“These Foolish Things” Thelonious Monk

As soon as I woke up this morning (October 10, 2018) at five-something, I turned on the radio—I mean via my computer, New York radio station WKCR—because today is my favorite holiday of the year, Thelonious Monk's birthday, and they are playing his music all day, non-stop (as they do with a lot of jazz artists). If this was “Name That Tune” I would have gotten it within maybe five notes on the piano, the song “These Foolish Things (Remind Me of You)”—one of my favorite standards, and this Monk solo piano rendition is one of my favorite versions. Since I have no idea who wrote this song, I looked it up—it's Eric Maschwitz (lyrics) and Jack Strachey (music)—not names I'm familiar with—I guess I never looked this up before. The copyright is 1936. It's been recorded by everyone—from Billie Holiday to Bob Dylan—but I first became a big fan of the song because of the Frank Sinatra version that was on one of the albums my parents had that I listened to a lot, which I later recorded on a cassette tape and carried around with me through life. I'm not even going to look up how many versions Thelonious Monk recorded, but this one (that I believe was on his record Solo Monk (1965)) is really nice. I don't know if he's feeling it or not—if he's thinking about the lyrics, if he's missing someone—or if he's just feeling the music, or if it's a math problem, or if he's faking it and he's he's thinking about the sandwich he's going to get at the deli after the session—you kind of think he had to be putting something into it, emotionally—but then he's a magician to some extent—and a mysterious human being—and I guess what really counts is that I hear it now and it sounds alive.

“My Own Worst Enemy” Lit

I heard this song recently at a restaurant—notable because it was the loudest I've ever hard a song played at a restaurant. All of the music was too loud for dining, but then this one was, for some odd reason, twice as loud. Maybe the staff liked it, or who knows. I asked my phone what it was, and made a note of it, and then it occurred to me to check a decibel meter app for how loud it was—almost 90 dB—which the internet tells me is the volume of a lawnmower—and as you know, professional lawnmowers now wear hearing protection. The song is from 1999, which makes it ancient. The weird thing is that it sounds to me like a song that could have come out last week—which either shows you how much I know about popular music, or says something about popular music, or both. It was the band's biggest hit—according to the internet—it was a hit song. The band is called Lit, and they've been around for a couple of decades, and this is the first time I've heard of them! This is probably not the first time I've heard the song—I just hear music like this all the time and ignore it. It's loud, energetic, driving, slick, aggressive, post-punk, grunge influenced, metal influenced pop, guitar oriented, chorus and verse—and I'm not going to bother with the lyrics because I'd have to look them up and I'm sure it's about love problems. I feel like this is music that's just always going to be around, for the rest of my life. Could I—if I tried really hard—learn to like it? No, I could not.

“Copper Kettle (The Pale Moonlight)” Bob Dylan

This is an old folk song about making whiskey in a still, written by Albert Frank Beddoe, recorded by a few people (Joan Baez, Chet Atkins)—a pretty, sentimental song that frankly makes me want to set up a still out in the woods and make whiskey—just that image of the whole process—the miracle of fermentation, the science of distillation—in the great outdoors under the cover of darkness, with just the moon as your guide. Then you drink. This recording is from Bob Dylan's 1970 Self Portrait album that everyone hated because he continued singing with that Jim Nabors voice, and it was a double album, half the songs by other people. I like the record—it's got one of my favorite ever Dylan recordings, plus, why not? I made a stovetop still in high school, once I learned how in chemistry class and was able to bend glass tubes for the tube part. It worked—it's a simple process—and now, your hipster has rediscovered it—and for all of the aboveboard, artisanal, craft distillers, you've got scores of kids out in the woods, innocently making their own hootch with the realization that it's easy, good, and fun, and once you cut out the government's cut, you can make a hefty profit and potentially make a living doing what you love and not having to work for the man. Unfortunately, whenever the powers that be—whether they be organized crime, the neighborhood bully, or the government (very little, if any, difference between those three)—discover that they are not getting their cut, things can get very, very ugly.

"Custard Pie" Led Zeppelin

All Led Zeppelin songs are about either sex, heroin, or wizards—not one of them about dessert, sorry—so don't expect a fluffy, eggy treat. The first and last words of the song are “drop down”—a mournfully pleaded request to a nameless woman, or “mama.” The image I get is Robert Plant walking through the countryside, looking like, you know, Robert Plant, his shirt open and all, and then he comes to a house and is greeted by this woman whose husband, a hard worker and good provider, has just gone to work all day in the fields. He will be too tired come evening to satisfy his wife in bed, so our hero provides that service. I do not like the wanky sounding electric clavinet, which sounds great in, say, a Stevie Wonder song, but here is annoying. What I focus on in this song, as with a lot of Led Zeppelin songs, are the drums, which sound like no other drums, and are my favorite drums in all of rock music. I love some Led Zeppelin songs, can't stand others, and then there're ones like this where I just listen to the drums and think about how much happier I'd be eating some actual custard pie at a country diner than getting chased pants-less through a field by an angry brute with a pitchfork.

“You Still Believe in Me” The Beach Boys

The reason I love random song selection (by whatever means) is because I would never have focused on the second song off Pet Sounds. As much as I try, I'm not a huge fan of the record, though I do appreciate it, like, intellectually. This song is by Brian Wilson, with co-writer Tony Asher—a collaboration that strikes me as weird, at least as far as lyrics go on this song, since it's pretty raw and personal. It's one of those songs that addresses “you”—and if “you” is a lover, this one is kind of pathetic—like asking forgiveness for neglect or abuse. Though if the “you” is God, it's actually kind of beautiful. Odd how that makes such a difference. While I love how a song this short manages to end like three times, I will never, and I don't think ever, come around to the harpsichord. That's just me. The internet says Paul McCartney loved this song—not surprising since it sounds like it could be a Beatles song. I'm sure I could read about this for the rest of my Saturday, but why didn't Paul McCartney and Brian Wilson ever get together—I mean in a big way? Hey, maybe it's still possible, they're only in their seventies—it's crazy, I never knew this, they were born within two days of each other! Both still out there on some kind of tour—I don't know how they do it. I guess that's how they pay the big bills, but being on tour sounds like not being in the studio, not being in your own kitchen, not being in your own bed. I couldn't even imagine it when I was in my twenties.

“Naïve” The Kooks

I was having breakfast in a local establishment that was playing music way too loud, so I asked Siri to identify a random song, this one, and she said, “That piece of holy crap is Naïve, by The Kooks. (You can change your Siri settings, and mine is an Australian woman, which I like because she's very sassy.) Excitingly enough, I've never heard of The Kooks, which isn't a bad band name. It's almost a palindrome, and Kooks spelled backwards is Skøøk! The word “kook” always seems like it's spelled wrong, but if you spell it with a “C” it's cook, totally different pronunciation and meaning. The band is an all guys English pop band, and this song is from their first record in 2006—long enough ago for them to have gone from boyishly cute to plain gnarly, especially in the livin' hard English boy pop world. It's a jaunty, hi-energy, catchy, soulless pop song with some odd lyrics I'm trying to make out. Well, the extended, repeated outro goes: “Hold on Teal, tight, just don't let me down,” which means, “Don't stop doing what you're doing until I'm 'satisfied'”—totally standard boy pop sentiments—but the earlier lyrics are much more cryptic. It's sounds like, “Not seein' is your thing/your'e so naïve,” etc., and then the really confusing chorus: “I know she knows I'm not from The Rasta, true or false it may be, she's still out to get me.” I'm not sure who, in this case, is “The Rasta” or what this reference means (specifically a person called “The Rasta,” or something more universal?), but it's not your typical whiny love song, and has more of a noir element, I guess. Until that extended coda, I mean, but you gotta sell records!

“Trumpet Medley” The Jack D'Johns

I have a secret method using both playing cards and dice to pick a random song from my two shelves of LPs, and this time it landed on the “Trumpet Medley” from this live Jack D'Johns album I had no idea I even had, called Happiness Is The Jack D'Johns. I have no clue from what year, though the cover looks old as hell, but maybe it lived with a smoker before spending an eternity in the thrift store. I've given it a home, and now it has made its way into my random system. The songs in the medley are “Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White,” “Java,” Sugar Blues,” “Taste of Honey,” and “Circiribin,” (the last of which, a Harry James number, might have multiple spellings over the years, I think... I was curious about it, but the Rabbit Hole Alarm went off, and I saved myself). At any rate, these are all songs made immensely more charming by their lyrics, which are absent here, as this is instrumental music, anchored by accordion, and highlighting the trumpet—which is so out front it could be considered assault with a deadly weapon. This guy really puts the “Trump” in trumpet. If there was one word to describe the performance here, it would have to be “jaunty,” as it sounds like guys who have to do the same exact live show 12 times a day and are therefore forced to rely on abusing some heinous drug, like Diet Coke. The album cover, however, is surprisingly compelling—a photo taken at the Wisconsin State Fair, in which the front-man (presumably Jack D'Johns) seems to be levitating.

“Let This Fool Dream On” Keith Stewart Band

The easiest way to come up with a random song is to set the song selection thing on my computer on “shuffle,” which then picks out a song, supposedly at random, without any kind of prejudice. The dangerous thing is that among the 4000 or so songs I have (somehow) there are a lot where I think, “how did that get on my computer?” So it's nice when there's a pleasant surprise like this one, from the Keith Stewart Band's album, Epic Hits. I'm not sure of the year. You won't find a lot about this one on the internet, folks. When the song started, from the into, I thought it was Tom Petty at first. Pretty much a guitar, bass, and drums band, but there's a nice, Casio-sounding keyboard. Keith is taking on his slightly British sounding singing voice (not obnoxiously so)—and there's a little bridge with the altered vocal that sounds like it's pushed through an old AM radio, for a kind of Spinal Tap touch. Right before that, there's an immensely compelling, simple guitar break that's a real bonus on multiple listenings. Epic Hits was a limited release CD, and I happen to have it, and know something about it, because Keith Stewart is the stage name of my brother, Jeff Russell. They used to play, for years, out of Sandusky, Ohio, mostly doing cover songs at local taverns, though he is quite a good songwriter.

"Hey Now" The Regrettes

Another interesting method of random song selection is to pick the last song I wrote about and find it on the “YouTube” and then just let the YouTube play continuously (perhaps with the volume down)—it will continuously choose songs based on some mysterious algorithm based on that song, and also stuff that it remembers you played in the past—and music that gets preference is based on either popularity, or direct monetary influence (what used to be called “Payola”), or some combination of those—and finally, perhaps, pure, dumb randomness. I set my timer for an hour, and whatever is playing when it goes off, that's the song. This time it landed on a song called “Hey Now” by a band I'm hearing of for the first time, “The Regrettes”—along with a mini-movie kind of video. I'm trying to focus on the music only, but I couldn't help looking at the video—the band is three women (two guitars and bass) and a guy drummer, and they're all singing, and they're all dressed like it's the Fifties—so I didn't know if this was a real band, so I had to ask Internet, who said they are a punk band from LA. This sounds like energetic pop music, not punk—so I felt obligated to look a little more and I found an actual live version of this song—just someone holding a camera in front of the stage at a daytime show. It's really pretty great. It would not have been fair of me to judge them by this fairly over-produced video, so I'm glad I kind of cheated here and at least got a more accurate—I think—idea of what they're about. Of course, they look so young, they might be one thing today and something else tomorrow—that's part of being young. Anyway, I hope they hold onto that name. It can't be possible they are the first band called “The Regrettes”—that's too good of a name—but offhand, I don't remember another one.

“Funk #49” James Gang w/Tommy Bolin

Another source for random songs is to randomly check text messages and see what comes up, as friends sometimes send me text messages with links to videos and songs, and this one is from someone who I'll just call “Sport.” It's version of the James Gang's “Funk #49”—with Tommy Bolin on guitar. Internet tells me that Tommy Bolin (a legendary guitarist who died very young) had replaced Domenic Troiano, who had replaced Joe Walsh (who had replaced someone, as well, but that's going back to pre-history) in the James Gang. This version is pretty good—I always liked that song. It's a live version, taped off TV, and there is a singer who has something weird going on with his hair. For younger readers, the song is not “Funk 'hashtag' 49”—that is a “number” symbol. What the song title means is the subject of many internet forums, and what I understand is that it's something so vile and revolting that to go into it would violate the internet policy of decency. I remember seeing the Domenic Troiano Band—I'm guessing sometime in the late 1970s, probably opening for someone, in Cleveland. I never saw the James Gang, though they had countless members and incarnations over the years. From what I understand, they were an actual gang, though what “gang” actually means has changed over time and is hotly contested.

“I Was a Fool” Sunflower Bean

I heard this 2017 song randomly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee, a radio station I listen to on the internet, who ask you to “discover new music”—which, now that I think about it, is opposite of what traditional radio (SOS format) does—I know that's obvious—but I guess this station is like “college radio” without the college. Anyway, that's exactly what I was doing, with my random system, and I came upon this band Sunflower Bean—first I've heard them or heard of them. It's an interesting name, as I believe the seeds in sunflowers are called seeds, and I'm not sure anyone can make a bean (besides God, I mean), but maybe there is a reference here I don't get. They sound young, and it's a pretty traditional pop-rock sound, with prominent bass, restrained guitar, and real drums, that reminds me a little of the 1980s “post-punk” pop bands. The song is interesting in that there is a woman's singing part, then a man's, and back—and from the lyrics I can make out—there's some relationship problems. The title (“I Was a Fool”) would indicate some regret. The internet says they're from Brooklyn (which means absolutely nothing, except that it's likely a next door neighbor is classically trained in something, which makes me hope SB can resist the temptation to add a cello, fiddle, kettle drums, etc., because I really like this three piece lineup—but the temptation is always there, in Brooklyn).

“FXXK IT” BIGBANG

I was having brunch at Stone Bowl, a Korean place, and the food, the décor, the lighting, and the people were all lovely—the only downside was that the music seemed a little too loud for that early, and I wasn't liking any of it—so I decided to pick the next random song and see if my phone could identify it. Once again, I was unable to tell what was the song title, the band, or the album until I got home and did some research, but it turns out it was a song called “FXXK IT” by the band BIGBANG from their album MADE (they have TONS of videos on the internet, and most often this song and band name are in ALL CAPS). It's from 2016, I think, and they are a South Korean boyband, I guess. This song has a repetitive chorus in English, something like, “I'm gonna get down,” and then there are some rapping parts in a language I'll presume is Korean. It's a catchy song, kind of annoying, but I was just mostly thrilled it was a Korean band (I had no sense of that from the song) since I heard it in a Korean restaurant. There isn't much else to say about it, except that it has a percussion part that really annoys me; it's that currently trendy (or maybe it's yesterday-trendy by now) sound that sounds likes someone spinning a ratchet wrench. I don't know how else to describe it. I spent an afternoon awhile back trying to describe this sound to Google so that I could articulate it, but I couldn't come up with a term or word (as with the “Autotune” voice thing, that previously annoyed me so much). I found somewhere someone saying it was the “hi-hat” part of the percussion, but really sped up, which I guess makes sense. It's something a drummer could never play, but a certain percussion instrument might (ratchet wrench) or of course, a computer. I know nothing about this kind of music, but it seems like it could really date certain music to a certain time, looking back from the future.

“I Think I Love You” The Partridge Family

My secret random system for radio shows (involving playing cards and a calendar) was yesterday employed with the “What You Need” radio program on WRUW Cleveland, and landed on the 1970 hit single, “I Think I Love You” by The Partridge Family. This was the first song I ever associated directly with a crush (or possibly second—as Tommy Roe's “Dizzy” came out a year earlier) (but either way, they both were associated with a mad crush on someone that even to this day, I won't admit publicly, out of respect). As a ten-year-old, though, I remember putting this record on and marveling how the lyrics so closely matched my feelings. It's a super catchy song, by one of my favorite songwriters, Tony Romeo (and also contains the dreaded “brain/insane” rhyme). The song may have actually given my feelings their first words: “I love you.” The “think” part, for me, was not questioning the intensity of the feeling, but rather: was this what love was? The Partridge Family TV show came on the air at almost the exact time the record came out—I'm not sure where I heard the song first—and my feelings of romantic love for this girl my age were then mixed with a crush on Shirley Jones—kind of weird, since she was the mother—but then the show only barely toned down the incestuous mother/son subtext, played for as much heat as they could get by the censors. I was the same age as Danny, the bass playing hobbit, but I related much more to the heartthrob Keith (David Cassidy) whose romantic adventures (am I remembering this correctly?) were constantly derailed because none of the young ladies could hold a candle to his mom. It wasn't until several years later that I realized that I could actually have a crush on Susan Dey, and I did, but by that time, beer was my new mistress.

"Shiver" Run River North

The music was a little bit getting on my nerves at the Bella Caffe so I decided I'd review the next song that came on, and to my surprise I actually liked it! Maybe this a good strategy. My phone told me it was a song called “Shiver” and was performed by Run River North (at first I thought it was a song called “Run River North” performed by Shiver). It turns out it's a Coldplay song (which I obviously didn't know) from back near 2000, which still seems like yesterday to me, but to young people is ancient history. It's kind of brutal how the years are advancing, and soon songs from the 2000s will be on “oldies” stations! The lyrics are a little stalkerish, but this is a truly beautiful song. If I had to take a wild guess, first hearing it, I'd have guessed it was Jeff Buckley. I'm talking about the Run River North version, which I like infinitely more than the Coldplay version. It's really quiet and dramatic, it's got piano, some kind of strings, and it goes down to a voice and acoustic guitar in parts, and then it swells, but not too much. I know nothing about this band, Run River North (and I'm never going to remember that name—I'll probably call them A River Runs Through It). They look young, from LA, maybe Asian-American, two women and three or four guys. I might just look them up and pay attention to them in the future.

“Aladdin Sane (1913- 1938- 197?)” David Bowie

4000-some songs on my computer, somehow (weird, since I don't ever remember putting them on there, but you know, over the years, transferring from one computer to the next...) Anyway, this is the song that came up first, on “shuffle” (don't be fooled by the “A” in the title). This is that song from Bowie's 1973 Aladdin Sane record that kind of starts off as a song and then goes on for the rest of its five minutes in a repetitious two note thing, while on the left side, the piano goes off on its own into outer space, and on the right, the sax does, too (I suppose, trying to replicate the “troubled mind”—though for many of us, it's music to our ears). Though lovely, I always sort of thought of this as that song that you get through—between one great song and another—you know, while thinking, “OK... A Lad Insane... I get it.” I have no idea what the dates in the song title mean, but I'll wager you can find that discussed on the internet. Ray Speen has a theory that 1973 was the best year for everything—from music to sit-coms to diner waitresses to corn dogs; I'm not convinced, but I can't help to dwell on that now. Richard Myers made a film titled “37—73”—referring to the year he was born, and the year he made the film. My favorite Bowie albums are Ziggy Stardust (1972) and Diamond Dogs (1974)—obviously, this one sits right in the middle, and is also great. Anyway, I'm glad for this opportunity to isolate this song, and re-appreciate it. “Paris or maybe Hell (I'm waiting).” This song has gone up several notches (I don't really have notches). That guy playing piano, did he have the best day of his life that day, or what?

Intro to SONGS

The “Vinyl” page is gone, but you can still read Ray Speen's record reviews (LPs & 45s) on his long-existing site: DJ FARRAGINOUS.

This new “Songs” page is reviews of songs picked randomly. I have devised several methods of random selection of songs from: my record and CD collections, my computer, the Internet, various radio stations and shows, and even grocery stores and restaurants. We have songs coming at us all day long (did you ever notice that?) and it's about time to start asking some questions.

I considered a structure, such as “Random Song Thursday” or something, but you know that's not going to happen. So... new posts here will appear randomly, as well.

Randy Russell 12.1.17