Today, let’s pay tribute to the late, great Grant McLennan, one of the two songwriters who fueled the wonderful Australian band, The Go Betweens. Their warm and pensive melodic guitar songs often had subtle undercurrents of The Velvet Underground and post-punkers. Both McLennan and his partner, Robert Forster, played literate and humanistic songs, sometimes sparely and sometimes with grandeur, but almost always extremely compelling. In honor of Grant, please grab your iPod/MP3 player, hit shuffle and share the first ten tunes that come up.
Sex Pistols — New York (Never Mind The Bollocks): Yes, the music sounds comparatively tame 33 years after the fact, but in the context of the 1977 rock scene, the Pistols were a gob of fresh air. And the music does still rock and Johnny Rotten sounds more menacing that almost anyone he inspired. This is a lesser number from one hell of a rock and roll album. One other thing — the most important aspect of the Sex Pistols’ legacy is how they fueled the D.I.Y. movement. The number of Brits who saw them and formed a band is staggering, and one of those bands, Buzzcocks, put out Spiral Scratch, the first true indie release, and started a movement that CHIRP is effectively part of.
Blue Oyster Cult — Godzilla (Spectres): This hilarious tribute to everyone’s favorite mutant dinosaur killing machine awakened by nuclear testing showed that the Cult could not only traffic in subtle black humor, but also in up front fun. I’m baffled why this was never released as a single. If you want to explore some truly cool ’70s heavy metal, BOC is the place to start.
Original Sins — Rather Be Sad (The Hardest Way): John Terlinsky, who later went on to do the Brother JT thing, led this great garage rock band during the late ’80s and early ’90s. Terlinsky is a really good songwriter, with a strong sense of melody, and then throws in some fuzzy guitars and the requisite garage rock organ on this tale of a guy who’d rather be sad, because he knows he’s going to get hurt by love in the end.
The Brothers Johnson — The Devil (Look Out For #1): This is about as funky as George and Louis Johnson got, in a cautionary tale of how sinning will get “your ass burnin’” for a really long time. These guys were funk lightweights, but working with mentor Quincy Jones, they often threw melodic twists into their songs that gave them a distinctive stamp. There are a couple of those on this tune to render it above average.
Scritti Politti — Small Talk (Cupid & Psyche 85): Green Gartside’s transformation from ultra-leftist amelodic post-punker to subtly poltiical smooth synth-soul star is one of the more amazing stories of the ’80s, well chronicled in Simon Reynolds’ excellent book Rip It Up & Start Again. This is the album where the transformation was complete. Gartside’s airy tenor vocals managed to thread his wordy lyrics through some of the happiest darn white R & B you’ve ever heard. Dated, yes, but still catchy as hell.
The Sames — There’s No Mystery Here (You Are The Sames): At one level, this is a fairly standard indie rock record, released in 2005, tailor made for college radio airplay. But this North Carolina band both fits in with and stands out from The Shins and The Arcade Fire and other contemporaries. How? By writing excellent songs, each which has a strong chorus or memorable instrumental hooks that really stick. If they were on Sub Pop, I think The Sames would have been big, as this was one of the best albums of 2005.
E’Nuff Z’Nuff — In Crowd (Strength): This is not a cover of the ’60s hit by Dobie Gray. Blue Island’s pride and joy jumped on the hair metal bandwagon and was touted by Rolling Stone magazine as the next big thing. For some reason, perhaps because they were not sexist enough or didn’t have an androgynous frontman, they didn’t take off. And once you stripped away the bad make up and ignored the garish clothes, E’Nuff Z’Nuff were a Beatles/Cheap Trick inspired hard rock band with some metally trappings (especially in the flashy guitar solos). This is the best song on their second album, with strong vocals from Donnie Vie.
Fine Young Cannibals — Love For Sale (Red, Hot + Blue: A Tribute to Cole Porter): This album, which benefited AIDS research, is chock full of great modernized versions of classic Cole Porter tunes. I believe this is the final recording by the Cannibals, and they play this song in a jazzy acoustic guitar dominated arrangement, with Roland Gift emoting in characteristic fashion.
Eleventh Dream Day — There’s This Thing (Lived To Tell): Wow, when my iPod is in Friday Shuffle mode, it loves Eleventh Dream Day. Not that I have a problem with it. This is a percussive cooker that uses a pretty basic blues chord progression and a variation on the Bo Diddley beat. You can actually dance a bit to this one.
The Beat Farmers — California Kid (Tales Of The New West): The first Beat Farmers album came smack dab in the middle of a country rock revival in the mid-‘80s. Unlike the ’70s country rock, the bands tended to rock a bit more. The Beat Farmers were a bit less countrified than Jason & The Scorchers and The Long Ryders, but could twang away pretty well. This song spotlighted their drummer Country Dick, who had a rumbling baritone voice that was perfect for this tale of a horny outlaw.