Today we’re paying tribute to an important figure in hip hop, RZA of Wu-Tang Clan. RZA was only 11 when he got into his first rap battle, a portent of things to come. In the early ‘90s, he led the amazing collective of talent that was Wu-Tang, kicking things off with the great Enter The Wu-Tang LP. Of course, RZA, like his fellow members, has made some fine solo music, and he has also acted in numerous films. Just last year, he directed his first film, the martial arts/action flick The Man with the Iron Fists. In honor of this hip hop giant, please grab your iPod or MP3 player, hit shuffle, and share the first 10 songs that come up.
Johnny Cash – I Hung My Head (Unearthed V: Best of Cash): This is one of the gazillion tunes Cash recorded with Rick Rubin. This song was written by Sting, and you wouldn’t know it. Indeed, this seems like a guy trying to write a murder song just for Johnny Cash. It’s not bad, but it’s a bit contrived.
Franz Ferdinand – You Could Have It So Much Better (You Could Have It So Much Better): The title track from Franz Ferdinand’s second album, which was never going to measure up to its classic debut. That being said, it’s still a good album. This is a caffeinated rocker that would have fit in alright with songs on the debut.
Mott The Hoople – Waterlow (Wildlife): A pretty piano ballad from Mott’s third album. Their earlier stuff was more hard rock oriented, and this is one of those songs that really showcased Ian Hunter’s melodic ability. He had more of these ballads up his sleeve later on, even better than this one.
Sam Cooke – Only Sixteen (Portrait of a Legend): Why did Sam Cooke have to die so young? One of the best pop and soul (and gospel) singers ever. The guy could do gritty or he could do pop. When he did pop, he seemed to building on the great Nat King Cole. This is one of his many smash hits, and a wonderful song, despite the cheesy production.
Cloud Nothings – Should Have (Cloud Nothings): A splendid pop punk song from a few years ago from a band that could end up being one of the better ones of this era. The melodies are so strong that this goes beyond the facile pop-punk of many other acts of recent vintage, with a timeless quality more in line with artists like The Undertones and Jay Reatard.
Grizzly Bear – While You Wait For The Others (Veckatimest): This album was the breakthrough for this art-pop band, and it’s easy to see why. The band finds a way to be accessible without giving up its quirks, letting its melodic talent shine. This is one of the highlights on this album, with a few hooks that come out of nowhere and a really terrific arrangement that builds things to a killer chorus.
Oneida – Busy Little Bee (Happy New Year): A psychedelic number from a band that had been more known for its balls to the wall krautrock. This has an Eastern feel to it, with an array of plucked, stringed instruments.
David Dondero – The Transient (The Transient): I probably should own more of Dondero’s music, as I really like the sole album of his that I do own. He is a folk singer with just enough of a rock edge. This song actually reminds me a little bit of Jeffrey Lee Pierce’s solo work, which is a wonderful thing.
Happy Hate Me Nots – When I Die (The Good That’s Been Done): Another slice of peppy punk from this underrated Aussie band. This song has stinging lead guitar lines a la Buzzcocks, but this isn’t poppy, it’s got a bit of an anthem feel a la Big Country or some of the best of The Saints. Great tune.
Fools Face – All In This Alone (Fools Face): This Springfield, Missouri power pop band put out two of the best indie albums of the early ‘80s in Tell America and Public Places, then moved to L.A. and faded away. About 20 years later, they got back together and this reunion album was more polished (one of their members became a very successful recording engineer), but otherwise, all of their abilities remained intact. This is a foreboding mid-tempo song, with a lovely piano contrasted by some pointed electric guitar playing. The vocals, as always, are sublime.