Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Alphabet Project: D (part one)

Back with the first part of our fourth installment (Trip’s half will follow shorly), and D proved to be a saltier letter than I had anticipated. In the effort to cut the list to fit an 80-minute disc (and then cut it some more because those discs only theoretically play 80 minutes), I lost prime tracks by Willie Dixon, the Doors, Derek & the Dominoes, the Dead Boys, the Drifters, Duran Duran, Fats Domino, Doves, D’Angelo, Ani Di Franco, Dead Kennedys and Daft Punk, among others. Here’s my disc:

Bo Diddley, “Mona” – This must have sounded like it came from outer space when it was released nearly five decades ago. Hell, it sounds like it came from outer space now. The most primal rock and roll.

Bob Dylan, “Lonesome Day Blues” – Picking a Dylan song is such a monumental challenge that I declined to make any real effort. I just spun the Rolodex of my mind and landed on this latter-day classic, a completely worthy addition to the canon. “I’m gonna stand undefeated/I’m gonna speak to the crowd/I’m gonna stand undefeated/Boys, I’m going to speak to the crowd/I’m going to teach peace to the conquered/I’m gonna tame the proud.” And the band flat-out pulverizes this shuffling blues stomp.

Dire Straits, “Expresso Love” – One of the best tracks from the band’s best album, it rocks in a way the band rarely did. I’m preparing myself for the day Knopfler changes the “x” to an “s” and licenses the song to Starbucks.

Tyrone Davis, “Can I Change My Mind” – A fluid, uptempo soul classic from Atlantic’s greatest era, the underrated and estimable Mr. Davis packs more longing and regret into three minutes than should be possible.

Nick Drake, “Pink Moon” – I had “Time Has Told Me” penciled in here, but Volkswagen be damned, this is my favorite Drake tune. In fact, I think that commercial elevates the song; the imagery is perfect. And the song, of course, is perfect, too. Delicate, but still insistent, gorgeous, but still unsettling.

The Decemberists, “The Engine Driver” – This is such an obvious pick, but it’s undoubtedly my favorite Decemberists’ tune. It’s majestic and it features Colin Meloy reining in his more excessive impulses. Plus it sounds great following “Pink Moon.”

dB’s, “Bad Reputation” – The band with perhaps the worst greatness-to-commercial-success ratio in history, the dB’s made some of the finest crystalline guitar pop ever committed to tape. This track from their debut album distills all their best qualities into a few moments of bliss.

Dinosaur, Jr., “Green Mind” – The title track to the album that consumed me throughout 1991, it finds J. Mascis sanding off some (but not all) of the roughest edges in the band’s post-Barlow incarnation. It rocks, it has melody, and it shows that J’s feelings toward Sonic Youth mirror mine exactly: “On a certain level I think they’re great/But on another, I can’t relate/To anything they do.”

De La Soul, “This is a Recording 4 Living in a Fulltime Era (L.I.F.E.)”Three Feet High and Rising is almost certainly my favorite hip-hop album, and this is one of my favorite (if least known) tracks, a scorching slice of organic electro-funk.

Ian Dury & the Blockheads, “Sex & Drugs & Rock and Roll” – So English, so charming, so damn much fun. It’s of its time and for all time.

Devo, “Uncontrollable Urge” – Men in radiation suits rocking out. What could be better?

D-Day, “Too Young to Date” – Salacious, morally repugnant, and hysterically funny in a Beavis and Butthead kind of way, this new wave chestnut tells the tale of an adolescent girl’s sexual awakening. “He asked me out to the picture show/My eyes said yes/But my mom said no.” It spirals downward from there.

Dream Syndicate, “Tell Me When It’s Over” – Steve Wynn helped shape American post-punk with dissonant chiming tunes like this one, which hasn’t aged a day in the past quarter-century.

The Dictators, “(I Live For) Cars and Girls” – A first-rate effort from a second-tier example of the original wave of CBGB punks, it tidies up the Ramones’ approach and amplifies their Beach Boys fetish in an unironic ode to simple, timeless pleasures.

The Damned, “New Rose” – And from the other side of the Atlantic comes another second-tier (but far more enduring) DIY collective, with patented punk snarls and punchy pop hooks.

Drive-By Truckers, “Carl Perkins’ Cadillac” – The kind of song that’s so elemental it sounds like it must have always existed, the Dirty South’s favorite sons (and daughter) tell the Sun Records story in five and a half shimmering minutes.

Death Cab for Cutie, “Crooked Teeth” – These guys can be a tad precious for me at times, but this lush mid-tempo pop rocker never cloys, always satisfies.

Miles Davis, “Blue in Green” – Rock and roll is our main focus here, but Miles is far more important to me than anyone else on this list (save Dylan), and this track from Kind of Blue is the most beautiful and elegant music I know.

2 comments:

Satch said...

Great list. But it dose pose the question: Can anyone list one "fave" song by dire Straits and NOT have it be from "Making Movies"? Me?? I would have gone with "Romeo & Juliet."

Peace,
Satch

Trip - on your "D" list - how about a little love for Dion!!!

Michael Atchison said...

I originally had "Once Upon a Time in the West" from the Communique album slated for that spot, before I had a "who am I kidding" moment and pulled out Making Movies. The only argument I could make against "Romeo and Juliet" is length; including it would've meant cutting another song.

As for Dion, a useful/maddening part of this exercise is that it causes you to realize what you don't have. And in doing this, it struck me that I don't have any Dion, a nearly unforgiveable sin (actually, as I think about it, I actually have a couple of Dion tracks on the Doo Wop Box, but I neglected to think about that set).