The Passion of the Weiss

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

Friday, August 25, 2006

The 10 Greatest Songs That Didn't Make The Pitchfork List Pt. 2

#5 Cream--"Tales of Brave Ulysses" from Disraeli Gears

Eric Clapton must've mailed anthrax to Pitchfork headquarters in Chicago. That's the only way that I can reconcile how neither his work in the Yardbirds, John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, nor Cream yielded one song on Pitchfork's 200 greatest songs list.

There was a reason why British youths in the 1960's sprayed "Clapton is God," graffiti all over London and this song shows why. A fusion of blues-rock, pop and psychedelia, "Tales of Brave Ulysses," is a simple but gracefully written ballad about the Greek hero Ulysses. Set to the backdrop of Clapton's rippling guitar licks that almost explode with color and Ginger Baker's steady drum beat, "Tales" is the high point off of Cream's finest album 1968's Disraeli Gears.

In the course of their abbreviated two-year career, Cream wrote several other hit singles, most notably "White Room," and "Sunshine of Your Love," but while those singles surely deserve to make any list of greatest songs, "Tales of Brave Ulysses," showcases the finest writing of the bunch. With lyrics written by Martin Sharp and Eric Clapton, "Tales" maintains a tight focus, a tough task considering that during the mid-60s Clapton was simultaneously tripping on acid while swigging a fifth of Jack during most recording sessions. Plus, it boasts one of the great first verses of the decade:

"You thought the leaden winter would bring you down forever/but rode upon a steamer to the violence of the sun/and the colors of the sea blind your eye with trembling mermaids/and you touch the distant beaches with tales of brave Ulysses/how his naked ears were tortured by the sirens sweetly singing/for the sparkling waves are calling you to kiss their white laced lips."

Does it reek of hippie-dippy imagery? Well, obviously. But does it rock. Well, obviously. Needless to say, Cream=all sorts of awesome. Lists without Cream=not all sorts of awesome.

Download: Cream--"Tales of Brave Ulyssses."

#4 Love-"A House Is Not a Motel" from Forever Changes

Quite a way to eulogize recently departed Arthur Lee, easily one of the greatest songwriters of all-time, by featuring none of his songs. The list did include a token Love song "Alone Again Or," off of Forever Changes. However, that song was written by Love's other songwriter Bryan Maclean.

Keep in mind, this list included four songs from the Shangri-La's and two Monkees songs. I'll just assume that the Shranri-La's and the Monkees are infinitely better songwriters than Arthur Lee. That makes sense. Besides, that Davey Jones was surely dreamy.

At any rate, any good list of Greatest Songs of the 60's needs more than one Love song. In fact, I'd argue that off of Forever Changes alone, four songs deserved inclusion: "Alone Again Or," "Maybe the People Would Be the Times Between Clark and Hillsdale," You Set the Scene," and "A House Is Not a Motel." You could also argue for Love's cover of "My Little Red Book," or "Signed D.C," off of their eponymous first album, "Stephanie Knows Who," off of Da Capo, or even "Singin' Cowboy," off of Four Sail.

Yet out of Love's inimitable canon of work, "A House is Not a Motel," stands out as the most eerily prophetic of the bunch, and strangely resonant nearly forty years after it was written. The high point of the song comes directly after the bridge kicks in the one minute mark, as Maclean's hard folk rock guitar and Lee's eerie yells fill the space admirably. Then suddenly, out of the wildnerness, Lee seems to descend like a crazed and wild-eyed holy man stepping down off of a mountain with revelations:

"By the time that I'm through singing/the bells from the schools will be ringing/more confusions/blood transfusions/the news today will be the movies of tommorow/and if you don't think so/go turn on your tub/and if it's mixed with mud/it'll turn to gray/and you can call my name/I hear you call my name."

This song isn't just one of the 200 Greatest Songs of the Decade, it's one of the greatest ever written.

Download: Love--"A House is Not a Motel"

#3 The Beatles--"While My Guitar Gently Weeps" from The White Album
To the list's credit, it did include 5 Beatles songs, most of which were well-chosen, "Eleanor Rigby," "I am the Walrus," "A Day in the Life," and "Tommorow Never Knows." However, I'm still scratching my head over the inclusion of "I Wanna Hold Your Hand." Clearly, the listmakers weren't interested in iconic tunes, after all "Blowin' in the Wind," "The Times Are a Changin," and "Purple Haze," didn't make the cut. So why include "I Wanna Hold Your Hand," clearly a sappy song, showing the Beatles style still developing. (though it is a fine song).

And if you're going to have any list of great Beatles songs, any list would be remiss without a George Harrison song. Granted, Harrison only got two or three shots each LP, but the George songs are quite often pop masterpieces. Yet none stands out more than "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," off The White Album, the Beatles' last perfect album in my book, and an album that didn't land one song on the list.

According to legend, the Beatles were feuding pretty heavily during the White Album sessions. Paul and John were barely speaking. George was being weird and growing his mustache. And Ringo, well Ringo was Ringo, which means he was being generally pretty awesome. However, when the Beatles brought in Clapton to play guitar on the track, apparently everyone shut up and Paul even stopped serenading Linda McCartney to play the beautiful piano introduction.

Of course, everyone's heard this song 1,000 times before, but unlike many other Beatles songs, this one is impossible to get sick of. How this didn' t make the list is beyond me. Then again this song did feature Clapton on guitar, which of course brings up those unsavory anthrax rumors.

Download--The Beatles "While My Guitar Gently Weeps"

#2 Bob Dylan--"It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" from Bringing It All Back HomeBob Dylan is the greatest songwriter of all-time and anyone would be hard-pressed to understand music history or the 60's if he didn't understand Bob Dylan. If it weren't for Dylan, this list would've looked a whole lot different and for that reason, the man was probably worthy of more than five songs to make the list. Granted, the Dylan picks were on the money: "Visions of Johanna," "It's Alright Ma," "Dont Think Twice It's Alright," "Like A Rolling Stone," and "Subterranean Homesick Blues," are all outstanding choices. But if I'm going to include the best songs that didn't make it, I'd be remiss not to include the Dylan cuts left out.

Picking the greatest left-out Dylan song is practically impossible. There's "A Hard Rains Gonna Fall," "Spanish Boots of Spanish Leather," "Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands," and "Ballad of a Thin Man," that come readily to mind. But out of anything, "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue stands out as the greatest of the bunch.

Describing a Bob Dylan song is worthless because any combination of words choosen will always pale in comparison to the transcendence of his lyrics. However, not only is "It's All Over Now Baby Blue," one of the most beautiful songs ever written, it maintains significant historical importance as it served as Dylan's kiss-off to the folk scene that he came up in. While the lyrics probably refer to Dylan's ex-wife, Sara Lowndes, who he nicknamed Blue, he played this song at the jeering fans Newport Folk Festival in 1965, right after debuting his new non-folk songs. The cliche goes that "rock n' roll would never be the same again." There's a reason why it's a cliche.

Download--Bob Dylan "Its All Over Now, Baby Blue"

#1 The Doors: "The End," from The Doors
Apparently, it's not cool in music critic circles to like The Doors. This was news to me when I started blogging. After all, as a wise man once told me, "anyone worth knowing has had a Doors phase at some point in their life." And generally, as I've gone about my life, I've found that to be true. Nearly everyone cool has had a Doors obsession at one point or another (usually in their 7th and 8th grade years).

This brings me to one of two conclusions. Either music critics are not cool or that they used to have Doors posters on their wall for Junior High. I haven't decided which is which. However, I will state point blank that dismissing The Doors' greatness is ridiculous position to take.

Earlier this year, Blender magazine, named "The End," one of the worst songs ever written. I suppose that's why Francis Ford Coppola, used the song at the beginning of Apocalpyse Now. Because he really wanted to start off his film with something that completely sucked. Something that had no emotional resonance,

The fact that Pitchfork didn't include one Doors song in their list of the 200 Best of the Decade
is pretty laughable. Not "The End," not "Break On Through," "Light My Fire," "Strange Days," "Five to One." Nothing. You'd think a bunch of guys as obviously intelligent as the Pitchfork writers would respect Morrison. Say all you want about him being stupid, other than Dylan, Morrison might have been the most literate rocker of the 60's.

People can play elitist all they want, there will never be another Jim Morrison. Gifted with a haunting and rich baritone and the talent to craft surrealist Rimbaud-esque poems, Morrison admittedly had his stumbles, "The Soft Parade" is practically unlistenable. However, the Doors left behind a canon of work that will hold up forever. Just like the Smiths, the Doors will always appeal to alienated youth, thanks to Morrison's themes of non-conformity and rebellion.

While "Break On Through," and "Light My Fire," reveal The Doors' talent for songcraft, "The End," might be their greatest work. An 11 and half minute Oedipal epic, "The End," is one of the most haunting songs ever written. There has never been another song like it and there never will be. People can say all they want about Suicide's "Frankie Teardrop," "The End," will top it every time. You can label Morrison intellecually vapid. You can point to his embarassing behavior. You can call the Doors a band for teeny-boppers. That just isn't the truth. The Doors might not hold up as the best American band of all-time, but they came pretty damn close.

Download: The Doors--"The End"

On that note, stay classy, San Diego.


At 1:48 PM, Anonymous rafi said...

I think the Doors put out their best album on the day after the 60s ended...

Morrison Hotel was released Jan 1 1970

But anyway, a lot of people grow ashamed of their pubescent obsessions (including the Doors).

I haven't checked out the PF list yet but good top 10 and commentary in these 2 posts.

At 2:10 PM, Blogger CrimeNotes said...

Interesting thoughts about The Doors. Like you said, my friends and I had a white-hot Doors phase that ran from 7th grade through 9th grade. (I read one of Morrison's poems to my 9th grade English class; the book was temporarily confiscated.) I had no idea that it was widespread.

A couple of months ago, for some reason, I decided to dip into my Doors CDs, which probably haven't been played in 10 years. The results were mixed. Their first album and "LA Woman" hold up pretty nicely. The rest I thought fell somewhere between weak and inconsistent. "Strange Days," once my favorite Doors album, bored me. But "The Doors" and "LA Woman" had real underlying strangeness. To me, they both sound dark and challenging and credible. "Peace Frog" also held up really well.

I can't muster the same enthusiasm for "The End." It works perfectly in "Apocalypse Now" and as a stand-alone song has probably been eclipsed by its place in that movie. It meanders into garble and at points both the lyrics and their delivery sound just ridiculous, particularly, "The killer awoke before dawn/ he put his boots on /he took a face out of the ancient gallery/ and walked on down the hall!" Like a lame ghost story being told by an anthro major on a bad acid trip. But that song played while Martin Sheen cuts himself on a mirror and a water buffalo is sacrificed by natives? Blood-curdling.

At 5:44 PM, Blogger amphimacer said...

Nope. Never had a Doors phase. My older brother did, and a girl I was nuts about when I was sixteen thought Jim M. was a great poet (he was not), so I had a second-hand thing with the Doors and didn't have to go through it myself to get a good dose of their stuff. The hippy-dippy awfulness of "The End" is really part of the point of it, the source of its charm (and I love the Beach Boys, too, but "Vegetables" is not a better record than "Light My Fire" -- that's just imbecilic). As for Clapton, the one record I expected was "Layla"; wasn't that on the list? Or maybe his take on "I Shot the Sheriff"? Those were hits.

Dylan certainly could get more songs, and would get more on my list, too, as would the Beatles. As noted in a previous comment, I am enamoured of "Norwegian Wood" and, I would add, I think the most wonderful early song may be George's "Don't Bother Me."

But I like your commentary, although you didn't have any Bach on your list. (Yes, I know he died in 1756.) The Procol Harum on Pitchfork's list doesn't count.

The Donovan song "Sunny Goodge Street" is on "Fairytale" (I think it was the album right after "What's Bin Did and What's Bin Hid," which is where "Catch the Wind" is (those are the two early Donovan LPs I own). Frankly, I'm blasted if I can figure out why "Catch the Wind" isn't on the list.

Phil Ochs: His best work is much less known than his protest songs, and I think I would nominate (I'm not checking my LPs, so forgive me if I get it wrong) 1969's "The Scorpion Departs but Does Not Return" -- source of one of the era's greatest lines: "I'm not screaming, no I'm not screaming,/Tell me I'm not screaming." Frankly, his one hit, "Outside of a Small Circle of Friends" is also better than "I'm Not Marching Any More." Now, I bought that album, too, but that's not his best work by any stretch of the imagination.

Nilsson: "Everybody's Talkin'" was his first hit, from the "Midnight Cowboy" soundtrack, and it's a great song and a terrific version. Why didn't they say anything more about Fred Neil, who wrote some other excellent songs? If they're trying to bring to light a few lost gems, F.N. is a good place to start. On the other hand, I love Nilsson's version of "River Deep, Mountain High"; I like it better than Ike & Tina Turner's. And when they say his "One" is a better version than Three Dog Night's -- well, okay, but where's their best work? "Eli's Coming" maybe? And Laura Nyro's missing, too.

"Wichita Lineman" remains Jimmy Webb's most perfect song, in a career of big hits and unknown gems. Every time I hear it, even just in my head, I get goose bumps. But where is "P.F. Sloan" (well, that's probably from 1970 . . .)? Not to mention P.F. Sloan's own great manufactured protest song, "Eve of Destruction" that Barry McGuire sang the hell out of?

Simon & Garfunkel: "America" is notable for one unlikely feature, which ought to have been mentioned, because it's so unusual -- it doesn't rhyme. The lyric is an extraordinary piece of what might be called blank verse. It's a wonderful song, and deserves better commentary than the bland "dewily harmonious" they give it.

Re "You Can't Always Get What You Want": that's not girls, that's a boys' choir.

Other missing songs: "Liar" by the Castaways, "Keep on Dancing" by the Gentrys, and I don't recall seeing "My Girl." And they named the Supremes over and over, and left off "Stop! In the Name of Love"! And "The Mighty Quinn" as done by Manfred Mann. When I was doing a campus radio show that was the record I opened with every week. That's a great record (of course, it's another Dylan song, which makes it a problem, like the Byrds doing "Mr. Tambourine Man" or the other fifteen or so Dylan songs they recorded -- praising Gene Clark, when you can praise Bob Dylan, seems like praising hamburgers when you can praise filet mignon, doesn't it?). Or the Chairmen of the Board's "Give Me Just a Little More Time" and Steppenwolf's "Born to Be Wild" and James Taylor's "Carolina on My Mind" (1968). And on and on. They didn't even pick the best of Miles Davis, as far as I'm concerned, but that's arguable. One could go on and on, to be sure, but did I just miss it, or is Aretha Franklin singing "Respect" not on the list? Only a moron could say that wasn't one of the best records of the 1960s. Okay, I've got it off my chest now.

At 7:48 PM, Blogger Passion of the Weiss said...

I do like Morrison Hotel, and it's definitely a huge comeback for them especially considering the abomination that was Soft Parade, but I must say I'm slightly partial to LA Woman. I also think Waiting for the Sun is damned underrated and Strange Days is quite good except for Horse Latitudes which might be the worst song ever made.

And while I see what everyone's sayimg, I do think Morrison was a good poet. Was he Rimbaud or Ginsberg? Not quite. But he was strong especially for rock music. Plus, the guy was young when he did all this stuff...he died at 27 and his best work was written when he was 21, tripping on acid in Venice. To write the first album as a 21-year old is a pretty astonishing achievement.

I know the End is a bit much to stomach, I can only listen to it once every five years at this pt, but in its time and place its a masterpiece. Plus, again its like the Smiths. Morrissey seems a bit whiny to me now but when you're younger it hits you pretty hard and not in a stupid Dashboard Confessional emo way and I think there's something to be said for that.

Those are some great picks Amphimacer, I co-sign on the pts though I've never heard much Phil Ochs. I prolly should. And they did get Respect in there, I think they put it pretty high too. Can't argue with that pick.

At 12:46 PM, Anonymous silawe said...

Jeff, I agree with you about Cream but give me a break on the Doors.
I admit that I did like them for about 5 minutes in junior high but at the time I also thought there would never be a better writer than Vonnegut.
Thankfully, I am no longer stoned, 13 and boring which the Doors were, boring.

At 2:45 PM, Blogger Passion of the Weiss said...

But you did like on some level there is merit...And I don't think there are that many better writers than Vonnegut. I dunno...I think his accessibility makes him even better...the fact that you liked him at 13 says a lot about how great he was...most of these other writers all think they're trying to write the next Ulysses...

At 8:48 PM, Blogger mutoni said...

i know next to nothing about these rock dudes, but your passion (no pun intended) for the music makes me scramble for wikipedia and the nearest peer-to-peer program to check out their works.

At 5:26 PM, Blogger chris said...

I agree 100%: The Doors, especially with "The End," are so far superior in scope and ambition than anyone else in their time. Haters can hate, but nobody compares to Morrison, the T.S. Eliot of rock and roll.

At 3:52 AM, Blogger Ian said...

Look, I have no idea if I've ever been cool, and I've hated Jim Morrison since I was a little kid (not the doors - give them another, better, singer and I'd love some of their work - that organ!), but I could be the dude's biggest fan and I'd still be wondering why out of all the poets you could have picked you're dragging poor T.S. Eliot into this.

I agree with Jeff, "The End" is a masterpiece in it's time and place. The problem is, it's only time and place is in Apocalypse Now. Anywhere/when else it is drivel. I could listen to it as a kid and find it annoying; say what you want about "Frankie Teardrop" but I still find it pretty powerful/disturbing now that I'm fully grown.

At 2:44 PM, Blogger Passion of the Weiss said...

Fair enough Ian...I'm only kidding...besides there's always exceptions to every rule. Everyone's entitled to have gripes with a band.

I agree about Frankie Teardrop....but the problem with that song for me is that its actually too horrifiying and it sorta' feels a bit like emotional manipulation what with those screams and all. That song is just way way too much. It's like hearing a Charles Manson record (without Dennis Wilson)


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