Thursday, December 21, 2006

Top 100 (Songs 100-91)


I think, for the time being, I would like to abandon genre distinctions and garage-this and garage-that, and would like to embark on an ambitious journey through this past year. All of the end-of-the-year best of lists that I’ve been looking at in the local free weeklies, (The Guardian, The SF Weekly, and inexplicably, The Onion), have made me nostalgic for the time when I actually had something salient to say about contemporary music, and in turn, was able to rank all the new albums from best to tenth-best, or fiftieth-best, or one-hundredth best. I purchased only one record that came out this year—Yo La Tengo; and I have most of the Strokes album on my computer, which has a nifty nod to Barry Manilow’s, Mandy, and the new Belle and Sebastian album, which is good. But instead of ranking those albums, I have compiled my top songs from this year, 98 of them were recorded before this year though. The majority of them I had heard before 2006, but failed to “get into” them or worse, just didn’t like them, or just didn’t pay close attention to them. In some cases though, they are on albums that I purchased this year or are songs that I had never heard prior to this year. Nevertheless, they make up the core of what I have been listening to over the course of this year. I’ve alphabetized the songs and then inverted them, because ranking one hundred songs in some qualitative way is a much too subtle and taxing task. Here are the first (or is it last) ten. I will disperse them in groups of ten over the next couple of months.
100. Young Turks (5:00)-Rod Stewart, Tonight I’m Yours (1981)-This really is an amazing song, driven by a slick, percolating, brand-spanking new synth-pop beat, that fully characterized an artist who was never going to be comfortable in the dust-bin of history. Though, to be sure, Rod the Mod had never been on the vanguard—despite a career that stretched back to 1964, and included seminal moments, including such nuggets as, Stay With Me, Maggie May, You Wear it Well, Handbags and Gladrags, and perhaps his greatest moment, Reason to Believe—Stewart seemed to always lag behind better known British acts such as the Rolling Stones and David Bowie. By 1981, all of the above had shown their age, and were desperate to hang on, rearranging their styles, which was a tactic that often left the music stale and hopeless sounding (and let’s face it, it was time even then for them to tend the garden on their estates). Stewart though, managed a mini-masterpiece of modern-era precision and narrative brilliance. Unfortunately, the album as a whole, fails to rise up to the quality of its popular single.
  • Watch the video.

  • 99. You’ll Know Why (3:08)-Miracle Workers, Inside Out (1985)-As a preface, I should explain that many of the songs on this list were found on The Children of Nuggets box set. I have tried to list each song in context of its album to place it in its right year. If I were ranking songs, this would be one of my easy favorites. With it’s short, crisp and brittle guitar lines, extra dose of reverb, tambourine over-indulgence, and bruised hearted, finger-pointing anger, it is an understated neo-garage tour de force, fit snugly inside the punk framework. When I first heard it, I kind of immediately connected it to Guided By Voices’ She Wants to Know, which has the same type of disjointed and fractured guitar figure.

    98. (You're) Safe In Your Sleep (From This Girl) (2:31)-My Bloody Valentine, Ecstasy & Wine (1989)-It has been a long time since a friend of mine spent what seemed like an obscene amount of money on this record in an eBay auction. Though I was a fan of Loveless (I had a tape of it in, maybe1995) I was not prepared to, after becoming a literate music fan, accept them as the producers of one of the best albums ever recorded. Anyway, I think I always have had an aversion to them, perhaps it’s the over-eagerness of their acolytes, fans and writers alike, to overdo Kevin Shields’ guitar thing, but when I finally got around to listening to this album, I realized that it was a kind of minor jangle-pop miracle, all thin and trebly, and much more palatable for me these days, than the overdone and mushy, guitar histrionics that Shields displayed on their final two albums.

    97. You Must Have Crossed My Mind (2:50)-The Toms, The Toms (1979)-A kind of quirky and interesting power-pop moment that went fairly unnoticed in a long and well-chronicled history. Basically one guy named Tom Marolda, recorded all the instruments and vocals on this 1979 album of sweet, mid-tempo dumb-guy-seems-to-fall-for-every-girl- kind of pop. Not terribly literate or adventurous, but in the case of this standout track, Marolda manages the kind of infectiousness so central to the genre.

    96. You Cheated, You Lied (2:09)-Ronnie Hawkins, Mr. Dynamo (1960)-This is an interesting down-tempo entry from the man known as Mr. Dynamo, for being a kind of intense rockabilly wild-man. He made his name in Canada, but got his start in his native Arkansas, moving North after failing to garner a spot on the Sun Records label. His original backing band, the Hawks, went on to back up Bob Dylan and become The Band. This is basically a standard bare bones, slow-dance, hand-on-the-ass, Elvis/Roy Orbison knock-off, with some nice touches, including some appealing Jordanaires-style bah-bah-bahs, twangy and supple guitar work and Joe Meek-like otherworldly organ.

    95. Yeah Yeah Yeah (1:19)-The Vibrators, Pure Mania (1977)-The shortest entry on my list, the song consists, basically, of a chorus in which singer, Ian Carnochan, shouts throatily—yeah, yeah, yeah, with some attempt at verses. Along with garage, and surf, punk was the genre that I especially clung to this year, and though I had collected my share of bands in the past, I finally went a bit deeper this year and discovered a fair amount of new ones, including, The Lurkers, The Partisans, The Cockney Rejects, and The U.K. Subs. A friend described the Vibrators to me, as like The Undertones, which isn’t really quite right, because The Undertones are mainly semi-literate in a razor-sharp British sitcom sort of way, while the Vibrators are more like a nuts and bolts, dumbed-down version of Pink Flag-era Wire.

    94. Wrong Side of the Moon (2:25)-Squeeze, Argy Bargy (1980)-This is another one of my new favorite tracks from this year, and possibly one of the most intensely infectious songs that I have ever heard. I had heard Squeeze as a kid—Tempted, Black Coffee in Bed, Pulling Mussels from the Shell; my stepfather had a greatest hits, but they always seemed kind of boring and hyper-adult. Early this year though, I got a copy of Argy Bargy for cheap on a trip to Monterey and listened to it to death. Top to bottom, the album is superb, but Wrong Side of the Moon is truly a pure-pop masterpiece.

    93. Wild Weekend (2:13)-The Lively Ones, Surf Drums (1963)-Surf-music was a high priority this year, mainly because my girlfriend introduced me to a Japanese guitarist called Takeshi Terauchi, whom I will discuss later. The Lively Ones are a very standard band in the surf canon, along with Dick Dale and the Ventures. I never really paid any attention to the genre, except for maybe a fleeting interest when Pulp Fiction came out which had all that surf stuff on its soundtrack. Wild Weekend is a sort of mid-tempo, frat rock style instrumental in the vein of the Champs’ Tequila. Very standard and nice meticulous reverbed-out guitar solos alternating with just slightly dirty sounding sax solos.

    92. What's Your Sign Girl (4:38)-Alex Chilton, A Man Called Destruction (1985)-Alex Chilton is quite possibly the only musical hero that I have. I am a Big Star junkie, but I also think Like Flies on Sherbert might be one of the greatest albums ever recorded; and I know I’m in the minority; and I am not being contrarian. There is a kind of logic to the album, especially in light of the third Big Star record; the difference being though, that one sounds fun, while the other can be rather depressing. All of that is neither here nor there though. I actually heard this song about 5 years ago at the Club Café in Pittsburgh, when my girlfriend and I lived there and we saw Alex Chilton, which was the—bar none—best show that I have ever seen. I’m not crazy about this album, but What’s Your Sign Girl is a pitch-perfect neo-Chilton entry, filled with all the interesting and angular, jazzy guitar lines he’s so fond of now, and seventies style lyrical foolishness. I’ve never heard the original that was first recorded by Barry White protégé, Danny Pearson in 1978.

    91. Vanishing Girl (2:30)-The Dukes Of Stratosphear, Psonic Psunspot (1987)-I have never been one of those people who adore XTC. I think it is because as a fifteen year old, I was riding around in a car going somewhere and the song Dear God came on the radio, and even then I knew it was just too sincere. Now though, I know it was a bit cruel too. I could care less for evangelical types, and I’m not sticking up for the true believers, or the false ones, Catholics or Christians, which I am none of. But strictly taking in to account the hierarchy of the big issues—by 1986, hadn’t the enlightenment hashed this all out, and if not the enlightenment hadn’t Nietzsche, and if not Nietzsche, Sartre? And if not Sartre, hadn’t the secularization of the vast majority of western culture been enough, that you don’t, in 1986, have to kick poor god around? It is just a bad song, but one ought not judge a band by one bad song. What if I judged the Beatles, based on The Long and Winding Road? But even more to the point, what if I judged XTC based on their alter egos—The Dukes of Stratosphear—much better.

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