The great John Cusack said in High Fidelity that “The making of a great compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do and takes ages longer than it might seem. You gotta kick off with a killer, to grab attention. Then you got to take it up a notch.” Same rules apply re: The Stones’ 1981 release Tattoo You which was essentially a collection of refurbished outtakes for their coming world tour.
“Start Me Up” stands as one of Keith Richards’ most memorable riffs. Originally cut as a reggae track for Pathe Marconi recording sessions of Some Girls, “Start Me Up” turned into of the great rockers for the Stones. Mick Jagger adds one of his best blues performances and the sing-along “You make a grown man cry” chorus.
“Hang Fire” certainly does kick it up a notch, owing debts to blues, early rock n’ roll, and surf rock. Another great sing-along, “Hang Fire” is also of the most overtly political songs the Stones ever released, taking on the recession of the early 80s in
Bruce Springsteen –
While I’ve always felt a closeness to Springsteen’s vision of the American dream,
The title track and album opener is about the murder spree committed by Charles Starkweather. Delivered at an almost painful whisper, there is a great deal of sympathy in Springsteen’s voice. He’s telling the story of a man and woman driving through the country, leaving what they had behind. Sound familiar? In the sound of “
The Replacements – Let It Be
Really, what can someone say about The ‘Mats that hasn’t already been said? Let It Be stands as their most revered recording, a perfect mesh between Paul Westerberg’s growth as a songwriter and the beautifully sloppy sound that marked the bands early sound. Although I prefer my namesake (and I feel like the coming re-mastering of Tommy Ramone’s treble-happy recording will sway people to my side), I think that Let It Be is a fucking masterpiece.
“I Will Dare” probably stands as the track most people associate with the album. The song is a total statement that the band is entering a new phase and it certainly held the attention of anyone living in the St. Louis area in 1990. Catching your attention is Bob Stinson’s low-end lead that really gives the waltz, but it’s Paul that holds us with, in my opinion, one of his best lyrical performances. Of course there is the great circular path given through the “Meet me any place or anywhere or any time” chorus, but I think that the second verse of the song really highlights what a great writer Paul is. “Ain't lost yet, so I gotta be a winner/Fingernails and a cigarette's a lousy dinner” is one of my favorite lines ever, followed by the beautifully effortless “Young, are you? Ooh ooh.” Really, in those couple of lines, the brilliance and reckless carelessness of the Mats is completely symbolized.
Following “I Will Dare” is the lovely, sloppy, “what the hell did he say?” “Favorite Thing.” More akin to what we heard on Hootenanny, the song is also a hell of a pop number. The sequence of the bridge, guitar solos from both Bob and Paul, and that “You! My favorite thing! Favorite thing! Favorite thing! Once and a while” is brilliant. “Favorite Thing” and “I Will Dare” really just stand out as songs that made the Replacements great. Simple. Catchy. Clever. Careless.
Whiskeytown – Pneumonia
Isn’t it kind of ironic that the first two songs on the last Whiskeytown record are about Ryan Adams being a total asshole? What better way to kick off the record of the band that you’re breaking up because of the fact that you’re a dick than to write two songs about what a dick you are?
Starting with a gentle drum fill,
While Caitlin Cary’s violin is absent in “Carol Lynn,” its gorgeous descending progression shines in “Don’t Wanna Know Why.” The song is heavily layered with acoustic and electric guitars, mandolin, and piano, but its
Although the first track on The Lawrence Arm’s ambitious The Greatest Story Ever Told (a linear story about life in a carnival) is the 26-second "Introduction: The Ramblin' Boys of Pleasure Sing the Hobo Clown Chorus,” the album’s second track and first song is “The Raw and Searing Flesh.” Chris McCaughan’s gentle voice introduces the melodic tune while the band draws out the opening moments with a spaced, open sound. McCaughan sings, “I never want to see you in the raw and searing flesh/I don’t ever want to hear you singing softly to the dead/I never want to feel your skin running warm along my side/I never want to sink that way again/It would be easier to die/To die.” The music breaks and over a sample of the ringleader calling the crowd’s attention, Brendan Kelly’s bass moves from a slow arpeggio to a gorgeous built up. And the band comes out swinging. Chris is in top form as the beautifully melodic tune builds upon his condescending poetry. As the song progresses we see the band move toward the familiar sound that helped establish them as one of
the way the smoke drifts through the air/We'll all be dead come November/four months out of every year” before the song breaks into a gorgeous ending.
As the band fades out, they are met by a cheering crowd until the snap of Neil Hennessy’s snare clears the air for Brendan Kelly to scream “Telephone! Telephone! What did you scream into your telephone? Telephone! What did you scream into your telephone? Telephone!” as the band tears into “On with the Show.” If we are to call “The Raw and Searing Flesh” Chris’ most melodic effort, than “On with the Show” is Brendan’s toughest. Clocking in at 1:29, the song knocks you on your ass as Brendan presents the plight of the album’s protagonist. “I'm a shit stain slave with a grind of my own/I work day and night, less respect than a Juggalo/I'm frying on the outside and frozen in the center/I'm telling you, I'm telling you to watch out for my temper.” The delivery is unrelentingly fierce as the tears through the track, leaving the audience floored and setting up the album with the line “I’m a clown I’m just here to entertain.”
What is unbelievable about these two songs, and what makes them my favorite among the list, is the contrast between the tracks. Paul Westerberg once said that the reason The Replacements were great was because they were able to write a song like “Swingin’ Party” (the sixth track on Tim) and follow it up with a song like “Bastards of Young.” Same rules apply for the Arms, following up a beautifully melodic song with something as ferocious as “On With The Show.”