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In a further attempt to keep me more active on here, I am going to post some thoughts that pop into my head during my Sunday runs, which are our long ones. These thoughts often involve over-evaluating the music I happen to be listening to, and so one can expect that to be the subject of these (when I remember / have the motivation to do them).

Today's spacy Sunday-morning-long-run thoughts:

My soundtrack today was the two disc deluxe edition of what is undoubtedly Pavement's masterpiece, "Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain". That album (among other things) is a testament to the importance of a great rhythm section. The appearance of drummer Steve West and bassist Mark Ibold were the catalyst for the reigning in of Steve and Scott's wild imaginations. "Slanted and Enchanted" and their early singles are great (and I know some hipster-esque Pavement fans would kill me for this opinion), but it wasn't until "Crooked Rain" that they released a truly enduring classic. West and Ibold might not be the most virtuosic players in the game, but what they lack in chops they more than make up for with style and personality. And, besides, it's not like Pavement was known for the precision of their guitar work. Slightly sloppy is their trademark, and songs like "Stop Breathin'" and "Fillmore Jive" would sound simply wrong if they weren't a little rough around the edges.

Speaking of "Fillmore Jive", one of the finest moments on the entire record is found on that track. It's very interesting that Malkmus offhandedly bids farewell to "the rock and roll era", since, on the one hand, the rock-music-as-massive-cultural-bohemoth thing was certainly fading away (and goodnight, indeed), but at the same time that very song and the album it is a piece of were a part of the vanguard for the new artistic face of rock in which an everyman could be an important factor in the genre, and taking oneself and career too seriously was no longer the norm.

Which leads me to my next (tangential) point: this "interview" with Gene Simmons that is getting circulated over the last few days (can a conversation with one's son in which you spout your opinions be called an interview?) in which he declares rock "dead". His evidence? The fact that he (and, apparently, his son) can't name a band since ~1983 that is "enduring" or something like that. The only name they can come up with is Nirvana. Apparently they never heard of Fugazi, Foo Fighters, Flaming Lips, Pearl Jam, R.E.M., and countless others. Hell, if KISS is considered a legendary band that is "enduring" or whatever, than surely some pompous band like Green Day surely counts as well. Just because you can't be bothered to keep up with culture in the last three decades, Gene, that doesn't mean that rock music is dead. You are just a relic of an old age when making comic books, action figures, and hokey made-for-TV movies was considered a "rock" move, and as Malkmus would say, "they don't need you anymore".

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Josh's Top 25 Bass Players #25 - Rick Danko

As a bass player, I find myself drawn to bands with interesting, talented, and/or notable bassists. When I sit down to listen to a record, more often than not it is the lower register that draws my attention. So, after profiling my favorite albums, album art, and guitarists, I felt it was about time I paid tribute to some of my favorite bassists; people that I have enjoyed to listen to, and who have had an influence on the way I play. People made this list for a variety of reasons. Some it is because of their virtuoso abilities on the instrument, some it is because they take a wholly unique approach, and some it is simply because of intangible charm. I consider each and every one of these people to be great, and compiling and ordering this list was a labor of love that I spent some serious time on.

And with that, we'll start with number 25 . . .

Rick Danko had been playing music for a number of years when circumstance landed him the job as bass player for Ronnie Hawkins. Danko didn't let the fact that he had not played the instrument before get in his way, and he quickly picked it up. The people that would be his bandmates in this group would become his partners for many years to come as they went from backing Hawkins, to backing Bob Dylan, to being a popular group in their own right under the name The Band.

Danko's quirky, charming vocal stylings and stage presence made him endearing, and his bass playing mirrors those traits. He would be rumbling away in the lower register one moment, and then suddenly jump up several octaves immediately demanding attention only to draw back just as quickly, allowing someone else to take the spotlight.

Despite being in one of the most successful rock bands of the 1970's, Rick Danko maintained his cool, down-to-earth, "aw shucks" demeanor for all of his life, which was tragically cut short by a heart attack in 1999.

Here he is playing and singing his song "Stage Fright" from the legendary Last Waltz concert:

And this is one of my favorite performances of his where he focuses strictly on bass, Neil Young's "Revolution Blues" from his fantastic On The Beach record. Young and Danko have similar idiosyncrasies to their voicing on their respective instruments, and this collaboration is one of my favorite pairings in rock music from that time period:


Josh's Top 50 Album Covers #1 - Sunny Day Real Estate - "Diary"

When purchasing an album by a band from Seattle on the Sub Pop label in 1994, one would have had some expectations on what that record would sound like. The sludgy, punk-meets-metal sounds of grunge was the signature sound of the city, so Diary was a bit of an anomaly upon its release. The hushed, nearly whispered moments that suddenly burst into urgent, crushing rock all held together by Jeremy Enigk's angelic vocals that vacillate between fragile and furious borrowed more from bands from Washington D.C. (Rites of Spring, Fugazi, etc.) than their Seattle contemporaries. It has gone on to critical acclaim and is often noted as one of the first emo records (though it certainly can't be blamed for what that genre deteriorated into).

The artwork found on the cover of this groundbreaking album was designed by Chris Thompson, who also composed a whole series of pieces that are featured within the packaging:

He was also asked to contribute art when the band released their "comeback" record in 1997:

Each and every one of Thompson's pieces Sunny Day featured within their records is fascinating and powerful, but the one found on the cover of Diary is not only his best, but the finest album cover that I've ever seen.
Cross Buster

Josh's Top 50 Album Covers #2 - Bad Religion - "Suffer"

Suffer is a monumentally influential record, among the most notable of punk rock in the 1980's. Not only did it re-kindle Bad Religion's career (which had been reeling since the release of Into The Unknown), but along with Operation Ivy's Energy, it breathed life back into punk rock, a genre that was fading as its practitioners quit, died, or morphed towards metal. Bad Religion's signature harmony-rich, cerebral hardcore was defined with this album, creating a blueprint that countless bands would emulate (though few could equal) birthing the So Cal punk sound. Green Day, Sublime, and others might have taken the sound to more financial success, but Bad Religion did it first, did it smarter, and did it better.

Bad Religion has always unflinchingly embraced their suburban roots, a fact that might not seem very shocking today, but at the time ran counter to the image that most punk rock had. Hardcore punk, in its early days, was the music of struggle for the youth of larger cities like L.A., Boston, and New York, even though the genre has always attracted those who are outsiders from all areas. The fact that Bad Religion was proud of being well spoken, educated, angry, and isolated men from suburbia revolutionized the face of punk rock and inspired armies of young Americans to pick up instruments, start bands, and create scenes in their hometown, no matter the size.

Jerry Mahoney's striking artwork encapsulates the energy and rage of the music of Suffer as well as all the intangibles that the band brings to the table, including their suburban roots. Many bands have indicated that this cover was inspirational to them, most notably NoFX who parodied it on an E.P.

Josh's Top 50 Album Covers #3 - Smashing Pumpkins - "Siamese Dream"

Aside from being my favorite album and being critically hailed as easily one of the best albums of the 1990's, Siamese Dream boasts what I think is simply the best cover art of any major-label album.

There was an entire photo shoot done of these two young ladies dressed like fairies which yielded some pretty amazing shots, but this one is the obvious choice for the album cover. One of the predominant themes of the album is a wistful longing for days gone by when things were happier and simpler, making the old photos on which the lyrics are presented in the booklet fitting, and the vintage-looking image on the cover particularly perfect. "Mother weep the years I'm missing, all our time can't be given back" Billy Corgan sings in "Mayonaise", a lyric that neatly sums up the mood of all of Siamese Dream.

Recently, this cover art was brought back to the public's attention when the current bass player for the Smashing Pumpkins, Nicole Fiorentino, claimed to be one of the young ladies in the shot. After a bit of research, however, it was discovered that this wasn't true.

Josh's Top 50 Album Covers #4 - Bad Brains - "Bad Brains" A.K.A. "The ROIR Cassette"

Bad Brains' self-titled debut is arguably the most important hardcore punk release of all times. Initially a cassette-only album, it has since been reissued on CD, vinyl, and digital formats and has been hailed critically as the enduring, influential, powerful work it is. The seemingly disparate genres of hardcore punk and reggae that the 'Brains introduced on this album would not only serve as a template for the rest of their own recording career, but would inspire some punk artists to blend ska and reggae with punk and some other musicians to explore extreme dynamic differences within their compositions.

The fantastic, legendary cover art (designed by David Lee Pearsons) is one of the most immediately identifiable images in rock history. The Bad Brains had originally hailed from Washington D.C. and had been such an explosive force there, and their shows so famously chaotic, that they were literally banned from playing in basically every venue for live music in the city (which inspired this song from the album) forcing them in effect to another town to continue as a band. This is how they ended up in NYC where they recorded these tracks. But the songs, their spirit, and their lasting legacy is firmly rooted in the Washington D.C. hardcore punk scene (which the Bad Brains more or less invented and influenced). With this in mind, a lightning bolt striking one of the best known buildings in D.C. is a fitting depiction of their time there.

Josh's Top 50 Album Covers #5 - Pink Floyd - "Wish You Were Here"

Pink Floyd's ninth record is a themed album of sorts, held together by criticisms of the music industry, duplicitous record label executives, and the impact this awful machine can have on performers. The seeds of this concept were the band's own experience, and specifically original songwriter / lead singer Syd Barrett whose psychological deterioration since leaving the band served as the inspiration for "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" an epic that was split into two and placed at the beginning and end of the album.

When developing the visual concept for Wish You Were Here, the band wanted to feature handshakes, the symbolic means of sealing deals. The cover photo of two men in business suits (one of whom is quite literally getting "burned" in the deal) was taken in a lot at the Warner Brothers movie studio. The original LPs hid this art behind an opaque outer cellophane wrap emblazoned with a sticker depicting two robotic hands embraced in that symbolic means of agreement.

I grew up listening to Pink Floyd as my father was a huge fan, and Wish You Were Here has always ranked amongst my favorites of theirs. In addition to amazing music, each of Pink Floyd's releases has amazing visual design, but there is no question that on this album Pink Floyd reached a creative zenith.

Josh's Top 50 Album Covers #6 - Phish - "Rift"

Phish's fourth studio album is a loose concept album about a person in the midst of relationship problems trying to sleep and getting haunted by dreams. For a recording by a band that is not particularly revered for their studio output, it is surprisingly focused and accessible making it easily their best studio album.

The artwork (created by David Welker) depicts the sleeper in the midst of his fitful slumber. Not only is it a beautifully crafted picture, but when seen in it's entirety (the front cover and back cover together), every song on the album (save one) is represented.

Some of them are more immediately obvious (it's hard to miss the maze under the bed for "Maze" or the fact that the sleeper is laying diagonal in his bed like in the song "Lengthwise") and some less so (the ice skater to represent the song "It's Ice" is seen in the reflection of the mirror off to the right) but each and every song, with the exception of "The Horse", is accounted for in one manner or another. The band would correct the omission of "The Horse" on the cover of their next album, Hoist.

Josh's Top 50 Album Covers #7 - Rollins Band - "Life Time"

By the time Life Time (the first album under the Rollins Band banner) arrived, Henry had already released one full length and an E.P. with guitarist Chris Haskett which quelled any concern people might have had about his ability to thrive without (Black Flag guitarist) Greg Ginn. Haskett cut his teeth playing in Ginn's instrumental project Gone where he clearly learned a thing or two about atonal, jazz-influenced rock which he used as a foundation to add his own blues, funk, and soul influences. His abilities and creativity were at least the equal of his mentor, if not slightly stronger.

The arrival of bassist Andrew Weiss and drummer Sim Cain helped to add focus to Haskett and Rollins vision. With a rock solid, crushing rhythm section, Haskett's stellar fretwork and Hank's legendary vocals, the Rollins Band had arrived with Life Time. Stylistically, it is not a huge step away from the later Black Flag records or Hot Animal Machine, though Ian MacKaye's production lends the set a bit more muscle then it's predecessors. It wouldn't be until the next time the Rollins Band headed into the studio that hints of the dynamic funk they would gain (comparative) fame with would appear; this time around aggressive, barely contained blasts of post-hardcore rock are on the menu, and what a feast it is.

The artwork (care of Stephen Meyers) is direct and to the point, intense and unrelenting with no frills. A fitting tone for Life Time, to be sure. The band would continue with album art very similar to this (completely black and white with the same lettering for the text) for their next few releases, until The End Of Silence broke the mold for the Rollins Band, in more ways than one.

Josh's Top 50 Album Covers #8 - Depeche Mode - "A Broken Frame"

Depeche Mode is one of those bands with a huge, varied catalog that I genuinely enjoy more or less every phase they've gone through. There is, however, something about their first few records that I find particularly charming. There is no questioning the fact that their approach to electronic music not only revolutionized the way it was played, but brought its commercial potential from being a cult genre to a massive movement. They literally influenced nearly every pop act for the entire 1980's.

The artwork found on the cover of these early LPs is invariably striking, and A Broken Frame stands out as my favorite. The stark difference in colors between the stormy sky, the grain, and the woman's clothing combined with the variety of texture in each of those elements is slightly beyond my ability to describe analytically, but I know that it truly moves me. These aspects are augmented by the fact that the music found within the album was, at the time, the most technologically advanced possible while the artwork portrays an antiquated method of harvesting grain, and also the fact that the task the woman is undertaking seems insurmountable (all that grain by hand?), and yet she continues undeterred. This is truly a powerful image.