BEN: The term Paisley Underground carries little weight these days, but for a time in the mid-80’s, it was one of the biggest movements coming out of the Los Angeles music scene. The sound was sort of a combination of jangly psychedelic folk a’la The Byrds, mixed with a bit of dirty garage rock like Crazy Horse. Many bands would emerge from this scene, to varying degrees of success. The Bangles were unquestionably the biggest band of the scene, even though their sound eventually skewed towards pop (“Walk Like An Egyptian”) and sappy overproduced love songs (“Eternal Flame”). Other bands that had some success include The Dream Syndicate, The Three O’Clock and Opal. Opal’s guitarist and main songwriter, David Roback went on to start a folk rock duo with singer-songwriter Hope Sandoval called Mazzy Star. Eventually becoming a full-fledged band, Mazzy Star were one of the best examples of the psychedelic folk sounds that paid an homage to the 60’s, but contained a droning, darker side, owing a debt more to The Doors and Velvet Underground, rather than the Grateful Dead. Their major label debut So Tonight That I Might See is chocked full of dreamy soundscapes, droning guitars, and Hope Sandoval’s sexy yet sleepy vocals and her cryptic poetry. Listening to the band’s only hit (which really didn’t gain traction until a year after it’s release), it’s hard not to be put into a trance. “Fade Into You” is a perfect encapsulation of their sound. It’s the sound of walking down Sunset Blvd at 5am after a long night of hard partying, and dreaming of what adventures lie ahead the next night in the City of Angels.
Key lyric- “I want to hold the hand inside you. I want to take a breath that’s true.”
I’ve never heard this song. Within 20 seconds I knew I already loved it. It is a mix between a lot of things I really like. #1. I love her voice, it’s very dreamy and clear. #2. I love the production, the reverb on the guitar and drums that all seems to bleed out one side of the speakers. #3. Songs with the same chords throughout have a certain feel to them… simple and droning. I love the repeated chords until the end of the phrase where they throw in the 4 chord and bring a touch of hope into such a dreary song.
311. Weezer - “Say It Ain’t So” (1994) BEN: By 1994, the grunge sound was getting a bit tired and played out. Even though it had successfully demolished the stranglehold that 80’s glam rock had over the airwaves for about a decade, the grunge movement was ultimately a passing phase. The one thing it did do was saturate the entire decade of the 90’s with sense of aloof detachment amongst the kids. A “Hullabalooza” concert-goer from a classic episode of The Simpsons put it distinctly. When he feigned excitement over Homer’s freak show act, his friend asked him “Are you being sarcastic, dude?” His response - “I don’t even know anymore”. Yes, the 90’s were the age of irony, when insincerity meant cool. Around the time the Seattle scene was waning, and more generic knockoff bands like Bush and Seven Mary Three were making millions moping all over MTV, a new band from Southern California burst onto the scene like a breath of fresh, nerdy air. Weezer were like no other band in their time. Sure they had the sarcastic ironic thing happening, but they also did it with a knowing wink and tounge planted firmly in cheek. Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo was an unabashed fan of classic pop music, especially the sounds of The Beach Boys, The Cars and Cheap Trick. To be unabashed fans of anything in 1994 meant you were severely uncool, and the band had an outsider, nerd-like vibe right from the start, which made their brand of silly/sincere love songs completely charming. Their debut album, produced by Cars frontman Ric Ocasek was chocked full of sunny, hilarious fuzz guitar classics. There was also a darker side to Cuomo’s writing, as evidenced in “Say It Ain’t So”, a nod to growing up with alcoholism in his family. Weezer would go on to devolve into a pathetic frat house party anthem band in recent years, but in the mid 90’s their sound was fresh and exciting, and a sure-fire antidote for mid-90’s mope-rock.
Key lyric- “Somebody’s cold one is giving me chills. Guess I’ll just close my eyes”
I don’t have too many ‘childhood’ albums, but this is one of them. It was the first ‘album’ I ever loved. I was always more of a song person, but I loved every single song from front to back. This is one of the first songs that ever made me want to play the guitar. I loved the sound of the lick at the beginning. One of my favorite parts is the octave higher harmony in the verses. You gotta listen carefully for it. It is a great story song. It’s a bit sad if you really listen to what it’s about. That was the great thing about them, they could write serious songs, but still seem quirky and cool. The big choruses like this are the defining sound that inspired a lot of future pop rock/pop punk bands. I really think this is a great song.
From Lennon’s landmark album Imagine comes this sweet tale of humility and grace in the face of regret. It’s unclear exactly what John did to make Yoko cry(we can assume it’s autobiographical, given the stories of bad husbandly behavior regarding John at the time), but it’s obvious that he’s sincerely sorry. Simple and direct, the lyrics to “Jealous Guy” put John in an atypical position. Normally the tough guy with an attitude, this song reduces him to a child, begging on his knees for forgiveness. It’s a striking image. Musically, “Jealous Guy” is also simple and to the point. John plays a pretty piano lick, and the backup band that includes The Beatles’ longtime friend Klaus Voormann on bass hangs back and does their understated best. The tasteful production by the legendary Phil Spector adds just the right touches to accentuate this tender moment from the notorious firebrand who occasionally shows his soft side. A classic.
I like this song’s simplicity. A lot of the later John Lennon songs were very simple like this. They had great lyrics and very simple music usually with one ‘weird’ chord that would stick out (in a good way). The best thing about the production is that everything seems to stand on it’s own. You can clearly hear everything that is playing (unlike other Spector songs). The lyrics alone make this a good song, he can really write poignant lyrics that don’t seem to cheesy… I don’t know how he does it.
313. Simon & Garfunkel - “A Hazy Shade Of Winter” (1968)
BEN: One of Paul Simon’s finest compositions, “A Hazy Shade of Winter” comes near the end of S&G’s masterwork Bookends. Bookendsgoes in depth on the subject of aging and friendship, and “Winter” follows that theme to it’s inevitable end. The line “Look around, leaves are brown. There’s a patch of snow on the ground” seems to signify that the storyteller is getting near the end of his life and is regretting being “hard to please” in his younger days, but now it’s too late. Musically, it’s very tastefully done. Of course S&G’s harmonies are as exquisite as ever. Note the woodwinds in the verses, especially the solo clarinet. Also the main hook in Simon’s guitar line and the pulsating drums, adding to the feeling that life is fleeting so enjoy it with every heartbeat.
Key lyric: “Hang on to your hopes, my friend. That’s an easy thing to say but if all hope should pass away, simply pretend that you can build them again.”
"A Hazy Shade of Winter" was redone as a hard rock anthem in the late 80’s by the pop group The Bangles. It was a big hit for them, and is pretty awesome in it’s own right.
MARK: I love Simon and Garfunkel. I don’t really like Paul Simon alone as much as the duo. The lyrics of his early stuff seem a lot more metaphorical to me and this song is no exception. I love the instruments in this song… the organ, muted trumpets, and that fat bass that cuts through the mix. Great song! It is a harsher song, they seem unusually angry in tone.
314. The Kinks - “Dedicated Follower of Fashion” (1966)
BEN: Forever linked to the primitive dawn of heavy metal and punk rock with the 2 minute classics “You Really Got Me” and “All Day And All Of The Night”, The Kinks could always rock out with the best of them. However, my favorite era of theirs is the mid to late 60’s where they turned down the guitar distortion and amped up the acidic wit and hilarious social commentary. Ray Davies was not afraid to lampoon any and all aspects of pop culture during this time period. One group of people he found especially ripe for ridicule were the fashionistas that paraded around London in the 60’s not caring a bit about class struggles and poverty, but only wanted to be seen wearing “the latest fads and trends”. Lyrically “Dedicated Follower Of Fashion” is one of Davies’ best and musically the band follows his lead with a bouncy beat and wacky call and response chorus. Try not to laugh when Ray says “he is as fickle as can be” or “when he pulls his frilly nylon panties RIGHT UP TIGHT!”. Silver Lake and Williamsburg, you just got served!
Key lyric: “His world is built ‘round discotheques and parites. This pleasure-seeking individual always looks his best!”
MARK: I love the Kinks! I love the blend of humor and rock… it is hard to do, but they got it! The lyrics are funny, but the actual song is fantastic. I love the simple beat and chord changes. This song is great!
BEN: When Queen released the album A Night At The Opera they were at their creative and commercial height. Besides the hilariously dumb “I’m In Love With My Car”, and the mindblowing “Bohemian Rhapsody” (which may or may not come up later in the countdown…), Opera also contains “You’re My Best Friend”, a beautiful ode to companionship and devotion. The first Queen single written by bass player John Deacon, “You’re My Best Friend” hits you with one great hook after another. Musically, the band is in classic over-the-top theatrical form. Brian May piles on layer after layer of guitar tracks, Roger Taylor pounds away a larger-than life drum part, Deacon delivers a slippery bass line to die for and lays down some crunchy Wurlitzer organ, and of course Freddie Mercury brings his huge voice, adding just the right amount of feeling.The lyrics are sweet and heartfelt, perfectly encapsulating the feeling you get when you know you’re with someone you can always trust and count on. If you can relate to the line “You’re the first one when things turn out bad”, you’ve already won at life.
Key lyric: “I’ve been wandering around, but I still come back to you/In rain or shine, you’ve stood by me, girl/I’m happy at home”
MARK: I really like this song. It has so much to hear. There are great harmonies, great musical lines, and all of it is so catchy. I love the organ at the beginning. The lyrics of this song are almost cheesy, but the way the perform and deliver it somehow makes it ‘cool’. Freddy Mercury must have influenced all the pop rock singers of our generation… I feel like they all sound a bit like him.
BEN: The English pop band Keane’s debut album Hopes And Fears is chocked full of soul-stirring arena-ready rock anthems and heartbreaking piano ballads. The breakup classic “Can’t Stop Now” is a bit of both. It’s simultaneously sad but hopeful, with the lyrics telling the story of having to move on, even though it means breaking the heart of someone you care about. The narrator is trying to explain to his lover of his need to be free. “I noticed tonight that the world has been turning/While I’ve been stuck here withering away” Singer Tom Chaplin’s diminutive size (he slightly resembles a young hobbit) belies his overwhelmingly powerful voice, and he sings with an honesty that adds emotional weight to the lyrics. Keane is a piano-based band, and most of their musical identity comes from keyboardist and main composer Tim Rice-Oxley. His soaring piano and the sparkling production make this song something bigger than the sum of it’s parts.
Key lyric: “Motion keeps my heart running”
MARK: This song doesn’t do anything for me. I don’t hate it, but it isn’t very memorable. I may think of it completely different if I had it attached to a memory. The production is big and bold, but in a way I think I would like to hear a stripped down version, I think it would be more pleasing to my ears. Its ok, but I’m not in love with it.
Claudia: It’s Epic! (I’ve never heard her use that word… she must really think it is!)
317. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - “People Ain’t No Good” (1997)
BEN: Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds had taken their brand of fiery drug-fueled songs about death and mayhem about as far as they could go with the 1996 album Murder Ballads. During this period. Nick was abusing drugs and going through a string of tumultuous relationships. Considered by some to be his “hangover album”, The Boatman’s Call was released in 1997 to universal praise for it’s more introspective, minimalist approach. Some of Cave’s best songs are showcased here, including the romantic gothic classics “Into My Arms”, “Are You The One That I’ve Been Waiting For” and the powerful lament “People Ain’t No Good”. The lyrics to “People Ain’t No Good”speak for themselves and the newly-reigned-in Bad Seeds are at their tasteful best. A softly played piano leads the song and a sorrowful violin played by Warren Ellis puts a nice touch on the last verses. Like so much of Cave’s work, its about as bare, dark and honest as it gets, like Leonard Cohen in his prime. Amazingly, this dark classic has a home alongside Lipps Inc’s “Funky Town” and Eddie Murphy’s version of “Livin’ La Vida Loca” in the wildly diverse Shrek 2 soundtrack. Who would’ve ever thought that was possible?
Key lyric: “Even in their hearts they’re bad/They’ll stick by you if they could/Ah, but that’s just bullshit, baby/People just ain’t no good”
MARK: I don’t call myself a Nick Cave fan. I actually dislike most of his stuff… but, I like Nick Cave songs like this (and the ship song). It shows he can write a melody and write a great song. It really doesn’t sound too much like him… thats the Nick Cave I like! Has this been used in a movie? It would be a good song for one!
318. Neil Young & Crazy Horse - “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere” (1969)
BEN: In the late 60’s Neil Young was a fixture in LA’s Laurel Canyon scene - a group of closely-knit artists that included The Byrds, The Eagles, Frank Zappa, Joni Mitchell and Jackson Browne. After breaking away from Buffalo Springfield (“For What It’s Worth”) and striking it out on his own, Neil hooked up Billy Talbot and Ralph Molina to form one of the hardest rocking bands of the era - Crazy Horse. Their debut record Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, was a smash hit thanks to some raw energy and killer tunes like “Cinnamon Girl”, “Down By The River” and “Cowgirl In The Sand”. The title track from this record is about Neil’s growing disillusionment with Los Angeles and the Laurel Canyon scene, and pining for his home life in native Canada. As a transplant from far far way, I can relate to Neil’s sentiment sometimes. “Everybody seems to wonder what it’s like down here. I gotta get away from this day to day running around, everybody knows this is nowhere.”
MARK: This is my favorite Neil Young album. Every single song on it is good (even though there’s only 9). This song has everything I love about Neil Young. It has a simple beat, good harmonies, a guitar lick, and it’s also catchy. It’s hard not to love this song.
Claudia’s Review: I like it, but Mark listens to it way too much.