When my sister and I were younger, and I mean much younger, we used to make mix tapes with our father. There are seven official ones floating about, but the first and last ones are inarguably the best ones. The tapes were culled from my family’s still-prodigious collection of vinyl, with my father leading at the helm, my sister and I peppering in our own choices, and my mother sometimes tossing in a suggestion. She was into things like Roxy Music then, and was once main curator of a whole B-side of female folk (Volume 5, I think it was), so we were admittedly not very jazzed at the time when she would get too involved. Then again, my sister and I based choices partly on album covers and funny song names, which was how Rod Stewart once made his way onto a mix, and why I know who Chris Ducey was. His album was printed like a two of hearts… a “deuce” if you will. Cute. Also, bad.
Now, these experiences taught me a lot about making mix tapes, and what not to do. For starters, never let children help you make a mix tape, or you might get Chris Ducey songs. More importantly, when I began making my own, I learned to record the times of each song, to structure them so as many could fit as possible, but also to make sure a mix always was as full as possible without ever having a song cut off at the end of the side. I also learned to try to limit one artist to once per side, at most. Not that whole sides of David Bowie weren’t wonderful, but it wasn’t my mix style. I would sit by the stereo with a stack of CDs, a preliminary track list, and watch the tape and CD intently to make sure the song was recorded properly. It was clinical and scientific in some ways, and yet a labor of love, like baking, and it came back to the afternoons sitting around with my family, piles of records strewn about the rug, music playing, and discovering music that not only was new to us due to our young age, but which I have to this day never heard in a context outside of my own family. This is one of those songs.
What “Me and My Baby” is not is a song that I immediately loved. I don’t recall hating it, but I just forgot about it among other tracks I did love. It’s perhaps not surprising, as it mines the classic 12-bar blues tradition. Your city, wherever it is, has 20 bands that do generic blues, and this song could fit in any one of them. Yet something about this one stands out: maybe it’s the nostalgia, which I’m sure is a factor, but I think the song itself is to blame. Each verse packs three quick licks that are all designed to bring you deep in. The first four bars close with three staccato chords, the next four with a perfect descending riff, and finally the last four finish with a slick blues guitar fill. Throughout, there’s the wandering bassline, the warm organ, and solos from both guitar and keys. It’s a wholly composed song that feels incredibly improvisational and organic. It’s also almost impossible to not dance to it. It’s jaunty and infectious, to the point where, in trying to compile my top 100 songs last year, it kept popping up for some reason, trying to tell me something. It never made the cut, but it’s been engrained in my mind so subtly that I can’t imagine life without knowing it.
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