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Grizzlies Draft Watch: Four Weeks Out

Since I’ll be stuck between stations through this year’s NBA draft and free agency, I’m going to weigh in here on occasion.

With a month to go before the draft and only one real Grizzlies draft workout in the books, let’s focus today on the team’s pick at number four, and start by setting some apparent parameters.

Current Operating Assumptions

We’re in the middle of what one NBA professional I talked to this week dubbed “smokescreen season,” so consider all of this somewhat subject to change. But for now these are our operating assumptions, presented in descending order of solidity:

1. Deandre Ayton is off the board: I listened to a podcast from ESPN’s Ryen Russillo on the plane home to Memphis late this week and he told a story about a recent discussion he’d had with an NBA front office executive he considers to be among the brightest. Russillo asked the front office guy about all the concerns about Ayton’s fit in the modern NBA game, about whether he’d even be on the floor at the end of close games. And Russillo said the exec looked at him like he was crazy and said, essentially, “Have you seen this guy? He’s awesome. He’s the pick. Don’t overthink it.” I am that front office executive. For Grizzlies purposes, though, it doesn’t matter. Ayton’s the one player who has no chance of being there at #4.

2. Trading up is out: There was a discussion on 92.9, home of my radio side hustle, recently about the prospect of trading up. Would you trade the #4, #32, and Dillon Brooks to get to #2? Two hosts said they would not. This was presumably based on the defensible belief that the talent gap in the 2-4 range in this draft is relatively flat. But it’s a moot point: Even if that’s true, Brooks and #32 is still not enough added value to move up two or three spots within the Top 5 of a draft. Given the first-round pick they still owe to Boston, the Grizzlies don’t really have the assets to move up to #1 or # 2. Maybe to #3 if Atlanta senses who the Grizzlies want, it’s not who they want, and they squeeze a little something out of their leverage.

3. Memphis is the wrong place at the wrong time for Mo Bamba: Set aside the unfair Hasheem Thabeet comp. Bamba is a more fluid athlete and higher-upside prospect. He’s on the short list of players who could end up being the best player in this draft, which has to make him a candidate at #4. But, wisely or not, the Grizzlies want immediate help from this pick. Because of his project status and because he probably can’t play with Marc Gasol, that’s not Bamba. More importantly, the Grizzlies need a cornerstone for the future. That certainly could be Bamba, but the Grizzlies are right to worry about risk. Bamba presents too much of it given the other options.

4. Trading out is unlikely: As much as the Grizzlies want to be back in the playoff mix next season, it’s hard to see the #4 pick fetching an established all-star-level player in his youngish prime, especially given the added and likely unwanted salary that would probably have to be attached to the pick. Anything less than that in return isn’t worth forgoing the long-term potential/rookie-salary-scale value of picking at #4.  

5. The fourth pick is ultimately too high for Wendell Carter Jr. or Trae Young or Mikal Bridges: I like all of these players, but they seem like trade-down options (more on that next), not picks at #4. Bridges is a decent bet to be a long-term NBA starter, but players of his type (those who don’t emerge as lottery-level prospects until deep into their college careers) have a risky history and the star upside seems minimal. I believe in Young as a deep shooter and playmaker, two of the most important skills in the modern NBA, but worry that his severely limited size/athleticism will make him too weak a defensive link to fully mine those skills, and the presence of Mike Conley on a still-lengthy contract makes Memphis a hard place to maximize Young’s value anyway. Carter is a closer call, but I just don’t think he has the same upside as the big men likely to be taken earlier and also think his poor fit alongside Gasol undercuts his instant-impact potential.

6. Trading down can’t be discounted but is still unlikely: The Top 10 of this draft is deep enough to envision a team moving down a few spots and still getting the guy they want or a close runner-up. I could see this as more of an option for the Grizzlies if someone falls hard enough for Bamba (or, less likely, Young) to move up for him. Here’s an entirely made-up scenario:

  • The #4 pick and Ben McLemore to Orlando for #6, Jonathan Simmons, and #35.

Something like that. The Magic’s front office seems to have a hankering for wingspan. Dallas, at #5, needs a center. Maybe Orlando wants Bamba and can’t be sure to get him #6. Who can say at this point?

You’re not adding a star by moving down within the lottery, but I could see scenarios where the Grizzlies can bolster next year’s rotation while still getting a similar-level draft prospect. Still, I probably wouldn’t move down from #4 unless I could still get the exact player I would draft at #4.  

7. Michael Porter is too risky: As consensus Top 4 prospect before last season with a game — a big face-up combo forward with go-to scorer potential — that fits well in the rapidly changing NBA, Porter has to be a candidate at #4 if his medicals aren’t an issue. But I don’t see how his medicals won’t be an issue. He had back surgery less than a year ago and didn’t look right at all during his too-early return at the end of the college season. The back questions, especially given the Grizzlies’ recent history with damaged goods acquisitions, just seems like too big a risk this high in the draft. Even fully healthy, Porter’s not a sure thing. There are questions about every prospect, but defense, shot selection, and mentality are among Porter’s. Let’s set aside the Kevin Durant comp. Porter doesn’t have that length. He could be Jayson Tatum. He could also be a Ghost of Grizzlies Past (Rudy Gay/Jeff Green). He’s on the outside looking in right now. If he gives the Grizzlies access to his medicals and assents to a workout, he could move into the following discussion.

Where That Leaves Us

The process of high-to-mid-lottery elimination leaves three names standing: Luka Doncic, Marvin Bagley III, Jaren Jackson Jr.

We could spend thousands of words on this trio, but we’ve still got a month to go, so let’s stick to only a few quick observations for now:

Buckets and Boards vs. The Little Things: The debate between Bagley and Jackson in the frontcourt is partially about what you value at the position. Bagley profiles as an Amare Stoudemire/Zach Randolph-style 20-10 machine, a go-to-scorer whom you may have to work around on defense. Jackson profiles as an Al Horford/Serge Ibaka/Draymond Green type: A versatile defender and spot-up shooter who will impact both ends of the floor but may never be a 20-point scorer.

The first type is traditionally perceived as more of a “star,” the second type more of a glorified “role player.” Why take a role player in the top four, some would say?

Because there’s ample evidence that the NBA has shifted in a way that this second type of frontcourt player contributes more to winning.

Bagley’s signature skill is his quickness off the floor. This results in rebounds and dunks.

Jackson’s signature skill is his combination of length and defensive awareness. This results in blocked shots that Jackson shows a knack for keeping in play and snuffed out offensive actions.

The buckets and boards are crowd-pleasing, but are they more important that the defense?

I’m putting a little bit of a thumb on the scale, rhetorically, for Jackson here. I’m torn between the two, and think Bagley has more potential for improvement than his staunchest critics allow. But I do think Jackson has the kind of game that’s built for the modern NBA, more so than it was built for a year of college basketball as an 18-year-old under a traditionalist coach.  

Present vs. Future: Bagley and Doncic have the kinds of pedigrees (elite-ranked prospects who have backed it up with elite production) that have a good NBA track record. They also seem like the players, other than Ayton, best equipped to impact NBA games as soon as they become a part of them.

This combination of future and present value would be hard to pass up for a franchise that hopes to acquire a first foundational piece for a post-Gasol/Conley future but also wants someone who can help make some noise alongside them in the short term.

Positional fit adds to the sense that Doncic or Bagley could be immediate impact players in Memphis. The Grizzlies are weakest on the wing and have put an increasing (probably overdue) emphasis on pairing Conley with secondary perimeter playmakers. Doncic, who needs a ball handler/defender at the point to pair with, seems perfect for the Grizzlies and vice versa.

As for Bagley, his high-motor work around the rim would shore up a Marc Gasol weakness. Perhaps more importantly, Gasol’s ability to (at least theoretically) anchor a defense from the center position while stretching the floor offensively would cover some of the weaknesses Bagley would bring into the league. Memphis is probably the best potential fit for Bagley.

Jackson may present more ultimate risk than Bagley and Doncic (this is debatable), but certainly seems like less of an instant-impact option. He’s younger and less fully formed physically (which might suggest more growth potential going forward) and his best position in the NBA is likely to be at center.

Still, Jackson’s perimeter skills, especially on the defensive end, giving him a path to playing alongside Gasol while he develops into the team’s starting center of the future. That’s why Jackson might be a better short- as well as long-term bet than the more seasoned but also more defensively paint-bound Wendell Carter Jr.    

Tie Goes to the Perimeter: The great case for Donic is history of production paired with position/style. In the old NBA, the tie went to the big man, now the tie goes to the perimeter player. Could even that short-sell the current shift? Might “reaching” for perimeter talent such as a Trae Young or Mikal Bridges prove the smarter gambit?

Positional value would seen to give Doncic an edge over Bagley and Jackson. But the league’s perimeter tilt may work in favor of Jackson, at least relative to Bagley, even if he’s the biggest player in this discussion.

The now-overused term “unicorn” was intended for big men who can both the protect the rim and stretch the floor. In this draft, as eye-popping as Deandre Ayton and Mohamed Bamba may be as physical specimen, that’s Jackson. He blocked shots at a higher rate than Bamba. He was the best three-point shooter among the lottery bigs, a skill projection bolstered by 80 percent three-throw shooting. But Jackson adds a third dimension to this sense of rarity: At north of 6’11” with a wingspan past 7’5”, he’s the most comfortable big in the mix, by far, at guarding the perimeter. At defending pick-and-roll plays, at switching onto guards and wings, at closing out on shooters.

As a more traditional big, Bagley has moved away from the modern game by standing still. But a shift that has endangered big men generally has perhaps had the effect of increasing Jackson’s value.

Maybe the Decision Will Be Made For Them

We can argue about these players for the next few weeks, but odds are the Grizzlies won’t have to on draft night. At #4 there may be only one of them left, and perhaps the lone man standing will be both the obvious and right pick.

Maybe they’ll be debating between the one left vs. taking a chance on Michael Porter vs. trading down. But Doncic vs. Bagley vs. Jackson is likely not a choice the team would actually be making.

Is Doncic really part of all of this? I suspect he’ll be gone before #4, but ESPN’s Jonathan Givony has suggested there’s a 50-50 chance Doncic is still on the board at #4. There are enough legitimate questions about how his athleticism translates to the NBA and enough highly regarded draft competition, that I don’t thinking Doncic “slipping” is at all far-fetched.

Other Related Issues

Mock Draft Consensus: I started tracking 10 higher profile mock drafts after the lottery and the first, um, drafts had Jaren Jackson as a pretty strong consensus at #4. That’s changed a little since. The current distribution for the Grizzlies’ top pick: Bagley (4), Jackson (3), Porter (2), Bamba (1).

Ed Stefanski Moving On: Grizzlies VP of player personnel Ed Stefanski took a plum job last week to oversee a basketball operations rebuild in Detroit, where he’ll apparently have leeway to pick the team’s day-to-day operations leader at GM and a new head coach, allowing the East Coast-based Stefanski to guide the team without having to be on the ground every day. It’s not an unexpected departure — Stefanski has been mentioned as a candidate with multiple teams in the past year. The immediate questions for the Grizzlies: Will Stefanski take anyone else to Detroit with him and will the Grizzlies make any high-level hires to replace him?

On the former, in first reporting Stefanski’s hire, ESPN suggests that Grizzlies front office assistant Tayshaun Prince, a former Pistons star, might follow Stefanski to Detroit. This makes sense on the surface, but I wouldn’t count on it happening until it actually does. Prince has been a quietly important figure for the Grizzlies, as perhaps the front office figure closest day-to-day to the players and coaching staff. Stefanski provided sage advice and guidance, especially to some of the team’s junior executives, which includes not only Prince, but former Iowa Energy general manager Chris Makris, who’s quietly risen within the Grizzlies management structure to a key player personnel/scouting role. Perhaps the Grizzlies hire to replace Stefanski, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see the franchise move forward with a core of Chris Wallace, John Hollinger, Prince, and Makris steering the ship.

Josh Okogie: The Georgia Tech wing is now the first and so far only actual draft prospect (at #32) in for a workout in Memphis. I’d expect action on that front to pick up as we get into June. I was on a plane when Okogie was in town, and so wasn’t at the workout. I listed some of my outside-the-lottery faves in my final Pick-and-Pop column. Okogie wasn’t on the list, but that’s only because he wasn’t (yet) considered. He’s on the list of players who were not considered 2018 draft prospects until deeper into the season. Others: Maryland shooter Kevin Huerter, Villanova sixth-man Donte Divincenzo, and international guard Elie Okobo. Divincenzo was on a team I was already watching, and I took a liking to him early. The other three fell under the radar for me.

Okogie’s combination of physical make-up (7’0” wingspan, elite athletic testing results at the draft combine) and production (18-6-3 as a sophomore, with 38 percent three-point shooting, 82 percent free-throw shooting, 1.8 steals, 1.0 blocks) is impressive and he seems to be trending up enough that he may not last to #32.

Revisited

1978 Revisited

I’ve been sitting on these lists for a while with no time to write anything about them. I’m going to toss out some rambling notes and just post, since all the relistening is now in the past tense. But I’m likely to have a little more hobby writing time on my hands for the next few weeks …  so after a dormant period, I’d expect a few more years to tumble out in short order. As for 1978 …

It’s a bit of an odd year. Classic rock and soul is mostly over. Hip-hop is still on the horizon. The early excitement of punk’s arrival has subsided, but so much of the most interesting stuff is the aftermath of that arrival, the sorting out of the new world being forged.

It’s a year full of good (ok, very good) work from great artists: Rolling Stones, Parliament-Funkadelic, Ramones, New York Doll David Johansen, Neil Young, The Clash, Talking Heads, Brian Eno, Prince, Pere Ubu, Television.

All made albums in 1978 good enough to crack this list, or come close. All made better records soon before or soon after.

Exceptions: Elvis Costello and Blondie were career artists that did peak early here, and those are my chart-toppers. This Year’s Model grows less relatable but no less raging as years pass. X-Ray Spex was a shooting star, still thrilling but on revisit best as a singles band despite the eternal album title Germfree Adolescents. Wire was a little of both.

Classic rock, declining (Stones), ascending (Springsteen), or imploding (Big Star) still does pretty good though. Some Girls is a disreputable album (that title track) from a disreputable band, but one musically incapable of making a bad record for most of their recording lives. Whatever else, that’s still Charlie Watts playing drums, Bill Wyman playing bass, Keith Richards scratching out riffs. They play the hell out of this one.

Darkness on the Edge of Town raises the question of what makes a great album. It is the personal Springsteen favorite of many (maybe most) of the biggest Springsteen fans I know. In a peak period that I’d say runs 1974-1987, it is the only Springsteen record that has songs I actively skip over. But what is a lack of perfection in the face of “Badlands” and “Promised Land”? (See here.) There are more flawless records I would leave behind to save Darkness if only so much music could be preserved.

The singles list is more repetitive and probably overlaps more with the album list than in most years. I’m sure this reveals some gaps in my listening and/or perception, but I think a lot of it has to do with the year. Punk was a great singles genre, and disco too. But we’re really waiting for hip-hop and Prince and the pop energy of the 1980s to start shaking things up.

1978 albums

ALBUMS

  1. This Year’s Model — Elvis Costello
  2. Parallel Lines — Blondie
  3. Some Girls — The Rolling Stones
  4. Darkness on the Edge of Town — Bruce Springsteen
  5. Third — Big Star
  6. Motor-Booty Affair — Parliament
  7. Road to Ruin — Ramones
  8. Honky Tonk Masquerade — Joe Ely
  9. Germfree Adolescents — X-Ray Spex
  10. Pink Flag — Wire
  11. Comes a Time — Neil Young
  12. Give Em Enough Rope — The Clash
  13. More Songs About Buildings and Food — The Talking Heads
  14. The Modern Dance — Pere Ubu
  15. One Nation Under a Groove — Funkadelic
  16. David Johansen — David Johansen
  17. Stardust — Willie Nelson
  18. Pure Pop For Now People — Nick Lowe
  19. Body Meta — Ornette Coleman
  20. Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller) — Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band
  21. Pure Mania — The Vibrators
  22. Before and After Science — Brian Eno
  23. For You — Prince
  24. Generation X — Generation X
  25. Adventure — Television

SINGLES

  1. “Badlands” — Bruce Springsteen
  2. “Ain’t U/Hedi’s Head” – Kleenex
  3. “What Do I Get?” – Buzzcocks
  4. “(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais” — The Clash
  5. “Radio, Radio” – Elvis Costello
  6. “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” — Elvis Costello
  7. “Hanging on the Telephone” – Blondie
  8. “The Day the World Turned Day-Glo/I Am A Poseur” — X-Ray Spex
  9. “Le Freak” – Chic
  10. “Uptown Top Ranking” – Althea & Donna
  11. “One Nation Under a Groove” – Funkadelic
  12. “Another Girl, Another Planet” – The Only Ones
  13. “Take Me To the River” – Talking Heads
  14. “Damaged Goods” – Gang of Four
  15. “I Don’t Mind” — Buzzcocks
  16. “Pump it Up” — Elvis Costello
  17. “Ever Fallen in Love” – Buzzcocks
  18. “Life’s Been Good’ – Joe Walsh
  19. “Miss You” — The Rolling Stones
  20. “Identity/Let’s Submerge” — X-Ray Spex
  21. “Alternative Ulster” – Stiff Little Fingers
  22. “Beast of Burden” — The Rolling Stones
  23. “Flash Light” – Parliament
  24. “Soft and Wet” — Prince
  25. Teenage Kicks” – Undertones
  26. “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” – Sylvester
  27. “(I Don’t Want to Go to) Chelsea” – Elvis Costello
  28. “Shattered” — The Rolling Stones
  29. “Promises” – Buzzocks
  30. “Because the Night” — Patti Smith
  31. “I Want Your Love” — Chic
  32. “September” — Earth, Wind & Fire
  33. “Just What I Needed” — The Cars
  34. “Clash City Rockers” — The Clash
  35. “Listen to Her Heart” — Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
  36. “Everyone’s a Winner” – Hot Chocolate
  37. “Surrender” – Cheap Trick
  38. “Running on Empty’ – Jackson Browne
  39. “Shake Your Groove Thing” — Peaches & Herb
  40. “Love You More” – The Buzzcocks

MOVIES

There’s too much from 1978 I’d either need to rewatch to place (Days of Heaven, American Hot Wax, Fingers, The Deer Hunter) or that I’ve just never gotten around to (Get Out Your Handkerchiefs, Interiors, An Unmarried Woman), so I’ll just offer five faves from the year. The first was mostly unseen until a revival a few years ago (actually, it’s still mostly unseen) and is among my very favorite films. I wrote about it here. “The Last Waltz” is a movie I love almost beyond rationality, though my experience of it has evolved over the years. (Read Levon Helm’s bio, where he and Ronnie Hawkins take the piss out of its mythologizing, and you’ll never see it quite the same way again.)

  1. Killer of Sheep (Charles Burnett)
  2. Gates of Heaven (Errol Morris)
  3. Dawn of the Dead (George Romero)
  4. The Last Waltz (Martin Scorsese)
  5. Blue Collar (Paul Schrader)
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Personal News

Yesterday was my final day at The Commercial Appeal. I’m going to take a little break. But to your regret, relief, or disinterest, Memphis will still have my byline to kick around.

The Commercial Appeal, like all places populated by writers and editors, is full of good people trying to do good work, and quite often succeeding. I have nothing but admiration for my now-former colleagues there and for those who moved on in the years since I arrived. In the absence of another compelling opportunity within this city, I may well have been there as long as they would have had me, though like most Memphians I lament the paper’s shift toward being a corporate cog in a Nashville-centric Tennessee network.

But I was coming up on five years at the kind of place — the traditional daily newspaper — I never really planned on being. I was ready for a change, and I was worn out by the regimented five-days-a-week flow of the The 9:01 column I’d been doing for the past couple of years.

At its increasingly infrequent best, I thought The 9:01 was pretty good, and though it drained me over time, it was definitely good for me. It helped broaden the scope of topics I wrote about and helped fine-tune my voice. I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to former editor Louis Graham, who took an unconventional chance in hiring me from an alt-weekly and who was the primary catalyst for what became The 9:01. Former digital director Danny Bowen came up with the title/time concept, a bit of genius I came to regret on mornings when that deadline loomed too near. Former digital editor Gary Robinson, now living his best life as a retired grandfather, shepherded it to completion in those first few months when I was just getting the hang of it. New editor Mark Russell kept it alive after Graham’s departure. Former (sensing a pattern?) sports editor David Williams and his successor Dave Ammenheuser let me be me — at any length — in my weekly Pick-and-Pop Grizzlies/NBA column.  

Before shifting into a columnist role, I was somehow granted the privilege, as an editor, of directing a staff of John Beifuss, Bob Mehr, Jennifer Biggs, Michael Donahue, and Mark Richens. The first name on that list really threw me for a loop. I was a fan of John’s before I was a friend and a friend before I was an editor. Former features editor Peggy McKenzie was gracious in showing me the ropes.

What’s next?

I can’t say too much at the moment — information will be forthcoming. But I’ll re-emerge later this summer, writing about many of the same topics in many of the same ways, but in different formats and at different frequencies. I love living in Memphis and I love writing about it. I look forward to continuing to do both.

Until then, you can still find me on Twitter at @ChrisHerrington and @HerringtonNBA (though I’m thinking of folding those into one feed) and, when I’m not on vacation, still on the radio at 10 a.m. every weekday on “The Geoff Calkins Show.”

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Bruce Springsteen Wrote Freedom Songs

My wife and I road-tripped to Little Rock last weekend to see Waxahatchee, the Alabama-rooted/New York-based indie rock band fronted by Katie Crutchfield.

Waxahatchee’s latest album, Out in the Storm, was one of my very favorites from last year. It tightens Crutchfield’s singer-songwriter tendencies into rock-and-roll. Riffs, beats, and bass lines conspire to elevate a song-cycle about a relationship seen clearly in Crutchfield’s rear-view. It’s half-an-hour long, and nearly a year and dozens of spins later, its tricks still work.

Waxahatchee was playing a double-headliner tour with Hurray for the Riff Raff, a roostier band fronted by Bronx-raised Puerto Rican singer Alynda Segarra. I’d seen Segarra once before, but solo, in an outdoor setting with questionable sound. Waxahatchee was the pull; Hurray for the Riff Raff was a nice bonus.

As it turned out, even making the club a few minutes before 9:30, we missed the first three-or-four songs of Waxahatchee’s middle set. When Crutchfield grew annoyed at the loud talking during her quieter numbers, she pulled the plug on the show a few songs short. It was a disappointment. Hurray for the Riff Raff made it not matter.

IMG_1358

Segarra’s crack band blended Latin rhythms, soul cadences, folk melodies. This is an Americana I want to hear. Her music and stage presence echoed, at various times, Bob Dylan, David Bowie, Debbie Harry.

They played in front of a big banner with the words WE’RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER and played songs that fit the theme: “Rican Beach,” surveying a theft and devastation grown worse since the song was written. “Hungry Ghost,” dedicated to “all the queers.” “Nothing’s Gonna Change That Girl,” about life impervious to a male gaze. “Living in the City,” a Lou Reed-meets-Woody Guthrie paean-of-sorts to city life. And the closing “Pa’Lante,” both exhortation and comfort, translating as “onward” or “forward.”

In contrast to their tourmates, Hurray for the Riff Raff played this small club in this small city like they were in the midst of a world-altering triumph, and when they bounded back onto the stage for an encore, I wondered how they’d follow themselves.

The first notes were familiar and my immediate thought was don’t be a tease, don’t be a tease.

It wasn’t. They played Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark,” and I’m convinced that of the thousands if not millions of songs known to humankind none would have been as perfect in this moment.

Here they are playing it at another club, on another night:

“Dancing in the Dark” is Springsteen’s most successful single, from his most successful album, 1984’s Born in the USA. And while I’ll argue with anyone that it’s also his best album, it’s not as fashionable a taste today as some of the records that came before. The keyboard riffs and booming drums suggest a specific time, a specific studio-to-radio sound. It’s harder to be romantic about that music than about Born to Run, for instance.

But Hurray for the Riff Raff didn’t play it tongue-in-cheek. They didn’t play it nostalgic. They weren’t amused with themselves. They played it as an anthem that bundled up all of the feelings of their preceding set and launched them skyward, like a shot from a confetti cannon.

“I ain’t nothing but tired/I’m just tired and bored with myself”

“You can’t start a fire/Can’t start a fire without a spark”

“There’s something happening somewhere/Baby, I just know there is”

“You say you gotta stay hungry/Hey, baby, I’m just about starving tonight”

The song is struggle as celebration. Personal as political. Dancing in the dark as an expression of defiance.

My favorite moment of 2018 is likely to remain the sight of Hurray for the Riff Raff’s keyboard player, Sarah Goldstone, bouncing along, playing these don’t-call-them-corny riffs, smiling to herself.

This was the best, most righteous, and most perfect cover I’d heard since … another Bruce Springsteen cover by another contemporary female singer at least partly representing a marginalized community.

Memphis’ Julien Baker covered Springsteen’s “Badlands,” from 1978’s Darkness on the Edge of Town, backstage at the Newport Folk Festival a couple of years ago:

As is common with Baker, she starts tentative and grows, finding herself in the song, talking herself into it, before nearly coming undone at the end, in a final verse that grips you with both hands:

For the ones who had a notion

A notion deep inside

That it ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive

I wanna find one face that ain’t looking through me

I wanna find one place

I wanna spit in the face of these badlands

Springsteen has long transcended his generation. But his music is still mostly associated with straight white guys like him, like me. Segarra and Baker claim this music. Take it somewhere else.

I used to think “Rosalita” and “Thunder Road” were the best Bruce Springsteen songs. Much like the signature “Born to Run,” they are thrilling, but there’s just so much Bruce Springsteen in them. There’s so much of the moment of their creation in them.

Now I think the best Bruce Springsteen songs are “Dancing in the Dark” and “Badlands.” They are about right now. They are about tomorrow. They are the folk songs that inspired him. They belong fully to anyone who’s singing them, or anyone who’s singing along. They belong to you and to me and to Julien Baker and to Alynda Segarra.

Revisited

Best of 2017

Ending a too-long blog hiatus with my favorite albums, singles, movies, and television of 2017. We’ll continue our trip through the pop music past soon.

2017 best

ALBUMS

This list is ordered, but it was sort of a five-way tie for first. In the Village Voice’s annual Pazz and Jop national critics poll, you get 100 points to distribute among 10 albums, with a maximum of 30 and a minimum of 5. I’ve given 30 points before. My point distribution for this Top 10 was: 15-15-14-13-13-10-5-5-5-5.

Is Lee Ann Womack’s new one modern country or Americana? Lee Ann Womack is a grown-ass woman and is above your petty genre distinctions and squabbles, which are irrelevant. Here she pulls a bunch of Nashville pros off the assembly line and off to her own personal promised land. They respond like it’s 1968 at American Studios and Chips Moman is behind the board. One version of what freedom sounds like.

Out in the Storm is another. Katie Crutchfield says everything she needs to say about a relationship in her rearview mirror in 10 songs and not much more than half an hour. Regardless of genre, pop music’s greatest thrill might be hearing someone say the exact right thing in the exact right way, hearing someone born in the moment. This is another version of what freedom sounds like.

4:44 and DAMN. are both exercises in mastery in the most dominant pop form of most of our lives. Lamar’s brilliance is both thrilling and exhausting. I admire it greatly, but I don’t quite love it like I loved former personal chart-topper good kid, m.A.A.d city. For relistening, I found myself coming back to Jay-Z. It’s an album about his occasionally cringe-worthy “black capitalism” ethos and his marriage and his status as a hip-hop elder and … . Mostly, though, I think it’s about the double pause he deploys before the raised-eyebrow “Ok” on “The Story of OJ.” It’s about casual conversation that comes in couplets. It’s about the easeful musicality that made us care about him in the first place.

For me, the songwriting on The Nashville Sound isn’t as consistently gripping as on Southeastern (Isbell’s Out in the Storm), but it has a more cohesive shape than Something More Than Free, the fine middle volume in what feels like a trilogy-for-now. But this one peaks twice with twin Song of the Year candidates, the trembling “If We Were Vampires” and the defiant “Hope the High Road.”

  1. The Lonesome, the Lonely and the Gone – Lee Ann Womack
  2. Out in the Storm — Waxahatchee
  3. 4:44 — Jay-Z
  4. The Nashville Sound – Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit
  5. DAMN. — Kendrick Lamar
  6. All American Made — Margo Price
  7. Talk Tight/The French Press – Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever
  8. MacGregor Park — Fat Tony
  9. CTRL – SZA
  10. Freedom Highway — Rhiannon Giddens
  11. War and Leisure — Miguel
  12. Run the Jewels 3 – Run the Jewels
  13. American Teen — Khalid
  14. Trophy – Sunny Sweeney
  15. Wrangled – Angaleena Presley
  16. City of No Reply — Amber Coffman
  17. Chuck — Chuck Berry
  18. Dark Matter – Randy Newman
  19. Deep Dream – Daddy Issues
  20. The Order of Time — Valerie June

SINGLES

  1. “Hope the High Road” — Jason Isbell
  2. “Humble” — Kendrick Lamar
  3. “If We Were Vampires” — Jason Isbell
  4. “Sky Walker” — Miguel featuring Travis Scott
  5. “Love Triangle” — RaeLynn
  6. “Young Dumb and Broke” — Khalid
  7. “DNA” — Kendrick Lamar
  8. “Bottle in My Bed” — Sunny Sweeney
  9. “Say My Name” — Tove Styrke
  10. “New Year’s Day” — Taylor Swift
  11. “Hard Times” — Paramore
  12. “Silver” — Waxahatchee
  13. “Story of O.J.” — Jay-Z
  14. “Diane” — Cam
  15. “Bodak Yellow” — Cardi B
  16. “Los Ageless” — St. Vincent
  17. “Drew Barrymore” — SZA
  18. “Round Here Buzz” — Eric Church
  19. “Bad and Boujee” — Migos featuring Lil Uzi Vert
  20. “A Little Dive Bar in Dahlonega” — Ashley McBryde

MOVIES

My own Top 10,  presented in a format borrowed from one of my favorite recurring features, Film Comment’s “Moments in Time,” which sought to capture each of a year’s movies in a single scene, moment, or memory.  Here are my 2017 “moments in time”:

  1. Tom Hardy immolates his fighter plane and walks stoically toward capture. Grace under pressure on the beaches of DUNKIRK.
  2. A police car pulls up, the audience tenses, and everyone knows what will happen. Or do they? A brilliant double-ending for GET OUT.
  3. Saoirse Ronan leans out of an East Coast dorm window, looks up to the skies, and bellows “Bruce!” with a mix of hope and exasperation. LADY BIRD wishes on a Sacramento star.
  4. Director Sean Baker pans across the decaying, candy-colored ice cream huts, souvenir shops, and roadside motels on the outskirts of Orlando’s Magic Kingdom. Surveying alien topography in THE FLORIDA PROJECT.
  5. “You glad to be back in the Delta?,” white former fighter pilot Jamie grimly asks to black former tank sergeant and could-he-be-a-friend? Ronzell along a Mississippi back road. Two war heroes are now MUDBOUND.
  6. Four feet in unison on a hardwood floor, Betty Grable on the box. Richard Jenkins and a radiant Sally Hawkins share a moment of joy in the Fifties fairy tale THE SHAPE OF WATER.
  7. “You had a beautiful friendship. Maybe more than a friendship. And I envy you.” Michael Stuhlbarg puts a compassionate bow on his son’s heady summer in CALL ME BY YOUR NAME.
  8. Rooney Mara stops to eat a pie, not a piece of pie, amid the Polaroid-framed poetry of A GHOST STORY.
  9. Skeleton ancestors illuminated in the night, a “city of the dead” so full of life in COCO.
  10. THE POST publisher Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep) turns her back to the roomful of men who’ve invaded her home, braces herself, and takes a leap. Then she goes to bed.

Honorable Mentions: The Big Sick, A Quiet Passion, Baby Driver, Wonder-Woman, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Logan, It.  

Decent-tasting popcorn: Thor: RagnarokStar Wars: The Last Jedi, Spider-Man: Homecoming, The Lego Batman Movie, Atomic Blonde.

Redeeming qualities: The Beguiled, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Battle of the Sexes, Alien: Covenant.

Duds: mother!, Guardians of the Galaxy II.

Ten I still haven’t seen (but wish I had): Phantom Limb, Faces Places, B.P.M., Girls Trip, Good Time, The Lost City of Z, Personal Shopper, Wonderstruck, Graduation, Jane.

TV

I tend to only have one TV show going at a time, so my television watching is even more haphazard than my listening and movie watching (things which were once far less haphazard). This is everything (new) that I watched in full this year. The ones I most wanted to see that I just haven’t gotten around to yet: Twin Peaks: The Return, The Vietnam War, Insecure.

  1. The Deuce
  2. The Leftovers
  3. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
  4. American Epic (PBS series on early American recorded music)
  5. Mindhunter
  6. Fargo
  7. Better Call Saul
  8. Game of Thrones
  9. Big Little Lies
  10. Glow

New to Me

Maybe I’ll keep better track of the “old” stuff I read, watch, or listen to for the first time in 2018, but I’ll offer one newly experienced gem from each medium for 2017: True Grit by Charles Portis is a slim, quick, deeply pleasurable read with an unforgettable protagonist and a setting in my home state of Arkansas. Not sure what took me so long. … After Jonathan Demme’s death, I finally watched Something Wild, his 1980s screwball comedy of sorts with Melanie Griffith, Jeff Daniels, and Ray Liotta. It lives up to its title as a particularly individual take on a classic genre. … James Blood Ulmer’s 1983 album Odyssey caught me by surprise, adding fiddle to his jazz-blues guitar skronk to elevating effect.

Revisited

1983 Revisited

This was a fun year to revisit. 1983 was the year I got my first stereo, and one of the first batch of albums I got with it made this list. (I still think An Innocent Man is Billy Joel’s best album. Sorry, Metal Health and Pyromania.) Still, I think there are only a few albums on this list (Joel, Lauper, U2, Police) I heard in their own time. The rest came later, and most of them much later, well after I’d dug into the classic rock canon. And so the likes of the Talking Heads, Blasters, Marshall Crenshaw, Womack & Womack, and others still sound fresher to me than a lot of even more recent favorites. It makes me want to dive into 1982, 1981, 1980.

From an album perspective, it was an off year for black music. Mostly that’s because it’s the last year before hip-hop asserted itself as an album form (the first Run-DMC album changes that in 1984), but it’s also because Prince and Michael Jackson released mega-albums in 1982 and road their singles through 1983. They’re represented on the singles list.

1983

ALBUMS

  1. She’s So Unusual – Cyndi Lauper: How do people conceive this now? As a fluke? A pop-culture artifact of its time? A singles and filler record? Hopefully as a timeless pop masterpiece, which is what it almost is. In its own peculiar way, it’s as astonishing a match of interpretive singer to song selection as Sun-era Elvis or Muscle Shoals Aretha Franklin, mixing the visionary (“Money Changes Everything,” “When You Were Mine”) with the merely charming (“Time After Time,” “I’ll Kiss You”).  One of the greatest moments in recorded sound: Lauper’s voice reaching out on “I want to be the one to walk in the sun.” Why did she never again come close to it? Goes to show you never can tell.
  2. Speaking in Tongues — The Talking Heads: Their lightest, freest funk. This has always seemed like one of their more minor good albums, but it grows in estimation every time I let it spin. It opens with their biggest single, ends with their best song. (Ok, maybe minus “Once in a Lifetime.”)
  3. Field Day — Marshall Crenshaw: Ten tight little bundles of indelible melodies + hooks on the subject of doomed love.
  4. Odyssey — James Blood Ulmer: One of my very favorite hadn’t-heard-it-befores of this project so far.
  5. Jonathan Sings! — Jonathan Richman & the Modern Lovers: “Road Runner” was his greatest single, but this is probably his best, wisest album.
  6. Metal Circus — Husker Du: The best hardcore record, if it counts, unless the one they made after it also does. Featuring “It’s Not Funny Anymore,” Grant Hart’s life anthem. RIP.
  7. Love Wars — Womack & Womack: As couple albums with this title theme go, not as focused as Shoot Out the Lights, which is to their personal if not quite artistic benefit. But it’s damn good anyway, the more fraught material especially (title song, “Baby I’m Scared of You”). Near the end, they reverse the Rolling Stones’ relationship with R&B, stealing a Jagger-Richards title (“Angie”) and improving it. Related note: How did I not know Linda Womack was (is) Sam Cooke’s daughter?
  8. Murmur R.E.M.: This would have been higher without a re-listen. Captures a sound and feel, but maybe I do like Reckoning a little more. I already knew I liked Document more.
  9. Non-Fiction — The Blasters: “Americana” before it was so named, as drenched in R&B as country, as it should be.
  10. … And a Time to Dance — Los Lobos: A unique great American band introduces itself, in EP form, with truth in advertising.
  11. War — U2: Its relative tightness sounds even better in the wake of what followed.  
  12. More Fun in the New World — X: Ace Killer cover, silly anti-new-wave.
  13. Hand of Kindness — Richard Thompson
  14. Hootenanny — The Replacements
  15. Legendary Hearts — Lou Reed
  16. Synchro System – King Sunny Ade
  17. Greatest Messages — Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five
  18. You Shouldn’t-Nuf Bit Fish — George Clinton
  19. What Makes a Man Start Fires? — Minutemen
  20. Trouble in Paradise — Randy Newman
  21. An Innocent Man — Billy Joel
  22. In a Special Way — DeBarge
  23. Love Over & Over — Kate & Anna McGarrigle
  24. Synchronicity — The Police
  25. Under a Blood Red Sky – U2

SINGLES

  1. “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)” — Talking Heads
  2. “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” – Cyndi Lauper
  3. “Billie Jean” — Michael Jackson
  4. “It’s Like That”/“Sucker MCs” — Run-DMC
  5. “Middle of the Road” – Pretenders
  6. “Every Breath You Take” — The Police
  7. “Burning Down the House” — The Talking Heads
  8. “Little Red Corvette” — Prince
  9. “Holiday” – Madonna
  10. “Atomic Dog” — George Clinton
  11. “Time Will Reveal” — DeBarge
  12. “Lucky Star” – Madonna
  13. “Beat It” — Michael Jackson
  14. “White Lines (Don’t Don’t Do It)” — Grandmaster Flash & Melle Mel
  15. “Pills and Soap”’ – The Imposter
  16. “Sunday Bloody Sunday” — U2
  17. “Color Me Impressed” – The Replacements
  18. “Come On Eileen” — Dexy’s Midnight Runners
  19. “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’” — Michael Jackson
  20. “Delirious” – Prince
  21. “Hard Times” – Run-DMC
  22. “Racist Friend” — Special AKA
  23. “Black Sheep” — John Anderson
  24. “New Year’s Day” – U2
  25. “Blue Monday” – New Order
  26. “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?” — Culture Club
  27. “Gimme All Your Lovin” — ZZ Top
  28. “Looking for the Perfect Beat” — Afrika Bambaataa & Soul Sonic Force
  29. “Electric Avenue” — Eddy Grant
  30. “Don’t Cheat in Our Hometown” – Ricky Skaggs
  31. “All Night Long” — Lionel Richie
  32. “Amarillo By Morning” – George Strait
  33. “Beat Bop” — Rammelzee vs. K-Rob
  34. “Last Night a DJ Saved My Life” — Indeep
  35. “Let the Music Play” — Shannon
  36. “Modern Love” – David Bowie
  37. “Got Me Under Pressure” — ZZ Top
  38. “Tell You (Today)” – Loose Joints
  39. “Crumblin’ Down” — John Cougar Mellencamp
  40. “She Works Hard for the Money” — Donna Summer

MOVIES

A blend of multiplex stuff I saw at the time that’s held up well (at least in my mind) and more arty stuff I caught up with later on. As always, these film lists are pretty casual, not rooted in re-watching. I have many, many blind spots from this year. I know Cosby has been exposed as a criminal and a creep, but the art is what it is and Himself is good.

  1. The King of Comedy
  2. Videodrome
  3. The Right Stuff
  4. Valley Girl
  5. WarGames
  6. Local Hero
  7. Risky Business
  8. Bill Cosby: Himself
  9. Baby It’s You
  10. National Lampoon’s Vacation

 

 

Revisited

1968 Revisited

Getting out ahead of next year’s 50th anniversary, where I’m guessing the White Album will get the most attention, but I went with a different color in the top spot.

image1 (45)

ALBUMS

  1. Music From Big Pink — The Band: These three voices together, here and on the eponymous follow-up, is one of the enduring pleasures of (North) American music, and I find the slipperiness of meaning here more attraction than hurdle. The greatest LP testament of my distant Arkansas cousin sits at #5, but I’ll confess that the Arkansan musician with whom I most identify is instead Levon Helm, product of a town in the same rural East Arkansas Delta jumble as where I’m from.
  2. Astral Weeks — Van Morrison: The title song is as visionary as anything in rock. “Sweet Thing” as beautiful. “Cyprus Avenue” and “Madame George” as mysterious and unsettling. And then there are a few other songs. All but one is a keeper.
  3. Beggar’s Banquet — The Rolling Stones: It’s phony (“Factory Girl”), scuzzy (“Stray Cat Blues”), corny (“Sympathy for the Devil”), unexpectedly revealing (“Salt of the Earth”) and the sound of the world’s best rock and roll band dispensing with the ill-fitting psychedelia of 1967 to assert the peak of their powers.
  4. John Wesley Harding — Bob Dylan — This and Folsom Prison are companions, and related to the #1 too. “Americana” and “alt-country” start here I, but never measured up. Can’t, I guess.
  5. At Folsom Prison — Johnny Cash
  6. Lady Soul – Aretha Franklin: Probably not quite as strong as I Never Loved a Man … from stern to bow, but better structured. “Ain’t No Way” is as good an album-ender as there is.
  7. The Beatles – The Beatles: This seems like it should be higher, but the competition is stiff and I don’t skip songs on any of those other albums. Their best late Sixties music and their worst, all in one place.
  8. Greatest Hits Vol 2 – Smokey Robinson & the Miracles: Motown’s signature genius in his finest single-disc representation.
  9. Golden Hits — The Drifters: Pure pop product, assembly line produced by various geniuses of composition and recording, and it instills one with as much cultural patriotism as Cash and Dylan.
  10. The Immortal Otis Redding — Otis Redding
  11. White Light/White Heat — The Velvet Underground
  12. Aretha Now — Aretha Franklin
  13. Electric Ladyland — The Jimi Hendrix Experience
  14. The Notorious Byrd Brothers — The Byrds
  15. Odessey and Oracle — The Zombies
  16. The Dock of the Bay — Otis Redding
  17. Sweetheart of the Rodeo — The Byrds
  18. We’re Only In it For the Money — The Mothers of Invention
  19. Life — Sly & Family Stone
  20. Greatest Hits — Stevie Wonder
  21. Live at the Apollo Volume 2 — James Brown
  22. Cheap Thrills — Big Brother & Holding Company
  23. Mama Tried — Merle Haggard
  24. Dance to the Music — Sly & the Family Stone
  25. Creedence Clearwater Revival – Creedence Clearwater Revival

SINGLES

  1. “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” – Marvin Gaye
  2. “Ain’t No Way” – Aretha Franklin
  3. “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” – Otis Redding
  4. “The Weight” – The Band
  5. “All Along the Watchtower” – The Jimi Hendrix Experience
  6. “Dance to the Music’ – Sly & the Family Stone
  7. “This is My Country’ – The Impressions
  8. “Think” – Aretha Franklin
  9. “Love Child” – The Supremes
  10. “Mama Tried” – Merle Haggard
  11. “I Wish It Would Rain” – The Temptations
  12. “Hey Jude”/“Revolution” — The Beatles
  13. “Hard to Handle” – Otis Redding
  14. “Jumping Jack Flash” – The Rolling Stones
  15. “Daddy Sang Bass” – Johnny Cash
  16. “Son of a Preacher Man” – Dusty Springfield
  17. “My Song” — Aretha Franklin
  18. “I Got the Feelin’ — James Brown
  19. “I Thank You”/“Wrap it Up” – Sam and Dave
  20. “People Got to Be Free” – The Rascals
  21. “I’ve Got Dreams to Remember” — Otis Redding
  22. “Private Number” – Judy Clay and William Bell
  23. “Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud” — James Brown
  24. “The House That Jack Built” – Aretha Franklin
  25. “What’s Made Milwaukee Famous (Has Made a Loser Out of Me)” — Jerry Lee Lewis
  26. “Everyday People” – Sly & the Family Stone
  27. “D-I-V-O-R-C-E” – Tammy Wynette
  28. “Street Fighting Man” – The Rolling Stones
  29. “Fist City” – Loretta Lynn
  30. “She Still Comes Around (To Love What’s Left of Me)” – Jerry Lee Lewis
  31. “Who’s Making Love” – Johnnie Taylor
  32. “For Once in My Life” — Stevie Wonder
  33. “Ballad of Forty Dollars” – Tom T. Hall
  34. “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing” – Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell
  35. “Alone Again Or” – Love
  36. “I Take a Lot of Pride in What I Am” – Merle Haggard
  37. “Milwaukee Here I Come” – George Jones and Brenda Carter
  38. “Magic Carpet Ride” — Steppenwolf
  39. “Take Time to Know Her” – Percy Sledge
  40. “Cry Like a Baby” – The Box Tops

MOVIES

  1. Faces (John Cassavetes)
  2. Night of the Living Dead (George Romero)
  3. Rosemary’s Baby (Roman Polanski)
  4. The Producers (Mel Brooks)
  5. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick)
  6. Stolen Kisses (Francois Truffaut)
Revisited

1993 Revisited

1993 was the first year that listening to and thinking about records became a kind of active avocation, both via college newspaper and college radio. The album list here is certainly not the same one I would have made at the time, but it’s closer to it than I would have suspected more than 20 years later. I think that’s mostly the result of the cultural action of the times (indie rock and hip-hop) happening to intersect with where I was as well. Then and now, I don’t think much of a lot of the era’s more mainstream alt-rock (Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins, etc).

1993

ALBUMS

  1. Exile in Guyville – Liz Phair: Feminist critique of classic-rock music and then-current indie-rock scenes, sure, but also both more personal/idiosyncratic than that and more broadly representational. I don’t much believe in generational identity, but this feels like a key generational touchstone and as such I’m glad to claim it. A tour de force union of rock riffage and confessional singer-songwriter observation. The best song might be the one about wanting people to leave your house already (damn).
  2. In Utero – Nirvana: Sharper lyrically and more severe musically than Nevermind, which is catchier, and while that doesn’t necessarily represent my inclinations, I think it’s also their best. I find it (even) more indelible, especially with the volume cranked. Maybe my favorite hard rock (not punk) album and essentially a co-#1 here.
  3. Buhloone Mind State – De La Soul: Four years after ecstatic, playful, widely celebrated teen debut (3 Feet High and Rising) and eight years before desperately underrated grown-folks-music testament (AOI: Bionix), here they are putting breakthrough and backlash behind them to flex the muscles of their young adulthood. A great groove record full of smarts and personality.
  4. Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers — The Wu-Tang Clan – As many MCs as tracks, collectively hacking through fields of Native Tongues and mafiosi pretensions to carve an East Coast rap path entirely their own. There would be more polished and certainly more epic albums to come in the Wu-Tang canon. Maybe even one or two better ones. But nothing that feels as busy being born.
  5. Rid of Me – PJ Harvey: Rendering debut mere warm-up, she comes on like she’s trying to be Robert Plant and Jimmy Page all at once, cleansed through punk and feminism.
  6. Reachin (A New Refutation of Time and Space) – Digable Planets: What Arrested Development was supposed to be the year before. Among other things, an exploration of a warm, platonic, equitable male/female hip-hop partnership that has, if anything, grown even more rare.
  7. Painful – Yo La Tengo: They would open up into being an even more epic domestic-bliss noise band on their next two albums, but this, for me, is where they first fully became what they were meant to be.
  8. Midnight Marauders – A Tribe Called Quest: The relative placement of this and #3 represents my general (minority opinion?) Native Tongues love/like hierarchy.   
  9. World Gone Wrong – Bob Dylan: One man’s 10-song anthology of American folk music and a warm-up for the “Love + Theft” to come.
  10. Icky Mettle – Archers of Loaf: One man’s hoarse croak rescued and renewed by his buddies’ guitar-bass-drums backup, a trick repeated over and over again by the niftiest, hookiest little-band-that-could of the indie-rock era
  11. Spinning Around the Sun – Jimmie Dale Gilmore
  12. Gentlemen – Afghan Whigs: Man behaves badly. Confesses with eloquence and intensity. Doesn’t quite apologize. (“This ain’t about regret/It’s when I tell the truth.”)
  13. Westing (By Musket and Sextant) – Pavement: Noise and tunes that would soon synthesize duke it out for primacy as a soon-to-be-great band finds itself.
  14. Career Moves – Loudon Wainwright III: Live de-facto best-of-to-that-point doubles as unlikely career peak (to that point), or maybe not so unlikely — see also: Todd Snider’s 2003 Live: Near Truths and Hotel Rooms. Maybe funny singer-songwriters make for particularly useful live album subjects. Movie comedies are better with audiences too.  
  15. Anodyne – Uncle Tupelo: Confess Your (Is It Still?) Unpopular Opinion: Mermaid Avenue aside, Jeff Tweedy peaked here.
  16. 4-Track Demos – PJ Harvey
  17. Last Splash – The Breeders

  18. One Sock Missing – The Grifters

  19. Janet – Janet Jackson

  20. Very – Pet Shop Boys

  21. Pottymouth – Bratmobile

    and

    Pussy Whipped – Bikini Kill: Riot grrls.

  22. The Bliss Album – P.M. Dawn

  23. Bubble & Scrape – Sebadoh

  24. Sons of Soul – Tony Toni Tone

  25. Ultimate Alternative Wavers

    — Built to Spill

    and

    God Don’t Make No Junk – Halo Benders: Doug Martsch’s two-part preview of coming attractions.

SINGLES

 

  1. “Rebel Girl”/”New Radio”/”Demi-Rep” (three-song 7-inch) — Bikini Kill
  2. “Protect Ya Neck” — Wu-Tang Clan
  3. “Money in the Ghetto” — Too Short
  4. “Heart-Shaped Box” – Nirvana
  5. “Shoop” — Salt-n-Pepa
  6. “50 Ft. Queenie” – PJ Harvey
  7. “Slide” – Luna
  8. “Whoomp! There It Is!” — Tag Team
  9. “Some Jingle Jangle Morning (When I’m Straight)”/“Western Union Desperate” – Mary Lou Lord
  10. “Cannonball” — The Breeders
  11. “It Was a Good Day”/“Check Yo Self”  — Ice Cube
  12. “Web in Front’ – Archers of Loaf
  13. “Ruffneck” — MC Lyte
  14. “Movin’ On Up” — M People
  15. “Man on the Moon” – REM
  16. “If I Had No Loot” — Tony Toni Tone
  17. “Hip Hop Hooray” — Naughty By Nature
  18. “All Apologies” — Nirvana
  19. “Hey Jealousy” — Gin Blossoms
  20. “Come Clean” – Jeru the Damaja
  21. “Feed the Tree” – Belly
  22. “Passin’ Me By” — Pharcyde
  23. “Big Day Coming” – Yo La Tengo
  24. “Down With the King” – Run-DMC
  25. “Chattahoochee” — Alan Jackson
  26. “Nothin But a G Thang” — Dr. Dre w/ Snoop Dogg
  27. “Creep” — Radiohead
  28. “Debonair” – Afghan Whigs
  29. “Dream” – The Cranberries
  30. “Return of the Crazy One” — Digital Underground
  31. “Plastic Dreams” – Jaydee
  32. “Cantaloop” — US3
  33. “That’s the Way Love Goes” — Janet Jackson
  34. “Knockin’ on Mine” — Paul Westerberg
  35. “Show Me Love” – Robin
  36. “Rebirth of Slick” — Digable Planets
  37. “Gotta Lotta Love” – Ice-T
  38. “Method Man” – Wu-Tang Clan
  39. “Send Them” – Lyrics Born
  40. “Soul and Fire” — Sebadoh

MOVIES

No. 6 is a weird place to put Schindler’s List. It feels like it should either be higher or not there at all. But that’s why the film lists are harder than the music ones. I’ve relistened to every album and single on the these lists. Some of these moves, Schindler among them, I haven’t seen in 20 years. At some level, you end up filtering your memory of a film through your present aesthetic sense.

  1. Dazed and Confused (Richard Linklater)
  2. Naked (Mike Leigh)
  3. Ruby in Paradise (Victor Nunez)
  4. Groundhog Day (Harold Ramis)
  5. Short Cuts (Robert Altman)
  6. Schindler’s List (Steven Spielberg)
  7. The Piano (Jane Campion)
  8. Searching for Bobby Fischer (Steve Zaillian)
  9. Menace II Society (Allen and Albert Hughes)
  10. The Fugitive (Andrew Davis)
  11. The Scent of Green Papaya (Tran Anh Hung)
  12. The War Room (D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus)
Revisited

1987 Revisited

Preamble now shrunk to near-zero. (Translation: I lack the time or energy to justify only mostly liking The Joshua Tree.)

image1 (42)

ALBUMS

  1. Sign O’ the Times — Prince: The most musically expansive, exuberant album from the most musically gifted artist in all of modern pop, with the depth of perspective and feeling somehow matching the sonic range and command. (If we’re being honest, for the first time. And maybe the last.) In other words, not just his greatest musical tour de force, but also his smartest, funniest and wisest record. My favorite album of 1987? Probably my favorite album of any year.
  2. Tunnel of Love — Bruce Springsteen: The antithesis of what people think about when they think about Bruce Springsteen, both coming and going. Not the anthemic rock-and-roll savior/bandleader. Not the Woody Guthrie-esque folk balladeer. Just a grown-ass man thinking hard about love and marriage. Side two is as fine a stretch of music as he’s ever released.
  3. Paid in Full — Eric B. & Rakim: The apotheosis of hip-hop’s beat + rhymes foundation.
  4. Pleased to Meet Me — The Replacements: Not as impossibly spirited as Let It Be or as perfectly sequenced as Tim, but this completes a three-album peak run in style. It’s got a higher floor than Tim (what’s the worst song here? “Red Red Wine”? “The Ledge”?) and maybe a higher ceiling too: “Can’t Hardly Wait” is even more the band’s great Memphis song than “Alex Chilton.”
  5. Document — R.E.M.:  There used to be a early rock-and-soul compilation series called Oldies But Goodies where each album was divided into a “Rockin’” side and “Dreamy” side. That’s kind of the story of R.E.M.’s career, alternating their Rockin’ (Monster, Life’s Rich Pageant) and Dreamy (Murmur, Out of Time) sides. Dreamy is probably their best and truest self, but this is the apex of R.E.M.’s rockin’ side. And I’ve come to think it’s their best album.
  6. Soweto Never Sleeps: Classic Female Zulu Jive — Various Artists: Even if you’ve never heard this record and aren’t that familiar with South African pop, this sounds pretty much exactly like what you’d think something dubbed “Classic Female Zulu Jive” would sound like.
  7. G-Man — Sonny Rollins: On its own terms, should probably be a little higher, but I’m such a jazz dabbler I don’t feel right putting up there. One of the jazz records I’ve played the most.  
  8. Louder Than Bombs — The Smiths: This singles comp, few (any?) of the songs found on studio albums, is probably the most durably pleasurable of the band’s records.
  9. By the Light of the Moon — Los Lobos: An unavoidable step back, but still a pretty satisfying sequel to their debut-as-classic How Will the Wolf Survive.
  10. Warehouse: Songs and Stories — Husker Du: Too big for hardcore from first contact, their mid-career peaks were both higher and broader, but they go out here as a great guitar-buzz pop band, 20 bracing if never quite indelible tunes rising and falling from a consistent hour-plus-long sea of sound.
  11. King’s Record Shop — Rosanne Cash
  12. Tallulah — The Go-Betweens
  13. The Lonesome Jubilee — John Mellencamp
  14. You’re Living All Over Me – Dinosaur Jr.
  15. Yo! Bum Rush the Show — Public Enemy
  16. Sister — Sonic Youth
  17. Rhythm Killers — Sly and Robbie
  18. The Joshua Tree — U2
  19. Soul Survivor — Al Green
  20. The People Who Grinned Themselves to Death — The Housemartins
  21. How Ya Like Me Now — Kool Moe Dee
  22. Substance — New Order
  23. Flash Light — Tom Verlaine
  24. Characters — Stevie Wonder
  25. Trio — Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris

SINGLES

  1. “Bring the Noise” — Public Enemy
  2. “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man” — Prince
  3. “Rebel Without a Pause” – Public Enemy
  4. “Can’t Hardly Wait” — The Replacements
  5. “If I Was Your Girlfriend” — Prince
  6. “Right Next Door” — The Robert Cray Band
  7. “U Got the Look”/”Housequake” — Prince
  8. “I Ain’t No Joke” — Eric B. & Rakim
  9. “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” — R.E.M.
  10. “How Ya Like Me Now” — Kool Moe Dee
  11. “I Know You Got Soul” — Eric B. & Rakim
  12. “The One I Love” — R.E.M.
  13. “Don’t Dream It’s Over” — Crowded House
  14. “Have a Nice Day” — Roxanne Shante
  15. “Tunnel of Love” — Bruce Springsteen
  16. “Brilliant Disguise” — Bruce Springsteen
  17. “Alex Chilton” The Replacements
  18. “Livin’ on a Prayer” — Bon Jovi
  19. “Sign O’ the Times” – Prince
  20. “With or Without You” — U2
  21. “Top Billin” – Audio Two
  22. “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” — U2
  23. “La Bamba” — Los Lobos
  24. “Casanova” – Levert
  25. “Hazy Shake of Winter” — Bangles
  26. “Caravan of Love” — The Housemartins
  27. “Rent” – Pet Shop Boys
  28. “The Way You Make Me Feel” — Michael Jackson
  29. “Like the Weather” – 10,000 Maniacs
  30. “Raw” – Big Daddy Kane
  31. “Skeletons” — Stevie Wonder
  32. “Where the Streets Have No Name” – U2
  33. “Open Your Heart” — Madonna
  34. “Push It” — Salt-n-Pepa
  35. “You’re Gonna Get Yours” – Public Enemy
  36. “Pump Up the Volume” — M/A/R/R/S
  37. “Tramp” — Salt-n-Pepa
  38. “Going Way Back” — Just Ice
  39. “I Want Your Sex” — George Michael
  40. “The Bridge is Over” – BDP

MOVIES

Viva Holly Hunter …

  1. Broadcast News
  2. Full Metal Jacket
  3. Hollywood Shuffle
  4. Matewan
  5. Sign O the Times
  6. Family Viewing
  7. Raising Arizona
  8. House of Games
  9. RoboCop
  10. The Big Easy
Revisited

1976 Revisited

I’ve had this list done for awhile, but couldn’t find time to put together a post. For the sake of getting back in this particular saddle, I’m going to post the list with minimal commentary and try to get back on track with regular listening/listing.

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ALBUMS

  1. Have Moicy! — Michael Hurley, the Unholy Modal Rounders and Jeffrey Fredericks & the Clamtones: Bicentennial, bicoastal, bohemian bluegrass and jug-band blues summit meeting as a self-contained hoodoo bash of love, death, food, crime sprees, trips to Paris, cunnilingus, backseat gophers and sundry other subjects. Recorded in two days and one of the most-played albums in my household over the past 20 years. Warning: You might hate this. Rallying cry: “Life is short. Art is long.”
  2. The Wild Tchoupitoulas: The Wild Tchoupitoulas: By contrast: You will like this record. A sort of apotheosis of New Orleans music and one of the records I’m most likely to reach for in a group when I want something I’m sure everyone will enjoy.
  3. The Ramones — The Ramones
  4. Howlin’ Wind – Graham Parker: The missing link between Van Morrison and Elvis Costello.
  5. Another Green World — Eno
  6. Songs in the Key of Life — Stevie Wonder: With the possible exception of Wonder-inheritor Prince, there may not be a modern R&B musician who so fully absorbed the variety of the black music canon. If Songs in the Key of Life isn’t his best album — the consensus is that it is, but I slightly prefer both Innervisions and Talking Book — it’s the ultimate testament to his range and command across this culture.  
  7. The Modern Lovers — The Modern Lovers
  8. Changesonebowie — David Bowie: I’ve always preferred Bowie one piece at a time, and this collects most of what I’d deem essential.
  9. Night Moves — Bob Seger: All Chuck’s children are still out here playing his licks.
  10. Kate & Anna McGarrigle — Kate & Anna McGarrigle
  11. Heat Treatment — Graham Parker: A little bit harder, but also a little less memorable than the debut. A little.
  12. On the Loose — Hi Rhythm: Al Green’s ace backing back doing its own thing while Green and Willie Mitchell are away, and breaking all the rules. This batch of freak-flag funk — sort of like Sly Stone’s There’s a Riot Goin’ On if it were motivated by playfullness instead of bitterness — starts with an anthem called “Black Rock,” ends with a bit of carnal comic relief called “Skinny Dippin’” and is both an oddball indulgence and a total charmer from beginning to end. But you’ll have to decide for youself whether the gently mocking “Superstar” is about Green.
  13. Mothership Connection — Parliament
  14. Marcus Garvey — Burning Spear
  15. Alone Again — George Jones
  16. In the Dark –Toots & the Maytals: I’ve seen four different years listed for this. It’s terrific whenever it came out and I’m just going to put it here.
  17. Black and Blue — Rolling Stones
  18. Full of Fire — Al Green
  19. Station to Station — David Bowie
  20. Blondie — Blondie
  21. Collector’s Item — Harold Melvin & Blue Notes
  22. Tryin’ Like the Devil — James Talley
  23. Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band — Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band
  24. Midnight Son — Son Seals
  25. Gimme Back My Bullets — Lynyrd Skynyrd

SINGLES

  1. “Gloria” — Patti Smith
  2. “Blitzkrieg Bop” — The Ramones
  3. “Anarchy in the UK” — The Sex Pistols
  4. “Police and Thieves” — Junior Murvin
  5. “Misty Blue” — Dorothy Moore
  6. “Don’t Leave Me This Way” — Thelma Houston
  7. “One Piece at a Time” — Johnny Cash
  8. “Night Moves’ — Bob Seger
  9. “Kiss and Say Goodbye” — The Manhattans
  10. “Baby I Love You So” — Jacob Miller/“King Tubby’s Meets Rockers Uptown” — Augustus Pablo
  11. “Don’t Fear the Reaper” — Blue Oyster Cult
  12. “Say You Love Me” — Fleetwood Mac
  13. “Are They Gonna Make Us Outlaws Again?” — James Talley
  14. “You Left the Water Running’ — Otis Redding
  15. “More Than a Feeling” — Boston
  16. “Hold Back the Night’ — The Trammps
  17. “I’m Still Waiting” — Delroy Wilson
  18. “Golden Ring” — George Jones & Tammy Wynette
  19. “Love Hangover” — Dianna Ross
  20. “Book of Rules” — The Heptones
  21. “Tear the Roof Off the Sucker” — Parliament
  22. “Rhiannon” — Fleetwood Mac
  23. “Turn the Beat Around” — Vicki Sue Robinson
  24. “Let’s Start the Dance” — Hamilton Bohannan
  25. “Hurt” — Elvis Presley
  26. “Cokane in My Brain” — Dillinger
  27. “Wake Up Everybody” — Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes
  28. “Main Street” — Bob Seger
  29. “I Love Music” — O’Jays
  30. “I Don’t Want to Go Home” — Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes
  31. “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” — Paul Simon
  32. “Dream On” — Aerosmith
  33. “War in a Babylon” — Max Romeo
  34. “Crazy on You” — Heart
  35. “Heaven Must Be Missing an Angel” — The Tavares
  36. “You Sexy Thing” — Hot Chocolate
  37. “The Boys Are Back in Town’ — Thin Lizzy
  38. “Slow Ride — Foghat
  39. “Golden Years” — David Bowie
  40. “December 1963 (Oh What a Night)” — The Four Seasons

MOVIES

Looking at movies from 1976, I weep at all the titles I’ve been meaning to track down for years and still haven’t gotten to: Harlan County USA, Jonah Who Will Be 25 in the Year 2000, Kings of the Road, Mikey and Nicky, The Missouri Breaks, The Shootist, Small Change. All a reminder that I need to stop spending my decreasing viewing time on binge-y television. Since doing a Top 10 for 1976 would be a little too close to “here are all the movies I’ve seen from this year that I like,” I’ll keep it to five sure shots:

  1. Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese)
  2. The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (John Cassavetes)
  3. All the President’s Men (Alan Pakula)
  4. Assault on Precinct 13 (John Carpenter)
  5. The Bad News Bears (Michael Ritchie)