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.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

November 15, 2008: Homer Banks - "A Lot of Love"

I first came across Homer Banks' "A Lot of Love" as a standout track on the excellent Kent's Cellar of Soul compilation CD. Instantly, it was one of my all time favorite soul burners. For about two years, this song went on just about every mix tape I made. I tracked down the original Minit 45 on eBay, and spin it at nearly all of my DJ gigs. With the funky, propulsive opening riff giving way to the majestic horns, and Homer's great voice carrying the tune all the way through, it's a damn shame this was never a massive hit.

According to the liner notes on the Hooked By Love: The Best of Homer Banks CD (released by Stateside Records in the UK in 2005, compiling Banks' recorded output for Minit Records), Banks cut a demo for Stax Records with Steve Cropper, only to have it rejected by label owner Jim Stewart. Eventually, after releasing a slew of singles for Minit, Banks was hired by Stax, but as a writer rather than a recording artist.

Along with many others, I would love to hear his Stax demo, but I have to think that Stewart made the right decision. Banks penned some classic hits for artists such as Johnnie Taylor, Sam & Dave, and The Staple Singers, but his own recordings on Hooked By Love are rather uneven. "A Lot of Love," "60 Minutes Of Your Love," and "Hooked By Love" - sense a theme here? - are all stone classics. There are a few other highlights, but roughly half the disc is pretty mundane.

All that aside, the greatness of "A Lot of Love" is undeniable, and I am very happy to share it with you.

Friday, November 14, 2008

November 14, 2008: Neko Case & Her Boyfriends - "Lord, Don't Move the Mountain"

From a 2000 John Peel Session on BBC Radio 1 comes this goosebump-inducing take on the gospel standard "Lord, Don't Move the Mountain." Prior to the performance, Neko talks of learning the song from a Bessie Griffin album. I've never heard Bessie's version, but I've heard incarnations from Mahalia Jackson, Etta James, and the Five Blind Boys of Alabama. I'll put Ms. Case's version up against any of those esteemed artists. As much as I love Neko Case's own songs, I often think her greatest vocal moments happen when she lets it rip on gospel and soul covers, such as "John Saw That Number" from Fox Confessor Brings the Flood and "Runnin' Out of Fools" and "Look For Me (I'll Be Around)" from Blacklisted.

As a bonus, I decided to let the track run through John Peel's stunned reaction to the performance. It's always good to hear his voice. I still miss you, Mr. Peel.