7 Songs Shaping the Summer

faked by Thursday, June 5th, 2008


The attractive and vivacious blogger Plok has tagged Gorj and me with a “7 Songs You’re Into Right Now” meme, and these are my responses:

1. “The Peanut Vendor”—Dean Martin. I first heard this song at an academic conference a few years back in an interesting paper on the way that the song has been transformed as it has traveled back and forth between the US and Cuba. Martin’s version is pure swing-swaggering cool and sounds exactly right set amidst pool splashing and steak grilling. Yank your cumberbund askew. Tousle your hair. Chill out.

MP3: Dean Martin—“The Peanut Vendor”

2. “Security (Live at Whiskey A-Go-Go)”—Otis Redding. Do you need to have a wall of horns snap your head back every now and then? Well, this will do the trick. I’m thinking this song is the official soundtrack for the summer.

MP3: Otis Redding—“Security (live)”

3. “Postcards from Paradise”—Paul Westerberg. This Flesh for Lulu cover is the hidden track at the end of Westerberg’s 2002 solo album Stereo, and it may be the best thing on it: a raucous, ragged, and joyous tune that wears its heart on its sleeve. Also half a lung and Thursday’s vomit.

MP3: Paul Westerberg—“Postcards from Paradise”

4. “Up the Devil’s Pay”—Old 97’s. This was always one of my favorite songs on Satellite Rides. I heard it last week for the first time in a couple of years, and now it sounds to me like Murry Hammond trying, through sheer force of will, to arrest the band’s gentle slide toward pablumous mediocrity. Drag It Up’s “Won’t Be Home” might be the last great Old 97’s song, but the major part of its appeal is that it sounds like a pastiche of other Old 97’s songs; “Up the Devil’s Pay” seems to be coming from someplace else entirely—someplace where music matters more intensely. I suspect there are production elements in this song that we are not yet sophisticated enough to hear in 3-D space.

MP3: Old 97’s—“Up the Devil’s Pay”

5. “Tollund Man (live)”—The Mountain Goats. Yes, it’s the obligatory Mountain Goats pick. Someone on a Goats forum posted this live version of one of the best songs from Sweden a while back and I’ve been fascinated by it ever since. It’s a solid live take on this deceptively simple song on its own, but then at the end John Darnielle begins incorporating, off-mic at first, verses from the hymn “This Is My Father’s World”. The hymn finds solace in nature’s revelation of God’s grace—a perfect complement to the aching wistfulness of a doomed narrator who spends his final moments fondly regarding the nature he is about to rejoin. (Another, similarly excellent off-mic addition borrows from John Berryman’s poem “The Poet’s Final Instructions,” but I think this one is a shade better.)

MP3: The Mountain Goats—“Tollund Man (My Father’s World)”

6. “Sweet Life”—Varnaline. I’ve written of my affection for Varnaline’s Songs in a Northern Key—one of my three favorite albums of all time, no question. The other Varnaline album to get if you’re only going to own two is surely Man of Sin, the 1996 debut, which nearly matches Northern Key for melodic lushness and drum-smashing urgency despite its minimalist four-track origins. I’ve always been less enthusiastic about the middle two albums. The self titled record from 1997 veers too often toward generic 90s rock, and Sweet Life has never quite gelled for me—it starts strong, with “Gulf of Mexico” and “Northern Lights,” but then it too slides, with some exceptions, into a kind of forgettable genericism. Lately though I’ve been listening to the album-closing title track over and over, and it’s been growing on me, despite its occasional bombast: Atmospheric and spacey but chunky and grounded all at the same time, it’s an indication of the beautiful things to come on Northern Key and a beautiful thing in its own right.

MP3: Varnaline—“Sweet Life” (ripped at a pretty crummy bit rate to get it to a manageable size, so if it sounds less than transcendent, won’t you please give Mr. Anders Parker of Varnaline 99 of your American cents at the iTunes or Amazon store?)

7. “She’s the One”—Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. As everyone has heard by now, Bo Diddley passed away earlier this week. I can only imagine what it must be like to create something so fundamental as the Bo Diddley Beat. If it’s not quite the wheel, it’s at least the light bulb. It may be the wheel. Here’s one of my favorite appropriations of that beat, in a live video from the miraculously well documented Hammersmith Odeon show in 1975. This video is, by the way, the coolest thing you’re going to see all day, so adjust your expectations accordingly as the clock ticks toward midnight:

It looks like my summer is going to get kind of emo toward the end there, but only briefly.

And since I’ve got meme fever, I’ll tag Darren, Dave Ashes, Conversely, Jaman, Gischler, Mr. Quiet Bubble, and Geoff.

7 Responses to “7 Songs Shaping the Summer”

  1. Conversely says:

    I’ll do it, but you’ll have to wait a couple of weeks—we’re off to Wisconsin…but that means other good ulmlls material.

  2. d-ashes says:

    Maybe my 7 will be all the songs I hear at the Super Regional games this weekend at the Box. Just kidding, just kidding.

  3. Joe says:

    I’m digging the Dean Martin tune. Though I’d never heard this version, I was familiar with Stan Kenton’s. What I love about the Kenton version is the suave trombone part (sung by Martin in this track) before the army of trumpets stomp all over the song at the end (as they do in seemingly every Kenton arrangement). Not sure if we’ve talked about this but I played jazz trombone in another life (aka college).

    But what I love about this track is the image of summer that you get straight out of 50-60s advertising. You know, tiki sticks and plastic glasses and plates in loud fruity colors. Oh, and Hawaiian shirts, naturally.

    Good call.

  4. gorjus says:

    Am I a bad Westerberg fan for not knowing that’s a cover? But what a ripping little gig: I love the descending sleaze of the chorus, the beaten-down “AAHHHHhhhhh” of it all.

    I knew exactly nothing else in this list! (Who is this Springstein fellow?). As a longtime Dean Martin fan, I can say this presses all the right buttons: breezy, impeccable phrasing (there is so much pre-Elvis in here—Elvis loved him some Dino), and basically inane subject matter.

    Hadn’t heard “Security” in a while. It is so rowdy it sounds like it’s about to break.

    Also: you troll Mountain Goats message boards for rare live versions of obscurities, and THANK G-D for it!!

  5. Darren says:

    I’ll do it, but I’m just warning you . . . I’ve totally entered the Bob Dylan phase of my life, apparently, so all seven songs might have a nasally twang about them.

  6. plok says:

    Oh my God, great! A bunch of links on one handy post!

    This is kind of what I was hoping for from you, Prof: a little musical primer for the PF aesthetic. I’m usually extremely lazy with clickthroughs, you see…and always a bit jealous of your guys’ tuned-in-ness. So: manna!

  7. Hot damn! It’ll take me a couple of weeks, but I promise to respond to this.