Continuing the idea from a previous column about the ten music albums you would want with you on a desert island, here is that idea updated for 21st-century digital boys and girls. (Apologies to Bad Religion.) Thanks to iPods and other digital devices, music storage and playback has grown tremendously—you can now literally hold the musical world in the palm of your hand. Should you find yourself on that titular island today, no doubt you would have access to much more music than before. So, before the batteries run out or the Dharma Initiative kidnaps you, which ten playlists would you have with you on the island?
This was part of an exercise I've conducted before. The ground rules are: No more than 10 playlists, and no more than 15 songs per playlist, for a maximum of 150 songs. Now, the definition of "song" can be pretty broad: You can consider Beethoven's Fifth Symphony to be one "song" (even though it is divided into four movements) because the work is united by the same theme and appears under that single overarching title. Other than that, the world is your oyster.
Not only does the playlist concept provide potentially more songs, but the song-by-song approach offers greater programming freedom. You can assemble any kind of list you want. My playlists are organized by theme. This is hardly a new idea—mix tapes and mix discs have been around for ages—but the ease of having music files that can be shuffled around at the touch of a finger seems to make the task so much more appealing. (I still have cassette mixes constructed from slapping record after record on the turntable, recording one song at a time—in real time—while pausing the tape after each song and restarting it before the next one. And this was after adding up all the times for each song in "base 60-second" to ensure that I wouldn't run over the allotted time for each side of a C-60 or C-90 tape. Those were the days.)
Moreover, using the song itself as the basic unit of consumption is infinitely more liberating. The fact is that our musical enjoyment comes by the song, not by the album. Sure, there are a lot of great albums, and many more very good ones. And "greatest hits" packages, anthologies and compilations, usually offer non-stop enjoyment—but that is because they cull a catalog of albums for the best songs. Again, it is the song (and, again, however you want to define "song") that offers that per-unit satisfaction. And we might like, even love, one or two songs by an artist but not the rest of that artist's work. Or that one song works in a certain context—for instance, "Two Tribes" in a mid-'80s political mix, but how much more Frankie Goes to Hollywood do you need to hear?—but divorced of that context, who needs it? (Well, "Two Tribes" works for me in any context, but "Welcome to the Pleasuredome" is not going to change my world.)
I'm not stating anything you are not already aware of, only reiterating the obvious. I think the response to the "100 Worst Songs in Modern Pop Culture" list on this site indicates the immediate reaction we can have at the per-song level. It is easier to assess a single song, not just because it is a single entity, but because our reactions and memories are formed around that single song. Again, belaboring the obvious, but I do so in support of the playlist format.
My ten playlists are listed below. What's in your desert island iPod?
Note: All playlists are ranked for playing sequence only. The order is not a value statement.
Let's face it: Most pop songs that claim to be about "love" don't have anything to do with heartfelt declarations of lasting emotion or feeling. Whenever singers sing that they're "looking for love," they're really looking to hook up and knock boots. So, to borrow the words of the great Aretha Franklin, let's call these songs exactly what they are.
1. "(Get up, I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine," James Brown and the JBs. The Godfather's rap won't get you hot, but the JBs' loping, chicken-scratch rhythm will, from the simple, insistent piano to the grooving guitar licks to bassist Bootsy Collins's amazingly elastic bottom.
2. "Her Strut," Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band. Bob and the boys rock one out while battling their dilemma: We totally respect the modern, independent woman. We just want to see her walking up to us. She don't look bad walking away, either. Not at all.
3. "Hot Stuff," Donna Summer. In this seductive blend of rock, R&B, and disco, poor hot-and-bothered Donna complains that she can't get any action. Totally unrealistic. I mean, you've seen her back in the day, right? Her phone was ringing.
4. "Sexual Healing," Marvin Gaye. Smoothing out his rap from Let's Get It On atop a gently popping groove designed to remove undergarments at fifty paces, Marvin pleads for a piece of pie so sweetly that he gives the rest of us a shot at it, too.
5. "Lady Marmalade," Labelle. "Hello, Joe. You wanna give it a go?" Slinky, New Orleans-styled French lesson wants only to settle on the price. Then it's off to the black satin sheets where you can start to freak. Gitchy-gitchy ya-ya, indeed.
6. "U Got the Look," Prince. The Purple One's tightly-wound funk drives home this no-doubt-about-it bar pick-up. "Boy meets girl in the World Series of Love"? "Oh, please!" Extra points for slutting up duet partner Sheena Easton.
7. "Stay with Me," The Faces. With guitarist Ron Wood and drummer Kenny Jones urging him on, Rod Stewart rocks hard as he lands red-haired Rita, then hands her the guy line: "Just don't be here in the morning when I wake up."
8. "Nasty," Janet Jackson. Don't let that hard-edged yet sprightly beat fool you: The most talented Jackson not named Michael lays down the law for nasty boys looking to get busy with her and her own nasty thoughts. Yes, Ms. Jackson.
9. "Flamethrower," The J. Geils Band. Stephen Jo Bladd's explosive drums and J. Geils's playful guitar drive the one about the office Plain Jane who's a "flamethrower, a red-hot blower" at night. Great Magic Dick, too. The harmonica player, silly.
10. "Rock Steady," Aretha Franklin. Aretha's glorious pipes soar over the wickedly infectious horns and groove. If this seductive, rolling track about "driving" isn't a metaphor for sex, then I've never downshifted for more thrust on the straightaway.
11. "Stray Cat Blues," The Rolling Stones. God, yes, she's underage—but she bites, screams, and scratches beyond her years. Or so bad man Mick tells us. The knife-edge guitars, Bill's ominous bass, and Charlie's cutting drums make this one even nastier.
12. "You Shook Me All Night Long," AC/DC. The Youngs' ringing guitars and Phil Rudd's thumping backbeat pay tribute to the night they got knocked out by those American thighs. The lyrics here are practically Shakespeare for these Paleolithic pounders.
13. "The Girl Tried to Kill Me," Ice-T. Metal guitar wailing over a slamming beat, Ice raps hilariously—and in juicy detail—about his deliciously kinky encounter with the smoking-hot freak men openly want but secretly fear. And vice versa.
14. "Got Me under Pressure," ZZ Top. ZZ's galloping bruiser, riding crunching guitar riffs and nitro-charged drums, almost hides this poor shlub's helplessness before the sophisticated dame with a control fetish and a dog on a leash. Almost.
15. "Shake, Rattle, and Roll," Big Joe Turner. Blame Bill Haley's safe-for-all-ages cover. I always thought this R&B gem was quaint because I wasn't paying attention. Then I finally figured out what a "one-eyed cat peepin' in a seafood store" meant. Duh!
Playlist #2: Drugs
Like cheap sex and general decadence, drugs have been a part of the musical fabric going back to Cole Porter's "I Get a Kick out of You" and beyond. But like Porter's narrator (who, don't forget, gets "no kick from cocaine"), even a lot of rock songs that deal with drugs are actually anti-drug. And alcohol is a drug too.
1. "White Rabbit,".Jefferson Airplane. .In which Grace Slick tells us that Alice in Wonderland really is a trip—on those pills or mushrooms or whatever (instead of Dodgson's pedophilia thing). Psychedelia that still holds up. Feed your head. Man.
2. "Roll Another Number,".Neil Young. Neil's here twice because he writes great drug songs (glaring exception: "Homegrown"). Ben Keith's pedal steel accents the buzzy, cheerful flavor of buddies getting high before the sun hits the hood ornament.
3. "Mr. Tambourine Man,".Bob Dylan. Probably the rock era's most poetic song about needing to feed your wicked jones, with that subtle electric guitar hooking itself through the smoke rings of your mind as much as Zimmy's jingle-jangle.
4. "I'm Waiting for the Man," The Velvet Underground. The Presences of Modern Rock score in Harlem, and they sure sound as if they know what they're talking about: That insistent piano feels like your nerves when you know you're closing in on your fix. Don't ask.
5. "City of Tiny Lites,".Frank Zappa. Anti-drug Zappa could only imagine what being swacked on downers and wine was like. Luckily, singer-guitarist Adrian Belew and demon drummer Terry Bozzio help him drive through that part of town.
6. "White Lines (Don't Don't Do It)," Grandmaster Flash. The rubbery bass and clattering drums are as addictive as Peruvian marching powder, and the non-redundant "Don't"'s in the title make the standpoint most intriguing, indeed. Then there's Shaun of the Dead . . .
7. "The Needle and the Spoon." Lynyrd Skynyrd. Chunky guitar riffs explode throughout every inch of Ronnie Van Zandt's admonitory tale that leaves him standing there crying. Don't let the Confederate flag fool you: These guys were no dummies. No, sir.
8. "The Needle and the Damage Done," Neil Young. With his high, vulnerable voice, Neil only reinforces the fragile, tenuous emotion in this achingly beautiful story. It's over much too quickly, but then, "every junkie's like a setting sun."
9. "The Pusher," Steppenwolf. These journeymen rode Hoyt Axton's reactionary condemnation of drug dealers to glory as one of Easy Rider's keynotes. That droning, fuzz-toned guitar dates it but it still lends the appropriate air of menace.
10. "Stay Clean," Motorhead. Hard to take seriously this caution to avoid drugs when it's delivered at a tempo that underscores the band's name as slang for an amphetamine user. Lemmy's bass solo will club you into submission, anyway.
11. "Copperhead Road," Steve Earle. Country-rock rebel lays out a brilliant generational saga about the family business. 'Course, that business is moonshine. And then weed. When the drums kick in hard, you'll smell the whiskey burnin', all right.
12. "One Mint Julep," The Clovers. Wow—what's in that drink? This poor guy meets a pretty girl, has the one mint julep with her—and before you know it, her father's got the wedding shotgun out. "Six extra children/From gettin' frisky," indeed.
13. "Whiskey River," Willie Nelson. Women and drink is always a potent combination; here, the current of whiskey flows for those 4 AM blues: "Whiskey river, take my mind/Don't let her memory torture me." That's her divorce lawyer's job.
14. "Alcohol," The Kinks. Ray Davies always tells a colorful tale, and this one about the harried, married professional guy who turns to drink and a floozy is oh-so-appropriately woozy. "Sad memories I can't recall." Been there. I think.
15. "Downbound Train," Chuck Berry. Trouble staying on the wagon? Chuck's harrowing, evocative tale gallops from the barroom floor to—well, the train's headed down, isn't it? And the devil himself is the engineer. Get you one for the road?
Playlist #3: Rock 'n' Roll
What makes a rock song a "rock 'n' roll" song? Beats me, even though I could list dozens of songs with "rock" or "rock 'n' roll" in the title. But for me, Chuck Berry is the architect of rock music—he synthesized the sound, wrote the vocabulary, and made the guitar the reigning instrument. Yes, rock music has evolved enormously from those fast, ringing chords and that R&B backbeat. But you need a foundation to build on, and Chuck created it. What follows is a hopelessly biased, woefully inadequate distillation of the Rock Gospel According to Berry that shows his influence, however tenuous, through the decades.
1. "Johnny B. Goode," Chuck Berry. The guitar riff that launched a thousand rock bands and the witty lyrics that outlined everyone's ambition, particularly his own. The architect of rock music laid the foundation for everyone else on this list.
2. "Mystery Train," Elvis Presley. Rock's greatest singer and his best-ever backing unit (Scotty Moore, Bill Black, D.J. Fontana) ride this notorious train into rock 'n' roll mythology. Or so Greil Marcus says. Listening to this, I believe him.
3. "All along the Watchtower," Jimi Hendrix. Rock's guitar god wrote him some great tunes, but here he simply seizes Bob Dylan's song and fashions it irrevocably into his richly textured image, proving that Jimi was far more than just a Stratocaster flash.
4. "Sympathy for the Devil" (Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out live version), The Rolling Stones. Their most infamous song recorded at the height of their stage prowess. Mick lays out the sordid details as Keith and new boy Mick Taylor unfurl their chugging, stinging guitars to Charlie's unerring backbeat.
5. "My Generation" (Live at Leeds version), The Who. Captured at the top of their game, this juggernaut of aggression and energy transforms this generational anthem into a rock symphony, thanks to Tommy's striking motifs and a thunderous, relentless assault.
6. "Lodi," Creedence Clearwater Revival. John Fogerty's evocative flipside to "Johnny B. Goode"—stuck playing in Podunkville while dreams of fame evaporate. The rolling, quietly insistent rhythm section shows why CCR was a flat-out great band.
7. "Bring It on Home," Led Zeppelin. A throwaway compared to Zep's grandiose epics; secret weapon John Paul Jones starts her before Page and Bonham crash in halfway through. And Bonham almost keeps up with Page and Jones for a change.
8. "Rock 'n' Roll Never Forgets," Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band. Classic-rock singer extraordinaire has written bigger songs, but this one might be the first to notice rock's gray hairs. And the man pays tribute to the Man: "All of Chuck's children are out there playing his licks."
9. "Juke Box Music," The Kinks. After transforming rock with "You Really Got Me," the Davies brothers return with this stirring report on its impact, featuring some of Ray's most sweetly astute lyrics while Dave gets to wail on lead guitar.
10. "Precious," Pretenders. Chrissie Hynde proved that girls could rock like the boys as on this clanging declaration with a twist: She might be out to pick up some stud—but she's the one who's got to worry about getting knocked up.
11. "London Calling," The Clash. Even though Joe Strummer's urgent manifesto warns us of much bigger problems afoot, it still uses Paul Simonon's bass to drive the message home. And they do note that "phony Beatlemania has bitten the dust."
12. "Teen Age Riot," Sonic Youth. "Johnny B. Goode" enters the '80s with platform shoes, Marshal stacks, and it takes a teenage riot to get him out of bed. The ringing guitar harmonics and surging beat make this one a modern rock touchstone.
13. "Welcome to the Jungle," Guns 'N Roses. The last pretenders to the American Rolling Stones throne come pretty damn close with this roaring, swelling slab of urban posturing. You do know that "Johnny B. Goode" sired the Stones, right? Comes full circle.
14. "Block Rockin' Beats," Chemical Brothers. Electronica purists call this chowder-headed, and they're right. Rock 'n' roll heathens glom onto the loping rhythm and the clattering percussion and ride them into the sunset. Barbarians at the gates of techno.
15. "Fade to Black," Metallica. Riffs so mighty and a story so compelling (courtesy of Johnny Got His Gun) that they re-wrote this one at least twice more. When LA metal station KNAC folded, this was their last song. What else could it be?
Playlist #4: Politics
The problem with politically-oriented songs is that not only does topicality lose its relevance over time, but that it's hard not to wind up sounding preachy, pedantic, and biased. Guilty as charged. As Phil Ochs would say, love me, I'm a liberal.
1. "Anarchy in the UK," Sex Pistols. The sound of revolt as inflicted by the scabrous Mr. Rotten, with the band chasing him through the barbed verses with chainsaws and broken bottles. "Another council tenancy," indeed.
2. "Trouble Every Day," The Mothers of Invention. Frank Zappa's clear-eyed, articulate recounting of the 1965 Watts riots, told over a raw, pounding rhythm, is depressingly prescient: "No way to delay/That trouble coming every day" sounds like today's headline.
3. "The Message," Grandmaster Flash. Maybe the best part of this compelling examination of urban blight, told with sobering clarity, is its sense of resilience: "It's like a jungle sometimes/Makes me wonder how I keep from going under."
4. "Hurricane," Bob Dylan. Racial injustice as Dylan chronicles—with amazing acuity, controlled emotion, and a pretty good backbeat—how boxer Ruben "Hurricane" Carter was framed for murder. You'd expect anything less from Dylan?
5. "Natural's Not in It," Gang of Four. England's post-grad punkers deliver the goods on the perils of consumer capitalism: "This heaven gives me migraine." The problem of leisure as told by slashing guitar, itchy rhythm, and anxious voice.
6. "Lindbergh," Woody Guthrie. My inner historian loves how America's greatest folkie indicts "national hero" Lindbergh and his fascist America First cohorts by naming every name. During the war (that's WWII, kids). It can't happen here?
7. "B-Movie," Gil Scott-Heron. Political poet Scott-Heron cogently lays out the rise of Reaganism like the plot of a political thriller with the fatal twist as to the decline of American empire: We wanted John Wayne, but we settled for Reagan.
8. "Ohio," Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Young's chunky guitar pierces the plaintive voices just as the National Guardsmen's bullets tore into four Kent State students on that black day in 1970. "What if you knew her/And found her dead on the ground?"
9. "Washington Bullets," The Clash. Once while walking among Washington, D.C.'s, striking monuments, I had this catalog of U.S. Third-World interventions repeating in my head. The Russkies, Chinese, and Brits don't get off easy, either.
10. "ITT, Part 2," Fela Kuti. Amidst the Nigerian patois is the history of the colonized by the colonizer with the corporate face. I think. The groove is long, luscious, and sinuous and tells its own compelling story, anyway.
11. "Call It Democracy," Bruce Cockburn. This Canadian folk-rocker, a Christian leftist, pulls no punches in his cutting examination of neo-colonialism in the Third World. Can't be that pious if he compares it to a "cheap bordello," though. And it rocks.
12. "Johnny Too Bad," The Slickers. They're not a great reggae band, but they captured what it was like to be on the other end of the gun, even with a pistol in your own waist: "You gonna run to the rock for rescue/There will be no rock."
13. "Cops of the World," Phil Ochs. The Sixties' most political folkie flashes sardonic humor to go with his keen journalistic eye for condemning American "police actions" around the globe. "Have a stick of our bubblegum," he winks.
14. "Short Memory," Midnight Oil. Jim Moginie's slicing guitar prods Peter Garrett as he proves, once again, Santayana's dictum: Those who fail to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them. "A smallish man, Afghanistan," anyone?
15. "Fight the Power," Public Enemy. Still not exactly sure what Chuck D and Flavor Flav are exhorting us to do here, but with the Bomb Squad's rich production and insistent beat, I'll sign up. Most of my heroes don't appear on no stamps, either.
Playlist #5: Jazz
My snobbery is on full display here. A lot of what passes for "jazz" these days makes for pleasant aural wallpaper, pretty listening while doing chores or just trying to "chill." Most of the stuff below is pretty listening to my ears, but it was made by musicians who know and love both jazz music and their instruments—and more importantly, they wanted to dig deep into the human spirit and express that emotionalism through music. Words fail that description. You just have to listen to these.
1. "My Favorite Things," John Coltrane. Post-bop's tenor sax titan gets to soar on soprano sax here, but this one is every bit McCoy Tyner's with his forceful yet reflective piano. Their genius was to mine the spiritual profundity in a bubbly show tune.
2. "So What," Miles Davis. Miles's modal masterwork spotlights a who's who of post-boppers (Bill Evans, John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley) whose yearning solos, including the trumpeter's, still lend this one a modern, urban feel.
3. "Un Poco Loco," Bud Powell. The urgent tempo and Bud's brash piano chords betray his grounding in be-bop, but his rolling, thoughtful soloing, accented by drummer Max Roach's insistent cowbell, heralds Powell's sterling musical vision.
4. Black, Brown, and Beige, Duke Ellington. From the bold, enticing opening theme through a stunning variety of moods, all flawlessly executed by his peerless orchestra, Duke's sweeping tone parallel is a musical marvel filled with sweet delights.
5. "Lester Leaps In," Count Basie (with Lester Young). Pianist Basie and the riffing horns set up President Young's lyrical, sugar-toned tenor sax solo before he and Basie trade a series of witty fours over Walter Page's walking bass. All in three minutes. Whew!
6. "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat," Charles Mingus. On Mingus's sweetly moving elegy to Lester Young (fond of the titular headgear), tenor saxophonist John Handy wisely avoids imitation but rather voices a melancholy farewell to the Pres over sympathetic horns.
7. "'Round Midnight," (solo piano arrangement), Thelonious Monk. Monk's famous standard has seen many arrangements, but when he renders it by himself, he wrings out every nuance of the tune's many nocturnal moods: pensive and wistful, yet punchy and celebratory too.
8. "Hat and Beard," Eric Dolphy. Spurred by bassist Richard Davis and drumming wunderkind Tony Williams, avant-jazzer Dolphy (on bass clarinet) oversees a tribute to Thelonious Monk filled with winking idiosyncratic flourishes.
9. "Blue 7," Sonny Rollins. Tenor saxophone colossus Rollins recorded this unassuming blues over a half-century ago—and it still sounds contemporary today, with Max Roach's spotlight one of the most musical drum solos you'll ever hear.
10. "Waltz for Debby," Bill Evans. Virtuoso pianist Evans indeed gives this one a sprightly classical flavor before swinging when drummer Paul Motian and especially bassist Scott LaFaro arrive to carry Evans's brilliant, crystalline lines home.
11. "Peace," Ornette Coleman. One of alto saxophonist Coleman's most winsome melodies—and how often has this abrasive avant-garder been accused of sentimentality?—enlivens his and simpatico trumpeter Don Cherry's bluesy soloing.
12. "Song for Bilbao," Michael Brecker. You've heard this driving tenor saxophonist on countless rock and pop sessions, but here he paints a gorgeous, expansive mood with his own soloing and then with pianist McCoy Tyner and guitarist Pat Metheny.
13. "Blue Rondo a la Turk," Dave Brubeck. Pianist Brubeck gives this one an urgent kickoff, seconded by alto saxophonist Paul Desmond; then they settle into a relaxed, swinging groove before closing with the classical majesty they began with.
14. "The Crossing," David Murray. A rich, outgoing mood opens contemporary tenor sax great Murray's showcase opus before the horns swing into the bouncy refrain, setting the stage as Murray steps out on a quirkily engaging bass clarinet solo.
15. "Movin' On," Jimmy McGriff. Soul-jazz organist McGriff leads his team, driven by drummer Pretty Purdie, through a series of solos on alto saxophonist Fathead Newman's tune that swings so hard it would hurt if it wasn't so damned infectious.
Playlist #6: Prog-Fusion
It's true that both progressive rock (rock trying to sound brainy) and jazz fusion (jazz trying to sound tough—at least before it wimped into Quiet Storm Fuzak) score pretty high on the Pretense-O-Meter, but when that blending of power and technique clicks, the results can be devastating, as these tracks demonstrate.
1. "Egocentric Molecules," Jean-Luc Ponty. Probably the most self-descriptive title in fusion, as virtuoso violinist Ponty leads the dizzying soloists, but the adrenaline-fueled tempo makes this pedal-to-the-floor whirl a white-knuckle ride in any case.
2. "The Noonward Race," The Mahavishnu Orchestra. The most intense fusion outfit swoops and strafes like a bird afire on a hard-hitting gallop driven by drummer Billy Cobham and insanely-fast guitarist John McLaughlin; metal axemen dream of shredding like him.
3. "The Thrill of It All," Roxy Music. Steely-sleek progs, propelled by drummer Paul Thompson's mighty drive, push urbane crooner Bryan Ferry's exhilarated warbling about love making him dizzy before he moons about the doll who got away.
4. "Asbury Park," King Crimson. Monster bassist John Wetton and forceful drummer Bill Bruford propel this Godzilla prog instrumental through the heart of town, with guitarist Robert Fripp and keyboardist David Cross pelting them at every step.
5. "The Jam with Albert," Larry Coryell. Sorely underrated jazz guitarist Coryell shows he knows how to shuffle like a blues god on this mesmerizing jam with bassist Albert Stinson and drummer Pretty Purdie pumping out the unrelenting rhythm.
6. "Show Biz Kids," Steely Dan. This is about as bluesy as these tight-assed progs ever got. They do nail celebrity to a tee, though: "Show business kids making movies of themselves/You know they don't give a fuck about anybody else."
7. "Stomp and Buck Dance," The Crusaders. Jazzers turned to soulful funk to lay down the smoothest groove around (before they got too slick); here, led by pianist Joe Sample, bassist Wilton Felder, and drummer Stix Hooper, they still pop like hot grease.
8. "The Gumbo Variations," Frank Zappa. Guitarist Zappa turns this sizzling, relentless prog showcase over to alto saxophonist Ian Underwood and particularly violinist Don "Sugarcane" Harris for extended, serious soloing atop a brutally tight beat.
9. "The True Wheel," Brian Eno. Idiosyncratic Eno constructs a mechanical rhythm that builds relentlessly to a mesmerizing force, but the kicker is the wittily absurd lyrics that deflate so much of prog's pretension that you actually smile.
10. "Sly," Herbie Hancock. Straight-ahead pianist Herbie Hancock got in on the fusion boom after his stint with Miles Davis; here he lets alto saxophonist Bennie Maupin sing Sly Stone's praises over a percolating, percussion-laced groove.
11. "125th Street Congress," Weather Report. Fusion's finest turned the corner into funk jamming with this razor-sharp, percussion-flavored groove spotlighting soprano sax-man Wayne Shorter, electric pianist Joe Zawinul, and electric bassist Andrew White.
12. "Dogs," Pink Floyd. Prog poster boys stretch out, led by David Gilmour's sharp, tasty guitar, on bassist Roger Waters's mercenary Corporate Man pessimism that'll bite you on the butt like a foaming-mouthed Doberman if you let it.
13. "Theme to the Mothership," Return to Forever. The name and track titles reek of patchouli, but these fusion studs led by pianist Chick Corea burned like lasers across the night sky; Corea, guitarist Bill Connors, and bassist Stanley Clarke shine brightly here.
14. "TNK," Phil Manzanera. Roxy's guitarist Manzanera leads an all-star prog assemblage, including tech-wizard Brian Eno, whose winsome vocals lend this brawny cover of the Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows" unexpected warmth.
15. "In a Silent Way/It's about That Time," Five Peace Band. Father of Fusion Miles Davis wrote this workhorse, and acolytes pianist Chick Corea and guitarist John McLaughlin, paced by drumming monster Vinnie Colaiuta, do right by dad on this smoldering tribute.
Playlist #7: Soul
This was the hardest list to compile. I had to blip Aretha, Marvin, James, and others who appear on other lists just so I could squeeze in some more faves here. And I mourn for all those I couldn't list: Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson, Al Green, the O'Jays, LL Cool J, Funkadelic/Parliament, War, Run-DMC, Tina Turner—even Tone-Loc's hilarious "Funky Cold Medina." Nevertheless, all these jams prove Motown's motto right: It's what's in the groove that counts.
1. "Theme from Shaft," Isaac Hayes. The jive lyrics mirror the decent blaxploitation film it underlines, but South Park's Chef engineered a three-minute symphonic marvel here. The chukka-wukka guitar is worth the price of admission alone.
2. "I Wish," Stevie Wonder. The driving Nathan Watts bass line launches this fond, funny reflection on childhood and growing up. With those exuberant horns flavoring his smoothly rolling funk, you know that Stevie's smile has got to be broad.
3. "Thank You (Falettin Me Be Mice Elf Again)," Sly and the Family Stone. Sly Stone's best stuff is so lively and engaging, you can forget just how crucial an innovator he was. Larry Graham's forceful bass and the group vocals complemented by the horns should remind you in a hurry.
4. "On Broadway," The Drifters. The scuffling rhythm, the swelling strings, the stinging guitar mimic the city's sounds as Rudy Lewis, echoed by the backing vocalists, spins his tale of scrambling for a gig but refusing to take the bus back home.
5. "Le Freak," Chic. Nile Rodgers's scratching guitar lends R&B grit to this infectious disco diva, although Bernard Edwards's insistent bass licks in the middle suggest that "Le Freak" could be more than merely a new dance move.
6. "Jungle Boogie," Kool and the Gang. Its strong groove, riding that sinuous bass line and accented by the stuttering guitar, drives the elephant-call-and-response horns while urging you to—well, they don't quite spell it out, but you know.
7. "Hold on, I'm Comin'," Sam and Dave. Al Jackson's unerring drum shots fire up the irresistibly punchy horns that taunt this dueling duo's fervent assurances that lovin' help is on the way—and only she'll care if it's Sam or Dave who gets there first.
8. "Hard to Handle," Otis Redding. Long-suffering lover man Otis gets to swagger like a stud for a change, and the mischievous Memphis horns do their best to make his rap persuasive. Still demolishes the Black Crowes' cover, yessiram.
9. "Nowhere to Run," Martha and the Vandellas. Martha Reeves belts out her anxiety as Berry Gordy's toughest girl group glides atop the plush groove Motown factory-installed in every ace like this one. And I doubt that Martha really wants to get away.
10. "Reach out, I'll Be There," The Four Tops. Who better to emote gloriously about romantic melodrama than Levi Stubbs, he of the huge, brooding voice? And I love how the single bar of only bass and tambourine lets you know the chorus is going to plead.
11. "Lonely Avenue," Ray Charles. Jilted Ray hiccups his dejection over his girl's rejection from a room in the Heartbreak Hotel as the Raelettes sweetly chide him in the background, with the compact sax break honking like a quiet crying jag.
12. "The Tracks of My Tears," Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. They laughed when Bob Dylan called Smokey America's greatest poet. "They" never heard this achingly eloquent smiling-through-tears confession, apparently. Too bad—Smokey's falsetto is just as lyrical.
13. "Hip-Hug Her," Booker T. and the MGs. I love it when an instrumental's title captures perfectly the mood it's trying to evoke. Here, the incomparable MGs groove sidles up to her, takes her by the waist, and rides Booker T.'s irresistible organ. Licks.
14. "Superfly," Curtis Mayfield. Urban conscience Curtis's hard-edged funk—the alarmed horn bursts, the uh-oh bass figure, and that insistent high-hat—reinforces this clear-eyed tale of how crime will always call to collect its bill, sooner or later.
15. "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone," The Temptations. Inspired writer-producer Norman Whitfield pulled the Tempts into the 1970s with this tour de force funk saga that stretched out but also reeled back Motown's awesome firepower for maximum dramatic effect.
Playlist #8: Blues
Blues titan Muddy Waters once wrote a song called "The Blues Had a Baby and They Called It Rock 'n' Roll." Certainly I became drawn into the blues when, eons ago, I looked at the album songwriting credits on those blues-rock bands I was into (Cream, the Yardbirds, Jeff Beck, et al) and saw the names of guys who weren't in those bands: Robert Johnson. Willie Dixon. Chester Burnett (AKA Howlin' Wolf). McKinley Morganfield (AKA Muddy Waters). Who were those guys? My investigation led me into those bands' sources and inspirations, into music that was hard and earthy yet affecting and witty, its seeming simplicity masking layers of nuance. Blues. The birth of rock.
1. "Choo-Choo Ch'Boogie," Louis Jordan. How many times can you rhyme "-ack"? This locomoting delight glides on rails of bass, piano, and saxophone to answer this question even if it has to "pal around with Democratic fellas named Mac." I'm aboard!
2. "Mystery Train" (The Last Waltz live version), The Band with Paul Butterfield. A real barn-burner with drummer Levon Helm duetting with Paul Butterfield and his potent harmonica while Robbie Robertson—whose add-on lyrics swell the song's mythology—fires off biting guitar licks.
3. "Smokestack Lightning," Howlin' Wolf. Chester Burnett's nickname is indeed apt—here his huge voice growls and howls throughout this elemental tale of lust and betrayal, punctuated by his own harmonica and Hubert Sumlin's ringing guitar.
4. "Remington Ride," Freddie King. The King of the blues instrumental with his fast, brassy guitar picking that influenced rockers from Clapton on down, Freddie rides a series of catchy riffs and lines down the road in a delight that keeps keeping on.
5. "Crossfire," Stevie Ray Vaughan. With tight backing in service of a decent tune for a change, the hottest white blues guitarist since Clapton lets loose with those steely-sharp bursts, particularly on one of the greatest blues-rock solos ever.
6. "Stop," Mike Bloomfield with Al Kooper. The best white blues guitarist you've hardly heard of lives up to his rep with searing, pinpoint soloing all over this instrumental, inspiring Al Kooper to lay down the most soulful organ playing he's done.
7. "If I Had Possession over Judgment Day," Robert Johnson. The Delta blues equivalent to Chuck Berry, infamous in life and legend, Johnson's marvelous guitar playing and frank, evocative lyrics remain a huge influence—this one morphed into "Rollin' and Tumblin'."
8. "Rollin' and Tumblin'," Elmore James. It doesn't have The Lick—in fact, James's guitar is curiously subdued—but he uses his keening voice for humorous effect, as when he warns her: "If you don't like my peaches/Please don't shake my tree."
9. "Rollin' and Tumblin'" (Live Cream version), Cream. Their live stuff is really hit-or-miss, and demon bassist Jack Bruce plays an okay harmonica here, but Ginger Baker's drums drive Eric Clapton's guitar, which growls and bites like Robert Johnson's hellhound.
10. "Rollin' Stone," Muddy Waters. The title is no accident—"Rollin' Stone" named another song, a band, and a magazine—but this solo shot bridging Delta and Chicago blues also shows this wily catfish with his mojo working just fine, thanks.
11. "Just a Little Bit," Fenton Robinson. Think the blues is "rustic"? Think again. This fleet-fingered guitarist and sweetly pleading singer has a thoroughly modern, urban sound without missing the form's deep feeling either in his voice or his axe.
12. "I'm About to Lose My Mind," T-Bone Walker. Urbane, engaging T-Bone gets his sharp, lyrical guitar solo off his chest before launching into his lament about how his alcoholic woman broke his heart, with the horns and the piano voicing sympathy at each step.
13. "The Thrill Is Gone," B.B. King. This old favorite crashed into me when my 13-year marriage ended recently. The achingly sweet strings swirl like her kisses, and B.B.'s crying guitar pierces my heart. But the title sums it up for both of us.
14. "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed" (At Fillmore East live version), The Allman Brothers Band. Not strictly blues—the Allmans transcended labels, anyway—this majestic instrumental, pushed by the mighty rhythm section, never flags as guitarists Duane Allman and Dickey Betts soar and wail beautifully.
15. "You're Gonna Need Somebody on Your Bond," Blind Willie Johnson. With his gruff voice and exquisite guitar, Johnson counsels afterlife insurance: "When it's way past midnight, and death comes slippin' in the room/You're gonna need somebody on your bond." Magnificent.
Playlist #9: International Grab-Bag
Just as the title states it, a catch-all list that ended up becoming a "world of music" sampler with a comedic postscript. Apart from Stravinsky—who still sounds avant-garde today—and Flatt and Scruggs, all the musical selections are modern rather than traditional and cannot possibly hope to scratch the surface. Listening to world/international music moved me from looking through the peephole to actually starting to open the door for a better look. There is literally a whole world of musical choices still to explore.
1. "Billie Jean," Michael Jackson. My one straight pop shot is really a slinky R&B gem, what with the loping bass line, popping snare, and chicken-scratch guitar. And the fascinating lyrics sound like the start of the Weird One's problems.
2. "Foggy Mountain Breakdown," Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs. You do know that bluegrass was speed-metal before rock existed, right? Former Bill Monroe sidemen guitarist Flatt and banjoist Scruggs light it up on their signature breakdown. Yes, I think of Bonnie and Clyde, too.
3. "Funky Kingston," Toots and the Maytals. The birth of reggae—Toots actually scolds the guitar player for playing an R&B lick—has an earthy, chugging rhythm carried on the spare piano while Toots exhorts us to—well, he's into it, anyway.
4. "Matty Groves," Fairport Convention. Sandy Denny lends her lovely pipes to this old English cheating tale that ends badly for the lovers, run through in part by Richard Thompson's skirling guitar and Dave Swarbrick's swirling violin.
5. "G.D.'s: Hooper's Loop/Pressed for Time," Flook. Irish band—flutes and whistles backed by guitar—updates traditional sounds with a spirited reel that begins modestly before exploding into a burst of emotional intensity. Infectious, engaging, and poignant, too.
6. "Edward," Old Blind Dogs. Scotland's neo-folkies, capped by Jim Malcolm's affecting tenor, in a gripping tale of betrayal and murder. At least I think so—he seems to be half-singing in Olde Scottish or something—but the music surges.
7. "Jànoska," Transsylvanians. Cheekily calling it speed-folk, these Hungarians blend East European themes with sprightly jangle-rock to yield a delight that should have been on a comic Halloween episode of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer.
8. Petroushka, Igor Stravinsky. Sure, Firebird was groundbreaking and Rite of Spring was ground-shaking, but this gorgeous ballet combines the passion of the former with the power of the latter and adds its own beautiful opening melody.
9. "Beyrouth Ecœurée," Clotaire K. Lebanese rapper uses arabesque, a hip-hop/electronica blend, for political ends (the title means Gutted Beirut). Not that I'd know—but I do know that the woman singing the chorus has got one sexy voice.
10. "Indoda Yejazi Elimnyama," Amaswazi Emvelo. The chiming groove, popping percussion, and group vocals on this South African mbaqanga are irresistible; hard to believe that it's a song about a guy getting shaken down for money; so say the liner notes.
11. "Bosoe," Joe Mensah. The groove starts modestly, on small but insistent percussion, before blossoming into this Ghanaian highlife standard accented by bright horns, lyrical guitars, and Mensah's playful, exuberant vocals.
12. "Sabolan," Ba Cissoko. Bursting out of the gate with blazing electric kora (a type of lute) riffs, this engaging Guinean pop shot could solve the energy crisis single-handedly. The West African answer to Jimi Hendrix.
13. "Adai," Ulytau. Heavy metal from Kazakhstan? Not quite, but rock guitar and drums provide the bedrock for spirited violin sawing at a breezy tempo that combines rock, classical, and local folk elements quite enjoyably.
14. "In-a-Gadda-da-Vida," Albert Kuvezin and Yat-Kha. You haven't lived until you've heard this Iron Butterfly chestnut sung by a Tuvan throat singer backed by an off-kilter rock band. Seriously. It rocks. And Kuvezin knows how cheesy this one was the first time out.
15. Don't Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers, The Firesign Theatre. Not cheating because this greatest comedy album is a single, sustained work from end to end. Late-night television viewing in a fascist future that might be here a lot sooner than expected. Hilariously terrifying.
Playlist #10: Dylan-Zappa
Bob Dylan and Frank Zappa—I found Dylan first, and then Zappa—are the two rock artists who have hit me the most deeply, so I'd have to have a selection of their work just by themselves. Still, having to choose among both their large catalogs is only a few rungs down the ladder from Sophie's Choice—I will weep for the many left behind as I'm grateful for the few with me. (Because Dylan and especially Zappa continually evolved many of their songs throughout their careers, I have indicated the version under discussion below if it differs from the "standard" or "popular" version. Sure, like it matters to you.)
1. "A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall," Dylan. Relentlessly powerful imagery electrifies this Cold War apocalypser: "I heard the roar of a wave that could drown the whole world." Sounds like nukes to me. The resolve at the end gives me hope, though.
2. "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues," Dylan. The psychic sparring in this harrowing adventure in Juarez remains fascinating: "Everybody said they'd stand behind me when the game got rough/But the joke was on me, there was nobody even there to bluff."
3. "Visions of Johanna," Dylan. Indescribably beautiful, haunting midnight reflection of when you know she's gone for good and you're wondering what the hell went wrong: "And these visions of Johanna/They've kept me up past the dawn."
4. "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" (Before the Flood live version), Dylan. This folkie kiss-off describes every love relationship I've ever had: "I ain't sayin' you treated me unkind/You coulda done better, but I don't mind/You just kinda wasted my precious time/But don't think twice, it's all right." Yeah, I have to work through my issues. Don't we all?
5. "It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)" (Before the Flood live version), Dylan. This growling live version lends urgency to each series of powerful, revelatory lines: "Even the President of United States sometimes must have to stand naked" gets a roar from the hungry Watergate crowd.
6. "Like a Rolling Stone" (Before the Flood live version), Dylan and the Band. Zimmy's 1974 tour with the Band tore through all his old stuff and challenged what you thought each song meant, nowhere more so than on this statement of purpose, with Garth and Robbie prodding him on.
7. "Idiot Wind," Dylan. The pen is mightier than the chord. No doubt that this relationship ended on a wrong note: "I can't feel you anymore/I can't even touch the books you've read." Any resemblance to persons living or dead . . .
8. "Brown Shoes Don't Make It" (Tinseltown Rebellion live version), Zappa. Mothers' 1960s manifesto flashes its warped take on corporate conformity with an upgrade to one of FZ's stellar later bands. Why I'd stay marooned: "Do your job and do it right/Life's a ball, TV tonight."
9. "King Kong" (Uncle Meat version), Zappa. One of his most lilting melodies—he wasn't accused of that very often—yields to intense soloing on this lengthy instrumental opus by saxophonists Bunk Gardner and Ian Underwood and guitarist Zappa.
10. "Little House I Used to Live In," Zappa. Another evocative instrumental, this time thanks to Don Preston's introspective piano and particularly Don "Sugarcane" Harris's vibrant violin, some of the most salacious sawing to be heard anywhere.
11. "Montana (Whipping Floss)" (You Can't Do That on Stage Anymore, Vol. 2, version), Zappa. The "Whipping Post" references, percussionist Ruth Underwood's tempo difficulties, and FZ's funkiest band ever enliven this mid-'70s trifle enormously. FZ's towering guitar solo doesn't hurt, either.
12. "The Purple Lagoon/Approximate," Zappa. Almost tossed overboard—I always wander during Randy Brecker's electric trumpet solo, but his brother Michael's brilliant, driving tenor sax solo, fueled by Terry Bozzio's manic drumming, is indispensable.
13. "Flakes," Zappa. Skewers consumerism: "You might call us flakes or something else you might coin us/We know you're so greedy that you'll probably join us." Didn't Lenin say he'd sell capitalists the rope to hang themselves with?
14. "Joe's Garage," Zappa. The history of rock 'n' roll as sung by the inimitable Ike Willis from the point of view of one of the countless garage bands never to make it. "Guess you only get one chance in life to play a song that goes like—"
15. "Pick Me, I'm Clean," Zappa. This almost-a-throwaway story of an eager-to-please immigrant girl hides poignancy in the satire, underscored by Zappa's guitar solo, itself a duet of sorts with FZ's best-ever drummer, virtuoso Vinnie Colaiuta.
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DDT - 19:13
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DDT - 18:16
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DDT - 16:54
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