (“Down in Dealey Plaza / The tourists mill about”). But Denton’s just outside town, and I have a special love for this song. Any song that ends with a rousing call to “Hail Satan!” gets the seal of approval.
And I love this lyric: “The best ever death metal band out of Denton never settled on a name / But the top three contenders, after weeks of debate / Were Satan’s Fingers, and The Killers, and The Hospital Bombers.”
Worst Case Scenario” by Cottonmouth, Texas. From the album Anti-Social Butterfly (1997).
Cottonmouth, Texas was (is?) the spoken-word project of Deep Ellum denizen Jeff Liles. This particular tracks tells the tale of an ill-timed acid trip.
I actually reviewed this album in my past life as a Professional Rock Critic™ and got a nice email from Jeff himself: “Thanks for buying my album. It’s the lowest selling record in the history of Virgin Records. You are a part of a small family of people who actually own it. I hope that you found it entertaining, and feel free to make cassette dubs for your friends. Peace to you and yours.”
So that’s Dallas. What about Miami? I have to say, Miami has not produced a big part of my music collection. I love Latin music, but the Miami stuff that’s reached any sort of national scale has been more poppy (Gloria Estefan, Jon Secada, etc.) than grimy. (The one great songstress I assumed was from Miami, the Cubana Celia Cruz, was actually based in New Jersey most of her career.) And I love hip-hop, but Miami bass has never struck me as one of the more positive influences on the genre. And as for guitar music…geez, south Florida’s just a black hole. Hell, even the panhandle has lapped it a thousand times over. (Seriously, look at this list. And the gall of claiming Debbie Harry as a Miamian when she moved to New Jersey at three months old!)
So I’m forced to rely, in large part, on songs others have written about Miami. I was tempted to include “Florida (Is Shaped Like A Big Droopy Dick For a Reason),” the post-2000-election plaint by Cex, but sadly the song’s just not that great.
(Your Mama’s On) Crack Rock” by Disco Rick & The Dogs. From the album The Dogs (1990).
Probably the most socially transgressive song in the short-lived history of MP3 Monday, but in many ways the ne plus ultra of Miami bass. Be sure to gather the kids around the computer speakers for this one — it’ll encourage them to ask all sorts of interesting questions.
Boogie Shoes” by K.C. & The Sunshine Band. From the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever (1977).
At least K.C. (nee Harry Wayne Casey) was from Miami. He got his start working in a record store: “He noticed often that customers would come in not remembering the titles of the records they wanted, and the store would lose the sale — this is the reason so many of his songs repeat their titles over and over.” Something to contemplate while listening.
Florida’s On Fire” by Superchunk. From the album Here’s To Shutting Up (2001).
Superchunk’s from North Carolina, not Florida, but they can watch the news like anyone else (“Don’t you know that the dirt’s on fire down here?”). It’s a shame that it’s been five years since this record; I count the ‘chunk among the great underrated ’90s indie bands and Here’s To Shutting Up was strong.
Trivia: Superchunk drummer Jon Wurster is half of the Scharpling & Wurster comedy team familiar to WFMU listeners.
Trivia that’s well known enough it doesn’t really count as trivia any more: Mac and Laura from Superchunk are the forces behind Merge Records, which would be on any sentient person’s short list for Best Record Label Alive (Spoon, American Music Club, Neutral Milk Hotel, Richard Buckner, the Arcade Fire, Destroyer, Dinosaur Jr., Imperial Teen, etc.).
Miami Skyline” by Girls Against Boys. From the album You Can’t Fight What You Can’t See (2002).
I remember getting a promo of the previous Girls Against Boys album in 1998. The press materials had an entire section telling critics how to refer to the band’s name. You had two options, if I remember: either write out the entire Girls Against Boys or use the shorter GVSB. Other variants, like Girls vs. Boys or Females In Direct Opposition To Males, were verboten. Anyway, I’d thought they were dead, but apparently they still tour every so often.
Trivia: New Wet Kojak, a GVSB side project, was even better than the original, in this reporter’s opinion. A little lounge-y, a little whispery.
Further trivia: GVSB bassist Johnny Temple runs a small publishing house off the money he made from that 1998 album, Akashic Books. Yet another man living the lifestyle of choice, literary lion by day, rocker by night. And, to close the loop, here’s an article on Akashic written by none other than Jessica Winter, my old college newspaper buddy.

MP3 Monday: May 29, 2006

Week Five of MP3 Monday brings a brand new theme: Songs performed live on The Old Grey Whistle Test, the BBC music show that aired from 1971 to 1987. During its lifespan, it was probably the premiere televised source for new music, with particular focus on soul, punk, postpunk, and (since this was early ’80s Britain) reggae.
The BBC has issued a series of DVDs compiling performances from the show, which has resulted in fans uploading videos to Youtube. I’ve ripped the MP3s below from those videos; links to more of those at the bottom.
As always, songs will be available for download for a week, so grab ’em quick.
1. “Ain’t No Sunshine” by Bill Withers. From the November 21, 1972 episode. Originally from the album Just As I Am (1971).
Bill Withers got a late start in the music game, not recording until his early 30s and only after careers in the military and aircraft assembly. Of his first album, from which “Ain’t No Sunshine” is taken, he said: “I was just making a record. I didn’t know whether anyone was going to like it or not. Had nobody gone for that first record, I would have probably just gone on with life and forgot about the whole thing.” That would have been a shame, since he has a wonderfully calming, human-scale soul voice.
Judging by the sweat in Bill’s eyes, the lights at BBC Television Centre must have been turned up high the day this track was recorded. Hip-hop heads will notice legendary session man James Gadson on drums. If you saw the great documentary Keepintime — in which Gadson and some other classic soul drummers meet up with the DJs (Cut Chemist, Madlib, J-Rocc, DJ Shadow) who sample their old sides — you’ll remember Gadson as the crazy-looking old dude. Non-hip-hop heads will simply notice his permagrin and great suit.

And while I’m at it, here’s one more Bill Withers track: “I Can’t Write Left Handed,” from 1972’s Live at Carnegie Hall.
2. “Can’t Stand Losing You” by The Police. From the October 3, 1978 episode. Originally from the album Outlandos d’Amour (1978).
For those of us who first heard The Police when they had already hit the big time (Synchronicity-era), it’s nice to see them young and scrappy. “Can’t Stand Losing You” was the first single from their first album and it went nowhere initially. This Whistle Test appearance came just as the band was picking up steam.
In the video, a coltish young Sting looks so much more punk than he would in later tantric years, with his bleached spiked hair turned lime green by the overhead lights. Although he would have been around 27 at the time, he looks an awkward 19. Also a good reminder of how great a drummer Stewart Copeland was.
Also, Sting stole Harry Caray’s glasses.

3. “To Hell With Poverty” by Gang of Four. Originally from the EP Another Day/Another Dollar (1982). From the April 11, 1981 episode.
Gang of Four was the British parallel to Mission of Burma, an angular post-punk band that mixed rigid funk, left-wing politics, and names derived from Asian governments. (Brits would, perhaps rightly, prefer to call Mission of Burma the American parallel to Gang of Four.)
Like Burma, Gang of Four has seen its sound become hugely influential among a certain school of contemporary acts (Franz Ferdinand, The Rapture, Bloc Party, et al) and has recently reformed. If you want to buy an album, Entertainment! — which still sounds fresh, abrasive, and fun 27 years later — is the clear recommendation.
The strangest thing about this video is how downright regular the Four look. By which I mean: how dorky they look. They could be your local Class 2A all-district cross-country team circa 1984.

Finally, here are some other interesting videos from Whistle Test. The ones in bold are of particular interest:

Stick around for the ending of that Damned track. It’s so much harder being punk rock when you’re in an empty studio.
Finally, a classic video of The Edgar Winter Group doing “Frankenstein”, a symbol of prog rock at its most progtastic. Dude rocks a keytar and oh so much more! Truly awesome in its awesomeness. So awesome, in fact, that it’s parodied, three decades later, in this sketch from a BBC comedy show.

MP3 Monday: May 22, 2006

Week Four of MP3 Monday centers on my trip back home to south Louisiana weekend before last — some excellent Cajun and zydeco music. As always, songs will be available for download for a week, so grab ’em quick.
1. “I’m Coming Home” by C.J. Chenier. From the album My Baby Don’t Wear No Shoes (1993).
C.J. Chenier is stuck in the same bind as Michael Andretti or Emilio Estevez: going into the same business as your very successful father. His dad Clifton Chenier was the self-proclaimed “King of Zydeco” — even appearing on stage wearing a crown — and no one disputed the title. If anyone could be said to have invented the genre, it’s Clifton.
But C.J. has done well for himself. He initially shunned zydeco music, but his dad convinced him to join his touring band, and when Clifton died, C.J. took over leadership of the Red Hot Louisiana Band. This track (written by his father, with uncle Cleveland Chenier on rubboard) is classic dancehall zydeco — a strong ’50s blues feel and excellent slow-dance potential.
C.J.’s latest latest album, the somber and hurricane-themed The Desperate Kingdom of Love, came out earlier this month. It features what I am going to assume is his first P.J. Harvey cover.
It sounds interesting, from the excerpts I can find online, but puhleeze can someone in south Louisiana learn how to mike drums? So many Cajun/zydeco bands sound amazing live but flat and indistinguishable on record, and the biggest reason is that the drums get miked all wrong — all bright and shiny and foreground. Most good south Louisiana music needs grit, and that’s hard to get when producers insist on a clean mix. Seriously, throw some punk-rock producer at a good zydeco band and you could make it cook. And maybe you’d get some young people interested, instead of the 50-plus crowd you get at too many Cajun/zydeco shows these days.
(The same is true of most contemporary blues and a lot of jazz — when you smooth all the dirty, skronky, dissonant goodness off it, you’re left with technically sound but boring pap.)
2. “Zydeco Gris Gris” by The Pine Leaf Boys. Recorded live at the Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival, May 6, 2006.
Saw these guys with my friends in Lafayette weekend before last, and I love the fact they have the same goal I just outlined. (Wilson Savoy, quasi-leader of the Pine Leaf Boys, told my friend Julia after the show that their goal is to get hot young women to go to their shows. Now that’s the right way to look at it.) The Pine Leaf Boys are all in their early 20s and play fast and hard — they’re self-proclaimed traditionalists, but with an attitude.
(I love that on their web site they quote my old school buddy Josh Caffery: “The live performances of the Pine Leaf Boys are a revelation of anarchy and reverence and manic exuberance funneled through traditional musical forms.” For fun, here’s a photo of me and Josh C. at age six.)
Wilson comes from a noted Cajun-music family: his dad Marc Savoy is one of the great lions of the culture and a maker of accordions; mom Ann Savoy wrote the best book on Cajun music and is in the Magnolia Sisters; and older brother Joel Savoy was in the great Red Stick Ramblers, which started the nascent Cajun/Western Swing movement, along with Josh Caffery. Not sure what he’s up to these days, but I do know an ex-girlfriend of mine developed a serious crush on him after a Ramblers show a few years back.
Anyway, if the Boys ever come to your neck of the woods, trust me: go see them. Here’s another song from that Breaux Bridge show, “Pine Grove Blues.” And here’s video of a recent performance at the best bar in the world. More songs and videos at their web site.
(If all goes according to plan, you may be hearing excerpts from that Pine Leaf Boys show on a future edition of “All Things Considered.” Cross your fingers.)
3. “Tu Peut Pas M’Arreter de Rêver (You Can’t Stop Me From Dreaming)” by The Lost Bayou Ramblers. From the album Pilette Breakdown (2003).
As mentioned above, one strain of contemporary Cajun music merges it with Bob Wills-style Western swing (with a schmear of gypsy jazz). Who knows who came up with it first; the Red Stick Ramblers were where I first heard it, but the Lost Bayou Ramblers have been at it for a while too. The focus is on reviving old pre-World War II songs, when Cajun music emphasized the fiddle. With its shuffle-brush drums and jaunty bass, “Tu Peut Pas M’Arreter de Rêver” could be a Django Reinhardt outtake.
Like Bob Wills — who played under the name the Light Crust Doughboys because a flour company sponsored them — the LBR also plays (in slightly amended form) as the Mello Joy Boys. (Mello Joy is the ur Cajun coffee, recently revived.) Their theme song is here.

MP3 Monday: May 15, 2006

Welcome back for Week Three of MP3 Monday. As always, songs will be available for download for a week. Sorry it’s appearing a little later than usual on Monday; an unexpected Sunday night in Houston will do that to you.
This week we have a theme: the wonderful releases of the Numero Group, a Chicago-based reissue label. Numero is dedicated to digging up great old records that never got the respect they deserved.
1. “Who Knows” by Marion Black. From Eccentric Soul, Vol. 1: The Capsoul Label (2005).
Numero’s chief series is its Eccentric Soul line, for which it scours the archives of the small regional funk and soul labels that thrived (artistically if not financially) in the 1970s. The first edition centered on the Capsoul label from the big city of Columbus, Ohio: home of Big Ten football, the Ohio State Fair, and my old office when I used to cover the Ohio Legislature.
This Marion Black track highlights his buttery baritone — but the real reason I link is that it may be familiar to the indie hip-hop heads out there. The great RJD2 also hails from Columbus, and “Who Knows” forms the vocal hook for his “Smoke and Mirrors” (from his excellent 2002 album Deadringer.
2. “(I Feel Like A) Dictionary” by The Trend. From the compilation Yellow Pills: Prefill (2005).
“Yellow Pills” was a 1990s zine published by one Jordan Oakes and devoted to that most maligned of subgenres, power pop. I say maligned because the basics of power pop are so elementary that it attracts a lot of no-talents — there’s a lot of bad power pop out there, and not everyone who hears a Big Star reissue should then pick up a guitar.
But this compilation, pulled together by Oakes, assembles only the finest acts in obscure power-pop — you’ve never heard of any of these guys, trust me — and the finest of the fine is The Trend. They were a wee small band from Kennett, Missouri, and they released just a single album in 1983. You can tell they listened to Chronic Town, but the burbling bass and speed-freak drums say they were up to something of their own. Also, if you’re like me, you won’t be able to stop humming this song.
One more track from The Trend: “She’s Hi-Fi.
Where are they now? The Trend’s songwriter, a fellow named John McMullan, grew up to be a lawyer in his small town, although he still records some music on the side. (I only listened to a couple bits of his new stuff, but it seemed to confirm the truism that power-pop artists rarely age well.) Guitarist Mike Astrachan now does PR in Kansas City. Singer Matt Collier works for a company that makes bronze handrailings. Bassist Dennis Fuller does sports radio. Bill Joslyn brews beer. More about the band here.
Also, they were very handsome men. Notice the young woman in that photo; it’s the most famous Kennett, Missouri, native of them all.
3. “Theme From The Godfather” by The Professionals. From the album Cult Cargo: Belize City Boil Up (1968).
Facts about Belize: It is the only English-speaking nation in Central America, a legacy of its British colonial status. Guatemala claims it’s not a nation at all but a renegade Guatemalan province. Belize celebrates Baron Bliss Day every March in honor of some old British dude. Its citrus industry is based around the Hummingbird Highway. And its music is a mix of soul, R&B, calypso, and reggae.
The Professionals’ cover of the Godfather theme has guitar buzz straight out of Iron Butterfly, but a reggae bass line and a calypso lilt. For comparison, here’s a version of the original Godfather track (actually called “Love Theme” officially) performed by the Milan Philharmonic Orchestra.

MP3 Monday: May 8, 2006

Welcome back for the second episode of MP3 Monday. As always, songs will be available for download for a week.
1. “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free” by Nina Simone. From Silk & Soul (1967).
How can you not love Nina Simone? Truly an individual, in her vocal tone, in her politics, and in her general orneriness. (I mean, she shot people. That’s pretty ornery.)
Her voice always sounds to me like a war between restraint and passion, and you can see that in this song from the civil-rights era. She starts out reserved, almost blase. But as the volume turns up, the horns join in, and that bass drum starts to double-thump, she seems to wake up. Lyrics are here.
I found this on a compilation I really can’t recommend highly enough: Stand up & Be Counted: Soul, Funk, & Jazz from a Revolutionary Era. It’s all politically-charged stuff from the late 1960s and early 1970s — James Brown, The Last Poets, Gil Scott-Heron, and a lot of folks you probably haven’t heard of. Terrific stuff. Here’s another amazing track from it: “Mighty Mighty (Spade and Whitey)” by The Impressions. (That’s Curtis Mayfield on vocals. To my knowledge, this song is the first ever use of semen as a unifying metaphor for blacks and whites.)
2. “Just A Thought” by Gnarls Barkley. From St. Elsewhere (2006).
Gnarls Barkley, the It Band of the Moment, is the merger of DJ Danger Mouse and singer Cee-Lo. (You may remember Cee-Lo from 1990s ATL rap act Goodie Mob. You should remember Danger Mouse from his Beatles/Jay-Z mashup The Grey Album and his project with MF Doom, The Mouse and the Mask, previously pimped here on
The first single off the album is the terrif “Crazy,” which you can hear streaming on their Myspace page. But the rest of the album — which comes out tomorrow in the U.S. — is just as strong. Danger Mouse remains a very accessible producer, with big primary-color beats. And I looooove Cee-Lo. The man doesn’t rap here — he’s really a soul singer of the old school, a la Al Green or the aforementioned Curtis Mayfield. I love me some hip-hop, but I do regret that its prominence has pushed black male soul singing out of the mainstream.
“Just A Thought” is one of the tougher-minded, darker tracks, with a little flamenco guitar underneath the cymbal-heavy thunder drums. As I said in that previous post about the MF Doom project, Danger Mouse makes hip-hop even people who think they don’t like hip-hop can like.
Bonus track: a live version of “Crazy” taken from BBC’s Top of the Pops on April 16. The sound quality’s not amazing, but the slowed-down orchestral take is interesting.
3. “Care of Cell 44” by The Zombies. From the album Odessey and Oracle (1968).
It’s happened to all of us at one time or another: Your girlfriend gets sentenced to 5 to 10 years hard labor. And sure, there’s always the hope of “good behavior” and flirting with the old guys on the parole board — but it still sucks. This song sums up that feeling.
Odessey and Oracle is a largely forgotten psychedelic classic, sort of a midpoint between Merseybeat and Brian Wilson. Trivia: The misspelling of “Odyssey” was the bassist’s roommate’s fault. And the Velvet Crush singles compilation, A Single Odessey, name-checks it. (Although they were closer to being a Byrds cover band than a Zombies one.)
Bonus tracks: this cover version of “Care of Cell 44” by Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs. It’s on their surprisingly good new album of 1960s covers, Under the Covers, Vol. 1. (The drummer is the great Ric Menck, founder of the aforementioned Velvet Crush.)
And here’s another cover version, this time from Elliott Smith, recorded at The Black Cat in D.C. on April 17, 1998.

MP3 Monday: May 1, 2006

Welcome to a new feature here on MP3 Monday. Every Monday, if all goes according to plan, I’ll post three MP3s, with a little background on each. They’ll be available for download for a week, or until the next MP3 Monday goes up.
As it happens, I’ve been listening to a lot of early-’70s soul/jazz/funk the last few months, so be prepared — there likely won’t be as many whiny white English majors as there were on my last music-sharing endeavor, the CD Mix of the Month Club. Not that there’s anything wrong with whiny white English majors!
1. “Misdemeanor” by Foster Sylvers. Single from 1973.
The R&B family act The Sylvers was meant to be a Southern copy of the Jackson 5, with Foster playing the role of Michael (here, at age 11). He even kind of looked like MJ.
This track has all the bounce of early ’70s Michael, but none of the pedophilia of ’90s and ’00s Michael. I found Foster on the excellent Saint Etienne mix CD The Trip, which pretty well defines “groovy.”
Foster now spends his days drawing. Ahem.
2. “Car Trouble” by All Girl Summer Fun Band. From All Girl Summer Fun Band (2002).
Truly, could there be a worse situation for a twentysomething woman than to have her heart broken by both her boyfriend and her car? Maybe it’s not cool to still love lofi DIY twee — it does smell of 1994 — but these 99 seconds are good for headbopping. Here’s a video for the song.
Trivia: AGSFB’s Kim Baxter starred in the original video for the Shins’ “New Slang.” Of course, longtime readers already know that. (Yes, I know I had the band name wrong back in 2003. Sue me.) Ms. Baxter also wishes she could get a good mortgage.
3. “Sun Song” by jazz saxophonist Pharoah Sanders. From the album Shukuru (1983).
Sanders was a sax understudy to John Coltrane, and his career was mostly in the vein of Coltrane’s later period — spacier and more spiritual.
He did much fine work — here’s “You’ve Got To Have Freedom” from 1980’s Journey to the One to prove it — but “Sun Song” isn’t anything special musically. The greatness comes in the guest vocal by Leon Thomas, who alternates baritone verses with a bizarre and wonderful warble/yodel. It’s downright otherworldly.
(For the record, I came across this via Journey to the Dawn, a compilation of tracks from California jazz label Theresa Records.)
And, although I plan to have three songs in each edition of MP3 Monday, here’s a bonus track in honor of the first go-round: Stevie Wonder‘s cover of the Beatles’ “We Can Work It Out,” from Signed, Sealed, Delivered. Stevie shifts a relationship song to a optimistic take on race relations. I have heard rumors that there are still people in the world, perhaps in Mongolia, who do not yet realize the scope of Stevie Wonder’s genius. I hope to remedy that.
One of my favorite parts of the old CD Mix club was hearing people’s thoughts on the songs, so please speak up in the comments.