Max Webster - The Party (1978, from Mutiny Up My Sleeve)/Toronto Tontos (1976, from Max Webster): This Toronto band flourished from the mid-70s to the early 80s, playing a sort of arty prog-rock that was always amusing lyrically. Frontman Kim Mitchell went on to a fairly successful solo career, at least in Canada. After cutting my teeth on this eccentric Canadian rock, it was easy to become a Rheostatics fan a decade later.
Robert Gordon - Rock Billy Boogie (1979, from Rock Billy Boogie): I just love the stiffness of his delivery, and Robert Gordon was definitely in the forefront of the rockabilly revival that caught me up in the late 70s along with punk and ska.
Built to Spill - You Were Right (1997, from Keep It Like A Secret): Here's a band I've grown to love over the past year. I think it's brilliant the way he quotes so many classic song lyrics, and still manages to break your heart in a fresh way.
Spoon - Jonathon Fisk (2002, from Kill The Moonlight: It wouldn't be right not to include something from a band who might be Austin's greatest export, and maybe my favourite band of the past five years. This is a song about a bully, and I love the line "religion don't mean a thing, it's just another way to be right-wing." Reminds me of another bully from Texas right about now.
Jim O'Rourke - All Downhill From Here (2001, from Insignificance): I discovered Jim O'Rourke through the work he did for the soundtrack of the film Love Liza. It turns out, though, that he's been around for years, making all kinds of music, from folk to experimental.
PJ Harvey - O Stella (1992, from Dry): In 1992, Polly Jean Harvey was angry. And boy was she sexy. I haven't enjoyed anything she's done after 1994, when she put down her guitar and put on a dress, nearly as much.
Buzzcocks - Breakdown (1977, from Spiral Scratch EP)/What Do I Get? (1979, from Singles Going Steady): This Manchester band were probably the best songwriters of the punk era, even after original frontman Howard Devoto left to form his band Magazine (another favourite of mine) in 1977. Pete Shelley took on the vocal duties and the songs remained funny, fast, and smart. Here's one from each of them.
Magazine - A Song From Under The Floorboards (1980, from The Correct Use Of Soap): This is the band that forced critics to coin the term "post-punk." There's something about the combination of the hypnotic bassline and Howard Devoto's singing "I know the meaning of life, it doesn't help me a bit" that gets me right here. Magazine were a great great band and more people should listen to them. Ok?
XTC - When You're Near Me I Have Difficulty (1979, from Drums And Wires): I have to admit that I love this song partially because I love hearing Andy Partridge fitting all the words in. This is a great album, and I wanted to include something other than the obvious "Making Plans For Nigel". This isn't a "retro 80s" CD, you know!
Of Montreal - Don't Ask Me To Explain (1997, from Cherry Peel): Another recent discovery. This song just makes me smile with its relentlessly chirpy vocals and jangly guitars. And a refreshing lack of cynicism. This is a band that would probably be a lot of fun to hang out with.
Mike Scott - Bring 'Em All In (1995, from Bring 'Em All In): Mike Scott was/is the driving force behind The Waterboys, a perennial favourite of mine. This song, from his first solo album, typifies the sort of spiritual themes he's always explored. Seeing him perform in 1995 was probably one of the most intimate shows I've ever experienced, and I was delighted soon after to receive a response to an email I'd sent him via his website. He actually bought me a card (with some characters from Alice In Wonderland on the front) and wrote me a lengthy and intelligent response to some of my questions.
Hothouse Flowers - Be Good (1993, from Songs From The Rain): More woolly Celtic spiritual folk, and yet another memory of an intimate and strangely affecting performance, this time at, of all places, an "in-store" free show. Most bands play two or three songs in a perfunctory sort of way. These guys played their hearts out for an hour. I've never forgotten the eye contact the band members kept making with their audience. Only connect!
Cat Stevens - If You Want To Sing Out, Sing Out (1972, from the Harold and Maude soundtrack): Call me a woolly sentimental mamby-pamby if you want, but I've always loved Cat Stevens. And never more than here. This movie was also an astonishing discovery for me this year. After meaning to see it for years, I finally did. An obviously huge influence on Wes Anderson's work, since it combines quirky, off-centre yet lovable characters with an amazing soundtrack. And octogenarian Ruth Gordon even sings this song in the film!
Squeeze - Pulling Mussels (1980, from Argybargy): Squeeze were perhaps the greatest pop songwriters of the 1980s. This song is just as insanely catchy as it was more than twenty years ago.
Pulp - Babies (1994, from His 'N' Hers): I've always preferred the sort of effete intelligence of bands like The Smiths, Suede, and Pulp to the more macho "laddishness" of Blur and Oasis. In this song, Jarvis Cocker sings about discovering sex by spying on his friend's older sister. Songs of Innocence and Experience, indeed.
Jimmy Cliff - Many Rivers To Cross (1973, from The Harder They Come): This oft-covered classic is just a great gospel-tinged song of struggle. Yes, life is hard.
Rheostatics - Lying's Wrong (1991, from Melville): You didn't think I'd let you go without giving you another opportunity to discover Canada's greatest band, did you?
Daft Punk - Voyager (2001, from Discovery): This is just a classic chillout song. It's like a warm blanket and a cuddle from someone you love.
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