The Alphabet Project
Dear friends, welcome to our newest recurring feature, as we work through the alphabet, one letter at a time. We begin, appropriately enough, with A, each selecting our favorite songs from artists that begin with that letter, and commenting on each tune. Only one song per artist, we must have the song in our collection, and all of the songs must fit on a single compact disc. The two proprietors of this joint will then exchange discs, and each will laugh uncontrollably about how the disc he made is far superior to the one he received.
1. Aerosmith – “Draw The Line” – From the time my brother and I saw them for 94 cents at the Tower Theatre in May 1974, I knew these guys were for me. Joe Perry’s a monster, but Steven Tyler’s high pitched screech on the last verse gives me laryngitis every time.
2. AC/DC – “You Shook Me All Night Long” – I recently heard this song for the one billionth time and I’m still amazed by its greatness, its brilliance undimmed by familiarity. The one song guaranteed to get me on the dance floor (course that’s not necessarily a good thing).
3. Alice Cooper – “School’s Out” – Great 1971 AM fodder… and a last day of school staple at my house for the last 18 years. Remember when Alice Copper was subversive?
4. Asexuals – “World On Your Shoulders” – “Contemplating suicide / Don’t you know you’re gonna die”… thus opens this pop-punk anthem with gang vocals that I first heard on WXPN in the early 90’s. I’ve not heard of the band since.
5. The Animals – “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place” – Teen angst never sounded good – especially with Eric Burdon’s freakishly great soulful vocals.
6. The Alarm – “The Stand” – Back when big hair was good, this song inspired my brother’s band name. Would you think less of me if I told you I preferred the Alarm to U2? That’s cool – I can take it.
7. The A’s - “Words” – Local pop punk heroes actually had 2 major label (Arista) releases. While the production sounds dated now, I loved them then, especially live.
8. Art Brut – “Good Weekend” – A current fave, it’s inclusion is owed to the giggles it elicits from my son and his pals every time this little couplet is sung – “I’ve seen her naked… twice / I’ve seen her naked…TWICE!!
9. Arctic Monkeys – “I Bet You Look Good on the Dance Floor” – Just so you don’t think I’m a total geezer… this song is one my favorites this year. Don’t write these guys with the horrible name off – I think they might be the real deal.
10. Alley Cats – “Puddin ‘N’ Tain” – One of Phil Spector’s earliest productions, this doo wop classic literally has it all. Music this joyous should never go out of style.
11. Abba – “Waterloo” – Yeah it’s obvious. And yeah, throw me in with all the other pseudo-hipsters that dig Abba. Ear candy and eye candy… yum.
12. The Archies – “Sugar Sugar” – The first 45 I ever bought (the second was “A Boy Named Sue”) – this song has held me in its sway for 37 years. I was crushed when I found out The Archies were not a real group.
13. Murray Attaway – “No Tears Tonight” – Lead song on Guadalcanal Diary frontman’s only solo record. Great pop songwriting – and “Under Jets” and “Walpurgis Night” are no slouches either.
14. Ryan Adams – “New York, New York” – From the uneven Gold, this song is a sweet, rollicking, lovelorn paean to a lost love and city.
15. Eric Ambel – “Forever Came Today” – Roots rock jack of all trades, Ambel’s Roscoe’s Gang is a great Saturday night record. This country pop pleaser shows his sweet twang off to maximum effect.
16. Gregg Allman – “I’m No Angel” – This shiny little pop gem is hardly the best example of Gregg Allman’s world weary soulfulness, but damn I love this song.
17. Allman Brothers – “Blue Sky” – Yeah I know I’m missing the point with the Allmans, but this Dicky Betts tune is gorgeous and at over 5 minutes, my attention doesn’t even wander.
18. Terry Allen – “Amarillo Highway” – I’ve never been to the West Texas panhandle, but after one listen to this song I felt like I had been. Part of the whole Joe Ely / Butch Hancock / Jimmie Dale Gilmore conclave, his 1979 album Lubbock (On Everything) is a buried treasure.
19. Dave Alvin – “Border Radio” – Mixing the love of radio and the pain of immigration separation, Dave Alvin’s ache could be understood in any language.
20. Arthur Alexander – “Every Day I Have To Cry” – Rooted as much in country as R&B, this song’s solemn lament will break your heart every time. Classic.
21. Aztec Camera – “The Birth of the True” – From the underappreciated Knife, this acoustic folk-pop is Roddy Frame’s best. For five years, I found a way to include this song on just about every mix tape I made.
22. Louis Armstrong – “When The Saints Go Marching In” – A sentimental choice, as my beloved Saint Joseph’s Hawks fight song is “When the Hawks Go Flying In”, sung to this tune. GO HAWKS!!
Let me preface this by saying that this was Trip’s idea, and it’s hard. And I’m sure I’m going to make some terrible omissions, especially songs by acts that show up on various artists compilations, thus defying the quick alphabetical scan of the CD shelves. With all the normal disclaimers, here’s my list, in alphabetical order.
Abba, “Does Your Mother Know.” This is not actually my favorite Abba tune (that would be “Knowing Me, Knowing You”), but it provides the best opportunity for me to humiliate myself for your pleasure. In 1979, at age eleven, I was blissfully unaware that disco was approaching a hazy, hedonistic death, or that it had become painfully uncool. And so, I would faithfully trek to my small college town’s discotheque on Sundays for Teen Night (technically, I was too young, but none of us were old enough to have IDs), in my white poly pants to sample the finest in non-alcoholic beverages and get down with some of central Illlinois’s finest pre-pubescents. And this song – a cautionary tale of an underage girl who hangs with older men at discos – knocked me out week after week and catapulted me on to the dance floor.
ABC, “Poison Arrow.” If the Monkees had been made to mimic Roxy Music and not the Beatles, they would have been this band, who made their mark at the point where bubblegum meets glam.
AC/DC, “Back in Black.” A masterpiece of flat-out funky heavy metal, with the underappreciated Malcolm Young taking his star turn on some of the crunchiest rhythm guitar ever captured on tape.
Action Figure Party, “Clock Radio.” I go for this sort of slick pop-jazz-funk-groove music, and I think this is one of the best examples of the form.
Ryan Adams, “Harder Now That It’s Over.” From Gold, the album that pairs Adams’s trademark ambition with some welcome restraint, this heartbreaker showcases his best as a writer and a singer, leaving me wanting more, where he often leaves me wanting less.
Aerosmith, “Back in the Saddle.” I love how this song revs up and then explodes. Pure adrenaline rush.
Afghan Whigs, “Debonair.” From the devastating Gentlemen album, this song is the perfect mesh of Greg Dulli’s punk rock and Motown fetishes (the opening vamp and handclaps are pure Temptatons), rendered from a disturbingly dark point of view.
Arthur Alexander, “Solider of Love.” Alexander is a nearly forgotten giant of early rock and roll, and Marshall Crenshaw covered this song virtually note for note, tacitly acknowledging that it couldn’t be improved upon.
The Allman Brothers Band, “Hot ‘Lanta.” A rockin’ Allman Brothers original from the epic Fillmore East live disc, it distills the band’s essence down to five minutes and twenty seconds, a length ideal for this exercise.
Amadou & Mariam, “Les Temps Ont Change.” Insistent, percolating West African pop, with jumping polyrhythm and Amadou Bagayoko’s razor sharp vocals and guitar.
American Music Club, “Apology for an Accident.” The first band to be my band after the demise of the Replacements, this sad-sack group of melancholy rockers ultimately proved to be profoundly depressing to comprise the center of my listening habits for long, but Mark Eitzel’s senses of melody, humor and futility fit me to a T during the early 1990s. I could have picked a half-dozen songs off the Mercury album, but this one – with the immortal line, “I’ve been praying a lot lately because I no longer have a TV” – seems to capture the essence of the band better than any of them.
Trey Anastasio, “Cayman Review.” A funky strut deeply rooted in the Little Feat school of jam rock, it is far and away my favorite thing that he has ever done, with or without his more famous band.
The Apples in Stereo, “The Bird that You Can’t See.” Sing-along, clap-along modern power pop capable of providing a sustained sugar high, I can’t hear it without thinking of the Beatles’ “And Your Bird Can Sing.”
Archers of Loaf, “Web in Front.” The only song I particularly care for from this Chapel Hill, NC collective also happens to be one of my favorite tunes ever, all insanely catchy melody braced by punk-fuzz guitar and topped with surrealist lyrics. It also features one of my all-time favorite lines: “You’re not the one who let me down, but thanks for offering.”
Arctic Monkeys, “Riot Van.” The least rocking tune on the year’s most heavily hyped album, it’s also the one that establishes, without doubt, that these guys have the goods, as they make idly shuffling drunkenness sound positively poignant.
Arrested Development, “People Everyday (Metamorphosis Mix).” This is a bonus track on the debut album that was showered with praise upon its release, but which seems not to have held up so well over time. A loose-limbed funky reworking of one of Sly Stone’s biggest hits, “People Everyday” sets my head to bobbin’ every time.
Art Brut, “Formed a Band.” OK, I confess, I snuck a peek at Trip’s picks and changed my selection of “Good Weekend” to this tune, the irony-heavy lead track on Art Brut’s debut, an irony-heavy album that rocks the Cockney at full throttle. “We’re going to be the band to write the song that makes Israel and Palestine get along.” If only it were that easy. In this song, at least, it is.
The Avalanches, “Frontier Psychiatrist.” A delightfully loopy piece of aural collage, these guys take dozens (or hundreds, or thousands) of found sounds and turn them into something that may or may not be hip hop (think DJ Shadow) with snippets of film dialog that tell the sordid tale of a boy who may or may not be losing his mind.