I saw a meme going around the Social-Media-Sphere™ this morning, a listy kinda meme, where you list several bands in a Band you Hate, Band you feel is Over-rated, Guilty Pleasure Band…kind of a gang of five musical Fuck/Marry/Kill situation. And I considered doing it. Because the kind of music a person listens to (or doesn’t listen to, or if they don’t even like music at all) says a lot about them.
But the truth is, it was an impossible list. I don’t know if I genuinely HATE any band. Even the Red Hot Chili Peppers (who it seems it’s now fashionable to hate), have a song or two I like. And I don’t believe in guilty pleasures. I either like a band or I don’t. I’m not going to feel an ounce of fucking shame for jamming out to Spice Girls “Stop” or Barenaked Ladies “The Old Apartment.”
And as for picking a single favorite band?
Go fuck yourself. Who does that? Who CAN do that? I’ve never had a single favorite band. Instead, I’ve periodically narrowed it down a glacially rotating roster of top five favorite bands. Sometimes another band will put out a brilliant album and replace a long-time roster holder, but these have been relatively constant for some time. So, without further ado, my 5 Favorite Bands.
I still remember my formative teen years when I (and the rest of the country) discovered Til Tuesday. For most people, the fascination began and ended with their hit song “Voices Carry.” But some of us bought every single one of their albums. And when singer/songwriter Aimee Mann split out to do her own thing and record solo albums some of us followed along with her then, too.
Such a singular voice. Sharp, witty as hell lyrics. Excellent musicianship. And determined to do her own damn thing. She’s been off the radar for a little while, but just released a new album that might be the best thing she’s written. Considering her previous one came out over a decade ago, it was long overdue.
For illustrative purposes, I’ve chosen something off the earlier album, The Forgotten Arm–a concept album that draws its name from a boxing term. It’s a fantastic album, and you should give it a listen. And her new one, Mental Illness, too. Anyway, here’s “Little Bombs.”
New Model Army
My kid brother introduced me to New Model Army over 30 years ago. I’m still a fan. My first tattoo, over 20 years ago, is the Celtic knot from the cover of Thunder and Consolation. I point to this album in particular as being the cornerstone to my early politicization. Justin Sullivan’s lyrics are uncompromising, angry, righteous, and hopeful.
These guys are one of the champions of my top 5 list. They’ve been on it pretty consistently for a long damn time. It doesn’t hurt that they keep cranking out incredible albums. I’d long worried I’d never be able to see them live due to visa issues for most of their career. But I got lucky 11 years ago and found out about a local show at a small venue that very night, and moved heaven and earth to make it happen. I’ve seen them twice more since, and each time is the closest I’ve had to what I think of as a religious experience.
For your sample song, I present “Believe It” off the incredibly now hard to find album The Love of Hopeless Causes, one of the three best albums they ever produced. For a follow up, I highly suggest their newest album, Winter, which rocks just as hard.
Ben Folds Five
It was Sunday night in 1996 and I was sitting around watching 120 Minutes on MTV with my mom, back when they still showed music videos. 120 minutes was my favorite show on the network, as it showcased off-of-center bands and music. Their two-hour showcase of alternative music. And my mom was watching with me because she was waiting for my kid brother to either come home or call from the police station. You know how kids are. Anyway, that was the first time I ever heard Ben Folds Five, the song “Underground,” off their debut album. I wrote it down so I wouldn’t forget, and tracked the CD down next chance I got.
See, I used to play piano. I’m drawn to piano musicians. In fact, from here on out, it’s all piano players, so get out now if you can’t roll with that.
And Ben Folds played the fuck out of those ivories. I’d be hard pressed to name another artist quite like him, piano yet punk. And his bass player, Robert Sledge is just a dynamo. While I love Ben Fold’s solo stuff, too, it’s really the stuff with his original trio that grips me by the short hairs. In particular, the masterwork that is The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner.
Damn, such a solid album. So, I’ve chosen one of his quieter songs off that album for your introduction, “Mess,” performed live because these guys are something else live.
I bought my first Joe Jackson album, Night and Day on the strength of the single “Stepping Out” through one of those 14 cassettes for a penny clubs in the age of antiquity. And I’ll be honest. I didn’t like it. But I kept coming back to it.
Call it Stockholm Syndrome. Or maybe just maturing tastes. But I eventually came to love that album. And here’s the thing with Joe. He keeps mixing it up, experimenting with different lineups, different sounds, different styles. Some, you might not like. Some you might love.
But he’s never boring. He surrounds himself with top-notch musicians, like the very deep bass of Graham Maby or percussionist Sue Hadjopoulos. And his live shows need to be seen to be believed, as he frequently re-arranges his old songs to suit the new lineups. Case in point, his song “Is She Really Going Out With Him” appears three times on his incredible double live CD, and each is distinctly different.
Your provided sample is the live recording of “You Can’t Get What You Want (Til You Know What You Want)” that swaps out the brass section for Vinnie Zumo on guitar.
Billy Joel was my first piano man, the first pop/rock star I ever became a fan of. In fact, in junior high, I didn’t listen to ANY pop music outside a scattering of soundtracks (Urban Cowboy and Heavy Metal being the two that come to mind). But I eventually succumbed to the Billy Joel. It was hard not to. He was everywhere!
But for my money, the earlier stuff, the albums before he hit it big with The Stranger? Those albums are all amazing. When I had to write a paper in my AP English class senior year about someone I admired, I wrote it about Billy Joel. I had three volumes of his his sheet music for piano, and would hammer the hell out of the keys trying to master “Angry Young Man” or “Captain Jack.”
By far my favorite album of his is Turnstiles, the one that marked the formation of the lineup that would stick with him through his peak. It also marked his return to New York after several years living in and recording in Los Angeles. I used to sing along to this on cassette in the back of the bus on Knowledge Bowl and Speech Team trips.
Because I was cool.
I still remember him playing this at the first Farm Aid, and it’s a prime example of why I love Billy so much. God. When he finally shuffles off this mortal, I’m going to be devastated, so fingers crossed he has many, many more happy years. Anyway, here’s “Summer, Highland Falls.”