Posts Tagged ‘Beck’

The Best of Diana Ross & The Supremes: The Millennium Collection
Diana Ross & The Supremes
1999

Special D and I were talking about all-female tribute bands – Hell’s Belles, Iron Maidens, Zepparella, Judith Priest, PRISS – when she asked, “Why are there no all-male tribute bands?”

Leave it to Special D to ask uncomfortable questions that upend the male-dominated hierarchy bestowed on us by God. Might as well ask why male roller derby disappeared while female roller derby flourished. But I’ll take this question on.

The bands women impersonate tend to be metal. The inherent excesses of the genre make it promising ground for parody. Watching women sing this testosteronic, misogynistic material subverts it. I’m not sure what a group of men could subvert by forming a Bikini Kill tribute band. Unless you’re playing the Republican National Convention, do you really want to come out against Riot Grrls and female empowerment? Besides, Bikini Kill had a guy in it. Hole had one guy and The Breeders had two.

It’s been said (by my wife) that women gain status by acting like men, whereas men lose status by acting like women. Oh yeah? I was quick to retort, and then I changed the subject: There aren’t a lot of all-female bands for men to pay tribute to.

The Slits were empowering, but they weren’t very good. The Donnas are already a copy of The Ramones. How about The Runaways? Disqualified. A bunch of guys singing “Cherry Bomb” wouldn’t make sense because no one cares if a boy is a virgin* whereas our entire world economy and all of our literature, art, and music are based on female virginity: why you must fight to preserve it, 1,001 hot hot hot ways to surrender it, and how to live with yourself now that you’re a slut.

* I am of course writing from a heterosexual male perspective.

Your Runaways all-male tribute band would have to be drag queens. Same with Madonna, Bananarama, Destiny’s Child, and Diana Ross & The Supremes. In fact we saw a drag-queen ensemble impersonate The Supremes and they were absolutely fabulous.

This leads me out of dangerous ideological territory and into the safe haven of The Best of Diana Ross & The Supremes. Buy it! All of the ’60s milestones are here, including three songs that haven’t lost one goddamn bit of their femininity: “You Keep Me Hangin’ On,” “Love Child,” and “Reflections.” If you’re a woman of a certain age and you spent some time as a teenager practicing your girl-group moves in front of a mirror, this record will send you into orbit. I don’t qualify, but I just now played “Reflections” three times.

Bonus: This record does not include “The Happening.”

Random Pan of the Day
Beck, Morning Phase (2014)
It saddens me to pan this one because I think so highly of Beck, but this record, while beautiful, is perfect for combating insomnia. If you liked The Moody Blues’ Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, you might like Morning Phase, but be warned that nothing here moves as quickly as “The Story in Your Eyes.”

 

Just Tell Me That You Want Me: A Tribute to Fleetwood Mac
Various artists
2014

Mick Fleetwood and John McVie were hard-working members of John Mayall’s Blues Breakers. When they decided to form their own band (everyone who worked for John Mayall in the 1960s formed his own band), they discovered that their true skills were not playing the drums and the bass, respectively. The one thing they did better than anything was finding talent.

They started off by recruiting guitarist Peter Green. Peter Green is one of our unsung Jewish guitar heroes, the guy who was hired to replace Eric Clapton when Clapton left the Blues Breakers to form Cream. (What a résumé entry: “Replaced Eric Clapton while maintaining band productivity.”)

Green took Fleetwood Mac in a blues-rock direction, naturally, but Fleetwood and McVie were looking for something more lucrative. They got rid of Green and hired two singer-songwriters, Robert Welch and Christine Perfect, who began the band’s transition from blues to pop. (Perfect later married McVie.)

Fleetwood and McVie eventually ditched Welch and brought in two more singer-songwriters, Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham. That, as Ruk the android declared on a memorable episode of classic Star Trek, was the equation. In the mid-’70s there was no band bigger than Fleetwood Mac. Everywhere I went, everyone seemed to have Fleetwood Mac (1975) and Rumours (1977) in the plastic crates that held their records. I owned Fleetwood Mac and Rumours. Yes, it’s true. I spent money on Fleetwood Mac records, I didn’t change stations when Fleetwood Mac songs came on the radio, and I put coins in jukeboxes so I could hear really dumb stuff like “Monday Morning” and “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow.” You can understand why I’m a snob today. I have much to atone for.

(In 1992, the Clintons used “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow” as their campaign theme song. Fleetwood Mac immediately reformed and went on tour. I will never forgive the Clintons for this.)

By the early 1980s I’d shaken off Fleetwood Mac the way a dog shakes off water after a swim. I came to believe that the final word on Fleetwood Mac was sung by The Rotters in their insightful single, “Sit on My Face, Stevie Nicks.” But then I encountered this tribute CD. Once again, I’ve been proven wrong. You’d think I’d be used to it by now.

Just Tell Me That You Want Me (this terrific title is a line from one of their worst songs, “Tusk”) is a collection of talent so deep that Beck isn’t even mentioned on the cover. He’s buried in the credits. Most of the interpretations are sincere, some are quite imaginative, and only a few are duds. Just Tell Me That You Want Me scores far higher than I expected.

What’s good
You can tell who the muscle was out there because 10 of these 17 songs were written by Stevie Nicks. For my money, the finest performance is turned in by Marianne Faithfull on Nicks’ “Angel.” Ms. Faithfull can turn any fluffy pop song into the King James Bible and as usual she doesn’t disappoint. Bill Frisell, another huge talent not noted in the advertising, plays guitar. He spends the last minute and a half of the song ascending into heaven. I rate this disc a Buy for “Angel” alone.

Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top provides the vocals on Peter Green’s “Oh Well.” You can hear the ghost of John Lee Hooker in his growls. The New Pornographers turn Christine McVie’s “Think About Me” into a fun Beatles romp. The Crystal Ark, a band I’ve never heard of, convert Lindsey Buckingham’s unlistenable “Tusk” into something I almost like. Two names I’m learning about, Matt Sweeney and Bonnie “Prince” Billy, create a beautiful cover of Nicks’ “Storms.” St. Vincent, a name you can’t avoid hearing these days, turns “Sisters of the Moon” (Nicks again) into a hard, almost dirty rocker. I never thought I’d connect adjectives such as “hard” and “dirty” with Fleetwood Mac.

Another band I don’t know, Best Coast, was assigned Nicks’ “Rhiannon,” Fleetwood Mac’s signature song. Though Best Coast stays close to the original, I’m highlighting this track because their singer, Bethany Cosentino, sings like a female Johnny Cash.

Of course, you can’t discuss Fleetwood Mac without complaining about something. For one thing, the cheap paper CD holder was designed to spill the CD out of its sleeve and onto the floor of your car just as you’re changing lanes. But I have something bigger in mind.

Robert Welch: Fleetwood footnote
Robert Welch was not an unappreciated genius and I’m not launching a crusade on his behalf. In 1994 he re-recorded his Greatest Hits and managed to de-improve all of them. But he wrote the only two original Fleetwood Mac songs I still like: “Future Games” and “Bermuda Triangle,” so I feel I should say something in his defense.

“Bermuda Triangle” is the closest this band ever came to a dance number. It would’ve been a perfect song for The B-52s, who would’ve injected 10ccs of humor. (Welch believed he was warning the public about a hazard to navigation.) This song is not covered on Just Tell Me That You Want Me.

“Future Games” is. I know that not all who wander are lost, but the boys in the band were lost in the dreamy, meandering “Future Games.” Still, this 8-minute song pre-dates Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon by a year and Pink Floyd acknowledges it as an influence. With better editing (or fewer recreational drugs?), “Future Games” could’ve been one of the decade’s classics. It’s good, OK?

In their cover, MGMT sings the lyrics through a vocoder to produce a computer-like voice. An old computer. Like Matthew Broderick/Ally Sheedy WarGames old computer. Neil Young tried this in 1982 with Trans and got nowhere, and he’s a god. Even Gary Numan, who is a computer, never tried to sing like one. MGMT made a huge mistake and I’m glad this record’s producers stuck this thing at the end so it’s easy to skip.

Don’t stop thinking about Fleetwood Mac
A tribute CD should show you an old band in a new light. Just Tell Me That You Want Me, like Various Artists for the Masses, the Depeche Mode tribute, accomplishes this mission. Despite “Future Games” and a couple of other miscues (“Silver Springs” sounds as if it was recorded in the bathroom of a bus station), let me just tell you: You want this CD.

Tomorrow night, Sins of the ’70s Week continues with: Chicago. Colour my world, dudes!

 

Merriam-Webster defines ethnomusicology as “the study of music in a sociocultural context.” To pry into the social and cultural context of a musician’s life, students of ethnomusicology require a laboratory of specialized electronic equipment. This is why most ethnomusicologists are employees of the Department of Homeland Security. Notable ethnomusicologists to date include Charlemagne, Miley Cyrus, John Carter of Mars, the Dewey who invented decimals, the Dewey who beat Truman, the Dewey who beat the Spanish, Milli (but not, as is usually assumed, Vanilli), and Laurel Sercombe.

Here at Run-DMSteve we proudly support the sciences, however intrusive, which is why I am devoting today’s post to my sociocultural field notes on a peculiar tribe of male pop stars. Like me, they are known around the world by one name. Who are they and how did they get so mono? Let’s check the record.

Fear not, I burned all my notebooks (what good are notebooks?) after interviewing Zamfir, Master of the Pan Flute.

Liberace
Real name: Wladziu Valentino Liberace
Country of origin: USA
Superpowers: Piano, costumes
Gemstone: All of them

Mr. Showmanship loved the simple things: a solid-gold candelabra, a fur-lined cape studded with diamonds, a piano built to look like a Cadillac. He gave Barbra Streisand an early boost, which is bad, but he also served as an inspiration to Elton John, which is worse. For decades you never knew when this smiling terror was going to pop up on TV and race across the keys like the Pony Express.

But if you pay attention to Liberace’s music rather than the cheap theatrics, you’ll find that the man could flat out play. He usually played inoffensive crap (“You Made Me Love You,” “Somewhere My Love,” “Born Free”), but when he turned to the classics, particularly Chopin, you got a glimpse of the little boy who was hailed as a piano prodigy.

While I’m not going to buy the Liberace boxed set (if such a thing existed, it would be too heavy to lift), I must conclude that Liberace was better than his reputation. He was certainly a lot more honest than his tuxedo-wearing, piano-playing contemporaries Ferrante & Teicher, who peddled a lite-beer version of classical music as if it were the real thing.

Verdict: When I was a kid, every grandmother I knew loved Liberace. That’s not a bad epitaph. Reluctant thumbs up.

Donovan
Real name: Donovan Philips Leitch
Country of origin: Scotland
Superpowers: Voice, beads, scarves, bells
Gemstone: A pyramid

If Donovan had been a one-hit wonder and if “Season of the Witch” had been his one hit, I would revere his name. The song is a pioneering, mind-blowing merger of folk, psychedelia, and the blues. If you’re looking for the place where metal began, “Season of the Witch” is an excellent candidate.

Unfortunately, Donovan was not a one-hit wonder. Amid the hippie bell-bottom antics and the odes to Atlantis and the girl he named for a shrub, we had to contend with “Wear Your Love Like Heaven,” which was also the theme from a 1960s perfume commercial, and “Mellow Yellow,” which was a rip-off of Bob Dylan’s “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35.”

However, I must admit that there are two reasons besides “Season of the Witch” to listen to Donovan:

1)      “Sunshine Superman” is somewhat funky. There are bongos in there somewhere. True, Donovan sings about women having “little minds,” but that fits right in with today’s War on Women.

2)      “Hurdy Gurdy Man” is one of the funniest songs ever recorded. It sounds like a parody of the entire Psychedelic Sixties. It’s closest musical kin is Tommy James & The Shondells’ “Crimson and Clover” – you could easily trade vocals.

Verdict: Donovan couldn’t rock if he was strapped into a rocking chair that was sliding downhill on an avalanche of ball bearings, but “Donovan” is a great name. And then there’s “Season of the Witch.” Embarrassed thumbs up.

Yanni
Real name: Yiànnis Hrysomàllis
Country of origin: Greece
Superpowers: Classified
Gemstone: Moon rock

In 1988 I went to work at a newspaper where one of our senior writers was in lust with Yanni. Roger didn’t care about Yanni’s music. He didn’t even know if Yanni played an instrument. When a Yanni record came in for review, Roger threw away the LP and kept the album cover (like the Joe Morton character in The Brother From Another Planet). He was particularly taken with Chameleon Days, on the cover of which our prodigiously mustached hero, dressed in synthetic fibers, is hugging a white rock.

Then Yanni took up with Dynasty actress Linda Evans. Roger was disgusted. “I’m throwing him out of the nest,” he told me after he banished all images of Yanni from the office.

Verdict: I tried listening to Chameleon Days. The cover really is the best part. Thumbs down, if not broken.

Sting
Real name: Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner
Country of origin: England
Superpower: Unknown
Gemstone: Pb (atomic number 82)

In the late 1960s the Red Sox had a relief ace named Lee Stange. The press nicknamed him “The Stinger.” Once, during a rain delay, while the Red Sox radio announcers were stalling for time by reading their fan mail, they had to reassure an aggrieved lady that they were not calling her favorite pitcher “The Stinker.”

This brings us to Sting and his best-known album: …Nothing Like the Sun (1987). I’m listening to this thing from Sting as I type and it sounds like his old band, The Police, with a dash of Paul Simon, but with nowhere near the quality of either. All is calm on most of this record, as if the speakers only go to 4. The easy-listening hit for old people was “Be Still My Beating Heart.” The bright, bouncy hit for young people was “We’ll Be Together.” The song you fell asleep to was “They Dance Alone.” The thing from Sting that for me didn’t swing was his cover of “Little Wing.” The album I should’ve listened to was Simon’s Graceland (1986).

Verdict: If you’re going to call yourself Sting, you’d better sting something. Otherwise people might think they’re hearing the wrong word. Also, never pose nude in the desert. Even Morrissey never tried that. Two thumbs down.

Beck
Real name: As befits a titan, he has two: Bek David Campbell and Beck Hansen
Country of origin: USA
Superpower: Can remember every song he’s ever heard
Gemstone: Vinyl

I’ve written about Beck before. If I have any gods, two of them are Beck and John Updike. And what do you know – my favorite Updike character is Henry Bech. Is this a coincidence, or further proof that Oswald did not act alone? Neither – it simply proves that gods are not infallible. As a stage name, “Beck” is a loser, baby, so why don’t you kill me. Besides confusing him with Updike’s monumentally lazy character, the name Beck makes me think of chickens, Glenn Beck, Jeff Beck, Jeff Beck’s album Beck-Ola, and bending it like Beck(ham).

Bek/Beck had the right idea – a solid Anglo-Saxon syllable that begins and ends with a strong consonant. It’s just the wrong syllable. One of his other names, “Hansen,” would’ve been an improvement, plus it might’ve stopped the three-brother teen menace that appeared later in the ’90s.

Verdict: Two thumbs up for his music, two down for his name.

Eminem
Real name: Marshall Bruce Mathers III
Country of origin: USA
Superpower: Surviving his childhood, teenhood, young adulthood, and his upcoming middle-agehood
Gemstone: Empty can of Red Bull

Eminem and I come from different historical eras. His first job was rapping. My first job was working 15 years on the Erie Canal. If I liked his music, he’d be in trouble. But I can appreciate him for his sneaky vocabulary, his ability to rap out a song while arguing with his back-up rappers about his raps, and the humor in his first full-length, The Slim Shady LP (1999).

My problem with Eminem is that I can’t take the Minnie Mouse quality of his voice. The man sounds as if he’s resting between tanks of helium, which is ironic for the star of the mega-gritty 8 Mile. There may be a rapper out there for me, but Eminem isn’t the guy. Nice name, though.

Verdict: The only thing I can think of that would be worse than an Eminem concert would be a Beach Boys concert. Two thumbs making gangsta gestures. Yo bring it on down.

Run-DMSteve
Real name: Steve
Country of origin: Massachusetts
Superpower: Can be wicked annoying
Gemstone: Bauxite

(All ethnomusicology research needs a control group. The control group for this study is Run-DMSteve. To guarantee our objectivity, I’m turning over this section to my dog, Storm Small.)

Steve has had a difficult time holding onto a nickname. I’m not counting the stuff his parents still call him.

When he worked at a restaurant in Harvard Square in the late ’70s, where he washed dishes and had a psychedelic experience at midnight in front of the griddle, they called him “Animal” and “Jaws” because he ate everything that wasn’t bacon. But he let his comrades down when they entered him in a muffin-eating contest and he couldn’t even break into double digits.

“Wolverine” stuck for about 2 minutes before Special D changed it to “Tangerine.”

Accused of Lurking dubbed him “Blue Pencil” for his skills as an editor who fights crime, but that name only works when Steve is actually employed.

In the late 1990s, Shawn, another co-worker, suggested “Run-DMSteve.” Though Shawn was employing a technique called “satire,” the nickname Run-DMSteve has turned out to be a winner in the electrifying world of blogging. Someone from Japan looked at this blog last week, and someone from Finland dropped by last month. Not bad for a guy who used to go to concerts in what he termed his “tough guy” sweater.

Verdict: Job or not, he keeps those kibbles coming. Four paws up!

Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan
Various artists
2012

What was the first rock ’n’ roll song? Scholars debate “Rocket 88” (1951) vs. “Rock Around the Clock” (1955). As if! The first rock ’n’ roll song was obviously “Please Please Me” (1963), because that was the first rock ’n’ roll record I ever owned.

I have no memory of how “Please Please Me” entered my little world. The perp might’ve been one of my younger, hipper aunts, the one who could correctly identify Jerry Lee Lewis and The Beach Boys. The record could also have come from my father’s only known visit to a record store. In the wake of The Beatles’ 1964 appearance on Ed Sullivan, my dad, Run-DMIrving, went in search of music that would appeal to Young People, as he had three of them at home. At the store, Dad (who cries every time he hears Mike Douglas sing “The Men in My Little Girl’s Life”) was advised by two teenage girls and returned with a stack of 45s: The Beatles, Herman’s Hermits, Glenn Miller leading his band in “Moonlight Serenade,” Liberace leading an assault on Mozart, nursery rhymes, country songs about prisons and coffee, something about a purple people eater, and Vince Guaraldi’s “Cast Your Fate to the Wind.” I don’t know who those girls were, but I’ll bet they’re the ones who invented satellite radio.

I quickly lost the paper sleeve to “Please Please Me,” but we had crayoned all over it anyway. We probably tried the same trick on the black-and-silver inner label. Then, to completely erase the value of this artifact, I played it repeatedly on our 1940s-era turntable. The tone-arm tracked at a sure-footed 10 pounds and you could imagine if not actually see slivers of vinyl curling up in the wake of the needle. This record rests in peace today inside the huge console phonograph my parents bought in 1970, sandwiched between the soundtrack to Fiddler on the Roof and Grand Funk Railroad’s Closer to Home.

Whatever your choice for the first rock ’n’ roll record, no one back then would have believed that anyone could make a living for 50 years in this business. Most bands never have a hit and most of the ones that do have only one. But here’s Bob Dylan in 2012 with 50 years of music behind him, still touring, still recording, and still holding the attention of fans, critics, scholars, and idiot bloggers.

Amnesty International is celebrating its 50th anniversary with a tribute to Bob Dylan: Chimes of Freedom. This is an enormous block of music, four CDs in its initial release and two CDs in a follow-up from Starbucks. Because I’m not a fan of Dylan, I opted for the set I could buy at my neighborhood Starbucks, which also gave me an excuse to buy a cranberry-orange scone.

Run-DMSteve vs. Bob Dylan
I admit I have made a few comments about Dylan that have not been entirely positive. However, it doesn’t matter what I think of the music of Bob Dylan or the films of Bob Dylan or the art of Bob Dylan or the many religions of Bob Dylan or the man Bob Dylan. What does matter is that the only artists who have had a greater influence on popular music in the past 50 years were John, Paul, George, and Ringo. Dylan deserves all the acclaim he gets, though he probably doesn’t deserve Ke$ha covering “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright,” which is what happens if you buy the four-CD version. I’d rather hear Lady Gaga take a swing at “Lay Lady Lay,” but I regret that that one only exists in my head.

The Starbucks Chimes of Freedom is not a history of Dylan’s career. More than half of this set is from the 1960s, with most of those songs from two albums, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan and The Times They Are A-Changin’. Well, those are two pretty good albums, even if they leave the final g off their verbs. Starbucks also omitted “Lay Lady Lay,” “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35,” “Masters of War,” “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall,” most of Nashville Skyline, Blood on the Tracks, and Desire, and everything he’s recorded since 1997’s Time Out of Mind.

What this is is a series of loving tributes. Unfortunately, while the 31 artists from around the world are undeniably talented (not counting Sting), most of them are way too loving. An air of reverence, almost as if they’re asking for permission, inhibits them from cutting loose and owning the song they’ve been assigned. No one goes head-to-head with Dylan à la Jimi Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower” or Beck’s “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat.”

It doesn’t help that several people tried to imitate Dylan’s voice. I can hear that from any street-corner musician on my lunch break. Two tracks from Blonde on Blonde suffer this fate. Mick Hucknall of Simply Red does a pretty good Dylan on “One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)” and the Israeli Oren Lavie proves on “4th Time Around” that he can imitate Dylan and Leonard Cohen simultaneously. This is not an evolutionary advantage.

Here’s what good
Joan Baez sings “Seven Curses,” a track that was dropped from the Freewheelin’ album. I’m astounded by the purity of her voice, as she’s been around as long as Dylan. Airborne Toxic Event gives us a memorable “Boots of Spanish Leather,” though the chorus threatens to slide into “Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme.” K’Naan, a Somalian rapper, works against an intrusive string section to transform “With God on Our Side” into a heartfelt foot-tapper. Raphael Saadiq (from the USA) is no Beck, but I like how he turns “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat” into a languid honky-tonk.

Then there’s RedOne, a Moroccan who produced Lady Gaga, and Nabil Khayat, who is from Lebanon and who otherwise is a mystery to me. Their version of “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” rewards more than one listen, despite the echo of the 1993 Guns N’ Roses version.

Patti Smith gives “Drifter’s Escape” a real country flavor, befitting one of the gems from  John Wesley Harding but something I wouldn’t have expected from her. Diana Krall does a lot with “Simple Twist of Fate,” one of only two songs here from Blood on the Tracks. The reverence that undercuts others somehow works for her.

Mexico’s Ximena Sarinana is an actress and a singer, like Zooey Deschanel but with a more appealing voice. She turns “I Want You” into a cross between a low-budget carnival and a high school march. Mariachi El Bronx’s “Love Sick” is fun but slow, as is the Silversun Pickups’ rendition of “Not Dark Yet,” which is dreamy and U2-like without U2’s ability to floor it.

Kris Kristofferson’s “Quinn the Eskimo” is so singular, it’s too weird to listen to a second time!

The trouble with big names
Just because you recruit a famous artist to interpret the song of another famous artist doesn’t mean you’re going to wind up with something famous. What bigger name is there than Johnny Cash? His duet with Dylan on Nashville Skyline’s “Girl From the North Country” was the highlight of that monumental album. Here he sings another ’60s favorite, “One Too Many Mornings,” but he’s in the harness with a North Carolina folk duo named The Avett Brothers. The Avetts play well, and they sing OK, but OK isn’t good enough when you’re standing side by side with Johnny Cash, mister.

Seal is a British soul singer; Jeff Beck is a Stone Age guitar god and jazz-fusion pioneer. They were assigned the most awesome Bob Dylan song ever, “Like a Rolling Stone” (#1 on Rolling Stones’ list of the top 500 songs of all time). Sadly, combining Seal’s voice, which is brassy and opaque, with Beck’s guitar playing, which is fast and furious, gets us just about nowhere. But they’re livelier than their cohorts Pete Townshend, Bryan Ferry, Mark Knopfler, Elvis Costello, Lucinda Williams, Adele, and Jackson Browne. These folks are simply uninteresting, except for Jackson Browne, who also manages to be irritating.

Ziggy Marley does fine with “Blowin’ in the Wind,” and if I liked reggae I’m sure I would’ve enjoyed it.

Bottom of the barrel
The one irredeemable track comes to us courtesy of Sting: “Girl From the North Country.” I can’t tell if Sting is serious, if Sting is kidding, or if Sting has a head cold. Somewhere in the middle his mind wanders and he strays dangerously close to Simon & Garfunkel’s “April Come She Will.” I can forgive him for his cover of “Little Wing” on Nothing Like the Sun, but this means war.

In a category by themselves
The Dave Matthews Band’s core competency is sanitized rock ’n’ roll. They always make me think of the ribbon of white paper you have to break to use the toilet in your motel room. They were assigned “All Along the Watchtower,” and I don’t envy them having to walk in Dylan’s and Hendrix’s footsteps. But what I heard on this track was the Dave Matthews Band deciding to have fun in their doofus Dave Matthews way.

And they do! Dave’s voice sounds as if it’s been filtered through a kaleidoscope, and there’s some inane horn-playing and scat-singing, but this is one of their few songs that I’ve ever listened to all the way through. I especially liked the part where they flirted with “Stairway to Heaven.” The song ends like a car full of crash-test dummies.

Consumer report
There’s something inherently wrong with these multi-decade career retrospectives. I can’t figure out who listens to these things. If you love Bob Dylan, do you love him in every one of his decades? If you agree with Dylan that everyone must get stoned, do you want to hear his Christian music? If you were attracted to Dylan by his conversion to Christianity, how will he win you over with the rest of his oeuvre? It seems to me that tributes work best when the band didn’t change much over the years (Pink Floyd, Depeche Mode), didn’t last long (The Smiths), or when the artists are covering a single album (This Bird Has Flown, the 40th-anniversary salute to Rubber Soul).

Enough philosophizing. Dylan never fails to provoke, and how many pop artists can say the same after 50 years? Or even five? If you adore Bob Dylan, buy the four-CD set. As for Starbucks, every now and then they come up with a winner. Unfortunately, their Chimes of Freedom isn’t one of them. Everybody must get sconed? No, those aren’t good for you either.

I’ll see you in 2062 for the 100th anniversary tribute to Dylan, featuring Grand Dame Gaga, Yo-Yo Ma 2.0, Clone McCartney, Sir Justin Bieber, Adele (looking for a do-over), and probably Sting.

In our last, very exciting episode, I watched The Doors, listened to The Doors, and was floored. I then set out on a quest to find the Best Debut Albums of the 20th Century By Newcomers Who Aren’t Somebody Stupid Like Foreigner. I restricted the contestants to albums named for the band (as in The Doors by The Doors). This squeezed out some worthy discs. Here are my favorites.

The Beatles, Please Please Me (1963)
There are two amazing things about this record. One, The Beatles recorded Please Please Me in, like, a day, even though Paul was dead, John was a walrus, and Yoko had already broken them up. Two, rock ’n’ roll went from holding your hand to sleeping in your soul kitchen in about three years. Shake it up baby now.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Are You Experienced? (1967)
I have two connections with Jimi Hendrix. According to Wikipedia, “Hendrix’s first gig was with an unnamed band in the basement of a synagogue, Seattle’s Temple De Hirsch. After too much wild playing and showing off, he was fired between sets.” In 1981, I played in Seattle’s Jewish softball league for Congregation Beth Shalom. Playing Temple De Hirsch was like playing the New York Yankees. They had the money and the manpower – their congregation was five times the size of ours. One of their rabbis searched their roster until he found half a dozen men who had played minor-league ball and then persuaded them to join the temple’s team. You could not hit anything past that infield. And all of those guys had visited that basement.

My other connection comes from the 1997 marriage of my friends Liz and Mitch. While speaking to the bandleader between sets, he confided in me that he had known Hendrix as a kid and had taught him “everything he knew.” I wanted to ask him why the man who taught Hendrix everything he knew was playing weddings 30 years later, but then the bride and groom handed out bubble blowers and I got distracted. Anyway, I shook the hand of the man who taught Hendrix everything he knew.

If Jimi Hendrix were alive today, he’d be cutting discs with Wynton Marsalis, Danny Elfman, and Yo-Yo Ma, but not, I hope, with Coldplay.

Elvis Costello, My Aim Is True (1977)
This jet-propelled collection of songs gives you absolutely no clue to the musical continents Costello would explore over his career. Even so, he’d still be remembered today even if he had just recorded this disc and his follow-up, This Year’s Model.

The Cure, Three Imaginary Boys (1979)
The normally dour Robert Smith must’ve been on antidepressants when he made this zippy little record. The cover of “Foxey Lady,” once it finally gets going, is hilarious.

Gary Numan, The Pleasure Principle (1979)
When I was 24 I wanted to be an android and I’m sure you did too. Numan isn’t as frightening as he used to be – he’s on The Muppets’ soundtrack. (If you’re curious, The Muppets is Prairie Home Companion with better jokes.)

Echo & The Bunnymen, Crocodiles (1980)
Crocodiles is haunting and dreamlike, which makes it the closest thing on this list to The Doors, emotionally. Echo and all those bunnies don’t rock as hard as The Doors, but they do pretty well with “Read It in Books” and “All That Jazz.” Their lyrics are fun to sing but mean just about nothing. The first few notes of “Rescue” somehow tell the story of my life.

The Dream Syndicate, The Days of Wine and Roses (1982)
In the 1960s, the Philadelphia Phillies had a double-play combination of Bobby Wine and Cookie Rojas. No headline writer of that era could resist the headline “Days of Wine and Rojas.”

The Dream Syndicate was a major influence on what is today called “alternative.” Don’t ask me to tell you what “alternative” means. But I can tell you that this is a terrific rock record, especially the title track. Steve Wynne sounds just like Lou Reed, who initially tried to sound just like Bob Dylan. No one wants to meet the guy Dylan has been imitating.

Nine Inch Nails, Pretty Hate Machine (1989)
One of the best records of the ’80s, with a title that will always describe my first dog, Emma. Trent Reznor, who recorded almost everything on this album by himself and then formed a band, is not a happy man:

Hey God
Why are you doing this to me?
Am I not living up to what I’m supposed to be?
Why am I seething with this animosity?
Hey God
I think you owe me a great big apology.
(“Terrible Lie”)

If you’re feeling euphoric and you want to tone that down a little, Pretty Hate Machine is the album for you.

Liz Phair, Exile in Guyville (1993)
Ms. Phair can’t sing, and when she tries she’s consistently flat, maybe because her mouth is shaped funny. But she has an interesting voice, and she writes piercing songs in the manner of Chrissie Hynde, though she’s more vulnerable:

And the license said you had to stick around until I was dead
But if you’re tired of looking at my face, I guess I already am
(“Divorce Song”)

Liz Phair emerged from the lo-fi indie world. (“Lo-fi” and “indie” are code for “We are so not Steely Dan.”) Exile in Guyville reflects her origins – it sounds as if it had been put together in her living room. It’s one of the landmarks of the ’90s, even though it doesn’t include her big hit, “Supernova,” which is about me. Many of these songs throw structural tricks at you, such as “Johnny Sunshine” – the first minute of that song is the best minute on the album. Like The Doors, Phair has never hit this personal standard again.

Beck, Mellow Gold (1994)
Jim Morrison may have acted like he was a shaman, but Beck actually is. The ubiquitous “Loser” leads off this monster, but it’s nowhere near the best song – just listen to “Beercan.”

Veruca Salt, American Thighs (1994)
You read it here first: Veruca Salt and Soundgarden are actually the same band. Chris Cornell was the voice of Soundgarden; Louise Post and Nina Gordon were the voices of Veruca Salt. You could swap them and the music would be almost the same. I’d love to hear Louis and Nina sing “Fell on Black Days,” with Chris singing “Seether.” Soundgarden released Superunknown, their fourth album, in the same year, which just proves that these are people who get a lot done in a day.

Postscript: No way am I choosing two obvious debuts, R.E.M.’s Murmur (1983) and Pearl Jam’s Ten (1990). These bands are way overrated, plus look how boring the album titles are. And now Eddie Vedder is giving ukulele concerts! The B-52s warned us about what could happen if parties got out of hand. R.E.M. and Pearl Jam are Exhibits A and B. Puny humans.