Friday, April 24, 2009

Weekend Listomania (Special Solipsism is Great, Everybody Should Try It! Video Edition)

Well, it's Friday and you know what that means. Yes, my Oriental fille de nuit nutritional consultant Fah Lo Suee and I will be travelling to San Diego, California, home of lovely Miss USA runner-up Carrie Prejean. Miss Prejean is apparently so depressed about her treatment at the hands of Paris Hilton's brother that she has asked me to have relentlessly heterosexual relations with her to get over it, and by heterosexual I mean that nothing untoward will be allowed near either her hoohah or her woohoo, if you catch my drift.

That being the case, it will obviously take me at least a day and a half to warm her up, so posting by moi will necessarily be sporadic for the forseeable future.

But in my absence, here's a fun project for us all to contemplate:

Post Elvis Songs or Records That Changed Your Life!!!

Self-explanatory, I think, so no arbitrary rules this time. Except that we're specifically talking here about singles or album cuts, NOT whole albums (a topic for another time). Also, I'm disqualifying anything by the Beatles on the grounds that there are just too damned many tunes by the Fabs to choose from and that they're a little too obvious choices in any case.

Okay, and my totally top of my head Top Seven, in chronological order, would be:

7. The Rolling Stones -- It's All Over Now

The Valentinos original of this (featuring Bobby Womack) is superficially similar -- two guitars, bass and drums, and a singer up front -- but if you've ever heard it, you know that it's actually kind of jolly. The Stones rethink keeps the basic arrangement model intact, but the guitars are stripped down to ominous Travis-picking meets scrubbed metal Chuck Berry, and the whole thing is invested with a palpable sense of menace completely unprecedented in pop music at the time. Plus: the concluding fade-out, with those circular guitar riffs altered just slightly each time as the echo creeps in, marks (no doubt about it) the birth of the style and esthetic we'd later call Minimalism. Alas, in the 70s, that moron Phillip Glass went on to adopt it for four-hour operas, thus totally missing the point, but this is what it's supposed to sound like.

Bottom line: Hearing this under a pillow via transistor radio over WMCA-AM is when I decided that Andrew Oldham's liner note claim -- that the Stones weren't just a band, they were a way of life -- wasn't as asinine as it seemed at first.

6. The Byrds -- The Bells of Rhymney

If there's a more beautiful sound in all of nature than that of a Rickenbacker 12-string guitar well played, I have yet to hear it. In any case, this song -- even more than "Mr. Tambourine Man" -- is where the Church of the Rickenbacker opened. Four decades later, I'm still dropping by for services, if you'll pardon the perhaps inelegant metaphor.

5. The Beach Boys -- When I Grow Up

Obviously, it's melodically gorgeous and the harmonies exquisite. But it's also the first rock song (for me anyway) that combines adolescent angst and something like mature wisdom; when people say that Brian Wilson invented the whole confessional California songwriting school that people usually associate with Joni Mitchell or Jackson Browne, this is the song they have in mind, I think. Although "In My Room" or "Don't Worry Baby" are contenders as well.

5. The Miracles -- The Tracks of My Tears

This wasn't the first r&b record I loved, but it's the first one I bought and played as obsessively as I did any Beatles 45. Everything about it just killed me; the oddly sinister yet lovely sound of the guitars at the beginning, the way the rhythm section falls effortlessly into place, the sensual longing in Smokey's voice contrasted with the almost churchy background vocals...I still can't listen to it without thinking there's some detail I've missed, one that if I could only hear at last then some tremendous secret would be revealed. I suspect I'm not the only person who feels that way, BTW.

6. Jimmy Cliff -- The Harder They Come

A great song and a great voice, to be sure, and recognizably rock-and-roll, but at the same time it was indisputably...well, something else. If Sly Stone hadn't already titled an album A Whole New Thing, the movie soundtrack this astounding song derives from could easily have copped it.

3. Bruce Springsteen -- Spirit in the Night

The first time I heard this, the snare drum and near-mythic sax wail that open it hit me so hard that I thought I'd been wacked upside the head with a 2X4. Then I noticed the lyrics and had the absolutely eerie sensation that Springsteen had been reading my mail. Want to know what it felt like to be a a 20-something with no direction home in the early 70s? All you have to do is listen....

2. R.E.M. -- Radio Free Europe

Some records just have a vibe about them. Here's one (and the same can be said of Murmur as a whole) that has it in spades, a certain indefinable something that simply grabs you (or at least me) and won't let go. First time I heard it, I remember thinking it sounded simultaneously space age modern and as old as the hills. Still an apt description, actually.

1. The La's -- There She Goes

Like "Tracks of My Tears" years before, when this first came out I played it over and over and over again in the hope of finally being able to hear into the sheer sonic density of it. I still do, from time to time, and to this day I haven't quite figured out what that twelve-string riff means. Or why Lee Mavers' voice sounds so simultaneously familiar and eerie, Or, finally, who she is and where the hell she's going.

Awrighty then -- what would your choices be?

[Shameless Blogwhore: My parallel Cinema Listomania -- theme: Great Cinematic Ghost Stories, Horror or Comedy -- is now up over at Box Office. As always, if you could see your way to go over there and leave a comment, it would reassure management that like the woman in that hair color commercial, I'm worth it. Thanks!]


geor3ge said...

Elvis Costello. Deep Dark Truthful Mirror.

dave™© said...

"Reach Out (I'll Be There)" by the Four Tops had to have been out at least five years before I first heard it, and it immediately haunted me. "Good Vibrations" had been out just a couple of years before I first heard it, and I remember playing it over and over and over. And I remember the first time I heard "You've Lost That Loving Feeling" and working damn hard to find the 45.

TJWood said...
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TJWood said...

Just one entry of my own this time:

The Smiths, "How Soon Is Now"? Since then, Johnny Marr has been the guitar player I wanted to be.

I concur on R.E.M. and Murmur, though. If I don't quite measure up chops-wise to Marr, I'll take being Pete Buck.

Brooklyn Girl said...

All three of Dave's are iconic for me, too. But my first choices are:

"I'm A Man" by the Yardbirds ... the guitar frenzy at the end was unlike anything I had ever heard before. (I would have chosen "Train Kept A-Rollin" but "I'm A Man" comes before it on the album.)

"Gimme Some Lovin' " by the Spencer Davis Group ... that opening! That voice! I ran right to my local record store and was so desperate to own it, the guy took pity on me and sold me the demo.

"Somebody To Love" ... ah, Gracie.

"Round and Round" by the Stones. Chuck Berry, only better. It had a mysterious something else ... I dunno ... maybe sex?

"Not Fade Away/Goin' Down The Road Feelin' Bad" by the Dead ... first time I ever heard one song morph into another one.

Unknown said...

So far nobody's mentioned the king of all life-changers: Bob Dylan. There are a lot of his tunes that changed my life at different times and for different reasons. One story will suffice.

It was the fall of 1966, my first day back at boarding school for my second year, in my new room. My parents had just driven back to our home 1,000 miles away. I had been dreading this moment all summer, because the previous year had been the year that will always remain the worst of my life, the year I met the Suicide Salesman who lived in my brain, the year I learned that every ideal my parents had was wrong, that the world was not the way they told me it was, that I was on my own in it and everyone I would meet from now on wanted me out of the way.

The room I was expected to live through another dark New Hampshire winter in was four feet wide and ten feet long. Most of it was taken up by a bed and a desk. It was separated from the room next door by a thin partition that stopped a foot below the ceiling. Through this partition, as I put away my clothes, I heard a needle drop on a record player, a harmonica intro, then, "Ain't it just like the night to play tricks when you're trying to be so quiet?" And I have never been the same.

I felt like the Count of Monte Cristo, when he first hears tapping on the stone walls of his cell. This sound was going to keep me alive. It wasn't just that the writer was able to put my loneliness, depression, and fear into words and music. It was that under the loneliness, depression, and fear there was a toughness that could keep you alive wherever you found yourself, a toughness he knew I possessed, and that he was making me realize at that moment that I possessed, which had kept me alive so far even though I hadn't known about it until now.

I am alive today because of "Visions of Johanna." I went looking for Mona Lisa with the Highway Blues, for the all-night girls who whisper of escapades out on the D train, for Louise and her handful of rain, and I found them, just as he said I would. And I wrote it down and sang it, because he had given me permission. It came out in my own voice, the way his came out in his, and I've been following that voice ever since, the voice he told me I have.

As he wrote in a song from years later that I still sing from time to time, "I'm still carrying the gift you gave./It's a part of me now it's been cherished and saved./I'll take it with me into the grave/And into eternity."

NYMary said...

Well, after Peter's story, this seems pretty shallow, I know, but here are mine, more or less in the order they hit me:

Shoes-Tomorrow NightI was 12 and my brother (27) bought this record and told me I would like it. First, though, he played a song he knew I liked: The Beatles "The Night Before." Then he put this on. He was right.

REM: It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)Not just me: everyone I knew heard this song on the radio at a time when they really really needed to hear it. In my case, it was at the end of a difficult semester when I was finally working up the courage to walk out of a difficult relationship.

Matthew Sweet, GirlfriendChanged everything. I hadn't listened to new music in years when a friend gave me this. Blown. Away.

Replacements, UnsatisfiedJust personal: Thers gave me this song at one of the darkest periods of my life, and it articulated so clearly--and simply--what the problem was that I walked away and never looked back.

NYMary said...

Ooo, and as a bonus, there's my new FB friend Ric Menck drumming for Sweet! Cool!

megisi said...

Rolling Stones' Love in Vain ... said, "what the ...? grabbed the album cover and asked, "who is this 'R. Johnson' guy?" ... and I went and found the Blues.

Murmur ... friend called me late at night, right after its release, and said, "you have to hear this" so I drove over ... I had the same "holy shit" reaction ... changed my ears up considerable, it did.

The Beatles ... from the first note of Please Please Me ... I wanted to be a part of whatever was making that sound ... in a household that didn't permit it.

Anonymous said...

I don't know that any of these changed my life, just that it would be poorer without them (and these are just off the top of my head, tomorrow's list could be way different)

R.E.M., Can't Get There From Here
Springsteen, Open All Night
the Who, Behind Blue Eyes
the Kinks, Lola
Jefferson Airplane, Somebody to Love (no one, but no one, sounds like Grace Slick)
Cream, White Room
Jen Trynin, anything from the "Cockamamie" CD
Waylon Jennings, This Time

nick carraway

Anonymous said...

One last: Tragically Hip, Wheat Kings-- this song is what 'high lonesome' country music tries to be

nick c

steve simels said...

Peter -- just beautiful. Thanks for sharing that. And it's funny you should mention Visions of Johanna -- with me, it was in 1973, and out of the blue the guys at the bootleg label Trademark of Quality sent me a package of like thirty amazing boots, including some of then unreleased Dylan stuff.

When I heard the unreleased studio version of Johanna with the Hawks -- which I think is the greatest thing Bob did or ever will do -- I nearly lost it.

BTW, I'll send the mp3 to anybody who wants it.

And Mary == I was going to end the list with the Replacement's Unsatisfied, but I couldn't find a decent video version. And I know exactly what you mean about it...

Gummo said...

"Gloria" by Patti Smith -- that opening line - 'Jesus died for somebody's sins... but not mine' was one of the most thrilling acts of musical defiance I had ever heard, esp. in 1970s America, when fundamentalism was once again making itself a force in public life and politicians were starting to fall all over themselves prostrating before God and Jebus.

"Dark Star" by the Grateful Dead. I first heard this on the radio as a young teen (when radio would still play 20 minutes songs) and even though I was already a fan, I was only familiar with Workingman's Dead and American Beauty and maybe Skull'n'Roses. I had heard of the psychedelic Dead, but I had never actually heard them.

Well, I just sat there on my bedroom floor for the whole 20 minutes, mesmerized. When it was over, I said to myself, this must be what being stoned feels like.

A few years later, I found out that that was exactly right, so I can honestly say that my first experience with mind alteration was purely musical....

Gwen De Marco said...

The Cars' "You Might Think" made me realize that New Wave might actually be worth listening to ... :-)

Anonymous said...

Today i met the boy im gonna marry - Darlene Love

Uptown - The Crystals

Emmie and Poverty Train -Laura Nyro

My Old Man - Joni Mitchell

these amazing ladies taught me how to sing!

Gummo said...

Hey, steve, why'd you call Phil Ochs an asshole?

I don't think it was his choice to be a bipolar alcoholic.

jackd said...

The Clash's cover of "I Fought the Law". It showed me the catharsis of music that's aggressive, angry, and LOUD. Not that I get to indulge that taste very often.

Noam Sane said...

Back in the mid-70s, I was probably 14 or so, at night in my bedroom in the upstate NY boondocks, and for some reason I changed the radio station from the commercial top-40 FM station that I always had on, to WRPI-FM, the student radio station of Rensselear Polytechnic Institue in Albany. Out came ELO's "Roll Over Beethoven".

Holy moly. That ended Top 40 for me, which by that time had pretty much become teh suck anyway. Seeking out further madcap broadcasting, I stumbled across Albany's "progressive" WQBK - Q-104, and that station turned me into the RockSnob I am today.

The tragic part of this story is that the Q104 DJs were so great - in particular, the overnight guy, who, between 40-minute Pink Floyd excursions, would ramble on about the music in a near whisper with the sound of wolves howling in the background - that I decided to become one myself.

Of course, by the time I graduated with my Radio-TV degree in 1981, Lee Abrams had come along, the StarStation format was king, and that kind of radio was over. I turned to a life of crime.

But, ELO. I can't believe it myself. It is a great version of the song.

steve simels said...


I was overstating about Ochs, although I've always felt his tragedy was that he was basically a One Issue Guy.

When the war was over, he basically thought he had nothing left.

Which is a terrible shame, because in reality he had lots to give and lots to live for.


Gummo said...

See, steve, when you explain it, I end up agreeing nearly 100%.

Yeah, some of Ochs' most beautiful music had nothing to do with politics. "Changes," "Boy In Ohio," much of the overproduced but still beautiful "Pleasures of the Harbor" album.

But you're right, he couldn't see it -- he was utterly rudderless when political folk started to pass as a big thing. His gold-suit Elvis period was just downright sad, though the music itself was pretty damn good.

For the record, the Ochs song that I could probably have included on this list was "Tape From California," not for any particular reason -- there's just something so exhilarating about that tune, even though much of the lyrics are desperate and despairing.

Anonymous said...

I agree completely with the "well-played Rickenbacker" notion. Dozens if not hundreds of songs would fall into this category for me.

While Radio Free Europe got me started on R.E.M., it has to be Pretty Persuasion that go to me the most. That song pretty much invented college radio...

Unsatisfied started me on a long quest to spread the Gospel of the Replacements, even adding them to the top 10 every time the local radio station would call the record store I worked in for the weekly top sellers.

The one song I keep going back to is Tapioca Tundra by the Monkees. It's a Mike Nesmith tune that was the b-side to Valleri. I find it hard to put into words how this song gets me.

steves simels said...

The one song I keep going back to is Tapioca Tundra by the Monkees. It's a Mike Nesmith tune that was the b-side to Valleri. I find it hard to put into words how this song gets me.

4/24/2009 12:37 PM
Jeez, I don't know that one, and I'm a huge Nes fan.

Thanks for the tip...I'll go download.....

Noam Sane said...

I must have listened to Tapioca Tundra a thousand times when I was a kid. Liked it better than the A side.
Great song, cool production.

msw said...

at age 8: Beatles - Hard Day's Night
(wore wig, strummed tennis racket)

at age 10: Paul Revere and the Raiders - Kicks
(assumed ownership of older brothers silvertone guitar)

at age 12: The Who - I Can See for Miles
(broke silvertone guitar, became enthralled with older brothers Playboy mags)

at age 14: Neil Yong - Ohio
(bought piece of crap acoustic guitar)

at age 18: Patti Smith - Gloria
(oh, that's why I bought that guitar)

at age 20: Sex Pistols - Anarchy in the UK
(bought electric guitar, dropped out of college, started band)

at age 26: Richard Thompson - Shoot out the lights
(oh, that's how you to play guitar, back to college)

at age 41: The Anthology of American Folk Music (just Brings it All Back Home)


Who Am Us Anyway? said...

Peter – thanks for that wonderful piece on VOJ; it made my day.

While no other artist means as much to me as Dylan; I’ll go with a 45 I heard when I was but knee high to a married grasshopper. When I was 11, my best friend Dennis’s older sister was an indescribably cool rock ‘n roll teen with tons-o-hoody boyfriends who drove muscle cars & parked outside her house all night. I worshipped her from afar. But she was also inexplicably kind and friendly to me & let us listen to her records. One day while Dennis & I were playing pool in the basement the brand new record Paint it Black dropped out of the stack & onto the turntable & Dennis casually said, “This song is about this guy’s girlfriend died.” I immediately challenged with, “How do you know?” And he said “My sister told me. She listens to the words.” Until that precise moment it honestly had never occurred to me that in addition to a cool sound a rock ‘n roll song could be telling a story an interesting story at the same time. I immediately demanded that we replay the record over ‘n over until I could figure out the lyrics myself.

befuggled said...

I was a little late on the REM bandwagon. For me that moment came with "South Central Rain" on "Reckoning" (although I loved "Murmur" too).

Then probably "Zen Arcade," which was (in combination with "Let It Be") largely responsible for my joining a band and ruining my academic career.

Mister Pleasant said...

A few songs that instantly transport me to another place - John Cale's "Paris 1919", The Beatles "A Day In the Life", Procol Harum's "A Salty Dog".

And songs that make me ponder life's journey - John Lennon's "Instant Karma", Procol's "Pilgrim's Progress" , and especially Buffy Sainte-Marie's sad and wise "Generation".

Lastly, songs that instantly bring a smile to my face even when I am down - Jason Falkner's "Holiday", The Beatle's "Lady Madonna", Joni Mitchell's "Carey".

Rol said...

Great selections, great blog. I fear my own list would go on for days. I might try compiling it soon.

Gummo said...

Upon reflection, I find that most of my life-changing songs were tunes that I heard and my first reaction was, "I never heard ANYTHING that sounded like that before!"

So based on that I'd have to add the first time I heard the Velvet Underground's "Rock and Roll" in a friend's basement way back in the day.

And that day in college in '76, after reading all the hype, inexplicably finding the then-brand new first Ramones album in a bargain bin (!) and bringing it back to my apartment and playing it while my roommates declared the biggest piece of garbage they'd ever heard. Within 2 weeks, all 3 of us were playing it constantly.

And that day in '78 my anarcho-commie boss had me over to his apartment and played the "Modern Dance" album by Pere Ubu. I was appalled and enthralled at the same time.

Libby Spencer said...

I always feel really lame posting here in the face of you much cooler peeps than me, but I'll play. My list would also be very long if I listed them all, but here's a few that changed me.

Rolling Stones - I'm a King Bee. When I heard this cut I was hooked on those bad boys with the ripped sweatshirts and ragged hair. They made the Beatles look too tame to me and in fact started my lifelong affinity for bad boyz in general.

Herman's Hermits - I'm Into Something Good. I saw him do this one on teevee I think and the biggest teenage crush of my life was born. I really wanted to marry him.

Kinks - You Really Got Me. I loved these guys from the first note but this 45 started my appreciation for the B-side of singles.

Cream - Tales of Brave Ulysses. The first band member I ever dated covered this one. It changed my whole musical focus. At that point I had been listening almost solely to folk.

Rolling Stones - Little Queenie. A local band I used to follow in college covered this song and would play it and dedicate it to me every time I showed up. It made me feel good to be singled out like that, just because they liked me. I never dated anyone in that band.

steve simels said...

Ah, Little Queenie.

I was at the Stones show where that was recorded. I was dumbfounded by how cool it was...

Wendy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Wendy said...

Gummo said...
Upon reflection, I find that most of my life-changing songs were tunes that I heard and my first reaction was, "I never heard ANYTHING that sounded like that before!"
That's true for me, too. And by that criterion, "Whiter Shade of Pale" was an eye/ear opener.

Wendy said...

Hmmmm ... Blogger has the weird habit of removing paragraph markers. Oh well ...

preznit said...

Beatles- "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away" - which got me listening to pop music instead of classical

Elvis Costello- "Hand in Hand" got me out of the art rock wankery of the late 70's

REM-"Carnival of Sorts (Box Cars)" - wow, just wow

Joy Division - "Love Will Tear Us Apart" - got me through many relationships better than Ian Curtis

They Might Be Giants- "Ana Ng" - see REM above

The 6ths- "Falling Out of Love (With You)" - got me through a divorce and into indiepop

Unknown said...

Dear Libby,

There is absolutely NOTHING uncool about the Stones' version of King Bee. Not only does that one track settle for all time the question whether a bunch of adenoidal white teenagers can make convincing blues, it does it while sounding exactly like a bunch of adenoidal white teenagers.

And the Hermits "Something tells me" is a solid little record. Didn't John Paul Jones arrange for them before he joined Led Zep? And, yeah, Herman's Hermits may have been a manufactured pop group, but so was Peter, Paul, and Mary.

You are one cool lady, and it's not just your last name.

peter spencer

cthulhu said...

I'll second ELO's version of "Roll Over Beethoven."

But I gotta give top billing to a couple of Who songs: "Won't Get Fooled Again", of course. But also "Love Reign O'er Me". For a teenager growing up in the sticks in the mid-70s, the bridge on "Love" spoke volumes - "Oh GOD I need a drink / of cool cool rain..." - still sends shivers down my spine.

Libby Spencer said...

Aw shucks Peter. Thanks.

cyndicat said...

Steve, I remember reading somewhere that the 'she' in The La's There She Goes refers to a drug, possibly the same one The Stranglers felt moved to write about in the also awesome Golden Brown.

steves simels said...


I've heard that it's a drug song too. Not sure I believe it, but it's certain plausible....

John Fowler said...
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John Fowler said...

Late to the party again, so this probably fall on deaf ears (eyes?)

will limit myself to songs, as indicated at the top, in hopes that the chances to post on albums will be coming soon...

early 80's, high school - the Who - Behind Blue Eyes - as a morose, girlfriend-less teen (with blue eyes), I thought this was written just to get me through the blues of teenager-hood. Yeah, a bit embarassing now, but there is it...

mid 80's, early college - the Police - King of Pain - as the acceptable edge of New Wave, this was my 'entry drug' to the current/'Alternative' music of the time, and to discovery of the earlier punks (eg, REM, Replacements, Clash, English Beat, Elvis Costello). Although Sting does appear to pretty much be an a--hole, I still think the band had some great singles - although I'd now choose Synchronicity II (despite its pretentious title) over King of Pain, at least off of that album...

early 90's, grad school - NIrvana - Smells Like Teen Spirit - I can still recall, with shivers, the first time I heard this song - out at a dance club in Tucson AZ, it was SO LOUD, and everyone was just losing their minds dancing. And then, that song seemed to be the irresistable force that broke into commercial radio, and was going to finally get the radio to play all sorts of interesting, good music. Of course, that didn't last, but, still, at the time it seemed like it might.