Recently, Tim Broun, whom I’ve known since we were both teenagers, asked me to contribute a playlist to his articulate, fascinating, and arcane music blog, STUPEFACTION (http://theworldsamess.blogspot.com/). This is very flattering, since other people who have been bestowed with this honor include Vini Reilly, Keith Levene, Twink, James Williamson, Hugo Burnham, Andrew Loog Oldham, Viv Albertine, and many etceteras.
Now, when asked to come up with a list like this, there are so many different directions one can go in.
There’s the “I am Going To Impress Everyone With My Oblique and Obscure Knowledge” list; these generally involve the words “Scott 2” or “Scott 3,” but these lists tend to be no-win situations, because no matter how much impressively obscure shit you think you know, there’s always someone out there who knows more (“Wait! This Neanderthal listed ‘Scott 3’ but not ‘Scott 4’?!?”). There’s the “I am a man of the people and I may run into Dave Marsh at a party list”: this one will generally includes a lot of Springsteen, Petty, and Fogerty, and this, too, is a no-win proposition, because ultimately liking the same things as Dave Marsh is a completely unrewarding pursuit, and it’s likely you’ll end up having a discussion with someone and having to pretend to like Billy Joel, Green Day, or Paul Simon. Another approach is the “I am going to impress Layne or another suitably hip 20 year old and reel off ten bands from the last five years, not one of whose complete album I listened to more than twice.” This, too, is a certain dead-end, because no matter how much people in their 40’s, 50’s, and 60s pretend to care about recent music, to the 20-something you are trying to impress you will always just be someone the same age as their dad. Finally, there’s the “Lots and Lots of Radiohead” list, and this is perhaps the least rewarding avenue of them all, because a) it has been scientifically proven that anyone who goes on and on about any Radiohead album except for The Bends is just pretending to like it, groaning through every second going “Wow, this sounds like something really really important and I better like it,” and b) anyone who goes on and on about any Radiohead album except for The Bends clearly hasn’t heard Porcupine Tree, who do everything people think Radiohead do a lot better than Radiohead actually do it.
SO, when Tim Broun asked me to put together a list, I decided to be completely, well, honest. I decided to simply make a list of the songs I would rather listen to more than any other songs. These aren’t necessarily my favorite bands, nor are these tracks necessarily from my most treasured albums; these are just the ten songs I would rather hear more, and more frequently, than any other. In other words, if I was going to some mythical desert island and was allowed to take an iPod that could only have ten songs on it, and I had to choose ten songs to listen to the rest of my life and no others, what ten would I pick?
I hope you don’t mind going on this terribly self-indulgent voyage with me, full of all the proselytizing and self-congratulating implied by such lists. Oh, and In point of fact, the list I gave Tim had 30 songs on it, but here’s just the top ten, along with explanations/justifications:
1. HALLOGALLO by Neu! There are a handful of musical moments that have shook my life mightily; sometimes these moments are delineated by the awe and power of rock’n’roll, or it’s enormous potential to evoke emotion from us, even if we are not entirely sure why. Other times, these landmark moments are triggered when we hear something that announces to us “This is possible; this idea, this way of doing things that you were previously unaware of, now exists.” Most certainly, both on a personal and cultural level, songs like “Blitzkrieg Bop,” “Waiting for the Man,” and “Gloria” by Patti Smith had this impact on many of us; but no single song ever changed my view of the musically possible more than “Hallogallo,” the opening track on the first Neu! album. Deeply powerful, meditative, multi-layered but supremely simple, mono-chordal but not mono-chromatic, it announced the extraordinary power, dexterity, variety, and intensity that could be explored – EXPLODED – by an exposition of one chord over a tic-tock-second-hand-simple drum beat. Patient and impatient, explosive and restrained, , after I heard “Hallogallo,” I never heard anything the same way again. True. Certainly, other artists had explored maximum minimalism, and how much could be done with such simple parts (I won’t say “how much could be done with so little,” since “Hallogallo” is anything but little) – but no one had done it with such joy, such restraint, such wide-screen reach, such invention, and all without ever reaching a climax – the song threatens to take off, but never quite does – thereby implying infinity.
2. KNOW YOUR PRODUCT by The Saints. By 1977, the Saints, possibly the first modern punk rock band (I will explain this claim and the research that supports it at another time), had one extraordinary album under their belt, blending the roaring guitars of the Stooges, the simple rhythms of the ‘60s Beat bands, and a deep, tearing soul that had more to do with Van Morrison than Johnny Rotten. “Know Your Product” was the first single off their second album, and it brought it all together with the almost mystically-inspired notion of adding fat, melodic, punching Stax horns to the punk rock template. The result was (in my opinion) the best pure rock 45 of the last forty years, and likely punk’s pinnacle non-Ramones moment. Joy, joy, joy, INSANE hooky horns, and one of punk’s very best vocalists, all tearing the roof down. YES.
3. DOT DASH by Wire. Recently, I yammered on in this column about “flawless” albums, and I mentioned that Wire’s debut album, Pink Flag, came very, very close to being one of these. In fact, it’s my opinion that the first three Wire albums are the best consecutive “run” of albums in the last forty years (but that’s another story). “Dot Dash” was released as a 45 between the text-driven hissing frenzy of Pink Flag and the radioactive whirrs of Wire’s second album, the brilliant Chairs Missing (it is included on some reissues of the latter; an abomination that disrupts the artists’ original intentions, but that, too, is another story). To me, the extremely hummable, brittle but sugary “Dot Dash” is what Television could have sounded like if they weren’t so hung up on jazz scales and appearing “smart,” but instead just played deeply from the heart and made it up as it came to them. It is a smart, shifty, eternal song, somehow both of the desert and of the city, and it’s one of the greatest singles of all time.
4. THE LONELY SURFER by Jack Nitzsche. A majestic, glowing instrumental, the perfect theme to the most monumental movie about the Twang That Knows No End, from the era when a 6-string Fender baritone guitar could signal the dawn of the age of enlightenment and the stirring, full-bodied, cinematic orchestral arrangement, full of soaring unison strings, could herald the most perfect pink sunset on the very same radiant day. In fact, the whole album this comes from is essential, what the Shadows would have sounded like if they were dosed with acid and locked in a drive-in playing Westerns starring Jesus Christ. Speaking of which…
5. THEME FROM A SUMMER PLACE by Percy Faith. The “Easy Listening” High Lamas of the 1960s knew their shit; this pulsing, soaring, insanely melodic endless delight of strings and memory paved the way for Pet Sounds and the godly excesses of Scott Walker, and if there’s a more instantly evocative and moving melody in the realm of modern-ish music, I haven’t heard it. I mean there is nothing wrong with this song. It works for the hipster and the supermarket stroller and the delivery room and the graveside. It is loud Sensurround teardrops, every shade of the heart in music form.
6. OTIS by Durutti Column. Yes, another instrumental! In fact, there are five of them in my top ten. Simple, original, sighing, deep, laden with space but utterly full, “Otis” is the work of the most underrated guitarist of his time, Vini Reilly, who produces something subtle without being soft, delicate while still being deeply punk rock, presaging new age without being asinine; this song is full of air but held to the earth by the singing, sinewy, echoing guitar that so deeply influenced the Edge and Michael Brook, but which neither of those players ever coalesced into such a single, perfect song.
7. ALBATROSS by Fleetwood Mac. Uh-huh. The fifth and final instrumental. A perfect heartbeat captured in the studio, a dream-like pulse and a late-night/early morning melody, barely there but just firm enough; unlike the earlier cited instrumentals, this one is both gossamer-transparent and the most rock’n’roll of all of ‘em. “Quiet” rock is virtually invented right here, care of one of the greatest guitarists of all time, Peter Green, here translating his deepest hopes and woes into an almost invisible melodic trail of tears and resolve, over the incredibly simple, unwavering, almost PiL-like support of McVie and Fleetwood. Oh, the Beatles “borrowed” this song and it’s feel, almost without alteration, for “Sun King” on the Abbey Road album, and I still don’t understand why Green and the Mac didn’t sue the Fabs back into the old, cold cellars of Liverpool.
8. CHEREE by ? and the Mysterians. Yes, it’s a cover, but what an original, stunning record. There’s a promise rock’n’roll once made, a promise made by Hardrock Gunther and Johnny Burnette and even Sun Elvis, a promise that rock’n’roll was going to be a shivering, shimmery mystery, full of dark woods, deep swamps, and highways disappearing into a hazy distance; “Cheree” fulfills this promise, as no other record does.
9. Memphis Egypt by THE MEKONS. Now, you may recall I wrote a whole column about this one song at an earlier date; suffice it to say that an entire generation of punk rock reaches it’s apogee with this roaring, soaring song, full of Footie-anthem-friendly collapsing riffs and layers of Pistolian/Ralphian guitars; and only in the fullest realization of a genre – in this case, punk – can that whole generation be revealed (via the lyrics) as being full of charlatans and liars, constant repeaters of a beautiful promise that no one ever planned to keep. Oh, by “Ralphian,” I am alluding to Mick Ralphs, because that is a gentleman with a good, greasy punk rock guitar sound.
10. RAMONES (full album), by The Ramones. Because, it is (as I have discussed earlier) one of the only two perfect albums ever made, and because it is a rush of roaring joy from first second to last, and because it is the highest art that rock music can ever achieve yet it never insists on itself as art, and because it is the revolution that never was revolting, and because it’s everything that was wonderful about the dumbest melody you ever heard and the loudest pure bar chord you ever heard, and because nothing about any aspect of it’s performance or production obscures for one tiny second it’s mission to set off the H-Bomb without harming a soul.
Now, as for the rest of the list — that’s 11 (“Mongoose” by Fu Manchu through 30 (“Orinoco Flow” by Enya) — you’ll just have to go to Tim Broun’s website.