“Playground Twist” – Siouxsie and the Banshees

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From the 1979 album “Join Hands,” this simultaneously frightening and delirious song about …. about … to be honest, I have absolutely no damn clue. All I know is that it involves a playground, screaming children, and a sense of dread that comes from someplace I’m not sure I want to know about. Those slashing guitars and swirling sounds are mesmerizing. Somewhere, Marilyn Manson is watching and taking notes.

“Hey Joe” – Wilson Pickett

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Apologies to Jimi Hendrix, but the Wicked Pickett’s cover of “Hey Joe” is probably the best cover of this garage-punk war horse ever recorded.

The 2nd best version? Probably Jimi’s though Patti Smith’s version gives me the chills. I guess there’s only one way to settle this … below are the Jimi and Patti versions. You tell me which is better.

Jimi Hendrix:

Patti Smith:

“Butterfly” – Weezer

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The closing song from Weezer’s now-classic 1996 album “Pinkerton.” This is the song that brings the entire album into perspective, because the title of the album comes from the name of the character in Giacomo Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly” (BF Pinkerton) who seduces and abandons the tragic heroine of the famous opera. Weezer lead singer Rivers Cuomo felt the character in Puccini’s opera is an “a–hole American sailor similar to a touring rock star” and was “the perfect symbol for the part of myself that I am trying to come to terms with on this album.”

The song is a confession to a woman the song’s protagonist has seduced and abandoned. He tries to explain why he did what he did. The explanation may not be satisfactory, but it seems like an honest explanation by someone who is not sure of why he feels the need to follow a physical want without understanding the consequences such actions can bring. Granted, this is cold comfort to the woman who has been dumped. But sadly … the reasons why people do certain things don’t always have a satisfactory explanation, because those reasons are sometimes more complex than what can be put into words.

A frustrating but brilliant portrayal of a person who feels genuine sadness over his actions, even though he’s not quite sure of the reasons why.

“Holland 1945” – Neutral Milk Hotel

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The most famous song off Neutral Milk Hotel’s 1996 classic album “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea.” The album was a concept album about Anne Frank … this song especially so. “Holland 1945” is a song that’s deceptively upbeat, but is immensely sad and moving.

The internet was in a frenzy circa 2007-2008 when this song was played during a commercial break on “The Colbert Show” where this song was played. From one report I read on line, Colbert:

– Appeared to know all of the words to the song.
– Moved his head to look around a producer when his eye contact with (an audience member) was briefly blocked.
– Acknowledged his and the audience member’s mutual understanding of the sad nature of the song, which is about Anne Frank, by making a “sad face” and tracing the motion of an invisible tear down his cheek. (The audience member), in kind, mimicked this motion back to Stephen.

http://www.lindsayism.com/2008/02/stephen-colbert.html

A wonderful moment when one pop culture icon acknowledges another in a cool and subtle way.

“El Scorcho” – Weezer

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“El Scorcho” was the lead-off single for Weezer’s 1996 “Pinkerton” album, the follow-up to their very successful self-titled debut album from 1994.

The story behind “Pinkerton” is now legendary, but here’s the Cliff Notes version: lead singer Rivers Cuomo was having extremely mixed feelings about the success of his band, eschewing further band work to enroll as a Harvard undergrad in the interim. The songs he wrote for “Pinkerton” were intensely personal … oftentimes embarrassingly so … spelling out his ambivalent feelings for the fame and fortune his band received and revealing himself to be anything but the rock star people were thinking he was. The harsh sound and intensely personal lyrics of “Pinkerton” were off-putting for many folks. The album failed commercially and ended up getting bad to mixed reviews.  Cuomo advised in 2001 in an “Entertainment Weekly” article: “It’s a hideous record… It was such a hugely painful mistake that happened in front of hundreds of thousands of people and continues to happen on a grander and grander scale and just won’t go away. It’s like getting really drunk at a party and spilling your guts in front of everyone and feeling incredibly great and cathartic about it, and then waking up the next morning and realizing what a complete fool you made of yourself.”

But … as these stories often go … the album took on a life of its own after it faded from the pop charts. The people that loved it … REALLY loved it … and praised the album in internet chat rooms. This fervent adoration for “Pinkerton” after its alleged critical and commercial failure wound up giving Weezer a new life, which caused them to subsequently reunite and achieve even greater and sustained commercial success in the new millennium.  “Pinkerton” is considered by many to be Weezer’s best album and even Cuomo came around in 2008 admitting to Pitchfork:  “Pinkerton‘s great. It’s super-deep, brave, and authentic. Listening to it, I can tell that I was really going for it when I wrote and recorded a lot of those songs.”

“El Scorcho” hardly seems like a radio hit on first glance. It’s off-kilter melodies and vocals almost derail the song, but the song keeps coming back to a chorus that increasingly becomes more rousing and anthem-like. The song is about having a crush on someone so intense that you don’t have the ability to communicate effectively around them. The goofiness of the vocals and musicianship is exactly what people do when they acknowledge that what they’re feeling is embarrassing and try to mask that embarrassment … poorly.

“El Scorcho” is in the best tradition of intense crush songs … the awkward, neurotic cousin of Jackie DeShannon’s “When You Walk in the Room.” It may seem off-putting and easy to dismiss at first, but seriously, you need to give it a few more listens. The song grows on you in the same way certain people do that you would at first write off. There’s always more than meets the eye and that’s what I see as the enduring appeal of not only this song and “Pinkerton” but of Weezer, in general. They can almost be forgiven for this album inspiring some of the most God-awful confessional “emo” music imaginable.

“Country Girl” – Primal Scream

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You could be a d–k and say this is derivative of the Rolling Stones circa 1968-1972 and therefore worthless. Or you could say that if you’re going to be derivative, this has the be absolute coolest f–king era of the coolest f–king band you could rip off. Life is too short to be artistically pure. Boogie down or die.

“Watching Alice” – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

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“The Mercy Seat” is the song that gets all the attention from Cave’s classic 1988 album “Tender Prey.” While “Seat” is a stunner, “Watching Alice” should be equally acclaimed. It’s quiet and melancholy in comparison to the intense “The Mercy Seat,” but no less disturbing. The lyrics relate to a man watching a female get dressed year after year “in her palace” where he believes she is held captive. It’s clear she has no idea he’s watching her and he keeps saying “It’s so depressing, it’s cruel.” Cave really inhabits this sad, pathetic creature quite well. The song shares DNA with Van Morrison’s “Cyrpus Avenue” and Randy Newman’s “Suzanne,” two other classic stalker ballads.

“Push Th’ Little Daisies” – Ween

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I’m signing off for the night. But since I have trouble sleeping these days, I want everyone to experience the same disturbing thoughts I get at 2:00 am. Here’s a nice approximation … this video for Ween’s “Push Th’ Little Daisies.” It seems innocuous … until you hear that high-pitched voice giddily and goofily blabbering the title. Pat Robertson be damned … this is WAAAAY creepier than Marilyn Manson at his most allegedly Satanic.