RECORDS OF THE YEAR

the official list of the top 40 best songs of 2006

As a connoisseur of the whole history of recorded American based pop music, I'm usually down on today.  Like Dana Carvey's grumpy old man, I say flibbeldy-floo to this here modern needlessly vulgar and unmelodic nonsense. For example, I just don't see how anyone who knows their Temptations or Miracles would be much impressed with Pretty Ricky, the current #1 album in the land as I write this.  I didn't even bother writing up a list for 2005.  Thinking it through though, I got to say there was a pretty good crop of new music in 2006.  Here's the official list of the top 40 best songs of 2006:

Thomas Callaway alias Cee-Lo of Gnarls Barkley  Looks a little "crazy" don't he?

1 - "Crazy" Gnarls Barkley  Motown, I say.  That's the best point of comparison to begin getting your mind back after you go "Crazy."  The hit collaboration between king of the underground Brian Burton alias DJ Danger Mouse and "dirty south" rapper Thomas Callaway alias Cee-Lo could best be understood not by comparison to some cutting edge European electronic flavor of the month or some hippity-hoppity nonsense, but by playing it side by side with classic Motown.

The sweeping bass driven r&b drama comes out a bit like your finer Holland-Dozier-Holland.  You probably wouldn't actually mistake this song - much less anything else on the Gnarls Barkley album - for Motown, but this would segue way right good straight into "Reach Out I'll Be There."  Then there's that beautiful high voice.  Imagine my surprise when I saw the man monster those sounds were coming from. Listening to them side by side in a car CD mix, "Crazy" every bit holds its own next to one of the top Motown classics for the driving bass, epic drama, hooks, vocal performance - pretty much any angle you want to compare them from.

But this is a vital modern record, not a studied throwback.  It's more a general point of going back to musical verities rather than aping an exact style.  Most of all, that means that this bad boy has a real honest-to-God MELODY.  It's catchy and dramatic, and dynamic.  This is going to sound pretty good even in the inevitable Muzak renditions.  It's just that well written.

Particularly, the appeal of this song has little to do with rap or DJ gimmicks.  Danger Mouse came to attention for his Jay-Z/Beatles mashup album, but this is all about showcasing an actual song.

I realized this was the song of the year, destined to be considered a standard when I heard a live version of the song performed by Nelly Furtado, with principal accompaniment from a couple of simple acoustic guitars.  Now, Brother Callaway is not just some half-assed thug rapper, but an excellent singer who could hold his own head to head with, say, Levi Stubbs.  Nonetheless, this was more simply presented, but nearly as good as the original hit.  The urgency and yearning are largely embedded right into the tune, beyond the production or Cee-Lo's voice.  Best I can tell, this cover version is not available for purchase, so I freely offer it up to study for contrast.  NELLY FURTADO "CRAZY"

2 - "O Mary Don't You Weep" Bruce Springsteen  I've hated having to be down on the author of Born to Run, but for my money Springsteen was little more than a corporate rock whore by the time of Born in the USA.  So perhaps this makes me a little extra appreciative of this beautiful Seeger sessions album, and find myself particularly grateful to be able to honestly praise The Boss.  In fact, I'll say this album is approximately a tie for album of the year with Surprise, which we'll get to shortly.

The alchemy of this ancient folk gospel song becomes a great vehicle for Springsteen to express his deepest feelings of faith and perseverance, however much he does or doesn't believe in the actual gospel.  He gets a little more out of it subtly with this song about floods with distinct echoes of New Orleans, particularly in the horns.

Also, this Seeger sessions band is an even better crew of creative and expressive players than the E Street Band.  So let's properly note this credit listing: The musicians on the record are Springsteen (guitar, harmonica, B3 organ and percussion), Sam Bardfeld (violin), Art Baron (tuba), Frank Bruno (guitar), Jeremy Chatzy (upright bass), Mark Clifford (banjo), Larry Eagle (drums and percussion), Charles Giordano (B3 organ, piano and accordion), Ed Manion (saxophone), Mark Pender (trumpet), Richie "La Bamba" Rosenberg (trombone) and Soozie Tyrell (violin). Lisa Lowell, Patti Scialfa, Springsteen, Pender, Tyrell, and Rosenberg contribute backing vocals. 

I want to dedicate this pick with love to Our Lady Who Takes No Crap, Catherine Reynolds aka "Mary Reborn Literally."  "Pharoh's army got drowned, o Mary don't you weep."

Stew - The Negro Problem incarnate

3 - "The Big Game" - Stew aka The Negro Problem  I immediately confess bias regarding this song by Stew, the nationally acclaimed songwriter sometimes billed as The Negro Problem.  As a side business, he takes commissions for "custom song portraits."  This literate, artsy funk is the result of me specifically commissioning a public tribute to my godson's mother.

So maybe I'm kinda predisposed to like "The Big Game" - but still, it's not just cuz it's mine.   There's a real melody under this thing, and a freaky groove.  Stew blew my little country mind.  I've used good restraint in not naming it #1 for the whole year.   Personal to me or no, this is as good a composition as I heard all year long, give or take "Crazy."  But don't take my word for it.  It won't cost you nothing to find out.  DOWNLOAD 'THE BIG GAME'

4 - "California Sunset" The Weary Boys  It's kind of hard to write something like this today and make a mark, a straight down the middle country breakup ballad.  There's no tricks, weird instruments or freaky turns of phrase.  But this is one of the handful of most memorable melodies published all year, full of a quiet and contemplative resignation.  This has stuck with me for most of a year now, and seems better than when first I heard it.  This'll never win them any hip admirers in the avant garde, but again Hank Williams himself would have been proud to put his name to this.

Tom Petty on the Simpsons

5 - "Saving Grace" Tom Petty  Petty's mostly been more of a steady-state professional craftsman than any kind of experimental artiste.  In a broad sense then, "Saving Grace" might be considered standard Tom Petty fare.  But as such, it's a perfect example of why that's not necessarily a negative - if your standards are as high as his.  Driving the roads searching for redemption in a Southern rock style is meat and potatoes Tom Petty.  Yet this variation has a very distinctive melody and sound within that broad outline.  I can "name that tune" in two notes.  I'd take this head to head with "Running Down a Dream" or "American Girl." 

Sick

6 - "What I'd Like" Sick   This outstanding young fiddle player ex of the Asylum Street Spankers is hell on pretty much anything with strings.  This comes from an unofficial individually produced album 666 consisting of live song demos that he was selling at Spanker shows last summer.  This is an excellent bass driven acoustic jazz jam with a strong melody and arrangement with some good rock and roll drive and attitude leading to a simple and profane, but logical and even profound denouement.  This definitely makes an outstanding highway jam.

7 - "Sure Don't Feel Like Love" Paul Simon  One might argue that Paul Simon perhaps sometimes errs a bit to the sweet side, so I'm often especially appreciative of the sourest edge of his thinking.  That would be the funk joint of the year, "Sure Don't Feel Like Love."  It concerns "a voice in your head that you'd rather forget."  The sharp guitars, the hard falsetto taunt of the melody in the vocal hook ("Who-oo-oooos that conscience..."), all the little things add up.  You might pay attention to the electric guitar commentary running under the verses.  For paranoid NYC white funk, this'd sound good in your iPod back to back with the Talking Heads' explanation about the conniving "Animals."

Simon helpfully explained the key line of this song in an NPR interview.  "Who's that conscience sticking on the soul of my shoe?"  This comes from advice that he was given to put overly harsh critical inner voices in perspective.  It was suggested that when he starts hearing these inner scripts, he should imagine them coming from something stuck on the sole of his shoe, like a wad of gum speaking in a funny voice, Bugs Bunny or something.  "Some chicken and a corn muffin, well that feels more like love."

Bruce Thiessen, Dr BLT

8 - "Neil Young (Have You Forgotten?)" Dr BLT  There was a lot of hoo-haa about the typical half-assed Neil Young album Living With War, which is a great artistic statement because he really, really hates President Bush.  A Neil Young song called "Let's Impeach the President" was guaranteed to be a critical smash judged to be a profound artistic statement before anyone heard a note of it.  In fairness, at least that one song is somewhat better than average Neil Young.  It's got a decent hook at least, even if he didn't bother to develop it at all.

But before it came out, Bruce Thiessen dba Dr BLT put out an answer song that's simply superior to Neil Young's song on pretty much every musical level.  Regardless of the politics, Thiessen's lyric is more focused and much better song craft.  He develops his basic melody, and gives some thought to his arrangement.  He's an independent artist with incorrect politics, so there's no chance that this would ever get the recognition.  But BLT flat out wrote a better and more memorable actual SONG.  DOWNLOAD NEIL YOUNG (HAVE YOU FORGOTTEN?)

Born Again Floozies wallpaper picture

9 - "I Used to Play the Euphonium" Born Again Floozies  A band of "floozies" consisting of guitar, tuba and tap dancers singing a song about the fierce pride of being a high school band geek should presumably be ironic or something.  Best I can tell, the unexpected irony of this would be the actual sincerity of the narrative.  There's some implicitly humorous acknowledgement of geekdom, but it ain't some dumb joke.  There's real melody and thought in the arrangement, seemingly keeping faith with the realness of where these guys come from.  This is a totally unique piece of passionate art - and a fine jam. "I cut a frog in biology man, yeah I slit his throat, cause he doesn't play the euphonium in a marching band."

10 - "Rednecks" Steve Earle  When first I saw his name attached to this song title, I wondered why I hadn't seen this coming.  Randy Newman wrote a beautiful song with pretty fair literary insight into a certain brand of cracker.  But he was writing it as more a theatrical abstraction, like something written for a Broadway character.  Randy Newman is just so not a cracker.  There was no way for him to be personally convincing in the character no matter how skillful he is as a performer, any more than Chris Parnell on SNL was ever going to be a credible gangsta rapper.

Then there's Steve Earle, to whom the belligerence and hostility of this song come natural. I note approvingly the distinct hint of violence in the raw guitar chords.  Earle happens to direct his hostility to different people - but these emotions seem very much him.  But then maybe it's just acting.  However you want to look at it, this song was a Steve Earle record just waiting to happen.

Amy Winehouse

11 - "I'm No Good" Amy Winehouse  This young British gal seems intent on self-destructive behavior of a cheesy Jim Morrison variety.  Judging from press reports, stuff like "Re-Hab" is pretty much straightforward autobiography.  We've seen this movie a couple of times before, with the likely question being whether she'll manage to keep it minimally together long enough to make much of a musical mark before she flames out.  Which flaming will be a damned shame, cause "I'm No Good" for one is a wonderful jazzy r&b song driven by gushing guilt of the sexiest kind. 

Georgia Anne Muldrow is totally beautiful

12 - "Lo Mein" Georgia Anne Muldrow  This promising young gal is described on her Myspace page as "electro/funk/blues."  I'm not sure where you'd get "electro" from with this song, at least, but this girl's got mad skills in all kinds of directions.  The song's not about Chinese food, but re-assurance to a man that she's "low maintenance."  She's obviously a real musician, with little inflections of weird cool jazz stuff and perhaps the most glorious layered vocals on a pop record all year.

Gwen Stefani picture

13 - "Wind It Up" Gwen Stefani  I wrote a whole big story on this modern dance classic mixing Stefani's unique little cheerleader rap style with Rodgers and Hammerstein, "The Profundity of Play."  I'll just re-iterate the basic point that I see more deep insight into the human experience in the joy of the clever playfulness of "Wind It Up" than in the collected Deep Angst of, say, Radiohead.  Hey, Gwen Stefani may be an official Enemy of The People, but if you make something this good I'll gratefully give some credit up in here. 

14 - "Hora Decubitus" Elvis Costello  Brother Declan has famously been all over the map with his musical experiments.  Inevitably, some of them are going to work out better than others.  His much hyped 2006 post-Katrina New Orleans album The River in Reverse with Allen Toussaint, for example, is mostly so-so as actual music - though I'm happy to give him credit for earnest ambition.

But when his far-flung stuff works, he can knock 'em out of the park, like with My Flame Burns Blue from earlier in the year.  This didn't have near the promotional news hooks of the New Orleans album, but this live album recorded with the unique and renowned  large combo classical/jazz Metropole Orkest turned out to be much more musically memorable. 

"Hora Decubitus" is a Charles Mingus instrumental composition with a new Elvis lyric.  This could have been a merely clever academic exercise, but in fact turns out to be a memorable jazz jam with a tight arrangement and a compellingly defiant optimism about a bird that refuses to be captured.

15 - "Rabbit Hole" Josie Cotton  Miss Josie is most known for a minor new wave hit a hundred years ago or so called "Johnny, Are You Queer?"  I barely remembered the title, but I'll definitely remember "Rabbit Hole."  This is a real song with a memorable melody and a muscular rock guitar sound communicating some emotionally driven existential vulnerability and anxiety.  Hearing them now together, "Johnny, Are You Queer" was a cute little ditty, but "Rabbit Hole" is far superior on pretty much every level of composition, arrangement and performance.   DOWNLOAD  RABBIT HOLE

16 - "Free Radicals" The Flaming Lips  A name like "Led Zeppelin" sometimes seems like it would describe the sound of this band better than it does Robert Plant's crew.  That's not necessarily to say that the Flaming Lips are better, but that they have more of the "zeppelin" part.  This song, for example, has some nice heavy drums and bottom - but it also floats like a bee, with the lilting high melody and the airy sonic space.  This would qualify under Walt Rimler's idea of "chamber music," where every single instrument in the arrangement is contributing something memorable and indispensable to the whole effect, and speaks in it's own voice.  This is some beautiful orchestration.  Plus, I dig the smackdown on some silly pretentious self-described "radical."  "Without all your bodyguards, how long would you last?  Not long."

17 - "Blackjack Ilywhack" The Raconteurs  This song is something of a mystery, and I'm not real sure what date to put on this.  I found it Rand knows where on the net, identified only as a 2002 demo for Jack White's Raconteurs.  However, they only put out their first album this year, and this ain't there.  Whatever the exact pedigree, this slinky waltz with the jazzy chords and jaded con man has rocked me more than any of the official releases.  As it doesn't seem to be available for purchase, I offer it freely for download.  DOWNLOAD "BLACKJACK ILYWHACK"

Bruce Springsteen photo gallery

18 - "Mrs McGrath" Bruce Springsteen  This Irish folk song cropped up from the mists of time 100 - 200 years ago, and it's the best anti-war protest song of the modern Iraq war era.  Instead of Neil Young's ridiculous faux-radical posturing about impeaching the president, Springsteen goes to an expression of the real horror of war.  Of course it also helps that this song has a fully developed composition and arrangement.   There's more thought in just the percussion arrangement of this recording than in the entirety of Living With War.

19 - "Stupid Girls" Pink   Some folks might scoff at descriptions of a pop princess like Pink as "punk rock," but Alecia Moore ain't Avril Lavigne.  This articulate blast of despair and rage constitutes a metaphoric spitting on her audience far more meaningful than any audience abuse the likes of John Lydon ever came up with.  This is far more of a real social protest and challenge to her audience than, say, any dumb anti-Bush song.

20 - "Erie Canal" Bruce Springsteen   I remember this being a pretty neat little catchy folk tune from grade school days, but I'd never heard anyone take the song seriously enough to get a proper big time arrangement and recording.  This was a revelation.  Plus, Springsteen was just the man for it.  This weary wisdom of a working man works much better than some millionaire rock star's cheesy little fantasy, particularly of the overloaded Socially Meaningful variety.

Beyond that, this recording is one of the more profound musical descriptions of marriage and partnership ever.  That the wife is his faithful mule removes the sometimes confusing sexual/romantic issues, leaving the real lasting issues of hard work, commitment, trust, admiration and partnership.

21 - "The Quiz" Hello Saferide  Annika Norlin and her mates concocted a little quiz for a new boyfriend.  It's a very simple, poignant and gently humorous tune with an open heart.  The "questions" are more confessions of the narrator's insecurities than actual questions, ie "Can you at all times wear socks, cause I'm still scared of feet."  The little details of the lyrics bear repeated consideration.

More importantly, that's one haunting little tune.  The basic theme is pliable enough and the skill of the phrasing such that the changing word counts and delivery per question come out looking like legitimate and memorable melodic development rather than just arbitrary rambling.  DOWNLOAD THE QUIZ

22 - "Live It Up (Floozie Revival)" Born Again Floozies  These Floozies are a groovy outfit out of Indianapolis that caught my attention as an opening act for the Asylum Street Spankers.  That'd probably be the closest thing stylistically - though they don't actually even use any of the same instruments.  The Floozies are led by guitarist Joey Welch, who has a really unique and striking style.  The other principal instrument is a tuba, along with, of course, two tap dancers.  Like the Spankers, Frank Zappa or Spike Jones, their vaudevillian and largely humor-driven music is nonetheless not a joke because they are unmistakably serious musicians.

"Live It Up" is the first song from their 2006 debut EP Novelties, Addenda, and Ephemera, and a good example of the nuance.  The entire vocal consists of samples from a vintage sermon by Jimmy Swaggart, mocking some wayward lambs he'd met for their willful expressions of rebellion.  "I'll go to the dances and I'll drink my beers.  Have a big time!" 

Now, there's obviously some irony involved from the Floozies, but they're not really mocking Brother Swaggart.  The real point is a celebration of the pure musicality of his preaching.  With only simple editing (and some clever guitar and tuba), Swaggart's sermon makes a surprisingly effective real song.  It's so well done in fact that it took me awhile to pick up that this was not a singer in the studio, despite the obvious familiarity of Swaggart's voice. DOWNLOAD LIVE IT UP

23 - "Birmingham" Del McCoury  Along with Steve Earle's "Rednecks," this comes from the excellent Sugar Hill records album Sail Away: The Songs of Randy Newman. Coming from a country music label, this album mostly used songs from Good Ol' Boys, which makes particularly good sense based on the rural Louisiana basis of the Newman characters.  Plus, of all Newman's albums, these songs now seem to be largely past his limits as a performer. 

In other words, stuff like this guide to the finer points of Birmingham, Alabama is ripe for this bluegrass arrangement from the reigning king of the genre, Del McCoury.  That real, authentic country voice just flat sells this better than the Jewish Broadway composer.  Hearing it now in this newly definitive recording, it occurs to me that even The Storyteller himself, Tom T Hall (praised be his blessed name) would be proud to claim authorship of this beautiful character sketch.  "Get 'em, Dan!"

Elvis Costello is amused

24 - "Episode of Blonde" Elvis Costello   I noted this as an outstanding song in its original publication a couple of years ago on the When I Was Cruel album - but the live My Flame Is Blue version is considerably more impressive.  The arrangement's not so radically stylistically different, but the massive badass Metropole Orkest just fills out the arrangement in a much more impressive manner.  Plus, this quasi-classical orchestra turns out to be uniquely suited to blow this film noir up into full cinematic splendor.

25 - "Teeth" Sick  Another selection from the 666 collection, this Katrina inspired song showcases his roots as a Louisiana native.  You might start to think of this as somewhat comparable to Leon Redbone, except this is much more urgently real, youthful, vital and directly sincere.  Anger doesn't seem to be a prominent aspect of his artistic output, but there's certainly an unmistakably accusatory tone to this tale narrated by someone caught up in the flood waters.  I'm particularly struck by some of the visual imagery of lyrics like "When the dead come back to life again, they're coming from the mire holding picket signs and spouting out 'Somebody better get fired' Somebody has been lying through their teeth."

26 - "The Word" Prince  This is a fine, aggressive little militant uptempo funky pop song - classic Prince.  On top of which, this gets to some of his apocalyptic Seventh Day Adventist upbringing, which has been one of the most fruitful artistic subjects in Prince's career.  A lot of his best songs play on this, starting with "1999" and "Purple Rain."  The somewhat hippie (or Sly Stone)-ish sound of "The Word" would make this closer to his smash hit "7."  This probably isn't quite as good as that, but "7" is one of Mr Nelson's very best ever. 

Flaming Lips, Wayne Coyne

27 - "The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song" The Flaming Lips  The central "yeah, yeah, yeah" chorus of this song strongly puts me in mind of the Kelly brothers singing informative songs on the SNL Weekend Update which is cool, cause they're actually fairly musical.  This is the kind of pop song that could be just infuriating if you didn't like it, and yet would get stuck in your head against your will.  But why wouldn't you like it?  It's got hooks and beat, and as a bonus, a good identifiable lyrical point about the seductive danger of power.

28 - "Pay Me My Money Down" Bruce Springsteen   The whole Seeger album repeatedly taps into real and basic levels of human emotion that he's lost in recent years amidst the clutter of his own faux-Guthrie mythmaking.  One of the particularly bad things about it is how his left-wing egalitarian shtick seems to damp down the expression of the primal will to power that animates his classic early work.  On the one hand, Springsteen has been one of the most determinedly and doggedly market and money hungry corporate pop singers going, and sometimes even a great artist in the expression of that drive. But a humble man of the people ain't supposed to present like that.

Whereas this classic folk song was a heck of a catchy little folk tune back in grade school - but kicks 100 times more ass when Springsteen uses it to unleash his inner ubermench.  Theoretically, this might be about how the big boss man is being mean - but Springsteen unmistakably is identifying and representing for the boss man.  The Boss enjoys his status and demands that he gets his. "Pay me or go to jail!"

29 - "Beautiful" Paul Simon  He writes especially good lyrics partly by being especially specific in his imagery.  He's celebrating not just the beauty of children, but specifically the beauty of crying children, little orphans he's bringing home from various world hellholes.  The song plays like a re-assurance that he's giving to calm the children. 

Specifically again though, it's calming not pacifying.  It's not a lullaby to put the kids to sleep, but an uptempo play theme encouraging them to thrive in their new world, leading up to one of the most beautiful bridges he ever wrote, exquisitely detailing an idyllic afternoon playing in the sunshine.  Still, remembering the fragility of the crying babies, he ends the bridge urging "You better keep an eye on them children in the pool."

This is a wonderful song, and it's a great thing to think of these orphans getting a chance to come to America and thrive in the sunshine.  Still, a small Satanic voice from the sole of my shoe raises a metaphorical eyebrow as Simon describes the various continents of origin, with children from Bangladesh, China and Kosovo.  He wants to know when Paul's going to go to Antarctica and find him an Eskimo baby to complete the set.  Bad inner voice.

30 - "Drink On It" The Weary Boys  These Weary Boys come from Bakersfield, by way of Austin, Texas. This lovely ballad and simple country fiddle and harmony dress up a very straightforward lyric of longing and weary fear.  They pack fairly profound emotions into a completely unassuming package in the very best country music tradition.  It might not be a big international hit, but likely some version of this song eventually will be.  Or 100 years from now someone will stumble across this and mistake it for a lost Merle Haggard classic.  DOWNLOAD "DRINK ON IT"

31 - "Engine 143" Ramblin' Jack Elliott  This guy is pretty much the last of the real folk singers who seriously did the "Hard Travelin'" to collect the songs and experience.  He doesn't need the dropping of names of mentors or students to validate his place - just his recorded work.  "Engine 143" from I Stand Alone is an old AP Carter song about an engineer who was grateful for the chance to die for the train he loved. 

At age 75, he's obviously getting old and tired, and certainly his voice is rough.  But that's pretty much a good thing for what he's doing.  It's a new 2006 recording, but if you added in a little scratchy background noise, you might think it was some old 78 from the Library of Congress.  There are quiet depths of meaning to this song and album that no pop singer learning these songs from the library like Myrna Minkoff could touch.

32 - "What's Happening Brother" Dirty Dozen Brass Band with Betty LaVette  The illustrious Dirty Dozen Brass Band did a song-for-song cover of Marvin Gaye's famous What's Going On album.  It generally came out pretty good, naturally much different than the originals just on the basis of their basic instrumental lineup.  Hearing these excellent but very familiar songs with fancy horn arrangements makes them fresh again, and hearing this sung by a woman is nice as well.  Beyond her plumbing though, Miss LaVette probably gave the best guest vocal on the record.

33 - "How Can You Live in the Northeast?" Paul Simon  This starts with a dark, static-y throb, as Paul works up a lament of the distrust and hatefulness that he sees tearing up the country of the immigrant's dreams within which he frames the song.  I think he might be a bit too pessimistic in that regard.  Still, when the guitars come crashing back from the break in the last minute, they've generated a wave that'd put some puny Pearl Jam record absolutely to shame.  I'd particularly recommend looking for the Saturday Night Live performance.

34 - "Eyes on the Prize" Bruce Springsteen   This civil rights era classic makes a particularly good song choice for Springsteen. It's almost a gospel song, though more associated with political struggles than religious. Nonetheless, this song, like "O Mary Don't You Weep," channels his secular liberal religion to the verities of our most organic American spiritual music. That idea of faith and perseverance comes out so much better in these classics than some tuneless, contrived pseudo-Guthrieism.

This is some righteous church music. You needn't be a Christian or a Stalinist folk singer to take substantive spiritual nourishment from the encouragement of "Keep Your Eyes on the Prize." This one of the most beautiful and spiritually profound recordings I've heard any time recently.

35 - "Black Sweat" Prince  Of course, you've got to have a lot of love for the Godfather, but I have to say that I don't miss James Brown so bad when Prince is still right today turning out meat and potatoes old school funk this good.  I'm not saying that "Black Sweat" is going to make you forget "Sex Machine" (that'd be a tall order),  but I'd take it over a mid-level JB classic like "Hotpants."

Paul Simon on stage photo

36 - "Outrageous" Paul Simon  Album co-producer Brian Eno is credited with co-writing this song.  The funk style thus might be somewhat compared to Eno's work with the Talking Heads.  Paul is outraged all about the state of the world, and the crap they try to serve for food in the public schools, and so on.   In what starts out sounding like a taunt, in the key line of the song he demands, "Who's going to love you when your looks are gone?"

After a couple dozen listens, the point crept up on me.  He's not that pissed over cafeteria food- he's raging against the dying of the light.  He's resisting his mortality- thus the notable repeated line about doing 900 sit-ups a day.  Noting that he's looking pretty buff for a 64 year old Jewish songwriter, I wonder if he's not in fact doing those 900 sit-ups.

Thus he's asking who's going to love HIM when he's old and gray- and he's got an answer: God will.  I would have guessed Simon for an atheist, but apparently not.  I've heard just one or two glancing references in recent interviews, but there are a couple of places like this where it comes out in the music.  Halfway through then, the song turns around from the question, Simon loses the agitation and reaches a peaceful resolution.  I especially like the cranky agitation of the first part, but I even more like how the song structure doesn't just repeat verse and chorus, but GOES somewhere. 

37 - "Heathen Gypsy Trounce" Born Again Floozies  This is probably the top song in their early recorded output that is distinctly NOT funny.  Stuff like "Small Penis Compensation Vehicle" is perfectly good clever pop music, but at some point it's emotionally skin deep.  Whereas this "gypsy" instrumental is about something moody and quietly dramatic.  I ain't never heard anything that sounded like this.

38 - "Sugar Mama" Beyonce  One might understandably be a bit cynical about corporate pop music being pimped to teenagers.  Nonetheless, I hereby officially repent of my snarky comments about the 2006 Beyonce record.  Sometimes that corporate muscle gets thrown behind something that's actually good.  "Sugar Mama" has a strong tune and slammin' r&b production topped off by a really good vocal performance from Beyonce herself.  Hell, I'd break off some respect and hand it to even Britney Spears if she somehow developed the talent to turn out something this hot.

39 - "Steady As She Goes" The Raconteurs  The Raconteurs big debut centerpiece makes for one tasty little stylistic throwback, fairly specifically to early Joe Jackson and even more specifically Graham Maby, who may have been the best bass player of the New Wave era.  This has that delicious English new wave power pop flavor, and particularly that "Is She Really Going Out With Him?" derived bass line that really hits the spot.

Psapp - Carim Clasmann and Galia Durant

40 - "Hi" Psapp  The music of this English duo is described on their record company website as "mutual obsession with odd noises and heart-prodding pop that has resulted in a sound that sneakily slips between genres, dabbling with electronica, and glitchy folk and jazz."  This really is a lovely little song.  Galia Durant's voice has a lot of heart in a gently understated application, but probably most of that is embedded in the actual melody more than anything else.  Then all the lightly stated weird bleeping sounds are supportive of tune and melody.  That's getting your musical priorities straight.  DOWNLOAD HI  PSAPP PICTURES

 


   

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