People say that punk rockers didn’t have great musicianship. That was a broad and oft-incorrect generalization. For example, today’s birthday celebrant was dubbed “the Human Drum Machine” by producer Sandy Pearlman, due to his impeccable timing. Topper Headon had that and more. He may have been the second drummer for The Clash, after Terry Chimes was bounced, but he was definitely the best. Without Headon’s underrated playing, The Clash couldn’t have achieved the stylistic breadth displayed on classic albums such as London Calling and Sandinista!. Moreover, he also contributed songs, such as “Ivan Meets G.I. Joe” (which he also sang) and the band’s biggest hit single, “Rock the Casbah” (on which he played drums, piano and bass when he got tired of waiting for his bandmates to get to the studio). In honor of Topper, grab your iPod or MP3 player, hit shuffle and share the first 10 songs that come up.
The Beach Boys – Surf’s Up (Smile Sessions): One of the greatest Brian Wilson compositions, the primary melody is so haunting and the chorus melody equally so. The emotional range of the music is such that Van Dyke Parks’ abstract lyrics are very fitting, even if they aren’t easily interpreted.
Neil Young – Star of Bethlehem (American Stars ‘n’ Bars): A country-folk shuffle from 1977. The bass guitar tone is so warm on this – if you haven’t heard this song, you’d still guess it was from the latter part of the ‘70s. I love this production sound.
Nick Lowe – Dose of You (Labour of Lust): A bouncy, jangly cotton candy pop song about catching a social disease from a woman, though it could be seen as a metaphor for falling in love. Or vice versa. Nick’s a clever bastard.
Sonic Youth – No Way (The Eternal): The Eternal is one of the more accessible Sonic Youth albums. This is definitely cut from the same cloth as numbers from Daydream Nation and Dirty, with that tight yet loose vibe that this band honed to perfection.
Iceage – Ecstasy (You’re Nothing): This Danish band straddles the punk/post-punk boundary line. This song is a maelstrom of guitar noise, with the tempo speeding up from the chorus to the verse. A simple technique that still works pretty well.
Tommy Keene – Please Don’t Come Around (In the Late Bright): In recent years, Keene’s albums have been good, not great, but there are always some gems to be found. This has all of his hallmarks – a wistful and sad melody, a yearning lead vocal, excellent guitar work (he gets such a great tone) and a killer chorus.
Malachai – Mid Antarctica (Wearin’ Sandals) (Return to the Ugly Side): A band that mixes Portishead sonic manipulation with some rock, pop and dance music moves. This song trots out a few different genres and dynamics and shifts in mood and tune, always circling back to a heavy fuzz guitar riff over a trip hop beat. Clever and cool.
The Besnard Lakes – People of the Sticks (Until in Excess, Imperceptible UFO): Canadian band that specializes in slow building epics that build to a fever pitch. On their most recent album, they sometimes modulated their sound, adding a small bit of sonic variety. This is a mid-tempo track that slowly layers on sounds and distortion, while keeping the rhythm steady, giving this a bit of shoegaze feel.
Grand Champeen – One and Only (The One That Brought You): I love this driving rock album from an energetic band that seems to find a mid-point between Cheap Trick, The Replacements and roots rock on this song. On an acoustic, this would be a sweet love ballad. As performed here, it’s a fuzz laden rocking sweet love ballad.
The Boomtown Rats – (I Never Loved) Eva Braun (Tonic For The Troops): On their second album, The Boomtown Rats added some elements to their energetic, but traditional, rock sound. On some songs, a bit of a glam rock influence showed up, with clever lyrics in the vein of Sparks. This song first that bill to a T – it’s clever and looks at the world’s most evil man from a different perspective without coming off as tasteless.