He isn’t just a living legend, he’s an active one. From his time in Buffalo Springfield (who may reunite for a tour in 2011) to this year, Neil Young rarely, if ever, stops creating. He has created one of the most impressive bodies of work in rock history, mixing accessible roots based music with some of the dirtiest, grimiest music ever committed to tape. He has also dabbled in film and theater, experimented with many styles (remember Trans? Or Everybody’s Rockin’?) and influenced tons of musicians. Today is the great Neil Young’s birthday. Let’s celebrate by getting out the ol’ iPod or MP3 player, hitting shuffle and sharing the first 10 songs that come up.
The Features — The Beginning (Week One)(The Beginning): This is a bashing number from the Tennessee band. Musically, it sounds a little bit like a faster Elvis Costello & The Attractions (Armed Forces era), with tinny keyboards and busy drums. This song does a good job contrasting between a cacophony and more controlled sounds.
New York Dolls — Chatterbox (Too Much Too Soon): A typically energetic track from the Dolls’ second album. David Johansen takes a back seat to Johnny Thunders on lead vocals on this track. While this song is rooted in blues rock, the playing and attitude clearly show why the Dolls were a major precursor to punk.
The Blasters — Common Man (Hard Line): One of two songs on the The Blasters’ fourth album that show how big of an influence John Fogerty was on David Alvin. Alvin plays some swampy guitar over a nice groove, while brother Phil sings a stinging indictment of Ronald Reagan. This predates What’s The Matter With Kansas? in pointing out how politicians get people to vote against their interests by appealing to things that distract them from real issues.
Maximo Park — The Kids Are Sick Again (Quicken The Heart): On their third album, Maximo Park plays better than ever and has their formula down pat. This is a blessing and curse. The songs sound great, but they are less thrilling. Hence, this album took a number of plays to sink in. But it eventually did. This is one of those building song which ebbs and flows and only reveals the big chorus in the end. So it builds tension as you keep waiting for the song to peak. An odd choice for a first singe.
The House Of Love — Christine (1986-88: The Creation Years): This band wasn’t quite a shoegazer band, and they were catchy, but not quite poppy enough to be classified as Britpop. Forget subgenres — for a few years, they cranked out a lot of great singles and albums tracks with big guitar sounds and melodies that were somehow both ethereal and sinister. This was one of their best known songs.
Robert Gordon — Someday Someway (Are You Gonna Be The One?): This Marshall Crenshaw classic was first waxed by rockabilly revivalist Gordon. His version is just a bit peppier and punchier and nearly made the Top 40 (which Crenshaw’s version just grazed in 1982). Gordon was a great interpreter of Crenshaw’s songs, as his confidence is a contrast to Crenshaw’s constant wistfulness. I remember seeing Gordon perform this on SCTV.
The Monochrome Set — Expresso (Tomorrow Will Be Too Late): The Monochrome Set are an underappreciated post-punk pop band from the early ’80s. Fans of Orange Juice, Josef K, early XTC and any sort of music with herky-jerk rhythms and oddball guitar lines should check them out. This is a jaunty shuffle that, for some reason, reminds me a bit of the Bonzo Dog Band. The mix of strumming and jangly guitars is sublime.
Fastball — Fire Escape (All the Pain Money Can Buy): When “The Way” became a smash hit, this veteran power pop band got a well-deserved moment in the sun. Whereas their big hit had a bit of early Costello drama, this song is more in the vein of The Gin Blossoms or Tom Petty, jangling about until they hit the utterly professional hook. Give them an A for craftsmanship.
Fuzzbubble — Same Time, Same Place (Demos, Out Takes & Rarities): This L.A. power pop band fell somewhere between the glossiness of Jellyfish, the fizzy energy of Redd Kross with a bit of guitar edge similar to School of Fish. This tune has big guitars and a robust lead vocal. Cheap Trick would do a fine job covering it.
Neko Case — This Tornado Loves You (Middle Cyclone): The thing about Neko Case is that she outgrew any genre descriptions. Yes, country is the foundation of her songs, but she has developed a wide, spacious sound that can incorporate folk, soul, rock or anything else she may think of. And, of course, she’s a marvelous singer — it’s not just the quality of her voice but how she invests herself in her always worthwhile lyrics. This is a breathtakingly brilliant song.