The Primer is our column wherein contributors compile a 60 minute playlist of a band near and dear to their heart. Using personal listening anecdotes, notes about specific tracks and a brief overview of each artist, The Primer is both a way for our contributors to trace their musical genealogy and for our readers to gain a new perspective on an artist they may have missed or dismissed.
Installment seven of the Primer series features drummer extraordinaire Joel Kuiper preaching the Gospel of Dayton, Ohio's Guided By Voices.
It must have been early in the summer of 1994 when I first heard about Guided By Voices (Dayton, OH). The source was the now long defunct Grand Rapids area zine "Slak" Magazine. One of it's writers gushed on and on throughout the issue about the bands then new release, "Bee Thousand". He also gushed about seeing them on a side stage at Lollapalooza that year. He described the music as pop rock melodies that sound both timeless and fresh at the same time, and are at once both sophisticated and completely raw. The lead singer was a 4th grade teacher. That did it for me.
On the occasion of my next trip to East Lansing record shop Flat, Black & Circular (a multi weekly event at this point in my life), I purchased a CD copy of "Bee Thousand". Listening as I drove home, I liked what I heard. The songs were poorly recorded, but had the sheer energy and enthusiasm to easily overcome any fidelity issues. Melody after melody poured effortlessly out of my Subaru wagon's speakers. I could hear The Beatles in there (Robert Pollard is the Blatz to John Lennon's Two Hearted Ale). I could hear R.E.M. in there.
Even though there were similarities to what I had heard in the past, there was a freedom to this music I had never experienced before. And then came Track 9. "Gold Star For Robot Boy". I remember it clear as day. I was on Foster Street heading south towards Michigan Avenue. Then Pollard sang - "If I waited for you to signify the moves that I should make - I'll be on the take - Gold Star For Robot Boy - well then that's OK". Genesis 1:1. The heavens opened. I heard it - and it was good. No - actually it was fucking great!
This had only happened to me once before - when I was 9 years old and heard The Beatles for the first time. But the Beatles record had came from my Aunt Carole - this band was mine. And they still are.
Guided By Voices are my favorite band. Robert Pollard is my favorite singer. He is my favorite songwriter too. He has written a few. Like over 2000. That is not a typo. And at least1000 of them are good! The fact that Pollard exists at all is the real story. As I mentioned - he was a 4th grade teacher for cryin' out loud. Making music in the basement with his buddies, having trouble getting gigs in his own hometown and releasing record after record of great songs that no one except the band and their families ever heard. (Sound familiar anyone :) ????) As a matter of fact, GBV was about to call it a day on the doorstep of its breakthrough way back in 1993 after a decent 7 year run.
Then someone sent a tape to Cleveland. And then from Cleveland to NYC. The rest is history. GBV is not The Beatles. Pollard can't lounge in the French Riviera collecting paychecks. But he has carved out a great and lengthy career - which shows no sign of letting up - by doing things his own way and creating great music for himself - whether anyone actually heard it or not - which is endlessly inspiring to a lifelong musician like me.
When Matty asked me to do this - he told me I had time for an hour long playlist. GBV has 23 proper records - and twice as many EP's and other assorted goodies. And I am not even going to touch Robert Pollard's solo records (He has over 20 of those too). Thousands of songs whittled down to these 26 standouts. Get ready to rock!
Listen to all 26 songs on Joel Kuiper's Guided By Voices Primer in the YouTube playlist below.
1. Over The Neptune/Mesh Gear Fox
Alright Rock N Roll! GBV! GBV! Is anybody ready to rock? This song does not rock. These very words are spoken as this track begins - and you'd better be ready to rock - cuz your gonna. From the arena rock swagger in the songs beginning, to the weird progish middle section through its melodic conclusion, "Over The Neptune/Mesh Gear Fox" is the archetype for what GBV is all about, fitting most of its many influences into just one song. No wonder it clocks in at over 5 minutes which qualifies as an magnum opus for these cats. And yes, the song does rock.
2. Your Name Is Wild
Truthfully I was sold by the title alone ( GBV has the best song titles), but the minute the song kicked in I was hooked by the uber hooky hook. Even though I can still barely figure out what he is singing - the melodies are brilliant and I can't stop mumbling along!
3. When She Turns 50
Just Bob and an acoustic. Simple and clear recognition of one of the great voices and songwriters in the history of recorded music. And those lyrics...........sigh.....
4. Things I Will Keep
My favorite track from the Ric Ocasek produced Do The Collapse, which was GBV's attempt at major commercial success. Even though "Hold On Hope" and "Teenage FBI" are two of the bands most well known songs - both have been featured on TV shows and in Movies - the band never achieved the success they (or the record company) was hoping for with the release. It still holds up well however.
5. Hank's Little Fingers
Great title. Great execution. Great lyrics (Unless you've got the answers - don't patronize the mountain men". Great Chorus. Totally irresistible. Try and resist. I dare you.
6. Dodging Invisible Rays
As good as Pollard is - and he is that good - his main foil in the early classic years of GBV was one Tobin Sprout - who is himself good enough to shame most songwriters. Despite his thin voice, Sprout shines in all that he does with a gifted sense of melody and song craft as evidenced in this catchy number. He is worthy of his own separate career - and he has achieved just that. Sprout has released multiple impressive and acclaimed solo efforts. Without question Sprout should get his own highlight someday here at Wax & Wane. I'll start begging Matty now. Sprout is also an accomplished and successful painter - he had a gallery in Leland, MI for years and is renowned throughout the world in those art circle thingys.
7. Secret Star
This was the tightest and most talented lineup GBV has had (so far). Sounding like something The Who could have recorded in the early 70's, the song is complex and compelling. The payoff at the end is sublime. "To wish for you to fall. To wish for you to burn. To wish for your return".
8. Gold Star For Robot Boy
1:39 of pure bliss. The first time I ever heard it I listened to it 27 times in a row.
9. If We Wait
One of my favorite Pollard vocals. What he does with the single word "anymore" alone is worthy of rock glory. A genius at work. In the basement.
10. Everyone Thinks I'm A Rain Cloud (When I'm Not Looking)
An easily overlooked (in GBV's massive catalog anyway) gem from the bands last record preceding its 10 year hiatus, which began in 2004. The band toys with the arrangement like the pro's they are and create plenty of magic to accompany Bob who never disappoints. Well almost never. For 90% of bands - this would be the best they have to offer. Its just another day in the office for the Wizard from Dayton.
Oh. it's gonna absorb all right. "Do you see me dee dee dee deedeedeedee - Like I see you do do do dodododo" You'll never get it out of your heard again. Ever.
12. Atom Eyes
Tobin strikes again! See what I mean? His damn songs are soooooo good. This one is jangle pop heaven. "There's a million heartstrings ready to fly - let's pull them now" Pull away Sprout!
13. Planet Score
A song reminding us all to go to the record before they are "like the ghosts of Motown you just don't see them anymore" or "like the spectres of L.A. haunting the buildings of New York". One of the best tracks post the reunion of the classic lineup.
14. Indian Fables
This quick 43 second toss-off perfectly illustrates the simple musical magic that ensues when the golden throated Pollard easily whips up yet another charmer.
15. Fly Into Ashes
This is a B-Side on the "Hold On Hope" single. A better song, in my opinion. I can't believe it didn't make the record. GBV's throwaway's are most band's prime rib. Doug Gillard - wunderkind guitarist and musical foil for Pollard in GBV's second act - really shows his mettle here. That guitar solo really flies!
16. Dayton, Ohio 19 Something & Five
Nostalgia never sounded so good. We are not worthy.
17. Little Whirl
A delicious Tobin Sprout rave-up. You can't not like this. "I DON'T CARE! I DON'T CARE"
18. Girls Of Wild Strawberries
Gorgeous. Better than the fruit - but not better than Girls.
19. Echos Myron
Usually coupled with "Yours To Keep" (both are from the seminal Bee Thousand), "Echos Myron" has been a staple of GBV's legendary live shows (The Best live band in America for two decades now) - and is guaranteed to have the whole house doing the pogo up and down from the first chord. "We're finally here - and shit yeah it's cool!" Bass Player/Lawyer/Wearer of the Striped Pants Greg Demos offers a great final argument as he shreds his way through the last part of the song as rock n roll nirvana is reached.
20. 158 Years Of Beautiful Sex
Sounds good to me. The song is great too. A drum machine never sounded so good. Notice how Pollard drops the bass out of the song at the :54 mark of the song and then brings it back in at 1:04. Are you fucking kidding me? No joke. "Loads of creamy music - and lots of time to make it". Indeed.
21. The Hard Way
In lesser hands this early standout could potentially be just another generic rocker - but when The Prince of Northridge (the Dayton neighborhood Pollard hails from) adds that damn voice of his - it's like when the color hits during The Wizard Of Oz.
22. Not Behind The Fighter Jet
The beginning of the new lineup. Love those keys at the end.
23. Universal Truths & Cycles
The title track of "Universal Truths and Cycles" is a slinky number with a great chorus (aren't they all?) with some standout bass work by Tim Tobias. "And the lost hierarchy of land - and land owners - and down will go back up forever more - I must try to believe this". I believe! Hallelujah I believe!
24. The Other Place
First song. First record. First classic. Pollard shows us from the very first seconds that he is a force to be reckoned with. Already 30 years old, it is not dated at all and seems even more fresh today than it must have in Dayton in the mid 80's. The first of many Pollard songs that R.E.M. wish they had written. Again - those damn vocals. Sweet lord.
25. Game Of Pricks
Maybe GBV's finest hour. A tale of the death of a relationship that is so damn catchy that the CDC is still working on an antidote some 20 plus years after this rock n roll virus was unleashed. "I climb up on the house - weep to water the trees - and when you come calling me down I put on my disease". Take that Dylan. The band would re-record this for the Tigerbomb EP. While it was recorded better - and had some nice new guitar parts - the original version cannot be matched. This song is so good it inspired at least one book (Perfect From Now On) and just may be the most played song in my personal collection.
26. The Ascended Master's Grogshop
Sure the title is weird - but the song's melody is devastating. A melancholy masterpiece - that's less than a minute long. Sigh with me.
Joel Kuiper owns and operates a non-emergency medical transport service called Outpatient Express. He also plays drums in The Stick Arounds, Scary Women and Icey-Dicey.