Posts Tagged ‘R.E.M.’

People have been asking me since I started this site to list my favorite all-time bands. I kept putting it off because the task seemed way too daunting. Well, I began breaking it all down a couple weeks ago and finally I’m prepared to unveil my picks to the masses. Remember, these are my personal choices, so chillax. You may be shocked to find there’s no Rolling Stones, no Nirvana, no Aerosmith. Sorry, good bands all, just not in my upper echelon. Without further ado, my favorites.

1. THE BEATLES

Beatles

George Harrison, Paul McCartney, John Lennon and Ringo Starr.

I know, shocking right? If there ever was a no-brainer this is it. My respect and love for The Beatles is well documented, and you can check out a few of my Beatles blogs by clicking any or all of the following titles:  The Transformation of a KidThe Fab 30: My Favorite Beatle Songs, Tomorrow Never Knows, but The Beatles Did, and The Beatles overrated? You, sir, are an idiot. If I’ve said it once I’ve said it a million times – The Beatles advanced music more in 7-years than music has advanced in the years since. As much as I love the bands that follow, they are all very, very far behind.

2. R.E.M.

rem624

I have loved these guys since the early 80’s and saw them live at several small venues back then. It’s hard to imagine now, but their sound was so different at the time. There have been so many imitators that their sound doesn’t seem so unique anymore, and that’s a testament to how influential they were. Any student I had in class from 1984 to 1996 will tell you – I’ve been an R.E.M disciple for a long time.

3. Eels

e

Mark Oliver Everett, A Man Called E.

Eels are basically a one man band, and that man is Mark Oliver Everett, also known as “E”. I wrote a pretty extensive piece about him called Mark Oliver Everett: A Man Called E awhile back that pretty much explains my love for him and his music. His music can be hauntingly beautiful, but he also plays full bore, raw rock and roll. Love E and The Eels.

4. Paul McCartney

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Sir Paul.

Listen, I love Lennon and Harrison’s solo work too, and they almost made the cut. However, I’ve always been a McCartney guy at heart. John is always looked at as the “experimental” and “avant garde” Beatle, but Paul was actually the first to begin experimenting with different sounds and alternative styles and methods. Because of his wonderful ballads like “Yesterday” and “My Love” great, one-of-a-kind rockers like “Helter Skelter” and “Junior’s Farm” get lost in the mix.

5. The Beach Boys

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Bottom: Mike Love, Carl Wilson. Top: Brian Wilson, Al Jardine and Dennis Wilson.

I wrote extensively about The Beach Boys in my two blogs entitled “The Beach Boys: America’s Most Misunderstood Band” and “Just a Little More on the Beach Boys”. Brian Wilson was a musical genius if there ever was one. The harmonies he arranged, the beautiful melodies he constructed, and his ground-breaking work in the studio have been unsurpassed in music history. In addition, the album “Pet Sounds” is widely considered, along with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” as the best ever recorded.

6. The Band

band

Richard Manuel, Levon Helm, Rick Danko, Garth Hudson and Robbie Robertson.

The Band may be the finest group of musicians and vocalists ever assembled. They started as a backup band for the legendary Ronnie Hawkins, and then for some cat named Bob Dylan. When The Band went solo, however, their true talents were unleashed on the world. Do yourself a favor and rent “The Last Waltz” to watch these guys live, or buy the entire “Music from Big Pink” album, put on your headphones, turn off the lights and get lost in everything that is The Band. Quite possibly America’s first real country rock band.

7. Todd Rundgren

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A Wizard, a True Star (look it up).

Todd Rundgren is not in the Rock Hall of Fame and that’s an absolute travesty. Not only did he record what in my opinion is one of the greatest albums in history (Something/Anything?), he’s produced the albums “Straight Up” by Badfinger, “Stage Fright” by The Band, “We’re an American Band” by Grand Funk Railroad, “Bat Out of Hell” by Meat Loaf,  and “New York Dolls” by the New York Dolls among many others. Folks, those are some amazing, historical albums. Rundgren also plays nearly every instrument extremely well, so there’s that. If you want to read my blog about his greatest album, click this link: Something/Anything?: Todd Rundgren’s Magnum Opus. Seriously, though, Todd needs to be in The Hall, man.

8. Bruce Springsteen

bruce

B-r-u-u-u-u-c-e!

Young rock fans don’t realize this, but Bruce came along right when we needed him. In 1975 the rock world was full of glam, rhinestone covered jumpsuits, laser shows, dudes with makeup, elaborate stage shows, and overproduced bullshit. Along came Bruce with his straight ahead, hard-drivin’ rock and roll that was delivered with a no-frills, pared down stage show. Bruce and his  band wore leather or jean jackets, boots, and depended on the music to make the show, not a giant inflatable pig or dancing midgets. In addition, he’s a great songwriter, with the evidence being “Born to Run”, “Jungleland” and “One Step Up.”  Just a legendary, electric performer.

9. Paul Westerberg

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Paul Westerberg.

Paul Westerberg was the lead singer of the legendary alt band The Replacements, and Mats fans will be infuriated that I chose the solo career of Westerberg over them. Tough luck, because I love Paul’s stuff as much or more than anything the Replacements ever did. He can rock with the best of them, then turn around and write a beautiful ballad like “Good Day” or “Sunrise Always Listens”. I took a buddy to a Westerberg show a few years ago, and as we walked to our car he said this: “That’s the first time I ever felt like I was watching a real rock star.” Amen brother. You can read my take on Westerberg here: Man Without Ties: Paul Westerberg.

10. Steve Forbert

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Steve Forbert.

Steve Forbert is a rock troubadour, a master of the turn of phrase and a lyrical mastermind. He never made it big and had just one top selling single, called “Romeo’s Tune”, way back in 1979. Back then he was compared to Bob Dylan, which set expectations unrealistically high but never stopped me from buying every album he’s released in the last 37-years. He’s one of those guys that somehow, someway, fell through the cracks. He’s had a solid career, but nothing like he deserves. Just as amazing singer, songwriter and lyricist.

So there you have it. Believe me, cutting it to the Top 10 was tough for me. Leaving out some of the bands and artists below was nearly impossible. That said, I’ve separated my remaining bands into three categories: Extra Special Mention, Special Mention and Honorable Mention. Here ya go:

Extra Special Mention (Just missed the cut): John Lennon, George Harrison, Warren Zevon, Al Green, Electric Light Orchestra, Bob Dylan, They Might Be Giants, Carbon Leaf, Queen, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Avett Brothers, Neil Young, Traveling Wilburys.

Special Mention: Tom Petty, The Byrds, Fury in the Slaughterhouse, The Replacements, Cracker, Jimmy Buffett, Fountains of Wayne, Matthew Sweet, America, Dramarama, Jim Croce, Nerf Herder, Hoodoo Gurus, John Hiatt, Nick Lowe, Johnny Cash, The Ramones, Del Amitri, E, Eric Clapton, The Flaming Lips, James Taylor.

Honorable Mention: John Mellencamp, Ronnie Hawkins, Chi-Lites, Social Distortion, Blue October, Michael Jackson,  Alan Parsons Project, The Moody Blues, Meat Puppets, The Alarm, Alanis Morissette, Bob Marley, Chicago, Dan Fogelberg, The Doors, Frank Sinatra, The Stylistics, Meat Loaf, Sister Hazel, Teenage Fanclub, The Who.

Cover songs seem to strike some sort of maniacal chord in music lovers, bringing out the worst Cover-Songs-274x190type of venom directed at the artist in question (speaking of maniacal chords, Hendrix sure screeched out a few, huh? But I digress). Everyone has their own list of their best and worst cover songs, and I’m no exception. As general rule, aren’t the originals just always better? I mean, especially if the original performers wrote the song? C’mon, it’s THEIR song after all, and the way they perform it should be the way it should be heard. Those are my feelings anyway. Still, over the years there have been some great covers, songs that really stood out to me.  On the other hand, others were just a big bowl of wrong. I’ve added a ton of links so make sure you click on them, to not would just be disrespectful. Let’s start with the good covers:

Twist and Shout – The Beatles

“Twist and Shout” was originally recorded by the Topnotes and then covered by The Isley Brothers. But it was The Beatles who turned it into a thrilling crescendo that is still electric today. One of the first songs that got my head a-bobbin’.

Toys in the Attic – R.E.M.

Whoo boy, if you’ve never heard this early R.E.M. cover, download it now – you’re in for a treat. Michael Stipe’s screeching vocals and Peter Buck’s searing guitar make this one of the greatest covers ever. Sorry Aerosmith, I like R.E.M.’s version better.

Over the Rainbow – Eric Clapton

There are a million and one covers of this song, including the great version by Ray Charles, but none comes close to the slow, bluesy, 5:42 interpretation by Slowhand himself.  Mesmerizingly beautiful.

Boyz-n-the-Hood – Dynamite Hack

Just a great, whimsical, tongue-in-cheek cover of the Eazy E tune. Originally written by Ice Cube, this version was a jarring departure from the original. Just quality, poppy, yet off-beat  stuff.

Raspberry Beret – Hindu Love Gods

Never heard of HLG? Well, let me educate my young grasshoppers. They were a band that consisted of three R.E.M members – Peter Buck, Mike Mills, and Bill Berry. Stipe didn’t join in on this little side combo, but the boys recruited a pretty suitable replacement, a  cat by the name of Warren Zevon. Their Prince cover is priceless. Here’s a version with Warren on lead, minus the R.E.M. cats.

Word Up – Korn

Much apologies to Korn fans, but I loved this song. Coming from Korn, this Cameo cover was so far out of left field that nobody saw it coming. It just whopped you upside the head and kept going. Korn lovers hated it, but then again most Korn lovers are usually, shall we say, high a little unfocused. Oh, and take heed. The video link will haunt your dreams.

Hurt – Johnny Cash

I  know a few Nine Inch Nails fans who thought this was sacrilegious, but I found The Man in Black’s version to be hauntingly breathtaking.

Gloria – The  Doors

Originally done by Them with Van Morrison on vocals, The Doors did a rather naughty cover that was recorded live at The Whiskey back in the day.  The Lizard King does a little spoken word verse in the middle that will curl your toes, and by the time the group builds up the music into a crescendo at song’s end you’re plum tuckered out.

Ol’ 55 – The Eagles

Yeah, I know I mentioned this song in a previous blog. So what? Settle down. From their “On the Border” album, I always loved this interpretation of the song by the great Tom Waits. Great vocals by Glen Frey.

A couple of my Honorable Mention picks would be Metallica’s “Turn the Page” (the Bob Seger redo that seemed to piss off a lot of people) and ELO’s “Roll Over Beethoven” (one of the first songs that made me say “What the hell?” Beginning a rock song with  Beethoven’s 5th symphony will do that to a young guy). And oh, the Smashing Pumpkin’s did a bang-up cover of the great Cars tune, “You’re All I’ve Got Tonight.”

And now for the unpleasantness. For the love of God I don’t  know why some of these people thought that recording these songs was a good  idea. Some of the obvious are barely worthy of a mention, but I can’t write this without pointing out that Britney Spears’ version of “Satisfaction” and Celine Dion & Anastacia singing “You Shook Me (All Night Long)” were both absolute travesties and an affront to human dignity as we know it, not to mention that listeners became 30 IQ points dumber after hearing them. But let’s get to the  so-called “serious” artists that made the fateful decision that ultimately  brought them to this blog:

Layla (MTV Unplugged Version) – Eric  Clapton

Yeah, yeah, I know. It’s EC covering himself, he wrote the song, he’s a God, blah-freaking-blah. Well, Rock God’s make mistakes too. It’s still the worst damn remake of a song in recorded history. What happened to the soaring guitar, the inspired vocals, the neverending ending? All gone, replaced by a tepid sound that made me want to pound a screwdriver into my larynx (Note: I’m pretty sure that’s the first time the word larynx has been used in Shoe: Untied. Note #2: I’m awesome). Worst of all, I once played the original for a young Clapton fan and they didn’t recognize it. Sigh . . .

Behind Blue Eyes – Limp Bizkit

I swear to you upon all that is holy, when I first heard this song I wanted to reach into my radio and punch Fred Durst in the back of the face. I’ve no idea what that tool was thinking when he thought he could cover a Roger Daltrey vocal. Absolute sewage, and may Durst meet Mark David Chapman when they both end up in hell. Suck it Durst!

Sweet Child O’ Mine – Sheryl Crow

Sheryl,  honey, I love ya. I think Lance Armstrong’s an ass for dumping you. I think  you’re an underrated singer/songwriter who can just play the hell out of that guitar. But you can’t cover G N’ R darlin’. You just can’t. They’re kind of a heavy rock outfit, ya know? Not your style at all. You’re a bit of a balladeer, a gorgeous songbird with a rock chick vibe.

Sweet Dreams (Are Made of  This) – Marilyn Manson

Seriously? The original by The Eurythmics was a bit of a moody, hypnotic, breezy, DREAMY sort of song if you will. Marilyn‘s take? Not so much. No thank you, sir. Say hello to Durst and Chapman for me.

Anything by Rod Stewart

You know, I’m old enough to recall when Rod Stewart was cool. The Small Faces were a rock band baby! Later on, Maggie May was a great early 70’s tune that promised a bright future for ol’ Rod. Regrettably, sometime in the late 70’s he took a wrong turn into Discoland (see “Hot Legs” and “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy”) and the rest is history. Since then he’s become a hotel lounge singer, covering anything and everything in the Songbook of Saps. And badly I might add. He absolutely butchered Van Morrison’s “Have I Told You Lately” and now reminds  me of Bill Murray’s lounge lizard character on the old SNL. Pathetic, and if you don’t believe me listen to the georgeous original.

American Pie – Madonna

When I first heard this song I literally wept in a corner for 2 1/2 hours. Classic case of an artist’s ego becoming so big they think listeners will like anything they spew out of their piehole. More like American Shitcake if you ask me.

There  ya go. As soon as I publish this blog I’m sure 10-songs will pop into my head  that I forgot about. I’m sure you have some cover songs that you hate/like as well. If so let’s hear ‘em.

I’m out.

Originally published on April 13th, 2012.

Matthew Sweet

Matthew Sweet.

Or maybe you have. Who am I to judge? Anyway…

Over the years I have been a huge fan of several bands I felt sure would hit the big-time. Some have and some haven’t. It’s a pretty hard and fast rule that when you love an unknown band and they hit it big some of the lustre immediately wears off. I remember listening to REM back in the early 80′s, and there was something cool about knowing something other music fans didn’t. Then, after the world woke up to them, things changed. I went from watching them along with a couple hundred other fans in a Springfield, Ohio gymnasium to watching them in 20,000 seat arenas. Trust me, there’s nothing more annoying than sitting beside some idiot screaming “SHINY HAPPY PEOPLE!” Sing SHINY HAPPY PEOPLE!” when all you want to hear is some of the early stuff like “Gardening at Night” or “Pretty Persuasion.” Sidenote: REM doesn’t play that song anymore and I know not why. It’s all a part of life’s rich pageant after all.

I must admit it has given me some satisfaction over the years when a former student has come up to me and said, “I remember you playing Mudhoney and Soundgarden in class w-a-y before we knew what grunge was all about” or “How in the world did you get away with playing Frank Zappa music to a bunch of 8th graders?” Hell, I have no idea. In my mind I was just expanding musical and cultural horizons the best I could, so to speak.

But back to the point of this blog. There are still several bands/artists left that, for the life of me, I cannot figure out how they’ve missed out. For the record, I won’t include the following artists because, though not necessarily mainstream, they have achieved some sort of notable success:

  • The Eels – The Eels are so big (especially in Europe) that I don’t think E is starving or anything. It was a slow grind but I think they’re near the top of the music scene in some circles now.
  • They Might Be Giants – Although not widely known, they’ve been too commercially successful to make my list. Still love ‘em, especially live.

Now let’s get to the artists that, for one reason or another, have not found the pot at the end of the rock rainbow. Rock Rainbow. Wasn’t that a psychedelic band from the late 60′s? And what exactly would be in a pot at the end of a rock rainbow? The mind reels. But again I’m off-point. Apologies all-around.

Let us begin. Thank ya kindly in advance for clicking on the links as ya go.

  • Nerf Herder – This band was at the forefront of the Punk-Pop sound that came alive in the early to mid-90′s. Picture a cross between Blink-182 and Weezer. Better yet, think Nerf Herder = Peyton Manning, Blink 182 = Eli Manning, and Weezer = Cooper Manning (Note: I’m awesome). These guys have a clean, catchy, whimsical, hook filled sound combined with some of the most intelligently offbeat lyrics in rock music. Granted, a lot of the stuff is tongue-in-cheek and downright juvenile, but I love it. Give a listen to “New Jersey Girl” and you’ll catch the vibe. For a spot of fun, put on “Sorry“, a true punk/pop gem. Just make sure the headphones are on.
  • Teenage Fanclub – These guys from Scotland have been around since the early 1990′s and have never quite caught on, and I know not why. Their sound will remind you of The Byrds, Tom Petty, The Beach Boys, Big Star, hell, even America. They combine great guitar layered tunes, tight harmonies, and smooth vocals. They’ve been solid for almost 20-years now. Give a listen to “Sparky’s Dream” and see if I’m lyin’.
  • Fury in the Slaughterhouse – Easy there, easy. Don’t let the name fool you. These guys ain’t no punk speed metal outfit. Instead, these German badasses play straight ahead rock (with a good dollop of pop) that will leave you wanting more. Formed back in ’87, the lead singer (Kai Uwe Wingerfelder) has a strong, unique voice that brings a certain panache to any song. Listen to “Milk and Honey” to get the vibe.
  • Hoodoo Gurus – What can I say? My love for the Gurus is well documented. There’s nothing fancy about these Aussies, they’re pretty much straight-up unapologetic rockers. For a treat, download “Like Wow – Wipeout“, a Hoodoo Guru classic. Even better, check out “Death Defying“, and sing along with the chorus.
  • Matthew Sweet – When Mathew Sweet released “Girlfriend” in 1990 it was hailed by critics as a masterpiece and Sweet was annointed the NEXT BIG THING. He never quite rose above that great album, at least in the critic’s minds, although I’ve stuck with him through all the ups and downs. Listen to 1993′s “The Ugly Truth” or 1995′s “We’re the Same” for some vintage Sweet. By the way, he’s ungodly good live.
  • Carbon Leaf – Carbon Leaf is a band that I first heard down in The Outer Banks, and I’ve since fell in love with their sound. At first I thought they were some Celtic based band from Scotland or Ireland (where the hell is Celtic music based anyway?) but it turns out they hail from none other than Richmond, Virginia. Who knew? Anyway, you must listen to the music to get what I mean. Give “What About Everything?” a go and let me know what you think. Note: Lead singer Barry Privett decribes their sound as “Porch Music”.
  • The Alarm – These guys are sort of a poor man’s U2 I guess, although I’d put that the other way around (blasphemy!). They emerged as an 80′s alt group and, although they can be a tad pretentious (I told you they were U2ish) they have a great sound. A lot of their stuff is political and rock anthem oriented which is fine by me. Listen to “68 Guns” and “Spirit of ’76” to get the feel. Sidenote: Saw these guys open for Mr. Bob Dylan in 1989. Unforgettable.

There are others I could put on the list, such as:

  • Steve Forbert – In my mind this cool cat should be ranked right up there Petty and Mellencamp.
  • John Hiatt – Maybe the most underappreciated rockers of our time.
  • Todd Rundgren – Pretty well-known, but for the life of me I can’t figure out why he’s not a household name. A true genius.

So there you go. I’m sure you all have some faves that you think of in the same way.

Let’s hear ‘em.

Originally published on April 1st, 2012, and before that on my old website Rock Hard Times.

So, so good.

As many of you know (especially my former students), one of my top 3 bands of all-time.