Wednesday, October 31, 2007

No. 216: The Queen Is Dead

Band: The Smiths
Album: The Queen Is Dead
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Save for the Cure, no band is identified with mopey '80s British rock than the Smiths. Morrissey's clever lyrics and Johnny Marr's reverb-soaked guitars make for some interesting songs oozing with social and romantic commentary.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: I can't stand the Smiths. Finding the comfort in being sad (to quote Cobain) is a one-trick pony for these guys, though I admire their political songs.
Best song: "There Is a Light That Never Goes Out" isn't terrible, though the version by Braid is better.
Worst song: "Vicar in a Tutu" is just odd.
Is it awesome?: Nope.

I kind of expected to hate this album a lot more than I do; I've always made fun of the Smiths because of Morrissey's ridiculous whiny voice. I guess I haven't really immersed myself in The Smiths enough to make so much fun of them.

Which is to say that I've changed my mind a bit on the Smiths. I don't hate them at all. The songs have some redeeming value and, to be honest, remind me of British cousins to early R.E.M. (and I love R.E.M.). The big differences between the two bands are mainly the vocals and the gitar effects. Marr's guitar is drenched in reverb to the point where it sounds like it is underwater whereas Peter Buck's guitar is a clear cop from the Byrds. I prefer Buck.

I should love Morrissey in theory. Like Stipe, he's sexually ambiguous. Unlike Stipe -- though, like a lot of singers I enjoy -- he writes about his passions (including vegetarianism and the plight of the working class). Also, he's a misanthrope, like me.

I guess there's also the defining British-ness of the album, topped by the opening track and album title. As much as I wish I was Canadian, I'm quite American; I grew up in the Midwest, for Christ's sake. And the accent rubs me weird in the way Bloc Party records never resonate with me as much as they should. "Frankly Mr. Shankly" exemplifies this; Morrissey sounds so decidedly British.

So... I guess I'll have to spend more time with this record before I can say I hate it. Like Zeppelin, I find the record interesting, if worthy of having a better singer.


This is all forgetting that the Smiths are hugely important. The emo thing takes tons from them, specifically in the group of Chicago emo bands like The Smoking Popes and Braid (crooning vocals, anyone?). Certainly, Britpop's five minutes of fame over here -- remember, Britpop is still popular in the U.K. -- is a direct descendant of The Smiths and The Cure.

So, it's important. I just don't love it.

No. 215: Two Steps from the Blues

Band: Bobby "Blue" Bland
Album: Two Steps from the Blues
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Probably the definitive Bobby Bland record is an exercise in soul-blues and electric blues.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: It's a nice record, but it has a real "big band," old time singer feel to it.
Best song: The title track is pretty great. Also, I enjoy the idea of having a song of "I Pity The Fool."
Worst song: "I Don't Want No Woman" isn't great.
Is it awesome?: Not really.

I'd be a giant hypocrite if I acted like I loved this album, because it's not hugely different from a Frank Sinatra-type vocalist's album. There are big arrangements, crooning vocals and a lot of songs about love. says the record contains "songs that blur the division between Ray Charles soul and Chess blues, opening the doors for numerous soul and blues sounds, from Muscle Shoals and Stax through the modern-day soul-bluesman." I'm not sure I totally agree with it; The true soul and grittiness of the Muddy Waters and B.B. Kings of the world are much better.

Certainly, Ray Charles is a comparison, but even Charles was more soulful. Bland's sound is what we now call overproduced, the overwhelming sound is pretty boring.

I think it has something to do with the fact that Bland is solely a singer. Unlike Little Walter, Charles, Kind or Waters, Bland's totally at the mercy of those performing with him and producing the record. They were able to dictate the sound more and I think it shows.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

No. 214: Bo Diddley/Go Bo Diddley

Band: Bo Diddley
Album: Bo Diddley/Go Bo Diddley
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Bo Diddley introduced and perfected certain rhythms to rock and roll. They were beats that have stuck around, even making an appearance in big-time pop music ("I Want Candy" being the operative one). His influence on early rock and roll should not be discounted.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: Putting two albums into one (it was released as a joint CD upon reissue) is kind of a cop out.
Best song: Any song where Bo mentions himself ("Bo's Guitar" on "Go Bo Diddley" and the title track, "Diddley Daddy" and "Hey! Bo Diddley") makes me happy. "Hey! Bo Diddley" is probably the best of the four. His versions of some of the blues classics ("Before You Accuse Me," "I'm A Man," and "Who Do You Love?") are fantastic.
Worst song: "Pretty thing" isn't great.
Is it awesome?: A little bit of Bo Diddley goes a long way, but everyone should at least have "Bo Diddley."

In a similar situation to The New York Dolls, in that I knew of Bo Diddley from a very famous Nike ad wherein Bo Jackson inexplicably plays tennis, basketball and hockey. Then, he plays guitar badly and Bo Diddley tells him "Bo, you don't know Diddley!"


Because this is a written blog, as opposed to a podcast, I can't really adequately describe the Bo Diddley beat. However, our good friend Wikipedia has a description that is pretty fitting:

In its simplest form, the Bo Diddley beat can be counted out as a two-bar phrase:

One and two and three and four and one and two and three and four and

The bolded counts are the clave rhythm.

That's Bo Diddley. The songs "Bo Diddley" and "Hey! Bo Diddley" use it in the best way on his self-titled record.

So, outside of the Bo Jackson ad, Diddley's probably most famous for that beat. It's used over and over (Our good friend Wikipedia lists "Mr. Brownstone," "Not Fade Away," "1969" and "Panic In Detroit" as songs with the Bo Diddley beat). It's as distinctive as it is catchy and it's pretty damned catchy.


I guess, on some level, I have Diddley to blame when I complain about the fact that rhythm has replaced melody in a lot of dance music today. The popular "My Humps," "Drop It Like It's Hot" and -- especially -- "Hollaback Girl" use huge beats and chanting in lieu of actually producing a melody of note.

But, that's like blaming the inventor of the wheel for car accidents. Diddley's introduced big beats to rock and roll, he didn't use them in lieu of actually having a melody. In fact, Diddley's guitar playing is considerably better than many give him credit for. His voice has the grit of a classic blues singer while still maintaining the integrity of the song. In short, he was a great musician, more than just chanting over loud drums.


Outside of the songs about himself (later in his career, he did "Bo Diddley's Dog"), Diddley's treatment of some blues classics is what surprised me most. "Before You Accuse Me" is considered to be a B.B. King song at this point, but Diddley blows King's version away. It's more of a slow burn (odd for Diddley, indeed), but his voice is more impassioned than King's ever was. Certainly, he's not the guitarist that King is; Few are. But his version is more interesting, if only because it's not as clinical.

Similarly, his "I'm A Man" relies on Diddley's use of big beats comes to the forefront. Like Muddy Waters, he takes the old blues beat and adds some motion to it. His voice peppers the easy harmonica and guitar perfectly, nearing Waters' version as the best of the song.


Bo Diddley's records don't deviate much from the formula. Even so, I found "Bo Diddley" to be incredibly fun and still haven't tired from it. It's like Pac-Man or Frogger; It's simple compared to what we have today, yet still timeless.

No. 213: The New York Dolls

Band: The New York Dolls
Album: The New York Dolls
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Supposedly, the New York Dolls were the band that Malcom McLaren saw in the States and that he stole from, stylistically, when he formed the Sex Pistols. The band's sound was an extension of the Stooges', only sludgier and more referential. It is considered by some to be the ultimate proto-punk album.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: I'm not sure they do.It's not my favorite thing, but I understand its import in the grand scheme of rock and roll.
Best song: "Looking For A Kiss" is classic.
Worst song: I don't love "Frankenstein."
Is it awesome?: It's not terrible, but it's not my thing.

The first thing I notcied in listening to this record for the first time since college is how much the guitar sound is like Steve Jones' (of the Sex Pistols). Johnny Thunders' small blues licks at the end of easy punk riffs echo so much of “God Save The Queen,” it's amazing. Indeed, the Dolls are the missing link between the Stooges/MC5 and the Sex Pistols/Ramones.

Like the Stooges and MC5, the band's sound was something of a Stones cop, only harder, faster and meaner. And like the Sex Pistols and the Ramones, they boiled it down to, basically, brass tacks.


One thing that's great about the timing of punk rock is that you can establish, basically, the entire gestation of the form. As compared to rock n' roll proper, so much of the prototype bands found an audience before the form was fully in place, plus you can trace a clear lineage from the Mod bands to art-rock to the protopunk bands to actual punk rock.

The Dolls fit well into that timeline. They took a great deal of stylistic cues from glam, even dressing like boys playing dress-up in their mothers' closet. Their garish sound took much from blues – those riffs – but didn't hold peace and love in the same reverence as the Bowies and T Rexes of the world. Indeed, they were the Stooges' equal in bitterness.

Look at the subjects they sang about. “Looking For A Kiss” tackles the groupie/rock and roll scene of the New York they inhabited. The oft-quoted line, "Everyone's going to your house to shoot up in your room/Most of them are beautiful but so obsessed with gloom," reeks of disdain for the pretentious art students that inhabited the Dolls' world. “Lonely Planet Boy” is the only song on the record with a hopeful tone, and even it is a breakup song. “Trash” is lyrically sparse, but begins with a Bo Diddley homage and falls into different beats beautifully. “Personality Crisis” hits the often enoyed mental illness song style.

So, yes. They were unique.


There's also the issue of David Johansen. I'm of the age that his novelty song “Hot Hot Hot” (as Buster Poindexter) was popular when I was a little kid, so my knowledge of the Dolls is largely based upon the notion that the “Hot Hot Hot” guy was in a band in the 70s. He dressed like a girl.

It really means nothing, but I still find it weird.


Todd Rundgren produced the record, which is just a little weird. He adds sax and multiple guitars to create a bigger sound than the Dolls had originally intended. It sounds wonderful.

Monday, October 29, 2007

No. 212: Proud Mary: The Best of Ike and Tina Turner

Band: Ike and Tina Turner
Album: Proud Mary: The Best of Ike and Tina Turner
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Before Tina was a survivor (and on a related note, before Ike Turner was the king of the wife beaters), she sang with her then-husband. They made their name putting their stamp on what are, essentially, rock standards, culminating in the famous "Proud Mary."
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: I'm just pretty non-impressed by this collection. Tina's voice isn't what I thought it was and the song selection is just weird.
Best song: "River Deep, Mountain High" is pretty great, though, it's the main highlight on the album. I'll say this, though: It's not near the version with Phil Spector producing.
Worst song: I'm mostly non-plussed with the whole thing, so I can't really say that one song is so much worse than another, though their cover of "I Want To Take You Higher" is an insult to the original.
Is it awesome?: Nope.

Here's something I didn't know: When Ike and Tina Turner started performing together, they were not married. In fact, he was married to another woman, though Tina was pregant with Ike's child. Classy guy, that Ike.

So, Ike's spousal abuse aside, I'm not totally impressed by this collection. There are decent songs ("Working Together" is all right, I guess) but the record is peppered with inexplicable covers. A point made to me about my Linda Rondstadt piece complained that we put too much emphasis on songwriting in evaluating singers, denouncing the singers who don't write their own material. I understand that point, but I'll say this: Covers of hit songs don't make sense to me. The Carpenters doing "Ticket To Ride" is kind of mind-boggling and, I think, Ike and Tina doing "Honky Tonk Woman," "I Want To Take You Higher" and, to some extent, "Proud Mary" is kind of dumb.

I was actually looking forward to this record, in the hopes that I'd like it; A lot of people claim Ike Turner to be one of the best early rock and rollers. Plus, everyone loves Tina's voice.

Well, I wasn't impressed with either. Too bad.

No. 211: Tattoo You

Band: The Rolling Stones
Album: Tattoo You
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Considered by some to be the Stones' best album, "Tattoo You" opens with one of the band's most popular songs and ends with one of the band's best. Because of its prolonged recording history (most of the songs came from pre-1980 sessions and were simply augmented during the recording), the album doesn't reflect the disco era from which it came.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: This is album no. eight of theirs on this list, so I've run out of ways to say that the Rolling Stones don't excite me.
Best song: "Waiting On A Friend" is surprisingly mature for a Stones record.
Worst song: People like "Slave," but it doesn't appear to be more than some chanting, a riff and a sax solo.
Is it awesome?: Nope.

"Tattoo You" is both interesting and boring at the same time. It's interesting in that the album is almost a housecleaning effort. Only two of the songs come from sessions in 1980, when the album was put together (our good friend Wikipedia has the details). The other eight were all leftover songs that were written and bare-bones recorded in the early-mid 1970s. The band spent the proper "Tattoo You" sessions overdubbing. In fact, "Waiting On A Friend" had no Ron Wood guitar in it at all. That song's guitar is all Briant Taylor, who was no longer in the band by 1980. He continues to get royalties for the album.

It's boring because it isn't really anything different from previous and future Stones efforts. Sure, there's the dance-tinged "Start Me Up," but the rest of the record is standard Stones fare. There's the fast-paced blues "Neighbors," the cop of "Hoochie Coochie Man" on "Black Limousine," the "Can't You Hear Me Knockin'" cop on "Slave" and balladry of "Tops." It even has the requisite sexist song in the Richards-sung "Little T&A."

"Waiting On A Friend" is introspective -- something to laud, surely -- and a good song to boot, but it isn't really anything more than a slower blues rock song. It's doesn't depart from the script, musically.

At the time of "Tattoo You," the Stones were at the top of their "best band in rock and roll" nonsense. I imagine some of the praise heaped on it is due to this claim of greatness. More of the praise is surely based on the love of "Start Me Up," however misguided that may be. Nevertheless, I'm not a fan.

Friday, October 26, 2007

No. 210: Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain

Band: Pavement
Album: Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: The picture of indie rock's second album produced the band's only minor hit, "Cut Your Hair," as well as some top-quality melodies. "Range Life," "Gold Soundz" and "Silence Kid" are brilliant and Malkmus' non-sequitors are at their finest.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: It's hard to justify this album on the merits of the lyrics of the record, if only because they're mostly about nothing. Still, Pavement was more about the lack of image than anything.
Best song: The anti-alt-rock lyrics to "Range Life" are wonderfully subversive and the song's hook is among Malkmus' best.
Worst song: The instrumental "5-4=Unity" isn't all that great.
Is it awesome?: It is.

It's amazing how many bands have tried to cop Pavement's thing, when none of them really can do it well. The irony-soaked bands of today's modern indie rock all attempt Pavement's style, but can't come close.

"Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain" is my favorite Pavement record, though I'm not totally sure why. There's something pleasant about it; Malkmus' greatest asset as a songwriter is his ability to combine the right amount of edge and poppiness in his melodies.


I was introduced to Pavement by a friend of mine (now a baseball blogger of some renown) who I was in a band with. Mark's songwriting was hugely influenced by Pavement and being in The Perfect Truck was one of the biggest reasons for my love of indie rock. Pavement, Mark seemed to understand, showed indie rock could be fun, challenging and clever all at the same time.

"Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain" is that. The cacophony of "Fillmore Jive" is decidely not indie; It really foreshadowed Malkmus' solo career in jamming. "Cut Your Hair" also features the noisy near-end section, but is, by far, the most melodic Pavement song with its "ooo"s. "Silence Kit" has the angular guitar that saturated indie rock later in the decade.


I'm not the world's biggest Pavement fan, but there's a reason I can pick up "Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain" at nearly any point and enjoy it. Pitchfork's Mark Richardson sums it up well:

Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain has been called one of the great California albums, but unlike most records slapped with that label, it avoids dreams and nightmares and focuses on the banal. This is a suburban California album, and since suburbs are exactly the same from Sacto to Levittown, it's an album to which all suburban kids can relate. To us, the imagery of "Elevate Me Later" ("underneath the fake oil burning lamps in the city we forgot to name") and "Range Life" (the kid on the skateboard is coasting through a winding subdivision, not Brooklyn) is instantly familiar.

(Emphasis is his)

I think that's fitting. As a child of suburbia -- though not subdivisions -- I think the familiarity is clearly there. The laconic value of "Stop Breathin" has the sound of the distinctive suburban life, with Malkmus' "i can see the lines open shutters/and the leaves flocked on a grid" making no sense, yet making perfect sense itself. The song ends on the line "Dad, they broke me," a suburban lament to a parent, if nothing.


The Byrdsesque jangle of "Range Life" (strange video here) is the first thing a listener notices, but it's hardly the only thing. Malkmus' vocal cadences have the laid-back suburban feeling of a teenager and his voice nearly cracks while he hopes in the chorus for a "Range life, where I can settle down." He extends the final syllable into a three-syllable situation, almost searching for soul.

It's a brilliantly crafted song. The easy lead guitar picking appegiated chords over the jangle, the slow 4/4 drums and the rolling bass all envelope Malkmus' voice as he sings of his suburban dreams.

Famously, the song's final verse slams the alternative rock gods of the time:

Out on tour with the smashing pumpkins
Nature kids, they don’t have no function
I don’t understand what they mean
And I could really give a fuck.
The stone temple pilots,
They’re elegant bachelors
They’re foxy to me are they foxy to you?
I will agree there isn’t absolutely nothing
Nothing more than me

Malkmus claimed that the song was written from the point of view of an aging hippie -- presumably former Pavement drummer Gary Young -- looking at alternative rock as silly. He'd substitute The Spice Girls and Counting Crows in live versions of the song. However, super douche bag Billy Corgan threatened to drop his band from the 1994 Lollapalooza tour if Pavement played on the tour.

I know Malkmus tried to talk around it, but I enjoy his attacking Smashing Pumpkins. I find Corgan to be a completely self-important idiot and anytime someone smarter than Corgan can attack him, I applaud it.


Because I don't want to write too much about the song, "Cut Your Hair" has an awesome video:

My personal favorite part is the lizard head mask. Awesome sight gag.

Also, they played it on Leno:

Figure that out.


"Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain" will always be known for "Cut Your Hair," which is fine. Nevertheless, it's a great album, filled with awesome melodies and Malkmus' famous clever indie rock steam of consciousness writing.

No. 209: Wish You Were Here

(original paper covering -- complete with robot handshake sticker -- that the record was wrapped in)
Band: Pink Floyd
Album: Wish You Were Here
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Floyd member's favorite album, "Wish You Were Here," while timeless for fans, is a very specific place and time in the band's evolution. Jaded by success and saddened by the downfall of their former frontman, the record retells the tragedy of both record companies and detaching from the world. Four songs total make up the record, with two doting on Syd Barrett ("Shine On You Crazy Diamond" and the title track) and the other two lamenting the band's corporate masters.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: I'm biased (this was one of the albums that introduced me to Floyd), but I think "Wish You Were Here" should be considerably higher. It's a fantastic album.
Best song: The album works as a whole, so picking one song or another is useless. "Wish You Were Here" has had the most radio success, for what that's worth.
Worst song: Um, none.
Is it awesome?: Absolutely.

This is totally off-the-wall, but you know what Pink Floyd reminds me of? Apple Computers.

Hear me out. Admittedly, it's a small scope, but the marriage of a superior product and excellent use of the image are what the two have in common. So, maybe they're not like one another, but each is downplayed by haters -- yes, I've met people who hate Floyd, mostly on the fact that stupid hippies love "Dark Side" -- who say each is all style, no substance.

Apple gets that often; I used to be one of the people who felt that way. They market their products largely on the image; striking advertisements using the all-white iPod as a centerpiece.

Floyd also has a striking command of the iconic. Each of their most famous records is such largely on the album cover, from the bricks and marching hammers of "The Wall" to the "Atom Heart Mother" cow to the "Animals" pig to probably the most identifiably album cover of all time, the "Dark Side" prism.

"Wish You Were Here" is similar. The burning man album cover -- concealed by a black wrapper on early releases showing a sticker of two robot hand shaking -- has appeared on countless t-shirts and posters adorning dorm rooms in colleges across the United States.


But, what of the music?

It's no secret that I adore Floyd. "Wish You Were Here," oddly enough, is the first Floyd album I ever owned. My copy of the CD is scratched to hell, because I have inserted and taken that thing out of CD players for 15 years now. The title track was the first non-"Another Brick In The Wall" song I'd known by Floyd and its sentimental pop stylings ("two lost souls living in a fishbowl") still tug at me.

But, the album is not just the title track. The preceding song, "Welcome To The Machine" is a slam on the music industry. At the time of the recording, the band was riding high on "Dark Side Of The Moon" and had been unhappy with the spoils of success. Meetings with record companies proved combative. The song's narrator is seemingly speaking to a new artist, sarcastically typecasting him, saying "You bought a guitar to punish your mum, you didn't like school, and you know you're nobody's fool" and "What did you dream? It's alright we told you what to dream." The second bit is telling about the band's feelings on an industrialized society; Each job is something of a machine and those who work within that structure (in Floyd's case, the music industry) lose their identity and simply become cogs in the machine.

The song's synthesizer-heavy production fit into this. The guitars fit in the song less than normal and the Gilmour/Waters vocals are more shrill than normal.

"Welcome To The Machine" segues into the dynamic "Have A Cigar," another anti-industry song. Possibly known most famously for its guitar riff (a bluesy line echoes by Richard Wright's deep organ) and the filtered synthesizer used as a lead line in the beginning of the song. The constant "gravy train" references aren't subtle, nor is the now-famous "Which one's Pink?" line that the band heard by executives while the band was shopping for labels in the 1960s.

"Have A Cigar" is notable in that the vocals are not done by anyone in the band. During the recording session, Roger Waters hurt his voice and was not able to record the song and David Gilmour opted not to sing. In the next studio, singer/songwriter Roy Harper was recording an album and offered to do lead vocals on the song. He did and the record was a hit.

"Shine On You Crazy Diamond" is epic. Like "Wish You Were Here," the song is a tribute to Syd Barrett, the band's mentally ill former lead man. broken up into two tracks bookending the album, the song actually consists -- in true progressive rock fashion -- of nine different "parts," with parts 1-5 on the first track. Each portion has its own feel, from the funeral march-like final segment to the vocal positions in the third part. The riff comes in and out, and the band even inserts one of Barret's signature melodies (from "See Emily Play") as a tribute.

It's a wonderful composition, if nothing. Despite each track's length (Parts i-V comes in at 13 and a half minutes while Parts V-IX come in at over 12 minutes), the epic song deserves more scrutiny.


One of the famous stories of the recording of "Wish You Were Here" involves Barrett himself. Our good friend Wikipedia puts it as such:

In another incident, a heavyset man with a completely shaved head and eyebrows wandered into the studio while the band was recording "Shine On You Crazy Diamond," although Nick Mason has since stated that he's not entirely certain whether this was the particular song being recorded when the man was in the studio. The band could not recognise him for some time, when suddenly one of them realised it was Syd Barrett. At that time, Barrett had gained a lot of weight and had shaved off all of his hair, including his eyebrows, and the seven-year gap meant that it took sometime for his ex-band mates to identify him.

When they eventually recognised Barrett, Waters was so distressed he was reduced to tears. Someone asked to play the song again and Barrett said a second playback wasn't needed when they'd just heard it. Apparently, when "Wish You Were Here" was played, "He [Barrett] stood up and said, 'Right, when do I put my guitar on?'" keyboardist Rick Wright recalled. "And of course, he didn't have a guitar with him. And we said, 'Sorry, Syd, the guitar's all done.'"[1]

When asked what he thought of Wish You Were Here, Barrett said it sounded a "bit old". He was greeted enthusiastically by the band but subsequently slipped away during the impromptu party for Gilmour's wedding (which was, coincidentally, also on that day.)[2] It was the last time any of the other band members saw him.[3]

Wow. Just. Wow.


"Wish You Were Here" has time changes, satire and some of Gilmour's best guitar work. On the strength of the singles ("Have A Cigar" and the title track) and Waters' tribute to Barrett, it's one of the big three Floyd albums.

It's a must-have.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

No. 208: Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere

Band: Neil Young and Crazy Horse
Album: Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Young's second solo album is solid throughout, mostly on the strength of "Cinnamon Girl" and the record's meandering side-enders ("Down By The River" and "Cowgirl in the Sand"). It's folksy but hard, almost like an extended jam session.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: It's not as tight as some of Young's better albums, specifically the marvelous "Harvest" or the somber "After The Gold Rush." Still, it fits at 208.
Best song: "Cinnamon Girl" stands out as one of Young's best songs, not just on this album. Its lightweight Sabbath riff is nearly as hard as the Canadian rocks.
Worst song: "Running Dry (Requiem for the Rockets)" isn't great.
Is it awesome?: It's up and down, but it's an excellent record.

What's so amazing to me about Neil Young is that he continues to make records at a solid clip. He's released four records since 2005's "Prairie Wind," which is pretty impressive.

"Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere" is Young's second solo album and was made during his most productive time (he was also making Buffalo Springfield and CSNY records during this period). It was the first with Crazy Horse, so the record's sond has a jam-quality to it.

In fact, the album's centerpiece, "Down By The River" is known as Young's jam song. Just over nine minutes long on the record, Young has been known to play versions normally going over 20 minutes long. In fact, at the 1998 Farm Aid concert, he teamed up with Phish to do just that: Jam for 20-plus minutes on the song:

On the record, the band is loose and fun and Young's guitar solo goes nowhere, as the album title indicates. I love Neil Young, but you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who finds him to be a great guitar player. His solos on this album are not good, from poorly fingered one on "Down By The River" to the one-note (seriously) piece on "Cinnamon Girl."


Again, the band isn't particularly tight, but Young's songwriting finally comes into its own on this record. "Cowgirl In The Sand" is long,but pretty, the title track is desperate and "Cinnamon Girl" is one of Young's best riffs.

It's one of Young's better records, though because of it being an early Young record, he doesn't explore his sound as much. He was developing what a Neil Young song sounds like -- we'd later find out that "Cinnamon Girl" was an early prototype -- so, experimentation (like on "Hawks & Doves") isn't there. Still, a fine record.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

No. 203: Wheels Of Fire

Band: Cream
Album: Wheels Of Fire
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Many of Cream's definitive songs appear on "Wheels Of Fire's" first disc, specifically the perfect cream song in "White Room." Similarly, their cover of Albert King's "Born Under A Bad Sign" is the picture of great blues rock and it even has a Ringo-esque Ginger Baker-sung "Pressed Rat and Warthog." "Politician" is almost political, but still rocks. The second disc has the band live in San Francisco, tearing through "Spoonful," "Traintime," "Toad" and the blistering "Crossroads."
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: I'm comfortable with this record being at number 203. It's not Cream's best work, but it's certainly a fine record.
Best song: Either "White Room" or "Politician" are the highlights of the first disc. "Crossroads" is the best on the second disc and one of Cream's three best songs.
Worst song: "Traintime" on the second disc goes on too long.
Is it awesome?: Yes.

Remember when I disrespected Eric Clapton? Forget it all and listen to the "Crossroads" solo.

No. 207: Ten

Band: Pearl Jam
Album: Ten
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: The second-biggest "grunge" album isn't really that much of a grunge album at all -- at least in the Sub Pop Black Sabbath/Flag ethos -- but nevertheless helped usher in the Seattle scene into the mainstream. Pearl Jam is socially conscious and referential towards the classic rock that was gaining steam as Boomers passed on their tastes to their kids. In essence, "Ten" is an instant classic rock album.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: "Ten" doesn't really push any borders; It's straight ahead rock and roll while wearing a flannel shirt and Dr. Martens.
Best song: The more I read about "Alive," the more I'm totally creeped out by it. Still, it and "Evenflow" are pretty great rock songs.
Worst song: "Release" isn't great.
Is it awesome?: Not really.

Here's something that surprised the hell out of me: "Ten" has sold five million more copies than "Nevermind." That's just wrong.


There's a baseball player named Manny Ramirez; He's kind of a folk hero to many. He's at a disadvantage with the American media because English is his second language (he moved to New York from the Dominican Republic when he was in high school); Most Latin players are looked at by the unilingual sports media as uncooperative.

Anyway, Ramirez is something of a man-child in his way of doing everything other than hitting. He's not an expert fielder; In fact, he can be something of a disaster in non-Fenway stadia. Before an elimination playoff game recently, he basically told the media "hey, there's always next year if we don't win" and many media members took that to mean he didn't care enough.

(In a more destructive way, he also is quite the showboat when he hits home runs. He will pimp his trot when he hits one long and he certainly will stand in the box for a second -- or five -- after he hits a long fly to admire it. This backfired recently when he hit one out and the ump mistakenly called it in play [it bounced off a railing in back of the fence and bounced back into play]. Ramirez ended up with a single when he could've easily had a double. This made the anti-Ramirez types go nuts.)

Generally, he's looked at as something of a ditz (or the male equivalent, I guess). He's absent minded; He once ducked into the left field Fenway scoreboard/wall to urinate during a pitching change. He wears a uniform originally fitted for a much fatter teammate (Rich Garces), and consequently looks a little clownish.

Anyway, Ramirez is really divisive. A ton of people hate Ramirez because he "doesn't deserve to win shit" (that's the words of a friend of mine) when he doesn't hustle out fly balls or he showboats too much after a homer that meant, mostly, nothing (like when he recently hit a solo homer in a game the REd Sox were losting 7-2). These people point to his defense and say he doesn't care and they call him things like "lazy" or, in more mean-spirited terms, "stupid."

Leading this charge is Tim McCarver, the lead analyst on Fox' baseball broadcasts. In nearly every game, he takes pains to rip Ramirez' attitude. He'll sometimes compliment Ramirez on his hitting -- you have to be monumentally ignorant not to acknowledge that he's a great, great hitter -- but mostly just rips him. This, I think, drives some fan hatred towards Ramirez.

On the other side are Red Sox fans and statheads, who adore Ramirez. He's nearly unparalleled as a hitter, constantly among the league leaders in every stat that matters. Even in a down year, he hit .296/.388/.493, a very good line. Watching him in the batters box, you wouldn't know his reputation (well, save for the over sized uni); He's as serious as funeral, eyes locked on the pitcher. In a recent game, he spoiled (fouled off) three straight pitcher's pitches (good strikes that hitters can't drive) at 0-2, though he eventually struck out. No one in the league, save for Barry Bonds and Albert Pujols, looks as in-command at the plate, and his stat lines every year reflect that. The man can hit and hitting is the most important thing in baseball.

Anyway, the stat analyst site's lead columnist recently wrote(subscription required) something that I really agree with about Ramirez:

He’s almost a bright-line test for humankind; if you just divided the world into “people who like Manny Ramirez” and “everyone else,” which group would you rather hang out with?

I was thinking about this recently in regards to the grunge frontman heroes of my youth. While a lot of their music is now classic, I don't think I'd ever want to hang out with Kurt Cobain, Chris Cornell, Layne Staley or Eddie Vedder. Listening to "Ten" again really reinforces a though I've always had about about Vedder: "Wow, what a downer."


And for all of its popularity -- I reiterate that it has sold 12 million copies -- "Ten" is a real downer. Two of the three singles are about incest and a fictional school shooting while the next two songs (including a song the label wanted to release as a single) on the record are about being institutionalized and suicide. The record isn't inspirational; It's really depressing. If you asked 100 people in 1993 who they thought was going to kill himself, I'm sure 90 of them would've said Eddie Vedder before they said Kurt Cobain.


People are multi-faceted, certainly. I'm always reminded of this when I think of the two biggest Pearl Jam fans I know. They're both pretty happy go lucky dudes, both exhibit the signs you wouldn't expect from the average Pearl Jam song. They're not super serious, they're not boring and they're both very fun to be around.

It's strange. Sincerity is easy to mock and irony is the flavor of this generation. So, as much as I want to never hang out with any of the members of Pearl Jam, I do have friends that are fans, which is more than I can say about fanatics of Smashing Pumpkins.


(Let me preface what I'm about to write with this: I like this album. It is catchy and it's a pretty standard good rock and roll album. No, it doesn't sound like Seattle as much as, say, "Badmotorfinger" or "Dirt" does. It takes more from the Who and Neil Young than it does from Black Sabbath or any punk band. Still, it's a grand record, full of wailing guitars, some of the tightest drumming you'll ever hear and the passion of a thousand fires in Vedder's voice. Certainly, that it was the biggest record for a year or so, every song is almost second nature to me.)

For all my criticism of the Boomers for their self-involvement, Generation X is equally self-involved. And all you need to back that up is "Ten." The album drips with "why me?" and "my life sucks." It's basically a therapy session for Vedder put on tape. In accepting a VMA for "Jeremy," Vedder was the one who said "If it wasn't for music, I would have shot myself in front of that classroom."

And that's kind of the essence of "Ten." Vedder is unhappy and he wants everyone to know about his unhappiness. It's wildly narcissistic and there isn't much in the way of the outside world in it.

Of course, Pearl Jam is one of the more socially active bands out there, so that narcissism has ceased, to a large degree. Still, "Ten" stinks of it and it makes the album all the harder to listen to.


I can't really do Pearl Jam justice. I'm not in love with their sound (again, boring rock and roll) and Vedder annoys me more with every passing year. I admire their political stands and the stuff they do to stand for what they believe (the TicketMaster fiasco was good, for example), but their music just doesn't entice me.

I suggest this Cameron Crowe piece for a good read on the band. It seems a little dated now, but it provides a lot of insight into the band.

For me? I'll stick with Soundgarden, Nirvana and Alice In Chains.

No. 206: Tea for the Tillerman

Band: Cat Stevens
Album: Tea for the Tillerman
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Cat Stevens' soft folk takes a lot from Simon and Garfunkel. It's catchy, pretty and hummable.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: Outside of admitted quality, I'm not seeing the import of this record. It's just a folk record; Albeit a pretty great one.
Best song: "Wild World" is one of the best breakup songs around.
Worst song: "Longer Boats" is pretty boring.
Is it awesome?: Not really.

Cat Stevens' chamber pop music is something of interest, if only you can trace it all the way to the similar type music of the indie 90s and 00s. I'm not totally buying this, but it's a leap I'm sure people have made.

What's amazing about the record is how bitter it is. The idea that a cynic is simply an idealist disappointed is evident on this record; Stevens is clearly searching for some answers. "Into White" is something of a search for utopia, while "Father And Son" is a wonderful confused song and "Wild World" is a breakup song.

Sometimes it's pretty overt; "Sad Lisa" isn't exactly subtle and Stevens' search on "The Road To Find Out" stinks of loneliness ("find myself alone, hoping someone would miss me"). Still, great songs both and Stevens' ability to put the search into a nice package is striking.

"Wild World" is the great example of that. The song's first line ("Now that I've lost everything to you") is pathetic and the chorus turns from clever and sweet into downright creepy quick ("It's hard to get by just upon a smile... I'll always remember you like a child, girl").

Still, that Stevens is able to synthesize all those emotions into something so damned pleasant is amazing and the essence of the record. There are friends to be made out there, but "remember there's a lot of bad and beware."

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

No. 205: Abraxas

Band: Santana
Album: Abraxas
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Easily the Santana band's strongest album, the record has the band playing their Latin jazzy rock and roll in various ways: Slow ("Samba Pa Ti"), bluesy ("Black Magic Woman") and harder ("Hope You're Feeling Better").
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: I'm of the opinion that if any Santana album should be on here, it should be this one, rated higher (as opposed to no. 150, "Santana").
Best song: You'd be hard pressed to find a better song from the band than "Hope You're Feeling Better."
Worst song: The opener, "Singing Winds, Crying Beasts," isn't very good.
Is it awesome?: Sure.

I've made my feelings known on Santana, in general already, so I'll simply tackle "Abraxas" here. You'd be hard-pressed to find a better Santana record; Three of the band's best songs are on this record. "Black Magic Woman," "Oye Como Va" and "Hope You're Feeling Better" all have divergent sounds and are all pretty great.

In fact, it's the divergence of sound that makes "Abraxas" so interesting. The AllMusic review gets it right in saying "In the mid-'90s, an album as eclectic as Abraxas would be considered a marketing exec's worst nightmare." That's a fitting description; Though I'd wonder if that's necessarily good bad or indifferent. If there were a band as eclectic as "Abraxas" is, there's certainly no guarantee that they'd be any good. More likely, they'd sound like Liquid Soul, which is all good and well, but hardly "Abraxas."

Santana is kind of a one-album pop wonder and that's fine. They have later records of note ("Caravanserai" is interesting, though it produced zero hits), but nothing that was as good and as popular as "Abraxas." That's fine; They're just not the Beatles.

No. 204: Dirty Mind

Band: Prince
Album: Dirty Mind
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: "Dirty Mind" is influential, if only for one of the first real dirt-bag filthy records to have any success. In 1980, a song like "Slob On My Knob" was 20 years away, but it couldn't have happened without "Head." Still, it's a remarkably underrated Prince record, due to his usual genre-bending, epitomized on the ten-types-of-wrong "Sister." His keyboard work is amazing, if nothing.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: It is dirt bag filthy. "Head" isn't subtle and "Sister" is just wrong. It's not a fully realized album, though, with songs like "Gotta Broken Heart Again" mostly mediocre.
Best song: The title track is a fun little romp.
Worst song: "Gotta Broken Heart Again" isn't good.
Is it awesome?: Yeah, it is.

Prince, like Michael Jackson, is a wildly important artist, someone who has influenced countless musicians. It goes without saying that his straightforward sex crooning is evident in today's Akons, T-Pains, R. Kellys and the like, but musically, he did as much as anyone to merge so-called black and white music. "Dirty Mind" was his first album to do so.

His use of keyboards as the centerpiece of his music was something innovative, though that was likely a function of the decade in which he operated. Still, he created something of a signature sound; Both synthetic and organic, Prince's use of electronic sound was something copied by about a million people during that decade, Prince himself included.

"Dirty Mind" is Prince's first foray into adding rock and roll into his arsenal. While mostly a falsetto upbeat R&B guy on his first two records, "Dirty Mind" sets the stage with the title track; A romp of sex over guitars and keyboards. "Uptown" is the other highlight of the record, using a Sly Stone-ish message of racial harmony to get everyone to party.

"Head" is controversial in how up-front it is, but "Sister" is the most striking. In just 94 seconds, Prince recounts having sex with his sibling, which is shocking no matter who you are. Also, this sister is 16 years his senior, more fuel to the "Prince is insane" fire.

Also amazing is the way "Sister" sounds; It could easily be an Elvis Costello or Joe Jackson song in its pure New Wave palm mutes and start-stop drums. Prince's crossover into rock didn't just pick up from the Beatles and Hendrix; He was hitting current music styles as well.

"Dirty Mind" is Prince's first great album. It's not on the same level as "Purple Rain," but it holds its own with "Sign 'O' The Times" and "1999."

Monday, October 22, 2007

No. 202: Bad

Band: Michael Jackson
Album: Bad
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: "Bad" is considered another classic album from the 1980s. It's fiercer, more sexual and richer than "Thriller" in a lot of ways.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: "Bad" is, if nothing, the beginning of the end for Jackson. "Leave Me Alone" is the classic "I'm a victim" song and sums up Jackson's downfall in a lot of ways. In addition, anything that has Jackson as sexual or fierce is downright silly in 2007.
Best song: "Smooth Criminal" was the centerpiece to the abjectly ludicrous "Moonwalker," but it remains a pretty fun song.
Worst song: "Bad" is stupid on the same level that "Saturday Night's All Right For Fighting;" Michael Jackson isn't kicking anyone's ass.
Is it awesome?: Maybe in 1987, but not now.

"Bad" might as well be called "The Beginning of the End of Michael Jackson as a Normal Human Being." The record has all the beginnings of Jackson's strange tendencies. His first real "woo" nonsense is overdone on the title track, the album is slathers in forced adult sexuality ("Liberian Girl," "the Way You Make Me Feel," "Dirty Diana," etc.), his social conscience is evident ("Man In The Mirror," his first and only introspective song), he appears on he cover of the record with obvious plastic surgery and his victim complex fills the final track, "Leave Me Alone."

I, like everyone else my age, have memories of being into "Bad" a fair amount as a seven- and eight-year-old. The record is fun, on some level; "Smooth Criminal" has an excellent groove and the title track would be a great song by someone who wasn't 5'11", 120 lbs. (seriously, that's gross).

But, again, the forced 'normalcy' is just weird, given what we know about Jackson now (more on that in a bit). "Speed Demon" is some sort of song about racing, maybe? "Dirty Diana," "The Way You Make Me Feel" and "I Just Can't Stop Loving You" drip with forced sexuality. It's strange imagining Jackson serenading a woman with any of these songs, all while lifting up his socks, moonwalking and screaming "woo!" Also, grabbing his crotch.

(The video for "Speed Demon" is just another notch in the "the paparazzi" is chasing me bedpost for Jackson. Like "Leave Me Alone," the video is made extra weird by Jackson's claymation rabbit friend in the desert. Seriously. Check it out.)

It's something of a time capsule. In 1987, the music buying public believed that Jackson was a little eccentric, but not the complete and utter Martian that he is thought to be now.


Being that this is the last Jackson album on here, it's probably best for me to state my feelings about Jackson himself and his presence in popular culture over the past, say, 15 years.

Let me first state my empathy for Jackson's upbringing. I think it's heartless not to feel a little for him. He was basically paraded around like a show pony during his entire childhood. I'm sure any depression or unhappiness he felt was met with the spoils of fame and money ("let's build an amusement park!"). They've apparently put him into a suspended state of childhood.

In addition, his father's physical and emotional abuse certainly contributed to what Michael Jackson is today.

Finally, the way entertainers are treated in American society is pretty ridiculous. Certainly, the amount of money we bestow upon them for their talents -- a function of the free market system, by the way -- hurts the ability for self-reflection and analysis. I'm sure he was the meal ticket, so no one was able to tell him no when he had some crazy idea (this happens with athletes all the time. They're surrounded by yes-men their whole lives). There likely wasn't anyone to tell him, "hey, don't let that kid sleep over."

So, on some level, what's happened to Jackson isn't entirely his doing. His circumstances really contributed to what's going on with him.

With all of that said, Michael Jackson is a troubled man and needs copious amounts of counseling. He's never been convicted of molesting a child, though the settlement and details of (the child "erotica," the accusations of oral sex, etc.) the 1993 trial is, in my eyes, more than a little troubling. The 2005 trial details (supposedly exposing himself to the kids, showing them pornography and the infamous "Jesus Juice") only reinforces that Jackson should never be around children.

Michael Jackson is 49 years old as of this writing. He was in his mid-40s when the last trial was prosecuted and that is far too old to be having other people's children sleep in the same bed as you. Let's forget that these kids weren't infants; They were 12- and 13-year-olds. Early teenagers don't sleep in the same bed as their parents; Sleeping in the same bed (even absent of inappropriate behavior) is, like, ten types of wrong. It may not be illegal, but it's wrong.

There's a certain thing going on here, which I'll call the "McDonald's conundrum." In the move "Super Size Me," the question at the heart of the movie is this: What is the tipping point between consumer responsibility and corporate responsibility? In other words, who's more at fault: The fat guy eating McDonald's every day when he knows McDonald's is bad for you, or the people at McDonald's, who sell heart attack-causing food.

In this case, Michael Jackson is basically, McDonald's and the parents of children who stay wth Jackson are the fat guys. Who, in their right mind, would let their children hang out with Jackson?

Hell, forget hanging out. Who in their right mind, would let their kids stay overnight with Jackson? Why did it take two molestation trials for parents to finally gigure this out? Or have they not figured it out?

No. 201: Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme

Band: Simon and Garfunkel
Album: Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: I was actually pleasantly surprised by "Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme." There's antiwar music, English folk songs and wonderful satire. It's clever and cool and is much more interesting as a sonic experiment than basically anything else the duo ever recorded.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: Again, it's Simon and Garfunkel; They don't carry much weight to those of us raised on 80s hard rock. It's wussy music, on some level.
Best song: "Homeward Bound" is kind of a classic.
Worst song: I'm not really in love with "Cloudy."
Is it awesome?: It's certainly the best Simon & Garfunkel record.

I think I've made it clear that I'm not a big Simon & Garfunkel fan; I respect both Simon's writing and Garfunkel's voice, but there's something too vanilla for me to really love.

"Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme" isn't as vanilla as their other records. Certainly, the blatant genre satire on "Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme" gives me a new feeling towards the duo. There's something more sardonic in them and I enjoy that.

The key to this sarcasm is "A Simple Desultory Philippic (or How I Was Robert McNamara'd Into Submission)," a straight-ahead dig at Bob Dylan. The song namedrops 16 different people in Dylanesque fashion and uses the classic "Subterranean Homesick Blues" rhythm to create full-on satire worthy of Stephen Colbert.

The song is indicative of the record's full departure. Like a poor man's "Pet Sounds" or "Sgt. Pepper's," "Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme" uses a variety of different sounds and production techniques to back up Simon and Garfunkel's classic folk voice/guitar sound.

In short, it's the most interesting sounding of their records.

Friday, October 19, 2007

No. 200: The Downward Spiral

Band: Nine Inch Nails
Album: The Downward Spiral
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Trent Reznor's greatest work, "The Downward Spiral" is a very loose rock opera/concept album wherein the protagonist tries to detach himself from society by escapes such as sex, drugs and violence. Filled with angst, self-hate and remorse, the album is a depressing suburban recitation of life in a post-modern, post-self-help world.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Reznor's decidedly adolescent lyrics. While this record is much more mature than "Broken" or "Pretty Hate Machine," the 15-year-old writing poetry thing is still there, specifically on the album closer, "Hurt." Nevertheless, "The Downward Spiral" is on par, I think, with other adolescent angst albums and should be higher.
Best song: "Closer" is among Reznor's greatest works. From its juxtaposition of a simple augmented piano melody against a dissonant guitar breakdown to its fury-filled hedonistic (notice I didn't say sexist) lyrics, "Closer" is a brilliant piece of music. It fits perfectly into the record's overall concept/theme and worked just as well as a single. Outside of "Closer," "Heresy" is an awesome song, though he gets Nietzsche mostly wrong. Also, "March Of The Pigs" is an awesome metal record.
Worst song: I'm torn on "Big Man With A Gun." The sheer lewdness of it is off-putting, but the song fits in with the concept of the album quite well.
Is it awesome?: Absolutely. Reznor's best work, hands down.

"The Downward Spiral," like "Nevermind," has something of a perfect storm aspect to it with me. It came out just before I was in the prime pre-angst age range (I was 13 when it was released). It's got a lot of metal overtones, it's catchy and has enough pop hooks to keep anyone interested and it's mildly literate (from Reznor's constant references to Christ's passion to his misguided reading of "God is dead").

It's sort of ironic, because I went through a real TDS backlash up until the last year or so about NIN. I should have totally identified with the record, but really just thought it to be an angst-ridden piece of teenage garbage. Still, I've come to love it and consider it to be a top album.


That's not to say TDS isn't an angst-ridden piece of teenage garbage. It is, in a lot of ways. Reznor's way with lyrics isn't fully formed to be conversational (like the Elliott Smithes and Bob Dylans of the world) or simple enough to be powerful (like the classic songwriters). Rather, his worse lyrics sound like muddied poetry a 15-year-old in spooky goth makeup would present to his AP English teacher.

For me, there's a certain feeling of identification with Reznor. Like Reznor friend Al Jourgensen (of Ministry and an alumnus of my alma mater, New Trier High School), Reznor's voice has a tinge of suburban privelege to it. Like a teenage to which nothing has ever been hard, Reznor's vocal boils under a thin veneer of disappointment and tantrum-throwing. Trust me, I know this as well as anyone; Suburban privilege is the internal demon I am always fighting.


A not about misogyny:

Reznor gets hammered by my least favorite people in American culture -- the moralists -- a lot for the lyrics on the album's masterful centerpiece, "Closer." The song, an ode to the favors of the flesh, is dirty. It's real dirty. It's not dirty in the

I'd argue that "Closer" is two three. First, as a part of a greater whole, it's a key point in the record's theme of self-destruction through a self-reflection in something that would be considered -- ironically, by the moralists themselves -- immoral or amoral means. The main character of the record is trying to find himself through the window of making love (it sounds less threatening when I use that term, doesn't it?), ultimately failing.

As a standalone song, on the other hand, "Closer" is something close to an ode to a post-sexist, post-religious world. Specifically, the lyrical piece in question ("I want to fuck you like an animal/I want to feel you from the inside/I want to fuck you like an animal/My whole existence is flawed/You get me closer to god") is as a much a pansexual/pagan ode to the spiritual female.

First, the idea of fucking "like an animal" sounds -- largely because of Reznor's delivery -- something less than savory. That couldn't be further from the truth; Fucking like an animal is the story of passion in this case, as evidenced by the lyrics that follow it. Coming from a man's perspective, "I want to feel you from the inside" is deliberately ambiguous and can easily be interpreted as feeling a woman's inside. I'd argue, however, that the "feel you from the inside" line is an ode to female sexuality; Reznor wants to feel like a woman and feel sex "from the inside," if you consider the female genitalia.

This theory is furthered by Reznor's spoken word portion of the song during the instrumental breakdown before the album's theme (the chromatic piano riff) comes up towards the end of the song. Being the last words of the song, the four line break uses metaphor for the female sexual organs and the is overly laudatory:

Through every forest, above the trees
Within my stomach, scraped off my knees
I drink the honey inside your hive
You are the reason I stay alive

The honey/hive metaphor isn't exactly subtle, but it speaks to a healing/redemptive power of the spiritual female. The song's lyrical progression is one that back this up, as the "help me" pre-chorus portion of the song is a plea for assistance, with the second verse being a full press towards the sexual female, essentially, making it all better. The song's protagonist, in fact, even offers up his entire being for satisfaction, bargaining away his "absence of faith," "isolation" and "hate," all things that make up his "everything."

It's a brilliantly desperate, laudatory song. It's not sexist.

(The video furthers this point, with photos of Reznor tied up as a sub in S&M gear, as well as anatomical drawings and photos of the female sexual organ. A woman in a mask also looms over the song, acting as the dominant figure towards the end of the song.)


The construction of "Closer" is why it's the brilliant piece of the album. The almost pneumatic 4/4 beat that starts the song is mechanical in its, well, rhythm. Layering further hi-hats on the off-beats adds to the song's layering. The toy chromatic piano theme --known as either the "Closer Theme" or "The Downward Spiral Theme" as it appears on the album a few times -- is doubled at the end of the song as the backing dissonance fades -- It becomes s a clear sound in an ocean of feedback.

Using a similar approach as the best Eno/Bowie projects, Reznor meticulously adds drop-beats and mechanized drums over soft opening human wails in "The Becoming," while the laid back beat of "Piggy" is slowly augmented by distortion, feedback and dissonant harmonics. The machine-gun guitar of "Heresy" and the driving 7/8 drums of "March Of The Pigs" both are progressive metal defined and the drums on much of the rest of the album ("Heresy" and "Closer" being the operative ones) are much more like the industrial of Einstürzende Neubauten and Ministry. "Ruiner" has the drum beat of a disco record, while "Big Man With A Gun" is something all in itself.

Each track, though, is multi-layered, deep and almost orchestral in its production. There's no real simplicity in the record, save the final track, "Hurt."


TDS is like a great album in its need to be listened to on a pair of good headphones. I think of "The Becoming" particularly in the end of the song has shot-like notes coming from each side towards the end of the song as Reznor crescendos into a scream of "Don't give up, it wants me dead. Goddamn this voice inside my head" all while machine-gun drums add to the song's climax.

"Mr. Self Destruct" starts out with a movie sample and breaks down into another cacophony of sound that's lost on crappy speakers. Listening on headphones brings out the small nuances in the record, overall.


"Big Man With A Gun" is probably also targeted by the moralists. I understand why; These people don't look at the song in the context of the album. First, "Big Man With A Gun" is not something anyone would want to emulate and Reznor makes that abundantly clear; The hyperbolic nature of the song is something you'd only hear in an ironic tone. Secondly, the protagonist of the album is someone the listener is to identify with, but clearly see going over the edge of madness. "Big Man With A Gun" is certainly the picture of madness and for anyone to think Reznor is condoning rape or handgun violence is wrong.


Another of the hallmarks of a great album is when you listen to it multiple times, you can find a new favorite song on almost every listen. TDS has given me that pleasure this week. "Close" was the album's biggest hit -- and best song -- but "Piggy," "The Becoming," "March Of The Pigs," "Mr. Self Destruct," "Reptile" and "Heresy" are all similarly great in their own ways.

"The Becoming," for me, is definitely a new favorite of mine. A thematic mix of "Blade Runner" and the album's theme of self-flagellation, "The Becoming" is an introspective look into the main character's transformation.

Musically and lyrically, the song plays on the dichotomy of human and machine. Industrial music (if you'd call NIN "industrial") plays on this juxtaposition as a genre, but this song isn't exactly subtle. The song's acoustic guitar breakdowns are the only really melodic, pleasant, non-robotic parts, having the ooooo-ing vocals and folky guitar we're more used to on a Paul Simon record. The first breakdown, lyrically, is decidedly human, albeit scary:

Hiding backwards inside of me I feel so unafraid
Annie, hold a little tighter I might just slip away

Of course, to further place this juxtaposition in its context, the immediate musical piece is full of computer sounds and dissonant screeches. The machine, clearly, takes over the human there, musically.

Lyrically, the song speaks of being "made up of wires" and "All pain" disappearing, as "it's the nature of my circuitry."

This theme is better-tread on, basically, every Radiohead record, but the idea of our reliance on machines is something to think about and Reznor does it well here.


TDS is an easy target and I understand that. It's decidedly sincere and sincerity is an easy target. It is immature in a lot of ways, from the self-inflicted "Hurt" to the high schooler's reading of Nietzsche on "Heresy" ("god is dead" is not an anti-religious creed, but rather a question of humanity's search for meaning. Often forgotten is the next lone, "And we have filled him.").

I'm not going to argue with any of that; Reznor's writing is melodramatic and overbearing. But, in this particular genre -- the disco-y industrial thing -- melodrama is par for the course. Considering the self-destructive main character of the concept album, melodrama is the best storytelling tool. It doesn't work as well on Reznor's other NIN records (those without a unifying theme), but on TDS, it's fitting.


TDS isn't perfect and one needs to be in a right frame of mind to love it. But, still, the record hits those melodramatic angst notes perfectly. There's a reason it was such a hit when it came out; It's the soundtrack for narcissistic suburban anger people. There are a lot of us out there.

No. 199: Highway To Hell

Band: AC/DC
Album: Highway To Hell
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: The last Bon Scott record, "Highway To Hell" is a shape of things to come for the band; More pop sensibility, more riffing and more of the AC/DC formula. Like the post-Scott masterpiece "Back In Black," "Highway To Hell" is somewhat radio friendly and fury-filled.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: Let's not too far into this, but AC/DC is sexist and a little crude. They, like Green Day, are a basic band for adolescents.
Best song: The title track is one of AC/DC's best songs and "Walk All Over You" is wildly catchy and fun.
Worst song: "Night Prowler" is awful, sexist and lewd.
Is it awesome?: I'd say no.

"Mutt" Lange is almost as responsible for AC/DC's sound as Bon Scott and Angus Young are. He was the man to emphasize the band's big rhythm section and the one who helped the band work out its songwriting fix. So, there's that.


I'm not sure what else to say about AC/DC that I haven't said about the band. Their records all pretty much sound the same. Big riff, chant-like chorus, big drums. Rinse, repeat.

I compared "Back In Black" to the first "Die Hard" movie, so I'd call "Highway To Hell" the second "Die Hard" movie (even though "Highway To Hell" was before "Back In Black"). The second "Die Hard" movie wasn't as good as the first one, but it's still big, dumb fun. "Highway To Hell" is big, dumb fun, too. "Walk All Over You" is wonderful, the title track is cool and "If You Want Blood (You've Got It)" is good stuff.

Of course, it's filled with the ridiculous sexist nonsense. "Love Hungry Man," "Walk All Over You" and "Beating Around The Bush" are all, basically, single-entendre. And "Night Prowler" is just disgusting and the kind of thing that makes you wonder if anyone actually likes "Night Prowler" other than the guy who used it as some sort of reasoning who was the Night Stalker.


Look, it's AC/DC. It's not anything to get really excited about. Yes, it's Bon Scott's last album and yes, he drank himself to death. Big whoop.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

No. 198: The Best Of Little Walter

Band: Little Walter
Album: The Best Of Little Walter
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: There's only one real harmonica style for blues and rock and roll players and it's Little Walter. He's incredibly underrated as a musician and while he's not the name that B.B. King or Howlin' Wolf are, his shadow looms hugely over music.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: No one knows who he is and most of the songs sound pretty alike.
Best song: "My Babe" is classic and "Juke" is the first harmonica instrumental ever to become a hit on the R&B charts.
Worst song: None of the songs are bad, per se. A lot of them sound alike.
Is it awesome?: Sure. Why not?

Because I'm one of the millions of people who knows nothing about Little Walter, let's roll over to our friends at and Wikipedia to explain him...

According to both, he was a hugely talented harmonica player who grew up in abject poverty in the Mississippi Delta (New Orleans, to be exact) and moved up to St. Louis and eventually Chicago in order to be part of the thriving blues scene.

He made his first recording in 1947 after learning music at the knee of Sonnny Boy Williamson, Muddy Waters and Big Bill Broonzy -- all blues legends in their own light. In 1950, he'd become the in-house Chess harmonica player.

Using the tail end of sessions to record his own music gave us "Juke" in 1952, recorded at the end of a Muddy Waters session. The chart-topping instrumental was an instant hit and it propelled Little Walter to stardom. He had 14 top ten R&B hits between '52 and '58, though he eventually succumbed to his own demons -- he was a tremendous alcoholic and was not able to stay sober for more than a few months -- and was killed in a street fight in 1968.

No. 197: Murmur

Band: R.E.M.
Album: Murmur
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Easily the most mainstream of the college radio jangle-rock of the 1980s, R.E.M. was a seminal band that straddled the line of mainstream and underground success. Their 1983 debut, "Murmur"is filled with influence from bands diverse as Big Star, The Byrds, Gang of Four and The Psychedelic Furs.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: "Murmur" is, by no means, the best R.E.M. record.
Best song: "A Perfect Circle" is sad, sublime and excellent. Mills' doubled piano is just perfect.
Worst song: "We Walk" isn't great.
Is it awesome?: Yes.

In 1983, post-punk was in its nascent stages and R.E.M. were the type of band to nurture it to fruition. Building off the New Wave of bands like the Talking Heads and the protopunk of the Velvet Underground, R.E.M. added Big Star's pop and The Byrds' jangle and set the stage for years to come. In adding Stipe's lyrics with the band's pop sensibility, R.E.M. became a style of their own.


One of the R.E.M.'s early trademarks is that Michael Stipe's lyrics are a complete artistic bunch of nonsense. There isn't really a decipherable way to understand what Stipe's talking about; He's overly abstract and arty in a way that really engages the listener.

"Radio Free Europe" has some theme, but otherwise, regret and melancholy basically rules "Murmur." The song titles themselves show a picture of downturn ambiguity: "Pilgrimage," "Moral Kiosk" and the wonderful "Talk About The Passion."


R.E.M. is what U2 wants to be. Outspoken children of '70s power pop and '60s folk, Michael Stipe and Co. are able to use jangly Rickenbackers and Stipe's nasal whine to reinforce a dark world view. The band's attraction for college students in the underground, non-punk rock scene opened the door for bands like Pavement and their ilk. U2, on the other hand...


I'm going to do something a little sneaky here (and something I did earlier in the week with that Green Day record). Just as a politician answers the question s/he wanted to answer (as opposed to the one actually asked), I'm going to write about a song released eight years after "Murmur:" "Losing My Religion."

As someone who has about 50 songs on his 10 favorite songs list, I guess my recommendation for the track is mostly meaningless. Still, "Losing My Religion" is the best R.E.M. song ever released, which is saying a lot for a band that's put out "Drive," "Man On The Moon," "Fall On Me," "Welcome To The Occupation," So. Central Rain" and "Talk About The Passion."

But, "Losing My Religion" is such a striking song that it takes the cake. Because of a video heavy in imagery evoking Saint Sebastian, a lot of people find the song to be religious, but it simply speaks of religion in a laudatory, subtle tone. It's based on the Southern phrase of losing one's temper (example: "That's made me so mad I'm losing my religion."), it's a breakup song. Stipe himself has said the song is thematically linked to "Every Breath You Take" and a glimpse into the lyrics (specifically, the famous "I think I though I saw you try") evokes a quiet desperation that R.E.M. has perfected. In this case, it's the jilted, angry lover.

And that mandolin part is exquisite. Based around a G/D chord progression, it sounds enough like "Battle Of Evermore" to be great, but the song's tempo makes it sound wholly un-R.E.M.-ish. The acoustic guitar backs up the band's folkish bona fides (especially after the more rock "Green") while Bill Berry's drumming is more energetic than on previous efforts.

Stipe's voice cracks and modulates perfectly on "Losing My Religion." While he had worked in a rock form on "Document" and "Green" and a more college-radio sound on earlier IRS releases, "Losing My Religion" was Stipe's peak as a vocalist. Finally, his nasal whine would work off the guitars, as opposed to under them (something the band would reinforce on "Automatic For The People").


R.E.M. is one of the bands that made college radio into what it was for almost 20 years. Along with other post-punk bands of the era, R.E.M. appealed to a totally different demographic than your average underground band. As New Wave catered to an art student crowd, college radio's post-punk genre combined the art students of New Wave with the suburban geeky punk rockers. And so, you have R.E.M., a facsimile of The Byrds.

The band's sound is constantly evolving, but R.E.M.'s first record sounds timeless, basically. While it's not as fully realized as their later work, it's equally somber and sonically marvelous.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

No. 196: Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era

Band: Various Artists
Album: Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: The mid-late '60s psychedelic era produced a few big-time bands (Jefferson Airplane, Santana, The Grateful Dead, etc.) and a metric ton of imitators and unknowns. "Nuggets" culls the best of these one- and no-hit wonders. The songs are mostly simple, but always interesting. It's really a "best of the rest" compilation of the non-hit bands of that era.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: There's a case to be made that this set's presence on the list, but I'd say that case is at odds with the large amount of music from '65-'86 on here. That the Quicksilver Messenger Service and Moby Grape records are on here is kind of overkill; "Nuggets" just kind of adds to it. We get it, boomers look at this period with fondness.
Best song: Being that it's a compilation of great songs, it's hard to single out one or two songs. Let's say "You're Gonna Miss Me" by The 13th Floor Elevators and "Open My Eyes" by The Nazz.
Worst song: See above. All the songs are pretty good.
Is it awesome?: Yes.

I've laid out my case pretty well in the capsule above, but let me reiterate something absolutely key to this list: The period between 1966 and 1972 is wildly overrated on this list. I'm not going to do the math, but over 25% of the records in the 500 being from the 1960s. This period was the Boomer's formative years.

I understand that it was also rock and roll's formative years, as well as the formative years for the album itself. So, fine. But, the specific examples of Moby Grape, Quicksilver Messenger Service and multiple album choices from Jefferson Airplane and Santana is just nonsense nostalgia.

Quite simply, I'd take the Santana debut record, "Volunteers," and the Moby Grape and QMS albums off the list and just let "Nuggest" suffice. It represents that era well.

What's striking, of course, is the bands that you are maybe a little familiar with on the "Nuggets" set. The Blues Magoos are a favorite of punk and indie fans, as are The 13th Floor Elevators (Rory Erickson is worshiped as god in some places). The Amboy Dukes, of course, were Ted Nugent's first band, and The Nazz were Todd Rundgren's first band. The Standells' "Dirty Water" was something of a hit (and still gets airplay on oldies stations) and the two big covers (The Leaves' "Hey Joe" and The Vagrants' "Respect") are pretty damned cool. Finally, "Lies" by the Knickerbockers sounds like it came right out of the 1965 Lennon/McCartney songbook.

Lenny Kaye, who helped assemble the two-LP set (it was later expanded into a four-disc box on CD), wrote the liner notes and used a phrase that would gather steam a few years later: "Punk rock." In describing the youthful exuberance of the bands, Kaye would define the next huge musical movement, a lot of which was taken from these records.

While there is a lot of punk rock simplicity, the psychedelic stuff is the centerpice. The opening Electric Prunes number "I Had Too Much to Dream (Last Night)" and the Count Five's "Psychotic Reaction" are what makes "Nuggets" great.

No. 195: Bluesbreakers

Band: John Mayall With Eric Clapton
Album: Bluesbreakers
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Eric Clapton's coming out party, "Bluesbreakers" is considered by most to be the seminal British blues record. Clapton's soloing is mostly realized here, showing a capability beyond his 21 years. Still, Mayall's excellent band is the centerpiece here. John McVie, Hughie Flint and Mayall himself nearly upstage Clapton's antics.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: I think this is rightly ranked. It's not the type of record everyone must own, but it's entirely pleasant and a good second-generation blues record.
Best song: "Little Girl" is pretty amazing and "Parchman Farm" is the best full band song.
Worst song: "Double Crossin Time" isn't great.
Is it awesome?: Sure.

The Clapton-worship of the mid-60s mostly spawned from this record. Clapton's ability to build a solo from Mayall's mostly basic blues riffs is mostly unparalleled.

The album is considered Clapton's, but it's Mayall and his band that really steal the show. The amped up Hughie Flint drum solo on the band's cover of Ray Charles' "What'd I Say" is remarkable and the easy blues bass of John McVie (who'd later find fame as the "Mac" part of Fleetwood Mac) is especially fine on "Parchman Farm."

Mayall himself is pretty amazing. His vocals are surprisingly good for the subject matter, never becoming a parody of American bluesmen while also carving his own vocal niche. The rapid-fire of "Parchman Farm" also has Mayall hitting the harmonica, as well, in a similarly quick, notable fashion.

"Bluesbreakers" isn't the perfect album; Even at a scant 37 minutes, it sounds repetitive. But, the tightness of Mayall's band and Clapton's skillful guitar work make this an excellent find.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

No. 194: Transformer

Band: Lou Reed
Album: Transformer
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Lou Reed's second post-Velvets album is a wonderful extension of "Loaded" in its simplicity. Reed didn't push any musical boundaries on "Transformer," though, lyrically, he continued to explore the seedier side of humanity.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: Musically, the record is strikingly similar to "Loaded," so I'm not totally clear as to why it needs to be on the list.
Best song: "Satellite of Love" and "Perfect Day" are both pretty great.
Worst song: People like "New York Telephone Conversation," though I'm not clear why.
Is it awesome?: Not really, but it has its moments.

"Transformer" reaks of David Bowie. Bowie and Mick Ronson produced the record, Bowie sings backup on the record, the sax solo on "Take A Walk On The Wild Side" was played by Bowie's sax teacher and Reed appears on the cover of the record in thick eye shadow.

"Transformer" is, in effect, a glam rock record. While that term isn't really indicative of the sound of the record -- anything from the blues stomp of T. Rex to the disco beats of Roxy Music is considered glam -- it does start the transform of American style. Androgyny was becoming the norm and in the '80s, it would become mainstream.

The music isn't anything too exciting. "I'm So Free" is Ziggy-knockoff while "Goodnight Ladies" and "New York Telephone Conversation" are basically just Vaudeville numbers. "Andy's Chest" is some sort of insider Warhol thing while "Vicious" was inspired by Warhol himself. Neither is anything more than a standard rock song.

Nevertheless, "Transformer" has some of Reed's best post-VU work. "Perfect Day" is a beautiful ballad on par with the Velvets' work. "Satellite Of Love" has Bowie's voice deployed well towards the end. "Walk On The Wild Side," the first real chart song about drugs and cross-dressing, features some of Reed's most inventive lyrics.

It's Reed's best solo work (that Pitchfork review never really tells us why it's great, by the way), but that's more like damning "Transformer" with faint praise.

No. 193: Dookie

Band: Green Day
Album: Dookie
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: In a post-Nirvana world, the void of youth-oriented giant rock band was gaping. Green Day stepped in and kick started the pop-punk revival, by way of the Berkley hardcore scene. While being labeled as sellouts, the band brought back the relatively simple music style of early punk without actually singing about anything.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: "Dookie" is responsible for the success of Goldfinger and Blink-182, which is pretty annoying. It also, tangentially (though the Op Ivy revival), sorta brought back ska for a very small period. That totally sucked. On a more serious note, "Dookie's" brand of punk rock is typically 1990s in that it had all the sonic fury of punk rock without any of the political messages that came from the Sex Pistols, Clash, Dead Kennedys, etc. It is, basically, made for 12-year-old boys and that's who bought it, mostly.
Best song: "Longview" is a fun song, shallow as it may be.
Worst song: "F.O.D." isn't all that good.
Is it awesome?: Not really, but it's important.

There will always be a place for bands like Green Day, because there will always be 13-year-old boys and stupid frat guys. I'm not faulting them for having this audience; Someone needs to sell records to the white hat crowd.

The record is decidedly 1994, the year it came out. It's not really about anything, it's just a group of songs written by gutter punk kids about gutter punk life. There are breakups ("She"), living the East Bay gutter punk's life ("Welcome To Paradise") and general boredom ("Longview").

In fact, you could make a pretty good argument that Green Day is the gutter punk band that could. Being pronounced sellouts by the Gilman people doesn't totally tell the whole story; Green Day always made adolescent pop-punk. A major label switch didn't really change anything.


Look, I like gutter punks. Rather, I'm glad they exist and I've lamented the lack of them in D.C., where I live. I'm glad there is some unrest in American youth and I like the fact that this feeling erupts in gutter punk-ness.

The problem with gutter punks is that they rely on moronic political statements and fringe movements in order to express their gutter punkitude. The Radical cheerleaders, the multitude of socialist movements and the general free-for-all that is any protest (I say this as someone who had to attend an anti-war protest for graduate school).

I say all of this because "American Idiot" is not on this list and it assuredly would be, had the record not come out (2004) after the list was made (2003). "American Idiot" is the type of record that RS loves and is, basically, gutter punk religion.

Because I'm a pretty evolved dude, I have split feelings about "American Idiot." On one hand, I also find George W. Bush to be kind of a dolt and agree that the political system is screwed up in many ways. However, the actual anti-suburban/anti-government/anti-corporate/anti-everything ethos that Green Day basically laid out on the record.

The problem, of course, is that Green Day is on a major label. The reason the Gilman people refused Green Day, post-"Dookie," is that they are involved with the giant record label Reprise. They performed at Woodstock '94, basically a three-day Pepsi advertisement.


"Dookie" is made for early teenage boys. The cover is referential to the band's East Bay roots (the East Bay being the home of gutter punk-ness), but, otherwise the record is named after poop (it was originally going to be called "Liquid Dookie"). The breakout single is about masturbation and watching TV. "Basket Case" is about panic disorder (though teenagers surely think it is about being young and confused) and "Welcome To Paradise" is about the teenage gutter punk's dream -- living in a warehouse with other like-minded teenagers.

"Dookie" is kind of a perfect intersection of a void created by Kurt Cobain's death, a music-buying public's aging at the right time and the zeitgeist of the prosperous mid 1990s. That market is perfect for Green Day and "Dookie" is the band's high point.

Monday, October 15, 2007

No. 192: The Gilded Palace Of Sin

Band: The Flying Burrito Brothers
Album: The Gilded Palace of Sin
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: One of the first, if not the first, alt-country record shows Gram Parsons' excellent ability to take outlaw country and put it to a rock and roll beat. Fresh off his work with the Byrds on "Sweetheart Of The Rodeo", Parsons' new band was building more off Bob Dylan's "John Wesley Harding" than anything else.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: Like "From Elvis In Memphis," this is not a record made for me. Alt-country is still country and Parsons' twang just doesn't appeal to me.
Best song: Influenced by Merle Haggard, "Sin City" is an amazing mix of rock and twang. "My Uncle" is a cool anti-draft song.
Worst song: "Gentle On My Mind" isn't fantastic.
Is it awesome?: It's not my style, but people seem to love it.

Something you probably didn't know: Gram Parsons studied a year at Harvard. Despite his growing up in the American South (Florida), his time in Boston was supposedly when he started listening to country music, borrowing friends' Merle Haggard records.

Parsons' legacy looms quite large. His death at Joshua Tree National Park in 1973 has become a turning point in music and the park itself is now a symbol of authentic psychedelic Americana.

This is, in large part, the record that started it all. While Parsons had recorded with The International Submarine Band and – more importantly – the Byrds in the mid-1960s, "The Gilded Palace Of Sin" is the first unadulterated Parsons work. He and co-writer Chris Hillman wrote songs that both captured the zeitgeist of American youth while maintaining the authenticity of country music.

Parsons' lyrics are excellent, as well. "Sin City," a song that's as much a satire as it is a recollection, pokes fun at the religious South:

Take it home right away
You've got three years to pay
And Satan is waiting his turn
The scientists say it'll all wash away

Similarly, the protest songs of "My Uncle" and "Hippie Boy" end each side. It's an interesting dichotomy between the protest of this record (A son of the South protesting the war) and the fury of The Stooges and Velvets at the same time. Basically, well-written protest songs come in many shapes and forms. These are just two of them and are examples of the Parsons/Hillman songwriting duo's talents.

That's not to say the band was simply a songwriting project; The Burrito Brothers had chops. The cover of the standard "Do Right Woman" is pretty and well-done, while the fuzzbox/rotating organ speaker setup gave the pedal steel a cool sound on songs like "Sin City" and "Dark End Of The Street."

It's a pretty amazing record, though one I won't have on repeat. It's about as influential as this type of record is; Without it, alt-country doesn't exist.

No. 191: Fun House

Band: The Stooges
Album: Fun House
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: The Stooges are a great band and this record is more about raw power than the album named as such. The record also has some cool sounds, moving into an avant garde place.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: All three Stooges records are on here, which makes sense, but having all three in the top 200 is foolish.
Best song: "TV Eye" is pretty much the best song on the album.
Worst song: "Dirt" goes on too long.
Is it awesome?: It's pretty good and most consider it the best Stooges record.

Drugs and rock and roll appear to go pretty well together. Songs like "White Rabbit" and "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds" are pretty clearly about drugs and artists lie Jimi Hendrix, Carlos Santana and Jim Morrison all sang the praises of drugs.

"Fun House" is kind of the other side. Iggy Pop and Co. were going through their hardest drug phase. The band likely broke up because of their drug problems a few years later -- Pop said it hurt their "purity of intentions."

Still, it's a fierce-sounding record. Employing ex-Kingsmen keyboardist Don Gallucci as a producer, the record's muddy, prehistoric sound fits the band better than their more experimental debut. "1970" feeds off the debuts "1969," while "T.V. Eye" is almost the definition of protopunk. It all works over a fantastic groove that the band once called "trogolodytic."


I find it a little strange that the most critically acclaimed Stooges record is also the lowest on the list. Pitchfork loves it, RS loves it, Christgau loves it and Allmusic loves it. It just goes to show that the list properties are kind of dumb. Is it about influence? Best albums? Importance? Who knows... Not me.

Friday, October 12, 2007

No. 190: From Elvis In Memphis

Band: Elvis Presley
Album: From Elvis In Memphis
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Widely considered to be Elvis' best proper album, "From Elvis in Memphis" had The King going back to his Southern roots. More soulful than his soundtrack work, the record had Elvis adapting to a Stax-type sound with resounding results.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: I'm not personally a huge fan of this sort of thing, though I understand its appeal.
Best song: "In The Ghetto" is pretty great and is a signature Elvis track.
Worst song: "Gentle On My Mind" isn't fantastic.
Is it awesome?: It's not my style, but people seem to love it.

In the late 60s, Elvis Presley was stuck in a cycle of movie making that left him precious little time to record anything other than soundtrack albums. So, in 1968, he produced his Elvis comeback special and later hauled to Memphis in order to get back to his music-making roots.

The result? A much less rocking affair. certainty influenced by the Stax sound being produced from Memphis at the time, Elvis' band is much more soulful. In contrast to his rock and roll work of the '50s, "From Elvis In Memphis" shows Elvis with his lower register, destroying the songs chosen for him.

His gospel-tinged "Long Black Limousine" is moving and great, while his attempt at Stax soul, "Only The Strong Survive" is surprisingly good. The standout track, "In The Ghetto," is a great look at Elvis' voice telling a story, albeit something of a protest story.

"From Elvis In Memphis" isn't made for me. It's a cool record, but I think its audience is for someone decidedly not me.