Friday Evening (Sunday in the Afternoon)
2010 YEAR-END BALLOT1. “Check It Out,” Nicki Minaj & Will.I.Am: This is the second year in a row where Will.I.Am has topped my list; I must now seriously consider the possibility that he’s a genius on the order of Chuck Berry or Bill James. (Three years ago I thought he was the Antichrist, or at least one of many Antichrists. My thinking has evolved on this matter.) The story has moved along since “I Got a Feeling,” a spectacularly buoyant, endlessly playable, but nonetheless conventionally structured dance-pop primer. Half of “Check It Out” is that, the other half is compelling, speaking-in-tongues Missy Elliot weirdness. Which brings me to Nicki Minaj. I look at her, and I’m Kevin Bacon in Diner, resigned to the fact that there’s stuff going on in the world that I don’t know about. For better or worse, I grew up sneaking into my (pretty sure closeted) uncle’s room to look at his Playboys from the ‘60s and ‘70s. Now that I’m about to turn 50, there is, sadly, still a part of my conception of female sexuality that goes back to the women in those magazines. Sorry--we are what we are. (George Costanza from the infamous cleavage episode: “What, am I trying to win an award here?”) So, to get to the point: just when I finally manage to get my head around Beyonce in the “Telephone” video as the last stop in comic-book voluptuousness, the very end of history, the image people throw Nicki Minaj at me. This is not good. This is not right. This is not fair. 2. “It’s Not Meant to Be,” Tame Impala: Swirly, trippy, majestic. It might more accurately be my #1 of the year, but “Check It Out” is out there, it has some meaning in the world, and my inclination with what basically amounts to a coin toss is to vote for the hit--someone may see my list and think “Oh, I know that, that’s great.” Tame Impala are a band I stumbled over on a blog. That’s not even like buying some Homestead or SST record in 1986 and trying to get people interested--it’s closer to a mirage, wrapped in a reverie, inside an abstraction. Which is a good description of what “It’s Not Meant to Be” sounds like. Which is nice. 3. “Amada Latina,” Cypress Hill: First it was Public Enemy and “For What It’s Worth,” now Cy- press Hill and the catchiest part of (the very catchy, if you ask me) “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.” I’m not claiming that Stephen Stills invented hip-hop. I’m just, you know, sayin’. (I’m always mindful of how increasingly out of touch I’m becoming with newer music--not inordinately so, but it’s sort of there in the background. So when I really like a new hip-hop hit, that lifts my spirits a little, makes me think I’m still in the loop. I try not to dwell on the fact that we’re now almost as far away from Cypress Hill’s first record as Cypress Hill’s first record was from “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.”) 4. “Gone Missing,” Wussy: The Wussy LP is so good, it’s hard to know which song to pick; I got out a Ouija board, dart board, and magic 8-ball, and this is the one. There’s no way I should like Wussy as much as I do. There’s a basic heaviness to a lot of their songs (definitely pre- sent on “Gone Missing”) that’s normally not my kind of thing, and Chuck Cleaver’s voice has the kind of Gordon Gano/Robert Smith quaver that I usually recoil from. (As always, my points of reference are impressively up to date.) Maybe Lisa Walker being there to temper all of that puts them over for me, but it’s not like she’s a shrinking violet either--actually, it may be her more than anything that gives them a really sinister undertow. Great lines, too, which I never notice till the third or fourth time through: my two favourite on Wussy are “reflecting on the never-ending question why we’ve been born” and “I finally got your letter, and your punctuation hit me like a truck.” Punctuation is something I think about a lot. I use dashes and semi-colons way too often, and there’s always the never-ending question of where to place all the commas. And O.P.P. (other people’s punctuation), geez. That does indeed hit me like a truck sometimes. 5. “Blood Dries Darker,” Woods: I tried to get some Neil Young fans interested in this on a message board, but no takers. I’m positive this is “Powderfinger” sideways, but filtered through some vocals even more quavery than Chuck Cleaver’s--munchkin-quavery this time, like it’s sung by the Road-Eyes, those hooded creatures from Neil’s Rust Never Sleeps tour thirty years ago. I played this four or five times in a row in the car one day, and that’s when I knew it would eventually find its way onto this list. 6. “Ireland,” Hexicon: Very pretty. They’re from London, so I’m not sure why they’re writing a song about Ireland. You know, I’ve never voted for an Irish band in this poll--I wasn’t on the rolls when the Undertones and Stiff Little Fingers were around, and I’m not a fan of that other Irish band. I wonder if Nicki Minaj is popular in Ireland. I’m turning into that guy from the X song who’s always raving about Elvis. Writing about Hexicon, thinking about Nicki. 7. “Restraining Order,” Knight School: I voted for “Gardeninginginging” last year, and though their second LP just sat around unplayed for a while after one listen, I went back to it one day and eventually it sounded every bit as good as the first one. There’s no page for them on Facebook, so this may be opportunity staring me right in the face. Morrissey was president of the New York Dolls fan club, Jeffrey Lee Pierce presided over one for Blondie, now I can be the go-to guy for Knight School. I can get them out there, give them some meaning in the world. 8. “Vacation,” Beach Fossils: Grade-school teachers should not be voting for songs called “Vacation.” Vacation time is why the public loves us so much. 9. “Nothin’ on You,” B.o.B: Heard this a lot over the summer--I thought it was Kanye West. I asked one of the kids in my school who it was when it was boomed out during our annual Terry Fox Run in the fall, but, even though she was happily singing along, she didn’t know--hate to sound like every old codger who’s ever lived, but kids today just don’t obsess over music the way we did when I was 12. Nothing much else to say, so I’ll hand it over to Twin Peaks’ Man from Another Place: “Wow, B.o.B. wow!” (Try saying it like you’re talking backwards, it’s spooky.) 10. “Telephone,” Lady Gaga & Beyonce: A song about a young girl in her 20s who’s too busy to text her friend or talk on the cell phone; based on informal observations walking around the city, this immediately moves it into the realm of science fiction. The video’s outrageous. Doesn’t matter to me where it steals from, or how much--I’m sure a list of its antecedents would take up several pages. (Here’s looking at you, Tura Satana.) I give Beyonce all the credit in the world for agreeing to participate. Lady Gaga: “No one’s going to even notice me--you’ll be the star of the show, promise.” A friend told me that he thinks Beyonce’s an intrusion, but to me she’s just amazing. I was mulling over what I wanted to say about “Tele- phone” on the way home one day, and “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” came over the radio. Thinking about how elaborately over-the-top the “Telephone” video is, and thinking about Elton in Ken Russell’s Tommy film, I’m going to propose that one of the better things god ever did was keep a videocam out of Elton’s hands until he got old and boring. Here’s looking at you, god--well played.