A journey into the world at random
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK editor
Here’s an interesting exercise for your noggin.
Take a piece of paper, or a blank document, get your fingers ready, thrown on your mp3 player of choice, click “random,” and then, let your fingers loose, scribbling (or typing) why that song is in your library in the first place.
What makes it special? Why did you take the time to listen to it? Do you even like it?
It can be an interesting experience. Say, for example, you just rip a new CD, listen to it a few times, and eventually single out your favorites. Do you just ignore the rest? Do you delete the unwanted tracks? Or, do you let them sit, waiting to one day be discovered at the click of a mouse?
Obviously, it could be anything. The beauty of chance is what Apple has latched on to when marketing its iPod Shuffle players. Life is random, so why shouldn’t music follow suit?
Whenever I sit down at my desk to begin typing, I usually throw on my headphones so as to better seclude myself from the outside world. Next, my library comes up, and I hit play. So, here are the next 10 tracks to pop up on my playlist, and here’s what I think of them. I don’t know what’s coming, and I promise not to skip something just because I have nothing to say about it. I’ll also limit myself to the time of the song itself as to how long I’ll write — for example, if a 30-second track plays pops up, then I’m more under the gun than if, say, the Allman Brothers Band’s 30-minute “Mountain Jam” plays.
So, let’s get this thing going, shall we? And if anything forward is complete drivel... well, let’s just blame the song.
1. Goldrush — “Don’t Bring Me Down”: This bears no relation to the classic Beatles track of similar name. Goldrush is a band from England who, I don’t believe, ever made much of an impact on this side of the pond; I was only aware of them due to their affiliation with former Ride frontman Mark Gardner. This song carries a soft vocal present throughout of the album, set with an edgy guitar breakdown and a spacy, pseudo-chorus ending. And while we’re here, 2002’s Don’t Bring Me Down is one of the great lost albums of the decade, for sure. Combining a modern sound with the slant of greats like the Smiths and countrified Neil Young, this album got plenty of air time in my life that year. The real standout track, though, was “Let You Down,” which is one of the most beautifully sad songs I’ve ever heard. Just thinking about it is enough to send shivers down my spine and melt everything else along the way. Any band that’s capable of writing a song like that is special.
2. The Black Crowes — “Song of the Flesh”: From last year’s fantastic The Lost Crowes set compiling the lost tracks from their Tall and The Band albums, “Song of the Flesh” is one of those songs I’d actually known for years — it appeared as a bonus track on Amorica a few years ago, and the only real difference here is that the harmonica intro is mixed lower, giving the impression that it was recorded down the hall from the rest of the band. Like most Crowes tracks of this era, this features some great Marc Ford slide work, with a really interesting, Rich Robinson-led, chunky chord progression. As is often the case, I have no idea what Chris Robinson is singing about, but that’s never been too big an issue with me. This swings, and that’s more than enough.
3. The Raconteurs — “Level”: This was easily one of my favorite songs of 2006, and perhaps the best track on their debut, Broken Boy Soldiers. Live, this took on an added power, with Jack White and Brendan Benson trading both guitar solos and sung “BOW bow BOW bow BOW”s. This was also a great showcase for the funkiness of drummer Patrick Keeler, who is phenomenal at just propelling a song from 0 to 60 with little to no warning.
4. Queens of the Stone Age — “Make It Wit Chu”: Ah, another Desert Sessions song makes an appearance on a Queens album, Era Vulgaris. As it was when it debuted, it’s a hilarious send-up on the smooth soul of the 70s, sung by Josh Homme, who, as every female I’ve ever met has told me, is one of the sexiest men in rock today. And I’m comfortable enough in my manhood to agree with them — he’s basically a red-headed young Elvis, only more intimidating, and with the intensity of a pissed-off barroom bouncer. Homme is also a natural crooner, he has the on-stage hip-swivel down, and he’s a task-master in the best way: touring incessantly, recording constantly, always pushing for more, never satisfied. Homme is one of the most consistently amazing musicians around today, and damn if that doesn’t lend him that extra bit of sexiness. And, of course, he wants to make it wit chu. Mmmmmm...
5. Led Zeppelin — “The Rover”: If you caught me at the right time in high school, not only would I have talked your ear off for hours about how Zeppelin was the greatest band that ever was, and how every single album they made was an intimidating classic, but, if you hadn’t run away, I would also regale you with the fact that Physical Graffiti was their triumph, even if Zoso was, pound-for-pound, a better album. But Graffiti’s greatness hinges on songs like “The Rover,” a riff-machine track that just churns and pumps out the adrenaline. It has those patented John Bonham drums, a bass line that never quits, and the rarest of rare — a mostly-contained Jimmy Page solo. I’m not as high on Zeppelin as I was then, but that’s more due to the constant exposure to new, fantastic music. Zeppelin’s impact on the scene will never be overstated, and it’s songs like “The Rover,” almost a throw-away for them, that underscores their greatness.
6. Blind Melon — “Tones of Home”: Speaking of high school... Blind Melon was the band I (and several of my friends) always pointed to as being the most underrated of all time. When most think of Blind Melon, the bee girl is the image conjured up, thanks to endless play on MTV. But Blind Melon were much, much more than that — they were a great band with dark lyrics and a proper retro lean. The late Shannon Hoon had one of the more memorable voices in rock, as well, and it’s in fine form here. “Tones of Home” could have worked as the band’s mission statement. It’s message, a need for more than the world had offered, was matched by cool guitar melodies, moving sections and a couple of really grooving solos. Blind Melon grooved on everything, though, and they’re still sorely missed.
7. Wilco — “ELT”: There’s very little more dependable in this world than Wilco. Record after record, Wilco changes hats but stays strong, writing consistently amazing songs year after year. Summerteeth in 1999 saw them taking their Beatles-via-Rubber Soul-and-Revolver turn, with pop songs resting in lush beds. “ELT,” short for “every little thing is gonna tear you apart,” is a great song in the spirit of Tom Petty and the Byrds. My favorite part of this song? How Jeff Tweedy’s voice is straining towards the end when he shouts, “Iiiiiiiiii, I should’ve been listening.” A great summer track, and just a great track in general.
8. Bruce Springsteen — “Seven Angels”: Now, I really don’t know much about this one. This song is from Springsteen’s Tracks box set, which I’ve just recently acquired and have only heard all the way through once. Without looking at the booklet, it sounds like an outtake from the Born in the U.S.A. sessions, which, admittedly, is lower on the scale of Boss albums. That said, this guy doesn’t really write bad songs, and this one seems like a sweet, passionate rocker. One of my favorite qualities of Springsteen is that he never sounds like he’s mailing in a song. Even on the ones that fall south of classic, he still sounds as passionate and fiery as ever. As someone who owns every Rolling Stones album, I know what it sounds like when a band is just trying to finish an album. Springsteen, it seems, wouldn’t dare do that.
9. The Glands — “Mayflower”: This band is a recent discovery for me, and this comes from their sophomore album, 2001’s The Glands. They have a quality that sort of matches the sound of early Flaming Lips with the best of the Kinks — not an easy trick to pull off. This song is definitely on the more mellow side of the scale, however, and finds them in more reflective territory than bouncier sides like “Livin’ Was Easy.” It’s good, restrained stuff, though, with creepy bursts of slide (or pedal steel?) guitar punctuating the melody.
10. The Black Keys — “Junior’s Wife”: This isn’t even really a song; this is a phone message left for the Black Keys by Junior Kimbrough’s wife in response to their excellent 6-song EP Chulahoma, which was recorded in tribute to him. And she says it best: “You’re the only ones that really, really plays like Junior plays, and I’m very proud. It makes me feel very proud.”
And because that last one shouldn’t really count as a song, here’s a bonus:
11. Television — “Marquee Moon”: Well, what a bonus! This is the live version from their semi-official live album The Blow-Up, which boasts a sound quality that is definitely south of perfect fidelity — it sounds like I sat in the club with my cassette recorder slightly above my head. But that grainy sound gives the entire record charm, a weathered document of its time. Tom Verlaine’s guitar slices and slashes throughout, accenting the raw materials the band always worked with. The Blow-Up features most of the Television classics, alongside killer covers of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” and “Knocking on Heaven’s Door,” and is damn-near essential for any collection. If you’re not too into Television, go out and buy Marquee Moon now, listen to it about 12 times, and you can thank me later. There really hasn’t ever been a band quite like Television; they were equal parts Velvet Underground, Rolling Stones and the Stooges, and in the crowded New York punk scene of the late 70s, they carved out their own niche nicely. The only band who even ventured into the same territory as them were Talking Heads, but they were obviously on a different trip. The band’s golden era only produced two records, making this live document that much more essential.
Well, as the last few minutes of “Marquee Moon” plays me out, I hope you’ve enjoyed this little trip into my collection. Maybe next time we’ll get some cool Pearl Jam demos or a sampling of some of the Stones bootlegs I have hiding in there. Or, maybe, it’ll serve up 10 AC/DC songs in a row, some lost Velvet Underground tracks, or, perhaps, jazz? Who knows, but that’s the beauty of a life lived at random.
July 3, 2007