20 faves #16: the clash, london calling

16th of 20, roughly by chronology.

Favorites lists are by definition personal. Many of the albums I've chosen made room for me to climb inside, which led to a lifetime of connections. London Calling worked the opposite way: it climbed inside of me. I always had an odd relationship to punk ... steelworker, married with two kids, a fairly mundane life. But it mattered to me, and none of the punk bands mattered as much as The Clash. The ambition behind London Calling was life-affirming, that a genre that was so simple originally could expand so effectively in such a short time. The Ramones were simpler than most, and they mostly just worked at getting better at simplicity. The Clash took on the world. Perhaps no song demonstrated this better than "The Right Profile", "about" Montgomery Clift. Some songs spoke to my soul as an unhappy factory worker ... "Clampdown", obviously, and "Death or Glory".

There are many interpretations of the line "London is drowning, and I live by the river". To me, it signified the ways living by the river meant we were always in danger of drowning, but when the whole city is drowning, well, welcome to our world. It reminds me of "River's Gonna Rise" by David and David.

London calling

20 faves #15: marianne faithfull, broken english

15th of 20, roughly by chronology.

When I posted a video of a Rolling Stones song earlier in this series, I said there was someone in the video who would turn up later on my list. Phil Dellio correctly guessed Marianne Faithfull. Hers is one of the great comeback stories in rock and roll. So good, in fact, that she had more than one comeback, I guess. Anyway, Faithfull was inextricably linked to the Stones, so there was some irony when Broken English came out a year after Some Girls. Some Girls was the last great Stones album. They never again produced anything as good as ... well, as Broken English. The title track was classic, "The Ballad of Lucy Jordan" fit right into Thelma and Louise, her "Working Class Hero" was definitive, and "Why'd Ya Do It" ... well ...

Broken english

music friday: 1989

Public Enemy, "Fight the Power". An all-time great opening credits sequence.

Madonna, "Like a Prayer". My favorite Madonna song.

The Pixies, "Debaser". I am un chien andalusia.

The Stone Roses, "Fools Gold". My knowledge of Stone Roses begins and ends with "Love Spreads". This is not that song.

De La Soul, "Me Myself and I". Their debut album finished first in that year's Pazz and Jop poll. Counting anthologies, they've reached double digits in albums released.

Janet Jackson, "Rhythm Nation". Wikipedia: "It is the only album in the history of the US Billboard Hot 100 singles chart to have seven commercial singles peak within the top five positions. It is also the only album to produce number one hits on the chart in three separate calendar years (1989–1991)."

Electronic, "Getting Away with It". They're a supergroup, but I prefer my Bernard Sumner New-Order Style.

Tone-Lōc, "Funky Cold Medina". So catchy, I never really paid attention to the lyrics, which wander into date rape territory.

Queen Latifah, "Ladies First". The title sums up Latifah's debut ... well, the album title does that even better (All Hail the Queen).

Lou Reed, "Dirty Blvd". This marked the last of many times I saw Lou in concert.


20 faves #13: patti smith, horses

13th of 20, roughly by chronology.

I'm up to 1975 now, which means punk is beginning to rear its head. Patti Smith is not only the first punk artist on my list, she was the first punk artist we saw live, in 1976. (It occurs to me that we saw all of the last 8 artists on the list in concert, at least once and often more than once. The joys of being an adult with a coupla bucks in your pocket.) More than half of the remaining albums are punk, or rooted in punk. This emphasis (some would say, over-emphasis) on punk means a couple of powerful genres won't make my list. Disco never struck me as an album-oriented art, so that's not a big loss (if you need some disco for the soundtrack, play "Don't Leave Me This Way" by Thelma Houston). And hip-hop disappears under the punk onslaught (the last two hip-hop albums I cut were It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, and Paul's Boutique). I've made it this far without saying anything about why Horses matters so much to me. Perhaps the accompanying video, which features a couple of songs from Horses being performed 40 years down the road, helps explain it.


music friday: 1988

The La's, "There She Goes". #13 on Rolling Stone's list of the greatest one-album wonders.

N.W.A, "Straight Outta Compton". The first single from the first album (if we ignore N.W.A. and the Posse, which we probably shouldn't) by one of the most influential bands of all time.

Tracy Chapman, "Fast Car". From the always reliable Wikipedia, a story about Nelson Mandela's 70th Birthday Tribute:

UB40 were finishing their set on the main stage, and [Stevie] Wonder's equipment was set up, plugged in and ready to be rolled on after a 10-minute act on a side stage. He was about to walk up the ramp to the stage when it was discovered that the hard disc of his synclavier, carrying all 25 minutes of synthesised music for his act, was missing. He said he could not play without it, turned round, walked down the ramp crying, with his band and other members of his entourage following him, and out of the stadium.

There was an urgent need to fill the gap he had left and Tracy Chapman, who had already performed her act, agreed to appear again. The two appearances shot her to stardom, with two songs from her recently released first album, "Fast Car" and "Talkin' 'Bout a Revolution". Before the concert, she had sold about 250,000 albums. In the following two weeks, she was said to have sold two million.

Here's what I don't get. "Fast Car" was the first single from that debut album, and it had been out for a couple of months by the time of the Mandela concert. Chapman played three songs in her scheduled appearance. None of them was "Fast Car". What was she saving it for? Luckily, she still had it in her back pocket when she had to return to the stage to cover for Wonder, and the rest is history.

My Bloody Valentine, "You Made Me Realise". I should also provide a link to one of the legendary live performances of this song. "You Made Me Realise (30-minute 'Holocaust' version)"

Cowboy Junkies, "Sweet Jane". Lou Reed has said this is his favorite cover of this song. Guess he never heard the Mott the Hoople version. Nice to see Johnny Carson enthuse over Cowboy Junkies in the video I linked to for them.

Boogie Down Productions, "My Philosophy". Early "Political Rap". Thirty years down the road, they are less influential than N.W.A, and somewhat overwhelmed by what the last group on this list was doing at the same time.

Lyle Lovett, "If I Had a Boat". I could be wrong, but I think people consider Lovett to be on a par with the likes of John Prine, who introduces Lovett in the video. A long career with plenty of album and single releases will do that. Me, I think Prine is a national treasure, while I tend to best remember Lovett as an actor in things like The Bridge.

Roxanne Shante, "Go on Girl". From the soundtrack to Colors. Roxanne, who started when she was 14 and was a major part of the famous "Roxanne Wars", is as influential as anyone on this list. KRS-One rapped "Roxanne Shante is only good for steady fucking". The reply:

Now KRS-ONE you should go on vacation
With that name soundin' like a wack radio station ...

So step back peasants, poppin' all that junk
Or else BDP will stand for Broken Down Punks
'cause I'm an All-Star just like Julius Erving
And Roxanne Shante is only good for steady servin'

The House of Love, "Destroy the Heart". Even after pouring over the Internet, I feel like I know nothing about this band. I'm pretty sure I'd never heard of them until this song ended up on the list. (A quick look at Last.fm tells me this is the first time I have listened to them.)

Public Enemy, "Don't Believe the Hype". I guess hip-hop had arrived by 1988, since four of these songs fit the genre. For all of P.E.'s greatness, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back is their best, a true milestone. Nothing on this list, including all the ones I said were influential, come close to the importance of that album.

(Sorry, no My Bloody Valentine.)

throwing it back to 1976: randy newman and ry cooder

On this date in 1976 (the Bicentennial year!), we saw Randy Newman and Ry Cooder at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts. Newman wasn't pushing an album, far as I can recall ... Good Old Boys was a couple of years old, Little Criminals was still a year away (Cooder would play on both of those albums). Newman was 32 years old, Cooder 29. Cooder released Chicken Skin Music later in '76, so I imagine he played some of those tunes ... clearly my memory is shot, I can't even picture Cooder in my mind from that night.

We enjoyed Newman ... only time we saw him, but whenever I see him on TV or YouTube, his personality reminds me very much of that night.

They both appeared on the soundtrack to one of my very favorite movies, Performance, back around 1970. Here are a couple of examples. First, the opening of the film, which features a few bars of Newman singing "Gone Dead Train". Note: some S&M sex in the clip, if you click on it.

Performance opening

And "Hashishin" by Cooder and Buffy Sainte-Marie:

Might as well include the most famous song from the movie:


20 faves #12: derek and the dominos, layla

12th of 20, roughly by chronology.

Eric Clapton's work with Cream solidified his reputation. His long career has entrenched his work in the rock history books. A man who plays guitar as good as Clapton is always going to have tracks here or there that amaze. But I'd say the title of his 1989 album describes much of his career: Journeyman. (Christgau wrote, "What did you expect him to call it--Hack?") Which leaves Layla. The Dominos blend seamlessly with Derek, Duane Allman gives the sideman performance of all time, and Clapton's pain leads to an anguished work of art that never got old. One of only two non-compilation "double albums" on my list ... it makes great use of the extra space.


20 faves #11: john lennon, plastic ono band

11th of 20, roughly by chronology.

How appropriate the I finally move beyond the 60s with the album that did what it could to end the 60s. This album was part of a two-pronged attack ... the major part, to be sure, but Jann Wenner's interview with John Lennon, which ran in two issues of Rolling Stone, was amazing at the time, with Lennon pulling some of the same tricks he did on the album, basically trashing everyone but himself and Yoko. It's ferocious on the page, although if you hear the audio, he sounds much nicer, somehow. For me, there are the post-Beatles solo albums, a few good, mostly not, and there is Plastic Ono Band, which dominates them all to this day.

Plastic ono band


music friday: 1987

Guns N' Roses, "Sweet Child O' Mine". I love Slash's opening riff, but I confess, I can't stand the sound of Axl's voice.

Prince, "Sign O' the Times". I wouldn't argue with those who said this was his best album, although I'd vote for Dirty Mind. This was the last time I paid close attention to his albums, even as I still attended his concerts on occasion.

The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl, "Fairytale of New York". I like the sound of Shane MacGowan's voice just fine.

U2, "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For". I really wish Bono wasn't so annoying.

Sonic Youth, "Schizophrenia". I didn't really start paying attention to them until the next album, but they were getting to a place I could appreciate. I've actually seen them twice (1999 and 2009), which is two times more than I'd expect.

Sinéad O'Connor, "Troy". The first single from her first album. I tried to write while I was listening to this live performance video, and I had to stop ... she's commands our attention.

Aerosmith, "Rag Doll". There's a good, brief discussion of Aerosmith in the comments for last week's Music Friday.

Big Daddy Kane, "Raw". I tend to forget about Big Daddy Kane, but he was one of the best rappers of his day.

Rosanne Cash, "Tennessee Flat Top Box". We just went to a Pink concert with our daughter, which reminded me that the first concert we took her to, when she was four years old, was Bonnie Raitt and Rosanne Cash.

The Sisters of Mercy, "This Corrosion". The video is not of the 11-minute version.

Bonus 1987 track: