Weekend Insomnia Playlist

Alex Ross posted a playlist last week that made me feel lazy for not blogging more; I mean, come on, just write down what you’re listening to, how hard is that? Now, I think I’ve said it here before, but I am a pretty obsessive listener; items are listened to constantly and repetitively for a few days/weeks, only to then drop completely off my radar. So it might be fun to see what’s in heavy rotation right now:

  • “All Cried Out” (Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam) (see above). You know how some pop songs have isolated moments that you listen to the song over and over again just to sample? (For example, I once spent a month playing Blur’s “Country House” to death solely for the transition into the second chorus.) “All Cried Out” is like two dozen of those moments strung together—and yet feels weirdly ephemeral when considered as an actual song. As if you can only measure it in parallax or something.

  • Strauss/Godowsky: Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes from “Die Fledermaus” (Katherine Chi, piano). An excellent live performance I downloaded from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum’s website. Is there any composer who ever brought more technique, polish, and sheer elbow grease to self-indulgence than Godowsky? The wildly-overpriced-yet-insanely-good gourmet burger of Romantic pianism.

  • Andy Williams’ Greatest Hits (Andy Williams). Andy Williams: a man whose cool is predicated on how much he simply doesn’t care whether you think he’s cool or not. An inspiration for us all. (Seriously, I had totally forgotten just how smooth Andy Williams is; if there’s even a dull edge on this record, I haven’t found it.)

  • George Antheil: Sonatas for Violin and Piano (Mark Fewer, violin; John Novacek, piano). This has been the go-to driving music for about five weeks now. Antheil’s Second Sonata might be the most sardonically literate cartoon music ever; the First manages to both cheerfully plunder Stravinsky and Bartók while sassing them at the same time. The performance is some of the most committedly stylish 1920s provocation you’re likely to hear. High-minded snotty punk music. I love it.

  • 9 (Public Image Ltd). Speaking of high-minded snotty punk music—or post-punk, anyway…. I was cleaning the den a couple months ago when I found a cassette of this that poet and cultured, sophisticated man about town Jack Miller had dubbed off for me back in high school. Upon said finding, played it straight through and then played it straight through again, and have been going back to that well every couple of days ever since. 9 has the reputation of being too clean and polished for a PiL album, but something about John Lydon sneering over all those shiny, happy grooves at least partially redeems the late 80s for me.

  • Charles Wuorinen: The Haroun Songbook. Here’s what happened: I was throwing together a CD mix for a longish car ride, wanted a nice blast of atonal cheer to shift gears after Billy Joel’s “Summer, Highland Falls,” and somewhat impulsively settled on “It’s a Princess Rescue Story,” and then started to remember just how oddly catchy a lot of these songs are, and now they’re all stuck in my craw. Especially “It’s a Princess Rescue Story.”

  • “Summer, Highland Falls” (Billy Joel). Haters gonna hate, but, deep down, they wish they could come up with a melody this good.

  • Bach: BWV 911, 826, 807 (Martha Argerich, piano). This one has been drifting in and out of the obsessive playlist for a few months. It’s a great clear-out-the-muck aural reset album: it’s like one of those really good understated 1970s thrillers where everything’s in sharp focus and it’s smart enough to assume you’ll think for yourself and it’s tricky enough to keep you on your toes, and when it’s over, everything around you seems to have just a touch more clarity. I actually bought this album for a dollar at a library sale; I would have shed a tear for the declining cultural standards of civic institutions, but, on the other hand, that’s a dollar well-spent.


  1. I've totally got your back re: Joel and PIL, but you're on your own with that Lisa Lisa stuff. I tried to diagram the song structure on a lark, but almost ran out of alphabet. Then the guitar solo hit and I just had to turn it off.

  2. Funny about PiL—I keep coming back to them over and over, and keep every single album (including the unreleased/stolen bootleg Commercial Zone, which is like a crazed, unfiltered proto-This Is What You Want…) on my iPhone. I was just listening to the debut album this afternoon while killing time before today's show. “Annalisa” remains a classic.

    I was very pleased when “Disappointed” came up on shuffle the other day.

  3. Brian: I probably just have a higher tolerance for 80s overproduction than most, but you're right—that's exactly what I was getting at about the song. If I try to remember exactly how it goes, I can't. (“All Cried Out” also remains in the Soho the Dog HQ mix for the not inconsequential pleasure of the world-class sass my wife unleashes when singing along to the “apology not accepted” line.)

    Jack: You know, it's interesting that I go back to PiL more often than I go back to the Sex Pistols, even though the latter made a bigger initial impact on me. I wonder if it's because, when it comes to Lydon's whole trickster/charlatan persona, PiL is just the better con—like in The Sting, the contrast between the scruffy grifting in Peoria at the beginning and the grandeur of the big con at the climax.

  4. Awesome playlist, and that's being said by somebody who can't even stand half of the music. Thanks for the Argerich $1 Bach description.

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