Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Top 5 Side 1, Track 1s

The good folks at Big Apple Music Scene were nice enough to link me a few days ago so, of course, I'm going to make fun of them now.

Well, not exactly but I do have some issue with their Top 5 Album Openers. My main issue is that I am not them thus I have my own opinion ergo I am not in total agreement and therefore I felt the somewhat compulsive need to compile my own list. I've also changed the title from "album opener" to "Side 1, Track 1" because a) I want to acknowledge that this concept is completely stolen from "High Fidelity" and b) I'm old school like that. Feel free to make your own list and post in the comments section. I won't make fun of you, I promise. It's not as though this is meant to be the ultimate argument settler.

5 The Wipers "Over the Edge" from Over the Edge
I often hear "Smells Like Teen Spirit" cited as the ideal album opener but anybody who knows anything about anything knows Nirvana swiped a large portion of their schtick from Portland's Wipers. And while this track didn't set the world on fire like "Teen Spirit" did 8 years later it does serve to show that Greg Sage was THE indie guitar hero back when J Mascis was still pounding skins for Deep Wound. The song's sections of pummeling power chords, screeching solos and elegant leads ebb and flow with Sage bellowing "It's not the truth I see!/It's just a mockery!" to begin each (identical) verse. Sage has probably never made a more explicit statement about his place in the world: the idealist outsider. It's no wonder that a generation of alienated Pacific Northwest youth used his sound and vision as a template. Yeah, you can pretty blame Greg Sage for grunge and thus its vomitous, insipid offspring, post-grunge. But Sage's despair was never commercial or contrived; it was raw and glorious which is evident to anyone who hears this song, the rest of this album or anything else with Sage's name on it.

4 Love "Alone Again Or" from Forever Changes
The story goes that Love's mainman Arthur Lee had a vision of his death just prior the recording of "Forever Changes" and he decided to make his next album his farewell gift to the world. Of course, Lee didn't croak until nearly 40 years later but "Forever Changes" remains as perfect an encapsulation of all that is precious, tragic and beautiful about the living universe as any rock album could hope to be. It is perhaps ironic then that the track that introduced "Forever Changes" to the world was written by Love's second in command Bryan MacLean though Lee and producer Bruce Botnick thoroughly renovated the track adding horns and strings to MacLean's flamenco flavored folk rock tune. While many examples of ornate instrumentation in 60s pop often come off as fussy and full of pretense not to mention extraneous (see the Doors' "Touch Me") here it perfectly compliments the song's melancholy qualities. While the line "You know I could be in love with almost everyone" might seem like a groovy summer of love sentiment it's actually a "funny thing" someone said to the song's protagonist and thus should be viewed with a certain amount of derision. The flower children were growing up and contemplating their mortality and it sounded great. Much better than the Youngbloods, at least.

3 The Gun Club "Sex Beat" from Fire of Love
A classic cut to open a classic album. It begins with a single guitar playing the tune's basic chord pattern for one measure. Then the rest of the band crashes in, playing along for another measure when Jeffery Lee Pierce begins his vocal and off we go. Pierce spins his tale of lust in a style's that simultaneously seductive and menacing with the verse climaxing (no pun intended) in a slide guitar run, a brief pressure drop and a chorus of Pierce cooing "Ooooooooh sex beat... go!" Then the process repeats with the band digging in harder each time, upping the intensity on every go round and exposing every raw nerve until Pierce concludes his paean to the devil with the blue dress on: "We can fuck forever/but you will never get my soul." With this cut and the remainder of Fire of Love that immediately followed, Ol' Jeffery Lee came as close as any white boy ever could to Robert Johnson's crossroads. Eat your heart out, Eric Clapton.

2 The Rolling Stones "Gimmie Shelter" from Let It Bleed
What could I possibly say about about "Gimmie Shelter" that hasn't already been said? I mean, really. I'm not Greil Marcus, ok? Suffice to say, that if you don't like this song or it's parent album, you probably don't like rock n roll. Or you're resentful that your parents had better music than you when they were young which basically translates into... you probably don't like rock n roll.

1 The Clash "London Calling" from London Calling
A bit of a cliché, I suppose. ("Janie Jones" is nearly as great and might be less cliché mainly because you've got to own the UK, or "proper," version of the the band's debut for it to qualify as an opener.) Look, I know there's a lot of criticism leveled at the Clash. They were a band assembled by a manager, not truly from "Garageland." They were self-aggrandizing rock stars i.e. "The Only Band That Matters" and their tired rebel rock pose has not aged well. They were culture vultures who were better at co-opting the sounds of others than creating anything original. We can more or less blame them for the existence of Social Distortion. Yeah, yeah. I'm picking up what you're putting down. On the other hand, they made some pretty fantastic records that were certainly among the best of their era and just because you don't want to buy into Rolling Stone's version of punk history (and rightly so) doesn't make them sound any worse. The "London Calling" album is usually cited as the band's definitive statement which is debatable but there's no debate that its title track kicked the album off in grand style. I've always felt that "London Calling" was the Clash saying "This is our last punk song. This is THE last punk song." Certainly those slashing chords and apocalyptic lyrics were very punk indeed. The song has been called an anthem but that couldn't be more wrong. How many anthems are about inescapable, impending doom? It's almost certainly the most bleak and nihilistic cut in the Clash's discography. It offers no solutions, just Strummer's fading echo of "I never felt so much a like... a like.... a like." Like what, Joe? The solution, as it turns out, was the remainder of the album that followed, none of which, if we're being honest, was very punk at all. The Clash began their album with doomsday, which seemed like a very real possibility at the dawn of the 80s, and then offered hope. Hope in the form of new directions, celebration of the past and the prospect of a future. It was a brilliant move that gave the album much of it's power. It didn't hurt that the rest of the album was terrific, of course, but if the band has chosen to open the record with "Rudie Can't Fail" or "Clampdown" we'd probably think of the album in a completely different way. And that's why it's the number 1 album opener ever.

Honorable mentions:
The Zombies "Care of Cell 44" from Odessey and Oracle
The Lyres "Don't Give It Up Now" from On Fyre
The Sex Pistols "Holidays in the Sun" from Nevermind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols
Spoon "Small Stakes" from Kill the Moonlight
The Beach Boys "Wouldn't it Be Nice" from Pet Sounds
Sonic Youth "Teenage Riot" from Daydream Nation
The Dead Boys "Sonic Reducer" from Young, Loud and Snotty
Dinosaur Jr "Little Furry Things" from You're Living All Over Me
Barbara Manning "Scissors" from Lately I Keep Scissors
Mission of Burma "Secrets" from Vs.
The Pixies "Debaser" from Doolittle
The Saints "Know Your Product" from Eternally Yours
Belle and Sebastian "Stars of Track and Field" from If You're Feeling Sinister
Vulgar Boatmen "Don't Mention It" from Please Panic
Superchunk "Precision Auto" from On the Mouth
Silkworm "Give Me Some Skin" from Developer
The Damned "Love Song" from Machine Gun Etiquette
Sleater-Kinney "Dig Me Out" from Dig Me Out
The Girls "Jeffery, I Hear You" from Girls Reunion (okay, so it's technically a posthumous compilation and not an album. You didn't know that anyway, did you?)


Tim Duffy said...

I have weighed in on this incredibly important topic. Please consult my post on my blog.

Terrence said...

honorable mentions are totally cheating.