Wow. This was easier than I thought (so far, at least). I usually eschew long lists like this because I tend to think long lists are arbitrary (this list is also somewhat arbitrary, but I like to think it’s bearably arbitrary). For example, Pitchfork recently counted down the top 500 songs of the decade. For me, that would probably be every song I can think of from this decade, ranked more or less from worst to best. However, the scope of this particular project seems to work for me – it’s sort of an all-time list, but not “The Best Songs Ever”. By calling it 100 Kickass Songs of Rocktober, I’ve given myself the freedom to do pretty much whatever I want and still feel like I’m following my own rules. That’s a little thing I like to call Rationalizing My Own Bullshit. But let’s keep counting backwards, shall we?
50. Patti Smith – “Rock ‘n’ Roll Nigger” – If anyone still thinks Eminem is shocking (or was ever shocking, for that matter), I would like to direct their attention to this song by Ms. Patti Smith and Mr. Lenny Kaye. No, Smith is not a racist; yes, she is going out of her way to be offensive. Listen to the song and hopefully, you’ll understand all that. But content aside, there’s no reason to care about this song unless it’s a kickass song, which it is. It’s a grinding, insane boogie and the kind of outsider anthem you probably can’t get away with anymore.
49.The Beatles – “Helter Skelter” – A pretty reliable source once told me that the Beatles wrote this song because Jimi Hendrix called them pussies (not in so many words, but apparently he suggested that they didn’t know how to rock). Now, nobody in their right mind will suggest to you that “Helter Skelter” rocks harder than any given Hendrix song, but it’s still a great tune, one that arguably laid the ground work for many rock bands (both good and bad) to follow.
48. Mission of Burma – “That’s When I Reach for My Revolver” – Mission of Burma (you’re probably thinking “It’s called Myanmar now, isn’t it?” and you’re only partially right. The oppressive military junta who refuses to surrender power – despite losing the election in 1990 – changed the name to Myanmar from Burma. I’m not in the habit of honoring the wishes of oppressive military dickheads, so let’s just call it Burma, won’t we?) is a pretty well-respected indie-punk band, but this is pretty much their only song that I care about. It fully lives up to the potential the title implies and if all of Mission of Burma’s songs did that, I’d probably like them more.
47. X- “The World’s a Mess, It’s in My Kiss” – I guess 2009 will go down as the year I listened to a lot of early 80s punk and hardcore for the first time: so far this year, I’ve “discovered” Jim Carroll, Black Flag, Minor Threat and the great Los Angeles punk band X. X somehow got away with making an album about how seedy and shitty L.A. is and L.A. seems to still adore them. Could be ’cause the music is so great. This tune closes that album (named Los Angeles, naturally) and Exene Cervenka provides a potent argument for getting a woman who can sing for your punk band.
46. Minor Threat – “Minor Threat” – You might not know it by every song of theirs, but Minor Threat was probably one of the more melodic hardcore bands back in the day. Ian MacKaye was able to spit a lot of verbiage in very little time while the rest of the band beat the living shit out of their instruments. This song is great, however, because it almost has a catchy melody, which is something hardcore wasn’t really known for.
45. R.E.M. – “Revolution” – Not a Beatles cover. I forget what prompted R.E.M. to record this in the early 90s, but it’s a snarky rock tune that features great lines like “you sport an armband and get good and mad” and then “you try and look like a punk rock girl/ a whole lotta sneer/ a little curl”. Also features one of the all-time great Mike Mills background vocals: “The future never happened.”
44. Marilyn Manson – “The Fight Song” – When he wasn’t ripping off Alice Cooper or David Bowie, Marilyn Manson used to be able to cobble together pretty good rock songs. After being blamed for the Columbine shootings, Manson made his best album, Holy Wood, which was a great big “Fuck you” to… well, pretty much everyone. “The Fight Song” is kind of a ripoff of “Song 2” by Blur, but it’s a really enticing one. When I’ve had a really shitty day, I still like to hear Manson scream, “I’m not a slave to a God/ that doesn’t exist.” Of course, immediately after hitting his stride on Holy Wood, Manson took a musical nosedive that makes Dave Grohl look like Wayne Coyne. Nowadays, he’s ripping off LCD Soundsystem and he may or may not have the swine flu.
43. Dinosaur Jr. – “Almost Ready” – I have already mentioned that I think 2007’s Beyond is Dinosaur Jr.’s best album, which flies in the face of a lot of indie conventional wisdom. However, I stand by my assertion and further assert that the opening song of that album is among their best songs. “Almost Ready” wastes no time getting into J. Mascis’s guitar pyrotechnics and it rides the rolling, pounding sea of Murph’s drums all the way to the finish line.
42. Kings of Leon – “The Bucket” – The Kings of Leon have spent their last couple of albums trying to be a sort of hick U2, and that’s mostly all right (I guess), but their first two albums will always have a special place in my heart. “The Bucket” from 2005’s excellent Aha Shake Heartbreak is incomprehensible. The melody is catchy, the words are unintelligible, and the overall effect is fucking awesome. They’ll probably never reach such heights again, so play this song in memory of the time when the Kings of Leon weren’t so sensitive.
41. The Old Haunts – “Hurricane Eyes” – This song is a treasure by a band that is, like many awesome bands, from the Pacific Northwest. The Old Haunts hail from Olympia, WA, and last year’s Poisonous Times was a punk-flavored rock album with a lot of good stuff to offer. However, the best song on Poisonous Times (and one of the best songs of last year) is “Hurricane Eyes.” Craig Extine’s voice can be a little grating for some people, but his yowl is well-suited to this sort-of love song (I guess it depends on whether you think hurricane eyes are sexy or not). A lot of people would sing like Frank Sinatra or Bono or somebody like that if they could sing like anyone; in no particular order, I’d sing like either Tom Waits, Jim James, or Craig Extine. The Old Haunts also win for drafting ex-Bikini Kill drummer Tobi Vail to beat shit on Poisonous Times.
Hard to believe that there are only four days left of this thing, but the light at the end of this tunnel is the beginning of Rocktoberfest 2009. Tomorrow, we’ll roll on down to number 31 with a couple less obvious kickass songs, a song that renders you physically incapable of being unhappy, and a dude who may or may not have had some sort of time traveling boner for Anne Frank. Be sure to tip your waitress.