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Top 5 Albums I Love But Used to Hate

There are certain records that seem almost like wine or whisky -- the first time you hear them there's something off putting about them. They grate, they annoy, they make you hate the artist who recorded them -- they can even make you hate the person who introduced you to the record in the first place, at least while the damn thing is playing. Put them away, though, and let them age, then bring them back out a few years later (hell, maybe even fifteen or twenty years later) and suddenly this album that you couldn't bear listening to is pure genius and you wonder what it was that made you hate it so all those years back. Here's my list of my favorite of those albums:

1. Public Image, Ltd. Second Edition
I wish I could say that I'd been a cool high school kid who went around listening to Second Edition while everyone else bopped their heads to Huey Lewis, but I can't. I'd listened to PiL before -- they were my favorite band, in fact. I'd even loved their supposedly unlistenable Flowers of Romance. So when I got this double LP I was nearly beside myself in anticipation with the aural delights I was about to hear. Instead, what I heard was dull, repetitive bass lines, guitar parts that seemed to veer off on tangents that shouldn't be there, and the horrible caterwauling of John Lydon. I listened to it a few times then stuck it in my record collection where it sat untouched for years. Then, a couple years back, I pulled it out again, just to see if it really was as god-awful as I'd remembered, and a funny thing happened -- the dull, plodding bass became a thundering foundation upon which the guitar was free to clash and twist or shimmer upon, while the whiny drone of John Lydon became a voice in the darkness guiding you through shadows into corners and closed doors. And when that happened, this record didn't leave my turntable for a month.

2. Hüsker Dü, Land Speed Record
Again, a band I loved. My mom gave this record to me for Christmas when I was sixteen or seventeen, and my best friend was jealous when she did because we'd both heard how fantastic is was. Then I played it. And, dear god. It was two long songs, one on each side. I couldn't understand a word anyone was saying. I couldn't hear notes. Or a rhythm. Or anything, really, except a buzzing guitar and crashing drums that seemed to have nothing to do with the music being played. I put the record on a tape with a bunch of other records and I stuck the tape in the car. Almost each time I played the tape and it got to Land Speed Record, I'd fast-forward past it (unless I was driving through my hometown of Cheshire and I'd roll down the windows of my Chevette and crank it as loud as it would go just to annoy anyone nearby). But then I started to make out the notes, and the rhythms, and the harmonies, and though I still couldn't understand much of what the band was saying it didn't matter because I was hooked. I don't know if I'd say it was Blue Öyster Cult on amphetamine like Mike Watt has described it, but it really doesn't matter because it's one of the few hardcore records I can put on today and still enjoy.

3. The Modern Lovers, The Modern Lovers
In college I had a roommate from the Boston area who was obsessed with Jonathan Richman. Lord knows why, because all I heard was a guy who couldn't sing and who could barely play guitar. My roommate would play "I'm Straight" and I'd bury my head under a pillow wondering if this was some sort of torture he'd devised to get revenge on me for asking him to wash his dishes. Several years later, I heard Jonathan on the radio. I don't know if it was because I was feeling homesick for New England, or if it was something else, but there was something in the sincerity of Jonathan's ineptness that struck a chord with me. I wanted to cruise past the Stop & Shop with my radio on and declare in a nasally voice that I'm not stoned like Hippy Johnny. I wanted to be dignified and old and walk past the Fenway wishing for a girlfren. Jonathan had finally won me over.

4. Talking Heads, More Songs About Buildings and Food
I was fifteen and working as an assistant editor on Psychos in Love when Gorman, the director of the film, played this record for me. All summer long, he and my friend Matt and I had been exchanging records. Sometimes (like us with Hüsker Dü and he with the Jam) there was success. Other times, like with this god-awful record, there was not. Why did I hate this record? Well, part of it was that it was a dance record, and being a hardcore punk rocker in 1986, for me, meant thinking that anything even remotely danceable was complete and utter crap. But there was something more that I couldn't quite put a finger on. I tried listening to this one many years later when I picked it up at a used record store, and it still did nothing for me. Then I bought a new record cleaner and started slowly but methodically going through my collection with it. When I got to MSABAF, I put it on, and was shocked when instead of a clinically cold guitars like I'd remembered, I heard a skiffling drum and riffing guitar that stuttered along beneath David Byrne's spasmodic voice. I felt something grab at my chest and pull me and implore me to jerk and gyrate and hop to this beat. And then, before I knew it, I was.

5. Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band, Trout Mask Replica
Trout Mask Replica is notorious for driving it's listeners away, and I knew this going in. I'd already listened to a few other Beefheart records and I thought I knew what I was getting into, but when I put the needle to the vinyl, there was nothing that could have prepared me for what I heard. The music wasn't just oddly rhythmic, it was arrhythmic. Not one instrument or voice seemed to have any clue as to what the other instruments or voices were playing, and Captain Beefheart himself would start and stop and restart lyrics in mid-sentence and song because he hadn't gotten it quite right at first. In between songs were these weird utterances about the mascara snake. The record was as appealing as the dead carp Don Van Vliet wore on the cover. The record was wrong. Horribly, horribly wrong. But I couldn't give up on it because I'd read too many praises of it, and I was sure there must be something I was missing. I pulled it out again on a bright winter afternoon and slapped it on the turntable. Then I lay on the couch and listened to it as it played, trying to let go my preconceptions of what a record or a song should be. And as I did, I realized I'd been wrong about the record's arrhythmic quality. It wasn't that there was no rhythm -- it was just that the rhythm was quite unlike anything I'd heard before or was used to. And with that the rest of the album started to fall into place, and even if it didn't make sense in a traditional sense of the word, it made sense in its own logic. If that makes any sense.
janradder: (Default)
Top 5 Worst Christmas Songs Ever
They are the songs that each year make you question your belief in God and the goodwill of humankind. They are the songs that had Ebenezer Scrooge had them at his disposal, would have enabled him to turn every one of his relatives, acquaintances, and business associates against the Spirits of Christmas Past, Present and Future -- yes, even Tiny Tim. Without further ado, cover your ears and shut your eyes -- here are the worst Christmas songs ever.

1. "Wonderful Christmas Time," Paul McCartney
One of pop music's laziest songwriters writes one of the most horrid holiday songs of all time. Despite his insistence that we're "simply having a wonderful Christmas time" (and he insists it again and again and again and again and again and again, ad infinitum), with this as your Christmas soundtrack, your Christmas time will be anything but. Listen and weep, for upon hearing it once, it shall be stuck in your head for now and evermore.

2. "Funky, Funky Xmas," New Kids on the Block
Just by the album's cover you know it's gotta be both fun and funky, right? Wrong. Very, very wrong.

3. "Happy Holidays," Andy Williams
Because the abomination that is Andy Williams is a gift that keeps on giving, it's hard to pick just one Andy Williams Christmas song for this list. This takes the title if only because of that droning, tuneless "Happy Holidays" that both starts and ends this horrible Christmas dirge.

4. "Carol of the Bells/ Jingle Bells," Barry Manilow
As with Andy Williams, there is a special place reserved in hell for Mr. Barry Manilow, and his contributions to the Catalog of Christmas Bad Cheer are bountiful. Here, Barry decides to step away from his comfort zone of all-things-bland and "jazz" up his take on this Christmas staple with something that might be either his attempt rapping or a sort of homage to Twiki from Buck Rogers and the 25th Century. Here it is, accompanied by a tap dancing mother and son.

5. "Feliz Navidad," Celine Dion
Looking for a way to suck all the joy and Christmas spirit out of room? Celine is more than happy to oblige. "Okay! Let's do it!"
janradder: (Default)
Top 5 Non-traditional Christmas Songs

1. "Just Like Christmas," Low
Between the jingling bells, the loud booming drums and chugging acoustic guitar, I can't help but feel happy each time I hear this song.

2. "Snoopy's Christmas," The Royal Guardsmen
I had this song on a Peter Pan 45 and listened to it over and over again. Even so, it was always a thrill to hear it on the radio each year.

3. "Father Christmas," The Kinks
The best rock-n-roll Christmas song ever. And socially conscious to boot.

4. "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)," The Chipmunks
According to Dr. Demento, Ross Bagdasarian, Sr. (aka Dave Seville) wrote this song when a Christmas display went up in his town a couple months early and his kids started freaking out in anticipation of December 25th. Whether that's true or not, having my own five year old who's been on the verge of exploding with excitement for Christmas since the middle of August, I can totally understand.

5. "O Holy Night," Unknown
Forgive me for this one. I know it's a traditional Christmas carol, it's just that this version is so damn beautiful it makes me cry each time.
janradder: (Default)
Top 5 Underground LP Covers from the 80's

Back in the day before before underground music was anything but, sometimes the only thing you knew about a band before you bought their record was the picture on the front. There was no internet to look bands up on and no local radio station spinning their songs (except maybe that college signal that only came in on your receiver on Tuesday afternoons at 3 PM when it was snowing and the moon was out), so unless your friend had already bought the LP, you flipped through stacks of vinyl at the record store literally judging the contents by their cover. With that in mind, here's my top five all indie record sleeves.

1. Black Flag, Damaged
They sound almost quaint now but in 1985, when I first heard them, I'd never realized that music could sound that angry, alive or frightening, nor that it could capture exactly how I felt at that moment in my life. The cover of this album, showing a pissed off Henry Rollins putting his fist through a mirror, captures that feeling perfectly.

2. Angry Samoans, Back From Samoa
A man in a rubber monster suit, a severed head, and squadron of WWII fighter planes soaring through the sunset -- what more could you ask for in the cover of a record that clocks in at a little over fifteen minutes and features songs like "My Old Man's a Fatso" and "They Saved Hitler's Cock."

3. Hüsker Dü, New Day Rising
A pair of dogs wade through the waters of Bare-Ass Beach in Minneapolis as a setting black sun shines down on them in the distance. The sonic assault of Hüsker Dü that lies therein matches that negative image of the skyline exactly -- stark, shocking, and intense, yet someone how vaguely familiar.

4. The Replacements, Let it Be
Four scruffy joes in Chucks sitting on a Minneapolis rooftop. The word iconic is used often and usually incorrectly, but if any album cover from the 80's deserves the title iconic, this is it. That the record in the sleeve is arguably the best of the band's career is not surprising in the least -- with a cover this good, it has to be.

5. The Minutemen, Double Nickels on the Dime
That the joke intended through the title and the cover is completely lost on most (it was making fun of Sammy Hagar's "I Can't Drive 55" -- full story here) really doesn't matter. Mike Watt's smiling eyes look back at you from the rearview mirror of his VW bug, inviting you to ride along with the band. And though the car's speedometer may read fifty-five leading you to think this might just be another typical drive, it's those eyes that promise to take you on a trip down side-roads and alleys you never knew existed.
janradder: (watt)
Top 5 Shows I've Seen

Inspired by this recent entry by [livejournal.com profile] joelarnold, I thought I'd make my own list of the best shows I've seen.

1. Hüsker Dü at the Ritz, NYC (October 17, 1987)
The only reason I remember the exact date was that it was Bob Mould's birthday. They opened with "New Day Rising" and went straight into "Girl Who Lives on Heaven Hill." Bob looked like he was going to fly of the stage the way he lunged and lurched, pulled along by his Flying V, as a barefoot Grant screamed and pounded his drums and Greg bounced around wearing a Twins cap (it was the first night of the World Series, and the band didn't go on until they'd watched the Twins defeat the cards in Game 1). The two highlights of the night were "Divide and Conquer," which they closed their first set with, and "Keep Hanging On," which they started their last encore with (you can hear it on the live cd, The Living End). As they started playing the latter song, Grant yelled out, "Happy Birthday, Bob!" and a shower of silver confetti sailed through the air, catching the light as it sparkled and glimmered to the floor and surrounded a beatifically smiling Bob in a sea of glittering stars. Twenty-two years later, this is still the best show I've ever seen by any band, bar none.

2. Uncle Tupelo at the CBGB's Record Store Annex, NYC (Fall, 1989)
Grant Hart was supposed to play this show but pulled out at the last minute. I didn't find that out until the day of the show, though, after my friend Matt had travelled from Connecticut to see him. With nothing else to do, we went to the show anyway. It was part of the yearly CMJ music festival and because of that, each show was filled with a ton of artists. This one happened to be kind of lame, with Roger Manning (the anti-folk singer, which meant that he played folk music with an acoustic guitar but did it loudly) and John Wesley Harding (whose stage presence made up for the mediocrity of his songs -- he really was quite funny). Now in New York, there are warm-up bands just like everywhere else, but if you stay after the headliner, you'll usually see the warm-down band. In some cases, it's a lame little known band that you'd just as soon forget. In other cases, it's a band destined for something better than a 3 am time slot in a tiny club. When Uncle Tupelo came out, we expected to see crap. After all, they had no records, were from Missouri or Illinois or some other fly-over state, and they had a really dumb name. But goddamn could they rock. I'd never heard anything quite like them, and though they only played to a handful of us, they left it all out on the stage that night. Afterward, my friend and I went to talk to them (all right -- we went to rant and rave to them about how awesome they were) and were doubly surprised by how nice they were. A year later, we saw them in Amherst, Mass. where they got my friend in for free because he'd left his ID at home and dedicated the set to him.

3. Butthole Surfers at the Lyric, NYC (Spring, 1990)
I saw them twice, and though the first show featured Gibby nearly setting fire to the ceiling of the Ritz (after the band had lit a total of nine guitars on fire and then promptly smashed each and every one), this one stands out more to me. Maybe it was the fact that they were playing in Times Square (before it had been cleaned up) or maybe it was the right combination of chemicals that night, but the show was one of the most organic, surreal experiences I've had. The highlight of the night was "Sweat Loaf" where instead of the "What does regret mean?" intro, Gibby ranted about how much he loved Pat Sajak and then a giant image of the Wheel of Fortune host flashed on the giant movie screen behind them, over and over.

4. Mission of Burma at First Avenue, Minneapolis (Fall 2002)
There are some bands who get back together after twenty years and when you go to see them, you think maybe they should have stayed broken up. This was most definitely not true of MoB. Yes, they played "That's When I Reach for My Revolver" and "Fame and Fortune." Yes, it was amazing to hear those songs and others played live. No, it was not a nostalgia trip -- they sounded as fresh and vibrant as any new band out there. For me, the highlight of the night was when they came out for an encore and started with "The Ballad of Johnny Burma." It felt like the band literally picked me up off my feet and threw me into a crowd of pogoers. It's one of the best music moments I've had this decade.

5. Delta Spirit at 7th Street Entry, Minneapolis (Winter 2009)
I almost didn't get to see this band because it was sold out five minutes after the doors opened (note to self: buy tickets in advance from now on). I walked around and rode light rail for about an hour and a half and then came back, hoping there might be some left over tickets because the woman at the door said there might. There weren't, but there was a group with an extra ticket who sold it to me, and I'm eternally grateful they did. The band was the pure essence of rock and roll is and can be -- shouting, yelling, rolling on the floor, jumping, lunging, screaming. The show ended with the singer jumping into the audience and grabbing people to get them to dance with him. As the PA came on playing someone else's song, he was still there, jumping and shouting in a throng of show-goers who'd just witnessed the promise of musical salvation.
janradder: (axe man)
Top 5 Favorite Candy Bars
With Halloween tomorrow, I thought I'd make a list of my favorite candy bars from when I was a kid.

1. Mounds/Almond Joys
I always think of them together (because sometimes you feel like a nut and sometimes you don't). Maybe it's because I used to get them for free from my uncle who worked at Peter Paul (though I can't say the same about York Peppermint Patties, which I also got in abundance), but I loved these candy bars with a passion. Lots of people have problems with coconut but as for me I couldn't get enough.

2. Marathon Bar
I don't think they make these anymore but if memory serves they were something like a foot long piece of chocolate covered caramel. Aside from how delicious they were, they'd last forever -- something every kid looks for in a candy bar.

3. Charlston Chew
Yet another entry under the enormous candy bar bar category, the best way to eat these was to stick them in the freezer, wait a few hours, then take then out and whack them on a counter. When you finally opened the wrapper you found tiny bits of frozen candy that would melt in your mouth. Vanilla was good, and so was chocolate, but my favorites were the strawberry ones.

4. Sugar Daddy
If Marathon Bars lasted forever, Sugar Daddies lasted forever plus an eternity. If you were foolish enough to bite off a chunk of one of these, you could be stuck for days trying to get it out of your teeth. Eat it like a lollipop, however, and you'd found heaven.

5. Bit-o-Honey
Similar to Mary Jane's but without the peanut butter, I got hooked on these at the movie theater. I still have no idea why. They're little pieces of crappy candy, but for one long year they were the most delectable bites of pure joy.
janradder: (Default)
Top Five Chee-Z TeeVee Ads

Yeah, there's been lots of cheesy ads on TV, but these are the ultra-low budget "As Seen On TV" ones that that you got to see over and over and over again until they'd wormed their way into all of our collective brains.

1. The Ginsu Knife
Timex may have taken a licking but kept on ticking, but could it also make decorative vegetables? If you were looking for a knife that could slice through a tin can and chop wood without ever losing its razor sharp edge, this was it. "Now how much would you pay for it?"

2. Mr. Microphone
My sister wanted this gift more than anything in the world. Unfortunately, when she finally got it there were no parties to liven up, no good lookin' girls to pick up, and no professional musicians to amplify, so it quickly found a spot in her closet where it slowly gathered dust.

3. The Chia Pet
Did you ever get one of these? If you did, you'd have seen that due to non-uniform seed germination, every Chia Pet in existence had mange. Sad, yet slightly disgusting.

4. The Clapper
Go ahead -- try to get that damn song out of your head now. I dare you.

5, Life Call
Possibly the most unintentionally funny ad ever.
janradder: (Default)
Top 5 Favorite Toys

1.  Mego Superheroes
By far the toys I played with most during my childhood.  Most of them had lost legs, capes, boots, gloves, and even costumes long ago but I still loved them n spite of their pathetic state.  For whatever reason, almost all of the stories I created with them involved one of them dying and the rest of the superheroes trying to figure out which one of them was the murderer.

2.  U.S.S. Enterprise playset
Kirk's bridge chair was cool and the bridge furniture, as was the fact that you could use the playset as a carrying case for all your toys.  But, by far, the most amazing thing about this toy was the transporter -- strap any 8" doll into it, give it a spin, then press a button and watch it stop on a dime just like magic. Thirty years later, I can still remember the thrill of watching that transporter whirl.

3.  Steve Austin:  The Six Million Dollar Man
Push a button on the back and you could crank his bionic arm over his head.  Look through the back of his head and you could gaze through Steve Austin's bionic eye.  Roll the skin on his bionic arm back and you revealed all the bionic chips (that you could remove and lose moments later!).  And he could kick Mod Hair Ken's sorry ass in a heartbeat.

4.  Mod Hair Ken
With his hair sticking straight up in the air, how could he not be a loser?  Technically he was my sister's doll, but I probably playd with him just as much as she did.  In the Ken universe my sister and I created, Mod Hair Ken was a polygamist who kept a harem of Barbies at his beck and call (he later tried unsuccessfully to bring Princess Lea and Dorothy Hamill into his fold).  Ken routinely had coniption fits in which he announce he was about to die, then  dramatically call out  the name of  Connecticut's governor, Ella Grasso.  When my sister got Superstar Ken for Christmas, she promised that he was going to be a good Ken.  That lasted all of one day when Superstar Ken discovered he was Mod Hair Ken's idiot son.

5.  Hugo, Man of a Thousand Faces
I didn't discover this toy until I was in high school when my father's then wife brought a bunch of her old childhood toys to his house.  Seeing this freakish bald guy, I swiped him, and my friend and I made him a star of our dumb movies (we even wrote a song about him).   With the camera rolling, we squashed Hugo's head, subjected him to alien death rays, played the drums with him, threw him from one end of the basement to the other, and even (much to [livejournal.com profile] haddayr 's disgust) licked his head.  If you want, you too can play Hugo.  

janradder: (watt)
Top 5 Favorite Replacements Songs

About a week ago a friend asked me if I would help co-produce a documentary about the Replacements and their fans called Color Me Obsessed. Because of that, I thought I'd do a list of my favorite Mats songs.

1. "Color Me Impressed"
It's not the first Replacements song I ever heard, but it's the first one that really stuck with me. It sounds like it should be an anthem, but between the sloppy guitars and drums and the sense of pathetic despair that Paul gives the lyrics, it's like an anthem to lingering despondency. Still, it never fails to quicken my heartbeat at the first sound of that fuzzy guitar intro.

2. "Unsatisfied"
I'm not sure if I've ever heard a song that better puts that feeling of indescribable restlessness and unease to music. At the same time, there's an unshakeable beauty to the song's malaise that keeps pulling me back to it, along with the sense that in spite of how bad things might get for the singer, he'll keep going on because there's nothing else he can do.

3. "Kids Don't Follow"
The song where the Mats try to out-Hüsker the Hüskers and pretty much succeed. That screaming guitar intro counterbalanced with that thumping bass line pounds away like a throng of punks swirling and slamming through a pit of humanity and sweat. The Replacements were never a hardcore band, but you wouldn't know it from this song.

4. "Go"
Another track off the Stink EP ("Kids Don't Follow being the other"). It has some of Bob Stinson's most inspired guitar work as well as one of Paul Westerberg's most anguished vocal deliveries. The bridge where Paul almost seems to plead with the woman/girl he's singing about to "stay and close your eyes" is simply beautiful, and it makes the return to the chorus that much more breathtakingly beautiful.

5. "Johnny's Gonna Die"
This song is here simply because it has my favorite Bob Stinson solo. The way Bob moves from that two note hammer that flutters through the ether into a grinding, raunchy lead never fails to hit me in the gut. And it does that because the juxtaposition of the two is so unexpected and out of the blue. It's the sort of thing that could only be done by someone who didn't give a shit or who just didn't know enough about music to know you aren't supposed to mix genres or moods like that. Some people called Stinson an idiot savant on the guitar and maybe he was, or maybe he just wanted people to think that. Either way, he was a hell of a guitar player and the Mats were never the same after he left.
janradder: (Default)
Top 5 Kid's Show Theme Songs:

For me, these are the songs that immediately transport me back to Saturday mornings when school was just a rumor and weekday afternoons when homework may have beckoned but would instead languish forgotten in my backpack. Here they are, in no particular order.

1. Scooby Doo: Where Are You?
From the opening sound of screeching bats and that groovy drum fill, to the bubblegum vocals and a rhythm track lifted straight from "In the Midnight Hour," there's not another cartoon intro that says to me Crappy-early-seventies-animation better (and I mean that in a good way).

2. The Adventures of Fat Albert
Being one of the last cartoons of the morning, this was perhaps the one I looked forward to most if only because of this song (and Russell putting down Rudy). With that bouncing beat, that "Hey, Hey, Hey!" and that funky organ, I was hooked from the first note. The "Nah-nah-nah's" at the end were to me like a seven-year-old's "Hey Jude." Go ahead -- try not to sing along.

3. The Lone Ranger
The William Tell Overture? Nah -- it's the Lone Ranger! "A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust, and a hearty 'Hiyo Silver!'-- the Lone Ranger." Ah, my pulse still quickens whenever I hear those horns.

4. Batman
How many kids haven't run around singing the Batman song? It's iconic -- even the Who and the Jam both covered it. In many ways, the actual show was almost a letdown after the opening credits, but then how could anyone actually live up to the excitement generated by a Peter Gunn-like theme whose only lyrics were "Batman" sung over and over? (And for those who may not know, the song's composer, Neil Hefti, also the theme song for The Odd Couple.)

5. Land of the Lost
It's hard to choose one favorite out of all of Sid and Marty Krofft's shows, but this would have to be the one(sorry Bugaloos and H.R. Pufnstuf). I mean, it's got a banjo, for crying out loud, and to paraphrase Steve Martin -- how can you not be happy when you hear a banjo?

So -- what are your favorites?


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