Most Played Songs of 2021

I have as a matter of long habit done a variety of year-end lists and articles in various areas of interest (to me), including a list of the Most Played Songs around the Smith household, as calculated by the iTunes account where I synch all of our iPods. I’ve been doing this since 2007, when we got our first family iPod, a Mother’s Day gift for Marcia, at her request. Today, we still have eight iPods in use in various locations: car, living room, office, gym, etc.

As has been a recurring theme for me over a lifetime of listening, I do recognize that I’m once again fighting a rear guard battle with my iPods, with playback technology making another of its seismic shifts from a purchased media file model to streaming services, delivered over various smart devices, and designed so that we never actually own anything musical anymore, but just rent it. (That link in the prior sentence goes into more detail about why I don’t like that, if interested). That said, Marcia needed to get a Spotify account for her yoga instructor class in late 2019, and we have been using her account and a Bluetooth speaker while we’re on our various travels, and that has worked out fine, as much as I hate to admit it. And as much as it bothers me that the play counts for those songs so played aren’t readily aggregated into my master list. Oh, the humanity! The horror! The Horror!!

I posted my most recent Most Played Songs list in October 2020, just before I packed up my computer for our move to Arizona. With the Thanksgiving holiday visits now behind us, and as I look forward to a couple of upcoming trips, it seems a good time to start my annual process of year-end wrap-up. So this morning, I pushed the big (virtual) button that blows up all of my current play counts and playlists, laying the groundwork for the 2022 listening year, and allowing me to post the Top 40 Most Played Songs at Chateau JES and MBS before starting the counts afresh.

As I note annually with this report, we synch all of our many fiddly widgets to one computer and one master iTunes account, so this Most Played Songs list represents the aggregated play counts from all of our iPods. This means that the songs so featured are often counter-intuitive, since they represent the heart of a musical Venn Diagram where our family’s tastes most closely overlap, even though each of us individually may most like different things. I spin a lot of Napalm Death every year, for example, but they very, very rarely show up on these lists, since they’re never played when Marcia and Katelin are around. The grindcore is for me-time only.

I’m already working on my various other Year-End Lists (e.g. Best Albums, Films and Books of 2021), so consider this the opening salvo of the annual ending cycle that will unfold over the next month. If you’re so inclined, you can create a Spotify playlist of the songs below (because I know that you all just love creating Spotify playlists, just to spite me)(Spitify, it should be called!), and that will give you a sense of what it sounded like to spend time around our spaces over the past 13 months. The list covers a lot of stylistic ground, which I like. Maybe it will inspire you to further check into some of these excellent artists’ catalogs. They’re all great, guaranteed!

  1. “Second Life,” by Gang of Four
  2. “Things Change,” by Spooky Tooth
  3. “Again and Again,” by Bob Mould
  4. “Don’t Say No (Edit),” by Can
  5. “Gutter Tactics,” by Dälek
  6. “Things We Do,” by Fun Boy Three
  7. “I’m Not Talking,” by Mose Allison
  8. “Call Me Up,” by Gang of Four
  9. “Agony Box,” by Shriekback
  10. “2012 (The Pillage),” by Dälek
  11. “I Don’t Believe It,” by Fun Boy Three
  12. “Saved,” by Swans
  13. “Primitive Painters,” by Felt
  14. “I Really Hope You Do,” by The Friends of Distinction
  15. “Man of a Thousand Faces,” by Marillion
  16. “Low Rider,” by War
  17. “Midnight Trolley,” by Daniel Kahn (Feat. Vanya Zhuk)
  18. “Book of Rules,” by The Heptones
  19. “My Own Soul’s Warning,” by The Killers
  20. “I Was Made for Lovin’ You,” by KISS
  21. “Shipbuilding,” by Robert Wyatt
  22. “Space Cowboy,” by The Steve Miller Band
  23. “Shambala,” by Three Dog Night
  24. “Sweet and Dandy,” by Toots and the Maytals
  25. “Runnin’ With the Devil,” by Van Halen
  26. “Black Starliner Must Come,” by Culture
  27. “Earl Grey,” by Fleetwood Mac
  28. “Armalite Rifle,” by Gang of Four
  29. “Ástin Er Undarleg,” by Guðmundur Rúnar
  30. “Pound,” by Human Sexual Response
  31. “The Harder They Come,” by Jimmy Cliff
  32. “Howard Johnson’s Got His Ho-Jo Working,” by NRBQ
  33. “If You Love Me (Let Me Know),” by Olivia Newton-John
  34. “R.I.P. Blackat,” by Public Enemy
  35. “Tell Me Something Good,” by Rufus
  36. “Walking in the Snow,” by Run the Jewels
  37. “Bollo Rex,” by Shriekback
  38. “Bad Worn Thing,” by Wire
  39. “Two Sevens Clash,” by Culture
  40. “Woman of 1000 Years,” by Fleetwood Mac

I know this photo is going to be replaced by a photo of a Bluetooth Speaker at some point, but I still cling to my current paradigm, desperately.

Be Thankful For What You Got

My mother flew into Flagstaff airport Monday night for her first visit ever to Arizona. Our daughter and son-in-law (and their cats) and my sister and brother-in-law are arriving this afternoon, by car from Las Vegas in the first pairs’ case, by air from Asheville in the latter. I always adjust the family playlist that spins pretty much continually while we’re awake hereabouts before guests arrive (there’s some things we like that we know they don’t like, so I’m respectful on that front), and as I was sitting here at the computer this morning tweaking that list, I decided I’d share ten favorite Songs of Thanks (as I see it) with you here. (Note: Yeah, Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant” may be the most definitive Thanksgiving Song ever, but knowing that you likely know that, I acknowledge it here as preamble, and pick other songs to supplement it). I wish you and yours a most happy and healthy holiday weekend, with a boss soundtrack, and if any of these tunes creep from our house to yours as a result of this post, this I’ll be a most happy music nerd indeed. Holla in the comment section if that’s the case!

#10. “Give Thanks,” by The Platters

#9. “Grateful,” by Art Garkunkel

#8. “Thanks,” by The James Gang

#7. “Thanksgiving Prayer,” by Johnny Cash

#6. “Thank You Friends,” by Big Star

#5. “I Thank You,” by ZZ Top

#4. “Gratitude,” by Earth, Wind and Fire

#3. “Now Be Thankful,” by Fairport Convention

#2. “Grateful and Thankful,” by Francis Dunnery

#1. “Be Thankful For What You Got,” by William DeVaughn

Coronablogus

I made my first public, written reference to COVID-19 on this website on March 14, 2021, as the world around us went to shit while Marcia and I were in the middle of a two-week vacation in Florida’s Tampa Bay region. Here’s what I wrote about it then:

While the weather here is lovely, and we’ve gotten lots of great walks in, being away from home as COVID-19 erupts and global markets collapse has been disconcerting, needless to say. Places that should be mobbed are quiet or closed, and public events that we might have considered are mostly cancelled. Which is good and right. We are practicing social distancing ourselves and monitoring the situation as best we can, keeping safe and smart, and listening to the experts, always. We hope that science and a sense of shared social responsibility carry the day(s) here, even as we worry about the volume of stupid that social media and some suspect politicians are already spewing right now.

Boy oh boy, in my worst imaginings, I would not have believed how much more stupid and socially irresponsible things could get on the pandemic front in the weeks and months that followed. Yeesh! But that’s probably a topic for a separate post, ideally one that I will write after the pandemic has run its course in the country. Hopefully before 2030 or so. Fingers crossed.

For the purposes of this post, I note that Marcia and I made it home safely after that trip to Florida (though our flight back was quite uncomfortable, as a woman seated directly in front of us seemed intent on coughing up not one, but both lungs, before we landed in Des Moines), and then, as so, so, so many others did, we went into a quarantine-mode lock-down that lasted for pretty much an entire year, until we received our Moderna vaccines in April and May of 2021. And as so, so, so many others did, we quickly adapted our lifestyles to accommodate the medical realities of the world around us, seeking amusements and entertainments that could be secured at home, or outside in spaces distant from other infectious human animals.

We resumed cooking most every meal at home, for starters, something we’d not really done since our earliest, poorest days together. We walked five miles or so every day that the weather allowed, dodging various blithering idiots in downtown Des Moines who seemed aggressively intent on getting in people’s faces, their own “freedoms and liberties” clearly trumping (no pun intended)(well, a little pun intended) other people’s desires for healthy self-preservation. We began watching television together every night, something that had been a once or twice a week activity, at most, before then. We began doing ZOOM meetings, with family members, work colleagues, and friends, desperate to have some human contact, even if of a choppy and annoying kind. And, of course, we started doing jigsaw puzzles, because even as counter-cultural and counter-intuitive as I like to be, there’s something to be said for joining the lowing herd in such a slow, methodical, time-killing pursuit.

For the record, we’re still cooking most of our meals at home, still walking five miles a day (though in much nicer surroundings), still watching a movie or TV show together most every night, still doing weekly ZOOM calls with Katelin and John, and still doing jigsaw puzzles. On that last front, we’re currently working on one of the hardest ones we’ve done together, from the excellent Rock Saws collection. It seemed like a good idea when I bought it, but Jeezum Krow, it’s certainly one of those where every piece looks pretty much exactly like every other piece, so it’s been slow going, as you can see:

On a personal front, with me being me, I also turned in early COVID days to writing on this website as a time-consuming project, and I ended up producing and publishing a far larger number of posts in 2020 than I had in all but a couple of years since I first got online in the early 1990s. While my 2021 output is not likely to quite match my 2020 levels, this year will still stand high on the list of my busiest website writing years. 2020 and 2021 are also going to be among my very highest reader traffic years ever, which communicates to me that loads of other folks were looking for diversions as they worked to kill time at home that they had not been planning to spend before the Anno Virum.

I note that I was not, at all, alone on that web writing front, and that it seemed to me that in the early days of the pandemic, there was a tremendous surge in the number of bloggers pooping out regular posts and updates, via rejuvenated websites (like mine) or brand new platforms created by people who suddenly had the time to create them. As I’ve written about several times over the years, I have a “love/hate” relationship with the WordPress platform on which I create things here, but I did find myself using its Reader function more than I ever had before, both to find gems among the plethora of new websites and blogs, and to pimp my own stuff to folks who might be new to the blogosphere, and who might benefit from or enjoy my piffle and tripe.

There were loads of “COVID Diary” type blogs in that profusion of new web content, as one would expect, and I have to admit that I assiduously avoided such content, as I didn’t need to wallow in others’ discomfort, when I was perfectly capable of wallowing in my own. But there were also a lot of great new websites covering a variety of non-COVID topics that emerged in the early days of the pandemic, as people who had long had or held ideas for websites finally found themselves with the time and inclination to create and share them, and I probably started following more excellent new websites in 2020 than I had in any prior year, ever.

I was motivated to write this post today by a growing realization that a lot of those early 2020 websites seem to have gone fallow and/or run their courses over the past few months. I suppose this could be a seasonal thing, where people are spending nice weather outdoors instead of clattering away at their computers. Or I suppose this could just a predictable manifestation of the fact that maintaining a blog-styled website over a long period of time can be quite a time suck, especially when writers don’t feel like they’re earning the hits and attention that they want and/or deserve. (Few of us do, for the record). But from a perhaps overly-optimistic standpoint, the dwindling of the COVID-era blogs might also be a leading indicator pointing to the fact that people are finally feeling like they (and we) are coming out of the back end of the virus’ global digestive tract, and that whatever benefits they (and we) got from the connections forged on COVID-era blogs are no longer necessary in the new dawn before us.

I don’t know which of these theories is the most accurate one (they’re not mutually exclusive, so I suppose it could be a combined function of all of them), but they do raise a slightly larger question about the continued role of and place for blogs online. I’m stubborn and patient on that front, and I’ve been doing what I do here for over 25 years now, pandemic or not, and am likely to continue doing so. (For the record, the first time the word “blog” appeared on my website was on September 7, 2000, when I wrote about how pleased I was to have a new word to describe what I had already been doing here for five years at that point). It has been nice to see something of a return to the “traditional” (if something so young can be so described) blog forms over the past 18 months, but also not surprising to see many of them petering out, since there were already plentiful “blogs are dead” communications to be found on the web well before the dawn of COVID.

Back in May of this year, as part of his own COVID-era effort to connect his community, fellow obsessive web-maniac Chuck Miller interviewed me as part of a ZOOM series he was hosting on his own website. It was great fun to catch up with an old friend from The 518 that way, and toward the end of the call, Chuck asked me to share my thoughts on the future of blogs. As I am now watching the COVID-era blog bloom beginning to fade and fall from its branches, that seems to me to be a good question for folks doing what I do here to consider with regard to their own online spaces. I free-wheeled my answer to Chuck’s unexpected question at the time, but since it’s something that I’d thought about before, I do think I hit some good and germane points about the nature of web community in my improvised answer. I transcribed it a few weeks later, and with some edits for style and grammar and accuracy, I reproduce that text below. Note that I have no intentions of giving up my platform in the foreseeable future, even as many others do so, but I do suspect that 2022 may be less busy here than 2020 and 2021 were. We shall see.

Here’s the text of my interview with Chuck, as perhaps a parting shot for the current era of web-living, and maybe as an ideal for living in the post-COVID website world:

In the early 2000s, when blogs were first emerging as a new writing paradigm, the sense was that they were going to change the world for the better, as their existence meant that there would no longer be any biased intermediaries between the public-facing media and the general public, allowing for unique and instant independent response to breaking stories and events, of both important and trivial natures.

And on the one hand, that belief was true, for a while anyway, but on the other hand, professional media outlets do have filters, editors, fact-checkers, things of that nature, (well, at least they’re supposed to, a lot of them don’t anymore, alas), and those things do add value to discourse, if for no other reason than precluding the propagation of lies and errors and propaganda.

When all was said and done, blogs certainly didn’t change the world for the better in many or any ways, and I think the blog realm was the place where a lot of contemporary “comment section” toxicity and anonymous sniping emerged into the realm of common online discourse. I saw that negative change emerge in the early days of blogs, well before it became standard behavior on Facebook or Twitter or other social media sites, so I think many people learned that such horrible behavior generated clicks and interest on the blogosphere, then took that paradigm to other social media platforms.

While the promise that blogging was going to change the world was hyperbolic, I do still think that the narrative over the past five years or so regarding the death of blogs was and remains equally over-stated at the opposite end of the argument. I believe there are enough people out there doing what I do here, on both commercial and non-commercial platforms, who have something interesting to say, and will continue to do so, and will continue to engage readers.

Whether we call our platforms “blogs” or “websites” at this point is kind of immaterial. I personally hardly ever use the word “blog” to define my virtual space anymore. I have a website under my own name that I update regularly, with various narrative elements and recurring features, and that domain is all there is to my personal output. So it’s not like you come to “jericsmith.com” and then get redirected to some separate blog, since the blog is the website in total, and vice versa.

In my case, I like to write, I do so habitually bordering on compulsively, and my website gives me a platform for that, regardless of what I or other people label that platform. I’ve been doing what I do here for so long, in internet terms, that it’s also allowed me to build a community. I have people who I consider to be dear friends who I’ve been writing for and communicating with for over a quarter-century, and I’ve never sat in the same physical space with many or most of them. I think that community-building aspect is quite valuable, and I don’t see it going away.

So I think there will remain, for the foreseeable future, spaces online where folks like me, and the people who read what folks like me write, perhaps also doing similar things on their own websites, will have platforms where such communities can continue to thrive. I’ve abandoned social media because it has become so toxic and shrill, and I know I’m not alone on that front, so I think that these blog-type platforms, whatever you choose to call them, can remain a viable place for community engagement without the hateful vacuity and biases that have come to define most social media sites.

It is what it is, and they are what they are, at bottom line, and I don’t really see any reason or rationale for stopping doing what I’m doing, so long as I get the positive reinforcement that some small cohort of folks find it valuable or interesting or whatever, and so long as I don’t bore myself with my own output.

Where the blog/web magic happens, if you’ve ever wondered or cared . . .

Ten Years After the 518

In the summer of 1993, Marcia, Katelin (then two years old) and I moved to Latham, New York from Idaho Falls, Idaho, following my work transfer to assume a new position in Schenectady. We chose what turned out to be a wonderful rental townhouse (with the best next-door neighbors ever), thinking we’d be there for a few years, most likely returning to the Washington, DC metro area with my work as a next step; we still owned a house in Alexandria at that point, which we were renting out. Marcia started law school that summer, taking the first steps on her most impressive legal career, and I got busy putting in my usual 60+ hours per week on behalf of my demanding government employer.

A year or so later, and via a personal connection that Marcia made in her legal work with our most cool and esteemed friend F. Lee Harvey Blotto, I landed a freelance writing gig, on top of my day job, with the region’s late lamented alternative newsweekly, Metroland. It made for some interesting dynamics to be a merchant of mass destruction by day, and an arts maven by night, but it did very much satisfy my equally active left and right brains, and the free CDs and concert tickets were certainly a budgetary boon. Some years later, my Federal bosses asked me to move back to Washington, DC (after an aborted move to Pittsburgh with that same program), but by that time Katelin was in kindergarten, Marcia had begun her law career, and I’d forged a niche for myself in the greater Albany arts and cultural community, so it seemed we’d unexpectedly anchored ourselves in Upstate New York. That being the case, we sold our house in Alexandria, and I elected to forego the next step in my government career, transitioning into the nonprofit sector instead, while still holding on to my music-centric freelance work career, which had expanded to include a television show by that time.  After six years in what we had presumed would be a short-term rental home, we purchased a “real” house half-a-mile away, and ended up staying in Albany for another dozen years, me eventually rising to serve as CEO for a couple of regional nonprofits, Marcia eventually becoming a partner in a local law firm.

In November 2011, a variety of opportunities and choices presented themselves, and with Katelin out of the house as a college student at SUNY Geneseo, Marcia and I decided to follow a new work opportunity in her professional sector to Des Moines, Iowa. We stayed there for four years, then moved to Chicago in 2015, then back to Des Moines in 2019, then on to our current home in Sedona, Arizona in 2020. As I was doing some website maintenance today, I realized that this week marks the tenth anniversary of my departure from Albany. (Marcia had left a month earlier, inciting this). The ensuing decade has been a busy one, that has taken us to a lot of places where we did a lot of things, but marking that November 2011 milestone also reminds me of just how important “The 518” (Albany’s sole area code, in pre-cellular days) was to us as a family, and to me as a creative professional. Given my own peripatetic personal history, I actually spent more time living and working in and around New York’s capitol city than I have anywhere else in my life. I still enjoy satisfying long-distance relationships with many dear friends made during that time, and the place still sits tall and proud as a key location in our family’s historic narrative.

Just before I left Albany after ~19 years as a nominally productive local contributor, I published a few posts here about things that I would not miss (even great locations have their downsides, after all) and things that I would miss once I was gone. At the top of the pile on that latter, positive list was Albany’s truly incredible musical community, within which I’d moved and (I like to think) played some small but important promotional roles as a music critic and (later) as the booking agent for a cool little cultural venue. I still keep in touch with more folks from Albany than any other place I’ve ever lived, and I still remain a fervent champion for many of the incredible singers, songwriters, and musicians who I met, befriended, and worked with during that most formative and enjoyable time.

So as I consider the tenth anniversary of our departure from Albany, it seems fitting to mark the moment with a small tribute to some of those amazing musicians and friends from those days. I do so, as I so often do, by sharing a collection of videos below, featuring ten artists and songs that have moved me deeply and continually satisfied my soul, even as the meat which encases said soul has moved hither and yon across the continent over the past decade. I highly encourage you to seek out and support these incredible artists, whether you’ve ever set foot in Albany or not. They’re all worth your attention and respect. Cheers, Albany. You were great, and I miss you!

“Across a Thunderstorm,” by Jed Davis

“Ain’t Going Anywhere,” by Buggy Jive

“Strange Day,” by The Clay People

“No One Called You A Failure,” by Kamikaze Hearts

“Beautiful Brand New,” by Gay Tastee

“Cop Show,” by Che Guevara T-Shirt

“Doubting Thomas,” by The Weasels

“Bleeding,” by One King Down

“Mariah Moriah,” by Jason Martin

“Whatever Makes You Happy,” by Lughead

Favorite Songs By Favorite Artists (Series Two) #55: Tragic Mulatto

Note: For an index of all articles in this second “Favorite Songs” series, click here. For a summary of all artists covered in the original series, click here.

Who They Were: A deeply and truly transgressive band from California’s Bay Area, and probably the most obscure entry in this ongoing series, with the possible exception of Human Sexual Response. Taking their name from an archetypal literary trope describing a mixed-race person “who is assumed to be depressed, or even suicidal, because they fail to completely fit in the ‘white world’ or the ‘black world,'” (definition per Wikipedia), Tragic Mulatto were a going concern from 1980 to 1990, with the group being built around singer-saxophonist-tubaist Gail Coulson (a.k.a. Flatula Lee Roth) and bassist-singer Alistair Shanks (a.k.a. Lance Boyle and/or Reverend Elvister Shanksley). The earliest incarnation of the band found the core duo in an ostensibly supportive role, alongside Daved Marsh on vocals, Patrick Marsh on drums, and Karl Konnerth on trumpet, that quintet offering fractured jazz-based scuzz, the vibe of which was perhaps best encapsulated by Coulson’s entirely, amazingly, brilliantly sacrilegious cover art for their 1984 EP Judo for the Blind.  After Konnerth and the Marsh brothers departed, the group issued one album, 1987’s Locos Por El Sexo with Tim Carroll (a.k.a. Richard Skidmark, a core member of  Gary Floyd’s San Francisco incarnation of his legendary band, The Dicks) on guitar and Jay “Jazzbo” Smith on drums. Re-tooling once again, the last incarnation of Tragic Mulatto featured Coulson and Shanks accompanied by dual drummers Marianne Riddle (a.k.a. Bambi Nonymous, also a member of Frightwig) and Marc Galipeau (a.k.a. Humpty Doody), along with guitarist Jehu Goder (a.k.a. Jack-Buh).

When I First Heard Them: As noted elsewhere, most recently in my Hüsker Dü article in this series, I spent much of the ’80s finding my favorite bands by acquiring everything put into the public domain by a select group of independent record labels, prominently including Alternative Tentacles, under which banner Tragic Mulatto recorded and released all of their records. The first Tragic Mulatto record I heard was Judo for the Blind, and I liked it well enough, but it was not until their first full-length compilation CD release, 1987’s Italians Fall Down and Look Up Your Dress, (primarily featuring the Coulson-Shanks-Carroll-Smith line-up) that I truly fell in love with the group. None of the record stores in my neighborhood at the time stocked their catalog, so I am pretty sure that I mail-ordered everything I ever heard by them, back in the day, directly from Alternative Tentacles. (They remain woefully under-available on CD and download/streaming services to this day). The group quietly dissolved, alas, after 1990’s brilliant Chartreuse Toulouse, the members scattering into a variety of interesting post-Tragic careers including (among others) music educator, visual artist, yoga master, and polka bassist.

Why I Love Them: I tend to have a low bullshit threshold when it comes to groups who pursue shock for shock’s sake, recognizing that most of them are just playing roles and parts designed to turn transgression into commercial attainment by pushing provocative buttons for the benefit of those seeking cheap and easy thrills. That said, as stunningly confrontational and disturbing as Tragic Mulatto could be in their heyday, I never perceived them as “poseurs” pretending to be something that they were not, as their music, their lyrics, their on-stage performances, and their artwork were legitimately, frighteningly “real” on every front that an audience member could expect to experience. I also tend to have a low bullshit threshold when it comes to groups of marginal technical talent who use such provocative presentations to mask their own musical shortcomings, but that was also never the case with Tragic Mulatto, as the group’s players and songwriters were deeply talented, coming at their post-jazz skuzz-rock from a position of deep authority, spinning out tunes of lyrical madness and musical brilliance in equal measure. The group are probably most often critically compared to Austin’s Butthole Surfers, both acts featuring twin drummers and over-the-top paired vocalists. That comparison is apt on some planes, but limiting on others, as Tragic Mulatto were blessed with Coulson’s amazing vocal work, often compared to Grace Slick and other ferocious female belters, along with her distinctive sax and tuba skills, which truly put Tragic Mulatto in their own unique musical cohort. (Coulson’s vocal take on Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” puts the Zep, especially Robert “Percy” Plant, to shame on many fronts, and I’d argue that Coulson’s shriek at the end of the “orgasm” section of the song is one of the greatest screams in rock music history; it’s at 31:45 in this video, if you need to hear it, which I think you do). The group’s lyrics were definitely scatological and sexual in equal measures, but they weren’t just tossed out for the cheap thrills, offering instead an impressively incisive level of cultural, social, and political acuity between the more obvious filthy front elements. At bottom line, Tragic Mulatto made extremely powerful music with extremely offensive (yet very, very smart) lyrics, fulfilling the counter-cultural promise of the punk and post-punk eras in ways that most similarly-inclined bands could only dream about.

#10. “No Juice,” from “Tragic Mulatto” single (1983)

#9. “OK Baby OK,” from Italians Fall Down And Look Up Your Skirt (1987)

#8. “Freddy,” from Locos Por El Sexo (1987)

#7. “She’s A Ho (Live),” from Hot Man Pussy (1989)

#6. “I Don’t Mind,” from Chartreuse Toulouse (1990)

#5. “My Name Is Not O’Neill,” from Hot Man Pussy (1989)

#4. “Mr. Cheese,” from Hot Man Pussy (1989)

#3. “Untitled (Safeway)” from Locos Por El Sexo (1987)

#2. “Sexy Money,” from Locos Por El Sexo (1987)

#1. “Rise Up, Get Down,” from Chartreuse Toulouse (1990)

Favorite Songs By Favorite Artists (Series Two) #54: Hüsker Dü (And Related Artists)

Note: For an index of all articles in this second “Favorite Songs” series, click here. For a summary of all artists covered in the original series, click here.

Who They Were: Singer-songwriter-guitarist Bob Mould, singer-songwriter-drummer Grant Hart, and bassist Greg Norton were the power trio to end all power trios in the heyday of ’80s independent rock, emerging from Minnesota’s Twin Cities with a ferociously over-amped take on post-punk tropes, styles and sounds. Formed in 1979 after Mould left his Upstate New York home to attend Macalester College in St. Paul, and named after a Scandinavian board game that felt ubiquitous through television commercials in the late 1970s, Hüsker Dü released their first single, “Statues”/”Amusement,” in 1981, and were highly prolific over their short run, finally imploding and dissolving after their 1987 double-album Warehouse: Songs and Stories. After launching their career on a variety of independent record labels (more on that below), Hüsker Dü were one of the first American post-punk bands to sign with a major label (Warner Bros.) in the mid-’80s, after the music industry realized that there was money to be made in creating an “alternative” or “college rock” idiom to add critical cache to their corporate offerings. Mould and Hart were both prolific songwriters, and the group’s demise was tied to conflicts between the pair about creative control of the group, compounded by Hart’s worsening issues with drug addiction. After their break-up, Norton went into the restaurant business, and Hart and Mould continued on as solo artists, with Mould also serving in the Hüsker Dü-reminiscent band Sugar (which featured drummer Malcolm Travis of Human Sexual Response) and Hart also fronting Nova Mob, having shifted from drums to guitar as his primary instrument in his post-Hüsker days. Sadly, Grant Hart died of cancer in 2017, ending any of the long-running speculation (and hopeful thinking) associated with a possible group reunion.

When I First Heard Them: In pre-Internet days, one of the best ways to keep abreast of emergent music that I liked was by forging attractions to specific record labels that offered high-quality releases by bands that I admired and/or adored, presuming that the new and unknown groups on those labels might be as good as the heroes I already worshipped. Two of my favorite labels in those days were SST (home of Black Flag and The Minutemen) and Alternative Tentacles (Dead Kennedys, Tragic Mulatto, etc.), and as it happens, Hüsker Dü released records with both of those labels in their pre-Warner Bros. days. I am pretty sure that the first thing I heard by Hüsker Dü was the song “Real World” on a 1983 SST sampler disc called The Blasting Concept. I liked them enough to explore further, acquiring other early singles, EPs, and albums, but it was their ambitious Summer 1984 double-album release on SST, Zen Arcade, that really pushed me into being a serious fanboy of the group. It remains one of my all-time favorite records.

Why I Love Them: I’m going to reprise lightly-edited text that I wrote after Hart’s death to explain why the Hüskers moved me so much, once upon a time. Here ’tis: When I think of monumental moments in my musical listening career, side one of Hüsker Dü’s Zen Arcade (1984) was among the most surprising and transformative. I was a hardcore kid and devoted SST Records follower/buyer, and there were certain rules and sound and structures that you expected from bands signed to that label, including the Hüskers. The first two songs on Zen Arcade (“Something I Learned Today” and “Broken Home, Broken Heart,” both composed by co-leader Bob Mould) complied with these expectations as fine examples of the razor thin, trebly, high speed, screaming, all electric onslaught that SST generally delivered to its listeners, platter after platter. But then came Hart’s “Never Talking To You Again,” at which point, everything changed. Acoustic guitars? Melodic vocals? Wistful sentiments? From America’s erstwhile fastest hardcore band? Can they do that?!?! Can I like it?!?!? By the end of that record’s first side, Hart, Mould and Norton also delivered percussion heavy ragas, backtracked guitar meltdowns, chanting, Bo Diddly beats and more . . . and there were three more sides to go after that, including piano interludes, Hart’s balls-to-the-wall rocker “Turn On The News,” and a 14-minute long instrumental freakout to end the experience. Zen Arcade was a critical success, and it could have been a commercial success, except that SST did not have the production capacity to meet the demand for it, which directly contributed to the group’s jump to the big leagues a couple of years later. I wasn’t wild about the over-long Warehouse as the final studio document of the Hüskers’ short, bright career, and as much as I wanted to like Hart’s and Mould’s later solo releases, they frankly didn’t move me as much as their Hüsker Dü work did, with one extremely notable exception: Mould’s 2008 District Line album, which I consider to be a stylistically-brilliant and highly-unique techno-guitar masterpiece. I include a couple of tracks from it in my “Favorite Songs” list below, hence the “And Related Artists” tag in this post’s title.

#10. “Shelter Me,” from District Line (2008), credited to Bob Mould

#9. “Don’t Want to Know If You Are Lonely,” from Candy Apple Grey (1986)

#8. “Somewhere,” from Zen Arcade (1984)

#7. “Diane,” from Metal Circus (1983)

#6. “Makes No Sense At All,” from Flip Your Wig (1985)

#5. “Sorry Somehow,” from Candy Apple Grey (1986)

#4. “Newest Industry,” from Zen Arcade (1984)

#3. “Again and Again,” from District Line (2008), credited to Bob Mould

#2. “Never Talking to You Again,” from Zen Arcade (1984)

#1. “Celebrated Summer,” from New Day Rising (1985)