Saturday, October 23, 2010

Great Acoustic Rock Songs -- The Next Fifty

I wish to thank everyone for the positive feedback regarding my first list of Fifty Great Acoustic Rock Songs. Based on your suggestions, I threw caution to the wind and added a second fifty acoustic tunes for your listening edification. As with the first fifty, I chose songs with a minimum of electronic instruments, or at the least ones that have an acoustic guitar going through the entire song. I cheated here and there on that specific caveat, but it is a subjective list, after all, and not based on a pie-in-the-sky critical model designed by some twat New York reviewer like Marsh or Christgau, who claim objectivity but haven't a shred of it (having researched their critiques at length, I find I am usually diametrically opposed to what they think is important, or even listenable). In any case, who wants a list of critic's darlings, the kind that reviewers extol but no one actually listens to? Go elsewhere for wanker music.

ALLMAN BROTHERS
Melissa
-- Melissa is sweet, isn't she? An honorable mention from brother Gregg Allman is his masterful acoustic reworking of Midnight Rambler.

BAD COMPANY
Seagull
-- Perhaps the best song ever penned by Paul Rodgers and Mick Ralphs. "Seagull" has more emotion and feeling than whole Bad Company albums, or perhaps it is so much less formulaic than the usual Bad Company fare.

THE BAND
The Weight
The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
-- Two great slices of authentic Americana that could only be composed by a primarily Canadian band (only drummer Levon Helm hales from south of the 49th parallel). I want to wave the maple leaf every time I hear them.

THE BEATLES
Blackbird
Julia
-- Well, I could list another ten or twenty Beatles' songs, but I would be accused of being ridiculously subjective. So here's one from Paul and one from John.

BLACK CROWES
She Talks to Angels
-- Whatever happened to the Black Crowes? It seems that after Chris Robinson married Goldie Hawn's daughter, the band went to hell. Shades of Yoko Ono!

DAVID BOWIE
Rock and Roll Suicide
-- A delightfully deranged classic. I love the strident strings at the end.

TRACY CHAPMAN
Fast Car
-- There was nothing like this song on the music scene in 1988. The frank and almost brutal tale of quiet desperation and lost hope is breathtaking.

ERIC CLAPTON
Layla
-- How does one improve on a classic? Well, if you're Eric Clapton, it's rather simple: Take the best song from your greatest album, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs (1970) and rework it as an acoustic piece. It was simple for Eric, but for the rest of us? Not so much.

DEREK AND THE DOMINOS
Thorn Tree in the Garden
-- Speaking of Eric Clapton, here's another song from the same album that didn't require reworking, because it was an acoustic song to begin with. 'Domino' Bobby Whitlock wrote and sang this melancholy tune.

THE DOOBIE BROTHERS
Black Water
-- You simply cannot feel down listening to this song. And admit it, you can't help singing along to the harmonies at the end of the song, can you? Do you sing the "I wanna honky-tonk", "Take me by the hand", or the "with you all night long" part? Or do you simply mumble them all together?

DONOVAN
Catch The Wind
-- A beautifully simple song. That's all that needs to be said.

BOB DYLAN
It's Alright Ma, I'm Only Bleeding
-- I am still irritated that I can't get the original studio version of Dylan songs on YouTube because of Sony 'Corpse' greed. I don't think it'd make a damn bit of difference if all of Dylan's songs were available to listen to; in fact, they probably even sell more songs and albums with folks like me advertising their product. Dumb asses.

EAGLES
Desperado
Hotel California (Live)
-- I've never been a great fan of the Eagles, but I can appreciate their legacy of finely-crafted country-rock tunes. I included the live version of "Hotel California" from the Hell Freezes Over set because, like Clapton's reworking of "Layla", it gives the song a whole other dimension and tonal quality.

NOTE: It seems Warner, like Sony, pull the plug on studio versions of artist's songs, so Desperado has been deleted. Oh well, I won't be looking for another version. Funny thing, great and important bands like Zeppelin and the Beatles have all their songs accessible on line and they sell millions of albums yearly. Oh yeah, the Eagles sell their stuff at Walmart. I won't be advertising for them further. Fuck 'em.

FAIRPORT CONVENTION
Who Knows Where The Time Goes
-- Sandy Denny is the most underappreciated female singer in the rock pantheon. The ethereal quality of her voice casts a spell over the listener. Quietly, calmly, she weaves her spell, with a depth and sincerity few can match. Oh yes, and I've heard that former Fairport frontman Richard Thompson is quite a guitarist as well.

EMERSON, LAKE & PALMER
From the Beginning
C'est la Vie
-- ELP finally disintegrated under the weight of its own pretension, but not before leaving some undeniably beautiful compositions. Here are two songs from two different ELP eras: "From the Beginning" from Trilogy (1972), and "C'est la Vie" from the incredibly over-the-top Works, Vol. 1 (1977).

GENESIS
Blood on the Rooftops
Can-Utility and the Coastliners
-- I don't think Peter Gabriel leaving Genesis was necessarily the root cause for the band's descent into a campy, commercial quagmire. The two albums that followed Gabriel's departure, A Trick of the Tail (1976) and Wind & Wuthering (also 1976), were both sterling examples of Genesis' eccentrically progressive style. However, when guitarist Steve Hackett left after Wind & Wuthering the band seemed to lose its moral and creative compass, opting for crass radio-friendliness as opposed to the classically-influenced rock fusion style for which the band should rightly receive accolades. But they weren't elected to the asinine Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for the brilliant "Supper's Ready" or "Dance on a Volcano", but rather for such inane blandities as "We Can't Dance" or "Abacab".

HEART
Crazy on You
-- Yes, this song is perhaps too suffused with electric guitar to make it strictly an acoustic song, but the stunning and memorable acoustic intro by guitarist Nancy Wilson is worth the price of admission.

JETHRO TULL
The Witch's Promise
Life's a Long Song
-- Two sublime acoustic songs from that phenomenal album of odds and ends Living in the Past (1972), the most unconventional conglomeration of B-sides, almost greatest hits and live performances ever created. I had a tough time just choosing two from Ian Anderson and Company, so here's another from Songs From The Wood (1977), The Whistler. Oh, and One Brown Mouse, a bit of Robert Burnsian musing from Heavy Horses (1978).

JANIS JOPLIN
Mercedes Benz
-- Not just acoustic, it's a cappella! Very few singers have displayed the emotion Janis did on nearly every song. Gut-wrenching comes to mind as a descriptor. You may not like her voice, but you can't deny the passion.

KANSAS
Dust in the Wind
-- Possibly the most morose #1 hit from any band since The Beatles' ode to loneliness and depression "Eleanor Rigby". But "Dust in the Wind" carried the seeds of composer/guitarist's Kerry Livgren's subsequent conversion to evangelical Christianity. It is a very religious work if one listens closely. Not that any pot-smoking rockers in the 70's actually noticed.

LED ZEPPELIN
Going to California
Black Country Woman
-- For a band known as the quintessential hard rock group, Zeppelin was equally adept at composing exquisite acoustic ballads and blues songs, and it is this dichotomy that really left its imprint on rock-and-roll. The list of great Led Zep acoustic tunes is manifold and illustrious. Another example is Babe I'm Gonna Leave You from their first album.

LOVE
A House is not a Motel
-- Arthur Lee would've given Syd Barrett a run for his money in an acid-dropping contest. Syd eventually lost his band, Pink Floyd, and also his mind (not necessarily in that order), and Albert Lee took the same long, strange trip, losing his band 'Love', along with various other assorted catastrophes (like going to prison for twelve years on weapons charges). But before departing stage left, Lee and Love recorded the remarkable album Forever Changes, from whence the song "A House is not a Motel" appears. The best description of the music is psychedelic-era Pink Floyd meets The Moody Blues while playing acoustic guitars at a love-in. Don't bogart the joint, dude.

THE MAMAS AND THE PAPAS
California Dreamin'
-- One of the finest pop-rock tunes ever crafted, and one of my favorite songs.

THE MOODY BLUES
Question
-- I know how to play this song. I know the chord structure, the lyrics and the subtle nuances of the composition. I just can't keep up with Justin Hayward's frenetic fretwork. The wrist strength required for the manic strum on this song is phenomenal. Which is probably one reason (of many) why The Moody Blues have accrued platinum albums in three different decades, and I have not. Bugger.

VAN MORRISON
Into the Mystic
Sweet Thing
-- One of the those eccentric performers that the critics rave about, but which I heartily agree upon, Van Morrison is a musical treasure. And I'm not saying that because I think he should be buried.

PINK FLOYD
Pigs on the Wing
Fearless
-- Hey, it's Floyd. You! Yes, you! You can't have a bloody list of songs without mentioning Floyd! How can you not mention Floyd on your bloody list of songs?

QUEEN
Good Company
-- Hey, what can one say about a ukulele rock tune? It cracks me up! But if "Good Company" is too esoteric for you, musically-speaking, then there is always the infectious Elvicide of Crazy Little Thing Called Love, which is much more radio-friendly.

RADIOHEAD
Fake Plastic Trees
-- The best tune from my favorite Radiohead album, The Bends. What? You prefer OK Computer? Write your own damn list on your own damn blog then!

REM
Fall on Me
-- One of my favorite REM songs (and purportedly Michael Stipe's favorite as well). Very moving. And the lyrics are almost intelligible. I also like Don't Go Back to Rockville. And I promise I won't go back there. Ever.

SIMON & GARFUNKEL
Kathy's Song
The Sound of Silence
-- When compiling lists of great acoustic songs, one could just itemize numerous Simon and Garfunkel tunes and be done with it. The acoustic version of "The Sound of Silence" found here is from their first album, Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. (1964), before some clever record producer decided it would sell better with electric guitars dubbed in. He was right, of course, but that's beside the point.

SPIRIT
Nature's Way
-- Hastily written in a single afternoon prior to a concert at the Fillmore West, "Nature's Way" is an anthemic ode to ecology, and the ill effects the human parasite is having on Mother Earth.

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN
Nebraska
-- Once again, Sony Corpse goes about YouTube deleting another major star's important songs. No studio versions available for Bruce, sorry. "Nebraska" is a rather sympathetic first-person narrative of Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate, who in 1958 went on an unexplainable two-month killing spree through Nebraska and Wyoming. In the end, Starkweather was found guilty of murdering 11 people and was promptly executed, while Fugate, who was only 14 years-old at the time, received a 17 year prison sentence.

CAT STEVENS
Wild World
Miles From Nowhere
-- When I was a teenager, Cat Stevens wrote how I felt. Unless, of course, I was more in a Black Sabbath mood, and then they wrote how I felt. In any case, Cat had a deep and instinctive perception of youth's hopes and fears. Then he became a Muslim, approved of the fatwa called down upon Salman Rushdie, and I have ignored him since. Once again, religion fucks up a perfectly good thing.

TRAFFIC
(Roamin' Thro' the Gloamin with) 40,000 Headmen
-- A drug-induced dream. It makes little sense. I guess you had to be there. I know I was at one time. What were we talking about again? Are you going to eat that brownie? Can I have it?

URIAH HEEP
Lady in Black
-- Often mocked and derided, Uriah Heep still managed to compose many poignant and meaningful tunes in spite of critical contempt, "Lady in Black" being one of their best.

STEVIE RAY VAUGHAN
Rude Mood
-- Like Jimi Hendrix, there are few Stevie Ray acoustic recordings available. But it's certainly a riot listening to Vaughan shred the blues...on a twelve-string, no less. RIP SRV, you are missed.

WILCO (with BILLY BRAGG)
California Stars
-- What could be better than hearing previously unpublished Woody Guthrie lyrics put to music? Nothing, save for the exceptional way the band Wilco and Brit guitarist Billy Bragg caught just the right feeling for the composition. Get the album Mermaid Avenue, you'll enjoy it!

NEIL YOUNG
Old Man
After the Goldrush
-- My favorite Martian. Well, if he is not an extraterrestrial, then Neil is certainly surreal, particularly in the post-apocalyptic "After the Goldrush", where the chosen few at world's end fly "Mother natures' silver seed to a new home in the sun".

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for reminding me of Donovan. :) And Kathy's Song is one of my Paul Simon favourites. On the other hand, though, I think Sounds of Silence is their second most cheesy song after Bridge Over Troubled Water.

Virtuella

Morthoron the Dark Elf said...

Well, I think both "Sounds of Silence" and "Bridge Over Troubled Water" are significant achievements in music history. Truly great compositions, particularly taken in context with the era they were recorded. But I'm glad you liked the inclusion of "Kathy's Song".

virtuella said...

Oh, you know, I liked those songs as a teenager. But nowadays I think they're putting it on a bit too thickly. I prefer their more subtle and understated songs. Like "Old Friends" or "Leaves That Are Green." And I think all the songs from the One Trick Pony album are jolly good. Especially "That's Why God Made The Movies."

Virtuella

Morthoron the Dark Elf said...

Well, I do think the two songs need to be taken in context with the times in which they were written. It seemed to be a much more dramatic, heightened era. Composers were much more exuberant(The Beatles or The Byrds, for instance) or, obversely, more dark and skeptical (The Doors or Dylan) because of the seething unrest, a whole generations' search for themselves and for humanity itself.

It was a far more poetic age. You won't see another composition like "Sounds of Silence" or a Dylan tune like "It's Alright, Ma" being written today. Things are more muted in the multiverse. We are living in a broken mosaic where the puzzle pieces no longer fit. Someone like John Lennon can't sing "All you need is love" or Jim Morrison hiss "Five to one, baby, one in five -- no one here gets out alive", and have it make sense. But it did make sense once.

virtuella said...

I was clearly born too late...