1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die…Or Not – 1967 – 1968

18 Feb
There’s no question about it. This is when popular music started getting really high.

Now, the super-cool kids had been using for a while. In fact, the real junkies of the crew had been down in the basement for years, shooting up and playing jazz. Anyway, right here and now is when the marriage of drugs and music became culture. Thus, we enter the true dawn, the aurora of psychedelic rock.

It’s impossible to estimate how much or how little you know about drugs, but it seems safe to assume that the term “psychedelic” is neither clouded nor confusing. We’re talking about kids taking LSD, smoking weed, snorting coke, and ingesting a litany of other substances, and then making records. A sizable portion of the records you are about to hear were either recorded under the influence, or, categorically influenced by experiences that the artist endeavored to express; music designed to “expand the consciousness.”

http://blacksunshinemedia.comWe can argue about it all day, but the best album of the modern era—the untouchable creative achievement—is The Beatles – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967). It may not be your favorite, or even something you’re familiar with, but across the board, very few critics or music appreciationists* will denounce this record; nor will they offer an alternative champion. I’ve met dudes who claim to hate/loathe/detest/despise this record, and yet they refused to say it sucks. They just don’t like the Beatles. That’s fine. But square Sgt. Pepper up against almost any other album in rock history, the exception being The Beach Boys – Pet Sounds, and there’s no discussion. Either your contender falls short, or it doesn’t show up for the gig.

* I finally made up a word that fits.

https://blacksunshinemedia.com

Not coincidentally, Sgt. Pepper happens to be one of the prototypical psychedelic records. It certainly defined the genre. While Rubber Soul and Revolver contained stoned-pop, tasty bong-hit revelations, Pepper dropped five hits of Owsley’s Finest, and took everyone on the trip. Now, lest you think I’m talking out my ass about all these records being made under the influence of some recreational chemical, point your attention to the following quote from Paul McCartney:

“When [producer George Martin] was doing his TV programme on Pepper … he asked me, ‘Do you know what caused Pepper?’ I said, ‘In one word, George, drugs. Pot.’ And George said, ‘No, no. But you weren’t on it all the time.’ ‘Yes, we were.’ Sgt. Pepper was a drug album.”

Key:
Strikethrough indicates what you probably think it does
Green indicates highly recommended listening
Underlined indicates questionable but ultimately acceptable record
Blue bold italic indicates ABSOLUTELY MUST HEAR BEFORE YOU DIE
Note: Suggested alternatives are from the same year as the contested entry unless otherwise indicated.

1967-1968

  1. Aretha Franklin – I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You (1967)
  2. Buffalo Springfield – Buffalo Springfield Again (1967)

Two things: Aretha Franklin is awesome, especially in the 60s. Twenty-five minutes of Aretha is plenty.

Buffalo Springfield is notable for who was in the band, as opposed to the quality, appeal, and endurance of their jams. The whole did not equal the sum of their parts. Yes, Again has a couple of smokin’ Neil Young joints (“Mr. Soul” and “Broken Arrow”), but not enough to fill one side of an album. Regardless, several dudes in the band went on to make music featured prominently on the list, so don’t think I’m being stingy.

  1. Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band – Safe As Milk (1967)
  2. Country Joe & The Fish – Electric Music For The Mind And Body (1967)

1001_Safe_As_MilkIf you consider reverb and Farfisa organ to be the two key characteristics of psychedelic music, then Country Joe and the Fish are gonna be the trippy-est thing you’ve ever heard. Until we get to Jefferson Airplane, who kinda-sorta knew what they were doing. Granted, Electric Music was pretty far-out for 1967. Wait a minute. The fuck am I talking about? This Country Joe crap doesn’t come anywhere near Beefheart’s Safe As Milk.

  1. Cream – Disraeli Gears (1967)
  2. Frank Sinatra – Frank Albert Sinatra And Antonio Carlos Jobim (1967)

This is your one chance to get some Eric Clapton under your belt. Forget about Derek and the Dominoes. Disraeli Gears is by far the best thing with Clapton’s name on it.

Likewise, you already got a Frank Sinatra record. I don’t care if you offer Sinatra with Alfredo Sauce—it isn’t necessary. Dude was a dinosaur at this point in the game. And get your A.C. Jobim on your own time.

  1. Jefferson Airplane – Surrealistic Pillow (1967)
  2. Jimi Hendrix – Are You Experienced? (1967)
  3. Jimi Hendrix – Axis: Bold As Love (1967)

Welcome to acid rock, a sub-genre of hard psychedelic rock, ladies and gentlemen. Jefferson Airplane only has one good album, so don’t snooze on Surrealistic Pillow.

Pretty much every Hendrix record is listening ambrosia, but Axis: Bold as Love is a Must Hear.

  1. Loretta Lynn – Don’t Come Home A Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ On Your Mind) (1967)
  2. Love – Da Capo (1967)
  3. Love – Forever Changes (1967)
  4. Merle Haggard – I’m A Lonesome Fugitive (1967)
  5. Moby Grape – Moby Grape (1967)
  6. Nico – Chelsea Girl (1967)

Love 10Love is the reigning champion of unfortunately short-lived but otherwise pioneering bands that will never get the props they deserve. Both of these records are worth repeated listens.

Loretta Lynn and Merle Haggard are great, but…it’s your call. Don’t Come Home A Drinkin’ is an awesome album title and a great song (her first #1 on the U.S. Country charts), but I just can’t see anybody at BSM HQ ever listening to Hendrix and Loretta Lynn back-to-back.

1001_NicoNico appears on the Velvet Underground’s first record (#25), making Chelsea Girl beyond expendable. Actually, it’s one of those records I would go out of my way to warn somebody about. “This record really really stinks. Avoid it at all costs.” Here’s what Nico herself had to say about it:

“I still cannot listen to [Chelsea Girl], because everything I wanted for that record, they took it away. I asked for drums, they said no. I asked for more guitars, they said no. And I asked for simplicity, and they covered it in flutes! […] They added strings and – I didn’t like them, but I could live with them. But the flute! The first time I heard the album, I cried and it was all because of the flute!”

And Moby Grape is just an extension of Jefferson Airplane, so you could cut them and wouldn’t be missing anything, except I kind of like Moby Grape. Great band name, for sure.

  1. Pink Floyd – The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn (1967)
  2. The Beatles – Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)
  3. The Beau Brummels – Triangle (1967)

1001_PiperThe editor is trying to slip one past us here. Just look at the records we’re already listening to: Beefheart, Hendrix, the Beatles…Piper At The Goddamn Gates of Dawn. The level of creativity and musicianship of this era are staggering. Oh, but we need to hear Beau Brummels, yet another irrelevant, insufferable, white-bread, San Francisco quasi-psychedelic band? Nuh-uh. Time to put the big foot down, squarely on the throat of this concept album and say, “I ain’t having it, son.”**

**OK. There is one vaguely cool jam on this Triangle record. It’s called “Magic Hollow.”
  1. The Byrds – Younger Than Yesterday (1967)
  2. The Doors – The Doors (1967)
  3. The Electric Prunes – I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night) (1967)
  4. The Kinks – Something Else By The Kinks (1967)
  5. 1001_the_monkees_-_headquartersThe Monkees – Headquarters (1967)
  6. The Mothers Of Invention – We’re Only In It For The Money (1967)
  7. The Velvet Underground – The Velvet Underground And Nico (1967)
  8. The Velvet Underground – White Light/White Heat (1967)

As I was saying about the Beau Brummels? Of these first 26 entries for the period, there are at least 8 albums you must hear before you die. The Byrds’ Younger Than Yesterday is not one of them. Meanwhile, the first Doors record is all you need to hear from those cats, too.

Every so often, a record like I Had Too Much To Dream Last Night pops up, and just as I’m getting ready to scratch it off, I think, “Wait, no. Give it another spin. You haven’t heard this in at least a decade.” And that’s exactly what happened with the Electric Prunes.

  1. The Who – The Who Sell Out (1967)
  2. The Young Rascals – Groovin’ (1967)

juke8-who-meatyI love the Who, and Sell Out is no doubt a fun record, but the novelty wears off, leaving two jams (“Armenia City in the Sky” and “I Can See For Miles”) and a pocketful of clever bits. It’s also their most psychedelic effort. On one hand, you should hear this album, because few bands were making records like Sell Out in 1967. Or you can wait until 1968’s Tommy to suck down a tall drink of the Who. These cats are among the rarified batch of artists to approach from a Greatest Hits angle, mainly because a bunch of their early great tracks are non-album singles. Ahem. For instance, these four jams released between 1965-1967:

“Substitute”
“I’m a Boy”
“Happy Jack”
“Pictures of Lily”
Suggested Alternative: Breaking the same-year rule and including an album that wasn’t released in 1967, Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy (1971), a compilation of the Who’s early singles.

1001_Turtles_battleofthebandsThe Young Rascals are fine but you really should be listening to the Turtles – Happy Together (1967) and especially Battle of the Bands (1968).

  1. Alexander “Skip” Spence – Oar (1968)

This cat was a special case. For my listening dollar, his cult of personality outweighed his musical talent and/or genius. Time and time again, I go back to Oar, and I feel like I’m missing something. The opening cut “Little Hands” is messy good, lo-fi fun. And then it’s downhill from there. But if you really want to hear some poor kid spiral into madness, you should hold off until Syd Barrett releases The Madcap Laughs (1970).

http://blacksunshinemedia.com

  1. Aretha Franklin – Aretha: Lady Soul (1968)

The Queen of Soul. Do we need another album? You might.

  1. Astrud Gilberto – Beach Samba (1968)

[Clears throat. Sits up in chair.] Samba. The only sound I dislike more than samba is bossa nova, which, surprise! Is a form of samba. This is the shit that gets piped into trendy restaurants for “atmosphere,” when they really mean “sonic wallpaper.” I would rather listen to Jimmy Buffet, Dire Straits, Madonna, and Randy Travis, all at the same time—locked in a room chilled to a temperature of 55ºF, all four in quadraphonic sound at fighter jet decibel levels, naked, starving, and surreptitiously dosed with lab-grade LSD—than hear anything even resembling boss nova. Or samba. This is by far the most tepid, inoffensive, disingenuous form of music in existence. Theme songs to children’s television shows have more substance.1001_Beach_Samba

  1. Big Brother & The Holding Company – Cheap Thrills (1968)

Another contentious decision here, but I hold that you don’t need an album’s worth of Janis Joplin and her half-assed backup blues band. Let me put it to you this way. If you have heard one Janis Joplin track, you have heard them all. I promise that will be the last time I say this for the duration of the essay.

  1. Blue Cheer – Vincebus Eruptum (1968)

1001_Blue_CheerHeavy metal starts right here.

  1. Caetano Veloso – Caetano Veloso (1968)

Jesus Christ! Another fucking bossa nova record from 1968. Well. I guess we now know that Robert Dimery has a hard-on for Brazilian music. How about if I just sashay over to the turntable and throw it out the window? I’d rather listen to the sound of my own heart breaking than this…nonsense.

  1. Iron Butterfly – In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida (1968)
  2. Jeff Beck – Truth (1968)

1001_Beck_TruthYou just heard Blue Cheer. Iron Butterfly is as bad as the title song suggests. They have one idea and they pound. It. Into. The. Ground.

On the other hand, this is your one chance to hear Rod Stewart with Jeff Beck, and I promise, it’s tasty.

  1. Jimi Hendrix – Electric Ladyland (1968)
  2. Johnny Cash – At Folsom Prison (1968)
  3. Laura Nyro – Eli And The Thirteenth Confession (1968)
  4. Leonard Cohen – The Songs Of Leonard Cohen (1968)

1001_Johnny_Cash_At_Folsom_PrisonHendrix and Cash are slam dunks at this stage of the game, but Cash gets a gold star for recording a live album in a prison. That’s bold. Meanwhile, Laura Nyro, again, like so many other artists on this list, has one fairly decent hit, and the rest of her work is lackluster. Leonard Cohen, well, I’m not going to listen to the whole thing again, but you probably should if you don’t have any idea who the guy is, or why he matters (to some people).

  1. Os Mutantes – Os Mutantes (1968)

Enough with the fucking Brazilian jazz. For shit’s sake, it’s congas and timbales and fuckin’ tribal chants in Creole. Enough!

  1. Ravi Shankar – The Sounds Of India (1968)

1001_ShankarYou’re not going to make it through this record unless you forget it’s on the turntable, and fuck off to take a bath or something. I love Shankar, sitar, and ragas as much as the next guy, but even George Harrison put the instrument down every now and then. Imagine an entire album of didgeridoo. This is a slightly more interesting and engaging listening experience.

  1. Scott Walker – Scott 2 (1968)
  2. Shivkumar Sharma – Call Of The Valley (1968)

1001_ShivkumarHave you ever seen a terrible lounge singer, or worse, a comedian pretending to be a washed-up lounge singer? OK, then you’ve heard and seen what Scott Walker has to offer. Move on. Next. Who? What? More Indian music? You didn’t even make it though the Shankar album and now you want to hear Sharma banging away at a santoor for an hour? Do you even know what a santoor is?

  1. Simon & Garfunkel – Bookends (1968)
  2. The Band – Music From Big Pink (1968)
  3. The Beatles – White Album (1968)
  1. The Byrds – Sweetheart Of The Rodeo (1968)
  2. The Byrds – The Notorious Byrd Brothers (1968)

The Byrds are the Byrds in name only at this point. Gene Clark and David Crosby are gone, and so are the hits. Yet the Byrds continue to vie for relevance by pestering us with records, and I guess if you’re really interested, you can listen to what they’re up to on Sweetheart of the Rodeo. Or I can tell you. Country rock and Gram Parsons. And The Notorious Byrd Brothers is a notoriously over-rated album.

  1. The Incredible String Band – The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter (1968)

1001_Incredible_StringTwo things throw me off about this band. First, they aren’t particularly incredible other than having a ridiculous number of members. Second, they have more than one song that features kazoo. Does the name Licorice McKechnie mean anything to you? If not, a full dose of psychedelic folk is probably not in your best interests, and I’m not saying it should be. This is quintessential hippie music: Peace, love, communal living, esoteric mysticism, sitar, gimbri, shenai, oud, harpsichord, panpipes, penny whistles, and 13-minute suites about molecular biology.

  1. The Kinks – The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society (1968)
  2. The Pretty Things – S.F. Sorrow (1968)
  3. The Rolling Stones – Beggars Banquet (1968)
  4. The Small Faces – Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake (1968)
  5. The United States Of America – The United States Of America (1968)

1001_USAThe Presidents of the U.S.A. is one of the all-time great obscure albums, and there’s a reason for that. It was too far ahead of its time. The band survived long enough to make this one album, which from start to finish, is the most vivid collage of avant-garde, psychedelic, and art rock to date. And they didn’t have a guitar player. On the other hand, it stands as one of the most topically dated records ever made, with lyrical themes rooted in 1960s contemporary society. If you don’t quite get the cultural significance of old-time music halls, then most of this record is going to sail over your head.

  1. The Who – Tommy (1968)
  2. ZombiesThe Zombies – Odessey And Oracle (1968)
  3. Tim Buckley – Happy Sad (1968)
  4. Tim Buckley – Goodbye And Hello (1968)

I desperately wanted to dig Tim Buckley, I really did. Having been suitably impressed by his son’s debut album, Jeff Buckley – Grace (1994), I reckoned I ought to hear the old man. At the time, I didn’t know that I had already heard plenty of Tim Buckley.

Fifteen years ago, I did 90% of my record buying at Ameoba Records on Haight Street in San Francisco. Aside from being the best record store I’d ever seen, it also had the most surly, judgmental employees this side of a sauna house in Macau. But I’m the type who likes to mix it up with people, you know? Fuckin’ 12-gauge with the neck tattoo gives me the stink-eye over a triptych of Skynyrd records, we’re going to have a conversation. Guaranteed.

So one day, I slumped into the joint and found a used copy of Happy Sad. Put it in the shopping cart. After an hour or so, I moseyed up to the register. Suicide Girl with a harpoon skewered between her cheeks starts ringing me up. This is the part of every vinyl transaction where the clerk inspects the gatefolds to make sure you haven’t jammed another disc in there, as well as to make sure you’re getting the right album.

“Pablo Cruise?” she scowled. “For real?”

“I’m having a party. You’re invited, too.”

1001_Buckley“I’ll bet.” She stops at the Tim Buckley record, inspects the vinyl, slips it back into the jacket and says, “You know this is not Jeff Buckley, right?”

“I am quite aware, yes. Thank you.”

“Have you even heard Tim Buckley before?”

“No, that’s why I’m buying the album.”

Her face expressed what only can be described as uncertain defensive anxiety; for example, when someone says they’re going to do something stupid and possibly dangerous, and your shoulders pull back, a look of puzzled concern on your face, and you say, “Uhh…good luck with that?” Or when a friend calls and asks if you want to go throw bricks from the highway overpass at oncoming traffic, and you say, “Nah, you go on without out me.” It’s safe to say that half of the record store clerks I’ve dealt with over the years have experienced this while processing my transaction.

  1. Traffic – Traffic (1968)

John Barleycorn Must Die (1970) is a better representative of the band, and the superior musical effort, as any album that doesn’t feature Dave Mason.

Net Reduction of Albums from the Period: 21
Suggested Alternatives: 2
Running AMYMHBYD Total: 990

Up Next: 1001 Albums You Must Hear From 1969-1971…Or Not

1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die…Or Not – 1956 -1966

17 Feb
1001_Gauguin1The whole thing is preposterous, I know. Music appreciation, like 90% of all things material or otherwise related to humanity, is highly personal and exclusively subjective. Some person just paid $300 million for a Gauguin painting. The world gasps at his extravagance. Perhaps in the buyer’s mind, it’s the greatest thing that’s ever happened in his life. Maybe acquiring Nafea Faa Ipoipo (When Will You Marry?) is the sum, pinnacle, and apogee of his existence.

If you haven’t read the introduction to this essay, you might be wondering exactly what’s going on here. In another previous post, 100 Greatest Rock Songs of All-Time, I declared that Best Of lists are inherently worthless. It is, after all, the opening line of the post.

While I recommend having a look-see at this particular introduction, the gist of it can be framed thusly.

1001_cover_There’s an attractive coffee table book entitled 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die—basically an illustrated list—which has spawned an entire niche of Shit You Must Hear/See/Do Before You Die. Anyway, 1001 Albums is primarily focused on pop and rock albums from 1955 to the present, which happens to be right up my alley, or at least, circling my cul-de-sac.*

* This is neither an endorsement nor condemnation of the book. It exists, that’s all I’m saying. Also note that I’ve never actually owned the book, either, but I have accumulated several hours of concentrated browsing while camped out in Reference aisles of bookstores. Therefore, the book has been in my hands.

Following a period of review and self-evaluation, I came to the conclusion that a certain proportion of albums on the list were not exactly essential listening—in my mind—and if someone were to endeavor to hear all 1001 albums before they die, they might come to the same conclusion: At least one-third of said albums were not something they needed to hear before they died. Please note that the introduction explicitly recognizes the inherent solipsism of the above statement.

Nevertheless, this essay will attempt to delineate the Must Hear albums from those that may or may not be necessary, while maintaining the spirit of the book, which is genuinely (and admirably) geared toward increasing one’s knowledge and appreciation of music. My goal is to revise the list to 666 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. That’s it.

Of course, I’m going to give reasons and examples along the way. There is very little in my life, aside from writing, that’s done (or said) without motivation. For example, [also in the introduction], I boldly claimed that your life would still be complete if you hadn’t heard Metallica’s And Justice For All (1988). And if I were the reader, I’d want to know why. Consequently, I’m more than prepared to explain; you’ll just have to wait until we get to that part of the list.

About three days into this project, I started having conversations with myself about how and why someone would be bothered to spend weeks writing such an admittedly negligible essay. Invariably, the topic would reverse directions, and soon I was asking myself why anyone would be bothered to read it.

1001_NewportAfter sitting through yet another previously unknown early-1960s live album recorded at the Newport Jazz Festival, it occurred to me that while I was certainly listening to these albums in their entirety, I wasn’t really getting that old “album” experience, and the reasons for this absence of experience are fairly obvious, but I’m going to point them out, just in case.

First of all, the delivery method has changed dramatically. I’m listening to music on a computer, versus a turntable (or even a CD player); hence, there are half a dozen logistical contingencies related to place and setting. Second, the album itself is virtual; it doesn’t really exist, i.e. I don’t own most of the records I listen to.**

** Technically, I own a shitload of vinyl records, and I used to own a fucking boatload of records, but due to circumstances both beyond and within the limits of my control, those records have now been “set free.” Therefore, this is by no means an endorsement of my current method for listening: streaming on YouTube. Additionally, when there is something I really must have in my collection, I’ll buy it from iTunes or—gasp!—a record store. Illegal downloading is, well, illegal and unethical for two things. And despite Metallica not always living up to my “standards of metal,” they were completely right about Internet piracy. At this point, you can’t even give away your own music.

Finally, my attention span is about half of what it was 20 years ago, when I would come home from work and make a conscious decision about what album to put on while making dinner. Selecting a record was just as important, in some cases much more important, than what television show I might watch later, or what book I might read before going to bed, and equally meaningful as what I would be having for dinner. In my life, I would listen to albums the way people today download entire seasons of Breaking Bad from Netflix and watch each episode in a three-day marathon, pausing only for trips to the bathroom and paying the pizza delivery guy.

That last difference in experience is the crux of the 1001 gambit.

1001_PiperIf the ultimate goal is to increase your knowledge, perspective and appreciation of popular music, the easiest way to deal with this Must Hear deal is so simple it’s almost dumb. Almost every major artist has a Greatest Hits collection, and in many cases, it’s what you wind up listening to. But it’s a total cop-out and precisely why a book like 1001 Albums has to exist. I don’t want to sound like an Old Man, but the art of listening to an album has been hijacked by time. It’s one thing to say, “Yes, I’m familiar with Pink Floyd’s work.” But it’s quite another thing to say, “Piper at the Gates of Dawn is by far [Pink Floyd’s] best album.”

We now begin parsing the list in chronological order.

Key:
Strikethrough indicates what you probably think it does
Green indicates highly recommended listening
Underlined indicates questionable but ultimately acceptable record
Blue bold italic indicates MUST HEAR BEFORE YOU DIE

Albums You Must Hear From the 1950s…Or Not

  1. Frank Sinatra – In The Wee Small Hours (1955)
  2. Duke Ellington – Ellington At Newport (1956)
  3. Elvis Presley – Elvis Presley (1956)
  4. Frank Sinatra – Songs For Swingin’ Lovers! (1956)
  5. Louvin Brothers – Tragic Songs Of Life (1956)
  6. Miles Davis – Birth Of the Cool (1956)

1001_Elvis_1956Ooh, this not a good sign, or is it? Two out of the first six albums get cut, supporting my contention that a third of these albums are not Must Hear stuff. Relax. It’s a long fucking list. The problem here is Sinatra and Davis with two albums apiece, which is unnecessary. I’m not kidding.

First of all, Frank Sinatra hated rock n’ roll, which he said was, quote, “sung, played, and written for the most part by cretinous [sic] goons. It manages to be the martial music of every side-burned delinquent on the face of the earth.” End quote.

Sigh. What a dick. But you still need to hear at least one Sinatra album all the way through. I don’t know why, you just do. But In the Wee Small Hours is not it. Songs for Swingin’ Lovers! isn’t a better listen, but I’m partial to album titles with stupid punctuation, especially an exclamation point.

As for Davis, Birth of the Cool isn’t quite as good as Kind of Blue (1959, #22), and doesn’t feature John Coltrane on sax. I dunno. Maybe it’s impossible to compare them. It’s fucking trumpet music, man; a bunch of tappity-tap-tap-SQUAWK-SCREECH-more-tappity-tap. Plus, Birth of the Cool a smug title. I’m giving it the axe. Try and stop me.

Suggested alternatives: One of the following artists of the era that unbelievably DO NOT have a record on the list:
Chuck Berry, Chet Atkins, Les Paul, Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, Jackie Wilson, Art Blakely, John Fahey, Ornette Coleman, Bill Haley and His Comets, or Nat King Cole

1001_LouvinMeanwhile, there’s a better than average chance that you haven’t heard of the Louvin Brothers, and there’s an even better chance that you’ve never heard their second album, Tragic Songs of Life, which covers so much musical ground – folk, gospel, hillbilly, and bluegrass—it might be the only country record you would need to hear for almost another decade, which also explains why you can skip that Marty Robbins nonsense, too (see #21). In fact, and I write this without a trace of hipster irony, if you get a genuine kick out of Tragic, I highly recommend Satan Is Real (1959).

  1. Count Basie – The Atomic Mr. Basie (1957)
  2. Fats Domino – This Is Fats (1957)
  3. Little Richard – Here’s Little Richard (1957)
  4. Louis Prima – The Wildest (1957)
  5. Machito – Kenya (1957)
  6. Sabu Martinez – Palo Congo (1957)

1001_MachitoThe Machito record is a perfect example of the editor (Robert Dimery) trying to be inclusive. While Kenya is perfectly good Latin jazz music, I don’t know that you absolutely have to hear entire albums from Louis Prima, Sabu Martinez, Tito Puente and Machito. It’s fucking overkill. Too many deserving artists have been sacrificed to make room for these cats. Where’s Django Reinhardt, for chrissakes? He may have died in 1953, but his record company was still pumping out albums, for instance, Django’s Guitar (1956). Anyway, in this case, I would pick one jazzbo platter (Louis Prima, New Orleans jazz) and skip the other three, unless you have ulterior motives.

  1. Buddy Holly and the Crickets – The Chirping Crickets (1957)
  2. Thelonious Monk – Brilliant Corners (1957)
  3. Billie Holiday – Lady In Satin (1958)
  4. Ramblin’ Jack Elliott – Jack Takes The Floor (1958)

1001_BuddyBuddy Holly doesn’t get near enough credit for setting the rock n’ roll template of two guitars, bass, and drums, in addition to making rock music palatable for white audiences, who breathed a collective sigh of relief when they learned that the dude singing “Not Fade Away” was a gangly, four-eyed white boy from Texas.

Jack Takes the Floor is a tough one because I hadn’t listened to the whole thing until very recently, and can’t say I’m in a hurry to do it again. However, if we employ the domino theory: American folk music as we know it probably doesn’t exist if not for Ramblin’ Jack. The previous domino to fall was Woody Guthrie. Fortunately, Jack picked up where Woody left off. If you like folk, you’re going to be all over this like bad breath. If you don’t like folk, cross it off. If you aren’t sure you even know what “folk” is, by all means, give it a spin.

  1. Sarah Vaughan – Sarah Vaughan At Mister Kelly’s (1958)
  2. Tito Puente & His Orchestra – Dance Mania Vol. 1 (1958)
  3. Dave Brubeck Quartet – Time Out (1959)

Sarah Vaughn was arguably the most gifted jazz vocalist of the era, if not for Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday. Fortunately for us, unfortunately for Sarah Vaughn fans, we’ve just heard Lady in Satin, and Ella’s up next, so I’d personally be jazzed out at this point. As good as Vaughn is, I’d pass on At Mister Kelly’s.

We’ve already discussed (briefly) Tito Puente, but Dance Mania is something you might put on as background music if you were hosting a dinner party with a Spanish tapas theme. Thanks for inviting me. Food is great! Listen, would you mind explaining to me how the fuck this list does not contain any Chuck Berry? How is that possible?

They say Brubeck’s Time Out is the first jazz record to sell a million copies, and I say it’s got two sweet jams and the rest is filler. I dunno. It’s not the worst record you could put on while doing the dishes. If you dig Vince Guaraldi’s soundtrack for Peanuts, this record will blow your mind. The first two-minutes of “Blue Rondo a la Turk” are great fun, until it dissolves into rote sax and piano solos over a lumbering bass line. “Take Five” was the big hit and should be part of your vocabulary already.

  1. Ella Fitzgerald – Sings The Gershwin Song Book (1959)
  2. Marty Robbins – Gunfighter Ballads And Trail Songs (1959)
  3. Miles Davis – Kind Of Blue (1959)
  4. Ray Charles – The Genius Of Ray Charles (1959)
Net Reduction of Albums for the Period: 6
Suggested alternatives: 0
Running AYMHBYD Total: 1,006

1960-1964

  1. Elvis Presley – Elvis Is Back! (1960)
  2. Everly Brothers – A Date With the Everly Brothers (1960)
  3. Joan Baez – Joan Baez (1960)

1001_EverlyYou need exactly two minutes and thirty-two seconds of “Silver Dagger” to absorb everything you need to know about Joan Baez. I don’t care if she paid Bob Dylan’s rent for two years; she bores me to tears, like staring at a blank wall. At the same time, no Joan Baez: no Jewel, no Ani DiFranco, no Lisa Loeb, etc. This is one of those records I would search for in cut-out and 99-cent bins, just so I could buy and physically destroy the disc, lest any other poor kid stumbled upon it and said, “Hey, she looks like Devendra Banhart, kind of,” and the kid takes it home and next thing you know, he’s taking guitar lessons, too. The only good Joan Baez record is a non-existent Joan Baez record.

  1. Miriam Makeba – Miriam Makeba (1960)

1001_MiriamSo-called “world music” is very hit-or-miss. I don’t know about you, but if a cut has vocals in a foreign language, I’m much more inclined to tune out. The music better be something really interesting, or I’m on to the next sound. So it’s kind of nice when you stumble upon a Miriam Makeba, who was much more than simply a singer. You should check her out. I was impressed. [As mentioned in the introduction, I had never heard of Makeba until very recently.] Anyway, she’s known for an infectious little number called “Pata Pata”, which isn’t on this record, but her best work was done with Henry Belafonte, who is not on this list, either as a member of Kingston Trio or as a solo performer, and that ain’t right. So what I’m suggesting here is compromise. Skip this one and have a listen to An Evening with Belafonte/Makeba (1965).

  1. Muddy Waters – Muddy Waters At Newport (1960)

For the majority of his career, like most postwar bluesman, Muddy released double-sided singles. All this changed in 1960 when Chess released Sings Big Bill Broonzy, followed by At Newport, which is a fantastic record, but… The single versions of his greatest hits (“Mannish Boy”, “Hootchie Cootchie Man”, “I’m Ready”, “Got My Mojo Working”, etc.) are far superior to what you’re going to hear on this record. [Note: “Mannish Boy aka Manish Boy” was not performed at Newport, hence, not on the record.] For casual listeners, a singles compilation with the original version of “Mannish Boy” recorded in Chicago on May 24, 1955, is the way to go. But it absolutely has to be that original version of the song; otherwise, you’ll never hear Muddy Waters.

1001_Mannish_BoyWaters recorded several versions of “Mannish Boy” during his career. In 1968, he recorded and decidedly “rock n’ roll” version for Electric Mud. After he left Chess, it was recorded on Hard Again (1977), produced by Johnny Winter, and the version featured in Goodfellas scene: Last time Henry mixes the coke at Sandy’s place; dinner at the Hill’s with children, Lois, and brother Michael (“Don’t let the sauce stick”).

  1. Bill Evans – Sunday At The Village Vanguard (1961)

I love jazz. Don’t get the wrong impression. But we’re in a major period of transition. Rock n’ roll is here to stay, baby. The Beatles were already starting to create a buzz, Elvis was making movies, American blues artists were touring Europe to sell-out crowds, and you’re not going to hear shit about jazz after 1964. It’s not like it ceased to exist. It ceased to matter. Pretty soon the genre of jazz would splinter like a disposable chopstick. Anyway, that’s an issue for a later entry, and what we may or may not be listening to is probably the greatest traditional jazz pianist of the era. But I don’t know how much piano music you can stomach before you feel like you’re in the atrium of a shopping mall. At the Village Vanguard is, again, one of those records constantly referred to as the “best ever,” and when it comes to jazz trios, you’re skating a very thin margin. Plus, that’s Evans on Kind of Blue.

  1. Jimmy Smith – Back At The Chicken Shack (1961)
  2. Booker T & The MGs – Green Onions (1962)
  3. Ray Charles – Modern Sounds In Country And Western Music (1962)

1001_Jimmy_ChickenshackAdmission: I had never heard of Jimmy Smith until the Beastie Boys sampled his jam “I’m Gonna Love You Just a Little More, Babe” on Check Your Head (“Professor Booty”, 1992). Chicken Shack is comprised of four long but unbelievably cool jams (the CD has an extra track), and coincidentally, would be the perfect musical segue into one of my personal favorite instrumental records ever made, Green Onions.

Shocking, perhaps, to cut Sweet Baby Ray out of the mix, but we’ve already got The Genius Of… (#23), and that’s plenty. Modern Sounds is actually an exceedingly fantastic record, but we could live without it. Neither of these two records contain any of Charles’ biggest hits, by the way, so if you’re itching for some “Hit the Road, Jack” or “Let’s Go Get Stoned”, you’d be better off owning a Greatest Hits collection.

  1. Stan Getz & Charlie Byrd – Jazz Samba (1962)
  2. Charles Mingus – The Black Saint And The Sinner Lady (1963)

One of these two records had to go, and it was literally a coin-toss, since I’ve listened to each record exactly one time, and neither changed my life or my outlook on improvisational jazz. Though it’s debatably a more palatable record, Mingus winds up the keeper, mainly because of a personal distaste for anything samba-related, music and/or otherwise. Plus, Getz shows up later in the collaboration that produced “Girl From Ipanema.”

  1. James Brown – Live At The Apollo (1963)

Does anything else need to be said about this album? No.

  1. Phil Spector – A Christmas Gift For You (1963)

1001_Philspector_XmasFuck Phil Spector and Christmas music. Both suck. I would have scratched every record Spector had anything to do with, but mercifully, there’s only one other album on the list. If you think I’m kidding, just wait until we get to 1970. You’re in for quite a surprise.

  1. Ray Price – Night Life (1963)
  2. Sam Cooke – Live At The Harlem Square (1963)

If you spend and-slash-or have spent any amount of time in a real-deal, old school dive bar, you know Ray Price like the Colonel knows chicken. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve berated other drunks for playing Sinatra on the jukebox when Price’s Night Life is right next to the Sinatra best-of in the CD carousel. You want to hear something classy? You’re not down with this rock n’ roll shit, Pops? Fine. Start with Ray Price.

Sam Cooke Recording at RCA StudiosCooke’s Harlem Square was a slam-dunk until I realized that we’re not going to be hearing from a busload of great soul singers, starting with Jackie Wilson. At the same time, Cooke was one of the dominoes that made guys like Otis Redding and Marvin Gaye possible. Harlem Square is a fine album, and should stand as a reminder to modern musicians that guys like Sam Cooke just used to get up on stage, some dude would plant a microphone in the middle of the hall, and they’d rip through the set. This is what a live album used to be and is supposed to be. On the other hand, 1001 AYMHBYD tried to pull a fast one on us. While Harlem Square was recorded in 1963, it wasn’t released until 1985. So if you were sitting around in late 1964 thinking, “Damn, Sam Cooke just got shot. I wish he had put out a live album before he died,” well, you were shit out of luck.

  1. The Beatles – With The Beatles (1963)
  2. Bert Jansch – Bert Jansch (1964)

1001_Bert-JanschI’ve said it before but it bears repetition. Jimmy Page, guitar maestro of Led Zeppelin, flat-out stole acoustic guitar riffs from Bert Jansch. Do you recall that sweet picking on “Going to California”? It comes from Jansch’s “Needle of Death”. Are you familiar with the gentle melodies of “That’s the Way”? It’s almost a direct lift of Jansch’s “The Time Has Come.” At some point, Page is going to die, and everybody is going to eulogize him as one of the greatest guitar players of all-time. And nobody is going to mention Bert Jansch. Here’s what Jimmy Page said about Jansch’s first record:

“At one point, I was absolutely obsessed with Bert Jansch. When I first heard that LP, I couldn’t believe it. It was so far ahead of what everyone else was doing. No one in America could touch that.”

Have a quick listen and see if it sounds familiar. It should:

  1. Bob Dylan – The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (1964)
  2. Dusty Springfield – A Girl Called Dusty (1964)

All right, all right. Take it easy. Chill out. There will be plenty of Dylan headed your way in a couple of years. Actually, the Dylan album you really should hear, Another Side of Bob Dylan (1964) didn’t even make the list.

Dusty Springfield? Haha.

  1. Jacques Brel – Olympia 64 (1964)

You don’t need to hear an actual Brel record because literally every decent cut in his catalog has been covered (and done better) by artists from David Bowie to Belinda Carlisle. Yes, that’s right. The lead singer of the Go-Go’s did an entire album in French, Voila, which includes Brel’s “Ne Me Quitte Pas (Don’t Leave Me).” You don’t need to hear that, either, but it is a good song, and a fine example of Brel’s writing prowess. As a performer, his morose chansonnier (singer-songwriter) style of crooning is exactly the type of shit I wish didn’t exist in the first place. Next domino in line: Leonard Cohen.

  1. John Coltrane – A Love Supreme (1964)
  1. Solomon Burke – Rock ‘N’ Soul (1964)

1001_ColtraneThe Solomon Burke album is sort of a “cool, obscure” selection, and something the serious audiophile would have in his collection, but for the everyman, forget it. Sure, it’s a fun record and you might even wind up liking it.

  1. Stan Getz & Joao Gilberto – Getz/Gilberto (1964)
  2. The Beatles – A Hard Day’s Night (1964)

We’re in for a Fukushima-scale meltdown with all these fucking Latin jazz/samba bullshit entries, I’m just warning you. With Getz/Gilberto, we have officially reached my capacity for “Girl From Ipanema” bossa nova music, and I’m washing my hands of this Stan Getz character. Furthermore, Coltrane just destroyed what was left of saxophone music. Put it this way, no Stan Getz: no Kenny G.

  1. The Rolling Stones – The Rolling Stones (1964)

This is bound to rankle some feathers, but you don’t need to start listening to the Stones’ albums until they started writing their own jams, which didn’t happen until 1966’s Aftermath.

In order to validate this decision, I’m going to take the unusual step (for this essay) of providing the entire track listing for the U.S. version of the album (re-titled England’s Newest Hit Makers).

1001_rolling-stonesSide One
  1. “Not Fade Away” (Charles Hardin/Norman Petty)
  2. “Route 66″ (Bobby Troup)
  3. “I Just Want to Make Love to You” (Willie Dixon)
  4. “Honest I Do” (Jimmy Reed)
  5. “Now I’ve Got a Witness” (Nanker Phelge)
  6. “Little by Little” (Phelge/Phil Spector)
Side Two
  1. “I’m a King Bee” (Slim Harpo)
  2. “Carol” (Chuck Berry)
  3. “Tell Me” (Mick Jagger/Keith Richards)
  4. “Can I Get a Witness” (Brian Holland/Lamont Dozier/Eddie Holland)
  5. “You Can Make It If You Try” (Ted Jarrett)
  6. “Walking the Dog” (Rufus Thomas)

If you can honestly say, “Hell yes, I need to hear this!” then you’re either a die-hard Stones fan, or Bob Ryan of Bob and Ron’s Record Club. By far the most overwhelming characteristic of this record is the fact that they aren’t the Beatles. They have the same ideas and the same basic instrumentation, but the jams aren’t there. This bratty, sneering version of Willie Dixon’s “I Just Want to Make Love to You” is the worst I’ve ever heard.

1001_Chuck_Berry_St_Louis_To_LiverpoolAnd another thing. Every single Chuck Berry song on the list was performed by white artists. If the Beatles thought enough of him to put “Roll Over Beethoven” on their first record, and the Stones’ very first single (“Come On”) was a Chuck tune, why isn’t Chuck on the list? Because he was a convicted felon? Can’t be. He’s got some company in that department. Because he was allegedly a dirty pervert? Half the fuckers on this list were needle-fiend degenerates. Chuck Berry was rock n’ roll before it existed. I’m not going to listen to this half-assed, second-hand Stones bullshit.

Net Reduction of Albums for the Period: 10
Suggested Alternatives: 1
Running AYMHBYD Total: 997

1965-1966

  1. B.B. KingLive At The Regal (1965)

You read the Muddy Waters entry, right? Same deal here, except B.B. never really had Muddy’s raw magnetism. B.B. was more of a gentleman, I suppose. At any rate, this is as good as any record in his catalog. Shrug.

  1. Bob Dylan – Bringing It All Back Home (1965)
  2. Bob Dylan – Highway 61 Revisited (1965)

OK, here you go, kids. Right here and now is where Bob Dylan starts to earn his keep. Both of these albums should be learned by heart.

  1. Buck Owens & His Buckeroos – I’ve Got A Tiger By The Tail (1965)

1001_BuckIf I could recommend a country album to spend an afternoon getting to know, this is it. Aside from the Louvin Brothers, at this stage, country and western music is still Hee Haw, the Grand Ole Opry, and Hank Williams’ rotting corpse in the back of a Buick. And besides, Buck Owens is singularly responsible for the “Bakersfield Sound” that you’re going to be real sick of by the time Merle Haggard puts out his third LP.

  1. Jerry Lee Lewis – Live At The Star Club Hamburg (1965)
  2. Otis Redding - Otis Blue: Otis Redding Sings Soul (1965)
  3. The Beach Boys – The Beach Boys Today! (1965)
  4. The Beatles – Rubber Soul (1965)
  5. The Byrds – Mr. Tambourine Man (1965)

Jerry Lee Lewis should have had some kind of recognition about 30 albums back, but we’ll take this one in consolation. The guy might have been a miserable human being, but he brought the Rock. You’d be at a party and someone would say, “Who’s got the Rock?” And Jerry would say, “I do. Want some?” Other cats had a bit more Roll with them, but Jerry Lee brought the Rock, like I’d bring the guacamole dip to your next Super Bowl party. There’d be enough for the whole fucking subdivision, boss. Honestly, I’ve already made my way through Jerry Lee’s catalog several times over, so I won’t be listening to At the Star Club anytime soon, but it’s always with me, way back there in the closet of my musical memories, right next to Glenn Miller, Buddy Rich, and all the artists who won’t make this list for one reason or another.

Otis Redding is “my” soul singer. As far as I know, Otis Blue was the only “soul” record my parents owned, and thus, very close to my heart.

  1. The Sonics – Here Are The Sonics (1965)

1001_The SonicsYou may not have heard the Sonics, but you have heard at least two dozen American punk and grunge bands that based their entire shtick on this album, including but not limited to the Dead Boys, the Cramps, Mudhoney, Nirvana, White Stripes, Eagles of Death Metal, the list could go on and on—even the Stooges owe almost everything*** they are to the Sonics. Think of this record as killing 36 birds with one stone.

*** See #74

  1. The WhoMy Generation (1965)
  2. 13th Floor Elevators – The Psychedelic Sounds Of The 13th Floor Elevators (1966)

Hailing from Austin, Texas, 13th Floor Elevators were the first band to advertise themselves as “psychedelic.” A groovy band, for sure. Roky Erickson is a legend. The Elevators were at the forefront of psychedelic rock, obviously, which is great in theory, but problematic in practice. There’s no doubt in my mind that if they had Sgt. Pepper’s recording budget (and access to Abbey Road), Psychedelic Sounds would have been one trippy experience. As it stands, it’s much more garage rock than anything else. And that’s OK. Just don’t put this on and expect an early blueprint of Dark Side of the Moon, you know?

  1. Bob Dylan – Blonde On Blonde (1966)
  2. Donovan – Sunshine Superman (1966)

1001_Donovan-Sunshine_SupermanNot a whole bunch of love for this Donovan cat, either. “Mellow Yellow”? OK. Nifty little tune. When people of the age referenced “hippie music,” this is what they were talking about. And it’s funny to me, but whenever I force myself to re-hear this album, which I do from time to time, I can totally imagine a bunch of British dudes sitting around a flat in Chelsea, listening exclusively to Bob Dylan while learning how to roll joints. At the same time, I picture the Manson Family during their idyllic period, all dressed in white Jesus robes, rolling around in a field of daisies, braiding each others hair and listening to Charlie preach. So Donovan gives me mixed messages, and I’m no longer taking his calls.

  1. Fred Neil – Fred Neil (1966)
  2. John Mayall’s Blues Breakers – Blues Breakers With Eric Clapton (1966)
  3. Nina Simone – Wild Is The Wind (1966)
  4. Paul Revere & The Raiders – Midnight Ride (1966)

Fred Neil is a fine songwriter with a nifty baritone voice, best known for “Everybody’s Talkin’” (made famous by Harry Nilsson, featured in the film Midnight Cowboy), and “Dolphins” (covered by Tim Buckley), but he doesn’t deserve an entire album.

John Mayall and Eric Clapton are everything that’s wrong with the Anglo blues movement. These cats didn’t have an original bone in their bodies.

Nina Simone is an intriguing artist, but her shelf life on the turntable is 20 minutes, or exactly one side of Wild is the Wind. Pick one.

Paul Revere & the Raiders would be interesting if they were the only band to release a record in 1966. Obviously, they were not.

  1. Simon & Garfunkel – Parsley, Sage, Rosemary And Thyme (1966)
  2. The Beach Boys – Pet Sounds (1966)
  3. The Beatles – Revolver (1966)
  4. The Byrds – Fifth Dimension (1966)
  5. The Kinks – Face To Face (1966)

1001_ByrdsWe’re going to get a third Byrds record next year, so I’m suggesting caution at this point. To be brutally honest, I think the Byrds – especially on songs like “Mr. Spaceman” – are dangerously close to being over-rated. Fifth Dimension is definitely an experimental leap in a psychedelic direction, but they didn’t stick the landing.

  1. The Mamas & The Papas – If You Can Believe Your Eyes And Ears (1966)
  2. The Mamas & The Papas – The Mamas And The Papas (1966)

1001_MamasWhen I first saw these two entries, I did a Scooby-Doo double-take. First of all, one M&Ps record is way way way over the threshold of necessity. They have three vaguely different jams (“California Dreamin’, “Monday, Monday”, “I Saw Her Again”) and everything else is a lesser version thereof. You might as well sit through the entire soundtrack to Hair.

Suggested Alternatives: None, really. Take up a hobby. Solve an intricate puzzle. Go for a walk without your iPod. Bake a batch of cookies. Spend the two hours doing something constructive.
  1. The Monks – Black Monk Time (1966)

Remember what I just said about the Sonics? I’m telling you, this record will cut your head off. I don’t even want to talk about it. You must listen to this album. And when you’re done listening, put your head back on your shoulders and read the Monks’ biography. Bad. Ass. Dudes.

  1. Frank Zappa and the Mothers Of Invention – Freak Out! (1966)
  2. The Rolling Stones – Aftermath (1966)
  3. The Yardbirds – The Yardbirds aka Roger the Engineer (1966)

Holy Christ! Did I already go on a rant about these British Invasion “blues” bands? Not yet? OK. It’s coming, for sure. Anyway, this Yardbirds record is pretty cool and that’s Jeff Beck on guitar. But I don’t think anybody needs a history lesson here.

Net Reduction of Albums for the Period: 6
Suggested Alternatives: 0
Running AYMHBYD Total: 991

Up Next: 1001 Albums You Must Hear From 1967-1968…Or Not

1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die…Or Not – The Introduction

11 Feb
1001_cover_Over the years I’ve grown exceedingly skeptical and often dismissive of almost any article, book, or list that promotes something the reader “must do.” You don’t have to do anything. However, if you’re interested in the development of rock music as an artistic, historical and/or social movement, there are more than 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, as declared by the popular coffee table reference book edited by Robert Dimery. In fact, if you really want to know your stuff, there are 10,000 albums you need to be familiar with before you can join the conversation.

Originally published in 2005, 1001 Albums was revised in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2013 to include newly released albums. The 2010 edition, on which this essay is based, features 1,047 albums. In the meantime, several “clone” versions of the list have popped up online, most notably this one found on Listology.com, the only website that I’m aware of that openly “enables your OCD, one post at a time [sic].”

Although most of the book’s recommendations are rock and pop albums from the Western world, Dimery’s 1001 AYMHBYD features selections from world music, jazz, R&B, blues, folk, hip hop, country, and electronic music. The rock and pop albums include such subgenres as punk rock, hardcore, heavy metal, alternative rock, progressive rock, easy listening, thrash metal, grunge and 1950s-style rock and roll, i.e., rockabilly. Classical and modern art music is excluded.

Click here for the complete 2010 list of 1,047 albums. Warning: It’s a long scroll to the bottom.

At least half of the records listed in the book are absolutely essential listening for anyone who enjoys music; but taken as a whole, the selections represent what contemporary critics consider outstanding records from the abovementioned genres at pivotal times in their emergence and popularity. In some cases, the record You Must Hear Before You Die may not be the artist’s best album, hence, the one you really should, as opposed to must hear.

KingsFor example, 1001 AYMHBYD includes Adam and the Ants, Kings of the Wild Frontier (1980; #457) ostensibly for a couple of reasons. First, it’s a killer record, no matter what you think of the fruity pirate costumes and racially insensitive face paint. Every song is a champion. Second, it represents a very important moment in the evolution of punk and new wave as those genres morphed into what we now call post-punk and alternative. Thus, Kings deserves to be on this list because of its impact on rock music at a certain point in time. 1001 AYMHBYD got this one right, sort of.

The problem? Kings is NOT Adam and the Ants’ best record.

Dirk OriginalThat honor would belong to their first record, Dirk Wears White Socks (1979), which came before Malcolm MacLaren and the silly suits. Moreover, I would argue that their third album, Prince Charming was as good as anything else that came out in 1981, and for my money, is a fascinating listening experience worthy of inclusion on the list. But I didn’t make the list or edit the book. If I did, I guarantee things would be different.

The fact of the matter is—according to my 40-plus years of listening experience—you do not need to listen to at least a third of the records on this list for any reason. Seriously, all my blustering solipsism* aside, your life will still be complete if you haven’t heard Metallica’s And Justice for All (1988). And nobody needs to hear a single note of Goldfrapp’s Felt Mountain (2001). Now we’re at 1,045 and counting…

*sol·ip·sism n. (sŏl′ĭp-sĭz′əm, sō′lĭp-)
  1. (Philosophy) The theory that the self is the only thing that can be known and verified.
  2. The view that the self is the only reality.

One day I printed out the 1001 list and took an honest survey – crossing off the records I had heard, and circling the ones I’d never even heard of. My “listened-to” rate hovered just around 60% (633 out of 1,047), which I’m guessing would be on the high end of the layman’s scale. Bob and Ron of Bob and Ron’s Record Club would probably fall somewhere in the 85-90% range, I reckon.

Anyway, in order for a record to be crossed of the list, I had to have made a conscious (or otherwise) effort to listen to the complete album; thus, partial listens were discounted. For instance, I have heard music from the following 1001 artists, but never sat through an entire album’s worth of jams:

Kanye West, Tortoise, The KLF, Dagmar Krause, The La’s, Adverts, The Julie Ruin, Doves, Bees, Liars, Boards of Canada, Libertines, The Icarus Line, Calexico, Stereo MCs, Coldcut, The Triffids, Hanoi Rocks, Go Betweens, Young Gods, The Sabres of Paradise, Rocket from the Crypt, Barry Adamson, The Divine Comedy, Middle Class Heroes, Leftfield, Goldie, Super Furry Animals, and Fatboy Slim

1001_HanoiAfter sampling work by all of the above 32 artists, I can safely say that I did not need to hear any of it—especially Kanye West, Doves, and Leftfield—except for the purpose and context of writing this piece. And I was really on the fence about Hanoi Rocks, but honestly, the reason they never made it big is because they didn’t really have any memorable jams. Sorry.

Here’s the rub: Hanoi Rocks is arguably an important stepping stone between 70s glam rock (Sweet, New York Dolls) and 80s hair metal (Poison, Guns n’ Roses). Plus, they’re from Finland. And the drummer (Razzle) was killed in the 1984 Vince Neil drunk driving incident. However, all of this simply does not add up to sitting through Back to Mystery City (1983) from start to finish. If you had to sit through an entire album, their Best Of collection would be more than enough of a challenge.

So we’re down to 1,013 albums we must hear before we croak and I feel a bit lighter already. How about you? Let us proceed.

Frankly, a thousand is still a lot of records. At today’s prices, that’s a minimum $10,000 investment. That’s also a lot of time. And so, this where someone like me comes in handy. I’m here to help.

Now, the point isn’t to randomly assassinate a bunch of albums. The idea is to cover as much ground as possible while taking in the major sights. At the same time, I want to gently suggest a substitution whenever possible, as demonstrated by the Human League Dilemma.

The Human League Dilemma

As I went through the list, I came across a bunch of records that I’d heard more than just the “big hit.” For example, Human League – Dare (1982; AYMHBYD #492, and one of a handful of synthpop records to make a significant impact on the Billboard charts prior to the Eurythmics).

1001_Dare-coverDare’s appeal and success can be boiled down to its enduring MTV-era smash hit, “Don’t You Want Me (Baby)”, which I begrudgingly admit, is kind of a cool song. With the exception of a minor hit in “Love Action (I Believe in Love)”, the rest of Dare was vaguely familiar to me, i.e., I never owned the record, but I knew people who did.

OK, so I’m sitting there thinking, “Yup, this book says I must hear Human League’s third studio album on A&M Records…in its entirety.”

YouTube, do your thing! Not even 30 seconds into the first cut, “The Things That Dreams Are Made Of”, I’ve realized that I’ve made a terrible mistake. And I still haven’t heard Dare in its entirety, and I hope I never do.

1001_GaryLook, you should be familiar with synthpop as a genre, which theoretically could start and end with Gary Numan – Pleasure Principle (1979; #435). Or Tubeway Army’s first record, or maybe even the first three Ultravox records, which weren’t always very synthy or poppy, but still really good.

Go ahead and enjoy “Don’t You Want Me (Baby)” whenever the house DJ gives it a spin. Shake your ass like a fool. That’s fine. Just don’t waste your time slogging through Dare or a thousand other horrible synthpop records, c.g. by artists such as ABC, Spandau Ballet, Orchestra Maneuvers in the Dark, and Soft Cell, etc. Life is far too short.

Of course, there are even more albums on the list that I would wipe out on principle alone, rather than artistic merit or what-have-you. Records in hindsight that didn’t really do me any good. I probably didn’t need to hear Culture Club’s Colour By Numbers or Duran Duran’s Rio (1983), and I honestly don’t believe anybody else had to hear ‘em, either. However, these albums serve as a point of reference, a beacon of warning: Do not go any further in that particular direction or risk Kajagoogoo. Kajagoogoo, very bad. You don’t want Kajagoogoo; it’s terminal.

All right, phew. Now we’re down to a mere 1,012.

Meanwhile, there were approximately 100 albums and/or artists that I was entirely unfamiliar with, as in, I had never even heard or seen their names, such as Baaba Maal, Miriam Makeba, Koffi Olomide, Nitin Sawhney, Fever Ray, Wild Beasts, Mylo, Abdullah Ibrahim, and Machito. You should probably go ahead and give them a spin, out of curiosity if nothing else, but we’ll get to them eventually.

To demonstrate how the rest of this multi-part essay will unfold, let’s take a random year from 1001 AYMHBYD, 1974, one of my favorite years in music, and run it through the BSM-5000 bullshit detector.

Review Key:
Strikethrough indicates what you probably think it does
Bold indicates highly recommended listening
Underlined indicates questionable but ultimately acceptable record
Bold italic indicates MUST HEAR BEFORE YOU DIE
Note: All suggested alternatives are from the same year as the contested entry.

Albums You Must Hear From 1974…Or Not

  1. 10cc – Sheet Music (1974)

10cc 210cc is terribly under-rated and sadly pigeonholed by the soft-rock stylings of their biggest hit “I’m Not in Love”, which is not on Sheet Music, a delightfully adventurous work of pop genius, and one of the records that makes 1974 such a unique year in music.

  1. Bad Company – Bad Company (1974)

1001_BadCompanyBad Company had a couple of solid jams. They were a good-to-very good band that stayed within the narrow confines of underachieving hard rock. Some people say Paul Rodgers is one of the all-time great rock vocalists. But an entire album of Bad Company? Nope. You shouldn’t even sit through a Greatest Hits collection. Having made several long-distance road trips with exactly three cassettes in the car and a tape deck that didn’t have auto-reverse, I can think of a bunch of circumstances where Bad Company might be one of the only albums you have on hand, and thus, you’d almost be forced to listen to it all the way through. Otherwise, just tune into the local classic rock radio station and wait for “Can’t Get Enough” to come on, and keep stuffing that Carl’s Jr. double cheeseburger into your face.

Suggested alternative(s):
Rush – Rush
1001_SweetSweet – Desolation Boulevard
[EXTRA-CURRICULAR EDIT: Thinking in terms of economy, I promised myself that I wouldn’t comment on suggested alternatives, but I can’t help myself in this case. Desolation Boulevard is a fantastic and delightful slice of hard-ass rock and power pop layer cake, which I would recommend on the basis of the drums alone – both in terms of performance and production. Now, you have to be careful on this one: there are two separate releases (U.K. and U.S. – the latter didn’t hit the shelves until 1975), and four different reissue packages, the latest coming in 2005. That’s the one you want, since it contains bonus tracks including one of the greatest songs nobody ever heard for some unknown reason, “Teenage Rampage”. Seriously, every time I listen to it, I think, “How was this not bigger than ‘Ballroom Blitz’?”]

  1. Bob Dylan – Blood On The Tracks (1974)

Spoiler Alert: There are four Bob Dylan albums on the list preceding Blood on the Tracks, so you’ve already heard the best this of what this cat has to offer. To my ears, BOTT is one tedious, 51-minute song. Enjoy the first two or three choruses of “Tangled Up in Blue” and get this fucker off the turntable.

  1. Brian Eno – Here Come the Warm Jets (1974)

Here Come the Warm Jets (1974)

I’m not one of those cats who think Brian Eno is King Midas. He has produced both U2 and Coldplay. Obviously, he has flaws and questionable judgment. But Eno’s first three solo records are albums you must hear before you die if there’s ever been such a thing. Run, don’t walk to iTunes and download Here Come the Warm Jets, now.

Wait a minute, you know what else was released in 1974 but didn’t make the list? Eno’s second solo LP, Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy), regarded by some critics and enthusiasts as the superior effort.

  1. Dennis Wilson – Pacific Ocean Blue (1974)

1001_DennisThe only reason this record might be heard in its entirety is to make sure you didn’t miss out on any type of musical genius. You didn’t. Though it has garnered a certain cult appreciation among Beach Boy fans and neo-hipster vinyl nerds, Pacific Ocean Blue has few highlights, despite contributions from James Jamerson on bass, Hal Blaine on drums, and Robert Lamm (Chicago) on backing vocals. You can take a turd to the beach, but you can’t make it surf.

  1. Eric Clapton – 461 Ocean Blvd (1974)

Did you know that Clapton’s cover of Bob Marley and the Wailers’ “I Shot the Sheriff” is his only #1 hit on Billboard’s Hot 100? Nearly a decade later, “Tears in Heaven” went to #1 on the Adult Contemporary chart, but stalled at #2 on the Hot 100. Anyway, “Sheriff” and “Motherless Children” are the only two jams on 461 worth repeated spins. Clapton never should have quit heroin, not that he was anything special as junkie.

  1. Gene Clark – No Other (1974)

1001_Gene_ClarkMeanwhile, Gene Clark was probably the best songwriter in the Byrds (“I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better” and “Eight Miles High”), but his solo stuff is tiresome, especially this cardboard pastiche of country, gospel, and half-hearted boogie. Therefore, I’ve listened to No Other so you don’t have to. According to Pitchfork, in 2013 the album was performed live, note-for-note by a “supergroup” featuring: Beach House, plus members of Fleet Foxes, Grizzly Bear, and the Walkmen. Enough said.

  1. Genesis – Lamb Lies Down On Broadway (1974)

LambThe main reason we don’t have time for the likes of Clapton and Clark is that we’re going to be lost in this double-disc concept album for the next six months.

  1. George Jones – The Grand Tour (1974)
  2. Gil Scott-Heron & Brian Jackson – Winter In America (1974)
  3. Herbie Hancock – Head Hunters (1974)

Come on, seriously? Who has time for George Jones or Gil-Scott Heron in 1974? Honky-tonk bartenders and finger-snapping poets in red berets, that’s who. Herbie Hancock is a phenomenal musician, but the only Herbie anybody needs in their life is the 1969 soundtrack for the Bill Cosby animated children’s television show Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids. And “Rockit” wouldn’t come out for another decade or so. Hancock’s Head Hunters marks the spot where jazz-funk fusion bands started recognizing themselves in the mirror, and didn’t like what they saw.

  1. Joni Mitchell – Court And Spark (1974)
  2. Kraftwerk – Autobahn (1974)
  3. Neil Young – On the Beach (1974)
  4. Queen – Queen II (1974)
  5. Queen – Sheer Heart Attack (1974)

1001_Queen_SheerThe preceding are all albums you should hear more than once, and I don’t even like Joni Mitchell, or Neil Young’s On the Beach, which has three songs with “Blues” in the title, a massive boner-kill as far as I’m concerned.

Here’s something mildly interesting about 1974; a bunch of major artists released two studio albums during the calendar year: Brian Eno, Queen, King Crimson, Bob Dylan, Dolly Parton, Sweet, Miles Davis, and Harry Nilsson all doubled-up, and several others (Elton John, David Bowie, etc.) released one studio album and one live and/or best of collection.

  1. Randy Newman – Good Old Boys (1974)
  2. Richard & Linda Thompson – I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight (1974)
  3. Robert Wyatt – Rock Bottom (1974)

If not for consideration of the reader, all three records should be cut. You could essentially pick any Randy Newman album and give it a spin. This cat has one gear: Randy. Everything he does, from “Rednecks” to “Short People” to “I Love L.A.” is Randy. I don’t need that much Randy in my life.

Critics adore Richard & Linda Thompson records. I think their music sucks, hard. The only reason I want you to listen to Bright Lights Tonight is so you can see just how fucking obtuse music critics can be. They love this album. Let’s see if you can figure out why. I sure can’t.

1001_RwrockbottomWyatt’s Rock Bottom has a fairly interesting back-story. While in preparation for recording the album, an inebriated Wyatt fell from a third-floor bathroom window and was paralyzed from the waist down, a condition persisting to this day. Nevertheless, within six months, Wyatt was back in the recording studio, making Rock Bottom one of the first known rock records to have been primarily recorded by an artist in a wheelchair.

  1. Roxy Music – Country Life (1974)
  2. Sparks – Kimono My House (1974)
  3. Steely Dan – Pretzel Logic (1974)
  4. Stevie Wonder – Fulfillingness’ First Finale (1974)
  5. Supertramp – Crime of the Century (1974)

1001_SparksThese are all standard slam-dunks, with Kimono My House being the ultra-sleeper of the lot. Plus, get Crime of the Century under your belt and you’re done with Supertramp.

  1. Tangerine Dream – Phaedra (1974)

Tangerine Dream is the musical equivalent of watching ice cubes melt in a glass of cold water.

Suggested alternative(s):
KC RedKing Crimson – Starless and Bible Black
King Crimson – Red
  1. Van Morrison – It’s Too Late to Stop Now (1974)

Albums are like vocabulary words. Once you’ve learned ‘em by heart, you can use ‘em in ways to express yourself in myriad situations. Right, so: Aging sucks, man. Whenever I find myself in a spot where Older Me is struggling with something Younger Me could do on two hours of sleep and three hits of acid, for instance, running 5K at a leisurely pace, I think to myself, “Jesus, I’ve got less in the tank than Van Morrison in ‘74.”

It’s Too Late to Stop Now is frequently named one of the “best live albums ever recorded,” and I’m here to tell you that’s complete nonsense. If, in fact, Morrison was at the so-called height of his powers as a live performer, I’d have hated to seen him on an “off” night. In reality, what you’re hearing is the sound of a guy who was done.

And so we’re done. Rock on, 1974, thanks for playing the game. We’ve managed to pare nine albums from our total, added one Must Hear, and suggested four alternatives. But there’s something missing. There is at least one album that absolutely must be on this list. No, it’s not Frank Zappa’s Apostrophe – a great record for sure, but not essential. What could it be?

Big Star – Radio City (1974)

1001_Radio CityConceived by the U.S. Administration during the Cold War, the domino theory speculated that if one state in a region came under the influence of communism, then the surrounding countries would follow in a domino effect. Wikipedia couldn’t make it any simpler for us.

The domino theory is frequently applied to music when people argue about who’s the best so-n-so. At some point in the conversation, somebody will kick over the first domino. “You know, if there was no Little Richard, there would be no Beatles.” Etcetera.

One thing is for certain. There are fewer than a dozen bands like the Velvet Underground who “spawned more bands than they sold records,” and Big Star is at least partially responsible for any band that falls within a mile-radius of power pop. Cheap Trick, R.E.M., Wilco, The Replacements and Afghan Whigs collectively owe a massive debt of gratitude to Big Star. Radio City, like their other two records, is chock full of moments where I say to myself, “Oh, so that’s where _________ got that riff. He swiped it from Alex Chilton.”

***

In full disclosure, I had no idea this 1001 thing would turn out to be such a time-consuming pain in the ass. But in my little world, a starting a project like this is akin to jumping off a cliff, or in this case, a really high cliff, in the sense that I will have plenty of time to think about the decision before impact, and more importantly, I can’t change my mind halfway down, and say, “Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.” Unfinished projects haunt my daydreams.

Up Next: 1001 Albums You Must Hear From 1956-1966…Or Not

100 Greatest Rock Songs of All-Time, More or Less

4 Feb
From an informational perspective, opinion-based “Best Of” lists, especially related to music, are generally worthless. For instance, Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs [Of All-Time], contains neither surprise nor revelation, yet abounds in cringe and grimace. Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums is another story altogether, and I’ll get to that some time in the future.

While the online version of 500 Greatest Songs features a nifty introduction from Jay-Z, there isn’t a jam on the list we all haven’t heard 50 times over, and the lesser caveat, of course, is that their selection for Number One (“Like a Rolling Stone”) wouldn’t make my Top 100. How about you? Either way, we’re still consuming the infographic version of junk food.

CheapMore importantly, the question is: How much stock should anyone be willing to put in a list of greatest songs that includes “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor (#492)? And if that wasn’t a kick to the balls, Cheap Trick’s “Surrender” is ranked just slightly higher at #471? The answer is none. You shouldn’t put any stock in this list.

Speaking in the most respectful manner possible, Rolling Stone is an institutional purveyor of music, personality, and culture, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to say their editorial instincts tend toward the double-yellow lines of the two-lane highway. Once an avid reader of the print version, a small percentage of my record purchases may have been swayed by a positive (or negative) review. I read many issues cover-to-over. Their photography was often outstanding.

At the same time, the RS lists offer something in the way of amusement. For the list-maker(s), it’s a genuine opportunity to play God. For the reader, it’s a compulsion to see how your ideas match up with (an)other subjective mind(s). Either way, the static “Best Of” list is far less utilitarian than a recipe for a peanut butter sandwich, neither of which you should need.

celine-dion-facial-expressions-websiteOn the other hand, lists generated by some type of metric, particularly in terms of the marketplace, carry sociological implications so clear and obvious that it’s almost easy to miss them. A list of the top-selling recording artists of the 20th century can tell you almost everything you need to know about humanity. The name “Garth Brooks” says more about lower-middle class sub-urban America than any reality show about life in a trailer park ever could. In short, “Celine Dion” is what’s currently playing in the average elevator of the First World adult brain.

Extra-generally speaking, criteria for Best of All-Time list is based on laissez-faire considerations of initial and lasting popularity, influence, and acclaim. Most emphasize the song’s overall impact on the history of the chosen genre, rather than its “bestness.” A concerted effort usually is made to cover all styles from the various eras of the genre, from its inception to the present, including as many different important artists as possible without compromising the so-called integrity of the rankings.

SteveMillerVennHere at Black Sunshine Media, we’re keen on many types of music, but we prefer rock music over any other, and most sub-genres and/or variations therein are embraced whole-heartedly (click here for an exhaustive list of rock genres (with links to Wikipages for definitions and examples)). Of course, some genres (Italian occult psychedelic rock) are favored above others (Electroclash, etc), but if it falls within any sphere of the Rock Venn Diagram, we’ll give it at least a spin. You wouldn’t believe how excited I get about animatronic rock bands. Did you know there was something called Nintendocore? You do now. Anyway, if you’re not intimately familiar with the rock stylings of Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem, you’re missing out on some of the best entertainment available on this planet.

Anyway, according to my count, the difference between the Greatest Songs of All-Time vs. Greatest Rock Songs of All-Time is approximately 250 songs, e.g. half of the songs on the RS list are not truly Rock Songs. For instance, “Rock Lobster” by the B-52’s (#147) is clearly a rock song. Beyonce’s “Crazy in Love” (#118) is not a rock song. At any rate, 250 is far too many songs to slog through, let alone 500. Meanwhile, one thing that really pisses me off is when lists are inverted, c.g. from 500 to 1, as opposed to 1 through 500, especially online, where you have to scroll through five pages of nonsense to get the Top 100 or so, which is really all I’m interested in anyway.

Here without further ado:

Black Sunshine Media’s 100 Greatest Rock Songs of All-Time, More or Less

SS_Mayhem_011. Whatever You Think is the Best Rock Jam – Your Favorite Artist

2. Just As Good as the Best (Coulda Been #1) – Another Favorite Artist Possibly Featuring a Guest Star

3. This Track Reminds Me of Losing My Virginity – Myriad Good-Time Rock n’ Roll Bands

4. We Used to Listen to This On Acid All the Time – One of Many Artists from the Mid-to-late 20th century

5. It’s Just Such a Great Song – Artist You Really Don’t Care About but Everyone Else Thinks is Something Special

6. Nothing Says Rock n’ Roll Like This Jam – One of the Greatest of the Greats

7. Almost Nothing Else Says Rock n’ Roll Like This Jam – One of the Lesser-Known Greats

8. The Middle Fingers of Both Hands Extended at Arms Length in the Face of Authority – Band With Significant Cultural Impact Despite Being a Complete Sham

9. We Used to Stomp This Beat on the Bleachers During High School Basketball Games - One of the Greats Who Has Since Passed on to the Afterlife
SS_Muppets-Electric-Mayhem_l

10. You’ll Get Asked to Leave for Playing This Riff in a Guitar Shop – Artist Whose Entire Catalog Should Be Retired

11. Oh This Song Makes Me Cry – Most Sensitive Artist You’ll Admit to Liking

12. Basically, My Theme Song - Any One-Hit Wonder from 1960-present

13. Hot Jam From One of the Most Iconic Scenes in American Film History - Artist Who Didn’t Need the Exposure

14. Everybody Loved This Cut the First 34,000 Times They Heard It – Most Unfortunate Artist Who Didn’t Really Make True Rock Music on the List

15. Epic and Cinematic Rock Anthem with a Meaningful and Memorable Chorus - Any Band Who Wasn’t Shot Before They Made Their Combat Rock

16. The Drumbeat That Changed the World – Same Band in #8

17. One of the More Poignant Moments in Rock Music - One of Your Favorite Artists But Clearly Not the Favorite

18. Protest Song About Some Shit I Don’t Care About – Legendary Fraudster Who Clearly Doesn’t Know When Enough is Enough

19. This Song Changed My Life (For Better and For Worse) – Band Who Headlined Your First Live Concert
Chuck_E_01

20. Quite Literally Five Minutes of Chainsaw – Artist Who Was the Best at What He or She Did

21. Gotta Have Some Junk in the Trunk if You’re Gonna Funk – One of Several Legendary Artists With a Major Physical Disability

22. My Go-to Karaoke Jam – One of the Few Openly Gay Artists on This List

23. Semi-Obscure Track, Here For the Indie Cred and Free Pastries – Your Favorite Artist Who Nobody Else Cares About

24. Willfully Obscure Track, Here For a Legitimate Reason – Band You Loved Light Years Before Anybody Else Had Heard of Them

25. No List Would Be Complete Without This Cut – Easily the Most Over-rated Artist in the History of Rock

26. Remember When We Used to Drink Beers Down at the Quarry? - Band Whose Cassette Was Stuck in the Tape Player of Your Buddy’s 1980 Toyota Corolla

27. Eponymous Noun Clause Intended to Imply What This Jam is About – Eponymous Rock Band

28. This Shit Was Well Before My Time, But I Recognize Its Place in the Annals of Rock - One of the Forefathers

29. Crazy Good Guitar Work with Pleasantly Abstract and Yet Brooding Vocals – Probably the Coolest Kids on This List
Chuck_E_03

30. Poorly Veiled Sexual Entendre with a Slamming Beat – Any Number of Bands That Inspired Spinal Tap

31. Song That Defined an Entire Sub-Genre of Rock – Artist With Questionable Taste in Fashion

32. Positively Gorgeous and Harrowing Result of an Interaction Between Musicians and Pharmaceutical Grade Narcotics - Band That Everyone Claims to Love But Couldn’t Name a Song Without Google

33. Another Jam That Defined Another Sub-Genre of Rock – Artist With Impeccable Taste in Album Artwork

34. I Can’t Believe They Let Nike Use This in a Commercial – Immortal Whose Legacy is Controlled By a Corporation

35. Majestic Guitar Jam About a Geographical Location That May or May Not Exist in Real Life – Band Whose Name is Something Equally Ambiguous

36. Any Wedding Band Worth Its Salt Can Play This in Three Different Keys – Grammatically Challenged Artist

37. Song About a Girl Who Was Out of My League – Bunch of Cats Who Could Tell You a Thing or Two About How to Wear an Ascot

38. Another Jam That’s Been Co-Opted for Major American Sporting Events – Band That Has Played Half-Time at the Super Bowl

39. This Generation’s Anthem – Ridiculously Over-Rated Band Who Put Out Two Albums Before the Main Guy Whacked Himself
River_Bottom_Nightmare

40. A Rallying Cry for Disenfranchised Youth - One of the Richest, Most Successful Artists in the History of Rock, Who’s Literally Sitting On Top of a Snowdrift of Money as We Speak

41. I Normally Despise Anything With a Drum Machine, But This Jam is Undeniable – One of Two Artists on This List Who Can Do the Splits

42. Honey Sweetheart Baby Darling Sugar – One of Two Artists Who Flew the Flannel

43. Something About Blowing Shit Up (Who Cares, Let’s Rock) – Power Trio With a Collective IQ of 42

44. Dance Made Popular By the Song Named in Its Honor – Artists With Nickname Based on Their Body Mass

45. A Popular Dessert Item Used as a Euphemism for Pussy - One-Syllable and Highly Flammable Band Popular In the Era of Stone-Washed Denim

46. Fonky Theme From a Movie I’ve Actually Never Seen – Artist Who Went on to Greater Fame as the Voice of a Cartoon Character
Postman

47. Political Yabba-Dabba-Doo – Nebbish Folk Artist With a Noticeable Lisp

48. Animal Metaphor - Mediocre Rock Band with a Chick Singer

49. This Is What They Mean By Hippie Music – Your Dad’s Roommate at Amherst College

50. Who Knew It Was About a Brothel in the American South? – White Artist Who Fronted an All-Black Band and Used the N-word Like I Call Everybody ‘Chief’

51. First, I’m Going to Tell You What I’m Going to Do to Your Genitals, Then I’m Going to Do It, Baby – One-Third of All Bands With Hair

52. The Song That Keeps Bic Lighters in High Demand – Group With Three Too Many Guitar Players

53. So Simple, Yet So Deep – Artist Who Used to Be in an Even More Popular Group

54. I Love Jogging to This Jam – Band Whose Entire Catalog is Comprised of Concept Albums

55. Woman’s Name - Pick One, Any One
ShowBiz_Rockafire_LP

56. People Are Still Arguing About What This Cat is Actually Singing About – Band Modeled After Showbiz Pizza’s Rockafire Explosion!

57. It Comes On the Radio and I Just Can’t Bring Myself to Change the Station – Quirky Singer-Songwriter With a Cult Following, Which is Codespeak For the Record Still Hasn’t Been Certified Gold in the U.S.

58. Surprisingly Punky Little Number – Aging Prog Rockers on the Cusp of a Resurgence

59. If It Were Released Today, This Would Be Considered Mildly Racist, Sexist and/or Misanthropic – Several Bands Between 1960-1975

60. It’s Got a Good Beat and I Can Dance to It – Droll Electronic Band More Famous for Their T-Shirts Than Anything Else

61. Epic Jam Buried on Side Three of a Concept Album – Most Proggy Band on This List

62. The Ultimate Fuck You Song – Female One-Hit Wonder Who Now Frequently Appears in ads for PETA

63. There’s a Very Thin Line Between Straight-Up Country and Country-Rock, and This Cut is Dangerously Close to Crossing It – Band With Only One Guy Who Had the Balls to Sport a Cowboy Hat

64. I’ve Never Once Masturbated Into a Sock, But If I Did, This is the Jam I Would Be Listening To – Just About Every Modern Rock Radio Band from 1991 to the Present Day

65. Mopey Power Ballad and I Know All The Lyrics – Band That Existed Primarily in the Compact Disc Era
Douche

66. Hot-Ass Heavy Metal Cut Nowadays Covered By Ukelele Players on YouTube, Like That’s Something to Be Proud Of, Idiots – Band With Metal in Its Name, Just So You Don’t Get Confused, and Winner of BSM’s Truth in Advertising Award for 1985

67. Some Kind of Forced Penetration With a Blunt Object – Faux Metal Band With the Gayest Frontman of All-Time and an Homophobic Adolescent Fan Base in Abject Denial of Their True Sexuality

68. Put This On After You Get Dumped and You’ll Feel a Little Better – Group Who Would Headline Your Next Birthday Party If You Had a Billion Dollars

69. Foreign Phrase Now Considered Part of the American Lexicon – Arrogant Simp in a Sport Coat
Sony_Fake

70. Primitive Three Chord R&B Number Considered by Most to Be the First Real Rock n’ Roll Song – Bland Middle Stone Age American Artists Who Most Likely Hated Rock n’ Roll

71. Sophomore Year of College – Band Who Folded Before Anyone Could Legitimately Call Them Sell-Outs

72. A.S.N.O.T (Acronym for Something Naughty or Taboo) – One of Several Bands Named After a Comic Book or Vice Versa, I Dunno, The Lead Singer is Drunk and Has a Python Around His Neck

73. Cover Song That Blows the Original Out of the Water – All-Female Group Who Never Had a Bigger Hit

74. One Chord, One Word in the Chorus – Awkward and Somewhat Fruity Duo From a Scottish Moor

75. Sick Guitar Opus That Wouldn’t Dream of Having a Chorus – Band Least Likely to Inspire a Mosh Pit

76. More Songs About Fucking Things Up, Part 2 – Artist Most Likely to Lose an Eye in the Most Pit

77. Dude is Playing a Flute on This Jam! – First But By No Means the Last Renaissance Cosplay Outfit to Go Platinum

78. Song About a Person Who Does Bad Shit and Doesn’t Seem to Have a Conscience – One of the Fingerpickin’ Folk Dudes Who Fell Out of the Airplane, Or Maybe That Was an Episode of Happy Days

79. Anomalous Out of Genre Cut That Isn’t a Rock Song By Any Stretch of the Imagination, but I’m Obligated to Put It Here – The Queen of Said Other Genre
Chuck_E_03

80. The First Rock-Rap Hybrid I Was Able to Stomach – Washed-Up Dungeons & Dragons Halflings and Two Chubby Ethnic Dudes in Puma Track Suits

81. Modern Rock Cotton Candy – Cookie Cutter Southern California Rock Four-Piece

82. Inarguably The Most Egregious Willie Dixon and/or John Lee Hooker Rip-Off in the Pantheon – Same Band as #8

83. Speaking of Band in #67, This is Their attempt at a Reggae Jam – Said Band

84. Boy Wants to Mount His Buddy’s Girl Like a Show Pony – Ice Cold 80s Pop Band with a Freakishly Tall Lead Singer, Plus Mullets

85. Silky Smooth Soul Number That Everybody Has Boned to At Least Once – Guy Who Made at Least a Dozen Nearly Identical Records

86. Twelve Minute Journey Through the Elffin Forest On the Back of a Pot-Bellied Mule – Everybody’s Definition of Art Rock

87. Apparently, She’s a Very Sassy Broad – Super-Solid Rock Band With By Far the Best Front Woman Not Named Wendy O. Williams

88. Another Track That Nobody Heard Until It Was Featured in a Wes Anderson Movie – Your New Favorite British Invasion Outfit

89. Signature Jam – Iconic Indie Band Selling More Records Now Than They Did While They Were Actually a ‘Band’
100fake_band_names_promo

90. If Ed Hardy Made Music – Band Most Likely to Ride Choppers

91. Seasonal Lament – Band Most Likely to Have at Least One Guy With Dreadlocks

92. Seasonal Celebration – Band Most Likely to Kick Your Ass in Beach Volleyball

93. General Anthem of Joyful Exuberance – Band Most Likely to Feature Horoscope Sun Signs on Album Covers

94. Noun or Adjective Plus Personal Pronoun i.e. ________ Man, ________ Lady, _________Boy and _________ Girl – Every Band Ever

95. I Wouldn’t Dare to Offer a Definition of Rock Music, But I Know It When I Hear It – Same Artist in #6

96. Song Involving Water Sports (Not the Fetish) – Everybody’s Favorite Aloha Shirts

97. Real-Life Place or Locality With Tremendous Gravity in the Life of Songwriter – Wistful Pop Genius With a Persecution Complex

98. Mechanized Transportation Metaphor – Band Named After a Type of 19th-Century Lawnmower

99. Being a Rock Star is Pretty Damn Cool But It Does Have a Few Drawbacks – Band Who Barely Flirted With Rock Stardom, But Played the Part Just as Well

100. Heartfelt Expression of Gratitude For Act of Kindness From a Stranger – Dude Least Likely to Say Sorry If He Stepped on Your Foot

Guilty Pleasures and Irrational Aversions – Round 3

1 Dec
I’m not sure if this is truly a guilty pleasure; even though I’m still feeling guilty, the pleasure is long gone.

The kid finally fell asleep. We were winding down from a long day, lying in bed, watching TV for lack of a better term.

Janice has generously ceded the remote control to yours truly, mainly because she doesn’t really care about TV. However, there’s nothing wrong with a bit of mindless entertainment from time to time.

guilty3-Axn(3)Our cable subscription includes about two-dozen channels that I routinely surf, one of which happens to be AXN.

guilty3-wipeoutFirst of all, AXN Asia carries several of my favorite programs, notably Wipeout! and The Blacklist.

While the commentary on Wipeout! can be hit or miss, the spills and thrills more than makeup for bad puns; and it’s the only “game” show I’m the slightest bit interested in.

guilty3-the_blacklist_2_-_marquee_newThe Blacklist has two things going for it: James Spader and labyrinthine plot lines. Is the backstory even vaguely plausible? No. But I’ll watch anything with James Spader, one of my all-time favorite actors in any genre.

Anyway, this kind of explains why I clicked over to AXN, but doesn’t really explain why we were camped out on The Voice, which is not the worst program of its ilk, but there isn’t really a “best” American Idol-type show. Line ‘em up and they’re pretty much all the same; contrived and forced, the unsavory, pushy salesmen of product, directed by marketing sharks of disposable waste.

Regardless, there are at least three reasons I’ll watch The Voice for five minutes or so.

Number one: The plastic surgery disaster formerly known as Gwen Stefani.

guilty3-slide-gwen-stefaniNumber two: Pharrell’s hat. He’s going to be wearing a hat, and I’m subconsciously keeping score.

Number three: Begrudgingly, Adam Levine and Blake Shelton each get half a reason for not being Simon Cowell, perhaps the most insufferable chap on television this side of Fox News.

Adam Levine is a social terrorist on par with any formidable character from an episode of Batman (original 1960s TV series), no more, no less. Clearly a talented cat, I don’t enjoy his music.

Blake Shelton is negligible. He’s the rye bread of rate-a-dummy talent shows.

liver-sausage_3_I never think to ask for rye bread unless I’m ordering a sandwich. I’d never heard of Shelton until he appeared on the program, but that’s no surprise. But cowboy hats are only funny if you’re being ironic. Personally, I dig rye bread. It’s the slice of choice if I’m talking about lebewurst (liver sausage).

Jesus, 434 words and we’re only halfway there.

So we’re watching The Voice and Janice says to me, as she often does, vaguely amused, “Why are we watching this?”

Simultaneously, the program cuts to Adam Levine in the studio with some kid who’s singing “God Only Knows”.

As in, The Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows” from Pet Sounds (1966).

PetHe can’t do that!” I huffed.

Janice rolled over, “Do what?”

“He can’t sing that song.”

“Why not? It sounds like he is [singing].” Confused silence. “I thought you like that song.”

“That’s part of the reason why he can’t sing it. It’s sacred.”

“Sacred?” suspiciously.

“Sacred. It is. Nobody can sing that song. There were two people who could sing that song, but now only one person on Earth can sing that song.”

Long pause. “OK.”

guilty3-my_way_sid_viciousThere are a handful of sacred songs in the repertoire of popular music. Take for instance “My Way”. Both of the cats who can sing that song – Frank Sinatra and Sid Vicious – are dead. Therefore, anybody else is committing an egregious act of profanity. According to urban legend in the Philippines, doing a videoke version of “My Way” will get you shot.

Despite its hokey hippy sentiment, John Lennon’s “Imagine” is also untouchable. Off-limits. Not only do I not want to hear a cover version, I’m pretty much saturated with the original. Retire this song, people. Let it go, let it go, turn your back and slam the door…

Bohemian Rhapsody”, “Freebird”, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”…

guilty3-pharrel-hatOn a contemporary level, there are songs idiosyncratic to certain artists that I consider off-limits. Nobody should be doing a cover of Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab”. After Jeff Buckley, it’s hands-off “Hallelujah”.

The list could and should go on, but at the very top is The Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows”.

Let’s not get into semantics and philosophy about the “best” or “sacred”. In my book, “God Only Knows” is the most beautiful, perfect, transcendent song in the last 50 years of popular music. While it may not be my favorite song of all-time – the older I get the more I think it’s silly to have just one favorite song – it is the best song of all-time.

The thing is I’m not always in the mood for goosebumps and crocodile tears; generally speaking, I’m interested in toe-tappers.

Above all, “God Only Knows” is not a song to be taken lightly. It’s a song you can sing along to, but not on The Voice, unless you’re Brian Wilson.

So now I’m transfixed on the screen. The kid in question, Matt McAndrew, is being coached by the abovementioned Adam Levine, and at about the :30 point, I’m ready to launch myself into the TV screen and throttle the both of them.

I continued to prattle on. Janice was vaguely amused.

“I can’t watch this.”

“Change the channel.”

“But I have to watch this.”

“Well?”

And so we watched Matt McAndrew sing a perfectly lovely rendition of “God Only Knows”, as seen below.

Matt McAndrew – God Only Knows

When it was over I said, “You know, it wasn’t that bad. He did a really nice job.”

I’m still feeling guilty. But at the same time, I never want to see that shit again. Ever.

IRRATIONAL AVERSION

The Black Keys

guilty3-watermelonindexTo this day, I have never knowingly eaten watermelon. And I’ve got nothing against watermelon in general. Everybody seems to enjoy it. As a kid, I was envious when all the other kids were running around with cool chunks of watermelon, pink juice all over their hands and faces, especially during the summer.

The sight and smell of watermelon was one of several signposts of the average Midwestern summer afternoon. The wide expanse of freshly cut grass and lush green carpets of lawn. Flies buzzing, crickets whirring. Picnic tables and swimming pools. Water balloons and flip-flops. Hot dogs roasting over charcoal. And then, my older sister sneaking up from behind and smashing a slice of watermelon in my face, just for kicks.

Jolly Rancher’s watermelon hard candy doesn’t bother me. Both Hubba-Bubba and Bubble-Yum chewing gum had tasty watermelon flavors.

If I see a cut watermelon from across the room, it sparks a certain amount of panic – I’ll scout the perimeter for an exit of some sort – the visual impact is really more about avoidance and fear. Otherwise, if it gets close enough to actually smell the fruit—the inside, the pink flesh—then it’s over. Sometimes it’s just a little bit of puke in the back of my throat. Most times I’ll sneeze really hard three times in succession, and get overwhelmed with a sense of nausea. Funny, heroin had the same effect.

guilty3-blackkeysEvery now and then, someone in the crew bought a round of watermelon shots, and I’d do it out of respect and etiquette, but I always wound up puking that shit up.

For my son’s second birthday, we hosted a pool party, and of course, two guests brought whole watermelon. At some point in the affair, Janice turned to me and said, “Somebody needs to take these [watermelons] upstairs, and chop ‘em up,” so the crowd could ostensibly eat ‘em.

“I got it.”

“Are you sure?”

Janice was well aware of my aversion to watermelon, but it was one of those moments: facing one of your greatest fears or aversions, head on. I thought, “OK. I’m going to chop these fuckers into slices so everyone can continue to enjoy the party.”

For the record, I didn’t actually puke during the process, but it was touch-and-go for a while there. In the end, everybody enjoyed the watermelon.

The Black Keys are the watermelon of rock music.

GUILTY PLEASURE

Pissed Jeans – False Jesii Part 2

I’m gonna be honest with you, kids. When Jesus Lizard was in their prime (early to mid-90s), I was not a fan. Not at all. Saw them at Lounge Ax in Chicago and I thought they were meh. But then again, I wasn’t a fan of the Melvins, Tad, Mudhoney or Nirvana. I didn’t even really like Naked Raygun, for godsakes. Anyway, maybe ten years later, I came around to having at least an appreciation for Jesus Lizard.

Pissed Jeans is the first band I’ve seen who’ve successfully taken the next step forward in post-hardcore. This is the first of their jams I ever heard, so it’s got sentimental value.

IRRATIONAL AVERSION

Frank Sinatra

RossEllisPDF-Sized&Ready.inddSpeaking of Sinatra, violence is not cool and I do not endorse shooting people, let alone because of a song made popular by this guy. However, if it were up to me, I’d wipe Sinatra’s entire oeuvre from the annals of popular music and film. And I think I’d be doing everyone a great favor.

First of all, Frank Sinatra hated rock n’ roll, which he said was “sung, played, and written for the most part by cretinous goons. It manages to be the martial music of every sideburned delinquent on the face of the earth.[38]

Think about it. Couldn’t you live without his versions of “Luck Be a Lady” or “I’ve Got You (Under My Skin)”? I know I could.

Whatever. Most of all, Sinatra was the anti-thesis of rock n’ roll. My world is a better place without him.

GUILTY PLEASURE

Tool – The Pot

True story: I hated Tool until I moved to Taiwan in 2008.

10,000 Days (2006) is Rush meets the Cure, done well. And it makes excellent housecleaning music. Do not put on a random Tool record and wait for something to happen, cuz you might be sitting there for a while. “The Pot” is one of the few songs that gets off to reasonably fast start.

IRRATIONAL AVERSION

Cocaine – the song and the drug

The other night I was in a taxi headed down Makati Avenue toward Greenbelt Mall, a shopping and entertainment complex in the Central Business District.

guilty3-makatiaveThe driver was listening to one of three “classic rock” stations in Metro Manila, DWLA Retro 105.9 FM, which is coincidentally the same FM frequency as the classic rock station I grew up listening to in Chicago, WCKG, former home of the progtastic radio show, Bob and Ron’s Record Club. BSM hosts Bob and Ron’s Record Club Radio Archive, where you can listen to episodes from their WCKG days.

This particular taxi ride was a bit of an anomaly. At least 50% of Metro Manila taxi radios are tuned adult contemporary stations, and worse, the other 49% are tuned to talk radio. Thank God I only understand about .01% of what they’re saying. Finally, there’s a scant minority of drivers who pipe original Philippine music into the ride via iPod, CD or MP3.

Anyway, DWLA Retro 105.9 FM – like most radio stations – has particular programming slots, and popping into the taxi I happened to catch the mid-section of a slot called “High on the 70s”, which leaves little to the imagination.

We had just wrapped up the fade out of Elvin Bishop’s “Fooled Around and Fell in Love” when the DJ introduced a personal nugget of musical kryptonite: Eric Clapton’s studio version of “Cocaine”.

guilty3-eric-clapton-cocaine-rso-4Listen, I want to get this straight. I like both Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughn. However, if I’m in the mood to hear blues, I’m going to the source. Why do I need these guys when John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and Lightnin’ Hopkins are at my fingertips?

When I was nine years old my favorite song was Foghat’s version of “I Just Want to Make Love to You”. I didn’t know any better. Now I do.

The early British blues movement was completely lost on me at the time of initial exposure. Paul Butterfield, the Yardbirds, and Eric Burdon didn’t sound like the Monkees, so turn that shit off. A couple of years passed and I began to appreciate the second generation of Brit blues like Cream, Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath.

EVHEven though every guitar player in his right mind cites Eric Clapton as an influence, yours truly can beg to differ. And again, I dig some of his music; in fact, he’s one of my favorite rock vocalists, and I savor the irony; Clapton’s biggest insecurity was his singing voice. However, his guitar prowess never really wowed me. It was underwhelming. He had a few great jams (“Layla”, “Tales of Brave Ulysses”) and he had stinkers like this “Cocaine” jam plus “Tears in Heaven” and “It’s in the Way the You Use Itet al.

On the other hand, my guitar hero Eddie Van Halen was profoundly influenced by Clapton. Thus, Clapton was not a conscious influence  except in the negative. And it’s always helpful to know what you don’t want to do.

guilty3-howlin-wolfMeanwhile, Stevie Ray Vaughn could play, man. No denying that. Hop on over to YouTube and see some serious guitar wrangling. Dude was phenomenal. But if I want to hear an incredible version of “Little Wing”, there are at least three versions by the original artist, Jimi Hendrix, which even prior to the Internet Age, I could access at will.

You know how you’re driving in your car, listening to the radio, and some song comes on that triggers an instinct to change the station? Like, ASAP? Both Clapton and SRV are station-changers for me. Because both have such a distinctive sound, it only takes one bar to identify the jam. Off we go.

It’s not so much that the track is Clapton at his most flaccid, it’s that it reminds me of cocaine itself, which despite plenty of familiarity with the substance, was never my thing. I dunno why except I don’t like the way it makes me feel.

GUILTY PLEASURE

Long before I met my wife, I heard the stories of debauchery coming from Pattaya, Thailand, so I decided to pop down and check it out. I wanted to see it for myself.

It was late afternoon by the time I arrived in town and I’d fallen into a pensive mood. The previous night in Bangkok was unhinged. Following the bumpiest three-hour bus ride of my traveling career, sleep deprived and roasted from adrenaline, I literally stumbled into a low-ball hotel on the main drag, and tried to take a nap. Normally, I would have had things planned out in advance, but this was a special situation.

56_beaverNevertheless, between the ambient noise and a restless mind, I couldn’t fall asleep. And I knew the only thing to do was start drinking.

Many of the low-ball hotels in Pattaya have their own bars on the main floor, and this one was situated on a busy stretch of Pattayasaisong Road. After a quick and cold shower, I went down and had a few beers, sitting at a table that was a few feet from the sidewalk scene.

It was typical Thailand, or rather sex tourism destination bullshit. Pot-belied, greasy geezers with barely legal women, walking down the street hand-in-hand like, “Oh, us? We’re just a regular couple out for an afternoon stroll.”

The bottom line is unless you’re there to partake in the local trade, which I wasn’t, places like Pattaya can get real depressing, real fast.

Over the course of an hour I was approached by half a dozen bar girls, and so on and so forth. A couple of girls gave it their best shot, but then they seemed to get the hint.

I went off to walking in no particular direction, exploring the vicinity and cruising along the beachfront, stopping at several main hotspots, for instance, the infamous Walking Street. The next three hours were redundant except for buying an eighth of low quality weed for $30US from a hustler on Beach Road.

It was well past sundown when I headed back to the low-ball hotel and posted up in the bar for a nightcap.

The sound system was playing current rock music, and I was feeling just a little less morose.

55_wrongAfter a while, one of the bar girls came over and started giving me the business. She was exceedingly persistent and wouldn’t take no for an answer. Finally noticing my distress, the mamasan came over and the bar girl scampered away.

Mamasan quizzically, “You don’t want girl?”

Me, weary yet emphatic, “No girl, thank you.”

I ordered one last beer and paid my tab. The girl was back out on the sidewalk, and every now and then she would look back at me with the most disappointed look.

Just then an unfamiliar song came over the sound system. It was rock music I had never heard.

If ever a record had the opportunity to capture my attention, it had to have been this moment. I didn’t know what this guy was singing about, but it moved me. All of a sudden, I heard myself asking, “What are you doing in this snakepit? Good Lord, man. This is not where you want to be.”

Pounding the remnants of my beer, I went upstairs, collected my things, and checked out of the low-ball joint and into a nice place around the corner, where I was up on the tenth floor or whatever, slightly removed from reality.

The next four days were spent lounging at the rooftop pool-slash-bar, working on my tan, and smoking fat joints. Caught up on my sleep, watched some TV, and took half-hour showers. The joint had fabulous water pressure.

As far as I recall, I did not have a conversation with anyone except the service staff, and by day three we were communicating with hand signals and facial gestures. The only time I left the hotel was to dine at a Bavarian restaurant down the street.

Kings of Leon – Use Somebody

20/20: The End of the Power Pop Rainbow

18 Nov
2020_1I’ve been meaning to write something/anything about these 20/20 cats for at least two years; for whatever reason, they consistently fall through the cracks. Yet, this may be the most appropriate introduction for a band that went virtually unnoticed during its lifespan.

I’m going to let Allmusic fill you in on the details, but 20/20 to me is a band that takes everything good about Cheap Trick, The Who, Small Faces, T. Rex, David Bowie, Badfinger, Big Star, Slade and a wash of similar bands, and wraps ‘em all into one song. If you’ve ever wondered where Guided by Voices got their schtick, now you know: from these guys.

2020_3Adapted from original biography by Mark Deming

20/20 was an American power pop band based in Hollywood, California, active from 1977 to 1983. Originally from Tulsa, Oklahoma, the band relocated to L.A. in 1977 after fellow Tulsa natives Phil Seymour and Dwight Twilley met with success. The band signed with Greg Shaw’s Bomp! Records in 1978, and released and their first LP on Portrait Records.

20/20 is considered one of the key bands in the L.A. power pop explosion of the late 1970s and early ‘80s (The Plimsouls, The Knack, Shoes, Off Broadway, etc.). They never quite scored a hit single, but their signature song, “Yellow Pills,” became a cult favorite.

Following the success of power pop acts like the Knack, the band’s second album Look Out was darker and less immediately inviting then the debut.

2020_2wt8SbHowever, the track “Nuclear Boy” received airplay but the group parted ways with Portrait Records and dissolved in 1983.

In 1995, after 20/20’s first two albums were reissued on CD, Steve Allen (guitar, vocals) and Ron Flynt (vocals, bass) assembled a new edition of the band.

20/20 – Yellow Pills

20/20 – Nuclear Boy

20/20 – Cheri

20/20 – Remember the Lightning

Guilty Pleasures and Irrational Aversions – Round 2

5 Nov
For most of my life, I have enjoyed beer as much as it has enjoyed me. Somewhere along the line, I stopped enjoying beer. As much as I didn’t like the taste, I really didn’t like the way it made me feel: bloated and sloppy. Then beer became an aversion.

Fortunately, drunks have options. So I switched to a strict regimen of red wine, and couldn’t be happier. In fact, every so often I’ll revisit my old friend Beer, just like old times. And then the next morning I’ll wake up and say, “Man, I sure don’t miss ol’ Beer. He’s kind of a drag.”

In the end, there’s a sense of reasoning at play that justifies the aversion. Sometimes though, I’m not really sure why I don’t like things. I just don’t.

GUILTY PLEASURE TAG TEAM

Missy Elliot – Work It

“Work It” is by far my favorite song of 2002, and contains a bunch of my favorite song lyrics of all-time. Number one on the charts:

If you a fly gal get your nails done
Get a pedicure, get your hair did

And while we’re in the neighborhood…

Jimmy Eat World – Sweetness

Yeah, I dunno. It’s just a catchy jam.

guilty-2-missy-photo7OK, I’ll come clean. Both “Sweetness” and “Work It” were all over the radio during a very specific AND particular period of my life. At the time, I was super-jammed; finishing my degree at SFSU, playing in a band, and working a full-time job. I was driving back and forth to work and school, probably spending two hours per day in the ride, hence listening to the radio, since I couldn’t be bothered with having CDs in the car. Having CDs in your ride was an invitation for a crackhead to smash your driver’s side window. Regardless, I basically flip-flopped between the mainstream rock station and the hip-hop station, so that’s all I was listening to for about nine months.

Also, I had been involved in relationship that had left a very bad taste in my mouth. This song doesn’t necessarily remind me of the relationship, only the fact that I had a sour taste in my mouth, and some sweetness would have been a welcome respite.

Meanwhile, I was impressed with the production of the Missy Elliott track. The song makes me laugh. Dunno why.

IRRATIONAL AVERSION

Pink Floyd sans Syd Barrett

Look, I had been indoctrinated by Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon (1973) and The Wall (1979), long before I knew anything about The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967). Christ, I owned Ummagumma (1970) at 13 years old; it was the weirdest record I’d ever heard in my life. Didn’t know what to make of it. For a couple of years, I wouldn’t even play the damn thing; I’d just marvel at the album cover. It wasn’t until I was out of high school that I heard Piper and said, “You know what? FUCK Pink Floyd. Pink Floyd was Syd Barrett.”

Pink Floyd – Lucifer Sam

guilty-2-PinkFloyd-album-ummagummastudio-300Of course, I’ve argued with people about Pink Floyd, and I admittedly don’t have a solid foundation of attack. Aside from arguing about the name – it’s a great name, but I think they should have changed it after Syd left/was replaced by David Gilmour – all I can do is stand there with my arms folded and say, “I don’t like it anymore.”

And then Roger Waters left. The two guys largely responsible for everything they ever did were no longer in the band. You cannot call that Pink Floyd, I’m sorry. You can call it David Gilmour’s Pink Floyd, or David Gilmour Plays Pink Floyd, or David Gilmour and a Bunch of Guys Who Are Not Pink Floyd.

Listen, it’s the same thing with Lynyrd Skynyrd. You can’t replace Ronnie Van Zant with his little brother. It’s upsetting.

GUILTY PLEASURE

Def Leppard – Let It Go

Somewhat of a counter-intuitive pick – on principle alone – this jam has several redeeming qualities or factors; most importantly, it comes from their second album High n’ Dry (1981), produced by Robert John “Mutt” Lange, The King of Hard Rock, who had just produced the most quintessential, untouchable hard rock album, AC/DC’s Back in Black (1980).

And there’s little doubt who and/or what Def Leppard is trying to do here – equal parts homage and rip-off. Either way, it’s a superbly crafted rock jam and sounds amazing. In my book, it’s one of the best jams AC/DC ever did.

IRRATIONAL AVERSION

The Rolling Stones

StonesI know you’re thinking, “Nah, man, it ain’t possible” but it’s actually true. While I appreciate their contribution to music, I don’t really like it. I’m a total faux fan. The subject comes up and I’ll be, “Aw yeah, dude, the Stones are great”, but here’s what I really think.

Mick Jagger’s affectations are a huge turn-off, and Keith Richards, man, everybody keeps telling me this cat can play guitar, but it always sounded to me like the second-string dude was doing all the work. On the other side of the stage, it’s hard to say which member of the rhythm section has a pulse. Has Charlie Watts ever played in a time signature other than 4/4? In his entire career? This band has been inactive since 1982. Whoever is putting out records under the Rolling Stones brand umbrella is running one hell of a scam.

Meanwhile, I would never put on a Stones record at home, except for maybe Beggar’s Banquet. I can count the number of times I’ve played Let It Bleed on exactly zero fingers. I dunno. They have a zillion great jams. I just don’t care.

GUILTY PLEASURE

U2, October (1981)

I like this album precisely for all the reasons you might assume I wouldn’t. As Bono himself said, October “goes into areas that most rock n’ roll bands ignore.” If by that he means areas where Jesus is found, then that’s a profoundly accurate statement.

guilty-2-U2 - OctoberFirst of all, this is the first and last mainstream Christian rock album I ever bought. I like my rock n’ roll to be of the secular variety. While there are many solid reasons to hate this band, their first four albums are quite remarkable.

And frankly, as a teenager I was far too dense to be in any way influenced by spiritual yearning on a rock record. I had no idea what Bono was singing about on “Gloria”, and had completely misheard the Latin phrase in te domine as “Here today, gone today.”

After October, U2 had two more records left in them before everything went to shit and they got B.B. King embroiled in the farce.

This live version of “Gloria” is from the concert film U2 Live at Red Rocks: Under a Blood Red Sky.

Years later, I would cite this song as an example of why band introductions are a bad idea. U2 never quenched anybody’s spiritual thirst. They simply made salty chips that made everybody thirsty.

IRRATIONAL AVERSION

U2, The Joshua Tree (1987)

Whenever I hear a track from this record, I cannot help but think, “It’s really good, but…” At the time of its release, U2 was arguably the Biggest Band in the World. Their previous record, The Unforgettable Fire (1984) was in my estimation, about as far as they could go in the genre without completely jumping the shark, which they had previously avoided by releasing such an uncompromising album as The Unforgettable Fire.

guilty-2-joshua-u2As I said, The Joshua Tree sounds really good and contains a bunch of hot jams. Another reason I should have loved this record: it was produced by Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois. For many years, I could never put my finger on why it rubbed me wrong. I could say it was the maudlin power ballad “With or Without You”. Maybe it was the video for the hyper-anthemic “Where the Streets Have No Name”. It definitely had something to do with the gospel style chorus of “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”, one step beyond John Cougar. It was kind of like “Pink Houses” crossed with a prank phone call – again with the spiritual yearning.

The term “jump the shark” didn’t come into the modern lexicon until 1997 – ten years after the release of The Joshua Tree. Finally, I realized that this record is the first of many sharks U2 would jump in their long and industrious career.

Guilty Pleasures and Irrational Aversions – Round 1

4 Nov
We’ve all got ‘em – things we dig that we shouldn’t, and things we should dig but for one reason or another, do not. Dig.

There are dozens if not a hundred bands and artists I used to like which now make me cringe. Billy Idol, for example. The difference between a cringe-worthy, passing infatuation, and a guilty pleasure can be summed up neatly: I don’t listen to Billy Idol anymore. Meanwhile, the polar opposite of a guilty pleasure would technically be an “innocent irritation”, but honestly, that doesn’t read as well as irrational aversion.

GUILTY PLEASURE

Slaughter – Fly to the Angels

The amount of pleasure received from Slaughter is limited to this one song, but it’s a boatload of good vibrations, for sure. When it first came out in 1990. MTV was still playing videos. Pepperidge Farm remembers.

For years, I never to the best of my knowledge ever told anyone that I had a huge crush on this jam. One day in the mid-90s, I was hanging out with Bill Dolan, talking about cover songs – we had recently formed a band with the express intention of playing (mostly) covers. Anyway, Bill had an eclectic range of rock songs he wanted to play, and I had only two memorable suggestions, both of which I reckoned Bill wouldn’t be cool with.

The first was “The Hellion/Electric Eye” by Judas Priest – which is not a guilty pleasure, and a different subject altogether.[1] Bill shook that one off. The second was “Fly to the Angels”, which I almost didn’t suggest because Bill hadn’t liked my first idea. To my delightful surprise, Bill said something along the lines of, “That’s a pretty hot jam, actually.” We never did play it in the band, but from that point forward, I thought, “Hell, I was right all along. It was a hot jam.”

IRRATIONAL AVERSION

T. Rex

TrexI’m perfectly aware of the fact that saying you don’t like T. Rex is not cool. I’m not saying I don’t like T. Rex. For whatever reason, they just didn’t hit a groove with me. “Bang a Gong” would come on the radio and I’d think, “Well, at least it isn’t Pablo Cruise,” but I wasn’t excited or encouraged by any means. At the same time, I was subconsciously trying to avoid artists who wrote songs with “boogie” or “choogle” in the title. Marc Bolan and T. Rex had several of the former, and at least one of the latter.

It wasn’t until much later that I began to appreciate T. Rex to the point of respect and admiration. However, my two favorite T. Rex jams are covers of their songs by other artists: “Jeepster” by the Polecats, and “Children of the Revolution” by the Violent Femmes. I don’t know if it would have been a different story had I been turned on to his relatively obscure television show, Marc, which ran for six weekly episodes in the autumn of 1977, before Bolan died in a car crash.

A pop music show, [Marc] gave Bolan a chance to showcase punk bands such as Generation X, the Jam and Eddie and the Hot Rods. T. Rex performed at least three songs each week, a mixture of new versions of their old hits, and fresh tracks, while the guests were slotted in between. Not all were as notable as those listed above, though they also included Roger Taylor, drummer with the rock band Queen, in a rare solo TV appearance. They were also joined by a dance troupe called Heart Throb.

Marc – Episode Six, September 28, 1977

 

GUILTY PLEASURE

Pizzicato Five – Twiggy Twiggy (Twiggy vs. James Bond)

Don’t know why, but I vaguely remember when, 1994-95, so that’s a good starting point. Made in USA was Pizzicato Five’s second release in the U.S. on Matador Records.

guilty-1-Made_in_USA_Pizzicato_FiveI had somewhat recently started writing for a couple of local ‘zines and they’d have stacks of promo packs and new record releases for writers to review. Matador was one of the premier indie labels, and so most of the big names would have been snatched up by other writers. Peons like me got the runts of the mailbag litter. Anyway, the Matador label flashed at me, and I grabbed Made in the USA without reference. They’re Japanese? OK, let’s check this out.

While the ensuing review was irrelevant and lost in the ether of time, I couldn’t shake this “Twiggy” jam. There was a point in time when I could recite most of the lyrics, and even now, I’m a little surprised at the familiarity.

Sanjikan mo matte ita no yo
Watashi neko to issho ni

Sono toki denwa no beru ga
Watashi neko mitai ni shabetta
Terebi no volume sagete
Watashi uso mitai na koe de

Twiggy no mini skirt de
Twiggy mitai na pose de
Twiggy no mini skirt de
Twiggy mitai ni yassepochi no watashi

IRRATIONAL AVERSION

The Grateful Dead

gulity-1-Grateful_Dead_-_AoxomoxoaBy nearly all criteria, I should like and/or love the Dead. First of all, they were contenders for Highest Band on the Planet honors. Second, their concerts were a major social event – the parking lot of a Dead show was a really fun place to be. Finally, they had two drummers, which I have to almost love by default. The rest of it, the songs and the endless jamming should have fallen into place, but it didn’t.

The great thing about music is that generally speaking, you can be like, “Eh, I’m not listening to that nonsense.” And there’s no problem. In the old days when Jerry Garcia was still alive, it was a much more contentious issue. It didn’t take much to twist a Deadhead’s nipples. On the whole, Deadheads were a very defensive fan base. Though it was simply a lot of fun to have a point of contention, the truth was I really didn’t like the vast majority of the Dead’s music. Your arguments are much more compelling when you believe your own bullshit.

guilty-1-grateful_dead_aoxomoxoa_Courtney_love_back_coverThis veers into guilty pleasure territory but there is one Dead album that I owned and listened to on a regular basis for nearly 20 years, Aoxomoxoa (1969). AND I bought the 2003 reissue. Anyway, fun fact: a four-year-old Courtney Love appears on the back cover, as her old man was an associate of the band.

Aoxomoxoa is the band’s third studio album, and many Deadheads consider this era of the Dead to be the experimental apex of the band’s history. If I had to pick a favorite Grateful Dead song, there are two things for certain. One, it’s on this album; and two, it’s not one of the 2003 reissue bonus tracks.

Grateful Dead – St. Stephen

***

Footnotes

[1] Judas Priest – The Hellion/Electric Eye

Here we are at the diamond of the hard rock spectrum. One could argue Judas Priest was a metal band at some point in their career – MTV ranked them the second greatest heavy metal band of all-time, pffffhhhsssttt – but frankly, very little of their work is true metal; Sad Wings of Destiny (1976) is pretty metal, but most of their work hardly ventures outside of the confines of hard rock with an eye on the pop charts. Having one dude in the band with a Flying V does not automatically make you metal.

guilty-1-Judas_Priest_Screaming_for_VengeanceAnyway, here’s a fact. All dolled up in motorcycle leather and spiked collars, Judas Priest either looked like the baddest, meanest rock band on the planet – or, if people had put two and two together, a gay porn film waiting to happen. Regardless of their true intentions, Priest made bands like the Scorpions look like a bunch of students. We imagine them recording their albums in some dank, putrid S&M dungeon with scenes of untold mayhem and depravity, but in fact, following their cult-breakthrough with 1980’s British Steel, the band spent the next decade recording in hellish places like Ibiza, Spain, and the Bahamas. The dudes in Judas Priest turned out to be a bunch of regular European tourists in Speedos at the beach. And good for them.

Whatever. This jam opens their eighth album, Screaming for Vengeance (1982), which also contained the Top 40 hit “You Gotta Another Thing Comin’”, and truly gave them critical mass appeal. Prior to this record, Priest had been touring non-stop and had a handful of big hits (“Livin’ After Midnight”, “Breakin’ the Law” and “Headin’ Out to the Highway”), yet seemed headed for the cut-out bin following 1981’s sluggish Point of Entry. Although British Steel is considered the band’s coup de grace, Screaming for Vengeance – in part because of this jam – broke the band in North America, paving the way for a decade of mega-success.

Taiwan president: I will not discuss reunification – CNN.com

4 Nov

Taiwan doesn’t make the front page of CNN very often. It happens, usually due to a typhoon, but even less common is President Ma Ying-Jeou showing some backbone. While I don’t truly have a dog in the fight, I’m 100% behind the people of Taiwan. Perhaps this is cynical ploy by the Ma administration to show him in a positive light, but the most important thing is that people are talking about it.

Taiwan president: I will not discuss reunification – CNN.com.

The Recording of 10cc’s “I’m Not in Love” is Far More Complicated Than Anything You Will Ever Do

3 Nov

Best 10 minutes of You Tube I’ve seen in a while.

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