In his essay "Hang Up and Drive" the other day, Chris Clarke said many things that I agree with and won't address here — Chris said them better than I would. Read it. Then read it again. And then, if you still spend your driving time talking on the phone: Read. It. Once. More.
But Chris says something there, just in passing, that's prompted a light weekend blog here:
It can be the 50,000th time you’ve heard the Zep playing Over The Hills And Far Away, and still the sound creates a cognitive interference that makes it harder for you to read street numbers in the dark.
"Damn!", I said to no one in particular when I read that, "He's right. No one could listen to Over the Hills and Far Away and pay attention to anything else. What a great song!" And so, I pulled out my copy of Houses of the Holy and put it on. And so, I decided to write a bit about a few of my favourite rock songs ever — a few of the seminal tunes that everyone has to hear, and hear again. Voilà, in no particular order....
Led Zeppelin: "Over the Hills and Far Away" and "The Rain Song"
I put these together because they're both from the Houses of the Holy album, and they are two of the best Led Zeppelin songs, in a long line of varied music. For anyone who thinks the Zep was just playing noise, look at how their music changed, from the solid blues of the first album ("Good Times, Bad Times", "Babe, I'm Gonna Leave You", "Dazed and Confused"), to the blues/rock of the second ("Whole Lotta Love", "What Is and What Should Never Be"), to the unsung transitional third album ("Immigrant Song" is the only thing from there that anyone knows), to the blockbuster fourth album ("Black Dog", "When the Levee Breaks", "Stairway to Heaven"). Listen to the opening of "The Ocean", from Houses of the Holy, and check the time signature: it's not just 4/4 drudgery. Listen to the layers of rhythm in many of their songs.
Mountain: "Nantucket Sleighride"
When most people think of Mountain (Leslie West, Felix Pappalardi, Corky Laing), they think of "Mississippi Queen", which got plenty of air time and appeared in the movie Easy Rider. But "Nantucket Sleighride" gets my nod here. It's a Pappalardi composition, the title song on their 1971 album, and mixes a traditional Irish tune or two into the original music. It's about whalers leaving their wives to go out to sea, possibly for the last time.
Crosby, Stills, and Nash: "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes"
This is unquestionably my favourite song by what was at the time my favourite group. Stephen Stills wrote this for his then-lover, Judy Collins. It is in the form of a suite, with several distinct sections, each very different from the others. The total is, as they say, more than the sum of the parts. Nice harmonies.
Derek and the Dominoes: "Layla"
Eric Clapton wrote this one, and then reinvented it as a slow blues tune on his Unplugged album. That's great, but the original, from the Layla and Other Love Songs album is just a great rock tune. Put it on, and see if you can sit still. No one listens to this without playing air guitar.
The Who: "Baba O'Riley"
The best-known song on their Who's Next album is "Won't Get Fooled Again", but the whole album is hot. My favourite is this one — it's the opening song, and the one that begins with the synthesizer sounding like an electric fiddle. I think one of the CSI TV shows uses it for their theme. The lyrics fit in with The Who's general rebellion:
I don't need to fight
To prove I'm right,
And I don't need to be forgiven.
The Allman Brothers: "Les Brers in A Minor"
There are many reasons to listen to Eat a Peach. This instrumental piece is one of the best. Duane's very much alive on this, and we see what a loss his death was. There's a new release of Eat a Peach that adds a second disc with a previously unreleased Filmore East concert. Get it!
I happened on the Fragile album by accident, and instantly fell in love with Yes. I saw them in concert in 1972, when they released Close to the Edge, and was enthralled by Rick Wakeman's keyboards and Steve Howe's guitars. "Roundabout" is their best known song, and my favourite overall. But so much of their oeuvre is great, through multiple changes of keyboardists.
It's a Beautiful Day: "White Bird"
We'll finish with the best-known song by a little-known group. David LaFlamme plays a soaring electric violin here, with his sister Linda on vocals with him. The rest of the album is hit-and-miss, but "White Bird" has always been a favourite song of mine despite rather lame lyrics, and so earns its place on this list. (And I actually saw them in concert in the late '70s, opening for, of all people, Billy Joel.)
There are lots more, of course: much by the Moody Blues, the whole "Dark Side of the Moon" album by Pink Floyd, Genesis's "The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway", and the list goes on. This was but a taste. And it betrays my age, but of course it would. Feel free to comment with your own "don't miss" items. These are a few of mine.