Other than releases from old standbys and auto-listens Andrew Bird, the Magnetic Fields and White Rabbit, there was little to recommend on this sixth day of March, 2012. But I do strongly recommend that you check out Yellow Ostrich’s excellent Strange Land. Here’s video of the band playing a track from their prior release — The Mistress — on KEXP.
Every year I put together my 50-100 favorite tracks of 2011 to share with friends and family. This year I have a bl-g so I can broadcast this mixtape to the world. It really just means that more people can argue/ignore me. I’ve posted the entire list on Spotify, where you can listen to it in its entirety. This year the list topped out at 88… but it may grow if I suddenly remember a glaring omission. I should clarify: I’m just one guy and there’s a lot of music out there. To proclaim these to be the absolute best of all the great music that was released in 2011 would just be ignorant. Clearly it’s the best of what I heard… and remembered from the trying year that was 2011.
So so so so so much new music has come out within the past month. I needed to highlight the ones deemed 30Hz Recommended. I’m not going to spend a crap-ton of time doing this because there’s bad new TV to watch this week (and then immediately dismiss). Also I’m going to poo poo a popular pick because I’m the one with the microphone and I don’t care what Pitchfork thinks.
How many times will the Grandmaster of the 80’s appear on the countdown?
I first introduced the concept of “synesthesia nostalgia” in my rumble-worship about movie soundtracks of the 1980’s. Catch up here. In the wake of this rumble I wanted to compile a list of my favorite soundtrack moments from the Me Decade. In order to qualify for the list the movie soundtrack moment must:
A) accompany a memorable scene from an 80’s movie;
B) contain contemporary ’80’s music — either reconstituted (but still representing the ’80’s) or written exclusively for the film;
C) not be played only during a static credit crawl. I’ve allowed opening credit tracks (see #10 and #7) because the set up for a movie can be infinitely more influential than anything that takes place while everyone’s deciding whether or not to take their leftover popcorn home with them.
11. National Lampoon’s Vacation – Opening Credits
Song: Holiday Road by Lindsey Buckingham
I wanted to include Iggy Pop’s opening credits from Repo Man here to be “edgy.” I just couldn’t shake the Griswolds though. “Holiday Road” is such a recognizable stalwart of the 80’s soundtrack pantheon that I couldn’t deny Lindsey Buckingham the credit he deserves. He certainly doesn’t get enough love for being a vital cog in Fleetwood Mac (damn you Stevie Nicks for stealing his thunder). I’m sure a mention in this rumble will certainly put his confidence over the top. Opening credits? Sure. But as far as I can recall this song plays through every second of the entire movie.
10. Back to the Future – Too Damn Loud
Song: The Power of Love by Huey Lewis and the News
The Power of Love appears early in Back to the Future when Marty skates to school after blowing the amps at Doc Brown’s. It then reappears, perhaps less memorably… perhaps more, here when Marty’s band, the Pinheads, audition for the Battle of the Bands and a bespectacled Huey Lewis proclaims the song to be “too darn loud.” A short scene empowered by the song’s repeated appearance in the movie and the trilogy as a whole.
9. Beverly Hills Cop – The Cigarette Truck Chase
Song: The Neutron Dance by the Pointer Sisters
One of my favorite opening scenes to any ’80’s movie. Axel Foley. Cigarette truck. The Pointer Sisters. Movie magic. A perfect blend of synesthesia nostalgia. Fun wiki fact: the Russian government misinterpreted the song, believing the lyrics to be about nuclear war. I’m not sure but this might also have been the first R-rated movie I ever saw. Bonus points for that. And the banana in the tailpipe. And Harold Faltermeyer’s Axel F. And Rosewood. And Taggard. I love this movie so damn much.
8. Caddyshack – Opening Credits
Song: I’m Alright by Kenny Loggins
Dancing gopher. That’s really what this is all about. Nobody can listen to this song and not think Caddyshack and the gopher. Kenny Loggins was the Grandmaster of Ceremonies for the 1980s and this is his happy funtime anthem. Unfortunately I can’t get a clean embed to the actual movie footage. Instead here’s a fan video of the dancing gopher… since that’s really all we really want anyway.
7. Flashdance – The Last Dance
Song: What a Feeling by Irene Cara
Regrettably I have no choice but to place this song in the countdown. Like it or not Irene Cara’s anthem is dripping, oozing with synesthesia nostalgia. This is the epitome of the concept itself. Movie and music are inextricably linked in form and memory. Still it pains me. Jennifer Beals has really aged well though, hasn’t she? The guitar solo at around 4:30 just kills me a little inside every time I hear it. I doubly cringe because now I must also think of Jennifer Lopez too. Urgh. What I would give for this song to be erased from our collective memories.
6. Better Off Dead – VanFrankenBurger
Song: Everybody Wants Some by Van Halen
I can’t really vouch for the song. On it’s own, it’s just not a very good Van Halen song. And then you have to get into the question about whether Van Halen was really a decent band rather than just a fascist conglomerate. I’m not prepared to go there. I am prepared to laud the awesomeness that is Better Off Dead. This is the best scene in Better Off Dead and it just happens to involve John Cusack doing a Dr. Frankenstein impersonation with a few pounds of raw ground chuck that turns into he and she burger patties singing Van Halen and it’s suddenly the best that Van Halen has ever sounded.
5. Footloose – Chicken Race
Song: Holding Out For a Hero by Bonnie Tyler
I’ll spare you another Kenny Loggins anthem. It would have been easy to pick just about any clip from Footloose and call it iconic. What moment in that movie isn’t strikingly noteworthy for one reason or another? I challenge you to find one menial, tedious moment in the whole film. Trick challenge. There isn’t one. But if we’re downplaying all the more awkward musical/drama moments, the scene that rises above all others is the Chicken Tractor Showdown. Pure teenage stupidity played for thrills and set to Bonnie Tyler?? Movie magic while the theme for Footloose just makes me think of ratty sneakers in close-up.
4. Fast Times at Ridgemont High – Phoebe Cates
Song: Moving in Stereo by the Cars
We could be more subtle about the reason for this scene’s infamy, but why bother? Any male knows this as the Phoebe Cates scene. It might not be immediately obvious but there’s a song playing when she exits that pool. And whenever men of a certain age hear this song by the Cars, they’re 90% more likely to experience a spontaneous erection than, say, men of any other age. It might not fit the other criteria for true synesthesia nostalgia, but there’s true potency in those subliminal messages.
3. Say Anything – Boombox
Song: In Your Eyes by Peter Gabriel
This is by far my least favorite entry in the countdown. Not because I don’t love the song… or the movie… but because I hate being predictable. There’s no way to exclude “In Your Eyes” because no 80’s movie moment is more iconic than John Cusack standing outside Ione Skye’s window with that boombox. I miss the days where it was socially acceptable to haul a 20 lb. apparatus for blasting treble-heavy tunes on your shoulder. Maybe this should be #1 but I prefer it here. In the middle. Fun fact: the original working title of the film was …Say Anything… instead of Say Anything…
2. Ghostbusters – The First Call
Song: Cleanin’ Up the Town by the Busboys
What else did the Busboys do? I dunno. Don’t care. Their song begat the Ghostbusters into this world on their first honest paying gig. This is enough for three for four lifetimes. The best Hollywood movie of the 80’s has to have a killer 80’s soundtrack. While Ray Parker, Jr. got all the press (good and bad – shame on you for stealing Huey’s beat) the Busboys cranked out the real hit. Is it a great song? Without the movie, nobody remembers the band or this song. At the same time, what could have replaced the song? The whine of Ecto 1’s siren has become one with the jazz-fueled piano riff. (For the record, they put out a pretty decent record called Minimum Wage Rock & Roll.)
1. Top Gun – Beach Volleyball
Song: Playing With the Boys by Kenny Loggins
So you wanted “Danger Zone” did you? “Danger Zone” is a great track. I’m pretty sure I’ve tested all of my car stereos by cranking it up to 11. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some “Danger Zone” but when you hear the song what scene in Top Gun comes to mind? Maybe my experience has been warped somehow but I don’t think of anything other than F-14s flying around and landing, taking off and landing like I’m at some Blue Angels festival in the glowing dusk sunlight. There’s no scene attached to the song. And yes, I know I included the song from Caddyshack because of the dancing gopher… but that’s different. That’s different because there wasn’t the greatest homoerotic beach volleyball scene in history slapped dead in the middle of the movie backed by yet another killer jam from Kenny Loggins. The man really was a god among boy scouts.
I’m up early on this muggy Wednesday morning waiting for my daughter to decide she’s ready for the day. Since my new rumble on turntables isn’t quite finished I’ll share some of the new music that’s piqued and old music that’s re-piqued my interest. These are the songs that’ll become my soundtrack for the next few months. Since I’m in the right kind of mood, I’ll call them Summer “Jams” for Oh-11. If you don’t get why I find that amusing, you might be someone that says the word “jam” sincerely. Maybe you still listen to Jock Jams.
Delta Spirit – Ode to Sunshine
Some might consider the sound produced by this Long Beach band grunge played by Bob Dylan if Bob Dylan liked to dabble in garbage-can percussion. Okay, that might be my very own assessment. But a quicky search of the Interwebs supports this theory. It also supported the theory that people like to compare anyone to Bob Dylan. In fact, there are so many Bob Dylan comparisons out there that the entire analogy has become watered-down apple juice. And nobody wants to drink watered–down apple juice. Yuck. However you compare it, Delta Spirit plays the soundtrack of any summer. Grilling? Delta Spirit. Drinking? Delta Spirit. Jarts? Delta Spirit. Horse Balls (read: Ladder Ball)? Delta Spirit. If Delta Spirit could just move into a backyard tent for the entire summer, I’d be cool with that. “People C’mon” stirs up every great party memory you’ve ever had and releases that euphoria directly into your brain. 2010’s follow-up History From Below broadened the band’s range and provided hope for more great things to come, but it couldn’t match Sunshine. Get both, but keep History From Below on the shelf for those winter months.
Availability on Vinyl: Limited
We/Or/Me – Sleeping City
We/Or/Me is Bahhaj Taherzadeh, a Chicago-based singer/songwriter who not entirely unlike me (though much more talented) found himself, after the arrival of fatherhood, in need of a re-acquaintance with the world. From these sleep-deprived sessions Bahhaj creates soaring, orchestral (if one man with “some occasional help” can be orchestral) ballads that demand your attention, like being slapped with a two-ton feather. Purchase We/Or/Me HERE here on CD or in your choice of digital formats. If you want a sample, listen to the epic “Tell Sarah” from the 5-song EP Ghostwriter from 2008. If you’re not hooked, you might be a little dead inside. Sit down with these in the dark; Bahhaj pulls you into the sadness and beauty of a night spent with nothing more than your regrettable thoughts to keep you company. Even the riotest summer needs a slow jam.
Availability on Vinyl: N/A
My Morning Jacket – Circuital
Shedding the impenetrable cloak of curious genre shifts worn on Evil Urges, Jim James and My Morning Jacket return to something closer to home. And by home I mean Z. And by Z I mean somewhere in the general vicinity of what we might have expected the follow to Z might have been if Evil Urges didn’t exist. Stripped down and laid back, but with a driving purpose — Jacket doesn’t pen no slacker jams. James still can’t shake the tendency to slip into lovelorn weepies or curio interludes like “Holdin on to Black Metal” but when Circuital hits, it bruises on cuts like the title track, “Movin’ Away” and the acoustic “Wonderful (The Way I Feel).” My Morning Jacket is still the “it” indie band (and yes, maybe they are a little over-hyped) but even their missteps make for good listening and everyone always wants to talk about the new Jacket record. And by everyone, I mean that buddy of yours that always wants to tell you about the hot new indie records like he’s delivering a message from the gods.
I’ll go from one “it” band to another. Fleet Foxes are omnipresent. Or maybe that’s just because I can’t stop playing the damn album. Happiness Blues makes a strong case for closing the album of the year competition early in 2011. We won’t, but for the sake of hyperbole, let’s leave that on the table. Helplessness is accessible when it should be pretentious, danceable when it should be morose. Fleet Foxes doesn’t radiate awesomeness or coolness and they won’t earn you any street cred when you walk down Penn Ave. with your boombox blasting some folk rock 60’s-era groove like “Sim Sala Bim.” And don’t be surprised if your parents request a copy of the CD. Pitchfork probably said it best when Larry Fitzmaurice in their review of the album said “it’s familiar in the most pleasing way, lacking conceit or affectation.” The best music isn’t purely innovative. Perhaps the best music is derivative in the most innovative and earnest ways.
Since releasing this album Paramore has gone on to achieve a small measure of success. You know… a feature in Rolling Stone, a Grammy nomination, a tour opening for No Doubt, a platinum record and a headlining single for the soundtrack for the Twlight movie. Locally the Pittsburgh Penguins skated out to “crushcrushcrush” for a good measure of their 2009 championship season, earning Paramore a permanent locker in my Jock Jams Hall of Fame right next to Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train.” I should feel anywhere between benign dislike and outright distaste for this band. In reality, after checking that damning “most played” list on iTunes, I found that I spin Hayley Williams and Co. as much as bands I openly claim to love, even among mixed company. Damn you, digital footprint. The most recent album may be a bland(ish) pre-manufactured corporate hit machine (two band members left late in 2010 claiming similar sentiments), but this debut album hits all the right inconsistencies to maintain the “punk” in their “poppy punk” genre label, trolling happily in the shadow of Jimmy Eat World. That a red vinyl edition of this record was just released (but now, apparently, sold out on their website) doesn’t hurt its status. I can spin that closet pleasure on the safety of my turntable, a contraption that doesn’t feel the need to remind me how many times I’ve played “Misery Business.”
As the hazy, humid evening gives way to debaucherous night so too must the playlist adjust accordingly. Herbie Hancock can no more be played at noon than Ode to Sunshine be played after midnight. When the long day of fraternizing forces its worshippers to the living rooms or lax patios and the tiki torches burn overtime to keep mosquitoes at bay… thus rings in the Herbie Hancock hour. His biggest mainstream hit, “Rockit,” has been put in a precarious situation: a monument of experimental sound sacrificed to the 80’s and the rigors of mass consumption. I throw around the phrase “it’ll change your life” with a kind of flippant hedonism, but Herbie Hancock quite literally changed people’s lives. Hancock worshiped modern technology — the synthesizer — at the sacred alter of hard bop. So we will acknowledge “Rockit,” but we will consider it anything but jazz. Instead we will spin Hancock’s fusion masterpiece Head Hunters, an album that is still fresh and funky and changing lives. It is everything and jazz. I rediscovered this album for the first time after a Six-Degrees of jazz binge: Art Blakey to Freddie Hubbard to Herbie Hancock to Herbie Hancock (or specifically Ugetsu to Hub-Tones to Maiden Voyage to Head Hunters). Critics of Hancock’s later synth-fury still malign anything that came after Blue Note, but don’t let that stop you from sampling the future sounds of 1971.
My final summer jam comes from another band shamelessly playing music your parents would love. Like Fleet Foxes, they do it without the wink-wink nudge-nudge of most retro bands. With “Breakin’ the Chains of Love” the album kicks off with a mid-tempo Stax or Motown B-Side straight out of Smokey’s vault and carries that momentum right through the infectious “Moneygrabber,” a song you’ll be singing for days after only one listen. Unfortunately (fortunately?) for all of us, “Moneygrabber” has begun appearing in everything from This Week in Baseball to Criminal Minds, hell bent on earworm global domination. Is it Indie Pop music without guitars? Is it Neo Soul? Does it matter? Spin this record in June before your friends tell you they “discovered” Fitz and his Tantrums on Grey’s Anatomy.
Follow me on Twitter to receive links to essential vinyl available online. I’ll post links to essentials, curiosities and new recommendations as they occur to me. If you weren’t following me yesterday, for example, you missed my promotion of Belong,
the new album from The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. It’s on heavy rotation at the moment and needed a plug.
Today, on the other hand, I stumbled across a listing for the Vision Quest Soundtrack on Lisa Sumner’s Rare Vinyl shop on Etsy (to which I can’t seem to link textually… odd. Anyway go here for a great assortment of used vinyl with reasonable shipping costs: http://www.etsy.com/shop/rarevinyl?ga_search_query=rarevinyl&ga_search_type=handmade&ga_facet=handmade). And while the soundtrack is jam packed with quality 80’s acts like Madonna, Dio, Foreigner, Journey and Don Henley (which is reason enough for purchase), I made the recommendation because, well, you can’t have too many record sleeves featuring Linda Fiorentino (or Matthew Modine, really).
The point of this entry is that you should follow me on Twitter because you might find some gems and on the other hand, you might not. But is one really all that much more enjoyable than the other?
I will save this picture on the off chance that one day I can build my DREAM house and find this architect and this decorator and tell them to make me a dining room like this. I think it's one of the first formal dining rooms I've ever really liked.