01. Atlanta Symphony Orchestra & Chorus – O Fortuna
02. Beck – Mixed Bizness
03. Bentframe – Star Wars Gangsta Rap
04. Kansas – Dust in the Wind
05. George Harrison – Cloud Nine
06. David Wise – Ice Cavern Chant
07. Gary Brooker & The London Symphonic Orchestra – A Salty Dog
08. Beck – Sexx Laws
09. Tears for Fears – Head over Heels
10. Procol Harum – Wreck of the Hesperus
11. George Harrison – All Things Must Pass
12. Die Screaming Lederhosens – Dog Pound Hop
13. Procol Harum – Whisky Train
14. David Wise – Jib Jig
15. Strong Bad – Everybody to the Limit
16. Moody Blues – The Voice
17. James Brown – I Got You (I Feel Good)
18. David Wise – Stickerbush Symphony
19. George Harrison – Got My Mind Set on You
20. Vangelis – Blade Runner (End Titles)
01. Atlanta Symphony Orchestra & Chorus – O Fortuna (1981)
2004. 11th grade. The end is nigh.
I don’t think I knew when preparing Volume 14 that it would be the final volume, but leading with this almost-too-famous omen certainly does not imply a ripe future. Indeed, it correctly portends a wealth of angst to come: three girlfriends and my failure to keep them, numerous unrequited crushes, chemistry class, a car accident, a tuba accident, losing half my friends to college, my first and last dalliance with politics, and whatever unmemorable horrors filled the cracks of the final two years of high school.
It certainly wasn’t all bad, but the way out felt to me (as I’m sure it did to most of us) like a gauntlet. Good for me to raise my own hackles with this harrowing call to despair.
02. Beck – Mixed Bizness (Midnite Vultures, 1999)
Where one is too square in high school to open his heart (among other things) to Prince, in some cases Beck may be the next best mononym, certainly so if you pull from this album. Here he goes all in on the freaky funk and sexual overtones, complemented and amplified by his skilled hands at the sampling machines and assorted digital noiseophones.
Not that I turned up for the sex music. I was a certified buzz cut white bread square, nervous about girls and downright oblivious to sex. It was horn players what turned me on to this song, specifically those in Beck’s band on his 1999 Saturday Night Live appearance. I can’t corroborate with video evidence (DAMN YOU, LORNE MICHAELS), but as I recall, they kicked off their performance of “Mixed Bizness” riding skateboards down a ramp into their stage positions before kicking off the riff. My immediate thought was “That is rad. That is RAAAAD,” and I jumped forward in time to the nearest Kazaa to download the song. That was about as far I got with Beck, though. “Where It’s At,” horn players on skateboards, and slick stage moves borrowed from James Brown were all more than enough for this little square.
If you’re not careful, though, the Thin White Duke of the 90’s might well slither through the crevices of your wall and loosen your foundation for life. Midnite Vultures is a sleazy little record, and in the days after college, my corners just a bit more rounded, it came back to haunt me in a deep and dirty way. Were it not for the early work of this song, I might never have been so lucky.
03. Bentframe – Star Wars Gangsta Rap (2000)
A solid year before the fleet-footed mc chris shook the galaxy with Fett’s Vette, we had the original Star Wars Gangsta Rap. This is a lovingly crafted summary of the Skywalker dilemma told through some passable impressions of Vader, Palpatine, Yoda, and Ringo Starr. The only problem is that it’s about seven minutes too short. Since “Fett’s Vette”, Star Wars raps seem to have plummeted in quality. Too much style, too little substance. Get George Lucas out of the rap game.
04. Kansas – Dust in the Wind (Point of Know Return, 1977)
Is that right, Wikipedia? Kansas is a progressive rock band?
Pardon my surprise, Kansas. No offense meant. It’s not as if every prog song need be in irrational time signatures with avant-avant-garde form, inscrutable lyrics, and six key changes. If Pink Floyd can have “Wish You Were Here”, you may surely be permitted “Dust in the Wind” and not be dismissed as a prog band on that merit. The problem, of course, is that “Dust in the Wind” is one of maybe three of your songs that history cares to notice. On a whim I recently flipped through Point of Know Return, and YEP! That’s prog, alright, but unfortunately it’s all mostly hinged on mad organ riffs and noble but unsuccessful attempts to incorporate irrational time signatures. It ain’t easy, fellas, I know. But good on you for trying. Genres are for jerks, anyway.
Speaking of jerks, why does my Snob Sense kick in when I hear this? This is a good song with at least two memorable film appearances. And it is helpful, y’know, to remember the temporary and fleeting nature of our lives.
05. George Harrison – Cloud Nine (Cloud Nine, 1987)
I can’t believe it’s taken this long to get to our boy George.
George is a common pick for “favorite Beatle”, and it’s no question why. He’s a vindicated underdog, having spent his Beatle years in the shadow of the Lennon-McCartney duarchy, given at most two or three spots of each album for his own songs. This in turn perpetuated his image of the quiet one, and in George’s case, still waters run very deep, as we learned in 1968.
But this is 1987 George, long emerged from his shell and embraced by the music world as a solo entity. Cloud Nine was something of a comeback, in fact, following a five-year gap in studio releases to pursue other worthwhile ventures. Cloud Nine was produced by ELO captain/future Wilbury/Chia human Jeff Lynne, who clad George’s rock hymns in the sparkling rays of, well, 1987. (Which was a FINE YEAR, you know. Lot of good people born that year. Just saying.) The synth touches date the album slightly but afford the heavenly sound one might expect of a Harrison record, a sound which highlights its best parts and covers for some of the weaker ones. It helps, of course, that five years on the bench let George cultivate good songs such as this one.
06. David Wise – Ice Cavern Chant (Donkey Kong Country, 1994)
Pure winter shimmer for me, please! Just dump me in this ice hole and let me die of hypothermia hearing the still, dry air moved by the plucks and plings of harp strings and mallet percussion. Let me watch my breath rise to the starry night sky whilst the polar bears feast on my face, all because I was a little kid in a swamp playing a video game with the most beautiful icy level and the most beautiful icy song and invented fantasies based in weather which are sure to destroy me.
07. Gary Brooker & The London Symphonic Orchestra – A Salty Dog (The Long Goodbye: Symphonic Music of Procol Harum, 1995)
“A Salty Dog”, from Procol’s third album of the same name, was the first song to use the orchestra which so highly elevated the band’s profile. It was therefore a natural choice for the first live show the band did with an orchestra, a little gig in Edmonton which I have already discussed in detail. A little gig I have trouble not discussing. A little gig so good that burning it to its own CD wasn’t enough to keep it off my mixes. Or so I thought…
Instead, it turns out, that the track you are hearing, the same track I downloaded so many years ago, is NOT the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra performance but some other random live performance with an orchestra. It may not even be Procol, just good ol’ Gary alone.
(I scraped, scoured, Shazammed, Reddited, Asked Jeeves, wrote my congressman, spent five years in contemplation, and tried turning it off and on again. Can’t source this damn song to save my life.) NEVERMIND I FOUND IT! THANKS CHAZ!
Any audiophile probably would’ve caught the differences right away: Gary sounds a little older, there’s reverb on his voice not present on the rest of the Edmonton show, and Gary is alone with the orchestra. I am not an audiophile, and I am kinda dumb. For at least four years I played this sucker in the middle of the actual Edmonton tracks thinking it was part of the gang. I did not learn the truth until finally buying a legit copy of the album when it was remastered in 2006.
If you can believe it, I still prefer this version of the song. The Edmonton version, while quite good, is overly busy with the drums and lacking in dynamic range. Might have I felt differently without hearing this solo Brooker edition with no percussion, an original intro segment, and a careful climb to a sunny climax? Yes, absolutely.
With the discovery of the real live “Salty Dog”, I was disappointed to find a flaw in a flawless album. However, over the years, my rip of the legitimate CD replaced the pirated mp3s of high school. I let the old favorite float away in the name of integrity, so it is rather nice to see it again like an old friend lost at sea.
08. Beck – Sexx Laws (Midnite Vultures, 1999)
This is the best intro to a music video of all time. I never knew it existed until searching for this blog, but now I can’t stop loving it. Good old Jack Black, that man seems to always be hiding out in the coolest places.
So we have the sister to “Mixed Bizness”, and damn near a twin with its high energy, brass riff, alternative spelling in the title, and of course, dirty lyrics. Seriously good dirty lyrics, with wild metaphors that leave the details of the deeds to your imagination, where the best sex dwells.
09. Tears for Fears – Head over Heels (Songs from the Big Chair, 1985)
All the Sad Bastard Music I’d been taking in since the 8th grade collected underneath my brain into a wide but shallow puddle. If all the sad songs before this one were the water itself – minor keys, descending lines, and despairing lyrics contributing to the still waters which soaked my psyche in sadness – this one was a stone thrown in from the bank.
When I first heard it, maybe in the 10th grade, I was caught off guard. The equally uplifting and chilling piano line, Roland Orzabal’s jarring falsetto, the guitar countermelody, a lean but substantial rhythm line. For a soft song it threw a fast hook. But the puddle sloshing in my head was wide enough, and the name of the band was Tears for Fears, for crying out loud. I abandoned the song without another thought.
The following summer I was in Indianapolis for an Extracurricular Organization International convention. Exciting, I know! When you grow up in the sticks, you take any chance you get to fly in the big metal bird machines with your friends and mock the strange looking people you see in the O’Hare terminal.
The hotel occupied by Extracurricular Organization, the Hyatt Regency Downtown Indianapolis, housed EO students in attendance from the world over. All of the rooms overlooked an enormous lobby spanning twenty stories high. During an afternoon lull in this hotel, I was sitting outside my room in the desk chair spending some quality time with my Discman. (I don’t know what possessed me to pull the desk chair out of the room instead of just hang out in there, but that is what I did.) That is when I spotted a beautiful girl, six floors up and on the opposite side of the lobby chasm. She saw me and waved. I waved back. She waved toward her…an invitation, unmistakable even by the likes of a teenage Danish. On an average day I might have balked, but she was pretty damn cute. And what happens in Indianapolis stays in Indianapolis, at least until I put it on my blog 12 years later. Doing my best to look relaxed and not knock over my chair before the will of Murphy intercepted me, I made for the elevator.
We hung out by her door (EO had a strict policy against coed lodging) and traded words about what we did in our respective EO chapters, other hobbies, how we were enjoying our time in Indianapolis, and poked fun at each other’s accents. At some point one of us had to go, so we traded e-mails and said goodbye. A perfectly nice encounter with a perfectly nice girl on a perfectly nice summer trip, tied perfectly into a noose by my teenage brain. I moped so hard about this sudden gain and loss. I just met a girl who was totally into me, guys, you have no idea, but it’s all MEANINGLESS BECAUSE SHE LIVES ON THE NORTH POLE. ONCE AGAIN I LOSE BEFORE WINNING.
This was all I could think over our last lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe before going home, when that bright, chilling piano line came through the speakers. Then I remembered the stone in the pond. I no longer dwell within my shame, only beside it. I fucking love this song.
10. Procol Harum – Wreck of the Hesperus (A Salty Dog, 1969)
The ONLY problem with the Edmonton concert was the egregious omission of “Wreck of the Hesperus”, another Salty Dog nautical epic. Unlike the title track, which drifts ever so slowly to its climax, “Hesperus” is a storm surge led by a single thunderous drum that can be heard from both sides of the Atlantic. The piano part, which can only be described as triplets forever, is probably hell to play live, but god would’ve the work paid off. Don’t tell me Gary Brooker circa 1972 couldn’t roll them off in his sleep. B.J. Wilson’s tumultuous drumming would’ve been better suited for the string breaks, provided he could restrain himself for the verses.
I speculate that with “Salty Dog” already a shoo-in for the concert, Gary thought “Hesperus” a bit redundant, but in that case, I say toss the dog and give us the wreck. Where “Salty Dog” is the jubilant end of the journey after surviving the storm, “Hesperus” wakes us to it at its worst. Both had a place in Edmonton, for sure, but for my money I’d have paid twice as much to hear “Hesperus”. If the damn seagulls were so effective in the quadrophonic that night, how about the crashing waves upon a dying ship?
What’s that? This song was written and sung by Matthew Fisher, Procol’s organist? Of course I know that. Obviously this is not Gary. What’s the problem? Matthew sings it just fine.
He quit Procol? When was that? …oh wow, yeah, three years before Edmonton. I see.
Dang, man, I’ve been holding on to that grief for years. I’ll, uh…
…just go ahead. Gimme a minute here.
11. George Harrison – All Things Must Pass (All Things Must Pass, 1968)
Because it would’ve been a pity to squeeze good George in the end only to have him represented solely by Cloud Nine. Or more correctly, not represented by this album, the second breath in any recollection of George Harrison’s legacy in this world. For peaking early George hit some pretty lofty highs, and when it comes to albums that have been inundated in praise, I just don’t think this one will ever have enough.
Like Cloud Nine, All Things Must Pass is as much a product of its producer as it is the man on the cover. Aural purists retch at the name of Phil Spector, but the man had the Midas touch for scale. Killer Phil’s penchant for stacking the sound was precisely the element needed to elevate the words of a humble man.
The Beatles, together or not, offer a great deal to us through their music, but only George truly sells me on the vow that there is a righteous path to walk among the darkness, a path that leads to the other side, so long as I believe. That’s why he’s my favorite.
12. Die Screaming Lederhosens – Dog Pound Hop (You Eediot!, 1993)
One more TV theme for the road, and they don’t get much better than this sweet piece of presto bongo for Ren & Stimpy, America’s favorite animals that definitely belong outside. The Ren & Stimpy soundtrack was crucial to its aesthetic, juxtaposing easy listening with uneasy watching or just outright bulldozing you with frenetic hell bop while Ren lost his shit. What a decadent pleasure for a child. You might think this kind of work could only be done in the hands of professionals, but true to the nature of the show, the house band was made up of SpumCo employees, hence the highly professional band name.
13. Procol Harum – Whisky Train (Home, 1970)
ENOUGH about the wrecks and the salt. Before Procol became the Orchestral Frontband for Clive Cussler, they were blues rockin’ art-dudes like everybody else in Great Britain. And damn could they ever kick some shit when called to action. Gary’s tenor is suited as easily to the drunkard as it is to the historian. B.J. Wilson is a drummer best described as in a state of perpetually restrained fury (DO YOU HEAR THAT COWBELL?), and Robin Trower…
Robin, I’ve been giving you shit left and right for not being Dave Ball in Edmonton, so you and everybody else gather round and listen here: the secret of the universe is the guitar riff to Whisky Train. TOLD YOU WE’D LEARN SOMETHING!
Take a deep breath. Let it out slowly. We’re done with Procol Harum.
14. David Wise – Jib Jig (Donkey Kong Country 2, 1995)
Was I in the 11th grade harboring a latent desire to sail the open seas? Was the nautical arc of Volume 14’s playlist a signal from the lighthouse guiding me toward the course I was destined to chart? Has my landlubber’s life been a lie?
I dare not venture any further, for my spirit is now weary with the Bricks and can only handle so much more truth. I will have to settle for my life’s plunder of sea music, and this one’s a jewel. Surprisingly authentic blowing wind and flapping sails color the background of this sparse arrangement. I am always struck by the simple yet effective percussion, the call and response between dry bass hits and clacking sticks. And of course, the 6/8.
I only find myself on watercraft every five years or so, but the moment I set foot on deck, this is what I hear. It passes for sea legs in my world.
15. Strong Bad – Everybody to the Limit (Homestar Runner, 2002)
I learned a lot in my teen years, including the procedure of introducing new legislature, the characteristics of a tragic hero, how to balance chemical equations, and how to run a concession stand. But the only adolescent knowledge that has survived to the twilight of my twenties is how to spell abominable words like “Hyakugojyuuichi!!”, “qrrbrbirlbel”, and “fhqwhgads”, all picked up from internet cartoons.
“Everybody to the Limit” (or “Come On Fhqwhgads”) is yet another of the great Homestar songs, empowered by the bassline and glorified by the clap/woo track. Everybody likes a good clap (except maybe, uh, that one), but the woo track is woefully overlooked. A carefully placed woo helps to sustain the hard-won “party groove” you have worked to build. But care is essential. You only want to imply the groove, not dictate it. It’s a robust tool. Don’t get carried away.
16. The Moody Blues – The Voice (Long Distance Voyager, 1981)
I’m surprised I’m not a bigger Moody Blues fan than I am. My folks certainly were; I can even remember waiting in line with them to get tickets to a Moody concert in New Orleans on a very cold morning. (This was definitely the latter days of my parents attending concerts.) I loved a bunch of my parents’ music growing up, and the more I think about it, the more I think this was one they played in the car that burrowed into my brain long before I ever took up music as a personal hobby. I can think of no other motivation to suddenly plug this into a mix at the beginning of 11th grade.
One might find the synths dated, no doubt, and the gong rush “carried across the waves” gaudy…but let’s be real. This is 1981. If you didn’t know that the Moody Blues were about the astral intentions and cosmic ramifications of human emotion, well, that’s your own damn fault.
17. James Brown – I Got You (I Feel Good) (I Got You (I Feel Good), 1966)
Beck’s a start for a square, but when you need pure soul, where better to turn than the Godfather himself? Once again I’ve plugged a name too big to talk about. His prints are all over the world of music, and though I’m not so familiar with his own body of work (tsk, tsk), I’m certainly well aware of his influence on so much else I love. Similar problem to Elvis, I suppose, whereupon I take his greatness for granted, but at least he made it to the Picks. The syncopated rise will never not be one of the most clever phrase endings in pop music.
18. David Wise – Stickerbush Symphony (Donkey Kong Country 2, 1995)
Here’s how you stick a landing. Last video game track in the series, and it’s one of the all-time greats from the SNES era. Waves of children were coaxed into a false sense of zen by this song’s strings and simple five-note hook, but the “bramble” levels of DKC2 which it backed were some of the most infuriating levels in the game. Many a child learned to curse to this song. Not me, of course. My first audible swear was at the hands of a dastardly mosquito, in earshot of my dad. Good job, idiot.
Being the last game music entry in the Top Picks, I feel this is the place to elucidate further on the cognitive dissonance that riddles me today for loving the genre. I dropped gaming as a hobby long ago; today it qualifies at best as a tenacious, infrequent, and inconvenient habit, one long on the brink of a death I cannot seem to bring. I have neither the time nor the cash to subscribe in earnest, and frankly I do not seek to regain it. It’s all I can do not to condemn gaming as a chief belligerent in my lifetime of laziness, the practice of which has made even the most desirable of my creative endeavors little more than dreams.
This is not a fair or rational assessment. My friends were better at games and had better grades. In the absence of gaming I am subconsciously trained to seek the next of an endless list of distractions from the Fulfilling Activities I claim to want. It’s not like avoiding work is an inhuman condition unique to myself. Yet I can’t help but think I wouldn’t let my kid touch a video game for a long time, longer than my own parents held out on permitting the indulgence. Is this what I’ve become? It feels like a betrayal, no doubt: gaming was a substantial part of my life. Gaming has brought me countless joyful memories, made me new friends, kept me in touch with old friends, plugged me into a cultural dialect, and even provided that sense of accomplishment I so incessantly crave. Do I really abhor the influence of the entire medium?
It’s not an easy question, one for which I have no complete answer. I only have my gut which rattles the cages when I sit to play and my ears which thank me for the time I logged before growing up got the best of me.
19. George Harrison – Got My Mind Set on You (Cloud Nine, 1987)
Feel those hairy snares! Dig your fingers in that Jeff Lynne mane and gaze into your reflection in his sunglasses!
Cloud Nine was the last album George released in his lifetime, and though it sounds more like 1987 than it does George Harrison, it still captures the total essence of the man. It’s not the deepest of his records, but there are definitely tracks which at least reach a sincere emotional depth, if not the spiritual one he is best known for. Anyway, when George became a guru, he never stopped being a pop singer, and this song is proof that he could inhabit both heaven and earth. Besides, if you ever needed another sermon after All Things Must Pass, I’d hate to hear what sins weary your soul.
20. Vangelis – Blade Runner (End Titles) (Blade Runner, 1982)
No matter how I dog on my past self and the decisions he made, here’s one where I nod solemnly, approvingly. Vangelis is a good get: completely self-taught, subtle in his construction, an inspiration to great works, and quite simply one of the best parts of Blade Runner, a movie which I have very recently found not quite up to the old taste after a rewatch.
Much like the nebulous endings of Blade Runner’s myriad edits, the close of Volume 14 finds Mr. Brick in the state it would find most 11th graders: uncertainty. Whether the narrative finds me flying over the beautiful new world or simply quitting after the elevator doors close, the promise of escape was even then known to be fleeting and riddled with caveats. The future was mine to mold, not the script’s.
It’s impossible to say now with any certainty, but I don’t believe I made Volume 14 with the intention of it being the last. In fact I probably made it expecting to resume the serious business of playlisting and archiving music as it entered (or re-entered) my life. So, no surprise, it is the last, as the shift to Full Blown Dork with a Record Collection was well underway by 11th grade. I still used P2P as a means of discovery and trial, but for anything that I wanted to keep, I had a rule of deleting until I scraped the funds for physical purchase together. Not only did I want to support the artist, but I was proud of my CD collection growing in size. Good for me! The best I can manage these days is a Spotify subscription and the false idea that I am helping anyone with it except Spotify. The Unsupported will hang me high in Music Hell, provided they wait in line with the rest.