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The Pitchfork 500 Analysis: Chapter I

January 16th, 2009 Posted in Music, Personal, Site Info

As many of you know, I received the Pitchfork 500 from my parents as a Hanukkah gift, and it has since sparked a number of reactions from my various friends, ranging from grudging respect (John Collins) to genuine irritation (Stromberg). Soon after I started perusing the book, I had the idea of listening to every song while reading the associated blurb, so I decided to do just that. When I told my friends about my plan, Jesse, in particular, was intrigued, and last week he purchased the book himself and decided to do the same thing. Which brings us to yesterday, when I received the following email:

From: Jesse Steinchen <******@hotmail.com>
To: Jake <*******@redlightbandits.com>
Subject: Pitchfork 500: Chapter 1 Review
Date: Thu, 15 Jan 2009 03:16:56 -0800

While I not interested in hanging out and listening to these tracks with you, I am interested in talking about them.  I have listed:

1. My top 5 Least Favorite Tracks in Chapter 1
2. My top 5 Favorite Tracks I Had Not Heard Before in Chapter 1
3. My top 5 Favorite Tracks I Had Heard Before in Chapter 1

You should too.

Least Favorite Tracks:

“Atomic” Blondie.  I have never liked Blondie — I have always found them soulless to me, which is strange, given the amount of robotic krautrock I love.  But for some reason, their attempts at being robotic leave me cold, the same way Friedlander tells Tracy about porn with videogames, as breaking that barrier he’s talking about.

“I Will Survive” Gloria Gaynor. Granted, this is an important song.  I have heard it too many times.  Like railroad tracks that have been burned into my brain, I can’t stand it anymore!  Which is weird, because I have heard “Just What I Needed” 100 times more, and I still like it.

“Flash Light” Parliament.  I have never gotten into Parliament.  Maybe it’s because their album covers look so ugly to me, so unorganized.  I just get bored of this repeating party rhythm line.  Again, strange, because I LOVE the Donna Summer song.  There’s a line in Lawrence of Arabia where a reporter asks Lawrence why he likes the desert so much and he says “It’s clean.”  The funk and repetition in Donna Summer sound so CLEAN to me.  Parliament just sounds dirty, and gross.  Am I a fascist?

“Got To Give It Up” Marvin Gaye.  Now I do like some Marvin Gaye, and as much as the writer talks about the “monster groove” of this song, I just find the whole thing too long and boring, the Benjamin Button of Grooves if you will.  Maybe it’s all those party noises in the background.  Dirty again.

“Human Fly” The Cramps.  This is hard – I don’t have anything against the Cramps, really.  But this revisionism falls flat with me if I don’t care about the original inspirations in the first place.  Something about the 50s, the retro, that whole time period, well, it bores the crap out of me.  Also, I have stated before : all the blues derivative rock songs like the Psychotic Reaction stuff on Nuggets I didn’t care about , I liked all the pop stuff.  Lester Bangs was wrong. I can’t stand the rocking blues.

Favorite Tracks I Had Not Heard Before: [of 22 tracks total]
 ”I Feel Love” Donna Summer.  Why haven’t I heard this before?  I must have been under a rock.  It makes me think: I want to make a giant beautiful science fiction film based on the French comics of Moebius and have this be the end theme song.  I love the repetition of these synths: it’s why I love Eno and Cluster and all that stuff.

“The Chase” Georgio Moroder.  Yeah, yeah – basically the same thing as the previous. I guess Stromberg and Keith know where’s it at with their Moroder-love.  I think I love it too.  I just find those synths mesmerizing, so Nausicaa to me.

“Wuthering Heights” Kate Bush.  I only have two of Kate’s albums, and not this one.  It’s a great song, what more can I say?

“Don’t Leave Me This Way” Thelma Houston. Not so crazy about the shouting chorus, but the chord changes combined with the melody for the verses are so good, it makes up for it.

“There But For the Grace of God Go I” Machine.  Such a weird song to me, but I love the strange forced melody of the main lyric over the song, along with the odd “sneers” of the singer, well, it makes this such a cool song for me.

** Honorary Notice.  I love the The Congos “Fisherman” song.

Top 5 Favorite Songs of The Ones I Had Heard Before:

“Outdoor Miner”  Wire.  One of my favorite songs of all time maybe.  After the Pulses had first started playing, when we had really short songs, someone recommended I listen to Wire.  I did, getting Pink Flag, and thinking, Oh, yeah, I can see why I should listen to this.  We kinda are writing songs like this.  And then I heard this song on Chairs Missing and I thought if I could write one song like this, ever, then I could die.

“Ex Lion Tamer” Wire. Boring choice, huh?  This song seems like it was so easy to write, so easy to play.  But no one else though of it.  It’s funny because I don’t worship everything Wire did on those first three albums, some of it I just plain don’t like.  But some songs…

“Disorder” Joy Division.  I will admit to you: I only own the first Joy Division album and I have never really listened to it in full.  But I have listened to this song and that so far seems all I need.  So great.

“The Passenger” iggy Pop. Yes, I have heard this a million times.  But it still sounds amazing to me.

“Don’t Fear the Reaper”. Blue Oyster Cult.  I know, I know.  This has been heard a gazillion times!  But it still casts a spell over me.  Which is kinda amazing.

NOW YOU.

OK, so I don’t have a clue what that first part about not wanting to hang out with me means (I can only assume he’s trying to say that he doesn’t want to hang out at my apartment while we listen to each song one by one), but the list itself is interesting. Jesse and I differ on our positions on blues, but that’s a long-running war; my main points of contention have to do with Blondie and Parliament being on the shit list. I can’t argue with much else here. Regardless, I’ve been called out, so I here now present my same lists, in no particular order:

Jake’s Review of the Pitchfork 500
Chapter I: 1977-1979


Least Favorite Tracks in This Chapter

Brian Eno – “1/1″

Yes, I know this song invented a genre. Yes, I know it was never intended to be listened to attentively. Yes, I get it. This was still one of the worst listening experiences I’ve ever had; seventeen minutes of earth-shaking, skull-crushing boredom.

Gloria Gaynor – “I Will Survive”

I don’t hate it, but I would be completely thrilled to live the rest of my life without ever EVER hearing it again. Everyone doing this at karaoke: enough. Just stop.

Lee Perry – “Roast Fish and Cornbread”

Yes, um… terribly sorry to interject, Mr. Scratch, but is there a reason why you’re holding a pillow over the microphone while we’re rolling tape? It really is causing the board engineer quite a bit of bother. Oh, and if you don’t mind, might you escort these cows from the studio, please? We have a strict “no pets” policy, and they seem to have taken to shitting on the soundproof foam floors.  Much obliged.

This Heat – “24 Track Loop”

Yawn.

Steely Dan – “Deacon Blues”

Sorry, P-fork… I don’t buy your idea that this is biting, self-aware douchebaggery. I think it’s just regular douchebaggery.
P.S. This song is how not to do sax.

Best Tracks I Had Never Heard [of 28 total]

X-Ray Spex – “Oh Bondage! Up Yours!”

How have I never heard this before? I’ve even heard it sampled in Girl Talk. Great intensity, great sax, great song.
P.S. The Girl Talk song that samples it is “Smash Your Head” off Night Ripper
P.P.S This song is how to do sax.

Magazine – “Shot by Both Sides”

My first impression of this track was that I could almost hear these guys just going through the motions; the song feels sluggish. It didn’t matter; the slight flange on the guitar and the ascending scale were so infectious that I was hooked as soon as I heard that chorus. But here’s the interesting thing: I soon realized that the Buzzcocks song “Lipstick” (a song I’ve heard many times before) shares that same chorus, and I doubt that song even cracks my top 5 onSingles Going Steady. Apparently, the flat verses are what makes the chorus pop. Whatever, it works.

The Congos – “Fisherman”

If musical genres were people, and sound was attractiveness, and reggae looked like this, I’d want to fuck reggae.

Goblin – “Suspira (Main Title)”

Weird and great and creepy and awesome.  Stromberg apparently loves these guys; I need to get some of their records. He said to start with the Suspiria soundtrack.

The Records – “Starry Eyes”

My soft spot for power-pop comes through here.  I’m obsessed with these guitar lines; I want to play guitar like this. Just a great pop song.

Best Tracks I Had Already Heard

Chic – “Good Times”

The other day at work we were trying to name candidates for the most universally likeable track ever recorded.  My suggestion: it’s between this and Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough”, which is coincidentally also on the 500.  Do you know anyone who doesn’t like this song?  This bass line is an institution. “Boys will be boys, better let them have their toys / Girls will be girls, cute pony tails and curls / Must put an end to this stress and strife / I think I want to live the sporting life”. Yeah, me too.

Wire – “Outdoor Miner”

What can I say; it’s perfect and beautiful and biting and catchy and forceful all the same time.  I could probably set this on repeat for an hour, which is not something I can say about very many tracks.  Those first three Wire albums amaze me; when you listen to them consecutively you can hear the arc of their experimentation, but it’s always grounded; always wrapped around a chewy nougat center of that distinct Wire sound. Songs and records like this don’t come along often.

Clash – “Guns of Brixton”

Having been a teenager who thought the center of the punk rock universe was a warehouse Gilman street, the first time I listened to London Calling, I immediately thought to myself, “How are these guys a punk rock band?”  Turns out my instincts were right; as punk as the Clash might have been, I’m old enough now to recognize that London Calling is not a punk rock record, and how these guys managed to fool a bunch of Minor Threat fans into listening to reggae is beyond me.  Oh wait, I know how they did it… by recording an incredible fucking reggae song.

Kate Bush – “Wuthering Heights”

After I listened to this one I had to go back and listen to my Kate records. Melody, melody, melody. And that voice.

Fleetwood Mac – “The Chain”

When I was about 8, my parents took me on a long car trip. They put Rumours on the stereo, and they left it on repeat. Hours later, I got out of the car, determined never to hear it again (when Clinton picked “Don’t Stop” as his campaign song in 1992, I saw red). I’ve since come around. “The Chain” is my favorite Fleetwood Mac song and one of my favorites of all time.  Best parts; during the chorus when they sing “I can still hear you saying” and there’s the falsetto reverb repetition of that line, and the intense solo and breakdown at the end. What’s that you say, you don’t like blues? Go fuck yourself.
P.S. This is also great.

So that’s it! Stay tuned for Chapter II, which covers the birth of hip hop.

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  • Jake knows what he is talking about, especially on Eno, Steely Dan and Fleetwood Mac (I'll forgive the misses on Kate Bush and Scratch Perry).

    Jesse, on the other hand, doesn't have a clue. Giorio Moroder, Jesse? Really?

    (I just finished blogging chapter 1 of the PF500 on my site above).

  • jake

    Jesse will love that; Popeye is one of his favorite movies of all time.

  • "Wuthering Heights" by Kate Bush is great ... but when I see that video, I can't help but think of Shelley Duval and the exaggerated looks of distress she gave in one of the greatest films of all time: Popeye. Random, I know ... but that's where my mind goes.

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