Indecision Time

“If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.”
“Freewill,” Rush

“If every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right.”
George Costanza

“The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.”
Bertrand Russell

Let’s agree that the following things are true, even though they might not be (featuring two 92 St Y bits from Radiolab, a good This American Life-ish science themed radio show)

1- The universe is infinite, and there is a very large, but not infinite, number of ways that the matter in the universe can be combined. The difference between the unimaginably gigantic number of ways the matter can be combined and infinity is… infinity.

In an a episode of Radiolab one of the hosts of the show, Robert Krulwich, interviews Brian Greene, a Columbia University math and physics professor, about the idea of an infinite universe. Professor Greene asserts that if the universe is really infinite and there are a finite number of ways the particles in that infinite universe can be combined, then there must be an infinite number of Robert Krulwichs and Brian Greenes having the same discussion at the exact same time in the exact same circumstances. Every possible combination must be represented an infinite number of times in an infinite universe. Infinity is an incredibly difficult concept to grasp, and Robert Krulwich is incredulous, on behalf of the layperson audience. I have no idea if this is really happening out there in the universe, nobody does, but it’s interesting, and it makes some sense to me.

So, what about all the other versions of me that are slightly different? What about that version of me that made some different decisions? What about that version of me that didn’t walk away from architecture a year after college? Is he married? Does he have a kid? The idea that each decision can lead to an alternate life, and reality, is pretty common in science fiction. I don’t know how much of that is science and how much is fiction. If Professor Greene is right, and every possible version of everything is out there then even if we aren’t actively creating alternate versions of ourselves, like in the movies, those realities would exist anyway.

2- Our conscious decisions aren’t really as conscious as we think.

What if we aren’t really in control of the decisions we make? We are finding out that people don’t really have freewill, or at least not in the way that we usually think of freewill. Past experiences and patterns dictate what choice we will make in a given situation. Each decision affects the next. There have been a lot of experiments done and books written about why we make the decisions we do. In Malcom Gladwell’s book “Blink” he argues that our split second decisions may be better than our considered decisions. In the clip below Gladwell talks to Robert Krulwich of radiolab about decision making.

We make decisions all the time without really thinking, and we might not really consciously control the big decisions we make either. In Dan Airely’s TED lecture, link below, he argues that we aren’t always making “conscious” decisions. He tells us that how the question is asked and how options are presented to us have an immense influence on our eventual decision. The decision may already be made for us. Our decisions are also fairly easily manipulated, even seemingly insignificant outside stimulus. This is called priming-

3- The more options we have the less likely it is that we will be happy with the option we choose.

Today we, especially those of us that come from a privileged background, have a huge number options from which to choose. Any decision isn’t just a decision for the option we choose, but also a decision against every other option. When we make a decision we are often aware of the opportunity cost of not choosing the other options. Below is yet another radiolab clip about choice, featuring the lovely and talented Oliver Sacks.

When I look at #1 and #2 together my first question is- how could both of these things be true? Is it possible for there to be a version of me out there in the universe that is almost the same except that he made a different decision at a crucial point? Would the other me that made the decision to stick it out with architecture even be interested in architecture in the first place? If that other version of me made that different decision then how similar where we really? What little things early in my life led to the important choices that I made later in life?

Like almost everyone, or everyone that isn’t an idiot, I am not totally happy with my life. I understand that life just is that way, and you don’t, and probably shouldn’t, have everything work out. I’m painfully aware of the problem of choice discussed in #3. There will always be doubt. There are things I think I would change, but I don’t know if really would. Sometimes I think I regret something, but then the more I think about it the less I regret my decision. I could be making more money, have a more settled life, and/or have a lot of the things I still would like to have in the future, but would I really erase all the other experiences, people, and things that have made me the person that I am right now? I don’t think so. My alternate versions probably wouldn’t either.

What about in the future? As an over-thinker, I worry that I am consistently picking the “wrong” option. The second quote at the top of the page is from the Seinfeld season 5 episode, “The Opposite.” George has the quoted epiphany early on in the episode. For the rest of the episode he does the opposite of what he would normally do, and instead of everything going wrong, everything in his life starts going right. Is that possible? If you aren’t really in control of the decisions you make can you consciously decide to over-ride yourself? Could you change the future that your past is setting in front of you? Should I be making more snap decisions and fewer calculated ones? Can I construct a new version of myself by consciously making a few uncharacteristic decisions?

In “The Opposite” George decides to go up and talk to a woman that he normally wouldn’t. In that situation, like regular George, I would talk myself into not talking to her. Then I would regret not talking to her for the rest of the day, or week, or my life. I am a very anxious person, and as a result I tend to make the non-decision or avoid certain things and situations.

I am a very self critical, and other person critical, person. I am not one of those people that is constantly churning out product that they think is “amazing.” In my experience people that are really confident in what they do are usually really confident because they just don’t realize how much their stuff sucks. I am more on the other end of the spectrum. I find reasons to not do things, or put things out there into the world. I am way too aware of how much my stuff sucks. That’s why I decided recently that I am going to do the opposite sometimes. I don’t know if it’s possible, but I’m going to give it a shot. This blog is part of that shot. It probably isn’t that big of a deal to most people, but “publishing” anything that someone might think is dumb is a big deal for me. It’s a small risk. It’s an early step and a small step, but it’s an example of doing the opposite by actually doing something rather than not.

Maybe it will be the first step to a version of myself that would make another version of me, somewhere out there in the universe, jealous. Maybe I’ll meet the mother of my future children this week. Maybe I’ll have a great idea, or do something or make a decision that will change my life for the better and forever. Maybe this conscious decision will effect the quick unconscious and big “conscious” decisions of my future. I would say “there’s only one way to find out…,” but there isn’t one way to find out. There are no ways to find out. You just have to do it and hope it was for the best.

“Freewill,” Rush

“Let’s Forget About the Past,” The Zeppers

“Indecision Time,” Husker Du

“Ask,” The Smiths

“Waiting Room,” Fugazi

“Freedom of Choice,” Devo


Just Say No!

My maternal grandparents moved from Iowa City to Washington DC right after my parents got married in 1973. They have lived there since. For most of the time since 1973 they lived on Tunlaw Avenue at 37th Street in the Glover Park neighborhood in DC. Something was going on in that neighborhood in the late 70s. A young neighborhood boy that  grew up two blocks from my grandparents on Beecher Street started a band and a record label. The record label still exists, and Beecher St is still its official address. The label was Dischord Records, the guy was Ian McKaye (this bit rhymes if you’re pronouncing it right), and the band was Minor Threat.

Minor Threat played super fast and super loud. They were the definitive hardcore punk band, but they were more than that … they were straight edge. Rock and roll and pop culture, especially since the late 60s, had glamorized drugs. Drugs were cool. Minor Threat advanced the radical notion that drugs weren’t cool, having a clear head was cool.

When I discovered Minor Threat in high school I the typical “drugs are cool” idea knocking around in my teenage head because I was reading beat writers and listening to rock music made by junkies. Minor Threat was a breath of fresh air. I was so excited to hear vicious music accompanied by lyrics that were anti-drugs.

Yesterday I put together an annotated mix of songs by people that died at 27. Many of them were cut down early by drugs. Writing and/or performing an anti-drug song is a gutsy move for a musician because it absolutely does not help you to look cool, which is critical. Here are a few people that dared to look lame, and as far as I know lived to tell the tale.

Track 1- I’m Straight/ Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers (Live). If there is anyone in pop music that is anything like Jonathan Richman it’s because Jonthan Richman himself had the guts to exist. He took the Velvet Underground’s sound to the suburbs, but also he was the first shy sweet hipster boy. He deserves a huge amount of the credit, or blame, for all the sensitive cool pop music that came later. Maybe not the sound, but certainly the attitude. This is him in 1971 having the guts to be anti-hippy in the world’s biggest college town. He trashes “Hippy Earl” and “that Woodstock brain, that acid face.” Surprisingly, this is the third oldest song on the list. It sounds so fresh and new, but this performance was before The Needle and The Damage Done, the next track. This makes it that much more impressive. There is no ambiguity here about Richman’s feelings about drugs. He doesn’t give a shit if he alienates some of the audience. Maybe that’s the attitude that led to The Sex Pistols and Minor Threat both covering his proto-punk song Roadrunner? (PS- there are guys in this band that went on to be in The Talking Heads and The Cars)

Track 2-The Needle and the Damage Done/ Neil Young (Live). “A lot of art goes down the drain (because of drug addiction).” Neil Young playing the fourth oldest song on the list. A real heart breaker from a guy that lost friends and colleagues to the needle. There’s a bit more ambiguity about Young’s feelings about drugs in general than Richman’s in “I’m Straight.” Young was a major artist that couldn’t risk alienating a large part of his audience the way Richman could. Still, very powerful stuff from the only singer/ songwriter of the last 50 years that one can even consider mentioning in the same sentence as Bob Dylan.

Track 3- Mama Told me Not to Come/ Randy Newman (Live). This is the second oldest song on the list. The Three Dog Night version is the most famous version, the Animals, among others, also did a cover. Randy Newman is always a little sarcastic, but I can really imagine a young Newman being shocked by wild Hollywood parties in the late 60s. A hilarious ticket into the nasty belly of rock excess.

Track 4- Kicks/ Paul Revere and the Raiders. They didn’t write this song, but it took a lot of guts to be this “square” in 1966. This is the oldest track on the list. It is totally unambiguously anti-drugs. I don’t know if hippies really didn’t think there would be consequences to their actions, but Paul Revere and Raiders certainly seemed to know.

Track 5- Pusherman/ Curtis Mayfield. This song is from the ass kicking soundtrack to the ass kicking 1972 blacksploitation movie “Superfly.” It’s the first song on the list by a black artist, and the point of view is totally different. This song is about the neighborhood drug pusher, not the people taking the drugs. He is the predator that is ruining the neighborhood by “hustling toms on ghetto streets,” but the song also describes the circumstances that create the pusher. It is an early look into the rough inner city world that would dominate rap two decades later.

Track 6- White Lines (Don’t do it)/ Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five were the first well known hip hop group to report on the situation in the American inner city. This song from 1983 is explicitly anti-cocaine. Instead of addressing the dealer/ pusher problem it focuses on curbing the demand. It’s a big deal because in 1983 drugs were completely destroying inner city America. Curtis Mayfield thought it was bad in 1972, but he had no idea how bad crack would make the ghettos in the 80s. This was the early-ish days of America’s war on drugs, which was disproportionately harsh on offenses that were likely to be committed by inner city youth. This  led to the crazy imprisonment rates that we still enjoy today.

Track 7- Night of the Living Baseheads/ Public Enemy. Always righteous, always powerful, Public Enemy. From one of the great albums of all-time, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold us Back, Night of the Living Baseheads. They don’t make ’em like this anymore- crazy noisy production and super powerful righteous rhymes. Nobody in the rap game has guts like this anymore. Chuck D knew that crack was killing city kids, and he used music to spread the word. It didn’t work, not even with Flav, but he gave it a shot.

Track 8- Say No and Go/ De La Soul. Obviously, De La Soul isn’t as raw as PE, and they didn’t have the same kind of street cred, but this is still a gutsy anti-drug track. Pretty cool for a “just say no” song.

Track 9- Straight Edge/ Minor Threat. Here they are, finally, Minor Threat, fast, loud, and straight edge. I was totally in love with this attitude when I was 18. I was done with it by 19, but I still agree that if you have clear eyes and a full heart you can’t lose, hahahahaha.

Track 10-I’m Not a Loser/ The Descendents. “spending all your money on shitty coke!” This is from the great “Milo Goes to College.” Milo, the singer, did go to college and eventually got a PhD in biology from Wisconsin, nbd. Super catchy, angry, and smart. This song is a lot like “I’m Straight,” but after punk instead of before. Wait, why am I the loser? Why don’t I get the girls? These other guys are retards.

Track 11-Tonight’s the Night/ Neil Young. Heroin overdose track #2 by Neil Young. This is the first track off the album of the same name, and the same dark sad crushing feeling. It’s one of the saddest albums that I know of, and this song is a perfect representative.

27s Club

Amy Winehouse died yesterday from causes that “have yet to be determined.” It was drugs. It pretty much always is. It’s a shame.

Note the advertisement to the right.

“All great songs were written on drugs, man.” For some reason the myth of drug inspired artistic greatness persists. I guess there is a history of rock n’ roll and pop stars using drugs, but I’m pretty sure that this myth confuses correlation with causation. Not only is there no real evidence to support the assertion that drugs somehow help songwriters create and performers perform, but it seems like most of the anecdotal evidence suggests that drugs actually impede creativity and limit output.

Is it more likely that people are rock stars because they do drugs, or that people do drugs because they are rock stars? OR could it be that people that want to be rock stars are also likely to get into drugs? I would imagine that being a rock star is a bizarre, confusing, and kind of sad life. You’re cut off from normal life and regular human interaction. You get whatever you want whenever you want it, and a lot of times you want drugs.

Without a normal job, and life, there’s less reason to NOT take drugs. You don’t have to get up at a certain time for work, you don’t have a real family, you have money to spend, people to get EVERYTHING for you, and you’re almost expected to be a mess. So why the hell not? I mean, except that it might kill you. Even if drugs don’t kill you they can ruin your creative spark, and your life. Syd Barrett (the original leader of Pink Floyd), Skip Spense (Jefferson Airplane and Moby Grape), Brian Wilson, and Roky Erikson were all casualties of the 60s. What if Syd Barrett had been able to stay in Pink Floyd? What if Brian Wilson had been able to record another Pet Sounds, or at least finish Smile properly before the 21st century? Golly, that could have been great.

And what is it about 27? Is that the point when everything finally adds up and becomes overwhelming? Is it the point where your body finally has had enough? There were also a lot of big names that either didn’t make it to 27, or barely made it past- Gram Parsons, Nick Drake, Jeff and Tim Buckley, Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran, Hank Williams, Cass Elliot, Elliot Smith, Ian Curtis, Jon Bonham, Otis Redding… (Some of those people died in accidents, and so did some of the 27 club, being a pop star certainly seems like a risky business), but the peak of the rock and roll death bell curve is definitely at 27.

Here they are- 12 representatives of the 27s club.

Track 1- Love is a Losing Game/ Amy Winehouse. The newest member of the club. Probably should have gone to rehab. Not glamorous y’all.

Track 2- Crossroads/ Robert Johnson. He became the founding member of the 27s club when he was Poisoned to death in 1938. Even if you don’t know much about Johnson you probably know a lot of his songs, like this one about selling his soul to the devil that Cream covered. He was massively influential.

Track 3- Peace Frog/ The Doors. Blood in the streets!! Jim Morrison, the maniac that influenced a million rock and roll maniacs, Iggy Pop being a key example. This song isn’t usually on The Doors’ greatest hits collections, but I think it should be. It’s my favorite. I went to Jim Morrison’s grave in Pere Lachaise the first time I went to Paris when I was 16. Also, LA Woman is one of the best scream-along karaoke songs, especially here in LA.

Track 4- The Star Spangled Banner/ Jimi Hendrix. It’s not Jimi’s fault, I call him Jimi because we were boys back in the day, but he inspired a lot of wank. He inspired a lot of great stuff too, and good lord was he a creative guitar player. Just listen to this and try to imagine how mind blowing it was to hear in the 60s.

Track 5- Talk to Me/ Nirvana. This is how great Nirvana and Kurt Cobain were, they shrugged off songs like this. This song would have been the best song by almost every band that has ever existed, and Nirvana didn’t even bother to record it. Kurt Cobain’s death is the one on this list that I remember. I loved Nirvana, and it was devastating. This guy could have written many many more great songs.

Track 6- Second Skin/ The Gits- Featuring the great Mia Zapata, who was raped and murdered in Seattle in 1993. Her murder galvanized the riot grrl scene and stole a great singer from a rock scene that was just blowing up. The murder case itself was also very interesting and was the subject of a documentary-

Track 7- Yes/ The Manic Street Preachers. Generation Terrorists! This is the first track off the last Manic Street Preachers album with Richey James Edwards. Richey got crazier and crazier until he “disappeared” in 1995. He is presumed dead. The Manic Street Preachers were out of step with the Madchester and Brit Pop scenes that existed during their lifetime, which kept them from being huge stars, but they were still infamous.

Track 8- Carona/ The Minutemen (turn up the youtube volume). They jammed econo and helped found the American underground/ indie rock scene. They were “hardcore punk,” but incorporated jazz and folk into their sound. One of god’s true originals. D. Boon, the fat guy in green singing and playing guitar, wrote this song that you may know as the “Jackass” theme. It is off the super great “Double Nickles on the Dime,” double album. D. Boone died in a car accident in 1985.

Track 9- No Matter What You Say/ Badfinger. One of the few hit songs Badfinger recorded that actually became a hit. Pete Ham was so disillusioned by Badfinger’s lack of success, and the constant problems within the band and with their management that he got drunk and hung himself in December 1975. This band and this guy had tragedy written all over them.

Track 10- Speed of Sound/ Chris Bell. In a way Chris Bell was the American version of Pete Ham. Both were members of early power pop bands, and both were extremely disappointed by their lack of success and mismanagement. Chris Bell never had a hit like Badfinger and Ham. This song was one of many that Bell recorded between leaving Big Star and his fatal car accident. A collection of those songs wasn’t released until 15 years after his death.

Track 11- Trust Me/ Janis Joplin. Holy Christ this song is devastating. Janis Joplin is a mythic drug overdose 27 club member. Her legend also feeds one of the other great myths about artists- that soul comes from suffering. Could she have sung like this if she didn’t have a horrible life growing up as the ugly freak in a Texas town? I don’t know, but however it happened side 2 of “Pearl” is a fucking knockout.

Track 12-Stupid Girl/ The Rolling Stones. Featuring Brian Jones, founding member of “the greatest rock and roll band in the world,” multi-instrumentalist, and namesake of The Brian Jonestown Massacre. He died “accidentally” in his pool in 1969. His death paved the way for Ron Wood to have one of the greatest runs in rock history with The Jeff Beck Group, The Faces, Rod Stewart, and The Rolling Stones.

Power Pop!

Oh, hello, welcome to the power pop annotated mix. Power pop was a sort of leftover subgenre. It got its start in the 70s being played by bands that didn’t want to give up on 60s guitar pop just yet.

For the most part pop music was getting more complex and polished in the 70s, but power pop stood out from the pack along with glam rock, pub rock, some heavy metal, and eventually punk rock. Those subgenres were keepers of the flame. They influenced a wave of bands that became critical, and sometimes commercial, successes in the 80s, 90s, and beyond.

Power pop bands usually had no hits or one or two hits. Big Star, arguably the greatest band of subgenre, sold virtually no records while they existed. Bands like The Raspberries and Badfinger had a couple of hits. The Romantics had one. Cheap Trick had a bunch.

Track 1- September Gurls/ Big Star. Not my favorite Big Star song, but considered by many as the pinnacle of power pop. Written by the John Lennon of the 70s (I think of Big Star as the band the Beatles would have been if they never gotten famous), Alex Chilton. Alex was in The Box Tops as a teenager, and was semi-well known for singing their hit song “The Letter.” He became an underground hero in the 80s, and provided the title and subject for one of the best Replacements songs- “Children by the million sing for Alex Chilton when he comes ’round. They sing ‘I’m in love, what’s that song? I’m in love with that song.'” I saw him in person at Gabe’s Oasis in Iowa City circa 2000. It was great. He died on St. Patricks day 2010.

Track 2- Baby Blue/ Badfinger (Live). Speaking of bands that could have been the Beatles… Badfinger, signed to the Beatles’ Apple Records, were the first power pop band. Like Big Star they were a tragedy. A band that had a couple of hits, but were never what they should have been because they existed too late and too early. Pete Ham, singer, guitarist, and principle songwriter, killed himself three days short of his 28th birthday, April 24 1975. “I will not be allowed to love and trust everybody. This is better.

Track 3- I Wanna Be With You/ The Raspberries (Live). The Raspberries, the third of the key founding bands of power pop, playing one of their hits. Although I think Big Star and Badfinger were better, The Raspberries were probably the most influencial, at least in the 70s, of the three.

Track 4 (and 4 1/2)- The Prettiest Girl/ The Neighborhoods. This is a real forgotten classic, as many power pop songs are, and one of my favorite songs. The Neighborhoods were from Boston, and their LP photo was taken in Fenway Park. I have two copies.

Track 5- Iron Woman/ Devin Davis. Here’s a relatively new forgotten power pop song from the 2000s. Good luck getting this out of your head.

Track 6- Hangin’ on the Telephone/ The Nerves. This song was eventually a hit for Blondie. This is the original by The Nerves, a great 70s power pop band from LA, that split after recording one EP, and then became The Beat and The Plimsouls, two excellent bands that have songs coming up.

Track 7- Condition Red/ The Sneakers. Talk about Big Star fans… This band kind of just disappeared, but their influence on 80s power pop and jangle pop was massive. Chris Stamey, later of the dB’s and Le Tigre’s producer, is the one singin’. Mitch Easter, later of Let’s Active and the producer of the first two REM albums- pretty much the mastermind of the jangle pop sound, is on guitar. Future dB Will Rigby was a Sneaker too. Don Dixon, an engineer on The Sneakers’ album, went on to be an important producer of jangle pop, and had a solid solo career.

Track 8- Southern Girls/ Cheap Trick. Maybe the best known and most successful power pop band. This is my favorite song by them. This live version kicks some serious ass.

Track 9- Cruel to be Kind/ Nick Lowe. The biggest hit for “The Jesus of Cool,” Nick Lowe, a key figure in power pop, pub rock, and British punk. He was covered by Wire and Elvis Costello. This song is about as close as one can get to pop perfection.

Track 10-Starry Eyes/ The Records. A great song from one of the best British power pop bands.

Track 11- Rock ‘n Roll Girl/ The Beat, or Paul Collins and the Beat (Live). Paul Collins, formerly of The Nerves, absolutely killing it with The Beat.

Track 12-A Million Miles Away/ The Plimsouls. A bit of a hit for The Plimsouls, and ex- Nerve Peter Case. Very jangly. Also, a great old school video.

Track 13- My Sharona/ The Knack. LA power pop band, The Knack’s biggest hit. This song is about a real girl, Sharona, that singer/songwriter Doug Fieger was dating at the time. My Sharona is from 1979, a time when a band like this would have a hit or two.

Track 14- What I Like About You/ The Romantics. Another 1+ hit wonder from the late 70s ealry 80s power pop scene. Their self titled debut album, which features this song leading off side two, is all killer, no filler. PS- Another great band from Detroit.

Track 15- Tomorrow Night/ The Shoes. I don’t know much about the Shoes, but they were from Illinois, and I want to know more.

Track 16- You and Your Sister/ Chris Bell. Chris Bell was the Paul to Alex Chilton’s John in Big Star. This song isn’t really a power pop song, but it’s just such a fucking stunner. I almost cry every time I hear it. Alex on backing vocals in the chorus. Chris struggled with the lack of success of Big Star’s first record, #1 Record. He became depressed and left the band, although he contributed to the second album, Radio City. He went to Europe and recorded some songs, this is one of them. They were never released during his lifetime. He came back to Memphis and worked in his family’s fast food restaurant chain. He hit a tree with his car and died instantly on December 27, 1978 at 27. His songs were finally collected and released as “I am the Cosmos” in 1992. “You and Your Sister” has been covered a number of times, most famously by This Mortal Coil.

Track 17- I am the Cosmos/ Chris Bell

Track 18- Shake Some Action/ The Flamin’ Groovies. The Flamin’ Groovies were a badass band from San Francisco in the late 60s early 70s. They were kind of the American Rolling Stones, and they were definitely out of place in peaceful SF with songs like “Slow Death,” and “Teenage Head.” After their original lead singer, Roy Loney, left the band they transformed into a power popesque band. This is one of their best songs from that era.

Track 19- Black and White/ The dB’s. My favorite song from the dB’s first album “Stands for Decibels.” This song is by Peter Holsapple, but ex-Sneaker Chris Stamey was the other of the dB’s songwriters. The dB’s are maybe more accurately described as jangle pop, but I think this song power pop enough for this mix.

Track 20- Yellow Pills/ 20/20. From their self titled 1979 album, this song is classic power pop, but also kind unusual. It’s a little psychedelic, but I guess it is about pills. (PS- it’s a total accident that this song by 20/20 is track 20)

Track 21- Teenage Kicks/ The Undertones. Probably more of a “punk” song, but there is definitely a lot of power pop in here. There are a lot of punk songs, and bands, that could fairly accurately be described as power pop- The Undertones, The Buzzcocks, The Soft Boys, and maybe even The Ramones. This was famous UK DJ John Peel’s favorite song.

Track 22- Another Girl Another Planet/ The Only Ones (Live). This is The Only Ones’ classic track. It is another song that might not be most accurately described as power pop, but it’s close enough.

Track 23- Buddy Holly/ Weezer. I’ve never been a huge Weezer fan, and they aren’t really a true power pop band, but they are about as close as the 90s alternative revolution came to giving us a super popular successful power pop band. Also, I prefer them to most of the more traditional power pop bands from the 90s.

Track 24- Dream All Day/ The Posies. This is a total 100% power pop classic from the 90s. It has a little grunge in it, but it’s a real power pop song for sure.

Track 25- K Street/ Fastbacks. Maybe the greatest 80s- 90s power pop, Seattle’s Fastbacks. They were the only punk era band in Seattle that survived to see the grunge explosion in the 90s, and were a key to making that explosion happen. Also, Kurt Bloch on guitar. He’s in a battle with Rick Nielson for the title of power pop guitar god.

Track 26- 28- Thirteen, In the Street, Holocaust/ Big Star. Maybe my favorite band ever. The pop version of The Velvet Underground, only even less successful in their own time. Thirteen, covered by Elliot Smith, Wilco, etc, is an absolute knockout. In the Street, covered by Big Star fans Cheap Trick as the theme song for That 70s Show, is probably their best known track. Holocaust is from the album 3rd/ Sister Lovers, which was never officially released when the band existed. Over the course of the band’s career you can hear them getting more and more bitter and depressed. This is the bottom- “you’re a sad eyed lie, you’re a wasted face, you’re a holocaust.”

The Most/ Least Punk Rock Album of 1976

“It’s the end, the end of the 70s, it’s the end, the end of the century”- The Ramones

1976 was a big year for punk rock.

The following are just a few of the bands that formed that year- Wire, The Damned, Generation X (featuring Billy Idol), Sham 69, Richard Hell and the Voidoids, The Jam, The Buzzcocks, The Fall, The Dead Boys, The Clash, Souixsie and the Banshees, The Adverts, and The X-Ray Spex.

The following albums were released- Max’s Kansas City (a compilation), The Ramones, Blondie, and Radio Ethiopia (The Patti Smith Group).

The following singles were released- New Rose (The Damned) and Anarchy in the UK (The Sex Pistols).

Punk has always been a tricky genre to define. Punk rock, as we know it, was born in the mid 1970s in New York. PUNK magazine was founded in New York in 1975. Lester Bangs used the word “punk” to describe Iggy Stooge in 1970. “Punk” had been used as slang word for prostitute. It was used by train jumping outlaws of the late 19th/ early 20th century as a word for young outlaws that were still green. TV cops used the word “punk” to describe no good trouble makers. But, It was in the mid-70s that people started to call themselves “punks.” It was a nasty, dirty, lowdown thing to be and the two hotbeds of early punk rock were nasty and dirty places, New York City and London. New York was “the most dangerous city in the world.” It was a crime infested, drugged up, decaying city. London, the capital city of a country in crisis, was literally covered in garage because of a garbage strike. Young punks dressed themselves in filth and played music that reflected the situation they found themselves in. It was aggressive, stripped down, loud, and fast.

Or was it? Punk rock, especially in New York, was quite diverse. The Ramones ended up being the definitive punk band, but The Talking Heads, Blondie, Suicide,The Patti Smith Group, and Television were “punk” bands that also played CBGBs. Today most people unfamiliar with the history of the genre probably wouldn’t identify many of those bands as punk rock. The genre became associated with a narrowly defined sound, and sort of cartoonish look- fast, simple, dumb music played by mohawk wearing youth. It became Green Day. There’s nothing wrong with Green Day, but they only represent one small part of what punk rock originally was.

Although punk is associated with a certain sound it also was (and is) an attitude about life in general. Punk was about doing your own thing on your own, ACTUALLY doing your own thing rather than practicing to do something at some future date. It was the bridge between the garage rock of the 60s and the independent rock scene that began in the late 70s/ early 80s. Bands as diverse as REM, Radiohead, LCD Soundsystem, Motorhead, and Beat Happening are all the progeny of punk rock.

With that in mind I would like to make the case for Boston’s debut album “Boston” as a great punk record of 1976. “Boston” is one of the best selling albums of all time. It is slick and professional. There are long jammy songs full of long guitar and keyboard solos. It is a key stadium rock album. In many ways “Boston” is the antithesis of the 1976 punk sound. However, the recording of the album “Boston” was as, or more, punk than any “punk rock” album released in that year.

MIT graduate Tom Sholz formed Boston in the mid-70s. To achieve the sound he wanted he developed and built his own recording equipment and recorded the demos that would later become “Boston” in his basement. A number of record companies passed after hearing those demos. Eventually, Epic Records signed the band.

Sholz wanted to polish the demos and turn them into the final record. Epic wanted to rerecord in a “professional” studio in LA. Sholz fought back by making a secret deal with Epic appointed producer John Boylon. They faked recording sessions in LA while Sholz recorded all the instrumental tracks for the record in his basement studio with his personal equipment. These tracks were later mixed with the vocal tracks, which were recorded “professionally” in LA, and mastered in a studio by Sholz, Boylan, and Warren Dewey.

Most “punk” albums in the 1970s were released on major record labels. The bands were “signed” bands, not independents. The Ramones, Sex Pistols, and Television, for example, all recorded their records in normal recording studios for major labels. Yes, Television helped build the stage at CBGBs, The Ramones were far from technically proficient musicians, and the Sex Pistols wore garbage and told their country it had no future. They convinced kids that they could be themselves, and that anyone could go out and start a band, or do something great, but at that point the recording of punk rock wasn’t DIY, yet. Some 60s garage rock that came before was, and the some of the punk and post punk that followed was too, but it was The Buzzcocks that started the DIY recording movement in the UK with Spiral Scratch in early 1977.

I fell in love with punk rock when I was in high school in the mid-1990s. Nirvana introduced me, and a lot of America, to punk in 1991. (Listen to “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana and then listen to “More Than a Feeling” by Boston. It’s almost the same song.) I remember getting two albums in 1991 for Christmas- “Heart in Motion” by Amy Grant (CD), and “Nevermind” by Nirvana (tape), only one ended up sticking. A few years later in high school I made an effort to find out about other bands that influenced Nirvana, and then the bands that influenced those bands. I totally fell in love with the Pixies, and then Husker Du, and then the Damned, and then The Stooges, and then The Sonics… By my senior year Bikini Kill, Sonic Youth, The Sex Pistols, and Gang of Four were some of my favorite bands. I was off in my own world, none of my friends liked those bands. I loved the sound and attitude of punk rock, but even more than that, I loved, and still love, the idea that if you don’t like the music you’re hearing, or the the films you’re seeing, or whatever, you can make your own. You don’t have to sell out. You can stick with your ideas. 35 years after 1976 making your own video or song seems like no big deal. Technology has made it easy, and we have gotten used to the idea. The punk DIY attitude is part of our daily lives, but in 1976 it was radical. “Boston” is an album that is a result of someone doing their own thing and making something themselves in-spite of the efforts of “the man.” That, my friends, is punk rock.

Video mix tape-

Blondie, “In the Flesh”-

The Sex Pistols “Anarchy in the UK”-

The Damned, “New Rose”-

Amy Grant, “Baby Baby”-

Nirvana, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (The video that “broke” punk in America in 1991)-

Boston, “More Than a Feeling (Demo)”-

Boston, “Foreplay/ Longtime” (written by Sholz when he was MIT)-

The Ramones, “Sheena is a Punk Rocker”-

Television, “Friction”-

Suicide, “Cheree”-

The Talking Heads, “No Compassion”-

The Stooges, “I Wanna Be Your Dog”-

The Sonics, “Psycho”-

Bikini Kill, “New Radio”-

Husker Du, “Celebrated Summer”-

The Buzzcocks, “Boredom”-

Motorhead, “Ace of Spades”-

Beat Happening, ”

Radiohead, “High and Dry”-

LCD Soundsystem, “Losing My Edge”-