Tunes for Cruisin’ Playlist

September 20, 2012

We are in the car more than you think:

At an nationwide average drive-time of about 24.3 minutes, Americans now spend more than 100 hours a year commuting to work, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. So crank up the tunes and enjoy the ride!

Little Red Corvette/ Prince

Inspiration for the song hit as the musician napped in a pink Edsel, Prince notched his first Top Ten entry with one of the most sensual and frankly explicit hits ever to crack the charts. “Little Red Corvette,” a slow-burning funk-pop odyssey which is most definitely not about a sports car, is an after-dark masterpiece, aural soft porn rendered with the inextricable combination of perversity and sophistication which defines virtually all of his best work. Everything about the song is suggestive, from its moaning synthesizers to its bump-and-grind rhythm to the orgasmic squeals which punctuate Prince’s vocals; even the lyrical metaphors are so persuasive — in addition to cars, there are horses (Trojans, in fact, some of ’em used) — that it’s virtually impossible to discuss “Little Red Corvette” without lapsing into double entendres of one’s own. (Really, how else to describe the incendiary coda which closes the song but as a climax?) Making a brilliant case for innuendo as an end unto itself, “Little Red Corvette”‘s triumph is that even while the song — much like the body of its lusty heroine — is “just on the verge of being obscene,” it never succumbs to blatant tastelessness; even as an evocation of pure sexuality, it appeals to the imagination as much as the libido. Not just Prince’s first major hit single, “Little Red Corvette” may be his very best — only fitting that a song about staying power would have so much of its own.- All Music Guide

Mustang Sally/ Wilson Pickett

Wilson Pickett’s interpretation of Sir Mack Rice’s “Mustang Sally” quickly yielded the vocalist a career-defining side that ultimately climbed to the Top Ten R&B chart and into the Top 25 on the pop singles survey in December of 1966. Earlier in the year, Pickett had started working at Fame Recording Studios in Muscle Shoals, AL, instead of the Memphis, TN-based Stax Records facility that had turned out the smashes “In the Midnight Hour,” “Don’t Fight It,” and “634-5789.” His initial outing in Muscle Shoals scored him one of the largest titles of his career, the infectiously fun “Land of 1000 Dances.” For Pickett’s subsequent session, he returned to Alabama to cut what would become the exemplary Wicked Pickett (1966) long-player. “Mustang Sally”‘s bouncy groove instantly developed into the album’s focus track, with the vocalist supported by the Fame house band, whose membership included Chips Moman (guitar), Tommy Cogbill (bass), Roger Hawkins (drums), and Spooner Oldham (piano). Presumably, the horn section was once again supplied by the Stax crew, who had been in attendance for the earlier date as well. Although not as significant a crossover hit as “Land of 1000 Dances” or “In the Midnight Hour,” “Mustang Sally” provides another good example of how complementary the material, artist, and musicians had become. -All Music Guide

Drive my car/ Beatles

“Drive My Car” was one of the best numbers on the Beatles’ Rubber Soul album, one which saw both their musical and lyrical horizons visibly opening. Although John Lennon was in general ahead of Paul McCartney in expanding his lyrics in more ambitious and experimental directions, this story-song was principally the work of McCartney, with some assistance from his contractual songwriting partner. The verse is based around a funky two-chord groove which ascends to a higher level at the very end, a suitable bedrock for a commanding McCartney hard rock vocal. Far more surprising is the chorus, with its tortuous jazzy key changes, a quality reinforced by the bursts of jazz piano that follow the first two lines. While initially the song seems like the standard macho boasting of some guy showing off his car, it transpires that actually the girl in the song is leading the narrator on by half-hinting that she’ll let him be her chauffeur, and maybe be his lover too. That’s a subtle, one might say almost O. Henry-like, slant that was most likely totally beyond the reach of the usual Californian hot-rod act, or most other pop and rock singers for that matter. The most ironic touch, however, was applied when the Beatles merrily sang “beep beep” at the end of the chorus’ punch line: a nifty way of making nonsense words compliment the images and the sounds. An especially wiry guitar solo was a nice cap to the understated, faintly nutty satire of what was nonetheless a very good-natured tune. The best-known cover of “Drive My Car” — not one of Lennon-McCartney’s more frequently interpreted compositions — was by jazz singer Bobby McFerrin in the 1980s.-All Music Guide

Cars/ Gary Numan

A personal road-rage incident inspired the synth-pop hit. Perhaps the most iconic intro of the entire synth-pop era (in 2003, an auto manufacturer set a commercial to the instrumental opening of “Cars,” knowing that its target audience would get the reference immediately), the throbbing, repetitive synths of “Cars” are all most listeners know of Gary Numan, especially in the US, where it was the musician’s only Top 40 hit. Taken in the context of the album The Pleasure Principle, the deliberate isolation of Numan’s lyrics fits in perfectly with Numan’s overarching obsession with alienation and depersonalization. In the context of a four-minute pop single, however, “Cars” is a novelty about on a par with the five-minute edit of Kraftwerk’s “Autobahn” that was a minor hit in 1975; in other words, only about one step above Hot Butter’s “Popcorn.” That said, it was arguably the first true new wave hit single in the United States, and the song’s slightly odd structure (the song proper is over in about 90 seconds, with the rest of its running time devoted entirely to an extremely long fade-out) and crisply modern electronic sound set the stage for the Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me” a couple years later, and the early MTV cavalcade of new wave smashes that followed.-All Music Guide

Little Deuce Coupe/ Beach Boys

The Beach Boys’ biggest hit in the hot rod rock genre found their budding blend of up-tempo pop/rock and sweet vocal harmonies flowering into something truly special. The lyrics of “Little Deuce Coupe,” which Wilson penned with DJ and car enthusiast Roger Christian, are a simple but lovingly detailed ode to “the fastest set of wheels in town” that divide their time between listing this car’s attributes and making boastful asides about its prowess (“If it had a set of wings, man, I know she could fly”). The melody behind this car-crazy narrative utilizes a doo wop-inspired sense of swing to create a song that cruises in jaunty fashion during the verses but soars into the stratosphere on its harmony-drenched chorus. The Beach Boys’ recording enhances the swing of the melody by building its foundation on a combination of boogie-woogie piano riffs and a pulsing bass line that pushes it along in a gentle but insistent fashion. However, the best part of that recording is its vocal arrangement: wordless harmonies add an extra melodic punch to the verses and Mike Love’s bass vocal and Brian Wilson’s falsetto blend in a sublime fashion to drive the chorus home. The mix of clever songwriting and stylish production made “Little Deuce Coupe” a Top 20 hit for the Beach Boys and inspired covers by every hot rod rocker from Jan & Dean to the T-Bones. It also became a seemingly eternal part of the Beach Boys’ live set, proving “Little Deuce Coupe” is more than just another hot rod tune.-All Music Guide

Rocket 88/ Ike Turner

In 1991, after a great deal of debate, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame recognized this as the first Rock and Roll song ever recorded. Turner was in jail at the time for cocaine possession, so his daughter accepted the award. The song is about a car. The Oldsmobile “Rocket 88” came out in 1949 and was the fastest car on the road at the time. A small car with a big, overhead valve V8 engine, it was one of the first muscle cars and dominated NASCAR races in the ’50s. The car was advertised as having a V-8 “Rocket” engine, with the slogan, “Make a Date with a Rocket 88.” This song was produced by Sam Phillips, who formed Sun Records in 1952. Phillips later became famous for recording Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis.-songfacts.com
Black Limousine/ Rolling Stones
This song features one of Mick Jagger’s best harmonica performances. This is based on a song by Blues musician Jimmy Reed called “You Don’t Have To Go.” The song is about The Stones’ Rock and Roll lifestyle of women, alcohol, and limousines. This was first recorded at the Some Girls sessions in 1978. Ron Wood got a writing credit for this. It is one of the few Stones originals not credited only to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. According to Wood, the guitar riff was influenced by a Texas slide Blues guitarist named Hop Wilson, who recorded in the ’60s.-songfacts.com
First recorded in 1955, this version cracked Billboard’s Top 10. This song was originally written by Charlie Ryan. It was first recorded and released by Charlie Ryan and The Livingston Brothers in 1955. It tells the second half of the story started by the song Hot Rod Race, recorded in 1951 by Arkie Shibley and his Mountain Dew Boys, as referenced by the opening: “Have you heard this story of the Hot Rod Race, when Fords and Lincolns was settin’ the pace? That story is true, I’m here to say; I was drivin’ that Model A.” While the song tells of a race between a Lincoln and a Cadillac on the Grapevine grade in California, the actual location was on the Lewiston grade in Idaho.
The most iconic line from the song is: “Son, you’re gonna drive me to drinkin’ if you don’t stop drivin’ that Hot Rod Lincoln!”
Was there really a “hot-rod Lincoln?” Yes and no. Actually, it was a rebuilt car with the body of a Model “A” coupe set into the frame of a 1941 Lincoln, along with a “hopped-up” Lincoln engine block. However, at the time of this song’s writing, Ryan built a second car, this time with a chop-shop melding of a 1930 Model “A” Ford coupe and a wrecked 1948 Lincoln. It is this second restored car with which has Ryan toured.Both the songs “Hot Rod Lincoln” and “Hot Rod Race” are defining anthems of the hot rod community and 1950s car song culture. “Hot Rod Lincoln” has appeared in the soundtracks to The Beverley Hillbillies and MTV’s Beavis and Butthead.This was the only hit for Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, who were a County-Rock group formed at the University of Michigan. Commander Cody is lead singer and piano player George Frayne.-songfacts.com
The Cadillac Ranch is a collection of 10 Cadillacs buried hood-first in a wheat field near Amarillo, Texas. Visitors are allowed to add graffiti to the cars, which are considered works of art.
This is one of many early Springsteen songs featuring cars. Some others were “Thunder Road,” “Backstreets,” and “Racing In The Street.” Bruce used the Cadillac image again in 1984 on “Pink Cadillac.” Junior Johnson is mentioned in the second verse. He was a NASCAR racer in the ’50s and early ’60s before becoming a championship car owner. He won the second Daytona 500 in 1960 and was one of the first people to discover the drafting method of racing at the super speedways. Cars were very important growing up in New Jersey. Springsteen’s first car was a ’57 Chevy with orange flames painted on the hood.- songfacts.com
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Back to School Playlist

September 17, 2012

It’s always easier to do your homework while listening to some tunes, right? Here are a few suggestions….

Campus/ Vampire Weekend

Vampire Weekend started generating buzz in 2006 — not long after they formed — but their self-titled debut album didn’t arrive until early 2008. Vampire Weekend also has just a handful of songs that haven’t been floating around the ‘Net, which may disappoint the kind of people who like to post “First!” on message boards. This doesn’t make those songs any less charming, however — in fact, the band has spent the last year and a half making them even more charming, perfecting the culture collision of indie-, chamber-, and Afro-pop they call “Upper West Side Soweto” by making that unique hybrid of sounds feel completely effortless. “Campus” is another standout, with lines like “I see you walking across the campus…how am I supposed to pretend I never want to see you again?” throwing listeners into college life no matter what their age.- All Music Guide

Rock ‘N Roll High School/ Ramones

Considering that the Ramones did desire mainstream success and that they had a deep love for early-’60s pop/rock, it’s not surprising that they decided to shake loose the constrictions of their style by making an unabashed pop album, yet it was odd that Phil Spector produced End of the Century, because his painstaking working methods seemingly clashed with the Ramones’ instinctual approach. However, the Ramones were always more clever than they appeared, so the matching actually worked better than it could have. Spector’s detailed production helped bring “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School” and “Do You Remember Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio?” to life, yet it also kept some of the punkier numbers in check. Even so, End of the Century is more enjoyable than its predecessor, since the record has stronger material, and in retrospect, it’s one of their better records of the ’80s.

We’re going to be friends/ White Stripes

The White Stripes turn down the volume, allowing a brief respite from the stomping roots rock that dominates much of the duo’s outstanding third album, White Blood Cells, with the sweet acoustic ballad “We’re Going to Be Friends.” Armed only with an acoustic guitar, picking out a lilting chord progression and accompanied only by a soft time-keeping tape, Jack White takes a nostalgic look back at the innocence of school days with a surprisingly sensitive vocal as he expertly paints impressions of days past with deft economy, “Fall is here, hear the yell/Back to school, ring the bell/Brand new shoes, walking blues/Climb the fence, books and pens/I can tell we’re gonna be friends.” White beautifully captures the gentle excitement of making a new friend and of sharing the simple joys of discovery that are the essence of growing and ultimately become memories that make a lasting impression. The last verse expresses the feeling perfectly, as he softly quips, “Tonight I’ll dream while I’m in bed/When silly thoughts go through my head/About the bugs and alphabet/And when I wake tomorrow I’ll bet/That you and I will walk together again/’Cause I can tell we are gonna to be friends/Yeah, I can tell we’re are gonna be friends.”-All Music Guide

Kids/ Childish Gambino

In the time before this wonderful album named Camp existed, the “actors who rap” proposition would have been all red flags. Brian Austin Green, Mr. T., Joaquin Phoenix, and many others are on the “cons” list, while the “pros” would have been Drake (barely counts, unless Degrassi: The Next Generation was your thing) and maybe AVN award-winner Dirt Nasty. These were the horrible odds Community star and comedy writer Donald Glover was up against when he took the Internet’s Wu-Tang Name Generator to heart and became rapper Childish Gambino, but anyone who right-clicked on one of his 2010/2011 mixtapes can tell you, he beat those odds, and with Camp, indie rap fans won the Lotto.- All Music Guide

We rule the school/ Belle & Sebastian

Belle & Sebastian’s first album, Tigermilk, was initially pressed in a quantity of 1,000 on their own label, Electric Honey Recordings. The record was intended to be the end result of Stuart Murdoch’s music business school course, but it became an unexpected word-of-mouth sensation in England, and the LP quickly disappeared from shops. As a result, once the group’s second album, If You’re Feeling Sinister, became a hit, there were no copies of Tigermilk available for newly converted fans and it remained unheard by the majority of the group’s audience. Those who have heard it say it is quite similar stylistically to If You’re Feeling Sinister and the songs match that record’s high standard. Tigermilk was re-released in 1999 to the delight of the often cultish fans of Belle & Sebastian.

I love college/ Asher Roth

Sold as hip-hop’s Great White Dope, rapper Asher Roth (“The King of the Blumpkin”) came on the scene with the great “I Love College,” an infectious slacker anthem as simple as “I love college, I love drinkin’, I love women” and with a “Chug! Chug! Chug!” chant in the middle. A hilarious 18-minute freestyle on Tim Westwood’s radio show made him all the more lovable, but Asleep in the Bread Isle is an everyday suburban rap album, if there is such a thing. The promising “Fallin'” pulls the rudder up at the last moment, making one believe the rapper could have made a knockout debut if the meteoric rise of “I Love College” hadn’t hurried things along. -All Music Guide

Alphabet Lost and Found/ They Might Be Giants

They Might Be Giants have always had a flair for educational songs. More than a decade after its release, the refrain of “Why Does the Sun Shine” (“The sun is a mass of incandescent gas/A gigantic nuclear furnace”) still has a pesky way of lodging itself in the brain. And, as the band’s wonderful first children’s album, No!, demonstrated, They Might Be Giants’ music speaks to kids in a way that few other bands’ work can; they never sound like they’re talking (or singing) down to their smaller fans. Here Come the ABCs makes the most of the band’s ability to teach and reach children, and more than delivers on its promise to “learn ABCs the fun way!” This is still a They Might Be Giants album, though, and the band’s catchy melodies and smart wordplay haven’t been dumbed down. “Flying V,” with its charming, Vince Guaraldi-like pianos and images of migrating geese and electric guitars, is another of John Linnell’s seemingly effortless but brilliant songs, and “C Is for Conifers” offers an extra-credit lesson in botany as well as the alphabet.-All Music Guide

Be true to your school/ Beach Boys

The Beach Boys had two minor single hits — “California Dreamin'” and “Rock ‘N’ Roll To The Rescue” — back on Capitol Records in 1986, and to mark their 25th anniversary, the label assembled this two-record set, adding the new songs to yet another selection of old songs.-All Music Guide


Movie Soundtrack Playlist

September 5, 2012

Mombasa/ Hans Zimmer

His excellent work on director Christopher Nolan’s 2008 international blockbuster The Dark Knight, was disqualified for Oscar consideration due to too many cooks (composers) in the kitchen, a handicap that doesn’t apply to Nolan’s 2010 follow-up, Inception. Zimmer’s signature move, a four- to eight-chord round that builds from a subtle breeze to an F5 tornado, serves as the foundation for Inception’s dizzying score, and the addition of Smiths/Cribs guitarist Johnny Marr, who appears on eight of the twelve cuts, dutifully expands the layers of Zimmer’s melodies, much like the dream building that occurs onscreen.  It’s beautiful and heroic, unhinged and unspeakably melancholy, and the finest and most fully realized soundtrack this prolific composer has crafted to date. -All Music Guide

 

Jake’s First Flight/ James Horner

James Cameron’s film Avatar, to judge by its record-breaking commercial take, has managed to communicate with viewers on a basic level. Its story, even its critical defenders concede, is a mishmash of elements borrowed from a half-dozen earlier films, most notably Dances with Wolves, and the score by James Horner might be similarly charged. The segements relating to the Na’vi world, taken by themselves, are a uniquely unappetizing mixture of Debussy and Vaughan Williams; the scenes relating to the Earth’s military invasion are, like so many other battle scenes these days, near-pure Carl Orff . The technological scenes are not too far off from futuristic television scores of the sort that Horner and others have written, with lots of slinky strings and quartal harmonies. The thing is, all this isn’t a flaw, it’s a strong point.- All Music Guide
Theme from Jaws/John Williams
John Williams’ first film score to capture the imagination of the public, and the first hit movie score of the 1970s not to involve a love theme (à la Love Story), Jaws has been on CD for more than a decade, but this is the first release that really does it justice. The centerpiece of the music is the bump-bump-bump-bump theme associated with the movements (usually unseen) of the shark, which became so well known that it was used as an essential part of various comedy sketches in a multitude of media at the time (Williams himself quoted it comically in his scoring for Steven Spielberg’s 1941). It does reappear in numerous forms (many of them veiled) throughout the score, along with a handful of additional memorable musical phrases associated with Williams’ score, many involving the hunt for the shark.-All Music Guide
The moribund tree and the toad/ Javier Navarrete
Composer Javier Navarrete built the entire soundtrack for Guillermo del Toro’s Spanish fable Pan’s Labyrinth around a simple lullaby. Del Toro insisted that Navarrete’s entire score, much of which was omitted during editing, be included, and it’s a testament to the composer’s immersion into the project that nothing here could be construed as filler. Framed inside a waltz, “Long, Long Time Ago” sums up beautifully the imagination that permeates Del Toro’s masterful fairy tale. Navarrete fills each cavernous space with wonder, relying on harp, choirs, and deep strings to mirror a young girl’s descent into fantasy amidst a world intent on tearing itself apart.- All Music Guide
Hypomania/ Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
After winning an Oscar for Best Original Score for The Social Network , Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross re-team for the soundtrack of David Fincer’s American adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Reznor’s and Ross’ recorded score clocks in at over three hours, and is released in numerous configurations online and at retail, including as a $300 deluxe, signed, six-LP box set. Other than a strident cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song,” the score is moody, often restrained, and in its way, as disturbing as the film.-All Music Guide
Come away to the water/ Maroon 5
One of the biggest signs that the team bringing Suzanne Collins’ violent, riveting young adult book series The Hunger Games to the big screen was headed in the right direction was the choice of T-Bone Burnett as the soundtrack’s producer. The Hunger Games‘ story takes place in a post-apocalyptic North America reorganized into 12 districts that serve a decadent, corrupt capital and must sacrifice two children each year to a nationally televised fight to the death. Moody heroine Katniss Everdeen hails from coal-mining District 12, and there’s a strong Appalachian bent to steely laments. – All Music Guide
Kaw-Liga/Fred Rose & Hank Williams

By the time of Moonrise Kingdom’s release, the soundtracks to Wes Anderson films had become not exactly predictable, but certainly familiar to his fans: some British Invasion deep cuts here, some intricate, chamber pop-inspired score music there. Yet Anderson and his musical collaborators had already begun changing things up with the soundtrack to The Fantastic Mr. Fox, a trend that continues here. This may be the most typically filmic music for an Anderson movie yet, which, paradoxically, is Moonrise Kingdom’s biggest surprise. Hank Williams’ “Ramblin’ Man” and “Kaw-Liga” add the necessary rough ‘n’ tumble edges to the fugitive lovers’ adventures.- All Music Guide