He’s an alt-rock guitar hero who bridged the gap between Neil Young and Husker Du. J. Mascis turns 45 years old today! Dinosaur Jr. remains a powerful rock force, and an inspiration to indie bands everywhere. The old saw goes, “If it’s too loud, you’re too old” and Mascis defies that maxim every time he takes the stage, as he still plays some of the loudest concerts anywhere. In honor of Mr. Mascis, please get your iPod or MP3 player, hit shuffle, and share the first ten songs that come up.
Steve Wynn — Believe in Yourself (Crossing Dragon Bridge): The former leader of Dream Syndicate is more known for rocking stuff. But for this 2008 album, he recorded some spare guitar songs and then traveled to Serbia, where his producer figured out what pieces to fit around the songs. The album was decidedly more intimate than anything Wynn had recorded, showing new facets to this outstanding artist. This song is minimally augmented — it’s really just a good folky song and a nice bit of affirmation.
The Original Sins — Rather Be Sad (The Hardest Way): This underrated late-‘80s garage band featuring John (Brother JT) Terlinsky mixed barn burners with more paisley flavored ’60s-isms, drenched in rocking guitars. This is one of their best ever songs, a paean to wanting to feel pain. Masochistic, yes. But if you’ve ever wallowed in a funk and taken a perverse pride in it, this song is for you.
Wax — Snappin’ Away (What Else Can We Do): A nice dose of punk-pop from this L.A. band with substantial Chicago roots. One thing that made Wax stand out is that they made sure the basic elements of their songs were simple, but creatively played with arrangements and tempos, without ever destroying the essential catchiness of their music. On this song, they use dynamics and tempo changes to build anticipation, with the song finally exploding enough to justify the wait.
Ronnie Dawson — Rockin’ Bones (Loud, Fast & Out of Control): Not so much rockabilly as a hillbilly jump blues song with Dawson’s extremely nasal vocals. This song makes a great use of sonic space to emphasize the bouncy percussion that makes it perfect for sock hop jitterbugging.
Fleet Foxes — White Winter Hymnal (Fleet Foxes): A perfect song for this time of year. When the Foxes became famous, they often garnered Beach Boys comparisons for their elaborate harmony vocals. But the Fleet ones really have more of a church choir type vibe to their harmonies, appropriate for a hymnal that starts out with a “Row Row Row Your Boat” type choral intro. This pastoral album has aged well and set the bar high for their 2011 follow up album.
Stan Ridgway — Walking Home Alone (The Big Heat): Ridgway’s first solo album didn’t just go in the direction of Wall Of Voodoo, while maintaining the cinematic vibe of that band. Ridgway established himself as a great storyteller who could meld his music to fit the lyrics. This song has the mood of a ’50s Sinatra classic, mixing electronic instruments with the “sad trombone” he references in the lyrics. And Stan even credibly sings on the killer middle eight. I would love to hear a traditional crooner take this on with a retro arrangement.
The Rolling Stones — You Can’t Always Get What You Want (Let It Bleed): This classic, from one of the Stones’ best LPs, was (and might still be) overplayed. Of course, it gets so much play because it is a striking song, from the children’s chorus intro to memorable opening words to the way the song builds to epic heights.
Sloan — C’mon C’mon (We’re Gonna Get It Started) (Navy Blues): A wonderful ’70s inspired pop piece from the pride of Nova Scotia. This sounds like it was made to fit in between Stealer’s Wheel and Todd Rundgren on some great AM radio station, not only with it’s piano pop bounce, but with the compressed production that gives the track an older feel. This song has a gigantic hook and an awesome middle eight with spectacular harmony vocals.
Outkast — Spaghetti Junction (Stankonia): A nice mid-tempo slice of funky hip-hop. This song is interesting because of how Big Boi and Andre 3000 trade off within the verses, sometimes with one or the other rapping under the other.
The Fleshtones — The Girl From Baltimore (Up-Front): This song appeared on the band’s first EP for IRS Records and it’s a great garage rock tune, perfect for doing all of the classic ’60s dances that are mentioned in the song. Keith Streng’s twanging guitar sounds like it was borrowed from a B-52’s record. This song quickly established that the ‘tones had mastered R & B flavored rock that is perfect for parties.