Paul Simon

3 posts

Best Music Videos of 2020*

*As far as we’re concerned, that is

It’s that time of year — just about every media outlet you can swipe at publishes a “Best Of” listicle. Books, movies, tv shows, songs, music videos, video games, Internet memes. Even lists of lists. You name the subject and somebody’s got a list.

Well, so do we. It’s a quirky little list, consisting of five music-related videos we enjoyed this year. Notice we said “music-related.” With one exception these aren’t really music videos, per se. And all are in some way reflections of the current pandemic. But still entertaining for all that. We hope they help lift your spirits.

So enough disclaimers already. Here’s the list:

5. Paul Simon “American Tune Til Further Notice”

We’ve already blogged about this poignant and intimate video by one of the country’s most enduring songsmiths. Simon’s “American Tune” takes us back to his 1973 album, There Goes Rhymin’ Simon, when “Kodachrome” was in heavy rotation on Top 40 radio. Though it’s missing the propulsive rhythm of that single, “American Tune” is arguably the better song. It certainly resonates with us in this plague year. Here it is again, twittering birds and all:

Paul Simon “American Tune"
Click to play on YouTube

4. Sylvan Esso “Ferris Wheel”

So here’s the actual music video we mentioned earlier. Well, sort of. Compared to some productions out there, it’s more of an anti-music video in fact.

This isn’t even the official “Ferris Wheel” video. Sylvan Esso made this one for the TBS program Full Frontal With Samantha Bee. We love the dogs (and the pig) running alongside this dilapidated pickup (fix that tail light, buddy!) jouncing along a dirt road somewhere in rural North Carolina.

It’s daft, mesmerizing and thoroughly enjoyable:

3. Rock Bottom Remainders “Don’t Stand By Me”

The Rock Bottom Remainders began as a charity fundraising act for a book fair in 1992. Amateur musicians all, the group included several literary superstars — Stephen King, Dave Barry, Amy Tan, Ridley Pearson and Scott Turow among them. They “played music as well as Metallica writes novels,” in the words of Dave Barry.

The Remainders performed off and on (mostly off) for the next two decades. Although they never produced an album, RBR marked their 1993 East Coast tour with (what else) a book: Mid-Life Confidential: The Rock Bottom Remainders Tour America with Three Chords and an Attitude. (If you can find the ultra-rare audiobook edition we produced, let us know and we’ll make a cash offer.)

In this video, the Ben E. King classic gets the full (virtual) Remainders treatment, with lyrics updated by Dave Barry for these troubled times. As always, the authors have employed a ringer to help raise the over-all musicianship. All donations go to help struggling booksellers and their staff members.

Don’t Stand By Me
Click to play on YouTube

2. Boston Dynamics “Do You Love Me”

Robots. Dancing. ‘Nuff said.

1. Little Kids Rock “Touch of Grey”

We’re loving this video, an update of the Grateful Dead’s one and only hit record. The Dead’s own video was kind of a masterpiece in itself, as we recall. But this collaboration of Little Kids Rock with the Rex Foundation has taken the jam band classic to a whole new level of awesomeness. With a stellar cast of guest musicians, including New Orleans’ own Trombone Shorty … we give you the video that we enjoyed the most in 2020:

Click to play on YouTube

The only thing there is to say
Every silver lining’s got a touch of grey

I will get by
I will survive

Robert Hunter

Five Albums We Love

Tough times call for time-tested music. Here are five albums we’ve listened to over and over again throughout the years — on vinyl, compact disc, streaming … some even on cassette!

We’re not saying these are the best in whatever musical category they happen to occupy. Nor do we claim each album’s the best offering from that particular artist. “Best” is not a debate we want to get into.

What each album offers is good company. A musical sanctuary for those who just need to make the rest of the world disappear for about 40 minutes or so.

1. Dr. John, Gumbo

Five albums we love

Hard to believe this recording’s almost fifty years old! The songs on Gumbo are so different from the pop and jazz of the early 70s they might as well have landed from outer space. They had — and have — an infectious, driving, carefree yet wistful quality that’s a defining characteristic of New Orleans music. And co-produced by Harold Battiste, how could they not?

While Gumbo is available online and on CD it’s worth seeking out a vinyl copy (either the 1972 Atco original or the 1986 Alligator re-issue) in order to read Dr. John’s liner notes, strangely missing from the other formats.

2. Fats Domino, Greatest Hits: Walking To New Orleans

Five albums we love

They’re all here: “Blueberry Hill” … “I’m Walkin'” … “Blue Monday” … the songs you need to get you through these hard times. Bonus activity: put “Ain’t That A Shame” on repeat, pick up a saxophone and pretend you’re Herb Hardesty.

3. King Curtis & Champion Jack Dupree, Blues at Montreux

Five albums we love

Recorded live at the Montreux Jazz Festival, Montreux, Switzerland on June 17, 1971, but it could’ve been a decade earlier at the Drop on LaSalle. Everybody’s having so much fun here. On “Junker’s Blues” Jack plays fast and loose with the 12-bar format, dropping a measure here and adding one there as the band struggles to keep up. “When it comes to bars,” he says, “the only ones I know about are those you drink in and those in prison cells. I don’t count bars, I play by feeling.”

4. Aaron Neville, My True Story

Five albums we love

Produced by Don Was and Keith Richards, with Richards on guitar, this album of doo-wop standards may seem as far removed from New Orleans as you can get. But oh, that voice. That soul, that wellspring of controlled emotion. “These songs helped to mold me into who I am,” says Aaron Neville. “They’re all dear to my heart, and they rode with me, in my bones, through all these years.”

We could listen all day long.

5. Allen Toussaint, American Tunes

Five albums we love

I’m not sure, but I’m almost positive, that all music came from New Orleans.

Ernie K-Doe, 1979 

We referenced this on a recent blog post featuring Paul Simon’s timely video, “American Tune Til Further Notice.” Now it’s time to play the record in its entirety. While you’re listening you may want to read an insightful revue by another virtuoso New Orleans pianist, Tom McDermott. A fitting testimonial to an astonishing career. Thanks, Mr. Toussaint, for helping us get though this period of isolation and loss with your unyielding optimism and matchless grace.