Sunday, May 29, 2011

Memorial Day

Memorial Day weekend seemed like a good time to consider some lists of the best war songs, and I was a little surprised at what I found.  This list from hearya.com is mostly songs I don't know.  This list from the-top-tens.com has Metallica at #1 with One, and so does this list from about.com.  Most of the lists lean heavily towards protest songs, so you kind of need to find a country-focused list if you want a tad more patriotism for your Memorial Day weekend.
What stands out for me about all of these lists is that I tend to think of war songs as being mostly Vietnam songs and to a lesser extent cold war songs, but that just shows I haven't been paying attention to war songs for the last 20 years.  One list that matched my tastes a bit better than the others was this one from mademan.com, but having scanned a bit of the rest of the mademan.com website, I'm not sure how I feel about liking that list the best.

Unless I missed it, I don't think any of the lists had CCR's Run Through the Jungle or Buffalo Springfield's For What It's Worth, and I would have thought Apocalypse Now would have catapulted The Doors' The End onto one of the lists.  I was unsurprised to find that the Minutemen's Viet Nam wasn't on any of the lists, but it would be on mine.  It was good to see Time Zone's World Destruction on one of the lists.  The cold war generally didn't fare so well on these lists.  Some other cold war classics to consider are Fishbone's Party at Ground Zero, Made For TV's So Afraid of the Russians, TV Personalities' How I Learned the Love the Bomb, The Clash's Ivan Meets G.I. Joe, and Sun Ra's Nuclear War.

I suppose they aren't really songs about war, but one also has to wonder where the Village People's In The Navy and Gang of Four's I Love a Man in Uniform belong in the pantheon of military music.  For that matter, should we count Secret Agent Man?

Friday, May 27, 2011

Does The Daily Kos Know Punk?

I've already posted one punk list.  Here's another, and I'm sure there will be many more to follow over the life of this blog.  The Daily Kos, the lefty political website posted a top 10 punk bands list and what I find most interesting about it is the span of years it covers.  Without digging back to any pre-Ramones roots like the last punk list I posted did, it covers a broader range of years, including Streetlight Manifesto, who didn't release their first record until 2002, at #8.  Latter day bands like Propagandhi (#9), Operation Ivy (#5), and Bad Religion (#3) get mixed in with 70s punk (Ramones at #4 and The Clash at #2) and early 80s American hardcore (Bad Brains at #10, Minor Threat at #7, and Black Flag at #6).

Befitting the Daily Kos, I think some of the most overtly political bands get a boost, although now that I think about it the majority of great punk bands were fairly political.  Also, the original source of the list is apparently rateyourmusic, which is not in any way political as far as I know.  It's interesting that they left off the Sex Pistols.  I think longevity may have been part of the criteria.  I really don't know how else to explain how Bad Religion makes it so high on some of these lists.  I never drank the Bad Religion kool aid.  I think I heard one of them interviewed on NPR a couple of years ago and that made me think about them a little bit differently, but not enough to motivate me to actual get any of their records?  Should I?

I'll admit I'd never even heard of Streetlight Manifesto until recently.  They're more ska than punk, but certainly on the ska-punk end of the spectrum.  It seems odd to be discovering a new ska punk band in 2011 (even if they've been around for almost a decade), but I'm happy somebody included them in one of their lists.  There's absolutely no way they're a top 10 punk band, but it's still nice to have stumbled upon them.  If you take a look at the list on the Daily Kos you can (a) look at youtube videos for everyone in the top 10 (b) take part in the poll.

I took part in the poll, mostly because it's the way you can see the results of the poll.  There have only been 181 votes so far, so your vote really does count.  There are also, of course, comments, but don't comment there.  Comment here.

Friday, May 20, 2011

My First Mix CD - Nothing But Good Things #1

Mix CDs are a category of lists unto themselves.  One might reasonably quibble that they have little in common with the other lists here, but I included them as a blog-worthy category in my preamble, and regular readers may have noticed I like to refer back to that preamble.  Here are my original liner notes from Feb 22, 1998 on the CD I made called Nothing But Good Things #1.

After years of treating my college DJ withdrawal symptoms by making mix tapes, I took a look at the 50+ I've made so far, and came to four conclusions.  1) In my zeal to fill 90 minutes I ocassionally throw in a song or two that just aren't any good.  2) Cassette tapes aren't going to be around a whole lot longer.  I don't know if it will be mini-disc or DVD or something else that replaces them, but those easily crinkled rolls of tape just aren't the wave of the future.  3) For all the mix tapes I've made for myself there sure are a lot of people I've been meaning to make a tape for and never have.  4) If random-play existed for cassettes it would be like having an exciting new mix tape every time I played it.
This is the first in what will hopefully be a series.  I like all these songs a lot.  They aren't my 13 favorite songs of all time - I want this to be a series after all - but I feel like they all hang together reasonably well as a baker's dozen.  If the CD makes you happy, send me a note or give me a call or write me an email and say "more, more, make more" and maybe I will.

And here's the track list:

1. Slapp Happy - Everybody's Slimmin
2. Kip Hanrahan - Shadow Song (Mario's In)
3. Lesley Riddle - I'm Working on a Builing
4. Linda Smith - An Ideal View of an Ideal City
5. Sun Ra - We Travel the Spaceways
6. The Gories - Nitroglycerine
7. Vehicle Flips - Diplomacy, Home, and Abroad
8. Colorblind James Experience - Quite a Guy
9. ATS - Blanche
10. Austin Lounge Lizards - Brain Damage
11. David Thomas - Planet of Fools
12. 5ive Style - Once Around the Park
13. Spot 1019 - Nothing But Good Things

Now, 13 years later, it's entertaining to see the ways in which my liner notes are dated.  To make the original mix CD, I had coped WAV files onto my computer.  The CD only had 13 songs largely because that was the amount of space I had availble on my hard drive for WAV files in 1998.  Can you imagine only being able to fit 13 songs on your computer?  The mini-disc never took off, so it's a good thing I never bought that mini-disc player I'd been coveting at the time.  I did play this CD and many others I made on random play, but iPod shuffle mode made random play on individual CDs downright quaint.
Over time, the idea of playing the individual CDs on random play became less important to me, and I began taking the order more seriously and paying more attention to the segues, as I did when I was a DJ.  There are some segues here that make OK musical or thematic sense, but there are others that don't.  That's still true of CDs I make today, but I try harder.

Eventually, I'd like to figure out how to post streaming audio for these old CDs, but I'm taking this blog thing one step at a time.  The tech-savvy among you should feel free to offer advice about how one would do that.

Friday, May 13, 2011

1-2-3 Quibble Power Activate

I ignored my preamble for one post and took a detour away from popular and unpopular music.  I just wanted to provide a little background on the 1-2-3 concept.  There's a 1-2-3 for classic rock that I think it's pretty easy to rank.  The Beatles are #1.  Maybe you love the Beatles.  Maybe you're a contrarian and you don't, but deal with it.  They're #1.  The Stones are #2.  Due to longevity and continued touring, they might even challenge for #1, but they made too many bad records on their way to achieving that longevity, so they can't be #1.  They're a clear #2 (not #1, but way closer to being #1 than anyone else who isn't #1).  Led Zeppelin is #3.  If it was a rock list or a hard rock list, they could be #1, but in classic rock, they're #3.  The Who isn't too far behind at #4, but they're behind by enough that it's a rock solid (no pun intended) 1-2-3.  There may be no other genre for which I feel so totally comfortable unilaterally saying it's 1-2-3 and that's how it is.

I actually like The Who better than Led Zeppelin, and I like The Kinks better than both of them, but this isn't the who-Dave-likes-best list.  It's not even a "best" list or a "top" list.  It's just a simple 1-2-3.  I refuse to state the criteria because it's so self evident to me that they are 1-2-3 for the classic rock genre.  Who could possibly disagree?  About.com disagrees.  They have a top 50.  They've got the Beatles at #1 (thank goodness) with the Stones at #4 and Led Zeppelin at #5.  Pink Floyd is #2 on their list.  Now, Pink Floyd was my favorite band for some portion of high school and they definitely make the top 10, but #2?  They could make a list of the top 3 art rock bands, but I think you need more hits (more FM radio hits) to be in the top 3 on the classic rock band list.  Do they get some kind of bump for one of the awful records they made in the 90s that I've never heard but know for absolute certain is absolutely awful?

I made a top 10 for myself a while ago, but I've misplaced it.  I found that I only really felt strongly about the top 3; however, I did notice something about my list that is true of the about.com list as well.  The UK and the West Coast make up the whole top 10.  Actually, for About.com, it's just California and the UK.  My list had the Jimi Hendrix Experience in the top 10, and they don't make this top 50, maybe because Jimi was just a guy and they didn't count the Experience as a band.  Anyway, Jimi's why I say West Coast versus just California, but the point is where's the East Coast?  Where's the South and the Midwest?

On the About.com list, the East Coast shows up first at #13 with Boston and then at #17 with Aerosmith.  Aerosmith would have been way before Boston on my list, but #17 sounds fair for them.  New York makes the list for the first time at #19 with Blood, Sweat, and Tears, a band that I respect, but who could not have possible even had a chance at my top 50.  ZZ Top at #21 brings the South into the mix just a bit before the Allman Brothers at #23.  The midwest doesn't show up until #33 with Styx.  I would have given the nod to Bob Seger or Chicago ahead of Styx.  I think I would have even given the nod to Kansas ahead of Styx.  And don't talk to me about the Stooges and the MC5.  This is a classic rock list, not a proto-punk list.  And what was about.com thinking putting the Sex Pistols on their list at #46 (ahead of Lynyrd Skynyrd at #47)?  Am I crazy?  Do I have no idea what Classic Rock is?

In summary:

1) Picking 1-2-3 here was much easier than getting past #3.
2) About.com got the top 3 wrong and got a bunch of other stuff wrong too.
3) Folk Rock must have smacked down Classic Rock in the East until the mid 70s.

This is, I believe, my most quibble-friendly post to date.  Go at it.  Make me proud.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Neither Popular Nor Unpopular - A Detour

In my preamble, I said this blog would be dedicated to popular and unpopular music.  That was my personal code for not classical.  The usual code for not classical is popular, but a lot of the music I love is simply too unpopular for me to feel comfortable with the that term.

This may be my one and only foray into Classical music. It is a link to very well developed exercise in listmaking with the typically good writing one expects of the NY Times.  Here's the top 10 classical composers.  It is my belief that clicking on this link won't count against your quota for the Times's new pay wall, but I'd be pleased if anyone were able to verify that.

If you can't get through the pay wall, I'll take you to the punch line.  Bach is #1.  Beethoven is #2.  Mozart is #3.  After that, it gets a little fishy in my unsophisticated I-don't-know-much-about-classical-music view.  Schubert is #4.  It got me to thinking more broadly about how often a 1-2-3 is pretty clear cut with a big drop thereafter.  I'll return to that topic sometime soon.  This detour was just a set up for future quibbling about popular music (and unpopular music).

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Joe Liggins via Joel Whitburn: Charts of Charts

Casey Kasem brought me my first music lists through the AM radio.  Our '65 Bel Air Chevrolet didn't have an FM dial, but AT40 was AM-friendly.  Casey's countdowns conflicted with Sunday school, so I was very pleased to learn that Casey swiped his material (the list, not the trivia) from Billboard magazine, which one could find at the Hyattsville Public Library on a weekday afternoon.

Once one unlocked the secret of the weekly magazine of charts, it was possible to see that there was not just one chart, but many charts.  Joel Whitburn has done a phenomenal job of chronicling the various charts.  In addition to providing every charted song's weeks on chart, debut date, and peek position, there are supplemental lists such as the top hits of the decade.  We'll take a look at one such list today.

Here's the top 10 R&B Hits of the 40s based on the book "Joel Whitburn Presents Top R&B Singles 1942-1999".  He's updated that book since I bought it, so the new book is "Hot R&B Songs 1942-2000".  The change from "singles" to "songs" makes sense due to changing recorded music formats, and I have to assume that Hot is simply hotter than Top right now, but I don't know how much the typical Joel Whitburn reader cares about heat.  At any rate, hopefully nothing changed in the 40s chart between 1999 and 2010, so here it is:

#10.  Louis Jordan And His Tympany Five - Saturday Night Fish Fry (Parts I & II)
#9.  Julia Lee and Her Boyfriends - (Opportunity Knocks But Once) Snatch and Grab It
#8.  Louis Jordan and His Tympany Five - Boogie Woogie Blue Plate
#7.  Erskine Hawkins and His Orchestra - Don't Cry, Baby
#6.  Paul Williams and His Hucklebuckers - The Hucklebuck
#5.  Charles Brown Trio - Trouble Blues
#4.  Lionel Hampton and His Orchestra - Hey! Ba-Ba-Re-Bop
#3.  Louis Jordan and His Tympany Five - Ain't Nobody Here But Us Chickens
#2.  Louis Jordan and His Tympany Five - Choo Choo Ch'Boogie
#1.  Joe Liggins and His Honeydrippers - The Honeydripper (Parts I & II)

There is a big downside to this sort of chart.  It's not conducive to quibbling.  First of all, Whitburn just uses some kind of formula based on chart position to make the chart of charts, and the original charts are based on record sales and/or airplay.  Second of all, who am I to question to the R&B record-buying public of the 40s?  Maybe when I get to Joel Whitburn's book of best modern rock tracks I can quibble with the public at large - something to look forward to for another day.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Only 8 Months Left Until a New Batch of End of Year Lists

Among the many different kinds of lists, one of my favorites is the year-end list.  I look forward to the last Sunday papers of the year in the hopes of learning about a great record that I missed on somebody's best of list.  I also appreciate the lists that the eMusic staff makes.  I know they're just trying to make it easy for me to spend more money at eMusic, and I know they're succeeding, and I do miss having a physical record or CD when I point and click and buy mp3s, but they make lists.  I'm a sucker for lists, right?

Let's consider eMusic's best of 2010 list.  I'm pretty sure you don't have to belong to eMusic to see the list, but if somebody could confirm that for me I'd appreciate it.  This is a list of 80, but I'm just going to focus on the top 10 to keep it simple.  I think when this list came out, I already knew I liked Beach House (#1), Janelle Monae (#5), and Sleigh Bells (#7), but the list got me to check out Allo Darlin' (#2) and James Blake (#8).  It may have also pushed me over the edge to download a couple of tracks from Kanye West (#4) just so that I could confirm it wasn't as fabulous as everybody wants me to think.  By the way, if you haven't heard Janelle Monae and you think the track starts out sort of slow, skip forward to about 2:20 into it - that's when you start seeing how she separates herself from the pack.

I could complain that the Title Tracks aren't on this list and I could complain that the Fresh & Only's are way down at #68.  I could complain that Nick Cave is there with his band Grinderman at #3 even though he's past his prime, but it may be totally untrue.  I haven't gotten around to listening to it.  Maybe I should?  Have you?  If I'm going to try to keep up with current music, I have trouble spending my new-music-listening efforts on artists who I think peaked in the 80s.  I want to hear actual new music, even if it's bands like the Title Tracks and Fresh & Only's who have some strong roots in the music of the 60s or even if it's Sleigh Bells sampling 70s Funkadelic.  It's still new, and I like new, and I like it when people tell me what's good and new.  I like it best when they tell me what's best and new.