>Music Critic Profile: Robert Christgau

>Remember that scene in This Is Spinal Tap where Marty DeBergi is reading off all of the terrible reviews Spinal Tap have accumulated over the years? And he reads off the review of their album Shark Sandwich – “This one’s a two-word review: ‘Shit sandwich'”? And the band gets all upset and says “Is that real? You can’t print that!” If I didn’t know any better I would say that was a little dig at Robert Christgau, so-called “Dean of Rock Critics.”

Now, I’ve been a little hesitant to profile Mr. Christgau, and there’s a simple reason for it: I don’t like the guy very much. He’s kind of a prick. You know the aforementioned “Dean of Rock Critics” bullshit title? Yeah, I’m pretty sure he came up with that himself (I mean, jeez, not even Michael Jackson had the gumption to call himself the “King of Pop” – Liz Taylor did that for him). His short, stylized “capsule reviews” are loaded with abstract verse and often impenetrable language, giving the guy an unflappable air of pretension. I’m not sure who chooses what artist he reviews – it’s either the magazine he writes for or himself, and I’m guessing the latter – but reading his reviews I always get the impression that he is impossibly above the subject he is reviewing, a lousy trait for any good critic. It gets the the point where he will review certain artists he doesn’t like in a wholly dismissive manner, giving them a “shit sandwich” kind of review or simply labeling them as a “dud” and moving on with his life, as if said artist isn’t worth his valuable time. Maybe he’s earned it – considering that he was part of the first wave of rock critics back in the 60s, and he’s still reviewing albums constantly, I guess he deserves to be finicky about what music he writes about. But the fact that the guy is a veteran rock critic doesn’t wash the taste of asshole out of my mouth.

So why profile him? Well, ‘cuz I read Christgau’s stuff all the time. Head on over to RobertChristgau.com and you’ll find tons of his reviews from Rolling Stone, the Village Voice, Blender, and many other sources, not to mention his Consumer Guide capsule reviews that are his trademark. I’m not sure why, but I get a real kick out of reading Christgau’s reviews when I’m bored. It’s like a game for me – I’ll think of any given band and wonder, “Hey, I wonder what Christgau thinks of the Arcade Fire?” I type “Arcade Fire” into the Consumer Guide search, and voila, there’s the review! (Note: He likes the Arcade Fire.) Man, that’s something I need – a quick hit of terse, over-worded cynicism to get my brain boiling. I hate to use the cliche Forrest Gump analogy, but with Christgau, you never know what he’s going to think about a band, and for whatever reason I’m always curious to know.

Now, what I have found out in the year-and-a-half or so of reading Mr. Christgau’s reviews is that I tend to not agree with him most of the time. In fact, he tends to be completely flippant about bands I really like, not to mention somewhat douchey about albums I really really like. That alone isn’t enough to really bother me – everyboy’s entitled to their opinion – but it’s just the way he does it that gets me. Maybe it’s related to his “grading” system – rather than a five-star or out-of-ten gauge that most reviewers use, he uses an A plus-to-E minus system that just makes his personality all the more insufferable. Maybe that’s his schtick or something; he’s the “Dean” of rock critics so he has to grade artists academically, like a schoolmarm. Whatever his intentions, the whole grading business makes it seem like Christgau views pop albums like term papers in Chemistry class, which doesn’t help his “douche” image. You know, I would wager that Robert Christgau is the definitive archetype of the Hated Rock Critic that so many people have decried over the years – condescending, hyper-literate, and often disrespectful, he might be the sole reason that most rock bands (and worse, rock fans) hate rock critics. So in a way he’s ruining it for the rest of us who, you know, would prefer not to be treated like pompous douches.

OK, maybe I’m trailing off into a tangent of hate here. As I said, I read Christgau a lot, and to be honest I do not think he is a bad writer, not by a long shot. He’s obviously a very smart human being. It would also be pretty hypocritical of me to get angry at him over dismissing bands he doesn’t care about – I do it all the time. And once in a while I will find a review page on his site that I very much enjoy. Admittedly, they tend to be ones I agree with: I love his pages on Pavement and the Ramones, and I will give credit to Christgau for writing what I consider to be the best review of Sgt. Pepper’s I’ve ever read. He also does, at times, turn me on to unusual albums I’d never considered hearing, like the Beach Boys’ Wild Honey or the Talking Heads’ Little Creatures. He also has a decent knack for championing great artists before anyone else does, like Prince or the Replacements. There are also some hilarious reviews here that only further Christgau’s classic asshole image, most notably on his Sonic Youth page in which he gives a bad review to “Kill Yr. Idols,” a song that openly called out Christgau by name. (Yes, Robert Christgau is so douchey that Sonic Youth wrote a song about it. Need I say any more?)

Now, something Mr. Christgau can totally 100% be proud of is the annual Village Voice Pazz & Jop Critics Poll, a poll he organized and ran for a solid three decades until he was dismissed from the magazine a couple years back. Over the years, prominent music critics have submitted their choices for the best albums / singles of the year, going as far back as 1971. Looking through these polls, it’s honestly a treasure trove – there are so many interesting choices and obscure favorites buried in these lists, it’s like manna from heaven for any obsessive popular music historian. There’s also tons of weird, unexpected winners here that are so trivial and wonderful I can’t resist looking for more. Guess who won Best Album of 1992? Nope, not Pavement – Arrested Development! Best Album of 1994? Nope, not Pavement – Hole! Guess who won in ’99? PAVEMENT! (Okay, no, it was Moby. My bad. But seriously, Moby??) And hey, how ’bout the whacked-out year that Bob Dylan won Best Album and Hanson won Best Single? Or the even more whacked-out year that Bob Dylan won Best Album and Missy Elliot won Best Single?. Man, I love this stuff! Even if you don’t like Christgau all that much, you should probably check out this list. It’s a hoot!

When I think about it, maybe it’s silly for me to get pissed at Christgau. The guy’s in his 60’s now, and his relevance is dwindling by the year – not only does he not run Pazz & Jop anymore after his aforementioned dismissal from the Village Voice, but he’s working for Blender now. Bleh. But nevertheless, his website is an essential archive for any rock fan, and he’ll always be a definitive figure in rock music journalism, for better or for worse. He’ll never be any Lester Bangs, even if he wants to be, but he is an influential force. After four decades of writing, I guess that’s worth something.

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>Six Commonly Mislabeled Songs On The Internet (aka, Are You SURE ZZ Top Didn’t Do "Low Rider?")

>We all make mistakes. We’re all human beings, right? We’re hardly infallible creatures. Yet somehow, we tend to be slightly less infallible when it comes to correctly identifying who performed our favorite songs. Back in the old days, it was a common dilemma – listening to the radio, if someone heard a Badfinger song that sounded like the Beatles, they’d easily just assume it was the Beatles. If someone heard “Jack and Diane” over and over and over, they might just convince themselves that it was a new Springsteen song. Sure, it might sound all innocent and naive, but try to correct these people and they would defend – to the DEATH – that Poison did “Cherry Pie,” or that Neil Young did “A Horse With No Name.” Once someone stamps it into their head that so-and-so band did so-and-so song, it becomes very hard to tell them otherwise.

“But Sean!” you might say. “It’s the 2000s! The Information Age! We can look up any song lyrics we like in a matter of seconds! Surely this confusion must be extinct!” Man, I would like to believe that, but somehow the internet has just made things worse. In the age of P2P networks and iTunes, rampant file sharing has made it all the easier to mislabel a song and spread that mistake like wildfire. Just the other day I had to tell my friend – as politely as possible – that “Black Hole Sun” was not, in fact, recorded by the Stone Temple Pilots. Apparently I, an obnoxious music nerd, am the only person in the world that cares about labeling songs correctly! IS THAT SO WRONG??

But don’t you worry. I am here to clear the omnipresent fog, remove the confusion that has plagued you all for so long. Without further adieu, here are six songs that I see constantly mislabeled, along with the band that actually performed the song. Just to make things 100% clear, I will link to a Youtube video for each song proving, without a doubt, that said artist did said song. As a lonely music nerd, it is one of the few things I am actually good at, and I feel it is my duty as an American to dispel the spread of misinformation at all costs.

So please. Adjust your iTunes tags accordingly.

“Stuck In The Middle With You” by Stealer’s Wheel… or Bob Dylan?

We’ll start with a reasonable one. This is a pretty common misconception, but it’s easily debunked. This song is by an early 70’s pop duo called Stealer’s Wheel. The dude’s voice sounds a lot like Bob Dylan’s, but it’s a bit more tuneful and a bit less interesting, so it’s not that hard to tell that it ain’t good old Bob.

An even easier de-bunking comes from Reservoir Dogs, where the song was played during the infamous “ear-cutting” scene. Heck, their explanation of the song is so good that I didn’t bother to find a video of the actual band performing the song and just linked to that scene. They even call it “Dylanesque.” So there you go.

“I’ve Seen Better Days” by Citizen King… or Sublime?

This one’s worse than I thought. I searched for this song on Youtube, thinking naively to myself, “Oh yeah, they’ll have that Citizen King video! The one with them in the mall! Everybody knows that video!”

But nope. Instead I find a bunch of videos with the song playing over a picture of Sublime, usually with the info saying something like “I thought this was Sublime, but it’s not, sorry!” The video I’ve been forced to link to is a sad example of this trend, to the point where the guy who posted it had to disable comments after waves upon waves of people claimed it was a Sublime song.

See, I’d never heard of Sublime when “I’ve Seen Better Days” came out. In fact, by the time this song came out, Sublime lead singer Bradley Nowell had been dead for three years. So not only did Sublime not originally record this song, they never even covered it. Citizen King were simply some one-hit-wonder Johnny-Come-Lately from the late 90’s that happened to sound kinda like them. That’s it.

So please, let this one die. Not just for me. For Bradley.

“Low Rider” by War… or ZZ Top?

OK, now we’re dipping into silly territory. ZZ Top were not a tootin’ gootime horn band, OK? Don’t we all know this by now? They were a bunch of crazily bearded men who played poppy blues-rock like “La Grange” and “Legs” and “Gimme All Your Lovin’.” THEY USED GUITARS MAN NOT FUCKIN’ CORNY-POO HORNS.

YOU CAN’T FIT NO SISSYASS HORNS IN HERE THEIR BEARDS ARE SO BIG

Really though, this song does not sound like ZZ Top. At all. Ok, MAYBE the vocals but that’s it. THAT’S IT.

Well, there still is some room for confusion. Even the infallible Wikipedia places ZZ Top at the end of a long list of artists that have covered the song. But man, search around for ZZ Top’s so-called “cover” of the song and all you’ll come up with is the original War version. Mislabeled. I’m starting to believe it doesn’t exist.

…nah, screw it. It doesn’t exist.

“Breakfast At Tiffany’s” by Deep Blue Something… or Hootie & The Blowfish?

Oh come on now people. Hootie and the fuckin’ Blowfish did this song?? REALLY? No no, jeez. JEEZ. Listen to a Hootie song and then listen to this song. One has a low-voiced black man singing, the other a nasally snarky white man. HOW CAN YOU CONFUSE THIS SHIT WHAT THE HELL.

OK, to be fair, this song is more commonly mislabeled as a Barenaked Ladies song, which makes three-fucking-billion-metric-tons more sense than Hootie and the Blowfish. Hell, for a decent amount of time even I was convinced this was a Barenaked Ladies track ’cause they sound so fuckin’ similar! The self-deprecating lyrics, the stupid melody, the 90’s irony – everything. So please! People! If you’re going to mislabel this song, do it right!! We don’t want Darius Rucker responsible for this shit.

So to clarify: this is a Deep Blue Something song. Yes, they were another one-hit wonder that nobody gives a shit about anymore. (Noticing a trend here?)

OK, in terms of music this is probably the most ridiculous on this list. But I assure you, it’s slim pickens compared to the last two on this list. Prepare yourselves.

“Roll To Me” by Del Amitri… or the Spin Doctors?

This one so bad that not only have people gotten the band wrong, they’ve even come up with their own NAME for the song. If you’re curious, Google “Spin Doctors + Pretty Baby + lyrics” and you will get the lyrics for this song. This one is so phenomenally widespread, actually, that the Spin Doctors themselves were forced to rebuke it on their Myspace page. Probably after countless stoned teenagers at their concerts keep shouting “PRETTY BABY! PLAY ‘PRETTY BABY’!!” (This, of course, is assuming teenagers still think the Spin Doctors are cool.)

I mean, that’s kind of insulting, isn’t it? If it’s like “Freebird!” or something, everyone knows it’s a joke. But if it’s a song that people think you did that you CLEARLY didn’t do, it shows that said person doesn’t give a shit about the band enough to learn what songs they’ve done. Not to mention that this is so widespread, they must have to hear about it a lot. Come on, you guys. The Spin Doctors aren’t exactly on top of the world right now. Give ’em a break.

It’s funny, because this song doesn’t sound all that much like the Spin Doctors. Del Amitri were a British pop-rock band, pretty different in attitude from a laid-back early-90’s jam-band. The song is a pretty tightly constructed sweet pop hit, as opposed to say “Two Princes” or “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong” which were loose, jammy guitar hits. And as far as vocals go? Not too similar!

So again! To clarify! The song “Pretty Baby” by the Spin Doctors doesn’t exist. DELETE IT OR RENAME IT OR EMAIL THE SPIN DOCTORS AN APOLOGY FOR SPREADING DIRTY DIRTY RUMORS.

“All For You” by Sister Hazel… or Blues Traveler?

Oh God no. My secret shame. No no. No. It’s happening all over again.

Years. YEARS of searching for this so-called “Blues Traveler” song. “Hey, it sounds like that song ‘Run-Around’!” I thought to myself foolishly. “Shit, I bet it was even on the same album!”

But it wasn’t on the same album as “Run-Around,” Four. “Oh, well, my bad,” I thought. “But it must be on another album of theirs! Duhh! Lemme check through their discography – I’m sure it’ll pop up.”

But “All For You” was nowhere to be found. Not on Save His Soul, not on Straight On Till Morning, not even on Bridge. But I wouldn’t back down! Oh no! “It must be a B-side!” I thought to myself, sinking deeper and deeper into delusion. “A single that wasn’t on an album! It’s probably on a compilation or something. I just won’t worry about it.”

And there it sat in my iTunes for years: “Blues Traveler – All For You.” It sat there like a festering cancerous cell, spreading and tainting my entire collection. Then all the sudden – as soon as a week ago – I heard about this band “Sister Hazel” that did this song in the 90’s called “All For You.”

Then it all made sense. Reality came crashing down. That John Popper harmonica solo I always recalled when thinking about “All For You” was really in “Run-Around” – “All For You” just has a guitar solo. Actually, upon closer inspection, “All For You” has no harmonica. NO GODDAMNED HARMONICA. IT WAS ALL IN MY HEAD.

How could this happen? How could I be so idiotically fooled?? IT’S THE INTERNET’S FAULT. I searched for “All For You – Blues Traveler Lyrics” and I got results. And like a fool, I believed them. I did it. I DID IT.

I’m sorry everyone. I’m… I’m sorry.

>Track-By-Track Review: "Weezer (The Red Album)" by Weezer

>

Hahahahahahahahaha!!!! He’s a cowb – hheheheAHHAHAHAA

Everybody’s heard this album already. Everybody’s reviewed it already. I feel like I’m late to the party here.

I can’t call this a “One-Listen Review” ’cause I’ve heard this one second-hand a number of times. But this is the first time I’ve sat down and listened to it without distraction. Maybe I can bring a fresh new perspective to this album that nobody will expect!

Or maybe not. This album is pretty meh.

Track 1 – “Troublemaker”

Nothing new here, but I like it. Crunchy Cheap Trick guitar, starts off immediately with weird Rivers Cuomo vocals about being a badass or something. “Don’t let me play football / I’ll sack the quarterback / and jack the brother of the ball.” Zip zup?

It’s a catchy enough song, despite being wholly generic Weezer-by-numbers. But let’s ignore that for a bit. Check out the chorus: “I’m a troublemaker / never been a faker / doin’ things my own way / and never givin’ up.” Yes, Rivers is a “troublemaker.” A rabble-rouser. He does things the way he wants to fuck the Man. He also goes on to claim that he’s “not a double-taker,” like he hasn’t been repeating the same tepid Weezer formula for the past seven years.

There is one bit here I really like – Rivers has some weird line that’s like “You wanted arts and crafts / how’s this for arts and crafts?” and then bursts out with this zippity one-note guitar solo while singing “nananananana – THAT’S RIGHT!” It breaks things up a bit! It’s cool! It’s nutty! It’s sadly atypical compared to the rest of the album!

Well, except for the next song.

Track 2: “The Greatest Man That Ever Lived (Variations on a Shaker Hymn)”

Is Rivers Cuomo, like, Brian Wilson’s Zoloft-addicted grandson or something? I’m not saying this in terms of talent – he’s got a knack for melody, sure, but he’s no Brian Wilson. But I do think the comparison is apt when you think of what a weirdo song-hoarding recluse he is, and not unlike the aforementioned Wilson he has a tendency to let his twisted self-absorbed mania seep creepily into his music.

“Greatest Man That Ever Lived” is the perfect encapsulation of both Cuomo’s on-and-off genius and fucked-up perspective on modern popular music all in one. What other musician nowadays – hell, ever – would awkwardly rap lines like “You try to play it cool but you just don’t care / But soon I’ll be playin’ in your underwear / I’m like the mage with the magic spell / You come like a dog when I ring your bell” over a sweet piano rendition of “Simple Gifts” and a fuckin’ police siren? Who else would have a monk-ish choir sing “After the havoc that I’m gonna wreak / no more words will critics have to speak” over a martial drum beat? Who else would do an outright ludicrous auto-biographical spoken-word recitation (“Act 1 – I was strugglin’ to survive / nobody wanted my action dead or alive / act 2, I hit the big time / the bodies be all up on my behind”) over “doo doo!” backup vocals? NOBODY BUT RIVERS FUCKIN’ CUOMO, PEOPLE.

But I really dig this song, and not just for the Cuomoist blathering – there’s a lot of non-embarrassing catchy parts here too! I really like Cuomo’s weird Freddie Mercury impression, and I love how after all these weird detours the song ultimately ends on a Weezer-by-numbers pop-grunge thing. Really, this song is so oddly fun and so totally warped that I would say it is, besides most of Pinkerton, the perfect example of Rivers Cuomo’s schizoid personality ever committed to record. Psychologists looking to finish your term paper on fucked-up musicians, take note.

Seriously, there’s almost no point in talking about the rest of the songs here. None are as good!

…eh.

Track 3 – “Pork And Beans”

Rivers Cuomo is a badass, doesn’t do what his label / the public / his friends / anybody with a brain wants him to do, yadda yadda yadda. This is the third chorus on the album that’s totally self-absorbed. But let’s not worry about that.

This was the big single, and the first song I heard from the album. I thought it was OK when I first heard it, then when the video came out I really dug it, with all those internet dudes in one place. Neat! Now I think it’s just kinda OK again. I like how the main riff is that kind of awkward business Weezer perfected in “El Scorcho,” and I like how the lyrics are a little more ballsy than the rest of the album (the Timbaland line is priceless). But otherwise, nothing huge.

Track 4 – “Heart Songs”

nononononononono

skip

Track 5 – “Everybody Get Dangerous”

Ah shit, I thought the next track was “Dreamin’,” which I kinda-sorta like. Instead it’s this Red Hot Chilli Peppers shit.

I think the lyrics are about Rivers being a wuss? Like, the title is ironic or something? I don’t want to look the lyrics up. I just don’t care.

Track 6 – “Dreamin'”

Poppity hoppity zippty zow! I like this one – it’s a fun uppity number that kinda reminds me of “Holiday” off Blue Album, although a bit more generic. “I’m dreamin’ in the morning / I’m dreamin’ all through the night / and when I’m dreamin’ I know that it’s alright.” Something about this line just stands out as remarkably lazy, I don’t know why. It’s like the most obvious rhyme in pop music history.

But there’s a really cool bouncy bridge here, and I really like the weird 80’s-synth opening that makes no sense. Good stuff! (Except for maybe that “I don’t wanna get witcha program” part at the end that makes even less sense.)

Track 7 – “Thought I Knew”

And here on we venture into “Other Band Members’ Songs” territory, or as I like to call it “We Can’t Have Rivers Funneling More Crap Out His Skull, Don’t Tell Him We’re Recording Today” territory. I think this one’s by their lead guitarist? I forget his name.

Either way, I like this song better than the last few times I’ve heard it. Here’s my problem with it: this guy’s voice is douchey. It’s like Uncle Cracker or something. I like the strummy hand-clap cuteness of it, but his voice just negates it for me. It doesn’t help that the song itself is pretty generic.

Movin’ on.

Track 8 – “Cold Dark World”

ooooooooh it sucks rivers come back!

Track 9 – “Automatic”

The drummer sings this song. It’s actually good! Probably better than a handful of the Rivers songs on here! No joke! It’s got a good kind of groove and doesn’t sound as hippy-dippy generic like most of the album.

Ok so let’s say that these three songs by the other three band members have been Weezer’s version of “The Dating Game.” Bachelor number one attempted to make himself look sympathetic and sweet in a really obnoxious way, and bachelor number two attempted a really crappy pick-up line. But bachelor number three, hey – he’s cool, laid-back, and fun! BACHELOR NUMBER THREE WINS, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN. He and Rivers can go on a sloppy makeout date in the Bahamas or something.

Speaking of Rivers, back to his shit.

Track 10 – “Angel and the One”

Why does this song remind me of Coldplay? Or maybe not Coldplay. Switchfoot? I don’t know.

Hey, this one isn’t bad! Kind of a sweet power ballad. Doesn’t really sound like Weezer, though – sounds like one of the aforementioned generic wuss-rockers that’ve come to glory as of late. So that kinda sucks. But at least Rivers is still capable of an effective overblown ballad.

Ugh, Hoobastank maybe? I don’t wanna compare Weezer to Hoobastank. But they almost sound like them. YYYYargh.

OVERALL:

Inconsistent. Probably better than Make Believe but what the fuck isn’t? If you’re any kind of Weezer fan you should hear “Greatest Man That Ever Lived,” which sums up this new brand of Weezer better than anything I’ve heard.

But that good ‘ol underdog Weezer mystique is dead. Long dead. There’ll never be a Blue Album again, or a Pinkerton, or even a Green Album. Cuomo just don’t got the cojones anymore.

Either way, I will wait here in perverse anticipation of Cuomo’s next breakdown set to music. The albums might not be all that great anymore, but as long as Cuomo keeps his heart sewn on his sleeve, we’ll get at least one piece of “Greatest Man”-esque weirdness on every last Weezer album until Cuomo becomes the most awkward 50-year-old in the world and quits music forever. Doesn’t he have a wife and a kid now? Shouldn’t he be content instead of outright insane? WHAT IS THIS??

>On Our Musical Heritage (or Why I Reserve The Right To Like A Hanson Song)

>How strongly are we shaped by the music we grew up with? This is something I’ve been pondering for a while: how whatever music blasting out of our stereos in our formative years jolts our brains into valuing different aspects of sound far into adulthood. This whole “good taste” in music really is a load of nothing when you think about it, ’cause hey, maybe all we’re doing when we hear music we like is reacting to an impulse implanted deep, deep within our brains when we were like 3 years old! Maybe that obnoxious kid on your street who you always see loudly skateboarding on the sidewalk is only wearing that Linkin Park T-shirt ’cause he has to! ’cause his tainted brain demands it!!

Listen, I’m no scientist, but I demand my theory be tested by the greatest scientific minds of our era. If there’s any weight here and we all work hard enough to fund the project, we can make any good impulses toward Linkin Park extinct by 2020.

Either way, I can’t help but ponder this ‘cuz the more I remember my own musical upbringing, the more I realize how fucked up it was. Perhaps some comparison is in order; since reading Michael Azerrad’s Our Band Could Be Your Life, chronicling a handful of seminal American indie bands in the ’80s, I keep hearing about these kids in their 20s viewing the music they grew up with in the ’60s and the ’70s as the ultimate ideal, holding it dear to them and funneling it through this exciting new music they were creating. At the same time, they were a generation of kids separated from the first wave of rock ‘n roll in the ’50s, instead being weaned on ’60s hippiedom and ’70s slick arena rock; as the Replacements put it, they were forced to celebrate their own “fucked-up heritage.”

And man, that flabbergasted me. If growing up with ’70s rock was already considered fucked up as far back as the ’80s, where does that leave kids like me? Nowadays all that slick-radio-ready Boston/Aerosmith/Kansas shit is called “classic rock,” which gives people our age the impression that it’s music from a simpler, purer time (yes… the ’70s). So jesus, what does that say about us? I was a kid born in the late ’80s, a time where more than a few people already considered rock ‘n roll dead two or three times over. For a while I was raised on Broadway musicals and almost nothing else, save for ’80s pop like Michael Jackson, Chaka Khan, Prince, and the Footloose soundtrack. Once I finally started getting into new pop music, it was already the late ’90s, a time where even so-called “alternative” rock was on the skids and teeny-pop music was at its zenith of artificiality thanks to the Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears. Besides teen-pop, some of music’s worst genres ever were springing up in droves: emo-pop, rap-rock, punk-pop, nu-metal, ska-punk, faceless R&B, crunk, Latin dance-pop, and obnoxious novelty acts like the Bloodhound Gang and the Baha Men. Oh, and Creed were there, too.

Jesus. If Paul Westerberg’s upbringing was fucked-up ’cause of Styx, mine must be real fucked up.

Now, any logical kid my age would either try to suppress these shitty musical roots by any means possible, or embrace them so much that they somehow think Sublime were better than the Beach Boys or something. Most of the time it’s either one or the other. In my case, once the Beatles and a legion of classic rock bands invaded my stereo commando-style to “save” my taste in music, I pretty much became the former – a rock ‘n roll purist vehemently against the stupid music of my generation. Problem is, deep down, I wasn’t really a purist, I just wanted to have decent tastes in music and not look like the 12-year-old TRL-watching goon I used to be. Suppressing my instinctive attraction to all that stupid shitty late-90s pop was something I could never get away with for very long.

Don’t get me wrong here – I loved all that classic rock. Furthermore I still love all the punk, indie, alt-rock, post-punk, hardcore, whathaveyou business that I’ve been neck-deep in since I started college and let my tastes mature. But I’ll be honest, it is necessary – crucial – for me to listen to the Replacements or Richard Hell about as much as, say, the Backstreet Boys or Blink-182. This isn’t because I consider those bands to be equal in terms of artistry, oh no. It’s even gone beyond mere nostalgia, although that still plays a big part in it. No, this music is my heritage now. I grew up with it, and it’s mine. It’s part of my DNA. Whatever record executive masterminded these songs succeeded 100 percent of the way, because even in my adulthood they have never escaped my brain. So instead of dismissing them as the passing fancies of a pre-teen, I’ll play them over and over, let them bury themselves further and further into my skull until one day I’ll spit them back out with some burst of artistic positivity. Make them work for me.

And hell, why shouldn’t I? This stuff isn’t going to destroy my matured adult tastes anytime soon. It just makes me feel good, in a way that a Fugazi song never could. Yeah, my musical upbringing could be considered unnatural, but if anything all those obnoxiously-catchy songs have taught me the value of a good melodic hook. If I can let the good aspects of this music influence me, why worry about the bad? And hey, once in a while I’ll find a band I grew up with that I don’t have to be ashamed about. Last year I heard Hanson’s “MMMBop” for the first time since I was ten, a song I hated when it was released; all the sudden, it sounded fresh and wonderful to me. Just a few days ago I heard another one of theirs, the later “This Time Around,” which sounded even better to me. Keep digging and once in a while you’ll find a diamond in the rough.

I guess the bottom line is this: whatever your musical heritage is, feel free to hear it, twist it, burn it, bury it, smash it, dance to it, blast it, celebrate it in any way you see fit. No matter how fucked up it is, you have that power.

>Album Review: "The Byrds Greatest Hits" by the Byrds

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“And I’ll gladly stand up next to you, and defend her still today” – The Byrds I think

Hey, it’s the 4th of July! A wonderful time to celebrate the good ‘ol US of A! Hangin’ out on the lawn! Eating corn and potato salad! Going to crappy pool parties with a bunch of obnoxious people you haven’t seen in years and never want to see again! Shootin’ off borderline illegal explosives that make pretty colors like blue and red! UNCLE SAM IS PROUD TODAY.

And since it’s America’s most glorious day among glorious days, I feel it’s a perfectly flimsy excuse to discuss one of America’s finest pop groups: The Byrds. Why the Byrds? Well, it’s simple – the Byrds are the one American band that have anything in common with those proud hot-headed American Revolutionaries back in the good ‘ol 1770s. Just think about it: where the American revolutionaries stole the British colonies from King Whoever, the Byrds stole British Invasion from the Beatles! Where America took those colonies and developed their own country, with their own customs and whatever, the Byrds took that British Invasion sound and shoved apple-pie Americans Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan in there creating a “revolution” called folk-rock! Where Thomas Paine wrote Common Sense to slander the British, Roger McGuinn wrote “So You Wanna Be a Rock ‘n Roll Star” which was probably a dig at the Stones or something! Where the Boston Tea Party dumped all that British tea in the Boston Harbor, the Byrds stole a truckful of promo-copy Rubber Soul vinyls and dumped them in the Los Angeles River along with Neil Young and the Hawks! (True story.)

Bottom line: the Byrds were just as important as Thomas Jefferson. If not more so.

Now the album. Most people who know me well know that I don’t like compilations – if I love a band enough, I feel like I owe it to them to check out their official albums rather than some tacky 5-buck best-of. But I am fond of singles collections, especially from 60’s bands who commonly released a slew of non-album singles (The Beatles’ Past Masters and the Who’s Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy come to mind), not to mention B-sides and various unreleased rarities. Byrds Greatest Hits, admittedly, is nothing more than a bunch of mid-sixties Byrds hits that can mostly (if not totally) be found on their best studio albums. But considering the quality of the songs here as well as the impeccable structure of the album (in chronological order from ’65 to ’67), it packs an all-encompassing punch every compilation strives for. Essentially, it’s a document of the peak years of one of the best American bands of the ’60s, with eleven classic songs. Tough to argue with that.

I don’t know. Maybe I have a personal bias. For one, Greatest Hits was my first exposure to the Byrds; back when I had a new record player and limitless access to my dad’s vinyl collection, Greatest Hits was one of my favorite little treasures. Besides Mr. Tambourine Man it’s still the only Byrds album I have. So while I’m hardly a Byrds expert, I feel that Greatest Hits does its job admirably – like the Beatles’ 1, it’s a collection of great songs that makes me want to hear more. Which I’m pretty certain is the goal of any decent compilation.

The song selection here is perfect. Yeah, there’s lots of covers, but I feel guilty even calling these songs “covers.” Anybody who accuses the Byrds of being sub-Dylan hacks aren’t getting the point – while they did cover lots of folk standards, they’d inject them with original guitar and vocal hooks, turning them from died-in-the-wool static melodies into gloriously arranged pop dazzlers. Case in point: the inimitable 12-string guitar riff in “Mr. Tambourine Man,” or the lovely new vocal bridge in “All I Really Wanna Do,” or (most famously) the completely reworked arrangement of Pete Seeger’s Bible adaptation “Turn! Turn! Turn!” During their peak, the Byrds had such an expansive, pretty sound that they could make any folk tune sound like a pop masterpiece. But while this set is dominated by covers (four Dylans, two Seegers), the five originals here are just as good if not better. “Eight Miles High” was the Byrds’ first major foray into psychedelia and one of the first of the genre to make it onto American radio; “Mr. Spaceman” is a cute little bouncy pop tune; “5D (Fifth Dimension)” is an absolutely cool folk-strummer that just gets prettier and prettier the more it builds; “So You Wanna Be A Rock ‘N Roll Star” is as pointed as rock satire could get from a 60’s pop band. And then there’s my personal favorite Byrds song, “I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better,” penned by the oft-unappreciated Gene Clark. Unlike the Byrds’ more serious efforts, “Feel A Whole Lot Better” is an effortless pop gem.

If you need a decent introduction to the Byrds, you can’t go wrong with this album. It gives you a little taste of their best era, before they jumped head-first into country-rock and endless jamming. It’s divided up perfectly: folk-rock on the A-side, psychedelia on the B-side (although you’ll find strands of both on each side). But hey, don’t take my word for it – Rolling Stone apparently liked it enough to throw it on their 500 Greatest Albums list. Obviously their word is much more important on this matter than my own (they did give Linkin Park four stars last year, after all).

But hey – let’s celebrate the Byrds like we celebrate America. ’cause who’s more fuckin’ American than the Byrds, I ask you? Who?? (Well, ok, the Byrds never wrote as song about putting our boot up the Arabs’ asses. Touche, Toby Keith, touche.)

Ah crap, forget it. It’s the 5th.