The Beatles loom so large in rock music history, and rightfully so, that sometimes it’s hard to keep them in perspective. This is especially true when their respective solo careers managed to, unsurprisingly, fall short of the peaks of the band’s career. Certainly, these four men weren’t perfect, and criticism of their lesser work is warranted, but it in no way can it diminish their accomplishments. This is particularly true of Paul McCartney, who is unfairly painted as a lightweight in comparison to John Lennon. Yet Macca was actually as experimental as his great counterpart, along with being one of the greatest rock and roll singers ever and arguably the best rock bassist ever. And he still goes out on the road and puts on 2 1/2 hour shows (though his voice is going — see, I can knock him too!), because he loves the music. Let’s salute one of the true legends, by grabbing your iPod or MP3 player, hitting shuffle and sharing the first 10 tunes that come up.
XTC — Knights In Shining Karma (Apple Venus, Volume 1): The penultimate XTC album is full of rich compositions, some with orchestration. This low key track is kind of a respite from the more largely scaled tunes that take up the rest of the album. This sounds like a soft latter day Beatles track, using a basic blues rock progression but then adding some interesting jazz undertones. While Skylarking is widely acknowledged as XTC’s masterpiece, I think that Apple Venus is even better, littered with great songs.
Keith — Ain’t Gonna Lie (Bubblegum Classics, Volume 1): This isn’t as bubblegummy as most songs on this collection. By that, I mean it wasn’t as geared towards the younger set. This is really just a wussy innocuous pop song. It may be time to remove it from the iPod.
Roseanne Cash — Blue Moon With Heartache (The Very Best of Roseanne Cash): While she has had some commercial success, Roseanne Cash’s talent hasn’t fully been appreciated. She’s such a smooth and subtly emotional singer. Moreover, she’s a heck of a songwriter, who, although she had some country hits, doesn’t really fit in any particular pigeonhole. Her songs are simply classic pop, with a hell of lot more intelligence than most pop. This song does have some steel guitar, but it also has some jazzy session guitar that could have come from a ’70s Laurel Canyon classic.
The Loud Family — Spot the Setup (Plants and Birds and Rocks and Things): The signature tune from the debut album from the band led by Scott Miller of Game Theory. The music was really a continuation of what Miller was doing with his prior band — really arty power pop, with influences from Big Star to oddball post-punk pop like The Monochrome Set. This song is premised on some simple blues chords, but the middle eight is a total breakdown, as the song grinds into cacophony, before some banging guitar chords allow Miller to exit a bit more gracefully. Catchy and weird.
Gem — Your Heroes Hate You (Hexed): This short lived Ohio band was led by Doug Gillard (ex-Death of Samantha and Guided By Voices) and played solid indie pop. This T. Rex homage was a highlight of this album. Plain and simple, this song is a Rutle-ized version of the Marc Bolan classic “Solid Gold Easy Action”, with the exact same rhythm and just a slightly different structure, with a blissfully damaged guitar solo from Gillard. Ultra fun.
The Wedding Present — Mars Sparkles Down On Me (Take Fountain): I don’t know if you can call this a comeback album, because David Gedge was making great albums with Cinerama. I think this album is a bit more guitar oriented, but Gedge melds in some of the ’60s influences that were so prominent in Cinerama. And I have no problem with that. Very few songwriters are as good at detailing what it’s like to have your heart ripped out by a former lover, as exemplified by this softer number which features string accompaniment.
Michael Carpenter and Kings Road — King’s Rd (Kingsroadworks): One of Michael’s favorite artists is Steve Earle, and the Aussie power pop master manages to graft a Earle-esque country/Irish folk vibe onto one of his pulsing melody fests. This is one of those songs where the inspiration is obvious, but it doesn’t come off as derivative, as it’s only used to augment the artist’s well established style. For example, Earle wouldn’t have a “na na na na” middle eight, which is pure bliss, by the way.
Hank Williams — I’m a Long Gone Daddy (The Complete Hank Williams): The essence of songwriting. Williams learned his stuff from an old blues guitarist sharecropper, and that informed his country songs. Everything is so economical, with pithy verses, instantly relatable lyrics and indelible choruses. Throw on Williams voice, which was part hillbilly twang and part smooth blues, and you have tons of classic songs like this one.
Sweet — Lost Angels (Off The Record): The second single off of the band’s fifth album. At this point, the glam rock sun was settling, and Sweet was settling in as a hooky hard rock band. Unfortunately, this wasn’t where British music fans were going, and, for some reason, this didn’t get a foothold in the States. This is a shame, as the album is pretty good, and this song is one of the highlights. It has a tough Brian Connolly vocal, a nice mix of melody and guitar crunch and a propulsive instrumental breakdown that fuels a thrilling middle eight. Had this hit, the band’s career may have been markedly different, and they might have made a handful of great hard rock albums. On the other hand, drink and drugs and record biz b.s. may have still sabotaged them.
New Radicals — I Don’t Wanna Die Anymore (Maybe You’ve Been Brainwashed): This one shot album yielded a big hit in “You Get What You Give”, which is indicative of the high quality of the rest of the effort. These are big pop songs with some old school Philly R & B, and once you get past the gloss, they seem very much in the vein of early ’70s Todd Rundgren and Hall & Oates. This song is no exception.