Tuesday, December 29, 2020

10 SONGS: 12/29/2020: THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO's 10 Most-Played Tracks In 2020

10 Songs is a weekly list of ten songs that happen to be on my mind at the moment. Given my intention to usually write these on Mondays, the lists are often dominated by songs played on the previous night's edition of This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio with Dana & Carl. The idea was inspired by Don Valentine of the essential blog I Don't Hear A Single.

This edition of 10 Songs is devoted to TIRnRR's 10 most-played tracks in 2020, as detailed in our year-end countdown show.

1. THE MUFFS: On My Own

The Muffs' eponymous debut album was released in 1993, the year after the short-lived first Dana & Carl radio series We're Your Friends For Now completed its rapid Vini, Vidi, Vacuum into the abyss. By the time we returned on even more modest terms as Radio Peace in 1994, The Muffs' "Saying Goodbye" had already established itself as my favorite track of the '90s, and I'm pretty sure we played it on the very first Radio Peace. And I'm positive we played both "Saying Goodbye" and The Muffs' "Sad Tomorrow" on the inaugural edition of This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio on December 27th, 1998. 22 years ago this week. TIRnRR has lasted a tiny bit longer than any of our previous series.

And we've played The Muffs all along the way. Before The Muffs formed, we were already fans of various incarnations of The Pandoras, and it was The Pandoras that introduced us to the talents of Kim Shattuck. Kim was an essential player during her stint as a Pandora, aiding and abetting the late, great Paula Pierce; in The Muffs, Kim Shattuck was the star.

The news of Kim's death in 2019 stunned us. This is what I wrote at the time:

Tonight we share our broken hearts.

I did not know Kim Shattuck. I've been a fan for decades, but we were, at best, casual friends on Facebook. I don't think we ever had a conversation or shared message. Yet news of her death this week at the age of 56--56!--prompted a sadness within me apart from the all-too-familiar ache of having to say goodbye to another one of our heroes.

Why? I guess because she felt to me like someone who was close to all of us, even though she wasn't really. She was an actual part of the lives of a bunch of people I do know--a friend, a loved one--and our sense of loss can't compare to what they're going through. But man, this one hurts. I didn't know her, and it hurts anyway.

You wanna see an illustration of why we love Kim Shattuck? Go to YouTube and watch the video for Derrick Anderson's "When I Was Your Man." Anderson's ably supported here by Vicki and Debbie Peterson (his bandmates in The Bangles) and our Kim. The song and video are irresistible, but Kim especially? She's a bundle of goofy, guileless energy, a nerd and a rock star at the same time, naturally, unconsciously, absolutely. She's not exactly one of us, but she understands us. I refuse to change that into the past tense, at least for tonight.

The Pandoras. The Muffs. The Beards. The Coolies. And one of the greatest screams in all of  rock 'n' roll. All heart, all fire, all go! Kim Shattuck made her indelible mark on this rockin' pop scene we so cherish. Anyone who didn't love her simply wasn't paying attention.

56 years old. Damn you, ALS. Damn you.

The Muffs' farewell album No Holiday was released shortly after Kim passed. Both Dana and I were especially struck by the track "On My Own," its inherent haunting sensation heightened in our ears by the knowledge that Kim was nearing the end of her life when she sang it. 

I can't even.

TIRnRR started playing "On My Own" upon its release in late '19. We continued to play it throughout this year, more often than we played any other song. There was never any question of what would be our # 1 most-played track for 2020. It wasn't even close. God love ya, Kim. We'll always love you, too.

2. BILL BERRY: 1-800-Colonoscopy

I saw the wonderful British pop group The Records at a club show in East Syracuse in 1979. "Starry Eyes." "Teenarama." "Hearts In Her Eyes." "Hearts Will Be Broken." SOLD! I got to meet lead singer John Wicks in 2009, when he was touring with Paul Collins. John was one of the nicest, most gracious pop stars you could imagine, and he remained friendly and good-natured in all of our subsequent communications. We were gutted when John succumbed to cancer in 2018.

Our mutual friend Richard Rossi gets the credit for connecting John (and Paul) with TIRnRR. Back in 2006, Richard secured permission for us to use "Edges Of A Dream" by John Wicks and the Records for our compilation CD This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio, Volume 2, and he arranged for John and Paul to visit our mutant little radio show in 2009; it was a thrill for Dana and I to meet these artists who made so much music we love, and a righteous OH YEAH! to find out they were both good guys, to boot. 

John Wicks, CC, Paul Collins, Dana Bonn at the TIRnRR studio complex in 2009. 

After John's death, Richard oversaw a unique project in tribute to his departed friend. The 2020 collection For The Record--A Tribute To John Wicks gathers various artists to perform songs that John had written but never got around to recording. It's a simply sublime set, and we recommend it in unabashedly gushing tones. We played nearly all of its tracks on TIRnRR this year.

We played Bill Berry's "1-800-Colonoscopy" the most. The song was co-written by John Wicks and Richard Rossi, and it appears on For The Record as an endlessly engaging track sung by Bill Berry and produced by Jamie Hoover of The Spongetones. In an earlier 10 Songs, I wrote: 

Awright, the category of "Best Songs With 'Colonoscopy' In The Title" may be a wee bit limited, but man, this track from the recent John Wicks tribute album For The Record just rollicks and rolls. Bill Berry's performance infuses the song with all the venom and resentment it requires, delivering a bitter and vindictive kiss-off that's simultaneously as pop and as catchy as something, I dunno, more pleasant than its titular concern....

Given the general yuchh of 2020, it's fitting that my favorite new song of the year is something called "1-800-Colonoscopy." Am I bitter? Yeah, you bet your ass.

3. MARY LOU LORD: Right On 'Till Dawn

"Right On 'Till Dawn" is a kickin' duet between Mary Lou Lord and the song's author, Nick Saloman of The Bevis Frond. It's a demo, released as one of two B-side tracks on Mary Lou's 2001 "Speeding Motorcycle" single. (The other B-side, "Driven Away," also made this year's countdown at # 27.) 

4. MARYKATE O'NEIL: I'm Ready For My Luck To Turn Around

Belief feeds hope.

That's the opening line to a chapter about Marykate O'Neil's lovely 2006 gem "I'm Ready For My Luck To Turn Around." I'm writing that chapter for my book in progress The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1), and the song's entry appears near the end of the book, nestled between Stevie Wonder's "I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever)" and Eytan Mirsky's "This Year's Gonna Be Our Year." "I'm Ready For My Luck To Turn Around." That's a sentiment we can all understand, especially this year.

5. BASH AND POP: Anything Could Happen

Tommy Stinson formed Bash And Pop after his previous group The Replacements combusted into charred earth. A whompin' stompin' 22 years passed between Bash And Pop's debut album in 1993 and second album, 2017's Anything Could Happen. Man, and The Replacements always used to be so punctual.


Rock 'n' roll at a honky tonk kegger. I don't think I was at all familiar with the kickass charm of singer/songwriter/guitarist/suspected superhero Justine Covault prior to this year. Hey, something good about 2020! The mighty Rum Bar Records sent us new tracks from two of Justine's combos, Justine's Black Threads and Justine and the Unclean. BAM! Instant fan here. "Vengeance" is particularly irresistible, so I played it a lot. That's the giddy sense of power one enjoys if one co-hosts a radio show. 

7. THE WHO: I Can't Explain

From The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1):

When it came to crafting The Greatest Record Ever Made, The Who didn't waste any time. The lads nailed it on their debut single.

Well, "I Can't Explain" was at least technically The Who's first single. The group was billed as The High Numbers when their very first single "I'm The Face"/"Zoot Suit" was released in 1964. Either way, The High-Numbered Who got it right pretty quickly. "I Can't Explain" was released at the beginning of 1965, effectively helping to kick off pop music's best year ever...

Before The Who became iconic, rivaling Led Zeppelin as the embodiment of classic rock, they were already an odd quartet. Drummer Keith Moon was a flamboyant freakin' lunatic, a strange visitor from another planet, a Beach Boys fanatic who played faster--and louder!--than a speeding bullet. Bassist John Entwistle could have found employment as a statue, a sculpted objet d'art, his deep booms resonating from a somber figure as still as stone, except for the blinding flash of his fingers upon the fretboard of an instrument no one ever convinced him wasn't meant to play lead, not rhythm. Singer Roger Daltrey, eventually to assume the persona of a presumed Rock God parading before mere mortals, seemed initially like he'd just as soon abandon his mic stand to pick a fight with some punter mid-song, just cuz he didn't like the guy's face. And guitarist/songwriter Pete Townshend was the squarest of square pegs, a nose emerging from a face topped by straight Mod hair, propped atop a skinny form that should have been incapable of remaining upright under the weight of that head, tossing off a surly bravado to camouflage insecurity, playing power-chord noise to give sheer volume to thought and poetry, smashing things to combine chaos with ambition, combustion with creation, destruction with inspiration. Together, they formed a rhetorical question that served as its own authoritative answer. Who? The Who. The fucking Who, man....

8. THE ISLEY BROTHERS: It's Your Thing

I wrote here about my introduction to the music of The Isley Brothers. Although my nascent Isleys awareness began with "Who's That Lady (Part 1)" on the radio in '73, I don't remember precisely when I went back to discover earlier Isley Brothers hits like "This Old Heart Of Mine," "Shout," or 1969's "It's Your Thing." It took a while, and it took a while for my appreciation to grow. But it did! 

9. BIG STAR: September Gurls

I think Big Star's "September Gurls" was the first song I ever referred to as The Greatest Record Ever Made, and it is the all-time # 1 most-played track over TIRnRR's first 22 years. From its chapter in the GREM! book:

The heart is often incapable of speaking its own mind. Please forgive the mixed metaphor, because it's true: on an emotional level, the thing that is most important to us is the most difficult to articulate.  If  you were ever a teenager in love, you know this first-hand; and if, at any age, you have watched a love slip away--casually or cruelly, by accident or design, temporarily or irrevocably--then you still remember the ache of your tongue-tied efforts to somehow express the poetry inside you, to give voice to the exact words that, when spoken, will make True Love prevail against unbelievable odds.  So many words, so much to say.  And all we can do as she walks away is mumble, "I loved you, well...never mind."

With that phrase, Alex Chilton turned even our seeming helplessness into art.  A teenaged hitmaker with The Box Tops, a cult-pop legend with Big Star, and a fiercely (and frustratingly) independent solo artist, Alex Chilton was dismissive of his own legacy.  But he was a brilliant songwriter, responsible in whole or in part for a handful of what I believe to be among the most affecting, beautiful pop songs ever done.  With his Big Star partner Chris Bell, Chilton co-wrote "The Ballad Of El Goodo," the single most transcendent expression of triumphant hope that I am ever likely to hear; their song "Thirteen" found the elusive words to articulate adolescence as no other song before or since.  And Chilton's "September Gurls," perhaps the greatest record ever made, is with me every day of my life, its haunting mix of longing and possibility providing a constant reminder of the heart's struggle to speak its mind, and of the artist's ability to turn the struggle itself into unforgettable, eloquent elegance.

10. THE BEVIS FROND: He'd Be A Diamond

And this week's 10 Songs concludes with one more shot from that GREM! book I keep pounding:

What a truly awful feeling: that sick, twisted ache inside when we realize we've screwed things up beyond any possible hope of redemption...

And we know every last miserable bit of it is our own stupid fault.

I discovered the music of British singer, musician, and songwriter Nick Saloman (dba The Bevis Frond) through the Dana half of This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio with Dana & Carl. The Bevis Frond did a benefit for our overlords Syracuse Community Radio in the '90s, and the Frond's been a perennial TIRnRR pick over the two decades and change of whatever the hell it is we do. 

"He'd Be A Diamond" is the most powerful post-breakup song I know. Its heartbroken storyline is devastating, delivered casually in the third person, but no less harrowing, no less desperate, no less striking in its depiction of a faithless ex-lover who has seen the error of his ways far too late to make one damned bit of difference....


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This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio with Dana & Carl airs Sunday nights from 9 to Midnight Eastern, on the air in Syracuse at SPARK! WSPJ 103.3 and 93.7 FM, and on the web at http://sparksyracuse.org/ You can read about our history here.

The many fine This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio compilation albums are still available, each full of that rockin' pop sound you crave. A portion of all sales benefit our perpetually cash-strapped community radio project:

Volume 1: download

Volume 2: CD or download
Volume 3: download
Volume 4: CD or download
Waterloo Sunset--Benefit For This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio:  CD or download

Carl's writin' a book! The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1)will contain 165 essays about 165 tracks, each one of 'em THE greatest record ever made. An infinite number of records can each be the greatest record ever made, as long as they take turns. Updated initial information can be seen here: THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE! (Volume 1). My weekly Greatest Record Ever Made! video rants can be seen in my GREM! YouTube playlist. And I'm on Twitter @CafarelliCarl.

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