Thursday, May 31, 2012

Alright, is everybody ready?

"Since the football season ended I've needed an excuse to run off at the mouth, and forcing myself to comment on forty-eight 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." That was me about a year ago, in response to a reader's suggestion to chill out next time with the playlist. Wrong! Forty-eight more songs! Three more hours and fifteen more minutes! It is on.

It's been a different kind of year, to say the least. I didn't necessarily listen to as much of my own music since the walk to my office is shorter now than it was a year ago, to and from a nearby parking lot (ten minutes away) instead of North Station (twenty). Such is the economics of MBTA fare hikes. However, this truncated relationship with my iPod has leveled off with more drive-time Sirius listening. I won't say stations like the Underground Garage and others have introduced me to a whole lot of noteworthy newer artists—Motopony being the exception represented here—but they have provided some booster shots as needed: Jeff Beck, War and our friends at number forty-eight, to name some I've included this time around. And A. found a song she can't even wait to play at our daughter's first birthday party later this Summer: "Rock & Roller Girl" by the Mooney Suzuki. (Tis impossible to believe I only figured out the origin of that band's name like a month ago. When I was into them in the late nineties/early aughts I was minimally aware of Can, and certainly couldn't identify the members of the group. (Malcolm) Mooney? ((I Am) Damo) Suzuki? Of course! It's still funny that I catch no trace of influence from their first single through to the handful of later songs I've managed to hear. Way to wear your inspiration on a sleeve stitched together with lies.)

So here we are again. Along with failing to cut down on the duration I've similarly failed to cut down on the swearing. Not sure how I'll defend it all to G. if she happens upon this… I see significant edits in my future should that day come. Anyway, this naturally (again) goes out to her. No children's songs this year (for, I'm guessing, the last time as she grows up and starts liking things that will get stuck in my head) and, really, nothing at all other than "Mickey's Monkey" that is appropriate to play in a little girl's honor. But it all kept me company during those brief morning and evening strolls since George Brigman was singing about his snake friends—you can't argue with facts. Everything came together pretty quickly despite a late start. No more delays.

1. Groundhogs – Thank Christ for the Bomb
Clearly I am all in on the Groundhogs. "The rising sun didn't look so bright." What is it with me and anti-war songs? Between this and last year's "Monk Time" you'd think I'm some sandal-wearing ideologue. It's a good thing our founding fathers realized that two hundred years later we'd still live in a society where it's alright for first-world countries to grant rights to frenzied "militias" who think our president was born on Mars.

2. The Tony Williams Lifetime – Via the Spectrum Road
Starting off with two seven-minute songs? Fans will scratch their heads but critics will love it. I bought Emergency! at an independent shop in Newburyport last Summer. The old white salesman (is there another kind?) could not have acted less interested in my money, which is odd considering I was deliberately trying to support local business by agreeing to pay three or four dollars more than what Amazon charged. I was even wearing G. in a front carrier, and she's a bright light. Maybe he was worried she would spit up on a rare issue of "Rappin' Duke" or something.

3. Alice Cooper – Changing Arranging
A potential "School's Out" replacement in last Spring's time-traveling playlist but, even in retrospect, I thought it was too weird for that contest. So it gets the prime three-hole here. (Prime Three-Hole now playing in back-alley theaters across the country.)

4. Sly & the Family Stone – Family Affair
Adam Carolla had an absolutely hilarious take on this song in one of his podcasts last year, questioning its "effort level" and calling it "the makings of a song." He had me on the floor. "Still checking each other out, hehhh-ehh-ehh." I love it though. I'm a complicated man.

5. Lou Reed – The Blue Mask
This might be the song of the year. "Wirrrrrrwww." The long introduction screamed for it to start things off, but then it saw last year's "Lay of the Last Tinker" and 2010's "Livin' On," shuffled to the window and started chewing its nails. Lou sounds old here and he must have been because he turned one hundred twelve a couple of months ago.

6. Deltron 3030 – Memory Loss
Automator looks like a real douche on those Handsome Boy Modeling School album covers but he seems to know his shit. I couldn't tell you what he's up to lately but most hip-hop producers would be lucky to hit with either Deltron 3030 or Dr. Octagonecologyst, never mind both. I hate when producers get all the credit but he's doing some real work here.

7. Electric Eels – Safety Week
Hello Cleveland! How are these guys not in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame? Because of album titles like God Says Fuck You? Swastikas and naked ladies on their album covers? Perhaps. The Man always finds an excuse.

8. Carrie Nations – Find It
Nothing entertains quite like Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. It's been awhile but my favorite scene is every one involving Z-Man, and my favorite favorite scene is when he takes over management of the Carrie Nations (né the Kelly Affair) and we're blessed with a things-are-looking-up montage. At one point he and the whitest suit ever tailored are superimposed over a shot of the band performing on television. What's our man doing but smiling, smiling and nodding, nodding the nod of wisdom, of shrewdness, of power. The nod of someone in complete control of this whole scene. The nod of someone who, before long, will start beheading motherfuckers.

9. Motopony – Seer
This one was a minor hit over the Winter on a couple of those Sirius stations. Apparently Motopony's self-titled album came out in 2009 but was reissued last year, so stations like the Spectrum and Alt Nation latched onto it the way some people list compilations and reissues as top "albums" of a given year. That kettle is black!

10. Seeds – Girl I Want You
Pretty standard Seeds execution (good thing) but I wanted a straight-ahead beat song here. Maybe next year, Richard & the Young Lions.

11. The Who – Rael
Step number two in Pete Townshend's journey to a complete rock opera, following "A Quick One, While He's Away" (the Live at Leeds version of which was almost included here, alas it's too long even for me to have justified) and directly preceding (well, despite an eighteen-month span that only produced a handful of singles) Tommy. Smell the "Sparks"! I wanted to choose among The Who Sell Out outtakes "Glow Girl" and "Glittering Girl" for obvious reasons but "Rael" is a better song.

12. Luv Machine – Witches Wand
The B-side to a 1972 single called "Happy Children." As if G. isn’t the happiest child around. Case in point: she had a horrible bout of diarrhea last week and, other than screaming her head off because of an awful rash every time we had to change her diaper, you wouldn't even know it. I get more strength out of that little sixteen-pound bundle of gummy smiles than I thought the world could hold.

13. Cat Power – Nude As the News
I remember when this song became a semi-hit there were protests in Tennessee or something. I always assumed that because "Jackson" and "Jesse" are so prominent in the chorus it was about Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination in Memphis, at which Jesse Jackson was present. Turns out it actually tells the story of an abortion Chan Marshall had when she was young—I do not pay attention to lyrics. The video might have given clues but I could not get past how cute she was. Was.

14. Fugazi – The Argument
A few things. First, is it fair to refer to this as the album's title track if it's called "Argument" and the album is The Argument? These are the problems I create for myself. Second, my "Normar Day" efforts mentioned above generalized that "I've lately (as in the last fifteen years) preferred Guy's songs to Ian's," completely ignoring how much Ian really brought it on The Argument. The wet blanket's best album by far, as "Argument," "Cashout" and "Ex-Spectator" are all-time greats. Lastly, I've made a number of changes to my album-of-the-year list from early in 2010. Some of these are due to oversight (for example, Alien Lanes replacing Dead Cool), one to correcting an error (I had James Brown's The Payback for 1974 when it was actually released in December 1973) and several to growing a tie-breaking sack (Enter the Wu-Tang, Endtroducing and Law of Ruins barely squeaking by PJ Harvey's Rid of Me, Brainiac's Hissing Prigs in Static Couture and Neutral Milk Hotel's In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, respectively), as well as a variety of nitpicking layout changes (the years used to be listed last, in parentheses… I obsess). Here's another one: not only is The Argument now our 2001 award-winner (replacing RL Burnside's Burnside on Burnside) (Burnside!), I'm pretty sure it's better than all the aughts' other award-winners. I've always liked it but it took a long time to grow on me as a real achievement—I'm older now so maybe something clicked. Speaking of getting older, I'll never have a favorite album of 2011 because I no longer keep tabs on all the new bands that no doubt suck anyway, but I'm considering the Hawkwind route with Dead Meadow's live Three Kings for 2010. That old smoke alarm is hopefully drowning in my daughter's diapers at the bottom of some Brazilian landfill by now.

15. Oneida – I Will Haunt You
Oneida is sort of a modern-day classic Six Finger Satellite, if that makes any sense (I say "classic" to separate the mid- to late-nineties era from today's incarnation, though I'm not sure what all they're up to lately since they haven't released anything in almost three years other than the reissue of 1994's The Machine Cuisine Companion Cassette but somehow not of the regular Machine Cuisine EP). Sonically they're just as adventurous, jumping from quick-hit hard-rockers to extended electronic jams. Not as satisfying as 6FS because few are, but they can sure come in handy.

16. MC5 – Train Music
I'm going to write a bunch about the MC5 whenever I get to my Beefheart albatross (trust me, there's a direction). This song will suffice until then, even though it's actually called "Gold" according to Babes in Arms and a few other posthumous collections. I just find it hard to believe that an outtake from the soundtrack to an obscure 1972 film would be compiled before two otherwise-unavailable songs that actually made it onto the soundtrack. Maybe I shouldn't believe everything I read on the internet.

17. The Chocolate Watchband – Don't Need Your Lovin'
That bass during the chorus… that bass! Sure, it's "Milk Cow Blues." Whatevs. Stand it up against Eric Clapton's soft-as-an-old-man's-balls version from Me and Mr. Johnson a few years ago for a reminder that his very brief career as a legitimate rock musician, compared even to no-name contemporaries, is long over. I'll never understand how a man and his conviction can quit the Yardbirds over a perfect pop gem like "For Your Love" and then, only twelve years later, provide the soundtrack to a million eighth-grade dances with "Wonderful Tonight." And be praised for it!

18. Gogol Bordello – When Universes Collide
My cousin once posted on Facebook that she had some iTunes credit burning a hole in her pocket and was looking for suggestions. I offered this (having recently heard it for the first time on WZBC), "100,000 Years" by Kiss and a third song that couldn't possibly follow "100,000 Years."

19. Colosseum – The Kettle
This is my kind of music. Great riff, great drum sound, great double-tracked guitar solo. Lyrics incomprehensible other than the word "kettle" in the chorus and the occasional "darlin'." What more is there?

20. Gang of Four – Ether
When G. was younger I had a two-song arsenal to hum to her while making her dance. One is from The Wizard of Oz, I think it's the marching theme to "The Merry Old Land of Oz" as Dorothy and friends parade in circles, hoping we don't notice the confined space of the castle is actually a sound stage. The second, for no good reason, was "Ether"—one day I just grabbed her under the arms, bounced her up and down on my leg and said "Fer-der-der, der-der, fer-der-der, pa-pa-pa." Where the hell did that come from? She looked at me and said "C'mon Dad, you too with Gang of Four?"

21. Broadcast – I Found the F
Are you shy around women? Then you're in luck, because here is our final female vocalist of the evening. You can now undo that belt, light up an El Producto and wipe your hands on the drapes.

22. Subtitle – Landlocked
Just another in a long line of songs that old indie sites used to throw up for free as a way to introduce new artists. In a related story, as with most of these introductions, I never took one second to explore the rest of Subtitle's catalog. Too bad because this is a good song. And too bad because I'm still not going to see what else he's got.

23. Chrome Cranks – Hot Blonde Cocktail
I saw these guys open for the Blues Explosion or someone back in 1948 and the bass riff to "Doll in a Dress" stayed in my head for about three months. It was the richest sound I'd ever heard and I couldn't buy that first album fast enough once it finally came out. "Hot Blonde Cocktail" is from Love in Exile and Dead Cool is almost the best album of 1995. So they've done pretty goddamn well for themselves and I'd like to think I had something to do with it.

24. Top Drawer – Song of a Sinner
Dirge alert! "How can you keep me?" Because you're almost nine minutes long, baby! Since I ignored the advice to take it down a thousand and have instead kept this thing on the sunny side of three hours again, let's call this the end of "side one."

25. Archie Bell & the Drells – Tighten Up (Part 1)
Archie Bell? Of the Drells? Of Houston, Texas? He and his crew are going to flip that record and make sure things haven't gotten too loose on us now, much like the JB's a few songs into Say It Live and Loud.

26. Three Dog Night – I Can Hear You Calling
I saw Yo La Tengo at the Somerville Theater on the And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out tour and in the lobby they were handing out a free issue of The Yo La Tengo Gazette: two eleven-by-seventeen sheets folded, nested and stapled together. The centerfold is a "Kaplan Study Guide (not affiliated with Kaplan Study Guides)," hilariously testing one's knowledge of Chuck Negron's autobiography Three Dog Nightmare. Sample multiple-choice "math" question: "If the distance from the bridge of Chuck Negron's nose to its base is two inches and if his nose extends one inch from his head, using the Pythagorean Theorem, how far must the cocaine travel through his nasal passages?" I can't wait until the day G. asks to hear "Tom Courtenay" for the hundredth time and I'm finally able to share this with her.

27. Elliott Smith – Coast to Coast
I like these songs where Elliott just belts it out production-wise. He wasn't around for the final mixing, sure, but "Coast to Coast" wouldn't have sounded out of place on Figure 8 or even XO so it had to have been sketched out, right? Love the Who-ish (as in the beginning of "Rael") non-lyrical harmonies during the bridge—lots of words to not have to pay attention to here, between this and the overlaid gibberish at the end. A. will hate me for writing that.

28. Andre Williams – Bring Me Back My Car Unstripped
Give him his shit, man. All he wants is his shit back. You know damn well it ain't yours. Take his wife, motherfucker. Just bring him back his shit. Get it back in here. Unstripped.

29. The Jeff Beck Group – I Ain't Superstitious
It's really something that Jeff Beck isn't more appreciated in the world of classic rock. I suppose it's because his first two solo albums are comprised of more covers than originals and his term with the Yardbirds (that band's peak era) really didn't produce much in the way of homegrown material, since the bulk of "their" stuff was handed to them by professional songwriters. Yet Clapton—who also couldn't write to save his life and was Beck's equal only during the Cream years—gets a total bearded pass. What in the worldwide fuck.

30. Faust – Flashback Caruso
My love of Can has inspired me to seek out other krautrock bands from the early seventies. Faust has offered nice returns with the likes of "Flashback Caruso," "Giggy Smile," "It's a Rainy Day, Sunshine Girl" (lifted by Stereolab for "Anemie"/"Animal or Vegetable") and others. Adventures in Neu! were not as fruitful, however, as only "Neuschnee" and "Hallogallo" (Stereolab playing the role of Zeppelin again on "Jenny Ondioline") really do anything for me.

31. Ol' Dirty Bastard – Shimmy Shimmy Ya
Second year in a row of taking laps around Wu-Tang options before settling on a solo song. ODB's Return to the 36 Chambers is generally good but not nearly as tight as Liquid Swords or 6 Feet Deep, never mind Enter the Wu-Tang. I don't know what to tell you.

32. Endle St. Cloud – Come Through
"Alright, Panetti… I've fronted the bread, I did everything you ask. Is this another one of your super-heavy, super-duper deals? Panetti, when will you come through?!" And then: fuzz.

33. Fleetwood Mac – Tusk
I own four Fleetwood Mac songs: Peter Green-era numbers "Oh Well," "Looking for Somebody" and "The Green Manalishi" and then "Tusk," an overproduced, cocaine-fueled pop song featuring the USC marching band. And when I say own I mean own: I acquired the publishing rights. Only in America!

34. Units – High Pressure Days
1979 block! Even more coke might have gone into this one. Where's Peter's Criss's "Dirty Livin'" when you need it? Up Grace Jones's nose, maybe. She can have it.

35. Bad Brains – Supertouch/Shitfit
Version from 1982's self-titled album. I don't know that you need to stray from Bad Brains, Black Flag and Dead Kennedys in order to really embrace the early eighties American punk movement. No one else comes close—though I like both, Minor Threat were too stiff and the Misfits too silly.

36. Master's Apprentices – Our Friend Owsley Stanley III
Lyrics presumably about acid? Check. Heavy riff? Check. Distortion? Check. Catchy time signature? Check. Something that sounds like a flute buried in the mix? Check!

37. Kinks – Shangri-La
Thank god these guys were banned from touring the States for a few years and barely tasted success here between "Tired of Waiting for You" in early 1965 and "Lola" in the Summer of 1970. By 1969 the Stones were practically an American band, but other key invasion groups like the Who, the Small Faces and the Kinks (even Pink Floyd, to an extent) were able to sit back and continue producing unique British music unaffected by heavy, jammy, gritty trends that bands like Blue Cheer and Steppenwolf (both of whom I celebrate) were cultivating. It's not that I think they would have become bad musicians or songwriters, it just might have exposed them to something that could sap away a bit of their sensibility and charm. No English band touring like mad between Boston, Dallas, Miami and San Francisco all that time could have written "Dedicated Follower of Fashion," "Waterloo Sunset," "The Village Green Preservation Society" or "Shangri-La." I'm sure it felt like a drag at the time, which sucks, but in the long run I'm glad it happened that way.

38. The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion – Blues Explosion Attack
"Calvin's in the hospital." Couple that with a Dr. Octagon shout-out and here you have the co-highlight (just behind Old Time Relijun's "Siren," and certainly light years ahead of Miranda July's embarrassing "The Co-Star") from Selector Dub Narcotic. It was reworked (butchered, even) as "Attack" for the excellent Acme album the following year and Calvin wisely stayed out of the fucking way then, too. We're all better for it.

39. Miracles – Mickey's Monkey
The first song G. heard, aside from maybe my homemade Blue Cheer ringtone. We spent two nights in the hospital learning how to take care of a little six-pound monkey. Somehow we all made it, and sunny Wednesday morning when I pulled the new car around to pick up A. and G. I had Sooouuul Town on the radio. We snapped her in (so little in that car seat!) as Smokey was telling us about a new dance—what a wonderful, happy song, perfect for our first drive home as a family. Through Beverly we then heard Ben E. King's "Stand by Me" followed by Marvin Gaye's "Too Busy Thinking About My Baby" as we approached the bridge. It's like they knew! Coincidence or not, I've been calling G. "monkey" for nine months now and won't be stopping soon.

40. War – Sun Oh Son
I don't have a son but "Water Oh Daughter" isn't very catchy. "Slaughter Oh Daughter"? Even worse. "Hotter Oh Daughter"? I will end you!

41. Wolf People – Empty Heart
This year's Tame Impala, a.k.a. My Pleasant Discovery of 2011. As with many pleasant discoveries going back about ten years such as Dead Meadow, Black Mountain and Dungen, more often than not the recipe consists of psychedelia, distortion and a willingness to just see how it all shakes out. It's a good thing I'm choosing to overlook the fact that these guys are the ten thousandth "Wolf" band in existence, an annoying trend that would usually put me off if they weren't so clearly listening to a lot of Beefheart. Me too!

42. Eire Apparent – Yes, I Need Someone
Dig those afros! This song went through the ringer a few hundred times last year—no matter how hard I tried it just wouldn't fit. (Michael Scott on line one!) Luckily it's good enough that I've continued to enjoy it over the last twelve months and it slides perfectly into the forty-two spot (unbelievable), replacing a couple of options by the Attack that I'll probably work out in time for next Spring.

43. Can – Oh Yeah
Oh yeah, still into Can. It's genuinely impressive that I've got three songs longer than seven minutes and one longer than eight and here we sit again, right at three hours and fifteen minutes altogether—last year I had two that barely squeaked by seven minutes and even one that was only a minute thirteen. There must be a cosmic order in place to balance things out for me.

44. Night Sun – Crazy Woman
Yes! Beware of the inferior (but still powerful) mono mix on the Progressive German Rock compilation. Not sure where I got this stereo track, probably from Anthology "Out to Lunch" Recordings.

45. Troggs – Any Way That You Want Me
So you have a hit single. A few of them, even. Want to make another? Take the most popular one ("Wild Thing"), wholly lift its signature riff (after having already reused it in "I Want You"), drop it behind the chorus of a new ballad, sprinkle some fairy dust over the bastard and call it a day. There's your number fucking one.

46. Archie Bronson Outfit – Dart for My Sweetheart
Sorry if this doesn't sit too well here, I just couldn't leave it out… lots to like! Chunk-a-chunk riff, chunk-a-chunk bass, chunk-a-chunk drums, crazed vocals by someone I picture to look like a cross between Father Yod and the Z-Man himself. See how well he performs!

47. Crosby, Stills & Nash – You Don't Have to Cry
"You are living a reality I left years ago, it quite nearly killed me." Sure, the nine-to-five life blows. I guess the rest of us just have to become rock stars, write songs about bluebirds and three-way sex and then we can put it all behind the way Dave, Steve and Graham did. Easy peasy!

48. Iron Maiden – The Prisoner
And you thought I was kidding in February. Is there a single Iron Maiden song that isn't about some mythical, historical or classic fictional character? These guys are the best.

Housekeeping! Fifteen songs from the sixties (only three from 1968 but seven from '69… what the!); fourteen from the seventies; three from the eighties (all from '82); six from the nineties; eight from the aughts; and two from the still-young teens. (Most important, only forty-four hundred words this year!) God bless you, daughter. Maybe one day this will mean as much to you as your delicious feet.

More furious madness: Volume 1|Volume 2|Volume 3

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