200 Top Songs
by Beau O’Reilly
Chicago Arts Journal
w Music Flash Edition
“When the editors at CAJ suggested that I write about songs and music. I don’t think they or I knew what a momentous task it would turn out to be. I arbitrarily suggested two hundred favorites over fifty years, from 1963 on. It took two years, almost, to complete this article and I would write it differently tomorrow.
Download the journal CAJ_4.5.
The idea for Roots Salon came from my brother Beau. This month he published a list of top 200 songs — many of which I heard for the first time because he played the records around the house. In the early 80s, He told me two of his favorites were Andrew Calhoun and Michael Smith. A few years later, I met Michael and in time we started a collaboration. Many shows got their start at BEAU’S LUNAR CABARET.
Read more about Beau’s music here.
Featured here reviews of Michael Smith, Jamie O’Reilly and Midnight Moxie
MICHAEL SMITH “Booze” Michael Smith is the rarest of fellows, in that he has never recorded a bad or even a mediocre song. Now, maybe he’s written a bad or mediocre song, because who knows what goes on in the dark of night, in the privacy of your own home? This puts him on a short list that includes Richard Thompson, Sandy Denny, Tom Waits, Townes Van Zandt, Jenny Magnus, and Randy Newman. There might be something in one of those cartoon movies Newman now does that is at least mediocre; but because I haven’t seen them, I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. I even sing along with his title song on Monk, the television show. But back to Michael. Michael has been writing and recording since the late sixties. And like a lot of people who never made it big, he was deemed a folkie, because he often couldn’t afford to perform with a band. But he is a rock and roller at heart, with as much of a relation to doo-wop and the Beatles as to any of the big folk songwriters of his day. “Booze,” as far as I know, Michael has never recorded. He wrote it for a musical version of Spoon River Anthology, in the early seventies. The song begins each of its thirty or so lines with the word “booze,” sung loudly and with panache, and then the line goes on to tell us some things about the wonders of booze. ‘Booze for the poor, booze for the rich, booze for the bastards, and booze for the bitch.’ The song plays as a parody of a backwoods preacher, and usually when people hear it, they walk away singing it to themselves. It’s a very funny song. If you see him, you could ask him to sing it — he probably won’t — or you could search out one of the bootleg tapes of his many performances in the seventies, and hope that it’s on there. Since I wrote this, I hear Michael’s been singing the song in his shows!
“Car on Fire” Great pop love song. Cars, passion, heat, and a car on fire. ‘It’s too late, firemen, too late. Love’s in a hurry, and love won’t wait.’ Recorded by Michael Smith and Barbara Barrow on vinyl in the early seventies; I’ve never heard that version. If you have, I’ll give you fifty cents if you send me a copy. A recent release on Uvulittle of songs recorded at Juicy John Pink’s in 1976 features Michael and Barbara doing that song with just acoustic guitars. And it’s catchy, and it rocks.
“The Dutchman” I really wanted to have this song be “I Brought My Father with Me,” which is Michael at his most personal, working from the image of seeing his father in himself as he ages; but my friend —
who doesn’t know all Michael’s songs, and loves Michael’s classic song “The Dutchman” from performances she’s seen over the past few years, and so doesn’t think of it as part of the popular folk songbag — was so sad at the idea that I wouldn’t include the song, even though I sing it around the house all the time, that I changed my plan. “The Dutchman” is about love, loss, memory, and the sweetness of aging. Steve Goodman famously recorded it, but so have dozens of other people, including Michael. The best way to hear it is in a small setting, in a living room say, at a house concert, where Michael sings it like it’s three hundred years old and he’s hearing it for the first time. This guy is that good.
“Rain in the Key of D” A great chorus, with lovely harmony possibilities. It’s a fairly recent Michael Smith song. He recorded it with James Lee Stanley, often does it with Jamie O’Reilly and her daughters, where he leans back, letting them take the vocal lead. It’s raining, there’s love, you hear sound through the window.
(cartoonist Sue Cargill’s illustration)
JAMIE O’REILLY with MICHAEL SMITH
“I Fell Out Of Love With Sin Today” Jamie is a Chicago folk singer who over the last twenty years has produced and curated a remarkable series of shows with Michael Smith. This one is from their most recent show and CD, Songs of a Catholic Childhood. Jamie has a voice that can make you laugh and cry every time you hear her, and her writing is direct and poetic at the same time. She performs regularly; look for her at a Roots Salon. Anytime you see Michael play, you will see how it is done: he can write a song about anything and make it sing, and his acoustic guitar playing is comparable to that of Richard Thompson. Yes, that good.
Listen to the song .
Man, when those Midnight Moxie girls (Meg and Nia are sisters and Sarah Chang is their pal) get it going! All three of them switch instruments back and forth, and they all can sing strong lead and great harmonies. “Funkytown” is so funky and funny; I dig Nia’s drums and Sarah’s bass particularly. And Nia’s love song to her cat, “Amelia,” is particularly catchy and hangs in the ear. Folk roots, maybe, but more like the Roches’ folk than the Joan Baez tone. And they really like to dance it, so things get jumping, especially here in Funky Town.
More enlightened Beau reviews.
Read the whole doc CAJ_4.5