Top 5 Songs That Officially Made Me A Fan Of The Bands That Wrote Them
(originally aired on Dec. 5, 2008 show)
I have a real knack for coming up with really really long titles for these lists, don’t I? And there are more long list titles where that came from, trust me.
Anyway, this top 5 is a list of the songs that basically secured my status as a fan of these bands. In other words, if I had ever been on the fence about these bands, these are the songs that got me off that fence. For some, I had already liked a few songs but hadn’t felt the urge to add some albums to my collection until I heard a song on this list. With others, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the band at all and was pleasantly surprised by what I heard. And in a rare case or two, I found my previous opinion of the band being completely shattered. These were the songs that sealed the deal, the songs that made me want to check out some albums by the artists on this list. And in each case, I’m so very glad I did.
5. Mastodon, “The Wolf Is Loose”
The first time I’d heard of Mastodon was through an ad for their album Leviathan in a guitar magazine, which depicted the awesome album cover — Herman Melville’s white whale (HOLY! GRAIL!) attacking a ship at sea. This was back in about 2003, so I was still kind of in the twilight of my nu-metal/pop-punk phase. I took one look at that cover and, though it was pretty cool, got sort of a negative idea of what they’d sound like. A band named after a long-extinct creature that had fancy album art and wrote songs about Moby Dick? Sounded like one of those ’70s prog-rock bands that wrote 20-minute epics about cyborg armadillos. Not my cup of tea.
A few years later, when Blood Mountain came out, I was browsing the Metacritic music section to see what was coming out. I spotted Mastodon on the page and recalled the thoughts I’d had regarding their last album, but by now I was more willing to branch out and listen to new things — thanks in large part to my recent discovery of one of the other bands on this list. So I booted up iTunes to sample the songs from Blood Mountain. The first song was “The Wolf Is Loose,” and the sample consisted of Brann Dailor’s ridiculously cool drum intro and fast-paced guitar riffing. And it was fucking awesome. I had to hear more, so I checked out YouTube videos of “The Wolf Is Loose” along with some of their other songs. Blood Mountain soon became the first metal album I really fell in love with, and it was all uphill from there. And so, with just over a week left before I see Mastodon in DC, I now look back at the 17-year-old who hadn’t quite grown out of Linkin Park and Blink-182 yet and jumped to stupid conclusions about what would later become one of my favorite bands and laugh.
Run-on sentences for the fucking win.
4. The Fall Of Troy, “F.C.P.R.E.M.I.X.”
It took me longer than most other people to realize the Internet’s potential to help me find new and interesting music. See, up until I graduated from high school, my family only used one computer. I primarily used that computer to do my homework, check e-mails, and read about sports and video games. We didn’t have iTunes installed on it yet and I didn’t have a subscription to Rolling Stone or Spin or any other magazine that covers music news. I had been introduced to most of what I listened to through the radio, with the occasional bit of help from MTV on the rare instance that they weren’t airing Real World reruns. And whenever MTV played videos, they’d usually show boy-band videos or Britney Aguilera videos or rap videos that were more akin to four-minute episodes of Cribs, existing solely to celebrate all things bling. Yes, even back then, back when I still paid attention to the shit on MTV, I hated 95% of the shit they played on MTV.
Then I got to college, and everything changed. I had my own computer. It had iTunes on it and I could spend hours at a time on the Internet reading music sites, and it was great. So where does the Fall Of Troy enter this picture? Well, I was reading a Spin forum one day and they were doing some kind of March-Madness-esque forum poll with a bunch of bands pitted against each other. One thread that caught my interest was Panic! At The Disco vs. The Fall Of Troy. I was familiar with Panic!, but not that other band. People posting in the thread said they were awesome, so I figured I’d give them a listen.
It took a couple listens to get used to them, but I was soon amazed by the guitar skills of one Thomas Erak. “F.C.P.R.E.M.I.X.” was the most accessible song of the bunch, blending catchy vocal lines with some sick guitar playing. I was amazed to find that there were only three guys in this band, given the complexity of their music. But what amazed me even more — and still stuns me to this very day — is that the lead singer of the Fall Of Troy was none other than one Thomas Erak. The guy’s my age, plays way better than I could ever hope to, and to top it all off he sings while he plays these tricky guitar lines. That’s just not fucking fair. Some people are too damn good at music, man.
But what stands out the most about the Fall Of Troy — and probably will continue to stand out for me regardless of how my tastes may change over the years — is that they were the first band I’d found on my own, with no help from the radio or MTV or anyone I knew personally. I just randomly stumbled across people talking about them on the Internet. Funny how often that seems to happen to me nowadays…
3. High On Fire, “Anointing Of Seer”
There’s not as big of a story behind this one. See, I had never even heard of High On Fire until a few years ago. I was browsing around on iTunes looking for something new to listen to, as I’ve been known to do to spend spare time. Somehow — I don’t even totally remember how — I came across High On Fire and their album Blessed Black Wings. (I may have been searching for more metal to add to my collection and saw the iTunes Sludge Rock & Beyond playlist.) I decided to sample the songs and they all sounded pretty cool… and then I listened to “Anointing Of Seer.”
Isn’t it strange how sometimes even the simplest-sounding guitar riffs can still be badass? “Anointing Of Seer” is one of those times. It’s not as complicated as most of the other riffs in High On Fire’s repertoire, yet it was still really cool and grabbed me the most out of all the songs there. Couple that with Matt Pike’s almost melodic raspy shouts and you’ve got a song that somehow manages to be catchy without anyone actually singing most of the time. “Anointing Of Seer,” more than any other song on Blessed Black Wings, was the song that convinced me to check out High On Fire. Now they’re one of my favorite metal bands.
2. My Morning Jacket, “Gideon”
I remember a long time ago there used to be a pretty cool little radio station in Philadelphia called Y100, and they played lots of new and alternative music. I have this vague memory of them playing something by My Morning Jacket and I can’t even remember what the song was. All I can really remember is that it didn’t really grab my interest at all. I was still in that nu-metal phase I mentioned before (and just might bring up again in a future post…), where if it wasn’t loud and angry and over in five minutes or less, I wasn’t all that interested. My Morning Jacket doesn’t really do “loud and angry” — even a song like “Gideon,” an attack on the war in Iraq (“Truly we have become/Hated and feared for something we don’t want/Listen, listen/Most of us believe that this is wrong”), sounds more disappointed than angry. When I saw that they got lots of critical acclaim, I couldn’t really understand why.
See, I’m something of an impatient listener. Even today I still want a band to give me something that’ll grab my attention right away, making me more willing to give the less accessible material further listens. Much like the band at #1, My Morning Jacket took a while to grow on me. The primary catalyst for this was “Gideon,” which is fueled by a great guitar line, thumping tom-toms, and Jim James’ strong (and strongly reverbed) vocals. It’s one of those songs that keeps building and building until it explodes into a big satisfying crescendo. The first time I heard it in full was through a YouTube video of the Jacket performing on Letterman with the Boston Pops orchestra, and it was awesome. I realized why people say this band is so damn good live, and I realized how good a song “Gideon” really was. Just how good is it? It pretty much singlehandedly convinced me to grab a copy of Z, and Z convinced me to get their other albums as well.
1. Radiohead, “Street Spirit (Fade Out)”
I know this might sound hard to believe, seeing as how Radiohead is currently my favorite band on the planet and they’re the only band I’ve played every single week without fail on my show, but I wasn’t always so into them. In fact, until a couple years ago I just flat-out didn’t get them at all.
As a kid I’d liked “Creep” and “Karma Police,” but nothing else had really caught my interest. Oh, wait — “Optimistic” was okay. But other than that, I didn’t get it. What was so great about these guys? Why were critics falling all over themselves trying to find new ways to praise them? I’d heard little to no negative criticism of Radiohead anywhere — surely there had to be something worth complaining about, right? They couldn’t be that good. I mean, come on… just read this and tell me what you think it is:
The experience and emotions tied to listening to Kid A are like witnessing the stillborn birth of a child while simultaneously having the opportunity to see her play in the afterlife on Imax. It’s an album of sparking paradox. It’s cacophonous yet tranquil, experimental yet familiar, foreign yet womb-like, spacious yet visceral, textured yet vaporous, awakening yet dreamlike, infinite yet 48 minutes. It will cleanse your brain of those little crustaceans of worries and inferior albums clinging inside the fold of your gray matter. The harrowing sounds hit from unseen angles and emanate with inhuman genesis. When the headphones peel off, and it occurs that six men (Nigel Godrich included) created this, it’s clear that Radiohead must be the greatest band alive, if not the best since you know who. Breathing people made this record! And you can’t wait to dive back in and try to prove that wrong over and over.
No, it’s not a press release from EMI. It’s the closing paragraph of Pitchfork’s review of Kid A, one of only a few perfect 10s they’ve given out. I don’t know about you, but I found it kind of hard for any album to live up to a review like that. “Hey, this album didn’t cleanse my brain of inferior albums, or whatever that guy on the Internet said! I WANT MY MONEY BACK!”
And for the record, Kid A is my favorite Radiohead album.
I started becoming more interested when In Rainbows came out, and yes I am one of those cheapskates who got it for free (I did get the CD, though). “Bodysnatchers” and “Nude” caught my attention right away, and after the rest of the album grew on me I decided to try some of their other songs. Even after listening to stuff like “Pyramid Song,” “How To Disappear Completely,” and “2+2 = 5,” I was still kind of on the fence.
Then I heard “Street Spirit” for the first time. And everything changed.
This song pretty much singlehandedly convinced me to check out the rest of Radiohead’s back catalogue — B-sides included. This song was the clincher. Fifteen years after I heard “Creep” for the first time, Radiohead had finally won me over. I’ve been hopelessly addicted ever since.
Given Radiohead’s ever-experimental nature, it’s actually kind of disappointing to know that they’ll never write another song like “Street Spirit” ever again. But on the other hand, that kind of makes it stand out even more. To this day, it’s still my favorite Radiohead song. I love it so much that within a year of being added to my iTunes library it became the most-played song, taking the crown from its longtime holder, Mastodon’s “Blood And Thunder.” Hell, I love “Street Spirit” so damn much I even borrowed its closing lyric (“Immerse your soul in love”) as part of my weekly sign-off. That and a famous line from Star Trek, which is weird because I’m not even a Star Trek fan at all.
So there you have it. Another top 5 is in the books… or rather, on the website or something. Until next time, live long and prosper and do as Thom Yorke says at the end of “Street Spirit.”