Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Festivus: Sam’s Airing of Grievances

Editor’s note: Remember that guy who wrote about Kiss? Sam’s back with some Rock and Roll Hall of Fame musings. I think this guy is passing the audition. Mainly because he mentioned the Cure again, which keeps him in my good graces. Plus, he writes one fucking thing and sets a one-day high in Music or Space Shuttle? traffic! This tells me that Sam has awesome friends who click stuff he shares on Facebook, AND that Todd and I need better, more-likely-to-click-our-links Facebook friends. (By the way, you can find all MoSS? posts at our Facebook page. Click the “Like” button on the right side of the page.) –Chris


rock and roll hall of fame exterior

I’m obsessed with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Actually, I’m obsessed with all Hall of Fames in general, I guess. I pissed and moaned for days a few months ago when my main Houston Astro, Craig Biggio, missed induction. You see, it takes 75 percent of the votes to earn induction. He got 74.8 percent. They don’t round up. So after the number of ballots cast was made public, it was determined that he missed the cut by two votes.

Two!

One Hall voter came out and said he left his ballot completely empty except for a vote for ’80s pitching ace Jack Morris, justifying his refusal to vote for anybody who played during the “steroid era.” Jack Morris, who pitched in the ‘80s and early ‘90s. In the American League. Which means he pitched, at some point in time, to Jose Canseco, the only guy proud to admit before Congress that he willingly took steroids. Take a bow, genius.

Even more insane, every fall, I spend a crazy amount of time obsessing over a thing called the Survivor Hall of Fame. Yes, a Hall of Fame for the CBS reality game show. For weeks, I solicit (they would probably say troll) the hell out of former players on Twitter. I argue about it on message boards. I’ve even had my own personal rules for induction criteria published. However, there’s no physical building or artifacts. No pilgrimage to see your favorite players enshrined. Really, the Survivor Hall of Fame is essentially just a blog, with a few photos and some online interviews. You know what? I don’t care. I love Survivor so I want it done right. I care. WAAAAYYYYY too much. Sorry, Gordon.

But there’s nothing that saps my time and energy like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In fact, I’m a little embarrassed by how much it matters to me. But it does. And it’s never mattered more to me than this year, because the first truly revolutionary band (Nirvana) of the generation that defines my age group (Generation X) came up for induction and got in on the first ballot. Even more significantly, after years of crying to my poor, poor friends and colleagues about the injustice of the snub, the band that helped shape my pop cultural existence (Kiss) finally got in after having to wait for 14 years. The ceremony was a couple of weeks ago now, and it’s still all I think about. I really need a life.

I engaged in plenty of back and forth on social media this season, and was fortunate to gain lots of insight from a few people much more informed than I am (check out Brian Ives, Tom Lane, and the endless resource that is Future Rock Legends, for starters). Plus, after the illuminating blog by Talking Heads drummer Chris Frantz, I feel like I understand better how much politics can ruin something that represents an entity that’s supposed to be about rebellion like rock and roll.

So, in the wake of all that, the following diatribe may read like a butthurt plea supporting some of my favorite bands that don’t have a chance in hell of ever being inducted (hell, even a few I don’t really care about at all but still appreciate their significance). But the time has come for the airing of grievances … and I got a lot of problems with all of you.

ONE:

MC5 shirtless

MC5, also known as T-Shirt Zero

For me, maybe the hardest thing to reconcile with that institution are the bands that get inducted because of how “important” or “influential” they are. It can become very hypocritical (and I admit, I love most of bands that qualify in this rant) to declare something “adored but never accepted by the masses.” The Sex Pistols had one album. One. Their entire existence is one album and a tour. They imploded within two years. So where is the MC5? They had THREE albums, they had the 1968 Democratic National Convention, and many knowledgeable people would say they’re amongst the godfathers of both punk AND metal.

Also, bands like the Velvet Underground and the Stooges are in, some might say because their frontmen (Lou Reed and Iggy Pop, respectively) became rock legends later down the road. But both of those bands, when they were actually happening, never sold any records and never had any hits. But everyone who did like them started their own bands (I know, this is not an original thought, but it’s true).

runaways group photoOK, so by that rationale, who fits the bill? The Runaways. No one, and I do mean NO ONE, bought their records (except for Japanese teenagers), but …  a frontwoman who went on to greater fame solo (Joan Jett)? Check. (Not to mention Lita Ford, often considered the first lady of heavy metal). How many all-girl rock bands formed in their wake? How many of the ‘90s riot grrrl bands cite them as primary influences? Plus, “Cherry Bomb” is more recognizable than any song the Stooges ever put out (I love the Stooges, by the way). And OK, “Cherry Bomb” is one song. But my two-word rebuttal: Percy Sledge.

There’s been a lot of talk about Joan Jett going in solo (or with the Blackhearts) and the other night – fronting a reunited version of Nirvana at both the ceremony and the soon-to-be-legendary secret show they played afterward at an underground Brooklyn metal club – did a TON to help her cause. But like Linda Ronstadt, Jett’s biggest songs are cover tunes. I’d still rather see her go in with the Runaways. It will never happen, though. They’ll forever be seen as a gimmick and I don’t think they can ever get out from under that. But they belong in the argument.

And while we’re talking about influences … with all the Seattle bands coming up for induction, Motorhead should be considered. Black Flag should be considered. The Melvins should absolutely be considered. Watch some documentaries and listen to the words coming from the musicians themselves: Who introduced Dave Grohl to Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic? The Melvins. Who invented that mud tone that became grunge? The Melvins. If some of these other bands get considered for trivial reasons, so should they. They’ve been around for over 30 years now. But will they get in? Absolutely not. I think the closest they’ll come is frontman Buzz Osbourne getting namedropped by Novoselic and drummer Dale Crover getting praised by Grohl during Nirvana’s induction (it must be noted that Crover played on enough songs that ended up on both Bleach and Incesticide to be considered one of the band’s pre-Grohl drummers, but he, like Chad Channing, gets left out in the cold. More on this later …)

go-go's on rolling stone coverTWO:

Women are shamefully underrepresented in the Hall. I was worried about a lot of the divas getting the shaft…that is, up until the induction of Donna Summer. Her induction opened the doors for Whitney Houston or Mariah Carey in a huge way (all three are ridiculously talented singers with mountains of No. 1 singles, but who write little and play nothing). But if those two DON’T get in, you can absolutely forget about the likes of, say, Britney Spears (hey, stop laughing…I’m just trying to think of big stars down the road). Will Mary J. Blige or Missy Elliott be there? Is Carly Simon worthy? Because she’s not in.

The Go-Go’s or the Bangles should get a fair look, but they won’t…either not enough big hits or they weren’t together long enough.

BenatarBut the Go-Go’s do have historical significance on their side—the first all-female band that wrote and performed their own material to have a No. 1 album. They deserve a shot, because without one, will other critically adored all-girl bands such as Sleater-Kinney have a chance?

And you know who should be in the talk, especially now that Ronstadt got in? Pat Benatar. People forget just how huge she was in the late ’70s and early ’80s. The hits, the massive exposure at the dawn of MTV, the multi-platinum records and Grammys…they speak for themselves.

THREE:

The bias against hard rock and metal drives me insane. Off the top of my head, the only bands identified as heavy rock or metal that are currently in are Black Sabbath, Van Halen, AC/DC, Metallica, Guns N’ Roses, and now Kiss. OK, maybe Aerosmith and Alice Cooper, too (sorry, I don’t count Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix or the Who).

Maybe I’m just annoyed that rap seems to get preferential treatment.­ To me growing up, rap and metal were truly kindred spirits—the extreme branches on the rock and roll tree, so much so that they merited their own specialty shows on MTV, metal being the extreme offshoot of rock, rap the extreme offshoot of R&B/soul. So why is one more important than the other? Look, I love Run-DMC, the Beastie Boys, and Public Enemy as much as the next guy. Love them. They absolutely deserve to be in. But why is it that the rap groups always get in on the first ballot, but a groundbreaking band like Sabbath—who invented an entire genre of music—had to wait 10 years? It’s disrespectful.

Paul Stanley really hit the nail on the head in his induction speech: fandom means nothing to these people. All that matters, it appears, is critical acclaim, something metal rarely gets.

The British godfathers of metal (Sabbath—in, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Motorhead) and the Big 4 of American thrash (Metallica—in , Slayer, Megadeth, Anthrax) deserve consideration. And I’ll say it again: Deep Purple on the outside looking in is a joke.

FOUR:

Speaking of Deep Purple, let’s pretend they get in next year. Who’s getting inducted? Will it only be the Mark II version of the band, the version behind “Smoke on the Water,” “Highway Star,” “Speed King,” Space Truckin’,” and “Woman From Tokyo”? (Seriously, how are the fuck are they NOT in already?) Because I think they’re up to at least Mark VIII or IX by now, right? That’s a lot of guys over 40+ years.

That seems to be the big controversy (and rightfully so). Who decides who’s getting in? Why did Parliament-Funkadelic get all 957 of its members inducted, but Kiss had to settle for the four original members, even though they had at least four other guys with decade-plus stints consisting of multiple gold albums and world tours? Both bands were garish theatrical groups on the Casablanca label in the ‘70s. Is it because Parliament got sampled on lots of g-funk rap albums in the ’90s? Who knows?

But there needs to be some consistency. Sammy Hagar gets inducted for his stint fronting Van Halen, but Ronnie James Dio can’t get the same for his time reinventing Black Sabbath? (I think this stinks of Sharon Osbourne, but that’s just a hunch.) Rob Trujillo (one album in a five-year stint at the time) gets to go in with Metallica, and 32-year-old Josh Klinghoffer, who had been in the band for about two-plus years and had played on exactly one album, gets to go in with the Red Hot Chili Peppers. But a guy like Gilby Clarke, who made significant contributions to Guns N’ Roses, gets left out? (After reading the Frantz blog, it’s much more clear: where the Talking Heads had Seymour Stein, Metallica and the Chili Peppers had Cliff Burnstein (he manages both AND sits on the nominating committee).

Chad Channing played drums on Nirvana’s debut album, as well as several other b-sides and live cuts. He did the early gigs and tours. He participated in the early sessions for Nevermind and wrote several drum parts that Dave Grohl willingly admitted that he just copied in the final product (kudos to Grohl for saying this during his actual Hall induction speech, by the way). Oh, and he actually IS on Nevermind, albeit in a minor role (and especially now that the early demo sessions recorded by Butch Vig have been released on the album’s anniversary deluxe edition). He didn’t get in. Yet every drummer who ever played with the Red Hot Chili Peppers got in (obviously, I think the Red Hot Chili Peppers broke the Hall of Fame). I can’t wait to see how they handle the Pearl Jam drummer situation. Jesus…

FIVE:

Finally a few passing thoughts: Woefully missing are the alt-rock and new wave bands of the early ’80s. To name but a few … The Smiths, The Cure, Depeche Mode, Joy Division/New Order, The Cars, Duran Duran, The Replacements, Sonic Youth, Husker Du. As for rap, I don’t really care…and I’ll tell you why: Eventually that’s the stuff that gonna take over this thing. Eminem. Kanye. Jay-Z. It’s coming. They’re the biggest rock stars of the post-Napster era when the record companies started losing a little bit of their influence (I mean, we’ve got a LONG time before the White Stripes and bands like Arcade Fire become eligible). With that in mind, just give me NWA, A Tribe Called Quest, Wu-Tang Clan, 2Pac, and Biggie. Those were the rappers and crews that shaped my era. After they get in, I don’t care.

As far as my best guess for the bands of my generation…I personally don’t think a band like, say, Motley Crue has a prayer. Even with solid membership, lots of legitimate hits, a strong touring history, and the greatest story ever told, I think they’re immune even if believers in poptimism gain more influence in the nominating committee.

motley crue all glammed out

A lot of girls from Chris’ hometown looked a lot like Vince Neil does in this photo.

But you know what…says who? Motley Crue doesn’t have a shot because Rolling Stone doesn’t like them? A band shouldn’t base their legacy solely on a handful of critics with too much influence and power telling them how awesome they were. Isn’t that kind of what killed Kurt Cobain? Pretty sure he hated what that did to his band. I’m not advocating their enshrinement, but one thing everybody should respect about a band like Motley Crue—even if you think their music is either awesome or shit—is that they have no fucks to give when it comes to what anyone says about them on a critical level. It hasn’t stopped them from their decades of sold-out shows and platinum records.

(I’m well aware that someone somewhere will say the same thing about Nickelback in 20 years, but that becomes a question of eras…you know what: I’ll deal with that when it happens …)

But a band from that era that should get considered is Def Leppard, the rare band from the ‘80s glam metal period that garnered critical acclaim on top of massive commercial success.

Nick Drake holding guitar

Nick Drake, true artist. Way more acclaim after death.

As for the ’90s, come on. Pearl Jam is a mortal lock (I can’t believe they haven’t had their eligibility period waved). Radiohead is a lock. Beck is a lock. Green Day is a lock (eligible next year, actually, and I’ll be stunned if they have to wait). I have a hunch Rage Against the Machine is a lock. Eventually, Nine Inch Nails, Jane’s Addiction, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, and Smashing Pumpkins are all major contenders and all will be there over time. And I think Oasis has the most obvious shot of representing Britpop. And I keep reading about people saying bands like Blur and Pavement, for example, are shoo-ins, but I don’t know, I gotta see it first before I believe it.

And finally, my own personal snubs…well, now that Kiss is FINALLY in, I’m going with Deep Purple (too many anthems to ignore), Chicago (Jann Wenner reportedly is to them what Dave Marsh was to Kiss), Nick Drake (maybe the most perfect discography of all time) and the MC5 (seriously, the Stooges are in and they are NOT? Come on. “Kick Out The Jams” is bigger and certainly more iconic than ANYTHING the Stooges did. They are the first band associated with the sound that is considered punk rock) …

Sheesh, I feel like a battered wife after that. Why do you hate me, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, when I want to love you so much?

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MoSS? Presents… The Undisputed Top Albums Ever, #20-16

Yep, we’re making a list. Two separate lists, actually, so the above graphic is a bit misleading. Accounting for the limited overlap in Todd’s and Chris’ lists, it’s more like the top 174 or something like that.

Anyway, after months of scientific analysis, hours of listening and re-listening to albums from years gone by, we have arrived at a definitive list of the top albums ever recorded. Our research is not open to interpretation, but you’re more than welcome to complain about the fact that your favorite albums aren’t on this list; we’ll simply respond by telling you that your favorite records aren’t really all that good.

Here are some spoilers: you’re not going to find the typical hipster stuff like Neutral Milk Hotel or Slint or even stuff one/both of us actually likes such as DJ Shadow or Pavement. This isn’t Rolling Stone so you’re not going to find Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band or Pet Sounds at the top. Wham’s Make It Big was snubbed.

We’re not going to roll it all out at once; no sense rushing through all this quality music! But Music or Space Shuttle? is gonna be pretty busy over the next two months.

That’s enough of an intro. Let’s get on with it…

Chris’ #20-16

(click play button below to sample these five albums)

20. PortisheadThird

19. Depeche ModeViolator

18. Nick DrakePink Moon

17. Smashing PumpkinsGish

16. Sigur Ros( )

A CLOSER LOOK AT…

#17: Smashing Pumpkins, Gish

cover for gishWe said we’d keep our “closer looks” to two artists per entry until the top 10; as a result, I’m basically ignoring the album (Violator) that defined a big part of my junior year of high school, right around the time that I ended a relationship that by all accounts was perfect and entered into another that was short-sighted yet valuable all the same. And if you ever wanted an album to soundtrack the mixed emotions of a confused teenager, you can’t go wrong with the extremes found on Violator.

Yet I’m opting to talk at length about one of two albums that defined my senior year of high school, when I wised up and stopped taking science courses (I took physics, but that’s math) and dropped Advanced Composition to take Parenting and started dating girls two grades below me. And yes, listened to Smashing Pumpkins’ Gish hundreds of times.

Thanks to Spin, which wrote a feature about a handful of bands to watch, I made a mental note to check out this oddly named band. It wasn’t hard to remember the name, probably because it’s a terrible name for a band. Most people laughed at the name when I told them they had to check out Smashing Pumpkins. Often times they would snicker or roll their eyes or whatever and never listen to the blank tape I carried with me at all times. Then again, a lot of people I knew back then had no interest in anything other than Zeppelin or Garth or Poison (but rarely all three).

Despite this reaction, perhaps the name is genius. I certainly remembered it in the period between reading that Spin article and buying the CD. And if you’re as good as the Pumpkins were on their debut disc, you can make a ballsy move like naming your band Smashing Pumpkins. Because once you hear them, you’re not going to give a fuck what the band name is, aside from the fact that you need the name so you can tell your friends they have to listen to this band now.

The clean snaps from Jimmy Chamberlin’s snare drum immediately call the listener to attention. The rumble of the bass comes next, and then the Billy Corgan Experience comes at you with guitars a-blazin’. You do a double-take when the thin Corgan voice fills the air, but you’re still rolling with the groove, so you shrug a little bit. Soon enough, Corgan is assailing your ears with layers of solo guitar work before the bass’s rumble is isolated again and the song hits its final chorus and it comes to a halt and you’re all like “dude! What the fuck!” And then “Siva” starts and you’re air-guitaring the shit out of your bedroom/basement/car’s driver seat/back room at Pizza Hut/wherever.

These aren’t the 1980s guitar licks, processed and played only in the higher ranges. This shit was grungy (aha!), tuned down and dirty as fuck. “Siva” plays up the LOUDquietLOUD aspect of late ’80s/early ’90s alt-rock at least twice, the second time again isolating the bass guitar, which isn’t playing anything complicated (although D’Arcy might disagree) but propels the song forward while the guitars chill the fuck out for a few seconds and Billy whisper-sings about wanting to know what you’re after because he just wants to get there faster and then the SONG JUST FUCKING EXPLODES and you’re punching the air along with every hit of Chamberlin’s drums and you are like “holy shit this is so so so so goddamn good and I hope this puts a fucking ice pick in the eye socket of ‘heavy metal’ and all that hair metal shit because holy fuck this is awesome.”

And then “Rhinoceros” takes everything down a notch, to let you know that Billy doesn’t need layers of guitar running through Big Muff pedals to do his thing.

And then “Bury Me” brings the guitar heroics back. And then “Crush” slows it all down again. Songs like “Crush” and the next song, “Suffer,” are the songs that best exemplify what Spin said about these guys (I’m paraphrasing): an album you put on as you relax and get all reflective while watching the specks floating in the beam of sunlight coming through your bedroom window. There’s something romantic to that description, and I always enjoyed approaching parts of this album through that lens.

The album throttles forward again with “Snail” and “Tristessa,” then concludes with the two most eccentric tracks on the album: the ominous, slow build of “Window Paine” (punctuated with trademark blasts of controlled feedback at song’s end) and “Daydream,” an acoustic tune that features D’Arcy on vocals and a perfect sense of weariness. (And when you think the album is over, a strange reprise of sorts kicks in, with Billy back on vocals and a simple electric guitar line that adds just a touch of sinister to the album’s conclusion).

Many people thought the Pumpkins were from Seattle, because that’s where all the good music like this was coming from, courtesy of Nirvana and Pearl Jam and Soundgarden and Alice in Chains. No, they were from Chicago; yes, they were as good as (if not better than) the folks from the Pacific Northwest.

#16: Sigur Ros, ( )

cover for ( )The challenge: express my love for an album that had no title, no song titles (at least upon initial release), lyrics that weren’t English or any other established language…essentially guide vocals that served more instrumental value than vocal message.

The thing is, as pretentious as the whole thing sounds, the eight songs that make up this untitled album are absolutely gorgeous. I might as well be writing in the nonsense language sung by Jonsi to adequately get across my points…but if nothing else, the bottom line is that these songs create an environment that, to my ears and to my “the afterlife is bullshit” mind, is as close to heaven as I think any of us is going to get.

Much like with Explosions in the Sky, this music sounds like the perfect ingredients for a motion picture score. And the music is varying enough (even if the “lyrics” aren’t) that it works for a number of moods and settings. And the fact that the lyrics aren’t real words is not a hindrance: much like the music behind them, the words can mean whatever you want them to mean. And be honest…a lot of you don’t get the words right when you sing along to songs in English.

(To my ears, the primary “lyric” to the first song is “You sat along the fire/you saw the light/you saw/you suffered alone/you sat alone/your soul”; again, there is no definitive lyric, but that’s what I hear, and it plays into my interpretation of the artistic vision of the music.)

Soaring, atmospheric, conjuring up scenes of natural beauty, fast, loud, slow, quiet, pianos, guitars, percussion, strings, organ, Jonsi…all of these elements add up to bliss. I should take a cue from the album’s lack of words and stop now, and let the music speak for itself. Please listen to the last two songs in my sampler found just above my #20-16 list, and interpret the space between the album title’s parentheses as you will. As someone who will finally see the band in concert in April 2013, I’m sure my interpretations will change again after the live experience. That’s one, if not the primary, beautiful aspect of ( ): there’s always room for your ever-changing view of this wonderful art.

Todd’s #20-16

(click play button below to sample these five albums)

20. Beatles, Revolver

19. The Strokes, Room On Fire

18.The Cure, Disintegration

17. Radiohead, Kid A

16. My Bloody Valentine, Loveless

A CLOSER LOOK AT…

#18: The Cure, Disintegration

I’ll keep this brief because I’m pretty certain my main MoSS? man Chris is going to be waxing poetic about this record at some point down the road. No surprise to all you Chris fans out there I’m sure.

I’d like to say that I was in on this album from the beginning but that wasn’t the case. When Disintegration came out, I was still exploring classic rock and Livin’, Lovin’ my way through the Led Zeppelin catalog. I’d probably heard a few songs from The Cure by then but they were definitely not on my radar at that point. I do remember seeing the video for “Lovesong” and thinking, “What’s that dude whining about?”

So what made me change my mind? Well, a girl of course. Around that time, my dopey friends and I went over to a classmate’s house to hang out with her and her friend from another school. Yes, a new girl from an exotic unknown land. Well, two towns away to be exact. She was cool, cute, and brunette. I was smitten. I have a weakness for brunettes, this is well documented. The TV was tuned to 120 Minutes, an MTV show that played alternative music videos. At some point the video for the song “Fascination Street” was on and new girl said she loved The Cure. What do you think I told her in response? You guessed it…“I love them too. They’re one of my favorite bands of all time.”

She must have sensed I was full of shit. Maybe it was my hair. I was still rocking the mullet. You know. Business in the front…party in the back. See photo on the left. It was an obvious sign of a hard or classic rock lover. Not too long after that I started to wear my hair in the exact opposite way, with my hair long in front and short in back which was more in line with the alternative music that I was getting into. See photo on the right of the band The Ocean Blue. They made the list back at #69 with their self titled debut album. I dressed and wore my hair just like the those guys.

Anyways, exotic-two-towns-away girl didn’t fall for my lie and I, of course, got nowhere with her. It wasn’t a total strikeout though because the experience got me interested in The Cure. Today I wouldn’t be lying if I told her that The Cure is one of my favorite bands of all time. Plus, I can always console myself in the fact that I met and married a way cooler, way hotter brunette that loves The Cure too.

I wonder what happened to two-towns-away girl? I like to think that she married some dude that got her into country music and right now she is listening to Rascal Flatts or something equally as horrid. Not that I’m holding a grudge or anything.

#17: Radiohead, Kid A

This is my highest rated Radiohead album. You won’t be seeing the over hyped OK Computer on any of my lists (unless we make a list of the 100 Most Overrated Albums Ever…mental note) No, Kid A is the Radiohead album for me. I feel the same way about this record as Chris does about Sigur Ros ( ) which he so eloquently wrote about above. The music, while eerily off-putting at times, is beautiful. Though, unlike Jonsi from Sigur Ros, Thom Yorke is singing in English and you can understand most of his lyrics.

In my crazy head, the album Kid A will always be connected to the movie Almost Famous. They really have nothing to do with each other, but I can’t think of one without eventually thinking of the other. They came out around the same time. Almost Famous in September 2000 and Kid A a few weeks later. A week or so after that, Saturday Night Live had Radiohead as the musical guest and the host was, new Hollywood “It Girl” and star of Almost Famous, Kate Hudson.  She really blew up after that movie came out. They threw her in a ton of crap movies and you couldn’t go to a newsstand without seeing her on several magazine covers. Like this Rolling Stone cover from late October 2000.

Not too shabby in the looks department but not really my type. I always liked the actress that played the sister in Almost Famous better, Zooey Deschanel. She’s been involved in much better projects than Kate since then and is in the indie band, She and Him, which gets her astronomically more cool points. I guess Kate did marry the dude from the Black Crowes but that doesn’t really help her cause in my book. And again, I have a weakness for brunettes.

Anyways, I bought that Rolling Stone magazine at the O’hare International Airport before a business flight to Tampa Bay. The two main articles in it are about… you guessed it… Radiohead’s Kid A and the movie Almost Famous.

The last 45 minutes of the flight were pretty bumpy as we came through some bad weather. At times it felt like we were riding a roller coaster as we suddenly gained and lost altitude. I’m not scared of flying but like most people, I find rocketing through the air in a tin can a bit less fun when the tin can is being thrown around by turbulence. I put on my headphones and queued up the first song on Kid A to try and relax. “Everything in It’s Right Place” came over my headphones and did nothing to soothe my nerves. It has a pretty ominous sound to it and made me feel even more like we might not make it safely to the ground. We hit a very bumpy stretch a bit later and when I looked out the window I could see lightning and huge storm clouds ahead.

There is a great part in the movie Almost Famous were the central characters are in a small airplane that has engine troubles and they believe they are going to die as they plummet to the earth. Everyone on board takes the opportunity to make major announcements about there sexuality and/or air out long held grievances. The plane eventually rights itself and they realize that they aren’t going to die. Awkward!

I definitely wasn’t going to be sharing any major revelations with the chatty 300 lb. dude wedged into the seat next to me. So, I just closed my eyes and tried to appear as though I was calmly sleeping through the worst plane flight of my life. At that point, the song “How to Disappear Completely” came over the headphones.  This time the music and lyrics actually made me feel better.

Strobe lights and blown speakers
Fireworks and hurricanes
I’m not here
This isn’t happening
I’m not here
I’m not here
I’m not here

I just kept on listening and by the time the album was over so was the storm. I opened my eyes and there was nothing but clear skies ahead. The rest of the flight went smoothly and we touched down in sunny Florida with our lives and our dignity intact. Although, the dude next to me did reveal that he had been a bed wetter until the age of 15.

Previous installments:

#100-91

#90-81

 

#80-71

 

#70-61

#60-51

#50-41

#40-31

#30-21

MoSS? Presents… The Undisputed Top Albums Ever, #30-21

Yep, we’re making a list. Two separate lists, actually, so the above graphic is a bit misleading. Accounting for the limited overlap in Todd’s and Chris’ lists, it’s more like the top 174 or something like that.

Anyway, after months of scientific analysis, hours of listening and re-listening to albums from years gone by, we have arrived at a definitive list of the top albums ever recorded. Our research is not open to interpretation, but you’re more than welcome to complain about the fact that your favorite albums aren’t on this list; we’ll simply respond by telling you that your favorite records aren’t really all that good.

Here are some spoilers: you’re not going to find the typical hipster stuff like Neutral Milk Hotel or Slint or even stuff one/both of us actually likes such as DJ Shadow or Pavement. This isn’t Rolling Stone so you’re not going to find Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band or Pet Sounds at the top. Wham’s Make It Big was snubbed.

We’re not going to roll it all out at once; no sense rushing through all this quality music! But Music or Space Shuttle? is gonna be pretty busy over the next two months.

That’s enough of an intro. Let’s get on with it…

Chris’ #30-21

(click play button below to sample these 10 albums)

30. Interpol, Antics

29. School of Seven Bells, Alpinisms

28. Vampire Weekend, Contra

27. Prince and the Revolution, Purple Rain

26. The White Stripes, Elephant

25. The Cure, The Head on the Door

24. Nirvana, In Utero

23. The Radio Dept., Pet Grief

22. Crystal Castles, Crystal Castles (a.k.a. II)

21. Pink Floyd, The Wall

A CLOSER LOOK AT…

#27: Prince & the Revolution, Purple Rain

cover for Purple RainCan you recite the opening lines of “Let’s Go Crazy”?

Of course you can. My co-worker Tom (the one who writes) prides himself on it. Every now and then we’ll talk about music and somehow, either through my prompt or his way of steering the conversation, he’ll rattle them off (often double-timing it just to show how awesome he is):

Dearly beloved
We are gathered here today to get through this thing called “life”
Electric word, life; that means forever and that’s a mighty long time
But I’m here to tell ya, there’s something else:
The afterworld
A world of neverending happiness
You can always see the sun
Day
Or night
So when you call up that shrink in Beverly Hills
You know the one
Dr. Everything’ll Be All Right
Instead of asking him how much of your time is left
Ask him how much of your mind, baby
Cause in this life, things are much harder than the afterworld
This life…you’re on your own

(I realized after I typed that up that I didn’t use the letter “U” every time the word “you” is used. Or the numeral 2 instead of the word “to.” An oversight for which I have no apology.)

If John Lennon had been alive in 1984 and heard this opening track, he would have turned to Yoko and said, “Did you hear the way that guy in purple started off his new album? Much cooler than ‘I dig a pygmy by Charles Hawtrey and the Deaf-Aids! Phase one, in which Doris gets her oats,’ innit?”

“Let’s Go Crazy” is one of the three 45RPM records I have from Purple Rain; I didn’t even own the album in its entirety for probably two years after its release. I had a third of it already, along with the sweet b-sides like “Erotic City” (they say “fuck” on that one, Tipper!). I also had “When Doves Cry,” the song that occasionally prompts a re-enactment of the video in my office to the chagrin of my officemate. (I’ve got that crawling-across-the-floor move down.) And he might refute it now, but I clearly remember my dad coming downstairs while I was listening to my records and asking, “What Prince songs do you have?” I showed him Doves and Crazy, he frowned, then said, “So you don’t have the ‘Purple Rain’ song?” After my next trip to Pamida, I did. “Purple Rain”: kid tested, dad approved.

I really had no interest in getting the album as a whole until I heard about “Darling Nikki” and all its lyrical glory. Not from my friends or the older kids in the neighborhood or at school; no, I read a big article in the Des Moines Register about the PMRC and Tipper Gore and the attempts to keep the smut out of the hands of kids. All because Tipper heard the “masturbating with a magazine” line in “Nikki” and lost her shit. Before long, Washington wives were making a list of the “Filthy Fifteen” (which included “She Bop” by Cyndi Lauper*) and dudes like Dee Snider and Frank Zappa were testifying before Congress. But it was John Denver who put it best in his testimony: “That which is denied becomes that which is most desired, and that which is hidden becomes that which is most interesting. Consequently, a great deal of time and energy is spent trying to get at what is being kept from you.” Yep, as soon as I read about all of this nonsense, I couldn’t wait to get the whole album.

And it was a good thing, as I discovered a treasure trove of later singles that I hadn’t bought on 45 like “Take Me With U” and great album cuts like “Baby I’m A Star.” And much to Tipper’s disappointment, I never became a depraved sex fiend after hearing “Darling Nikki” and I didn’t join the occult after listening to Slayer and I didn’t kill myself after listening to Suicide and I didn’t kill any cops after listening to Body Count or Ice-T or N.W.A.

But I loved this Prince album. Still do.

(* – “She Bop” was flagged for masturbation references. Masturbation was the furthest thing from my mind whenever I heard/saw Cyndi Lauper.)

#22: Crystal Castles, II

album cover for Crystal Castles IITwo years ago, I came down with some strain of flu (avian, swine, whatever) and found myself lying listless for about a week straight. I was too tired to read, too woozy to get out and about…I couldn’t even play video games, which was a red flag that something was definitely wrong.

So how did I spend all that recovery time? Listening to an album with songs called “Fainting Spells,” “Suffocation,” “Violent Dreams,” and “Pap Smear.” And finding my favorite album of 2010 in the process.

The band that had the coolest 8-bit sound around, quite evident on the eponymous debut that came out two years previous, suddenly decided to take the tunes in a shoegaze direction (with an electronic twinge, of course). And it was beautiful. Songs like “Celestica” and “Suffocation” (despite the gloomy title) soared thanks to Alice Glass’ actual singing (!!!) and the keyboard chords created by Ethan Kath. No longer were these two relying solely on piercing, mutated screams and Donkey Kong samples to create art. (Although that was cool too.)

Whether it was the thumping beat and impassioned howls of “Baptism” or the shrewd use of a Sigur Ros sample in “Year of Silence” or the whirling whiplash of “Pap Smear” (I know, these aren’t the most appetizing titles, but the songs themselves aren’t 1/1000th as nauseating as songs bearing benign titles like “Moves Like Jagger” or whatever geeks like One Direction call their songs) or the brilliant use of Robert Smith vocals on “Not in Love.” For people yearning for the chaos of the first album, there are cuts like “Doe Deer” and “Fainting Spells.” “Intimate” provides the dance-floor crowd something to devour, and, um, weirdos everywhere could rally around the generally spaced-out “I Am Made of Chalk.”

There’s something sinister about each of these songs; sometimes it’s evident, sometimes not. Even the gorgeous “Celestica” has a dark side: the song was inspired by an incident at a Celestica plant (it’s a plastics company in Canada, apparently) where an employee fell into a boiling vat and died.

On that note, I hope you all catch swine flu and spend a week listening to this masterpiece.

Todd’s #30-21

(click play button below to sample these 10 albums)

30. Jane’s Addiction, Nothing’s Shocking

29. Arcade Fire, The Suburbs

28. Led Zeppelin, Physical Graffiti

27. Smashing Pumpkins, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness

26. Prince and the Revolution, Parade

25. Beastie Boys, Check Your Head

24. Pixies, Trompe le Monde

23. The Shins, Chutes Too Narrow

22. The Flaming Lips, The Soft Bulletin

21. Depeche Mode, Violator

A CLOSER LOOK AT…

#26. Prince and the Revolution, Parade

This was the first Prince album that I ever got. Not to say it was the first I’d ever listened to. I had dubbed copies of other Prince albums from my older brother who was a big fan. Parade was the first one that I actually went to the store and picked out. My parents let my brother and me each pick out something from the music section at the local Target store. This was a rare occasion so I took a rather long time deliberating over many options. I believe at one point I had three tapes picked out and had the plastic security doohickeys around my wrist.

Remember those things? So many times I remember perusing the music bins of Musicland or Disc Jockey spinning one of those around my wrist as I looked. I sort of miss going to record stores. It made the album selection process more important. If you were going to leave the house, find a record store and then plop down the majority of your hard earned cash on an album, you wanted it to be good. Not just one or two songs good and the rest crap. Believe me, I bought a ton of those over the years.

I’m pretty sure my brother picked his tape right off. He chose INXS, Listen Like Thieves. (In itself a great album that I briefly considered putting on this list. Unfortunately, it did not meet all the strict requirements to make the final cut) Based upon his aggravated looks and comments, I’m sure my brother was getting pretty annoyed with me because I couldn’t make up my mind. Around my wrist I had:

Peter Gabriel, So. (Great album that made this list at #37)

Pet Shop Boys, Please (Good album but never considered for this list)

Prince and the Revolution, Parade (So incredibly good that it should be on everyone’s list)

Apparently, I was shopping exclusively in the P’s section of the store. After flip flopping on my decision for twenty minutes or so, my brother made the decision easy. He looked at my selections and said “It’s not that hard. That’s dumb (Peter Gabriel), that’s stupid (Pet Shop Boys), and that’s Prince. Put that other shit back and let’s go.” So that’s what I did. I just needed a little push in any direction. If he would have said Peter Gabriel was the better choice I probably would have taken that one home.

Prince turned out to be the right choice as I learned later. I ended up getting both of those other tapes at subsequent visits to the store. Parade got way more plays on my boombox. Is there a lesson here? Yes. Two lessons.

Lesson 1: Listen to your older siblings. They may seem like they’re being jerks sometimes but they are actually secretly looking out for you.

Lesson 2: “That’s dumb, that’s stupid, that’s Prince.” Words to live by.

#24. Pixies, Trompe le Monde

Back when I was in high school, I would spend my Sunday nights not going to bed early and preparing for a new week at school, but instead staying up late listening to a radio station broadcasting from the middle of a corn field near Muscatine, Iowa. Specifically, a show called “Off the Beaten Track.” They played all kinds of early alternative and college rock. I heard many of my all time favorite bands for the first time listening to that show. The DJs were Mary of the Heartland and some dude named Roberto. (Roberto will come into play in some of the upcoming album blurbs.) I used to put a fresh cassette tape in my radio/tape player/CD player and listen as long as I could until I fell asleep. The next day I would rewind the tape and listen to what I missed.

After the show, they would premiere a newly released record in its entirety. I could catch most of that on the same tape if I stayed up late enough to flip it over. It was a great way to get a new album for free if you had the time and a crap ton of blank tapes. On one of those nights, they played The Pixies, Trompe le Monde. It was the first Pixies album that I’d ever heard. From the start of the title track I was confused and blown away at the same time. Was it punk? Was it surfer rock? The next song “Planet of Sound” played more like a metal song with Black Francis’ screaming vocals. The next song, “Alec Eiffel”, went back to surfer-punk, well kind of, because they sneak in a keyboard part at the end. Then, they really confused me by throwing in a cover of The Jesus and Mary Chain song “Head On.”  They were all over the map and I loved it. And I didn’t even have to buy it!

I still have a weird reaction when I listen to the last song “The Navajo Know.”  My tape cut off right in the middle.

Upon construction
there is the Mohawk
his way of walking
quite high above the ground
fearless of looking down
skywalk
some people say that
[click]…

Years later, I bought Trompe le Monde on CD. For quite awhile, I would still expect the song to end at that point. It took me a long time not to anticipate the abrupt ending. At least I finally got to hear the last of the lyrics and learn “what some people say.”

some people say that…

the Navajo know
a way of walking
quite high above the ground
fearless of looking down
oh no.

Previous installments:

#100-91

#90-81

#80-71

#70-61

#60-51

#50-41

#40-31

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Some content on this page was disabled on May 7, 2016 as a result of a DMCA takedown notice from PRS for Music. You can learn more about the DMCA here:

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Crystal Castles’ upcoming album: Eponymous? (Probably.) Awesome? (Probably.)

The other day, the heir to the throne (who turns 6 very soon, gotsta get some Phineas & Ferb swag for the DS, yo!) asked me about my favorite songs of all time. Yep, Junior threw down the impossible question for music nerds. I can handle favorite groups/artists (Cure, Beatles, Nirvana, Portishead, and Duran Duran, for starters). I might be able to rattle off my favorite albums, at least #1-4 with confidence (Disintegration, Loveless, Revolver, and The Velvet Underground & Nico).

But songs? To quote Clay Davis from The Wire, “Shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit.”

Can’t do it, G. “A Day in the Life” is probably #1, if you stick a gun in my face. “Plainsong” by the Cure is my favorite song of theirs, so I’m sure that’s up there. “The Rain Song” by Zeppelin is one of those songs I love. “Time Has Told Me” and “Pink Moon” by Nick Drake. “Three Days” by Jane’s Addiction. “Love Will Tear Us Apart” by Joy Division. “Scentless Apprentice” by Nirvana. “Enjoy the Silence” by Depeche Mode. “Welcome to the Terrordome” by Public Enemy. “Natural’s Not in It” by Gang of Four. And about 3,534 more contenders I might list. And then you want me to prioritize them?

So I went with the redirection strategy. “I dunno. What are your favorite songs?”

Ethan Kath and Alice Glass of Crystal Castles stand in an alleyWithout blinking an eye, Will came up with his top three.

“‘Beep Beep’ is #1.” (Read: “Celestica” by Crystal Castles. He’s referencing the occasional electronic “beep-beep” noise throughout the song.)

“‘Bathtism’ is #2.” (Read: “Baptism” by Crystal Castles. And no, it’s not a speech impediment. He thought it was some sort of washing affliction, I guess.)

“And then #3 would be that Radio Dept. song.” (Read: some song by The Radio Dept. [shrug])

I admire my son’s definitive opinion, and it’s obvious my influence has rubbed off on the boy. Crystal Castles’ 2010 eponymous collection was my favorite album that year; and my son’s “favorite song of all time” is arguably my favorite song from that year. (I would argue that “Bathtism/Baptism” is the third best song on that album, behind the Robert Smith-vocalized “Not in Love.”)

So you can imagine our collective excitement when I read today that the Canadian duo will land in Croatia to record album #3 in short order, with an eye for a summer release. In the wake of such euphoria, I was left to ask myself some questions…

Chris: What should they name this album?

Chris: Duh. The only acceptable title other than Crystal Castles is Self-titled.

Chris: Why do I think Alice Glass is hot?

Chris: The same reason people think Alison Mosshart or Karen O is hot: the music blinds their vision while amplifying their sense of hearing. And all you hear is passionate vocals, either delivered in reserved/heartbreaking tones (“Celestica,” “Suffocation,” “Tell Me What to Swallow”) or piercing screams (“Baptism,” “Alice Practice,” “xxzxcuzx me”) or, um, I dunno (“Crimewave,” “Untrust Us”) and you just find yourself having these primal reactions to the words, to the voice. And Alice is petite, brunette, dresses in black…that kind of works for me.

(As shallow as this sounds, I feel obligated to point out that Romy from the xx still doesn’t do it for me, even with that voice.)

Chris: Why does Music or Space Shuttle? scribe Todd not like Crystal Castles?

Chris: I don’t know! I always assumed this would be right up his alley, what with his love for Neon Indian and M83. No, they’re not the same, but similar enough in certain elements (the first album plays more like Neon Indian; some of the grandeur of the second album seems a bit M83ish). You can ask Todd yourself by sending him an email at toddisdumb@chrisrules.com (please use the Subject Line “Chris is so cool; what’s your deal?” to ensure a prompt response).

Chris: Why do I like them so much?

Chris: Listen to the lush opening chords of “Celestica.” Listen to the aggression in “Baptism.” Listen to the swell of the music as Robert Smith approaches the chorus of “Not in Love.” Listen to the abrupt synth mashup following each verse of “Pap Smear.” Listen to the sampling of Sigur Ros on “Year of Silence.” Listen to the disturbing, quiet cry for help in “Tell Me What to Swallow.” Listen to the confident groove throughout “Vanished” and “Crimewave.” Listen to the quirky Donkey Kong sample in “Air War.” Listen to the soaring synth against the restrained vocals in “Suffocation.” All of these moments are like fucking dopamine for my ears. That last sentence is the most efficient way for me to state my feelings toward this music.

Chris: Any chance this album won’t disappoint, given my love for the first two albums?

Chris: Sure, there are some reasons to be worried. After two albums, I thought Bloc Party was one of the greatest bands of the 21st century (although unlike Crystal Castles, I thought BP’s second album was a lateral move rather than a step forward). Then they put out Intimacy. [shudder] And you’ll never hear me defend the Crystal Castles live sound, at least based on the recordings I’ve heard (never seen ’em live).

But this is a band that recognized that the 8-bit sound that infiltrated much of its debut couldn’t dominate album #2, so they evolved. Ethan Kath seems to have the perfect muse in Alice Glass. The lone bum song on the second album (a cover song, so it was the lone song Kath didn’t write) was later elevated to untouchable status by collaborating with Robert Smith on a new version, which shows they are shrewd and credible. And they’re traveling to Croatia to record this new album, so I’m guessing they’ll be focused. (Not sure what I mean by that…)

And don’t forget: this band wrote and recorded the world’s greatest song ever (according to my son). They’ve probably got another good song or two…or 12…or 16…

I can’t wait to find out. Until then, we’ll always have “Beep Beep.”