(Get A) Five Songs You Need to Hear (On Yourself)

We’re in the midst of a days-long weather hellscape here in Iowa with the nastiest of nasty stuff falling out of the sky, continually. Ice, snow, frozen rain, sleet, vulture urine, aviation fuel, chemtrails, and who knows what else. It’s disgusting and cold, whatever it is. So I’ve been hunkered down, spinning tunes, and thought it an apt time to return to our occasional featurette here, “Five Songs You Need to Hear.” The only things these songs have in common are that I love them, and you probably haven’t heard them. Now you can! Get listening! And then explore the artists further, as they’re all most worthy and deserving of your attention.

#1. “Space Invaders” by Solaris, (available on the outstanding and recommended Soul Jazz Records Presents SPACE FUNK: Afro-Futurist Electric Funk in Space 1976-84 compilation)

#2. “Electronic Eye” by Crisis Actor

#3. “Love Lived Here Once” by Christelle Bofale

#4. “Analog Warmth” by Jad Fair & Kramer (Feat. Paul Leary)

#5. “Crazy Energy Night” by Pom Poko

A Certain Measure of Tolerance: Neil Peart (1952-2020)

I hate to be a ghoul, and to only use my website to eulogize dead people, but despite having just penned an ode to Neil Innes upon his passing last week, I also feel compelled to briefly remark upon the life of Rush drummer/lyricist Neil Peart, who flew away this week after a three-year battle with brain cancer.

I interviewed him in 1997, and it was one of the best conversations I ever had with a famous person who had deigned to politely speak to a music writer from a small regional newsweekly. I wish I still had the raw transcript of our taped conversation, as I was limited by word counts in the actual printed version of the interview, and had to leave some interesting bits on the proverbial cutting room floor. I guess those unpublished portions of our conversation just have to remain part of my fond private professional memories. They certainly made me like the man even more than I already did when I dialed his number for the phoner.

Soon after my conversation with Neil Peart, I saw him and his bandmates play the opening show of their “Evening With Rush” tour, where they offered two long sets without an opening act, for the first time in their then already-long career. I wrote a piece some years later about the ten most memorable concerts I’ve ever seen, and that was one of them, in part because I saw the famous 2112 suite played live for the very first time in its entirety that night. Here’s that list and report.

Sadly, in the months after that great concert, Peart dealt with a pair of devastating personal tragedies, losing his daughter in an auto accident, and then losing his wife to cancer. He managed his losses (in part) by taking to the road on his motorcycle, an anonymous ghost rider, going back to ground in ways that stripped away any rock star pomp or glitter, riding and thinking and writing and healing, until (after a few quiet years) he finally felt prepared to return to his drum kit and his band.

The first song on the first album after his return to music-making was called “One Little Victory,” and it’s one of my favorite Rush moments, even though it’s nowhere near as popular or famous as many of the group’s other songs. I think it was apt and intentional that the early moments of the song are all Peart, his drums laying out a complex and killer pattern that carries the song as much as its lyrical or melody lines do. It felt like a statement of strong intent the first time I heard it: I am back, I am here, I am alive, I play drums. A titanic, moving musical moment by a truly singular talent. I post a link to that song below, and I commend it to you most highly, if you have never heard it. It stands as strong a eulogy for a brilliant artist as any words I could possibly pen. I’m glad to have had the brief opportunity to speak with the genius who created it. He moved me, for sure.

He plays fast-forward for as long as he can. RIP, Maestro.

Teenbeat: Best Albums of 2010-2019

We’re in a new decade this month, unless you’re one of those “Well, actually . . . ” types who wants to mansplain (and if you are making this argument, then I know that you are a man) that 2021 is the real beginning of the 2020s. I get the logic behind that argument, I guess, but I still refute the conclusion that we have to wait another twelve months to celebrate the Teens, and all the art and culture produced within that span.

Me being a music geek, the new decade (hush, I heard you the first time!) means that I feel compelled to go back through my various lists and libraries to look at the very best albums issued between January 1, 2010 and December 31, 2019. And then, of course, I also feel compelled to share that list with you, dear readers.

I present my “Top 100 Albums of the Teens” below, alphabetically, accordingly. I welcome your own additions, reactions and reflections, as always. And if you do not know where the title of this post came from, then check out tracks two and four at this link. Brilliance from the ’70s. Which ran from January 1, 1970 to December 31, 1979, just for the record. Stop being difficult!

  1. AC/DC, Rock or Bust (2014)
  2. Ian Anderson, Homo Erraticus (2014)
  3. Asia, XXX (2012)
  4. Erykah Badu, But You Caint Use My Phone (2015)
  5. Karl Bartos, Off The Record (2013)
  6. Aloe Blacc, Lift Your Spirit (2014)
  7. Aloe Blacc, Good Things (2010)
  8. Black Midi, Schlagenheim (2019)
  9. The Body, I Have Fought Against It, But I Can’t Any Longer (2018)
  10. David Bowie, Blackstar (2016)
  11. David Bowie, The Next Day (2013)
  12. Action Bronson, Wonderful (2015)
  13. Buggy Jive, The Buggy Jive Mixtape (2018)
  14. Buggy Jive, The B-Side (2019)
  15. Camp Lo, Ragtime Hightimes (2015)
  16. Chance the Rapper, Coloring Book (2016)
  17. Clutch, Psychic Warfare (2015)
  18. Clutch, The Book of Bad Decisions (2018)
  19. The Coup, Sorry To Bother You (2012)
  20. The Coup, Sorry To Bother You: The Soundtrack (2018)
  21. Dälek, Endangered Philosophies (2017)
  22. Jed Davis, Small Sacrifices Must Be Made (2012)
  23. Jed Davis, In The Presence of Presents, Vol. 3 (2017)
  24. Death Grips, Exmilitary (2011)
  25. Death Grips, Government Plates (2013)
  26. Devo, Something for Everybody (2010)
  27. Snoop Dogg, BUSH (2015)
  28. Doyle, Abominator (2013)
  29. Judy Dyble and Andy Lewis, Summer Dancing (2017)
  30. Einstürzende Neubauten, Lament (2014)
  31. Jad Fair and Kramer, The History of Crying (2017)
  32. The Fall, New Facts Emerge (2017)
  33. The Fall, Re-Mit (2013)
  34. The Fall, Sublingual Tablet (2015)
  35. First Aid Kit, Ruins (2018)
  36. First Aid Kit, Stay Gold (2014)
  37. FREEMAN, FREEMAN (2014)
  38. Frightened Rabbit, The Winter of Mixed Drinks (2010)
  39. Ezra Furman, Perpetual Motion People (2015)
  40. Future Islands, In Evening Air (2010)
  41. Gangrene, Vodka and Ayahuasca (2012)
  42. Gangrene, You Disgust Me (2015)
  43. David Gilmour, Rattle That Lock (2015)
  44. Girlpool, Before The World Was Big (2015)
  45. Goat, World Music (2012)
  46. Godflesh, A World Lit Only By Fire (2014)
  47. Godflesh, Post Self (2017)
  48. Golden Suits, Kubla Khan (2016)
  49. Here We Go Magic, A Different Ship (2012)
  50. Holly Herndon, PROTO (2019)
  51. HOGG, SELF-EXTINGUISHING EMISSION (2018)
  52. Idles, Brutalism (2017)
  53. Idles, Joy as an Act of Resistance (2018)
  54. Imperial Wax, Gastwerk Saboteurs (2019)
  55. Japanther, Eat Like Lisa Act Like Bart (2013)
  56. Jesu/Sun Kil Moon, 30 Seconds to the Decline of Planet Earth (2018)
  57. Jesu/Sun Kil Moon, Jesu/Sun Kil Moon (2016)
  58. King Crimson, Live in Chicago (2017)
  59. King Crimson, Meltdown: Live In Mexico City (2018)
  60. KOKOKO!, Fongola (2019)
  61. Korn, The Paradigm Shift (2013)
  62. Lingua Ignota, Caligula (2019)
  63. Malibu Ken, Malibu Ken (2019)
  64. Paul McCartney, Egypt Station (2018)
  65. Melvins, Hold It In (2014)
  66. Hailu Mergia, Lala Belu (2018)
  67. Alice Merton, Mint (2019)
  68. The Monkees, Good Times! (2016)
  69. Moses Hightower, Önnur Mósebók (2012)
  70. Napalm Death, Apex Predator – Easy Meat (2015)
  71. Napalm Death, Utilitarian (2012)
  72. No Age, An Object (2013)
  73. Pere Ubu, 20 Years in a Montana Missile Silo (2017)
  74. Kate Pierson, Guitars and Microphones (2015)
  75. Planningtorock, W (2011)
  76. Public Image Ltd., This Is PiL (2012)
  77. Public Service Broadcasting, The Race for Space (2015)
  78. The Residents, Intruders (2018)
  79. The Residents, The Ghost of Hope (2018)
  80. Jonathan Richman, Ishkode! Ishkode! (2016)
  81. Caroline Rose, LONER (2018)
  82. School of Seven Bells, SVIIB (2016)
  83. Snog, Last of the Great Romantics (2010)
  84. Soulfly, Ritual (2018)
  85. Teho Teardo and Blixa Bargeld, Nerissimo (2016)
  86. Thighpaulsandra, The Golden Communion (2015)
  87. Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment, Surf (2015)
  88. Uriah Heep, Living the Dream (2018)
  89. Alan Vega, IT (2017)
  90. Tom Vek, Luck (2014)
  91. Vulkano, Peach Punch (2017)
  92. Vulkano, Iridescence (2015)
  93. The Weasels, AARP Go the Weasels (2013)
  94. The Weasels, The Man Who Saw Tomorrow (2018)
  95. White Denim, Performance (2018)
  96. Wire, Change Becomes Us (2013)
  97. Wire, Nocturnal Koreans (2016)
  98. Wire, Silver/Lead (2017)
  99. Xiu Xiu, Angel Guts: Red Classroom (2014)
  100. Xiu Xiu, Girl With Basket of Fruit (2019)

If you like the hard stuff, then this one is a viable “Album Of The Decade” for you.

 

Down That Road: Neil Innes (1944-2019)

I was saddened to hear this morning of the sudden passing of Neil Innes, a brilliant English composer and musician. He is probably best known in non-musical U.S circles for his work with Monty Python (Innes played the lead minstrel in the “Brave Sir Robin” sequence of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and also wrote the theme song about that feckless hero), but there was so much more to his career, which I commend to you, dear readers, with my deepest enthusiasm.

Innes received his first significant public acclaim as a key member of The Bonzo Dog (Doo-Dah) Band. The Bonzos were regulars on the popular BBC show Do Not Adjust Your Set, and appeared in the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour, performing “Death Cab for Cutie,” a name later adopted by a band that was, frankly, not worthy of it. The Bonzos’ biggest chart hit was “I’m The Urban Spaceman,” penned and sung by Innes, and produced by Paul McCartney under the pseudonym Apollo C. Vermouth. You know you’ve got something going for you when a Beatle works on your behalf.

I consider the Bonzos’ first four albums to be essential listening, with Innes and the (also) late Vivian Stanshall composing the lion’s share of their original songs. The group fizzled out acrimoniously in the early ’70s, and Innes moved on to front the short-lived The World, and then on to an art-poetry-music ensemble called GRIMMS, (which featured Stanshall and Paul McCartney’s younger brother, Mike McGear, among many others in a large, rotating cast). As GRIMMS fell apart, Innes began working with the Pythons, while also maintaining a critically rich, if commercially wan, solo career. If you know your Python, many of their best musical bits were composed by Innes, and he toured with them as “the seventh Python,” performing as a troupe member, and offering solo musical interludes. Good stuff, essential to the series, the films and the live shows.

With Eric Idle of the Pythons, he created The Rutles, who satirized The Beatles, but did so with Innes-penned songs that were brilliant in their own rights, e.g. “Cheese and Onions” and “Piggy In The Middle.” The Rutles’ mockumentary All You Need Is Cash is a superb television film, blessed and partially funded by George Harrison, who made a cameo within it. Innes plays the John Lennon character, known as Ron Nasty, in the film. The music was performed and recorded by Innes, drummer John Halsey (Barry Wom in the film) and ex-Beach Boy Rikki Fataar (Stig O’Hara), along with Ollie Halsall, who sang and played the parts credited to Idle, playing the role of Dirk McQuickly.

Innes went on to a successful career in British children’s television during the ’80s. There have been various Bonzo reunions in the past quarter century, along with more Rutles albums (without Idle) and solo projects from Innes, but his legacy is most likely to be defined by his first decade in the public domain. That’s okay, I think. Many inferior talents are better known for less.

That said, I do feel a wee sense of melancholy and justice-not-served with Neil Innes’ passing, as I think he is a once-in-a-lifetime caliber artist who never quite got the credit he was due. Vivian Stanshall (also a brilliant unique) over-shadowed him in the Bonzos. Eric Idle seems to have pilfered his contributions to a savage degree with Spamalot and other post-Python products. The Beatles/Apple empire even went after him for his utterly magnificent Rutles songs, litigiously culling half of the royalties for a large batch of his original tracks, mistaking parody for plagiarism to these ears. In the final indignity, I read in his obituaries today that Innes spent the last two years of his life fighting the Bonzos’ ex-manager for the rights to the Bonzo Dog Band name. Fortunately, he won that one. Here’s hoping the surviving core Bonzos (Legs Larry Smith, Roger Ruskin Spear, Rodney Slater and Vernon Dudley Bohay-Nowell) are able to take advantage of that victory.

At bottom line, Neil Innes made everything he touched a bit better than it would have been without him, whether he got the credit for it or not. I love his work, and I rue his early departure from this our mortal world, as I suspect he still had some brilliance within him to share. I close with a classic Neil Innes moment, his famed “worst guitar solo ever” in the Bonzos’ “Canyons Of Your Mind.” Stanshall wrote and sang it, but it’s one of the best video examples extant of all of the Bonzos’ brilliance, Neil most especially. You have to be really good to play something this bad, bless his hilariously talented heart.

2019: Year in Review

Marcia and I are hitting the road tomorrow for New Mexico (where we’ll see out 2019, having welcomed it in Paris, France), so it seems a good time for my annual recap and summary of stuffs and things here as a final blog post from a big year, on a wide range of fronts for our family, most of them documented within these pages.

ON THE BLOG:

This is the 70th post on the blog this year, up from 41 in 2018, 35 in 2017, and 27 in 2016. A very positive trend (if not as many posts as I used to poop out annually a decade or so ago), and a good indicator that getting off of social media (a goal established in last December’s “Year in Review” post) was a good way to redirect time and energy to pursuits that I consider more rewarding. Traffic was up a solid 40% over the prior year as well, confirming once again that volume drives reads, as long as quality remains acceptable. As satisfying as that is, given my own goals for the year, I doubt that I will hit the same high post mark in 2020, as I plan to work on some projects for potential professional or commercial purposes, and don’t intend to share them until I know there’s not a market for them. But I do have a couple of new ideas for public writing for pleasure knocking around in my brain, so I may surprise myself.

I completed my planned Credidero writing project this week, an act of thinking out loud in public over the past year about a dozen concepts of interest, looking to see what beliefs might emerge from such active reflection and analysis. It was satisfying to click the final “publish” button, seeing that effort to fruition. Of course, I’m lousy at letting things go cleanly, so I will re-read and mull the entire project output soon, and write one last summarizing article in January, to assess themes or thoughts that emerge from between the lines for me.

As I report each year, here are the ten most-read articles among the 70 new posts here in 2019:

And then here are the ten posts written in prior years that received the most reads in 2019. It always fascinates me which of the 1,100+ articles on my website interest people (or search engines) the most, all these years on since the first 1995 post on an early version of this blog, long before any of us knew it was to be called a blog. (I exclude things like the “About Me” page or the generic front page from the list, even though they generate a lot of my traffic). Here’s hoping that people realize that the perpetually-popular “Iowa Pick-Up Lines” post is a joke . . .

ON THE WEB:

I begin my day, every day, reading two utterly brilliant sites: Thoughts On The Dead and Electoral Vote Dot Com. My deeper thoughts on the former are here, and on the latter, suffice to say they’re my main online source for hard political/electoral news and analysis at this point, and have been since the early ’90s. I will admit that it is hard, sometimes, to decide which one of the worlds they describe in glorious detail (the first a semi-fictional universe built around the exploits of a time-traveling Grateful Dead, the second an academically rigorous view of our Nation’s electoral processes) is the most absurd and unbelievable anymore. I definitely would prefer to live in Thoughts On The Dead’s universe some days when I read the reports on Electoral Vote Dot Com and cringe at the idiocy, if not outright evil, of our ruling class. Beyond that, I didn’t add any new crucial web sites to my roster of favorites this year (see the “Regular Reads” block in the right side-bar), which I suppose is another good indicator that I spent less time trawling and more time creating in 2019 than has been the case in recent years. Good on me.

TRAVEL:

As noted above, we greeted 2019 in Paris, France and will see it out in Albuquerque, New Mexico. We also celebrated our 30th anniversary in June with a great trip to Greece, and our first retirement trip was a jaunt to Spain. In the middle of all that, we consolidated our household in Des Moines, Iowa, after having split time between there and Chicago for three years. I traveled less for work in 2019 than I had in the four prior years (it’s harder to get anywhere from Des Moines than it is from Chicago), though I still got to enjoy my fifth Tour des Trees, this time in Kentucky and Tennessee. Next year the team will ride in Colorado, with Iowa as the target destination the year after that. I hope that health and schedule allow me to continue rolling with them, minus my management responsibilities. At bottom line, 2020 will be mainly about the travel that Marcia and I choose to do, not that we need to do. That will be refreshing. We have trips to Arizona, Ireland, Spain, Costa Rica and Iceland in the family’s conceptual hopper at this point, and we shall see what else the next year brings. Here’s my 2019 map, as a benchmark (with this week’s trip to New Mexico already penciled in):

RECORDINGS:

I’ve already posted my Most Played Songs of 2019 and Best Albums of 2019 reports, and consider 2019 to have been an outstanding music year. After completing the latter article, I acquired the new self-titled album by The Who, which would have made the list had it been released on its originally announced date, so that I could have given it enough spins to properly evaluate it. But it slipped, so it didn’t. That said, I do think it’s the best thing Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend have done since, oh, I guess I’ll say Quadrophenia (1973), so I heartily recommend it. These old dogs may not have many new tricks, but they’re really, really good at doing the ones they know, even without their classic era rhythm section, RIP.

LIVE PERFORMANCES AND ART EXHIBITIONS:

Alas, this is the one section of my annual report that’s ready for retirement, with us having left Chicago. We saw dozens of shows (of both types) each year when we were living just off of The Loop, and we’ve seen, well, close to none, since we moved back to Des Moines. The one concert that stands out was our final one as Chicago residents: King Crimson at Auditorium Theater, where we had front row seats to watch the Seven-Headed Beast work its magic. A wonderful and fitting chapter closer for four great years of concert-going and museum-strolling in a world-class cultural city.

BOOKS:

I set a goal to read more books in 2019. I did read more books in 2019, once again demonstrating the perfidy that Twitter and its ilk impose upon us as time sucks and soul wasters and dumb-down distractions. Here’s the list of my favorite nonfiction works, novels and short story collections of the year. I feel smarter having read them.

FILMS:

We’ve seen a lot of movies this year, many of them quite good. (We’re pretty astute at just not going to see things that we think are not going to appeal to us, so I don’t often get exposed to garbage). Here’s my Top 15 of the year, thus far, in alphabetical order:

  • A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
  • The Art of Self Defense
  • Booksmart
  • Brittany Runs A Marathon
  • Dolemite Is My Name
  • The Farewell
  • Ford v Ferrari
  • Good Boys
  • Jojo Rabbit
  • Knives Out
  • The Lighthouse
  • Midsommar
  • Parasite
  • Ready Or Not
  • Rocketman
  • Us

I still have some Oscar Bait late-in-the-year or below-the-radar films that I would like to check out: Pain & Glory,  The Last Black Man in San Francisco, Monos, and Hagazussa. I’m iffy on The Irishman, as I have a hard time wanting to sit through anything that long, especially a gangster movie, as much as I like the (most of) the film’s cast and director. I thought Little Women was unwatchably bad, so I’m flying in the face of critical consensus on that. In theory, I will amend this to create my final list after I catch the ones I’m going to catch, though once the Academy Awards show rolls around, I usually lose interest in catching up, and start looking ahead to next year.

AND  THEN . . . .

. . . onward to New Mexico and beyond. I assume that I will be back here at my desk (wherever my desk lives at that point) in December 2020 with a similar report (as has become my habit), marveling at that which was, and eagerly anticipating that which is yet to come. See you then?

Most Played Songs of 2019

Last night I reset the play counts on all of  our family iPods, as I’ve been doing every twelve months or so since we got our first iPod in 2007. I used to wait until the very end of the year to reset the counts, but now I generally reprogram everything soon after I complete my Best Albums report, and then push the magic button that zeroes out play information for all 15,000+ songs stored on my hard drive. Boom! New music year!

We still have seven iPods in use in various locations (car, living room, bedroom, gym, etc.), and I’ve been scavenging online to build  a little trove of models I like (old Shuffles and Nanos, mainly) to keep my current listening paradigm going as long as it can. But, 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 as playback technology makes another of its seismic shifts from a purchased media file model to streaming services, delivered over our phones or other smart devices, and designed so that we never actually own anything musical anymore, but just rent it. That said, Marcia needed to get a Spotify account for her yoga instructor class this fall, and we used that and a BlueTooth speaker exclusively while we were in Spain, and that worked out fine. So I suspect this may be the last year that I base this report solely on iPod usage. Grumble.

Since we synch all of our many fiddly widgets to one computer and one master iTunes account, the “Most Played Songs” list on that account represents the aggregated play counts from all of our iPods. This means that the “Most Played Songs” of the year are often unexpected, 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 like and listen to very 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 grind is for me time only.

With those usual preambles aside, here are the Smith Family Top 40 Most Played Songs for the past twelve months. Maybe the list will inspire you to check some of the songs and artists out. They’re all great, guaranteed, and you can even play them in polite company. Mostly.

1. “Time Is The Killer” by Rain Phoenix (Featuring Michael Stipe)

2. “Jeannie Becomes A Mom” by Caroline Rose

3. “Winona Minnesota” by The Weasels

4. “Embryonic Journey” by Jefferson Airplane

5. “Happy With You” by Paul McCartney

6. “Good Shepherd” by Jefferson Airplane

7. “Jack-A-Lynn” by Jethro Tull

8. “The Second Shift” by Virginia Wing

9. “The Creator Has A Master Plan” by Leon Thomas

10. “The Oak” by The Albion Band

11. “I’ll Be All Right” by Jorma Kaukonen

12. “Another Song About The Moon” by Buggy Jive

13. “Marrow” by Jealous of the Birds

14. “Song For The North Star” by Jorma Kaukonen

15. “Names of the Stars” by Weyes Blood

16. “Clementina” by Jealous of the Birds

17. “Long Island Ice Tea, Neat” by The Coup (Featuring Japanther)

18. “After the Gold Rush” by Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris

19. “We Took the Wrong Step Years Ago (Acoustic)” by Hawkwind

20. “No Man’s Land” by Imperial Wax

21. “God Bless the Child” by Ernest Dawkins

22. “Sleep Song” by Hot Tuna

23. “Genesis” by Jorma Kaukonen

24. “Get Me Out Of This Town” by Andy Prieboy (Featuring Tony Kinman)

25. “There’ll Always Be Music” by Dolly Parton

26. “I’ll Let You Know Before I Leave” by Jorma Kaukonen

27. “Colour of Water” by Rose Elinor Dougall

28. “Blues for Mr. Mu” by Acoustic Alchemy

29. “Inkulu Into Ezakwenzeka” by Nontwintwi

30. “Easy to Slip” by Little Feat

31. “Finnegans Wake” by The Weasels

32. “Larf and Sing” by Family

33. “Confidante” by Paul McCartney

34. “Fall on Me” by R.E.M.

35. “Heaven and Hell” by William Onyeabor

36. “Love Theme from Spartacus” by Yusef Lateef

37. “Everybody’s Talkin'” by Harry Nilsson

38. “Water Boy” by Don Shirley

39. “Genesis Hall” by Fairport Convention

40. “I Believe You” by The Monkees

Michael Stipe and Rain Phoenix nab most played kudos for 2019. Click the image to hear their glorious duet.