My wife and I recently visited the Peabody Essex Museum‘s Lunar Attraction exhibit. One of the more unique features of the exhibit was that they put together a playlist and installed a listening station in the exhibit, where people could listen to various moon-related songs.
Both Greta and are pretty voracious music nerds. We still have a CD player in our car, and we make mix CDs whenever we’re going on a longer drive. I personally like to make themed mixes, especially– I’ve made mixes of train songs, a mix of songs with synonyms for “stupid” in the title, a mix of songs with numbers in the title, in numeric order… So when we encountered the Lunar Attraction playlist, we both wanted to share our own takes on the theme. Greta’s playlist can be found here. Now here’s mine:
It’s Only A Paper Moon — Cliff “Ukulele Ike” Edwards
I’ve always loved this song– so much so that I purchased a copy of the failed play that it comes from, “The Great Magoo.” This particular version is by Cliff Edwards, who is perhaps best remembered today as the voice of Jiminy Cricket… Though he was one of the top stars of his day, and should also be remembered for being the first person to record “Singin’ in the Rain,” back in 1929.
Mr. Moonlight — The Beatles
I’m not the biggest fan of the Beatles– something I chalk up to too much exposure to them in my formative years. But I like the Latin percussion and harmonies of this track off Beatles for Sale. It was apparently originally recorded by Piano Red, a blues pianist, under the name “Doctor Feelgood and the Interns.” Which is a pretty amazing name for a band…
Dancing in the Moonlight (It’s Caught Me In Its Spotlight)– Thin Lizzy
This 1977 track from Thin Lizzy seems to me to fall pretty squarely into the genre of vaguely retro ’70s rock songs that harken back to the teenie bopper pop themes of the early 1960s, while still sounding like the ’70s. (See “Crocodile Rock,” et al.)
Moonlight — Maria Muldaur
Muldaur is remembered primarily for her somewhat schlocky but undeniably still amazing “Midnight at the Oasis,” a song that I have long loved, but don’t always admit that love in public. This track is a jazzy take on a Bob Dylan song from her 2006 album, Heart of Mine: Maria Muldaur Sings Love Songs Of Bob Dylan.
Mr. Moon — Clover
I’ve been slowly, over the last few years, warming up to 1960s California country rock. That said, I still do now and will always hate The Eagles. Don’t play the Eagles in my presence. That said, this song just makes me happy and relaxed. Weirdly, Clover’s closest brush with fame was their uncredited recording as the backing band on Elvis Costello’s debut album, My Aim is True. So yeah, next time you’re tapping your toe to a new wave classic like “Alison” or “Less Than Zero,” think about the fact that the band you’re listening to spent most of their time together sounding a lot more like The Band. Genre is always a convenient lie.
Moon River — Patty Griffin
Patty Griffin covers what is possibly Henry Mancini’s best-loved song. I picked this version from the many because it’s haunting, quiet, and evocative. But it was a hard choice– this song is one of those standards that almost everyone seems to knock out of the park. On a side note, I went to see Henry Mancini lead his band back in elementary school. I guess it was my first concert. I’ve loved him ever since.
Dancing in the Moonlight — King Harvest
That Wurlitzer organ line. Every time. Just makes me happy. This song was a staple of oldies radio when I was a kid– and I listened to a LOT of oldies radio as a kid. When I was playing this mix for Greta, she remarked that she had always thought this song was by Van Morrison. Turns out she wasn’t alone. Per the Wikipedia page for “Dancing in the Moonlight”:
The song is often wrongly primarily attributed to Van Morrison, Elvis Costello, or “Kink Harris”, due to incorrect labeling on various digital download services. Neither Morrison nor Costello has recorded a version of “Dancing in the Moonlight”, and “Kink Harris” does not exist.
Man on the Moon — R.E.M.
R.E.M. is a band that I can take or leave. But this song is about Andy Kaufman, and I love Andy Kaufman. I actually came about this close to writing my senior thesis in college about Andy Kaufman, before I made it more generally about humor theory. I have a picture of Andy Kaufman in my office. For that matter, I have the WWE action figure two-pack of Andy Kaufman and Jerry Lawler in my office, too.
Anyway, I always liked how this song brought the idea of Kaufman faking his death together with the conspiracy theories about a faked moon landing… And this is a moon mix, so there you are. Any excuse to spread the Gospel of Andy.
There Was a Moon — Jacob Borshard
Jacob Borshard is a cartoonist and musician out of Austin, Texas. He plays the ukulele and sings songs about romantic regret, artists, dinosaurs, and Batman. If this sounds a bit too twee for your tastes, it probably is, but I love his songs. He’s self-released several albums, all of which can be downloaded for free here. Check him out!
Leave Me On The Moon — Beck
Beck included an earlier version of this song on Fresh Meat and Old Slabs, a mix tape that he made for his mother Bibbe Hansen, as a birthday gift. She went on to copy the tape for fans of her son.
This later version is from the soundtrack to the film Kill The Moonlight, a student film homage to ’70s grindhouse cinema by Steve Hanft, which Hanft completed in 1992. The soundtrack was released by Sympathy for the Record Industry in 1997.
Meanwhile, “Kill the Moonlight” is actually sampled on Beck’s 1994 breakthrough hit, “Loser.”
Bad Moon Rising — Creedence Clearwater Revival
Another standby of Oldies stations when I was growing up. Another song that I could, if I chose, made a Big Lebowski reference about. Just a cheery, uptempo song about the coming Apocalypse.
Blue Moon Take #2 — Bob Dylan
It’s 1969. You’re Bob Dylan, and you’re getting kind of tired of the whole “voice of a generation” thing being foisted on you, and the responsibility that comes with that. You just wanna play some music, man. So what do you do? You start recording Self Portrait, your follow-up to the classic Nashville Skyline, and your second double album. (Your first was Blonde on Blonde.) As you record, this cover-laden album becomes a monument to weirdness, to the point that Griel Marcus opened his Rolling Stone review of the album with the sentence “What is this shit?”
It’s a difficult album to listen to, to be sure, but I always find little diamonds in the rough whenever I listen to it. This somewhat messier alternate take on his cover of “Blue Moon” is one example. In all that sloppy, silly, weirdness… there’s just something there. Something better than the sum of the song’s parts.
Moon Rise — The Royals
The Royals (previously the Four Falcons, eventually to become The Midnighters) were a Doo Wop and R&B vocal group out of Detroit. They recorded this song on May 10, 1952, in Cincinnati, Ohio. The song became a regional hit in Philadelphia– the kind of success that got one onto the Hot 100’s “Bubbling Under” charts. I included it here because it’s just so beautiful and etherial. It sounds like a moonrise.
Mountains in the Moonlight — Johnnie Ray
The moon was at one point thought to have powers over the mind. That’s why the root of the word “lunatic” is “luna,” Latin for moon. What I love about this track is how the singer sounds right on the verge of coming unhinged.
Johnnie Ray, the singer on this track, was known for having a voice jam packed with emotion. He was known by nicknames including “the Nabob of Sob,” “Mr. Emotion,” and “The Prince of Wails.” His vocal special was a certain brand of melodramatic emotional delicacy that, for a while in the early 1950s, the teenaged crowd ate up. “Mountains in the Moonlight” is one of his less successful songs from that early period, but it is still a great example of his style.
Moon Watching — Shin Joong Hyun
This is the only instrumental in this playlist. I included it because I can’t get enough of Shin Joong Hyun’s music. While his career goes back to 1958, when this track was recorded in South Korea, I– like most Western listeners– only recently became familiar with his work when Light in the Attic records released Beautiful Rivers And Mountains: The Psychedelic Rock Sound Of South Korea’s Shin Joong Hyun 1958-74. This surf-infused early track is great, but the album’s highlights are really the deeply psychedelic (and sometimes New Age-tinged) tracks from later in his career. The man deserves to be better recognized in the States: he’s a great guitarist, and you’ll never mistake his music for anyone else’s you’ve ever heard.
New Moon — Sambassadeur
This is the first track on Swedish Indie-Pop band Sambassadeur’s eponymous first album. According to Labrador Records, their label, “Sambassadeur started as a DIY version of ABBA in the year 2003.”
Look, I’ll admit– I know next to nothing about Sambassadeur. I got this track on a mix CD from a friend back in 2006-2007. I liked it. I now have a handful of Sambassadeur songs on my iTunes, but I’ve never really sought out their music. But every time I hear a song from this band, I like it.
Sent to the Moon — Tullycraft
Seattle-based twee-pop band Tullycraft has been together since 1995, and to my constant amazement and consternation, they still seem to be relatively obscure. Maybe because their songs are full of obscure name dropping– of which “Sent to the Moon” is a great example. Another Tullycraft song that name-drops right and left is also a great description of the kind of songs Tullycraft plays: “Pop Songs Your New Boyfriend’s Too Stupid To Know About.”
This track is from their 2002 album Beat Surf Fun, which is precisely as sunny and fun as it sounds.
Hippy, Skippy, Moon Strut — The Moon People
This boogaloo obscurity might sound familiar. That’s probably because you’re thinking of Christina Aguilera’s 2006 “Ain’t No Other Man,” which was built off samples from this song. “Hippy, Skippy, Moon Strut,” in turn, was an edit of “Happy Soul (With A Hook)” by Dave Cortez with The Moon People, which in turn was a remix of “The Happy Man” by Los Astronautas, which was a vocal-less mix of “(I’ll Be A) Happy Man” by The Latin Blues Band.
At least I think that’s the case– it’s all hard to sort out. Spectro-Pop Express has a good explanation of the convoluted history of this track here.
Whatever you wanna call it, in any of it’s versions, it’s a funky, fun song.
Skinhead Moonstomp — Symarip
Syramip was a British ska and reggae band made up of the children of East Indian immigrants. They became one of the first bands to notice the growing population of skinheads in their audience, and to write songs that targeted and catered to them. This was in the late sixties, when “skinhead” was a working-class, multiethnic variant on mod fashion, before the term (and the subculture) became almost synonymous with racism.
“Skinhead Moonstomp” was first released in 1969, and was later re-released as a single in 1980, as a response to the 2-Tone ska craze. It’s a great dance anthem, as long as people look past the associations that people have come to have with the term “skinhead” since it was recorded.
Mr. Moon — Kate Micucci
Do you happen to remember when, on season 9 of the show Scrubs, the accountant Ted met and fell in love with a sweet, gawky ukulele player named Stephanie Gooch? Or do you happen to be a fan of novelty music duo Garfunkel and Oates? If so, you probably are already familiar with Kate Micucci.
If not, Google her name, and you’ll probably say “oh, wasn’t she on that one episode of that one thing?” and be scrambling off to IMDB. In any case, her solo stuff is pretty sweet too.
This is a totally different “Mr. Moon” than the above one. This song follows the casual adventures of the Moon one day when he played hookie from, you know, being the moon, and instead went for a swim on Earth.
Blue Moon of Kentucky — Bill Monroe
Bill Monroe’s signature song, Elvis Presley’s first single, the official bluegrass song of the Bluegrass State.
There’s really no reason I should need to introduce this song. And the video below of Bill Monroe singing it has him introducing it anyway, and I’d trust him to speak to the song over me any day.
Moonlight in Vermont — Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong
I have to admit, I was torn between this version of the jazz standard and Willie Nelson’s version off of Stardust. To me, Willie’s will always be the definitive version, but this beats it out (just barely) for sheer beauty.
Things I learned about “Moonlight in Vermont” in writing up this description: 1) The song has no rhyme scheme. I’m not sure how I never noticed that before. 2) Except for the bridge, each verse of “Moonlight in Vermont” is a haiku.