Friday, June 27, 2003

oh, Brittania: a personal history of British rock, v.5
1. Led Zeppelin, “Immigrant Song.” They come from the land of the ice and snow – that’s why they scream so high. Remind me to tell you my story of singing this with my friend Shawn while we were tripping on LSD sometime.
2. Rod Stewart, “The Killing of Georgie (Parts 1 & 2).” Rod pushed the envelope in ’77 with this ode to a gay man, “the kindest guy [he] ever knew,” and made it to #2 in the UK chart with it. It’s a classic story-song, one of the last great ones of Rod’s career, with lush acoustic production allowing its lyrics to breathe and shine. Utterly awesome.
3. U2, “Two Hearts Beat As One.” I’ll always have a soft spot for War, if for no other reason than for the fact that it’s the last time the Dublin quartet sounded raw, young, and hungry. They sounded like a needful call to the future. And were.
4. Motorhead, “Ace of Spades.” Well, this is easy – the greatest single by one of the greatest, most influential metal bands in Britain. What they did is so simple, yet so hard for future generations to pull off: Tear. Shit. Up.
5. Ultravox, “Vienna.” I never said these segues weren’t sometimes jarring… Midge Ure’s band, on the cusp of a new era (which, oddly, they seemed shut out of, even as one of its progenitors): new romanticism. A justifiable UK #1, and seemingly the note they walked out on.
6. The Police, “When the World Is Running Down, You Make the Best of What’s Still Around.” Have you forgotten what a damned great guitar player Andy Summers was? How Stewart Copeland could keep the beat for nearly anything from rock to reggae? That Sting used to write really fine lyrics and didn’t sound like a prick singing them (not a half-bad bassist, either)? Then it’s time to remember. Over the course of their five studio albums, the Police put forth a legacy that should never be eclipsed by Sting’s solo work – because it’s not only better, it’s some of the best of any postpunk band into the early ‘80s.
7. The Who, “Eminence Front.” For my money, the Who’s best single was their last: the ridiculously ominous keyboard figure, Pete’s slashing leads, and Roger wailing away as if his life depended on it. I know that to nearly any Who fan, this constitutes blasphemy. I also know I don’t care.
8. The Clash, “Rock the Casbah.” They had better songs, yes. Better singles, maybe. Better albums, definitely. But they never made a better pop record – and they did it on their own terms.
9. Queen, “Radio Ga-Ga.” As over-the-top silly as it gets. I mean, yeah, they had a decent point about the crap on the radio, but they weren’t exactly raising the bar themselves in the mid-‘80s. Awash in a sea of overproduction and synth, this is how I typically think of Queen, as just a bit tacky. And isn’t that how Freddie might’ve wanted it? Too much is never enough.
10. Lloyd Cole and the Commotions, “Jennifer She Said.” Morrissey = #1 UK songwriter of the ‘80s. Paddy McAloon = #2. And Lloyd Cole, I’ll tell you, is #3 (or maybe #4, behind Neil Tennant, but you get my point). He’s also the most underrated of ‘em all. In the Commotions, like with Elvis’s Attractions, he had the perfect band to back up his slyly acerbic poetry, and the album from whence this comes, Mainstream, is drowning in it. Don’t throw me a life preserver.
11. The Smiths, “The Queen Is Dead.” Take me back to dear old blighty, indeed. Moz at his most poison-pen, replete with one of his most sheerly funny lines ever (he was a very funny guy, you know): “She said, ‘I know you and you cannot sing’/I said, ‘That’s nothing, you should hear my play piano.’”
12. Sinéad O’Connor, “Mandinka.” She was the lion and the cobra, unleashed on an unsuspecting public with the gale force of PJ Harvey and Bjork nearly combined. And that voice, oh! That voice.
13. Primal Scream, “Higher than the Sun.” When Bobby (Gillespie) met Andrew (Weatherall), and exploded definitions of rock and dance by giving them a shotgun wedding.
14. Iron Maiden, “Can I Play With Madness.” A freak UK #1, and a smashing, if not pop-metal, then metal-pop track from ’91. Sheer, stupid, fun.
15. Supergrass, “Moving.” A sweet and tender hooligan during each verse, a rambling rose (via barroom sing-a-long) during each chorus. Proof that they were wise beyond their years long before the years caught up with them – which they haven’t, yet, thank goodness.
16. PJ Harvey, “Down by the Water.” Polly lets forth a long snake moan, accompanied by quite possibly the nastiest fuzz-bass in recorded history.
17. Radiohead, “Karma Police (live).” On Pablo Honey they were, frankly, mediocre. On The Bends, they started showing sparks. On OK Computer, they opened their pandora’s box and stuck our heads inside. Recovery is futile, and why would you want it anyway?
18. Oasis, “Go Let It Out.” Desperate for a new(ish) sound, the Gallagher brothers decided to embrace sampling technology on Be Here Now, working a give-the-drummer-some drum break and even some - !!! – scratching in alongside the cor anglais sitting tight to give it just enough Beatles ’66 flair. And the damnedest thing: despite itself, it works, topped by some gloriously snarly vocals from Liam.

I did it! All five volumes! Miracles do happen, apparently.

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