During quarantine, the staff at the IAHI have been busy both in and out of the “office” and have been staying sane with some much needed music. We’ve compiled a list of our favorite jams that keep us focused, calm or put us in a dancing mood!
Today’s list is brought to you by Dan Grossman, a graduate research assistant at the IAHI and graduate student in IUPUI School of Liberal Arts English MA program. He also a recipient of the Facebook Covid-19 Grant.
*Warning: Some of these songs contain strong language and may require adult supervision*
1. Miles Davis – “Spanish Key”
This track is from B*tches Brew, Miles Davis’ first full-tilt electric jazz fusion album. This particular track is reminiscent of his album Sketches of Spain, in which Davis transformed Spanish folk compositions written for the guitar into a fusion flowing from classical music, European folk, and jazz. I hate how certain critics eulogized Davis, talking about him as if he had died long before his physical death, at the moment he stopped producing cool jazz.
2. The Snarls – “Walk in the Woods”
What’s not to love about this dreamy pop song and the video that accompanies it? Sometimes naive kids get together with no idea what they’re doing and — against all odds — find a groove, and a voice. This band happened to find their voice coming into the era of COVID-19.
3. Led Zeppelin – “Kashmir”
I find a lot of Led Zeppelin bombastic and unlistenable. But not “Kashmir.” During this time of sheltering in place, who isn’t dreaming of sailing off to some exotic land somewhere? I heard an interview once where singer Robert Plant says that Morocco was his Kashmir, as it were. And I can believe it, listening to these string arrangements.
4. Baaba Maal – Call to Prayer
This track was on Passion Sources, one of the albums on cassette I brought to Niger, West Africa as a Peace Corps volunteer. This was themusic that inspired Peter Gabriel when he was composing the soundtrack for the motion picture The Last Temptation of Christ — one of the foundational albums for what is now termed “world music.” Maal, who is Senegalese, is one of the world’s great singers. His voice in this track — with Peter Gabriel playing keyboards in the background — is full-to-the-brim with love and devotion.
5. Johnny Cash – “Hurt”
Originally written by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, Cash transforms this song into the self-reflective lament of a man looking back at his life, a life of many accomplishments but also regrets. The video for this song is one of the most powerful ever made.
6. M.I.A. “XXXO”
Yes, this is the same M.I.A. who flipped off the crowd at the 2012 Super Bowl half-time show at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. I like M.I.A. for her bold politics, her broken knuckle beats, and her je ne m’en fous attitude.
7. “Away” – The Feelies
The Feelies are one of my all-time favorite bands. I’m not a big concert goer, but I got to see them twice. They were, I guess, something of a groove band. They always had everybody on the floor dancing, always in herky-jerky rhythms.
8. U2 – “A Sort of Homecoming”
Too often the rhythm section is neglected when people talk about what they like about in rock music. This song features an unforgettable rhythm track — particularly Larry Mullen Jr.’s drum shuffle. This is one of the two songs on The Unforgettable Fire album with coherent lyrics (the other being “Pride (In the Name of Love)”. But it’s the atmosphere and the groove that matter more than lyrics on this album. According to rumor, Miles Davis listened to it many times while on his deathbed.
9. Chris Whitley – Soft Dangerous Shores
I also was lucky enough to see Chris Whitley perform twice, both times at the long-defunct Patio in Broad Ripple in the early 2000s. He was a solo act by then, just him playing his electric steel guitar. (He never looked comfortable playing live in bands.) By that time his career had run off the rails, more than a decade after his brilliant debut, Living with the Law. A visionary lyricist and a great blues guitar player to match, he died in 2005 of lung cancer.
10. Ravi Shankar at Monterey Pop Festival
Shankar, arguably the greatest musician of the 20th century, popularized Indian classical music in the West. His innovative, virtuosic sitar playing influenced many rock musicians like the Byrds and the Beatles’ George Harrison. It’s a go-to for me when I’m tapping away at my keyboard, seeking inspiration.
We hope you enjoyed this list and stay tuned for more staff music picks!