Tag Archives: rock music

Music Appreciation: My All-Time Top Ten, Part 2

 

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After the recent loss of Prince, I noticed a friend’s post about expressing appreciation for music we love while the musicians are still around. It was somewhat jarring to realize how many of my all-time favorites are already gone, so I felt even more inspired to say something while I still could. Thus last month’s post about 1-5 of my all-time favorite top ten musical artists.

We had a few weeks of technical delays, but I’m back now with Part II, covering 6-9, and a sneaky tie for 10th place.

Johnny Cash Johnny Cash is a fascinating bundle of contrasts- social activist in a genre that was often less progressive, personification of Country who was also a Sun Records first generation Rocker, rebellious sinner who unashamedly preached the Gospel. One could go on, but the real thing that gets me about him every time I listen is the stripped down basic power of his music and the unmistakable sound of his voice. Is it Country? Rock? Heaven? Hell? All of those at once, in one unforgettable Man in Black.

 

Prince I could easily re-purpose a lot of the above to describe Prince as well. Today’s music scene is so segregated by genre that it’s even more amazing now than it was in the 80s how he straddled the divide between Soul and Rock like it was nothing. Not to mention that he was a genuine goddamn virtuoso- he liked to perform with big bands, but on his first two albums he not only wrote and produced the whole thing, he played every instrument himself. Buried at the heart of his music is a fusion of the sacred and the sexual that’s always uneasy and dynamic. How many people before, since, or ever, could make something with a funky beat, a guitar solo that Eric Clapton envied, a complex religious philosophy and hilarious sexual entendre all in the same album? Sometimes even in the same song… I was hooked when I first listened to 1999 at age 12, and I still am today.

 

Kristin Hersh You might think by the next two entries that I started off as a big Throwing Muses fan in the 80s. I was an 80s alt kid, so it would be reasonable to think that, but it’s not actually true. I ran in to Kristin Hersh’s solo work in the early 2000s, when her searing voice, surging chords, and willingness to not hold anything back got me through a lot of desolate-feeling post-divorce evenings. Then I back-filled to her 80s and 90s work with Throwing Muses (realizing along the way that I had favorite songs by them without knowing it was them), and forward filled to her mid-2000s band 50FOOTWAVE. Over three decades, in everything she’s done, she remains a powerhouse who can go acoustic or hard, throws out fiercely intelligent lyrics, and can sing the hell out of a song.

Tanya Donelly Pretty much everything I said above goes Ditto for Hersh’s step-sister and Throwing Muses co-founder Tanya Donelly. Her early 2000s solo albums were more like shimmering lullabies, but were similarly key to midwifing my emergence from a wrecked marriage and hollow way of life, toward reclaiming my true self. And damned if I didn’t then discover her Throwing Muses pedigree, and that she had been the driving force behind Belly, who I adored in the 90s. She tends to be both lusher and more subtle than Hersh, but is no less capable of rocking it out and producing haunting musical creations.

 

Bruce Springsteen When I was first putting together my top ten list, I hit a bit of a stumbling block. My 1-5 were clear as a bell to me. Without too much more thought, I came up with 6-9. But then I kept going back and forth on #10 between the Boss and the Clash. After a while, I realized they actually were flip sides of the same thing that was befuddling me, and decided to put them both in as tie for 10th. The issue was that I’m not always in a Clash mood, but when I am, I like almost everything they’ve done. On the other hand, I only like some of Springsteen, but I’m always in the mood for the version of Bruce that I like. For me, it’s his dark albums and songs that really get me. So, you can have your Born to Run, Born in the USA, and the Rising. Heck, you should have them. I like them too. Sometimes. But I’ll take Darkness on the Edge of Town, Nebraska, Tunnel of Love, Ghost of Tom Joad, and Magic anytime. There’s something about the spooky underbelly of America that nobody gets like Springsteen does.

 

The Clash Which leaves us with the other side of my tie for 10th. I like some of Joe Strummer’s solo stuff, and Mick Jones has made a lot of interesting music post-Clash- Big Audio Dynamite’s first album was one of my favorite things in the 80s. But there was something about the synergy of them together that was on a whole other level. Political without being polemical, rocking as hard as anything that the first generation of Punk came out with, and yet bringing in ska and dub, they continue to do what art should do at its best- inspire, entertain, and disquiet at the same time.

 

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A Brief Documentary History of Punk Rock

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I’m a music geek. I’m a total geek for lists. I also love documentaries. And history. If only there was some way to combine all of these. Wait– THERE IS!

Without further ado, I present you here a brief history of punk rock through documentaries, suitable for the audiophile, cinephile, and home-schoolers doing a unit on popular music. Note that these are presented in order of where they fall in the history of punk’s development, rather than when the films came out.

End of the Century: The Story of the Ramones (2003, Jim Fields and Michael Gramaglia) Often lost in the mix of its subsequent history is the fact that Punk actually started in the U.S.. Here’s the story of one of the first punk bands, highlighting the long shadow they cast on both sides of the Atlantic.

The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle (1980, Julien Temple) It may have started here, but it was in the U.K.that punk burst into the public consciousness, and there wasn’t a louder source of the P.R. burst than the Sex Pistols. This documentary of their rise and fall is set apart by coming from the era, and being itself a punk pastiche of sound and vision. 

The Filth and the Fury (2000, Julien Temple) Twenty years later, Julien Temple came back to do a more conventional (and thorough) documentary on the Sex Pistols. It lacks the verve of his earlier film, but makes up for it in accuracy, and really puts the band and the Punk movement in a wider context. 

The Clash: Westway to the World (2000, Don Letts) This documentary does a similar kind of treatment for the Clash. If the Pistols were the brains of U.K. Punk, the Clash were the brawn. Or maybe exactly vice versa… Either way, Letts makes great use of performance footage, interviews and news clips to remind you why it wasn’t purely hubris to call the Clash “the only band that matters”.

The Decline of Western Civilization (1981, Penelope Spheris) The funny thing about influence is, it runs both ways. If the Ramones helped jump-start U.K. Punk, U.K. Punk equally fed back into the scene in the U.S.. Heavy on live performance and interviews with the bands themselves, Penelope Spheris’ powerhouse showcase vividly brings the LA Punk scene of the early 80s to life.

We Jam Econo (2005, Tim Irwin & Keith Scheiron) From the general to the specific, this film hones in on The Minutemen, one of the more unique bands to come out of that Southern California scene before their highly literate, political and musically eclectic mix was brought to an end by their front man’s premature death just as they were on the verge of wider success.

American Hardcore (2006, Paul Rachman) Who the hell needs wider success? In the course of the 80s, LA Punk became LA Hardcore, and similar scenes popped up around the nation. This film chronicles the development of the nationwide scene, and makes a persuasive argument that Hardcore Punk was the only functioning political opposition in Reagan’s America.

1991: The Year Punk Broke (1992, Dave Markey) One thing about American Hardcore is that it ends the 80s on a distinctively downbeat note- a la the scene is gone now, and the kids all suck. This 1992 documentary puts the lie to that kind of defeatism. It chronicles a tour by Sonic Youth and the bands they brought with them, including priceless footage of a fledgling Nirvana, and is a reminder that, even as Punk flamed out throughout the 80s, it was giving birth to an alternative music scene that still had a splash or two left to make.

This list will get you going, but there’s more to discover. And I’d love to hear some that you recommend!