The Mike Megamix
So I'm on this mailing list and the guy who runs it (who is also the ostensible subject of the list, the band Severed Heads) asked everyone to submit their list of their 12 most influential songs.
I went a bit overboard with my commentary, but I kind of like it, so here it is.
Others should feel free to post their (not necessarily so annotated) lists as well.
"Rid of Me," 4-Track Demos, PJ Harvey, 1993
"There's music beyond MC Hammer!"
For many years (like 10) I only listened to Disney soundtrack albums and the white album, which was pretty much all I had.
Eventually I started groping into the light: Motley Crue, then MC Hammer, and then Nirvana happened (see below), and I was fine.
But I was still pretty radio-bound.
One day I bought "To Bring You My Love" because I thought it was Elastica (shuddup, I was a confused teen) and liked it a lot.
I told my friend Vanessa about that and she gave me "4-Track Demos."
I was absolutely blown away.
It said to me that I could take my guitar and my 4-track and make great music, and is the reason I'm a musican today.
Vanessa was my musical savior--I think her first mix tape for me included Tom Waits, Gavin Friday, and a bunch of great electronic stuff.
See also: "Losing My Religion," REM, "Girls and Boys," Blur, "Connection," Elastica, "No Money No Honey," Beck.
PS: I saw her perform this at the Hammerstein Ballroom last year (is this a story I've told before?) by herself on a huge stage with just an electric guitar.
She didn't move.
It was one of the most mezmerizing things I've ever seen, and everyone I talked to who went to the show mentions it.
(One unfortunate side effect of which is that the lead singer of my last band thought that meant that SHE could stand up there by herself with a guitar and be that cool.
Sorry, honey, you're not PJ Harvey.)
Along with Elvis ejaculating in his leather pants during the '68 comeback special, it's one of my artistic ideals.
"Sue's Last Ride," Horse Stories, Dirty 3, 1996
"You can make violin music that's fucking hardcore!"
Look, it's a great fucking song: it starts off slow and beautiful, and then slowly builds, and hits a drone that becomes an almost Who-ish vamp before the final section, which is, really, perfect.
It's loud, it's very dirty, and it's trance-inducing in a way that "trace" music can't be without lots of intoxicants--which is fine, too, but you can play this track in your bedroom and it provokes a real physical reaction, knocking you back on your toes.
Brings the kind of "old, weird" violin music into noise-rock.
Made me pick up my violin again.
See also: "Kappa," Mogwai, "The Curse of Milhaven," Nick Cave.
"Kickstart My Heart," Dr.
Feelgood, Motley Crue, 1989
"There's good pop bands besides the Beatles!"
Yeah, yeah, it's Motley Crue, but whatever--I distinctly remember copying this over and over on a 90-minute casette so I could have my own little loop.
I played it real loud on my thirdhand boombox while making notes about Mesopotamia in my bedroom.
In retrospect, that girl Tami in 4th grade was pretty cool for having her Guns 'n' Roses denim jacket.
Embarassing as it was to my parents, it nevertheless started me on the path away from classical and Weird Al.
(Yes, I was a huge Weird Al fan as a kid.)
See also: "Cherry Pie," Warrant, "Livin' On a Prayer," Bon Jovi, "Paradise City," Guns 'n' Roses, "Back in Black," AC/DC.
"The Facts of Life," Black Box Recorder, The Facts of Life, 2000
"You can make good electronic pop music!"
Cliched though it may be, I spent a semester in London during college and discovered a lot of good music, including this, along with Mogwai, Dirty 3, Trail of Dead, Primal Scream, Death in Vegas, etc.
It may be obvious, but it's no different from the kind of critical distance/naivite that allows British critics to discover otherwise overlooked American bands that may seem overly familiar or, well, American to yanks.
Obviously this impulse has produced some unbecoming cum-fests (first line of Pitchfork's review of the Fischerspooner album: "The British are coming.
All over this album.") but it's also brought some damn fine music to light.
Anyway, this is great shit.
I became an instant fan of Haines when I got this album, and was also amazed at the radio.
There are those songs that you wonder why the hell they aren't getting massive spins on the radio ("Baudelaire" by Trail of Dead, most recently) but then there are those that you wonder how the hell they sneaked on.
Along with this one, "She Don't Use Jelly" by the Flaming Lips springs to mind.
Haines has an ascerbic wit and a real ear for melody and arrangement that I'd love to emulate.
I'd also love to have him produce an album for me.
See also: "Letter From an Occupant," New Pornographers, "What About Us," Brandy, "Music," Madonna.
"Smells Like Teen Spirit," Nirvana, Nevermind, 1991
"I think I just reached puberty!"
Hard to know what else to say about this particular song, except that it made me like good music.
I look at the various moments in music that I wished I'd been there for, and then I look at this one and realize that I was the model of the kid for whom Nevermind really, really mattered.
It's hard to say enough about it, so I'll say too little.
The more I revisit Nirvana the more I appreciate what they did; I can move from "this is catchy!"
and "this is loud!"
to "wow, they covered the Vaselines!"
and "this really is an amazing distillation of the last 20 years of music!"
Also, my girlfriend's male ideal is Krist Novacelic.
No, I'm not kidding.
See also: "Jeremy," Pearl Jam, "Rags and Bones," Nomeansno, "Longview," Green Day, "Violet," Hole.
"Who's Got the Crack," The Moldy Peaches, s/t, 2001
"Novelty songs are legitimate music!"
Since I moved to New York last year, it's really been about four bands: the Strokes, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Interpol, and the Moldy Peaches.
All are good, but with the Peaches, I listened to them and thought, "Wow, this is me."
Seriously, I was the first person I knew to discover them, and I knew that if someone liked me, they would like the Peaches.
Although I guess my friends are the kind of people who make up their own dances to "Baby Beluga."
I just love 'em--they're nice, and funny, and scatalogically weird in the grand tradition of cute, scatologically weird bands (the Frogs, the Vaselines, early Beck) who you can never really accuse of "selling out" because no one has a top 10 hit like that unless it's 1992.
I'm preparing a lengthy discourse on the subject for a lecture, but re novelty songs: the thing about them is that they have to be really well-written.
You can't get away without a melody in a novelty song very easily.
And there has to be a lot of attention to the lyrics, two qualities I value in songs.
They're the most underappreciated American art form.
See also: "Birdhouse in Your Soul," They Might Be Giants, "Punk Rock Academy," Atom and His Package, "Hotel Yorba," the White Stripes, "The Luckiest Guy on the Lower East Side," Magnetic Fields.
"Catstep/My Kitten/Catnap Vatstep DSP," Kid606, Down w/the Scene, 2000
"It's electronic noise-rock!"
My taste in electronic music is horrendously unhip, but I will admit to being a big Kid606 fan, though this was probably aided by being out of the electro loop for most of my life.
This album sounded like what I had been doing with my guitar and my four track, but more electronic.
It spoke to my brain in a way few other things have; it pipes a direct line in there and sooths and strokes it.
It's inventive, it's funny, it's hyper, it's juvenile, and it's fun.
See also: "You Ain't Nothing," Alec Empire, "Encores" album, Christian Marclay, Plunderphonics box set, "Clifford Darling" album, Severed Heads.
"Common People," Pulp, Different Class, 1995
"Fucking Britpop man!"
Strange as it may seem, more than anything this got me to respect synths again.
It's just one of those songs that's so good that it makes you like a lot of things associated with it--for me, that included synths, Britpop, cabaret-pop, overt sexuality in songs, and doing punk songs as pop.
(It's got 3 chords, count 'em.)
It also introduced me to Jarvis, certainly one of my musical heroes--a pop star who manages to not act like a dumb pop star without seeming like he hates being a pop star.
His recent wedding announcement was very cute.
I just wish they'd come to America more.
They could sleep on my couch and everything.
Sweet mewling lord Jesus, this is a great song.
"Dragon Lady," The Geraldine Fibbers, Lost Somewhere Between the Earth and My Home, 1995
"Country is cool!"
I already sorta knew that, as my mom was from North Carolina, but this reminded me.
I was into folk briefly, and good country music is like (to me) folk but not sucky.
And with cool violins.
This is a particularly good song, simple and poppy with noise-rock touches and some top-level screaming.
Perhaps more importantly, it was the first real indie-rock show I went to, and talked with all the folks in the band, who were very nice to an annoying little freshman acting like a hugely lame dork.
Plus the second album had Nels Cline on it, doing a good melding of noise-jazz with country-punk.
If that makes any sense.
See also: "Halelujlia," Leonard Cohen, "Folsom Prison Blues," Johnny Cash, "Fat Babies," Lyle Lovett.
"He's a Whore," Big Black, Songs About Fucking, 1987
"Noise rock can be pop/covering songs is an art!"
OK, before we say anything else, let's just pause to reflect that "Songs About Fucking" may very well be the best album title ever.
That said, Steve Albini here proves his worth to the world by, after building up a well-deseved rep as an uncompromisingly ascerbic music critic, having his noise-punk-electro/post-punk-industrial band cover a Cheap Trick song.
A good song is a good song, and sometimes it takes the unselfconscious advocacy of a member of a different community to allow that goodness to shine through.
The path from "He's a Whore" to "Smells Like Teen Spirit" is embarassingly short.
See also: "Richter Scale Madness," ...And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead, "Teenage Riot," Sonic Youth, "Smells Like Teen Spirit," Tori Amos, "If Drinkin' Don't Kill Me," Geraldine Fibbers, "Marquee Moon," Television.
"Silent All These Years," Tori Amos, Little Earthquakes, 1992
"A classical training can help you make good music."
It's my great shame: I was a huge Tori Amos fan.
For quite some time.
But I don't feel too horribly bad about it.
Anyway, I don't want to dwell on it, but I do still think this is a great song, as is most of her first album (with the exception of the excerable "China") and hopefully one day I can rescue her from the evil clutches of her low-self-esteemy-whiny-teen-girl fans with a well-placed cover.
I'd also like to produce one of her albums, but shh!
"Radiation Vibe," Fountains of Wayne
It seems like every indie-geek musician boy I know who plays guitar loves FoW.
They're just so purely pop, with such great melodies, hooks, senses of humor, and arranging instincts that you can't help but fall in love.
But they also provide (to me) a model of songwriting happily divorced both from the singer/songwriter of folk and the might-as-well-be-singer/songwriter of so many one man bands.
Songs that are written to require a band, that can only express their individuality and power through the collective creation of a group of musicians, which bury the words and the voice in a lot of great music, can get played on the radio and sung along to and danced to and covered by famous people.
As nice as it is to be an in-the-know indie kid who's got his own little band that he and 12 other people in town know about and go to the shows and know all the words and talk with the band members afterwards and exchange e-mails--as nice as it can be to be like that, on both sides of the equation, there's something to be said for "Nevermind," too--for playing to stadiums full of teenagers at their first concert, driven there by their parents and sneaking a smoke because they think the security guards are going to take it away and telling their parents afterwards that there was a big guy with a mustache smoking next to them and that's why they smell like that.
And thinking when you're writing songs that, well, that first concert can either be Creed or it can be me, and knowing that it's a silly thing to think, but thinking it anyway.
See also: "Creep," Radiohead, "Radio Radio," Elvis Costello, "Downtown Train," Tom Waits, "Awful," Hole, "Anarchy in the UK," Sex Pistols, "Kiss," Prince, "Born to Run," Bruce Springsteen, "Roadrunner," Modern Lovers.
Mike Barthel, music industry whore, Brooklyn NY USA
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