Cab Calloway may not be a household name, but you’ve damn sure seen his signature moves or heard one of his songs. Fans have come to Cab Calloway through odd pathways, from the Betty Boop shorts that featured his animated avatar in the 1930’s, to his showstopping cameo in The Blues Brothers in 1980, to covers by unexpected artists like The White Stripes in the aughts. Like a lot of people, I came to this song through Joe Jackson’s cover. In the 80’s Jackson did more than anybody to guide rock fans into the world of swing and jazz music. His jazz covers proved that music that was swingin’ in the 30’s was still swingin’ right in tune with post-punk and new wave. That was a pretty surprising epiphany, given that rock fans tend to view jazz as being as stodgy and musty as their granddad’s old suits. Nobody could ever call Cab Calloway stodgy: he was always in the business of razzle-dazzle and good razzle-dazzle never fades. Calloway has managed to pop up as a cultural reference point in every decade, and being dead hasn’t slowed his roll. He just always comes back around, just as cool as the first day he did the Hi-De-Ho.
Ça fait rien. Wings are really criminally underrated. They’re not, like, The Beatles or anything but… But of course that’s woefully unfair to say. It’s Paul McCartney at or very near the top of his game, which is always a welcome thing to hear. McCartney’s lifelong problem, notoriously, is that he badly needs someone to bring some pith to his sweetness. None of the members of Wings were ever near John Lennon’s level of salty, but they provided just enough leavening. A good-natured attitude is an underrated quality in entertainment, and people with la-di-da attitudes were nearly their most unfashionable in 1976. But, come on, have some positivity.
I never understood what this song was about until it came to me that it was simply about trying to record dog sounds. That’s meta, I guess, but it’s more silly than deep. Timbuk 3 has long been a fave of mine despite their obscurity and one of the reasons why is that their songs are always about something. Something clever or funny, or something socially relevant. Patriotism and homelessness and commodified religion and lowered expectations. Good, relevant, timeless writing that doesn’t lean on the same old lazy tropes. This song may not be the best example of that. But it’s a good tune.
More Roxy Music, because Roxy Music is the soundtrack of my life and if you haven’t guessed yet, I spend as much time curating the soundtrack of my life as I do living my life. That’s because life is such that there’s days and weeks destined for the cutting room floor for every moment that ends up in the highlight reel. Music just adds the illusion that there’s something meaningful going, an old trick filmmakers like to rely on. If the music is Roxy Music, I can pretend there’s something glamorous and poetic running through my life.
Bryan Ferry is hardly a blues singer in any conventional sense. He is, by most standards, barely inhabiting the same universe. But Ferry pushes the emotion buttons for a very specific audience: continental white people too effete and art-damaged to admit that they still have emotional functions at all aka me. I can’t really relate to real blues music – it’s too real! But I can relate to a man who wears a tie with a leather suit jacket. Nobody is pretending this is actually a blues song. It’s a ‘mope and smoke on the balcony gazing out to sea’ song, which is a very particular feeling to evoke.
I sense an element of irony in the Rolling Stones’ exhortation to drink to all of the hard working people. The Stones don’t care about anything but themselves. They’ve never bothered much with pretending to be socially conscious or politically active, except for some vague up-against-the-man posturing. They did all come from working-class backgrounds, so there’s that, but they pretty quickly established themselves as their own class of doped-up aristocracy. “Do we look strange to you?” they ask, hoping for a resounding yes. I don’t really want self-awareness from The Rolling Stones; I like to imagine them communing with demons and occupying a space-time bubble far removed from us peasants. They certainly occupied their own world in 1968, into which this is only a cracked glimpse.
If ‘drinking music’ was a real genre, the Irish would have in all locked down. Lots of people believe that Irish music just pretty much is drinking music by definition, while others think it’s just a matter of two separate things that overlap. A lot. They overlap a lot. Anyhow, nobody brought the proud tradition of Irish drinking music into the modern age with quite the same dignified panache as the Pogues. The drinking music culture would be unimaginable without them, not least because they wrote original songs that could’ve been pub staples from hundreds of years ago. There’s more to writing a drinking song than slurred words and fast fiddles; there has to be some emotion behind it, some clue as to why these people are doing this to themselves. There’s gotta be a feeling of tragedy. It’s usually a broken heart, or, you know, hundreds of years of political and religious oppression.