Beneath the Valley of Five Songs You Need to Hear

1. “Yuppie Exodus from Dumbo,” by Jed Davis. (2010). A brilliant bit of social commentary delivered by a once and future denizen of Albany, over a beautiful bit of 1920s-styled music, recorded by Tony Maimone (Pere Ubu, They Might Be Giants) and featuring the legendary Ralph Carney on clarinet. Bonus feature: this cut is actually available for purchase today via a limited edition Edison-era wax cylinder (no kidding!) designed by Michael Doret, for you really old school music fans out there. This tune caused a little stir in the Brooklyn neighborhood that inspired it, pretty much affirming in full the accuracy of its pithy observations. Excellent!

2. “Super Stupid,” by Funkadelic (1971). An under-appreciated cut off of the titanic funk-rock album, Maggot Brain. Guitarist Eddie Hazel sings lead vocals on a song about a junkie making a terrible mistake with his drug of choice, foreshadowing his own sad demise from addiction-related issues some years later. I love heavy organ music, and Bernie Worrell’s spectacularly swirling Hammond organ work makes this a masterpiece of the genre.

3. “Injun Joe,” by The Good Rats (1974). Long Island’s greatest live band to my ear, here offering a classic cut from their most-widely-heard album, Tasty. I’ve written more about The Good Rats on this blog before, and this is one the songs that first roped me in, with its weird lyrics, and blooze-meets-prog arrangements, similar to what Family offered on the other side of the great pond.

4. “A Human Certainty,” by Saccharine Trust (1981). One of the less-well-remembered groups in the early SST Records stable, this cut is from their awesome debut EP, Paganicons. Like the better-known Minutemen, they merged jazz with punk and created something wild and wooly in the process. The fragility of Jack Brewer’s vocals in this song, especially during the near-spoken-word section and wordless wails of fear and anguish that follow it, still gives me shivers, even as he hiccups that he’s okay now, he’s okay. Joe Baiza’s guitar is also surprisingly subtle on this tune, given the time and place of the recording.

5. “Cool Water,” by Marty Robbins (1959). Robbins originally issued this song on one of my all-time favorite albums from the country side of spectrum, Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs, which also contained the legendary “El Paso.” I’m not sure when this particular recording was made, but the three part harmonies are sweet, and the instrumentation differs from the studio version, so I think it may actually be live instead of lip-synched, though it’s often hard to tell on Youtube. In any event, this song is a masterpiece, like most of the album that spawned it.

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