Monthly Archives: August 2016

Another year with nuthin’ to do: Best of 1969

Neil Young and Crazy Horse – Everyone Knows This is Nowhere
Miles Davis – In a Silent Way
The Velvet Underground – The Velvet Underground
Dusty Springfield – Dusty in Memphis
Sly and the Family Stone – Stand!
Bob Dylan – Nashville Skyline
The Stooges – The Stooges
Townes Van Zandt – Our Mother the Mountain
Creedence Clearwater Revival – Green River
The Band – The Band
The Beatles – Abbey Road
Merle Haggard – A Portrait of Merle Haggard
Isaac Hayes – Hot Buttered Soul
The Rolling Stones – Let It Bleed
Elvis Presley – From Elvis in Memphis
Leonard Cohen – Songs From a Room
Creedence Clearwater Revival – Willy and the Poor Boys
Aretha Franklin – Soul ’69
Dolly Parton – My Blue Ridge Mountain Home
The Temptations – Cloud Nine
Rod Stewart – The Rod Stewart Album
Johnny Cash – At San Quentin

Florida — the state with the prettiest name, Part #239!

To say that the Sunshine State has endured the stupidest primary election of my lifetime sounds precipitate, given that the state isn’t underwater yet and the Democratic Party sees no alternative to running Charlie Crist templates until Gainesville condo owners see the Atlantic lapping at their ground floor balconies; but any election in which Patrick Murphy, a turncoat who three years ago approached John Boehner about defecting and voted yea on the creation of the House Benghazi Committee, will run against the foulest offal in Florida public life is reason to hope that the tropical depression churning in the Florida Straits wipes out my state.

This means that Marco Rubio will return as a member of the legislative body he despises. If he were smarter than a dinner tray, he would stumble on the wisdom that has empowered Republicans and hoodwinked the media: the more a candidate emphasizes his contempt for lawmaking — for “Washington” — the better his credentials as an “outsider” and, in a kick in the groin to the Republic, the worse for the party that believes in governance no matter how ponderous, i.e. the Democrats. Hell, I may not even be giving Rubio enough credit; certainly Mitch McConnell stressed the importance of Rubio’s running again. Meanwhile the Florida Democratic Party, so moribund that it leaves no stink, won’t recruit candidates commensurate with the state’s demographics, parlous environmental condition, and political importance.

Look at Mother Nature on the run: Best of 1970


I don’t own any Black Sabbath except Paranoid but have no opinion. Leave me alone!

After years of limiting her writing to a couple tunes per album, Aretha Franklin looked over at the burgeoning singer-songwriter movement and said, “Here it is.” I love the swing of Spirit in the Dark: the cover of “The Thrill is Gone,” the cockiness of “When This Battle is Over,” the chord change precipitated by her own piano on the title track. This is what I want the limning of adult desire, one rooted in pews and transport, to sound like.

The only questionable finalist is the era’s first chart-topping triple album, recorded by a former Beatle whose considerable songwriting talent was overpraised because for thirteen years his ego swelled in the company of two great songwriters; these pent-up aching rivers would crest by the time Nixon was impeached. But I like more than half the songs, and when I pair them against Bob Dylan’s modest homespun triumph I realize why they became bros.

Aretha Franklin – Spirit in the Dark
The Stooges – Fun House
Neil Young – After the Gold Rush
Miles Davis – Bitches Brew
Funkadelic – Funkadelic
Creedence Clearwater Revival – Cosmo’s Factory
Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin III
John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band – John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band
Captain Beefheart – Lick My Decals Off, Baby
Bob Dylan – New Morning
James Brown – Sex Machine
Rod Stewart – Gasoline Alley
The Jacksons – ABC
Merle Haggard – The Fightin’ Side of Me
The Velvet Underground – Loaded
Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band – Lick My Decals Off, Baby
Ray Price – For the Good Times
Nico – Desertshore
Van Morrison – Moondance
Randy Newman – 12 Songs
David Bowie – The Man Who Sold the World
James Gang – Rides Again
George Harrison – All Things Must Pass

Seconds of pleasure: Britney Spears and Lydia Loveless

Britney Spears – Glory

For readers who buy music, splurge on the deluxe edition: you need “If I’m Dancing.” Anchored by a hornet’s buzz hooked up to six thousand amps, this extra track has the star singing at the end of her register, or programmed to sound like she is; the confusion is the point and why not. After releasing the most distracted album of her career three years ago, Britney Jean commissions Justin Tranter, Robopop, and more Scandinavians than the credits to a Bergman film to write and produce a collection as protean, brazen, and sybaritic as any in her catalog. Mattman & Robin are responsible for “Do You Wanna Come Over” and presumably its flamenco guitar runs and the curious line “We use our bodies to make our own videos” in “Slumber Party,” while the NYC axis gets “Just Luv Me,” an electronic crawl through a rueful corner of Spears’ id.

Shimmering, beholden to the kinetic, Glory doesn’t commemorate the kind of good time of dancing till the world ends that distinguished 2011’s career peak Femme Fatale; Spears is on occasion rueful, if that’s possible. “Just Luv Me” explores a disused part of her id, the finger snaps and insistent sequencer accompanying her emotional availability. It has a couple of missteps: “What You Want” is Christina Aguilera’s “Ain’t No Other Man” updated for the Spotify age, and listeners stuck for evidence that if you prick her she bleeds need listen to “Private Show” where she proves that she’s long past stripper metaphors. She also get tsk-tsks for allowing the line “Nobody should be alone if they don’t have to be” — how awesome if “coupled” had replaced “alone,” but it doesn’t scan. Proves she’s smarter than me.

Lydia Loveless – Real


She has a sound: tough and rangy, keyed to her electric rhythm strum. Last time she had the songs; this time she has good will. “Heaven” is the best: with its thick bottom, intersecting guitars, and sun-kissed chorus it could be a Rough Trade comp selection from 1983. So are “Longer” and “Same to You.” Nice to hear a song talking shit about Midwestern guys too. But a vacation that went wrong in Bilbao could’ve taken place in Peoria, which I guess is the point: dirtbags who treat uptown girls like they’re all the same are a truth universally acknowledged. Also acknowledged: expended for the sake of hookless songs, charisma has a half life.

Gene Wilder – RIP

The eighties were so strange that watching See No Evil, Hear No Evil and Stir Crazy I thought Gene Wilder was the wild one and Richard Pryor the straight man. Wilder’s frizz perm fascinated me too – here was a man with marbles in his head in place of a cerebral lobe. Rewatching his bit in Bonnie and Clyde (for ten minutes the movie stops cold so the audience can gawk at the weird, almost sexual jolt he gives the other actors) and Young Frankenstein, another comedy I grew up with, I lament how movies and Wilder’s own body (he was a cancer survivor) could not contain his energies.

A few of the best obits:

Ronald Bergan on my second favorite Gene Wilder moment:

After his screen debut in Bonnie and Clyde (1967), in which he played the jumpy undertaker whisked off on a peril- ous joyride by the eponymous couple, Wilder’s career really took off with The Producers, in which he made hysteria hysterical: “My blanket! My blue blanket! Gimme my blue blanket! Oohhhh! Aaaahh! Mmmmmmm! Mmmmmm! Aahhhh. I’m sorry. I don’t like people touching my blue blanket. It’s not important, it’s a minor compulsion, I can deal with it if I want to,” Bloom shrieks, clinging to his handkerchief-sized piece of security blanket.

David Edelstein:

s the news of his death spreads, everyone will think of his or her favorite insane-slow-burn Gene Wilder moment. The late Pauline Kael mentioned a quintessential one, the bit in Start the Revolution Without Me (1970) in which Wilder (as a haughty aristocrat) is informed that the noble bird on his shoulder is, in fact, dead. Wilder fixes the upstart with his laser-blue stare and says, with that eerie calm-that’s-being-slowly-strangled-to-death-by-escalating rage, “Repeat that.”

My own favorite is in Young Frankenstein (1974), which Wilder conceived and co-wrote with Mel Brooks. Here, with elaborate patience, Wilder’s Dr. Frankenstein poses the question to Marty Feldman’s Igor: What brain did the hunchback steal for the inexplicably brutal creature? “You won’t be mad?” asks Igor. “I. Will. Not. Be Mad.” By the time we hear, “Abby someone,” and the gentle but quivering, “Abby — who?” we are ready — eager — for the murderous explosion to come. No one built as exquisitely as Wilder from the genial, the gentle, the hopeful, to violent, no-holds-barred hysteria. At those moments, Wilder was unique — a genius.

My favorite Wilder moment? Between him and the indifferent Armenian sheep in Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex.

We should note that Gene Wilder will go on, existing in meme form in perpetuity.

The debts you make you have to pay: Best of 1971

“Seminal” doesn’t come close to describing this year. To consider omitting There’s a Riot Going On and Who’s Next would mean, I guess, I’m uncomfortable with a certain kind of murk-funk and the kind of halitosis confused with hyperemotionalism, respectively; but like Live-Evil, also included, There’s a Riot still fascinates me as aural object. We critics have written enough about John Cale’s organ grinding in “Sister Ray,” but Sylvester Stewart triumphs with a similar sound: as thin and sharp as a needle piercing soft skin. Even though I’d rather listen to Fresh (his best to my ears) and Stand! and will take Can and Maggot Brain‘s contemporaneous experiments, Sly Stone’s 1971 album deserves a place.

The rest — well, wow. Carole King’s natural woman voice making more out of her natural woman conceit than Aretha (and Aretha surpassing her again last December); Merle Haggard’s most concise studio statement (“Tulare Dust” vs “Hungry Eyes”? Why choose?); Bowie’s arrival as a pretty thing and threat to rock and rollers; Rod Stewart hacking phlegm on Maggie May and mandolins; Caetano Veloso with another eponymous collection of strange tales afloat on melodies I don’t even hear on John Prine’s marvelous debut (I want to know how many male songwriters have written about their sisters); a Beatle using mixing board wizardry for the equivalent of Miltonic detachment and applying it to Anne Sexton material; Joni Mitchell saying fuck all that — well, wow. I can even ignore What’s Going On.

I’ve paid scant attention to Joys of Cooking, which for many year I confused for either a cookbook or gay sex manual.

Funkadelic – Maggot Brain
Merle Haggard – Someday We’ll Look Back
John Prine – John Prine
Rod Stewart – Every Picture Tells a Story
David Bowie – Hunky Dory
Caetano Veloso – Caetano Veloso
Miles Davis – A Tribute to Jack Johnson
Can – Tago Mago
Rolling Stones – Sticky Fingers
Led Zeppelin – IV
Harry Nilsson – Nilsson Schmilsson
Al Green – Al Green Gets Next to You
Van Morrison – Tupelo Honey
John Lennon – Imagine
Leonard Cohen – Songs of Love and Hate
Joni Mitchell – Blue
Carole King – Tapestry
Sly and the Family Stone – There’s a Riot Goin’ On
Miles Davis – Live-Evil
Alice Cooper – Love It to Death
Gil Scott-Heron – Pieces of a Man
Loretta Lynn – Coal Miner’s Daughter
The Who – Who’s Next

Hit you with a flower: Best albums of 1972

I’m not fond of the Funkadelic and Waylon Jennings on this list, but these formative records captured the kind of aesthetic tumult that makes for compelling listening if uneven product. The rest are awesome, starting with the best singer-songwriter album on this list and it’s not recorded in America or England. Expect to see more of its kind as I travel backwards.

Roxy Music – Roxy Music
Aretha Franklin – Young, Gifted and Black
Gilberto Gil – Expresso 2222
Paul Simon – Paul Simon
The Rolling Stones – Exile on Main Street
Stevie Wonder – Talking Book
Bill Withers – Still Bill
Joni Mitchell – For the Roses
Rod Stewart – Never a Dull Moment
Van Morrison – Saint Dominic’s Preview
Al Green – I’m Still in Love with You
Nilsson – Son of Schimilsson
The Chi-Lites – A Lonely Man
Mott the Hoople – All the Young Dudes
Miles Davis – On the Corner
Lou Reed – Transformer
Waylon Jennings – Ladies Love Outlaws
Elton John – Honky Chateau
Curtis Mayfield – Superfly
Merle Haggard and the Strangers – It’s Not Love (But It’s Not Bad)
Alice Cooper – School’s Out
Caetano Veloso – Neolithic Man
Funkadelic – America Eats Its Young
Steely Dan – Can’t Buy a Thrill
The Edgar Winter Group – They Only Come Out at Night
David Bowie – The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust
Neil Young – Harvest
Bonnie Raitt – Give It Up