the social distancing playlist 91-100

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day Ninety One. Grateful Dead, “Uncle John’s Band” (1970) Posted 6/13/2020 — 50 years ago today, the Grateful Dead released what was arguably its finest studio album, “Workingman’s Dead.” In a dramatic turnaround from 1969’s ultra-tripped out “Aoxomoxoa,” this follow-up was rooted in Americana shades of folk, blues and even bluegrass with Robert Hunter’s role as lyricist greatly emphasized. Several of the recording’s eight tunes would become concert staples for the Dead, especially the acoustic, harmony-happy album-opener “Uncle John’s Band.”

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day Ninety Two. Linda Ronstadt, “Heart Like a Wheel” (1974) Posted 6/14/2020 — “Heart Like a Wheel” was the album that shot Linda Ronstadt’s celebrity status through the roof. While the record produced four hits, its shy masterpiece was the Anna McGarrigle composed title tune. Fragile but volcanically emotive, the song (and, indeed, the album) peaks when Ronstadt masterfully concludes the first verse with quiet but heart shattering grace: “My love for you is like a sinking ship, and my heart is like that ship out in mid ocean.”

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day Ninety Three. Wilson Pickett, “Funky Broadway” (1967) Posted 6/15/2020 — Legend has it that “Funky Broadway” was the first single to chart that contained the word “funky” in the title. More to the point, though, was the blend of Pickett’s impossibly soulful vocal strut (which owes considerable debt to James Brown), a masterfully sleek Muscle Shoals arrangement where horns bob in and out with a groove all their own and Jerry Wexler’s sublime production. Pickett’s final Top 10 pop hit, this remains a classic from the golden age of Atlantic Records.

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day Ninety Four. R.E.M., “Perfect Circle” (1983) Posted 6/16/2020 — Over 35 years after its release, “Perfect Circle” remains one of my favorite R.E.M. songs. It possessed all the beautifully unfinished atmosphere that distinguished the band’s debut album, “Murmur,” with a very knowing wink to the similarly constructed music of the Velvet Underground. Yet Peter Buck’s guitarwork was placed in the background, save for the times it railed distantly like an angry neighbor. A wonderful relic from when the R.E.M. sound was still a journey of mystery.

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day Ninety Five. Paul and Linda McCartney, “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” (1971) Posted 6/17/2020 — Happy 78th birthday to Sir Paul McCartney, perhaps the greatest living architect of the pop music innocence and innovations that bloomed in the 1960s. “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” remains one of my favorite Macca tunes. On one hand, this oddity from the “Ram” album was like a British cartoon very much in the vein of the Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine.” But so much is going on – bittersweet melodies, orchestral color, poppish choruses and plenty of childlike cunning. A song to feel young with, and what a birthday gift that is.

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day Ninety Six. Bonnie Raitt, “Angel from Montgomery” (1974) Posted 6/18/2020 — At the end of “Picture Show,” last week’s moving online tribute to John Prine, manager/widow Fiona Prine remarked that when audiences heard “Angel from Montgomery,” they weren’t absorbing it as a John Prine composition but as a Bonnie Raitt work. Raitt was 24 when she made “Angel” her own on 1974’s “Streetlights” album. She was 70 when she closed “Picture Show” with the tune last week. If ever a Prine song benefited from the passage of time and age, this was it. “Those years just flow by like a broken down dam.”

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day Ninety Seven. The James Gang, “Walk Away” (1971) Posted 6/19/2020 — At the heart the Northern Ohio power trio known as The James Gang sat Joe Walsh. He was neither the band’s original guitar voice nor its last. But the four albums Walsh cut with bassist Dale Peters and drummer Jim Fox as the James Gang yielded a fun, inventive blend of psychedelia and radio-friendly rock, pop and boogie. But it was Walsh’s spirit – sometimes jovial, sometimes darkly ragged – that sold the sound. “Walk Away,” a minor hit from 1971’s “Thirds” album, whittled all that down into three jubilant minutes.

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day Ninety Eight. The Kinks, “Sunny Afternoon” (1966) Posted 6/20/2020 —- Happy 76th birthday to Sir Raymond Douglas Davies, chieftain of The Kinks and one of the most quintessentially British of all pop songsmiths. For the occasion, here is one the Kinks’ most prominent hits, “Sunny Afternoon.” Released in 1966 as a stand-alone single and later included on one of the band’s finest albums, 1967’s “Face to Face,” this dance hall-style song is a tale of privilege and old money, as well the intrusion of British taxation on both. Mostly, though, it’s perfect period pop music.

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day Ninety Nine. Todd Rundgren, “Couldn’t I Just Tell You” (1972) Posted 6/21/2020 — Happy Birthday No. 72 to Todd Rundgren, one of rock ‘n’ roll’s most enduring all-purpose do-it-yourselfers. As an instrumentalist, songwriter, engineer, producer and stylistic thrillseeker, Rundgren has been a pioneer for over 50 years. Best of all, he is showing no signs of slowing down. To celebrate, let’s spin back to the breakthrough album “Something/Anything?” for the jubilant studio pop parade that is “Couldn’t I Just Tell You.”

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day 100. Yes, “Long Distance Runaround” (1971) Posted 6/22/2020 — Even though its biggest hit, 1983’s “Owner of a Lonely Heart,” was a concise pop single, much of the music made over the past half-century by warhorse prog-rock band Yes has been longer, more ornate and instrumentally textured music that adhered to prog’s lavish extremes (i.e., indulgences). But on “Long Distance Runaround,” from the career-making album “Fragile,” Yes’ finest lineup – Jon Anderson, Steve Howe, Rick Wakeman, Chris Squire and Bill Bruford – packed a boatload of melody and cheery compositional invention into a musical progfest that clocked in at a taut three minutes.

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