Continuing, still not in any order other that what I feel like writing about today…
11. Skinny Puppy – Smothered Hope – Source: Remission EP (1984)
Skinny Puppy was my introduction to “alternative”, and the whole concept that there was music being made that you would never hear on the radio in a million years (even though it had mass distribution, lots of sales, and a dedicated fan base), and in many cases, it was truly great. It didn’t hurt that they were from Vancouver. It also didn’t hurt that between me and one of my best friends, we had almost all of the gear that they used to create their earliest work. Obviously, we covered their songs, and this one in particular sounded impressively close to the original. I’ve never been able to put my finger on what exactly it is about this song I love so much, but it never gets old for me. I even quoted from it in my high school yearbook. FYI: Yes, that drum machine is a Roland TR-909, and yes, this was many years before everyone, even Madonna, started using it. I think that was the “jump the shark” moment where my friend decided to sell his.
12. Kings – This Beat Goes On/Switchin’ To Glide – Source: The Kings Are Here (1980)
Yay! Another Vancouver band. I swear these are all coincidences, as I never lived in Vancouver until 1999. Believe it or not, I found this album (on vinyl) in near-mint condition in a recycle bin in New Westminster, around 2003-ish. This song is the textbook for rock keyboard players. It’s especially nice that you can pan the whole track hard-right and get a pretty good isolated listen to just the keyboard parts. It has the holy trinity of rock keyboards: schmaltzy piano, hammond rock organ, and mini-moog synth lead. Of course I know how to play this song, but I’ve never been in a band willing to cover it. I love getting two songs for the price of one, and I love how they get away with rhyming “wanna” and “Toronto”.
13. Stealers Wheel – Stuck In the Middle With You – Source: Stealers Wheel (1972)
I’ve loved this song since my earliest childhood memories. Listening to it now, I still find it hard to believe that it was recorded in 1972, as the sound quality of it outshines just about everything else from that era. Maybe that’s because it came out of Apple Studio (not Abbey Road studio…the other one, where Let It Be was recorded), and George Martin was probably involved. I’ve been a sucker for hand claps my whole life, and this song is probably why. But it’s the bassline that makes this song for me. I spent a crazy amount of time around 1994 painstakingly programming the whole bassline into a Boss DR-550 drum machine, and I can tell you, it’s WAY more intricate than you would believe, just casually listening to the song. Around that time, I had the song stuck (hah!) in my head for several months. I would wake up in the morning with it playing in my head every day, and I thought I had gone insane and it would never leave. I’m always just a little nervous about that whenever I hear it again.
14. The Cars – Drive – Source: Heartbeat City (1984)
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Love or hate Mutt Lange, as a music producer, you either listen to/read every word he says, or ignore it at your own peril. This song is a beautiful example of why. This is a rare case where the lyrics are a big part of the emotional connection I have with a song. Oddly, I can place myself in the shoes of both the singer, and the person being addressed (and not just because I haven’t owned a car, nor had a drivers license for most of my life). This is another intricate song that I’ve deconstructed and painstakingly covered, right down to the stereo panning on the tambourine. A large part of the original was created using a Fairlight CMI, (a state of the art Series IIx, IIRC) one of the world’s first music computers, which I desperately dreamed of owning for many years. The “Adoption” section of that Wikipedia article linked above reads like a laundry list of my favourite artists, and yup, even Trevor Horn (see #3 in my top 20) shows up.
15. Gordon Lightfoot – Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald – Source: Summertime Dream (1976)
See also this great video. According to this interview, Gordon Lightfoot himself considers this the best song he’s ever written. I love this song so much, I can hardly describe it. Even if I listen to it 5 times in a row, the hair on my arms all stands up every single time. The lyrics, and the way it faithfully recounts an actual event while still being entirely musical is a feat. It’s also genre-defying. You could say it’s a folk song, but the rock guitar in it gives it more weight. The arpeggiated synth part around 2:30 (2:45 of the linked video), right up to the climax of the “story” is so trivial, but so critical to the success of the emotional impact of the song, I consider that pure artistry. Whenever I pause to consider what “Canadian culture” is, this song immediately comes to mind.
Only 5 left!