In Oak Park the tradition is to have a block party on each block over the course of the Summer. A sub-tradition, which occasionally happens, is live musical performances by denizens of the block. My friend Ed is a keyboard player in addition to his many other accomplishments. He performed with a block party band that had him, two guitars, bass, drums, and FOUR girl singers (OK, grown-up women), one of whom played harmonica. They were way better than I expected them to be. Soon after the performance I compiled a lengthy email suggesting songs they might perform at future performances. The email with videos is below the fold, for anyone who might be interested.
Great show, Ed. I am really glad I came to see it. I did not expect
much, and I was floored by how good you guys were. You personally
have always been reliably good, seriously, so it is not a surprise
that you found some like-minded souls. I only request that your solos
be louder next time. You were too buried in the mix.
Herewith a list of songs that might work for you. Some of these songs
your four girls singers could hit out of the ballpark. Some of them are
too far afield, but I like them all, and the whole thing is very
This email ended up being of EPIC length. You may want to pour
yourself a drink first. You, will, I know, forgive this, recognizing
that my musical enthusiasm cannot be forced into what are considered
“normal” human bounds. (The very last suggestion may be the best fit
for you guys, btw, so don’t give up before the end.)
Of course, you are free to forward this if you feel it merits further
As I mentioned: The Byrds – I’ll (Probably) Feel A Whole Lot Better
When You’re Gone — struck me as somehow perfect for you. The Byrds of
course have great vocals on all their songs, but this is my favorite.
I also mentioned the amazing Sergio Mendes and Brasil 66. They were
samba-pop and were huge, globally huge, in the 60s, and now pretty
much forgotten. Here is a nice version of the Beatles Fool On The
Hill. This may strike a chord with your posse. The brunette, Lani
Hall, is from Chicago.
Here is a later live version (post-Lani), where they belt it a little
more, and the girls sing the horn part, which I found touching for
some reason. Your girls could do this nicely:
Nice opportunities for the keyboard player on this one, too.
Their first big hit was Mas Que Nada, which is fabulous and very
groovy Swingin’ Sixties, more bachelor pad than greasy kid stuff. The
big problem here is that your ladies may not have time to learn
Brazilian Portuguese before next year’s block party, so probably not
My favorite pop song of the 1960s, as crazy as that statement may be,
if I were forced to choose, is Jackie DeShannon, When You Walk In The
Room. Maybe, just maybe, this would be a good fit. (Great video,
too. Jackie is her own go go dancer!)
Neko Case has a great voice, but her originals suck. Fortunately she
has exquisite taste in covers. She does an insanely good version of
the Shangri-Las Train From Kansas City, with great backing vocals by
Kelly Hogan. The Shangri-Las version is a classic, but Neko’s is a
little bet better. So sayeth Lex. (I have a lengthy spiel on this,
which I will spare you now.)
While we are at it, here is Neko doing a lovely cover of the doo-wop
song “You Belong To Me.” You guys might do something special with it.
There is the whole universe of Country music, that y’all seem not to
be tapping into. Now, in a Yankee place like Oak Park, a little bit
of this goes a long way. But a one or two standards would be a nice
addition to the set.
There are many versions of Silver Threads and Golden Needles. This is
a nice one by Linda Ronstadt and the Eagles in the early 1970s.
There are so many to choose from …
Highway 101, The Bed You Made For Me:
(Paulette Carlson’s vocals got me through a bad period, and I am
forever grateful to her.)
Merle Haggard, Today I Started Loving You Again (a nice live duet with
Tammy Wynette, dig Merle’s guitar solo, amazing)
Merle Haggard, Sing Me Back Home (this is a great live version with Johnny Cash)
(Keith Richards recorded a version of this the day before he thought
he was going to get a long prison sentence, but God is good, and
things broke better than he figured, which is provides me with a segue
As we know, it is impossible to do a bad version of Dead Flowers:
A beautiful and an under-appreciated country-flavored Stones number is
Sweet Virginia, which would give your awesome harmonica player a
featured role (you could give her the saxophone solo, too):
Here is a soul version of Jumpin’ Jack Flash by Thelma Houston, with
go go dancers (my personal favorite is the young lady on the far
right, FWIW). A weak sax solo. You guys could put something good in
there, like an Ed solo.
Now, Shake Some Action by the Flamin’ Groovies is a masterpiece,
though too little known:
But it is jangly power pop and in that form would be a waste of your vocalists.
HOWEVER, some clever ladies re-imagined the song in a Motown style.
This has a weak sax solo (an oddly recurring theme), but you guys can
fix that. This is a curve ball, but the group may like it.
Plus your singers are skinnier than these ladies, which may or may not
be relevant here.
Now, inevitably, ones thoughts turn to the Ronettes. You guys are not
really very Ronettes-ish, despite the front line of girl singers … .
BTW: Here is a killer LIVE version of Be My Baby, just because its awesome:
(In Keith’s autobiography he claims somewhat indirectly that he got it
on with Ronnie Spector at her Mom’s house. Across all these decades,
I am jealous.)
MAYBE, it would make sense to try to get somewhere near the Ronettes
vibe by indirection. Brian Wilson, as every schoolboy knows, fell
madly in love with Ronnie Spector. This in itself is comprehensible,
of course. Who has not fallen love at least a little bit with Ronnie
Spector? But I do say “madly” advisedly because poor Brian literally
became non-functional and sat in his bathtub listening to Be My Baby
over and over again. He said it was the greatest song ever recorded,
and that his band could never match it, hence the total mental
collapse. He then wrote Don’t Worry Baby, as a sort of response, and
tried hard to get the Ronettes to do it, but he was nuts and scary at
the time, and they were not interested, and Phil Spector may have
waved a gun in his face. However, you guys might find a way to a nice
version of it.
I recognize it is probably too far afield, and probably impossible to
do the vocals without more practice than you have time for, but what
the Heck, I throw it out there as an aspirational goal.
My beloved PUNK ROCK is not really appropriate for this group. It
would be a misuse of talent, so I turn aside from it though with some
regret. Nonetheless, punk’s first cousin, Power Pop, offers many
tantalizing possibilities. One thought is Rock’N’Roll Girl by The
Beat. You guys might do a slightly more down-tempo version of it.
Another great power pop song with more space for the vocalists to
knock us all out is The Unguarded Moment by The Church:
It is jingle-jangle, and not seemingly your guitar players style,but I
rule out nothing and he may like it. Mrs. Lex’s band has done this with
harmony vocals, successfully.
… I detect an incoming suggestion. approaching the inner solar
system on a highly elliptical cometary orbit, from a part of the
Heavens no one was looking at. The answer to the question: Can he
possibly really mean this? — is YES. There has never been a better
girl pop singer than Karen Carpenter. This live version is
Terribly sad about Karen, you can see her wasting away already in this
video. But the voice is stronger than the increasingly frail body.
She’s singing with the angels now. The music lives on. Your gals
might make something very good out of it.
A more obvious and uncontroversial suggestion is “something by the
Kinks … .” It is hard to pick, but the one I think the girls could
do a great job with is, wait for it … Waterloo Sunset (no surprise I
am sure). Here is a very cool live version:
And just because it is so good, here is a version of We Are The
Village Green Preservation Society from the same show:
Not really for you, that one, admittedly.
This is getting insane.
Just a few more possibilities:
The international smash hit by The Ting Tings, That’s Not My Name
This was also a smash hit with the Lex’s kids for a while. (“Maybe
Jo-Lisa” … Maybe so) (I have been known to dance until achieving a
trance-like state to the long version of this, in the kitchen, at my
house, to the hideous embarrassment of my children.)
Les Calamités did a sweet cover of The Kids are Alright
French accents are optional but recommended.
Zooey Deschannel, Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?
I like this one, but I wonder sometimes if I am too influenced by
Zooey’s looks? I choose to leave that question unanswered. OK. Yes.
Lisa Hannigan, I Don’t Know:
A cool song that may inspire a nice version. You’d have to do
something instead of the trumpet.
(AND on that note, next year maybe you can DESTROY me entirely by
recruiting a three piece horn section — trumpet, alto sax, baritone
sax, I would think. You already have an impossibly large nine member
band, so twelve is merely heaping up the impossible, which as we know,
takes a little longer.)
Camera Obscura, French Navy (live)
Scottish accent is optional but recommended.
God Help the Girl doing God Help the Girl
I am having too much FUN.
Must … Stop … Now … .
All emails must end, even this one.
LAST ONE. I save possibly the best for last:
Chi Coltrane, Thunder and Lightning
Why is this song forgotten? Blue-eyed soul belter, piano mixed up
front (Ed is featured here), she is better looking than any of
Charlie’s Angels, not counting Cheryl Ladd, and she is from Chicago!
This one you guys could absolutely kill.
I will not be offended if you don’t do any of these. You will be
great whatever you do.
It was fun making the list.
Good Lord, look at the time!