Text © Robert Barry Francos
Images from the Internet
This tape was created for a very long drive from New York to Nova Scotia. It was the last tape I made before switching to mixed CDs. As always, I have tried to find the original release of the song as it appears on the tape, and if that’s not possible, a live version. However, much of the music I listen to is indie stuff, so it’s kind of hard to find.
Mary Lou Lord – His Indie World
This was off her first EP, arguably one of the strongest of her releases, on SubPop. She recorded in Seattle (before being famously chased off by an off-center rocker rival), but comes from Boston, with a history of busking on the subways there. In this tune she complains that her boyfriend wants to listen to said indie music while she’s more interested in “my Joni (Mitchell), my Nick (Drake), Neil (Young) and Bob (Dylan), you can keep your Tsunami, your Slant 6 and Smog.” In this song, she mentions a ton of bands, most of who went on to further fame: “I said ‘What’s the story?’ / He said ‘Butterglory’ / I said, ‘What’s the news?’ / He said ‘The Silver Jews’”). Check out the lyrics on the Web, they’re quite fun.
The Good – Judy
Bernie Kugel redid the song when he was in Mystic Eyes, but way before that, his original band, the Good, did a lower-fi version for Tommy Calandra’s BCMK Records (that’s Buffalo College of Musical Knowledge). The swirling keyboards take the listener on one of Bernie’s many great pop garage tunes of the era. While we’re still waiting for “Mail on Sundays” to come out, I am happy with this cut. Both versions of this song are great, but this one, being the one I heard and learned to love first, holds a warm spot in my heart.
The Byrds – Eight Miles High
As someone who is not into hallucinogenics (though the band seemed to have been from the video I’ve seen of them doing this song live on German TV, they’re so obviously stoned), I still find this song to be powerful. McGuinn’s 12-string just sings in this classic. Yeah, Husker Du did a decent version, but cannot compete with this one. Usually, long songs with solos are not my speed, but this one is different. Yet, my fave Byrds song remains “Child of the Universe,” their theme song to the film Candy (I have it on another tape).
Blues Magoos – (We Ain’t Got) Nothin’ Yet”
This is one of those iconic guitar-and-keyboards songs from the late ‘60s, with a pounding, dum-dum-da-dum rhythm. You hear any part of this song, it’s instantly recognizable. One of the first hit self-bragging songs I know of (“You know we’ve got what it takes / But we ain’t got nothin’ yet.). Couldn’t copy the song, so here’s the link: youtube.com/watch?v=GOGRTLn2uKY
John Otway – Josephine
I’ve been a fan of Otway since the late ‘70s, when his Stiff Records were released. Teamed with fellow guitarist Wild Willy Barrett, he was just insane, but after they split, John started his second stage, which allowed him to do more serious songs, such as this one. The topic is of a local harvest festival, and the teen that is chosen to lead it (“And the crowd screams “Josephine / Our May Day eyes are on you”). Otway has a unique voice, both phrasing and style, and he always seems to be enjoying himself. There is a greatest hits package of his, and I highly recommend it.
Phil Ochs – The Highwayman
One of many songs based on the Alfred Noyes poem (actually, John Otway has one, as well); this is probably the best known. It’s a long piece (and a longer poem), but Phil keeps the interest high as “Bess the landlord’s daughter” makes a futile sacrifice for her highwayman lover. It’s a romantic piece, for sure, but the title character’s actions at the end seem to nullify. And yet, it remains a beautiful song. The video is a wilted, live version, rather than the feisty recorded one.
3 Days Grace – I Hate Everything About You
This song came to me by way of a three-song give-away disk at some store. I was instantly entranced by the emotion of it. At the time, I mentioned it to a friend, Vonny, and she said that she didn’t like the singer’s voice. Thing is, she’s actually right. Yes, I still like this song, but every other thing I’ve heard from the band has left me cold. Good call, Vonny! My one amusing story about this band is when I was in an Ontario Zeller’s, and this song came over the PA. Seemed like an odd choice, even if the band is from Canada. There’s an official music video to this, but it’s verbally edited, so here is this one.
Linda Ronstadt – I Can’t Help It
The original Hank William’s one is arguably superior, but I don’t own any of his material on CD (the source for the rest of the songs), so I went for the Linda R one instead. I run hot and cold with Ronstadt: her ‘60s stuff (such as “Different Drum”) and Heart Like a Wheel country material are enjoyable, but I find the period after that and on (covers of Buddy Holly, etc.) kind of flat. This song shows some of her range.
Linda Ronstadt – Keep Me From Blowing Away
This sad, wistful song has a country feel, but it’s more modern country pop. And yet, again, I like it a lot. There have been many times I’ve felt like this song, wanting some kind of anchor, something solid in my life, to keep me grounded. She emotes well here, that feeling of restlessness.
Kris Delmhorst – Hurricane
This remains my favorite Kris Delmhorst song (so far). She equates a hurricane to the volatile relationship to which she’s currently involved (“I’ve always kept the company of clouds / I like my lightning bright, my thunder loud / I was never one for bluer skies / All that bright sun droning in my eyes / So blow me down, blow me down and leave me lying in your wake”). She’s still early on in her career, so there’s bound to be more great music to come. This is a live video, which is a bit distorted, but the sense is there.
Contraband – Hard Life
Howard Bowler and his brother David, of the Marbles in the heady CBGBs days, lead this folk / country / rock / jazz band, and now have at least three full length CDs out. A Howard original, this song is almost oppressive in its negative charge, with dissonant notes and pressed lyrics (“The sun is shining / And all I get is rain / Comin’ down so hard / It’s drivin’ me insane”). It’s actually a powerful song, and Howard’s vocals shine with just the right unflinching tip of bitterness. Like the blues, it’s in your face, and yet somehow makes the listener feel better.
Dusty Springfield – The Look of Love
Has anyone ever done a sexier version of this song than Dusty? Can they? I mean, she has a sultry voice to begin with, but this is one of her finest in this romantic mode. She practically whispers in your ear. Even her phrasing with pausing between words keeps you on your seat. Herb Albert’s horn also stands out here, with a couple of interesting false endings. This song just lulls me, from the first time I heard it in the ‘60s version of Casino Royale (as Ursula Andress seduces Peter Sellers).
Bob Crewe Generation – Peter Gunn
This makes me think more of Courageous Cat and Minute Mouse more than Peter Gunn, but it’s a great iconic television theme song from the golden era of television; a classic noir in aural form.
The BKE – TBD
Can’t talk about these two demos yet, but there are gonna be a lot of happy fans out there.
Margo Hennebach – After All
There are two versions of this song, one on Margo’s second collection, Big Love, and one with her trio, Mad Agnes, Live at UH. This one is from the former, but they’re both done excellently, and I tend to listen to them both; I just had this one when I made the tape, though. Margo is one of my favorite modern singer-songwriters in the journeymyn tradition. With a hint of the Celtic, her songs are strongly supported by guitar and piano (both hers). I interviewed her the day of Woodstock II, just across the Hudson River from it, in fact. It was an enjoyable day, sitting on her porch and talking music (that interview can be read at this blog, dated October 26, 2008).
CSNY – Suite: Judy Blue Eyes
My cousin Ken’s favorite song, but I didn’t know that when I put this tape together. While CSNY were one of those groups that annoyed the crap out of me in the early ‘70s (along with Yes, Kansas, America, and all those other bands that it seems everyone listened to when I was in college before punk hit), but someone gave me a greatest hits CD, and this one grew on me. It’s a long ode to Judy Collins (from Stephen Stills), but it changes often (hence the “suite”), and is not cloying.
Maria McKee – You Gotta Sin to Get Saved
It was not Lone Justice that got me interested in Maria McKee, but an appearance on a TV show called Night Music, singing “Breathe” from her first solo release. Love at first hear. While there is a lot of subtly in Maria’s voice, damn she can belt them out good. This live in the studio recording from her record by the same name, is a bluesy, ballsy gospelly number that is nearly the female side of “Lightenin’ Strikes.” She tells her boyfriend “I could never shame you / Honey, you’re by pride and joy / But what’s a girl to do, now, daddy / I’m drowning in a sea of boys.” She further explains that “If I make an honest vow / To someday where a dress of white / ‘Cause scarlet’s what I’m wearing now.” Great song with a fun call-and-response chorus.
Al Yankovic – The Saga Begins
A freakin’ brilliant cover of “American Pie,” but with lyrics reflecting the fourth Star Wars film, Chapter 1. Weird Al tells the entire story here, in his usual witty way, using similar rhyme patterns to the original (“Oh my, my this here Anakin guy / May be Vader someday later / Now he's just a small fry / He left his home and kissed his mommy goodbye / Sayin' ‘Soon I'm gonna be a Jedi’”). I laughed all the way through it the first time I heard the song. It still bemuses me.
David Wilcox – The Kind of Love You Never Recover From
Off a sampler CD (two songs each from 5 albums), this was part of a tribute release for Christine Lavin, who wrote the songs. Wilcox’s reading is very spare, and full of emotion. The song is about wishing you had said something – the right thing – before your lover leaves (“At times like this when the moon is right / When the air is foggy like it is tonight / She'll think about what might have been / If she had just held on to him.”). It’s a sad song, but as with just about everything Lavin writes, it has a strong heart.
Barbara Kessler – Attainable Love
Another Christine Lavin-er from the same sampler, this time the topic is being in love with someone who is commitment phobic, wishing she could change someone unchangeable (“Add me to the list of women / Who think you'll be different with me / Add me to the list of fools / Who flatly refuse to see / That just like me....”).
Susan McKeown – Winter King
A strong Celtic tune from someone deeply associated with the genre. However, in this piece, McKeown also modernizes the arrangement to make it something else. Not with a disco-like beat some Celtic artists seem to have added (since those annoying dance-track Gregorian Chants), this is more rockish. I was going to put the next song from the CD, her killer version of “Aud Lange Syne,” but decided against it.
Leonard Cohen – Take This Longing
Gotta say, the opening guitar chord to this song is not my favorite. It’s clanky and annoying, but once the listener gets past that, the song unfolds. Unfortunately, I found after listening to this tape on the road that I had to crank the volume all the way up, because the car noise was drowning out Cohen’s soft voice. Still a great song, though (“Take this longing from my tongue / All the useless things these hands have done / Let me see your beauty broken down / Like you would do for one you love”). Yes, the man is more than just “Suzanne” and “Hallelujah.”
The Dictators – Next Big Thing
“I didn’t have to be here you know. I didn’t have to show up here. With my vast, financial holdings, I coulda be basking in the sun in Florida. This just a hobby for me. Nothin’, y’hear? A hobby!” With that, the opening cut to the ‘Tator’s first album starts strong and doesn’t let up. As they say later on in the tune, “We knocked ‘em dead in Dallas / And we didn’t pay our dues / Yeah, we knocked ‘em dead in Dallas / They didn’t know we were Jews.” Ah, the boys from the Bronx. I say again, DFFD. The video is a live version, without the intro, unfortunately.