Bullied Into Submission: Top Songs by Awful Bands Adored by Another. . .
o one likes a bully, especially a music one. Normal bullies just steal your lunch money or stick your head in a toilet. A music one has much more insidious tactics. They insult your taste and make you feel out of the loop. However, for the sake of harmonious lives, we make sacrifices and try to get our heads out of our music heavens and put them into other people’s music toilets. That’s what this list is about. Putting aside the normal incredulous responses when someone openly admits lousy taste (Hope: “What? Oh my God!” Derek: “Are you insane?”). We two are kind enough to put our heads in each other’s bad taste. After all, good can come out of bad. It’s similar to mass pollution causing more spectacular sunsets.
My choices are controversial and will probably incur instant wrath: The Beatles and Radiohead. Now, before you turn me into Stylus’s version of St. Sebastian, hear the whole thing out. There is a method to my madness, and even though you might not agree with me, this is about being bullied into submission. So, Derek, just relent.
First up: The Beatles. Now, puppy, I know this is a big disappointment to you. Believe me, it is a big disappointment to most. Many a good lad has tried to convince me of my stupidity, plying me with 7&7s with the wish that, in a drunken haze, I will admit the error of my ways. But I am not only very strong-willed, I am also a lush. Therefore, Mr. Minneapolitan, don’t even try it.
My Beatles hating strategy is two-fold. One: rabid fans. Two: Paul McCartney. See, it makes sense now doesn’t it? First off, Beatles fans need to get the fuck over it. Yes, dear boy, I know what you are going to say but just sit down and drink your taking-the-edge-off South African Shiraz. Next thing you know I’ll be asking what sport the Timberwolves play and cause your head to pop clean off (but who doesn’t love that Oliver Miller). I fully cop to the fact that they were an incredibly seminal band, one that had the talent and utter brilliance to move with the times. I am not disputing their well-deserved place in Rock’s history book. But that’s it—rock’s history. Assess and move on. And seriously, Paul McCartney? Yes, there are the doe-eyes you can get lost in, and his southpaw (as you know, like me) status. But that is not enough to make up for his syrupy, mawkish saccharine doodles. Plus—Wings? Need I say more?
Still, John Lennon is a God. His work is fervent and gritty, and has just the right touch of both social awareness and sardonic wit (a task that is nearly impossible to master). In fact, it could even be argued that The Plastic Ono Band is better than any album by the Beatles (“Working Class Hero”? C’mon!). Oh Derek, you’re so predictable—calm yourself there. Finally, Lennon not only had the balls to end the Beatles, but he did it for the woman he loved. Any man who has the strength of character to sacrifice all he knows and go into the unknown for the sake of what he knows will never come again deserves to be worshipped. As Delillo says “What we are reluctant to touch often seems the very fabric of our salvation.” Which is why two of my three choices are Lennon, with a Harrison chucked in there so it looks like I did some research for this list.
As for Radiohead, well, I just don’t get it. Every time I tell a guy this (it’s always a guy who gets outraged), their immediate response is to give me either Kid A or OK Computer. They always think they will be the one that makes me see the light. Fools. To me, Radiohead is an unholy alliance of ELP and Spiritualized. And Thom Yorke reminds me way too much of that Martin Short character—the albino with one eye looking at you and one eye looking for you. And their first hit was the novelty bullshit song “Creep.” There is a smell about them that reeks of unhappy lives and desperate places. All the music is so in their heads, so bedroom noodley, it doesn’t fit my definition of what creative endeavors should accomplish: helping me to make sense of a complex world. It’s aural isolation.
But I am reasonable lass, and can admit to occasionally slumming it with the enemy. Besides this list was my idea, so bring on your bullying. And my submission.
The Beatles, “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide except Me and My Monkey,” White Album.
The four scousers decide to wig out. If they sounded like this all the time, I might actually be a fan. Hey! The Beatles do Sly and The Family Stone! The lads’ enthusiasm is infectious and this track’s dirty, below-the-belt soul grab certainly puts the needle into my groove. Cowbells clanking, barked out lyrics of “Come on is such a joy”—how could I resist? And the breakdown ending, that throb burn bass line, come on chanting and swing-burst blues riff makes this declaration of the abundant flame of love and lust a must have for me.
The Beatles, “Love You To,” Revolver.
Revolver is the only Beatles album I own, and “Taxman” nearly got onto this list, but that is because I love “Start” by The Jam. Still, this is no slouch. Sitar and tabla splurges swirl exotic swaths of fire and bright flame to the melody’s indisputably soft passions. And who doesn’t want to make love all day long? Harrison sings and plays all the instruments; this is obviously the warm-up to later Asian-vibed sitar-soaked treats. This feels like bathing in Turkish delight. Or fucking in a tandoori oven. Either of which suits me fine.
The Beatles, “Strawberry Fields Forever,” Magical Mystery Tour.
“Norwegian Wood” was so close to being the final choice since its opening couplet of “I once had a girl, or should I say she once had me” actually makes my knees weak. And it was the first Beatles song to have sitar (see above). But, this surreal kaleidoscope of sound won out. Plus, Lennon often considered "Strawberry Fields Forever" his greatest accomplishment with the Beatles. Finally, the tension between the pure, easy clarity of the lyrics and complex, encrusted patchwork of hum chills my inner audio nerd to the bone.
Radiohead, “Street Spirit,” The Bends.
Now, my Midwestern connection, I know this choice gets you even more than the Beatles. The Beatles you chock up to silliness. But this you consider a serious chasm-gap of taste. And I am only turning heartache into heartbreak by choosing old school Radiohead. But tuff shit, it’s my list and I’ll do what I want (insert cheeky grin here). This track’s evocative, moody throng is the sound your soul makes the moment after your lover tells you it’s over. It’s a dilation of that split second of freezing free fall. Yorke’s voice moves in sublime synch with the music; cresting like the foam on top of a deep green wave. Orchestral building which never loses its way or gets bound up in knots of noise. Not that their later stuff gets away from them, it’s more that they can’t help but over-articulate the clattering din. But this—for me anyway—opens me up to the cleanest, clearest expression of an emotional moment that can never be translated into a mere lexis.
Radiohead, “The National Anthem,” Kid A.
Ah yes. This is more like it! Funky funkerson funky! Lord knows, I am a sucker for a spaz. Throbbing-n-bobbing bass line and the surging voice-as-instrument makes this one leap off the turntable and bite me right on the neck. Like the local subway train running parallel to rattling express one, a solid steel core of rhythm gives the freak-out French kisses of horn something to soak their smackers on. Even at the end, when the bass foundation sneaks off, “Anthem” still holds its shape against the horn’s haymaker insistence. One for the record books, Kid D.
Derek Miller: Oh, my girl, we will be bludgeoned by the readership for this one, won’t we? Four untouchables, all under rude assail. We’re a godless young bunch at Stylus. Choke them on books and saute them in white cooking wine. And yes, I know your fondness for The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover, Hope; it’s guiding my metaphors. Of course, we understand we have no room for icons in these times. Check our Prez and the grotesque charade he’s made of His citizens (Jesus, is it okay to borrow capitals for this usage specifically? I knew you’d understand!). Anyways, it’s my turn to unveil my peculiar distastes. I’ll return to my ragged scorn for Prince and the Smiths.
As a Minneapolitan, I must confess to a modest degree of guilt for never warming to our burgh’s hottest export. Growing up a fan of classic R&B (if there’s a more degraded term in the modern lexicon, please send it to me, all of you Brandy- and Usher-ites who believe for an instant the term still holds its original weight), I loved the fat back end of Al Green, Shuggie, Aretha, and especially Otis Redding records, with that throaty Muscle Shoals shuffle. Prince lost the salt and grit that made those records so irretrievably enjoyable. Schooled in their voice but never willing to adopt it, he was tinny and over-amped, a product of a new reliance on the studio as musician. For me, he embodied the pompous void of the eighties: Members Only jackets, white-washed Levi’s, and studiously decomposed culture (anyone remember that decrepit cowboy Reagan?). As synths replaced the joyous swoon of electric pianos and pub-wrinkled uprights, I tuned out. I enjoyed his singles from afar, but could never get into his albums. 1999 was as close as I ever came, and as such it’s provided all my Prince selections.
As for the Smiths, there’s no such regional guilt. I fucking hate ‘em. I’ve listened to your speeches on Morrissey’s swings and roundabouts from Meat is Murder onwards, but I ain’t buying it. Besides, I know you like Marr more than Morrissey anyways, and I’ll admit: Johnny Marr’s jangling guitar fills almost make me forget the overwrought pallor of Mr. Morrissey’s lyricism, but it’s a momentary lapse of reason. I always return to that initial disgust, the cold-shouldered distance they put between the listener and themselves. Morrissey’s muffler-voiced cheekiness makes me want to open my veins in ironic tribute. And, yes, the hyperbole here is mutually intended. Love from afar, dear over-rated Dionysus. Still, several cuts on The Queen is Dead have a way of overcoming my animosity (and I can’t regret the fact that they’re your least favorite, my dear). Without further ado, lass, my list of five Bullied into Submission songs:
Prince, “Little Red Corvette,” 1999.
What? You thought I’d go all esoteric on your ass here? No, no. I told you about my tastes for his singles. The first three tracks of 1999 are swivel-hipped party-starters, borne from the hallucinatory synth-funk of the title track into the cranky guzzler’s flaunt of my next selection. “Little Red Corvette” is situated right between the two, softening its predecessor’s fat-ass groove into morning-lit synths and Prince’s misty-eyed remembrance. As soon as he glides into its trademarked chorus, burbled out on a basic programmed beat and Cujo-rabid synth vamp, it’s almost possible to forgive the man for “Purple Rain.”
Prince “Delirious,” 1999.
Come on. You knew this was coming. Following the aforementioned track, Prince scatters the ashes and siphons gasoline day-glo spunk. His playboy grin curls at the corners. Another classic synth line marks the song’s progression, but Prince’s rapidly shuffling beat sets its maniacal tone. Stepping back from the anecdotal anguish of “Little Red Corvette,” Prince lets it all out in great purple prism-rays here, and the song remains a first-rate ode to the embrace of three AM. My God, I even start to theorize the titular track was misnamed in production; the global millennium should have champagne-burst to this instead.
Prince “D.M.S.R.” 1999.
I see a developing theme. That stuttered synth. Guided through a rather long intro, something he uses to great effect on the album’s later tracks, Prince hazes the horizon with a goose-necked synth-line and some JB-inspired rhythm guitar. Forget themes; curse academic blubbery. He’s tracking the stark floor filler again, his predominant form and the only one that ever found him at the top of the heap. Shit, something had to bring the girls out of the stiff-gummed cold of Minnesota’s winter-black and into the clubs. For that, Prince was eternity’s DJ.
The Smiths, “Frankly, Mr. Shankly,” The Queen is Dead.
This song is fucking great. Instead of the velvet acuity of his social glare, we see Mr. Morrissey opening up to a relatively human yet toothful irony. Its rolling groove and Marr’s star-strung guitar line combat Morrissey’s work-a-day fatigue. Still, frankly, you Morrissey sycophant you, I can’t help but question one of the song’s most direct claims: “I’d rather be famous than righteous or holy.” Methinks I smell reaches for all three here, huh? Fortunately, I imagine the murky beer-tinted airs of a Dubliner’s bar-chant in this track. I sing along hoping I’m right. Dedalus spews anew, you behold in me a horrible example of free thought. Mulligan’s response is lost in the gas-light, and we all smirk at his jester’s loss. Yes, we get it, Mr. Morrissey: if ever there were a post-modernist haggard’s anthem, you’ve nailed it.
The Smiths, “Vicar in a Tutu,” The Queen is Dead.
Obviously, the similarities between this song and the previous are clear, girlie. Against its squeaky clean rockabilly beat, Morrissey wiggles in his own delights. He treads the line of full-throttle eye-rolling though, and it’s in this proper balance that he finds his strengths on The Queen is Dead. I almost hold him accountable for not living up to his failures here; he’s so clearly capable of sleek commentary, but he rarely handles it with such calm aplomb. As the rest of the band gets its golden Elvis groove on, Morrissey toys with absurd images and picaresque glam. The simple humor of “Frankly, Mr. Shankly” is repeated here with its twists on English society. And, Mr. Morrissey, we all write bloody awful poetry. It’s a struggler’s birthright. In fact, to retreat under a favored theme, Leo Bloom can speak in our stead: Those literary etherial people are all. Dreamy, cloudy, symbolistic. Esthetes they are. . .Don’t know what poetry is even. Must be in a certain mood. . .Amen, dear girl, I couldn’t have closed this better myself. But we’ll never put these issues to bed, Hope. And, oh, lest I forget, Oliver Miller doesn't play for my Wolves anymore. Either way, there’s always time to renew these arguments, and to bully each other into submission. . .
By: Hope Zabriskie and Derek Miller
Published on: 2005-01-14
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