Sunday, January 20, 2008

Weekly iPod Shuffle: 1/20/08

[A small note: I've set up an account at I can't think of any reason why you'd want to peruse my music collection, but it's there if you want it. In addition, it features several of my music-related lists, including my updated 100 favorite albums list. Though, again, I can't think of any reason why you'd care.]

1. "God Only Knows," The Beach Boys
In the Mage game I'm running, one of the NPCs -- Heather, the Fate/Time magic-user -- tells her boyfriend that this is the greatest love song ever written. And it's hard to disagree, even though it opens with the lyric "I may not always love you." Brian Wilson was a damn lunatic -- seriously -- but he could write songs like nobody else. "If you should ever leave me/Life would still go on, believe me/The world could show nothing to me/So what good would living do me?/God only knows what I'd be without you." (Rating: *****)

2. "The Great Gig in the Sky," Pink Floyd
Quite simply, one of the most evocative vocal performances ever recorded. Richard Wright wrote this little piano instrumental early in the sessions for Dark Side of the Moon, and the band encouraged him to finish it up -- Roger Waters was eager to make sure each member of the band would get some songwriting royalties. So Wright completed it, David Gilmour added some slide guitar on top of it, and that was that. Except the band felt something was missing. So they came up with the idea of bringing in a singer to record an overdub -- no lyrics, just improvised vocalization. They found Clare Torry, who had worked with the Doors, and shoved her into the studio with almost no preparation. She howled and screamed her way through a take, then humbly apologized to the rest of the band...who were, of course, staring at her in awe. It's amazing -- even without the short spoken word clips ("I'm not frightened of dying, any time will do"), you'd still know what the song is about, just listening to her voice. And if you've never tried the old trick of syncing Dark Side with The Wizard of Oz, it's worth it just for this scene. (*****)

3. "The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota," "Weird Al" Yankovic
Weird Al's best song, in terms of both music and humor. He not only skewers the stereotypical "family road trip" vacation, but the people who actually enjoy those pointless sightseeing adventures, and the people who put on such pointless displays. "This here's what America's all about," the song's narrator says to his kids. You got that right. (*****)

4. "Let's Spend the Night Together," The Rolling Stones
Upon its original release, Mick Jagger had to change the lyrics to perform it on television -- "Let's spend some time together," he mumbled, clearly disgusted with himself. It was too racy back then. Nowadays, this song is used, unaltered, in a cell phone commercial. Times have changed. (*****)

5. "Live Forever," Oasis
I read somewhere that magazine readers in Britain answered a poll to select the best album ever. What was their choice -- Revolver? Sgt. Pepper's? Pet Sounds? OK Computer, if they're a little more hip? No -- Definitely Maybe, by Oasis. The best album ever recorded. Ever. If you say so, Britain. Hey, it's not a bad record. But...come on. (****)

6. "Breakdown," Guns N' Roses
Your Chinese Democracy update: Axl hasn't updated the GN'R website since August. So your guess is as good as mine. This particular song is from the last GN'R record, Use Your Illusion II. Which was, of course, seventeen years ago. It's pretty good, too. (*****)

7. "Hola' Hovita," Jay-Z
From Jigga's masterpiece, The Blueprint. He allegedly recorded the album in less than two weeks -- he was awaiting a pair of criminal trials and possibly a jail sentence or two. The resulting album is not only an epiphany, but a swaggering blast of defiance. Some people do perform better under pressure. (*****)

8. "Mr. Moustache," Nirvana
Much of Nirvana's debut album, Bleach, is dedicated to Kurt Cobain's frustration with his surroundings in rural Washington state. Much of the album, unfortunately, is also dull and mired in a gunmetal-gray sound that turns the whole thing into a dirge. This song is both. (***)

9. "Hard to Explain," The Strokes
I remember when the Strokes were just breaking through -- the music press heralded them as the saviors of all music everywhere. When they turned out not to be, it was a disappointment. The hype managed to cover up the fact that, actually, they were really, really good. Not life-changing great, perhaps, but very, very good. (*****)

10. "4°," Tool
How to explain this one without including any words that might make Google think my site is about something it's not? Hmm. Maynard did some research, apparently, and found some interesting information about the female anatomy. It turns out that the interior of one, uh, opening is warmer -- by about four degrees -- than the other, uh, more standard opening. With such well-founded scientific evidence, he returns to his lady friend and makes his case: "You won't feel what you'd like to feel/Lay back and let me show you another way." Why he felt it necessary to write a song about it, I have no fucking clue. And if you think it's the last time he'd explore such subject matter in song, you're sadly mistaken. But there's your Way Too Much Insight Into Someone Else's Personal Life moment for today. You're welcome. (*****)

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