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The Pitchfork 500 Analysis: Chapter II

February 2nd, 2009 Posted in Music, Personal

For everyone who missed it, see Chapter I here.

Jake and Jesse’s
Review(s) of the Pitchfork 500
Chapter 2: 1980-1982

I’ll paste Jesse’s list in here first. Also keep in mind that Jesse and I did not share our lists with each other until they were completed. Here goes:

My Least Favorite Tracks:

1. Adam and the Ants “Kings of the Wild Frontier”.  It’s funny because I have this record.  I really like the song “Press Darlings”, mostly because I liked the Rocket From the Crypt cover of that song.  I have the first Adam and the Ants record, which pitchfork rightly refers to as “S & M chic and Weimar.”  I like it OK, but have held on to it more because it’s somewhat collectible. Adam and the Ants  just tend to leave me cold.  With all the fancy lights, the genre-hopping, the cool recordings, it all comes down to a skeleton song that seems so dispassionate in its origin.

2. Scritti Politti “The “Sweetest Girl’”.  I haven’t listened to much Scritti Politti, but their name pops up a lot on the DIY Brit stuff that I have.  I guess they were instrumental in engineering that scene, and I like, if not love a lot of the stuff that came out of the post punk pop DIY early 80s that is featured on such comps as Messthetics.  Marry that with one of my favorite performers, Robert Wyatt, tinkling on the piano (something I didn’t know about this song before) and you’d think it be a match made in heaven.  But no, this track still bores me as it always has.  You will notice that boredom is the main reason these tracks are listed.  All the wavering vocals and slight pop idiosynchrocies that pepper these bands (like my beloved Television Personalities) are absent in this track. It’s a slick repeating arty loop.

3. Flipper “Sex Bomb”. Speaking of boring. This band apparently was an inspiration to two bands that were fundamental in my upbringing of music: Nirvana and the Melvins.  I used to have a live Flipper cassette back in the early 90s based on the name drops.  At the time it seemed unlistenable, but I kinda liked that about it.  Now, hearing this track, it sounds far less noisy and much more, well, “fratty” to use pitchfork’s reference to the horns.  I know, I know, the horns are ironic I’m guessing, but this song seems a celebration, albeit noisy and avantgarde of the kind of decadent party music that is rooted in Wolly Bully and that kind of stuff.  And I’ve never been that attracted to that kind of thing. Chock it up next to blues rock.

4. The Specials “Ghost Town”. I’m guessing you’re gonna hate me for this one.  While I like parts of the song, especially part of it’s mood, it just goes on way too long for me.  Especially the sax solo.  Perhaps you can link my disliking the Parliament song, this, and the Flipper song, that I just don’t like the jams.  Including the MC5.

5. Altered Images “Happy Birthday”.  When I first heard this song on another comp a while ago, I liked it.  But the shelf life on it’s very short.  I still like the charming beginning, but it goes on way too long.  Do I just have Wire in my veins?  I have such ADD for certain songs sometimes.

My Favorite Songs of those I Hadn’t Heard Before (of 26):

1. Glenn Branca. “Lesson No. 1 For Electric Guitar”. Now listen, this is right up my alley: I love repeating krautrock, Neu!, and the repetitive guitar melodies of Michael Rother.  Far from being the “future noise rock” that pitchfork applies to this, all I hear is melody, melody, melody. It sounds beautiful to me.  It reminds me of flying over, and over again, to some destination that you never get to.  You are flying over repeating and repeating Dr. Seuss hills: you know those hills in the backgrounds of Dr. Seuss stories?  They are huge egg-like hills, colored purple, with some green strange trees on them.  And they go as far back as you can see, with no landmarks on them.  This is the trip, over these hills, like a looped cartoon.  And at some point, you realize that the beauty is not in trying to get to the destination, but the trip itself.  There’s something very comforting in that.

2. Bad Brains “Pay To Cum”.  I know, you’re like “How haven’t heard this before?”  I may have, but don’t remember. Bad Brains peppered a lot of the mix tapes I received in High School from my punk friends.  I remember hearing “Rock For Light” but not this.  And while I got into Minor Threat, I never really got into Black Flag and Bad Brains.  Hearing the Black Flag song, I don’t regret missing out on them that much, but this song is amazing.  It manages to sum up everything I like about hardcore punk in such a succinct statement. Where do you go from here?  Perfect.

3. Yoko Ono “Walking on Thin Ice”.  What a groove.  There’s a song on Plastic Ono band, the Yoko version, that has a ridiculously long name like “I Was Walking Through the Supermarket Pushing a Baby Cart” which sounds years ahead of its time.  Of course the rest of the album can be a trying experience, although there are some hilarious moments.  Now, given the context of what was going on, Walking On Thin Ice doesn’t sound years ahead, but fits right into a certain scene at the time.  But it sounds so good, still.  And the guitar work: Goddamn if people are always talking about how great “Beautiful Boy” is!  The guitar work on this trumps that entire song as far as some of the last work Lennon did.  Yoko manages to step into the scene and keep one foot out of it, due to the fact they were old fogey celebrities just fucking around.  And that’s what makes it seem like a timeless groove to me.  Who says I don’t like party music?

4. The Fall “The Classical”.  I have tried for years to get into the Fall, and, with the exception of a few songs, they have always been OVERRATED to me. I use the capitals because for a lot of people I know and have rubbed elbows musically with, they are such a big deal.  Maybe I just haven’t heard the right album.  This song is exactly what I was always looking for in the Fall: a combination of being hilariously absurd and dangerous. Hilariously dangerous. The guitar after “Hey there Fuck Face” is so sweet to hear. It’s like a musical satiation of the previous line.  The fact that he says “Hey There Fuck Face” is hilarious.  The fact a guitar starts the melody of the line “I’ve never felt better in my life” before he starts singing it makes the cut they are making so planned: planned, absurd, dangerous chaos.  Great.

5. Dexy’s Midnight Runners “There There My Dear”.  Oh, those rolling R’s. And how pumped is this track with those horns? It reminds me of the Futureheads and that whole scene in terms of accent but also in terms of restless energy, where the singer is so enthralled by his indictment, he threatens to outpace the band.

My Favorite Songs of Those That I Have Heard Before:

1. The Pretenders “Back On The Chain Gang”.  I have never listened so closely to the vocal performance on this song before, and for that I acknowledge the writer of the blurb for this song in the pitchfork book.  This is when the book scores highest for me so far, because, yes, I now feel too that it’s “one of the most heartbreaking records ever made”.  This is pop music at it’s highest: a song that I have sung along with many times at the bar and now, listening to it in my room, hearing that tightly controlled vocal performance that just threatens to break, I am full of tears.  To bring that kind of transformation is also great rock writing.  Thank you, pitchfork, you stuck up bunch of indie rock snobs.  You win this time.

2. Robert Wyatt “Shipbuilding”.  This song was my introduction to Robert Wyatt years ago.  It was on a Rough Trade comp and, perhaps because it was surrounded by post punk stuff like Altered Images, it stood out more, but it slayed them all with Wyatt’s voice.  I have always loved vulnerable voices, but Wyatt’s combines a hearftfelt wisdom with a shaky humanity.  He’s the fucking Gandalf of music my friends, and lord knows I love that shit. But more to the point, this song still makes me cry.

3. The Wipers “Youth of America”. It’s funny, when I saw they chose this song, I was a little disappointed as they could have chosen “Taken Too Long” or “Over the Edge” or some other Wipers songs that perhaps I like more.  This one is a long one.  But at soon as I heard it I knew why they chose this one.  The guitars on this, how they ascend and duplicate and come back – when you’re walking around listening to it, it doesn’t seem long at all, at least to me.  Then again, I apparently love repeating long guitar songs.  But not blues.

4. Michael Jackson “Billie Jean”. Bar none, my favorite Michael Jackson song.  It was hard not to dance while listening to this walking around.  From the very first moments of the song, I get excited.  It’s such a fun ride.

5. Mission of Burma “That’s When I Reach For My Revolver”.  Again, like the Wipers song, not my favorite Mission of Burma song.  But I still getting taken for the emotional rollercoaster everytime I hear this, like when I heard it at 17.  Sixteen years later, and I still wish I was playing the guitars and singing this song.  It’s too bad, because at the end of the song I hear the beginning of Outlaw and want to listen to the whole EP.  Signals, Calls, and Marches is one of my favorite recordings of all time.

Works for me. I’m not a huge fan of “Ghost Town” either. I feel the exact same way about both the Fall and “The Classical”. Also, I forgot about that Flipper song when I was making my lists, but it would have made my least favorite tracks, no doubt. The Scritti Politti song didn’t bore me as much as it did Jesse, I think, but other than that I take no issue with this list. Jesse, I approve (except for the part where you started talking about the important part being the journey and not the destination and all that; you sounded like Benjamin Button). And now, my list:

Least Favorite Tracks in This Chapter

Let me preface this by saying that I didn’t really dislike any of the songs in this chapter that much. These are simply my least favorite.

The Clash – Magnificent Seven

Too long, too repetitive. I appreciate the Clash’s willingness to experiment, and when it works (see last post re: “Guns of Brixton”) it’s great. To me, this is a failed experiment. I’d rather listen to actual rap, or even actual funk.

Altered Images – Happy Birthday

I think this one is just too chirpy, and wears thin way to fast. I was also really irritated by the P-fork blurb on this one, in which it discussed Altered Images conscious decision to abandon post-punk for pop in the pursuit of fame. How is that ok for them and not for Smashmouth? Ok, obviously they make better music than Smashmouth, but I’m just saying… abandoning what you’re into because it isn’t selling; isn’t there a phrase to describe that?

Adam Ant – Kings of the Wild Frontier

Meh, those Burundi drums are really a one-trick pony. You don’t even notice how weird they are in “Goody Two-Shoes” until you hear them used again in another song. And another thing, “Goody Two-Shoes” is a better song than this. Suck it up and put that one in here, P-fork.

Best Tracks I Had Never Heard

B-52′s – Private Idaho

Still not sure I’m a B-52′s fan, but this is a great song. Strikes me as having more bite than most B-52′s stuff I’ve heard before. I do like “Roam” as well.

Dexy’s Midnight Runners – There, There My Dear

Wow. This was the standout track for me. I’ve heard about Kevin Rowland and his craziness, but man, this song is great. The hook is ridiculously infectious, the lyrics are scathing and yet strangely self-unaware (once you decipher them). Fascinating and just plain great. Rrrrrrrobin!

Young Marble Giants – Final Day

Talk about creepy; blink and you miss the apocalypse. I always love when dark material is wrapped in pretty paper and tied with a bow. Makes it fun to open.

Bruce Springsteen – Atlantic City

It’s been all Springsteen this week. I picked up “Nebraska” after I heard this song (I’m somehow in love with the idea that he recorded the whole album as demos for the E-Street band and then just decided it was better as is), and then last night at the Superbowl he decided to power-slide his crotch right into my living room. Did that freak anyone else out? I think we just crossed a line.

Wipers – Youth of america

Always heard about Wipers and never got around to listening; this is great stuff and right up my alley. And anyone who has ever heard The Pulses should not be suprised that Jesse is into this; his singing style totally channels Greg Sage’s voice during the lines “it is time we rectify this now / we’ve got to feel now”. Awesome.

Runners Up
Duran Duran – The Chauffer
Bauhaus – Third Uncle

Best Tracks I Had Already Heard

The Message – Grand Master Flash & The Furious Five

Don’t think I really need to explain this one; a classic.

The Pretenders – Back on the Chain Gang

Take heed, all you aspiring pop songwriters: this is how you debate. How often do you hear something this unabashedly accessible with so much bite? This song is like a baby panda that just might tear your face off if you try to pet it.

The (English) Beat – Save It For Later

I never realized how dirty this song was. And oh, that chorus.

Tom Tom Club – Genius of Love

This beat is so brilliant I can even forgive that weird growling vocal part in the middle.

Bad Brains – Pay to Cum

P-fork really nailed it in the blurb for this one… catchier than pop-punk, tougher than hardcore, faster than grindcore. These guys were a level above.

Note: this video is not the 7″ version, which is the version that made the 500. The 7″ version is definitely a better recording, but I couldn’t find it.

Well, that’s chapter II. Jesse and I both marveled at the amount of crossover we had in our lists. Must be why we’re friends.

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  • jake

    Jesse is done... I've been slacking hard. I'll get on it.

  • Where is chapter 3, guys? You gotta bang out one a month or you'll never finish!

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