I took a glance at my blog’s traffic, this week, and graphically speaking, the page-views resemble a disinterested shark swimming away.
I feel like most of the last few posts here have been rather morose, either filled with complaints and acknowledgments of loss. I mean, obviously, it’s a tremendous downer to lose folks like Dolores O’Riordan from the Cranberries and Fast Eddie Fookin’ Clarke from Motorhead, and I remain deeply saddened by the passing of my friend Danny. But with Danny’s irreverent spirit in mind, I know he would frown on maudlin sentimentality. Actually, I did think of another telling, music-related anecdote I forgot to share in that last post. Bear with me, for a moment.
In 1985, some might recall an album by Dead Kennedys called Frankenchrist. A typically rollicking slice of Jello Biafra’s venomous social commentary, scored by the inimitable East Bay Ray’s psychobilly guitars, the album was largely business-as-usual for the storied San Francisco punk stalwarts. That said, along with the vinyl, the original album also came with a poster, a nice little gift to the fans for shelling out their bucks. The only arguable problem, in this instance, was the content of the poster. Framed by a festive rectangle of patriotic stars and stripes, the poster was a painting by fabled Swiss artist, H.R. Giger. Film buffs will recognize him as the notorious painter who did all the original design work for the “Alien” films. In this instance, however, the depiction was a piece called, ahem, “Penis Landscape.” True to its title, it’s basically a disarmingly detailed rendering of multiple depictions of ribald copulation. Evidently, someone didn’t find it quite as amusing as others might have, and it touched off a storied legal dispute, with the DK’s falling foul of the law for allegedly distributing harmful material to minors. It sounds somewhat quaint, by today’s standards, but it was a pretty big deal, at the time.
In any case, Danny and I were discussing this shortly after the lawsuit kicked off, and --- being the dutiful punk fan I was -- I mentioned that I owned the album in question. He immediately demanded to see the poster. As I’d told him the whole backstory, he asked why I didn’t put it up on my wall to demonstrate my solidarity with the band and the cause. I responded that while I indeed threw my support behind the DK’s, I just wasn’t keen on looking at “Penis Landscape” everyday (Google it, and you’ll see what I’m talking about). With that, Danny asked if he could have it. I said yes, and he took it home and, sure enough, put it on his wall. I want to also say he may have actually framed it, but I may be projecting that bit. In any case, that’s the type of cat Danny was. God bless’im.
Anyway, in the spirit of livening up proceedings, herewith yet another take on that irritating (for some) meme thingy, the 30-Day Song Challenge. I put one up here a great while back (see it here), wherein I cut right to the chase and answered everything in one fell swoop, thereby saving everyone the prolonged wait and hassle. Yeah, you’re welcome. Here's a new one, with mostly new questions. Let’s get down to it, then, shall we?
Click on the below to enlarge, should you give a damn.
1. A Song You Like with a Color in the Title
“Golden Brown” by the Stranglers. While not at all indicative of the sound and style that initially drew me to this band, I’ve always had a soft spot for this song. So much so, that when my wife-to-be and I were trying to determine a wedding song, I nominated this as an option. That was all nice and good until I let slip that the song was allegedly about heroin, which kind of put the Mrs. off the idea. Oh well. We ended up going with a Bond theme, in the end. Anyway, here it is….
2. A Song You Like with a Number in the Title
“23 Minutes in Brussels” by Luna. I’ve always assumed the title here was an allusion to the fabled Suicide recording of “22 Minutes Over Brussels,” which captured a suitably hostile crowd/band interaction. The Luna track isn’t nearly as fractious, and frankly owes much more to Suicide’s peers in the Velvet Underground and Television than to Messrs. Vega & Rev. I actually prefer the version that was originally released as the b-side to their cover of Donovan’s “Season of the Witch,” but that’s evidently not on Youtube.
3. A Song That Reminds You of Summertime
“Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” by Elton John & Kiki Dee. There are practically thousands of suitable songs to address this question, but for some reason, it was a toss-up between this and “Love Will Keep Us Together” by the Captain & Tennille. Both were these massive, inescapable pop hits that I remember from my childhood (y’know, but when “summertime” meant something fairly concrete). One wonders whatever became of Kiki Dee.
4. A Song That Reminds You of Someone You’d Rather Forget
“Coward” (live version from 2013’s Not Here/Not Now) by SWANS. It’s a suitably ugly story, but in 2014, I was caught up in a severely fraught circumstance wherein I was basically being managed out of a job. It’s a long, protracted saga, but –- in a nutshell -– I was being laid off by increment. I had an unlucky supervisor who was tasked with this unsavory mission. Basically, as a member of middle-management, he was forced to turn up the scrutiny on several of my projects in order to drum up enough reasons for letting me go, so the organization could summarily replace me with someone half my age to pay a third of my salary to. Like I said, it was an ugly business, and as much as I am now able to look back on the situation and somewhat sympathize with that supervisor (he was clearly not enjoying it, either), I remain of the opinion that he didn’t handle it as well as he might’ve. I probably didn’t either, but I was the one getting the shaft, so to speak. In any event, when he/they eventually won this particular stand-off --- landing me on the unemployment line --- he wasn’t able to look me in the eye. Not Here/Not Now, a sprawling live document from SWANS had only been out for a few months, and this blistering trek through “Coward” seemed to fit the situation rather too well. “Stick Your Knife in Me…. Walk Away…”
5. A Song That Needs to Be Played Loud
“Surf Combat” by Naked Raygun. Given the state of my hearing, pretty much every song needs to be played loud, these days. Regardless, I’ve always thrilled to the cathartic guitar crunch of this track since first hearing it in the summer of 1985. Not only can I not listen to it without turning it way up, I don’t believe I’m able to listen to it only once. Play it loud and multiple times.
6. A Song That Makes You Want to Dance
“Garbageman” by The Cramps. I actually quite like a lot of bona fide “dance music,” however nebulous a term that is. While the Cramps would doubtlessly approve of people dancing to their songs, one would arguably be hard pressed to describe their fare as “dance music.” Regardless, instead of choosing something predictable by Prince, Parliament or Chic (all of whom I like), I remain entirely unable to keep still when this song plays. Boogie accordingly.
7. A Song to Drive To
“Roadrunner” by the Modern Lovers. I may have avoided cliché on the last one, but I’m jumping right into it here. Being a native New Yorker, I didn’t get my driver’s license until 2005, but the first time I was behind the wheel of that car, I immediately knew what Jonathan Richman was singing about here. Count off…
8. A Song About Drugs or Alcohol
“Alcohol” by Gang Green. Despite the specificity of the title, this breakneck anthem from Boston’s Gang Green also heartily endorses the use of cocaine, as well. There’s no doubt about it.
9. A Song That Makes You Happy
“She Sells Sanctuary” by The Cult. I shouldn’t need to go into chapter and verse as to why I love this song and it makes me happy. It has since I first heard it, and it has never lost that particular power. As an added bonus, here’s a LEGO version of it. If this doesn’t make you happy, I pity you. Crank it.
10. A Song That Makes You Sad
“I Still Do” by the Cranberries. While I think this song is designed to make one feel sad, it’s now sad for a whole other reason.
11. A Song You Never Get Tired Of
“Eighties” by Killing Joke. You may have thought that in the 34 years since this single was released, I’d have grown tired of it. Nope. It remains absolutely perfect.
12. A Song from Your Preteen Years
“Hello, It’s Me” by Todd Rundgren. In 1972, when this single came out and rule the radio, I was all of five years old. That said, I want to say I still remember hearing it as a child, playing on the car radio. Regardless, it’s still gorgeous.
13. A Song You Like from the Seventies
“Long Cool Woman (In a Black Dress)” by the Hollies. This could easily have been the answer to the last question, but also from 1972, “Long Cool Woman (In a Black Dress)” seems to totally sum up a certain portion of the seventies for me. I love how it sounds like it was recorded in a tunnel. Also, there’s just no arguing with that guitar.
14. A Song You’d Love to be Played at Your Wedding
“Dancing With Myself” by Billy Idol. As it happens, I am married, and have been for almost seventeen years, so I’m going to have to pick something that was played at my wedding. When we’d settled on a deejay, I’d initially started drawing up an elaborately detailed list of favorite songs that I wanted him to play, until it struck me that while I might enjoy certain bits of arguably left-field stuff, the main objective was to be inclusive and get everybody dancing. As such, I tossed out my list (rife with pretentious, arguably esoteric stuff) and we simply instructed the deejay to play whatever was going to get the crowd going. That said, we did give him a “DO NOT PLAY” list (no “Copacabana” was to be played under any circumstances), which he –- of course -– completely disregarded. In any case, to limply appease my penchant for the punky stuff, the deejay did play this, and it was rapturously well received by all on the floor.
15. A Song You Like That’s a Cover By Another Artist
“Dirty Water” by the Inmates. While I do love the Standells’ original garage-rock ode to Boston (despite the inexplicable fact that the Standells were from Los Angeles), there’s something about the Inmates’ version -- swapping out the River Charles for the River Thames, and making it about London – that’s just got a beefier and enjoyably nastier sound. What’s not to like?
16. A Song That’s a Classic Favorite
“The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys“ by Traffic. The concept of a “classic favorite” is, I suppose, something that everybody knows, everybody likes and is universally acknowledged as great. That said, what might seem like a “classic” to one person may not be perceived as such to another. So, forgive me if my selection of a “classic favorite” does not align with your tastes. I chose “The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys” by Traffic, as it was something I remember routinely hearing on classic rock radio, growing up. If you honestly care, I wrote a more detailed rumination on it back in 2005, but suffice to say, I love its mellifluous mellowness, its languid sprawl and its jazzy meanderings. I have zero idea what it’s about. A brush-off of glam rock, perhaps? Who cares, it’s great.
17. A Song You’d Sing a Duet with Someone on Karaoke
Last summer, my family joined a couple of other families from our kids’ school for a night of dinner and karaoke, and – given my tinnitus – I found the whole experience worryingly loud, so much so that I had to sit most of it out. So, yeah, no karaoke for me.
18. A Song from the Year You were Born
“Lucifer Sam” by Pink Floyd. What a trippy year 1967 must have been.
19. A Song That Makes You Think About Life
“Up the Junction” by Squeeze. I don’t believe I ever gave this song a great deal of thought when I first heard it. It’s never been one of my favorites by the band, for that matter. But it wasn’t until I grew up, got married and had a family that I started to appreciate this song for the power of its narrative, however gloomy. Sort of a less cheery version of XTC’s “Earn Enough for Us” from a few years later, “Up the Junction” spins a yarn of humble domestic bliss gone pointedly sour after its protagonist succumbs to drinking and gambling, prompting his wife and infant daughter to move out. To capture the intricacies of this story within the parameters of a three-minute pop song is a testament to Squeeze’s songwriting genius.
20. A Song That Has Many Meanings To You
“Charlotte Sometimes” (live version from Concert) by The Cure. For a start, it’s just a great song, although I way prefer this live version over the original studio version, for some indefinable reason. I think there’s something about the opening notes of the studio rendition that sounds off-key to me, and not in a cool, punky, we-did-it-on-purpose sorta way. But the live version from Concert just nails it. It’s also meaningful to me in that I remember buying the cassette version of Concert during my first trip to Paris in 1987. I bought it on the strength of the fact that it came appended on the b-side with Curiosities, a collection of rare tracks and such. I vividly remember sitting on the steps of Sacre Coeur, and playing “Charlotte Sometimes,” flipping the tape over and listening to “All Mine” from Curiosities over and over again, as they complemented each other perfectly. Thirdly, it indirectly was the inspiration for the name of my eldest child.
21. A Song You Like with a Person’s Name in the Title
“Marian (Version)” by the Sisters of Mercy. Far and away my favorite track by the Sisters, it comes with the qualifier “(Version)” not because there are other known renditions of it out there, but rather that, legend has it, when they played if for their record company, the execs complained that they couldn’t make out the vocals. As such, Andrew Eldritch, the band’s own Mother Superior, slapped “(Version)” on it as an homage to reggae instrumentals. Cheeky bastard. I think virtually every single nanosecond of this song is absolute perfection, from Craig Adams’ metronome-of-death-like bass lines to Andrew’ guttural German exclamations towards the end. Revel in it.
22. A Song That Moves Your Forward
“I Will Refuse” by Pailhead. From the strenuously unlikely pairing of Ian MacKaye of Minor Threat and Al Jourgensen of Ministry, “I Will Refuse” was and remains pure catharsis, for me. A slowly balled fist to the face, it’s an anthem of disgust and defiance.
23. A Song You Think Everybody Should Listen To
“Black to Comm” by the MC5. I think everyone should listen to it, because it’s fucking excellent. Do I need a better reason?
24. A Song By a Band You Wish Were Still Together
“Shine On, Elizabeth” by Cop Shoot Cop. I don’t think I really need to explain this one, do I?
25. A Song You Like By An Artist No Longer Living
“Black Country Rock” by David Bowie. It could have been any one of his songs, but today, it’s this one.
26. A Song That Makes Want to Fall in Love
“Young Adult Friction” by The Pains of Pure at Heart. It just sounds like it.
27. A Song That Breaks Your Heart
“This Woman’s Work” by Kate Bush. Something about the way she delivers certain lines, specifically “oh, darlin’, make it go away!” Chokes me up absolutely every time.
28. A Song By an Artist Whose Voice You Love
“Song to the Siren” by This Mortal Coil. There’s no arguing with Elizabeth Fraser.
29. A Song You Remember from Your Childhood
“Moon Shadow” by Cat Stevens. We had this on eight-track cassette. Halfway through the song, I expect to hear that “ka-CHUNK” between tracks.
30. A Song That Reminds You of Yourself
“Unbearable” by The Wonder Stuff. Some have suggested I am disagreeable.