Friday, July 31, 2009

Rock of Ages: Soundgarden - "Jesus Christ Pose" (1991)

Soundgarden is one of those grunge bands that defy the genre to an extent. Grunge to an extent is way more bluesy, where as Soundgarden is way more prog/metal influenced then the lot of the grunge movement. Their epic album Badmotorfinger is a perfect example of their electrifyingly hard metal version of grunge. Unlike previous post Pearl Jam, in 1991, Soundgarden was already into their third record. "Jesus Christ Pose" was the lead off single from this record, and due to controversial subject matter misconceptions, it did not become one of the bands more memorable singles. However, by sheer power and writing, "Jesus Christ Pose" is easily the bands most daunting and rocking single. It's a powerhouse track that really tears into the heart of the listener. In drop D tuning, as many of Soundgarden's songs are, it's got a deep, bassy vibe to it that thunders in your chest.

Chris Cornell's vocals are at a fantastically high pitched and commanding on "Jesus Christ Pose." Lyrically, the song is less an indictment of religion, but of those in power who act as deities to garner their own power and manipulate people. In this sense, the song is really profound of sorts. The real heroes of this track are the musicians. As much as Cornell's wailings are impressive with their pitch, the riff that runs through the track is fast and unrelenting. It's an impressive song filled with several riffs and progression changes. It's blistering and fantastic. Unlike songs like "Burden In My Hand" and "Black Hole Sun" are more bluesy standard, but "Jesus Christ Pose" is a furious rocker that does not hold back on sheer power. When it ends in a flurry of distortion and sound, you will need some help getting the remnants of your face off of the floor.

Up Next: Teenage Fanclub's power pop epic

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Rock of Ages: Pearl Jam - "Porch" (1991)

Ahh yes, Grunge. The death of hair metal. It couldn't have come sooner! While in everyone was on drugs in L.A. living these fake lives, a bunch of long haired, flannel wearing misanthropes from Seattle were writing a different brand of music. The next two artists are only two of the most important from this booming sound from the great Northwest. Pearl Jam is easily one of the best of this era, especially on their insanely great debut, Ten. It's one of the defining albums that changed the musical landscape of the 90's for good. Not a single bad song on the record. My personal favorite is "Porch", a searing fast paced riff heavy track that has some of the bands most notable guitar workouts. Amidst the fast paced chugging of the guitars and drums, Vedder spews forth lyrics at a fever pitch. His voice is filled with tons of angst and power. It cracks, it screams, it yearns and is mournful at times. Funny that it used to be the thing about Pearl Jam I liked the least.

"Porch" is a qunitessential grunge song lyrically. All about the different fears and paranoia and angst that went along with the coming of the 90's and the end of many institutions. It's a fantastic song from Ten that gets its due now. Not a single from the record, but a gloriously fantastic album cut. There really isn't a song on Ten that wasn't a possible hit song. Pearl Jam was one of several acts that changed the music of the 90's. Some say for the worse (see The Wrestler) but I say for the better. Yes, the 90's may have been more brooding and cynical and less free-wheeling, but the music as a whole was technically much better in style, quality and structure. The riff from "Porch" is one of the best of the 90's as is the guitar solo. It's almost as kick ass as the next entry in Rock of Ages, but let's not jump ahead of ourselves.

Up Next: Soundgarden will crucify you

Rock of Ages: My Bloody Valentine - "Only Shallow" (1991)

It must be cool basically re-invent a genre. I feel like those days are close to over. In 1991, however, My Bloody Valentine dropped their masterpiece in shoegaze, Loveless. The album is best described as a masterpiece in sound engineering with the songwriting taking a very close second in quality. That said, they sound engineering on this record is beyond perfection. Unlike The Jesus and Mary Chain which had shoegaze elements infused with traditional rock and roll structures or the Cocteau Twins' dream pop style, My Bloody Valentine is a much more incendiary and brutal approach taking post punk sounds and dripping them with foggy, hazy and swirling sounds. The song to best describe this sound is the phenomenal track "Only Shallow." Kicking off with a thundering snare beat and then launching into guitarist Kevin Sheilds maelstrom of guitars immediately will suck you into the hazy vortex of sound. The guitars sound what I think the Phoenix rising from the ashes would sound like.

"Only Shallow" is ferocious and beautiful all at once. Amidst this maelstrom through the haze are the dreamlike female vocals care of Bilinda Butcher come whispering through the noise like a searchlight does on a foggy bay. It's a bastion of hope amidst such fury. That is what makes the dynamic of this song perfect. This album would be the last of My Bloody Valentine's efforts, as it drove Kevin Sheilds and the label he was on nearly bankrupt. To perfect something can break someone and it definitely became the demise of the band. Better to go out on top with a masterpiece then to fade into mediocrity. Only until last year did My Bloody Valentine reunite for some concerts. Apparently they are back in the studio, but it took two years for Loveless to finally come to pass. Two years that made a perfect album, however. "Only Shallow" stands as a testament to the greatness of their perfected sound.

Up Next: Pearl Jam's debut and the grunge revolution

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Rock of Ages: Primus - "The Toys Go Winding Down" (1990)

After Cliff Burton, bassist for Metallica, passed away, a young bassist by the name of Les Claypool tried out for the part. He was denied. Apparently he was "too good" for the band. Well, I guess Metallica was right because for my dime, Les Claypool is one of the most innovative and intriguing bass players of all time. In 1990, he finally got down to dropping a record of his own with his band Primus. Along with ridiculously awesome guitarist Larry LaLonde and frenzied genius drummer Tim Alexander, Primus dropped Frizzle Fry, one hell of a debut album (well, if you don't count Suck on This which is a live album.) What ensues over the album is some of the most intriguing rock/metal/fusion/avante garde music you'll ever hear. It's hard, yes, but it's got some strange artistic element to it. This can be seen mostly on the frantic track "The Toys Go Winding Down," a blistering epic of sorts. Les Claypool uses triplets to pound out his bass melody as LaLonde lays down some furious guitar work over it. Tim Alexander's drumming back bone is pummeling and furious, but has an element of jazzy variety to it.

"The Toys Go Winding Down" is one of the most electrifying tracks I have heard. It's a dizzying array of sounds to come from a three piece band. The breakdown towards the end is a jazzy, hazy shade of sounds. Deep bass sounds come in and out as Les Claypool tones down the triplets and the band jams out for a bit before launching back into the fury. The one thing about Primus that might get some folks is Les Claypool's kazoo sounding voice. To me, it's an interesting addition to the frantic nature of the music and sounds other worldly. Primus albums don't change too much except for the looseness or tightness of the group. Frizzle Fry is a remarkable launch-pad for the band filled with other blazingly awesome tracks like "John the Fisherman" and "Too Many Puppies." Something about the brash nature of "The Toys Go Winding Down" really hits home for me.

Up Next: My Bloody Valentine gives birth to shoegaze

Rock of Ages: Depeche Mode - "Enjoy the Silence" (1990)

The 1980's was short lived here at Rock of Ages, but alas, we finally move on to the 1990's. This is more my generation. I remember all these albums dropping (for the most part) and can attest to the times more accurately (for the most part.) Anyways, the 90's will see an array of college radio, grunge and other alternative styles get their due, finally. The classic rock era is over. 1990 saw an 80's band releasing their finest album to date. Depeche Mode's Violater isn't too far from what Depeche Mode had done prior, except maybe the cheesey "Just Can't Get Enough." Violator is a dark and brooding masterpiece. Songs like "Enjoy the Silence" and "Personal Jesus" are dark, moody tracks with really awesome intstrumentation. Personal favorite and smash hit "Enjoy the Silence" is a lot more contemplative, but has all the elaborate trappings of the other tracks.

One thing about "Enjoy the Silence" is the beautiful vocal work of lead vocalist Dave Gahan. His woozy, baritone voice fits the lyrics of longing and loss very well and add to the element of melancholy that prevails over the track. The guitar riff that is laddled over the song is just as melancholic. The upbeat tempo originally wasn't supposed to be attributed to the track, but to me it fits all to perfectly. Sometimes heartbreak doesn't need to be super slow and moody to show the same emotions. Lyrically this is one of the saddest songs, showing how words are "trivial and forgettable" but our emotions will always be more important. You can say one thing, but mean another. Violator became the biggest album in Depeche Mode's catalog and is definitely my favorite. Not a bad song on the disc. "Enjoy the Silence" is still heard in clubs, as the song has various remixes and covers. It's a timeless track and a perfect transition into the sulk and sour 90's.

Up Next: Les Claypool gives Metallica the middle finger and forms Primus, which kicks more ass than Metallica from 1990 on

Rock of Ages: The Pixies - "Bone Machine" (1988)

Along with Sonic Youth, the Pixies are easily one of the most important bands from this latter half of the Rock of Ages list. Their undeniable effect on bands from Nirvana to Weezer to Radiohead is clearly obvious and shows how the 90's alternative music scene was going to come to pass. Much like many important bands, The Pixies only had a short period of time writing and recording their ever important albums. From 1987 to 1991, the band dropped 4 full lenght albums and an EP. Their first full length record, Surfer Rosa, is a masterpiece of raw and melodic rock songs that are furious and frenzied. Album opener "Bone Machine" is a frighteningly catchy track that has forever stayed at the top of the Pixies heap of favorite tracks. To me, lyrically, this song baffles me to this day. It's definitely got some sort of sexual side to it, but to what exactly I don't care to know. Black Francis' lyrics are often times very out there and poetic and strange. Even more strange then the lyrics themselves is Francis' approach to delivering these vocals. He sounds more like a possessed man then someone just singing their lyrics in some standard way. It adds more emotion then if jsut sung normally would.

Musically, The Pixies are always known for their melodic guitars that often can break into frenzy and "Bone Machine" is definitive of that sound. The churning bass care of Kim Deal as well as the drumming of David Lovering keep the music grounded with a strong ryhthm, but Black Francis and lead guitarist Joey Santiago amp up the rawness with their distorted guitars and surging pace at which the chords come at you. Surfer Rosa often times gets pushed aside for its more accessible and catchier next record Doolittle, but the raw nature and effecting approach of this record is much more intriguing and beguiling. Rife with turns in pace and in approaches to song structure, Surfer Rosa excells. "Bone Machine" is the perfect start up for the ride the album takes you on.

Up Next: Depeche Mode ring in the 90's with silence?

Monday, July 27, 2009

Rock of Ages: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - "The Mercy Seat" (1988)

I just finally got around to diving head first into the long and sordid career of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds. Lucky for me it was filled with copious fantastic recordings, including last years Dig, Lazarus Dig!!! His music is all gloomy and baroque and melodramatic. His 1988 album, the fantastic Tender Prey, is easily one of the best of his catalog. The songs range from straight up boogie rock like "Deanna" to creeper, saloon story telling like "Up Jumped the Devil." Although undeniably his most well known song is "Red Right Hand" from Let Love In, "The Mercy Seat" is The Bad Seeds magnum opus. A long and harrowing epic at 7 plus minutes in length, it tells the tale of a death row inmate who is coming to terms with his fate. Lyrically, the song sounds like the ramblings of a madman contemplating the good and bad that he's done through his life and how he "is not afraid to die." The Mercy Seat is traditionally known as the seat in which Jesus sits atop the Arc of the Covenant, but on earth "It's made of wood and wire" signifying the electric chair. His mercy is his death.

The Bad Seeds at this point is at it's finest. Multi-instrumentalist Mick Harvey rocks some intense bass guitar loops and other instruments that add to the frenzied pace and sound of the track, avante garde guitarist Blixa Bargeld rocks the slide guitar and Cave sits behind his pulpit of a Hammond Organ for a creepy, church organ vibe that chills to the bone and swirls inside your head. The wave of sound that comes forth sounds and feels much like an electrical current that would rush through your body, making this the most harrowing song and scarily effective track I have ever heard. As the chorus repeats, it changes from the defiant inmate claiming innocence to accepting guilt. The song explodes with sound and slowly comes to an end. "The Mercy Seat" is a perfect example of music and story coming together and creating a perfect mood piece. Nick Cave is great and twisting plots and telling tales of depraved people. His career goes beyond the Seeds as he has written novels and wrote the screenplay to the amazing 2005 flick The Proposition.

Embedding this video was disabled, but the actual video for the song is pretty awesome:

Here is a live version

Up Next: The Pixies bought me a soda to end the 80's

Rock of Ages: Sonic Youth - "Teen Age Riot" (1988)

Sonic Youth is an undeniably influential band. Their output in the 80s was mixed between noise and post punk. The latter age of the 80's saw a masterpiece melding their raw, morphing blend of melody and dissonance into a beautiful epic of an album called Daydream Nation. In terms of 1988, this album was literally about 10 or more years ahead of its time. Not much else around that time sounded quite like Sonic Youth. Album opener and stunning epic "Teen Age Riot" gets things started. With a minute or so slow intro that quickly builds into a frantic and borderline distorted and clean guitar riff, the song chugs into full gear. Front man Thurston Moore croons his tale of teenage dissidents who are just not going anywhere. Musically the song comes to an intense build after about 5 minutes where the drums and bass go on a frenzy and become fully engulfed into the haze of the guitars. It's a confusing, hazy and beautiful riot of a breakdown.

Sonic Youth went on to major labels after this record, and it's by no surprise as even a sprawling 6 minute anthem like "Teen Age Riot" is just as grounded in pop music as it is in avante garde rock. It was the first big song for Sonic Youth when they released the single and came to more prominence when they signed with Geffen and dropped the records Goo and Dirty. The influence of Sonic Youth was much like the influence of The Velvet Underground in the 60's. Although commercially they didn't stride in their earlier years, they broke boundries and wrote some of the best music of there era. Of course, luckily for Sonic Youth, they are still a viable band releasing records. They have matured in sound a bit, but their melding of genres is still notable.

Up Next: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds see Jesus in their soup

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Rock of Ages: Guns N Roses - "Welcome to the Jungle" (1987)

I know by now a lot of you are noticing that the 80's are zipping by. For me, the 80's was a weird transitional era, but it could be that I haven't given the era it's due research or effort past all the cheesey songs and the obvious important acts like the ones I have posted about so far. Well, I apologize for that as the 70's and 90's are getting/will get the most attention. That said, there are some extremely awesome and important acts from this era. Guns N Roses is undeniably one of them. The hair metal movement of the 80's was littered with so much trash that it's hard to count it as anything but a strange phenomenon that VH1 is still hung up about. However, out of this Sunset Strip scene came the behemoth Guns N Roses. What set them apart was their insanely amazing band of musicians backing up their mad genius front man, Axel Rose. On Appetite for Destruction, easily one of the most kick ass records of the 80's, they muscled their way to the top, especially with the mega rocekr "Welcome to the Jungle." That opening riff care of Slash tirckles down with distortion and reverb and slowly builds into this amazing rocker that is filled with fantastic ryhthm work and the wailing words of Rose.

What Guns N Roses did differently then say, Poison or Winger, was show that they could outlive the end of their decadance and not fall into the black hole of nostalgia only. Although they looked like any other douchers from any other hair band, what they did was craft rock songs that could surpass the demise of their glammed out egos. "Welcome to the Jungle" is loved by fans of many genres. Hell, my mother and father like Guns N Roses. It's just a song that crosses over into epic brilliance. You can't not blast it, change the station when it comes on and you definitely will be screaming "D'you know where you are! You're in the Jungle, Baby! YOU'RE GONNA DIIIIIIIIIIE!" before you can think about not doing it. Guns N Roses only lived a little bit longer into the 90's during the grunge and alt rock years, but their music is timeless and has aged better than their counterparts. Appetite for Destruction is still a raging rocker and many of it's songs, especially "Welcome to the Jungle" are still blasted out of convertibles driving through the streets today.

Up Next: Sonic Youth's youth anthem

Rock of Ages: Public Enemy - "Bring the Noise" (1987)

Much like Punk Rock, I know close to nothing about hip hop and rap music. They aren't as in tuned to my sensibilities as rock music is, but that being said, there is no denying the greats and I have come across some brilliant goodness in these genres. Rock of Ages won't discriminate hip hop from this list of songs as they are still infused with all the sensibilities of rock music. Public Enemy has as much power, if not more, in their words and style than any of the other countless songs of rebellion we have come across on this countdown. Their 1987 single "Bring the Noise", which later appeared on their 1988 album It Takes A Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back is an undeniable piece of intense and brilliant protest and musical prowess. The beat is infectious, Chuck D's rapid fire lyrics are incendiary and pointing and the sampling and swirling sounds leave their mark.

The amount of racial tensions in the country, especially in places like New York where Public Enemy was from, was staggering. "Bring the Noise" is Chuck D's opus and plea to the community to get together to stamp out hatred for blacks, to prove that hip hop was more than just an ethnic movement and was a viable and meaningful musical movement (much more obvious today than in the 80's as now hip-hop has taken over the mainstream.) The song also has artistic merit in it's usage of sampling and amazing beat structures. Public Enemy was ahead of their time and are considered by many to be the greatest hip hop group of the 80's and beyond. There is no denying Chuck D's prowess behind the mic and his poetic way of words. His message, although to some stark, is very important in the movement and advancement of black culture. Spike Lee took notice of that and used a later hit, "Fight the Power" in his film Do The Right Thing. The words of "Bring The Noise" are still important today and the song still kicks raw ass.

Although I am writing about the original "Bring the Noise", here is the amazing crossover hit of Anthrax AND Public Enemy.

Up Next: Axel Rose and Co. make the only awesome Hair Metal

Rock of Ages: Tom Waits - "Jockey Full of Bourbon" (1985)

Say what you want about Tom Waits, whether you are in the camp that he is a visionary staple in the world of popular music, or if he is just too out their, weird and gruff for your tastes. He is easily an artist that splits the camp. You love him or you hate him. My love of Tom Waits is not huge. He is the kind of artist that is defined by mood. You are either in that Tom Waits mood or you have no time for it. But when you are in that dark, moody, smokey place, my word is the man a home run hitter. It's hard to pick one song from his 1985 masterpiece Rain Dogs, but it must be done. Somehow falling on the less strange side is the track "Jockey Full of Bourbon", a song of desperation and of full on debauchery, thanks to the titular tincture. The song is noted for it's interesting percussion sounds, which to the description of the recording of Rain Dogs could very well be Waits whacking any number of things with a 2 by 4. The guitar slugs along with hazy and a stumbled approach, as if the ax itself was drunk, thanks to Marc Ribot.

Tom Waits is like Bob Dylan in many ways. He has a hand hold on the American spirit, but more of the disparate side of it all. Rain Dogs is an album of those lost American souls whose American dreams are all but washed away with the rain leaving them lost. "Jockey Full of Bourbon" is a great song about this topic. It's a jangly song about the dark side of the New York Streets, where Waits was writing this album. Like Dylan, his voice is harsh and gruff, but about 100 times more intense. Where Dylan takes the music of Folk and Country, two very American voices, Waits uses jazz, blues and other strange sides of American music. He's a magician this way. He tailor made his own sound on Rain Dogs that is all at once alien and reminiscent of things we've heard. It's a fantastic ride into the heart of darkness of the American subculture.

Up Next: Public Enemy writes an amazing and visceral political upheaval anthem

Friday, July 24, 2009

Rock of Ages: New Order - "Bizarre Love Triangle" (1985)

Of all the synth pop and new wave crap of the 80's, there were diamonds in the rough. The drug addled dance pop phenomenon led to crap acts like Wang Chung and A-Ha that, although kitschy and fun to laugh and dance to, just plain suck in general. Luckily we also had a band like New Order who took it's Joy Division roots and amped up the speed and synthed out the hooks making thoughtful and beautiful synth music. In 1986, New Order released their fourth album Brotherhood and on it, a beautiful synth dance track "Bizarre Love Triangle" as the first single from this album. Although at that point the song failed to garner as much success as their moodier and longer single "Blue Monday" there is something much more special about "Bizarre Love Triangle." It has all the moodiness and sad lyrics of their earlier gloomy synth dance music, but it has a much more upbeat ryhthm and hook.

New Order's "Bizarre Love Triangle" is set with a backdrop of groovy, bassy blips and a catchy drum beat that is easy to move your feet to. It's still played in clubs around the world, or at least in the Philadelphia metro area. Lyrically the song is beautiful. A story of confusion and loss, embedded in a catchy catchy song. It's classic songwriting, blues if you will, that is juxtaposed with a happier much more heavenly melody. New Order has so many great songs that follow this same formula, such as "Age of Consent" and "True Faith", but for me, "Bizarre Love Triangle" just does it perfectly.

Up Next: Tom Waits growls as usual

Rock of Ages: Prince & The Revolution - "Let's Go Crazy" (1984)

I am excited to say that my 400th post on this blog goes to the man with the purple banana, Prince. Just 25 years ago, Prince released an epic album of some of the sexiest and grooviest rock music of the 80's via his soundtrack album Purple Rain. The album was just as groundbreaking and revolutionary as Michael Jackson's Thriller and made the 83 - 84 years stellar for African American artists topping the charts. Where MJ served up pop hits such as "Thriller" and "Beat It", Prince's edge leaned toward the sexual, as always, with songs like "When Doves Cry" and "Darling Nikki." Prince had a way with words that was unlike any other artist of the time. Unabashed sexuality and even existentialism could be found. Much like his hit "1999", the lead off track on the album, "Let's Go Crazy" is about looking past the world we live in, embracing the good things around us and enjoying the best parts of life while we wait for "the after world." It's really an uplifting song of sorts. Filled with great rock hooks, a catchy beat and extremely danceable and sing-along verses, it's one of the best album openers and Prince's most spasticly awesome jam.

One thing that Prince is known for beyond his uber sexuality and strange omnisexual persona is that he is one of the best guitar players of the 80's. Most go-to guitar fiends would say Van Halen is the 80's king, but Prince has a style and swagger all his own. His frantic guitar was much like his own voice, high pitched, filled with emotions and, as said a dozen times before, filled with sexuality. "Let's Go Crazy" is a fantastic song that really reflects the times. It was about reckless abandon and about getting your freak on and not caring about the worries in the world around you, even when they can overwhelm you. It's a great message wrapped in a kick ass dance rock song.

Up Next: New Order's wisdom won't set you free

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Rock of Ages: U2 - "Sunday Bloody Sunday" (1983)

Before the swaggered their way to mediocrity in the late 90's, U2 was this awesome little band from Ireland that was filled with anger and sorrow for their little country. Ireland is still split and for the Irish, that is some bullshit. Their iconic album War is filled with songs against these injustices and show more than just the hardships of a war torn country, but the songs also showed a people oppressed and hurt. The cover art alone shows a small child in stark black and white showing that all are affected by such conflicts. It's no denying the power upon first hearing "Sunday Bloody Sunday." Those drums come in with their effective battle march power and searing hi-hat infused rhythm. The guitars join next along with the faint sounds of strings and Bono's strained voice, filled with the last drop of sanity that the man has for what has happened in his country for years. "How long/How long must we sing this song" is a very very striking lyric and after it's sung, the bass kicks in and it's a full on protest march. Easily one of the best protest songs ever written, "Sunday Bloody Sunday" still hits home some 25 years later.

From Guthrie to Seger to Dylan, there are copius amounts of protest songs. Luckily U2 struck a chord with the era where jsut protesting and singing songs about your dissent with the times at hand, they added an element of anger. It's by no means punk rock anger, but it's a controlled anger. The Edge's guitars still soar to heights the way they always do, but they jangle like the tolling of bells and scratch at the walls at times. "Sunday Bloody Sunday" is a song to blast, to ring out in the streets, to sing along together in a pub. It's an anthem for the ages.

Up Next: Prince melds music and movies and it's now 25 years old! WTF

Rock of Ages: Michael Jackson - "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin" (1983)

There is no doubt that Michael Jackson is one of the greatest performers in pop music history. Along with Elvis and The Beatles, MJ helped pave the way for black R&B artists unlike anyone else and created an empire of devoted fans and in the meantime wrote some of the best pop music of the 80's and 90's. Thriller is considered the greatest album of all time selling 28 times Platinum, which is kind of ridiculous. But nothing could stop the Michael Jackson phenomenon from skyrocketing to the top. Picking a song from Thriller is tough. With gems like "Billie Jean" and "Beat It", it's hard to narrow it down. Since I've first heard Thriller ages ago, soemthing about the lead off track "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin" always affected me. The first track on any album is important to the structural integrity of the rest of the album. Much like his funk/R&B predocessor in James Brown, this track has a static rhthym and beat that carries it throughout. Constantly changing and shifting with layers of horns, synth beats, backing vocals and guitar riffs that just come in and out to accompany Jackson's fast paced groovy lyrics. It's a song that is immediately captivating and builds to an amazing ending filled with the classic "Ma Ma Se Ma Ma Sa, Ma Ma Coo Sa" repeated. It's a sing a long funk jam with a discoey back beat.

With Michael Jackson's recent passing, we are luckily left with a legacy of fantastic songs. Even if the latter years of MJ were dotted with scandal, health problems, conspiracy and everything else, there is no doubt that his music will never die and never get old. He's timeless even if he's moved on from this mortal coil. Proof positive of "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" being a kick ass catchy tune is the use of the final repeated gibberish phrase in Rihanna's "Please Don't Stop the Music." The infectiousness lives on. Thriller is still selling millions upon millions of records and captivating audiences young and old, rehashing memories of fans who may have moved on and reigniting MJ's large fanbase once again. "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" is blaring out of your local bar or club right now and I can't imagine you aren't dancing to it.

Up Next: U2's 1983 Opening Track

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Rock of Ages: Adam & The Ants - "Prince Charming" (1981)

Glam rock took a turn for the worse during the 80s when the Sunset Strip bands like Poison and Jerseyites Bon Jovi gave it a Bad Name.... Anywho, before that, a man from London, England named Stuart Goddard embraced the better era of glam, the Bowie, Hoople, Roxy Music era that is. Stuart Goddard went by Adam Ant and helmed the band Adam and the Ants to glam rock done right in the 80's. With guitar driven rock riffs, catchy hooks and still a sense for the flamboyant and fun side of the glam universe, Adam Ant gave us much better, catchier and all the less annoying glam rock songs. The New Romantics they were, Adam and the Ants had a penchant for strange fashion, but luckily that didn't hold them back to just being guys dressed in frilly clothes writing baseless music. The track "Prince Charming" stands as sort of epigram for their new wave fashion as the repeated lyric "ridicule is nothing to be scared of" seems to be quite a powerful lyric to use in defense of they way they want to live their life. It's almost punk rock in a way? Anyway, their anti-establishment may have come in the form of fashion and living their lives the way they want it, but in the process they wrote a kickass tune.

"Prince Charming" is best known for it's percussion. The Ants drummer, Merrick, uses the Burundi drum style, derived from African music, to give the song it's very interesting and tribal. It's juxtaposed with a very catchy riff played on acoustic guitars and a searing guitar solo that constanly surges back and forth in the background. It's interesting to hear a band composed of guys dressed as pirates embracing such a world music sound, but it works perfectly. The other aspect of Adam and the Ants being, well, awesome was their pioneering of the MTV generation and using the music video as an art form for their flamboyant style. The video for "Prince Charming" is ridiculous in some ways, but for the most part it's really freakin' awesome.

Up Next: Michael Jackson: King of Pop

Rock of Ages: Talking Heads - "The Great Curve" (1980)

Picking just one song from a band is hard. What's even harder sometimes is picking one song from ONE album by one band. One of these cases is in the Talking Heads fantastic magnum opus Remain in Light. The single "Crosseyed and Painless" was my first choice, although "Once in a Lifetime" may be the quintessential Talking Heads song. I also wrestled with the tracks "Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On)" or "Listening Wind" for their world music vibe and social comment. However, the song that currently gets my rocks off and may be the best overview of the music from this record would have to go to "The Great Curve." An album cut that is ambitious, layered, frantic and gorgeous. It has every trapping that this fantastic album has overlayed by the funkiest beat and bassline that Heads were able to concoct. Brian Eno produced the record as well as helped out with some instrumentation, and other notables like budding session gutarist and future King Crimson inductee Adrian Belew lends a helping hand with his ferocious and animalistic guitar shredding on the solos.

The Talking Heads did not need such help creating great music, but having some nice support definitely adds to the experience, especially on this song. David Byrne's lyrics of desperation of trying to figure out the world around it is frantic and layered with tons of backing vocals peircing through and overlaping and causing more confusion, but beautiful confusion. Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz head the percussion section and with furious ryhthms from congas, bongos, drums and Weymouth's bass set a strong backbone of kinetic energy. Jerry Harrison helmed keys and guitars and his support is nothing short of fantastic. The band melds world music into their own form of art pop on "The Great Curve" and on every song on this album. It's the fantastic nature of this song that garners my utmost respect. It's a dance song, an anthem to the paranoia of the times and has some of the strangest and artistic acheivments in recording and sound.

Up Next: Adam and the Ants find ridicule is nothing to be scared of

Rock of Ages: Echo and the Bunnymen - "Crocodiles" (1980)

Hailing from Liverpool, Echo and the Bunnymen had some big shoes to fill for a Liverpudlian band. The Beatles were long done and John Lennon would be murdered later this same year. It's no surprise that the 80's and the post punk rebellion was filled with some darker tones in a lot of music and lord knows Echo and the Bunnymen were a part of this mood. Often times they are compared to Joy Division, but to me something different prevails over the Bunnymen. On their amazing debut, Crocodiles, the band paint waves of sorrowful and melancholy tunes embedded in frantic tones and clean guitars. The titular song is a panicked and jumpy track. The melody is carried on the bass line mroe so than on the main guitar parts, which are jangly and jagged and harsh. The real joy of this song comes in the desperation in the voice of Ian McCulloch. AMidst the kinetic sounds of the music, the desperate and melodic vocals sound even mroe paranoid and energetic.

Echo and the Bunnymen are more well known now for two other songs: The popular UK hit "The Cutter" or the track covered by many bands and appearing in cult hit Donnie Darko, "The Killing Moon." These are both great tracks, but something about "Crocodiles" strikes a different chord. Their first record, although gloomy and melancholy, explodes with sound and catchy hooks, even if they are minor chords. Although the band did not see massive acclaim stateside and never got to the lengths of that other Liverpudlian group, they definitely made their mark on music in the 1980s, one of the strangest decades. Their moody music infused with clean yet abrasive guitars and some amazing movements from the rhythm section makes Echo and the Bunnymen one of my favorite bands from this era.

Up Next: Talking Heads team up with Eno and many more notables to create some of the funkiest tracks ever recorded.... but which song to choose?

Monday, July 20, 2009

Rock of Ages: The Clash - "The Guns of Brixton" (1980)

By 1980, the punk rock movement had already changed massively and splintered into a dozen different sub-genres. One thing is for sure, I never really got into a lot of all of that and can never ever say I am anywhere near punk rock. That being said, there is no denying the brilliance of probably the best band to come from the genre of punk rock, The Clash. They are the one band that is deemed punk rock that anyone and everyone can relate to. That's of course my humblest of opinions, but I digress. London Calling dropped in the US in 1980 and changed everything. The album careens around genre but there is still that defining sound of The Clash embedded amongst pseudo reggae ("Revolution Rock") to ska ("Rudie Can't Fail") to straight up rock and roll ("Clampdown.") Where The Clash excelled the most was on "The Guns of Brixton" Surprisingly, the song is written and sung by Paul Simonon and is the ONLY Clash song written solely by him that appears on any Clash recording. Kudos, Paul! You wrote the best one!

"The Guns of Brixton" is definitely a reggae song, but it is drenched in darkness. The theme of racial unrest in the Brixton section of London definitely penetrates the overall mood of this song. Paranoia and darkness cloud the music. It's a moody song on a record that jumps all over the place. The Clash have a way of creating wonderful moods and atmospheres in their music and this is why pigeonholing them into one genre seems strange. I am by no means a punk rocker, but it's this crossing the boundaries and sounding unlike any other band that came out of this time period. The Clash gave punk rock a unique feel and the ability to be more than angry, riff heavy rock. "Guns of Brixton" has one of these awesome moods to it with varying sounds and interesting instruments. Not to mention a goovy bass line, great guitars and the extremely awesome lyrics. There isn't a bad song in London Calling, but I have no doubt that "Guns of Brixton" is one of the best.

Up Next: Echo and the Bunnymen bring Liverpool back to the rock forefront

Friday, July 17, 2009

Rock of Ages: The Police - "So Lonely" (1979)

Here we are at the end of the 70's, the one era on this list that had the most entries. Almost half of the entire list fell inside this decade. The end of an era, you might say. Anyway, here we are with The Police. A band that was only around for five years and had just five albums in this timespan seem unlikely to make such a huge impact on music. But The Beatles did 13 in 7 years so I guess its no biggie. Anyway, The Police's debut, Outlandos d'Amour, is a tour de force record of reggae infused new wave. "Roxanne" was the smash hit, but "So Lonely" is what gets me going. It bounces back and forth between a funky, groovy verse with jangly impressive guitar work from underrated guitarist Andy Summers. It then kicks into a punky fast paced riff fest with the lyrics "So Lonely" harmonized to the max care of sting. All the while, the impressive drumming of Stewart Copeland keeps everything jazzy and rocking.

The Police did a lot in their short time together for pop music. Their first record is ferocious and filled with great riffs and fast drumming and groovy bass workouts. Sting croons over the tracks and keeps everything fun and easily sing-alongable. The three peice is easily one of the best live acts too. Although they only toured together reunion style for over a year, it was worth seeing them live. "So Lonely" ripped live as they jammed out the funky bridge for a good amount of time. It's a song that needs to be blasted and rocked out to.

Up Next: The Clash ring in 1980's

Rock of Ages: XTC - "Making Plans For Nigel" (1979)

XTC is a strange breed of New Wave band. Although they are put into this category, I'd like to call them more Prog Wave. This is a sort of a stretch, but upon listening to their album Drums and Wires, you will see what I'm talking about. An air of very strucutred, yet altogether jangly and poopy tunes intersperse the album. Everything has strange time signatures and the guitars pop with strange sounds. Their ultimate track, "Making Plans For Nigel" is by far one of the most intensely structured tracks they have ever released. It's pummeling drums, frantic and kinetic overlapping guitar parts and pulsating bass line keep the song moving and chugging at a catchy pace. All the pulsating and surging add a great affect to the catchiness of the song mixing pop music with prog music in a perfect blend.

XTC continued this frantic and kinetic energy in their early career, even when they turned into a more straight up new wave band. They always had elements of jazz and progressive music throughout their catalog of geniusly crafted pop songs. "Making Plans For Nigel" was one of two hit tracks for them, but they never really took off much more than that. Critically, XTC was always known for their fantastic music, but crossover appeal never treated them with great successes. Luckily for us, their songs hold up better than a lot of new wave does now of days and maybe greater respect for the band will come posthumously. I still plan on blasting Drums and Wires for a long time coming, especially "Making Plans For Nigel." Also, check out various covers by Primus & Nouvelle Vague of the track as it's crossover to prog metal and bossa nova are pretty awesome.

Uhm, this video is freaking AWESOME!

Up Next: The Police are all by themselves and the 70's end, finally.

Rock of Ages: Kraftwerk - "Neon Lights" (1978)

Kraftwerk is definitely one of those bands that transcends the time that they were making music. Their brand of straight electronic music from Germany was otherworldly and futuristic. They were using synthesizers in ways that no one thought possible in popular music and the effects were definitely seen in the 1980's and beyond. After some great experiments in sound and moody, woozy synth soundscapes like Autobahn and Trans Europa Express, the German's dropped their language and record The Man Machine filled with fantastic pop songs. The track "Neon Lights" is the pinnacle of these fantastic collection of tracks. The amount of different sounds and textures the 9 minute song goes through is fantastical. It's music brews forth images of lights and fireworks and such. Lyrically it has 4-lines, but it's the soundscape that builds the lyricism of the song.

The most obvious choice for a modern day group influenced by Kraftwerk is Animal Collective. Their approach of using synthetic devices to create musical soundscapes is very similar to that of Kraftwerk's approach. The band consists of four members and all four members use synthesizers. Percussion, bass, and all the melodies are synthetic, but "Neon Lights" takes on a feel of something far more organic and beautfiul. It's a sweeping track that is best accompanied by a long drive on a beautiful summers night or in the dark with headphones. The humming and droning of Kraftwerk's synths is some of the most hauntingly beautiful music you will hear.

Up Next: XTC's brand of uber structured New Wave

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Rock of Ages: Nick Lowe - "So It Goes" (1978); Elvis Costello & The Attractions - "What's So Funny Bout (Peace, Love & Understandin') (1979)

Nick Lowe isn't really a household name these days. But his contributions to the pub-rock and new wave scene can be seen in multiple places. His own career is filled with some fantastic tracks that are as catchy as the rest. For the first half of this entry, we will take a look at his own career and the second half will focus on his fantastic song he wrote for Elvis Costello, another budding and more well known purveyor of the new wave roots rock scene.

Nick Lowe's album, Jesus of Cool, is chock full of hooky, guitar anthems and as the album cover shows, quite fun and guitar oriented pub rock. The killer track "So It Goes" is the most memorable and catchy of them all. It's a rollicking jam that has some jangly guitars and fever pitched singing. It's a perfect song for driving to and it's full of great hooks. Lyrically it's pretty ambiguous but it definitely has the air of rebellion and snarky politicism almost poking fun at the counter revolution of punk rock at the time. "The way it's going, no one knows" is a pretty great slogan for the times as things were all over the place in the world. It's more or less an anthem for anti-rebellion. So it goes... let's fucking ROCK!

In a similar fashion, Nick Lowe wrote "What's So Funny Bout (Peace, Love & Understanding.)" A similarly themed song with equally catchy hooks and riffy guitars. Lowe originally recorded it in 1974, but in the hands of Elvis Costello & The Attractions, it became something special. Appearing on the US version of Armed Forces, arguably Costello's best record, the song was produced by Lowe and has all the trappings of his sound. Elvis Costello isn't ripping off of Nick Lowe as the Attractions hold their own as a great supporting group, but the song is inherently Nick Lowe's. It's a fantastic record and Elvis Costello really revs up the delivery. I don't mean to short change Elvis Costello here. The man knows how to rock, but it's in Lowe's witty lyrics and fantastic riff writing that we get such a stellar song.

Up Next: Kraftwerk: Need I say more?

Rock of Ages: The First 50 Tracks

Fifty tracks down... let's review:

Buddy Holly & The Crickets - "That'll Be The Day"
Roy Orbison - "Crying"
The Ronettes - "Be My Baby"
Otis Redding - "I've Been Loving You Too Long"
Bob Dylan - "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue"
Beach Boys - "God Only Knows"
Buffalo Springfield - "For What It's Worth"
Love - "The Red Telephone"
The Jimi Hendrix Experience - "The Wind Cries Mary"
Van Morrison - "Astral Weeks"
The Zombies - "Hung Up On A Dream"
Donovan - "Hurdy Gurdy Man"
The Beatles - "While My Guitar Gently Weeps"
King Crimson - "21st Century Schizoid Man"
Cream - "Badge"
Sly & The Family Stone - "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)
George Harrison - "Beware of Darkness"
John Lennon - "God"
Paul McCartney - "Maybe I'm Amazed"
Creedence Clearwater Revival - "Ramble Tamble"
James Brown - "(Get Up I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine"
Grand Funk Railroad - "Sin's A Good Man's Brother"
Led Zeppelin - "Since I've Been Loving You"
Tim Buckley - "Song to the Siren"
The Kinks - "Strangers"
The Velvet Underground - "Sweet Jane"
Nick Drake - "Things Behind the Sun"
Don McClean - "American Pie
T.Rex - "Jeepster"
The Temptations - "Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)"
David Bowie - "Life On Mars?"
Flower Travellin' Band - "Satori Part 1"
The Rolling Stones - "Sister Morphine"
Faces - "Stay With Me"
Elton John - "Talking Old Soldiers"
Deep Purple - "Highway Star"
Lou Reed - "Perfect Day"
Big Star - "Thirteen"
Stevie Wonder - "Living For the City"
Mott the Hoople - "Foxy, Foxy"
The Who - "Love Reign O'er Me"
John Cale - "Paris 1919"
Pink Floyd - "Time"
Roxy Music - "Love is the Drug"
Parliament - "Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof Off the Sucker)"
Warren Zevon - "Desperadoes Under the Eaves"
Neil Young - "Like a Hurricane"
Television - "Marquee Moon"
Brian Eno - "Spider and I"
Electric Light Orchestra - "Mr. Blue Sky"

There will be a significant shift in tone from here on out. The introduction of metal, punk rock, hip hop, grunge, new wave and more is on the horizon on this list. Bands will range from Echo and the Bunnymen to Michael Jackson to Stone Temple Pilots to Stereolab. It goes all over the place. Enjoy the ride!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Rock of Ages: Electric Light Orchestra - "Mr. Blue Sky" (1978)

Electric Light Orchestra is an enigma of a group. For the most part, their songs are very hit or miss and most of the time I just can't get into their full length albums, save Eldorado which has some stellar movements and moments. However, when ELO is on top of it's game, they have a way of injecting the listener with a feeling of sheer joy and elation. Their happier, peppier songs are better then when Jeff Lynne tries to sound like John Lennon. With great pleasure, I bestow on you "Mr. Blue Sky", as the 50th song of this Rock of Ages countdown. It's easily one of maybe 5 songs that no matter what else is going on in mt life, it is able to put a smile on my face. It's a piece of pop music mastery with catchy hooks, sing-a-long lyrics, movements and shifts in the music that inspire as well as percussion that's easy to replicate with household appliances or items lying around.

Electric Light Orchestra just hits a homer run with "Mr. Blue Sky." I demand any person to listen to this song and not just want to bop around dancing. It's perfect driving music, dancing in pajamas music, singing in the shower music, cooking dinner music or general music to have fun to. ELO makes music that every man and woman should be able to enjoy with "Mr. Blue Sky." It should cross generational boundries and racial boundries. More or less, "Mr. Blue Sky" should be able to cure cancer at some point. I know this write up has turned into borderline comedy, but the song is mroe or less just great on the way it makes you feel. It's not that it isn't well composed or produced, in fact it's quite great. It's just not why it's a go to song. It's all about emotions, and the best emotion of all. Happiness.

Up Next: A Nick Lowe Double Dose - First his own song, then one he wrote for Elvis Costello (might take one blog post for that)

Rock of Ages: Brian Eno - "Spider and I" (1977)

Brian Eno, along with several other artists on this list, is one of those elusive geniuses that was a few steps ahead of the curve. From his time in Roxy Music, to playing keys on Bowie's Berlin Trilogy to his own solo career that shifted from avante garde glam rock to ambient texturals, he's been next to impossible to pin down. He's even produced dozens of records for everyone from Talking Heads to Coldplay. Before his solo career shifted completely (for the most part) to ambient music, Eno released a final album of genuinely interesting avante-pop entitled Before and After Science. A continuation of sorts from Eno's mixture of both traditional and his future undertakings in ambient (Another Green World was his first album that showed this dual ability), the album has two tones. It's on the second half where the sleepy tune "Spider and I" appears that we see the perfect blend of the two formats.

Slowly building like the coming tide, the music swells with beauty. Immediately upon listening, you can picture yourself on the beach with a moonless sky and see the swirling of stars above you, nothing but the air and waves to keep you company. When the music hits its peak, it's a swirling of synths and piano that is the perfect backdrop for Eno's short verse. Eno has never liked his lyrics, but the words to this song fit the mood of the music perfectly and form a beautiful poem of simplicity:

Spider and I sit watching the sky
On a world without sound
We knit a web to catch one tiny fly
For our world without sound
We sleep in the mornings
We dream of a ship that sails away
A thousand miles away.

It's gorgeous. It goes out just as it came in, slowly fading off into the distance. It's the perfect meditation song.

Up Next: The 50 song on this list goes to Electric Light Orchestra's cure for a bad day