Tracy ChapmanKeith Sweat AlbumSo, here’s my latest cockamamie idea for a column: as a music junkie, I sort of like it when folks who have extensive music collections blog about what they’re listening to at a particular time. If our music tastes are similar, and they mention that they’re listening to something I haven’t heard previously, I usually make an effort to scope out whatever it is.

Anyway, because I’m sure you’re all wondering “what is Mike listening to?” (yes, I’m being sarcastic), I figured a good idea for a column would be to just set my iTunes on random for 10 songs and see what pops up. Actually, 10 is too standard a number. Let’s live on the edge a little and say seven. Yeah, seven!!

For the record-I’ve got an 80GB iPod Classic that’s a little more than half full right now (a little over 39GB, 10,160 songs). About two months ago, the external hard drive that I had all my music on crashed, so I’ve been rebuilding from scratch. All I can say about that is that I’m very glad I still buy CDs, or I’d have been S.O.L.

OK, enough babbling. Let’s get to the music:

Track 1: “Yesterday I Had the Blues” by Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes: This is actually one of the few Pendergrass-era HM&TBN songs that I’m pretty much unfamiliar with. If you are not familiar with the vocal stylings of Teddy Pendergrass, please be aware that they don’t make ’em like this guy anymore. What a powerful voice. It’s not hard to believe that he was a child preacher. Most Philly soul was heavily orchestrated, and on this song, the strings are laid on really thick. It cheeses out the arrangement a little, and the song stretches out for a bit too long, but Teddy’s voice cuts cleanly through the sap.

Track Two: “Bullet Proof…I Wish I Was” by Radiohead: “The Bends” runs pretty closely with “OK Computer” as my favorite Radiohead album. As someone who grew up on 80s and 90s pop, I tend to like my music to be a bit more linear and less esoteric. I enjoyed “Amnesiac” enough, but “Kid A” and “Hail to the Thief” totally lost me. I love this song too. It’s the perfect midpoint between the sort of grunge-lite Radiohead started their career off and the more atmospheric stuff they did later…so it ends up sounding like something that could have easily been on Jeff Buckley’s “Grace”, pretty much.

Track Three: “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” by The Supremes: The guitar on this record fucking cooks. A lot of folks get on Diana Ross’s case because they say she can’t really sing, and I’ll grant you she’s no Aretha Franklin. However, her voice has tons of character, and this is one of my all-time favorite Supremes songs. The version on my iTunes is an alternate mix featured on The Supremes’ 2-disc anthology, and it basically adds a sort of clappy percussion track to the mix. It doesn’t distract at all from the greatness of the song. This song also had the misfortune of falling victim to one of the 80s more atrocious cover versions. Sorry, Diana.

Track Four: “Something Just Ain’t Right” by Keith Sweat: This was the second single from the King of Begging, following the huge smash “I Want Her”, and while it stalled on the pop charts, it became one of a long list of Top 5 R&B hits for the former day trader on the New York Stock Exchange. It’s a pleasant midtempo groove with a cute hook, and for those of you that thought the Vocoder began with T-Pain, check out this track. It was also Keith’s first video. Can you imagine a current song being as big as “I Want Her” was back then without a video?

Track Five: “Ch-Check It Out” by The Beastie Boys: The first single from the Beasties’ most recent vocal studio effort, “To The Five Boroughs”, an album which no one except me liked, apparently. These guys are a great example of rappers who aren’t particularly skilled from an MC standpoint, but they make fantastic fucking records. Plus, the song has an awesome video and any song that features Miss Piggy and Edith Bunker impressions is OK with me.

Track Six: “Paradise” by Change: Change was an Italian-American dance group that had some minor popularity in the early Eighties. They were quite similar to Chic right down to the almost identical names. Same stately, midtempo grooves, and in some cases they even used the same vocalists, including some guy named Luther Vandross. This song features some anonymous femme vocalist instead of Luther (who was already on the road to solo success when this song became popular), but is definitely worth checking out if you’re into post-disco R&B.

Track Seven: “Be Careful of My Heart” by Tracy Chapman: I’ve always been a Tracy Chapman fan. Her voice makes even the most boring material tolerable. I can remember her singing “Amazing Grace” on some award show the year Tupac died and it gave me chills. This song is from her second album, “Crossroads”, which wasn’t a smash the way her debut album was, but it was a solid album (it was the first Chapman album I owned) and it hit #2 and went Platinum back in 1989/1990. This song is a pretty standard acoustic ballad, not the best song on the album but still worth a listen. It’s interesting to think whether an obvious talent like Chapman would even get a record deal in an age where every female vocalist seems to need to show T&A to get over.

Stay tuned for this column on Sunday nights…hope you enjoy!

(and I’m breathing a sigh of relief that nothing particularly embarrassing popped up this week)