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Mike Bennett writesFriday iPod/MP3 Shuffle—Happy Birthday Michael Stipe Edition

He fronted the band that grew with college radio, and, to some degree, made the notion  of alternative rock possible. Michael Stipe was born in Georgia but spent some of his formative years in Southern Illinois, before heading back to Athens. There, of course, he met Peter Buck and eventually, R.E.M. was formed. It can’t be overstated how their arty but accessible guitar rock took colleges by storm. It was a Southern mix of post-punk and power pop and classic ‘60s jangle, with Stipe’s mysterious lyrics and his voice, just perfect for those songs. Of course, R.E.M. grew, explored other styles, and Stipe’s lyrics became intelligible. As they got bigger, they made their share of musical missteps, but whatever they did, they remained true to themselves. Moreover, they helped spread the notion that you could do something a bit different or obscure and have a chance. I have fond memories of their early shows. On the tail end of their endless touring for Reckoning, they played the Aragon, and me and my friend Dale were right near the stage. An adoring young gal threw a stuffed animal towards Stipe. Her aim was true, and Stipe, while singing, one hand on the mike stand, made a great catch with the crook of his free arm. The girl was ecstatic...until Michael took the souvenir and flung it back in the crowd. She was crushed, but I thought it was a great catch. Remember that if you ever get to play softball or touch football with Stipe. Let’s pay tribute to Stipe by getting your iPod or MP3 player, hitting shuffle, and sharing the first 10 songs that come up.

  1. Outkast - Toilet Tisha (Stankonia): Hey, Andre 3000 is using some sort of processor on his voice on this lesser cut from this hip hop classic. This isn’t the full on robot voice, a la Roger or T-Pain. It’s closer to how they scramble voices of crime victims who don’t want to be identifiable in local television news stories. The basic rhythm is enhanced with loads of keyboards and sound effects.
  2. Radiohead – Airbag (OK Computer): Remember how radical this album sounded when it came out? It was such a leap forward for Radiohead into new realms of artiness. But given what they put out subsequently, this is still guitar oriented and, with many songs, not that far removed from what they did on The Bends. Indeed, this song could have fit on that album, though you can hear elements that cropped up more prominently on subsequent releases.
  3. Robyn Hitchcock – Up To Our Nex (Goodnight Oslo): A playful Hitchcock tune that reminds me of some of his material with the Egyptians back in the ‘80s. While Hitchcock has never broadly left his comfort zone, he’s explored different areas of his interests as a songwriter. His recent records have found him refreshed from these explorations, and while he has made a few just okay albums, most of his stuff is still really good.
  4. The Soft Pack – Tides Of Time (The Soft Pack): I really like this San Diego band. They combine a definite Velvet Underground/Modern Lovers vibe with some ‘80s British indie pop and garage rock for a sound that’s familiar without sounding too much like anybody else. This track sounds like a midpoint between The Strokes and something on Postcard Records.
  5. T. Rex – Get It On (Electric Warrior): One of T. Rex’s many hits in England, but the band’s sole U.S. smash. Why Marc Bolan’s unerring knack for a catchy tune didn’t translate in the States is beyond me, but at least on T. Rex classic got blasted out of car and transistor radios from coast to coast. Structurally, this isn’t as steeped in ‘50s rock as some of his songs, but the rhythm of this song is so insinuating. Meanwhile, Bolan’s odd lyrics may not really make sense, but they sound so cool.
  6. Stan Ridgway – Can’t Complain (Mosquitos): One of my most irritating concert experiences was catching Stan Ridgway, touring on The Big Heat, and standing near a megafan who thought that the best way to get into the show was to LOUDLY recite the lyrics to every song. Usually, singing along is a good thing, but when you have an artist who basically talks his way through stories set to music (of which this track is a great example), shut up and let him do his job. I paid $20 to hear him talk, not you.
  7. The Troggs – Purple Shades (Archaeology (1966-1976): A softer side of The Troggs, not as moony as “Love Is All Around”. The song has a primitive back beat, a simple melody and an intent Reg Presley lead vocal.
  8. Kid Creole & The Coconuts – Survivors (Doppelganger): This song revolves around a great jazz piano part and a samba rhythm. There’s no real chorus, but a main piano hook that makes this song so insinuating. It radiates late ‘50s/early ‘60s cool. Why the Kid never created a great musical is beyond me.
  9. Blur – End Of A Century (Parklife): This is such a quintessential Britpop song, which seems to meld everything from 1967 era Kinks to Hunky Dory era David Bowie. The guitar is not overpowering, but has some majesty, and the way the melody ascends into the chorus is sublime.
  10. The Small Faces – Song Of A Baker (Ogden's Nut Gone Flake): Speaking of Britpop, here is another band that defined the style. Arguably, no ‘60s British band managed to so successfully integrated R & B and pop-rock as well as The Small Faces. This is due in large part to having one of the greatest white R & B vocalists in Steve Marriott. This song is driving, soulful rock. Like T. Rex, even moreso, this band never came close to getting its due in the States.

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Categorized: Friday MP3 Shuffle

Topics: ipod, michael stipe, mp3

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