Tuesday, February 10, 2004

I recently entered a mix CD sorta-contest thing with a bunch of other music geeks. The goal was to create a mix where each song had to correspond to a specific category. Here's what I came up with:

1) If you were making a soundtrack for your life so far – this song would have to be on it.
"We Are Time," Pop Group. The best track by the underappreciated Bristol post-punk band, "We Are Time" is an incredible epic about the struggle to overcome the unstoppable forces of time and society to carve out an individual life. Admittedly, the lyrics don't make a whole lot of narrative sense, but hearing Mark Stewart yell "we'll tame eternity" and the climactic "you, I, we are time" are inspiring like few moments in rock music.

2) A song from one of the CDs currently in your 1) car stereo 2) portable CD player 3) stereo
"Faster Gun," Wrens. From my favorite album of 2003, The Meadowlands. This is one of the standout tracks - by far the most uptempo, rockingest song on the album, with a driving chord progression leading to the windmill guitar on the chorus.

3) A song from the first album, cassette, or CD (whichever was first or the oldest that you still have access to) that you purchased for yourself.
"Get Off of My Cloud," Stones. The first CDs I ever bought were Hot Rocks by the Rolling Stones and A Decade of Steely Dan, and both hold up a lot better than some of the other classic rock stuff I liked at the time. Just be grateful I didn't get the Foreigner CD first.

4) A song without a word in its title.
"1970," Stooges. Yeah, it's a ringer that I'm sure everyone here has heard time and time again, but who could get tired of the Ashton/Alexander rhythm section's finest moment, and the inspired derangedness of the ending sax solo? (And I already used "1984" elsewhere on the mix, so.)

5) A song from the year you were born
"We Got the Neutron Bomb," Weirdos. I was born in 1978, which was a great year for music, so this one was a tough pick. I went with "We Got the Neutron Bomb," a loud punk anthem with a shoutalong chorus. And the mockery of overassertive U.S. foreign policy seems even more timely these days. Wow, remember when people thought Carter was the biggest threat to world peace?

6) A song with the name of someone in this music swap in it
"The Nazz are Blue," Yardbirds. In honor of TV's Naz Nomad, here's a prime slice of British white guy blues with a sharp Jeff Beck solo that edges into psychedelic territory.

7) A song in a language other than English.
Track #2 from the Cambodia Rocks! compilation. No track or band names were provided by the compilers of this collection, which features garage and pop bands from late 60's Cambodia. It's fascinating to hear the shotgun marriage of traditional Asian music and American rock music, and this one features a female singer belting out an almost Bollywood-like melody to the accompaniment of surf guitar and a chugging organ.

8) A song with a city or state/province name.
"Philadelphia," Magazine. Howard Devoto's ode to American ennui. Also includes the best Dostoevsky reference in music besides the little known Carpenters b-side "My Liver is Diseased."

9) Say you're planning a multi-day road trip, this song could go on every mix you make for the trip.
"Tell Her She's Lovely," El Chicano. One of the finest cruising-around-in-summer-with-the-radio-down songs ever committed to recorded material.

10) A song by a local artist.
"Spider in the Snow," Dismemberment Plan. DC's late, lamented Dismemberment Plan released one of the best albums of the 1990s, Emergency and I. This song perfectly captures the mid-20's crisis of confidence and meaning.

11) A song with a color in the title.
"The Sun is Going Black," Los Chijuas. Ultramelodramatic garage song from a band out of Chihuahua, Mexico. A endlessly repeating bass riff, insanely over-the-top organ scale runs and menacing guitar jangling, all topped off with a ripped-off-from-Syd-Barrett-era-Pink-Floyd breakdown at the end.

12) It’s 5am, your alarm is going off, this song would still make you smile.
"Now It's On," Grandaddy. One of those rare songs that manages to be uplifting and optimistic without sounding rah-rah or cloying.

13) Either a cover you thought was an original or an original you thought was a cover
"I Love You," People. I heard this version of the Zombies song before the original. People slow down the tempo and tack on a vaguely acid (but still safe for the kids) rock intro. The original's better, but this version has a nicely tense arrangement.

14) A song that is about a specific movie or book or at least mentions a specific movie or book.
"1984," Spirit. The Cliff Notes version of the Orwell classic in rock song form - only the part about the jackbooted government thugs is included, so it's not recommended as a subsitute for the book for lazy high school students. A tense, paranoid classic with a killer doubletracked guitar solo from Randy California.

"Leave the Capitol," The Fall. I had to include something from my all time favorite band, because no mix is complete without the sound of Mark E. Smith railing at something.

16) A song that has reached number one on a Billboard chart (state which chart and when).
"Quarter to Three," Gary U.S. Bonds. The number #1 single on Billboard's charts for two weeks: June 26, 1961 and July 3, 1961. Simple yet irresistible mix of an insistent drumbeat, handclaps and saxophone squawking.

17) This song doesn’t fit a category as far as you’re concerned.
"Helen Forsdale," MARS. From the seminal No New York compilation, this song sounds like almost nothing before or since - from the deranged gibberish vocals, to the consistently off beat, to the guitar that squalls away seemingly oblivious to the rest of the song. The song consistently threatens to fall apart into anarchy, but somehow makes it to the finish line.

18) I hate the artist, but I love the song.
"Just Like Heaven," The Cure. I wouldn't say I hate them, but I've never been much for Robert Smith's schtick. This, however, is a classic song, and Smith's overromanticism is charming here instead of annoying.

19) Wha? If anyone can tell me what this song is about, give me a call.
"Letter from an Occupant," New Pornographers. Actually, I doubt this song is really about anything, since the New Pornographers tend to emphasize vocal sounds over lyrical meaning. I just wanted to put it on here because it's a damn near perfect rock-pop song with a strong vocal performance by Neko Case and one of the best "oooh"s you'll ever hear in a pop chorus.

20) Guilty Pleasure.
"Ballroom Blitz," Sweet.
I don't really believe in "guilty pleasures" - I like what I like without apologies - but I'll concede that this is a dumb piece of junk. But it's a rockin' dumb piece of junk.

21) Stump the band.
"Faded Colors," Stonemen. Plucked from an obscure garage compilation, this single from an unknown Atlantic Canadian group features some of the harshest guitar tones you'll ever hear in the intro, as well as a truly nasty guitar solo interjecting itself into the song at random moments.

22) TV theme song
"WKRP End Theme," Tom Wells. The closing credits music to the beloved classic sitcom. Ret too boptenda, bah she ahbet tenna. As a bonus, the meow of the MTM kitten is included at no additional cost.

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