Monday, September 2, 2013

Intro: The Greatest Beginning Riffs, Rants and Runs of Rock Songs

Author's note: Ah, so good to be back from my summer vacation! I took a few months off from my blogging duties for a research sabbatical as I continue to write books that are yet to be published. I must be saving them up until I can place them in one proud row, aligned in encyclopedic majesty along a book shelf. Anyway, thanks for looking in while I was farting around elsewhere.

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Ahem, now where was I? Oh yes! Sometimes a single note can start a revolution. Often a few guitar chords are all that are necessary to identify a song, but sometimes it's just that one, singular, extraordinary strum. Don't believe me? How about this one to begin a song (thanks to Wiki for providing the chord):

The Chord

Ah, yes! you say to yourself. The legendary G7sus4 chord from The Beatles' "A Hard Day's Night"! Well, maybe you're not up on guitar chords, or perhaps you are and will argue that the note is actually a G7add9sus4; in any case, there is a whole lore revolving around that single, amazing note.

Not all songs can be so readily identified by a single note as in "A Hard Days Night", but riffs in rock are what make the medium. So rather than just pick out a stray note or two from a few famous rock songs, I've decided to expand today's article to include those songs that have the first great, recognizable guitar riffs of said tunes, along with beginning keyboard milestones or unforgettable vocal introductions. Perhaps I'll even make this article more ponderous by including entire intro sections, and in a future article detail outro, or ending, sections of songs. I'm not sure. This is what happens when one types one's inner monologue, rather than setting parameters prior to beginning the exercise. Let us see where I go with this.

~~I CAN NAME THAT SONG IN ONE RIFF, ALEX (Or, The Rock Riff Hall of Fame)~~
For the uninitiated, a riff is different than a single guitar chord, in that a riff is a short repeated melodic phrase of several notes that often serves as the foundation of a rock song. Here are over 50 opening riffs that nearly everyone in Western Civilization should readily recognize. Just concentrate on the first 10 or 20 seconds of the songs or this article will take forever to get through:

Johnny B. Goode - Chuck Berry
The first great rock and roll guitar riff.

Misirlou - Dick Dale & The Del Tones
The greatest Lebanese rock song of all time.

Pretty Woman - Roy Orbison
The song that launched Julia Roberts into prostitution.

Summertime Blues - Eddie Cochrane
Amplified by The Who. "The numbers all go to eleven. Look across the board, eleven, eleven, eleven and eleven."

You Really Got Me - The Kinks
The genesis of power chords, distortion and blown speakers. Actually, Ray Davies sliced his amp speakers with a razor. Because he could.

Day Tripper - The Beatles
Along with Revolution or Helter Skelter.

The House of the Rising Sun - The Animals
Once upon a time, every guitarist's first song.

Satisfaction - The Rolling Stones
For having been satisfied on literally thousands of occasions, I find Mick's statement rather ironic.

Sunshine of Your Love - Cream
Clapton, the first guitar god.

Purple Haze - Jimi Hendrix
Might as well include All Along the Watchtower and Voodoo Chile (Slight Return).

Funk #49 - The James Gang
The sleaziest guitar riff on record.

Whole Lotta Love - Led Zeppelin
Either that, or Communication Breakdown, Heartbreaker, or Rock and Roll. A list too long to..ummm...list.

Mississippi Queen - Mountain
Fuck the cowbells, listen to the guitar!

21st Century Schizoid Man - King Crimson
Of course the sax rides in unison along with Robert Fripp's guitar, but the ax is as raw as the sax, becoming even more industrial in later songs like Red.

Layla - Derek and the Dominos
A song for when you want to cheat with your best friend's wife. Then marry her. Then divorce her.

School's Out - Alice Cooper
Then there's Be My Lover and I'm Eighteen.

Long Cool Woman In a Black Dress - The Hollies
This great guitar intro seems like it should be part of a different song. It's like...ummm...what the hell just happened?

I Wanna Be Your Dog - The Stooges
A riff to fit the lyrics.

Paranoid - Black Sabbath
So many great Sabbath riffs! A few of my favorites are Into the Void, Supernaut, and Symptom of the Universe.

Radar Love - Golden Earring
Golden Earring's obligatory and only contribution.

Smoke on the Water - Deep Purple
Ritchie Blackmore was a riff monster. Like on Burn from Deep Purple, and Man on a Silver Mountain and  A Light in the Black from Rainbow.

Aqualung - Jethro Tull
It had to be here, just like "Smoke on the Water".

Hocus Pocus - Focus
The word "spastic" in musical form.

Banga a Gong (Get It On) - T. Rex
T. Rex was better as a legend than as a band.

Ziggy Stardust - David Bowie
Of course, the song following this on the album has a great riff as well Sufragette City, and let's not forget Panic in Detroit. Mick Ronson was Bowie's better half.

Bad Motor Scooter - Montrose
Yes, that is a guitar, supplied by Ronnie Montrose.

Should I Stay or Should I Go - The Clash
The eternal question, still left unanswered.

Blitkrieg Bop - The Ramones
Hey! Ho! Let's go!

Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black) - Neil Young
I could have gone with Keep on Rocking in the Free World or Cortez the Killer. Let distortion ring!

Highway to Hell - AC/DC
I am and will always be in the Bon Scott over Brian Johnson camp. No comparison.

Sweet Child o' Mine - Guns N' Roses
So what if Axl Rose sings like an amplified Edith Bunker.

Enter Sandman - Metallica
I would like Metallica much better if James Hetfield didn't sing.

Smells Like Teen Spirit - Nirvana
The song that made "grunge" a household word.

~~ACOUSTICALLY SPEAKING~~
Not all rock songs start out with a mammoth amplified electric guitar riff. Sometimes bands throw in a few chords on acoustic guitar just to see if anyone's paying attention. I am just talking about memorable acoustic guitar intros here, not great acoustic guitar songs. I have entire articles covering those. Here are a few acoustic intros you might recall:

The Weight - The Band
Just a few notes will do ya.

The Question - The Moody Blues
A strumming wrist destroyer.

Pinball Wizard - The Who
Another strumming wrist destroyer. And, on a more subdued note, Behind Blue Eyes .

Oh Well - Fleetwood Mac
Peter Green!

Stairway to Heaven - Led Zeppelin
An obligatory song for nearly every rock list ever categorized. Add in Over the Hills and Far Away and The Rain Song from the under-appreciated Houses of the Holy, if you wish.

My God - Jethro Tull
Ian Anderson made a career of acoustic intros, like in Thick as a Brick and Minstrel in the Gallery.

Roundabout - Yes
Another beautiful acoustic bit by Steve Howe: And You and I.

Wish You Were Here - Pink Floyd
Ah, those first five notes!

Crazy On You - Heart
Girls can play guitars too!

Blood on the Rooftops - Genesis
Genesis remained a great progressive band after Peter Gabriel's exit. They only became purveyors of commercial inanities after guitarist Steve Hackett left.

Ice Cream Man - Van Halen
This song always puts me in a good humor.

~~A HOARD OR KEYBOARD (Piano, Organ or Synth)~~
Although rock music is indelibly entwined with guitar strings, keyboards, too, have made their impact on this music genre. Here are some pitch-perfect beginnings of several classic tunes:

Great Balls of Fire - Jerry Lee Lewis

Green Onions - Booker T and the MGs
Steve Cropper and Booker T! Righteous!

Louie Louie - The Kingsmen
The only unintelligible song banned for having obscene lyrics that could not be understood by the people that banned it. Oh, but they're there, damn it!

A Whiter Shade of Pale - Procol Harum
Bach, resurrected and given a Beatles' wig.

When the Music's Over - The Doors
Or you could go with Light My Fire if you want a more commercial hit.

Forever Afternoon (Tuesday?) - The Moody Blues
Mike Pinder was a mellotron wizard. Check out Isn't Life Strange.

The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down - The Band
Love the grand piano roll up.

Let It Be - The Beatles
You could do a treatise on Beatles' keyboard openers. How about Strawberry Fields.

In-A-Gadda-Davida - Iron Butterfly
Just listen to the organ intro. The rest will take you half an hour.

In the Court of the Crimson King - King Crimson
Early masters of the mellotron.

Glad - Traffic
A title that mirrors the music.

Hold Your Head Up - Argent
Rod Argent, no longer a Zombie. Which means there is a cure.

Locomotive Breath - Jethro Tull
The most menacing piano piece ever.

Lazy - Deep Purple
Jon Lord beating the hell out of his Hammond on this quintessential version of "Lazy" from Made In Japan.

No Quarter - Led Zeppelin
John Paul Jones was definitely underrated. I have always loved the intro to In the Light

Footstompin' Music - Grand Funk
And it is. Footstompin'.

Baba O'Riley - The Who
That's a lowly Lowrey Berkshire home organ and not a synthesizer like the ARP 2500 Pete Townshend usually used during that period.

Firth of Fifth - Genesis
Peter Gabriel may have had the spotlight, but Tony Banks was the most integral player in Genesis. See his understated style here: The Carpet Crawlers.

Lady Grinning Soul - David Bowie
That's Mike Garson playing manic piano on the album Aladdin Sane. Love his crazy intro on Let's Spend the Night Together.

Imagine - John Lennon
Simple but with immediacy.

Endless Enigma, Part I - Emerson, Lake & Palmer
Of course, keyboardist Keith Emerson was lead player in ELP, so nearly everything starts with keys. But you get just about the whole ball of wax on "Endless Enigma". You could also choose Karn Evil 9 (1st Impression, Part II).

The Golden Age of Rock and Roll - Mott the Hoople
Let's see, he's at a piano, he's wearing sunglasses and it's the middle of the night. It must be Ian Hunter, playing something like All the Way From Memphis.

Parallels - Yes
Rick Wakeman battles Jon Anderson, leaves, Patrick Moraz plays on The Gates of Delirium, and then Wakeman comes back to record on Going For The One, on which "Parallels" appears and the ethereal Awaken.

Funeral for a Friend - Elton John
Hmmm...you might as well add Take Me to the Pilot and Ticking.

~~BASICALLY THE BASS~~
Bass players. The guys that hide at the back of the stage while lead singers preen and guitarists make funny, constipated faces while they pluck. Here are some notable notes from the bottom of the register:

Badge - Cream
A song co-written by Clapton and George Harrison, but notable for Jack Bruce's bass.

White Rabbit - Jefferson Airplane
I wonder if any of the band members of the Airplane were even aware they were playing at this time.

Boris the Spider - The Who
Let's not forget John Entwistle's contribution to My Generation

N.I.B. - Black Sabbath
Geezer! Love Children of the Grave too!

Dazed and Confused - Led Zeppelin
I can imagine Neanderthals grunting in enjoyment.

Bouree - Jethro Tull
If only Johan Sebastian had a bass player like Glenn Cornick.

Moondance - Van Morrison
It's the bass that gives this song it's jazzy bottom.

I'm Just a Singer in a Rock and Roll Band - The Moody Blues
Another great but underrated bassist, John Lodge.

Gutter Cats vs The Jets - Alice Cooper
Dennis Dunaway was a sadly underrated bassist.

Highway Star - Deep Purple
Known for Ritchie Blackmore's searing lead, you have to give props to bassist Roger Glover for driving this song.

One of These Days - Pink Floyd
Of course, you can add Money.

Low Spark of High Heeled Boys - Traffic
Hypnotic.

Heart of the Sunrise - Yes
The best bass line in rock. Thank you, Chris Squire.

Under Pressure - Queen w/David Bowie
Not even Vanilla Ice could ruin this bass line.

Schism - Tool
Justin Chancellor, the best of a new generation of bassists.


~~A CONCATENATION OF VOCALIZATION~~
They could be sung, they could be spoken, they could be shrieked; in any case, they started off a song, and they are indeed memorable:

Blue Suede Shoes - Elvis Presley
The first great utterance in Rock n' Roll.

Chantilly Lace - The Big Bopper
"Hello, Ba-a-a-a-a-by!"

Tutti Frutti - Little Richard
"A-wop-bom-a-loo-mop-a-lomp-bom-bom!"

I Saw Her Standing There - The Bealtes
"One-two-three-FUH!" One of the early great count-ins.

Wooly Bully - Sam the Sham & The Pharaohs
Another prominent count-in. "Uno, dos, one, two, tres, quatro!" Math and Spanish were not Sam's specialty.

Help - The Beatles
Only one word you need to remember here.

Fire - The Crazy World of Arthur Brown
When Arthur Brown bellows, "I am the god of Hellfire!" You tend to believe him.

Departure/Ride My See-Saw - The Moody Blues
Other than Jim Morrison, no one did in-song poems better than the magnificent Moodies.

The Soft Parade - The Doors
I want whatever Jim had when he recorded this song.

The Motorcycle Song - Arlo Guthrie
I don't want a pickle, I just wanna ride my motor-sickle.

Two of Us - The Beatles
Lennon says, "'I Dig a Pygmy', by Charles Hawtrey and the Deaf Aids! Phase One, in which Doris gets her oats!" Charles Hawtrey was an English musician and comedic actor. I have no idea who Doris was.

Kick Out The Jams - MC5
One of the most enduring examples of a rock and roll expletive.

Almost Cut My Hair - Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
"I will now proceed to entangle the entire area."

American Pie - Don McLean
"A long, long time ago" it begins, like most great stories.

30 Days in the Hole - Humble Pie
They sound like they're having a riot.

The Ocean - Led Zeppelin
You can barely hear John Bonham (he is not mic'd) as he yells : "We've done four already but now we're steady, and then they went 1, 2, 3, 4!" Obviously, this is the fifth take of the song. Then there's the recording engineer complaining about an airplane flying overhead interrupting Led Zep's studio time: Black Country Woman.

Black Dog - Led Zeppelin
A great bit or rock bluster. Zep was never deep in the lyrics department.

Iron Man - Black Sabbath
An unnerving but effective way to introduce the character in the song.

Ballroom Blitz - Sweet
They sound a bit effeminate in their efforts to sound seductive (or whatever the hell that was) during the intro, but they kick in well enough during the song.

La Grange - ZZ Top
Gotta love Billy Gibbons voice on the intro. Even if it the beat and guitar were a direct lift from The Stones' Shake Your Hips, who in turn borrowed it from Slim Harpo.

Meadows - Joe Walsh
I can't make much sense of it, but the coke Joe had must've been pretty clean.

Diamond Dogs - David Bowie
"This ain't rock and roll, this is genocide!"

Excuse Me - Peter Gabriel
I just love the barber shop quartet opening.

Must of Got Lost - J. Geils Band
One of the greatest introductions to a live rock song. Peter Wolf is hilarious! Other memorable live lines are from Ain't Nothing but a House Party and Whammer Jammer/Hard Driving Man.

You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth - Meatloaf
"On a hot summer night, would you offer your throat to the wolf with the red roses?" Only if you say please.

Revenge of Vera Gemini - Blue Öyster Cult
That's rock poet Patti Smith saying: "You were boned like a saint, with the consciousness of a snake."

Rock of Ages - Def Leppard
I can't stand Def Leppard. But I do like "Gunter glieben glauchen globen." Checking with my German friends, it means absolutely nothing.

Dun Ringill - Jethro Tull
It goes like this: "Six. The Weather's on the change... Lines join in faint discord and the stormwatch brews a concert of kings as the white sea snaps at the heels of a soft prayer, whispered."

Know Your Rights - The Clash
"This is a public service announcement -- with guitars!"

Crazy Train - Ozzy Osbourne
So ubiquitous, it is sung in commercials by children in car seats.

Liar - Rollins Band
Listen to the whole spoken intro. It's a scream!

Post-script: I know this list in no way encompasses all the great intros in rock history, so drop a line with your favorites that I missed. I'll be doing a follow-up article on the great outros and grand finales in rock coming up.







Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Greatest Albums of the 21st Century: 2000 - 2013, Part One

Welcome to the Greatest Albums of the 21st Century: 2000 - 2013, Part One.
I've had a few comments from readers bemoaning the fact that I have neglected current music in my articles. The  reason is quite simple. It sometimes takes me up to ten years to gestate on the merits of an album before I expound on its virtues. Hell, I didn't really start loving Ziggy Stardust-era David Bowie until the 80s! Also, I believe good music as a whole has been mass-marketed, American-Idolized, iTuned and Hip-Hopicided into near extinction. Don't get me wrong, there is certainly good music to be found, but it has been marginalized and overwhelmed by prodigious piles of puerile bullshit. Certainly, there has always been puerile bullshit, musically-speaking, but the piles have proliferated in the past couple decades until there looms a mountainous mass of the stuff, crown-ed with Kanyes, Glees and Ga-Gas, a Minaj-a-twat that only leads in One Direction.

Oh sure, I've listed several albums that have been universally praised (In Rainbows, Elephant and Illinoise, for example), but my subjective tastes swerve often enough outside the critical mean to give you a worthwhile overview of more obscure but meaningful and significant offerings from the last decade + three years. How did I choose these releases, you may well ask? The simplest answer would be to say that I went in the opposite direction of critic Robert Christgau's absurd ratings, which more often than not suffices in finding good albums. If Christgau hates it, buy it. Beyond that, and more to the point, the selections I have chosen reflect superb musicianship, finely crafted compositions and meaningful lyrics, or at least some combination of the three.

I have gone further afield more than usual in this endeavor, leaving the rock genre as my chosen playground and inviting in other musical categories in my blogging sandbox. You'll find post-rock, bluegrass, country, indie-folk, blues and a bit of Gypsy and Irish punk thrown in with the usual suspects of the rock, blues-rock and prog-rock varieties. It seems, more and more, that one needs to really dig and explore to find the golden needles hid beneath the rank, sodden haystacks of modern music.

But enough sermonizing to the furthest pew. Here are the first 25 albums, in no particular order (and none in sequence should be inferred as preferential over another), with a few specialty releases thrown in. These I deem the best of the last 13 years, with a second installment of 25 arriving shortly - as in, whenever I get around to it.


Tool - Lateralus

Basically (and I am speaking as an English major who views all mathematics suspiciously), Fibonnaci numbers start with 0,1 (or 1,1) and each number following is the sum of the previous two (continuing onward to infinity). Listen to the words in the song "Lateralus". The syllables follow a precise Fibonnaci sequence starting at 1 and progress up to 8 and then the lyrics reverse back in sequence to 1 again, and then to 13 in sequence back down to 1. Even the time signature of the rhythm runs 9-8-7 which is the 16th step of the Fibonnaci sequence. It is amazing. Okay, before my brain explodes, onto the song "Schism". In this one song, Tool changes meter 47 times: 5/4 to 6/4 to 13/8, then 11/8 to 10/8 and 7/4, etc. all propelled by the brilliant bass line of Justin Chancellor. Far more complex and satisfying than Tool's previous major label releases, Undertow and Aenima, Lateralus is a geometric puzzle wherein "I know the pieces fit" -- I just haven't solved it all, even after listening to it since 2001. If you hear echoes of King Crimson in Adam Jones jangling and biting guitar bits, it is because Tool members are ardent followers of Fripp and Co.

Worth the Price of Admission: Lateralus, Schism, The Grudge


Tom Waits - Bad As Me

I was inclined to add Wait's fabulous Mule Variations to this list, but it was released in 1999, and so that would be cheating. Let's just view Mule Variations as the album that nailed shut the coffin of the cadaverous 20th century. Waits best album so far from 21st century is Bad As Me, as eclectic, frenetic and odd as any Waits release in the past 30 years. But eclectic, frenetic and odd are the hallmarks of Waits, and if bizarre beats, jerking rhythms, biting lyrics and offhand time-signatures are not your cup of tea, then go drink something a bit more soothing. The songs Waits supplies are such an amalgamation of musical styles that they defy classification and are timeless and, as usual, his poetry is savage and sad and off-kilter enough to make you uneasy at enjoying yourself. But go ahead anyway.

Worth the Price of Admission: Hell Broke Luce, Face to the Highway, Talking at the Same Time


Sufjan Stevens - (Come on Feel the) Illinoise

Sufjan's second state-themed album after the widely acclaimed Michigan (god, I hope the next one isn't Ohio!), Illinoise is a sprawling and epic release that is both weird and wonderful. Songs like "John Wayne Gacy Jr." (a beautifully warped song about the clown mass-murderer) and "Casimir Pulaski Day" (about a girlfriend who died of bone cancer) are not the usual faire for a baroque pop album, or indie folk, or folk rock, or whatever the proper musical genre tag is. The titles are hilarious and as outrageous as the lyrics: "The Predatory Wasp Of The Palisades Is Out To Get Us!" and "Decatur, or, Round of Applause for Your Stepmother!", but this is one magnificent album.

Worth the Price of Admission: Casimir Pulaski Day, John Wayne Gacy, Jr., The Predatory Wasp Of The Palisades Is Out To Get Us!



The Decemberists - The Hazards of Love

A folk-rock opera that is as dark, daring and in the end, deathly, as Bizet's Carmen or Mozart's Don Giovanni, but Colin Meloy injects a bit of poignancy and sardonic wit into the grand and grave album to lighten the proceedings a bit. Of special note are the two female vocalists, Shara Worden (the malignantly jealous Fairy Queen) and Becky Starks (the innocent heroine, Margaret), who sing their parts brilliantly. The gallows humor pervades "The Rake's Song" (the Rake being an evil antagonist who kills his children one by one, played by Meloy with wicked zeal). Worden is revelatory in The Wanting Comes in Waves (an eerie reincarnation of 60s-era Grace Slick), and Starks is beautiful in "Isn't It a Lovely Night". The best acoustic passages are "Annan Water" and The Hazards of Love 4 (The Drowned)". One of the best albums of the last ten or fifteen years.  

Worth the price of admission:  The Rake's Song , Annan Water, The Wanting Comes in Waves


Ali Farka Touré - Savane

If you've never heard of Ali Farka Touré, I wouldn't be surprised. But the man from Mali is a legendary African guitarist playing a style of Malian music so akin to American blues that one wonders if the North and Western African musical stylings found their way to the Mississippi Delta via slave ships. In any case, Savane is the final solo album by the "African John Lee Hooker", released posthumously after Touré died of bone cancer in 2006. The music is characterized by sinuous rhythms, intricate riffs and repetitive circular  guitar patterns that recall Middle-Eastern music as much as it reflects African tribal beats and Southern blues. It is both hypnotic and netherworldly. I can think of no other album that will both delight and confound a blues fan like Savane. Listen and you'll hear John Lee Hooker, Led Zeppelin's Moroccan bits and even a beat or two of Deep Purple's "Sweet Child in Time".

Worth the price of admission: Savane, Yer Bounda Fara, Ewly, Beto


Gogol Bordello - Gypsy Punks: Underdog World Strike

If Gogol Bordello is playing, chances are there is a crazy party going on or a bloody bar fight. Either or. These Gypsy punks are a hilarious combination of traditional Roma music, The Clash and Spike Jones. Gogol Bordello just didn't find a niche music market, they damn well invented one, rather like The Pogues, and like their crazy Irish kin Gogol's music is tight, wildly fun and tailor-made for intoxication. So buy their album and let the mayhem commence!

Worth the Price of Admission: Mishto!, Underground World Strike, Illumination, Undestructible


Gillian Welch - Time (The Revelator)

Achingly beautiful plaints sung with conviction. In the mode of Neil Young's country folk acoustics, Gillian Welch offers up a revelatory batch of songs best sung on the front porch with a hint of a night breeze stirring the branches of mossy oaks a way down yonder in some lost summer. The music is spare in the best Dylanesque Blood on the Tracks style and the lyrical content is moving and as stark as the musical accompaniment. The video of "I Want to Sing that Rock and Roll" is from an excellent concert documentary Down from the Mountain recorded at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium.

Worth the Price of Admission: Time (The Revelator), I Dream a Highway, Elvis Presley Blues, I Want to Sing that Rock and Roll


Punch Brothers - Antifogmatic

Yes, there is such a thing as progressive bluegrass music, and it's provided in splendid fashion by mandolinist-extraordinaire Chris Thile and Punch Brothers. Damn can these guys jam! One listen to the jazz-infused country of "When in Doubt" and you'll never look at bluegrass the same again. The deluxe double CD version of Antifogmatic includes a stellar interpretation of Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 3. Serious musicians having a seriously good time.

Worth the Price of Admission: Rye Whiskey, When in Doubt, You Are, Brandenburg Concerto No. 3, III. Allegro


Kayo Dot - Dowsing Anemone With Copper Tongue

Post-rock, post-modern, post-apocalyptic, Dowsing Anemone with Copper Tongue is an addictive melange of metal, progressive rock, jazz and classical forms. Kayo Dot, driven by multi-instrumentalist Toby Driver and violinist Mia Matsumiya, offers up shimmering ambiance, dissonant abruptness, mellifluous phrasing, noisy minimalism and powerful passages woven into dense tapestries of sound. There is not much else like Dowsing Anemone, because defying conventions in the corporate music world would be on par with shrieking that you were a witch on the streets of 14th century Avignon.  

Worth the Price of Admission: Aura on an Asylum Wall, Amaranth the Peddler, Immortelle and Paper Caravelle


Porcupine Tree - Fear of a Blank Planet

A concept album based loosely on Bret Easton Ellis' Lunar Park, Porcupine Tree's Fear of a Blank Planet is the story of a boy who is either suffering bipolarism and attention-deficit disorder, or, as they were back in my youth, just another normally fucked up teenager, a "terminally bored kid" experimenting with drugs, dressed in black, tuned out, locked in his room with the jams blaring, ignoring his parents and the daylight. Steven Wilson and Porcupine Tree (particularly the fantastic drummer Gavin Harrison) present their superb rendition of progressive rock that runs the gamut from languid pop to hellstorm metal with stellar guest appearances by Alex Lifeson of Rush and King Crimson's Robert Fripp.

Worth the Price of Admission: Fear of a Blank Planet, Anesthetize, Sentimental


Otis Taylor - White African

Certainly one of the best blues albums of the last 10 or 20 years, Otis Taylor's White African is as striking as an unexpected slap across the face. The songs are haunting and bitter, raging and poignant, with a Delta blues acoustic guitar style that really needs no embellishment. "Resurrection Blues" gives Taylor's take on Christ's doubt and pain, reflected from his own experience. "Three Days and Three Nights" recounts the sadness and horror of a father watching his daughter die because he has no health insurance. "St. Martha Blues" is about a woman's search for her husband's body after he was lynched down south. The songs are intense and rendered with the anger of a man who has seen it all and the gravity of a master storyteller.

Worth the Price of Admission: My Soul's in Louisiana, Resurrection Blues, Aint No Cowgirl, Round and Round


Sigur Rós - Takk...

"Takk", as everyone knows, is Icelandic for "thanks". Well, I'm sure not everyone knew that, but you know it now. Sigur Rós sounds like an ethereal amalgam of Tangerine Dream, Björk and Radiohead, and their ambient musings can be used to put a Buddhist to sleep. I certainly find the music relaxing, and from my perspective, music should either excite, inspire, enrage or relax one. The dreamy quality of Takk... is perfect background music and several of the songs are sung in the gibberish speech referred to by the band as Vonlenska ("Hopelandic"), which is akin to Jazz's scat, a language in which the sounds and inflections of meaningless words are used for the melodiousness of their sound, and not for the purpose of grammar or syntax.

Worth the Price of Admission: Sæglópur, Glósóli, Andvari
 


Steven Wilson - The Raven that Refused to Sing (And Other Stories)

Multi-instrumentalist Steven Wilson (late of Porcupine Tree) released a superior solo album in Grace for Drowning, and then outdid himself on The Raven that Refused to Sing. Of course, it doesn't hurt that this album was co-produced by Alan Parsons, and features orchestral arrangements by Dave Stewart of Hatfield and the North and Egg. The album deals to varying degrees with ghosts, death and obsession. So yeah, it's not very bright and cheery, but I can't see Wilson ever doing a cover of "Shiny, Happy People"; yet the album is beautifully somber and dark. The fusion jazz a la King Crimson "Luminol" (great bass line), the infinitely sad title track, the grand solo by guitarist Guthrie Govan on "Drive Home" -- the compositions are long and complicated but do not delve into progressive noodling and mucking about as is found on many 10 or 12 minute songs.

Worth the Price of Admission: The Raven that Refused to Sing, Luminol, The Watchmaker


Radiohead - In Rainbows


There are people who love Radiohead from their Kid A and Amnesiac period, and then there are those who prefer the earlier era of The Bends and OK Computer. I am in the latter category. On In Rainbows, Radiohead suddenly discovered they didn't have to rely on sounding like robotic electronica jukeboxes and actually could play music like they did in the old days, with actual instruments and not relying completely on tape loops and other studio gimmickry. This is a more human version of the band. Granted, this is a softer, gentler Radiohead than from the OK Computer days, but many of the songs have that undeniable air that could be heard on "Fake Plastic Trees" on The Bends album. I am quite alright with that, and I welcome Radiohead back to the realms of mortal men.

Worth the Price of Admission: The Bodysnatchers, House of Cards, Reckoner


Wilco - Sky Blue Sky

Critics attacked Sky Blue Sky because they said it sounded like "dad-rock". Since I am a dad, I will accept that gratefully. Hey, even musicians have to grow up eventually and gracefully or end up looking like old bar whores or over-cosmeticated cadavers. This is a more contemplative, less jammy album from Wilco, reminiscent of equal parts Grateful Dead, Flying Burrito Brothers, later Byrds and distortionistic Neil Young, a country-rock style that is considered antique and dad-rock perhaps, but as welcome as the sunshine after a spring rain. Some absolutely gorgeous songs.

Worth the Price of Admission: Either Way, Walken, You are My Face, Impossible Germany


The Black Keys - Attack & Release

Alright, other than the song Things Ain't Like They Used to Be being a direct and unequivocal rip-off of The Beatles "Don't Let Me Down", I really love this blues-rock guitar assault by The Black Keys. Sounding at times like Eric Clapton and Cream borrowed Geezer Butler and Bill Ward from Sabbath, The Keys embark on a fuzzy, distorted trip down the cobwebbed corridors of rock and roll.

Worth the Price of Admission: I Got Mine, Strange Times, Psychotic Girl, Same Old Thing


Riverside - Second Life Syndrome


Poland's most famous progressive rock band released a remarkable album in 2005 called Second Life Syndrome. One listen to the powerful "Dance With the Shadow" should convince you there is more to Warsaw than polkas. Moving from mellow to metal in the space of a few bars, Riverside is certainly unique, and I really enjoyed the nod to Pink Floyd's "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" at the start of the title Track.

Worth the Price of Admission: Before, Dance With the Shadow, Second Life Syndrome


Bright Eyes - I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning

A luminous and quirky album. Conor Oberst is rather like Nick Drake being possessed by Marc Bolan of T-Rex. Or something like that. It's a purposeful cross-breed of folk-Americana and indie-pop, which fortunately doesn't sound as diabolical as it seems. I'm Wide Awake and It's Morning can best be defined by "Land Locked Blues" with the wonderful cameo vocal by Emmy Lou Harris. You wonder sometimes if these guys are serious or all part of a clever, calculated poetical attack on society. Even if that's the case, it's a damn shrewd ploy and highly enjoyable, even if you have been taken.

Worth the Price Admission: Road to Joy, Land Locked Blues, First Day of My Life



White Stripes - Elephant

From the beginning bass line of "Seven Nation Army", you realize that the Detroit expatriates White Stripes are in a murderous mood. Jack White imports the distortion from another Detroit legend The MC5 and has a wonderfully twisted monologue on "There's No Home for you Here" and rewrites the rules of rock canon in the process. And I really love the ultra-violent blues of "Ball and a Biscuit". White Stripes and Jack White have found the magical formula for being commercially successful and completely perverse at the same time.

Worth the Price of Admission: Seven Nation Army, There's No Home for You Here, Ball and a Biscuit



Fleet Foxes

How can you not love an album with a Pieter Bruegel painting on the cover? Sporting harmonies reminiscent of Crosby, Stills & Nash, Fleet Foxes paints pastoral scenes with the deftness of the 16th century Flemish artist gracing the cover. Fleet Foxes offers up a lush and languid acoustic set in the fine tradition of troubadours like Cat Stevens, James Taylor and Paul Simon. It is a welcome and mellifluous aural garden hidden in the brash cacophonous waste that is modern pop music, a rare oasis in the desert of programmed and sequenced bullshit that is the actual musical mirage.

Worth the Price of Admission: Blue Ridge Mountains, Tiger Mountain Peasant Song, Ragged Wood



Green Day - American Idiot

As a concept, the entire story of an everyman protagonist with the catchy name 'Jesus of Suburbia' (he must be from California), who is fueled by "soda pop and Ritalin" (as Billie Joe Armstrong related), and has cohorts named St. Jimmy and Whatshername is, by any stretch of the imagination, banal. William Faulkner it is definitely not. Then why do I like this album? Simple: every song is great. The concept is a bloody mess, but the album works because the material is undeniably good. American Idiot is a great collection of songs, and the best are "Holiday", "American Idiot", "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" and "Wake Me Up When September Ends". Let's just not mention the concept.

Worth the Price of Admission: Boulevard of Broken Dreams, Holiday, American Idiot


Flogging Molly - Swagger

"I don't know where I'm going/Don't know where the fuck I'm going", is a perfect way to start off Flogging Molly's debut album Swagger, and the drunken Irish revelry that ensues is a hell of a lot of fun. Taking up where The Pogues left off (and you can actually understand Dave King's lyrics, whereas Shane MacGowan is often unintelligibly drunk), Flogging Molly is perhaps the most consistent of American-Irish Punk-Trad bands that includes such stalwarts as Dropkick Murphys, Young Dubliners and Black 47. I would give The Young Dubliners the nod for their music in the 1990s, but Molly owned the 2000s, and the follow-up release to Swagger, Drunken Lullabies is just as meticulous in its unkempt, hellfire-and-fiddle approach to honoring the spirit of Gaelic music. So drink a Guinness and punch your neighbor. It's not just for St. Patrick's Day anymore.

Worth the Price of Admission: Swagger, A Salty Dog, The Worst Day Since Yesterday, The Devil's Dance Floor





Big Big Train - English Electric, Part 1 and Part 2

First of all, I am a huge fan of Peter Gabriel-era Genesis. That being said, these albums from Big Big Train could easily fit into the Genesis discography between Selling England By Pound and The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, and nobody would notice the difference. That is high praise, not criticism. Whether you consider these albums an homage or a blatant rip-off, both halves of English Electric are bloody fucking brilliant, both in musical composition and exquisite lyrical exposition. In fact, given Gabriel's penchant for going off the allegorical deep-end, Big Big Train does not wallow in excess like their spiritual father. Following up on the splendid The Underfall Yard, Big Big Train offers the quintessential reworking of 1970s progressive rock in English Electric, Part One (2012) and Part Two (2013) with a reverent but shrewd ear for what worked the best (including generous nods to Robert Fripp and King Crimson as well). And I thank them for it. By the way, a double CD of the combined albums will be released this autumn, hence the inclusion of both here.

Worth the price of admission: Judas Unrepentant, Winchester From St. Giles Hill, Curator of Butterflies, Leopards


Drive-By Truckers - Southern Rock Opera

In the fine tradition of The Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Molly Hatchet, Drive-By Truckers produced the finest Southern rock release of the 21st century. It's raw as hell and loud as all get out. It has about as much subtlety as a rabid, bristling boar, but it goes beyond merely echoing great Southern bands. The spoken-word "The Three Great Alabama Icons" is an interesting manifesto seen through skewed Southern filters, and the entire album tells a sometimes hilarious, sometimes damn serious history of a Southern musician's life. It makes Kid Rock's attempts at playing below the Mason/Dixon line seem rather pale and presumptuous. This here's the ragged glory of the real thang.

Worth the Price of Admission: Southern Thing, The Three Great Alabama Icons, Let There Be Rock, Zip City

THREE FOR THE MONEY, FOUR FOR THE ROAD: RETAKES, REMAKES & RETREADS


 Here are four albums released in the 21st century that remind us of what was lost from the century previous. After all, you didn't think I would let this article go without waxing poetic on other eras of music, did you? Here are four icons, one of country music, one of rock, one of psychedelia and one of progressive rock. Each as different as night is to day and black is to white, but each sharing that indelible stamp of ultimate musical craftsmanship that made them stand out like a tall ship's spar in a sea of musical mediocrity.



Johnny Cash - American IV: The Man Comes Around

Cash's American IV: The Man Comes Around, an album of song covers from bands as disparate as The Eagles and Depeche Mode, is worthwhile for a single song, Trent Reznor's "Hurt". Everything else is gravy from there. Cash so makes Reznor's song his own that one can imagine Reznor worrying about people asking him to "play that Johnny Cash song". Poor Trent will be moldering in his unlamented grave and folks will still be talking about Johnny Cash, the Man in Black. A consumate performer until the very end (this was the last album released before his death), Cash sings along with The Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante and steals Depeche Mode's "Personal Jesus". Then there's Johnny's own apocalyptic vision on "The Man Comes Around" and a great, mournful duet between Nick Cave and Cash on Hank Williams' "I'm So Lonely I Could Cry". Majestic, poignant and sad as all get out. The last Cash album was as good as the first.

Worth the Price of Admission: Hurt, Personal Jesus, The Man Comes Around, I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry



The Beatles - Love

A labor of love by Sir George Martin and his son, the Love album is a splendid and sometimes startling remix of Beatle songs. One forgets how ingrained Beatle songs have become over the decades. Many of us know every subtle nuance of every song in their catalog. The sublime "mash-up" contains parts of 130 Beatle songs, and the result is intoxicating. For instance, listen to "Within You Without You" which is reworked with the tabla drum sections of "Tomorrow Never Knows", or "Strawberry Fields" with the piano parts of "In My Life", the brass section of "Penny Lane", the harpsichord of "Piggies" and some vocals from "Hello, Goodbye". It all works amazingly well, and in particular the acoustic "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" with strings and a stanza of lyric not found on the song when it was released on the White Album. The album is a transcendent reminder of George Martin indeed being "The Fifth Beatle".

Worth the Price of Admission: Within You Without You/Tomorrow Never Knows, Drive My Car/The Word/What You're Doing, While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Get Back



Jimi Hendrix - People, Hell and Angels

Yes, yes, yes, another Hendrix repackaging (released March, 2013), one of literally hundreds released since Jimi died far too soon in 1970. But this one is a bit different, in that that it approximates Hendrix's plan to release an album after his latest project First Rays of the New Rising Sun, which in itself never got released in its entirety until 1997. Hendrix himself coined the title People, Hell and Angels according to Eddie Kramer, Hendrix's longtime engineer and producer of this release. What is intriguing and exciting about the album is his eagerness to collaborate with other musicians (and we can only bemoan the fact Jimi never got to jam with Miles Davis as he planned). Listen to the outright funk of Hendrix backing the Ghetto Fighters on a song he wrote "Mojo Man", or jamming with saxophonist Lonnie Youngblood on the heavy R&B of "Let Me Move You". It speaks volumes for where Hendrix was heading, and perhaps how he would have further altered the landscape of modern music. In addition, Hendrix plays every instrument but drums (supplied by Mitch Mitchell) on "Inside Out", and Steven Stills plays bass on "Somewhere" (known in a different version as "Somewhere Over the Rainbow"). Fascinating stuff.

Worth the Price Admission: Mojo Man, Let Me Move You, Inside Out, Somewhere



Jethro Tull - Nothing Is Easy: Live at the Isle of Wight, 1970

1970s Isle of Wight Festival was Jethro Tull's coming out party. And seething with the energy of a band on the cusp of stardom, they certainly did not disappoint the hundreds of thousands who attended the show. Sandwiched between superstar acts The Moody Blues and Jimi Hendrix on the bill must have seemed a daunting experience for the band, but in essence Tull stole the show with their piss and vinegar performance. The Nothing Is Easy concert (released in 2004) is an exhilarating show presenting Tull as the heavy rockers they were well before the eccentric band took two trips down the progressive rock road (the continuous music of the albums Thick as a Brick and A Passion Play) and eventually camped out on their English folk-laden trilogy (Songs from the Wood, Heavy Horses and Storm Watch). This earlier version of Tull is a different beast altogether. Propelled here by the fantastic drumming of Tull's first drummer Clive Bunker, Tull's set is driven and draining.  Nothing is Easy is one hell of a ride and a great piece of rock history.

Worth the Price Admission: My Sunday Feeling, My God, Nothing Is Easy



Friday, April 12, 2013

The Greatest Film Scores & Soundtracks Of All Time

How many films have there been wherein no one notices the music? Quite a few, if you think about it - the score or soundtrack merely blends in with background noise like a transistor radio on a busy street (for the younger readers, a "transistor radio" was a small battery-operated device with a tinny speaker that one used to listen to music with via non-digital airwaves in the century prior to i-Pods) . Certainly, there are those directors who eschewed a score altogether, like Hitchcock in The Birds or Ingmar Bergman in Cries and Whispers (although there is still some incidental classical music in both). But we shall forgo those and seek films where the music of the films are memorable, and often unforgettable. Many times the musical score of the film is what enthralls you, and at other times it is the individual songs that make up the soundtrack that catches your attention. Still other times, both the score and songs from the soundtrack are superb. I have decided to include both score and soundtracks in this article, mostly because I am inherently lazy and don't want to duplicate the effort.

What is the difference between a score and a soundtrack, you ask? Simply put, a score is most often music composed specifically for a film. It is usually electronic or classical in nature (although period instruments and arrangements are often used to reflect a bygone era, or ethnic music is scored to relate to a specific country, like in Gandhi, for instance). In addition, scores very rarely offer vocals, and then usually of an operatic or choral caliber. Often the score reflects themes in the movie or introduces specific characters, such as the score of  The Lord of the Rings, in which Howard Shore gives both characters (Gollum, for instance) and places (Khazad-dum, The Shire and Rohan) their own themes.

Conversely, a soundtrack is a collection of prerecorded songs or compositions by a single or various artists used by the director to direct our attention to something, to either subtly or overtly manipulate our feelings, or, more often than not, the director just likes the damn songs. Often songs are used in an ironic sense, a juxtaposition of a happy song on a frankly brutal scene, like Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange crooning "Singin' in the Rain" as he beats up a couple. Sometimes a director will not use a score but only a soundtrack of individual songs, some only use a score, and some use both. We cater to all kinds here. But, as with all of my articles, I offer a few caveats, provisos and quid pro quos simply to make things easier for myself. Selfish, I know.

One caveat I have applied is that the film scores and soundtracks I have chosen are not from movies deemed "musicals", hence no Mary Poppins, The Sound of Music, The Wizard of Oz, Stormy Weather, Oliver!, My Fair Lady, or even Pink Floyd's The Wall, for that matter. These are all laudable films, particularly in their musical content, but that isn't what I was going for. In addition, there are no concert films on the list, so no The Last Waltz, Woodstock, Don't Look Back or The Concert of Bangladesh. Both musicals and concert films/rockumentaries deserve their own special articles, and I may get around to those someday. But the scores and soundtracks here are from films that have plots independent of the music, or at least with "mockumentaries" such as This Is Spinal Tap or A Mighty Wind, or biographical films such as Amadeus, the music, while not incidental to the plot, is certainly cleverly subsumed into the overall story.

I won't say the music is secondary to the plot for the soundtracks I have chosen; on the contrary, in a few films here the soundtracks are the only redemption for sub-par or pedestrian movies. However, the characters do not sing while performing the mundane aspects of their lives. There are no epic musical dance numbers with casts of thousands trooping through Victorian neighborhoods of London (a stock number seen from everything from the song "Thank You Very Much" in the movie Scrooge to "With a Little Bit of Luck" from My Fair Lady to "Every Sperm is Sacred" in Monty Python's The Meaning of Life), or some idiot getting soaked singing and dancing in the rain down a sodden street of Paris. I like a healthy dose of reality, even in my fantasies.

And so, without further ado, here are the 50 films I deem to have the greatest scores, soundtracks or a combination of the two. In alphabetical order. Omitting any definite or indefinite articles like the words "the" or "an" starting a title.

The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) - Erich Wolfgang Korngold
Korngold won an Academy Award for his thrilling score that further enlivened an already rousing movie (he also won an Oscar for the 1936 film Anthony Adverse). With Korngold's score, dashing and debonair Errol Flynn, cranky Basil Rathbone and the intoxicating Olivia de Havilland's sumptuous gowns, it is still the best damn Robin Hood movie ever filmed.
The Adventures Of Robin Hood Soundtrack Suite

Alexander Nevsky (1938) - Sergei Prokofiev
No, this is not cheating. Prokofiev did indeed score Sergei Eisenstein's brilliant epic Alexander Nevsky. Prokofiev later rearranged the score in cantata form (op. 78), reducing the film's original 23 movements down to seven. It is considered one of the great cantatas of the past century.
Alexander Nevsky (film score)

Amadeus (1984) - Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri
How can this not be one of the greatest soundtracks? It's Mozart, dammit! The enjoyable aspect of this movie (whether the incidents in the film are true or not matter little)is the masterful way in which Miloš Forman weaves Mozart's music in throughout the film. It is the incidental works (by both Mozart and Salieri) that prove the most fascinating and often hilarious, as when Mozart mocks Salieri's tribute here, or here when Salieri desperately tries to impress a priest. However, the films descends further and further into darkness and the decline of Amadeus. The harrowing scenes from Don Giovanni, and the abject sorrow of the Requièm Mass in D minor (Lacrimosa) are superbly wrought for the film.

American Graffiti (1973) - Various Artists
When you've managed to play snippets of every song from the 50s and early 60s in a single evening and then have Wolfman Jack spin the platters, you either have an extended Time/Life CD infomercial or the George Lucas film American Graffiti. In this case, it's the latter. This is the movie that spurred the nostalgia craze of the 70s and offshoots like the Fonz. For all that, it is a damn entertaining movie, and the music proves integral because each generation has a special soundtrack of their teenage years. Don't you?
Green Onions, Opening Sequence/Rock Around the Clock, At the Hop

Anatomy of a Murder (1959) - Duke Ellington
Aside from Jimmy Stewart's marvelously understated performance as a failing small-town attorney, the best thing director Otto Preminger did was to hire Duke Ellington to write the score for Anatomy of a Murder. The music seethes and soars within a few bars and is infused with catchy gospel and blues lines.
Main Theme from Anatomy of a Murder

Apocalypse Now (1979) - Various Artists, Carmine Coppola
Oh, the horror! It is not necessarily Carmine Coppola's score that leaves the soundtrack to Apocalypse Now indelibly etched in our noggins, it is the eerie intro with the Door's The End insinuating across the scene with a hellish inferno in its wake. It is the wild ride of the choppers playing Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries. Even the not-CCR version of Suzie Q is memorable, particularly with promoter Bill Graham on hand to lend authenticity. And Carmine Coppola does add enough malevolent ambiance to warrant mention, such as in this scene.

Ascenseur pour l'échafaud (1957) - Miles Davis
Ascenseur pour l'échafaud (Elevator to the Gallows) was Louis Malle's first film, and is accorded classic status for its stylish noir ambiance and eternal close-ups of Jeanne Moreau's face. I found it forgettable, save for Miles Davis's remarkable jazz score.

Barry Lyndon (1975) - The Chieftains, George Frederick Handel, Franz Schubert, et al
A simply gorgeous movie that never quite got its due. Hey, Ryan O'Neal actually even managed to act therein! And the soundtrack is formidable, what with The Chieftains maintaining the Irish nature of the hero, and such luminaries as Handel, Schubert, Vivaldi and Mozart to fill in the classical interludes. The music is as beautiful as the movie.
Women of Ireland, Sarabande (End Title), Piano Trio in E flat, Piper's Maggot Jig

The Big Chill (1983) - Various Artists
Hey, you can't go wrong playing The Stone's You Can't Always Get What You Want for a funeral procession! "A Whiter Shade of Pale", "Good Lovin'", "Joy to the World", Aint to Proud to Beg, and every other great Motown hit known to Mankind. The soundtrack for the Baby Boomer Generation, even after they abandoned their beliefs and adopted cynicism and rationalizations.

Blade Runner (1982) - Vangelis
One of my favorite Sci-fi movies of all time comes wrapped in one of my favorite music scores. Vangelis' unearthly keyboards are the perfect cyber-foil for the androids populating the film. The mournful sax of the Love Theme, the tinkling, wistful piano of Memories of Green, and the End Theme are simply a perfect match for the film.

The Blues Brothers (1980) - Various Artists
Jack and Elwood and the evil nun floating a foot above the ground (she was also my 8th grade homeroom teacher). Any movie with Aretha, Cab Calloway and the master bluesman John Lee Hooker is a'ight with me. Belushi and Ackroyd aren't half bad with Robert Johnson's Sweet Home Chicago.

Casablanca (1942) - Various Artists
If ever there was an immortal song from a film, it is Dooley (Sam) Wilson singing As Time Goes By. Throw in It Had To Be You, the most stirring version of La Marseillaise ever filmed, and Max Steiner's superb Suite, and, like I said, Immortal.

A Clockwork Orange (1971) - Wendy Carlos and Various Artists
One of the first movies to ever use music for malignant purposes other than for what they were originally composed for, A Clockwork Orange presents Alex DeLarge (Malcolm McDowell) beating the hell out of a couple to the happy strains of Singin' in the Rain (warning: full frontal nudity!), or the playing of Rossini's lighthearted A Thieving Magpie while Alex bludgeons a woman to death with a giant porcelain penis. And then, of course, the scenes featuring Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance and Beethoven's 9th Symphony (4th Movement). Classical music has never been so fun.

Deliverance (1972) - Eric Weissberg and Steve Mandel
Dueling Banjos is a great song and an equally great album (by Weissberg and Mandel), not just a great soundtrack. Although Ned Beatty squealing like a pig is...ummm...quite memorable. "You sure got a pretty mouth!"

Dr. Zhivago (1965) - Maurice Jarre
Maurice Jarre has scored so many great films (Dr, Zhivago, Lawrence of Arabia, A Passage to India, Witness, Ryan's Daughter, The Year of Living Dangerously, Fatal Attraction, The Man Who Would Be King, The Longest Day, etc.) that to pick one or two seems a slight. Well, here's one, and I've added another later on.
Dr. Zhivago Suite

Easy Rider (1969) - Various Artists
Still one of the greatest rock soundtracks of all time. Fire all of your guns at once and explode into space, indeed! The selections are fantastic: besides Steppenwolf's "Born to be Wild" they offer a better tune The Pusher, The Band's The Weight, The Byrds playing Dylan's It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding), Hendrix's If 6 Was 9 (just after "Don't Bogart Me") and even The Holy Modal Rounder's warped If You Want To Be a Bird.

The Exorcist (1973) - Jack Nitzsche, Mike Oldfield and Various Artists
Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells still gives me the creeps by association with this movie.

Girl With a Pearl Earring (2003) - Alexandre Desplat
A sleeper of a movie, no doubt, but quite an elegant miniature, as beautiful and reverent as a Vermeer painting itself, tied to the more mundane aspects of Dutch life in the 17th century. Nothing overwrought, nothing pompous, a homely portrait transformed with brilliant colors beaming through the glass of a window, always to the left of the artist. And Scarlett Johannson is hot - even without makeup. Oh yeah, the score...ummm...it's very good too.
Silence and Light (Piano), Colours in the Clouds, Griet's Theme

Gladiator (2000) - Hans Zimmer and Lisa Gerrard
 There are a few superb performances in this epic, particularly Joaquin Phoenix as Commodus; otherwise, it's a fairly forgettable film, and about as historically accurate as Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. However, the score is touching and memorable. Probably the best of Hans Zimmer's long career.
The Battle, Now We Are Free, The Glory of Rome, Elysium

The Godfather (1972) - Nino Rota
You gonna argue wid da godfaddah? I just wish Francis Ford Coppola had stopped at two movies (both in my top ten or twenty). But the third was absurd.
Immigrant Theme, The Godfather Theme, I Have But One Heart

Gone With the Wind (1939) - Max Steiner
Like Casablanca and Lawrence of Arabia, Gone With the Wind's score by Max Steiner is immortal. Take me to Tara, Rhett!
Gone With the Wind Suite

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly (1966) - Ennio Morricone
If there was a Hall of Fame for composers of musical scores, Ennio Morricone would be in the first batch elected, along with Maurice Jarre, Nino Rota, Max Steiner, Miklós Rózsa and Erich Wolfgang Korngold.
The Good, The Bad and the Ugly Intro, Duel Finale

The Goodfellas (1990) - Various Artists
Martin Scorcese's use of song and scene was brilliant throughout the movie. Each song mirrored in one way or another the action that was taking place, and he often used the songs in an ironic manner. The best was the juxtaposition of several brutal murders with Derek and the Dominos' beautiful piano outro of Layla, another was Robert DeNiro's inherently evil bit of chain smoking to Cream's Sunshine of Your Love (of all things!), and still another beating to Donovan's Atlantis. Of course, Muddy Water's Mannish Boy is in there as well.

The Graduate (1967) - Simon & Garfunkel
Interweaving songs from three different Simon & Garfunkel albums (Sounds of Silence, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme and Bookends) to marvelous effect, director Mike Nichols catches the confused, disaffected and rebellious nature of Benjamin Braddock and a whole generation.
The Sound of Silence, Scarborough Fair/Canticle, April Come She Will

A Hard Day's Night (1964) - The Beatles
Okay, I may be breaking my own strict caveats and provisos regarding not using musicals here, but the greatest single opening note in rock history (a G7sus4, by the way) opens up the song A Hard Day's Night, so sue me. But aside from Elvis movies, this is one of the first extended rock videos, and it actually has a plot! Well, it's a thin plot, but the movie is so damn entertaining one ignores conventional film criticism. Why, even The Village Voice was laudatory, proclaiming A Hard Day's Night "the Citizen Kane of jukebox musicals".
If I Fell, Tell Me Why, Can't Buy Me Love

Harold and Maude (1971) - Cat Stevens
One of my favorite soundtracks of all time, the songs of Cat Stevens make a black comedy genuinely heartwarming and elegiac. I would definitely put Harold and Maude in the most underrated film category. Ruth Gordon's performance is superb.
If You Want to Sing Out, If You Want to Sing Out (sung by Ruth Gordon), Where Do the Children Play, Trouble

Jaws (1975) - John Williams
People still pee their pants hearing this. It must be aquaphobic in nature. Robert Shaw's performance was outstanding: "Farewell and adieu to you, fair Spanish ladies..."
The Jaws Theme

King Kong (1933) - Max Steiner
Peter Jackson may have spent several million dollars more to produce his 2005 remake of King Kong than the 1933 original; unfortunately, he did not exhume Max Steiner. Besides, Merian C. Cooper did a far better job filming the original.
King Kong Score Suite

King Of Kings (1961) - Miklós Rózsa
Miklós Rózsa may have won an Oscar for his score of Ben Hur, but the sheer emotion and power of his score for King of Kings is breathtaking. One of my favorites, and I'm not even a Christian.
Part I, Part II, Part III, Resurrection and Epilogue

Last of the Mohicans (1992)- Trevor Jones and Randy Edelman
Such a beautifully filmed movie. I even appreciated the muffled sound of black powder shot from musket and cannon (much different than the gunshots one hears in Detroit these days). "The Promontory" (ie., "The Gael") is a particularly moving piece of music. And, of course, the end of the movie when Chingachgook gets his revenge on Magua is damn kick ass! Ummm...sorry...guy moment.
Elk Hunt, Promontory, I Will Find You (Clannad)

The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) - Peter Gabriel
I didn't care for this movie's plot in the least. I've never been a big Oliver "contra-fucking-versial" Stone fan. But I went right out and got the Peter Gabriel soundtrack. Stunning!
Zaar, A Different Drum, Passion, It Is Accomplished

Lawrence of Arabia (1962) - Maurice Jarre
An epic as sweeping as the Arabian Desert needs an equally sprawling score. In this case, Sir David Lean leaned on Maurice Jarre for what is certainly one of the top five scores of all time. One can almost see an oasis shimmering mirage-like in sweltering afternoon sun.
Overture, End Title Music

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001, 2002, 2003) - Howard Shore
It's all the same movie, really, cut into three parts; so, I'm not going to dwell on different aspects or themes of the movies separately. Yet Howard Shore was a marvel throughout the entire series, almost a Tenth Walker of the Fellowship. His themes cut to the heart of each character and place he described with his aural palette. And don't forget the fine songs Enya (May It Be), Emiliana Torrini (Gollum's Song) and Annie Lennox (Into the West) contributed to each movie.
Concerning Hobbits, The Bridge of Khazad-dum, The Realm of Gondor

A Mighty Wind (2003) - Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, Annette O'Toole, Harry Shearer
Not so metalically ostentatious as This Is Spinal Tap, but I think A Mighty Wind is far subtler a mockumentary, the characters more genuine, and the dialogues and situations are hysterical. The mythical bands and the songs around which this film revolve are excellent as well, particularly in context with the American folk movement which the movie affectionately mocks.
When You're Next to Me, Never Did No Wanderin', Corn Wine, A Mighty Wind is Blowin'

The Mission (1986) - Ennio Morricone
A lush and moving film with Oscar-winning cinematography, The Mission is further enhanced by the beautiful score of Ennio Morricone. It also doesn't hurt that Jeremy Irons and Robert DeNiro are at their best.
Gabriel's Oboe, The Mission Main Theme

Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) - T-Bone Burnett
Another damn movie I could live without ever seeing again, if it weren't for the music! Stellar recordings by Alison Kraus, Emmylou Harris, Harry McClintock, The Whites and the Stanley Brothers. The best old time country and bluegrass compilation since The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's Will The Circle be Unbroken.
Man of Constant Sorrow, Didn't Leave Nobody but the Baby, Big Rock Candy Mountain, Keep on the Sunday Side

Once Upon a Time In America (1984) - Ennio Morricone
Criminally edited upon first release for the addled whims of distributors, Sergio Leone's great New York gangster epic will hopefully be restored to its full running time through the efforts of Martin Scorsese. But even with the depredations of crass marketers, Ennio Morricone once again shines in scoring a Leone film.
Deborah's Theme, Main Theme

The Pink Panther (1964) - Henry Mancini
One of the most ubiquitous themes from any film, Henry Mancini's Pink Panther composition is as delightful as Peter Seller's Inspector Clouseau. Two geniuses here.
Pink Panther Theme, Cortina, The Tiber Twist

Psycho (1960) - Bernard Herrmann
Alfred Hitchcock himself admitted that "thirty-three percent of the effect of Psycho was due to the music". Quite high praise from such an egocentric director. Bernard Herrmann's music for Psycho is perhaps the most influential score of the last 50 years;. Hell, even The Beatles imitated Herrmann's strident and staccato strings for the song "Eleanor Rigby". This is a masterwork of musical tension and anger, used sparingly to increase the menace.
Shower Scene, The Stairs, Finale

Pulp Fiction (1994) - Various Artists
I had thought about Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs (1992)for inclusion here, with the macabre and memorable scene where Michael Madsen (aka Mr. Blonde) does that bizarre dance to "Stuck in the Middle With You" as he tortures a captive policeman, but the soundtrack of Pulp Fiction is as quirky as it gets. Everything from Chuck Berry's You Never Can Tell to Urge Overkill's Girl, You'll Be A Woman Soon, back to Dick Dale's Misirlou and then over to Kool and the Gang's Jungle Boogie. So have a Royale with cheese and enjoy!

Purple Rain (1984) - Prince
Okay, the movie was dreadful. Pouting little Prince is not an actor. But damn, the songs from The Revolution and The Time were great! And well, Wendy, Lisa and Appolonia? Ummm...yeah. Them too.
Purple Rain, When Doves Cry...I would love to share more from the film (because consumers often prefer to look before they buy), but Warner Brothers has decided to eliminate just about everything to do with the film on Youtube, so fuck 'em.

Romeo and Juliet (1968) - Nino Rota
Good Lord, was Olivia Hussey a beauty at 16! It was almost...illegal. Hmmm...I suppose it is illegal in most States. But since Olivia wasn't a U.S. citizen, then I can apply some cultural relativism here and absolve myself of impure thoughts. Anyway, the Romeo and Juliet score is as beautiful as Olivia Hussey was, and has aged a lot better than she has. Sorry Ms. Hussey.
What Is A Youth, The Death Of Mercutio And Tybalt

The Sting (1973) - Marvin Hamlisch
Marvin Hamlisch single-handedly resurrected Scott Joplin from the dead.Hamlisch's arrangements are amazing and bring Joplin to new generations that otherwise would be unaware of the musical genius once known as the "King of Ragtime" who died in 1917.
The Hooker's Hooker, The Glove, The Entertainer

Star Wars (1977) - John Williams
Another series of movies I can't stand. The most overrated movies in the history of film-making, particularly John Lucas' dreadful dialogues (he makes Peter Jackson's addled sub-plotting look Shakespearean). But Williams' score is thrilling nonetheless.
The Imperial March, Main Theme

Super Fly (1972)- Curtis Mayfield
I had considered Isaac Hayes' Shaft score for inclusion, but save for the exceptional theme song, the rest of the tracks are crappy cocktail jazz. Mayfield's score for Super Fly is the real deal for 70s funk and soul. The movie is funny to watch now but the score is still very worthwhile to listen to. One of the best soul albums of the 70s.
Pusherman, Super Fly, Little Child Running Wild, Freddie's Dead

There Will Be Blood (2007) - Johnny Greenwood, Arvo Pärt, Johannes Brahms
This is a soundtrack that comes right out and punches you in the face. Or maybe beats you over the head with a bowling pin. In any case, you feel it. It is visceral and biting in spots, brought to you in most part by Johnny Greenwood of Radiohead fame. Dissonant, contrary and barbaric, there is a bit of both Bernard Herrmann and Henry Plainview in the score.
Convergence, There Will be Blood, Prospector's Quartet

This Is Spinal Tap (1984) - Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer, Rob Reiner
A metal mockumentary of megalithically mammoth measure, Rob Reiner, Christopher Guest and all provide the best musical punchline of all time. This movie so mirrors the excesses of late 70s/early 80s heavy rock and metal bands that I wouldn't be surprised if the whole thing was just an accumulation of anecdotes from real performers (certainly Tap's long line of dead drummers matches keyboardist deaths in the Grateful Dead). The movie covers Spinal Tap from their mid-60s British Invasion debut on Gimme Some Money to psychedelia on (Listen to the) Flower People to their metal heyday and comeback on tunes like Big Bottom (where nearly the entire band is playing bass) and Hell Hole.

Trainspotting (1996) - Various Artists
You wouldn't think that a movie about a group of underemployed heroin addicts in the depressed slums of 1980s Edinburgh would be funny. But it is. Insanely funny. Like Scorsese and Tarantino, Danny Boyle has the ability to throw in a song at the perfect time for ironic effect.
Perfect Day, Born Slippy, Lust for Life

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) - Various Classical Artists
A movie where the music mattered more than the dialogue; in fact, the first and last 20 minutes of the movie are without dialogue altogether. But the music is heavenly, hence its inclusion. The titanic themes of Richard Strauss' Also Sprach Zarathustra are the perfect accompaniment for the vision of Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke, as is the lovely celestial dance of satellite and spaceship to "The Blue Danube" of Johan Strauss II, as is Khachaturian's wistful and melancholy "Gayne Ballet Suite", mirroring the desolation of being alone in space.
Also Sprach Zarathustra, The Blue Danube, Gayne Ballet Suite (Adagio)

Waking Ned Devine (1998) - Shaun Davey and Various Artists
A little jewel of a movie, ostensibly taking place in an Irish village but filmed on the Isle of Man, where the entire village is in on a plot to convince Lotto officials that the winning ticket (held by a dead man named Ned) is actually held by Michael (who pretends to be Ned). Meanwhile, Ned is buried as Michael. I know, confusing, but the plot is funny and the actors are great in their roles. And the soundtrack is a bit o' Gaelic heaven.
The Parting Glass, Fishermans Blues, Lux Eterna, My Eternal Friend, The Ballad Of Ned Devine/The Witches Reel