Sam Phillips: Martinis and Bikinis
Every once in a very rare while you hear a song that grabs you, one that so knocks you for a loop that years later you remember exactly where you were the first time you heard it. Sam Phillips’ “I Need Love” is one of those rare songs for me (March 1994, in a client’s conference room, working on graphics for an air-conditioning repair training manual, tuned to WRAS/Album 88; sounds like I’m Miss Scarlett and I did it with the candlestick, doesn’t it?).
I grabbed my purse, headed to the nearest record store, and spent that afternoon and the rest of that week (heck, that month) listening to Martinis and Bikinis over and over and over. Sam Phillips voice captivated me … and there’s some kid playing guitar who just might make it big one day. Fast-forward twelve years, and this album still mesmerizes me. Lovely, catchy, haunting, sparkling.
Dan and I recently talked about the I-remember-the-first-time- I-heard-it phenomenon. We both know where we were the first time we heard The Cardigans’ “Gordon’s Gardenparty” — a warm Saturday afternoon in early March, listening to Album 88 as we pulled into the Kroger parking lot. We stayed in the car and danced until the end of the song, then went and bought the CD after we’d filled the trunk with groceries.
This week’s album is one you may not have heard. And that’s a sad thing. Martinis and Bikinis is a sublime, unique, Beatlesque beauty, and it’s on my Top 100. The album was produced by her then-husband, the brilliant T-Bone Burnett, with great guitar work by Peter Buck. She wrote most of the songs, and co-wrote a few with Burnett. For those of you keeping score at home, it wasn’t Peter’s guitar that sold me on the album; that’s just glorious icing on the cake.
Yeah, “Beatlesque” is overused. Seems every time an intelligent pop song comes out, we’re raving about its Beatlesqueness. But I think Martinis and Bikinis earns the label. Smart lyrics layered with catchy rhythm (and is it okay if I swoon again about Peter Buck’s guitar?). And, damn, that voice. God, I love Sam Phillips’ voice. I want to sound like that.
Sam Phillips started out as a Christian singer. She didn’t like the way she was marketed, so she changed her name and began recording secular music. You may be familiar with Sam’s voice via “Gilmore Girls”; she sings the “lalalala” breaks, and she was featured in last season’s finale with all the other cool kids. She was also one of the sirens in O Brother, Where Art Thou?.
Martinis and Bikinis is a perfect album. There, I said it. And I mean it. There isn’t one throwaway track on the disc. When I put it on, I want to stop everything so that I can sing and dance and twirl and rock a bit, just get lost in the album. Do yourself a favor. Listen to today’s selections, fall in love as I did, then click the above link and get your own copy. It was hard — damn hard — to pick a couple of tracks, but I think these will give you the flavor of Martinis and Bikinis.
“Love and Kisses” stars the album, fading into “Signposts.” They’ve always gone together to me, so I’ve put them together here. I love the sharp contrast between the two songs.
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I have to admit, it’s Peter’s playing that grabs me in “Same Changes,” but I also love the vocals and lyrics.
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I’m very particular about John Lennon covers, and there are few women who can pull it off. Sam nails “Gimme Some Truth” — and her version is further proof of her Beatlesqueness.
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