The Songs of Rocktober 20-11

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Can you see that picture up there? Good. Now, let’s talk about the disadvantages of the rock ‘n’ roll suicide, shall we? A big one (apart from the whole being dead thing) is this: if your widow is, well, a whore, she can sign away your gloomy visage so that video gamers can use an avatar of you to perform Bon Jovi tunes. But cheer up, Zombie Kurt Cobain. Rocktoberfest is coming! Smells like ten more kickass songs*…

20. Nirvana – “Smells Like Teen Spirit” – I know someone out there right now is doing this: “Cough! Obvious! Cough!” Fine. Maybe it is obvious. But “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is still a great song and Nevermind is still a great album. Lest we forget, this is the song that slayed the vicious (and – let’s face it – retarded) hair metal dragon. More importantly, under all the crunch and Dave Grohl’s pounding drums (remember when he was awesome?), this is pretty much a pop tune that wants to set shit on fire. So yeah, maybe I could’ve gone all “obscure Nirvana” (I definitely could have, in fact) on you, but I’m choosing to respect the first Nirvana tune I heard. Rocktoberfest is not the season for shitting on people for liking good songs, no matter how many times you’ve heard ’em.

19. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs – “Black Tongue” – Oh man. Karen O is one of my favorite singers. She can croon stuff like this year’s “Skeletons” and then blow the roof off the joint with stuff like “Black Tongue,” a big, fun, stupid song with buzz-saw guitars and bopping drums. How stupid is this song? “Boy, you’re just a stupid bitch and girl, you’re just a no good dick.” How much ass do you have to kick to overcome that? Exactly as much ass as “Black Tongue” kicks.

18. Smashing Pumpkins – “Cherub Rock” – Like the Breeders’ “Cannonball”, “Cherub Rock” is printed, note for note, on the inside of my skull. It’s hard to start an album better than this song started Siamese Dream. This song is so good, so heavy, it’s guitar sound so mind-blowingly, cock-hardeningly (I’m secure enough in my sexuality to admit that the guitar tone on this song gives me a boner**) great that not even the considerable amount of douchebaggery in which Billy Corgan has engaged this decade can erase it. “Cherub Rock” is nothing short of a fucking triumph. Enough said.

17. Tom Waits – “The Return of Jackie and Judy” – Tom Waits, my personal musical hero, covered this song for We’re a Happy Family, the mostly-pathetic (and often infuriating) Ramones tribute album that surfaced sometime early in the 2000s. It’s easily the best track on that album (you can find it on Waits’s Orphans collection, surrounded by more awesome Tom Waits songs), featuring Casey Waits on the drums and his dad, good ol’  Tom, shouting and wailing and generally showing the other posers on that sad-sack tribute album (Rob Zombie murdered “Blitzkrieg Bop” on that album and the fact that Kiss was even allowed to perform on a Ramones tribute album is insulting. Why not have Miley Fucking Cyrus perform on a Clash tribute? Assholes) what being a punk was all about. This song proves that Tom Waits can do anything, and he probably will.

16. The Hold Steady – “Ask Her for Adderall” – This song started showing up in the Hold Steady’s live sets back in 2006 and crept onto last year’s stellar Stay Positive as a bonus track. In the interest of full disclosure, the Hold Steady is probably my favorite band right now. “Ask Her for Adderall” is their catchiest song, with one of Craig Finn’s more melodic vocal performances while Franz Nicolay pounds an awesome rock organ thing in the background. It’s a song about being on the road with your band, not wanting to talk to your girl, but wanting her to send drugs. “If she happens to suggest/ a love based on trust and respect/ tell her I’ve been wasted since last week.” Sounds like a healthy relationship, especially when Finn later sings, “If she asks/ just tell her that/ we’re too far gone to deal/ she should know exactly how that feels.” I think Finn was imagining Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love’s romance as a sitcom.

15. Pulp – “Common People” – This is definitely a pop song, but it kicks so much ass that it warrants inclusion in your Rocktoberfest. Jarvis Cocker, perhaps the world’s greatest (and youngest) capital-C Curmudgeon, was but a twenty-something lad when he wrote this lovely little anthem. It’s all about the lyrics and the delivery of those lyrics, and Cocker is full of the righteous fury when he bellows, “If you called your dad/ he could stop it all.”

14. The Libertines – “Time for Heroes” – This song makes me sad that Pete Doherty couldn’t keep his shit together long enough to keep this band going. The Libertines’ bread and butter was shambolic, guitar-driven rock that owed more than a tiny debt to the Clash (Mick Jones even produced Up the Bracket, the album on which “Time for Heroes” appears). Doherty, when not being arrested for being a high-profile junkie, could turn a good phrase now and then. Like “Did you see the stylish kids in the riot?” and “There’s few more distressing sites than that / of an Englishman in a baseball cap.” (Confused Americans could change the line to “there’s few more distressing sights than that/ of an Indian in a cowboy hat” and get the gist) This is the finest hour for the Libertines, who might’ve lived to top it if Doherty wasn’t such an asshat.

13. Social Distortion – “Ball and Chain” – I owned Social Distortion’s self-titled first album on cassette. I was like eleven. But I’d heard “Ball and Chain” on the radio and thought it was the greatest song in the world. It’s slipped a few places in my personal pantheon, but it’s still awesome (and that album still rocks). With a country-rock inflection, Mike Ness and Social Distortion chronicle a downward spiral worthy of a Johnny Cash tune: “It’s been 10 years/ and a thousand tears/ and look at the mess I’m in/ a broken nose and a broken heart/ an empty bottle of gin.” I could be mad at Social Distortion for inspiring some of today’s shitty bands, but then I listen to their music and I forgive them.

12. The Sex Pistols – “Anarchy in the U.K.” – Yes, the Sex Pistols were manufactured by Malcolm McClaren. Yes, Sid Vicious was a terrible bass player (when he played at all). And yes, Nevermind the Bollocks is still a great album. Really, you can pick any song from it for your Rocktoberfest, but “Anarchy in the U.K.” is my favorite. I love Johnny Rotten’s sneering “Don’t know what I want/ but I know how to get it” and I love both mini guitar solos. Also, I am duty-bound to love any song that ends with “I’m getting pissed***/ destroy!”

11. The Pixies – “Gigantic” – My fiance is the first person who played Surfer Rosa for me on a drive back from a camping trip at Crater Lake in 2004. That’s the first time I heard “Gigantic,” one of my favorite songs ever. Kim Deal, who has already done so much for me, carries the verses and Frank Black pitches in absurdly high vocals on the chorus of a song that will burrow its way into your brain and lay eggs. Eggs full of rocking and joy.

* It’s worth noting that kickass Rocktober songs smell like beer, sausage, and victory.

** For our Ohio readers, that’s “Boehner.”

*** Is there someone out there who doesn’t know that this means “drunk” in British? If so, consider yourself enlightened.

It’s Friday. I’m on my way to Eugene, motherfuckers. Tomorrow, you’ll see the ten best songs of Rocktober which may or may not include songs inspired by fucked up 1920s movies, songs with smatterings of German, and/or songs that got nerds kicked off of an increasingly terrible late night program. And the number one song? Well, some of you might be able to guess it (please don’t) and some of you won’t guess but will be completely unsurprised when you see it.

If I could turn back time: The first ten songs. The next ten. And so on. And so on. And so on again. Et cetera. Et cetera. Et cetera.

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