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This week, let’s pay tribute to a guitarist who had a major influence on punk rock, James Williamson. He joined The Stooges after their first two albums, when the band needed a jolt of fresh energy. He provided it, co-writing the entire Raw Power album with Iggy Pop, and working with me on other records thereafter. It’s not just punks who worship Williamson — Johnny Marr has cited Williamson as an influence. Williamson is back in the fold, taking the place of the late Ron Asheton in the reunited Stooges. In Williamson’s honor, please take out your iPod/MP3 player, hit shuffle, and share the first ten tunes that come up.
Fishbone — Everyday Sunshine (The Reality Of My Surroundings): This was an uncharacteristically happy track on the album where Fishbone really went in a more metal influenced direction. This horn driven song was much more in the vein of Sly and the Family Stone and the performance feels like it was recorded live (though I’m sure it’s not the case). This is a very good thing, as Fishbone, at this time, was one of America’s premier rock acts. This song has a great breakdown at the end.
J. Geils Band — Flamethrower (Freeze Frame): During the ’70s, the J. Geils Band was a smoking R & B band, but in the late ’70s, they started exploring other directions. After some success with a new wave foray on the Love Stinks album, they pushed that angle more on the megahit Freeze Frame album. Although the production is very dated, there are some really good songs on this album. This track is a funkified R & B song with some interesting percussion touches and a great hook. Luther Vandross is among the backing vocalists on the song.
Oneida — The Winter Shaker (Secret Wars): A great balance of Oneida’s psychedelic and Krautrock influences, with a repetitive clanging psych-guitar part supplemented by the usual precision drumming and droning and oscillating keyboards. Generally, I think of Oneida as Krautrock band that explores different textures within an established style, though their recent instrumental records go way beyond that description. Sadly, their most recent two albums bore me.
The Isley Brothers — (At Your Best) You Are Love (It’s Your Thing: The Story of the Isley Brothers): A smooth soul ballad from the Isleys. While Smokey Robinson really started the whole Quiet Storm sound, there are some Isley tracks, such as this one, that allow them some claim to helping kick off that trend, for better or for worse.
Tom Petty — Learning To Fly (Into the Great Wide Open): I’m a gigantic Jeff Lynne fan and I really dig his work with Tom Petty. Yes, Lynne’s production relies a lot on somewhat artificial drum sounds and overly perfect background vocals, but that’s compensated for the great arrangements and how he finds away to get the right elements of a song in the right place. Petty was really on his game when he worked with his fellow Wilbury, and the two albums they collaborated on are among his best.
Ed Kuepper — Black Ticket Day (The Butterfly Net): Ed Kuepper left The Saints after three albums to lead his own band, The Laughing Clowns. After they played out, he continued to make great solo records. Oddly enough, his records were certainly in the same vein as those The Saints were making at the same time with lead singer Chris Bailey. Not as bluesy, but sophisiticated acoustic rock with a subtle intensity. This song is like a punchier Go-Betweens.
The Fall — Bound (The Marshall Suite): Mark E. Smith was backed by a great set of musicians on this somewhat wide-ranging Fall release from 1999. This song, but for the cleaner production, sounds like it could have come from an early-‘80s Fall album. Not a great song, but a solid album cut.
Smokey Robinson & The Miracles — I’ve Been Good To You (Smokey Robinson & The Miracles Anthology): An early song from this seminal Motown song. This sounds more like a ’50s song, like The Drifters or Platters might have done. Of course, it sounds really good.
The La’s —- Timeless Melody (The La’s): It’s a shame that Lee Mavers, for whatever reason, whether drugs, mental health, whatever, never did anything but create this great record. “There She Goes” is deservedly a Britpop classic, but I think this song is as good, if not better. It lives up its title, as this melody is so fully yearning and a subtle urgency. The relatively harsh guitar break only adds to the intensity.
The Nils — Scratches and Needles (Green Fields In Daylight): A terrific Canadian punk band who had a sound that seemed to meld The Clash and Husker Du, among others, mixing a large anthemic feel with personal lyrics. So the songs felt big but had an underlying intimacy. This is one of their best.