Today let’s give a birthday salute to one of the all-time greatest rock guitarists, Brian May of Queen. The curly haired fretmeister is more than just a guitarist – he has a Ph.D in astrophysics. So it should come as no surprise that not long after his 16th birthday, Brian and dad made the main guitar he has played for almost 50 years, the Red Special. Made primarily out of wood from an 18th Century fireplace with ornate detail, the Mays designed the guitar so it would naturally feedback. This guitar is a large part of May’s distinctive sound, which has so many great Queen songs, including some of his own classic compositions such as “I Want It All”, “Tie Your Mother Down”, “Fat Bottomed Girls” and that sports stadium perennial, “We Will Rock You”. Queen was one of the most musically diverse bands of any era, so in that spirit, grab your iPod or MP3 player, hit shuffle and share the first 10 songs that come up.
The Wailing Souls – Run Dem Down (Fire House Rock): One of many fine tracks from this classic early ‘80s reggae album. The Wailing Souls had a bright, sunny sound with lovely harmonies and very accessible songs. It’s too bad this didn’t get more exposure in America, as it is so darned likeable.
Fire – Father’s Name Was Dad (Nuggets II): A fun slice of British freakbeat with a title that seems like it should have some come from a country song. The lyrics don’t make much sense, but the music is great mod on the cusp of psychedelia.
Steve Miller Band – One in a Million (Italian X-Rays): A mellow cut from one of the biggest flop LPs of all-time, selling 30,000 copies on the heels of the million selling Abracadabra. This is the album where Miller real experimented with electronics and funk on a number of cuts, which is why this stiffed. But this pretty song would have fit well on albums like Fly Like An Eagle and Book Of Dreams.
The Features – The Beginning (Week One) (The Beginning): Early music from this underrated Nashville area band. Most of their recorded work is a bit more mature and doesn’t fully capture the manic energy of their early live shows (which isn’t to say they aren’t very energetic now). So this is a bit rawer than their later work, but all the hallmarks of their sound are already in place, with dynamic arrangements, bashing drumming and melodies that are familiar but just a bit off.
Robyn Hitchcock – Sinister But She Was Happy (Moss Elixir): In career full of great albums, I think this is one of Robyn’s best. While still clever, Moss Elixir has as much emotional resonance as any of this work. This song has a beautiful extended instrumental intro before settling into a terrific psychedelic folk song.
Jackie Brenston & His Delta Cats – Rocket 88 (The Roots Of Rock ‘n’ Roll): If you ask the question “What was the first rock ‘n’ roll record?”, this is about as good an answer as any. The Delta Cats were actually Ike Turner's band, BTW. The walking rhythm of this song soon became the foundation for rockabilly, and all the cross-pollinating got going to fully establish the sound.
The Cramps – Surfin’ Bird (Gravest Hits): A grimy, sinister version of this surf rock novelty, as only The Cramps could do it. It says something that Lux Interior’s vocals are far more crazy and unhinged than those of Pee Wee Herman, who waxed the tune in the ‘80s.
The Misfits – Die, Die My Darling (Misfits): Misfits after The Cramps? Trash rock to horror punk? It makes sense to me. The Misfits had a bit more traditional riff rock in their sound, but never sounded mainstream, and Glen Danzig is such a cool singer.
Bob Mould – Anymore Time Between (Bob Mould): I really dig Mould’s first post-Sugar solo album. This is the lead track on the album, a slow burner that builds up so well.
Nothing Painted Blue – In May (Placeholders): Nothing Painted Blue centered around the awkward voice of Franklin Bruno, who found a way to make his instrument work, helped by his fantastic observational lyrics. This song mixes a ‘90s indie rock jangle with a light R & B rhythm to make for quite the nice song.