Tim Sommer, rock raconteur extraordinaire, recently wrote a playlist for Tim Broun's blog Stupefaction. (#1 choice shown above.) Mr. Sommer has lately been writing a daily column in The Brooklyn Bugle (motto: "On the Web because paper is expensive") that immediately became the one thing that I read every day, just so I can enjoy his combination of cultural erudition and lunatic whimsy. In one of his Bugle columns he wrote about making the list. And in that article he posited other approaches/lists that I found myself wishing he had made as well. But he's undoubtedly got better things to do with his time. I apparently do not, however (okay, I do, I just have poor impulse control), and made my own lists based on his criteria.
And here they are. I could have gone thirty deep on each of these lists just as he did on Stupefaction (well, maybe not the Radiohead one), but if I went that far down the rabbit hole, I might not make it back with my rent paid.
The “I am Going to Impress Everyone with My Oblique and Obscure Knowledge” list. It says something about obscurity in the 21st century that though 99% of Americans have probably not heard of any of these acts, all of them can be heard online -- although not, in one case, the song I most like. I could have done a list that 99.9999% hadn't heard of by bringing classical music, jazz, blues, etc. into the equation, but I stuck with rock to match Sommer's focus, though I was unable to resist a little bit of soul.
1. "Keep My Baby Warm"– Charles May & Annette May Thomas
The children of gospel singer Brother Joe May made an album for a division of Stax in 1973, Songs Our Father Used to Sing, as a tribute after he died. Despite the album title, this soul track was written by Charles May. The lyric's import is universal; the arrangement and singing are classic.
2. "She Rides with Witches" – Wizards from Kansas
A Kansas-based '60s psych band. The best Jefferson Airplane track not by the Airplane?
3. "For the Future" – Do as Infinity
My favorite J-pop band at their most guitar-heavy.
4. "Keep on Loving You" – The Four Mints
Perfect soul harmony sound.
5. "Sister Watch Yourself" – The Mirettes
From the ex-Ikettes' second album.
6. "Hands Flail" – Beg for Eden
Staten Island post-punk.
7. "Industrious" – Seefeel
A sort of shoegaze/ambient techno hybrid. Aphex Twin is a fan.
8. "Almost Lost" – Rein Sanction
An early '90s SubPop band with a guitar sound so distinctive that a decade later I immediately recognized their sound when I heard an unreleased track played. This song is not on YouTube or Rdio, though you can find some other tracks from Mariposa, the album this comes from.
9. "Waiting for a Miracle" – The Comsat Angels
An early '80s post-punk band named for a J.G. Ballard song. An obvious influence on a number of more famous 2000s bands.
10. " Always in Trouble" – Judithstar*
Prince-influenced early project of current relationship guru/screenwriter Tracy McMillan.
The “I am a man of the people and I may run into Dave Marsh at a party” list:
1. "Goodbye Baby (Baby Goodbye)" - Van Morrison
A song from Van's first solo album, driven by his grittiest guitar riff.
2. "Incident on 57th Street" - Bruce Springsteen
Early Bruce is my favorite Bruce.
3. "I Need to Know" - Tom Petty
Petty at his catchiest and most urgent, before his success made his angry resentment insufferably unjustified.
4. "Try Me Again" - Linda Ronstadt
One of the best pure singers in '70s rock, singing at her most desperate.
5. "James Connelly" - Black 47
Not as well known as the rest of these populist bands, but as anthemic as any of them in remembering the inspiring Irish Socialist of the title.
6. "Stomp!" - The Brothers Johnson
Although research shows me that this was a February release, somehow for me it is indelibly associated with the Summer of 1980.
7. "Stay Free" - The Clash
Written as an admonition to a school friend to stay out of jail.
8. "Sign On" - Earth, Wind & Fire
Still going strong with this catchy number from last year.
9. "Street Hassle" - Lou Reed
Springsteen's a guest on this rock opera.
10. "Sweet Is the Night " - E.L.O.
If Springsteen were British.
The "I am going to … reel off ten bands from the last five years..." list (note that although all of these bands were active in the past five years, some of the songs are older than that, though none is more than ten years old, maybe eleven at the most):
1. "Lost" - The Mary Onettes This Swedish band's breakthrough song shows the power of a great bridge (not to mention my irrepressible attraction to the '80s sounds). I first heard this song on a co-worker's friend's MySpace page.
2. "Waiting for Something" - Nada Surf
Brooklyn's best pop-rock band, just bittersweet enough to never be cloying.
3. "Daniel" - Bat for Lashes
A Kate Bush for the 21st century.
4. "Sons of the Burgess Shale" - Bell Hollow
I love the E-bow guitar, not to mention the throbbing bass and motorik syncopation.
5. "Tin Birds" - Blank Dogs
A one-man project strongly beholden to the same sort of post-punk that I love, but with enough sense of individuality that it's more than just another Interpol.
6. "I Think We're Alone Now" – Grooms
Among my most talented friends, and some of the nicest people it has ever been my privilege to work with. Even if I'd never met them, I'd still love this music, and be amused by their penchant for borrowing song titles.
7. "Ageless Beauty" – Stars
My favorite Canadian import since William Gibson. Gorgeous power pop augmented by the latest production techniques of the time (2004).
8. "Thursday" - Asobi Seksu
My fave shoegaze/dreampop revivalists -- who, I am happy to be able to report, have reunited for an opening slot on some Slowdive dates.
9. "Albatross" - The Besnard Lakes
One of the more individual sounds to come out of indie rock in recent years.
10. "Faking the Books" - Lali Puna
One of my fave bits of pop-electronica.
The “Lots and Lots of Radiohead” list:
1. "Fake Plastic Trees" - Radiohead
Angst Central. The way the arrangement builds is sheer genius. Also, I love singing this at karaoke.
2. "Harrowdown Hill" - Thom Yorke
Though you'd never guess based on how American artists perverted it into a populist style, dubstep (in its original English incarnation) and its influence made music interestingly weird again for a while last decade. Yorke was one of many who couldn't resist dabbling in it himself, rather well.
3. "Me and the Devil" - Gil Scott-Heron
Were I picking my fave GSH song, this slot would be filled by "Winter in America" (check YouTube for a solo performance of it in Central Park a year before his death). This song choice is about an artist experimenting with electronic production, just as #2 above.
4. "Ice Age" - Joy Division
5. "Let Down" – Radiohead
Obviously I enjoy Thom and friends at their most brooding.
6. "Moving in Stereo/All Mixed Up" - The Cars
The only appearance of a Krautrock sound on the American pop charts. Really a three-movement suite, with the closing "leave it to me" section brilliantly majestic and one of the best endings to an album, ever.
7. "Aguirre" - Popol Vuh
My favorite Krautrock band. And it's obvious to me that Thom Yorke's a huge Krautrock fan.
8. "Baby's on Fire" - Brian Eno
Features a contender for my favorite guitar solo ever, played by Robert Fripp.
9. "Blue" – The Fruit Guys
There is a whole subgenre of British bands boiling down what they think is the essence of early Radiohead, the prime example being Coldplay. This, despite being a mere underwear commercial, is the best of them. Sorry this cuts off the last chord.
10. "Somewhere Only We Know" - Keane
Another poor man's Radiohead, aching with sincerity and angst.
The "songs I would rather listen to more than any other songs" list:
1. "Little Man with a Gun in His Hand" – Minutemen
I slightly prefer the version on Double Nickels on the Dime to this earlier one, but they are both ominous to a thrillingly cathartic degree.
2. "That's When I Reach for My Revolver" – Mission of Burma
Not really about a gun so much as, well, I'm not sure. Quiet desperation about to explode.
3. "I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free" – Nina Simone
Gospel soul at its finest. The pain and defiance in Simone's voice breaks my heart every time.
4. "Wall of Death" - Richard & Linda Thompson
One of the greatest male & female vocal songs. There have been days when I have listened to this over and over and over again, often singing along. And I love Richard's guitar lick leading back into each new verse.
5. "Maggot Brain" – Funkadelic
An instrumental, possibly the greatest guitar showcase in the history of rock. Wail on, Eddie Hazel.
6. "Soulful Strut" – Young-Holt Unlimited
I have said that I wish this could play every time I enter a room. I mean that.
7. "Trespassin'" – Skull Snaps
A crate-digger's delight, intricately syncopated funk under an ecstatic vocal group.
8. "Field of Darkness" – Pegboy
One of the catchiest effusions of punk ever, with a perfect two-note guitar riff.
9. "Lady Friend" – The Byrds
Yes, my favorite Byrds song is a non-album single by David Crosby that tanked. Because that's how I roll.
10. "Living with Victoria Grey" – Cleaners from Venus
Victoria Grey = Margaret Thatcher. Certainly one of the catchiest protest songs England has produced.
- Steve Holtje
Mr. Holtje is a Brooklyn-based composer, poet, and editor who recently composed and recorded the soundtrack for director Enrico Cullen's film A Man Full of Days.