Thursday, February 21, 2013

Music that Matters, Pt 8

72) BjorkThere's More to Life Than to This: Many of us first fell in love with her voice here. (She recorded her first album at age 11.) Clearly, her producer shared our infatuation during those ingenious couple of seconds where the backing track drops out and her voice goes cage-free. The effect puts her voice on a gilded pedestal and reveals more of its secrets: Her unique tone, its palette of sounds, her kundalini energy and spirit. Even her breathing is exalted. It's a moment that farts more rainbows that a herd of unicorns. It's also those seconds—bolstered by the background noise from a nightclub's toilets—that make the otherwise canned house backing immune to being a 90s anachronism. By the time song fades out you'll never hear her quite the same again.

73) The Cure, Hot Hot Hot: Of The Cure, I was never much of a fan—aside from a few: A Forest, Primary, Killing an Arab, Jumping Someone Else's Train, a few others—but this song is The Cure flying flat up against the sun. Here, Robert Smith comes out from behind his Tammy Faye Bakker makeover and concocts a whole other voice and energymore like a guy who actually believes in himself. And his guitar, those funked up grooves are very, well, un-Cure like. To me, most of The Cure's Wall of Flange sound was as draggy and plodding as a gimpy zoo bear, better suited for those who're tripping, and so unlike Hot Hot Hot which is a cheetah on B-12, Red Bull, and Viagra. With this Smith proved his muse could get up offa that thang and shake out a buzzkill. If only he had of done it more often. The trumpet was a nice touch, too.

74) Charles Mingus, Work Song: (Not to be confused with the Nat Adderley version.) Mingus's Work Song swings harder than Courtney Love's moods but what gets me especially, besides the great cool melody, are those booming fat clusters of piano and unison snare that together hit harder than John Hernry's sledge, an association that was completely intentional. The sax growls as melancholy as a Monday and the rest of them cats have a melodic back and forth that's unlike any office meeting you'll ever go to. If only our day jobs could be so blissful.

75) The Beatles, Tomorrow Never Knows: Yes, it was the song that changed everything  yet influenced practically nobody because who could touch it? McCartney and Lennon were geniuses both but with this McCartney became the Oppenheimer to Lennon's Einstein. Lyrically, Lennon went from singing of post-adolescent desire to mastering said desires and shuttling them off to another plane. You've heard artists say, "the work's not mine, it just comes through me." That could be never more true than for TNK. George Martin's head must've been in a full spin with the production of this one. They make the studio the fifth Beatle and then make it their slave like just another song hook. This song is still so far out into the stratosphere I wonder if it'll ever come to Earth.

76) John Cale, Helen of Troy, My Maria: Two companion songs from what was likely Cale's greatest and more examples of great production: the touches of Maria's mortified nun choir and Helen's brass heraldry are just so. Then add to that Cale's much underrated voice. Though his early musical sensibility came straight out of avant grade, he would come to much prefer the three minute pop song, although slightly askewed. I'd argue this surpassed the work of his cranky former colleague in the Velvets. Of course, Chris Spedding's guitar is key: His tone and restraint are remarkable and his playing is always imbued with some sense of humor. A perfect match for Cale. One of the most underrated albums of the 70s.

77) Richard Hell & The VoidoidsLove Comes in Spurts (1977): Punk guitar in the late 70s fell into three categories (sure, it's arbitrary but just go with me), the overdriven Chuck Berry reductive variety (Sex Pistols, X, Dolls), the dumbed-down all barre chorded variety (Ramones, Germs, Buzzcocks), or the subdued psychedelia variety (Stooges, Fall, Gang of 4) or some combination thereof. And then there was Robert Quine. Check his solo here, laying the foundations of No Wave and a new mastery of singular style that never got its due. Hell and Quine were in another direction altogether that could never be anywhere but the margins, which is where they belonged, but it does unfortunately make for a short career.

78) Graham Central Station, Release Yourself: I love vintage analog keyboard sounds—the Wurly, those electro-harpsichord things The Doors played, Farfisa and Vox organs—but especially the Clavinet. This song is as larded up with 'em as Abuela's refried beans. Then there's Graham's bass playing, some of the most demonic thumbs to ever strike a fat round wound and his slaps and pops put him easily at the top of the funk bass heap—along with that Brother Johnson. Everything about this song gets right to the middle of the target. This was Graham's masterpiece.

Release Yourself by Graham Central Station on Grooveshark

79) Syd Barrett's Pink Floyd, See Emily Play: The last throes of a brilliant mind battling mental illness. Shortly hereafter the illness would prevail (though he did manage to squeeze out a few more noteworthies). But for these three minutes, those swirling phantom voices and misfiring synapses colliding in his brain made for a glorious playground—glorious enough, one could argue, that the institution of Pink Floyd was never more innovative than this.

80) Pink Floyd, The Great Gig in the Sky: The fortunes of this album were no doubt intricately connected to the billowing clouds of 70s weed, the soundtrack to countless teenage bedroom bong sessions and late night drives for salty munchies not to mention trippy late night laser light shows. It should be obvious to everyone that this song owes its existence to vocalist-for-hire Clare Tory. Her dynamic wails, screams, moans, howls, and improvised arias breathed the very soul into this slow jam's nostrils. Without her efforts the song probably would've never even made it out of the can and of course without Pink Floyd no one would give a crap's ass about the whole affair.  Still, the fact that it took Floyd 30 years to give her any songwriting credit at all—she was paid £30 at the time—and only after ugly legal proceedings, is a fitting testament to rockstar hubris. For her 2o minutes of studio time Tory should retire very comfy now.

The Great Gig In The Sky by Floyd, Pink on Grooveshark

81) Sly & the Family Stone, If You Want Me to Stay: Toward the end of his classic period Sly was the cool jazz equivalent of soul and that was a good place to be. Cool little keyboard interludes, cool little horn breaks, tender little beats, and Sly gets more work out of his voice than most of those vain poppers working their way through the Star Spangled Banner. And that bass line of bass lines: When the bottom is high it really can take you higher.
82) King Crimson, Discipline: I wouldn't say this song swings exactly but it marches with a wiggle. Its 17/4 time signature ain't exactly your normal deep groove stuff but when the syncopations layer up this is a pretty sweet parfait. The genius of the song is how it takes the minimalist and repetitive academics of guys like Terry Riley, Phillip Glass, Stomu Yamash'ta, Steve Reich (Discipline borrows a large chunk from Reich), as a starting point and then dances and pisses all over it. It takes the staid math of its predecessors and brings it into the realm of the danceable and plays it tighter than leggings on a weekend Walmart shopper. This is nerd rock at its finest and something no other proggy band could ever do: to be both smart and unpretentious.

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