Friday, June 06, 2008

Marc Caputo on Rolling Stone's Top 100 Guitar Songs

[Marc Caputo joins us as a new guest blogger -- though you all know him as a commenter. I agree with Marc that there is something truly great about a list. I think it has to do with the fact that these kinds of lists are always arguable, and always about quality -- and arguing about quality is always one of my favorite things to do, because I always find something to read, or watch, or listen to. It also seems like every time I join a new thing -- Facebook, Myspace, Hulu -- I am asked to make a series of personal "best of" lists. I actually like the idea that my taste in films and so on is how I create my online identity. I plan to do a blog series of personal best of lists around here, just so I can cut and paste them into various profiles as I need them, with people making their own in the comments (and then cutting or pasting them wherever). Anyway, here is Marc.]

Rolling Stone magazine’s latest cover story is “The 100 Greatest Guitar Songs”. The time is right for such an assessment, as slowly but surely, rock (or its latest iteration) is on the upswing. Again. I never get behind proclaiming the death of things; rather, I just bide my time until the worm turns. Remember, while grunge was all the rage, Hanson couldn’t get arrested with their brand of pop. Eventually, when grunge waned, record companies started looking for something sunnier and catchier. And now “MMM-Bop”, God bless its perfectly concocted heart, is chemically bonded to our ears.

Anyway, you can check out the list here – there’s more content on the site than in the magazine. I just spent 2 days going over it and had some points to make.

Right off the bat, I am a list guy. I have stacks upon stacks of top-this, best-that lists of comics, movies, shows, albums, you name it going on 25 years now. Don DeLillo called list-making a “sign of cultural neurosis” – I’m certifiable.

I don’t care for editorial lists, though, lists that are conjured up with no apparent science to them; the lack of accountability makes me think that agendas are being pushed.

First thing I did, was to break the list down by decade. I went with the year that the song was released and not the year(s) that the band/artist was formed – the 60s Rolling Stones and the 1970s Rolling Stones are quite different.

1950s – The Progenitors – 4
1960s – The Legends – 32
1970s – The Inheritors – 29
1980s – Kill Your Idols – 18
1990s – The Struggle to Keep It Fresh, Honest and Alive – 10
2000s – The Kids Will Keep the Flame Alive – It’s Gonna Be Alright – 7

That’s pretty much what I expected. And for the most part, what’s here is good stuff; it belongs on such a list. But, to be sure, some songs – hell, some artists, don’t.

I. The “What are YOU doing here?” Section

92. “Memo From Turner”, Mick Jagger (1970) – They couldn’t come up with another good Stones song? How about something from Keef’s first solo album, Talk is Cheap (1988)? Plenty of good stuff there, and he’s actually a guitarist.

84. “Gravity”, John Mayer (2006) – Good grief! I just don’t get this guy at all. Better they had used Dave Matthew Band’s “Proudest Monkey” (1996, from Crash.)

71. “Take It or Leave It”, The Strokes (2001) – I was down with the boys from the get-go, but I lost them around the second album. How about another local band, Interpol, that started out strong and has actually improved over time?

II. The “Where the hell are they?” Section (examples furnished upon request)

The Velvet Underground

Sly and the Family Stone

Talking Heads


Gang of Four

New York Dolls


Something representative of Tamla/Motown

The Replacements


Paul Weller/The Jam

and last, but not least – where in the fuck was reggae during all of this?

III. The “Hey, that artist is poorly represented!” Section

Prince – “Kiss” (from Parade, 1986) should have been there. Not necessarily instead of “Purple Rain”, but with it to show more than one side of a many-faceted artist.

Stevie Ray Vaughan – “Riviera Paradise” from 1989’s In Step instead of a cover of “Little Wing”. The last track on his last studio album showcased his playing AND his writing better than anything else I’ve ever heard. Easily music’s biggest tragedy since Lennon was killed.

Sonic Youth – “Teen Age Riot” - 1988’s Daydream Nation lead-off instead of the following track. Right album, boys – wrong track. “Riot” is the gateway to this album; if you don’t get that, forget the rest. All that is wonderful and scary about this great album is summed up in those 7 minutes.

IV. BIGGEST MISTAKE – hands down – The Smiths, and with “How Soon is Now?” at number 90? But to be fair, Rolling Stone never knew what to do with these guys; I personally hold them responsible for the lads from Manchester never breaking out in this country.

V. The “Hey, did they get anything RIGHT?” section

Yes. Happily, they did.

King Crimson.


and, Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Born on the Bayou”, my favorite solo of all time.

Thoughts, anyone?


Paul said...

Great take on the article, Marc! I read it last week, so I'm a little fuzzy, but here are some thoughts:

1. No love for R.E.M. or the Replacements?! That's just criminal. These are two of the mose influential bands on american indie rock. I would have added "Begin the Begin" and "Bastards of Youth" to the list.

2. I don't remember if the Cure got a nod or not, but Porl Thompson years were the best. "Fascination Street" is an awesome work of layering guitar parts.

3. I'm happy the Smiths are on the list, but that's not the song I'd choose. "This Charming Man" or "The Queen is Dead", now those are great Smiths guitar songs.

4. I'd liked to have seen some Fugazi there.

5. I think "Just" is a much better guitar song than "My Iron Lung" as far as Radiohead is concerned.

scott91777 said...

I read this list in the magazine and remember finding it... odd to say the least.

As for the Strokes, I definitely think they should be on here somewhere... just not with "Take it or Leave it"... What's wrong with "Someday" or "Last Night"? For that matter, What's wrong with "Reptilia" (Guitar Hero certainly felt this was awesome enough) or "12:51"? I don't think they should all be on there... but one should be, they definitely have a very unique guitar interplay/sound that should be recognized. (I also Liked Room On Fire better than the first album)

As for Mayer, yeah, I don't like him either... but a lot of Neo-guitar kids do. He's kind of the inheritor of the warm guitar pop of Clapton. Again, wrong song, "Waiting on the World To Change" would have been a better choice.

And, if we may indulge my guilty pleasures a bit, what about "Pour Some Sugar On Me" and "Wanted Dead or Alive"? I mean sure, there were a lot of pretty undistinguishible hair metal bands out there but Def Leppard and Bon Jovi were the progenitors, not the imitators and the opening riffs to those songs are some of the most distinctive and recognizable in rock.

Also, if I may play a favorite, how about "Vertigo"? I mean, "Where the Streets Have No Name" should be there as it is for being the best representation of the Edge's style of playing... but "Vertigo" and "Seven Nation Army" have the two greatest riffs of the last 10 years. And, I think, in hindsight "Vertigo's" riff will be classified with stuff like "Satisfaction", "Start Me Up", "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and "Iron Man" (speaking of "Iron Man"... did that make the list?)

You're also absolutely right about the Tamla/Motown stuff needing to be represented... I thought I remembered "My Girl" being on there... it should have been.

scott91777 said...

Hey, all of our discussion this week reminded me of this Kids In The Hall Clip...

It's a must see clip for music geek and, Marc, I thought you, especially would get a kick out of it.

Marc Caputo said...

Paul: when I saw your name, I said, "OH NO! I forgot 'Temptation'!"

Most of what we would have called "College Rock" in the 1980s was pretty much left in the dirt. To me that's a shame, because that's when I really got into music. If you look at RS' picks from that decade, they really played it safe. Hey! They forgot the Meat Puppets, too!

Scott: I went back and replayed "Is This It?" (I'll dig up "Room on Fire" later this weekend) and, OK - "Someday" took me right back to when I really thought they'd rule the world.

And you're absolutely dead on about the guilty pleasure stuff. I'm a big "Bad Medicine"/"Wanted - Dead or Alive" fan. I love this stuff more than their newer, "mature" stuff.

The clip was great. I love how just the acts named in the beer part can date the clip.

scott91777 said...

"Bad Medicine" is probably my favorite Bon Jovi song, it's just a good old fashioned Rock N' Roll number. I think the fact that Elvis Costello once covered it speaks volumes about it.

When a great songwriter covers your song, you're on to something... think about how Dave Grohl must have felt when Prince slipped into "Best Of You" at the Superbowl a couple years back.

I'm not sure I would have gone with "Begin the Begin" for REM... even though it does showcase one of Peter Buck's great sidewinder riffs ... simply because it's not one of my favorites of theirs from that era... I probably would have gone with "So. Central Rain", "Radio Free Europe", "Driver 8"... or even the obvious "The One I Love"

Christian said...

Interpol being not only better than The Strokes, but also improving over time? You are clinically insane, my good man. Their last album was sterile, and worst of all, boring. It's like they decided they didn't want to be good anymore and threw out everything even vague interesting about them.

And remember, guys, it's not what you like,/ but what you're like as a person,/ And I need new hobbies,/ that's one thing for certain.

scott91777 said...

Speaking of the strokes, Did anybody other than me actually like the last album? I thought a couple of songs should have been cut but it was great overall. And talk about guitar songs... "Ize of the World" has one of my all time favorite guitar solos of all time.

Marc Caputo said...

I was all over the first Strokes album (and the demo EP) for over a year. Then, I went to San Francisco (I'm a New Yorker) and picked up the Interpol EP. Walking around SF a year after 9/11, hearing "NYC" bonded me to the band. When 'Room on Fire' came out, it didn't take to me. I continued to listen to Interpol, who I continue to love.

But, since the majority of the comments center on the Strokes, I threw on the 1st album this morning and danced with my girls for 1/2 an hour. OK, 'Someday' belongs, but not unless some VU and the Modern Lovers' "Roadrunner" is there first.

Paul said...

The Strokes - "Reptilia" is probably the best Strokes song ever. It showcases the band's stengths, has a rocking guitar solo, and they actually sound like they're awake when they recorded it.

Interpol - Turn on the Bright Lights was a great debut, but I felt that they finally came into their own on the vastly superior Antics. The "great" songs on the first record may have been better, but I think the second record was more cohesive with more songs of high quality. Antics is a solid ten tracker. I guess it depends it's the difference between an album with some really awesome songs and a album that is collectively really great.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Marc on many points. Prince could have been better represented. "Kiss" is a great song and while Prince usually plays all of the instruments himself when he is in the studio, Wendy (of Wendy and Lisa) gets the shout out from Prince for the song's guitar solo. Also - I'm right there with Marc about Sly and the Family Stone. There are so many songs to choose from but "Sex Machine" from Stand comes to mind immediately. Then again, Sly has always been underrated and often overlooked. I write about this and more in my book, Sly: the Lives of Sylvester Stewart and Sly Stone.

Chad Nevett said...

The main thing that bothers me about the list is that Led Zeppelin only appears twice... while the Beatles appear three times. Really? Are you kidding me?

Markus said...

Good Job! :)

Marc Caputo said...

Paul: I pulled down Room on Fire and am listening to it; it's better than I remember, but it's got a long way to go. The track that Matt Fraction used, "You Only Live Twice", was really good and might get me to investigate the third if number two gets better.

When it comes to Interpol, here's the thing. The songs got better with each album because they got their writing down. But that first album creates a mood that has never been/can't be replicated (why would they even try?).

Eddie: good to hear from you again! I would go with "Thank You..." or "Family Affair" over "Sex Machine", but that's personal preference; any of them are great. I should have been clearer about my Prince choice - the 12" of "Kiss" is the one I was thinking on.

Chad: Oh, yeah. You could have taken one track off every Zep album and put them on the list for different reasons. I'm sorry - some lists the Beatles just can't star on.

Markus: thanks!

I also came up with some other songs:

Judas Priest: "You Got Another Thing Comin'" - guilty pleasure, awesome riff.

Rush - where to begin?