Ragged Records Playlist Five: Summer Songs Edition

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by Ryan Meehan

The season of summer is upon us, and that means a plethora of blue skies and skimpy clothing being worn by many individuals who should be doing anything but wearing skimpy clothing.  It’s the time where the oppressive heat and humidity of the Quint-Cities are cause for alarm on so many social networking sites, via status updates by people who clearly have better things to do than grasp the concept of how the sun works.  Summertime is almost always associated with the soundtracks that we identify with the emotions of the coming months, and we all have several compilations of songs which we specifically reserve for jamming out to during this time of year.  These are songs that are almost always mentally referenced whenever we have a day off, even though there are far too many of us who choose to waste that day chugging Busch Light as if it isn’t water, watching Netflix, and not contributing to the grid in general.  To be fair, if such inactivity didn’t weigh so heavily on my conscience I’d probably be in the same boat as well.  But anybody who knows me knows I am not capable of sitting still for that long, so as a writer I’d be doing myself a tremendous injustice if I didn’t compile a playlist of some of my favorite dog day classics.

This is usually the part of the piece where I go ahead and list the songs that won’t be showing up on today’s playlist, but in this case I took care of that in a Deep Six column back on Tuesday.  So now that I have that taken care of, the only rule that will appear in this intro is going to be that you won’t be seeing any Beach Boys tunes on this playlist.  “Pet Sounds” is one of the greatest pop records in the history of music, but virtually all Beach Boys songs are summer songs that are also great.  I can’t make a decent list out of so much similar subject matter, so I chose to bypass all Beach Boys tracks.  Maybe I’ll make an all Beach Boys playlist one day.  On second thought, maybe I won’t.  What were we talking about again?

Oh right, summer.  Personally, I’m not much for music festivals and a lot of the activities that take place in busy crowds during the summer.  I’m more of a “stay at home and watch televised riot footage” type of guy, and when I am outside I generally choose to avoid activities where others who don’t shower often gather to mingle and discuss things I will never understand.  So while everybody else is sweating their asses off in tents off of Lake George, I’ll be right here in my climate controlled condominium not getting bitten by mosquitoes.  However, I’ve at least decided to contribute to the sun-soaked festivities by drafting up a playlist of songs that everyone else can jam out to while their sno-cones melt into their crotch at the local state fair.  Meanwhile my freezer is stocked with apple juice ice cubes, and I’m not going anywhere.  This is the Ragged Records Playlist Five:  Summer Edition.

  1.  Red House Painters – “Rollercoaster” (from the 1993 album Red House Painters I)

I touched a little bit on the sad-core/slowcore genres in the last playlist while discussing Nick Drake, and mentioned that he influenced a lot of artists before he finally took his famous “just a little bit more than optimal dose” of amitriptyline.  One of those artists was a kid from Massillon, Ohio named Mark Kozelek who would eventually grow up to form the legendary alternative act Red House Painters.  In 1993 they released a self-titled album that many believe is one of the most important records in the history of indie rock, simply referred to as Red House Painters I or “The Rollercoaster Album” due to it’s cover art which contained pictures of the now-demolished Thunderbolt rollercoaster at Coney Island.  The eighth song on the record possessed the title of that popular amusement park attraction, and conveyed a rare sense of amiability that other songs on the album didn’t have.  This one has a summer feel to it because of that slow distorted background guitar, and the beginning of the second stanza where it rises to a higher volume behind the line that speaks “There’s the sun…goin’ down…creating that fluorescent glow…”  Look, it’s hard to make jokes about the kind of music that the Red House Painters write.  It’s pretty heavy subject matter, and Mark Kozelek probably isn’t going to be performing “Katy Song” on Sesame Street anytime soon.  In retrospect this was probably a bad one to start off with, as its low energy and less than positive message sort of bring down the room.  But don’t get out those razor blades and start counting days served in the slammer on your wrists just yet, because this playlist is about to pick up speed…right…about…now…

  1.  Waco Jesus – “Mayhem Doctrine” (Full Album, 2013)

Remember that depressed feeling that you likely had while listening to the Painters just a second ago?  Yeah…that’s about to go away the second you hit play on the video above.  For those of you who may not be familiar with Waco Jesus, they are of the genre affectionately known as “pornogrind”.  It’s essentially grindcore with some sexually explicit lyrics thrown in there every…Oh, second and a half or so.  Why does this classify as a great summer song?  Are you familiar with the Samuel Adams “Summer Ale” commercial where they have some douchebag twenty-something talk about how “Summer Ale” is a perfect name for that beer flavor because it “totally reminds you of summer”?  Every time I hear track one – also the title track on this record – I can’t help but think about about kicking that stupid kid in the ribs until his brains leak out of his nostrils.  This record is almost exactly a half an hour long, making it the perfect length to get you to Muscatine, Clinton, or wherever else in Eastern Iowa you plan on getting rid of the body.  It’s a perfect representation of how good grindcore can sound when it’s done correctly, something that doesn’t happen as often as a lot of metal fans would like it to.  If you think that the cover of this record is offensive, let me inform you that you probably don’t want to Google their other album covers as they are much, much worse.  But unlike some of the other artists who crank out grindcore, Waco gives you thick substance matter and just enough melody to mess with your head.  The first three minutes of this record could very well be some of the heaviest music you’ve ever heard in your life, and I promise you won’t be sorry you gave it a chance.  If you’re not familiar with what they do, grab a butcher knife and a bottle of bourbon, and sit back and get ready to meet Waco Yeezy.

 

  1.  Greg Kihn Band – “Jeopardy” (from the 1983 album Kihnspiracy)

This is a great summer song for two reasons:  First, that keyboard riff that bounces up and down between the minor third and the second throughout the cut is very panic-attack and fever inducing.  You can almost see a guy sitting in his office with days worth of liquid toil dripping off of his brow ready to scream “Are they ever ever going to fix the fucking air-conditioning in this place?” as he ponders which liquor store he’s going to stop by to grab a handle of gin should he ever get out of there before it closes.  The Greg Kihn Band’s highest charting single is also a perfect summer tune for another obvious reason:  It’s a break-up/pre-break-up song.  As the summer months heat up, a lot of couples that met shortly after the holidays begin to realize a major catalyst for them getting together in the first place was so that they wouldn’t feel alone on Valentine’s Day.  By the time this piece goes to press, a lot of people who were in those fraudulent relationships have had it with their temporary partner.  Such was likely the case with Greg, as evidenced by the line “What’s the use, save your money now…it’s hanging on the brink…”.  You almost get the feeling that he’s singing that as a reminder to himself, as if to say “Those assholes at FTD got my money back in February, but maybe it’s time to ditch this girl before they take me to the cleaners on her birthday as well…”.  It’s kind of a shame that the Greg Kihn Band never really reached the status of their counterparts such as Huey Lewis and the News, but if you look at some of the albums titles I “Kihn” put forth a guess as to why this may have been the case:  “Next of Kihn”, “Rockihnroll”, “Kihntinued”, “Kihntagious” all suggested that perhaps Greg himself was more interested in interweaving his last name with record names than he was writing hits.  The band didn’t make a single successful music video after this song’s release, and they never really had an impact on popular music thereafter.  I “Kihn’t” believe it.

  1.  The Drifters – “Under the Boardwalk” (from the 1964 single of the same name)

(Editor’s Note:  This list was compiled just weeks before the recent death of Drifters lead singer Benjamin Earl King, who passed away on April 30th)

The Drifters were true badasses.  Check this story out:  The night before this song was to be recorded, then lead singer Rudy Lewis died of a heroin overdose.  Instead of rescheduling the recording session – which at the time was a very costly thing to do – they went ahead and did the whole session the next day knowing that Rudy had already cashed in his chips.  That’s a pretty ballsy move for a bunch of guys who were lifetime backup singers, but it paid off big time as this song went up to number four on the Billboard charts and ended up becoming a classic.  You can tell Rudy contributed his share to the lyrical content, given that the first line of the song is “Oh, when the sun beats down and burns up the tar on the roof…”.  It’s crazy to think that the people who were in charge of radio at the time didn’t have a problem with that overt drug reference, yet demanded that “we’ll be making love” be removed from the final radio edit.  Those were certainly different times, but pure pop magic in and of itself remains timeless.  It’s kind of unorthodox of me to put any song featuring a triangle track on a playlist, but probably even weirder for me to include one that includes a guiro.  The guiro is a Latin American instrument that’s played like a washboard but shaped like a buttplug.  It’s one of the first things you hear in this song, but the finished product smell ends up smelling like roses.

On the downside of the argument, Bruce Willis can go fuck himself eternally with a drillbit wrapped in sandpaper for thinking he had the musical street cred to even think about covering “Under the Boardwalk”.  I’m not going to post the video here because I don’t want you to punch your computer, but if you look it up on your own I can’t be held liable for any damage you do to any of your electronic devices.  He can’t erase the original version that we’ve all come to know and love, and we can thank our lucky guiros for that.

  1.  Bananarama – “Cruel Summer” (from the 1984 album Bananarama)   

Like it or not, this track was a huge part of our childhood…It was a part of the original motion picture soundtrack to The Karate Kid.  The song plays during the scene where Ali sees Daniel at soccer practice and then later he gets slide tackled by a member of the Kobra Kai.  He then walks away dejected because of the constant bullying, much in the same way I shut the YouTube clip off dejected halfway through the video because nobody was having sex or peeing on each other.  It’s amazing this song worked so perfectly for this particular scene, especially considering that it doesn’t really sound like it belongs in a movie about high school students in karate competitions .  The instrumentation sounds like the music that would be blaring out of a transistor radio at a Jamaican flea market, but for some reason it’s perfect when placed next to Ralph Macchio with a black eye…Go figure – Shows you how much I know about the film industry.  Perhaps the most interesting fact that I learned about Bananarama while researching this piece would have to be that Keren Woodward has been in a long-term relationship with Andrew Ridgley of Wham! for some time now.  I don’t know about you but I had several hundred dollars on that guy taking it up the butt after figure skating practice, so when I discovered that little nugget of information I was shocked.  Other than that, “Cruel Summer” belongs on this list because there is a sense of realism to the lyrics here:  Not everything about summer is beach balls and bikinis, and the heat which bears down upon all of us can be a crushing metaphor for how our problems are only magnified in the light of the sun.  Somehow Bananarama is still popular in Europe and across Asia today, but keep in mind so is competitive eating, snuff films, Babymetal, child labor, and income taxes north of 30%.  Nonetheless, we’ll always have this electro-pop treasure every July when things get too oppressive for our white privilege.

  1.  Gay Witch Abortion – “Down with Giants” (from the 2009 album Maverick)

It just wouldn’t be summer without some of that fuzzy down-home, uber-distorted bass that Mike Watt raised us to become so accustomed to.  The great thing about bands like Godhead Silo and Lightning Bolt is that they inspired legions of bands that felt comfortable getting on stage without a guitar player, and one of those bands was Minneapolis’ Gay Witch Abortion.  Although I believe they play with a guitarist now, their sound is still based off of the heavy low end and the band name that would make for the greatest Facebook event invites of all time.  (Who wouldn’t want to RSVP “yes” to a gay witch abortion?)   Next to fellow Amphetamine Reptile recording artists life Gas Huffer and Lubricated Goat, the band knew their name had to be attention getting and they most certainly came up with a great one.  To give you an idea of who we’re dealing with here, GWA can be seen in a press photo from a 2012 interview we did in which they jokingly “traded swigs” from a quart of deer repellent.  Founding members Jesse Bottomley and Shawn Walker put a monumental set of throwdowns to tape back in ’09 when they recorded “Maverick”, and no track was more glacier-melting than “Down with Giants”.  To me this doesn’t really fall into the “experimental” category, even though there are no vocals and it sounds like two guys whose guitar player just got gunned down are trying to escape a hail of bullets by fleeing the scene of the crime.  The bass is so buzz-saw and smooth, which makes the stops that much sharper and more effective.  Overproduced bands like the Jackass-affiliated Camp Kill Yourself and their counterparts wish they could be as downright nasty and raw as Gay Witch Abortion, but when you clean up some of those imperfections in the bass tone and polish off a lot of that low-end it ends up sounding nu-metal and unfortunately that’s what you’re left with.  Here, that’s not so much the case because when you don’t give a fuck about editing…there’s nothing to edit.

  1.  Sonic Youth – “Hits of Sunshine (for Allen Ginsberg)”  (from the 1998 Album A Thousand Leaves)

When Sonic Youth’s “A Thousand Leaves” came out in 1998, they hadn’t produced a record that contained actual structured songs since 1995’s “Washing Machine”.  While neither of these two albums produced anything remotely close to a single, there were two tracks that really stood out as having killer hooks over the first few minutes.  On the 1995 disc it was “The Diamond Sea”, and on this record it was a very bizarre composition called “Hits of Sunshine”.  The opening line reads “Today I said goodbye…to my conflicted goddess” alerting the listener that there is a most interesting but confusing end to a love story on its way.  Like most of Thursty’s text, the subject matter in this selection could mean just about anything to anybody.  One of the reasons why I’ve always liked SY is because the lyrics are so scattered and not necessarily stuck to one particular topic.  That’s why I’m not going to put any potential details of what I think this song may be about here, and instead I’m just going to leave it up to you to decide for yourself.  Sonic Youth is absolutely the kind of band that is essential for summer listening, proving this choice is not solely based on the song title itself.  Their open tunings and ringing hooks seem to be a consummate accompaniment for the hottest season of the calendar year, and the overall theme of warmth really hits home for me on everything after “Experimental, Jet Set, Trash, and No Star”.  Those LPs just struck me as being a different kind of music that they were making, one that somehow seemed even less concerned with structure than before and focused on the overall sound of each note at any given time.  The one word that keeps coming to me when thinking about this era of their work is “rich”, and I just can’t seem to get away from that.  It’s almost as if the music of The Tooth is similar to a very rich and dark chocolate candy bar, one that could succumb to the summer heat by melting into its wrapper when left in your car.  But just as sure as that candy bar is flaccid and virtually inedible as soon as you pick it up and realize your dashboard doesn’t double as a pantry in mid-July, as soon you get home you can throw it into the freezer where it will become a chilled gooey chunk of deliciousness in a matter of mere hours.  That’s precisely the type of reverse liquidity that the band has always been able to achieve with their music, without ever diluting it to the point where they might have to sacrifice a smidgen of artistic integrity.  In true later-era Sonic Youth form, this song is way too long for its own good…but then again if you can’t take some extended meandering play, you probably shouldn’t be listening to any of their records to begin with.

  1.  DMX – “Who We Be” (from the 2001 album The Great Depression)

With as much as DMX sweats, it’s almost as if for him summer never stops.  That’s why the eighth selection in today’s playlist comes from a guy who puts the “crack” in just about every anti-drug slogan that’s been drafted since the Reagan administration.  The longest running base-powered generator in the history of rap brought an aggression to hip hop that is usually only exhibited by the most intense death metal vocalist at a time when the rap game so desperately needed it.  In fact, I liken the loud “What!”s in the radio edits of his music to the pinch harmonics that block out the expletives in the animated series “Metalocalypse”.  Perhaps DMX’s biggest strength is he’s very convincing.  In this cut where he repeatedly samples himself saying simply “duh deh…duh deh…duh deh…duh deh…”, you actually feel yourself saying things like “You know, he does have a point…” when you hear it.  At the same time, it’s confusing enough to leave you wondering what certain lyrics mean.  (The lawn mower…sittin…right next to the tree…<?>)  Sometimes there’s a part of me that wonders if DMX has ever spoken in this manner while doing something like ordering pancakes at an IHOP.  I can’t tell you how much I hope to God the answer to that question is “yes”, much in the same way when DMX comes on the stereo on a mix CD of mine I raise my Gatorade to the heavens because I’m amped to the point where I’ve ground my teeth into stubs.  Although the singles can’t match the potency of the material that was too gruff for radio, even his hits have some classic lines as evidenced in “Party Up” when he says “That’s why you’re laying on your back lookin’ at the roof of the church, preacher tellin’ the truth and it hurts…”.  That’s what I’m talking about right there.

  1.  …And You Will Know us by The Trail of Dead – “Weight of the Sun” (from the 2010 album Tao of the Dead)

I could have just as easily gone with the aptly named “Summer of All Dead Souls” which appears third on this record, but I didn’t and here’s why:  Sometimes within the context of an album a song can benefit greatly from the fortune of good sequence.  This is a perfect example of such an instance, as appears on the album right after “Spiral Jetty”.  The aforementioned track is a haunting percussive sample that spins uneasily into a song that is less than two minutes in length, and definitely has a wintery feel to it.  In contrast, “Weight of the Sun” is a much more uplifting and powerful song that is a perfect representation of the versatility of which Trail is capable.  It features an explosive chorus that is accompanied by the stern warning that “You will pay…you will pay for your new soul…”, and although the subscript of the title suggests a post-modern Prometheus I believe that there is another mythological analogy that has been selected for discussion.  The line in the song which states that the soul in question’s descent into hell “makes the ferryman sigh, with shagrin in his eye…” indicates that the river Styx is the topic at hand.  But as with most Conrad Keely compositions, you never really quite know exactly what he’s talking about or how many different focal points the artwork is intended to address.  It’s hardly devoid of historical context, as most of Trail of Dead’s music is assigned to some type of story from the past – be it recorded fact or well-developed fiction.  The sequencing proves to have a continued effect after the song is over, as it transitions well into the reprise of “Pure Radio Cosplay” which does a magnificent job several tracks earlier of introducing the album.  Check out Trail on tour this summer promoting their new record “IX”, but make sure to beware of any flying shrapnel that may be headed towards the audience at the end of their set.  These guys don’t fuck around, and come closing time no instrument is safe.

  1.  Mogwai – “Folk Death ’95” (from the 2006 Album Mr. Beast)

The coming accumulation of warm weather days should equal the ear growing increasingly thirsty for warm guitars, so it’s not shocking that a Mogwai track would end up on any summer playlist.  It’s not just the guitar tones, it’s the build-ups that make for the intervals as well.  These Scottish bastards made some of the most memorable instrumental music ever in the late nineties and early 2000s, and 2006’s Mr. Beast was yet another example of the recurring proof that Mogwai will end up going down in history as being one of the best art rock bands of all time.  A lot of reviews and summaries of this record seem to reference My Bloody Valentine’s “Loveless” as a comparable program, and that would explain why so many fans of the shoe-gazing genre have music collections chock full of those two bands.  The moment on this track where the distortion kicks in is epic, and even though I hate using that word as a description sometimes there’s just no other way to explain the dominance of a dynamic change like that one.  It almost sounds like it’s even a measure or two late, but likely is in the perfect space given Mogwai’s signature ability to make the listener wait for all that they are hoping for in the culmination of the song.  When that climax is finally reached, the band’s true power is recognized and the subject wearing the headphones is left asking themselves “How many different tiers of distortion can one artist have?”  To be fair, “A Friend of the Night” off of this record could also very well be here.  They are both very warm sounding songs and simply put, these guys rule.  It’s an impossible task determining which Mogwai record is the best, and a lot of the people who would answer that query by responding “Young Team” would likely do so for two reasons:  1)  Fans of any band have the tendency to favor an artist’s earlier work because they believe it makes them sound more knowledgeable; and 2) Other than the MBV record I mentioned earlier, there was really nothing else that sounded like that album happening in music at the time so that’s generally the one people mention first.  Personally I think Mr. Beast is the most developed and heart-wrenching album in their catalog, and that’s why I am proud to have selected this song as one of my summer favorites.

  1.  Kenny Rogers & First Edition – “Just Dropped In (To see what condition my condition was in)”  (from the 1967 album The First Edition)

It wouldn’t be a sunny summer afternoon without being reminded of The Dude.  And it wouldn’t be a good reference point to bring up The Big Lebowski if we didn’t also mention the dream sequence in the film where he travels down a bowling lane staring up at a dump truck full of camel toes.  That magical movie moment was aided in audio assistance by the smooth golden voice of Kenny Rogers and his late 60’s band The First Edition and their ode to alerting the hippie culture of the the dangers of taking acid.  It couldn’t have possibly worked against their argument any more, and the song became associated with the euphoria that results when taking LSD.  The performance in the video was taken from the Smothers Brothers variety hour and although Dick and Tom probably weren’t thrilled with the indirect drug references, they did have a band on the show whose kick drum wasn’t full of dynamite so they let it slide.  Some songs don’t even sound like they are listenable in winter, and that’s why this one is a summer classic.  Imagine driving down the road with all of the windows down in May and feeling the hot sun on your forearms as you dodge all of the numerous poorly coordinated road repair projects, and this song coming up on a mix CD.  You’re instantly transformed into The Dude himself, tripping on life without ingesting a toxic substance of any form.  Now flash forward to a cold Tuesday morning in January where it has rained all night and your car looks like you purposely parked it under a busted gutter.  You get things going on the metal end, maybe a little Exodus or Pantera to remind you nothing can slow you down and that you’re going to be ready for an incredible day regardless of the weather circumstance.  Then this goddamned song comes through your stereo, and by the time the second verse starts you proclaim out loud that if you ever see Kenny Rogers in person you’re going to pump him full of lead like Patton Oswalt did at his book signing on RENO 911!.  You get so angry you break your ice scraper, give up on the day and call in sick.  In summation, this cut is gold from the end of March to the last frost, but use caution during the rest of the year.  Any song you can associate with a cult classic movie is going to be memorable, and that’s why this one is a proven winner.

Once again thanks for visiting First Order Historians and enjoying more of the internet’s finest in user generated content.  Check out Ragged Records in Downtown Davenport today!

Meehan

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