The Songs of Rocktober 30-21

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Do you ever do “thirsty” Thursdays? Who has a job where they can do that? Don’t you have to work Friday morning? Okay, I don’t work until Friday afternoon, but I do work late  Thursday nights. If only there was some other way to celebrate this glorious Thursday. I know… how about ten more songs of Rocktober?

30. Sonic Youth – “Teenage Riot” – Probably Sonic Youth’s best song. It’s got a weird guitar tuning, but it’s a great song about how someone like J. Mascis should rule the world as some sort of guitar-wielding slacker Messiah. “Teenage Riot” is the lead track on 1988’s incredible Daydream Nation (you might notice that both Sonic Youth tracks on this countdown came from that record) and it might be the reason so many older indie types get all gooey over Sonic Youth. It may sound like typical electric indie stuff to the enlightened ears of 2009, but imagine this song hitting in 1988 when the best-known rock bands were complete tossers like Motley Crue, Guns ‘n’ Roses, Warrant, and Skid Row. In that context, Sonic Youth was performing a public service by releasing “Teenage Riot.”

29. Arctic Monkeys – “A Certain Romance” – “Over there, there’s broken bones/ there’s only music so that there’s new ring tones,” sings Alex Turner on the Arctic Monkeys’ best song (this is the one that was my gateway to liking this band). The lilting reggae guitar and jumpy bass line anchor the verses so Turner can focus on what’s really important: spittin’ some melodic vitriol. The Arctic Monkeys were but young pups when they cut this tune, but it is evidence of plenty of fight in those little dogs. It’s also evidence that their first album deserved some of the hype it got.

28. Wolf Parade – “This Heart’s On Fire” – Wolf Parade kinda splits its musical styles between the synth-driven pop of Spencer Krug and the growly, guitar-driven rock of Dan Boeckner. “This Heart’s On Fire” is a Boeckner tune, with chugging guitar, pounding drums, and earnestly howled vocals. I love the way Boeckner yelps “And you’re my favorite thing/ tell it everywhere I go/ I don’t know what to do” because every time I hear it, I realize that I’ve felt that way before. I might still feel that way now. Is a component of true love not knowing what to do with yourself? I think so. But there’s no way in hell I can sneak this song into my wedding play list anywhere. In lieu of that, it would make a good addition to Rocktoberfest (perhaps – perhaps! – a slightly better venue for it).

27. The Flaming Lips – “Be My Head” – I was in a pretty good band (I liked us) this year called Radical Edward. We played exactly one show (drummer moved to NY, bass player joined the Air Force. “And in June reformed without me/ and they got a different name”… just kidding. I hope) and in that show, we covered “Be My Head” by the Flaming Lips. This song, from Transmissions from the Satellite Heart, is tons of fun to play and sing or just listen to at top volume. The guitars are all crazy (nice riff on G in there) and Wayne Coyne is his usual awesome, weird self. Sing with me: “Be my head/ and I’ll be yours.”

26. The Breeders – “Cannonball” – This song is embedded in my brain from growing up a child of the alternative rock 1990s. It wasn’t until much later that I would learn that Kim Deal was from the Pixies (a little-known band who never did anything remarkable) – in the meantime, I had “Cannonball” and the Breeders. This song was all over alternative radio as soon as that existed, with the distorted vocals, the palm mutes, that zig-zaggy clean guitar line on the verse. Every time I listen to it, I just stop and listen and I forget that I was miserable through much of the 90s – I just remember this song (and a handful of others) looming large on my radio, urging me toward a life of rock music geekdom. Thank you, Kim Deal. Thank you.

25. David Bowie – “Queen Bitch” – Another song that Radical Edward covered; I loved blasting out that G-F-C progression and doing the chorus noodles. One of Bowie’s best rock tunes and, naturally, it’s about drag queens. Doesn’t matter though – Bowie was the king of the 70s. If he made an album, it was amazing. If he produced your album, it was amazing. If you travel back in time, go to the 1970s, hang out with David Bowie, and feel your awesomeness increase exponentially. Physicists call this effect the 1970s David Bowie Awesomeness Multiplier (or the 70s D-BAM for short)

24. My Morning Jacket – “Off the Record” – I know the guitar intro sounds like Hawaii Five-O. I know. But this song, the verse of which is sung by Jim James (the awesome bear) in a manner that somewhat channels the ghost of Joe Strummer (this is something most mortals cannot do – you have to be the halfbreed son of Awesome and a bear) and the chorus is skull-fuckingly catchy. This song still makes me want to jump around the room and shout “Off the record!” along with Jim the Bear every time I hear it. And I hear it a lot. For a band that pretty much only traffics in raucous badassery, “Off the Record” is still a crowning achievement.

23. Titus Andronicus – “Titus Andronicus” – Time to get a little bit obnoxious. This New Jersey band is loud, abrasive, and – at times – unlistenable. Underneath all that is something of a melodic sense, which is brought to the forefront in “Titus Andronicus”, their catchiest song by far. The lyrics are dark (there’s even a tossed-off “Fuck everything/ fuh-uck me!” in there) and angry: “There’ll be: no more cigarettes/ no more having sex/ no more drinking ’til you fall on the floor/ no more indie rock/ just a ticking clock/ you’ve no time for that any more” and the chorus is “Your life is over.” It’s mad cathartic. My sister was dying when I first heard this band and I was plenty angry that someone so awesome would only live 31 years. So this is the song I listened to when I wanted to punch everyone and everything right in the fucking face. It still is.

22. Iggy Pop – “Lust for Life” – I’ve already established that David Bowie was awesome in the 70s. Proof? He produced Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life album, the title track of which (despite now being used to shill for cruise companies) is still one of the most badass songs ever. It features an iconic bass line and Mr. Pop talking about how he’s  worth a million in prizes (and how he’s had it in his ear before; you get three guesses as to what “it” is). Though he vows to stop beating his brains with liquor and drugs, you get the feeling that this guy is a more frequent backslider than Pete Doherty (If you don’t know who Pete Doherty is, do not despair. Simply substitute “Amy Winehouse” for “Pete Doherty” to make that joke work).

21. Franz Ferdinand – “Take Me Out” – This song got all the love in the world when it first came out, which (of course) meant that I resisted it with all my might. But no longer. “Take Me Out” is a pop treasure that actually rocks. The jagged rhythm guitars (that are, toward the end of the song, lovingly embraced by snarly little lead noodles), the crisp cymbal crashes, the fatalistic “I know I won’t be leaving here with you” lyrics. It still makes the feet stomp, and it still should.

There are only two days left of this madness. And then the ‘Fest begins. Tomorrow’s set features four of the best songs of the 1990s, a surprising (well, not to me) but raucous cover song, and a guy who banged Courtney Love and then understandably shot himself.

Here’s a lot of linkage if you missed the beginning of this countdown or want to go back and confirm that I have, so far anyway, excluded your favorite band: 100-91 90-81 80-71 70-61 60-51 50-41 40-31

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