Thursday, October 27, 2016

The 2015/1967 Countdown - 10/27/2016 Update

Today, in (I promise) our very last post before moving on to our 2015/1967 countdown proper, we listen to songs from two of the most exciting names to emerge in country music over the last few years.

Let's start with 2015, and in 2015, no country artist had a bigger commercial breakthrough than songwriter Chris Stapleton.

An industry veteran who had already written over 150 produced songs for other artists in the previous decade (including six number ones on the country charts), Stapleton finally branched out on his own in 2015 with his solo debut Traveller and boy did he hit it big.

Traveller went on to become the best-reviewed country album of 2015, won several Grammys, and spawned a number of fantastic tracks, including the rousing Parachute, featured on our 2015 Crowd Pleasers mix.

We'll talk at a later date about another Traveller track, Stapleton's unreal cover of the country standard Tennessee Whiskey, in our actual Best Songs Of 2015 countdown, but for now, here's the Saturday Night Live performance of Parachute.

Now let's move on to a song from 2014's biggest breakout country artist.

Turtles All The Way Down is a wonderful little faith-questioning ballad from a man many are starting to believe represents the future of country music, Sturgill Simpson.

A musical omnivore, Simpson is well versed in country tradition, but much like Kanye West with regards to hip-hop, has an innate ability and seemingly unrelenting desire to expand his music beyond those traditional genre boundaries, hence his logical inclusion on the 2015 Coachella line-up and his representation on our 2015 Coachella Starters mix.

The album from which Turtles was pulled, Metamodern Sounds In Country Music, the top-reviewed country album of 2014, is excellent and well worth checking out, even for those that don't consider themselves everyday country fans...and in a bit of Best of 2016 foreshadowing, I can say his follow-up album A Sailor's Guide To Earth is even more expansively genre-bending and adventurous.

Without question, Simpson is one to keep an eye on.

Here's a nifty acoustic solo performance of Turtles from Live In The Morgue.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The 2015/1967 Countdown - 10/26/2016 Update

Motown wasn't just a label in 1967, it was a cultural force...its songs often the one brand of music that could consistently get individuals both white and black to drop the racial tensions of the time and for a few brief minutes let loose together in shared celebration...and 1967 was among the label's best years ever.  No surprise then that Nancy has selected several of the labels top 1967 hits for her Nancy's Favorites mix.

I Was Made To Love Her wasn't Stevie Wonder's first hit, he'd had several by the time of its 1967 release, but co-written with his mother Lula Mae Hardaway, Sylvia Moy, and producer Henry Cosby, it was always one of Stevie's personal favorites and point of pride amongst his early compositions.

As Wonder declared in a 1968 interview, he felt it was his first truly complete song he had written.  It would go on to top the R&B charts for four weeks in 1967, but was blocked from the top spot in the pop charts by The Doors' Light My Fire, and finished as the #14 most popular single for the year.

1967 was an even more productive year for Smokey Robinson & The Miracles.

In addition to releasing the amazing Tears Of A Clown, co-written with Stevie Wonder and Henry Cosby, Smokey stumbled upon his biggest hit of 1967 while shopping for pearls for his wife Claudette with friend and fellow songwriter Al Cleveland.

As the legend goes, after making his choice, Smokey said to the to the sales clerk "I sure hope she (Claudette) likes them." Cleveland then added, "I second that emotion."

Clevenland had meant to say "notion," but both men were so amused, they immediately got to work shaping a song around the accidental turn of phrase.

I Second That Emotion spent three weeks at #4 on the pop charts at the end of 1967, and the song has only grown in stature as the years have passed.

Moving over to our 1967's Super Soulsters' Deep Cuts Review, but sticking with The Miracles, they also released what might be their most beautiful song ever in 1967 with the less well-remembered but gorgeous The Love I Saw In You Was Just A Mirage.

Finally, a male/female Motown pairing that also had tremendous success in 1967 was that of established superstar Marvin Gaye and young ingenue Tammi Terrell.

Their very first recording, the classic single Ain't No Mountain High Enough, appears on Nancy's Favorites and will be discussed later, as it will land deep in our 67 Best Songs Of 1967 countdown, but the duo's follow-up single, Your Precious Love, was actually an even bigger hit for the act at the time, and is also included in our 1967's Super Soulster's Deep Cuts Review.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The 2015/1967 Countdown - 10/25/2016 Update

Just four more posts before we get to our 2015/1967 countdown proper.

Today we return to our 2015 Circuit Teasers mix, and take a listen to a new song from one of the funniest and most unique singer-songwriters of the last half-decade.

Disappointing is my favorite track from John Grant's solid third solo LP Grey Tickles, Black Pressures, which found the unpredictable but often riotiously witty singer directing his ire mostly towards the headaches of a being a gay man entering late middle-age this time around, all delivered with his typically acerbic, skewed panache.

British singer Tracey Thorn adds some excellent supporting vocals.

Monday, October 24, 2016

The 2015/1967 Countdown - 10/24/2016 Update

Today, we return one last time before the start of our countdown proper to our 1967's Super Spectacular Singles Superstars mix, and take a listen two a pair of 1967 garage hits that obtained even higher cache in the mid-70s with their inclusion of the opening edition of Lenny Kaye's infamous Nuggets compilation series.

Another 1967 garage single with a knotty start was The Strawberry Alarm Clock's Incense And Peppermint. At the time it was recorded, the band actually went by the name Thee Sixpence, and had already issued three singles under that moniker.  But in the Peppermint sessions, members of the band objected to the original lyrics by John S. Carter, and as acrimony developed in the studio, vocals were handed over to a friend visiting the session who wasn't even in the band, Greg Munford. Further complicating matters, producer Frank Slay denied fellow band members Mark Weitz and Ed King (who would go on to much greater success as a member of Leonard Skynyrd) writing credits for not coming up with the lyrics or core melody even though the song was primarly built around and instrumental composition of their own making.

Finally released as Thee Sixpence b-side to fourth single The Birdman Of Alkatrash, it was Incense and Peppermint that caught the attention of local DJs, and as it became clear the band was about to have a national hit, they quickly changed their name to The Strawberry Alarm Clock to avoid legal conflicts with another similarly named band. The song peaked at number 1 for one week in the weeklies, and finished 1967 in the #23 year-end spot. The band would produce a few more singles and a couple of albums, but would never have as big of a hit again.

For the Taft High School-forged Electric Prunes, songwriting credits were easier to sort through, as all of their hits and a heavy chunk of their album tracks were written by outside parties at the behest of record label Reprise, who loved the band's sound and commanding take on experimental feedback sonics, but felt they weren't quite strong enough songwriters to develop enough material on their own.

So the bulk of the songwriting chores fell to the slightly older female team of Annette Tucker and Nancie Mantz, who penned both of their biggest hits, the LSD-pun on the classic age-old adage I Had Too Much Too Dream Last Night, featured here, and Get Me To The World On Time.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

The 2015/1967 Countdown - 10/23/2016 Update

Today, we return to our 2015 Nut Squeezers mix, and take a listen to one of the nastiest songs put on record in 2015.

Acetate was the lead single and best song off of Canadian hardcore/noise-rock outfit METZ chilling second album II.

If you're looking for music to put the fear of God, or maybe Satan, into you, Metz II is as good a place to start as any 2015 release. Frighteningly severe, the album's enslaught comes at you for twenty-nine minutes, without let-up, with an almost biblical and often thrilling intensity.

Here's the official video for Acetate.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

The 2015/1967 Countdown - 10/22/2016 Update

Today, we return to our 1967's Super Spectacular Singles Superstars mix, and take a listen to a pair of harmony-driven hits from two of Englands biggest hitmakers of that era, each with a fun bit of trivia attached to it.

The Hollies Carrie Anne was their biggest hit of 1967 following a monster 1966. Written by Graham Nash, he much later admitted the incredibly appealing song was directly inspired by his unrequited romantic feelings for Mick Jagger's then girlfriend, singer Marianne Faithful, but he didn't have the courage at the time to use her exact name, hence the subtle shift in title.

And scoring the biggest hit of their entire career was the slightly older but equally consistent on the charts singles act The Tremeloes with their cover of the Four Seasons b-Side Silence Is Golden, which would be tops in the UK for three weeks.

As for the fun Tremoloes trivia - they can lay claim to being one of the only bands in history to best the The Beatles in anything music related - back in 1962, when Decca records decided they wanted to add one young beat act to their label, they audition two acts - The Tremeloes, and The Beatles - and yes, The Tremeloes won out, a decision many speculate was anchored mostly on geography, as The Tremeloes were based much closer to label headquarters.

Wonder if those Decca execs ever wished they could have that choice back?

Friday, October 21, 2016

The 2015/1967 Countdown - 10/21/2016 Update

Today we return to our 2015 Bigger In Britain mix and take a listen to a song, one of the most lyrically entertaining songs in this year's entire collection, that pretty much explains itself - The Mountain Goat's The Legend Of Chavo Guerrerofrom singer-songwriter-frontman John Darnielle's bittersweet album length paean to the professional wrestling hero's of his youth - Beat The Champ.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

The 2015/1967 Countdown - 10/20/2016 Update

Today, we return to our 1967's Super Soulsters' Deep Cuts Review and take a listen to a label exec forged vocal partnership that led to one of the biggest soul hits of 1967.

Tramp, the playful, spirited 1967 Otis Redding/Carla Thomas cover of a grittier Lowell Fulsom blues hit from earlier that same year, came about primarily due to the efforts of Stax label co-founder Jim Stewart, who just had a hunch pairing the gruff voice of emerging international superstar Redding with the super smooth stylings of local soul prodigy Thomas  (who was still getting her M.A. in English at Howard at the time) would work - and work it did.  The resulting album, King and Queen, went gold, was one of the bigger soul releases of the year and a huge success overseas...spawning not just one but three hit singles on the R&B charts.

It was also, for hip-hop trivia buffs, one of the first songs in recording history to pull an unauthorized live sample, with guitarist Steve Cropper repeatedly lifting the opening riff from the Temptations' 1966 hit (I Know) I'm Losing You for use as a textural element in the song.

Here's both the Otis Redding/Carla Thomas version, which peaked at #2 on the US R&B and #26 on the US pop charts, and the Lowell Fulsom version that inspired it.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The 2015/1967 Countdown - 10/19/2016 Update

Today, we return to our 2015 Women Who Rock mix one last time before jumping into our 2015/1967 countdown proper, and listen to a cut that had it been released a few years earlier, would have been an absolute natural for the Juno soundtrack.

Ideal World is the opening cut and my favorite track from LA teenage electric guitar and bass duo Girlpool's fine full length debut Before The World Was Big. Produced by Swearin'/Waxahatchee's Kyle Gilbride, the music on Before The World Was Big is full of humor, teen-angst and punkish-brio (though at a fraction of punk's volume), and while it feels deeply indebted to the work of 90s female trailblazers such as Julianna Hatfield and Liz Phair, it nonetheless also feels very much a part of this particular moment in time.

Well worth checking out for those who like their indie rock spare and and with a fair smattering of quirk!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The 2015/1967 Countdown - 10/18/2016

Today, we return to our 1967's Super "Sensational" Summer Of Love mix, and take a listen to the opening salvo in one of the longest running careers in contemporary music.

Buy For Me The Rain, from their self-title debut, was the first modest single success for Long Beach, California's Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.

Still college-aged at the time, and able to boast of having included both Jackson Browne and Steve Martin in their formative line-ups prior to the release of Buy Me For The Rain, the band was initially perceived as a bit of a folky/jugband novelty act and struggled mightily in the back end of the 60s after the buzz from Buy For Me The Rain wore off.

But they would regroup in 1970, gain full artisitic control of their recordings, shed the more vaudevillian aspects of their music, and go on to become one of the longest lasting acts in all of recorded music (they are still active today) and one of the most important acts, if not the most important act, in the early development of the country rock sound and a huge influence on later day country-rockers such as John Hiatt, Rosanne Cash and The Eagles.

Monday, October 17, 2016

The 2015/1967 Countdown - 10/17/2016 Update

Today, we return to the 2015 edition of Nancy's Favorites, and listen to a fantastic song from an emerging retro-soul artist nurtured by White Denim's Justin Block and Austin Jenkins.

Smooth Sailin', a silky slice of mid-tempo soul, comes to us courtesy of Leon Bridges off of his decent 2015 debut Coming Home

The song, produced by Block and Jenkins, is a perfect introduction to Bridges' work, as it highlights the Fort Worth, Texas native's predilection for the more restrained, super-smooth stylings of early 60s crooners like Sam Cooke and young Marvin Gaye over the funkier, slightly rawer late 60s soul sound that most of today's other retro-soul artists - including the Dap King collective and label-mate Raphael Saddiq - gravitate toward today.

Another Bridges' track from Coming Home, The River, will make our countdown proper, but for now enjoy this ridiculously easy listen.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The 2015/1967 Countdown - 10/16/2016 Update

Today, we are going to take a look at a quartet of songs scattered across three of our 1967 mixes - 1967's Super Spectacular Singles Superstars, 1967's Super "Sensational' Summer Of Love, and Nancy's Favorites, to examine how much quicker the music industry moved in the 60s compared to today, in this case as exemplified by quickly hit songs were regularly repurposed for other artists.

The Holland-Dozier-Holland-penned Motown classic You Keep Me Hangin' On was a hit twice in 1967, first entering 1967 still clinging to the #21 spot for Diana Ross & The Supremes after having landed at number 1 on the charts for two weeks late in 1966. Then later in the year, the Long Island psychedelic cover band Vanilla Fudge released their own ultra-heavy version of the song as their debut single. Powered by some exceptionally thunderous drumming, their recording also became a hit, peaking at #6  in the weeklies.

Another song that proved to be a two time winner in 1967 was Cat Stevens' The First Cut Is The Deepest.

Though Stevens had recorded a demo of the song as early as 1965, he was still primarily focused on his songwriting rather than performing career in early 1967.  So, considering it just another song he had written for other artists, he sold it to the hot at the moment American ex-patriot soul singer P. P. Arnold (already mentioned in our discussion of The Smal Faces Tin Soldier) for a mere thirty pounds. The song, recorded with The Small Faces acting as her backing band, became a huge hit for Arnold, reaching #18 in the British weeklies.

Later that year, Stevens would record his own singer-songwriter version of the song and include it on his second album New Masters. It didn't chart as well as Arnold's version at the time, but is now considered by most the definitive version of the song, no matter how much Arnold or other artists who scored hits with the song like Rod Stewert or Cheryl Crow may disagree.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

The 2015/1967 Countdown - 10/15/2016 Update

We're getting very close to the actual start of our countdown, so today, we're going to do a bit of punk house cleaning, quickly spotlighting five punk acts featured on our 2015 Coachella Starters mix.

Historically, Coachella always has a strong punk presence, as festival founder Paul Tollett cut his teeth as a Los Angeles punk promoter and his ties to the punk community run very deep, but even along the festival's normal booking trends, 2015 featured a heavier than normal punk lean.

From the classic-styled Brit-punk of the Jarman Brothers-anchored The Cribs (Chi Town), to the dronier post-punk stylings of their Leeds-based compatriots The Eagulls (the awesome Possessed), to Chicagoland bad-boy act The Orwell's (Let It Burn) and youthful Orange County-based punk-poppers Joyce Manor (Christmas Card), punk was everywhere on the 2015 bill.

Even artists not principally associated with punk, such as indie folkster/alt-countrier and Bright Eyes founder Connor Oberst, chose to appear in 2015 in their most aggitational form - in Oberst's case bringing back his aggressive, early years punk side-project Los Desaparecidos (The Left Is Right).

Videos for all the featured songs from all five acts follow, though unfortunately, good performance videos with decent audio quality from the 2015 festival no longer exist.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Six Deep Cuts I Would Cry If I Heard At Desert Trip Weekend 2

So, so stoked to be heading out to Desert Trip this morning to see six of my favorite legends perform together for the first time.

In honor of the event, I thought I'd take a break from our 2015/1967 countdown, and post one deep cut from each artist, not played in Weekend 1 (and in truth, likely not to be played Weekend 2 either), that will literally bring tears to my eyes should the artists choose to perform them Weekend 2.

1. Bob Dylan - Bob Dylan's 115th Dream

Quite possibly the silliest and most playful song in the entire Dylan catalog, this surreal tale of trying to bust Captain Arab from jail after discovering a fully-settled/contemporary America that closed the revolutionary Dylan-goes-electric side one of Bringing It All Back Home possesses some of the funniest and punkiest couplets Bob ever wrote (some favs amongst many brilliant turns of phrase in the song. "They asked me for some collateral/And I pulled down my pants." and "I said you know they refused Jesus, too/He said you're not him."). Cannot express how excited I would be to hear this one live.

2. The Rolling Stones - Stray Cat Blues

A dicey choice even this raunchiest of acts is wary to play in today's election/cultural environment, but this Beggar's Banquet tale of a sexual predator luring reckless fifteen-year-olds into his loft with its horrifying refrain of "Bet your mama don't know you bite like that" has always been, in my opinion, the most  unnerving song in the entire Stone's catalog, as well as one of the the genuinely elite non-Hot Rocks-rockers from their classic Beggars thru Exile period (along with Live With Me, Monkey Man, Bitch, Rocks Off and Can't You Hear Me Knocking).

3. Neil Young - Love And Only Love

An easy choice here.

Unlike the other, prodigy level talents that will grace the stage this weekend, Neil's strength has always come (not unlike Lou Reed) from how much he's able to convey through such limited natural chops (as friends and I often say, he's the best bad guitarist the rock world has ever produced), and this ten-minute garage-rager from 89's Ragged Glory captures that tension found in the desire to communicate artistic passion through instrumental limitation better than any other song in his entire fifty-year canon.

Here's a fairly recent live performance of the song.

4. Paul McCartney - Mother Nature's Son

After Blackbird, this spartan, delicate whisp of a track from The White Album is one the most unusual and contemprary feeling acoustic ballads The Beatle's ever recorded. Just listen to In Rainbows or A Moon Shaped Pool and tell me Radiohead hasn't drawn inspiration from this song over the years.

5. The Who - The Ox

I'm as big a Who's Next fan as the next guy, but I've always found the sheer energy on the band's debut album, 1964's The Who Sing My Generation, extraordinary, and no song brings that energy into focus more than this positively possessed, years-ahead-of-their-time firestorm of an instrumental.

6. Roger Waters - Sheep

A very personal reason here, and probably one Water's himself would be troubled by, but this song - my favorite from 1977s Animals and the only track not played from that album Weekend 1 - was a critical component of my college fraternity's hazing rituals back in the late 80s. As I will be attending Desert Trip with some of my closest college friends and fellow fraternity brothers, hearing this song on the polo fields would summon up all sorts of extra meaning.

The 2015/1967 Countdown - 10/14/2016 Update

Today, we return to our 1967 Nancy's Favorites mix, and listen to another producer-created single, but one that rather than just generating another one-hit wonder, launched the career of a significant late-sixties hitmaking act and its legendary frontman, Alex Chilton.

Of course, that song is the Box Top's The Letter.

Written by Nashville-based country artist Wayne Carson Thompson, the song found its way into the hands of Carson Thompson's friend Chips Moman, owner over Memphis's famed American Sound Studio, who agreed to record the song with a new band.

When one of Moman's young assistant producers, Dan Penn, grew tired of collaborating with others (particularly Moman himself) and asked for a chance to record an act - any act no matter how low on the totem pole - on his own, Moman gave him the shot, and also let him run with some of Carson Thompson's songs, including The Letter.

To record the song, Penn found emerging blue-eyed soul teenage-act The Devilles, fronted by the 16-year-old Chilton, who had been regular competitors in a local weekly battle of the bands.

Despite the Penn and the band's youth and inexperience in the studio, they all proved to be quick studies. The sessions did include instrumental contributions from more seasoned hands, but all but one original band member played on the original recording.

Once the single was cut, the band changed their name to The Box Tops to avoid legal conflicts with another similarly named recording artist, and the rest is history.  The song, I believe the shortest to every top the Billboard charts, was the #2 song on the year, selling over four million copies, and the first in a string of Box Tops hits over the remainder of the 60s before most of the band members, quickly jaded by the myriad ways they were being ripped off by industry insiders, choose to leave the music business and attend college instead.

Chilton, obviously, went on to much acclaim as a solo artist and leader of the highly influential mid-70s power-pop trio Big Star.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The 2015/1967 Countdown - 10/13/2016 Update

We're now down to a final twenty-seven songs to discuss before getting into our 2015/1967 countdown proper, so to keep things moving, we return today to our 2015 Coachella Starters mix, and a retro tune from one of the most eccentric and unique rappers working today.

Easy Rider comes to us courtesy of the Brooklyn-based, Wu-Tang Clan-loving, ex-chef Action Bronson, from his uneven but sometimes inspired full-length debut Mr. Wonderful.

Known for returning thematically time and again to songs that echo Bronson's passion for early east-coast gangster rap but that seem more preoccupied with tales of world travel and the culinary delights of various regions, this album closer cops a pyschedelic biker groove intentionally reminiscent of the counter-culture film classic with which it shares its name to send Bronson out into the sunset once again in search of further adventure, trouble, and of course, his next meal.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The 2015/1967 Countdown - 10/12/2016 Update

Today, we return to our 1967's Super Spectacular Singles Superstars mix, and have a listen to one of the greatest syrupy bubblegum ballads of all-time, The Monkees Daydream Believer.

Shockingly though, given one's hindsighted impressions of the band, the Daydream Believer, originally written by folk-singer John Stewart of The Kingston Trio, was the lowest charter of four hits in 1967 for everyone's favorite manufactured television band, finishing at #94 in the 1967 Billboard year-ends behind their #74 Carole King-penned Pleasant Valley Sunday, their #58 Neil Diamond-penned A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You, and their monster 1966 carry-over I'm A Believer (also written by Neil Diamond), which finished #5 in 1967.

That said, it stands today as one of the band's truest efforts from a recording standpoint, with most of the instrumentation being handled by the four rather than their typical assortment of session hands, and with Peter Tork himself creating that well known piano intro.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The 2015/1967 Countdown - 10/11/2016 Update

Yesterday, we listened to an all-time soul standard from 1967.

Today, we take a look at a UK retro-soul act, Jungle, that's giving soul music a genuinely fresh twist.

Another standout at the 2015 Coachella fest whom we originally profiled, like fellow countrymen Royal Blood, in our 2014 mix collection, Jungle is a calculatedly mysterious band (for a while known  just by their first initials and only showing dancers, not band members, in their videos) whose sonic anchor in unusual, digitally sampled atmospherics and four-part group vocals generates a hazy, loose soul vibe that warmly recalls classic early 70s soul while nonetheless sounding completely unique to this era.

Time, from their excellent 2014 self-titled debut, was without question the standout single-song performance of their Coachella set, and is hence the band's representative track on our 2015 Coachella Starters mix.

Here's a fan captured video from that show.

Monday, October 10, 2016

The 2015/1967 Countdown - 10/10/2016 Update

Today, we return to our 1967's Super Soulsters' Deep Cuts Review mix, and listen to one of the most successful R&B B-sides of all time.

Few female R&B/Blues singers had a longer/more critically revered career or a more turbulent life  than California's Etta James.

A performer since her California teen days in the 1950s, she landed with Chess Records in 1960 and scored a number of hits at the start of the decade, but by 1967, a longtime heroin addiction, several failed relationships, and a habit of fighting with producers had her career in a serious tailspin and drove her into isolation.

When she finally re-emerged ready to work, Chess heads felt a temporary change of scenery would be best for all parties, and had her head down to Alabama to record with Muscle Shoals' producer Rick Hall instead.

The collaboration would prove quite fruitful, adding a layer of grit and muscle to James up-to-that-point smoother sound, and would generate one of the greatest two-sided singles of all time - the 1967 pairing of the rocking Tell Mama (featured on Nancy's Favorites) with the searing blues ballad I'd Rather Go Blind, which James had originally written with her friend Ellington Jordan while visiting him in prison. Both songs were huge successes, and I'd Rather Go Blind has gone on to become one of the most-covered R&B ballads of all-time.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

The 2015/1967 Countdown - 10/09/2016 Update

Today we return to our 2015 Dream Weavers mix, and share a few thoughts on a popular indie act that had a rather prolific 2015.

Beach House - the well-regarded though in my opinion often more sleepy-than-interesting dream-pop duo out of Baltimore, Maryland - released two full-length LPs in 2015 just two months apart, and both first release Depression Cherry and second release Thank Your Lucky Stars (recorded at same time as Depression Cherry in but incorporating songs written from a different time period) portrayed the band trying to simplify things after the increasingly complex production of prior albums Teen Dream and Bloom, but did so in distinctly different ways.

Depression Cherry was a straight-on retreat, not in sound but complexity only, to the simpler and less interesting orchestrations of their so-so sophomore effort Devotion.  It possesses a couple decent songs, particularly opener Levitation and Sparks, but for the most part didn't impress me.

Thank You Lucky Stars, however, was very interesting...showing the band trying to branch out for the first time from its very narrowly defined core-aesthetic...and it's a much better album than Depression Cherry because of this.  From the synth-pop of All You Yeahs, to the Velvet Underground-ish One Thing, to Elegy To The Void's phenomenal, Loveless-styled closing guitar solo (our representative track for the band's 2015 efforts on our Dream Weavers mix), I really enjoyed this album.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

The 2015/1967 Countdown - 10/08/2016 Update

Today, we return once again to our 1967's Super Spectacular Singles Superstars mix and listen to a major hit from one of the most talented and underappreciated Los Angeles bands of the era, The Association.

Though the Association would score two monster hits in 1967 - the stunning, God Only Knows-calibre ballad Never My Love (#20 on Billboard's year-end Hot 100), featured on Nancy's Favorites, and the iconic pop song Windy (#4 on the year-end Hot 100), presented here - the AM success of these songs, coupled with that of earlier hits like Along Comes Mary and Cherish, would ultimately sew the seeds of the band's undoing.

An extremely talented and ambitious folk-rock sextet with a super-tight live attack, several prodigy-level multi-instrumentalists, and quite possibly the most sophisticated vocal harmonies of the era outside of The Beach Boys or The Byrds, the band was nonetheless never able to prove to the general listening public that they were more than just label manufactured, AM-staple soft-rockers, and as listening tastes quickly hardened in the late '60s, the band was quickly abandoned.

By 1969, just two years removed from their peak chart success and a blazing live stint opening the historic Monterey Pop Festival, the band was deemed a nostalgia act by the industry and would never effectively recover despite attempts to harden their sound.  A sad finish for a band that, had things gone smoother for them, had the potential to reach almost the same critical stratosphere as other LA 1960s legends like The Beach Boys, The Buffalo Springfield, The Byrds, and Love.

Here's a live performance of Windy at Chicagoland's Ravina from 1967.

Friday, October 7, 2016

The 2015/1967 Countdown - 10/07/2016 Update

Today, we return to our 2015 Coachella Starters mix, and take a listen to an unexpected 2014 indie hit that turned an off-the-cuff side project into one of the must-see artists of the 2015 Coachella festival.

When they first started collaborating, the sly, sexy, late-night electro-pop presented in Sylvan Esso's 2014 self-titled debut couldn't have been more of a departure for the Durham, North Carolina duo of Appalachian indie-folk singer/Mountain Man member Amelia Meath and electronic producer/Megafaun bassist Nick Sandborn, but the album's relaxed vibes and clever lyrics took hold with the public.

Their debut now stands as the most successful endeavor of either artist's career, due in no large part to the runaway indie success of this single here, the coy, Tommy James-referencing Coffee.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

The 2015/1967 Countdown - 10/06/2016 Update

Today, we return to our 1967's Super Soulsters' Deep Cuts Review mix, and listen to There Is, which was an absolute career-changer for one of the most enduring vocal groups of the last half-century, The Dells.

By 1966, the future Hall of Famers and Harvey, Illinois-born Dells had already been scoring modest hits on the R&B charts and touring for thirteen years.  After a '66 tour serving as Ray Charles' backing vocalists ended and their label at that moment, Vee-Jay, went bankrupt, they returned to Chess Records for a third time, this time under sub-label Cadet, and were introduced to producer/songwriter Bobby Miller and arranger Charles Stepney.

The pairing would prove near miraculous.

There Is, the lead single (a Miller song the group initially hated) from their late 1967 album of the same name, became their first ever top-20 hit on the pop charts.

There Is the album would spawn three other major charters as well, including the six-and-a-half-minute Stay In My Corner, and catapult The Dells into the top echelon of the R&B world, where they remained, delivering hit after hit, until they left Cadet and moved to Mercury in 1975 and their career began to cool.

The band did remain active though well into the 2000s, scoring another hit in 1980 and then again in 1991 with A Heart Is A House For Love from the soundtrack to director Robert Townsend's The Five Heartbeats (a film loosely based on the career of The Dells and for which they served as primary musical consultants), making the The Dells one of only two recording acts in history to land songs on the singles charts in five different decades.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The 2015/1967 Countdown - 10/05/2016 Update

Boy, what a difference a few years and a little taste of monetary success can make.

Five years ago everyone, including this blog, was raving about this mysterious Canadian contemporary R&B artist carefully cultivating a decadent, reclusive, anti-record-industry persona with a series of free downloads dominated by bleak, drugs-and-elicit-sex-obsessed, sonically fascinating slow jams.

Today, thanks to mega-hits like The Hills and our selection for our 2015 Crowd Pleasers mix, the Off The Wall-ish disco banger Can't Feel My Face from his so-so second major label release Beauty Behind The Madness, The Weeknd is now one of the biggest and most commercially transparent mainstream artists out there, sub-headlining major festivals, collaborating with the likes of Drake and Ariana Grande, and performing as the season-opening musical guest on Saturday Night Live - even though his desolate lyrical obsession with the empty highs of a drug-fueled existence remains.

But whatever one may feel about the increasingly profit-oriented arc of The Weeknd's career, one can't totally fault him for his shift in direction when some of the results are as compulsively listenable as this.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The 2015/1967 Countdown - 10/4/2016 Update

Today, we return to our 1967's Super Spectacular Singles Superstars mix, and listen to another of the year's one-hit wonders, though in this case, much more was initially expected of the act.

When Columbia Records signed the Peanut Butter Conspiracy, they had high hopes that they had just hit the motherlode with the next Jefferson Airplane, and in some regards, they had every right to think this.

Not only was the band a psychedelic folk-rock quintet with a charismatic, counter-culture-channeling female lead in Barbara "Sandi" Robinson, but the band's prior drummer had been Spencer Dryden, who had just left the act to become the drummer guessed it...the Jefferson Airplane.

But the label missed one thing, the Peanut Butter Conspiracy just weren't top-tier talented, especially on the songwriting front, and whatever rough of-the-moment edge they did possess was pretty much washed over on their debut album The Peanut Butter Conspiracy Is Spreading by producer Gary Usher's lush, clean, studio-musician augmented touches.

In the end, despite all the high hopes, things never took off for The Peanut Butter Conspiracy.

It's A Happening Thing would be the band's only song to make a dent in the charts.

Monday, October 3, 2016

The 2015/1967 Countdown - 10/03/2016 Update

Today we return to our 2015 Coachella Starters mix and take a listen to Elevatea track by one of the stronger synth pop acts on the 2015 line-up, the Brooklyn-based St. Lucia

An emerging retro-80s act dominated by South African lead singer/principal songwriter Jean-Philip Grobler, they put on a fine show back in 2015, and tend to hit a lot of the same pleasure centers as M83 with their warm, John Hughes/Lionel Ritchie-type vibe, something this video for Elevate makes abundantly clear.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

The 2015/1967 Countdown - 10/02/2016

Today, we return to our 2015 Bigger In Britain mix, and take a listen to a song from one of London's more exciting young bands.

The playful Shake And Tremble is my favorite song from Brit art-rockers Django Django's Born Under Saturn, the follow-up to their well-received 2012 self-titled debut.

Just like that debut, Born Under Saturn traffics in the same inventive, unique mix of precise, affectless group harmonies, surf-rock licks, and Devo-ish synth silliness, but, for my money, does so  less successfully this time around.

Still, a band this singular in vision is worth watching. More than needing to refine their song craft, I think they just need to get more draconian with their sequencing...all of their albums so far have felt a few songs too long.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

The 2015/1967 Countdown - 10/01/2016 Update

Today, we turn again to our 1967's Super "Sensational" Summer Of Love mix and take a listen to one of the songs most purely and directly inspired by that cultural moment.

San Franciscan Nights, the humorous (the opening is a riff on a play on Dragnet's theme song) but ultimately sincere appreciation of the San Francisco scene, was written by Eric Burdon right on the heels of the Animal's Monterey Pop Festival appearance, and was the first and biggest (though far from only) hit for the fully revamped second major line-up of the group (now technically renamed Eric Burdon And The Animals).

Burdon himself has claimed that he felt San Franciscan Nights was one of the more impactful protest songs of the decade - that it got soldiers overseas to wonder what the hell they were doing fighting in a foreign land when all that groovy stuff was happening back home - but regardless of its sociological impact, the song ushered in a new, less blues-oriented, more psychedelic style for the band that would sustain them as a steady presence on the charts for the duration of the 1960s.