Shoegazers, 1990-94

The origin of the term “shoegazer” in the early 1990s by the British music press was a pejorative meant to slag the middle-class kids who comprised most of the bands, who, when playing live at clubs, seemed more obsessed staring at the floor while managing banks of guitar effects pedals than looking out at the audience. Of course the audience was comprised of middle-class kids high on hashish and X who dug the effects-laden, dreamy, ethereal noise by the bands on the stage. The music was a loud, swirling mess of new hi-tech sound effects mixed with a definite lo-fi, garage band ethos, with the lead singers almost whispering the lyrics over this cacophony of rich, fuzzy-buzzing sounds. The more potent designer drugs available at the time certainly added to the overall psychedelic ambiance at clubs, and for a few years the posh, slightly oblivious shoegazers offered an alternative to the “Madchester” sound embraced by the hooligans and working class club denizens. In the middle 90s the Shoegazers were made obsolete by the Brit Pop bands Oasis, Blur, Suede, and the like.

In America in the early 90s, Grunge, a more male-dominated and aggressive hybrid of Punk and Hard Rock, was the predominant new style that captured popular fancy after Nirvana’s epic “Smells Like Teen Spirit” exploded in late 1991, but in the UK the Shoegazers, eminently more feminine in their approach and yet fueled by loud, feedback-laden guitars and introspective, dream-like lyricism, definitely provided a delicious alternative to the Seattle boys who powered Grunge’s ascent. I honestly enjoyed the music of both scenes but for different reasons and for different personal circumstances; why limit one’s self to a single choice?

Grunge had very few, if any, female leaders, while the Shoegazers, even if led by guys, took great lengths to explore the female psyche in both content and feeling, which gave the movement a much more sensual and erotic feeling than the hyper-testosterone noise of Grunge with its hirsute rocker boys and all their masculine angst. The Shoegazer bands Lush and My Bloody Valentine were probably the best of the lot at making beautiful noise powered by this ethereal feminine power. Moreover, gay power was greatly represented by superb bands like Kitchens of Distinction, which added to the diverse and beautiful flavor of the movement, proving that Rock wasn’t just about hairy dudes flexing their man parts and hyper machismo on stage. Shogazers offered a softer and more sensitive feeling to its ambiance, and yet still rocked loudly and proudly in all that beautiful noise.

I’d like to present what I think are the best examples of the sound in no particular order, but some songs simply stand out more than others and exemplify why Shoegazer music was so fucking fabulous in the strange and wonderful early 1990s that was my life in transition from living in Europe through the middle-to-late 80s and now back home in the new decade, where I felt like a weird alien in my homeland and had great difficulty adjusting to the American way of life after years of being blithely oblivious to its culture. Good “Alternative” music and the book Generation X by Douglas Copeland helped me navigate these strange new waters.

I’d always kept an open mind and embraced music from a wide and diverse blend of genres, especially from what was coming out of London, Manchester, and greater Europe, while at the same time, thanks to SPIN Magazine, being jacked into the American Indie and Alternative scene with as much gusto. I never felt beholden to one band or genre or sound, and in fact found great pleasure in mixing and matching my listening playlists with as many weirdly diverse sounds as I possibly could. I first heard many of the great Shoegazer songs while watching MTV’s epic “Alternative” show 120 Minutes, which thankfully embraced the same weird music ethos as I did in 1990 when I returned to the the USA. 120 Minutes introduced early Grunge and Shoegazer bands with equal aplomb and respect in the early 90s, offering the fans to decide what to love and what to hate, just two more styles in a large and diverse mix of yummy alternatives to the deluge of boring and vapid mainstream crap pumped out on the airwaves on a daily basis.

So, where to begin? If I were to introduce one song by one band that captures the Shoegazer ethos perfectly, My Bloody Valentine is, hands-down, the band, and their song Come In Alone is the song. It’s a breathlessly sensual, joyously weird, brilliantly loud, gloriously messy mélange of everything that made Shoegazer music so goddamn great. If you’ve ever been high on X you know that powerful feeling to touch another human being while reality melts into a swirling, churning, bubbling mess of sights, sounds, and feelings too weird and beautiful to imagine sober. You find yourself reaching out to feel the flesh of someone, anyone, in your general vicinity, and that touch becomes an electrified and nearly orgasmic explosion of synapses firing in hyper-drive, and it’s not quite sexual and yet not asexual either, but somewhere wildly, weirdly in-between, as if you’re doing some kind of hyper-naughty Vulcan mind meld powered by your loins as much as your brain. You realize, high on this crazy nutty drug, how much another human being means to you at that moment, how fucking beautiful it is to touch them and share that feeling. This is X at its best. And this song captures that amazing feeling.

My Bloody Valentine – Come In Alone (1991)

In a very close second is this gorgeous mess of sound and feeling by the girl-dominated band Lush, proving that the exertion of lady parts and feelings can power a Rock song to utter nirvana with as much brilliance as any boy band. These ladies made some superbly sensual music in their heyday, music with which to blaze up and touch-kiss-feel-fuck your significant other in a yummy blissful way. There are two versions of this song and each is as vibrant and necessary as the other depending on your mood at the moment you spin them. I love this effects-laden explosion of yummy girl power best. This was a great band proving that feminine feeling in loud doses can power the psyche with amazing results. Influenced and produced by Cocteau Twins guitarist Robin Guthrie, this version is Cocteau-esqe and yet singer Miki Berenyi owns it with a breathlessly majestic vibe all her own. Dirty me, I always imagine a beautiful woman furiously masturbating to this as it plays. Sue me.

Lush – Thoughtforms (1990)

Kitchens of Distinction provided more of an introspective vibe to the Shoegazer sound with a distinctly gay flavor, and one needn’t be gay to enjoy this perspective if one has an open mind and wishes to understand all the vibrant and vital stories to be told by our fellow human beings. Why limit yourself to the narrow confines of your own experience and viewpoint? How weird to live in such intellectual myopia. It helped that the band could Rock and sounded fabulous. The guitars are powerful and shimmering with glorious majesty, and while R.E.M. and Echo & The Bunnymen obviously influenced the lads, they take their sound to new heights beyond that cool baseline. This was a real sleeper in the early 90s that 120 Minutes introduced to an American audience willing to embrace something bold and different. A Shoegazer 101 lecture must include this epic tune as one of the cornerstones of the genre. However, it stands on its own as a great Pop song regardless of the genre.

Kitchens of Distinction – Drive That Fast (1991)

You want a song that just rocks? Try this one by Swervedriver, in my humble opinion one of the great Rock songs of the 1990s, a driving, powerful, beautiful cacophony of noise and feeling, all guitars and nothing but guitars in a sonic wonderland. Again the band tones down the testosterone but not the masculine energy, and the net effect is a glistening, glorious, nearly perfect Rock & Roll song. It’s probably the least shoegazer-like Shoegazer song of this lot, but certainly well within the confines of the movement in spirit if not in reality.

Swervedriver – Duel (1993)

Slowdive captured the capital-E ethereal feeling of the Shoegazer movement, making loud guitar rock that was extremely girl-friendly and sensual without losing its power, and adding a wonderfully psychedelic atmosphere that took the listener to an otherworldly existence far away from the shitty hustle and bustle of reality. You felt the pot haze surround you when this was blasting from your stereo, and hopefully it was real as this was perfect for those soft, somber, candlelit, sensual moments lying on the floor cuddling with the one you loved after a good joint or two or three. Thirty years later this still sounds lush and vital, as if the years that have gone by haven’t really aged you or the feelings you had in 1993. You still need this sound to surround you in more contemplative moments.

Slowdive – Alison (1993)

Catherine Wheel was an interesting band, masculine enough in sound and style to be confused with the Grunge boys in Seattle in 1992, and yet never quite sounding as cock-thrustingly dude-like as Pearl Jam or Soundgarden or that ilk. Sure, the Seattle boys had a sensitive side, but it was too narcissistic to be anything but whiny, me-first male blathering, while Catherine Wheel displayed an astonishingly softer version of male angst, and while not losing the penis altogether within the mix, their style favored a much more sensual sound within the loud guitars and fuzzbox effects than the Seattle boys were ever capable of capturing on record or in live performances. Just compare this stellar track to any Pearl Jam or Nirvana or Soundgarden track and you’re immediately aware of the difference. It had guitar power and a driving 4/4 beat, but there’s a hypnotic sensuality to the sound that gives it more flavor and feeling than your typical Grunge song.

Catherine Wheel – Crank (1993)

Lush was so good, so perfectly sexy and profoundly lovely, that it would be hard not to include a few songs from the band’s limited but generally great catalogue. Miki and Emma’s breathless vocal styling amid the shimmering, echo-laden guitars, proved without a doubt that guitar Rock has plenty of room for female sensuality and all its unbridled glory without losing the powerful “jamming” of a male-dominated song. In fact, the gender gap in the sound is what gives it so much power and feeling. They’re not merely fucking you, they’re in charge, so shut the fuck up and let them ride you. I, for one, never minded that kind of relationship with a strong, beautiful, brilliant woman. If you really care for a woman, let her have the floor to express her feelings, moreover let her art shine with the power of an exploding star in the heavens. Lush did that for me as much as any girl-dominated Rock band before or since. They weren’t imitating the boys, they were showing us how it should be done properly. Fuck yeah it’s sexy, but it’s also mind-expanding and fun. In the early 90s few bands earned my love as much as this one.

Lush – Sweetness and Light (1990)

To truly understand My Bloody Valentine is to know how being afflicted with OCD affects the strive for perfection differently than in normal people. With OCD the excessive need to make each moment better than the next is maddening, but within that madness lies the genius that has always made the human race strive to be better, stronger, smarter, and fitter. In musical terms, with technology finally catching up to ambition, one could translate serious musical OCD tendencies into long, arduous, even insane recording sessions where layer upon layer of sound could be included on the seemingly endless space within a 24-track digital studio console. Back in the time of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, a lot of the recording studio work on such an amazing recording was obsessed with the difficulty in manipulating the tape or finding clever ways to harness analog sounds out of primitive electronic equipment, while by the time Kevin Shields was recording Loveless all of hard recording process challenges were simplified by digital technology, so every ounce of creativity could be thrown at laying every sound and whim possible into this vast space on the digital palette. Shields went way overboard during the recording of the album Loveless and we’re all lucky to bear witness to his OCD insanity, because no matter how loud you play the record it never overwhelms your hearing, but the layer-upon-layer of sound and effects across the entire stereo channel will drive you mad with its sensual allure and sonic perfection. There are so many overdubs of guitars and voices and sound modulations across every track that the net effect is like a nuclear explosion but without the concussion. It’s profoundly beautiful and yet also disorienting in large doses, especially while wearing good headphones, but few records have moved me with as much feeling and emotion as Loveless, easily one of my top-5 favorite Rock albums in my life. It is such a celebration of life and sound and music obsessiveness gone mad that I often feel a kindred soul has touched me in places so few of my fellow humans even know, let alone understand.

My Bloody Valentine – Sometimes (1991)

While most Shoegazer bands used traditional instruments in the vein of Classic Rock, albeit processed through a vast array of digital effects, Curve embraced drum machines and synths but didn’t lose their guitars, which, while heavily modulated with the same vast array of digital effects as all the Shoegazers used, still led the attack. It gave the band’s sound a Gothic-Industrial flavor amid the psychedelia and ethereal vocal stylings of Toni Halliday. Curve’s sound was creepy and lovely at the same time, a frenetic tornado of swirling sonic echoes backed by droning pulses and electronic drum beats, making it feel like a crazy acid thrip filtered through a jet engine. Halliday and music partner Dean Garcia eschewed tradition song structures and just threw the music in the air and let it catch the wind’s direction, which makes for a wild and sensually powerful feeling on a good stereo system or while wearing headphones. Better yet, while stoned it’s even more fun. Like Swervedriver, Curve is barely Shoegazer in the traditional sense, but gladly wrapped in the movement if by spirit alone. If feminine sensuality is the driving force of the sound, and this is record dripping with it, it can’t be that different than Lush or My Bloody Valentine.

Curve – Doppelgänger (1992)

Of all the Shoegazers, Chapterhouse embraced the Madchester beat the most and gave its songs a dance groove that was as alluring as its vastly layered, gorgeous sound. The breathless vocal delivery was buried within the mix a bit much, but that added a sensual mystery to the overall feeling, which of course sounds fabulous with headphones. Like all Shoegazer bands, the lack of hyper-macho posing probably led to it not selling well in America while at the same time, 1991, Grunge went stratospheric with its screaming hairy boys appealing more to the traditional Rock fans who longed for the days of Aerosmith and Led Zeppelin. Grunge wasn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination, but very few girls were included in the genre and it had little or no feminine sensuality amid the howling hairy boys up front. Chris Cornell, Eddie Vedder, and Curt Cobain were all valid Rock stars by any accord, but we’d heard their type for the last 30 years, while the Shoegazers gave us a more diverse expression of gender and sexuality, and refreshingly so. Like, it’s perfectly great if the music is a little less dude-like and more girlie and faggie, and as a straight male I like a little flavor to my mix than just straight testosterone blasting through my ears like acid through a firehose. Give my ears some soft and tender tickling too. But still the loud guitars, please. Always the loud guitars.

Chapterhouse – Pearl (1991)

Ride was a traditional Rock band who embraced the Shoegazer ethos but turned down the effects and relied more on traditional pop styling amid the guitar noise. They were smart and sensitive lads who experienced some buzz in America but not enough to become wildly famous like the Seattle Grunge boys, though it could be reasonably argued their music was as good or better than most of the Grunge fare. Such is life. Part of the problem was Ride championed the music over their image, while Grunge celebrated the long-haired Rock god image front and center along with the music. Eddie Vedder was pretty and long-haired and sensitive enough to make the girls scream, while Ride just wanted you to LISTEN and not look. Alas, Rock & Roll is as much about image as it is the music, no matter how great the music may be. I recall that Christopher Cross’s music was wildly popular on the radio at first in 1980 or so, but then after a couple of awkward appearances on national TV where people saw him as chubby and sadly dull looking, his appeal lessened even with so many good pop songs to his credit. Meanwhile, a few years later, MTV made superstars out of far too many pretty but artistically shitty acts while acts like Cross were too ugly for MTV stardom. Ride made great music but looked boring and uninterested in drawing fans into their looks and image, which, artistically, was cool, but also career suicide. They weren’t bad looking blokes, but they didn’t project glamour like Eddie Vedder or the like; luckily Pear Jam the band had the chops to match the pretty looks of the lead singer. Such is Rock & Roll. No one ever said the best music always becomes the most popular.

Ride – Vapor Trail (1990)

20 Great Post-Punk Songs (Revised, February 2020)

NOTE: My site tracking indicates this page gets more daily hits than any other of my blog. To these cool visitors, firstly I thank you warmly, but also I’d love to get all your feedback about the tracks on this list. Which do you like? Which do you not like? What do you think about my commentary on each track? Did this guide help you to understand Post-Punk music better? Am I getting things right or am I totally full of shit? Or just tell me more great tracks that I’ve not included on my list.

Thanks! I moderate my comments, so after you submit them, please give me a day or two to approve them. I assure you I will unless they are just patently disrespectful personal attacks against me. Attack my ideas enthusiastically, but not me personally.

Mat Scheck, 28 Feb 2020

After the demise of Britain’s Punk explosion in 1976-77, bands who were influenced by Punk, or had started out as Punk bands, began making music that was more intelligent, experimental, and musically sophisticated than Punk. These bands successfully incorporated traditional rock music structures with a wide variety of underground sounds that were emerging in the British music scene of that era, creating music that was atmospheric, darker than “classic” rock, and highly introspective and introverted but without sounding too experimental or obscure. Most Post-Punk bands experimented with sounds and lyrical structures but never lost their pop sense, so their music is extremely listenable, but at the same time there’s a veritable feast of amazingly new and cool elements to their music that set them apart from the rock & roll that came before them.

It was an exciting era for rock music, and while most of the best Post-Punk bands did not enjoy wide appeal or huge commercial success, their music was massively influential for what would be later known as “Alternative” rock

Update 2-15-2020: Speaking of great Post-Punk bands, upon the death of Gang of Four’s brilliant guitarist, Andy Gill, who passed on February 1, I wrote a long-winded essay about GoF and how much the band’s music meant to my life in the early 1980s when I was a young man trying to smash through an insane world around me. I needed a comparable soundtrack to my frenetic and weird life, and GoF was one of a few bands capable of providing that vital necessity. Neither American radio nor MTV presented artists who fit that purpose, so I spent countless hours perusing the import bins at hippie record shops or querying DJs at “in” clubs to find the music that truly spoke to me at my deepest intellectual level. It’s how my Army buddy Jim Torey and I discovered R.E.M., The (English) Beat, XTC, Killing Joke, Black Flag, Hüsker Dü, and many other cool but obscure (in America at the time, 1983) bands with off-beat sounds. Luckily MTV did present to me in 1983 great stuff by Duran Duran, The Cure, Psychedelic Furs, The Teardrop Explodes, and many others. Ah, but that’s all for another essay. Let’s stay on topic with Post-Punk bands.

Update 4-26-2019: Some record companies block embedding YouTube videos of their product, so fuck them, no free promotion here, as if obscure bands didn’t need more promotion, especially free promotion. Idiots. So a couple of links I had here were changed, goodbye The Cure and Echo & The Bunnymen, hello Bauhuas and Pink Turns Blue, two bands who certainly deserve recognition as Post-Punk legends while the other two are still controlled by retarded record companies who have no idea how these here “Internets” work some 25 years into its creation.

1. The Chameleons – Up the Down Escalator (1983)
A really hot Army girl stationed with me in ’84, who had just returned from a tour in Germany, used to play the album Script of the Bridge while we fucked. It was majestic music, anthemic and bold, somewhere between the change-the-world ambition of U2  and the darker direction taken by Joy Division. I borrowed her album and burned it to a cassette that I played the fuck out of for many years afterwards. When I hear this I still think of her lying naked on my barracks room floor, a shit-ton of lit candles surrounding her like an ancient religious fertility rite, and Script of the Bridge blaring out my speakers. She always left deep scratches on my back, that one. I hear this and it evokes a good fucking memory of a great girl. The song Second Skin from the same album is also brilliant, but I can only chose one on this list from each band.

2. The Sound – Skeletons (1981)
The best band of the 1980s that no one has ever heard. Fuck me as to why this happened. Front man Adrian Borland was the Jim Morrison of his generation, a brilliant songwriter, singer, and producer, and his sparse but hugely danceable arrangements became mainstays at “Goth” clubs all over Europe in the 80s. You wanted a dark, creepy mood along with great dance chops? Play The Sound. This song in particular is about as fucking great as any song from that dark, exciting, beautiful era. Like Joy Division, The Sound could take a dark mood and make it bright with an thrilling cacophony of pulsing bass lines and kick-ass beats. And, sadly, like Joy Division’s Ian Curtis, Borland took his own life at far too young an age.

3. Joy Division – Shadowplay (1979)
Dark, sparse, moody, cool, utterly brilliant. While Punk was quite often working-class stupidness, especially American Hardcore, what emerged after Punk died in the UK in 1978 was amazing. I loved The Clash, who got better when they transitioned from Punk to more diverse rock sounds on London Calling and beyond, but I think, in retrospect, Joy Division was the greatest band to emerge from the ashes of Punk, even if we only have two albums by the band to measure its greatness. Ian Curtis was Rimbaud to Joe Strummer’s Lord Byron, when you think about it. Joe was a hopeless romantic with many socio-political axes to grind, and we loved him because he gave a fuck so passionately, with anger and rebellion in his heart like any romantic. Ian, on the other hand, was a massively depressed nihilist who veered too close to the dark side and fell victim to his own worst tendencies, and his music reflected this abjectly morose excursion into madness and gloomy introspection. Plus, holy fuck, Peter Hook was an amazing bassist who could carry a song by his sheer athleticism on the instrument. When Ian died the remaining members created a whole new band, New Order, with a completely different sound; without Ian Curtis, there was no going back for Hookey, Bernie, and Stephen, but there was certainly a future for the three surviving lads. They did quite well as New Order, a great band with many outstanding records, but never at the magnitude of greatness like Joy Division’s work. That would have been impossible, as Ian Curtis was the brilliantly powerful magnetic force that drove Joy Division’s Rock & Roll engine.

4. Comsat Angels – Independence Day (1980)
Another amazing but sadly obscure band from an exciting era in musical experimentalism and “dare to be different” Post-Punk cool. Joy Division opened the door for all these young bands to express their darker thoughts and feelings, and while only The Cure and Bauhaus are well remembered today, there were other fine bands from that period who made great music. This is one of them. Like all great Post-Punk bands, the C-S Angels delved into the darker regions of consciousness, with pounding beats and a minimalist sound that was equally beautiful and dark, and of course one could dance to the band’s songs with great gusto. This is Post-Punk magic bottled into one great record.

5. Killing Joke – Wardance (1980)
These motherfuckers were crazy, I mean batshit crazy, but in a good way. Nihilists, sure, and doomsday believers of the nuttiest sort, but they put down on record all these insane thoughts and ideas with some powerful and crushing music, which was foot-stomping hard rock without the silly macho posing of the Heavy Metal boys in Metallica or Iron Maiden, who explored the same dark themes, with the only difference being that Killing Joke was essentially a Punk band and not Metal. But Killing Joke rocked like one, and Metallica paid homage by covering one of their songs, The Wait. Wardance is, to me, a scary, superbly powerful, driving anthem of unequaled greatness, and the louder you play it, the better it gets. Doomsday never had a better theme song. Fed Astaire cheerfully dancing on the casualties of nuclear Armageddon? Best cover art ever, if you ask me. Fuck yeah, this is Rock & Roll at its darkest, creepiest, angriest, nihilistic best. Put on your Doc Martens and stomp dance like a psycho as we blow ourselves to smithereens, motherfuckers. Armageddon is coming? Let’s dance.

6. PiL – Public Image (1979)
John Lydon left the Pistols and had a little Punk left in him with this kick-ass song and its Jah Wobble killer bass line and Keith Levene’s simple yet powerful guitar licks. Meanwhile Mr. Rotten gets to purge all his angst and anger with his usual sneeringly accusatory excellence, deriding his old band and all his detractors with a barrage of fuck you, spittle-spewing eloquence as only Johnny can muster. This is, simply put, a great fucking Punk tune. Johnny was a villainous cunt, sure, but we loved joining the bad guys when their message was right. He would cease being this cool in the years to follow, but from ’76-’80 Rotten was a goddamn sage. No one today is rebelling with such beautiful bile and cogently precise articulation. Bottom line: your rebellion had better fucking rock, mate. And this tune rocks. Anarchy indeed, in’nit?

7. Bauhaus – The Man with X-Ray Eyes (1981)
Stylish Brit boys who combined Punk sensibilities with their fascination with Creature Feature horror films. Goth was born here, for better or worse. Peter Murphy was Ziggy Stardust meets Dracula, and it was kind of cool in the brief moments Bauhaus made great music somewhere in the Bowie-and-Eno-Berlin-era vein, though I think they underperformed mostly, and yet their influence was immense. Having said that, this is a brilliant work of Post-Punk art, with its minimalist instrumentation combined with a driving beat, and Mr. Murphy’s haunting vocal delivery always hit the mark. Creepy cool. Gothic chic, if you will.

8. Pink Turns Blue – Your Master is Calling (1986)
“Dark Wave” bands like The Mission and Sisters of Mercy churned out tunes like this in droves, but this obscure German band may have created the best of the lot here, obviously influenced by Joy Division and The Mission, and yet, damn, it’s just a great song. I heard it in a club in Germany in 1988 and sprinted to the DJ to find out who it was, and to my surprise it was a German band, not an English one. All I can say is that at Club Gloria Palast in Saarbrücken, Germany in 1988, this song echoed like a haunting call to Dionysian debauchery, and the girls responded on the dance floor with some schmutziges tanzen—dirty dancingGoth style. I loved Goth girls back in the day because they were usually the most perverted ones with the most exciting sexual pathologies. Ergo I dug their music because it put them in the mood for further debauched naughtiness. Silly me. This band was relegated mostly to minor fame in Germany, but this song is legendary Post-Punk coolness.

9. Sad Lovers & Giants – Imagination (1981)
Another sadly obscure band that made vital and cool music, only to be buried beneath the deluge of more pop-influenced New Wave and Synth Pop that engulfed England in the early 80s. Sure, Gary Numan, Spandau Ballet, Japan, and the like were fun and cool, but so was this darker, more sinister branch of what came after Punk. Again, this is fantastic Post-Punk for dancing, especially when you’re feeling gloomy and doomy and life sucks ass, but you still want to flail around with your ass wiggling like a bloody fool. Bliss, mates.

10. The Damned – Life Goes On (1983)
These old original Punks reformed and kept making good music, and despite Captain Sensible’s strange run as a UK pop star in the early 80s, with his old Punk band he still had a few great tunes left in him, such as here, a song with a bass line and chord progression that’s been copied not once, but TWICE, first in Killing Joke’s song Eighties, and then Nirvana’s epic Come as You Are. The Captain was in form here, no doubt about it, writing a truly sad and brilliant song about how to live life after losing a loved one. Hard to imagine this was the same band that made New Rose, a nihilistically joyful Punk anthem if ever there was one, and yet, here they are, still fucking great, going all “Goth” in their later years. All hail the real Punks of old. This is, in my humble opinion, one of the finest songs from the 1980s, obscure, yes, but so sublime and touching, so goddamn good I wish everyone gave it one listen to find out why I champion it with such gusto. Of course I have weird and shitty taste in this strange mélange of borrowed and stolen styles, but that’s me, Mr. Pastiche, lover of goofy, often obscure shit that apparently only appealed to me.

11. Gang of Four – Damaged Goods (1979)
The recent death of guitarist Andy Gill led me to write an entire piece about this legendary English Post-Punk band. This track is, in all its greatness, perhaps the seminal example of Post-Punk as it is defined. Gill’s guitar parts were sonic slashes and frenetic bursts of energy that gave the band its angry, biting sound, but bassist Dave Allen was the melody-making generator of what drove the funky side of the band, along with the highly competent drummer Hugo Burnham, and vocalist Jon King’s bitter, sneering attack against the staid but effete English meritocratic lifestyle is what gave Gang of Four its political vitality. They only made three records but their influence in the 80s and beyond is the stuff of legend. Although Marxists, their approach was more Socratic in how they deconstructed the so-called capitalist paradise that they felt was more a decadent illusion than reality. Great fucking messengers, these blokes. Let’s have a revolution, mates, but let’s dance too.

12. Siouxsie and the Banshees – Christine (1980)

Siouxsie had a ground-floor view of England’s Punk elite in 1976, and when that movement blew itself up she led the survivors out of the ashes by the sheer genius of her charisma and delicate balance between her Punk ethos and superb pop sensibility. Her music with the Banshees was dark, brooding, and introspective, and yet Sioux and the lads could get your ass wiggling on the dance floor with all the Goth girls who adored her like a supreme Goddess. Come to think of it, so did I back in the day. Even The Cure’s Robert Smith joined the band at one point to further boost Sioux’s influence on anyone who mattered when Post-Punk was gripping the scene. Her longevity while many of her peers faded into obscurity proved the sheer strength of her songwriting and power to influence the coolest kids.

13. Television – Marquee Moon (1977)

The honest truth about this band was that the lads were too damn good on their instruments to be proper Punks, and yet they were without a doubt part of the small group of NYC musicians who invented the scene and later infected London with the sound and vision that led to The Pistols and Clash and all that good stuff. I mean, come on, this record ain’t Punk, if only because they have extended guitar solos on this track, which the Punks ridiculed in the early days, mainly because none of them were good enough to actually play solos. One only wishes that Richard Hell and Tom Verlaine could have remained simpatico and Hell never left the band, but regardless of that tragedy, this is probably the perfect record to kick off Post-Punk before Punk had actually died. Verlaine and Richard Lloyd were Punk’s Duane Allman and Dickie Betts, two brilliant axe men who traded licks with effortless aplomb and verve, and unlike Prog Rock, the solos are more necessary than gratuitously excessive. Verlaine is a competent singer, but Hell would have shredded these songs with his even better vocal delivery and charismatic presence. Oh, well. What we get is not exactly a Punk record and it’s not exactly Classic Rock either, but an amazing hybrid of both. In the 80s everyone outside the mainstream wanted to sound this good, and in a way Television was the Velvet Underground of New Wave, the obscure band that lit the fire of all that followed. It’s a goddamn tragedy this band wasn’t as popular as REO Speedwagon or Rush or any of that so-called mainstream Rock of the late 70s. Marquee Moon was the future and no one but the NYC critics of the day and nearly everyone cool in the 80s understood this true fact. Rock & Roll has hardly ever been better than this, my friends. Sadly I only caught on to this masterpiece in the middle 80s, but since then I’ve savored its genius like any hopeless devotee.

14. The Fall – Big New Prinz (1988)

I always thought Mark E. Smith was an ugly and talentless cunt, but that was his appeal, yet honestly I only briefly liked The Fall when Brix married Mark E. and joined the band in the middle 80s and left at the end of the decade. Brix’s ultra-hot looks and American Punk-Pop sensibility helped give the band the musical direction and visual appeal it desperately needed, and on the album I Am Kurious Oranj, The Fall sounded and looked absolutely fantastic and weird and vital. Mark E.’s creepy and virtually unintelligible vocal delivery could be equally annoying and yet extremely cool, which sounds stupid until you listen to this track. What’s he babbling about? Who fucking cares, the band sounds tight and professional and good. Still, he was an ugly cunt and the worst lead singer in the history of pop music, which to the most ardent fans of The Fall was never a negative critique of the man or his art. I heartily agree—Mark. E. Smith was pretty goddamn cool. RIP, you ugly cunt. Loved ya.

15. The Professionals – Join the Professionals

Ex-Pistols Jonesey and Cookie teased us with this great track of what could have been, but drugs, stupidity, and legal battles with the record company sent the project to the scrap heap, sadly leaving us with a couple of good songs and a trunk full of unfulfilled promise. It would have all been lost in the trash heap of history except this track got some juice from Lou Adler’s decent but largely obscure 1982 film Ladies and Gentleman, The Fabulous Stains, which suffered horribly from Adler’s stubborn refusal to listen to the two female writers and make the feminist manifesto they desired. In the film English actor Ray Winstone played a Punk lead singer who looked cooler and more authentic than most real Punks could have ever even imagined, and his backing band was like a British Punk supergroup with Jonesey and Cookie and The Clash’s bassist talisman Paul Simonon. They called themselves The Looters and it looked and felt authentic, despite the fact it was fictional. But Jonesey lent the fictional band this kick-ass song to give it some realistic Punk gravitas. Damn, what could have been. This is bloody good, in’it?

16. Cocteau Twins – Five-Ten Fiftyfold (1983)

None one knew what in the hell Liz Fraser was singing, but no one cared because it was so utterly beautifully brilliantly magical. First time I heard this it blew my mind, perhaps because I’d smoked a buttload of hashish, and I think in my insane dope-fueled mania and lust for this sound I may have cried more than a young man should; it was that good, folks. It was like a Picasso or Chagall or Dali painting coming to life, a bizarre and beautiful swirling cacophony of yummy glistening guitar effects and Liz’s amazing voice echoing across the stereo channel like a haunting apparition you sincerely would have fucked. In the 1980s there was nothing—NOTHING—quite like this intensely, weirdly, wonderfully hypnotic sound. A girl I dated back then called it an orgasmic wonderland. Yes. YES. I have never loved a female lead singer with such demonic passion like I have Liz and her gloriously unintelligible operatic sugar-coated orgasmic wonderland voice that was sonic heroin where I needed multiple fixes to even satiate the beginning of my jonesing for this beautiful brilliant magical woman. That about sums up how much I loved the Cocteaus all through the 80s and into 1990’s perfect Heaven or Las Vegas, still one of my top-5 records.

17. The Jesus and Mary Chain – Happy When It Rains (1987)

How did I explain The Jesus & Mary Chain’s sound back in 1987 to my friends? I’d posit, “What if The Velvet Underground joined The Beach Boys on Pet Sounds? Here you go.” Psychocandy had been a revelation and a truely great record, but on the band’s second record, Darklands, they toned back the noise just a smidgen and pumped up the pop melodies, and the result was, in my opinion, the finest record of the 1980s, and easily the most-listened album of my collection for many many years. Few works of Rock & Roll have brought me more joy than this album, I shit you not. This was my band from my generation, my album, and my sound. It belonged solely to me and it was my duty to proselytize its magnificence to everyone around me. Even The Smiths, a band I adored unequivocally in that period, couldn’t inspire as much love as The Jesus & Mary Chain and Darklands. It was Post-Punk music at the apex of that sound’s guiding principles, and yet it was something better at the same time, unrepentantly poppy and sweet even amid the dark shadows and fuzzbox guitars, like a delectable, tasty blend of fire and sea salt caramel. Goddamn I still love this song after 33 years. They should have been way bigger than they were, what a tragedy of the ages that in 1987 they weren’t bigger than Guns-n-Roses or Bon Jovi, because they were immensely and intensely better in every way. Such is life.

18. Flesh for Lulu – Subterraneans (1984)

Somewhere between Post-Punk and Goth was a cool land populated by bands like the Lulus, influenced by Bolan, Bowie, The Velvets, and Joy Division, call it Gloomy Glam Goth, at which the Lulus were the leaders of this new school. Nick Marsh was pretty and creepy like Bauhaus’s Peter Murphy, but put a happier face on Goth with his peppy enthusiasm for all things dark and gloomy. The band never hit it big but did get a popularity bump from the John Hughes turgid and largely stupid teen flick (using actors well into their middle 20s) Some Kind of Wonderful. Don’t let that yucky tripe poison your chance to listen to earlier, better songs by this damn fine Post-Punk band. This track is the Lulu’s finest hour by far, and it’s a doozie, really cool and bouncy and fun.

19. New Order – Dreams Never End (1981)

This was the transition song from an Ian Curtis-less Joy Division to what would become New Order, who after this brilliant song strayed into Synthpop and left behind its Post-Punk sound for posterity. Peter Hook sings lead and does a fine job, but we all imagine what the song would have been with Ian Curtis singing, and it brings tears to our eyes in our imagining. The Cure stole this chord progression for In Between Days and no one got mad because it’s also a great tune, peppier and more spirited, a happy-happy-joy-joy turn from all that Post-Punk gloom and doom. Still, this was a great healing track for everyone who thought Ian Curtis was the bee knees, because, really, he was, my friends, and this tribute is a sad but hopeful start to the fact that the remaining members of Joy Division were talented enough to carry on, and, oh, how they did in their own right!

20. Echo & The Bunnymen – Simple Stuff (1980)

Merseyside’s second invasion didn’t have the immense popularity of its first like the Beatles and Gerry and The Pacemakers and that lot, but the second wave, with Teardrop Explodes, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, OMD, Echo, and Wild Swans, et al., certainly rocked the underground and at times the pop charts with great resonance, and Echo was at the forefront with its Post-Punk, leather-clad paisley, big-haired psychedelia. On this early single they were still finding their own identity outside the obvious Joy Division devotion, but it was a good start for one of the truly great early “Alternative Rock” bands that would emerge as the 80s progressed, all of whom were heavily influenced by Punk but were most definitely not Punk. Echo, along with R.E.M., Hüsker Dü, The Smiths, Replacements, and Sonic Youth, placed guitar Rock in good hands in the 80s and moved it in some cool and interesting directions. I don’t need to say any more. Just listen.

My Prog Rock Fanaticism, 1973-75

It all started just after Christmas in 1973 when I stole $20 from by brother John’s wallet and claimed I found it while walking home from school. John, 15 at the time, had been working at the downtown Sheraton Hotel in Rock Island, IL, and was flush with moolah, so he didn’t even notice my pilfering his cash stash until a week afterwards, when he then realized my recent fortune had been at his expense, which he immediately reported to our Mom, who’d just gotten home from a business trip to London, Ontario, Canada.

I couldn’t return John’s 20 bucks as I’d blown it—along with another $10 of my own money—on a bunch 8-track tapes: Brain Salad Surgery by Emerson, Lake, & Palmer, and The Yes Album, Fragile, and Close to the Edge by Yes. John beat the crap out of me and kept the tapes, but I listened to them more than he did anyhow, so it was a beating worth the score. Our older brother Mike, home on leave from the Navy for Christmas in 1973, had purchased John and me a bitchin’ Panasonic stereo 8-track player, but John was always either working or hanging with his friends, while after my Dad’s death I became an increasingly socially isolated loner resorting to hiding out in my room, so I used it much more than he ever did. I eventually shoveled snow off a ton of sidewalks in my neighborhood to earn back the $20 I’d stolen from John, thus the matter was settled to his and Mom’s satisfaction once I paid him back. [NOTE: John informs me he bought those 8-tracks, although he agrees I probably pilfered money from him and spent it on other tapes, and since he tormented me a lot of time, it wasn’t unusual that he smacked me around for this, or for any number of reasons.]

To say I was obsessed with Progressive Rock was clearly evident by the fact I played the fuck out of those tapes every day. I was dazzled by the skilled musicianship and sonic complexity that these albums exemplified, mixing Rock & Roll with Classical and Jazz elements, and while the lyrics were often goofy and pretentious, the amazing music more than compensated for the shitty poetry. This was grandiose, ambitious, and majestic music far beyond the traditional Pop and Rock music of the day, much more European in its approach and less influenced by the African-American Blues that had kick-started Rock & Roll in the 1950s and held influential sway over most of the major American and British bands in the 1960s. Prog Rock attempted to be smarter, less sexualized, more lyrically diverse, and artier than traditional Rock.

Even a Prog Rock band’s album cover art was raised to a higher level like the musicianship of its bands. Yes had the utterly amazing, air-brushed, otherworldly fantasy landscape artwork of Roger Dean adorning all their covers from Fragile forward, and on ELP’s Brain Salad Surgery, the band hired Swiss futurist painter Hans Ruedi “H.R.” Giger—who was a half decade later the set designer for Ridley Scott’s seminal Sci-Fi outer space horror film Alien—to create an insane, surreal, futuristic, Sci-Fi-meets-horror design that was, in 1973, and maybe even today, the coolest cover art ever.

You could get stoned, listen to Yes or ELP, and totally lose yourself just gazing at their magnificent-looking album covers. Ah, the 70s; we didn’t have today’s preponderance of of computers, smart phones, online streaming content, video games, and innumerable cable TV channels to entertain us like kids today have available to them. We basically had books, FM radio, and records. TV was comprised of three channels, ABC, CBS, and NBC, and later PBS, that went off the air at midnight. So gazing at album cover art, or reading the album cover’s liner notes, was great fun while we listened to the music contained within that cover, or while reading whatever book caught our fancy at that moment, like A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, or Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, for instance. Or we’d have that day’s newspaper sprawled with us on our bedroom floor, perusing it for baseball box scores and player stats. We had numerous cheesy board games or decks of playing cards we could play with our friends, and that was about it for indoor activities.

True, not every tween kid in the 70s read books extensively, but I did. After my Dad died I became lost in obsessively intellectual pursuits and less involved in sports and other normal childhood activities. My Mom bought me a set of World Book Encyclopedias that I read so much I memorized a considerable amount of the data contained within their 22 volumes. What’s the capital city of Mozambique? The chief export of Belgium? What famous battle was fought on October 25, 1415? Who were the first five Roman Emperors? The first seven US Astronauts? To what Kingdom, Phylum, Order, Class, and Family do baboons belong? Dude, I studied and memorized all that shit until I was a walking human Wikipedia, and all while Brain Salad Surgery or Close to the Edge was blaring out of my Panasonic Stereo speakers. I was a weirdo, sure, but I after that I was basically able to ignore most of school from 7th through 12th grades because I’d absorbed so much knowledge during my tweens.

Yes: Virtuoso Musicianship and Silly, Foofie Lyricism
Yes’s lead singer, Jon Anderson, had a lovely, high-pitched wail that went well with Steve Howe’s brilliant guitar playing, Chris Squire’s complex bass lines, Bill Bruford’s dynamic drumming, and of course the magical keyboards by first Tony Kaye and then even better by Rick Wakeman, he of the flowing blond hippie-Viking hair and sparkling capes; if ever a Rock star looked like a Classical Music virtuoso, and was widely respected like one, it was Wakeman. Wakeman was one of the most talented and accomplished studio musicians of his era and appeared on nearly every great British artist’s record in the late 60s and early 70s, acts like David Bowie, Elton John, Cat Stevens, T Rex, Al Stewart, and even Black Sabbath. When he joined Yes he definitely raised the Classical music credibility of the band. Howe was an accomplished classical guitarist on a wide array of electric and acoustic guitars, mandolins, and other stringed instruments. Meanwhile Anderson, an interesting if not accomplished lead singer, fancied himself some sort of hippie shaman poet, mixing Eastern themes with his own goofy pothead vegan philosophy, trying mightily to affect Yes’s lyrics with profound, meaningful, and spiritual depth. It didn’t always work, but it was certainly less annoying than the thuggishly stupid misogyny of Crotch Rock or the highly overrated junkie chic of Lou Reed and Iggy Pop.

Rock critics in 1973 lambasted Yes but loved Lou Reed, who basically strummed a guitar badly and mumbled silly nonsense with his droning, dull, monotone voice; when Bowie produced Reed’s most famous album, Transformer, the hardest part of the process was getting the doped-up motherfucker in the studio to record anything, and what made the album any good was due to the brilliance of Bowie and Mick Ronson—in fact mostly due to Ronson—not Reed’s, who was, really, a lazy, dope-addicted moron and extremely creepy. But he was cool in his black leather jacket and mirrored shades, the urban junkie prophet, which to Lester Bangs and all the other booger-eating, dipshit Rock critics of the day, gave Reed street cred as a “real” rocker. When Reed later broke from Bowie and produced his own albums, they were totally unlistenable piles of malodorous shit. Meanwhile, Yes actually tried to make beautiful music with great depth, feeling, and artistry, of course with unparalleled musicianship and audio recording craftsmanship, and for this they were dubbed uncool and mocked relentlessly by the critics.

Perhaps none of the guys in Yes were capable of playing in the New York Philharmonic, but they aspired to such a hoity-toity goal, which was more than you could say about Keith Richards or Eric Clapton, who just wanted to emulate the simple, sharecropper, barely-educated black bluesmen they worshipped. Let’s face it, while Muddy Waters was cool and his music was super cool, I’m also sure he couldn’t quote Shakespeare or discuss Kant’s philosophy. In fact, he couldn’t even conjugate verbs with any degree of expertise, which is understandable for a black American man raised in the pre-Civil Rights extreme poverty of the tragically racist South. Richards and Clapton were more like the Prog Rock musicians than the Delta bluesmen they worshipped, which meant they were all middle class Englishmen with somewhat posh university educations (if only briefly), but at least the Prog Rockers aspired to be erudite and eloquent—even if they came across as pretentious and grandiloquent—intellectuals while Richards and Clapton dumbed down their posh, educated side to be “cool” like their Blues heroes, even down to affecting their hard drug habits.

A typical Yes song had multiple time signature changes and long, highly intricate instrument solos by Howe and Wakeman, plus lovely vocal melodies by Anderson and Squire, moreover, as I stated, the words Anderson sang made little sense, yet sounded fucking beautiful, so it was easy to forgive their whimsically elegant and yet laughably vacuous meaning. It was a lovely, ethereal, otherworldly, mind-blowing sonic experience. Grandiose is a great word to describe its overall effect. Majestic. Inspiring. And, yes, even overwhelming. But it wasn’t mindlessly dumb like a lot of Rock.

I was about ten when I first heard Yes, so their lyrics sounded cool and fascinating to my childish self, but as an adult I chortle when I hear such silly piffle as, “My eyes convinced, eclipsed with the younger moon attained with love, It changed as almost strained amidst clear manna from above, I crucified my hate and held the word within my hand.” Like, what the fuck does that mean? I listened to those lines from Close to the Edge hundreds of times and could NEVER quite figure out what Anderson was babbling about. But the music sounded amazing, so who cared? I never could understand what Michael Stipe of R.E.M. was singing on their seminal debut album Murmur, yet it remains one of my favorites of all time. No one knew what the fuck James Brown was babbling on most of his killer grooves, but who cared, they rocked. The same here with Yes’s best work.

Here’s Yes’s epic, 19-minute symphonic piece Close to the Edge, which has four parts:

I – The Solid Time of Change
II – Total Mass Retain
III – I Get Up, I Get Down
IV – Seasons of Man

Yes’s grandiose orchestral sound must have been insanely difficult to record back in those long-ago days on analog tape, and legend has it drummer Bruford quit the band after Close to the Edge because the long, arduous, precise, multi-take and multi-overdubbing recording process nearly drove him mad. But with amplifier and speaker technology starting to get amazing by the early 70s on high-end hi-fidelity systems, it sounded magnificent on a good stereo or quadrophonic system. On good headphones it blows your mind. I cannot tell you how many times I smoked a fuck ton of pot and lost myself with this album, hundreds and hundreds of times just in the 1970s alone. Say what you want about Yes, but their music didn’t get subjected early to the law of diminishing returns over multiple listenings quite like your average Pop song, which started to get boring after hearing it on the radio 10-20 times over the course of a few weeks. It took over two years and hundreds of listenings for Close to the Edge to start boring me. By that time I’d move on to something else anyhow.

Yes – Close to the Edge: Parts I – IV – Close to the Edge (1972)

Emerson, Lake, & Palmer (ELP) – Bombastic Musical Athleticism 
ELP relied on keyboardist Keith Emerson’s almost insanely athletic skills on a vast array of organs, electric pianos and harpsichords, and synthesizers, and meanwhile drummer Carl Palmer and bassist and vocalist Greg Lake played and sung with equal abandon to create a sound of explosive, energetic, and maddeningly complex Rock songs that were enhanced with as much studio wizardry as early 70s analog recording technology could make possible. The band’s musical ambition was both vast and bold but also annoyingly pretentious at the same time, but if there’s one thing a listener can testify about playing an ELP record, it is that it will not be a boring experience.

Here’s ELP’s epic 30-minute song Karn Evil 9 from Brain Salad Surgery. On my 8-track of the album, each part, or “Impression” of the song as the band called them, was contained on 3 of the 4 2-track stereo runs of the tape, and as the player switched the tape head to each run, you’d hear a visible mechanical click as the tape head shifted back to the beginning and moved to the next 2-track run. Yes, it was weird using this ancient early electronic music content medium, but at least with an 8-track you could pop it into a player and it could, theoretically, keep playing to infinity or until the player lost power or the 8-track’s internal mechanisms broke down. With vinyl records you had to get off your ass and flip them over to play the others side, an annoying act when you’re stoned out of your mind and comfortably situated in bed, on a couch, or in your favorite recliner. If you were lucky enough to afford a reel-to-reel tape deck, and we were a few years later when my brother Mike brought one home from when he was stationed at Okinawa, you could play/record about four hours of music on its 7″ reel before you had to change or rewind the tape.

This is about as close and Rock & Roll ever got to be considered like Classical music, an electronic symphony of multi-dubbed instrument and vocal performances that the band painstakingly recorded in the studio. All three band members were accomplished musicians (as far as any Rock musician can truly be), so this song sounds astonishingly complex, way beyond what most Pop music had ever tried to accomplish, and to a kid like me in 1974 this was magical and highly addictive.

The lyrics tell a dystopian futuristic tale in the brilliant 3rd Impression (beginning at the 20:30 mark of the below video), my favorite part, with verses I memorized through obsessive listening sessions in the winter of ’73-’74, and which, once memorized, I wrote in my journal. Unlike Yes, ELP’s lyrics told stories that made sense, and were, relatively, quite well written pieces of poetry, fraught with strange and dark images of a bleak, freaky, nightmarish world overwhelmed by conquering fascist computers over a mankind that created the, all in a struggle for dominance in a world decimated by nuclear war and famine and environmental destruction, where a blade of grass is a rare thing to behold. Sure, it wasn’t Wordsworth or Byron, but it wasn’t stupid either like your typical mind-numbingly oafish Rock tune. Here are the 3rd Impression’s words:

Man alone, born of stone
Will stamp the dust of time
His hands strike the flame of his soul
Ties a rope to a tree and hangs the Universe
Until the winds of laughter blows cold

Fear that rattles in men’s ears
And rears its hideous head
Dread…Death…in the wind

Man of steel pray and kneel
With fever’s blazing torch
Thrust into the face of the night
Draws a blade of compassion
Kissed by countless Kings
Whose jewelled trumpet words blind his sight

Walls that no man thought would fall
The altars of the just
Crushed…Dust…in the wind

No man yields who flies in my ship
Let the bridge computer speak
Load your program. I am yourself

No computer stands in my way
Only blood can cancel my pain
Guardians of a nuclear dawn
Let the maps of war be drawn

Rejoice! Glory is ours!
Our young men have not died in vain
Their graves need no flowers
The tapes have recorded their names

I am all there is
Negative! Primitive! Limited! I let you live!
But I gave you life
What else could you do?
To do what was right
I’m perfect! Are you?

The hubris and arrogance the band exuded to record this insanely virtuoso performance, let alone perform it live, was a major accomplishment even if you think it’s sonically pretentious and its lyrics excessively grandiloquent. No matter what you think about it artistically or as a Rock & Roll fan, it’s a major achievement in 20th Century recorded music.

ELP – Karn Evil 9: 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Impression – Brain Salad Surgery (1973)

Both bands went far beyond the simple confines and formulas of Pop music and definitely expanded the possibilities of where a Rock song could go, both for its betterment and yet  equally to its detriment, as their long solos and excessive and often silly bombast could get tedious after a while, no matter how brilliant the musicianship. Still, to my ten-year-old ears, this music seemed to be coming from outer space as far as I could tell, this weird, magical, and electronically orchestral sonic insanity that pushed recording technology and hi-fidelity stereo playback systems to their extreme limits.

In 1975 I switched my allegiance from Prog Rock to Led Zeppelin after my brother bought Physical Graffiti, and that was the end of my Prog Rock period. Heavy Metal became my obsession for the next few years until Blondie, Talking Heads, The Cars, and The Police stole my heart in 1979. And in the 80s I turned to Punk, Post-Punk, New Wave, Prince (a category all unto himself), Hip-Hop/Rap, and Alternative simply because I grew extremely bored and oversaturated by music from the 70s, or Classic Rock as it’s now dubbed. The Clash became what the early 70s critics wished Lou Reed had really been, but clearly wasn’t. And Joy Division was fucking brilliant. As was The (English) Beat, Prince, Elvis Costello, The Smiths, Pixies, Sonic Youth, et al.

Prog Rock took a beating by everyone after about 1977, some of it justified as the bands grew unbearably bloated and grotesque by their excessive pretension and self-adoration, but much of their early work was some of the best music ever recorded by Rock & Roll artists. The brilliance, artistry, and dazzling musicianship was breathtaking and highly original. Let’s not forget that Prog Rock had some of the highest highs of what music could become through deft playing, modern electronics, and sophisticated recording technology. The biggest bands sold millions of records in the early 70s, moreover they sold a buttload of tickets to their shows all over the world. So let’s give them some goddamn credit for being great and well loved by millions of fans.

Much of the ex post facto negative piling on by the hateful Prog Rock sneermeisters is just snotty and self-loving arrogant assholes trying to raise up their own “street” cred, like, look how cool I am, dude. Hipsters gush over Lou Reed and Iggy Pop, yet neither in their heyday sold many records; were they that good? Hardly. The Ramones were cool, but they couldn’t play more than three chords, and while I adored Joe Strummer, the man could barely play guitar. Say what you want about Keith Emerson, Steve Howe, Bill Bruford, Rick Wakeman, Carl Palmer, or Chris Squire, but they were amazing musicians who raised the level of how great Rock & Roll could sound if played by skilled craftsmen like these gentlemen. Maybe they took it too far sometimes, but most of what they recorded was great shit. Inspiring. Epic. Memorable. Grand.

I was never too cool that I couldn’t admit I once fucking loved Progressive Rock with an almost unhealthy obsession. Prog Rock records, along with the books I read while listening to them, helped shape a good deal of my young intellect. And for that I am eternally grateful. Mostly I am unashamed to heartily admit this fact with every fiber of my being: Prog Rock was brilliant.

Our Satanic Majesty’s Naughty Bastards

Classic tracks that defined the greatness of The Rolling Stones.

Bitch – Sticky Fingers (1971)
It all begins with Keith’s simple but killer riff while Charlie and Bill dutifully follow Keith’s funky groove with their typically understated but cool rhythm section aplomb, and we’re off and running with one of the coolest, sexiest, absolutely badassed tunes the Stones ever recorded. Mick sounds cocky and shit-kicking mean, the pale English whiteboy acting black for over a decade who—almost—finally pulls it off on this killer track. Producer Jimmy Miller then tosses in the fucking superb brass section of sax man Bobby Keys and trumpeter Jim Price to literally embarrass all the “jazz rock” shit by bands like Chicago, Blood, Sweat and Tears, and Ides of March. Like, come on, you silly cats, rock like this, motherfuckers. You can’t ‘cos you ain’t got Keith, bitches. You ain’t got Mick Taylor either. Game, set, and match. This is one of the greatest Rock & Roll songs you’ll ever hear, breathtakingly confident and cool, swaggeringly sexy like a motherfucker, and utterly fucking groovy, The Stones at the height of their power and glory as the self-proclaimed greatest Rock & Roll band in the world. A decade later while I was in college, we’d spin this record at parties to get the girls feeling dirty and decadent on the dance floor. Fuck yeah. We’d follow this with Prince’s Uptown to crank up the funky-sleazy factor and shit would get wild fast. It’s only Rock & Roll but I love it.

Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker) – Goats Head Soup (1973)
Billy Preston kicks off the first four bars of this killer track with a gorgeously funky clavinet intro that informs folks that the Stones means business and to put down whatever you’re doing, shut the fuck up, prick up your ears, and listen. Yeah, sure, the Mickster gets all socially conscious and shit, and lays down one of the best vocal performances of his long career, but what drives this song is the brilliant interplay between Preston’s clavinet and Keith’s wah-wah guitar strumming. Keith also laid down the funky bass line just to tart up the whole thing. The bands sounds weary and dragged down by dope and decadence and life and all the misery on the streets they witness from their limousines, and Mick reminds us all how fucked up everything seems, yet the song still gets your ass shaking to its downright dirty nasty groove. With the producer Jimmy Miller at the helm since Jumping Jack Flash, the Stones went on a sonic binge from 1968-1973 that defined their career as Rock & Roll grand masters. Miller always brought out what made the band so great, and when he was unceremoniously fired after this album, the band never rose back to this unbelievable level ever again, though Some Girls and Tattoo You had their moments; however, let’s be honest, after 1973 the Rolling Stones basically became a tribute band to their past greatness. They weren’t cool any more.

Tumbling Dice – Exile on Main Street (1972)
Legend has it that Mick was incensed that the record company used the wrong mix for the album version of this song, and that it took Jimmy Miller and the band over 150 takes to get anything decent on tape, but who gives a fuck, this is such a sleazy, dope-and-booze-soaked boogie-woogie classic that no one cared once it blasted through speakers in living rooms, cars, jukeboxes, clubs, and everywhere else in 1972. Drummer Charlies Watts was throughly incapable of playing the coda on this song right, so Jimmy Miller came from behind the console and pounded the fuck out of the skins to drive the groove with a dirty, nasty, sexy raunch that turned this into a classic. Of course, the greatest backup singers in Rock history, the divinely awesome Clydie King, Venetta Fields, and Sherlie Matthews, bring the sass and sexy attitude and ebullient black church chorus that keep fingers snapping and asses wiggling throughout this roadhouse romp. Yes, this song is the grand mess of a doped-up and ragged jet-set rock band in the throes of an out-of-control superstar lifestyle where no one told them no, but what a fucking glorious mess, eh? Bands like Aerosmith and Guns-n-Roses made a career of sounding like this even down to copying Keith’s majestically decadent but abjectly destructive lifestyle. But they never sounded this great. They didn’t have Keith. Or Mick Taylor. Or Jimmy Miller at the console.

When the Whip Comes Down – Some Girls (1978)
The Stones were well aware that Punk and Disco had usurped all the fire and glory from all the tired old 1960s rockers who were now mostly drug-addicted millionaires safe inside their limousines clutching massive record contracts despite the fact their music was rapidly descending into uncool piles of shit. Sure, the old guys sold out arenas and still got more than ample airplay on American FM radio, but none had any street cred in New York or London, where the Punks reigned supreme and garnered all the best press accolades. In 1977 nothing was more uncool than The Who, Stones, and Pink Floyd to the kids who mattered and now dug the Pistols, Clash, Ramones, and Talking Heads. Mick and Keith had always had their ears to the ground when stealing source material, beginning when they were young lads glomming the sound and style of the American bluesmen they worshipped. Mick lived in New York in 1977 and clearly saw that the nutty and frenetic kids at CBGB’s made him and his band look old and uncool. Or that Disco music had now become the cause célèbrere among his champagne-sipping jet-set celebrity clique. No one was digging The Rolling Sones in 1977. Not even the Stones. So Mick got off his ass and took charge of the band while Keith wallowed in a heroin haze, and the result was a “comeback” album, Some Girls, that ripped off both cool trends of the time, Punk and Disco, but with the typical Rolling Stones unapologetic swagger, and, lo and behold, for a brief moment the band was cool again. It didn’t last and they never made another fully end-to-end great album again, but Some Girls evoked some of the old magic. Yeah, the Stones were cool in 1978. Even some of the Punks grudgingly agreed on that. And the Disco fans loved Miss You like a motherfucker because it was superb dance music. So all was well again in the Big Lips-Wagging Tongue Land.

Jumpin’ Jack Flash (1968)
The Summer of Love and all it’s silly hippie-dippie fluff and psychedelic horseshit fell flat when the Stones tried it on Their Satanic Majesties Request. The band that invented the whiteboy-wannabe-black-bluesmen swagger with Satisfaction now tried to go all Pet Sounds and Sergeant Pepper’s, and the result was a gigantic pile of embarrassing shit. It could have been curtains for most Rock bands, but Mick and Keith smartly hired the hottest producer in London, the American Jimmy Miller, who’d recently helped Little Stevie Winwood and his band the Spencer Davis Group sound almost black and cool like Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, and Sam & Dave, though not quite, let’s be honest. Miller’s genius was how with soul-rhythmic interplay and rock grooves he could turn a simple pop-rock song into a goddamn almost-Stax-sounding soul hit. Listen to Winwood’s Gimme Some Lovin’ and I’m a Man, and, hot damn, I am sure Wilson Pickett smiled when he heard them. With the Stones, Miller already had a band that could riff and jam, but all they needed was strong push back to their roots and what they did best. He restored their confidence in making copycat black blues music, but with their uniquely cool English flair. Keith wasn’t Muddy fucking Waters, but he also wasn’t moldy cheese; he was a pretty cool cat in his own right. And no one would ever confuse Mick with Little Richard, but Mick had star power nonetheless and decent chops. Moreover, Mick & Keith, in spurts, had proven to be fantastic songwriters with amazing pop sense. Both just needed a musical mentor who could make them sound cool again. Jimmy Miller deftly remade The Rolling Stones into The Rolling Stones v.2, and it led to a glorious 6-year, 5-album run that proved overwhelmingly that they were, indeed, the World’s Greatest Rock & Roll Band. And it all started with this song. Hello, Rolling Stones v.2. Honor was restored. The bad boys were back from their failed LSD trip. Even James Brown admitted these whiteboys were cool.

Waiting on a Friend – Tattoo You (1981)

My generation came of age in the late 1970s early 80s, and to us the Stones were old dudes our older brothers and sisters dug. Our bands were The Clash, Prince, U2, Elvis Costello, Run-DMC, Metallica, Depeche Mode, Iron Maiden, Beastie Boys, Def Leppard, Guns-n-Roses, R.E.M., Duran Duran, The Smiths, et al., young, new, fresh bands that pushed the limits of where Rock could go beyond the Classic Rock of the 70s that had grown stale and overplayed. And yet these old fucks still put out songs that made us smile, like this chill motherfucker; okay, yes, The Stones were all right, man. The 80s were not kind to these geezers (or The Who, Pink Floyd, and Bowie for that matter), and they ceased being cool forever and turned into a tribute band for their former selves, but in 1982 MTV played the fuck out of this song and we all loved it. I saw them live in Louisville in early 1982 and they were fucking great. Mick & Keith & Ronnie and boys were cool dudes, no doubt. Sadly, ego, dope, and excess forever stole their creative juices, but in this glorious moment they still shined like the superstars they were.

The Doobies Summer 1975

On May 15, 1975 my crazy Mom uprooted my family from our home in Rock Island, Illinois and moved us to Makakilo, Oahu, Hawaii. Her husband and our Dad, Mike Scheck, had died of cancer a year and half prior to our move, and Mom felt we needed a new life to get us all out of our extreme grief.

I was the Scheck child in the deepest throes of depression and grief. I was the youngest and hardest hit by Dad’s long illness and death; before he died I was a vivacious and athletic Tom Sawyer kind of kid who’d fallen into such abject despair that I grew fat and nearly comatose as I stumbled through life miserably. Worse was that I started wetting the bed nearly every night because my nightmares were so horrific. Much worse was I’d become almost obsessively suicidal, but luckily they were just thoughts upon which I’d not acted yet. I rejected god and religion, and most of my childhood friends were perplexed and frankly repulsed by what I’d become, fat and weird and depressive, though none would say anything because they at least understood my grief. Mostly they tried to help me, but I was in a deep, dark hole. I think there’s no doubt my Mom moved us to Hawaii to save me.

Remember the scene in The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy is catapulted by a tornado out of the dull, dark, black-and-white Kansas and steps into the technicolor brilliance of Oz? That’s how it felt when our United Airlines 747 jet landed in Honolulu and we first walked out of the airport and drove to our new home in my brother Mike’s Mercury convertible. It was, literally, paradise on Earth, at least to my depressed, pathetic, tubby, twelve-year-old self.

Hawaii is so incredibly beautiful when you first experience it through your senses, the sight of the lovely, lush, hyper-green mountain ranges on both sides, and in the middle the most beautiful flora and fauna you could ever imagine, all surrounded by the aqua-blue Pacific Ocean, moreover your sense of smell is literally assaulted by the gorgeous scents of the fresh plants and flowers and fruit trees and salty-sweet ocean breeze; the feeling you get is so magnificently exhilarating that you feel like you’ve died and gone to the very best version of heaven you could ever imagine. I spent my first hour in Hawaii hyperventilating with utter joy as we drove to our new home. This ain’t Kansas, Dorothy. It was 180 degrees different than the Rust Belt shithole we left behind in Rock Island, Illinois, and all the tragic memories that hung over it like a foul, tepid swamp mist.

I was saved already. That first hour in Hawaii awoke me from a dark nightmare that had lasted about 18 months and nearly destroyed me. It was like a shot of adrenalin to overdosed junkies near death that causes them to almost leap up from their deathbed. I was vividly awake with a gigantic gasp of air. Arise, you fat, depressed little bed-wetting Lazarus! You’re alive!

Our house was located on the southern foothills of the Waianae Mountain range on the western side of Oahu that overlooked Barber’s Point to the southwest and Honolulu and its ubiquitous and massive former volcano Diamond Head far (about 25 miles) to the east. Our house was about 1000 feet above the ocean and about two miles from it, and was situated on a steep hillside, with a gigantic back porch called a lanai that was on stilts about 15 feet above our back yard, with a breathtaking view of the Pacific Ocean that still makes me smile some 45 years later when I think about it. There were days when we could see schools of whales in the ocean below with the telescope mounted on our rail. There was a huge mango tree in our back yard that yielded fresh, delicious fruit every few months and smelled divine. I could sit on our lanai for hours and never feel bored or sensory deprived.

My brother Mike was in the Navy and stationed at Barber’s Point Naval Air Station, and he and his Navy buddies were renting the house when my Mom visited him just after the previous Christmas. Now that they were all getting out of the Navy and leaving, the house was ours to live in, so Mom moved there and rented it for us. Mike left a few weeks after we arrived to make a motorcycle trek across America with his best Navy buddy Nick, which took the whole summer. He left behind all of his furniture and possessions, especially his massive stereo system he’d bought when he was stationed in Okinawa, with a powerful amp, turntable, reel-to-reel tape deck, and quadrophonic speaker array that created the most perfect audio experience possible. Dude, it was the shit, Moreover, he and his Navy buddies left behind all their albums, acts like T. Rex, The Allman Brothers Band, Doobie Brothers, Yes, Pink Floyd, Bowie, Alice Cooper, Little Feat, Rolling Stones, et al. It was a treasure trove of great music from that era.

They’d also, and probably not on purpose, hidden their pot stashes all over the house like a stoner’s Easter egg hunt. I literally found joints and buds hidden in every nook and cranny of the house. I was only 12 and had never smoked anything before except an occasional cigarette I stole from my Mom. All I needed was the chance to try it for the first time.

One day I stayed home alone while Mom and my sisters were out shopping and my brother John had left to play tennis. In this “Home Alone” experience I cranked the Doobie Brothers album What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits on our stereo, opened all the windows in the house, and sat on our lanai to smoke my first joint with my neighbor and best friend, Danny Cunningham, who had a Hawaiian mother and a white, retired Army Master Sergeant father. Danny too had never tried pot, so this was going to be an amazing experience for us both.

So, wow, how cool was it that my first pot high was in Hawaii, with an amazing view of the Pacific Ocean, coupled with the most amazing aromas a human being could ever smell, and with a really cool record playing on the stereo! The pot was pretty potent shit and in no time Danny and I were blazed out of our minds, dancing around the lanai like idiots, laughing like crazy and feeling weirdly, magnificently, and spiritually awesome. Bliss to the max. The rest of the day we sat at Danny’s house listening to Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road album while we polished off two more joints.

I wish I could have bottled those intense feelings and drank them whenever I felt low the rest of my life. It was as if those last two years of nightmares, grief, anxiety, depression, and suicidal tendencies I felt pretty much all the time were lifted and exorcized like I had been possessed by a demon and I was now free. It would take me years to be whole again, but the momentum was finally shifting; after this day I not once had suicidal thoughts or wet the bed ever again, and I was moving in the right direction to the light away from the darkness.

No shit. It literally saved my life: Hawaii. The pot. The amazing music. Look at the healed me a year later, smiling, happy, sane (and probably high!). That which does not kill me makes me stronger. Goddamn right.

Thank you, Hawaii, marijuana, and The Doobie Brothers.

Music Moment: January 1987

Das Marabu Diskothek, Zweibrücken, West Germany
I was at a German dance club called Marabu, located in the city Zweibrücken near the French border, in early 1987, and the DJ spun this song. I think nearly everyone in the club thought it was a new Depeche Mode song because the lead vocalist definitely sounded like Dave Gahan, but when I asked the DJ who the fuck this was, he said Kissing the Pink, an English band I knew but who had been more of a chic arthouse band to my recollection. No bother. This was an amazing dance track and all the cute girls packed in Marabu danced their perky asses off to it. Good enough for me. I met the love of my life at that club that April in 1987, a ginger-haired beauty named Tanya, who could have been Scarlett Johansson’s hotter twin (no shit!), and who introduced herself to me one night rather aggressively by pinching my ass; her English and my German were poor, but our attraction to each other overcame that barrier. Oh, it was on. Certain things are likely indeed. I can still picture that smoking-hot Teutonic beauty dancing her perky ass of some 32 years later. And so it goes.

Certain Things Are Likely – Kissing the Pink (1987)


The Smiths – My 10 Favorite Songs

The Smiths: The band that changed everything.

The Smiths: The band that changed everything. From left: Andy Rourke, Steven Morrissey, Johnny Marr, Mike Joyce.

I was 22 when I first bought the album Hatful of Hollow by the Smiths. I found it at a record shop in Athens, Georgia in the fall of 1985, recommended to me by the weird kid working at the shop, who, after learning I was a devout fan of Athens, Georgia’s proudest sons of the moment, R.E.M., informed me that this album by The Smiths—mostly recorded live in the studio for the John Peel BBC radio show, plus containing new songs not on the band’s eponymous 1984 debut album—was a masterpiece and much better than their first, and, he added emphatically, better than anything by R.E.M., which was almost a sacrilege to utter in that town.

The Smiths was a band about whom, at that moment in 1985, I knew nothing, and luckily this weird kid educated me on this unknown subject. He declared grandiloquently, and with great passion, that Hatful of Hollow would change my life. Bold words by a goofy, odd, and yet wise young man when it came to music, and I was a willing and hungry student, eager for something—anything—new and exciting. So I bought it.

And of course Hatful of Hollow changed my life. From then until when The Smiths broke up in 1987, I was a devoted and fanatical lover of their music and bought every record they released. Since their breakup in 1987 my devotion waxed and waned over the ensuing decades, but every now and then I’ll return to their music if only for the intense nostalgia I felt for that period of my life. But also for the band’s songs, their incredible motherfucking songs, each and every one of them; the Smiths recorded 74 songs in their brief career, and every goddamn one of them is great.

I shall list my 10 favorite songs by The Smiths in descending order. Everyone’s opinion varies on any subjective art form like music, so my favorites may not be your favorites, or anyone else’s for that matter, and if you disagree with mine, so what. It’s just an opinion. My opinion.

10. Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now (1984, Hatful of Hollow)
The anthem that I am sure articulates the existential angst felt by all mopey, dorky, sexless boys too afraid to leave their bedrooms. In 1985 I was not among their ranks, as I was a randy and fun-loving US soldier sleeping with every pretty girl I could possibly bed and was as cocky and confident as any annoyingly smart and charming pretty boy, but I appreciated Morrissey’s lamentations on this song. Johnny Marr truly began experimenting more here with his idea of a beautiful guitar sound, a crisp, wonderfully jingley-jangley cacophony of chords and picks that make this song perfect. Morrissey’s prissy, quasi-faggie demeanor and complete lack of testosterone, coupled with the fact he possessed not a molecule of muscle tissue on his body, made him the most curious and yet fascinating pop star, especially since he was capable of articulating his angst with such eloquence and poetic silliness, plus he had the coolest haircut in the 1980s, hands down. He was a far cry from the arena rock gods like Robert Plant or Punk assholes like Johnny Rotten. Morrissey’s Rock & Roll rebellion was to be smarter and more annoying than his peers, and to hold the entire pop world in sneering disdain, and yet to succeed in it despite his dyspeptic view on life. We fans just loved his dark bedroom, navel-gazing rants. He was nothing like me as a man and everything like me as an intellectual.

9. Bigmouth Strikes Again (1986, The Queen is Dead)

Hell hath no fury like that of a prissy sissy, and on this rolling rocker Mozz thumbs his nose at his critics while the band rollicks through a pretty kick-ass tune, especially Johnny Marr’s brilliant wall of guitars, so gleefully recorded over god-knows-how-many overdubs, and sounds wildly majestic and overwhelmingly alluring here, moreover Andy Rourke’s pulsing bass lines and Mike Joyce’s steady drumming resonate with frenetic pace and feeling, and meanwhile Mozz sneeringly mocks everyone who mocks him, wiggling his bum triumphantly as he figuratively compares himself to Joan of Arc being burned at the stake for the way he’s lambasted in the press; it all works because the song fucking rocks by a pretty damn good Rock & Roll band. It’s silly, yes, but silly is Morrissey’s strong suit and why he so endeared himself to his fans as the sad, brilliant, witty clown, the mopey, sneering smart-aleck with the heart of gold. We all wish we could articulate such an annoyingly funny “fuck you” at our own critics backed by such cool music. Yeah. The Queen is Dead is an album of a great band maturing into the best one of its era, hands down. Most of my Army friends fell for The Smiths because of this song or Boy with the Thorn in His Side, or simply because I played the fuck out of this album the fall of 1986.

8. How Soon is Now? (1984, Hatful of Hollow)
Most people rate this song higher than I do in compiling their Smiths greatest hits list, and I can understand why, yet I do not agree that it’s top-5 worthy great compared to other songs by the band. But of course I love it, cherish it, and thought it was wonderful from my first listen onward. Johnny Marr’s wall of guitars sound is incredible, and of course Morrissey’s whiny, self-absorbed plea for social acceptance is both poignant and yet annoying as only he can exude so gloriously eloquent, and obnoxiously so. It’s a great song, rocking, and should be on everyone’s playlist for the band.

7. Handsome Devil (1984, Hatful of Hollow)
Here we have The Smiths as Punks, although smart ones who could deftly play their respective instruments better than most Punks, and fronted by an almost anti-Punk singer who sounds like a gayer and smarter version of Roy Orbison in the throes of a horny hissy fit over someone obviously oblivious to Steven’s desires. Mozz was an admitted celibate (or so he claimed), so all his sexual longing was theoretical and creepy like in all involuntary celibates, and even when he became a huge pop icon in England he vehemently clung to his celibacy as a weird badge of honor, as if shagging other people would ruin his intellectual purity. It was obvious he was gay, not that we fans cared, as homophobia was not only stupid but also just plain wrong, and I think we all collectively wished he’d just get his fuck on at some point with some muscular football hooligan bloke with good hair, though we loved his musings on the subject of forced sexlessness. This is a fucking rocking tune, The Smiths doing Jumping Jack Flash or I Wanna Be Your Dog in their own wonderful way. Rolling Stones and Iggy and the Stooges, meet Steven Morrissey, sissy crooner and well-coifed pop star wannabe, backed by his kick-ass band.

6. Stop Me if You Think You’ve Heard This One Before (1987, Strangeways, Here We Come)
By the time we got this one from the record store, the band was no more. This is, in effect, their swan song. And what a tune! Morrissey and Marr could no longer agree on the band’s sound or musical direction, yet when they did collaborate it was fucking beautiful, like here. Morrissey’s had a decent solo career, but none of his post-Smiths songs sounded this great. Without Johnny Marr, Morrissey’s just a weird-looking singer with a slightly annoying voice and some clever wordplay, but never as good as he was in this great band. I have never really dug Morrissey’s solo work, and, in fact, since his first solo record, I’ve ignored him completely. Now that’s he’s super old and still prancing around the stage singing his songs of youthful sexless celibate angst to crowds of dorks living in the long-gone Smiths past, I find it sad and weird and boring. I was even happier when Morrissey was forced in court to dole out part of his wealth to brilliant drummer Mike Joyce, whom Steven fucked out of royalties since day one. This wasn’t a one-man band nor was Mozz the sole genius in the band. Marr was equally brilliant in creating the band’s sound, and Mike Joyce and Andy Rourke certainly played a massive part in making the band’s music amazing.

5. This Charming Man (1984, Hatful of Hollow, Peel Session Version)
This version is hugely better than the original single that put the band on the UK pop charts for the first time. It’s got a cheeky ebullience lacking in the original, and Johnny’s guitars sound better, with more jingle-jangle for the buck, so to speak. And Andy Rourke’s bass sounds utterly perfect. On the original version, Johnny’s guitars sound annoyingly like an 8-bit telephone ring tone, while here the stereo mix by John Peel’s amazing engineer/producer Roger Pusey sounds fabulously warm and utterly inviting. The version produced by John Porter annoys me. In fact I have never liked the first album by The Smiths because Porter’s production makes the band sound tinny and hollow and gross, while on Hatful, the songs, especially the Peel Session versions, all sound fantastic. It’s why Hatful made me love the band and luckily I didn’t hear their debut first.

4. The Boy with the Thorn in His Side (1986, The Queen Is Dead)
Easily the best pure pop song by The Smiths, almost AOR-radio-friendly, and for most of my friends it was the first Smiths song that truly pricked their ears. Johnny Marr again shines with a layered symphony of guitar sounds so sublime it feels like you’re listening to pure heroin. I also think it’s Steven’s finest vocal performance of his recorded career, as he sounds completely sincere in his expression of his angst and isolation. Say what you want about the guy, but he was a proper pop star at this point, working perfectly with his excellent band to make songs on The Queen is Dead that put The Smiths on the top tier of English Rock & Roll greatness with The Beatles, Kinks, Stones, Who, Zeppelin, Sabbath, and Clash (and later Stone Roses, Oasis, Blur, and Radiohead). Really. That good. And on my list we’ve yet to get to the best song on that great album.

3. What Difference Does It Make? (1984, Hatful of Hollow, Peel Session Version)
Again, this is a vastly superior version of the song than the one on the band’s eponymous debut record. That version is very good, sure, even great, but this version is magical. Mozz later slagged this song, but, dude, we fell in love with your band because of songs like this, shut the fuck up, you silly wanker. This has the anger and energy and brilliant wordplay that made you a star and endeared your band to its most ardent supporters. What makes this song swing is Andy Rourke’s bass line, coupled with Marr’s angry guitar attack, like the band is assaulting a hill in wartime, led by that prissy sissy singer all filled with vim and sneering vitriol. Punk never sounded this good except on the occasional Clash song. This is, to me, the song that sold me on The Smiths as a great Rock & Roll band and not just a silly novelty act of a bitchy, weird, sissy-boy lead singer.

2. There Is a Light That Never Goes Out (1986, The Queen Is Dead)
In many ways The Smiths’ defining song, of course beginning with Johnny Marr’s brilliantly layered guitars, but also because Morrissey’s lyrics—sad, ironic, wistful, tragic, and yet beautiful—convey everything that made him a brilliant voice of his generation. He manages to sound sincere and not the least bit cheesy or phony. He was who he claimed he was, a mad genius trapped in the walls of his angst and frustration at dealing with the humanity around him. On this album the band figured out what made them great and finally produced a recording worthy of their greatness. Is it any wonder most critics call this the best album of the 1980s? And most fans agree? This just sounds perfect. I cannot describe how many late nights in 1986 I listened to The Queen is Dead over and over. It’s one of my favorite albums in my long life of music fandom, right up there with London Calling by The Clash; Remain in the Light by Talking Heads; The Bends and OK Computer by Radiohead; Daydream Nation by Sonic Youth; Doolittle by Pixies; Nevermind by Nirvana; Murmur by R.E.M.; and of course the greatest: Pet Sounds, Sergeant Peppers, Let it Bleed, Ziggy Stardust, Paranoid, Who’s Next, Physical Graffiti, and Dark Side of the Moon.

1. Well I Wonder (1985, Meat Is Murder)
Oh my fucking god. What a song! In the fall of 1985 I split with a girl I adored but didn’t really love, and immediately began missing her when I saw her with another guy I considered a huge step down from me, so I felt sad for her and even sadder for me as I missed her but could never admit it to her—or even me for that matter. And then I heard this fucking song and it penetrated my cold exterior into my heart like a searing hot dagger made of a welding high-intensity arc used to cut titanium. Oh, Steven, you created the ultimate depressing, mope-friendly, hide-from-humanity classic. Jesus, has ever a song evoked such heartache like this? “Gasping, dying, but somehow still alive, this is the final stand of all I am.” Fucking hell, that’s brilliant. Everything about this song is great, from the sublime guitars to the slow, rolling feel as the tune wanders through that rainstorm and Steven bleeds out his heart with such earnest candor. This, my friends, is all the proof you need of this band’s true greatness. This is a magical song, sad, yes, but sadness is an integral part of human feeling. Mozz spent much time in the dark pondering his own sadness, then penned this classic song for all of us to view his dark psychological depth along with him. Love him or hate him, he had a gift. Hand this to Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, or some Country star, and it’s a pop hit these days.

The Standards

I was born in 1963, and my fondest childhood memories in the 60s were of riding with my large brood of siblings and my parents in our station wagon as we headed to our favorite quaint little family resort called Turkey Hallow, run by our dear friends the Verschor family. It was a small lake with a beach and camping grounds, and most of its members were friends of my parents or older siblings. During that hour-long ride from our house in Rock Island, IL to the lake located to the southwest of the city, we’d have the radio blaring all the hits of that magical era, and we’d all sing along, usually badly and without knowing all the lyrics, but who cared, we were together, happy, and life was fun.

My childhood coincided with the golden era of Rock & Roll, which began with the Beatles and Stones and the rest of the British Invasion, and lasted until the late 70s when Punk tore it all down. It was a musical era of bold experiments and brilliant pop, of larger-than-life superstars and brilliant singer-songwriters who turned the simple chords and beats of Rock & Roll into art. It saw the rise of the massively wide appeal of its brightest stars and their sold-out stadium tours, and also of the abject depravity of the decadence surrounding these wild tours. Within all this madness came the music. Oh, man, the music! It defined my generation, and its greatest anthems, even now, forty and fifty years later, echo with amazing potency to our future generations

It would be difficult to list ten of my all-time favorite Rock & Roll anthems, as there were hundreds of amazing songs from my youth that would be worthy of such high praise. However, there are a few that, as a 56-year-old, still resonate in my memories like a brilliantly-bright star that refuses to collapse. I will list them from 10 to 1, the anthems that ruled my life for so much of it. I could easily list 100 others of almost equal potency, but I like to think these are the most cherished by me.

10. Cinnamon Girl – Neil Young with Crazy Horse (1969)
Young was—is—a moody, irascible, restless artist who would change musical direction with each song he wrote, never comfortable as a pop star, though of course he was one of the biggest of his generation. His voice could be shrill and annoying, and he wasn’t the deftest guitar player, and yet the man wrote so many songs of lasting brilliance and popular appeal. What Neil had was a depth of feeling that translated perfectly to his music, and at his best he could captivate the listener with songs written in simple chord progressions and even simpler beats, and yet within that narrow confine lay something of sublime sonic beauty. I smoked a ton of pot listening to Neil Young in my teens, often at night in my bedroom with my headphones on, and during this song I dreamt of a gorgeous girl, a classmate in junior and senior high of mine I adored, unrequited, for many years, and I was sure Neil had written about her specifically in this superb song. Powered by a simple but catchy guitar chord progression and Neil’s winsomely subtle vocal harmonies with the rest of Crazy Horse, this song captures the romantic vision of the type of girl like my youthful obsession, a free-spirited, mysterious, tight-jeans-clad, ethereal beauty who left me breathless with desire. I wish you all could have known her; I felt honored just to be able to be in her majestic presence despite the fact she barely noticed me. Later, as adults, we got together in Las Vegas in 2010 and I confessed my undying teenage adoration of her. She was like, dude, you should have talked me, you were cute and I so would have dated you. Whatever, c’est la vie. My Cinnamon Girl was too good for my teenage version of myself in my insecure mind.

9. Ventura Highway – America (1972)
Yes, yes, they were a knockoff of Crosby, Still, and Nash, blah, blah, blah, but in 1972-1973 I was a monumentally-depressed boy watching his father slowly die of a brain tumor, and the older brother of my best friend murdered, during that horrible awful painful fucking two years, and music was my only respite from the horror show, especially America’s sweet, simple, folksy, extremely catchy pop songs that kept me afloat as I slowly drowned in sorrow. It was the life preserver around my neck. Dewey, Dan, and Gerry captured magic in a bottle on some of their best songs, and this was reflected in the high pop chart positions this bottled magic yielded as millions (fuck the critics!) hummed along to them as they played on radios or hi-fi stereo systems all across America and beyond. For years after my Dad died, I couldn’t listen to this song without bawling, so I avoided any memory that took me back to that horrible place, even if it had been something that kept me from slashing my wrists or jumping off our roof as I contemplated so many times. I owe music my life. It kept me sane even in my darkest moments. This beautiful little tune was my drug of choice to keep me alive. I am forever grateful.

8. Madman Across the Water – Elton John (1971)
See #9 for reasons for Mat Scheck to live, the 1972-73 edition of my life. While America’s songs were the drug that kept me sane, Elton’s best songs were the pacemaker that kept my heart beating. I have no happy memories from those years, not a single fucking one. I hated the world and I wanted to die. But here I am 46 years later, living, breathing, thriving. Thank you, Elton and Bernie. You lads wrote some amazing tunes. I owe you both more than I could ever repay.

7. Sitting Still – R.E.M. (1983)
My Army buddy Jim Torey rushed into my barracks room with a record album under his arm, and he was nearly hyperventilating with excitement as he manically described what he was sure was the best fucking album he’d ever bought. Jim was a deep, nutty, and brilliant guy, ergo this declaration had to be taken seriously, so we we spent a few hours listening to R.E.M.’s album Murmur that day, and, damn, Jim was right, it was the best fucking record I’d ever heard in my life. There was nothing like it. NOTHING. The music was somewhere between the jingle-jangle rock of The Byrds and the Do It Yourself fuzzbox cool of Punk, moreover you couldn’t understand a lick of what the singer was inarticulating, but the sound was so crisply cool, so moving and magical, and so utterly original, that Jim and I were immediately enthralled. It changed our lives in 1983. Music would never be the same to us. R.E.M. opened up whole new sounds and styles and forms on this record. Strong words, I know, and a bold declaration, but you had to be there at Fort Benning that day and feel the immense vibes created by this amazing music by this band from Georgia that captured our love in that moment. Thirty-six years later I still have no idea what Michael Stipe was singing, and I still don’t give a fuck. I still love this song as much today as I did then. It still moves me to almost indescribable bliss.

6. What Difference Does It Make? – The Smiths (1983 Peel Sessions Version)
Hatful of Hollow was the first album by The Smiths I bought, and by the second song on Side One I knew—KNEW—this would be my favorite band. The brilliant level of musicianship and lyrical eloquence grabbed my sensibilities almost violently, almost painfully. This song in particular, played live in the studio for John Peel’s BBC show, just spoke to me in ways I couldn’t even explain back in 1985 when I bought this album. It just worked for me. It had the anger and energy of Punk, but it wasn’t Punk, it was amazing guitar rock with a driving sound and the nuttiest fucking lead singer ever. This lead singer had a funny high baritone timbre and he sounded like a prissy, persnickety sissy with nutty homoerotic obsessions, but goddamn was he also smart and funny and utterly fucking relevant to me, moreover the guitar player was freak-of-nature great, wildly inventive and superbly sublime, and, finally, goddamnit, as if to add insult to the happy violent injury in my already elated brain, the bass and drums were just plain perfect. This was a great fucking band. I was smitten, floored, and forever enthralled with this weirdly wonderful and highly original Rock & Roll band from Manchester, UK. Oh fuck yes.

5. Ten Years Gone – Led Zeppelin (1975)
Like so many American teenagers from the 1970s, I had a few years where Led Zeppelin was my favorite Rock & Roll band; how many nights did I lie in bed listening to all their amazing songs? Untold. I could name ten songs by this great band that could make this list, but this subtle, sad lament about past love has always been my favorite Zeppelin song. You can feel Robert Plant’s remorse not only for his lost love from days gone by, but also for the fact his vocal range will never be what it once was from his younger years, and there’s a sadness to that fact. He was still a great singer, but he’d never hit the high notes again as he had back in 1969. That made me sad in 1975. By 1978 Zeppelin fell hard from my favorites as I moved on to other bands and newer sounds, and for years afterward I never really gave their records a whirl. But in the mid 70s the band’s music defined so much of my life.

4. Bad – U2 (1984)
I saw U2 live in Paris on July 4, 1987 with my then girlfriend, a beautiful German girl from Zweibrücken named Tanya, who bought the tickets for my 24th birthday. Tanya was a tall, lithe, and super-sexy ginger with mesmerizing eyes who looked like the actress Scarlett Johansson, and she was by far the singular love of my life; no woman has ever loved me with such passion and intensity as this gorgeous German girl with a violent temper and almost destructive intensity. Our romance was tumultuous as fuck as she never fully trusted me, mainly because I was a philandering fool who never gave her good reason to earn her trust; it all ended a few months later when she caught me with another girl. She was the only woman I had ever even imagined making babies with, and holy fuck would she and I have made some beautiful ones. To say I fucked up here is an understatement, the greatest romantic tragedy in a life filled with such toxic disasters.

We drove to the show from Martinshöhe, Germany, where I lived, in my 1980 Pontiac Firebird, an exotic American muscle car few French people had ever seen, so when we parked it became a popular oddity for so many of the show’s denizens who parked near us. The show was of course magnificent, as U2 never fails to deliver live, but on this song, while high on hashish and crowd energy, and just weeks after the worst imaginable experience of my military career, The USS Stark Incident where I played a key role in recovering and identifying the dead sailors from that horrible tragedy, I broke down in tears like a child. Tanya had been my rock during the horrible aftermath of my USS Stark experience where I often needed a tremendous push just to get out of bed every day, and she immediately grasped the magnitude of the psychic pain I was releasing in my tears as U2 played this fucking powerfully beautiful song that night in Paris. It didn’t fully heal me, but it did get easier each day afterward to get out of bed and get back to the fun of living again. When Tanya left me in September 1987 I thought I could find another like her, but 32 years have passed and no one has ever come close to her. How many women have I fucked since her while I imaged it was her? All of them.

3. L.A. Woman – The Doors (1971)
When I was at Burning Man in 2000, I related to the group who sat with me around the bonfire about the story of my brief friendship in 1983 with a nefarious and motley group of bikers and outlaws I met through my stripper girlfriend, who I met at a club on the outskirts of Fort Benning. They lived in a rural campground out in the nowhere of Southwestern Georgia near the Chattahoochee River, a gaggle of redneck gypsies and hardcore bikers and their old ladies who consumed drugs and alcohol in such copious quantities that I, an Army medic, stared in wonderment that they weren’t all dead from overdose. The men were all roughnecks and the women both beautiful and yet feral; the men got by selling dope and fixing cars and cycles while the gals all danced at the clubs for Benning’s endless supply of horny soldiers with fistfuls of payday cash.

My crazy new friends lived free and on their own terms in campers and tents, and didn’t give a fuck if tomorrow ever came as long as tonight was epic. Every night they’d build a huge bonfire and blast music, and the campground turned into an insane orgy of dancing, illicit substance abuse, and sexual perversity that would have made the Romans of old embarrassed. Fast forward to Burning Man in 2000. I said to the so-called “rebels and outcasts” and whatever these dippy kids thought they were, you have no idea what it means to be a crazy outcast until you met this wild crew I met in the summer of 1983 is Southwestern Georgia out in the swampy woodlands near Fort Benning. These motherfuckers were crazy, free, and insane like no one I ever met again; they really didn’t give a fuck. I was so terrified by this freedom I ran away from it after a few weeks when I dumped my crazy stripper girlfriend who dragged me to this encampment of nihilistic insanity and licentious self-destruction. I would guess most were dead by 2000. I asked, can we play L.A. Woman by The Doors and dance around the fire like I did back in ’83 with my insane outlaw pals? The Burning Man gang, eager for “alternative” authenticity, of course agreed. And off we went. Still, it wasn’t much like my experience with my stripper baby and her insane gang. But the memories sure felt good. You wanna get your hippie dance on, motherfuckers, like my crazy redneck gypsy biker friends and their stripper old ladies in Southwestern Georgia who embraced my straight-laced Army ass that summer of 1983, well, put this fucking awesome song on your music player and TURN IT THE FUCK UP.

2. Gimme Shelter – The Rolling Stones (1969)
I was six in 1969. Men walked on the Moon. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy had been assassinated the year before. There seemed to be almost nightly reports of horrific race riots in every major American city. The fucking 1968 Democratic National Convention turned into a violent shit show as Chicago cops beat the fuck out of hippies while CBS News videotaped it all. The Vietnam War raged on and we watched the casualty lists daily to see if another relative or neighborhood boy serving over there died. And the horrors in ‘Nam never seemed to end: Khe Sanh, The Tet Offensive, Hamburger Hill, etc. I am sure there was plenty of free love and peace in America, but it was a lie to say things were good. Things were not good. We were a country divided, mortally wounded, and angry. These pale British Rock & Roll superstars put out a song that captured all this psychic angst in one bold, powerful, beautiful song that captured the airwaves as 1969 turned into 1970. Goodbye, hippie love fest, hello reality, motherfuckers. Reality was a police nightstick smashing a black face as buildings burned in the background and the Viet Cong killed Billy down the street who joined the 101st Airborne after high school. We were in pain and this was the anthem. Unity in America died in 1969 and it’s never come back.

1. Bohemian Rhapsody – Queen (1976)
We were driving from our new home in Indiana to our old one in Illinois to visit friends and family, I recall it was a cold, shitty day in 1976, when this nutty song came on the radio. I was sitting in the back seat with my sisters Jeanne and Maggie, and when this played we looked at each other, both puzzled and yet we could not help but fall in love with this crazy, weird, wonderful song. When it was over we looked at each other and were too confused by what we heard to speak. And then, about 20 minutes later on another radio station, we heard it again. On that 5-hour car trip were heard it about six times. By the sixth it was our favorite song and we knew all the words and sang along like idiots. Queen had pushed the limits of Rock & Roll way beyond what anyone thought was the outer boundary, and this insanely brilliant song is testimony to the band’s hubris and genius. It’s silly, sure, but also has powerful moments and kicks ass; it fucking ROCKS. It’s easily the most memorable Rock & Roll song of my lifetime. It’s Metal; it’s Pop; it’s Opera; it’s Rock & Roll! I dare Taylor Swift or Lady Gaga or Beyonce or some other shitty pop star from today to come close this kind of brilliance. I double-dog dare you.

Summer Songs 2019

Tame Impala – Borderline
This breezy, stoner-friendly tune was released in April but is a perfect tune for chilling one’s self in the summer beach heat. There’s a feeling of floating through a chilly mist as this song happily prances along with a simple, bass-and-synth roll over a steady 2-step beat as singer Kevin Parker’s groovy falsetto mellows the mood even further. Whether chilling while blazed on a couch or cuddling naked with your loved one on a sweat-covered bed as the ceiling fan cools everything down, this is a great little tune for 2019’s summer heat.

Jai Wolf (Featuring Mr. Gabriel) – Lose My Mind

Here we have the first Indie pop star of Bangladeshi origin, Sajeeb Saha, who goes by Jai Wolfe, and on this sweet, catchy little tune our fine Bengali brother shows an incredible dream pop sense, with a superb bass line, an utterly enjoyable groove, and a chorus that gave me chills the first few runs through the song. Another great way to chill in the summer heat with this blasting through your bluetooth headset. Pure cool, sweet, utterly enjoyable pop magic.

MorMor – Outside

Holy fuck is this a gorgeous piece of modern pop, sweet and haunting, creating a lovely, yet sad dreamscape with Seth Nyquist’s dreamy vocal delivery carried along the heavens by swaths of otherworldly synth orchestral maneuvers and a feather-lightly-strummed acoustic guitar. This is truly beautiful pop music at its very best. I hope tens of thousands of lovers embrace to this absolutely perfect piece of romantic and heartfelt awesomeness. I’m seeing my own summer 2019 accompanied by a gorgeous lover or two cuddled next to me as this plays. Goddamn, life is best lived when you live it right: good music, love, sex, romance, with fans blowing across two entwined bodies in the sweltering heat. Come join me if you dare.

Jowell & Randy X Manuel Turizo – Dile Le Verdad

A medida que vivo más y más de mi vida en el mundo de habla hispana, mi gusto musical también requiere música en español, y aquí tengo una súper canción de Puerto Rico para mantener mis habilidades en español perfeccionadas. ¡Celebra el lenguaje y la cultura!

Inhaler – There’s No Other Place

Eli Hewson has one major advantage over his superstar father in that he possesses none of Bono’s annoyingly preening pretension, the one quality we all kind of hated about U2’s otherwise brilliant frontman. Bono was easily the greatest rock star of my generation, sure, but he always came across as a little insincere. Eli seems to have had that pretentious gene recessed, as there’s a genuine warmth to his persona that gives him a vulnerability and sensitivity that his old man never really had. Nepotism gives this kid a huge leg up, sure, but one still has to deliver the goods even when the door is opened wide and the climb upwards is given a huge boost. This kid has the goods.

Clairo – Bags
She’s like Cheryl Crow but on better drugs and with a lovelier, ultra-feminine side that exudes breathless sensuality and the desire to make you want to love her madly; I’m sickly fucking jealous of whoever gets to kiss this lovely girl. Great pop shouldn’t be difficult or complex or even virtuoso; it should just be good, catchy, and stir emotions deep within one’s heart, soul, and libido. Clairo’s tune does all three with an amazing ease that’s a major turn-on for this pop music fanatic.

Cool Ladies of the 80s

As an ardent feminist raised by my widowed mother and six older sisters, I learned almost from birth the vast superiority of women over men in nearly every human quality that matters most, such as compassion, empathy, altruism, wisdom, and, most importantly, love. My mother, Tess Bernat Scheck, was simply the smartest, wisest, and most capable human being I’ve ever known, moreover her capacity to love was the single greatest gift she bestowed on her nine children. I was her last baby and she spoiled me rotten. Plus my sisters doted on me, and in fact still do well into my 57th year of life. I think one of the reasons I have eschewed monogamy is because I cannot love just one woman, which sounds like a sleazy cop-out, but I swear it’s true. I not only prefer the company of women, I pretty much loathe most men around me.

In the 1980s women began to take over Rock & Roll thanks to brilliant pioneers like Patti Smith, Debbie Harry, Joni Mitchell, Suzi Quatro, Stevie Nicks, Heart’s Wilson sisters Ann & Nancy, Pat Benatar, and of course the amazing Tina Turner and Aretha Franklin. I could name many more.

In the 1980s women stepped out front to lead so many great bands, or stood alone as solo artists of great power, depth, and feeling. In my opinion some of the best music of that era was female dominated, and here are a few examples to back my rather bold argument.

Missing Persons – Mental Hopscotch (1982)


Pretenders – Back on the Chain Gang (1982)


Eurythmics – Who’s That Girl? (1983)


The Motels – Only the Lonely (1982)


Quarterflash – Take Me to Heart (1983)


Kim Wilde – Kids in America (1982)


Madonna – Physical Attraction (1983)


 Bananarama – Cruel Summer (1984)


Janet Jackson – Control (1986)


Throwing Muses – Call Me (1986)


Book of Love – Modigliani (Lost in Your Eyes) (1986)


Tracy Chapman – Fast Car (1987)


Sonic Youth – The Sprawl (1987)


Sinead O’Connor – Mandinka (1987)