Wednesday, December 31, 2008

December 31, 2008: Ray Charles - "Ain't That Love"

I'm going to miss 2008. I know a lot of people can not wait to bid it farewell, but I have to say it was the greatest year of my life.

Three monumental things stand out... things I can now call myself that I could not when the year began: homeowner, dog owner, and - most importantly - husband.

Therefore it is fitting that the Greatest Song of the Year is the first song Maria and I danced to as husband and wife. I dedicate it to her, the great love of my life.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

December 30, 2008: The Go-Betweens - "Streets of Your Town"

I had the Go-Betweens stuck in my head all day today. Somebody sold a copy of their 1988 CD 16 Lovers Lane to my store and, it being my personal favorite Go-Betweens album, I spun it no less than two times during my shift.

"Streets of Your Town" was penned by Grant McLennan, who teamed with Robert Forster to form the core of the Australian band. McLennan tragically died of a heart attack at the age of 48 in 2006. This year, Forster released his first solo album since his songwriting partner's death. The Evangelist was one of the finest albums of 2008.

Monday, December 29, 2008

December 29, 2008: Ernestine Anderson - "Keep an Eye on Love"

Ernestine Anderson is a jazz vocalist first and foremost, but my introduction to her was this delightful northern soul tune that I first heard on The Sue Records Story compilation CD - a wonderful collection of soul, blues, and pop songs from the famed UK label. It's a collection well worth picking up.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

December 28, 2008: Danny White - "Natural Soul Brother"

"You got to be a winner / And a go-getter"

I dedicate the Greatest Song of Today to the NFC North Champion Minnesota Vikings, who managed to make the playoffs without backing in.

As for Danny White, he is a true legend of New Orleans R&B and, of course, virtually unknown outside of soul music nerd circles. This particular song appears on two essential collections: the New Orleans Funk Vol. 1 compilation on Soul Jazz Records and the Danny White singles collection Natural Soul Brother on Kent Records.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

December 27, 2008: Pixies - "Debaser"

I played this song during my DJ gig at the King and I Thai last night, and was once again reminded of its greatness.

Friday, December 26, 2008

December 26, 2008: Tom Waits - "I Don't Wanna Grow Up"

There sure is not a lot of glamour in becoming a grown-up.

Christmas Days spent lounging around in my pajamas all day long, playing with all my new gifts? Thing of the past. This year, I spent my Christmas afternoon in the driveway trying to wrestle my rusty flat tire off my car. I ruined my "good" gloves and most definitely broke in a new pair of jeans. In the process, I managed to lose my wedding ring, sending my wife and sister-in-law into a fevered hunt through the snow in the backyard. (My wife eventually found it in the bathroom garbage can, where it must have slipped off my finger after washing and wiping my hands.)

Today I spent a healthy portion of my afternoon in the lobby of the auto repair shop, waiting to get my flat tire patched. They informed me it was beyond repair and I needed at least two new tires. I elected to get a full set of four, plus an oil change. There goes our holiday bonus.

Oh, it's not all bad, though. After all, we are hosting my wife's family for the holidays this year. Last night, after my wife successfully and deliciously cooked her first Christmas turkey, I carved my first Christmas turkey. We built a fire in our fireplace for the first time and had a wonderful night with the family. No, growing up isn't bad at all. But the not-so-fun aspects are the perfect sequitur for the Greatest Song of Today: "I Don't Wanna Grow Up" by Tom Waits.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

December 24, 2008: The Pogues & Kirsty MacColl - "Fairytale of New York"

On this Christmas Eve, I would like to send warm holiday wishes to all of you. Thank you for supporting The Greatest Song of the Day.

Today's Greatest Song of the Day is, in my humble opinion, the Greatest Christmas Song ever recorded. Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

December 23, 2008: Lightnin' Hopkins - "Santa"

Whew! I'm just barely getting today's Song of the Day posted before the day is over. What can I say? It was a busy, busy day.

Today's pick is another holiday themed tune. Let's face it, Christmas and holiday tunes only work for a few weeks out of the year. That said, Lightnin' Hopkins sounds good any time.

Monday, December 22, 2008

December 22, 2008: Guided By Voices - "A Salty Salute"

I have many memories of this wonderful song, but two stand out the most.

1) I can not remember if it was St. Olaf or Carlton, but one of those Northfield schools had GBV headlining their "Spring Fling" outdoor festival one year. I remember standing by the side of the stage in the blinding sun as the bass player consumed whiskey by the gallon and frontman Robert Pollard flung Budweisers to the crowd from the on-stage cooler. They got so hammered that they played "A Salty Salute" twice. Glorious.

2) Rudie's Ska Cafe in St. Paul. It may have been different and more ska-like during the day, but when Rudie's opened around 1996, the regular barista Ray played a healthy dose of indie rock. It was so great that I would drive from my parents' house in Plymouth, pit-stop at Augsburg College and/or Middlebrook Hall on the University of Minnesota's West Bank to pick up my college-going friends, and continue deep into St. Paul to spend the evening drinking coffee and playing board games, and nerding out about music. Each night, the time would come for Ray to put GBV's Alien Lanes on the stereo. As soon as the opening bassline for "A Salty Salute" began, so did our night.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

December 21, 2008: Eric B & Rakim - "I Ain't No Joke"

My wife has been lobbying for some hip hop on Greatest Song of the Day for a while, so I thought I might as well start with the best.

Though their partnership was short and their breakup ugly, the combination of the respective talents of DJ Eric B and emcee Rakim produced some of the greatest and most innovative old school hip hop. I do not consider myself a hip hop connoisseur by any means, but I know what I like and I consider Rakim to be the best rapper I have ever heard. The first two albums in particular (Paid In Full and Follow the Leader) should be staples in any music library that contains the likes of Nas, Jay-Z, or Mos Def.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

December 20, 2008: Willie Nelson - "Winter Wonderland"

Take a look around, Twin Citizens!

Now, listen to Willie's take on this holiday standard and relax. It's gorgeous out there.

Friday, December 19, 2008

December 19, 2008: Chooglin' - "You Sucked the Life Out of Me"

I never said I wouldn't use this forum for self-promotion, so here goes.

Tonight is the record release show for the newest addition to the Heart of a Champion catalog. It's a live album by the best live rock 'n' roll band in the Twin Cities, Chooglin'. Titled Nice Place, Nice Party, Nice Folks, it was recorded almost exactly one year ago at the 7th Street Entry - the same venue that hosts tonight's show. (I am disappointed and a little embarrassed that the records are not actually here in time for the show, but we do have a short run of CDs to sell and it will be a ridiculously fun night regardless!)

Chooglin' just finished recording a new studio album last weekend. It's slated to come out in 2009 on Big Legal Mess - a division of Fat Possum Records, where they will join a catalog that includes the likes of Townes Van Zandt, The Black Keys, R.L. Burnside, Junior Kimbrough, Andrew Bird, and Dinosaur Jr, among others. I couldn't possibly be more thrilled for them, as they're a great bunch of dudes who have been paying their dues for years in the local rock scene.

Anyway, come on down to the Entry tonight. It'll be a blast!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

December 18, 2008: Belle and Sebastian - "Sukie In the Graveyard"

When Belle and Sebastian's The Life Pursuit debuted in 2006, I was not overly excited to hear it. I loved their early albums and singles, but the previous two albums (Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant and Dear Catastrophe Waitress) and recent stand-alone singles felt lackluster. It simply seemed to me that the band had run its course, and was unlikely to make anything GREAT any more. The fact that The Life Pursuit was produced by Tony Hoffer (who was probably best known for producing Beck's Prince-wannabe album Midnite Vultures) and was being billed as Belle and Sebastian's "funk album" did not sound appealing, to say the least.

So, I try to remind myself of this every time I feel the inclination to write off a band before I hear the result. Because, as it turns out, The Life Pursuit WAS great. It was one of my top five albums of 2006. I would not dare call it a "funk album," but it was definitely looser and more fun than I was used to from Belle and Sebastian. Two years later, it still holds up.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

December 17, 2008: Lifter Puller - "Secret Santa Cruz"

I spent this morning answering questions via e-mail for a Lifter Puller interview as part of an oral history of one of my all-time favorite bands. Naturally, that put me in a Lifter Puller kind of mood today.

"Secret Santa Cruz" was one of my very favorite Lifter Puller tunes, so I was honored to have it chosen as the a-side on the 7" single that I posthumously released for the band in 2001.

Craig Finn and Tad Kubler of Lifter Puller have moved on to huge things with The Hold Steady. I adore The Hold Steady and am thrilled beyond words for their much-deserved success. I still miss Lifter Puller.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

December 16, 2008: Screamin' Jay Hawkins - "I Love Paris"

I slept in a little late this morning and was busy all day, so my apologies for not getting a song of the day out until now. By request, I give you Screamin' Jay's version of "I Love Paris."

Monday, December 15, 2008

December 15, 2008: The Modern Lovers - "Roadrunner"

Today is my dear friend Anna's 30th birthday. A couple of weeks ago, I was having a rare negativity meltdown. Anna's advice was, "Listen to some Jonathan Richman. That will cheer you up. Jonathan loves you!"

So, I listened to her and listened to him. And it did cheer me up. So, this is for you, Anna. Happy birthday from me, and from Jonathan!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

December 14, 2008: The Sadies w/ Robyn Hitchcock - "Why Would Anybody Live Here?"

Blizzards, freezing rain, bone-crunching wind chill... The Sadies are from Canada. They have probably asked themselves this question on more than a few occasions. I know I was asking it all day long as I waited for my wife to safely return from the Northern Minnesota Winter Wonderland. Thankfully, she's back in one piece.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

December 13, 2008: The Fall - "Just Step Sideways"

It happened again the other day. I was listening to The Fall at work and a customer made the comment, "I've never really got into them because I'm too overwhelmed as to where to start."

My answer to this is well rehearsed by now:

"They're certainly not for everybody, but if you want to take the plunge, a great starting point is the 50,000 Fall Fans Can't Be Wrong double CD that Beggard Banquet put out a couple years ago. It's the best retrospective compilation (of many) of The Fall's 30+ year history and is very affordable (about $14 for a two CD set at Treehouse). If you're looking to pick up an individual album, however, my favorite is Hex Enduction Hour."

Guess which album contains "Just Step Sideways."

Friday, December 12, 2008

December 12, 2008: Tom Waits - "Baby Gonna Leave Me"

It's hard to believe that it has taken this long for a Waits song to appear as Song of the Day. This one is from his last studio album, Real Gone.

My wife left this morning for a fun three-day weekend with some friends. I'm staying back to work and take care of the puppy. We're going to miss her like crazy. But... there's a fun party to go to on Saturday night and we're completely without plans at this point for tonight!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

December 11, 2008: Little Willie John - "I'm Shakin'"

Five feet and four inches of pure badass, Little Willie John was, for my money, the most under-appreciated of the rock 'n' roll pioneers. Despite his... uh... shortcomings (alcoholic, stabbed a man to death, died in prison at age 29, etc.), it's a shame his immense talent failed to garner more attention back in the day, and it's a tragedy that he has been almost entirely ignored by the last couple generations of music fans.

I knew when I woke up this morning that today's Song of the Day would be a Little Willie John song. I couldn't decide which one, though. I went to a doctor's appointment, came back, and still couldn't choose. Finally, I took my puppy for an hour-long walk down Minnehaha Creek. I walked in the door and said, "I'm shakin'!"

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

December 10, 2008: AC/DC - "If You Want Blood (You've Got It)"

This one comes from the "take the song title literally" department. I managed to injure myself, and there is blood. It's nothing serious - more embarrassing than anything - so I'll spare you the details. Enjoy the rock!

Link to video (for some reason, youtube embedding has been disabled on this one).

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

December 9, 2008: Eleni Mandell - "Salt Truck"

Since most of you are in the Twin Cities, where we just had our first significant snow dumping of the season, I thought I'd share something seasonal today.

Back in 2001, I drove through plenty of snow on my way to the 400 Bar to see Eleni Mandell for the first time. I had read an amazing review of her then-new album Thrill, so I ordered a copy and was completely blown away. I saw she was coming to town, and I made sure I was there. Unfortunately, few others joined me. I couldn't even convince any friends to join me on a weeknight in the middle of winter, so off I went on my own.

Eleni played a beautiful acoustic solo set. After the show, she was by herself at the merch table. I bought a t-shirt and introduced myself. I thanked her for a great show and made my pitch. "I have this little hobby record label called Heart of a Champion... if you ever have any interest in doing anything... a single, a full-length, whatever... I'd love to put something out!" We exchanged contact info and a couple weeks later I received a cassette of fantastic outtakes from the Thrill sessions.

A couple months later, we put out a 7" single. The following year, Heart of a Champion did a vinyl pressing for her album Snakebite. Now in 2008, the label has six different releases from this ridiculously talented artist. The latest one was the vinyl pressing of her 2007 album Miracle of Five, which contains "Salt Truck."

I can not even remember if I told Eleni that "Salt Truck" was my favorite song on the album before my wife and I went to see her play in L.A. on our honeymoon last June. At that show, though, she dedicated it to us. It felt perfect. I can honestly say that working with and getting to know Eleni Mandell has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my small little corner of the music industry.

Eleni and me at the Heart of a Champion 5-year anniversary party in 2004.

Monday, December 8, 2008

December 8, 2008: The Beatles - "In My Life"

Today is the 28th anniversary of John Lennon's murder.

I don't know that I'm up for it this year, but if you live in the Twin Cities and you've never been to Curtiss A's annual Lennon anniversary tribute at First Avenue, you don't know what you're missing. I would highly recommend checking it out tonight.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

December 7, 2008: Wire - "Map Ref. 41° N 93° W"

I've had a pretty busy weekend, which is why Song of the Day has been running a little behind. We'll get back up to speed this week. In the meantime, enjoy this amazing tune from Wire's classic third album 154.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

December 6, 2008: Lucero - "Sweet Little Thing"

Sorry today's song is out so late in the day. It seems I've set a precedent for getting the song out by morning (usually around 2 or 3 AM!), but I do reserve the right to get it out at any point during the day.

One of the reasons today's is so late is that I was out quite late last night, at the Triple Rock for Lucero and The Evening Rig. Lucero did their usual "play until they have to start kicking people out" set. And, as usual, their drunk asses would slop their way through about 3 or 4 songs, then suddenly ABSOLUTELY NAIL a song out of the blue.

Thankfully last night, one such song was "Sweet Little Thing." This song hold special meaning to me. Not only because it's one of the best songs Ben Nichols has written, but because it was a pivotal song on the very first mix I made for my wife. Thus, every time I hear it, I am reminded of falling in love with her. And it is the greatest feeling in the world.

Lucero and The Evening Rig are playing again tonight at the Triple Rock. I'll be there again. You should come out, too.

Friday, December 5, 2008

December 5, 2008: The Ghost of Sean Arthur Peterson - "True Love"

Coming off a spell of far more stress and negativity than I am accustomed to, not to mention more than the people around me are used to witnessing from me, Wednesday afternoon's call, out of the blue, from Sean Peterson was just what I needed.

Sean is just about the most positive person on this planet. He exudes goodness. I am fortunate to know many amazing musicians, but Sean was the first person I thought of to ask to sing at my wedding. He amazed Maria and I by not only singing at our wedding, but by writing a song specifically for us for the wedding. (Not this song, though it very well could have been.)

I had lunch with him yesterday. He gave me a proof of his childrens book Len, which is coming out within the month (it's amazing), gushed about his new job as a "scientist," and talked about music.

The Ghost of Sean Arthur Peterson (essentially Sean and Chad Giblin) is about to head in to the studio to record a proper album. This has been years in the making. It should be out on Heart of a Champion sometime in 2009. I am assuming that a more fleshed out version of "True Love" will appear on that album. For now, though, enjoy this exclusive demo version... today's Greatest Song of the Day.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

December 4, 2008: Howlin' Wolf - "Spoonful"

I don't know if it's because of the new Chess movie coming out or if it's because one of my very favorite blues songs, but I woke up with Howlin' Wolf's "Spoonful" in my head this morning. Therefore, it is the greatest song of today.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

December 3, 2008: The Deadly Snakes - "Gore Veil"

Today's Song of the Day comes from the best album of 2005, Porcella by The Deadly Snakes. The Deadly Snakes were a Canadian garage band who had released three albums of great but rather straightforward garage-punk through 2004. In 2005, legend has it, they holed up in a cabin, allowed their folk, roots, and pop influences to come to the forefront, and didn't come out until they had put together this masterpiece.

Sadly, it would be their final album. The Deadly Snakes called it quits in 2006. Nick Cave soundalike co-frontman Andre Ethier (not to be confused with the Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder of the same name) has released three solo albums. They're all good, but have failed to capture the magic of sharing the spotlight with Age of Danger (aka Max McCabe-Lokos), who wrote and sang "Gore Veil."

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

December 2, 2008: Mike Gunther & His Restless Souls - "Walk All Over It"

This one really should have been yesterday's song of the day, for yesterday was the 10 year anniversary of my moving into my first apartment. It was a two-bedroom double-bungalow on 22nd and Grand in south Minneapolis and my roommate was one of my oldest and best friends, Mr. Mike Gunther.

Although I had spent a couple of years in a band with Mike and was well aware of his skills as a guitar player and singer, I was not overly familiar with his genius as a songwriter. It was in that apartment, starting 10 years ago, where I was able to hear him playing guitar and piano from the next room over. I was ecstatic when he began performing live, and jumped at the chance to release his albums on my label.

I am so proud of the two albums that Mike and his Restless Souls have produced. I still view Burn It Down For the Nails, in particular, as the crown jewel of the Heart of a Champion catalog.

In the wonderful video (directed by Restless Souls member Suzanne Vallie Scholten), you'll see cameos from many readers of this blog. It is with tremendous pride that I give you "Walk All Over It" by Mike Gunther and His Restless Souls... the greatest song of the day!

Monday, December 1, 2008

December 1, 2008: The Chills - "I Love My Leather Jacket"

Winter is here. It is December, there is snow on the ground, and high temperatures are not expected to escape the 20s all week. Therefore, it is officially time for me to ditch my lighter jackets in favor of my super-warm leather jacket.

As I put it on for the first time this season, I will no doubt have this 1986 ditty from Martin Phillipps and The Chills. All albums from this wonderful New Zealand band are worth owning, and an excellent starting point is the greatest hits anthology Heavenly Pop Hits on Flying Nun Records.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

November 30, 2008: Bobby Bare - "Talk Me Some Sense"

My wife and I spent last Thanksgiving in Dixon, Illinois visiting her parents. Our "Black Friday" last year was spent walking through the town. One of the places we checked out was a large antique/junk store. Anytime I find myself in a place like that, my first instinct is to keep my eyes open for stacks of records. Most records found in antique stores are beat up, overpriced, and very common... antique stores are where trashed Andy Williams, Guy Lombardo, and Johnny Mathis records go when they die. Every once in a while, though, you'll find something cool.

The payoff in Dixon last year was a copy of Bobby Bare's 1966 album Talk Me Some Sense for $1. On first glance, it wasn't in the greatest shape (though it did clean up and play quite nicely), but I figured it was worth the small gamble. Bare was a guy who had been on my list of guys to check out for a long time, but I had never gotten around to it. From all I had heard, I figured I would probably like him, but I really wasn't prepared for what I was about to hear when I got the record home. It has since become one of my most played records from the country portion of my collection.

The title track is particularly great. It's the best protest song against protest songs that I've heard, at any rate. Given that it's immediately followed on the album by a Dylan cover ("It Ain't Me, Babe") and a fantastic pro-civil rights anthem ("What Color (Is a Man)") - the latter being pretty ballsy for a country singer of the time - leads me to believe that there has to be at least a little bit of a tongue-in-cheek aspect to "Talk Me Some Sense." Even if not, though, I love the song.

Sadly for you, I could not find any youtube videos or other internet streams of the song. Last year, Omni Records reissued Talk Me Some Sense on CD, packaged with Bare's urban sprawl concept album A Bird Named Yesterday. Both albums are great, so it's well worth picking up.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

November 29, 2008: Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell - "Ain't No Mountain High Enough"

There's no long story with today's song. It's a Motown classic that came on while my wife and I were doing housework on Friday afternoon and managed to stay in my head all day.

Friday, November 28, 2008

November 28, 2008: Fugazi - "Merchandise"

Today we have a Black Friday special!

I miss Fugazi. A lot. I thought I was pretty cool when I walked in to my first day of high school in September 1992 wearing my Jane's Addiction "Article 1" t-shirt. I was taken aback, however, by all the punk rock upperclassmen wearing their "This Is Not a Fugazi T-Shirt" shirts like uniforms.

The Fugazi shirts, I would later discover, were bootlegs. The band was opposed to marketing itself. They had no official t-shirts, stickers, hoodies, or thongs. Every show they played was all ages and no more than a $5 cover. Fugazi was the first band I knew of who had their own moral code. I suppose it's no coincidence that they were also the first band whose politics started influencing my own.

I hope you enjoy "Merchandise." If you live in the Twin Cities, I'll also be playing it tonight during my DJ set at The King and I Thai. You should come down and hang out if you don't have other plans!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

November 27, 2008: Sam & Dave - "I Thank You"

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!

Today's song requires little explanation. It's a classic from the greatest of all soul duos, Sam & Dave.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

November 26, 2008: Waylon Jennings - "Lonesome, On'ry and Mean"

Today is my brother Jim's 29th birthday. Naturally, I brainstormed birthday songs and songs with variations of "Jim" in the title so that I could make the Greatest Song of Today a dedication... I came close to pulling the trigger on "Jim Dandy" by Black Oak Arkansas, but couldn't quite do it.

In the end, I decided the best way to go was Waylon. (Really, when is Waylon not the best way to go?) He loves Waylon. I love Waylon. We were raised on Waylon. I don't know about you, Jim, but "Lonesome, On'ry and Mean" is one of my favorite Waylon Jennings songs. Plus, when you drove my drunk ass and all of my drunk friends all over the city during my bachelor party, we capped the night off with me singing my heart out with this song during karaoke at the Vegas Lounge. It's sentimental!

The fantastic live version that I've chosen for Song of the Day comes from Waylon Live: The Expanded Edition, a 2003 42-song double CD reissue of Waylon Live, originally an 11-song LP released in 1976. It was recorded over a three night stand in Austin in 1974, at the absolute peak of Waylon's powers. The restored double CD is one of the great archival finds of the last decade. It's all killer, with the Waylors (featuring Ralph Mooney, the greatest steel guitar player who ever lived, in my humble opinion) playing like a band possessed and Waylon himself singing with all of his soul. For anyone reading this, if you have anything more than a passing interest in country music, Waylon Live: The Expanded Edition is essential.

I couldn't find a youtube video of the Waylon Live performance, but I did find this one, which is pretty similar. Enjoy! And happy birthday, Jim!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

November 25, 2008: Antony & the Johnsons - "Knockin' On Heaven's Door"

Antony & the Johnsons' second album, I Am a Bird Now, was one of the most celebrated releases of 2005. It won the prestigious Mercury Prize in the UK, brought the group to Letterman, and seemed to show up on every year-end "best of" list. I tried to like it, but I just could not.

I was certainly impressed by Antony Hegarty's otherworldly voice, but the chamber pop orchestration backing him on the album was way over the top for my liking. So, that was that. Customers at the record store would ask for my opinion on Antony & the Johnsons and I would tell them, "He has an amazing voice, but musically it's not my cup of tea."

Late last year, while listening to the excellent I'm Not There soundtrack, I was completely floored by Antony's cover of Bob Dylan's "Knockin' On Heaven's Door." This was what I wanted to hear from him: simple, elegant production over which Antony could let it all out. Absolutely stunning.

After gushing over this cover, I had several people direct me to check out his cover if "If It Be Your Will" on the Leonard Cohen documentary I'm Your Man. That is also very good, but I still prefer Cohen's original. With his take of "Knockin' On Heaven's Door," I will dare to say that I think Antony has given us the definitive version of this song. Given my love for Dylan, that is no small compliment.

Last month, Antony & The Johnsons released a new EP called Another World. It is wonderful. The new full-length album is due in January and is one of my most anticipated albums of 2009.

Monday, November 24, 2008

November 24, 2008: Elvis Costello - "Welcome to the Working Week"

It's Monday morning, I'm exhausted, and I may be working from open 'til close today. I apologize if you were expecting 500 words! I think the song speaks for itself.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

November 23, 2008: The Hightower Brothers - "Finally Made It In"

I thought I knew a lot about music when I started working at Oar Folkjokeopus in September of 1999. It did not take long for me to realize how wrong I was. There were entire worlds beyond the punk and indie rock that I weaned myself on, and everyday I found myself completely intimidated by the knowledge of my new boss Mark Trehus.

Nearly every day, Mark's control over the store stereo would introduce me not only to artists that I wasn't familiar with, but entire genres that I had no prior interest in knowing. One of those genres was black Southern gospel.

One day during my first month on the job, local comedian and TV pitchman Fancy Ray McCloney, a regular customer and gospel and soul fanatic, was visiting Mark. I was checking in an order from a cutout distributor, and had just checked in two copies of The Best of The Hightower Brothers on Nashboro Records. Mark shouted, "Ray! Do you know the Hightower Brothers?" He cracked open one of the CDs and threw it on the stereo. "Finally Made It In" was the first track. Fancy Ray was lovin' it. Mark was lovin' it. Between the two of them, they snatched both copies of the CD that we brought into the store.

In the background, I was blown away. I realized that I had never given gospel music a fair shake before because I never knew it could be so raw, so primal. Not being very religious, I never saw much point. I had given too much credit to the subject matter, and not enough to the emotion. "Finally Made It In" is the song that changed that for me. You don't need to be religious, but if you don't feel something while listening to this, you should probably check your pulse.

This whole CD is great. Unfortunately, it's been out of print for several years now. You can probably find a used copy online for a reasonable price -- far more affordable than some of their original Nashboro sides, anyway.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

November 22, 2008: Superchunk - "Driveway to Driveway"

Superchunk was one of the holy "indie rock" bands of the '90s. They have also always been one of my favorites. After four years, three albums, and countless singles of noisy, perfect pop-punk, a funny thing happened to Superchunk in 1994. They grew up.

Singer/guitarist Mac McCaughan and bassist Laura Ballance, co-founders of the band and of their label Merge Records, broke up. The band played on... a little more polished, a little more focused, and sometimes a little slower. Foolish still contained its share of rock anthems, but its finest moment was a drunken ode to a regretful split.

"Driveway to Driveway" was one of the great songs of the decade. The video is pretty awesome, too.

Friday, November 21, 2008

November 21, 2008: Betty Davis - "If I'm In Luck I Might Get Picked Up"

The other day I called Bobbie Gentry's "Mississippi Delta" the funkiest song I had ever heard a white woman record. So, who is the funkiest woman to make a record, period? That would be the incredible Betty Davis.

Betty Davis, ex-wife of Miles, is credited with introducing her legendary husband to funk and rock, and personally introducing him to the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone. She laid the foundation for his jazz-fusion masterpiece Bitches Brew, and is widely speculated as being the subject in the album title.

"If I'm In Luck I Might Get Picked Up" leads off Betty's self-titled 1973 debut LP, which utilized Larry Graham and the rest of the Sly & The Family Stone rhythm section. As with all three of her albums, it was completely written and produced by Betty. Despite her star-studded supporting cast and background, the world was apparently not ready for Betty's controversial, sexually charged music and image in the early '70s, as none of her releases achieved anything more than cult-classic status at the time.

Last year, Light In the Attic Records reissued Betty's first two albums (Betty Davis and They Say I'm Different). The third, Nasty Gal, remains out of print. According to the Light In the Attic website at the time of reissues' release, Betty was broke on the streets of Pittsburgh. So, if you like what you're hearing, do her a favor and buy a record or two.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

November 20, 2008: The Clash - "The Magnificent Seven"

As we wrap up the first calendar week of The Greatest Song of the Day it seems like a fine time to celebrate my all-time favorite band, The Clash. Besides, seven days of this experiment... "The Magnificent Seven" ... neat trick, eh?

Corny tie-ins aside, "The Magnificent Seven" is an absolutely fascinating cut. The Clash was such a fearless band, never content with one sound. They were desperate to discover new music from all over the world and were always willing to let these new influences reshape their structure.

This was certainly the case when the band took up residence in Brooklyn in 1980 to start work on their everything-and-the-kitchen sink ("warts and all" is how Joe Strummer would later describe it) triple album Sandinista!. The Clash - especially Mick Jones - ended up immersing themselves in the city's burgeoning hip-hop culture. The Clash were always a socially conscious band, so it makes sense that, given the socially conscious nature of most early rap music, "The Magnificent Seven" would have a little bark to its bite. Strummer's fantastic anti-consumerism lyrics are would pushed this song from a fun historical footnote to a modern classic.

For more fun, check out this great performance on The Tom Snyder Show.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

November 19, 2008: Calexico - "Glowing Heart of the World"

With Calexico playing Minneapolis this coming Saturday, I was going to wait until the weekend to write about them, but I'm learning quickly that sometimes one can simply not control the Greatest Song of the Day. I don't pick it, it picks itself.

"Glowing Heart of the World" was released on Calexico's all-instrumental tour-only EP 98-99 Road Map. The entire disc is fantastic, but "Glowing Heart" is easily the highlight. From the first time I heard the lush, soothing intro slowly building into the frenetic, Morricone-inspired gallop, I was hooked.

Rock instrumentals are not typically high-ranking on my listening agenda, but I always make an exception for Calexico. I don't mean to shortchange Calexico frontman Joey Burns' skills as a singer and songwriter, as he is one of my favorites in both departments, but Calexico's instrumentals, like great soundtracks, take me to a wonderful new place with each listen.

Calexico is performing at the Fine Line on Saturday, November 22. I highly recommend checking them out. They are, without a doubt, one of the finest live bands I have ever seen.

I found this live version of "Glowing Heart of the World" on Youtube. It's credited as "The Ride (Pt. II)," but it is actually "Glowing Heart."

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

November 18, 2008: Bobbie Gentry - "Mississippi Delta"

Now here is a tune that could carry the "Greatest Song of the Day" banner on any day. I have never attempted to make a list of my top ten favorite songs of all-time. No... that would be nearly impossible. However, if I were ambitious enough to give it a shot, there's no way in hell that "Mississippi Delta" misses the cut.

"Mississippi Delta" was the first single that Bobbie Gentry released for Capitol Records in 1967. However, it was the b-side to that 45 - the classic ballad "Ode to Billie Joe" - that became the iconic megahit.

Of course most know Bobbie Gentry for "Ode to Billie Joe," for being one of the first female country musicians to write and play her own material, and for having completely disappeared from the public eye about thirty years ago. The problem I have is that she tends to get pigeonholed as a country singer. She was so much more. She was just as much a soul singer, a folk singer, and a swamp rocker as she was a country singer. There is no greater evidence that I can present than "Mississippi Delta." Recorded 41 years ago, to my ears it remains the funkiest thing a white woman has ever put on wax.

It is with great excitement that I give you today's Greatest Song of the Day, courtesy of the incomparable Ms. Gentry.

Monday, November 17, 2008

November 17, 2008: The Easybeats - "Friday On My Mind"

How was your weekend? Glad to be back at work? I think '60s Australian legends The Easybeats speak for all of us:

"Monday I have Friday on my mind."

Sunday, November 16, 2008

November 16, 2008: Drive-By Truckers - "Heathens"

Today, I will meet Patterson Hood. I guess you could call him the "frontman" of the Drive-By Truckers. He founded the band with Mike Cooley a dozen years ago. While both serve as singers and songwriters in the band, Cooley tends to come off as intensely private, possibly with a bit of a mean streak. Patterson is the approachable one. He's the guy who does all the interviews, who stands in the middle of the stage at the shows, who interacts with the audience, and he's the guy who always has a big ol' grin on his face.

During the three-album run of Decoration Day, The Dirty South, and A Blessing In a Curse, which say the addition of Jason Isbell to the Truckers' three-pronged singer/songwriter attack alongside Hood and Cooley, a pretty solid argument could be made that Hood was only the third best singer/songwriter in his own band. Perhaps that's because while Isbell and Cooley have been consistently great, Hood has taken more chances in his songwriting. Sometimes he falls flat, but usually he hits it... and good lord, he knows how to knock it out of the park.

One such case is "Heathens," from my favorite Drive-By Truckers album, Decoration Day. I don't know if it was the arrival of the prodigiously talented Isbell as a third songwriter in the band, or if it was some of the personal issues in his life spilling out onto record, but Patterson definitely stepped up his songwriting game on the fourth Truckers LP. His songs on that album ("Sinkhole," "My Sweet Annette," and "Something's Gotta Give Pretty Soon" also among them) represented the most personal collection he had put forth to date. With the same thing happening from both Cooley and Isbell, everything came together for a flawless album.

The thing I love most about Patterson Hood is the persona he projects. Watching him perform and listening to him sing, you can tell that this is a man whose life was saved by rock and roll. His love of rock mythology may occasionally border on schmaltzy, but it is always sincere. I can't help but love a guy who appears to be having so much fun.

Anyway, Patterson is giving a solo in-store performance at 2 PM today at Treehouse Records, sandwiched between a couple of sold out Drive-By Truckers shows with The Hold Steady at First Avenue. Of all the songs he's written, "Heathens" is probably my favorite. Therefore, it is today's Greatest Song of the Day.