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Showing posts from February, 2008

12 by Beck

Here's the drill: 12 songs to summarize an artist's career, in chronological order (of course).

Week 9












The best way to describe Beck? Kitchen sink. If you are looking for an artist who embraces electro-funk, bluegrass, folk, hip-hop, blues, R & B, psychedelica, pop and other genres that don't even have names, he's your man. I'll admit, this was a hard list to pick. Someone who defies definition is hard to define.

1. Loser (from Mellow Gold, 1994)
Of course it's got surreal, evocative lyrics and a keenly memorable chorus, but I think most people at the time expected to see Beck go the way of Dishwalla, Primitive Radio Gods, Deep Blue Something and every other mid-'90s alternative one-hit wonder. Who really knew?

2. Where It's At (from Odelay, 1996)
Beck grabbed sample kings Dust Brothers and decided to show us what hip-hop would have been like if had been invented in the deep south.

3. Sissyneck (from Odelay, 1996)
Nashville on acid, featuring the line:…

163. The Beatles: Past Masters Volume One (1988)

Now we continue our journey through the back catalog of a little-known '60s band I've recently discovered.

This album was a bit of a curiosity to me at first. It was released in 1990, long after the band's other albums, and appears to be some sort of compilation. But of what?

So I did some research and discovered that bands used to put out something called 45's or "singles". And, get this, the songs almost never appeared on any proper album! Can you believe that? Apparently, The Beatles did it all the time.

Covering singles from their first three years (1963 - 1965), this is a collection that draws a strong dividing line. You see, singles were somewhat poorly named. There was not just one song on the record, but rather one on each side, the back side (or b-side) being often a throwaway track from the artist. Going by Past Masters Volume One, The Beatles put populist, sweet songs out as singles, and used the b-sides to work out their rockier tendencies.

As …

24 by U2

Here's the drill: 24 songs to summarize an artist's career, in chronological order (of course).

Week 8









Here it is week 8 and I'm already breaking the rules. The general guidelines I follow for picking artists for the 12 by... feature are as follows: 1) they don't have a greatest hits album already and 2) no one could make a case for much more than 12 classic songs by that artist.

A feature on U2 obviously breaks both of those rules, but with good reason. For one, it's nice to change things up once in awhile. For another, I saw the fun U23D concert film this weekend and that got my mental cogs turning. And finally, despite the surest bet any band could ask for, U2 whiffed all three of their best of packages. Those should have been classic greatest hits albums, yet they were hampered by non-chronological sequencing, remixes and odd song choices. I'm here to rectify.

1. I Will Follow (from Boy, 1980)
Is that the guitar riff from Guitar by Prince that I hear? Wha…

162. The Beatles: Help! (1965)

Now we continue our journey through the back catalog of a little-known '60s band I've recently discovered.

Boy these guys were prolific! In modern times it takes a band a good 15 years to release 5 albums. The Beatles issued record #5 in their third year of recording. Creating music at such a breakneck pace, no one would blame them for running out of quality material.

But, believe it or not The Beatles got better, which makes it even more strange that they never got the critical or public acclaim they deserved.

The story on Help! is the growing challenge to John Lennon's singing and songwriting dominance. Not only was McCartney rapidly catching up to his partner, but lead guitarist George Harrison also reveals himself as a promising talent.

Let's start with John, whose songs were becoming increasingly complex. This is most evident in the title track, with its defiance of normal pop song structure (the chorus serves as the intro, and the background vocalists announce s…

12 by P.M.Dawn

Here' the drill: 12 songs to summarize an artist's career, in chronological order (of course).

Week 7












A quite misunderstood group lumped in with the early '90s hippie-hop movement (De La Soul, Arrested Development, etc.), P.M. Dawn actually went through a startling transformation over their 5 albums. And of course, their harmony-laden ballads could not be more Valentine's Day appropriate.

1. Set Adrift On Memory Bliss (from Of The Heart..., 1991)
Take a sample of Spandau Ballet's True, add a hi-hat, and Prince Be's laid-back rap and you've got an undeniable vibe. However, if this is all the band had been capable of, they would have disappeared much sooner.

2. Reality Used To Be A Friend Of Mine (from Of The Heart..., 1991)
Honestly, I just picked this one out of love for the title.

3. I'd Die Without You (from The Bliss Album...?, 1993)
Here's where the surprises start. Turns out P.M. Dawn were not truly a rap act, they were a vocal group. This sappy bal…

161. The Beatles: Beatles For Sale (1964)

Now we continue our journey through the back catalog of a little-known '60s band I've recently discovered.

How does that classic old song go? "Two steps forward, one step back"? After the general excellence of the entirely-original of A Hard Day's Night, The Beatles came back the exact same year with an album that replicated the same structure of their first two efforts.

That's right, Beatles For Sale sports only 8 originals along with 6 cover songs. And if the formula was getting stale on With The Beatles, it completely expired on this album.

The record starts strongly with three John Lennon compositions that show a startling growth, considering the band were only a year removed from their debut. No Reply is accusatory and claustrophobic, picking up on the darkness and melancholy of Lennon's A Hard Day's Night contributions. On the chorus he almost screams: "I nearly died!" when his girl ignores him. This is far from your typical pop far…

160. The Beatles: A Hard Day's Night (1964)

Now we continue our journey through the back catalog of a little-known '60s band I've recently discovered.

You have to give credit to this little band. Perhaps recognizing the dead-end nature of the cover songs on their previous record, they stocked up their third album with originals only, and the result is that much better for it!

This lightning fast (just under 31 minutes!) platter starts off with the title track, and composers John Lennon and Paul McCartney trading the lead. In another world this song would have been a big hit, I assure you!

Despite the equity on that song, John dominates the rest of the album, from the harmonica-driven I Should've Known Better to the speedy rock of Tell Me Why to the country-leaning Any Time At All. In fact, 9 of the record's 13 songs feature John on lead vocals.

Even so, Paul makes his contributions count! And I Love Her continues his proclivity toward ballads, but doesn't overdo it. Can't Buy Me Love is a rave-up featur…

12 by Fiona Apple

Here' the drill: 12 songs to summarize an artist's career, in chronological order (of course).

Week 6











Three albums in 12 years is hardly prolific, but no one can accuse Fiona Apple of not making each one count!

1. Sleep To Dream (from Tidal, 1996)
The initial shocking thing about Fiona for me was not her lyrics or her underwear, but her voice. So throaty and soulful, and all the more shocking for her big-eyed waifish looks.

2. Shadowboxer (from Tidal, 1996)
In some alternate or parallel reality this is a bonafide jazz standard.

3. Criminal (from Tidal, 1996)
Yes the dirty video brought it fame, but this was a rare case of the song being bigger and better than the hype.

4. Fast As You Can (from When The Pawn..., 1999)
Jon Brion brings his carnival atmosphere to Fiona's tales of woe. This is a sort of sequel to Criminal, basically saying, get out before I turn on you.

5. Limp (from When The Pawn..., 1999)
Fiona flips the script. She's the victim this time, and she's pissed. …

159. The Beatles: With The Beatles (1963)

Now we continue our journey through the back catalog of a little-known '60s band I've recently discovered.

I don't know for sure, but I'm guessing The Beatles first album, Please Please Me, made a small splash, because they rushed out a sequel the very same year!

And like a film sequel, it follows the same structure with less satisfying results. Once again, there are 14 songs, 8 originals and 6 covers. Once again, each band member takes his turn in the spotlight. But there's something missing, almost as if the band purposely refused to include their best songs.

That's not to say that there are pleasures to be had on With The Beatles. Where their debut album was a star turn for guitarist John Lennon, it's his writing partner Paul McCartney that really shines on this one. Witness All My Loving, a harmony-laden long distance letter that would set any heart swooning or Hold Me Tight, a call-and-repeat rocker. He even justifies his own weakness for showtunes wi…