“That’s Not My Name” The Ting Tings – this is a fun, sorta-punky-pop band – a girl singer and a boy drummer. The music is really simple – little more than just schoolyard chants. I saw this band live, opening for P!nk with my best friend – I actually enjoyed the Ting Tings more. This sounds like Green Day for the tween set.
“Pinball Wizard” Elton John – I love Tommy by the Who and the film with Ann-Margret, I thought was brilliant. I also love Elton John – he was tremendous in the 1970’s, really fun, glammy and campy. This was before he became a bit sleepy and boring adult/contemporary. So, this song is about a character on the Who’s concept record. John gets to vamp it up. This has been on repeat a couple of times – the only problem is it’s very distracting and I can’t get any work done while listening to it.
“A Song for You” Ray Charles – This was off an early 1990’s set when he was trying to make comeback. The album mostly had dated New Jack swing production, but his version of this old chestnut is great – it’s just him and his piano along with some sympathetic production (not too fussy or over-produced). By this time, his voice had aged and had an appealing, whiskey-tinged edge.
“Light My Fire” Stevie Wonder – the MO for a lot of 1970’s Motown artists were to fill up their LP’s with covers. Wonder does a great version of the Doors’ classic. He recasts the song as soul-pop with epic strings and exciting horns as well as his soulful harmonica playing. His voice is incredible (this was the early 1970’s, so his voice is still very young). The original was dark and dirge-like, and while the Soul Train remake will offend Doors purists, I love this version. I actually heard it for the first time at Reckless Records in Bucktown, and asked the nice guy at the counter to show me it.
“When Love Takes Over” Frenchie Davis – Davis was a leading American Idol contestant until she left the show over some near-nude photos that popped up on the Internet. After a few years of middling success in the theater – she did a fabulous job in Ain’t Misbehavin’ – she tried her hand again at televised Kareoke with the AI-rip-off The Voice. She covers David Guetta’s dance hit “When Love Takes Over” which features Destiny’s Child alumna Kelly Rowland. Davis is a better singer, with a more distinct voice (Rowland, a fine singer, is something akin to a singing mannequin). The production suffers a bit as it’s not a exciting as the Euro-pop of the original (and it sounds a touch canned), but it’s worth the price for Davis’ powerhouse vocals.
“Runaway” Janet Jackson – this was a big hit for Jackson in 1995 off her first greatest hits record. It’s a really silly record, but pleasant to listen to. It’s a pastiche of world music cliches (as well as travel brochure cliches) as Jackson sings about all the different countries she’s been to, and how fun it was. There are faint wisps of Bollywood, Latin guitar, a vague bossa nova sample along with dancy-pop beat. It was a top 5 hit for Jackson, but I don’t think many remember it anymore – it’s really airy and fluffy.
“Hey Look Me Over!” Lucille Ball – yes, Lucille Ball this is a hit song from her sole Broadway show, Wildcat. Ball’s voice is well…Ball’s voice, so it’s a limited, throaty instrument. The song is a stirring, catchy song about making one’s mark and not being ignored and grabbing the spotlight. And while no one will confuse Ball with Streisand, she doesn’t manages to carry a tune decently, and it’s a fun song with an upbeat message.
“Shy Ronnie 2: Ronnie & Clyde” The Lonely Island, feat. Rihanna – the Lonely Island is a comedy music trio – this is a funny song, but the Saturday Night Live digital short is really funny – Rihanna’s game and the song is a perfect parody of the robotic urban-pop song she makes. Shy Ronnie is an awkward, socially inept nerd, who because he’s so shy, mumbles through his solos and is repeatedly scolded by Rihanna – but the funny thing is she scolds him in her monotonous style of singing. There’s a surprise toward the end of the song, that I won’t give away. It’s a very funny song.