Sunday, December 31, 2006

WXPN Top 50 Countdown - Day 5

25. My Morning Jacket, Okonokos

Trip: My Morning Jacket is an amazing live band but it’s rare that a live cd captures the essence of seeing a great band in concert. Predictably Okonokos is a little self indulgent and for completists only. For those just coming to MMJ, I’d start with At Dawn or last year’s excellent Z.

Michael: The Digital Millenium Copyright Act continues to doom me to ignorance.

24. Flaming Lips, At War With the Mystics

Trip: For some reason I hadn’t gotten around to giving this puppy much attention – probably because of the schtickiness of the last Flaming Lips show I saw. Well, my loss, because Wayne Coyne is still very much in tune with his warped, psychedelic muse. This is the first “I’ve got to get that record” moment of the countdown.

Michael: I loaned out my copy of Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots long ago, and it never came back, which, I suppose was OK. I admire the Lips’ willingness to go where no band has gone before, but the arch concepts can leave me a little cold. I haven’t heard this one. I’m sure it’s interesting, but I doubt it’s something I’d revisit much.

23. Los Lobos, The Town and the City

Trip: In all The Hold Steady hype around here, it’s been overlooked that the once, current and future best band in America might still be Los Lobos, a crown they’ve worn off and on for 25 years. The Town And the City is a real return to form, their best since 1992’s Kiko. All hail David Hidalgo!!

Michael: Got this one not long ago. Sounds like a Los Lobos album. Sturdy, professional, workmanlike, but I’ve yet to discover anything new in it. I’ll keep trying.

22. Rosanne Cash, Black Cadillac

Trip: “One of us gets to go to heaven / One has to stay here in hell”… I wish I’d wrote that 27 years ago.

Michael: I’ve had a crush on this woman for a long time, and here she delivers another fine effort, one of the best of a stellar career. The serial losses of her mother, father and stepmother in a short span shape these meditations on love, loss and grieving. Restrained and intimate but never boring, this is the work of a mature artist for a mature audience.

21. Dixie Chicks, Taking the Long Way

Trip: Any record that includes contributions from Neil Finn, Gary Louris, Mike Campbell and Semisonic’s Dan Wilson should be damn good… and Taking the Long Way is – though a little pruning would have helped. All you old-time Linda Ronstadt and Jackson Browne fans looking for quality country rock circa 2006 should start with this one.

Michael: The best commercial country act working today, bar none.

20. James Hunter, People Gonna Talk

Trip: This is like a small independent movie with modest charms and a winning execution. What could have been a musty Memphis/Stax homage turns out to be a fine little party record – not one you play to death but perfect for the right moment. And the title track is a stunner that reminds me of Arthur Alexander – high praise indeed!

Michael: Yeah, this is a genre exercise, but it’s an awfully damn good one. Hunter’s no nostalgia act, he’s a man out of time, born (too late) to play this kind of music. Feel good record of the year.

19. Pete Yorn, Nightcrawler

Trip: I like Pete Yorn but I’m not sure I heard one song from this record and didn’t hear it today on the radio, so I’m in no position to comment. Sometimes I actually have a life.

Michael: I really liked Musicforthemorningafter, but it always seemed like all the Yorn I needed to know. Am I wrong?

18. The Killers, Sam’s Town

Trip: Too bad this isn’t a singles countdown because “When You Were Young” might have been the single of the year if it wasn’t for “Crazy”. As for the rest – let’s just the Springsteen sweepstakes winner in 2006 was the Teenage Kicks’ house band.

Michael: Shouldn’t a band this arrogant be, you know, good?

Saturday, December 30, 2006

WXPN Top 50 Countdown - Day 4

29. Neko Case – Fox Confessor Brings The Flood

Trip: I believe this record answers the nagging question – what if Patsy Cline and Patti Smith made a record produced by Shadow Morton and used The Band on every cut. This sounded so god damned good today on the radio that I’d like to replace Jenny Lewis with this one as my # 4. Inspirational verse:

And nothing comforts me the same
As my brave friend who says,"I don't care if forever never comes'
Cause I'm holding out for that teenage feeling
I'm holding out for that teenage feeling"

Michael: This album sets a mood from the first tune (“Margaret vs. Pauline”) and sustains it through twelve stellar tunes powered by Case’s sublime voice. Smart, confident and sexy as hell, she’s one of the best we’ve got.

28. Rodrigo y Gabriela – Rodrigo y Gabriela

Trip: I’m not buying the hype on this one, not one bit. Yes, they are excellent players and probably blindingly good live. But it seems like aural wallpaper and my prediction is this one is forgotten by the Super Bowl.

Michael: The surprise XPN hit of the year. Instrumental flamenco guitar music? Who would have guessed?

27. Eric Clapton & JJ Cale – The Road to Escondido

Trip: The Road to Boredom.

Michael: I’m sure that this is probably a pleasurable minor affair, but I haven’t heard it.

26. Tom Waits – Orphans, Brawlers, Bawlers and Bastards

Trip: I’m gonna lose my rock geek card on this one, but by and large I’m not a fan of Waits the carny barker and sound collagist. To be sure, there are great moments on all Waits records, but there are a lot of head scratchers too. Since I hold Closing Time, The Heart of Saturday Night and Small Change as his high water marks, put me down for “bawler”.

Michael: I’ve had this epic for just a few days, so I’ve not absorbed the whole thing, but I’ll note two things: (1) “LowDown” is one of the hardest straight-ahead rockers Waits has ever recorded, and (2) “Road to Piece” is stunning in its blunt assessment of the current political and military climate in the Middle East. Waits is so sure of what he wants to say, he doesn’t even bother to rhyme.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

WXPN Top 50 Countdown - Day Three

36. Arctic Monkeys – Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not

Trip: A great pop-punk blast, as rooted as much in the Strokes as in the Clash, Whatever You Say was one of the surprises of 2006. Believe the hype.

Michael: Starting the day off with a bang! Equal parts adrenaline rush and sly, spiky pop hooks. Precocious and audacious, these guys have a sharp point of view that belies their tender age. A tremendous debut.

35. Red Hot Chili Peppers – Stadium Arcadium

Trip: Even for diehard Chili fans, this 2 hours and 20 minutes of tired jock punk-funk had to be too much.

Michael: I haven’t heard this in its entirety, and “Dani California” sure doesn’t make me want to. These guys are like me on the dance floor. The same moves for the past twenty years.

34. Alexi Murdoch – Time Without Consequence

Trip: Dull and lifeless mope folk…in my alternate universe, every purchaser of Time Without Consequence would instead be given Ron Sexsmith’s new cd.

Michael: I’m not sure whether I should plead ignorance or indifference. I like Nick Drake a lot, but I’ve never been motivated to give this Drake-alike a chance.

33. Johnny Cash – American V: A Hundred Highways

Trip: Some unbearably painful music, but you should hear it – a fitting epitaph to an artist meeting his demons one last time. A haunting, elegiac, flawed farewell from a music giant.

Michael: I’m not sure why I didn’t pick this one up, perhaps because it sounds almost too painfully intimate. Cash is dying on these songs, and that’s a hard thing to hear.

32. Madeline Peyroux – Half The Perfect World

Trip: I don’t think I’d ever buy it… but this was a pretty decent listen today. And this bird can sing.

Michael: I like her. There, I’ve said it. Don’t know a thing about the album.

31. Paul Simon - Surprise

Trip: A restless innovator unafraid to fail, I’ve liked what I’ve heard from this record. So why haven’t I heard the whole thing yet?

Michael: All I know is the first single, which isn’t quite as outrageous as it would like you to think, but still proves that Simon continues to work outside the expectations of his audience, always a welcome trait in an established artist.

30. TV On the Radio – Return to Cookie Mountain

Trip: I heard six songs on the radio today – three were monster rock for the hip kids and three were a tuneless mess… but I couldn’t sort out which ones were which. It probably needs to be lived with for quite a while and then I’ll bet it blows your mind. One to investigate.

Michael: This album is a little too dark and thorny for me to fully embrace, but it’s undeniably powerful, and “Wolf Like Me” rocks like a hurricane.
WXPN Top 50 Countdown - Day Two

43. Los Lonely Boys - Sacred

Trip: Los Lobos Lite… tastes great but it’s definitely, definitely less filling.

Michael: Is Sacred nothing? Zzzzz.

42. Neil Young and Crazy Horse - Live at the Fillmore East

Trip: No argument from me on the quality of this record… the performance is stellar. But people… c’mon! Was 2006 that lousy a year that you had to vote for a 36 year old performance with no previously unreleased songs? If you voted for this – run out right now and buy The Hiders’ Valentine or Centromatic’s Fort Recovery, two 2006 releases that won’t be too big a shock to your system.

Michael: A prediction for 2007. The XPN countdown will consist entirely of new albums by Radiohead and Dar Williams, plus four-dozen previously unreleased live recordings by Neil and the Stray Gators, the Shocking Pinks, the International Harvesters, the Trans band (featuring the greatest vocoder solo of all-time), and the Bluenotes, plus an eleven-CD career-spanning live Crazy Horse retrospective (four discs with Danny, seven with Poncho).

41. Slo-Mo - My Buzz Comes Back

Trip: Not my cuppa really, but a pleasant listen on the radio today. Mike Brenner can play.

Michael: I don’t know about the full album (and, frankly, I don’t feel compelled to find out), but the slow-burning title track is a keeper.

40. Damien Rice - 9

Trip: I had shied away from Damien Rice as just too dang melodramatic. But I loved his recent FAN and the single from this record, “9 Crimes”. But this dude definitely needs a pie in the face… lighten up bro. Extra credit and major props for Lisa Hanigan… amazing singer and my current crush.

Michael: Though Rice is a tad delicate for me, I understand his appeal and acknowledge his talent. I just wonder why, after owning the XPN airwaves with his previous effort, this one gets comparatively lukewarm response.

39. The Hold Steady - Boys and Girls in America

Trip: Okey dokey - the current “greatest band in America” makes their third great record in a row and reinvents classic rock with an indie twist and uber-quotable literary lyrics. Their # 39 showing is more a comment about WXPN’s constituency than a comment on this teriffic band.

Michael: Only thirty-eight spots too low. There is precedent for the masses being so stupefyingly, bone-crushingly wrong. In 1997, OK Computer placed behind offerings from the likes of Dar Williams, Huffamoose, Jeb Loy Nichols, Bruce Cockburn and Kim Richey. Let’s talk about this one in ten years.

38. Beth Orton - Comfort of Strangers

Trip: I love Beth Orton and the haziness and ache of her voice. You might say she’s a female yin to M Ward’s yang. But this release had some lazy songwriting and not nearly up to the earlier standards she set for herself.

Michael: Roughly the thirty-eighth best album I bought this year (actually, I’d probably place it somewhere in the forties), so I can’t quibble much with the placement. Orton can be strikingly good at what she does, but I didn’t find many memorable tunes here.

37. David Gilmour - On an Island

Trip: You gotta be kidding me with this hookless stew of mindless noodling and epic boredom. I’m gonna pretend Willie Nile’s fine Streets of New York placed here. There… now I can sleep much better.

Michael: Gilmour can sound good playing the phone book, and, unfortunately, that what he sounds like he’s doing on the few tracks I heard from this long-player.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Here We Go, Here We Go, Here We Go Again

WXPN asked, the listeners voted, and we are duty-bound to comment. While we’re certain that we won’t have heard all of XPN’s top 50 albums, let the record show that we are unafraid to voice highly uninformed opinions on records with which we are only fleetingly familiar.

50. Rhett Miller, The Believer

Trip: Rhett Miller may be the most melodically gifted songwriter working these days… so how come I didn’t love The Believer? Just not enough top quality songs. But…the duet with Rachel Yamagata (“Fireflies”) is gorgeous and “Help Me Suzanne” got inside my head early and never left… great song.

Michael: The McDreamiest alt-country-pop-rocker around returns with an album that failed to dent my consciousness. Sounds good on the laptop, though.

49. Alejandro Escovedo, The Boxing Mirror

Trip: No one brings as much gravitas to his material as Alejandro and I really wanted to love this record (considering his ordeal the last few years)… but I just didn’t. This is a record I’ll appreciate but I know when I want my Alejandro fix I’ll be going back to Thirteen Years, Gravity or the True Believers.

Michael: Whoah, a bad sign of things to come with this fine recording checking in so low. Escovedo, a true godfather of the movement, found himself surprised and delighted to be alive in 2006, and I’m pretty delighted about it, too.

48. Joan Osborne, Pretty Little Stranger

Trip: Never gave Joan Osborne much thought past Relish (loved “One of Us”, hated “Right Hand Man”) and with her Grateful Dead association I assumed she was creatively bankrupt. Which makes Pretty Little Stranger a nice surprise…a little alt-country gem filled with restrained, sweetly sung Americana. A minor pleasure.

Michael: I wasn’t around the radio to hear it, so I have no idea how good a record it is (though “Who Divided” is a nice enough listen), but she has always possessed an impressive set of pipes and a good sense of how to use them.

47. M. Ward, Post-War

Trip: I just got this record and now I’m sorry I didn’t include it in my top 10. M Ward is an indie rock Woody Guthrie, creating a slacker mythology perfect for right now and yesterday. He has a knack for sounding half asleep and utterly alive at the same time… My favorite vibe record since… well, since Transistor Radio.

Michael: This is a dark, lovely and moody disc full of quiet, first-rate songs. Ward deserves a bigger audience.

46. Elvis Costello and Allen Toussaint, The River in Reverse

Trip: Today was the first time I heard this record and I was pleasantly surprised. Unfortunately I only seemed to hear one song on the radio (“Tears, Tears and More Tears) which felt more like an R&B retread than the solemn yet joyous celebration that makes up the rest of the record. An angry and hopeful tribute to pre and post-Katrina New Orleans, this collaboration further cements the sterling reputation of its two stars.

Michael: Both of these guys are completely brilliant, but I haven’t heard this effort, which probably says something about me. I’m sure it’s great.

45. Neil Young, Living With War

Trip: Kudos to Neil for getting this anti-Iraq broadside recorded and released in a matter of minutes. Unfortunately, like most topical songs (or albums), it’s just not very good.

Michael: Ain’t exactly “Ohio,” is it?

44. Pearl Jam, Pearl Jam

Trip: I love Eddie Vedder’s voice and Christ is this guy a rock star. There are individual Pearl Jam songs that have gotten through the morass (“Jeremy”, “Daughter”, “Better Man” and “World Wide Suicide”) but mostly (like this album) these guys just seem to bludgeon songs to death. But Eddie Vedder is the genuine article.

Michael: I have this album, and I feel about it the way I feel about most of PJ’s work. I like the idea of it, but in the end, I’m kind of bored. (attention, Pearl Jam fan club members: I know I’m an idiot; you don’t have to fill the comments telling me so).

Monday, December 25, 2006

Friday, December 22, 2006

2006 Top 10

As 2007 beckons, we (Michael , the renaissance man, and Trip, the soon to be grandpa) feel compelled to present our 2006 Top 10 lists. We thank you for reading our just-for-fun blog this year and promise more silliness in 2007. Feel free to leave comments or questions. And for goodness sakes, get out to a club and catch a band up close and personal. You won’t be sorry.

Michael says: A few qualifiers. First, I didn’t actually hear everything released in 2006. Justin Timberlake? I like the singles, never picked up the album. Joanna Newsom? Critical huzzahs by the boatload, but I wouldn’t know her were she yodeling in my ear (and speaking of yodeling, go with your muse, Gwen, and don’t let the bastards get you down). My universe consists of the 45-or-so new releases I’ve invested in over the past twelve months.

Second, I make no claim of “greatest,” “best” or “finest.” What follows are my favorites, the discs that appealed to me for often inscrutable reasons that may have little to do with aesthetic value. For instance, I listen to Rosanne Cash’s Black Cadillac, and it’s obvious to me that it’s a terrific piece of work, full of deeply resonating meditations on love, life and loss. And I’m sure that it’s “better” than half of the albums on my list. But it didn’t get under my skin like the others did.

Third, if you really want to know about my favorites of 2006, ask me some time in the middle of 2007. I’ve lived with some of these albums for nearly a full year, but with others for just a few weeks. I won’t make sense of some of them without the benefit of time and further listens. The good stuff reveals itself over time.

Trip says: Top 10 lists are so arbitrary, so fleeting… because they change day to day. When compiling my top 10, I always adhere to one simple rule – air time – which new releases got lodged in my cd player the most (and yes, I know, I need to get an ipod). But for now, it’s still the little silver discs that thrill me – these provided the most thrills in 2006.

1. The Hold Steady - Boys and Girls in America (Michael)

Rarely have I put such colossal expectations on a new release and not been disappointed. But Craig Finn and the Hold Steady delivered with their third straight batch of smart, funny, wordy, blistering rock and roll songs, one that took me back twenty years to a time when I wasn’t too old or tired or jaded to have a favorite band. Boys and Girls finds the Hold Steady shedding some of the idiosyncrasies of the first two records in favor of a more streamlined and somewhat more conventional sound (choruses, which were optional before, abound here). It also finds Finn in a more world-weary and contemplative mood. His characters still party with abandon (see, e.g., “Massive Nights”), but their going-nowhere-fast lifestyles start to take a toll this time around. Holly, the glorious hoodrat from albums one and two, isn’t invincible. In fact she’s in the hospital. But she still looks incredible.

1. The Format – Dog Problems (Trip)

The Format are two high school buddies – Nate Ruess and Sam Means – that have conjured up a latter day Pet Sounds, the record Lloyd Dobler would have made had he taken up guitar instead of kick boxing. In what appears to be a song cycle about one volatile relationship with either a record company or girlfriend (both?), the Format throw everything in the mix to create the album of the year. Soaring harmonies, handclaps, orchestral arrangements, melodies seemingly plucked from show tunes and the astonishing clarity of Nate Ruess’ choirboy tenor all come together to produce a blue spark of a record. How can I convince you to buy this record? It’s got the quirks and sophistication of XTC, the broken heart of classic Jackson Browne, the giddiness of early 70’s AM radio and the timeless quality found in your favorite records. I got these guys as complete nerd perfectionists obsessed with not only Beach Boys/Beatles popadelia but Brill Building craftsmanship and the theatrical melodies of Rodgers & Hammerstein, Cole Porter and the Gershwins. I'm hearing all that in 3 to 4 minute pop songs. Usually this type of kitchen sink production comes off fey and precious. These guys make it seem effortless... which is what the great ones do, don't they?

2. Belle and Sebastian - The Life Pursuit (Michael)

This isn’t your kid sister’s Belle and Sebastian. The sound is muscled up and infused with a knowing affection for R&B that British bands so often seem to assimilate without imitating. This is pure pop, and while it’s delicate in places, it’s never twee, the descriptor that has defined and limited the band for much of its career. In fact, at times, the bottom-end boogie produces faint echoes of T. Rex or Paul Weller’s various incarnations. A sunny, buoyant, irresistible trip.

2. The Hold Steady - Boys and Girls in America (Trip)

Craig Finn gets all the details right… even if they seem wrong. Smart guy rock for aging hipsters that reconnects to high school highs (and lows) they lived through or dreamed about. If I can’t have the Replacements anymore and the E Streeters are pushing 60, I guess the coronation line for greatest band in America begins and ends with The Hold Steady. And after two glorious and near perfect records, Boys and Girls in America expands their musical palette, focuses the writing and also coughs up some massive hooks. All your favorite characters return for more drug addled fuzzy logic and adolescent heartache. Seems like a bummer… but The Hold Steady creates an undeniably joyous racket while Craig Finn croaks line after line destined for the yearbook.

How good is this album? Each of the 11 songs has taken its turn as my favorite and currently I’ve got the perfect opener “Stuck Between Stations”, party call-to-arms “Massive Nights” and desperate plea “You Can Make Him Like You” imbedded in my skull. Tomorrow it’ll be “Southtown Girls” with it’s gorgeous a capella backhanded compliment opening that turns into a fitting swan song. I dig ‘em.

3. Neko Case - Fox Confessor Brings the Flood (Michael)

Our greatest contemporary chanteuse? On the New Pornographers’ albums, band leader Carl Newman often has Case reaching for the top of her range for the sugary pop effect it conveys. Here, on her own, it’s all medium register honey, as she inhabits songs that destroy any boundary between alt-country and torch music. With enough reverb to make you feel like you’re listening inside a cathedral, Case delivers a sophisticated, immensely satisfying cycle of rustic, melodic songs.

3. Josh Ritter – The Animal Years (Trip)

I was aware of Josh Ritter before The Animal Years but besides “Kathleen” he hadn’t really made a dent in my music consciousness. But the opening salvo of “Girl in the War” (“I got a girl in the war Paul I know that they can hear me yell / If they can’t find a way to help her they can go to hell”), “Wolves” (with the best piano hook of the year) and the muted beauty of “Monter Ballads”, Ritter’s now dug in. And that’s before the stark a capella stunner “Idaho” and epic, rambling, stream of conscious mindblow “Thin Blue Flame”. Easily the singer-songwriter album of the year and in most years would have been album of the year.

4. Arctic Monkeys - Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not (Michael)

I love this moment, when a band comes out of nowhere, cocksure and with a cupboard full of songs, and makes a hellacious racket. For thrills and chills this year, nothing else could match the two guitars, bass and drum clatter of this underage band of old souls, simultaneously petulant and poetic. And it’s oh so very English, chock-full of the sort of angular melodies that seem to originate only on that side of the Atlantic.

4. Jenny Lewis & The Watson Twins – Rabbit Fur Coat (Trip)

Similar to Cat Power’s The Greatest in scope and execution, I preferred Jenny Lewis’ take on Laura Nyro due to her undeniable warm and luxurious voice, which seems to beckon you into her world while Cat Power keeps you at arm’s length. Restrained sometimes to a fault, JL & TWT have given us a peek at an imaginary “Dusty in L.A.” Highlights include the cautionary tale “Rise Up With Fists”, the galloping country honk of “The Charging Sky”, the fly-on-the-wall tell all title track and the gospel hoedown “The Big Guns”. And don’t dismiss the seemingly needless cover of The Travelling Wilburys’ “Handle With Care” – it fits perfectly with the damaged but tough story she’s telling and it’s a blast hearing oh-so-serious Conor Oberst, Ben Gibbard and M Ward cut loose a little.

5. Bob Dylan - Modern Times (Michael)

He’s lived a thousand lives, and in his middle sixties Bob Dylan has morphed into the living emblem of a musical tradition, like Son House in 1965. No longer a trailblazing troubadour, Dylan is now a curator and a conservator, leading a master class of musicians who absorb history so thoroughly that it fuses with their DNA. They breathe, they sweat, they play the blues.

5. Rocky Votolato – Makers (Trip)

Rocky Votolato is set apart from the general singer-songwriter populace by his detailed lyrics and sweat soaked delivery. He’s got the acoustic pop simplicity of Elliott Smith, the lyrical cadence of Paul Simon, the raspy vocals of early Jeff Tweedy and the dark, broken, deathly world view of Steve Earle. But all that means nothing without songs – and he’s got at least half a dozen good ones including the breezy pop opener “White Daisy Passing” and “Streetlights”, the alt-country of “Tennessee Train Tracks”, the killer chorus of “She Was Only In It For The Rain”, the Simon & Garfunkel doppelganger “Uppers Aren’t Necessary” and the death, drink and “what does it all mean” elegy of closer “Makers”. Thanks Feeney.

6. Yo La Tengo - I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass (Michael)

I’ve been an unabashed fan now for a long time, and I Am Not Afraid Of You – in addition to being the album title of the year – is the trio’s best work since 1997’s I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One, and maybe their best ever. A sprawling effort (could a Yo La album be anything but?), it features some of the band’s more restrained takes on Sonic Youth-style abstraction, and Ira Kaplan’s lyrical playing even approximates Television’s twin-guitar attack in places (I hear echoes of “Marquee Moon” in “Pass the Hatchet, I Think I’m Goodkind”). The album also features some of the prettiest and most accessible songs of their career. When the bouncy piano and falsetto of “Mr. Tough” come in, resistance is futile.

6. Jason Collett – Idols of Exile (Trip)

I owe this one to my partner for his strong recommendation… so thanks Michael. It’s sparkling soft rock for those who would disdain that term. Strummy, upbeat melodies wedded to mostly downbeat lyrics giving us little snapshots of romance on the run. Highlights include the wistful lament “We All Lose Another”, the irresistible sunshine pop shouldabeenahit “I’ll Bring The Sun” and the boy-girl pop almost made it but not really, doomed hazy affair that is “Hangover Days” (“We try so hard to love”)

7. Jason Collett - Idols of Exile (Michael)

This early ’06 release has been a year-long companion, a sterling collection of Canadian Americana (Canadiana? Canadarama?). As comfortable as a pair of worn leather boots, Idols is to this year what Crooked Fingers’ Dignity and Shame was to last. And “Hangover Days” is a bitter boy-girl duet for all time, a “Fairytale of New York” appropriate for playing all year long.

7. Art Brut – Bang Bang Rock And Roll (Trip)

I’m still not sure if these guys are putting us on. But this cd keeps me coming back for more – it’s the wondrous sound of things falling apart to make an absolutely joyuos racket. Eddie Argos’ ironic, bewildered, giddy speak-singing (not to be confused with Craig Finn’s world weary, blustery, spittle-filled croaking speak-sing) guides the band through turbo-charged ditties that charmingly state the obvious joys of making music (“Formed A Band”, “Bang Bang Rock & Roll”, “My Little Brother”) and making time (“Emily Kane”, “Good Weekend”). And “Good Weekend” is a sure fire party starter and mix tape opener containing this unforgettable tribute to the first blush of lust that will make every 10 year old giggle (“I’ve seen her naked… twice / I’ve seen her naked… TWICE!!). I expect Art Brut have already peaked – I’m glad I got to enjoy their sure to be brief run.

8. Robyn Hitchcock and the Venus 3 - Ole! Tarantula (Michael)

More shimmering pop songs from one of our finest writers. A tad less cockeyed than past offerings, the four-minute bursts of melody are well-served by the Venus 3 – less prickly than the Soft Boys, more loose-limbed than the Egyptians – who join a proud legacy of Hitchcock bands. And “N. Y. Doll,” the album-closing ode to glam rock pioneer Arthur Kane, is as poignant a song to come along all year.

8. Scott McClatchy – Burn This (Trip)

First of all, yes, Scott is my little brother… but I ain’t letting that stand in the way of extolling the high water mark of his now 30 year career. Freed from the shackles of his own expectations, Burn This is the sound of a relaxed, experienced craftsman making music with his friends. There’s the simple truths of “Burn This”, the fiddle driven shuffle with back porch harmonies of “Take A Walk With Me” and the rollicking declaration of “Just One Kiss”. And don’t skip the final unlisted cover of Springsteen’s “No Surrender”, which is a tender and fitting tribute to a giant of a man… we miss you Bud.

9. Portastatic - Be Still Please (Michael)

A recent acquisition, Be Still Please has come on strong at year’s end. Previously, I knew Mac McCaughan only through his bone-shaking work with Superchunk, so imagine my surprise at hearing Portastatic’s pristine indie-pop complete with glorious string arrangements. McCaughan’s voice remains as thin as a young Hollywood socialite, but the melodies are thick and the pay-offs are huge. Check back in six months and don’t be surprised is this one is a few spots higher up my list.

9. Lucero – Rebels, Rogues & Sworn Brothers (Trip)

Memphis favorite sons, Lucero are the hard-charging, balls out flipside to Rocky Votolato’s obsession with drink and death. Same obsession, different attack. Each Lucero song screams life and death as singer and songwriter Ben Nichols’ gin-soaked vocals either leave you winded in their furious desperation or reaching for the eject button… I understand both reactions. But the new records adds more textures (piano, Hammond organ) and is instantly more accessible. Tales of losers, lovers and rock and roll lifers sifting through the pain of getting to tomorrow make this the year’s best southern rock record.

10. Centro-Matic - Fort Recovery (Michael)

My first reaction was to laugh when I heard the bass and drums roll in like thunder, blasting a hole in the floor, as if to declare WE WILL ROCK YOU even while playing lovely, gentle alt-country tunes. But it’s serious business by a serious band, a triumph of aesthetics over commerce, a grand achievement on a tiny label. In Heat, one of my favorite recent books, author Bill Buford, after a culinary odyssey that takes him from a three-star New York restaurant kitchen to a rustic Tuscan butcher shop, concludes that glory is in smallness, food made by hand with centuries of wisdom behind it. In that sense, Centro-Matic makes small music, crafted by hand, without concession to the marketplace.

10. Willie Nile – Streets of New York (Trip)

Whatever happened to literate alt country power pop? If you’ve asked yourself that question lately, pick up Willie Nile’s latest cd. Streets of New York is a warts-and-all valentine to the New York of Lou Reed, Carole King and Dion. The disc pulses with local flavor (“Faded Flower of Broadway” romanticizes an octagenarian who still sells her paintings on the sidewalk) and the universal blush of first crush (“Asking Annie Out”), not to mention a perfect homage to Joe Strummer with a faithful version of the Clash via Eddy Grant’s “Police on My Back”. Welcome back Willie.

Michael's Extras

Honorable mention: Various Artists, High School Musical Soundtrack. Failure to mention this disc would be an act of sheer denial. Thanks to two young kids at home, I’ve listened to this music more than anything else all year long, and truth be told, I’ve enjoyed the hell out of it. Got my head in the game.

Reissue of the Year: Brian Eno & David Byrne, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. Thank goodness for reissues. I had known of this 1981 masterwork before, but I had never bothered to investigate until it was re-released this year. Why? Good question. Given my immense affection for the Talking Heads albums of that period, and my more distant appreciation of Eno’s oeuvre, I should have owned it years ago. It was worth the wait. As much one long, varied soundscape as a collection of songs, Bush of Ghosts is a hypnotic, challenging labyrinth of west African rhythms and found sounds and voices, instantly likeable but strangely stand-offish. Daring, bold and completely successful, it marks a high point for two of the most interesting artists of the past 35 years.

Compilation of the Year: Various Artists, Hugh Masekela presents the Chisa Years, 1965-1975 (Rare and Unreleased). Though overshadowed by the very fine world music compilation Tropicalia, A Brazilian Revolution in Sound, this one hit me right where I live. Featuring fourteen songs by five artists who recorded for the legendary South African musician’s custom label, The Chisa Years sounds way ahead of its time, bursting with hot, fluid tracks that work as pop songs every bit as much as cultural artifacts. Far more accessible than the knotty extended works being produced at the same time by the likes of Fela Kuti, The Chisa Years was my undisputed outdoor party record of the summer of 2006.

Trip's Extras

I’d be remiss if I didn’t say how much I enjoyed the 2006 releases by the following: Arctic Monkeys, Bruce Springsteen, Primal Scream, Belle & Sebastian, Head Automatica, Ben Kweller, Drive By Truckers, The Hiders, Jim Noir and Roddy Frame.

Concerts of the Year – the joyous celebration of rock and roll passion by the Hold Steady at The North Star Bar in November tops my list. The best band in America… go see them now and tell them Teenage Kicks sent you.

Lucero (at Rex’s in West Chester and the North Star) – Ya gotta see these guys… they burn with intensity you didn’t know you needed. And you're sure to sweat and get a face full of beer. Can there be a higher compliment?

John Doe – Tin Angel – punk icon plays to 40 people on a midweek night and proves why he’s one of rock’s most underrated vocalists and grittiest songwriters. Bonus points for mesmerizing cover of Joni’s “A Case of You”.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Forgive Us

We suck. We know it. There hasn't been much activity around here lately (one of us hasn't posted in 26 days, but who's counting?), but that's about to change with all sorts of compelling new content. We promise.

Until that day, please enjoy this performance by Robyn Hitchcock and the Venus 3, whose new album Ole Tarantula is a gem.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Video of the Day

More proof that just walking around in the 1970s was like being in a surrealist film. I would have loved to have been in the production meeting when this idea was pitched.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

We Departed From Our Bodies

I shook Tad Kubler’s hand last night. That might not mean much to you, but to me it was like shaking Keith Richards’s hand in 1971, or Johnny Ramone’s in 1978, or Bob Stinson’s in 1985. It wasn’t about hero worship – it’s hard to imagine a more ordinary or approachable guy. It was simply a recognition that for an instant, I was grasping the hand responsible for churning out this decade’s best, biggest rock and roll riffs.

The Hold Steady played Lawrence, Kansas, last night, at the Bottleneck, a room that holds 400 people, tops. What happened inside seemed less like a rock show than a big neighborhood barbecue forced into the basement by bad weather, with your five buddies from around the corner providing the entertainment. It just so happens that your buddies comprise the best rock and roll band on the planet.

The block party feeling was reinforced by watching the guys act as their own road crew, setting up and tuning up in plain view (imagine the Rolling Stones doing this), before disappearing for two minutes, only to reappear as conquering heroes, tearing in to “Stuck Between Stations,” the scorching lead track to Boys and Girls in America, their third album in three years, and one of the best in recent memory.

All eyes latched on to Craig Finn, the hyper-literate, hyper-kinetic, gravel-voiced singer, who fronts the band like a man who has learned to manage his seizures. In person, he made for a more impressive physical presence than the tortured elfin nerd he can seem on film. But he still twitched and flailed about, spitting hard syllables of decadence and redemption into the microphone, and then often repeating them more intimately into the faces of the fans who lined the stage, all the while gesturing wildly with his hands and moving his body to rhythms that had nothing to do with the music. He even recognized the yin and yang of the Hold Steady more explicitly in a quiet moment, noting that Boys and Girls is much like the band’s first two albums, and he gestured toward the group’s other members. “These guys play kick-ass rock and roll, and I talk my own bullshit over it.”

The set relied heavily on the new record, while sprinkling in a (very) few older faves like “The Swish” and “Your Little Hoodrat Friend.” The band is quasi-famous for its brand of chaos, but as they ripped through a razor-sharp and drum-tight set, it became clear that the chaos is calculated. The fury of the three albums was reproduced almost note-for-note, save for some minor alterations of Finn’s phrasing and the absence of the occasional flourish of horns or strings that appear in the studio offerings. The Hold Steady draws plenty of Springsteen comparisons, and the similarities are even more apparent live. Every second of the show seemed spontaneous, but, in retrospect, it’s clear that Finn was firmly in control every moment. Even his legendary boozing seemed paced, as he nursed a couple of beers (one, after bubbling over, was used primarily to baptize the revelers in front) before taking a couple of swigs of whiskey late in the evening. The band gave the illusion of intoxication while remaining arrow straight.

The crowd treated the band like friends, from the offering of home-made cupcakes to the spontaneous eruption of confetti during the encore (an obvious reference to the album cover, and a gesture appreciated by the band; “I hope this catches on,” said an amused Kubler). And the band reciprocated. During the evening’s closer, “Killer Parties,” the stage which seemed so cramped with just the five band members, seemed to expand to welcome dozens of fans who pogoed around while the Hold Steady blasted out the evening’s final two minutes of music. As I stood right next to Finn, peering out on a perspective that wasn’t all that different from the view from the audience, his final words rang true. Pointing to the fans on the floor and those on the stage, he said “We, you, all of us, are the Hold Steady.”

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Songs for Stranded Motorists

For the past ten days or so, I’ve been trekking all over the state of Missouri promoting my book, with radio and TV appearances in St. Louis, Kansas City and Columbia. It’s not exactly glamorous (imagine eight hours of round-trip travel and an overnight stay for a three-minute interview before the Today show comes on), but it beats the hell out of real work. That is, it did before the biggest snowstorm in a decade hit the region and trapped me in Columbia for a couple of days, as I lived out of vending machines and walks to the Waffle House, and I, um, recycled the limited amount of clothing I had packed.

When the roads finally reopened, travel was mildly treacherous, and the view was beautiful, surreal and a little frightening. Deep, powdery snow blanketed hundreds of miles of rolling hills, giving the landscape a crystalline beauty appropriate for the holidays, but the initial crush of ice cut a wide swath of destruction. Interstate 70 was littered with abandoned cars and trucks, each in its own precarious predicament. Semi-trucks buried in snow banks and tipped at 45-degree angles. A pile of snow that looked like an igloo until I saw the license plate where the door should be. A car standing on its passenger side, like a coin that was flipped and landed on its edge. The scene was repeated dozens, even hundreds, of times.

The slow-going gave me plenty of time sample CDs (I packed more music than underwear, sadly). I managed to gain a deeper appreciation for the new Decemberists’ offering, and took my first crack at recently-acquired new releases from the Pernice Brothers, Portastatic and Los Lobos (all of which I can recommend). But my general fatigue and concern over the conditions led me away from new and exciting music and toward old and familiar favorites. Tom Waits’s The Heart of Saturday Night did the trick for a while, but I found that for the traveler who just wants to get home, nothing can touch Frank Sinatra’s Songs for Swingin’ Lovers. The lush, swinging arrangements. The honey-rich voice. The masterfully executed songs of Cole Porter, Johnny Mercer and the Gershwins. The cares of the day melt away when the Chairman sings “Pennies from Heaven.”

So from here on, the winter disaster kit will include, boots, jumper cables, a bag of salt and a copy of Frank’s greatest achievement. And maybe a fedora and a cocktail shaker.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

This Must Be The Night

I do love rock and roll. Every inch of it (except the part where songs stretch past the four minute mark – sorry Ed). Last night the love was mutual. The Hold Steady were in town for the annual coronation of “greatest band in the world”, spurred on by almost universal critical acclaim and the buzz of the most hotly anticipated club show in recent memory. They did not disappoint.

The Hold Steady have done the impossible – taking hoary classic rock conventions and making them feel fresh again. Why pay $200 to see The Who in a hockey rink - $12 gets you up close and personal with The Hold Steady at Philadelphia's North Star Bar. They may claim the Replacements, Soul Asylum, Bad Brains and The Descendents as influences, but I hear Thin Lizzy’s guitar attack, Jim Steinman’s pseudo-rock operatic lyrics, Graham Parker’s snarled vocals, Springsteen’s fervor and even echoes of Boston (I swear on “Banging Camp” there’s a short guitar break that could have come right off Boston’s first record). So that’s where they’re coming from… why should you care?

Because The Hold Steady believe and they make you believe you too. Last night’s show should be a primer for all the mopey indie and dour alt country bands whose performance evinces nothing but clock watching and beer runs. Hurtling out of the gate with Boys And Girls in America’s opener “Stuck Between Stations”, it was apparent – this must be the night. The set list was heavy on B&GIA tracks but they even reached back (all the way to 2004!) for “The Swish” and show closer “Killer Parties”. Highlights included… every single song! But I especially liked the bass player throwing one dollar bills into the audience, Tad Kubler’s full catalogue of drunken classic rock riffs (dude’s a monster), the pogoing and shit eating grin of keyboardist Rollie Fingers (he uses the ultra cool stage name of Franz Nicolay), and the expert mechanic / drummer Bobby Drake holding it all together.

Besides Tad K.’s wall of guitar, what really separates The Hold Steady from the pack is the sung-spoke stream of consciousness lyrics, Craig Finn’s dead on character sketches of the man/child teenage decadence we’ve all struggled through. Dropping literary and pop culture references throughout places these songs in a specific time and place – right now. His spastic dancing (you almost feel sorry for him) and unbridled enthusiasm make him more compelling than he’s got any right to be. He’s got Springsteen’s absolute commitment to the moment. But unlike Bruce, guys feel they could actually snatch the girl away from Craig Finn. It makes him seem even more accessible, even more likeable. He’s early Elvis Costello, except instead of being misanthropically angry, he’s almost inhumanly upbeat.

There’s a moment in “Your Little Hoodrat Friend” where Craig Finn sings “She’s got the black ink and it’s scratched into her lower back / It said: “damn right I’ll rise again” / Yeah damn right you’ll rise again”. For me, that was last night’s most euphoric moment as I pogoed like a teenager (vertical leap – one inch) but more importantly felt like one. And isn’t that what the best rock and roll does – makes you feel like you can conquer the world. Bringing the joy back to rock and roll… one bar at a time.

Can’t wait for the college years.

Monday, November 20, 2006

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.

Trip’s Picks:

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!!

Michael’s Picks:

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.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Some days it pays to get off your ass.

Thursday was a gray day… from the darkened skies and pouring rain to dealing with yet another layoff at my company. So I was on the fence for Thursday night’s Plimsouls’ show at the North Star (9 pm start, 4 bands, late night) but hoping to rally some support from a group of five that a few weeks earlier all said they’d be going. First… Jon bails, then Frank (wife away), then Pat’s sick and Angelo’s usual excuses. So I tried a boardie but to no avail. No takers. I get home at a decent time (a treat in itself), have dinner with the family, do homework with my son, then we read a half hour together (him Matt Christopher, me the Daily), then we watch Ugly Betty, put my son to bed, watch Grey’s Anatomy, chat with my wife about the day and upcoming weekend plans, put my wife to bed and by now it’s 11:00. Go or no go? I’m going – it’s the Plimsouls! They never play Philly.

Quick trip in the city and I get to the North Star just in time to snag a spot in the parking lot right behind the club (I don’t think I’ve ever timed it right to actually get a spot in this lot before – good omen # 1). I asked the guy if he was leaving and then asked if he knew what band was up. He says his band just played and that the third band (of four) will start soon. Sorry for missing your set, Nixon’s Head dude.

As I enter the club, there’s no doorman. So it’s a free show from now on, people (good omen # 2). The third band turned out to be the Parallax Project, a nifty little Yellow Pills-ish combo from Harrisburg that wore the mid-60 Kinks and Elvis Costello influence proudly on their sleeves (good omen # 3). Highlights included “Whole Different Mary”, set closer “To The Moon” plus cool covers of the Faces “Glad and Sorry” and the Kinks “Situation Vacant”. Cool stuff.

The Plimsouls came on at 12:20 (yeah I was clock watching at this point) and tore into Everywhere At Once' s “How Long Will It Take” (good omen # 4) at break neck speed. Two guitars, bass and drums can make quite a glorious racket, can’t they? From there they did just about everything you wanted to hear – including “Great Big World”, “Zero Hour” “Oldest Story in the World”, “Everywhere At Once”, “Everyday Things” and the timeless “A Million Miles Away”. They also threw in the Kinks’ “Come On Now” and the Easybeats “Good Times”. My only beef – no “When You Find Out”… but that’s a small quibble and not really a Plimsouls song. The band sounded 1983-ish great as guitarist Eddie Munoz tossed off power chords, tough as nails bassist Dave Pahoa (who looked like he could take you out back and beat your ass) added rough harmonies and Peter Case drove the whole thing forward with the enthusiasm of someone half his age. As the set wore on, the years and extra pounds seemed to melt away… and by 1:30 it was over. Sometimes you can go home again.

But where was everybody? Including members of opening bands members, merch girl ("the lovely Sue"), sound guy and bartender - there were 34 people in the crowd during the fourth song "Everyday Things" as I went to the bar to get another beer. How can that be? Next time you’re thinking of going to a show…GO!

Some times it pays to get off your ass.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


Trip saw these guys last night and says they were the best band playing anywhere in America. So where's the review of the show?

Friday, November 10, 2006

An artist who just missed the cut

Meet the Average Homeboy, who I like to think of as artist 886. Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Artist number 758

Teenage Kicks' house band: The Hold Steady

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Artist number 387 (sort of)

Davy Jones takes his solo turn on the Brady Bunch. For the Monkees in their full glory, click here.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Artist number 1


Sunday, November 05, 2006


As those who have been reading Teenage Kicks over the past few weeks may have noticed, we, ahem, disagreed with some of the selections on the XPN list of 885 All-Time Greatest Artists. And we were mortified at some of the exclusions. Note to world: Anyone who thinks that Jason Mraz is better than Solomon Burke should burn his or her CD collection and start over. In an effort to correct the historical record, each of us will now present his own list of the Ten Most Obscene Omissions from the countdown. Feel free to add your own list in the comments.

Trip’s Picks:

10. Jesse Malin – Once I get through converting everyone I know to Hold Steady fans, Jesse Malin is next. He gets at least one thumb up, waaaaay up, from Teenage Kicks. If you never saw Springsteen in a club or theater show, relax, you’ve got a chance to make up for it. Jesse Malin is the best club show going, delivering rock fervor mixed with radio ready mini-classics. He believes and you should too. Next time he plays in your town… ya gotta be there. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

9. Mink DeVille / Willy DeVille – Rising out of the CBGB punk scene, Willy DeVille’s heart belonged to Ben E King’s Spanish Harlem and New York’s doo wop street corners. Taking punk’s energy and mixing it with classic soul songwriting, Mink DeVille were cooler than cool. And who doesn’t swoon for “Storybook Love”, the title track from greatest movie ever The Princess Bride?

8. Peter Case – From the raucous power pop of the Plimsouls to the hobo folk of his first two solo classics, on to folk blues and now storied troubadour, Peter Case makes my heart ache – for the beauty of his songwriting and for the criminal neglect of his career. Let’s all meet at the North Star 11/16 and pay tribute.

7. Slade – Rock so simple, mindless and brilliant as to make Kiss seem like Gnosis Project favorites. Play It Loud.

6. The Rave Ups – Are they one of the greatest 885 artists of all time? Maybe, maybe not. But three sterling records of alt country rock made them one of my absolute favorites. Jimmer Podrasky is the best songwriter nobody knows. Small tales of losers and fraying relationships sung in a smart ass drawl will suck you in and until you realize the phenomenal hooks have been permanently imbedded. If memory serves, their masterpiece The Book of Your Regrets was, at the time, Epic Records all time worst seller. Leave a note here and I’ll gladly send you a copy of my Rave Ups burn… it’s killer.

5. Jackson Five – Seeing a 10 year old Michael Jackson sing “I Want You Back” on the Ed Sullivan show in 1969 was one of the pivotal moments of my musical life. The opening burst of that song says more about rock and roll than anything I could write. Listen to the Jackson Five’s Greatest Hits today… you deserve it.

4. Jason & The Scorchers – Like Joe Ely, it’s the live shows that leave their mark. The first song I heard was the scorching cover of Dylan’s “Absolutely Sweet Marie” that they played like their hair was on fire. Country punk Gomers that rocked harder than 1,000 Wilcos.

3. Joe Ely – He’s so good he taught the Clash how to rock a bit. He deserves inclusion list not only for a series of excellent rock country records (his self titled debut and Honky Tonk Masquerade are classics), but for his blistering live shows. City Gardens 1986 – my buddy (to remain anonymous since he disappeared into the parking lot for most of the show) not only adds a last minute date to our scheduled trip but adds a date for me too. There’s only 30 people in attendance and since I’m not driving, I’m loose. I keep screaming requests, Joe Ely keeps playing them. I feel like I’m the only one there and I’m making quite the spectacle… one of my favorite shows ever. Apologies to anyone else that may have been there that night.

2. The Persuasions – Formed in Brooklyn over 40 years ago, the Persuasions have carried the a cappella torch with their breathtaking, thrilling vocal arrangements. Lead singer Jerry Lawson is an R&B blues shouter in the great tradition of Otis Redding… you owe it to yourself to check out his singing at least once. (Personal note: When my wife and I got engaged, we went to see the Persuasions a few weeks later in a small club. We scrawled a request on a napkin noting our recent engagement. The band brought us up on stage, sat us on chairs and promptly serenaded us with an astonishing version of the Dreamlovers’ 1961 hit “When We Get Married”. Pretty cool.)

1. David Johansen – Referred to by one wag as a “fun junkie”, David Johansen was the linchpin of the mythically brilliant and influential New York Dolls. While sometimes tagged as a second rate Mick Jagger, David Jo is Mick’s equal as rock showman. His first solo cd alone would merit his inclusion on any top artist list, with unfathomably great songwriting including the great Dolls breakup song “Donna”, the celebration of music that is “Frenchette” plus the blistering side openers “Funky But Chic” and “Cool Metro”. Essential.

Michael’s Picks:

I limited myself to artists in the rock and roll and rhythm and blues traditions from the 1950s forward. Otherwise, I could just rip down a list of jazz giants (Sonny Rollins, Lester Young, Wayne Shorter, Lee Morgan, etc.) and be done with it. Initially, the idea was to rank these omissions from least obscene to most obscene, but that task proved too great. Justice Potter Stewart gave time-honored wisdom at spotting obscenity (“I know it when I see it,” he said), but he offered no instructions on ranking it. Anyway, here are ten artists who should have made the cut.

The Undertones. Yeah, they gave the world the song that gave this blog its name, and that alone qualifies them for inclusion. But they did so much more, cranking out irresistible singles like a punk rock jukebox. “Get Over You.” “Here Comes the Summer.” “You’ve Got My Number (Why Don’t You Use It?).” They were either the Irish Ramones or the Irish Temptations, and they’re the reason that my son would have been named “Feargal” but for my meddlesome spouse.

Booker T. & the MG’s. This is, without doubt, one of the great bands ever assembled. Booker T. Jones. Steve Cropper. Donald “Duck” Dunn. Al Jackson. Each a legend in his own right, and collectively, the very sound of southern soul in the 1960’s. Their own hits – “Green Onions,” “Hip-Hug Her” – guaranteed a certain fame. But the fact that they were the house band for Stax Records and cooked up dozens of smoking tracks for Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, and Wilson Pickett (among others) guarantees nothing less than rock and roll immortality. And add in that Cropper wrote or co-wrote classics like “In the Midnight Hour” and “(Sittin’ on) the Dock of the Bay,” and it’s clear that the MG’s were one of the most potent forces in the history of 20th Century music.

Sam & Dave. Motown had the smooth, urbane vocal groups that connected with the masses. Stax had Sam & Dave, the gritty, gutbucket Southerners who went straight to the souls of the kids who wanted to bust loose of the chains that bound them. My dissertation on Stax’s house band is above, and while the MG’s went to the darkest, loneliest places with Otis Redding, they scaled the highest, hottest, most spectacular heights with Sam & Dave, who made some of the most joyful noises of the 1960’s. “Hold On! I’m Comin’.” “Soul Man..” “I Thank You.” These polls seem to undervalue soul. But how they can miss out on acts like this is a mystery.

Phil Spector. The auteur of the teenage experience, Phil Spector was the rare producer who transcended his performers, who was every bit as important to his records as a film director is to a movie. For Spector, the Ronettes, the Righteous Brothers and the Crystals served the same purpose that Robert DeNiro and Joe Pesci serve for Martin Scorsese, the hand-picked vessels through which his vision came to life. Spector co-wrote the songs and created the trademark Wall of Sound that gave his singles a unique punch and sophistication. A true titan.

The Drifters. The sides these guys cut from 1953 to 1964 are nothing short of magical, and they belie that old canard about how there was no good music between Elvis’s induction and the British Invasion. Slick and soulful, the Drifters actually got better after Clyde McPhatter went solo, and they provided the perfect vehicle for the era’s best songwriters, teams like Pomus/Shuman and Goffin/King. “Up on the Roof,” “Under the Boardwalk,” “On Broadway.” If a prepositional phrase became a great song, you can bet it was done by the Drifters.

Big Country. This one’s personal. There are few albums I love from beginning to end quite as much as The Crossing, which has been a constant companion now for close to a quarter century. With the brilliant, explosive, underappreciated rhythm section of Mark Brzezicki and Tony Butler providing the foundation, Bruce Watson and bandleader Stuart Adamson supplied the band’s signature twin bagpipe-guitar sound that elevated good songs into grand anthems. Their second album, Steeltown, was merely very good, and their third, The Seer, something less than that. But for a brief moment, Big Country was one of the best bands going, far better than their undeserved “one hit wonder” reputation could begin to suggest.

Public Image Ltd. This is where post-punk – or even post-rock – begins, with the iconic figure of punk’s most iconic band rejecting his past and reshaping the future. By retaining the Sex Pistols’ penchant for thunderous guitar noise, and embracing space, abstraction and reggae/dub rhythms, John Lydon (no longer Johnny Rotten), along with compatriots Keith Levene, Jah Wobble and Jim Walker, led a sharp turn into a new world, culminating with their mind-exploding second album (Second Edition to most of us; Metal Box to the lucky few who own the original audacious packaging and format). The moody, atmospheric record sounded like a culture falling apart, and the original lineup did just that, disintegrating before later incarnations of the band became little more than the Johnny Rotten Experience.

Pere Ubu. Rarely has a band that sold so few records cast such a large shadow, but Cleveland’s “avant garage” pioneers were rare, indeed. Often hard to digest even for the converted, Pere Ubu took industrial noises and absurdist points of view and made music possessed of a certain grotesque beauty, especially on The Modern Dance and Dub Housing, two great monuments of the early punk era (the subsequent albums are so deliberately stand-offish that only the most rigorous avant rockers need apply). But even before those two albums came a string of independently released singles that cemented Pere Ubu’s legacy, including the powerhouse “Final Solution,” which distills the band’s fury into four minutes and fifty-seven seconds of almost unbearable intensity.

The Jackson Five. You know, there really aren’t that many great Jackson Five songs. But the best of them – “I Want You Back,” “The Love You Save,” “ABC” – are so dynamic, so explosive, so inexplicably brilliant, that the J5’s inclusion is a no-brainer (and if you include The Jacksons – and I can’t think of a principled reason not to – the catalog of timeless tunes only grows). The bass line from “I Want You Back” alone is enough to put them here. But what everyone remembers, what no one can forget, is the sheer magnetic force of the young Michael Jackson. One of my very first musical memories was watching this kid and being completely transfixed. He went beyond precocious, straight to prodigious. In a world of pre-fabbed, meticulously-managed pop stars, I can’t imagine seeing another twelve-year-old like that again.

Dionne Warwick. Like Audrey Hepburn in the movies, Dionne Warwick projected an unassailable elegance, while demonstrating a disarming vulnerability. And she was the perfect vehicle for Hal David and Burt Bacharach’s songs. When, in her most famous tune, she sings “If you see me walking down the street/And I start to cry/Each time we meet/Walk on by,” the effect is devastating. Her voice has a character that serves the songs, elevating them without overwhelming them, and allows the melodies to shine through. And her take on “I Say a Little Prayer” is so flawless that even Aretha Franklin’s later version of the song pales by comparison, and there aren’t many singers about whom you can say such a thing.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Artist number 878

Sir Bob and the Boomtown Rats stay up all night.
Artist number 21

Radiohead. "Bones." Live.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Artist number 39

His Royal Badness. The Purple Potentate. Be patient with this clip and it will reward your wait. As a bonus, watch him play guitar here.
Artist number 509

T. Rex, "20th Century Boy"
Artist number 468

Fela Kuti, "Teachers Don't Teach Me Nonsense"

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Artist number 482

The Stooges wanna be your dog. For the infamous 1970 Cincinnati performance, click here.
Artist number 31

The name of this band is Talking Heads. The name of this song is "Crosseyed and Painless."
Artist number 23

Elvis Costello and the Attractions bite the hand that feeds them.
Artist number 73

Jeff Buckley stops time.
Artist number 641

The Faces in their boozy, rockin' prime.
Artist number 4 (again)

Bruce and the band take their time with "Kitty's Back" on Conan.
Artist number 4

Springsteen proves it.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Artist number 8

Neil Young and Crazy Horse tear through "Cortez the Killer"
Happy Halloween from artist number 785

KISS rocks the epic Paul Lynde Halloween Special
Artist number 63

The Queen rocks steady.
Artist number 672

Gang of Four, "To Hell with Poverty"

Monday, October 30, 2006

Artist number 800

The Go-Betweens, "Cattle and Cane"
Artist number 108

James Brown on the TAMI show.
Artist number 106

The Replacements rip it up on SNL. For the night's second performance, click here.
Artist number 36

The Band, "Up on Cripple Creek."
Artist number 3

World's Greatest. "Loving Cup."

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Artist number 496

The kings of rock.
Artist number 427

Bill Evans and his Trio play "Waltz for Debby."
Artist number 10

Joni and the Band play "Coyote," from The Last Waltz.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

25 to 1

25. The Allman Brothers Band

T: The prototype blues rock jam band, the Allmans leave their brethren in the dust for three reasons: Duane Allman and Dicky Betts, Gregg Allman’s soulful southern drawl and most importantly, great songs.

M: These guys created the template for what a good jam band needs – ample soul and a strong sense of direction. So why have so few of their descendents been able to follow the map?

24. The Clash

T: With apologies to London Calling, the Clash’s 1976 debut is the essential punk record. Seemingly sprung forth fully formed, The Clash crystallized everything I loved about music and destroyed everything I hated about it. Joe Strummer was punk’s soul and conscience… I miss him.

M: They would be among my favorites had they released only London Calling, the most indispensable of my desert island discs. But they also gave us the disciplined fury of The Clash and the unabashedly ambitious Sandinista!, not to mention the radio-ready Combat Rock, and Give ‘Em Enough Rope, which competently kept time between the era-defining first and third albums. I love the idea of this band – fusing the music, culture and politics of the first and third worlds with a rare precision and ferocity – more than any other band I know.

23. Elvis Costello

T: Possibly the only artist (along with Bowie) to give Prince a run for his money for stylistic jumps over the last 30 years, Elvis Costello is a celebrated songwriter and an under appreciated singer. His early troika (My Aim is True, This Year’s Model, Armed Forces) started his now long career with a big bang he’s never quite equaled. But each Costello release remains an event - Elvis is King!

M: Another artist near the very top of my personal list, Elvis C. helped turn me on to the power of language while simultaneously rocking my socks off. The breadth of musical territory that he and his comrades in the Attractions were able to traverse in their initial ten-year run was stunning – from new wave-tinged pub rock to lush pop to blistering R&B to pure country. And when the Attractions couldn’t achieve all the sounds he heard in his head, Costello assembled another band and came up with the brilliant King of America.

22. Stevie Wonder

T: By age 26, Stevie Wonder had amassed dozens of top 20 hits and recorded in succession Signed, Sealed and Delivered (1970), Where I’m Coming From (1971), Music of My Mind and Talking Book (both 1972 – nice year!), Innervisions (1973), Fulfillingness’ First Finale (1974) and Songs In The Key of Life (1976).

By age 26, I had my own apartment.

M: How can the human mind conceive of a rhythm track as hot as the one on “I Wish”? And how can that not even be his best song? He could record an “I Just Called to Say I Love You” every year for the rest of his life and it wouldn’t diminish his greatness one bit.

21. Radiohead

T: I’m buying that The Bends and OK Computer are great records, but there’s a lot of stray blips and unnecessary squonks on the meandering Kid A, Amnesiac and Hail To The Thief. Along with Wilco, the most unduly over praised band of the last 10 years. But Michael promises to show me the way.

M: Their recent arty abstractions are easier to admire than enjoy, but OK Computer gives me chills, and few albums stand up to extreme volume quite like The Bends, one of the great twin-guitar assaults of our time.

20. Paul Simon

T: While I would’ve like to see the Chuck Berrys and Buddy Hollys of the world up here in the top 20, you’ll get no quibble from me on Paul Simon. One of the few 60’s survivors to remain a viable recording artist in 2006, his legacy will be the rich wellspring of classic songs and the sweet harmony with Art Garfunkel.

Teek’s picks – “American Tune” and “Mother and Child Reunion”.

M: I saw him on the Graceland tour early in 1987, and people were picketing him for breaching the cultural embargo by bringing black South African musicians to the States. What those well-meaning dopes failed to realize was that by helping to expose the world to the beautiful, graceful and deeply human music of an oppressed people, Simon was doing more to destroy a corrupt system than any embargo or boycott ever could.

19. Elvis Presley

T: Nobody changed the face of music in the 20th century more than Elvis. The Sun sessions, the Ed Sullivan appearances, the movies, the Army, his Vegas period… everything he did was iconic. He wedded country and blues and birthed rock and roll. And besides Chuck D, who doesn’t love Elvis?

M: August 16, 1977. I’m nine years old. It’s a rainy day and I’m watching a rerun of A Family Affair on WTTV from Indianapolis when it crawls across the screen that Elvis had died. I understood that this was a very big deal, even if I didn’t know just why. Years later, I get it. Watch the old black and white film, and it’s obvious. He was nothing short of electrifying and he was ground zero of a revolution. The King, indeed.

18. Johnny Cash

T: The Mount Rushmore of country music and rock and roll, Johnny Cash was one badass motherf**ker. Gifted with the most commanding baritone and cursed with a troubled soul, his long goodbye (the American series) was a fitting and well deserved sendoff.

M: In the late 1980’s, I worked a show that he and June did with Waylon Jennings and Jessie Colter. I was backstage doing some menial task when I walked around a corner and there he was, a big man with more physical presence than I’d seen before or since, leaving me completely humbled. Perhaps the most honest artist on the list, one completely incapable of artifice.

17. R.E.M.

T: These guys invented indie rock and the DIY ethic. They brought southern gothic chic (who knew it even existed), mumbled vocals and garbled lyrics to millions. Of all the 80’s bands, REM consistently made the best records. I count eight classics from Murmur through Automatic for the People. And this spot still probably belongs to Otis Redding, Ray Charles or the Everly Brothers.

M: As a high school sophomore, I picked up Rolling Stone’s 1983 critics’ poll issue and saw that an album called Murmur by a band called R.E.M. took the top spot, ahead of Thriller and Synchronicity. Understandably intrigued, I bought the album, and some weeks later, my buddy Brian (who was a bit more metallically inclined) commented “Dude, R.E.M. is all you ever listen to.” Like there’s something wrong with that?

16. David Bowie

T: Hunky Dory and Ziggy Stardust still rock my world, and at 15 I was convinced that he actually might be an alien. The Ziggy tour at the Tower… that left quite an impression.

M: Has any other rock artist been as consistently ahead of his time and as willing to shed his past in order to move forward? Low and Station to Station are alternates on my desert island list.

15. Eric Clapton

T: This is a lifetime achievement award… surely not for his less than inspired solo work. Since Clapton’s best work has already been recognized in this countdown, I’m throwing this spot to the Rave Ups and the Undertones… for purely personal reasons.

M: The total body of work, from the Bluesbreakers and Yardbirds up through the best of his solo output, really is stunning, and I assume that his votes reflect his full career, not “Change the World.”

14. Bob Marley and the Wailers

T: Not many can lay claim to being the undisputed champ… Marley is reggae’s undisputed champ. Lively Up Yourself!

M: I was twelve years old when Marley died, so I only came to him later, like much of the world did, through Legend, an album that instantly changed my way of thinking. To the extent that I thought of reggae at all, I found it tedious, limited by the sameness of the rhythms. Marley destroyed the barriers I had built for myself. These were great songs that could have been rendered brilliantly in any style. On the version of “No Woman, No Cry” that’s on Legend, and on the entire Live! album from which the song was originally culled, Marley communicates with an audience in a way that I’ve never heard surpassed and rarely equaled. His original catalog remains the most spiritually satisfying music I know.

13. Van Morrison

T: I may own more Van Morrison albums than any other artist on this countdown, but yet none have ever connected with me as intensely and emotionally as Born to Run, Every Picture Tells A Story, Guitar Town, Otis Blue or countless others. I think the surly one deserves this spot and a quick check of reveals a whopping 17 four star plus albums. So what’s my problem?

M: You’ve written “Gloria” and “Brown Eyed Girl.” What do you do next? If you’re Van Morrison, you do this: “If I ventured in the slipstream/Between the viaducts of your dream/Where immobile steel rims crack/And the ditch in the back roads stop/Could you find me?/Would you kiss-a my eyes?/To lay me down, in silence easy, to be born again.” And then time stops.

12. The Who

T: I feel more of an emotional kinship to the Who than the Beatles or Stones, and I think I can trace it back to my all-consuming obsession with Tommy and Who’s Next. What did I love - Townsend’s guitar windmills, literary lyrics and breathtaking air kicks, Daltrey’s commanding vocals and macho swagger, plus Entwhistle’s stoic bottom that enabled Keith Moon to be the lunatic, wildly inventive drummer Townsend loved to hate. The Kids Were Alright.

M: Everyone likes to talk about the rock operas and the epic bombast of their 1970s albums, but can we pause for a moment to praise the magical singles that kick-started the Who’s career? “Substitute.” “I’m a Boy.” “I Can See for Miles.” “My Generation.” Each achieves a little immortality in a three-minute span.

11. Jimi Hendrix

T: Like Marley… the undisputed champ. Is there a more iconic concert moment than Jimi at Woodstock? A better Dylan cover than “All Along the Watchtower? Every rock guitarist since Hendrix…playing for second place.

M: Not necessarily stoned, but beautiful. We’ve had forty years to study this, and no one has replicated it yet.

10. Joni Mitchell

T: She could’ve written just “Circle Game”, “A Case of You” and “River” and earned this spot. Turning personal, confessional lyrics into universal truths, there’s probably not a songwriter since (male or female) that hasn’t taken something from Joni.

M: I had this cool teacher in high school. Not one who tried to project cool, but one who didn’t give a &#@$ what you thought about him, and who actually was cool. Anyway, we’d swap music, he taught me about the Velvet Underground, yada yada. One day he’s asked the question about the one artist most indispensable to him, and he responds “Joni Mitchell.” For me, this is a big “whoah” moment, like rock tablets from the mountaintop. And so somehow, I end up with a copy of Hejira (did he recommend it? did I stumble there on my own? memory fails), and the moment I hear “Amelia” is an epiphany. So elegant, so ethereal. How did she conceive of that? More than two decades later, I still haven’t figured it out.

9. Pink Floyd

T: Based on a random sample with an error margin of +/- 75%, I have determined that I am the only resident of North America between the ages of 15 and 65 that does not own a copy of Dark Side of the Moon. Full of bloat, Floyd is the Meatloaf of prog.

M: To the extent that Pink Floyd falls within prog (and I’m not sure they do), one thing that differentiates them is an embrace of black American music. Roger Waters walks the blues on bass, Rick Wright adds a funky clavinet and jazzy chords, and the back-up singers are straight out of "Gimme Shelter." I also get very turned on by David Gilmour's guitar playing; clean, melodic, lots of space. And Waters is a deft enough writer to pull off grand concepts that would look like tenth grade composition disasters in the hands of lesser men. I’m not much for the early psychedelic trips, but, at their peak, they were monstrous.

8. Neil Young

T: Either picking back porch country rock ballads or unleashing the holy hell of Crazy Horse, Neil Young has remained a contemporary, vibrant, compelling recording artist for 40 years. Besides Dylan and Van, what other rockers can say that? My favorite Neil Young record? I’ve got about a dozen of them.

M: Perhaps our most restless rock star, Neil Young refuses to coast on his past and has no fear of exposing any part of his vision, no matter how it might confound his audience. Isn’t that the definition of true artistry?

7. Grateful Dead

T: The most original and iconic of all American bands… and all that without even a serviceable lead singer. But I like them for different reasons than you… I make the case for Grateful Dead - classic singles band. I know I’m missing the point that experiencing the Grateful Dead live is, as Beck says, “where it’s at”. But I saw them once (once!) in September 1988, and the incessant noodling and 40 minute drum solo that opened the second half confirmed what I suspected – Grateful Dead concerts would never be for me. But their take on cosmic, rural country blues contains a bushel of great songs. That’s my alternative Dead… classic singles band.

M: I have a like-hate relationship with the Dead. When they latch on to a good take on “He’s Gone” or “Fire on the Mountain,” or when I hear the original recorded grace of “Box of Rain,” it’s a rare pleasure. When they get into a jam and they can’t get out, when they attempt to rock on any level, or when anyone, anywhere plays “Unbroken Chain,” I curse the day the Warlocks met. Anyway, the band is as much an anthropological phenomenon as a musical one, and we’ll never unravel their mystery here.

6. Led Zeppelin

T: As opposed to the Dead, Led Zeppelin was the album band. Their songs belong together on those six great albums and should be heard album length. Massive, thunderous doses of crunching metal mixed with idyllic, pastoral musings that seemed veddy British, Led Zep was this teenager’s favorite monster of rock. And the one-two opening of LZ4’s “Black Dog” and “Rock and Roll”… oh yeah!

M: I feel like a Viking just thinking about them. The bruising riffs, the bone-crushing beat, the Dionysian golden banshee out front. The complete mastery of their craft and total occupation of the field. And, of course, the taking of the women. Valhalla, I am coming!

5. U2

T: For a couple of years U2 and REM were my favorite bands (until I heard the Replacements' Let It Be). U2 succumbed to rock star bloat after conquering the world in the 80’s. But before that they succeeded in making the personal universal, the mundane fantastic and Bono did his best to save the world and rock and roll. What’ve you done the last 25 years?

M: I’ve been a fan for close to 25 years, and I’ve followed them every step of the way, even through the misstep of Pop and the relatively uninspired . . . Atomic Bomb. At first, I admired the wide-eyed passion, even if it sometimes paired pretense with an almost comic lack of subtlety. But now, I admire the fact that they’ve become a professional rock and roll band. At one time, I would’ve considered that description a pejorative, but as I get older, I have a hard time finding the flaws in a band that knows how to craft songs and render them with an expertise that comes only with experience. And a big pat on the back for using their celebrity capital to help further the cause of humanity.

4. Bruce Springsteen

T: Without a doubt Bruce is my favorite rock musician… I make no apologies. I honor and respect Dylan, the Beatles, the Stones, Elvis, Chuck Berry – but you can only have one favorite. His songs are literate, passionate and joyous - and with that other worldly yowl he was the rock and roll savior I didn’t even know I needed. He was the next step in a lineage that went from Elvis to Fogerty to Bruce, continued on with Westerberg and Earle and still lives today in my current favorites Jesse Malin and the Hold Steady. His output has been all over the stylistic map – the “new Dylan” of Greetings, the channeling of Van Morrison on The Wild, The Innocent… and the ultimate statement Born to Run, which melds rock’s first 20 years and spits out something that sounds completely original. BTR was almost bettered by Darkness on the Edge of Town, where the lovable losers searching for a way out realized they weren’t going anywhere… and that realization somehow became heroic. Since Darkness Springsteen has made a few classics (Nebraska, Tunnel of Love and The Rising) but has always been consistently challenging. As a veteran of many Springsteen shows, his true genius has been delivering magical, mystical, galvanizing revival meetings masquerading as rock concerts… it’s at these shows that he cemented his # 1 rank on my list.

M: There is something that happens in the first five seconds of “Born to Run” that is difficult to explain and almost impossible to believe. The song explodes out of silence with a machine gun snare drum, announcing its presence emphatically and dramatically, joined immediately by a dense blast of piano, bass, glockenspiel (!), and most prominently, saxophone, the big horn signaling that this titanium-hard R&B is pure American music, eschewing Anglo angles for a four-square on-the-beat blast. Then comes a single electric guitar (the voice of modern rock and roll), rising above the wave of sound and delivering a battle cry, a clear, chiming, six note figure that introduces the song’s dominant motif. It is carefully calculated, yet completely thrilling, and it’s loaded with information that I’m still deciphering thirty years later. Springsteen has yet to utter a word about runaway American dreams or kids huddled on the beach in the mist, but he has already conveyed so many important things about himself as an artist. It’s the foundation of an idea that captured a cult audience and grew into a worldwide community. It’s five seconds. And the rest of his thirty-five year career lives up to the promise.

3. The Rolling Stones

T: Excepting Dylan… no one artist has made as many great records that have wormed their way into my heart. Mick and Keef… Keef and Mick. They have been able to adapt to the musical landscape and remain relevant in ways no other bands have. The Beatles may have produced the greatest records, but the Stones are the world’s greatest rock and roll band.

M: When I heard the songs on the radio, it only reinforced to me why the Stones were at the top of my list. The band moves like mercury, propelled by one of the all-time great drummers, with Mick dancing on top, tearing at words, smearing them for sound as well as meaning. The music doesn’t just rock, it swings, as Charlie’s left hand alters time and Keith leans into his Telecaster, proving that guitar godhood need have nothing to do with solos. And the other guitar player – be it Jones, Taylor or Wood – adds his own individual shading, operating in the space that the rhythm section creates. It’s blues and it’s post-blues, elemental and extra-terrestrial, primordial and apocalyptic. It is rock and roll, and rock and roll is the Rolling Stones.

2. Bob Dylan

T: The greatest American songwriter. His influence is pervasive in just about everyone else on this list. His 1962 to 1966 output should be required listening for any rock novice. He’s made great records since but nothing touches those records. They seem too good… how did he string those words together? Where did that melody come from? Omigod… that voice – possibly the greatest in all of rock for serving the song? That voice forever broke the mold of how people could sing. You’re welcome Tom Waits. Tip your hat Mr. Springsteen. I’ve pored over his lyrics, studied his records… obsessing over every detail. I still hear new ideas in 40 year old records and I’m never truly sure what he’s on about. And if you get me drunk enough, I’ll show you the one poem I ever wrote… in high school. Inspired by Dylan, I’ve not read it in at least 25 years. That’s how good Dylan is… he got me to write poetry.

M: It’s difficult to bring him into focus, this human kaleidoscope. The words swirl, sometimes directly conveying meaning, but often only implying it in hard impressionistic syllables. His disposition changes through the years, his sound changes through the years, his world changes through the years, but Dylan remains, sometimes in the shadows, sometimes in full view, and always with a gravity that can bring things into sharper relief even as the man stays elusive. People have spent years, written books, formed societies, to try to get their arms around Bob Dylan. But it misses the point. It’s not about what Dylan is as a man. It’s about what he does to us as people.

1. The Beatles

T: Way to go out on a limb. I really can’t add much to the Beatles lore. All I can say is they produced the greatest pop music the world has ever seen. They had the greatest songwriters, the greatest harmonies, the right producer and melodies that seem to have sprung forth from pop heaven. How about this... I think the Beatles are underrated. I still play Something New, Revolver, Rubber Soul, Beatles For Sale, Abbey Road, Help, Let It Be and they still thrill me – every time. And oh yeah… “In My Life” is the greatest song ever written.

M: And in the end . . . . It’s the Beatles. Of course it’s the Beatles. We weren’t going for obscurity here. The work is majestic, the influence incalculable, and the spot in the culture unique. And I don’t think there’s a thing I can tell you about them that you haven’t heard before. Good-night, sleep tight.