Lately I’ve been feeling more excited about unearthing gems from the past than finding brand new songs, and this mix reflects that. The ’70s have really risen to the top, and I’ve got a couple ’80s forgotten favorites too. There’s something intoxicating about hearing a song you know well, but haven’t heard for a long time. It’s a perfect mix of familiarity and novelty at once. Maybe you will experience that here.
1. Plastic Bertrand — “Ça Plane Pour Moi” (1977) I heard this song in two unrelated contexts in the span of a few days earlier this month. How had I never heard it before? It’s pure, inane glee with a super sax riff, a “whoo-ooo-ooo-ooo” vocal hook, and nonsense French lyrics. Reading attempted translations on the internet is pretty fun.
2. They Might Be Giants — “All Time What” (2018) I got to see TMBG live in January, and at this point I consider them a better live band than anything else. They played this track from their new album, and its hooky, power-pop sound was pretty rockin’.
3. Dean Friedman — “Ariel” (1977) Another 1977 lost classic, Dean Friedman’s “Ariel” seems like it has to have been an influence on They Might be Giants, Fountains of Wayne, Ben Folds, and other power-poppers who are able to successfully incorporate quirky humor into their lyrics. Each verse ends with an impeccably delivered punchline. Musically, the soaring chorus and rock ’n’ roll sax solo make this more than just a novelty.
4. John Fogerty — “Rock and Roll Girls” (1985) I’ve been sold on the concept of Fogerty as pop for a while, thanks to this excellent compilation, which kicks off with his lesser-known track “Almost Saturday Night.” “Rock and Roll Girls” might not be quite as good, especially the chorus, which just feels like it needs a little something more. But the melody on the verse, especially yelp/yodel on the high note (“ro-DE-oh,” ra-“DE-oh”), just about makes up for it.
5 .Rick Springfield — “I’ve Done Everything for You” (1981) I saw the name of this song printed somewhere and the whole thing just came flooding back to me in big rush. It’s odd because I have absolutely no recollection of a time in my life when I was listening to it regularly, but apparently I must have been because I know all the words. I think it’s straight up better than “Jessie’s Girl,” but then again it might just be benefiting from not being overplayed for years. Bonus trivia: This song was written and originally performed by Sammy Hagar.
6. Belle and Sebastian — “The Same Star” (2018) “The Same Star” is probably the best track to come from B&S’s recent EP series. I love Sarah Martin songs, and this one has her trademark vocals that are lovely and dreamy, but not slight.
7. P.M. Dawn — “Art Deco Halos” (1998) While I’d say that Spotify has had a net positive effect on my music listening, one of the downsides is that songs and albums not available on the service tend to fall out of my listening rotation. That’s particularly sad in the case of “Art Deco Halos,” which is one of my longest-lived favorite songs, dating back to when I used to listen to a radio show called Idiot’s Delight with Vin Scelsa. While P.M. Dawn is known as a hip-hop act, this track is a perfect mixture of soul and pop, with its T. Rex sample, danceable beat, and catchy chorus. I particularly remember host Vin playing this in a set with The Bongo’s cover of “Mambo Sun” and “I Wanna Be Like You” from The Jungle Book. Luckily, “Art Deco Halos” is back on Spotify and on a whole playlist of music from this era of my life.
8. ELO — “Rockaria!” (1976) For all I know this could be an abomination to opera lovers everywhere, but I find Jeff Lynn’s ability to combine not only rock and classical, but also country, disco, and just about everything else good about the pop era into a single song exhilarating. I’ve been having a bit of a renaissance for A New World Record in general. It maintains this remarkably high level of quality throughout.
9. The Kinks —“(Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman” (1979) Low Budget is actually an awesome, under-appreciated Kinks album. Like a lot of rockers in 1978-79, the Kinks found a little disco influence on “Superman,” and it really works for them. The song opens with that great buffeting riff that can also be heard on “Edge of Seventeen” and “Eye of the Tiger.” (Is this the earliest use of that? I’m not sure.) Ray’s dry, everyman humor is a treat as well: “I want to fly, but I can’t even swim.”
10. Sylvan Esso — “The Glow” (2017) I’d venture to say “The Glow” is up there with “Alex Chilton” in terms of songs that capture the feeling of truly loving music. It’s apparently about an album by the band The Microphones, who I’m not familiar with, but the warmth and joy it conveys could equally well describe any formative music listening experience. That huge, low keyboard note is like a sonic hug, and the line “I remember the glow/Not from a phone” give it just the right twist of nostalgia.
11. Marmalade — “Reflections of My Life” (1969) It’s a pretty gutsy move to write a pop song with the lyrics “The world is/A bad place/A bad place/A terrible place to live/Oh, but I don’t want to die.” It suggests that the world is so depressing that wanting to die is kind a given — and thus conveys a default nobility in the act of just staying alive. There’s a depth here that goes beyond an overwrought pop ballad. The minor key vocal harmonies really up the poignancy levels too.
12. Billy Joel — “Rosalinda’s Eyes” (1978) Freaks and Geeks has the best soundtrack of any television show I can think of. The songs chosen are never the ones that I would pick, yet they work perfectly, giving the show and its music a highly personal quality. “Rosalinda’s Eyes” is a deep cut from 52nd Street and one of three Billy Joel songs that appear in the episode “Carded and Discarded.” It plays as the geeks spend an enchanted afternoon with Maureen, a fun and pretty new girl they’ve befriended, but who they know is too cool to stay friends with them for long. I’m honestly hard pressed to say exactly why the song fits the scene so well, but it’s got a kind of crisp, open quality the seems to match the blue-skied day, as well as a lurking hint of something unattainable. The whole package is about as close as you can get to feeling what music means to someone else.