Saturday, January 5, 2013

Music that Matters, pt 5

42. Naked City, Latin Quarter: Naked City figurehead and instigator John Zorn is another one of those mad geniuses who has far more respectability than listeners. His is music as conceptual art. Zorn describes the music of Naked City as akin to the experience of turning the dial on your radio (for those who remember what that might've sounded like). This song represents Naked City lite but it's good description of what they do: changing tempo, rhythm, mood, and volume abruptly and often jarringly, not unlike the WeeGee photos featured on the cover (see above). The band loves to go from melodic sweetness to violent anarchic noise on a dime. Naked City is a bipolar thought experiment that wants to expand the possibilities and boundaries of art and pretty much does.

43. Blonde Redhead, I Still Get Rocks Off: Critics have categorized their sound variously over the years but I find such labels mostly useless. Twin Italian-born, Montreal-raised males and a Japanese female living in New York is probably as good a description as anything else. Add heavy strains of Europeanness, a deep sack of smart influences too difficult to trace, cool embroidered guitars, astute drumming and the resulting sound is unlike whatever you're used to––which is a good thing. Plus, I think a girl singing about getting her "rocks off" is just a plain great idea––a whole onion's worth of subtext worth peeling there. I've loved this band since the beginning and they've never disappointed.

Here's the song with diced up random Tarantino images that're pointless but seem to work anyway.

44. Yoko Ono, Plastic Ono Band; Why?: I make my case here.

45. Television, Marquee Moon: A brief comment made earlier here but to add: I still regularly listen to this album from 1977 and submit that it's still as good as it ever was. This is the essence of a classic sound––musicianship from both heart and head, a sound too wiley to categorize, lyrics both smart and abstract that avoid the topical, guitarsguitarsguitars, and a rhythm section that kicks the ass of your rhythm section. No one ever got laid because they were in this band but, to paraphrase Tom Wolfe, the glistening nodules and stiffening giblets will explode in your mind and not your pants and that's OK. They may just be the Stephen Hawking of Garage Rock.

46. David Bowie, Let's Spend the Night Together: I often argue that Bowie's career has produced more A-list albums than just about anybody. Someone then may counter with "What about Neil Young?" Of course, a reasonable argument could be made for Young but not on my compass. For me, Bowie's ingenious reworking of this warhorse goes interstellar when Mike Garson's piano comes in. Garson is one of those supremely chopped jazzers who often get creatively manacled with their own impressive technique. Jazz is full of guys like that (Stanley Clarke, Al Dimeola, etc). Somehow Bowie wisely foresaw the magnitude of possibility in their collaboration. Garson is amazing elsewhere on this album too (Aladdin Sane, Lady Grinning Soul) as his piano strikes ring with the caliber of an anti-aircraft gun. That he'd later go kind of obnoxious on David Live is OK because the sludgy viscosity of the chords here––which are as close to heavy metal as a piano gets––are worth whatever his other misdeeds. Also: THIS is what a cover song should sound like.

47. Ian Hunter, eponymous first album, the first three on side one: I was in middle school when this came into my life and those first three may've been my virginal teenage version of kundalini. They flew off the record like a flurry following an Ali Shuffle in good part because of the combustible petards of Mick Ronson's space-age Chuck Berryisms. As a singer I think Hunter is way underrated––his combination of unctuous ardor and male bravado with a thick slathering of humor are the true heart of rock and roll. (Elvis understood this once, briefly.) Arguably, for Hunter and Ronson both this was a career high point. (See a promo for Once Bitten Twice Shy from 1975 here; Who Do You Love and Lounge Lizard.)

48. Afghan WhigsFountain and Fairfax: I've often made the argument that anger and despair make for the best kind of art. This album could be that argument's quintessential case study. Greg Dulli wrote a great record about the many cuts one makes on the double blade of drunkeness and the bitter despair contained in this cocktail is masterful and as rancidly fresh as can be––when the bandages are pulled off they're going to be dirty. A great album but Fountain and Fairfax is its jagged peak. (A rousing version of the aforementioned and another song, Going to Town, here.)

49. Julie Driscoll and Brian Auger, Indian Rope Man: Julie Driscoll was a swingin' London chick with a face like Twiggy and a voice like a soul sister virago. Her taste for ultra-mod hairdressers and trendy stylists didn't mean that she wasn't the real thing. England produced several of these white chick singers that never quite caught on in the U.S. and maybe it's because compared to the bad ass American soul singers of the time they were a little fey. Still, Julie deserved her place and her timely hybrid of psychedelic R and B has aged remarkably well. Brian Auger for his part was quite the Hammond chopper and together they cooked some spicy noodlings. Indian Rope Man was one:

50. The Byrds, So You Wanna Be a Rock and Roll Star: Production may be the invisible hand that propels greatness into immortality. How many beloved Beatles songs are just so because of the acute production layers? (To wit, the Indian sounding gamaks of Baby You're a Rich Man––an explanation of some of the magic here.) So, when a folky (and later, country) outfit like The Byrds hang some trumpet and latin percussion onto a great riff and McGuinn's brilliant nude-descending-a-staircase style lead guitar, it raises an otherwise Top 40 ditty to the everlasting life of a classic.

51. Violent Femmes, Country Death Song: Murder ballads probably go back to the time of medieval troubadours: Tuneful tales designed to be compelling enough to loosen coins from reluctant pockets. Gordon Gano goes beyond troubadour here and sings this song as if he were making a confession. Maybe one of the greatest murder ballads ever. And according to this, he wrote it when he was in 10th grade! This song––and album––may have the dubious honor of inspiring many a lessor band, but here pushing a child down a well has never been so chill-worthy.

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