Here’s another one that’s difficult to write about. I loved “Surrender” unconditionally the very first time I heard it – probably on KKDJ – and have never ever gotten sick of it for even a moment all these years later. If The Jam were able to emulate the style and sound of mid-1960s Who with their early albums, then “Surrender” packs nearly everything I loved about The Who’s entire first decade – power chords, teen anthem lyrics, drum roll hooks, even the synthesizer – into a single song.
Let’s talk about The Handclap Rule. The Handclap Rule – which was handed down by the gods of rock ‘n’ roll – goes like this: “Handclaps always make a good song great and a great song immortal.” And there may not be a song that invokes The Handclap Rule as well as Cheap Trick’s “Southern Girls.”
So when “Southern Girls” launched into its chorus:
I’m not a particularly big fan of Steve Albini. While he’s produced several records that I’ve loved, and came across as thoughtful – and walking it like he’s always talked it – in Sonic Highways, purists of any stripe have always been anathema to me. The world is compromise (and carnage.)
That said, there is one thing on which I would for sure agree with Mr. Albini: the awesomeness of Cheap Trick’s “He’s a Whore,” which Big Black covered relatively straight (and relatively awesomely) in the mid-1980s.
1)Someone you love. When someone you love opens for someone else you love is the best case scenario, of course. . Last year, when The Hold Steady opened for The Replacements in MInneapolis, it was my favorite pairing since The Clash opening for The Who.
Other notable parings I’ve seen: Van Halen opening for Black Sabbath; the dBs opening for R.E.M.; Robyn Hitchcock opening for R.E.M.; Sonic Youth opening for Neil Young; Sonic Youth opening for R.E.M; Sonic Youth opening for Wilco. Oh, I almost forgot, Sonic Youth opening for Pavement.
2) An Artist you like but don’t know all that well. A couple of years ago, I saw Deerhunter open for The Breeders and it crystallized just how much I liked the Deerhunter albums I’d heard and how I needed to find all of their material. That also happened to me when I saw Spiritualized open for Radiohead.
However, this can go in the other direction. I liked the AC/DC songs I’d heard on the radio, but when I saw them open for Aerosmith back in 1978, I couldn’t stand them, and it soured me on them for years.
3)An Artist you hate. You skip them.
4) An artist you’ve never heard: Ah yes, the dreaded “who the fuck is that?” opening act. Nowadays, no one is truly anonymous – information via YouTube or Spotify is nearly always available – but it wasn’t always thus. So while the most common response is – of course – skipping the opening act, sometimes circumstances require you to listen to an artist you’ve never heard before.
Of course I’m in favor of this, and have enjoyed just about every possible outcome when confronted with an artist I’ve never heard before: from utter and complete hatred– like when I saw Third Eye Blind open for Oasis a short while before “Semi-Charmed Life” was released – to just last year when I saw Cheap Girls open for The Hold Steady and went and bought their album the very next day.
Yes, of course I could have done the research, but I didn’t, and so I was pleasantly surprised when I really enjoyed their set, and in fact, the moment that I knew I was going to buy their album was the moment they did “Knock Me Over.”
You don’t always get to remember the exact moment you fall in love with a song, but in the case of “Knock Me Over” it was about halfway through the song, and I’m pretty sure that I even told Kirk at that moment how much I liked it.
A song about how weak and in pain singer Ian Graham felt after a knee surgery, it has the simplest and catchiest of choruses:
And I let the world just knock me over I let the world just knock me over I let the world just knock me over I let the world just knock me over
Which, of course, derives its power from being both literal and metaphorical. And therefore universal. Like the problem of dealing with the opening act.
A blistering blast of guitars, guitars, angst and guitars, The Chant’s “ … For You” was a helluva way to start off their debut album Three Sheets to The Wind. It also pretty much overshadowed the rest of their debut album, and pretty much became the only thing I ever played from it.
That’s on me, but to be fair, there were very few musical moments in the 80s I loved more than when lead singer Walter Czachowski incants:
No rhyme no reason no sleep no tears no easy way out of here And I knowww it’s not your fault So I wrote it all down for youuuuuuuuu Ohhhhhh hooooooo ohhhhhhhhhhh
And as at least two guitars take very long, very indie solos, It would have been fine if the song just ended after the guitarists had run out of steam, but Czachowski has more he needs to say, so after breaking the song down into a Peter Buck jangle, he continues:
And IIIII knoww that I’m not the one you’ve been looking for And I know oh yes I know that I’m never gonna be the one You come running to I know
I knoww And I’m finished now, so I wrote it all down for youuuuuu Ohhhhhhhhhhhhh hooooooooo ohhhhhhhhhhh Cos I splattered my brains all over the wall for youuuuuuuuu For youuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu
And as the guitars come back into their sloppy solos. This time one, two, three, four lord knows how many all I know is that it goes on and on for the last two minutes of the song and it could go on for two hours or days or centuries and it wouldn’t be long enough.
In 1985, a year where I nursed two or three (or a million, it’s hard to keep track) unrequited crushes, this kind of self-pity anchored to scorching guitars was perfectly up my alley. This wasn’t a song that I loved because of the lyrics – I mean they could have been singing about space people or jesus or food and I would have loved it a ton – but the words, and the intensity of the singing put it over the top.
Extra added trivia: I don’t think he played on this track, but internet research on The Chant indicates that one of their later guitarists was a guy named Gregory Dean Smalley, who was the inspiration for a song that I’ll definitely be writing about in the future, The Drive-by Truckers’ “The Living Bubba.” And speaking of Drive-by Truckers, it’s too bad that Smalley didn’t play on “… For You,” because that would a helluva reason for them to cover it.