Posts Tagged ‘The Clash’

When I moved to Seattle in 1980 I lived in the Jensen Block on Eastlake Avenue, in a neighborhood of aging wooden houses, aging people, and industries that made things that few people wanted anymore, like rubber stamps that said JOB COMPLETED, READY TO BILL and kits to install your own seatbelts. The building was brick and flat-topped and even today, decked out with shiny glass storefronts at curbside, it looks tired. The Jensen Block has been standing at the corner of Eastlake and Mercer, downhill from the freeway, since before there was a freeway. Or cars. It needs time off.

I dwelled with my typewriter and books in a furnished room with a shared bath above a tavern. The Store Room? I can’t send away to the 1980s for an answer. They had a jukebox, but I could only hear the bass lines of the songs. I couldn’t tell what the songs were. The shifting, muffled thump was the background to my life in that building, where people came and went but a hard core of hard-luck cases lived on year after year.

On Friday and Saturday nights the bar stayed open until 2am, with plenty of people and music, all of which sounded like a roomful of bass players to the guy upstairs pounding out another science fiction story on his Smith Corona typewriter. I usually fell into bed, exhausted, around 1am. Around 2:30, after half an hour of silence, the jukebox came on again. It was louder than before, possibly because the music was no longer being soaked up by all those drinkers. The jukebox played one song. Someone, probably the guy who’d been hired to swab out the place and was in there alone, yelled “Whooooooh!” about 20 seconds in. The bass and the “Whooooooh!” always woke me up. Five minutes later, the song ended, silence reigned, and I went back to sleep. It was comforting, I guess because I’d embarked on a new life and this was one of my few routines. Whatever “it” was.

One night the tavern closed at 2am and when it did the music was over. Like those of us who could, the cleaning man had moved on. Soon I did too. Although I made some friends there, I don’t know where anyone went or what happened to the people who stayed until the ’90s when the building was closed and remodeled and reopened. I’d like to know more about the men who formed a band that summer and called themselves The Mars Dodgers. They all wore baseball jerseys. I never heard them play.

A year or two later, at a dance, the dj put a record on the table and a familiar bass line spilled into the room and I was so surprised that I laughed: The cleaning man’s favorite song was “Emotional Rescue” by The Rolling Stones. I hadn’t known that Mick had a speaking part near the end. I hadn’t known anything at all except that the beat went one-two, THREE-four, five-six, SEVEN-eight. When I mentioned this song in my post last week, the Jensen Block came back to me. I’m happy I don’t live on that treeless street anymore.

If there’s any point to this story, it’s that time travel is not a theory and that music is a vehicle. Or maybe the point is just that I can sleep through anything.

I’ll be your savior, steadfast and true
I’ll come to your emotional rescue

“Emotional Rescue” – the only song in the English language that includes the words “pet Pekingese.”

Random Pick of the Day
The Clash, London Calling (1980)
In 1980, I thought The Clash were going to replace the Stones. I also thought that Microsoft was a bizarre office-supply company that had gotten lost in the woods beyond Lake Washington.

The Clash obviously didn’t replace the Stones, and after this album they stage-dived into the dumpster of history (with a last gasp at Combat Rock), but London Calling is one of the few albums that can give the Stones of Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main Street a run for their money. A phenomenal record from a bunch of heroin addicts.

Random Pan of the Day
Joni Mitchell, Shadows and Light (1980)
Joni Mitchell is the John Updike of pop music. Both made big splashes early on, were prolific and experimental, and both seem to have faded from view. We should erect statues to these people! Joni pioneered the role of the confessional singer-songwriter. She achieved commercial success with Court and Spark (1974), plunged into world music 10 years before Paul Simon discovered it, experimented extensively with jazz, and played with artists as divergent as Charles Mingus and Billy FN Idol. Mick Jagger could only dream of being as perceptive and literate. Plus she posed naked (from behind) on the inside cover of For the Roses, which, if you were a teenage boy in 1972, was significant.

The ONLY reason this record gets a Pan instead of a Pick is because these are live versions of her studio albums and the studio albums are superior, especially The Hissing of Summer Lawns (1975).

 

When I reported that I’d found a job, I threw together a list of 19 songs about work to celebrate. Thanks to the educational efforts of Accused of Lurking, spinflipmag, Tttwitchy, Jerry Kaufman, mikenr, Special D, Mr. Seaside, Number 9, and further research by all of us here at the Bureau, I have expanded this list to 37 songs with some reference to working for a living in the title. And what a long strange trip it’s been.

The primary thing I’ve learned about songs about work is that almost no one who writes songs about work actually likes work. The secondary thing I’ve learned about songs about work is that work is usually a jumping-off point for something else. Heading the list: sex, parties, emotional misundertandings (see “sex”), and striving for a better life (“a better life” meaning a life that doesn’t include work).

I could easily have hit 40, but I had to draw the line somewhere, and that somewhere was anything that came too close to David Allan Coe’s “Take This Job and Shove It” (a hit for Johnny Paycheck). For example, I didn’t include Sam Cooke’s “Working on a Chain Gang” because, well, chain gang. “Work Song” isn’t any better, as it involves chain gangs whether it’s performed by Nina Simone or Paul Butterfield. I like my new job. Chain gangs are right out.

“The Working Man” by Creedence Clearwater Revival found itself in the no-fly zone, as the spare lyrics hold enough hurt for a lifetime. Ditto “Sixteen Tons” by Tennessee Ernie Ford. (Why does Tennessee Ernie Ford always sound like he’s lecturing me? If ever a singer needed to be backed by bongos or an accordion, it was him.) “Working for the Man” by Roy Orbison stopped me with this line about the boss: “I oughta kill him but it wouldn’t be right.”

These were tough choices. I love Sam Cooke, Nina Simone, Paul Butterfield, CCR, and especially Roy Orbison. But I get paid to make the tough choices. OK, I don’t get paid. Only Domino’s gets paid when they stick their stupid pizza ads in my blog. But I still gotta be tough.

Here we go:

“9 to 5,” Dolly Parton
I didn’t want to include country, but this one is obvious. “You’re just a step on the boss man’s ladder,” Ms. Parton wails in that voice that makes me want to push her off one.

“5 O’Clock World,” The Vogues
“Tradin’ my time for the pay I get/livin’ on money that I ain’t made yet.” The narrator is not on a promising career path. Fortunately for him, when he gets home “there’s a long-haired girl who waits, I know/to ease my troubled mind.” I can totally relate. Bowling for Soup does a good Smithereens-style cover of “5 O’Clock World.” You can avoid T-Pain’s similarly named “5 O’Clock.”

“A Day in the Life,” The Beatles
More about commuting than working. My commute is not as dreamy. Possibly the second-greatest song ever recorded, after “Rock Lobster.”

“Birth, School, Work, Death,” The Godfathers

“Business Time,” Flight of the Conchords
It’s about sex, not work, but too bad.

“Career Opportunities,” The Clash
“Career opportunities are the ones that never knock.” I’m not sure these boys ever had a job. They certainly take a dim view of employment.

“Clockout,” Devo
“Clockout” is code for sex. Starts in an office, at least.

“Dirty Work,” The Rolling Stones, Halestorm, Steely Dan, and probably others
The only thing notable about the Stones’ version is the photograph on the cover of the Dirty Work album (1986). They’re dressed up like they think they’re The B-52s. Halestorm’s “Dirty Work” is melodic hard rock with a tough woman singer. I hate to say anything good about Steely Dan, but their “Dirty Work” is by far the most mature song with this title. However, none are about actual work.

“Don’t Bug Me When I’m Working,” Little Village
One of the perks of writing a music blog is that people tell you about music you never knew about. Little Village was Ry Cooder, John Hiatt, Nick Lowe, and Jim Keltner. Not a bad start! Their only album, Little Village (1992), is a bit reminiscent of Los Lobos, though Little Village doesn’t play at that level. Sill, they were a respectable unit and this album has some fun rock ’n’ roll moments. “Don’t Bug Me When I’m Working” is about a man who keeps bugging the narrator while he’s working, sleeping, and when he’s with his baby. Probably somebody calling from the Romney campaign. Also on Little Village we have a pretty stiff anti-work song, the Hawaiian-flavored “Do You Want My Job?”, which features this classic rhyme: “I hump the stuff, I take the cash/So my kids can wear Adidas.”

“Factory,” Band of Horses
For people who thought the film Up in the Air wasn’t sad enough. I like the line “It’s temporary, this place I’m in/I permanently won’t do this again.” The song sounds like it could’ve been recorded by Badfinger if they had stayed together for 40 years and gotten really slow. No factory, though.

“Factory,” Bruce Springsteen
The usual Springsteen concerns of the ’70s: Early morning, Daddy going to work, death.

“Factory Girl,” The Rolling Stones
One of the weaker songs on Beggars Banquet (1968), and that’s not a slam. Songs on this galactic landmark appear weak or strong only when compared to each other. Compared to most other songs, they spontaneously ignite. The singer on this one is waiting for his factory girl to come home, from work or from something more sinister, we don’t know. Bonus: Congas!

“Finest Worksong,” R.E.M.
R.E.M. gets on my nerves. I like this stirring call to arms, though in accordance with the R.E.M. tradition you don’t know what they’re calling you to. Plus Michael Stipe and his colleagues prove yet again that they don’t quite understand their native language (“Another chance has been engaged”). Anyway, “Finest Worksong” is not the sound of the men working on the chain gang.

“Found a Job,” Talking Heads 

“Happy Work Song,” Enchanted soundtrack
I’ve been informed by my alert readership that “Happy Work Song” is a parody of “Whistle While You Work”:

Trill a cheery tune in the tub
As we scrub a stubborn mildew stain
Lug a hair ball from the shower drain
To the gay refrain of a happy working song

I like Amy Adams, but on this number she sounds as if she’s gone running for the shelter of her mother’s little helper. I like my Stepford wives to be rebellious rather than snarky.

“Hard Work,” John Handy
The only words in this jazz tune are “hard” and “work.” It’s a souvenir of the jazz-fusion movement of the ’70s. “Fusion” as a critical term means nothing now, but “Hard Work” is a fine stretch of jazz.

“Heigh Ho,” Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs soundtrack
The Dwarfs cheerfully dig up diamonds and rubies all day long, but “we don’t know what we dig ’em for.” They don’t know what to do with Snow White, either. Tom Waits took a shot at this, trying to turn the song into a Dickens novel of working-class horror. Nope. Louis Armstrong also tried it; he’s barely awake. No one can save this thing.

“How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” composed by Frank Loesser
Though it’s plain that life in an office is like Europe on the verge of World War I, our narrator is enthusiastic and up for the challenge:

How to apply for a job
How to advance from the mail room
How to sit down on a desk
How to dictate memorandums
How to develop executive style
How to commute
In a three-button suit
With that weary executive smile.
This book
Is all what I need
How tohow to…succeed!

“I’ve Been Workin’ on the Railroad,” traditional
According to Wikipedia, this is several songs bashed together. All things considered, the railroad seems to be a good place to work, even though they make you rise up so early in the morn.

“Livin’ for the Weekend,” The O’Jays
“5 O’Clock World” updated for the disco era. Work sucks, but on the weekend you get to party with the people who really know how to get down.

“Manic Monday,” The Bangles
This is a song about commuting, about earning a living in tough times, about holding a job you don’t like, and about supporting your partner. So it combines most of the themes the men use plus housekeeping and maintaining an appropriate wardrobe all in one song. Bravo, ladies!

“Millworker,” James Taylor
I’m not a James Taylor fan, but I found myself moved by this song, perhaps because I’m from New England and my father worked in the mills for 30 years.

But it’s my life has been wasted
And I have been the fool
To let this manufacturer
Use my body for a tool

Kudos to Taylor for being the only person on this list who wrote his song from the point of view of the other gender.

“Minimum Wage,” They Might Be Giants and The Expendables
Does the TMBG version even qualify as a song? It only lasts 47 seconds. Someone yells “Minimum wage!” at the beginning, a whip cracks, and then we get about 40 seconds of roller-rink music. I guess we’ve all had jobs like that at one time or another. The Expendables turn in a pleasant, temporarily reggae tune with lyrics right out of the Jean-Paul Sartre playbook: “But it’s time to go to work now/Maybe I’ll call in sick/or maybe heaven will fall to earth/better make it quick.” God abandons the singer just as the song jumps into metal mode. He never does go to work.

“Money for Nothing,” Dire Straits

“Nice Work If You Can Get It,” composed by George and Ira Gershwin
This one’s about love, not work. Clever for its era, but today it’s a Republican rallying cry: “The only work that really brings enjoyment/Is the kind that is for girl and boy meant.”

“Takin’ Care of Business,” Bachman Turner Overdrive
BTO was a gang of idiots, but this song rocks. A band we knew in Seattle, The Way-Backs, turned this number into a Santana-style 10-minute slugfest. “Takin’ Care of Business” is actually a big bowl of smug from a band that was riding high when they wrote it.

“The Work Song,” Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass, Cannonball Adderley, and of course Cinderella
Herb Alpert knew how to make a song swing, plus he intuitively recognized a good tune buried under dumb lyrics. Cannonball Adderley turns in a blistering 7-minute performance on Bon Voyage – Live in Paris (2012, taken from concerts in 1960 and ’61). Disney is Disney.

“The Working Song,” Richard Stepp
I don’t know who this gentleman is, but he can boogie. His voice is adequate but his guitar is superb. The song is about perfect attendance and the importance of being punctual. Also, of course, making a living. “I work to pay my bills/keep my stomach filled” doesn’t quite rhyme, but it’s fun.

“There’s No Business Like Show Business,” composed by Irving Berlin
Oh come on. There are plenty of businesses like show business. All you need are egos and large sums of money.

“Wild Sex (in the Working Class),” Oingo Boingo
There’s just one thing that keeps our hero going while he’s “greasin’ the wheels in a noisy factory,” and you guessed it from the superlative title. Musically, this is second-tier Oingo Boingo. Lyrically, the title deserved better.

“Work to Do,” Average White Band
A workaholic threatens to torpedo his relationship by coming home late every night. Can’t tell how he feels about his job – he’s mostly irritated that his mate doesn’t understand what he’s trying to do for her. An unexpectedly adult topic from one of our dumber bands.

“Working Day and Night,” Michael Jackson
This song has aged poorly, but the whole Off the Wall album (1979) has aged poorly, except for “Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough,” which still rocks all night and parties every day. Poor Michael is working around the clock because his lover has figured out that’s the best way to keep him occupied while she sees her lover. Kind of a bad love deal there.

“Working for the Weekend,” Loverboy
Loverboy: The lite beer version of Def Leppard. On this track they take the thematic material of The O’Jay’s “Living for the Weekend” and eliminate all mention of a job.

“Working on the Highway,” Bruce Springsteen
Springsteen sets up a song like he’s writing a short story for The New Yorker:

Friday night’s pay night, guys fresh out of work
Talking about the weekend, scrubbing off the dirt
Some heading home to their families, some looking to get hurt
Some going down to Stovell wearing trouble on their shirts

Even though our hero’s job offers no advancement, and even though his poorly planned romantic interaction with a “pretty little miss” ends in jail time, “Working on the Highway” sounds like fun all the way through. “Darlington County,” on the same album, is similarly joyous even thought the finisher there is “Wayne handcuffed to the bumper of a state trooper’s Ford.”

“Working Man,” Rush
Working for a living ain’t easy:

I get up at seven, yeah,
And I go to work at nine.
I got no time for livin’.
Yes, I’m workin’ all the time.
It seems to me
I could live my life
A lot better than I think I am.
I guess that’s why they call me,
They call me the workin’ man.

Let’s review. The poor man has to get up at seven. Rough. He goes to work at nine and later in the song we learn that he’s home by five. That means he’s gone almost eight hours. OMFG! However, I do find this song interesting for sounding like Cream, Black Sabbath, and Alvin Lee all at once.

“Workin’ in a Coal Mine,” Devo
This song predates Devo by decades, but they had the hit. Mining coal is the most exhausting job there is, after motherhood.

“Whistle While You Work,” Snow White soundtrack
This one’s about housework – what Ursula K. LeGuin once called “the art of the infinite.” It’s not much of a song without the movie in front of it. Even then it’s still not much.

It’s Sunday. Tomorrow I go back to work, whistling or not. Found a job. Yes!

My loyal readers (all three of them) know that I’ve been looking for work for, well, a while. I’m sure it seems like forever to everyone who has had to endure my complaining. And so I’m happy to report that I’ve landed a job, as the copywriter at this fine establishment. Cue Etta James: “At last….My employer has come along…”

In honor of my new paycheck-producing enterprise, here are 19 songs for a new job:

“9 to 5,” Dolly Parton
“5 O’Clock World,” The Vogues
“A Day in the Life,” The Beatles
“Business Time,” Flight of the Conchords
“Career Opportunities,” The Clash
“Factory,” Band of Horses
“Factory,” Bruce Springsteen
“Found a Job,” Talking Heads
“Hard Work,” John Handy
“How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” Frank Loesser
“Livin’ for the Weekend,” The O’Jays
“Manic Monday,” The Bangles
“Takin’ Care of Business,” Bachman Turner Overdrive
“There’s No Business Like Show Business,” Irving Berlin
“Work to Do,” Average White Band
“Working Day and Night,” Michael Jackson
“Working for the Weekend,” Loverboy
“Working Man,” Rush
“The Working Man,” Creedence Clearwater Revival

Compiling this list was more difficult than I thought it would be. Special D (“Manic Monday”) and Number 9 (“9 to 5” and “A Day in the Life”) were a great help. There were plenty of pop examples, obviously, but I only thought of one from jazz (“Hard Work”), two from musicals, and none from classical. Number 9 suggested Carmen, since she worked in a cigar factory. I can’t say close but no cigar, but even so Carmen doesn’t quite work. Same with her next suggestion, The Barber of Seville, which makes me think of Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd.

The blues don’t work because if those guys had jobs, a health care plan, and paid holidays, they wouldn’t have the blues.

Got any more?

Random Pick of the Week
The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Take It From the Man! (1996)
The British Invasion reimagined.

Random Pan of the Week
Billy Joel, Turnstiles (1976)
“Run, you fools!”

Quote of the Week
“Forecast calls for heavy jazz this afternoon with high horns and deep double bass, with possible scattered Mingus.” (Loyal Boise reader Travis Dryden, via email)

RIP
Levon Helm, drummer with The Band, perhaps best known for his singing on “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” and “Up on Cripple Creek.” The film Martin Scorsese made of The Band’s last concert, The Last Waltz, was the first concert film that was worth a damn. Sadly, Levon Helm was not related to Warren Zevon.

Adam Yauch, aka MCA of The Beastie Boys. Adam, I guess you finally got to Brooklyn. Sleep well. The Beasties summed up Special D in one line: “She’s crafty – and she’s just my type.”

I’ve been thinking of how I could suggest what each of these men meant to popular music. Here’s a rough approximation:

Gen Xers, if you haven’t heard of Levon Helm or don’t understand his significance, imagine losing Dave Grohl.

Boomers, if you haven’t heard of MCA or don’t understand his significance, remember how you felt when you lost George Harrison.

Run-DMSteve news
Besides gainful employment, that is. I’m back in The Nervous Breakdown with another day in the life.

“I Wanna Be a Flintstone”
Screaming Blue Messiahs
1987

No critical deconstruction of The Flintstones can commence without first mentioning my sister, who was born the same night as Pebbles. Although I was 7, I sensed that this was a teachable moment, and I told my brother, who was 4, that when Mommy came home from the hospital, she’d bring with her our new sibling – a cartoon. My brother couldn’t decide if he was thrilled or terrified, so he spent that evening at my grandparents’ house being both. Because I’m a natural teacher, I also showed him how to set all the clocks in the house to ring sometime after midnight. Being little children, no one noticed us, and being little children, we slept through the resulting Flintstone-like chaos. The adults were all crabby the next day.

Today I’d much rather refer to The Flintstones than watch them. (Same with the Stooges. Would you rather imitate a lamebrain or spend half an hour watching three of them slap each other?) Every year I call my parents on their anniversary and sing them Fred’s “Happy Anniversary” song (to the tune of the William Tell Overture):

Happy anniversary
Happy anniversary
Happy anniversary
HAPPPPPY anniversary!

We enjoy that, but I doubt we’d enjoy sitting through the entire episode where Fred buys Wilma a hot piano from 88 Fingers Louie and barely has time to sing “Happy Anniversary” before being hauled off to the hoosegow. Though I still think it’s funny that Fred was such a dope that he only remembered their anniversary because that year it fell on trash day.

In our house, whenever a deadline is looming and we’re almost out of time, we announce, “This is Operation Red Light. Repeat. Red Light!” But I’m not interested in rewatching that episode, in which Fred dressed up like Wilma and made meatballs out of golf balls to try to fool…oh forget it.

How did they make everything out of rocks?
There were many original songs on The Flintstones, including the Miss Water Buffalo theme (“O we’ve searched high and low/for Miss Water Buffalo”) and the opening number from Wilma’s Martha Stewart-style show, The Happy Housewife (this was about 10 years before The Happy Hooker): “Make your hubby happy/keep your hubby happy/when he’s a little chubby/he’s a happy pappy…”

And who can forget Wilma and Betty’s immortal car-hop jingle:

Here we come on the run
With a burger on a bun
And a dab of slaw on the side,
Oh your taste we will tickle
With a great dill pickle
And all of our potatoes are french fried, fried, fried,
Our burgers can’t be beat,
’Cause we grind our own meat,
Grind, grind, grind, grind, grind!

And when you’re on your way,
A tip upon our tray
We hope to find, find, find, find, find!
We hope to find, find, find, find, find!

Two Neolithic women in short skirts singing “grind, grind, grind, grind, grind” isn’t the same as The Commitmentettes pleading “Take me, take me, take me,” but it’s not bad for a prime-time cartoon circa 1961.

Fred worked in a gravel pit as a dino operator. Why did he always wear a tie?
Scholars agree that The Flintstones jumped the shark with Pebbles’ birth. A new baby is pretty much the end of any successful sitcom. Après Pebbles, The Flintstones went downhill like a load of rocks (Exhibits A and B: Bamm-Bamm and The Great Gazoo). Repeated attempts to build on The Flintstones‘ legacy have failed. Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm as teenagers? That’s not writing, that’s typing. Live-action movies? Torture. Fruity Pebbles cereal? Gross!

The Screaming Blue Messiahs are another example of Flintstones fail, only weirder. The Messiahs were a British punk outfit with hillbilly leanings. They were led by Bill Carter, who shaved his head at a time when that was still scary, or at least strange. He also played his electric guitar without a pick. He must’ve had adamantine claws for fingers.

The Messiahs remind me at times of their English predecessors, The Clash, and at other times of their Scottish contemporaries, Big Country. They were an intense trio of noisemakers for their era, but even their best album, Bikini Red (1987), has dimmed with age. And it wasn’t all that illuminated to start with. (I do like “Big Brother Muscle,” probably because it sounds like The Clash covering The Rolling Stones.)

“I Wanna Be a Flintstone” (“Dino is my dinosaur/His tail’s in the kitchen and his head’s out the door”) is nothing like the rest of the Messiahs’ catalog. It’s more like a crude copy of The B-52s’ “Private Idaho” as played by The Stray Cats. Naturally, this was the closest the Messiahs ever got to a hit and the only reason they’re remembered today. The song is funny the first few spins, and I admit I once used it at a party to repel boarders, but in true Flintstone fashion it soon becomes something you refer to rather than play. I either lost the record or gave it away as a door prize.

Someday maybe Fred will win what fight? And what happened to that cat?
When Fred was accidentally promoted to the executive suite (a trick every sitcom has used, including The Simpsons), an old hand told him that he could succeed in any business situation by using the following lines:

“What’s your angle?”
“Whose baby is that?”
“I’ll buy that.”

It worked for Fred and with a few variations it’s worked for me. I owe The Flintstones…but I’m not going to watch them. Not even if I was offered the director’s cut of the episode where Fred was cloned by invading aliens into Fred-like automatons who broke into people’s houses and stole their food while monotonously chanting “Yabba. Dabba. Do.” The next day in Bedrock the adults were all crabby. OK, now I’m laughing.

I finally watched The Doors, which I meant to see in 1991. (I’ve been busy.) Two hours of Jim Morrison self-destructing is not what I’d call a date movie. I did enjoy the Thanksgiving scene at the home of Morrison and his saintly but scatterbrained girlfriend, which ended with a burnt duck and a knife fight. I’m willing to add these features to next year’s feast if we could do it at someone else’s house.

Doors fun fact: Val Kilmer with long hair and a beard looks just like Jeff Bridges in The Big Lebowski.

The best Doors movie is still Apocalypse Now, but I was glad I saw Oliver Stone’s depressing film because it made me reconnect with his subject. For those of us who are lucky enough to have reached middle age, The Doors are like the authors we read in high school or college and haven’t touched since. Returning to their 1967 debut album for the first time in maybe 20 years, I was stunned. The Doors  rocks, mocks, and mesmerizes. “Break on Through (to the Other Side)” would be the big radio hit for most other acts. Here it’s just the opener. It’s followed by the funky weirdness of “Soul Kitchen.” And we still have “Light My Fire” and “Twentieth Century Fox” waiting in the middle of the record.

It’s hard to believe that four guys who had been working together for a year could have accomplished so much in so short a time. You could pick and choose from The Doors’ other records and create a standout listen. But even if it included songs such as “Touch Me” and “Love Me Two Times,” this new album still wouldn’t be as good as The Doors.

It’s not as if each member of The Doors was an instrumental wizard. They’re good (the drummer is adequate), but together they manage to be unique. And then there’s Jim Morrison. As a songwriter, he can be brilliant or lame, and he can do both in two consecutive lines, as in “LA Woman”:

Motels, money, murder, madness

With four simple nouns, Morrison pins LA like a butterfly.

Let’s change the mood from glad to sadness

Sadly, this is something I could’ve written in 6th grade.

But only Jim Morrison could lead us through the slow-motion asteroid belt that is “The End,” with its plaintive repetition of “the end,” which he finally rhymes with “I’ll never look into your eyes…again.” The song climaxes with enough murder and madness for anyone, along with some trenchant observations along the lines of “Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! Yeah fuck!” (Here in the U.S., this line is usually printed as “Kill! Kill! Kill! Yeah kill!”) I could only play The Doors when my parents weren’t home. This was the ultimate trip when I was 12 and I was delighted to discover that I’m still transported by it.

The Doors is the best debut ever recorded
Being me, I wondered which albums would fill out the Debut Top 10. So I made a list. And being me, there are 11 contestants in the Top 10.

The most important part of any project is making sure you can get it done before you die. To keep things manageable, I set these rules:

* 20th century only. I’m not confident picking rock albums after about 1995.

* No country, alt-country, neocountry, outlaw country, or in-law country. Metal is ridiculous. Reggae isn’t, but it doesn’t appeal. I made one exception for rap.

* Since The Doors is named for The Doors, each album must have the same name as the band. A few disqualified yet very worthy discs will appear in my next post.

* I don’t care if the album has the same name as the band, I won’t consider any band named after a U.S. city or state, or any members of the REO Styxjourneywagon military-industrial complex.

* The band has to be composed of newcomers. Paul McCartney, Paul Simon, and Crosby, Stills & Nash are out of bounds.

Here then are my picks for Best Debut Albums of the 20th Century By Newcomers Who Aren’t Somebody Stupid Like Foreigner:

The Velvet Underground, The Velvet Underground and Nico (1967)

Creedence Clearwater Revival, Creedence Clearwater Revival (1968)

The Clash, The Clash (1977)

The B-52s, The B-52s (1979)

The Undertones, The Undertones (1979)

Pretenders, Pretenders (1980)

Run-D.M.C., Run-D.M.C. (1984)

The Smiths, The Smiths (1984)

Tracy Chapman, Tracy Chapman (1989)

Moby, Moby (1992)

Some thoughts on each:

The Velvet Underground, The Velvet Underground and Nico
Maureen Howard, the drummer, has no sense of rhythm, and Lou Reed sings like Bob Dylan. If you call that singing. They make The Doors sound like the Vienna Philharmonic. But this garbage scow of a record has left miles of ripples behind it. The Doors had the talent, but the Velvets incited people to make their own music. I don’t know what Nico actually contributed here, and I hate her voice, so I’m pretending that “and Nico” isn’t in the title.

Creedence Clearwater Revival, Creedence Clearwater Revival
This one is a tour of American roots music. In that respect it resembles The Beatles’ debut, Please Please Me, which is about half covers of American R&B artists. Creedence Clearwater Revival has their lengthy cover of “Suzie Q,” which fills the A and B sides of one 45. “Porterville,” one of their originals, showed us where CCR was going.

The Clash, The Clash
The Clash, The Sex Pistols and The Damned all released their first records in 1977, but Johnny Rotten gets on my nerves and The Damned, while riotous, were less technically accomplished than The Velvet Underground. The Clash was a revolution and is one of the most serious competitors to The Doors. “I’m So Bored with the U.S.A.,” “White Riot,” and most of the rest of this lineup hit you like a flight of airborne watermelons.

The B-52s, The B-52s
Wall-to-wall party, featuring “Planet Claire,” “Dance This Mess Around,” and the greatest song of all time, “Rock Lobster.” I wish I could go back in time and swap some babies. My Hanukkah wish is to hear Fred Schneider handle the vocals on “The End” and Jim Morrison tackle “Rock Lobster.” If you imagine the albums on this list existing on a spectrum that runs from serious to frivolous, Tracy Chapman and The B-52s would be the farthest apart.

The Undertones, The Undertones
Take The Clash’s ferocity about politics and focus it on teenagers and their pitiful troubles and you have The Undertones. Cons: This record is a monoculture. The only variation between songs is in the speed with which they’re played. Pros: The 14 songs on this disc are barely half an hour long. The uniformity of sound doesn’t have time to wear out its welcome. “Teenage Kicks” still gets the airplay, but wait’ll you hear “Jimmy Jimmy.” Bonus: As good as this record is, their second album, Hypnotised (which includes their masterpieces, “There Goes Norman” and “My Perfect Cousin”), is even better. Of all the bands I’ve reviewed here, only The Undertones and CCR turned in a substantially superior performance the second time around.

Pretenders, Pretenders
Women have always had to fight for their right to rock. Bands like Heart don’t help. But Chrissie Hynde not only rocked, she disemboweled. There is no song in rock like “Tattooed Love Boys” and few women who can write words and music at Hynde’s high level. Pretenders is still a beacon for the ages. I wrote about the Pretenders at Ladies of the Eighties.

Run-D.M.C., Run-D.M.C.
Recently I ate lunch at a hip Portland burger place full of pale white 20somethings uniformly dressed in black and listening to 50 Cent with the volume cranked to 11. Given my stage of life, I deserved a free burger for correctly identifying 50 Cent. The cashier didn’t see it that way. I came along too late to get into rap, but in 1984 even I could tell that Run-D.M.C. was an early clue to a new direction. I don’t want to listen to it, but I have to acknowledge it. Now get off my lawn.

The Smiths, The Smiths
I always thought these guys were pretty funny, though I’m guessing that they weren’t trying to be, like when they sang about people dying. Here on The Smiths they already sound like veterans, and in fact in the four short years they were together they hardly varied their sound at all. I like to think that The Smiths’ collective philosophy of relationships is summed up by two back-to-back song titles on this disc: “What Difference Does It Make?” and “I Don’t Owe You Anything.”

Tracy Chapman, Tracy Chapman
Makes you want to reach through the speakers and hold her. Chapman was only 25 when Tracy Chapman appeared, but it was already obvious that she was in total control of her talent and able to tell someone’s life story in a couple hundred super-sharp words. What’s more heart-breaking than “Fast Cars” and the vicious life pattern the narrator struggles to escape? As for “Talkin’ ’Bout a Revolution,” this song has never gone out of style. Just ask Occupy Wall Street.

Moby, Moby
In the ’90s I discovered trance, house, and other forms of electronica. Once I found that I could sink into stuff like Moby and literally enter a trance-like state while I was writing, I was sold. Moby is an odd one, a vegetarian Christian who makes dance music for 24-hour party people who majored in recreational drugs. Praise the Lord and pass the beets.

Next post: Best Debut Albums of the 20th Century By Newcomers Who Didn’t Name Their Debut After Themselves and Who Aren’t Somebody Stupid Like Foreigner. Until then, the Twentieth-Century Fox I married asks you to remember that when the music’s over, turn out the lights.

“Barracuda”
Heart
1977

“At Home He’s a Tourist”
Gang of Four
1979

“Here Come Cowboys”
The Psychedelic Furs
1984

(With thanks to Loyal Reader Barb for suggesting this post.)

I’m lucky. I’ve usually had someone in my life who could explain music to me. In the early 1980s, that someone was my friend David Clements.

David hosted elaborate theme parties. The one I remember was based on junk food, which is probably why I remember it. He ran name-that-tune competitions featuring hundreds of songs he had culled from the backwaters of pop. At one of them I got off one of my best-timed lines: “Yes fans never know the names of the songs,” I said, immediately before the Yeshead playing the game blanked on the opening snippet of “Roundabout.”

David managed the Northgate movie theater in Seattle and was a dj on the University of Washington’s student-run station, KCMU. His handle was “The King of Pop,” and the poppier the better. Listening to his show one night, I became so outraged by the parade of Stings, Boy Georges, and Bangles that I called and requested something from Saturday Night Fever. David recognized my voice and promised he would play it if I would drive over to the station in my leisure suit. You couldn’t top that guy.

When I first heard Gang of Four, probably at somebody’s party, they intimidated me. The guitars are angular. They’re like getting elbowed under the basket or stick-checked behind the net. The singer isn’t singing so much as opening a vein. On “Love Like Anthrax,” which begins with what sounds like a guitar expiring inside bagpipes, the singer competes with someone who simply speaks. Occasionally they sing/speak the same line. When they do, it’s so harmonious it’s startling.

Gang of Four’s lyrics take apart our politics, our consumer culture, even our love lives. They don’t put anything back together again, either. Even on their friendliest cut, “I Love a Man in a Uniform,” they’re not all that friendly:

The good life was so elusive
Handouts, they got me down
I had to regain my self respect
So I got into camouflage

They’re The Clash without the heroin and with a darker worldview. And The Clash weren’t exactly cheery. It was exhausting just looking at the album covers. I didn’t want anything to do with them.

But the King of Pop saw further than I did, and he suggested I try them. I did and over time I became hooked. In fact I even have a Gang of Four listening ritual.

Run-DMSteve’s Gang of Four Listening Ritual
1) Realize that I haven’t played anything by Gang of Four in a long while.
2) Wave away sudden upwelling of dread.
3) Hear first notes of first song. Wince. Consider switching to Madonna’s “Vogue.”
4) Hooked again.
5) Pound face into desk.

I’ve listed the three songs at the top of this post for a reason. They’re superficially similar in their structure and in the way they gallop along. “Barracuda” was a hit for Heart, who had fantastic hair and who made hard rock for people who were cautiously venturing beyond Hall & Oates. “Here Come Cowboys” was a late-period example of New Wave by The Psychedelic Furs. It would’ve made a passable B-side to one of their better songs.

“At Home He’s a Tourist,” however, is fucking unbelievable. When it starts I always think, Oh no, it’s Heart, no wait, Psychedelic Furs, oh right, Gang of Four. The guitar sounds like it wants to throw up. But by the song’s end I can’t wait to click Replay.

I have David to thank for some great musical memories, but David was killed in 1985, at the age of 28, while making a night deposit after closing the theater. Two lives were lost that night – David’s, and that of the 19-year-old boy who shot him and who will wake every day of his life with that knowledge. I think of you often, David, and of that B-52s concert we went to at the Coliseum. I wish we had taken Gang of Four’s suggestion and gotten drunk on cheap wine.

’70s Week at Run-DMSteve concludes with some of my favorite songs of the decade. I’m not saying these are the best songs of the decade, and they’re not all of my favorites. I just stopped at 25. To keep things manageable, I limited myself to one song per artist (except in one instance), but to make them less manageable, I included some runners-up.

A few words about women, of whom my list has only one, Joan Armatrading, recording on her own. (I do have Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson of The B-52s and Tina Weymouth of Talking Heads.)

There were plenty of remarkable women in rock in the ’70s. Minnie Ripperton could reach all of the known octaves and a few that she must’ve invented. But I can’t digest her music. Ditto Cher, Blondie, The Runaways, and Susie Quatro. I’ll see you in hell before I listen to Heart. If I added another 25 songs, I’d include Patti Smith (“So You Want to Be a Rock ’n’ Roll Star”), Donna Summer (“I Feel Love”), Joni Mitchell (tough one, but probably “Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire”), and The Slits (“I Heard It Through the Grapevine”). How I wish The Slits could’ve opened for Hole. I’ll try to field a more balanced squad during ’80s Week.

My heartfelt thanks to Brother Bob Lingard, who started me on this week’s theme when he kindly loaned me a CD with hundreds of songs from the ’70s and ’80s. Though listening to this collection often seemed like an endurance test, especially when I collided with Christopher Cross –

“I’m on the runnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn/no time to sleep”

– Phil Collins, and the REO Styxjourneywagon dud machine, I learned a lot. I’d forgotten how much I like Roxy Music and Squeeze, how overrated REM is and how undeservedly obscure Steve Winwood is. Party on, Brother Bob!

Here’s the list:

Aerosmith, “Sweet Emotion”
It pains me to type “Aerosmith,” but at least they’re not Foghat.

Joan Armatrading, “Love and Affection”
This is the female “Bolero”!

The B-52s, “Rock Lobster”
How amazing that “Rock Lobster,” the greatest song ever recorded by anyone in any language on any planet, was produced in the same decade that gave us “Kung Fu Fighting” and “You’re Having My Baby.”

David Bowie, “Moonage Daydream”
My favorite Bowie album is Station to Station, but this is my favorite song.

The Clash, “Complete Control”
Runner-up: “White Man in Hammersmith Palais”

Elvis Costello, “You Belong to Me”
Could easily have gone with “Mystery Dance,” “Watching the Detectives,” or “This Year’s Model.”

The Dickies, “Nights in White Satin”
One of the best covers in the history of covers. You get every note of the original but all of them played five times as fast. The single was released in 1979 on white vinyl.

Marvin Gaye, “Let’s Get It On” and “What’s Going On
If this had been ’60s Week, I would’ve picked “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.”

Al Green, “Love and Happiness”
I can listen to this over and over. In fact, I have.

The Guess Who, “No Time”
What this song means is anybody’s guess. The live version, recorded in Seattle on the same stage where Special D and I saw The Roches and Guys and Dolls, rocks harder.

George Harrison, “Isn’t It a Pity”
Harrison’s talent seems so very different from Lennon’s and McCartney’s. George’s work floats on a slow-moving undercurrent of grief.

Isaac Hayes, “Theme From Shaft”
Shaft. Any questions?

Michael Jackson, “Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough”
The video of Jackson dancing to this song was the first thing I ever saw played back on a VCR.

K.C. & The Sunshine Band, “Get Down Tonight”
By your command!

Led Zeppelin, “Kashmir”
I’ve tried for years to dismiss Led Zeppelin as AC/DC with a library card, but songs like this rebuke me.

Paul McCartney, “Maybe I’m Amazed”
The best thing Sir Paul did on his own, and good enough to compare to his work with John.

Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes, “Don’t Leave Me This Way”
Thelma Houston’s version is more disco. I had to flip a coin to pick one.

Pink Floyd, “Fearless”
Dark Side of the Moon is my favorite Pink Floyd, but this is my favorite song. Always brings tears to my eyes.

Lou Reed, “Walk on the Wild Side”
To save space, the term “Lou Reed” includes the term “The Velvet Underground.”

The Rolling Stones, “Wild Horses”
If I hadn’t limited myself to one song apiece, The Stones would’ve dominated this list. For ’60s Week I would’ve picked “Street Fighting Man.”

Tom Rush, “Urge for Going”
Joni Mitchell wrote this one. Tom Rush is not in her league, except here. Not what you’d call a bouncy number.

Bruce Springsteen, “Backstreets”
One of the few times Bruce surpassed “Wild Billy’s Circus Story.”

Steely Dan, “Bodhisattva”
Steely Dan is not the most annoying band of the decade, though they’re right behind Chicago, Fleetwood Mac, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and The Bee-Gees in that department. “Bodhisattva,” however, is too ridiculous to resist. Plus it packs more swing than anything else in the Steely Dan catalog.

Talking Heads, “Heaven”
As I wrote here, I never appreciated this song until I heard them perform it during the Stop Making Sense concert tour.

Stevie Wonder, “Superstition”
Almost every one of his songs bursts with joy. Runner-up: “As.”

Your suggestions, comments, and suggestive comments are welcome. Thanks as always for reading. See you for ’80s Week!