Friday, April 1, 2011

Nomar Day revisited

July 31, 2004. Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra is traded (indirectly) for shortstop Orlando Cabrera and first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz. It was the strangest thing—a large group of us had collected at our friend Hector's (false name) suburban backyard to celebrate his thirtieth birthday party. The news rolled out fast, someone probably shouting from the porch "Nomah's gahn!" (the "Boston accent" is not as common as everyone—New Englanders included—like to pretend, but it does tend to prevail the more one drinks). I had no idea at all how to react. He'd been a big part of the team almost going to the World Series the year before, but perhaps they'd be better without him. My nth beer was not so helpful in the clear-thinking department.

We all know what happened months later but that's not the point—my version would devolve into bitterness over losing Cabrera and others the following year anyway. Hector, my other best friend Ivan (false name) and I came up with a project a month or so earlier: wouldn't it be fun to pick favorite songs from the same favorite bands and stick them on mixes, then compare notes? We agreed on a list of seventeen classic artists we all liked, figuring seventeen four- to five-minute songs would fill up a CDR. The deadline was July 31 and the plan was to play them during the hours-long party. I wish I could remember what was playing when the Nomar news broke.

Our tastes did generally diverge: highbrow art like Dead Meadow and the Stooges on my side, a bunch of ska and other nonsense on theirs. So we focused on classic rock with a little punk and rap. Here's the list, in any order:

Alice Cooper
Beastie Boys
Black Flag
Black Sabbath
Creedence Clearwater Revival
Led Zeppelin
Public Enemy
Rolling Stones
Ted Nugent
Van Halen

Three additional options were available if one elected to fill out eighty minutes: Ozzy Osbourne, James Brown and the Beatles. I'm curious how we managed to leave out NWA, Bad Brains and Hendrix… simmering racism? Anyhoo, I had fun putting it together and I think it turned out pretty well. But what changes might I make if I were to do this today? I'm glad I asked! Russell Johnson might not have been able to save President Lincoln in that time-bending Twilight Zone episode but it won't stop me from altering things.

1. Van Halen – Hot for Teacher
Excellent job here. Fantastic song, good way to start things off. But I feel bad for neglecting Fair Warning, my favorite Van Halen album. The unusual "Sunday Afternoon in the Park" paired with "One Foot Out the Door" (really one track, as on the album), though, is something I'd be proud of today. I choose you, Sunday One Foot.

Friend picks: Hector also went with "Hot for Teacher" and Ivan chose "House of Pain." Some serious 1984 action! "Teacher" represents the first bit of symmetry between the three of us: each shared one song with the other two.

2. AC/DC – Whole Lotta Rosie
Wouldn't touch this quintessential Bon Scott song. Others contend, sure, but why bother? Rosie's bigger than all of them.

Friend picks: "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap" (from 1992's Live) and "Whole Lotta Rosie." Not sure why Hector had to settle for a live, constipated Brian Johnson version of this excellent song. "Rosie" is shared song number two. Funny how I got them out of the way quick.

3. Beastie Boys – So What'cha Want
Nice pick, again, but why not go with something you don't still hear on the radio? Where's "She's on It"? "Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun"? "Stand Together"? It's "Barrel," for the Mountain sample.

Friend picks: "Hold It Now, Hit It" and "Hey Ladies." One of the lesser-known (and weaker, if you ask me) songs from License to Ill and probably the most-popular song from Paul's Boutique. It's a rollercoaster ride with these guys.

4. Metallica – Master of Puppets
I really like this song but I suspect I chose it because it was the right length or it worked well with everything around it. But I'll take "Creeping Death," and not just because watching The Ten Commandments is an annual Easter highlight.

Friend picks: "So What" and "Crash Course in Brain Surgery." Hector seems more interested in funny, tongue-in-cheek songs, demonstrated here and later with the Nuge. In fact, I'm confident he'd list the Dead Milkmen as one of his ten favorite bands—I suppose not everyone can have sophisticated taste like, say, a die-hard Blue Cheer fan. But I was jealous of Ivan's "Crash Course" pick here.

5. Creedence Clearwater Revival – Born on the Bayou
Money. The perfect CCR song.

Friend picks: "Down on the Corner" and "Fortunate Son." I'd make a joke about the two of them only being familiar with Chronicle if my selection weren't just as popular. But "Born on the Bayou" is on Chronicle, Vol. 2.

6. Rolling Stones – Jumpin' Jack Flash
Sheesh. I still really like this song but I hear it at least once a week in the car. I remember almost going with "Stray Cat Blues" but thinking Hector and Ivan never would have heard it before. Regrettable. Anyway, over the weekend I read the Exile on Main St. volume of the 33⅓ series (more on this when I get to writing about Trout Mask Replica) and though it's not my favorite Stones album I'm compelled to go with "Rocks Off," "Turd on the Run" or "Ventilator Blues/Just Wanna See His Face" over slightly older favorites like "Stray Cat," "Monkey Man" and "Sway." "Rocks Off," for Keef's backing vocals.

Friend picks: "Brown Sugar" and "Can't You Hear Me Knocking." I no longer bother with "Brown Sugar." If I walk up Lynn Shore Drive for twenty minutes tomorrow I guarantee I'll hear it blast out of at least one car window. I knew Ivan would pick "Knocking" because we both have always liked it. Good for him for being predictable in a good way, even if I suspect he wanted to fade it out halfway through.

7. Ramones – Cretin Hop
Safe but nice song from my favorite Ramones album at the time, Rocket to Russia. Nowadays I lean more toward the first two albums. They're all basically the same. I think, though, that "Today Your Love, Tomorrow the World" screams for inclusion. I relent.

Friend picks: "Somebody Put Something in My Drink" and "Rockaway Beach." Hector picked a weird, weird song. Good for him. He probably put more thought into this one than he did the rest of the comp. Or it was handy, I don't know. More Russia love elsewhere from Ivan. Pinko bastards!

8. Aerosmith – Big Ten Inch Record
I'm sticking with the sex puns. Nice horns, tight arrangement, same old crappy Joey Kramer drumming.

Friend picks: "The Farm" and "Toys in the Attic." I'd never heard "The Farm" before this mix. I understand why. Say what you will about Aerosmith but even haters have to admit that song's not in the same league as the well worn "Toys in the Attic."

9. Black Sabbath – War Pigs
Classic. An overplayed song that I never tire of. I contribute by playing it in bars whenever I get the chance, managing (most of the time) to not cringe when Ozzy rhymes "masses" with… "masses." So it was either this or the entire first album.

Friend picks: "Am I Going Insane (Radio)" and "Supernaut." Never really liked "Am I Going Insane." It came right before "Laguna Sunrise" on my old We Sold Our Soul for Rock & Roll cassette so I could fast-forward straight through the both of them. Convenient! "Supernaut" is a great pick from the mostly good Vol. 4.

10. Run-DMC – Sucker MCs
Classic, but so old-school sounding that it sticks out like a sore thumb against the straightforward rock. One solution is to go with a guitar-oriented favorite like "Raising Hell" so it blends in better. Mine is to strip it all the way down with the live "Here We Go."

Friend picks: "Mary, Mary" and "King of Rock." My new Raising Hell selection completes the sequential-album sandwich.

11. Black Flag – Fix Me
"Nervous Breakdown" was actually my first pick but it was too long to fit. Indeed, two minutes was too long. Anyway, as much as I like the Rollins era I love the short-and-sweet Keith Morris era. "Fix Me" is fantastic but its brevity gets swallowed here. I'll let the band stretch out on my original "Nervous Breakdown" because it was the first song on their first release and its closing "…diiiiieeeeeeeee!" was more heavily produced than anything that followed.

Friend picks: "Louie, Louie" (Everything Went Black version) and "Nervous Breakdown." I like the "Mary, Mary"/"Louie, Louie" action from Hector, even though they didn't come back-to-back on his mix. He took the long view. In related news, I'm currently enjoying Dave Marsh's Louie, Louie: The History and Mythology of the World's Most Famous Rock & Roll Song; Including the Full Details of Its Torture and Persecution at the Hands of the Kingsmen, J. Edgar Hoover's FBI and a Cast of Millions; and Introducing, for the First Time Anywhere, the Actual Dirty Lyrics.

12. Fugazi – Walken's Syndrome
Not sure why I felt the need to represent my least-favorite Fugazi album. Killer song though. I was self-conscious about picking anything from Red Medicine or later, for some reason, which is really dumb even before hearing Ivan's "Bed for the Scraping." The lesson, as always, is to never care at all what other people think. Also, to always take compilations seriously enough so that, years later, you won't pick apart your own decisions on a blog no one reads. It's tempting to keep "Walken's Syndrome" because I've lately (as in the last fifteen years) preferred Guy's songs to Ian's. And Steady Diet of Nothing's "KYEO" ("Keep Your Eyes Open") offers good advice, particularly (again) when criticizing your younger self. "Lusty Scripps" and "Version" are tempting instrumentals. But it's going to have to be "Ex-Spectator" from the final (?) album The Argument, which I bought at a Yale University record store of all places.

Friend picks: "Waiting Room" and "Bed for the Scraping." Can't really go wrong with "Waiting Room" but five out of ten Americans would choose it given the opportunity. As I said, "Bed for the Scraping" was a nice surprise. (It's not like Red Medicine is this super complex masterwork but it's certainly more mature and experimental—yet looser—than anything before it. "Target" was even a minor hit around here.) It closed out Ivan's disc: brilliant maneuver, even as I (still today) expect "Latest Disgrace" to kick right in. And if you can't tell by now I think his mix rivaled my own, even after I'm done correcting sixty percent of it.

13. Kiss – Love Gun (live)
With Kiss, I only ever cared about Alive! and Alive II until fairly recently. Little did I know I was missing out on honest-to-god gems like "Strange Ways" and "Hooligan" (two Peter Criss songs… I'm as surprised as you are!). At the time, I naturally had to go with a live song. Unfortunately—as I chided "Dirty Deeds" above and then hypocrited myself here and with James Brown's "There Was a Time"—it's clumsy to slot random live songs among studio recordings. So I'll keep "Love Gun" but substitute the proper Love Gun version.

Friend picks: "Shout It Out Loud" and "Strutter." Solid gold. Every time I hear "Shout It Out Loud" I think of the online Globe or Phoenix review of one of the Kiss concerts the three of us attended. The guy wrote something like "We didn't know what 'it' was but we were shouting it." This was on the Psycho Circus tour so we're talking 1998, which means I was already not reading newspapers… a year after graduating with a BA in journalism. The printed word is sure taking its sweet-ass time to die.

14. Ted Nugent – Just What the Doctor Ordered
Had to reach a bit here since I wasn't (and am not) the biggest Nugent fan. "Stranglehold" would be my automatic pick but it must have been too long, plus I knew Ivan would use it anyway. I toyed with a couple of Amboy Dukes songs but thought that might be cheating, so I went with a ZZ Top-esque "Doctor." Ivan had never heard it before Nomar Day and told me it was awesome. Hector might have been in the bouncy house at the time. Regardless, I'm now taking the Amboy Dukes route and picking the obvious, excellent "Journey to the Center of the Mind." I loved it then and I love it now, no matter how many car commercials co-opt it. Besides, "Stranglehold" is still too long to fit.

Friend picks: "Kiss My Ass" and "Stranglehold." Nugent played "Kiss My Ass" when we saw him open for Kiss for the fourth and final (?) time. It was this generation's "Commonwealth Song." A couple hours later I made my classic "Love Theme From Kiss" joke.

15. Alice Cooper – School's Out
Really disappointed in myself for not branching away from many hit songs. In my defense I hadn't yet explored Alice's catalog, I guess, but if I could discover "Just What the Doctor Ordered" then I should have dug deeper for Alice. I'll go with the driving "Return of the Spiders" from 1970's pre-stardom Easy Action.

Friend picks: "Billion Dollar Babies" for the both of them. Copacetic, baby. Can't believe I only recently recognized Donovan's co-vocal there.

16. Public Enemy – Don't Believe the Hype
So many great songs on the first three albums and you can't not love "Don't Believe the Hype." Silly rabbit. But… "Terminator X to the Edge of Panic" is the complete Public Enemy experience. "Who gives a fuck about a goddamn Grammy!" And the Queen sample? The Queen sample! Obvious samples are in.

Friend picks: "Fight the Power" (from Do the Right Thing) and "Bring the Noise" (from It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back). Holy version distinction!

17. James Brown – There Was a Time (live)
I think I'd recently bought Say It Live and Loud and "There Was a Time" was relentless love at first sound. Unfortunately my meddling squeezes James out this time, but that's OK because I named my 2007 playlist in his honor.

Friend pick: "Hot Pants (She Got to Use What She Got to Get What She Wants) (Part 1)" for Hector. He still had eight minutes of space after using all twenty artists. That'll happen when none of your songs top six minutes. Ivan had six minutes left but he outright ignored JB and the Beatles.

18. Led Zeppelin – How Many More Times
This will be my favorite Zeppelin song until the end of time. Those old coots at WZLX have even started playing it during their "Stairway to Seven" segment, daily at 7:00. (You see, it's a play on… never mind.)

Friend picks: "Immigrant Song" and "Moby Dick." I've always liked "Immigrant Song" but the only thing you hear more on the radio is "Rock & Roll," which I no longer listen to. I wonder if I'll ever skip past "Immigrant Song." In other words, it's exactly what I would expect Hector to half-heartedly pick. Oh well, it was his party I guess. "Moby Dick" was another pleasant surprise from Ivan, particularly when the assumed "Bring It on Home" didn't kick right in. What a cold, harsh edit. Well done.

In other news, Hector exercised his options with Ozzy's "Goodbye to Romance" (there's your tongue-in-cheek thing) and the Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby" (baroo?). Ozzy showed up on Ivan's mix with "Bark at the Moon." If I'd had to fill a Beatles slot then my backward-glancing guess would be either "Tomorrow Never Knows" or, more likely (since Ivan, some other friends and I used to crack up over "goo goo g'joob" in high school), "I Am the Walrus." With Ozzy, probably "Mr. Crowley" or "Bark at the Moon." How I did rue the limitations of the compact disc. [Edit: See below for my rule-breaking 2011 picks.]

New! Improved! Please note the editorial decision to retcon a Bad Brains allowance because there's room for it. Seventeen feels odd anyhow. Har! Har!

1. Led Zeppelin – How Many More Times
2. Beastie Boys – Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun
3. Van Halen – Sunday Afternoon in the Park/One Foot Out the Door
4. AC/DC – Whole Lotta Rosie
5. Rolling Stones – Rocks Off
6. Metallica – Creeping Death
7. Run-DMC – Here We Go (Live at the Funhouse)
8. Amboy Dukes – Journey to the Center of the Mind
9. Creedence Clearwater Revival – Born on the Bayou
10. Black Flag – Nervous Breakdown
11. Public Enemy – Terminator X to the Edge of Panic
12. Ramones – Today Your Love, Tomorrow the World
13. Fugazi – Ex-Spectator
14. Alice Cooper – Return of the Spiders
15. Bad Brains – Supertouch/Shitfit
16. Black Sabbath – War Pigs
17. Aerosmith – Big Ten Inch Record
18. Kiss – Love Gun

Better, right? Rod Serling chimes in with a solid "maybe." I'll take it.

Bonus revisionist EP alert!

1. Beatles – Strawberry Fields Forever
With age comes perspective, and I'm finally mature enough to recognize this as the greatest Beatles song.

2. James Brown – Down and Out in New York City
A favorite of mine since college, when I placed it on a classic rock/funk mixtape called I Am a Tired Old Woman. Extended version from the Make It Funky: The Big Payback compilation.

3. Ozzy Osbourne – Over the Mountain
I'm fine with this, but I'd much rather cheat in Amboy Dukesian fashion and choose another Sabbath song. Erm…

3. Ozzy Osbourne – Over the Mountain
3. Black Sabbath – Warning
It's my goddamn blog.