Like Kurt Vonnegut’s Billy Pilgrim, Roger Joseph Manning Jr. often seems to be unstuck in time, whether in the groovy, psychedelic ’90s (with Jellyfish and Moog Cookbook) or the prog-rock ’00s (with Malibu and as a keyboardist for Air). Manning—who’s also played with Beck and recently released the glam/psych solo album Catnip Dynamite (download “Down In Front”)—took a break from his many trips long enough to make MAGNET a mix tape. Read MAGNET’s Jellyfish retrospective.
STRAWBERRY ALARM CLOCK “Pretty Song From Psych-Out” (1967)
Definitive psych pop! Every single time I hear this song—and it must be well over 5,000 listens at this point—my stomach feels weird in the best way and incredibly sentimental. I want to run away to Haight Street and play in Golden Gate Park with all the other crusties and pretend it’s 1966/67!
BURT BACHARACH “Wanting Things” (1968)
Brings me to tears every time. It’s a perfect example of lyrics and music in perfect union and the resulting emotional flood that can occur when done right.
XTC “Train Runnin’ Low On Soul Coal” (1984)
Definitive example of the extensive and elaborate journey that can occur for the listener even within the brief time span of a four-minute pop song. The extremely adventurous harmonic chordal shifts that happen in this song, particularly in the bridge, have inspired me in my own compositions numerous times over the years.
THE MUSIC MACHINE “Trouble” (1966)
Definitive ’60s monster go-go rock! “Trouble” always brings a smile to my face. I dance around in some kind of groovy ’60s Time-Life commercial kind of way. I think I might actually be doing the Frug or the Watusi or the like. Crazy, man. Like, crazy!
PREFAB SPROUT “Nightingales” (1988)
It doesn’t get any lighter or softer than this, which is why this song is so punk rock. Sometimes I can’t even believe I stand by this group and their songs. These dudes somehow tap into the core of the emotional core. Their feminine side is not only worn on their sleeve; it’s taped to their forehead in the most unashamed manner. What an inspiration. I just hope that one of my songs has touched a single listener to the depths that this group’s songs consistently have touched me. Don’t be a wuss—listen to Prefab and wuss-out!
LED ZEPPELIN “Misty Mountain Hop” (1971)
Definitive classic rock: barefoot in the park on a sunny Saturday afternoon while guzzlin’ beer with my friends, shirt’s off, flared Levi’s, throwin’ the frisbee around and enjoying life down by the lazy river, air guitaring to the most hypnotic riff the Zep ever concocted. Damn, life is good! Where’s my tube-topped mama?!
CROSBY STILLS & NASH “Helplessly Hoping” (1969)
A “Mellow Mafia” classic. This is the beginner’s guide, entry-level song for CSN. One of Stills’ best and simplest melodies perfectly harmonized by the trio. This is the sound of my childhood. Warm, fuzzy feelings abound.
NANCY GRIFFITH “Love At The 5 & Dime” (1986)
This is what all country music should still sound like. What the hell happened? Tell a simple tale of simple love and make me cry with your simple Middle American voice. God, she does the job so eloquently. A true folk princess.
BRAZIL ’66 “So Many Stars” (1967)
It’s pure jazz but doesn’t sound like it. “So Many Stars” is classic Brazilian samba-pop at its finest. The harmonic movement in this song, although simple and easy on the surface, is actually quite complex and involved. But as a listener we never detect this. We simply float and are carried away and held in suspension by the singer’s voice. Again, these are the heights of songwriting in the pop arena that I have always aspired to. These are the works that raise the bar and create a standard.
THE SMITHS “William, It Was Really Nothing” (1984)
A harmonically rich stand-alone guitar jam with that distinct sections that somehow Morrissey weaves together effortlessly with his brand of melody construction. Nobody has or will ever sound like this group because of this unique approach to pop songwriting. The inherent emotional content in the chord progression is taken to even greater heights by Moz’s vocal lament. God works in mysterious ways. That’s why being alive can be so fulfilling … but that’s the last thing I would selfishly want Morrissey to remember and become an optimist in the process.
“Down In Front” from Catnip Dynamite (download):