Mah Nà Mah Nà: Italian Cinema, 1965-1976

Album covers for Fumo di Londra, Svezia Inferno e Paradiso, Ad Ogni Costo, & I Giovani Tigri.

Need a pick-me-up in the middle of the week? Whether you’re listening on Wednesday (the day I’m posting this) or not, welcome to this collection of sonic uplift! I’ve named it after the song you almost certainly know: Piero Umiliani’s “Mah Nà Mah Nà,” made famous in various versions performed by Jim Henson’s Muppets. On this playlist, however, you’ll hear the original, from the soundtrack of Svezia, inferno e paradiso (1968). You’ll also hear 49 other songs, composed by Umiliani, Ennio Morricone, Armando Trovaioli, Piero Piccioni, and others.

To give credit where due, this selection of film music by Italian composers, all recorded between 1965 and about 1976, draws inspiration (and a good portion of its playlist) from a 90-minute mix created by Bill DeMain over 20 years ago. He gave it to me on a cassette, but without song titles.

The original "Italian Cinema" mix tape compiled by Bill DeMain
The “caffeinated” side of Bill’s original mix.

Maybe 5 or so years ago, assisted by the Shazam app, I managed to reconstruct much of it digitally. (It has long been a favorite mix of mine!) When I couldn’t find a particular track, I added something in a similar vein. I had such fun making it that I made a sequel. This playlist includes tracks from both — the attempted recreation of Bill’s original and my “Part II.” Though not everything is available on Spotify, a surprising amount is.

Tomorrow, this week-long experiment in musical delights continues with… a travel-themed playlist for children and their adults. See you then!


The mixes/playlists thus far

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You Can’t Do That: Over 100 Beatles Covers

Welcome to… over 100 cover versions of songs by the Beatles! 120 covers, to be precise. My favorites — not that you asked — are the truly transformative ones, such as Nina Simone’s “Revolution” (11th track on this playlist) and Harry Nilsson’s “You Can’t Do That” (57th track, which is also a mash-up). Though I really like versions that compel you to listen anew to a song you thought you knew, attempts at fidelity have their own appeal — especially when the song covered is the Beatles’ venture into concrete music, “Revolution No. 9.” (Scroll down to track #115 and listen to the version by Alarm Will Sound.)

Designed by Ivor Arbiter. First appeared on Ringo’s drum kit in May 1963.

Yes, technically, two of these are not covers. Lennon and McCartney pitched “I Wanna Be Your Man” to the Rolling Stones, who recorded it first. The Stones’ version, released 1 Nov. 1963, reached #12 in the UK. The Beatles’ recording appears on With the Beatles (released 22 Nov. 1963 in the UK). Similarly, Aretha Franklin’s “Let Be” was issued before the Beatles’ release of the original song. Franklin’s album This Girl’s in Love with You (which included both this and “Eleanor Rigby”) was released in January 1970, and the Beatles’ single (from the band’s final — and then still forthcoming — album) was released in March 1970. Franklin based her version on a Beatles demo.

This week-long experiment in musical delight (which I’ve hashtagged as #MusicDelights on Twitter) continues tomorrow with an energetic compilation of Italian film music from the mid-1960s through the mid-1970s. As I say in tomorrow’s post, a hearty thanks to Bill DeMain for introducing me to many of these!


The mixes/playlists thus far

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Coffee Break!

From songs directly about coffee to others with a coffee motif, this mix is for fans of coffee and music. To give credit where it’s due, some of these selections come from Bob Dylan’s Theme Time Radio Hour program on coffee. The songs range from Emmylou Harris to Prince, Bob Marley to the Boswell Sisters, Lightnin’ Hopkins to Squeeze, Tom Waits to Sylvan Esso. I created the first iteration of this mix five years ago, and have made several versions of it since then. The result, for you, is a 35-song playlist devoted to coffee! So, brew yourself a cup… and have a listen!

“Let’s have another cup of coffee. Let’s have another piece of pie.”
[image from Wikipedia’s “Coffee” entry]

Oh! And one more thing. This broad range of songs about coffee includes some that date back to at least the 1920s — “A Proper Cup of Coffee” is a British music-hall song from that period (though Ana Gasteyer’s recording is from 2014). As a result, you may occasionally encounter a problematic lyric, musical phrase, or vocal delivery. The one that stands out — indeed, the one that prompts this note — is Sinatra’s bizarre “Mexican” accent at the very end of his song about… Brazil. (I included it because it’s a classic coffee song, but jeez, Frank, WTF?) At any rate, of course, do feel free to skip that one — or any other that’s not to your taste.

A few notes on the songs (preceded by the songwriter, in parentheses).

1 (Suzanne Vega). From Solitude Standing (1987). The “actor who had died while he was drinking” is William Holden (1918-1981).

2 (Jim Infantino). From WERS: Live from Emerson College (2000), also appears on noplace like Nowhere (2000).

3 (Frank Loesser). From the 2011 Broadway revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1961).

4 (Peter Dixon). From Schizophonic! (1996), the band’s second album — or third, if we include the soundtrack to Four Rooms (1995). Combustible Edison would release one more album before breaking up in 1999.

5 (Irving Berlin). Introduced in the Broadway musical Face the Music (1932). This recording — featuring vocals by Marion Hutton, Ernie Caceres and the Modernaires — is from 1942.

6 (Bob Hilliard & Dick Miles). A #6 pop hit in the U.S., in 1946.

7 (Ben Oakland & Milton Drake). A #15 pop hit in the U.S., in 1940.

8 (Patty Larkin). From Step Into the Light (1985), Larkin’s debut.

9 (Hank DeVito & Donivan Cowart). From Old Yellow Moon (2013).

10 (R.P. Weston & Bert Lee). This is an English music-hall song from the 1920s, originally popularized by Ernie Mayne. On Gasteyer’s I’m Hip (2014).

11 (Craig Ventresco). From the Ghost World soundtrack (2005).

12 (Adams & Corelli). Released as the b-side to Scatman Crothers’ “Dearest One” (1955).

13 (John Stiles, J. C. Hill). Released as a single in 1969, and collected on What It Is!: Funky Soul and Rare Grooves, 1967-1977. (If you’re paying close attention, you’ll note that this was also on yesterday’s funk playlist — an inadvertent repeat on my part, but just as enjoyable in this context, I think!)

14 (Prince & Susannah Melvoin). From Prince’s Sign o’ the Times (1987).

15 (Billy Rose, Al Dubin, Joseph Meyer). Carl Stalling (1891-1972), arranger and composer (1936-1958) for the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons, often used this tune in scenes featuring cooking, eating, or hunger. The song dates to 1925 (sadly, Spotify lacks Nick Lucas’ 1926 recording), and the Buffalo Bills rendition is on the group’s 1959 album, The Buffalo Bills with Banjo.

16 (Al Dubin & Harry Warren). When asked to name the singer who most influenced her, Ella Fitzgerald always cited Connie Boswell, the sole Boswell sister to have a singing career after the group disbanded in 1936. (This song is from 1933.)

17 (Ray Henderson, Buddy G. DeSylva, Lew Brown). Written in 1928, and recorded by the Nat King Cole Trio in 1946, a year of many hits for the group — “The Frim Fram Sauce,” “Get Your Kicks on Route 66,” “(I Love You) for Sentimental Reasons.” (This was not among those hits.)

18 (Danny Overbea). The final hit (#26, 1953) for Ella Mae Morse, a White singer who had hits on both the pop and R&B charts in the 1940s. She’s also one of many who was singing rock-n-roll before rock-n-roll (see also Big Joe Turner, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Louis Jordan, Helen Humes, Wynonie Harris,…).

19 (Glenn Troutman). Don’t let the songwriter’s name fool you: Glen Glenn is the stage name for Glenn Troutman. He recorded this song in 1958.

20 (Lightnin’ Hopkins). First released on Hopkins’ Walkin’ This Road by Myself (1961).

21 (Mississippi John Hurt). Recorded in 1963, this song inspired the band name the Lovin’ Spoonful.

22 (Chris Difford & Glenn Tilbrook). With backing vocals from Elvis Costello and Paul Young, this was a minor hit from Sweets from a Stranger (1981), also included on Singles — 45’s and Under (1982).

23 (Amelia Meath, Nick Sanborn, Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich). Sylvan Esso’s 2014 song incorporates Tommy James and the Shondells’ “Hanky Panky” near the end (hence the Barry & Greenwich credit).

24 (Adam Schlesinger & Chris Collingwood). From Welcome Interstate Managers (2003), a great pop record best known for the hit “Stacy’s Mom.”

25 (Tom T. Hall). The b-side to Dave Dudley’s “What We’re Fighting For,” a #4 hit on the country charts in 1965.

26 (Tom Waits). From Waits’ Nighthawks at the Diner (1975)

27 (Jerry Butler, Eddie Thomas, Jay Walker). From Otis Redding’s The Soul Album (1966).

28 (Shorty Long & Susan Heather). Single from 1956. Note: I don’t think this is the same Shorty Long known for “Function at the Junction.”

29 (Maurice Sigler, Al Goodhart, Al Hoffman). Recorded in 1935.

30 (Robert Marley). Yes, Robert Marley is Bob Marley. He recorded this song in 1962.

31 (Bob Dylan). From Masked and Anonymous: Music from the Motion Picture (2003).

32 (Marty Robbins). A #13 country hit for Frizzell in 1958.

33 (Steve Nelson & Jack Rollins). Single from 1951.

34 (Ron Sexsmith). From Sexsmith & Kerr’s Destination Unknown (2005).

35 (Sonny Burke, Paul Francis Webster). A #13 pop hit for Sarah Vaughan in 1949.


As noted yesterday, I am posting mixes/playlists each day of this week. Return tomorrow for over 100 covers of Beatles songs!

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Overpowered by Funk: (Mostly) Instrumental Grooves, 1967-1975

This is the first in a series of posts intended to elicit delight — specifically, musical delight. What occasions it? 1. There needs to be more joy in the world. 2. Inspired by Ross Gay’s Book of Delights (2019), I am trying to locate delight in the everyday. Music is one of my delights. 3. I have started recreating (as best I can) my iTunes playlists on Spotify.

covers for albums by the Meters, James Brown, and some funk compilations

Created a little over a year ago for a friend who requested a mix of instrumental funk, this playlist ought to lift your spirits. Though I have named it for the 1982 Clash song, the tracks here all date to funk’s first wave — or, at least, what I think of as its first wave. Part of the fun in responding to this request was that it required a bit of research on my part. (I’m interested in all kinds of music, but know funk far less well than other genres.) So,… if you think of any (mostly) wordless early funk instrumentals that should be added here, let me know! Note: the songs have to be on Spotify. (Alas, a few of my original choices were not on Spotify.) Enjoy!

ALSO: for the next week, I will be posting one mix each day, purely for the enjoyment of anyone who would like to listen. Tune in again tomorrow for a new playlist!

What is tomorrow’s theme? Well, since it will be Monday, I thought coffee would be apt. Thus, it will be 35 songs about coffee!

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My Desert Island Discs

Here’s a post that appears today on Kansas State University’s Department of English blog.


Since 1942, the BBC’s Desert Island Discs program has invited guests (known as “castaways”) to divulge which eight recordings they would take, were they stranded on a desert island. Though the BBC program has never asked members of Kansas State University’s English Department, we are nonetheless offering our answers — starting with Philip Nel, University Distinguished Professor & Track Head of the MA in Children’s Literature.

I love this question because it compels you to think about which music is most important to you, and is impossible to answer definitively — my answers change over time. A quick perusal of the BBC’s website indicates that people must choose individual songs (or tracks) rather than full albums.  So, I’m following that example — and including a bonus list of albums.

Listed in chronological order (by date of recording), here are my top eight tracks, assembled in a Spotify playlist (below) and with brief commentary after that.  Enjoy!

  1. The Mills Brothers: “Funiculi Funicula” (1938). I love the joyful emphasis on “fun and frolic” and the Mills Brothers’ harmonies. If you listen to this song, you will feel happier.
  2. Fats Waller, “The Jitterbug Waltz” (1942). An original Waller composition that makes me wonder what other music he would have created had not died the following year (at the age of 39). I think that, after Waller’s early famous work (“Ain’t Misbehavin’,” “Honeysuckle Rose”), “The Jitterbug Waltz” must be one of his most-performed songs.
  3. Ella Fitzgerald, “Flying Home” (1945). A master class in scat-singing from one of the greatest interpreters of popular music. Ella Fitzgerald’s version of the tune co-written by Benny Goodman, Eddie DeLange, & Lionel Hampton.
  4. The Clash: “Lost in the Supermarket” (1979), in which Mick Jones sings lyrics by Joe Strummer that imagine Jones’ childhood. The verses combine a critique of consumer culture with a bittersweet, reflective nostalgia — creating a song that is both sad and yet buoyant. From London Calling, the band’s greatest album — I would argue. (My colleague Tim Dayton prefers the Clash’s debut. Why not listen to both and decide for yourself?)
  5. Richard Goode: Beethoven’s “Sonata no. 30 in E major, op.109: Tema; Molto cantabile & espressivo; Variazioni I-VI” (recorded 1988; written by Ludwig van Beethoven, 1820/1821). Like my colleague Kim Smith, I’m a devotee of Beethoven’s piano sonatas, and especially fond of the late sonatas. Somewhere in (I think) The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, Milan Kundera calls the late sonatas variations on the sonata form itself. Richard Goode’s light touch makes his recordings (for me) the definitive versions — even though, of course, there are many versions and none can claim definitiveness. (Wouldn’t a truly definitive version be performed on a piano forte? The type of piano that Goode plays did not exist in 1820.)
  6. They Might Be Giants: “Birdhouse in Your Soul” (1990). My favorite band has created — and continues to create — so many great songs that it’s hard to choose just one. Sung from the perspective of a blue nightlight shaped like a canary, this song changes key 18 times in its 3 minutes and 20 seconds, and includes such advice as “filibuster vigilantly.” (For more on the magnificence of this song, see Philip Sandifer and S. Alexander Reed’s small book on They Might Be Giants’ Flood — or this article, which is excerpted from the book.)
  7. Mavis Staples: “99 and 1/2” (2007). From the exquisite We’ll Never Turn Back, which is my favorite Mavis Staples album — a record both that hearkens back to her earlier work (as one of the Staple Singers) in the fight for Civil Rights and that pulls that message into the present and the future. The urgency, the activism, and her powerful voice.
  8. Metric: “Now or Never Now” (2018). My favorite song from last year. I love its early New Order sound. Its lyrics convey doubt, reflection, and find vocalist Emily Haines poised at a moment of decision — which, by the song’s conclusion, seem to resolve towards action. It arrives at a qualified optimism that its early verses don’t anticipate. Now or never now? Now.

And departing from the rules a bit, here are nine favorite LPs:

  • Chet Baker, Best of Chet Baker Sings (1989; recorded 1953-1956)
  • Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong, Ella & Louis Again (1957)
  • Aretha Franklin, 30 Greatest Hits (1985; recorded 1967-1974)
  • The Beatles, The Beatles [White Album] (1968)
  • The Clash, London Calling (1979)
  • Richard Goode, Beethoven: The Late Sonatas (1988)
  • Mavis Staples, We’ll Never Turn Back (2007)
  • They Might Be Giants, Flood (1990)
  • Jóhann Jóhannsson, Orphée (2016)

Philip Nel, Professor

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RESIST! A mix for 2019

NO 45 by Mike Mitchell
NO 45 by Mike Mitchell

To keep our spirits up amidst the cascading catastrophes inflicted by the Russian Asset and his quislings (the GOP), the resistance needs a soundtrack. Here’s my offering for 2019.

And here’s last year’s mix, which is also featured in a post that includes “75 better names for 45,” since there are so many more apt names for the Evil Orange Man.

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Election 2016: The Mixtapes

Both 2016 election mixes: Trump (at left) & Clinton (at right)

With the 2016 presidential election slightly less than 6 weeks away, it’s time to get up and dance. Or run around flailing and hollering. Likely, a bit of both. To aid you in this necessary activity, I have assembled two mixes — one for each of the two major presidential candidates.  Actually, I’ve assembled three. For those offended by profanity, I have a “clean” version of the Hillary Clinton mix (omitting YG’s “FDT”).

Each mix strives to represent key ideas of the candidates’ campaigns. I’ve compiled songs that reflect the key concerns of the fascistic, narcissistic fraud who is running as a white supremacist. And I’ve assembled songs that reflect the key ideas of the experienced, even-tempered, feminist neoliberal.  So, I present to you, dear listeners,…

Enjoy!


The Angry Mob: TrumpPence Uber Alles

The Angry Mob: TrumpPence Uber Alles

1. I’m always surprised to read that evangelical voters support Trump, since he personifies at least six of the Seven Deadly Sins (lust, gluttony, greed, wrath, envy, hubris, and sloth — the last of which was most visible in his lack of preparation for the first presidential debate). In the Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” (1968), Mick Jagger’s smooth-talking con-artist Satan nicely encapsulates The Donald’s approach to life.

2. Zevon’s “Mr. Bad Example” (1991)* articulates the precise business philosophy of Donald Trump. He’ll swindle you, and then move on to the next scam.

3. The Psychedelic Furs deliver an apt description of the candidate’s rhetorical approach: he’s full of hot air. “President Gas” (from 1982, and about President Reagan) is even more applicable to the kind of president Trump would be, and to the followers he attracts: “You’ll say yeah to anything, / if you believe all this, but / Don’t cry, don’t do anything. / No lies, back in the government. / No tears, party time is here again. / President gas is up for president.”

4. In “Kiss Me, Son of God” (1988), They Might Be Giants sing, “I built a little empire out of some crazy garbage called the blood of the exploited working class. But they’ve overcome their shyness, now they’re calling me ‘Your Highness.’” Were TMBG thinking of The Donald when they wrote this?

5. “Who are the ones we kept in charge? / Killers, thieves, and lawyers.” Tom Waits’ “God’s Away on Business” (2002) describes the amoral heart of the Trump campaign.

6. Whenever I look at a Trump rally, the lyrics from the Kaiser Chiefs’ “The Angry Mob” (2007) enter my head: “We are the angry mob. / We read the papers every day. / We like who we like, / we hate who we hate. / But we’re also easily swayed.”

7. In “The Future” (1992), Leonard Cohen evokes the fascist nightmare embodied by the soulless fraud who craves approval and wants to commit war crimes: “It’s lonely here — there’s no one left to torture! / Give me absolute control / Over every living soul. / And lie beside me, baby — that’s an order!”

8. Apocalyptic dystopian dance music from Talking Heads’ live album Stop Making Sense (1984).

9. Aerosmith, describing a world on the brink, also advises against “judg[ing] a wise man by the color of his skin.”

10. Make America Hate Again! The Delgados’ “All You Need Is Hate” (2002) seems to be the guiding principle of the Trump campaign.

11. Randy Newman intended “Political Science” (1972) as satire; Trump hears it as wise foreign policy. “We give them money, but are they grateful? / No. They’re spiteful and they’re hateful. / They don’t respect us. So, let’s surprise them. / We’ll drop the big one, and pulverize them.”

12, 13, 14, 15, 16. These songs reflect the fact that the world will only become more unstable under a President Trump. Indeed, I’m not sure we’d survive his presidency.

17. Trump’s America is not the America I want to live in. And so, the David Bowie-Pat Metheny collaboration “This Is Not America” (1985) joins this mix.

18. I dedicate Pulp’s “The Fear” (1998) to a fear-mongering campaign presided over by an unhinged charlatan: “This is the sound of someone losing the plot. / Making out that they’re OK when they’re not.”

——

* Spotify has given you the live version; I chose the studio version. Both are good!

Stronger Together: America, the Exceptional

Stronger Together: America, the Exceptional

1. The Mavericks recently recorded a version of this postwar Popular Front anthem, a pop hit for Frank Sinatra. Its lyrics (by Abel Meeropol, who also wrote the lyrics for “Strange Fruit”) deliver a message as necessary today as it was then: “All races and religions — that’s America to me” is the antithesis of Trump’s campaign, and the center of Clinton’s campaign.  I’ve included the Ravens’ 1949 a cappella version. As a bonus track, here’s the Mavericks’ version, too.

2. Woody Guthrie’s response to Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America” is the perfect rejoinder to the classist (yet classless) Trumps: “There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me. / There was a sign was painted, said private property. / But on the back side, it didn’t say nothing. / This land was made for you and me.”  This is the excellent version by Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings (2004), but check out Guthrie’s original, too.

3, 4, 5. Clinton’s campaign has sounded the notes of American exceptionalism that both parties summon when rallying voters to their side. These claims cannot of course be verified, but they’re patriotic.

6, 7. Clinton has an actual plan to invest in American jobs, rebuild infrastructure, and tax the wealthy to pay for it.

8, 9, 10. At the Democratic convention and in her ads, the Clinton campaign has been stressing the feminist nature of her candidacy.

11. Ike and Tina Turner’s “Workin’ Together” (1971) echoes the “Stronger Together” slogan of the Clinton campaign. Also, Clinton knows how to work with others.

12. Sly & The Family Stone’s “Everyday People” (1970) is a funky anthem of mutual respect for difference.

13. The Staple Singers’ “Respect Yourself” (1971) is great advice. Also, Clinton’s approach to others is to treat them with respect. Trump likes only those who flatter him; all others are disposable.

14. Billy Bragg and Wilco’s “All You Fascists” (2000) is another Woody Guthrie song (music by Bragg), included because Trump is a fascist thug who admires fascist thugs.

15. The NSFW song on the mix, and the reason I’ve assembled an alternate “clean” mix, as well. YG’s “FDT, Part 2” is also great, but I’m limiting myself to one song by each artist.  Here are the videos for both parts —


16. The original recording (1974) of Nick Lowe’s song, later made famous by Elvis Costello.

17. The Rascals’ “People Gotta Be Free” (1969) because Clinton has a far better grasp of this idea than The Donald does.

18 & 19. People do have the power. Get out and vote!

20. Soweto Gospel Choir’s beautiful cover (2007) of U2’s tribute to Dr. King.

21. I like the slow pace and touch of melancholy I hear in Ray Charles’ voice. The song is patriotic, but there’s something in the performance that acknowledges the complexity of loving a country that oppresses you.


Stronger Together: America, the Exceptional [clean version]

Stronger Together: America, the Exceptional [clean version]

Since some listeners may not want to expose children to profanity or simply may dislike cursing themselves, I’ve omitted YG’s “FDT” — which leaves room for two different songs.

3. Chuck Berry’s “Back in the U.S.A.” (1959), grouped with the patriotic, American-exceptionalism songs.

20. Josh White’s “Freedom Road” (1944). Returning to the Popular Front era, White (who recorded his version of “The House I Live In” before Sinatra recorded his) sings for integration, featuring the lyrics of Langston Hughes.


Were you inclined to burn CDs, each of the above mixes fits on a single CD. I also restricted myself to one artist per mix. As a result of these choices, many suitable tracks had to be omitted.  Here are a few.

… for Trump

  • “Armageddon Days Are Here (Again)” by The The (1989)
  • “America Is Waiting” by Brian Eno & David Byrne (1981)
  • “Going Fetal” by Eels (2005)
  • “There’s A War Going On For Your Mind” by Flobots (2007)
  • “Ignoreland” by R.E.M. (1992)
  • “Everything Goes to Hell” by Tom Waits (2002)
  • “Mad World” by Tears for Fears (1983)
  • “The Day the Devil” by Laurie Anderson (1989)
  • “Your Mind Is on Vacation” by Mose Allison (1962)
  • “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” by R.E.M. (1987)
  • “Run on for a Long Time” by The Blind Boys of Alabama (2001)
  • “Your Racist Friend” by They Might Be Giants (1990)

… for Clinton

  • “Wavin’ Flag” by K’naan (2010)
  • “The Star Spangled Banner (Live)” by Jimi Hendrix (1969)
  • “The Schuyler Sisters” by Renée Elise Goldsberry, Phillipa Soo, Jasmine Cephas-Jones, Leslie Odom, Jr., Original Broadway Cast of Hamilton (2015)
  • “Freedom” by Anthony Hamilton & Elayna Boynton (2012)
  • “Turn Me Around” by Mavis Staples (2007)
  • “Love Train” by The O’Jays (1972)
  • “Freedom” by The Isley Brothers (1970)
  • “Coming to America” by Me First and the Gimme Gimmes (2008) or Neil Diamond’s original (1980)
  • “Respect” by Aretha Franklin (1967)
  • “U.N.I.T.Y.” by Queen Latifah (1993)
  • “We’ll Never Turn Back” by Mavis Staples (2007)

Register to vote at vote.gov!

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Title of the Mix

Title of the Mix (a meta mix)This is the introductory text of this mix, which, before listing the songs (below), offers a few facts about them, such as the sad truth that the Free Design (track 3) had only one moderate hit, “Kites are Fun” (#33 on Billboard’s Adult Contemporary charts, and #114 on the pop charts), or the happy fact that there are three Monty Python-affiliated songs here, one (8) from Monty Python’s Contractual Obligation Album (itself a “meta” title), another (20) from Monty Python Live! At City Center, and yet another (24) from the Original Broadway Cast of Spamalot. These sentences might also point out that since all “Python” tunes feature different performers, the three songs do not violate the mix-maker’s unwritten rule of never including two songs performed by the same artist. However, the rather dull nature of this observation renders it unlikely for inclusion here. Of perhaps greater interest might be the information that the Beatles’ (16) publishing company was “Northern Songs Ltd.,” and that George Harrison wrote this one. Or that, while not actually the shortest song in the universe (12), the track by that name appears on Sandra Boynton’s book-and-CD combo Rhinoceros Tap.


Update, March 2019: since we’re no longer allowed to post mp3s via an interface, I have mostly recreated this mix on Spotify.  (It is nearly all of the original mix plus several additional tracks — most of which are mentioned in the paragraph [scroll down!] acknowledging omissions.)  Here’s the new version, followed by the original track listing.


Original track listing below:

1) Title of the Song DA VINCI’S NOTEBOOK (2000) 4:27

2) Gotta Sing High KENNY WHITE (2010) 4:47

3) 2002 – A Hit Song THE FREE DESIGN (1969) 2:43

4) Hit Song DJ FORMAT featuring ABDOMINAL (2003) 4:45

5) Overnight Sensation RASPBERRIES (1974) 5:37

6) Top Forty MOSE ALLISON (1987) 4:23

7) A Happy Song  MICHAEL FLANDERS & DONALD SWANN (1959) 2:01

8) One of Those Songs THE KING’S SINGERS (1980) 2:20

9) The Hut-sut Song THE MERRY MACS (1941) 2:35

10) Happy Working Song AMY ADAMS (2007) 2:10

11) The Shortest Song in the Universe ADAM BRYANT & MICHAEL FORD (1996) 0:47

12) Bass Man JOHNNY CYMBAL (1963) 2:32

13) Who Put the Bomp (in the Bomp, Bomp, Bomp)? BARRY MANN (1961) 2:47

14) Number Three THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS (1986) 1:28

15) Only a Northern Song THE BEATLES (1969) 3:25

16) Look What They’ve Done to My Song, Ma MELANIE (1971) 4:03

17) The Folk Song Army TOM LEHRER (1965) 2:12

18) How to Write Ultimate Protest Songs CITIZEN FISH (1990) 2:54

19) Protest Song NEIL INNES (1975) 4:10

20) A Road Song FOUNTAINS OF WAYNE (2011) 3:04

21) Fountains of Wayne Hotline ROBBIE FULKS (2005) 5:29

22) Velvet Underground JONATHAN RICHMAN (1992) 3:29

23) The Song That Goes Like This CHRISTOPHER SIEBER, TODD ELLISON & SARA RAMIREZ (2005) 2:54

24) Atheists Don’t Have No Songs STEVE MARTIN & THE STEEP CANYON RANGERS (2011) 3:51

It’s highly unlikely that any omitted “meta” songs would be mentioned here, in this concluding paragraph, because that would deprive the listener of the fun of pointing out the mix’s inexplicable failure to include the Axis of Awesome’s “How to Write a Love Song,” Simon & Garfunkel’s “Song for the Asking,” Howard Jones’ “New Song,” Elton John’s “Your Song,” the Four Tops’ “It’s the Same Old Song,” or Sammy Davis Jr. and Dean Martin’s “Sam’s Song,” to name but a few. It’s much more probable that these words would indicate that “Number Three” (15) appeared on They Might Be Giants, They Might Be Giants’ first album (also known as the pink album), or that “A Happy Song” (7) is one of three “Songs for Our Time” on At the Drop of a Hat.

Underlined text, indicating that posts below might be of interest:

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At the Drop of a Hat: A Dozen Essential Songs by Flanders and Swann

Michael Flanders and Donald Swann

We’ve had a lot of luck with records. Some of the songs that have made our names a household word — like “slop-bucket” — are the little series of animal songs that we’ve been writing.

— Michael Flanders, introduction to “The Gnu,” At the Drop of a Hat (1960)

The Bestiary of Flanders and SwannAs Michael Flanders says, the animal songs made him and his partner Donald Swann famous. The duo’s best-known such number may be “The Hippopotamus,” with its cheerful, waltzing chorus of

Mud, mud, glorious mud!

Nothing quite like it for cooling the blood.

So follow me, follow

Down to the hollow,

And there let us wallow

In glorious mud!

Indeed, I suspect that even a few Americans know this one. I say that because, if you are English, you’re very likely to at least have heard of Flanders and Swann. If you are American, well, that’s much less likely. (In terms of Flanders-and-Swann awareness, Canadians seem somewhere in between — more than Americans, but less than Britons.) So, to acquaint or re-acquaint yourself with Flanders and Swann, let’s listen to “The Hippopotamus.”

There’s even a children’s-book version of this, The Hippopotamus Song: A Muddy Love Story (1991), illustrated by Nadine Bernard Westcott. (I haven’t seen the book, and so can’t vouch for how well or poorly the song has been adapted.)

Michael Flanders and Donald Swann, At the Drop of Another HatIf you’re unfamiliar with this duo, you might think of Flanders (1922-1975) and Swann (1923-1994) as something of a British Tom Lehrer (b. 1928), but without the cynicism. As Flanders himself observes in At the Drop of Another Hat (1964), “The purpose of satire, it has been rightly said, is to strip off the veneer of comforting illusion and cosy half-truth — and our job, as I see it, is to put it back again.” They are satirists, but (usually) lack the aggression of Lehrer, favoring instead satire’s sense of play and a kind of wry, bemused judgment — or, in the case of songs like “The Hippopotamus,” more whimsy than judgment.

Though Lehrer famously set his “The Elements” to Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Major-General’s Song,” the librettist and composer of The Pirates of Penzance had a much stronger influence on Flanders and Swann. Flanders was the Gilbert, writing nearly all of the lyrics, and Swann the Sullivan, writing all of the music (and the occasional lyric). With wit, wordplay, and complex rhyme schemes, the duo wrote over a hundred songs, and between 1956 and 1967 gave hundreds of performances in the UK, Canada, and the US — plus, in 1964, a few in Australia and New Zealand. George Martin (yes, the Beatles’ producer) produced their best-known albums. David Hyde-Pierce and John Lithgow are probably the duo’s best-known contemporary fans.

Never heard of Flanders and Swann? Or care to be reacquainted? Well, here’s my (admittedly subjective) list of essential songs, complete with audio, commentary, and (when available) video. The first was “The Hippopotamus Song” (above); so, moving to the second….

2) “A Transport of Delight”

"Wanted; a crew for this bus," by Jack Maxwell. Agency: Clement Dane Studio, 1955  Published by London Transport, 1955. (From London Transport Museum)A paean to the “monarch of the road,” that “Scarlet-painted London Transport, Diesel-engined, Ninety-seven horsepower Omnibus!” Swann takes on the role of driver, Flanders the conductor, and they sing heartily, with a mix of affection and mockery.

A few allusions of note. “Earth has not anything to show more fair” is from Wordsworth’s “Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802.” “Army lorry” puns on the Scots song “Annie Laurie,” which includes the line “And for bonnie Annie Laurie, / I’d lay me down and dee” (“dee” being a Scots pronunciation of “die”).

3) “The Gas-Man Cometh”

The GALMI method has its flaws, as this song points out. (No, the song doesn’t use the expression “GALMI,” but that’s an acronym for “Get A Little Man In.” I’ve heard it on British sitcoms.)

4) “First and Second Law”

Showing their range, Swann and Flanders explain thermodynamics via a jazzy scat number. This is still the reason I know anything about thermodynamics. You see, Flanders and Swann are the music of my childhood. Though I grew up north of Boston Massachusetts, my parents lived in London during the latter half of the 1960s. They even saw Flanders and Swann perform there. In the U.S., borrowing the records from friends, my dad taped, on a reel-to-reel (the bulkier predecessor of the cassette recorder), At the Drop of a Hat and At the Drop of Another Hat — though I later learned that he only taped the pieces that he liked. Fortunately, that was the majority of each record.

5) “The Gnu”

In the introduction (which I’ve omitted), Michael Flanders talks about the song’s inspiration, which involves being unable to park (or get out of his car) on the street where he lives:

The road itself is a bit of a snag. That road has got the steepest camber on it — you know, the old slope — of any road in London. It’s about one in three. If you try to park your car by the pavement, as people do from time to time, the car’s tilted, like that. Well now, that means you can only get this near-side door open a little bit, then the pavement stops it. If you want to use this door you can make a jump for it. Bad enough all up and down the road, but just outside where I happen to live, 1a (of course it would be), it’s just like the great North face of Everest. The thing’s right over on its side. You can’t get this door open at all, you’ve got to keep it full of petrol or it shows empty. I can’t use this door, I’ve got to get into this thing [Flanders’ wheelchair], you see, on the pavement.

He asks his local council about it, and they send a man round to take a chunk out of the road so that it’s level in front of Flanders’ house, thus allowing him to navigate from his car to his wheelchair and vice versa. However, ever time he arrives at his space, someone else is parked there — always the same car. “The number of this car,” he says, “I’ll never forget this number as long as I live. I’ve sat gazing at it for hours on end sometimes, thinking of nothing else. The number is 346-GNU.”

Gnu, a.k.a. Blue Wildebeest

In case you are doubtful, a gnu is a real animal. The Oxford English Dictionary describes it as a “South African quadruped (Catoblepas gnu), belonging to the antelope family, but resembling an ox or buffalo in shape; also known by its Dutch name wildebeest.”

6) “Misalliance”

In which two plants become star-crossed lovers, a silly premise with a plaintive melody that makes it curiously affecting.

7) “Madeira M’Dear”

A bit more risqué than the other songs here, “Madeira M’Dear” contains excellent zeugma, when one word gets used to refer to more than one word in the same sentence.  These particular lyrics often use the first word (the multi-referential one) in more than one sense. So, for example, “She lowered her standards by raising her glass, / Her courage, her eyes — and his hopes.”

Here are Flanders and Swann performing the song for American television in 1967. Flanders glosses “flat” as “apartment” for American viewers and — presumably to appease censors — changes “prowess” to “finesse.” Incidentally, if he looks a little breathless, that may be because he has only one working lung. The polio that put him in the wheelchair also took away one of his lungs.

UPDATE, 7 Aug. 2014, 1:30 pm: In retrospect, this song might better be classified among those that have not aged well (described in my caveat below). I direct readers to my conversation with Jonathan Dresner (in the comments) for precisely why.

8) “A Happy Song”

Flanders and Swann, At the Drop of a Hat (1957 version).This represents the absurdist side of the duo — also on display in such numbers as “Kokoraki.” If you enjoy Spike Jones or Mel Blanc, then “A Happy Song” is for you.  It’s one of three “Songs for Our Time” on At the Drop of a Hat, each of which, Flanders explains, is his and Swann’s attempt to write a pop hit. Of this particular one, Flanders tells the audience, “We felt that really, on the whole, in this time of crisis and political conflict, what the world needed most was another simple happy chorus song, something which expressed the feelings of all the ordinary people all over the world, and in which everyone could join.” He then pronounces the song’s nearly unpronounceable refrain, and invites people to “join in, if you wish.”

9) “The Rhinoceros”

Another reason that Flanders and Swann’s songs are great for children and adults: they expand your vocabulary, as in this song’s refrain, “the bodger on the bonce.” As a noun, “bodger” is “one who bodges; a botcher”; as an adjective, “bodger” is (in Australian slang) a term for “Inferior, worthless.” “Bonce” is a slang term for “head.” So, then, according to the lyric, the rhino has something botched on its head. (All definitions courtesy of the OED.)

10) “The Armadillo”

Who knew that Armadillos had love songs? And with such plaintive melodies, too!  (The track begins, however, with an elephant joke — the previous song on the record is “The Elephant.”)

11) “Slow Train”

An elegy for closed railway stations, this one is surprisingly poignant. As Flanders says in his introduction,

Unusual song this for us, perhaps, because it’s really quite a serious song, and it was suggested by all those marvelous old local railway stations with their wonderful evocative names, all due to be, you know, axed and done away with one by one, and these are stations that we shall no longer be seeing when we aren’t able to travel anymore on the slow train.

Blandford Forum railway station in April 1963

TheGawain provides more detail in this great post on Flanders and Swann. As he tells us, in 1963 Dr. Richard Beeching

wrote a lengthy report on the profitability of British Railways (or lack thereof) and concluded that most of the rail network made no net contribution towards any profits that could potentially be made. He duly recommended removing about half of the route mileage and rather more than half the stations. The Tories implemented the report with unusual haste for any Government; Labour largely opposed it up until the moment when they saw the overall profit/ loss account of the nation and duly decided to continue.

This cross-party enthusiasm for Beeching left very little opportunity for the pro-rail remnants of the population to express any form of opposition except by attempting to prove “undue hardship” at closure inquiries. An examination of the railways which survived on this basis (prime examples include Middlesborough to Whitby, Inverness to Wick & Thurso and Kyle of Lochalsh, Glasgow to Mallaig and Plymouth to Gunnislake) show that in order to demonstrate that closing the local railway would cause undue hardship it was necessary to show that the area was devoid of alternative roads. As a result the minor rural dead loss railways going nowhere which deserved to be axed all survived, while the middling routes serving notable market towns found that the market towns were also served by roads, enabling easy closure of the railways.

The Government then proceeded to spend vast amounts of public money building roads to replace these railways which needed closing down because the Government didn’t have any public money available to spend on keeping them running.

That’s the context for this song. For more, see TheGawain’s piece or this very thorough Wikipedia essay on the song.

12) “The Sloth”

A comic ode to laziness.

A sloth

Yes, there are many other songs I could have included. Fans of Flanders and Swann will no doubt be asking: What about “Design for Living”? Where’s “A Song of the Weather”? And what about “A Song of Patriotic Prejudice”?  Fair questions.  I decided to limit myself to a dozen, but I concede that there may be a better twelve songs to introduce people to Flanders and Swann.

A few songs have not aged as well — either because they’re topical, or because casual sexism or imperialism is (happily) no longer culturally acceptable. Remarkably, there are very few such songs. So, on the one hand, “The Reluctant Cannibal” suggests that people everywhere face the same problems, such rebellious children (who, in this case, “won’t eat people”) and parents baffled by their offspring. To their credit, Flanders and Swann also avoid pseudo-primitive dialect, singing in their usual accents. On the other hand, the humor of this piece depends upon the difference between “civilized” society and the more primitive “Tropics” (they don’t provide a specific location where these cannibals reside). The song is not in the realm of, say, the first line of Cole Porter’s “Let’s Do It” (“Chinks do it, / Japs do it. / Up in Lapland, / Even little Laps do it”), but the piece hasn’t endured quite as well as their animal songs.

The Complete Flanders and SwannInterested in learning more? I don’t think there’s an ideal Flanders and Swann “hits” collection. In any case, the live records include amusing spoken-word performances (mostly from Flanders), which would need to be either included or excised — in assembling this, I’ve mostly done the latter. You could use iTunes to create your own “hits” collection, and then (depending on your fondness for Flanders’ monologues) either retain or cut the spoken-word parts. In iTunes, you can do that under the “Options” setting of a song, by changing the start time and/or stop time.

Hat Trick: Flanders and Swann Collector's EditionOr, if you seek the full experience, then I recommend The Complete Flanders and Swann, which includes At the Drop of a Hat, At the Drop of Another Hat, The Bestiary of Flanders and Swann plus some bonus tracks, and a great booklet featuring illuminating notes and commentary by Charles Fox.  I’ve just discovered there’s another collection with more music I’ve never heard — including many performances not in The Complete Flanders and Swann. Sadly, Hat-Trick: Flanders and Swann Collector’s Edition is out of print.

Fortunately, Flanders and Swann’s many admirers have gathered lots more information for you to peruse:

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“There Are Loads of Rules”: The Art of the Mixtape

To me, making a tape is like writing a letter — there’s a lot of erasing and rethinking and starting again […] A good compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do. You’ve got to kick it off with a corker, to hold the attention […], and then you’ve got to up it a notch, or cool it a notch, […] and . . . oh, there are loads of rules.

— Nick Hornby, High Fidelity (1995), pp. 88-89

I make a lot of mixes, and occasionally I post them on this blog. I’d originally planned to post many more of them, but . . . it’s fairly labor-intensive, and so I don’t. Recipients of these mixes have asked me how I make them. (Specifically, my friends Speed and Ted both asked me this question last month.)  So, here is my answer.

Westward, Oh: a mix made in July 2000 (the month I moved from Charleston, South Carolina to Manhattan, Kansas)

Above: a mix from July 2000, when I moved from So. Carolina to Kansas

1. No repeats. Since I began making these on CD (2003), I’ve not repeated any song across the three main mix series: uptempo (which I make the most frequently), midtempo, and quiet.  You could listen to all three series and not hear a single song repeated.  Indeed, within any given series — the kids mixes, birthday mixes, mixes on a theme (Summer, Halloween, Christmas/Holidays, Back-to-School, the end of the world), etc. — no song can repeat.

2. Only one song per artist per CD. But that’s artist, and not composer. You can have two Cure songs, as long as one is a cover. Technically, you should not have a Matt Berninger solo track if you already have a song from the National (the band for which he is lead singer), though this is a little more flexible — I bend this “should,” from time to time, including on the mix that I’m about to offer as an example.

3. There needs to be some connection between adjacent tracks.  So, on my most recent midtempo mix, “Everyone Says ‘Hi,’” here are the connections between the first seven songs. (If this is more detail than you really need, feel free to skip ahead to point no. 4.)


Everyone Says “Hi”

1)    Pennies From Heaven  RON SEXSMITH (2013)

Sweet Relief III: Pennies from HeavenThis beautiful song seamlessly mingles optimism and melancholy, cheer and sadness. Written by Johnny Burke and Arthur Johnston and first recorded in the mid-1930s, “Pennies from Heaven” has an introductory verse that often gets omitted (Bing Crosby’s 1936 recording includes it; Billie Holiday’s 1936 recording does not). Ron Sexsmith’s version — done for Sweet Relief III: Pennies from Heaven — includes that opening verse, which is one reason I chose it. The other reason is that it sets the tone for the rest of the mix, and that tone is … mixed. It’s neither joyous nor sad, but somewhere in between. (Perhaps, too, it’s why Dennis Potter chose the title for his teleplay/screenplay?)

2)    Heaven  SIMPLY RED (1985)

Simply Red, Picture Book“Pennies from Heaven” to this cover of Talking Heads’ “Heaven” is quite an obvious link: the title, and the fact that both are covers. It also continues the theme of emotional complexity. Though sung with sincerity (by David Byrne on the original, and by Simply Red’s Mick Hucknall here), the description of Heaven is ambiguous. “Heaven is a place, / A place where nothing ever happens”: does that imply pleasant solitude or endless boredom? “The band in heaven / They play my favorite song. / Play it one more time. / Play it all night long”: does this reflect the joy of getting to hear your favorite music or the annoyance of a popular song getting overplayed? I don’t know, and the song never resolves this tension. I chose the Simply Red cover because it’s a bit smoother, more soulful than Talking Heads’ original, and thus offers a more seamless transition from Sexsmith’s track to the next one.

3)    Little Vacation  VIC CHESNUTT (1996)

Vic Chesnutt, About to ChokeFor those who believe in an afterlife, Vic Chesnutt (1964-2009) is already there. With a sharper sense of irony than the Talking Heads tune, this one also describes a desired location in terms that make you wonder how desirable it is, really. Perhaps it would be better if I stayed home. Vacation is a metaphor for what he wants, and so is “scenic vista,” “a long awaited chemical buzz,” “a far off twister,” and “an unexpected run-in with the fuzz.” The first item in this list has more appeal than the last one, and the ones in between are more mixed (hey, at least the twister is far off…). Using the language of bureaucracy to describe a holiday is also brilliant: “Why don’t we have a little council meeting / And hash out something real?” He promises “Robert’s rules of order will be observed. / I’ll be the parliamentarian / with an unswerving dedication.” The ambivalent longing here is brilliant, plus (on a less important point) I like the fact that “a little old song that I want to hear” echoes “my favorite song” in “Heaven.”

4)    Everyone Says ‘Hi’  DAVID BOWIE (2002)

David Bowie, HeathenThis song and the next one both include the line that gives the mix its title. Both songs find a twinge of melancholy in the clichéd, well-meaning phrase — conveying the good wishes of those who are not here, bringing their absence into the present moment. So, the link to “Little Vacation” is the likelihood of using this very phrase while on vacation, and the sense, when traveling, of enjoying where you are but missing those who are not with you. The Bowie song addresses someone who has not just taken “a big trip,” but “moved away.” It’s not clear if the addressee is even among the living (another link to the previous two songs). The final line of the first verse is “Happened oh, so quietly, / they say” which could also be used to describe someone’s death. That said, the person could simply have moved away, left no forwarding address. She or he could be someone Bowie’s narrator will never see again. Philip Nel and Shahid Hoda, c. Sept 1987I have a friend like that. I last saw him in May 1989. He disappeared later that year, or perhaps it was early the following year. After making some inquiries, I learned why.* So, Shahid, if you happen upon this blog post, I hope you are well. Please know that your old friends still think of you. Everyone says “Hi.”

5)    To All My Friends  JOSH JOPLIN (2005)

Josh Joplin, JaywalkerBeyond including the title line, this track also evokes this vocal lineage that begins with David Bowie, and continues through his spiritual offspring, the Psychedelic Furs’ Richard Butler (who sounds a bit like Bowie), and then Josh Joplin (whose voice resembles Butler’s — even though Joplin’s song “Happy at Last” alleges “I sound like Michael Stipe”). As the “s” in the title indicates, this song addresses many friends who have passed out of Joplin’s life. The line “winter of our unpaid rent” (nice Richard III allusion, Joplin!) might refer to a former lover, or at least a roommate; “summer of unrequited love” suggests a hoped-for relationship; “the best minds of my troubled youth” (Allen Ginsberg allusion!) evokes the many musicians that Joplin may know. One could make a full mix just focusing on songs for missed friends — Neil Young’s “One of These Days” would of course be included, though isn’t on this mix because I’ve used it before.  So, instead,…

6)    Friend of Mine  STEVE MARTIN & EDIE BRICKELL (2013)

Steve Martin and Edie Brickell, Love Has Come for YouAnother song about friendship, but this time to someone who is still here. Like Bill Withers’ “Lean on Me” (another great song for a friendship mix!), this collaboration between Steve Martin & Edie Brickell talks about friends who help you survive: “When everybody lets me down / You lift me up again.” I also concur with the lyric’s thesis about life more generally: “The world is such a crazy place, / Full of joy and pain.” Yes. Life is beautiful and sad. This past week’s news has delivered much more of the sad, the painful, the heartbreaking….

7)    All Our Endless Love  THE BIRD AND THE BEE feat. MATT BERNINGER (2014)

Endless Love: Original Motion Picture SoundtrackAddressing not only friendship but love, this song continues the emotional resonance of the previous one, but moves directly into the intensity and fragility of intimate relationships. Amidst a deep bond, this one may also be coming apart. “I am falling to the rhythm of all your endless love” points both to falling-in-love expressed in the first verse (“I couldn’t breathe without you there”) but also to a falling-out-of-love, expressed in such lines as “Is this really ending?”


That’s the first third of the mix, and more than enough to convey the links between songs.

4. Variety.  Ideally (and especially on an uptempo mix), two adjacent songs won’t be too similar in style, though this isn’t an ironclad rule.  A link between songs (see no. 3) can be purely sonic.  In general, I think of the range as “from punk to show tunes,” by which I mean you can include swing, heavy metal, hip-hop, rock ‘n’ roll, dance, folk, funk, reggae, R&B, trip-hop, novelty records, garage rock, new wave, blues, a cappella, jazz, J-pop, 1960s Italian film soundtrack music, gospel, and, yeah, punk and show tunes.  For an uptempo mix, all of these would need to be uptempo. For the quiet mixes, you’ll likely have more a cappella, classical, jazz (and no metal). Similarly, the midtempo mixes (such as the example given in no. 3) tend to have a narrower range (no metal there either…).

5. The mixes tend to be present-centered, but are not only present-centered. So, most songs are relatively current — from the current year or the past decade.  But it would be very rare to focus only on recent music. Generally, the timespan is the 1930s to the present, though occasionally there’ll be something from the 1920s or earlier. The mix above includes several more recent recordings of songs from earlier periods (“Pennies from Heaven,” “When You’re Smiling,” “Pure Imagination”), though I often use earlier versions.

6. Since mixes get played more than once, I try to pick songs that bear repeated listens.  I realize that this one depends on taste. Playing your favorite song once again (as in song no. 2 on the above mix) can be heaven… or can be hell.

7. I favor shorter songs over longer ones. If there is a long song, it’s likely to go last. This is something of a corollary to point nos. 6 (I don’t want to wear down the listener with a song that goes on and on) and 4 (shorter songs allow for more variety).

8. Beginnings: I try to start a mix with a good kick-off song — “a corker,” as Nick Hornby says. Sometimes, I will use a short spoken-word piece (dialogue from an old film or a musical, say).

Fiona Apple, Pure Imagination - Single9. Endings: I might slow it down a little at the end or I might not.  This can also be a place for spoken-word pieces, or perhaps the concluding music to a film. For the mix excerpted in no. 3, I conclude with Fiona Apple’s cover of “Pure Imagination” because both Gene Wilder’s original recording and especially her version bring to the fore some dissonance that undercuts the ostensibly optimistic lyric. Also, if you’re playing a CD in a car, it’s likely to repeat. Moving from “Pure Imagination” back to “Pennies from Heaven” works well. Both songs dream of something better, but they are just that — dreams.

10. Use all of the space. A CD holds one hour, 19 minutes, and 45 seconds. I try to come as close as I can to filling the whole thing. This became part of my criteria back in the days of cassette tapes: blank space at the end of a side (especially side A) was annoying because then you’d have to fast-forward to the end. Ideally, you’d pick a song that would conclude roughly as the cassette tape did. Sometimes, I would fade out a song slightly early or (to fill space) add a very short song just so that there’d be no (or very little) silence at the end.

Carl Wilson, Let’s Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste (2007)11. Good taste, which is nearly impossible to define. My mix-making guidelines ultimately rest upon my own taste, for which I direct you to this blog post on Carl Wilson’s excellent Let’s Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste (and no, this isn’t Beach Boy Carl Wilson; it’s Canadian music journalist Carl Wilson).  That post is the most fully articulated expression of whatever the heck my taste is.

If I were to try to further clarify that, I’d note that I’m a big fan of cover tunes in general.  So, it’s unusual to have a mix that lacks a cover.  My favorite cover artists are Scott Bradlee and Postmodern Jukebox (if you’ve yet to discover them, stop reading this blog post now, go to YouTube, and start listening) and Me First and the Gimme Gimmes (superlative punk covers).

In addition to punk, I love ’60s soul and R&B (Aretha Franklin, Smokey Robinson, the Temptations, Marvin Gaye, the Isley Brothers, the Supremes), & the great American songbook (Berlin, Gershwin, Porter, Harburg, Arlen, Fields and Kern, Warren and Dubin, etc.).

Musically, I came of age in the 1980s; so, the styles of that era have a strong hold on my musical imagination. This is likely one reason why the Wombats are one of my favorite contemporary pop groups: tight hooks, surprising lyrics (“Please allow me to be your anti-depressant. / I am prescribed as freely as any decongestant”).  I recommend their first two albums, and (I expect) the third, once it comes out, later this year!

As the quoted lyric indicates, I like words: I appreciate a sense of humor, an unusual turn of phrase, etc. Hence, my affection for novelty records. I also like a cappella. I’m a sucker for a good hook. I like pop, but I like it best when it’s a little off-kilter — an uptempo song on a melancholy subject, a downbeat cover of a happy song, an unusual or incisive lyric, a haunting melody.

My favorite band is They Might Be Giants.  Lately, I’ve been listening to a lot of the National.  Other favorite artists: Fats Waller, the Clash, Ella Fitzgerald, Hem, Chet Baker, Leonard Cohen, Moxy Früvous, Paul Simon, Mavis Staples, Warren Zevon, Billie Holiday, Laurie Anderson, Elvis Costello, Squeeze, Dessa (A Badly Broken Code is one of my desert island discs), Richard Goode (love his recording of Beethoven’s late piano sonatas).

Though I could ramble on and on about taste (indeed, I already have…), this post has run its course. Yes, it’s a highly subjective set of criteria for assembling a mix, but there is an internal logic to it, a sensibility (however idiosyncratic) that makes it all work. If you have strong opinions (and music fans tend to), please do feel free to express them, below.

__________

* Well, it turns out I didn’t know why. I thought I knew why, but if what I learned this afternoon (14 Sept. 2015) is true, then … what I’d learned before was but a vague inkling.  [This footnote added 14 Sept. 2015. Obviously.]

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