Some notes

  • These are by no means the best tracks made by the artists featured.  In some cases they’re not even in the top three, but they gel together in a great playlist that seems to ebb and flow and never quite jars
  • Videos for around 80% of these are available online, on YouTube
  • There is no Westlife, Coldplay or Muse
  • Some people will be surprised at some of the omissions, but it’s for the greater good
  • The average age of the tracks included is 44.  I am 29.  Go figure
  • I welcome your comments, but if you disagree you will be wrong
  • I loved making this list.  Three nights not wasted.
Artist Album Song Remarks
Fleetwood Mac Mystery to Me Keep on Going Christine McVie on vocals, original blues feel to the song.  Astounding.
Imogen Heap Speak for Yourself The Walk The complex development towards the climax is close to the mythical musical orgasm.  But enough about me.
Francoise Hardy and Julio Iglesias Parentheses (Francoise Hardy) Partir Quand Meme A bit silly and sentimental, but two voices so complementary together was always going to be a pleasure to hear.
Free Highway My Brother Jake Paul Rodgers giving his voice a rest (!) give a beautifully metered take on American-inspired English hard rock.
Little Feat Little Feat Willin’ The song Little Feat still play to encourage fans to throw them some joints.  Live versions are best.  Check out
Alanis Morisette Unplugged King of Pain (Police Cover) This Police song is arguably better performed by Sting himself, but this is actually the only arrangement of the song I think is exceptional.  Have never heard Sting sing to as poignantly constructed an arrangement
Tim Buckley Happy Sad Love from Room 109 At the Islander (On Pacific Coast Highway) A rambling masterpiece from Tim Buckley, Jeff’s dad.  Not from his sex-funk period.  Hard to believe he died of a massive drug overdose at age 28, and even harder to believe he wrote this song so young.
The Band Across the Great Divide Acadian Driftwood Only The Band could beautifully evoke American Civil War reparations in a hauntingly beautiful lyrics; a constant in my playlists.
Feist Live at KCRW Secret Heart (Ron Sexsmith cover) Leslie Feist’s voice is beautiful and fragile all the time, but her lusciously simple take on Sexsmith’s most gorgeous lyric is quite an earworm.  Makes one sigh as it ends, in a good way.  But enough about me.
Cassandra Wilson Belly of the Sun Show me a love Cassandra Wilson’s caramel vocals claim and appropriate this song; she doesn’t need to show off her incredible voice, but gives us just enough to complement the guitar arrangements.
Dire Straits On Every Street On Every Street The fact this song has been used in almost every telephone holding system I’ve ever heard doesn’t detract from the hesitant then soaring multi-guitar action. Knopfler is showing off how to be brilliant and lazy at the same time.
Crowded House Afterglow Private Universe Neil Finn telling a story about loss- arguably what he does in every song he ever wrote.  Here, the haunting lyric and acoustic guitar combination conspire to make this one of the songs every fan waits to hear at a Crowded House concert.
Sting Ten Summoner’s Tales Shape of My Heart Sting’s voice on this song is anough reason to hear; the easy vocal juxtaposes an incredibly tense lyric and deeply ominous arrangement, on this album.  Live versions vary.
Bic Runga Beautiful Collision She Left on a Monday Her vocal gives a lazy intensity and focus to the lyric – a percussion-led track.  Listen for the sound of syncopated piano exactly mimicking the wind-blown paper boat and passing power lines in the lyric.  Incredibly well produced.
Cowboy Junkies The Trinity Session Sweet Jane A slight grunge feel to this 1989 recording.  Margo Timmins’ voice is as sweet and soft as it’s ever been, and the breezy but metronomic feel to the guitar and percussion give her vocal plenty of space.  Practically impossible to have as background music, it quietly demands to be actually listened to.
Metric Live it Out Live it Out There could be five songs from Metric on here.  But for the rollicking, mildly disturbing romp through guitars used as percussion, this is a hyperactive, lyrically sound track.  As good a wakeup as you’ll get, and a good intro to Metric. Fantastic lines abound.
B-52’s The B-52’s Rock Lobster Their first single, released in 1978.  Capture the essence of the retro freakshow sound of the B-52s in 4:54 of extreme Fred Schneider brilliance. No Bass guitar in this – Kate Pierson provides bassline through keyboards, while Schneider plays the crap out of a cowbell.
Gin Blossoms New Miserable Experience Hey Jealousy Feel almost dirty putting this sentimental  stuff in here, but it’s a fantastic song even without the emotional baggage of a pubescent existence spent in house parties during the mid-late 1990s.  But enough about me.
Joni Mitchell Court and Spark People’s Parties / Same Situation And then there was a song about house parties.  Joni’s voice is at its best here;  If anyone ever says you have a broader sensibility, ask them when was the last time they saw Richard.   I know a prominent  PR man who plays a great version of this on a reverberator.
Colin Vearncombe Blackleg Thrill Me The liverpudlian singer who defined 80’s chic with ‘Wonderful Life’ and ‘Sweetest Smile’ gives us this entirely pretension-free love song with mildly ambiguous lyrics, but one absolutely amazing line about timber floors.
Judie Tzuke Over the Moon (Live Album) Stay with me till dawn I love Judie Tzuke’s voice as much as I like anyone’s.  This lyric is the most intensely longing one I think I’ve ever heard or sung.  In her key.  Until the climax.  Hairs on back of neck etc.
k d lang Ingénue Outside Myself The smoothest voice imaginable, seeming to sing clearly for the first time of incredible shifts in her life; maybe this isn’t the song where she comes out as a lesbian, but it’s the first album when she was any good.  By which I mean stunning. Amazing album, actually.
Lowell George and the Factory Lightning-Rod Man Teenage Nervous Breakdown A slowed down, bluesy version of the Little Feat standard. ‘Some contend that the rock and roll is bad for the heart and bad for the soul’…
The Magnetic Fields 69 love Songs Papa was a Rodeo Touching, hilarious, heart-rending.  The song that would have made Brokeback Mountain a classic. The vocal here is a glory.  A beautiful song to sing drunk at closing time.
Marcy Playground Marcy Playground Sex and Candy Grunge is hateful, awful, terrible, terrifyingly awful.  Except this.  This is exceptional.  This could be the gateway drug to shit music, and it’s fabulous.
Marvin Gaye Let’s Get It On Symphony Nothing better captures the essence of Marvin Gaye’s output than Symphony.  The (over) orchestration surrounding  the simple lyric is bottled excellence.  Not the coolest or hardest-tack song in his canon, but a great feelgood song.
Regina Spektor Begin to Hope Better Simply a happy earworm.  Evokes all the innocent beauty of Spektor’s early work, before the much more commercial ‘Far’.
Richard Thompson 1000 Years of Popular Music Oops… I did it again We’ve all heard how covers of Britney Spears songs are hilarious, and even this one has a touch of tongue-in cheek.  But hear this.  For sheer love of music, hear this.
Robert Palmer Sneakin’ Sally Through The Alley Through it all there’s you Palmer’s voice was youthful in this recording, but he had already been through Mandrake Paddle Steamer, Dada, The Alan Bown Set, Vinegar Joe before he got to this point.  Listen to his vocal and tell me he isn’t stoned or strung out.  Heavy Little Feat influences here, unsurprisingly, as they were essentially his band for the album.
Roxy Music Flesh + Blood Same Old Scene A straight-forward foray into the emotionally complex lyric about past memory interfering in the present present in 40% of Roxy Music songs.  The vaguely bagpipe-inspired central riff to the song puts some people off, but it’s catchy.
Sade No Ordinary Love No Ordinary love Intensity in lyric and vocal against a heavy electronic bassline.  The studio version sometimes feels a bit dated, but live versions of this are spectacular.  A song to fall in love to, or to think about falling in love to, on a bus, in the pissing rain, somewhere outside Drogheda.  But enough about me.
Suzanne Vega Nine Objects of Desire World Before Columbus More intensity as we come towards the end of the playlist.  A beautifully arranged piece, completely led by Vega’s smooth but commanding voice.  If you can find a version of this a-capella, listen to it.  She tells a story with complete affection.
Thea Gilmore Rules for Jokers Movie Kisses The very English Thea Gilmore weaves a complex pure love song with exceptionally clever lyrics around.  Pretty little song.
The Divine Comedy Secret History Tonight We Fly To be honest, only live versions of this song will do.  For sheer love of the language, and love of the quick canter form Neil Hannon has perfected, this song is simply the bomb for me.  ‘And when we die, will we be that disappointed or sad? If heaven doesn’t exist, what will we have missed? This life is the best we’ve ever known’