Mixtapes for Celebrities: Warren Zevon and Lindsay Lohan

Claire: We’re kicking off our month of mixtape madness with mixtapes for Warren Zevon and Lindsay Lohan. Through the power of playlists, we’re hoping to show Warren Zevon the music he’s been missing while we’ve been missing him, and to make Lindsay Lohan’s recent comeback her last.

Joshua’s List: Dark Songs for a Dark Motherfucker (A Mixtape for Warren Zevon)

Dear Mr. Zevon,

We miss you here on earth. We just don’t have anyone like you anymore.  And while you’ve been kicking it in Rock and Roll Heaven, there have been some songs that you would just love. They’re right up your alley.

“Holocaust of Giants” by Rasputina          

Ok, so, maybe I lied. I’m not sure how you would feel about cellos as the main instrument. But it’s cellos that are often played through distortion pedals. And Melora Creager is almost as deviant as you were. This song recounts finding the bones of a giant on the banks of the Ohio, who “slaughtered each other in a meaningless war,” which she thanks god “we don’t do that anymore.” It’s exactly the kind of humor I think you’d be down with.

“Gardening” by Spoke Ensemble

I understand this may be a little lo-fi and stripped down for you , but it’s a song about domestic abuse and murder set to simple, easy, down-strummed guitar chords. With an accordion. And amazing harmonies. I have to think this would worm its way into your head just like it has mine. Maybe you’d even cover it. Yeah….Oh, I think I just got an erection. To murder. Hot.

“People II: The Reckoning” by Andrew Jackson Jihad

His voice is tough for you, I know. But man, he’s for realsies, isn’t he? I have a feeling you would love the lines about there being a child pornographer and a Nazi inside all of us (especially “and a politician too”).  And I think you’d really love their re-imagining of “Mrs. Robinson.” They are very sick and twisted, no?

“How a Resurrection Really Feels” by The Hold Steady

At this point you’re asking yourself, “Ok, this list is pretty good so far, but where’s the power? Where’s the oomph? I mean, really…Where’s the fucking guitars?” Here they are. The Hold Steady know how to deliver an amazing song about a homeless prostitute and heroin addict dying in a church with badass guitar lines and ridiculous solos. And Craig Finn’s voice makes him sound perpetually drunk, something I know you’d appreciate.

“A Cautionary Song” by The Decemberists

This song came up on my shuffle at work the other day and inspired this list. The Decemberists have lots of dirty, dark songs, but this one takes the cake (also, it seems that prostitution and the accordion are running themes in this list). It recounts the tale of a woman who goes off to sell her body to sailors who pass her around like a ragdoll and then throw her back ashore with a couple dollars and the promise to kill her if she tells the tale. And, oh wait, it’s your fucking mother. She does this to put food in your grubby little mouth. It’s all sealed with the wonderful musical and lyrical footnote at the end, “Remember what she does when you’re asleep.” You’d hear this song and smile to yourself, I know.

Well, Mr. Zevon, I hope you’ve liked my list. Rock and Roll Heaven must be awesome, with the Tupac, the real Paul McCartney, and Otis Redding. But hopefully this list has made you smile and laugh. If you liked it, maybe you could do me a favor and put in a good word with the Rock and Roll God to just kill Nickelback already? Thanks. We miss you!

With musical love,

Joshua

Claire’s List: Career Advice for the Prodigal Comeback Kid (A Mixtape for Lindsay Lohan)

Dear Ms. Lohan,

Look at you! Done with your probation, getting your red-headed groove back on, popping up on TV…yeah, we’ve seen this before. Linds Lo, I’ve been rooting for you since “The Parent Trap,” and I think you can make this your last comeback, but it’s going to take some work. So I made you a mixtape that’s better than Oreos dipped in peanut butter. Enjoy.

“Bad Reputation,” by Freedy Johnston

I think denial is part of what makes the closed door on your wild ways a revolving one. The message from Freedy is solid: I know I’ve got a bad reputation, and it isn’t just talk talk talk. After years of weak excuses and rebuttals, isn’t it time to be upfront about what you’ve been doing for the past few wasted years? Look at Demi Lovato—you were definitely her Disney prototype, right down to the post-fame boyfriend (Wilmer Valderrama, you’re gross. If you end up dating Elle Fanning in a few years, I will personally come over and punch you in the head) and she’s following the Tao of Freedy and thriving.

“Bloody Motherfucking Asshole,” by Martha Wainwright

Oh Michael Lohan, you tabloid-celebrity-chasing buffoon. Look Linds, you did not draw winners when it came to picking parents. The same logic goes for whoever managed your music career.

Once upon a time, every child actor didn’t have to sing. Mini-pop superstardom wasn’t part of the Disney deal. You’re from that time; your musical talent was legitimate and not just an auto-tuned part of your Disney package. But whoever managed you decided to focus more energy on selling you as a Top 40 sexbot instead of a legitimate singer.

Throw the world a curveball and make a good album. Cease and desist your current contact with Pitbull. Again, take a note from Lindsay Lohan 2.0, Demi Lovato, who seems to be trying to make decent music outside of the Disney mold. Kick off your album planning with some Martha Wainwright listening. She wrote this song about her terrible father/daughter relationship with Loudon Wainwright III. Consider this a higher-brow “Daughter to Father.”

“Bette Davis Eyes,” by Kim Carnes

I have a theory that everyone wants you dead. Listen, not me, but really: You’ve been marketed as an impending tragedy since you were about 20. I don’t think photographers keep thrusting you into high profile shot for shot remakes of Marilyn Monroe because you’re her look-alike—you’re not, and there are teams of young actresses who have taken her style cues and mannerisms for years without this level of Marilyn association. I think it’s because it was decided a long time ago that you were a tragic beauty.

And this isn’t just about past slipups: No one marketed Robert Downey Jr as James Dean. When Charlie Sheen fell into a whirlwind of substance abuse and mental illness, he wasn’t overwhelmingly linked to tragic, deceased male actors. But you fell into your own whirlwind and were suddenly associated, constantly, with a beloved actress who ODed at a young age.

I know the reference in this song is to Bette Davis, but I see it as your send-off song: Listen to it, and say goodbye to the tragic seductress with the big old movie star eyes. And the next time I see a photo shoot of you, I hope they style you to look like you. Or Ann Margaret, who makes way more sense as an old movie star doppelgänger.

“You Don’t Own Me,” by Lesley Gore

When you’re working your ass off to change the public’s opinion, relaunch your career, and get that Oscar by the time you’re 30 (yes, I’ve watched your interviews. But we’ll be 30 in 5 years kid, so pick up the pace!), you need a “Fuck everyone, no one can stop me!” song. Here it is.

“Come a Long Way,” by Michelle Shocked

You hosted SNL, you showed up sober and put together for loads of interviews, you did all your community service, you’re playing Elizabeth Taylor in a Lifetime movie….you have come a long way, and you haven’t even left LA.

Good luck with everything, Lindsay Lohan. One day I want to see you with a Robert Downey Jr. Type of fame, where you get solid parts and no one talks about who you were or what you did when you were young and troubled.

xoxo,

Claire

Top 5 Album Openers

Claire: We’re wading through our record collections this month and taking a look at opening tracks, middle tracks, closing tracks, penultimate tracks, with, as always, some musical nostalgia and High Fidelity references thrown in. The idea for this month’s theme started with both of us rereading High Fidelity, as all good ideas do.

So what makes a good album opener? A giant musical blast, or a soft hand-held intro? A song that hints at a great album and delivers, or song that cons you into listening to something subpar? We landed on all of the above.

JOSHUA’s List:

“Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)” by Arcade Fire, on Funeral

This song has the softest opening of any of the songs on this list, but like the album it begins, it swells to a grand and exhilarating scale. It positively exudes the childhood wonder that permeates this album: It’s like Win Butler dropped acid and mentally regressed to age 6 and wrote an album about it. The instrumentation of the song reflects that idea, with wide open, repetitive piano chords and simple, bass drum heavy drumming. This song made me listen to everything Arcade Fire ever wrote.

“Dog Days Are Over” by Florence + the Machine, on Lungs

I once told my brother Daniel I’d love to cover this song…if I only had a harp. It’s so infectious. I think it’s the clapping that causes this song to just stick in your head for months after you hear it. And Florence’s voice…Jeebos. Unfortunately, it has a level of promise that the rest of the album just doesn’t quite live up to. And the album is pretty damn good too, but this is a masterpiece, hands down. Just try to get it out of your head. Good luck. Side note: Florence Welch sings about horses all the fucking time.

“The Boy in the Bubble” by Paul Simon, on Graceland

A perfect way to start what I think is one of the most perfect albums ever written. How Simon makes accordion so appealing, I’ll never know. And that bass! Oh man, I have dreams of being the bassist for this album like three times a week. The lyrical phrasing and timing of this song is great, too: it’s never quite on the beat, but either just behind it or just ahead of it. The song signals what’s to come in the album and glib and ironic ideas of what’s to come in America from 1986 on. And lasers! Bizzow!

“Testify” by Rage Against the Machine, on Battle of Los Angeles

I don’t think you can talk about album openers without talking about Rage Against the Machine. Every album they had opened with an insanely “up” song and this is no exception. And it’s tight. Tight like the whole album is, much more so than their other albums. It’s like the album was designed to be listened to start to finish each time, each song building on the intensity and message of the previous. It may not have been as caustic as the previous albums, but I think it’s their best, and this is the best way to open that album.

“Don’t Carry It All” by The Decemberists, on The King Is Dead

This is my favorite album opener on the list, hands down. Those of you familiar with the Decemberists know that their previous albums were all steeped in the tradition of British folk revival; that is, it sounded like their music was plucked out of a galley of a whaling ship in 1860. This is decidedly different: Big, open major chords, harmonica, beautiful mandolin and backing vocals. It’s the Decemberists’ take on classic Americana. It’s exactly what they sing about: A “turning of the season.” Let’s raise a glass!

Honorable Mentions:

“Bat Out of Hell” by Meat Loaf, on Bat Out of Hell: Almost all of his songs are about losing his virginity, except this one, in where he beefs it on a motorcycle. Bad. Ass.

“1816, the Year Without a Summer” by Rasputina, on Oh Perilous World: Sets the stage for historical epic as commentary on the Iraq war. But this song, as Melora Creager is oft to say at performances, is a song about the weather.

“Psycho Killer” by Talking Heads, on Stop Making Sense: God, this was so close to making the top list. It’s amazing. The guitar work is impeccable.

CLAIRE’s List

“Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On),” by the Talking Heads, on Remain in Light

I owned “Remain in Light” for years before I listened to the whole album because I could not get past this song. Funky, bizarre, like if Brian Eno and Parliament Funkadelic made a new wave love child. It’s rare to have an album start to with a burst like this, but as you can see from Joshua’s Honorary Mentions, the Talking Heads excel at this: “Burning Down the House” was a track one, as was “And She Was” which, though not as rowdy or bizarre, begins with a jolting “Hey!”

If, like me, you spend part of your week writing about albums, and the bulk of it reading stuff about the War on Women, don’t be surprised when the line “…And I’m a government man” gets stuck in your head. And the reoccuring dream where Rick Santorum dances to “Born Under Punches”? Occupational hazard.

“Box of Rain,” by the Grateful Dead, on American Beauty

The first time I ever listened to the Grateful Dead by myself, outside of my parents’ cars or stereo, was when I was fifteen and suddenly obsessed with “American Beauty.” It’s not a creative first Dead album, but I fell into that deep musical love with it, the kind where you listen to an album on repeat for a whole year with very few pauses for other music. This was the song I replayed the most. Beautiful, gentle, and one of the very few times where Robert Hunter’s odd-quasi-poetic lyrics got under my skin.

“Miss You,” by The Rolling Stones, on Some Girls

Is it weird that I’m always embarassed to write about the Rolling Stones? Is it because every time I play the “What band does everyone like that you don’t?” game with people, The Rolling Stones always come up? (Top 5 answers to that question: Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, The Ramones, The Who, Radiohead) Anyway, great opening to a great album—tense, sonically interesting (shuffling from oohs to aahs, singing to lyrics, and a nice showcase of Jagger’s weird and limited range) (none of those sound like compliments, but really, it’s a good song. Jagger is okay too.), and a solid introduction to the feel of the album overall.

“6’1″,” by Liz Phair, on Exile in Guyville

The irony of the placement here is not lost on me. This was Phair’s first album, so who knew what to expect. But when the guitar starts, and then her funny flat-ish voice throws out a catchy balance of anger and snark and imagery—you want to sit down and listen to the whole record. Even now, when Phair has since sold out and sold back in, has made good albums and not so good albums, when we all know what’s up with her and have for a while, this song has that “I want to know this girl, and I want to hear what she says next” quality.

“Cooksferry Queen,” by Richard Thompson, on Mock Tudor

What can I say? I like a tense opener. Listen to the first few bars of “Miss You” and “Cooksferry Queen” and you’ll understand. This song builds—in speed, in lyrical content, in Thompson’s voice, which goes from smooth and steady to gruff and growling. And it has the classic Thompson song story— Boy named James/Mulvaeney/Insert-British-sounding-name-here meets redheaded/curlyheaded/pigheaded girl, goes on a heady adventure with his ill-fated love, encounters danger/far flung small town locales/psychedelic imagery.  

Honorable Mentions:

“Welcome to the Working Week,” Elvis Costello on My Aim is True: I listened to this song so many times at a long ago terrible job that it will always remind me of crying while eating a sandwich. For all you pop-music-lovers or terrible-job-havers (or anyone looking for a good, upbeat sandwich cry), this is a great song. Enjoy.

“Blue Bird,” Bonnie Raitt on Bonnie Raitt: A happy, lovely opening to a sometimes happy, always lovely self-titled freshman album by Bonnie Raitt.

“Icky Thump,” by the White Stripes on Icky Thump: I completely forgot about this album. These things happen. Welcome to the honorable mentions category, White Stripes.

So Hot Right Now—February 2012, 1st Draft

Joshua: You may be asking yourself, So Hot Right Now? Is that exactly what it sounds like? Yes, it is. We all tend to have these songs that are stuck, like peanut butter to the roof of your mouth, in our brains for what seems like a month. I just happen to make them into a playlist with a catchy name (which I totally stole from from an ex). The spin I came up with was to create the list with the limitation that it must be able to fit within a standard length of a burned cd, making it essentially a So Hot Right Now mixtape. I also arrange the songs with some fleeting adherence to the rules of making a mixtape, which are many and more, according to Rob Gordon, so they aren’t exactly perfect. And in that vein, I also tend to revise the lists halfway through the month with what plays and doesn’t play. So without any further ado, here are our first So Hot Right Now lists of the New Year!

Claire’s List:

1. Etta James “My Dearest Darling”

2. Camper Van Beethoven “That Gum You Like is Back in Style”

3. The Smiths “Nowhere Fast”

4.  The Fratellis, “Whistle for the Choir”

5. A Fine Frenzy, “What I Wouldn’t Do”

6. Kate Nash, cover of’ “I’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance With You”

7. Best Coast, “Sun Was High (So Was I)”

8. They Might Be Giants, “Letterbox”

9. The Dead Milkmen, “Punk Rock Girl”

10. Taj Mahal, “Corinna”

11. Lucinda Williams, “Firecracker”

12. The Jayhawks, “Angelyne”

13. Liz Phair “Glory”

14. The Velvet Underground “There She Goes Again”

15. Richard and Linda Thompson “I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight”

Joshua’s List:

1. Warren Zevon – Lawyers, Guns, and Money

2. Soft Cell – Tainted Love / Where Did Our Love Go

3. Barenaked Ladies – Light Up My Room

4. Paul Simon – Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes

5. Amy Winehouse – Valerie

6. The Band – Up on Cripple Creek (live)

7. The Decemberists – Red Right Ankle

8. Old Crow Medicine Show – Wagon Wheel

9. The Decemberists – On The Bus Mall

10. Talking Heads – And She Was

11. The Decemberists – The Hazards of Love 4 (The Drowned)

12. Rasputina – Incident at a Medical Clinic

13. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Maps

14. The Toadies – Possum Kingdom

15. John Legend – Ordinary People

Top 5 Snowed in Songs

JOSHUA’S List

Funkadelic – Maggot Brain

This song is what it sounds like – it’s a ten minute guitar solo. I’m not big on them as a rule, but this one is different and a little (and mostly likely apocryphal) backstory is necessary: The guitarist, Eddie Hazel, was sat down in a room with a guitar and given a whole bunch of acid. When he was tripping balls, the band started playing a slow backing rhythm. George Clinton then told Hazel that his mother was dead and to start playing the guitar. Halfway through the blistering, emotionally raw solo, Clinton shouted to Hazel that he lied and his mother was alive. You can hear in the track how the playing changes. Still, it’s an awesome song to be snowed-in to. It’s long, it’s haunting, and if you let it, it will take your breath away easier than that draft seeping in the window.

D’Angelo – Untitled (How Does It Feel)

What do you want when you’re snowed in? I know I want a blanket, some hot chocolate, a roaring fire, and a special someone to snuggle up next to. This song is perfect for that – Snuggle up next to your baby and the fire and put this on. Soon enough you’ll be generating enough heat together to want to put that fire out.

The Band – Acadian Driftwood

This isn’t exactly the happiest song. It speaks of the expulsion of the Acadian people from Canadian islands and the hardships they endured during and after. But the melodies and somber and soothing and the guitar is lilting and strangely powerful. It also has great winter lyrics, my favorite being “I set my compass north; I got winter in the blood.” And the singing of Levon Helm and Robbie Robertson always sets my mind to ease.

Miles Davis – All Blues

I was very close to making this list all jazz. There’s something to be said to huddling around in blankets with the windows covered in snow and listen to Miles Davis or John Coltrane soulfully eek out a wonderfully crafted solo. This song has that in spades. It’s slow-moving and plodding, helped by having a simple blues 1-4-5 chord progression played in a 6/8 waltz feel. The head is an almost dark, muted affair mingling Davis solo with harmonies by saxophone and trombone. This whole album is good for a snowy day, but I find I gravitate towards this song and the lead track, “So What,” namely because their dark motifs remind me of the windows being caked in snow and it being dark, darker than it should be for 2 in the afternoon. Brew up some dark coffee for this one.

The Decemberists – The Crane Wife 1 & 2 / The Crane Wife 3

These are the title tracks the Decemberists’ fourth album, comprising one of their best song cycles. It retells the Japanese folktale of the crane wife. She is found, in the form of a crane, by a lonely peasant, who nurses it back to health from an arrow wound. Once she is set free, she returns as a beautiful women…well, why don’t you just listen to it? It’s heartbreakingly beautiful and impeccably sparse. Colin Meloy, the singer/songwriter for the band, is in rare form in this song cycle. An interesting side note about the songs: “The Crane Wife 3” is the track that opens the album, while “The Crane Wife 1 & 2” is the second to last track. It’s a great choice – “3” sets the tone for the album and piques the interest of the listener, who’s being let into the story in medias res.

Honorable Mentions:

The Decemberists – January Hymn: Disqualified from the main list simply because it’s too on the nose. Otherwise, a beautiful track.

Jamie Cullum – High and Dry: I normally hate Radiohead, but Jamie Cullum’s mournful vocal tone makes one glad you’re not outside.

Rasputina – Snow Hen of Austerlitz (Cellist’s Revenge Mix): Melora Creager’s ethereal, haunting voice only compounds the dark, dark plucks and short bow-strokes of the cellos on this track. Put this one on then watch The Shining. You’ll be terrified of the snow afterwards. And shouldn’t you be?

CLAIRE’S List

Shawn Colvin — “Riding Shotgun Down the Avalanche”

The guitar, at once spare and lyrical. Colvin’s voice, with it’s rising, even-keel alto (also Alison Krauss is music’s version of salt and her voice is the definition of “dulcet tones”). The lyrics, heavy-hearted and restrained. The combination is quiet and haunting, the sonic equivalent of stepping outside mid snowstorm, when everything is silent, and neighbor’s houses and lawns are one endless blur of soft white. The chorus’s request to  “Be quiet tonight, be sure to step lightly, on this mountain of new fallen snow” is fitting. This is the beginning of the storm. This is when it’s still magical, when your home is still warm-bellied and comforting, when the days haven’t passed and the tempers haven’t flared.

Joshua Radin — “Winter”

I don’t love snow. Now that I live somewhere without it, I have a sort of idealized craving for it when I come home for the holidays. I want to watch it flutter in the street lights, I want the soft powdery snow that piles up in the backyard and demands saucer sleds and mittens, regardless of age. This song is when it stops being fun. When I’m no longer barrelling down the enormous hill in my backyard, slicing through the cold air with ruddy cheeks and layers of soaked clothing. When the darkness, cold and still, wraps tightly around my house and the slow sadness of being alone, in the dark, with my thoughts, creeps in. On the nose, to be sure, but Radin’s whispery voice and the lyrics, painfully self aware to the point of melodramatic, exemplify the “I’m starting to wish this storm would end” feeling. Or, as I call it, Day 3.

Sufjan Stevens — “For the Widows in Paradise, For the Fatherless in Ypsilanti”

There are images of writing we all want—ones with big oak desks and low light, with a cigarette clamped in your teeth and a cup of coffee going cold and oily in the corner. The kind of writing that demands typewriters, thick glass tumblers, unbuttoned shirts and pushed up sleeves. You can be that person when you’re trapped inside. I’ve never done it successfully (my snowed in writing process goes like all of my writing processes—get up every 5 minutes, wear pajama pants, become really particular about having a glass of water, or cleaning something, or doing any and all non-writing related things). This is a good writing indoors song. It makes you feel something, though it’s hard to say what, and its got the right energy for being inside, thinking, maybe even productively.

Brian Eno — “By This River”

I used to work at a tiny music memorabilia company called Connected Music. I was there for years, starting in high school, and I attribute my Brian Eno love to that time. (My Top 5 Connected Music bands: Brian Eno, Nick Lowe, Bootsy Collins, Leftover Salmon, Lucinda Williams.) During one rough winter, (personally for me, financially for the business), the three of us listened to Eno, drank black coffee by the gallon, and snuck off for frequent, jittery smoke breaks, the smoke and our breath visibly intertwined in the cold air. A storeroom full of Devo costumes and Aerosmith lunchboxes is a weird place to discover Brian Eno, but there he was, the perfect soundtrack for long cold days in a musical bunker.

Van Morrison — “I Wanna Roo You”

One bright spot in an otherwise dark list. Van Morrison is required listening for snow days. And this song, a bouncey number set on a snowed in day, is perfect. The 23rd of December has come and gone, but may all your snowed in Roo-ing (or snow-less Roo-ing, for that matter) go exceedingly well. Roo away, everyone. Roo away.

Honorary Mentions:

Counting Crows — “Long December”: This song is being fifteen, sad, cold, and terribly deep. Pairs well with red wine pilfered from your parent’s bottle stashed under the sink.

Interpol — “Obstacle 1″: Featured prominently on a mixtape someone gave me in high school, which I listened to relentlessly for years. The first notes always give me the fresh anxiety of driving through a snow storm.

Mama Cass — “Dream a Little Dream of Me”: A good moony, daydreaming song. Snow days can be joyful and lovely. Our lists don’t reflect that (much), but I swear, it’s a possibility that your snowed in day will be all cocoa and old movies, picturesque views and good food. Fingers crossed, and if it is, here’s music for that sort of day. Enjoy it.