Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Top Five 1 and 2

Rolling Stones – Tattoo You
  1. Start Me Up
  2. Hang Fire

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 England and the people holding onto their money at the top.

Bruce Springsteen – Nebraska

  1. Nebraska
  2. Atlantic City

While I’ve always felt a closeness to Springsteen’s vision of the American dream, Nebraska seems so desolate and hopeless. Seems like the Boss felt there was no place left to run. The album is a lo-fi masterpiece however, and while I hold closely to Born To Run and Darkness On The Edge of Town, I think Nebraska stands as one of Springsteen’s best.

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 “Nebraska” is not just the story of a murderer, but of Bruce Springsteen re-evaluating the vision he has of America. “They wanted to know why I did what I did/Well, sir, I guess there's just a meanness in this world.” Heartbreaking.

Atlantic City” is a more familiar form for the Boss, as it is a much more linear narrative, but it still comes with the hopelessness of its predecessor. The song is about the early days of legalized gambling in Atlantic City, NJ and the heavy influence that came from the mafia. The song’s protagonist, like many of Springsteen’s characters, is completely disillusioned with the sweat and toil of his life, “tired of comin' out on the losin' end.” He chooses to leave. However, unlike “Thunder Road” or “Born To Run” his choice is to go to Atlantic City on a job for someone in the mob. It’s understood that the end is not going to be a happy one, it’s understood that “everything dies, baby, that’s a fact.” The performance is absolutely perfect. The vocals tell the story of a man pushed to his brink, doing anything he can to get ahead.

The Replacements – Let It Be

  1. I Will Dare
  2. Favorite Thing

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

  1. The Ballad Of Carol Lynn
  2. Don’t Wanna Know Why

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, Adams’ harmonica and a set of low horns introduce the soulful “Carol Lynn.” This is the first song where we can see that Mr. Adams can fucking belt it out. His delivery is very calculated and fitting to the song as he provides a gentle rasp to the very bluesy soul voice he puts down. The song is a very surreal experience as you have a very beautifully produced recording, filled with some very nicely arranged horns, backing up a guy saying “When you need a friend to be there for you, I won’t be one who will help you out/And when you need someone who can let you in, you can count me out/Oh, Carol Lynn.” But on the other hand, it’s also an absolutely gorgeous song.

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 Cary’s violin line that captures you. Ryan’s gentle vocals serve the song perfectly and Cary’s harmonies break your heart. As the two sing the chorus together, “When I breathe in, breathe out/Carry on, carry out/Try to drive through your life” there is a background track of Cary singing something to the extent of "I wish I could/Try to tell you.." that runs perfectly. Ryan and Caitlin’s mesh together beautifully—to this day I get goose bumps every time I hear them. It’s a beautiful parting for a band that was perfect at times, but as Ryan sings, at this point in his life he “don’t wanna know how, you’re feeling, I don’t care.”

The Lawrence Arms – The Greatest Story Ever Told

  1. The Raw And Searing Flesh
  2. On with the Show

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 Chicago’s premier punk rock bands. Then it stops. Singing softly over a muted guitar, Chris says, “I'm trying hard not to remember
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.”


helltoupee said...

The old man suggests: Todd Rundgren’s “Something/Anything” where you get “I Saw The Light” and “It Wouldn't Have Made Any Difference”.

And an album from this year that starts off really well: Nick Cave’s “Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!” which starts with the title track and “Today's Lesson”

When you said you had included "the Whiskeytown album", I assumed you meant "Strangers Almanac" which, of course, meant the 1-2 was “Inn Town” and “Excuse Me While I Break My Own Heart Tonight”. Now that's not a bad 1-2 either. But... it lead me think more about "perfect albums", those records where EVERY song is right. Those records where there's no song you would skip, which sit perfectly in a six disc, random shuffle that allows one to spend hours listening to a continous stream of flawless music. And "Strangers Almanac" fits that category for me.

dave@etd said...

and here I think I like faithless streets first two songs the best.

for one-two how about white light/white heat and the gift?

or dead leaves & the dirty ground and hotel yorba?

I like any list of best anything that includes nebraska, a record so good I swear springsteen stole it; but I wouldn't put those as great one-two punch.