What Happened, 1960-1962

September 4, 2017 at 9:00 am (Music What Happened Mixes)


My music knowledge of these first years of the 1960s comes almost completely from biographies of British Invasion bands such as The Beatles, The Stones, and The Who. These biographies assure me with great confidence that popular music became a desolate wasteland the moment Buddy Holly’s plane smacked into the ground, not to be redeemed until the Fab Four shook their hair on the Ed Sullivan Show in February, 1964.

So imagine my surprise on discovering a whole lot to like in this time period. Soul music starts to come to the forefront. Traditional American blues has its final moment in the charts, though its influence would last forever. Jazz and showtunes and even the quintessential easy listening track get to take their final bows on the pop music stage before a rock and roll revolution ushers them off.

Some notes:

For 1960, everything’s as-is from the book. This set of years was one of the few that didn’t require tons of outside research. I will say this though: artists and record labels who re-record original hits years and years later are the bane of my existence for this. The other thing that happens in 1960 is that we get our first tastes of American folk music, a genre that looms large in this collection, pre-1964. Perhaps it’s the fake-documentary, A Mighty Wind, (from Christopher Guest and his group of comedic actors) from years ago that has colored my view of folk music, but I’d sort of thought of these years in folk as being strident, polemic, and kind of unlistenably way-too-serious. “Ten Thousand Miles” by Penny and Jean are one of many well-chosen folk tracks to come that challenged my assumptions. It’s warm and full of life. And then there’s Joan Baez and “All My Trials”, which Scott Miller puts in the running for best vocal performance of the rock era. I can’t argue.

1961 was another research year for me, mostly for the ultimate song on this mix: “Moon River” by Henry Mancini. The challenge: there are at least three versions of the song on the soundtrack of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, so already I need some clues from the book for which version he means. I’ve always been partial to Audrey Hepburn’s lovely acoustic solo version, where she’s sitting in a window in the movie, playing the song on guitar and singing into the night. But while Miller mentions Hepburn in his review, he’s clearly referring to a different version of the song. He mentions the interrupted rhythm caused by Mancini’s interesting and unique double-tap percussion arrangement, and also mentions the lyrics in the song. There’s only one version from the original soundtrack recording with percussion and vocals, and it’s this one.

1962 has Bob Dylan entering the picture for the first (but by no means last) time. We also get the first Beatles single, and a reprise of West Side Story (Miller freely admits to cheesing this up so he can include two songs from the musical, by this time listing Marni Nixon’s turn on the original movie soundtrack on “Tonight”.) I also love the way he writes about 1962’s capper, “Where Have All the Flowers Gone.” Remember how I described my impression of folk music of this period? Yeah, Miller’s having none of it. After mentioning that yes, it does require him to go halfway to not get caught up in this as a parody of “bleeding-heart folkies”, he drops this on you:

“I am in fact a bleeding-heart, I like folk music quite a bit, and the music and words are beautiful, touching, and clever in a way for which I will ultimately cast my lot with the laughed-at if it comes to it. When there’s no longer an overarching sadness that too many soldiers are ‘gone to graveyards,’ maybe I’ll skip back with a light heart and a smirk to reassess.”

What Happened, 1960

1960 mp3 to download and track list:

  1. “Apache” The Shadows
  2. “Exodus” Ferrante and Teicher
  3. “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” The Shirelles
  4. “Four on Six” Wes Montgomery
  5. “Ten Thousand Miles” Penny and Jean
  6. “Money (That’s What I Want)” Barrett Strong
  7. “Shakin’ All Over” Johnny Kidd and the Pirates
  8. “Dig Dis” Hank Mobley
  9. “Cathy’s Clown” The Everly Brothers
  10. “Concierto de Aranjuez” Miles Davis
  11. “Walk Don’t Run” The Ventures
  12. “Theme from A Summer Place” Percy Faith and His Orchestra
  13. “Shop Around” The Miracles
  14. “Spoonful” Howlin’ Wolf
  15. “All My Trials” Joan Baez
  16. “Syeeda’s Song Flute” John Coltrane
  17. “Try to Remember” Jerry Orbach, Fantasticks Original Cast Recording


What Happened, 1961

1961 mp3 to download and track list:

  1. “I Pity the Fool” Bobby “Blue Bland
  2. “Doozy” Benny Carter & Quincy Jones and His Orchestra
  3. “Town Without Pity” Gene Pitney
  4. “You Don’t Miss Your Water” William Bell
  5. “The Red Rooster” Howlin’ Wolf
  6. “Stand By Me” Ben E. King
  7. “Gloria’s Step” Bill Evans
  8. “A Shot of Rhythm and Blues” Arthur Alexander
  9. “Hide Away” Freddie King
  10. “Finnegan’s Wake” The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem
  11. “The Wanderer” Dion
  12. “Little Sister” Elvis Presley
  13. “At Last” Etta James
  14. “Hoe Down” Oliver Nelson
  15. “Hit the Road Jack” Ray Charles
  16. “I Fall To Pieces” Patsy Cline
  17. “Aisha” John Coltrane
  18. “Runaway” Del Shannon
  19. “Moon River” Henry Mancini


What Happened, 1962

1962 mp3 to download and track list:

  1. “Man of Constant Sorrow” Bob Dylan
  2. “Monster Mash” Bobby “Boris” Pickett and the Crypt-Kickers
  3. “Cry to Me” Solomon Burke
  4. “Up on the Roof” The Drifters
  5. “The James Bond Theme” John Barry
  6. “God Bless the Child” Sonny Rollins
  7. “Chains” The Cookies
  8. “Some Other Guy” Richie Barrett
  9. “Watermelon Man” Herbie Hancock
  10. “Boom Boom” John Lee Hooker
  11. “Twist and Shout” The Isley Brothers
  12. “Fleurette Africaine” Duke Ellington
  13. “The Loco-Motion” Little Eva
  14. “Love Me Do” The Beatles
  15. “Anna (Go to Him)” Arthur Alexander
  16. “Night Train” James Brown and the Famous Flames
  17. “Telstar” The Tornadoes
  18. “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me” Smokey Robinson and the Miracles
  19. “Tonight” Jim Bryant and Marni Nixon, West Side Story Original Movie Soundtrack
  20. “Mr. Syms” John Coltrane
  21. “Green Onions” Booker T. and the M. G.s
  22. “Where Have All The Flowers Gone” The Kingston Trio


What Happened, 1960-1962

What Happened 1960-1962 3-year mp3 mix to download.


What’s all this then? It’s what happened, musically, during these particular years. No really! Hit that link for more info.

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What happened, 1957-1959

September 3, 2017 at 10:53 pm (Music What Happened Mixes)


If you were to ask me what I know about music from the late 1950s, I’m afraid my answer would be hopelessly colored by watching American Graffiti and Diner and that’s about it. Something something Elvis, Buddy Holly, and Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry. Which I guess isn’t bad, but it’s the same frame of reference that I imagine most folks have.

I love this opening section of Music: What Happened for giving me a wider span of context for this era in music. It also sent me down my first rabbit hole of exploration. The 1957 mix is supposed to end with “Somewhere” from the original Broadway cast recording of West Side Story, as sung by Carol Lawrence. I was easily able to buy a digital version of this recording, but when I started up “Somewhere”, it opens with this big orchestral musical overture.

That’s a problem, because in the book, Scott Miller describes this song as starting with some electrical pops and what sounds like “unprofessional mic distance”…not an orchestral fanfare. I spent a few hours, literally, listening to versions of “Somewhere”, and not hearing one that opens in the low-key fashion Scott Miller describes. So I started doing some discography research…and discovered that there was briefly available a single version of this song that was edited from the original cast recording. Interesting.

But only sort of helpful. I still couldn’t find this version. I think I’d despairingly just let the first mp3 I originally bought, the one that opens with the music fanfare play once. I’d really only  listened to the first 20 seconds and decided it was the wrong cut. And something magical happened.

After that musical fanfare, everything goes quiet, completely still. And then damned if there aren’t some electric pops…and then Carol Lawrence’s voice comes in, sounding as if the vocal mic is in another room. BINGO! I’d had the right version all along. It was an easy edit to remove the fanfare from the beginning, and 1957 now properly ends with the amazing “Somewhere” (described in the book as “the most magnificent passage in popular music”) in the version described. Whew

There’s not too much commentary needed for 1958 or ’59. 1958 does have our first endurance test of sort, the 20 minutes of Jimmy Smith’s “The Sermon”…but it’s so good that I find myself buying in completely. 1958 and ’59 are definitely the most jazz-heavy years of any of the mixes. That’s what happens when Elvis gets drafted.

For 1959, Miller only lists Part 1 for Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say”. It sounds weird without Part 2 on it, though. I assume Miller dropped the part 2 for time constraints. I’ve put it back in.

Links to each year’s individual mix are below. They’re single files, although I didn’t cross fade any tracks so they should be very easy to separate if that’s your thing (ick.) I used Nero to normalize the volume on all the tracks as well.

You can also get the full 3-year monty here too.

What Happened, 1957

1957 mp3 to download and track list:

  1. “Whole Lot Of Shakin’ Going On” -Jerry Lee Lewis
  2. “Hey! Bo-Diddley” Bo Diddley
  3. “You Send Me” Sam Cooke
  4. “Embraceable You” Chet Baker
  5. “I Put A Spell On You” Screamin’ Jay Hawkins
  6. “Young Man Blues” Mose Allison
  7. “Blues for Pablo” Miles Davis
  8. “Just Because” Lloyd Price
  9. “Shenandoah” Harry Belafonte
  10. “Keep A-Knockin'” Little Richard
  11. “Tammy” Debbie Reynolds
  12. “Bony Maronie” Larry Williams
  13. “Susie Q” Dale Hawkins
  14. “Bye Bye Love” The Everly Brothers
  15. “Blue Train” John Coltrane
  16. “Chances Are” Johnny Mathis
  17. “Bemsha Swing” Thelonius Monk
  18. “That’ll Be The Day” The Crickets
  19. “Jailhouse Rock” Elvis Presley
  20. “Somewhere” West Side Story Original Cast Recording


What Happened, 1958

1958 mp3 to download and track list

  1. “Good Golly Miss Molly” Little Richard
  2. “I’m Gonna Love You Too” Buddy Holly
  3. “Mambo Gozon” Tito Puente and his Orchestra
  4. “The Sermon” Jimmy Smith
  5. “Stager Lee” Lloyd Price
  6. “Dancing in the Dark” Cannonball Adderley
  7. “One for My Baby” Frank Sinatra
  8. “Rumble” Link Wray and his Wray Men
  9. “Tequila” The Champs
  10. “La Bamba” Ritchie Valens
  11. “Milestones” Miles Davis
  12. “Summertime Blues” Eddie Cochran
  13. “Blues March” Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers
  14. “Peter Gunn” Henry Mancini
  15. “All I have to Do Is Dream” The Everly Brothers
  16. “Johnny B. Goode” Chuck Berry


What Happened, 1959

1959 mp3 to download and track list

  1. “Saturday Night (Is the Loneliest Night of the Week)” Frank Sinatra
  2. “Sea Cruise” Frankie Ford with Huey “Piano” Smith and Orchestra
  3. “Chronology” Ornette Coleman
  4. “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” The Sound of Music Original Cast Recording
  5. “Come Go Home With Me” Lightnin’ Hopkins
  6. “Sleep Walk” Santo and Johnny
  7. “Twisted” Lambert, Hendricks & Ross
  8. “El Paso”, Marty Robbins
  9. “Desperate Man Blues” John Fahey (Blind Joe Death)
  10. “I Only Have Eyes For You” The Flamingos
  11. “What’d I Say, Pts 1 & 2” Ray Charles
  12. “All Blues” Miles Davis
  13. “Take Five” Dave Brubeck
  14. “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” Charles Mingus


What Happened, 1957-1959

What Happened, 1957-1959 3-year MP3 to download.


What’s all this then? It’s what happened, musically, during these particular years. No really!

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More about this thing I’m making…

September 3, 2017 at 6:13 pm (Music What Happened Mixes)


Yesterday I wrote about the fun project I’m doing, which is creating mixes to match each year’s songs in the book Music: What Happened, by Scott Miller. Today I thought I’d intro this by explaining why I decided to share this. It’s really something I made for my own listening pleasure but I began to realize that if it was bringing me so much enjoyment, maybe someone else might dig it, too.

First though, I should recap what’s going on here. Scott Miller — who was a seminal figure in the indie and underground pop music scene through the 1980s on into the 2000s — published a book in 2011 called Music: What Happened. In the book, Miller goes year by year from 1957 through 2010 and lists and discusses the greatness of 20 or so different songs.

He also sets some parameters for this exercise, by mentioning that the total length of the songs he discusses in a given year has to fit on a single CD (so, about 80 minutes of music). He also notes that the order he lists the songs for each year corresponds to a running order in a mix; to put it another way, these songs are fully sequenced, and with not a small amount of thought put into it. The order of songs isn’t necessarily counting down, either, but always ends with the handful of his picks for the very best songs of that particular year, culminating with the best of the best at the end of the mix for that year.

So why would anyone make a mix of someone else’s choices? I mean, I like to think I know a little bit about music and music history, you know? Well, here’s the deal. I have my own set of music biases and prejudices. I know what I like, and if I were to list my own favorite tracks from a given year, I suspect that things would get very dull, and very pretentious, and very walled off in a big ol’ hurry.

And that’s the neat trick that Scott Miller pulls off with Music: What Happened. Too often when critics discuss popular music, they do so in ways that are exclusionary in nature. We all know the stereotype of the surly record store clerk, sneering at people who purchase late-period Stevie Wonder. Miller is the polar opposite of Barry the Record Store Clerk, though.

One of the things that makes his lists so damned great is the utter lack of pretense in Miller’s selections. What, you thought he was going to give a miss to “Hey Jude” just because it’s overplayed? Guess again. You thought he was gonna skip out on The Eagles, Pink Floyd, and Led Zeppelin because they’re not underground enough? Yeah, not so much. In fact, I’d wager to say that Scott Miller loved Zeppelin and Floyd more than anyone who might possibly be reading this post.

And that’s the big takeaway here. Are there some really obscure songs? Sure. Are there some very hipster-ish choices? Hard not to have them. But there’s a whole lot of mainstream crowd-pleasing going on here, and it totally works too. And, that’s not to say that the really super-popular mega-hits don’t actually shine very brightly here. They do. It also means that a lot of ground gets covered. There’s rock music, of course. But there’s also jazz, r & b, folk, blues, soul, heavy metal, hip-hop, and even show tunes all well-represented. And that’s the second reason I’m making a mix of someone else’s picks. I like to think I know my music, but I’ve seriously got nothing on the knowledge and critical depth of Scott Miller.

In fact, I’m sort of torn as to what hearing these mixes is doing more for me. Sure, I’m discovering some great music I didn’t know or never bothered to sample (Joni Mitchell; who knew?) But I’m also re-hearing songs I’ve heard thousands of times with new ears, and appreciating them far more than I ever expected to, thanks to the context of these mixes and their running order.

For instance, I would imagine everyone reading this has likely heard “Go Your Own Way” by Fleetwood Mac about as many times as a human needs to hear that song, ever. But in this mix Miller tucks it in right between “Reuters” by Wire and “Bored Teenagers” by The Adverts. And if you’re thinking “Those are three songs that are oil and water to one another and should never go together,” here they fit perfectly side by side, with Miller slyly making the point “Not so fast there, snobby music elitist.”

That happens again and again throughout. Until two weeks ago, if you’d have asked me what enormously popular song I hate that everyone else loves, I’d have said “Fire and Rain” by James Taylor. I’ve never gotten that song, and I’ve always snobbishly dismissed it as post-hippie easy listening tripe. Miller tucks this song in between “Fat Old Sun” by Pink Floyd and “Paranoid” by Black Sabbath (again, a combination of songs that shouldn’t work, but in actuality is an absolute dream segue) and now in this context I can’t help but notice the production of “Fire and Rain”, the way Taylor builds each verse by adding to it (holy crap, is that a cello that just came in, way deep in the mix?) and how sonically and structurally perfect it really is.

That’s the real joy that I’ve found in these mixes. They’re not exclusionary by any means. It’s the work of a smart, but self-deprecating writer and artist who may have had one of the best ears for melody of anyone in music. Scott Miller also had extensive formal training in music and structure and his choices reflect his knowledge of how certain patterns, chords, rhythms, and production touches can create magic that exceeds the sum of those parts. Best of all, the overall feeling I get listening to these is akin to someone throwing open the doors and knocking over the barriers of a very exclusive museum and taking you by the hand and saying “Forget the cool kids; let me show you why this is all so awesome.”

OK. Enough of me yapping. I’m going to start uploading the mixes as mp3’s, along with track lists and just some brief notes. I’m going to do these in two ways. I’ve got a mix for each particular year. Those mp3’s run about 65-75 minutes in length, on average. And they’re fine…

…but I’m also going to upload longer mp3’s that cover three year spans of time. Another thing I fell in love with in listening to these back-to-back on a long afternoon of work was really understanding how popular music has changed over time, by evolution and revolution both. One of my favorites to explain this is how Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody To Love” (recorded in early 1967) sits at the end of the 1967 mix. Four songs later, and we’re into the next year and “Good Times, Bad Times” by Led Zeppelin (recorded in November, ’68) comes in. It’s striking. The former song feels like such a relic, rooted in a place in time that feels stuck in a place as a defining moment for an era. But then just a few songs later, here comes Jimmy Page and Robert Plant blasting everything into oblivion with a forward-looking preview of what the 1970s are going to be, and it’s a bracing, electric moment. So seriously, if you can make the time, or don’t mind pausing here and there, I really recommend the three-year mixes for really delivering the magic.

Later tonight (hopefully), we’ll kick off with 1957-59. This is a period with big gaps in my own personal music knowledge and I love this particular set of songs very much. I hope you will too!


(What’s this Music What Happened stuff? It’s based around a great book that serves as a guided tour through 50 years of popular music.  I’m posting the year-by-year music mixes of the songs in that book here.)

What Happened 1957-1959

What Happened 1960-1962

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I’m making a thing.

September 3, 2017 at 2:50 am (Uncategorized)

reel studio

My job is excellent, and some of the most fun, interesting, and exciting work I’ve ever done. But it also involves a lot of time moving data around painstakingly and creating spreadsheets and reports, all of which require focus, and can be a little mind-numbing after a while.

What I’ve found though is that a good music playlist can keep me focused. It can’t be just any slapped together group of songs though; if the music and the order of the tunes don’t engage some section of my brain on a certain level of interest, it doesn’t work. Thus, I’m always on the lookout for an interesting playlist.

About a month ago, I also just for kicks flipped open my copy of Scott Miller’s book, Music: What Happened? Push to shove, it’s my favorite book of music criticism out there. It’s pointed, sharply drawn, and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny. I’ll come back to the book in another post, but the premise of the book is that it’s a review of the best songs of every year from 1957 through about 2010.

To tie those two things together–playlist seeking and interest in that book–I discovered that someone had taken the time on Spotify to make a playlist of every song in the book. How amazing is that? (I’ll tell you how amazing further down this page). That playlist has gotten me through a ton of busy days of work over the past few weeks, and I’m literally only halfway through it. To cover every song that Miller writes about, it’s going to be a thousand-songs-plus playlist, probably close to 38 hours of music.

But that playlist being on Spotify creates some problems. First, it’s incomplete. In an average year, there are at least two songs that aren’t on Spotify for licensing reasons or other problems. To deal with that issue, whomever made it uses some live tracks (meh) or worse, in at least one case a really terrible cover version. There are also wrong versions of songs here and there.

The net result is that as I listen, I can’t help but be aware of these issues. It isn’t the fault of the amazing human who put that playlist together. That person or persons did some seriously amazing work, and this is all issues with Spotify and that medium. But this person’s hard work inspired me. What if this playlist of songs existed, but filled in the gaps and strove to clear in the proper versions of songs as described in the book? That would be kinda cool, right?

One of my favorite things to read about from people who create things is that in many cases, these creators make something because they wanted it, and it didn’t already exist. That explains some of my favorite documentaries, books, games, and works of art. I can’t make much of anything really. I’m too impatient to be particularly creative. But the one thing I can do fairly well is to make mixes. And I can definitely do that if someone else is providing me with the songs. So, to put it simply, I decided to make my own mixes of every single song in Music: What Happened. I wanted to do that because I wanted to hear it, and it didn’t exist in the form I wanted it.

I’ll explain the process and hop off for a bit, but there are a couple of reasons to explain why this book lends itself so perfectly to mixtape-making. The premise of the book is loosely based on mix CDs, mixes I assume that Miller may have actually made himself. In fact, that mix pretense forms the backbone of the book’s structure. In each given year, Miller restricts himself to only considering enough songs to fill a standard CD, about 80 minutes. That means that every year is about 20 songs or so, depending on track lengths.

The other thing Miller does is that he mentions that he’s clearly listing songs in a particular order because of how they flow together on a mix CD. The first song in a given year that he writes about is meant to be arresting and an attention-getter for the year. The mix then ebbs and flows through the songs that Miller loves the most from that particular year, building to the best tracks and culminating with the song that he feels is the very best of that particular trip ’round the sun.

I’ve been sort of surprised to discover how well his mixes work in practice, but I guess I shouldn’t be. He’d clearly put a lot of thought into the songs chosen, and the order they’d appear. Which is kind of stunning since — as mentioned — over the course of 50+ years/mixes, we’re talking about a thousand tracks. But damn, if there isn’t some inspired stuff here (I mean, “Reuters” by Wire shouldn’t flow so effortlessly into “Go Your Own Way” by Fleetwood Mac, but damned if it doesn’t.)

As far as process goes, in making my mixes of these songs, I’ve tried as much as humanly possible to match the tracks to the ones described exactly by Miller. That means when we’re in the showtunes-heavy 1950s section, I’m using either Broadway or film cast recordings, depending on the author’s directives. Occasionally, he specifically lists that a song is the radio version, or the 45 rpm single version, and those are the ones used here.

There’s one other issue with particular song versions, though. Miller freely admits to cheating a bit on this in his book. To jam some extra tracks into some years but stay under that 80-minute limit, he freely admits to having used ProTools (a software studio package) to make edits to some songs to make them fit.

Now….Scott Miller was a professional musician and music producer who made at least four records using ProTools. I’m a dork who wouldn’t know where to begin with professional studio editing software. And, honestly even with some of Miller’s descriptive text, it’s impossible to know exactly where/how he made those edits (I mean, the guy cut the 17-minutes of “Dogs” by Pink Floyd down to 5:30 somehow). But, since digital streaming media no longer puts me under the tyranny of 80 minute CDs, I’ve decided to ignore those homebrew edits. Thus, you get the full force of John Cale’s “Gun” and the aforementioned Floyd cut. You’re welcome.

OK. That’s the “What this is,” and “Process” bits of this. Next post: why this mix of songs rules, and why something I made just for me is now something I’m sharing with y’all. And also, links to the mixes themselves, or at least as far as I’ve gotten (I’m up to 1979 as of Friday.)


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Winterlude in a Snowed-in Mood (Christmas music mix, 2016)

December 20, 2016 at 11:14 am (Music Mixes, Uncategorized)


If it’s holiday week, it  must (finally) be time for a Christmas and winter-themed music mix, right? Sorry for being a bit late again, but I can explain! As crappy a year as 2016 has been in a meta sort of way, personally it’s been pretty dadgum solid. Work has been fun and extremely busy of late, which helps scooch things back a bit when getting into that Christmas spirit. (Things were also notably hampered when I knocked an empty coffee cup off my desk and onto a storage drive that had about 2 terabytes of music I’m still trying to recover all of. That was a good time.)

I couldn’t help but note that this year’s mix had a sort of bleak feel to it the first couple of runs I made at it maybe understandably. Still, who has time for that? It’s the holidays. It’s a time for family, friends, and celebration, even if it feels a little bit like we’re all collectively Slim Pickens riding that missile into the ground in Dr. Strangelove. No matter. We’ll whoop and holler a bit all the way down if that’s the hand that’s been dealt.

This year’s mix is almost all new stuff, not as in “New this year,” but rather “New stuff for this mix.” I really wanted to get a Sharon Jones song in for obvious reasons early on. I’ve known since about March that Trapper Schoepp’s tale of being stranded in a blizzard in western Nebraska was going to be on this mix. Love those songs to death.

Two wonderful recent finds were discovering a secret, hidden Leisure Society version of the late Greg Lake’s “I Believe In Father Christmas”. I’ve credited it to The Leisure Society, although Nick Heming says it’s just him and bandmate Helen Whitaker, but it sure sounds like the whole band.

The other cool song I’m really loving is the one from Sloan. They recorded a couple of holiday themed songs this year, and while both are good, “December 25” is just transcendent. Jay Ferguson has always been Sloan’s secret weapon, a guy who maybe only gets a couple of songs per record, but they’re always ace. With “December 25” he’s outdone himself here.

Let’s see, what else? Oh, the best part of the Gilmore Girls revival on Netflix was seeing Grant Lee Phillips reprise his role as town troubadour, and we’ve got the song he plays in the “Winter” episode, the gorgeous “Winterglow” here. I’ve also brought in a few old favorites. Seemed like this mix really wanted some Vince Guaraldi, for instance, so it got that. It also wanted Vashti Bunyan and Broadcast too. Finally, Jason Ringenberg’s aching “Merry Christmas My Darling” seemed far too appropriate not to bring back…and we needed the twang.

As ever, this mix is one long mp3, with volume normalized and sequenced and whatnot. I hope you enjoy listening to it as much as I’ve enjoyed making it, and…I’ll let “Father Christmas” sum up the rest:

“I wish you a hopeful Christmas
I wish you a brave new year
All anguish, pain and sadness
Leave your heart and let your road be clear”

Winterlude in a Snowed-in Mood
(Popnarcotic Christmas Music Mix, 2016)

1. Christmas Letter
2. “Just Another Christmas Song” Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings
3. “Ogallala” Trapper Schoepp
4. “Snow Globe” Charlie’s Hand Movements
5. “Willing and Able” Helene Smith
6. “I Believe In Father Christmas” The Leisure Society
7. “Child’s Christmas in Wales” John Cale
8. “Christmas Eve” Night Flowers
9. “Work Christmas Party” Faye & The Scrooges
10.”December 25″ Sloan
11.”Funky Funky Christmas” Electric Jungle
12.”Hey Santa!” Brian Setzer Orchestra
13.”Mistletoe and Holly” Frank Sinatra
14.”Coldest Night of the Year” Vashti Bunyan
15.”Soul Santa” Funk Machine
16.”Christmas and Everyday” Best Coast
17.”Skating” Vince Guaraldi Trio
18.”Winterglow” Grant Lee Phillips
19.”Merry Christmas My Darling” Jason Ringenberg
20.”Sleigh Ride” Squirrel Nut Zippers
21.”Winter Now” Broadcast
22.”You Bring The Snow” The Crookes
23.”Driving Under Stars” Marika Hackman
24.”Fairytale of New York” The Pogues

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No Sad Songs (2015 Holiday Music Mix!)

December 16, 2015 at 3:30 pm (Music Mixes)

Despite the fact that it feels like mid-May here on the east coast, I can’t help but be in the grip of Christmas spirit. I mean, if new Star Wars movies can’t make you feel like a little kid heading into the holidays, being able to shoot some hoop on an outdoor court two weeks before December 25 sure will do the trick.

This year’s mix finds me in fine fettle, as they say, and I hope it does for you and yours as well. When I was putting it together over the last few weeks, I spent a good deal of time listening to some older mixes and was struck by being able to tell that I’d made them during some rather gloomy times, personal and not-so-personal. And with that in mind, the title of one of the first songs I knew I’d put into this compilation–“No Sad Songs” by The Lilac Time–kept popping into my head, and it ended up being the title and thesis for this year’s collection.

Not that there aren’t a few sad tunes that snuck through. You get a chance to put a song by Joe Pernice and Norman Blake of Teenage Fanclub into your mix, you just do it, regardless, and that’s how that New Mendicants tune made the cut. It does mean a late switch on what is hopefully an annual tradition from Aimee Mann and Ted Leo. Those two legends record together as The Both, and I was all set to go with their morose 2014 holiday song when they hit out with a 2015 tune that is anything but sad in “You’re a Gift.”

Another thing I enjoy doing this each year is discovering songs I never knew about. I’d always wanted to find a spot for Harry Nilsson’s rendition of “Snow”, a song that Randy Newman wrote. For whatever reason, I’ve never found the right spot for it. Then I found out that Nilsson wasn’t the first to cover it; a few years before he did it, Claudine Longet had a hit with it and her version is just amazing. You younguns should probably just enjoy the magical sound that song here and not actually look up more info on Ms. Longet because…eeesh. (Though her escapades did result in one of the funniest early SNL found footage sketches ever.)

There’s also a real familiar tune that gets an amazing remake thanks to Mark Kozelek, sometimes known as either “that guy in Red House Painters” or “that guy in Sun Kil Moon” or “that guy in Almost Famous”. Mark can be a bit prickly, but he put out a wonderful Christmas record last year that totally works. (On another song on his record there’s a  great exchange in mid tune that has him being told that of all the Mark Kozeleks at Christmas, he’s the most Mark Kozelek-iest, and if you don’t think I didn’t seriously consider that as a title for this year’s mix, you don’t know me well enough.)

Other highlights for me include a couple of nice jazzy takes from an old master (Sir Duke) and a newer one (if you’d have told 1990 me that John Zorn would have something to do with a really great and winsome remake of a beloved Christmas tune, I’d have been utterly bewildered by that.) I got to use a song by The Bats, which is awesome. Oh, and if our title cut artist sounds familiar to you, The Lilac Time is the band fronted by Stephen Duffy, who was once the original lead singer of Duran Duran. Yes, that Duran Duran. Finally, I can’t imagine that Christmas was a big holiday growing up for Cornershop’s Tjinder Singh, but damned if he doesn’t just nail it with “Every Year So Different.”

At any rate, as per usual, this is all one big file and stuff, a big ol’ sloppy musical holiday present from me to all of y’all. Click the big title below to download it from Dropbox. If you have a Dropbox account and are already signed in, you can also just stream it if that’s your thing.

No Sad Songs


Track list:

1.  Lisa Mychols, “Lost Winter’s Dream”
2.  The Both (Aimee Mann & Ted Leo) “You’re A Gift”
3.  JD McPherson “Twinkle (Little Christmas Star)”
4.  Cornershop ft. Trwbador “Every Year So Different”
5.  Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings “Funky Little Drummer Boy”
6.  The Dum Dum Girls “On Christmas”
7.  Deidre and the Dark “Ghost of Christmas Past
8.  Billie Holliday “I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm (Yesking Remix)”
9.  Duke Ellington “Sugar Rum Cherry”
10. New Mendicants “A Very Sorry Christmas”
11. The Love Me Nots “Santa Bring My Baby Back To Me”
12. Glasvegas “Please Come Back Home”
13. Claudine Longet “Snow”
14. Mark Kozelek “The Christmas Song”
15. Neil Halstead “The Man In The Santa Suit”
16. John Zorn “Christmas Time Is Here”
17. The Boy Least Likely To “A Happy Christmas Baby”
18. The Bats “December Ice”
19. The Orange Peels “Grey Holiday”
20. The Leisure Society “2000 Miles”
21. The Lilac Time “No Sad Songs”
22. Ah Shane, ya never let me down lad.


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Trick or Treat!

October 29, 2015 at 9:34 am (Uncategorized)


Quick: think of three or four authors of really good short horror fiction. I’m going to guess that most folks would come up with Stephen King, with some H. P. Lovecraft, Peter Straub, Edgar Allan Poe, and perhaps even some Shirley Jackson thrown in. Those folks are all fine, and quite good. But none of them write in a way that scares me more or more consistently than a British author who remains mostly unknown to the world. His name was Robert F. Aickman.

In the few bits of biographic information about him that can be found online, it appears that Mr. Aickman was probably kind of a dick. Admiring peers describe him as “prickly” and “crusty”. He could be fussy, condescending, and blunt to the point of social ineptitude. Though he was born in 1914, he seems to have possessed an almost Victorian bearing about himself, though he insisted on living in the heart of Swinging London in the 1960s, where his primness must have seemed completely out of phase.

Born in 1914, like most lads in their twenties Aickman likely “did his bit” during World War II. The first time he was published was in the early 1950s. He had a few stories appear here and there in magazines that weren’t much elevated above pulps. He finished a novel and novella in the 1960s, published a few volumes of short stories in the ’60s and ’70s, and died in 1981 of cancer, with perhaps 50 short stories to his name. His story collections sold decently in his native England, but went out of print rather quickly. He never had any impact in the States.


He wasn’t completely unknown in his time, though. A number of young horror writers knew him and were in awe of him. Fellows like Peter Straub and Neil Gaiman specifically. Perhaps the best tribute to Aickman’s genius at crafting horror fiction was paid him by Roald Dahl, the author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory among other works.

Dahl had been commissioned by an American television network to come up with an omnibus television series in the early 1960s. The network wanted him to be the creative force behind a series that was envisioned to be something like The Twilight Zone or Outer Limits. Each week would be a new, half-hour or hour-long filmed teleplay, based on a horror short story. Dahl agreed to sign on for this, under the stipulation that he, and only he, be allowed to pick the 30-odd short stories that would be featured in the various shows. As Dahl tells it, he spent nearly a year reading nearly 740 scary short stories from the national library in London. In doing so, he came to an alarming conclusion: none, or at least precious few, of the stories were particularly scary at all. He concluded on the spot that there simply were too few scary stories. He bowed out of the project.

A few stories did have an impact on him, and Dahl collected those for his own anthology, the utterly wonderful Roald Dahl’s Book of Ghost Stories. Dahl chose 14 stories for this collection, including works by esteemed and well-known authors like Edith Wharton and J. Sheridan Le Fanu. He also chose a story by Robert Aickman, a clever and shivery tale called “Ringing the Changes.”

It’s easy to see why Aickman never caught a break from his publishers in the ’60s and ’70s when you read him now. His style is mannered and stately, though rarely florid and obtuse. He sounds like a gentleman out of time, as if Charles Dickens had suddenly plopped into the era of Nixon and Vietnam protests. With some shortsightedness, publishers likely figured that audiences would prefer something more…lurid. Explicit. Modern.

The success of J. R. R. Tolkein and H. P. Lovecraft show how little publishers understood their audiences. If Aickman can be a bit stuffy at times, he’s nowhere near as stilted as either of those aforementioned writers. And Aickman uses his stylistic gestures to excellent effect. His wonderfully British prose is an effective stage patter to distract while the writing magician works to pull a rabbit from his hat for us.

Most of all, though, Aickman is just a damn good writer of scary stories. He always preferred the term “strange stories” to describe his work, and I suppose that fits the best. His stories are interesting, ingeniously plotted, and all have a clever, if often chilling twist in the plot. You get the feeling as you read his work that the reason he wasn’t prolific is due to him constantly polishing his stories to a high gloss finish before deciding they were done.

In the past few years, Aickman’s undergone a bit of a renaissance. Many of his short story collections have come back in print, as more and more modern horror authors cite him as every bit the foundational genius that Lovecraft, M. R. James, or Poe were for the genre. First edition paperbacks of his collections from the 1970s will fetch upwards of $70 in used marketplaces these days. I personally first heard of him when, during a discussion of great horror fiction, a fellow posting online under the handle DrCrypt suggested that there was Aickman on one tier, and everyone else sitting well below. DrCrypt did more than that, though. He’d gotten his hands on an HTML version of one of Aickman’s best short story collections, a chilling anthology called Cold Hand In Mine. Someone had lovingly transcribed all of the book back in the early days of UseNet and posted it online. It’s long gone, of course.

Except I saved a copy and converted it to PDF. And because it is Halloween, and because I love giving out treats for the season, I’m sharing that with you all right now. Here it is in all its chilling glory, Robert Aickman’s Cold Hand In Mine. Give the story “The Same Dog” a read, if you’re looking for a good entry piece. If you like what you’ve read, consider buying the book and other Aickman collections from Amazon or the online retailer of your choice. Happy Halloween!

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