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friday random ten, 1989 edition

I’m still enjoying this return to the old format, but I’m pretty sure I’m repeating myself a lot. In fact, if a song has shown up on a Random Ten before, I’m repeating myself on purpose, using cut-and-paste. Call it Random Ten’s Greatest Hits, and see if you can figure out which are new for this list.

1. k.d. lang and the Reclines, “Pullin’ Back the Reins”. Lang has one of the finest voices in contemporary music. Absolute Torch and Twang was the culmination of her country period, and to this day my favorite of her albums. This is my favorite song from that album.

2. Faith No More, “Epic”. You want it all but you can’t have it. Influential precursor to rap metal, with a killer riff worthy of Jimmy Page. I’ve never quite grasped that this is the same group that recorded “We Care a Lot” with a different vocalist.

3. Beastie Boys, “Sounds of Science”. There are albums you play over and over because of the pleasure they give you … you just have to hear that song one more time. And then there's Paul's Boutique. You could play this album a thousand times and never get to the bottom of it. Partly this is because of the astounding depth of the album, in particular its use of sampling. But what made Paul's Boutique especially unique in subsequent years was Grand Upright Music, Ltd. v. Warner Bros. Records, Inc., aka Gilbert O'Sullivan sues Biz Markie. That decision was handed down 2 ½ years after Paul's Boutique, and effectively ended the bottomless well of sampling as a legal artistic outlet. OK, that's an interesting legal note in music history, that helps explain why you don't hear albums like this anymore. But the prevalence of mashups on the Internet remind us that messing around with sound bytes isn't hard at all … what's hard is getting it right. And no one ever got it more right than the Dust Brothers and the Beasties on Paul's Boutique. While the title "The Sounds of Science" might suggest a confrontation between bratty rappers and mellow-folkie singer/songwriters, in fact the primary source of samples for the song is the Beatles, in particular "When I'm 64" and "The End." Both of those songs are used in a sore-tooth manner, such that you can't quit running your tongue over the spot that hurts. The "64" rip takes two notes from the oboe-y musical intro to the original and loops it over and over … there isn't a baby boomer alive who won't want to scream at the stereo, "PLAY THE REST OF THE LICK, DAMMIT!" There wouldn't seem to be anything more entrancingly aggravating … and there isn't, until they rework a guitar riff from Abbey Road in a similarly annoying way. It's guitarus interruptus, as the first chords of the guitar rave up at the end of Side Two of Abbey Road get repeated over and over and over and over … and they never resolve the moment, so all you can do is listen to the song again, hoping this time they'll finally get to the gee-tars. And they never do ... it's like an old vinyl album that gets stuck. Hurts so good.

4. Indigo Girls, “Closer to Fine”. From the beginning, the Indigo Girls had the great harmonies, and they were cultural icons almost on the level of Martina. They were also prone to heartfelt but awkward lyrics. The link is to a video with a Buffy connection … I know, who’da thought? It’s from a show they did a couple of weeks ago … they are joined by the guys from Common Rotation, who had opened for them. Buffy fans will recognize the one in the vest with his shirt-sleeves rolled up: it’s Warren, the evil bastard who killed Tara. I know, I know … those were fictional characters, not real people.

5. The B-52’s, “Roam”. It occurs to me that the B-52’s are one of the more remarkable pop acts of our time, given their roots, their loyalty to those roots even as the mainstream discovered them, their recovery from the great loss of Ricky Wilson, and their general oddness … despite, or perhaps because of all of this, they are beloved.

6. Biz Markie, “Just a Friend”. Still one of the most endearing rap hits of all time, with a tip of the cap to Freddie Scott.

7. Madonna, “Like a Prayer”. The video for this, my favorite Madonna song, is famously controversial, but I’m far more bothered by the link provided here, to the Pepsi commercial that offered the worldwide debut of the song.

8. Public Enemy, “Fight the Power”. For all of this songs enduring greatness, I still think of the video link when I hear it.

9. Janet Jackson, “Rhythm Nation”. Janet Jackson, Jimmy Jam, and Terry Lewis were an historically good team. The Rhythm Nation 1814 album served up seven Top Five singles.

10. Fine Young Cannibals, “She Drives Me Crazy”. They had two nice singles, but were never as good as their predecessors, The English Beat.

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