Out There in His Hovercraft
#50: “Astronaut,” Ass Ponys (2000) A band name I could do without, from an album with the greatest title ever: Some Stupid with a Flare Gun (they were torn between that and If There’s a Bustle in Your Hedgerow). Ever since I discovered “Astronaut” a couple of years after its release, I always assumed it was a Syd Barrett tribute--so much so that the week Barrett died, I led my radio show with it, the Television Per- sonalities, and “See Emily Play.” Not just because of the opening line, either--follow the story, and you can see where it might be a somewhat surreal account of a girl who becomes obsessed with not so much the whereabouts of Barrett, but the fact or non-fact of his very existence. (If you understand what I mean, please e-mail me and explain so I’ll understand too...Mike, help!) Now that I’ve seen the YouTube clip, though, it would seem to be based very specifically on an episode of Stargate Atlantis, a TV show I’ve never heard of. If not, someone out there has put together a rather ingenious match of words to images. Either way, an amazing song--every time they break into the chorus, I’m out there in my hovercraft, singing along very loudly. (By the way, this is the other Chuck Cleaver band on my list. And ignore the YouTube credits--it’s not called “Praying for an Astronaut,” and it’s not by SGA.) #49: “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy),” Simon & Garfunkel (1966) Land speed record: even though Paul Simon begins with an admonition to “slow down, you move too fast,” this clocks in at 1:42, leaving the Motions’ “For Another Man” back at the starting blocks. The chaotic blur of “Feelin’ Groovy” is captured perfectly in the accompanying live clip, in which a couple of unidentified stage hands try to rush the band halfway through the song--you can see the fear in Art Garfunkel’s eyes, but he and Simon carry on as best they can. (I’ll call it “Feel- in’ Groovy” because that’s what everyone calls it. Tell somebody how much you love “The 59th Street Bridge Song,” and he’ll think you’re talking about the Red Hot Chilli Peppers or something.) There was a time back in high school when I listened to Simon & Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits almost as often as After the Gold Rush. Primarily that had to do with The Graduate (“Mrs. Robinson” was a contender for this list too, ditto “April Come She Will”), but whereas my love for the film has ebbed and flowed over the years, I’m not sure that my love for either those songs or this one--and I’ll men- tion “At the Zoo,” too--has ever dimmed. The clip says it all. All the pretty blue and pretty green: Justin Bieber can’t feel groovy like this. #48: “When My Boy Walks Down the Street,” Magnetic Fields (1999) When Christgau gave an A+ to a mammoth three-album box I’d never heard of, by a band I’d never heard of either, it was one of those moments where I thought, “Geez, I need to pay closer atten- tion.” (There used to be such moments, anyway, starting in the mid-‘90s; I’m so far out of the loop now, they’ve lost all meaning.) When I finally caught up to 69 Love Songs a few years later, at first I couldn’t see the trees for the forest--I came away indifferent, focussing more on the 67 songs that went past me, rather than two that knocked me out. Some more time passed, and now I’m a certified fan; I’ve found lots of great stuff scattered throughout albums before and after 69 Love Songs, really liked last year’s documentary, and make an effort to hear whatever Magnetic Fields put out. The charge of racism (or maybe it was just racial insensitivity) levelled against Stephen Merritt a few years ago is the one-in-a-thousand story that turns me into Sean Hannity: based on my understanding of the charge, which may be incomplete, the critics who brought it ought to be ashamed. I thought about going with “Famous” (aka, “The Ballad of Sarah Palin”) or “The Village in the Morn- ing,” both from 1995’s Get Lost, but I’ll stick with one of those two songs from 69 Love Songs that leapt out of the sprawl (the other, “Sweet Lovin’ Man,” was on the CKLN list). It’s huge, it’s short, and it’s just about the coolest sounding approximation of--well, I guess new wave is the template, but I can’t think of anything offhand that sounds especially similar to “When My Boy Walks Down the Street.” If you don’t know the song or the band, get lost in the sound for three or four plays, then follow the story. I guess I’m still a bit of a hick at heart, because “...and he’s going to be my wife” strikes me as one of the most audacious declarations ever snuck into a pop song. #47: “Roundabout,” Yes (1972) Get used to one style, and you know I might switch it up up and around. If you’ve got the feeling, jump across the ceiling. I came to get down. I came to get down. So get out your seat and jump around. Jump up, jump up, and get down. Jump. Jump. Jump. And on your way down, watch out for the mountains coming out of the sky. (New rule: long comments for short songs, short comments for long ones.) #46: “Go,” Ladybug (1998) I’ve probably put this on every vaguely indie-leaning mix-CD I’ve sent out into the world over the past five years--four or five of you in the group have it, even if you don’t know you do. I found the CD in the $1 bin at a (now-closed) liquidation store I used to spend a lot of time rummaging around in, and bought it because they were Japanese women with a colourful CD cover and a funny name. Okay, because they were Japanese women; the rest was an afterthought. It’s almost impossible to find information or images or much of anything on them. The lyrics to “Go,” for instance--I’d actually take the time to read them, because I can barely make out a word. I’m guessing it’s a sad story. Female punks from the Raincoats on are geniuses at sounding sad, even when singing sprightly songs like “Go.” #45: “Blue Eyes,” International Submarine Band (1968) Gram Parsons didn’t make it onto any of my previous Top 100s--not the ISB or Flying Burrito Broth- ers, nothing from Sweetheart of the Rodeo, and not anything from his own records, either, one of which, Grievous Angel, I’ve owned since high school. There are two songs of his that I’ve always loved, though. I almost went with the Burritos’ “Christine’s Tune” on the strength of the live clip I’ve linked to below--Parsons’ David-Cassidy-haircut meets Haven-Hamilton-spangles look is quite awesome. (From all reports, he didn’t look so perfect three years later.) But I have a slight pre- ference for “Blue Eyes,” starting with his very un-Opryish declaration that “I bite my nails, and if that fails, I go get myself stoned.” (By which I mean, you probably couldn’t get away with sing- ing that line in Nashville in 1968, or at least not if you had long hair; Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings and probably every other country singer going at the time were, of course, pill-popping demons.) It would take you about three seconds of internet time to get hold of the International Submarine Band’s Safe at Home today, but 30 years ago, it was so scarce it was the kind of record where you weren’t even sure if it really existed. I got lucky when a cheap and perfectly functional bootleg turned up at Around Again one day, still on my short list of greatest record-geek finds ever. #44: "Anthems for a Seventeen Year-Old Girl," Broken Social Scene (2002) I've seen exactly three live rock shows in the past 20+ years, and two were given by Broken Social Scene. (Yo La Tengo was the other one, and there was also a Simon & Garfunkel arena show somewhere in there.) Goes to show you never can tell--when I borrowed You Forgot It in People from the library soon after it came out, I gave it one listen and never gave BSS a second thought for the next several years. But a friend got me out to their Harbourfront show in Toronto last year (documented in an oddly affecting film by Bruce McDonald), and when I gave People another try beforehand, I couldn't believe I'd managed not to take notice of "Anthems for a Seventeen Year-Old Girl" the first time around. What a hypnotic, otherworldly song. I’m not sure what it’s specifically about, but in a general sense it seems to cover the same territory as The Virgin Suicides: that there’s a secret knowledge and a secret language shared by teenage girls that the rest of the world--especially teenage boys--is not privy to. (Once we’re older, of course, we know exactly what women are thinking at all times.) Seeing them play this live is an experience. You wouldn’t think a childlike reverie with munchkin vocals could achieve a kind of epic grandeur, but--living up to the promise of its title--it does, many times over. #43: “Something on Your Mind,” Karen Dalton (1971) To echo something Scott wrote earlier, call this a promise or call it a threat: from this point forward, I will be bringing the folk and bringing the jangle big-time. There will not be much of what Huey Lewis used to call “rocking out.” (Group: “And this is different from your first 57 picks how?”) Folk is something I’ve taken an unexpected turn towards the past few years, although if you were to trace my history as a listener, the benchmarks of an aging folkie were there all along: ear- ly infatuation with “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” and “Sounds of Silence,” R.E.M. Sap through university, brief late-‘80s flirtation with Windham Hill, P.M. Dawn fan, etc. The child is father to the man and all of that. “Something on Your Mind” is Noah Baumbach song #2 on my list, turning up over the end credits of Margot at the Wedding. I’d never heard it (or heard of Karen Dalton--Dylan’s brief mention of her in Chronicles went right past me) before that, and I’m going to hazard a guess that Baumbach himself had only known the song a short time. (Margot came out in 2007, one year after the Dalton LP with “Something” was reissued.) Obviously, Dalton’s voice is what compels your attention--it’s startling. Is there another voice like it? Jimmy Scott from Twin Peaks comes to mind, and that’s about it in my experience. Everything else you need to know is found in a single sentence in Dalton’s Wikipedia entry: “She reputedly died in 1993 on the streets of New York after an eight-year battle with AIDS.” Margot, although not as masterful as Baumbach’s The Squid and the Whale, shared in the earlier film’s strangeness, and also made its way inexorably towards cataclysmic meltdown. Dalton’s strange and cataclysmic song provided the perfect grace note. #42: “Doo Wop (That Thing),” Lauryn Hill (1998) I chimed in with a comment about fatigue-factor the other day, and ended up taking it down because of a typo. Right at the end, I acknowledged that it works both ways--that certain songs you thought were forever dead will one day catch you by surprise, and suddenly it’s like you’re hearing them for the very first time again. That isn’t exactly what happened to me with “Doo Wop,” but it did cross my mind last week for some reason, and when I gave it a listen to see if it might be one for the list-- it was #1 on my year-end in ’98, but by the time Missy Elliot hit her run a couple of years later, “Doo Wop” sounded old--I knew right away I wanted it on here. Don’t know how old Lauryn Hill was when she made this, but she sure was precociously wise about a lot of things, and every time she hits the chorus she improbably brings hip-hop into the realm of Dionne Warwick and Barbara Lewis. Today, it’s “Get Ur Freak On” and “Work It” that sound a little old to me. That will change too. #41: “Trouble Every Day,” Mothers of Invention (1966) The Mothers of Invention have a few good-to-great songs (next favourite: “Hungry Freaks, Daddy”), but this is the one time where I’m on the same page as Frank Zappa’s fanatical disciples: absolute genius. I place it right alongside “George Bush Doesn’t Care About Black People” as my favourite political song ever, at least in terms of songs targeting specific events. (“Ohio” would be there too, but “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” knocked that one out of contention.) “Trouble Every Day” wasn’t quite as timely as the Legendary K.O. or CSNY records, appearing almost a full year after the 1965 Watts riots, but I’m guessing it was written in the immediate aftermath. It works just as well, though, as an all-encompassing snapshot of the general chaos that ruled the day from about ’65 at least until ’69. The default songs in movies or news stories for any late-‘60s archival footage involving Vietnam, hippies, civil rights protests, or vanquished icons are “For What It’s Worth” and maybe “Purple Haze.” Fine songs both (especially, for me, “For What It’s Worth”), but I’d like to see both be put aside indefinitely to make way for “Trouble Every Day,” a proposition the linked YouTube video puts to the test. Favourite line among at least a dozen: “We got to sit around at home and watch this thing begin/But I bet there won’t be many here to see it really end.” (On the message board, meanwhile, there’s been a thread about the worst political songs ever to place high in Pazz & Jop. A couple of regular posters have been all over the Legendary K.O. record-- their explanations of why it’s so dismal haven’t been especially convincing, but they do come armed with lots of creative explanations as to why those of us who were duped by the song like it so much, starting with the idea of dilettante white rock critics trying to connect with hip-hop. “Ohio” also got some grief: dilettante hippie rock stars cashing in on human tragedy. Not sure where “Trouble Every Day” (or my long-standing regard for the song) would fit into their version of the world: Zappa’s white, the Watts rioters were black, I’m still white, and there was no such thing as rock- critic polls at the time. I’m watchin’ and I’m waitin’, anxious to get to the bottom of this.) #40: “It’s Going to Happen!” Undertones (1981) I feel like we need Casey Kasem to put in a cameo appearance at this point...Got my report cards handed in today, always an occasion for great happiness, and whenever I’m happy, that can only mean one thing: time to bust out the ‘80s. I had “It’s Going to Happen!” on my Radio On list almost 20 years ago, and I’ve hardly given it a second thought since. But I was playing it in the car on the way home tonight, and there you go, from my car right onto the Top 40. My favourite kind of pop song is one where I’m positive something very profound is being expressed, I’m just not exactly sure what that is. “Everything goes when you’re dead/Everything empties from what was in your head”-- that’s a good place to start; that seems like it could be out of Sartre or Camus. (From what I remem- ber, anyway. It’s been a while--could be time to bust out the Camus.) “Watching your friends passing by/Going to sleep without blinking a blue eye”--seems like there might be something there, too. “Hap- pens all the time/It’s gonna happen, happen, till you change your mind”--it really does happen all the time, even if you take great care to make it not happen. (What? I don’t know--they’re not very clear on that point.) I find all of this amorphous profundity extra moving coming from what amounts to a failed new-wave/power-pop group on their way out. And, what do you know, an actual video from MTV’s infancy--a good one. I think Kurt Cobain may have taken his blank stare from Feargal Sharkey at the 2:10 mark. (One of those shows where I’m just proud to say I was there: the Undertones opening for the Clash at Toronto’s O’Keefe Centre in 1979.) #39: “You Know,” Angela Strange & Jennifer Lewis (1965) It’s a little more fun to write about obscurities, so Scott and I were wondering a couple of weeks ago if we’d front-loaded our lists too much in that direction. I’ve still got a few left, though, and I’ll try to space them out. If you’re someone who can’t abide twee voices, “You Know” will be fingernails on a blackboard. I’ve got it classified as girl-group rather than folk on my hard drive, primarily because I found it on one of the Dream Babes compilations. That’s kind of a stretch, though--it’s about as girl-group as Tracy Chapman. Doing a little reading on Angela Strange and Jennifer Lewis, I’ve just now found out that they were once in a trio with Vashti Bunyan called The Three of Us, and that Jennifer Lewis went on to teach poetry at Oxford. They’ve got another real good one, “I’ve Heard It All Before,” which has more of a conventional girl-group feel, along with some muted Burt Bacharach horns, but even there you get the same kind of faraway strangeness you hear in “You Know.” If anyone deserved to be named Strange, it’s Angela Strange; she left behind a couple of songs that were stranger than Richard, Steve, and Curtis put together. #38: “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” Sinead O’Connor (1990) I’m taking Scott’s Dixie Chicks and Rihanna picks and running with them: the next few days will be given over to Mariah, Whitney, Courtney, and various other Famous Women Suffering Very Public Break- downs (we come for the music, but we stay for the drama)...I still find the “Nothing Compares 2 U” video riveting--I play it for my students every year--but “Emperor” is where she really lights out for the stratosphere. I’m always especially stopped short by this one line: “How could I possibly know what I want/When I was only 21?” She’s writing in the past tense; she wrote that when she had achieved the worldly-wise perspective of a 24-year-old. Such a brave, foolish, smart, and reckless song. I think it was Christgau who wrote that “Emperor” was better rock and roll than whatever Aero- smith was doing at the time. He could have maybe set the bar a little higher, but no argument here. I wish Ian Curtis were alive, so I could arrange for a three-way dance-off between him, Sinead, and Feargal Sharkey. Speaking of which, the morning I played “Emperor” over the P.A. as students filed in, Mrs. Gormley was ecstatically dancing through the halls, heedlessly knocking one young child after another to the ground. It was quite something to see. #37: “We Gotta Get You a Woman,” Runt (1970) I’m being annoyingly technical here--this is Todd Rundgren, of course, but (something I didn’t know until 30 seconds ago) it’s from an album that, on release, was credited to the band Runt. I didn’t realize it came out so early, either; I was thinking ’71, maybe even early ’72. I have a harder time pinning down the appeal of Todd Rundgren than probably anybody else from my (roughly speaking) favourite couple of years ever. I suspect the Creem and Rolling Stone critics who tried to write about him at the time had exactly the same problem. It hasn’t gotten any easier 40 years later. He was a singer-songwriter who was worlds away from the whole Carole-James-Joni way of doing things. He was sort of glam, but not really. (You’ve got to take a look at the “Hello It’s Me” link I’ve added below, though. People who look like that do not deserve to make music like this.) I’ve often read that there are affinities between Philly Soul and his most famous songs. I guess so...I don’t really hear that myself. He gets away with stuff that could only be gotten away with in 1972; like on “Hello It’s Me,” he promises just to pop over every now and again to have sex with the object of his desire, no obligations whatsoever, and he frames this as something of a thoughtful, sensitive gesture. He was, as they say, sui generis. As I’ve written before, there are four or five songs of his (all but this one from Something/Anything) that are like godhead to me. Rather than “Hello It’s Me” or “I Saw the Light” (#6 on my CKLN list), I’m going to go instead with something that, the two times a year it turns up on Q-107, is as good as car radio ever gets (some- thing the linked YouTube gets at nicely). If you’ve never heard it, stay with it till the very end; it’s got a punchline as ingeniously droll as Grin’s “I Lost a Number.” Don’t know about Leroy, but thinking about Bebe Buell--and let me add, rather enviously, that people who look like Todd should not be ending up with Bebe Buell--his busybody friend made out okay. #36: “The Warning,” Hot Chip (2006) Probably half or more of you are getting ready right now for the same storm as I am. This storm-- well, it’s not just going to be any storm. CFTR’s been hyping it all day as nothing less than the apocalypse. I told my students before they left today that, even though I’m generally a pessimist when it comes to these things--that if you go home and sit waiting by the window, snow will not appear--this one was a sure thing: there will be no school tomorrow. (And if there is, I was think- ing, their teacher’s not going to be very pleasant.) Apocalyptic snowstorm music: I’ll have to give it some thought, but for now, “The Warning” will do nicely. Snowstorms are majestic, so I want something pretty; snowstorms are easy to get lost in, so I want a song about getting lost; snowstorms are dangerous, so I want something called “The Warning.” As with many songs on my list, there are a couple of lines I dwell on where I feel like they’re try- ing to give voice to something very elusive: “There’s nothing in a world where the melody’s broken/ There’s always some way to make a silence be spoken.” Something to do with the transformative sway of (pop) music, I think, in a lyric worthy of Pete Townshend or the Velvets’ “Rock and Roll.” I love the video clip (not sure if it’s the band’s or homemade). Any video of “The Warning” should absolutely involve a long, contemplative car ride, followed by some spirited thumb wrestling. #35: “Everybody’s Talkin’,” Harry Nilsson (1968) When I’m singing along with this--and I doubt there’s a song I have more fun singing along with--I sound fantastic; I’ve got every wah-wah-wah, every high-register leap, and every nasal inflection down cold. Without Harry backing me up, certain limitations start to come into focus...The document- ary I mentioned in a recent comment is quite good. I didn’t really have any sense of Harry Nilsson going into it--I’m not sure if I’d even given a thought to whether he was American or British, which is strange, seeing as I’ve loved “Without You” going back to when it was on the radio in 1972. Try- ing to trace any kind of a path through his career is impossible; a brief window of Grammys and commercial viability in the midst of false starts, confusing detours, and doomed projects. (Nilsson Sings Newman: I have it, and plan to give it another listen soon, but it seems like something you’d do when both parties are famous, not at a point where one guy’s had one hit single and the other guy’s pretty much unknown.) Mickey Dolenz got a lot of time in the documentary. If you get home from a weekend of carousing with Ringo Starr, then call up Mickey Dolenz to go out and do it all over again, that’s an interesting life. Take your pick on the video: a great live clip, with Harry doing all sorts of weirdly graceful sways and dips, or three minutes from you-know-what. I’m walkin’ here--I’m walkin’ here! #34: “Alex Chilton,” Replacements (1987) I know I had the Replacements on at least two of the other lists (“I Will Dare” and “Answering Machine”), possibly all three. I didn’t expect they’d make this one, but a couple of things hap- pened. 1) I started watching Feeling Minnesota last week, and, before bailing, there was the scene where Cameron Diaz and Keanu Reeves sang along to “I Will Dare” in the car. It felt like this was a really famous scene that I should have known about; I didn’t. 2) I found a remaindered copy of the Replacements compilation put out a few years ago by Rhino, so cheap that I superfluously bought it for the car (I already had 17 of the 20 songs). The compilation happens to be perfectly in sync with my own version of the Replacements, so I’ve been playing it all week. “Alex Chilton” also takes care of something else: some recompense for the fact that (apologies to Rob and Renee) I’ve always thought Big Star a little overrated. They had two songs I’d be happy to list here--“September Girls” or “Thirteen,” not what you’d call surprising--and a third, “The India Song,” that I like a lot. Past that, they start to lose me. “Alex Chilton” resonates with me in a way that most of their own music doesn’t, and obviously Chilton’s death a few months ago adds extra poignancy to a song that was already the ultimate fan letter. (Move it ahead of “Maria Bartiromo” and “Janis” in that department.) Westerberg’s fandom is expressed much more obliquely than Joey Ramone’s or Joe McDonald’s, but there’s something else going on here anyway. I’m pretty sure Westerberg is writing about himself as much as he is Chilton, not that he’d ever admit as much. For almost all of the people who’ve been following this countdown, the Replacements are as much a fact of life as the Beatles or Rol- ling Stones. It’s easy to forget that for most of the music-listening world, they’re not--not then, not now. I’m guessing that most of my teacher friends here--Anita, Jen, Karen, Tina--have never heard a Replacements song. And I’m sure that by 1987, Westerberg had thoroughly internalized the mantle of prophet without honour, resigned himself to the fact that (like all the Michael Azerrad bands) he just wasn’t going to cross over into any kind of radio play or commercial success. So he’s probably feeling a little sorry for himself, imagining children by the millions waiting for “Color Me Impressed” and “Unsatisfied” and “Within Your Reach,” but knowing that they’ll never hear those songs. Except he recasts them as Alex Chilton, because fan letters are a lot more appealing than self-pity. “If he died in Memphis, that’d be cool”-- I’d forgotten all about that line. Did he? I don’t know. But it’s a nice thought, not mean or ironic or glib at all. Just nice. #33: “Buzzin’ Fly,” Tim Buckley (1969) I suppose this is the point where folk music stops being folk music and turns into art song; I also considered the very arty Vashti Bunyan’s “Love Song,” but I figured it would have been some- what redundant so close to Angela Strange and Jennifer Lewis. Consider “Buzzin’ Fly” my little tribute to Lillian Roxon, whose Rock Encyclopedia was where I first read about Tim Buckley back in...I don’t know; I have it in my mind that there was a copy back in my grade school, but I may be jumping the gun by a couple of years--it may have been in middle school. I rarely have cause to look at the book anymore (before the very un-Roxonian Wikipedia came along, I’d often check it for discographical information), but on the rare occasions that I do, I’m always surprised by how en- gaging Roxon’s tone is, and how much better it holds up than other early rock criticism. Which may be because, as others have pointed out, she’s not at all writing rock criticism--it’s a somewhat gossipy, in-love-with-the-scene fan’s book, with enough mock portentousness to make the inane sound Really Important, and enough humour to make the Really Important sound fun. You’re lucky I’m not listing Earth Opera or somebody like that here--her book influenced me that much. I won’t make the trip downstairs to look up Roxon’s entry on Tim Buckley, but: 1) I slightly prefer a demo version of “Buzzin’ Fly” I have on The Dream Belongs to Me: Rarities & Unreleased 1968-1973, where I first encountered it a few years ago, but the original studio version’s close enough for me; 2) Coming Home’s soundtrack is highlighted by two songs of Buckley’s from Goodbye and Hello; and 3) I remember once reading an interview with John Lydon where he was asked what he was listen- ing to, and he said something like, “The usual stuff--(reggae album), (some Can-type album), and Tim Buckley.” #32: “Anti-Pleasure Dissertation,” Bikini Kill (1994) Because I like my beats fast and my bass down low. I didn’t completely miss out on Riot Girl (sic)--I had L7’s “Pretend We’re Dead” on a year-end list, also a couple of Hole songs, and they’re sort of Riot Girl, right?--but it took years for me to catch up with Sleater-Kinney’s “Stay Where You Are,” Bratmobile’s “Richard,” Le Tigre’s “Hot Topic” (“electro-clash,” says Wikipedia--whatever), and this, my favourite of four Bikini Kills songs I keep on my hard drive. The albums I’ve listened to can get a bit wearing start-to- finish, but all of these songs can stand alongside anything by X-Ray Spex, LiLiPUT, the Adverts, or anybody else from the first-generation riot girls. (And if you think the first-generation riot girls were Grace Slick and Janis Joplin, the statement holds.) Buried underneath the din of “Anti- Pleasure Dissertation,” there’s a really sweet melody. So what has Bikini Kill so agitated? Well, I can’t make out all the lyrics, and I’m not about to check, but there is some skepticism expressed towards the value of winning races and scoring points--they would seem to regard sports and maybe competitiveness in general to be largely a male concern. Tomorrow’s Super Bowl may not be high on their to-do list. #31: “Pretzel Logic,” Steely Dan (1974) Had to look three pages deep to find a proper YouTube video. I could do without the opening image (even though I get why it’s there), but that’s the price you have to pay for dodging Michael McDonald. I’ll by-pass “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” (#10 on the CKLN list), and instead go with another favourite dating back to high school. I’m guessing it’s the only song on my list that prominently features horns; it may be one of about a dozen horn-driven rock songs in the entire history of the universe I unequivocally love. (An exaggeration, and I’m sure some of you will chime in with obvious exceptions, but generally speaking--and Bacharachian French horns excepted--horns are to rock music what flutes are to jazz. Horns = “Touch Me,” the Ides of March, and late-period Aerosmith.) I’ve quoted “Pretzel Logic”’s key line, “Those days are gone forever, over a long time ago,” many times-- whatever the context, it’s very useful when you’re not able to explain the distance from there to here. Speaking of which, Steely Dan are Todd Rundgren’s compatriots in the only-in-the-‘70s depart- ment. (Scott would nominate David Bowie and Roxy Music.) Whatever it was they were doing, they did it brilliantly for four or five years, and then kind of hung around as ghosts ever since. (Aja, for me, is on the other side of that divide.) “Rikki,” “Reelin’ in the Years,” “Doctor Wu,” “King of the World,” maybe even “Sign in Stranger”--I’d be okay listing any one of them. I don’t have any kind of a reading of “Pretzel Logic” to offer. Pretzel logic is pretzel logic--it doesn’t really lend itself to interpretation. #30: “Flamboyant,” Pet Shop Boys (2004) This is the one time where I know what Scott has on deck--we worked it out so that we’d list the Pet Shop Boys back-to-back, and we let each other know which songs we’d be picking. I think they’ve been a source of fascination for both of us since Nerve days, although my own interest has waned a little since “Flamboyant”--I have Fundamental but never got through it a second time, and I’ve yet to hear a song from Yes. When “Flamboyant” came out and I seemed to be alone in loving it as much as I did, I started to wonder if I’d become too attuned to what were becoming increasingly minor virtues (as I wrote on my year-end ballot at the time, something like the auteurist film critics who once rhapsodized about the likes of Seven Women and Red Line 7000). They carry on with or without me; in terms of continuous years of being an active band without a personnel change, I’m guessing they rank second all-time behind U2. Yes, I know--“band.” One reason I wanted to dovetail PSB entries is that, after Scott finishes with his own pick, I’m interested in hearing his thoughts as to why he doesn’t get as much out of “Flamboyant” as I do. I count it as the (indulge me this one use of the word) apotheosis of an old-before-my-time melancholy that has been there in their work right from day one--“The Samurai in Autumn,” which I had on my CKLN list, is an even more explicit rumination on the same theme, but “Flamboyant” came out two years later, so it gets credit for an extra 700+ days’ worth of old-guy melancholy, plus a few extra Carly Simon points besides. I read somewhere that it may be about David Beckham; I say they looked into their crystal ball and conjured up Sarah Palin. In any event, they’re the only people from whom I ever want to hear the words “You live in a time of decay” issue forth. I don’t even think I’d stand for that from Jethro Tull. The PSB make living in a time of decay sound agreeably sad. #29: “Passing the Time,” Cream (1968) I don’t really have any sense of where Cream stand (if at all) with younger critics today. To maybe shed some light on this, I did something I don’t know that I’ve ever done before; I headed over to Pitchfork, specifically to their list (poll?) of the Top 200 songs of the ‘60s. No Cream. If it were an album list, maybe they’d be on there, but speaking as someone who came to them via a compilation-- Heavy Cream, probably one of my first dozen LPs when I started to build my collection around ’74 or ’75--to me they’re a song band before an album band. I didn’t buy my first album proper till 20 years later (Fresh Cream), and I still don’t own Wheels of Fire or Disraeli Gears. But that compilation had a huge effect on me in high school. Especially “Passing the Time,” a most peculiar song. Or two songs: drony, druid-like frame, an echo of the Yardbirds, with a childlike, impressionistic tone poem housed within, complete with cello, calliope, and glockenspiel. (Needed some online help in naming those last two.) It may have been the first time I ever observed of a rock song--not a Top 40 hit, but a certified older-brother rock song, buried away on an album no one in my high school could possibly have known about except me--“Wow, is that ever beautiful.” Still feel the same way today. (No full-length version on YouTube--strange, seeing as every other Cream song I checked is on there.) #28: “Big Blue Bus,” Stupid Cupids (1987) Gotta keep this one short, so I can post the old way to one of Scott’s in-house play buttons. Anyway, I used up all my bus-song jokes when I listed the Vengaboys #1 on my 1999 year-end--from the Hollies to Kris Kross, it’s an underappreciated genre. The Stupid Cupids are about as obscure as it gets on my list. “Big Blue Bus,” half of a flexi-disc they split with the comparatively famous Paul Chastain (of Velvet Crush), is another one I found on I Wish I Was a Flexidisc (download link in comments). As far as I can tell, it’s the only record they ever released. Someone please get word to the band that all their lofty ambitions and crushed dreams were worth it--their song managed to find me, and I count it as one of my four or five favourite power-pop records ever. #27: “Sea Child,” Hot Tuna (1972) I’ve been summoned by the ghosts of Ralph Gleason, Bill Graham, and Pigpen to jump in and break up this Springsteen love-fest. “This is what God sounds like,” writes whoever posted this to YouTube. A bit melodramatic, but I’ll more or less second. I could list it much higher, but I’ve got one more Jorma Kaukonen band coming up--who could it possibly be?--and I want to spread them out a bit. I’m pretty sure he’s the only guy who’s on my list three times. (Jack Casady produced the Kaukonen song I listed earlier, so you could maybe count him too.) Hot Tuna’s such an awful name for a band, I never went near them for 30 years; I believe I mentally filed them away with Meat Loaf, Sleepy LaBeef, and other artists named after popular meats. I don’t remember exactly how I came to their LP Burgers (named after a popular meat), but now that I know they’re mostly a blues band, I haven’t made an effort to investigate them any further. “Sea Child” just leaps out of the fray, though, a total anomaly. In terms of the rest of the album, that is--anyone at all in love with Kaukonen’s other band is going to connect with it instantly. I really need Sun Grope Guy back here to physically give shape to the intricate rhythmic beauty of “Sea Child.” And words--it has words: “Through your hair, across my eyes/The twilight shafts in soft surprise/Reminds me once again how nice/It is to be with you.” Hippies just wrote silly cosmic stuff, right? I don’t know if those lines are good enough for actual poetry (never something I took to when I was expected to study it), but add Kaukonen and Casady overtop doing their swirly kaleidoscope thing, and they most definitely are. It’s a moot point anyway. As a piece of music, “Sea Child” goes places poetry can’t. (Warning: the video’s cosmically silly, especially when they electrocute Papa John Creach in the opening few seconds.) #26: “Any Other Way,” Posies (1990) With “Sea Child” and “Any Other Way,” I’m more or less at the point where anything I list could have been #1, or would’ve been #1 if I’d done this at some other point in time. The rankings have been fluid all along, and the rest of the way they’re very much a snapshot. I’ve written elsewhere--on the message board, and in a piece I did on pop music in movies--how interesting a year 1990 is to me. Interesting in retrospect; at the time I thought things had sunk to a new low. I was also paying less attention than at any other time in my life, so it becomes something of who-made-who question: was I not paying attention because things were so bad, or did I mistakenly think things were so bad because I wasn’t paying attention? A bit of both, I’d say. It was the year that fell between what I considered a great year for crossover hip-hop and R&B--Soul II Soul, Young MC, Neneh Cherry, Ten City, De La Soul, Tone-Loc, Inner City, etc.--and the year of Nevermind’s release, which marked the beginning of Radio On and a half-decade where I was very interested in chart music. 1990 was a complete blank to me. I went off to Windsor to attend teachers college, where I closely followed Cecil Fielder’s quest for 50 home runs across the river, but didn’t even bother buying Ragged Glory. I have a vague memory of sending a year- end list to Scott (in Vancouver?) that consisted of “Around the Way Girl,” maybe “Nothing Compares 2 U,” and a Ninja Turtle song. I still think it was a relatively weak transitional year, but, need- less to say, I’ve since discovered stuff I missed. Some of which is obvious--“Bonita Applebum,” “Getting Away with It”--some less so. Altogether, I’ve got two-and-a-half hours of music from 1990 on my hard drive--at the lower end of the spectrum for the ‘90s, but basically a year like any other. Above all else, I missed a couple of things--“Any Other Way” and a more obscure record still to come--that I’d put forth as possible templates of the hypothetically perfect power-pop song I’ve been pursuing for years. Alfred Hitchcock spent his career trying to find the perfect blonde. If the perfect blonde comes my way tomorrow, I won’t send her away, but truthfully I’ve devoted more time and energy to trying to track down the perfect power-pop song. It’s an elusive hall of mirrors that you find yourself lost in--power-pop is built upon a foundation of seeking and never finding-- where the most marginal gestures take on great significance. (The Shoes: “There is so much at stake/ With every word I say.”) “Any Other Way,” which may have been conceived as nothing more than a nice Hollies tribute, encompasses all that I love about an essentially amorphous genre--people tend to have very different interpretations of what constitutes power-pop. In my version, it’s got jangle, it tells a story, someone averts his eyes, it soars, it gets quiet. And, returning to 1990, the fact that “Any Other Way” appeared in the middle of nowhere (or, if you’d prefer, “Hammer Time”) makes it that much more poignant to me.