Saturday, February 9, 2013

Music that Matters, pt 7

62) Linda Rondstadt and the Stone Ponies, Long, Long Time: This may be the quintessential paean to unrequited teenage love and gimpy self-absorption. Ronstadt's voice seems to capture its every pathetic nuance like flypaper. Sacrifice and raw nerves perforate her voice as she captures all the mystified callowness, overwrought emotion, and determined futility of a teen heart drowning in a state of being too young.

It's also a very realistic female response. Woundedness often expressing itself in the extreme language of absoluteness––at least with the women I've known––and this song puts a black bow and ribbon around it. It's superb melancholia to the point of ecstasy and I love the way her voice almost cracks every time she goes loud in the second half of the verses, practically drawing blood on the last verses bitter "and I've done everything I know/ to try and make you mine..." It's maudlin and mawkish and totally authentic––because to those who know what it's like to love somebody more out than coming in, they'll know the exact shape of young Ronstadt's feeling.

Love will abide, take things in stride
Sounds like good advice but there's no one at my side
And time washes clean love's wounds unseen
That's what someone told me but I don't know what it means

This is Shakespeare for the post-adolescent heartbroken. Also, part of what I love about this song is the baggage of my own that I bring to it: My deceased sister was a Ronstadt fan and this song, for several reasons, reminds me so clearly of her. Both were unconventionally adorable, both had great gams, and both knew too well what love is like going both out and in.

Long Long Time by Linda Ronstadt on Grooveshark

63) Peter Gabriel, Intruder: (Here's the post-middle age, squishier grayhead version.) Why rock never embraced the edgy dissonance of the fat piano chord is a mystery. It should've been as ubiquitous as the fuzzy guitar. That thick, tonal chain-reaction can create tension and aggression like nothing else. Think of the shower scene from Psycho––nothing conveys the edginess, and terror even, like neighboring half-tones banging heads together. Little Richard hinted at this in his rollicking piano style but if his tones went by too quickly for you, you'd be forgiven for not catching them. Even Gabriel didn't explore this vain much outside this Intruder and it's a shame. Nicely articulated dissonance describes the mental state of the song's dangerous intruder perfectly. Back in the day, I'd left this record on my dad's turntable for a period of time as I was getting to know my girlfriend. Many nights spent on the carpet under the amplifier's green glow and this album. That experience helped to etch this song pleasantly into my juicy gray matter forever. I'm sure it'll pop up again when my life flashes before my eyes. I could do much worse.

64) The Birthday Party, Zoo Music Girl, Cry: Intense, less brutal than The Swans but more temperamental than most of the No Wave bands, and like those bands The Birthday Party was angry enough to eschew chord changes. Changes only distract from the single mindedness of the rage that are the fundamental tissue of their canon. Though, if Zoo Music Girl is a kind of love song, it's a very abstract one. (Obviously, the band spent some time with Captain Beefheart records.) Guitars scream and cry, drums have tantrums, and the bass beats its head against the wall while Nick Cave offers an elegantly lemony spew and I just lurv his scream out that ends Cry: If their groove is, as they say, in the a pocket then this one is a pocket full of broken glass. I don't know about the ladies but us guys feel those screams sometimes. Of course, the healthier thing to do would be not to give your rage a soundtrack, but, for better or worse, sometimes it's more comfortable to just rage.

Zoo-music Girl by The Birthday Party on Grooveshark

Cry by The Birthday Party on Grooveshark

65) James Bond Theme, John Barry: (John Barry arranged the original and composed music for 11 other Bond films (incl. Goldfinger's theme); The tune was composed by erstwhile singer, Monty Norman.) Culturally, this song goes so far back (1962) and is buried so deep into our psyches that it's so beyond archetypal it's practically instinctual. It's sound is so instantly recognizable (the up and down 5th, #5th, 6th, #5th, 5th just seems to ooze cloak and dagger), and hangs so easily on the front brain, it couldn't help but be quintessentially exploitable. (Henry Mancini ingeniously offered a twisted reiteration of it for the Pink Panther Theme.) Composer Norman took a large bite out of the surf-like guitar styles of the day, esp. Duane Eddy and Dick Dale, throws in a bit of reggae skank (Dr No takes place in Jamaica), and then shoehorn's in some jazzier vernacular themes in-between. Everybody loves this song, whether they know it or not.

James Bond Theme by John Barry on Grooveshark

66) Johnny Rivers, Secret Agent Man: An oft covered song, especially during the punk era, but this use was its first and best. In college I had the great fortune of studying art history under the great Phil Leider (one of the early editors at Artforum) and he told a story of how Caravaggio innovated the dramatic style of the deep shadowy light but it was Rembrandt who stole it and elevated into more. The opening riff is the James Bond theme note for note yet brilliantly rejiggered for a rock band. This what Picasso or Ezra Pound or whoever meant when he said "Don't borrow, steal." Stealing is forgiven, in art anyway, when it's done for such a high purpose. I was a babe when I first heard its opening riff and the subsequent minor key lament that follows. Because of it, this song probably helped form my adult tastes as much as anything.

67) The Modern Lovers, The Modern Lovers: Anyone old enough to have several relationships under their belt will know of the spectacular things that can happen in love's first weeks, magic often unrepeatable later into the process. Similarly, the creator's relationship with their creations can also suffer a certain loss of intensity when compared to their earlier promise. Case in point: However noteworthy Jonathan Richman's later work, none of it matches the concentrated brilliance of this first record. The more worldly of you know the tunes––the oft covered Road Runner and Pablo Picasso, the less known but worthy Astral Plane, Girlfriend, and others––there was a spirit and attitude and feel in this moment that Richman would never quite find again (and maybe the future celebrities in this band had something to do with it). And it's not like authenticity was ever a problem for Richman, earnestness and sincerity being his currency. Whatever the quality was it was ineffable and magic. Consider this as a lesson as you contemplate your own art: What the lesson is exactly I don't know, but there's one in there somewhere.

Astral Plane by The Modern Lovers on Grooveshark

68) Pablo Picasso, John Cale's version preferably: Velvet Underground alum Cale discovered and produced The Modern Lovers album so it may be for this reason his version hits closest to its center. A feat due in no small part to the great slide guitar from Chris Spedding. The song was built on a one chord groove that in Richman's version tends to make even the great People pick up girls and get called assholes, this never happened to Pablo Picasso joke run out too soon. With Cale and Spedding, the beast never runs out of vitality. And then there's this line: Be not schmuck, be not obnoxious, be not bell bottom bummer or asshole, remember the story of Pablo Picasso... On the page or in the head it reads like a mouthful of potatoes, but Cale is able to press Richman's raw limestone into marble.

Pablo Picasso by John Cale on Grooveshark

69) Marc Ribot, Shortly Before Take-off: On music, my Swing Era dad was like a gun crazy NRA radical. He never budged from his old perceptions. When I played him this song his response was "It sounds like rush hour traffic." (My dad was a funny guy.) Despite Ribot's wonderfully whacky sonic aesthetic, it's managed to find a niche in the work of others as his session resumé is both fat and impressive. The opening riff tells you all you need to know and what follows is a beautiful collision of music and consciously strategic random sound. I especially love the raucus guitar break and band catharsis bridge (Ribot ingeniously constructs an anti-guitar solo) undergirded with an ascending bass line that deceptively takes a step down after every repeat. I don't know about you but these are the kinds of musical moments I live for. Though, I'd advise you not to try to think of this song the next time you're boarding a plane.

Shortly After Takeoff by Marc Ribot on Grooveshark

70) Thinking Plague, Fountain of All Tears: This was a case of hearing it playing in a record store and it snuck into me so immediately I knew I had to have it. An experience most young 'uns will never enjoy with the death of brick and mortar music retailing. There's a whole smorgasbord of stuff here that drew me in that probably won't translate to most of you. This also explains why Thinking Plague won't be doing any stadium tours this summer like those plodding prog Godzillas Yes or Asia. The chord changes, the voicings, the structures, the colors, even the flat singing (which here seems like a conscious choice) could be the bane of existence in the wrong hands (Yes or Asia). Here, taste wins over indulgence and the additional strata only add more interest. This is avant garde with restraint and a rock beat that mercifully eschews too many exotic meters. If Stravinsky had of grown up in Denver listening to Jandek, Ornette Coleman, and The Stones and busked requests for Gypsy folk music and King Crimson he might've sounded like this: Call it savant outsider prog.

Fountain of all Tears by Thinking Plague on Grooveshark

71) Echo and the Bunnymen, Heaven Up Here: It's been argued that the genius of U2's The Edge was his ability to push modest chops and musical naiveté into the stratospheres of extreme success. Less successful but even more transcendent was the guitar of The Bunnymen's Will Sergeant. He and the band took fertile instincts and astute taste and manufactured something sonically akin to a Lego built Taj Mahal. The Bunneymen's sound was orderly and controlled and swept clean of all the funky vestiges of the garage. Heaven Up Here is an exception, a kind zen version of Fisher-Price style free jazz drawn in blood on graph paper, if that makes sense. You could easily assemble the pieces of this in, say, Garageband but you'd never get close to approximating its power and sweep. And the mad sticks of drummer Pete de Frietas, it's not what he's playing––which is completely compartmentalized––but the bangs he makes are always the exact right ones.

A sweatier though not definitive live version:

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