We're back with a third installment of the Alphabet Project, or at least half of one. Trip's picks should follow shortly.
Last time around, I lamented what a monster letter B was, but C is no slouch, either. In addition to cutting Eddie Cochran’s “Somethin’ Else” because my computer refused to read the disc, I had to drop Jim Carroll’s “People Who Died” when my compilation proved to be a minute too long (not to mention prime stuff from Captain Beefheart, Leonard Cohen, Camper Van Beethoven and Cream, to name a few, that fell victim along the way). Enough of my sad sack story, here’s my tracks.
The Cars, Double Life. A perfect slow-building Ocasek pop tune with a pristine Elliot Easton guitar solo, it’s the essence of the band’s early career.
Peter Case, Steel Strings. The production’s heavy echo pins it right in the middle of the 1980s for all time, but what a sturdy song. This is where Case went from power pop icon to everyman troubadour.
Johnny Cash, Get Rhythm. Click clack click clack click clack click clack. The prototype Cash song.
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, There She Goes My Beautiful World. From the Man in Black to the Man of Blackness, the addition of a gospel choir gives the song a religious fervor to frame this epochal verse:
John Willmot penned his poetry riddled with the pox
Nabakov wrote on index cards, at a lectem, in his socks
St. John of the Cross did his best stuff imprisoned in a box
And Johnny Thunders was half alive when he wrote “Chinese Rocks”
Ray Charles, The Right Time. I was all set to go with “Lonely Avenue,” but I thought this one better captured the massive joy Brother Ray could generate. And the warm memory of little Rudy Huxtable belting out “bay-bee!” didn’t hurt, either.
Cheap Trick, He’s a Whore. No band has been as completely abandoned by its talent as this one was about four albums into their career, but for a while there, they really were great. By doubling the power in the power:pop ratio, they fully fused the masculine and feminine in the music, perfectly matching their half schlubby guy, half pretty boy lineup. And they never did it any more forcefully than here. “Have you seen her face? She’s got a face that could stop a clock.”
Chic, Good Times. I don’t care what anyone says, this is rock and roll, powered by one of the most monstrous rhythm sections ever to stride the earth.
Chocolate Genius, Half a Man. I have two Chocolate Genius albums, and neither does much for me (perhaps I should have learned after the first one, no?), but this stomping mid-tempo nod to accepting adulthood’s responsibilities gets me every time.
The Clash, Jail Guitar Doors. I could’ve picked twenty or thirty different tunes, but I went back to the beginning, to raw, full-throttle Strummer/Jones, when their greatest ambition was to make it to the end of the song alive.
Jimmy Cliff, Many Rivers to Cross. Proof of the divine.
Sam Cooke, Twistin’ the Night Away. In 1964, Muhammed Ali said “Sam Cooke is the world’s greatest rock and roll singer.” Greatness knows.
Elvis Costello, Sleep of the Just. I set a new record for vacillation with this pick, going from the obvious (“Watching the Detectives”) to the obscure (“Inch by Inch”) to the in-between (“5ive Gears in Reverse”), but I settled on the elegant closer to King of America, one of my all-time favorite albums. The opening lines “the soldier asked my name and did I come here very often/well I thought that he was asking me to dance/in my holey coat and hat and him in his red bonnet/we’d have made a lovely couple but we never had the chance” made me want to be a writer.
Wayne County & the Back Street Boys, Max’s Kansas City 1976. Not those Backstreet Boys (though I surely would have included “I Want it That Way” if I had it). This band was led by Wayne (later Jayne) County, a marginal talent at ground zero of the New York punk rock revolution, and perhaps our finest transsexual rock star. This Lou Reed rip of a tune chronicles the rise of the scene, doing for the Bowery what “Sweet Soul Music” did for Memphis and Muscle Shoals.
Cracker, Satisfy You. With the transition from Camper Van Beethoven to Cracker, Dave Lowery went from being obviously subversive to surreptitiously subversive, which is the best kind of subversiveness there is. This lesser known gem from the first release marries a great steady rocking hook to a brilliant opening verse: “As far as I know the world don't spin/They carry you around in your bed/And rearrange the stars all night/to satisfy you.”
Creedence Clearwater Revival, Sinister Purpose. So many possibilities, so I’ll go a little off the beaten path and pick the song that was my second choice for the name of this blog. There’s an episode of Sports Night in which Dan tells Casey that he misunderstood Three Dog Night’s “Eli’s Coming” to be about the arrival of a foreboding presence and not an inveterate womanizer. That’s how this song makes me feel. Eli’s coming, hide your soul, girl.
Marshall Crenshaw, Starless Summer Sky. He wrote the song early in his career and recorded it late (how did it stay on the shelf for so long?), an impossibly perfect melody enhanced by a all-too-brief guitar solo that should grant him automatic entry into the axe-slingers’ hall of fame.
Crooked Fingers, Call to Love. I still remember the first time I heard this. It was like a club to the head, and I don’t know why. There’s nothing particularly original or remarkable about it, yet it’s completely magical. The mystery of music.
The Cryers, Shake it Up (Ain’t it Time?). Power-pop semi-obscurity from the late 70s by a band I know nothing about. Coffee with cream and sugar, hold the coffee.
The Crystals, He’s a Rebel. The apotheosis of girl group culture. Spector knew enough not to bury it under the wall.
The Cure, Close to Me. When I bought my first CD player twenty years ago, I simultaneously acquired my first two discs, Paul Simon’s Graceland and Staring at the Sea: The Singles, by The Cure, and I played this song over and over. I love how restrained it is and how the horns could have come off of a Stax record. Pop trumps goth.