Well, check your calendar. Spring is officially here.
I suppose it's funny (though it will take me a long time to truly appreciate the humor) that after a week of nice, 40-odd degree, sunny weather here in Madison that melted away almost all of the near-100 inches of snow the city accumulated in the last 4 months, the National Weather Service has issued a winter storm warning for the city starting at midnight tonight. By the end of the day tomorrow, we should be under a fresh seven inches. Fab. Just f*cking fabulous...
Nevertheless, the weather is expected to return to the sunny 40s Saturday, which means, that should all melt off really quickly and spring might yet come to town.
And as has been the tradition around these parts for the beginning of each season since last summer, I've got a mix for you!!!!
The rules with spring mixes? Simple.
1.) Avoid cliches. The Beatles' "Here Comes the Sun" and "Good Day Sunshine" are too obvious. Great songs, but they don't belong on a spring mix. You're just killing room for surprise.
2.) Stay happy. We're getting out of a long, dark and cold rut. The sun's coming back out. Leaves and blossoms are threatening to grow. Rabbits are out. They're procreating. Humans should follow. Sunny melodies are a necessity, no season calls for perfect pop more. I was having a discussion with a great fella called Minty this past weekend about Belle and Sebastian's The Life Pursuit.
He said, "People knocked it, because it was all happy. But I was driving listening to it. It was spring, I had the sunroof open. It was perfect!" Exactly.
3.) Keep it short and sweet. Only two songs on this mix push past 4 minutes. Spring should be soundtracked by one sweet, quick hit after another.
And with that, dear readers, let's have it.
spring chicken.Download Part 1 (tracks 1-10) from SaveFile here
The official "Ain't Superstitious, But These Things I've Seen..." Spring 2008 mix.
(left click to go to download page)Download Part 2 (tracks 11-20) from SaveFile here
(left click to go to download page)01. Fiona Apple - Better Version of Me
While sweet little Fiona isn't necessarily known for bubbly optimism, this cut from the Jon Brion version of Extraordinary Machine
is resolute and emphatic, and Brion's production (which apparently wasn’t up to snuff for the label) does add a lot of percolation to proceedings. It sounds like a mad carnival ride that makes you uncomfortable while you're on it, but it's still fun to be on. Then it ends really nicely and it makes you want to go again. In other words, a good opener.02. Super Furry Animals - Hello Sunshine
A line like "In honesty, it's been awhile since we had reason left to smile"
can really be applicable at any time of year, but when it's followed by "Hello sunshine, come into my life"
it just seems all the more like the anthem needed to soundtrack all that snow melting away outside. A lot of SFA tracks would suffice, actually, and while this one runs the risk of being a tad cliché, screw it. It's just a f*cking great song, and hearing it again isn't gonna hurt anyone.03. The Stills - Monsoon
This was recorded after the Montreal (now) quintet did their second album, Without Feathers
, and although it never made it onto a B-side, it did find its way (as things do) onto the internet. Like the best Stills' songs, it aims high and even though it gets a bit loud and unruly at the end, by that time you're so engrossed anyway that you’re urging the madness on further. Probably would've been a decent holdover for album 3, but hey, in this day and age, who can wait?04. The Ditty Bops - Ohh La La
I like these Los Angeles girls because every now and again they turn up a really stirring song that sounds like something you wish had been on the O Brother Where Art Thou
soundtrack if only for just a bit of easy pop sensibility. Of course, their first album came out a few years after that movie, so no such luck, but this cut from their self-titled debut works its way right into your bloodstream and has been known to cause involuntary foot tapping. And more than voluntary foot tapping, too.05. The Kinks - Wonderboy
Ray Davies put yearning for a son into this 1968 single, and since God has a warped sense of humor, he bequeathed Ray with daughter after daughter after daughter over the next several years while his brother Dave fathered son after son after son. Still, his loss was our gain as it produced this fantastic song. A lot of people love it, of course, but the best story of its outstanding fantasticness is that of John Lennon, sitting in a British café in 1968 shortly after the song was released, and demanding it be played on the jukebox over and over and over again.06. The Nicholas Tremulis Orchestra - I've Gotta Be
Big Nick gets into a faux-reggae/ska groove with this badass cut from his yearlong 2005 experiment, "52 Reasons" (one new song a week, can you believe it?). Puts into words the exact insanity of head-over-heels love: "Please tell me dear what you want me to do – I'll rob a bank, even steal a plane, give you anything you want me to,"
but it's really that attempted falsetto the last time he sings "the bell you're ringin!"
that drives this thing home. It sounds really great when he does it alone on his acoustic, too.07. Ocean Colour Scene - Huckleberry Grove
One of the lads' ever fantastic Moseley Shoals
-era B-sides, which tells the story of Shirley and the grove she used to inhabit so nicely that it sounds like it should be the beloved theme to a TV show. And rival the "Cheers" theme song in popularity. But maybe it's best that it didn't. It can be our little secret. But feel free to share it with your friends. They'll dig it. Oh, and the two handclaps after the "who mostly stayed at home"
line totally make the song. I don’t know why. It’s just two claps...08. T. Rex - Ride a White Swan
Marc Bolan had one of the great penchants for crafting a catchy song, all the big amps, big hair, glam rock BS aside. The ability to make such a wonderfully catchy song using just an electric guitar, handclaps, tambourine and backing harmonies is something a lot of people have tried, but few have pulled off. This one does, and doesn't even take two and a half minutes to do it. Perfect for highway driving on a sunny spring day. Say a few spells, and baby, there you go.09. Tom Petty - Walls (Circus)
It's strange to think this song is 12 years old now, because it's really the last NEW thing Tom Petty did that just floored me. I liked "Free Girl Now" and "Square One," but there’s some spark missing from a lot of his stuff that's come out since 1996. Maybe it's age, maybe it's his added paunch, but he just doesn't seem capable of turning in a simple brilliant chorus like "You've got a heart so big it could crush this town"
anymore. Ah well. We'll always have the She's the One
soundtrack. Even Lindsey Buckingham's "I'm trying way too hard" backing vocals here don't kill the proceedings. It's all around joy.10. Little Milton - You Colored My Blues Bright
Little Milton got a little more famous in the 1970s when he left the Chess subsidiary of Checker Records for more mainstream soul backing at Stax, but the stuff from his Checker days is really my favorite of his – the sound is a little fatter and though he always sang as though he had nothing to lose, it seemed all the more convincing on the Checker stuff. This was a single from 1967 and it kicks some formidable ass.11. Isobel Campbell - The Cat's Pyjamas
From the former Belle & Sebastian whisper-voiced songstress' solo debut proper, Amorino
. It's a lovely album that really sounds quite good any time of year, and it's continually surprising to see how well her understated voice jives with varying styles of music. Now she's all up for teaming it with the rusty tones of Mark Lanegan, but this quick slice of down home Dixie seems to work just as well. We'll have a few more of these, 'Bel.12. Small Faces - Things Are Going to Get Better
It's hard to feel too bad when Steve Marriott's talking optimism. This song, a deep cut from the boys 1967 self-titled debut on Immediate Records, is like aural Prozac. It just lifts you right up, and that’s not just due to Marriott's vocal, but the fact that Ronnie Lane, Ian McLagan and Kenney Jones are all quite happily bashing away on their instruments too. Jones in particular – any Who fan that questions Jones' ability with the sticks needs to listen to more of his Small Faces stuff. Seriously.13. Nick Drake - Hazey Jane II
Everything that's happened to Nick Drake's music since some advertising dude decided to throw "Pink Moon" over a bunch of kids driving around in a Volkswagon Cabrio has had its good and bad effects. On one hand, the music deserves to be heard by a wide audience, but I get worried about all these new releases of scratchy demos and alternate takes. He only put out three albums. Each one was perfect. Why try to add to that kind of legacy? You can only subtract with addition. Regardless, for everyone who writes him off as a sad bastard, listen to Bryter Layter
and this wonderfully sunny-while-dour bit. Belle and Sebastian's whole career is owed to this song, and "If songs were lines in a conversation, the situation would be fine"
is unarguably the best closing line ever.14. Stevie Wonder - I Was Made To Love Her
You can't have spring without a bit of Tamla-Motown in there somewhere, and sure as hellfire, young Stevie was going to find his way onto this mix. I don't know what I like best: the constantly upwinding chord progression, the driving beat, the all-over-the-place bass, the addition of strings to push the last verse over the top… no, it's the lyric "I was knee-high to chicken when the love bug bit me."
Yeah, hey, hey, hey.15. Louis Prima - Pennies From Heaven
A song to cheer you up during those predictable April showers, 'cos it's not all nice weather and blossoms, you know. This cut from 1957's Call of the Wildest
borders (as many Prima songs do) on the verge of annoyance, but the reason it and the rest of them never get to be too much is because there was always genuine love and fun in his music. Try not to laugh at his building vocal challenge to sax player Sam Butera during the song's middle break. "I knew I'd get ya!"
16. Ambulance LTD - Country Gentleman
And this would be the song to soundtrack the April showers and make them all the more bearable. I know I've touched on this New York band on this blog before, but it always blows me away just how insanely good some of their songs are. This cut, from the "New English" EP is yet another example of that. And it's got a stunning set of lyrics to boot – few writers are turning out lines as unabashedly poetic as "So when you drive home, my loneliness is gonna be the distance behind you"
these days. Needs to be recognized. And celebrated.17. Burt Bacharach & Elvis Costello - I'll Never Fall in Love Again
I have a theory that Burt Bacharach only writes his music during spring. Think about it. It just makes sense. Even this depressing little "up yours" to love and all its romantic sentiments has such a sunny and breezy backing that it's hard not to want to grab your girl and do a little foxtrot around the room. Elvis adds a nice vocal to Burt's old standard, and in the process, adds one of the only tolerable moments to any Austin Powers sequel.18. Kula Shaker - Avalonia
As big a Kula fan as I am, I really don't know what this song – a lovely B-side from 1999's "Mystical Machine Gun" single – actually means. Maybe it's not supposed to mean anything too grand, just a nice acoustic lullaby about moving forward with a bit of heavenly guidance. I'm not too religious, but for whatever reason, when Crispian Mills starts talking about angels or, in other songs, Hindu spirituality, I tend to listen up instead of knocking it. This little song's too pretty to ignore, anyway.19. Bobby Darin - A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square
As if Americans didn't have enough fun rubbing Limeys' noses in the fact that their asses were saved in World War II, American crooners took this song about falling in love in London town and elevated it to American standard status. Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett were just two big Yanks to make it their own, but as was often the case, if Bobby Darin got his hands on it, it wasn't going to get much cooler. He gives it a smooth reading on his 1962 album, Oh Look at Me Now!
– right about the time when a bunch of British guitar groups were calculating their revenge by swiping American R&B for themselves.20. The Doors - Moonlight Drive
It's actually the first song the Doors ever wrote, you know, but it didn't end up turning up until their second album. Strangely, it was never released as a single, which has always puzzled me as I always thought this was one of their coolest songs. It's more of a summer night driving song (durr), but I thought it would be the perfect closing here. Perfect song to drive you into summer.
Enjoy your spring!