But five songs a week can seem like a lot of music — they pile up quickly — so Guy Raz regularly brings in Song of the Day editor Stephen Thompson to showcase the latest highlights. This time around, they discussed Laurent Korcia's "Mission Impossible" (a cover of the timeless TV and movie theme, performed on a 290-year-old Stradivarius), Tim Buckley's live performance of "Troubadour" (recorded when the late icon was only 20) and Smokey Robinson's "I Want You Back" (a cover of the Jackson 5 hit, included as a secret bonus track on Robinson's newest album).
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GUY RAZ, host:
And I'm not going to come right out and call him a hipster, but NPR's own extremely hip, Stephen Thompson, the curator of NPR's SONG OF THE DAY is with me in the studio to play some of his favorite new music.
Welcome, Your Royal Hipness.
STEPHEN THOMPSON: You know, nothing is hipper than a 37-year-old dad. Thank you for having me.
(Soundbite of theme music, "Mission Impossible")
RAZ: Okay, Stephen. This first song we're hearing. Is this what I think this is?
THOMPSON: This is the "Mission Impossible" theme.
RAZ: It sounds as if secret agents had learned to play the violin.
(Soundbite of laughter)
THOMPSON: That's right. It's a Stradivarius, in fact. A 290-year-old violin.
RAZ: Wow. And who's playing?
THOMPSON: It's a Frenchman in his 30's named Laurent Korcia. And he's playing a Strad and on his new album tackling different cinematic theme songs. And so he's taking on the "Mission Impossible" theme and sort of reinventing it without the ingredients that you're accustomed to but still capturing the ominousness and a little bit of the tension and a little bit of the spark and drama of the original.
And the fact that it still captures everything that people like about the original song while recasting it in a totally different light is exciting.
RAZ: Now, this next track, also one of your recent picks, is now - just now - seeing the light of day officially after more than 40 years. This song is "Troubadour" by Tim Buckley.
(Soundbite of song, "Troubador"
Mr. TIM BUCKLEY (Singer): (Singing) As she steps near me, my blood feels the chance. All spinning and swirling it yearns for the dance to become part of me.
RAZ: Stephen, tell me about this song.
THOMPSON: It's been pretty heavily bootlegged over the years. This performance that he gave in March 1967 at the Folklore Center in New York City right at the beginning of this incredibly fruitful but tragically short career. From 1967 to 1975, Tim Buckley put out, I believe - I want to say nine albums, but this captures him when he' 20 years old.
THOMPSON: And you get a sense of just this almost uncontainable ambition and potential. He's almost still finding his voice a little bit. The writer who chose the song describes it as a cross between the Middle East and the Middle Ages…
RAZ: Hmm. Yeah.
THOMPSON: ...the way this arrangement is constructed.
RAZ: That's sort of Renaissance Fair sound, you know, that's not the Middle Ages but it does.
THOMPSON: Right. And it's incredibly beautiful. And you just get a sense of this amazing talent who's just beginning an incredible ascent.
(Soundbite of song, "Troubador")
Mr. BUCKLEY: (Singing) Let me laugh through her fingers and smile through her hair. Let me love the one I see for I know that she's there...
RAZ: It's always amazing when I hear Tim Buckley because he sounds so much like his son, Jeff.
THOMPSON: Yeah. And I mean part of the tragedy of Jeff Buckley, even though he died, he was - Jeff Buckley was 30 when he died and Tim Buckley was 28. And yet, Tim Buckley coming up in this period in the late '60s, musicians were just putting out album after album, after album after album. And Jeff Buckley only really made, I mean in his lifetime, only put out one album.
RAZ: One studio album.
THOMPSON: And then there are all these posthumous releases. Whereas, Tim Buckley, you actually got a sense that he realized his potential.
RAZ: Stephen, I want to end with the great Smokey Robinson. And this song is from his new album. The album is called "Time Flies When You're Having Fun."
(Soundbite of song, "I Want You Back")
Mr. SMOKEY ROBINSON (Singer): (Singing) Oh, baby, give me one more chance to show you that I love you...
RAZ: Amazing that he can still sound like that. This is going to sound familiar to a lot of people hearing it. This track, called "I Want You Back," is not actually listed on the record. Why not?
THOMPSON: Obviously, it's a cover of a song by the Jackson 5.
THOMPSON: And it was recorded and sort of intended for the album before Michael Jackson died. And, as you know, Smokey Robinson and Michael Jackson had a very close friendship. Smokey Robinson thought of him as his little brother. And so when Jackson died, he still wanted to put it on the record as a tribute, especially since the song is called "I Want You Back."
THOMPSON: But he didn't want to put it on there as some sort of crass exploitation of a death that has been crassly exploited. So it's included on the album as sort of an unlisted bonus track.
RAZ: Hmm. This song is "I Want You Back," by Smokey Robinson.
Stephen Thompson is the curator of NPR's SONG OF THE DAY and our scout for new music. You can hear full versions of all of these songs at nprmusic.org.
Stephen, thanks for coming in.
THOMPSON: Thanks so much for having me.
(Soundbite of song, "I Want You Back")
Mr. ROBINSON: (Singing) Oh, darling, I was blind to let you go. And now since I see you in his arms, I want you back. Since I see you in his arms, you know I want you back. Since I see you in his arms, you know I want you back.
RAZ: And that's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz. Have a great Saturday night. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.