January 17, 2007
One of the most interesting facets of Continuum's 33 1/3 series of books on seminal albums is the varied approaches of the authors to the albums they portray. LD Beghtol was both a guest vocalist and designer on Magnetic Fields' epic 69 Love Songs, and his "field guide" to the three-disc set offers an insider's perspective. This thorough examination of the album includes a lexicon of words used in the lyrics, a song-by-song breakdown, a testimonial by Douglas Wolk, short bios of the album's contributors, performance notes, an interview with Stephin Merritt, and even a crossword puzzle. The appendix encourages readers with even more resources to explore, making this book a must-read for any fan of 69 Love Songs.
I'm not really a background music kind of guy; I either want to listen closely and perhaps lose myself for a time in something gorgeous or annoying or in some way compelling, or I'd rather just drift above the low-level ambient sounds of my office/apartment/local coffeehouse. And I find I can't write much or well with music playing: I simply get too distracted. Obviously while working on 69LS: A Field Guide I did heaps of intensive listening to each song as I picked it apart. But that was really a case of play song, pause, type, listen again, pause, revise… repeat as necessary. Very disjunctive, but necessary for thinking up the absurd genres I assigned (with Stephin's gleeful collaboration) to the songs, and also for noting the characteristic sounds and events in each song for the "listen for" section. But the rest, as they say, was silence. Or comparatively so.
Conversely, the time I spent researching/correcting images and actually laying out the book was all about music. I usually wear headphones (even when alone) while listening to music, because of the delicious sense of isolation and focus they help create for me. I find this very useful for "getting lost"—as I like to do—in a design project. And somehow the rhythms and textures suggested by songs, old favorites and new tunes alike, seem to influence in some inexplicable way what goes where, and how. I don't understand it, actually.
Anyhow, what follows is a selection of tracks that then ranked high in number of plays in my iTunes "misc" folder. They're not necessarily representative of my favorite pieces of music (no Carter Family or Dolly Parton, 19th-century parlor ballads or anything classical, among other curious omissions), nor are they ranked in any particular way other than by "shuffle"—with the exception of the Residents cluster and the pairing of "Little Black Egg" with its bastard spawn.
Note: Many of these have been featured on my Uncle LD's High Bias podcast for villagevoice.com.
1. "4WD" by Severed Heads
Almost everything I like in a 3-minute pop song: a mindworm lullaby melody, unexpectedly poetic lyrics (here about the joys of driving your car through a crowd of people), odd noises, atonality… sounds great loud or quiet.
2. "Do you Wanna Hold Me?" by Bow Wow Wow
A classic piece of 80s pop that I've loved for over two decades. The lyrics again are actually quite poignant for a song from a band meant to be a cartoon. Gorgeous guitar sounds, exciting vocals, and that exhilarating, endless coda…
3. "The Hardest Walk" by Jesus & Mary Chain
The mixture of confidence, desperation and youthful ennui is inspiring. Sounds great on the uke, too.
"Amber" by the Residents
Ah, The Commercial Album. I have an abiding love of epigrams in song form, including (obviously) Stephin's "Roses," "Dark" and "Streetlight" by Low and of course songs from this wonderful album of one-minute ditties. I usually listen to these three together, though I often play the whole album on shuffle—as cannily suggested by its creators in the record's manifesto.
5. "She's Lost Control" from String Quartet Tribute to Joy Division and New Order
This is almost laughably overwrought, like most of Joy Division's own recordings. But then suddenly it isn't and you're in tears. I love that fine line between goofiness and real pathos.
6. "Kinetic" by Hilary
My all-time favorite dance song, for its insidious riff, almost-Glen-Miller arrangement (those synth lines pretending to be clarinets and saxes are so sexy), and general weirdness. Note the absence of a bass drum. She should definitely be 6th'd.
7. "New York's a Lonely Town" by the Trade Winds
Everything's better with sleigh bells. Perfect Beach Boys clone song in every way, and contains the amazing line: "My Woody's outside covered in snow/Nowhere to go now/New York's a lonely town/When you're the only surfer boy around." I loathe the beach, sports and daylight in general, but this slab of winsome, utterly commercialized sentiment makes me get all misty.
8. "The Official Colourbox World Cup Theme" by Colourbox
Unsung wonderfulness from this great, great 4AD band. The other side of this single is a little instrumental called "Philip Glass." Their brutal version of Holland-Dozier-Holland's "You Keep Me Hanging On" knocks hell out of (and predates) Kim Wilde's wretched hit version, by the way.
9. "I Could Be Happy" (Martin Rushent remix) by Altered Images
This is what remixing is all about, because of course you don't even feel the knife until it's twisting in your flesh at then end. I used to love to drive around late at night with this blaring—which is actually a little troubling in retrospect, since it's a song about eluding a stalker. With which of course I have absolutely no personal experience. FYI: Dudley, Shirley and I sang this at a chickfactor show in 1999.
10. "Chirpy Cheep Cheep" by Mac & Katie Kissoon
A few years ago I was at Stephin's apartment, listening to the Bubblegum compilation with him. When this track came on I spontaneously sang along with it from start to finish—afterwards I realized I'd mmust have heard it on the radio as a very little boy, in the car with my mother on some expedition. It's been stuck in my head since then, though I couldn't remember the lyrics until I actually heard the song again… maybe 30 years later. It's so amazingly tragic, and yet the music is soaring and triumphant: my favorite musical juxtaposition.
11. "Little Black Egg" by Tarnation
"We All Love Peanut Butter" by the One Way Streets
The same song a million times. Tarnation's version is my favorite, though the Nuggets version by the Nightcrawlers is delightful. The pop nihilism, augmented by the world's worst tambourine playing, makes "Peanut Butter" a perfect party song. The Ass Ponys' hysterical cover of "Peanut Butter" is wrongwrongwrong in every way, yet teriffically engaging.
12. "What a f*cking Lovely Day," from Showtunes by Stephin Merritt
Pity the kiddies didn't take to this brilliant album. I saw all three of SM's Chinese operas and was transported by their musical brilliance, though I found Stephin's songs a bit ill-used in all but Peach Blossom Fan. I sing this under my breath a lot—usually when I'm in a crowd of careless people with backpacks or on a bus full of folks obliviously yammering away on their cell phones.
13. "Sex Surrogate" by LD & the New Criticism, for Esopus magazine
I wrote and recorded this tune in March at the invitation of Esopus editor/designer Tod Lippy, who was curating a disc of songs based on the theme "Help Wanted" for his gorgeous magazine. The lyric and chord sequence were inspired by a craiglist ad. As various versions existed before we settled on this one for his compilation, I slipped different ones into my itunes playlist to see which one would choose itself. A remix of this song will be on AMORAL CERTITUDES, a new LD+TNC ep on Acuarela due out next February.
14. "Once in a Lifetime" by Robin Scott & Ryuichi Sakamoto
The guy who sang "Pop Music" gets all loopy with the divine Mr S. I love the phonetic backing vocals, which always put me in mind of Laibach's cover of the Beatles' "Across the Universe." Completely mad lyrics.
15. "Bright Colored Lights" by Crash
Pop delirium. (RIP Mark Dumais.) This makes me think of cruising down New York streets late at night in a cab, ideally drunk—me, not the driver—and possibly with rain or a little fog to make things sparkle. That's Kurt Ralkse on guitar.
16. "The Offer" by Wire
Any number of Wire songs figure strongly in the movies in my head. I was mildy obsessed with this one due to an aborted long-distance love affair I expectedly and hideously found myself having last spring. I adore the solo section in which no-one solos. I wish more songs had that.
17. "Pagan Lovesong" by Virgin Prunes
Wire connection: produced by Colin Newman. What weirdness. Is the basic rhythm track someone sharpening a knife on a whetstone? It's all very suggestive.
18. "Disorder" by Bedhead
Matt Kadane, like almost everyone else who covers this song, flubs the second line in such a way as to make it seem like a bleak gay anthem. Bubba (Matt's bearded bespectacled brother) has, predictably, topped my crush list for years. They did the soundtrack for that amazing Hell House documentary.
19. "I'd Much Rather Be with the Girls" by Donna Lynn
Famously covered by the Rolling Stones, with "boys" replacing "girls." Either way, I'm always weak-kneed for a good glockenspiel line, which seems only to be in the introduction. Perhaps the 12-string got recorded over it? Great melody, social consciousness with a good beat… I wonder if Tiny Tim ever sang this.
20. "Strawberry Fields Forever" by Candyflip
All about the trumpet loop. Actually I don't much care for the original, though the tale of its creation has fascinated me since I first read about it in Sir George's All You Need Is Ears when I was a wee lad.
21. "We Never Fly Away Again" by Black Devil Disco Club
This used to be the Unholy Grail of gay DJs, and was a late-night favorite in leather bars and sex clubs in the early 80s. Or so I've been told. What are those creepy, slithery noises that swirl around inside this song? It's trying to be all Italo, though in fact two French guys in Paris made it. Real drums, by the way.
Previous Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2007 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2006 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2005 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2004 Edition)