My initial pitch for my radio show at WYXR was called “Postwar Pop,” and conceit was that each week I was going to play music from a different year, 1945-2000. But they gave me too much time to think between giving me a show and the station’s launch and once I started thinking of one-off ideas for shows those ideas piled up to the point that I switched to the “Sing All Kinds,” weekly theme format. But I think I’m going to weave the original notion in, with one “time travel” show each month.
This week was the first one, jumping back 40 years. I did forget to move the fader on the first record I played, so this playback missed the first 20 seconds or so of “Take Your Time.”
Next week: “The Your Favorite Music Show,” songs about listening to, well, songs.
Here’s this week’s show:
And here’s this week’s playlist:
“When You Were Mine” — Prince
“Take Your Time (Do It Right)” — The S.O.S. Band
“Upside Down” — Diana Ross
“Open Up” — Chic
“Zulu Nation Throwdown” – Afrika Bambaataa and Cosmic Force
This week’s edition of “Sing All Kinds” on WYXR was inspired by the annual Indie Memphis Film Festival. It was The Movie Show, a hour of songs about cinema.
The show can be streamed (and downloaded) after the fact on the show page. I’m on vacation next week and won’t have a show, but look forward to a set of themes in November that will include time travel, locomotion and something appropriate for Thanksgiving.
This week’s edition of “Sing All Kinds” on WYXR featured me remembering to take off my mask before I talked but also a couple of CD malfunctions. Still, overall I’d grade it an upgrade in execution. To paraphrase David Porter, I’m just trying to make it better each and every week.
The show can be streamed (and downloaded) after the fact on the show page. Next week’s show, in honor of the Indie Memphis Film Festival, will be “The Movie Show.”
Here’s this week’s show:
And here’s this week’s playlist:
“The ABCs of Love” — Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers
It’s not just a very sporadically updated blog. It’s now a radio show. The first edition of my weekly radio show for the new WYXR radio (91.7 FM in Memphis, wyxr.org everywhere) was Thursday afternoon.
It was the first time in more than 20 years I’ve done a show. The muscle memory remained, but if doing a radio show is like riding a bike it might take a couple of weeks to keep it from wobbling. There were a couple of times I started a song without having it’s channel set to go live. I forgot to drop my mask when I talked, which is why I sound muffled. And I was a little distracted on the mike anyway because I was trying to remember all the buttons I needed to press and when. I’m expecting at least 20% fewer flubs next week.
The show — every Thursday at 4 p.m. — will be thematic. The first show attempted to reflect the mood of the moment. Next week will be “The ABCs of Love.” You’ll have to tune in to see what that means. You can listen to the stream of this week’s show at the link below (note: the first song on this stream is the last cut from the previous show).
And here’s this week’s setlist:
The We’re Gonna Make It Show
“Please Don’t Bury Me” — John Prine
“This Year” — Mountain Goats
“Badlands” — Bruce Springsteen
“Buck Up” — Carsie Blanton
“Seems Like a Long Time” — Rod Stewart
“Bon Bon Vie” — T.S. Monk
“Tread Water” — De La Soul
“Ultimate” — Gogol Bordello
“Life in Marvelous Times” — Mos Def
“Hope the High Road” — Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit
“Good Fortune” — Todd Snider
“Don’t Ever Change” — Amy Rigby
“Time Tough” — Toots & the Maytals
“Michael and Heather at the Baggage Claim” — Fountains of Wayne
One would have thought our coronavirus spring would have yielded more time for this ongoing, intermittent personal project, where I relisten to my entire music collection and catch up on some things I missed along the way.
But with work unabated, parenting demands increased and the existential fatigue felt by all of us lucky enough to continue existing, that has not been the case.
So, some quick notes and then the list:
1970: A new decade.
Decades are arbitrary, but in retrospect, if not at the time, this year has a transitional feel.
The Beatles went caput, with John Lennon immediately releasing what would remain the greatest of the group’s solo offshoots. (1969’s Abbey Road is the true swan song; the recorded earlier but released later Let it Be is a near-miss here and the singles comp Hey Jude not considered.) The Stones took a break amid an historic four-albums-in-five-years peak run and Bob Dylan reemerged in minor form with New Morning.
Meanwhile, the best American bands of the Sixties (Velvet Underground, CCR) released their last great albums (and just last in the Velvets case). Four of the greatest solo artists of the Seventies — Neil Young, Van Morrison, Randy Newman, Al Green — opened the decade with major statements and, in the case of Morrison and Newman, perhaps still career peaks.
That Newman record — a personal chart-topper in a year with lots of competition and no clear No. 1 — is quiet and short and weird and mean and perfect.
With Spirit in the Dark, Aretha Franklin followed Isaac Hayes’ lead (via 1969’s Hot Buttered Soul) in the transition from singles-oriented Sixties soul to the more conscious album-making of Seventies R&B, beating Marvin and Sly by a year and Stevie by a couple, though Curtis Mayfield’s Curtis also qualifies here. (Sly’s Greatest Hits, an avalanche of singles released in a tight tumble, makes the know-it-when-you-see-it cut as a compilation that functions as an album.)
Semi-popular music: The Stooges with the best American punk album before “punk” knew its name (and maybe still the best regardless). Delany & Bonnie (times two) and the Tracy Nelson-led Mother Earth with some roots lessons Americana should have better learned. Swamp Dogg with some idiosyncratic soul. The Insect Trust with a musical bohemia that unites Up North and Down South.
12 Songs – Randy Newman
Loaded – The Velvet Underground
Fun House – The Stooges
Plastic Ono Band – John Lennon
Moondance – Van Morrison
After the Gold Rush – Neil Young
Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs – Derek & the Dominoes
Greatest Hits – Sly & the Family Stone
Spirit in the Dark – Aretha Franklin
Cosmo’s Factory – Creedence Clearwater Revival
To Bonnie From Delaney – Delany and Bonnie
Total Destruction to Your Mind – Swamp Dogg
Mother Earth Presents Tracy Nelson Country – Mother Earth
Al Green Gets Next to You – Al Green
Gasoline Alley – Rod Stewart
Part Time Love – Ann Peebles
His Band and Street Choir – Van Morrison
Sex Machine – James Brown
Curtis – Curtis Mayfield
On Tour – Delaney and Bonnie
Hoboken Saturday Night – Insect Trust
New Morning – Bob Dylan
Lola vs. Powerman and the Moneygoround – The Kinks
Struttin’ – The Meters
Bitches Brew – Miles Davis
“Pressure Drop” – Toots & the Maytals
“Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” – Sly & the Family Stone
“Don’t Play That Song’ – Aretha Franklin
“Lookin’ Out My Backdoor” – Creedence Clearwater Revival
“Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine” – James Brown
“Yes We Can” – Lee Dorsey
“Ohio” – Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young
“Up Around the Bend” – Creedence Clearwater Revival
“Help Me Make it Through the Night” – Sammi Smith
“Vietnam” – Jimmy Cliff
“Domino” – Van Morrison
“Who’ll Stop the Rain” – Creedence Clearwater Revival
“Signed, Sealed, Delivered” – Stevie Wonder
“Band of Gold” – Freda Payne
“ABC” – Jackson Five
“I Can’t Get Next to You” – Al Green
“I’ll Be There” – Jackson Five
“Part Time Love” – Ann Peebles
“Super Bad” – James Brown
“Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time)” – The Delfonics
“Daddy Come and Get Me” – Dolly Parton
“Once More With Feeling” – Jerry Lee Lewis
“Rivers of Babylon’ — The Melodians
“Turn Back the Hands of Time” – Tyrone Davis
“It’s a Shame” – The Spinners
“Shocks of Mighty” – Dave Barker & the Upsetters
“Run Through the Jungle” – Creedence Clearwater Revival
“Stealing in the Name of the Lord” – Paul Kelly
“Instant Karma (We All Shine On)” – John Lennon
“Coal Miner’s Daughter” – Loretta Lynn
“Cinnamon Girl” – Neil Young
“All Right Now” – Free
“Paranoid” – Black Sabbath
“Patches” – Clarence Carter
“Duppy Conqueror” – Bob Marley & the Wailers
“A Good Year for the Roses” – George Jones
“Wake the Town” – U.Roy
“Give Me Just a Little More Time’ — Chairmen of the Board
“Heaven Help Us All” — Stevie Wonder
“Mama’s Baby, Daddy’s Maybe” — Swamp Dogg
Taking a pass at a movies list at the end of these — there’s no “rewatching” project — is always an exercise in realizing how many blind spots I still have. Oh, I still haven’t seen Claire’s Knee or Patton or Little Big Man or … .
But here are some 1970 films I have seen that I think that I like, based on the memories of when I saw them, in rough order of preference, starting with an easy No. 1:
Five Easy Pieces (Bob Rafelson)
Woodstock (Michael Wadleigh)
Husbands (John Cassavetes)
M*A*S*H (Robert Altman)
King: A Filmed Record … Montgomery to Memphis (Sidney Lumet)
If the music of 1980 had a theme, perhaps it was the expansion of punk as the decade turned.
The Talking Heads looked beyond CBGB, incorporating Afropop influences on Remain in Light (No. 4 album). Gang of Four’s Entertainment! (No. 3 album) weaved Sex Pistols energy into jagged Marxist funk. The (English) Beat’s I Just Can’t Stop It (No. 13 album) was as good as British ska got. And on London Calling (No. 1 album, natch) the Clash invoked Elvis Presley on the cover and laid claim to everything in earshot in the grooves.
In the U.S., the Manhattan-centric punk scene began giving way to a post-punk/indie scene blooming throughout the country, whether across the state lines to Jersey (The Feelies’ No. 7 Crazy Rhythms) or to the opposite coast (X’s No. 16 Los Angeles), both hints at the eruption of more localized indie scenes on the immediate horizon.
In the U.K., a similar broadening was happening in the form of the Raincoats (No. 22 album), Slits (No. 7 single), LiLiPUT (No. 10 single), Psychedelic Furs (No. 23 album), the extant Elvis Costello (No. 25 album), and Joy Division (No. 23 single), three of whom appear on the classic scene compilation Wanna Buy a Bridge? (No. 5 album).
It was also the year that the greatest R&B artist of the 1970s, Stevie Wonder, made arguably his last major album, Hotter Than July (No. 17), and the greatest R&B (for starters) artist of the 1980s, Prince, made his first major album (and third overall), Dirty Mind (No. 2). The latter showed more than a little punk/post-punk influence, showing that these exchanges could work both ways.
It was a year when two giants of blues-based music, pre-recording Memphis/Chicago blues singer Alberta Hunter (No. 15) and New Orleans piano master Professor Longhair (No. 6) made their greatest studio-album testaments, the former made well into her 80s, the latter months before his death.
In was a year that saw one rock institution of the Seventies (Bruce Springsteen, No. 10 album) transitioning his sound into what would be an (at least) equally great decade, and a couple of others (No. 20 Neil Young, No. 24 Rolling Stones), holding on, for a moment, with merely good albums. And it was when another, John Lennon, left us for good but with a wise, warming, unintended final testament (No. 8 album).
The lists …
London Calling – The Clash
Dirty Mind – Prince
Entertainment! – Gang of Four
Remain in Light – Talking Heads
Wanna Buy a Bridge? — Various Artists
Crawfish Fiesta – Professor Longhair
Crazy Rhythms – The Feelies
Double Fantasy – John Lennon and Yoko Ono
Storm Windows – John Prine
The River – Bruce Springsteen
Snockgrass – Michael Hurley
Happy Woman Blues – Lucinda Williams
I Just Can’t Stop It — The English Beat
Real People – Chic
Amtrak Blues – Alberta Hunter
Los Angeles – X
Hotter Than July – Stevie Wonder
Black Market Clash — The Clash
Seconds of Pleasure – Rockpile
Hawks and Doves – Neil Young
Doc at the Radar Station – Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band
The Raincoats — The Raincoats
Psychedelic Furs – Psychedelic Furs
Emotional Rescue – Rolling Stones
Get Happy!! – Elvis Costello & the Attractions
“You Shook Me All Night Long” – AC/DC
“Zulu Nation Throwdown” – Afrika Bambaataa/Zulu Nation/Cosmic Force
“London Calling” — The Clash
“Bon Bon Vie” — T.S. Monk
“Upside Down” – Diana Ross
“The Breaks” – Kurtis Blow
“Master Blaster (Jammin’)” — Stevie Wonder
“I Heard it Through the Grapevine” — The Slits
“He Stopped Loving Her Today” – George Jones
“How We Gonna Make the Black Nation Rise?” — Brother D. & Collective Effort
“Precious” — The Pretenders
“Die Matrosen”/“Split” – LiLiPUT
“Refugee” — Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
“Call Me” — Blondie
“Brass in Pocket” — The Pretenders
“9 to 5” – Dolly Parton
“She Just Started Liking Cheatin’ Songs” – John Anderson
“Train in Vain” – The Clash
“(Just Like) Starting Over” – John Lennon & Yoko Ono
“He’s So Shy” — The Pointer Sisters
“People Who Died” – Jim Carroll Band
“I’m Coming Out” – Dianna Ross
“Hungry Heart” – Bruce Springsteen
“Celebration” – Kool & the Gang
“Love Will Tear Us Apart” – Joy Division
“Freedom” – Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five
“The Tide is High” – Blondie
“Mirror in the Bathroom” – The English Beat
“Going Underground” — The Jam
“Shining Star” – The Manhattans
“Twist and Crawl” – The English Beat
“Hey Nineteen” – Steely Dan
“She’s So Cold” — The Rolling Stone
“Private Idaho” — The B-52s
“Whip It” – Devo
“Bankrobber” – The Clash
“Take Your Time” – SOS Band
“Vicious Rap” – Tanya Winley
“Too Many Creeps” – Bush Tetras
“Love Sensation” – Loletta Holloway
Per usual, these movie lists are more of a guess because I don’t have time to rewatch, an attempt to filter older memories through a current sensibility. I do think that Raging Bull and The Shining are “classic” films that are probably each a little overrated relative to their respective directors’ other best work. I remember being smitten by Sayle’s low-budget college-radicals-reunite film as a teenager, but I haven’t seen it since. (It’s pretty hard to come by.)
This film list is a little different from the Top 10 of my Southeastern Film Critics Association ballot I published about a month ago. That’s partly the result of this list being one of pure favorites, where my SEFCA ballot allows for some strategic voting toward the end of the Top 10. It’s partly the result of having seen a couple of contenders for a second time since then. And it’s partly because any list of favorites is likely to change a little each time you consider it.
In both cases, my four-film top tier remains the same, with only the order changed a little. I love these four films and don’t have particularly strong feelings about order. Greta Gerwig’s Little Women jumps from No. 4 to No. 1 here after a second viewing and first in a theater, during which it knocked me flat. Maybe there’s a little recency bias at play. But I think it’s a genius work of adaptation that arrives as an instant family-film classic.
Like Little Women, Celine Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a thrilling feminist period piece, searing where Little Women is warm. These films don’t so much inject a modern sensibility into their respective 18th- and 19th-century settings as make their stories feel very much present-tense.
I think Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood is Quentin Tarantino’s best movie in nearly 25 years. In an expansive, charmed middle sequence that intertwines a day in the life of each of his three protagonists – Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate kicking up her bare feet to watch herself on the big screen, Brad Pitt’s Cliff Booth reminiscing on the roof and taking a drive, Leonardo DiCaprio’s Rick Dalton getting himself together for the best acting young co-star Trudi’s ever seen in her life – it’s also the best filmmaking of this year or Tarantino’s career.
Parasite is as brilliant and urgent as advertised. It could have easily been my No. 1, and if I’d had time to give it a second viewing, it may well have been.
The Irishman moved into my Top 5 on a second viewing. I feel like it not only earns its run-time, but ultimately needs it. The awkwardness of the film’s de-aging technology – these old actors move like old men even when meant to be younger – lends a poignancy that may or may not be intentional. But the film is framed as a recollection of an old man; you feel the present fragility even in memories of relative youth.
My No. 6 (The Farewell) and No. 8 (American Factory) would make a good double-feature on the complicated relationship between the U.S. and China. The former is deceptively light, but that lightness is a reason I’ve recommended it to so many people of differing tastes.
I didn’t do a music list this year. My listening was too scattered and unsatisfied. Perhaps I’ll “revisit” 2019 somewhere down the line. I do have some brief notes about my year in TV and books at the end.
Little Women (Greta Gerwig)
Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood (Quentin Tarantino)
Parasite (Bong Joon-Ho)
Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Celine Sciamma)
The Irishman (Martin Scorsese)
The Farewell (Lulu Wong)
Diane (Kent Jones)
American Factory (Steven Bognar, Julia Reichart)
Ford v. Ferrari (James Mangold)
The Nightingale (Jennifer Kent)
Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story (Martin Scorsese)
Amazing Grace (Alan Elliott, Sydney Pollack)
Uncut Gems (Josh & Benny Safdie)
Peterloo (Mike Leigh)
Marriage Story (Noah Baumbach)
Her Smell (Alex Ross-Perry)
The Souvenir (Joanna Hogg)
Us (Jordan Peele)
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (Marielle Heller)
Knives Out (Rian Johnson)
Better Than Expected (or Than You Heard): Long Shot, Peanut Butter Falcon, High Flying Bird, High Life, Last Black Man in San Francisco
Ambitious but Flawed (in descending order of success): Dolemite is My Name, Queen & Slim, 1917, Atlantics, John Wick: Chapter 3, Jojo Rabbit, Harriet
Performances Better Than Their Films: Charlize Theron (Bombshell), Florence Pugh (Midsommar), Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein (Booksmart), Jennifer Lopez (Hustlers), Jonathan Pryce and Anthony Hopkins (The Two Popes), Taylor Russell (Waves), Adam Driver (The Dead Don’t Die)
I’m So Bored With the MCU … But What Can I Do?: Avengers: Endgame, Spider-Man: Far From Home, Captain Marvel.
Duds I Didn’t Avoid: Joker,Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, Judy
Ten I Haven’t Seen (Yet): Ad Astra, Apollo 11, Ash is Purest White, A Hidden Life, Dark Waters, Honeyland, The Lighthouse, Pain & Glory, Synonyms, Transit.
Best Old Movie Seen for the First Time This Year: The Big Sky (Howard Hawks, 1952)
Television I Loved Without Hesitation: Fleabag, Unbelievable, Mindhunter
Television I Watched With Appreciation:Watchmen, The Deuce, True Detective, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Killing Eve, Glow
Television I Watched Out of Perceived Obligation:Deadwood, El Camino, Game of Thrones, Bluff City Law
Best Novels I Read For the First Time This Year:Sula — Toni Morrison (1973) and The Dog of the South — Charles Portis (1979).
Best Non-Fiction I Read For the First Time This Year:The White Album — Joan Didion (1979) and Is It Still Good To Ya?: 50 Years of Music Criticism — Robert Christgau (2019)