Friday, May 20, 2011

Fatherhood: The Musical

We put up the Christmas tree on December 22. Weekends came and went and weeknights were dark, cold and white-washed enough that it was too much bother. I enjoy the holidays but could muster neither the enthusiasm to carry an unwieldy box (fake tree alert!) up the basement stairs nor the patience to arrange the decorations. Christmas week, though… then or never.

I'd gone out for beers after work this Wednesday evening. Home a bit after 8:00. Tired. But A. was full of zazz. "Let's put up the tree!" Sigh.

Once I wrangled the box it was straight ahead. The tree is pre-lit and comes in three parts. Top into middle into bottom. Our tree-top star was not designed with the blunt, hollow faux-peak in mind, though, so last year I married a hanger bolt to a wine-bottle cork and it solved the problem beautifully. (I'm not particularly handy but I am creative.) We were satisfied with tree, lights and star that night and agreed to add the decorations later on.

I left to squeeze off those beers and then returned to the living room. It opens to the "dining room" (sans dining-room furniture) where the tree now stood. I plopped down on the couch, glanced over and noticed a present already underneath. "What is this?" She tells me to open it. "But I haven't wrapped your gifts. I don't even have everything yet." "It doesn't matter, open it!" "I don't know, can't we just wait and open everything together? Or, I can go wrap one of yours so we can each open one." (I'm so fair and practical!) She said she didn't need to open anything and started losing patience. I relented. "Are you sure it can't wait?" I shook the box, wondering if it was our evening's dessert or something. "Open it!"

My wife is a peach. Wonderful sense of humor. I removed the paper and found myself holding "the box" (pictured). It's white with green, pink, purple and red polka dots and a matching lid. Lined with red and green striped paper, maybe large enough to hold mass-market paperbacks of It, Helter Skelter and Hammer of the Gods. I don't remember where it came from but that box has survived two haphazard moves and several "Can we stick this somewhere?" conversations, a recent one nearly resulting in its destruction and disposal. It will forever remain one of those seemingly-useful-until-you-realize-you've-never-had-a-real-use-for-it things that does nothing but get in the way until the one time you actually need it. Leave it to my clever girl: here it was again, in my lap, stuffed with blue tissue paper. Wrapped within, a plus sign broke the wonderful news that a baby is on the way late this Summer.

It is an exciting time in the land of biffs, bangs and pows, and on that note I present a bunch of songs I've enjoyed over the past twelve months. Not one of them, to my knowledge, is about children, fatherhood or lamenting the man in the moon. ("To my knowledge" because I don't pay attention to lyrics.) I can't wait until the day my child Googles—or 法师智力s—our names and stumbles upon an aimless, archaic, two-dimensional "blog" "written" in "English." Excited, also, to see how he or she can possibly rebel against Pussy Galore and the Fall. "Put away that Pat Boone hologram and get back in your space-cage," I'll charge with patriarchal authority.

Apologies for forty-eight songs exceeding three hours again.



1. Donovan – Lay of the Last Tinker
Donovan gets a bad rap. Being emasculated by Dylan in Dont Look Back might be the best thing that ever happened to him—it must have flipped a switch because "Sunshine Superman" sounded like no one else eighteen months later. I almost chose 1968's "Riki Tiki Tavi" for the beautiful "number twelve bus" coda but Rick Cheese overpowered me. Also, I lied earlier: "Lay of the Last Tinker" is from the "For Little Ones" portion of Donovan's A Gift From a Flower to a Garden. So technically it's a children's song. But how many children would know what to do with that magnificent flute? Well, mine will.

2. Wire – 106 Beats That
This was a song-number-one contender. Remember last year when I wrote about the 13th Floor Elevators' "Livin' On" kicking things off? "Usually I'd choose something with a slower/longer [instrumental] buildup, in order to generate a mood or atmosphere…" Consider these first two songs and throw that shit right out the window—both singers jump in within a second. Anyway, Wire. Pink Flag is still the only album of theirs I know well. I see they're doing the reunion thing lately. Guess the Elastica winnings didn't go very far.

3. C Average – Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers
The dumb riffage representative gets promoted to the sweet number-three spot this year. Congratulations to Cave Rage! It's hard to choose between "Beer Drinkers" and Rapeman's "Just Got Paid" as my favorite ZZ Top cover. I think C Average edges out that shiny Steve Albini bastard because they didn't make me look foolish over compact discs. I love the full stops following each and every line, breaking up Billy and Dusty's original smooth flow. And the false endings? The false endings! Just like The Return of the King five years later—many partings, indeed. If you think Peter Jackson wasn't on Kill Rock Stars's late-nineties mailing list then I don't know what to tell you. "Orcs vs. Elves"? "Riddermark Rock"? Come on.

4. Les Fleur de Lys – I Can See a Light
Frequent offenders on Technicolor Web of Sound. I swear six months used to pass between repeated songs on that channel. Now the playlist is maybe six or seven days long after the guy running it supposedly added a bunch of stuff. It just doesn't add up! Les Fleur de Lys are perhaps best known for somehow making the Who's stellar "Circles" even better. Sort of a Pretty Things-type of career for them, sidestepping at times into incognito/anonymous session work. Lots of fantastic stuff from them, most (if not all) of which is collected on Reflections. "I Can See a Light" slows things down early, for them and for us.

5. Michael Yonkers – Sold America
Goddamn but I can't believe this was recorded in 1968. Intense! I know people were mad then but this guy is fucking mad. At least he sounds like it, I don't know. But the music is mad. Loud, stripped-down production straight out of next year. Excellent work. I heard this after work a few weeks back, walking down the lovely Rose Kennedy Greenway toward North Station. "Sold America" is striking accompaniment to teenagers in ass-word clothing and fat people on Segway tours.

6. Marvin Gaye – Trouble Man
Years ago my friends and I all jumped on a compilation called Pimps, Players & Private Eyes. It featured ten songs from different blaxploitation movies, notably "Theme From Shaft" and "Pusherman." The obviously-written-in-five-minutes liner notes, courtesy of someone with the improbable name of Jorge Hinojosa, recount a conversation between him and pal Ice-T about black movies and soundtracks. In fact, the second sentence is "Halfway through [watching] the film, I received a call from Ice-T." (How many anecdotes would that casual little gem improve?) The film in question is 1972's Trouble Man: "We started talking about it and agreed that the title song, 'Trouble Man,' sung by Marvin Gaye, was a true classic." Thanks for clarifying the name of the title song, Jorge. Anyway, they thought it would be great to showcase this kind of music on a disc but subsequently hit a bunch of snags in pulling it together. Because "black music from the seventies seems to be pretty scarce on the record store shelves." Am I to believe this disc was mastered from used LPs they were able to track down? Ironically it's now scarce and out of print itself, fetching $30 on Amazon. Pimps instantly makes profit.

7. Yardbirds – Glimpses
The real version, compared to Cumular Limit's broken-up mix. I appreciate that the band saved their trippiest no-commercial-potential effort (the earlier "Hot House of Omagarashid" is silly fun but not much of a composition) for Little Games, an album filled with producer Mickie Most's soul-sucking attempts at hit singles. It still contains some of the their best stuff and is no less a mixed bag than the handful of other albums. Even the glorified Five Live Yardbirds is just OK, seeing how it features Eric Clapton in his painfully dull early phase (that is, everything before Cream; the painfully dull late phase is everything since). Jimmy Page was on some great Yardbirds stuff ("Glimpses" included) but there's no question the band was at its consistent best ("Heart Full of Soul," "Evil Hearted You," "Shapes of Things," "Over, Under, Sideways, Down" and "Happenings Ten Years Time Ago") with Jeff Beck aboard.

8. Six Finger Satellite – Hot Food
Unmistakably my favorite band right now. I listen to full albums many times a week and even started following them on Twitter, though they don't seem to write anything. I joined Twitter in March so I could read Jeff Probst's commentary during each episode of Survivor. A. and I and two friends of ours are the four people who still watch. It is the greatest fucking show. I considered a Beer and Probst diary for Sunday's finale but ended up drinking classy red wine instead. (She's not drinking so, yeah, red wine for one.) But back to 6FS. "Hot Food" is off the genuinely new-ish (2009) A Good Year for Hardness and delivers the super-tight rock action. Not as experimental as the farther-out moments of the first four LPs, OK, but very far from staid. I love the interaction between the ten-second scream and an inquisitive-sounding guitar. "What now?" "YEEEAAAHHHHHH!!!" "Really?" "–EEEAAAHHHHHH!!!" "You sure?" "–EEEAAAHHHHHH!!!" "But I–" "–EEEAAAHHHHHH!!!"

9. DR Hooker – I'm Leaving You
It's amazing to me that unknown people recorded such strange music forty years ago and we live in an age where it's commonplace to just reissue or compile it all. What are single old white men discussing in used record shops anymore? Single old white man #1: "Have you heard the DR Hooker album from '72? Private press issue. Can't remember what it's called, the one where he looks like Jesus on the cover." Single old white man #2: "The Truth? It's on iTunes." Single old white man #1: (Stares into camera.) And: scene.

10. GZA – 4th Chamber
Three bands dominated my last twelve months: the previously (repeatedly) lauded Six Finger Satellite, the newly embraced Can (more on them in a bit) and Wu-Tang Clan. Enter the Wu-Tang is a top-ten rap album and probably a top-fifty anything album. Unfortunately a lot of their post-1994 group and solo stuff doesn't hold up as well. Wu-Tang went apeshit with solo albums all over the place—I actually got into Six Feet Deep by the Gravediggaz before anything else. And here we have 1995's Liquid Swords from the Genius. "4th Chamber" is practically the full Wu-bag, with guest Wu-work from Ghostface Killah, RZA and Wu-filiate Killah Priest.

11. Eddy Current Suppression Ring – Second Guessing
This is the longest song of the bunch, barely beating out Iggy and Arthur but falling short of last year's length-master, "The End of Radio." It's a shellacking! The abrupt ending to "4th Chamber" (since it flows directly into "Shadowboxin'" on Liquid Swords) segues beautifully into the opening keyboard blurt here. First I'd heard from the Ring (not sure that's an actual nickname) was "Turn Your Page" on WZBC sometime in the car last year. It's pretty great but the one most likely to appear in a Dawson's Creek reboot. I could make a joke about waffling between "Second Guessing" and "Colour Television" but that would be a little obvious.

12. Charlotte Gainsbourg – IRM
"IRM" became a free download when I signed up for some mailing list on Gainsbourg's website. I have a junk Gmail account specifically devoted to this sort of thing—wonder where I can sign up to obtain her dad's "Requiem Pour un Con" the same way. Anyway, now is a good time to mention I have only two-and-a-half songs with a female lead (the half goes to Shirley & Lee a few spots down). I've stopped trying at this point. You liberals can eat it.

13. Pussy Galore – Groovy Phone (Live)
Anyone who doubts that a man born in New Hampshire and bred in Providence, Washington DC and New York City can develop a southern accent has never heard of Jon Spencer. "Groovy Phone," recorded live in 1986, is taken from the Corpse Love compilation with the crude drawings of skulls and skeleton cocks. Based on the riff it is an early version of what became "Alright" on 1987's Right Now! LP. Startling impromptu lyrics here, though. "Didja blow 'im?" Indeed!

14. ? & the Mysterians – 96 Tears
I don't understand how "96 Tears" doesn't challenge "Louie, Louie" (stay tuned!) as the reigning garage-rock staple (the Modern Lovers recorded the only cover I've ever heard). Question Mark essentially inverted and simplified the "Louie" riff and produced a smash hit, but how did it not become a phenomenon? "And when the sun comes up, I'll be on top. You'll be right down there lookin' up." Are you telling me that's not dirty enough?

15. Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band – Veteran's Day Poppy
It's not a proper post if I'm not all "One day I'll write about Trout Mask Replica!" At this point it has to be the next thing I work on, right? The second half of "Poppy" always reminds me of the soundtrack you hear during the slower stretches of Metroid where the only alien left to defeat is Mother Brain, and you're wandering around shooting and bombing all these regenerating enemies to gather energy and missiles. Sorry ladies, I'm spoken for.

16. Comets on Fire – Rimbaud Blues
I provide a service in correcting people. With gusto. Whoever was responsible for providing the internet with the track listing for Comets on Fire's self-titled first album really screwed up. Numbers one through four are fine but it goes pear-shaped with the forty-second-long fifth song. It is not "Rimbaud Blues" as iTunes and everyone else would have you believe. It is actually a continuation of the previous song, so let's call it "Got a Feelin' (Part 2)." That makes the real number six "Rimbaud Blues." I'm not done yet! Genius then took the next title, "Let's Take It All the Way Down" (real number seven) and turned into two different songs: "Let's Take It All" (fake number six) followed by "The Way Down" (fake number seven). The remaining songs are correct, though I should note "Days of Vapors" is only five and a half minutes long—some live material is tacked on as a bonus. You're welcome.

17. Tame Impala – 41 Mosquitoes Flying in Formation
Tame Implala are My Pleasant Discovery of 2010. Probably found them browsing around eMusic again. I hate when writers say band X sounds like a cross between bands Y and Z but they really do sound like a cross between Beta Band/Aliens and Dungen, right down to the nasally vocals and chugging guitar-and-drum groove of each. Nice fake fade-out leading into a soaring (in formation?) guitar solo at the end, too. I could have gone with something off last year's Innerspeaker (probably "Lucidity") or either side of the Sundown Syndrome single but strength of title won out. "41 Mosquitoes Flying in Formation"? You'd better believe it!

18. Can – I'm So Green
It's just not reasonable to include my favorite song of 2010, by Can or anyone else, on this year's playlist: eighteen minutes of "Halleluwah" is just too long in this setting. And no other song would be able to hold its weight on either side. Funny story though, it played one day while I was streaming WZBC at work. Immediately after downloading it from Amazon for $2.99 (where iTunes would make you buy the whole album—seems to me as shortsighted as the music industry ignoring digital trends) I emailed A. three screenshots: the appearance of "Halleluwah" in WZBC's Spinitron playlist, the song's Wikipedia page (including the wife-baiting description "The drum beat for which the song is famous is repeated almost continuously by Jaki Liebezeit, with only minor variations, throughout the course of the eighteen-minute jam") and my Amazon receipt. "I'm So Green" is unexpected even to me, and I'm the one who picked it. Awfully light and bouncy for the Axis powers. I hinted last year while writing about the earlier American-fronted "Uphill" that I would explore the band's catalog. Many $2.99 purchases later (since their essential tracks tend to be longer than ten minutes) and I am right up in there.

19. Shirley & Lee – Let the Good Times Roll
1956! This was on a sampler showcasing New Orleans music that came with the March issue of Uncut, featuring a cover story about "the decline and fall" of Led Zeppelin. It brings me back to the car rides of my youth, listening to oldies radio and pretending the seat lever was a gearshift. But the adorable young Jarrod had no understanding of what it meant to let the good times roll: good lord is this song dirty, right down to the bam-bam horns. A. and I saw the IMAX film Born to Be Wild for her birthday and a version was playing during a fun scene of orangutans cavorting in the trees. They might as well have played "Fuck All Night." While we're here, Steppenwolf regrettably did not make the cut this year. But "Born to Be Wild" has to be the single greatest overexposed song in the history of music. If you heard it for the first time right now it would blow you away. Instead, you flash to Peter Fonda dying in a hillbilly death blaze or some old broad putting on a pair of dark sunglasses and either block the song out or change to something else. But it's not Steppenwolf's fault, it's the damn Hollywood fat cats! So next time your local classic-rock radio station plays it—roughly twenty minutes from now—give it another chance. It might be the perfect rock song.

20. Sonics – Louie, Louie
The Sonics tear right through the song that shook up the world. (Don't mind me, I recently finished Dave Marsh's Louie, Louie book and I'm full of rhetoric.) It's easy to see how Richard Berry's original with the Pharaohs (available on the Have Louie, Will Travel compilation—do not fall for re-recordings) took parts of the country by storm in the late fifties and early sixties. The Kingsmen pushed it to the forefront with a wildly enthusiastic and incompetent interpretation that everybody knows, even if they don't know the (clean, honestly) words. But the Sonics' is the definitive version, just like their earlier cover of (again) Berry's "Have Love, Will Travel" is the one. Take away the Sonics and who knows what happens to this country… certainly no Stooges, no Black Flag, no Mudhoney.

21. Nazz – Christopher Columbus
Not Nas, silly girl. He comes later. The "…knew they were already there" refrain is a nice hook. And "Injuns" pushes the right buttons, no? Nazz could rock out with the best of them in their short time together ("Open My Eyes," "Hang on Paul" and "Magic Me" are stone-cold killers) but piled up an equal number of snoozers. Not sure how much Todd Rundgren contributed to "Christopher Columbus" (from the posthumously tampered-with Nazz III) but his soft-bullshit solo act really defined a detestable seventies sound. And I remain unconvinced he isn't actually Liv Tyler's dad. Look at those pictures of the band in '68 and '69—she is a dead ringer!

22. Deviants – Billy the Monster
A comely, solitary nun enjoying a rocket popsicle might be as deviant an album-cover subject as you could find in 1969, excepting those Blind Faith perverts (seriously, what were they thinking?). The first song on The Deviants 3 opens with an uttered "–ses out of my nose" and ends too soon with a nice phased instrumental passage. Seems to start as a bridge and then they're like "You know what, let's just fade this out." Probably not the last time I'll represent the Deviants/Pink Fairies/Hawkwind family tree in these pages.

23. Hives – Diabolic Scheme
"Diabolic Scheme" was apparently featured in the Swedish horror film Frostbiten. I can't wait till it gets remade in Hollywood and they substitute some Wombats rubbish on the soundtrack. I can already see the poster. The Hives got a bit rubbishy themselves with that last Black and White Album, succumbing to current trends in handing your sound over to brand-name "producers" with agendas. (And remixing—why is everyone remixing?) But everything through 2004's Tyrannosaurus Hives still holds its own. "Can you take it? Oooo! Can you take it? (Yeah!) Oooo!"

24. July – Crying Is for Writers
I name-checked July last year, now it's time for the big leagues! Crying is what happens once I realize I have to write forty-eight blurbs again. "What was there to say, what was there to wriiite?" I don't know either. "Might as well write about the working of a forty-horsepower combustion engine." Sounds like a fine idea. Of course my memory wipes itself out every other week and by this time next year I'll be all "Let's throw another bunch of songs on the pile, won't that be fun?"

25. Chris Farlowe – Baby, Make It Soon
Co-written by the one and only Andrew Loog Oldham, proprietor of the greatest name in the history of the British Empire. I wonder if Oldham ever put the Small Faces behind Chris Farlowe the way he did with fellow Immediate artists Billy Nicholls and PP Arnold. That could have worked pretty well. Farlowe comes off sounding like a white Tom Jones sounding like an orange Solomon Burke on this 1966 B-side. Same year and Spector-lite production as last year's gold-medal-winner "Nightmare" by the Whyte Boots. I dig it. He might as well be singing about me. "You've topped six thousand words again… baby, make it soon."

26. Monks – Monk Time
"My brother died in Vietnam." This one line—and its perfect delivery—is, to me, the greatest anti-war statement ever made. I don't know if our man Gary actually had a brother, dead or alive, but anyone hearing "Monk Time" in 1966 had to understand that it wasn't going to end well, right? He immediately lets us off the hook when chugging banjo chords cause him to shout "Stop it, stop it! I don't like it! It's too loud for my ears." And later: "What's your meaning, Larry?" to which Larry plays a little non-riff on the organ. Gary responds "Ah, you think like I think." But you remember what he said about his brother. You remember that war sucks.

27. The Ify Jerry Krusade – Everybody Likes Something Good
Big ups to independent labels gathering rare international rock and funk gems from the sixties and seventies. Who doesn't like something good? This one's from Strut Records' Nigeria 70: Lagos Jump compilation. I'd like to restate last year's sentiment that just because musicians are from Africa (like the Ify Jerry Krusade) or South America (Pax, coming up) it does not mean they perform "world music." That's why you don't see Os Mutantes or Fela Kuti records in your local Starbucks. It's not world music unless it is based around aborginal instruments and rhythms, reinforces your white-man's guilt and is the sensory equivalent of full-blown AIDS.

28. Stooges – 1970 (Take 1)
"Listen to Ron." Excellent advice in all settings. From the once limited and now readily available (digitally) 1970: The Complete Fun House Sessions. Supposedly every single second put to tape during the recording of the award-winning album. Ron Asheton incorporates more of the first album's wah-wah effects on this initial take. I dig the sound but the guys (probably Iggy) were right to scale it back it in time for the master. Didn't sound very… well, 1970. I also favor replacing "in a world that's lame" here with the eventual "till it blow away." Much less teen-angsty.

29. Pax – Sittin' on My Head
This blatantly rips off Les Fleur de Lys's "Hold On," which they themselves ripped off (from themselves) by recording and releasing it twice. So we're all good. From the compilation Back to Peru, Vol. 2. The perspective of the cover shot makes the foxy Peruvian chica's calves look enormous. Great hat though. Proper LP release was 1970's May God and Your Will Land You and Your Soul Miles Away From Evil. ¡Amen, hermano!

30. Alexander Spence – War in Peace
It's a good thing I don't pay attention to lyrics because I have no idea what my man Skip is going on about. Probably war and/or peace? Mudhoney did a fine job with this one on the More Oar tribute. They can't be trusted with lyrical clarification though, just ask Sonic Boom in an hour or so. Nice hat-tip to "Sunshine of Your Love" at the end. If you reference another song I like then you'll probably make one of my silly playlists. Like Muddy Waters and that bastard Albini last year. Why are my sentences so choppy all of a sudden?

31. Entrance – Grim Reaper Blues
Nice contemporary (well, 2006) psychedelic blues here. It's not all Dead Meadow and Dungen, though would that be so terrible? This weirdo sounds like it could have been recorded minutes after that Michael Yonkers song from earlier (heard "Grim Reaper Blues" on the Greenway, too). Probably more a testament to how well that one has aged rather than anything Entrance is pulling off, but ask me again in thirty years.

32. Flaming Lips – Worm Mountain
"Worm Mountain" has a little bit of that trebly, upfront and slightly manic drum sound that a lot of shitty WFNX bands have embraced over the past couple of years. Probably because MGMT joins the Lips on this one, and they are one of those shitty bands. I'm willing to look past it because of the "Echoes"-like groove on the bridge and the general awesomeness that the (again) award-winning Embryonic spews forth. Even "I Can Be a Frog" is charming.

33. Spirit – Aren't You Glad
Spirit might be an acquired taste. I've been hearing them for a long time on Technicolor Web of Sound but only in the last year or so have I embraced more than a couple of songs (the obvious but excellent "Fresh Garbage" and "I Got a Line on You"). "Aren't You Glad" is a good example of a tight-but-loose song that requires patience. Prog tendencies will probably keep them from being cool but I'm in my late thirties and about to become a father. I'm getting no cooler.

34. Misfits – TV Casualty
My friend and I once went to the Good Time Emporium in one of the lesser neighborhoods of Somerville (since razed and reimagined as a future Ikea) to see "the Misfits." I put that in quotes because it was actually closer to Black Flag: only (ha!) Jerry Only remained from the classic Misfits, with Dez Cadena on guitar and Robo on drums. We learned at the door that tickets were surprisingly expensive for (a) any show at that shithole club/arcade and (b) any band who would perform at that shithole club/arcade. But it's the best twenty-five spent. Things started off great when they lifted the much-too-large Misfits curtain and it caught on the drum kit. It was the scrambling forty-five-year-old roadie's time to shine. Then the music, the stage presence—plain awesome all the way. They even sprinkled in a couple of Dez-era Black Flag songs for the encore and everyone was pumped… except for this one guy. He was slam-dancing throughout the early part of the show and really bugging the hell out of the rest of us. I used to pogo like you read about but by this time I'd far outgrown anything other than bobbing my head, giving this gorilla plenty of space and convincing myself that Budweiser really isn't so bad. Anyway, during a break between songs someone decided they'd had enough, went up behind him and tore his pants most of the way off. They split down each leg like a breakaway tux and the whole back half flapped down to expose his bare ass. Seconds later the defeat was total as two bouncers materialized to escort him out. He put on a brave face, clutched the remaining scraps of his pants like they were spilling entrails and slowly shuffled toward the door. Without compare, it is the single funniest thing I've ever witnessed.

35. Jedi Mind Tricks – Retaliation
"Bangin' y'all in the fuckin' face." Let's give rap music a hearty welcome back following that ninety-minute interval! Jedi Mind Tricks are an example of a group whose RZA-inspired beats and mega-strong MCs are top-notch. The lyrics, however, are often painfully aggressive. It's best to ignore them (easy for me to say) and concentrate on the vocals as melodies instead of language. "Y'all is always soundin' like a bitch when you spell." Hurtful!

36. Sonic's Rendezvous Band – City Slang
1978's "City Slang" is the perfect rock & roll response to the (already dying) punk movement. Meaningless lyrics, stretch it out, solo everywhere. Hard to believe it comes seven years after the MC5's High Time because it's a natural progression—not sure how much music Sonic was making in between. Anyway, High Time's "Poison" almost made my list (it did still provide the title) and this one's just as good. The band includes former Stooge Scott Asheton on drums—Rock Action himself! By the way, the least successful response to punk would have to be "Carouselambra," right? In a landslide. And I'm a John Paul Jones fan.

37. Guided by Voices – Wished I Was a Giant
Vampire on Titus is not as easy to find as you'd think. Sure, you can download it anywhere. But I wanted to span the gap between Propeller and Bee Thousand on my CD rack. This goes against everything I wrote last year but why don't you try staying principled when you can't even remember how to spell anymore, huh? And why do people keep giving me shit about my spelling?

38. Belle & Sebastian – I Love My Car
Most fans of the pre-Boy With the Arab Strap era say the band has never been as good since main man Stuart Murdoch started sharing the load, letting lesser band members like Isobel Campbell and Stevie Jackson write and sing on stuff. It's hard to argue when the far-and-away best songs on Arab Strap and Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant are Murdoch's. (Most releases since those tend to blur together for me.) I guess the alternative would have been for him to repeatedly fire and replace his band à la Arthur Lee (up next) and eventually end up in prison on a weapons charge. In honor of this tension I've chosen the mid-period "I Love My Car." Needn't tell you who wrote it—the brilliant Beach Boys verse is a giveaway.

39. Love – You Set the Scene
This is really two songs in one. The first part is your typical Forever Changes fare, and that's a strong compliment. The final four-and-a-half minutes are perhaps the best in all of this wonderful band's career. Arthur Lee's vocals are tip-top ("I need you sooo woh woh woh woh-ohhh"), the strings and horns are perfectly balanced (not something with which they always succeeded) and it's difficult to concentrate on anything else while it's playing. Marvelous closer to the LP. On that topic, the 2001 reissue adds not only the 1968 Your Mind and We Belong Together single but also the tracking session for the A-side's guitar solo. Fascinating to listen in as Lee just kills Bryan MacLean and Johnny Echols for repeatedly fucking up. His concluding "That solo was really outta sight, man" evidently was not enough to keep MacLean, Echols and the rest of the group from splitting shortly after. Lee called bullshit on that, grabbed some hobos off the street and struck more gold with Four Sail a year later.

40. Dead Kennedys – A Growing Boy Needs His Lunch
I've really embraced this band over the past two or three years. I did always like the songs you're supposed to—"California Über Alles," "Holiday in Cambodia," "Let's Lynch the Landlord"—but only recently did I seek out the rest of the catalog. I was skeptical about the later Frankenchrist and Bedtime for Democracy but they hold up really, really well considering the stress and controversy within and around the group. "Lunch" is a good representation of late-era DK: vitriolic, clever, hippie-bashing lyrics over expansive instrumental sections (the vocals don't kick in for over a minute). Other contenders were "I Am the Owl," "Riot" and "Cesspools in Eden."

41. Tommy James & the Shondells – Crimson and Clover
I know Donovan, Steppenwolf and now Tommy James don't need me to defend them. (The undervalued Monkees might.) But Tommy James catches some real shit over his supposed phony psychedelia. Envious assholes. The Shondells recorded "Hanky Panky" in 1964 when most worthwhile American and English bands were busy arranging Bo Diddley songs. James doesn't do himself any favors by including fake studio dialog like "Just do a thing, you know, whatever" at the beginning of the glorious album version of "Crimson and Clover." (Same deal on runner-up "I Am a Tangerine.") Real turn-off. But then a few seconds later it's "Ahhh…" (do-do do-do do-do) and I am piloting that Shondells starship right into fucking orbit.

42. Nas – Star Wars
Kudos to Nas and Jay-Z for not surrounding themselves with people who would commit murder for the sake of a hip-hop feud. We've come a long way, baby. I hate me some "Fly Like an Eagle" but how does it work so well when sampled? EPMD, Biz Markie, Jungle Brothers, Ice Cube, A Tribe Called Quest, Pete Rock & CL Smooth… erm, Vanilla Ice. And Nas. "Star Wars" was apparently left off Illmatic in favor of weak nonsense like "Life's a Bitch." Thank goodness for reissues.

43. The Fall – Theme From Sparta FC
A. and I attended a friend's party late last year and the host is a big Fall fan. He was playing the slightly annoying (trendy, snappy) version of this song from the original UK edition of The Real New Fall LP (a.k.a. Country on the Click) and I asked if he'd heard the more punky, guitar-driven single version (a.k.a. "Theme From Sparta FC #2") that was substituted onto the US release. Trying hard, y'know, to not be the "If you like that you're gonna love this" prick I used to be in and after college. I humbly offered to bring my iPod next time I saw him when a bitchy friend of theirs butted in with "I guess when you move to the suburbs you don't need an iPod anymore." I think she was taking a shot at me for being one of those suburbanites who drives everywhere, even though we both take the train to and from work every day. Sure, we drove to the party that night—I'm guessing it saved us about forty-five minutes each way. I would and will do it again. But even if we had done the train-to-subway-to-bus alternative does she think we would have ignored each other and listened to iPods the whole way? I can't remember my response but hopefully it was something in a Mark E. Smith voice. "Yew eh-yah mehstahkehn-eh."

44. The United States of America – The Garden of Earthly Delights
And you thought I forgot about "The Garden of Earthly Delights" after mentioning it in December. For shame! I wonder if it was controversial in 1967 to call yourselves the United States of America. "The United Kingdom of America" might have pushed them over the top, since Wikipedia tells me their eponymous album sold better in Britain than it did here. Blame an exchange-rate anomaly. Too bad they came and went with only one album while the inferior Jefferson Airplane stuck around long enough to suck it real hard. (End this year's Jefferson Airplane rant.)

45. Unwound – Off This Century
If you think consecutive years of ridiculously long playlists isn't excessive enough then go get Unwound's Leaves Turn Inside You right now. The band built their own studio, took a year to produce seventy-four minutes of music and split it up over two discs when it could have fit onto one. Why? Because each disc contains a data-hogging video for one of the album's songs. "Radio Gra" is a redundant and self-indulgent borefest with an equally dreadful video featuring beached whales, if I remember right. But: "Scarlette" is amazing quasi-old school Unwound at its best. Treatment of the vocals (growled and distorted beyond comprehension) might be off-putting to some but it really works with the rhythm. I can't hear it without thinking of its tremendous (and tremendously puzzling) video. Skip the CDs, download the songs you like and watch that video here. Anyhoo… I picked "Off This Century" from the same album. It fit better. I don't know what to tell you.

46. Spacemen 3 – Revolution
Enter Sonic Boom. It seems like every single Spacemen 3 song is either a cover or an interpretation of the Stooges, the Red Crayola or the MC5. So I present "Revolution," a.k.a. "Black to Comm" with a side order of Brother JC Crawford's Kick Out the Jams introduction. Mudhoney took "Revolution" to another level—undoubtedly improving it in my opinion, as I'm an eternal Mudhoney apologist—but I need another pasty, humorless rip-off artist to keep Jimmy Page company.

47. Blue Cheer – I'm the Light
Remember that light Les Fleur de Lys were going on about earlier? Turns out Blue Cheer is the source! Vincebus Eruptum's "Out of Focus" is my ringtone, for crying out loud, but I went with the 1971's "I'm the Light" because it's a different kind of great. I love how they finally figured out how to incorporate a sitar into their sound two or three years after people lost interest in Indian influences. Too bad only a portion of their fine 1969-to-1971 output is available for download on the appropriately named Good Times Are So Hard to Find compilation. Where are the full albums? I should really start that reissue concern I've been dreaming about since Anthology Recordings apparently went under (their inactive website states "We've stepped out for lunch, will be back soon…" and they've been enjoying that meal for about a year). How hard can it be to reach settlements with defunct old labels and publishers; entrust recording engineers to competently manage the remastering process; build rewarding partnerships with iTunes, Amazon, cloud-based services and future-mechanism (x) distributors; and then ensure that artists and songwriters receive proper royalties? And pay my own bills on top of all that? (Oh.)

48. George Brigman – Some of My Best Friends Are Snakes
George Brigman has done a lot for me. I can't remember if it was "Jungle Rot" or "Blowin' Smoke" I heard while driving through Inman Square (when I was still living in Cambridge) but I lay the blame for much of my current distorted-guitar-centered blues-rock partiality at his feet. I was already deeply into the Stooges and Blue Cheer at the time but I think Brigman really sealed it up. Funny thing, 2007's comeback (for lack of a better word) album Rags in Skull came out the same year as those groups' The Weirdness and What Doesn't Kill You, respectively. Similarities end there: Iggy and Dickie arouse shocking levels of cringe-inducing, what-in-the-worldwide-fuck despair. Brigman remains the genuine article. Just know, friends, that this one's not directed at you snakes.


In closing, for real this year: one song from the fifties; sixteen from the sixties (only four from 1968 this time); eleven from the seventies; three from the eighties (lowballed again!); four from the nineties; twelve from the aughts; and one from the teens. God bless you, son or daughter. I have given you a gift of thorough good taste.

More furious madness: Volume 1|Volume 2

2 comments:

Steve Forceman, P.I. said...

Dude! Not sure what to say... I mean, Congratulations!

I picture a kid who's gonna inherit. a really great record collection someday (not to get morbid). No seriously, that's great news. Best wishes to you, Amy and the future member of the family.

I could say a lot about your list as well--it's a good one--but 1) it kinda gets overwhelmed by its precedent & 2) it's characteristically exhaustive. Just not enough room in a comment. One of these three-times-in-a-century Cubs/Red Sox series, maybe we can meet up and discuss it over a beer. One thing though... Doesn't Pimps, Player and Private Eyes rule? I found it in a cut-out bin for $3.99!

Haven't read your short story yet but looking forward to it. Congrats again, man, really...

Jarrod said...

Thanks for the kind wishes! I really appreciate it.

I can't really disagree with your assessment on the comp. Since the football season ended (and who knows when it might be back) I've needed an excuse to run off at the mouth, and forcing myself to comment on 48 songs seemed like a solution. Maybe next year, if I'm able to actually enjoy any music and/or write complete sentences with a son or daughter to worry about, I can try to control my damn self and keep it around two hours. But I make no promises!

It's a goal of mine to knock back a few beers with you in person sometime in the future. I don't see a visit to Chicago in my/our short-term plans but you never know. And if you should find yourself heading to Massachusetts (or even New Hampshire, Rhode Island or Connecticut) then let me know too.

I'm enjoying your Cubs post a lot so far. Hoping to finish it up tomorrow if work can cooperate and stay out of my way.

Hope you're doing well!