Today is not only Monday, but also the day before Christmas. But rather than giving you Christmas music this fine day, I will continue a tradition that began last year on this Boxing Day Monday Mixer. Think of this mixtape as a part two to that one. So I hope this Monday, whether you celebrate it as a holiday or not, will be one of quiet, calm reflection, and as you think of the year you’ve had, also think about the span of popular music in this country.
1 – “Naima” – John Coltrane
It’s always helpful to remember that so much of what we listen to today is because of jazz. This piece, recorded in 1959 on the eve of the decade of rock and roll, is just so smooth. The percussion and piano beautifully meld for a pleasant atmosphere perfectly prime for Coltrane’s sax. Even if we were still in the jazz age, I’m sure we’d all love music just as much as we do.
2 – “Good Morning” – Norah Jones
But the great thing about music is that people are always adding to it. Norah Jones, perhaps the poster child for NPR music, released a beautiful album this year, and although her usual repertoire is smooth jazz, this opening track has more in common with dream pop, perhaps the most chill of the genres seeing major growth in recent years. Producer Danger Mouse knew when to have her vocals dominate like a lullaby, and when to let the distorted keyboard and drum machine dominate this beautiful track.
3 – “Wonderful” – The Beach Boys
A track recorded for the legendary Smile, but with a drastically different version released for Smiley Smile and a slightly closer (but still mildly lacking) version for Brian Wilson’s Smile, this short melody features a harpsichord, organ, and his soothing vocals in a definitively sixties baroque-pop track.
4 – “Sweet Black Angel” – The Rolling Stones
One of the more beautiful, simply pleasant tracks from the Stones, it’s easy to imagine them having as much fun recording this one as any of their more rowdy songs. However, despite a simple blues melody, the song is actually political, and Jagger is singing about the incarcerated civil rights activist Angela Davis.
5 – “Boy Done Wrong Again” – Belle & Sebastian
This song summarizes the cathartic experience of listening to music: “all that I wanted was to sing the saddest song, and if you would sing along I will be happy now.” Of course, not all chill music is about sadness or suffering, but what I think all chill music comes down to is finding moments of joy within other circumstances, in this case the joy of solidarity through music.
1 – “Dead Flag Blues (Outro)” – Godspeed You! Black Emperor
An excerpt from the beautiful F♯ A♯ ∞, there’s a hopeful energy in this clip as the bells chime away. If you’re feeling ambitious, try the whole vinyl side A of the album, but be warned that it’s a lot more frightening than chill. Cutting a mere two minutes from a huge piece of music feels brutally unjust, but this snippet hit the feel of this mixtape just right.
2 – “The Times They Are A-Changin'” – Bob Dylan
This might be Dylan at his most melodic and smoothest. A traditional folk ballad, this song actually owes the least to the music of the jazz masters, despite being closest to them chronologically on this mixtape. With his guitar, harmonica, and pen, Dylan could make magic that would stick with people for years.
3 – “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out” – The Smiths
Despite the fact that no one will be surprised by this track’s existence, it gets a spot here because of the way the production perfectly suits the mood of simultaneous joy and loneliness. The flute in the darkened underpass is a particularly beautiful moment, but the song really hits the mark on the final hook.
4 – “Headless Horseman” – The Microphones
This is a very simple, strip-backed track, and somehow this man (the brilliant Phil Elverum) sounds more alone than even his counterpart half a decade later, Bon Iver. “Oh what a loss: I miss my closest friend,” he sings, a song of loss that seems to transcend any particular loss to cover all human loss. But somehow, rather than sounding sad, he seems to keep some shred of hope and subtle joy.
5 – “Only Living Boy in New York” – Simon & Garfunkel
Written at a time when tensions between the two were at a height, this track’s calm exterior and harmonies do little to betray the inner turmoil that caused them. Just one of many masterpieces on Bridge Over Troubled Water, Paul Simon might have been one of the greatest vocalists of his era.