Saturday, January 31, 2009

January 31, 2009: La Peste - "Better Off Dead"

Toward the end of my DJ gigs, while I'm flipping through the records that I brought but have not yet played, I will usually find that I don't have enough time left to play everything I want. In most cases, I simply never found the perfect place in the set to slide in the particular song that I planned on rocking.

The best example from Friday night is the classic single of the short-lived '70s Boston punk band La Peste.

Friday, January 30, 2009

January 30, 2009: Rocket From the Crypt - "Guilt Free"

Tonight is my monthy DJ night at the King and I Thai, and given the kick I was on earlier this week, I have decided that I'm going to devote at least an hour of tonight's set to my favorite '90s indie rock.

Therefore, what better choice for Greatest Song of the Day than the band who inspired me to get a tattoo of their logo on my leg the week of my 18th birthday?

Tonight's music runs from 10 PM until 2 AM. If you're in the Twin Cities and looking for a cool place to hang out tonight, please stop by!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

January 29, 2009: The Exploding Hearts - "I'm a Pretender"

The Exploding Hearts' debut album Guitar Romantic came out in early 2003. I was in love. I was listening almost exclusively to The Jam, Buzzcocks, early Elvis Costello, and The Only Ones at the time, and was blown away by this band of early twenty-somethings who had absolutely nailed the excitement and catchiness of that late '70s punk/power-pop sound.

Three months later, the rest of the world knew about the Exploding Hearts, but mostly through the most horrible possible circumstance. Reportedly on the way home to Portland from a showcase performance for Lookout Records, their van flipped near Eugene, Oregon. Three of the four Exploding Hearts died.

Great career move, though. The CD, which had been collecting dust for three months as my "employee pick" at Treehouse, became impossible to keep in stock. The vinyl was originally released only on a German label called Screaming Apple Records. I was so obsessed with the album that I purchased the only copy I could find on for about $35, before the accident. After the tragedy, I saw copies going on ebay for $300 each. I never sold mine, and it has now been reissued on vinyl domestically. One of those domestic reissues came in used to the store on Wednesday, prompting me to throw it on the turntable. I probably had not listened to the album for about a year. Still great.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

January 28, 2009: Crooked Fingers - "Destroyer"

Wednesday's song is dedicated to my puppy Sophie, who decided that she was going to spend her morning eating our kitchen floor. Bad girl!


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

January 27, 2009: Joy Division - "Interzone"

Sometimes a song will randomly pop into my head in the morning and stay there all day. On those days, I don't question it... I call it the Greatest Song of the Day.

Monday, January 26, 2009

January 26, 2009: Kurtis Blow - "The Breaks"

I lost my iPod on Saturday. I think it fell out of my jacket pocket at some point. It probably landed in the snow somewhere. I didn't notice it was gone until Sunday afternoon, and I started freaking out.

I still haven't found it, and it sucks because I've only had it for a few months and I can't afford to keep losing expensive toys. I don't know, maybe God is trying to tell me that all this fancy new technology is still no substitute for listening to an album on a kickass stereo.

Anyway, I stomped around for a while. I was in a bad mood for a while. Then I accepted there was nothing more I could do. Maybe it will turn up, but it's probably gone and there's nothing I can do. It's just a thing. An expensive thing, but just a thing.

These are the breaks.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

January 25, 2009: Shudder to Think - "Red House"

Today's song is sort of a sequel to yesterday's Jawbox selection, continuing my '90s rock nostalgia weekend. As I'm sure many do, I closely associate Shudder to Think and Jawbox. After all, they were the only two bands to have ever left Dischord Records for a major label. Plus, original Jawbox drummer Adam Wade wound up with Shudder to Think after leaving the former.

While Jawbox's bombastic and fairly straight-forward sound easily appealed to my teenage sensibilities, though, Shudder to Think was a real challenge. I bought their albums because I bought everything that was on Dischord, and because I had some influential older friends who sang their praises. Their abstract post-rock riffs combined with frontman Craig Wedren's eccentric and theatrical vocals were jarring, to say the least.

I tried very hard to convince myself of their greatness, but I don't think I bought it until I finally saw them live. That was about 15 years ago. Wedren had a shaved-head, black goatee, and leather pants, and was singing this music to a pretty masculine crowd. I bought a t-shirt there, that I still have and occasionally wear. Shudder to Think was a gateway for my acceptance and eventual love of a lot of music that leaned on the adventurous side of the rock pendulum. While they certainly had their share of rabid fans, it's unfortunate that their name rarely seems to surface these days.

<a href="">Shudder To Think - Red House</a>

Saturday, January 24, 2009

January 24, 2009: Jawbox - "Savory"

I have been thinking about devoting one of my future DJ nights to '90s indie rock. After all, that's the music that got me through those trying teenage years. It's kind of funny how as I've gotten older and have grown increasingly bored with new music, and have thus found excitement in discovering music from the '60s and '70s and earlier, I have also managed to lose touch with my own musical roots.

For me, any conversation on '90s indie rock has to include Jawbox. "Savory" was their signature song and it would definitely be on the list of my 10 or 15 favorite songs of the decade, if I were to make such a list.

Friday, January 23, 2009

January 23, 2009: The Dexateens - "Red Dust Rising"

Sorry for the late post tonight. It was a Heart of a Champion-oriented evening for me. After a game of boot hockey, I headed down to the 7th Street Entry to catch The Evening Rig. After the show, I was talking about all sorts of stuff with Brian from Chooglin'. One of the things we talked about was the awesomeness of The Dexateens.

One of the releases I have slated for this year is a split single between The Dexateens and Chooglin', and I can't wait to hear what these boys give us. They're from Tuscaloosa, Alabama. If anyone wants to ask me who the most underrated band in the country is (go ahead... ask me), I'm gonna say The Dexateens.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

January 22, 2009: The Undertones - "Teenage Kicks"

Not much to say about this one, except that it's one of my all-time favorites and one of the greatest pop songs ever composed.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

January 21, 2009: Nina Simone - "Feeling Good"

Sorry, I just can't shake the good vibes.

As for the accompanying video, it's a promo video from season four of Six Feet Under. It had nothing to do with my choice for Song of the Day, but I found it when scouring for a video, and now I feel ever better! (And, of course, I now crave another run of Six Feet Under).

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

January 20, 2009: Steve Earle - "The Revolution Starts Now"

I have waited so long for this day. Now that it is here, I am overcome with emotion. I worry that my expectations are too high. I try to remind myself that no single man can change everything. We all must be the solution. We all must do our part. I will try to do mine. For I am proud to be an American.

Monday, January 19, 2009

January 19, 2009: Public Enemy - "By the Time I Get to Arizona"

Chuck D will always speak his mind, and I love him for it. Former Arizona governor Fife Symington took office in 1991 and refused to recognize Martin Luther King Day as an official holiday. So, Public Enemy wrote a protest song and made a video with some not-so-subtle depictions of an assassination orchestration aimed at the governor. Hardly in the spirit of Dr. King, but hey... Chuck was fired up.

All irony aside, "By the Time I Get to Arizona" is a great song. It's a totally dope beat built on a Mandrill sample and Chuck D's flow is in top form.

Happy birthday, Dr. King. Thank you for your dream. Thank you for so much.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

January 18, 2009: The Baseball Project - "Gratitude (For Curt Flood)"

Today would have been Curt Flood's 71st birthday.

I had long been fascinated with Flood's story, but did not fully comprehend it until I started reading Brad Snyder's biography A Well-Paid Slave: Curt Flood's Fight for Free Agency in Professional Sports.

In a nutshell, until 1975 Major League Baseball's reserve clause tied ballplayers to the teams that originally drafted or sign them. They could be traded at will by the teams, but could not leave on their own as long as the team offered them a contract. When Flood was traded by the St. Louis Cardinals to the Philadelphia Phillies following the 1969 season, he received a $100,000 contract "offer" from the Phillies - extremely generous for the era. He refused to sign it. As one of the elite ballplayers of the '60s, he believed that after his contract had expired he should have the freedom of any other American - to work for and live where he choosed.

Flood ultimately sued Major League Baseball over the reserve clause, charging that it violated federal antitrust laws. At the peak of his career, the three-time All Star and seven-time Gold Glove Winner sat out the entire 1970 season as the case went to the Supreme Court. He lost the case, but laid the groundwork for the overthrow of the reserve clause five years later.

Now, onto the Baseball Project. They are an all-star band made up of Steve Wynn (The Dream Syndicate), Scott McCaughey (The Minus 5, Young Fresh Fellows), Peter Buck (R.E.M.), and Linda Pitmon. All the songs are about our national pasttime.

As someone who's passion for music is exceeded only by my obsession with baseball, I was skeptical. I was pleasantly surprised when I listened to it, though. The songs are sharp, funny, even educational. Most importantly to me, they were accurate. These folks know their baseball.

My favorite cut on the album is "Gratitude (For Curt Flood)," as much a diatribe against the selfishness of the modern athlete as it is a tribute to Flood.

Gratitude (For Curt Flood) - The Baseball Project
Become a fan of Curt Flood on Facebook! (Yeah, I created the page)

Saturday, January 17, 2009

January 17, 2009: The Four Tops - "Standing In the Shadows of Love"

It's my favorite Four Tops song, and one of my very favorite Motown songs. It randomly got stuck in my head early this afternoon, and stayed there all day.

Friday, January 16, 2009

January 16, 2009: Solomon Burke - "Flesh and Blood"

Earlier this decade, there was sort of a mini-revolution of R&B legends making "back to basics," old-school type albums. At the forefront, was Solomon Burke's 2002 album Don't Give Up On Me on Epitaph/Fat Possum. Produced by Joe Henry, it featured new recordings of the "king of rock and soul" on songs written by the likes of some guys named Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Brian Wilson, Van Morrison, Elvis Costello, and Dan Penn, among others.

The album won a Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues Album, and kickstarted a resurgence of interest in King Solomon, as well as a second career for Henry as a producer-for-hire for soul icons. While Henry's following production endeavors felt, frankly, nothing more than masturbatory, and Solomon's future releases suffered from inferior material and production, there was undeniable magic taking place on Don't Give Up On Me.

It's a tough call, but if I had to choose, my choice for the best cut on the album - even amongst all those songwriting luminaries - would be the Joe Henry-penned "Flesh and Blood."

Thursday, January 15, 2009

January 15, 2009: The Gun Club - "Hearts"

One of the great feelings in discovering music is when something lives up to the hype.

Remember the old days (which, for me, I mean the late 90's), when we didn't have Youtube, Myspace, or iTunes to instantly check out something that we were curious about? For the most part, we still had to hear it from a friend or roll the dice and buy it. The latter is difficult for a 21 year old without much disposable income. Therefore, a huge perk when I started working behind the counter at Oar Folkjokeopus in 1999 was the sheer volume of music I had access to. Over those first few months on the job, my brain was frying with overstimulation from all the new music I was processing. Not only was my boss Mark turning me on to things I had never even heard of before on a near-daily basis, but I was also getting a chance to check out legendary albums and artists who I simply had not the opportunity to hear.

One such album was The Gun Club's Fire of Love. The debut album from Jeffrey Lee Pierce and company is widely heralded for it's meshing of punk, blues, and glam. It was released in 1981. I heard it in 1999. My expectations were high, but were ultimately exceeded. For nearly ten years now, I've been able to count it as one of my "desert island" albums.

For some reason, though, as much as I loved Fire of Love, I didn't bother digging any deeper into The Gun Club's catalog. Actually, I take that back. There were a couple of reasons. For one, I had been told by numerous sources that the rest of the catalog was not anything special. And for another, I believe that most of the catalog was out of print at the time, making it less accessible to me.

Because of all this, when I saw the fantastic, short-lived Minneapolis band Little Dirt (who's one EP is still available on Heart of a Champion!) cover "Hearts" around 2003 or 2004, I had no idea it was a cover. (That's always an embarrassing moment, too... when you tell your friend's band, "Great show! That last song in particular was fantastic!" "Oh... thanks... yeah, that's a cover.")

And that's my convoluted way of getting to today's Song of the Day. Despite the fact that Fire of Love is their masterpiece, and one of the greatest albums ever, Jeffrey Lee Pierce and The Gun Club did have great moments throughout their history. "Hearts" is one of them.

Speaking of hearts, I would like to thank everyone who wrote me after last Friday's story of my dad's surgery. I'm sorry that I didn't write you all back individually, but your thoughts meant so much to me. I visited him today in the hospital. He was in good spirits, felt pretty good, and was in the middle of some physical therapy exercises when I arrived. If everything goes as planned, he should be on the way home around noon on Friday the 16th.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

January 14, 2009: Spoon - "Everything Hits at Once"

I can simply not think of a more appropriate song for today's Song of the Day.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

January 13, 2009: Wipers - "Over the Edge"

Portland, Oregon's Wipers, led by Greg Sage, were one of America's greatest punk bands. Ridiculously influential, it's sad they don't seem to get the accolades they deserve.

"Over the Edge" is the title track of their third LP, from 1983. It is currently available as part of the 3 CD Wipers box set on Sage's own Zeno Records. It compiles the first three classic albums and is loaded with bonus tracks (singles, alternate takes, demo recordings, etc.). Get it.

Monday, January 12, 2009

January 12, 2009: Portastatic - "I Wanna Know Girls"

Portastatic began as a solo side project of Superchunk frontman Mac McCaughan in the early '90s. Early releases were essentially lo-fi, four-track recordings of would-be Superchunk songs. Through the rest of the decade, Portastatic evolved as a forum for McCaughan to experiment with bossa nova, tropicalia, and film scores.

Eventually, as Superchunk settled down, Portastatic became a full-band. The three big "rock sounding" albums are all great - and definitely some of the most underrated of this decade - but the best is 2005's Bright Ideas.

January 11, 2009: Sister Rosetta Tharpe - "Didn't It Rain"

I've had the last three days off from work, but I can only recall a couple examples of feeling so exhausted in my entire life. It's back to work on Monday, and then only one day off (Thursday) over the next ten. Fun. When it rains, it pours.

This song always makes me feel good, though, and the video is amazing.

January 10, 2009: Prince - "Let's Go Crazy"

Maria and I adore our friends Steve and Anna, but with the emotional roller-coaster we had been on over the previous 36 hours or so, we admittedly had a hard time generating excitement and energy for their wedding on Saturday afternoon.

We made it, though (not that it was ever in question), and it was awesome. Some weddings are just plain FUN, and this was one of those. As with our wedding, "Let's Go Crazy" was the second song of the dance, and the first one where all the guests were invited on to the floor. The dancing did not stop until we were nudged out of the place, well past closing time.

Congratulations, Steve and Anna! Thanks for having us!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

January 9, 2009: Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros - "Silver and Gold"

The late post for Friday's song of the day is a result of one of the more emotionally draining weekends of my life.

I set my alarm for 5:10 AM on Friday morning. If you know me, you're probably aware that my normal bedtime falls somewhere between 3 and 4 AM. I think I somehow made it to sleep a little before midnight on Thursday night, though. Maria and I ventured into the dark, cold morning on our way to North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale. We made our way into the building and up to the second floor, where we met my brother Jim who led us to the rest of the family. His fiancee Carissa and my parents were in a small room, my dad in a hospital gown, sitting up on a hospital gurney.

This was planned. A few months ago, following the results of an angiogram and after meeting with his doctor, Dad had made the decision to have triple-bypass surgery and a valve replacement on his heart. The blockage in three arteries was 70%, 80%, and 90%, respectively. In other words, he was a heart attack waiting to happen if he wasn't proactive.

My parents originally thought the surgery would take place in November, but eventually decided to push it back until after the holidays. Over the last couple of weeks, the immense reality started hitting all of us. We had been reassured by so many friends that this was routine stuff these days. Like changing a tire, as far as medical technology has come. Still, this was a big deal. This was scary. And Dad was scared. I've never seen him scared in my life, but I could tell he was terrified.

But, there we were at the hospital, before dawn on Friday morning. We gave hugs, told him we loved him, and tearfully wished him well. Then we were excused into the waiting room. Over the next seven hours, we played games, read magzines, newspapers, and books, and visited the hospital cafeteria for breakfast and lunch. Maria and I took a break around 10:00 to drive home to let our puppy out. We drove back to the hospital and waited some more. Finally, around 2 PM, the surgeon came out to tell us the operation was a success. They were stitching him up and transferring him to intensive care. He was still sedated, but we would be able to see him within the hour. While Jim and Carissa left to let their dog out, Mom, Maria, and I made our way to the ICU, where we saw Dad resting. Tubes, hoses, and bandages everywhere, but he was breathing. That's all he wanted and all we wanted.

We left and drove home to get our pup. We brought her back to my parents' house so the dogs, who had been locked up all day, could play together. We ordered dinner, ate, and drove back to the hospital. When we returned, around 6:30, he was awake intermittently. He couldn't talk, but could make hand gestures. Mom and Carissa told him how great he looked. He flipped 'em the bird. That was the highlight of my day, and the happiest middle finger I've seen in my entire life!

He's improved a little each day. We all stayed at my parents' house on Friday night. He called around 7:30 on Saturday morning to tell my mom to bring him some Diet Coke when we came in. There are still a few hurdles that I don't need to get into, and lots of work ahead for him, but it looks like we're through the hardest part. Thank God. I mean that.

As for "Silver and Gold," it just felt comforting that day. I had my iPod with me, and I listened to this song several times. It was recorded just weeks before Joe Strummer died of a surprise heart attack. It was released a few months after his death, the closing track on his incredible final album Streetcore. It's a reminder that none of us know how much time we have, and maybe we need these little (or big) reminders to help us live as best we can.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

January 8, 2009: James Booker - "Junco Partner"

Long day today, and an even longer one is in store for tomorrow, so I don't feel much like writing. Click the link to read the fascinating and tragic story of the incredible James Booker.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

January 7, 2009: Elvis Costello & The Attractions - "From a Whisper to a Scream"

Maria gave me an iHome alarm clock for Christmas, and it's awesome. It's an ipod speaker dock/clock/radio. It sounds really great, and it's awesome to wake up to music again. I keep my iPod on shuffle play.

Today, I woke up to "From a Whisper to a Scream" - a very underrated rocker from Trust, Elvis' very underrated fifth album. It features guest vocals from Glenn Tilbrook of Squeeze, and of course features the superb rhythm section of the Attractions (I'll be damned if Bruce Thomas isn't one of my absolute favorite rock bass players).

It was stuck in my head all day long, making it an easy choice for Song of the Day.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

January 6, 2009: The Stooges - "T.V. Eye"

Ron Asheton, the legendary founding guitarist of the Stooges, was found dead in his Ann Arbor, Michigan home this morning at the age of 60. He was one of the true godfathers of punk rock. Rest in peace, sir.

Monday, January 5, 2009

January 5, 2009: The Kinks - "Till the End of the Day"

Today is my wife's first day back at work after a two-week holiday break, and she requested that the song of the day be something fun, to help her get through.

I think one of my favorite songs from one of my favorite band ought to do the trick.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

January 4, 2009: The Misfits - "Where Eagles Dare"

Nice game, Vikings.

I think Donovan McNabb and Brian Westbrook should adopt this as their fight song. If they do, I'll be pulling for them all the way to the Super Bowl.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

January 3, 2009: Unwound - "Corpse Pose"

This is a fitting song of the day. I overslept this morning. I made it to work on time, but didn't have a chance to eat breakfast and, most importantly, had no coffee until my co-worker Ian arrived at the store around 1:00. Plus, I'm really sore from the first Friday Night Boot Hockey game of the season.

Friday, January 2, 2009

January 2, 2009: Bonnie "Prince" Billy - "You Want That Picture"

Ask anybody who knows me well and they'll admit that I can be one stubborn bastard when I wanna be.

For years -- YEARS, I tell you! -- I was a Will Oldham hater. With absolutely no basis, I had made up my mind that he was pretentious and insincere. I never bothered to listen to his records closely because I could somehow tell that it wasn't the genuine article.

Over the last couple years, though, I have finally discovered the error of my ways. Sometimes people can make up their mind about something... anything... and it's much more work to change their mind than it ever was to make up that mind in the first place. For me, I can't even remember when or where the Oldham hate started. I probably heard somebody playing some Palace record and thought to myself, "This guy thinks he's the next Johnny Cash or Bob Dylan, but he's not, so I think he's full of shit." And that flippant, instantaneous reaction blocked me from several years of great music from Palace/Will Oldham/Bonnie "Prince" Billy.

Now that I've come around, I can quite comfortably recommend his newest album, Lie Down In the Light. "You Want That Picture" is the standout cut on the album, a gorgeous duet with Ashley Webber (formerly of Canadian indie band The Organ).

Thursday, January 1, 2009

January 1, 2009: Steve Earle - "Hard-Core Troubadour"

Despite the fact that he did not release an album in 2008, Steve Earle was probably the artist to whom I listened to most over the year. I have been a fan for several years, but it was this past year that I really dove in to his entire catalog.

I'm sure that the political fever of the summer (and the content of Earle's recent work) and my addiction to The Wire were gateways, but it was the greatness of the music and the songs that kept him on my stereo so frequently.

"Hard-Core Troubadour" is from Steve's 1996 album I Feel Alright, his second album following his prison release and newfound sobriety. The title of the song has become a moniker of sorts for Earle. And, damn... the song just rocks.