1. Wilco, “Pot Kettle Black”: When Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot album came out in April 2002, I had just started writing my novel The Year of Fog. During the early drafts, I found myself listening to this song quite a bit. Its infectious though somewhat depressing refrain “every moment’s a little bit later” had achieved heavy rotation on my own internal radio station. Not surprisingly, when I was writing an early scene that prominently featured a recurring song, it was this one that I chose. When the book was finished, I wrote to Wilco seeking permission to reprint a few of the lyrics. Months later, having received no response and my publisher pushing for a final draft, I feared that I would have to replace the song throughout the novel. I sent off one final desperate plea to Jeff Tweedy and everyone at WilcoWorld.net. To my delight, I received a nice email and permission to use the lyrics. Long live Wilco!
2. The Sandels, “Theme from Endless Summer”: Nothing quite captures the feel of a melancholy day at the beach like this 1960s classic from The Sandels.
3. Chris Isaak, “San Francisco Days”: It was my intention with The Year of Fog to celebrate the real San Francisco, the city that escapes the hordes of freezing tourists in shorts and newly purchased Alcatraz fleece vests. This Chris Isaak song has always seemed to be a nice soundtrack to that other San Francisco.
4. Yo La Tengo, “Fog Over Frisco”: When you’ve recorded a song like this, you can be forgiven for calling this town “Frisco.”
5. Bruce Springsteen, “You’re Missing”: With the novel, I struggled to achieve in 380 pages something that Bruce has done here in five minutes. “The Rising” is an amazing album.
6. Beulah, “Hovering”: I’m still lamenting the dissolution of Beulah, one of the great lesser-known San Francisco bands. “Hovering,” a single from their album “Yoko,” is pure pop genius. For me though, the demo version, a lulling, beautiful instrumental, found only on a limited issue mini-CD thing, is the greatest treat. I’m not sure where you might find it, though I imagine there’s probably a copy at Amoeba Records on Haight Street, the greatest record store in the world.
7. Ron Sexsmith, “Never Give Up on You”: From his recent disc “Time Being,” this is a fine song of loyalty and determination.
8. Steve Forbert, “Oh, To Be Back with You”: For years, this song has fended off all challengers to remain at the very top of my all-time favorite song playlist. In Fayetteville, Arkansas, circa 1995, a boy from San Francisco with fabulous shoes wooed me with this song; it worked–we’re still together.
9. Walty, “Haight Street Bus Ride”: Here’s another great lesser-known San Francisco song. Both of Walty’s discs, especially the new one, “Let It Out” are well worth tracking down at www.WaltyMusic.com.
10. Morrissey, “Lifeguard Sleeping, Girl Drowning”: From the great disc “Vauxhall and I”, this eery, evil ode to apathy and lethargy stuck me with throughout the entire first draft of The Year of Fog. “… the sky became mad with stars as an out-stretched arm slowly disappears.”
11. Kris Kristofferson, “Sunday Morning, Coming Down”: It’s the Johnny Cash version that makes an appearance in the book. Here though, I’ve chosen the one from Kris Kristofferson’s “Austin Sessions” disc. Steve Earle provides nice background vocals.
12. Tom Waits, “Alice”: To me, no one captures the feeling of Northern California quite like Tom Waits. “… Arithmetic, Arithmetoc, turn the hands back on the clock.” Of course, there are two Tom Waits, and I always find myself drifting towards the more soothing one, the one here on “Alice.”
13. Ryuichi Sakamoto, “Put Your Hands Up (piano version)“: The counter on my MusicMatch program doesn’t lie, it is this song that I listen to more than all others. “BTTB”, back to the basics, may be my favorite disc of all time. Somehow, this song, and the two instrumental pieces that follow it, “Energy Flow” and “Railroad Man”, tell better stories than almost any song with lyrics.
14. Laura Cantrell, “When the Roses Bloom Again”: Like Walt Whitman’s “When Lilacs Last in the Door-yard Bloom’d”, this Will Cobb/Gus Edwards tribute to a difficult year has long been a favorite. Laura Cantrell’s version (from her album of the same name) has been on my playlist since I began The Year of Fog. Of course, this is only one of Laura’s great songs.
15. Village People, “San Francisco”: Penned by the Dallas-born Victor Willis, this song is possibly the greatest tribute to the City by the Bay. Yes you can laugh, though first I challenge you to put it on and not dance. It’s impossible. A relic from a more hopeful time, the song is a fine anthem for anyone who has come to adopt San Francisco as his or her true hometown. “… Dress the way you please and put your mind at ease/It’s a city known for its freedom…Inhibitions, no you don’t need them.” Of course, having been born and raised in Alabama, my favorite phrase from the song is, “San Francisco, y’all!”