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The many sides of the blues and plenty of live tunes

By MATT BERRY
STATIC and FEEDBACK staff writer

Join me as I let iTunes determine my fate and pray to all that is holy that it doesn’t make me write for ten minutes about “Desolation Row?”

1. Pearl Jam — “Breakerfall” (Binaural): One of Pearl Jam’s best album openers, the main riff is taken not so subtly from The Who’s “I Can See For Miles.” What makes this song, though, is Stone Gossard’s 12-string guitar overlaying that riff throughout the verses. The beauty of this song is that it doesn’t ruin itself by teetering on too long. Just as it’s at the height of its intensity, it cuts off, leading us too…

2. The Black Keys — “Stack Shot Billy” (Knoxville 9/5/2005): Another in the pantheon of songs about Stagger Lee. Countless bluesmen have contributed to the legend of how Stack shot ol’ Billy Lyons in the back of the head. Some interesting versions to note here: Samuel L. Jackson’s magnificent turn in Black Snake Moan, and Nick Cave’s 1996 version, which, surprisingly, is even more vulgar than Jackson’s. I’m just waiting for Kanye West to chime in, now.

3. Red Hot Chili Peppers — “Hard to Concentrate” (Stadium Arcadium): While this album definitely suffers from Double Album Syndrome, there are several really strong tracks on there. I’m not sure I’d include this among them, but it’s a harmless enough track. There are far worse songs on Stadium Arcadium (“Charlie” instantly comes to mind). As a bare-bones organ, bass, and Frusciante clean guitar song, it succeeds. As I sit through it, though, I start to wonder if I’ve ever listened to the whole thing, because it definitely gets repetitive by the end.

4. Pearl Jam — “Education” (Columbia 6/16/2008) One of the songs which caused me to jump in excitement when they started playing it. I should take this opportunity to apologize now if this turns into a guide to the Pearl Jam bootleg experience. While I’m not yet at Nick Tavares’ level of obsession in collecting shows, I’ve got many of them in my library. It seems that every two or three songs that come up randomly are from a Pearl Jam show. But hey, at least I was at this show.

5. Neil Young — “When You Dance You Can Really Love” (After the Gold Rush): One of the best prototypical early-70s Young songs, this track has a beat very similar to “Cinnamon Girl” and many other Young hits. The backup singers also evoke memories of CSNY’s “Ohio.” In fact, that sounds like a dead ringer for David Crosby in the background. I can’t say I’ve ever heard a bad album by Uncle Neil (and no, I’ve never heard Trans), and the man’s albums consistently rank among my favorites. I may be in the minority that doesn’t think Gold Rush is his finest album, however. In fact, I’d pick a couple of other albums from the 1970s (Harvest, Zuma) as barely superior to this one.

6. Muddy Waters — “I’m Ready” (The Chess 50th Anniversary Collection): Is it a shame that most of my generation will remember this song mainly for a Viagra commercial? Such is the dilemma of being a fan of older or deceased musicians. I’m sure I’m not the only one who was repulsed to see “The Times They Are A-Changin’” used in an Adidas commercial a few years ago, or the literally countless songs by The Who that have been used in advertisements. A look at their Ultimate Collection leads one to believe that at least half their songs have been used for products as ridiculous as high powered headlights (I can see for miles, indeed).

7. The Sonics — “Village Idiot” (Here Come the Sonics!): A song so insensitive that there’s little chance even the Jerky Boys would touch it today (Did I just make a Jerky Boys reference? I need to go buy some parachute pants and a Hootie and the Blowfish record). It features someone of, well, considerably lesser intelligence singing “Jingle Bells” while being taunted by the rest of the band. Yeah, a little rough.

8. Neil Young — “Tonight’s the Night, Part II” (Tonight’s the Night): Young is at his bitter best in this ode to Bruce Berry. The band’s former roadie died, like so many around Young in the early days, of a heroin overdose. When Young says “It sent a chill up and down my spine/When I picked the phone and heard that he died/Out on the mainline,” you could pretty much substitute a dozen or so names for Berry’s and the words would ring just as true.

9. The Band — “The Weight” (Before the Flood): One of the finest songs in rock ‘n roll history, here. I’ve heard this song live hundreds of times, probably, just not by The Band. Growing up seeing local cover band Banks and Shane, friends of my parents, performing songs like this was one of the major impetuses that got me playing music in the first place. One of the first times I ever played in front of a crowd was playing the drums to “Cheeseburger in Paradise” with the band. Hey, cut me some slack on the Buffett selection, I was 10! Since then, I’ve played Zeppelin’s “Rock & Roll” and a couple of blues songs on guitar with the band, who have been nothing but essential in my growth as a music-lover.

10. The White Stripes — “Jumble Jumble” (De Stijl): One of the band’s early songs that really laid out their formula for success. They are best served when Meg is playing a pounding beat and Jack is able to use his octave pedal to provide his signature sound to the solos. I had planned to stop at ten songs, but that was just so short I’ve got to go on to one more…

11. R.L. Burnside — “Snake Drive” (Burnside on Burnside): Every time I listen to this man I instantly become depressed that I never got the chance to see him. Sure, he’s not drastically different than many old bluesmen that play at dive clubs today, but his personality, voice, and guitar tone are unique even among bluesmen. It’s an art form that may be disappearing before our very eyes. Sure, Derek Trucks, Dan Auerbach, and others may be around to keep the actual music alive, but they’re hardly a substitute. Within a few years, there may not be any old blues guitarists sitting on stools, interjecting dirty stories in between songs and playing with a guitar sound so dirty that it would shave the hair off a cat (no, I don’t know what that means, either). Instead, the Claptonization of the blues has produced a generation of technically proficient blues guitarists that are fine enough musicians, but lack that certain something. Instead, I’ll be clinging to my records by Burnside, Waters, Kimbrough and many others.

November 10, 2008

E-mail Matt Berry at matt@staticandfeedback.com

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