“Here Come the Bastards” by Primus (1991). An anthem for our times, that came out over thirty years ago. I think it was an anthem back then, too.
This is great if you’ve got 15 minutes. Paul Davids is a guitarist on YouTube. Here he plays what he considers to be the 80 greatest guitar intros. He plays in chronological order, from memory, in one take. He uses one guitar and a pedal board, and he’s able to approximate many different styles and sounds. It’s pretty amazing the variety of noises he wrings from his rig. I found the video surprisingly compelling. So I’ll link it, and you can check it out if you want. I hope your day’s been going well.
This is a ranked list, meaning each album I mention, I liked better than the previous album on the list. Or, in the case of the first album on the list, I liked it better than all the other Beatles albums that do not appear on the list. Speaking of the first album on the list,
#5. The Beatles (The White Album) (1968). This is a weird one. But taken as a whole, it’s a goddamn experience, and I love it. A couple non sequiturs, but mostly really good Beatles music. This came out after the excesses of 1967, and in many ways it was a counterpoint to Sgt. Pepper’s. The production was a little more subdued on the White Album, and it’s a nice contrast.
#4. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967). Balls to the wall psychedelia. This was the album where they really stepped out into it. Or maybe not stepped. More like a jump. The kind of jump where you land stomping on both feet. Preferably in some kind of puddle. In the case of Sgt. Pepper’s, the puddle was a puddle of cultural inevitability. So how’s come it’s only #4? Well, I’ll tell you.
#3. Revolver (1966). Revolver is a dynamite album. They were taking their first forays into psychedelia and hard-core experimentation that was the hallmark of Sgt. Pepper’s. I’m guessing (this is pure speculation on my part) that Revolver was the first album after they got turned on to LSD. I know the song “Doctor Robert” is about a guy who sold LSD, so they were definitely doing it when this album was being written and recorded. I guess the timing doesn’t really matter.
#2. Abbey Road (1969). Abbey Road is the best Beatles album. It is the crowning jewel of their catalog. So why is it only #2? Because this is a favorites list, not a qualitative list.
Honorable Mention. Rubber Soul (1965). Wanted to stick this in here before I reveal the #1. This was the first album after the Fab Four were turned on to weed. As such, it serves as a bridge between the two phases of the Beatles. The first phase was the poppy stuff (but still good), and the second phase, which commenced with Rubber Soul, was the good stuff (but still poppy).
#1. Magical Mystery Tour (1967). But that’s not a real album, I hear you saying. Maybe not. But it has the most iconic songs in their catalog. Let’s list a few of the heavy hitters that appear on this album. “I Am the Walrus”, “Strawberry Fields Forever”, “Penny Lane”, “All You Need Is Love”. Those are the Beatles songs, man. They fill it out with the likes of “Flying”, “Blue Jay Way”, “The Fool on the Hill”, “Hello, Goodbye”, “Magical Mystery Tour”. Are you fucking kidding me? This album is astonishing! I also like that they put out Sgt. Pepper’s, and then they did Magical Mystery Tour which is in every way a continuation and a culmination of that earlier project.
I love it when bands do this. U2 is another example. They came out with Joshua Tree, and everybody flipped their shit. So they came out with Rattle and Hum, which is my favorite U2 album, and which is a continuation and culmination of Joshua Tree. Along with some live tracks which are greatly appreciated. Man, I like Rattle and Hum.
But we’re not talking about U2 here. We’re talking about the Beatles, which is a different thing, though the two are not entirely dissimilar. So that’s my top five ranked list of Beatles albums. How about that.
Greta Van Fleet is kind of a punchline on the internet. When they started out, the singer had the ability to sound almost exactly like Robert Plant in his prime. And this is a young, early twenties kid here. Kinda like Plant was. But this kid’s voice — I should get his name, hang on — Josh Kiszka’s voice was, if anything, more powerful than Plant’s. But because his vocal sound was so derivative, and because the guitar player is no Jimmy Page, the band was written off by many as a cheap Zeppelin ripoff, an opinion I shared briefly.
That brings us to 2021’s sophomore effort, The Battle at Garden’s Gate. As far as I can see, Josh has moved on from sounding exactly like Plant and is carving out his own niche, his own style, his own voice, if you’ll forgive the expression. His singing on Battle sounds — this is gonna sound corny, but he sounds to me like an angel. Just to be clear, I’m not talking about pukey, cutesie-poo gift shop angels. I’m talking Biblical force of nature kind of angels. His voice sounds inhuman, is what I’m getting at.
Which is a pretty exciting development. The new vocal sound, the guitarist’s marked improvement — what started out as a completely Zeppelin-derivative effort has evolved and blossomed into something new and exciting. Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s still totally 70s rock. But it’s fresh now. I will be paying attention to what Greta Van Fleet does in the future.
By the way, I don’t mean to disparage the guitar player, Jake Kiszka, by saying he’s no Page. He’s a good player. Page just made better riffs. Which isn’t really a disparagement; Page made better riffs than most guitarists in history. But again, these kids are real young. It’ll be truly a joy to see how they mature and develop.
I leave you with a song. This is a live recording, but not before an audience. They just played and recorded a video, I guess? This is “Heat Above”, the opening track from Battle at Garden’s Gate. Enjoy.
If you don’t know, Layne Staley was the original lead singer of Alice In Chains. What I’m after is, what is the best example of Layne Staley being Layne Staley? He was a distinctive vocalist. With so many incredible performances. I don’t know. I’m just gonna say which song I think is the quintessential Staley track. And if you wanna disagree you can leave a comment.
Note: While Staley was famous for harmonizing with guitarist Jerry Cantrell, I’m not focused on that for this exercise. I’m focused on what Staley could do by himself. And I can think of no better example than — drum roll please — “Love, Hate, Love” from Facelift (1990). Holy fuck! What a performance. If you’re pressed for time, the real action starts around 4:24.
Which came out first, Nevermind by Nirvana, or Ten by Pearl Jam? As always, no peeking.
“The Kraken” by Squirrel Nut Zippers. A musical interlude that takes you on an epic mystical journey to the land of dreams. You think I’m exaggerating? You would think that, wouldn’t you?
I had a geometry teacher who used to say that. You’d make some sort of logical blunder and answer wrongly, and he would raise his eyebrows a little bit and nod encouragingly, and say in his distinct nasal voice, “You would _think_ that, wouldn’t you?” He was a bit unsettlingly intense, but I always appreciated the sentiment. Basically he was saying, “Yes, I understand the mistake you made, and you are not stupid.” Still, I bet it was really off-putting to some people. Armenti was his name. He was quite the character. But I digress.
“Magic Box” by the Laurie Berkner Band. Laurie Berkner was doing her thing when my child was the right age. Steph actually took Marnie to a Laurie Berkner concert back in the day. At home, we had a Laurie Berkner DVD that saw a lot of play. Laurie Berkner is an amazing performer with incredible energy, and her music is rocky, delightfully kid-like, without being saccharine and without dumbing it down. At the center of everything, it’s a woman singing while accompanying herself on acoustic guitar. What’s not to like? I mean, Suzanne Vega, right? The Indigo Girls? C’mon. But this is for kids, and my child loved it dearly. I just showed them the video and they went on a big nostalgia trip, one that was welcome and pleasant. This is “Magic Box”, which is fairly indicative of Berkner’s work. I hope you listen and enjoy.
I recently had to reduce the amount of time I spent listening to music. I used to listen to music literally all the time. Not literally all the time. How to put it? During waking hours, it was far more likely that music would be playing than not. Several months after making that reduction in listening frequency, it’s nice to have finally gotten used to not having music on.
I had a similar experience when I stopped listening to music in the car. That was maybe eight years ago. There was an adjustment period that was a bit uncomfortable. Without music, everything just seems so boring. I adjusted quicker to driving without music than I did blogging or whatever without music. Because when you’re driving, there’s always shit to hear. The bumps in the road, wind, precipitation, engine noise, turn signal clicks, resonant bridges, sirens — it’s all varied, all the time. Less variety on the freeway, but still enough to keep you from losing your mind. The sounds aren’t foot-tappable like music, but they are interesting in their way. And driving without music is statistically safer. Plus if you drive without music, you don’t have to fuck around with CD’s or plugging your phone in the car or whatever. I actually prefer driving without music now, which is something I never thought would be the case.
What’s your favorite road sound? The sound of going under a bridge during a rainstorm, the abrupt pause and resumption of rain, and the relative silence between, a “silence” that is full of noise and bridge echo and tire hiss. I’m fond of that one. That’s not a noise so much as a riff. Road riff!
It’s the official music video, which features footage of Steve playing the weird-ass three-necked guitar thing. It’s rather a spectacle, considering there’s only one person and one instrument onscreen.