the social distancing playlist 61-70

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day Sixty One. The Kinks, “Sleepwalker” (1977) Posted 5/14/2020 — “Sleepwalker” was the title tune to a 1977 album that brought The Kinks back to earth after a series of fun, but theatrically indulgent recordings. Everything the band did best in the 1960s was rediscovered, retuned and pushed to the forefront, from Ray Davies’s alert ability to blend clever, rockish immediacy with a tasty piano-pop refrain to brother Dave’s knack for building elemental chords into blistering guitar breaks. God Save the Kinks!

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day Sixty Two. King Crimson, “In the Wake of Poseidon” (1970) Posted 5/15/2020 — A weekend of celebrations for King Crimson. Today is the 74th birthday of Crimson chieftain Robert Fripp as well as the 34th anniversary of his wedding to British songstress Toyah Willcox. Yesterday, though, marked the 50th anniversary of Crimson’s second album, “In the Wake of Poseidon.” Here is that record’s epic title tune, one of the last works the band cut before vocalist Greg Lake moved on to Emerson, Lake & Palmer.

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day Sixty Three. Steve Earle and the Dukes, “The Rain Came Down” (1987) Posted 5/16/2020 — Discussion surrounding the early music of Steve Earle often celebrates 1986’s “Guitar Town” (the record that introduced him) and 1988’s “Copperhead Road” (the record that cemented his popularity). But the album that came between, “Exit 0,,” was equally strong, as shown by this blast of farmland faith that packed all of the anthemic assurance of the music Bruce Springsteen and John Mellencamp were making at the time.

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day Sixty Four. Janis Joplin, “Little Girl Blue” (1969) Posted 5/17/2020 — A 1935 Rodgers and Hart chestnut, “Little Girl Blue” has been interpreted by scores of diverse female artists, from Doris Day, Judy Garland and The Carpenters to Ella Fitzgerald, Nancy Wilson and Diana Ross. But like every song she took on, Janis Joplin found an emotive rawness within the music that she transformed into electric, scorched earth heartache. Pulled from her 1969 album, “I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama.”

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day Sixty Five. The Who, “1921.” Posted 5/18/2020. —  Happy 75th Birthday to the other Dr. Who, Pete Townshend. Aside from penning near all of The Who’s music over the past 56 years, Townshend revealed a vocal blend of sensitivity and sneer that served as a fascinating contrast to Roger Daltrey’s more overt bravado. And at the time of the epic “Tommy,” from which “1921” was pulled, Townshend was, as a guitarist and stage performer, mad as a hatter. A boundless rock ‘n’ roll spirit. Happy Birthday, Pete.

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day Sixty Six. Steely Dan, “Kid Charlemagne” (1976) Posted 5/19/2020. Finding a Steely Dan song that wasn’t overplayed into oblivion by radio during the 1970s (and ’80s and ’90s) is tough. “Kid Charlemagne” certainly doesn’t qualify. Larry Carlton’s guitar solo alone immortalized the tune. But nearly 45 years later, the work has aged well. Maybe it was because it stood as a bleaker pop confection from what was hands down Steely Dan’s darkest album (1976’s “The Royal Scam”). Maybe it was the song’s inherent jazz instincts. Regardless, the Kid still rocks.

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day Sixty Seven. Devo, “Jerkin’ Back ‘N’ Forth” (1981) Posted 5/20/2020 — Wanna feel old? Try this on: Devo’s “Freedom of Choice” album and its radio hit “Whip It” are 40 years old this month. To my ears, though, the follow-up, 1981’s “New Traditionalists” was the better record – darker in temperament but not in groove and more topically in tune with the times. It also contained one of Devo’s murkiest dance tunes, “Jerkin’ Back ‘N’ Forth” – an acidic little party favor served with verve before the band’s records veered into campy electro excess.

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day Sixty Eight. The Beach Boys. “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” (1966) Posted 5/21/2020 — With the unofficial opening weekend of summer at hand, we go to the opening track of the album that changed the pop landscape in the summer of 1966 – the Beach Boys’ epic “Pet Sounds.” A maturation of the group’s hit surf-pop sound, the album was a game changer in every way, especially in terms of production and sentiment. Much of it, in fact, echoed a more melancholy, autumnal mood. On “Wouldn’t it Be Nice,” though, summer reigned. Surf’s up!

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day Sixty Nine. Spirit, “Mr. Skin” (1970) Posted 5/22/2020 — One of the centerpiece tunes to “Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus,” the last in a four-album series the Los Angeles psychedelic pop troupe released in a mere 2 ½ years, “Mr. Skin” was a fun, brassy, organ fortified pop treat penned and performed by one of Spirit’s two principal singer-songwriters, Jay Ferguson. The band’s original lineup splintered after this album, leaving “Dr. Sardonicus” as a parting shot from the golden era of an underappreciated ‘60s juggernaut band.

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day Seventy. Bob Dylan, “Tombstone Blues” (1965) Posted 5/23/2020 — Happy 79th Birthday to Bob Dylan. While it might not exactly be a party piece, we offer a troubled song from another troubled time as a means of celebration. “Tombstone Blues,” from “Highway 61 Revisited,” is as abstract as it is allegorical, a snapshot of surreal imagery set against a giddy electric arrangement. It may be a product of the ‘60s, but the bleak social undercurrent running through the song often reveals a very modern sting.

the social distancing playlist 51-60

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day Fifty One. Hot Tuna, “Water Song” (1972) Posted 5/4/2020 — Hot Tuna is the 51 year old spinoff band of Jefferson Airplane led by guitarist Jorma Kaukonen and bassist Jack Casady. Despite flirtations with heavier electric compositions, it essentially focuses around acoustic blues-based works. “Water Song,” from 1972’s “Burgers” album, is neither, but rather a sunny, lyrical, free flowing guitar instrumental. It remains one of Kaukonen’s most popular tunes.

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day Fifty Two. Los Straitjackets, “My Heart Will Go On (Love Theme from ‘Titanic’)” (1999) Posted 5/5/2020 — Okay, time to have some fun. For that, we summon Los Straitjackets to discover the surf and camp possibilities within one of the most smarmy pop hits of the 1990s. The result: a Titanic-size treat from “The Velvet Touch of Los Straitjackets” and the band that never had a problem with wearing a mask in public.

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day Fifty Three. Kraftwerk, “Kometenmelodie 2” (1974) Posted 5/6/2020 — In honor of Kraftwerk co-founder Florian Schneider, whose April death was announced yesterday, we travel back to a track from 1974’s “Autobahn.” The album broke the electronic ensemble through to an international audience. I prefer this era to the group’s later, more popular recordings. Back then, Kraftwerk’s synthesized sheen possessed more dimension, dynamics and man-made heart.

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day Fifty Four. The Doors, “Riders on the Storm” (1971) Posted 5/7/2020. A parting shot from The Doors off of the “L.A. Woman” album. The last song the band cut with Jim Morrison, “Riders on the Storm” entered the charts the same week the singer died. It is an atypical Doors work – a slower, jazz-like lament as opposed to a psychedelic pop piece with Ray Manzarek ditching his trademark organ sound for Rhodes piano. A seven minute meditation of dark, elegiac beauty.

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day Fifty Five. Joe Ely, “Musta Notta Gotta Lotta” (1981) Posted 5/8/2020 — For nearly five decades, Joe Ely has been one of the most assured and versatile song stylists to ever stampede out of Texas. He was also, at times, one of the most masterful rock ‘n’ roll ambassadors from any land. The title tune to his “Musta Notta Gotta Lotta” album was a total roots rock meltdown – a megaton blast of Jerry Lee Lewis fervor and Lone Star roadhouse soul. Fasten your seat belts for this one.

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day Fifty Six. Little Richard, “Lucille” (1957) Posted 5/9/2020 — A farewell to rock ‘n’ roll game changer Little Richard, who died yesterday. “Lucille” is one his many co-written classics cut in New Orleans with some of the city’s finest session men (Lee Allen, Alvin “Red” Tyler, Earl King) for the Specialty label in the mid-1950s. But it was that hurricane voice that sold everything – well, that, the suave piano chops and a boatload of soul-savvy attitude.

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day Fifty Seven. Miles Davis, “All Blues” (1959) Posted 5/10/2020 — Jazz for a Monday. Like everything on Miles Davis’ immortal “Kind of Blue” album, “So What” is pretty much perfect: understated and sleek horn solos from Davis, John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley that follow simple but potently emotive bass and piano turns by Paul Chambers and Bill Evans, respectively. The ideal music to greet your week with.

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day Fifty Eight. Crowded House, “Something So Strong” (1987/2020) Posted 5/11/2020. — A fresh take on a pop classic. Last Friday, Crowded House served up a social distancing performance of its 1987 hit “Something So Strong.” The current lineup of co-founders Neil Finn and Nick Seymour, keyboardist Mitchell Froom (producer on the band’s first three albums), and Neil’s sons Liam and Elroy nicely retain the original version’s endlessly sunny disposition. And after all, what house in these Covid days isn’t crowded?

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day Fifty Nine. B.B. King, “The Thrill is Gone” (1969) Posted 5/12/2020 — Given B.B. King’s seven decade career, the urge was strong to find something other than his signature hit to post for the playlist. But few songs – in terms of composition, arrangement, production and performance – play to a music legend’s strengths better than this 1969/1970 classic. Better still, after so many plays and so many years, “The Thrill is Gone” still sounds fresh and vital. In short, the thrill is still very much there.

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day Sixty. Stevie Wonder, “Higher Ground” (1973) Posted 5/13/2020 — Missed Stevie Wonder’s 70th birthday by a day. Shame on me. We’ll compensate and celebrate with one of his most and empowering songs (and he’s got a lot of ‘em). “Higher Ground” comes from “Innervisions,” the third of four extraordinary early ‘70s albums that transformed Wonder from a Motown pop celebrity to an artist with an ear acutely attuned, in temperament and groove, to the times

the social distancing playlist 41-50

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day Forty One. Leon Russell, “Of Thee I Sing” (1971) Posted 4/24/2020 — A shot of Leon Russell in his absolute prime, slamming together Okie soul, renegade gospel and wonderfully organic rock ‘n’ roll with a spirit and immediacy that was indicative of every song on his brilliant sophomore album, “Leon Russell and the Shelter People.”

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day Forty Two. Santana, “No One to Depend On” (1971) Posted 4/25/2020 — Santana at its trippiest. “No One to Depend On” came from the band’s untitled third album, the final work of its original lineup. The music matched the times (late 1971) with a darkly psychedelic cast enhanced by the addition of a young Neal Schon.

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day Forty Three. Led Zeppelin, “Good Times, Bad Times” (1969) Posted 4/26/2020 — The first track from the first Led Zeppelin album. The hot-wired hybrid of primal rock ‘n’ roll and blues this song uncorked had to have scared the daylights out of more unsuspecting parents than any sound since the dawn of Little Richard. No wonder the band hit so big.

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day Forty Four. Cream, “Tales of Brave Ulysses” (1967) Posted 4/27/2020 — Cream for breakfast. Three minutes of tripped out trio psychedelia from “Disraeli Gears,” an album that serves as a mere suggestion of the chaos Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker were capable of onstage. Created at the midway point of Cream’s astonishingly brief three-year lifespan.

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day Forty Five. Willie Nelson, “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” (1975) Posted 4/28/2020 — Happy 87th Birthday to Willie Nelson. Still tough enough that it took a pandemic to keep him from playing a stadium show here last weekend. Celebrate the day with one of Willie’s simplest, yet most emotive recordings. This is the centerpiece tune from “Red Headed Stranger,” the album that tossed corporate Nashville to the Texas badlands in 1975.

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day Forty Six. Dusty Springfield, “Son of a Preacher Man” (1969) Posted 4/29/2020 — British singer Dusty Springfield’s early ‘60s pop hits were innocuous enough. Then she connected with the Atlantic Records A-team of producers, writers and musicians for the genre-busting “Dusty in Memphis” album. That triggered this regally arranged classic, penned originally for Aretha Franklin, but one Springfield completely made her own.

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day Forty Seven. Deep Purple, “Space Truckin’” (1972) Posted 4/30/2020 — “Smoke on the Water,” also from Deep Purple’s breakthrough “Machine Head” album, was the hit, but “Space Truckin’” was so much more fun. Big goofy fun, mind you. The lyrics are ridiculous, but the Richie Blackmore/Jon Lord groove and Ian Gillan’s gleeful screaming on the final chorus made for a pop-metal party piece.

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day Forty Eight. The Rolling Stones, “Dead Flowers” (1971) Posted 5/1/2020 — Ever feel a song was written just for you? That’s how many Kentuckians feel about the Rolling Stones’ “Dead Flowers.” A blast of boozy country camp from “Sticky Fingers,” it has become an adopted Bluegrass anthem for its fleeting reference to “making bets on Kentucky Derby Day.” You should have heard the reception when the Stones played this at Churchill Down in 2006. There’s no Derby today, but the weather is glorious and the mood is high. Rock on.

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day Forty Nine. Randy Newman, “Lonely at the Top” (1973) Posted 5/2/2020 — My favorite Randy Newman songs are the bleak ones, the tunes with gorgeous orchestrations masking devastating sadness. As additional despair isn’t exactly in high demand these days, we’ll move on to his sardonic songs, the ones poking fun at the privileged with the whimsy of a vaudeville tune. “Lonely at the Top,” from 1973’s “Sail Away,” fits that bill. This one’s for you, 1%.

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day Fifty. Kate Bush, “Cloudbusting” (1984) Posted 5/3/2020 — In terms of theatrical presentation, artistic daring and even vocal design, there is no artist like Kate Bush. While those traits often came together in more abstract compositions on her early albums, “Cloudbusting,” from 1984’s “Hounds of Love,” exhibited almost cinematic vision and precision. That emerged wonderfully on the song’s accompanying video -a short film, really – with Donald Sutherland. Wonderous stuff.

the social distancing playlist 31-40

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day Thirty One. Herbie Hancock, “Hang Up You Hang Ups” (1975) Posted 4/14/2020 — The electric side of Herbie Hancock, in honor of his 80th birthday. This was cut in 1975, when Hancock’s innovations in funk and fusion were at their height. The only thing greater than the groove here is the title: “Hang Up Your Hang Ups.” Truly a mantra for our times.

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day Thirty Two. Procol Harum, “A Salty Dog” (1969) Posted 4/15/2020 — The downside of having your debut single become an iconic hit, as “A Whiter Shade of Pale” did for Procol Harum 1967, is it becomes the commercial standard the rest of your career is measured by. The Procols never matched that success, but still created some stirring music, like this orchestral title tune to 1969’s “A Salty Dog” album.

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day Thirty Three. World Party, “Ship of Fools” (1987) Posted 4/16/2020 — Though over three decades old, “Ship of Fools” is eerily representative of certain factions roaming among us today. But let’s look on the bright side and celebrate it as a full introduction to World Party’s Karl Wallinger, one of the ‘80s finest but most underappreciated song stylists.

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day Thirty Four. Bruce Springsteen, “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)” (1973) Posted 4/17/2020 — Isolation or no isolation, it’s still Friday. Time to let the Boss loose. Here’s a bonafide Bruce Springsteen classic from his sophomore album, “The Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle” to remind us, in these Covid days, of life’s true brilliance. “Rosalita” remains a defining statement of Springsteen’s potency as a performance force.

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day Thirty Five. Elvis Costello, “Someone Took the Words Away” (2003) Posted 4/18/2020 — We will post something more indicative of Elvis Costello’s familiar pop-centric sound later. For now, here is a quietly pensive tune from his album “North” chosen for the luscious Lee Konitz solo at the end. It represents a rare journey outside the jazz world for the saxophone giant, who died Wednesday from coronavirus complications.

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day Thirty Six. Emerson, Lake & Palmer, “Karn Evil 9 – First Impression, Part 2” (1973) Posted 4/19/2020 —  Five joyously blusterous minutes of pomp and circumstance, “the show that never ends,” courtesy of Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s “Brain Salad Surgery” album. Prog, especially the commercially popular kind, was never cool. I didn’t care. Loved this stuff as a kid. Still do. To me, this song was a carnival come to life. Hence the title.

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day Thirty Seven. Jethro Tull, “Inside” (1970) Posted 4/20/2020 — A snapshot from Jethro Tull’s trippiest, most transitional album, released 50 years ago today. “Aqualung” would make bring massive commercial visibility in 1971. But on “Benefit,” Ian Anderson and crew were still a lighter-textured psychedelic band, shedding its fuzzy folk and blues exterior in preparation for a pop/rock breakthrough.

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day Thirty Eight. Emmylou Harris, “Luxury Liner” (1977) Posted 4/21/2020 — Unlike now, when country radio plays bad rock music, the 1970s became an era where rock radio regularly opened up to great country songs. Hence the crossover breakthrough of Emmylou Harris’ “Luxury Liner” album and it’s extraordinary Gram Parsons-penned title tune, in early 1977.

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day Thirty Nine. Otis Redding, “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” (1965) Posted 4/22/2020 — A mini soul symphony. Everything here sounds golden – the composition (which Redding wrote with fellow soul giant Jerry Butler), the playing and arrangement (with Booker T and the MGs at the core) and one of the great R&B vocal performances ever. For my money, this was Otis Redding’s finest recording.

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day Forty. Talking Heads, “Road to Nowhere” (1985) Posted 4/23/2020 — A post-touring career Talking Heads classic that speaks perhaps uncomfortably to the times. Still, the melody and march-like groove are so sunny that you almost overlook the doom factor. Almost. (“They can tell you what to do, but they’ll make a fool of you.”).

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The Social Distancing Playlist, Day Twenty One. The Crusaders with Bill Withers, “Soul Shadows” (1980) Posted 4/4/2020. An ignored tune featuring the great Bill Withers, who we lost yesterday. “Soul Shadows” was a collaborative single with the jazz/soul group The Crusaders that preceded Withers’ Grammy-winning hit “Just the Two of Us” with Grover Washington Jr. by six months. I prefer this tune.

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day Twenty Two. The Byrds, “My Back Pages” (1967) Posted 4/5/2020 — There was so much invention and joy packed onto any Byrds album that picking a single tune to spotlight is a chore. For now, we’ll go with Roger McGuinn fronting an affirmative and popular Bob Dylan cover.

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day Twenty Three. The Beatles, “You Can’t Do That” (1964) Posted 4/6/2020 — A tip of the hat, via a 1964 Beatles hit, to Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear and his often-quoted admonishment to those not adhering to social distancing policies. To paraphrase him and the song: “Andy’s told you before, ‘You can’t do that.’” Rock on, Andy.

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day Twenty Four. David Bowie, “TVC15” (1976) Posted 4/7/2020 — Something fun, just because the world could probably use a little David Bowie. A goofy tune from what his perhaps his finest album, 1976’s “Station to Station.” So much of the record is dark and wistful. Not this song.

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day Twenty Five. John Prine, “Lake Marie” (1995) Posted 4/8/2020 — A farewell of sadness and appreciation to John Prine. “Lake Marie.” A requiem. A romantic postscript that turns the chorus line of “Louie, Louie” into a reckoning. A 6-minute hurricane of a song from 1995’s “Lost Dogs and Mixed Blessings”. “Ah, baby. We gotta go now.”

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day Twenty Six. John Prine, “When I Get to Heaven” (2018) Posted 4/9/2020 —  With all the heartfelt and devout tributes to John Prine, it seems fitting to close out with one of his most whimsical works – the final song from his final album. Hope he is enjoying the cocktails, the cigs and “going to town.” Goodbye, John Prine. Thanks a million.

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day Twenty Seven. Earth, Wind & Fire, “That’s the Way of the World” (1975) Posted 4/10/2020— An affirmation at the end of a difficult week. Immediately, Earth, Wind & Fire came to mind. So did this song. Everyone has their favorite Maurice White EWF moment. This one, a massive 1975 hit, is mine.

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day Twenty Eight. Van Morrison, “Domino” (1970) Posted 4/11/2020. — A cheery blast of Van Morrison from 1970’s “His Band the Street Choir” album (released a mere 10 months after “Moondance”), “Domino” put Van on AM radio at a time when singles by George Harrison, Santana and Runt (Todd Rundgren) ruled the airwaves. So did the Partridge Family, but you can’t have everything.

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day Twenty Nine. Frank Zappa, “Watermelon on Easter Hay” (1979) Posted 4/12/2020. — A song for the day. “Watermelon in Easter Hay” was possibly Frank Zappa’s finest instrumental composition for guitar, a tune that unfolds with patient, elegiac beauty. Supposedly, the 1979 tune’s original title was “Playing a Guitar Solo with This Band is Like Trying to Grow a Watermelon in Easter Hay.” Happy Easter.

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day Thirty. Herbie Hancock, “Cantaloupe Island” (1964) Posted 4/13/2020. — A belated Happy Birthday to Herbie Hancock, who turned 80 yesterday. So how do you chose from nearly six decades of music? Do you go with vintage acoustic jazz or full-on electric funk? Answer: one today, the other tomorrow. Today, we head back to 1964 for the ultra-suave “Cantaloupe Island.”

the social distancing playlist 11-20

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day Eleven. The Temptations, “Psychedelic Shack” (1969) Posted 3/25/2020. — Released during the last week of the 1960s, “Psychedelic Shack” was one of the funkiest singles from the Norman Whitfield-era of The Temptations. It came packed with fuzzed out guitars, shifting vocal leads and a monster riff holding everything together.

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day Twelve. The Pretenders, “Middle of the Road” (1983) Posted 3/26/2020. — A song to wake up the neighbors with, a reckoning from 1983 that reaffirmed Chrissie Hynde’s role as a game changer for women in rock ‘n’ roll. The Pretenders are headed to Rupp in September. Better look sharp. (UPDATE 9/15/2020 – The Pretenders’ entire tour with Journey was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.)

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day Thirteen. The Band. “The W.S. Walcott Medicine Show” (1970) Posted 3/27/2020. — From the underrated “Stage Fright” album, The Band at its best. A sideshow tune with a killer Robbie Robertson guitar riff, a rustic Levon Helm lead vocal and a playful Rick Danko refrain. A swampy Garth Hudson sax break cements the mood. “Once you get it, you can’t forget it…”

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day Fourteen. U2 and Johnny Cash, “The Wanderer” (1993) Posted 3/28/2020. — Talk about your odd couples – U2 and Johnny Cash. Together. Seriously. An electro-pop meditation from U2’s “Zooropa” album, which was released a year before Cash’s Rick Rubin-produced “American Recordings” ushered in one of popular music’s most astounding career victory laps.

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day Fifteen. Bob Dylan, “Subterranean Homesick Blues” (1965) Posted 3/29/2020. — “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.” This list was overdue for some vintage Dylan. An electric, game changing, motormouth social commentary, in structure as well as content, from “Bringing It All Back Home.”

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day Sixteen. John Prine, “Fish and Whistle” (1978) Posted 3/30/2020. — Something simple, sweet and hopeful as so many of us are thinking of John Prine today. “When we get through this, we’ll make a big wish that we never have to do this again. Again? Again?”

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day Seventeen. Joe Cocker, “Hitchcock Railway” (1969) Posted 3/31/2020. — My favorite Joe Cocker recording, despite the fact I can make out maybe five words of the lyrics. The build of the intro, the piano rolls, the vocal trade-offs and Cocker’s wonderfully wobbly presence compensate. Pulled from the 1969 sophomore album, “Joe Cocker!”

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day Eighteen. Junior Walker and the All-Stars, “Shotgun” (1965) Posted 4/1/2020 — A one-chord wonder from 1965 – a blast of fun-filled funk from Motown. I remember this, along with the Beatles’ early hits and the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction,” as one of the first songs I heard on the radio as a kid that stuck with me.

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day Nineteen. Posted 4/2/2020. Traffic, “Glad”/”Freedom Rider” (1970) Posted 4/2/2020—  A two-fer of Traffic, the lead off tunes from one of my all-time favorite albums, 1970’s “John Barleycorn Must Die.” A wild showcase, instrumentally and vocally, for a 21 year old Steve Winwood. Very spooky. Very soulful. Very cool.

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day Twenty. Simon & Garfunkel, “The Boxer” (1970) Posted 4/3/2020. — Paul Simon offered a solo online reading of “The Boxer” this week for his “fellow New Yorkers.” Though lovely, it made me think of how much the lavishly tasteful arrangement of the original 1969 version with Art Garfunkel added to the song’s natural drama.

 

the social distancing playlist 1-10

Welcome to the Social Distancing Playlist. This was/is a series of daily Facebook postings that began when lockdown conditions began for the COVD-19 pandemic began. The idea was to offer “a vintage pop (or funk or folk or jazz or country) tune chosen for homebound comfort listening during troubled times.” Each entry contained a brief review/explanation for the song’s inclusion on the playlist. These postings ran for 200 consecutive days and are now archived here.

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day One. The Beatles, “I’m Looking Through You” (1965) Posted 3/15/2020.  — Let’s begin with a classic. An exquisite through sometimes overlooked example of how deftly the Beatles could wrap a bleak thought in a bright, harmony-rich melody. From the immortal 1965 album, “Rubber Soul.”

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day Two. Aretha Franklin, “Chain of Fools” (1968) Posted 3/16/2020. — One of the coolest grooves Aretha Franklin ever set to vinyl. This album version features an intro, edited out of the popular single, that is otherworldly. Released as a single in 1967 and eventually on the 1968 album “Lady Soul.”

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day Three. The Chieftains with Van Morrison, “Boffyflow and Spike (1989) Posted 3/17/2020. — A very lively online St. Patrick’s Day celebration courtesy of The Chieftains and Van Morrison. Though tough to hear, the fading Irish banter at the end is a hoot. (“Cosmic! Totally cosmic, lads! We must do aerobics”). Pulled from the 1989 album, “A Chieftains Celebration.”

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day Four. Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express, “Happiness is Just Around the Bend” (1973) Posted 3/18/2020 — A blast of British jazz-pop from 1973 courtesy of Brian Auger, switching here from his trademark B3 organ to Fender Rhodes piano. A slice of musical sunshine with a great groove and, given the times, a nicely prophetic title. From the 1973 album, “Closer To It.”

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day Five. Creedence Clearwater Revival, “Who’ll Stop the Rain” (1970) Posted 3/19/2020. — A perfect 2 ½ minute classic from 1970 courtesy of Creedence Clearwater Revival. A fresh listen, though, revealed how eerily topical most of the lyrics are, and not just because of the precipitation element.

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day Six. Sly and the Family Stone, “Everyday People” (1968) Posted 3/20/2020. — Something happy and hopeful, the first No. 1 hit by Sly and the Family Stone. Released in late 1968. A round of soul, pop and funk wrapped in a way only Sly Stone could devise, the song remains as fun, fresh and inventive as ever today.

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day Seven. The Allman Brothers Band, “Little Martha” (1972) Posted 3/21/2020 —  Something short and very sweet, the classic 1971 acoustic guitar duet between Duane Allman and Dickey Betts that closes the Allman Brothers Band’s “Eat a Peach.” Recorded a matter of weeks before Allman died in a motorcycle crash. A haunting yet beautiful end of an era.

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day Eight. Joni Mitchell, “Raised on Robbery” (1974) Posted 3/22/2020 — Perhaps the loosest sounding song cut by Joni Mitchell. “Raised on Robbery” represented the lighter side (musically more than thematically) of her “Court and Spark” era with Tom Scott and the L.A. Express.

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day Nine. Crowded House, “World Where You Live” (1986) Posted 3/23/2020 — An expert bit of serious Down Under pop where the song title and band name are eerily apropos for the times. This wasn’t a hit per se in the United States, but the tune wonderfully outlines the band’s dark melancholy, a mix of Neil Finn’s expert songwriting and Mitchell Froom carnival-esque production.

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day Ten. The Police: “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” (1980) Posted 3/24/2020 — Can’t take full credit for this one. I’ve seen several posts in recent days referencing this 1980 hit by The Police. With good reason, too. Its chorus (a series of playful repetitions of the title) is a mantra for modern times. The song itself, though, captures the trio’s post punk sound just as their career took the turn to mega-stardom.

justin townes earle, 1982-2020

Justin Townes Earle. Photo by Joshua Black Wilkins.

“Don’t start telling me what to do,” Justin Townes Earle cautioned as a patron began barking out song requests during a 2013 performance at the long-since-demised Buster’s. “I’ve got this thing under control.”

When it came to the tools of his trade – namely, masterful songs of country, folk and roots-driven extract – Earle was absolutely in control. He may have been viewed by casual fans mostly as the son of country renegade Steve Earle. But in the course of a wildly prolific recording career that saw the release of nine assured albums in just over 12 years, Earle spoke with a narrative that found considerable room to roam outside the long shadows cast by his famous father and the iconic Texas songsmith he was named after, Townes Van Zandt.

Earle, who died unexpectedly yesterday, had an at-times Midwestern sensibility about his songs that balanced a more Southern slant on country storytelling. You could hear an undercurrent of Kansas City soul as he unfurled stories of near Dust Bowl-era intensity that wound up sounding several decades out of time. Though he looked younger than his 38 years, Earle wrote and sang with the quiet fire of someone far more sagely.

You heard modest pop acknowledgements in his lighter, less-Americana inclined songs. But Earle was no pop star, as reflected in such learned works as 2015’s exquisite solo acoustic affirmation “Looking for a Place to Land” and such sublime albums as the 2010  rural/metro mash-up “Harlem River Blues.” His music may have upheld his father’s songwriting heritage, but the younger Earle confidently distanced himself from all but the most obvious comparisons. “I am my father’s son,” he sang with reverence in “Mama’s Eyes” (from the 2009 album “Midnight at the Movies”). “I’ve never known when to shut up.”

While he had been away from Lexington stages for a few years, local audiences got to frequently witness Earle in performance as his career gathered steam. Memorable visits included two 2008 appearances separated by a mere five months – an April double bill with James McMurtry for the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour and a September set of country/blues duets with harmonica accompanist Cory Younts at the Christ the King Oktoberfest. The latter was distinguished by a cover of Lightnin’ Hopkins’ “My Starter Won’t Start This Morning.” Earle credited the late local bluesman Joey Broughman for teaching him the tune.

“I’m good at surrounding myself with great people,” Earle told me in an interview prior to the Buster’s concert. “As an untrained musician, I can get a little raw, a little off. So you’ve got to have people around you that kind of pull you back a little because they’re often out in front where everyone can still see you. That makes an incredible difference. Any artist that thinks their every idea is brilliant is a (expletive) jackass.”

peter green, 1946-2020

Peter Green in 1970.

It’s understandable, given the commercial concerns of contemporary rock ‘n’ roll, to view Fleetwood Mac as a product of the ‘70s and ‘80s – a hitmaking force that made stars out of Lindsey Buckingham, Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie and seemingly back seat celebrities out of name sake members Mick Fleetwood and John McVie. But Fleetwood Mac had an entire career – several, actually – prior the Buckingham-Nicks boom. The group began as a blues band that sifted through numerous singers, guitarists and de facto frontmen before fortunes came their way.

And it all began with Peter Green, who died today at age 73.

Green’s guitar sound – fluid and lyrical with rich vibrato – had zero patience for grandstanding. What it accomplished in under three minutes with “The Supernatural,” an instrumental Green composed for (and recorded with) John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers in 1966, was a master class in creative economy. His tone was as operatic as it was electric, an elongation of psychedelia that favored compositional might over flashy technique.

Fleetwood Mac came about in 1967 as an offshoot of a fertile British blues movement of which Mayall was the undisputed chieftain. In the waning days of the 1960s, Green’s lean, introspective intensity shared space in Fleetwood Mac with more verbose guitar voices like Jeremy Spencer and, to a lesser extent, Danny Kirwan. A young Carlos Santana would prove a major disciple of Green’s music. The sinewy, emotive lines of Green’s playing would form the basis of Santana’s still-evolving guitar sound. Similarly, one of the biggest early hits of the band that would bear Santana’s name, “Black Magic Woman,” was a Green tune cut as a single for Fleetwood Mac in 1968. Santana’s version landed in the Top 5 during the fall of 1970.

A rapid mental decline often thought to have been prompted by LSD use led to Green’s departure from Fleetwood Mac in 1970. But before leaving, Green helmed what is rightly viewed as the strongest recorded document of the band’s early days – a keenly orchestrated feast of spacious, blues-informed psychedelia titled “Then Play On.” The album should be considered essential listening for any admirer of progressively minded late ‘60s music.

Green’s career never fully regained traction after Fleetwood Mac. A 1970 solo debut album, ironically titled “The End of the Game,” is a great listen, but is essentially just an instrumental jam album. Several more song-oriented ventures followed in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s that offered hints of Green’s compositional command but little of his guitar spark.

Peter Green in 2004.

I was lucky enough to see Green perform twice in 1998 with his Splinter Group (the second being as part of a Robert Johnson tribute). Green was in his early ‘50s at the time but looked much older. His singing, which always possessed a tone far lighter than his guitar voice, seldom rose above a whisper while Green’s playing, though quite proficient, seemed distant and tentative. Still, it was inspiring to hear him roar through a series of blues standards as well as early Fleetwood Mac works like “The Green Manalishi” and “Albatross.”

Green’s legacy has always been ripe for reexamination. A three-disc collection of largely unreleased live music from his Fleetwood Mac years was released as “Before the Beginning 1968-1970” late last year while “Then Play On” will be featured as part of “Fleetwood Mac 1969-1974,” an eight-CD Rhino Records compilation of pre-Buckingham-Nicks music due out in September.

But you can fully discover Green’s luminescence as a composer and instrumentalist in the space of three thrilling minutes. That’s all it takes to peel back the years to 1966 and “The Supernatural” and revel in the beauty of one of rock ‘n’ roll’s most unlikely guitar heroes. Play on, indeed.

little richard, 1932-2020

Little Richard, circa 1956.

Nothing illuminates the improbable laws of circumstance within the music industry quite like the Grammy Awards. The year was 1988. The Grammys were being broadcast from Radio City Music Hall with the trophy for Best New Artist being presented by a world class odd couple – Little Richard and Buster Poindexter. The winner, Jody Watley, was about to be announced, but Little Richard had his own idea of who should be champion for the evening. He was going to let everyone out in TV land know it, too.

“And the Best New Artist… is me,” he shouted with full gospel fervor. “I have never received nothing. Y’all never gave me Grammys and I’ve been singing for years. I am the architect of rock ‘n’ roll.”

The jaws of Grammy officials likely crashed to the floor while the Radio City audience sent the singer a standing ovation. Years would pass before the Grammys gave him the first of four Hall of Fame awards and, in what seemed like a conciliatory move, a Lifetime Achievement honor in 1993. But that’s the Grammys for you. More exactly, that’s Little Richard for you. Reticent, he was not.

Upon today’s announcement of the singer’s death at age 87 from cancer-related causes, memories of that televised circus came flooding back. With it came a reminder of just how potent his artistic presence was. In a wildly prolific two year run (1955 to 1957), Little Richard (born Richard Penniman) churned out a succession of hits that mixed juke joint rhythm ‘n’ blues in their sense of brassy drive, rock ‘n’ roll in their unharnessed immediacy and gospel in their unwavering vocal gusto. “Tutti Frutti,” “Lucille,” “Long Tall Sally.” “Slippin’ and Slidin’,” “Rip It Up,” “Jenny, Jenny,” “Good Golly, Miss Molly” and more grabbed pop music, popular culture and all of the audience expectations they triggered by their collars and shook them feverishly.

Never one to be coyly poetic, Little Richard turned lyrics of seemingly nonsensical zeal into some of the most quotable rock ‘n’ roll verses ever uttered. Offered as evidence is the concluding line to the chorus of “Tutti Frutti,” which supposedly was a phonetic reading of a drum roll: “Wop bop a loo bop a lop bam boom.”

But it was the personality and attitude behind those songs that will forever be Little Richard’s legacy. He was a black, openly gay artist from Georgia who embraced rock ‘n’ roll with songs full of sexual innuendo with a stage flamboyance that had him performing under layers of heavy facial makeup. The audiences who flocked to his shows, mixtures of white and black patrons, didn’t care. It’s a good bet, though, that the parents of late ‘50s America viewed the stardom of Little Richard as a social threat of incalculable extremes.

By 1957, though, he renounced the music that made him famous and became a traveling preacher. “If God can save an old homosexual like me, he can save anybody,” he famously stated in 1979. Little Richard would regularly return to secular music and, at times, battle some of the substance addictions that often accompany lasting pop stardom. But as that Grammy night proved in 1988, his rock ‘n’ spirit never diminished. The foundations this architect established still stand.

Such was the house that “Wop bop a loo bop a lop bam boom” built.

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