Friday Five: Mandolin

Sometimes all you need to make a classic is a little bit of mandolin.

5. “The Battle of Evermore” (Led Zeppelin, 1971)
This might be the epitome of mandolin rock. What’s most impressive, I think, is that it’s the vocals that elevates the mandolin, turning some kind of play on an English country song into a a bonafide Zeppelin groove.

4. “Ripple” (Grateful Dead, 1970)
Measured in quantity, the mandolin is a small feature in this beloved Dead track (originally released as the B-side to “Truckin'”). Along with the playful guitars, simple drums, Jerry Garcia’s voice, and the ending choir sing-a-long, it’s part of a whole that’s bigger than the parts.

3. “Maggie May” (Rod Stewart, 1971)
Ray Jackson’s mandolin was an add-on to this pop hit, Stewart’s first big hit as a solo act. The mandolin compliments the album’s guitar preface, as well as Ron Wood’s 12-strong intro, not to mention the way it finds a musical hook to take us back to a more innocent time of youth.

2. “St. Teresa” (Joan Osborne, 1995)
Mandolin is not just for the early 70s! No, it was also a feature of the cafe sounds of the singer-songwriter mid-90s, the Gen x reboot of the early 70s. The first track off of Joan Osborne’s debut album is proof of that, as well as her creative string play.

1. “Losing My Religion” (R.E.M., 1991)
This is the pinnacle of Gen X mandolin. Perhaps that’s not saying much. But it’s a foundational part of this massive hit, the song that finished R.E.M.’s transformation from a “college rock” band into a popular, mainstream act. The feeling it provides the song is as important as the cryptic imagery of the video.

Friday Five: Music for the Movement

We’ve been here before. However bad it seems, our ancestors fought through much worse and carved out a road for justice. Now we pick up where they left off, aware that the fight has changed but our weapons–dignity, community, and love–have never been stronger.

Power to the people!

5. “Brand New Day” (The Staple Singers)
We gotta put our heads together / and see where we go from there / We got to fight for what we believe in / Somethin’s in the air!

4. “Everything is Everything” (Lauryn Hill)
Let’s love ourselves and we can’t fail / To make a better situation / Tomorrow, tomorrow, our seeds will grow / All we need is dedication / Let me tell ya that

3. “Glory” (Common and John Legend)
Every day women and men become legends / Sins that go against our skin become blessings / The movement is a rhythm to us / Freedom is like religion to us / Justice is juxtapositionin’ us / Justice for all just ain’t specific enough

2. “Fight the Power!” (Public Enemy)
Got to give us what we want / Gotta give us what we need / Our freedom of speech is freedom or death / We got to fight the powers that be

1. “Better Way” (Ben Harper)
Reality is sharp it cuts at me like a knife / Everyone I know is in the fight of their life /
And I believe in a better way / Take your face out of your hands and clear your eyes / You have a right to your dream and don’t be denied / I believe in a better way

Friday Five: November

Fall is in the air. Thanksgiving is around the corner. Here are five songs from five albums that were all released in November.

5. “The Girl is Mine” (Michael Jackson)
Thriller was released on November 30, 1982. This duet with Paul McCartney was the first single released from the album. It’s not quite what you’d expect from what would become the biggest selling album of all time. In some ways it’s a homage to the Jackson of the 70s.

4. “You’re No Good” (Linda Ronstadt)
This is the first track on Linda Ronstadt’s breakout album Heart Like a Wheel, released in November 1974. Ronstadt was one of the most successful performers of the 1970s, and there’s lots of reasons why. When I listen to some of her work (like this song, a reinterpretation of an old R&B tune) I’m surprised she’s not more well-known today.

3. “Bombtrack” (Rage Against the Machine)
The self-titled debut album of Rage Against the Machine was released on November 3, 1992. This is the first track. I remember when a friend first put this CD in the player and pushed play. It’s a memorable opening for a band that would become a voice for some of the best parts of my generation.

2. “Thinking of You” (Tony! Toni! Toné!)
One of my favorite albums of the 1990s was released on November 19, 1996. The fourth album of Tony! Toni! Toné! is something of a comeback album, with rumors of their break up bolstered by their individual success behind of host of hits in the interim. The sound they captured was a homage to 60s soul wrapped up in a 90s way. It’s best felt in this song, the first track on the album.

1. “Candy Man” (Roy Orbison)
A year before Roy Orbison died, a bunch of music stars (ranging from Bruce Springsteen to Tom Waits) and a killer back up band (including the great Jim Burton) accompanied the legend in an evening of his greatest hits. Roy Orbison and Friends: A Black and White Night aired on Cinemax in early January 1988. In December Roy would die. A year later, in November 1989, the album of this historic evening was released.

Friday Five: Boo!

Happy Halloween!

It’s a testament to my wife that my kids get more excited for putting on their costumes than they do eating candy. It’s a testament to their father that they know Michael Jackson’s Thriller as well as anything by Taylor Swift.

Here’s five more songs they’ll know by the end of the weekend.

5. “Monster Mash” (Bobby “Boris” Pickett & the Crypt-Kickers, 1962)

4. “Dead Man’s Party” (Oingo Boingo, 1985)

3. “People Are Strange” (Echo & the Bunnymen, 1987)

2. “Halloween” (The Misfits, 1981)

1. “Werewolves of London” (Warren Zevon, 1978)

Friday Five: Silly Love Songs

I have few actual memories of 1976. I was only 4, after all. I developed a deep love for the entire decade later in life, though, a mix of the sights and sounds I do remember with my later interests. 1976 is a great representative slice of that.

As I’ve written before:

It was the bicentennial (I love US history); Taxi Driver, Network, and All The President’s Men came out (I love 70s cinema); and “What’s Happening!”, “Laverne & Shirley”, and “Charlie’s Angels” all premiered on TV (all were big for me in syndicated repeats). One of my favorite movies ever–Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused (1993)–takes place on May 28, 1976!

Wing’s “Silly Love Songs” was a hit in 1976. I like the song okay, but Paul McCartney’s post-Beatles life isn’t my favorite stuff. It was a good year for love songs, though.

So here are 5 love songs from 1976:

5. “Sweet Thing” (Rufus, featuring Chaka Khan)
If you want to know why a certain segment of baby boomers is crazy for Chak Khan all you have to do is listen to songs like this, when she was the lead singer of Rufus. She pulls off what only she could do.

4. “Beth” (Kiss)
Kiss is one of thos love-hate things, mostly because in an era of “artistic” album rock they were a commercial juggernaut who didn’t hide their desire to make money. That said, they hit it more than a couple of times. This is one of those times, a snapshot into the life of a rocker.

3. “Isn’t She lovely” (Stevie Wonder)
Stevie Wonder is a genius who was at his most genius in the 70s. This is one of the best songs of all-time, from one of his most amazing albums.

2. “Sara Smile” (Hall & Oates)
Damn but these white boys could sing some soul!

1. “Somebody to Love” (Queen)
So beautiful. The loneliness contrasted with the operatic the energy is amazing as a studio production, but remained amazing in its many live performances, too. It’s my favorite Queen song ever.

Friday Five: Blue

The Dodgers are moving on the face the Chicago Cubs in this year’s National League Championship Series. Why not enjoy some blue songs for my boys in blue?

5. “Blue Moon” (The Marcels, 1961)

4. “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” (Crosby, Stills & Nash, 1969)

3. “Forever in Blue Jeans” (Neil Diamond, 1978)

2. “Blue Suede Shoes” (Elvis, 1956)

1. “Blue Monday” (New Order, 1983)

Friday Five: 50 years old

Like most people, I love the music of my teen and early adult years. But my favorite music more often comes from the late 1960s and early 1970s, the era just before and right after my birth.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of 1966, one of those years that I love, a year that produced some of the most amazing works by a variety of musical artists. Like most years, it was a time of stark diversity. “The Ballad of the Green Berets” was the top single of the year, and Frank Sinatra had a hit with “Strangers in the Night” (the song that would win him his last non-honorary Grammy award, until his 1994 album Duets II). At the same time, the Beatles released Revolver, the Stones released Aftermath, and Dylan released Blonde on Blonde.

And that’s just scratching the surface.

Here are five of my favorite songs from 1966:

5. “Paint It Black” (The Rolling Stones)

4. “Land of 1000 Dances” (Wilson Pickett)

3. “Hey Joe” (The Jimi Hendrix Experience)

2. “Sunny” (Bobby Hebb)

1. “Reach Out (I’ll Be There)” (The Four Tops)