The top 5 albums of 2013

Ok, no rehearsal, let’s do this.  There haven’t been very many albums this year where I have liked pretty  much every song from front to back.  To be honest, that’s not too unusual.  It takes a pretty good artist to make a pretty good album.  Ok, sometimes it can be a fluke, but you can pretty much expect that if you can’t stand an artist’s first 3 albums, you aren’t going to like their next one…

Alright stream of consciousness (one in which I can edit my words), here it goes:

5)  Hayden-  Us Alone

I’ve followed Hayden since “Everything I Long For”, which had two solidly good songs on it and a string of very listenable tracks.  This album was the first this year where I really had to decide which track was my favorite because there were so many that were deserving.

4)  Nine Inch Nails-  Hesitation Marks

This was the first brand new release (outside of Record Store Day) that I bought on vinyl the week it came out.  I’d bought new unplayed records, but before this one, they were albums I knew.  With this one, I’ve loved almost everything by Nine Inch Nails, One of my favorite concerts of all time was seeing them in 2007.  This album was a return to the moniker after Trent Reznor said he was tired of NIN as a touring band.  As an example of how much I liked this, I knew I liked “Came Back Haunted” a lot before I got the album in the mail, but after listening, a different track, “Copy of A” was my favorite from the album.  To me, this album sounds very much like vintage “Fragile” era Nine Inch Nails, which is my second favorite NIN album behind “The Downward Spiral”.

3)  Sallie Ford and the Sound Outside-  Untamed Beast

One of my very good friends thrust the first Sallie Ford album in my hands and told me to “just give it a listen”.  One of the tracks from that album was a favorite from that year.  The next year, I saw Sallie Ford at the Concerts at the Mural and my admiration for how she and her band performs grew.  So, I knew that this album, their second, was going to be worth hearing.  I don’t know, maybe i’m a sucker for the old-timey sounds of the record…  Anyway, a very cohesive album that easily lends itself to repeated listens.

2)  Kanye West-  Yeezus

I’ve always been pretty touch and go with Kanye West.  I’m very impressed with his abilities, but not so impressed with him as a person.  However, this album completely threw me for a loop.  There were three standout tracks:  “Blood on the leaves”, “New Slaves”, and “I am a God”.  For my money, any rap album that’s got the guts to sample “Strange Fruit” on two separate occasions earns my respect.  For those who know the origins of that song, it sends a direct message regarding what Kanye was trying to convey in his lyrics.

1)  Streetlight Manifesto-  The Hands That Thieve

The final declaration by an amazing ska punk band and their main songwriter, where were desperate to terminate their record contract.  This album was delayed several months over label negotiations, but when it came out, it was devoured by fans.  I can’t think of another album this year where I was more excited for its release than this one.  In “Toe to toe”, religious imagery tells the listener that, no matter what the odds, you can win (much like the battle with their label).  On “The Three of Us”, the excitement never lets up through five minutes of strong instrumentation and rapid-fire lyrical delivery while a story about defending and defining your own arguments.  I didn’t find out they were coming to town until the day before they played, but my brother did get a chance to see them.  One day, I’ll get a full account of just how fantastic it was to see them in person.  Look for more good work from these guys, but probably under a different moniker.

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100 greatest songs, part 5, May 1997 to Present

I believe that I have some explaining to do.  There are several songs considered the best that are  not on my list.  There is no “Stairway to heaven” or “Let it be” or “Smells like teen spirit”.  These songs are all good, but they don’t mean all that much to me.  I’m so tired of hearing Teen Spirit top music lists that I could scream.  I love Let It Be, but gimme a break, I’ve got like 8 other Beatles songs on this list.  Stairway to Heaven is good, it’s most definitely a classic, but it just didn’t make my list (yeah, I know and New Bad Things did, your point?).

No surprises-  Radiohead     A perfect encapsulation of the feeling of withdrawing from society that is strewn throughout OK Computer.

Soon forget-  Pearl Jam     Vitalogy allowed Pearl Jam to expand their grunge palate enough so that Soon Forget is a fan and concert favorite.

What we worked for-  Against me     The likes of this song have made more than a fucking dollar and went far beyond a demo tape that was played until it broke and remembered only for what it was.  Practically my rallying cry and must be shouted while you play it loud.

Another first kiss-  They might be giants     I originally heard most of this song as First Kiss on “Severe Tire Damage”.  I’m so glad they turned it into a slow love song, it definitely was allowed to flourish in this setting.  Also, it was officially released on September 11, 2001, so that’s kinda cool…

The best ever death metal band in Denton-  The Mountain Goats     I’d love to know whether The Killers actually took their name from the lines of this song.  Hopefully people who read this look this song up,  Hail Satan, with your devil horns raised high!!!!

Drunken Lullabies-  Flogging Molly     When I first heard this song on the radio, it blew me away.  I gave it to a punk rock-loving friend.  It was then that he told me I didn’t like Flogging Molly when he introduced me to them on their previous album.

We’ve been had-  The Walkmen     This song could have been made in 1960 and I’d never have known the difference.

Do you realize??-  The Flaming Lips     To me, this should be exactly as well known as “The End” by The Beatles.  Yeah, I said it.

Hurt-  Johnny Cash     1)  The highest praise I’ve ever heard of Cash’s version was Trent Reznor saying that he didn’t feel that the song was properly his any more.  2)  Johnny Cash is the only artist on my list to have a song from 3 different decades.

Keep me in your heart for a while-  Warren Zevon     A song about how it feels to know that you’re dying.

Girl anachronism-  Dresden Dolls     My introduction to a cabaret punk act that featured a guy on drums and a girl on piano.  “The attention just encourages her”

Such great heights-  The Postal Service     Electronic music with a heart.  In my mind, something new and exciting that has no equal.

‘Merican-  The Descendants     A punk rock telling of the history of the colonization of what became known as the United States.

Dry your eyes (f. Chris Martin)-  The Streets    My favorite song of 2000 through 2009.  The lyrics are perfectly aligned with the theme of the album on which it appears.

Bleed like me-  Garbage     “Hey baby, can you bleed like me?/You should see my scars”.  Everybody has scars, even if they don’t appear on their skin.

Modern girl-  Sleater-Kinney     I got into Sleater-Kinney late.  I knew of “I wanna be your Joey Ramone”, but this song made me an eternal fanboy.  If they got back together, I’d stand in line for tickets hoping that I could hear this song in concert.

Dirty Girl (with strings)-  The Eels     I first heard this version when I wasn’t sure where my current relationship was going, but i knew it was something that I wasn’t ready to come to an end.  It seemed to speak directly to me.

Parade-  Pretty Girls Make Graves     “MUTINY”

Not ready to make nice-  The Dixie Chicks     Country band responds to international criticism by saying “suck it” as eloquently as possible.

Someday-  Tegan & Sara     “Mark my words, I might be something someday”.  My favorite song of the last 4 years and I love it because I desperately want people to acknowledge that I enjoy what I do and am pretty good at it.

100 greatest songs part 4: August 1991 – December 1997

This is the era when I first began to listen and pay attention to music on the “alternative” spectrum of the radio.  I distinctly remember listening to albums like “Nevermind” and Metallica’s “Black Album” and “It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back”.

Black-  Pearl Jam     Forever tied to falling in love for the first time, it’s also a tale of love lost.

Territorial Pissings-  Nirvana     Bet you thought I’d say “Teen Spirit”!  Not only is that not the best song of the 90’s, for my money, it’s not even the best song on the album.  Modern alternative heresy, but damn right I said it.

The I Suck-  New Bad Things     “Elvis was a hero to most, but he never meant a goddamn thing to me”.  If only this band was easier to find in any format, I’d have their collected discography.

Everybody Hurts-  R.E.M.     I could listen to this song every day until I die and I wouldn’t get tired of it.

Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town-  Pearl Jam     I’m pretty sure this song is about somebody staying in a small town and they see somebody they used to like return to the town, but the somebody doesn’t seem to notice them.  My computer used to start up and load, saying “by god it’s been so long/i never dreamed you’d return”.

Sappy-  Nirvana   “And if you fool yourself, you will think you’re happy”.

Not the One-  The Offspring    The next two songs are the only songs in my collection that are paired next to each other on the same album.  They are both teen angst anthems.  Best line here:  “We’re not the ones who pollute and blacken our skies and ruin our steams/we’re not the ones who make the nuclear bombs that threaten our lives”.

Smash-  The Offspring     I bought this album on vinyl within the last 6 months pretty much so that I could hear this song on wax.  In my formative years, it was critical in creating my outlook on life.  Best line:  “i’m not a trendy asshole/i don’t give a fuck if it’s good enough for you/’cause I am alive”.

Car-  Built to Spill     I’ve liked built to spill for years, but somehow I came across this song late.  “Wanna be there when you find out what comets stars and moons are all about”.  As far as I can tell, its about wanting to be there and see your child grow up, but I could be wildly misinterpreting that song.  It is Build to Spill after all…

Strawberry-  Everclear     Yeah, i’ve got an everclear song on my list.  The line “don’t fall down now, you will never get up” was basically my constant anthem during my college years when I knew I had to get through school to have any sort of chance of taking care of my family.

Date Rape-  Sublime     When I first heard this song, i thought it was an awful song about rape.  Then the last few lines came along…

Street Spirit (Fade Out)-  Radiohead     With all of their albums that came after, The Bends will always be my favorite Radiohead album.  Every song on the album is basically fantastically amazing.

Solidarity-  TCHKUNG!     Nothing wrong with a little anarcho-punk on anybody’s list.  This band created all their own instruments, and still managed to write a song about the loss of land to development.

El Scorcho-  Weezer     Uncommon wisdom states that this is a corruption of a madam butterfly character.  Plus, leave it to weezer to make me interested in trying to find out who cho-cho san was.

A Long December-  Counting Crows     The first two counting crows albums were actually pretty consistent.  August and Everything After may be a better album, but nothing on that album touches the raw power of this one.

Brick-  Ben Folds Five     A hit song about sneaking out to take your girlfriend to get an abortion, and all the regret that ensues.  Bold move, but it pays off so well.  I hear the year this came out, thousand of radio stations played this song at “six AM the day after Christmas”.

All I Want-  The Offspring     At one point in time, this was my favorite song.  You know when I felt the need to tell people to “back of your rules/back off your jive/’cause i’m sick of not living just to stay alive”.

Years Ago-  Super Deluxe     I have seen super deluxe more than any other band.  This song was originally on a UK only single, but due to it’s popularity in the Seattle area, it was released on their second album.

Good Riddence (Time of your life)-  Green Day     Sentimental and sappy, but I think this song opened the doors for Green Day to experiment, eventually leading to American Idiot 7 long years later.

Miss Misery-  Elliott Smith     Two of my favorite Academy Award moments are associated with Good Will Hunting.  One was seeing how excited then Hollywood outsiders Ben Afleck and Matt Damon were to win the award for Best Original Screenplay.  The other was seeing Elliott Smith play his acoustic guitar on the Oscar stage going up against the shipwreck (pun intended) of Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On”.  The guy got robbed…

Top 100 songs part three: September 1971 – September 1990

Twenty years in 20 songs.  The popular music of the 70s and 80s kind of by and large sucked.  That’s not to say there wasn’t some lasting and memorable music, but disco and mainstream pop music from the 80s by and large had pretty awful lyrics.  I have to apologize that politics comes up so much in these next 20 songs.

Gimme some truth-  John Lennon     The second song from the Imagine album that makes my list.  All I want is the truth, we can handle the truth.  Those words still ring clear today.  Are you listening political figures?

American pie-  Don McLean     An 8 minute song that pays tribute to a bye-gone era.  There may have been other good Don McLean albums, but for my money, all I need is American Pie, which also features Vincent and Empty Chair.  See next post.

Killing me softly-  Roberta Flack     This song was reportedly written after seeing Don McLean perform Empty Chairs in concert.

Bohemian rhapsody-  Queen     Freddie Mercury was a singular voice and talent.  In an era before MTV, the video for this song expanded the boundaries of what was possible in promoting a song.  Plus, this song takes you on a journey for so many emotions, repeated listens may not be able to list all of them.

War-  Bob Marley     By this time in his life, Marley was already an international superstar.  He used his position on the world stage to bring attention to the plight of disadvantaged people around the world.

God save the queen-  The Sex Pistols     The titular queen issued an order to insist that this song not be allowed to make it to number one on the British charts.  And so, for one week during her Silver Jubilee, there was officially no song at the number one spot of the charts.  How cool is that?

Dust in the wind-  Kansas    In the immortal words of Bill S. Preston speaking to Socrates, “All we are is dust in the wind, dude”.  In the immortal words of Stephen Colbert, “Dust in the wind” is not a hymn.

(What’s so funny about) peace love and understanding-  Elvis Costello     A cover of a Nick Lowe song, believe it or not.  Elvis’ nasally voice and spitfire vocal delivery adds a new element to this song that, for me, makes his version the definitive version.

California Uber alles-  The Dead Kennedys     A steaming rebuke of California governor Jerry Brown’s policies, taking them to the extreme.  However, it became a rebuke of all government overreach, like all the best protest songs can do.

London Calling-  The Clash     One of the best bass lines in history.  Being a former bassist, I very much would like to learn the bass line to this song, if I could only find the drive to actually do so.  Oh, and the lyrics are pretty great too.

Bad reputation-  Joan Jett and the Blackhearts     Joan Jett earns my eternal respect by making it easy to state that some people really don’t care whether others view them poorly, we keep right on doing what we were doing to do anyway.  In the words of Angus,  “I’m still here, asshole”.

Know your rights-  The Clash     The Clash declared themselves “the only band that matters”.  With a song like this from the early 80s, it’s not hard to understand why they made such a crime.  Know your rights, all 3 of them:  The right to free speech, food money, and not to be killed.  Unless of course, you don’t have those rights.

Kiss off-  Violent Femmes     A classic album front-to-back.  I have made it one of my goals in life to give everybody I know who goes off to college a copy of this album.  I must have given it to a dozen people by now.

The New World-  X     A song which reminds those disenfranchised by 1980s politics that, for all the better the world was supposed to get, other people noticed that the world actually wasn’t getting better.

Yoda-  “Weird Al” Yankovic     A parody of the Kinks’ “Lola” which encapsulates both the entire story of The Empire Strikes Back and states just how popular the Star Wars saga was at that point in time.  

Dear God-  XTC     Two lines of lyrics from this song are all the explanation I need about why it’s so good:  1) “Did you make mankind/before we made you” and 2) “and it’s a sin the whole world ’round, the hurt I see helps to compound/the father son the holy ghost, is just somebody’s unholy hoax/and if you’re up their you could see, that my heart’s hear upon my sleeve/if there’s one thing i don’t believe in/it’s you, dear god”

Fairytale of New York-  The Pogues     Often sighted in the UK as the best Christmas son of all time.  Singer Kristy MacColl was murdered in 1990, just three years after this song was released.  This song has made the charts in the UK every December since 2006.  Pretty good for a song that’s coming on 20 years old.

Story of my life-  Social Distortion     A song about not being able to relive the past, that even after you move on to other things, so does the rest of the world.  You can either accept those changes or become enraged by them.

Sin-  Nine Inch Nails     Trent Reznor thought this song sounded too much like Queen.  And so, on the single, he covered Queen’s “Get down make love”.  Brilliant!

Sliver (single version)-  Nirvana     For some reason, I just like the bass sound of this version more than the one released on Incesticide.  Plus, if you’ve never heard the vinyl single of this song, stick around for the phone call accidentally recorded by Krist Novoselic.

Top 100 songs part 2: January 1966 to September 1971

Right, so among the 100 songs that make up this list, 10 songs comes from five pairs of albums.  Of those albums, 4 appear on this portion of the list.  The first is Sounds of Silence, the second is Revolver, third comes Sgt Pepper (what else?), and the last is Imagine.  Everybody, ready ’cause here we go!

I am a rock-  Simon and Garfunkel     Poetry doesn’t get much better than “gazing from my window onto the streets below on a freshly fallen silent shroud of snow”.  Looking at life while not taking part of life isn’t an option.

Eleanor Rigby-  The Beatles     I have an embarrassing story to tell about Revolver.  When i was 15 or 16, my best friend gave me the album for my birthday.  I looked at the track list and thought “great, yellow submarine and 13 songs i’ve never heard”.  By the end of these next two songs, I needed to hear more Beatles…

For no one-  The Beatles     See the story above.  Why didn’t these songs by them get played on oldies radio in the early to mid 90s of Seattle???

For what it’s worth-  Buffalo Springfield     I’ve loved the words to this song since before I knew the name of the song.  Notice how they don’t say the title in the lyrics in the song?  Somehow that makes the song better in my mind.  In other words, for what it’s worth, there’s something happening here and what it is ain’t exactly clear.  I bought the Forest Gump soundtrack so that I could have this song.

When i’m sixty-four-  The Beatles     My aunt walked down the aisle to this song many years ago.  That will always be entwined in my memory with this song.  Not that the song isn’t a gem in its own right.

A day in the life-  The Beatles     Have you ever heard the chair creek during the longest note in recorded music at the end of this song?  Then you haven’t been listening loud enough.

This will be our year-  The Zombies     I’ve never heard this song on the radio, but several people have covered this song through the years.  “And I won’t forget the way you said ‘darling i love you, you give me strength to go on”.

Revolution-  The Beatles     The single, not the album version.  Practically heavy metal by the standards of the day.  This song should still be a staple on alternative rock radio stations.

What a wonderful world-  Louis Armstrong     Beautiful lyrics about how beautiful the world can be if people take the time to look.

I’m so tired-  The Beatles     Technically not from the same place as Revolution because this is from the White Album.  I’ve had this song in my head many a night when I can’t get to sleep.

My way-  Frank Sinatra     How could this song have been written by Paul Anka?  It speaks so true of Sinatra’s life.

The ballad of John and Yoko-  The Beatles     A story-ballad about John & Yoko trying to get married in the face of scrutiny from the government and the pressure of being in the public eye.

Space Oddity-  David Bowie     Not a song about being in space, but a song about being all alone.

Alice’s restaurant-  Arlo Guthrie     If you’ve never heard the Massacree revisited, it’s very much worth is for hearing his discussion with Chip Carter about Richard Nixon’s record collection.  How many things do you know that are 18 minutes and 20 seconds long?

Fortunate son-  Credence Clearwater Revival     A song from the height of the Viet Nam war about how the rich were keeping their sons out of war by virtue of the fact that they had more pull in Washington DC.  It’s still happening, but now there’s no draft.

What is truth?-  Johnny Cash     Another anti-war song.  “Son that’s when people fight and die/little boy of three says ‘daddy, why?'”  Also about paying attention to the young people because sooner or later they will be the one’s in charge.

It’s not easy being green-  Kermit the frog     One of my earliest memories is of a green smoke bomb on the 4th of July and singing this song.

Big yellow taxi-  Joni Mitchell     I first heard this song as a hidden track on a Counting Crows album.  Pathetic, but I thought they’d written.  Turns out I was wrong…

Working class hero-  John Lennon     Protest against aristocracy at it’s absolute best.

Imagine-  John Lennon     A song both about setting aside differences and also about realizing that once you get past those differences, there’s not much that separates one person from another.  The second song from this album will kick off the next portion of this list.

100 greatest songs part 1: January 1929 – January 1966

Ok, so I don’t know whether I’m already in the realm of repeating myself, but I’m going to do it anyway.  My second ever post was my 25 greatest songs of all time, counted down.  My next 5 posts will be my accounting of the 100 greatest songs of all time in chronological order.  Because I came into music in the last 20 years or so, my list is weighted toward the latter portion of the 20th century.  It seems as though the half way point is somewhere around 1980.  Anyway, here we go:

 

How can a poor man stand such times and live-  Blind Alfred Reed     Other than the fact that the monetary lines of this song are so outdated, this song could have been written about the 2008 financial meltdown, and it would have still been relevant to our lives today.

Strange fruit-  Billie Holiday     Protest songs are my bread and butter.  The idea that a jazz singer recorded a protest songs about hangings in the south and insisted that it be put onto record in the early 1930s earns my respect.

Where did you sleep last night?-  Leadbelly     Alright, so I got into this song, like many of my generation, because Nirvana covered it.  That doesn’t mean it’s not an amazing story.

Unforgettable-  Nat “King” Cole     An immortal classic from an icon of music.  Simple words are used to declaim how much he loves another.

That’ll be the day-  Buddy Holly     I’ve got this thing for Buddy Holly.  His music was way ahead of his time.  He got the potential of rock and roll before it became mainstream and recorded so many great songs in his short time as a performer.

Rock ‘n’ roll music-  Chuck Berry     Another pillar of early rock music from the early rock era.

I walk the line-  Johnny Cash     Simple lyrics that tell the subject of the song that they will behave in order to keep the love they have.

Stand by me-  Ben E. King     An immortal love song that has pretty much been covered in every genre of music.

Little boxes-  Malvina Reynolds     Yes, it’s the “Weeds” theme song, but more importantly, it protests against the rise of suburban areas where all the houses and cars and families look so alike that it’s hard to tell them apart.

Masters of war-  Bob Dylan     This song isn’t anti-American, it’s anti War

The times the are a-changin’-  Bob Dylan     The poet and bard of a generations most well known song

You don’t own me-  Lesley Gore     I beg a female fronted punk band to cover this song.  Please!!!

The ballad of William Worthy-  Phil Ochs     A protest song from the early days of the Cuban embargo and the red scare.

House of the rising sun-  The Animals     Not the first to record this song by a long shot, but the ones who did it best.

Like a rolling stone (Judas Heckle version)-  Bob Dylan     I’m one of those who is of the opinion that, when this song was recorded, Dylan was responding not to the Judas heckle, he was responding to a harder to hear heckler that said something along the lines of “i think you’re new music stinks and I won’t by your music any more” with the response of “I don’t believe you, you’re a liar”.

Yesterday-  The Beatles     The most covered song of all time.

Respect-  Aretha Franklin     Depending on how you listen to the lyrics of this song, it’s either a women’s empowerment anthem, or a song where she’s begging for “her propers” when he gets home.

My generation-  The Who     Any generation could have recorded this song and it would still speak to the trials and tribulations of their generation.

In my life-  The Beatles     Among all their classics, give this love song more respect than it already has.

Richard Cory-  Simon & Garfunkel     The folk rock version of an 1890’s song about money not buying you happiness.

Winding down 2013

So, as I said in my first post, every year I make a list of songs i like and then at the end of the year I condense those songs in to 80 minutes of “best of” music to give to people as gifts around the holidays.

My deadline this year is December 5.  That means I’ve got 2 weeks to curate my list.  At this point in time, not much will be breaking into those 80 minutes.  However, this week saw the addition of 2 songs to my “top 50” list (coming soon to a wordpress blog near you).  “Honey” by Torres and “The Monster” by Eminem and Rihanna are both fantastic songs that I should have heard earlier in the year.  My next sentence, however, is heresy in the music-loving public.

I didn’t like the Arcade Fire album enough to put one of the songs on my year end list.  They’re an album oriented band anyway, but Reflektor seems like it’s their experimental album after their Grammy award for Album of the Year a couple of years ago…

 

Just sayin’

Trying to buy new headphones

So, I listen to music on my ipod with earbuds on my commute to and from work.  I bought my most recent pair in July(?) and the left earbud just stopped working all of a sudden on Friday evening.  That means that right now, I’m back to listening to music through the standard issue ipod earbuds, which don’t stay in my ears very well.  I’ve been looking at a few sets, but am having a hard time paying $50.00 for a pair of headphones.  That said, I’m already sick of the ipod earbuds, so maybe that’s a sign…