The Best Of 'Song Of The Day' NPR Music's Song of the Day features a new track every weekday, with analysis of the music, links to each artist's websites and, of course, a chance to hear the song itself. Here, Song of the Day editor Stephen Thompson talks about recent selections by Mates of State, O.M.D. with Aretha Franklin, Blonde Redhead and more.


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The Best Of 'Song Of The Day'

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(Soundbite of music)


Yeah, the sound of synthesizers, the keytar's more respectable ancestor. Whew, you thought those synths had gone away, but actually, it's a new record by a band that got rich off synths: Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. Remember OMD?

It's not just a revival. Listen to who they've got singing with them on this track.

(Soundbite of song, "Save Me")

Ms. ARETHA FRANKLIN (Singer): (Singing) I promised myself after the first romance, I wouldn't give you a second chance.

PESCA: Queen of Soul is in the house. Aretha Franklin with OMD? Here to explain how this came to be is Stephen Thompson of the NPR Music website.

Hey, Stephen.

STEPHEN THOMPSON: Hey. How's it going, Mike?

PESCA: What is going on here?

THOMPSON: This was the Song of the Day on the NPR website earlier this past week. And it is from the first Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark record in 14 years.

Obviously, they're sampling Aretha Franklin. It's sort of what you'd call a mash-up...

PESCA: Yeah.

THOMPSON: ...of a 1967 song by Aretha Franklin with a 1980 song by OMD. And so they've sort of smashed them together to make this gigantic sort of dance floor filler.

(Soundbite of song, "Save Me")

Ms. FRANKLIN: (Singing) Save me, come on save me.

PESCA: I think it helps both of them a little bit, don't you?

THOMPSON: I think so. I think that it sort of takes classic Aretha Franklin and sort of gives it a little bit of a dancier vibe. And it also, obviously, you have the gravitas of Aretha Franklin on this kind of light and airy synthpop band.

PESCA: All right, Stephen. You also feature a cover song, and it's a Tom Waits cover. And by the way, you're not a musician until you do a Tom Waits cover, right?

(Soundbite of laughter)

THOMPSON: They give it to you with the handbook.

PESCA: Right. Let's hear the original Tom Waits song, "Long Way Home."

(Soundbite of song, "Long Way Home")

Mr. TOM WAITS (Singer): (Singing) Forgive me, pretty baby, but I always take the long way home.

PESCA: That's the gravelly Tom that we know. And here now, the duo Mates of State, their take.

(Soundbite of song, "Long Way Home")

MATES OF STATE (Music Group): (Singing) Forgive me, pretty baby, but I always take the long way home. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

PESCA: Mates of State is upbeat. Tom Waits ain't. So maybe that would be a bad pairing, but it works well here. Why?

THOMPSON: I think it works great, and I know there are Tom Waits fans who - it was like chewing nails listening to Mates of State cover this song with this, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

PESCA: But then chewing nails is what Tom Waits sounds like.

(Soundbite of laughter)

THOMPSON: That's true.

PESCA: Spitting them, gargling them, yeah.

THOMPSON: What's interesting, though, is if you listen to the songs together, philosophically, I think it's a perfect match for Mates of State, just this unrelentingly cheerful band with kind of an undercurrent of melancholy that makes the cheer feel kind of hard-won.

PESCA: Yeah, that's it. I think we've stumbled on it. Waits is almost unrelentingly morose but with glimpses of hope.


PESCA: They're the inverse.

THOMPSON: Right. Exactly.

PESCA: Yeah.

THOMPSON: And so, they're the inversion of Tom Waits, and I think both are well-served.

(Soundbite of song, "Long Way Home")

MATES OF STATE: (Singing) Watch your back if I should tell you love's the only thing I've ever known. One thing's for sure, sweet baby, I always take the long way home.

THOMPSON: This is a massively polarizing song.

PESCA: Yeah.

THOMPSON: You know, the reader reaction on the website was either, oh, it's so heartfelt and uplifting, or it's just people who just can't believe that they were assaulted with the existence of this cover.

PESCA: What are you doing to my Waits? I like the sea chanteys. That is Mates of State with their version of Tom Waits' "Long Way Home."

And my guest is Stephen Thompson. He comes in from time to time. He curates the Song of the Day feature on So what's up next?

THOMPSON: All right. Well, what's next is a hairpin turn from Mates of State. It's sort of a cranky ethnomusicologist by the name of Lloyd Miller...

PESCA: Uh-huh.

THOMPSON: ...working with an acid jazz group from the U.K. called the Heliocentrics, and the song is called "Spirit Jazz."

(Soundbite of song, "Spirit Jazz")

PESCA: So what makes musicologist Lloyd Miller - why do you describe him as cranky?

THOMPSON: Well, he's sort of known in the jazz world as kind of a difficult guy. You know, he's known for writing this fairly well-publicized screed against modern music. And he's an expert in all this world music. He's an expert in Iranian music.

And so he's working with this group called the Heliocentrics that has also done these kind of fusions of jazz music and world music. And so I found this piece sort of hypnotically enveloping, and I love that we featured it.

(Soundbite of song, "Spirit Jazz")

PESCA: "Spirit Jazz" by Lloyd Miller and the Heliocentrics. And finally, Stephen, we have a new track from the band Blonde Redhead. Now, for those of you scoring at home, this is not "4 Non Blondes." This is not "Blondie." This is not "Concrete Blonde." I don't know why all the bands like to put blonde in their name. This is Blonde Redhead. Tell me about them and the song we're going to hear.

THOMPSON: Okay. Blonde Redhead is kind of a downtown New York art rock band. When they started out, they were very, very, very reminiscent of Sonic Youth.

Now, they've gotten a lot sweeter. And this particular song, which I love, is called "My Plants are Dead."

PESCA: Well, that does sound sweet, unless you're the plants.

THOMPSON: That's right.

PESCA: Let's listen.

(Soundbite of song, "My Plants are Dead")

BLONDE REDHEAD (Music Group): (Singing) I woke up this morning, didn't feel (unintelligible).

PESCA: Why'd you choose this one as the Song of the Day?

THOMPSON: I think it's really beautiful and very sad. I love the kind of haunting, that very Cure-style rumble underneath it. It's very sweet-sounding. But, you know, I like the fact that as much as it's kind of this cool, arty, detached, you know, downtown band, there's a lot going on in this song about loneliness and separation and alienation that I think this song captures really well.

And the people who love a newer band like The xx I think would be very well-served checking out a, you know, a more veteran band doing a lot of the same kind of stuff.

PESCA: Also people who hate plants.

THOMPSON: Also people who hate plants.

PESCA: Yeah. And that is Stephen Thompson. He's the curator of the Song of the Day feature on Check in every weekday for a new song.

Stephen, thank you.

THOMPSON: Thank you so much for having me, Mike.

PESCA: Awesome.

(Soundbite of song, "My Plants Are Dead")

PESCA: And for Sunday, that's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. If you missed either of this weekend's shows, fear not. We're now podcasting the best stuff. Go to I'm Mike Pesca. Guy Raz will be back next weekend. Thanks for listening, and have a great night.

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