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Your (Almost) Daily Playlist (3-17-20)

Inspired by the March 17 birthdays of Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan, Jefferson Airplane’s Paul Kantner, The Lovin’ Spoonful’s John Sebastian, Nat King Cole, Gene Ween, The Darkness’ Justin Hawkins, Altered Images’ Clare Grogan, and Hozier; and the March 16 birthdays of Public Enemy’s Flavor Flav, Heart’s Nancy Wilson, Blu Cantrell, and Murs.

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A Ben Folds Mix Tape

When all words fail, she speaks / Her mix tape’s a masterpiece
– Ben Folds, “Kate”

tapes
The precursor to this blog was mix tapes. In high school I made mix tapes every day to get us through the 45 minute bus ride to school. For friends I made mix tapes of songs I thought they should know. After I graduated college and started a job, I made mix tapes to get through the work day. As I didn’t have my own office for several years, I aimed to make compilations that would have broad appeal, so my coworkers could enjoy them as well. It’s hard to please everyone. Try as I might, I could not get Karla to enjoy the tunes I included. She thought Whitesnake were the greatest group in creation, so how could I expect her to like music that was good?

In his book Love is a Mix Tape, Rob Sheffield writes that there is always a reason to make a mix tape. He provides the following categories:
The Party Tape
I Want You
We’re Doing It? Awesome!
You Like Music, I Like Music, I Can Tell We’re Going to be Friends
You Broke My Heart and Made Me Cray and Here Are Twenty or Thirty Songs About It
The Road Trip
No Hard Feelings, Babe
I Hate This Fucking Job
The Radio Tape
The Walking Tape
And the drug tape, the commute tape, the dishes tape, the shower tape, the collection of good songs from bad albums you never want to play again, the greatest hots of your significant other’s record pile, the night before you break up.

I love mix tapes. I love to categorize music. Not by genre. I miss the old days of top 40 radio when Led Zeppelin and the Carpenters were played on the same station. I love to find connections between songs that nobody else would have thought to put together.

There’s an art to making a good mix tape. I have my rules – open with an uptempo song, don’t clump all the best known songs together, mix in lesser-known tracks with the more famous ones.

This blog is my mix tape outlet for the 2000s. Here I usually focus the playlists on single artists (meaning playlists of one artist, not unmarried artists, though maybe I’ll make a mix tape of the latter). The art of a single-artist mix tape differs from that of a various artists collection. For that matter, the methodology varies from artist to artist.

When I created a Buddy Holly playlist last week, it wasn’t difficult to decide what songs to include. The man had a short career, so it was pretty obvious which twenty songs would comprise the compilation. The Michael Jackson playlist I created just over a week before than was more challenging. The man had so many hits and other great tracks that were not hits. In that case, I figured whoever would be listening knows Thriller inside and out, so I focused on his other releases. I chose songs that were hits but since forgotten, songs that were not hits but have held up great over time, and mixed them with the best-known songs from his teenage and pre-teen years. I approach each artist differently.

Part of the challenge of creating a good mix is I don’t know exactly who my audience is for the blog. For example, being today is Ben Folds’ birthday, I made a Ben Folds mix. Who is going to listen to it? Is it the Ben Folds fan? Is it the person who knows Folds from his only crossover hit, “Brick?” Is it the person who has never heard of Folds, but gives the playlist I listen because they trust my recommendation?

I don’t know, so I created a playlist in which my favorite Folds album tracks hang out with many of the fun cover versions he has released digitally between albums. I usually don’t include so many covers in a playlist of a singer/songwriter. In Folds’ case, he approaches covers in different ways. Some are faithful to the original, as when he performs Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” of Jackson Browne’s “Doctor My Eyes.” Some are radically different than the original versions, a la his covers of the Flaming Lips’ “She Don’t Use Jelly” or Dr. Dre’s “Bitches Ain’t Shit.” Though covers, the ones in the latter category reveal his artistry as much as his originals do.

In honor of Ben Folds’ 49th birthday, here is a Ben Folds mix tape.


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Bad Music I Love – Sheena Easton

Ringo + Sheena
As you may gather from my blog, there’s a lot of great music I love. There is also a lot of bad music I love. I find the combination of dopey lyrics with catchy music irresistible.

That brings us to Sheena Easton, who turns 55 today.

Her first hit single was “Morning Train.” In England it was entitled “Nine to Five,” but they changed the title stateside so as to avoid confusion with Dolly Parton’s hit “9 to 5.” Easton’s Scottish brogue could very easily be confused with Dolly’s Tennessee twang by the hearing-imparied.

The chorus of “Morning Train,” a #1 hit from 1981, begins “My baby takes the morning train / He works from nine to five / And then he takes another home.” Fascinating, Sheena! Tell us more! I’ve never heard such a unique story.

Her follow-up single was “Modern Girl,” which includes the couplet “She eats a tangerine / Flips through a magazine,” a rhyme that was used to better effect 14 years later in The Flaming Lips’ “She Don’t Use Jelly.”

The James Bond theme “For Your Eyes Only” came next. I have no beef with that. It’s on her fourth single where the bad reaches a new level.

You know you’re in trouble with “You Could Have Been With Me”’s opening line. “You’re the seventh son of the seventh son.” Who can’t relate to that? Later in the song she sings “You can’t even seem to love yourself, and, with a few exceptions, not anybody else.” With a few exceptions? That negates the point, doesn’t it? He doesn’t love you, Sheena! Get over it! He can’t appreciate the magazine/tangerine rhyme like I can.

Knowing she couldn’t get any worse than “You Could Have Been With Me” (she did know that, right?), she went on to do a series of fun, uptempo hits. This was after an excruciating cover of Bob Seger’s “We’ve Got Tonight” done with Kenny Rogers. I didn’t include that on today’s playlist. Don’t say I don’t care about you.

The pinnacle of the fun dance songs was when she invited the listener to “come spend the night inside my sugar walls.” Sweet! “Sugar Walls” was written by Prince under the pseudonym Alexander Nevermind. She would collaborate with Prince a few more times, most notably on his hit “U Got the Look.”

Spotify is very light on the Sheena Easton tracks; they don’t even have her last big hit, “The Lover in Me,” which went to #2 in 1989. Here’s what I scraped together. Strut, pout, put it out and enjoy!

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An Atheist Jew’s Guide To Christmas Music, Part 2

xmas cds 002

Today Tunes du Jour presents more Christmas music. As with Part 1, I mixed standards with lesser-known songs. In the Comments section let me know what songs you discovered.

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An Atheist Jew’s Guide To Christmas Music, Part 1

Raised Jewish, I celebrated Hanukkah. For several years, my family also celebrated Christmas. We didn’t go to midnight mass, we didn’t drink egg nog, we didn’t throw a special type of log in the fireplace. (By the way, I have no idea what makes a Yule log yuley). We put tinsel and candy canes on a large potted plant my mother had in the den and bought each other small but practical gifts. For example, when I was 11 for Christmas my parents got me a salt shaker. The Christmas celebrations stopped after I innocently told Grandpa Mordechai about them. My parents were so angry with me they took away my salt shaker.

Though I no longer celebrate Christmas, I still have a major jones for Christmas music. I own many more Christmas records than any atheist Jew probably should. We’re talking in the hundreds.

I eschew Christmas classics performed by well-known middle-of-the-road acts such as Celine Dion, Michael Bublé, Kenny G (sell-out Jew), Neil Diamond (sell-out Jew) or Barbra Streisand (sell-out Jew). Frank Sinatra shows up only in a duet with Cyndi Lauper and Bing Crosby shows up only in his duet with David Bowie.

Including the Crosby/Bowie version, I have 15 renditions of “The Little Drummer Boy” in my iPod, by a diverse list of artists including Johnny Cash, The Temptations, Joan Jett, Bob Dylan, Iggy Pop and RuPaul.

I have ten versions of “Winter Wonderland,” and that’s not counting the cross-dressing parody “Walkin’ Round in Women’s Underwear,” not performed by RuPaul.

I have “Christmas in Hollis,” “Christmas in Harlem,” “Christmas in Washington,” “Christmastime in the LBC,” “Christmas in the City,” “Christmas in Heaven,” “Christmastime in Hell” and “Christmas at the Zoo.”

I have Christmas songs by most of my favorite artists of all-time, including The Beatles, Prince, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Stevie Wonder, R.E.M., Elvis Presley, The White Stripes, Kanye West, Ike and Tina Turner, Chuck Berry, and Radiohead.

Some Christmas songs aren’t Christmas songs at all. “Frosty the Snowman,” “Let It Snow Let it Snow Let It Snow” and “Winter Wonderland” don’t mention the baby Jesus or Santa Claus or presents or a bullied reindeer with a skin ailment.

Some of the Christmas songs I have are a bit odd. “I Found the Brains of Santa Claus,” a smooth jazz version of “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer,” C3PO and R2D2 singing “Sleigh Ride.” I have Liberace reciting “Twas the Night Before Christmas,” though his version doesn’t hold a candle to Aretha Franklin’s version, in which the Queen of Soul took a few liberties with the words: “A bundle of gifts he had and what did I get? / As I squealed, opening the package, the same old shit!” Her lyrics are downright Disneyesque compared to Snoop Dogg’s reading of the famous poem. If you’re interested, Google the lyrics because I’m not going to print them here.

I have John Denver singing “Please Daddy (Don’t Get Drunk This Christmas).” Verse one opens with a couplet for the arithmetically-challenged: “Just last year when I was only seven / Now I’m almost eight you can see.” Santa needs to bring John some flashcards. The next two lines create a holiday image that is less Norman Rockwell and more John Waters: “You came home at quarter past eleven / And fell down underneath the Christmas tree.” Someone needs to get him to a 12-step group. He can attend a meeting with the title character of Fishbone’s “Slick Nick, You Devil You,” who came down the chimney with a keg of brew and spilled Jack Daniels all over the drapes.

I have Sarah Silverman singing “Give the Jew Girl Toys,” in which she taunts Santa by singing “You have a list / Well, Schindler did to / Liam Neeson played him / Tim Allen played you.”

Then there’s the classic “Fairtytale of New York” by the Pogues and Kirsty MacColl, which evokes the holiday spirit with the line “You scumbag, you maggot / You cheap lousy faggot,” something yelled at me every year by those Salvation Army Santas.

Better still is “Macarena Christmas.” I LOVE “Macarena” and I’m betting you do to though you probably won’t admit it. “Macarena Christmas” celebrates the birth of our lord and savior Baby Macarena by taking the chorus from the hit single and uncleverly inserting it repeatedly into a medley of Christmas songs, so it goes “Joy to the world, the Lord has come / Da le a tu cuerpo alegria Macarena, Que tu cuerpo es pa darle alegria y cosa Buena / Da le a tu cuerpo alegria Macarena / Eeeeeh, Macarena – ay / Jingle bells jingle bells jingle all the way.” Sound effects of what sounds like an infant with the hiccups are thrown in. It makes no sense, y me gusta mucho.

My favorite holiday album and one of the greatest all-time albums period is Phil Spector’s A Christmas Gift for You, featuring tracks he produced for The Ronettes, The Crystals, Darlene Love and Bob B. Soxx and The Blue Jeans. Every cut on it is classic and can be enjoyed by the whole family, except Grandpa Mordechai.

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