Music That Makes Me Happy

I talk about music a lot, exploring distinctions between art and craft, talent versus popularity, emotion versus complexity, etc. This is some of the music that makes me happy. Some of these cuts are actually “good” (i.e. they required real talent to create and perform) while others are just fun things that I like.

Some advice: Don’t listen to these tracks on a phone or with PC speakers. You need headphones with good bass response to appreciate many of these cuts.


“St. Louise is Listening” by Mike Doughty. This is from a collection of remastered cuts from his alt hit albums in the 1990s. You need headphones with a good bottom end to appreciate it.


“Talkin’ Loud and Sayin’ Nothing” by Mr. James Brown. I walk around NYC a lot listening to music with earbuds. This is a great walking song.


“Never Make Your Move Too Soon” by Ernestine Anderson. A really terrific and hard-to-find live performance with a great band. Whatever “it” is, she had it.

“Sho Z-Pod Duba” by DakhaBrakha. I don’t really care about lyrics. Singers are just another instrument. This is a good example. And, I told you, get some headphones or you’ll miss the cool stuff.

“I Can’t Stand the Rain” by Cassandra Wilson. This is just incredibly simple and wonderful.

“Serves You Right to Suffer.” John Lee Hooker reworked by The Avener, a French recording engineer.

“Phantom (Redux)” by Shirt. Most hip hop and rap seems musically facile to me, but I love this. Maybe it’s the rapid-fire lyrics and the nearly Herbie Hancock-style arrangement. FAIR WARNING: The lyrics are often filthy.

“Chocolate” by Big Boi. I also like heavy, electric hip hop that respects the inclusion of vocals as part of the music and not just narrative or storyline.

“Rah” by Natacha Atlas. When the full rhythm section comes in at 55 seconds, it feels like you’re supposed to stand up, close your eyes, and slowly wave your arms around over your head.


“Muskat (Slishal, No Ne Zapisal)” by J.U.F. (Gogol Bordello vs. Tamir Muskat). If I had known that clarinets, tubas, and a tenor sax could be used in this way, maybe I would have kept playing after high school.

“Ain’t No Grave” by Bror Gunnar Jansson. There’s a video of this that makes it clear this guy is talented. Just him, a guitar, and a rudimentary drum kit with foot pedals.

“Lautarium” by Shukar Collective. It’s like a funky prayer… and seriously, use headphones.


“Sinister Kid” by the Black Keys. I’m always a sucker for a funky, hard-edged tune with heavy bass and not a lot of extra instrumentation.

“Satellite” by Nine Inch Nails. Yes, Nine Inch Nails makes me happy, and please tell me you’re not listening to this on a cheap device. You need to feel the bass line.

“Boo hoo” by K.T. Tunstall. Sometimes slow and gooey also makes me happy. I think Tunstall’s acoustic work is superior to her electric tracks, which tend toward pop.

“Closure” by Jill Scott. I do like a singer that really delivers. And don’t be expecting no breakfast!


“The Road is my Middle Name” by Bonnie Raiit. I really like the guitar fills on this cut. Saw her live once in the 1970s, and had no idea who she was to become.

“The Nearness of You” by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. Real, American classics. They were just the best.

“Ten Cents a Dance” by Anita O’Day. My pure enjoyment of the horn arrangement in this track reminds me I am still my music-professor-father’s son.

“Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” by Carla Bley. This is what real musicians do with a simple tune. Turn it up and go along for the ride.

“Stormy Monday” by Barbara Morrison. Yeah, she just rocks.


“Top Floor, Bottom Buzzer” by Morphine. I think I bought every recording that Morphine ever made.

“Lemon” by N.E.R.D. & Rihanna. Oh what the hell, I’ll admit to liking other hip hop cuts, like this one.

“Stir Fry” by Migos, and this one. And again, you won’t appreciate the real benefits of the bass line unless you’re listening on good equipment.

“Trinkit” by Beats Antique. I’m not sure, but it might be the creaky door sound and the fact that the drum track sounds like an old trash can, plus there’s the general funkiness.

“The Big Come Down” by Nine Inch Nails. If this isn’t industrial rock, I wonder what would be.

“Big Bad Wolf” by In this Moment. As previously admitted, I’m a sucker for loud tracks with heavy bass, and I do love this.

“Battle Flag” by Pigeonhed. It’s a solid funk tune with complicated counter melodies. LYRICS WARNING. They think that M-Fer is an all-purpose adjective.

“Better Strangers” by Royal Blood. As with much of my favorite music, a slow, heavy rock song meant to be played loud.

“Rollin’ and Tumblin’ ” by Jeff Beck. Because hey, it’s Jeff Beck, and then add Imogen Heap vocals.

“In These Shoes?” by Kirsty MacColl. Oh, shut up. I like it.

“Augas de Marco” by Rosa Passos. Because who doesn’t like a bit of light, vocal jazz from Brazil now and then?

“Pannonica” by Tommy Flanagan. So nice, so simple.

“Ellington’s Stay Horn” by the Art Farmer Quintet. I once said that listening to this track is as close as I get to religion. I bet it lowers my blood pressure too.

“Can’t Truss It” by Public Enemy. Again, I am not a hip hop fan in in general, but I always loved a lot of work by Public Enemy.


“Broke Down on the Brazos” by Gov’t Mule. I like this so much that I’m reminded I grew up in southern Ohio. Not just Ohio; southern Ohio. Besides, this guy sings a lot like my brother, who is a musician. In southern Ohio.

“Your Sister Cried” by Mary Gauthier. This is a great sing-in-the-car song. As a New Yorker, I guess I could try singing along in the subway.

“Call Me” by Fat Kid Wednesdays. I love the last 90 seconds, when it seems like the vocals become background for the sax.

“Baby it’s You” by Smith. The scream at 2:36 just did something to my nascent, childhood awareness in 1969.

“On the Road Again” by Canned Heat. Growing up in the Midwest in the 1970s, we spent a lot of our teenage years riding around in cars, and this song always made us yell, “turn it up!”

“Jack You’re Dead” by Louis Jordan. A goofy classic.