A playlist to soundtrack the fall semester – Brought to you by WCCS, your campus radio station. (wheatoncollegeradio.com)
By John Morris and Michael Kanyongolo
John’s Fall Picks
“Summer Breeze, Pts. 1&2” – The Isley Brothers
It’s hard to cover a song that is already so well-known and loved. You would be hard pressed to find someone who couldn’t hum the melody from the original Seal & Croft version of “Summer Breeze”, with it being one of the most popular songs of the 1970s. And yet, the Isley Brothers managed to create something incredible. Stretching the melody into a six-minute song rife with harmonies, funk, and an electrifying guitar part sure to zap you into a good mood, this is the Isley Brothers at their best. Founding member Rudolph Isley tragically passed away earlier this month, so there’s no better time to honor his legacy and talent than by listening to the entire Isley Brothers discography, which I assure you is worth it. You’ve gotta start your journey somewhere, so why not here?
“Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire” – Joni Mitchell
Released in 1974, Joni Mitchell’s For The Roses marked a major turning point in her career. Mitchell was known for expertly-crafted, heartbreaking ballads which got at the very essence of love, loss, and the pain of being human, but her fascination with the worlds of soul and jazz could no longer be ignored. “Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire” is the perfect example of this, blending lush vocals, thoughtful lyrics, and some really great guitar and bass work from James Burton and Wilton Felder, respectively. This song, as well as the album as a whole, expertly blends Joni’s masterful lyric writing with some of the best session players around, creating something truly timeless. “For The Roses” is smack dab in the middle of one of the greatest album runs in music history, and this song stands out as a triumph and a testament to all that Mitchell was and would become.
“I Want A Little Girl” – Oscar Peterson Trio, Clark Terry
Recommended to me by a crazy old man running a record store in Boston (Looney Tunes, if you know, you know), this album is definitely the best from the Trio. Oscar Peterson, Ed Thigpen, and Ray Brown are in full form here, and Clark Terry’s inclusion cannot possibly be overstated. His horn playing on “I Want A Little Girl” is tragic yet hopeful, powerful yet soft, and truly something to write home about. Even if jazz isn’t quite your cup of tea, I’m almost certain the wires in your brain cannot help but feel something when listening to this song. Terry’s final solo is filled with such genuine longing and emotion that it seems as though only he could’ve played it that way, and that he played it just for you.
“A Horse With No Name” – America
Cliche? Sure. Played to death? Sure. On constant rotation in my head? Absolutely. There’s never a bad time to listen to “A Horse With No Name”, but fall is definitely the perfect season for it. The beauty of the leaves changing colors as they die is perfectly matched with the melancholy nature of the song, which details a lone wanderer’s journey through the desert on horseback. The song is, of course, not meant to be taken literally, and is in fact about the struggles of addiction and the false promises and glory of sobriety. The song is relatively simple, melodically and rhythmically, but those goddamn vocal harmonies in the chorus never fail to win me over. Every single time. It’s a strangely beautiful song, and manages to encapsulate a wide range of emotions within its 3 minutes. Why he couldn’t just name the horse, I’ll never know.
“…& On” – Erykah Badu
One of the great tragedies of my life is that I was unaware of Erykah Badu until last weekend. I knew the name, of course, but I was embarrassingly ignorant of the prowess. Good God Almighty, Badu knows how to craft a song, blending soul, jazz, funk, and hip-hop to create one of the most mesmerizing albums that begs to be listened to over and over again. The inclusion of legendary bassist Roy Ayers and Stephen Marely throughout the album really sets it over the top. There’s not a single goddamn bad song on this album, making “…& On” a shimmering ruby in a drawer full of diamonds.
Michael’s Fall Picks
“Hung Up on a Dream” – The Zombies
If you haven’t discovered The Zombies yet, or their 1968 album Odessey and Oracle, then oh boy, you’re in for a fall treat. With wonderfully warm production, delectable guitar melodies, and poignant piano riffs, Hung Up On A Dream would feel right at home nestled snugly between Pet Sounds and Abbey Road. It’s no wonder that it released only two years after The Beach Boys’ 1966 classic and a year before The Beatles’ final studio album. Listening to this record feels like driving through the countryside on a crisp fall morning, rays of sunshine filtering through trees speckled with bright shades of yellow red. It evokes deep feelings of nostalgia for simpler days, days which only really exist in distant dreams or rose colored recollection. And yet the song depicts it all the same, a testament to the Zombies’ vast musical talent and contributions to late 60s hippie culture. If you like this one, check out The Care of Cell 44 or Time of the Season on the same album for some more soothing summery fall vibes.
Sweet Painted Lady – Elton John
Who else could sing such a majestically melancholic song about the world’s oldest profession, except for the master of melody himself, Elton John. From his 1973 album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Sweet Painted Lady has just as much heart and soul as the titular track. The song is steeped in a lackadaisical atmosphere of yearning and complacency, of wanting a better life but not having the motivation to get there. Narratively, the song is from the perspective of a sailor briefly at port, and it feels like it. Immersed in an unfamiliar world with all too familiar desires, listening to this song brings the same feeling of isolation that comes from staring at the endless ocean, knowing your destination is out there, somewhere. That and Elton John’s effortlessly extravagant piano, along with a well placed accordion makes for a track that will fill your mind like warm summer rain through an open window.
This is my Beloved – Mort Garson
Mort Garson is maybe one of the most unique and under appreciated artists out there. If you haven’t listened to his album Mother Earth’s Plantasia (Warm Earth Music for Plants and the People that Love Them) then stop reading right now and put it on. A wizard of the first commercial synthesizer, called a Moog, Garson composes entirely unique pieces using just one instrument. Plantasia sounds like what I imagine a symphony of plants would sound like: light and cheery, curious, careless and free. But enough about Plantasia. This is my Beloved is easily Garson’s best song, off of the newly rereleased collection Music from Patch Cord Productions. In this track the Moog synthesizer has an entire personality of its own, bringing life and wonder to a laidback drum and bass groove. Without words, the instrumental shines with a voice of its own, communicating unspoken feelings of pride and joy, familiarity and comfort. The song feels like a warm hug from a loving parent, and is sure to give you a fuzzy feeling of contentment.
Village Green – The Kinks
The Kinks’ unique sense of quirk is on full display in this song. A jumpy, slightly off kilter depiction of a rural town overtaken by time, Village Green makes me feel like I’ve left the big city and spent four years wasting away in the middle of nowhere. Or maybe that’s just Norton. Regardless, this song paints a folksy picture of life in the sticks, away from modern society with all the comforts of the countryside. It was also featured in the Edgar Wright film Hot Fuzz, which depicts an equally desolate town that feels like its lifted right out of the song (good movie too, very silly). Not sure how this one is fall themed, but it is still definitely worth a listen in any season.
The Next Time Around – Little Joy
What a little joy this album truly is. Composed of the Strokes’ drummer Fabrizio Moretti, Los Hermanos’ singer/guitarist Rodrigo Amarante, and LA singer songwriter Binki Shapiro, Little Joy was a project intended to let three seasoned musicians explore music outside of their established niche. What emerged was an incredibly consistent album that feels like sitting by the dying embers of a fire on a chilly fall night. The Next Time Around serves as the upbeat opener to the album, with drumming naturally reminiscent of The Strokes, thickly sedated harmonies, and lyrics with an understated elegance. One song just doesn’t do Little Joy justice, so if you want the full fall experience, throw on the entire album, make a cup of hot chocolate, and settle in before winter comes.
If you’re interested in hearing more of John and Michael’s picks, you can listen to “No Static At All” on the Wheaton College radio on Thursday from 7-8:00pm.