Hamilton Leithauser’s Retro Soul

Hamilton Leithauser, frontman of The Walkmen (and father of a two-year-old daughter with particularly keen musical tastes), spins us a set of soulful party songs. His solo debut, "Black Hours," is out now and features collaborations with a constellation of indie rock stars, including members of Vampire Weekend, Dirty Projectors, Fleet Foxes, and his own former bandmates.

Photo credit: Lauren Dukoff

Hi. My name’s Hamilton Leithauser. I have a new album called “Black Hours,” and here is my dinner party soundtrack.

Sam Cooke, “Touch the Hem of his Garment”

The first song I think I’d put on would be just a classic, “Touch the Hem of his Garment” by Sam Cooke.  It’s such a welcoming, classic sound; upbeat, but not in the way if you’re having appetizers or something like that.

I listen to a lot of Sam, and a lot of Soul Stirrers, his first band. I’ve crossed the line where I’ve imitated him too much, and it is just awful. It’s just so embarrassing sounding. So I kind of consciously have to remind myself I can’t try to sound like Sam Cooke. He’s got the best voice.


S. E. Rogie, “Twist with the Morning Stars”

My next track would be ‘Twist with the Morning Stars’ by S.E. Rogie from his record “Palm Wine Guitar Music.”  He’s a guitar player-singer from Sierra Leone, put out a lot of really good records. This is my favorite one.

You can’t understand everything he’s talking about. “Twist with the morning stars” is kind of “dance the night away,” I guess. I think he’s just talking about dancing all night and having a good time.

He played from the ’40’s maybe and played till he died in the ’90s. Really peppy bass line and peppy guitar, and the drums are pretty quiet but he’s got shakers and stuff. Just nice melodies and I really like his voice. His voice is… my daughter really gets a kick out of it. She’s two-and-a-half. He sort of sounds like a cartoon character when he sings.

[My daughter’s] really gotten into music recently. It’s kind of making me nervous.


The Everly Brothers, “Radio and TV”

For my third song, “Radio and TV” by the Everly Brothers. I would think this would be deeper into the meal: Everyone’s had a couple drinks and things are getting a little loud.

My mom listened to the Everly Brothers a lot when we were little. She listened to Patsy Cline and the Everly Brothers and Buddy Holly, so those were always ones that were around. My parents had pretty good taste in music actually. My mom would be shocked to hear me say that.

It’s goofy and bouncy, and it has that great Everly Brothers harmony. Not like this is their finest… this is more just funny. “Take away my baby, take away everything, but don’t take away my radio and my TV.”

I don’t want to sound like a pretentious jerk or anything, but like fuck my TV — I’d rather have my radio.


Hamilton Leithauser, “The Silent Orchestra”

So if I was forced to play a song of mine at the party, I’d choose “The Silent Orchestra,” the second song on the record.  The sentiment actually might be a little bit of a downer lyrically. but musically it’s very peppy and happy sounding.

My daughter loves this track. This would be maybe her third favorite track. I was recording Amber Coffman from The Dirty Projectors — she came in and did some backups on this — and my daughter was with me at the engineering desk and she was just mesmerized. I think Amber was the greatest thing she’s seen in her two-and-a-half years on the planet.