An Iowa kid’s salvation in angry rap music

Let me tell you a little story about how the world’s most dangerous groups helped a kid from Iowa keep his sanity …

NWA

When I was a kid, I was short. Scrawny. Maybe a bit too impressionable. Forcefully extroverted and overly demonstrative, often to the point of showing off. Maybe I still am a little bit. But I’ve never been in a fight in my entire life … well, unless you count with my older brother, which I don’t, because said “brawls” (mostly pushing and shoving from both of us, maybe an occasional punch in the arm, and I think I spit on him once) always consisted of the same move – him grabbing me by my shirt, shoving me into a wall, and then pulling me off the wall and throwing me about three feet to the ground. I’m seriously still stunned he never followed it with a bound off the ropes and a flying leg drop. It was very pro wrestling. But that’s really about it.

But yeah, because I was that guy, I got picked on. A lot. But never physically. I would never say I got bullied. That’s a word that gets thrown around far too easily these days, but I got scapegoated. Often made to feel inferior. And most of the time, it was by my own friends. Sometimes I brought it on myself. Many times, I didn’t. You see, kids can be mean. And one day, you (and they) grow out of it. But I’d be lying if I said there weren’t still scars. You just can’t see them.

But back then, what was I going to do? I couldn’t fight unless I was OK with getting my ass kicked every single time I tried. So inside, I burned. All the time. I was full of helplessness and rage. Blind rage. With no outlet. And if you bottle that up for too long, you might explode. Hurt yourself or somebody else. There has to be a release. Some people cry. For some reason, I never really did. I just put on a dopey grin and pushed through it the best I could.

I finally found an outlet in angry music. At first, it was heavy metal. I can remember multiple times, lying in my bed, pounding my fists on the mattress and punching the hell out of a pillow, banging my head until my neck hurt to Reign in Blood. Or Master of Puppets. Or Peace Sells … But Who’s Buying? Or Among the Living. Just releasing mental anguish.

(There’s a tremendous scene in the brilliant VH1 documentary series Metal Evolution that explains this phenomenon much better than I ever could (skip to the 5:55 to 7:55 mark). But rest assured when watching this, I was this kid.)

But eventually, I branched out. I never thought I would. I remember thinking, at age 14 and 15, that the only CDs I would ever buy would be metal of the extreme variety. I can still, off the top of my head, tell you the first 10 to 15 CDs I ever bought … Anthrax, Maiden, Metallica, Suicidal Tendencies, Slayer, Forbidden, King Diamond, Sepultura, S.O.D., Kreator, Exodus, and on down the line.

Eventually, I broke that streak with Led Zeppelin IV. Then, for some reason, it was the Black Crowes’ Shake Your Money Maker.

FOABP But then I got It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back by Public Enemy, followed quickly by Fear of a Black Planet.

And then it was Straight Outta Compton by N.W.A.

Why did these prophets of rage enthrall me so much? It certainly wasn’t because of what they were saying.

No, it was just … how they said it.

SOCLet’s be honest here: I didn’t necessarily identify with what these guys were preaching about. I was a mid-to-lower middle-class white kid. From Iowa. What the hell did I know about gang violence and turf wars, oppressive police violating my civil rights, selling crack to survive, or gentrification in the ’hood?

I’ll tell you – nothing.

And although I always considered myself to be a sensitive and intelligent human being with an open mind, it didn’t change the fact that I didn’t come from the most diverse community growing up (I can still probably count the amount of black kids I went to school with from K through 12 on two hands).

Truth be told, it didn’t matter how many think pieces I read in Rolling Stone or how many times I watched Boyz N The Hood growing up in an attempt to “educate” myself – it didn’t change three very distinctive facts about myself: I’m straight. I’m white. I’m male.

Because of the way those three things work together in unison, I was probably going to have more opportunities than most people, and there would probably be people who didn’t even know me who resented or hated me for these “privileges” alone. In a very general, stereotypical way, I was probably part of the very problem these guys were railing against.

But I didn’t care. And I still don’t care. The rage spoke to me. So while I can’t say I personally identified with the vast majority of the content in the rhymes they were spitting, I still respected it. Chuck D. Ice Cube. MC Ren. Standing at a pulpit, pointing their fingers at me and everyone like me, declaring, “You may not know me. You may not be like me. But you will respect me, motherfucker!” And I did.

Public EnemyMore importantly, I identified with the conviction and the piss & vinegar they used when saying it. The anger. The authority. Listen to “Straight Outta Compton” and “Fuck Tha Police” and “Burn Hollywood Burn” and “Fight The Power” and “When Will They Shoot” (cheating there … that’s just Ice Cube) and tell me that the power with which they are presenting these “cases,” on top of those back-breaking beats, doesn’t make you want to march down the street with your middle fingers in the air. It provided another outlet for releasing my own pent-up frustrations. I just had to venture out on a different branch to do it.

Make no mistake, I’ve always been a rock guy first and foremost. Guitars, more guitars (preferably with Big Muff distortion pedals) and big-ass drums. So when I started discovering rap music, I subconsciously always equated it to the rock music I loved. Public Enemy was like CNN … well, at least CNN before MH370 (much like Metallica and Anthrax): buried within this earphoria, you felt like you learned something. But N.W.A.? It’s just pure “fuck you.” They were Slayer. Just unapologetic in the frenzy.

(Worth mentioning: It’s no surprise that once I branched out to more introspective music, coinciding with the alt-rock explosion of the ‘90s, that I discovered and gravitated toward A Tribe Called Quest.)

But time passes. Anger and resentment subsides. Even so, I still love their storytelling. Something that gets lost is that underneath their message, these guys had a sense of humor. God bless Flavor Flav. Tell me that at least once in your life, you didn’t use “you got a rip in your couch,” “your mother got gold nipples” or “wash your butt” as a snappy one-line comeback.

And Cube, my favorite, I just want you to know that if a new girl moves on my street, I’ma introduce her to my meat, know what I’m sayin’? And you best believe that if I ever get busted, I’ma go to jail in my muthafuckin’ drawers.

This past fall, my buddies and I were tailgating at Kinnick Stadium, the home of the Iowa Hawkeyes, in the heartland of Iowa. And our song of choice on this particular day was “My Summer Vacation” off of Cube’s Death Certificate. Some woman walked up to us and said there were kids nearby and could we please turn it down.

I think we said “tough shit.”


Some of this angry shit made Music or Space Shuttle’s “Undisputed Top Albums Ever” list way back in the day (2012). Read about them below:

Chris’ #8 and Todd’s #8: Public Enemy, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back / Dr. Dre, The Chronic

Todd’s #39: N.W.A., Niggaz4Life

Chris’ #52: N.W.A., Straight Outta Compton

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MoSS? Presents… The Undisputed Top Albums Ever, #8

Yep, we’ve made 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.

We’ve reached the really good stuff: our top 10s. We’ll roll these out one per day (Monday-Friday) over the next two weeks, reaching #1 on Friday, Dec. 14. The following week, we’ll unveil our favorite music from 2012.

Let’s get on with it…

Chris’ #8: Public Enemy, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back

(click play button below to sample this album)

nation of millions coverWhile most people know It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back as Public Enemy’s second album and the NYC group’s breakthrough collection, it should have been known as the soundtrack of the greatest basketball film never made, Five White Dudes Ranging in Age From 12 to 43 Ball It Up on a Slanted Driveway. Because me, my brother, my dad, and the Brothers Schneden used to play hoops in the Clair family driveway all the damn time in 1989-90, and P.E. is all we ever listened to while ballin’.

The teams were constant during the driveway wars: me and Younger Brother Schneden vs. my brother, Elder Brother Schneden, and my dad, whose nickname to this day is Ed Nealy. (When Michael Jordan came back to the NBA for his second stint with the Bulls, he wore Ed Nealy’s number. It had to be pure coincidence.) It seems unfair that the team with the elder statesman and the elder Brother Schneden also got a third member, but it speaks to the explosive offensive potential found on Team Chris/Younger Brother Schneden.

Elder Brother Schneden was never afraid to make the extra pass to help out his teammates, and could occasionally channel Derrick Coleman (considering the timeframe, that’s a compliment) and be the triple-threat power forward on the pavement. My brother was known to spot up on the left baseline corner and pop the side shot with assassin-like precision. His baseline shot was soon dubbed “The Perfect Shot.” He was only 12, but he was aided by the fact that our driveway sloped downward, and the hoop was situated about halfway down the driveway, so where he was shooting from, the hoop was probably about 9 feet off the ground; conversely, you never wanted to shoot from long distance near the road, because the rim was a good 11 feet off the ground at that point. Another element of The Perfect Shot: our garage had a light with a globe-like glass fixture right above where my brother would shoot The Perfect Shot. Nobody wanted to block my brother’s shot into the fixture and have it shatter, lest you want to answer to Mrs. Ed Nealy.

oil spot

Leave Nealy open here, mark two points.

And then you had Ed Nealy, who had three money spots on the concrete and a secret mantra to make his other shots go in. First, let’s diagram the money-shot locations:

  • The free-throw line: Nealy shot the 15-footer with success rates rivaling the best pros in the Association. If he was at the top of the key, you better get a hand in his face before he gets near the stripe.
  • “The Oil Spot”: Likely created by our piece of shit family truckster (the powder blue with faux wood panel Caprice Classic station wagon), the Oil Spot was similar in distance to the free throw, only from the left elbow of the lane. Get my dad the ball at the Oil Spot, and he’ll score like, um, a well-oiled machine.
  • “The Bermuda Triangle”: There was a triangle-shaped crack pattern a little closer to the hoop than the Oil Spot. If Ed Nealy was able to get himself to the Bermuda Triangle, forget about it, because the Bermuda Triangle “is the place where defenders disappear.” (The shit-talk on the driveway was pretty tame in terms of profanity, at least this stuff from Ed Nealy, but you hear these cute/corny lines enough times, you are driven in-fucking-sane.)

And even if you manage to defend these money spots, Ed Nealy would pull out the secret weapon:

“Hoosiers!”

When he would shoot, he would yell out “Hoosiers!” just before releasing the ball, and 98.432924% of the time it would go in, no matter where he was at on the driveway. (Yes, this vocal trick entered his arsenal after seeing the Gene Hackman movie.) It was stupid, and he cracked himself up with that stuff, which drove me and the Younger Brother Schneden crazy.

What you must realize is that the Legend of Ed Nealy knows few limits. This is a guy who made a hook shot from his truck as he backed out of the driveway on the first try. And not some layup of a hook shot, either; he was back-tires-on-the-street distance as he hit nothing but net. This is also a guy who to this day, in his mid-sixties, still goes to the local gym and plays hoops on occasion. He told me that he played hoops with my buddy Lee one time, but Lee didn’t come back after that initial visit. When I asked Lee about it, he said (jokingly?) “Your dad never let me shoot!”

So I asked Ed Nealy about this; his response was classic Ed Nealy: “Well, I let him set some screens for me.”

So how did the Younger Brother Schneden and I hang with Team Ed Nealy? Well, part of it was that Younger Brother Schneden and I were both pretty decent ballers ourselves, with quicker first steps and good outside shots, especially me from beyond the arc. And Younger Brother Schneden was pretty good at driving the lane and drawing fouls on his elder brother or Ed Nealy; he would yell out “I got one!” whenever he took it to the hoop and felt contact, extending our possessions time and again or scoring two on the continuation play.

But I think Ed Nealy’s kryptonite was Public Enemy. He’d be frowning at the language on display in “Terminator X to the Edge of Panic” and we’d take that opportunity to bury a J from downtown or drive to the hoop and lay one in. Or “Bring the Noise” would kick off with one of many of Flav’s “YEEEEAAAAAHHHH BOYYYYYEEEEEEEEE” exclamations, and we’d find our second wind (we played to 100 every time, so we’d actually get tired). And then “Show ‘Em Whatcha Got” would come on, with the sax blaring and the woman repeating the title phrase, and I’d get in the zone and show Ed Nealy what I got.

It’s really nice that I have these memories attached to the greatest rap album ever made…not that the album needs the external positives. The innovative sounds created by the Bomb Squad gave this album the sonic boom to match the intensity of Chuck D’s delivery. (Side note: the Mission Creek Festival brought Chuck and the Bomb Squad to Iowa City in 2010 for a panel discussion about the techniques used on this album; it was a fascinating conversation.) Listen to Chuck bring it on tracks like “Louder Than a Bomb” or “Prophets of Rage” and feel the hair stand up on the arm. He flows effortlessly on “Bring the Noise” and “Rebel Without a Pause” and “Don’t Believe the Hype.” And then Flav…he does his thing well on “Cold Lampin’ with Flavor” and chimes in with some of the most memorable lines of his career on “She Watch Channel Zero?!”, the song that samples Slayer’s “Angel of Death” and matches the power of that riff with the beats and rhymes. Even the little interludes like the aforementioned “Show ‘Em Whatcha Got” and “Mind Terrorist” and “Security of the First World” (the last providing the beat for Madonna’s “Justify My Love”) are solid.

When I was home for Thanksgiving this year, I saw that the driveway basketball hoop was gone, a nearby tree grown to the point that it pushed the hoop out of its home some years ago. But I’ll always have memories of hoops and P.E. Plus, thanks to my friend Shannon visiting our place numerous times with his leaky Mustang convertible, the Oil Spot will live forever.

Todd’s #8: Dr. Dre, The Chronic

(click play button below to sample this album)

chronicOne, two, three and to the fo’
Snoop Doggy Dogg and Dr. Dre is at the do’
Ready to make an entrance, so back on up
Cause you know we ’bout to rip shit up

That was maybe the best opening in rap history. It got you ready for that seamless back and forth between Dre and Snoop. Snoop was the perfect complement to Dre’s more straight forward style and a big reason why The Chronic crossed over with more mainstream listeners. He was just making a name for himself and had one of the most original deliveries I’d ever heard. His easy flow kind of reminded me of a slowed down version of Slick Rick.  Here’s a video of my favorite Slick Rick song if you are unfamiliar with him. See if you hear the  similarities too.

The Chronic is the only album in my top 10 that I can only play after hours. I rarely get to listen to it because most of it is just plain filthy. I actually waited until the kids went to bed to write this because I like to listen to the album I’m writing about for inspiration. I’m holed up in the basement typing and checking over my shoulder for eavesdropping kiddos. It’s like they know when I am listening to something I don’t want them to hear. My daughter can read now and that’s a whole other issue. I don’t want her looking at the screen and reading song titles like “Deeez Nuuuts”, “Fuck wit Dre”, and “Lyrical Gangbang”? Then you have to answer questions like “Daddy, what does ‘Pimpin’ ho’s and clockin’ the grip’ mean?” I also don’t want them coming in while I’m singing the lyrics from “Bitches Ain’t Shit”

I once had a bitch named Mandy May
Used to be up in them guts like everyday
The pussy was the bomb, had a n**** unsprung
I was in love like a motherfucker lickin’ the pearl tongue

Snoop Doggy Dogg was a real muthafuckin’ wordsmith back then wasn’t he? That was two name changes ago though. Now he hangs with Rastafarians, goes by Snoop Lion and makes “The Ragoo” music. I don’t blame him for going a different direction, the current state of rap is well…crap.

If you look at the rap albums in Chris and my lists, you will notice a distinct pattern. It’s either Beastie Boys, which fits in with our more alternative listening habits, or early ‘90s rap. (I don’t count the Danger Mouse record Chris listed. He had to mix it with The Beatles White Album to make that Jay-Z shit even remotely palatable) There are a few bright spots. Some of the new crop of guys is ok. I liked the solo stuff from Heems. (Look for more solo stuff because it appears as though Das Racist has broken up) What I’ve heard from that kid Earl Sweatshirt is good but he needs to release more music. Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire has one of the best free style videos I’ve seen but most of today’s rap is lost on me. Check out the Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire clip below. It’s pretty cool. His entourage yells out topics and he freestyles on that until a new one is tossed out. He performs in a strip club and has two of the clubs employees booty shake along to his rhymes so probably NSFW.

But, uh, back to the lecture at hand

The Chronic was another one of those albums that everyone seemed to have. Even the dudes that didn’t really listen to rap had this one. In high school we all used to hang out at one of the local parks. At least until the police disbanded us or hauled a few people away for underage drinking. The required way to enter that park was to cruise in with the bass on your stereo turned up as loud as it would go. Apparently, you had to prove you had the woofers to hang out there. Either that or it was some odd experiment to try and create the mythical “Brown Note”; that frequency in which you get the human colon to spontaneously release its entire stockpile of excrement. For a period of time, nearly every car rolled in playing music from The Chronic. I’ll admit I did it too. My song was “Let me Ride”. A fine choice in my book. It has a one of the best beats to cruise to. Dre uses a sweet sample from the P-Funk song “Mothership Connection.”  The only problem was I was rolling in a Ford Escort and not…

Rollin in my six-fo’

Swing down, sweet chariot stop and, let me ride
hell yeah
Swing down, sweet chariot stop and, let me ride

Oh crap! I hear one of the kids coming. I better end this. Don’t want to have to explain what a “skeezer” is to my five year old.

Previous installments:

#100-91

#90-81

#80-71

#70-61

#60-51

#50-41

#40-31

#30-21

#20-16

#15-11

#10

#9

MoSS? Presents… The Undisputed Top Albums Ever, #40-31

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’ #40-31

(click play button below to sample these 10 albums)

40. The Beatles, Help!

39. Stereolab, Emperor Tomato Ketchup

38. Camera Obscura, My Maudlin Career

37. Nick Drake, Bryter Layter

36. The Black Crowes, The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion

35. Beastie Boys, Paul’s Boutique

34. Sonic Youth, Goo

33. Public Enemy, Fear of a Black Planet

32. Bloc Party, Silent Alarm

31. Jane’s Addiction, Ritual de lo Habitual

A CLOSER LOOK AT…

#40: The Beatles, Help!

cover image for help!This album is the perfect mix of “Yeah Yeah Yeah” kind of Beatles and the more introspective type of song the band would write more often in the second act of its career. Makes sense, seeing as it is the fifth of the band’s 12 albums (going by the British catalog). But that’s only part of the reason I like this album so much.

I love the movie Help! Just love it. It was the second movie for the Fab Four, and it served the same purpose as their first movie, A Hard Day’s Night: an excuse to have the Beatles play their music on the big screen. Since the first movie’s plot was “let’s show the Beatles being the Beatles, playing music everywhere they go in their everyday lives,” Help! needed some sort of exotic plot. Here’s what they came up with:

A girl is to be sacrificed by some offbeat cult. However, she mailed the “sacrificial ring” to Ringo, who put it on his pinky finger only to have it stuck on there. Soon, the cult leader is pursuing Mr. Starr, as is a British mad scientist who thinks he could “rule the world” with such a ring. Oh yeah, the sacrificial girl’s sister shows up to help the Fab Four escape the evil clutches of Ringo’s enemies (and she’s kinda hot, so naturally she likes Paul despite being fawned over by George). Hilarity ensues, and (SPOILER!!!!) Ringo lives to drum another day.

The movie’s tone is a bit like Monty Python, albeit not nearly as clever. But it did beat the Pythons to the punch with the nonsensical “intermission” bit spliced into the movie:

And Help! had the great tunes you all know (the title track; “Ticket to Ride”) and the equally great ones you won’t find on greatest hits compilations (“The Night Before”; “Another Girl”; George’s “I Need You”; “You’re Gonna Lose That Girl”; and one of the best songs in the Beatles’ entire catalog, “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away”). The tunes used in the movie are amazingly catchy, and the second half of the album is just as solid, featuring seven more songs not used in the movie. Hardly throwaways, either: the most-covered song of all time, “Yesterday”; Paul’s wonderful vocal on the quick romp “I’ve Just Seen a Face”; the interesting guitar sound complementing John’s raw voice on “It’s Only Love.”

Many a person likes to look at Rubber Soul as the album where the Beatles got “serious”; I think Help! is a better collection of songs, an album that shows the band capable of greater musical flourishes (the guitar interplay between John and George is wonderful throughout) and finding a better balance of Beatlemania-pop and serious content. It’s no wonder they cobbled a movie together to showcase this stuff.

#36: The Black Crowes, The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion

cover image for the southern harmony and musical companionI remember the first time I heard the second album from the Black Crowes. I had just moved to the second floor of Rider Hall at the University of Northern Iowa. My folks and my younger brother helped get my dorm room in order, which wasn’t a tall task, as all I brought were clothes, books, my CD player, and my CD collection. What else did I need? I was going to go to a party at the infamous “White House” later that evening with one of my good friends and a girl who graduated from Waukon a year ahead of me. (When you bought a cup at the White House, they wrote a number on your hand; mine was somewhere among the first 20. Toward the end of my night, I saw some numbers in the 800s.) I was just a couple of days away from starting my training as a computer scientist (a trade I would abandon after three semesters of outdated computer code–it was 1992 and I was learning FORTRAN, for fuck’s sake–and way too much calculus).

Anyway, life at that moment was good. But I was a little nervous all the same. Kinda like when I started kindergarten, but without the risk of peeing my pants this time (after a few hours at “the White House,” though, all bets are off on urinary control). During those first few days of kindergarten, I would find my buddy Alex, who was in first grade, on the playground at recess. He would invite me to come hang with the other first graders, playing tag or kickball or participating in whatever tomfoolery first graders did at a Catholic grade school. That helped me get used to school, and soon enough, I was the coolest kid at St. Pat’s. (That last part is false.)

Lucky for me, my buddy Alex now lived on the same floor of Rider Hall as me, in the other wing. So I went to find him.

Alex was a sophomore, so he had this dorm room thing down. His room looked like pimped-out compared to mine. (Read: he had a lofted bed, a TV, a stocked fridge, and a sweet stereo.) He asked me how I was going to spend my first night at UNI; I told him I was heading to the White House. “Gonna get some puss?” I was asked. Not “pussy,” but “puss.” (While I probably responded with “Yeah!” or “I hope so,” the answer turned out to be “no.”) As we talked, he flipped on the stereo, and the opening riffs of “Sting Me” filled the room.

Suddenly I wasn’t thinking about dorm rooms or “puss” or an offer to hook me up with a $5 case of Meister Brau (which, before the afternoon was over, I accepted…unwisely). What I was thinking: Damn! The Crowes have a new album! Who can give me a ride to Sam Goody?!?

So Alex and I shared a cold drink or two while listening to the Crowes and talking about college. It was just what I needed, both from a calming standpoint about my new life as Joe College, and hearing good tunes. “Sting Me” moved to “Remedy” and “Thorn in My Pride,” two songs tailor made for rock radio, and then two soulful jams, “Bad Luck Blue Eyes Goodbye” and “Sometimes Salvation,” which in my opinion is the best one-two punch in Black Crowes recorded history. There’s not a bum track on this album, an opinion I formed with Alex and later confirmed over numerous listens. The Crowes’ first album was pretty great, but the follow-up sounded like a band more comfortable with themselves, stretching their legs and groovin’ the fuck out. And it’s an album that stirs up the positive memories I have of my friend Alex, who sadly passed away not too long ago. Alex and I lost touch once I transferred to ISU, but I’ll always remember the times he helped out his younger friend, and his good taste in music in 1992.

And his dropping of the “y” from “pussy.” (smile)

Todd’s #40-31

(click play button below to sample these 10 albums)

40. Ben Folds, Rockin’ the Suburbs

39. N.W.A, Niggaz4life

38. M83, Saturdays=Youth

37. Peter Gabriel, So

36. Vampire Weekend, Contra

35. Prince, Dirty Mind

34. Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin II

33. Pearl Jam, Ten

32. Beck, Mellow Gold

31. Portishead, Dummy

A CLOSER LOOK AT…

#39. N.W.A, Niggaz4life

Three seventeen year old suburban white boys are rolling down the street in a ‘79 Monte Carlo. Out of the obnoxiously loud sub-woofers come the soothing sounds of N.W.A, Straight Outta Compton. One of the guys is looking extra menacing with his NY Yankees hat on backwards. Of course, back then I weighed about 135 lbs. so you could see why I looked so menacing. I also wore that stupid Yankees cap for about 2 years straight.

Your time is coming soon.

Why? I had such thick luxuriant hair. Why cover it up? I took it for granted. To all you haired men out there, never take it for granted. Never. You assholes…I know you’re taking it for granted. I can tell. Right now you’re laughing at me. You’re saying, “That guy’s nuts. My hair is never falling out.” Well take it from me. It sneaks up on you. One day you’re reading a book and you notice two small strands of your hair slowly drift onto the paper. You scoff at it; “Plenty more where that came from,” you’ll say. Then one day you’ll see the top of your head on a video camera as you walk into the local Target store. You will be blinded by the reflection from your un-camouflaged scalp. Again you will be in denial. “Those surveillance cameras must have some weird filtering effect or something” you’ll say. Then the day will come when you look in the mirror and realize your head looks vaguely like a half plucked chicken. What little hair that is left is wispy and pathetic. You will have two choices; Comb-over or shave it. I chose to shave it like a man. I hope you choose to comb-over when your day comes.

So as I was saying, we were rolling down the street and listening to tough guy gangsta rap. I was new to the art form at that point and wanted to have a copy of my own to bone up on all the gangsta rap terms: gaffle, endo, and suckamuthafucka. Also, how else was I going to learn all the different ways to degrade women?

So we head over to the Best Buy. Gangstas shop at Best Buy right? Yeah, we were living the thug life. We head over to the rap section looking for Straight Outta Compton. That’s when I saw that N.W.A had a new album out. Niggaz4life. I grabbed it and opened my wallet to see if I had enough money. The Velcro ripping noise of my wallet was extra gangsta I’m sure. I had a $15 in there. What a pimp! The tape was only $9.99 so I was all set to purchase. That’s when I noticed dozens of papers pinned up all over the rap section of the store stating that you had to be 18 years old to buy the cassette in my hands. Not any other tape. They made a point to call out Niggaz4life specifically. They would be verifying I.D.s at the checkouts. Suckamuthafucka!

I was not living the thug life or looking particularly gangsta as I wandered the music section looking for an adult that would take my money and buy the tape for me. I found a college dude willing to do it, if he could keep what was left of my money after the transaction. Eazy-E would have said that I got gaffled there. So gangsta.

33. Pearl Jam, Ten

Ten was released in late 1991 and by summer the next year everyone I knew had a copy. To borrow a line from Wayne’s World, “If you lived in the suburbs you were issued it. It came in the mail with samples of Tide.” Wayne was of course referring to the album Frampton Comes Alive which somehow avoided both Chris’ and my lists. Ten was very popular. The sportos, the motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wasteoids, dweebies, dickheads — they all adored it. They think it’s some righteous music. Include me somewhere in that bunch. I’ll let you decide which category I was in. I think I enjoyed it mostly because it felt very intense bordering on angry much of the time.

After seeing the video for “Even Flow” I was totally hooked. Lead singer Eddie Vedder was like a man possessed. He appeared to be an incredibly charismatic front man with his angry head banging and microphone swinging. At one point in the video, he climbs around in the rafters of a venue during a live show. He swings on pipes, scales walls, and finally dives off of a ledge into frenzied crowd below. After that, I swore that I would see them live.

I was all pumped up for the next Pearl Jam release Vs. I even waited in line with fifty other music nerds at Co-Op Tapes and Records for the special midnight release. It was good but I wasn’t obsessively listening to it like I did with Ten. I was still on the lookout for a live show though. That would have to kick ass right? Then I saw this performance on MTV.

That was the beginning of Eddie Vedder’s potted plant phase. He hardly moves. The intensity seems to be there but it looks like he’s in a straitjacket for much of the performance.

By the time Pearl Jam’s third album Vitalogy was released I had almost no interest in them. Pearl Jam toured in support of that record and were coming only 2 hours away to Chicago. They were in a battle with Ticketmaster at the time and were using some other ticketing agent. You had to call a special number and could only buy four tickets at a time. You also had to call from an Illinois phone number. Most of my friends were in Iowa. I had a girlfriend who lived in Illinois and hatched a plan to call from her place. We got through three times before the concert sold out and came away with 10 or 12 tickets to the show. We marked up the price and sold them to friends and acquaintances for a nice chunk of money. I even sold my own ticket, using the money to buy more CDs, lots of beer, and a mountain bike. I think I made the right choice. I still have the bike and you should see my calf muscles. They’re enormous. My friends that went to the concert only came away with a hangover and mild tinnitus.


Previous installments:

#100-91

#90-81

#80-71

#70-61

#60-51

#50-41

MoSS? Madness 2012: The Round of 32

Thanks to your votes the impossible happened. A #1 lost to a #16 in March! That’s right, by one single vote, Pearl Jam handed Elvis Presley a first round defeat. That wasn’t the only highly ranked artist to get knocked out in the first round. Much like Hampton over Iowa State (That one still stings), 2 seeds were dropping like flies. My beloved Smashing Pumpkins easily handled rock and roll legend Chuck Berry.  The Cure squeaked out a 1 vote victory over  “Soul Brother Number One” James Brown (Chris should be very pleased). Nine Inch Nails narrowly escaped their pairing with Little Richard. The only victorious #2 was guitar god Jimi Hendrix who put a beat down on Journey. I guess you can stop believin’ now Steve Perry.

The upcoming Round of 32 should be equally as exciting. There are going to be some great match-ups. Can the straight forward hard rock of Van Halen prevail over Metallica’s overpowering heavy metal? Can Pearl Jam pull off another Cinderella-style victory and beat glam rock icon David Bowie for a spot in the Sweet 16? You, the readers, will decide. All four regions’ match-ups are ready to go. Please make your selections below.

MoSS? Madness 2012: The Round of 64

The match-ups for the round of 64 are set. Dexy’s Midnight Runners survived a late rally by Right Said Fred to earn the last #16 seed. Dexy will be going up against the Beatles in the first round. Can they pull a spectacular upset over “The Fab Four”?  It won’t be easy, but your votes could move them on. All four regions’ match-ups are ready to go. Please make your selections below.

MoSS? Mixtape Flashback: February 1992

The MoSS? mixtape vault has finally been opened. Our staff put in hundreds of man hours cataloging cassettes, compact discs and even a couple of DAT tapes. This was not an easy task. We lost a few staff members gathering information on Chris’ rather long Sigur Ros phase. One devoted intern went mad poring over my extensive Camper Van Beethoven collection. It was worth enduring these losses for the privilege of unveiling to you our new series of mixtape flashbacks. First up, we find out what was playing in my Volkswagen Rabbit and Chris’ Pontiac Bonneville way back in February 1992.

Side A : Todd’s Picks

Side B : Chris’ Picks


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.”