Mislead Your Children Well: The Top Thirteen Songs at 3:04

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Mar 27 2010, 7h05

I can't find the reference, but Chuck Klosterman once made the point that teenagers are ill-served by pop music. Specifically, they are misled by the illusions that pop music constructs about the nature of romantic love. First you see her face, then you’re a believer. Your heart is, like, totally eclipsed. But then Jack slips out the back and pretty soon the sweet green icing is flowing down. (Also, beware of singing: it can kill you softly.) Of course, that general plot outline is so common it’s unremarkable, but pop music love only indicates signposts, not the day-to-day sweat equity of maintaining a relationship.

Music is not alone in this conspiracy to mislead teens about love; pop culture in general is not a terribly good guide to life. When I was a little kid, I figured that when you really fall in love with someone, you both know it immediately and you have to find a meadow full of flowers so that you can run deliriously into each others arms. As an adult, I am now deeply disappointed that this has never happened.

Obviously, it’s not just teens whose views and expectations are shaped by the weird promises of pop. Pop music trains us from an even earlier age, but it’s not all misleading or wrong; adults relate to it, so there must be some authentic stuff that might be actually useful information. In fact, once you outgrow music made specifically for kids, it’s one of the most accessible windows into what adults are like, and what being an adult is like. Not so much quotidian stuff like paying bills, more like the things adults care about, and how their emotions differ from a kid’s. Kids hear it and glean all kinds of lessons about adult life, some of which turn out to be true: lovers sometimes cheat on each other, and it hurts a lot, although it is pretty wonderful to be in love. Also, if you are ever riding through the desert on a horse with no name, you will know what to expect.

A Note About the List
This week I learned two things:

1) 3:04 is a GREAT song length. It might be the most loaded with quality since 3:40 (see the Project Index for that one). Huge at the top, and so deep that the honorable mentions could have made a fine list of their own. I'll list those after the cadre has had a chance to weigh in.

2) I have a lot more to say about Burt Bacharach than I ever expected to.

The Top Thirteen Songs at 3:04

1) Family Affair--Sly & The Family Stone
OK, three things. I learned three things this week. I didn’t know this yesterday, but “Family Affair” was the first number-one track to use a drum machine. When I was six, this was all over the radio, and I loved it for its melancholy cough syrup funk that conveyed a sense of depth, mystery, and complication. I don’t think it’s hyperbole to suggest that it was one of the texts that seemed to explain adult relationships to me—not the mechanics of them, but how they feel. And I still love it for the same reasons.

2) Dream All Day--The Posies
While working summers for International Programs at U of Delaware, I would shepherd groups of foreign students around the east coast for weeks at a time. It was the most fun job I ever had. One of the things we used to do was bbq, sit in a big circle circumscribed by mosquito torches, and sing songs of our home countries. I usually sang “Driver 8” and “Dream All Day,” because they are in my range, because their melodies stand up without accompaniment, and because they both feel “American” to me: a sense of expansiveness, I guess. Which is weird, since “Dream All Day” is about hibernating in one’s room; I guess it’s a metaphorical, interior expansiveness.

3) Frontwards--Pavement
You see? How could this possibly end up in third place? If you asked me every day for a year what is my favorite Pavement song today, at the end of the year I would have given you twenty different answers--but I would have answered "Frontwards" a lot. The characteristic Pavement sludginess of the bass and weirdly-tuned guitar are deployed to their best effect, and the oft-quoted line "so much style that it's wasted" seems to encapsulate something essential about the band.

4) Here Come the Girls--Ernie K-Doe
It starts with a martial beat, but slips smoothly into a funky pocket provided by The Meters. Everybody knows K-Doe's “Mother-in-Law,” and justifiably so, but this song’s even better.

5) It's Too Late--The Jim Carroll Band
One of the greatest punk-era basslines wraps sinuously around one of Carroll’s better lyrics. Very influenced by Some Girls-era Stones, but it’s tougher and punkier than the Stones wanted to get.

6) We Live Again--Beck
The harpsichord gives it an 18th-century costume drama quality that rubs pleasingly but unsettlingly against Beck’s vulgar poetry.

7) Sci-Fi Kid--Blitzen Trapper
Psychedelic country-rock meets twee synthpop! An unlikely combination, but it is one of the highlights of Wild Mountain Nation. Played so confidently and with such utter disregard for the risks of its stylistic bricolage, it seems to inhabit its own universe, where such music is normal.

8) I Say a Little Prayer--Dionne Warwick
The second Bacharach/David composition to make a list (“Walk on By” made it twice). Bacharach is in some ways the apotheosis of the slick pop songwriter; his best stuff sounds absolutely mainstream, but it also has a jazzy undercurrent of sophistication that never gets in the way of his work’s proletarian pop pleasures.

At the same time, Bacharach’s work is in some ways the opposite of the messy, opaque mystery of “Family Affair.” It’s a buffed and shined picture of adult life, in which life is pretty ordinary, but shot through with romantic misfortunes. There aren’t any people in Bacharach world besides the 1st person “I” and her (usually absent) lover, whose absence is met with either stoic sadness (if the absence is permanent or prolonged, as in “One Less Bell to Answer” or “Walk on By”) or an almost desperate, smothering desire to never be parted (“I Say a Little Prayer” or “Close to You”). But because the music is so smooth and untroubled, it never sounds desperate, and that contrast is pretty interesting, especially in comparison to the typically more one-dimensional “soft rock”/ “adult contemporary” fare that Bacharach often gets lumped in with.

9) Palimend--Benoît Pioulard
Pioulard uses a lot of tape tricks and found sound in little fluttery dryleaf layers, but at his best, the unadorned songs underneath the sonic filigree sound like Simon & Garfunkel. Good lyrics, too: "Oh smokepure strain of meeknesses & deathly-bound allying / Too many little sweetnesses, so much life in denying."

10) Deceptacon--Le Tigre
“Let me see you depoliticize my rhyme” says Kathleen Hanna, and then she proceeds to (almost) do just that all by herself with an insanely fun dancefloor stomper. It's about beat, it's about motion, and I bet the clueless guy she’s eviscerating enjoys the hell out of it.

11) These Few Presidents--Why?
Because it’s on Anticon, it’s often classified as experimental hip-hop, but it’s more accurately described as wordy, nerdy indie pop. And when the words are this good, nerdy wordiness is welcome. It’s hard to top an openhearted and poignant expression of regret like, “even though I haven't seen you in years, yours is a funeral I'd fly to from anywhere.”

12) Like That--Mr. Airplane Man
There is never enough music like this: two women, a guitar, an amp, a mic, and a drum kit; equal parts Howlin’ Wolf, The Lyres, and The Stooges. One of the many discoveries I’ve gotten to know from googrit’s radio station, which is a candyland of garage rock.

13) Guitars, Cadillacs--Dwight Yoakam
Western swing by way of L.A., sung by an expatriate missing the titular trappings of home. It’s L.A. in the 20th century, though, so such trappings are readily available and to some degree in style. I don’t know what Hank would have made of that.

When you were a kid, did popular music lead you astray, or give you badly-needed information, or both?
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Comentários

  • Auto_Da_Fe

    It was mostly books that led me astray. Robert Heinlein and Ayn Rand have got a lot to answer for. Actually, they have a lot to answer for even without considering their effects on my preteen psyche. The earliest lesson I can remember learning from music was its power to annoy the adult world (loud transistor radio, CCR – Up and Around the Bend, Calgary Zoo, 1969). Of course now, in the equivalent circumstance – I’d be annoyed. This length wasn’t as difficult as I expected it to be (although there is a strong bench). 1) Wreckless Eric - Whole Wide World. I considered calling all the first three of these number 1s. But I do have an order of preference. Pop perfection. 2) Magazine - Rhythm Of Cruelty. Dark pop perfection. 3) The Clash - Remote Control. Agit pop perfection. 4) Roy Harper - East of the Sun. I wish I’d got to know Roy Harper’s music as his records were released rather than by looking back from years later. Paying for those punk prejudices. 5) Casiotone for the Painfully Alone - Half Ghost. 6) Casiotone for the Painfully Alone - Young Shields 7) Squeeze - Cat On A Wall. Their first single, toying with being “punk”. 8) Bad Dream Fancy Dress - The Supremes. A bit of a bellwether for me – other people’s response to this track. Many don’t get past the frankly out-of-tune vocals to the pop joy at the heart of it. 9) Bran Van 3000 - More Shopping. Don’t know anything about Bran Van 3000 – this track, vocals anyway, is clearly Momus. 10) Punishment of Luxury - Puppet Life. A classic, which the band never came within a country mile of equalling. 11) Iggy Pop - The Ballad of Cookie McBride. My favourite track from the only later Iggy album of much quality.

    Mar 29 2010, 18h12
  • rockrobster23

    I can't think of any books that really screwed me up long-term. Stephen King's [i]Salem's Lot[/i] scared the living crap out of me when I read it at 11 years old. Psychological damage-level fear. But I got over it once I faced my fear by killing a vampire. Well, he kept insisting that he wasn't a vampire, but I knew better. Heh heh. Let's see...I bought into Hunter S. Thompson's glamorization of the drugged life, but I think I would have gotten there without any help, so he gets a pass. Never read any Rand; even the people who like her seem to have so many caveats about the wooden style that I've never felt moved to go there. It's been so long since I read any Heinlein, I'm not sure what I would think...I liked him as a kid. Now, as for the music: "Remote Control" is an anachronic that will surely make the 3:01 list; wow, I really like that Squeeze track--sounds nothing like their mature style, except that those voices are unmistakable. Some impossible retro cover potential there. And I think I passed your bellwether, since those vocals on "The Supremes" don't bug me at all.

    Mar 30 2010, 0h52
  • LisaV

    1. We Both Go Down Together - The Decemberists I'm not even a HUGE Decemberists fan...but there are a handful of songs I really love. This little ditty might be my #2 favorite of theirs with #1 being "Eli, The Barrow Boy"...both off "Picaresque." 2. Two Sides (To Every Story) - Etta James Etta says "take this tip from experienced me." Some reasonable pop wisdom here. Love the backing vocals "too late, too late!" 3. Can't Hold Out Much Longer - Little Walter Chicago blues! One of the all-time greatest blues harp players... 5. Mojo Hand - Lightnin' Hopkins More blues..."I'm gonna fix my woman so she can't have no other man" 6. Hobo Blues - John Lee Hooker Still more blues! This song never struck me until I saw him performing it in this crazy video from the American Folk Blues Festival DVDs. Whoah. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zYrVwGxlcFA 7. My Baby Just Cares for Me - Nina Simone 8. Roll Another Number (For The Road) - Neil Young Not my favorite song from a Neil Young record that has seen some heavy rotation in my library but this is Neil doing his best to sound strung out and sleazy...well done, Neil...also like the steel guitar on this one. 9. Warm Love (2007 Re-mastered) - Van Morrison Great live performance from Van the Man from "It’s Too Late to Stop Now" 10. Carey - Joni Mitchell I think "Blue" was probably the most played album of my childhood by my mother...I used to hate Joni Mitchell actually because those high pitched vocals, combined perhaps with the vacuum cleaner, used to wake me up on weekends...but I always liked this song... 11. Album Of Memory - The Mellowlarks & Kenneth Richards & His Band From the Trojan Jamaican R&B Box...good stuff. 12. Once Upon A Time - Delroy Wilson From the Trojan Rocksteady Box Set 13. I Can't Stop Thinking About It - The Dirtbombs Not very lofty lyrics...but this song is kinda funny...and definitely rocks...from the album "Horndog Fest"

    Mar 30 2010, 2h12
  • LisaV

    Ew that version of "Warm Love" is NOT the live one I was referring to...and it kinda sucks...haha.

    Mar 30 2010, 2h20
  • rockrobster23

    I wonder if the blues contains better/more realistic information than pop does. I want to say yes--because it's grittier--but I wonder if I'm just romanticizing it. "Grit" is in some ways a simplification, too: like that photo backdrop in the Hooker video. Which, by the way, has a better version of the song than the last.fm track. It's not a lot different--might be just production--but it's a little bit more haunting.

    Mar 30 2010, 6h10
  • masto65

    Wow, I think for the first time ever my list, even at its 35 song state right now, does not contain any of the above mentioned tracks. WTF? I have Frontwards at this time but since I mentioned them last week I passed (2 times from 2 different releases). Decepticon would have been there but an anachronism for me. I had Remote Control but only passed for the fact that i had some other stuff that needed love and I felt I always lean to the Clash in these lists so I am trying to change it up. Some good picks I will post mine in the next night or 2. *spoiler alert* You tell me I am the only one who had Blossom Dearie's "Figure Eight" from the Schoolhouse Rocks disc. I can excuse James, maybe they didn't have Schoolhouse Rocks in the UK. But for any of the rest of you I am shocked. Rob this song seems like the kind of thing you would have obsessed about at 9. If our uncanny similarities in taste are any indicator you love this song. So I assume you don't own it.

    Mar 31 2010, 7h56
  • rockrobster23

    I was wondering about the "Frontwards" thing. Odd that the times were so disparate--usually it's a second, or two, or three. You are going to be disappointed in me. One of my grad school housemates had the Schoolhouse Rocks disc, and we listened to it a good bit, but as of today I do not remember the track you mention, not even in its original televisual form. Perhaps some YouTubing is called for.

    Mar 31 2010, 8h04
  • rockrobster23

    Just watched the original video: I remember it now. Math. When am I ever gonna need to use this stuff?

    Mar 31 2010, 8h27
  • Auto_Da_Fe

    Schoolhouse Rocks? That's foreign to me.. and yes Masto, perhaps because there is so much choice at this length, nothing anybody else has mentioned was even on my long list (30 or so), though Sly would have been (must rip the vinyl double best of).

    Mar 31 2010, 14h53
  • masto65

    Okay I got it down but had to add a couple honorable mentions. Grab a cold one and strap in. Here we go. Figure Eight • Blossom Dearie The intro and outro are the keys here. Little Masto discovered just how sad minor keys are on this track. Heavily meloncholy for a song to teach kids how to multiply by 8. Sorry • Sebadoh Kings of mope. And this delicious track has all the head hanging misery you have come to expect from Barlow and Co. Thee Most Exalted Potentate of Love • The Cramps Not a big fan of the live album but this one rocks. This song is a great opening track. You got to love that after the first measure it sounds like some one fired up a chainsaw on stage. Son Of Sam • Elliott Smith The rolicking piano really makes this one in my book. It just keeps it bouyant. You feel it might sink beneath the waves without it. M • The Cure Seventeen Seconds is probably my fave Cure album. I am sure a lot of it's nostalgia for me but its a nice balance between the jittery Three Imaginary Boys and the gloom of Faith. Heart of the City • Dave Edmunds Rockin'. How do you not dig this cut. You got to give him and Lowe credit for doing their best to save rock'n'roll. 7:30 • Pernice Brothers perfect pop by guys that have made some beuatiful records. Billy Hunt • The Jam This old school Jam stuff is just so immediate it's addictive. Listen To Her Heart • Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers An album I loved in Jr High School. I bought it for "I need to know" but it's tracks like this that kept me coming back for years. Kill the Poor • Dead Kennedys The Kennedys at their nasty, satirical, best. Nobody ever gave the political beating Biafra gave so laughably as he did on this first album. And a couple extras that needed some attention and a little love. I Look Alone • Buzzcocks The problem with The Buzzcocks is that 95% of anything they ever wrote, if it comes up on any of these lists, I will immediatly default to. So this was a exercise in restraint. Speak for Me • Cat Power As I think we have said before, she can be hit or miss but, when shes on it slays. What a Drag • Dandelion A little sludgy early 90's grunge number from some also rans. I like it. It moves like it drank too much cough syrup. In all the best ways. Let Me Know • Wipers A little 1 2 3 4 let it rip from the Pacific Northwest. Masto.

    Abr 1 2010, 5h04
  • rockrobster23

    I, too, bought the first Tom Petty record for "I Need to Know." Now that is a little-known nugget from a guy who is pretty famous. The sub-theme for this edition: divergence! I have almost none of the stuff ya'll mentioned, and that appears to be the case for my list vis-a-vis your collections as well. In hindsight, I needn't have been so coy with my long list of honorable mentions, none of which sniffed your lists. So, without further delay, in alphabetical order by artist: The Invisible Man--Elvis Costello Your Buzzcocks issue is similar to my early Costello issue; I have to restrain myself as well. Scooby Snacks--Fun Lovin' Criminals A little puffball of guilty-pleasure potential, but fun. Cut-Out Witch--Guided By Voices Spanish Castle Magic--Jimi Hendrix Experience (I Wanna) Testify--The Parliaments Before Parliament was Parliament, they were a jumpin' garage soul band. My Heart of Wood--The Sadies Tramp--The Stranglers Tomorrow--Wall of Voodoo Baby Bitch--Ween All of these likely would have made some of the weaker lists; The Stranglers, Hendrix, and Wall of Voodoo came really close to making this one.

    Abr 1 2010, 5h42
  • rockrobster23

    "Here Come the Girls" is now being used in a JC Penney ad campaign. What awesome influence this feature wields! And kudos on the quick turnaround time--only a week since I posted this. Next (I think) is 1:40-1:43. Haven't started on it yet.

    Abr 5 2010, 5h23
  • Auto_Da_Fe

    And, fwiw, here – given the complete disparity between our lists this time - are my honourable mentions: Pedro the Lion - The Longer I Lay Here The Radiators from Space - Prison Bars Lou Reed & John Cale - Hello It's Me Elliott Smith - Son Of Sam Matching Mole - Signed Curtain Wire - Reuters

    Abr 6 2010, 21h26
  • LisaV

    Yeah grit can definitely be a simplification but it's one of the ones I'm more comfortable making...haha...probably bad to romanticize that but whatever...I'll romanticize whatever comes natural :) I left off the Blitzen Trapper and the Elliot Smith. Nobody mentioned the Pavement Schoolhouse Rocks cover since you guys seem to mention Pavement at every available opportunity...hah My honorable mentions: 1. Call Me - Al Green 2. Beware - Ann Peebles 3. Premonition - CoCoComa 4. Early Morning Cold Taxi - The Who 5. Absolution - 999

    Abr 10 2010, 16h38
  • LisaV

    Err, meant to say "Nobody mentioned the Pavement Schoolhouse Rocks cover WHICH IS SURPRISING since..."

    Abr 10 2010, 16h40
  • rockrobster23

    We have been on a bit of a run of Pavement, haven't we? There will be another one on the next list, too, but 1:40-1:43 is DOMINATED by a different band. Well, really three different bands, but one more than the other two.

    Abr 10 2010, 19h11
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