50 Songs (2001)


Extrordinary songs…
Songs that fascinate and delight me….
Songs that don’t wear thin over the years…
Magic songs that always mesmerize; altering time & space…
From songs that entered my ears for the first time 3+ decades ago,
to ones discovered within the past year…
A three CD set, issued 22 December 2001…
put together to share with friends on my 50th birthday.
Liner notes and song titles, below. . .

50 Songs ~ cover50 Songs ~ inside cover50 Songs ~ inside quotes


Liner notes:

IT’S IMPOSSIBLE, OF COURSE, TO PICK JUST 50 SONGS  . . . especially so if you’ve lived a half-century and voraciously devoured music every step along the way.The earliest family legend has me figuring out a way to stand up in my crib and move my body (I’ve added the detail that it was done with an Elvis pelvis swivel) so that I could surf the crib across the room over to where the console radio/record player was, and turn on the radio. And what I would have heard there, in that apartment on Avenue C, on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, in the early 1950’s, with the stations selected by my parents, reflecting the neighborhood outside, was probably either Polish polkas, Ukrainian men’s chorus or balalaikas, German radio music or perhaps a pinch of Yiddish Klezmer. My parents were first generation immigrants and as a result I didn’t hear Big Band music, which must have been somewhere, untapped, on that radio dial, until I discovered it through Frank Sinatra in my late teens. My sister was six years older so the AM radio hits started coming out of the smaller radio on top of the refrigerator a few years later. Perhaps some doo-wop, which I would grow to love many years later, some early rock’n’roll, and a lot of Wonder-Bread vocalists like Bobby Vinton. A few songs, besides the “novelty” items that caught all small kids ears, still stand out. Although they’re not in this collection, Harry Belafonte’s “Day-O” still mysteriously haunts me , as well as The Browns “Three Bells”. I seem to recall the very first record that was really mine was a yellow vinyl of Roy Rogers & Dale Evans “Happy Trails”; but that’s probably a composite memory. Jumping ahead a few years and I’m in front of the television and The Beatles are on the Ed Sullivan show and my ears and eyes open with an awareness like nothing before. Maybe it was just puberty. John (who was instantly my favorite), George, Ringo & Paul. Soon after I began buying 45 rpm records. I’d save my money til I had 5 dollars plus tax and go to House of Oldies on Bleecker Street and buy ten 45s The owner would play the new things coming in from England or California, and I’d experiment, delighting in all these different amazing sounds. (I still have my sister’s 45 of “Are You Lonesome Tonight?”) Inspired by the radio hit stations, my friend and I would exchange “charts” every week to let each other know what our favorite songs were in what order. How shocked and disappointed he was with me when “Strangers In The Night” stayed No.1 for 8 weeks on my list. The latter half of the 1960’s provided great songs reflecting the air of social change and protest, drug experimentation and sexual liberation (all of which, alas, 30 some years later, seem to be reversing toward a new uniformity, a media mass-produced political ignorance and submissiveness, and a further plunge into blind consumerism; a culture of gadget addiction, missle shields & smart bombs, purple ketchup & hot pink margarine). For the next three decades I tended to explore different types of music for certain periods of time. In the 1970’s, when “rock” music was at it’s most bloated (when I use musical categories, they must be taken with a large grain of salt, quotation marks assumed), I listened to many variations of folk music, Danced to disco and, in the latter part of the decade, punk, which also opened up doors to many great non-mainstream recording artists from Patti SMith to The Residents. During the 1980’s my ears mysteriously opened to the amazing treasures hiding under the category of “classical. Although I had a dozen or two favorite classical pieces before that, I jumped in completely, immersing myself in listening and reading, studying the centuries’ worth of wonderful composers’ work. The Shostakovich Quartets. Shubert’s Quintet in C. Alan Hovhaness, Bruckner’s No.8, Messiaen’s “turangalila”, Arvo Part… and on and on. For the past five years I have been exploring a lot of “World” music, from Pakistan, Russia, Portugal, Greece, Finland, etc.. And as with Classical music before, these days the same thing appears to be happening to me with Jazz, of which I previously had only a few favorites. Napster-type on-line file-sharing was invaluable to me to try out new and different musicians…names I’d always heard but didn’t know: Coltrane, Davis, Monk, Chet Baker ; some I knew a little and now could truly explore: Armstrong, Ellington, Gaillard, Tatum, Webster. my ears opened more and more to these wondrous sounds. I Digress… Regarding these 50 songs… There are songs here that have held me in thrall for decades and some whose magic is very recent. Some because the lyrics are particularly powerful, some whose melody rises like intoxicating incense. Some stand out because of some nuance of production or instrumentation, or some amazing human voice. Many are a combination of these elements. Melody and harmony seem to predominate over rhythms, and that is probably because of my conception of what a “song” is. Some are fun and make you want to sing along or smile or tap your foot. Some so sad they bring tears to my eyes even after I’ve heard them a hundred times. Some shine perfectly for some reason, some amazing beauty, which I cannot identify. The range of these songs is from the 1940’s into this century. (Except the Carlo Gesualdo piece, which is from the early 1600’s, but whose vocal labyrinths are so amazingly beautiful it had to be here.) I limited myself to only one song per artist. The categories include various samples and blends of rock (‘n’Roll), blues, jazz, Pop , country, rhythm & blues, Folk, Soul, techno, folk, and international – including Portugese, Greek, Irish and African. And then there are the songs left off. I started working on this 50 Song idea over a year ago. About 30 songs have remained untouched, but the space for the last 20 has shifted til the very last days of production on this project. What to leave of is so very hard. At least 30 songs anxiously await just below the 50. What to do with “Crying” by Roy Orbison, or”Gute Nacht” from Franz Schubert’s “Wintereeise” song cycle, or The Sparks techno-ethereal, danceable-funny, “No.1 Song In Heaven”, and so many more. [In the First Edition of this CD set, the latter of the three songs mentioned were included as unmarked bonus cuts at the ends of the three discs.]   Now that my brain is open to searching and remembering favorite songs new contenders come to the surface daily. Today it was “Reason To Believe” by Tim Hardin. Too late. Looking over the list I notice that about a dozen of the 50 are sung by women. About 10 years ago I put together two 90 minute cassettes, called “Her Voices”, of female vocalists. Enjoying women’s voices, I could have made it twice as long. as when in the early 1990’s I put together five 90 minute tapes of songs about food and drink (“The Dining Car Conspiracy”). Two years ago I put together a CD of New York City songs, and since last year have been at work on producing Volume 2. I am also at work on a CD collection of anti-war songs. If this world of madness and violence, where art and dreams struggle against the forces of money and power, manages not to destroy itself, or if The Grim Reaper doesn’t come around to visit me personally before then, I’d sure like to collect 55 other great songs in 2006, 60 more in 2011, et cetera. Want a copy? Let me know…Peace…and Music!
– aleXander hirka, December 2001

Disc One
Ronee Blakley – New Sun Rising
Pearls Before Swine – Rocket Man
Ink Spots – We Three (My Echo, My Shadow & Me)
Donovan – Lalena
Sherburn & Bartley – Killkelly, Ireland
Ayub Ogada – Kothbiro
Kinks – Don’t Forget To Dance
Rolling Stones – Miss You
Tim Buckley – Sweet Surrender
Incredible String Band – This Moment
Turtles – Happy Together
Lou Reed – Perfect Day
Dar Williams – The Babysitter Is Here
Elvis Presley – Indescribably Blue
Joe Cocker – You Are So Beautiful
Marianne Faithful – The Stars Line Up
Deller Consort (by Carlo GesuaIdo – early 1600’s) – In Monte Oliveti

Disc Two
Beatles – I Am The Walrus
Kraftwerk – Radioactivity
Beach Boys – Good Vibrations
Trashmen – Surfin’ Bird
Slim & Slam – Boot-Ta-La-Za
Sam The Sham & The Pharaohs – Wooly Bully
Radiohead – Creep
Patti Smith Group – Free Money
Jonathan Richman – That Summer Feeling
Frank Sinatra – A Summer Wind
Elvis Costello with Burt Bacharach – Painted From Memory
Lucinda Williams – Side Of The Road
Misia – Estatua Falsa
Van Morrison – Got To Go Back
Tish Hinojosa – Something In The Rain
Turley Richards – I Heard The Voice Of Jesus
Huun Huur Tu & Angelite – Legend

Disc Three
Bob Dylan – I Want You
Linda Ronstadt – Long Long Time
Willie Nelson – Always On My Mind
Joe Heukerott – A Different Tune
Righteous Brothers – Unchained Melody
Tom Waits – Invitation To The Blues
Toni Braxton – Unbreak My Heart
Joan Baez – Love Song To A Stranger
Jimmy Durante – As Time Goes By
Angélique Ionatos – O Kyklos Tou Nerou
Soraya – On Nights Like This
Johnny Cash – Rainbow
Leonard Cohen – Bird On The Wire
Kate & Anna McGarrigle – Why Must We Die?
John Lennon – Imagine
Louis Armstrong – Wonderful World

50 Songs ~ Times Square billboard