Chuck Berry Roll Over Beethoven
Few songs carry the zip and effervescence of this number from the year rock’n’roll took off, 1956—now 56 years ago. Frustrated by his sister hogging the piano to play classical music, Berry penned this ode to the more urgent delights of rhythm and blues. A crisp two minutes, it’s a song to shake out the sheets and prove there’s life in the old dog yet.
Blossom Dearie Put On A Happy Face
However big your record collection, the chances are you will end up finding a handful of songs more cheering than the rest. This is one of mine. It speaks of a toasty, spread-eagled happiness. Blossom Dearie offers some practical wisdom on cheering up: take off that gloomy mask of tragedy, stick out that noble chin, and slap on a happy grin.
The White Stripes Little Acorns
As Jack White’s solo debut looms, check out this curiosity from “Elephant” (2007). It samples a Detroit news anchor, Mort Crim, telling the story of a woman named Janet, divorced, bereaved, and newly unemployed, who found courage in watching a squirrel storing up acorns for the winter. Crim’s tale is followed by a burst of defiant, scrawling rock’n’roll, and Jack White advising us to rip up our problems and “be like the squirrel”. It’s pretty convincing.
Kate & Anna McGarrigle Swimming Song
When you’re in the dregs of winter, this little gem from the McGarrigle sisters hints at the glee of the summer ahead. A simple banjo riff carries their tribute to swan-dives, backstroke, butterfly and the “old Australian crawl”, not to mention the deliciously illicit “cannon-ball”.
Simon & Garfunkel The Only Living Boy in New York
Paul Simon has a peculiar gift for documenting loneliness; even in his giddiest musical moments his lyrics feel solitary. In this elegant song he captures the beauty of being alone rather than lonely, of the simple contentment of having “nothing to do today but smile”.
Louis Prima Buona Sera
There was always something contagious about Louis Prima—a jazzy, swinging trumpet-playing crooner who introduced all manner of Italianisms to popular American song. In this 1950s hit, he’s at his cockle-warming best, wooing us under the Napoli moonlight, sweet-talking of wedding rings and all the joys of tomorrow.
A gentler kind of lift here from a young British songwriter—a mingling of grief and new love, plotted over the seasons and set out in simple pleasures. So we have the first breath of springtime, fires, fog, falling leaves and the sweet pleasure of doing the dishes at the window with the radio on. “You’re alive,” she concludes, “just be thankful for this time.”
Kiri Te Kanawa O Mio Babbino Caro
A rudimentary grasp of Italian informs me that this aria from Puccini’s “Gianni Schicchi” is a daughter telling her father of her love for her suitor—a love so consuming that she will throw herself off the Ponte Vecchio if she cannot be with him. Never mind the background: the way the piece soars, with its swelling strings and sopranoed grace, makes the heart fly.
All songs available at iTunes