The Passion of the Weiss

Sometimes I rhyme slow, sometimes I rhyme quick. But most of the time, I don't rhyme.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The 10 Greatest Songs That Didn't Make The Pitchfork List Pt. 1

Here's a photo of Albert Einstein showing to the class exactly how many incredible songs Pitchfork left off their 200 Greatest Songs of the 1960's list. I touched on this topic last week midway through their list to express my outrage that "It's Alright Ma' (I'm Only Bleeding) only ranked #150, a fact which still rankles me a week later (rankles I say). However, now that the list is said and done, it's time to take a look at what didn't make the cut.

Before I touch upon my grievances with this list, I acknowledge the fact that it is damn near impossible to get a group of music writers to make up a Best Of list without any huge omissions. But as I mentioned in my earlier post, this list is chockful of frivolous sugary and sappy pop songs ("I'm a Believer," The Crystals "When He Kissed Me) that can't hold a candle to some of the songs that were left out. And don't get me started about The Jackson 5's "I Want You Back," at #2. I don't even think Joe Jackson thinks "I Want You Back" is better than "Like a Rolling Stone.

But it's not just the writers' over-reliance on pop music (that suddenly has become all the rage in music criticism), it's also their insistence on being needlessly esoteric that bothers me. I've probably listened to as much 60's music as any 20-something on this planet and haven't heard half of the songs that made the cut. But I imagine I'm not alone. One can point to any page on this list and find songs that no one that couldn't pose as an extra in High Fidelity has ever heard of. $50 to anyone who's heard #120--? And the Mysterians "96 Tears," or #119 The Silver Apples' "Oscillations."

Ultimately, my point isn't that it's wrong to celebrate or include forgetten or rarely-heard gems. That in and of itself is an unquestionably good thing. Yet it's slightly intellectually dishonest to exclude these songs in an attempt to show off one's own musical expertise and simultaneously attempt to re-write the canon. In that vein, here are the moments of musical brilliance that Pitchfork declined to mention in an effort to fulfill their girl-pop and boy-band quota. I'm confused, didn't they used to like rock n' roll?

10. Neil Young-"Cowgirl In the Sand," from Everybody Knows This is Nowhere

I'm well aware that Neil Young is predominantly a 70's musician. Most of his best albums came during that era, as he spent most of his 60's recording life in Buffalo Springfield and The Mynah Birds (with Rick James on bass....a Chapelle's Show skit waiting to happen).

And to Pitchfork's credit, they did include two Neil Young songs: "Down By the River," (#83) and "Cinnamon Girl" (#67). However, they disregarded all of his work from Springfield, including gems like "Mr. Soul," supposedly a satirical jab at Mick Jagger; "Broken Arrow," and "I am a Child."

But perhaps the most glaring omission was leaving off "Cowgirl in the Sand," a searing 10 minute meditation on lost love that closed out side two of Young's seminal Everybody Knows This is Nowhere album. Neil wrote about lost loves many times after this track, most notably on the Harvest album. Yet his subsequent efforts often took the form of acoustic ballads. Rarely in music history has a love song burned with such primal intensity as this one, as Neil lets off ferocious and bone-shattering guitar lick after lick to fill up the song's bridge. In the background, the rest of the original incarnation of Crazy Horse sets the stage beautifully for Neil to turn his fury and anguish into the stuff of legend. Without a doubt, "Cowgirl In the Sand," ranks as among the best album closers in musical history and deserves a spot on any list of Best Songs of the 60s.

Download--Neil Young "Cowgirl In the Sand"

#9 The Kinks-"Village Green" from The Kinks are The Village Green Preservation SocietyAny writer could take tips from Ray Davies. In just 2 minutes and a few hundred words, "Village Green," manages to tell the story of a changed English countryside side-by-side with the tale of a lost love named Daisy who ran off with Tom the Grocer Boy after the song's narrator left the Village Green in search of fame. One of the most perfect songs ever written, "Village Green," evokes nostalgia for a fast disappearing time, as the once-pastoral village green becomes sullied by development, the motions of time and the ubiquitous presence of Americans taking photos. Yet by the end of the song, the narrator optimistically and wistfully predicts that one day he will return and he and Daisy will sip tea and it will be like it once was.

This happens all within two minutes. There are only a few bands that one could reasonably claim as the greatest of the 1960's. The Kinks are one of them. Perpetually underrated, the Kinks had four songs clock in on the Pitchfork list #135, Shangri-La; #115 "Victoria," #88, "You Really Got Me," and #29, "Waterloo Sunset." "Village Green," might just be the best of the bunch, if nothing else for its economy and simple and elegant poetry.

The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society is arguably the Kinks' greatest album and yet of its songs made the list. Without a doubt, "Village Green," deserved inclusion, if nothing else for its role as the center-piece and a mission statement of sorts for one of the 10 greatest albums of the decade. Listen for yourself.

Download--The Kinks--"Village Green"

#8--The Grateful Dead "St. Stephen," from Live/Dead
I have several friends who refer to the Grateful Dead as the best "American band of all time." Not necessarily the best band that happened to come from America, but the best band to take America's roots music: bluegrass, the blues, jazz, appalachian folk-songs and distill it into a wild and beautiful psychedelic mess. I happen to agree with them.

Yet somehow the Dead didn't have one song make Pitchfork's list. Of course, I could speculate on the reasons why, but it would take me a few hours and why bother when you can focus on the greatness of "St. Stephen." First appearing on 1969's Axomoxoa, "St. Stephen's" iconic version is from the Live/Dead album that came out later that year. With its roots in English folk-songs, "St. Stephen," might not be a focused pop gem like "The Village Green," with lyrics more imagistic and obtuse, however the song still succesfully adresses the big issues in life: death, ambiguity, fear, etc.

But as underrated of a lyricist as Robert Hunter was, the true essence of "St. Stephen," comes from the shimmering liquid guitar solos of Bob Weir and Jerry Garcia. A staple in their live shows for decades following the release of Live/Dead, "St. Stephen," is the Dead at their finest, pure glittering melodic sensibilities unleashed to roam spontaneous and free according to the whims of the band-members and their substance intake. And rumor has it, it sounds better if you're high.

Grateful Dead-"St. Stephen"

#7 The Yardbirds--"For Your Love," from For Your Love
Why yes, that is Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck to your far right. But despite the fact that during their lifespan, the Yardbirds boasted members such as Page, Beck and Eric Clapton, three of the greatest guitarists of all-time, according to Pitchfork the Yardbirds somehow couldn't couldn't write a better single than the Monkees.

But contrary to these not-so-popular beliefs, The Yardbirds did in fact produce some of the 60's greatest singles. "For Your Love," was merely the band's first major hit during a career that produced such pop gems as "Heart Full of Soul," "Shapes of Things," "Over Under Sideways Down," and "Happenings Ten Years Time Ago."

A lot of bands are credited as being the first to pioneer the sounds of psychedelia (13th Floor Elevators, Love, The Byrds, The Beatles,) but the Yardbirds were as influential as any of them. "For Your Love," from the eponymous album, is one of the band's first signs of a move in a new direction from their blues-based roots. In fact, the success of the very rock-like single was one of the reasons that prompted Eric Clapton to leave the band and head to John Mayall's Bluesbreakers where he could indulge his Howlin Wolf/Muddy Waters fascination (ain't nothing wrong with that).

Just 2 minutes and 11 seconds, "For Your Love," might be one of the most haunting love songs ever written. Penned by Graham Gouldman, "For Your Love," builds with an ominous series of minor-chord progressions, mixed in with Gregorian-sounding chants that compliment Keith Relf's pained and urgent vocal. But the high point of the song comes right after the innocent-sounding bridge, where the Yardbirds return to the ghostly harpsicord, complimented with bongos. And did I mention this was done at the end of 1964. The 60's would take the ideas of psychedelia further than this song, but they rarely did it better. After all, there's a reason why this song is featured prominently in the film adaptation of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

Download--The Yardbirds-"For Your Love"

#6 The Jimi Hendrix Experience--"If 6 Was 9" from Axis: Bold As Love
People can have their Ralph Waldo Emerson or their Thoreau, I'll take Jimi Hendrix in terms of writing one of the greatest American statements of individualism. In 1967, a time rife with uncertainty in regards to the "hippie situation' Hendrix penned this manifesto. In the course of this five and a half minute track, Hendrix basically writes the prototype for how any good artist should conduct themselves: "by waving their freak flag high." His words not mine.

But while the lyrics may seem a bit dated after all these years, Hendrix's ethos remains the same. He doesn't "care if the hippies cut off all their hair." He's got his own "world to live through," and he "ain't gonna' copy you." But hippies aren't the only target of his ire, as he mocks "white collar conservatives/flashin' down the street/pointin' their plastic fingers at him," all to prove his point that he just wants to be his own man in his own time. Which in a way is the American dream.

Why "Purple Haze," was left off this list is another matter of speculation, but I can live with that. I can't live with a world in which "If 6 Was 9" isn't one of the greatest songs of the 1960s. The greatest film of the decade and perhaps of all-time Easy Rider, showcases this song as Capt. America and Billy drive through the heartland. With this song blaring in the backgroud, there's no need for dialogue. Hendrix says everything they could ever hope to say and more.

Jimi Hendrix-"If 6 Was 9"


At 6:21 PM, Blogger Ian said...

You've never heard "96 Tears"? Really? That song is awesome. Hit me up if you want a copy. And it was a #1 hit single, so not really obscure. Fair play on the Silver Apples, though.

Also... Joe Jackson? Huh?

...wait, I just realised I had assumed you meant the "Stepping Out" guy. Never mind.

10. Look, dude, I'm a bigger fan of Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere than the vast majority of people... but (a) "Down By The River" is better (b) with only 200 songs, 3 of them don't need to come from any one album.

9. The Kinks: Underrated so long, they're now overrated (thank you, Dr. David Thorpe).

8. The Dead probably aren't on the list because they kind of suck, maybe?

7. Fair Cop. I prefer "Heart Full of Soul", but point taken.

6. Well, they do have three other Hendrix songs. Personally, I'd rather have "Hey Joe" or "Machine Gun" in there... but it's not as if they neglected the dude.

At 6:37 PM, Blogger Passion of the Weiss said...

1. I would like a copy.

2. I agree three didn't need to come from one album and down by the river is better however, those three songs are 3 of the best 200 of the 60's...they could've put in a Neil Young Springfield cut to have evened it out.

3. The Kinks might be underrated in music critic circles but not to the general public, which is a problem music critics have in reconciling the divide between critical popularity and mainstream acceptance (see that Avalanches argument in Klosterman's book).

4. The Dead rule. You just haven't gotten into them yet. I promise.

5. You're right in that Hendrix is represented well enough. However, I think the two songs you mention or 6 was 9 or Spanish Castle Magic or Purple Haze are just better songs than Manic Depression or Voodoo Child. However, we all know the reason why they didn't imclude Purple Haze was to prove a pt. I mean how can you honestly leave that off?

At 6:38 PM, Blogger Passion of the Weiss said...

correction: I meant to say overrated about the Kinks even though you can't overrate the Kinks really.

At 7:02 PM, Blogger Duke said...

yeah, i'm surprised you haven't heard 96 Tears. you're more likely to hear it on an oldies station than a classic rock station. the list was a fair enough starting point. they hit the biggies in brazilian, french, country, jazz, classic rock, krautrock, folk, rock'n'roll, motown, etc. there were a handful of things i'd never heard, and many omissions....

At 7:05 PM, Blogger Duke said...

also, most indie hipsters will only admit to listening to the dead's "american beauty" and "workingman's blues." i bet if they do a list of best songs of the 70's the dead shows up.

At 7:24 PM, Blogger Passion of the Weiss said...

doubtful...these are the same people who included neither of those albums on their best of the 70s list...a good list but honestly how are you gonna put devo ahead of American Beauty

At 4:36 PM, Blogger amphimacer said...

A first-rate list, Monsieur Weiss, so far (when are 1-5 going up?). A couple of things crossed my mind as I was reading. none of which undermine your main point. First, "96 Tears" was a one-hit wonder, but a doozy. I have a cassette with the song on it, and when I hear it I am reminded again that it was good. Still, I wouldn't put it in my top 200 songs of all time, even with a pop bias. And in spite of my earlier remarks about the craftsmanship of "I'm a Believer," frankly that wouldn't have made my top 200 either. But I don't own a copy of any Monkees song, so I have to rely on memory to remind me. Second, Kinks and Yardbirds are fascinating choices. Both of them came roiling out of the radio, throwing us back in our chairs. The first Yardbirds song I can recall hearing, "Shapes of Things," was the new greatest thing ever, though I do agree with you that "For Your Love" is the better song of the two. These are things I do have copies of, because I bought them. These were worth real money, even when I didn't have a lot (well, I still don't, but have enough that buying a CD now won't break the bank). As for overrating the Kinks, how exactly is that possible? I put a couple of Kinks mp3s on my computer so that I can listen to them again and again.

A list like Pitchfork's, though, which includes jazz and whatever else they thought would be worth including, isn't a list of the best songs, however; it's a list of the best records. That's different from songs, where certainly the great songwriters would predominate. I haven't seen the whole list, but I just couldn't resist adding one choice of my own, which I bet they didn't have -- if they did, kudos and apologies: Donovan's "Sunny Goodge Street." That is a lost treasure, and it's one of those reasons (along with the complete flute and piano sonatas by Johann Sebastian Bach played by Jean-Pierre Rampal) I have to get my vinyl collection onto CDs.

At 4:53 PM, Blogger Passion of the Weiss said...

Thank you very much for the praise...part 2 will be up tommorow I hope...that pt about the greatest records is entirely true....those might be the greatest singles in their minds but in my eyes there are certain figures you'll need to be top heavy about no matter who they are (Young, the kinks, etc.)

I've never heard that Donovan song...which album is it from. I confess Im a pretty big Donovan song. Poor guy was a great songwriter, if the press hadn't lumped him in with Dylan I think his reputation would've came out of the decade more intact. Pitchfork didn't imclude it They did include Season of the Witch which was a good choice, however they prolly should've had sunshine superman on it too.

At 8:59 PM, Blogger David said...

Shouldn't your list of top ten songs include ten songs? Maybe I'm a mental retard, but I only counted 5.

At 6:10 PM, Blogger Ian said...

Whoops, totally blanked on this. Jeff, shoot me an email and I'll get you hooked up.

Yeah, I agree about "Manic Depression" (what the hell dudes?), but "Voodoo Child"? That along with
"All Along The Watchtower" is pretty much his best stuff. Okay, and "Purple Haze"... that one song I will agree provisionally that they probably left it off to prove a point.

It's a good point about the Kinks - but while I'll accept that the band is only overrated among what we might as well call the Pitchfork community (because, really...), I would point out that this list is not going to get out into the masses. So I'm not sure what the utility of putting more Kinks here would be? But I fully admit to philistinism - I only really like the Kinks best-of, I've never gotten into the album length experience.

I was mostly jesting about the Dead - my favourite prof is a huge fan (them and John Fahey, actually) so I imagine I might hear a bunch of their stuff soon. But so far, the snippets I've heard (mostly after the two hipster embraced albums mentioned here) haven't done much for me. What does it say that the release I'm most intrigued by is Greyfolded?

At 7:52 PM, Blogger Passion of the Weiss said...

I've never been all that crazy about Voodoo Child, then again I'm not about to argue against it's greatness either. And Im with you on All Along the Watchtower. That song is brilliant and needed inclusion at all costs.

Good to hear about the Dead, Fahey is quite good too. I'm a big fan of the Dead, obviously their live stuff is quite good, and I'd agree that American Beauty and Workingman's Dead are prolly their two best studio albums. But axomoxoa is pretty great, Blues For Allah, The Grateful Dead (a live album from 71), and From the Mars Hotel among others are excellent

By the way, you're gonna' laugh but I just heard Movement when you posted it. Wow. That's a damn fine album.

At 8:04 PM, Anonymous Sach said...

Great post. One of their main problems seems to be that their conciously choosing obscure/esoteric material on the basis that it predates or influenced later musical trends that they support. To the detriment of popular standards which influenced stuff they simply don't like. Additionally, I can state with authority that the French music they chose (excluding Gainsbourg) is unabashedly corny as #$%@ and it makes them come off as culture-thieves who have no idea what they're dealing in.

Ultimately, there were maybe 100-150 good songs in the list, some of which I'm sure their audience will discover so it's not a total waste.

At 9:30 PM, Blogger irenie said...

St Stephen!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

At 7:22 AM, Anonymous jim said...

sorry geezer but ignorance is never a good defence. 96 Tears IS a classic, may have been a 1 hit wonder but none the less very influential and a garage rock classic. you need to check it. and if you haven't heard the sliver apples then you really should educate yourself, electronic music pioneers and one of the few in the 200 that i felt was a good leftfield choice and a little surprise. grateful dead are an amercian oddity with no resonance outside of the states, and yes they suck. fair call on the hendrix though

At 3:55 AM, Blogger Ian said...

"One of their main problems seems to be that their conciously choosing obscure/esoteric material"

Okay, admittedly, I've never worked for Pitchfork; but unless they do things radically differently than, err, everyone else I can guarantee there was little to no conscious intent in terms of the group list. I know what it looks like from the outside, but trust me, these things are always pretty much random.

And I haven't actually dug into Movement yet myself, Jeff, I wanted to hear it after Mark k-punk told me he liked it better than Closer... I'm heartened to hear someone else out there likes it.

At 5:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

96 Tears is the Jam. And, it's by a can't beat that. Texas Tornadoes do a cover of it.


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