Lene Lovich is from Detroit. For whatever reason, the former capital of American manufacture has been a locus for homegrown musical genius – and in this case, homegrown American weirdness. Lovich was also raised and educated in England and has Serbian ancestry, which adds whole new dimensions of weird and helps explain her gypsy-witch aesthetic. Lovich’s aesthetic is one that the pop world never really knew what to do with, though she was nominally packaged with the New Romantics. That was before every niche and subculture became a ‘market quadrant’ to sell to. If Lovich came along today she could reasonably expect to be marketed directly to the Pastel Goth demographic. I still like my unrepentant weirdos without demographic boxes or viral hashtag campaigns; people like Lene Lovich find their audience through alchemy. When you see that face and hear that voice you feel the presence of a kindred spirit. Or you feel very confused and irritated, in which case you know this music is not for you.
It is A.R. Rahman’s time to shine. He’s a well known name in India, but that generally doesn’t translate to any sort of status whatsoever in the English-speaking world. Yet he was – briefly! – in a band with Mick Jagger, and he gets Jagger to sing in Sanskrit. If hearing Mick Jagger go Bollywood is something you’ve fantasized about, this is your only chance to scratch that itch. Jagger fronts a glorified blues band most of the time, and fans don’t seem to like it when he goes off and gets weird, but doesn’t it seem like he hasn’t sounded this energized in years? He’s belting out that Sanskrit chorus like it’s the most fun he’s had in a decade, which may actually be true.
At the end of the day, nobody does Tom Waits better than Tom Waits. (That shouldn’t even have to be said.) Tom Waits shows the kids how to do the crazy-old-man-in-a-hat boogie, and he shows up his peers as well. Who else can clap back at the Rolling Stones and then gets Keith Richards himself to play assenting backup on it? Oh, there will be satisfaction, Tom Waits demands it. He will have scratched every itch and won every duel by the end of the day. At the end of the day, he will be ready to roll of the mortal coil with no unfinished business. He will exit with swagger. Whatever satisfaction Tom Waits is checking off his list, it’s deeper and more diabolical than anything an angsty twentysomething trying to get laid has in mind.
The kind of rock stars who take the time to look like rock stars are kind of a dying breed, but there’s a few left who still understand that the leather pants and the panda-bear eye makeup are almost as much of an art form as the music. The Kills are one of those holdouts. They know that grimy garage noise rock is great on its own, but it’s even better when it’s part of a full-on aesthetic that promises that if you fluff up your hair just right then a life of glamour and creativity can be yours too. Rock and roll is a way of life and you can’t live it in cargo shorts and flip flops. Fucking pompadour your hair up real tall and put on some boots and skinny pants. If nothing else it will get you laid. Look at how ugly Jamie Hince is, and he married Kate Moss.
How does some 60’s kitsch grab you? Nancy Sinatra didn’t get much love from the anti-establishment youth set in her day, but she’s come to be appreciated as a bit of a cult artist. Her music was a far cry from what the rock demimonde was doing. Her image was too campy, and then there was her background. Her duets with Lee Hazlewood, especially, were easy to dismiss as some kind of airport-cocktail-lounge Americana, but those songs have become cult classics. If you listen closely, you may hear an element of camp but you won’t hear any schmaltz. They’re quite bizarre cultural artifacts, but they’ve aged well, beyond all expectation. Nancy Sinatra will probably have to die before she gets her due as an artist and cultural figure, but she’s already being rediscovered by discerning nostalgists.
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.
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.