Sometimes I like to pretend there is an afterlife. A place with all the people I knew and wanted to know. Good food, good times and, of course, a good band. I also like to imagine what comes on between sets at the Elysian Fields Lounge, hence Heaven’s Jukebox, which is stocked with the songs I wish someone had recorded:
Patsy Cline, “Do Right Woman”/“Tell Mama.” Country music’s greatest voice (What? You got a problem with that?) also carried a lot of soul. Like Aretha, Patsy could convey vulnerability and demand respect in the same note. And imagine that big, warm Cline voice wrapping around Etta James’ upbeat, sexy/maternal classic. Yowsa.
Marlene Dietrich: “Walk on the Wild Side”/“Chelsea Hotel.” Whaddya mean, crazy? It’s perfect for the queen of decadent ’30s Berlin, where everyone and everything was for sale. Dietrich could make shaved her legs and then he was a she both more jaded and more droll than Lou Reed ever could. Same goes for Leonard Cohen’s unsentimental love song: Who could put more weltschmerz into I don’t even think of you that often?
Frank Sinatra Sings Tom Waits. The Chairman and the Waits songbook are a natural match. Not bombastic Republican Frank, but the suffering soul of “Angel Eyes” and “One for My Baby (and One More for the Road).” Tracks will include “Ruby’s Arms,” “Christmas Card From a Hooker in Minneapolis,” “Ol’ 55,” and he’ll do “Please Call Me, Baby” in one tear-and-bourbon-soaked take while thinking of Ava Gardner and it. Will. Kill. You.
Janis Joplin Sings Led Zeppelin With Everyone in Led Zeppelin Except Robert Plant. Little known fact: Joplin was reportedly Jimmy Page’s first choice for the Zep lead singer slot. Such a lineup might’ve killed such Zep legends as the mud shark incident (Janis was a freak, but I dunno if she’d be down with that.) but would have benefited the band’s sound. Imagine the roaring ass she’d kick with “Black Dog” and “Rock and Roll” or the genuine my-soul-is-in-peril menace of her “When the Levee Breaks” and “Gallows Pole.”
Superstars of the Alternative ’80s Cover Elton John. … including the Pixies’ “Rocket Man,” the Smiths’ “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” the Afghan Whigs’ “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting,” Camper Van Beethoven’s “Crocodile Rock,” and the Cure’s “Tiny Dancer.” Because the Pixies love a space tune and can’t you just hear Kim Deal’s I think it’s gonna be a long, long time? Envision Morrissey owning that disillusioned rentboy pose and the unholy six-string screech Johnny Marr would lay out for the “ah ah ah”s. Or Robert Smith singing about his seamstress ballerina in that weirdly sweet Cure way.
Ray Charles and Johnny Cash: Together. A meeting of giants swapping and sharing songs: Ray brings the blues to “Folsom Prison Blues,” while Johnny does a stripped-down “Drown in my Own Tears.” Mr. Charles goes gospel on “Ring of Fire” and Mr. Cash makes “Hit the Road Jack” part-joke, part-threat. And of course, the two will duet on “Busted”—maybe they can get Patsy Cline to join in.