Sunday, April 5, 2009

numbers 23-24

24. Grateful Dead, bootleg tape from the second set of Fillmore East show 10/14/78. All right, I confess that I made this particular one up. I never did become a connoisseur of Grateful Dead bootlegs, though I'm sure there are some legendary shows out there in somebody's cassette player. But my point here is that the Grateful Dead should not be snubbed from Top Albums lists, just because they focused on touring and live shows and treated studio albums as kind of an afterthought. They really were one of the Great American Bands, and deserve their place in the pantheon.

There's a legend that's gone around, people, which says that the first rock show I ever attended was the Grateful Dead. And this particular legend happens to be true: it was the summer of 1984, and I saw them in Saratoga Springs, NY with my brother and some friends. I'm pretty sure I was also the first kid in my high school to be into the Dead. I ended up seeing about 6-7 Dead shows altogether, and it was always a good time. It wasn't just the music - it was a unique cultural experience, kind of like immersing yourself in a huge lost Amazon tribe for a few fascinating hours.

I've never really been a jam-band kind of guy, and I had started to drift away from the Grateful Dead a bit even before Jerry Garcia joined the celestial choir, but they still hold a special place in my memories. And they really did make some great music in their time. RIP, Jerry ...

23. The Beach Boys, Pet Sounds. I'm including this one partly under protest. I've had a number of heated arguments with my friend Brian about the place of the Beach Boys in rock 'n' roll history, with him saying "The Beach Boys were so awesome!" and me saying "Eh, they weren't all that." And I knew that if I excluded them from my Top 50 list, there would be a ruckus. So I just figured, "Eh, let's just give the baby his bottle," and decided to do a little research on them.

So, Pet Sounds is pretty much universally acclaimed not just as the Beach Boys' best album, but one of the greatest rock albums of all time. The story goes that Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band would never have happened without Pet Sounds, since it had such an influence on the Beatles. So I focused on Pet Sounds, listening to it a number of times over. And ... it's good. Really good. Especially because I thought "Hang Onto Your Ego" (not on the original, but included on a re-issue) was originally done by Frank Black, and "God Only Knows" was written as the theme song for Big Love!

(By the way, is there a worse opening credit sequence than Big Love's? I mean, the ice skating and the crack in the ice, etc? It's just dreadful! But I do like Chloe Sevigny. And I also like rock songs with some good French horn. Best French horn player in rock 'n' roll history, in my opinion: John Entwistle. His horning on "Pictures of Lily" rocks!)

Also, I think Brian Wilson is one of the more fascinating figures in rock 'n' roll. One of these days, I'm going to read a biography about him. But in spite of all that, I'm not putting Pet Sounds in my Top 10. Like I said, it's really good, but I just can't put it there. So it'll go here, with the Grateful Dead: a fascinating juxtaposition of bands at opposite ends of the California spectrum.

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