1) “Happy,” The Wrens. Hands down, The Meadowlands is my favorite album of the 2000s (or is it the aughts?) Four guys living together in a house in New Jersey, working day jobs while working on this album for seven years, and releasing an astounding pop/rock record. This song really epitomizes the album, starting out bitter and sad over a slice of life that went bad, yet ends on an optimistic note thanks to the closing jangly guitar riff that offers much needed therapy to the first part of the song. That’s what makes this desert-island-disc material for me.
2) “There’s No Other Way,” Blur. The Manchester-drums will forever keep this stuck in the early 1990s. But the mark of a good band is one that can add the flavor of the month without becoming that flavor, which is why Blur didn’t become EMF after this hit.
3) “Waking Up,” Elastica. Hey, it’s the Blur guy’s ex-girlfriend. Their debut album is very underrated, and unlike the drums in “There’s No Other Way,” it doesn’t sound dated to me.
4) “Airplane,” Peter Case. A little bit country, a little bit rock and roll, and a whole lot of good. There’s just enough steel guitar to sweeten things up without drowning it in syrup.
5) “A Fine Day for a Parade,” Fountains of Wayne. They definitely flirt with the sweet/saccharine edge. They manage to stay sweet here with a nice, low-key number that indeed sounds like the blue skies and warm temps of parade weather.
6) “O My Soul,” Big Star. The gold standard of power pop. Catchy yet original, adventurous yet familiar. Also one of the few songs in rock history that manages to incorporate the band’s name into the lyrics without sounding like it came from a bunch of egotistical cobags.
7) “Country Girl,” Black Sabbath. Dio!
8) “Knife,” Grizzly Bear. They love, love, love reverb. I saw them in concert in Iowa City, the reverb in the singer’s voice sounded like going to a barber shop as a kid and looking at yourself in the mirror looking at yourself in the mirror to infinity.
9) “Somebody to Love,” Queen. Speaking of piling layers of vocals on themselves. The backing vocals stretch upward like the Tower of Babel, only the tower gets to stay because God loves to rock.
10) “Day of the Lords,” Joy Division. I have this thing about spicy food. I go into restaurants and they will have a little asterisk or maybe a red pepper next to the spicy items on the menu. Nine times out of ten, the item is mildly spicy, and I get annoyed that they made a big deal out of how spicy it is. But one time, at a Cajun restaurant called Heaven on Seven in Chicago, I ordered the spiciest thing on their menu: Hot as a Mutha Chicken. The menu was all blah blah blah burn your face off. They even brought out a little consent form that said I, NAME, being of sound mind and soul, have ordered the Hot as a Mutha Chicken blah blah blah. Like George Bush, I looked the waiter in the eye and said “Bring it on!” And like George Bush, I bit off more than I could chew and got the shit burned out of me. I could tell I was in big, big trouble as soon as I smelled it. This wasn't spice, it was napalm. I only got through about 1/3 of the dish, and it took a half dozen beers just to get that much down. The next day, I had a 12-hour day at work, and let me tell you, I had many conversations with The Lord, asking him to take me if it would make the burning stop. So Hot as a Mutha chicken is my standard for "spicy."
The reason I bring this up is because a lot of bands get labeled as dark. Ooh, you have to listen to Morose Belly Lint, they’re so dark! And I listen to Morose Belly Lint and think, “eh, they’re not so dark.” But when I get to the point where I think no band is really dark, Joy Division pops up on my iPod and reminds me what the standard for "dark" really is. Pick a song, any song, and it really won’t surprise you that Ian Curtis killed himself. Nick Drake sounded sad, Kurt Cobain sounded angry, but Curtis sounds haunted. Thirty years later, songs like “Day of the Lords” still pack a chill, especially when Curtis sings lines like where will it end? That’s pretty damn dark.
11) “Destination Ursa Major,” Superdrag. Destination major hooks. Soaring, guitar-driven songs like this are why speakers should go to 11. Joy Division has its place, but when I’m getting ready to head into a weekend, I need some audio parade weather.
Have a good one.