Friday, July 12, 2002

AS I HEADED to work the other day, the R.E.M. song "Good Advices" going through my head for some reason, I went through one of my ancient cassette-tape caddies in hopes of finding the album. ("Lifes Rich Pageant"? I asked my wife, who had just been bemoaning the deletrious effects of creeping age on instant album identification. "Fables of the Reconstruction," she answered. Really? I should have known that.)

No luck, but I did find a tape labeled "Road Trip Sampler." We're planning a road trip soon, so even though Jacqueline's portable MP3 player will be supplying the soundtrack, I thought it would be fun to see what songs were on my mind seven or eight years ago when I put the tape together.

1. "Anchorage," Michelle Shocked. Of course it would be "Anchorage"; on my A-list mix tapes it will always be "Anchorage." I tend to put my one-song wonders on these tapes -- not necessarily one-hit wonders, but all-time-favorite songs of mine by artists whose other work I don't like nearly as much. And this beautiful story song from the short, sharp chick falls squarely into that category.

2. "Temporary Beauty," Graham Parker. Another one-song wonder. I think it was the video, featuring ice sculpture, that hooked me on this song in the early days of MTV. Parker is from the Joe Jackson/Howard DeVoto ugly wing of the Elvis Costello angry-Brit school,

The lyrics hit a little too close to home as I'm opening my car windows a wee bit, in case somebody from StarKist is on the sidewalk in search of someone with good taste.

3. "You're the Best Thing," Style Council. Maybe this cocktail-jazz crooning was a waste of Paul Weller's Jam-osity, but it is pretty darn good cocktail-jazz crooning.

4. "Follow You All Over the World," Marti Jones. I might not include this track if I were making a mix tape today, but I think I had just set up a dual tape deck and a turntable when I made this tape and so I was featuring songs like the previous one, which I had only as a 45-rpm single, and this one, which I had only on cassette. Not so much a one-song wonder -- I like all of the "Unsophisticated Time" album by the folkie wife of former R.E.M. producer Don Dixon, but this is the quasi-title track ("unsophisticated time" pops up in the lyrics).

5. "Bleak House," Phantom Limbs. My old college-days faves from Tucson -- another vinyl-only holding.

6. "Swords of a Thousand Men," Tenpole Tudor. This band was big in England in the '80s but virtually unheard of in the States, famous primarily for "Wunderbar," perhaps its worst song. Tenpole Tudor's odd imagery -- medieval with a touch of German -- is the opposite of anything that would ever appeal to me, but something about its sonic sensibilities I find irresistible. As with the Strokes today, these guys are so plugged in to my wavelength that it's hard for me to imagine
them making a bad song.

Even more so than with the Strokes, with Tenpole Tudor it's all about the sound. To quote lyrics would be a disservice.

7. "Go Wilder," Tenpole Tudor. Usually a back-to-back appearance by the same band is a mix-tape no-no, or a convenient use of a song of just the right length to fill out one side of a tape. Here, who knows? Maybe I was struck at the time, as I am now, by just how great this band is.

8. "Marlene on the Wall," Suzanne Vega. A cousin to the one-song wonder is the "I knew them when" song. This was Suzanne Vega's first semi-hit, before "Luka" or "Tom's Diner" or "Left of Center." I like it better than anything else I've heard from her.

Come to think of it, this is another song where the appeal isn't really in the lyrics.

9. "Ugly," Juliana Hatfield. I love the "Hey Babe" album, Juliana's post-Blake Babies solo debut. The follow-up, "Become What You Are," is also a favorite of mine, but "Hey Babe" is a standout, right up there with the Blake Babies' "Sunburn" and "Earwig." Juliana's post-"Become What You Are" work has been very disappointing.

"Ugly" is a bit of a novelty song; half a dozen other songs from "Hey Babe" would rank higher for mix-tape consideration today ("The Lights" is at the top of my list).

10. "Gardening at Night" (live), R.E.M. The 12-inch single (remember those?) of some song or another included this very nice live version of the "Chronic Town" oldie. I won't even attempt to reproduce early R.E.M. lyrics.

11. "No Guilt," Waitresses. You probably know this '80s band from "I Know What Boys Like," or maybe "Square Pegs" or "Christmas Rapping." But this is really their signature song, a celebration of post-breakup independence. (Patty Donahue, R.I.P.)

The sound is a little dated, but the writing is great.

12. "Over My Head," Green on Red. The most romantic song from these dirtball-romantics, who left Tucson in the early '80s to join the Paisley Underground. (Well, it was a big movement in certain circles at the time. It produced the Bangles.)

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