Sunday, October 26, 2008

Top Five Part Five: Robert Smith Guitar Solos

Although heralded for his masterful mopery, Robert Smith has long been neglected as a fine guitarist. He didn't really develop his own sound until the Cure's middle period, but when he did, he spoke gracefully and thoughtfully through his instrument every time. Because there have been so many Cure bootlegs and unofficial recordings that have inevitably made their way through fans' hands over the years, I considered including some of these moments, but ulitimately decided against that because not *everyone* has had the chance to hear them. So, of the officially released stuff, here are my top five favorite Robert Smith guitar solos..

#5 - 'Treasure' (Wild Mood Swings, 1996)
Just gorgeously pretty stuff. Perfectly vintage tone and sound for Mr. Smith. It is perhaps the most representative solo he's ever taken on a record, but it fits the song so incredibly well.

#4 - 'A Night Like This' (live from The Cure In Orange) ('Catch' 12" b-side, 1986)
This is one song where the definitive versions are not studio recordings, but live versions. And it seems like the more they played it, the better it got. Bob (thankfully) did not decide to replicate the sax solo heard on the studio recording, but instead he takes a solo in that spot. I think he pretty much plays the same solo every time on this song (or at least he starts it with the same phrase), but this one just feels completely right. Make that sax solo look silly (or sillier, as the case may be).

#3 - 'Burn' (The Crow soundtrack, 1993)
Epic Cure at its absolute best. The song just builds and builds this unbelieveable tension and it feels like the only time that's slightly relieved is when Bob takes this incredible solo. They really should play this song live.

#2 - 'The Same Deep Water As You' (Disintegration, 1989)
Nearly classical in its scope, I've often said that it's not the lyrics that are the saddest thing about this song, but the solo that Bob takes. It just reaches an unspeakable depth of poignancy.

#1 - 'Faith' (live) ('Charlotte Sometimes' 12" b-side, 1981)
The song 'Faith' is pretty much the blueprint for that vintage Robert Smith six string bass sound and tone, but this epic 10+ minute live recording illustrates fully for the first time the potential the sound and style had for reaching emotional depths. This set the stage for many more epic renditions of the tune in years to come, but this recording from the tour for the Faith album stands out because the tune was still fairly new to the band at this point and, despite the tempo, there is an urgency and longing in the tone of the solos Bob takes. Really superb stuff. Thankfully, it was rescued from out of print Cure b-side obscurity with the deluxe edition of the Faith album a few years ago.


Friday, October 17, 2008

Top Five Part Four: Songs Obama Should've Picked

Let's talk some real talk for a minute folks—

I am one of many people that believes this country (the yoo ess aye) is not going in the right direction. I want everyone I know to vote for Barrack Obama. Not only is he the first black presidential candidate ever, he's the best man for the job that has a real chance at winning the vote. I voted for Nader once already; it felt great.... until I saw the election results. Obama is such a calm and collected fellow. He has charisma out the wazoo. And, for the first time since Jimmy Carter, I'm going to feel like like I'm voting for someone smarter than me. It's gonna feel great to vote for him.

So, besides what I feel has been an otherwise great campaign, I would like to correct the one thing that I feel the Obama campaign has botched: a theme song. I present to you: the top five songs Barrack Obama Should Have Picked For His Campaign Theme Song:

#5 — Björk — "Unison"
A peaceful call to arms for republicans... because, at this point, even they know McCain will fuck things up even worse.

#4 — The Field Mice — "Song Six"
Perhaps getting all those would-be women Hillary voters' sympathy? Such a potentially cool move. Way cooler than this.

#3 — Sonic Youth — "Youth Against Facism"
Okay. That would've been unbeliveable and maybe a little too cynical for him. But man, wouldn't you have freaked the eff out if you had heard that prior to an Obama speech?

#2 — Public Enemy — "Fight the Power"
Maybe too obvious of a choice. Maybe too radical of a choice. But man, that would've been so kickass, everytime Barrack came down to the podium, to hear, "19 eightteeeee-NINE the numbah!"

#1 — The Durutti Column — "Better Must Come"
Ever since he introduced the 'Yes we can' tagline, I've thought that this song would've been the perfect accompaniment. Glorious. Magnificent. Triumphant.

Vote Obama, kids.

We need it.


Friday, October 10, 2008

Top Five Part Three: Grant McLennan Songs

As the lovable teddy bear half of the Go-Betweens, Grant McLennan was the heart to Robert Forster's head. Where Forster's songs gave listeners more to think about, McLennan's songs were often fan favorites based on pure resonance. Robert Forster was the mysterious rockstar you swooned over. Grant was the guitar playing guy that you felt like you could sit down and have a beer with. For this list, I'll be going through my favorite Grant songs from the Go-Betweens catalogue. Picking just five is going to be difficult. Ridiculously difficult.

#5 — "The Sound of Rain" (demo, 1978)
A travesty that this song was never revived after its initial demo. This predates Lindy Morrison's addition to the group and, as such, features original drummer Tim Mustapha. The song sounds like the blueprint for what would ultimately become the dark, shimmery, late night feel of Send Me A Lullaby. A surreal, Kerouac-ish voyage through a rainy Brisbane night coupled with that irresistable jangle makes for a brilliant moment. This song was thankfully saved on the compilation of the original trio's demos and first two singles, 78 'til 79: The Lost Album.

#4 — "Love Goes On!" (16 Lovers Lane, 1989)
This song may make a repeat appearance if I ever decide to do a list of the top five side one/track ones. Serving as the perfect overture for the album that follows, this song is also a perfect summation of what the Go-Betweens were to a lot of people: catchy and poppy beyond belief, but actual substance beneath all the appeal and production.

#3 — "Apology Accepted" (Liberty Belle and the Black Diamond Express, 1986)
"I used to say dumb things. I guess I still do." This song illustrates why Grant's songs were so resonating. He was able to take a very specific personal incident and make it universal. We've all been in a situation where our significant other has been mad at us and we're just kind of sitting there in limbo, wanting everything to be better. Awesome guitar layers, too.

#2 — "This Girl, Black Girl" (single B-side, 1983)
The b-side to the original version of "Man O' Sand To Girl O' Sea", this song was one of the first recordings that found the Tweens as a quartet. Besides the guitar sound on this song being absolutely awesome, the lyrics follow in the maritime theme of its A-side. I'm not entirely sure, but it seems like it's about a melancholy girl waiting for her sailor boyfriend to return from sea. It's just plain good.

#1 — "Cattle and Cane" (Before Hollywood, 1983)
What can I say? I like to stick to the classics. Quite possibly the Tweens signature tune, it again finds Grant taking a very personal subject and making it universal. I didn't even grow up on a farm, not to mention an Australian one, and I still feel like he's talking to me. Outstanding upper register bass playing by Grant on this one as well. When Robert comes in and says, "I recall the same" he nearly steals the show. A highlight within a highlight. One of the best songs ever.


Sunday, October 5, 2008

Top Five Part Two: De La Soul B-sides

B-sides, for the most part, are a rockist thing. Very few other genres have taken to putting a little something extra on the B-side of a single. In most cases, you're lucky if you even get more than one extra track per album.

For this list, I mainly concentrated on actual B-sides, but De La also put tons of remixes on their 12" singles. Actual remixes, too. You know, new beat, new verses, but the same hook so you knew it was a remix. Most of those are excellent time period pieces and make each single its own unique entity that deserves a spin independent of the album every so often.

One of very few hip hop acts to have honest-to-goodness B-sides, De La Soul gave their fans several reasons for buying singles in their early days. Here's the best:

#5 — "It Ain't Hip To Be Labeled A Hippie" (My Myself and I 12", 1989)
Although their earliest B-sides were more along the lines of the glorified skits found throughout 3 Feet High and Rising, they were all just as fun and good. This little ditty borrows the drums from "Me Myself and I" and throws a fantastic Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band loop on top of it so Pos can tell you why De La are not hippies and shold not even associated with hippie ideals. It's a good table setter for the anti-hippie witchhunt that De La Soul is Dead turned out to be.

#4 — "Itzsoweezee (Hot) (De La Soul Mix)" (Itzsoweezee (Hot) 12", 1996)
Actually just a mix of the song where Pos spits a verse. But it makes all the difference in the world. No dis to Dave, but the proper album version that is basically his solo feature on the album gets a bit tedious in comparison.

#3 — "Stakes is High (Remix)" featuring Truth Enola and Mos Def (Itzsooweezee (Hot) 12", 1996)
Jay Dee beat with ridiculous James Brown sample? Check. New verses from the original MCs? Check. Smoking hot verses from then-unknown Native Tounge affiliates? Check. They don't make 'em like this anymore.

#2 — "What Yo Life Can Truly Be" (A Roller Skating Jam Named 'Saturdays' 12", 1991)
A proper remix of the single's title track. Just a damn fine remix that packs the cameos to the brim. It keeps the vibe of the original song, but sounds absolutely nothing like it. Wonderfulness.

#1 — "Lovely How I Let My Mind Float" featuring Biz Markie (Ego Trippin' 12", 1993)
'Ya know P-O-S-D-N-U-O-S: usually the reason for a cardiac arrest.' WHAT?!? Crazy. Kind of like "Breakadawn part 2" as it borrows the drum track and chops up the bassline from that track. Pos and Dave alternate park-rockin' verses with Biz and the deal is sealed with a classic line borrowed from "Planet Rock" for the hook. Even at the time, this felt like the iteration of a sound that had long since passed away.


Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Top Five: The Inaugural Edition

So, as a way to keep myself involved in writing on this blog and have a fun entertaining way have a reason to spout off, I'm starting a new series of posts. In a tribute to one of the most music nerdy movies ever made (High Fidelity, of course), I'm going to start doing Top Five lists every few days. The topics may seem esoteric or random, but I will try to keep them as interesting (and maybe even entertaining) as possible. There won't be a designated update day or time; simply whenever I feel like it. But expect at least a couple each week.

So, for today's topic, we'll start with something fairly simple and something close to my heart: the Top Five post-acid house/"Madchester" Manchester albums.

Countdown style.... here we go...

#5 — Oasis — The Masterplan (1998)

Ah, what a copout, they may say right off the bat. He put a fookin' b-sides compilation instead of a proper album. Yep, I suck because this, in my brain, is the finest Oasis album. But I like them ballads these boys be playin'. And, whoo boy, are there a bunch of great ones on here. You betcha.

#4 — Doves — Lost Souls (2000)

A fine introductory effort (or, re-introductory if you count Sub Sub), this album introduces these guys' intricate, Robert Smith-like layered style of songwriting and epic scope in one fell swoop. An album that grows and grows in stature with each listen, it has taken me years to fully appreciate it, but I think I'm finally there. In a rare occurance, the American version had bonus tracks. Cool.

#3 — Morrissey — Your Arsenal (1992)

Holy crap, did Morrissey let the dogs out on this one, or what? I sometimes have foolish moments of weakness and ridiculous nostalgia rembering seeing 'The More You Ignore Me, the Closer I Get' on MTV in the summer of 1994 and start to think that maybe Vauxhall & I is his best album, but then the ghost of Mick Ronson comes over and plays the lead riff from Ziggy Stardust in my face and I realize that, yes indeed, Your Arsenal is the finest album that Morrissey has stamped his name on. It is all of the following: his catchiest work, his hardest rocking work, his most personal work, his most scattered work and his most irreverently funny work. Whoo, this album rules.

#2 — New Order — Technique (1989)

One of the first albums to come out of Manchester in the initial aftermath of the 'Madchester' explosion, it's also one of the finest. I've said forever that this is one of the top ten or so albums of the 80's and everyone I say that to kind of gives me the shifty eye afterwards. But listen to the record and you can hear shreds of influence it's left on (and is still leaving on) countless bands ever since. Besides that though, the songs are top notch. There's not a bad one in the bunch. You know an album is delicious when the singles are the worst tracks on the album.

#1 — The Chameleons — Why Call It Anything? (2002)

As if you didn't see that coming! This is the Chams' best album. It is their most well-rounded, hardest rocking and best executed album. It sumarizes all of the best things about the band's old material and picks up on the directions the bands they influenced started and takes that direction into a special place. No singles, no b-sides. Just nine of the finest songs to ever come out of Manchester. A fitting and redemptive conclusion to their career.

Stay tuned for next time... it should be fun...