Frank Sinatra encapsulated an entire creative genre with the statement: “Rock and Roll: The most brutal, ugly, desperate, vicious form of expression it has been my misfortune to hear.”* Obviously Frank had little experience with the accordion.
If he had been interested in exploring the most commercially successful musical genre of all time, Frank would have encountered an alien world filled with frightening labels: shoegaze, AOR, rockabilly, metal, emo and Britpop, to name a few. “Francis, you handsome devil,” he might have muttered to himself with great agitation, “where to begin the descent into this pit of musical despair?”
So for Frank and his disciples, here’s an introductory guide to easing into this wonderful new lifestyle choice.
The Apples in Stereo #1 Hits Explosion
Imagine a sugar-dusted shiny day filled with birds tweeteling through a pale blue sky, happy faces dotting the cotton candy landscape with syrupy waterfalls of … well, you get the picture. If one were to distill what pop music should be, add water and serve it for breakfast, The Apples in Stereo might just rise to the top of the cereal bowl. Highly produced songs à la Sgt. Pepper, perfect in their every phrasing, soar through the psychedelic soundscape treating eager ears to a sugar coma of pleasure.
The Feelies Crazy Rhythms
When I was in college, The Feelies played what was called “college rock.” Yes, it’s a fairly non-descript description, but it implied music that was quirky, non-commercial, and aimed at people with an alternative lifestyle. In the case of The Feelies, college rock means nasally, trembly vocals combined with a tom-heavy beat, somewhat lo-fi production values and song titles like “The Boy with Perpetual Nervousness.” The band’s far-out cover of “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide (Except for Me and My Monkey)” will have you racing to throw out your oh-so-yesterday Beatles version of the song.
Robyn Hitchcock & The Venus 3 Goodnight Oslo
Robyn Hitchcock has been my favorite musician for 25 years. He performs and records as a solo artist, with his backing group The Egyptians, and lately with The Venus 3 (one Venus being Seattle’s own Scott McCaughey, singer for the Young Fresh Fellows). Hitchcock’s solo pieces, including the exquisite gems “Agony of Pleasure” and “Sweet Ghost of Light,” tend toward a delicate beauty. On the other end of the spectrum, The Egyptians lend a heavy crunch to songs such as “Brenda’s Iron Sledge” and “Do Policemen Sing?”
Goodnight Oslo finds Hitchcock and his mates at their best creating shamelessly infectious pop janglies in “Saturday Groovers,” hypnotic auto-pilot dronings in “What You Is,” and lush cathedral harmonies soaring to the troposphere in “I’m Falling.” This album is an excellent introduction to the uncrowned king of rock and roll.
Flight of the Conchords Flight of the Conchords
It’s a sneaky album: it’s comedy, it’s music. In a way, Flight of the Conchords gives listeners a genre tour while spouting out hilarious (and sometimes unprintable) lyrics. Take, for example, the blue-eyed soul masterpiece, “The Most Beautiful Girl (In the Room).” After telling his girl that she is “…definitely in the top three good looking girls on the street, depending on the street,” the song’s narrator caps off the moment with the romantic sentiment, “You’re so beautiful, you could be a waitress.”
For my yet-to-mature mind this is funny stuff. The song itself is musically stunning and could easily be sung as a serious ballad (with different lyrics, of course) by The Righteous Brothers or The Style Council. For something completely different the boys offer up “Foux du Fafa,” a song with rudimentary and banal French lyrics that should have been (and may well have been) in every European film from the 1960s. Continuing through the genres, “Robots“ is a sci-fi disco romp sung by robots after “the humans are dead.” Hilarious yes, but Flight of the Conchords is also a musical treasure trove of aural delights.
Did I mention there would be a quiz at the end?