Saturday, July 23, 2011

The No-Skip Songs (Part 2)

In Part 1 of the No-Skip Songs, I discussed how technology has changed the way we listen to music. As we've evolved from LPs to CDs to Walkmans to MP3 players, our ability to skip songs has multiplied. And now, in my mid-40's, I hit the Skip button on my iPod a lot. Either technology or age has made me a fidgety, impatient listener.

The No-Skip songs are tunes that consistently hold my attention, and I'm often surprised at which ones. Some I knew as a teen, but didn't consider a favorite then. Some are by artists I barely know. Some of my favorite artists are not represented (close friends will be shocked by the absence of Bob Dylan). But for whatever reasons, right now, these are (some of) my No Skip Songs.

Why 21 songs? My original No Skip playlist was 45 songs. But I cut it down to 21 - specifically to 80 MB - so that it would perfectly form a CD mix. Here we go, in no particular order:

Solsbury Hill [live], Peter Gabriel, Plays Live
There's a handful of songs on this list that I may have liked as a teen, but I get as an adult. We reach crossroads in our life, moments of confusion, and there's nothing purer than the moment of clarity when suddenly we know the right direction. May eagles fly into all our hilltop reveries and show us the way home.

I think that's why Solsbury Hill works better as a live song. Great singers are actors, too, and you can hear the yearning in Gabriel's vocals. He's going home.

Hey Jealousy, Gin Blossoms, New Miserable Experience
Seriously, I have no idea how this song got here. I couldn't name another Gin Blossoms song and have never owned a Gin Blossoms album.

As for the feeling of jealousy, it is completely alien to me. I like it when other guys check out my wife. Damn right, she's with me. Give me Hamlet and Macbeth over Othello any day. But what can I tell you - this song comes on, I ain't skipping.

Redemption Song (live in Pittsburgh), Bob Marley, Songs of Freedom
Recorded shortly before his death, this live version gets me before it even starts. There's a little guitar intro, a joyous shout from Bob, and then, "Yes, this little song is called old pirates, you know, redemption song".

Knowing his body is already racked with the cancer that will get him soon makes the hopeful vocals more poignant.

Tumbling Dice, The Rolling Stones, Exile on Main St.
The Stones in general hold up for me. I have no use for The Who anymore and little use for Zeppelin, or most of the big classic rock bands of my youth. There will always be a place in my heart for them but they are almost always skipped.

But a bunch of Stones song pass the Skip Test. Angie, Gimme Shelter, Can't You Hear Me Knocking. On a larger No-Skip list, they'd be well-represented. In fact, Dice only only edged Knocking on this list because it's shorter, and fit in my 80 MB.

Cry Love, John Hiatt, Walk On
Twenty years ago, an acquaintance made me a mix that changed my listening habits. On one tape I was introduced to Graham Parker, A Tribe Called Quest, and a host of other songs and artists I didn't know.

One of those guys was John Hiatt, and this song provided the ultimate "Who is this guy?" moment. I've since dug deeper into Hiatt, but this remains my favorite.

Thunder Road, Bruce Springsteen, Live 1975-1985
The only song on this list to crack the Top 100 on Rolling Stone Magazine's list of Top 500 Songs of All Time (#86). The album Born to Run has the famous cover shot of a guitar-slung Boss and a sax-blowing Big Man. But this live version from The Boss's 1975 shows at The Bottom Line in New York is a reminder that Springsteen's classic 1975 record was drenched in piano. I wonder if E Street keyboardist Roy Bittan, who was equally spectacular on Dire Straits' Making Movies, is annoyed at that album cover.

Double Trouble, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Gimme Back My Bullets
If you have any interest in the depths of my teen obsession with Skynyrd, click here. Suffice to say, I was a hard-core fan. I knew every song on every album, knew the band lineup changes, had the original Street Survivors LP (real fans know what I'm talking about)

But if you asked me in 1981 to name my favorite Skynyrd songs, I'm not sure this would have made the Top 10. In fact, the Bullets album in general spent the least time on my roundtable. But for some reason now, when I hear that great opening guitar intro, I'm hooked.

What'd I Say, Pt. 1 & 2,Ray Charles, Rhino Hi-Five
I think my introduction to Ray Charles was through the Columbia House record club. You old folks remember - 13 albums for a penny. Back before Napster changed everything, the closest you can get to music piracy was joining, quitting, and re-joining Columbia House. And with so many albums to choose from, I'd start picking some old guys with whom I was only vaguely familiar.

Well, Ray Charles' Greatest Hits blew me away. Unchain My Heart became a staple on all my mixes. But somehow I missed this song until the movie Ray, and it assumed an immediate place on my No-Skip list. It's still there.

Even the Losers, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Damn the Torpedoes
If you ask me who my favorite artist is, I'd probably say Bob Dylan or Van Morrison. Favorite band? The Beatles. But if push came to shove - if I was really being placed on the metaphorical desert island and can only choose the collected works of one artist, I just may choose Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

Oh, I know, he doesn't have the street grandeur of the Boss or the ragged poetry of Dylan or the lyric mysticism of Van or the revolutionary inventiveness of the Beatles. But damn it, he has a million No Skip songs. I could've chosen any of a dozen, but threw this one on there because hey, even the losers get lucky sometimes.

Rhymes and Reasons, John Denver, Greatest Hits
That's right, John Denver. You got a problem with that? Seriously, put on this song, think about 9/11, and try to skip it.

And Your Bird Can Sing, The Beatles, Revolver
I know what you're thinking. Hey Jude. Let It Be. A Day in the Life. Yesterday. How the heck did this fairly obscure middle-period song get on the No-Skip list?

I'm not sure exactly. But try this on for size: in August 1965, the Beatles released Help! Four months later they released Rubber Soul. And nine months after that, Revolver. 12 months, 3 classic albums. Oh, and ten months after that, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, often considered the greatest rock album ever made.

Compare that to U2, the undisputed rock kings of the 80's. It took them 7 years to release 4 albums (Unforgettable Fire, Joshua Tree, Rattle & Hum and Achtung Baby). Or Bruce Springsteen, who spent 8 years on Born to Run, Darkness, The River and Nebraska.

Of course, greatness isn't measured in number of albums. But the Beatles' albums had 12 - 14 songs on each one, and little gems like Bird are scattered throughout. For some reason, this song represents for me the most extraordinary creative burst of my lifetime, musical or otherwise. Or maybe it's just a cool ditty.

Okay, that's enough for now. Part 3 with ten more songs will be out in less time than it takes an 80s rock star to produce a masterpiece.

No comments: