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by Jason Mendelsohn and Eric Klinger

20 Apr 2012

Klinger: Has there ever been a weirder song to make the playlists of mainstream FM rock stations than Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side”? It was an odd enough song by most rock standards, and to hear it sandwiched between AC/DC and 38 Special on our local AOR radio station just made it that much stranger. Of course you have the lyrics about the various transgendered doyennes of the Warhol scene—that alone is absolutely astonishing for a Top 40 single. But then the song is set against a folkie boho-jazz backdrop, complete with double bass from veteran session cat Herbie Flowers and an honest-to-Rollins sax solo from Ronnie Ross (who, by the way, also played on the Beatles’ “Savoy Truffle”). And then, as if all that weren’t enough, Lou makes an ill-advised, Archie Bunkeresque reference to the “colored girls”. It’s as if there was a brief crack in the dimensions and hit singles from Bizarro World leaked into the public consciousness.

Even if that were the only song of note on the album, I think it would make a strong case for Transformer‘s place here on the Great List. It’s a brave and occasionally baffling statement from one of rock’s most noteworthy figures, so critics were bound to take notice. The fact that it miraculously became a touchstone for the Dazed and Confused generation—people who likely had little familiarity with Reed’s earlier work with the Velvet Underground—seals the deal.

by Jason Mendelsohn and Eric Klinger

13 Apr 2012

Mendelsohn: I’ve been pointing out the lack of hip-hop on the Great List almost since we started this little project. For a genre that so captured the general public’s ear and seeped into almost every facet of the music business over the last three decades, hip-hop is sorely underrepresented on this list. We are at number 77 and only now are we getting to our second rap record. Two, Klinger! Two out of 77. That’s the same number of jazz records we’ve talked about and nobody—nobody—likes jazz. The list may not be racist, but it is definitely rockist.

As much as I have bitched and moaned, you would think that I’d be all gung-ho about tackling De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising. The truth is, this record never made it very high on my personal list. I think this record deserves its place, if not much higher—the production and word-smithery is second to none and all of it is undeniably catchy. The one question burning in the back of my mind: why were these guys so obsessed with how they and other people looked and smelled? Half this record is devoted to rhymes about personal hygiene and fashion choice. Did no one shower in 1989?

Klinger: Well, the end of the Reagan era left a generation adrift, and as you know hygiene is the first casualty of . . . Wait a minute, Mendelsohn, don’t get me distracted here. I’m still trying to wrap my head around the idea that you don’t love this album. Let me go on record here that I love literally every second of 3 Feet High and Rising. Literally. Every. Second.

by Jason Mendelsohn and Eric Klinger

6 Apr 2012

Klinger: Graceland is another one of those albums that came out my freshman year of college, so the temptation is certainly there to yammer on about that magical, terrifying period in my life—how this album was the soundtrack to my first fumbling attempts at a grown-up relationship and all the rest of that nonsense. I’ll spare you and our readers that, though, and save it for my ponderous coming-of-age novel.

Instead, I’ll say that the key to understanding the greatness of Graceland (and make no mistake, greatness abounds) is recognizing just how sorry a state Paul Simon’s career was in by the mid-1980s. After taking the second half of the ‘70s off, he returned to deliver two fairly colossal flops—the 1980 film/album One Trick Pony and 1983’s Hearts and Bones. Now, there are great songs on both records, but there’s also a sense that Simon had given over to a certain fussiness that was sapping the energy from his music. By the time Graceland came out, people my age generally thought of him as a purveyor of AM-radio mellowosity—way hipper than John Denver, but only slightly hipper than James Taylor. That’s why Graceland blew us away. It was as much a revelation for us as hearing that Gumboots tape was for Simon himself.

Mendelsohn: I don’t think there is any question that Simon created something almost otherworldly with Graceland, connecting with a vast swath of the music-consuming public—including a very impressionable six-year-old. And since you won’t get into your coming-of-age story, I might as well indulge. I was just a kid when this album hit and since Simon was making music for people like my parents, they went out and bought it, which inevitably led to me hearing it quite often.

by Jason Mendelsohn and Eric Klinger

30 Mar 2012

Mendelsohn: Derek and the Dominos’ Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs marks the first time that we get to talk about Eric Clapton. That seems a little weird to me, Klinger. So two things right off the bat: how did we get this far without talking about Slowhand, and why aren’t we talking about his work with Cream first? Layla turned out to be a one-off record that Clapton managed to get out just before his drug addiction swallowed up his career for three or four years. It’s a fine record, to be sure, but putting aside my personal problems with this album, I’m still a little at odds over its ranking. Placate my misgivings, Klinger, before I start to question other universals facts like how global warming is simply a plot to sell more sunscreen and cavemen caused the dinosaurs to go extinct because they were so damn tasty.

Klinger: Well, Mendelsohn, I think it all comes down to one word (or rather one word that my spell check really thinks should be two words)—backstory. It is true that while Cream albums serve to bridge the gap from psychedelia to the rootsier sounds that followed, Layla has the benefit of an incredible backstory. By now it’s a standard part of rock lore: Clapton had fallen madly in love with one Patti Boyd Harrison, who was not only married, but her husband was his good friend George Harrison, lead guitarist for the Beatles, a Liverpudlian pop combo of some renown. To make a long story that you could look up somewhere else short, he wrote a clutch of songs chronicling the torment that his love for Patti was causing him. He then rounded up Duane Allman and members of Delaney and Bonnie’s band, and the newly dubbed Derek & the Dominos set about recording them in a substance-fueled frenzy.

So in this one album, you’ve got a guitar legend in the midst of an epic battle with his inner demons, a love triangle involving a Beatle, hard drugs, and doomed band members (all of the Dominos died tragically young, except Jim Gordon, who was sentenced to prison after killing his mother). Given all that, it’s fair to say that rock critics didn’t have a chance.

Backstory, Mendelsohn. Makes all the difference.

by Jason Mendelsohn and Eric Klinger

23 Mar 2012

Klinger: I have to say, Mendelsohn, that I’m kind of kicking myself for having ignored this album for the last 20 years. I think that its dreamlike mélange of swirly guitars and super-plush instrumentation would have served me well in my more contemplative moments. And its poppier moments would have been a nice little kick in the butt when I needed it. But the fact remains that I did basically ignore this album, and I think I have an idea why. My Bloody Valentine is a terrible band name. I know they took their name from some horror movie or something, and I know “bloody” has a different connotation across the pond, but every time I heard their name I thought they’d be some Elvira-garbed bunch of horror-goths, and I was having none of that. [Actually, you’re not too far off the mark, as MBV started out as a goth band—Ed.]

In fact, when I settled in for this, I was most pleasantly surprised by how inventive Loveless is, and at the same time how accessible it is. Opener “Only Shallow” kicks like a Pixies track underneath the big fuzz (although Belinda Butcher’s vocals are more tranquil than Kim Deal’s, even at her most heavily sedated), and there are pop moments that snap me out of my reverie throughout the album. Sure, it has its moments where its experimental sonic collages can seem daunting, but even those are at their core evocative of the sunnier side of psychedelia. I’m not necessarily saying that Loveless is entering heavy rotation at Chez Klinger, but I will say that this has been a surprisingly enjoyable time getting to know an album that I had completely overlooked because Kevin Shields and Co. chose such an unfortunate name. There’s a lesson for young bands in there, Mendelsohn.

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