Hello there, DJ Michele here. Every week I choose an artist to feature on my Saturday show (from 3-6pm) on KEXP. And this week I’ll put the spotlight on my top 10 records of the decade, playing one song from each record.
This was a very difficult list to make. I went with the “desert island” approach... Thus the position of the Verve Remixed series at the top. It’s a whole series, so would be a goldmine if you were stuck on a desert island. I just hope the desert island also has a CD player and some food and shelter.
1. Verve Remixed (series) by Various Artists - I picked this record as the top, not only because there are 4 volumes (all of them top quality through and through), but also because it includes some of the top DJ work of the decade, paired with vintage performances from my favorite vocal jazz divas like Nina Simone, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday. Volume 1 is my favorite of this series. And then there’s the Verve Unmixed collection - a companion set of 4 volumes that has all the original tracks before the DJs got hold of them.
Of the whole collection, my favorite track is Ella Fitzgerald’s “Wait Till You See Him” remixed by (soundtrack guru) De-phazz. The original recording done of the song is incredibly velvety, especially when you consider that Ella probably only got one take to do it in. And effects were not on the table at that point to make a singer sound lush. She does it all with her voice. Amazing. And the lyrics are poetic, romantic, sincerely sung... (the dude talking at the start of this vid is not on the record.)
2. White People by Handsome Boy Modeling School - Honestly this record should probably go at the top. I saw Prince Paul and Dan the Automator do their HBMS schtick live once and it was awful, but this album is pretty much on permanent rotation for me. Warm loops and basic, optimistic hip hop are mixed with a variety of genres and artists. Jack Johnson sings Breakdown with added beats. Chan Marshall (otherwise known as Cat Power) sings a song so sexy and R&B it’s hard to believe it’s her. Del the Funkee Homosapien sings “The World’s Gone Mad” -- one of the best dubby pop songs ever. There are skits on here in between songs too, I think they’re extremely funny. I even find the CD cover hilarious.
3. Back to Black by Amy Winehouse - Say what you will about Amy Winehouse, she’s a brilliant artist and this honestly-written album emits sparks of real soul. She’s also got a sense of humor. Soul music sometimes has lyrics that are way too basic for me, but every track on here is a complex scene of details strutting around a set furnished with love and loss. Also, Amy’s songs are contemporary, where most soul is just a re-baked version of the past.
Since it’s the blog, I’m going to put an FCC-unfriendly track up. I think the backup vox on this song are really funny. Here’s to Amy feeling lots better and doing something like this record again soon.
4. Everybody Got Their Something by Nikka Costa - Again, it’s lyrics that make a record stand out for me. “Mr. Nothing’s got a lot, he’s got a lot to say...” Most of the songs on here are a mix of rock, funk and pop, plus some ballads. From raucous start to mellow finish it is completely satisfying. Her show at Chop Suey a few summers ago was the best show I’ve ever seen. She was layin’ it out so hard the sweat dripped down her face, her make-up running like Madonna in that bullfighter video. I’ve never seen a Seattle crowd dance so hard.
5. The Mouse and The Mask by Dangerdoom - This collaboration between the trippy producer Dangermouse and rapper Doom (AKA MF Doom) is a festival of pop culture references, laid out over loungey, funky riffs. There’s a feeling of mystery and depth, so I’m always finding something new. Somehow Doom can rasp out a line about Judy Jetson getting some booty, and it sounds brilliant. Doom somehow rhymes so effortlessly, poetically. I don’t have a TV at home, and if I ever have a craving to be absorbed by media, this baby hits the spot.
6. Joao Voz E Violao by Joao Gilberto - This Brazilian singer, guitar player, composer is THE master of the samba. This album has a warmth to battle even the most rainy, gloomy day. The softness of his playing and singing makes you lean in to hear. Absolutely gorgeous, flawless, present and pure.
7. Sound of Silver by LCD Soundsystem - In the tradition of Kraftwerk, these electronic pioneers have brought dance music further into pop. These songs not only make you dance, but the lyrics are thoughtful and you walk away humming the memorable melodies. They are great to see live too, much less serious than your average indie band. I love that this song is built on a Kraftwerk sample.
8. Standing In The Way of Control by Gossip - In 2009 British mag NME voted Beth Ditto “the coolest person in the world”. I have to agree. Not only are the words in these songs original and heartfelt, but they are sung with unashamed passion. Studying her for the KEXP Documentary series Music Revolutionaries made me love her more. She said “In my hometown the gay pride parade is me, my friend Freddy and a mylar ballon”. Their concert this year was a highlight and this record is (in my humble opinion) their finest.
9. Later That Day by Lyrics Born - Originally Tom Waits’ Glitter and Doom Live was in this spot, but I have to say I like this album better. One of my favorite hip-hop albums, it works as a story from beginning to end. Unfortunately his stuff after this seems more riffy and watered-down. But this collection is a potent revelation of self, and I’ll always admire him for that and his flow of poetry. This record is dark and hopeful, with lots of grainy detail and I hope he does something like it again someday.
10. Richest Man In Babylon by Thievery Corporation - In my first few years at KCMU (now KEXP), I discovered trip-hop. And after a decade of fascination this album is the standout. Also, as an electronic act no one is more fun than these guys. They continue to bring 5-8 different lead singers to the stage, a whole band of live instruments and the words on this record are political and smart. Leaning into the genres of dub, reggae, dance, international and pop, Eric and Rob are the real deal.
Catch Michele Myers every Saturday from 3-6pm on KEXP. She also produces KEXP Documentaries, short radio stories on musical subjects and hosts “Wake Up” 6-9am Monday, Tuesdays and Wednesdays on Radio New York 91.5FM in NYC.