Year: 2020
Original format: MP3

Virus or no virus, spring is upon us; the sun is shining, the birds are singing, flowers are erupting violently into color. Times are weird but I recommend getting outside however you can, whenever you can, for as long as you can. This music will sound fine on your headphones, but even better on a speaker that lets it out into the open air, maximum volume please; don’t worry about your neighbors, they’ll love it.

Playlist:

Nothing Pointless About This Gig Mike Lookinland & Bill Martin
Somewhere in the wild days of the early 70s singer Harry Nilsson took acid. “I looked at the trees and I realized that they all came to points, and the little branches came to points, and the houses came to point. I thought, ‘Oh! Everything has a point, and if it doesn’t, then there’s no point to it.’” Life being the way it was back then, naturally this revelation eventually manifested itself as an animated special on ABC called The Point!, narrated by Dustin Hoffmann (in later versions his voice was replaced by Ringo Starr’s). If you haven’t seen it you probably should, just because.

Take a Giant Step Taj Mahal
Written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, “Take a Giant Step” was the B-side of the Monkees’ first single, “Last Train to Clarksville.”

That same year it was covered by Taj Mahal and Ry Cooder’s band Rising Sons for their debut album, which was subsequently shelved and not released until 1992.

But I think we can all agree that Taj’s solo version, recorded in 1969, is the definitive one.

Dear Prudence The Five Stairsteps
“The children of Clarence Sr. and Betty Burke, the Five Stairsteps were formed in 1958 as a five-member brother-and-sister teenaged vocal group. The group got its name when ‘Momma Stairsteps’ — as Betty Burke was affectionately called — noticed that her kids looked like stair steps when stood next to each other by age…. In the spring of 1970, the group released its sole certified million-seller and biggest pop hit, ‘O-o-h Child’ (written by Stan Vincent), which hit number 14 R&B and number eight pop. The flip side, a cover of John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s ‘Dear Prudence,’ charted number 49 R&B.” —Ed Hogan, All-Music Guide

Livin’ in a New World The Roots
“In this day and age, I’m kind of noticing that nobody in urban music really has the balls to just stop partying for one second… I mean, partying is good and whatnot, and it’s cool to get down, but I really think that 2006 called for a very serious record. This ain’t the Debbie Downer record, or the political, save-the-world record, but this is definitely not the MC-based, battle-themed album that the Roots have been known for. This is our most serious record to date.” —Questlove

Fill Your Heart Biff Rose

Since I Lost My Head, It’s Awl-Right Julian Cope

Finite = Alright David Byrne
File under “Tragically Underrated”: Byrne’s 1997 album Feelings, much of it recorded in collaboration with Morcheeba (though not this song).

Happy Birthday Pizzicato Five
After hearing this song many times over many years, I finally decided to look up what the lyrics mean in English. It’s sort of a more elliptical version of “Summertime”:

One day as I woke up
Wings had grown on my back
Almost transparent blue
Wings like a big butterfly’s
Which I saw last night
In this strange dream

One day as I woke up
I had become a butterfly
Which I had seen long ago
And still could remember
In a strange dream
A beautiful dream with a blue butterfly

One day as I woke up
I had fallen in love
Like I had dreamt the night before
A strange dream

One day as I woke up
I had been reborn
Then I opened the window
The pale light of spring
And flew away through the window

Terra [Prefuse 73 “3 Mellotrons in a Quiet Room” Version] Caetano Veloso
“On the new Red Hot and Rio 2 double cd compilation, there is a version of Caetano Veloso’s 1969 song ‘Terra’ (‘Earth’). When reviewing his autobiography (Verdade Tropical / Tropical Truth) a few years ago for the LA Times Book Review, I read about how he wrote this song while in a Rio prison cell. He had been arrested for insulting army personnel at a concert. While in jail, Veloso saw the stunning photos of earth taken by the first astronauts from the moon, something never witnessed throughout the annals of time and our dreams of space travel. The earth in these photos is a pricelessly beautiful orb. Caetano’s lyrics form a paean on the earth’s beauty as seen from space. That Veloso wrote them from a dark sweltering prison cell truly makes this song a masterpiece of irony.” —Tom Schnabel, KCRW.com

Errare Humanum Est Jorge Ben

There are some days that I wake up
Trying to think and desiring to know
From where comes the impulse
To probe the outer space
Beginning with the shadows over the stars
And to think that the Gods were astronauts
And that you can fly by yourself to the stars
Or even think about before times known
Did the gods came from another galaxy
Or from a planet of impossible possibilities?
And to think that we’re not the first terrestrial beings
Because we inherited a cosmic heritage
Errare humanum est
Errare humanum est
Neither gods nor astronauts
—Jorge Ben Jor, 1974 (translation by the Brazil 70 Translation Project)

Cinco Minutos Los Sebosos Postizos
“Los Sebosos Postizos is a side project that was born from part of the Zumbi Nation (Jorge du Peixe, Lúcio Maia, Dengue, Pupillo). He [sic] participated in the Institute’s album, on the soundtrack of Amarelo Manga , naming his first presentations of ‘Noite do Ben’ in Curitiba , Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. The band released their first CD ‘Los Sebosos Postizos Interpretam Jorge Ben Jor’ in September 2012 featuring Bactéria (keyboards), Da Lua (percussion), Guizado (trumpet) and Barbara Eugenia (vocal) and was produced by Mario Caldato Jr.” —Wikipedia

Coco Blues Mbongwana Star
“There is no electricity [in Kinshasa] almost everywhere, and when there is, it is for short times, and it is not every day, it is not all day. Where we recorded Mbongwana the first time we had not even five minutes of electricity in ten days, so of course it is not the best conditions. But in the meantime it is giving ideas, how they are sorting out the problems. Somehow it is funny, or it is interesting; the group have to adapt to these conditions, or sometimes try another style, or other songs.” —Michael Winter, Mbongwana Star manager

Sing Sing Sing The Incredible Bongo Band
For the lowdown on the incredible saga of of the Incredible Bongo Band — which begins with the soundtrack of the Rosey Grier/Ray Milland movie The Thing With Two Heads, involves Robert Kennedy, Charlie Manson, and Ringo Starr, and ends with an unknown song from a little-bought album becoming the most-sampled track in the history of hip-hop — I recommend the documentary Sample This, available today on your friendly neighborhood Netflix.

On Your Way Down Little Feat
One of seemingly thousands of great songs written by the late, great Allen Toussaint.

Get Outside Robert Palmer
Proof positive, in case you needed it, that there was more to Robert Palmer than wearing nice suits and singing in front of models. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Fickle Sun III (I’m Set Free) Brian Eno
“Eno sings ‘I’m Set Free’ to close his new album The Ship and its ‘Fickle Sun’ suite. The cover is a testament to the unwavering power of his voice. Eno sang on the two Eno/Hyde records from 2014, but his voice wasn’t the sole attraction. On recent ambient efforts like Lux, his voice has been absent altogether. Here, he’s harmonizing with himself over spare arrangements. Like the original, he’s gentle throughout except when he’s belting the song’s three titular words. Compare it side-by-side with his classic mid-’70s records — his voice is an instrument that’s aged beautifully.” —Evan Minsker, Pitchfork.com

Spinning Away Eno & Cale
Two songs in a row with Eno singing? That’s right, because I’m a hedonist at heart.

Alan the Cowboy Homer & Pepi

Big Dipper Built to Spill
Other names for the Big Dipper (via Wikipedia):

  • Ireland and the UK: the Plough (Irish: An Camchéachta – the bent plough)
  • Germany: the Great Wagon (Großer Wagen) or Great Bear (Großer Bär)
  • Holland: Official name the Great Bear (Grote Beer), popular name the Saucepan (Steelpannetje)
  • Hungary: Göncöl’s Wagon (Göncölszekér) or Big Göncöl (Nagy Göncöl), after a táltos (shaman) in Hungarian mythology who carried medicine that could cure any disease
  • Lithuania: The Big Back Wheels (Didieji Grįžulo Ratai), the Wheels of Perkūnas (Perkūno Ratai), the Bucket (Kaušas), the Carriage (Vežimas), or the Ladle (Samtis)
  • Malaysia: the Boat Constellation (Buruj Biduk)
  • Indonesia: the Canoe Stars (Bintang Biduk)

In traditional Chinese astronomy, which continues to be used throughout East Asia (e.g., in astrology), these stars are generally considered to compose the Right Wall of the Purple Forbidden Enclosure which surrounds the Northern Celestial Pole.

Pie in the Sky Frank Black
And that’s an order…

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