Hey guys! I’m taking some time off for yet another back surgery. This will be my 7th or 8th procedure done on my back. Unfortunately I will have back spasms for a few days that will be worse than I normally experience. I will be working on an idea for the month of May to honor my home state’s biggest event: the Indianapolis 500. So, to paraphrase the words of Ron Burgundy, “Stay sexy everybody!”
I guess I should be listening to the Rolling Stones’ 1989 semi-hit “Mixed Emotions” today because that is what I feeling today. On one hand, tomorrow is the 10th annual Record Store Day, which, as I have stated before, has been a source of great memories that I have shared with my two sons. Tomorrow, my younger son and I will be on a mission from God to find those special releases that are being made available for tomorrow only to put in our music collections.
Since my older son lives with his beautiful wife in another state, he will covering the day on his own. But, believe it or not, this is a highly coordinated event for the three of us. There are very specific things for which we are on the hunt, that one of our stores we frequent will have what we are looking for. This is especially true because, in the words of my older son, this year’s releases is a target-rich environment.
So, the day will be very interesting to see how the Keller men fare. Without tipping my hat too much about the most desired music on my list, I will just say that many of these releases involve a “Fab Four”, but not necessarily THE Fab Four…or does it? Regardless, I am most looking forward to the interactions that I will have with my boys, one in the person and the other electronically. Tomorrow is the Keller version of D-Day. Maybe, we should call it “K-Day”.
Now, did I mention today is all about mixed emotions. After describing the positive fun to which I am looking forward, today’s date represents the one-year anniversary of the death of my favorite artist, Prince. Many things have been said about this man, both in honorarium and salacious. And, probably Prince deserved both types of descriptions.
If you have been a Prince fan for any length of time, you will know that he was battling with the coming to grips with his good and evil sides. Listen to his lyrics, especially in the early days. Sometimes, misguidedly I will admit, he equated love and sex, all the while they were two different things that are best served when the former comes before the latter. But, many of us made that mistake. The difference is that Prince attempted to exorcise his demons through music when he might have been better served to have seen a mental health professional.
His internal drive to create music, no, uh, how about transcendent music was derived from his horrible childhood. Basically, he was rejected by both of his parents and was forced to live with relatives and friends until music paid the bills to be on his own. In retrospect, it was obvious the man was lonely. According to many of the posthumous articles and documentaries about Prince, his closest friends and associates all said the same thing: Prince was lonely and a prisoner within his own success, as symbolized by his Paisley Park complex.
Still, Prince created some of the greatest music ever dropped upon the world. He was our Mozart. Even some of his “worst” material would be considered brilliant if it were part of another artist’s catalog. Prince will always be known for “Purple Rain”, but how can you forget many of his other hits? “Alphabet Street” may be his most perfect song. “Little Red Corvette” and “1999” broke him to the public. “When Doves Cry” and “Let’s Go Crazy” will forever be associated as masterpieces.
But, a true artist’s depth is realized in the deeper pieces of his art. I think Prince’s greatest ROCK song is “Endorphinmachine”, a cut from his 1994 album The Gold Experience. While you’re at it, check out the songs that he never put on his albums that he either released as B-sides to his singles in the Eighties or cuts that remained unreleased until he put them on various compilation albums like The Hits/The B-Sides (1993), Crystal Ball (the triple album of cuts from “The Vault”, released in 1997) and The Vault…Old Friends for Sale (1999). Many of you who grew up in the Eighties will remember “Erotic City”, the radio hit Prince had cut with Sheila E. There is also the controversial “Shockadelica”, a great song whose title was taken from The Time’s former guitarist Jesse Johnson’s title of his 1986 album. And, there are many other of these songs that are worth hearing.
The most intriguing thing about Prince is that he once claimed that he wrote one song a day. If that is the case, then the infamous Vault is full of music. Statistically speaking, there could be several hits or even shelved albums that could finally see the light of day. Or, was Prince the best editor and curator of his own music? Who knows the answer, but we may begin to hear some of this stuff in the very near future.
Now, as a sufferer of chronic pain, like Prince had been reported to be, his plight hits close to home with me. I have been treated for chronic pain for over ten years now and never once have felt a need to take more medication. I don’t know why. Is it because the years of dealing with the “pain” endured while running long distances? Or am I blessed (or cursed) with a high pain tolerance? Or did I get mental health help immediately after this pain went chronic? Or is it a combination? Who knows? But, a pharmacist friend of mine claims that people who get addicted have more going on mentally than I do. What we do know is that Prince overdosed and was living a very lonely life, which can be a very lethal combination as we have seen over the years.
Regardless of the circumstances of Prince’s death, the main thing is we lost a brilliant artist, perhaps the greatest of a generation, maybe even a millennium. Yes, it’s been a year. Yet, yesterday, as a thunderstorm was approaching where I live, the sky took on a purplish hue, reminding me that Prince is gone. Fortunately, I have much of his music to enjoy for the rest of my lifetime.
Raise a glass of juice, or in my case Mountain Dew (Sorry Prince!). Let’s toast to His Purple Majesty!
Nile Rodgers is FINALLY in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. I am still upset that his CHIC, along with his long-time partner, the late Bernard Edwards, remains blocked out of the Hall since, for some reason, people still harbor some resentment toward disco being a part of “rock & roll”. If you want to get technical, rock & roll ended around the time The Beatles released Rubber Soul. Then again, it probably ended before that, but who cares? The point is that if you aren’t Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Elvis Presley, etc., then you haven’t been playing rock ‘n’ roll.
So, what have we been listening to? I don’t know. But, in the words of Billy Joel, “Hot funk, cool punk, even if it’s old junk, it’s still rock and roll to me.” There you have it! CHIC is ever bit the part of rock and roll as is Led Zeppelin, Steely Dan, Parliament/Funkadelic, Ramones, Madonna, Metallica, The Temptations and all the other members of the Hall of Fame are. So, Hall of Fame voters, just put CHIC in as a band and show this great band some respect.
But, right now, I will get off of my soapbox, and praise the man Nile Rodgers. If you go back to look at the man’s production, you will be amazed by the diversity of the artist with whom Rodgers has worked. Here is a brief list: Sister Sledge, Diana Ross, David Bowie, INXS, Madonna, Jeff Beck, Debbie Harry, Duran Duran, The Vaughan Brothers (Stevie Ray & Jimmie), just to list a few. Lately, the big-time creators of dance music have been turning to Mr. Rodgers in order to give their modern disco songs a little touch of his unparalleled guitar work. Dance artists such as Avicii, Disclosure and Daft Punk have all benefited from some hot licks from Nile’s guitar.
Today, I give to you my Top 20 Favorite Songs Either Played on or Produced by Nile Rodgers.
20. “Lay Me Down” – Avicii Featuring Adam Lambert & Nile Rodgers (2013). This song would just a boring old EDM song with a special guest vocalist until that unmistakable scratched rhythm guitar comes in to make the song transcendent.
19. “The Wild Boys” – Duran Duran (1984). Nile said in his autobiography that of all the artists he worked with, Duran Duran was the group with whom he was tightest. With Rodgers, the Duranies became the Splendid Six. Oh, and this song is one of the band’s better songs.
18. “Pressure Off” – Duran Duran featuring Janelle Monáe and Nile Rodgers (2015). The last Duran Duran album is outstanding. And this song brings “The Beatles of the Eighties” into the new millennium with an updated sound in the way only Nile Rodgers could do.
17. “Telepathy” – Christina Aguilera featuring Christina Aguilera (2016). Finally, someone could make Aguilera sound like the proper diva she always could be. And, who brought it out of her? Rodgers, of course.
16. “Roam” – The B-52’s (1989). By 1989, The B-52’s were hurting. They had lost their trademark guitarist, the songwriting visionary of the group, to complications due to AIDS. So, drummer Keith Strickland took up the guitar, and the band hired Rodgers to help them regain the “fun” in their sound. Well, as this song proves, The B-52’s were back.
15. “Material Girl” – Madonna (1984). That’s right! Nile Rodgers helped Madonna come up with her signature song.
14. “Backfired” – Debbie Harry (1981). Yes, this song “backfired” on the charts, but Rodgers and Harry had created a new rock-dance hybrid for the new decade.
13. “Upside Down” – Diana Ross (1980). The album from which this song comes, diana, is essentially a CHIC song only with Miss Ross’ vocals. Never in Diana Ross’ long, esteemed career had she sounded so confident and sassy as she did on this song, as well as the rest of the album. This song held the #1 spot for four weeks.
12. “Route 66 (The Nile Rodgers Mix)” – Depeche Mode (1988). Everyone’s favorite doom-and-gloom synth band recorded this rock and roll standard, while Nile’s mix gave the band a much needed levity. This version can be found on the Earth Girls Are Easy soundtrack, a silly movie that could have only been made in the Eighties.
11. “Tick Tock” – The Vaughan Brothers (1990). When guitar virtuosos, brothers Jimmie (of the Fabulous Thunderbirds) and Stevie Ray, decided to record an album together, they turned to another guitarist to produce them. So, they turned to Rodgers, who pulled the soulful side out of them.
10. “People Get Ready” – Jeff Beck with Rod Stewart (1985). Take that classic Curtis Mayfield song, let Jeff Beck work his six-string magic, and add a bit of Nile Rodgers magic, and you’ve got a great tune. Then, entice former Jeff Beck Group vocalist to rediscover his inner soul man, and you’ve produced a classic song. Sure, it’s not as great as the original version by the Impressions, but they came pretty close.
9. “Original Sin” – INXS (1984). Nile Rodgers helped this Australian, former new wave band discover its funk side. Once this band did, they became the purveyors of the funk-rock Eighties sound.
8. “The Reflex” – Duran Duran (1984). Rodgers took a flat-sounding new wave song and injected some life into it via the funk. Once the Duranies discovered what funk really was, they became the band they always aspired to be: a band that sounded as though the Sex Pistols and CHIC came together to play.
7. “Get Lucky” – Daft Punk featuring Pharrell Williams and Nile Rodgers (2013). Daft Punk is one of the better forward-sounding bands that look backward for their inspiration. And, when they wanted to really dip back into the Seventies disco sound, they called in Rodgers to put his guitar on the track, and history was made.
6. “Like a Virgin” – Madonna (1984). Madonna always dreamed of recording with Nile Rodgers, and she achieved her dream on her fantastic sophomore album. And, this song was a massive jump forward from her debut album.
5. “Let’s Dance” – David Bowie (1983). Rodgers has always stated that Roxy Music and David Bowie were major influences on him. So, imagine his excitement when Bowie approached him to help Bowie find pop chart success while building on the experimental nature of his Berlin albums. This was the last album in which Bowie found major chart success.
4. “We Are Family” – Sister Sledge (1979). Sister Sledge had been another R&B band that had been floundering a bit when the CHIC Organization hooked up with the ladies and helped them find their disco voice with this song. Sure, other songs off this album were hits, but this one transcended pop culture when the 1979 World Series champions Pittsburgh Pirates had adopted the song as their team song. This song must be played at every class reunion and wedding reception.
3. “I’m Coming Out” – Diana Ross (1980). I love the way this song begins, with that iconic drum bit. Then Diana sings those lyrics which have multiple meanings on different levels. Those are the kind of lyrics that the CHIC Organization aspired to.
2. “Good Times” – CHIC (1979). Did you really think that I would leave this song off my list? Not only it was a huge hit on the Pop, Dance and R&B charts, it was the sampled basis for “Rapper’s Delight”. Not only that, but this song influenced Queen’s bassist John Deacon to write the similar-sounding “Another One Bites the Dust”.
1. “Le Freak” – CHIC (1978). This was CHIC’s biggest hit. It was the song of the moment, as well as the song predicting the future. It did not take much of a stride from “Le Freak” to the sound of The Power Station (a Bernard Edwards’ production) and much of the sound of the Eighties.
I will continue to periodically yell in this blog to anyone who will listen that the whole band CHIC deserves to be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Here is my opinion of why this man was just inducted on his own for Musical Excellence.
The few times successful rock artists have recorded new music under a completely different identity have always been enjoyable to me. Take, for example, back in the late-Eighties when Jeff Lynne was producing George Harrison’s successful comeback album Cloud Nine. When Harrison’s label wanted release a single, Harrison decided he wanted to record a single with some friends. So, in addition to Jeff Lynne, the mastermind behind ELO, Harrison asked his long-time buddy, Bob Dylan, to participate. Lynne, in turn, invited Tom Petty, for whom Lynne was also producing an album. Then, Petty invited rock ‘n’ roll icon Roy Orbison, because Petty and Orbison had been writing songs for Orbison’s major comeback album, to the Harrison’s session. And, thus, the Traveling Wilburys were born. After the group recorded this “one-off” B-side called “Hard to Handle”, the record company loved that sound so much they asked those guy superstars if they wouldn’t mind making a whole album with songs written by each member. Today, that very album, entitled Volume 1, is considered something of an Eighties classic. Unfortunately, Orbison’s untimely death put a damper on the band’s sophomore release that subsequently ended their career.
Another example happened in 1987, when XTC was coming off their greatest studio album called Skylarking in 1986. The album, produced by the indomitable Todd Rundgren, was an homage to the Beatles’ Sgt. Peppers album. But, it got the band’s creative juices flowing, and the band began listening to Sixties psychedelic music, such as early, Syd Barrett-led Pink Floyd and the like. This whole immersion into those Sixties psychedelic nuggets influenced XTC to create an album with a whole new sound. They understood that the album could not be an XTC album, so in walks a whole “new” band called The Dukes of Stratosphear, and their album is known as Psonic Psunspot. The album sounds nothing like an XTC album, yet the album is a thing of beauty.
Now, fast-forward to 2007. Green Day was coming off their most successful album American Idiot. The band had expanded the sound of punk rock by taking the sound and expanding it into the concept album that we now embrace an a modern day classic, American Idiot. So, Green Day was under pressure to create an appropriate follow-up. As the band were writing, the guys were struggling. So, according to folklore, Billie Joel Armstrong, Green Days erstwhile lead singer, guitarist and chief songwriter, was suffering from a bout of writer’s black. So, he began listening to assorted song-length to album-length rock operas, as he was attempting to take that previous concept album all the way to a full-fledged rock opera. So, Armstrong dove head first into The Who’s “A Quick One While He’s Away”, in addition to Tommy and Quadrophenia, as well as other iconic rock opera such as the Pretty Thing’s S.F. Sorrow, The Kinks’ mid-period output, and through such classics as Jesus Christ Superstar and Hüsker Dü’s classic Zen Arcade, to name-drop but a few that were used for inspiration.
But, in the middle of all of this research, the band began to blow off some musical steam, by writing and recording fun songs that sounded as if they were written by some great songs that sounded as if they were lost nuggets from the Sixties garage punk era. As the songs began to take shape, the musicians decided that these songs needed to be heard. But, instead of releasing this music as a Green Day album, the assembled group of musician friend created pseudonyms and created a new band that they christened as the Foxboro Hot Tubs. Armstrong was now know as Reverend Strychnine Twitch, while some of the others did the same. And, in the Spring of 2008, the Foxboro Hot Tubs released their debut album, Stop, Drop and Roll, to generally enthusiastic reviews.
Personally, I had NEVER heard Green Day sound like they so much fun. Although the album was not a huge financial success, I would call it an artistic success. To me, the band had rediscovered how much fun they can have creating music. With songs such as the title song, “Mother Mary” and “Ruby Room”, Foxboro Hot Tubs were showing off their strengths lie not only in the punk world, but also in the world of Sixties garage rock. And, in doing this album, they also were nodding toward the influence of power pop icons Cheap Trick.
It has been nearly a decade Green Day released this album as their alter-ego, the Foxboro Hot Tubs. And, even though they released one of their finest albums, Revolution Radio, last year, I feel that occasionally working as the Foxboro Hot Tubs only focuses the main group on their influences as they push their pop-punk sound toward new ground with each new Green Day release. The boys have discovered a brilliant method for them to get their ya-yas all the while getting their groove back to bring the world the punk vision they have not just inherited but taken.
Green Day, I love you guys! But, when you find yourselves in a musical rut, instead of fighting or reverting back to self-destructive behaviors, just bring back Foxboro Hot Tubs instead. It is a much more creatively satisfying way to reignite everything that is great about Green Day.
I am a big fan of Todd Rundgren. To me, Rundgren is a rock and roll renaissance man. He got his start at the end of the 1960s as the leading visionary of a Philly blue-eyed soul/power pop band, Nazz. Even within this young, inexperienced band, Rundgren was writing songs, producing the band, singing and playing lead guitar and even engineering the album. All of this experience allowed Rundgren to get engineering jobs, even working on albums by esteemed artists such as The Band. Additionally, Todd was getting jobs to produce other artists. Over the years, Rundgren has produced diverse artists such as Daryl Hall & John Oates, Grand Funk, the New York Dolls, The Psychedelic Furs, XTC and Meat Loaf, to name just a few.
Yet, Rundgren was also songwriter and band leader. After Nazz’ third album fizzled, Todd embarked on a solo career, that got off to a pretty fast beginning. By the time he released his third album, Something/Anything? in 1972, Todd Rundgren was on the fast track to superstardom. That’s when Rundgren began to vacillate between an experimental artist and a commercial star. This jumping back and forth led him to start a group that would consist of members who were songwriters and virtuosos on their instruments. That band, named Utopia, started as a progressive rock band. But, eventually, all of the members of that band started to move toward a power pop band after beginning as a prog band. As the 1980s began, Utopia became the best outlet for Todd’s musical vision.
While Todd’s solo career stayed within the blue-eyed soul bandwidth at the time, Utopia became something of a musical playground. In 1980, Utopia released their biggest-selling album called Adventures in Utopia. But, since this is Todd Rundgren we are talking about following up success with a left-hand turn. In this case Utopia followed up that album with a Beatles pastiche, Deface the Music. That album is full of songs that could have been found on any Beatles album. Then, in 1982, Utopia, sensing a huge political change that was sweeping over the country, released the brilliant album title Swing to the Right, which was the band’s liberal warning to the general population about turning its back on the progressive programs of the New Deal and the Great Society. Ironically, this album’s topic continue to ring true to the day.
As Utopia started down the power pop path, Todd began to release me blue-eyed soul music to the masses. By the end of the 80s, Utopia broke up, leaving Rundgren to follow his creative muse, which went in many different directions. He was one of the first people to envision an MTV-type TV channel years before MTV ever joined the world of cable television. Additionally, Rundgren worked on computer music, much like an updated version of Kraftwerk or Can. Finally, he pushed the production lessons he learned over the years by creating an album that was totally done a cappella with his own voice. The result was interesting, but it was not commercial in the least bit. After taking it easy in the 90s, Rundgren has released several albums in the 21st century. The sounds have run the gamut from his blue-eyed soul sound, power pop and arena rock to prog rock, EDM, blues and pop music with various guest vocalists (this is his upcoming album, White Knights, which is due to be released next month).
So, today, here are my Top 15 Favorite Todd Rundgren songs, be it solo, with Nazz or as an equal part of Utopia.
15. “One World” – Utopia (1982, Swing to the Right). Well, Rundgren talks about a concept that will never be seen in a world of conservatism.
14. “Crybaby” – Utopia (1984, Oblivion). Todd proves that he still knows how to do great power pop.
13. “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now” – Utopia (1982, Utopia). On this double album, Utopia proved that they were the masters of nearly every musical genre. This song proves Todd is still in touch with love of the Beatles.
12. “Love Is the Answer” – Utopia (1977, Oops! Wrong Planet). Rundgren hoped this was the song that would break Utopia into the Top 10. The song did have Top 10 power, but not for Utopia. It was a version by England Dan & John Ford Coley.
11. “I Just Want to Touch You” – Utopia (1980, Deface the Music). Here is the flip-side of “I Want to Hold Your Hand”, topping all the power poppers who began making noises on the scene.
10. “That Could Have Been Me (featuring Robyn)” – Todd Rundgren (2017, White Knight). Yes, this song has just been released, but it’s a beauty. If the rest of the album is half as good as this song, Todd may have another hit album.
9. “Couldn’t I Just Tell You” – Todd Rundgren (1972, Something/Anything?). The first of three classic songs from Rundgren’s masterpiece LP. This is a terrific slice of Philadelphia blue-eyed soul.
8. “I Saw the Light” – Todd Rundgren (1972, Something/Anything?). Something/Anything? is a classic album, one of the greatest ever released, and Todd shows his power pop muscles on this song.
7. “The Very Last Time” – Utopia (1980, Adventures in Utopia). What a great arena rock song! This band is so underrated.
6. “Bang the Drum All Day” – Todd Rundgren (1983, The Ever-Popular Tortured Artist Effect). Thanks to this song, Todd Rundgren can be heard in nearly every stadium and arena in the US, if not the world. It’s one heck of a celebration song.
5. “Open My Eyes” – Nazz (1968, Nazz). The first hit that Rundgren ever wrote, he continues to play this song on tour. When I saw him in 2009, Todd and band played the whole album Arena live that night but opened the show with this song.
4. “Set Me Free” – Utopia (1980, Adventures in Utopia). This just might be Rundgren’s finest vocals ever recorded. And he set them over a great arena rock song. For whatever reason, neither solo Todd nor Utopia ever went in this musical direction again. Go figure!
3. “Hello It’s Me” – Todd Rundgren (1972, Something/Anything?). Yes, this is the first Rundgren song I remember ever hearing. It is a beautiful version of this song that was originally released on Nazz’ first album. It may very well be his most popular song he has ever recorded.
2. “Can We Still Be Friends” – Todd Rundgren (1978, Hermit of Mink Hollow). Back when I first heard this song, I honestly thought it was going to be HUGE. But, in 1978, blue-eyed soul wasn’t what people wanted to hear. At the time, they only wanted boom and bombast.
1. “We Gotta Get You a Woman” – Todd Rundgren (1970, Runt). This is a beautiful slice of power pop with a touch of soul that only a Philadelphia artist like Rundgren, or Hall & Oates, could make. I love the way the singer sings about finding his friend LeRoy a woman, and then turning the lyrics in the last verse at the very end of the song by saying after getting Leroy, “we gotta get me one too.” Perfection!
As a Todd Rundgren fan, I could have thrown in 15 to 20 more songs. But, in an effort to show some self-control, I kept my list to 15 strong songs. Let me know what favorite songs of yours that I left off my list.
Back in 1977, I was a member of the KISS Army. I don’t remember my rank, but I was only in it for that year. And, although I did not totally lose interest in KISS, just the Army. My musical tastes began to develop, and KISS was sliding down my “Favorite Rock Artists List” that I have kept in my head ever since.
Still, I have never completely let go of KISS. They still maintain a special place in my heart. Alive! and Destroyer are still two of my all-time favorite albums. I mean, rock doesn’t sound much more raw that what KISS played on those two albums.
Let’s face it, KISS is the perfect rock band/corporation. Potentially, this band could maintain an infinitely long career as long as the musicians continue to wear the make-up. This idea has to have passed through Gene Simmons’ mind a time or two. Unlike Beatlemania, in which we can ALWAYS tell we a new person takes over the place of a member of the Fab Four, ideally, we will NEVER know when Paul or Gene retires, because there will always be an endless stream of “Starchilds” and “Demons” to carry on the flame. And as far as new albums are concerned, do we really care about that? Oh sure, so the Magnificent Masked Marauders could release an album of new material once a decade just to pique interest in the band for yet another barnstorming tour, which will replenish the coffers and keep the machine moving.
In reality, KISS have released 24 studio albums, although they are known as a live phenomenon. I have left out their half-a-dozen live albums, even though those albums have been widely accepted as being “doctored” in the studio, with mistakes taken out and the crowd noise enhanced to make a more immediate-sounding album(s).
So, today, I am going to rank all of those KISS studio albums, including those made during the “make-up-less Eighties”, which over all was a fairly stagnant time for the band. So, here we go, My KISS Albums Ranked for your pleasure.
24. Peter Criss (1978). Sorry, but this album is just awful. Now, we all know why “Beth” was the drummer’s finest moment in songwriting.
23. Crazy Nights (1987). I will NEVER understand why KISS felt they had to sound like a hair metal band, when all of those bands were trying to catch-up with KISS!
22. Hot in the Shade (1989). Another one of those “let’s be a hair metal band” albums instead of a KISS album. It has SYNTHS on it!
21. Carnival of Souls (1997). Now, KISS really HAD forgotten their sound. This is their GRUNGE album. No kidding! KISS and Grunge? Please!
20. Dynasty (1979). Considered to be their “disco” album, even though only “I Was Made for Loving You” was a disco song. Still, there weren’t very many good songs left on that album.
19. Animalize (1984). Paul made a decent album here while Gene was off trying to find acting jobs. Needless to say, the whole thing doesn’t sound cohesive
18. Psycho Circus (1997). This was the “reunion comeback” album, since the original line-up was finally back together and IN THEIR MAKE-UP!!! Too bad that no one spent any time trying to write some good songs.
17. Asylum (1985). When in doubt, make your band sound like what’s popular at the moment you record this one. So KISS now sound like a band trying to sound like KISS. In other words, this is their first hair metal album.
16. Gene Simmons (1978). So, Gene grabs a bunch of stars to help him make his first solo album, and it sounds like an unfocused mess. I have no idea what he was trying to do.
15. Paul Stanley (1978). Of the four solo albums, this one was most like a KISS album. But, what makes a great KISS album: the interplay between the four musicians and the changing of vocalists on songs and even within songs. Still, not too bad.
14. Music from ‘The Elder’ (1981). So, KISS started the 1980s as a band undergoing an identity crisis. The music climate was changing, so KISS tried to make a concept album as a soundtrack to a movie that NEVER was made. Initially, this album was slagged unmercifully; whereas, now the album doesn’t sound too bad. This is a very underrated album.
13. Unmasked (1980). NO! KISS did NOT stop wearing their make-up on this album. No, that idea is still a couple of years away. This is the album that time has forgotten.
12. Monster (2012). This is the most recently released KISS album, and it sounds pretty good.
11. Lick It Up (1983). At the moment, it seemed like a fantastic publicity bonanza. It is a great KISS album without the mystique of the make-up. Maybe, the band is going to be okay after all. Unfortunately, history tells us a different story.
10. Revenge (1992). Finally, the band got back to the good-time rock & roll they had always been revered for, making their finest album since the early-1980s.
9. Sonic Boom (2009). So, Paul reconvene the touring band (Gene, drummer Eric Singer and lead guitarist Tommy Thayer) to make their first album together. Paul set the tone for song quality, pushing Gene to rediscover his songwriting talent. Surprisingly, KISS released one of their finest albums.
8. Hotter Than Hell (1974). For a sophomore release, this is high quality. But, for a KISS album, this was the weakest of their original 1970s albums.
7. Dressed to Kill (1975). Although the album cover photo is on the stupid side, the music inside is classic. This album has the first version of the all-time classic “Rock and Roll All Night.” How can you beat that?
6. Ace Frehley (1978). Easily the best of the solo album, Ace’s material choices were focused and inspired. And, “New York Groove” was just the icing on the cake.
5. Rock and Roll Over (1976). After the one-two punch of Alive! and Destroyer, KISS came storming back with this album, yet another KISS classic.
4. KISS (1974). This killer debut album has only gotten more impressive to me over the years. This album is full of songs that remain part of the band’s concert repertoire.
3. Love Gun (1977). This was the band’s heaviest album released up to that point. The best part of the album was the “pop” gun that was included in the album. It was so annoying that the neighbors banned me from bringing it over to have a “battle” with their son.
2. Creatures of the Night (1982). Traditionally, people believe that KISS did not record a single good album in the 80s. Well, this one is THE exception! It IS a treasure of an album.
1. Destroyer (1976). Really?!?! Was there EVER any doubt which album would be #1??? This is THE perfect KISS album. From the radio report at the beginning to the untitled last song, this album is the concept album the band wishes they had made with ‘The Elder’ in 1981.
There you go! That’s how my KISS albums roll. Let’s hear what you think!
The other day, my older son and I were talking about an article he read about Prince’s Sign ‘o’ the Times album turned 30 this year. I told him that 1987 was one of my favorite year’s for new music, like The Joshua Tree by U2, The Cure’s Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me and Bad by Michael Jackson, among many other classics. He said that his first memories of music seemed to come from all of those albums I got that year. He remembered going to purchase some of those albums.
After our talk, I started flipping through my albums just to admire the classic artwork. Then, I noticed that I had all the vinyl of U2’s 1980s output. I remember buying their first album when I was still in high school. Then, watching their steady rise from the barely-can-play-their-instruments band of their earnest debut to a neo-Christian band on their second album to the confident post-punk stars on their War album.
Then, I watched Bono climb the scaffolding at the 1983 US Festival while singing “Sunday Bloody Sunday”. Their slow climb to superstar took its next step with their fourth album, The Unforgettable Fire. After that came the band’s transcendent Live Aid performance where Bono went out in the crowd during their song “40” to slow dance with a young lady.
So, when 1987 rolled around, U2 was primed to become one of the biggest bands in the world. And, when The Joshua Tree was dropped, U2 made everyone nearly forget that The Clash could have been in this place if they had not imploded. Now, U2 is one of the biggest acts on the planet. It seems as though I grew up with this band.
One last thing, why do the millennials hate U2? I hear nothing but cynicism about them trying to release their last album to everyone with iTunes for FREE! For FREE! I also appreciate stuff for free, even if it’s not as awesome as a U2 album. Even South Park rips on them, though those guys rip on everyone. Yet, I still love U2.
With that said, here’s my Top 20 U2 songs! On with the countdown!
20. “New Year’s Day” (1983). This song was actually released on New Year’s Day. I remember watching the video a little hung over, but the earnestness of the band came through loud and clear and I was hooked on them forever.
19. “The Fly” (1991). Just when everyone was getting tired of the earnestness, U2 took a turn and became a dadaist art band. “The Fly” represented Bono’s alter-ego at the time.
18. “Ordinary Love” (2013). The band recorded this song for a Nelson Mandela documentary. On this song, they demonstrated their grasp of Mandela’s universality.
17. “Vertigo” (2004). By the time the new century rolled around, it was time for U2 to get back to the sound they were best at, which was their original sound. But, they maintained their sense of humor as Bono counted off in Spanish, “1, 2, 3…14!” This song rocks!
16. “Staring at the Sun” (1997). This was the strongest song on the Pop album. The only thing is that it sounded a little too much like “One”.
15. “Numb” (1993). U2 was on such a big roll after the success of the Achtung Baby album, and their subsequent, multimedia extravaganza of a tour, the band went straight back to the studio to record Peven more dadaist art statement with their Zooropa album, from which this song comes. It is one of the few songs with the vocals done by guitarist The Edge.
14. “40” (1983). I don’t think this was ever released as a single off the War album. Still, it is a beautiful song whose lyrics were influenced by the words found in Psalms 40 in The Bible. This one, along with “Sunday Bloody Sunday” were their first two truly transcendent songs.
13. “With or Without You” (1987). This song was the band’s first release from The Joshua Tree, a classic album if there ever was one. “With or Without You” was the band’s first big hit song.
12. “Invisible” (2013). U2 released this song for the RED foundation for AIDS. It is an anthemic song that U2 is known for.
11. “Mysterious Ways” (1991). The first single from Achtung Baby was the first clue that U2 had successfully changed their sound in a Bowie-esque move for long-term sustainability of the band.
10. “Sunday Bloody Sunday” (1983). This represented the band’s first true anthem in the form of an anti-war statement to those battling at the time in Northern Ireland. It was also one of the few times that a major band mentioned a Biblical view of Jesus Christ in their lyrics in the last verse of this song.
9. “Get Your Boots On” (2009). Ever since this song came out, U2 has kind of become a critical punching bag after nearly 20 years of near unanimous praise. This is the band’s huge nod to the glam rock they grew up listening to in the early-70s in their native Ireland. This song turned out to be a real call-to-arms on the U2 360º tour following the released of the album, No Line on the Horizon, on which this song can be found.
8. “Pride (In the Name of Love)” (1984). U2 followed up their super-successful War album with arty The Unforgettable Fire, on which this song can be found. Now, excuse these sincere Irishmen for their lack of facts about Martin Luther King Jr. on this song, because they sure cut to the essence of his messages in this song. Once again, the band was wearing its hearts on their sleeves.
7. “Desire” (1988). After the huge success of The Joshua Tree, U2 understood that it was time for them to begin to broaden their sound. Unfortunately, they took a slight misstep as they attempted to incorporate American sounds into their uniquely European vision. But, if you just listen to this song, with its “Bo Diddley” beat and punk attitude, you’d thought the band was successful on the Rattle and Hum album. Unfortunately, that was their only musical success on the album. And, as we know with hindsight, they will discover their artist direction on their next album.
6. “Sweetest Thing” (1998). This song was recorded in the early-80s, but was too pop for any of those albums. Instead, the band put it on their first greatest hits package and released it as a single. The song is, pardon the unintended pun, a lyrically sweet song expresses Bono’s love for his long-time wife. Anyone who is married to his or her soulmate will understand the theme of this song.
5. “Beautiful Day” (2000). If you were to choose one song to perfectly represent a band’s sound, than this is the one I would use for U2. This anthemic masterpiece contains everything that makes U2 great: a soaring guitar lick, an unshakable rhythm section, and pitch-perfect lyrics sang with sincerity by an otherworldly vocalist. This is one U2 anthem I will NEVER get tired of.
4. “One” (1991). Rolling Stone magazine continues to list this song in the Top 10 Songs of All-Time, and I ask, “Why not?” On the surface, it appears to be a love song within an ever-strengthening relationship, only to hear upon fuI rther listens that this song is a call for unity in man that continues to be missing a long 26 years after its release.
3. “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” (1987). As a young man, I related to this song like no other had ever spoken to me on such a deep level. Growing up is difficult, let alone attempting to factor in a spiritual side to this growth. And, this song describes the process perfectly. Back in the old days, this song would have been a gospel song used to great affect in the Church. Unfortunately, people look at rock music in a cynical fashion.
2. “The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)” (2014). The first song on that aforementioned free U2 album on iTunes, Songs of Innocence, picked up on all the themes that someone like me could relate to. I am about the same age as the men in U2, so I fully understand the feeling of age and life passing us by. Rock is no longer our best friend. We have families with children at the ages we were when this music first saved us. And, U2 successfully used those emotions in the lyrics of this song, all the while setting them to some of the most incendiary sounds that only wily veterans could accomplish.
1. “Where the Streets Have No Name” (1987). No other song that U2 has recorded has achieved as much as this song has. First off, it could be used as the perfect anthemic opening song of a concert performance. Second, U2 has written few songs besides this one where they capture the uniqueness of the times sociologically, psychologically and politically as they did when they record this song. This song tackles some universal themes all the while set to some timeless music. In a catalog jam-packed with classic songs, this song continues to stand above much of the rest of it.
So, that is U2 to me. They are still one of the few artist whom I feel as though still maintain artistic dignity that others only wish they could. Raise a glass to U2!
I vividly remember the first time I heard R.E.M.’s “Radio Free Europe”. It was the Summer of 1983, and The Police’s Synchronicity was battling the Flashdance Soundtrack for the top position on Billboard‘s Top 200 Albums chart. That summer, I was working in Wisconsin at a resort, where shenanigans much like what is depicted in the movie Caddyshack or Meatballs happened. I was listening to the alternative radio station as I was getting ready to play basketball with some other workers when that very song came on the radio. That song immediately struck a chord with me that has yet to let lose of me.
At that moment, I thought I heard a nod to the past with the jangling guitars as well as a leap into the future with the murky production, lead singer Michael Stipe’s vocals buried in the mix and a strong rhythm section that ran counter to what the Eighties’ production values called for. For once, that rhythm section had been turned in the mix, only to create a haunting mood, unlike anything else we heard at the time. Man, did R.E.M.’s sound grab me.
This was one of the few bands that I actually got to enjoy their slow, steady rise to superstardom, then after reaching that golden ring, I watched them struggle to maintain their artistic dignity while turning away from super riches. To me, R.E.M. was, along with U2, THE groups of my generation. R.E.M. got their start by playing parties in the early 1980s, but were selling out arenas as the 80s ended.
So, in honor of one of my favorite bands who worked so hard to maintain their artistic integrity throughout their career, I present to you my Top 20
20. “Shiny Happy People” (1991). I know that many of you probably hate this song. But, I always felt that R.E.M. were secretly bubblegum music aficionados. Plus, the lyrics were perfect for parody. The best? One of my former microbiologist friends used to sing “Tired Cranky People” with that song.
19. “Superman” (1986). In 1987, I saw R.E.M. at Millet Hall on the Miami University campus in Oxford, Ohio. The next day, we took my older son, who was two-years-old at the time, to get some frozen yogurt. He preceded to entertain the employees at the yogurt shop by singing this song. I know that the song is a cover song, but that moment will always hold “Superman” in a special place in my heart.
18. “Stand” (1988). This is the third song in R.E.M.’s bubblegum trilogy. It remains my favorite of those three songs. Of course, this song also is associated with a fun moment for me. When my younger son was getting close to turning one, this song was popular. Because he was close to walking, he would sit on my stomach, grab my thumbs with his death grip, press his legs so he could stand up. The first time he did that was when “Stand” was playing. So, the song became a catalyst for his new trick.
17. “Can’t Get There from Here” (1985). This song never really found the audience it deserved. This is R.E.M. at its artfully most funky.
16. “I Believe” (1986). I love the word play in this song, which is a call-to-arms anthem and should be adopted by protesters everywhere.
15. “Exhuming McCarthy” (1987). Before this song was released, you kind of got an inkling that R.E.M. was a socially-conscious band. After the Document album was released, they left no doubt. This song is an anti-conservative diatribe.
14. “The One I Loved” (1987). People! This is NOT a love song! It is a bitter, stalking-your-ex-lover song, in the same mode as The Police’s mega-hit “Every Breath You Take”.
13. “Supernatural Superserious” (2008). By the time this song was release, R.E.M. was down to a trio, as drummer Bill Berry had retired nearly 10 years prior. This is one of the band’s most hard-rocking punkish song of their trio days.
12. “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?” (1994). When this song was released, R.E.M. was just ascending to the title of “World’s Greatest Band”. They finally made the rocking album they have been promising for nearly a decade. In typical Michael Stipe fashion, he took a phrase used by the assailants that beat former CBS newscaster Dan Rather to fashion lyrics in this rocking song.
11. “Imitation of Life” (2001). This is the best song of the trio era. And, when I began this countdown, I really thought this was a Top 10 song. Then again, in most artists’ catalogs, it would be a Top 10 song.
10. “World Leader Pretend” (1988). This song has gained meaning as the current president has taken on power. It’s scary that this song actually predicted a president like Trump, nearly 20 years in advance.
9. “Everybody Hurts” (1992). Here we have one of the band’s greatest ballad that actually gives the listener hope. Humans are more alike than they think.
8. “(Don’t Go Back To) Rockville” (1984). This little ditty is a nice country rock song done only as R.E.M. can do.
7. “Radio Free Europe” (1983). Here is the song that started a million soundalike post-punk alternative bands. Very few artists could live up to this song.
6. “So. Central Rain (I’m Sorry)” (1984). This was the song they played on their first network performance when they appeared on Late Night with David Letterman. This song probably inadvertently started the whole adult alternative format.
5. “The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight” (1992). This song brings a sense of levity to a serious work of art as Automatic for the People. The abstract lyrics are full of absurdities that makes the song so dear to me.
4. “Fall on Me” (1986). Back when this song was released, some people of my generation were just discovering their political voices. While most followed the conservative revolution promised by President Reagan, an enlightened few recognized the meaning behind this song and were influenced to voice their opinions. Just in case you missed it, this is a pro-environment song, and my wife’s favorite R.E.M. song.
3. “Nightswimming” (1992). What began as bassist Mike Mills’ piano noodling, was turned into the most beautifully yearning song in R.E.M.’s magnificent catalog.
2. “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” (1987). Here is a politically exasperated band regurgitating their bile that was directed at the political situation of the 80s as much as it was directed at the R.E.M. mystique that had built up around the band. Yet, ultimately, it is a punk song that went totally right.
1. “Losing My Religion” (1991). If you were going to choose one song to represent EVERYTHING musically, lyrically, politically and sociologically about R.E.M., look no further than this song. This song captures the essence of R.E.M., whether real or imagined.
That’s my story and I’m sticking with it! This is how I hear R.E.M. in my ears and converted to thoughts in my mind.
I think we have established that I am pretty much a pop-rock man at heart, though I do make forays into various other genres. For the past couple of months, I have been on a Queen kick. I am not quite sure what precipitated it, but I have been pulling out my vinyl music, of which I have all of the band’s studio albums, except for 1989’s The Miracle and 1994’s posthumous Made in Heaven. Redundantly, I have all of Queen’s albums on CD. So, if I want to listen to Queen’s majesty, I play the vinyl. Yest, if I am experiencing a “bad” pain day or am simply feeling lazy, I will play their CD so I won’t have to “flip” the album at the end of Side 1.
After listening to their fifteen studio albums multiple times over the past couple of months, I have compiled a list of my favorite 50 songs by Queen. I should have written the list on a white board since it was in constant flux. Songs kept moving up and down my chart. With a white board, I could have kept myself from wasting so much paper. So, now, after many revisions, far too many to count, I have come to to my conclusion.
With that said, may I present to you My Top 20 Queen songs of all-time. Let’s light this candle and get started.
20. “Flash” (Flash Gordon OST, 1980). I remember back when this song and album were released, I did not know what to make of this song. Now, 37 years after its release, the song has become one of my favorites. I am certain that Freddie would have LOVED the song’s use in the cheeky movie Ted,
19. “I Want It All” (The Miracle, 1989). In hindsight, it is understandable why this record sounds a little weary, as the band were working with Freddie while he was in the throws of full-blown AIDS. Still, this is one of the stand-out songs on the album.
18. “One Vision” (A Kind of Magic, 1986). It was around this time in my life that I began to ignore Queen for a few years. As a matter of fact, I did not get this CD until a decade later. I found out then what I missed. The band came out blazing on this song, a statement of unity as well as an anthemic statement of musical prowess. The best part about this song is the switching the lyrics at the end of the song from “One vision!” to “Fried chicken!” Queen has always maintained their sense of humor throughout their run as one of the greatest bands in the world.
17. “There Must Be More to Life Than This” [a duet with Michael Jackson] (Forever, 2014). This mid-80s collaboration had been long rumored, so when a compilation was being readied for release, the dark corners of Jackson’s and Queen’s respective music vaults were excavated and this song was finally uncovered. Though it sounds more like a Michael Jackson song in structure, you can pick out the members of Queen. What a shame that the song was not released during Freddie’s and Michael’s lifetimes. This song would have been HUGE!
16. “I Want to Break Free” (The Works, 1984). In 1982, Queen released the disco-rock album Hot Space, which I believe is an overlooked classic, as the rest of the world still calls it a turkey. So, the band was coming off their softest sales since their second album, Queen II. So, The Works was the band’s big comeback. Then they released the video for this song where the band appears in drag. Of course, middle America freaked out, and the band was history in the USA. What a shame, because this song is a classic.
15. “Now I’m Here” (Sheer Heart Attack, 1974). Early on in the band’s career, this song was used as a fun centerpiece, where Freddie appeared to “move” from side of the stage to the other as his vocals echoed. It was a cool special effect that enhance this great song into a transcendent live song in concert.
14. “Bicycle Race” (Jazz, 1978). Was this really a song? Sure it was, just turned up on its head. No other song at the time name dropped so many pop cultural references AND had a bicycle bells solo. Supposedly, the song was inspired by the Tour de France, yet, somehow, I believe their is some playful gay overtones that a straight man like me is probably missing. Personally, I love the song.
13. “You’re My Best Friend” (A Night at the Opera, 1975). The quiet and stoic bassist of the band, John Deacon, was always Queen’s secret weapon. Not only was he a supremely gifted bassist, Deacon was responsible for writing some of the band’s finest songs, such as this love song to his wife. The emotions Deacon was expressing are universal to couples throughout the world.
12. “Body Language” (Hot Space, 1982). This song was the big hit song from the album that is widely known as their disco album. For perspective, Queen had their biggest hit ever with the Chic-soundalike “Another One Bites the Dust”. Since the band was bigger than ever, they retreated to Berlin, searching for some anonymity and fun. The band decided to incorporate the dance sounds they were hearing in the discos within their grandiose sound. This fun ode to promiscuity was a hit, but the rest of the album was rejected by the rock world. This is the type of experimentation that David Bowie, U2 and Radiohead have dove into only to be hailed as visionaries. Yet, for some reason, Queen was rejected.
11. “Another One Bites the Dust” (The Game, 1980). This was Queen’s biggest hit song in the US and throughout the world. This is another John Deacon-penned song. I was fortunate because, the song had just been released as a single that week, so the band debuted this song live at the Indianapolis concert that I attended in the summer of 1980. It was great live.
10. “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” (The Game, 1979). This was Queen’s first #1 hit in the US. The band had been playing Elvis Presley’s “Jailhouse Rock” in the live sets for years. So, it was not a stretch for the band when Freddie approached them with this rockabilly song that predated the Stray Cats by two years in the US.
9. “Killer Queen” (Sheer Heart Attack, 1974). For me, this is the song that jump-started my Queen obsession. This is a typical Freddie song, in that the song allowed the lead singer to play up his flamboyance on stage in addition to on vinyl.
8. “Fat Bottomed Girls” (Jazz, 1978). Freddie, being the ornery man that he was, had his tongue firmly planted in his cheek as he wrote AND performed this song. This was a perfect song for Freddie to perform live.
7. “Tie Your Mother Down” (A Day at the Races, 1976). This fantastic rocker kicked off my favorite Queen album. This song used to bring college parties to boil when I would put it in my DJ sets. My buddies and I loved the lyric, “Tie your brother with a brick, that’s alright!”
6. “We Will Rock You”/”We Are the Champions” (News of the World, 1977). I just couldn’t separate these two songs; they simply belong together since they were released as a double-A-side single. They are the band’s calling card anthems, as well as the band’s gifts to championship athletic teams throughout the world.
5. “Radio Ga-Ga” (The Works, 1984). This song signaled a comeback for Queen in 1984. The power of the song was not really totally felt until the band’s show-stopping performance at Live Aid. Go to YouTube to watch the video to witness 100,000 fans packed into Wembley Stadium clapping their hands in unison like what was done in the video for the song. That’s how a band elevates an audience who in turn lifts the band to even greater heights. This song may be one of the band’s most underrated songs in their whole catalog.
4. “Don’t Stop Me Now” (Jazz, 1978). To the band’s fans, this song is one of Queen’s greatest mission statements. Unfortunately, in the US, radio looks at it as a very deep cut. Whatever, this song exudes the hedonism that Freddie must have been involved in as he lead the party wherever he was.
3. “Under Pressure” [a duet with David Bowie] (Greatest Hits, 1981). When I heard that Queen AND Bowie were working TOGETHER in the studio, I could not wait to hear the outcome. As the only new song on their first compilation released in the States, I was not disappointed. The song captured everything that I loved about the two artists. The song added to the mystique of Bowie and to the majesty of Queen. And, it barely cracked the Top 30 in the US! What a crime! The only bigger crime done to this song was when Vanilla Ice attempted to tell the world that “Ice Ice Baby” did NOT sample this song. In the words of Wayne Campbell (Mike Myers in Wayne’s World), “RRRRIIIIIIIIGGGHHHTTT.”
2. “Bohemian Rhapsody” (A Night at the Opera, 1975). So, who knew that a song that lasts over five minutes long, beginning with as a piano ballad, switches into an opera and ends as a heavy metal blow-out, would become one of the most iconic songs of all-time? You can actually hear this song as the divider between traditional sounding rock music, and an “anything goes/devil-may-care” approach to pop music At one time, this was the biggest selling single in the UK. In the US, the song had two Top 10 runs on the Hot 100 chart, going to #4 in 1975 and #2 in 1992, after the song’s use in the classic movie Wayne’s World.
1. “Somebody to Love” (A Day at the Races, 1976). So, how does a band follow up “Bohemian Rhapsody”? This time you let Freddie channel is inner Aretha Franklin along with a gospel choir of vocals made from the voices of the three singing members of the band (Mercury, guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor), much like the vocal overlaying done for the opera section of “BoRhaps”. On this song, everyone sounds more confident in what they were doing, in addition to their mastery of the studio wizardly necessary to make this song happen. Though no one can approach Freddie Mercury’s vocal acrobatics on this song, give a listen to George Michael’s version of the song he did with the surviving members of Queen during the concert honoring Freddie in 1993. He sure came close to Mercury.
That’s my Top 20. What songs would you have added and which songs would you have thrown out? The only thing to say here is LONG LIVE QUEEN!
So, yesterday, I covered ranked the albums of one of my all-time favorite artists, Tom Petty. If you think about it, Prince, Cheap Trick and Tom Petty seem to be cut from the same cloth: some meat and potatoes rock and a penchant for a little experimentation mixed to keep things fresh, though their initial perspectives began in different environments. A a music fan, while those artists are three of the all-time greats, I o get fidgety for music that comes more from left field that anything else. That’s were artists such as Devo, The B-52’s, Frank Zappa, Parliament/Funkadelic, Talking Heads and the like. That’s why, today, I want to get my new wave clothes on, figuratively speaking since the real things would NEVER fit today.
No, today I present to you my Top 25 favorite songs by a band with 3/4 of its members were students of the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design, while the fourth member once attended that “Hilton of the Hicks”, Harvard. Initially, back in 1976, the band began as the trio from RISD. It wasn’t until a year later in which the band added the multi-instrumentalist from Harvard, who had just completed a stint in the influential punk/new wave band the Modern Lovers. So, when the trio of singer/guitarist David Byrne, bassist Tina Weymouth and her future husband, drummer Chris Frantz hooked up with Jerry Harrison, the modern line up of the Rock & Roll Hall Fame Inductees Talking Heads. This band was one of first artists to be signed from the fertile grounds of the famous New York City punk night club of the ’70s and ’80s, the CBGBs.
Surprisingly, Talking Heads only had one Top 10 single, “Burning Down the House” back in 1983. But, many more singles that over time have become classics. So, today, I bring you, My Top 25 Favorite Talking Heads Songs.
25. “Uh-Oh, Love Comes to Town” (1977). This song is the first one on Side 1 of the band’s debut album, Talking Heads:77. It delivers all the nervous energy that will become associated with the band over the years, as well as the love of solid funk and bubblegum music that can be heard in much of their early stuff.
24. “Love —> Building on Fire” (1976). This is the first single released independently by the original trio. The basic sound is present, along with the odd lyrical structure.
23. “Making Flippy Floppy” (1983). I just loved it, when in 1983 the band took the lessons learned from their foray into African rhythms on their previous album, Remain in Light, and stripped things back to the basic funk on the songs like this one on 1983’s Speaking in Tongues. Talking Heads made it cool to be a white nerd who was into funk music, like myself.
22. “Crosseyed and Painless” (1980). What Brian Eno and Talking Heads did on 1980’s Remain in Light was monumental by introducing the world to the funkiness of actual African rhythms. This song is definitely the next step of the funk/rock sound developed by Funkadelic. Listen to guitar whiz Adrian Belew’s guitar solo and compare it to Funkadelic’s Eddie Hazel’s solo on “Maggot Brain” and tell me they aren’t related.
21. “(Nothing But) Flowers” (1988). In 1988, David Byrne was done with Talking Heads, though the other three wanted to remain together. Working together one last time, after taking a two album break from the funk, the band dove head first in their most straight forward funk album yet. This song was the first single released from the 1988 Naked album. This time the band lightens the funk, almost to a Caribbean beat with breezy lyrics set to that sound. Lyrically, Byrne spoke to the rising consciousness toward the degradation of the environment that unfortunately peaked back then and, now, sounds quaint to some and overly optimistic to others. Yet, there was a time in the late-80s and throughout the 90s when a majority of Americans believed we were harming Mother Nature.
20. “Girlfriend Is Better” (1983). Going back to Speaking in Tongues, we find this next song that is furthering the dance sound once associated with The B-52’s, of course not as stripped back as the Athens band.
19. “And She Was” (1985). After two albums in which the band developed its funk side, Talking Heads turned back toward their original two-to-three-minute pop songs brimming with the sound of bubblegum with the funk lying under the surface. On their first single from Little Creatures, the band reclaimed their original sound by adding more well-developed obtuse lyrics.
18. “Artists Only” (1978). This is a perfect example of the early sound of the band in which they pitted a funky dance-ability against the pop perfection of bubblegum music. This is the sound of new wave being defined.
17. “Blind” (1988). They finally did it. Talking Heads found their inner James Brown, making a song that the Godfather of Soul probably wishes he had made. The music is pure funk, while David Byrne does his best James Brown imitation, which was the best since Eddie Murphy on SNL.
16. “Don’t Worry About the Government” (1978). The lyrics sound as if they were held over from the Nixon years, but the sound is pure on-the-cusp-of-the-Eighties modern. It’s really a pop song that you can dance to, Tommy! It really is!
15. “Slippery People” (1983). Is this a fun song or what? This has is all: a slithery bass, rocking guitar work, and strange, almost Dada-istic lyrics.
14. “Road to Nowhere” (1985). This song caught me off guard because it was the first time that Taking Heads had what sounded like a choir singing the opening of the song. Then the music kicks in to a great song showing the softer side of the band.
13. “Memories Can’t Wait” (1979). Bassist Tina Weymouth was always the band’s secret weapon, constantly giving their songs a solid funky base. But, her base explodes as she finally leads the song from start to finish with a straight ahead funk bassline giving the song its personality as the lyrics about past memories resonated more strongly than anything they had written before. I may have underrated this song!
12. “Thank You for Sending Me an Angel” (1978). Simply a great pop song, as only Talking Heads could do one.
11. “Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On)” (1980). Back in 1980, when I heard this song, the first one on Side 1, I didn’t realize what was hitting me. But, the tune played I began to feel like Poindexter in Revenge of the Nerds as if he were hearing dance music for the first time. In my case, I was feeling those African rhythms juxtaposition with the blast of guitars which cause an epiphany in me. I discovered that rock music could be funky too! Unbeknownst to me, I was ready for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Fishbone, ska music, Paul Simon’s Graceland and the rap music yet to come because of this album, Remain in Light.
10. “Wild Wild Life” (1986). If “Losing My Religion” was the perfect summation of the R.E.M. sound, then “Wild Wild Life” does the same thing for Talking Heads. Unfortunately, it was the only good song on the True Stories album, which happened to be Talking Heads’ takes on the song from the soundtrack to David Byrne’s movie of the same name.
9. “Heaven” (1979). This song describes Byrne’s version of heaven, in which everybody invited to his parties all leave simultaneously and early. And it only gets stranger from there. Still, the music is beautiful, almost spiritual.
8. “I Zimba” (1979). Now, this was the first inkling of what the Talking Heads would do on their next album, Remain in Light. But, in 1979, I was NOT ready for this song. But, as I played it more and more, I realized that it had a good beat and it was easy to dance to. Of course, the lyrics were nonsense, but they only added to the mysteriousness of this song. It was like aliens had dropped a song from another planet on a Talking Heads album. This was one of my first musical WTF moments.
7. “Swamp” (1983). Ooooohhhhhh buddy! Now, we are getting real swampy in our sound, like these NYC art students have been transformed into the Meters or the Neville Brothers. This is a crowd-pleaser at parties.
6. “Psycho Killer” (1977). You know, this song was kind of disconcerting the first couple of times I heard it. Now, it isn’t a scary song. But, nothing creepier than getting inside the mind of a serial killer who speaks French.
5. “Take Me to the River” (1978). So, the band covers an Al Green soul/gospel song and recasts it as a new wave classic, with another great Weymouth bassline.
4. “This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody)” (1983). What!?!?!? David Byrne is singing a straight up love song!?!? Well, not really. It’s one of the finest love songs totally consisting of non-sequitur phrases. How does he do it? This was my second choice for my wife and my first dance together. It ended up being out fourth, but my wife now realizes my choices would stand the test of time (like our marriage!).
3. “Burning Down the House” (1983). This is the band’s only Top 10 hit (that’s a crime!). But, you would not believe how the dance floor would fill up with people when I would play it. Remains a great dance song to this day.
2. “Once in a Lifetime” (1980). This is THE song on the band’s Remain in Light album. This song combined the band’s pop sensibilities with a great African funk groove over which David Byrne lays his lyrics about feeling like an outsider who does not deserve the success he has achieved.
1. “Life During Wartime” (1979). This is Talking Heads’ strongest statement forever. They depict American life after war has broken out in the States, telling us how we will need to go into survival mode. Yet, all of this is set to a quirky dance beat that will eventually epitomize the new wave sound. Remember: “This ain’t no party. This ain’t no disco. This ain’t no fooling around.” Better get it straight if you gonna survive, son…or daughter.
I hope this gives you 25 reasons to either re-evaluate the Talking Heads catalog, or it makes you realize that this band is truly one of the greatest of all time! Personally, I prefer the latter.