Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Thick as Thieves - Irving Plaza 1/29/07

First things first – during Monday’s “Jam” theme night at New York’s packed to the gills Irving Plaza, Paul Weller performed 10 Jam songs – eight of them at the show’s beginning. Opening with two b-sides “Shopping” (flip to “Beat Surrender) and “Tales From the Riverbank” (“Absolute Beginners”), it was clear this was a night for long-time fans. While I loved The Jam in ways I’ve only loved a handful of bands, Weller’s Style Council and solo output has not reached me in nearly the same way. So as the euphoric explosions of adulation erupted around me for solo songs I had limited familiarity with, I began to feel like an interloper to a really cool private party. To all you Brits (and I’m sure some locals too) who grinned, fist pumped, sang along to every word... you made my night. One small aside (and I like beer as much as anyone) – pace yourself my brothers.

The show had an up and down pace with many highlights – the consecutive Jam quintet of “Carnation”, “English Rose”, “That’s Entertainment”, “Man in The Corner Shop” and a blinding “Thick as Thieves”, the post-Jam set opener “From The Floorboards Up” (my god what a song and all the evidence you need to show Weller is still relevant), piano ballad “The Pebble and the Boy” and last song of the night “Town Called Malice”, which became a total celebration with the audience taking over vocals for half the song. Lowlights included two extended “heavy soul” jams – an interminable cover of Dr. John’s “I Walked on Gilded Splinters” and another extended solo vamp. But really those are minor quibbles… this show was another reminder of why I obsess over rock and roll – the magic that only be conjured up by audience and performer for one night.

Why has Paul Weller aged gracefully and remained relevant when so many others (I’m looking at you Gordon Sumner and you, John Lydon) have become either bloated caricatures or mere shadows of former glories gladly milking the reunion cash cow? He famously broke up the Jam at age 24 when they were arguably England’s biggest band (but mystifyingly never rose above cult status here in the U.S.), formed another successful band, the soul/pop/jazz Style Council, and since then has had a string of muscular solo records, some only “escaping” on these shores. On Monday night, he looked and sounded great – sharply dressed in a brown sharkskin suit and coming only a few pounds over his 1978 fighting weight. His vocals were a little huskier but still plenty of grit as he spit out lyrics with that famous Weller passion and disgust – also special kudos to the Irving Plaza sound crew for mixing the vocals right up in your face.

So as much as I would have liked the whole 2 hour plus set to be devoted to recreating the music of the Jam, Paul Weller once again earned his iconoclastic reputation by proving that he is still the leading light of the class of ’77, and really the only one (save EC) still vibrant with the passion and creative spark needed to continue a meaningful legacy in 2007. God bless Paul Weller.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Spitting White Noise

So here’s the thing – I’m pushing 50. When I write it down it seems ridiculous. Should a 49 year old still be able to get so worked up about a rock and roll band? I hadn’t really felt the need nor inclination to travel to see a band since the 70’s & 80’s heyday of Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band. But here I am – back from Asbury Park,NJ, not from seeing Bruce but from seeing The Hold Steady. Again. Can they be this be this good? I keep asking myself that question.

Opening with Almost Killed Me’s “Positive Jam”, the Hold Steady lovefest was on. From the beer-swigging, beer-spilling 20-somethings to the more restrained beer sipping 40-somethings, it was a gigantic group hug… high-fiving strangers, gleefully glancing at the many friends littered about and being completely, totally, effortlessly lost in the music. By third song “Banging Camp” (I believe played at my request during a pre show chat with guitarist Tad Kubler –), I was a goner. I was convinced I was seeing the greatest rock and roll band in America. Right or wrong, I love that feeling.

So what makes The Hold Steady great? Fun. Passion. Ridiculous songs. But most of all fun. And the absolute every day Joe vibe these guys exude – they’re not rock stars, they’re your buddies’ cousin, they’re the guys from the diner, they’re you and me. If you saw Craig Finn on the street, you’d barely notice him. But he’s leading a rock renaissance, even though The Hold Steady’s stock in trade is classic rock. Melding a D.I.Y. indie vibe with Thin Lizzy meets Boston power chords, this band could potentially appeal to everyone you know. I ain’t saying that’s gonna happen, ‘cause Finn’s foghorn vocals are definitely an acquired taste. He’s destined to be the most yearbook-quoted songwriter for the classes of 2007 through 2010. His teenage angst lyrics somehow translate to the universal struggle we face in every relationship – I’m forty-freakin-nine and these lyrics hit me like I’m 19.

And I knew this before, but the not-so-secret weapon of this band is guitarist Tad Kubler. Every riff feels brand new yet instantly familiar… and the riffs are bigger than that hole Joseph Addai just ran through for Colts’ game winning touchdown. And to paraphrase Jimmy Dugan, Kubler subscribes to the theory “there’s no solos in rock and roll”. Just a face full of guitar. The staccato opening of “Stuck Between Stations, the furnace blast of “Banging Camp”, the beery riffs of “Chips Ahoy”, the wallop of “Your Little Hoodrat Friend” – all Kubler all the time. If my son was to be born in 2007, his name would most surely be Tad Kubler McClatchy. (Sean – be glad you’re already 10. And for those that follow such things, three years ago it would have been Jameer Nelson McClatchy).

By the way, the cover to Boys and Girls in America cover finally hit me last night. I always thought it was a bit cheesy but standing about 10-12 deep in the crowd, when confetti was thrown during “Chicago Seemed Tired Last Night” and the crowd surged like one giant pair of flailing arms, the cover came to life right in front of me. That cover reeks of ecstasy and that’s exactly what this band provides. Ecstatic moments, ecstatic songs, ecstatic mini-declarations, ecstatic visions.

So can The Hold Steady be that good? Can they continue their string of breathing-taking albums and cathartic free-for-all shows? I’ll let them answer:
"Damn right they'll rise again”.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Michael’s Mega Mix for 2006

The beginning of a new year means lots of things, but for me one of the best is the realization that in the next twelve months dozens of terrific songs I’ve never heard before will appear before my ears. Over the past six or seven years, I’ve documented my discoveries at year-end, typically with a two-disc compilation. This year, it grew to four. The first two discs roughly approximate what I’ve done in the past, with one song each from a bunch of different 2006 releases (one album pulls double duty). This year, a bonus third disc features more tunes from those same releases. And disc four includes songs from reissues, compilations, remixes and outtakes released in ’06, plus a handful of older things I finally got around to buying. Here’s the annotated track list (Trip promises a similar post next week):

Disc One

1. The Hold Steady, “Stuck Between Stations.” For me, 2006 was the year of The Hold Steady, and so the year-in-review starts the way the band’s Boys and Girls in America album does, with this wordy scorcher that tracks the isolation felt by a guy whose significant other is a better dancer than a girlfriend, and that details the despair that demons, soft bodies and cold winters visited on the late poet John Berryman. Instant classic.

2. Steve Wynn & The Miracle 3, “Cindy, It Was Always You.” Another peel-the-paint rocker, with Wynn collaborating with writer George Pelecanos on one of the darkest tales of sexual obsession ever caught on tape.

3. Centro-Matic, “Covered Up in Mines.” A lyrical melody on slide guitar and a fierce rhythm section underpin Will Johnson’s abstract words, all the while evoking an endless horizon.

4. Beth Orton, “Conceived.” From an album short on songs, this one sounds revitalized in the mix.

5. The Format, “Time Bomb.” Queen meets the Beach Boys.

6. Yo La Tengo, “Mr. Tough.” A bouncy piano, some sunny horns and Ira’s falsetto make for some breezy, dreamy pop from a band better known for framing melodies in noise and harmonics.

7. James Hunter, “People Gonna Talk.” With a Caribbean lilt and an absolute belief in the power of soul music, the title track to Hunter’s 2006 release is instantly memorable and totally timeless.

8. Neko Case, “Margaret vs. Pauline.” Is there anything this woman can’t sing? If there is, we haven’t found it yet.

9. Bob Dylan, “Thunder on the Mountain.” The song on which Alicia Keys becomes a totem of Dylan’s imagination, its easy-rolling momentum captures the bard in his current incarnation, the king of the retro-modern blues.

10. Josh Ritter, “Lillian, Egypt.” “He kept her like a princess, I stole her like the Fort Knox gold.” A minority opinion, for sure, but I think this is the best tune on Ritter’s very fine The Animal Years.

11. Los Lobos, “The Road to Gila Bend.” A distorted guitar, a sturdy chorus, and David Hidalgo’s pure voice. Just another great Los Lobos tune.

12. M. Ward, “Chinese Translation.” Spooky and beautiful, Ward always evokes another time, but I can never put my finger on just what time that is.

13. Portastatic, “I’m in Love (with Arthur Dove).” Prime indie ear candy with a shout-along chorus and a guitar line that would make the Buzzcocks proud.

14. Joseph Arthur, “Slide Away.” A man out of time, no one else currently mines the same territory as Arthur, who has the confidence to go for grandeur, where other indie singer-songwriters are content with small obscurity.

15. Sonic Youth, “Incinerate.” I wanted to like the Rather Ripped album more than I actually did, but this swaggering, insistent single is an undeniable pleasure.

16. Pearl Jam, “World Wide Suicide.” Lean and nimble, it’s one of PJ’s best singles in ages, and Mr. Vedder is in full, glorious throat.

17. Arctic Monkeys, “Riot Van.” The quietest moment on the clatter and kerrang of the Monkeys’ audacious debut, it gives stark relief to the lads’ gifts for melody and detail. “Have you been drinking son?/You don’t look old enough to me/I’m sorry, officer/Is there a certain age you’re s’posed to be?/’Cause nobody told me.”

18. Tom Waits, “LowDown.” A simple, bluesy groove, but polluted and dirty in a way unique to Waits, who rocks like few times before.

19. Field Music, “It’s Not the Only Way to Feel Happy.” So simple and elegant, yet so different than anything else currently happening, this shimmering Brit pop ballad calls to mind XTC in their prime.

Disc Two

1. The Futureheads, “Skip to the End.” The kings of the New Wave revivalists strike again with a spiky, funky, harmony-heavy slice of pop perfection. One of the best singles of the year.

2. Gnarls Barkley, “Crazy.” And speaking of singles of the year . . .

3. Art Brut, “Good Weekend.” With a guitar line right out of “Cool Jerk” and the enthusiasm of a guy who’s getting luckier than he’s ever gotten in his life, this tune has buzzed around my head for months. And yes, he’s seen her naked. Twice.

4. The Kooks, “Eddie’s Gun.” More spiky Brit pop from a band with a name I’m shocked hasn’t been taken before.

5. The Minus 5, “Out There on the Maroon.” Scott McCaughey, indie superhero and sideman to the stars, comes up with one of the year’s best opening lines: “I had six white Russians tonight/And two of them were people.”

6. Rosanne Cash, “Burn Down This Town.” Even when she’s vulnerable, she sounds confident.

7. Alejandro Escovedo, “Dear Head on the Wall.” The hardest rocking cello since “Good Vibrations.”

8. Jason Collett, “We All Lose One Another.” Why didn’t this guy get more attention? Not much this year was any easier on the ears than this song, which is the best tune Ryan Adams and/or the Jayhawks never wrote.

9. Bruce Springsteen, “Jacob’s Ladder.” A glorious New Orleans-style romp and a completely unexpected turn from the Boss.

10. Lucero, “The Mountain.” A gruff, double-barreled blast of the kind of mythic Southern rock that Steve Earle perfected, featuring the whiskey and cigarettes drawl of Ben Nichols, the Shane MacGowan of the Smokey Mountains.

11. The Raconteurs, “Level.” Tales of a fourth-grade lyric, but the ridiculous words are redeemed by a steady rocking groove and a double-voiced guitar solo that would make Ace Frehley and Paul Stanley blush.

12. Eagles of Death Metal, “I Like to Move in the Night.” The year’s most disappointing album produced this one prime example of the kind of easy-grooving sleaze-rock that made EoDM’s first record such a grand guilty pleasure.

13. Belle and Sebastian, “The Blues are Still Blue.” This piece of Scottish boogie-pop is the best song set around a laundromat since the Pretenders’ “Watching the Clothes.”

14. Pernice Brothers, “Somerville.” Pure pop for now people, Joe Pernice’s dreamy voice was made for songs like this.

15. Cat Power, “Living Proof.” Lusty in Memphis.

16. The Decemberists, “Yankee Bayonet (I Will Be Home Soon).” Colin Meloy’s great gift is his ability to make this sort of formal lit-pop sound not only unpretentious, but inviting.

17. Dirty Pretty Things, “Bang Bang You’re Dead.” Sounds just like you’d think.

18. Robyn Hitchcock & The Venus 3, “N.Y. Doll.” Thirty years into his career, Hitchcock is still capable of magical things, like this gorgeous, dream-like ballad about late New York Dolls bassist Arthur Kane.

19. Van Hunt, “At the End of a Slow Dance.” Imagine it’s 1985 and Prince has traded the Revolution for Talk Talk. Sound great? It is.

20. TV on the Radio, “Wolf Like Me.” Holy #&$%! The year’s most relentless tune from a band like none other working today.

21. The Hold Steady, “First Night.” Disc two ends like disc one begins, with the best band going detailing the boys and girls in America and the sad times they have together, but this time, instead of rocking like lions, they lament like lambs, the “Jungleland” to their earlier “Born to Run.”

Disc Three

1. Belle and Sebastian, “Funny Little Frog.” The kind of brilliant R&B inflected mod pop that seems to emanate only from the other side of the Atlantic.

2. Dirty Pretty Things, “Gin & Milk.” Not much of a recipe for a drink, but it makes for an intoxicating punk rock tune.

3. The Format, “The Compromise.” Arizona’s preeminent desert melodicists try to start a dance craze out of the fragments of a relationship gone wrong. Makes at least as much sense as “The Mashed Potato.”

4. The Futureheads, “Fallout.” What they got that the other nouvelle wavers ain’t got? A drummer who swings time and some sparkling harmonies, that’s what they got, that’s what they got.

5. Gnarls Barkley, “Smiley Faces.” Head bobbin’, finger poppin’, new soul. These guys aren’t just “Crazy.”

6. Steve Wynn & The Miracle 3, “All the Squares Go Home.” Fuzzy garage clatter that could’ve come straight from Nuggets. The highest compliment.

7. Jason Collett, “Hangover Days.” Remember above when I asked why this guy didn’t get more attention? Really, why? Somebody answer me, dammit.

8. Bob Dylan, “Someday Baby.” OK, so this guy and this tune didn’t lack for attention, as they starred in an iPod ad. “Someday baby, you ain’t gonna work for meee anymoo-ore.” Listen to that band. Like liquid.

9. Portastatic, “Sour Shores.” Orchestral pop that snaps, crackles and rocks, with a twang-guitar solo that would make Duane Eddy proud.

10. Joseph Arthur, “Too Much to Hide.” He makes me feel a little drunk with his miniature reveries, these pretty melodies and a voice that rings like a bell.

11. The Hold Steady, “Massive Nights.” With giant, spacious bass and drums straight out of Van Halen’s Women and Children First, and a story that David Lee Roth surely lived but could never write, it’s a prom anthem for early-21st Century hipsters who fondly and hazily remember their late-20th Century salad days. “I had my mouth on her nose when the chaperone said that we were dancing too close.” Does it get better than that?

12. Josh Ritter, “In the Dark.” So simple, so elegant.

13. Arctic Monkeys, “Fake Tales of San Francisco.” The eye for detail, the confident strut and the completely un-self-conscious belief in their own power. What a band.

14. Art Brut, “Formed a Band.” OK, so it’s all a big put-on, but it’s a thunderous one, with the Cockney ratcheted up and the subtlety dialed down. See if you can keep from shouting along.

15. Neko Case, “The Needle Has Landed.” Four minutes of swoon in the sweltering heat.

16. Robyn Hitchcock & The Venus 3, “Underground Sun.” This one would sound perfectly at home on Underwater Moonlight, thanks in part to the presence of the criminally underappreciated Kimberly Rew and fellow Soft Boy Morris Windsor. And if you don’t own Underwater Moonlight, you should rectify that.

17. Yo La Tengo, “I Feel Like Going Home.” It seems like once per album, Georgia Hubley moves from the drum kit to the piano bench to come up with something lovely and haunting.

18. Centro-Matic, “Calling Thermatico.” I have no idea what it means. I just know it makes the walls shake.

19. Alejandro Escovedo, “Break This Time.” A solid if unexceptional rocker distinguished by Al’s “come on Dee!” just before guitarist Jon Dee Graham spends the next thirty seconds shredding on his axe. The world would be a better place if singers still called out solos.

20. Troy and Gabriella, “Breaking Free” (from High School Musical). The pop culture moment of the year, when our young would-be lovers dazzle the assembled East High student body. Don’t tell me you don’t know what I’m talking about, and don’t tell me you don’t like it.

Disc Four

1. Pete Townshend, “Let My Love Open the Door.” Inspired by the reissue of All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes (see track 18) and the $5.99 price on, I finally replaced my old copy of Empty Glass. Yeah, I’ve heard this one a thousand times. Can’t wait to hear it a thousand more.

2. The Pretenders, “The Adultress.” The undervalued Pretenders II got the deluxe reissue treatment in 2006 (check out the choice live set from the original quartet on the bonus disc), and this track is the opener, all balls, brass and sass. When Chrissie says bad boys get spanked, you’d best believe.

3. The dB’s, “Love is for Lovers.” The first song on the first post-Chris Stamey dB’s disc (finally reissued this past year), “Love is for Lovers” is Peter Holsapple’s finest hour, an enduring power pop anthem. I’d been toting around a cassette of Like This for years, and was grateful for the upgrade.

4. Brian Eno & David Byrne, “Help Me Somebody.” From the flat-out brilliant My Life in the Bush of Ghosts reissue comes this irresistible slice of urban guerilla funk, which draws heavily on the legacy of Afro Beat legend Fela Kuti. Anyone who loves Remain in Light should own this album.

5. Ojah with Hugh Masekela, “Afro Beat Blues.” Speaking of Fela, this tune from the wickedly brilliant new compilation Hugh Masekela Presents the Chisa Years (1965-1975) is the great radio single the man never made, but which couldn’t have been made without him.

6. Lette Mbulu, “Mahlalela.” Also from the Chisa Years comp, this dance floor scorcher is part African, part American, and shares pieces of a band that was simultaneously recording the first Jackson 5 sessions.

7. Jorge Ben, “Take It Easy, My Brother Charles.” The highest profile world music compilation of 2006 was Tropicalia, A Brazilian Revolution in Sound, which chronicles the heady, trippy days of a style that reached its zenith in the late 1960s and early 70s. From that set comes this bit of sly, sophisticated Latin pop by one of Brazil’s enduring legends.

8. Os Mutantes, “Ando Meio Desligado.” Also from Tropicalia comes this effort from the delightfully loopy Os Mutantes (often cited as a Beck influence). Part Brazilian bliss, part Haight-Ashbury acidity.

9. Lulu, “Feelin’ Alright.” Lulu – yes, that Lulu – walked into the famed Muscle Shoals studio in 1970 and proceeded to wrap her pipes around this Traffic tune and rip it up. But why is it here? Because it’s part of the recently released (and completely spectacular) anthology, What It Is! Funky Soul and Rare Grooves (1967-77).

10. Ananda Shankar, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” Also from What It Is! comes this mostly instrumental, completely psychedelic, frenetically funky, sitar-driven cover of the Stones classic, that delivers a contact high from simply listening.

11. Chemical Brothers, “The Boxer” (DFA Remix). From the 2006 DFA Remixes album (the same brain trust who brought you LCD Soundsystem). I’ve never heard the original version of this, but the remix is nine and a half minutes of mid-tempo, hypnotic, dance-floor bliss pulled straight from Kraftwerk’s playbook.

12. Gary Numan, “Metal.” One of the best books I read last year was Simon Reynolds’ Rip it Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984, which caused a flash back to a pivotal moment of my childhood. It’s 1979, and I’ve just had my mind blown by a video and song called “Cars” (which I probably caught on The Midnight Special; memory fails). This is what the future will sound like, I tell myself, and I spend the next 48 hours glued to my radio hoping to hear the song again. Finally, I do, my mind is blown a second time, and I race to the local five and dime and pick up the single, bring it home and spin. The song loses no magic upon the third, fourth, fifth or tenth hearing. And then I flip it over. And what I hear is equally mind-blowing and doubly subversive, a song that sounds like its name, the crash of heavy machinery dancing over an industrial-strength beat. I finally bought the album, The Pleasure Principle, in 2006, a mere twenty-seven years late.

13. Wire, “Outdoor Miner.” The sublime Chairs Missing album got reissued this past year, and this single marks the division between Wire’s artsy vision and the punk orthodoxy of the time, a pop song that evokes space and not rage.

14. The Hold Steady, “Girls Like Status.” Left on the cutting room floor of the Boys and Girls in America sessions, this rockin’ little number showed up on the web and on the B-side to “Chips Ahoy!” The best song most bands would ever write can’t quite make it on to The Hold Steady’s third album in three years. Craig Finn, quite literally, has talent to burn.

15. Mott the Hoople, “All the Way From Memphis.” One day this past year, a horrifying thought hit me: I’m 38 years old and I’ve never owned a Mott the Hoople album. I quickly rectified the problem.

16. Rod Stewart, “True Blue.” Primed by a newfound fascination with the Faces, and urged on by my writing partner, I picked up Never a Dull Moment in 2006. This track, the opener, lives up to the album’s title.

17. Tom Waits, “New Coat of Paint.” In 1985, one of the coolest high school teachers ever introduced me to Waits by lending me his then-new copy of Rain Dogs. That means I picked up the story in the middle, during Tom’s wild years, knowing of, but never really knowing, his earlier incarnation as piano-playing barfly. This year, I went back to the beginning, and this track from The Heart of Saturday Night had me at hello.

18. Pete Townshend, “Slit Skirts.” I was fourteen when All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes came out, and I loved it. A sure-fire desert-island disc through my high school years, it slowly fell out of rotation, and I never bothered to own it on CD until the 2006 reissue. Hearing it now, I’m struck by how weird a record it is, full of melodrama and preening, stuff that blew by me twenty-five years ago. But this tune has never felt melodramatic or preening, just perfect, one of the best things Pete ever wrote, for himself or the Who.

Monday, January 15, 2007

The Alphabet Project: B

A while back, we started the Alphabet Project, with the goal of serially choosing our favorite songs by artists from A to Z. We’re up to B, and we all know what B stands for. And picking tunes for this list was exactly that, because when it comes to music, B may be the heavyweight champ of the alphabet, a letter that will likely go unrivaled until we reach R many months from now. We can’t believe some of the stuff we had to leave off to get down to eighty minutes each.

Trip’s picks:

Chuck Berry – “No Particular Place To Go” – Hail! Hail! Rock n’ Roll.

James Brown – “I Got You (I Feel Good)” – While I only dip my toe in the funk, there’s no denying when James screams “Wooooaahhh – I feel good” , you believe him. Rest easy Soul Brother # 1.

Badfinger – “No Matter What” – The original “power pop” song? Great band, great band name and a clutch of transcendent singles. Extra props for the chills I got as this played at the end of Outside Providence (an overlooked fish out of water comedy with Alec Baldwin as a grizzled single parent – “What are you looking at dil-doe!”).

Buzzcocks – “Love You More” – There’s no way you can spend a more enjoyable 1 minute and 49 seconds. OK… maybe there’s one way.

David Bowie – “Suffragette City” - “Hey man I gotta straighten my face / This mellow thighed chick / Just put my spine out of place”. I have dreamt of this “mellowed thighed chick” often.

The Breeders – “Last Splash” – I used to have such a crush on Kim Deal. And as fuzzy and knee knocking as the Breeders could be, my favorite description of them came from my sister – “they sound like a punk Josie & The Pussycats”. Yes they do.

Lindsey Buckingham – “Countdown” – Pop genius writes alternate Teenage Kicks theme song and announces he’s ready for life after Mac… and then is subsequently reeled back in to their cash grab reunion tours.

The Beat – “Let Me Into Your Life” – Paul Collins’ apprenticeship with Peter Case in the Nerves served him well as The Beat’s debut had a dozen exhilarating power pop treasures bursting with gang harmonies, handclaps, and more melodies than today’s top 100 combined.

Buzz Zeemer – “Break My Heart” – It breaks my heart that this terrific little band remains unknown. Who’s in for the great Buzz Zeemer revival of 2007?

The Band – “The Shape I’m In” – Has feeling bad ever felt so good? The Band steps outside the lines with this rollicking, Garth Hudson fueled romp that seems to chronicle the band’s crossroads after the amazing success of their first two records.

The Blasters – “So Long Baby Goodbye” – A song to lost love? Or Dave Alvin planting the seeds that the Blasters weren’t big enough for both him and his brother. No matter, this 2:23 of blues inspired, harmonica driven rockabilly (dig that sax solo about 1:45) should be a bar band staple.

Beat Farmers – “Goldmine” - A great kiss off from the kissed off (“Baby you lost a goldmine when you lost me”), the Beat Farmers epitomized my version of a great rock band – greasy songs, an absolutely joyous drunkfest live, relentless enthusiasm and most of all, a sense of humor. And if it’s OK with Snow White, ask me and I’ll make you a copy of his stupendous Buddy Blue mix. We miss ya Buddy.

The Bottle Rockets – “Kerosene” – True story chronicling small town tragedy (“Fire started ‘bout 3 am you know none of ‘em would survive / They hated that goddamn trailer so it burnt ‘em up alive”), “Kerosene” and their first record established the BRox as a worthy Skynyrd heir. Brian Henneman’s straightforward, sympathetic everyman tales tab him as the most consistent songwriter to emerge from the Uncle Tupelo camp.

Blue Rodeo – “What Am I Doing Here” – Cross Gram Parsons with the Everly Brothers and you get the best of Blue Rodeo. These Canadian alt country vets could never consistently deliver the goods, but their best (like this one “Till I Am Myself Again”) scaled lofty heights.

The Bangles – “Manic Monday” – Written for the band by Prince, shouldn’t all top 10 singles be this sweet and buoyant? And… uhm… Susanna Hoffs – me likey.

The Box Tops – “Soul Deep” – What do “The Letter”, “Soul Deep” and “Always on My Mind” have in common? They’re all written by Nashville songwriter Wayne Carson Thompson… just a fun fact. “Soul Deep” is a sweet slab of teenaged blue eyed soul sung by future power pop demigod Alex Chilton.

Bobby Bloom – “Montego Bay” – The 13 year old me loved, loved, loved this song… and it still has me in its sway. The best top 40 whistling this side of Otis’ “Dock of the Bay” also features a not-so sly drug reference that made it to the top 10 (“You ain’t been ‘till you been high in Montego Bay”).

Billy Bragg – “The Price You Pay” – Punk rock’s “new Dylan”, Billy Bragg made his bones as a one man agit rocker bashing out socially conscious broadsides. But I’ve always preferred the personal warmth of songs like “The Price You Pay” with its heartbreaking lyric and unforgettably melody.

T Bone Burnett – “River of Love” - Before he was the Americana uber-producer, T Bone crafted some gorgeous folk pop…this one from his self titled country record is among his best. Though if I had it on cd, I would have substituted “Power of Love” here.

The Bee Gees – “I’ve Gotta Get A Message To You” – In 1977-78 I loathed (and still do) the entirety of the Saturday Night Fever phenomenon… just wanted to put that out there since revisionist history now celebrates it as some Rosetta Stone of pop music. But those earlier little poperatic slices of ball-less melancholy are great damn songs.

The Beau Brummels – “Laugh, Laugh” – I really only know two songs by these guys and yet these 2 songs somehow invented folk-rock.

The Byrds – “I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better” – In a band that featured Roger McGuinn, Gram Parsons, Chris Hillman and David Crosby, how could Gene Clark have the best songs? I don’t know either, but he did.

The Beach Boys – “Sloop John B” – There were about 50 choices I could have made here and this song isn’t even close to best one on Pet Sounds. But it’s my favorite and even though he didn’t write “Well I feel so broke up / I want to go home”, those lines could almost define Brian Wilson.

Big Star – “Thirteen” – Has teenage innocence and rebellion ever been rendered more beautifully than this? And this defines the essence of what drives teenagers (of all ages) to rock music: “Won’t you tell your dad , “Get off my back” / Tell him what we said ‘bout “Paint It Black”.

Jackson Browne – “For A Dancer” – Please play this one at my funeral.

The Beatles – “In My Life” – Elsewhere on this blog I called this the greatest song ever written. My opinion hasn’t changed.

Michael’s list:

The B-52’s, “Rock Lobster.” This isn’t a piece of kitsch. It’s a triumph of musical architecture, as Ricky Wilson’s blistering rhythm guitar supports Fred and the ladies’ loopy dissertation on the life aquatic. I was not yet twelve years old when I saw them play this on Saturday Night Live, and I’m not sure I’ve ever recovered.

The Band, “King Harvest (Has Surely Come).” As much as any tune by the godfathers of Americana, this one sums up the entire band. It doesn’t evoke the past or the future, just a perfect present, with a concision and force rarely achieved thereafter.

The Bar-Kays, “Soul Finger.” A shimmering classic of gutbucket funk with horns, and a bittersweet one. Within months of the song’s release, most of the band’s members perished in the same plane crash that killed Otis Redding.

Bash & Pop, “Loose Ends.” Tommy Stinson’s first post-Replacements project, I saw the second show they ever played, in a room that theoretically could have accommodated 800 people, but which, in fact, held about fifteen that night. Despite what amounted to little more than an open rehearsal with beer, the guys rocked the joint, and this mid-tempo Stonesy number, which I heard for the first time that night, stuck with me over the months until the album finally came out.

Beach Boys, “Surf’s Up” (Brian Wilson solo demo). This isn’t just some rock-geek obscurity (and it’s really not that obscure; it’s on the Beach Boys box set, which is on the shelf at the big electronics store around the corner from where you live). It’s simply the most heart-stoppingly gorgeous pop song I’ve ever heard.

The Beat, “Workaday World.” The band whose existence caused an outfit with the same name to be known as the English Beat on this side of the Atlantic, Paul Collins and company specialized in a muscular power pop exemplified by this gem about the drudgery of the forty-hour week.

The Beatles, “And Your Bird Can Sing.” Picking a Beatles tune is like picking between children (that is, if you’ve got, like, a hundred kids), and so I go with this rockin’ guitar pop masterpiece that I first heard on the Fabs’ old cartoon show before I ever owned the British version of Revolver.

Chris Bell, “I Am the Cosmos.” Founding father of Big Star, who left that band too soon and this earth too young, Bell’s lasting achievement is this slice of power pop perfection, which evokes massive feelings of loneliness and despair with its devastating opening line: “Every night I tell myself ‘I am the cosmos, I am the wind.’/But that don’t get you back again.”

Chuck Berry, “Little Queenie.” The distinguished gentleman from Missouri codified rock and roll’s sound, and he never sounded better than on this one. The fact that “she’s too cute to be a minute over seventeen” seems not to have dissuaded him in the least.

Big Country, “Chance.” My affection for this band, and especially their debut album, is well-documented. They garnered attention with mammoth rockers “In a Big Country” and “Fields of Fire,” but this gorgeous mid-tempo affair, with a palpable sense of longing and some vaguely Asian melodic counterpoint, ranks among that first record’s high points.

Big Star, “Back of a Car.” While “September Gurls” is the obvious (and a perfectly good) choice, this one rocks it up a bit more, with Jody’s splashy drums punctuating Alex’s perfect melody.

Blondie, “Dreaming.” Included for the enormity of its sound, and the audacity to rhyme “restaurant” with “debutante.”

Blur, “Charmless Man.” “Educated the expensive way, he knows his claret from his Beaujolais.” A perfect update of the Kinks’ 1960s English character studies with hooks galore.

Bow Wow Wow, “I Want Candy.” By surfing up the guitar and buffing up the production, Malcolm McLaren’s protégés improved on the Strangeloves’ classic original, emphasizing the Bo Diddley beat and delivering a confection that’s sticky sweet and reet petite.

David Bowie, “Heroes.” Remember when long album tracks were edited to lengths palatable for radio and released as singles? No song ever got butchered worse than Bowie’s lush, poetic classic. With the first two verses deleted, the single begins in the third verse, well on its way to the climax, without benefit of foreplay. A disorienting experience for anyone familiar with the album version, which is included here in its full six-minute glory.

Billy Bragg, “A New England.” “I saw two shooting stars last night/I wished on them but they were only satellites/Is it wrong to wish on space hardware?/I wish, I wish, I wish you’d care.”

James Brown, “Hot Pants, Pt. 1.” As with the Beatles, there are dozens of worthy choices here, and so instead of going with the obvious “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” or “Sex Machine,” I’ve picked one of the most elemental and potent slabs of funk the Godfather ever created. The bass and guitar aren’t just hard, they’re physical, things you can feel as much as hear.

Jackson Browne, “Late for the Sky.” The opener and title track to what is, perhaps, his finest album, “Late for the Sky” distills the best of Browne’s work – his warm tenor, his elegant dissatisfaction, an inviting melody, and David Lindley’s sheer grace on guitar – into five and half minutes. A song for the quiet of the night.

Jeff Buckley, “Last Goodbye.” I was going to pick “Hallelujah,” but I switched to this one in part because it’s two minutes shorter, but mostly because this song is more representative of Buckley’s brief career, and because, for me, it’s tied so directly to a sense of place. Shortly after this album came out, I was in New York, a city that was very foreign to me at the time, and this song was on my mind. For me, it’s forever connected to the dusky twilight of the caverns of the city, and the powerful feelings of disorientation and excitement they – and this song – convey.

The Buggles, “Video Killed the Radio Star.” OK, so this list is heavy with New Wave-era offerings, but how could I exclude this one? Not only emblematic of the time with its MTV connection, it’s also a fine pop song, one of the best of its time.

Solomon Burke, “Got to Get You Off My Mind.” I had never paid this finger-popping 1960s soul chestnut any mind until I read Nick Hornby’s enduringly brilliant High Fidelity. The central tune in a book bursting with music, Burke’s shuffling lament puts up a brave face even as the protagonist dies a little inside.

Buzzcocks, “Ever Fallen In Love?” This is perfection perfected. Guitar pop as high art.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Hello Fellow Music Lovers

Everybody’s got a favorite band that they think nobody knows about. Mine is Buzz Zeemer (nee Flight of Mavis). If you live in the Philadelphia area, shame on you if you don’t know these guys. They recorded the jangle power pop gems Delusions of Grandeur (1999) and the near perfect Plaything (1996) and if you’ve got room in your heart for Cheap Trick, the Replacements, NRBQ, Elvis Costello, Marshall Crenshaw, Big Star, The Clash and The Beach Boys, then head right to cdbaby and buy Plaything. It's uber-melodic, heart-on-your-sleeve, poptastic songwriting with Frank Brown's slightly melancholic yet pitch perfect vocals evoking a love child of Elvis Costello and Lucinda Williams. Yeah... it's that good.

So why talk it about these guys now? Well, first, it’s always the right time to talk about great rock and roll… especially if it comes in compact three minute bursts. And second, the boys reunite for the first time in eight years this Friday (1/12) at the Grape Street Pub in Manayunk. Buzz Zeemer - Frank Brown (vocals, guitar), Tommy Conwell (guitar – did I really need to tell you that?), Ken Buono (drums – who currently fronts his own fine power pop outfit, The Tell Alls) and Dave McElroy (bass – ask him to do “The Ass”) - will be playing at 9:15 with Naplam Sunday opening at 8:15. And admission to their only reunion show ever... $10.00 - cheap at twice the price!!

Essential links:

Grape Street Pub -

CD Baby link for Plaything -

Buzz Zeemer My Space Page -

Yeah, I know, I should learn how to use hyperlinks.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Number One

From Bob Dylan's Modern Times, "When the Deal Goes Down."

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

WXPN Top 50 Countdown - 17 to 1

17. Tom Petty, Highway Companion

Trip: Huge Tom Petty fan here. I’ve decided I don’t need to own this… draw your own conclusions.

Michael: What I’ve heard on the radio is pleasant enough, but “pleasant” isn’t what turns me on about Petty.

16. Corinne Bailey Rae, Corinne Bailey Rae

Trip: This year’s Norah Jones. A warm, relaxed record that’s sure to please soccer moms everywhere. “Put Your Records On” is one of the singles of the year.

Michael: The single sounds good on the radio, but it never occurred to me that there was more to investigate.

15. Snow Patrol, Eyes Open

Trip: Ears Closed.

Michael: I have absolutely no opinion. I’ve seen heated arguments rise up around this band, but they’ve completely failed to register with me. I’m sure I’d know a song if I heard it . . .

14. Thom Yorke, The Eraser

Trip: I liked what I’ve heard, even if there are too many bleeps and squiggles. Now maybe I can finally get into Radiohead if my TK partner comes through with that long rumored non-suck Radiohead comp?

Michael: Why don’t I own this? I have no excuse. One of the most fearless voices in contemporary music.

13. Josh Ritter, Animal Years

Trip: The best singer-songwriter album of the year… was there a better gauge of 2006 than “Girl In The War”? Has anyone made sense of the rambling epic “Thin Blue Flame”? This cd continues to confound and delight.

Michael: I like this album a lot (“Lillian, Egypt” and “In the Dark” are two of my fave tunes of the year), but I don’t seem to like it as much as everyone else I know, and I think it has to do with an unease with the words. Where Bob Dylan’s imagistic stream-of-consciousness lyrics seem profound and beautiful, Ritter’s (to my ears, at least) can seem clunky. When (on “Girl in the War”) he sings “her eyes are like champagne/they sparkle bubble over and in the morning all you got is the rain,” it sounds like he’s trying too hard, and when (on “Thin Blue Flame”) he sings “it’s hell to believe there ain’t a hell of a chance,” it sounds like he’s not trying hard enough, especially near the climax of such an epic song. Feel free to start casting stones in my direction.

12. John Mayer, Continuum

Trip: America…stop buying John Mayer records and start buying Jesse Malin records (Note: Jesse Malin’s Glitter in the Gutter out soon… buy or die.)

Michael: I like my coffee black, my whiskey neat, and my peppers hot. And I like my radio to be off when John Mayer is playing.

11. Emmylou Harris & Mark Knopfler, All The Road Running

Trip: Emmylou… underrated, Knopfler… overrated, this cd is easy on the ears but why would you ever play it when you could spin Making Movies or Wrecking Ball?

Michael: I’m a reasonably big fan of both artists, but what I’ve heard from this offering sounds more tasteful than tasty. Restraint shouldn’t be the central conceit of an album.

10. Amos Lee, Supply & Demand

Trip: The best record, bar none, made by a former Tin Angel bartender in 2006.

Michael: Holy smokes, we’re on a run of non-threatening and restrained albums. Doesn’t anyone rock anymore?

9. The Raconteurs, Broken Boy Soldiers

Trip: Is it possible that the 2005 template (with the White Stripes’ excellent Get Behind Me Satan at # 9) was used for 2006 and they just substituted the Raconteurs mediocre cd (full of recycled riffs and banal lyrics) into the # 9 slot?

Michael: I was really excited about this album until I heard it and realized that these guys were holding back their good songs for their primary gigs.

8. Citizen Cope, Every Waking Moment

Trip: I loved the single off this record and I kinda dig this guy’s vibe, so maybe I should check out this record. It won’t bore me, will it?

Michael: All right, it’s clear that I’m out of step with the bulk of the audience. Cope’s laconic, not-quite-funky half-raps have never connected with me. Not enough to make me change the station, nor drive to the record store.

7. Ray LaMontagne, Till The Sun Turns Black

Trip: 12 through 7 is the major countdown slump. LaMontagne is struggling to stay above the Mendoza line.

Michael: LaMontagne is better than I’ve previously given him credit for. His taste in influences (Van Morrison, Otis Redding) is impeccable, even if he’s unable to generate their rare kind of heat. But he’s a sturdy songsmith, and I find myself singing along to “Three More Days” when it comes on the radio.

6. Bruce Springsteen, We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions

Trip: An album full of 100 year old folks songs? A record company marketing dream, right? Wrong, but the Seeger Sessions is totally enjoyable, rollicking, relevant music crystallizing the timeless power of great songs. The resulting tour was a hoedown revival not to be missed.

Michael: I’ll confess, when I first heard about this project, I thought it would be a snooze. How wrong can a guy be? This is a vibrant, joyous stomp through a set of traditional songs, rescuing them from the dusty shelves of the archives and introducing them to a new generation.

5. Decemberists, The Crane Wife

Trip: I love the Decemberists when they’re going for that Waterboys’ Fisherman’s Blues vibe, but reach for the skip button when they conjure up the ELP Tarkus vibe.

Michael: This one didn’t appeal to me as immediately as Picaresque did, but it’s awfully impressive. Colin Meloy has the kind of ambition that’s frowned on by some of the too-cool-for-school indie types who lack the talent to pull this sort of thing off. This is an important band.

4. Beck, The Information

Trip: I love the idea of Beck and his audio jambalaya, but The Information doesn’t hold up to repeated listens as the songwriting lags. His recent tour was a total blast, complete with puppets and dinner on stage.

Michael: I have a handful of Beck albums, and they’re all terrific, but I rarely go back to them. So acquiring this one slid down the list of things to do, and then slid off of it.

3. KT Tunstall, Eye To The Telescope

Trip: I’m speechless. Just for perspective, previous WXPN countdowns had as the # 3 record – Beck’s Guero (2005), Dylan’s Love and Theft (2001), Emmylou’s Red Dirt Girl (2000) and Patty Griffin’s Flaming Red (1998).

Michael: Her swaggering live take on our theme song makes Tunstall slag-proof in my book.

2. Gnarls Barkley, St. Elsewhere

Trip: “Crazy”.

Michael: This album seems like a strange choice amid the strum-a-rama that is this countdown, but it’s a skittish, quirky, funky delight. A truly inspired outing.

1. Bob Dylan, Modern Times

Trip: While I can’t get past his voice on the last three records, there’s no denying his songwriting artistry remains unparalleled, no matter who he’s stealing from / being influenced by. No rock artist has been as consistently bewitching, innovative and relevant… huzzah!

Michael: Ho hum. Another year, another terrific record by AARP’s coolest member. The best touring band in rock and roll brings power and grace to a fine batch of songs by the best writer we’ve known. It wasn’t my favorite record of the year, but it’s a fitting way to end.