A somewhat nostalgic look at rediscovered classics. The only rule is that each recording be at least ten years old. This is our comfort music. Brought to you by Pel, raven + crow studio, and friends.
Lemonheads
“Rudderless”
It's a Shame About Ray
Atlantic
1992

LEMONHEADS_ADMAT BASICThe albums you listen to in your first car hold a sacred place in your heart.

It’s a Shame About Ray by the Lemonheads will forever remind me of my navy blue Chevy Corsica name Grover, driving through the valley (Cuyahoga Valley National Park—not, like, THE Valley San Fernando) and my high school crew.

When the grunge scene hit my town, high school was still very much like The Breakfast Club. There were well defined clicks: jocks, burnouts, nerds, preps and us, the alternafucks. No joke. We were the kids who hung out at college coffee shops, dyed our hair unnatural colors, and got our faces pierced.

Listening to It’s a Shame About Ray always makes me feel cool. I may not be, I may never have been, but that’s not what matters. What matters is that feeling you get from the freedom of your first car + music that feels like it was written just for you + finding the people in life who let you be you and love you for it.

Lemonheads - Rudderless
Guest Contributor: April Fleming, originally from the Rubber City, has lived in Brooklyn, NY, San Francisco, CA, and a few towns in between. She is a visual merchandiser, stylist, and music junkie. She currently resides in the Lowcountry and is working on not cussing during yoga class and perfecting her Bloody Mary making skills.
R.E.M.
“Ages of You”
Dead Letter Office
I.R.S.
1987

There were any number of bands I loved with painful intensity in high school, many of them only worthy of that love when viewed with nostalgic hindsight (see also: The Connells). But R.E.M. was special.

dead-letter-office-remThe band filled a rare cultural space, in that everyone knew them and approved of them after 1991, when Out of Time came out and “Losing My Religion” played nonstop on the radio and on MTV, but they also had an extensive back catalog filled with music that was brilliant and textured, but still weird and lo-fi enough to be uninteresting to many of their newly-won fans. So I could display membership in my subcultural in-group by knowing every song from Murmur and the Chronic Town EP, but still not have to be totally punk rock about it and reject everything and only listen to Operation Ivy.

To this day, given even the slightest opening, I’ll make a case for R.E.M. as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, American rock bands (come at me), a case that rests strongly on their unbelievable decade-long streak of near-flawless studio albums from the mid-80s to the mid-90s – starting with Life’s Rich Pageant and continuing almost unbroken through New Adventures in Hi-Fi. (I say “almost unbroken” only because of 1994’s Monster, which was of uneven quality, to put it politely.)

Since I am old, the culture I secretly consider the best and truest no longer includes anything new or interesting, so any song from one of those (again) basically flawless albums qualifies under Forgotten Favorite’s “at least ten years old” policy. But R.E.M was so great for so long that you can pick up any album from their earliest period and find all sorts of fantastic songs you never knew existed.

Those early albums also form a very specific period in the R.E.M. canon, when the music was straightforward and guitar-driven, but the lyrics and vocals were completely, bafflingly incomprehensible 1. In later years, the singing became clearer and the lyrics more accessible and universal, while the music got more complex and the basic rock sound (electric guitar, bass, drums) that had done all the heavy lifting for the band for years became increasingly supplemented—or supplanted—by organs, piano, strings, horns, mandolins and music boxes.

Anyway, the point is that R.E.M. was so great for so long that, unlike many of the bands I loved in my wayward youth, you can go all the way back to the very beginning  and be rewarded with a song like “Ages of You”.

“Ages of You” was one of the first songs R.E.M wrote as a band. Recorded for their debut album but rejected, then re-recorded for a later album and rejected again, it eventually came out on Dead Letter Office, an album of b-sides and “rarities”, which has always been music industry code for songs that weren’t good enough to be released on a proper album. When I first fell in love with R.E.M. in high school and started to go back through their older records, I didn’t even understand the concept of a b-sides collection, so I assumed Dead Letter Office was just a regular album. So great was my devotion that I still loved and treasured it, even though it’s mostly lesser or partly-unfinished songs and drunken covers (literally; you can hear how drunk they are on “King of the Road”, and Michael Stipe clearly can’t remember the words). Later, when I understood what it was, the inclusion of “Ages of You” on that collection baffled me. Why had it been rejected and relegated to such a rambling musical backwater? It was so good.

rem-1983R.E.M., especially in those days, was closer in spirit to a punk band than anything else; they didn’t really have “riffs” in their songs. Ask someone to sing an R.E.M. song and they’ll sing the lead vocal. But “Ages of You” has a great riff. The song starts with some big garage-rock drums and then goes right into a guitar line that can only be described as “jangly”, which sucks, because every music reviewer for a hundred years used the word “jangly” to talk about R.E.M. and their many late-80s college rock descendants, so it no longer has any currency. But this is it, for sure.

God only knows what the lyrics mean or even what they are. I looked them up on the internet, and immediately disagreed with at least half of what was there. But the words in the chorus are unmistakable: “All along the range, all along the range … ages of you”. Again, it’s impossible to say what that might mean, if it means anything, but at the same time it is perfectly straightforward and clear and there is no way to misunderstand it if you have ever been young and desperate and riding in a car with the windows down. Also, in what would become one of the band’s trademark strengths, Mike Mills sings these sunny, clear-voiced harmonies in counter to Stipe’s unmistakeable, beautiful, adenoidal voice; no words, just an oddly memorable variation on “la la la”, sort of like “ra da la da da”, and then they come together halfway through and sing it together and yes, of course, I understand exactly and even though it is just “ra da la da da” it is good and meaningful and right.

If you’re thinking, “Oh, hey, yeah, R.E.M. I should get some of their old songs”, then I strongly recommend any record from the period I referred  to earlier, when every album fit perfectly together, and every song was worth hearing. “Dead Letter Office” will probably not be on your list. It is for the completist only. But if you’re, you know, just downloading some stuff, you should get “Ages of You”. It will not have the same effect on you as it once did on me, unless, of course, you are young and desperate and riding in a car with the windows down, but as you listen, think of long-ago R.E.M., when they were just four young dudes in a pretty good band, making some pretty good rock songs.

R.E.M. - AGES OF YOU

1 That was, of course, a significant part of the appeal to my younger self.  As Bill Murray’s down-and-out playwright character from “Tootsie” says, “I don’t like it when people come up to me after my plays and say ‘I really dug your message, man’ or ‘I really dug your play, man. I cried. You know?’ I like it when people come up to me the next day, or a week later, and they say, ‘I saw your play. What happened?’” That movie has almost certainly gone on to become problematic, especially in our current cultural moment, but the sentiment stands.

Guest Contributor: Brian Minter is an SF/gamer/comics nerd, closet Marxist, pretty good dad and collector of old REM records. For a day job he works as creative director for No Kid Hungry. You can follow him on Twitter, where he tries super hard not to engage in pointless arguments with strangers about the above topics.
Beastie Boys
“Flute Loop”
Ill Communication
Capitol/Grand Royal
1994

A few things to note about me:

beastie-boys-texting• The only song I can karaoke is “Paul Revere”.

• I’ve had a crush on Adam Horovitz as far back as I can remember.

• My best friend Josh and I have text conversations comprised solely of Beastie Boys‘ lyrics.

• I risked my life in middle school to sneak a tape of Licensed to Ill out of my older brother’s room.

In May of 1995 I saw the Beastie Boys perform at the CSU Convocation Center touring for Ill Communication.

Aside from the show itself, the two things I remember are: I was wearing a navy blue Boy Scouts button down shirt (complete with merit badges) that I got for 25 cents at the thrift store; and at the end of the show, Ad-Rock, handed my friend Jesper a 2 gallon jug of water which—God love him—he poured over my head in the parking lot.

The Beastie Boys - Flute Loop [Instrumental]
Guest Contributor: April Fleming, originally from the Rubber City, has lived in Brooklyn, NY, San Francisco, CA, and a few towns in between. She is a visual merchandiser, stylist, and music junkie. She currently resides in the Lowcountry and is working on not cussing during yoga class and perfecting her Bloody Mary making skills.
Built to Spill
“Carry the Zero”
Keep it Like a Secret
Up Records/Warner Bros. Records
1999

keep-it-like-a-secretIn 1999 I was in my final year at Hiram College. 120 Minutes was still on MTV and Cleveland’s only alternative station on the FM dial—“107.9 The End”—lost it’s funding and was replaced by a top 40 station.

In 1999 there were no music streaming sites (hell, we still went to the library to do research for papers that we typed in computer labs). Hearing new music meant someone cooler than you most likely introduced you to it via a mix tape.

I was introduced to Built To Spill in the late summer of 1995, when, at college, I met a petite red-headed cheerleader from Detroit, Tamara. Tam had a tattoo on her arm, a tongue ring, and a crazy amazing knowledge of independent music.

When Keep It Like A Secret came out “Carry The Zero,” “You Were Right,” and “Center Of The Universe” were immediate stand-outs. 17 years later, it’s still an album that resonates with people. Maybe because listening to it still sounds like you are discovering something on a mix tape from the raddest kid in your class.

Built To Spill - Carry The Zero
Guest Contributor: April Fleming, originally from the Rubber City, has lived in Brooklyn, NY, San Francisco, CA, and a few towns in between. She is a visual merchandiser, stylist, and music junkie. She currently resides in the Lowcountry and is working on not cussing during yoga class and perfecting her Bloody Mary making skills.
Jackie Wilson
“Lonely Teardrops”
Lonely Teardrops / In The Blue Of The Evening 7"
Brunswick
1958

Jackie Wilson SmokingThe year was 1958. And while songs like “All I have To Do Is Dream,” “Tequila,” “Great Balls of Fire” and “Peggy Sue” were topping the charts, a man by the name of Jackie Wilson released “Lonely Teardrops.” Written by Berry Gordy (of Motown fame), along with his sister Gwen and fellow songwriter Billy Davis, the song became a hit among both pop and R&B fans. Rolling Stone later even named it one of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

Ratings aside, when I heard “Lonely Teardrops” last week, as I had so many times before, something occurred to me: I had no idea who Jackie Wilson really was. Sure, he was mentioned in a Van Morrison song…but who was this guy?

Wilson, it turns out, was born in 1934 and raised in Detroit, where he first showcased his vocal talent through gospel music. He also had a penchant for boxing as a teenager but ultimately decided to pursue singing. In 1953, he joined Billy Ward and His Dominoes and went on to his solo career a few years later.

Whether partially due to his boxing background or simply an innate sense of rhythm and swift gracefulness, his gospel-esque stage presence and fancy footwork were inspirations for popular artists like Elvis, James Brown and Michael Jackson.

Wilson’s career was unfortunately cut short in 1975 when he suffered a heart attack during a live performance. He was left semi-comatose and lived at a retirement community in New Jersey, where he passed away in 1984.

Now that I know Wilson’s story, “Lonely Teardrops” seems more melancholic to me than it ever did before. But it’s still a forgotten favorite that will always fill me with joy.

Jackie Wilson - Lonely Teardrops
Guest Contributor: Through her company, Word Charmers, Mary provides writing, editing and proofreading for clients in New York and beyond. When not working, she can be found playing name that tune wherever background music is heard, toying with her instruments, exploring the city or sipping wine to the backdrop of a live band.
Vampire Weekend
“Oxford Comma”
Blue CD-R
self-released
2006

There’s a distinct chance that we’re bending the rules here at Forgotten Favorite—okay, rule given that our one and only guideline is that songs be at least ten years old—but we’re close at the very worst and, damn the consequences, this is too sadly serendipitous.

As I mentioned over at our studio’s web journal, this morning, I received the sad news of the passing of a friend. Not a person, mind you, but a record store. Not a record store, mind you, but what may well be the best records store in the world.

Other MusicOther_Music—bastion of independent music and refuge for its fans—will be closing its doors June 25th after more than 20 years of selling records in New York City. Rents rise, cities grow and shift, and the very thing I’m using right now to share words + thoughts + sounds—the internet—has changed much of the world for better and worse. That change has rendered most brick-and-mortar record stores relatively insignificant and useless to most, and I get that, but it still makes me very sad to know that such an institution will be shuttering for good soon. Through its email newsletters (one of the early ones, really), and its knowledgable, enthusiastic staff, I discovered countless bands, many of whom I count among my favorites to this day.

…some of the catchiest, literate pop music that we’ve come across in ages. – Other Music 2007 review of Vampire Weekend

One such band—NYC’s Vampire Weekend—was championed early on by the store, who sang their praises and even held an early in-store performance. Truth be told, I 100% hated Vampire Weekend when I first heard them. I simply did not get it. They struck me as overly snarky, indie twee and came off as clever for the sake of clever with their lyrics and genre-borrowing. At some point, I came around, but I was very much their anti-champion early on and—in my mind—it was a strike against the to-date music-wise Other that they liked these schmucks so much.

Ten years later (roughly?), I admit defeat, Other Music—you were right, I was wrong. Vampire Weekend’s most recent full-length—Modern Vampires of the City—was one of my favorite records of 2013 and won the Grammy for Best Alternative Music Album.

Years earlier, the band gave out a blue CD-R with their three earliest songs at shows. The disk—which popped up in iTunes as Vampire Weekend: Blue CD-R when you inserted it—included the early hit “A-Punk” (which plays immediately in my car every time I accidentally have Blue Tooth on and it starts in on the alphabetized list of songs), “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” (which I always thought was WAY over the top in terms of kitsch sound), and “Oxford Comma”, below. The latter did appeal to me early on as I am an Oxford comma fan…and it’s an undeniably good song.

You can still access Other Music’s newsletter archive, where they wrote in 2007 of VW’s CD-R-turned-EP:

“What really makes Vampire Weekend stand out is their effortless fusion of sounds which, when all put together, results in some of the catchiest, literate pop music that we’ve come across in ages.”

Shows what I know. And fare thee well, Other Music. You will be sorely missed.

Bonus track—the original, string-heavy version of “Campus.”

Vampire Weekend - Oxford Comma
Joanna Newsom
“Peach, Plum, Pear”
Walnut Whales
Self-Released
2002

A couple weekends back, my wife Katie + I were lucky enough to catch one of my longtime favorites, Joanna Newsom, at Los Angeles’ beautiful Orpheum Theatre. Before her set and just after Robin Pecknold (formerly of Fleet Foxes) opened by debuting some exciting new solo material, we got to talking with a friend and fellow fan who happened to be sitting in the row behind us. In doing so, Katie + I realized that the last time we saw Newsom live was touring in New York to promote her debut full-length, The Milk-Eyed Mender (2004), an album I personally spent many a night listening to as I lay on the floor of our tiny Brooklyn railroad in utter awe. And it kinda blew us all away how very long ago that was, making us all a bit sad (lost youth, we’re all getting old, so on and so on) and, more importantly, very reverent of the longstanding talent of Joanna Newsom, now celebrating her fourth full-length and, some might say, best work to date (we certainly included it on our year’s best albums for 2015, over at raven + crow).

One of the highlights of the show for me was an amazing reworking of the song “Peach, Plum, Pear”—a favorite of mine from The Milk-Eyed Mender. It featured her full band, all of whom were excellent, including two violinists, the excellent multi-instrumentalist Ryan Francesconi on guitar and various other picked stringed instruments, her sister on cello, and her brother on drums. What made the song special for me was the evolution Joanna Newsom took it through it her band, starting it out with just her singing over a near-unrecognizable but beautiful rendering of the melody by Francesconi and then pulling the emotion of what was originally a bare, stripped down song through this full band, booming-to-whispering epic journey. It was truly a thrilling and touching performance.

As it turns out—and I never knew this before sitting down to write this piece—the original version of the Peach, Plum, Pear appears on one of two self-recorded, self-distributed EPs Newsom did at the genesis of her career, back in 2002. The original doesn’t have quite the polish of the final that appears on The Milk-Eyed Mender, but the raw emotion of it remains, as the beauty at the root of Newsom’s song-writing.

Listen to it below. And, really, if you haven’t heard it yet, give her new album, Divers, a listen, start-to-finish as a whole ideally.

And if you’ve got a hankering to write up a song or two, just click that little envelope up top and give it a go. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it doesn’t even have to be totally complete—we can help with that. Who knows, maybe you’ll learn something about one of your favorite artists too.

- Joanna Newsom – Peach, Plum, Pear
The Cars
“Drive”
Heartbeat City
Elektra
1983

There’s something deeply cathartic about “Drive.” It’s all neon surface and street lights glinting off of glass and chrome, with Rick Ocasek’s deep baritone flatly intoning a series of questions about life, the universe, teenage angst, literalized existential loneliness and maybe, just maybe, the deep neurosis behind whatever compelled a 5 foot ten super model to marry (and it should be noted, stay married to) an Ichabod Crane–doppelgänger, which leads to the song’s central question—standing for all of it.

Candy-O, especially, and the band’s 1978 self-titled debut laid the groundwork for the poppier side of new wave-town, but it all comes together with a glossy sheen on 1983’s Heartbeat City, of which “Drive” is the centerpiece. The cover art of Candy-O’s actual Vargas-painted pin-up reclined on a muscle car (because the Cars) gives way to a Vargas rip-off by Peter Phillips abstractly spinning out of gears and a chassis and lasers and a 1971 Plymouth Duster (because the Cars) and aesthetically leaves behind the relatively muted tone of the first three album covers—1980’s Panorama was dominated by a checkered flag (because the Cars)—in favor of the all-out ’80s-assault on the senses of Heartbeat City’s gatefold. It’s the album where the Cars were realized in their ideal form, with Mutt Lange’s production pushing the songs over the edge, smoothing out every rough edge until (with apologies to Kurt Vonnegut) everything was perfect and nothing hurt.

cars-heartbeat-city

“Drive” is the ultimate Cars song. Maybe a bit too on the nose for some, but the Cars were not masters of subtlety.

The song makes you feel like you want to cry, but you don’t know why, and it’s a kind of sadness that feels good. Like you are in-a-movie-pretend-sad and not really sad and as soon as the oh-so-dramatic synthy symbol splashes and burbling bongo beats fade out in a final shimmering wash of electronic ambience, the sadness ends.

the cars - drive

On her upcoming solo debut album “Luck or Magic,” Britta Phillips (of Dean & Britta in the aughts, Luna in the nineties, and the voice of Jem in the eighties) covers “Drive,” something she did at the behest of producer Scott Hardkiss, who wanted to hear the indie chanteuse sing some big old cheesy pop songs. The cover ends up having more in common with Johnny Jewel-esque night drives than Cars’ cruising, and an art-damaged, John Waters-inspired clip accompanies the track. The video’s narrative is interspersed with gauzy flashes of Britta behind the wheel with Dean Wareham—you know, driving. Ocasek and Co. would surely approve.

Guest Contributor: John Capone left New York City at the tender age of mid-30s for greener pastures. He's a writer, wrangler and editor living near the beach and working hard to become a West Coast cliché. He takes pictures of records at @startedoutonburgundy.