Arteries, Shopping Nodes
#25: “Mandarinerna,” Kim Hiorthøy (2004) I’ve posted two videos of people driving thus far; this one needs its own driving video too. My whole aesthetic when it comes to music can be explained much more simply than all that obscure rambling in the Posies entry, and it’s been pretty consistent since the late ‘70s: all of my deepest listening takes place in the car. Whatever I connect with in there, those are my favour- ite songs. There’s daytime music and there’s nighttime music. “Mandarinerna” (and Arvo Pärt, and Oliver Schroer) is the kind of nighttime music that has replaced the doo-wop that was all over my CIUT and Radio On lists. I was listening to it on the way home tonight, a CD-700 I made for someone at work. Ambient would describe most of what’s on there, but I put the Grachan Moncur song I listed earlier on there too, so I’ll just call it nighttime driving music. It empties your mind of everything. #24: “Roadrunner,” Modern Lovers (1975) The other kind of driving music, with another contender for one of the five greatest moments on any record ever: “Okay, now you sing, Modern Lovers!” The band I’m trying to put together for a school assembly later this year may play this--actually, of the five songs another teacher and I have been messing around with, four are in my Top 25 and the fifth is by someone who gets in with a different song. As I indicated in a comment earlier, I only count two chords, putting it just inside my comfort zone; Tim Powis, who periodically looks in on this countdown, tells me there’s a third at some point, but either I’m not hearing it or I just don’t count that well. We still need a singer, though, and “Roadrunner”’s words may present a problem--there’s a barrage of them, and if we end up enlisting a student to handle vocals, I can’t see anyone getting by without a lyric sheet in hand. I also notice I get very tired playing those same two chords for four minutes. I may need to do something very punk-rock; I may need to sit down for this one. (Two videos: the album version, with lots of Chuck Jones illustrations, and an inferior alternate--the later non-Cale version, probably--with fantastic, you guessed it, driving footage. I wish I could combine the one with the other.) #23: “Chainsaw the Horse,” Dentists (1992) It’s hard to know what to say about this one. All my default topics are inoperative: I don’t know a thing about the band, don’t have any personal anecdotes connected to the song, can decipher only a few of the lyrics--“And I know...” signals the shift into my favourite part; it’s a song about something the singer knows--and there’s nothing on YouTube to help me out. I can’t even compare the original to Bryan Ferry’s cover, because as I far as I know there isn’t one. All I’ve got is a great dentist-related video (see comments), and the absolute certainty that it’s one of the 23 most amazing songs ever. You and you and you and you, check that mix-CD I made for you; it’s been on almost every one that I’ve assembled for the past two or three years. And don’t forget to chain- saw the horse on your way out. #22: “Fire and Rain,” James Taylor (1970) & “That’s the Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be,” Carly Simon (1971) I was considering doing a double entry back on Christmas Day, but I backed off for fear of breach- ing the rules. The idea came back to me today, and this time I realized: there are no rules! No forest, no trees, no sound, no rules. What’s going to happen? Scott comes over here and beats me up? Mark Zuckerberg suddenly intervenes? Dave complains??? I need some faraway early-‘70s stuff, something my list has been sadly short on. I haven’t been listening to the Carpenters lately, and all the amazing soul music from that era I’ve (temporarily, I hope) used up. These folks were, of course, 1972’s fantabulous power couple. Charles M. Young-- whatever happened to Charles M. Young?--wrote a line about his mission in life that still pops into my mind every time I look at Carly Simon circa 1972. If you’ve read it, you’ll remember it, if not, I’ll leave it to you to find it yourself. If I hadn’t found this video, I don’t think Carly would be on the list, even though “That’s the Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be” has been a favourite for three decades. I remember she was probably the single biggest point of contention in the discog- raphy Scott and I assembled for I Wanna Be Sedated: I wanted either this or “Anticipation,” Scott wanted “You’re So Vain.” As I recall, I gave him April Wine’s “Tonight Is a Wonderful Time to Fall in Love” (which made me queasy at first, before I actually listened to it and realized how great it was) in exchange for “Anticipation.” Anyway, the video is a gift for my generational compatriots. You will be transfixed...by Carly’s piano playing. You’ll wonder why James is so sad, until you remember that “Fire and Rain” dates back to the time before he married Carly. And you’ll be happy that he’s only going to be sad for a few more months. #21: “Panic,” Smiths (1986) Scott and Dave will be very surprised to see me listing the Smiths--listing them at all, much less this high. I was a Husker Du/Replacements/Meat Puppets guy straight down the line for my first couple of years at Nerve, so the Smiths were who you made fun of. They were all guitar bands, of course, but the Smiths were British, they were writerly and precious (no, those are not euphemisms for gay), and they replaced the Jam in my mind as the kind of band Toronto’s silly new-wave station at the time, CFNY, and people who (snobbishly, I believed) preferred British to American music in general, wildly overrated. I’m still far from being a fan, but I’m not so oblivious to the flaws (and sometimes com- plete uselessness) of the bands I gravitated to instead, or to my own forms of snobbishness. “Panic,” though, I’ve come to regard as one of the most moving songs ever recorded. I was trying to explain why on the message board a while back, and didn’t do a great job of it. It’s not necessarily what the song’s about, my understanding of which amounts to this: British radio stations and/or club DJs were playing a surfeit of dance music at the time (a lot of Loose Ends-type stuff, I would imagine), and Morrissey didn’t like dance music, so he wrote a short little song that made hanging the DJ sound like a fun and joyous thing to do. It got him into some trouble: “hang the DJ,” when directed at primarily black dance music, was uncomfortably close to lynch-mob imagery. I understand that--I think it has as much validity as the Stephin Merritt charge, but I understand the connection. What I find so moving is...somebody saying exactly what he wants to say, and saying it so perfectly that he never needed to say anything before, and he’ll never need to say anything ever again. Obvi- ously he did, and obviously he has. And there’s no rational reason why I’d get that out of “Panic” any more than out of a million other songs. But I do. And I blissfully sing along, even though I like mid-‘80s Loose Ends-type music. I’m exacting some kind of revenge where none is needed. “Hang the DJ! Hang the DJ!” It feels like something that must be done, right away. #20: “Gasoline Alley,” Rod Stewart (1970) “You Wear It Well” topped my CKLN list; I could have listed it #1 again (especially having since discovered this phenomenal live clip that I’ll link to below), but there’s a group of core Rod Stewart songs that are so central to my life, I want to get one of the other ones on the list this time. All the usual suspects: “Mandolin Wind,” “Handbags and Gladrags,” “Every Picture Tells a Story,” and--back in the inner circle, after writing that I was tired of it when I did the record inventory--“Maggie May.” You can throw in “Stay with Me” and “That’s All You Need” by the Faces, too--I was originally going to lead this list with “That’s All You Need,” but Ian Anderson came to me in a dream the night before we began and guided me towards “Witches Promise.” That’s eight con- tenders, including the song I’ve settled on, and my preference for any one of them over any other is microscopic and forever changing. People will often point out that contrary to conventional wisdom, Rod Stewart didn’t fall off the edge of the earth soon after Never a Dull Moment--that he continued to release good music, and that the arc of his career is much more fluid than he gets credit for. Count me on the side of conventional wisdom. “Tonight’s the Night” is fine for what it is, but what it is ain’t “Gasoline Alley.” Basically you’ve got Stewart’s version of “Penny Lane” or “Helpless” here. I’ve been trying to think of other songs that belong with those three--call it the Wild Strawberries genre, where some- body revisits specific locales associated with childhood or adolescence--but for some reason I’m coming up blank; there must be dozens, maybe hundreds (not to mention a book or two). Neil provided a useful checklist for such songs: dreams, comfort, memory, despair. “Gasoline Alley”’s got them all, plus it has a mandolin. The violin and mandolin playing on the best of those early Rod Stewart songs is their greatest contribution to the history of music and the history of the world. It’s the door- way that opens up onto all those great words that tumble forth from the singer and makes them resonate. Hey, we’re into the Top 20. #19: “Soixante-Sept,” Hylozoists (2009) I was out for my sister’s birthday tonight with a few of her friends. When I mentioned to my sister that I thought our waitress, somewhere in her early 20s, was cute--did you know that restaurants sometimes hire cute waitresses?--my sister pointed out that she was such-and-such’s daughter. Are you serious? In the mid-‘70s, when I was 14 or 15, my family and I went to New Orleans with such- and-such and her family for a Lions Club convention, and she and I went to some kind of social event one night that had been organized for the teenagers who were stuck there doing nothing. As you might guess, she was really good-looking too. I don’t think we said six words all night. So here I am, 35 years later, eyeing her daughter. There’s a Pierre Berton book called The Last Good Year, all about 1967. He didn’t have that quite right--as per Scott’s comment below, 1972 was the last good year (there’s been three or four pretty good ones since)--but it’s a great title anyway. If you’re Canadian and old enough to remember 1967, you’re familiar with the people and events he writes about: the Centennial, the Leafs winning the Cup, the ascent of Pierre Trudeau, and most of all Jean Drapeau and Expo ’67. My family and I didn’t make it to Montreal for Expo, but we did see the Man and His World exhibit a year later. Unlike the States, where they seemed to be experiencing a collective nervous breakdown in ’67 and ’68, in Can- ada it was seen as a moment of great optimism--that’s how I remember it, and Berton’s book reinforced this for me. You can hear it in the Hylozoists song, too, right down to the opening invocation from Drapeau. There’s not a lot of art I can look to that evokes strong feelings in me for my country, but “Soixante-Sept,” a song I discovered about a year ago, joins Goin’ Down the Road and maybe “Helpless” right at the top of the list. Regrets Instead of my next song, I’m at the point where I can do something I said I was going to do before I finished: acknowledge some of the stuff that I wish was on this list. Late last night, I substi- tuted the Hylozoists for “Take the Skinheads Bowling.” The Hylozoists matched my mood perfectly, and I realized I didn’t have anything interesting to say about “Skinheads.” But that should be it for spontaneous reshuffling--I’m almost 100% positive that my last 18 songs are locked into place. (A night off will also put Scott and I back in sync.) By the sounds of it, narrowing everything down to 100 wasn’t nearly as much of a problem for me as it was for Scott. I started with a list of maybe 150 songs--150 artists, actually, which split up into those (most of them) where there was only one song under consideration, and others (e.g., Steely Dan) where I had to choose between a few possibilities. The Beatles, the Byrds, and the Velvet Underground are three of my five or six favourite artists ever, and they were all pretty high on one or more of the previous Tops 100s. They’re not on this one. Either I couldn’t make up my mind on one song, or, what sometimes happened, I waited too long, and getting them on there would have meant dropping other stuff I absolutely wanted to list this time. I’ve already mentioned the disappearance of doo-wop and early-‘70s soul from this list, both of which are all over the previous lists. More than anything, this is what makes this year’s edition less--well, less fun than its predecessors. Also considerably more white. I’m not happy about this, but I didn’t want to start listing doo-wop and Spinners songs just for the sake of having them on there. Girl-group is disappearing too. I think I know why this is happening--something to do with dying and dead notions of romance, along with the fact that increasingly my conception of pop music begins with guitars, preferably jangly ones--but whatever the reason, it’s a problem. The ‘50s are gone. I think my list is reflective of the gradual disappearance of the ‘50s in general from what people talk about when they talk about pop music, but that doesn’t mean I’m any happier about my own part in this. People need to acquaint themselves with doo-wop, with Chuck Berry, with the Everlys, with American Graffiti, and with lots, lots else. I’m not helping any. First-generation punk, too--that’s almost gone. Here’s a partial list of some of the people I cut along the way: Fugs, Undisputed Truth, Knight School, Bananarama. Jackie DeShannon, Black Eyed Peas, Ray Barretto, Gordon Lightfoot, Beatles, Sly & the Family Stone, Moby Grape, Rolling Stones, David Blue, Guided by Voices, Faces, Judy Collins, X-Ray Spex, David Bowie, Byrds, Velvet Underground, Camper Van Beethoven. There were another 20 who got cut early enough that they’re not on the standby list anymore. I can explain the Black Eyed Peas omission fairly easily: I already have “Check It Out,” and they still make me queasy enough that I didn’t want to list a second song involving Will.i.am. #18: “Another Girl, Another Planet,” Only Ones (1978) I’ve never compared notes on this song with anyone who doesn’t love it. It’s more likely that you don’t know it at all, although in the context of the group following this countdown, most will know it very well. (I shouldn’t be so quick to make broad assertions. I used to believe that there wasn’t a human being alive who disliked Creedence Clearwater Revival, until I scrolled through a thread on the message board devoted to that very question, and of course a few people jumped on to declare that yes, they disliked CCR. If you build it, they will come.) I’m not exactly sure at what point in my own life it became something more than just another new-wave song I liked. I bought a remain- dered copy of Special View at Cheapies in either late ’79 or ’80. I’m pretty sure I didn’t have “Another Girl” on either the CIUT or Radio On lists (too lazy to check right now), but it was very high on the CKLN list. So sometime between 1992 and 2005, it began to occupy a place apart from “Life Begins at the Hop,” “The Day My Baby Gave Me a Surprize,” “(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding,” and other songs from that moment I still like a lot. Some days, it’s my favourite song ever. It’s a great song if you enjoy testing out your best fake-British accent; when I sing “You get under my skin/I don’t find it irritating,” I’m immediately transformed into this wan, skinny Brit- ish kid with Johnny Thunders hair and a thrift-shop wardrobe. (I checked the car mirror once, and this transformation actually does take place--it’s quite amazing.) I feel silly about this, but until about six months ago, when something prompted me to do some reading on Peter Perrett, I had always taken the song literally: it’s about a girl, and he’s so in love with her that he finds him- self on another planet whenever he’s with her. Duh--it’s about Perrett’s love affair with heroin, something the lyrics make eminently clear if you give them two seconds’ worth of thought. Cluing into this has not really affected my relationship with the song one way or the other--it still gets under my skin, I still sing along like I’m on Top of the Pops. I have started to rethink “White Rabbit” and “Puff the Magic Dragon,” though. #17: “Girlwish,” Fudge (1991) I have to be careful--as I did in my Posies entry, I tend to go a little off the rails when I try to put into words what I hear in my favourite power-pop songs. Of my remaining 16 picks, three of them are sort of power-pop--i.e., only if your definition casts as wide a net as mine. So: as most people understand the term, “Girlwish” is my nomination for the greatest power-pop song ever recorded. Greater than “Shake Some Action,” greater than “September Gurls,” greater than anything by the Shoes, or Cheap Trick, or Badfinger, or anybody. As Alan Garfield says in The Conversation, “The best, bar none.” (By the way, here’s a very good reference list: There are at least three other such lists I’ve found online, but this one looks to be the best.) Start with the title, which sums up the entire genre very well: not the girl herself, just a wish for said girl. It’s just under four minutes long, and it builds like a symphony; there are distinct sections, and each one takes the song somewhere new. There’s some genuinely smart wordplay: “I want to find a little bit of me in you.” (One of power- pop’s weaknesses is an addiction to wordplay that rarely rises above clever in the pejorative sense. You find this all over the Shoes’ LPs: e.g. “Trying to feed the hand that used to bite you” from “Now and Then.” Not terrible or anything, and the Shoes have lots else going for them to compensate, but such lines always make me wince a little.) There’s a rudimentary guitar solo, a little bit of feed- back, and loud parts; I’m too partial to the pop side of the power/pop equation, but “Girlwish” splits the difference perfectly. And there’s a line that (unintentionally, I’m sure) speaks to this song’s ambitions: “She wants, she wants, she wants everything/She wants, she wants, she wants it all.” Fudge put out two LPs in the early ‘90s, neither of which I have. They shared a label with Pussy Galore, and wrote a song about Patty Hearst--not sure how “Girlwish” emerged out of that. I like this user-comment on the Amazon page for one of their LPs: “My cousin Kenny used to be in this band! I was sorry to see them break up!” #16: “Thunk,” Jefferson Airplane (1971) I feel like Sollozzo in the first Godfather right now: “I’m gonna speak Italian to Steve.” If I were posting on the message board, I’d already have six people yelling “Challops!” at me. (Pro- vocation for provocation’s sake; I didn’t know what it meant either.) Beyond drawing a blank from anyone who only knows the Jefferson Airplane through “White Rabbit” and “Somebody to Love”--which, thank-you radio, probably accounts for 95% of the pop audience who knows them at all by this point-- I doubt “Thunk” would be very well-received by the other 5%. It might even be a song (I’m just gues- sing here) that’s reviled by a lot of Airplane fans. It has very little to do with most of the things I love them for--no Kaukonen/Casady rave-ups, no soaring Grace or ethereal Marty, no Fillmore swirl. It’s a near-a capella abstraction that, although it clocks in at three minutes, feels more like a fragment than an actual song. It’s weird beyond words. I saw the Phil Ochs documentary last night, and it was very specific about a transitional moment that interests me a lot: what became of the anti-war movement as it started to wear down around ’71 and ’72. The film’s version of events jibed with what I’ve read and seen elsewhere--that you either became violently radicalized to a degree that was beyond the pale, like the Weather Underground, or you basically turned away. Which might have meant retreating to a commune, or making a joke of your past (like Ochs), or going the Jerry Rubin route, or any number of things. That’s a simplification, I’m sure, but one that’s not without validity. I hear that transitional moment on “Thunk.” It’s basically about a guy who’s sitting around trying to figure something out--superficially, it’s a love song, and that’s probably all it was meant to be-- but gets stuck on the realization that thinking and thinking “ain’t do me no good.” That’s where the song starts, and that’s where it ends. Along the way, there’s a brief passage that sounds like a hymn: “only a dream” repeated three times. They sound lost and defeated, and I find it all tremendously moving. The Airplane stuck it out for another album or two, I imagine a sad relic by 1973 (“decline and dissolution” is how Wikipedia puts it), at which point they found their own means of turning away. I’ve loved the Jefferson Airplane since buying their Worst Of compilation early in high school. I’m not completely sure why they’ve had such a strong hold on me for so long. I bought Heavy Cream, Weird Scenes Inside the Goldmine, and Hendrix’s Smash Hits at almost exactly the same time, and, for the duration of high school, more or less played them all to death. With the Doors and Hendrix, whatever appeal they had for me ended immediately upon entering university; my interest in Cream, as indicated by the earlier pick, ebbs and flows. But there’s never been a time when I didn’t love the Jefferson Airplane. I wish they were viewed with the same kind of reverence as the Beatles or Bob Dylan. #15: “Subspace Biographies,” Robert Pollard (1998) The Geir Hongro of this operation is back with some more 4/4 indie-rock. (Sorry, esoteric in-joke that two people will get.) Almost did the last-minute switch yet again. I’ve had “Subspace Biographies” slated for the Top 20 right from the outset, but listening to a CD on the way home tonight made up of a bunch of songs being considered by my revolving-door Huttonville P.S. garage band, I almost reverted to Guided by Voice’s “Motor Away,” a carry-over from the CKLN list. If you’re a fan of Pollard’s sprawling body of work (of which I’m familiar with 10% at best), that would be the more obvious choice. But I’ve been listening to “Subspace” constantly for the past three years, so I’ll stick with that. It’s a song that we’ve played at two school assemblies, and hope to be playing at a third come May. First time, Mike Rawding (of this group) sang, but we had to get rid of him for excessive debauchery; next, Jason Caruana (not in the group, but he occasionally comments on a song on my profile page), but he wore out his welcome after a series of outrageous after-show demands. We’re presently in the market for a new singer. There’s a rather large chasm between, on the one side, Christgau’s dismissal of the two GBV LPs he reviewed (one, actually--the other got nothing beyond the little bomb icon), and on the other a worshipful cult that makes Frank Zappa’s look measured by comparison. I don’t really have any big- picture feelings about Pollard and his band, but I do fall squarely on the side of four songs: besides this one and “Motor Away,” there’s also “Gold Star for Robot Boy” and “Little Whirl.” I think they’re all amazing. “Subspace Biographies” is another instance where I haven’t a clue what the song’s supposed to be about. The lyrics are decipherable but cryptic: “I am quail and quasar/I pick you up on radar”?? I remember asking Mike what he thought might be going on, and he said maybe something to do with the experience of a social media site like Myspace. I can hear that a bit, but the song came out in ’98--I’m not sure any such sites existed at the time. Plain old message boards did, though, and they could work too. “Empties crushed and filed away”--that’s a little more straightforward. Anyway, words are words are words. I love playing this song so much--and love the fact that I can actually play it--the words are just fine. (In related news, I’ve finally located “Roadrunner”’s third chord. No one told me it was the very last one.) #14: “Complete Control,” Clash (1977) In a comment I posted last night to the “Regrets” entry (in response to a question from Scott), I talked about various influences that have guided my listening the past few years. I failed to men- tion one of the biggest: how much my job affects me. I regularly make reference to teaching in my writing, but I don’t often acknowledge the degree to which it shapes my experience as a listener these days. One way in which this influence plays out should be obvious: now and again, I’ll latch on to (or at least come to enjoy) a song that the kids all love and that probably would have gone right past me otherwise. A few years ago, I voted for one of those “Crazy Frog” records on my year-end because my students were going crazy to it at our Christmas party. It sounded like a work of genius that day; I don’t remember a thing about the song anymore, which was also probably the case within 48 hours of the party. Soulja Boy, “Poker Face,” “Adam’s Song,” Chingy--there’ve been a number of these songs and artists over the years, although fewer of them recently. The more interesting and harder to explain influence is in how I hear my own favourite music when I play it for students. This is something that I do all the time: entry music over the P.A. each morning, as a supplement to “Today in History” readings (e.g., a Dylan song on Dylan’s birthday), as weird intros for lessons (Eno’s “The True Wheel” when we start ratio), a bunch of music videos we look at in connection to media literacy, etc. Although I’ve never specifically played “Complete Control” for one of my classes, I do remember when it started to reach me in a way that it had never done before. This would have been when I was revisiting a lot of stuff from ‘77 and ‘78 in advance of the punk-rock assembly I mentioned a while back. It wasn’t exactly a case of my all of a sudden being able to hear the song through the ears of a 12-year-old, which just can’t happen no matter how much you may try to wish that into being. It was more like I was trying to get a sense of “What might this sound like to a 12-year-old?” And, “If I play this at the assembly as the kids file into the gym, what will that feel like for me?” (I ended up using other music for some reason.) I’ve never been a big Clash fan--“Police on My Back,” “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” a couple of other songs; London Calling leaves me cold, and Sandinista! I got through once--but with those ques- tions hanging in the background (and, no getting around it, the residual shock of Joe Strummer’s improbably early exit) , “Complete Control” began to sound like the most moving thing I’d ever heard, and five years later it still does. I’ve got two nominations this time vying for one of the five greatest moments on any record ever: “That means you!” of course, but also those beautifully soft chords during the break, just before the ensuing cacophony. The whole last minute is epic. Making sixty seconds feel epic is not an easy thing to pull off. I’m sure that sounds like a very convoluted explanation of why it took me forever to hear a record that many people had long since decided was one of the greatest ever made. But that’s more or less how it happened. #13: “How Some Jellyfish Are Born,” Yo La Tengo (2002) One last perverse choice, but I don’t know that anybody in the group is as attentive to Yo La Tengo as Steve is to the Jefferson Airplane, so this one may pass by unnoticed. But it’s from an album that Christgau again brushes aside with the dreaded bomb icon, and he’s a big YLT fan. That damn Christgau, undermining my list every chance he gets. Yo La Tengo is my favourite band since Husker Du. The Pet Shop Boys occupied that spot for a time, then my interest in them started to wane; skip forward a few years to where getting hold of a band’s entire catalogue became a much faster and cheaper proposition, and one Yo La Tengo album after anoth- er, a picture started to emerge of a band that was building a sizable body of work slavishly devoted to the two or three things I love most: melody, beauty, and drone. Almost comically so--this Onion piece from 2002 provided me with the phrase “The Great Sebadoh Fire of ’93,” which is the name of the folder where I keep all my Yo La Tengo-type music: Scott gave me credit for “Back & Forth” the other day, so I’ll return the favour and credit him with taping I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One for me soon after it came out; that was what started it all. (Jeff Pike made me a tape soon after, and that played a part too.) Now it’s me who does the proselytizing. I’ve got a CD-700 that I’ve made for a number of people, and it’s comprised of some of the same songs that most fans would put on there--“Moby Octopad,” “Sudden Organ,” “Blue Line Swinger”--mixed in with an array of personal favourites (“From Black to Blue,” “Satellite,” “The Race Is on Again,” etc.). I could have gone with many of them for this list. I don’t include “How Some Jellyfish Are Born,” however; there are already a few long songs on there, and with so much to fit in, “Jellyfish” stands too much apart from what Yo La Tengo does to make sense. Again, perverse: ostensibly my favourite song by my favourite band, and I leave it off my hand-picked best-of that’s supposed to convert friends into loving them as much as I do. I couldn’t begin to estimate how often I’ve played “How some Jellyfish Are Born” the past few years, though--I can recall a few stretches of time where I played nothing but in the car for days on end. It serves the same function as songs I’ve already listed by Arvo Pärt, Grachan Moncur, and Kim Hi- orthøy, with a couple of more still to come. Melody, beauty, drone, and enough empty space in which to turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream. So really, it doesn’t stand apart from what Yo La Tengo does at all. At the risk of sending us off on a tangent, I actually believe this: someday, they’ll be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It won’t happen for a long time, but eventually their Bert Blyleven-like case will win out. #12: “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” Bob Dylan (1973) Ma, take this badge off of me. I can't use it anymore. The greatness comes when you are really tested, when you take some knocks, some disappointments, when sadness comes. I remember my old man. I think that they would have called him sort of a little man, common man. He didn't consider hims- elf that way. It's gettin' dark, too dark to see. I feel I'm knockin' on heaven's door. And so it is with you. It is only a beginning, always. The young must know it; the old must know it. Ma, put my guns in the ground. I can't shoot them anymore. The greatness comes not when things go always good for you, but the greatness comes when you are really tested, when you take some knocks, some disappointments, when sadness comes. That long black cloud is comin' down. I feel I'm knockin' on heaven's door. Always give your best, never get discouraged, never be petty. Always remember: others may hate you, but those who hate you don't win unless you hate them, and then you destroy yourself. Knock, knock, knockin' on heaven's door. We leave with high hopes, in good spirits and with deep humility, and with very much gratefulness in our hearts. Knock, knock, knockin' on heaven's door. We don't have a good word for it in English. The best is au revoir. Knock, knock, knockin' on heaven's door. #11: “Divide and Conquer,” Hüsker Dü (1985) For most of my life, I’ve told people I’m not political. Mostly that’s been true, and it mostly still is. But: if you’ve been voting for one side, without exception, for 30 years, and if you more and more find certain tendencies of the other side to be increasingly obnoxious, obviously you’re something of a political person. I suppose I’m also becoming political in the worst way: I’ll shrug off the faults of politicians I support--yes, I’m talking about Obama here--being of the mind that pushing back too vociferously, or deciding that you’ll voice your disappointment by not voting at all, creates the conditions whereby the other side takes over, and then, good luck, you’re welcome to whatever you get. Which, understandably, is going to exasperate anyone who’s more political than I am. Which I why I still say I’m not political. I was much less given to such mundane resignation (“realpolitik” I think it’s called, even though I try to avoid such terms) in my 20s; I reliably voted liberal, but basically hated the whole charade, putting me perfectly in sync with the inchoate disgust found on a number of Hüsker Dü songs. I’ve had them, not surprisingly if you know me, on every one of my previous Top 100s, but I tended to tilt towards the Grant Hart pop side of the band--“It’s Not Funny Anymore” on one of them, and “Books About UFO’s” on the CKLN list. (I can’t remember, but I may have gone with “Eight Miles High” on the third.) And that’s still the side that I’m partial to. But on “Real World,” “Something I Learned Today,” “Newest Industry,” “Eight Miles High” (yes), and “Divide and Conquer,” they communicated everything I felt at the time about pretty much every politician out there (excepting Trudeau). Which was what? I don’t know--inchoate disgust is difficult to formulate into words. The closest I can come is “I’ll sit around and smoke cigarettes/And babble ‘What the fuck?’” from “Newest Industry.” Except for the cigarette smoking, that was me in my 20s. I also like that they had the good manners to spell out “What the fuck” in full, before everybody was in such a hurry. “Divide and Conquer” is a whirlwind bridge between the pop side and the inchoateness (I had to check, but yes, it’s a word). It’s like “Complete Control,” in that it finds Bob Mould exceedingly agitated about things like zip codes, shopping malls, and, in what must be a shout-out to Wire, lines of long- itude and latitude...I’m kidding; it’s about globalization, and urban sprawl, and loss of privacy, and money-changes-everything, and lots of serious stuff. But it’s Hüsker Dü, not the Disciples of Hiphoprisy or Rage Against the Machine (or whoever their 2011 equivalent is), so all of his babbling is housed inside a hypnotic cascade of ringing guitar and an unexpected grace-note of la-la-la’s towards the end. I continue to be awestruck by how great Hüsker Dü were on songs like “Divide and Conquer.” #10. “Trois Gymnopédies,” Erik Satie (1888) I take back every negative thing I’ve ever said about the ‘80s. Fantastic decade--the absolute best. I’m out of my element here, so here are three questions I can’t answer: 1) Classical or 20th Cen- tury? I don’t know--I don’t know where the one ends and the other begins. Anyway, I’m not sure that designating a piece of music composed in 1888 as “20th Century” makes sense. 2) Art of the highest order or Hallmark kitsch? By which I mean, how is it viewed by the rest of the world (obviously it’s art of the highest order for me), in particular by the kind of music critics who would write about Satie? I don’t know--it’s something that’s liable to turn up in a commercial, on a Blood, Sweat & Tears album, or in a documentary on the woodchuck. I’m sure it’s been used and abused in every way imaginable the past 125 years. 3) Is this the best version? Not even close, I’m sure-- it’s the one full version I was able to find on YouTube. The version I keep in my record collection is by Chantal de Buchy, and is copyrighted 1984. I had a second version on a CD that has the dis- tinction of being the only CD I’ve ever lost. I once wrote about my strongest connection to “Trois Gymnopédies” in an issue of Jeff Pike’s fan- zine Tapeworm. I won’t rewrite the whole thing here--old Tapeworms regularly turn up on that PBS antiques roadshow, if you’re interested--but it’s a scene from the film Goin’ Down the Road, which provided one of my earlier picks. Besides being an even better snotty-record-store-clerk scene than anything in High Fidelity, it plays off Satie’s music against a woman who...let’s just say she’s haunted my thoughts for almost half my life now. I really wish I could post the whole scene, or at the very least link to a still. Her name was Sheila White, and she died soon after the film came out at the age of 25 or so. (The Internet Movie Database has her mixed up with a British act- ress of the same name.) That was my very first encounter with “Trois Gymnopédies,” and it’s been a reliably calming influence ever since. In teachers college, I remember playing it as I read Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman to a group of primary kids. The Snowman doesn’t have any words, though, does it? I don’t know--maybe we just mentally communed the story as Satie played in the background. The Top 10--yes, I have once again got this party started. #9: “Consider Me Gone,” Jellystone Park (1991) I feel like at least half my remaining songs are going to be a big letdown. And as far as trying to guess them, forget it. My #1 is giveaway (the artist, though not necessarily the song), another artist should be easy if you’ve been paying attention, and another one or two you might have an out- side shot at. Four of them, including this one, are non-starters. In all honesty, I’d be happier posting a Top 10 where I felt confident I was connecting with most everyone, but, well, that’s just not going to be the case. Here’s another one--still not the last--from the “I Wish I Was a Flexdisc” site. I first got hold of it just before November of 2009. It’s an easy date to trace, as it’s a song that will always have an inescapable link for me to my mom’s death that month (“Big Blue Bus” also, listed earlier). No need to get panicky--this won’t be an especially long entry, and the song itself is not morbid or depres- sing. It’s actually quite sprightly; it sounds a lot like the English Beat’s “Save It for Later” (something I briefly considered for this list), speeded up a bit and with atmospherically muffled vocals. I’d been playing it constantly for a few weeks after downloading it, and when I went back on the radio after a couple of weeks off, I knew it was the song I wanted to end with. It was the right choice. Later, I even thought about trying to assemble a YouTube video of my own, with a photo col- lage and some completely unauthorized use of Jellystone Park’s song--maybe, 10 or 20 years from now, it would have been used for somebody’s Top 100 countdown on Facebook (“Neat video--no idea who the woman is”)--but didn’t get much past the point of figuring out how to set up an account and log on. I haven’t yet abandoned the idea altogether. #8: “Too Late,” Wire (1978) “Is it too late to change my mind?”--apropos for one more last-minute bump. (“Is it too late to change-a my mind?” to be precise. Inside the Top 10, little things mean a lot.) Just the song, though, not the artist. I knew right from the start that Wire would be in my Top 10, just as they were on the CKLN list. They’ve actually dropped a spot--last time I had “Mannequin” at #7. The past couple of months, ever since I saw Olivier Assayas’s Carlos, I’ve had it in my mind that “Dot Dash” was going to be my Wire pick. A somewhat embarrassing admission: I’d never heard “Dot Dash” until Assayas’s film. I’ve had Wire’s first three LPs for a long, long time, but “Dot Dash” was a stray single that never made it to LP until many years later on a Pink Flag reissue. It’s an amazing song--in the context of the film, as unforgettable as “El Watusi” in Who’s That Knocking at My Door?--and I’ll provide a link below. In the end, though, I didn’t want to have a Top 10 song that I’d only known for such a short while. I probably haven’t yet listened to it 15 times. I could go with “Mannequin” again--la-la-la’s as improbably Monkees-worthy as those found on “Divide and Conquer”--but “Too Late”’s another one that my band had been considering, so it’s been on my mind lately. We ended up passing: it’s the same basic bar-chord as everything else I’m able to play moved up and down the fretboard, but they move it around extra-fast, they move it to at least six different locations, and, as all of that sorts itself out, you’re supposed to simultaneously match some words and some drumbeats to all the different locations. That’s just way too much happening in one song-- never even mind what sounds to be an organ or some such instrument overtop. As rudimentary and as primitive as it all sounds, there’s actually some musicianly stuff going on here. I haven’t heard Wire’s new album yet, but I’ve established a new Bill James-like metric in honour of them: “Wire Peak Value,” meaning how well your four best songs (not three, and not five--four) match up against anybody else. The greatest WPV of all time belongs to Wire. (8.391, if you're inter- ested--I don't have time to explain.) On “Too Late,” “Mannequin,” “Dot Dash,” and “Map Ref. 41°N 93°W,” they were the greatest ever--better than the Beatles, Dylan, anybody. (Oh yeah--Wire was the “if you’ve been paying attention” pick. Back in Scott’s Wire entry, in the comments, I wrote “I will have more stuff to say about these folks sometime in the next few weeks.”) #7: “Blues Run the Game,” Jackson C. Frank (1965) See what I mean? Outside of Anita, how many of you were wondering when Jackson C. Frank was going to turn up? And he’s practically Charlie Sheen on the fame meter next to my #5. Maybe tomorrow, honey, someplace down the line I’ll wake up older So much older, mama I’ll wake up older And I’ll just stop all my tryin’ Wow--as Snoop Dog would say, I think about those lines like every single day. They’re not encourag- ing. They don’t make me eager to skip forward 10 or 20 years. Jackson C. Frank wrote them when he was 22. His Wikipedia entry is harrowing: “In 1984, Frank took a trip to New York City in a desperate bid to locate Paul Simon, but he ended up sleeping on the sidewalk. His mother, who had been in hospital for open heart surgery, found him gone with no forwarding address when she arrived home. He was living on the street and was frequently admitted and discharged from various institutions. He was treated for paranoid schizophrenia, a diag- nosis that was probably correct, though he had always claimed that he actually had depression caused by the trauma he had experienced as a child.” Well, I don't expect things will ever get so dire for me--no great traumas from childhood to haunt me, no desperate bids to locate Paul Simon. I do worry about the “just stop all my tryin'” part. Like a lot of people I bet, much of my life seems to be structured around a never-ending series of projects. (When I first e-mailed Scott with the countdown idea, the subject line read "new project!") Generally, I'm very good on following through once I start one of these--to abandon something is to admit failure, and if too much of your own sense of self is tied into these projects (not married, no kids, guilty as charged), that's a road you don't want to go down. So right now it's the countdown, which we're almost finished. Before that, I had a couple of radio interviews to take care of. We had a Nerve anniversary show a few months ago--that was a project. A couple of major ones happened on my homepage (my Hall of Fame projects, along with this one): writing almost every day on the 2008 elec- tion, from the Iowa caucus through to Nov. 4, and a record-by-record inventory I did of my album collection seven or eight years ago. Radio On was a decade-long project that kept me busy and alive through the ‘90s. In between, lots and lots of smaller ones. Keeping the mp3s in my media library properly tagged and with the correct cover art is a never-ending project. (Until it ends, that is-- until mp3s and media libraries are ancient history five years from now.) As focussed as I am on carrying things through to completion--which really amounts to not starting something unless I’m sure it’s manageable--sometimes I stumble. I was all excited last summer about hooking up with a local rep theatre and presenting a series of pop-music films (Rushmore, Boogie Nights, etc.); that got off to a promising start, then died. I’ve got an old grade-school friend who works in film, and a few months ago I tried to convince him that we had to make a documentary about Denny McLain. He didn’t say no, so I went off to start researching Denny McLain...and lost interest 50 pages into one of his memoirs. They don’t all work out. “Projects,” of course, is basically a metaphor for “tryin’”--a way to feel productive, something to look forward to at the end of the day, a means of staying engaged with the world. I’ve already con- tacted somebody about one that will start up once this finishes. For as long as there are projects, I’m basically happy. But when they run out, or when you can’t be bothered to initiate them anymore, that’s scary. That’s where “Blues Run the Game” begins. (Just to be clear, Jackson C. Frank’s words are about 30% of why “Blues Run the Game” is my seventh- favourite song ever. The rest has to do with the guitar playing and what happens in the space between those words.) #6: “Outta Control,” 50 Cent feat. Mobb Deep (2005) Between projects, I’m all about the club. “Outta Control” was my #1 song of its decade, and in the 15 months that have passed since putting together that list, I can’t think of any reason not to have it in the Top 10 here--not much has changed. (With regards to how I feel about the song, that is; 50 may not have a career anymore, so there may have been some change there.) I’ve yet to read any- one who holds “Outta Contol” in as high regard as I do. It makes for a perfect 180 from “Blues Run the Game.” When you reach that proverbial fork in the road (the one Smokey Robinson wrote about, the one that Yogi Berra said you should take), Frank’s “just stop all my tryin’” lies one way, 50’s “trust me, man, it’s okay” the other. Which brings me to the fifth of the five greatest moments on any record ever: the three or four piano notes (played by Justin Bieber--turns out that YouTube guy was so, so wrong) that glide in overtop 50’s assurances, incontrovertible proof that everything will indeed be okay. I’m happy to say that for now and into the foreseeable future, I’m riding with 50. Although I’m generally averse to all that “feat.” and “w/” nonsense--I went with the less compli- cated ampersand back at #68--I’ll honour it here, since we’re inside the Top 10. I wonder if any major confrontations ever arise over the distinction: withs who believe they ought to be featureds, or featureds who can’t handle the pressure and ask to be downgraded to a with. Mobb Deep really go to the mat for their “feat.,” as they sing at least half of “Outta Control.” They’re great, and their mommy recitation (badly censored on the YouTube clip) is a highlight. But without 50 around to do that Lawrence Welk thing with his hands, it just wouldn’t be the same song. #5: “The Boy Who Crossed the Street,” St. James Infirmary (1989) I better warn you from the start: a real “Huh?” pick, but my last one, promise. And a final thank- you to the people who run the “I Wish I Was a Flexidisc,” “Jangle Pop Boutique,” “Take the Pills!” and “Wilfully Obscure” blogs, whoever you are. I don’t know how these sites will be viewed 10 or 20 years from now--I understand the argument that they’re the scourge of the music industry--but to me, the kind of obsessiveness that informs “I Wish I Was a Flexidisc” isn’t any different from what Harry Smith or Lenny Kaye used to do. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t going to discover St. James Infirm- ary for myself wading through eBay or MusicStack, and on the one in ten thousand chance that I had, I’m not one to move on to the cheque-writing stage. First thing I love about “The Boy Who Crossed the Street” is the title. It’s mundane above and be- yond the outer reaches of mundane. Here’s one of my favourite Radio On reviews ever, New Zealand’s Andrew Palmer writing about “How Bizarre” (before any of the rest of us had heard it yet) in the Monty Burns issue: “This is the biggest song out of New Zealand in years...for a couple of months everyone was saying ‘How bizarre’ at the slightest prompting. Someone would drop a pen on the floor and you’d say ‘How bizarre.’ They’d bend over to pick it up and you’d say ‘How bizarre.’” “The Boy Who Crossed the Street” is like that. “Hey, you’ve got to hear this amazing song by St. James Infirmary.” “What’s it called?” “‘The Boy Who Crossed the Street.’” “What’s it about?” “It’s about a boy who crossed the street.” “Hmmm...Okay, I’ll bite: why did the boy cross the street.” “To get to--actually I don’t know, I can’t make out the lyrics.” Making out the lyrics is something I need to sit down and do. This is the fourth song we plan to play at the assembly--very fast but very simple; it’s actually “Take the Skinheads Bowling” upside down--and the lyrics can’t be found anywhere online (the seventh and final level of obscurity in today’s world). I’ve decided I’m going to transcribe what I can and just make up something reasonably close for what I can’t--maybe I’ll even throw in a “how bizarre” or two. I’m all over the background “do-do do-do/do-do do-do”s; by my count, 118 of them. Who were St. James Infirmary? Don’t know. Where did they go? Don’t know. How did they ever come up with something as perfect as “The Boy Who Crossed the Street”? Don’t know. Why isn’t it famous? I’m trying. #4: “Running from Home,” Bert Jansch (1965) If you haven’t seen Noel Baumbach’s The Squid and the Whale, you should do so as soon as possible. Not that I’d blame anyone for avoiding it based on the title alone--could they have picked an uglier one? I suppose The Squid and the Whale: Endgame would have been even worse. “Running from Home” doesn’t appear in Baumbach’s film, but Bert Jansch’s “Courting Blues” does, over the end credits, and that was the very first time I’d ever heard Jansch. Which is even more improb- able than never having heard “Dot Dash” until Carlos. I knew Donovan had written a couple of songs about him--“Bert’s Blues,” on Sunshine Superman; I have Mellow Yellow, with “House of Jansch”--and had been aware of him for a long time thanks to Roxon’s encyclopedia: “His style comes from blues and classical guitar. His solos are light and graceful.” But he was just another half-remembered bit of Roxon esoterica, like the Beacon Street Union or Circus Maximus. You never heard him on the radio, and I never came anywhere near buying an album of his. So it was a gratifying surprise to wait around for the music credits on The Squid and the Whale and find out that this weirdly ominous chamber folk I’d been listening to for the past four minutes was by Jansch. “Wow--so that’s Bert Jansch.” Perfect coda for the film: “Don’t be afraid” over and over again, half-sung, half-whispered in a way that made you very afraid. It was probably that same night that I went home and downloaded Jansch’s first LP, where “Running from Home” is found right before “Courting Blues.” This was a much prettier song, but also somewhat unsettling, with lyrics about breaking ties and spiders catching prey, and a story that’s hard to fix into place. Someone’s left home, or is about to, and I’m not sure if Jansch is singing about himself or ruminating about someone else. The guitar playing is just as Roxon describes. I’ve probably lis- tened to “Running from Home” more than any other song I own since my introduction to Jansch five years ago, so I’ve managed to make up for some of that lost time. Four links: 1) Jansch’s original; 2) the last four minutes of The Squid and the Whale, which I’d skip if you haven’t seen the film but plan to; 3) a great user-created video for Lou Reed’s “Street Hassle” (watch the second clip and that’ll make sense); and 4) a live “Running from Home” that Jansch and Ralph McTell did for the BBC in 2003--a nice reminder that most ‘60s folkies survived the era better than Jackson C. Frank or Karen Dalton. #3: “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart,” Wilco (2002) More than just being a song that could have been #1, something I said was true of my entire Top 20 or so, I actually did have this slated for #1 soon after we began. Somewhere along the way, I decided that making people wait three months for a Wilco song at #1 might be deemed cruel and unusual punishment in some jurisdictions. It would have been just like the opening scene in Help! where everybody starts throwing darts at the screen. I would have been the screen. I’m not a big Wilco fan. The last couple of years, I’ve started to take a casual interest in them-- saw both films, put a song from their last album on my year-end, and next time they come through Toronto, I may consider seeing them. My friend Steve made me a couple of CD-700s years ago, and they went right past me. To paraphrase Christgau on Elvis Costello’s first LP, “they suffer from Jackson Browne's syndrome--that is, they’re a little boring.” “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” wasn’t on either CD. It’s a song that occupies the same space in my life as “How Some Jellyfish Are Born”: I’ll play it three or four times in a row on the way to work some mornings, and then I’ll do it all over again for the next day or two. It’ll be the only song I can tolerate on such mornings. I sing along, I drive, and I try to think about nothing. Except maybe that some of the angular instrumental nood- ling reminds me of “Rikki, Don’t Lose That Number.” It’s not what you’d call a serene song like “How Some Jellyfish Are Born,” or Arvo Pärt and Grachan Moncur III earlier. The title should be taken literally: it’s about an “American aquarium drinker” who’s made it his mission in life to disappoint everyone he knows, time and time and time again. Films and music are always blurring into each other in my mind, and “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” makes me think of Bruce Weber’s Chet Baker documentary Let’s Get Lost. That film and this song are one and the same. One of the main reasons I was ready to put it at #1, besides the fact I had been playing it so ob- sessively when we began, was discovering the accompanying video clip (first one below) around the same time. According to the person who put it up, “I done gone and made this fer my film class.” I guess so--it’s so bracingly perfect, and such an inspired distillation of the song, I’m skeptical of that, but there’s not really any other explanation for its origin that would make sense. I hope Nonesuch stepped in and bought it for use as the “official music video” without the question mark. And I wish somebody would give the creator lots of money to make a real film. Flip It and Reverse It I’ve often made reference to my previous Top 100s since starting this one, so before finishing, I wanted to give a quick summary of the Top 10s on each of those lists. CIUT, either ‘88 or ‘89 1. “Let’s Stay Together,” Al Green (1972) 2. “Downtown,” Petula Clark (1965) 3. “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’,” Michael Jackson (1983) 4. “I Say a Little Prayer,” Aretha Franklin (1968) 5. “Dizzy,” Tommy Roe (1969) 6. “ABC’s of Love,” Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers (1956) 7. “How’d We Ever Get This Way,” Andy Kim (1968) 8. “Way Over There,” Miracles (1962) 9. “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter,” Herman’s Hermit’s (1965) 10. “I Wanna Be Sedated,” Ramones (1978) CIUT, Top 100 Ballads, a few months after the previous list 1. “Just Once in My Life,” Righteous Brothers (1965) 2. “Moon River,” Henry Mancini (1961) 3. “When I Call on You,” Kool Gents (1956) 4. “It Was a Very Good Year,” Frank Sinatra (1966) 5. “Poor Side of Town,” Johnny Rivers (1966) 6. “A Fork in the Road,” Miracles (1965) 7. “Yes It Is,” Beatles (1965) 8. “Let It Be Me,” Everly Brothers (1960) 9. “Flamenco Sketches,” Miles Davis (1959) 10. “I Only Have Eyes for You,” Flamingos (1959) Radio On, 1991 1. “It Hurts to Be in Love,” Gene Pitney (19642) 2. “What Have I Done to Deserve This?” Pet Shop Boys w/Dusty Springfield (1987) 3. “The Mountain’s High,” Dick & Dee Dee (1961) 4. “I Say a Little Prayer,” Aretha Franklin (1968) 5. “Alternative Ulster,” Stiff Little Fingers (1978) 6. “Mission Bell,” Donnie Brooks (1960) 7. “When I Call on You,” Kool Gents (1956) 8. “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter,” Herman’s Hermit’s (1965) 9. “Let It Be Me,” Everly Brothers (1960) 10. “Cashing In,” Minor Threat (1983) CKLN, 2005 1. “You Wear It Well,” Rod Stewart (1972) 2. “Cinnamon Girl,” Neil Young (1969) 3. “Take the Skinheads Bowling,” Camper Van Beethoven (1986) 4. “Another Girl, Another Planet,” Only Ones (1978) 5. “Books About UFOs,” Husker Du (1985) 6. “I Saw the Light,” Todd Rundgren (1972) 7. “Mannequin,” Wire (1978) 8. “She Don't Care About Time,” Byrds (1965) 9. “Any Other Way,” Posies (1990) 10. “Rikki Don't Lose That Number,” Steely Dan (1974) I’m okay with all of that. There are songs below the Top 10 on the first and third lists that now baffle me, but not all that many, though--maybe a dozen. No, you don’t need to know what they are. #2: “My Favorite Things,” John Coltrane (1961) Back in my Grachan Moncur comment, I said I’d have four jazz and classical picks. Provided you consider Erik Satie to be classical, count Arvo Pärt and Oliver Schroer as something other than classical, and aren’t one to confuse Wishbone Ash with Thelonius Monk, this would be the fourth. If you know me, you knew it was coming. I wrote a fairly detailed account of how I came to John Coltrane when I inventoried my album col- lection a few years ago. The short version: My Favorite Things was the first jazz album I ever owned. The long version, which I don’t want to repeat here. I also have the song itself on a couple of CDs--an expanded Rhino reissue of the original LP, which appends both halves of the 45 issue of “My Favorite Things” (yes, it was released as a single, with an A-side running 2:45; I find that kind of amusing), and also the Ken Burns Coltrane collection. I don’t own the Sound of Music sound- track, and haven’t seen the film in 40+ years. One thing that’s clear to me is that the circumstance of having “My Favorite Things” as my intro- duction to jazz ensured that there would always be a limit to how much of a fan I would ever be of the form. Everything I’ve ever heard subsequently gets measured against “My Favorite Things,” and everything falls short. Everything: Monk, Charlie Parker, Billie Holiday, Charles Mingus, Duke Ellington, Sonny Rollins, etc., etc., etc. The Moncur track comes close--because, guess what, it reminds me of Coltrane--Oliver Nelson’s “Stolen Moments” comes close, and so do a couple of Miles Davis tracks, “Flamenco Sketches,” and (with Coltrane playing alongside) “Milestones.” (And, with- in Coltrane’s own body of work, “A Love Supreme.”) But everything else, even though I can (and do) enjoy it and understand its importance, ultimately it’s something I appreciate more than respond to emotionally. I started at the top of Mount Everest, then began to survey the land below. Again, that’s me; for someone else, maybe Louis Armstrong’s Mount Everest. I started reading Ben Ratliff’s Coltrane: The Story of a Sound a few months ago, and the bookmark hasn’t moved from page 29 since a week after I began. It’s a meticulously technical book, undoubt- edly very insightful if that’s the prism though which you respond to Coltrane. For me, music’s an abstraction. Some people like for that abstraction to be explained, to learn how it was put together, and some people are very good at explaining it. I have, over time, learned to respect the idea that knowing a lot about the inner workings of music is very useful, and worth imparting to others if you’re able to do so. Sounds weird that anyone might believe otherwise, but otherwise is somewhere close to where I used to be--a belief that the more you knew about the technical side of a piece of music, the more you’d find yourself distracted from zeroing in on what was really important about it. I don’t believe that anymore. But on a personal level, I still have an impressionistic understanding of music, and I don’t see that ever changing. I’m able to figure out that what I most love about “My Favorite Things” has more to do with McCoy Tyner’s long middle section than with Coltrane himself. Tyner’s part of the song is where I lose myself; Coltrane is the frame that brings me back. That’s about as technical as I’m capable of getting when trying to describe what I hear in a jazz or clas- sical piece of music. Well, also that Tyner’s playing always makes me think of “Linus and Lucy.” I also respect the idea that sometimes what’s most important about a piece of music is beyond articu- lation. That’s a convenient way for me to sneak out of here without ever saying what it is I hear in “My Favorite Things,” but I do believe the truth of that. It would take a great deal of time and a great deal of effort to find exactly the right words, but in the end, I don’t think you could do it. I couldn’t, anyway. #1: “Only Love Can Break Your Heart,” Neil Young (1970) A true “Mel Brooks is Jewish?” moment for anyone who knows me reasonably well. I’ve written a lot about Neil Young over the years. He got a lot of words in the record inventory I linked to yesterday. I wrote a long thing about my high school years for Frank Kogan’s Why Music Sucks? many years ago, and while that was primarily about other matters, Neil Young was all over it. I almost always jump onto Neil threads on the message board--there’s a guy named Tyler W. on there whose stuff on Neil is really good. The longest Neil-related thing I’ve ever written was an overview I assembled a few years ago of all the cover versions that are out there. You’d be amazed at how many there are: I pointed out in the piece that “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” is the most inde- structible of Neil’s songs for anyone who tries to cover him. I’d collected seven at the time, and all but one was good-to-great (Scott’s #60 being one of the great ones). Even today, poking around YouTube, I found another by Jackie DeShannon that I’m baffled I missed the first time. I’ll add a link below to the one I think is the best. Again, you might be amazed. After the Gold Rush is also the album that I generally name as my favourite ever--sometimes Every- body Knows This Is Nowhere, but usually Gold Rush. Four of the five songs on side one are contenders for the four greatest melodies ever written. As tired as I am of “Southern Man,” I’m glad it’s there. A fifth song in the manner of “Tell Me Why,” “After the Gold Rush,” “Only Love Can Break Your Heart,” and “Till the Morning Comes” would be one more than anyone could bear. You’d just disappear into your mind and never be heard from again. And that’s where most of “Only Love”’s genius lies, the thing that links all of the folk and singer- songwriter picks on my list: their melodies. You’ll find that all over my list, of course, but every- body knows that power-pop and mid-‘60s radio hits are melody-driven. I’m not sure that’s as true of folk and singer-songwriters; you mention folk, and probably a lot of people think of protest and Civil Rights marches, and singer-songwriter might mean the National Lampoon/Lester Bangs version of what a singer-songwriter was all about. And there’s validity to that. But Neil Young and Jackson C. Frank and Tim Buckley wrote melodies that said more than their words could ever say. I don’t know if love’s the only thing that can break your heart. I’m not sure that I’ve ever been in love. I may have, and I might be--I don’t know. As I explained to a co-worker this afternoon, I think I’ve been in the vicinity. (Merely to ask the question would be proof enough, for a lot of people, that the answer is no. Again, I don’t know--you can convince yourself of anything, if you want to badly enough.) But I think that there are other things that can break your heart too. Fleet- ing moments of nostalgia can do it. The perfection of certain songs will do it. There’s a famous quote from A. Bartlett Giamatti, former commissioner of baseball: “It [baseball] breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart.” I’d subscribe to that, too--happened here in Toronto in 1985, and again in 1987. That felt pretty real. I’m glad, though, that Neil Young didn’t decide to write “Only Baseball Can Break Your Heart.” Much gratitude to everyone who’s been following. It’s all yours, Scott--take us home, buddy.