Obsessive List 2: iPOD Essentials

Got a couple people working on Obsessive List 2, which I will either post here or link to eventually. Everybody's got their iPOD bustin', and I guess the politically correct thing to do would be to talk about how our society's infatuation with isolating everyone from each other is only causing us to become more and more remote from those qualities of love, peace, and harmony so central to humanity's wellbeing, and how this goal is only furthered hindered by these little mechanical devils, but since I generally don't like people too much, and the people I do like all have iPODS or are in love with music, allow this raspberry to reflect my views on the above argument:


Okay, here's the list (in no particular order):

1. Jerry Springer: The Opera - The "Broadway Showtune" has never been my favorite type of music. However, if the show in question includes transsexuals, diaper fetishes, the KKK and the eternal struggle between God and the Devil, count me in.

At first, the idea of mixing Jerry Springer, the works of Dante and Milton, and Wagnerian Opera into the shell of a "typical" Broadway show (or East End, as this so far has only been showing to rave reviews in England) sounds ridiculous. And Act I, which sets up Springer's eventual descent into Hell where he is called upon to mediate a Springer-esque show between Jesus and Satan, is chock-full of lowbrow, bawdy comedy. How this transforms into a meditation into man's role in the nature of Good and Evil, and how he must ultimately accept responsibility for the consequences of that role is both exciting and refreshing in a time when what we usually think of as a musical is already undergoing a renaissance.

A truly unique take on a tired genre, and essential if for nothing else than for the inclusion of song titles like Mama Gimmie Smack on the Asshole.

2. Jimi Hendrix Experience Box Set - Here's the deal with Hendrix. No one else, before or after, could play the guitar so loose, so wet, and still completely lock into a groove. The closest person I can think of would be Stevie Ray Vaughn, who idolized Jimi, often covering many of his signature pieces. Hendrix's edge came from trying so many different things, and bringing something fresh, something pure to it all. Everything he did has that "Hendrix" stamp on it.

The beauty of the Jimi Hendrix Experience Box Set is that none of the selections are the "album" versions - you get to hear alternates, demos, live cuts, and b-sides created in an effort to work out a particular issue plaguing another song. Some songs have been radically re-worked (check out Stone Free and Freedom); some contain tiny alterations or additions that force the listener to re-imagine their conception of the original (I can't help but add my own harmony vocals after hearing their addition in an otherwise straight version of Hey Joe). With music spanning from the first album to the (unrealized in his lifetime) First Rays of the New Rising Sun and Band of Gypsies, this is the quintessential Experience.

3. Frank Zappa: You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore, Vol 1-6 - There have been few audacious live projects that have truly added to a band's legacy. Pearl Jam releasing all of their live shows for the past two tours. The Grateful Dead's 36-volume (and rising) "Dick's Picks." Both series have flashes of brilliance that might otherwise not had been captured. But no one took the idea of live music to the heights that Frank Zappa did with his 6-volume, 12-CD You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore series. Rather than blather endlessly of my love for this series, and the music of Zappa in general, I'll let the words (abridged) from his introduction to the series speak for itself (reprinted with absolutely no permission whatsoever...sorry!):

"This series has taken twenty years to put together. It provides, for those interested in my music, a comprehensive collection of previously unreleased live material (ABSOLUTELY NO OVER-DUBS), recorded in every available medium, beginning with the earliest tapes (October, 1968, Royal Festival hall, London, England), to the most recent (materials from the 1988 BROADWAY THE HARD WAY big band tour).
This collection is not chronological. Any band can be (and often is) edited to the performance of any other band from any other year, sometimes in the middle of a song. The selections were chosen as answers to these hypothetical questions:

  1. Is this the best recorded version of THIS SONG by THIS BAND?
  2. Is there some "folkloric" significance to this performance?
  3. Is it a premiere recording?
  4. Is it a "one-time-only" performance of an improvised event?
  5. Is there a good solo on it?
  6. Will it give "Conceptual Continuity Clues" to the hard-core maniacs with a complete record collection (ed. guilty!)
  7. Does the inclusion of the song help the stylistic flow of the album sequence by providing contrast or relief?
  8. Is there film or videotape of the performance?

Thank you."

4. Bastard Son of Movie Clips - I have a love/hate relationship with dialogue on soundtracks. Generally speaking, I hate listening to a movie soundtrack and having the songs broken up with snippets from the film. After the first couple of listens, it gets way too predictable and then you find yourself stabbing at the Forward button every couple of tracks just to get to the damn song!

But hey! What if you were to take all those bits of dialogue from your favorite movies and television shows, and toss it in to play at odd moments between 5000 + songs? Well, sometimes you get gold, my friend. Pure, hilarious GOLD. What's better than hearing Cleavon Little scream, "Hey! Where all the White women at?" when you least expect it? Those bits that bored you to tears now snap your attention back to the music that playing. My rules for dialogue inclusion - short, snappy, and unexpected. Samuel L. Jackson's speech at the end of PULP FICTION is classic - but I don't want a 2-minute speech in between songs!


5. Stevie Wonder: The Stevie Wonder "Trifecta" - Man, I loves the Stevie Wonder! After a particularly dismal episode of American Idol the missus and I were discussing who we felt in the world of Pop, Rock, and R&B were the top of the crop in terms of vocal ability and originality. Who has that "thing," that certain something in the vocal cords that makes you shiver and shake whenever you hear it.

Well, Stevie Wonder is right there at the top of the heap (the list of who else is up there would make a great list in itself). He's one of those singular performers that refuse to be pigeon-holed by his fan base. It doesn't matter if you love jazz, rock, metal, pop, rap, blues, polka. Everyone likes (or loves) at least one Stevie Wonder song. Very few acts fit this description (although I would argue the same status for Queen). While most people would be content to use a Greatest Hits compilation for this entry (The Original Musiquarium Vol I almost fits the bill), I decided to go with the 1-2-3 early 70's punch that is Talking Book, Music From My Mind, and Innervisions. Superstition, I Believe, Evil, Higher Ground, Living For the City...all of these are classics, and a blueprint for the shape of funk and pop for years to come.

6. Tenacious D - You gotta love the D! JB and Rage Cage, Jables and Kyle...call them what you will, they ROCK. Rock HARD. With a tasty sauce! Many people don't realize that Tenacious D has been going on for a long time, much longer than the release of the record or the appearances on Mr. Show.

As much as I love the comedy of the music, the main thing that makes this essential for me is the overwhelming sincere love they have for the music. The songs have styles, chord progressions, harmonies, that are so quintessential rock...it's like you're listening to a song that's been on the classic rock radio for years, but fresh and bold and full of lyrics about double teams, bears, and mind bullets. Take away the funny lyrics of Rock Your Socks Off and you have a Dead Kennedys songs. The bridge for the The Road is classic Bob Seger-era arena rock. The original version of Tribute was done to Led Zep's Stairway to Heaven. And maybe it's me, but I hear a little old school Iron Maiden when I sing along to Lee.This is one of those records I can listen to from beginning to end, and can sing every note. I completely get that some people are just not into this; the D are one of those bands where you're in for a penny, in for a pound. Completely essential...EXPLOSIVO!

7. Buckethead - Buckethead satisfies two essential iPOD impulses for me. On the one hand, he satisfies my craving for blistering guitar work and crazy soloing. Most of my formative teenage years was listening to equal parts classic rock/metal ala Jimi Hendrix and Pete Townsend, and metal guitar heroics via Steve Vai, Joe Satriani and Yngwie Malmsteen. Buckethead's playing is insane - different albums features totally different playing styles. But he's mostly in that avant-guard blizzard that accompanies his frequent collaborators Bill Laswell, Bootsy Collins, and John Zorn. The Colma record is mostly acoustic and light, while Population Overload is centered around Eddie Hazel-era funk, and the Cuckoo Clocks of Hell is pure brutal death metal. So score one for the playing itself.

The other way he's considered essential for my player centers around one album in particular - Funnel Weaver. Funnel Weaver is a collection of 49 tracks, each one no more than a minute or so. Each track is a different riff or groove, sometimes expanded, sometimes not. Every idea features virtuoso playing. His music works the same way the dialogue mentioned earlier does - as sporadic breaks in the usual music monotony, snapping you awake and forcing you pay attention to what's going on.

8. Joni Mitchell: Shadows and Light - Joni Mitchell came to me from some odd places. The first place I became interested in her is from the audio commentary to the movie ALMOST FAMOUS. Cameron Crowe is a Mitchell-worshipper; his one purposeful continuity error in the movie is the inclusion of Joni Mitchell's Blue album in a record store, even though the album would not have been released at the time the movie takes place.

A day or so later, I was listening to the now-defunct Noneradio which was hosted by music god (to me) Mike Keneally. The end of each show usually is the hosts talking about whatever while some cool easy music plays in the background. On this particular night it was a crazy folk/jazz hybrid, and my music geek ear knew it was hearing Pat Metheny on some blistering jazz solo, and it was something I hadn't heard before. Sure enough, Keneally annouced we were listening to Joni Mitchell's double live album, Shadows and Light, which contained not only Metheny on guitar, but bass legend Jaco Pastorius as well. I was completely hooked, and ran out to but the album the next day. It's HUGE...Joni's incredible voice and mood mixed in with hard-core jazz and folk. Great solos, great melodies and solos, superb live sound, covers to Charles Mingus tunes set to vocals; this is one of the essential live recordings ever.

9. Pimps, Players, and Private Eyes - Because, really...who doesn't want the theme songs from all 3 SHAFT movies?

Every song on this record is an absolute, certified funk/soul slap your bitch then make sweet love classic. You get Trouble Man, Pusherman, I Choose You, and the great Across 110th Street, getting double props for its later inclusion in Quentin Tarantino's JACKIE BROWN. Plus a bevy of other great songs that in some instances left more of a mark then the films they appeared in.

Now shut yo' mouth!

10. Isis: Panopticon - Okay, you knew you weren't going to get away without at least one metal record, right? I saw the Isis name in a list of the year's Top 40 metal records in Decibel magazine for 2004. Picked this up and was immediately immersed in a slow, undulating drone of sound. There are some vocals, but I can't for the life of me ever pay attention to them. The real focus here is on the music. Everything is carefully layered and built to such a degree that the record slowly swallows you as you listen; comparisons to later Neurosis are on the mark, but what separates Isis and Panopticon is the way it pulls you in its ebb and flow. If I'm kind of heavy with the ocean and water imagery, it's because that's the best description I can think of for the music - it breaths and stretches, covering all in its wake.

Alright, there you go! Maybe not the 10 MOST essential things (if that were the case, this thing would be covered with the Beatles, Jethro Tull, the Who, and enough Dio to shame even me), but these are all things that, once having been placed in my player, have never left!

Want a little more? Here's Sean's list.