music friday: 2011

Continuing with years I don't know enough about. There's an interesting interview in the latest Rolling Stone, "Monsters of Rock Criticism: Greil Marcus Interviews Robert Christgau". It features two eminent rock critics in their 70s who don't seem to have any trouble "keeping up". Obviously, I am neither Marcus nor Christgau, although I spent a lot of my life following in Greil's footsteps. At least in this list of ten, I've seen one artist in concert.

M83,"Midnight City". French electronic music. I'm just narrow-minded enough to dislike this just by the description. It's actually not that bad.

Lana Del Rey, "Video Games". This is better.

Tyler, The Creator, "Yonkers". This video is some dark shit.

PJ Harvey, "The Words That Maketh Murder". Rolling Stone called this "Fairly peppy for a PJ Harvey song about murder".

James Blake, "The Wilhelm Scream". I like the title.

Jay-Z & Kanye West, "Otis". I don't know what to do with this, which samples one of my all-time favorite tracks in a creative way, but it just makes me want to hear the original. We like what we grew up with, I guess ... I remember playing the Live in Europe version of "Try a Little Tenderness" for my mom, and she said it was all wrong because Otis didn't do it like Sinatra did.

Cass McCombs, "County Line". Born and raised in Concord, California, which is about 15 miles from where I grew up.

Wild Flag, "Romance". Well, I only saw one of these ten acts live, but Wild Flag make up for the absence of any others. I saw them three times, which is pretty good considering they only stuck around long enough to make one album. If anyone unfamiliar with the band wonders why I was so taken with them, I have two words: "Carrie" and "Janet".

The Weeknd, "House of Balloons/Glass Table Girls". Since he came up earlier, might as well quote Christgau here: "If coming leaves your penis feeling that bad, fella, remember that they're not called narcotics for nothing".

Drake, "Marvin's Room". He started on Degrassi: The Next Generation. He's sold a zillion records. Yet when I think of Drake, I think of this:

Spotify playlist ... no Jay-Z on Spotify, so I've added Otis for an encore:

Here is my mom's version of "Try a Little Tenderness" ... my parents had many, many Sinatra albums when I was growing up, including Nice 'n' Easy:

My version of "Try a Little Tenderness" ... I got to go now, and I don't wanna go:


Plentitude. That’s what I love about popular music. That’s the reason I review all those albums. I review albums — really positive reviews — I know I’ll never hear again, ‘cause I’m just not going to have the time. But continuing to document that plentitude is what I’m in it for. You know, democracy. And democracy is seriously threatened at this moment. We’re both worried about it but we can’t. . . . Fuck, we don’t know what’s going to happen.

-- Robert Christgau, interviewed by Greil Marcus

music friday: 2010

It had to happen eventually. Here are ten tracks by ten artists, none of whom I have ever seen live. It would seem that 2010 marks the end of my youth and the beginning of my old age. Outside of the inescapable Adele, none of these songs impacted me very much.

Kanye West, "Runaway". "Let's have a toast for the douche bags."

Adele, "Rolling in the Deep".

Caribou, "Odessa". From Wikipedia: "'Odessa', was featured in a commercial for the automobile manufacturer Acura, the football video game by EA Sports, FIFA 11, as well as in a 2011 Lexus CT 200h commercial, and a 2012 Tissot commercial for watches."

Ariel Pink, "Round and Round". Oh, let's quote Wikipedia again, this time telling us that Ariel Pink "is frequently cited as 'godfather' of the hypnagogic pop and chillwave movements."

Janelle Monáe, "Tightrope". The video link is to her explosive U.S. TV debut on Letterman, where she takes over from James Brown. You might know her from Moonlight or Hidden Figures.

Flying Lotus, "... And the World Laughs with You". Correction, Flying Lotus feat. Thom Yorke.

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, "Heart in Your Heartbreak". "She was the miss in your mistake."

Javiera Mena, "Hasta la verdad". I love the drummer in the video, Natalia Pérez.

Drake, "Over". I'm too lazy to do the work, but who has sold more music, Drake or Adele? I think it's Drake, but what do I know?

Best Coast, "Boyfriend". "I'd love him to the very end, but instead he's just a friend. I wish he was my boyfriend."

Bonus ... I probably played this as much as the above ten combined:

Spotify playlist: 

music friday: 2009

I keep thinking I'm going to get to a year where I have nothing to say about any of the chosen songs. But there is at least one here that was so massive even I, at 56 years old, knew it. I also keep waiting for the year when I haven't seen any of the artists in concert. I guess as long as Bruce Springsteen keeps showing up, that won't happen, but there is one other act here that I have actually seen twice.

Jay-Z and Alicia Keys, "Empire State of Mind". How big was this one? Let's ask Wikipedia: "A critical success, 'Empire State of Mind' was included in multiple critics' top 10 list of the best songs of 2009; including Rolling Stone magazine and The New York Times. It was also nominated for three Grammy Awards, winning Best Rap Song and Best Rap/Sung Collaboration. The song achieved commercial success worldwide. It peaked within the top 10 in many countries including the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, France, Italy and Sweden. In the US, the song topped the Billboard Hot 100 for five consecutive weeks, becoming Jay-Z's first number-one single on the chart as a lead artist. It appeared in 2009 year-end charts in Italy, Australia and the US, where it was also the last number one hit of the 2000s. As of June 2014, the single has sold over 5.5 million copies in the United States."

Animal Collective, "My Girls". One of the dozen (at least) tracks sampled for Beyoncé's Lemonade.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs, "Zero". Almost as ubiquitous as "Empire", but it didn't make it into my own sheltered existence. Featured in everything from Ugly Betty and Gossip Girl to a Tony Hawk video game.

Fuck Buttons, "Surf Solar". Hard to argue with their name, if nothing else.

Raekwon, "House of Flying Daggers". This track features Method Man, which always makes me think of this:

Florence + the Machine, "Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)". Here's a band where I know they are important (this track comes from their successful debut album) but I couldn't tell you a thing about them.

Sonic Youth, "What We Know". This is the band I've seen twice, the second being in 2009.

The Roots, "How I Got Over". 2009 marks the first year The Roots worked as Jimmy Fallon's house band, first on Late Night and later on The Tonight Show, immediately becoming arguably the coolest house band in late-night history.

Neko Case, "People Got a Lotta Nerve". Trivia you won't get elsewhere: Neko Case and Raekwon are the same age.

Bruce Springsteen, "Wrecking Ball". The album of the same name contained some of Bruce's angriest lyrics, but this title track was written as a tribute to a football stadium. Not to be confused with the Miley Cyrus song.

Spotify playlist, with a substitute for "Empire State of Mind" since Jay-Z doesn't do Spotify.

Bonus: an inspired version of Miley's "Wrecking Ball":


throwback to bruce springsteen

For some reason, we've seen Bruce Springsteen a lot of times in October. I've seen him 36 times, which by the averages means we should have seen him 3 times in October. But the first two times we saw him were in October, and there was the road trip in October of 1980 where we saw him five times in a week. In total, we have seen him 16 times in October.

Since it's October 25, I'll play the Throwback Thursday game and look at the three times we saw him on October 25.

First was 1980 in Portland, the first day of our 1980 Road Trip. It was our 6th Bruce concert, and the only time we've seen him outside of California. That was the year Mount St. Helens erupted, and while the most damage was done in May, in mid-October there were more eruptions. In honor of this event, Bruce played "On Top of Old Smokey" for the first and only time in his career. Here is the audio from the entire show ... "On Top of Old Smokey" comes at 1:28:35:

Our second Bruce/October 25 show came 19 years later, in 1999. This was the Reunion Tour ... we saw three shows in Oakland, the first of which came on the 25th. Not much is easily found from that show, so here is "Light of Day" from the second night, including a touch of Moby Grape's "Omaha":

Our third, and thus far last, Bruce on October 25 show came in 2007.10-25-07. I saw "Our", but in fact, Robin didn't go to this one, the first time I was there without her ... she went with me the next night. One advantage was that I was in the pit for the show on the 25th ... Robin doesn't do pit. Here is a photo of me and my friend Tom at that show:

Oakland pit 7 edit steven tom

This was the only one of these three shows that came after I started this blog, so:

"Night One"

music friday: 2008

It's time to end the pretense that I know much about these songs. I turned 55 in 2008, and the only ones of the following ten songs that had an impression on me were the Bruce song and "That's Not My Name". So I present these without comment, which will mostly be the default the rest of the year, as I use Music Friday to catch up on music I missed.

Hercules and Love Affair, "Blind".

Lil Wayne, "A Milli".

Portishead, 'The Rip".

Bruce Springsteen, "The Wrestler". The title song from an Oscar-nominated film. Bruce won a Golden Globe for this one. I saw him sing this in concert once, in 2009.

Estelle featuring Kanye West, "American Boy".

Erykah Badu, "The Healer".

Girls, "Hellhole Ratrace".

Ting Tings, "That's Not My Name". I saw them open for Pink.

Chairlift, "Bruises".

TV on the Radio, "Golden Age".

Spotify playlist: 

rock and roll hall of fame

First, we can eliminate Stevie Nicks, John Prine, and Rufus with Chaka Khan. Nicks is already in for Fleetwood Mac. Her solo work consists of "Edge of Seventeen", a hit with Tom Petty, and an album that on its own wouldn't be enough to get her in, even if was tremendous, which it is not. I love John Prine. He's probably my favorite artist on this year's ballot, and he's the only one I've seen live (OK, I saw Stevie with F.Mac, and Tom Morello with Bruce). But as much as I like him even now, in his later years, his reputation rests mainly on his first album. It's great, but it's not enough. Rufus had a few fine singles, but they never made a truly great album. 

The Zombies had a few great singles in the 60s, and one great album. Not enough for the Hall of Fame. I've never quite understood the MC5 ... influential, but there's only three albums, all overrated in my mind, but even if they aren't, three albums doesn't make them one of the five best artists on this list. Devo was a lot like the MC5 ... attention-getting first album, innovative presentation, but after three albums they lose their touch. I appreciate that metal fans feel left out, rightfully so, and I don't know enough to effectively evaluate the genre. For me, though, Def Leppard is easy to pass on.

That leaves eight, and fans are allowed to vote for five at one time. Who do I drop? All eight are good. Todd Rundgren certainly has his champions, and his output in the early-70s is why he's on this list. But I have to drop somebody, and I don't see enough in Rundgren's career after 1974 to win my vote. I have argued for LL Cool J in the past. He's this year's token rapper. It wouldn't bother me if he got in ... I'd like it, actually. If I was voting for 7 artists instead of 5, he'd make it. I admit I'm surprised I've kept Rage Against the Machine on my possible list this long, which is probably reason enough to pass on them.

And then there were five. These are the artists I'd vote for. They aren't all favorites of mine, but even when I'm not a fan, I understand why they are important. When I make my own Hall, John Prine will be there. In the meantime:

  1. Radiohead
  2. The Cure
  3. Kraftwerk
  4. Roxy Music
  5. Janet Jackson

Honestly, I think they are all no-brainers, which is why Todd and LL and Rage don't make it. I'm one of those old Nick Hornby guys re: Radiohead. "Creep" is the only song of theirs I would recognize right off (it is a great song, of course). But Acclaimed Music, which collates critical opinion, lists Radiohead as the 6th-best artist of all time. The only ones above them are The Beatles, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, and Bruce Springsteen. Even if you want to quibble about Acclaimed Music's methodology, it's hard to argue with that kind of company. The one Cure album I treasure is Staring at the Sea, their first singles collection. Seventeen tracks and not a dud among them. I prefer Singles Going Steady by The Buzzcocks, but I'm not being asked to vote for them, so The Cure wins. "Autobahn" by itself practically places Kraftwerk in the Hall, and that's not their only song, plus they get points for innovation and influence. Roxy Music has belonged for a long time, and it's nice to see them on this list. As I said on Facebook, I don't dislike them, and I appreciate that they elicit wonderful reactions from their real fans, so I don't feel I could add anything to that. I can say that I have a favorite Roxy Music song, by far my favorite. I can also say that I never remember which one it is, so I'm always confusing it with another song on the same album. (It's "Out of the Blue".) Finally, Janet Jackson has had a bunch of great albums and lots of great songs, and her peak arguably lasted more than a decade.

One last thing. I'm trying to be "objective" here (impossible, I know). But then there's the question of what I actually listen to. So, off I go to to see what it tells me. Here are the 15 artists, ranked by the number of times I've listened to them since 2005. This is the real Steven:

  1. John Prine
  2. Radiohead
  3. The Cure
  4. Todd Rundgren
  5. The MC5
  6. Roxy Music
  7. LL Cool J
  8. Devo
  9. Janet Jackson
  10. Kraftwerk
  11. Rufus with Chaka Khan
  12. Rage Against the Machine
  13. Stevie Nicks
  14. The Zombies
  15. Def Leppard

Finally, a nod to someone who didn't make the 15. If they had, they would replace The Cure on my list. The following song ... I love it so much, in my fiction-writing days I wrote an entire short story about someone who played "Temptation" over and over. I saw them in 1985, and it's one of my great regrets that they didn't play "Temptation" that night. Considering it's the most-played song of theirs in concert, I wonder why they hurt me like that. I mean, they played "Sister Ray"!

music friday: 2007

M.I.A., "Paper Planes". Straight to hell.

LCD Soundsystem, "All My Friends". Covered on the B-side by Franz Ferdinand and John Cale (not together).

MGMT, "Time to Pretend". Supposedly inspired by a praying mantis.

Arcade Fire, "Keep the Car Running". When Bruce Springsteen invites you onstage, you better bring a car song.

Kanye West, "Stronger". After his visit to Donald Trump, his past work may be reevaluated.

Feist, "1234". I dare you to click on the video link.

UGK, "Int'l Players Anthem (I Choose You)". Featuring OutKast.

Robyn, "With Every Heartbeat". For some reason, this video is from a Nobel Peace Prize event.

The National, "Fake Empire". By this point, there will always be at least one song about which I have nothing to say.

Bruce Springsteen, "Livin' in the Future". Magic wasn't his best album, and this isn't the best song from that album. But I've always been intrigued by the line, "We're livin' in the future, and none of this has happened yet."

Spotify playlist: 

perhaps i need to go out tonight

Quiet around here.

Partly that's because I had written a post about the movie The Look of Silence, only to have the draft disappear (user error, but still frustrating). I was already struggling to write about it, and lost all inspiration when I had to start over. Short take: definitely see it if you've seen The Act of Killing. Don't see it if you haven't seen the other film ... you need to watch that first.

I'm sure I'll have a post about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In fact, I've already written a bit in a Facebook thread, but that's doesn't fill space here, at least not yet.

I'm finished Heather Havrilesky's new book of essays, What If This Were Enough? Again, I wrote elsewhere, in this case in an email to a friend. I'll cut-and-paste ... this is incomplete, but better than nothing:

Her title bothered me at first ... was this going to be an ode to accepting the world as it is (which turned out to be partly true) without questioning the parts of that world that are destructive and dangerous? But she isn't interested in sticking her head in the ground and ignoring injustice. Nor is she promoting navel-gazing. She's arguing against the ever-present idea in our culture that we must always strive for more, that the best is just around the corner. She doesn't only mean consumer culture, but rather, the ways in which our acquisitive culture never allows us to stop and ask if what we have and where we are is enough.

At the end of the book, she writes:

We are called to resist viewing ourselves as consumers or as commodities. We are called to savor the process of our own slow, patient development, instead of suffering in an enervated, anxious state over our value and our popularity. We are called to view our actions as important, with or without consecration by forces beyond our control. We are called to plant these seeds in our world: to dare to tell every living soul that they already matter, that their seemingly mundane lives are a slowly unfolding mystery, that their small choices and acts of generosity are vitally important.

Finally, I just listened to this, which made me feel good for some reason:


music friday: 2006

Gnarls Barkley, "Crazy". Grammy winner. Pazz & Jop winner. Best song of the year in Rolling Stone.

Amy Winehouse, "Rehab". Three-time Grammy winner. Pazz & Jop winner. She said she wouldn't go to rehab. How's that work out?

Hot Chip, "Over and Over". I'm getting old, Exhibit A: I've never heard of these guys.

Ghostface Killah, "Shakey Dog". OK, I know this one. Christgau gave the album an A+.

The Hold Steady, "Stuck Between Stations". First line namechecks Sal Paradise.

Pink, "U + Ur Hand". I'm not here for your entertainment.

The Raconteurs, "Steady As She Goes". By 2006, Jack White's presence meant a band was called a "Supergroup".

Cat Power, "The Greatest". She was already a veteran, having released her first song 13 years earlier.

Lupe Fiasco, "Kick Push". On the other hand, this was his first single.

Bruce Springsteen, "O Mary Don't You Weep". First recorded in 1915. No, not by Bruce.


Spotify playlist: