the social distancing playlist 121-130

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day 121. The Housemartins, “Caravan of Love” (1986) Posted 7/13/2020 — A band you’ve probably never heard covering a song you’ve probably never heard. “Caravan of Love” was a 1985 R&B hit for Isley-Japser-Isley – a great tune saturated in now dated synths and pop excess. The short-lived British band The Housemartins reworked the song a year later as a non-album a cappella single, pushing its message of hope to the forefront. What resulted was a slice of Impressions-flavored pop-soul undercut by vintage doo-wop. Try it. You’ll like it.

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day 122. The Allman Brothers Band, “Jessica” (1973) Posted 7/14/2020 — Upon its release on the “Brothers and Sisters” album, “Jessica” defined the sound of the second coming of the Allman Brothers Band. Its original lineup shattered by the deaths of Duane Allman and Berry Oakley, the group dramatically revamped its instrumentation by replacing lead guitarist Allman with pianist Chuck Leavell and handing all guitar duties, along with the lion’s share of the songwriting, to Dickey Betts. Leavell and Betts are the stars of “Jessica,” the jubilant instrumental cornerstone of the Allmans Mk2.

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day 123. Richard and Linda Thompson, “Shoot Out the Lights” (1982) Posted 7/15/2020 — “Shoot Out the Lights” was a landmark 1982 work of finality and fresh starts. For Richard and Linda Thompson, though, it was curtains – the last of six albums capped by an ugly marital breakup. It’s a devastating work highlighted by the guitar-centric and largely Linda-less title tune. The album became a critical triumph, reigniting a solo career that rightly showcased Richard as one of the most compelling songwriters and guitarists of his day.

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day 124. Weather Report, “Birdland” (1977) Posted 7/16/2020 — Jazz tunes haven’t experienced many pop breakthroughs in recent decades (no, Kenny G doesn’t count). That’s especially true with works bearing even a trace of progressive spirit. Not surprisingly, it wasn’t the original (and vastly more creative) instrumental version of Weather Report’s “Birdland” from 1977’s “Heavy Weather” that hit big, but later interpretations by the Manhattan Transfer and Quincy Jones. Still, the original became a beacon at the height of the fusion era – a still-fascinating mix of jazz tradition and futuristic ingenuity.

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day 125. U2, “Bad” (1984) Posted 7/17/2020 — Everything great about U2 culminates in “Bad,” one of several standout works from 1984’s “The Unforgettable Fire” album. Thematically, it’s about addiction – or, more exactly, a coming to terms with it. Musically, the song builds like a symphony from the kinds of circulating guitar arpeggios that once served as a trademark sound for the band to vocals that rise to a reckoning in its final chorus (“Wide awake… I’m not dreaming”). A song of dark grace, realization and reclamation.

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day 126. Pink Floyd, “Astronomy Domine” (1967) Posted 7/18/2020 — A trip back to the trippiest days of Pink Floyd, an era when Syd Barrett’s paisley muse led the music. After a few psychedelic-laced singles, Barrett adjusted the controls to a darker setting for Pink Floyd’s debut album, “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn.” Leading the record off was “Astronomy Domine” with Barrett handling guitar duties (this was pre-David Gilmour) as well as dual vocals with keyboardist Rick Wright. A spacey escapade that planted the seeds for all future Floyd adventures.

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day 127. Al Green, “Let’s Stay Together” (1971) Posted 7/19/2020 — Was “Let’s Stay Together” Al Green’s greatest work? It gets my vote, although Green’s reign as one of the ‘70s most persuasive soul singers yielded a long list of competing creations. In fact, his epic reworking of the Bee Gees’ “How Do You Mend a Broken Heart,” which shared space on the “Let’s Stay Together” album, is No. 2 in my book. But the title tune to “Let’s Stay Together” remains unrivaled, from Green’s cool but combustible singing to Willie Mitchell’s sublime production. A total classic.

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day 128. Led Zeppelin, “Bron-T-Aur Stomp” (1970) Posted 7/20/2020 — For “Led Zeppelin III,” Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and John Bonham retreated to the Welsh country house known as Bron-Yr-Aur to write. Thus was born “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp” (why the misspelling is anyone’s guess), one of several “LZIII” tunes that reverted to a largely acoustic setting. Essentially a tribute tune to Plant’s dog, the song reflects the homemade sound of a makeshift street corner band playing a hoedown. The Zeppelin spirit is still in abundance. It’s just dressed differently.

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day 129. Rod Stewart, “Mandolin Wind” (1971) Posted 7/21/2020 — Long before Rod Stewart’s celebrity status got the better of him, there was an album called “Every Picture Tells a Story.” An inventive mix of folk, barroom rock ‘n’ roll and dance hall pageantry, it made Stewart a star in 1971. “Maggie May” was the hit, but “Mandolin Wind” was the masterpiece. Perhaps the saddest song Stewart ever recorded, its wintry imagery was offset by blasts of acoustic street band merriment. Simply put, Stewart never wrote a better song or cut a better record.

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day 130. Lyle Lovett, “L.A. County” (1987) Posted 7/22/2020 — The word on Lyle Lovett was spreading by the time his sophomore album “Pontiac” was released in 1987. A schooled Lone Star songsmith, he became part of a country music movement that also saw the simultaneous breakthroughs of Steve Earle and Dwight Yoakam. Lovett was the most stylistically and lyrically cunning of the three with songs that ventured into jazz and soul. The brilliant “L.A. County” glides along with the narrative thrill of an impending wedding until Lovett goes all Sam Peckinpah at the end. Needless to say, country radio had a coronary.

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