Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Song of the Day 5/31/10

The best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues every day, all the way to #1. Monday’s song is #59:

The Electric Light Orchestra – Big Wheels

Towering, watery alienation anthem and centerpiece of the sidelong “Concerto for a Rainy Day” on Out of the Blue, 1977, electric piano on the intro and outro absolutely dripping with angst.

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May 31, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 3/24/10

The best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues every day, all the way to #1. Wednesday’s song is #127:

The Electric Light Orchestra – Bluebird

Genius in the studio: Jeff Lynne processes the word “work” as it repeats over and over again to replicate the sound of a dog barking. In the context of the song (a big, uncannilly pretty janglerock anthem) and the lyric (all this backbreaking work for nothing, essentially), it packs a punch. From the last good ELO album, Secret Messages, 1983.

March 23, 2010 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 1/23/10

Til the next post, as we do every day the best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues all the way to #1. Tuesday’s song was #191:

The Electric Light Orchestra – Whisper in the Night

Roy Wood’s greatest moment in the band is this towering, haunting anthem, a rustic mix of plaintive acoustic guitar and a million cello and other string overdubs. Also from No Answer, 1972.

Wednesday’s was #190

Elvis Costello – Red Shoes

Trivia question – in 1977, on My Aim Is True, Costello was backed by what future million-selling, cringeworthy 80s hitmakers? Answer: Huey Lewis & the News! To the King’s infinite credit, he gets them to do a credible Byrds imitation here.

Thursday’s was #189:

Erica Smith – Jesus’ Clown

Sean Dolan’s lyric is a clever fly-on-the-wall take on the Stations of the Cross from a nonbeliever’s perspective. Behind Smith’s understatedly haunting vocals, Love Camp 7 guitarist Dann Baker adds a forest of searing overdubs that do Neil Young one better. Unreleased but ostensibly due to see the light of day sometime early in this decade.

Friday’s was #188:

The Sex Pistols – Did You No Wrong

Musically, with all those searing layers of Steve Jones guitar, it’s arguably the Pistols’ most interesting song, an outtake from Never Mind the Bollocks first issued on Flogging a Dead Horse in 1978. Which begs the question, why was it left off Never Mind the Bollocks? Maybe because it’s a Glenn Matlock tune?

And today’s is:

187. Angelo Badalamenti – Moving Through Time

The haunting centerpiece of the 1992 Twin Peaks Fire Walk with Me film soundtrack, Bill Mays’ macabre piano cascading around an eerie two-chord chromatic vamp.

January 23, 2010 Posted by | Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Literature, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 1/16/10

Every day we count down the best 666 songs of alltime, all the way to #1. Saturday’s song is #194:

The Electric Light Orchestra – Look At Me Now

Eleanor Rigby done more lucidly and far more macabrely, from the ELO debut lp No Answer, 1972. That’s Roy Wood on all the cello overdubs – a one-man Rasputina.

January 16, 2010 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The 666 Best Songs of Alltime Continues All The Way Through the End of the Zeros

As regular readers remember, for over a year we counted down the 666 best songs of all time, one a day, until the end of this past September when Lucid Culture went halfspeed. As we get into December, we’re still at halfspeed but we’ll be back with new stuff on a daily basis here in just a couple of weeks. Which gives us plenty of time to say good riddance to the decade of the Zeros and welcome in the Teens – til then, here are the songs on the list which will take us up to the first of the new year. Enjoy!

237. Randi Russo – So It Must Be True

Careening, otherworldly, somewhat flamenco-inflected epic from this era’s greatest writer of outsider anthems. The studio version on the classic 2001 Solar Bipolar album is great, but it can’t quite match the out-of-control intensity of the live version from Russo’s 2000 Live at CB’s Gallery cd.

236. Erica Smith – Pine Box

The multistylistic New York rock goddess has been off on a sultry jazz tangent lately, but five years ago she was writing lusciously jangly Americana rock and this is a prime example, ecstatically crescedoing yet dark and brooding as the title would imply. Recorded and leaked on a few bootlegs, but officially unreleased as of now.

235. The Electric Light Orchestra – From the Sun to the World

You can hear echoes of this clattering, frenetic suite in a lot of obscure art-rock and indie rock from the last thirty years. Jeff Lynne’s scary, out-of-focus apocalypse anthem kicks off with a Grieg-like morning theme, followed by a warped boogie and then an unhinged noise-rock outro that falls apart once it’s clear that it’s unsalvageable. From ELO II, 1972; mp3s are everywhere.

234. X – Nausea

The combination of Ray Manzarek’s organ swirling dizzyingly under Billy Zoom’s growling guitar and Exene’s thisclose-to-passing-out vocals is nothing if not evocative. From Los Angeles, 1980; mp3s are everywhere.

233. Stiff Little Fingers – Piccadilly Circus

Big punk rock epic about an Irish guy who gets the stuffing knocked out of him by a bunch of knuckleheads on his first night in London. From Go For It, 1981; there are also a million live versions out there, official releases and bootlegs and most of them are pretty awesome too.

232. The Wallflowers – Sixth Avenue Heartache

Elegiac slide guitar and organ carry this surprise 1996 top 40 hit’s magnificent eight-bar hook, the best song the band ever did and the only standout track on their disappointing sophomore effort Bringing Down the Horse. Mp3s are everywhere.

231. Bruce Springsteen – The Promised Land

This backbeat anthem makes a killer (literally) opening track on the Boss’ 1977 Darkness on the Edge of Town lp, perfectly capturing the anomie and despair of smalltown American life. In the end, the song’s protagonist speeds away into the path of a tornado. A million versions out there, most of them live, but it’s actually the album track that’s the best.

230. The Moody Blues – Driftwood

Towering powerpop anthem from the band’s 1977 “comeback” lp Octave, opening with a big whooosh of cymbals and lush layers of acoustic guitar. And Justin Hayward’s long electric guitar solo out, over the atmospheric wash of the strings, is a delicious study in contrasts. Many different versions out there, some of them live, and they’re all good (the link above is the studio track).

229. David Bowie – Diamond Dogs

Surreal, Stonesy apocalyptic anthem from the Thin White Duke’s vastly underrated 1974 lp. Did you know that’s Bowie on all the guitars – and the saxes too?

228. Mary Lee’s Corvette – 1000 Promises Later

Centerpiece of the NYC Americana rockers’ classic True Lovers of Adventure album, 1999-ish, this was a live showstopper for frontwoman Mary Lee Kortes and her steely, soaring, multiple-octave voice for several years afterward. It’s a rueful breakup anthem sung with typical counterintuitive verve from the villain’s point of view.

227. New Model Army – Luhrstaap

Written right as the Berlin Wall came down, this ominous, bass-driven, Middle Eastern-inflected art-rock anthem accurately foretold what would happen once East Germany tasted western capitalism: “You can buy a crown, it doesn’t make you king/Beware the trinkets that we bring.” From Impurity, 1989; the live version on 1992’s double live Raw Melody Men cd is even better (the link above is the studio version).

226. David Bowie – Life on Mars

Soaring epic grandeur for anyone who’s ever felt like an alien, from Hunky Dory, 1971. Ward  White’s live Losers Lounge version (click on the link and scroll down) is equally intense.

225. Telephone – Ce Soir Est Ce Soir

Absolutely creepy, methodical epic nocturne that wraps up the legendary French rockers’ 1982 Dure Limite lp on a particularly angst-ridden note. “Ce soir est ce soir/J’ai besoin d’espoir [Tonight’s the night/I need some hope].”

224. Al Stewart – Bedsitter Images

The live acoustic track in the link above only hints at the lush, orchestrated original, a big radio hit for the British songwriter in 1969, Rick Wakeman doing his best Scarlatti impression on piano. It’s a masterpiece of angsted existentialist songwriting, the song’s narrator slowly and surreally losing it, all by himself in his little flat.

223. LJ Murphy – Pretty for the Parlor

Our precedessor e-zine’s pick for best song of 2005, this blithely jangly yet absolutely sinister murder anthem perfectly captures the twistedness lurking beneath suburban complacency. Unreleased, but still a staple of the New York noir rock legend’s live show.

222. Wall of Voodoo – Lost Weekend

Creepy, hauntingly ambient new wave string synthesizer ballad from the band’s best album, 1982’s Call of the West, a couple gone completely off the wheels yet still on the road to somewhere. In the years afterward, frontman Stan Ridgway has soldiered on as an occasionally compelling if sometimes annoyingly dorky LA noir songwriter.

221. Randi Russo – House on the Hill

One of the New York noir rocker’s most hauntingly opaque lyrics – is she alive or dead? In the house or homeless? – set to an absolutely gorgeous, uncharacteristically bright janglerock melody. Frequently bootlegged, but the version on her 2005 Live at Sin-e cd remains the best out there.

220. The Wirebirds – This Green Hell

Our predecessor e-zine’s pick for best song of 2003 is this towering janglerock anthem, sort of a global warming nightmare epic as the Church might have done it but with amazing harmonies by songwriter Will Dial and the band’s frontwoman, Amanda Thorpe.

219. The Psychedelic Furs – House

“This day is not my life,” Richard Butler insists on this pounding, insistent, anguished anthem from the band’s best album, 2000’s Book of Days, the only post Joy Division album to effectively replicate that band’s unleashed, horrified existentialist angst. Mp3s are out there, as are copies of the vinyl album; check the bargain bins for a cheap treat.

218. X – See How We Are

The link above is the mediocre original album version; the best version of this offhandedly savage anti-yuppie, anti-complacency diatribe is the semi-acoustic take on the live Unclogged cd from 1995.

217. The Sex Pistols – EMI

Gleefully defiant anti-record label diatribe from back in the day when all the majors lined up at Malcolm McLaren’s knee. How times have changed. “Unlimited supply,” ha!

216. Amy Allison – No Frills Friend

As chilling as this casually swaying midtempo country ballad might seem, it’s actually not about a woman who’s so alienated that she’s willing to put up with someone who won’t even talk to her. It just seems that way – Allison is actually being optimistic here. Which is just part of the beauty of her songwriting – you never know exactly where she’s coming from. Title track from the excellent 2002 cd.

215. X – Johny Hit & Run Paulene

One of the greatest punkabilly songs ever, nightmare sex criminal out on a drug-fueled, Burroughs-esque bender that won’t stop. From Los Angeles, 1980; mp3s, both live and studio, are out there.

214. The Sex Pistols – Belsen Was a Gas

Arguably the most tasteless song ever written – it’s absolutely fearless. The lp version from the 1978 Great Rock N Roll Swindle soundtrack lp features its writer, Sid Vicious along with British train robber Ronnie Biggs. There are also numerous live versions out there and most of them are choice. Here’s one from Texas and one from San Francisco.

213. Randi Russo – Battle on the Periphery

Russo is the absolute master of the outsider anthem, and this might be her best, defiant and ominous over a slinky minor-key funk melody anchored by Lenny Molotov’s macabre, Middle Eastern guitar. From Shout Like a Lady, 2006.  

212. The Dead Kennedys – Holiday in Cambodia

True story: Pepsi wanted to license this song for a commercial despite its savage anti-imperialist message. Jello Biafra said no way – which might have planted the seed that spawned his bandmates’ ultimately successful if dubiously lawful suit against him. So sad – when these guys were on top of their game they were the best American band ever. From Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables, 1980.

211. X – Los Angeles

One of the great punk rock hooks of all time, title track to the 1980 album, a perfect backdrop for Exene’s snide anti-El Lay diatribe. Ice-T and Body Count would sneak it into their notorious Cop Killer twelve years later.

210. The Sex Pistols – Anarchy in the UK

Yeah, you know this one, but our list wouldn’t be complete without it. As lame as the rhyme in the song’s first two lines is (Johnny Rotten has pretty much disowned them), this might be the most influential song of all time. If not, it definitely had the most beneficial effect. Go download Never Mind the Bollocks if you haven’t already: the band isn’t getting any royalties.

December 2, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: The Scratches – Screaming Softly

This is an album with more than a few “did you just hear that” moments. “I take the shape of my container,” the Scratches‘ pink-haired frontwoman/cellist Ariana sings nonchalantly (that’s the song title – it’s a water metaphor). “Some things taste better standing up” – that’s another song title, maybe not a song that screamed out to be written, but it’s a good thing this band did it instead of someone else. Their second cd Screaming Softly makes a good rainy day album for people too hungover to go out to the deli, or for winding down if you aren’t yet planning on falling asleep. The Scratches weld classical influences to skewed, sometimes brooding piano-based pop songs – imagine a quirky version of early ELO with a better sense of humor. Piano, violin and cello serve as the main instruments along with occasional percussion, acoustic guitar and mandolin. Ariana has the dramatic, full-voiced delivery of someone with a lot of classical training but she comes across as too imaginative and restless to be satisfied with just one style of music.

Many of the songs are strung together with little miniature instrumentals, the kind of interludes that art-rock bands in the 70s would use to facilitate segues between larger pieces (or just never finished by the time they went into the studio). The best of these is All the Machines Are Screaming, which sets bracing, staccato cello over ambient violin with mandolin and piano. This Begins With Mumbling And Piano explains precisely how the cd starts off, like a live recording with the crowd waiting for the band to take the stage. It’s an eerie, percussive little number that pounds along with piano and strings. “Can you live all your dreams without me?” Ariana asks nonchalantly. I Don’t Think I’ll Ever Get There Now is a catchy, artsy, breathless minor-key piano pop song in somewhat of a Greta Gertler vein. The group sings as a choir, somewhat sheepishly on the piquantly titled In the Afternoon I Smell The Pigments Changing.

The most memorable track here is Pack Up Your Box of Crayons, a noir cabaret number with roughhewn strings and a neat little acoustic guitar solo. “We don’t like to worry,” Ariana advises, although it’s hard to tell if she’s being sarcastic. The cd ends with a practically ten-minute, hypnotically effective exercise in minimalism, Gamble and You’ll Get Bombed. Not everything here is as it seems – there’s a lot going on below the surface and to the Scratches’ credit they do it simply and tersely. And have a lot of fun in the process.

September 4, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 7/24/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Friday’s song is #369:

The Move – What

From the two menacing piano chords that open it, this is as darkly beautiful as a 70s art-rock epic could possibly be, future ELO frontman Jeff Lynne eerily musing about “how the overture is burning all the faces of the people in the churches of the land.” From the Looking On lp, 1971.

July 24, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 6/30/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Tuesday’s song is #393:

The Electric Light Orchestra – Dreaming of 4000

As with A Day in the Life, the drummer owns this one. In this case it’s Bev Bevan (who later played with a version of Black Sabbath!) who’s taking this raw, starkly haunting epic to the next level, his matter-of-factly evil cymbal work driving the outro. From the strangely beautiful On the Third Day lp, 1973, surprisingly often found in the cheapo bins. Mp3s are all over too, but the vinyl – as it always does – sounds best. The link above is an outtake that differs very slightly from the album version; there are also some cool live tracks floating around.

June 30, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 5/31/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Sunday’s song is #423:

Mary Lee’s Corvette – Herculetta

This is a song about hubris – and about being casually crushed by a world that couldn’t care less. That’s what’s so cool about frontwoman Mary Lee Kortes’ songwriting – as with Elvis Costello, there are so many levels of meaning in everything she writes. Nicely ornate ELO-ish chamber-pop arrangement, too. From the 700 Miles cd, 2004.

May 31, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 4/11/09

New reviews coming very soon: haunting nouveau-Romanticism by Botanica pianist Paul Wallfisch, vengeful vocal intensity from Larkin Grimm, powerful and socially aware jazz by the Gregg August Large Ensemble and tons more. To keep the front page here fresh, as we try to do every day, we continue our top 666 songs of alltime countdown  all the way to #1. Saturday’s song is #473:

The Electric Light Orchestra – Showdown

Not the 1973 British blues-lite hit from the On the Third Day lp – this is the careening, absolutely out-of-control live version the band was playing circa 1977-78, building to a swirling cauldron of noise with all the strings going full tilt right before the last chorus. Then they do it again at the end. Worth digging through the files at limewire or elsewhere: the dodgy sound only enhances the mayhem.

April 11, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment