Wilco – War On War
Today is the 10th anniversary of the most recently released record that changed everything. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is not only essential listening, but it proved that a band can stick it to the man, keep their artistic integrity, and make money by offering a record up for free public consumption. Every track on Yankee is worth its weight in gold, accidentally speaks to the American landscape following the fall of the Twin Towers, and is a reminder of the value of art in trying times. War on War, which boasts the words of wisdom, “You have to learn how to die/if you wanna be alive” is the track I’ve chosen to commemorate the tenth birthday of a record I, and modern American rock music, would be nothing without.
Suzi Quatro – I Bit off More Than I Could Chew
I picked up Your Mamma Won’t Like Me on cheap vinyl this weekend and I must say, I’m so glad I did. Quatro’s voice has a lot of grit and her bass thumps and pops on a record, revealing a talented and rough-around-the-edges songstress who maybe doesn’t get the credit she deserves. The album itself is a funk/rock/pop smash-up that apparently received mixed reviews. The record opener, one of two tracks not penned in part by Quatro herself, is a great way of exposing a new 1975 sound while maintaining that this is still the bass-playing singer who can rock at funk as much as she can rock in more straight-up styles. I want to be Suzi Quatro when I grow up.
The Kinks – Cadillac
Before the Kinks shone like amazing pop/rock geniuses in the 1970s, they were as a part of the British Invasion as the Beatles, though less publicized. The ‘Invasion’ was known for its takes on African-American rock music made for young people by people like Little Richard and Chuck Berry. The not-so-secret life of the American Teenager back in the 50s and early 1960s was characterized by drive-in theatres, drive-in diners, and classic cars and the Kinks capitalize on that sound and feel in a little B-side called Cadillac. With that same rock n’ roll sound, the Davies’ & company prove that you don’t have to be from the U.S of A in order to capture an idyllic time and place in youth culture in the Americas. The track further proves just how criminally underrated the band was back then, and how good they were even early on, at putting their own cultural and musical spin on that teenage landscape.
The White Stripes – Red Death at 6:14
The now-defunked White Stripes (one of the best bands to ever call it a day in recent memory) opened up their back catalogue for Record Store Day 2012 with a couple of bonus tracks on a dandy little red 7” entitled Hand Springs; the title track is great but the B-side, the raunchy, raw mod-esque Red Death is the star of the show. Listening to it is a reminder of just how good the White Stripes were. Combining the elements of Meg’s primitive, simplistic drumming and Jack White’s virtuosic screaming guitar, and a very particular and unbreakable shtick that allowed both musicians to participate in other projects without compromising what they were innately as a unit, they were musically, sublimely perfect, and thematically quirky and totally unique. They transformed and reintroduced garage rock to the 20th century kids and were pioneers of alternative country, all while introducing invaluable old recording equipment and styles thought to have died along with the gramophone. Listening to the Hand Springs single is like a pat on the back from an old friend.
Blitzen Trapper – Hey Joe
The classic “Hey Joe” has been covered zillions of times (see Wikipedia for a huge list of versions of this folksy gem). However, Blitzen Trapper does a fantastic job of carrying on yet another fine American music tradition. Staying true to their psych-rock roots, their version meanders erotically and tells the tale of the song with history and fresh eyes all at the same time. The cover was released on a snazzy yellow 7” vinyl for this year’s Record Store Day and it’s a really nice song that plays well and remains true to the band’s repertoire. Eric Earley’s voice takes on a newly deep, gruff quality both on Hey Joe and the B-side, Skirts on Fire; neither of these songs sound a TON like Blitzen Trapper’s officially released material but are a lovely new side of the band nonetheless.
Ryan Adams – Shakedown on 9th Street
Ryan Adams, in his early twenties, made a record called Heartbreaker which mostly delivers what it promises – sad, reflective folk tunes about broken, aching hearts and souls. But ¾ of the way through the record is this rocky, bouncy, fun-as-fuck song which tells the tale of an all-out street brawl. It breaks up the tempo and jumps with energy the same way that the record’s opener, To Be Young (Is to Be Sad, Is to be High) does and with its old-school indie rock chorus and reverberating bridge, it is a memorable dance/rock anthem and by far one of Adams’ best up-tempo tracks ever.
Nick Lowe – Cruel to Be Kind
Nick Lowe is still making music these days; his voice is a little rougher around the edges and his style is a bit more contemporary and experimental but the man is a living legend and fantastic singer/songwriter. While everyone kind of knows Cruel to be Kind sometimes I play it and I’m astounded at what a perfect, jangly rock/pop song it really is. It is also lyrically wise and wry and even to this day, when I think about break-ups or being left hanging I always think of being cruel to be kind in the right measure. That aside, the song is wonderfully catchy and consistently enjoyable, relevance notwithstanding. I’m greatly endeared by Nick Lowe and his reintroduction into pop music relevance thanks to his pals Wilco, is well-deserved. Everyone should check out his most recent record, That Old Magic. It’s a truly underrated album.