Monthly Mixtape: May 2016
1. The Knickerbockers – “One Track Mind”
One of the most uncanny impersonators of Liverpool’s Fab Four was this quartet from Bergenfield, New Jersey. Although their early single “Jerk Town” sounds more like the Four Seasons, The Knickerbockers scored big in 1966 with “Lies,” a dead ringer for the harmonies and song craft of their betters across the pond. Follow-up single “One Track Mind” was even better, combining a solid Lennon-McCartneyesque melody with garage band energy, but their label, Challenge Records, unfortunately did not live up to their name and couldn’t meet public demand.
2. America – “A Horse with No Name”
Ask the casual music fan who recorded “A Horse with No Name” and you’re more likely to hear the name Neil Young than you are the band America. Not only is Dewey Bunnell’s lead vocal almost a spot-on replication of Young’s distinctive whine, but the song’s title calls to mind Young’s association with the band Crazy Horse. Many may forget who actually recorded their greatest hit, but almost 45 years later, America’s “A Horse with No Name” endures despite that fact.
3. Dave Raynor – “Leave Me Alone Tonight”
Recently compiled on Too Slow to Disco 2, Raynor’s infectiously hummable obscurity does everything that made hip listeners in 1981 cringe: light funk guitar, faux Michael McDonaldisms and even a police whistle. More than 30 years later and rebranded “yacht rock,” it’s irresistibly cheesy and all but impossible to get out of your head. What makes it stand apart from its AOR brethren is its unusual subject matter: the singer doesn’t want to be loved.
4. Harry Chapin – “Cat’s in the Cradle”
Not only is “Cat’s in the Cradle” the cliché go-to for father-son songs, it’s also commonly mistaken for a recording by Cat Stevens. That’s largely because Harry Chapin’s voice does hit on a Stevens-esque timbre in this folk rock classic, especially in the chorus. It doesn’t help that the word “cat” is in the title, either.
5. Led Zeppelin – “The Crunge”
Whether or not they borrowed a guitar figure from Spirit for “Stairway to Heaven,” they outright stole from far better sources. But as the saying goes, talent imitates while genius steals, and Zep’s genius was to alchemically transform its thieveries through its own distinct voice. This is the funkiest heist in the band’s catalog, taking its scratchy rhythm guitar and obsession with the bridge from James Brown, and Bonham does that one better with a twitchy drum beat that would make the Meters’ Zigaboo Modeliste proud.
1. Weezer – “This Is Such A Pity”
In retrospect, this song was a long time coming. As the producer of Weezer’s classic debut album, Ric Ocasek will likely be associated with the band forever. And it isn’t surprising that Rivers Cuomo–a fan of tight, efficient songcraft if there ever was one–would be a fan of The Cars. However, “This Is Such A Pity” takes fandom to a bizarre extreme aping that signature Cars sound to unintentionally parodic degrees. It’s made even worse by Rick Rubin’s flat production and a cheesy guitar solo that is very, very un Cars-like. Still, kudos to Cuomo to finding a way to work “fascist pig” into a by-proxy Cars song.
2. Wise Blood – “Loud Mouths”
There aren’t many similarities between the music of Jack White and Wise Blood, other than Pittsburgh native Chris Laufman’s vocal on “Loud Mouths.” Laufman’s high-pitched loud-whispers propel this avant-pop track, and he evokes the same kind of pained vocal that has made White’s voice as distinctive as his virtuosic guitar. If White collaborated with the Range, it might sound something like “Loud Mouths.”
3. Coldplay – “Shiver”
Whether or not The Bends is the best Radiohead album is debatable. It’s almost certainly the most influential Radiohead album, spawning a slew of one-hit wonders who dominated rock radio in the late ‘90s and early 2000s. Before their world-beating years, Coldplay were one of those one-hit wonders, and they loved The Bends so much that they condensed the album’s sound into one song. The verses rely on lush acoustic guitar that invites comparisons to “High & Dry,” only to give way to soaring electric fireworks that recall the explosion of sound on “Just,” but without that sinister edge. In a way, that sums up the early Coldplay sound: a more agreeable Radiohead. Hey, there are worse things to be.
4. Elastica – “Connection”
One of the singles that made Elastica big was also the one that landed them in hot water. Any Wire fans who heard “Connection” in 1994 would have immediately picked up on the riff to “Three Girl Rhumba” in the same way that the band did before taking Elastica to court. But the similarity doesn’t end there: singer Justine Frischmann’s vocals contain the sort of arch, detached seriousness that Colin Newman made into a post-punk staple in 1978. Unlike Wire, though, Elastica built on that simple riff to create a layered Britpop classic, albeit one whose roots are perhaps a bit too obvious.