Friday, September 29, 2006

Shameless thievery

By Heraclitus

I hope you've all had a chance to read Michael's eloquent and impassioned response to the passage of the new torture bill (here's the link, but at the time I write this, Blogger doesn't have the page up [it works now -- MJWS]). I'm about the bury it under this wordy post and my little piece of pictorial smart-assery just below this one.

I could blog about insomnia, or about how I hate the cawing of crows, or about dead squirrels or Dead Kennedys. Instead I'm just going to steal an idea from the blog of
Michael Bérubé (aka "le blog Bérubé"). A few weeks ago he asked readers to weigh in on the question of the best, or "most effective," opening and closing statements in the canon of popular music. Bérubé notes that it's probably best to exclude certain figures who had an obvious but still uncanny grasp of this dynamic, like Elvis Costello. You only need to look at how he ended his first four albums to see what he means: "Watching the Detectives," "Radio, Radio," "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding," and "Riot Act." (Incidentally, if I had to rank the four opening songs on those albums, I'd say "Accidents Will Happen," "Love for Tender," "No Action," and "Welcome to the Working Week.") Pink Floyd should probably also be included in this group -- although, for Michael's sake, we can still ask which of their albums has the best opening/closing dyad (I personally think it has to come down to either Animals or Dark Side of the Moon).

This is an interactive exercise, so please, nominate whoever you think is most deserving in the comments section. I'll get the ball rolling -- several commenters on
Bérubé's site mention "Like a Rolling Stone," the first song on Bob Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited. It is indeed a fine intro, the snare, Al Kooper's organ (which I think is maybe the highlight of the song, and one of the highlights of the album), the fact that it's such an amazing song, etc. It is indeed hard to imagine a better introduction to an album than that. But, so far as I saw, no one mentioned the closing song, "Desolation Row" (by the way, you don't need to read the comments over there to participate here). Besides being an amazing song that brings the album as a whole to a perfect close, with a gently melancholic mixture of apocalypse and straightforward surrealism, it's musically wonderful. In particular, the sequence of Dylan's first harmonica solo, coupled with splendid guitar playing, the final verse, and then Dylan's final harmonica solo with perhaps even more superb guitar work, is possibly the most perfect ending to an album I've ever heard.

Also noteworthy, of course, is Dylan's previous album, Bringing It All Back Home, which opens with "Subterranean Homesick Blues" and closes with "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue." Yes, please. It's hard to praise these songs too highly. "Subterranean Homesick Blues" opens with Dylan strumming his guitar, then, about two seconds in, we get a bluesy note from an electric guitar; it was the first time Dylan had used an electric instrument on any recording. The song itself is, of course, amazing (I'm just going to keep repeating my superlatives, because I'm too exhausted to think of variations), and you probably can't overstate how novel it was in pop music (of course, you can always make it sound pat and boring by saying something like, "It was a synthesis of folk blues and beatnik poetry"). And then the end? "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue"? Okay, so I have a well-developed death drive, but this, too, was unlike anything that had come before (I say, although I'm only 31). Okay, so it's unlike anything I've ever heard, recorded earlier or later.

But, the point here isn't to write fulsome, off-the-cuff, amateurish appreciations of these songs/albums, but simply to mention them. So, my final entry is Sonic Youth's Daydream Nation. The opening piece, "Teenage Riot," speaks for itself. As for the closing number...well. I know it's part of the supposed "post-structuralism" of the album to dump an almost unlistenable little turd like "Eliminator Jr." on top of the indescribable sublimity of "Hyperstation," but, I for one, will never forgive them for it.

And, of course, these are three of the finest albums in existence, at least as far as I'm concerned.

Anyways, please add your own favorites. Again, I aim for an interactive blogging experience for us all.

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  • Intriguing post, Heraclitis, and a welcome relief from our recent focus on torture.

    You are quite right to mention Floyd's Dark Side and Animals. To me, nothing quite compares to the opening and closing heartbeats of the former. The album is a narrative treatment of the modern condition, with the forces of modernity leading to insanity, but the circularity of the album suggests a Nietzschean construct.

    What's striking is that Pink Floyd's great albums can all be listened to on a continuous loop. Animals is best known for the three long songs in the middle -- "Dogs," "Pigs," and "Sheep" -- but it begins and ends with "Pigs on the Wing," a love song from Roger Waters to this then-wife. The rest of the world may be filled with those types, but contentment (and perhaps even some semblance of happiness) can be found in romantic love. The 8-track tape version of the album includes a guitar solo bridge between the last song and the first by Snowy White (whom I saw in concert with Roger Waters in Pittsburgh last weekend).

    I would also add Wish You Were Here to this list, which opens and closes with "Shine On Crazy Diamond". And Waters's solo album Amused to Death, which opens, after an instrumental, with "What God Wants" and ends with aliens finding that we've amused ourselves to death.

    And of course we shouldn't leave out The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's, which opens with the title track and closes, famously, with the three-piano E-major chord that, on a record player, would go on ad infinitum.

    Trivia: the pianos were played by Lennon, McCartney, and... Mal Evans, one of the group's assistants and roadies.

    By Blogger Michael J.W. Stickings, at 3:55 PM  

  • Heraclitus,

    I am with you on each of your choices, although I could easily vote for Sonic Nurse's "Pattern Recognition/Peace Attack", even if it's a lesser album overall. Hearkening back to my youth though, I like "The Dreaming/Get Out of My House" from Kate Bush's The Dreaming. "White Light/White Heat/Sister Ray" Velvet Underground's White Light/White Heat. "Glory/The Dream's Dream" Television's Adventure. "Disorder/I Remember Nothing" Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures. Just to name a few. And for Michael, my fave Floyd: "Astronomy Domine/Bike".

    By Blogger OutOfContext, at 12:21 AM  

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