Friday, March 16, 2007

iTune, Therefore iAm (or: Radio, Someone Still Loves You)

Fellow Schnarchian M is for ${random_word_beginning_with_M}, the mind behind The Whaling Wall, has tagged me for the purposes of completing a meme in which she herself has participated.

The posting calls for the memeographer to list the top 10 songs played on his or her installation of iTunes. This is difficult for me because I don't rely heavily on locally stored music files for entertainment.

While I have my canon of favorites, I grow bored easily, so exposure to new artists and musical styles is a lifeline for my soul. I've always been, and probably always, will be a radio listener. The arrival of XM Satellite Radio took that love to a whole new level: no commercials, large variety, and deep play lists. The lack of repeats make a top x list hard to compile.

In the spirit of propagating the meme, I shall participate, but with a twist. I will list 25 favorite songs that I probably wouldn't have heard had it not been for XM. These aren't arrange in any particular order, so don't read preference into them.

  1. Zero 7, "Pageant of the Bizarre" -- Zero 7 is a suprising treat and a staple on both XM Chill (channel 84) and Hear Music (channel 75). My brother tipped me off to them about five years ago when I was lamenting the lack of mellow alternative music. Sia sings her part oh, so seductively, and the coda has an the air of a gospel testmonial.

  2. Junior Walker & the All Stars, "Way Back Home" and B.B. King, "Take it Home -- I put both of these songs under the same category because they are essentially the same melody with different arrangements and lyrics. Larry Elder uses the rare instrumental version of Junior Walker's recording as the intro to his radio talk show on ABC News/Talk (channel 124). I heard the B.B. King rendition on Bluesville (channel 74). I did some research and found that both recordings have common composers, so the similarity is no accident. Walker's version has lyrics that were supposedly written by Gladys Knight.

  3. India.Arie, "Purify Me" -- I heard this on The Flow (channel 62), an channel which is now only available via the service's streaming music site. I really want to like neo-soul, and it has grown on me over time. However, its instrumental minimalism just makes it pale to the richness of the 60s soul coming from Motown and Stax, let alone the Philly sound of the 70s. Oftentimes, the singers seem angry, depressed, or just plain detached. "Purify Me" restored my faith in the genre. It's upbeat and expresses so beautifully how the sensual can be elevated to a spiritual plain.

  4. Ray Lamontagne, "Trouble" -- I think I first heard this on XM Cafe (channel 45). If you're watching this season of American Idol, you probably saw Chris Sligh perform this song a couple weeks ago. Lamontagne is like the second coming of Paul Young, perhaps with a grittier, folksier edge. How can anyone say anything bad about that?

  5. Bitter:Sweet, "The Mating Game" -- I heard this track on XM Chill (channel 84), which serves up downtempo dance music. I'm not sure whether this song's horn track is original or sampled, but I love its audacity. Putting it crassly, if the sound were a woman, it would be Chloe Vervier in a red sheath dress and ankle strap heels. It's the essence of Austin Powers camp crystallized for the digital age.

  6. Janiva Magness, "You Were Never Mine" -- I heard this gem once on Bluesville. It's a tale of unrequited love, and it conjures up echoes of Dorothy Moore's classic "Misty Blue". The contrast is in the keyboard accompaniment. The piano of "Misty Blue" makes me think of a woman weeping in a city park with a light drizzle falling from the sky. The organ of "You Were Never Mine" makes me think of a woman in a smoky, brick walled bar, washing her sorrow away with a glass of hard liquor sipped slowly. You can hear an excerpt at the artist's website.

  7. Peggy Scott-Adams, "Help Yourself" -- This is another Bluesville find. The lyrics are a monologue from a betrayed wife to her husband's other woman. It is a resigned, rather than rageful, confrontation. Oh, she gets her digs in at both parties in the philandering pair, but they are delivered in a backhanded way. On the same album is a track called "Bill", where she talks about her discovery that her husband has been involved in a long time affair... with his best friend Bill.

  8. Sam Phillips, "Baby, I Can't Please You" -- The Easternized sound of this song's refrain makes it a prime earworm candidate, but I don't care. I crank the volume when I hear it.

  9. Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt, "Loving the Highway Man" -- I heard this song on The Midnight Special program, which is carried on XM's Village (channel 15). Both of these women have accomplished much in their own right, but the combination of their voices certainly must have been the most divine combination since peanut butter and chocolate. The best part is that you don't gain weight or get heartburn from listening to this song.

  10. Will Putman, "Maximum Angle of Repose" -- I heard this on the Village as well. This folk singer from Alaska spins a tale of suburban midlife introspection, using a term from the field of mining engineering that's as compelling as it is unlikely. The song's touched a chord with me back in the fall of 1995 and moved me to spend a while on Google trying to learn what the term angle of repose meant. It refers to the slope of a pile of granular solid material (like sand) after it has settled. I don't have any hard evidence, but I think Putman may have lifted the term from a novel by Wallace Stegner.

  11. 101 Strings, "Whiplash" -- I heard this on XM's lounge music channel On the Rocks, which regrettably is available only on the streaming service. This one is will appeal to the kink minded readers of this blog. This instrumental features the occasional sound of a whip cracking, followed by a woman's moan. Quite daring for something recorded in the late 60s.

  12. Moodswings, "Spiritual High" -- This dance groove first graced my ears while I was listening to Fred (channel 44), the deep classic alternative music channel. The samples of black choir singers creates an uplifiting air that transcends hipness.

  13. Norah Jones and Wyclef Jean, "Any Other Day" -- Hear Music gets the credit for this one. The song was a joint effort put together to raise money for Hurricane Katrina relief, and I believe it's only available from Rhapsody. It's an interesting departure from the jazz style recordings that have made her a household name.

  14. Neko Case, "Star Witness" -- Neko gets a lot of spins on Hear Music, but she's more of an alt country singer. When she's put in an echo chamber, Chase is as chillingly haunting as the fading purple pink sky of an early October twilight. All that's missing is a bonfire to huddle up next to.

  15. Mazzy Star, "Fade into You" -- I've known about this sultry song for years, but thanks to Hear Music, I now know its title and artist. I have long since forgotten the context in which I first heard it. I think it was probably background music to something my wife may have been watching on TV. Wikipedia's entry for Mazzy Star affirms this by saying:
    "Fade into You" became a staple of mid-1990s teen dramas, movies, and represented the kind of gentle ennui that was missing from the more aggressive angst of grunge.

    To me, it is the soundtrack of someone seducing me.

  16. The Jazzmasters, "So Much in Love" -- First hear this on Watercolors (channel 71), the contemporary jazz channel. I think this is what the blogger of The Whaling Wall calls "white-people-jazz". For those of you who thought that Paul Hardcastle's musical career ended after his mid-80s hit "19", you are sorely mistaken. He's carved out quite a successful niche recording smooth jazz both under his name and the Jazzmasters moniker. Helen Rogers' smooth voice graces a polished groove. Also worth a listen is their cover of Steely Dan's "Do it Again."

  17. Keb' Mo', "Keep it Simple" -- This is the most amusing critique of the complexity that technology and consumerism have visited upon modern society since the Boss recorded "57 Channels (And Nothin' On)". As I listen to him sing the first line of the song... "Two cars, three kids, six phones"... I can picture the look of bewilderment on his face before he says the word "six", as if he is saying, "How in the hell did this ever happen?"

  18. Susan Tedeschi, "Tired of My Tears" -- You'll find Tedeschi's recordings filed under Blues, but this Ray Charles cover is pure, old time, seein'-the-light soul. How soulful, you ask? The backup band sounds as if someone had found a lost recording of Booker T & the MGs playing a Holland-Dozier-Holland joint. That's it, Memphis meets Motown! Tedeschi sings it with so conviction that by the end you'll be promising your stereo you'll never lie to it again.

  19. Dar Williams w/ Ani DiFranco, "Comfortably Numb" -- As heard on XM Cafe. I'll probably get accused of sacrilege by someone for saying this, but this rendition simply blows the original out of the water. The way DiFranco's voice wraps around Williams' as they sing "There is no pain" is an out-of-body experience.

  20. Sarah Vaughan, "Peter Gunn" -- You've probably heard an instrumental version of this classic in the movie The Blues Brothers, or maybe you've heard The Art of Noise's quirky cover. I didn't know the song had lyrics until I heard this version on Real Jazz (channel 70). I think Chevrolet used a snippet of it in one of their TV commercials a couple years ago. Just listening to her deliver the lyrics to the tempo of the song wears me out.

  21. Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs, "Alone Again Or" -- Hear Music introduced me to this gem, a cover of a 60s song recorded by the group Love. Boy, do they make it their own. Hoffs hasn't lost her touch over the years. If you've heard Sweet's work with Sean Mullins and Pete Droge under the name The Thorns, then you know it's going to be good.

  22. Terence Trent D'Arby, "She Kissed Me" -- Prior to hearing this rocker of a recording on Fred, I had only heard D'Arby's pop hit "Wishing Well". This was a pleasant surprise because it is as hard driving as it is bawdy. After the second verse, he's improvising with some notes that showcase an impressive vocal range. If it weren't for its lurid lyrical matter, I think an American Idol contestant could hit one out of the park with a good rendition of this song. Better yet, imagine Gina Glocksen testing TV taboos by taking that one on?

  23. Joss Stone, "Don't Cha Wanna Ride" -- Another Hear Music sighting... I guess this one was recorded because someone thought that there weren't enough songs set to the tune of "Soulful Strut".

  24. Nouvelle Vague, "Dancing with Myself" -- Give Billy Idol a sex change, a dose of lithium, and drop him in a Wayback Machine set for 1927. That's the only way I can describe this group's cover of a Generation X song that is timeless in its own right. Also worth a listen is the group's cover of Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart".

  25. Rufus Thomas, "Old MacDonald" -- Every once in a while, I have to change the radio over to XM Kids because I'm schlepping my older daughter to preschool on my way to work. That's where I heard this Stax stalwart's version of a childhood standard. It's a great way to introduce the young'uns to Memphis soul.

Feel free to critique the listing, especially you, Cat. If I get enough energy, I'll come up with a similar list of obscure non-XM songs that I cherish.
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