Scott and Willie's MP3 Picks
It's 2007 as I write this, and the people have spoken: you don't just want descriptions of songs- you want the songs themselves! Very well. For the forseeable future, Scott Floman (of the excellent Scott's Rock and Soul Album Reviews) and I will be hand-picking, uploading, and describing tasty tracks to spice up your iPod's otherwise bland playlists. As with the late, lamented "Song of the Day" feature, if you have any suggestions of your own, shoot me an e-mail with a description and I'll download it and share it with Scott. If we like it, it'll find its way into the list with your name and song description. Furthermore, if you feel moved to write any comments about any of our own song picks, we'll post those as well! If that deal sounds sufficiently sweet, we invite you to read, download, and enjoy! Please see the copyright notice below if you're concerned about such things.
Scott's Pick #67:
Morning Jacket- "One Big Holiday" (Right-click to
Scott's comments: One of my favorite bands of the 2000s, when I think of My Morning Jacket this song from It Still Moves is the one that typically comes to mind. MMJ at their most rocking.
Willie's comments: Yeah, these guys do noisily scruffy Neil Young imitations better than probably anyone else in the indie-rock world. I bet this song, with its extended guitar dialogue, would be a lot of fun live.
Knees- Led Astray"
(Right-click to download)
Willie's comments: ...And it seems the more Scott insists on showcasing songs by technically astonishing musicians, the more I'll push back with total amateurishness like this cute home-recorded twee-pop Pixy Stick. Like a lost song from the Juno soundtrack, Led Astray straddles the line between adorable and irritating, but this Swedish duo's traded boy/girl vocals, barely-tuned acoustic guitar strumming, and ridiculous kazoo solo strike me as more sweet than precious, so I dig it. From Bare Knees Bit My Daughter!
Scott's comments: This is a bit too amateurish and twee for my liking, though it does have a certain naive charm when it's not being irritating :)
Scott's Pick #66:
Bop Deluxe- "No Trains to Heaven" (Right-click to
Scott's comments: Seems I'm on a "great guitar" kick with my last few picks. Bill Nelson was a fantastic guitar player, and Be Bop Deluxe a very underrated band. From their debut album, Axe Victim.
Willie's comments: To my knowledge, I've only heard two Be Bop Deluxe songs: this one and "Life in the Air Age." I prefer the latter, though my only real criticism of "No Trains to Heaven" is that it's not "Life in the Air Age." What it is is a kicky, glammy delight.
(Right-click to download)
Willie's comments: The monstrously sloppy musicianship may suggest that the Urinals' abilities never evolved much beyond their early one-chord punk gags, but listen past the clumsiness and there's an honestly moving indie-rock song in here. John Talley-Jones wrings an earnest plea from his flat Californian voice to be able to refocus his mind from the rot and nastiness of the world and re-locate the goodness in life, and no one who's ever struggled with depression should have trouble recognizing and being pierced by the desperate yearning there. From What Is Real and What Is Not.
Scott's comments: I like this Urinals song. Besides I wouldn't expect a band called the Urinals to be great musicians! It's a good melody which matters more than musical chops (or a lack thereof).
Scott's Pick #65:
"Toussaint L'Overture" (Right-click to
Scott's comments: That "Smooth" guy used to be one helluva guitar player. Ditto Journey's Neal Schon (and stop snickering; I actually like Journey). From Santana III, for my money the best Santana studio album.
Willie's comments: I wasn't expecting to like this at all (it's fair to blame Smooth for my anti-Santana prejudiceand for most things in modern life, really), but this polyrhythmic Latin/psychedelic jam is a blast. Masterful guitar work, of course, but I also admire the flailing percussion and exuberant organ. Energetic!
"One Wild Moment" (Stereolab remix)
Right-click to download)
Willie's comments: Woozy, poky, and often wholly off-key, Scottish indie-popsters the Pastels often get by on their charming atmosphere rather than songwriting, so it's a pleasure to hear Stereolab taking the raw elements of the Pastels' One Wild Moment and concocting a crisp champagne giggle of a remix from it. A flute is subjected to a series of playful turntable speed shifts, the Pastels' usual sedate rhythms are swapped out for Stereolab's Dots and Loops-era bubbliness, and some sort of clavichord(?) provides an irresistibly silly hook. It's defiantly insubstantial and it's a total kick. From the monumentally entertaining remix album Illuminati.
Scott's comments: I don't know what to say about this other than that I agree with your description. I don't know the original so I can't comment on whether or not this remix is an improvement or not, but this version is Stereolab through and through, which to me is almost always a good thing.
Scott's Pick #64:
MC5- "Baby Won't
Ya" (Right-click to
Scott's comments: The Motor City Madmen at their soulful, explosive best. This much-overlooked number from High Time is just a great high-energy guitar track.
Willie's comments: Joyous white-guy soul-rock really isn't a style that I respond to, myself (apart from finding CCR endearing when I'm in the mood), but I can hear why you like this one so much. The guitars are expertly wielded and there's a tangible ecstasy to the number. There's nothing for me to criticize; my tastes just flow along different streams.
Dad Is Dead- "For Lack of a Better Word"
(Right-click to download)
Willie's comments: Perhaps the most memorably evocative guitar-based instrumental I've ever heard, this searching indie-rocker nails all the elements of a traditional narrativerising action, climax, denouementwithout uttering a single word. Mark Edwards, who plays every instrument on here (save maybe the bass), doesn't send his lead guitar on expeditions as wild as, say, Built to Spill's Doug Martsch, but he still coaxes a lot of expression from it, from tentative picking to an anthemic two-chord bit of action toward the end, all of which is enormously satisfying. From The Taller You Are, the Shorter You Get.
Scott's comments: "Evocative" is a good word for this nifty instrumental. It doesn't get too high or too low (I agree it peaks towards the end though), but it has a hypnotic quality that I find very gratifying.
Scott's Pick #63:
"See No Evil" (Right-click to
Scott's comments: Everybody always talks about Marquee Moon and what a great guitar tandem Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd was, and for good reason, but more people should talk about what a great rhythm section Television also had. The first track from their classic Marquee Moon album offers ample proof.
Willie's comments: You're right! Maybe it's the long shadow cast by the midtempo likes of Marquee Moon and Venus, but I admit to often forgetting that Television's rhythm section was capable of generating as much anxious, punky tension as the Feelies or Pere Ubu on those rare occasions they wanted to. Verlaine and Lloyd are hardly dead weight on this track (Lloyd's solo in particular is scalding), but bassist Fred Smith and drummer Billy Ficca deserve the credit for its abundant oomph.
"Lovesick" Right-click to
Willie's comments: Phil Judd, best known as the spazzy cofounder of New Zealand new wavers Split Enz, spent the late '70s and early '80s maniacally stuffing his songs so full of exaggerated right angles that it is itself a joy-buzzer shock to hear him letting fly with such a comparatively straightforward, brooding composition. The bare-bones new wave of Lovesick isn't without its quirkschief among which is Judd's tendency to suddenly leap about two octaves on the refrainbut those take a backseat to Judd's stirringly mercurial rumination on the dark side of romance. From Practical Jokers.
Scott's comments: Phil's voice is definitely an "acquired taste" but I do like (if not love) this sparse, low-key groover, though it had to grow on me a bit. I like your description (i.e. "bare-bones new wave," "quirks" (and/or "quirky"), "rumination on the dark side of romance") of the song too so consider this rebuttal done!
Scott's Pick #62:
Luck Woman" (Right-click to
Scott's comments: KISS does Rod Stewart. Before he sucked. Easily their best ballad, IMO, with a great raspy lead vocal from drummer Peter Criss. From Rock and Roll Over.
Willie's comments: Obviously you are forgetting about "God Gave Rock & Roll to You," the centerpiece of the Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey soundtrack. Anyway, I initially misread your write-up and thought this was a Rod Stewart cover, under which misapprehension I thought, "Boy, KISS really isn't doing anything to put their own stamp on this song, are they?" But realizing that it's an original song that merely attempts to imitate Stewart--a curious goal if ever there was one--the unusually courteous 12-string acoustic arrangement and Criss's husky singing could fool the casual listener into thinking this was indeed a Stewart single, albeit one recorded after a particularly rough night. It's not quite to my personal taste, but it's nice.
"Everything Looks Beautiful on
Video" (Right-click to
Willie's comments: Backward-looking Portland punks the Epoxies managed two brief, hyper-hooky LPs before flaming out, and this sublimely catchy number is by far the band's songwriting apex. Lead singer Roxy Epoxy pines wistfully for the glamorous immortality conferred by television while her bandmates do everything in their power to make this song the most rapturously spirited recording of the '00s, from buoyant harmonies to a kicky synth solo. From Stop the Future.
Scott's comments: First of all, Roxy Epoxy is a great name, no? I like this tune's upbeat overall vibe and its mix of punk energy with new wave instrumentation (i.e. synthesizers). Roxy's voice is pretty average but like you say the band's performance is so spirited and the song is so catchy that I can't help but be won over.
Scott's Pick #61:
The Faces- "Ooh
La La" (Right-click to
Scott's comments: I don't see how anybody can not like this timeless charmer. That's Ron Wood on lead vocals. He and Rod Stewart were good once, you know. From Ooh La La.
Willie's comments: It is pretty impossible to resist that chorus, isn't it? I remember this boppy little acoustic-rock pleasure getting a brief second life after it was prominently used in Rushmore, and wondering then how this song had gotten buried by the decades so that Wes Anderson actually had to unearth it, rather than having attained the "Maggie May" levels of ubiquity it deserves. And then it faded away again. So hopefully the third life that Scott has just bestowed upon it will be the one that sticks.
a Beautiful Day- "Girl with No
Eyes" (Right-click to
Willie's comments: Under-heralded psych-rock band It's a Beautiful Day burbled up from the same flowery San Fran scene that had unleashed the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane a decade earlier, but they don't seem to have left the sort of popular legacy those other bands enjoyed. Shame, because their couple albums I've heard contain a wealth of memorable tunes, none more so than this creepy, baroque little number. Belying the stereotypical hippie optimism of the band's name (and this album's blue-sky cover), "Girl with No Eyes" captures a fairly upsetting strain of stoner paranoia, with vocalist David LaFlamme creeping himself out about how the titular gal totally knows, man. Sober/incredulous listeners can still enjoy the chills provided by the haunting harpsichord and melody, though. From It's a Beautiful Day.
Scott's comments: Agree this band is very overlooked, though they do have a least one semi-famous tune with "White Bird." This song from the band's first and best album does encapuslate their strengths well, mostly lovely baroque folkadelica (LOL) with haunting male/female vocals. Good pick!
Scott's Pick #60:
"Starry Eyes" (Right-click to
Scott's comments: Possibly the greatest power pop song of them all. The brisk beats, the sweet catchy vocals, the impeccable guitar tone, it's just sheer pop rock perfection. From Shades in Bed.
Willie's comments: It's all those things and a giant dollop of bitterness, apparently directed at the band's erstwhile manager! If a couple words in the lyrics were changed so that it could have been convincingly interpreted as a kiss-off to an ex-girlfriend, this song would probably be all over classic rock radio today--but it would've lost some of the specialness of imagining this rock industry greaseball gnashing his teeth as his former meal tickets give him a dishonorable discharge in the form of a heavenly power pop sunbeam.
Cheese" (Right-click to
Willie's comments: Influential, hyper-intellectual oddballs the Residents have always been big on silly voices and sillier keyboard sounds, presented in patterns that resemble no pop song you've ever heard before. At their best, as they are here, those themes are so bizarre that they burrow right into your brain like mutant voles and refuse to be evicted. I chose this track mostly because I cannot work in my garden without singing this to my sprouts, falsetto chanting and all, and I hope to plant it (get it?!) in the heads of other amateur botanists who may be reading this. From Duck Stab.
Scott's comments: Similar to Z-Rock Hawaii, I had a feeling that I'd have a hard time sinking my teeth into this one, and that is indeed the case, though I do like this one a bit better and at least it's much shorter at barely 2 minutes long.
Scott's Pick #59:
"Final Solution" (Right-click to
Scott's comments: Man oh man is this a great song. An epic dirge centered around teen angst, it's a powerful builder of a track that seriously rocks. I love those surprisingly poppy girl group-inspired "ooh" backing vocals, the late, great Peter Laughner's guitar solo is suitably heroic and unhinged, and David Clayton Thomas' shouted "solution!" exhortations towards the end provide powerful exclamation points.
Willie's comments: Though of course, these guys being the vaguely misanthropic art-punks that they are, those sweet concessions to pop accessibility arrive only after several minutes of disorienting clamor, cleverly inverting the way in which artists with noisier instincts generally ease the listener into the ruckus. Incidentally, this was initially a standalone single but it's available on the Terminal Tower compilation.
Meadow" (Right-click to
Willie's comments: As two of the most celebrated freak-show rock bands of the past 25 years, it was practically a foregone conclusion that Ween (RIP) and the Boredoms would team up at one point or another for an appropriately trippy collaboration. Released a couple months after Ween's uncharacteristically straightforward 12 Golden Country Greats and recorded concurrently with the Boredoms' sporadically interesting noise-drone-fest Super Ae, "The Meadow" plays up both bands' more tuneful and sarcastically experimental traits. Gene Ween recites his stream-of-consciousness lyrics with an ESL accent to match the becalming Japanese melody (the Boredoms' influence, presumably) that's pecked out on a Yamaha keyboard, but at unpredictable intervals, the winsomeness is capsized by Dean Ween's violent guitar swashbucklery, shattering the smoothness just to be a pain in the ass. From Z-Rock Hawaii.
Scott's comments: Sorry, but this cutesy bit of whimsy doesn't really do it for me, especially at over 7 minutes long.
Scott's Pick #58:
and Linda Thompson- "When I Get to the Border" (Right-click
Scott's comments: In a just world Richard Thompson would be as rich and famous as he is critically acclaimed, but then again he probably wouldn't want that anyway. Many, myself included, feel that he did his best work with his then-wife (now ex-wife) Linda; just witness his astonishing guitar work on this wonder of a leadoff track to my favorite R&L T album, I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight.
Willie's comments: I have no idea why I've never picked up this album, considering my adoration for the Thompsons' breakup album, Shoot Out the Lights, but with this song, you have just boosted it to the top of my "CDs to buy" list. From the moseying nonchalance of this song's opening verse, I would never have guessed that the arrangement would expand to include a joyous series of Irish folk licks played on whistle, accordion, mandolin, and a keyboard that's trying to convince us it's a set of bagpipes. It exemplifies Richard's unique willingness, when he's at his best, to follow a song in whatever direction it may pull him and his ability to make good on its potential with his abundant musical chops. Amazing stuff.
Name Is Alive- "In Every Ford"
(Right-click to download)
Willie's comments: I've read a number of reviews complimenting His Name Is Alive mastermind Warren Defever for the lustrous production of this album, but I personally don't hear anything that hides the fact that it was recorded in Defever's Michigan home. That's not a knock on it by any means; I just thought I'd mention it to keep the potential listener from being misled. Anyway, even if the recording is rather lo-fi, this indie-rocker is put together in a plenty sophisticated way, effortlessly sliding between the straightforward, fuzzy boogie of the verses and the 3/4 rhythm of the refrain, Karen Neal's pretty (if anonymous) vocals being the unifying thread. I have no clue what the song is about, but it's a catchy homemade puzzle. From Mouth by Mouth.
Scott's comments: Often when I hear complaints about production I end up thinking it's much ado about nothing; good songs can generally overcome "bad production." Besides, like you I have no problems with the production here, it's perfectly fitting for this low-key dreampop charmer. Of course, it's not all dreamy, but I like when the louder guitars come in as well. His Name Is Alive is another artist I've heard about that I've never gotten around to checking out, and based on this fine song it looks like I need to look into them!
Scott's Pick #57:
"Trust Me" (Right-click to
Scott's comments: This Bobby Womack cover shows a more tender side to Janis than what she's typically remembered for; her raw vulnerability on this track kills me every time. From Pearl.
Willie's comments: I've concluded that Joplin's famed screeching is a rock-and-roll voice that is simply never going to grow on me, and although she certainly seems to be aiming for an uncharacteristic vulnerability here, she still sounds more to me like a belligerent souse who's just been arrested for obscenely heckling a Little League umpire than a movingly raw artistic talent. The songwriting is above reproach, but that's to the credit of Womack, whose confident, diaphragm-stretching rasp on the original recording is far preferable, in my opinion, to Joplin's erratic keening.
Spit Love- "Jigsaw"
(Right-click to download)
Willie's comments: In the early '90s, Richard Butler was one of millions who sought his fortune in the post-Nirvana landscape of sloppy, loud "alternative" rock. Love Spit Love didn't exactly top the charts, but if nothing else, it's neat to hear Butler's pop instincts transplanted from the glossy new wave of the Psychedelic Furs to more untamed surroundings. This track especially takes advantage of this freedom, juxtaposing samples of German oompah music with Latin classical guitar and the inexplicable presence of a kazoo on lead, evoking the brainy arrangement skills of both Los Lobos and Blur. From Love Spit Love.
Scott's comments: I'm a fan of the Psychedelic Furs, in large part due to Richard Butler's unique vocals, and I remember when the first Love Spit Love album came out. I never got around to checking them out, but I can see why it didn't exactly set the world on fire; after all, has any song with such a prominent kazoo ever been a huge hit? Regardless, I like this atmospheric track, in part because I find the kazoo parts to be completely adorable in the way that they're totally at odds with the song's more standard '90s alternative rock parts.
Scott's Pick #56:
"Get Me" (Right-click to
Scott's comments: This is Dinosur Jr. at their most sprawlingly epic, with glorious female vocals by Tiffany Anders providing a welcome counterpoint to group leader J. Mascis' lazy drawl of a voice and his soaring guitar solos. From Where You Been.
Willie's comments: I think Mascis's voice has always been the hang-up that's kept me from getting into Dinosaur Jr. the way I have with other indie- or "alt"-rock guitar worshippers (and fellow not-astonishingly-good singers, I grant you) like the Meat Puppets and Built to Spill. Something about his wounded vocal fry always seems kind of affected to me, which makes it tough for me to listen to him for more than one song at a time. That said, this song is one of those I might choose to put up with him through, since I do find those wide-as-the-prairies guitar solos awfully nifty.
Willie's comments: Once in a long while, Yo La Tengo bassist James McNew drops an inevitably winning, home-recorded solo album under the name Dump, showing off his emotionally resonant and intimate songwriting skills that rarely get to take center stage in his day job. This dynamic and vital indie-rock marathon can hold its own against any of YLT's justly lauded sagas such as "I Heard You Looking" and "Pass the Hatchet, I Think I'm Goodkind." McNew's talent for letting simple, mesmerizing repetition keep his compositions tethered as chaotic guitar commotion erupts is unbeatable, and his wavery vocals are endearingly unaffected. It's a stunningly powerful piece. From A Grown-Ass Man.
Scott's comments: I really like this epic guitar track, which builds powerfully and whose grunge-y sound reminds me more of Dinosaur Jr. than Yo La Tengo. But hey I really like Dinosaur Jr. so that's not a bad thing at all. I guess Ira Kaplan's not the only guitar hero in Yo La Tengo after all.
Scott's Pick #55:
Morrison- "Take It Where You Find It" Right-click to
Scott's comments: Nobody ever talks about this song from Wavelength, but I think it shows Van The Man at his epic, magical best. To lazily steal a description from my review of this album: "'Take It Where You Find It' is a quietly epic love letter to America that gets better and better as it goes along (the song is nearly 9 minutes long). Simply put, this song, which Id rank among Vans all-time best, makes me want to lock arms with someone, anyone, and commence in a slowly swaying sing along, such is the joyous majesty of this much-overlooked album track, which provides a fantastic finale to a significantly flawed but at times outstanding album."
Willie's comments: Scott's too modest to mention that his description of this song is on-target enough that Wikipedia quoted it on their Wavelength page. It starts as the sort of atmospheric country moper that evokes last call at a fly-infested rural honkytonk, but it almost imperceptably builds steam until it turns into a gargantuan, rootsy anthem (replete with confusingly wee keyboard trills).
Gerrard and Pieter Bourke-
"Meltdown" (Right-click to
Willie's comments: This deeply absorbing trip-hop tide pool, by Dead Can Dance caterwauler Gerrard and her cohort Bourke, is the audio equivalent of sinking into a sensory deprivation chamber while feeling inconsolably depressed: the nagging brushed drums, swooning, reverbed keyboards and guitars, and Gerrard's inimitably haunting voice produce a fully-encompassing atmosphere in which the only appropriate option for the listener is to spend these five and a half minutes contemplating the disappointments of life. From the soundtrack to The Insider.
Scott's comments: Well said and another good pick!
Scott's Pick #54:
Mason- "Look At You Look At Me" Right-click to
Scott's comments: A great epic guitar song from Dave Mason's great, criminally underrated first album, Alone Together.
Willie's comments: While it may not exactly hold me rapt for its entire runtime (that marshy coda could be trimmed by 90 seconds without losing any of the song's substance), I do really like this tune's distinctively 1970s bravado. The guitar work is impressive and soulful for sure, but I also appreciate the piano and Ray Manzarek-toned keyboard that keep the arrangement grounded.
Cantrell- "Cowboy on the
Moon" (Right-click to
Willie's comments: Indie country favorite Laura Cantrell recorded this song by fellow indie country favorites Lambchop for a 2009 Merge Records compilation, and it's an impeccable match of songwriting (by Lambchop's Kurt Wagner) and interpretation. It's exciting to hear Cantrell's shiny voice rather than Wagner's nicotine-stained murmur tackling his intentionally mundane lyrics, and little touches like the analog synth make this arrangement just off-kilter enough to do justice to Lambchop's own unique strain of weirdness. From the compilation Score! 20 Years of Merge Records: The Covers.
Scott's comments: Cantrell and Lambchop are two artists I've always meant to check out but never really have beyond cursory investigations. My bad, because this song is really pretty.
Scott's Pick #53:
Prine- "Hello in There" Right-click to
Scott's comments: The greatest song ever written about growing old, written by a then 24 year old! Listening to this song damn near moves me to tears every time. From Prine's excellent self-titled first album.
Willie's comments: I kept telling myself that one of these days I'd pick Prine's acidic (and still relevant) "Your Flag Decal Won't Get You Into Heaven Anymore" for this series, but it looks like you beat me to the punch on highlighting his self-titled album! It really is difficult to believe Prine was only 24 when he penned this heartfelt folk song; it's so lived-in and poignant. Beautiful pick.
Lost Cause- "Open Up Your Door"
(Right-click to download)
Willie's comments: Nepotism alert: in 1968, my then-teenage dad, Jeff Williams, sang and played drums in a gifted covers band whose basement recordings he and I recently unearthed. This double-time cover of Richard and the Young Lions' garage-rock classic is my favorite of the lot. Though it mutes the original's anthemic charge, the Lost Cause's version, with its speedier rhythm and the heartwarmingly adolescent backing vocals from Steve Zubeck, is a memorable improvement, and I'm certain I'd say that even if I weren't the drummer's progeny. From The Lost Cause, which can be downloaded in its entirety here.
Scott's comments: You know what? Nepotism or not I really like this one, it's just so effortlessly charming and catchy. The brisk beats, the hooky basslines, the nicely plucked guitar (which almost sounds like a piano), the endearingly amateurish vocals, the lo-fi overall sound; it all works, simple as that. This would make a nice addition to one of the Nuggets box sets in fact!
Scott's Pick #52:
by Voices- "Echos Myron" Right-click to
Scott's comments: Continuing the GBV theme from Willie's last pick, here's probably my favorite GBV song, though it has plenty of competition. This song is wonderfully "Beatlesque," with affecting high-pitched harmonies, a flawless "lo-fi" melody, and maybe the greatest single moment in the whole GBV discography, when the aforementioned harmonies lead into the terrific guitar solo at around the 1:50 mark. From the band's brilliantly flawed masterpiece Bee Thousand.
Willie's comments: You'd probably have to devote the better part of a month to listen to every recording from the Guided by Voices lineage, but however many buried gems there may be in their splattery mess of a discography, I would be amazed if this song weren't still in the top five they ever wrote. As Scott noted, every element of this song is thoughtfully executed in a way that belies its shambling structure, and the whole composition resounds with amiable rock know-how.
"Seven and Nine"
(Right-click to download)
Willie's comments: Guitarist and Keebler elf-voiced singer Tobin Sprout was a total scene stealer during Guided by Voices' "classic" period, contributing or co-authoring some of that band's most accessibly clear-eyed highlights ("To Remake the Young Flyer," "Echos Myron," etc.), and his work without the comparatively grimy influences of Robert Pollard is full of treasures as well. (His first solo album, Carnival Boy, is as essential as any GBV record and then some.) But on this track from his short-lived indie-garage group Eyesinweasel, he actually writes a song that sounds halfway tough! In character as a demonic soul dealer, Sprout's silky voice takes on a weirdly sinister quality, and the borderline-punkish energy from his bandmates makes this as authentically raucous a rock jackhammer as you're likely to get from this otherwise-peaceful fellow. From Wrinkled Thoughts.
Scott's comments: Yeah, this short, hard driving, garage rockin' groover is kind of tough and edgy, though it's also quite catchy, and it's definitely good!
Scott's Pick #51:
The La's- "Looking
Glass" Right-click to download)
Scott's comments: The La's' perfect power pop gem "There She Goes" is at least semi-famous, and deservedly so, but this epic album closer from the band's lone (if cherished) album is also fantastic, from its atmospheric beginnings on to its explosive drum-fueled finale. From The La's.
Willie's comments: A timelessly pretty acoustic-rock song: it could've been recorded 20 years on either side of its 1990 release and it would've fit seamlessly into either era. The unexpected nosedive and crash landing in the last minute put an invigorating capper not only on an otherwise pensive tune but on a thoroughly sturdy album.
+ Tickled Trio- "United World Elevator"
(Right-click to download)
Willie's comments: This Notwist side project is hardly the only act to cleverly slalom between the structured repetition of electronica and the uninhibited freedom of jazz, but they do it better than any other band I've heard. This 13-minute saga slowly, organically metamorphoses from chill, clicky dub to expressive, thrilling saxophone squall before your very eyes. From Electric Avenue Tapes.
Scott's comments: As is often the case, I don't have much to add to Willie's description other than to say that I dig this groovy instrumental track too.
Scott's Pick #50:
"I'm in You" Right-click to
Scott's comments: It may take awhile to get going, and I'm sure some will find that it lingers too long even after it does, but this is possibly my favorite extended guitar solo of all time, and I cherish it that much more because nobody, and I mean NOBODY, ever talks about it. From The Great White Wonder.
Willie's comments: Yeah, the quivery, oversimplistic vocal part that opens the song does get kind of aggravating in its repetition, but once that scruffy guitar solo starts holding court, this indie-rock epic earns back all that lost goodwill and then some! Guitarist Paul puts on quite an exhibition of his talents without trying off-puttingly hard to prove anything like those guys who work in your local guitar store do.
"Groove Is in the
Heart" (Right-click to
Willie's comments: Is it possible to cram more unadulterated fun into three and a half minutes than this great 1990 kitsch-funk single does? It was a big hit upon its release, but I don't think I'd heard it for at least a decade before I recently stumbled across it and was tickled anew by the way its every sound arrives with a joy-buzzer burst of electricity. "Groove Is in the Heart" merrily yanks samples from sources as diverse as Herbie Hancock and the Green Acres theme, finds room for guest appearances by Bootsy Collins, Q-Tip, and Tina Turner (on tambourine!), and frosts the whole thing with Lady Miss Kier's goofily irresistible vocals. The result is a boisterous dance party that leaves the listener knee-deep in silly string and confetti. From World Clique.
Scott's comments: I can't hear this song without picturing the colorful psychedelic video, but even without it this song is pure fun, one of the best dance tracks of the '90s.
Scott's Pick #49:
Sugar- "JC Auto"
Right-click to download)
Scott's comments: I'm in the minority but I think Sugar was Bob Mould's best band, and this turbo-charged song shows them at their intense, cathartic best. From Beaster.
Willie's comments: I'm totally with you on this era being Mould's most fecund creative period. (He's had some very good solo albums and there's no overstating the importance of Husker Du, but Sugar is where he really matured as a songwriter and producer.) This song is by far Sugar's angriest, with Mould's road-rash bellow delivering as abrasive a wallop as his layers of guitar, but it's also a fine example of his gift for memorable, no-frills vocal hooks.
Chills- "Part Past Part
Fiction" (Right-click to
Willie's comments: If you've ever wondered just what's so special about the "Dunedin Sound," that distinctively New Zealand-centric style of indie-rock nonchalantly cooked up by revered artists like the Bats and Chris Knox, this unostentatious plum is arguably the quintessential example of the scene's charms. The rippling jangle of the guitars and the lovely, bittersweet melody are so understated that it's tough to call "Part Past Part Fiction" catchy per se, but it's so quietly stunning and warm that you may find yourself carrying it around in your head just as easily as, say, "Moves Like Jagger" (though far less begrudgingly!). A subtly special little tune. From Submarine Bells.
Scott's comments: I don't have much to add because words like lovely, charming, warm, and subtle are appropriate for this effortlessly inviting little tune.
Scott's Pick #48:
"Blue Moon" (Right-click to
Scott's comments: Among the seminal early Elvis recordings done for Sam Phillips' Sun Records, this ghostly late night ballad has an eerie, haunting ambiance unlike any of his other recordings. From Elvis Presley.
Willie's comments: I also really love the heavily echoed and reverbed production on this song, which at times distorts the sound so much that it sounds less like the King and more like a lonely pre-adolescent forlornly singing to himself. It makes me wonder how much of that creepiness was intentional and how much was just a happy accident of the production.
Shore- "With a Red Suit You Will Become a
Man" (Right-click to
Willie's comments: This instrumental skyscraper of a song nets all the usual post-rock comparisons--the emotional uplift of Explosions in the Sky, the warmth of Rock Action-era Mogwai--but with the assistance of producer extraordinaire Dave Fridmann, the arrangement also chimes and charms with the starry expansiveness of The Cure at their most contemplative. From The Exquisite Death of Saxon Shore.
Scott's comments: This is more synth-y, and by that I guess I mean more Cure-ish poppy, than most post-rock, though I can see where the lovely guitars and overall dynamics would get it labeled as such. This is a very pretty and soothing song, nice pick.
Scott's Pick #47:
West- "If I Were a Carpenter" (Right-click to
Scott's comments: Another cover, this one quite obscure. The unknown female vocalist (Dana Valery) steals the show but Leslie is in great form as well. This is how to do a cover, take a great song and make it your own. I'm not saying it's better than Tim Hardin's terrific original, but it is different and also great in its own way. From The Great Fatsby.
Willie's comments: I can hear why you like this one--the energetic piano in particular is as gripping as Elton John in his prime--but West howls the lyrics in that Joe Cocker-esque, gravelly, white-soul style that I personally never find appealing. It's a smart reinvention of the song and there's an undeniable enthusiasm to it, but it's just not for me.
Magnum- "I Love How You Love Me"
(live) (Right-click to
Willie's comments: This solo acoustic live track, which the Neutral Milk Hotel frontman apparently performed while in the middle of recording that band's masterpiece, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, is a cover of the Phil Spector-produced 1961 hit for the girl group the Paris Sisters. Magnum's unique caterwaul singes the air with emotion, but the real revelation for NMH fans is the way Magnum stone cold stole the guitar line from this song for Aeroplane's title track! From Live at Jittery Joe's.
Scott's comments: Nice! As a big NMH fan I welcome hearing anything by Magnum that I haven't heard before, and as usual his nakedly emotional vocals are quite moving, even if I can see why some consider it an acquired taste. And I agree that the guitar line from "Aeroplane" is quite similar.
Scott's Pick #46:
Pickett- "Hey Jude" (Right-click to
Scott's comments: Great cover of The Beatles classic. Needless to say this version, with Duane Allman on guitar, is far different, but both of these legends are in phenomenal form. Honestly I think that this is one of the best cover songs ever. From Hey Jude.
Willie's comments: It takes an awful lot for me to be enthusiastic about a Beatles cover because it's so hard to top the source material, but the full-bodied spirit with which Pickett infuses his singing is astonishing. Paul McCartney may have made a generation of girls shriek and swoon in unison, but Pickett makes him sound like a Steve Urkel-level dweeb by comparison.
Lovsky- "Alle Liedjes op de
Radio" (Right-click to
Willie's comments: I'm not fully certain what this adorable slapstick-pop song is about since its lyrics are in Dutch, but the absurdly bouncy guitar hook (a slightly tweaked version of the Inspector Gadget theme song) and Lovsky's buoyantly silly vocals are addictive regardless of one's level of comprehension. From Eigen Wig.
Scott's comments: Not sure what the heck is being said, and there's a novelty factor to this tune, but it is still a catchy, instantly likeable little ditty.
Reader Pick #2:
"Broken Land" (Right-click to
Reader John O'Shea's comments: When i first heard this song i thought it was just a terrific pop song. Soon however i realised that the superb lyric was a heartfelt cry for the two sides of the divided (Broken) land in which the band grew up (Ireland) to unite. I love the brooding, atmospheric feel and the uplifting chorus to this song. For me this is the standout track from their excellent tho largely overlooked 1988 album Sea of Love. Hope you both enjoy it!
Scott's comments: This is indeed an oldie but a goodie, one that Ive never heard before. Its very 80s sounding and perhaps could use a bit of grit, but its also movingly heartfelt and has a nice soft soul melody.
Willie's comments: I love being introduced to hazy New Romantic singles like this. Scott may say, "It's very '80s sounding" as a mild pejorative, but to me, that's a big point in its favor! I'm glad John explained the lyrics to me, as I don't think I would have ever made the connection to the Irish Troubles on my own, but one thing everybody can appreciate regardless of geopolitical expertise is that terrific piano hook. If this were a just world, that piano line would be every bit as iconic as the synth bass from Berlin's "Take My Breath Away."
Scott's Pick #45:
Cooper- "Ballad of Dwight Fry" (Right-click to
Scott's comments: Hey, I love "I'm Eighteen" and "School's Out" too, but my favorite Alice Cooper song is this epic unhinged power ballad from Love It To Death.
Willie's comments: This is an effectively harrowing portrait of mental instability, no question about it (particularly Cooper's increasingly frantic cries of "I've gotta get outta here!" in the middle). For my taste, its lallygagging, Velvet Underground-style pacing isn't as appealing as some of his hookier singles, but it's so powerful that it's hard not to give it your full attention as it stalks along.
Mama with Erykah Badu- "Bandy Bandy" (Carl Craig
remix) (Right-click to
Willie's comments: Zap Mama's original song is a sexy, chill bit of soul, boosted by Badu's close-up vocals that are breathed directly into your ear, but this remix, by excellent Detroit producer Carl Craig, adds a note of spacey danceability to the stew. It's great after-party music. Or so I imagine, homebody that I am. From the compilation Luaka Bop Remix.
Scott's comments: I'm not familiar with the original so I can't compare, but this enticing tune does make me bob my head and groove along, though maybe it overstays its welcome a bit.
Scott's Christmas Pick:
Love- "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" (Right-click to
Scott's comments: Simply the greatest Christmas song of them all, sung magnificently by the incomparable Darlene Love. From Phil Spector's legendary Christmas album A Christmas Gift For You.
Willie's Christmas Pick: The Flaming Lips- "Christmas at the Zoo" (Right-click to download)
Willie's comments: I'm not the sort of person who possesses or encourages "Christmas spirit," but doggone if this silly patchwork indie-rock celebration of inter-species generosity doesn't make me feel like being a more compassionate person around this time of year. From Clouds Taste Metallic.
Scott's Pick #44:
Child- "The Four Horsemen" (Right-click to
Scott's comments: Early hard rock from a band featuring "Chariots Of Fire" Vangelis! The vocals and overall atmosphere are very strange but more importantly there's some monumental guitar here. From 666.
Willie's comments: I had no idea Vangelis was in a band like this before he became known for his iconic film scores. There is a certain patient, cinematic scope to the song, though, particularly in the way the verses softly tinkle before the psychedelic rhythms of the chorus kick in. The lyrics are childish, simply enumerating the colors of the apocalyptic horsemen's steeds like some sort of dispensationalist Dr. Seuss, but that doesn't matter. The structure of the song is appealingly trippy, the lengthy guitar solo is, as Scott says, monumental, and the poppy "baa-baa-baa" vocals underneath it keep the song from getting too directionlessly wanky.
Bush" (Right-click to
Willie's comments: Between the piano, xylophone, and Casio, this is a weird, weird configuration for one of David Eugene Edwards's rueful Deep South confessions. But his kudzu-choked vocals and pained, Nick Cave-esque lyrics are as searing in this setup as they are in their typical folky context, making for a thoroughly unexpected and delicious new recipe. From Secret South.
Scott's comments: 16 Horsepower are a band I've meant to check out for awhile now, and this is about what I expected based on what I'd read about them: this song is impressively moody and mysterious, if not quite as memorable as it could be.
Scott's Pick #43:
"My Prayer" (Right-click to
Scott's comments: This is how you do a melodramatic ballad, my friends. Tony Williams was one of the best singers ever, and The Platters are probably my favorite vocal group from the early rock era.
Willie's comments: I like it! The harmonies and melody have a lot more tension than I expected from a doo-wop number like this, and Williams belts it out like he's addressing someone at the other side of a crowded airport terminal.
Junkies- "Ooh Las Vegas"
(Right-click to download)
Willie's comments: The Cowboy Junkies have an enviable ability to put their own stamp on other people's compositions (think of the now-iconic swoon they gave the Velvet Underground's "Sweet Jane"), and this droning, arid broiling of Gram Parsons's once-upbeat country bopper may be the best of their distinguished covers collection. I love the unmoored flailing of the lead guitar, but I think I love Margo Timmins's deadpan snarl even more. From Return of the Grievous Angel: A Tribute to Gram Parsons.
Scott's comments: This is a really good cover and a total transformation of the original, which should be the point of any cover in the first place. It has a groovy Yo La Tengo-like quality to it that I found instantly appealing.
Scott's Pick #42:
Rundgren- "Chain Letter" (Right-click to
Scott's comments: This is how you do an epic, anthemic ballad, my friends. From Runt. The Ballad of Todd Rundgren.
Willie's comments: I always think Rundgren's heaping globs of '70s production are very comforting, but here I find the lyrics a little cutesy and the melody's perkiness more tiresome than elating.
Poppy Family- "Where Evil
Grows" (Right-click to
Willie's comments: I first heard this dark Canadian bubblegum tune in the recent Kids in the Hall miniseries, of all places, but it deserves to be heard without the embarrassing visual distraction of Bruce McCulloch in a fat suit. Evidently it's a song about the charismatic, horrific sway Charles Manson held over his followers, but I like to imagine that the husband-and-wife vocalists Susan and Terry Jacks are harmonizing about two lovers caught in a Mobius strip of mutual loathing and dissatisfaction; sort of a catchy, lightly psychedelic counterpart to Scott's Afghan Whigs pick from last week. From Poppy Seeds.
Scott's comments: This was more of a "grower" track for me, but this psych-pop nugget does grow subtly ingratiating after awhile, kinda like a good Tommy James and the Shondells tune.
Scott's Pick #41:
Whigs- "When We Two Parted" (Right-click to
Scott's comments: This is simply one of the most emotional, intense, gut-wrenchingly soulful, and beautiful (bad) relationship songs ever.
Willie's comments: I know you've always liked the album from which this song hails, Gentlemen, a lot better than I have--it's not nearly as melodic as I would like--but this is a standout track. Greg Dulli's lyrics, resentful invective against a partner who doesn't even bother trying to communicate with him anymore, are agonizing in a way that actually works for his strained groan of a voice.
Anteaters- "10 Years
Ago" (Right-click to
Willie's comments: It might sound like a fool's errand to attempt a lo-fi re-creation of the famously fussy (and pricey) production of My Bloody Valentine's dreampop classic Loveless, but these indie-rockers at least nail that album's unexpected warmth. With distant vocals swaddled in a fleecy, loud guitar, and feedback squalls that are exciting but never threaten to upend the song's amiable embrace, "10 Years Ago" does indeed take me back a decade, to when I was a 21-year-old indie kid, perfectly content listening to my headphones on a rainy day with no one else around. From All Is Well.
Scott's comments: This is a song that sounded instantly familiar to me, as though I couldn't place where I heard it before, even though I hadn't. But I agree that this does sound a bit like a more lo-fi MBV, only less layered and without female vocals. But it's all about the distorted guitars anyway, which are indeed exciting yet are somehow both low-key and anthemic. Another winner.
Scott's Pick #40:
Vuh- "Oh Wie Nah Ist Der Weg Hinab" (Right-click to
Scott's comments: It's amazing how much great music is out there for those willing to make the effort (i.e., those who ignore modern radio). Definitely some Pink Floyd-like guitar on this initially ominous but then beautifully soaring instrumental track from Letzte Tage Letzte Nachte.
Willie's comments: The past 35 years have been very kind to this expressive track, which would be a standout on just about any post-rock album released today. I do love the way it subtly shifts from glum drudgery to spirited uplift, as you said. It reminds me of the false ending of Brazil, in fact.
"Farther" (Right-click to
Willie's comments: This Elephant 6 affiliate determinedly stacks big power-pop hook upon big power-pop hook until it the song is finally swept quickly into the sky by a heady updraft of a climax. I especially like the contrast between the powerful layers of guitar and the vocalist's deadpan vocal that stays just on this side of disinterested until he finally exhorts, "Don't cry!" in a moment so sweet it may have precisely the opposite effect on the listener. From Diamond Times.
Scott's comments: I have nothing to add other to concur that this is an enjoyable song, for the reasons you mentioned, except I'll note that in addition to good riffs, hooks, and that "Don't cry!" vocal climax this song has a certain moody quality to it as well. Good pick!
Scott's Pick #39:
"Questioningly" (Right-click to
Scott's comments: Yes, these Queens cartoon characters could do more than just shout "1-2-3-4" and play 1,000 miles per hour for 2 minutes. Love the harmonized guitars and Joey's vocal on this ballad damn near brings me to tears every time. From Road to Ruin.
Willie's comments: I'm glad you singled this song out because it's a thing of beauty that's rarely remarked upon in discussions of the Ramones' unimpeachable first four albums. Joey really could deliver a tearful, heartfelt croak like no one else.
Fiction Dance Party- "The Whistling Astronaut" (Right-click to
Willie's comments: A couple of German guys in the late '60s (I guess) put together an album full of upbeat, Laugh-In-ready psychedelic go-go pop peppered with silly dialogue from imaginary space-race adventure films. This one is a surfy novelty that cruises along under the power of an irresistible whistling hook. It's as weightless as the titular astronaut, but I defy you not to giggle. From Dance with Action.
Scott's comments: This is a neat little whistling and surf guitar-led novelty number, like you said. I did giggle.
Scott's Pick #38:
"Darlin'" (Right-click to download.)
Scott's comments: The Beach Boys do blue eyed soul, with a great Carl Wilson lead vocal. If you don't like this song I don't think we can be friends; sorry. From Wild Honey.
Willie's comments: While I am confident our friendship would survive regardless, I'm surprised to discover I actually do enjoy this. It sounds more like the Lovin' Spoonful or someone than the saccharine pap that the Beach Boys usually produce specifically to irk me.
Mould- "Circles" (Right-click to
Willie's comments: "Circles," like most of Mould's best songs, is all about layers: guitar topping guitar, vocal tracks that start to actively undercut one another toward the song's end, and inconvenient emotions piling up faster than they can be dealt with. This time around, it's a study in the short-term but very potent pain and regret that he's caused--for him and his lover--by making a difficult decision that he hopes will be best in the long run. It's possibly the most wrenchingly aching song Mould has written since Sugar's Copper Blue album. From Body of Song.
Scott's comments: Thanks for reminding me that I really need to catch up on what Mould's been up to in recent years (forgive me, I still lament the breakup of my much-loved Sugar). This song does indeed have all the elements of classic Mould, namely that it's really intense but also appealingly melodic, with soul searching lyrics that self-lacerate. This is one song that'll have you hitting repeat the moment it's over; nice pick.
Scott's Pick #37:
"Leave Them All Behind" (Right-click to
Scott's comments: Nowhere is the best Ride album, and one of the best shoegazer albums, period, but this 8-minute epic from follow-up Going Blank Again is their grandest single song. This rocking effort is filled with magical moments: the incredible opening bassline, the exciting entrance of the harmonized vocals, the soaring guitar solo towards the end, and the explosive drum punctuations throughout, for example. Simply glorious.
Willie's comments: The sheer size of this song! I don't just mean the well-earned length, but the breadth of those harmonies and the fiery depths of those guitars! It's a three-dimensional arena-pleaser; the sort of thing Sloan might write if they could muster the ambition. This isn't the sort of thing I was expecting from one of them shoegazer bands... It's a nice surprise, this big chunk of rock.
and the Muffins- "Swimming" (Right-click to
Willie's comments: (Thanks to Fflo.) The refrain, "We're afraid to call it love/Let's call it swimming," sounds like nonsense from Fred Schneider's circular file at first, I'll admit. In the context of this new wave gem's narrative of forbidden wartime love, though, it takes on the silly intimacy of code words that lovers inevitably develop, against the backdrop of a tragic world in which no one can say what they mean. Dunno about you, but it shoots a poison arrow through my heart. From This is the Ice Age.
Scott's comments: Not much I can really add to your great description, so beyond the lyrics I'll note that musically this song is also really melodic and catchy, even if the overall sound is a tad too far on the dinky homespun side for my liking. Still, the female backing vocals and the surprising guitar solos clinch this "new wave gem" as a winner for me too; nice pick.
Scott's Pick #36:
Gallagher- "Tattoo'd Lady" (Right-click to
Scott's comments: Similar to the previously included Roy Buchanan, Rory Gallagher is a ridiculously overlooked, unfortunately deceased guitar great whose prime was in the 1970s. My favorite Rory song is this live rendition of Tattood Lady from his excellent Irish Tour 74 album. It just rocks relentlessly, with bluesy vocals, explosive riffs and rhythms, nimble keyboard runs, and some smokin guitar solos being the main selling points.
Willie's comments: The sort of song for which the term "anthemic" was first run into the ground, "Tattoo'd Lady" has everything a bona fide rock 'n' roll song needs, I think, all of which Scott touched upon above. It's ordinarily difficult for me to get enthusiastic about guitar solos, but when Gallagher starts hitting, like, eight notes a second, even I will take notice. See, Scott, I would listen to more pre-'77 music if it all sounded like this!
River Pipe- "14th Street Boys Stolen Car Club" (Right-click to
Willie's comments: With minimal synths backing hushed vocals, this spacey, gentle sunset of a song could almost pass for something from Air's magnificently relaxing Moon Safari, if it weren't for the fact that F.M. Cornog is singing from the point of view of a particularly irate chop shop owner. From The Gasoline Age.
Scott's comments: I remember liking that album when it came out (it got a bit of hype back in the day but I've heard precious little about him since), and upon hearing this again I can see why, as it is an unerringly pleasant, perfectly for a rainy day kind of mood piece (though truth be told, if my last pick was a little too long, perhaps this one is a bit on the short side). Those synths sure are soothing and the Air comparison is indeed apt.
Scott's Pick #35:
Black Keys- "The Lengths" (Right-click to
Scott's comments: This sparse, bluesy folk rock ballad from Rubber Factory has a timeless quality, with a rustic backporch feel that I find immensely appealing.
Willie's comments: I wish it were maybe 90 seconds shorter, but I do enjoy this song's communal indie-blues vibe and particularly the whalesong echo of the slide guitar. One of those songs about which not much can--or maybe should--be said. It's just nice as what it is.
"It's So Big It's Fluorescent" (Right-click to
Willie's comments: As revered as the Buzzcocks are, it's surprisingly rare to hear a modern garage/punk band nail not only their knack for skeletal catchiness but also their sophomoric stream-of-consciousness humor. Chicago's Masters of the Obvious (M.O.T.O.) here have crafted the best spiritual descendent of the Buzzcocks' "Orgasm Addict" I've ever heard, from the lo-fi blare of the guitars to the lyrical silliness of Paul Caporino's ode to his penis ("You'd better wear a mask and an aqualung lest you drown in my jizz!"). Stellar punk for your inner 14-year-old. Originally from the Hammeroid! 7", but it's easier to find on their outstanding compilation Single File.
Scott's comments: This song does have a way of insinuating itself into ones consciousness, doesn't it? I'm not sure I need to hear it all the time, me being well past 14 and all, but it is a catchy, fun, and quite silly (purposely so) power pop-punk ditty.
Scott's Pick #34:
Shannon- "Hats Off to Larry" (Right-click to
Scott's comments: What can I say? I get a kick out of this song. She dumped him, Larry dumped her, and our narrator couldn't be happier about it. This song can be found on any number of Del Shannon compilations.
Willie's comments: Ha! I wish all '60s teen pop was so mockingly vindictive! It sounds awfully similar to Shannon's bigger hit, "Runaway" (particularly the nifty Joe Meek-styled keyboard), but being the grouch that I am, I rather prefer this song's upbeat schadenfreude. It's so silly and catchy that it reminds me of the sort of thing the Bonzo Dog Band would be recording a decade later.
City Girls- "The Shining Path" (Right-click to
Willie's comments: Part of the same loosely-related West Coast cabal of overeducated, noise-loving smartasses as Thinking Fellers Union Local 282 and Caroliner, the Sun City Girls don't make many concessions to accessibility, but when they do... it's still deliciously odd. This piece is an odd, syncopated balalaika (maybe?) folk number that opens with a truly haunting piece of whistling, and only becomes more interesting as it strolls through some unspecified Mediterranean pastures. From Torch of the Mystics.
Scott's comments: I've tried, but I'm not crazy about this one, mainly because the guitar playing isn't especially imaginative and the singer can't carry a tune (in fact, I find him rather annoying). The song does conjure a mood, I suppose, and I do like the flute (I think it's a flute, anyway), but my overall opinion is less than favorable for this one I'm afraid.
Scott's Pick #33:
Withers- "Hope She'll Be Happier" (Right-click to
Scott's comments: A devastating breakup ballad, our narrator's selfless sentiments for his former lover make it all the more powerful. A simply strummed guitar, moody late night keyboards, and Withers' lonely voice are all that's needed for this gutwrenchingly emotional, overwhelmingly sad song to hit me like a ton of bricks. "Ain't No Sunshine" maybe have been the hit, and it's also a great song, but for my money this song was THE highlight of Bill Withers' excellent first album, Just as I Am.
Willie's comments: I don't necessarily take the lyrics as actually being selfless so much as trying to act selfless because he believes that's what a mature, loving man should do; he's contemplating her wonder (perhaps while downing a bottle of wine) in a futile attempt to get there, I think. The killer moment here is during the bridge, when Withers howls, "...but she's gone," holding that last word long enough for his voice to tumble down a funnel cloud of echoing, despairing effects and quickly be returned to where he was. Alone.
Puppets- "Things" (Right-click to
Willie's comments: The Meat Puppets' mainstream breakthrough album Too High to Die gets a lot of flack for its generic hard-rock song structures, and perhaps fairly so if you're going to stand it up against the more expansive Forbidden Places or the sicko noise that permeates No Joke!, but it's not an accusation that should overshadow the deadpan catchiness of songs like "Things." Aside from Curt Kirkwood's typically endearing melodic insouciance, there are a lot of little touches that reward multiple listens: Derrick Bostrom's oddly memorable drum intro, the Kirkwoods' multitracked harmonies, the pointlessly stupid recorder solo. It's hardly a #1 jam, but ever since high school, I've been a sucker for this track's midtempo faux-gruffness.
Scott's comments: People tend to underrate the Meat Puppets post-II (which is very good but lets fact it has some terrible vocals on some tracks) and Up On The Sun output, when they became more mainstream while remaining plenty weird, but like Chris I rather like their later major label offerings. This is simply a solid straightforward rock song (deadpan catchiness is an apt description); with memorable playing, nice harmonies, and those subtle little touches that Chris talked about. A modest winner from a winning band.
Scott's Pick #32:
Sun" (Right-click to
Scott's comments: Gordon Peterson, i.e. Indio, released a lone album, Big Harvest, in 1989 and has been M.I.A. since, but this is a terrific tune that's exotic, epic, and soulful all at once. Folksy yet psychedelic, with a strong lead vocal and outstanding soul diva vocals wailing in the background, this song has a certain magic to it, simple as that. If it sounds familiar to you it's likely because you've heard Eddie Vedder's cover version from the Into the Wild soundtrack, which I actually like even better. However, this version was first, is more obscure, and is therefore a better choice as an MP3 pick here.
Willie's comments: I can't quite put my finger on who this song reminds me of. Sting, for sure, because he and Peterson share a throaty vocal style (and, evidently, fondness for ambitious multicultural production), and the rhythm guitar reminds me of "No Rain" by Blind Melon, but there's another obvious reference point that I'm missing. I keep wanting to say Donovan, but that's not right... Regardless of who it does or doesn't resemble, though, "Hard Sun"'s arid spaciousness and thoughtful touches like the violin that pops up at the two-minute mark make this a nice listen.
Waller- "Your Feet's Too Big" (Right-click to
Willie's comments: I thought this song was a relatively obscure little jazz ditty when my friend Noa recently put it on a mix for me, but I just discovered that it also plays over the end credits of Michel Gondry's sweet, silly film Be Kind Rewind. No matter, it's got very funny lyrics about being turned off by big ol' Sideshow Bob feet, with barbs that range from smile-inducingly corny ("At a table for two, there were four of us: Me, your big feet, and you") to nonsensical ("You look just like a fossil"), all set to a gentle, swaying piano-jazz arrangement. I'm not sure where or in what form this was initially released, but it's on a bunch of Waller compilations.
Scott's comments: What saves this from being a mere novelty song that's funny the first time you hear it but can then be discarded thereafter is the terrifically dexterous piano playing and Waller's endearing frog-in-his-throat vocals, which somewhat recall Louis Armstrong. This song makes me think of that Seinfeld episode with the giant hands, and it's always good for a chuckle while also being quite tuneful.
Scott's Pick #31:
Buchanan- "Home is Where I Lost Her" (Right-click to
Scott's comments: An unlikely guitar hero (he was 32, overweight, and the father of (I believe) 7 kids when he got his first record deal with Polydor in 1971), Roy Buchanan nevertheless was one of the best, and he remains criminally overlooked today, 20 years after allegedly hanging himself in jail after being arrested for drunk and disorderly conduct. Although The Messiah Will Come Again and Sweet Dreams (brilliantly used at the end of Martin Scorceses The Departed) are his most fondly remembered songs (both appear on his self-titled debut), Home Is Where I Lost Her is my favorite Buchanan song from my favorite Buchanan album, Thats What I Am Here For. This song is atypical in that its in a bit of a country rock vein rather than his customary bluesy style (it reminds me a little bit of the Marshall Tucker Bands Heard It In A Love Song, another track that I absolutely adore), but it has a great melody and a solid vocal. Best of all, Buchanan's solo and then closing leads/solo are really astounding-some of the greatest stuff I've ever heard, really. Buchanan nails the emotion of total abject sorrow so completely that I 'd venture that even the most stone hearted among you can't help but be greatly moved by this performance.
Willie's comments: Oh God, this is heartbreaking. I would never have thought that CCR-style wankery could effectively marry a song of hopeless loss, but this is it. The solos are counterintuitive--they could almost strike one as disrespectful, in a way, if the lyrics and melody weren't so sincere and pure that it's clear the narrator has no other real means of emotional expression besides his guitar. This song left me shaken.
"So Stylistic" (Right-click to
Willie's comments: These Brooklyn girls' hilarious novelty rap hit "Cameltoe" pretty much ensured that you would hear from them once and exactly once, but their debut actually has a handful of other quality songs, none better than this title track. The lyrics are no great shakes (it's not the only time on the album they rhyme "out" with "shout"), but between the vocoder, chintzy keyboard hook, and upbeat rapping, it's an undeniably fun retro-update of Salt-n-Pepa's "Push It." From So Stylistic.
Scott's comments: As Chris knows, I'm not exactly a big rap fan, but he does seem to have a knack for picking rap songs that I actually like. I agree with the Salt n' Pepa comparison, and I especially like the "vocoder and chintzy keyboard hooks," more so than the rapping but I guess that's predictable. I'm not sure that this is a song that would survive repeat plays and pass into regular rotation on my iPod; it has an air of novelty about it that I fear might wear thin over time, but I'm writing this song synopsis based on my first couple of listens to it, and my initial impression is definitely favorable.
Scott's Pick #30:
"Shine a Light"
(live) (Right-click to
Scott's comments: Theres modest, theres epic, and then theres EPIC. Jason Pierce and company achieve the latter results on this transcendent live rendition, what with its gorgeously soulful guitars, church-y organ, sleepy vocals, and swelling everything-but-the-kitchen-sink climaxes. Listening to this song is damn near a religious experience for me, and I hope it lifts your spirits as well. From their Royal Albert Hall October 10, 1997 album.
Willie's comments: Like you said when you e-mailed this pick to me, this is far better than the studio version that appeared on Lazer Guided Melodies and far more convenient a selection anyhow. (LGM is divided into four lengthy suites rather than individual songs.) I'm particularly fond of the way the slide guitar suddenly leaps from Velvet Underground-era Velvet Underground affability to a White Light/White Heat-era Velvet Underground meltdown around the four-minute mark. It's one of Spiritualized's most beautiful ruckuses.
Parties Anything: "A Tale They Won't
Believe" (Right-click to
Willie's comments: Just your typical seven-minute Aussie folk-rock tale of murder and cannibalism. From The Big Don't Argue.
Scott's comments: Sometimes a simple sentence sums up a song perfectly, so I won't add much other than to say that if you like this song (and I do), then you should also give Bruce Springsteen's albums with the Seger Sessions Band a chance.
Scott's Pick #29:
Great" (Right-click to
Scott's comments: This very atypical Blur track is nevertheless one of the bands best. Written by guitarist Graham Coxon and sung by him in a charmingly naive manner, this song adopts a deliberately lo-fi approach, as this British band was then influenced by American bands like Guided By Voices and Sebadoh. Theres a fragile simplicity to this song that I find extremely affecting, and when Graham sings the youre so great and I love you punch line it gets me in the gut every time.
Willie's comments: I hadn't realized this was a Coxon song despite having loved it since I was in high school. Guess that's because the song is half-buried beneath artificial tape hiss. (I clearly remember the Entertainment Weekly review in which Tom Sinclair pointed out that it was pretty funny that Blur was cribbing from GbV given Robert Pollard's obsession with approximating British rock.) Just a sweet, simple pop song. It's from Blur's self-titled album, which the savvy consumer should be able to find somewhere online for under a dollar. It's well worth it.
Tragically Hip: "Courage" (Right-click to
Willie's comments: Since that Dream Syndicate song reminded me so much of Tragically Hip, I thought I'd put forth my favorite track of theirs. On the politely rollicking "Courage," Gord Downie could almost pass for Michael Stipe, though with a touch more humility in both lyric and tone. (He is Canadian, after all, buddy.) From Fully Completely, though I discovered it through its prominent role in Atom Egoyan's excellent bummer of a film The Sweet Hereafter.
Scott's comments: I agree about the Stipe comparison, but Stipe's voice is more mysterious and charsmatic, and honestly I don't hear any similarities to the Dream Syndicate song at all. This is still a good little jangle rocker, though, from an underrated band. The second half, when the energy level picks up and the guitar solo somes in, is particularly appealing.
Scott's Pick #28:
(live) (Right-click to
Scott's comments: This guitarfest could accurately be described as "The Velvet Underground meets Neil Young and Crazy Horse," and it's quite the exciting 6-minute epic. Oddly enough, though Steve Wynn wrote the majority of the band's songs, this particular song, which I consider to be the band's best, was written by original guitarist Karl Precoda. It originally appeared on their classic The Days Of Wine and Roses album, but this even better live version was recorded later (with guitarist Paul Cutler instead of Precoda) and appears on their Complete Live At Raji's album.
Willie's comments: Yeah, I can't imagine the studio version having anywhere near this level of crescendoing spontaneity. I particularly love the scribbly noise solo Cutler busts out two minutes in, but the whole thing just builds and builds, from a crisp jangle-drone to a certifiable frenzy, complete with David Byrne-style nonsense yelping from Wynn. The Velvets-and-Neil-Young comparison is apt, and as such it reminds me a lot of the Tragically Hip. By the way, gentle reader: Do not get Dream Syndicate confused with Dream Theater like I did this week. They're... different.
Fantayzee- "Shiny Shiny" (Right-click to
Willie's comments: To call it "new wave ragtime" captures the intentional quirk, but won't prepare you for the full expanse of hooky silliness on this early '80s ode to the shenanigans you can get up to in a properly-equipped recording studio. Jeremiah Healy barks like a loopy ringmaster, Kate Garner backs him up with overpowering enthusiasm, and the instrumentation includes synth-banjos and a spoon solo. It's fun. From Battle Hymns for Children Singing.
Scott's comments: This is a weird one! I'm not sure if it's the catchiest song ever or the most annoying, maybe it's a bit of both, but ultimately I find it more endearing than annoying. It sounds like the wacky offspring of the B52's crossed with ABBA but lacks the professionalism of either of those bands. Or something like that, this song is pretty unclassifiable, and it is fun - provided that you're in a goofy upbeat mood.
Scott's Pick #27:
"Fabricoh" (Right-click to
Scott's comments: There were many good '90s "indie" bands that are semi-forgotten today, and Archers Of Loaf are one such band. Vee Vee's "Fabricoh" shows the band at their most anthemic and rocking, and it shows their talent for being noisily dissonant yet undeniably tuneful at the same time. The hoarse shouts of singer Eric Bachmann certainly aren't pretty, but they're not supposed to be, and when he and his bandmates are "rocking out" this song delivers a thrilling rush of adrenaline.
Willie's comments: This is why the ol' Loaf unfortunately never made a splash beyond college radio after their great-but-goofy single "Web in Front" got them some Beavis and Butt-Head exposure. Their clattering guitar work always boasted the precision of a gummed-up bowling alley claw machine, and Bachmann's scratchy vocalizing put the lie to hundreds of pseudo-"edgy" alt-rock singers like Gavin Rossdale and Billie Joe Armstrong with its genuine note-free obnoxiousness. Somehow, it does all coagulate into a clamorous anthem, but with none of the Butch Vig-style polishing that was commonplace in the mid-'90s, songs like "Fabricoh" were--and still are--surprisingly raw. (These are all compliments, I should note.)
American- "Code" (Right-click to
Willie's comments: Desolate vocals (backward-masked to sound extra-distant), several tracks of interlocking, clinking percussion, and soft-focus keyboards add up to an eerie ambient-pop dream on this subtly moving piece. For some reason, this song sounds to me like it should be the soundtrack to a crappy anime montage where the hero is trudging through a lengthy series of lifeless natural locales. Thankfully, it isn't. Rather, it's from Pan American's enjoyable album 360 Business/360 Bypass.
Scott's comments: This is definitely a "mood piece" that probably works best as background music, which I suppose can be said about ambient music on the whole. Not sure about your soundtrack image, as this song makes me want to "chill out" and not do a heck of a lot of anything. I wouldn't call it great or anything, but it certainly is nice, and on second thought I agree that Brett Dennan's vocal affectations (see previous pick) do grow a bit grating, though I still like the song on the whole.
Scott's Pick #26:
Mine" (Right-click to
Scott's comments: I dont know much about Brett Dennen; I discovered this song on a compilation called 90.7 Spring 2007 New Music Sampler, which is distributed by Fordham Universitys WFUV radio station upon receiving a donation (the radio station is well worth supporting, BTW). Anyway, I found this song immediately charming and disarming, being a simple Paul Simon-ish pop gem with an easily singable, falsetto-enhanced chorus. Sometimes simplicity works best, and Shes Mine is a prime example of that.
Willie's comments: I can't say I'm won over by the David Gray-style vocal affectations, but it's got a nice, inoffensive melody. I think my dad and brother, who are both fans of this sort of neo-Paul Simon alt-folk-pop-whatever, would enjoy this a lot. The xylophone makes me happy, too. Seems it was originally on an album called So Much More.
"Crooked Road and the Briar" (Right-click to
Willie's comments: On the surface, there's nothing particularly sinister about "Crooked Road and the Briar": with its muscular indie-rock guitars and memorably twiny melody, it sounds like a high-quality slice of Neil Young worship. Once Joey Burns's lyrics grab your ear, though--a horrifically open-ended tale of child murder and lynching in the deep South--every element in the song takes on a shadowy grime that creeped me out so much I had to listen to it about ten times in a row in the futile hope of divining the solution to its mystery. Ignore the extraneous 45-second intro and you've got one of the most chilling murder ballads in contemporary rock. From the Even My Sure Things Fall Through EP.
Scott's comments: This is a song that requires a few listens, preferably with close attention paid to the lyrics, before a full appreciation is gained. Thats the way it was for me, anyway, but I agree that once you get to know it, this creepy murder song is indeed tough to shake.
Scott's Pick #25:
Callier- "Lean on
Me" (Right-click to
Scott's comments: No, this is not the hit song from the also underrated but far more commercially successful Bill Withers, but is an entirely different composition from the talented cult artist Terry Callier. Hammond organ and piano set the stage, and those ethereal harmonies sure are haunting, but it's Callier's vocal-for-the-ages that really makes this song special. I dig the inspiring lyrics, too (somebody make this your wedding song ASAP!), but again it's Callier's passionate vocal that provides the icing on the cake. Simply put, this epic-scale track, which highlights his superb Occasional Rain album, is a "lost classic" that I'd rank among the best soul songs ever.
Willie's comments: This would be a long song to have to keep nervously swaying to in front of everyone at your wedding, I have to think. (Of course, my wife and I didn't even dance the whole way through the Magnetic Fields' three-minute "The Book of Love" at our wedding, so it may be that I am merely an antsy, antsy man.) You're right on as far as the sentiment goes, though; it's one of those incredibly generous soul numbers whose deeply-felt optimism slowly engulfs you until you start to believe it.
"20 ft. Halo" (Right-click to
Willie's comments: Matching the swagger and tunefulness of every British rock movement since the original invasion, Supergrass are such a purely listenable band that even the deepest corners of their discography are full of smirky pop treasures like this one. I love the ambulatory bass especially, but the element that totally makes this song for me is the tremolo they keep sticking on Gaz Coombes's voice for a single word in the middle of the line "I'm gonna wear it out with my life." It's such a wonderfully useless little psychedelic flourish, embodying the goofy playfulness that makes each of their first four albums such lighthearted pleasures. I think this song was originally a B-side to "Richard III," but I have it on the bonus disc that came with the initial pressing of In It for the Money.
Scott's comments: I agree, Supergrass were kind of overlooked during the heyday of "Britpop," but they've outlasted most of their more lauded contemporaries, and listening to them is usually a fun proposition. I'd never heard this song before, and it is a neat little psychedelic pop nugget. Loosely shambolic yet not too loose, largely propelled by those funky basslines you mentioned, it's the weirdly catchy "I'm lost in the halo" chorus that cliches this one as a winner for me. Good pick.
Scott's Pick #24:
Scott's comments: Among the most metallic offerings from one of my favorite bands, Emerald contains all the classic Thin Lizzy trademarks: melodic dual guitars, often in harmony, from Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson, macho outlaw lyrics and soulful lead vocals from bass player and primary songwriter Phil Lynott, and pounding tribal beats from underrated drummer Brian Downey. Of course, the songs main calling card is the extended guitar duel that closes out this overlooked classic; its a scorcher! Originally on Jailbreak, this arguably superior live version is from Live and Dangerous.
Willie's comments: The guitarists certainly do seem to be having a good time making a racket with one another! I sort of wish there were more actual song to this song, since Lynott's half-swallowed, guttural vocals disappear all too quickly, but I suppose when you've got Gorham and Robertson all amped up in a live setting, you want to get out of their way as quickly as possible. (And as long as we're on the topic of guitar wankery, this redubbed video of Santana and his band jamming is the funniest thing in human history.)
Reaper- "See You in Hell" (Right-click to
Willie's comments: (Thanks to Tim and Jess.) This olde British metal song could conceivably be a parody from the likes of the Electric Six or Ween, right down to Steve Grimmett's no-need-for-consonants falsetto howling, "Can I make you an offer you caaaaaaaa raaaaaaaaa?" but although it's impossible to take seriously at this late date, it remains a catchier song than any you'll hear from, say, Daughtry. So I suggest tempering your giggles with a measure of grudging admiration for this song's anthemic, half-tempo chorus and for its ability to have horrified overprotective Catholic moms back in the '80s. From See You in Hell.
Scott's comments: LOL, I totally remember seeing the video for "See You In Hell" on U68, an off the beaten path TV station that played cheesy hard rock back when I was a teenager (junior high school I think, mid-80s; anybody else out there remember U68?). So hearing this song again is a fun blast from the past for me! Nice write up, too. "Great silly fun" is how I'd describe this headbanging tune.
READER Pick #1:
Pocus" (Right-click to
Reader Mike K.'s comments: This is essentially a riff-based excuse for wanking, but a surprisingly entertaining one; the main riff it's based around is pretty catchy, and they actually give as much time to ridiculous yodeling, whistling, and scat sections as they do guitar solos and drum breaks. I'm also going to recommend linking to this manic 70's variety performance (played at about twice the speed of the album version).
Scott's comments: What more can I say? Ive always loved this wacky yet rocking song, and this youtube clip is phenomenal (in fact, I almost chose it as my youtube clip instead of Vanilla Fudge a few picks back). Thijs Van Leer's yodely vocals are outrageously silly but a heck of a lot of fun, and this group could flat-out jam, in particular drummer Pierre van der Linden and guitarist Jan Akkerman.
Willie's comments: Wow! It's like if Jon Anderson had Gibby Haynes's (or anyone's) sense of humor! This is really cool, and it's from the album Moving Waves.
Scott's Pick #23:
Beggars- "Escaping the
Fools" (Right-click to
Scott's comments: Chris and I were discussing our MP3 picks, and it occurred to us that we were a bit thin on hard rock recommendations and newer stuff (actually only Im guilty of the latter charge). So heres a hard rocking track from not that long ago (2000, to be exact) by a quite good band who arent exactly a household name. Classify this as stoner rock or grunge or whatever, this is just good stuff to me; the song is also quite poppy in places, after all. I dig those big twisting riffs, the singers nasty attitude, the drummers jackhammer beats, and most of all the songs melodic, singable chorus. The song builds and builds, propelled by its powerful, driving rhythms, and when it finally climaxes with a suitably epic guitar solo I can only shake my head in satisfaction. From Ad Astra.
Willie's comments: I'm really surprised this is only eight years old! It sounds to me like the sort of late-'80s metal that would've been on one of the Bill & Ted or Wayne's World movie soundtracks. (Of course, I know very little about the metal genre. For some reason, this song reminds me of the Red Hot Chili Peppers' cover of Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground," which... I kind of like a little. So I urge you to disregard my opinion.) At five and a half minutes, it's a bit long for my tastes, but it's nice and tuneful, and besides, it's very charming to hear a band attacking their songs with this sort of grinding sincerity at this late date in rock history.
Badowski- "Henry's in Love" (Right-click to
Willie's comments: (Thanks to Fflo.) Fans of the Lightning Seeds, David Bowie at his cheekiest, or Andy Partridge's Fuzzy Warbles cast-offs should be in their glory with this song. Over a sprightly Casio backing, Badowski narrates adorably silly descriptions of his besotted self, in the third person: "Henry finds himself at one with the Big Henry in the sky." And who doesn't love a guy who can have a good-natured laugh at himself? From the very cool album Life is a Grand... which really deserves to be reissued and rediscovered.
Scott's comments: This is a charming little song. I like the toe tapping beats, the integration of the sultry sax within the soothing synth-heavy melody, and of course Henry's amusing, self-referencing lyrics, which are sung in a somewhat deadpan yet effective manner. I'm not sure that I'd be interested in hearing a whole album's worth of similarly cute songs, but I certainly enjoyed listening to this one.
Scott's Pick #22:
Girl" (Right-click to
Scott's comments: Best known for writing songs covered by others (The Rolling Stones and The Beatles, for starters), Arthur Alexander's own catalogue is well worth getting to know, and this sumptuous, doo-woppy soul ballad is one of my favorites. Teen longing and fantasy-based romanticism has rarely sprung so vividly to life, and Alexander's vocal is restrained yet right. I love those female 'dreamgirl' backing vocals on the outro, and my only complaint is that Alexander strangely says 'I will always be my dream girl' rather than 'you will always be my dream girl' on the last line, which is a bit of a head scratcher. This song can be found on his The Greatest compilation.
Willie's comments: This one doesn't do much for me, pleasant as it is. Alexander does bring more emotion to his vocals than a lot of squarer doo-woppers did, but it strikes me as such a narrow genre that "Dream Girl" would have to do something really remarkable to stand out, and it doesn't. Of course, the list of doo-wop I'm fond of doesn't extend much beyond The Penguins' "Earth Angel," Frank Zappa's Cruising with Ruben & the Jets album, and the Meat Puppets' cover of "White Sport Coat," so I blame my own closed-mindedness here.
King- "Everyone's Gone to the Moon" (Right-click to
Willie's comments: Spats Ransom turned me on to this song some months back, and I don't think I've stopped humming it since. Jonathan King, like Phil Spector and Joe Meek, is one of those compulsively fussy pop producers who manages to somehow sublimate a wide misanthropic streak into timelessly beautiful soundscapes (when not in jail, of course). This song evokes the sounds of skipping gleefully through an abandoned space-age dystopia, his vocals ringing with the sort of unself-conscious joy that only sees the light of day when no one else is around. It's gorgeous. As far as I know, this was originally just a single, but it's available on lots of King compilations.
Scott's comments: First of all, we haven't spent nearly enough time talking about what a great name Spats Ransom is :) Secondly: This is a gorgeous song, only rather than an abandoned space-age dystopia my visual is of a guy on a tropical island, fancy cocktail in hand, hammock nearby, joyously singing out loud to himself, or perhaps to a beautiful young lady who dotes on his every word. This song brings paradise to mind, in other words, and the Meek and Spector comparisons are definitely apt, as the layered, unconventional instrumentation makes this impeccably lush sounding song seem fresh and new even after multiple listens. A "lost classic" for sure, great pick!
Scott's Pick #21:
Move" (Right-click to
Scott's comments: This song has a great groove that always manages to put a bounce in my step. Singing along to the admittedly simplistic chorus is a must, the guitar solo is short and impeccably tasty, just like everything else, and "Gonna Move" just has an uplifting overall vibe that makes me feel good. Not bad for a blind guy whose fine album from which this song originates, New Train, went unreleased for almost 30 years.
Willie's comments: You're really good at picking out these upbeat, soulful numbers, my friend. I tend not to seek this sort of song out because my worldview and demeanor are more sympathetic to Radiohead-style fatalism, but I'm always pleased when you send them along. "Gonna Move" is an especially inspiring ode to getting the hell out of Dodge. The rhythm (and rhythm guitar in particular) unavoidably reminds me of Steely Dan's "Reeling in the Years," but that's not intrinsically bad. It's hard to believe any label would let this sit on the shelf for so long!
#20: Yo La Tengo-
"Sugarcube" (Left-click for this
one; it's not an MP3, but rather a YouTube video.)
Willie's comments: Combine two of my very favorite things in the world, Yo La Tengo and Mr. Show, and you get this clip from YLT's I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One, starring Bob Odenkirk and David Cross (along with some little-noted but great bluster from John Ennis as the record company exec). Probably my favorite video of all time.
Scott's comments: Great, hilarious video. My favorite parts:
Young band, you are going to rock school!
If you want to learn how to write rock lyrics, you must learn where the hobbits dwell
The Foghat rule
Ira, get down
Lou Reed posted segueing into the rock star acrobatics
Reading the Closer To The Heart lyrics this part almost made me cry from laughter
I envy you. So much rocking to do
Scott's Pick #20:
Vanilla Fudge- "You
Keep Me Hanging
On" (Left-click for this
one; it's not an MP3, but rather a YouTube video from The Ed Sullivan
Scott's comments: Things to look out for:
The histrionics of the keyboardist/singer are hilarious.
The colors of their outfits and the stage set - pretty obvious that this is from the late '60s, no?
The drummer is AWESOME.
Willie's comments: The frontman reminds me of Ricky Gervais's character on the original series of The Office. It's a fun, Hendrix-inspired interpretation of this song (if perhaps not exactly as soulful as the band would have us believe), and the band is a gas to watch. Great find!
"Auto-Haze" (Right-click to
Willie's comments: These Detroit indie-rockers were a hot item among local hipsters when I was in high school, but I'm not sure if they ever made a mark elsewhere. I certainly hope so, if only on the strength of this clattering, lopsided contraption. The bass staggers around as though it's drunkenly trying to find its way home from Green Day's "Longview," while assorted permutations of guitars hack and nibble away at it indiscriminately. Only Erika Hoffman's full-throated, kicky vocals keep "Auto-Haze" from falling apart completely, instead turning it into a cheerfully wild pop oddity that wouldn't have sounded out-of-place among Matador Records' adventurous mid-'90s roster. From Trail of the Lonesome Pine.
Scott's comments: Yeah, I like those edgy guitars, the jumpy bass and jackhammer beats too. After the music-only intro I was a bit surprised to hear a girl singer join in (guess I should've read your description beforehand!), but I got used to her soon enough. Still, her sweet, poppy vocals seem an odd contrast to the raw, hyper, flat-out rocking music thrashing about behind her, but that only makes the song more interesting I suppose. We critics eat up such juxtapositions, after all, don't we? This one gets a definite thumbs up.
Scott's Pick #19:
Vista Social Club- "Chan Chan" (Right-click to
Scott's comments: When my first son Jake was a little baby, there were times when he would cry and I just couldnt get him to stop no matter how hard I tried. This was disappointing and frustrating, but I soon found a foolproof solution: playing this song, which always soothed my son. Needless to say Ive loved it ever since, and I hope you like it as well. From the justifiably acclaimed Buena Vista Social Club album featuring older local Cuban musicians along with guitarist Ry Cooder.
Willie's comments: Ol' Jake's got some good taste! (Far better than my brother, who, as I've told you, gravitated similarly toward Hall & Oates's "One on One" as an infant.) I adore this number. Its core consists of nothing more than four repeated chords that provide a warm, comfortable practice space in which the players can expertly maneuver around one another, as when the tempered bliss of the harmonies moves aside to make room for an ecstatic trumpet, all without upsetting the song's familiar charm.
is Green- "The Robot Has Got the Blues" (Right-click to
Willie's comments: Trip-hop without the "hop," this Icelandic band goes a long way toward capturing the crystalline gloom of their countrymen Sigur Ros, though without the wrenching emotional extremes. What's left is appealingly smoky rainy-day music. Beyond the silken vocals of Gudridur Ringsted, the great draw of this song is the staticky repeated keyboard sample that keeps popping up, like an automatic transmission from a long-unpopulated space station. From their sublime album Automagic, which I highly recommend for fans of Hooverphonic or Denali.
Scott's comments: Excellent description, I especially like the "long-unpopulated space station" image, which fits the music once you've heard it. I have nothing else to add except that I can't vouch for their album being sublime since I've never heard it. I definitely want to now, though; this is a cool song.
Scott's Pick #18:
Rev- "Meth of a Rockette's Kick" (Right-click to
Scott's comments: This wonderfully chaotic tune throws together gorgeous flute, swirling guitar noise, piano, French horns, trombones, and airily chanted vocals, yet somehow it all works. The song begins with delicate strings and woodwinds before cute bop bop bop backing vocals join in. The main vocals are odd and difficult to decipher, but then again its the wash of majestic sounds that really matter. The first guitar explosion comes at 1:45 but things soon settle down again. A lone trumpet cries out; I think thats a trumpet, anyway. The weird voices kick in again, and now the song is discernibly building to something bigger. The hooky make it connect chorus all but demands you to sing along, the drums take it up another notch, and then its wailing, distorted guitar solo time; damn I love that part! At near the 5-minute mark the massive sound gets ear-splittingly loud, but I still cant stop humming those blissful bop bop bops buzzing about in the background. At around the 6 ½ minute mark the song mellows out again, but by then Im drained, anyway. Finally, soon all sorts of carnival-esque noises come in, ultimately taking this brilliant song to a satisfyingly joyous conclusion. Also, damn it if I know what theyre saying, but I love those childish Sly & the Family Stone-styled backing voices there at the end as well. And though this song is a bit of a mess, with seemingly unrelated noises flying at you from all over the place, ultimately its a gloriously uplifting mess, as the bands chaotic everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach delivers truly mind-boggling vistas of sound. For my money this 10 ½ minute epic, which leads off the bands second album, Boces, is one of the greatest songs of the 90s.
Willie's comments: ...And for my money, this is one of the only times Mercury Rev has successfully managed to outdo their cousins, The Flaming Lips, in the game of acid-cartoon rock. (It's closer to what the Boredoms would sound like if they weren't so interested in pissing on the notion of song structures.) I don't have much to add to your description, except to say that it might be overly reductive to describe this overflowing stewpot as just one mess.
Noise- "Love Without Sound" (Right-click to
Willie's comments: Though White Noise had more patience for manual tape-splicing and experimental effects than nearly all of their late-'60s contemporaries put together, they also showed an impressive ability to stop on a dime when such pursuits endangered their songwriting. Thus, splattering percussion takes over midway through this song, but the unusually-scaled melody takes the reins once more just as the spell is about to be broken. For my tastes, it's a nifty trick pulled off at least as assuredly as their more famous fellow explorers Can and Frank Zappa likely would've. From An Electric Storm.
Scott's comments: I can see how this song would be totally up your alley. I've never heard of these guys before, pretty far out! That's "far out" as in "cool," not "far out" is in "what the hell is this?" weird. It definitely sounds of its era (1968), and the vocals aren't forceful or technically great by any means, but the whole track exudes a whacked out character that makes me keep returning to it, if for no other reason than to find some interesting sound effects that I may have previously missed.
Scott's Pick #17:
"Whenever You're Ready" (Right-click to
Scott's comments: It's good to see the respect that The Zombies have received in recent years, particularly for their magisterial album of baroque pop, 1968's Odessey and Oracle. Though unfortunately short-lived, The Zombies were a great band, as they had quite a few stellar singles even ouside of Odessey and Oracle, few better than this low-key gem. Right away we're introduced to the primary assets of the band, namely Rod Argent's hauntingly moody keyboards and Colin Blunstone's breathy vocals. The supportive rhythm section kicks in at just the right times, and they knew how to write a hooky tune, too, with catchy harmonized choruses being another band specialty. Perhaps this song's late night vibe prevented it from being a hit, but it definitely should've been one. This song is available on The Singles A's & B's and other Zombies compilations. (You can read Scott's Zombies reviews here.)
Willie's comments: The apparent pleasures of Odessey and Oracle have always eluded me- it's not bad, but it didn't change my life the way CosmicBen said it would either- but I do like this single. The almost physical way Blunstone puts himself into his singing almost makes this a candidate for the "soul" section of the popular music pantheon rather than the "pop/rock" section. That's the big appeal for me, but as you said, it's hard to deny those keys or those harmonies. It doesn't brain you with memorability the way "She's Not There" did, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's a lesser song.
"Run for Your Life" (Right-click to
Willie's comments: Since you and I seem to be on a punk kick lately, I thought I'd share this nifty little bruise. My dad can vouch for me on this: ever since I first heard the Beatles' "Run for Your Life," I've been saying that, despite my general opposition to Beatles covers, someone should take that song and rough it up, because as great as the Rubber Soul version is, it doesn't quite fulfill its obsessive svengali potential. Enter Germany's Punkles, a surprisingly creative Ramones-style Beatles cover band. The tooth-grinding viciousness of the original is retained here, but... well, it's a cliche, but louder and faster, and therefore better! The Dee Dee-inspired backing vocals are a particular highlight. This was originally a B-side on the Drive My Car EP, but it's also on the 1998-2003 compilation. (You can read Mark Prindle's reviews of the Punkles here.)
Scott's comments: This is indeed a fast, fun, punked up cover version, though I'd dispute that the previous Dictators' song was punk at all and I've never thought that this was a great Beatles song in the first place (though of course like every song on Rubber Soul it is certainly good). And I may have won the vocab battle the last time out, but once again you win the super short song battle (1:37)!
Scott's Pick #16:
"No Tomorrow" (Right-click to
Scott's comments: My favorite song from my favorite Dictators album, Bloodbrothers (though the cool pick among the hipster cognoscenti is their also-cool debut Go Girl Crazy!), No Tomorrow has amusing outcast lyrics and a catchy sing along chorus similar to what Van Halen would become known for. My favorite part is the Ross Friedman (a.k.a. Ross Funicello or Ross The Boss, later of Manowar!) guitar solo, which flawlessly builds and builds; the drums kick in at just the right times, both instruments pick up a full head of steam together, and then Ross unleashes some ultra-melodic high pitched squeals that perfectly lead into another chorus that again you just cant help but sing along to. It may not be overwhelming from a technical standpoint, but its perfect construction makes it one of my all-time favorite guitar solos, and the rest of the song is damn stellar too. (You can read Scott's Dictators reviews here.)
Willie's comments: I suspect it's kind of shameful that I've never gotten to know these guys, especially since I dig this song so much. It's like the Sex Pistols' swaggering sputum crossed with Joey Ramone's amicability! (The titular hook almost sounds like a gloss on Johnny Rotten's "No future!" from "God Save the Queen.") Though I can't match your enthusiasm for the solo- my personal preference is for messier, Yo La Tengo/Sonic Youth-style noise- that chorus is a simple, punky godsend. If nothing else, it's made me eager to pull out my copy of Rhino's No Thanks! The '70s Punk Rebellion box to check out the Dictators track included there. Also, "cognoscenti"? You win this vocab battle, Floman!
Mansions- "The Door-to-Door Inspector" (Right-click to
Willie's comments: It's a dour goth anthem that prominently features an accordion. I've struggled to come up with a more informative description of this song, but do you really need to know more? From Viva Dead Ponies.
Scott's comments: This one has a mournful mood, but the somewhat overblown vocal is at odds with the sparse arrangement. Im not sure how I feel about this song, in all honesty. I definitely like the "dour" overall atmosphere and certain sections of it, such as when the booming drums kick in and the accordion picks up. But even after several listens it hasnt totally sunk in for me yet, though it's interesting enough that I keep trying.
Scott's Pick #15:
"Primitive Painters" (Right-click to
Scott's comments: The best-known song from the cult band Felt isnt exactly that well known, but it should be. From the first wash of celestial keyboards its obvious that this 6-minute epic is going to be something special. Big drums give the song a propulsive forward drive, and group leader Lawrences deep vocals have a deceptively hooky quality. But the icing on the cake comes from the Cocteau Twins' Elizabeth Fraser, who provides arguably the greatest guest vocal since Merry Clayton rode shotgun with Mick Jagger on Gimme Shelter. Perhaps Primitive Painters is a bit repetitive, both lyrically and musically, but with a groove this good it could go on forever for all I care. From Ignite the Seven Cannons, or you can grab it on the Absolute Classic Masterpieces compilation.
Willie's comments: "Primitive Painters" would've fit in nicely on the Trainspotting soundtrack, with its head-bobbling, uplifting simplicity and Lawrence's heavily-delayed vocals making him sound like Lou Reed produced by Goodbye Yellow Brick Road's Gus Dudgeon. I also like how Fraser's free-spirited, nearly wordless backing vocals provide a lively counterpoint to the rest of the arrangement, which is more regimented. (After awhile, it does start to seem like a coda without a song, but it fades out before its presence becomes a nuisance.)
#14: 12 Rods-
"Astrogimp" (Right-click to
Willie's comments: I know nobody ever says, "My life doesn't have enough midtempo modern rock songs in it," but humor me, because "Astrogimp" wins that particular Best of Genre ribbon. Yes, it's driven by the mid-'90s third-generation Pixies influence of loping, quarter-note basslines and emphatic barre chords, but in the service of a solidly designed non-super-hero anthem. Better still, Todd Rundgren, of all people, contributes his peerless production know-how with smart touches like the intentionally dated sci-fi synths and the quivery guitar solo. It's the sort of song you'd never think you could fall in love with, but that you'll play over and over anyway, because it makes a generally blah formula seem futuristic. From Separation Anxieties.
Scott's comments: I agree that this is a great little track and that it does sound futuristic. Personally I think that originality is important but tends to be overrated in the grand scheme of things, just give me a good song and Im usually happy. This one has a big riff-driven sound, keyboards that hit all the right pleasure points without coming off as dated or cheesy, and solidly detached vocals that arent great but which are more than good enough. This track may be straightforward but its still a winner all the way around.
Scott's Pick #14:
"Blue" Bland- "Lead Me On" (Right-click to
Scott's comments: Dave Marsh called this lush, haunting ballad "the greatest 3 A.M. record ever made." He'll get no argument from me; from Two Steps From The Blues, which Scott reviewed here.
Willie's comments: Wow. I didn't know it was possible for a song to sound so desperately lonely, and I listen to a lot of desperately lonely music. The strings and choir almost sound like Halloween sound effects at first, it's all so desolate. This song should really be undergoing a popularity renaissance among Gnarls Barkley fans, because this is exactly the sort of spookily heartfelt ballad that made St. Elsewhere possible. Awesome pick.
"Madness" (Right-click to download, though please note
that the MP3 is mislabeled as "Chipmunks Are Go" due to Willie's
malpractice-level inattentiveness. You might want to rename
Willie's comments: Unlike the poppy carnival sounds they'd make on singles like "Our House" and "House of Fun," Madness's mission statement is more appropriate to a ska-based sock hop, with its simple melody, dinky keyboards, and reverently nostalgic saxaphone solo. Enjoy! From One Step Beyond... I think.
Scott's comments: Dinky Casio keyboards are what one most remembers from this catchy, fun ditty. I dig it (especially the sax solo), though probably only in limited dosages given how simplistic and repetitive it is.
Scott's Pick #13:
Raitt- "Give It Up or Let Me Go" (Right-click to
Scott's comments: I love the loose and lively vibe of this song, which leads off Bonnie Raitts second and best album, Give It Up. For one thing, Bonnie is the rare woman who is both a great blues-pop singer and a hotshot guitarist, and this song has a joyous ragtime feel thats infectious. When the various horns kick in and the tempo picks up, its damn near impossible to stand still; throw in some rolling piano runs and a spectacular buildup towards a scintillating climax and what you have is a winner all the way around.
Willie's comments: The New Orleans brass-and-woodwind section that quickly takes over this song totally cracks me up. I'm generally not a fan of blues song structures, just because I feel like we've all heard those twelve bars way too many times, but this is the rare case of an artist doing something fresh atop the predictable chord progression. "Fresh" in this case meaning "bopping along with hilarious, nearly lunatic energy."
Ohia- "Dogwood Gap" (Right-click to
Willie's comments: Those who are (incorrectly, but understandably) turned off by the abundant tics of Neutral Milk Hotel's Jeff Magnum might find the intense folk-rock of Songs: Ohia's Jason Molina more to their taste. This song, in particular, is like a beveled-edge condensation of NMH's epic "Oh Comely": both songs surround a meaningfully-strummed acoustic guitar with melodies that writhe and shudder unpredictably. Viscerally, even. Molina, however, never quite lets his anguished voice off the leash entirely as Magnum does, even when, in the final verse, it rises to a Neil Young-inspired wail. The lyrics are inscrutable, but in a way that invites study rather than dismissal. I wound up listening to this song about a dozen times in a row the first time I heard Songs: Ohia, the self-titled album from which this track comes. I hope you like it.
Scott's comments: I do like it, and I agree with the Neutral Milk Hotel and Neil Young comparisons. Excellent description, I have nothing to add!
Scott's Pick #12:
& the Maytalls- "Love is Gonna Let Me Down" (Right-click to
Scott's comments: There's something incredibly spiritual and moving about this chugging semi-ballad, which is also really catchy and even danceable come chorus time. Toots Hibbert, a.k.a. "the Otis Redding of reggae," sings his heart out, and the deep, cavernous backing vocals of the Maytalls hit the spot as well, maybe even more so. Lush strings, sinewy guitar, celestial organ, organic strings; it all comes together on this song, probably my favorite from their classic Funky Kingston album.
Willie's comments: Yeah, you pretty much nailed all the best elements of this song, though I'd also like to mention the unobtrusively gleeful clavichord. I also like the way the intro tricks you into thinking it's going to be a still-life soul ballad until the beat kicks in. I'm going to have to check out more from Ol' Toots, I think!
Duckling- "Meatshake" (Right-click to
Willie's comments: This is a giggle-inducing hip-hop advertisement for a fictional restaurant at which "everything we serve has meat in it," right down to the cookies and salads. Deadpan rapping- a la Cake or The Bloodhound Gang- and cute consumer testimonials give way to a silly jingle that's as impossible to banish from your brain as any Herb Alpert-style '70s game-show theme. The subject matter turns my vegetarian stomach, but it's witty enough that I don't even mind. From Taste the Secret.
Scott's comments: Let's just say that I like this song about as much as Chris liked my Jeff Buckley song! Actually, I like the vocal hook on the chorus, if you can call it that, and the slinky bass line as well, but this novelty song fails to hold up for me after repeat listens. It's cute and all, but it's not the kind of song I would generally seek out, though it certainly is different and may appeal to those of you who appreciate the silly side of Frank Zappa.
Scott's Pick #11:
Williams- "Right in Time" (Right-click to
Scott's comments: This is a perfect song, from arguably the greatest female singer-songwriter of all-time. From her masterful Car Wheels On A Gravel Road album. [Read Scott's review of the album here.]
Willie's comments: After one listen, I wondered why more artists don't write such solid, no-frills songs. After another listen, I realized that it's because no one can write like Lucinda Williams. There's a vague country vibe to this song (probably because of Lucinda's endearing twang), but the jangly guitars and enormous chorus will please even the stuffiest of the "I can get into anything except country" folks. I really like the way the song takes an aw-shucks attitude towards its own massive appeal, like Freedy Johnston at his best (and unlike, say, Melissa Etheridge, who just strains and strains for anthemic scope rather than letting it come naturally, like Lucinda does). I also like the way that the third verse transforms this airy, fresh song into something cheek-reddeningly sexy. Yeah, this is a joy to listen to.
for the Afterlife- "Did I Let You Down?" (Right-click to
Willie's comments: I'm a sucker for seemingly homemade indie-pop, as you may know, but even if I were impartial, I'd adore this off-center treat. Fuzzy, lo-fi loops and echoes serve as the track's rhythm and constantly impinge on the dreampop fogginess of Caroline Schutz's vocals, and the ongoing duel never lets the track settle into a complacent, Stereolabby lounge arrangement. Instead, it re-creates the "world is spinning too fast yet also dangerously slowly" disorientation of a particularly memorable sleeping pill buzz. From Put Danger Back in Your Life.
Scott's comments: I really like this song and your description of it. It has a good melody, a hooky chorus, and I dig its hazy vibe and the depth to the various sounds coming through my speakers. Plus, singer Caroline Schutz is a real find; she reminds me of Beth Orton or maybe Sarah McLachlan at her most adventurous circa Fumbling Towards Ecstacy. In short, this is a cool tune from a band Id like to hear more from.
Scott's Pick #10:
Buckley- "What Will You Say" (Right-click to
Scott's comments: Since I made Tim Buckley my first MP3 pick, it makes sense (to me, anyway) to pick a Jeff Buckley song to cap off the first 10 picks of this new joint venture. Simply put, this is probably my favorite Jeff Buckley song, which is saying something given how highly I regard him. An epic (7:35) entry that first appeared on the posthumously released live album, Mystery White Boy, I love the way the song builds in its Zeppelin-esque way. Theres that incredible voice (heard to best effect at 6:53), of course, but check out his hard driving guitar playing starting at 5:10, and the moving lyrics, though written by friend Chris Dowd, might as well have been written by Jeff given how they address his own non-existent relationship with his father, Tim. Simply put, this song is an epic in every sense of the word, and the more I hear of Jeff, given his vast future potential and skimpy actual accomplishments, the more Im convinced that the biggest loss in rock n roll history occurred when Jeff Buckley decided to go swimming on May 29, 1997.
Willie's comments: My friend Aimee used to repeatedly and only half-jokingly tell me that I'll be going to Hell for finding Jeff Buckley boring. (I have a similar opinion of Zeppelin, frankly, but Aimee was silent on the theological implications there.) So I know it touches nerves to slag the man's music, and I hate to dump on a song that clearly means so much to you, but as with Grace, I find "What Will You Say" pompous and unappealing. I do like the cathartic guitar torture that you mentioned at the five-minute mark, but the rest of the song strikes me as so confoundedly bloated and sludgy that it makes me yearn for the comparative modesty and slickness of Pearl Jam. It's sad that Buckley is gone, of course, but he really never made my type of music. Now excuse me while I retire to my study with a Roxette album...
"Cavern" (Right-click to
Willie's comments: Having picked a couple songs that don't even stretch for the two-minute mark, I promised Scott this pick would be a Phish song, since they're known for dragging songs out upwards of 40 minutes. "Cavern" isn't quite such a slog, but I think its skanky silliness is filling enough to qualify as an entree. I remember that my mom declared it "boring" when I was in high school, but she wasn't really trying to get into the friendly groove that the band- and particularly keyboardist Page McConnell- rassles to the ground here with loping hooks and phonetic lyrical pleasures like "Give the director a serpent deflector, a mudrat detector, a ribbon reflector, a cushion convector, a picture of nectar, a viral dissector, a hormone collector." From the tremendously high-quality studio album A Picture of Nectar.
Scott's comments: Funky, albeit in a were a bunch of white guys sort of way (Sly Stone and co. these guys aint), keyboard heavy, and deceptively catchy, with those goofy lyrics Chris quoted and a loose groovy melody, this is indeed an enjoyable little tune, and its a whopping 4 and a half minutes long! :)
Scott's Pick #9:
Collins- "A Girl Like You" (Right-click to
Scott's comments: Thats not David Bowie? I remember my shock (and slight disappointment given that Im a fan of Bowie) upon learning that A Girl Like You was in fact written and performed by one Edwyn Collins, former leader of Orange Juice and an obvious fan of Mr. Bowie. Do you remember this song? It was a minor hit that appeared on two soundtracks (Empire Records and Never Talk To Strangers), and its a stone-cold classic, led by its crooned Bowie-fied vocals, a tinkly vibraphone-led groove thats further enhanced by catchy electronic effects and beats, and topped off by Collinss fuzzy, razor edged wailing guitar outbursts. Simply put, any list of great 90s songs should include this one. From Gorgeous George.
Willie's comments: Between this and Spacehog's "In the Meantime," the '90s sure had their share of shameless Bowie impersonations that are redeemed by being really damn good, didn't they? (Their share is two. Enough for any decade, I think. The next two and a half years can accommodate one more after Moby's "We Are All Made of Stars.") I love the way the flow of Collins's smart-aleck vocals is constantly threatened by "The Man Who Sold the World"-style asides, squishy keyboards, and that guitar! That wonderful guitar tone! Even if it didn't have a memorably sneering melody, I'd probably name it as one of the five best-produced songs I've ever heard.
Gothic Archies- "The Dead Only Quickly" (Right-click to
Willie's comments: For some reason, Stephin Merritt left this song off The New Despair, the first widely-distributed release from his ultra-dark Gothic Archies project, instead leaving it for dead (haw!) on Looming in the Gloom, an EP that was in print only momentarily through John Flansburgh's mail-order Hello Club. It remains my favorite Gothic Archies track. One minute of pithy, pissy atheism, delivered in Merritt's inimitably dour croak.
Scott's comments: I dont have much else to add other than to ask, is it me, or does Merritt sound like a vampire? Thats part of his charm I guess, that deadpan delivery he has down pat, and this is a typically strong Merritt effort, even if it comes and goes all too quickly.
Scott's Pick #8:
"Tightrope" (Right-click to
Scott's comments: Arguably the best song on the bands best album, A New World Record, this one starts with a synth swoosh and then some of the bands trademark dramatic strings. After that not-so-ominous buildup and some operatic chants, the song starts in earnest with hooky riffs and a galloping groove. As usual the simplistic lyrics arent really the point, the point is how Jeff Lynne piles hooks on top of hooks; I mean, how can you not love those catchy hey hey hey vocals? Some of the song's attributes repeat themselves: futuristic synths, scratchy strings, operatic chants, and Lynnes smooth lead vocals, for example, but the end result is never less than utterly delightful despite the datedness of the track (few bands scream 1970s! quite like prime ELO). Although it wasnt a hit despite being on an album jam-packed with hits, Tightrope is simply a great pop song from a really good and often quite underrated band.
Willie's comments: What fun! One thing I love about ELO is the way Lynne's overblown production never seems pretentious. Even given his penchant for lengthy, quasi-cinematic intros and codas, he never seems like he's demanding you take him seriously. Rather, he seems like he's thinking about all the musical tools at his disposal and gasping, "'Tightrope' could use this and this and this!" On this song, Lynne elevates what could've been an unremarkably catchy rock boogie to something far more engaging: the sounds of a rollicking party in the recording studio.
Lagoon- "Under the Tracks" (Right-click to
Willie's comments: I can only assume that this tremendous Britpop song was disqualified from widespread acclaim because it comes from a bunch of Californians who are trying really hard to disguise their place of origin. Even though Creeper Lagoon is totally just trying to horn in on the action reserved for those groomed by NME, they still manage to make writing a shimmering, climactic song seem easy, which is the key to the charm of any great Britpop single you'd care to name. ("Wonderwall," "Yellow," "Why Does It Always Rain On Me?" and so on.) Guiding things along, frontman Ian Sefchick does his best Damon Albarn, sighing his lyrics with such velveteen obsequiousness that you'll grudgingly hand over your heart even though the lyrics are drivel. From Take Back the Universe and Give Me Yesterday, the remainder of which didn't impress me. At least not nearly this much.
Scott's comments: I gotta admit, I dont hear this as a Britpop song at all. In fact, it reminds me more of Tom Petty than Blur. Then again, I like Tom Petty and this song, which has a pleasant guitar jangle and some pretty piano embellishments. A strong melody leads into a fairly hooky chorus, and the song builds nicely throughout. If anything this song makes me think that classic rock is alive and well, only this is a classic rock song that youll never hear on the radio.
Scott's Pick #7:
Sylvain and the Teardrops- "I Can't Forget
Tomorrow" (Right-click to
Scott's comments: Most people are aware of David Johansen and Johnny Thunders, but few people know that third wheel Sylvain Sylvain also did some cool solo stuff, albeit in a more r&b-based pop style than what the New York Dolls did. Despite its regrettably dated keyboard sound, I really like this wistful, tender, heartfelt semi-ballad, which I find both emotionally affecting and easily singable. From Sylvain's second post-Dolls album, Syl Sylvain and the Teardrops.
Willie's comments: I agree with you on the keyboard tone, and I really wish Mr. Sylvain would try harder to hit that one low note he keeps biffing throughout the song, but this still has a nice energy to it. It's the energy of a decidedly unsophisticated punk hero earnestly trying to gussy a song up and make it conventionally pretty, and it's hard to resist even if the song isn't quite a #1 jam. In that way, "I Can't Forget Tomorrow" reminds me of the Ramones' "Howling At the Moon" (which was produced with endearing fussiness by the Eurythmics' David A. Stewart).
Alpert & Tijuana Brass- "Green
Peppers" (Right-click to
Willie's comments: I volunteer at a radio station for the blind from time to time, and when I discovered this song among the instrumental selections to signal the end of a promo break, I became so enchanted with it that I played it at every single opportunity until the station manager wound up having to remove it from the library. I'm no good at music theory, but it sounds like these mariachi-style trumpets (and a xylophone) are jumping from a major to a minor key and back throughout the song, bleating out a riff that I find completely fascinating. From Whipped Cream & Other Delights, which also contains the theme song to The Dating Game, incidentally. (This fact only buttresses my notion that "Green Peppers" sounds like a Latin American version of the Jeopardy! theme.)
Scott's comments: I can see how this instrumental ditty could become addictive, as it's a cute, catchy little number. Pity it's not longer (1:32). On a trivia note, Herb Alpert later became the A in A&M records, and can you name the band who parodied the famous album cover from which this song originated? Click here to find out.
Scott's Pick #6:
Butler & the Impressions- "For Your Precious Love" (Right-click
Scott's comments: Roger Daltrey once sang "it's the singer not the song," and Jerry Butler & The Impressions prove it on this classic love ballad. The song is simple, simplistic even, with a lone guitar, some piano, a slow steady beat, loads of echo, and a few well-chosen words, but what elevates the song into the soul pantheon is Butler's towering vocal. His deep, sonorous baritone is simply spectacular, and the Impressions' haunting backing harmonies hit the spot as well.
Willie's comments: If I worked for an ad agency and really wanted to license "Unchained Melody" for a commercial but couldn't afford the rights, I think "For Your Precious Love" is the substitute I'd use. It's a very nice number, and if it suffers slightly for an overly familiar structure (which, in all fairness, was surely more novel back in 1958), that's more than made up by the sincere longing in Butler's voice. This song is available on a billion Jerry Butler compilations, as well as in Rhino's genre-spanning Doo Wop Box compilation.
TM- "Frogtoise" (Right-click to
Willie's comments: "I had a dream I cut a frog in half and a turtle too/To plant the top of the tortoise on the poor frog's base," sings German electronic artist Dirk Dresselhaus (aka Schneider TM), while plump glitch beats roll all around him. It's definitely an unexpected image to open a song that, musically, is as chipper and upbeat as a Mouse on Mars single. However, I think there's a hint of real remorse in Dresselhaus's otherwise dispassionate voice, and I hope I'm right, because that's what elevates this track from amusingly weird dance music to surreal poignancy. By making his narrator audibly feel culpable for seemingly unmotivated mutilations he committed in a dream, and then adding enchanting response harmonies that have a slight mocking quality (a technique seemingly salvaged from Billy Joel's "It's Still Rock & Roll to Me"), Dresselhaus succeeds in capturing the unsettling way you can be sabotaged by your own subconscious when the aftertaste of a nasty dream follows you into your waking life. It's from the album Zoomer, the remainder of which is serviceable, but I suspect I'd be more impressed with it if "Frogtoise" didn't wreck the grading curve by being so glorious.
Scott's comments: Great review! Dreamy, danceable, and thought provoking, my only complaint against this song is that maybe it runs a little long.
Scott's Pick #5:
Polonsky- "Love Lovely Love" (Right-click to
Scott's comments: The chugging riffs are killer, Polonsky's vocals exude a rough-hewn charm, I dig the song's new wave/power pop attributes, and most all its great chorus; this is simply a "should've been a smash hit" that wasn't. I love the way Jonny holds the "fine..." on the chorus, and this song is just a hook-filled, hard rocking gem that's instantly appealing and holds up to repeat listens. From Polonsky's consistently strong debut, Hi My Name Is Jonny. [Read Scott's review of the album here.]
Willie's comments: Ooh, this is a good one! It's very difficult to believe that "Love Lovely Love" is more than ten years old at this point... though of course the fuzzbox guitar arrangement is timeless. So let's just call it a missing link between the earnest playfulness of '80s rock (Rick Springfield, Tommy Tutone) and the knowing songcraft of some of the better 21st-century power-poppers (Fountains of Wayne, New Pornographers).
Fish Ensemble- "Distant" (Right-click to
Willie's comments: Sometimes I miss the earnest, jangly college rock of the early '90s, even though I was in middle school at the height of the genre's popularity. (The 120 Minutes compilations that my aunt got me for Christmas around that time impressed me mightily, so I started seeking out gobs of this stuff even though I was about ten years younger than the bands' target audience.) This deceptively sunny example is actually a wrenching snapshot of a rural man who realizes he's lost his love to the allure of the big city. His confusion, pleading, and bile will be familiar to anyone who's ever felt screwed when confronted with the fact that sometimes people change. From Field Trip.
Scott's comments: A simple jangle rock melody, plaintive vocals, some violin here and there (even a solo), the beat picks up...but let's face it, this song is really all about its lyrics. You can feel for the poor sap who's losing his love and the girl who, likely through no fault of her own, has simply changed and now feels trapped in a confining relationship. As Chris noted, people change and grow apart, it's a sad fact of life, and this song vividly illustrates how such a thing could happen. Musically I wouldn't call this song anything special, merely good, but its true-to-life story should be required listening for youngsters just starting to experience the ups and downs of relationships, as its warning message is well worth hearing.
Scott's Pick #4:
"Street Where Nobody Lives" (Right-click to
Scott's comments: You can almost see the grime on their grungy guitars. Our menacing narrator snarls as much as sings, his intentions are obviously less than admirable, the guitar solo lasts all of five seconds, and before you know it the song is over and done with. Point made with as pure a punk rock song as you'll find.
Willie's comments: Yeah, it's hard to think of one more element that could be removed from "Street Where Nobody Lives" without the term "song" being an irresponsible exaggeration, and that's its appeal. Two chords, a vocal part that doesn't deviate from those two chords, Mike Hudson sneering the lyrics with such a committed, fake-British "sod off" attitude that he doesn't even avoid taking breaths in the middle of lines... Just tightly-wound, immature misanthropy. Available on Shit Street, one of those fabulous entire-discography-on-one-CD compilations that old punk bands tend to release, God love 'em.
#3: Del tha
Funkee Homosapien- "What is a Booty" (Right-click to
Willie's comments: Produced by kiddie-film star Ice Cube, this is the first track from the first solo album from hip-hop artist Del tha Funkee Homosapien (best known for his rapping on Gorillaz' "Clint Eastwood"). It's less about Del's always-accessible rapping than about the gigantic funk bassline, soulful backing vocals and general P-Funk-style goofiness that abounds in lines like "On behalf of my behind I feel it's my duty to my booty that I come in the head of the class when it comes to... butts." It doesn't pretend to be anything more than a silly dance track that shakes its low end so you'll shake yours, and I think it's a blast. From I Wish My Brother George Was Here.
Scott's comments: Yeah, I guess Ice Cube isnt so gangsta these days, huh? And arent you supposed to be the indie guy? Whats up with the cheesy disco track and now this funky rap tune? Actually, when I saw that this was a rap song I figured that I wouldnt like it, since thats usually the case with that genre, but I gotta admit that this song is a lot of fun, at least in limited dosages. What can I say other than that I agree that this song is all about its gigantic funk bassline, soulful backing vocals and general P-Funk-style goofiness, and as long as youre in a silly, shake your booty sort of mood, I dont see why you wouldnt enjoy this song, which can power up any party (P.S. while were at it, Ill admit that youre probably right about Coldplay and lyrics, though I still love and stand by that selection).
#3: Coldplay- "Fix You"
(Right-click to download.)
Scott's comments: These guys get a lot of crap, why Im not exactly sure. Their first album was quite good, the second even better, and while their third album, X&Y, was disappointing, it still contained the bands best song to date, the brilliant Fix You. For one thing, Im a sucker for Hammond organ, and its all over this song. The lyrics are no great shakes but theyre comforting enough, in part because Chris Martins voice is so pretty, plus theres some nice piano here and there as well. But the first 2:34 is just childs play, anyway, thats when the song takes off with soaring riffs and becomes an EPIC. The drums crash in and the overall sound is huge; Ive worked out to this song tons of times and when that part kicks in, BELIEVE ME I find another gear no matter how tired I am. The sing along chorus that brings the song to its climatic conclusion hits the spot as well, but above all its that spiraling guitar part that will fix you.
Willie's comments: I love the ol' Hammond organ too, but otherwise this song doesn't really have much that touches me. As with the rest of X&Y, I think "Fix You" sounds like the product of a so-so Coldplay knockoff band like Keane: it's pleasant, but doesn't come close to the goosebump-inducing melodic heights of their first two records. Personally, I prefer Death Cab for Cutie's "Transatlanticism," which manages the gentle-ballad-to-sweeping-epic catharsis just as well, but weds it to thoughtful lyrics and a more memorable tune. (Seriously, I wish Chris Martin would start paying attention to his lyrics, lest he turn into Noel Gallagher.) I bet this really would be an effective workout song, though!
Willie's Pick #2:
Thievery Corporation (feat. the Flaming Lips)- "Marching the Hate Machines (Into the Sun)"
Willie's comments: I'm really surprised this collaboration of big-indie names didn't become a hipster classic upon its release. We'll have to rectify that. Although the steamy, noir-y trip-hop arrangement is pretty clearly a Thievery Corporation gizmo, the song actually fits better into the Lips' body of work: not just because of Wayne Coyne's distinctive voice, but because of his lyrics. As usual, they concern taking up arms on the side of Love in its battle against Hate, and they're as stirring as ever. From Thievery Corporation's The Cosmic Game.
Scott's comments: I like this track and feel that its enticing "chill out" vibe would fit in nicely on the Lips' own Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots album. In fact, it's probaby better than anything on At War With The Mystics, and it makes me want to get to know the Thievery Corporation better, which is a sure sign of quality for any individual song.
Scott's Pick #2:
Barbara Lewis- "Hello Stranger"
Scott's comments: Pretty keyboards, doo-wop backing by the Dells, and Lewis lovely, lilting lead vocal leading into a low-key yet hooky chorus (ooh, it seems like a mighty long time); why don't they make songs such as this slyly seductive stunner any more?
Willie's comments: Probably because songs like this require a subtle touch that's completely alien to your modern-day Pussycat Doll. The arrangement is as crisp and light as phyllo dough, and Lewis's voice is both massively soulful and full of airy ebullience at seeing an old crush again. Whatever the era, though, it's rare that a song so successfully evokes the feeling of unchecked romantic hopefulness, which is what makes "Hello Stranger" a treasure. Great pick! Incidentally, this song's first album appearance was on Lewis's Baby, I'm Yours.
M- "Rasputin" (Right-click to
Willie's comments: Remember the Saturday Night Fever parody in Airplane! when Robert Hays moves from aping John Travolta's disco gyrations to performing a Russian kazatsky dance? This late-'70s German dance single could easily have been the soundtrack to that scene: it melds disco beats and orchestration with Eastern European folk elements to give a simplistic, World Book Encyclopedia-level summary of the life of Rasputin. Cluelessly goofy as a lot of the elements are (such as the grave spoken interlude), the "Rah! Rah! Rasputin!" chorus rivals ABBA for irresistible catchiness, and the entire production has aged remarkably well, fitting nicely into our current genre-splicing musical century. It's originally from Nightflight to Venus, but is available on any number of compilations.
Scott's comments: Ha, Im cracking up just thinking of that Airplane! scene set to this song, good one! This song is about as different from the Tim Buckley song as you can imagine, and I agree its all ridiculous fun that should appeal to fans of ABBA, Georgio Moroder, and campy, catchy, danceable disco in general, though I need to be in a particular kind of mood to swallow such cheese wholesale
Buckley- "Song to the Siren" (Right-click to
Scott's comments: This version is from Buckleys appearance on the Monkees TV show and its available on his Morning Glory anthology. Exceedingly sparse, the song contains just simply strummed guitar chords and that ultra-pure voice of his, which is resonant and beautiful enough to carry the song all by its lonesome. Just listen, I dont have much more to say other than that this haunting rendition is the definitive version of the song, and that the lyrics here are different from the original version on Starsailor.
Willie's comments: Ultra-pure is a good term to describe this tune: ultra-pure sadness, ultra-pure heartbreak. As Scott said, it's nothing more than a guitar and a melody, but what's there is minimal folk perfection. It's worth checking out the Monkees episode on which this song was performed, incidentally. Juxtaposing it with the show's trademark puns and "romps" only heightens Tim's stunning, fragile sorrow.
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