A friend of Gene’s on Facebook got me thinking today of my 10 albums that easily came to mind that stuck with me, and most of those I thought of were classic disks from the 60s and 70s. As they should be. Two others were a little less obvious: Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen’s Lost in the Ozone and The Mekons Fear and Whiskey, both great albums by bands that are central to my listening life. That got me to nine.
But No. 10 was hard. There were scores of records from the 60s and 70s that qualified, but I didn’t want just oldies. And I could have chose lots of classic artists’ later work, or albums by 90s artists like Pavement, the Pixies, Nirvana, Hole, that I loved at the time. But as I thought about it I thought they all echoed the earlier choices. What, I asked myself, have I been listening to in the new century that has stuck with me?
The answer came down to four artists: John Legend (soul crooner love man), Stars (arty rock band), Jens Lekman (international electronic singer songwriter) and Nellie McKay (neo cabaret political activist).
These are not rock bands, though all turn it up at times. But what I love about all of them is that they have made great music that pumps the heart and strokes the head, is filled with beauty and ideas, and I’ve wanted to play over and over again. Of them, Nellie McKay is the boldest. She’s a fierce animal rights activist, has been staunchly involved with trying to limit Columbia University’s illegal use of eminent domain to expand its holdings in Morningside Heights (where Nellie grew up), and her records are full of incredible jazz, rap and pop arrangements and songs full of lyrics. Whip smart lyics. She is, of course, cabaret first and foremost.
This clip is pure corn, but it is withering corn, satire that Randy Newman wishes he could pull off (just like the pink ensemble, I’m sure). Some might see this as light, especially given the View’s awful hucksterism, but when I look in Nellie’s eyes I see Johnny Rotten’s. I’m pretty sure that’s what she sees too.