Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Good Songs XXIV

Tomorrow Never Knows – The Beatles
The Wasp (Texas Radio and the Big Beat) – The Doors
Battle of Who Could Care Less – Ben Folds Five
Six Underground – Sneaker Pimps
Celebration Day – Led Zeppelin
Manic Depression – Jimi Hendrix
The Distance – Cake
Devil’s Haircut – Beck
Golden Road to Unlimited Devotion – Grateful Dead
Fortunate Son – Credence Clearwater Revival
Fade Into You – Mazzy Star
Linger – The Cranberries
Run Like Hell – Pink Floyd
(Theme from) Shaft – Isaac Hayes
Red Mosquito – Pearl Jam
Supervixen – Garbage
Free Ride – Edgar Winters Group
Kids in America – The Muffs
Lump – Presidents of the United States of America
Seether – Veruca Salt
Nearly Lost You – Screaming Trees
Where Did You Go? – Mighty Mighty Bosstones

I created this mix in April of 1997 and this is my favorite one that I’ve ever done. When I finish with this blog series (only four more entries!) this is going to be the Good Songs playlist that I listen to the most. So instead of having one overarching theme, I’m going to write quick hits about each song/artist.

These quick hitters tend to be longer blog entries, so strap yourself in and get ready.

The Beatles – I like pretty much all of the Beatles music, as does most of the civilized world. But my favorite genre of Beatles music is their experimental, psychedelic stuff. I enjoy that the songs are a bit aggressive, unnerving and discombobulating all at once. There’s a mismatch of sound and lyrics that suggest drugs, but at the same time a lot of talent. I think that “Tomorrow Never Knows” is the best representation of that (though “I Am the Walrus” is right up there too). I can’t even imagine what a Beatles fan’s initial thoughts were when they heard this track for the first time. It must have been mind-blowing. To go from mop-topped pop singers to counter-culture revolutionaries in less than five years is amazing.

I think that the reason why I love the psychedelic era of the Beatles so much is because I was terrified of it when I was a kid. I remember watching "Yellow Submarine" is a very young boy (three or four) and almost crapping my pants. The colors were too bright, the Blue Meanies were too mean and the Beatles (who actually weren't voiced by the real Beatles) were strange looking with weird accents. When I was in seventh grade, my music teacher spent a month teaching us about the death of Paul McCartney. That scared the bejesus out of me too. More than it should have. When I read "Helter Skelter" there was a lot devoted to Charles Manson and his connection to acid-dripping Beatle albums. This was nerve wracking as well. I'm sure in my twisted brain, my new found love of the middle era of Beatledom was probably a middle finger to the wimp that was younger Byron. 

The Doors – I’m not going to apologize for like the Doors, I’ve done it enough. But whether you like the band or not, this is a really great track that’s a deep cut. You won’t find it on any Greatest Hits compilation and I think I’ve only heard it once on terrestrial radio (and I may be imagining that). I enjoy the imagery of the lyrics and I really like the way the guitar rises at the end of the song. This was from their last album and by this point in their careers, I think all of the Doors were tired. You can feel the weariness in this particular single (and the entirety of the album of “LA Woman”) however I think that weariness, that exhaustion added something special.

Ben Folds Five – I bought this CD (“Whatever and Ever, Amen” – such a late 90s title) with money from my first check from my first job out of college*. I finally had some money in my pocket and I remember thinking that I was going to buy a new CD every week and really get into music. That lasted two weeks. When I first played this CD it hit me that there was no guitar at all on any of the tracks and I immediately was pissed and put it away for a long time. But after rediscovering it a few years later, I realized that there are a lot of good songs here.

* Oh man, did I hate this job. I didn’t get a full-time position until ten months after I graduated, so I grabbed whatever I could. I did some stuff to make money in that time: delivered pizzas and substitute taught (the latter was a good gig). Becoming a fund accountant was not the path I was destined to go down. I didn’t last more than seven months.

Sneaker Pimps – this was the second CD (“Becoming X”) I bought after I got my first real job. This is the CD that my friend Ryan makes fun of me most for owning. And he’s not wrong to do so. Aside from this single, which I seem to remember was played a lot of WBCN in the spring of 1997, this is a dog of a CD. The only cool thing about this band is that their name comes from a Beastie Boys song.

Led Zeppelin – this is one of my favorite Zeppelin songs ever. You don’t hear it very much because it comes from a less ballyhooed* album (Led Zeppelin III) but man, is it ever a good song. The summer after I graduated college, my brother brought home an electric guitar and an amp. I don’t know how to play guitar, but I convinced myself that if I sat in a room and screwed around with a guitar long enough that I’d be able to play this guitar solo. It didn’t sound that complicated and really, how hard could it be. Apparently it was very hard. I don’t think I hit one note and gave up after 20 minutes.

* Ballyhoo is a great word. People should use it more.

Jimi Hendrix – speaking of 60s guitar gods, I haven’t said too much about Jimi Hendrix in these blog pieces. I think it’s because the way I feel about Hendrix is the way that one of the Gallagher brothers (Noel, I think) felt about the Beatles, “They’re just wallpaper.”* What he meant by this is that the Beatles were always around and he’s heard everything by them so much that the majesty of their songs just blended into the background. That’s how I feel about Hendrix. We’ve already established that I’m no guitarist, so his musical acumen is way above my head – though I know enough to be blown away by it. His music is everywhere, so I think I’ve heard most of it before. But he’s still awesome, he’s still Jimi fucking Hendrix. Out of all of his songs though, this is my favorite, bar none. I love the driving beat, the way it builds up and lets down. It’s a great tune. The worst CD I ever bought was a “bootleg” (and it wasn’t really a bootleg because I got it at Circuit City) where Jim Morrison “jammed” with Hendrix. It was awful. The sound quality was horrible, Morrison was completely bombed and Hendrix was messy. Maybe the 60s weren’t so great after all.

* Gallagher was full of crap by the way. I think he said this quote because he was sick of people saying that Oasis ripped off the Beatles. They kind of did, but so has everyone else. It’s not like they’re the first band to do so. People got bent out of shape over stupid things way too easily back in the 1990s.

Cake – The lyrics in this song capture some of my favorite imagery, “Assail him, impale him with monster-truck force.” With the staccato voice of lead singer John McCrea and the horns behind him, Cake had one of the more truly distinctive sounds of the 90s. Due in part to the opening theme song (a sped-up version of “Italian Leather Sofa”) of the criminally underrated animated series “Mission Hill” I went all-in with Cake and bought the entirety of their disc catalog in 2008. And I’m glad I did. They aren’t all gems, but there are more hits than misses. For some reason when I daydream about myself as an alternative comedian trying to make it in mid-90s Los Angeles, this is the band that I think that I’d be really into. I have very specific daydreams.

Beck – Early Beck is the best Beck and this is his greatest song. The screaming at the end is a nice contrast to today’s Beck, which is Sleepy Time Beck. This is a description I heard of him on a Jimmy Pardo’s podcast last week. The moniker is so appropriate that I’ve been dying for a chance to use it but no one really talks about Beck too much any more. Which probably has to do with the fact that he makes such boring music now – 2015 Grammy Award be damned.

Grateful Dead – My younger brother went to see the Dead when he was a sophomore in high school*, I should ask him if they played this song. The album version is just a few Jer-Bear hairs over two minutes. I wonder how long it would be live? I bet they’d stretch it out to 35 minutes. More on jam bands in the next entry, but spoiler alert: I hate them. A lot. Mostly because I’m not patient (or chill) enough to be in the music at that particular moment in time. Every time I go to a show, I wonder what’s the next song the band is going to play next. The Living Colour show that I went to two years ago was great because it was the 25th anniversary of  “Vivid” and they played the entire album from front to back, in order. No wondering!

* My brother and I shared the same parents, who were the same people who wouldn’t let me go to a Public Enemy concert when I was a senior in high school (chaperoned by some college friends) because concerts are “too dangerous”. Okay, mommmmm. God.

CCR – I like John Fogerty mainly because of his song “Centerfield”. Then I started listening to his CCR stuff and that’s pretty great too, especially this song. There is so much anger against the man in “Fortunate Son”, that if it was sped up, some masturbatory guitar special effects were added and there was a rap, Rage Against the Machine could have released it in 1998. I’m not sure if that came off as a compliment, but I guess you don’t have to be loud to write a proper pissed-off protest song.

Mazzy Star – I think that this would have been a terrific wedding song but my wife did not agree. The song that we chose, “The Way You Look Tonight” was a better choice (easier to dance to and recognizable to all in attendance) albeit a safer one. I wonder whatever happened to Mazzy Star? According to Wikipedia, they went on hiatus in 1997 and reformed in 2010. They are on Facebook, so check ‘em out.

The Cranberries – I’ve already gone on and on about them. No need to do so again. BTW, did you notice the playlist’s pattern: two classic rock songs, two newer rock songs. It all goes to shit after Seether though.

Pink Floyd – they were never one of my favorite bands. I heard them a lot because they happened to be one of my friends’ favorite bands and terrestrial radio loved them, but I never bought any of their CDs. There is no discounting how good they are though and of their catalog, this is the song that I like the best. It’s a bit faster than most of their other stuff and it’s a great driving tune. One of these days I’m going to make a great driving song playlist, only now I don’t have anywhere to go. When I do have somewhere to go, it’s usually with my kids and they abhor my music. Hate it like poison, they do. They’re so uncool.

Isaac Hayes – on a tape with a bunch of good songs, this might be the best. How could you not love this song? The thumping grooved bass, the chicka-chicka-wah-wah guitar, the pounding rat-a-tat-tat drum beat, the string section that busts in like the Kool-Aid Man. Add that to Hayes’ voice and who he’s singing about? Holy cow. If you are listening to this song while you’re making your way down the street, you’re not walking, you ARE strutting. You are the baddest motherfucker on the planet when this song is playing, it doesn’t matter what your life’s lot is. You CAN dig it.

Editor’s note: we have reached 1900 words right now. I am going to speed it up.

Pearl Jam – they’re probably my favorite “new” group. I put new in quotes because they’ve been around for almost 25 years. In any event, this is an underratedly great song of an underratedly great album. I thought that PJ was following Zep’s album trajectory: first two are incredibly popular and awesome, third one is not as well-received and the band bounces back with an all-timer for their fourth album.* But that’s not really the way it went for Eddie and the boys, did it? This is a deep cut, but it’s an all-time favorite song of mine (not just in the Pearl Jam category either).

* I even thought that “Present Tense” would be PJ’s answer to “Stairway to Heaven”. I may have been the only person on Earth that really tried to make this work. Retroactively, I feel like the girl (Regina?) from “Mean Girls” who tried to make “Fetch” a thing. “Present Tense” was definitely not a thing.

Garbage – I wrote a bit about them last week and as much as I loved the three singles from this first album (“Queer”, “Only Happy When it Rains” and “Stupid Girl”) I felt that this was the best of the bunch. This was the first song off their first album and damn it if they didn’t lead off with their strongest piece. Good for them. Those guys definitely knew what they were doing.

Edgar Winters Group – if you are paying attention to the Good Songs playlists, you’ll notice that I haven’t added too many songs from the Dazed and Confused soundtrack. This is the only that survived my “I totally wished I lived in the 70s, man” era. That’s because this is probably the best song and reminds me of my favorite part of the movie, when they’re all getting ready to go to the party at the Moon Tower. D&C is such a tremendous movie, I should watch it again real soon.

The Muffs – one of the best parts of “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” was the soundtrack. And the same could be said for another Amy Heckerling directed movie about high school kids, “Clueless”.  I know that “Kids in America” was in “Clueless” and I’m pretty sure that it was also in “Fast Times”, but I’m not 100% about this. If it isn’t, it should be. Anyway, I think that the Muff’s version is one of the rare exceptions where the remake is better than the original. Sorry Kim Wilde, but we’ll always have Good Times roller skating rink in Salisbury, MA*.

* This song and Shannon’s “Let the Music Play” always seemed to be playing while I was skating around on my Pac Man skates with my green-sleeved 3/4 ‘s t-shirt with “BYRON” on the back. I thought that I was pretty damn cool.  

POTUSA – Ho, ho what a clever acronym! This was a delightfully weird song from a delightfully weird band (that came out of Seattle, naturally) that achieved some modicum of fame back in the mid 1990s. Videos from the Presidents of the United States of America was featured a lot on MTV back in those days, either for this song or their other strange ode, “Peaches”. They seemed to be strange because they looked like they were having fun and were in on the joke. Most rock stars in the 1990s never seemed to be having any fun. This is probably the main reason they didn’t last too long.

Veruca Salt – Man, did I have a crush on the girls in Veruca Salt. I’ve already written ad nauseam about me having a thing for girls who played in a band when I was a lad, but these girls were the top of that mountain. Too bad Dave Grohl had sex with both of them (not at once) leading to the band’s breakup. In the last year or so, I’ve been having a bit of a Veruca Salt renaissance and realizing that they are pretty decent band (“Number One Blind” may be in my top ten list of all time greatest songs). Last year I attempted to see them at a small club in Boston—the girls put Grohls behind them and reunited—but the show was sold out! Apparently VS has some fans. Good for them.

Screaming Trees – sadly, my only exposure to the Screaming Trees is this song, which was included on the “Singles” soundtrack. Number one, the name is amazing. It’s probably the best one to come out of this era. Two, I like this song a lot. There have been times where I’d play this song three or four or five times in a row. I’m not sure why I didn’t explore the band further. I should have.

Mighty, Mighty Bosstones – I am a clever one, aren’t I? Putting “I Nearly Lost You” back-to-back with “Where Did You Go?”, such a scamp I am. This is another track from the “Clueless” soundtrack. When I was making this tape, MMB were supernova and while I liked them a lot (Boston pride, I guess. Plus I remember them from a 1991 Converse All-Stars commercial, this is when the band only wore plaid) I was getting sick of hearing the same songs over and over again. This was a nice change.

This is literally the longest entry I’ve ever done. If you made it to the end, congratulations.

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