I’ve been away, in every sense of the word — mentally and physically in a different space, working on another project that has taken up much of my time but has been truly worthwhile. None of this means that I have not missed The List of the Moment, which YOU may have forgotten, but I have not — and some of you have written to me, so here is my most recent list.
Very eclectic, but I created a list for my most recent foray into New York City called The Grand Central Cha-Cha and here are some of the songs that work for me during rush hour at Grand Central, that fabulous place off of Lex and 42nd, NYC. Many songs on that playlist and it’s very difficult to cull it down to the few that should make the list because frankly, they all made my list, so to choose, I have given a small taste of everything here – or as much as possible, while leaving off some of the really new music (because whenever I write about really new music, nobody knows or few know what the f*** I’m talking about). This is May 28, Wednesday, New York City, Grand Central Station at 5:36 p.m. and it is about eighty degrees and humid and the people are milling and all is right and all is wrong but you know it will be alright — somehow, you just know this.
"Love to Love You, Baby" by Donna Summer – The extended mix, of course, is the only one worth listening to if you’re going to bother. Call me boring, old-fashioned, an atavist, call me whatever you like, but this is still one helluva sexy song and ranks right up there with the other song on my Grand Central mix, “Sweetest Hangover” by Diana Ross, which are back-to-back on my iPod and work perfectly well in concert.
There’s something almost erotic about rush hour at Grand Central on a hot May day when the humidity is high and the beautiful women come out and the stylish men are there and you move slowly through the crowd on your way to the number 7 or the S train after a couple of drinks at the bar at Grand Central and everything is right with the world. This was me, moving through the crowd, my summer dress on, hips swaying in time to music — this and the Gap S.O.S. Band's "Take Your Time (Do It Right)" — with my Converse sneakers on, perfect complement to my dress, to which a friend I trust says, “It’s the Lolita factor that works for (me)” and in that moment I buy it, because all is right with the world.
Say what you will, but in that moment, these three songs made all alright and at that moment, that’s saying quite a lot for not a half hour earlier I had been crying on Madison (don’t ask) as I made my way up the slow, sloping hill to Grand Central but once my mix came on – everything changed. Something to be said for that. So those are my first three songs. Moving right along…
"ABC" by the Jackson Five – Michael, Michael … he may have done a lot of very weird things since the time of this song but truth to tell, it’s the music I care about, not the person, so frankly, I could give a toss whether he’s bleached his face or has had a gazillion nose jobs because that’s his option. The child stuff – I won’t even go there. But that’s not the point. "ABC" is a great song. It has an upbeat, up down turnaround jump and sing thing that makes you want to be a part of the freakin’ Jackson Five and that’s something for a white Episcopal girl from Scotland to say. But one can dream, no? If you don’t know this song, you could love it, you could hate it. If you have a light heart and are in the mood for this sort of bubble-gum pop (retro-pop), then yes, absolutely seek this out. It’s the perfect “happy” song and frankly, the song of the moment.
"Can We Still Be Friends?" by Todd Rundgren – Okay, this one hurts a bit – a lot – but that’s personal, but isn’t every song to some extent? Isn’t that part of why we listen? I’ve been told that men listen to the music and the riffs whereas women listen to the lyrics more. Frankly, I listen to both, but would very much welcome your comments on this (not just this song, but all songs, all music, because I’m not sure I buy this theory). So here is a song about loss and grief and longing and wanting to just still be friends after some kind of parting in what seems to be an impossible situation. A great song – used in Vanilla Sky during a particularly weird scene, but perfect for the moment – but we’ve all been there. I’m there. It speaks volumes. It still works, years later.
"I Feel Love" by Donna Summer – Oh, Gawd, yes — this is the ultimate hot day in Manhattan song when you are in love or infatuated or anything approximating a crush, or even if you are just happy, this is the song to have blasting on your iPod such that you are damaging your eardrums. Frankly, I think there must be an object for this song – that is, a specific person in mind when listening to it, otherwise it just falls flat as disco crap, but then, pretty much everything is crap when you don’t have that belly flip. This may be crap, but it’s good in the moment and that line, “falling free, falling free…” yep… “You and me.” She’s got it down. She knows damn well what she’s talking about, knows what it’s like to feel love. Reacquaint yourself with this one, or find it. It has a good beat. I’d like to hear it covered, actually, that would be interesting. Maybe if we’re lucky someone like Erin Alden will take it on. That would be an interesting rendition. I wonder what she’d do with it?
"Summer in the City" by Regina Spektor – Okay, my friend who shall remain nameless tells me “everyone hates Regina Spektor,” so maybe that’s true; but then how did she become so bloody famous? I don’t know. I’ve tried her other songs and they don’t at all speak to me, but this song, "Summer In the City" is not the other well-known song by the same title that is faster — this is different and slightly moping. Here is a girl who is alone, pining, again that sense of yearning, bumping into strangers just to feel something – she’s caught New York City in a bottle. It wouldn’t work in the winter or autumn, but it works during the spring and summer and aren’t we damn lucky for they finally arrived and if you’re fortunate enough to venture to any big city, but especially “La Grosse Pomme” then you may understand this song in a different way.
A bit of a long-distance relationship or break-up song, but in my view, it doesn’t suck because it accomplishes what it sets out to do, which is to makes us feel what she is feeling and set a scene and paint a picture with words, which to my mind, she does incredibly well here. So maybe you know this song and you still hate Regina. Okay. Or maybe you hate Regina and you don’t know this song – so download it, find it, and then let me know. It worked for me on Madison and 37th. Slowed my walking pace way down (which wasn’t a bad thing) and turned my mood introspective for the time as I looked at the passers-by and sat on a low brick wall and smoked a cigarette. Yes, that’s summer in the city.
"Meet Me by the Water" by Rachael Yamagata – This is a hard song. It’s hard for me because of associative things, but Yamagata is a force to be reckoned with in my view. She has an incredible voice, and this song is just “there”. I went to one of my favorite spots and sat and looked out over the Harlem Viaduct and listened to this song. As I did, I realized, as she said in the song, “I’m not scared at all” (to understand you need to hear it in context). Everyone says she’s crazy, everyone says she’s a fool – but regardless, she’s ready to “break all the rules.” I get it. I get that. It’s shit, enough, I’ve fought this strong current and it’s beyond stupid and I can’t fight anymore because that’s love – or to me that’s love, and apparently to Yamagata as well. I can’t hear this without thinking about that particular body of water and the places to meet there, but it could apply to any river, any water, anywhere. Very worth your time.
"Easy Like Sunday Morning" by Lionel Ritchie and the Commodores – And, and, I must add to this, while I cram two songs into one here, “Nightshift”, because if you don’t know that then you need to give it a shot. Fantastic song if you like Motown. But the Commodores, yes, totally dated, totally coming back and totally now if you ask me. “Easy like Sunday morning…” c’mon, that’s a great line. But there are so many to choose from in this song. I expect this will show up in an advert at some point, if it hasn’t already, because it is perfect really; let’s just hope they pick the right product for it – that’s key – so I just like this one, because it’s mellow and I haven’t heard it for a while and had forgotten all about it and it belongs here even though it wasn’t of “my” time. (Most of these songs are not of my generation at all, but so what? Must we be constrained by unfortunate rules and unfortunate bands? Nah – just say no. Listen to whatever you want to listen to and keep an open mind. I have found the best stuff by accidentally downloading the “wrong” song or the “wrong” mislabeled version, so there you have it.)
"Absinthe" by Beth Orton – Okay, so absinthe is back in fashion, which is nuts, but if you want to fry your brain, fine. My best advice to you is this: if you like the taste, then go for a Ricard or Pernod and make a pastis – if you don’t know what that is, contact me below and I’ll tell you – but for chrissakes, don’t go frying your brain with wormwood! I admit that part of the charm of this song for me is the harmonica, lilting and sweet, in the very beginning of the song because I play harmonica and it’s an easy and sweet riff to play that makes you sound like you’re really good even if you aren’t.
That said, Beth Orton is someone you either really like or really don’t like, or so it seems in my experience; I’ve yet to meet anyone neutral about her, which to me is weird – I think she’s good, but I’m not crazy about her. Some songs, yes, but she’s not one of my high-high rankers, but I still really like her. Anybody else out there a middle of the road Beth Orton person? Anybody love her? She has some fabulous songs – obviously "Central Reservation", "Sweetest Decline" (it occurs to me now that perhaps I am not as middle-of-the-road as I had thought). I like Beth Orton and I like this song. It’s like a contemporary cowboy song with the harmonica, makes a great back-to-back with "Thinkin’ About Tomorrow" (also by Orton).
"Postcards" by Faithless – Bet's on that there will be some of you who have heard of Faithless and many who have not. But I will be very pleasantly surprised if you know this song, because it is one of my all time favorites and was near impossible to find to download, but victory! I found it. It’s about touring and missing someone and is a sort of slow rap with Dido at the beginning and very hard to explain but if you don’t seek it out, then really, you’re missing a lot. Nothing else by Faithless (sometimes I find them under Reverence) sounds like this, so don’t judge their other work and then assume this one must be the same, because it’s not. Postcards is wholly its own song and is perfect just the way it is.
"Waiting on a Friend" by the Rolling Stones – Needs no introduction. You likely know it. If you’re at Grand Central and not just passing through, odds are you are “waitin’ on a friend” and if so, this is the song you want to be listening to on your iPod. Wistful to be sure. I sat outside smoking cigarettes listening to it before I went in (and I don’t really smoke, so go figure), but it’s a hot day kind of song (to me) and waiting on a stoop or wherever, but you’re just “waiting on a friend” who may at one time have been something more. Surely there is some implication there that there was, is, could be, will be again, undertone thing going on. He is, however, content with what is in the moment – or must accept what is because that’s life, and so it works and so it goes…
This list has gone back and forth like a ping pong game and it’s neither here nor there because it’s eclectic and everywhere from disco to the Stones to the in between and I almost included Orbital and Massive Attack but the list was getting too long and they are too complicated to explain in a brief space, so maybe in a separate article I can take on Orbital or Moby or Massive Attack but not in this brief space other than to mention a song here and there. There are, of course, a great many songs on my Grand Central mix and you have some idea here. I can’t fit them all on – suffice to say it is by turns, wistful, happy, sad, bittersweet, memory filled, and always, but always, honest.
Welcome to New York City.