Fans of Morning Joe already know co-host Joe Scarborough is a music nut, from the show’s music – Stones and Beatles songs regularly play the MSNBC show into commercial – to Scarborough’s frequent plugs for his gigs at New York City’s Cutting Room. The veteran commentator has been on a recording kick lately; he just released Freaks Love Freaks, his third EP of the year. Scarborough’s sound is personal and poppy, edging between Seventies power-pop and ’00’s indie rock (the New Pornographers are a big influence).
We recently sat down with Scarborough as he broke down the influences for the music he’s been recording at his Connecticut home studio. Recording has long been an escape for him, going back to his teenage years when his family moved from upstate New York to Florida. “All my friends had girlfriends and they went to the beach in Pensacola. I stayed in my room with an old reel-to-reel, and I was recording in the room,” he tells Rolling Stone. “I’ve always said ‘Thank god I was not any better with girls in middle school and high school.'” Here, Scarborough breaks down some of his favorite albums.
The Beach Boys, Pet Sounds (1966) What’s so fascinating about that album [is that] there is such a darkness to it. Every time I hear it, and I’ve heard it a million times, I’m listening to it with a heavy heart. Brian Wilson is tortured, and I love the experimentation. But again, it’s just the mood that hangs over it. “I Wasn’t Made for These Times,” just the whole thing. After I listened to Pet Sounds for the thousandth time a year or two ago, I wrote a song called called “Priscilla Jones,” about a friend of mine who died.
The Beatles, White Album (1968) For me, as perfect production as there is. I love how the drums sound, I love how stripped-down everything is. I love how it’s up in your face. I also love how they pan hard left, hard right, and it really does. It cleans it up and it makes it all the more distinct.
The Rolling Stones, Beggars Banquet (1968) I think it’s the first time they stopped actually trying to chase the Beatles. After Satanic Majesties, they said “Fuck it. Let’s be ourselves,” and they turned to American roots rock. They made some great stuff around that time: Even though I’m such a Beatles fanatic, I think “Gimme Shelter” might be the greatest rock & roll song ever written.
Wings, Band on the Run (1973) My friends and I had this Beatles cult in school. We were surrounded by Kiss, AC/DC, Yes and Rush fans. I still couldn’t name a single Rush song, sorry. But we’d sit there and talk about the Beatles. Everybody thought that we were so strange at that time. I would actually debate any McCartney album [is better than the Beatles]: ‘Oh, London Town is so much better than Abbey Road,’ you know, just to pick a fight with my friends. I was such a huge McCartney fan.
What’s extraordinary about Band on the Run is, he lost his band, he goes to Nigeria, he gets mugged, almost killed. The guys stole his bag that had the tapes of all of his songs. They went through hell. John Lennon was slaughtering him [in the press]. And yet he produced this extraordinary album. Even his answer back to Lennon, “Let Me Roll It,” with that primal scream at the end – everything was pitch-perfect about it. It’s the one album from ’73 forward that wasn’t overproduced – first of all, because Geoff Emerick was there, secondly, because McCartney had to play the drums, the guitars, a lot of the keys, and of course you had Denny Laine. I ran into somebody that actually helped promote the album. He said, “the thing you don’t know about Band on the Run is it didn’t take off for a long time.” And then, about six months in, it just started selling and kept selling.
Elvis Costello, My Aim is True (1977) I was sort of born just a little late. I was born too late for the Beatles, for when the Sex Pistols really exploded. It wasn’t ’till I got into college that I really started getting into Elvis Costello, the Clash, or the Sex Pistols. Elvis’ lyrics are just so cutting. Especially “(Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes”: “I said I’m so happy I could die /she said ‘Drop dead’ and left with another guy/That’s what you get when you go chasin’ after vengeance/ Ever since you got me punctured this has been my sentence.” Elvis Costello, in his own stripped-down, nasty, defiant way, made one of the great debut albums in rock history.
The Jam, In the City (1977) I love two-minute songs. “Welcome to the Working Week,” it’s like ‘BOOM!’ It’s like a minute and forty. And I think that’s when I was like “holy shit, what a way to start an album.” But two minute songs, I love it. My songs don’t sound quite that way, I think that’s the goal. I’d love to get to that point.
The Replacements, Pleased to Meet Me (1987) My favorite Eighties album. I especially love “Alex Chilton” and “Can’t Hardly
Stars, Set Yourself on Fire (2004) They’re out of Montreal, really great great indie-pop. If there’s a sound I’m looking for, it’s a mix between Stars and New Pornographers.