“Save the Last Dance” – The Troggs. Lester Banks’ massive essay on The Troggs has almost more relevance now than it did when it was first published … it’s still a throw-down against mediocrity and playing it safe. Here The Troggs sing “Save the Last Dance”, turning it into a macho demand (most of their songs are macho demands) as opposed to a girlish request. Hot.
“Doncha’ Think It’s Time” (take 39) – Elvis Presley. Yes. Take 39. It was a tough one. This from the 1958 sessions for 50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong, with the famous album cover of Elvis in quadruplicate wearing his gold suit. I love this performance of his because it’s pleading, with that small note of brattiness that I always love in him.
“Think For Yourself” – Beatles (in mono – thank you, cousin Liam). The weird thing is that this song feels like it shouldn’t work. It has this weird structure: herky-jerky slow opening, and then sudden groovy twist-n-shout chorus. But the melding together of those two different sounds is so THEM and of course it totally works.
“Harbor Lights” (alternate take 3) – baby Elvis, in 1954. One of his very first recordings at Sun Records. He’s still drenched in The Ink Spots style. He’s crooning, and you keep waiting for him to let loose, which … he doesn’t, because he’s not there yet. He’d be there in about a hot 2 seconds.
“This Time Could Mean Good-bye” – Stevie Wonder. So sweet and sad and beautiful.
“8 Mile” – Eminem. So excellent, relentless, driving.
“Wang Dang Doodle” – the Willie Dixon Orchestra. That piano. There’s a party in that piano, a party that goes on forever.
“A Mess of Blues” – Hot aching rhythm & blues from Elvis Presley. On his great album Elvis is Back!, put out when he returned to the States after the army. The diversity of song styles is breathtaking, but the album also has an underlying theme and structure (which many of his other albums do not have, where every old B-side is thrown together to keep the public happy). Elvis is Back is superb. This is one of my favorite Elvis tracks ever. Listen to what he does with his voice on “I gotta get myself together.” Into his voice he puts all of the quivering loneliness of a guy on the verge of losing it. But it’s also funny, a goofy PARODY of said emotion. Elvis was so good at that balance.
“She Can Talk To Me” – The Beatles. What sounds like a rehearsal, working out the arrangements, harmonies. This is in the batch of stuff cousin Liam sent to me. I am not sure the context. Date is 1968. Anyone?
“Selfless, Cold and Composed” – Ben Folds Five. This is lovely and sad.
“He’s My Friend Until the End” (alternate take 2) – Sam Cooke and the Soul Stirrers. Gorgeous. Here is where you hear that crossover thing happening, where gospel starts to become indistinguishable from pop, doo-wop, rhythm & blues. Sam Cooke may have been a douche as a man, but boy is he a smooth performer, filled with the light of energy, creativity, and inspiration. You can hear the smile inside when he sings. It translates.
“Starting Over Again” – Dolly Parton. Let’s give a warm welcome to the first woman on this Shuffle. And what a woman!
“On the Street Where You Live” – Dean Martin. Back to the testosterone. I’m not complaining! Dino, no surprise, turns this ballad from My Fair Lady into a finger-snapping swing.
“California” – Rufus Wainwright. Any song that includes the lyrics “and my new grandma, Bea Arthur” gets my vote.
“Number Nine Train” – the great Dale Hawkins. Naturally, I must point you to Kim Morgan’s latest. Not to be missed.
“Dust Bowl Dance” – Mumford & Sons. I am not on the Mumford & Sons train, although I do own a couple of their songs. This is nice. I am not sure what the big deal is, though. I don’t mean that with hostility. I am baffled as to what they are tapping into that have made them so huge with people. Can someone explain it?
“Dreams” – The Cranberries. This band brings me back to such a time and such a place, so specific. Chicago, making new friends, staying out all night, rolling around in M.’s bed, and driving around in his jalopy having adventures at 3 a.m. involving kung fu movies, towed cars, scary pool halls, hickeys (so immature) and a conversation style that was a mixture of Dada and Borscht Belt. M., I salute you across the years. The Cranberries always seemed to be on the radio at that time.
“Lawdy Miss Clawdy” (take 3) – Elvis. Recorded in 1956, of course. It still doesn’t sound like anything else by anyone else ever.
“A Wedding in Cherokee County” – Randy Newman. Sometimes his music is too sad for me. It cracks me open like a walnut – it doesn’t even matter what the lyrics are. It’s the SOUND. Don’t get me wrong, I love it. But his stuff hurts.
“Workin’ Man Blues” – Merle Haggard. Sexy. Blues/country. It has that defensiveness so typical of a lot of country music, that vibe of “Let me list to you all of the facts of my life to show all you urban snobs what’s what”. Merle delivers it with great and cynical authenticity. The guitar! His voice!
“You Oughta Know” – Alanis Morissette. I’ve hung in there with Alanis, which is incredible considering I have this whole love/hate thing with her and her list-making and weirdo phraseology and New Age psychologizing. Not to mention the immaturity on display in this song. “And are you thinking of me when you fuck her?” Don’t ask questions if you don’t want to hear the Truth, Alanis.
“Take My Hand, Precious Lord” – Elvis getting all gospel, which somehow seems wrong coming on the tail-end of Alanis. This is extremely church-y. There’s an organ, everything is very soft and earnest, the chorus backing him up. Elvis means every word. It’s beautiful. I love Godly Elvis.
“Bring It On Home to Me” – Sam Cooke. Absolutely classic. Untouchable.
“Marguerita” – Elvis Presley, from the movie Fun in Acapulco, which actually lives up to its name. Not only that, but the soundtrack, filled with different Latin beats, is pretty high quality for the soundtracks (there’s a whole story behind it, which I won’t bore you with). Elvis singing tangos, and calypsos, and rhumbas, and I don’t know what, it’s all quite silly, but Elvis did silly really well. There was a blank-ness to him (from the start) that allowed him to be open to all influences in a way that is still extraordinary. To say he was a “sponge” does not even come close to what he had going on. He was accessible and vulnerable on some other plane. He sings the shit out of this song and he sounds pheNOMenal.
“Angel” (takes 1, 2) – Elvis Presley, for Follow That Dream, a movie I love. A FB pal of mine called it “Elvis’ Occupy movie”, which is hysterical and apt. “Angel” is a bit of a snooze-fest. Swoopy soprano supporting him. Millie Kirkham? I think so. She’s the one who did the funny background on “Blue Christmas”. Anyway, these are a couple of blown takes. I love the blown takes, and Elvis’ comments, and the musicians comments. You feel Elvis’ work ethic.
“Then We Are Decided” – from Jesus Christ Superstar. Jesus is dunzo.
“Sweet Caroline” – Elvis, live in Vegas. As a Red Sox fan, listening to Elvis do this song is a distinctly strange experience. Look up the footage of him doing this number. He really did move like a burlesque performer, and his 70s drummer, Ronnie Tutt, talks a lot about how his job was keeping his eye on Elvis and highlighting/underlining Elvis’ various wild movements. Tutt said it was like working in a strip joint, which is hysterical.
“Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey” – The Beatles. It still comes screaming out of the speakers at you. Ragingly authentic, almost scary.
“Sweet Emotion” – Aerosmith. I find these guys to be blatantly florid, and blatantly decadent. I kind of love them, even when I find some of their lyrics super offensive. I’m not one to get offended all that much by sexist lyrics in rock ‘n roll (if you aren’t gonna let it out in rock ‘n roll, then where will you let it out?) but sometimes Aerosmith’s lyrics are like a vision of rock star decadence and entitlement that, frankly, grosses me out.
“Tommy, Can You Hear Me?” – The Who. I’m so glad that this whole project exists. I’m so glad it happened.
“Hey Wow Yeah Yeah” – the great, the superb, Robbie Williams. This from Take the Crown, a recent album, and he already has a new one out – Slow down, Robbie, I can’t absorb it all!! But this is a great rocking dance number.
“I’ll Be Home on Christmas Day” (alternate take 9) – Elvis Presley. Great slow bluesy sad Christmas number. It’s not Elvis at his bluesiest (I’d put “Santa Claus is Back in Town” at the top of that list), but it’s pretty damn bluesy. It’s great.
“I Need Somebody to Lean On” – Elvis Presley, from Viva Las Vegas. A beautiful performance from him (not just vocally, but acting-wise). Peter Guralnick nails it. Now Guralnick doesn’t like the movies, so you have to take some of what he says with a grain of salt, but that’s why that piece from him is so spot on.
“Act Naturally” – The Beatles. I have such a vivid memory of doing karaoke with my O’Malley cousins (an experience and a half, look out, we all take over the joint whenever we do karaoke, and Bogart the mike for hours), I have no idea where, and cousin Liam sang this one. He took the mike and strolled around the joint, totally owning it.
“You Gave Me a Mountain” – Elvis Presley. One of his standbys during the 70s. He was unable to phone this one in, even when he was clearly ill and tired (as he was here. This is from that last-ish concert that ended up being televised, and while he still was able to pull out the stops – “My Way” – my God – you could just see the struggle. It’s outrageous.) But even with all of that, even with the illness and the struggle, he pours his entire self into this number. It calls him to do so, and he obeys the call. He always did. He always was an obedient soul: his ace-in-the-hole, his Achilles heel, and his abiding secret.
“My Generation” – Count Five. I love the stutter/hesitation built into the lyrics. This is an ear-grabber. A hit.
“Survival” – Eminem, from his latest (which I covered here). He calls it: this is an anthem. FIERCE. And the chorus! With the crowd shouting. It sounds political, like a mob about to get violent. Awesome.
“Shout It Out” – Elvis Presley, from Frankie and Johnny, a tired movie, filmed during the height of Elvis’ religious fanaticism, when he was actually considering becoming a monk of some kind, deeply entrenched in spiritual matters and praying and reading. The movie is so deeply silly it would drive me to want to join a cloistered community and take a vow of silence too.
“You Know, I Know, You Know” – Bleu. God, I love him. This is an achey ballad, old-school.
“Blue Moon of Kentucky” – Elvis, during his first performance with Scotty and Bill on the Louisiana Hayride. He had barely performed live at this point, and most of that were small local Memphis shows. And here, in this first broadcast, when it really counted, he emerges fully formed as a performer. He needed no gestation period. He arrived fully bloomed.
“Love Me Do” – The Beatles. So classic. It doesn’t get old.
“My List” – The Killers. Brandon Flowers has a great rock voice. Big, emotive. But maybe the songs aren’t good enough. Not sure. They don’t grab me, although I like them, and like him a lot.
“California Gurls” – Katy Perry, with Snoop Dogg. I don’t know what’s going on here.
“Light of a Clear Blue Morning” – Dolly Parton. Oh Dolly, you slay me. “Day-ayyyy”. It cuts to the quick. The song starts slow and almost sad, and then starts to MOVE, and the place this song goes! She can do anything with that voice of hers. Talk about always being yourself. You cannot manufacture authenticity like hers.
“Your Cheatin’ Heart” – Elvis Presley, one of his many orphan tracks. I don’t think he liked this one very much, although some of you Elvis experts may correct me. I like it though. He SWINGS that country tune.
“Something” – Jim Sturgess singing the Beatles song in the Julie Taymor movie Across the Universe, which I loved (much to my surprise). Thought it was great, and surprisingly moving. Great covers, too, and great imagining of the world created by Beatles songs.
“Jambalaya” – Hank Williams. That little yodel in his voice is ear-grabbingly sexy and charismatic. His personality comes through whatever he does.
“Padre” (take 2) – Elvis Presley. Maybe his best vocal effort. I mean, who can choose, right. But this is superb. Hard, this song is hard. The different takes show Elvis perfecting the more difficult passages, notes, trills. The song is a monster and could easily get away from him. He wrestles it to the ground so he owns it.
“Give It To Me (All Your Love)” – The Troggs. I feel like Lester Bangs still dominates how we talk about these guys. I can’t separate my thoughts from his. I love them and I love their sex-positive energy – if I can even call it that. Let’s just call it Happy Fucking for Everyone music.
“Hand In my Pocket” – Alanis Morissette. Alanis, try to write a song that is not a list. Just try. Also, really? What it all comes down to is everything’s going to be fine? Tell that to the folks in the Sudan.
“If I Were a Carpenter” – Johnny and June Carter Cash. The energy they create, the warmth, the intertwined emotions and experience … It’s amazing. What a pair.
“Dead In the Mornin'” – Bleu. A sad morbid song about death with a rocking beat and a chorus of girls screaming in the background. He is such a life force, even when he’s death-driven.
“Twelve Days of Christmas” – Jane Siberry and friends, from her lovely live album called “New York Trilogy” (I think? I’ve had it so long). It’s a Christmas concert she gave at the Bottom Line. It’s one of those weird albums that comes up on Shuffle too much (why does that happen?) But there’s so much good stuff here. You can feel the good-spirited vibe in that small club.
“Bridge Over Troubled Water” – Elvis, from That’s the Way It Is. I can’t imagine how Paul Simon must have felt hearing Elvis cover this. It’s beautiful and simple. Elvis wasn’t a big embellisher. Hell, he wasn’t a big “interpreter” either. He didn’t have to put his “spin” on anything because the mere fact of him singing anything became its own spin. In fact, he was so influenced by how others sang that his producer pals would keep the demos away from him. Elvis would hear a demo song, fall in love with it, and then just want to do exactly what he heard on the demo. And, because he was who he was, his sheer force of personality and belief would then wipe out the memory of the original. He was just one of those rare people whose personality was so unique and so huge that the fact of him “showing up” was enough. So you hear him singing this song, and he’s not veering from the original, but the BELIEF he pours into every word … He pours new energy and life into the song merely by singing it.
“I Wouldn’t Dream of It” – Split Enz. This was the soundtrack to my freshman year in college.
“Santa Claus Is Back in Town” – Elvis. This is not the famous 1957 recorded version. This is from a rehearsal for Vegas, Elvis just messing around in the studio with his band. He goes so dirty on “You be a real good little girl” that he can’t keep a straight face. So even with Elvis, there was a line.
“I See a River” – the cast of Urinetown. So ridiculous, so awesome. A gospel song, yet singing about a river of … urine. My family went to see this show when it was first on Broadway and had a blast.
“Jet Lag” – Brendan Benson. One of my favorite songwriters/singers working today. He will always be on my radar. Forever.
“Back to Black” – Naya Rivera, from Glee, covering the great and tragic Amy Winehouse. Rivera can obviously sing, but without Winehouse’s sleazy dark energy, the song doesn’t pop. It needs to be dark, it needs to be sexy and dark. I miss Amy.
“We Will Rock You” – Robbie Williams, live at Knebworth, covering Queen to an absolutely massive crowd (the biggest crowd in England for a single concert ever – yes, EVER). I love that he did this song. The crowd sounds like an unruly mob, which, of course, they are.
“What’d I Say” – the ferocious Jerry Lee Lewis.
“The Green Leaves of Summer” – Nick Perito’s remake of the famous song from John Wayne’s The Alamo. Quentin Tarantino used this in Inglourious Basterds.
“Papa, Can You Hear Me?” – Babs, from Yentl. I always think of the story of her showing the film to Spielberg for his feedback. His response? “Don’t change a frame.” She didn’t.
“Big Bright Beautiful World” – Pat McCurdy, in a very nice pep-talk song that actually works if you listen to those lyrics.
“Steady As She Goes” – The Raconteurs. I love these guys. I love them individually and I love who they are together.
“Deep Water” – Seal. Well, why not tell everything. This reminds me of making out with a guy who was my ex-boyfriend at around 7 in the morning at his apartment in Boston. Coffee brewing. We had been up all night. I was flying out of Boston back to Los Angeles that morning and somehow we had re-connected via phone over the holiday, and we said, “Hey, let’s get together the night before you fly out – for drinks and talk about old times!” We did, with predictable results. It was nice closure. Gentle and sweet. So this comes on and I remember that pearly-aired early morning with him.
“Bitch Please II” – Eminem and Dr. Dre and others, from The Marshall Mathers LP. It’s got that sneaky sound so many of his songs around this time had: creepy minor-key sneakiness, upping the emotional intensity. They all sound like brats. It’s all peacock bullshit: “I am the baddest, I am so tough, you don’t want to fuck with me!” Okay, boys, okay, your penises are all huge, we get it! Thanks for sharing! But it’s catchy as hell!
“Brown Sugar” – The Rolling Stones. I defer to Glenn Kenny’s recent comment in a post on the script of 12 Years a Slave: “In any event, this may sound flip, but I defy anyone who sits through this movie to ever be able to comfortably listen to the Rolling Stones’ ‘Brown Sugar’ again any time soon.” Yup.
“Welcome to Burlesque” – Cher, from the awesome and super-fun Burlesque soundtrack. She sounds great, in true Cher form. She hasn’t sounded this great, this much herself, in years. I like when she goes up the octave. It’s such classic bullshit.
“Scandal” – Queen. This is from the late 80s, when rumors/scandal were swirling around different members of the band. Divorces, health problems (to completely understate the situation). Mercury wails this shit. I’m not crazy about the synthesizer sound here.
“Enough Space” – Foo Fighters, from their album The Colour and the Shape which so took over my life that I listened to it every single day for a year, maybe more. The same thing happened with The Eminem Show. And I still haven’t listened either of them “out”, the way I did with, say, Tori Amos’ Little Earthquakes, which I listened to so much in 1995 that I feel like I’m done with it. Not Colour and the Shape. Still a completely thrilling album.
“Tender Feeling” – Elvis Presley, from the Kissin’ Cousins soundtrack. Snoozefest, pal, but I imagine you already know.
“Sin City” – Everclear. This is really heavy for them, with a metal grinding going on in those guitars.
“Blue Moon” – Sha-Na-Na. Oh for God’s sake.
“Swimming Song” – Kate & Anna McGarrigle. Wonderful bluegrass feeling, a banjo, big harmony lines. This was included in the concert film in tribute to Kate McGarrigle, Sing Me the Songs That Say I Love You, directed by Lian Lunson (my review here).
“Lovely Ladies” – the cast of Les Miserables. I always think of my Internet pal JessicaR who said she loved this song when she was little, but was too innocent to know what the song was all about.
“Good Rockin’ Tonight” – Elvis Presley. It still leaps at you. HE leaps out at you. Guralnick makes the point somewhere that what the song is about, and what Elvis represented, was a rebellion, an anti-social energy, the youth culture doing their own thing and not caring what the grownups said. And here he is the Town Crier: “Have you heard the news?” But, interesting, the song also includes the lyrics “I won’t do you no harm.” The whole thing is presented as a good fun sexy party where no one will get burnt/hurt/destroyed. Hard to argue with the appeal of something like that.
“My Name Is” – Eminem. I still remember the ranks of blonde Eminem look-alikes streaming into the VMAs as some vision of a robotic Eminem-esque future. This is Slim Shady at his most obnoxious. “God sent me to piss the world off.” The hook, though, it’s a hell of a hook.
“Mercy Mister Percy” – the great Varetta Dillard. She’s got that great squeak on the edges of her voice. Rock and roll.
“Riot In Thunder Alley” – Edie Beram. Those drums. Those guitars. Makes you want to drive real fast. Blow your mind out so no thoughts are left.
“All I Want for Christmas Is You” – Michael Buble. I don’t care. I’m a fan. I know he’s a tool. I love him. And his duet with Robbie Williams on Robbie’s latest is FANTASTIC. However: nobody can sing this like the original, which is sheer Joy Bottled Up. Who can explain why something is magic? That original track is magic. He’s lovely here, and the song is great. But it’s missing the Mariah Magic.
“I’ll Get Over You” – Pat McCurdy. No comment.
“Love Me” – Buddy Holly. Why do I find him eerie? Just because he died so young? Probably. But that early death is impossible to remove from the context of Buddy Holly. His voice still cuts through all the extraneous bullshit of our culture. The freshness is still there, and maybe that’s part of the eeriness.
“Old Flames Can’t Hold a Candle To You” – Dolly Parton. Ouch, Dolly. Come on, cut it out.
“Paddy on the Railway” – The Dubliners. “Me corduroy britches I put on …” NERD. This is the music of my childhood, although we were more of a Clancy Brothers family. But The Dubliners were everywhere too. And the Chieftains.
“Johnny Feelgood” – a great rock song from the great Liz Phair.
“Love Will Come to You” – Indigo Girls. This one is a bit too loaded for me, a bit too intense. I drown in associations with a Love gone by and how heartbroken I was. This song validated how I felt, it expressed what I thought and felt. And so when I hear it, I don’t even hear the song. I just see myself in my late 20s, lying in bed, pressing my hand down onto my heart, hoping that that would ease the pain.
“Since U Been Gone” – Kelly Clarkson. Rockin’. I love how most of her best songs are like, “Puttin’ you in the rear view mirror where you belong, pal.”
“Rockin’ the Boogie” – Freddie Slack. How I love my couple of volumes of piano boogie boogie.
“She Came In Through the Bathroom Window” – The Beatles. I love the opening, the “Look out!” Launches you right into the world of the song. Look out, here she comes!
“Any Way You Want It / Lovin’ Touchin’ Squeezin'” – the cast of Glee. This is excellent, lots of voices.
“Memories Are Made of This” – Dean Martin. God, who is smoother. I love the background guys, too. Dino just swoops around them, easy, smooth, sexy.
“Harbor Lights” – The Platters. With the crazy fog-horn in the opening. So dramatic!
“Someday We’ll Look Back” – Merle Haggard. Yeah. Someday. I’m not counting the minutes, Merle, but I’ll take your word for it. And that one tiny minor note on the word “come” in “If we both pull together, tomorrow’s sure to come” … ACHE. In that one tiny minor note, we hear how tough the journey is going to be.
“The Price of Love” – The Everly Brothers. Hot.