18 Musical Moments to Die For

The Hold Steady, Wiltern, Los Angeles, Nov. 25, 2008

It’s been a couple of months since I’ve done one of these, but I’m back!! In black. (Which is a terrible choice, because it’s, like, 150 degrees today.)

This time, on Musical Moments to Die For, we have two of the greatest cover versions of two of the greatest songs ever recorded; druggy people writing songs about their drug problems, and casual rockstar sexism.

We also have the usual 80’s indie obscurity, and run the gamut from catchy artsy sophistication to catchy dumb-ass stomping crapola.

This is the eighth in a series: The first one had 25, the second one had 24, the third one had 23, the fourth one had 22, the fifth one had 21, and the sixth had 20, and the seventh had 19.

18 MUSICAL MOMENTS TO DIE FOR

  1. One of my all-time, all-time favorite songs. Is there anything more psychedelically sublime than the bass-driven opening with each band member coming in separately, capped by Roger McGuinn’s 12-string Coltrane approximations? Yup, when they all come in together with those vocal harmonies. At 0:00 in Eight Miles High by The Byrds.

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    — From 1967’s underrated 5D.
     

  2. Just one of the many many things that makes this the greatest cover version by anybody ever is how it simultaneously updates and respects the stone-perfect original.. And, as befits an era where time started speeding up, it gets to the same place in the song in two-thirds of the time. Bob Mould’s psychedelic thrash guitar is the 80’s analog to Roger McGuinn’s psychedelic jangle. At 0:00 in Eight Miles High by Hüsker Dü.

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    — From 1984’s supersonic “Eight Miles High” single
     

  3. Musically splitting the difference between Hüsker Dü and The Byrds, Cole Marquis takes massive massive liberties with the anthropomorphized title character by lyrically referencing the song they both have in common at 0:50 of Mudslide by The Downsiders.

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    — From 1987’s darkly psychedelic The Downsiders
     

  4. “I’ve been thinking one thing but doing something else in a daze, yeah.” Breaking down, bouncing along, all the while trying to keep from gettin uptight at 3:30 in Detroit Swing ’66 by Gomez.

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    — From 2002’s secret career peak In Our Gun
     

  5. True to his adopted name, Mr. Smith casually plows through the ladies in the lyrics of one of his most surefire hits. The beauty is that he’s having so much fun, you nearly forget that he’s acting like a ever-bigger ass while he’s looking for an ever-bigger ass, all of it capped by a hilariously dismissive “see ya” at 4:03 in Big Ole Butt by LL Cool J.

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    — From 1989’s singles-heavy Walking With A Panther
     

  6. Speaking of surefire hits — and yeah, casual rockstar sexism — during an era where the British rockers were the ones notorious for bad behavior, it’s nice to see somebody was willing to fight the good fight for our great country. Or bad fight, as the case may be. Either way, when even the hotel detective is joining in, you know that it’s some kind of party. U! S! A! U! S! A! At 1:48 in We’re An American Band by Grand Funk.

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    — 1973’s gold-plated We’re An American Band
     

  7. Once upon a time, there was a band called “Art in the Dark” that released an jangly, R.E.M.-influenced EP that got a lot of play at KFSR in the heady post-Murmur days. Then, weirdly enough, they resurfaced a couple of years later as The Icons, and the album was called Art in the Dark. Why? It’s a mystery of the pre-internet indie world of the 1980s, nearly as mysterious as the chorus that kicks in at 2:24 in Trouble in Havana by The Icons.

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    — From 1985’s beyond obscure Art in the Dark
     

  8. When people talk about how sophisticated Aimee Mann’s songs are, I somehow doubt they mean things like having the backing vocals sing the ellipses — dot, dot, dot — that complete the litany of things she hasn’t yet figured out at 1:09 in I Should’ve Known by Aimee Mann.

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    — From 1993’s solo debut Whatever
     

  9. With Tad Kubler and Franz Nicolay battling for sonic supremacy in either speaker, Craig Finn woos one of those late-starting Catholic girls with a line that will either get him slapped, or laid: “If I cross myself when I come / would you maybe receive me?” Probably slapped, though. At 0:00 in Yeah, Sapphire by The Hold Steady.

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    — From 2008’s ragingly positive Stay Positive
     

  10. Yeah. For a minute there, I lost myself. Really, just for a minute there. Yeah. Now, if I can just get this noisenoisenoisenoisenoisenoisenoisenoisenoise out of my head . . . What was that? Yeah. Sorry. I lost myself there for a minute. At 3:25 in Karma Police by Radiohead.

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    — From 1997’s rep-making OK Computer
     

  11. In perhaps the most dynamic of a nearly unparalleled series of dynamite singles, Paul Weller, Rick Buckler and — especially — Bruce Foxton ride the singing and shouting modulation pound! pound! pound! straight into the center of London. At least. At 2:25 in Going Underground by The Jam.

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    — From 1981’s epochal “Going Underground” single
     

  12. Foreshadowing the unabashed emotionalism of the rest of his work, Jonathan Richman wanders around the Fenway in the late afternoon, looking for a girl who won’t mind his cutesy, intentional misspellings. Is there any doubt whatsoever that he found one? At 3:04 in Girlfriend by Modern Lovers.

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    — From 1976’s seminal Modern Lovers
     

  13. One of the many many problems with living your life wasted all of the time is that you can’t remember anybody’s name. Faces, sure. Names not so much. For awhile, you can get away with it, especially, if you’re able to write perfect popsongs about your druggy life. Oh, and then get your drug buddy maybe girlfriend to sweeten it up for you. For awhile. At 2:20 in It’s a Shame About Ray by Lemonheads.

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    — From 1992’s sugar-coated smack-filled It’s a Shame About Ray
     

  14. One of the many many problems with living your life wasted all of the time is that your friends end up hating you. Even if they’re willing to trade vocals and snake their guitar around yours. But don’t get used to it, because it ain’t never-ending. At 1:30 in Can’t Stand Me Now by The Libertines.

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    — From 2004’s inelegantly wasted The Libertines
     

  15. You kids these days probably don’t realize it, but at the time, Strangeways, Here We Come seemed like a total disappointment, especially after the four years of perfection that had come before. Two decades later, it sounds like it was meant to be a transitional record . . . to what, we’ll never know. Sigh. That said, even back then there was no way to resist how Johnny Marr piled on the love, peace and harmony while Morrissey was decrying the same at 1:56 in Death of a Disco Dancer by The Smiths.

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    — From 1987’s swan song Strangeways, Here We Come
     

  16. How to cover an upbeat classic about depression? By making it even more upbeat then you could have possibly imagined, adding a big old Saxa solo to put a smile on your face for reals and as the final touch, having Ranking Rodger chime in with “the tears of a clone.” Then, you remember the words. At 2:22 in The Tears of a Clown by The (English) Beat.

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    — From 1980’s historic debut album I Just Can’t Stop It
     

  17. Some pop songs are inane pieces of trifle, and others contain multitudes. There is no end to the depth of the words of this song, and no end to the genius of the arrangement, which emphasizes the “clown” in the same way the words emphasize the “tears.” Add the sweet backing vocals, that relentless Motown rhythm section, even the chart position, and you end up with a shortlist contender for greatest single ever. At 2:02 of The Tears of a Clown by Smokey Robinson & The Miracles.

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    — From 1970’s #1 on the Billboard Charts “The Tears of a Clown” single
     

  18. Some pop songs are inane pieces of trifle, and others contain multitudes. For 35 years, I’ve never known what the fuck this song was on about — if she’s on the run, why does everybody come a’ running when she screams? — and its never not once stopped me from loving the gloriously stupid, nonsensical chorus that kicks in at 0:52 in Fox On The Run by Sweet.

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    — From 1974’s all-right-fellows-let’s-go! Desolation Boulevard
     

That’s it! We’re up to 162 moments, all told. Next time: 17 Musical Moments to Die For.

3 Responses to “18 Musical Moments to Die For”

  1. johnr says:

    I Enjoyed this awesome posting! The Icons are so obscure; they didn’t even make the Trouser Press Record Guide.

  2. Jim says:

    I came across that Icons album on a blog called Wilfully Obscure, the version of which actually had a couple of extra tracks.

    A couple of other things: they say the album came out in 1985, but I don’t remember coming across it until 1988 at least.

    Also: that first EP is still lost to history.

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  1. […] This is the ninth in a series: The first one had 25; the second one had 24; the third one had 23; the fourth one had 22; the fifth one had 21; and the sixth had 20; the seventh had 19 and the eighth had 18. […]