Greetings from Pittsburgh, PA, mid-February. Today has been a day with heavy melancholy, because it is the day that I had expected to celebrate my beloved grandmother's (Kathryn Rose Kostolich Baron = Grammy Kay, from Zagreb) 92nd remarkable year on this planet, but sadly, she left this World on October 17, 2011, and I am still in shock when her voice is not waiting there on the other line. My Grandpa, who just turned 93, is soldiering on quite lonely. Also, I have just found out that my wonderful great aunt in Vermont has passed away. So thus, I am truly comforted by having this task from you at hand, to pour my energies into the stories and meanings and memories of so many songs that continue to shape, uplift, comfort, and challenge my brain, heart and soul. Music is to me the most physiological of Art forms. It is a part of our chemistry, our cells, it occupies our sleeping and our awake time, and has the power to evoke experiences and memories as vague as a fleeting impression or as specific as a smell. There was no way I could stop at just 10! OOPS. Thank you for allowing me to ramble, as I tend to, and for reaching out across the void to find The Garment District. It is an honor for me to have my voice included within your legendary blog. I hope you enjoy the following. Music is the safest addiction I know.
1. Donovan | Wear Your Love Like Heaven
I was named after Donovan's 1968 song, Jennifer Juniper, so I suppose the story starts there. Our parents' LPs were some of our first toys--lying on our backs staring into the imaginative artwork of records like Pet Sounds and Donovan's wonderfully titled, A Gift From A Flower To A Garden--among my favorite LP artwork of all time--as the Music took hold of our imaginations.
I have always loved Donovan's middle electrified Psychedelic-Folk period; the infrared imagery and saturated hues on this LP suit the sounds perfectly. In 2007, my husband Greg and I chose this as one of our marriage ceremony songs, and it was performed by our family and friends in The Essex Green. This magical Mickey Most-produced song from 1967 (possibly the greatest year for Music of all time) contains such an evocative list of colors: I love the way the words Havana Lake and Rose Carmethene roll off of Donovan's tongue. A sublime tribute to Bliss, Mysticism, Nature, and Song.
2. The Shirelles | Will You Love Me Tomorrow
It's the million dollar question for us romantics. We'll never stop asking it as long as we roam this Earth and have The Shirelles, those sweet strings and those gentle snare taps to keep us comforted with their perfect translation of Carole King's songwriting genius. My earliest memories of this under-3-minute Pop masterpiece are of my mom dancing around the kitchen while loading the dishwasher singing along and telling us stories about what it was like to be in college during the late 1960s. I love that Carol's prolific arsenal ranges from girl group hits to the sublime Porpoise Song (her demo crushes me).
3. Leonard Cohen | Suzanne (Judy Collins Cover)
My three brothers and I were raised on what I call the Bob Dylan-Leonard Cohen-Neil Young Holy Trinity. It's hard to properly rebel against your parents when you are brought up on this kind of Music. I could probably attribute a song by each of them to every significant transition, adventure and heartbreak in my life. We had the lyrics for Dylan's Sad-Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands written out in calligraphy and framed in our house, my youngest brother was named after Mr. Zimmerman and my parents took us to see them perform many times. Seeing Leonard Cohen live was the rarest of opportunities and probably the closest thing to a religious experience we had. My mom was a high school English teacher, and one of my favorite activities in elementary school was to help her write out song lyrics on index cards for her Poetry And Rock Lyrics course, which she would pin to her classroom bulletin board. It certainly helped to cement my obsession with Music; each one was like a mini-lesson on History, Poetry or Pop Culture. Cohen's haunting music is in my DNA, the sound of my childhood. I remember being somewhat scared by his songs as a child, the angelic almost beyond Human range backing vocals on So Long, Marianne, the bleak imagery of Famous Blue Raincoat, the euphoria of Hallelujah, the Joan of Arc-like flames on the back of Songs Of Leonard Cohen--but I was also hooked. My mom and step-dad would never miss the rare chance to see Leonard live, which sometimes meant traveling to NYC from our home in Pittsburgh. When I lived in Brooklyn years later, they once gave their tickets to me, so I took my musician friend Fritz Welch to with me to see Leonard at the Paramount Theatre. Henry Rollins sat behind us. In 2009, my family took a road trip to Cleveland, Ohio to see Leonard play for 3-plus unstoppable hours at age 75. His devotees scream to him during breaks between songs. I can honestly say that hearing songs like Suzanne at an early age has helped to shape my psyche. There ARE heroes in the seaweed.
4. Prince | When Doves Cry
With the over-before-you-know-it opening guitar solo, gritty looped vocals and robotic Linn drum beat, I am immediately transported back to the heatwave during the summer this song was released. I associate it with trying to navigate the sadness surrounding my parents' divorce, and dancing around to the song with my brother Jeff on the deck of my grandparents' above-ground pool in suburban Philadelphia. I remember thinking: what are these lyrics really about, and believing that I knew. The song continues to be an inspiration to me musically and production-wise. Prince conveys so much through the brilliant Minimalism of this bass-less track.
5. New Order | Temptation
Oh, you've got grey eyes. The soundtrack to my own version of those New Wave high school days, along with The Smiths, The Cure, The Go-Betweens, Game Theory, The Jesus And Mary Chain… Riding the trolley into Downtown Pittsburgh to shop for records at Eide's, smoking cloves, going to see bands at the Syria Mosque Ballroom and The Electric Banana (RIP both), purchasing records via mail order catalogues. I love the warped quality of the vocals, and the way the song seems to start at the end with the fade-in and ooh ooh ooh ooh oohs. It will always evoke a sensation of exuberance: Seeing The Smiths from the sixth row of the historic Fulton Theater during The Queen Is Dead Tour, creating a cocoon of sound walking to school with my Walkman, and forming an incredibly visceral and lasting bond with Music in the pre-Facebook age, free of the the preconceptions and mediations imposed by the Internet.
6. The Fall | Cruiser's Creek
I am instantly 17 again, sitting in the backseat of my friend Jon's Jeep Cherokee, maybe stoned, blasting this ballad to our teenage boredom, driving around Pittsburgh neighborhoods not familiar to our daily existence, trying to make each other paranoid, happily aimless.
7. Galaxie 500 | Strange
Galaxie 500's three astounding albums made up the soundtrack to much of my college experience as well as many of my years living in NYC. To me, this song, and all of On Fire and Today in particular, still sound like no other Music out there. I love the way Strange opens with the interplay between Dean Wareham's urgent vocals and Damon's driving rolling drums. The lyrics are classic Wareham, his quirky blend of absurdist humor, NYC observations and mundane surrealist poetry--kind of like the Frank O'Hara of song lyrics. It almost sounds like the trio could not decide what tempo to record the song, and maybe they did not even know if it should be slower or faster? To me, it possesses a profound sense of immediacy. Almost like they suspected that the Magic would not last. There is a certain chemistry akin to alchemy to making Music with other people, and I think this fact is embodied in a complex way in the Galaxie 500 sound. I first met Dean Wareham at Brownies, the legendary East Village bar/club on Avenue A between E. 10th and 11th Sts., where so many NYC bands--including two of mine--were given their start, and where national and underground acts played every night of the week. At the time, I was living around the corner from Brownies on E. 7th St., in a fifth-floor walk-up, and I loved rolling down those stairs into wherever the East Village night would take me. I was playing a show with my first band, Saturnine, and after our set, I noticed Dean sitting at a small table, having drinks with legendary Elektra Records A&R man and his close friend, Terry Tolkin. I found Dean to be easy to talk to; he was genuinely encouraging about our set and incredibly friendly. He even sent me cassette copies of unreleased Galaxie 500 tracks because he knew I was a giant fan. I had never been lucky enough to see them play live, but I saw early Luna shows at CBGB and went on to play shows with Luna when I was in The Ladybug Transistor. I am happy to say we remain friends today, and always get together when Dean & Britta perform in Pittsburgh. Their performance of Galaxie 500 songs in 2011 at Carnegie Lecture Hall was one of the most moving live shows I have seen. It is an oddly intimate yet comforting sensation to see many songs you have only ever heard on a record--and that live so strongly within your internal imagination--performed live right in front of you.
8. The Zombies | Hung Up On A Dream
It's hard to take one song out context from The Zombies' phenomenal Odessey & Oracle LP, but if I can, it's this one written by keyboardist Rod Argent. The opening piano progression sets the lush tone and then in comes the signature Mellontron, Colin's precious vocals and a reverb drenched Pop fantasy that's punctuated by the gentle play of guitar riffs... A sweet confusion filled my mind... It just carries you away. I love the way the melody meanders and soars and is buoyed by falsetto backing vocals. In about 2000, I had the amazing opportunity to meet the lovely Mr. Paul Atkinson (RIP) at the Beacon Theatre in NYC. It was the first Brian Wilson: Pet Sounds' show and it was both Father's Day and Brian Wilson's birthday. Through a friendship with one of Brian's bandmates, I got to attend an after-party, with my fellow Ladybug Transistors, that featured a massive cake decorated with the cover of Pet Sounds. Brian made a brief appearance but I was almost more giddy to encounter Paul. He expressed genuine appreciation to learn that someone my age even owned a copy of O & O on vinyl. When I told him that Hung Up On A Dream was my favorite Zombies' song, he joyfully exclaimed: I always loved that one too, because they let me play a little guitar solo!... Around the same time, we also got to meet Colin Blunstone, at his first Stateside show in 20+ years, when he played with our friend Joe McGinty and a string quartet at Fez in NYC's Greenwich Village. Colin was absolutely warm and generous, and like a wide-eyed child on Christmas Eve, when he told us: I am just so pleased that the kids still want to hear these songs.
9. Kaleidoscope | The Sky Children
As soon as Peter Daltrey utters a million white flowers, I lose it. Sometimes I will sit and just listen to this song over and over and over, which works, since its gorgeous 8 minutes have a sing-song round-like quality. Sky Children recalls songs my mom used to sing to us as lullabies: Stewball Was A Racehorse and Puff The Magic Dragon by Peter, Paul & Mary, and Free To Be... You And Me. Daltrey's voice is almost tragically beautiful, slightly vulnerable yet musically solid, and the accompaniment of chimey guitar riffs, soft snare drum taps, and music box notes is sublime. It's like a lullaby for grown-ups. I want to live in the village where the turtles in caves made pies for the people and the lemonade. From the band's 1967 classic, Tangerine Dream. I am amazed that more people do not praise this album on a daily basis for being the greatest of Psychedelic masterpieces!
10. Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazlewood | Some Velvet Morning
I cannot imagine a better way to open a song than with the line: some velvet morning when I'm straight. This iconic song embodies everything that I worship about Lee Hazlewood: his innovative production methods, strong sense of melody, distinctive baritone, psychological lyrical underpinnings, loose Pop-Psych vibe. Lee is the King of Music in my world. I love the seemingly effortless shifting Time signatures in this song, the soundtrack-like quality of the production and the mythical aura of the lyrics. There would be no Phil Spector without Lee Hazlewood. RIP lovely Lee.
+11. The Golden Dawn | This Way Please
To my ears, there is nothing that can compare to the mesmerizing sonic brilliance of The Golden Dawn’s one and only album, Power Plant (International Artists, 1968). Recorded in that magical year of Music making, perhaps THE best in history—1967—the album suffered from the malevolent and shabby workings of the Music biz, a tale oft told and the fate of so many other lost great analogue masterpieces that somehow are so reflective of the age in which they were made, but also stand fresh and timeless to the open ear and soul. One day I will snag a Power Plant album poster from eBay! May George Kinney stay well and continue to dish out the Texas-baked Psych sounds. Together we can find, a better state of mind -- it just makes me melt.
+12. The Human Expression | Follow Me
Are you following me? Many days, I can’t stop listening to this Psych-Rock gem from The Human Expression, the massively underrated band formed in 1966 by Jim Quarles in Los Angeles. This is a rare slice of hypnotic bliss from their Love At Psychedelic Velocity compilation (other standouts include: Everyday, Calm Me Down, Optical Sound, I Don't Need Nobody), more expansive and meditative than some of the band’s, and the genre’s, straightforward and upbeat numbers. I love the way the drums come in kind of lazy and behind the beat, the meandering guitar lines and loose strumming, and the high-pitched other-worldly la-la-la’s at the end. I even think I hear one lone glockenspiel hit at around 2:46 before Quarles' slightly quivering voice sings the evocative phrase: they drown in the water that runs down through your toes. Ahead of its time, timeless, all at the same time. Crushingly beautiful.
+13. Cold Sun | Here In The Year
My preferred fix of Dark Psych, and Cold Sun proves that the genre can sound gorgeous. Billy Miller takes the autoharp (no, that's not a Fender Rhodes!) to electrified places and Psychedelic recesses still unknown. My favorite song featuring the word Halloween. This fried in the Austin, Texas Sun Psychedelic Rock masterpiece (another one that did not hit turntables until 20 years after being recorded!) clocks in at 8 minutes and 54 seconds of meandering mind-expanding poetry. I am hooked at the first few notes of the rambling guitar solo, which is unlike anything else I have heard. It's in your face, but in no way bombastic or obvious; more like a precious piercing, a trippy string of notes that seems to roll of the guitarist's hands as if controlled from some out of body force. Listen closely--the lyrics are highly prophetic.
+14. The Stone Poneys | Different Drum (feat. Linda Ronstadt) (The Greenbriar Boys Cover)
Mike Nesmith at the height of his songwriting talents. The perfect kiss-off Karaoke song, but also incredibly endearing. I have a group of friends who gets together at parties to gather around a piano or guitar and belt out this song. Empowerment and Love affairs and longing all rolled up into one lovely little Country-Rock number, with a touch of Motown. Linda's 1960s-era voice is perfect for conveying the lovers' dilemma, and The Stone Poneys back her up well. I love the chord progression, jaunty harpsichord, punchy bass line, string arrangements, and the particular phrasing of the soaring chorus. Plus, I was born in Asbury Park, New Jersey, home of the legendary Stone Pony club, ha ha!
+15. Brian Eno | Here Come The Warm Jets
Brian Eno has the rare gift of being able to blend innovative production methods, with a raw Emotionalism and a very sophisticated sense of Melody, especially on his first two LPs, which are wildly ahead of their time. This song is like a freight train of Bliss. I love the sense of sonic anticipation, the slow build of the beautiful noise, the way the fast rolling drums take forever to come in, and the chorus-like backing vocals that carry the song away to other lands and then are over before you know it.
+16. John Cale | Big White Cloud
When it comes to The Velvet Underground, I bow down to the contributions of John Cale and Sterling Morrison. Maybe it's the bit of Welsh in me, but I find Cale to be one of the most fascinating musical figures of the 20th century. He oozes an interesting mix of Masculinity and Avant Guard, raw Experimental Noise and intricate orchestration, growling grittiness and delicate Melody, Improv and narrative, as seen on his brilliant solo albums, Paris 1919 and Vintage Violence. Like that of Kevin Ayers, I love his distinct low vocal range, which is so expressive and instantly recognizable. The expansiveness of this song is so enveloping and comforting: time to kill on the hill, looking at bees, licking the trees. I love that John Cale reveals such a side to his being and Aliveness with that line.
+17. Jim Sullivan | UFO
There is Music that will just always BE in your life, and then there is that unexpected moment when you discover a new band or a hear a reissue of something you have never heard before, when you realize how crucial it is to always Keep Your Mind Open and Listening and Waiting. An example of that came for me in 2010 when I first heard the reissue of Jim Sullivan's lost LP, U.F.O. on Light In The Attic. I was stopped frozen in my tracks at Paul's CDs record store in Pittsburgh, because Sullivan's music sounded so familiar to me, like so many songs I cherish by Gene Clark, Tim Hardin and Glen Campbell, but I could not place it. The story of Sullivan's brief and mysterious career, and the astounding fact that The Wrecking Crew backed him up on this lost masterpiece is so intriguing to me, and Light In The Attic's stunning reissue on vinyl has been in constant rotation on my turntable.
+18. Gary Higgins | Looking For June
One of the most brilliant hazy Psych-Folk songs I've ever laid ears on. I am stunned that more people have not heard Higgins' 1973 LP, Red Hash, which is yet another groundbreaking LP that languished in obscurity until being reissued (in this case Drag City) by an independent label with great taste. I love the way this song is ethereal but also really grooves.
+19. Bill Fay | Screams In Ears
1967, you do it to me every time. In my head, this could almost be a companion song to Higgins' Looking for June. But Fay's take on the Psych-Folk genre is full of prickly bitterness, all wrapped up in one remarkable song. I love the way the piano carries the song in the intro and choruses, and then plays off of the sparse verses with simple organ beds and snare hits. He makes me feel like I am there and I can see the scene he sets.
+20. Nick Garrie | The Nightmare Of J.B. Stanislas
How is it that more people don't rave about Nick Garrie? I was thrilled to recently learn that that the wonderful Spanish Pop label Elefant has the good sense to reissue Garrie's classic 1960s material. He's right up there for me with Billy Nicholls and The Left Banke, as far as sweeping Baroque Psych-Folk Music.
+21. Tyrannosaurus Rex | Once Upon The Seas Of Abyssinia
Sure, Marc Bolan is heaped with praise for his Glam Rock period, but I much prefer his more Experimental days as John's Children and Tyrannosaurus Rex, along with Steve Peregrin Took, who together created gentle Psychedelic gems such as She Was Born To Be My Unicorn and Chariots Of Silk. The gentle Once Upon The Seas Of Abyssinia creeps up on you, with Bolan's mesmerizing natural tremolo, hushed hypnotic stanzas, and echoey percussive hits. Let it sink into you.
+22. Matching Mole | O Caroline
Robert Wyatt is a force of Nature, probably my favorite drummer, and also a member of one of my favorite bands, Soft Machine. He is one of the only drummers who can so expertly and effortlessly combine a solid grasp of Groove, Improvisation and Melody. Wyatt gets Pop Music, he gets Motown, Jazz, Prog, all of it. Slightly behind the beat but always in charge, he is a god in my mind. He has that rare drummer's gift of being able to do a lot behind the kit, but never over playing or showing off. His own early 1970s group Matching Mole is yet another underrated slab of genius within Experimental/Progressive Music. This is a precious swirling song with Mellotron, soft snare rim shots, Wyatt's dream-like vocals, and loving lyrics about his everyday life, lover, Music making, and friends.
+23. The Kinks | This Man He Weeps Tonight
When it comes to influential Rock bands, I put my loyalty with groups such as The Kinks, Small Faces, and Troggs, rather than the Beatles, Rolling Stones or Led Zeppelin. Dave Davies' contributions to the mighty and prolific Kinks' discography should never be overlooked, and this Arthur bonus track (also included on The Great Lost Kinks Album of unreleased material released in 1973 by Reprise) is one of my favorites. It's a bit Country-Rock and utterly heartfelt. I love the line: I thought our thing would last, 'cause it said so in my horoscope.
+24. Dillard & Clark | Why Not Your Baby
I believe that Gene Clark is absolutely one of the most gifted songwriters of Music's Modern Age. This song from 1968 typifies for me the height of Gene's songwriting talents in a composition that implodes my heart. I love the way the banjo starts off the song and remains constant as a driving force. The song builds and is elevated by gorgeous Country-Rock back-ups and high thin string notes that evolve into stabs. Gene practically invented a genre of Country-Rock that later mainstream acts like The Eagles would rip off and water down and make millions of dollars from, while Gene was treated badly by David Crosby, ignored by the callous Music industry and ultimately preyed upon by drug addicts masquerading as fans. Gene's phrasing, in the chorus particularly, displays his skill at communicating and marrying meaning and melody: Why don't you call me your baby anymore/Am I so changed from some strange love that went before/Is this the change of mind that I've been designed for/Why not your baby anymore?...
+25. The Beach Boys | Little Bird
I could easily reserve a Beach Boys' song for every spot on this list, but that would be no fun, so it goes to the delicate Dennis Wilson-penned Little Bird, from the awesome 1968 LP, Friends. Dennis' previously under-appreciated songwriting contributions seem to finally be receiving the love they deserve. This song is almost like a vignette or an interstitial from Sesame Street, but definitely fully developed. There is so much packed into its two minutes: cello, muted horns and a horn section, banjo, organ. It opens right away with Dennis' tender voice, slightly vulnerable but soulful and rich, and completely capable of carrying the melody along. It's an everyday Spirituality that Dennis conveys. His songs are highly personal, but in no way gratuitous or overly confessional. His gift of Music to us all is generous and open. My old band The Ladybug Transistor covered Dennis' song, Thoughts Of You (Beverley Atonale, Merge Records) off of his gorgeous 1977 solo LP, Pacific Ocean Blue. Thank you for the Music, Dennis.
+26. The Walker Brothers | Love Minus Zero/No Limit (Bob Dylan Cover)
This has got to be one of the most profound Love songs ever written. Thank you Bob Dylan for the words and thank you Scott Walker for the Soul interpretation. Many have covered it, but the 1966 Walker Brothers' version remains my favorite. I love the instrumentation/production, the drawn-out opening, and Scott’s special way of phrasing words. The video footage of the band performing on TV is so damn adorable!
+27. Glen Campbell | Gentle On My Mind
I don't think I can make it to 16 seconds into this song without tears. Glen Campbell represents a vision of my Granddaddy Evans, who was taken from us at the way too young age of 61 when I was in high school. He worked most days of his adult life as a foreman for US Steel Corporation, but changed into his denim shirt and cowboy boots and hat the second he got home, spending much of his free time traveling with his family out West and up in the ether in his prop plane which lived at the Flying Dutchman Airport in suburban Philadelphia. During WWII, he piloted a mail plane along with tail gunner named Charles Bronson. When Glen sings tenderly, That makes me tend to leave my sleeping bag rolled up and stashed behind your couch, it reminds of Brian Wilson's startlingly honest, I may not always love you, but long as their are stars above you in the opening line of that other monumental Love song to love. My old band The Ladybug Transistor used to perform Galveston regularly, and we ended up recording it for a split 7" with of Montreal and as a bonus track for the Japanese release of our LP Argyle Heir. I adore so many of Campbell's renditions of Jimmy Webb's songs with their complex haunting melodies, as well as this John Hartford one.