Friday, September 30, 2011

No. 979 – Soothe

Performer: Smashing Pumpkins
Songwriter: Billy Corgan
Original Release: Disarm Single
Year: 1993
Definitive Version: None

Nearly every act among my favorites released something in 1994: The Who, Hendrix, Neil Young, Pearl Jam, Zeppelin (more or less), Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pink Floyd, Alice in Chains, Peter Gabriel, ELP. The lone exceptions were Rush, who put out Counterparts in the fall of 1993, and Genesis. From Smashing Pumpkins, of course, came the collection of B sides known as Pisces Iscariot, which was my introduction to this song.

When I would make a workout tape, I’d like to construct it like an album, with a musical flow throughout. Soothe is about as perfect a first song as you could find, being short and very spare. You could go in any direction that you wanted afterward. It’s perfect for when you first hit the gym floor for your stretching, so by the time it’s over and the heavy stuff comes on to amp you up, you’re ready to roll.

I was going to two gyms at the time through my membership at Bally’s. One was where I used to play racquetball when I was in high school. It was on the fringes of Upper Arlington and was nice, bright and spacious. The other was out near where Debbie lived and it too reflected the area. It was compact, dark and crowded. It had a one-eighth-mile track above the floor, and I called it the workout dungeon. Where I would go depended on whether I was going shopping on the Northwest side or seeing Debbie later.

Soothe puts me right back to that time every time I hear it. To me, it’s the sound of leaves falling.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

No. 980 – Doobie Wah

Performer: Peter Frampton
Songwriters: Peter Frampton, John Siomos, Rick Wills
Original Release: Somethin’s Happening
Year: 1974
Definitive Version: Frampton Comes Alive!, 1976

It will become abundantly clear over the course of this list that when it comes to favorite songs, a live version of the song when it’s an option is preferred 99 times out of 100. Sometimes the said version is the ONLY reason that I like the song. That preference can be attributed to Frampton Comes Alive!

Although it wasn’t the first live album that I heard (Four Way Street) or even owned (Stephen Stills Live), Frampton Comes Alive! was the one that turned me on to live albums. First, there are the collection of songs. If you’re diving into a new band or performer, you get essentially the greatest hits up to the time of the album.

Second, there’s the sound itself. Solos and songs can go in different—and much longer—directions. And as long as the sound is somewhat OK—the artist wouldn’t release it if it sounded like a muddy bootleg—the cheers add to the excitement level, as if you were there. And no album that I’ve heard—official or bootleg—ever captured that excitement level like Frampton Comes Alive! did. I’m certain that it was a large part of the album’s success. The crowd is reacting so wildly that you thought what they were seeing was the greatest concert of all time.

Many years later, my sister asked a friend who went to one of the shows that was recorded for the album (the one where the guy is chucking firecrackers). And he says the crowd WAS in fact that loud, at least at that show. That’s cool, but would it really have mattered if it had been punched up? All I know is that I was sold, and it forever shaped how I listen to music.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

No. 981 – Secret World

Performer: Peter Gabriel
Songwriter: Peter Gabriel
Original Release: Us
Year: 1992
Definitive Version: None

I saw Peter Gabriel live twice in July 1993, and Secret World was the set closer before the encore. The first show was at the Palace in Auburn Hills, the second at the Rosemont Horizon. I went with my brother the first time, my sister the second (although she sat with a friend and I sat with someone (a dude) I’d never met. Other than the fact that my seats were crap each place, the two shows couldn’t have been more different.

At the first show, in Michigan, the house was maybe three-quarters full, maybe less. The crowd mostly sat on their hands, and in fact, Gabriel admonished the crowd at one point for its inattentiveness and inconsideration during a quiet moment. About a week later, the Horizon was full, the crowd needed no such prompting, and Gabriel played two additional songs—Shock the Monkey in the middle and Here Comes the Flood as a second-encore show of thanks.

And then there’s the difference in the venues. The Palace is just down the road from where I lived in Grand Blanc. The Horizon is near Chicago, which meant I was on my sister’s futon for a weekend but more important I was in Chicago. This meant ritualistic journeys to my favorite places at the time: Gino’s East, Walker Bros. for incomparable chocolate-chip pancakes and my new favorite place that Jin had introduced me to earlier: Penny's Noodles.

Guess which show I liked better?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

No. 982 – One Country

Performer: Midnight Oil
Songwriters: Jim Moginie, Peter Garrett
Original Release: Blue Sky Mining
Year: 1990
Definitive Version: None

Almost immediately after I discovered Midnight Oil, I got the chance to see them live. They were going to be at Pine Knob, which was “Detroit’s” outdoor venue (now called Corporate Entity of the Day Amphitheater or somesuch thing). I use the bunny ears around Detroit, because Waterford is almost closer to Flint than it is Detroit. It’s definitely closer to Grand Blanc.

The Journal’s music writer at the time (pre Doug) put the offer out there of two free tickets. No one else bit. (If I was at least 3 years late to the party on Midnight Oil, I was still on the cutting edge for the Journal.) I grabbed them up and went sans date (not from a lack of trying.

Hunters & Collectors was the warmup act, and they were cool, pretty much in the same ballpark musically as Midnight Oil—but loud, particularly under the canopy of the amphitheater. This was not a good sign, because anyone who’s ever seen more than one show KNOWS that there’s no way that the warmup act can be louder than the headliner.

Sure enough, Midnight Oil was L O U D, almost ear-bleedingly so. It was up to that point the loudest show I ever attended. In fact, it might be the loudest show period, either that or I’ve lost enough hearing since then that nothing has seemed to have come close. My ears were ringing for two full days afterward.

They were rock solid though; Peter Garrett is a trip on stage—this gigantic bald geek who moved like a robot in desperate need of oil. The encore was One Country, and it was symphonic. It started with Garrett and guitarist Moginie perched on stool-like blocks before building to the climax. I liked the song OK before the show, but after I found myself humming the final verses as I walked across the yard to my car in the parking lot, while resolving to never see another show without cotton in my ears.

Monday, September 26, 2011

No. 983 – November Hotel

Performer: Mad Season
Songwriters: Barrett Martin, Mike McCready, John Baker Saunders, Layne Staley
Original Release: Above
Year: 1995
Definitive Version: None

If you date anyone for any length of time—particularly someone who lives more than a 15-minute drive from you—eventually you get around to the notion that the constant commute is wasted time. In the summer of 1995, I was living in German Village, which is about a half-mile south of The Columbus Dispatch where I worked. Debbie lived near Reynoldsburg, which is at the far East reaches of metropolitan Columbus.

I was basically driving everywhere to do anything, and I was starting to get a little tired of it. So that’s when Debbie and I decided to move in together. It was a huge step, of course. I had never lived with anyone I was dating, and after being alone for six years, I wasn’t sure that I was willing to have someone else “invade my personal space.” But I was willing to give it a try. Even though she had never lived with someone to whom she wasn’t married, she was game. We decided that once her annual lease ran out in July, we’d make the move.

This decision led to the unofficial—though no less real—rift between me and my Dad’s side of the family, which then lasted for 4 years. I was never disinvited from anything, but Debbie was never invited to anything. The natural result was I hardly went to anything—the notable exception being things that involved my brothers Matt and Casey.

Because this is the first time I’ve brought this up, I must make this disclaimer: Everything is totally cool now—water under the bridge—but what happened is a matter of record, and if I am writing about my life’s soundtrack, I have to mention this event at least in passing. What’s important for you to know is that there was a rift. I’ll explain why at a later, more appropriate point, but I’ll keep said discussion to as much of a minimum as I can. TMI and all that, you know.

Anyway, by this time I had turned Debbie on to the whole Seattle scene—just in time for it to be over. (My timing is nothing if not impeccable.) Nevertheless, when Above came out, we both loved it, and it was on my stereo all the time in the spring and summer of 1995 when we decided to move in together and start looking for places. So when I hear pretty much any song off that album—but this instrumental with its frantic guitar solo center in particular—I flash back to that time when I was willing to pay a high price for following my heart.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

No. 984 – Blue Sky Mine

Performer: Midnight Oil
Songwriters: Peter Garrett, Bones Hillman, Rob Hirst, Jim Moginie, Martin Rotsey
Original Release: Blue Sky Mining
Year: 1990
Definitive Version: None

When I took the job at the Flint Journal in November 1989, it took me a few months to climb out from the debt I had accumulated up to that point. When I did, I finally had some meaningful disposable income, and I had just bought my first CD player. Consequently, I was spending a lot of time at the record store at the Genesee Valley Mall.

Because I also had just recently subscribed to Rolling Stone, I was eager (and able) to even drop a few bucks on something sound-unheard. One of those things was Blue Sky Mining. Midnight Oil had a good reputation, so I thought why not when I saw this one by the checkout counter. However, being the discerning shopper that I was, I decided rather than spend the $18 (back then) for the CD version, I instead dropped the $9 on the cassette. In other words, I was willing to make a $9 mistake but not a $18 mistake.

I have a clear vision of driving on Miller Avenue, heading towards I-69 to get back to Grand Blanc with this song on, going, “Hey, these guys are pretty good!” Needless to say, I’ve pulled a few rocks with these types of purchases, but Midnight Oil wasn’t one of them.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

No. 985 – Crackerman

Performer: Stone Temple Pilots
Songwriters: Robert DeLeo, Eric Kretz
Original Release: Core
Year: 1992
Definitive Version: None

After 2 years of playing softball, I decided that I wanted to hit home runs the next year, so in the spring of 1993, I started working on a new swing for the next season. My gym was next to a mini amusement park that had all of the standards—putt-putt golf, video games, bumper cars and batting cages. It had cages for baseball, fast-pitch softball and two types of slow-pitch softball.

So my workouts consisted of weights at the gym for about an hour before I rode the stationary bike. Somewhere in the middle, I’d throw on my sweatpants and sweatshirt, grab my bat and head over to the cages for about $5 worth of rips. I never did hit any home runs (I never learned to give the ball any kind of lift), but my swing—and therefore batting average—improved as a result.

Like most people, I saw STP when they hit the scene as Pearl Jam clones. (Rolling Stone once called PJ the Stone Gossard Pilots, which I thought was pretty funny.) After a while, I had bought pretty much everything else worth buying, so I finally turned to the clones. Sure, they’re derivative, but who isn’t in the history of music? And this song was on my Walkman (still using tapes) during a lot of those workouts that spring.

Friday, September 23, 2011

No. 986 – Over the Top

Performer: John Lee Hooker
Songwriter: Pete Townshend
Original Release: The Iron Man: The Musical by Pete Townshend
Year: 1989
Definitive Version: None

It might seem at odds with common perception, but when I drove to my friend Jessica’s wedding in Colorado Springs in the fall of 1989, I was actually excited to see Nebraska, because, well, I’d never it before. In fact, I’m not sure I’d ever seen any pictures of it except from a Cornhuskers football game.

I drove back roads for the most part, because, well, why not? You drive on interstates, and eventually everything looks the same--dull. If you have the time, two-lane roads are really the only way to truly see the country when you drive.

I was in the middle of a major Who renaissance thanks to having finally seen them in the summer, so I listened to The Iron Man (on cassette!) a lot on the trip, particularly through Nebraska. (I drove through Friend, Neb., so A Friend Is A Friend seemed particularly appropriate.) When I hear Over the Top, my favorite song from Pete Townshend’s kid’s tale concept album, I think of Nebraska—and yes, it is very flat until you start to get to the West side of the state—and particularly the night I stopped in McCook. It was a Friday night, and being literally in the middle of nowhere, the entertainment options were limited to an obvious choice: Hit up the local high-school football game.

I took my camera, and I was allowed to wander around the sidelines as if I were covering the game (shades of New Buffalo the year before). I can’t remember who McCook played or who won (although I seem to think the local team did in fact win its season opener), but what I remember was how the kids in McCook (population about 6,000) looked, dressed and sounded exactly the same as those from Herald City (aka the Northwest Suburbs of Chicago, population about 580,000). I suppose given the spread of MTV, I shouldn’t have been surprised at how homogenized the pop culture had become, but I was anyway. Eventually, everything looks the same, indeed.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

No. 987 – Damn Good

Performer: David Lee Roth
Songwriters: David Lee Roth, Steve Vai
Original Release: Skyscraper
Year: 1988
Definitive Version: None

My apartment in New Buffalo was my first real place, that is, it was the first apartment where I paid my own rent. I moved there in January 1988 to start my journalism career as associate editor at the Harbor Country News.

I was a huge Steve & Garry fan thanks to being at Northwestern for a year, and I listened to their show religiously when I could, taping it when I couldn’t and saving the best bits for later re-listening. In February after I moved to New Buffalo, they were talking about this song and how it was a ripoff of Triad by Jefferson Airplane and And You and I by Yes and Dogs by Pink Floyd and God knows what else. They mixed all the songs together and it was a funny extended bit, but the punch line is that it actually got me into this song.

I don’t know exactly why, but when I hear it now, I have a clear vision of my kitchen, which was, by far, the biggest room in the New Buffalo apartment. Just unnecessarily spacious. I had a table and chairs, and I kept my bike there and I might as well have put a dresser there, too. The kitchen had a white linoleum tile floor that was a huge pain in the butt to clean, which I did constantly that winter, because it snows a ton in New Buffalo thanks to its proximity to Lake Michigan. It also pretty much made the summer town desolate.

So you’d drag in the snow, it would melt and you’d mop up the mess after covering the floor in boot footprints. Eventually I bought a sheet of plastic that I used as a walkway to the living room. Fortunately, heat in the apartment was never a problem, so it could have been worse. But all the while, I’d be listening to Steve & Garry trash David Lee Roth for directly ripping off David Crosby (who wrote Triad) and even though I was isolated from everything, I never really felt lonely.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

No. 988 – All Apologies

Performer: Nirvana
Songwriter: Kurt Cobain
Original Release: In Utero
Year: 1993
Definitive Version: The studio version. I like the electric feedback hum at the end.

I know I might be blowing this story out prematurely, but this song seems the most appropriate for it anyway, so here it is. My buddy Doug, who was the music writer at the Flint Journal, had been promising me for about a year that he would take me to a concert the next time his (now ex) wife bailed, and my number finally came up for a biggie in the fall of 1993—Nirvana.

I carefully worked the schedule to have that Friday night off, which wasn’t easy. Friday nights in the fall, of course, meant prep football and girl’s basketball, so it was the definition of hectic. At the time, I was part of a three-man sports copy-desk rotation, and two copy editors were needed on Friday nights to pull it off. We did this by using a part timer to help out with pages on the Friday morning edition, so two of the three full-timers would be there Friday night.

As (bad) luck would have it, the part timer was on vacation. Dan was going to work a double shift to cover the vacation (and allow me to go see Nirvana). The day before, the other copy editor, John, called in sick—a not infrequent occurrence given his constant health issues—and it seemed that there were two chances that he’d be able to work the Friday night shift—fat and no.

Well, I think you can see what’s coming. Dan not only would have to pull a double, he’d also have to work solo Friday night for me to go the show. No way. Even though Dan insisted—on my behalf—that he could do it, I took the bullet and volunteered to work that night (we both would pull doubles), and I told Doug I couldn’t make the Nirvana concert.

At the time, I knew that Nirvana was scheduled to headline Lollapalooza the next summer, so I would definitely have another chance to see them—unless, of course, something like the band suddenly breaking up for some reason took place before then …

I don’t regret my decision much—only whenever I think about it. No, I’m just kidding. I did the right thing, but … damn.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

No. 989 -- Half

Performer: Soundgarden
Songwriter: Ben Shepherd
Original Release: Superunknown
Year: 1994
Definitive Version: None

When you do an autobiography to music, you quickly discover that you might have a lot of songs from a narrow time period, and many songs are associated with the same thing. I bought a lot of music from 1993 to 1995, and I have to carefully parcel out what I say about each song in the interest of not repeating myself.

I was listening to Superunknown a lot after I moved back to Columbus in 1994, so I always think of my first apartment there. It was quite a step up from my place in Grand Blanc, as I’ve noted. The trouble is when you have way more space than ever before, you feel obligated to fill it up. All of a sudden you need a paper towel rack or a bathroom rug, and it has to be just the right one—whereas you didn’t care in college. So in the summer and fall of 1994, I was spending a lot of time driving around town, hitting up this furniture store or that department store for just the right lamp that tied the room together. I don’t know that I fully succeeded in my attempt at interior design, and I do know that I’ve wasted a lot of time and money storing and hauling around stuff that I should have discarded long ago.

It all seemed like a good idea at the time though.

Monday, September 19, 2011

No. 990 -- Ghost of a Chance

Performer: Rush
Songwriters: Geddy Lee, Alex, Lifeson, Neal Peart
Original Release: Roll the Bones
Year: 1991
Definitive Version: Roll the Bones bootleg, 1991

With the possible exception of local acts—if you’re in Chicago, you MUST see Patricia Barber at The Green Mill—there is no performer I’ve seen live more times than Rush. At this writing, I’ve seen them 11 times and at least once on every tour since Presto in 1990. And despite that number, each show stands out for one reason or another.

In the spring of 1992, my Dad, who had been in to Rush since New World Man, invited me down to go with him and his secretary, Debbie, to see Rush in Dayton. All I had to pay for was the gas from Flint. Sounded good to me.

Back then, Rush always toured with a warm-up act. And for the second leg of the Roll the Bones tour, they went back to Mr. Big, a Canadian hair band that never made it, well, big. Because I’d seen them in 1990 and wasn’t impressed, I saw no reason to get to the show early, so we went to a nearby Mexican restaurant for eats beforehand. Based on the timing—no rock show ever starts on time and a warmup act always gets at least 30 minutes—I figured we were good to go, even though the other two were dubious.

Well, when we left, the first indication of trouble was that almost no one was outside the Nutter Center. Where were all the other late arrivals? The second—and real—indication of trouble was when we heard the music as we got closer. At first, I assumed—and said—Mr. Big was rockin’ it out. But as we got close to the door and recognized the song as Force Ten—Rush’s opener—we made a mad dash for the doors. Oops!

We got to our seats just about the time the song wrapped up, so fortunately we missed only the one song, but it would appear that Rush in fact started on time. Who ever heard of a punctual rock band? Oh well; the show was great. And afterward, Debbie and I hit it off talking about music on the drive back to Columbus. That would become important 2 years later when I moved to Columbus and we began to date. This was Debbie’s favorite Rush song, and I’ll always think about how we first connected at a Rush concert, of all places.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

No. 991 – Question

Performer: The Moody Blues
Songwriter: Justin Hayward
Original Release: single, A Question of Balance
Year: 1970
Definitive Version: The Other Side of Life Tour bootleg, 1986

As 1986 was winding down, and it was becoming apparent that there would be no glorious repeat for the Chicago Bears, I was at my own crossroads. On the one hand, I was starting to contemplate the likelihood that I was going to wash out of J school at Northwestern.

On the other, I was realizing that I was falling in love with Chicago. It was a slow process, but I remember it hitting me one cold November night as I was walking downtown from the Law School library to the L. I had spent the day collecting research for a professor who was interested in the relationship between journalism and the law through history. It was part of my work-study program, and I don’t know now whether his work was ever published, but I was diligent about doing it when I could fit it in, which was rarely. I’d usually block out time on a Saturday and I’d have the Northwestern football game on the radio of my Walkman in the afternoon, and as the evening fell I’d listen to a tape I’d made of a Moody Blues concert (among other things) off the radio. Questions was the last song of the set.

Anyway, this one particular night I had stopped off at the Gino’s East take-out outlet next to the restaurant on Superior for a slice and a Coke, and as I was walking down Chicago to my L stop, I had a great view of the Loop area and all the buildings lit up at night. At the time, I was uncertain about my future—Questions seemed an apt song title at the time—and my future with Beth, who seemed so far away from me in Columbus. And all of a sudden it hit me like a rush-hour cab gunning for a fare: I really felt very comfortable in Chicago. I had spent the previous two months being a little intimidated by the big city but no longer. By the end of November, I knew how to get around; I knew a few cool places; and I had made some friends.

Now all I had to do was figure out how I was going to make it through Medill’s boot camp, so I could stay there a little longer.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

No. 992 – Kyrie

In undertaking an autobiography, there’s a fine line between what’s essential to the story and what’s TMI. Some more than willingly cross the line in the name of sales. I have no such interest, so I’m less eager to avoid the details—unless I can make it funny or make me look like the boob that I am. In other words, I’m going to tell you the truth but not necessarily the whole truth.

What’s essential to the story is that when this song came out, Beth and I had become intimate. And whenever we could sneak away, we invariably would have the adult contemporary station dialed in on the radio. Beth didn’t care for the harder rock—The Who, Jimi Hendrix and (God forbid) Led Zeppelin—that I loved. But we agreed on Genesis and MTV-friendly pop, and Sunny 95 played the more mellow stuff, so that’s what was on most of the time. (And it was the first time I recall the splintering of pop/rock radio that now has gone overboard.)

I’m a firm believer that the reason Classic Rock dominates music radio these days is because it was the rock that was current when the baby boom generation, which rules marketing, began to have sex (granting, of course, that a lot of it is truly great). As we age, most people tend to particularly gravitate to the music that they listened to when they began to get laid. For me, it was what I call ‘80s synth pop crap. And when I say synth pop crap, I mean it in the best possible of terms. Give me Flock of Seagulls, A-Ha and Culture Club, and I’ll be asking for seconds. Adam Ant? Thank you, sir; may I have another?

Mr. Mister definitely fits that bill—recalling a time when my teenage angst gave way to a sense that maybe, just perhaps, all was right with the world after all—and I make no apologies for it.

Friday, September 16, 2011

No. 993 -- Shine On

Performer: Peter Frampton
Songwriter: Peter Frampton
Original Release: Rock On (Humble Pie)
Year: 1971
Definitive Version: Frampton Comes Alive!, 1976

I always liked this song, and when I finally did the background on it for this list and found out it was originally a Humble Pie song, I liked it even better.

For those of you who aren’t as up on Frampton Comes Alive! as you should be, Shine On was on Side 3, which was the last side I got into. (When you have a stack of albums on your record player, do you want to flip over side 4 and pass up Do You Feel Like We Do? I thought not.) By the time Side 3—and therefore this song—began to worm its way into my consciousness, I was on the verge of becoming a junior-high-school reject.

Depending on what you believe, I was either a misguided teen acting out due to my parents’ divorce or a lazy-ass jagoff too busy fantasizing about making it to the majors or whichever hot babe happened to walk past me 5 seconds ago—and that’s pretty much EVERY girl when you’re 13—to bother with something as tedious as schoolwork. Regardless, what I really needed was a swift kick in the rump. And one day in early 1977, when my grade card read like that of a Delta Tau Chi reject, Mrs. Goldsmith, my English teacher, gave it to me.

I remember like it was yesterday, but she took me aside after I was in detention one day and read me the riot act. Basically, she called me out on my b.s. and told me to shape up, pronto—and I did. I almost never again got anything less than a B. (The exception was high-school Calculus, which I barely passed and which wrecked my GPA. Being a baseball stathead, I loved numbers, but I just couldn’t get my head around conceptual math.)

At the end of the year, after I had gotten an A in her class and made the Honor Roll for the first time, Mrs. Goldsmith took me aside again and warmly congratulated me on my work.

When I would tell people that year that I had her for English, everyone would shudder and say that she was a real bitch. Maybe to some, and I suppose had I gone in a different direction, I might have agreed, but she’s one of my favorite teachers. Unfortunately, I never properly thanked her for straightening me out. If she’s still around and stumbles across this here blog, hopefully she would agree that it’s better late than never: Thank you, Mrs. Goldsmith, for caring enough to give me the (ahem) proper motivation.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

No. 994 -- 3 Libras

Performer: A Perfect Circle
Songwriters: Maynard James Keenan, Billy Howerdel
Original Release: Mer de Noms
Year: 2000
Definitive Version: None

Mer de Noms, the debut album by A Perfect Circle, came out in May 2000. So it was in heavy—if not solitary—rotation on my Discman when Debbie and I went to Alaska around Memorial Day. One of Debbie’s cousins worked for the Alaska state government in Juneau at that time, so we decided it was time for a visit.

Newsflash: Alaska is amazing. No kidding, right? I always like to say it’s like the Rockies plus the ocean minus the people. If you get to Juneau, one thing you have to do is take the day trip up the Tracy Arm fjord to the glacier. Sea lions go there to have their babies—and likely just to hang out—because the mouth of the fjord is too shallow for killer whales to get in and get them. Here’s what we saw the day we went in addition to sea lions seemingly draped over every other iceberg sunning themselves: Parts of the glacier calving (breaking off) into icebergs the size of a tank, a grizzly bear mother and her two cubs way up the mountainside and three black bears taking a drink down by the water. Oh yeah, and bald eagles like you typically see sparrows. No kidding. Once I counted 33 in my line of sight. If you’re there long enough, you simply stop noticing them, because they’re everywhere.

And the whole time you’re surrounded by pristine blue water and more snow-peaked mountains than a Coors commercial. Like I said: Amazing. Obviously, Mer de Noms is the soundtrack to that trip, and in a bit of foreshadowing, I’ll have more to say about it later.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

No. 995 -- Rock On

Performer: David Essex
Songwriter: David Essex
Original Release: Rock On
Year: 1973
Definitive Version: None

Geez, what’s with all the oldies? You mean the “Classic Rock”? There was no classic rock radio when I was a kid. And no self-respecting young punk listened to what his parents did (I mean Chuck Berry was great, but …). Now, not only are they encouraged to do so, it’s about the only choice they have. It seems radio figures that the kids are too busy with the Pandora anyway, so they cater only to old farts like myself, and who wants to hear something new when you can hear Layla for the 10,000th time?

Anyway, when I got the gig at the Daily Herald in 1988, I still wouldn’t be making much money ($19K, give or take), so I looked to live as cheaply as possible, which meant sharing a place with a roommate. I found such a connection in Mount Prospect. I had a small bedroom, my own bathroom and we had a small terrace outside the living room. It was in a complex, which isn’t my style, but at $275 per month, the price was right.

I can’t recall my roommate’s name—I think it was Doug—but I recall that he worked for United in a desk job and that he had a moustache, and that was about it. Because I worked nights, we didn’t see much of each other, which worked out fine. It wasn’t bad, but when the time came to move on, I decided I never wanted a roommate again unless I was in a relationship. At 25, it was time to have my own space.

Doug had Rock On on tape, and I recall that I always kind of liked it when I heard it on the radio, so I taped it and played it quite a bit in the car. (I had recently stopped listening to music radio myself.) Naturally, I have a clear vision of my apartment—and its mostly gold tones—when I hear this song.

Oh yeah, one more thing about that apartment: Did I mention that it was in the flight plan for O’Hare? That’s why the price was right. Every other day in the morning, I’d be literally shaken awake by a 747 or somesuch airliner taking off. I once lived about 200 feet from the L, which was unpleasant at first, but eventually I got used to it to the point where, like Elwood Blues, I didn’t even notice it. You don’t get used to a 747 roaring over your head.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

No. 996 -- Heard It Through the Grapevine

Performer: Marvin Gaye
Songwriters: Norman Whitfield, Barrett Strong
Original Release: In the Groove
Year: 1968
Definitive Version: None

When I worked in sports at the Flint Journal, it was all about the weekend shifts, which meant driving over to the White Horse Tavern as fast as possible without running too many red lights as soon as the section made it out of paste-up. The deadline was 1 a.m. Fridays but midnight Saturdays, which meant an extra hour of drinking, hanging out and listening to tunes on the juke.

One of the first times I made it to the juke—first come, first play, which typically meant first dominate—I loaded it up with a few automatic requests and then other things I liked. And when I came over to the table, Robb, one of the part-timers who helped out by taking calls and building the agate (box scores and whatnot), quizzed me on the content of my selections. He was something of a music aficionado himself, and he was testing the newbie. I told him, saying that I finished up with Marvin Gaye. That seemed OK to him, but when my music finished up and the Marvin Gaye in question was Mercy, Mercy Me, he broke into a wide smile. “Oh, sweet! I thought when you said Marvin Gaye, you we’re going to play Heard It Through the Grapevine.” (The juke had a disc of Gaye’s greatest hits.) “C’mon, give me some credit here.” I had most definitely passed the test.

It’s interesting to think about that now. Grapevine is a pretty serious song about a man asking his lover to confirm the rumor he’d heard that she was about to split for another guy. (I definitely know what that feels like.) Rolling Stone rates it among the greatest pop songs of all time. Yet by the time I had moved to sports, it represented privileged yuppies boogeying around the kitchen while making salad in The Big Chill and then ubiquitous cartoon raisins strolling across the TV hawking California’s version of the fruit. In short, by the Nineties, Grapevine had become a joke and a song not to be played on the White Horse juke if you wanted to show that you knew anything about music.

It was only later, after my romance with Jenna fell apart, that the song became fully restored, at least in my opinion. No amount of commercialization can buy off a broken heart.

Monday, September 12, 2011

No. 997 -- King Midas in Reverse

Performer: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
Songwriters: Allan Clarke, Tony Hicks, Graham Nash
Original Release: single, Butterfly (The Hollies)
Year: 1967
Definitive Version: Four Way Street (Expanded Edition), 1992

I’ve never heard The Hollies' version. I would suspect that one could find it on YouTube (aka the Greatest Site in Internet History—at least after the late, great, of course) or somesuch location.

When I got my first CD player in 1990 ($260 for a Sony six-disc changer, kiddies), I went through a major rebuying of my favorite albums. I was not really in a big CSNY phase at that time, so I held off on Four Way Street until I read in Rolling Stone that CSNY was going to re-release it in 1992 as an expanded edition. It was all to the good, of course, but I was disappointed that the band decided to add only four acoustic songs—no electric. They all were solo selections—one per letter—tacked to the end of the acoustic disc, which seemed to have a particular order. In other words, the edition was merely a bonus rather than a proper expansion.

The highlight is Neil Young’s 9-minute medley of The Loner, Cinnamon Girl and Down By the River. King Midas was Nash’s contribution, and when I hear it I have vague recollections of my Grand Blanc apartment, which I’m sure I’ll talk about more later, with its orange shag carpet and wood paneling straight out of the ’70s—or even ’60s. In some ways, it was like living in my own bad basement.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

No. 998 -- Lake of Fire

Performer: Nirvana
Songwriter: Curt Kirkwood
Original Release: Meat Puppets II (Meat Puppets)
Year: 1983
Definitive Version: MTV Unplugged in New York, 1994

I guess it doesn’t matter, but I’m something of a perfectionist. OK, there’s no something about it: I’m a compulsive t-crosser and i-dotter. That’s what makes me a good copy editor, I guess. But I’m a bit perplexed about how to handle the above data for cover versions of songs. In most cases, it’s simple: The original version is the version that the performer in question realsed. But others are a bit iffy. You might know that during their Unplugged performance, Nirvana had the Meat Puppets out to play a few songs with them, this being one of the them. So, this is the original release, at least as far as Nirvana is concerned. But because the Meat Puppets played with Nirvana, it’s kind of their song but with Kurt Cobain and Dave Grohl guesting on vocals and drums, respectively. Like I said, it doesn’t really matter either way, but I thought I should at least point out that I recognize the seeming inconsistency and try to explain why.

OK, that’s enough of a digression for today. When MTV Unplugged came out, I bought it immediately. I saw the performance when it aired in the fall of 1993, and quite a bit had changed since then. When I taped the show for my later frequent listening pleasure, I was living in a one-room apartment in Grand Blanc. When the recording was officially released one year later, I was living in a two-bedroom townhouse in German Village in Columbus. In between, I had changed jobs, moved (obviously) back home to one of my favorite neighborhoods and began to date Debbie.

And, of course, Nirvana had ceased to exist.

Even though I had my own place, I was spending a lot of time at Debbie’s, so when I hear this song, I think of the two locations and how much things can quickly change.

One more thing: As you read this, you should know that El Capitan is to my left and Half Dome to my right. That seems appropriate today.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

No. 999 -- Wind of Change

Performer: Peter Frampton
Songwriter: Peter Frampton
Original Release: Wind of Change
Year: 1972
Definitive Version: Frampton Comes Alive!, 1976

If you’re a male who grew up in the 70s and lived in the suburbs, you owned Frampton Comes Alive! That simple. Songs from this album were everywhere as I started 7th grade. Back in the day, the Upper Arlington school system had junior high, rather than middle school. So elementary school was K-6, then junior high 7-9, and high school 10-12, which meant that when you started 7th grade, you had to deal with a new school, a totally new procedure, new teachers and new d bags who were more than happy to make the lives hell of any newbie. I hated junior high with the fiery passion of 10,000 suns, and 7th grade was by far the worst.

So I spent a lot of the first half of the school year listening to music, and I’d say that I had this album on my stereo, maybe, I don’t know, 75 percent of the time then. I wore the proverbial groove in it. I don’t have a specific memory attached with this particular song, just vague sensations of lying in bed at night with my headphones on before falling to sleep, listening to the cheery, unthreatening voice of Peter Frampton, as he almost single-handedly invented arena rock. Cheesy and derivative? Perhaps. Funny thing: The songs still sound good 35 years later.

Friday, September 9, 2011

No. 1,000 -- See the Changes

Performer: Crosby, Stills & Nash
Songwriter: Stephen Stills
Original Release: CSN
Year: 1977
Definitive Version: None

And we’re off!

I have no idea whether this song is really No. 1,000, or No. 1,004 or whatever, but it seemed that I needed something that was appropriate to the task ahead as well as a favorite song. See the Changes, indeed. There have been a few over the past 47+ years, and I expect there could be more in the next 1,000 days.

CSN was one of my favorite groups as I was entering my teens, and this album was one of the first that I bought, likely at Rink’s—the Kmart of its day in that it had a wide reputation for sucking but sold everything, including albums for $4.99. When the Buckeye Mart across the street closed, your choice for discount department stores was Rink’s, take it or leave it. We took it, but we didn’t like it.

I have vague memories associated with this song of my bedroom in our new condominium, where we moved after my parents divorced earlier that year. I noted with some sense of pride that it had the same wallpaper as the kitchen in Happy Days did.
I had to share my bedroom with my brother, and although the two of us were thicker than thieves back in the day, the last thing any 13 year old locked in the throes of puberty wants is less privacy.

One more note: When I note “None” in the definitive version, all that means is that I’ve either heard only the studio or official release, other versions that I’ve heard don’t particularly stand out in any way. Just FYI.

Hmmm. Yeah, I don’t think this would work on the Twitter. I can’t even fit it in 140 words, let alone characters …

Saturday, September 3, 2011

A Few More Rules

With less than a week to go before I begin my millennial countdown, (I hope you're as exkited as I am) I wanted to clarify a few things about the list.

First, again, this is a list of favorite rock songs, not necessarily the best songs. I know a little bit about music but not nearly enough to attempt any kind of listing like that. In fact, I would confess that my scope is even a bit limited, relatively speaking. On the one hand, it’s limited mostly to songs or albums that I bought, which means that a few groups tend to dominate the proceedings.

On the other hand, when you think about it, that’s not a bad thing. If you like a song or an album enough to pay money to own it and then play it as many times as you want, that’s a signal that maybe those songs should rate above others that you like enough when they come on the radio that you don’t switch the channel. And consequently, those are the songs that tend to stand out in the memory banks when you look back on your life. So I make no apologies if it seems as if every other song is by Rush, Pearl Jam or Led Zeppelin. I’m male and I’m going to be 50 in less than 3 years. You were expecting, maybe, The Carpenters?

Second, I wanted to talk a little bit about what actually will be included.

Like Justice Potter Stewart and his views on pornography, I just go by judgment: I know it when I see it.  In other words, a rock song is a rock song because I said so. And, I’m no expert. I know more than some and less than a lot of others, but you’re here, so you just have to trust me on this.

And in my judgment this means no jazz, no classical and no New Age. Acts, that is, not necessarily music. I suppose if you’re mostly classified as a jazz player, for example, you’re not eligible for this here list. Yes, I know that Miles Davis is in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. But just because the folks controlling inductions don’t have a clue about what they’re doing doesn’t mean I have to blindly follow along. I yield to no one in my respect and admiration for Miles Davis, and, yes, I have heard Bitches Brew, many times, even while sober, thank you very much. But Miles Davis is no more a rock act than Stevie Ray Vaughan is a jazzman because he recorded Chitlins Con Carne. (Check it out if you haven’t heard it.) Everything else, within reason, is eligible.

One of my favorite songs of any genre is Winter in America by the late, great Gil Scott-Heron. You could make a very persuasive argument that this song should be on the list, and I might be inclined to agree … except it doesn’t really fit with what I think of as a rock song.

However, Emerson, Lake & Palmer can faithfully record Fanfare for a Common Man by Aaron Copland, and it might find a place on the list. (That’s called foreshadowing, kids.)

OK, so it doesn’t make total sense. But as the stern, seemingly clueless but ultimately wise father in Risky Business once famously said: ‘My house, my rules.”