Monday, May 31, 2004

Music that sends shivers down your spine

I'll warn you right now that this is going to be both a long post and another one about music, so I won't be offended if you skip this one and go right on over to Fafblog or something - Fafnir's interviews with famous people last week were hysterical!

JennySlash and I had a conversation a couple of weeks ago about songs that send chills down your back every time you hear them. I assume actually that most people have those songs but the factors that give particular songs that quality likely differ widely from person to person. When I was growing up and listening to early 70's FM radio under the covers late at night, the muted trumpets in the extended intro of Papa Was a Rolling Stone used to do it, as for some reason did Grand Funk Railroad's I'm Your Captain/Closer to Home. There were other songs that "classic radio" has now ruined for me, so I no longer have any Pink Floyd or Zep or Yes on the list. There are LOTS of songs that provoke an emotional response from their overt subject matter, but I'm really talking more about something that affects you at more of a gut level.

I finished the CD tonight - there were enough songs that I had access to for a couple of CDs, but I decided not to dilute the first one. I'll likely do a CD of near missed in a couple of weeks. So here goes (in roughly chronological order)...

01) Rolling Stones - Gimmer Shelter (1969) If that spooky guitar lead that opens it doesn't send 10,000,000 volts through your ears and right down your spine to the small of your back, you probably ought to just go back to Fafblog. The song itself is enough even without the baggage of the next few months after its release thrown on top. Still a masterpiece.

02) The Who - I'm One (1973) There are other Who songs that I considered for the list, but there's never been a song that captured better for me that knowledge of every teenager that the other kids are so much cooler than they are or the shout in the dark that they'll eventually be the cool one. Part ballad, part rocker - it meant a hell of a lot to me at 15 and it still does.

03) Peter Gabriel - Solsbury Hill (1977) I won't attempt to analyze this one, save to say that the combination of emotion and instrumentation create an incredibly atmospheric song. This is the one that prompted the conversation with JennySlash...

04) Gerry Rafferty - Baker Street (1978) The big-ass saxophone intro, the big-ass guitar/sax duet at the end and Rafferty's smooth vocals probably would have been enough, but it was also released in the last semester I was in high school when we were already looking back on the end of our childhood. Heh.

05) Joy Division - Love Will Tear Us Apart (1980) I don't even want to talk about this one - just go listen to it.

06) Roxy Music - More Than This (1982) MUCH easier to talk about! It's pure unapologetic schmaltz of the best kind - turn the lights down low, snuggle up with your honey-bunny and let Bryan Ferry's voice and Phil Manzanera's guitar just wash over you.

07) Thomas Dolby - Europa and the Pirate Twins (1982) There are a number of songs from Golden Age of Wireless and from Flat Earth that could have made this list, but the staccato urgency, big drums and the tale of a childhood love lost (and Andy Partridge's nifty little harmonica hooks) brought it to the top. Oh, my country...

08) Replacements - I Will Dare (1984) I was late to the 'Mats party - I'm pretty sure I didn't actually buy Let It Be until it had been out for a few months. But dropping the needle on Side One and hearing this one was a revelation. Peter Buck's big Rickenbacker and Westerburg's lyrics and vocals made for the perfect jangle-pop song. I think this one gets to me because of that - there is not a goddamn thing wrong with it. It's absolutely perfect.

09) Lloyd Cole and the Commotions - Perfect Skin (1984) How the hell does anyone get that many words into each verse? It's amazing! More big guitar sounds (that'll be a trend through the rest of these). I have no idea why this song does it for me, except that I've always placed a premium on cleverness which this one has in abundance.

10) Smiths - How Soon is Now? (1985) Unbelievably un-Smithian. Johnny Marr's reverby guitar intro and searing leads and Morrissey's vocals ("I am the son and heir of nothing in particular") set an atmosphere unlike any other Smiths song and unlike any other song I can think of.

11) Hoodoo Gurus - Bittersweet (1985) More big guitars, more lyrics about love lost ("I cut, and I bleed - you seem to find that so hard to believe"). Heard this one on WXYC and bought it immediately without hearing another cut.

12) Icicle Works - Birds Fly (Whisper to a Scream) (1984) Whaddaya know, another ringing guitar intro and big-ass drums. This one was a courtin' song - in constant rotation at Cagney's on Dupont Circle in DC when I was just a young pup and trying to convince JennySlash that I had some redeeming qualities beyond having a motorcycle and a pickup truck.

13) Tears for Fears - Everybody Wants to Rule the World (1985) This is just a cool damn song. It had a great video (remember when MTV actually showed music videos?), wonderfully atmospheric vocals, ringing guitars (do I detect a theme?) and it was the closing song of Real Genius - can't beat that! Probably overall my favorite song on the CD.

14) Smithereens - Behind the Wall of Sleep (1986) The biggest of the big-ass guitars, desparately-seeking-Jean-Shrimpton vocals, dense, dense, dense! Is he a stalker or just an interested suitor?

15) Church - Under the Milky Way (1988) This one probably shouldn't count, 'cause I'm sure it was written and produced to produce the kind of effect I'm describing. But it works.

16) Concrete Blonde - God is a Bullet (1989) Combination of Johnette Neapolitano's incredible pipes (damn, that girl can SING!), searing guitar leads and the stark consequences-of-gun-violence lyrics make for a powerful package.

17) Nirvana - Smells Like Teen Spirit (1991) It's hard to pretend that you haven't heard it 50 zillion times, but try. There was a REASON Nirvana changed the face of music and this is pretty much it. If I Will Dare was the perfect jangle pop song, this one was the perfect grunge song - it grabbed me the first time I heard it and it has never let go.

Phew! I don't expect anyone to have actually READ all of this but I had fun writing it - I have a music critic in me that doesn't get to come out and play all that often, so there ya go.

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