the social distancing playlist 141-150

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day 141. Nilsson, “Everybody’s Talkin’” (1968) Posted 8/2/2020 — A folk favorite by Fred Neil, “Everybody’s Talkin’” was cut by the stylistically cunning Harry Nilsson for 1968’s “Aerial Ballet” but created little commotion. Then director John Schlesinger grabbed it for the soundtrack to “Midnight Cowboy” the following year. The song won a Grammy, the film won an Oscar (several, actually) and Nilsson became a star. The song’s cinematic country sound proved inspirational, too. Listen to Bruce Springsteen’s epic “Western Stars” and tell me he wasn’t taken by the tune.

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day 142. The Staple Singers, “Respect Yourself” (1971) Posted 8/3/2020 — “Respect Yourself” is creation so perfect that you’re left wondering which is greater, the song of the artist performing it. I’d say it’s a draw. Penned by soul music maestros Luther Ingram and Mack Rice, it was one of many topically inclined, gospel charged R&B hits to come on the heels of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” (“Take the sheet off your face, boy, it’s a brand new day”). But it took the soul, faith and cool of the Staple Singers – specifically, the fervor within vocal tradeoffs between patriarch Pops Staples and daughter Mavis – to turn the song into a commanding affirmation.

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day 143. Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, “Teach Your Chiildren” (1970) Posted 8/4/2020 — “Teach Your Children” remains a cornerstone work by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young – especially, Graham Nash, who penned this cautionary tale of the lessons one generation passes down to the next. Neil Young isn’t even on it. Instead, the lead pedal steel guitar work was provided by Jerry Garcia. While CSN’s harmonies seemed disarming when “Teach Your Children” appeared on 1970’s “Déjà Vu,” the song’s lyrical sting remains quietly moving: “Feed them on your dreams, the one they pick, the one you’ll know by. Don’t you ever ask them why. If they told you, you will cry.”

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day 144. ZZ Top, “Waitin’ for the Bus”/“Jesus Just Left Chicago” (1973) Posted 8/5/2020 — A ZZ Top double-header from the album that broke the band, “Tres Hombres.” Though separate works, “Waitin’ for the Bus” and “Jesus Just Left Chicago” need to be viewed as a single, six-minute joyride that downshifts from a mid-tempo Lone Star grind into a smokier blues spiritual. A longtime staple of ZZ Top’s live shows, this medley was cooked up a full decade before the band’s commercial rebirth as jumbo-bearded MTV synth-savvy rockers. Here, the Texas blues/boogie charge of Billy Gibbons, Dusty Hill and Frank Beard was dirty, devious and deliciously elemental.

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day 145. Bruce Springsteen, “Darkness on the Edge of Town” (1978) Posted 8/6/2020 — As summertime rock ‘n’ roll timepieces go, the title tune to Bruce Springsteen’s “Darkness on the Edge of Town” album is an unnerving classic. Take the storyline, where a far-reaching social darkness reaches beyond youthful unrest to a more ageless and immovable discontent. The music is equally urgent – a low rumble triggered by E Street Band pianist Roy Bittan that detonates one of Springsteen more impassioned anthemic breakdowns. Then everything recedes, returning to the opening piano riff – an afterburn that repeats as the song fades into an unending nocturne.

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day 146. Carole King, “Tapestry” (1971) Posted 8/7/2020 — Summer 1971. At the forefront of an increasing progressive pop landscape in 1971, two established songstresses release the recordings that would define their solo careers – Carole King with “Tapestry” and Joni Mitchell with “Blue.” Both were recorded simultaneously – in the same studio, in fact, which led to Mitchell turning up as a guest vocalist on “Tapestry.” King’s record became unstoppable – 15 weeks at No. 1, 25 million copies sold, 4 Grammys and pair of double-sided hits. But it was the music’s sense of poetic and often uneasy reflection that would inspire artists and audiences for generations to come.

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day 147. Joni Mitchell, “Blue” (1971) Posted 8/8/2020 — As mentioned yesterday, Joni Mitchell’s “Blue” and Carole King’s “Tapestry” were recorded at the same time in the same studio building. Where “Tapestry” was an article of independence from King’s pop songwriter past, “Blue” moved away from Mitchell’s folk profile. Its stark, blunt introspection was often frightening, especially on the title track – an almost operatic solo piano confession that typified the record’s unsettled honesty while avoiding undue sentimentalism. On “Blue,” Mitchell grew from Laurel Canyon songstress into one of popular music’s most uncompromising and mature composers.

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day 148. The Who, “Won’t Get Fooled Again” (1971) Posted 8/9/2020 — This one might seem overly familiar. Still, the eight minute version of “Won’t Get Fooled Again” hit right me between the eyes (and ears) after a renewed listen this weekend to the album it hailed from, “Who’s Next.” As a protest tune, it still holds uncomfortably true (“The men who spurred us on sit in judgement of all wrong. They decide and the shotgun sings the song.”) Similarly, as a period piece of rock ‘n’ roll, it remains a volcano complete with a concluding scream from Roger Daltrey most of us wish they could have summoned over these last six months.

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day 149. Chick Corea and Return to Forever, “Spain” (1972) Posted 8/10/2020 — Ever since it surfaced on the “Light as a Feather” album with the initial lineup of his popular fusion band Return to Forever, “Spain” has been a performance calling card for Chick Corea. The tune uses a quote from Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez” as a starting point before launching into a jazz samba that typified Corea’s bright, animated compositional style. He went on to record nearly a dozen different versions of “Spain” with an orchestral arrangement finally winning the song a Grammy in 2001. This wonderful original recording is where the journey began.

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day 150. King Crimson, “Neal and Jack and Me” (1982) Posted 8/11/2020 — The summer of 1982 was defined for me by three Brit albums released over three consecutive months: Roxy Music’s “Avalon” (May), King Crimson’s “Beat” (June) and Elvis Costello’s “Imperial Bedroom” (July). The Roxy and Elvis albums have already received a nod on the playlist, so it’s time to recognize “Beat,” the second of three ‘80s recordings by the Robert Fripp/Adrian Belew/Tony Levin/Bill Bruford lineup of Crimson. Produced by Rhett Davies (as was “Avalon”), “Beat” was a crisp, modernized prog outing that was reportedly murder to make. Sure was fun to listen to, though.

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