I usually write a ridiculous intro before offering up the WEEKLY NEW WONDERS PLAYLIST (featuring the most brilliant songs that have surfaced over the past seven days) but I’m gonna give everyone a break this week and go lo-fi acoustic bedroom demo with the opening remarks. Basically, we’ve been toiling away on another over-indulgent album breakdown essay for PuR (coming next week!), and have been focusing solely on that mad monster. And so I now quietly offer to you this slate of genuinely wonderful new songs. They are beautiful. Just breathe…
Like a lot of people in the pre-cell phone era, I used to keep the ticket stubs from all the shows I went to. They were flimsy yet genuinely priceless souvenirs, and for me, were as precious as any of the pictures of Grandma and Grandpa’s wedding day in the family photo album (sad, but true). I kept them stored in an old Doc Martens shoebox which is so on the nose ’90s, that even I am cringing right now as I write this.
I recently rumbled through my stub collection, still located in the Doc box. And I was disturbed at the number of shows I had no recollection of attending. As in no memory of whatsoever. Zero.
I worked at record stores through the ’90s and 2000’s and we got a fair amount of free tickets to stuff ( awesome perk for tiny-paychecked nerds). And I do remember certain shows vividly. There was crazy shiz like Jeff Buckley opening for Juliana Hatfield and Radiohead opening for Belly. There were lots of wondrous Britpop shows (Pulp, Elastica, Oasis etc.). A score of mind-blowing Sinead O’Connor performances. There was a Lemonheads show in ’94 where Courtney Love came out and played “Doll Parts” and then tried to quell the rumor that she and Evan Dando were having an affair by shouting into the mike “Evan was Kurt’s friend!” ( this was only 3 months after Kurt Cobain had died). I remember that stuff…But apparently I also saw Henry Rollins Band in ’94. And Morrissey in 2000. And Coldplay in 2002 all the way out at freakin’ Jones Beach which beggars belief. And The Fray at Hammerstein Ballroom in 2006 (?). And Fastball (??). And a production of A Chorus Line in Queens in 1997 (???). And Glasvegas. And Suzanne Vega. And freakin’ Sheryl Crow…TWICE. I do not remember a single moment from any of these shows yet the physical evidence indicates that I was there. And this is just a partial list of forgotten shows; there were literally dozens more.
It’s different nowadays of course. We live in an era where literally every breath a band takes is documented for eternity. Forgetting is no longer an option. Know what though, I don’t feel too bad about my lack of recall. I figure it was down to a now technologically obsolete but clever mental cleansing system located in my brain’s server room. One that actively evaporated the less meaningful shows from my mind to save room for details about the important ones. And I’ve gotta say, it was pretty on point as far as what it chose to keep and what it decided to shred. Sinead wailing “Troy” does destroy Coldplay yellowing and clocking. Courtney Love being Courtney Love definitely crushes A Chorus Line. And so here’s to you Hippocampus, you clearly had better taste than physical me; thanks for the(best)memories.
And now it is time for the latest WEEKLY NEW WONDERS PLAYLIST featuring the most wondrous songs that we’ve met over the last seven days. This week’s playlist is 87.5% gentle,12.5% booming stadium epic, and all beautiful. You can listen below on Soundcloud (or Spotify for now). Go on then…
That’s Joe Strummer belting it out in the street because it’s never a bad time for some Joe. Back in 2001, Joe and his band the Mescaleros did an in-store performance at the Virgin Megastore in Times Square where I was working. One of the items requested in the band’s rider was towels, to of course sop up the sweat after the guaranteed to be heated, impassioned, bite-sized performance they were scheduled to give. The towels we bought for them had a giant dollar bill design on them, no cheekiness intended, they were just cool looking.
The band played, sweat was sopped and Joe and crew no longer had need of the towels after the performance…which of course meant I got to keep an actual sweaty towel used by the legendary Joe Strummer ( I only wanted Joe’s not anyone else’s, duh). I took home this treasure which I’d unimaginatively christened my “Joe Strummer Towel” and kept it neatly folded intact for several years…until I didn’t. I cannot remember why but one day I decided to put it into my regular shower-towel rotation where it stayed for at least a decade until it became too threadbare to use. And every time I would use it, I would literally think of Joe Strummer. Not in a salacious way, just in a weird, fan-ish way ( “Joe wiped his face on this towel and so am I”). My Joe Strummer Towel® is now officially retired and living a peaceful life in a dresser drawer but as it is imbued with official Joe-mojo, which is spiritual and doesn’t wash away, it remains a sacred object that I suspect I will have with me until the very end.
The Picking Up Rocks musical blog is a genuine labor of love and as long as I am able, I intend to keep serving up as much self-indulgent pop mayhem here as I possibly can. It ain’t easy, you see how long-winded I am even when writing about a long-forgotten deep cut or household item, but it’s worth it, getting to share and connect with passionate musical nerds like YOU ( hell yes it is). I want to keep hyperbole-ing, hot-taking, and over-indulging about songs and their creators for as long as I can. And so, just wanted to let y’all know that after 4 years I’ve finally set up a Tip Jar where you can leave donations to help support Picking Up Rocks and keep it going. Any coins in the tip jar are appreciated! I am truly grateful to all of you who have come here to read or listen or write me; you all are amazing. I wave my Joe Strummer towel in your honor.
The Tip Jar is located at the top of the home page, on the right-hand side (just under the bird).
And now after that infomercial, I offer you the latest WEEKLY NEW WONDERS PLAYLIST, featuring the finest new songs that have crossed our path over recent days. They are all starlit and wonderful in every way. Listen on Soundcloud or Spotify below.
Cold, snowy blizzard-like conditions and Kate Bush’simmaculate 50 Words For Snow album just go together. It is kooky, tear-jerking, and epic. It is the ideal soundtrack for stomping through the powdered sugar to your destination (and home to the legendary “Misty”, literally the best song ever about a one-night stand with a snowman). Next to the Charlie Brown Christmas Special, there is nothing wintry-better.
Welcome to the latest WEEKLY NEW WONDERS PLAYLIST featuring the finest new songs that have crossed our path over recent days. Amongst them, you’ll find gorgeous neon ’80s flavored anthems, a bit of supreme post-punk guitar-ing, and a wintry-magnificent future classic. They are all tied for #1 in our hearts. You can listen below on either Soundcloud or Spotify(for now).
I wouldn’t normally talk about sports here on the blog but I wanted to pay tribute to a particular athlete who died yesterday, Clark Gillies of the NY Islanders ( that’s an NHL hockey team in case you don’t follow this stuff). He was the first professional athlete I ever met as a child. In 1975, he came to our elementary school for a special Q & A. I got my picture taken with him and we had a chat. Well, after that, I thought he was the absolute freakin’ coolest (even in his Quiana shirt and navy blue polyester suit, but hey, it was the ’70s). From that night on my obsessive loyalty was sealed. When my Mom got me my first ever Islander jersey, I specifically requested-demanded that it be emblazoned with Clark’s number (9). Though I’d already been a fan, after meeting him my Islander fandom grew more and more unhinged. I kept fat scrapbooks with every Islander-related article for years. I went to as many personal appearances at whatever mall or car dealership an Islander was doing a signing at as I could (oh my poor Mom aka my grudging but loving chauffeur). I joined a fan club and went to away games by bus with other fanatics ( Boston! Hartford! DC!). I regularly went to watch the team practice at an especially cold and grungy skating rink an hour-long car ride away. And once there, I was hellbent on securing as many souvenirs as possible, specifically, the pucks and broken sticks that came over the glass. The second I saw anything land on “my side”, I would haul ass to grab it (I wasn’t messing around). After practice, I would wait outside to get autographs no matter how many times I’d already gotten a particular player’s signature before ( seriously, my poor, inexplicably patient Mom, jeezus). I watched or listened to every single Islander game for years and got to see them win the second of their 4 Stanley Cups in person. I was this nerdy kid-teen with hardly any friends and apart from music, the Islanders were the only thing in my life back then that brought me a modicum of joy.
I met Clark Gillies a bunch of times after that initial encounter and even gifted him with a tee-shirt with his nickname ”Jethro” on the front when he was doing a personal appearance at, yup, Roosevelt Field Mall on Long Island ( when you are a kid, the gifts you get for other people tend to be things YOU yourself like, recipient be damned), which he seemed to dig. Another time Clark was eating a hot dog at a meet and greet and got mustard all over my Islander yearbook as he was signing it and holy hell, I could not have been more thrilled (I now had a genuine Clark Gillies mustard stain in my possession aka a treasure). Anyway, he was always so cool, gracious, and funny with me, this shy, loser girl and I’ll never forget it. RIP Clark Gillies and just THANK YOU,THANK YOU, you were the best.
Right, music. It is now time for the latest WEEKLY NEW WONDERS PLAYLIST featuring the finest new songs that have crossed our path this week. They are all gorgeous. Listen below on Soundcloud or Spotify.
That is a demented ballpoint self-portrait of me in my toddler days, rocking my bottle in my Mom’s old room. I changed her bed to a dragon guardian angel, like you do. I just figured it’s best to start the year with something uh, “optimistic”. With that in mind, it is time for the first WEEKLY NEW WONDERS PLAYLIST of 2022, starring the finest songs that have crossed our path in recent days! I should note that this list features some gorgeous stragglers from the end of 2021 as well. As such it is Double Stuf™ size! Anyway, the world is still a mess but, hyperbolic sentimentality coming, there is still magnificent music to commiserate with, soundtrack our confusion, and rope us in when things feel nuts (and they do). Listen below on Soundcloud or Spotify. Rock on as best you can.
This is a pic of the wondrous Carla Thomas performing at the legendary Wattstax concert in 1972. While every day is a good day to celebrate her endless fabulosity, today I have a more specific reason to talk her up as she is a key player within one of my weirdest musical obsessions: covers of ’70s soft rock songs done by soul artists in the actual ’70s. I know. You’re like wtf, that is really, really specific and nerdy. But it is a more vast, beautiful and magnificently weird world than you can imagine…and I really want you to hear what I’m talking about.
I wrote a piece here at PuR a while back but have blown it up to epic proportions over at Cover Me. There you will find a demented and infatuated essay titled “My Cover Story: Soul In The Middle Of The Road” where I break down some of the absolute finest and craziest R & B covers of ’70s soft rock songs ever-ever-ever. When I say you haven’t lived until you’ve heard Donny Hathaway turning a smoky LA club into a church on his version of “You’ve Got A Friend” or Walter Jackson rambunctiously reinterpreting Elton John’s “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” and covering it with white powder or Carla walking down and owning James Taylor’s “Country Road”, well, you haven’t lived. I’ll explain, share 30(!) soft-soul covers and talk all kinds of loved up (and brutally honest) shiz about the songs and the artists responsible, as well as describe how years of sitting in the back seat of my Mom’s car and being endlessly showered with the sounds of ’70s AM pop radio, did unspeakable things to my future musical taste. Plus if you have a little soul in your heart, I promise you will fall in love with at least one of the covers (or be seriously confused by them and hey, that’s always fun).
When things are tumultuous, you tend to crave comfort food and that extends to the music you listen to. When you’re anxious and scared you want warmth and safety, you want what you know, you want Adele doing her Adele thing (if that’s your thing, me I’ll take Sade doing her Sade thing) and so on. Over this past year, like a lot of humans, I spent a fair amount of time listening to old faves from my younger days, holding onto them like I would my Mom’s jean leg during a thunderstorm when I was a squirt, and burrowing in their comfortable familiarity. Yet despite that, I never stopped craving and seeking out new music.
It’s estimated that 60,000 tracks are uploaded daily onto Spotify alone, meaning that finding and discovering new things can be both overwhelming and exceptionally labor-intensive. And algorithms aren’t necessarily the most trustworthy guides when it comes to finding the good stuff (I know, understatement). This past year I spent a lot of time searching (okay, like every year). I traveled down endless rabbit holes, watching, reading, and listening to all sorts, every day, in the hope of unearthing something special. While 2021 saw me queuing up Hall & Oates’s “Wait For Me” for roughly the ten trillionth time in my life, I also kept up the dig for new stuff like the world’s nerdiest musical loving gopher ( can’t stop, won’t stop).
Welcome to PuR’s 50 Best Songs of 2021!
It was extraordinarily difficult to consolidate this list to 50 entries. The playlist they emerged from was 600 songs long and that list was an edited version of an even larger one (again, nerd here).The list is a little weird and idiosyncratic. And it is full of heart-squeezingly, dirty wonderful songs and people who collectively represent the only reason I remain on speaking terms with 2021. I should note that it is in no particular order because as my Mom still says “I love all you kids the same” 😉
You can listen below on Soundcloud or Spotify.
I genuinely, honestly and sincerely, hope you find something or someone you love within these 50 fine, foxy and fabulous things. Rock on and keep breathing…
THANKS TO ALL THE ARTISTS & CREATORS OF THESE WONDERFUL SONGS, YOU ARE THE SUN.
AND THANKS TO THE LOYAL AND ENDLESSLY WONDROUS PuR READERS, YOU ARE THE REASON.
In November of 1981, my Mom dropped me off at Nassau Coliseum on Long Island so I could see Genesis for the first time. It was a birthday present and apart from actual records was the only thing I wanted that year. My seat was in the second row behind the stage meaning I was close but also had a weird view of the band. That didn’t prevent me from loving every minute, clutching the tour program and tees I bought with my b-day money in my arms as I left and feeling utterly ecstatic that I got to see Genesis play live. Fast forward to this past Sunday, and there I was again, nearly 40 years to the day I’d seen them for the first time, watching Genesis at MSG for likely the last time ( well sort of, I ended up going to the second MSG show too because my heart insisted). The whole experience felt kind of surreal, a lot of memories swirled in my head during the show about the band and how I used to sit for hours drawing in my childhood bedroom while ‘Abacab’, ‘Duke’ or ‘A Trick of The Tail’ blasted in the background. I was overcome with emotion a few times during the shows and some tears were spilled, even during the loudest most upbeat songs. When the band took their final bow and walked off the stage, I just kind of mouthed “thank you”. Genesis meant sooo much to me as a young one and I’m grateful they were able to do one last go-round and that I too, was here to see it. It’s not often you get to bookend your lifelong bond with a band so neatly, in fact, that may have been both the first and last time I’ll experience that symmetry. It was emotional as hell to spend the night with my young teen self who was with me in spirit the entire time the band played…but also, what a gift to be able to meet up with her that way.
And for the record, we both still agree that “Invisible Touch” sucks.
And now it’s time for the latest WEEKLY NEW WONDERS PLAYLIST featuring the finest songs that have crossed our path over recent days. They are all gorgeous and fine and tied for #1in our hearts.
p.s. Gonna be posting The Best Songs (and stuff) of 2021 list here next week! See you then!
About a month ago I had to bring my laptop ( top and bottom pictured above) to the Apple store to have the battery replaced. The associate looked at it and informed me that as my beloved little machine was now 8 years old, it was considered “vintage”, meaning they didn’t have the battery needed on hand and would have to order it. It took a month but thankfully they did manage to score one. I was disappointed at not only how lost I felt being without my robot sibling for a mere 24 hours ( pathetic) but at how something so young on paper was now considered “vintage”, like a freakin’ card catalog at the library or a tube television (the latter of which my Mom still proudly employs so she can watch her Judge Judy). Mostly though, if my laptop is the age of a third grader and now regarded as an antique that requires research to fix, well then I am literally a renaissance painting. Time for my nap.
And with that, it’s time for the latest WEEKLY NEW WONDERS PLAYLIST featuring the finest new songs that have come our way over the last handful of days. They are all otherworldly lovely and tied for #1 in our cobwebbed, discolored, vintage hearts. Listen to them on Soundcloud or Spotify below.