Today we celebrate one of the major figures in ‘80s rock, Peter Buck, the lead guitarist of R.E.M.. The rise of R.E.M. is effectively the rise of college radio and indie music gaining a foothold in the mainstream. I first saw R.E.M. in a cafeteria in the student center at Southern Illinois University and it was about seven or eight years later that they were headlining the Rosemont Horizon. And they did it their way. Buck was a figurehead for how could maintain integrity while achieving commercial success. Along the way, Buck and his bandmates tried to help out fellow travelers, giving opening slots to great acts like The dB’s, Minutemen and Robyn Hitchcock & The Egyptians. Now that R.E.M. is no more, Buck still plays bass for The Baseball Project and does whatever it is he does. He’s just a cool guy. So wish Pete a happy birthday by grabbing your iPod or MP3 player, hitting shuffle, and sharing the first 10 songs that come up.
Phoenix – Fences (Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix): There’s no denying that Phoenix’s breakthrough LP had some hits and then had album cuts that could have been hits. This mid-tempo number has some really creative arrangement choices and also demonstrates their mastery of texture. The blend of electronic instruments with percussion and acoustic guitar is wonderful.
Talking Heads – Memories Can’t Wait (Fear of Music): One of my favorite David Byrne compositions. Fear Of Music in general is an album that is full of tension building, and rarely releasing, but staying as tense or getting more tense. This song actually has some release in the beautiful bridges to the chorus. Living Colour did a great cover of this tune.
Alejandro Escovedo – The Bed Is Getting Crowded (Street Songs of Love): I probably should explore Alejandro’s catalog more than I have. But some of his albums in the past 10 years have been great intense rock that fans of Springsteen, Graham Parker and Los Lobos might enjoy. This is a passionate rocker with stinging guitar.
The Boys – Tenement Kids (The Boys): The Boys were rocking but not heavy. This song sounds like they each downed a pot of coffee before exploding in the studio with yet another catchy pop-punk tune.
Nothing Painted Blue – K Is For Karnival (Emotional Discipline): Probably my favorite Nothing Painted Blue song. It’s Franklin Bruno’s tribute to K Records, with his typically witty lyrics set over a jumping rhythm. It’s such a simple song, which is probably why it works so well. Oh, and Bruno sings brilliant stuff like this: “I don’t care what your tarot deck says/about this battle of the sexes/if you have showered her in excess/it’s still O.K.”
Muddy Waters – (I’m Your) Hoochie Coochie Man (The Anthology): A blues classic. Written by Willie Dixon and perfect for Muddy Waters. This is the blueprint for about a gazillion songs and bands, with the classic chord progression, the stop-start rhythm and the lyrics full of attitude.
Smokey Robinson & The Miracles – Mickey’s Monkey (Anthology): An early hit for Smokey and his Miracles. This is a handclapping bit of fluff cashing in on a dance craze.
Ted Leo & The Pharmacists – Fourth World War (Living With The Living): An audio collage snippet that just shows that I have the full album on my iPod.
Peter Gabriel – Kiss Of Life (Security): This song kind of has an electro-rhumba beat to it. After the success of his third album, especially the impact of “Biko”, Gabriel really dove into world music on the follow up album. Perhaps the production is a bit dated, but the mix of his art pop tunes and the creative rhythms made for some really great music. A really joyful song.
Sex Pistols – Problems (Never Mind The Bollocks Here’s The Sex Pistols): I just read an interview with John Lydon. What a pressure cooker the Pistols were in as they put together a full album after all of the press and the notoriety. And they delivered. Yes, the best songs on the album were the singles, which came before the album. But the tunes rock and very few singers have been as compelling as Mr. Lydon/Rotten.