Primer #8 - The Beach Boys

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 eight of the Primer series showcases the love that Tommy Plural has always held dear for The Beach Boys.

The Beach Boys were established 1961 in Hawthorne, CA by brothers Brian, Dennis, and Carl Wilson, cousin Mike Love, schoolfriend Al Jardine, and neighbor David Marks. All of the members were multi-instrumentalists and songwriters but they were and are mostly known for their singing, with Brian's work as a songwriter and producer overshadowing the band itself as times. One of the most successful bands of all time, and somewhere very near the top in my mind.

Approaching this mix required me to basically set some ground rules. The Beach Boys are obviously one of the most famous bands of all time and their most well-known songs are woven into the background of supermarkets and incidental music across the western hemisphere and beyond. In order to truly give a primer within the constraints of 60-odd minutes allotted, I ended up treating the "hits" as benchmarks along the way. Much like The Beatles, I feel that their early "fun" songs are just as essential as the later "deep" or "experimental" material. That said, unlike the famed Liverpudlians that our California boys were destined to be "Bea-" neighbors on the record racks with for all eternity, the Beach Boys recording career stretches from 1961-2012. The possibility lurks that more new music may come. Brian Wilson also continues to make quality music often in collaboration with fellow Beach Boy Al Jardine, so this is not a bad thing. So to give the fuller picture, we have a lot of material to cover.

The omission of "Surfin USA" and "California Girls" and "Surfer Girl" and "Darlin" and many dozens more in no way dismisses those songs as being lesser quality than the ones that made it here, rather I'm just doing my best to tell the complete story and not everything could make the cut. The most offensive editorial decision is the presence of only a single Al Jardine vocal - out of the 9 official Beach Boys members, 8 of them would have been peerless lead vocalists in their own bands (no offense Dave, you're still a fine singer), so the fact that this mix is heavy on Brian, Carl, and Dennis Wilson lead vocals is not a knock on any of the others. Al's voice has never weakened - in 2017 he's the only of the surviving Beach Boys to still have the golden voice, and in the late 70s and early 80s he was pretty much the only one that could produce and sing hits for the band, so kudos to Al. 

As a kid I mostly listened to oldies radio, with some of my favorite songs including "Don't Worry Baby," "Sloop John B," "All Summer Long," "God Only Knows," and "Good Vibrations," and I remember being excited to catch a glimpse of the Beach Boys singing "Surfin USA" while they performed at the Ionia Free Fair as I was at the top of the ferris wheel. They were indeed ubiquitous, even if I never necessarily drew the connection between all of these songs. In 2001, I saw Brian Wilson, whom I vaguely knew to be the "crazy leader of the Beach Boys" performing an exciting and baffling rendition of "Heroes and Villains" on Late Night With Conan O'Brien and this planted the seeds for what became a teenage and, as it's looking to be, lifelong obsession.

My first Beach Boys product that I owned was the 2003 compilation "Sounds of Summer" which aimed to collect all of their Top 40 hits (though it doesn't include "The Little Girl I Once Knew," "Caroline No," and "It's OK" for whatever reason). I still feel this comp is a solid introduction to their catalog, and as far as "hits" it's pretty unbeatable - it would serve as a nice companion to my playlist as I only include 6 songs that are on that disc. Over the summer of 2003 - the first summer I had a driver's license, to make this meander even more in wholesome Americana - I borrowed Beach Boys CDs from the library with "Pet Sounds" and the 2-fer "Sunflower/ Surf's Up" being the discs that cemented my feeling that this was one of the great catalogs of music.

My starting combo of "I Get Around" and "Don't Worry Baby" stands as one of the greatest A side/ B side combinations of songs in history, and they showcase what makes the early music of Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys so unique and timeless. Lyrically they're stuck in a world of early 1960s drag racing fantasy, but the arrangement and vocal performance completely transcends any shortcomings of the words - the sound of Brian Wilson singing about his regret for bragging about his car turns the lyrics into a fragile gospel, and Mike Love's aggressive and restless approach to singing about driving around town sells the fickle importance of those lyrics as well. This was their first number 1 single (at the height of Beatlemania) and it sounds like being young and alive, wrapped up in energetic guitar rock (performed by the band members with only horns and additional percussion performed by session musicians - these guys were a hell of a self-contained band) and jazz influenced vocal harmony, with a dreamy atmosphere that's hard to explain in the thick of it all. If this was all they ever released they would still be one of the great bands. 

Brian's arrangement of "Do You Wanna Dance" is one of their most dynamic recorded productions, with the swirling backing vocals behind Dennis' husky lead vocal adding a breathless excitement to the track. While "Help Me Rhonda" and "Fun Fun Fun" may have been bigger hits, I chose this track to represent the infectious hit machine that was the Beach Boys in the early and mid 60s. Plus it's the lead track to their flawless 1965 album Today!, which features some of their best ballads as well - "Kiss Me Baby" is here to represent that aspect. Like the hit that precedes this, "Kiss Me Baby" is a very dynamic production with cascading vocals, though this track oozes loneliness and regret, with Brian and Mike each delivering some of their best vocal performances.

This playlist could easily just include all of Pet Sounds, but for the sake of acknowledging the 45 years of recording that came after this, I've only put on the song that screams most-essential, "God Only Knows." Fine lyrics (from Brian's then-collaborator Tony Asher), an incredible arrangement, and one of the great vocals of all time by the then-19 year old Carl Wilson. And, as Brian himself is always happy to point out, Paul McCartney once said this was his favorite song.

The moment I first put the ‘Sunflower’ CD into my car stereo outside of the Hall-Fowler Library in Ionia, Michigan in July 2003 is still vivid in my mind.

The saga of the Beach Boys must acknowledge the 1966/67 "lost" album Smile. Largely a collaboration by Brian Wilson and the marvelous Van Dyke Parks, "Smile" was an obsessively recorded musical experiment with impressionistic lyrics that for a host of reasons Brian failed to complete, beginning the Beach Boys' commercial decline. Brian finished his own version in 2004 and the original sessions were given a proper release in 2011, but I feel fortunate that I became a fan just prior to all of this and was able to just barely experience the mystery of this album - most of the key songs were released in various forms on the Beach Boys albums from 1967-1971, offering a glimpse into what surely would have been one of the classic albums had it arrived at its first scheduled release of December 1966. I have included the 1967 version of "Heroes and Villains" and the original "outtake" version of "Wonderful" to represent the bizarre beauty of the Wilson/ Parks songwriting team. There's more Smile later in this playlist, much like how it originally was presented to the world.

The late 60s/early 70s (from the albums Wild Honey through Holland) are probably my favorite era of the Beach Boys for many reasons. Brian's music and lyrics flourished in a completely not-self-conscious manner, Dennis blossomed as a songwriter, Carl developed as a producer, and all of the guys were at the top of their vocal game. Stone cold classics from this era include "Wild Honey," "Darlin," "Here Comes the Night," "Aren't You Glad," "Time to Get Alone, "Be Here In the Morning," and more that I feel wrong not having on this playlist, but Brian's slice-of-life earworm "Busy Doin' Nothin" and Dennis' hymn-like and brief "Be Still" are here to represent the self-produced and artistically relaxed late 60s era of the band.

1970's Sunflower is, in my mind, the most essential Beach Boys album next to Pet Sounds and Today!. The moment I first put this CD into my car stereo outside of the Hall-Fowler Library in Ionia, Michigan in July 2003 is still vivid in my mind. All of the guys from the classic Brian-Mike-Carl-Al-Dennis-Bruce lineup contribute as songwriters and everyone delivers the goods. Brian's "This Whole World" is exuberant, hypnotic and extremely complicated musically while still being one of the great less-than-2-minute pop songs. Mike"s "All I Wanna Do" sounds like it could be a college radio hit in the present day, and Dennis' "Forever" is simply one of the finest love songs and deservedly the song he is most remembered for.

The early 1970s saw the Beach Boys mount a comeback as a great live band (as heard on their 1973 In Concert live album) and stars of underground FM radio. If they would have continued on this trajectory they would likely be remembered as a more-popular Byrds or even an American Rolling Stones, but aggressive nostalgia in the mid-70s and band in-fighting led them to become an oldies jukebox revue and artistically irrelevant by the early 80s. In 1971, however, they were releasing music like Carl's "Feel Flows" and Brian's "Til I Die," showcasing the sound of their majestic vocals in more esoteric and introspective settings. A nearly two minute flute solo? The 70s man, you shoulda been there.

1973's "Sail On Sailor" was the closest thing to a proper mainstream hit the boys had in these so-called "wilderness years," with the lead vocal sung by Blondie Chaplin, who, along with fellow South African musician Ricky Fataar, joined the Beach Boys for a few years in the early 70s, coinciding with Bruce's exit and Carl firmly assuming studio and live leadership of the band. I don't tend to gravitate towards much of this sort of bluesy "boogie rock" that was so in vogue at the time, but when the Beach Boys do it (as the result of another Brian Wilson/Van Dyke Parks collaboration) I'm on board. Why this isn't part of the 30 song playlist every classic rock station has to stick to and "Black Water" and "Let It Ride" are is one of the great mysteries of commercial success. Balancing out this era is "Only With You," a dreamy, relaxed love song written by Dennis and Mike and sung by a peak-of-his-powers Carl.

After spending most of the previous two albums in the background, Brian returned to the forefront for a pair of mid-70s albums, showcasing a gruff baritone singing voice and an obsession with synthesizers. This was the time when Brian's struggles with mental illness started becoming well known to the public, and in many ways it was unethical for the band to push him into the spotlight to capitalize on the renewed interest in their 60s catalog happening at the time. While songs like "It's OK" and "Had To Phone Ya" show a penchant for the sunny hits of previous years, for the most part their try-hard comeback album attempt "15 Big Ones" is a mess and is the beginning of their legacy unraveling. Closing track "Just Once In My Life" is one of the rare moments of brilliance, with Brian's desperate choruses complimenting Carl's confident verses over a successful arrangement of Brian marrying thick analog synths to the wall of sound. The 1977 album Love You is a polarizing work, with some fans feeling it's a borderline violation of Brian's mental state and others feeling it's a final strike of inspiration with Brian completely disregarding commercial expectations to produce music that made him happy. I fall more toward the latter - it's a hell of a listen and for the most part the tracks crackle with energy. It's impossible to ignore that Brian's voice is shredded at this point, with Dennis not too far behind, and the songs for the most part are rather bizarre, but I don't think anyone can argue that this album is not pure in its artistry. "The Night Was So Young" is one of the more palatable songs to the uninitiated, so if this song strikes a chord I recommend the rest of the album.

Brian didn't feature prominently in the creation of a Beach Boys album again until 2012, though the band continued to release albums with or without his involvement from 1978 to 1992. For the most part this music is for completists only, though 1979's Light Album is an overlooked swan song for the band as an artistic entity. The disco remake of "Here Comes The Night" is a giant blemish on this album, though as an exercise in the genre it is well done, and Brian and Carl's "Good Timin" was a deserved minor hit for the band even if it was an outtake from 1974. Carl and Dennis are the true stars of this album, and I've picked their collaboration "Baby Blue" to represent this flickering out era. It's also the last lead vocal of Dennis' released before he drowned in 1983 which makes the track even more haunting. 

There's a few gems from the 80s ("Goin On," "Getcha Back," "Where I Belong," and "Somewhere Near Japan" being the closest to essential) but for the most part the 80s are more notable for marking the beginning of Brian Wilson as a solo artist. In the mid-90s Brian, in collaboration with songwriting partner Andy Paley and producer Don Was, attempted to rejoin the band to make an album but the sessions fell apart after only a few songs were completed. Unreleased until 2013, 1995's "You're Still A Mystery" demonstrates that the architect of "Pet Sounds" was still able to drive the band toward a satisfying album, but as with so many things with this band it wasn't meant to be. Carl Wilson passed away from cancer in 1998 and the band truly splintered at this time, with Mike Love licensing the name "The Beach Boys" to tour with Bruce Johnston and a cast of sidemen while Brian Wilson and Al Jardine recorded and performed as solo artists. Original guitarist David Marks re-emerged at this time and has bounced between collaborating with the other surviving members as well as his own solo work. Early 70s members Blondie Chaplin and Ricky Fataar are well respected sidemen with long and impressive resumes of their own.

In 2012 Brian wrote and produced the bulk of a new album called That's Why God Made The Radio to commemorate 50 years of the Beach Boys and came together with Mike, Al, Bruce, and Dave to tour as a band once again. The album is very slick and has its missteps, but to the longtime fan it's a truly astonishing album with how close it comes to being great at times. I have included the Al-sung "From There To Back Again," a yearning and unpretentious look to the past featuring prominent vocal turns from Brian and Mike to represent this album. The band once again splintered at the end of their 2012 tour in classic dysfunctional Beach Boy fashion, despite Brian's claims that he wanted to continue recording music as a group. At the time of writing Mike and Bruce tour as the licensed "Beach Boys" while Brian and Al tour and record together along with Blondie Chaplin and sometimes David Marks. Which means, if you're paying attention, that there's more Beach Boys involved in the Brian Wilson project than the band called "The Beach Boys".

Things can't end on that sour note, so I'm closing out this playlist with the two highest artistic achievements in the Beach Boys catalog. "Surf's Up" was a Smile era song that Carl finished for release in 1971. There are many alternate versions of this song, but to me this is still the definitive one. Probably the best song of the Brian/Van Dyke partnership, I don't exaggerate when I say it's possible there's no other song in history that's quite as beautiful as this song. The sadness in Brian's voice as he sings "I heard the word, wonderful thing, a children's song" before the final cascade of group vocals is likely my favorite moment in recorded music. Finally, the song that was meant to be the lead single for "Smile" but instead was merely their biggest and most influential single of all time, "Good Vibrations" closes out this list. Some of Brian's best and most progressive writing and arranging along with some of Mike's best lyrics and one of the most gorgeous lead vocals from Carl (still just 19 years old here) simply make this one of the best. I always get excited when I hear this song, and I don't think that will ever change, much as the music of the Beach Boys will never cease to hold onto its beauty whether the band ever makes peace with itself or not. 

As a coda, and violation of a statement I made in the first paragraph, I'm including a live studio session of the 2012 reunion-era band performing "Surfer Girl." Call it the encore or the bonus track, but god damn listen to a back-from-the-brink Brian on the bridge. Out of sight!

Tommy Plural is a singer, guitarist and raconteur for Lansing based rock outfit The Plurals. He also  maintains a rigorous schedule with a cadre of other mid-Michigan bands and is one of the founders of GTG Records.

Primer #6 - Beulah

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 six finds contributor Colin S. Smith plumbing the depths of his admiration and affections for the brilliant and unheralded pop band Beulah.


Flannery OConnor once wrote that a good man is hard to find, and the San Francisco pop band Beulah taught us that a good band is easy to kill.

During their seven year span from 1996 to 2003, Beulah released four albums that reached much critical acclaim without much commercial success. As part of the musical collective called The Elephant Six Recording Company, this label has churned about some of the best independent music of the past two decades.

Their perfect pop songs will gratify you instantly, and theyll reward you over time as you dig into them further.

Some include the labels founding legends such as the humble Jeff Magnum of Neutral Milk Hotel to the more recent, glamorized music by Of Montreal. But Beulah remains as Elephant Sixs most underrated and overlooked bands.

Their sound would launch the budding tastes of modern and recognizable songwriters. Even a sprouting Michael Cera covered their song Hoveringas part of the actor-music collaboration in the band The Long Goodbye.

I first heard their bright horn-arrangements on a sunny day when I was fifteen. The cool, easy-listening beach song What Will You Do When Your Suntan Fadeswelcomed the coming of summerand their albums mark a coming of age. They werent a band only anchored in the late 60s Californian sound, because they offered something new: they walked the tight rope of mid-fidelity production.

That is, Beulah wasnt quite like Brian Wilson arranging an orchestra, nor were they like Guided by Voices recording on an old four track. Instead, Beulah fit somewhere in between. They unabashedly play pop songs without their songs being popular.

They sound wistful even when they play upbeat songs. And they sing melancholia without bitterness. Songwriter Miles Kuroskys thumbprint on each song is twisting clichés into original sentimental confessions.

My brother saw Beulah during their last tour in 2004. While he was in college, I nabbed his CDs while I was in drivers school. It wouldn't be until the end of my adolescence and the curbing of my naivety when I could appreciate the album Yoko. The progression of Beulahs sound corresponds with an emergence into adulthood.

We're getting high but we're still feeling down. Gravity has a way of pinning us to the ground,Kurosky sings in Gravitys Bringing Us Down.And the lyrics sums their story well, Im soft, but Ill be alright.

To love Beulah is to not hold to your idealistic, naive adolescent selfeven when he or she is slipping away. Its just too bad when they became grown family-men and after releasing their final LP in 2003, Yoko, that their youthful dream of becoming lush songwriters wasnt a financially lucrative one.

1.) If We Can Land A Man On The Moon, Surely I Can Win Your Heart (from 'When Your Heartstrings Break') (1999)

This is Beulah in a song: Upbeat, sincere, nostalgic of the 60s, and a bit sappy. In the middle of Miles Kuroskys sweet-nothings, he sings with his tongue-in-cheek, And if we sell out, oh well, our only fan will be changing costumes.This song probably will find itself on your mix CDs, if it hasnt already.

2. Hovering (from 'Yoko') (2003)

Beulah - Yoko.jpg

Like the title, song starts off slow then takes off in a light soar. The singer clips his lovers figurative wings, and the timbre of the acoustic guitars, string arrangements, and vocals mirrors the fragility. One of the many outstanding gems of their last album, Yoko, and it only becomes better after revisiting.

3.) Popular Mechanics For Lovers (from 'The Coast Is Never Clear') (2001)

Beulah Coast.jpg

Its one of their most popular songsand for good reason. It has all the ingredients for a catchy pop song: Vocal harmonies, a tinkling piano played in a high register, a few acoustic guitars strum and pluck, until the rhythm changes when brought to a chorus eerily reminiscent of the 60s. While they call back to the sounds of the pop-rock heyday, Beulah answers with this example of great modern songwriting. And during an interlude, Kurosky cleverly references the Magnetic Fields69 Love Songs when he sings, I heard he wrote you a song, but so what? Some guy wrote sixty-nine, and one just aint enough.

4.) Me And Jesus Don't Talk Anymore (from 'Yoko') (2003)


A bluesy piano, a jazzy drum beat, a wall of sound buzzed from a guitar kicks off this poignant declaration. After a layer of harmonies, band member Bill Swan plays the trumpet as if he were at a eulogy. Miles Kurosky sings, and though we are falling stars, well be just fine.Even when he sings about loss, Kurosky sounds sweet.

5.) I Love John, She Loves Paul (from 'Handsome Western States') (1997)


This San Francisco band never really left the 1960s. In this rhythmic rock tune, Kurosky sings in fuzzy vocals about how the different opinions between two people ultimately divide them. You may find yourself clapping along to this song.

6.) Emma Blowgun's Last Stand (from 'When Your Heartstrings Break') (1999)


After a two minute build up of a marching drum beat, synthesizers, and keyboards, a fuzzy guitar and an infectious trumpet blares through this song. Like most Beulah songs, the payoff is found by listening to the layers. Multiple keyboards add depth, a string arrangement keeps the song from sounding too much like Brian Eno, and the guitar crunches while playing on the musical motifs. Like all other songs when Kurosky sings about serious matters, he sounds sweet. The first words he sings, Goodness knows its been a wonderful run,also wraps up the bands musical career well, too.

7.) Landslide Baby (from 'Yoko') (2003)


Like Emma Blowguns Last Stand,this song builds up after a period of instrumental ambience. A marching drum kicks in then fades. A single note from a keyboard drones the same note and the song revolves around an incredibly catchy chorus.

8.) What Will You Do When Your Suntan Fades (from 'The Coast Is Never Clear') (2001)


Sarcastic and sweet, this Brazilian influenced song uses the samba beat and instrumentation to satirize the hollowness of infatuationits as ephemeral as an August suntan. The song also shows that they are able to blend in myriad influences and still make it sound distinguishably like Beulah.

9.) My Horoscope Said It Would Be A Bad Year (from 'Inbred: Songs From San Joaquin') (1998)


This single that came out between the first and second albums begin with a fuzzy guitar, but, by adding a light tremolo to another guitar, the song branches Beulahs initial lo-fi sound with a more embellished one that would later define them. This rarity shows how and when they whittled away the rougher edges in favor of a sleeker sound.

10.) Sunday Under Glass (from 'When Your Heartstrings Break') (1999)


The percussions and sleigh bells at the beginning sound like Pet Sounds, and the comping accordion during the verse add to the Beach Boys sound. The song rides by just like, as Kurosky sings, floats lost in a parade, when an arpeggiated guitar lifts the song and an arrangement of strings and flutes carries it away.

11.) Burned By The Sun (from 'The Coast Is Never Clear') (2001)


Theres as much color in the musical timbre of the instruments and vocals as you could see in a sunset at a Californian beach. They sing warmly and a classical guitar it strums away until the harmonies fade into the horizon.

12.) Dig The Sub-Atomic Holdout No. 2 (from 'Handsome Western States') (1997)


As the last track to their lesser known debut album, this song is a underrated gem. Its fast, upbeat, fun, and Kurosky shows off some of his lyrical chops with lines like, she dots her I's with hearts and sunkisses.The muted trumpet calls the album to a closure as they touch the drums with flanger, but the song ends the album not with a bang, but with the horn whimpering.

13.) You're Only King Once (from 'Yoko') (2003)


As an acronym, the title of this song reads as YOKO.Kurosky originally wrote the song on acoustic guitar, and it translates delicately with strings, piano, and slide guitar. He ends the tune by singing, smile, please smile, I just want you happy.

14.) Ballad Of The Lonely Argonaut (from 'When Your Heartstrings Break') (1999)


Its an affectionate pop song. One of the instant and energetic songs off the record, but without the depth of the other tunes. Still, its fun.

15.) A Good Man Is Easy To Kill (from 'The Coast Is Never Clear) (2001)


The song kicks off with a crunchy guitar, then a jazz flute riffs on the blues with vocals mimicking until the vocals come in. An acoustic guitar introduces the chorus before the electric guitar and flute glues the tune back together. Kurosky sings, I dont know about God but I believe you.

16.) Disco: The Secretaries Blues (from 'Handsome Western States') (1999)

Beulah_Handsome Western States,jpg

This is Beulah sounding like Pavement. The song follows the quiet-loud-quiet format that found itself common after the likes of Pixies and Nirvana popularized it. This song is energetic and loudunlike most of their catalog.

17.) Calm Go The Wild Seas (from 'When Your Heartstrings Break') (1999)


When you listen to this song, plug your computer into a high-fidelity sound system. Hear the strings on each side of the speakers, hear the wooden plucking, then listen to the harmonies sound like the wild seas going calm.

18. Wipe Those Prints And Run (from 'Yoko') (2003)


Not only is this song one of their few that is longer than 5 minutes, but its the only epic theyve ever written. They riff on a minor and major chord, reminiscent of the Breathemotif by Pink Floyd or Neil Youngs Down by the River,and a fanfare dies and a slide guitar weeps before

Kurosky sings the very last words to the very last Beulah song, I don't believe in anything except you my friends.After a fanfare of horns die, the crackling of a needle on a vinyl record plays a faint acoustic guitar, and whistling ends this epic.

Primer #5 - Luna

The Primer is a semi-regular 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.

In this edition, Wax & Wane founder Matt Carlson shares his love for Luna, and how it made him a bigger fan of The Velvet Underground.


When Dean Wareham announced his plan to disband Galaxie 500 in 1991, it seemed like a terrible idea destined to backfire. The successful and critically acclaimed trio had released three incredibly well received LPs - each one selling more than the last. College radio and John Peel's support in the UK and Europe had made them a well-known touring act and they'd even garnered praise from other indie-rock luminaries like Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth. The Galaxie 500 star seemed very much on the rise and Wareham pulled the plug at a moment's notice.

From nearly the moment that Galaxie 500 was dispatched to the annals of history, Dean Wareham managed to cobble together another band called Luna. He also became a better songwriter, a superior guitar player and created a catalog far greater than the act for which he gained his first attention. While most musicians are destined for their follow-up endeavors to be the footnotes of their career, Wareham built a new sound that became the defining characteristic of his musical legacy.

I discovered Luna shortly after Lunapark, their debut LP was released in the late summer of 1992. I had been a casual fan of Galaxie 500 and while I am sure I was aware of their break-up, I picked up a copy of Lunapark primarily on a whim and a positive review I'd read in the English music rag New Musical Express. I was immediately drawn to the concise songwriting, the economy of the guitar lines and the playful quality of many of Wareham's lyrical choices.

While many musical acts had helped influence the Luna sound, there was of course one band whose stamp stood out above the others - The Velvet Underground. Luna's rhythmic sensibilities and deft,  chimey guitars owed a great debt to the Velvets even if Wareham's lyrics were far more innocuous and less ambitious than those of Lou Reed's. In 1993, The Velvet Underground embarked on a reunion tour and invited Luna along to fill the opening slot. In a moment of musical kismet, I was just on the path to loving and appreciating the Velvets and their kinship with Luna - one of my new favorites - helped to expedite the process. 

In short order, Luna would become one of my favorite bands during the 90's. The string of their first four full lengths: Lunapark (1992) Bewitched (1994), Penthouse (1995) and Pup Tent (1997) is, for me, on par with some of the great bands of the college rock era.

While the remainder of Luna's output would never match the quartet of very fine records they cranked out in the mid-90's they did continue to make very solid music right up until Wareham announced their split in 2005. This time around, Wareham called it a day after more than a decade of exhausting tours, fledgling sales and an indie-rock glass ceiling that Luna could never fully punch their way through.

The band's final tour is captured quite beautifully in the documentary Tell Me Do You Miss Me where you see a group of friends play their final set of shows together and figure out what to do with the rest of their working lives. It is a marvelous document of a working band at a time when the music industry is undergoing an enormous financial shift. It is also a terrific record of a very fine band allowing itself a victory lap, even if the crowd there to witness it was just a fraction of what they deserved.

1.) Chinatown (From 1994's 'Penthouse')


This is a fabulous example of how wonderfully the guitars of Wareham and Sean Eden meld together to create a melodic soundscape on which Luna builds their songs. Also a reminder that great guitar playing need not always be virtuosic soloing and arena rock stage moves. Lyrically the song is a lively romp that follows the antics of a vacuous young playboy.

2.) I Can't Wait (From 1992's 'Lunapark')


A jangly and simple song that draws heavily on the influence of The Velvet Underground. The tom heavy drum part, the strutting strum of the rhythm guitar and the almost sloppy lead lines ooze VU charm. This is an early signal that Luna were becoming greater than the sum of its' parts and influences.

3.) California (All The Way) (From 1994's 'Bewitched)


I've always loved the lyrical question in the chorus, "Why has my sympathy now turned to malice?" followed with the self evident answer "It doesn't matter anymore". "California" is also rife with refined solos that are interesting, but never ostentatious. The moment he realizes that " . . .  I'm living like a trucker does, altho0ugh I haven't got the belly . . ." is a charming narrative spot in the track.

4.) 23 Minutes In Brussels (From 1995's 'Penthouse')


Luna were always a great live band and "23 Minutes In Brussels" might as well be their "Freebird". With it's meandering guitar lines and pulsing backbeat, the song seems designed for live vamps and ragged solos. Pay close attention to the gorgeous economy of that bass line. It makes everything else around it click.

5.) Bobby Peru (From 1997's 'Pup Tent')


The twin guitars play off each other once again and are beautifully augmented by the slightest hint of a sitar part. The "S is for Sorry" chorus that is punctuated with a plea for forgiveness and the admonition of not keeping secrets from yourself is some of Wareham's more stealthily moving lyrical work. The solo and bridge section on this are particularly lovely as well.

6.) Time To Quit (From 1992's 'Lunapark')


A spritely pop song that substitutes a rhythmic solo for a chorus. The chugging of jangly guitars and repetitive solo in the second half of the song feel like youth busting through an open window.

7.) Tiger Lily (From 1994's 'Bewitched')


While Penthouse is probably Luna's best effort and the record that new listeners should start with, Bewitched is the album that had me hooked. I can clearly recall prosthelytizing this album to my circle of friends based almost solely on the virtues of this one little song.

8.) Sideshow By The Seashore (From 1995's 'Penthouse')


So many of Luna's songs start with an economic, yet dynamic guitar riff. This one is especially terrific. The vamp in the outro is also  stellar. Again, check that bass line.

9.) This Time Around (From 1994's 'Bewitched')


Incredibly catchy pop songcraft can never happen too frequently. On this one, Wareham delivers an instantly appealing number with a tight and restrained rhythm section that is sure to have you singing it for the rest of your day.

10.) Ihop (From 1997's 'Pup Tent')


I'll be candid, I have no idea what the hell this song is about lyrically. It opens with the call for a doctor in the House of Pancakes. There is mention of a "weekly meeting of anonymous cads", and the notion that our protagonist "Ain't no Cary Grant, but then again who is"? Yet, the entire effort is so damned endearing - if non-sensical - and the stretched out instrumental sections with e-bowed guitar and rolling bass parts is a musical treat.

11.) Smile (From 1992's'Lunapark')


Epic and virtuosic guitar solos have never really done much for me. While I do enjoy a good guitar wail, a solo should enhance the song, not become some masturbatory interlude that dominates it. "Smile" is yet another example of Wareham as a more than competent guitar player who can play interesting lines in ways that fit within the context of the song and help to elevate it, not obliterate it.

12.) That's What You Always Say (From 1993's 'Slide' EP)


Luna were a band that had a special talent for playing great cover songs. Like any great interpreter, they always made the song their own, regardless of the source material - instead of just performing a carbon copy rendition of a song. On "That's What You Always Say" they take a 1982 garage/post-punk number by The Dream Syndicate and turn it into full on rock n' roll that sounds like it could easily be a hit.

13.) Rhythm King (From 1995's 'Penthouse')


The descending guitar line on this one is all takes for a minor love affair to occur between the listener and the band. There's a laid back pop ease here that seems almost effortless. 

14.) Beggar's Bliss (From 1997's 'Pup Tent')


This whole thing feels so damned warm. It's the musical equivalent of a pair of slippers and a sweater in the cold, cold winter. Slip inside and get cozy.

15.) Sweet Child Of Mine (From 1999's 'The Days Of Our Nights')


Yep, it's the song you think it is. Luna prove once again that they can take nearly any song and make it completely their own. 

Primer #4 - Otis Redding

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.

For installment number four, we turn to singer/guitarist/songwriter, bourbon expert and second generation music nerd, Dan McKernan for an in-depth look at the legacy and genius of Otis Redding.

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Growing up the son of a true audiophile and music fanatic is not always as fun for the child that it seems it would be to an adult. While my friends fathers listened to the popular music of the day – Huey Lewis and the News, Billy Ocean, etc – or throwbacks from their youth – Bad Company, Grand Funk Railroad – my dad insisted on the kind of music to drive an 8 year old boy to hiding.  Our cars were a veritable speaker box of Booker T & the MGs and Ray Price, Eddie Floyd and Merle Haggard. Many a Sunday morning, our neighbors (willing or not) would be treated to the sounds of high-fidelity vinyl being played through as many as six high quality three way speakers. If the mood was right, an summer day could mean you could hear Hank Williams, or my dad’s favorite, Otis Redding, from half a block down. I spent Sundays locked in my room, avoiding the horrible sounds and my embarrassed face.

Ten years later, I’m coming home to my dorm room in Missouri late at night after a long day of class, night of work and a ton of homework to do. I put on the campus radio station and settle in to work, but I am distracted by the sound of pure audio liquid gold.  The horns, so crisp.  The guitar, funky. But most importantly, the singer – the voice is so soulful and powerful and my god, he must be singing from his knees, I mean, he sounds like his heart is being ripped out! The DJ played another song by the same artist and this one was the opposite – the singer sounded like he was jumping and the music was so exciting and the singer so exuberant.  Finally, a third song, and I had to know who it was. I picked up the phone and, despite it being 3:00 in the morning in Detroit, called my father.  

“Hey Dad, who is this?”  I held the phone up to the speaker. A minute passed, and my sleepy father answered.  “It’s Otis don't you know that?" The conversation went on for another few minutes before my father returned to sleep. Two days later, a package arrived from home with two cassette tapes simply labeled "Otis Redding." I've never been the same.

The facts about Otis are short and remarkable, and ultimately tragic. Born in Macon, Georgia to a gospel singing sharecropper, and growing up in Macon projects, Otis was singing gospel music on the radio by his pre-teens. He had to drop out of school by 15 to help support his family (his father had contracted tuberculosis). By 18 he was touring the southern "chitlin" circuit (this was still the segregated south).  His break came when he drove a friend to a recording session at the legendary Stax studio in Memphis, and was given a chance to record a couple songs. One was "These Arms of Mine."

By 1962, Otis was recording for Stax-Volt.  In the next few years, he collaborated with Steve Cropper of Booker T & the MGs to record and sometimes write some of the most enduring songs of the period.  His penchant for slow ballads earned him the nickname "Mr. Pitiful." His songs were covered by the Rolling Stones.  Aretha Franklin sold millions of copies with her version of Otis' "Respect." The Beatles cited him as an influence.  Bob Dylan rewrote "Just Like A Woman" for Otis to record (He never did, saying the song "still had too many words"). By 1967, Otis had achieved one of the most amazing feats of all, being as popular with white audiences as black audiences, while never abandoning the hard soul sound (or polishing it, like Motown).  

When he played the Monterrey Pop festival in 1967, his performance was legendary. While members of the Beatles, the Who and Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Paul Simon and more watched entranced from the wings, Otis Redding - backed by Booker T & the MGs and the Bar-Kay horns - gave one of the most legendary performances of all time. Many thought the festival would make Otis a household name.  

By 1968, he was dead.  He was barely 26 years old.

Otis, a tireless performer, and his band crashed into a lake in Madison, Wisconsin in December 1967. Only one person survived. One month later, his posthumously released "(Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay" went to number one, selling 4 million copies.

Otis Redding is the definition of soul music, because that's the only way he could seem to sing - pure soul.  Reaching down into the bottom of your gut, and belting out every word like it means the difference between life and death. Sometimes, its almost shouting. Sometimes, it's pleading, or even whispering. But it is always from the soul. This is a primer on one of the best there ever was, Otis Redding.

1.) These Arms of Mine (from 'Pain in my Heart')

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The one that started it all, this is one of the two songs Otis cut in leftover recording time. Otis was 21 when he cut this song, but sounds like a man twice that age for all the expression in his voice. A simple song based on reverb-drenched, arpeggiated guitar, and the voice like none other. You can understand why they signed him up from this record.

2.) That's How Strong My Love Is (from 'The Great Otis Redding Sings Soul Ballads')

Otis Redding Sings Soul Ballads.jpg

Backed by one of the greatest studio bands of all time, Stax featured Booker T & the MGs, Issac Hayes on piano and the Memphis Horns. This song shows it all coming together. Feel the bottom end under Otis professing his love? The Stones did, and made it a staple of their sets for years.

3.) Ole Man Trouble (from 'Otis Blue')

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The chord progression leaves the I-IV-V, but this is a blues song that kicks like a mule. Listen to the interplay of Al Jackson Jr's kick drum and Otis' lyrical accents. You don't hear this song, you feel it.

4.) Respect (from 'Otis Blue')

Otis Blue.jpg

Picking up the pace, here's one we all know. While this song was perfect for Aretha, Otis (who wrote it) gives a different feel to it. A man can ask for a little respect too! Be sure to check out the bass chords in the first chorus from Duck Dunn.

5.) Shake (from 'The Monterey Pop Festival')

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Here's the performer at work. I'm not a fan of live recordings, because I usually feel too much of the moment is lost. This is the exception. You can almost see Otis, sweat soaking his blue suit, working the crowd up. The pace is fast, the band is tight, and Otis gets the crowd into the act

6.) My Lover's Prayer (from 'Complete & Unbelievable: The Otis Redding Dictionary of Soul')

Otis wrote it and he sings it with all the passion of a man pleading to save a relationship. Particularly cool is the way the horns accent the end.

7.) Trick or Treat (from 'Otis! The Definitive Otis Redding'

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It's all swagger on this track, written by Issac Hayes and unreleased until the box set. The horn intro to the drums is sweet.

8.) Tramp (from 'King And Queen

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After Motown's success pairing Marvin Gaye with Tammy Terrell, Stax decided to try it themselves by pairing Otis with Carla Thomas, the smooth singing soul star. This song shows Otis' humorous side, a cool soul groove, with him and Thomas trading off jokey dialogue. The best part is when he tells her he can get her rats and frogs in place of mink furs...

9.) Mr. Pitiful (from 'The Great Otis Redding Sings Soul Ballads')

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Steve Cropper took the nickname Otis had been bestowed (because of the ballads he was known for), and turned it into a bouncy track perfect for the jukebox. "And I want yoooooo!"


10.) Cigarettes And Coffee (from 'The Soul Album')

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The sound of a confessional 3 am conversation, this shows the great phrasing Redding had. "If-you-would-take-things-under-con-sideration..." I'm not sure I would believe the song from anyone else.


11.) Hard To Handle (from 'The Immortal Otis Redding')

Otis Redding The Immortal Otis Redding.jpg

More swagger, but with a funky feel, this was obviously a huge hit for the Black Crowes, and was a staple of the Grateful Dead's live set. Brilliant phrasing, badass horns.

12.) Your One And Only Man (from 'The Great Otis Redding Sings Soul Ballads')

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Some songs are just cool soul grooves. This is one.

13.) Love Have Mercy (from 'The Dictionary of Soul')

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The influence of the 60s outside of Memphis shows through on this track which has more in common with 60s rock than most Otis tracks. The bridge/outro almost comes out of nowhere too, before turning into a gospel ending.

14.) Merry Christmas, Baby (from 'Otis! The Definitive Otis Redding')

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It's close to the holidays, and this one is so awesome that it's obviously the version Bruce Springsteen based his version on.

15.) Just One More Day (from 'The Soul Album')

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A step forward from the more plaintive ballads, the soft organ touches and guitar lay a perfect bed, with the horns and drums just accenting when he belts it out and drives this track into the big gospel tinged ending.

16.) Try A Little Tenderness (from 'The Dictionary Of Soul')

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"I hate people who get the words wrong. It ain't "woolly" it's "weary" and it nobody's got stress, they're wearing a dress..." (Bull Durham) "One more tune, then it's off to enjoy a terrible relationship"

17.) Satisfaction (from 'Otis Blue')

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The Stones covered Otis, so he returns the favor.  This song builds, and almost seems to be getting away from him at the end as he keeps up the pace.

18.) You Left The Water Running (from 'Dreams To Remember: The Otis Redding Anthology')

Otis Redding Dreams To Remember.jpg

An acoustic based folk song, this was a demo Redding recorded to help Wilson Pickett prep his version. Another example of what could have been. It was released accidentally 10 years later as a single without the family's permission, and all remaining copies destroyed when they found out.  

"...And oh no oh no oh God - You Left the Water Running by Otis Redding, released seven years after his death, withdrawn immediately by his widow because she didn't..."
(High Fidelity)

19.) Day Tripper (from 'Live In Europe')

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The live version of this, from the legendary Stax tour of Europe in '66 shows that Otis was listening to more than just Soul music. The bass drives, the keys accent, and Otis turns it into a groove...

20.) My Girl (from 'Otis Blue')

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I love Motown, but this shows the difference between the gritty soul of Memphis and the smooth, polished Detroit sound. That's not to say Otis can't croon a bit, his smoothness here is like a great whiskey, with a bit of spice.

21.) I've Got Dreams To Remember (from 'The Immortal Otis Redding')

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This posthumous release harkens back to those early hits.  A bit older, a bit wiser, and truly heartbreaking. The call and response with the backup singers adds another wrinkle.

22.) (Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay (from 'The Immortal Otis Redding')

Immortal Otis Redding.jpg

Otis stayed in San Francisco for a while after Monterey, and left us this gem after his death. It's sad, because it shows how bright his future truly was, transcending soul to a wider music palate. What could have been.

Dan McKernan plays guitar and sings in a terrific Detroit band called Desolation Angels. He's also the creator of a blog about two things near and dear to my heart: Baseball And Bourbon!

Primer #3 - XTC

The Primer is a semi-regular 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.

In this installment my dear friend David Baldwin, a high school teacher and savant-esque instrumentalist invites us to bask in the glow of his love for English popsters XTC. 


XTC is not a band one just falls into. It takes some effort to become an XTC fanatic. In fact, for many, it takes too much effort. A majority of their catalogue can be somewhat jarring, especially juxtaposed with the mainstream- you know, songs with traditional chord changes, the avoidance of dissonance, and easily-grasped hooks and choruses. Early-to-mid XTC is at times brash, dissonant, and frenzied. These characteristics alone might hold an appeal in and of themselves, but what really cements them as a great band is the way they managed, over time, to channel and wiggle that energy into some of the most delectable and beautifully-chorded harmonies ever put onto record. They are a group that musicians and music addicts alike might refer to as “a bands’ band,” considering their influence runs deep in the world of rock n’ roll, even if so many casual listeners will never know it. Thankfully, I’m no casual listener.

I was a latecomer to XTC. I was two weeks old when they started recording their debut album in 1977, yet my introduction to them came in 1992 when I heard “The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead” from their superb “Nonsuch” album. For many, that album might be a good place to start. It is an aural concoction of melody and harmony, orchestral flourishes, acoustic, and electric guitar tones and textures sprinkled throughout, and injected with that trademark XTC oddity and energy. Yet most of it is traditionally structured enough for a new listener.

I remember going into the ill-fated Blockbuster Music store back in the 90’s- a place in which customers were encouraged to unwrap and listen to CDs (probably before leaving to purchase them somewhere else at a better price.) I remember spending one afternoon here exploring Black Sea, Go 2, The Big Express, and Oranges and Lemons, the album covers of which had caught my eye, but except for a couple perfectly-crafted pop singles, ("Mayor of Simpleton", for one,) I found them confusing, unsettling, and strange. (“Why does the singer hiccup and growl out the melody? Are they intentionally playing those clashing notes?”) Later, after spending the appropriate amount of time exploring their quirkiness and craft, I came to recognize- and adore- the appeal of these and indeed of every one of their records.

It should be said, making a 60-minute playlist was an extremely difficult task. I started by quickly choosing some “essential” tracks and, alas, it came in at 2 hours. I also did not include anything from two of their albums: I find Go 2 to be their weakest album due to a combination of sophomore slump phenomenon and a potential identity crisis. Interestingly, I didn’t include anything from Skylarking, the album widely regarded as their masterpiece. I wasn’t planning it; it just worked out that way. I figure I disagree with those critics who decided it was their pinnacle, but it’s a great album in it’s own right. (Many casual listeners will have already heard “Dear God.”) Thankfully, I didn’t have to consider the Dukes of Stratosphear, their alter-ego, or I never would’ve made it through the selection process.

The truth is, getting into XTC takes time. If you want the stuttering post-punk squall, few bands can match the early, touring years of XTC. If you want harmony and songcraft, go for the later, studio years. My favorite XTC years are pretty much all of them, as all the stages and elements of XTC are part of the whole and add to what makes them great.

1.) The Ballad Of Peter Pumpkinhead (from 'Nonsuch') (1992)


Probably the first track of theirs I heard and as good a place to start as any, with the beauty of an electric guitar, naked and chiming. The instrumentation adds layer by glorious layer: drums, harmonica, bass, and the melody and metaphor of Andy’s voice-and-words. By the time the guitars layer on top of themselves, the chorus harmonies, tambourine, organ all weave in and’s a thing of unparalleled rock n roll beauty - a ballad that could go on forever. A timeless masterpiece.

2.) Statue Of Liberty (from'White Music') (1978)


Jumping back to the beginning, this spastic number comes from XTC’s debut album. Its raucous punk energy somehow doused with a splash of Britain in the 1950s. Barry’s staccato Wurlitzer, Andy’s yelped and hiccuped vocals...  and it might be described as punk rock proper.  (Sure, I know it’s 1977, but did he just say the phrase “with whom?”) The chorus in all its giddy ridiculousness and firecracker handclaps (woo hoo!) is shimmy-worthy.

3.) When You’re Near Me I Have Difficulty (from 'Drums and Wires') (1979)


A personal favorite, this song manages to perfectly capture, both lyrically and musically, the nervous energy that comes with falling for someone. It’s from their third album and the first featuring Dave Gregory on electric guitar. It is guitar pop brilliance.

4.) Love On A Farmboy's Wages (from 'Mummer') (1983)


From the first album released after they stopped touring, this track is a pastoral example of how XTC uses acoustic guitars in their aural palette. It also showcases Andy’s knack for storytelling, while still writing from the heart. And, as usual, it’s got a great bridge.

5.) Your Dictionary (from 'Apple Venus Vol. One') (1999)


Such simplicity in instrumentation: acoustic guitar, piano, cello... it’s a hauntingly beautiful song; The lyrical content- particularly spelling out swear words- might seem childish were it not so clearly meant in earnest and thus painfully personal. Andy’s bitterness is chilling. And yet it still ends on a hopeful note- resolving with a bridge that Brian Wilson himself would be proud of.

6.) The World Is Full Of Angry Young Men (from 'Rag & Bone Buffet') (1988)


A collection of outtakes, rarities, and soundtrack songs, Buffet contains some real gems, including this beautiful, loungey piano-driven Colin Moulding-penned B-side. I believe- to some extent- a band can be judged on their b-sides. Written circa 1983, everything but the drums were re-recorded in 1989. The piano-playing is lovely, but the guitar fill/riff ties it all together with ribbons of electric guitar strings.

7.) Merely A Man (from 'Oranges & Lemons') (1989)


Oh, the axework! The clamor! The bucka-bucka! The bold irreverence of the lyrics! The Beatlesesque horn break, the vocal harmonies! I can’t imagine not including this song. With the exception of maybe “Mayor of Simpleton,” this may win most-singable chorus on that album.

8.) Generals and Majors (from 'Black Sea') (1980)


My favorite XTC single of all time, it is perhaps the track that best captures the perfect blend of bombast and pop that characterized XTC in their touring years. Who would’ve thought that a whistled melody echo and a hummed-along counterpoint on the chorus could be used to such satisfying effect? The tumble thump snap of the drums clatters along like a machine in high gear. The guitars alternately chiming and then locking like gears….Come to think of it, in the 1970s and into the early 80s, it might as well have been XTC rather than BMW using the slogan “the ultimate driving machine,” as the Terry Chambers / Colin Moulding rhythm section was unstoppable.

9.) Desert Island (from 'Mummer') (1983)


Originally a B-side, this song about Great Britain is awash with Defoe-inspired island imagery. Like a beach holiday, the boys in the band are clearly having a blast here, and it shows. It also showcases their versatility as a band. (Is that a bandoneon?) Incredible musicianship from such a relaxed-sounding bunch. I will inevitably sing this the whole work week after hearing it.

10.) No Language In Our Lungs (from 'Black Sea') (1980)


A slow-burning rocker recorded in 1980. Never before this had XTC shown such restraint, such controlled power, such intensity, and such openness and space. They sound downright huge in this track. The arpeggiated guitars and the rumble tumble of the drums- punctuated with dramatic pauses and crashes- ultimately build to a tempestuous climax. And the lyrics here, about feeling powerless due to the fallibility of language, really resonate.

11.) Snowman (from 'English Settlement') (1982)


Arguably their most consistently solid record, English Settlement brilliantly nestles Dave and Andy’s acoustic and electric guitars into the rolling chassis of the Chambers/Moulding rhythm section. The intricate clockwork of the guitars, the droops and swoops of the bass guitar, the swaying lull and swell of the “why, oh why” harmonies...this is a classic. And, as usual, there’s no shortage of metaphor in Andy’s lyrical library. Also, nice use of the jingle bells.

12.) Dear Madam Barnum (from 'Nonsuch') (1992)


Some of my favorite lyrics of all. For this track, Andy returns to one of his favorite themes- dealing with wounded pride- and his under-the-bigtop imagery really works. There is an engaging thread of humor (and sincerity) ever-present within Partridge’s songs. Musically, this one is straight-forward, it’s a simple pop song with a few perfect chords thrown in and absolutely top-notch production. And, in true XTC form, the song’s bridge is musical and lyrical perfection.

13. I Bought Myself A Liarbird (from 'The Big Express') (1984)


In this song it just sounds to me like they flit up and down the frets grabbing handfuls of guitar strings and plucking ‘em, like they’re plucking feathers out of the metaphorical hypocritical melody bird. It’s just great.

14. The Mayor Of Simpleton (from 'Oranges & Lemons') (1989)


One of their biggest hits, and I had to include it. The catchy, self-deprecating lyrics will forever hold a universal appeal. The arrangement is likewise superb. Moulding’s walking (or rather hastily jogging) bassline cycles throughout the song with gorgeous precision. The real brilliance shines through the chords and melody. This is XTC’s perfect pop song. Love those chimey guitar tones.

15.) The Wheel And The Maypole (from 'Wasp Star: Apple Venus, Volume Two') (2000)


I feel it would be wrong not to include this, from this electric successor to Apple Venus. Really, it’s two songs joined at the hip. The “Maypole” section is what really pushes it into my list. It’s a rollicking stomper with some wonderfully melodic guitar handiwork. And the round-and-round counterpoint harmonies and figure-eight guitar lines at the end of the song gallop us off into the sunset.

David Baldwin teaches German and English to the high school youth of America, and has plied his myriad musical skills in a number of different bands including The Pantones, a band that he and Matt Carlson (the founder of Wax & Wane) have been in together for more than a decade. 

Primer #2 - The Replacements

The Primer is a semi-regular 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.

In the second installment of The Primer, teacher, musician, songwriter and audiophile Dan Palmer scrambles to the bottom of his affection for The Replacements


The first time I heard of The Replacements was in a Rolling Stone review for their 1985 album,  Tim. While I thought they were intriguing, it wasn’t enough for me to invest in buying the album at the time.  Fast forward a couple of years, I was watching 120 Minutes on MTV, when they were featuring The Replacements. As I recall, this was the time that the guys in the band had shaved off their eyebrows. I thought that was pretty funny, and then they showed a video clip. The ravages of time have cleared my memory of what song I saw, but it was enough to get me to go buy one of their albums.

The guy at the record store just happened to be a huge fan of The Replacements, and proceeded to open up a copy of Pleased to Meet Me, their newest album, for me to listen to. From the first sounds of "I.O.U.", I was hooked. We listened to the album all the way through, and I had to buy it. The cool thing was that since it was an “open” copy, so I got a discounted price for it…go figure.

I quickly bought their other albums, and became a huge fan. When Don’t Tell a Soul came out, I thought it was a great album, even though many felt it was a sell-out.  I guess I can see that now, but I still thought it was miles ahead of the hair-metal crap that was crowding the airwaves.  

When All Shook Down came out, I loved the more stripped down feeling of it, even though it appeared the ‘Mats were done.  Surprisingly, they did tour on that album, and I saw three shows, even altering vacation plans to see them in Nashville.  Of course all things have to come to an end, and they did, too.  Sure, they’ve done some shows the past year or so, but it’s not the same, is it?

For this primer, I should provide some caveats.  First, this is not a greatest hits collection, per se.  Their albums always had throwaway filler songs, which could be pretty humorous to me.  These “fillers” were part of what attracted me to The ‘Mats, so I feel they must be included.  Another problem is that there are way too many songs to choose from.  I whittled down 2-1/2 hours of songs down to 1 hour.  Maybe somebody else can create a “replacement” primer to finish what I have started.  OK…here goes

1.) I.O.U. (from 'Pleased To Meet Me') (1987)


Since this was the first Replacements song I heard, I figured that I should start with it. This is from 1987’s Pleased to Meet Me, which is probably still my favorite ‘Mats album. The crunchy guitar riff, followed by Chris Mars’ huge drums reminded me that good rock and roll was still being made.

2.) Run It (from 'Hootenanny') (1983)


Ah yes, slightly more than 1 minute of punk madness. This is from their 2nd full-length album, Hootenanny. My favorite part is when Bob Stinson plays the “Dragnet” theme.

3.) One Wink At A Time (from 'All Shook Down') (1990)


This is just great songwriting, along with a great melody. “She’s got the devil in her eye, there’s only one way to exorcise him…one wink at a time…”  Brilliant stuff.

4.) Gary's Got A Boner (from 'Let It Be') (1984)

I remember seeing Ted Nugent’s name as being one of the co-writers for this one. At first I thought that there was no way that The ‘Mats would have even met the Nuge. Then when I listened to it and heard the riff from “Cat Scratch Fever", I got the joke. This is another one of their more infantile efforts, but how can you not crack a smile?

5.) Swingin' Party (from 'Tim') (1985) 


I’m going to confess something here. This is the only song that ever brought a tear to my eyes. OK, I’ll admit that I had quite a few beers in me, but did shed tears to this great song from Tim once or twice. This is one of those great Paul Westerberg lyrics that really show just how vulnerable people can be, especially when you’re an outcast. “If being alone’s a crime, I’m serving forever, if being strong’s your type then I need help with this feather.” I’m almost tearing up again right now.

6.) Alex Chilton (from 'Pleased To Meet Me') (1987)


A great power pop song written about one of power pop’s reluctant guiding forces. Of course, I didn’t get into Big Star until a few years later, but this song was the impetus to find out about them.

7.) I Hate Music (from 'Sorry Ma, Forgot To Take Out The Trash') (1981)


Another throwaway, but it’s a damned funny one. I still crack up when I hear Westerberg sing, “I hate music, it’s got too many notes.” And then to throw in the classic teenage angst of “I hate my high school, sometimes I went.” That’s right up there with Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues.” And just remember, Tommy says so!

8.) Within Your Reach (from 'Hootenanny') (1983)


A great song from Hootenanny. I loved the sound of the flange on the guitar, which seemed to add to the drama of the lyrics. Westerberg always seemed to wear his heart on his sleeve.

9.) Answering Machine (from 'Let It Be') (1983)


Who hasn’t been frustrated with someone who won’t pick up the phone and having to talk to the answering machine? This is yet another great set of lyrics set to an abrasive guitar.

10.) Hold My Life (from 'Tim') (1985)


The Replacements always seemed to be teetering on the edge of disaster. Their drunken shows were legendary by this point, and this song reflects that. In the chorus, Westerberg sings, “Hold my life, until I ready to use it; hold my life, ‘cause I just might lose it.” Pretty much sums it up.

11.) I Will Dare (from 'Let It Be') (1984)


I thought it was pretty cool at the time to see that Peter Buck played guitar on this. Plus, Paul plays mandolin, several years before Buck used it for R.E.M., and plays it far better than Buck ever did, too. When they opened with this in Nashville, the crowd went nuts, and for good reason.

12.) Waitress In The Sky (from 'Tim') (1985)


This is one of the more puerile songs in the Replacement canon. In fact, Rolling Stone even used that word about this song in their review. I always thought it was pretty funny, and they played this every time I saw them.

13.) Takin' A Ride (from 'Sorry Ma, Forgot To Take Out The Trash') (1981)


The opening song to their first album, The ‘Mats came on hard and heavy. What middle-class outcast didn’t go out joyriding while blasting out loud music back then?

14.) Color Me Impressed (from 'Hootenanny') (1983)

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I always hated going to parties where all of the “cool” people looked down on the “losers.” This song speaks to that idea perfectly.

15.) Here Comes A Regular (from 'Tim') (1985)

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An ode to being a barfly. At the time that I first heard this in ’88, I hated the fact that Poison’s “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” utilized the same chord progression, and was mostly acoustic, too. I thought they were a bunch of talentless hacks then, and they still are today. Their song isn’t worth the sweat from Westerberg’s ass, if you ask me.

16.) Talent Show (from 'Don't Tell A Soul') (1989)

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Just because I only chose one song from Don’t Tell a Soul doesn’t mean I don’t like it. I get it, most fans think that this is a horrible album, but I really liked it when it came out, and I still do. I guess most people have a hard time with the over-reach of trying to hit the ‘big-time,’ but these were still pretty good songs. “Talent Show” makes the list because it has such a great hook, and what musician hasn’t felt the little twinge of nerves before going onstage?

17.) Kids Don't Follow (from 'Stink') (1982)

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This is the great opening song to the EP Stink.  First, what a great title for an EP. Second, what a great song to kick it off with. Stink crammed 8 songs into 15 minutes, with much of them being hardcore punk throwaways. However, this song spoke to every misfit in the country, even if most of them never heard it. The opening bit, with the police trying to get everybody to leave the party, is priceless. Then I later found out that it was Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum yelling “Fuck you, man!” 

18.) Nobody (from 'All Shook Down') (1990)

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I don’t know why I like this song, but I do, and so it’s on my list. Another set of fine lyrics from Westerberg. It’s hard to believe that he’d matured so much in his subject matter in just 8 or 10 years.

19.) Can't Hardly Wait (from 'Pleased To Meet Me')

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This is probably my favorite Replacements song. The opening riff is insistent throughout the entire song, with a great melody to go along with it. The Memphis Horns add to the brilliance of the song, along with the strings. Hell, Alex Chilton even provides some guitar fills for good measure.

Dan Palmer is a voracious music listener that teaches school in Saginaw, Michigan and plays guitar and sings in The Crushtones.