1. Joni Mitchell, Just Like This Train
With assistance from Larry Carlton's steely slide guitar, this song off Joni Mitchell's acclaimed 1974 album Court and Spark, is a dreamy slice of blue skies and upbeat horizons, with Mitchell identifying as a train "rolling into town with the brakes complaining". It's a light and jazzy travelogue of sound that will find you gazing out the window of a rolling Amtrak while brainstorming with Joni about love, life and the whole circle game. Playful woodwinds and reeds make it a pleasant and buoyant ride, with just a few lovelorn bumps along the way. Joni Mitchell tells a story of how she played the newly completed Court and Spark album for record executives and one Bob Dylan, who just happened to be in the room. Dylan promptly fell asleep.
2. Son Volt, Windfall
A perfect follow-up to the travel-bound "Just Like This Train". Jay Farrar of Son Volt is driving country roads, crossing time zones, and searching the A.M. radio dial for a station "somewhere in Louisiana that sounds like 1963 but for now sounds like heaven". A yawning flowerbed of country steel guitar guides him along in this perfectly modest alt-country classic from Son Volt's first album, Trace (1995). Son Volt treated fans to an unexpected and joyous encore of "Windfall" when they played Buffalo, New York's Thursday at The Square some years ago.
3, The Beatles, Ticket to Ride
Instantly recognizable from its opening guitar chords, "Ticket To Ride" is the first Beatles' single to clock in past the three minute mark. John Lennon's nasal rich vocals, Ringo Starr's encompassing off beat percussion, and Paul McCartney's wildly fluid guitar lend a driven slower tempo to this rock 'n roll classic. It was a number one hit single in 1965 off the soundtrack album Help!. The song is a simple story of a girl leaving a guy with a "ticket to ride". But John Lennon complicated that theory when he explained a "ticket to ride" was a clean bill of health offered to The Beatles from Hamburg, Germany prostitutes, when they played there early in their careers. As usual, Lennon and McCartney argued over the songwriting of the record, with Lennon insisting he wrote it solo and McCartney claiming they co-wrote it. ---- SPOOKY MUSIC PHENOMENA: I've never heard it but it is believed an unexplained orchestral version of "Ticket To Ride" is heard at the very end of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of The Moon. At first thought to be an error in the re-mastered version of Dark Side of The Moon (Pink Floyd recorded at The Beatles' Abbey Road Studios), the orchestral version is said to be clearly audible on high quality vinyl pressings of Dark Side recorded before modern re-mastering technology.
4. The Beatles, Glass Onion
Long before there was an Internet where fans could buzz about their favorite bands, circa 1968, The Beatles' global fan community collectively determined, with clues garnered from Beatles' albums, that Paul McCartney was dead and had been replaced by a look-a-like. This magnificent urban legend, which spawned a flurry of wild media speculation, (the least of which is a 1970 Batman comic book reference) was vehemently denied by The Beatles and called "a load of rubbish" by the Apple Records front office. But determined fans would allow no denial. Paul McCartney was dead and replaced by the winner of a British Paul McCartney look-a-like contest. It said so in a Beatles' track played backwards. While most of the mysterious clues were found in Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, in "Glass Onion", off The Beatles (The White Album), John Lennon lends credibility to the rumor and fuel to the fire with his seriously tainted and taunting lyrics - "Here's another clue for you all, the walrus was Paul" - causing fans to surmise the walrus is a symbol of death and Paul McCartney was certainly pushing up daisies. For all its gimmicky support of the Paul McCartney death legend, "Glass Onion" is an intriguing psychological oddity that indeed taunts listeners to seek truth. It's pulsating beat and psychedelic synth keyboard is pleasantly disturbing ear candy. As a post-Beatles adolescent youth, I remember a yearly Halloween radio show on local station WKBW-AM in Buffalo, NY that would investigate the alleged cover-up of Paul McCartney's death. The spooky program would segregate sounds from Beatles' albums that supposedly gave clues to McCartney's demise. The words "I buried Paul" could be clearly heard spoken by a faint disembodied voice at the end of "Strawberry Fields". Songs played backwards seemed to come from a netherworld of horror. For this impressionable youth,, it was a scary and mind-blowing program, and the cause of one classic and award winning nightmare where I was being chased through the woods by the dead Paul McCartney and the dead John F. Kennedy.
5. Pink Floyd, Vera
My gripe with iPod - I can't group a collective, subsequent group of songs from an album as a single piece of music. For instance, I can't hear The Beatles' final suite of music at the end of Abbey Road as a single song in a mix. The iPod reads the songs as three separate album tracks - "Golden Slumbers", "Carry That Weight" and "The End" and divides them accordingly. It's the same with Pink Floyd's The Wall album, in which several tracks merge to create a single unit of music. So, this entry in my 10 iPod songs is for the beautiful pieces of music that takes up most of Side 3 of Pink Floyd's magnum opus, beginning with the lyrics "Is there anybody out there?", and ending with the same line repeated three songs later at the end of "Bring The Boys Back Home". "Is There Anybody Out There", is a haunting sci-fi embrace of negativism with a ridiculously effective noir TV soundtrack playing underneath a voice calling out to the empty beyond. Northern Lights seem to gather in shrieked echoed reply. The lonely acoustic guitar that follows seems resigned to the vast emptiness and paints the moon draped over an abandoned cemetery. As the acoustic piece ends, voices rise across courtyards in an urban afternoon hell, and "Nobody Home", a lament of a life unrealized, falls quietly into place. Sound bites from the British film "Battle For Britain", along with a thin industrial layer of noise lays a mundane foundation to Vera, a song which simply, with great anguish, questions the whereabouts of a woman named Vera (lyricist Roger Waters is referencing Vera Lynn, a popular WWII British vocalist). An operatic chorus suddenly chimes in with a spirited but heartless plea for the return of soldiers in "Bring The Boys Back Home". The suite ends, where it began but now with clashing voices where emptiness once reigned, with the line, "Is there anybody out there?". It's a moving deeply alienated suite of music.
6. Brak, I Like Hubcaps
Quickly then - Brak was a super-villain character in the 1966 CBS Hanna-Barbara cartoon series Space Ghost. When Space Ghost was resurrected to become the unlikely talk show host of a Cartoon Network live action-animation series in the 1990s - Space Ghost Coast to Coast - Brak reappeared as a regular and then went on to star in his own Cartoon Network spin-off series - The Brak Show. Somewhere along the way Brak's character changed from a super-villain with few choice vocabulary ("All hail Brak!") to a childlike simpleton country hick, very similar to the character Ernest T. Bass in the old Andy Griffith Show. The bizarre change of persona in Brak was explained as being the result of Space Ghost tossing him into a cosmic dust cloud. Brak, the once super-villain, now moronic idiot, released a music CD - Brak Presents The Brak Album Starring Brak. This song is from that album. Calling Dr. Demento!
7. The Beatles, Honey Pie
Only the Beatles could take an old-style British dance hall song, and make it sound like something more than a novelty record. Honey Pie is a luscious lick of boozy early 20th Century British popular music, with a strumming ukulele, a horn ensemble, and a delightful guitar solo, playing in a smoky club where drinks are tipped and lovers hold each other up on the dance floor. Paul McCartney's raspy spoken words - "I like it like that -" - is about the most seductive sound in the entire Beatles canon. From The Beatles (The White Album).
8. The Beatles, Everybody Got Something To Hide Except For Me and My Monkey
The exuberant joy of escaping all matters of stress and strife, of being freed from a tremendous burden, of being aggressively independent, is the expression found in The Beatles' Everybody Got Something To Hide Except For Me and My Monkey. A ringing fire bell, group hand claps, piercing guitar, and John Lennon's hyper-excited vocals gives the song an immediate urgency that sounds like the adrenalin rush of a lifetime. From The Beatles (The White Album).
9. Drive-By Truckers, The Three Great Alabama Icons
The three great Alabama icons are Lynard Skynard's Ronnie Van Zandt, Governor George Wallace, and University of Alabama legendary football coach Bear Bryant. Drive-By Truckers' Patterson Hood's spoken narrative attempts to explain away the duality of the south, the attempts to reconcile years of racist segregation. It's a tribute from a voice, so genuinely embracing his Alabama roots, that surges into a dramatic and most satisfying closure. From one of the most under-sung albums of the last 20 years, Southern Rock Opera.
10. The Beatles, Sgt. Pepper Reprise
The Beatles' brilliant choice to repeat the main theme on this seminal album, adds a timeless, circle-like quality that has so grandly stood the test of time.