Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Ranking the monsters of rock my damn self

I came kind of late to rock. I remember bringing in a cassette to fifth-grade art class and playing a song on it for the whole class in one of those school cassette players you remember if you went to elementary school in the '70s. Why art class? And why did the teacher let me? I suspect the answer to each question is the same: She hated me. The song was 'Stairway to Heaven.' I don't really remember anyone in class thanking me for showing them the light. I do remember my ears turning red, so red I didn't need a mirror to see it.

This glorious debut had a couple of follow-ups. In sixth grade, I found my Dad's 'The Best of Bread' cassette, with the song 'Freedom.' I didn't get mocked too much for playing it at recess. No, I got mocked more for playing the tape on this candy apple-red 'portable' stereo that was like a Walkman, except I insisted on bringing in the speakers that came with it. A little unwieldy. In seventh grade, when we had to do a project for The Fellowship of the Ring, I went to my guitar teacher's basement, where he had a four-track and makeshift studio, and wrote and recorded a song called "The Road Leads to Nowhere." I still don't get why that wasn't a good idea, although I do still remember everyone laughing at me so hard, I slammed the door shut on my finger running out of there. Hurt like hell, too.

By the end of high school, I was listening to Metallica and Celtic Frost and M.O.D. and S.O.D., so I'd more or less caught up, having already found Rush, AC/DC, Zeppelin, and of course the Beatles. I pretty much stopped listening to all of the classic rock bands except the Beatles at one point or another, although Zep and the Police certainly got airings from time to time, but recently, I've been filling in the gaps in my collection. Last month, I downloaded my favorite Cheap Trick. A couple of nights ago, I found some free Kinks on emusic. And I was thinking of how the Kinks had aged, and that got me thinking about how I perceived the bands back when I was a teenager and how I perceive them all now. Of course, if I want to post about it, I have to rank them. So here's one man's thoughts, in reverse order of how much I want to listen to them today:

16. Kiss

Never liked 'em.

15. Black Sabbath
Then: Seemed a little scary. I mean, even when I was listening to Celtic Frost and looking for the scariest metal I could find, I was a little afraid to check out Sabbath.
Now: Well, of course I eventually checked them out, and they're still a little scary; Ozzy would scare me if he were a temp working for me. I find that I really like what I really like by them, but they don't go as deep (in terms of quantity of quality songs) as I would like.
Songs I still like: Supernaut; Fairies Wear Boots

14. Yes
Then: I liked these guys. The musicianship was impressive, and I have a prog side to me. I liked 90215.
Now: Seem a little silly.
Songs I still like: I thought I liked "I'm Running" off Big Generator, but it turns out not so much.

13. The Kinks
Then: Seemed like a kind of generic classic rock band. I liked them OK, liked some of their songs a lot.
Now: I still admire the songwriting, but the music hasn't really aged well at all; it sounds very dated now. Don't like the arrangement, don't like the production. And that tends to make Ray Davies sound silly, even on a potentially good song like 'Living on a Thin Line.' Dave Davies is woefully underrated though.
Songs I still like: Tired of Waiting for You

12. Queen
Then: Wasn't interested.
Now: I admire the musicianship, and the production was good. And you've got to give it up for the ambition of Freddie Mercury. Most songs don't really resonate for me, though.
Songs I still like: Under Pressure

11. The Who
Then: Liked 'em fine. I really liked some of their songs a lot. I owned tapes of theirs, although you kind of had to back then. I remember really loving "Athena."
Now: They're definitely passe, and I can mock a Who fan as well as the next guy, but I suspect I'm due for a renaissance with them, where I'll pick up some of their hits. But my strongest feeling about them is that they had no heart.
Songs I still like: The Seeker (helped by its appearance in 'American Beauty'), and I guess Join Together and Who Are You.

10. The Doors
Then: See The Kinks. I liked some of what they did a lot, though. But overall, they weren't anything special.
Now: I came to be a big fan in college, bought all the discs, and when they were on, they were on. But I don't have anything by them now, and don't plan to.
Songs I still like: Peace Frog; Soft Parade

9. Cheap Trick
Then: See The Kinks. Liked them well enough.
Now: I really like their best songs. They really influenced the distorted-guitars brand of power-pop that I love, bands like Sloan. They just don't go all that deep. I've come to want to be entertained for every second of a song. I don't want it to take two minutes to warm up. I don't want it to go on one verse and chorus too long. And I don't want a pedestrian rock song. I kind of feel like too many of Cheap Trick's songs fit that last category; I only bought four of their tracks. In their favor, they aged great, especially if you like "Tonight It's You," from their '80s resurgence, which I do.
Songs I still like: Dream Police; Surrender; I Want You to Want Me; Tonight It's You

8. Rush
Then: Had to respect the greatness in the writing, and the proficiency of all three guys, but I found some of their stuff a little goofy, like Yes's. I mean, 2112 and 'The Trees' were a little silly, right? Or was I missing something?
Now: I really like the songwriting, which turns out to have been a big influence on my own, especially their '80s hits. But the production sounds a little too '80s. The 'classic' '70s stuff aged better.
Songs I still like: The Big Money; Time Stands Still

7. AC/DC
Then: Mostly I just gave props to Back in Black, which was a really deep album. I mean, they buried "Rock and Roll Ain't Noise Pollution," you know?
Now: I later came to love the Bon Scott stuff, but after a while, a lot of it sounds a little pedestrian, bar band, and formulaic. I have all the Bon Scott stuff, but only because I got it free off Napster eight years ago.
Songs I still like: Rock and Roll Ain't Noise Pollution; Highway to Hell; half of Powerage

6. Pink Floyd
Then: I was a huge fan of the "Wish You Were Here" album and selected stuff off The Dark Side of the Moon, and LOVED "Comfortably Numb" and "Hey You." But I only listened to what I heard on the radio.
Now: I guess they're kind of a band I'm keeping in reserve, that I can always get more into someday when I've got no one else to listen to. But I wouldn't mind getting my hands on "Wish You Were Here" again. Not really into the Syd Barrett stuff, or the The Division Bell era.
Songs I still like: Breathe; Shine On You Crazy Diamond

5. Van Halen
Then: I mean, any teenage guitar student is going to be into Van Halen. The first song I ever was taught to play was "Dance the Night Away," which I don't know why, because I'd never heard it at that point; my teacher chose it, probably because it wasn't hard. I eventually got into all of it, especially lesser known stuff like Van Halen II and Women and Children First.
Now: They lost me when Sammy came aboard. I still like the old stuff that got second-tier radio play, but only have it from Napster, and don't listen very often. Still sound great though; it's usually the writing that damns the weaker Halen.
Songs I still like: Little Guitars; Beautiful Girls

4. The Rolling Stones
Then: I mean, I knew they were bigger than The Kinks, but I wasn't much more impressed with them than I was with The Kinks. You know?
Now: I admire their oeuvre and everything, but after hearing everything I needed to hear 100 times, well, that was enough. When people say they like the Stones better than the Beatles, I get confused, and tilt my head, the way a dog will look at you.
Songs I still like: Gimme Shelter; The Last Time; Miss You; Only Rock 'n Roll

3. The Police
Then: One of the first albums I ever got was "Synchronicity." I really didn't hear any of the early non-radio stuff until college ...
Now: ... when I got really into it. Great songwriters, and great players, and it still holds up today. They wrote more songs that I like than a lot of other bands, but not everything they did was up my alley.
Songs I still like: Can't Stand Losing You; Next to You; Don't Stand So Close To me; Driven to Tears; Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic; Does Everyone Stare; On Any Other Day; Synchronicity I

2. Led Zeppelin
Then: Maybe my first love. The Beatles, I had those stupid Red and Blue albums, and you really miss out on the color that makes the Beatles great if that's all you're hearing -- no "And Your Bird Can Sing," and "For Sale" is just woefully underrepresented. On the other hand, I had the first five Zeppelin records in high school, and thought they were the balls; I listened to Houses of the Holy every night when I went to bed for like two years.
Now: More than anyone else above them on this list, they stand up. Still sounds great to me, although I know they've been remastered. The songs were just excellent, and diverse for classic hard rock.
Songs I still like: Immigrant Song; Celebration Day; Since I've Been Loving You; Battle of Evermore; Misty Mountain Hop; Song Remains the Same; Rain Song; Over the Hills and Far Away; Custard Pie; The Rover; In My Time of Dying; this is getting a little ridiculous, isn't it?

1. The Beatles
Then: I knew what I was hearing was amazing in terms of sheer quantity of quality, but I really think you've got to own them to get them. On those two greatest hits records, you got stuff you didn't like (well, I didn't like) like Michelle and In My Life instead of Hey Bulldog and, you know, pretty much anything great from Abbey Road. (I think the White Album choices are awful too.)
Now: Well, I mean, they're the freakin' Beatles, now aren't they?
Songs I still like: Um ...


Rob said...

Saw your comment on my blog and found yours. I like it. Your stuff is insightful and funny.

Good post today too. A few responses.
Kiss - Listen to the first album. Some solid songwriting: Cold Gin, Let Me Know, Nothin' to Lose...

Yes - Shoot High, Aim Low is cool off of Big Generator.

The Who - No heart? Listen to Quadrophenia again.

The Doors - I never went through the big fan phase, but I also like those two songs.

And I agree, Van Halen - yes. Van Hagar - no.


Megan said...

I came late to rock too, so you have my sympathy. The first music I remember meaning anything to me was the soundtrack to Annie. And I still get mocked by people because I seem unaware of even the most basic music from the 80s, because I was listening to musicals during that period.

Then I found the Beatles. And here's my weird school-age story: I gave an oral presentation in 10th grade on the Paul is Dead story, and hauled up one of those gigantic slate-green turntables from the library so I could play the class Revolution #9 backwards. It freaked everyone out.

Anyway, I remain unfamiliar with most anything other than the Beatles, but, dude. You gotta give Queen another chance. For real. If you try more Queen, I'll check out the Police, a band that I honestly didn't know was that good.

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