Playlist Friday: Colouring songbook

Do try to colour outside the lines.

“They’re Red Hot” – Hugh Laurie

Did you know that Hugh Laurie released a blues album a couple of years ago? He often played piano and guitar on House, Fry & Laurie and Jeeves & Wooster, so he’s clearly been secretly planning this for years. I don’t love his singing voice, but the album is still well worth a listen. There’s also a charming and hilarious introductory essay by him in the liner notes on why it’s ok for a white middle-aged British dude to sing old black men’s music.

Something else that Hugh Laurie wrote, incidentally – and I recommend this without any reservations, because it’s brilliant and not the least bit a vanity project – is a novel called The Gun Seller. It’s a humorous thriller that reads like a Wodehousian parody of noir fiction and it’s very, very good.

Tangerine from MEssing Around by Molly JohnsonTangerine” – Molly Johnson

I chanced upon Molly Johnson performing at the Toronto Jazz Festival nearly ten years ago, and was captivated by her singing. She seems to have gained in popularity since then – winning a Juno and even recording a promotional clip for Ontario. Rumor has it though, that junk mail addressed to her still occasionally arrives at the Cameron Public House, where she used to room in her less-renowned days.

Yellow Submarine, the BeatlesYellow Submarine” – The Beatles

Since we’re rumor-mongering – I heard that these guys have something of a cult following? They’re not my cup of tea, but neither is the colour yellow, so they are welcome to each other.

Moreover, research conducted while putting this playlist together indicates that yellow is the least musically inspiring colour and there are really no good songs out there that feature it, aside from this one and “Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini”.

Green Grass” – Agathe & Fine

What do you mean I include Tom Waits in every playlist? He’s so well disguised here, I didn’t think you’d notice.

But since you did, I should tell you that Female Tribute to Tom Waits is an extraordinary three-volume collection of Tom Waits covers by women, full of startlingly beautiful, poignant and whimsical interpretations of his songs. There are big-names artists like Marianne Faithfull, Norah Jones and Holly Cole, but also many singers that I discovered here for the first time. There are covers in Spanish, impromptu live recordings, and charismatic French-accented voices. No other tribute collection I’ve heard reveals the depths of beauty lurking in the original songs quite as powerfully as this one.

Blue Monday” – New Order

Experiencing days of the week as colours is one of the most common types of synesthesia, but even non-synesthetes often associate certain days of the week with colours. I bet if you polled people, you’d find that the most common colour for Monday is blue. (My sample size for this hypothesis is 2: myself and Alan Davies of QI). Rather than counting this song as evidence that the ’80s synthpop band New Order also perceives Mondays as blue, I blame them for the fact that the rest of us do.

“Mood Indigo” – Nina Simone

Written by Duke Ellington, this song was also recorded by Ella Fitzgerald and Dinah Washington, among others, but Nina Simone’s version is my favorite by far.

“Start Wearing Purple” – Gogol Bordello

Gogol Bordello are a hell-raising bunch of Gypsy punks. Their songs are a raucous, lusciously dirty mix of Eastern European languages, Klezmer music and troublemaking.

“She’s a Rainbow” – The Rolling Stones

And to tie all this together, here’s a fun psychedelic number. I don’t know where the Stones were originally going with these lyrics, but I interpret this girl as having an orgasmic superpower.

P.S. If you want to play the whole thing continuously and it doesn’t bother you that one of the songs would be excluded, then the YouTube playlist is here.

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