If you haven’t been watching Bravo’s Flipping Out this summer, you should really start.  It’s the kind of show that makes you really reassess just how crazy your boss might be, or just how degrading your job might be, or just how anal-retentive your partner or spouse might be.  This reality show follows obsessive-compulsive (to the hundredth power) house-flipper Jeff Lewis and his crew of long-suffering assistants.  In one of last season’s best episodes, Jeff had one of his assistants drive his cat to an appointment with an acupuncturist, and insisted that the assistant have a discussion with the cat on the way over to explain where they were going and what would happen there.    Jeff Lewis’s mindboggling demands and his perfectly timed, deadpan one-liners are the true star of this show; but the absurdist antics of his assistant Chris Elwood (a sometimes actor) sometimes threaten to steal the occasional scene.

This week, Chris Elwood drew his boss’s ire by wearing his iPod headphones all the time, which had everyone he ran into asking what he was listening to.  It was one of those scary moments when I actually understood and (gulp) agreed with Lewis’s righteous indignation – it’s so…  unprofessional! – but then, I wanted to know what Elwood was listening to too, and felt cheated when I didn’t find out.  Then again, one could hardly fault Elwood for turning up the Tunes and tuning out his boss’s self-absorbed rants.  If I were Elwood, I’d probably do the same.   And here, apparently, is what I’d be listening to:

1.  Sam & Dave – “Hold On, I’m Coming” (1966)

One of the sexiest horn sections I’ve ever heard, the whole song just sounds so muscular and determined.  The Blues Brothers were really popular when I was little, so I was really over “Soul Man” (Sam & Dave’s signature hit) before I ever knew what Stax was or who Booker T. and the M.G.’s were.  This song was my proper introduction to all that, and it’s still my favorite Sam & Dave song.  Rhino Records released a fantastic double-CD anthology of Sam & Dave called “Sweat ‘n’ Soul” in the mid-90s, which included one of my all-time favorites of theirs – a sultry take on “Don’t Pull Your Love”, a song better-known for the bubbegummy hit version released by Hamilton, Joe Frank, & Reynolds.

2.  Thompson Twins – “Roll Over” (1986)

I had a girlfriend (mm-hmm) in 7th Grade who was a freak for the Thompson Twins, and we always felt a little naughty listening to a song called “Roll Over”.  I do love this song though – really quiet and atmospheric.  This was from their album Here’s to Future Days, and was also included on a 12″ single with their song “King for a Day”.  I love Tom Bailey’s lower register on it, and the layered rhythms and guitar textures.  Just a really good song from a group that has been really under-rated.  (That may changing a little though:  earlier this year, Edsel Records in the U.K. released very thorough 2-CD deluxe editions of the Twins’ prior two albums Quick Step and Side Kick and Into the Gap with Future Days scheduled for this fall).

3.  Bobby Taylor and the Vancouvers – “Malinda” (1968)

A Motown obscurity that I got off the 1968 volume of Hip-O Select’s super-awesome Complete Motown Singles box sets.  As the group’s name would suggest, the Vancouvers were Canadian and Tommy Chong was one of the them.  Suffice to say that it sounds not very different from anything the Spinners, The Temptations or the Isley Brothers were doing on Motown at the time, but it’s notable for being one of Rick James’s earliest (albeit pseudonymous) songwriting credits (under the name James Johnson).

4.  The Dentists – “Strawberries Are Growing In My Garden (and It’s Wintertime)” (1985)

In 1985, the Dentists sounded more like the Hollies than the Hollies (who were still chugging along at the time) actually did.  A sweet little song by a band that, despite a persistence that found them releasing new music well into the following decade, never really found an audience… anywhere.

5.   Diana Ross – “Upside Down” (1980)

I remember my Mom and her best friend Marge really digging this song, and when I hear it, I always get a mental picture of the shirtless Tom Selleck poster my mom had hanging in our house, tacked to the door leading to the basement where she did laundry.  That poster seemed totally normal to me growing up, but in hindsight, it’s one of those things that I think – my gawd, my family was a little weird. 

6.  John Walker – “Come Rain or Come Shine” (1966)

One of the Walker Brothers – most famous for their grand, Spector-ish, dirge ballad “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore” – John (who was neither a Walker, nor fraternally related to his bandmates) has been outshone by Scott Walker who has maintained a fiercely enigmatic solo career for the last 40 years (Scott’s most recent album The Drift is an appalling suite of beautifully orchestrated atrocities).  This song is a Johnny Mercer/Harold Arlen chestnut given the kind of strings-and-orchestra arrangement you might expect of a 40s crooner (or Rod Stewart, recently), and John’s voice has a sweetly romantic rasp to it, quite the opposite of Scott’s cavernous moan.

7.  Macy Gray – “When I See You” (2003)

I love love love this song.   It’s a great moon-roof-open, block-party-in-my-car summer song. 

8.  Martha & the Vandellas – “Quicksand” (1963)

Hey, more Motown!  Woo-hoo!  Let me just say, though:  I prefer the Marvelettes. 

9.  Smashing Pumpkins – “Bullet with Butterfly Wings”  (1995)

I love the video for this with the band in all their sci-fi silver metallic clothes playing for a bunch of people working (or whatever – struggling) in a big dirty pit.  I’m not a huge Smashing Pumpkins fan, but I fell immediately in love with this song when it came out.  I was just finishing up school, working at a Goodwill store then, and so I totally identified with the feeling of struggling to get out of a big dirty pit, and the song really tapped into my anxieties about graduating from college.  For some people, graduation is something to be excited about, but I really liked school and didn’t really have a clue what to do without it (my first attempts to get into grad school had fallen flat), and it was a time when I felt really hopeless about stuff in general.  Sorta stagnant and depressed and ugly.   When I hear this song, it almost makes me romanticize that time of my life, like maybe it was actually really awesome.  But it really wasn’t.  I hated 1995 when it was happening to me.

10.  Thomas Dolby – “Hyperactive” (1984)

A song as neurotic as it’s title might suggest, with sped up voices and a jerking beat.  Thomas Dolby had, by then, already had his signature hit with “She Blinded Me With Science”, but this song strikes me as more representative of Dolby’s work.  It was also a minor hit – I remember hearing it on the radio a few times – but it never really clicked.  Dolby’s moment (like Devo’s) had passed.

11.  Gene Pitney – “Yesterday’s Hero” (1964)

It’s a little too easy to make fun of Gene Pitney’s voice, but he’s one of my favorite singers.  This, unfortunately, is not one of my favorite Gene Pitney songs, and part of that, I’m sure, is because I think some subconscious part of me expects it to sound like the Bay City Rollers song of the same name, which is like a hard-rocking, bubble-gum glam thing.  For Pitney at his greatest, you have to hear his 1963 ballad “I’m Gonna Be Strong” (which Cyndi Lauper has covered… twice – and her early band Blue Angel derived its name from a latter-day Pitney single), a song of operatic power and consequence.   This archival video comically heightens the song’s intensity with a lot of film noir shadows and bad lip-synching – not to mention the fact that in some light, the late Mr. Pitney looks disturbingly Norman Bates-ish.

12.  New Order – “Krafty” (2005)

Urgh.  You know, I was thrilled by New Order’s 2001 comeback album, Get Ready, particularly its lead single “Crystal” (which had an awesome video too!) – there really wasn’t a bad track on the album.  There were a few guest appearances, but the album was very much a New Order album.  Thus, I had really high expectations for their next record, and I was really disappointed by Waiting for the Sirens’ Call.  This was that album’s first single, and I haven’t listened to it in ages, but, actually, it’s not all that bad – certainly not as awful as I remember.  Maybe it’s time to revisit the album. 

13.  Karyn White – “Hungah” (1994)

Well, this is anticlimactic.