When I was a kid I fantasized about being an album cover artist. At some point I’d become obsessed with a book my Mom had, Alan Aldridge’s “The Beatles Illustrated Lyrics” ( read about that insanity here) which set me on a road of trying to “draw music”. One of the first albums I owned was Billy Preston’s The Kids and Me ( read about my suburban soul girl roots here) which featured a very cool painting on the cover that I would stare at endlessly. I’m still fixated on album art to this day & it often determines what I listen to on Bandcamp (a bad painting or line drawing is always more alluring & just plain better than a childhood photo). Anyway, even though I didn’t become an album cover artist, I still try to draw music with my trusty ballpoint pen. I did the drawing above to go with this weeks playlist & while it is by no means a literal explanation of the songs within it, it was created while they were pumping into the headphones. It’s okay if you ignore the drawing, just please listen to these brilliant songs that caught our ear this week. They are all the # 1 song in heaven. Listen below on Soundcloud or Spotify .
That’s an old pic titled “Dusk, New Jersey” from 1978 by legendary photographer Joel Meyerowitz. It’s exceptionally calming, making it an ideal image to stare at these days. Breathe in, breathe out. And with that, welcome to the latest WEEKLY NEW WONDERS PLAYLIST featuring the best new music we’ve heard over recent days. It was a (mostly) mellow, dreamy & introspective sounding week in terms of volume (which also included a couple of cool covers) & in keeping with the pic, sounds perfect for right now. They are all # 1’s in our heart. Listen on Soundcloud or Spotify below.
Hey, it’s time for the latest WEEKLY NEW WONDERS PLAYLIST featuring the finest songs that have crossed our path over recent days. This week’s list is small which is no reflection on how big these tracks are in our heart. While we are usually able to offer up double digit playlists sometimes it’s nice to have something a bit smaller to digest…and that’s just how it worked out this week. Think of it as a chance to spend more quality time with this special handful. You can listen on Soundcloud or Spotify below. Rock on…
Welcome to the latest WEEKLY NEW WONDERS PLAYLIST featuring the absolute finest songs we’ve heard over recent days. I drew some cover art to go with this week’s playlist with my ballpoint ( had to take a pic as my printer is on the blink but you get the idea). There were a lot of transcendently beautiful songs this week so who better than a bird full of love to take you there. All are #1 in our heart & hopefully provide the perfect soundtrack for gazing at whatever it is you most want to gaze at. You can listen on Soundcloud or Spotify below.
It’s always good to look at a rabbit with it’s tongue out when you aren’t feeling well. Things are currently crap in the universe but here’s this guy with his northwest ears to offer up at least a few seconds of peace. He’s here to stare at, Marina Abramović style, as you dig into the latest WEEKLY NEW WONDERS PLAYLIST featuring the best new songs that have crossed our path over recent days. You can listen on Soundcloud or Spotify below. Here’s hoping you find a song or two that melts your heart & takes you there..
Welcome to PuR’s Love Crypt, spotlighting the underrated, secretly classic albums & songs that didn’t always get the attention they deserved upon release but are worthy of adoration & a listen. This week is all about the legendary Richie Havens whose music truly qualifies as medicine.
Preface: Richie Havens is arguably most famous for his opening slot at the legendary Woodstock Festival in 1969. Between 1966 and his passing in 2013 he released 20 studio albums and developed a reputation as a transcendent live performer and song interpreter with a particular focus on The Beatles and Bob Dylan.
Despite his history and the plethora of Beatle covers he had on offer, I was indifferent to Richie through most of my life, dismissively regarding him as a relic of a previous generation and was thus not remotely interested in exploring his catalog (I was possibly an idiot).
Meanwhile, on the other side of my brain, after a lifetime of loving Genesis, in the early 00’s I started exploring the band’s former guitarist Steve Hackett’s solo albums from the late ’70s. I ended up being particularly taken with his 1978 LP Please Don’t Touch with it’s classical-pop-prog flavor. And the tracks I was most obsessed with featured lead vocals by…Richie Havens. I was slightly mystified at first and wondered how they knew each other but no matter, I thought both songs, “Icarus Ascending” and “How Can I” were gorgeous and dreamy and was blown away by Richie’s epic vocal performances. Still, even though I played them endlessly, I decided they were aberrations and subconsciously rewarded most of the credit to Hackett who wrote the songs. Thankfully my comeuppance was just around the corner.
In 2008, Richie did an in-store at Virgin Megastore in NYC ( where I worked) to promote what turned out to be his last album Nobody Left To Crown. Before his performance, he casually sat down in the office and serenaded us on guitar, told stories about Jimi Hendrix and exuded hope and warmth like a lighthouse in a storm. He was impossibly cool and an absolute gent. Then came his official performance. Richie was 67 years old at the time but his voice was as massive and powerful as a singer a quarter of his age, an absolute steamroller of a sound. The passion in his guitar playing was palpable and he ended his show with a David Lee Roth style scissor kick. Basically, he was f*cking amazing.
I told him afterwards how awesome I thought it had been and mentioned my pathetically meagre old bit of appreciation, namely my love for one of the two aforementioned Steve Hackett songs (“Icarus Ascending”) to which he replied that he also loved it and added that “we did another one too!”. There was a huge line of folks who wanted to meet him and he signed everyone’s cd’s and LP’s with their names and his trademark message “a friend forever”.
And with that, the deal was sealed on my forever fandom and I immediately began collecting all the Richie vinyl I could find. I soon found myself performing the eternal yet insufferable rite of passage oh so common in suburban teenage boys upon their discovery of Led Zeppelin and began regaling people with how awesome and underrated Richie Havens was all the time. I would express angry befuddlement over the fact that Gil-Scott Heron, Bobby Womack and Johnny Cash all got to enjoy late career resurgences and accolades, because although they deserved it, I thought Richie deserved the same attention (dammit). Insufferable maybe but hey, I was in love and I wanted to tell the world and for them to be in love too.
Things absolutely suck right now and we could all use a musical lighthouse to help rope in our anxiety and calm us down. And there’s something so uniquely empathetic in Richie’s voice, that he just feels like one of the ideal people to listen to right now. Now come check out how Richie turns an over the top pop-prog song into an affirmation of life and bend an ear to a couple of sublime tracks from his most ambitious, eccentric and epic album…
Icarus Ascending (1978)
“Icarus Ascending” is a little nuts. Does it sound like a ’70s era Genesis song ? In a word, mostly, but it’s hard to imagine Peter Gabriel or Phil Collins ( bless ’em) ever singing it with as much conviction as Richie does. On the one hand it is a straight up prog song with the requisite noodly instrumental patch, time signature changes and lyrics that are ideally sung from the top of a mountain with arms outstretched. On the other it’s an extraordinarily overblown straight up pop song. Ridiculously emotional, radio-friendly and featuring an absolutely wondrous vocal from Richie, “Icarus Ascending” is one eccentrically beautiful and life-affirming piece of noise.
I found out that Richie had opened some dates for Genesis in the ’70s which is how he and Hackett became friends and what led to their recording together. Hackett later described the experience like this; “I phoned him up about three months after we’d had dinner together. I said, “I’ve got a song here, Richie, that I thought you might sound nice singing.” He said to me, “I can hear it already, man. It sounds great!” The funny thing was I was meditating… and I was trying to imagine what words he might sing. I literally heard these words that popped into my mind. It was wonderful, there was something brotherly that went on. When we were working together, he was naturally larger than life, but very un-starry”.
After Richie’s passing in 2013, Hackett offered a moving tribute ; “He was the conviction, the power and the glory… the most positive musical creative force it’s ever been my privilege to work with”. And you can totally feel that joy in “Icarus Ascending”.
1968 saw the release of a double album titled Richard P. Havens 1983 which was split half and half between covers and originals and included a handful of live recordings. There are no less than 4 Beatle covers, plus a Dylan, a Cohen and a Donovan. Surprisingly though, the album’s coolest cover was not written by any of those behemoths but by Lotus Weinstock, former fiance of Lenny Bruce, comedian and mother of musician Lili Haydn. “Cautiously” screams ’60s from it’s every orifice from it’s ominous militaristic drums ( always a commentary unto themselves) to it’s Doors-ian organ. And though it pre-dates both, musically it sounds like a weird marriage of Neil Young’s “Ohio” and Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On”. Richie’s vocal is regal and restrained till about halfway through when he cuts ties and just lets the wind take him. That coupled with the song’s meditative groove and doomed sentiment make for something utterly hypnotic.
For Haven’s Sake (1968)
Sad, desperate and determined, “For Haven’s Sake” is a slow burning 7 minute epic composed by Richie and a true highlight from the aforementioned Richard P. Havens 1983 album. The instrumentation thickens as the song evolves and culminates in a dizzying coda where the honeyed buzz of the Havens voice, stray hand claps and undulating acoustic guitar intertwine in heart-stoppingly amazing fashion .
Bonus Track !
The other song Richie recorded in 1978 with Steve Hackett has an actual video ! “How Can I” is a cool Beatle-esque ballad featuring the usual virtuosic picking from Hackett and requisite Richie vocal perfection.
This work of art was made by a teenager (me) several decades ago. It is a ballpoint drawing-collage & is taken from one of my teenage sketchbooks. I was obsessed with Prince at the time which meant that every person I drew had to have heels on as a tribute. I also liked to cut & shred bits & pieces from department store catalogs & repurpose them for my own questionable ends (shout out to JC Penney). I have no idea what I was thinking when I made it though I’m sure I thought it would be “shocking” as I was often trying (aka failing) to achieve that effect in anything I drew. I now recognize that these guys are ridiculous but trust me they were created with the utmost seriousness. Anyway, both they and I present to you the latest WEEKLY NEW WONDERS PLAYLIST featuring the best songs we’ve heard over the past week. This weeks list is fulsome, grand & heavily chorus’d & stars a whole lotta guitars. All are # 1 songs in an alternate universe . You can listen on either Soundcloud or Spotify below:
My very first job was at a one hour photo lab. I took the pic above of the back side of the shop during a lunch break one day. The median age of the staff was 18 which was no doubt a cost cutting strategy as the owners could get away with paying us nearly nothing. Based on those 2 facts it should come as no surprise to know we behaved in a very, very unprofessional manner. There was of course a tacit agreement when a customer brought in a roll of film that no matter what type of pictures were contained within it, we would happily develop & print them with no judgement. Even if they were of the “Adults Only” variety. Unfortunately when a bunch of teenagers are confronted with photos of naked strangers all bets are off…which is to say that when anything remotely porn-like appeared on a roll a film, an additional copy of the photo was printed & then hung on a wall in the darkroom. It wasn’t long before there were hundreds of pix on this wall. In my defense, because I was a total nerd I was solely interested in making copies of people’s concert pictures ( oh my God it’s Bryan Ferry !) & stealing ( also bad) rolls of film for my own photographic pursuits (see pic above). It’s truly a case of you get what you pay for. And it’s clear, horny teenagers will work for cheap. And so even though the pseudo-arty pic above seems harmless, all I can think of when I look at is the sinister teenage kicks that were going on behind those windows.
Anyway, it’s time for the latest WEEKLY NEW WONDERS PLAYLISTfeaturing the absolute finest pop music that came our way over recent days. There was a ton of handsome stuff this week & you can check it all out below on Soundcloud or Spotify. Rock on…
There’s this gorgeous old song from 1997 by Adam F. that features legendary Everything But The Girl goddess Tracey Thorn on vocals called “The Tree Knows Everything”. This past week, I was parked on my bike in a random spot in Central Park I’ve passed a million times over the years. For some reason I looked up as I was sitting there & was confronted by this amazingly human tree bearing a benevolent face, sweet smile & exposed heart…and I thought of this song. Also I can’t stop staring at this beautiful tree & how absurdly life affirming it feels right now. And with that welcome to the latest WEEKLY NEW WONDERS PLAYLIST featuring the most handsome & heartfelt pop songs we’ve heard over recent days. The tree knows everything…
Welcome to PuR’s Love Crypt, spotlighting the underrated, secretly classic albums & songs that didn’t always get the attention they deserved upon release but are worthy of adoration & a listen. This edition is all about the solo work of Fleetwood Mac’s songwriting core, namely Christine, Lindsey & Stevie, just because. Come join us in the velvet underground to meet some beautiful dark horses. Never change, never stop…
Stevie Nicks: Ooh Ooh Baby (1984)
“Ooh Ooh Baby” is a demo of a song from 1984 that has never been released officially in any form and as such the sound quality is a bit murky. But forget all that, for despite it’s unfinished quality, it’s an unadulterated beauty with the foggy, faraway feeling of a latter day Beach Boys tune, specifically one composed and sung by lost genius Dennis Wilson (as opposed to brother Brian). A mournfully melodic tearjerker that moves at a positively funereal pace, “Ooh Ooh Baby” is also a frontrunner for the absolute Saddest Stevie Song Ever™. Is it safe to listen to when you are feeling fragile ? Mmm, maybe not but then again it sounds most magical if you are hearing it whilst in particularly melancholic state ( let’s just call it a tear expectorant). Stevie serves up a vocal equal parts bereft and defeated for the entire length of the song and the whole thing is just heart-stoppingly gorgeous. Be brave and give over to it.
Lindsey Buckingham: Stars Are Crazy (2011)
While “Stars Are Crazy” sounds in some ways like the prototypical Lindsey Buckingham song with it’s big yelping chorus and virtuosic picking, there’s something peculiarly riveting about it’s construction. Marrying languorous, slow motion vocals and lightning fast acoustic shredding, “Stars Are Crazy” almost sounds like two totally separate songs that have been sewn together expertly, perfectly. The effect is positively exhilarating.
Christine McVie: The Smile I Live For (1984)
I’ve always thought there should be a rule wherein all albums are required to end with an over the top and epic ballad lasting no less than 5 minutes. It’s especially important if what came before it was underwhelming. And the song should be something that shakes you by the shoulders and gets you misty. While Christine McVie’s self-titled solo album from 1984 is by no means bad and spawned a couple of hits, it was invariably a disappointment knowing what she was capable of. Still there was one track that emanated a pretty glorious light. “The Smile I Live For” has one of those gigantic productions typical of the era. There are the requisite gargantuan drums that sound like they are being played from a riser in an arena, loads of lush synth swooshes as well as a whole lotta “glistening” and “shimmering” to contend with. But none of that does anything to diminish the beauty of the actual tune, with it’s mournfully melodic piano line and lyrics describing a love that’s gotten a bit lopsided. And despite all the supersize instrumental action happening around her, Christine’s wondrous forthright voice still ends up on top. “The Smile I Live For” smolders, cries and shines.
Stevie Nicks: Annabel Lee (2011)
Stevie wrote “Annabel Lee” when she was 17 years old and it’s lyrics are adapted from Edgar Allen Poe’s famous poem of the same name from 1849 ( which also served as a major inspiration for the classic Vladimir Nabokov novel Lolita). While she first demoed the song in 1996 it didn’t actually appear on an album until 2011’s In Your Dreams…which seems crazy based on how wondrous it is. Resembling a not so distant cousin of F.Mac’s exquisite “Gypsy”, the tune Stevie created to surround Poe’s poem of tragic, eternal love is so well-suited to it’s lyrical cadence (which expresses a sentiment oh so Stevie) that you could be forgiven for assuming she’d actually written the words as well. Though to quote Stevie from back in 2011, “I love the fact that I have written a song with Edgar Allan Poe”. Had the song appeared on any of the F.Mac albums released during their heyday, it’s likely it would be an eternally beloved and evergreen anthem by now. Next to “Silver Springs” it remains and reigns as one of the finest woulda-coulda-shoulda Stevie songs ever.
Lindsey Buckingham: Street of Dreams (1992)
“Street of Dreams” is not a typical Lindsey Buckingham song. It doesn’t feature any anxious helium high vocalizing or mind bogglingly fast picking. It is instead a mesmerizing and ethereal hymn with a backdrop of falling rain that grows heavier ( along with the lyrical content) as the song progresses. It’s on the bridge that things hit peak intensity with Lindsey serving up a particularly heart-squeezing and passionate bit of vocalizing. Lindsey has said the song refers back to a particular time in the early ’80s when he was uncertain of what he should be doing creatively and was feeling lonely and unwell, with the powerful bridge describing what he was doing to help assuage this confusion;” I used to go and talk to my father (who passed in 1974) in the cemetery…sit and talk to him and try to imagine what he would say to me…what advice he would give me”. Hypnotic, lonely and riveting to the last,”Street of Dreams”, remains a stunner.
Christine McVie: Friend (2004)
Tired of the touring grind, flying and inter-band politics, Christine McVie left Fleetwood Mac ( and California) in 1998 and moved back to the quieter environs of the English countryside to reconnect with her roots and spend time with her then ill father. While it wasn’t until 2014 that she would officially rejoin the Mac, she did make a tentative step back into the sonic fold in 2004 with the release of her third solo album, In The Meantime. The album as a whole isn’t great and she herself isn’t nuts about it, but “Friend”, it’s lone single, remains a standout. Though she wasn’t the sole composer, with it’s infectious chorus, heart on sleeve emotion and regal vocal, it bears all the markings of a classic McVie song (and as such exudes the Mac vibe from it’s every pore). In fact, it would have been a very welcome addition to Mac’s 2003 underrated but slightly spotty comeback album Say You Will.