Sunday, October 12, 2014

Top One or Two Hundred All Time Whatevers

Act One of my One Act Play:

You: Happy 200th post Jaybee!

Me: Thanks!  Hey, wait a minute! That means I completely forgot about commemorating my 100th post. Why didn’t you remind me?

You, contrite: Sorry Jaybee!

Me, gracious as always: That’s okay.


Ooops! I Missed a Spot Post!

So what the hell happened to my #100 post? If I’m counting correctly, this is it. 

Nothing special, but theoretically appropriate in that it covers the year I was 15 years old. That’s supposedly when your brain gets permanently wired for the music you’re going to love all your life.

Not true for me though. In my case, it was when I was six (Beatles) and then again when I was twenty-one (punk).

So I really dropped the ball on that one.

Some Sound, Not Much Fury, Signifying Meh:

So, does 100 or 200 of anything have a special significance for me?

Well, my 100th album seems to be 4-Way Street, which is indicative of nothing except that it was in 1974, when I was starting to buy lots of records.

My 200th album was Warren Zevon, which I got right around the our nation’s 200th Anniversary. Ooooh! 

I was hoping for something poetic/resonant/thematic here, but will settle for this eerie yet boring coincidence.

So before I get distracted again, and forget that this is my #200 post, I thought I’d make up for my prior omission by doing something special. Something so ambitious, and yet so unstructured and drawn out as to - as Saddam Hussein once said - astound my friends and terrify my enemies. The Mother of All Lists, if you will.

We’re all fond of describing things as the Best/Worst (fill in the blank) Ever. Well, at least Comic Book Guy is. He can be a little too specific for me, so I’m leaving myself some wiggle room.

I was going to call this “The One Or Two Hundred All-time Coolest Happenings Ever” but the acronym for that is TOOTHACHE, so instead, let’s call it “The One or Two Hundred of the Greatest Things Ever: Songs, Records, Guitar Solos, Whatever. Not Albums, though, because I’m always talking about albums. Not people, either.”  (TOOTHOTGTE, etc.... seems pretty safe.)  

I’ll even include the odd non-music related thing, if indeed, such a thing exists.

My Head Exploded, But in a Good Way

One criteria for making the list is that the thing threatens to make your head explode, but in the nice way.  You know what I’m talking about. It’s like a form of good bumps, only it happens on your scalp. And you brain doesn’t splatter the sidewalk.

And when it happens several times in succession, as it did for me recently - twice(!) in public(!!) - you either react in an embarrassing manner (see below) or create a list like this.

Positive music experiences in public rarely happen to me. So when they do, I sit up and take notice. My hope is to just not get pissed off at what I’m hearing. Actually enjoying myself is a small miracle. These two occasions were that and much more.

The first time was at a Starbucks in Philadelphia. We walked in, got our hot chocolates, sat down and suddenly it was as though they were trying to chase out anyone under 50 years old. Usually, it’s the other way around. Anyway, they play Joni Mitchell’s “The Circle Game” and bunch of other songs I keep on a CD labeled “Miserable”, which I burned after a very depressing election.

Perhaps because I’d been softened up the night before by watching the American Masters episode about Phil Ochs, one song after another hit some deep emotional button to the point that I had to get up and leave on the pretext of getting a crossword puzzle from the van. Crying in public is not cool when you’re in your fifties.

And then it happened again later that year at The Mermaid’s Inn in the East Village. This time things were poppier but no less powerful. I realized that there are some songs that weren’t just great. They were part of me.

So this will be my outlet - those songs, records, Moments that Just. Kill. Me.

Worst. Best of Lists. Ever.

I have no intention of reaching or limiting myself to 100 or 200. If I stretch it out enough I should finish by about post 300, which will be my excuse to continue this futile exercise that I’m only doing because, as Louie says, God is Dead and We’re Alone.

I make no claim that this will matter to you one bit. These are merely transcendent (to me) moments. They are what keep me alive. What makes my agnostic soul believe with all my heart.

By the way, the numbers are not rankings. They just help me keep count. Young people can blog up stuff like this at a moment’s notice. I just don't have the energy.  

And really, how wrong can I be?  Every day I see another stupid Best of article:
  • Rolling Stones albums that didn’t include Aftermath in the top 10.
  • A Top 5 Dylan list that didn’t include Blonde on Blonde or John Wesley Harding.
  • A Worst-to-Best REM list that had Out of Time as an almost-worst.
  • A Best Scorsese movie list that placed After Hours above The Departed. (Are You Freaking Kidding Me?)
  • And finally, an “Embarrassing Moments” list where what qualified were songs by rockers who momentarily drop their guard and show some real emotion.

So, as I say, how wrong can I be?

So here goes.

First Ten:

But why not start at the top I say?

Starting with the Chord of the F*cking Century (not exactly but so what?) moving on to characteristically energetic singing by John of a virtually one note melody. But that’s okay, the chord changes do all the work, shifting around as the song charges forward.

And then.

And then.

It Comes.

What may be the Greatest Moment In The History of Western Civilization: 

When Paul comes in to sing the first line of the bridge (When I’m home..), kicking it all up a notch immediately by virtue of his higher vocal range. But that’s not enough. The second line takes the melody even higher, and still higher, until “Baby you’re holding me tight, Tight!”, which as philosophical statement beats the hell out of any ism we’ve come up with so far.  

The Sixties had officially begun.

I will generally stay away from the Beatles for this list, but sometimes it’s like trying to stay away from breathing…

Not a complicated melody by any stretch, but the chord changes that accompany it are so dramatic they take your breath away. The lyrics are just vague enough to keep you wondering what the hell it’s about. And the strings are never overbearing, never cheesy. But a so-so vocal would have wasted it all. Instead Glen sings with such conviction and longing that I will fight anyone to the death who laughs.  I’ve demanded silence in shopping malls when it’s played there.  

And I get it.

Okay, I know. I keep harping on this song. And even if you’ve heard it,  you like the Bangles version. But you’re wrong. The Bs do a fine job of emulating middle-period Beatles with that speeded up guitar solo that serves to remind you of the speeded up piano solo of “In My Life”. It is “excellent”!

But “excellent” just isn’t good enough for this list.

Listen to Big Star’s version. You could mistake it for a merely great pop song until, oh, about thirty seconds in where you get the Chord of the F*cking Decade. (The 70s that is.) This will be followed by Alex Chilton’s completely unhinged guitar solo. Not technically brilliant, mind you. Just a few random strums, but completely un-self-consciously off the wall and purely emotional - unfiltered by “taste” or “intellect”.  

Alex Chilton also sings it in a higher(!) key than the Bangles. He of "The Letter" fame! So he’s playing for bigger stakes than the Bs dare to, even with their sly lesbian angle. Alex is singing an autumnal song like an adolescent, convincingly!

Then he finishes it all off with an ever more seriously disturbed solo that doesn’t quite end when when song does.

And for that moment we see him. The artist Naked.

4. Dancing Queen

“Muriel’s Wedding” brought me dangerously close to getting sick of this song.  But I recovered.  Glitzy, over produced, utterly commercial.  And stunningly beautiful.  The part of the chorus beginning with “You can dance” rivals the bridge in "A Hard Day’s Night" in sheer joy.

5. Walk Away Renee

Before I owned this record, coming upon it on the radio meant that whatever else was going on had to stop. I’m so glad it wasn’t playing in Labor and Delivery when my kids were born.   

Now that I have the record, I do notice that the background singing isn’t as good as it could be and the sound could be a lot cleaner.  And yet, I’m sure that if a version existed that addressed those problems, I wouldn’t love it nearly as much as I do the original.  

And the words!  It would have been nice to know them - the singer isn’t trying very hard to enunciate.  But now that I know what they are, I realize the song is more effective without me knowing.  An overwhelming emotion that can’t be expressed in mere words. They come close, though.

And the melody!  Was it simply handed down from heaven to Michael Brown? The strings certainly were.

As much as I love rock and roll, I’d be the first to admit it’s very simple music and the musicians are not always up to even that. And yet, here we are in 1964 with Rod Argent playing a bitchin’ electric piano solo. And how about that pretty nifty melody in the verse, which suddenly switches to virtually a single note during the chorus, but there’s that harmony that works it and works it and works it. Along with the time shifts, key changes, and the breathless tempo.

Okay, maybe not transcendent, but thrilling.

7. The Kid’s Are All Right

It’s a disgrace that the first time I heard this 1966 song was the little snippet at the beginning of that song on Quadraphenia in 1973. Thanks a lot FM and AM radio! HUGE fail.  

Anyway, when I finally caught up with it, I realized that Pete Townsend wasn’t a genius because he could do a rock opera. It was because he could write such a perfect pop song, which by the way, isn’t so because of the melody or the playing, even if  the harmonies and Roger Daltrey’s vocal are perfect. It’s because of the lyrics.  
I don’t think I’ve ever heard a song that better captures the insecurities, the camaraderie, the pain and the joy of being a teenager. The title, I think, is a f*ck you to adults who thought every teenager was a hoodlum. Pete always had their back. It’s “My Generation” again, only this time much sweeter.

Of working class themed songs, “Summertime Blues” is the funny one. FOMM however is the keeper. It’s just so damned intense. Maybe the most intense rock song ever.  

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the tempo is frantic.The key changes go higher and higher and the harmonies keep up with it. And great guitar riffs.

And the story: A working class guy who sounds like he’s right on the edge. When he promises to lose his head, you hope it’s in a good way. He bitches about his job, but for once, doesn’t take it out on his girlfriend, who he can’t wait to go out with.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard a bad version of this song. Even Buffy St. Marie (sort of) kicks ass with it. But I’ll give the edge to Joni Mitchell’s.

Like some of  her other songs,  its theme is  trite,  in theory anyway. But she fills them with such evocative words and perfectly matching melodies that you’re too stunned to notice.

I know you don’t know this one. That’s why I put it here! I have nothing to say about it that you can’t hear yourself. We can all be forgiven for not realizing how much soul Edgar Winter has, but not after hearing this.

To Be Continued:

I’ll stop to take a breath now.

I’ll give the rest to you in bunches, or individually, as the mood, logic or alcohol dictates.

These songs are at such a level of perfection that you’re forced to stop whatever you’re doing and just let yourself be carried along with them. 

I think it's what we mean when we say God.

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