pleasant and charmin’.
1. Bob Dylan, Must Be Santa, Christmas In The Heart
Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen,
Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon
Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen,
Carter, Reagan, Bush, and Clinton…”
Singalong with Bob. Dylan’s polka, first made popular by Mitch Miller (Sing along with Mitch)…of Dylan’s own Columbia Records, arrangement borrowed from Brave Combo, is all good, festive and joyous, but it’s so sped up as to become almost demonic. Santa as the Lord of Misrule. Do see the video Dylan made of the song: it’s Santa as Louis XVI at Versailles on the eve of the French Revolution. Off with their heads! Politics on the sly. Cold War bombs reindeer down. Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo plays out-of-breath accordion, trying to keep pace with drummer George Recile’s sleigh-bells overboard tumble.
2. What I Like About Jew, They Tried to Kill Us (We Survived, Let’s Eat), Unorthodox
When you boil down the matzoh ball soup of the chosen people’s history, this is basically the story of all Jewish holidays.
3. Rebirth Brass Band, Feel Like Funkin’ It Up, Doctors, Professors, Kings, And Queens: The Big Ol’ Box of New Orleans
After listening to this song, who wouldn’t?
4. Ferraby Lionheart, Before We’re Dead, Catch the Brass Ring
Starts in New Orleans, makes its way to Nashville, dashes over to the Beach Boys in LA, sails out to the Beatles in Liverpool, straight shot through the Replacements in Minneapolis, and winds up driving a hybrid down the open road, whizzing by vital signs.
5. Mocean Worker, Tickle It, Cinco de Mowo!
AKA Adam Dorn, son of jazz and R&B producer Joel Dorn. So this is the masked son of the “Masked Announcer.” The jazz horns shoots out like stars, but the beat is post-hip-hop.
6. Dejan’s Olympia Brass Band, Wade In The River, New Orleans Rebuild Restore
Please, song, never stop.
7. The Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Down by the Riverside, Funeral for a Friend
For colleague Angela Grant, 1974-2010.
8. Wynonie Harris, Down Boy Down, Bloodshot Eyes-The Best Of Wynonie Harris
Listen for the saxophone quoting Down by the Riverside. Why does he quote that song in this one? Gonna lay his burden down? Ain’t gonna study war no more? Hmmm…Meanwhile every dog will have his day, yes Wynonie? For a great short bio on Wynonie Harris see the start of James Miller’s Flowers in the Dustbin.
9. Sly & the Family Stone, In Time, Fresh
“Well, well, there’s a feeling, oh, so real in every human.” Daniel Lanois pointed out in special guest-DJ interview on All Songs Considered that in this song, Sly provides a great example of mixing technological beats and human muscles to make music. The song starts with a drum machine, but then the old-fashioned drums come in, right in time. I just can’t get that guitar lick out of my head.
10. The Clash, (White Man) In Hammersmith Palais, The Clash
The new groups are not concerned
With what there is to be learned
They got Burton suits, ha you think it’s funny
Turning rebellion into money…
…White youth, black youth
Better find another solution
Why not phone up Robin Hood
And ask him for some wealth distribution
11-20. Skokiaan by…
Kermit Ruffins, Live at Vaughan’s
Bulawayo Sweet Rhythms Band, Hits Of ’54 – Little Things Mean A Lot
Neely Plumb and His Orch., Music Masters
Perez Prado and His Orchestra, Original Mambo No. 5: The Best Of
Bill Haley & The Comets, Golden Classics – Lucky 13
The Four Lads; Orchestra under the direction of Neal Hefti, 16 Most Requested Songs Of The 1950s
Louis Armstrong, Grand Collection
St. Petersburg Ska-Jazz Review, Too Good To Be True
The Surf Dawgs, Hawaii Five-0
Kutsinhira Musimboti, Musimboti
Love & Theft, global version. The messy, vulgar, beautiful, triumphant, disgusting, stubborn exchange of musical culture between blacks and whites around the world, a good beat gone bad, then redeemed, appropriations galore, not for the sensitive of ears, but certainly for the hearty of feet on the dance floor. Starts out as an African big band dance song, in the tsaba-tsaba style, recorded by ethnomusicologist Hugh Tracey, and performed by August Musarurwa and the wonderfully named African Dance Band of the Cold Storage Commission of Southern Rhodesia. But certainly not kept in cold storage. Within a few years it was a massive U.S. hit, recorded by Ralph Materie.
Then everyone and their uncle recorded it: Neely Plumb, Perez Prado, Bill Haley, just to name a few. The Four Lads added extraordinarily offensive lyrics in a kind of colonial-tourist reverie. They are only funny because they are in such poor taste. I think they were even in poor taste in the 50s, when they were written by Tom Glazer, who penned the lyrics to no less a song than “On Top of Spaghetti.”
Then comes the amazing part of the story: Louis Armstrong expropriates the song post-Glazerian “take a trip to Africa” offense, during the years when the New Orleans jazz master was touring the world for the U.S. State Department and connecting back to Africa himself. The song, which looks down on Africa, suddenly becomes a kind of Black Nationalist anthem. Well, if you want to listen to it signify that way.
From there it goes all ways, to a Russian band playing Jamaican ska, a surf-guitar version takes it to Oceania—hey mine as well go all out colonial, it’s kinda like Africa, right? Not. All the back to Zimbabwe with Kutsinhira Musimboti. Well sort of. Since it’s not called Rhodesia anymore, and we’re not in colonial times anymore, and since it was actually recorded at the Kutsinhira Cultural Arts Center in Eugene, Oregon. A diasporic circle of notes.
Which takes us to where we began, in perhaps the best version yet, performed recently on Treme, David Simon’s post-The Wire HBO show about post-Katrina New Orleans. Kermit Ruffins brings you into his Thursday night gig at Vaughan’s, channeling the Four Lads, channeling Satchmo, channeling Musarurwa. Have some bbq made by the man himself—Ruffins claims he’s just a chef who plays music—and dance, for Papa Legba is in the house—I know, that spirit is originally from Benin, not Southern Rhodesia, but he’s there just the same, sliding across the sweet notes and the sour between this world and that.
1. Bob Dylan, Summer Days, Love & Theft
To be played on the bleakest, darkest days of winter. “Summer days, summer nights are gone / I know a place where there’s still somethin’ going on.”
2. The Felice Brothers, Frankie’s Gun!, The Felice Brothers
In which an Al Capone returns from the dead in some story that is out of time, could be a lost episode of Boardwalk Empire or The Sopranos. Visionary, cinematic gangster buddy road trip movie gone awry all in one.
3. Jimmy Bryant/Speedy West/Spike Jones, Hotter Than a Pistol, Flamin’ Guitars
If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don’t put it there.
If you sent her to the North Pole, she’d burn the North Pole down.
— Spike Jones
4. Superchunk, Digging For Something, Majesty Shredding
“I hear there’s a classic mess out on old 86…I left a shadow there last month stuck in the ground.” Here begins a series of songs about the state of the U.S. cultural dreamworld circa 2010. The search is on. Some kind of wild lion roars somewhere. Or is it a great white whale? Is it buried underground? Is it inside the coffin of our hearts or are we now floating on shards, hanging on for dear life, thrashing about. Where did the feeling that change could happen go? How do we dig it back out of the grave, pull it back to the surface? Does it still whisper in the buzz of overdriven guitars, the harmonies beyond harmonies? How do you dance in the streets, or fight in them, or make revolution in them, or do it in the road, or get to the other side, when there’s no more street or road or avenue there?
How then to open the avenue of great debates, accessible to the majority, while yet enriching the multiplicity and the quality of public discourses, of evaluating agencies, of ‘scenes’ or places of visibility? — Jacques Derrida
The search is on. “It’s just getting dark and you’re waking up.”
5. Idlewild, Post-Electric, Post Electric Blues
Shades of Steely Dan at the start. Can they reel in the years? “I’ve written down the concept, it’s casual to deny, along sentimental lines.” There’s that buzzing electric guitar again. Can it still work it’s magic?
6. Arcade Fire, Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains), The Suburbs
They heard me singing and they told me to stop / Quit these pretentious things and just punch the clock.
Exactly. Human League rhythms connect back to a past that connects back to a past, through machines and people to machines and people, a whole channel carved into the modern world. But has it dried up? The words on this whole Arcade Fire Suburbs album are pure 2010. Which is to say, Arcade Fire is also Digging for Something Post-Electric.
What do you do when you’re “living in the sprawl” and “the dead shopping malls rise like mountains beyond mountains”? What do you do when the “modern kids” all “seem wild but they are so tame” (Rococo), when they “are all standing with their arms folded tight,” the way the audience exists, paralyzed, at your typical indie-rock show? “I know it’s heavy, I know it ain’t light,” Arcade Fire sing, “But how you gonna lift it with your arms folded tight?”
That something wild still lurks out there. “Pray to God I won’t live to see / The death of everything that’s wild” (Half Light II). “Hey,” Arcade Fire shouts (Deep Blue), “Put the cellphone down for a while / In the night there is something wild / Can you hear it breathing? / And hey / Put the laptop down for a while / In the night there is something wild.” But then, “I feel it, it’s leaving me.”
They keep it alive, mountains beyond mountains, the real kind, but now deep in the machine, “compressed on a tiny screen,” lurking in the ‘burbs, foreclosed but not destroyed. A Human League.
7. Mgmt, Kids, Oracular Spectacular
Take only what you need from it, young one.
8. Louis Prima, Barnacle Bill the Sailor (with Keely Smith), Breaking It Up
Back to the holidays, now. Sea chantey, circa Las Vegas, 1955. “I’m all dressed up like a Christmas Tree.”
9. Okkervil River, A Girl In Port, The Stage Names
Still on the seas. The best love song this side of Exile on Main Street? But love song to whom, to what? “I’m just against, I’m not apart.”
10. Benny Spellman, Lipstick Traces (On A Cigarette), Doctors, Professors, Kings, And Queens: The Big Ol’ Box of New Orleans
Greil Marcus wrote a whole book named after this song, and never talks about the song in the book! I guess that’s the point, given the title of the song (not to mention the theme of Marcus’s book—détournement and Situationists and all that). My take is that it’s a love song as a potlatch in the form of a ghost story. But it’s also just a great Allen Toussaint song, especially those weird Allen Toussaint piano chords in the bridge that somehow sound to me exactly like a trace of a trace of a trace of a conventional chord: a wispy musical reminder of someone long gone from home, her presence absented, absence presented.
11. Eliza Carthy, Whirly Whorl (& The Kings of Calicutt), English Folk Anthology
Feminist-Celtic version of Chuck Berry’s “My Ding-a-Ling”? Well, the groom might have lost his whirly whorl on this wedding night, but the band certainly hasn’t. This is one of the best whirly-whorling grooves since “In Time,” by Sly and the Family Stone.
12. Don Vappie & The Creole Jazz Serenaders, Sale’e Dames, Bon Jour, Doctors, Professors, Kings, And Queens: The Big Ol’ Box of New Orleans
Ah, clarity on the clarinet…is the clarinet to become the post-electric electric guitar?
13. A. L. Lloyd, The Two Magicians, Three Score & Ten: Topic Records – England Arise!
The suitor in this song is very persistent, yes? Creepily so.
14. Jody Stecher, The Hills Of Isle Au Haut, Going Up on the Mountain: The Classic First Recordings
No man is an island, unless he learn to fish, in which case “you’re a damned fool if you stay, but there’s no better place to go.”
15. Solomon Burke, Diamond In Your Mind, Don’t Give Up On Me
Remember, always, always keep a diamond in your mind.
She lives outside of Natchez where she operates a crane / She’s like a wrecking ball no longer connected to the chain. – Tom Waits
Solomon Burke, the king of rock ‘n’ soul, 1940-2010.
16. Alasdair Roberts, The Flyting of Grief & Joy (Eternal Return), Spoils
Will Oldham’s long-lost Scottish brethren. Rushes onward into the future of the past of the present. And the devil take the hindmost.
17. Andy Irvine and Paul Brady, Arthur McBride, Andy Irvine and Paul Brady
Antiwar ballad for Christmas morning. Martial drums, regimental colors, turned into a “football” and thrown into the sea to “rock and to roll.” Pacificist-anarchism circa Limerick, Ireland, 1840. Bob Dylan’s got a good version too, on Good as I Been to You.
Happy holidays! May your 2011 be “pleasant and charmin’.”