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by Jason Mendelsohn and Eric Klinger

11 May 2012

Klinger: I can only imagine what a mind-messer Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” must have been when it first hit the airwaves back in 1967. Even if you had heard Otis Redding’s version a couple years before, this rendition still must have sounded like it came from another planet. That punch-in-the-face intro, the brassy first blast of vocals, those backing vocals that zig every time you think they’re going to zag—it must have been one of the most thrilling experiences pop music had offered up in quite some time.

A shame, then, that it’s been worn down to such a nub in the intervening years. Every time I hear this song I end up thinking of Murphy Brown for some reason, and I’m not even entirely sure why. Did Candace Bergen sing it a lot on the show, Mendelsohn? I don’t remember, but here we are. Anyway, the song has become such a cliché, such a lazy Hollywood way of expressing empowerment, that it’s practically lost all meaning. If you really concentrate, though, you can still hear that first spark that made “Respect” so great. And luckily, the album it came from, Aretha Franklin’s I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You, is full of plenty more moments that haven’t been chewed into mush by the Big Chill generation. I’ll let you point out a few now.

by Jason Mendelsohn and Eric Klinger

4 May 2012

Mendelsohn: There is something great about the Band’s Music from Big Pink, sort of an undeniable energy and wide-eyed enthusiasm that really makes some of these songs pop off the wax. But then there are a couple of numbers that just don’t have it all together and that makes the overall cohesiveness of this record suffer. I’m going to blame Bob Dylan. You OK with that, Klinger? That’s about the only thing I have against this album, other than the fact that I like their self-titled sophomore effort more. That record has it all going on—expect for having an awesomely great sing-along song like “The Weight”. I suppose you could make a case for “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”, but “The Weight” is much more fun to listen to people butcher. What song would you rather listen to people butcher with off-key caterwauling?

Klinger: I oppose caterwauling in all its forms, Mendelsohn—you know that. I’m more concerned with your off-handed comment that Bob Dylan is somehow to blame for you not enjoying Music from Big Pink as much as The Band. Yes, Bob wrote or co-wrote three of the songs here (guitarist Robbie Robertson had not yet positioned himself as chief songwriter), but I’d still say that this is very much the Band’s album. You’re starting to sound like a kid who decides he doesn’t like pickles, but then the burger shows up with pickles on it by accident and you tell him he can just scrape the pickles off. But he decides he can still taste the pickles on the burger and he makes a boo-boo face the entire time and only takes two bites. Well guess what? That just means more burger for me, Mendelsohn.

by Jason Mendelsohn and Eric Klinger

27 Apr 2012

Mendelsohn: I don’t have any history with Elvis Costello, Klinger. I’m not going to ply you with excuses—what it comes down to is I’m lazy and unless I have a reason to listen to a certain artist, I normally do my best to ignore them. Well, thanks to our foray into the Great List, I now have a reason to listen to Costello. And I’ve been listening to This Year’s Model, over and over and over again, mostly because that’s what is required of me. But I’ve also left it on repeat because all of those sweet, sweet 35 minutes of pop-driven blasts of rock and roll are now running in a non-stop loop through my grey matter. This entire album is just one big hook, which is impressive. But I also think that this record is hitting me right because after the last few records we’ve talked about, This Year’s Model is simple, refreshing, and still surprisingly modern. I imagine you are going to tell me that you’ve been a Costello fan since before he was an Elvis, so tell me, does it still hold up?

Klinger: Oh, good lord does it ever hold up. You know, I knew we’d hit an Elvis Costello album at some point in the top 100 (although I’m surprised it took us this long), but I think This Year’s Model came in first for the same reason Rick Santorum somehow ended up a Republican presidential front-runner for a while there—luck of the draw. One could make a case for just about any of Costello’s first five LPs: the more traditional-sounding My Aim Is True, the lusher Armed Forces, the soul-derived Get Happy, or Trust, which to my ears boils the others down into one overarching statement of purpose. It’s absolutely astonishing to me that Costello was able to achieve this sustained level of output in the span of just three and a half years.

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.

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