Songs Of The Day 9/20/2015: 4 from "Lost In the Stars: The Music of Kurt Weill"

Not to be disparaging, but when I marketed various-artist tribute albums in the late '90s we sort of maintained a dim view of them, at least from a commercial standpoint. Quality-wise, some were excellent, some were pointless, and some were great tax write-offs. Almost none of them sold. I can't think of any that set the charts on fire. But they were released like wildfire that decade, at least enough so that I'd notice. Artists seemed enthusiastic about them, which I'm sure was a selling point. And there are surely a few that I hold in very fond remembrance. Pravda Records' 3-album salute to K-Tel comps of the '70s was an awful lot of fun. There was one from Cherrydisc Records called Everybody Wants Some! (A Loose Interpretation of the Musical Genius of Van Halen) that I liked. Depending on your view on Van Halen it either leveled the playing field or was cause for burning at the stake. It couldn't have been worse than Van Halen 3.

The greatest tribute album was the first one I ever got, back in 1985: Lost in the Stars: The Music of Kurt Weill. This was the brainchild of Hal Willner, the music producer whose career path is the one of which I'm most jealous. Willner helmed two tribute albums -- Nino Rota and Thelonious Monk -- before this one, but it's Lost In the Stars that received the most attention from the music press and set the standard for the idiom. Weill's lyricists worked with implicit rebellion that aligned well with rock artists who thought about it long enough, and the music was fair game to jazz artists who tinkered with the Great American Songbook. Are you surprised Tom Waits is on this tribute album? Did I even have to say that?

I bought this album at a young enough age -- I think I bought it after reading about it in Tower Records' free Pulse magazine, believe it or not -- that it left a huge impression on me. Bridging modern artists back to the cabaret music of the '30s and '40s was something that just didn't happen in the shiny-toy '80s. Many personal musical directions I somewhat recklessly took sprung directly from this album, and for better or worse it was also the first time I'd encountered John Zorn. (For better in my opinion, for worse for some of the people who rode around in my car with it in the tape deck. Novices.)

These are four of the songs from Lost In the Stars that stuck with me the most, along with a Lou Reed SOTD I featured three years ago. Perhaps you'll have the same kind of epiphany. Try to imagine me sitting beside you with moussed hair and a long overcoat. (Yes, I once had enough hair to mousse. Don't be mean.)

Fowler Brothers with Stan Ridgway – “Cannon Song”

John Zorn – “Der Kleine Leutnant Des Lieben Gottes” (The Little Lieutenant of the Loving God)

Dagmar Krause – “Surabaya Johnny”

Ralph Schuckett & Richard Butler – “Alabama Song”

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