Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The Hump Day Shuffle: 1983

1. Social Distortion - It Wasn't A Pretty Picture - Mommy's Little Monster
One of my favorite all-time bands, their first full-length record is the very definition of ascendancy. Terribly raw overall (though it's not as if Social D ever became "polished" in any sense) it's got the sort of choppiness of a band still unsure of itself, well on the way to establishing what would become a legendary sound, but not yet having figured the whole thing out. This is the perfect example of why an early and somewhat lesser record can be just as thrilling as a band's best work. You see the potential everywhere, and know exactly how those dots got connected.

2. Bob Dylan - Neighborhood Bully - Infidels
From the perfect fit of "Man in Me" in The Big Lebowski, to various cover versions that opened my eyes to the real power of "Senor (Tales of Yankee Power)" to "In The Summertime" sounding like one of rock's most perfect songs when it popped up on a mix while I was driving around with cousin Tommy, mid-career Dylan songs have a fantastic track record of creeping up on me, out of context, and settling right in among what are already too many favorites. Accustomed to this unexpected way that Dylan songs keep sounding fresh and amazing, I'm always on the lookout. This one isn't quite in that group, but that doesn't mean I'll ever give up on Infidels. Wikipedia says this song "is often regarded as a thinly-disguised defense of Israel's foreign policy." Why this made the cut and "Blind Willie McTell" didn't is anybody's guess.

4. R.E.M. - West Of The Fields - Murmur
Perhaps the best debut album of the 1980s. This song seems to me like a precursor to "Driver 8" in its sound, a little less jangly than most of the rest of the album. Any recommendations out there on the new Murmur deluxe reissue?

5. Randy Newman - Real Emotional Girl - Trouble In Paradise
Knowing Randy Newman's tendency to hide his most subversive lyrics right underneath his most tender music, I listened to this one three times through, but damned if I didn't find anything but a love ballad in this one. A debate has raged for several years among some friends about what claim Newman really has to being the sort of songwriter who deserves any respect in rock 'n' roll circles after so many big and schlocky Disney paydays. But I think that Newman's defenders can point to more evidence than his critics. And one of the leading Newman critics I know recently asked me to slip him Sail Away on the sly, without informing the leading Newman defender of our circle. I complied with the first part.

6. Tom Waits - Johnsburg, Illinois - Swordfishtrombones
I'd like to see more Tom Waits songs popping up in these shuffles, because no matter how much I keep listening and how much more it seems like I'm becoming a Waits expert, in truth I'm probably just barely catching up to half of his music. This 94-second song is practically hiding in plain sight, over before you know it's started. Another surprisingly tender and innocent song from a writer who made a career out of songs that went a little deeper into the gutter.

7. U2 - Surrender - War
Early U2 is just awesome. Despite being more than a decade behind the curve, this is the first U2 album that I really really loved. Still my second favorite (after Achtung Baby). This isn't the pretty, soaring music that U2 is known for, but it has more depth and soul, and a much deeper groove than those Joshua Tree hits. It was simply the absolute right batch of songs for the band to sound a bit mean.

8. The Smiths - This Charming Man - Peel Sessions
The greatest Smiths song? Quite possibly. This live version trades in a bit of that swirling vocal precision for a bit more sass and in that regard is just as thrilling as the better-known album version. But this one was recorded first, and it's really the recording that launched the Smiths.

9. X - The New World - More Fun In The New World
Opening with killer buzzsaw guitars before taking a jump into a rockabilly swing beat, the opener of X's fourth record is one of the band's all-time classics. Oh, and screw Reagan. The Gip's white-washing revisionist fans ought to take another listen to X for the truth.

10. New Order - Blue Monday - Substance (originally released as a single)
This original, 7 and a half minute version is so painfully synthy it sounds like an outtake from a band that was never heard again. I much, much prefer the 1988 remix that lands on the band's Best Of. It's probably sacrilige, but all this song really makes me want to do is listen to "Temptation."

U2 - Surrender (live 1983)
Tom Waits - Johnsburg, Illinois (live 2008)
X - The New World (live 2008)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Not to be too argumentative, but there's way more to Real Emotional Girl than a simple love ballad. He's clearly singing about an emotionally disturbed girl. This song has a very sad tone that would be misplaced in a love ballad. I think the lyrics also indicate that everything is not okay in this relationship. She "lives deep down in herself," he has to "hold on tight." She's a fucking nut job is what I think.