It's not a stretch to state it's extremely difficult to find rock music better than what you'll discover on The Kink Kronikles.

Pay respect to Queens and Kinks through the magic of iTunes


All right, inspiration has struck, via a live version of Oasis’ excellent “Go Let it Out,” so I’m going to run through 10 tracks, stream-of-conscious style, and let you know my likely controversial take on them all…

Well, to be honest, it will unlikely be controversial. After all, this is my iTunes with my songs. There certainly aren't many in there that I don’t like. That would just be silly. Still, I’m always interested in what I will have to say about any given artist or band at any given time, even if no one else is. So let’s see where a computer program's random dealings will take my brain.

1. Queens of the Stone Age — “Tangled up in Plaid”: An auspicious beginning, to say the least! Lullabies to Paralyze launched itself into my All-Time-Top-10-Records list more or less within a week of its release in 2005. It was my favorite album of the year (in a year with a few incredible albums), and it remains my favorite Queens album to this day. This song perfectly captures everything that Josh Homme and company do well: tight, crunchy riffs, pounding rhythm, and just the right touch of doom and gloom to keep things suitably creepy and interesting. Homme’s echoed vocals coming out of the chorus serve to illustrate this well. And the message, in general, of keeping someone forever by any means necessary certainly carries a certain amount of darkness with it.

2. Pearl Jam — “Do the Evolution”: A live version from their third show of their 2000 tour, from San Sebastian, Spain. I love the 2000 tour, and definitely the European shows, as they all pre-date the Roskilde disaster that changed the energy of the band forever. Here, as is evidenced by this version, they still have that sense of reckless abandon that fueled some of their best records and shows. They’re still great now, of course, but that event and the time that’s followed has certainly worked to mellow them into a still-rocking, but much more professional band. There’s a polish that’s missing here, and I count that as a plus. This show also features, as memory serves, a hilarious moment where they completely lose each other and commit manslaughter on an attempt of “Alive.” Afterwards, Ed jokes to the crowd that they’ll kill anyone in the crowd who mentions this later. My nerdyness is showing, so I’ll move on now.

3. The Who — “Rael 1”: From their much-underrated The Who Sell Out album, the Who take their second attempt at a longer-format song, one that will further a story in the space of the music. The first was the famous “A Quick One, While He’s Away,” which told the story of a wife missing her husband, fooling around with Ivor on the side, feeling remorse, and reconciling with her husband when he returns from wherever he was to begin with. “Rael 1” and “Rael 2” are about … well, to be honest, I’m not sure. It’s a good listen, with cool strums and Keith Moon bashing away, but I’ve never actually sat down and studied the lyrics. I do remember that, at the end, the listener is treated to the famous chord progression of Tommy’s “Sparks,” and that this wrapped up the original vinyl version of Sell Out perfectly. But … I can’t tell you what it all means. Maybe I could have if I wasn’t typing so furiously through the track and instead listening intently. Like Sarah Palin, I’ll have to get back to you with an answer. Also like Ms. Palin, I probably never will. (SCATHING POLITICAL COMMENTARY: Is that lady keep-knives-away-and-small-children-at-bay insane or what?)

4. The Standells — “Dirty Water”: I’m going to type the first thing I always think when I hear this: “YES!” Nothing makes me feel as instantly wonderful as the initial notes of this song. This has become the “We Won!” anthem for my two most-beloved teams, the NHL’s Boston Bruins and baseball’s Red Sox. And it’s hilarious, especially the “frustrated women” section. But mostly, no song makes me more homesick than this classic (though Dropkick Murphys' "Shipping Up to Boston" runs a close second). It’s just so… Boston. I mean, the grimy guitar, the ‘60s backing organ, the harp solo, the sleazy vocals, it just captures everything I love about the entire state so well. Working class, don’t screw with me, turn up the game, give me a beer, let’s catch the last T ride, give me another beer, stop complaining, and, oh yes, We Won!

5. Bob Dylan — “Spanish Harlem Incident”: I’ve been listening to a lot of Bob Dylan lately in aticipation of the release of Tell Tale Signs: The Bootleg Series Vol. 8, and I think iTunes knows it. Invariably, artists I’ve been listening to most always come up early, be it on my desktop or on my iPod. Yesterday, for example, my iPod gave me three Gnarls Barkley songs in a row. I have more than 9,000 songs on my iPod, and only the 20-or-so tracks from their first two albums are on there. But I had given St. Elsewhere a spin the day before…

6. Jimmy Page and the Black Crowes — “Sick Again: In 2000, my concert life was forever changed when, as my second concert ever, I caught Jimmy Page and the Black Crowes at Great Woods, in Mansfield, Mass. I may never see Led Zeppelin, but with Chris Robinson wailing in place of Robert Plant, I was present for an amazing night of strutting and riffing. Particularly impressive that night, and on this take from their Live at the Greek album, is Steve Gorman’s drumming, an incredible impression of John Bonham that would’ve made the big man proud. Having the second and third guitars behind Page’s leads also served to make every song bigger than life. This song, first found on Zep’s 1975 masterpiece Physical Graffiti, is perfect for what the Crowes had to offer Page at the time. It’s thundering, it’s cocky and it demands your attention. At their best, that’s what Zeppelin was, too.

7. Red Hot Chili Peppers — “Stone Cold Bush”: AYE AYE AYE AYE AYE! The Chili Peppers did an amazing version of this thrash-funk classic on Saturday Night Live a long, long time ago, and that image resonates with me whenever I hear this. John Frusciante’s guitar is so edgy and cutting throughout, while Anthony Keidis is spewing the kind of immature lyrics that I love but they rarely deliver anymore as an older, wiser band. Flea’s instantly recognizable slap bass is in fine form here as well, but it all comes back to Frusciante’s guitar. He was such a wizard at such a young age, and time has not dulled the shine in the least.

8. Guided By Voices — “Look at Them”: The one aspect of Guided By Voices that I love more than any other (and there’s a lot to love about this band) is Robert Pollard’s willingness to commit every single idea that runs through his brain to tape and subsequently vinyl. Here, he’s running another set of lyrics through a repetiative chord sequence, singing in a fishbowl, with some killer distortion, um, thing running through the background, slowly building, only to stop after a little more than two minutes. This is as unrefined as it gets. Most bands would consider this a demo, but Guided By Voices has the wherewithal to just do it and move on.

9. Sonic Youth — “Bubblegum”: Added after the fact, I believe, when the CD version of EVOL came out, “Bubblegum” is anything but an after thought. It’s a great example of the transformation Sonic Youth underwent in the mid-’80s, moving from the sound-collage style of Confusion is Sex into song territory with Bad Moon Rising. This was originally a stand-alone single, and could be a cousin to the anthemic “Death Valey ’69.” Sung by Kim Gordon, featuring plenty of hooting and hollering and some truly screeching guitars. If I had to make a “hey, here’s what this band is all about” CD, this would probably have to be included, if just for how well and how quickly everything works.

10. The Kinks — “Dead End Street”: I have a lot of “mosts” in my music fandom. Most Incredible Band of the ’80s, Most Consistenly Excellent '70s Singles Band, etc., but the one I hear myself preaching often is Most Underrated Band of All Time. That would be the Kinks in a landslide, with Blind Melon and Supergrass also finding a home in the top five somewhere. “Dead End Street,” from the extended version of Face to Face, is one of many classics by the second phase of the Kinks, where they moved away from the raucous guitars of “You Really Got Me” towards the neighborhood of pure pop perfection. If you’re ever in your local CD shop or, heaven forbid, some Best Buy-type place, and you’re looking for a great new disc for the car, seek out The Kink Kronikles, a two-disc retrospective of the Kinks’ late-’60s best. No other compilation works better to distill a singular moment in a band’s career than this, and “Dead End Street” is included. If I were forced to bring only 10 CDs with me on a desert island that, for some reason, included electricity and a CD player, Kronikles would take up two of the 10 discs. And if they have a turntable, that’s even better, because vinyl rules and I have the double-record set in my collection. (I have a version on a 90-minute cassette, too…)

Thus ends our latest glimpse into my listening. Interestingly, the endless amounts of Beck I've enjoyed lately didn’t make an appearance today, nor did Oasis, Spoon, Gov’t Mule, Band of Horses or Talking Heads. Maybe they’ll factor in next time. Until then, I have made the executive decision to keep The Kink Kronikles blaring.

September 27, 2008

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