Drum Roll, Please: The 1st Annual & Probably Last Moderate Voice Baker’s Dozen of Great Music
Life got you down, Bunky? Afraid that our Islamofascist president will send you to a reeducation camp? That Rick Santorum will be sitting in your marital bed when it’s time to turn in tonight? That the price of gasoline will continue going through the roof? Well, we feel your pain. But don’t fret because you can join us for the 1st Annual & Probably Last Moderate Voice Baker’s Dozen of Great Music.
To get the ball rolling, here is my list and explanations about why each of these selections means so much to me. Please return the favor by listing your favorites — as many or few as you like — and why they are.
AMELIA: It’s tough to name just one Joni Mitchell song given this folk-rock-jazz singer-songwriter’s incredible catalog, and this pean to the aviatrix Amelia Earhart is just one of the many terrific cuts on Hejira, which is my favorite Joni album with the added treat of the beautiful accompaniment of Jaco Pastorious on fretless base.
BRANDENBURG CONCERTOS: I will for ever associate these six J.S. Bach instrumental works with family Christmases. My favorite version is by the Philip Pickett-led New London Consort and is performed on period instruments.
EXODUS: The range of reggae superstar Bob Marley’s repertoire is amazing and to think what he might have done had he lived longer. “Exodus” is the title track of Marley’s masterpiece album and brilliantly distills the most mundane of human feelings with universal truths through words and music that are once simple and deeply complex.
EYES OF THE WORLD: If I have a personal anthem, this Grateful Dead song is it. Over the years, I probably heard it played live 40 or so times — primarily in the Dead’s heyday in the 1970s — and each time it was a little bit different. The Robert Hunter lyrics are chockablock with beautiful imagery and for me evoke the grasslands above the Pacific Ocean near San Simeon in California.
I LEFT MY HEART IN SAN FRANCISCO: Tony Bennett’s signature song works every which way. It is beautifully sung and brings back fond memories of my years living in the city by the bay. It also contains what may be the best lyric in the American songbook: “To be where little cable cars/Climb halfway to the stars.”
KIND OF BLUE: For sheer atmospherics, its hard to beat this great Miles Davis song from the eponymously named album, which is the best-selling jazz disk of all time. Think of a smokey room late at night. Kind of Blue — song and album — marked the outset of Davis’s modal approach to jazz, as opposed to the hard bop that had made him popular.
MERCY MERCY ME (THE ECOLOGY): This was a breakthrough song on a breakthrough album, 1971′s What’s Going On. The great soul singer tore off the shackles that the Motown label had imposed on him and made an album the way he wanted to with songs that moved beyond the usual soul treekle of that era.
OUR DAY WILL COME: Amy Winehouse’s posthumously released version of this love song has become a hit and deservedly so, but the original by Ruby and The Romantics, which was a No. 1 hit when I was in high school, remains my favorite version.
STARDUST: I used to hum the idiosyncratic melody to this Hoagy Carmichael song to myself as I laid awake in bed as a youngster and it wasn’t until years later that I realized that this “song about a song about love,” as it has been described, had lyrics. I continue to adore it both with and without.
TAKE THE “A” TRAIN: This Billy Strayhorn classic became Duke Ellington’s signature song and has been oft covered. Ella Fitzgerald’s rendering of the lyrics is my hands-down favorite, but there are many great covers out there and I heard Wynton Marsalis’s Quintet knock their version out of the park only last year.
WHIPPING POST-MOUNTAIN JAM: The Allman Brothers were and continue to be a nonpareil jam band and I was fortunate enough to hear the original ensemble before brother Duane packed in. This stupendous jam from the band’s legendary Filmore East concert actually appeared on two albums — opening with the closing track to Live at Fillmore East and finishing with one of the two Eat a Peach disks.
WHO DO YOUR LOVE: No offense to Bo Diddley, who wrote and performed this blues classic, but Quicksilver Messenger Service’s 25-minute live version from their Happy Trails album remains my favorite because of the incredible jamming, including John Cippolina’s smoking guitar work.
WINTER IN AMERICA: The late poet and signer-songwriter Gil Scott Heron is the largely unrecognized father of hip hop. The hauntingly sung title song from the 1973 album with collaborator Brian Jackson concerns the economic, racial and social malaise of the early 1970s. “Winter in America” would not be on Rick Santorum’s list.