Category Archives: Top 5

Today’s Top 5: Songs XPN Should Play

After investing in a refurbished Iomega external CD burner in 2001, or thereabouts, for my low-budget DIY computer, I stopped relying on the radio for my on-the-go music needs. Instead, I made CD copies of favorite albums, created cool compilations and best-ofs, and (generally) only turned on the radio to check traffic or the weather via all-news KYW-1060AM – a routine I’ve mostly maintained, though the CDRs were eventually replaced by my iPod, iPhone, Pono Player and, now, Apple Music via my iPhone.

Prior, however, my go-to radio station was WXPN, a listener-supported AAA station in Philadelphia. They played a good-to-great mix of new and old, singer-songwriters and alternative country, plus non-alternative rock. They went deep on albums, routinely playing more than just one cut, and generally avoided the tried-and-true tracks found elsewhere on the dial. I liked it enough that Diane and I became members at some point, and renewed every year until…

…the summer of 1996, when we found ourselves – thanks to an acquaintance who owned a CD store – at a Penn’s Landing luncheon for businesses that supported the station. When the station’s program director, whose name I’ve long forgotten, stopped at our table, I mentioned my surprise that they weren’t playing anything from Maria McKee’s recent Life Is Sweet album – my favorite of the moment. My memory, and it may be exaggerated by time, is that he glared at me, shook his head and said “never” and “not on my watch” (or words to that effect), and made haste for the next table.

Granted, the glam-infested Life Is Sweet was a dramatic departure from the country-rock stylings of 1993’s You Gotta Sin to Get Saved, which XPN had featured a fair bit, but the title track wasn’t. It should’ve been played. The (perceived) rudeness of the program director annoyed me even more, however. I let our membership lapse.

Anyway, through the 2000s and first half of the 2010s, the only time I listened to XPN was when Diane was with me and, for whatever reason, requested it. And for a time, whenever we tuned in it seemed a Steely Dan song was playing. Odd, that. Then, in 2015, First Aid Kit was booked for the station’s annual three-day XPoNential Festival and members paid less for a ticket, so – sound basically unheard for umpteen years – I rejoined.

I assumed, because they played First Aid Kit (and, according to their searchable playlist, they did – “My Silver Lining” on and off for six months, then “Stay Gold” pretty much ever since) that the rest of what they programmed would be similar. I began listening – and was quickly disappointed. They rarely play more than one song from a new release, instead going the FAK route – one song for months, then maybe replacing it with another – and seemed more a descendent of the long-gone WDRE, a modern-rock station that never quite gained traction during the mid-‘90s, and WMMR, a mainstream rock station, than the XPN of yore. Maybe it had to do with when I tuned in – mornings on the way to work, and late afternoons on the way home – but…

I let my membership lapse again.

But still, sometimes, I find myself listening – it’s easier, and safer, than tapping on my iPhone while driving, so when an album ends I sometimes switch to XPN. Once in a while, I hear something and think, “wow, who is that?” Then they play ZZ Top, the Moody Blues or any of a number of “classic” acts that leave me flipping to KYW or, of late, WOGL, an oldies station that is enjoyable in small doses.

All of which leads to today’s Top 5: Songs XPN Should Play…

1) Courtney Marie Andrews – “Near You.” In April of this year, I asked – via a tweet – why they weren’t playing anything from Courtney’s Honest Life album, which was released last October. Back in the day, they would have been all over it, playing “Put the Fire Out,” “How Quickly Your Heart Mends” and “Irene,” plus the title track and “Table for One.” One of their deejays liked my tweet, in fact…but, nothing. Nada. Zip. Months later, however, and a search of their playlist shows that they have played “Irene” a handful of times.

They should followup by placing this track, a new recording of an older song that she’s releasing on September 15th, in frequent rotation. It’s a powerful, moving tune.

2) Lucy Rose – “No Good at All.” I reviewed Lucy Rose’s recent Something’s Changing album yesterday, and included this clip. It’s a wondrous, addictive number that, according to XPN’s playlist search, has been played exactly once, three days after the album’s release.

3) Paul Weller – “Long Long Road.” They’ve played Paul Weller – a man without whom “modern rock” would not exist – exactly 14 times this year. Think about that. He’s scheduled to play the TLA in October, however, so the time is ripe to up those numbers. This is a standout track from his recent A Kind Revolution album.

4) Garland Jeffreys – “14 Steps to Harlem.” Here’s another artist without whom “modern rock” would not exist; and, to XPN’s credit, they do play him from time to time. But instead of dipping into his past catalog, why not feature something new? This, the title track to Garland’s latest album, is a beaut.

5) Karrie – “I Don’t Hear You.” The Irish singer-songwriter’s summer single is utterly addictive.

And two bonuses:

6) Courney Marie Andrews – “How Quickly Your Heart Mends.” And, just because, here’s one of those Honest Life songs XPN should be playing at least once a day. This is from a recent appearance on Swedish TV…

7) Maria McKee – “Life Is Sweet/After Life.” Finally, the song that obstinate program director refused to discuss in 1996 should have the digital dust blown off the CD and played. It a true lost classic.

Today’s Top 5: 33 Years Ago Today (Aug. 6, 1984)

Can it be? Thirty-three years ago as I write, I was basking in the glow of having just seen Crosby, Stills & Nash show at the Mann Music Center, an open-air venue, in Philly. The ticket stub for the concert, which was paper clipped into my Doonesbury-themed desk diary for decades, is currently AWOL…not that it matters much. I have my memories.

Two weeks earlier, on July 24th, I saw Roger Waters (with Eric Clapton on guitar) at the Spectrum – another great show despite the former Pink Floyd bassist chiding the audience to “stop the fookin’ whistling.” (He apologized after intermission; in England, he said, whistles equate with boos, but Eric explained to him that in the States – or, at least, Philly – they equate with cheers.) And nine days later, on the 14th, I found myself at the back of the Mann’s ample lawn, right where it turns to pavement, to see Huey Lewis & the News.

In that same time span, I picked up three albums: Stephen Stills’ Right by You, Otis Redding’s Best of and the Byrds’ Greatest Hits, Vol. II; and, as the month unfolded, just two more: John David Souther’s Home by Dawn and Jefferson Airplane’s Volunteers, which I already owned on cassette but wanted on vinyl. I wasn’t quite walking in lockstep with pop culture, in other words, though I owned eight of the top 25 albums listed in this month’s Record charts.

And if you’re feeling a slight twinge of deja vu – that’s because, yes, we have been here before. My plan to spin this intro into a Top 5 based on this month’s Record magazine has been waylaid by forgetfulness on my part: Once I retrieved said issue from the temperature-controlled vault and saw the cover…oops. l featured it in a Top 5 on January 30, 2016.

What I didn’t say then, but will share now: Those few purchases were due to me being out of work for a spell: The single-screen Hatboro Theatre, where I worked (and worked, and worked) as an usher for the previous year, closed its doors for the final time on Sunday, July 22nd. To rephrase a Joni Mitchell lyric, they paved paradise and put up a Wendy’s. (That’s me in the doorway in the accompanying picture, which I scanned way back in 2003; if I ever come across the original photo again, and it’s here somewhere, I’ll scan it at a higher resolution.)

There was good news on the horizon, however: On the same day that I saw Huey Lewis, I interviewed for and scored a new job as sales associate at a major department store – in the Domestics department. I learned to fold towels and sheets, and keep my cool when accosted by overzealous customers.

Also, an interesting side note – as my desk diary shows, the day before that CSN concert, I received the bill for the fall semester at Penn State Ogontz, which was one of a dozen-plus PSU satellite campuses scattered across the commonwealth. The total cost: $1123. Today, to attend the same campus – which has since been renamed Penn State Abington – the cost is $6770 for tuition, $236 for the student fee and $252 for the Information Technology Fee – $7258 altogether. That’s more than twice the (cumulative) rate of inflation! That’s just not right.

In the wider world, the dominant stories in the news revolved around the Summer Olympics, which were taking place in L.A. The presidential race between incumbent Ronald Reagan (R) and challenger Walter Mondale (D) was in the offing, but the campaign was on the back burner – unlike today, political campaigns were not year-round exercises. The economy was doing okay, but not great: Unemployment stood at 7.5 percent on August 1st; and inflation was 4.29 percent.

Popular movies of the summer included the feature-length music video known as Purple Rain, which opened on July 27th; Ghostbusters and Gremlins, which had been in the theaters since June 8th; and not Police Academy, which was released in March and, at this point in time, was past the end of its life cycle. (Those were the kinds of films the Hatboro Theatre had towards the end.) On the TV front – aside from the Olympics, everything was in repeats. TV in the summertime was always dull, in those days; the (wrong) assumption was that few people watched.

Anyway, enough of this voluminous intro. Here’s Today’s Top 5: 33 Years Ago Today (Aug. 6, 1984), though the charts – courtesy of my go-to site for such things, Weekly Top 40, are for the week ending the 4th. They’re the top songs of the week.

1) “When Doves Cry” by Prince. The now-classic ode to pigeon love ruled supreme for the fifth week in a row.

2) “Ghostbusters” by Ray Parker Jr. The theme to the original Ghostbusters clocks in at No. 2.

3) “State of Shock” by the Jacksons with Mick Jagger. Moving up from No. 4 to No. 3 is this unlikely collaboration…

4) “Dancing in the Dark” by Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band. Slipping to No. 4 from No. 3 is this great song from the Boss, which remains a delight to hear in concert.

5) “What’s Love Got to Do With It” by Tina Turner. In its 11th week on the charts, this instant classic – which, according to Wikipedia, had been first offered to Cliff Richard(!) – jumps from No. 9 to No. 5 on its way to No. 1.

And a few bonuses…

6) “The Glamorous Life” by Sheila E. This semi-mainstay of today’s oldies radio (at least as heard on WOGL-FM in Philly, which I’ve been groovin’ to of late) reaches its top spot on the charts this week…No. 31.

7) “Cruel Summer” by Bananarama. The seventh single by the British girl group was its first U.S. top 10 single. Here, in its third week of release, it’s one of the “power plays,” jumping from No. 55 to 43.

8) “Let’s Go Crazy” by Prince. And, to bookend this Top 5, here’s another chart entry from the Purple One, a “power play” that enters the charts at No. 45.

Today’s Top 5: Albums MIA From NPR’s “Made by Women” List

There are far more important concerns than NPR’s 150 Greatest Albums Made by Women list. This, we know. Yet, while breezing through it Monday afternoon, I couldn’t help but to (silently) scream.

First and foremost: Albums from last year are on it. Seriously?! Maybe it’s me, but placing any recently released album on a “best of all time” list is short-sighted; we don’t know whether it will, as most great albums do, grow stronger through the years or fall from favor. The former is (obviously) the case for Joni Mitchell’s Blue (from 1971), the top pick, and Aretha Franklin’s I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You (from 1967), No. 4 (which really should have been No. 2). They speak universal truths of the human condition that are applicable to every generation and age; i.e., they both reflect and transcend their time.

That’s one reason why my Essentials series has a strict “at least five years old” policy. “Classic” status only kicks in if you continually return to an album – and not just for nostalgia’s sake – time and again through the years.

Another reason for my (silent) scream: The exclusion of many great and influential albums at the expense of…Britney Spears?! The Spice Girls?! Isn’t that a bit like including David Cassidy and the Osmond Brothers on an all-male list? I also have serious doubts about any list that ranks Hole higher than Joan Jett or Chrissie Hynde. They kicked down the door for Courtney Love (and all other women rockers who followed them, for that matter). I agree that the debuts of Tracy Chapman and the Indigo Girls should be included, but 10,000 Maniacs’ In My Tribe and Suzanne Vega’s Solitude Standing set the stage for them. And Vega’s 99.9° deserves mention, too, as does Madonna’s True Blue.

But, of course, that’s part and parcel with these sorts of lists. I’ve never seen one that I agree with – from Rolling Stone‘s to Entertainment Weekly‘s to Mojo‘s. They’re generally the creation of a small band of voters who share the same basic dispositions. I.e., they’re good for starting arguments, little else.

And, with that, here’s today’s Top 5: Albums MIA From NPR’s “Made by Women” List. (Where they fall is anyone’s guess… so I’m placing them in chronological order.) And, yes – I could well have called this Top 5 “My Regulars.” I’ve featured all of them many times.

1) Lone Justice – Lone Justice (1985). Selected song: “Sweet, Sweet Baby (I’m Falling).” I’ve written about this album, and spotlighted this song, many times before, of course, including in my first Essentials entry. It’s a genre-shattering, epoch-changing album that set the stage for the alt.country boom a decade later.

2) 10,000 Maniacs – In My Tribe (1987). Selected song: “Hey Jack Kerouac.” A folk-rock band from upstate New York, the Maniacs were (and remain) a wondrous group of eccentrics with a serious knack for crafting cool and catchy tunes. Who else could have come up with this swinging ode to Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and the beats? Their success paved the way for other late-‘80s (and beyond) folk-flavored singers and bands, from Tracy Chapman to the Indigo Girls to Innocence Mission.

3) Blake Babies – Sunburn (1990). Selected song: “Sanctify.” You want punk? You want spunk? You want an album that, whether anyone heard it or not, helped kick off the ‘90s wave of women-led rock bands? That could be said to be a true alt.college-rock album? That sounds like it was recorded yesterday? Then pick up this classic from Juliana Hatfield & Co. (And be sure to get Earwig, too). This song brings a “heavy metal rain” upon one’s head…

4) Juliana Hatfield – in exile deo (2004). Selected song: “Tourist.” On her own, Juliana has released a slew of stupendous albums, from Hey Babe (1992) to Pussycat (2017) – but I’m limiting myself to this one (and the Blake Babies) because, well, it’s great – her second to win my esteemed Album of the Year, in fact. Just as a side note: I clearly remember when and where I first heard it – on the day of its release in my Dodge Neon while on my way to pick up my wife.

5) Rumer – Seasons of My Soul (2010). Selected song: “On My Way Home.” I’ve written (too many times) about this album before, most recently in my Essentials series. At once retro and modern, it went platinum twice-over in the U.K. and topped the iTunes charts in the States; and it’s influenced other singers in the U.K. to follow the same stylistic path.

And two (non-chronological) bonuses:

6) Rosanne Cash – Interiors (1990). Selected song: “What We Really Want.” Rosanne Cash shed the country label with this, her seventh album, which owes a heavy debt to Joni Mitchell and the other confessional singer-songwriters of the early ‘70s. It’s stark and powerful, and a glimpse of the internal demons haunting her at the timel.

7) Nanci Griffith – Other Voices, Other Rooms (1993). Selected song: “Speed at the Sound of Loneliness.” In the early 1990s, after a string of successful albums, Nanci celebrated her influences on the sublime Other Voices album; and won the Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Album as a result.