Critiquing Reddit’s Taste, Part 2


Special Friday Edition!

Friday is the day on /r/music where the mods like to turn off the ability to post YouTube videos in the hopes of the subreddit actually becoming one for music discussion and not, say, where Reddit likes to dump it’s garbage fire taste in music.  Ha.  Ha ha.  Well, they try, that’s the important thing.

If you tuned in yesterday, you’ll get the basic gist:  I take a look at the top ten songs posted on /r/music in the last 24 hours and tell you how terrible Reddit’s taste in music is.  In much rarer occasions, I’ll tell you where they get it right.  Fridays will be fun because of the phenomenon mentioned above:  it’s going to be a collection of those songs with the staying power to make it through the discussion posts.

Also, for the record, no I don’t plan on this being an everyday thing, but I would like it to be an everyday I can manage it thing.


June 2nd, 2016 (12:30 PM) to June 3rd, 2016 (12:30 PM)

#1:  Mr. Bungle – “Air Conditioned Nightmare”

Reddit manages to kick it off with something weird and cool, courtesy of Mike “Weird and Cool” Patton.  Goes through four different changes in tone and structure, each completely different than the one before.  In anyone else’s hands, it would be a gigantic mess, but Mike Patton isn’t anyone else.


#2:  Dinosaur Jr. – “Feel The Pain”

Sirius XMU’s favourite Dinosaur, Jr track is also Reddit’s most commonly posted DJ song.  Thankfully it never gets old, although I’ve heard it three times today between the radio and this particular set.  Two good tracks in a row, Reddit, maybe Fridays are your thing.


#3:  Beck – “Wow”

Ah, the new Beck track.  The one that starts off like a generic hip hop beat, or maybe something like what Beyonce might have rejected for her self-titled 2013 album.  Then Beck manages to bull through it in a display of sheer Beck-ness.  Still, it feels a little empty and it’s not until 2/3 of the way through that Beck lets his freak flag fly in even a limited fashion.  Honestly it feels a little like Beck chasing a hit and I’m not sure how I feel about that.  Holding out opinions for the album, we’ll see.


#4:  The Cult – “Love Removal Machine”

The Cult were an Eighties goth band that scored some hits when they decided to be an AC/DC tribute band instead.  My mom knew the lead singer in high school at one point, to no one’s surprise he was a dick.  Trust Reddit to go ga-ga for generic hard rock because “it has guitars”.


#5:  A Day To Remember – “Bad Vibrations”

Why do metalcore bands have such fucking awful band names?  Why do metalcore bands all recycle the same damn low-end chugging?  Why do metalcore bands mistake sung choruses for depth?  Why do metalcore bands insist on breakdowns that are cheesier than a Wisconsin hamburger?

Anyway, you can always tell when the pre-teens are posting, because there will be metalcore.


#6:  The Monkees – “Birth Of An Accidental Hipster”

Okay, show of hands.  Who was crying out for a Monkees comeback?  Anyone?  Put your hand down, dad, Jesus Christ.  Wait, this is actually sort of good.  I…I kind of like this.  Noel Gallagher co-wrote it?  I suppose that explains some things.


#7:  Portugal.  The Man – “Plastic Soldiers”

Who gave the indie kids access to the internet?  They managed to find a Portugal. The Man track that isn’t all that great.  It’s about as middling a work as you can find from a middling also-ran indie act.  You thought you were doing something good, but instead you fucked it all up.  Good work, Reddit.


#8:  Soundgarden – “Rusty Cage”

The rest of the post title literally reads:  “I know this has been posted before, but not for months & I think it’s well worth posting again.” Oh, well, I guess that makes sense except wait IT WAS LITERALLY POSTED YESTERDAY AS THE JOHNNY CASH COVER.

Who are you trying to fool, anyway?  We all know where the inspiration to post this came from.

Decent tune though.


#9:  Link Wray – “Rumble”

Link Wray  poked a hole in his speaker cone with a pencil and invented hard rock single-handed.  That might be a bit of an exaggeration, but not by much.  Reddit of course knows it from its multiple pop cultural appearances, including Tarantino.  At least it’s better than just posting the songs from Guitar Hero .


#10:  Joywave – “Nice House”

Lyrics are the only really halfway interesting part of this song, the rest is a really generic and straightforward electro-pop song, like what Hot Chip would write if they got really, really boring all of a sudden.  The outro is rather nice though.


TODAY’S AVERAGE:  B- (Not bad, Reddit!)



Critiquing Reddit’s Taste, Part 1


And now for a new sequence, brought to you by the…ahem…”tastemakers” of Reddit’s infamously awful /r/music community.

It’s often said that Reddit has shitty taste in music.  Granted it’s usually 4chan’s /mu/ community saying that, but let’s be serious here.  Whether it’s the constant love of Queen and Foo Fighters that makes me roll my eyes or the circlejerking over how superior they are because of their love of Tool, /r/music is a bottomfeeder in terms of music communities.

Or is it?  I’ve decided to start an ongoing series where I listen to the top ten songs posted to /r/music in a 24 hour period and assign them completely subjective ratings based on my own insane whims and thought processes.  Then we’ll see if /r/music’s taste actually sucks as badly as I’ve always thought.

Without further ado, I give to you:

June 1st, 2016 (12:30 PM) to June 2nd, 2016 (12:30 PM)

#1:  Rancid – “Ruby Soho”

The most poppy and milquetoast of all of the Clash-rip-off’s poppy and milquetoast songs.  /r/music loves punk rock, but only if it’s from Le Nineties and it’s been beaten to death on the radio since then.


#2:  The Avalanches – “Frankie Sinatra”

The first time since 2001 that Australian sample-stackers The Avalanches release new music AND it’s fucking stellar?  You win this time Reddit.  You win this time.


#3:  Dethklok – “I Ejaculate Fire”

I’d say something snarky about how the only way metal gets to the top of Reddit is in cartoon form but I can’t hate on Dethklok.  This isn’t completely dildos.


#4:  Johnny Cash – “Rusty Cage”

The best that can be said of this is that at least Reddit took a break from jerking off over “Hurt”.  At least with “Rusty Cage” I don’t have to read about how “REZNOR TOTALLY SAID THAT SONG BELONGED TO JOHNNY CASH NOW BECAUSE THE COVER WAS SO MUCH BETTER!!1!11!”.  In fact, one of the top comments is the exact opposite.  Thank you, Jesus.


#5:  The Distillers – “The Young Crazed Peeling”

Man it has been a long time since I thought of Brody and The Distillers.  It still sounds like Courtney Love fronting Rancid to me, and as the years have gone by that prospect appeals to me exponentially less.  Also, those fucking spikes.  Jesus Brody, how much money did you shell out to get that look down just right?  How punk rock of you.


#6:  Huey Lewis And The News – “If This Is It”

Jesus Christ Reddit, Bret Easton Ellis was being ironic.  What the hell is wrong with you?


#7:  Lagwagon – “Island Of Shame”

Apparently it’s awful pop punk day on Reddit.  Lagwagon was that band that was there for you if Pennywise was too edgy for you.  Completely indistinguishable from anything else on Epitaph in the mid-90s.


#8:  Grand Funk Railroad – “I’m Your Captain (Closer To Home)”

GFR got a lot of hate back in the day from critics because, well, they’re not really that good on average.  Still, they were capable of moments of brilliance, and “I’m Your Captain” is one of those.  For more on Grand Funk Railroad, consult your local library.


#9:  Men At Work – “Down Under”

Goofy Eighties pop rock from the Gowan of Australia.  I often wonder who posts these sorts of songs.  Kids nostalgic for a time they never had to live through?  Adults putting on rose-coloured nostalgia glasses?  Mouthbreathers who listen to bland Mix FM stations at work?  At least in dying you don’t have to deal with New Wave for a second time.


#10:  The Justified Ancients of Mu-Mu (aka The KLF) – “It’s Grim Up North”

Reddit’s sizeable school shooter community comes through in the clutch.



The Sonics – This Is The Sonics


The Sonics – This Is The Sonics

The last time Tacoma, WA band The Sonics were recording music, the Beatles were just discovering sitars and LSD.  This is a band old enough to have its members shipped off to Vietnam, which saxophonist Rob Lind actually did.  The others found jobs or went to college; the actual band was dead by 1968, although the in-name-only touring band would continue until 1980.  They became retroactively famous for tracks like “Maintaining My Cool” (which was featured on one of the Nuggets comps) and “The Witch”; their name has been bandied about every time screeching garage rock is making a new name for itself – 1977, 2001, the San Francisco psych-garage scene.

With such continued interest, and a revival in the original band playing live, a new album was perhaps inevitable.  Reunion albums are always a chancy thing – for every No Cities To Love there are a thousand Indie Cindys.  This Is The Sonics, though, is the real deal – this is an album that sounds as though no time at all has passed in the intervening forty years.  Despite the advanced age of the players – they’re all over 70 now – there is no compromise to be found here.  The Sonics are playing garage rock the only way they know how – fast, lewd, distorted, and shot through with dirty blues and early, primal rock and roll.  The material threatens to feel dated but never does, and the deciding factor is absolutely the volcanic force with which the band plays, a force that should send half the San Fran scene back to their scuzzy garages to regroup.

Local H – “Bound For The Floor”



Once called “the greatest alternative rock song ever” by my roommate in university, “Bound For The Floor” remains the biggest and, really, only hit from the Illinois band.  Did you know that they released five albums after 1996’s As Good As Dead?  I certainly didn’t.  They also apparently play every New Years Eve in Chicago.  Honestly, though, nothing screams “I just entered high school” for me more than “Bound For The Floor”.  It’s also, as Andy Frost once opined, much better than being bound on the floor.  Unless you’re into that sort of thing.  Cough.

Goodnight Scott Asheton


Stooges drummer Scott Asheton has passed away at the age of 64.

The Stooges were perhaps the seminal proto-punk band, eschewing the peace-and-love ideal of the day in favour of the three Fs:  feedback, fucking, and getting fucked up.  In an era where rock ‘n’ roll had a tendency of being a bit fey and esoteric, the Stooges skewed in the opposite direction.  They played like cavemen, bashing out howling songs of go-nowhere lives with a snarling abandon that wouldn’t fully come into vogue for a decade.  Like primitive Sixties garage rock heroes like the Sonics, Monks, and Troggs, they banged out three-chord anthems to teenage wastelands built around brother Ron Asheton’s swirling feedback and the pound of Scott’s drums.

From 1967 to 1974 they prowled the United States, selling virtually no records and freaking people out with singer Iggy Pop’s wild onstage antics.  After falling apart in an implosion of booze, heroin, and commercial failure, Asheton took over the drumset of Sonic’s Rendezvous Band, featuring garage-soul guru Scott Morgan and fellow Detroiter Fred “Sonic” Smith, formerly of the MC5.  When Smith put the band on hiatus to marry another proto-punk (American poetess Patti Smith) in 1980 Asheton followed Morgan around through various projects including The Scott Morgan Band and Scott’s Pirates.  In 2003 he joined up with the reunited Stooges to tour endlessly; in 2007 the band released a fourth album, The Weirdness.  In 2009 his brother Ron died and in 2011 Scott suffered a stroke after a performance at a festival in France.

Iggy Pop had this to say about Asheton’s death:

“My dear friend Scott Asheton passed away last night. Scott was a great artist, I have never heard anyone play the drums with more meaning than Scott Asheton. He was like my brother. He and Ron have left a huge legacy to the world. The Ashetons have always been and continue to be a second family to me.

My thoughts are with his sister Kathy, his wife Liz and his daughter Leanna, who was the light of his life.

Iggy Pop”


-“1969”, from The Stooges (1969)


-“I Wanna Be Your Dog, from The Stooges (1969)


-“T.V. Eye”, from Fun House (1970)


-“Fun House”, from Fun House (1970)


-“Search And Destroy”, from Raw Power (1973)


-“Your Pretty Face Is Going To Hell”, from Raw Power (1973)


-“City Slang” – Sonic’s Rendezvous Band, late 1970s


-“Pirate Music” – The Scott Morgan Band, from Rock Action (1988)


-“You Can’t Have Friends”, from The Weirdness (2007)


-“Sex and Money”, from Ready To Die (2013)


Tramps Like Us: A Guide To Bruce Springsteen, Part 1 (1973-1984)


In his day Bob Dylan was referred to as the heir to Woody Guthrie.  The singer’s early days – simply chorded folk tunes that gave shape to the musical expression of the political fervour of the time – were certainly influenced by the fellow Minnesota native.  As the 1960s progressed on into the 1970s, however, Dylan lost that sense of Everyman solidarity in favour of psychedelic word vomit, Nashville love songs, Christian revivalism, and eventually himself.  Bruce Springsteen arrived in the middle of this slow transformation bearing more than a bit of Dylan influence on his sleeve; his wordy songs were folk-inflected sketches of regular life in his New Jersey homeland and they reveled in pure language as much as they did in Atlantic seashore touchstones.  Unlike Dylan, however, Springsteen never held himself aloof; where Dylan fell into the hype of being THE preeminent poet of the rock ‘n roll generation, Springsteen retained his common touch – his sense of wonder in the ordinary – despite the rapid explosion of his career.

Bruce Springsteen – nicknamed “The Boss” by his bandmates because he was the one who collected the money and distributed the pay – arrived on the scene as one of John Lennon’s Working Class Heroes.  His songs were caught up in the struggles of ordinary people and he rarely deviated from this course.  He wrote about the American Dream, for sure, studded with muscle cars and aching for the freedom of an open highway, but he also chronicled the collapse of that dream.  When the factories began to close down and the good jobs began to flee to places where they could be performed for exploitative levels of pay, Springsteen was there to sing about how hard it was to find work you could support your family on.  His characters struggled to make ends meet, got pregnant too early, joined unions, and wrestled with the problems of life as powerless but hopeful people.  In an era when rock ‘n’ roll had developed a sense of elitism about itself, he was the antithesis:  a working class joe singing about other working class joes with same sort of theatrical flourish that trust-funded hippies used to sing about themselves.

Springsteen, then, could be considered the real heir to Woody Guthrie – at his heart, a folk singer who wears his class and political affiliations on his sleeve and reaches out to everyone in his songcraft.  There are a great number of people who don’t really get what the Boss is all about; there are large swaths of the population who think that his biggest hit, “Born In The U.S.A.”, is the same sort of unthinking American jingoist patriotism that Toby Keith is seemingly made out of.  The lyrics, of course, prove that to be a lie almost immediately, but it didn’t stop Reagan from trying to appropriate it for a Presidential campaign and it doesn’t stop people from thinking that the man is a flag-wrapped Republican even today.  This guide is for those people:  the people who need a working class hero, the people who remember the American Dream, and the people who feel that it might be a lie after all.

When I first wrote this guide, eight months ago, I took a trip across the border to buy some crap in Niagara Falls, NY and I stopped at a Days Inn near the border crossing for a quick beer and lunch. The lounge behind the built-in Dennys was this artifact from the early Eighties: the tables and walls were vintage from the late Seventies, and the atmosphere screamed “we just banned smoking indoors yesterday”. There was a pinball machine on one wall, and next to it an aged jukebox, which was playing Born To Run.

I kind of had to at that point.

Greetings From Asbury Park N.J. (1973)

Released January 5th, 1973 on Columbia Records


Blinded By The Light

Spirit In The Night

After kicking around the New Jersey rock circuit for five years, Springsteen was offered a record deal with Columbia.  The album was originally recorded quickly and cheaply, so that as much of the major label advance could be pocketed as was possible.  The result is a folky, roots-inflected rock ‘n’ roll album with a lyrical and vocal style that is heavily reminiscent of Bob Dylan.  Columbia president Clive Davis gave the usual complaint that he “didn’t hear a single”, however, so the band wrote and cut two of the best tracks, “Spirit In The Night” and “Blinded By The Light” last minute.  It’s a tribute to the boundless energy and resilience of youth, with a steely-eyed sense of humour and a busy rush of imagery that carves out an image of a time and a place as well as any novel about the Jersey Shore in the early 1970s ever could.



The original never graced the charts once, although Manfred Mann of course took their cover of it to #1 late in 1977.


A slow, aching ballad that unfolds like a dream.  “But on your bed, Mary, I can see the shadow of a noose / I don’t understand how you can hold me so tight and love me so loose”


That smooth sax intro is the most startling thing on the album, aside perhaps from the narrator and Crazy Janey makin’ love in the dirt.

The Wild, The Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle (1973)

Released September 11th, 1973


4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)

Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)

The second album followed the same commercial fortunes as the first:  it was critically acclaimed, but sold in middling-at-best quantities.  It was quite a bit different from the debut, however:  it cuts down a bit on the folk influences, adds in elements of jazz, funk, and R&B, and stretches out in a big way.  To say that the album sprawls is a bit of an understatement; several of the songs top seven minutes, and the closing track, “New York City Serenade”, runs just shy of ten minutes.  In retrospect, it loses focus here and there, but the the standouts here are some of the best work ever made in the world of rock ‘n’ roll.  It was a grand statement, a kiss-off to the Jersey Shore scene he’d been birthed from and a summation by a man who would soon leave to find his own way in the world.



A long tribute to love, freedom, youth, and the boardwalk scenes that he’d grown up in.


Nearly eight minutes of teenage-dramatic switchblade-studded street fight poetry


A swinging number that used to close out the band’s concerts until the mid-1980s.


Born To Run (1975)

Released August 25th, 1975 on Columbia Records

Peaked at #36 UK, #3 US


Born To Run” (#23 US)

Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” (#83 US)

The juggernaut that really launched his career, Born To Run took forever to record when compared to the first two albums.  The studio sessions were reportedly tense and Springsteen was angry that he couldn’t properly translate the sounds he was hearing in his head to what was coming out on tape.  In the end, though, they nailed it:  there is a wild, free sound prevalent through the album that makes you want to clutch a fist to your chest and fall to your knees.  The characters on Born To Run are drunk on possibilities and all too aware of their own failings.  Salvation, when it even can be found, lies in the prototypically American freedom of an open road and a fast, muscular car that can take you anywhere in that wide-open land.  In the end, though, that freedom of youth and possibility ends in darkness and despair:  see the side-closers, “Backstreets” and especially the epic “Jungleland” for further details.



I keep coming back to this song, over and over again.  Whenever anything seems overwhelming, or whenever life seems to be heading down a downward spiral, I put “Thunder Road” on.  It offers hope, after a fashion:  the only salvation that is offered lies beneath this dirty hood, so let’s just get in the car and **drive**.  Destination not necessary.


Notable for the sax work of the late Clarence Clemons and for the first appearance of Steve “Little Steven” Van Zandt, who helped arrange the horn section on this track.


“The highways jammed with broken heroes on a last chance power drive / Everybodys on the run tonight but there’s no place left to hide”


About as theatrical as Springsteen has ever gotten, the closing track on Born To Run is an epic sweep of desperate characters trying to make good one last time and getting cut down for it.  “Outside the street’s on fire / in a real death waltz / between what’s flesh and what’s fantasy / And the poets down here don’t write nothing at all / they just stand back and let it all be / And in the quick of the night / they reach for their moment / and try to make an honest stand / But they wind up wounded / not even dead / tonight in Jungleland” was the first encounter I ever had with the Boss, as it’s used for artistic effect as a poem at the beginning of the unabridged version of The Stand.

Darkness On The Edge Of Town (1978)

Released June 2nd, 1978 on Columbia Records

Peaked at #5 US


Prove It All Night” (#33 US)

Badlands” (#42 US)

The Promised Land

This is where the endless dreams of youth ended for Springsteen’s characters.  They’re still desperate to grab life and shake it for all it’s worth, but life has already grabbed them and is in the slow, painful process of wearing them down.  Idealism and dreams turn to sour betrayal:  the hardships of love, the drudgery of the factory life, the terrible things you sometimes have to do to make ends meet.  There can be redemption, in the end, but it has to be worked for, and in the end it may not even be worth it.  Still, you work it, because in the end there’s nothing else you can do.  It was aided by Little Steven’s tight production work, which brought the edge out with a vengeance.  Tellingly, while the album sold (and continues to sell) quite well, there weren’t any real hit singles:  the buying public of the disco era wanted nothing to do with any song that wasn’t starting a party.



“You spend your life waiting for a moment that just don’t come / Well, don’t waste your time waiting”


The band evokes every bit of tension and longing implicit in the lyrics with just hi-hats and piano for the first 45 seconds.


One of the two epic side-closers on this album, “Racing In The Street” tells the tale of what happens when the fire that runs through the blood sacrifices everything, even love.


“Everybody’s got a secret, Sonny / Something that they just can’t face / Some folks spend their whole lives trying to keep it / they carry it with them every step that they take / ’til some day they just cut it loose / cut it loose or let it drag ’em down / Where no one asks any questions / or looks too long in your face / in the darkness on the edge of town” – My favourite song they do, by a country mile.

The River (1980)

Released October 17th, 1980 on Columbia Records

Peaked at #2 UK, #1 US


Hungry Heart” (#44 UK, #5 US)

Fade Away” (#20 US)

I Wanna Marry You

Sherry Darling

The River” (#35 UK)

Cadillac Ranch

Point Blank

The River is a stretched-out double LP that combines two disparate albums:  one, a collection of songs that continue the hard-luck, working-class hell stories of Darkness On The Edge Of Town; and two, a collection of songs that feel lighter, poppier, and more like the fun and joy-filled moments that made their contemporary live shows such a sprawling blast.  The two combine to make something epic, mature, and capable of salvation; the expert mixture of the light and the dark evokes a more three-dimensional view of the world that Springsteen’s characters inhabit.  The world isn’t all fun and games, but neither is it a working-rut drag of bad luck and hard money.  The result is a disillusioned yet gentle playfulness that struck a delicate balance amidst a brutal recession on the cusp of the Reagan Eighties.



Originally, the album was supposed to be a single disc (the post-Darkness album) and this was to be its title.


I’ve always thought of this track as the lighter flip-side/precursor to Nebraska‘s “Atlantic City”


The band’s biggest hit to that point in time, it hit #5 on the U.S. singles chart.  Not bad for a song that had originally been written by Springsteen for the Ramones.


The most emotionally effective song on the album, by far.  “Then I got Mary pregnant and man that was all she wrote / And for my nineteenth birthday I got a union card and a wedding coat”


Originally recorded for the Darkness sessions, although it comes off as too weary and gentle for that album, in the end. Still, “There’s a darkness in this town that’s got us too”


This song would later go on to inform the writing sessions for Tunnel Of Love; it was also used in Cop Land, if you remember that movie.

Nebraska (1982)

Released September 30th, 1982 on Columbia Records

Peaked at #3 UK, #3 US


Atlantic City

Reason To Believe

Nebraska is a haunted album, driven by the ghosts of petty criminals and murderers and sung in a hushed tone.  It’s also a rather large anomaly in the band’s career:  Springsteen recorded the demos for the album at home on his 4-track, and the band later cut several of the tracks in full arrangement.  The decision was reached to use the demos, instead; apparently a full-band recording of the album exists somewhere, but it reportedly pales in comparison to the version that was released.  Nebraska is simply Bruce Springsteen and an acoustic guitar, and it is probably the most powerful record he has ever released.  It brings a cap to the dark path his writing had been going down ever since the Rat was gunned down in the tunnels uptown in the climax of “Jungleland”; Charles Starkweather rampages through and is exectued at the end of the title track, the no-good relatives of police officers cause problems, criminals are caught and put away for life, and a man shows up at his father’s door only to find that his father had been gone for years.  It was the direct opposite of the radio-buster that would come two years later.



The darkest thing the man has ever recorded, following the exploits of mass-murderer Charles Starkweather


Mob trouble on the boardwalks of Atlantic City, and all our protagonist wants is to carve out a life for him and his girl.  Too bad he’s got debts that no honest man can pay.  This has been covered about a million times.


Sometimes, you just have to cover for family.  Nothing feels better than blood on blood.


I don’t get to spend nearly as much time with my father as I’d like, so this one always hits me like a slap in the face.


Somehow, after all the drudgery that gets thrown their way, these characters seem to still have faith and hope.  This would be the final remark for the album, and it’s theme would continue on into the next.

Born In The U.S.A. (1984)

Released June 4th, 1984 on Columbia Records

Peaked at #1 UK, #1 US


Dancing In The Dark” (#4 UK, #2 US)

Cover Me” (#16 UK, #7 US)

Born In The U.S.A.” (#5 UK, #9 US)

I’m On Fire” (#5 UK, #6 US)

Glory Days” (#5 US)

I’m Goin’ Down” (#9 US)

My Hometown” (#9 UK, #6 US)

After the dour, dark days of Nebraska, Born In The U.S.A. was a massive, modern rev of the E-Street Band engine. The production took a leap into the Eighties, with massive synths, huge drums, and a larger-than-life approach to Springsteen’s songwriting. In contrast to those earlier albums, the songs here featured characters who had come through the fire and were still willing to keep going, with their verve and humour intact. It exploded in the mainstream radio of the day, shooting off hit singles like a heartland rock ‘n’ roll Thriller. It was designed to appeal to everyone, and it did, becoming a cultural touchstone for the Eighties like no other. It would be the height of their commercial success; the next twenty years would see them fade into the background as Generation X took hold of the mainstream, with Springsteen transforming into a sort of elder statesman of rock.



Reagan didn’t get this song, for whatever reason, and tried to co-opt it, much to the amusement/horror of Springsteen, a staunch Democrat and unionist.  On the surface, if you just listen to the chorus, I guess you could mistake it for an ultra-patriotic song.  It is, but not for the reasons that people often think.  It examines the legacy of Vietnam, and of the veterans who came back to no jobs and no hope.  Sadly still relevant today.


Has that good-time vibe like one of the upbeat tracks from The River, but it ends with one of the characters chained to a state trooper’s car.


More hard-luck, world-weary lyricism, like Darkness or Nebraska, but the state-of-the-art studio work made it sound like the most massively exuberant story of being left by your wife ever.


About as intimate a song of desire as you can get with slam-bang Eighties production.


No retreat baby, no surrender.  You may remember this one from John Kerry’s 2004 Presidential campaign.


Ah, to be young and in love again.  Now I’m just sort of young and in love.


Nothing’s worse than reliving old memories because you don’t have anything new to relive.  Great song about the people who peak in high school.


Courtney Cox, come on down!


It will have been twenty years since this song next year and it still holds true.

Rock ‘n’ Roll Circus: A Guide To The Rolling Stones, Part 3 (1983-2005)


Undercover (1983)

Released November 7th, 1983 on Rolling Stones Records

Peaked at #3 UK, #4 US


Undercover Of The Night” (#11 UK, #9 US)

She Was Hot” (#42 UK, #44 US)

Too Much Blood

The band’s first original recordings of the 1980s found them in a creative tug-of-war between Keith Richards, who wanted to stick to the band’s core strengths of blues and rock, and Mick Jagger, who wanted to continue on with his reggae and dance experiments (experiments which, by 1983, included the sharply angular music of New Wave).  It’s a decent enough album, but it’s ultimately inconsistent, populated with half-hearted attempts at breaking their mould and some weakly sub-par material.  The production tends to bring the material down perhaps a bit more than normal, reliant as it was on the audio idioms of the day; many of the songs have that sound you can point to and say “yeah, that was 1983” even though the songs themselves are rooted in much older traditions.  It’s also singularly nasty, reeking of kinky sex, political corruption, madness, and suicide; the leadership struggles in the band at the time play out perfectly in the recordings, and whether or not this is ultimately a good thing is left up to the listener.

Dirty Work (1986)

Released March 24th, 1986 on Rolling Stones Records

Peaked at #4 UK, #4 US


Harlem Shuffle” (#13 UK, #5 US)

One Hit To The Body” (#80 UK, #28 US)

Winning Ugly

By 1984 Mick Jagger was distancing himself from the Rolling Stones, working instead on his first solo album.  The reins of the band were largely passed to the mostly-sober Keith Richards, who worked closely with Ronnie Wood to craft Dirty Work.  The results stick to what Richards’ has always watned for the band:  roots-rock with no side-journeys into dance music.  As far as it goes, however, it is an undistinguished affair, with nothing really essential as far as the bands catalog is concerned.  Jagger’s work on the album is more or less phoned-in, with lead-off track “One Hit (To The Body)” being really the only exception.  One can surmise that he was saving his best lyrical and vocal work for his solo albums, although if one listens to his solo albums they can perhaps be forgiven for wondering how this could be.  Like so many other great bands of their era, the Stones seemed to finally be slipping into the malaise of mainstream rock in the Eighties.

Steel Wheels (1989)

Released August 29th, 1989 on Rolling Stones Records

Peaked at #2 UK, #3 US


Mixed Emotions” (#5 US)

Rock And A Hard Place” (#63 UK, #23 US)

Almost Hear You Sigh” (#50 US)


Steel Wheels is notable mainly for being the album on which Jagger and Richards managed to get back to getting along.  It feels like a reunion album, and in many ways it is.  The band seemed to get back to doing what they do best:  rocking, affecting ballads, and the odd Jagger-based experimentation (kept on this record mainly to “Continental Drift”).  It’s very much a professional album, however; everything seems calculated to scream “Rolling Stones” to whomever listens to it, and there isn’t really anything here that feels off-the-cuff.  That being said, it’s a decent enough sort of album, hardly essential, but hardly bargain-bin material at the same time.  The mainstream rock world may have by and large passed the band by at the end of the Eighties, but Steel Wheels found them in fine form regardless.

Voodoo Lounge (1994)

Released July 11th, 1994 on Virgin Records

Peaked at #1 UK, #2 US


Love Is Strong” (#14 UK, #91 US)

You Got Me Rocking” (#23 UK)

Out Of Tears” (#36 UK, #60 US)

Sparks Will Fly

I Go Wild” (#29 UK)

By the mid-1990s, most bands that came of age in the 1960s were either long broken up or relegated to the nostalgia-tour circuit.  Not so for the Rolling Stones, though; even though they weren’t making the greatest music of their career, they were making something that definitely approximated it, even without bassist Bill Wyman, who had left in 1991.  Although Voodoo Lounge is five or six songs too long (it is a product of the CD era, after all) there are about ten songs on here that, taken together, make one hell of a roots-rock album.  It’s not Exile On Main Street or even Tattoo You, but it holds its own and proves itself to be more than a tour souvenir.  They were brought back to the basics by then-hot producer Don Was (everybody get on the floor…) who even convinced them to break out the acoustic guitars for some of the sinister English folk they hadn’t played around with since the late 1960s. Jagger, of course, hated it, and insisted that they return to out-there grooves, African rhythms, and other grandiose accouterments on their next album.

Bridges To Babylon (1997)

Released September 24th, 1997 on Virgin Records

Peaked at #6 UK, #3 US


Anybody Seen My Baby?” (#22 UK)

Flip The Switch

Saint Of Me” (#26 UK, #94 US)

Out Of Control” (#51 UK)

Jagger got his experimental grooves back, but it all still sounds like a classical revival of traditional Stones albums; it was not earth-shattering or original, but it did rock on a nice, solid plateau.  Looking for some modern cred (and having enjoyed their work on Odelay) Jagger brought in the Dust Brothers for three songs – lead single “Anybody Seen My Baby?”, “Saint of Me”, and the slippery, vaguely nasty “Might As Well Get Juiced”.  Nothing exceptional, a couple of good singles, and off on tour again:  Bridges To Babylon in a nutshell.  The sound of the elder statesmen of rock ‘n’ roll slipping gracefully into old age.

A Bigger Bang (2005)

Released September 6th, 2005 on Virgin Records

Peaked at #2 UK, #3 US


Rough Justice

Streets Of Love” (#15 UK)

Oh No, Not You Again

Rain Fall Down” (#33 UK)

Biggest Mistake” (#51 UK)

After nearly twenty years (!) of okay-not-great albums the Stones finally came out with what is, if not a classic Stones album, a pillar of their latter-day career.  After eight years of touring, the band was tight, and it shows on the recording:  the riffs slice like knives, the rhythm section is solidly in the pocket, and all of the sleaze and blues are intact from decades of being mined for inspiration.  Put simply, there is no reason why a band of 60-year-olds should rock this hard, and yet here we are.  It still devolves into generic filler and auto-pilot Stones Rock(TM) but there’s less of it than you might imagine and it’s not as objectionable as it logically should be.  It’s not their best, but it’s certainly their best since Some Girls, and that’s saying something.

Their Satanic Majesties: A Guide To The Rolling Stones, Part 2 (1968-1981)



Beggars Banquet (1968)

Released December 6th, 1968 on Decca/London Records

Peaked at #3 UK, #5 US


Street Fighting Man” (#21 UK, #48 US)

After the poor reception to their studio experimentation of 1967, the Stones returned to their roots and never left them thereafter.  Beggars Banquet represents a stark reset, a largely minimalist, acoustic album of slack, drawn-out  Delta blues dread.  It kicks off with the calling-down-the-darkness voodoo vibe of “Sympathy For The Devil”, which manages to completely wash out the tired-hippie schtick of Majesties in favour of stark, subtly violent tones.  The tone of the decade itself was turning decidedly more violent itself; the Vietnam war ground on, youth revolts were taking place in France and America, and many thought the West on the verge of a genuine conflict.  “Street Fighting Man”, kicking off side two with electric verve, reflected this perfectly.  The real star of the show, though, is the slide guitar that features prominently on many of the songs.  Most of it was Keith Richards, although the fat, looping slack on “No Expectations” was one of the last constructive things Brian Jones would contribute to the band.


Let It Bleed (1969)

Released December 5th, 1969 on Decca/London Records

Peaked at #1 UK, #3 US


Honky Tonk Women” (#1 UK, #1 US)

Let It Bleed” (Japan only)

Let It Bleed rung in the bad times; the day after it’s release, the incident in concert at Altamont would bring the curtain down on the era of Love Is All You Need.  The dread-evoking, devil-calling Delta vibe they summoned on Beggars Banquet was the core of this, although it was more electric, more hard rock than the largely acoustic previous album.  “Gimmee Shelter” warned that rape and murder were “just a shout away” while the album’s lone cover song, Robert Johnson’s “Love In Vain”, evoked the original’s whisky-soaked lamentation of a lost mind.  “Midnight Rambler” conjured up a serial killer, and “Monkey Man” wondered if they might not be “a trifle too satanic”.  The gospel-shrug of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” marks a perfect end to the whole deal, coming to a final resolution with the high-minded ideals of the time by saying “just get by, Jack”.  As far as cultural touchstones go, it would presage the disappointment and disillusion that the 1970s would bring, and remains a vital document of the moment the cultural mood shifted in the West.

Sticky Fingers (1971)

Released April 23rd, 1971 on Rolling Stones Records

Peaked at #1 UK, #1 US


Brown Sugar” (#2 UK, #1 US)

Wild Horses” (#28 US)

For the Rolling Stones, the 1970s would be a decade of excess, starting right from the beginning with an album of slow, druggy, sexed-up blues numbers and weary, country-tinged ballads that count among rock’s most eloquently emotional songs.  Sticky Fingers would be the band’s first album after leaving Decca (flinging off the guaranteed-to-be-rejected single “Cocksucker Blues” to fulfill odious legal requirements) and the excitement and joie de vivre that the band’s new life as their own masters generated is palpable.    For an English band, it was a very American record, deeply rooted in primitive bluesmen and the lonesome cowboy records of dusty country music.  “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” shows a willingness to extend that into the Mexican diaspora; although its switchblade riff is classic Keith Richards, the coda is a heart-on-sleeve love letter to Latin music.  It’s a monumental effort and an album that can always find an occasion.  Love, sex, and death; it’s music designed to hit you right in the id.

Exile On Main Street (1972)

Released May 12th, 1972 on Rolling Stones Records

Peaked at #1 UK, #1 US


Tumbling Dice” (#5 UK, #7 US)

Happy” (#22 US)

The Stones left England one step ahead of the taxman in 1971 (where’s George Harrison when you need him?) and settled in the south of France, putting a mobile recording studio into Keith Richard’s basement.  Mick Jagger was newly married, and Keith Richards had decided to make his heroin usage into a habit; the scene at his French villa was so legendarily drug-heavy that William Burroughs showed up at one point.  Out of these sunny climes and druggy times would spring the pinnacle of expression in the realm of American rock ‘n’ roll.  Exile On Main Street is a lived-in distillation of country, raw blues, dirty soul, and soaring gospel.  It heaves, struts, and exhales weary smoke; Jagger’s voice is mixed low, one more part of a tobacco-stained jukebox kicking out tunes in a hot southwestern bar.  People were lukewarm on it when it was first released; it has very few hit singles (“Tumbling Dice”, mainly) but it contains a staggering amount of memorable songs, including the steam-on-tarmac Texas blues of “Shake Your Hips”, the shrug-and-bear-it hurt twang of “Sweet Virginia”, and the smoking Robert Johnson cover “Stop Breaking Down”.  As a double LP it’s exhausting, in the best way, with a length that runs into the monolithic.  This would be Keith Richards’ finest moment, his supreme statement of American roots music; his heroin addiction would worsen as the Seventies dragged on and the reins of the band would pass on to the more sober Jagger and drummer/band anchor Charlie Watts.

Goats Head Soup (1973)

Released August 31st, 1973 on Rolling Stones Records

Peaked at #1 UK, #1 US


Angie” (#5 UK, #1 US)

Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)” (#15 US)

After Exile On Main Street there was really nowhere for the band to go but down.  That being said, Goats Head Soup is still a solid album, it just finds the band all too willing to indulge in decadence and willful vulgarity.  In the face of the seemingly casual toss-off of brilliance on the record before, this one seems too deliberate, almost calculated.  Jagger had taken over the musical direction of the band and this meant a more mercenary look at expanding their musical horizons, although this falls a bit flat at times (as on “Dancing With Mr. D”).  This expansion was likely aided along by the bands newfound exile to record in Jamaica, one of the few nations on earth that would hold Keith Richards for a long enough period of time to make an album.  “Angie” is the ballad that makes the album, a heartfelt declaration of love in fine Stones lovemaking form.  “Star, Star” represents the flipside of this; it kicks into a filthy Chuck Berry groove and rolls around in the mud in the most blatantly nasty way possible.  In all, not a stumble, but definitely a step down.

It’s Only Rock And Roll (1974)

Released October 16th, 1974 on Rolling Stones Records

Peaked at #2 UK, #1 US


It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll” (#10 UK, #16 US)

Ain’t Too Proud To Beg” (#17 US)

It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll follows in the same vein of elegant decline as Goats Head Soup, but with a bit more, er, rock ‘n’ roll.  The sharp edges of 1968-1972 are worn down, so that it comes off as an album knocked out by a touring rock band who wanted some new material (which, in essence, it was).  It’s the sound of a band accepting their mass appeal and their arena-star status, leaving behind was made them truly appealing in the first place.  There are tracks here that rank among some of the best they’ve done (mainly the title track and the Supremes cover, “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg”) but for the most part it’s a collection of comfortable, unsurprising, unexciting rock tunes speckled with some half-hearted attempts at genre experimentation (as on the reggae-tinged “Luxury”).

Black And Blue (1976)

Released April 23rd, 1976 on Rolling Stones Records

Peaked at #2 UK, #1 US


Fool To Cry” (#6 UK, #10 US)

Hot Stuff” (#49 US)

The lowpoint of the Seventies, Black and Blue is an album comprised more of studio jams than it is of actual songs.  A lot of this is due to Mick Taylor (who’d originally replaced Brian Jones) leaving the band; several guitarists show up on the album, and Keith Richards has since disparaged it as being an album that was mainly about auditioning replacements.  Ronnie Wood (who played a 12-string guitar on “It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll (But I Like It)” originally) would win that particular sweepstakes, just in time for the band to come out of its funk for the next album.  There is nothing essential about Black and Blue, but it does showcase the band as a primal force when it comes being a cohesive whole, and as a band continually willing to experiment with the evolution of black music (as on the reggae cover “Cherry Oh Cherry”).  In that, I suppose, it becomes an interesting artifact of the era, if nothing else.

Some Girls (1978)

Released June 9th, 1978 on Rolling Stones Records

Peaked at #2 UK, #1 US


Miss You” (#3 UK, #1 US)

Beast Of Burden” (#8 US)

Respectable” (#23 UK)

Shattered” (#31 US)

The opening salvo in the generational changeover was fired by the Sex Pistols, the Clash, and the Ramones in 1977; at the same time, pop music was spending a lot of time dancing in the flashy, coked-up discotheques of the day.  In between, traditionally blues-based rock ‘n’ roll was feeling the squeeze and would never really recover the heights it once held.  Some Girls, though, was an artillery flash in the night as the fortress began to fall; seen as a response to the new youth movements, it showed the Stones as the best they’d been since Exile On Main Street.  It’s hooky and flashy in the best Stones tradition, and there’s some real seed and real grit in tracks like “When The Whip Comes Down” and the title track.  “Miss You” shows their mastery of the new disco wave, although as an extension of funk this should never have really been in doubt.  Jagger took the reins again, guiding a vision of New York City as he’d fallen in love with it; Richards, having barely dodged a Canadian heroin bust, would play with newfound exuberance and force.


Emotional Rescue (1980)

Released June 20th, 1980 on Rolling Stones Records

Peaked at #1 UK, #1 US


Emotional Rescue” (#9 UK, #3 US)

She’s So Cold” (#33 UK, #26 US)

The Goats Head Soup to Some GirlsExile On Main Street, Emotional Rescue is a collection of mainly filler with a few strong tracks.  It follows a similar path as before, but adds a sheen of decadence that prevents anything from really taking off except for the title track and maybe the old-style rocker/second single “She’s So Cold”.  It was the first album to really point to a serious decline in quality for the band, although the next album would mitigate that decline to an extent.  As far as their catalog goes, file it under “unessential”.

Tattoo You (1981)

Released August 24th, 1981 on Rolling Stones Records

Peaked at #2 UK, #1 US


Start Me Up” (#7 UK, #2 US)

Waiting On A Friend” (#50 UK, #13 US)

Hang Fire” (#20 US)

The last real pillar in the Stones’ canon (you can make arguments about A Bigger Bang or that “Doom and Gloom” single) finds them reveling in solid hard rock on the first side (some of the most consistent work they’d done, in fact) and meandering through some so-so ballad work on the second side.  Most of it was rejects and cast-offs from the Some Girls, Black and Blue, and Goats Head Soup sessions (as was much of Emotional Rescue) but it serves to further affirm how white-hot the band had really been in the late Seventies.

Next Up: The Eighties and Beyond