March Roundup: Anatomy of an Album, or How to Fall in Love with the Talking Heads

Claire: It’s almost April! Take a look at the love, live music, and record collection madness that we’ve been posting this month. (***And a special shout out to our guest bloggers and First Show/Worst Show writers: Teresa Slobuski, Jeff King, and Amy Berkowitz!)

More Love and Stuff: A month of relationship themed musical madness wasn’t enough! We kept it going with musings on past loves by Joshua, and one final Top 5 Breakup songs post.

Top 5s: Anatomy of an Album: This month we scoured our record collections and took a long look at the anatomy of a few of our favorite records. We talked about the theory behind a good track 6, translated Aimee Mann, and fell back in love with the Talking Heads and Rage Against the Machine.

Guest Posts: Our guest bloggers kept the album anatomy lessons going with their own takes on Track 6s and Penultimate Tracks.

First Show/Worst Show: Amy Berkowitz and Teresa Slobuski tackled noise musician madness, North West Jersey punk shows, egomaniacal rockstars, Beatles cover bands, and much much more in their First Show/Worst Shows. Want to see your First Show/Worst Show on Charm City Jukebox? Click here. 

First Show/ Worst Show: Amy Berkowitz

First show: Are we talking about the first show I was at, or the first show I was at of my own volition? I’ll tell you about both. My summer camp put all of us on a bus in 1993 and drove us to an Aerosmith concert. Now, I can’t figure out where the concert was. My camp was on the Pennsylvania-New York border, so maybe it was the Binghamton show on July 2? (I’m looking at the Wikipedia page for the Get a Grip tour).

I remember the first thing I did was buy a T-shirt. This was a big deal. It was huge on me, and I didn’t really like Aerosmith, but it was important to have the T-shirt. Our seats were horrible. It was a big outdoor amphitheater, and we were sitting on the grass, on blankets, about half a mile from the stage. Now that I’m recalling this, I’m wondering if we even had tickets to the show, or if we were just sort of sitting near the concert. I remember smelling pot for the first time, and feeling very cool for knowing what it was and being around it. I remember being really bored and not liking Aerosmith at all. I remember thinking Steven Tyler was full of himself. I remember these lyrics: “There’s a hole in my soul / That’s been killing me forever / There’s a place where a garden never grows.” I remember thinking I could do better, and I was right.

The first concert I went to on purpose was Beck, Ben Folds Five, and Elliott Smith at Jones Beach in 1998. I loved Beck, but I didn’t know either of the opening bands, so we got there late and missed Elliott Smith, and only saw the last few Ben Folds songs. I don’t remember a lot about the performance, but I do remember that Beck danced a lot and really put on a show. I thought he was really dreamy. Jones Beach was kind of far from Manhattan, so we slept at my friend’s house in Queens. We got to bed late, and got up early for school the next day. I got out of the subway at 96th Street and bought a coffee from the bodega, the first coffee I ever bought. I felt really cool. I have drank coffee every day since then.

Worst show: You know what kind of shows I liked in 2008? Noise shows. Scummy basement noise shows. Noise shows at venues with bedbugs. Noise shows in weird parts of Brooklyn. Noise shows in weird parts of Queens. I once described a No Fun Fest (noise festival) venue as “perfect, because it felt like someone could actually die there.” It was a converted warehouse on the outskirts of Red Hook. Hey, that’s what I was into then. So when my friend told me he’d bought me a ticket to see the Magnetic Fields at Town Hall, I wasn’t exactly thrilled. But I paid him the $45 and went anyway. Town Hall is a far cry from The Hook. It’s an elegantly appointed theater in Midtown Manhattan, the kind of place that hosts events like “The International Championship of Collegiate A Capella Finals” and “Vocal Jazz Festival with Phil Mattson.” The night of the show, I hadn’t showered in a couple days, which I felt fine about until I walked into Town Hall. The bright lights and theater seating felt overly formal, and things only got worse when somebody came on stage and announced that the evening would begin with a live performance of a radio play.
Just… no. That’s not how concerts start. Also, a live performance of a radio play? Why? Some fools came on dressed in period costumes and acted out a corny play. Then the Magnetic Fields played. I don’t remember much about their performance, except that they were sort of subdued and Stephin Merritt seemed cranky. Then, an intermission was announced. Again, no. It’s a show. There’s not supposed to be an intermission. I walked out and got on the train home to Brooklyn and as the Q crossed the bridge I probably called my cool noise boyfriend to tell him how much the show sucked.

Top 5 Album Closers

Claire: We’re closing out our month long amble down record collection lane with album closers. Joshua and I had a long discussion about this post after I admitted that post by post, it’s come to my attention that I skip out on the end of most albums. Even some of my favorite albums contain mysterious final tracks that I’ve never reached. Why? Boredom sometimes, but more often it feels like the rhythm and narrative of the album got lost in the last few tracks, and after the penultimate and pre-penultimate, I can’t sit through another assault on my mini musical experience. Leave your favorite album closers, and closer criteria, in the comments! Maybe this post and your suggestions can end my stint as an album closer novice.

“The Big Country,” by the Talking Heads on Talking Heads 77

The Big Country is the epitomy of a proper album send-off. After a musical smorgasbord, this track winds you down, but not too much, not too fast. Perfectly paced, and still in pace with the album as a whole, with a solid last track length. If I’ve learned anything from our month of album posts, it’s that you never really want to leave a Talking Heads album. Once it’s on, once it gets going, it’s hard to give it up, hard to let it end. The Big Country is so satisfying it’s downright quenching.  And when Talking Heads 77 is done, you’ll probably replay the album (I know, you can’t help it) but if for some reason you couldn’t listen through again—if there was a tornado or some kind of martian landing— you could walk away and be okay. Until you remember Stop Making Sense, and then wipe out your schedule and cozy up to David Byrne, cause you’re a goner.

 “Jackson,” by Lucinda Williams on Car Wheels on a Gravel Road

Around the time I turned 16, my family spent a week in St. Cloud Minnesota, the town where I was born. We stayed with my parents’ friend Julie’s house, where we shucked corn in the backyard, ate mole off of plates perched on our laps, and flailed our open, stinging palms through the air, swatting mosquitos. It’s strange to say three cities later,  but everyone seemed so much more alive in Minnasota. My dad was on the radio, bonfires sprung up and filled with my parents’ college friends, and my sister and I ran free. I tasted my first beer that week (and developed a lifelong hatred of Leinenkugels), got my ears pierced, and spent the morning of my 16th birthday walking right down the center of an endless, empty road. I picked up this album at a record store called The Electric Fetus and listened to it relentlessly.

There’s a great line in Tina Fey’s book, Bossypants, about listening to “I Will Always Love You” over and over again, and crying because she had never experienced that kind of love. During that week in St. Cloud, I felt ready to grow up and be tumultous, adventurous, and achingly heartbroken, as soon as I could, and “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road” was my window into a life I didn’t have yet, but could reach out and almost touch.

“Save Me,” by Aimee Mann on Bachelor No. 2 or the Last Remains of the Dodo

I was in the throes of a bad breakup, and bingeing on sad girl music (…like Fergie) and a newly reacquired cigarette habit, when I got introduced to Bachelor No. 2. I remember that summer as being rainy and constantly dark, though looking back it was so sunny that I came home daily with a pink, scabby sunburn. And I also remember this album being a pitch-perfect ode to heartbreak, so personalized Mann may as well have laced my name through the choruses. But it’s not, not really. It’s heartbreak and growing up and being so strange inside that new love, someday, feels unlikely. I think this is where I ended up five years after I had exhausted Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, when I really was heartbroken and a little more grown up, and it was a lot less delicious than I had imagined.

“One Man Guy,” by Loudon Wainwright on BBC Sessions

Loudon Wainwright III is the world’s saddest man. If there were a “Sad, old guy singing sad songs” version of the Hunger Games, he would win in a heartbeat. He would get a walloping score from the Gamemakers, based on a freestyle ode to his lost loves and distant children. He would pull out a guitar and beat Leonard Cohen death, then melt everyone into a depressive heap with his pretty, lowkey songs, rife with death and loss and major life mistakes. (Oh my glob I want to cast the Sad Old Guy Hunger Games. What are we thinking, guys? Neil Young, Richard Thompson, Nick Lowe, wild card from District Experimental, Brian Eno…) (I’m reading the Hunger Games and they’re actually haunting my dreams. And this post, apparently.)

“One Man Guy” is an apt ending to a live-ish album: Loudon in concert is a carnival of kooky facial expressions, quips, and goofy smiles, all working together to cleverly mask some of the wrenching sadness in his songs. This song is an exploration of his lodged-in-his-bones-loneliness, and a quick peek behind his live performance mask.

“Murder of One,” by the Counting Crows on August and Everything After

Murder of One is a great big “things are going to change” song. It’s also solid internal montage music: If you need to imagine that things will change, for the better, in a quick, several scene cuts kind of way (instead of in the usual slow, up and down, un-soundtracked way that life works) this is your song. A nice, almost upbeat ending to a brooding, emotional rollercoaster of an album.

Honorable Mentions

“Rock Me to Sleep,” by Jill Sobule on Pink Pearl: Pink Pearl is the worst kind of album: Heartbreakingly sad, and equally catchy. It’s a lovely hummable type of torture, full of failed heroes and cruel lovers and Mary Kay Latourneau. “Rock Me to Sleep” is a pitch-perfect send off—a song about unbearable loneliness masquerading as a lullabye.

“Stumbling Through the Dark,” by The Jayhawks on Rainy Day Music: Another con—the opening sounds lighthearted and playful, but listen to the lyrics for a second and it’s another lovely ramble on sadness and confusion.

“Montana,” by Frank Zappa on Over-Nite SensationWeird and fun, like this whole album. Makes me miss the “I might be moving to Montana soon/ To raise me up a crop of dental floss” pin I made in high school. It had a green field on it with tiny boxes of dental floss growing out of the ground.

Joshua’s List:

“Lawyers, Guns, and Money” by Warren Zevon, on Excitable Boy

The first line is so good: “I went home with a waitress…the way I always do.” It begins with a count-off. It’s loud, crass, and mean. It’s the perfect way to end Excitable Boy. Oh, and the music is pretty damn cool too. I love big guitars, both as a wall of sound and actual physically big guitars. And I can only assume this song has both.

“Sad Songs and Waltzes” by Cake, on Fashion Nugget

I may have mentioned this song before, but as Cake is one of my favorite bands they’re going to get a lot of mentions. And they actually don’t have very many good album closers, at least none I’d be willing to put on this list. Except for this song, of course. It’s a great cover of a Willie Nelson song, and it fits in perfectly with the whole jilted lover theme they have running through the album. Plus, it’s a nice slow way to end the album, which is my favorite way to end an album. And it’s a ¾ waltz! Who doesn’t like a waltz?

“Wagon Wheel” by Old Crow Medicine Show, on O.C.M.S

Let me preface this song with telling you that I am not a big fan of this band. The album this is on is not very good and the only other standout on the album is a song called “Big Time in the Jungle.” But this is quite possibly the best campfire sing-along song of all time. When I was at St. Mary’s College, it seemed like every single person knew the lyrics to this song and everyone who played guitar knew the key changes. So yeah, it wraps up a bad album, but it does it in one of the happiest ways ever.

“Sons & Daughters” by The Decemberists, on The Crane Wife

I’ve seen The Decemberists three times now, and twice they’ve ended their encores with this song. It’s big, it’s happy, and it’s a sing-along! (Ok, so sing-alongs are a running theme this week.) Every time I hear this song it puts a big smile on my face. It’s the perfect way to end The Crane Wife, which I feel is ostensibly a “winter” album, with the spring peeking out of its hidey hole and giving us hope after a long, dark winter.

“All Around the World or The Myth of Fingerprints” by Paul Simon, on Graceland

So yeah, I love this album. It’s on three of the four lists we have about albums. But goddamn, this is an amazingly fun song. It’s singy, it’s danceable, it’s balling. Also, props to the many mentions of watermelon. I totally want some after listening to this song.

Honorable Mentions:

“The Hazards of Love 4: The Drowned” by The Decemberists, on The Hazards of Love: Only bumped because of previous mentions and a Decemberists song already on the main list. Otherwise, one of my favorite album closers.

“Bang, Bang, Bang, Bang” by John Lee Hooker, on Live at Café Au-Go-Go: His signature song, and one of the best versions available.

“I Believe (When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever)” by Stevie Wonder, on Talking Book: Gets a big positive for closing out the movie version of High Fidelity. But it’s also a crazy good song. Also, the outro is really, really, really funky.

Guest Post! Top 5 Penultimate Tracks, by Teresa Slobuski

Joshua: Teresa is boss. Her selections for this week’s topic are even more boss. Wait, why can’t stop saying boss? Boss. Bossssssssssss. Yeah. Anyway, here they are:

“Here in my Room” by Incubus, on A Crow Left of the Murder

Dripping with seduction, entirely different from the rest of the album, deeply romantic: this is the stuff penultimate tracks are made of. When this album came out, it was the only thing I listened to in my car for months. The sentiment of the lyrics always made me wish/hope someone wrote it for me, and Brandon Boyd’s velvety voice takes those lyrics to another level. One of my first tattoos is a piece of the chorus on my wrist, I rarely tell people thats where its from, but now the internet knows. The song is also a perfect foil to the final track about a soul sucking drug addicted friend.

“Violently Happy” by Bjork, on Debut

Front to back, this album is an experience of swimming through the complexity of human emotion, from the highest highs to the lowest lows and this song is a mixed episode. So passionately in love with someone who isn’t around until you go a bit mad. Who hasn’t been there? If you haven’t, go fall in love with someone STAT. Bookended by the provocative Come to Me and quiet melancholy of The Anchor Song, makes the end of this album a more authentic expression than most artists can hope to be in their careers. God, I love Bjork.

“The Radiator Hums” by Cursive, on Domestica

There is nothing I don’t love about this song. The powerful start, slower interludes, wavering vocalizations all come together to make a beautiful song and disturbing picture of domesticity. Without following any traditional song structure, a chorus notably missing, the song remains catchy. Even if you haven’t heard of Pretty Baby you will remember her lines, but you should really hear the whole story. A concept album that gives an argumentative couple, Sweetie and Pretty Baby, their voice, Domestica presents a painful picture of the everyday struggles backed with rock epic. Tim Kasher’s raspy voice adds a sense of urgency that powers every track forward. Each track on the album is technically inspiring indie rock, but the album as a whole story is as riveting as music can get.

“Complexity” by The Roots, on Phrenology

I don’t listen to hip hop. Ask anyone, I don’t. Except this album is amazing. This song in particular makes me always want to explore the genre more than my very white upbringing and tastes has provided. I have too, but I just haven’t found much that makes me want to groove like Complexity. There is something about that beat, the light piano, delicate chorus vocals of Jill Scott. It all comes together to make this Eastern European feel like shes got soul.

“Queen Bitch” by David Bowie, on Hunky Dory

Written for Bowie’s love of Velvet Underground and Lou Reed, Queen Bitch is a fun dance party groove of glam rock. In my mind, this is the album that makes Bowie into Bowie. Some may say its not until Ziggy Stardust gets going, but in this song has the perfect combination of story telling and poetry that will epitomize Bowie lyrics for decades. Characters are introduced and their stories cut off before they become more than a mystery we want to discover. Who is the he that is referred to? What is actually happening with Queen Bitch? The language is just ambiguous enough to leave us wondering and given his blast off into space for the few years following this album, I can’t help reading a sci fi/fantasy soul sucking sex monster into the lyrics. Anyone else? Just me? Fine.

Top 5 Penultimate Tracks

Claire: This week we’re continuing the tour through our record collections with a look at penultimate tracks. A vocab lesson (only because multiple people have given me a distinct “huh?” look when I mention this list): Penultimate means the second to last track. But you already knew that, I’m sure, you smarty pants you.

CLAIRE’s List:

“Psycho Killer,” by the Talking Heads on Talking Heads: 77

A penultimate track, and perhaps the ultimate Talking Heads song, which I previously maligned as bar mitzvah soundtrack fodder. But maybe that’s because the crowning musical points of my bat mitzvah involved “Rock Lobster” (before Family Guy and Judd Apatow made it popular again)(Christ…was that a “before it was popular” aside? Sorry everybody.), Elvis Costello, and other non-”Rocking Robin” like songs. And before you take a minute and think highly of my 8th grade musical tastes, know that I spent an entire week moping because my dad wouldn’t let me play “Candy” by Mandy Moore. Yeah. It was like that.

“Psycho Killer” is a deliciously tense, funky classic and is part of a tradition of classic Talking Heads penultimate songs: “Take Me to the River” is another penultimate track, and so is an early version of “And She Was.”

 “Williamsburg,” by the 5 Chinese Brothers, on Singer Songwriter Beggerman Thief

Here’s a song about a man who visits a terrifying part of town, wanders around trying to muster the courage to stay, gets mugged by a young kid outside of a bodega, and returns home to get drunk and introspective. It’s cold, it’s raining, and we’re all wandering the world grappling with our mortality. Then there’s Tom Meltzer’s mournful voice, so different from the light hearted upbeat voice you just heard on “Cezanne” and “Waitress,” that you just want to give the guy a hug, or another fifth. Throw in the fact that the song is catchy enough that “Someone once said/ You’re lucky when you’re dead/You know sometimes I agree” will be stuck in your head for days and the whole listener experience here is DARK. Really dark. Shower-cry, stare out a window and think about life dark.

And it’s about Williamsburg, you guys. Williamsburg. The song is from 1994, a time when Williamsburg was apparently terrifying enough to warrant this kind of song, and wasn’t a hipster mecca. Where we once had songs like ‘Williamsburg,” we now have shows like “I Just Want My Pants Back,” or as I like to call it “Baby Yuppies Say the Darndest Things.”

“Don’t Fuck Me Up with Peace and Love,” by Cracker, on Cracker

David Lowery’s voice sounds like teen angst reimagined for adult ears. Angry, swearing, but clever and pithy about it. It’s not The Used, it’s not Yellowcard, it’s not the barely-out of their teens wailing of the lead singer of the emo band du jour. It’s a sharp, angry, very 90s, song to blast when you have the opportunity to blast songs.

 “There is a Light that Never Goes Out,” by The Smiths, on The Queen is Dead

I forgot about The Smiths. Maybe because they were commandeered by the twee set circa “500 Days of Summer.” This track is tense, crashing, classic Smiths. If you’re upset, and want to dance around, it’s the song for you (as are most songs by the Smiths, come to think of it. The Smiths: Music for depressed people with rhythm.)

“Nightswimming,” by R.E.M, on Automatic for the People

I’ve always had a soft spot for this song, and this album, which was introduced to me freshman year of high school by my friend Julia, who passed away a few years later. “Automatic for the People” is a classic, full of the most recognizable REM songs, and this track is sort of the black sheep. Michael Stipes’ earnest voice and the piano makes this sound like a song by the preternaturally gifted drama kid from your high school, the one who actually made it to Broadway or grew his hair out and became a moony popular-ish singer songwriter. It’s gentle, lovely, and a little over the top, but ultimately in an endearing way, just like Julia.

Honorable Mentions

“Take Me to the River,” by the Talking Heads, on More Songs about Buildings and FoodOne of my all time favorite covers of this song, and of any other song.

“Shitloads of Money,” by Liz Phair on whitechocolatespaceeggAround the time the economy crashed, I left my first job in a blaze of glory (not really, but sort of) and spent the next year and a half alternately waitressing and freelancing. This song said everything I was feeling, financially: “People with money are all miserable! Aha! Smug face!” and “I’m one missed student loan payment away from losing my mind, so yes, send me all your cash, world.”

“Everything is Everything,” by Lauryn Hill, on The Miseducation of Lauryn HillHeart-wrenching, beautiful, and will not leave your head for days—like much of this album.

JOSHUA’s List:

“Ashes in the Fall” by Rage Against the Machine, on The Battle of Los Angeles

This song starts with what every good penultimate song needs: Tension. It positively reeks of it. It’s very interesting – it’s tempered rage/Rage. The message of the song is very, very caustic, but the music doesn’t follow the message. The drums are the only instrument that has any real movement until the end. The guitar is a simple distorted one-by-one note line and the bass is repetitive…Until it explodes at the end. The only thing I take umbrage with is last repeat of the chorus. It was unnecessary.  They needed to fade out right after the big swell, but still a big, powerful second-to-last track.

(Unfortunately, I cannot seem to find a good version of the next song to post here. If any readers want it, I will be glad to forward it to them!)

“Wave/Mother Nature’s Son” by Brad Mehldau, on Largo

A very interesting take on the old Latin jazz standard “Wave.” It’s done almost acid jazz style, with the drums and bass all over the place, but the vibraphone head keeps it somehow level. It also has one of my favorite vibraphone solos ever (also, it’s a damn shame people don’t use the vibraphone that much anymore). It then takes a wild turn in the middle and segues into a very cooled off version of “Mother Nature’s Son” by The Beatles. Possibly one of my favorite segues ever. And in my favorite style of album endings, he then ends the album with a song called “I Do,” an extended, slow-moving piano solo.

“Rebellion (Lies)” by Arcade Fire, on Funeral

God, every song in this album flows so perfectly to the next. This may be the best example of that synchronicity: It picks up exactly where the last song leaves off, and brings the album to a wonderfully fraught ending. It’s a simple song, just a repetitive bass and piano line and a four-on-the-floor drum beat. But it’s filled with the same tension as “Ashes in the Fall” is, but this is bursting at the seams. It’s the kind of song that reminds you exactly what kind of album you’ve almost finished listening to: Balling.

“Big Joe and Phantom 309” by Tom Waits, on Nighthawks at the Diner

This isn’t the usual type of penultimate songs I tend to go for (climax, then followed by a dénouement-style closer) but it’s just gorgeous. It’s based upon a poem by Red Sovine and it’s only helped by the whiskey-soaked voice Tom Waits possesses.  I always get chills listening to it, both because of Waits’ perfect, perfect performance, but also because of the fairy-tale-like story. Waits then ends the album with an up track, and a funny one, sending the listener into sharp relief after that almost hard to listen to penultimate track.

“The Mariner’s Revenge Song” by The Decemberists, on Piquaresque

It’s an eight minute long song about pirates, bringing to (almost) conclusion one of the best albums of the last decade. It’s a song that is not necessary the most famous Decemberists’ song, but one that is both instantly known by their fans and one that symbolizes everything the band stands for. It’s an epic tale, told both in the setting of the late 1800’s and in the musical style of that period. It has been called their magnum opus, and I don’t immediately disagree (except to say that the album The Hazards of Love should really be considered that, but that’s another discussion). They then end the album with the song “Of Angels and Angles,” a wonderful song in its own right, but they have very few songs that possess the power and scope of “The Mariner’s Revenge Song.” And I’ve seen them three times (once in spitting distance of Colin Meloy) and have yet to see them play this song!

Honorable Mentions:

“Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” by Arcade Fire, on The Suburbs: Off what was easily the best album of 2010, this track is exactly what was needed in that slot. It was really, really tough not including this in the main list. It was only bumped because I like Win Butler’s voice better than Regine Chassagne’s in general, though she’s perfect on this track.

“Moby Dick” by Led Zeppelin, on Led Zeppelin II: I only have one thing to say: John. Bonham. Rocks.

“Paradise by the Dashboard Light” by Meat Loaf, on Bat Out of Hell:  I like Meat Loaf, probably too much, and this song is just so much fun.

Guest Post: Jeff King, on Track 6′s

Two days ago, we talked about our Top 5 Track 6′s. In that post, we mentioned the idea of the whole post came from my good friend Jeff King. He’s apparently been thinking about this topic for years, so without further ado, here’s his list of Top 5 Track 6′s:

“Holland, 1945″ by Neutral Milk Hotel, on In the Aeroplane Over the Sea

At once, this song is exuberant, beautiful, and haunting. It is difficult to capture the horror and pain of the Holocaust while expressing hope for mankind’s redemption by utilizing a badass rhythm/brass section, yet Jeff Mangum et al. have done so. Not sure that putting this hipster anthem at the top was the best idea, but it was one of the reasons I began taking notice of the sixth song on numerous albums.

“I Don’t Want to Get Over You” by The Magnetic Fields, on 69 Love Songs, Vol. 1

We have all suffered through heart/soul-wrenching heartbreak and the inevitable resulting pain. When a lover has left us in the lurch, nothing is more comforting than a friend’s sympathetic ear, or more temporarily satisfying then a bottle or a rebound fuck. That is why God created the Magnetic Fields. There are so many different angles on their three-disc opus 69 Love Songs. I included this track because it sums up the spirit of the disc, there are so many songs about sadness and pain, but to me, this track is their statement of purpose. It claims that, “without this pain, I’d cease to be. Why escape the pain when I can embrace it?” I like the unique approach to a commonly utilized theme.

“Rooster” by Alice in Chains, on Dirt

This one is definitely an attention-grabber. Jerry Cantrell wrote it as a tribute to his father, who fought in Vietnam and he possessed amazing insight into the thoughts of a fighting man overseas. The drudgery, discomfort and moments of terror are all well-captured.  Also, we listened to Alice in Chains all the goddamn time when I was in Afghanistan.

 

“Something for Joey” by Mercury Rev, on Boces

Mercury Rev is one of those bands people tend to overlook. Everything they’ve done since 1995 is radically different from their first three albums, which were more energetic and full of eclectic arrangement (for example, plugging a guitar into a 1960’s television). This track combines the wild sonic experimentation and their ability to write pretty, catchy hooks. Also, it reminds me, just a little bit, of Tears of a Clown. And the video featuring Ron Jeremy and Mercury Rev in space is fuckin’ rad.

“Old Man” by Neil Young, on Harvest

Since I was about seven or so, people have been telling me that I’m a grouchy old man. I’m glad that on Harvest, Neil Young can relate.

 

Top 5 Track 6s

Joshua: I was talking to my friend Jeff King a few weeks ago about this awesome blog and I mentioned that this month we were doing album-based lists. (No doubt you’ve read our first such list.) He mentioned that he has always thought that, as a general rule, track six on any given album has to be good. In his words, it has to be a linchpin to hold the album together, the track that makes sure you listen to the second half of the album. We here at Charm City Jukebox agree, and finding the subject so engaging, decided to write our own track six lists. And look for Jeff’s post on Friday!

JOSHUA’s List:

“Once in a Lifetime” by Talking Heads, on Stop Making Sense

I’m of the belief this version of this song is the best single thing the Talking Heads has ever done, so I may be a little biased when including this into a list of track 6’s. But for serious. I mean, for realsies , when we talk of “game-changing” tracks on an album, this is the definition. It takes a good album and makes it into something truly special. This track nears live performance perfection simply because every member of the band is firing on all twelve cylinders (the Talking Heads obviously have a huge engine.)  and manages to mesh in a way most bands could only dream of.

“Superstition” by Stevie Wonder, on Talking Book

I busted out all of my vinyl this week to create my list, as I felt just looking through my iTunes wouldn’t cut it this time. To my surprise and utter delight, this song is track six off of Talking Book, one of my personal favorite Wonder albums. It may be one of his most popular songs, but it’s freaking amazing. The horn lines alone make the whole album worth listening to over and over. Plus, how often do you get a pop song with a clavinet in the starring role?

“Kashmir” by Led Zeppelin, on Physical Graffiti

Ok, so I may have been a little harsh on this song in a previous post. But let’s be honest with ourselves here: The second side of Physical Graffiti might be the best side of a rock album ever pressed. And it’s wrapped up with one of the best rock opuses (opii? opusss? I got no clue.) ever written. It’s a shot across the bow for Zeppelin fans, signaling the apex of Zeppelin’s musical talent….Mostly because this album is followed by the god-awful In Through the Out Door and then John Bonham’s death.

“Born of a Broken Man” by Rage Against the Machine, on Battle of Los Angeles

A change for the album, as it starts with just one guitar with very few effects and no distortion. Then it crashes into the hook, a violently distorted syncopated line laden with string strums and badassness. It’s easily the most introspective song on the album, the message of the song being aided greatly by the effects laid upon the drum sounds, which sound as though they’re being played underwater two towns over. Many people I’ve talked to about this album seem to think this is the weakest song on the album, but I can’t disagree more vehemently. I think maybe it’s disliked because it’s simply tough to listen to. It’s not easy on the ears or the conscience.

“Fuck Her Gently” by Tenacious D, on Tenacious D

I’m so glad this was a track six. When I pulled out my vinyl copy of this album (yes, jackass, I do have a copy of this album on vinyl. It was a wonderfully thoughtful gift from an ex-girlfriend and I play it all the time. Deal with it.) I was delighted to see it in the six-slot because I get to talk about the song I played on guitar probably more often than any other song combined (besides maybe “Tribute”). It’s hilarious and infectious. If you don’t mind profanity, it’s the song for you. Plus, Jack Black has one of the most precise voices in music, so it’s a vocal treat. And, remember fellas, it’s important to ball your lady discreetly when she wants it.

CLAIRE’s List

“Loco de Amor,” by David Byrne, on Rei Momo

Rei Momo is a magical album and like David Byrne himself, it’s aged scary well (Seriously—throw some hair dye and a giant suit at the guy and you’ve got “Stop Making Sense.” And that was 28 years ago.) It’s fun swirling genre-spanning David Bryne madness, and lacks the “attempting esoteric but landing at borderline Lite FM” quality of some of Byrne’s later solo efforts (See “Like Humans Do”). After the first track you’ll know you’re in it for the long haul with this album, and “Loco De Amor” is just more proof, albeit bright happy get-up-and-dance-around-your-office proof.

 “Pavlov’s Bell,” by Aimee Mann, on Lost in Space

I’ve learned a really important thing from writing for this blog: I have no idea what any of Aimee Mann’s songs are about. I’ve been listening to her relentlessly for years, bopping my head and hitting replay, muttering her very quotable refrains to myself, relating. And then I started reading her lyrics, which have a Dream Songs level of “here are some images and maybe a theme and a sharp left turn and BAM” quality to them that’s hidden in her charming voice and solid pop predilictions. So here’s a song, I think it’s about drug addiction, or maybe having an affair, but in the end like much of Mann’s work, it’s stuck-in-your-head for days good, so who cares?

“Fu-Gee-La,” by The Fugees, on The Score

Classic Fugees. Tightly packed raps, and Lauryn Hill’s voice drizzled through the refrain like warm honey. If you hit play on this one, expect to spend the next several hours listening to the Fugees.  In two days when you’ve done a full circle through the Fugees and The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill and you’re feeling blue, share a moment with Talib and get “Ms. Hill” stuck in your head. He gets it.

“So It Goes,” by Nick Lowe, on Jesus of Cool 

A great song from an underrated classic. When I saw Nick Lowe two years ago, all the hipster girls wore cut off Day Glo shirts that read Pure Pop for Now People, the revised US title for Jesus of Cool. I always preferred the title Jesus of Cool, and not just because it’s the original title of the album, and not in a “I know things, girls in Day Glo shirts, I know Lowe things” way, but just because Pure Pop for Now People reeks of New Wave wordplay. Nothing against New Wave (you all know I’m blasting Flock of Seagulls RIGHT NOW) but I see Nick Lowe as something more. A shining example of what pop music could be and usually isn’t. The Jesus of Cool, perhaps?

“I Just Want to Make Love to You,” by Etta James, on At Last!

I was so excited to find out that this song was a Track 6. At Last! is a fascinating album. It was Etta James’ first album of 33 (Live and studio—throw in compilations and it practically doubles), yet almost all of her most iconic songs are on it: I Just Want to Make Love to You, At Last, Sunday Kind of Love. This is one of my all time favorite songs. From the horns at the beginning, to James’ voice that moves from gruff to sweet and back again, to the straight forward seductiveness of the lyrics—it’s another Etta James gem from the very first Etta James masterpiece.