He’s the Prince of Darkness, the man driving the Crazy Train, the drug/alcohol waste case who we can laugh with while we also laugh at him. There was a time when Black Sabbath was merely a critically reviled, commercially successful heavy metal band, who many figured would fade out memory. Instead, the Sabs are now highly respected and Ozzy is both a musical and comedic icon. Perhaps he’s lost his menace, but he’s now a pop culture touchstone. Regardless, those Sabbath platters and early solo albums still sound great. So let’s wish Ozz a happy birthday by grabbing the iPod or MP3 player, hitting shuffle and sharing the first 10 tunes that come up.
Jim Carroll Band — Three Sisters (Catholic Boy): When I was in high school, this was punk rock. Carroll wrote aggressive, sometimes raunchy or tasteless lyrics, with hyper backing. As time as passed, the music sounds a bit tamer (slightly more spunky than The Rolling Stones or New York Dolls), but Carroll’s attitude still carries the day. This is a really playful number.
The Jam — In The Street Today (This Is The Modern World): An early Jam number that sounds like a cousin of the classic “In the City”. It has a nice Mod bounce, with Rick Buckler’s drumming really keeping things peppy.
The Dismemberment Plan — A Life Of Possibilities (Emergency & I): The Dismemberment Plan are a band who either you know about and have a high opinion of, or you have never heard of them. If you are in the latter category, you should really give them a listen, or, better yet, see them live, now that they are doing a reunion tour. There is an emo aspect to their music, but their best music mixes in some arty ideas, especially some of the most interesting use of rhythms (both through drums and bass and guitar lines) since the heyday of the Talking Heads. This is intelligent music that is still pretty darned accessible. They may have been ahead of their time.
Chuck Berry — Johnny B. Goode (Gold): Chuck will be playing in town on New Year’s Day, and I’m excited to have tickets for the show. You can’t overstate his greatness, both as an early rock ‘n’ roll innovator, or as one of the best lyricists in rock history. This song is his calling card, with the classic oft-copied lead guitar line, acting as the primary hook. But one should also appreciate Chuck’s interplay with the rollicking piano during the instrumental break.
Pansy Division — Best Revenge (Absurd Pop Song Romance): Between the Illinois civil union law’s passage and the debate over rescinding Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, we are learning who has a really hard time dealing with gay people. This Pansy Division song has a great message on how to deal with the homophobes — as Jon Ginoli sings, “Happiness is the best revenge.” This is a stomping rocker that PD tears into with gusto, a highlight from their best full length.
The Smugglers — To Serve, Protect & Entertain (Growing Up Smugglers): A short sharp shock of punk-pop from this underrated Vancouver, B.C. band. Compared to most punk-poppers, the Smugs have a real affinity for traditional rock ‘n’ roll and then just play it like they had a few cups of coffee too many. They lived up to this song’s motto.
Flop — Mendel’s White Trash Laboratory (Whenever You’re Ready): Flop was kinda punky and kinda power pop — they sometimes sounded like a cross between Buzzcocks and Game Theory, which was accentuated by Rusty Willoughby’s sorta whiny vocals. Their second album is full of whimisical melodies with odd lyrics married to pile driving rock.
Fabulous Poodles — Pinball Pinup (His Master’s Choice): Due to a couple of singles that could pass of as “new wave,” the Poodles were marketed as a hip band. But they were really a Kinks-inspired observational pop band, who stood out because the lead instrument on most of their songs was a violin. This is a lesser song of their, but it would sound real good next to The Kinks’ “Celluloid Heroes” with its dramatic sound.
Cherrelle — I Didn’t Mean to Turn You On (Fragile): This is one of the best Jimmy Jam/Terry Lewis productions. The melody is a little pinched, but that’s okay, because Cherrelle wasn’t the greatest singer of all-time (but much better than Janet Jackson). But the rhythm track is killer. Jam and Lewis pull out all of the stops, using an array of keyboards and some wild programmed drums to create a hyper catchy dance floor monster. Sadly, this song never broke big and Robert Palmer later did a pallid third-rate cover of it that was a bigger hit.
The Nines — Distance That Remains (Properties of Sound): The Nines are a Canadian pop band whose singer sounds a fair amount like Andy Partridge. The Nines’ music is a mix of ’60s Beach Boys sunniness and ’70s AM gold. This is a really pretty number.