Friday, September 14, 2018

McQ's Best Of 1977 Vol 4 - The Yanks & Early New Wave (Punk's Greatest Year Pt 2)

To wrap up our look back at the Punk explosion of 1977, we head across the Atlantic (mostly) to focus on the American East Coast punk scene that was almost as vibrant as that in the UK, as well as a handful of acts that were already moving past punk into artier New Wave territory.

Another lively mix (at least until Frankie Teardrop), it is interesting to note how much more infantile most of the American Punks come off as when directly compared to their more politically oriented UK counterparts.

About The Songs:

1. Rockaway Beach - The Ramones: While more attention on 1977 gets thrown at the British Punk scene, it is important to remember that punk and New Wave's core aesthetics began gestating in the States, especially on the East Coast and in the industrial Midwest, through efforts by the likes of proto-punkers The Velvet Underground, The Stooges, The Modern Lovers, MC5, and The New York Dolls, long before any British or Aussie acts really jumped into the fray.  And before any of the British punk acts got their first album out, The Ramones were already working on  releases two and three. This track, one of the best and most joyously mindless from Rocket To Russia, felt like perfect track to kick off this mix. 

2. Mystery Dance - Elvis Costello: Considered one of the greatest debut albums of all-time, most of the songs on My Aim Is True were originally intended for another artist.  When Stiff Records first took an interest in Costello, it was as a potential songwriter for one of their top line artists, Dave Edmunds. But when presented with Costello's demos, Edmunds was resistant, so the label ask Costello to rerecord several of the songs with Edmund's producer Nick Lowe in the hope cleaner versions of the songs would turn Edmunds around.  But when the label heard the new demos, they decided Costello was strong enough of a presence to promote him on his own. And the rest (after a few more twists and turns) is history.  Yet another album with so many great tracks you can really pick anything, I'm going with personal favs again, starting with this humorous take on adolescent sexual fumbling.

3. Sonic Reducer - The Dead Boys: Of all the American punk bands of the era, Cleveland natives The Dead Boys were probably both the hardest hitting and the most offensive.  We'll get to an example of their more offensive stuff in a little bit, but for now,  just enjoy the band at their thunderous best, with the biggest song of the band's career from their perfectly titled 1977 debut album Young, Loud, & Snotty.

4. First Week / Last Week.... Carefree - The Talking Heads: And then there was this band. Formed by a trio of RSID art school students, who then later added ex-Modern Lovers keyboardist Jerry Harrison when they began to make a name on the club circuit, they were unlike anyone else out there. I don't know if Talking Heads :77, their debut, is my favorite Head's album, but it's in the running. And one of the things I love most about :77 is that for a band that produced so many bizarre but playful tunes, :77 may be their most playful album of all, a trait well characterized by this song here. 

5. Ghost Rider - Suicide: Unlike the British Punks, the early New York punks were not nearly as locked in to a definitive sound, or as beholden to the past the way most of the Brit acts still held Beatlesque harmonies in high regard.  We've already discussed how Television and The Talking Heads differed greatly from the punk norm. Suicide here was another act that while definitely punk, approached the genre as an attitude far more than something to be defined by pace and sound.  If anything, Suicide's self-titled debut, represented here by its punchiest track Ghost Rider, presaged the arrival of ice-cold new wavers like Joy Division far more than displaying any sonic allegiance with their punk peers.

6. Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll - Ian Dury: Another act, like Costello and Graham Parker, caught between punk, bar band and early new wave, I struggled with which mix to include this goofy, timeless classic from Dury's boozy debut New Boots And Panties, but in the end, it played best here. 

7. Born To Lose - Johnny Thunders & The Heartbreakers: L.A.M.F., the only studio release from this New York Dolls offshoot, was trashed upon its initial release for its piss poor mix (a mix so bad it became a source of constant contention between the band members and tore the group apart). But over the years, the album's reputation has consistently improved, to the point now where it is considered a minor classic of the era.  Album opener Born To Lose is L.A.M.F.'s most popular song.

8. Blank Generation - Richard Hell: A tough dude to get along with with controlling tendancies, Richard Hell had already worn out his welcome with Television and Johnny Thunders & The Heartbreakers by the time he got around to recording his debut album Blank Generation with backing band the Voidoids. And given how strong those other acts' work became after Hell left, it's maybe not that surprising that of all the albums represented on this mix, Blank Generation doesn't hold up as well as most of the others. That said, the album does boasts two undeniable classics, the title track here, and a naughty little number we'll get to a bit down the road. 

9. (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction - Devo: The band's full-length Brian Eno / David Bowie produced debut Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! was still a year away from release, but this early Stones cover from the Akron, Ohio futurists is one of New Waves' first hits and most recognizable singles. 

10. Caught With The Meat In Your Mouth - The Dead Boys: Remember when I said The Dead Boys were among the most  offensive of all the early American Punk acts. Exhibit A. 

11. Friction - Television: I'm still trying to sort out my revised rankings for the best albums of 1977 (something I will update after we've finished posting these mixes).  To my ears, there are up to ten records that can make a legitimate claim for the year's top spot.  But if we were reduce things down to just one album side, there's no question in my mind side one of Marquee Moon takes the crown.  See No Evil, Venus, Friction here, and then the title track we'll be hitting a few songs later on this mix, album sides rarely get better than that.

12. No Compassion - The Talking Heads: It's been said of Talking Heads: 77 that while it may not be fans' favorite Heads' album, pretty much everything the David Byrne-captained outfit would become was hinted at on their debut, and there's no denying that this semi-sociopathic tune feels like a direct predecessor to the anti-social paranoia fest that would become the band's third release Fear Of Music.

13. California Sun - The Ramones: Tough call here. Even though I like The Ramones' first 1977 release Leave Home a lot, if we're being honest, there isn't a single song on Leave Home that's as good as any one of the top eight or nine tracks on Rocket To Russia. But once again, at the expense of Cretin Hop, We're A Happy Family, I Wanna Be Well, Do You Wanna Dance, etc., a sense of inclusion won out, and I went with California Sun from Leave Home here. 

14. Blame It On Cain - Elvis Costello: Song two on this mix from My Aim Is True is one that is open to an array of lyrical interpretations - is it a semi-autobiographical venting anchored in Costello's own early financial struggles? An off-center mocking of traditional government justifications for war? A long, excuse making justification from a co(cain)e addict? Or is it more literal, a song sung from the POV of a suicidal Abel, who knows he's sinned in killing himself, and is now trying to scapegoat his death on his brother in the hopes of still earning entry into Heaven? Any interpretation works to some degree, but however you hear the words, there's no doubt this is one of Aim's most rocking tracks.

15. What Love Is - The Dead Boys: Though this is the original version of What Love Is, we've actually profiled this song in our collections before. The Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears cover version from their awesome funk fest Scandalous also made our best of 2011 mix set. 

16. Love Comes In Spurts - Richard Hell: Like I said in the intro, American Punk was just way more puerile in its lyrical concerns when compare to what was being put out by the Brits. Didn't make it any less fun to listen to, though. 

17. Marquee Moon - Television: Here it is, punk's ultimate - and maybe only - epic jam.

18. Blockheads - Ian Dury: By far my favorite hard-charger from Dury's New Boots And Panties.

19. Watching The Detectives - Elvis Costello: Released as Costello's third single in October 1977 following Alison and Less Than Zero, Watching The Detectives was not included on the original pressing of My Aim Is True, but was later added on all subsequent pressings to close out side one. The song was also the first single to be released after Costello had finally quit his day job as a data entry clerk. A touch older than most of his punk rock / new wave peers, Costello was already married and a father by the time Stiff records took an interest in him in 1976, and it wasn't until buzz had started to seriously build around Aim and the label promised to pay him a weekly salary equal to what he was already making in data entry that Stiff was able to convince Costello to become a musician full time and give the album the promotion it deserved.

20. Sheena Is A Punk Rocker - Ramones: Of all the Ramones' early albums, Rocket To Russia is the one that comes closest to pure pop perfection, and no song on the album highlights the band's talent for delivering irrestible hooks at blazing speed better than this track here, arguably one of the two most popular songs in the band's entire catalog.

21. Pulled Up - The Talking Heads: One more playful, quirky number from :77 to conclude the upbeat portion of this mix before the wrist slitter that follows ruins everyone's day. 

22. Frankie Teardrop - Suicide: Amongst the most disturbing songs ever set to vinyl, Alan Vega's dispassionate description of a murder-suicide by a financially desperate blue-collar worker shares many shock value similarities with The Door's The End, albeit grittier, less poetic and way more psychotic in feel. A unnerving downer supreme that many will hate, but also one of the more legendary songs to come out of New York in the late 70s, it would have been flat-out wrong not to include it on this mix here, no matter how much it bums you out.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

McQ's Best Of 2017 Vol 3 - The Usual Suspects

Even though Hip-Hop and electronic / R&B-flavored pop now dominate the mainstream musical landscape, 2017 still saw just about every top-tier indie-rock act of the last fifteen years staying in the game with a solid new release. So many, in fact, that it's going to take two full mixes to touch on all the major players.

Vol 3 - The Usual Suspects focuses on new music from those still vital indie acts who've always had a more rock/folk/alt-country lean.  Two mixes later, on Vol 5 - The Mostly Usual Suspects, we'll listen to new efforts from those returning indie greats who've traditionally had a more electronic sound.

About The Songs:

1. Slip Away - Perfume Genius: The lead single from Seattle-based Mike Hadreas's (aka Perfume Genuis) fourth album No Shape, Slip Away signals a new peak in Hadreas's transition away from the introspective gay-themed indie-folk of his early career and into the more adventurous sonic territory he initiated on his less consistent previous release Too Bright. Here, once you get used to the No Shape's quirks, it's a vibrant indie-pop pleasure throughout.

2. Mourning Sound - Grizzly Bear: Far and away my favorite song from the Brooklyn outfit's fifth full length Painted Ruins, which finds the band continuing in the insular, somewhat proggy style of previous release Shields.

3. Everything Now - Arcade Fire: My thinking on Arcade Fire's fifth album Everything Now, which was the band's first to receive generally negative reviews, is that while the record does sport a few very weak songs, overall it is not nearly as bad as the reviews would have you believe, and in a few moments, like the title track here, it shows Arcade Fire is still capable of hitting the peak of their music-as-communal-catharsis powers.

4. Hot Thoughts - Spoon: The title track, and one of two tracks we're featuring on this mix from the always reliable Austin-based indie stalwart's ninth release.

5. Pain - The War On Drugs: Another mesmerizing number from A Deeper Understanding, which, like most of the album's tracks, is excellent throughout its sung passages, then morphs into something better still when the singing stops.

6. Magnificent (She Says) - Elbow: Though the best song on latest release Little Fictions, Magnificent (She Says) is actually the record's outlier, its anthemic orchestral arrangements and highly sentimental nature much more in tune with the music on the band's previous two releases Build A Rocket, Boys! and The Take Off And Landing Of Everything than the intriguing, minimalistic approach that defines almost everything else on Fictions.

7. Over Everything - Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile: Ramshackle and easy-going in nature, Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile's 2017 collaboration Lotta Sea Lice is a record that screams "We're just having fun here, don't take this seriously!"  That said, this song is amazing, one of my favorites of the year as it reaches a near Torn And Frayed-level of lazy vocal grandeur in its final minutes.

8. Darling Shade - The New Pornographers: Just another fun, super bouncy track from the long-running Canadian power-pop collective's latest release Whiteout Conditions, their first without regular contributor Dan Bejar.

9. Carin In The Liquor Store - The National: The National's Sleep Well Beast was, to my ears, their weakest studio album in over a decade, and it still deservedly ended up top-15 in most year end polls. That's how good they've been over that span, and this song, the album's best ballad, is a textbook example.

10. Third Of May / Odaigahara - Fleet Foxes: Fleet Foxes third album Crack-Up, their first release in six years, was arguably one 2017's most artistically ambitious efforts along with A Deeper Understanding, Kendrick Lamar's DAMN and King Krule's The Ooz.  But it is also, (suprisingly, given the band's heavy reliance on soaring group harmonies) one of the year's most difficult listens, full of unexpected, proggy shifts that confuse more than they excite and mumbly vocal passages so quiet they are near impossible to hear.  So for me, it's an album I respect more than I enjoy. But many other listeners fell in love with its complexities and intensely personal vision, making Crack-Up one of the best-reviewed albums of the year, and even a non-fan like me will admit it does have spellbinding moments, particularly the Fool's Errand and the brilliant first two-thirds of Third Of May / Odaigahara included here before the song veers off on another of Crack-Up's many detours in its final minutes.

11. Shotgun - Spoon: Originally I was only going to go with the title track from Spoon's latest album Hot Thoughts, but then my son came home for the summer, Shotgun was an ubiquitous part of the soundtrack to one of his PS4 MLB baseball games, and the track just wormed its way into my head.

12. Firebrand & Angel - Elbow: Here's my favorite of the really cool, minimalist/percussive numbers that make up a large part of Elbow's 2017 release Little Fictions.

13. Halfway Home - Broken Social Scene: Though I'm only including one track here, I seriously enjoyed Broken Social Scene's 2017 release Hugs Of Thunder, especially the album's vibrant, warm, and varied first half.

14. Turtleneck - The National: While Sleep Well Beast wasn't my favorite National album of late, there were many who did feel it was their best album of this decade. For them, I think the partial return to the band's harder-rocking early days, best displayed by the punkish Turtleneck here, was a big reason why.

15. Thinking Of A Place - The War On Drugs: You know an act has gotten to a special place in terms of belief in their artistic vision when they have the guts to release an eleven-minute song as the lead single for their new album. But to Adam Grundiciel and his bandmate's credit, their instincts were right.  Thinking of A Place is A Deeper Understanding's finest moment, a breathtakingly unhurried wade into a sea of pure musicality.

16. Ballad Of A Dying Man - Father John Misty: Here's another acidic social critque from Father John Misty's Pure Comedy to close out this mix. But unlike the album's title track, this Elton Johnish one's aimed at us all, including yours truly, as it eviserates those who would waste even a small fraction of their day espousing their superior cultural, moral, political, and aesthetic views on social media, when hundreds of years from now, history will prove us all wrong in the end.

Friday, September 7, 2018

McQ's Best Of 1977 Vol 3 - Her Majesty's Impudent Empire (Punk's Greatest Year Pt. 1)

1977 was such an amazing, formative year for punk, there was no way to contain all the highlights in a single 80 minute mix, so this first of our two volume sequence focuses only on those most punk of punk band's to emerge from the old British Empire.  If the bands were North American (Ramones, Television, Suicide, The Dead Boys, Mink DeVille), or continued to exhibit the slightest  bar band/new wave tendancies into 1977 (Wreckless Eric, Elvis Costello, Ian Dury, Graham Parker, Devo, The Talking Heads), off they went to our bar band mix or disc two of the punk series.

But what's amazing to me about the band's that are left is how each found a unique niche for themselves and a way to contribute something specifically their own to the exploding genre.

The Sex Pistols were the genre's anarchic soul and take no prisoners insulters in chief, The Damned its first out of the gate pioneers, The Buzzcocks its link to pop silliness, The Clash its unsparing political fervor, the Saints its jet engine roar, The Jam its link to rock and soul tradition, Radio Birdman its link with the cowboy frontier, The Stranglers its lounge lizard underbelly, and The Wire its arty brains. All of them, along with several others who contributed mighty tracks to Punk's first full and still greatest year, are represented here. Enjoy.

On The Songs:

1. Holiday In The Sun - Sex Pistols: Here's the funny thing about the Sex Pistols Never Mind The Bollocks, Here's The Sex Pistols.  Widely regarded as one of the most disruptive records/direction shifting moments in rock history, with The Beatles' Ed Sullivan Show appearance and Nirvana's Nevermind rounding out the obvious top three, most of the impact of these songs, including album opener Holiday In The Sun featured here, was actually delivered through the band's live performances and a few single releases in 1976 and 1977 prior to the album every coming out, as its late fall release made it one of the last of classic '77 British punk albums to hit record store shelves.  Only Wire's Pink Flag and The Jam's second 1977 release This is the Modern World came later.

2. Neat Neat Neat - The Damned: Keeping with the theme of release dates, it was actually the Damned who were first out of the gate amongst the British punk acts, both with the first punk single ever, 1976's New Rose, and the first punk full length, the awesome, irreverant Nick Lowe produce Damned Damned Damned.  And though, along with The Stranglers and The Jam's Paul Weller, the Damned would go on to have one of the longest and more consistently sustained careers of any of '77s breakout punk stars, Damned Damned Damned opener Neat Neat Neat, with its unstoppable bass-fueled intro, remains their most popular song.

3. I'm So Bored With The USA - The Clash: One of so many great, pointed songs from the Clash's self-titled UK debut (which was made even better in its 1979 American re-release), this song was actually first written by Mick Jones as a straight break-up/putdown song I'm So Bored With You. But, after touring England with the Pistols, Damned, and Buzzcocks throughout 76 and early 77, the band had become so turned off by the rampant Americanization of England they witnessed that the lyrical emphasis and the title of the song were changed.

4. Orgasm Addict - The Buzzcocks: The Buzzcocks would do most of their chart damage in the two years to follow, but their controversial first single here, even though banned by the BBC and now considered "embarassing" by lead singer Pete Shelley (mostly because it's about his own hyper-promiscous bi-sexual ways at the time of its release), remains one of their most legendary songs.

5. Ex Lion Tamer - Wire: Like the Clash's debut, Pink Flag, though the most challenging listen of all the early punk classics, is so loaded with great, provocative tunes that I just went with my personal favorites. Feel free to challenge my selections, but this song has always been number one on Pink Flag for me.

6. Art School - The Jam: Along with The Stranglers, the Paul Weller-led Jam are one of two bands associated with the early Punk outbreak that actually began their careers pursuing a different niche. The Stranglers started out as potent Graham Parker-styled pub rockers, but for The Jam, passionate fans of all things Who-ish and Kinks-ian, it was pure Mod revivalism, right down to the nifty suits and crisp haircuts they continued to sport on stage while neon mohawks and tatterred T-Shirts were popping up all around them.  This song, the opening track from the first of their two '77 releases, debut album In The City, isn't one of their biggest hits, but it's another personal favorite, and a song that clearly deliniates that love of all things Mod.

7. Love Lies Limp - Alternative TV: Though not quite a one hit wonder (this short-lived band, anchored around the songwriting of punk fanzine Sniffin' Glue fouding editor Mark Perry, would hang on to produce a few more modest British hits in 1978) Alternative TV never had another song that caught on like Love Lies Limp.

8. Your Generation - Generation X: Billy Idol's one great contribution to the fledgling punk movement before he would quickly shift to a more mainstream post-punk/new wave direction and become the MTV superstar we all come to know and... love?

9. Kissin' Cousins - The Saints: Here's the funny thing. (I'm) Stranded, possibly the hardest hitting of all the 1977 punks albums from one of Australia's all-time greatest bands, actually has a lot in common with Bon Iver's For Emma, Forever Ago. Both albums were basically just demo tapes that so impressed their label's executives on first listen that the decision was made to, aside from a few touch ups, skip a return to the recording studio and and release the demos as is. A part of me feels bad going with Kissin' Cousins, the album's lone cover, over one of the many excellent originals, but I just enjoy this song too much (and because the single (I'm) Stranded, like Anarchy In The UK, was a huge 1976 hit and thus left off this mix).

10. Peaches - The Stranglers: The Stranglers are basically the opportunists of this batch of punk pioneers.  Already a fairly established bar band in England, with a line-up of musicians who could actually play, the move to punk for them was mostly a  commerially driven decision rather than one of political ideology.  There was just one problem, lead singer Jet Black was a decade older than the rest of the band, already deep into his thirties - not  the frontman you want for an attack anchored around youthful rebellion. So the band sidestepped the issue, taking on punk's sonic pallette (though with a more keyboard-anchored styled than the others), but going light on the politics and social commentary and instead focusing on punk's crassness, casting Black as a creepy, aging, Jim Morrison-esque lothorio, out to denegrate the lives of everyone he encountered, especially the young ladies. Case in point, Peaches, their biggest hit of '77 from their debut album Rattus Norvegicus.

11. What's My Name - The Clash: This might be my favorite song from the original UK release. Just love how in-your-face it is.

12. In The City - The Jam: This title track from The Jam's debut was their first hit single.

13. Gary Gilmore's Eyes - The Adverts: One of the first punk bands to feature a women, bassist Gaye Black, in a prominent role, Gary Gilmore's Eyes, which riffed on the tabloid brouhahah of the moment that convicted murdered Gilmore had requested his eyes be donated to medical science after his execution, was the biggest hit of this husband and wife led act's short-lived career.

14. Strange - Wire: By the end of 1977 when Pink Flag dropped, punk was already on the verge of morphing into several less propulsive and moodier hybrids, and Pink Flag was one of the first punk albums to anticipate that, especially as presented here in the long, slow Strange, a song further popularized by REM a decade later on Document.

15. Descent Into The Maelstrom - Radio Birdman: So bummed I could only squeeze one track from Radio Appears, the debut album from Australia's other great punk band. If you get a chance, be sure to check out the album, especially tracks like Hand Of Law or Murder City Nights. More than any other punk act of the era, Radio Birdman presaged the Bobby Fuller-ish potential of melding Punk with Country and Western and Rockabilly sensibilities that would form the musical foundation for many prominent acts (X, Jon Spencer, Parquet Courts) in the decades to follow.

16. Pretty Vacant - Sex Pistols: With Johnny Rotten's bullying snarl, the bands unwavering energy and complete disregard for societal norms, has there ever been a band better assembled to deliver maximum insult and outrage. To that point, check out the way Rotten drags out and splits his pronunciation of "vacant" on the band's third lead single here, so it actually sounds like he's saying "va" followed by arguably the second most despised word in the English language, and was able to say this word repeatedly over British airways and television in 1977, as this song hit number 6 on the British charts and was the first of their songs not immediately banned.

17. Oh Bondage! Up Yours! - X-Ray Spex: Punk's first female-fronted act, the Polly Styrene-led Spex were intentional underachievers, only releasing five singles and one album over their brief careers, but this track remains one of the most celebrated punk songs of the era.

18. Lookin' After No. 1 - The Boomtown Rats: In truth, I almost didn't include this song here. Though the band's eponymous debut is a perfectly solid album well worth hearing, I felt there were better deep cuts to still explore from The Clash, No More Heroes, and Radio Appears. But in the end, a sense of inclusion won out, so the Bob Geldoff-led Rats gets Ireland's one entry in this mix.

19. No More Heroes - The Stranglers: The title track from The Stranglers even better follow-up to their debut Rattus Norvegicus finds the band make a rare slide into more socially oriented commentary.

20. Baby Baby - The Vibrators: A minor but enjoyable hit from one of the first wave's less well remembered bands off of their entertaining if a touch more generic debut Pure Mania.

21. I Fall - The Damned: One more track from Damned Damned Damned. This one is an absolute scorcher.

22. Mannequin - Wire: In addition to steering punk in an artier, more stylized direction, Pink Flag also embraced the idea of brevity to an even greater degree than any other of the notable '77 punk releases. Most of the album's twenty-two songs clock in at under two minutes, five under one, and while this song is actually one its most "bloated" tracks, clocking in at 2:37, it's still a great example of Wire's wonderful musical and lyrical economy.

23. All Around The World - The Jam: Another hit single for the Jam in 1977. And my apologies to fans of the band's second 1977 release This Is The Modern World, a fine album in its own right but it came down to an either/or choice betweenthis single or a track from the album. There wasn't room to squeeze in both.

24. Police And Thieves - The Clash: This excellent cover of the Junior Murvin reggae classic of the same year was never originally intended for the Clash's debut, but after all the other tracks were finished, the album still hadn't hit the minimum length required for an LP to go to print. And since reggae-legend Scatch "Lee" Perry was part of the album's production team, this is the solution they came up with.  Glad they did, cause it's one my favorite songs on the album.

25. Nights In Venice - The Saints: That allusion I made in the intro to The Saints being early punk's jet engine roar... this blazer from (I'm) Stranded is the song that best exemplifies it.

26. God Save The Queen - Sex Pistols: One of the most controversial singles ever, this Monarcy trashing ditty that scooped its title straight from the British National Anthem was banned everywhere and still hit number two on the British charts (with many to this day claiming it was only politically motivated manipulations in sales tracking that kept it from hitting number one). It felt like the obvious song with which to close our look at this brief but fantastic moment in British rock history.