Monday, December 3, 2012

Top 5 Live Albums

Herein I interpret the term ‘live album’ fairly narrowly; I am concerned primarily with professionally-produced and officially-released non-bootleg albums (so I didn’t consider any of the eighteen million Grateful Dead bootlegs that exist).

Ashley's Top Five

1. Sam Cooke – “One Night Stand! Sam Cooke Live at the Harlem Square Club” – This isn’t just one of my favorite live albums; it’s one of my favorite albums of all time.  But since I’m evaluating this on the merits of its live performance, it’s just a stunning example of how the right musician/performer can bring a set of songs to life.  When I listen to Sam Cooke croon effortlessly through “Bring It On Home To Me,” or when he improvises the monologue intro to “It’s All Right,” it’s almost as if he hasn’t been dead for nearly forty years, but instead he’s actually singing tonight in a club down the street.  The crowd sounds positively electric and he speaks at the audience often as if they’re all close friends of his.  He pleads with the audience, whom he already has wrapped around his little finger, “I want you to listen to this song right here; this song’s gonna tell you how I feel.”  It simultaneously sounds like an intimate affair and a giant party; indeed, the closing track, “Having a Party,” ends the album with an appropriate flair.  I feel like I’m gushing about this but this album is so amazing.

2. John Denver – “An Evening With John Denver” – Recorded over the course of a couple of shows in 1974, this record showcases Denver’s prowess as not just a lyricist and a musician but as a performer who genuinely enjoys playing music and who works hard to please the crowd.  Exceedingly humble, at times he almost seems in awe of the crowd’s presence, but he does a good job of balancing the music with plenty of good-hearted banter that proves to be just as fun to listen to.  The hits are here: solid versions of “Rocky Mountain High,” and “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” a beautifully delicate version of “Annie’s Song,” and a great rendition of the Lennon/McCartney tune “Mother Nature’s Son,” and Denver alternates between the upbeat romps and the softer, quieter stuff.  Of course, as a Baltimore Orioles fan, I unequivocally love the rousing version of “Thank God I’m a Country Boy.”

3. Dead Kennedys – “Mutiny on the Bay” – This consists of fourteen songs from a few different California DK shows in 1982, but I swear it sounds pretty seamless to me.  What makes this great in my book aren’t the particulars, but that this is the closest a lot of us are ever going to get to witnessing the sheer force of Jello Biafra on a stage.  His rants are classic and the ad-libbing/updating of some of the lyrics works incredibly well, especially on “Kill the Poor.”  The band sounds great; “Forward to Death” is just blistering, and as hard as it is to select this instead of The Clash Live at Shea Stadium, this record sounds really raw and unpolished in a great way.

4. The Who – “Live at Leeds (Deluxe Edition)” – This list would be woefully incomplete without “Live at Leeds,” and the deluxe edition is essential.  The version of “Substitute” on this record is canonical at this point, and Townsend and Co. have never sounded better than on “Can’t Explain” and the reckless “Summertime Blues.”  Another favorite is the version of “A Quick One While He’s Away,” clocking it at nearly nine minutes of sheer awesome.

5. Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band – “Live 1975-1985” – I couldn’t in good conscience leave this off the list, though I admit that the ten year time span during which the songs were recorded (and the fact that it’s a 5 LP boxed set) make this a huge undertaking.  Still, it’s Springsteen and his band at their best on many of the forty tracks.  The version of “Rosalita” (my favorite Springsteen song) totally slays, and the 1980 recording of “Badlands” (recorded the night after Reagan won the presidency, apparently) is a must-hear.  The sound quality is fantastic, not surprisingly, and it’s wonderful to hear Springsteen and Co. give 100% throughout.

Honorable mentions:  The Clash: “Live at Shea Stadium,” Wings: “Wings over America,” Descendents: “Liveage!”

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Top 5 Greatest Hits Albums

Tim's Top Five:

This is more cerebral than my usual list, because a "great" greatest hits album is different from just being the album with the best hits on it. The Beatles 1967-1970 or Creedence Clearwater Revival - Chronicle, vol. 1 might well be among the ten best albums ever "recorded" under that criteria, but who needs to own them? There's simply not much reason for them to exist, since all the albums they choose from are all basically worth owning anyway (though Chronicle was my entree into CCR, so I'm not complaining). A truly great greatest hits album is really, to me, only achievable by an artist that you surely don't want to own all their stuff. So, typically, they're going to cover a lot of albums (The Essential Simon & Garfunkel is great and all, but it also represents about 75% of their output), they're not going to have a lot of weak points (sorry, The Essential Paul Simon).

1. Johnny Cash - The Legendary Johnny Cash - don't get me wrong. I like Johnny Cash. I might well love Johnny Cash, and there are probably albums out there that I should own - Live at Folsom Prison, for instance. But this adequately captures everything I know of Johnny Cash's work and I really enjoy most everything on here. Notable omissions: I don't know of any. The Girl With The North Country (w/ Bob Dylan) from Nashville Skyline?

2. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers - Greatest Hits
- The biggest problem with it is that it jumped the gun. Tom Petty put out one more decent album afterward, so it's missing songs from Wildflowers. After that, his work has been pretty disastrous, only a couple of songs worth hearing. There's some songs from Full Moon Fever that are worthy of inclusion, but weren't hits. So it's # 2. Notable omissions: You Wreck Me, Rebels,

3. Bruce Hornsby - Greatest Radio Hits
- I love Bruce Hornsby. Correction. I love this album. I'm not sure if there's really a whole lot of other Bruce Hornsby I like at all, the albums I've acquired add very little to my appreciation. The Way It Is is worth owning on its own. That may well be it. Notable omissions: Not anything I'm aware of. On the Western Skyline is the only other song I sort of know that I would put here.

4. Loud, Fast Ramones: Their Toughest Hits
- You know how people who hate the Ramones tell you all their songs sound the same? Well, people who really like the Ramones would tell you that most of their songs sound the same. And this catches just that necessary amount of diversity. I own several other Ramones albums, but other than a couple covers (Let's Dance and Palisades Park), there's not that much that's essential about Ramones or Rocket to Russia (and certainly less on Brain Drain). Notable omissions: probably Merry Christmas (I Don't Want To Fight Tonight) or Pet Sematary would top the list of songs I'm surprised aren't there. Neither is essential.

5. Marvin Gaye - Gold - You should own What's Going On. You just should. But really, the tracks that don't make it on Gold aren't the best anyway. And it captures some amazing early motown things (You're a Wonderful One, I'll Be Doggone, Stubborn Kind of Fellow), the Tammi Terrell duets, and downplays the career collapse of the 1980s pretty well. Of the Gold discs, I think it's the most essential (with the possible exception of the Motown - Gold), and it's pretty good throughout the 2 discs (Rolling Stones - Forty Licks has one great disc and one near disaster on disc 2 because it pretends the Rolling Stones were essential after 1980).

Honorable Mention - Elton John's Greatest Hits - if it had Tiny Dancer and Levon, it'd be in the top 5, as a reminder that Elton John was good before he became the favorite artist of everyone's mom in the 1980s; John Lennon: Lennon Legend - I can't put it on here because (1) I own the previously-issued John Lennon collection, this just has a couple more tracks, but it doesn't include "How Do You Sleep?", which is a shame. It would save you from owning Mind Games, Double Fantasy, and Rock 'n' Roll which...let's just say I can't see how they'd be very good (Rock 'n' Roll is an affirmatively tedious album); Neil Young - Greatest Hits - I can't put it on the top five because I do still want to hear things from Neil Young's early albums, but it really captures a lot of greatness and even gets the best CSNY song.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Top 5 Songs With Religious Subject Matter

I went through a lot of possible titles for this post: Top 5 Songs That Are At Least Vaguely About Christianity [rolls right off the tongue, right?], Top 5 Songs About Christianity, Top 5 Songs With Christian Subject Matter.  I came up with this idea after seeing the song "Jesus is Just Alright" by The Doobie Brothers on XM.  In essence, here's how I'm applying the ground rules for myself: songs that include Christian subject matter, with a little more importance in the song than just a throwaway line.  This excludes songs like "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now" by The Smiths, as it just includes the word "heaven" and nothing else.

Go with me on this one.

Ryan's Top 5:

1. John Lennon - "God" - The song that really solidified his split from The Beatles.  In that context, this song can be really depressing to listen to, but it is, still, perfect in my mind.  Key religious lyric: "God is a concept by which we measure our pain."

2. The Rolling Stones - "Sympathy for the Devil" - I'm pretty firm on this being my favorite Rolling Stones song.  Key religious lyric: "And I was 'round when Jesus Christ / Had his moment of doubt and pain / Made damn sure that Pilate / Washed his hands and sealed his fate."

3. Morrissey - "I Have Forgiven Jesus" - I still feel vaguely sacrilegious listening to this song.  Key religious lyric: "I have forgiven Jesus / For all the desire / He placed in my heart when there's nothing I can do / With this desire" [this among many lines].

4. Billy Bragg & Wilco [lyrics by Woody Guthrie] - "Christ for President" - Satire at its finest.  I might try teaching this next year...every discussion I have with kids seems to get onto the subject of religious hypocrisy and the need for socialism, so it'd fit.  Key religious lyric: Well, all of it.  But my favorite is: "The only way we can ever beat / These crooked politician men / Is to run the money changers out of the temple / Put the Carpenter in."

5. Kanye West - "Jesus Walks" - This narrowly edged out Neutral Milk Hotel, mainly because it very definitely fits the criteria.  Anyway, this song kicks ass, and modern raps that actually have social/religious relevance are rare indeed.  (I'm sorry, there aren't nearly as many good popular rappers now.  It's okay, there are probably fewer good mainstream rockers.)  Favorite lyric [they're all religious]: "To the hustlers, killers, murderers, drug dealers, even the strippers / (Jesus walks with them)."

Honorable Mentions - Number 6 is "King of Carrot Flowers Pt. 2" by Neutral Milk Hotel, Number 7 is probably "Number of the Beast" by Iron Maiden, number 8 is "Big Sky" by The Kinks, and the rest I considered in no order are: "Spirit in the Sky," Norman Greenbaum, "Highway to Hell," AC/DC, "Devil Went Down to Georgia," Charlie Daniels Band, "Straight to Hell," The Clash, "God Knows I'm Good" and "Modern Love," Bowie, "Imagine," Lennon, "Vicar in a Tutu," The Smiths (bit of a stretch), "My Sweet Lord," George Harrison, "Personal Jesus," Depeche Mode.

Ashley’s Top 5: 

1. Norman Greenbaum – “Spirit in the Sky” – I’m a sucker for handclaps.  For all of the hokey lyrics and goofy rhymes in this song, it’s still so awesome.  I love the guitar, the handclaps, the background singers, and every time I hear it I get a huge smile on my face. Greenbaum is apparently a practicing Jew (strange, considering the Jesus references abound) and this song is almost enough to convert me.

2. The Clash – “Death or Glory” – One of my favorite songs by The Clash, this one makes the list mostly because it’s awesome and because it contains one of the best biting commentaries about religion: “And I believe in this—and it’s been tested by research—he who fucks nuns will later join the Church!”

3. Violent Femmes – “Jesus Walking On The Water” – Penned by devout Baptist (and son of a Baptist minister) Gordon Gano (who knew?) this song is such a jam by such a great band.

4. Modest Mouse – “Styrofoam Boots/It’s All Nice on Ice, Alright” – This is the song that made me want to learn the banjo years ago.  From The Lonesome Crowded West, this song is apparently a crowd pleaser, according to YouTube, which I guess I never realized, and when I saw Modest Mouse in 2003 I really wanted them to play this jam but Isaac Brock was too drunk and too busy yelling at sailors at The Norva in Norfolk (they did play my other favorite, “Trailer Trash”).  It’s filled with religious references (feet floating like Christ’s, Saint Peter, etc.) and it segues into its companion song, which is also great.

5. Brian Jonestown Massacre – “The Ballad of Jim Jones” – The first time I watched Dig! I fell in love with this song, which has a dope harmonica and really gorgeous lyrics.  It’s a bit of a downer (compared to the rest of the list, I guess) but it’s been one of my favorites for years.

Honorable mentions: I was committed to putting my favorite gospel song on the list but decided against it at the last minute because it wasn’t quite fair to pull something from that genre; anyway, it is this version of “I Can't Feel At Home In This World Anymore,” by Edith & Sherman Collins (“This world is not my home, I’m just a-passin’ through, my treasures and my hopes are all beyond the blue...”) Other runners-up are: Neutral Milk Hotel–“King of Carrot Flowers pt. 2,” and The Vaselines–“Jesus Wants Me For a Sunbeam”.

Tim's Top Five:

1) I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For - U2 - the song is entirely about Jesus, but you don't really even think about it that way. That's a feat in and of itself that warrants its placement atop the list. But most of all, it was the ship that launched a thousand good songs -- the first two reputable albums I ever owned were U2 - The Joshua Tree and R.E.M. - Out of Time (though I will defend my choice to buy the Spin Doctors - Pocketful of Kryptonite to the day I die). It's simple, it's quiet, and it's powerful stuff, and it's songs like this that make U2's concerts almost as spiritual as Springsteen's -- and when this one's absent, you feel you've lost something.

2) O Mary Don't You Weep - Bruce Springsteen (or Pete Seeger, if you prefer) - this song epitomizes just how phenomenal an achievement Springsteen's Seeger Sessions album was. I had never considered buying it, why would I? Then you hear the kind of fun they're having on the album, a real big band sound, and the fact that it's "Seeger Sessions" that sound like the exact opposite of Pete Seeger -- explosive and potent.

3) Jesus Christ - Big Star - One of the real revelations of the mostly unnecessary Big Star box set was the stereo version of this song, which completely reinvents it and makes it the kind of perfect power pop that laced their first two albums that is lost in the brooding and haunting nature of Third. It gleams brand new, like the last thing Alex Chilton ever recorded. The original (which is captured on youtube here) is still fantastic (though marred by the circus intro for 20 seconds), but the song really makes the best use of an echo chamber I've heard post-Buddy Holly without being Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes-level indulgent.

4) She Left Me For Jesus - Hayes Carll - Well, ignore the cheesy music video that interrupts the song repeatedly, but this is what country music should be, alcohol-soaked, bitter and funny from start to finish.

The chorus really does it justice: She left me for Jesus/And that just ain't fair/She says that he's perfect/How could I compare/She says I should find him./and I'll know peace at last/But if I ever find Jesus/I'm kickin' his ass.

5) Spooky Mormon Hell Dream - Book of Mormon - Well, congratulations, Ryan. You've made me look like I'm a touch flamboyant, since this is my second straight list involving Broadway musicals. For those unfortunate enough to have not seen The Book of Mormon, there are at least a couple songs worthy of mention here, but Spooky Mormon Hell Dream is the winner here for its inclusion of Johnny Cochran. You lose most of it when you don't actually see it on stage, particularly Jesus telling Elder Price that he's a dick, but it's fantastic.

Honorable Mention: Gotta Serve Somebody - Bob Dylan - really the highlight of his brief born-again period, Tears In Heaven - Eric Clapton, Knockin on Heaven's Door - Bob Dylan, Light Up Ahead - Further Seems Forever, Living Proof - Bruce Springsteen, I Believe - Book of Mormon - it's not as good a song as Spooky Mormon Hell Dream, but it has the greatest line in musical theater history -- all I will say is that it refers to 1978; All-American Prophet - Book of Mormon; Spirit in the Sky - Norman Greenbaum - loses points because I spend my time wondering why Norman has a friend in Jesus, given that he's Jewish?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Top 5 Interrogative Songs

Tim's Top 5:
I blame Dan. He posted a reference to this blog today. So I'm posting, because I came up with something that I think would make for a good sporcle quiz -- providing answers to songs ending in question marks. So that's what this is for me -- you could choose to pick songs that are phrased in the form of a question if you prefer, but I'm sticking to something easy to search for in Itunes -- and the only other songs I can think of are "Are you gonna go my way", "Are you gonna be my girl," and "Do you want to know a secret" none of which would make my list anyway. The fascinating thing is that this is a list where the Jimi Hendrix Experience, CCR, Elliott Smith, John Lennon, R.E.M. and The Clash would have qualifiers, and I didn't pick any of those. (I also forgot the first song that sparked the category -- Elvis Costello's "What's So Funny 'Bout Peace Love and Understanding", although it apparently doesn't have a question mark)

1. Life on Mars? - David Bowie - This is far and away the winner here, although if I'd gone with songs phrased in the form of a question, I wouldn't be able to count it. It's one of my favorite Bowie songs, which means it's one of my favorite songs period. The vocal jumps are matched perfectly by the mostly nonsensical lyrics and the music is just soaring. I can't think of a whole lot of songs that do so much with vocal dynamics, but it's fantastic here.

Answer: possibly, frozen under the water.

2. What Do You Want Me To Say? - Dismemberment Plan - I had actually stumbled onto listening to this album (Emergency and I) today and never once thought to connect this song to the list until I ran the ITunes search. It has a similar sort of emphasis on explosions of sound, but ties in some occasional spoken-word sort of lyrics. I've never listened to anything but this album, but this album is fantastic enough to deserve the hype it gets.

Answer: that you're coming back to DC and will be playing the Black Cat on a Saturday or Sunday night.

3. Isn't it a Pity? - George Harrison - This is a very simple song that goes on for a very very long time, but it doesn't feel that way at all. Another masterpiece from what is far and away the best solo album any Beatle ever released. Yes, I said that. Suck it, Imagine (which had a song that narrow missed this list). This song is also noteworthy because IT includes a question mark in the title, even though the next track (What Is Life) does not. Get with the program, Harrison!

Answer: Yes. 'Tis. You're missed, George.

4. What Difference Does It Make? - Sensefield (cover of The Smiths) - I'm sorry, but I just really don't think that highly of the Smiths song (like most Smiths songs, I can see how someone who is not me would like it, but that person is not me). Jon Bunch's vocaqls are meant for this sort of thing, and Morrissey's spoken-word vocal here doesn't carry the same force. This is a pretty good straight rocker, and I am a sucker for Sensefield.

5. What do you do with a B.A. in English? - Cast of Avenue Q - this is the perfect start to a fantastic show that was even better than I had ever figured possible when I saw it live in London. RIP, Sir Gary Coleman.

Answer: Good luck figuring that out. That's why the song is so perfect.

Honorable mention - there'd be plenty, including the only Alice in Chains song that I like (Would?), but how about: CCR - Have You Ever Seen the Rain?; Elliott Smith - Wouldn't Mama Be Proud?; R.E.M. - What's The Frequency, Kenneth?

Dan's Top 5:
1. The Pixies - Where Is My Mind? - I gained a newfound respect for The Pixies (not that I never had a period of any disrespect) after recently visiting Seattle and the Explore Music Project's exhibit on Nirvana. Yes, Nirvana is worthy of a (fairly well-curated) museum exhibit. One of the pieces was a collection of records from artists that had adopted the punk, do-it-yourself, underground approach, including what sounds like an obvious influence, the Pixies' Surfer Rosa. Though you could argue for "Gigantic" as well, this song stands out as the best on the album, and maybe of The Pixies' career. It employs one of my favorite lyrical techniques, describing a specific event (scuba diving) and projecting upon it deeper meaning (an epistemological investigation of consciousness and thought.) Very easy guitar riff to learn, too.

Answer: Floating (and possibly sleeping) with the fishes.

2. The Smiths - How Soon Is Now? - Being a fan of production value more than lyrical content, I love this song. For me, it exists purely as a vehicle to showcase Johnny Marr's genius for creating cool effect. Two different tremolo effects are used here. One twice as fast as the other, and both on opposing stereo channels. The result is a swirling, lush guitar sound that—while playing minor chords—just puts you in a dark, yet enlightened mood. Oh yeah, Morrissey sings, too.

Answer: Well, you're never going to meet a girl if you don't stop acting so depressed all the time. Sheesh.

3. ABBA - Does Your Mother Know - I'm allowing this song for myself even though the official track name doesn't have a question mark. Why? Because it's my favorite ABBA song. I think I actually didn't get into ABBA until after our last post, so you might be surprised to see them appear in my list. Perhaps the greatest band to fall into the "guilty pleasure" category of many, I think this song in particular demonstrates why I have their catalogue on my hard drive. It's pop music both at its most basic and its most engaging. In other words, it's got a good beat and you can dance to it.

Answer: If no, then it's likely you'd be in a lot of trouble. If yes, then she must be OK with you being a slut.

4. Rockapella - Where in The World Is Carmen Sandiego? - Most people know it simply as a theme song to a kid's game show that aired on PBS. That's exactly what it is. And it fucking rules. "Monday through Friday at FIVE!" (Have you listened to the full version of the song? Very inventive lyrics.)

Answer: Always two steps ahead of you and your grade-school knowledge of geography.

5. The Jimi Hendrix Experience - Are You Experienced? - The title track to Jimi's debut album isn't particularly well-known outside the group of people who are pretty familiar with his work. Most people would probably draw the line at knowing "Foxey Lady" or "The Wind Cries Mary." It's a shame, because this track features fantastic time-reversed guitar snippets throughout, including the main solo. It remains especially hard in this song, however, to divorce Jimi's immense talent from his psychedelic image.

Answer: Well, I have. Let me prove it to you.

Honorable mention: The Beatles - Why Don't We Do It In The Road?, Duran Duran - Is There Something I Should Know?, The Flaming Lips - Do You Realize??, Oasis - Who Feels Love?

Ryan's Top 5:

There'll be some crossover here.  That's what I get for putting this off till today.  [Note: I'm going to exclude songs that apparently lack question marks, so I'm not considering such songs as "Wouldn't It Be Nice" and "Who'll Stop The Rain."]  [Double-note: Fuck note 1 re: my #1, which I can't verify has a question mark.]

1. Velvet Underground - "Who Loves the Sun" - I've always considered this maybe the most perfect pop song ever written, according to my rigidly subjective criteria and considered lack of broad consideration.  Anyway--this song is perfect.  Simple and fun lyrics that have real depth.  Beautiful music.  I sincerely think this song is perfect.

Answer: Apparently not enough people.  Nice work, everyone.

2. The Kinks - "Do You Remember Walter?" - The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society is one of the greatest novels ever written.  If I did my top 5 favorite albums, the first 17 albums would be TKATVGPS (followed by The Clash, London Calling, and Give 'Em Enough Rope 7 times each.  I'm too busy to calculate the math on that one.)  Anyway, I love The Kinks' style--fairly simple lyrics with a nice gut-punch at the end.  "Yes people often change / But memories of people can remain."  

Answer: I do but then I'm an Anglophile.  

3. The Smiths - "How Soon Is Now?" - I think the general opinion among Smiths fans is that this song is overrated, as it's one of very few that actually got radio airplay (and gets radio airplay today).  Anyway, I'd slot this in my top 15 Smiths songs (hello new Top 5 list?)--the guitar is haunting, and I am in love with the line, "You shut your mouth / How can you say / I go about things the wrong way / I am human and I need to be lo-o-oved / Just like everybody else does."  Morrissey has a way of drawing out his lines so uniquely ["lo-o-oved"].

Answer: A bit too soon, I'm going to grab a snack first.

4. The Smiths - "What Difference Does It Make?" - Hi.  I'm Ryan.  I am a Morrissey fanboy.

Answer: Not a damn bit.

Answer: Nah.

Honorable Mentions - Where Is My Mind?, Life on Mars?, Why Don't We Do It In The Road?, Are You Experienced?, Have You Ever Seen The Rain?

Ashley’s Top 5:

I am honored to be included in this Top 5.  Here is my humble contribution.

1. R.E.M. – “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?” – I’ve never gotten sick of this song, even after excessive airplay when Monster came out.  So while other R.E.M. songs always beat this one for me in terms of all-time favorites, this one is still legitimately awesome.

Answer: My guess is that everyone knows the story behind this song and the attack on Dan Rather and the dubious connection to Donald Barthelme (incidentally one of my favorite writers) so I’ll leave it at that—it’s either a nonsensical question, or one to which Mr. Rather apparently didn’t know the answer.

2. The Ramones – “Do you Remember Rock ‘n Roll Radio?” – End of the Century was a radical departure in sound for the Ramones and this song is pretty indicative of that fact.  You can hear the Phil Spector influence on this track especially and more than anything, it’s pretty relevant based on the shit that gets played on the radio these days.

Answer: Not the radio that the Ramones are talking about, but I remember it sounding a whole hell of a lot better when I was younger. 

3. Superchunk – “Does Your Hometown Care?” – I had forgotten that this song was on the SubUrbia soundtrack, which I thought was a good movie in high school but may very well not be since I haven’t seen it since.  Fun fact, in an Intro to Theatre class in college we read the Eric Bogosian play on which the film is based.  The Superchunk song is great even though it’s from their softer years, which honestly are growing on me as I get older. 

Answer: Yeah. Norfolk cares. Norfolk loves me.

4. Slant 6 – “What Kind of Monster Are You?” – Slant 6’s seminal record Soda Pop * Rip Off actually has two interrogative songs on it—the blistering opener “Don’t You Ever?” and this one, and though it’s really close, “What Kind of Monster Are You?” wins for me.  This was one of my favorite albums years ago when I lapped up everything Dischord records had put out in the early nineties, and this is one of the few from that phase that I still listen to.

Answer: I hope I’m not a monster at all, but if I am I bet I’m pretty benevolent.

5. The Promise Ring: “Is This Thing On?” – In some ways I’ve never gotten over this band. From another album with multiple interrogatives (“Why Did Ever We Meet?” is the other one, and it almost won because it has what I thought was a great video in high school, probably because of the rollerblading and the animal suits), this is the opening track to 1997’s Nothing Feels Good and it sets the tone for the whole album. Not only is the song good, but it contains a puzzling interrogative in the lyrics: “Delaware, are you aware of the air supply?”

Answer: Yes. Yes it is.

Honorable mentions: Rilo Kiley, “Does He Love You?,” The Promise Ring, “Why Did Ever We Meet?,” CCR, “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?” Jawbreaker, “Do You Still Hate Me?” The Buzzcocks, "Ever Fallen In Love With Someone You Shouldn't Have?"

Friday, July 10, 2009

Top 5 Worst Current Baseball General Managers

Tim's Top 5:

1. Dayton Moore - Lest Ryan feel he's all alone on this one, I have to admit, he's earned his way atop the list. His retarded move to acquire the fourth worst hitting shortstop of whom I'm aware (#1 and #2 were both Royals as of this Monday in Tony Pena Jr. and Luis Hernandez, #3 is the woeful Alex Gonzalez, though I think Jimmy Rollins wants to make this list...) is just one of a litany of moves that are directly contrary to both his stated goal (to get the Royals players who could get on base) and any conceivable baseball strategy. He's neither Adam Everett (a worthless hitter who seems to be on winning teams a lot) nor a draw-the-walk patient hitter. And he plays a position that is likely to be adequately filled once Mike Aviles gets back next year, a thought that completely slipped my mind earlier today when I already thought it was a terrible acquisition.

What's more puzzling is how much he's regressed. When he first became the Royals' GM, he made a lot of sound moves that seemed like they'd put the team on the right track. He dealt head case Mike MacDougal for prospects,

Career high point: Re-signing Zack Greinke, signing Gil Meche to a way above market 5-year, $55 million deal that actually panned out, selecting Joakim Soria in the Rule 5 draft, trading the felonious Ambiorix Burgos for Brian Bannister.

Career low points: acquiring Mike Jacobs, signing Kyle Farnsworth (both of which prevented the Royals from signing Orlando Hudson), signing Jose Guillen to a multi-year deal, traded JP Howell for Joey Gathright.

2. Ned Colletti - "Hey, do you mind paying for Casey Blake? I'll give you one of the top 25 prospects in all of baseball AND be your best friend." I assume that's how the average call with Ned Colletti goes. Either that or " you're a one-dimensional outfielder who doesn't get on base, gets caught stealing all the time, and can't hit for $55 million enough?" Ned Colletti has signed Jason Schmidt to a long-term deal (Schmidt's yet to pitch under that), given out huge money to a collapsing Andruw Jones, big years and big dollars for Juan Pierre, dumped Edwin Jackson for Danys Baez and Lance Carter (who then disappeared off the face of the earth). He's made one good move, and even that didn't pan out this year.

Career highlight: Trading not much for Manny Ramirez, getting the Dodgers to the NLCS.

Career lowlights: pretty much every other move he's ever made. Hopefully Carlos Santana for Casey Blake will top that list.

3. Omar Minaya - Quick, name all the moves that Minaya's made that have panned out. By my count, the number is one. The man who's responsible for one of the top five most lopsided trades in history (Grady Sizemore, Cliff Lee, Brandon Phillips and hey, why not Lee Stevens for Bartolo Colon and Tim Drew) has made one really good move since becoming GM of the Mets -- trading a bunch of nothing for Johan Santana. Signing Francisco Rodriguez has worked out for this year, but is a deal with very high B.J. Ryan potential. He's been armed with loads of money and has turned it into mediocre #5 (or worse) starters -- Oliver Perez, Pedro Martinez; he's traded some valuable players for nothing (Heath Bell, Matt Lindstrom, Brian Bannister), that ultimately left him with a pitching staff that's mind-blowingly awful for a team with a $100+ million payroll.

4. Brian Cashman - Hip hop Jor-hay! Both New York teams make the list, Cashman's idiocy is just hidden under a gigantic brown bag with a green dollar sign on it. When you can simply buy away your mistakes, it's less noticeable that you've made nothing but mistakes for your tenure as GM. The horrific tenure as GM is masked by an infinite payroll, but this team paid Giambi $20 million a year to be a lousy first baseman, has paid Jeter $20 million to be a "team captain" that can't field his position, will be paying A-Rod $30 million a year when he's scuffling, and gave A.J. Burnett five years and the right to opt out. It's really astounding to think what a quality general manager could have done with the money that's been wasted on Hideki Matsui, Johnny Damon, and the like.

Career highlight: uh...none? He's signed some great players, but he did so by having more money than anyone else.

Lowlights: Pretty much every contract on the team.

5. Jim Hendry - Like three of the four above him, Hendry comes from a team with money, but he has no clue what to do with it. Hendry had a good start to his career, adding Aramis Ramirez for nothing, signing Derrek Lee, and building a franchise that looked like it had a bright future. Then, on the verge of greatness, they've laden their team with overrated players like Alfonso Soriano, gambled on mediocre Japanese talent in Kosuke Fukudome, and traded away their most useful piece for nothing, only to have him end up on the St. Louis Cardinals.

Career highlight: Aramis Ramirez and Kenny Lofton for Bobby Hill and Jose Hernandez. Sighing Ted Lilly.

Career lowlights: having to hand over Mark DeRosa to sign Milton Bradley, who can't play in the field and stay healthy and hasn't played well when he has played. Paying big money for Alfonso Soriano.

Not that far off: Ruben Amaro Jr. - the Ibanez signing didn't make sense, the fact that it has worked thus far doesn't mean the three years will be good, the other moves have all been uniformly stupid, and signing Pedro will be a disaster. He'll be back on the top 5 soon; Ed Wade - he loves making high-risk, no-upside deals, whether it's giving up Brad Lidge and Eric Bruntlett for Michael Bourn and Geoff Geary or giving Mike Hampton a multi-year deal. Billy Beane will make it soon if he keeps having seasons like this one, where he's made three of the worst acquisitions in the game (Cabrera, Holliday, and Giambi).

Dan's Top 5:

1. The Spectre of Dave Littlefield - OK, so technically he's not been a GM since 2007, but I still blame him for the shittiness of the Pirates two seasons after the fact. I'm waiting to see how Huntington chooses to fail to revitalize the team, but until then, I can still hate Littlefield.

2. Dayton Moore - He's in charge of the Royals, right?

3. Jim Hendry - I wouldn't actually say that he's a bad manager, but as a casual Cubs fan, it sure looks like he's paying a lot of money to get mediocre results. Still, a faulty cost-benefit ratio isn't the worst of possible offenses.

4. Brian Cashman - I figured that whoever is currently writing a paycheck to Alex Rodriguez should be included on this list automatically.

5. Neal Huntington - I have absolutely nothing against this guy yet, but I take note: during the 2009 off season there were "no significant transactions." Given my poor knowledge of management, I say that's good enough for inclusion in this list.

Honorable Mention - Billy Beane. Partly personal bias from reading Moneyball, but also the fact that the A's are really in the toilet nowadays.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Top 5 U2 songs (1991-2009)

Tim's Top 5:

So I'm seeing U2 at Giants Stadium later this year (along with opening act Muse). I have little doubt it will be awesome, I've noticed that I'm really a sucker for open-air stadium shows (no tinnitus issues and the only acts I've really seen in such venues are Springsteen (twice) and The Police. But I'm finally going back and getting all the albums pre-Joshua Tree that I've still never heard much of...hence this bifurcated list. I don't have Zooropa, but have the other post-1991 albums in one form or another, though my IPod got full before I bought No Line on the Horizon, so I've not listened to it much. Aside from the atrocious "Get On Your Boots", it's a strong album.

1. City of Blinding Lights from How to Dismantle An Atomic Bomb - The other reason to bifurcate this list is because it's on an album that can't possibly have spawned the best U2 song of all time...right? I'm not so sure. The intro carries a lot of weight on its own, the key progression on the keyboard is a real unifying force that matches the more orchestral progressions from The Joshua Tree (like the intro to Where the Streets Have No Name). Like that song, it takes more than a minute to reach the vocals and nearly 2 1/2 minutes before we hit the chorus to the song. The lyrics open with a hat tip to Bob Dylan and "My Back Pages" and swell into one of U2's most romantic songs. It gets bonus points for being the best used song at a political rally in my lifetime -- when Obama came out to this song at the Democratic National Convention, I dropped the CD in my alarm clock and wouldn't wake to anything but City of Blinding Lights until after the election. Unlike many U2 songs that build in one continuous crescendo (see One), it builds up, peaks, and drops, but each verse is still at a stronger level than the one preceding it. It strikes me as a profoundly mathematical arrangement, but it's so intuitive that it really works for me. I'm not sure what it is, but it's a magnificent song, one that it took U2 almost 30 years to create. I'm just grateful that it showed up on an episode of Entourage that ultimately persuaded me to buy the album.

2. Zoo Station from Achtung Baby- Every U2 album has an opening track that kind of signals the direction that their album is going. "Where The Streets Have No Name" is silent for nearly 30 seconds, signaling the quiet desperation of The Joshua Tree, "A Sort of Homecoming" shows a kind of mixed bag, a band uncertain what it's doing with its own growing fame, but a noticeable withdrawal from the political ethos of War while relying on an ever-increasing size to their sound, "Beautiful Day" was the first real sign that U2 was officially old, with Bono mostly talking through the track and the other vocals sounding heavily produced or augmented. Well, "Zoo Station" may be the best of all of them, announcing U2's desire to break from The Joshua Tree and indulge in a more German sound, capturing industrial music, John Cage percussion, and a whirlwind of music in the place of silence. It also makes an odd cameo in a movie I'll always love (About A Boy), which was what first made me listen to the song in its own right and not just as a track on U2's seminal album.

3. One from Achtung Baby - That's right, although "One" has been named as the best song in history in several polls that the BBC had done, I would put it third. It's a phenomenal song, laden with raw emotion and confusion (which explains why people play this profoundly depressing song about divided souls at weddings), but it lacks the revolutionary force of Zoo Station. It's a more developed sound than we got on The Joshua Tree, but it's more remarkable as a well-written song than as an eye-opening performance or change to music. It's a continuous crescendo from start to finish, with the music swelling and Bono's pleading growing stronger and yet wearier simultaneously.

4. Walk On from All That You Can't Leave Behind - Although All That You Can't Leave Behind won a fair amount of critical acclaim (seriously, Rolling Stone, the #139 album of all f***ing time? Better than Darkness on the Edge of Town? #1 Record? Radio City? Not even close, the second half of it is all but unlistenable), following on the hells of Pop, it's a profoundly uneven album and loses its way about halfway through. But this is one of their best and most uplifting songs about triumphing over the mundane with a solid spoken narrative intro that sets the song up beautifully. They milk the beauty of poetic repetition at the end and close out the song with force, it leads into "Kite", another song worthy of consideration...and then the album goes off the tracks after "In a Little While".

5. Original of the Species from How to Dismantle An Atomic Bomb- It's remarkable primarily because it's a very quiet song that really has a broad spectrum of sounds. At first it's the string section that's really the driving force, then there's a piano bridging the next gap, and then the vocals get more depth and force as the song continues to its conclusion. It's one of the few songs on the last three albums where you really have no doubt that Bono's voice actually sounded that way -- the weakness and age show up, but they're completely indispensable.

Honorable Mention: Magnificent, No Line on the Horizon, Even Better Than The Real Thing, Discotheque - Sorry, but if you removed the lyrics, it's a phenomenal Propellerheads track, as it is, it's just a strong point on a middling album.

Dan's Top 5:

Man, U2 really sucks these days.

1. Mysterious Ways from Achtung Baby - OK, I really like this one, but I've heard it far to many times over the past year to say many good things about it at the moment.

2. Beautiful Day from All That You Can't Leave Behind - loses point for being associated with a campus christian organization I was very loosely associated with.

3. Vertigo from How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb - To be fair, it sounds far better if you're in Ireland getting drunk and listening to a local band cover it.

4. Elevation from All That You Can't Leave Behind - Bonus points for vocoder use and Bono's Joshua Tree-era high notes.

5. All Because Of You from How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb - Hey, it's kinda catchy.

I don't particularly love any of these songs, but these are the ones I don't skip when they come up on my iPod. I have much love for anything before Achtung Baby, which really marked the downfall of this band in my eyes. Come to think of it, exactly half of the band's 12 albums came out before 1990, and the remaining 6 have all left something to be desired.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Top 5 Reasons We Haven't Updated

I'm hoping that this post serves its intended purpose in that it will reignite this blog rather than drive the nail into the coffin. That, and I hate seeing the Killers list every time I devolve into one of my pseudo-Aspberger-syndrome bookmark click-fests.

Dan's Top 5:

1. Laziness - I think everyone knew this was coming at #1. It's like trying to list best rock bands of all time or something - there's no question that the Beatles will be at the top of every non-moron's list. Nowadays - especially since I passed the PhD candidacy exam - I have adopted a particularly "meh" attitude to putting forth a lot of effort to anything. Especially things on the Internet.

2. Social Life - I'm not ashamed to proclaim that I have a girlfriend now. What I am ashamed of is proclaiming it to random people on the street who clearly don't care, and as a result tend to get annoyed with me. And by posting this on the Internet, I'm effectively doing the same to any readers we may have. (Sorry, but you're really asking for it.) But it's true - I'm a happy guy.

3. Pop Culture Sucks - I can't really piece together a moderate list of good things related to pop culture that I've experienced since February. Sure, I saw a pretty cool concert, and got a decent album. I thought Star Trek was a fun movie. But the bare minimum for this site is five - kind of like the opposite of an express checkout lane. There's just not enough good stuff out there - or if there is, it sure isn't making itself obvious.

4. Lack of Cynicism - I never thought this would be true, but I guess it is. You know how, when you ask someone how they're doing, they might say something like "fine"? No matter how true it is, it sounds hollow and lifeless. Well, I'm doing fine right now, which has naturally eroded that biting wit and cynicism that it takes to be funny. Not that I ever was funny, but at least I pretended to be witty and cynical enough.

5. The Year of the Ox - According to the Chinese Zodiac, it's been the Year of the Ox since January 26th. I have no idea what that's supposed to mean from an Eastern astrological point of view, but considering that a huge percentage of all the crap I own has doubtlessly been manufactured in China, I feel there's no reason why it can't be the fault of their ancient calendar. Some sort of collective spiritual force conspiring against me. Man, the Rat was a lot better for my work ethic.

Honorable Mention:

Tim's Top Five:
1. I got married. - Basically, the months of April-early June involved me doing the final wedding planning and then spending the last few weeks with my wonderful wife before she left the country. That meant every weekend was spent with her, which leaves little time for sniping at random things via passive-aggressive blog posts.

2. I have a job. - I also had one weekend off between mid-February and my wedding. One out of about...ten. Again, not much time there.

3. I'm a passive follower. - I am way better at following others' lead when it comes to this blog. I've not been focused on generating lists since I've been busy at work, and with no one else to lead the way, I've been slacking.

4. Esoteric topics - the topics that I've considered for my top fives are all things that I know no one else would have a basis to contribute to, which largely defeats the purpose of posting them.

5. Laziness - Yeah, I'm guilty also.