Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

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.

Advertisements

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

CD Review: Amanda Thorpe – Union Square

This could be the ultimate autumnal New York album, perfect for grey days with a chill in the air, winter’s hand tugging impatiently on the curtains. The songs on Union Square are gorgeously wistful and intensely poignant. What Linda Thompson was to the 70s and early 80s, Amanda Thorpe is to this era, another British expat steeped in traditional English folk, possessed of one of the most beautifully haunting voices you will ever hear. Thorpe is somewhat more diverse, however: she will give you eerie austerity and resigned melancholy, but she also has a seductive, torchy side with great nuance. This is the first solo release for Thorpe – who also fronts the supremely catchy Bedsit Poets – since her first album, Mass, in 2002, and it was well worth the wait.

By contrast to Mass, a lushly produced, smokily atmospheric effort, this one is remarkably terse and direct. Every note on this album counts. Thorpe is accompanied here by a choice crew of New York luminaries – co-producer Brad Albetta (also of Mary Lee’s Corvette) on bass, Bill Frisell sideman Tony Scherr on guitar and upright bass, Bob Perry on lapsteel and ex-Psychedelic Fur Joe McGinty on keys. The album kicks off with the sarcastic Life Is Great, a lament directed at a pillhead: “Life is great with a hole inside.” Perry adds layers of bluesy lapsteel over Thorpe’s understatedly frustrated vocals. Track two, Won’t You Let Me (a co-write with Phillip Shelley) is pure seduction set to a sweetly soaring Albetta bassline. The next track, River Song is arguably Thorpe’s finest hour as a songwriter, a vivid account of rejection and despair, here recast with something of a Madder Rose-style 90s trip-hop feel. After that, Next to Me makes a good segue, Thorpe holding up a red flag – albeit from a distance – to a would-be suitor.

Burn This House Down, spiced with juicy blues piano from McGinty, has Thorpe bringing the intensity up to redline as she pulls out all the stops and belts:

Though I still love you
The romance is dead
As you burn this house down

Then Scherr launches into a truly nasty slide guitar solo.

Other standout tracks on this album include the marvelously catchy You and Me in a Doorway (also a co-write with Shelley) with its lush bed of guitars and lapsteel; the hypnotic, pastoral Over the Sea (a Wirebirds soundalike); the beautifully melancholy title track, and the absolutely brilliant Show Me a Place. Thorpe’s voice longs for something transcending the ordinariness that she’s held on to with such a steely grip, until now. “As long as there were cigarettes and another glass of wine,” everything was ok. But now she sees “my own black silhouette reflect against the sky:” high time for a change. Perry’s layers of lapsteel punch at the melody like a string quartet. Few other singers in Thorpe’s league ever get to sing material this good; still fewer songwriters in Thorpe’s league can deliver it with as much passion, intensity and subtlety as she does. This ought to appeal to a very wide listenership encompassing the purist Richard & Linda Thompson contingent as well as fans of the current group of A-list chanteuses (Feist, Erica Smith, Rachelle Garniez et al.) and maybe even some of the less adventurous for whom Norah Jones is simply the greatest thing out there.

February 25, 2008 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Concert Review: Amanda Thorpe/Randi Russo/Ninth House at Hank’s Saloon, Brooklyn NY 8/25/07

Amanda Thorpe has made a career out of joining bands that are ok and making them suddenly great. She did that with the Wirebirds, and recently with the Bedsit Poets. Tonight she showed how, with just her voice, her songs and her new Christian guitar (it’s a gospel model that New York musicians apparently love to play in the guitar store until they notice the big white cross on the headstock). She opened with a Richard Thompson song, a-capella.“That’s as close to Linda Thompson as I can get,” Thorpe sheepishly told the crowd, but what could have been pure hubris wasn’t. As a singer, British expat Thorpe is in the same league, with a similarly haunting, resigned delivery. But she can also belt and wail and has a very playful, jazzy side that she showed off tonight. If and when Norah Jones falls off the radar – not that she should – Thorpe could very well take her place.

She played a lot of material from her forthcoming cd Union Square, including its understatedly wistful, beautifully melancholy title track. Her Bedsit Poets bandmate Edward Rogers joined her onstage for a duet on the sad, knowing The Highs Can’t Beat the Lows. A couple of times, she tried to engage the audience in a singalong, but this fell flat: everybody was too busy listening. The crowd here drinks and gabs: that she got them to shut up pretty much says it all. Her best songs were an unreleased number called the River Song, a bitter tale of rejection and betrayal, and the morbid, 6/8 Bedsit Poets sea chantey Around and Around. She also did a marvelously nuanced version of Leonard Cohen’s Bird on a Wire, jazzed up the Mama Cass hit Dream a Little Dream of Me and closed with a breathtakingly powerful version of the Steve Wynn classic For All I Care, bringing out every ounce of the lyrics’ suicidal wrath.

The only complaint about Randi Russo’s show was that it was too quiet. Otherwise, she and her trio (minus her lead guitarist Lenny Molotov, who was out of town) played a set of some of her most powerful songs, including the hypnotic, pounding, Velvets-inflected One Track Mind (from her obscure Live at CB’s Gallery ep), the eerie, chromatic Adored, the towering, 6/8 alienation anthem Prey and the scathing minor-key dayjob-from-hell number Battle on the Periphery. She’s been playing lead guitar in the Oxygen Ponies lately, and the careening, noisy solo she took toward the end of the unreleased Hurt Me Now turned the atmospheric, melancholy song into a blazing rocker as the rhythm section channeled Joy Division. Tonight, for some reason, all the bands were quiet: at least this put her cutting lyrics and velvety vocals out front and center.

Ninth House frontman Mark Sinnis was celebrating his birthday, and they predictably packed the place. They’ve shuffled their lineup yet again, with a new guitarist. Despite not having had the chance to do much rehearsing, the Anti-Dave, as he calls himself attacked the songs with passion and imagination. Until very recently Ninth House had a very 80s dark anthemic feel, and while the majesty of the songs remains, there’s a newly bluesy, somewhat improvisatory feel to the music, particularly in the interplay between the keyboards and the guitar: an unexpected and very promising development. They burned their way through the swinging, country-inflected When the Sun Bows to the Moon and Mistaken for Love, found some new, bluesy energy in Injury Home (from their second cd Swim in the Silence) and closed with a blistering cover of Ghost Riders in the Sky.

We went to Superfine afterward and were reassured to find this place as good a choice of late-night hang as it’s always been: all the yuppies go home by 1 AM, and the crowd that remains is pretty much like any other crowd you’d find in what used to be New York, a motley crew that keeps to themselves and doesn’t annoy.

August 26, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments