Sunday, April 10, 2016

Ultimate Playlists 10: Pink Floyd


Have you ever been to a concert and wished the band had played certain songs? I know I have. The reality is, you'll never get exactly what you want. However, you are free to build any playlist you like. I have decided to write a series showcasing the Top 20 songs from some of my favorite bands.

For those of you who are old enough to remember cassette tapes, you'll know the terrible anguish of trying to fit the songs together. How annoying when the last song you picked was still playing as the tape ran out! Those days are over and it's now a simple task to throw together a playlist using your computer, iPod or a USB. I know that having USB capability has enhanced my driving pleasure because it's so easy to update a list of songs.

But there's also more to creating a playlist than simply deciding which songs to include. Like an actual concert, or even a single song, a good playlist features changes in mood and tempo. If a band opens with the three songs that the audience most wants to hear, the rest of the performance might fall flat. My own particular method of creating a playlist has a number of considerations:

  • Mix up the duration of the songs
  • Put space between songs from the same album, unless the two are better when played in sequence
  • Build to a natural high, slow it down again, and finish with a real flourish
  • Put in some newer songs close to the start, assuming there are newer songs worthy of inclusion
  • For bands with more than one vocalist, mix up the sequence depending on who is singing
  • Speed and style matters, so mix it up unless there is a good reason not to
  • Albums often have a great choice of opening and closing song that work best in that particular spot 
  • The final three or four songs might resemble an encore if it was a real concert
  • Leave the listener satisfied and wanting more

This is a tough playlist to write if I stick to the rules and choose 20 songs. In reality, the 20 I will choose are too long for a conventional playlist. Also, more than any other band in this series, certain songs belong next to one another and it sounds wrong if you mess with that natural flow.

Pink Floyd were my favorite band for a brief period at the end of the 1970s. I owned all of their releases on vinyl, up to and including The Final Cut. However, it was around that time that my tastes shifted from classic rock to alternative, indie and punk. I distinctly remember playing Animals every day for a month when I bought it on cassette. It was almost a ritual.

Unlike most Pink Floyd fans, I do not have much affection for The Wall. I find it dark, disjointed and extremely hard to listen to. I'm always puzzled that it has proved to be so popular among fans. Another difference between me and the majority of people is that I rank Animals clearly above anything else the band ever produced. The majority of Pink Floyd's albums are pleasant and easy to listen to, but Animals has a harder edge. That edge was completely gone when Roger Waters left the band after The Final Cut, although I do like a couple of the releases after his departure.

For me, there are three distinct phases in Pink Floyd's history; With Syd Barrett in the band in the 1960s, the sound was psychedelic at times and also had an innocence and naïveté. Barrett was a free spirit, way ahead of his time. Then came what I think of as the classic lineup, with Barrett gone and Waters and Gilmour at the heart of the band's sound. Finally, the third phase after Waters departed.

I only saw Pink Floyd in concert twice and that was on the 1994 Division Bell tour. I've also seen Roger Waters three or four times. Although Pink Floyd had long since been overtaken as my favorite band by 1994, the experience of seeing them in concert was incredible. The lasers and film played throughout the show made it the kind of spectacle that I had never witnessed at a concert. That said, the band played the music so close to the recorded version that something was missing. It was almost too clean and made me feel that there was a lack of real passion in the music. The presence of 15 or 20 musicians on stage also felt wrong.

Pink Floyd will always evoke memories for me. I remember my grandfather accepting that the band actually had some talent, and that was a rarity for him. I sat next to a Floyd fan in Art class in my last two years of school. I remember the concerts and even a couple of Australian Pink Floyd shows that I went to both alone and then with my family. I remember holding those vinyl albums and admiring Storm Thorgerson's artwork.

Anyway, let's get to the 20 songs that I have chosen. As always, there is a YouTube playlist featuring all of the songs:

Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts I-V)
High Hopes
Money
Learning to Fly
Wish You Were Here
Dogs
Breathe
Hey You
Sorrow
Poles Apart

Us and Them
Pigs (Three Different Ones)
Echoes
The Great Gig in the Sky
Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts VI-IX)
Time
Sheep
Comfortably Numb
Brain Damage
Eclipse


 

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Ultimate Playlists 9: The Fall

     Image from TheGuardian.com

Have you ever been to a concert and wished the band had played certain songs? I know I have. The reality is, you'll never get exactly what you want. However, you are free to build any playlist you like. I have decided to write a series showcasing the Top 20 songs from some of my favorite bands.

For those of you who are old enough to remember cassette tapes, you'll know the terrible anguish of trying to fit the songs together. How annoying when the last song you picked was still playing as the tape ran out! Those days are over and it's now a simple task to throw together a playlist using your computer, iPod or a USB. I know that having USB capability has enhanced my driving pleasure because it's so easy to update a list of songs.

But there's also more to creating a playlist than simply deciding which songs to include. Like an actual concert, or even a single song, a good playlist features changes in mood and tempo. If a band opens with the three songs that the audience most wants to hear, the rest of the performance might fall flat. My own particular method of creating a playlist has a number of considerations:

  • Mix up the duration of the songs
  • Put space between songs from the same album, unless the two are better when played in sequence
  • Build to a natural high, slow it down again, and finish with a real flourish
  • Put in some newer songs close to the start, assuming there are newer songs worthy of inclusion
  • For bands with more than one vocalist, mix up the sequence depending on who is singing
  • Speed and style matters, so mix it up unless there is a good reason not to
  • Albums often have a great choice of opening and closing song that work best in that particular spot 
  • The final three or four songs might resemble an encore if it was a real concert
  • Leave the listener satisfied and wanting more 

Being obsessed with your favorite band is a little bit like being in love; you can see most of the flaws, but you start to see those idiosyncracies as reasons why you love that particular person. You might find yourself smiling when you notice them. I'm not saying that I was ever in love with Mark E. Smith, but The Fall hold a special place in my heart.


For one thing, the first concert I ever attended featured The Fall. The difference between hearing recorded music and feeling it vibrate through you at a live show is huge, so I'll never forget that musical awakening. I've been to hundreds of concerts over the years, but I've seen The Fall around 30 times; more than any other band. Between 1980 and 1992, I would have argued that they were the most important band on the planet. No band has ever been my absolute favorite for a longer period of time. The friends I saw most of those shows with were, and still are, very important to me. And, of course, The Fall were John Peel's favorite band and Peel was someone that I cared deeply about.

According to Wikipedia, The Fall have released 30 studio albums, 32 live albums, 5 albums that are a mix of live and studio songs, 40 compilations, 13 EPs and 46 singles. I'm not going to count, but that sounds close. The introduction of the CD format dramatically increased the running time of albums I had previously owned on vinyl. Some of the songs from this playlist were not available on the original albums.

My introduction to the band came courtesy of the John Peel show. The love affair began slowly and it took me a while to fully absorb Smith's shouts, shrieks and pterodactyl cackles as something I wanted to listen to. There's no question that Smith's unique vocals are what define the band's sound even now, but the songs that I care about the most only reached those heights because of the incredible rhythm section. 

Smith changes musicians like women change shoes, but for the duration of my obsession, a core group was present, like a favorite pair of sneakers that are too comfortable to part with. Stephen Hanley's bass was a huge part of the sound; Marc Riley, Craig Scanlon and Martin Bramah also helped define that classic guitar sound, while Karl Burns, Paul Hanley and (later) Simon Wolstencroft often provided the band with two drummers during concerts. The combination of those band members gave Smith an incredible platform from which to bellow or mumble his drunken vocals.

I consider Cerebral Caustic (1995) the last great Fall album. After Levitate (1997), Smith eventually fired the band and rebuilt it with new personnel, except for Julia Nagle (keyboards). My love affair was over. Many will argue that The Fall are still producing great music, but something died for me when that incredible engine room was removed from the equation. That will help explain my upcoming choices.

Before I reveal my final 20 songs for the playlist, I want to emphasize how difficult it was to cut so many great songs. For almost 20 years, The Fall produced important music filled with energy and venom. The ever-changing lineup always managed to sound tight. The only real wildcard was Smith's vocals. If you think his lyrics are hard to make out, try listening to him speak!

My favorite Fall album is definitely Grotesque. Almost every song from it just missed my final list, but I think of it as the best example of The Fall's definitive sound. It includes short rants, meandering rants, great riffs, a couple of compelling stories and a lot of humor. Smith's dark sense of humor is present in the lyrics on every album. If you have never heard the band before, you might wonder why Smith ends every line with -ah. I don't have a clue, but you have to admit that his vocals are distinctive. This is a band that probably won't appeal to new listeners on just one playing. The songs are often repetitive and gradually burrow their way into your brain. If you give the music a chance, you might start to go through some of the things I first felt more than 30 years ago.

So here it is. The result of the almost impossible task to reduce The Fall's output to their 20 best songs. As usual, my YouTube playlist is available:

Lay of the Land
The Man Whose Head Expanded
Kicker Conspiracy
Eat Y'Self Fitter
Lie Dream of a Casino Soul
Guest Informant
I'm Into C.B.
Prole Art Threat
Totally Wired
Athlete Cured
How I Wrote Elastic Man
No Xmas for John Quays
The Classical
Dead Beat Descendant
Hey Student
Cruiser's Creek
New Face in Hell
Paranoid Man in Cheap Shit Room
Free Range
Bremen Nacht (Alternative)


 

Friday, March 25, 2016

Ultimate Playlists 8: David Bowie


Image from TheSource.com

Have you ever been to a concert and wished the band had played certain songs? I know I have. The reality is, you'll never get exactly what you want. However, you are free to build any playlist you like. I have decided to write a series showcasing the Top 20 songs from some of my favorite bands.

For those of you who are old enough to remember cassette tapes, you'll know the terrible anguish of trying to fit the songs together. How annoying when the last song you picked was still playing as the tape ran out! Those days are over and it's now a simple task to throw together a playlist using your computer, iPod or a USB. I know that having USB capability has enhanced my driving pleasure because it's so easy to update a list of songs.

But there's also more to creating a playlist than simply deciding which songs to include. Like an actual concert, or even a single song, a good playlist features changes in mood and tempo. If a band opens with the three songs that the audience most wants to hear, the rest of the performance might fall flat. My own particular method of creating a playlist has a number of considerations:

  • Mix up the duration of the songs
  • Put space between songs from the same album, unless the two are better when played in sequence
  • Build to a natural high, slow it down again, and finish with a real flourish
  • Put in some newer songs close to the start, assuming there are newer songs worthy of inclusion
  • For bands with more than one vocalist, mix up the sequence depending on who is singing
  • Speed and style matters, so mix it up unless there is a good reason not to
  • Albums often have a great choice of opening and closing song that work best in that particular spot 
  • The final three or four songs might resemble an encore if it was a real concert
  • Leave the listener satisfied and wanting more 

Has there ever been a musician that has changed identity more often or more successfully than David Bowie? Instead of my usual concert photo, I've borrowed the above album collage from TheSource.com to illustrate those many phases. Even if you are not a fan, you have to admit that it's pretty cool. Bowie remained original up to and including his final album release.

I was wary of featuring David Bowie in this Ultimate Playlist series because of the flood of material that appeared following his death in January. However, he has impacted my life in a lot of ways and I didn't want to omit him.

When I was a kid, with my musical tastes dominated by glam, novelty records, and all manner of embarrassing things, Bowie's music captured my attention like nothing ever had. Hey, I was 12 or 13, so give me a break! I remember playing Hunky Dory and Aladdin Sane at my neighbor's house after buying them from a store my grandfather ran. I credit Bowie with being the first 'proper' artist I ever became obsessed with.

My grandmother was curious about my obsession and made an attempt to understand it. I have fond memories of her reading the lyrics to Hunky Dory. I have a sneaking suspicion that she imagined that Kooks could have been written about her and my grandfather.

I distinctly remember anticipating the release of Low. It was the first time I was ahead of the curve and not just reacting to existing music. When it finally arrived, I wondered why Bowie had included so many instrumental synthesizer tracks on the second side - a trend that continued with the release of Heroes - but I adjusted and regard those albums as two of his best releases.

I had a lot of trouble choosing just 20 songs for this list. Part of me wanted to showcase tracks that might have been overlooked by the casual fan. For example, I was desperate to include Cygnet Committee, but I couldn't leave out any of my final 20. Soul Love was another hard one to cut, perhaps because of my grandmother. So I have decided to list the 17 songs that just failed to make the cut. Here they are, in alphabetical order: 

Beauty and the Beast
Breaking Glass
Candidate
Cygnet Committee
Drive-In Saturday
Fantastic Voyage
Golden Years
Hallo Spaceboy
I'm Deranged
Joe the Lion
Red Sails
Running Gun Blues
Sorrow
Soul Love
Starman
Watch That Man
Ziggy Stardust

I am sure that there will be many readers who will look at the above list and at my final 20 and think that I have omitted some of the best songs Bowie ever produced. That's how strong his catalogue is. But I hope that you will at least respect my choices, even if you are outraged at some of the omissions.

As for favorite albums, I would mention The Man Who Sold the World, Heroes, Hunky Dory, Low and Outside. That's not to say that most of the others don't contain songs that you simply need to hear. I'm sure a lot of fans would put Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane close to the top of their list, while others would choose Let's Dance or Young Americans. My closest friend would probably ask me where the hell Earthling was and why I haven't included anything from that. One of the biggest surprises I had regarding Bowie was listening to Outside. It was such an unexpected return to the sound I adored, but also updated in a weird and wonderful kind of way. I must have seen 10 concerts on that tour.

Anyway, before I completely lose your interest, here is my Ultimate Playlist for Mr. David Bowie, along with a link to my YouTube playlist:

Sons of the Silent Age
Diamond Dogs
All the Madmen
Sound and Vision
Space Oddity
Panic in Detroit
Five Years
The Man Who Sold the World
Rebel Rebel
Always Crashing in the Same Car
Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed
Queen Bitch
Blackout
The Heart's Filthy Lesson
Ashes to Ashes
The Jean Genie
Changes
The Width of a Circle
Heroes
Life on Mars 


Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Ultimate Playlists 7: Television


Have you ever been to a concert and wished the band had played certain songs? I know I have. The reality is, you'll never get exactly what you want. However, you are free to build any playlist you like. I have decided to write a series showcasing the Top 20 songs from some of my favorite bands.

For those of you who are old enough to remember cassette tapes, you'll know the terrible anguish of trying to fit the songs together. How annoying when the last song you picked was still playing as the tape ran out! Those days are over and it's now a simple task to throw together a playlist using your computer, iPod or a USB. I know that having USB capability has enhanced my driving pleasure because it's so easy to update a list of songs.

But there's also more to creating a playlist than simply deciding which songs to include. Like an actual concert, or even a single song, a good playlist features changes in mood and tempo. If a band opens with the three songs that the audience most wants to hear, the rest of the performance might fall flat. My own particular method of creating a playlist has a number of considerations:


  • Mix up the duration of the songs
  • Put space between songs from the same album, unless the two are better when played in sequence
  • Build to a natural high, slow it down again, and finish with a real flourish
  • Put in some newer songs close to the start, assuming there are newer songs worthy of inclusion
  • For bands with more than one vocalist, mix up the sequence depending on who is singing
  • Speed and style matters, so mix it up unless there is a good reason not to
  • Albums often have a great choice of opening and closing song that work best in that particular spot 
  • The final three or four songs might resemble an encore if it was a real concert
  • Leave the listener satisfied and wanting more 

Television were responsible for the best album of the seventies and most of the planet doesn't have a clue what their music sounds like. That's why I am featuring the band in this series, despite the fact that they only released three studio albums. Even though there aren't many songs to choose from, this music is too important to be ignored. If just one person checks out the music and becomes a new fan, the effort will have been worth it.

So why is Television's music so fantastic?

Marquee Moon is the album I was referring to earlier. If you play it from start to finish, you'll hear things that are nothing like you have ever heard before. The title track is the highlight and has claims to being the best song ever made; well, the best song not by Modest Mouse at the very least. For the better part of 11 minutes, Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd weave together their intricate guitar parts until they become one. The song is both cool and magnificent, soaring to an unbelievable climax. The rest of the album isn't far behind.

Television's guitar sound is unique. They unfairly get labelled as punk when this sound is so much more. That's probably because they were part of the CBGB scene with The Ramones, Talking Heads, Blondie and similar bands. I've only had the pleasure of seeing Television play on five or six occasions, including the most recent lineup with Jimmy Rip instead of Richard Lloyd. They are probably better now than when they were young men forty years ago. If you somehow get the chance to see them live, you have to take it.

Billy Ficca is one hell of a drummer and Fred Smith's bass is a vital part of the overall sound. If you like alternative rock at all, you'll almost certainly love Television if you are not already a fan. For fans of traditional rock, there's a danger that Verlaine's reedy vocals will be too unusual for you to accept. But if you're a fan of David Byrne, you'll have no trouble.

I would have to say that Television's Live at the Old Waldorf is the best live album ever released. It makes great songs even better. The 1978 show was released on CD in 2003, but was limited to 5,000 copies. There was also a Record Day vinyl release of 3,000 copies in 2011.

Adventure was the follow up to Marquee Moon, but was not as well received. The only other studio album, Television, was released in 1992. It's almost unfair that these other albums were dismissed because they were compared to the masterful debut. The truth is that many of the songs from Adventure and Television come to life when played live.

I hope you'll give these 20 songs a chance if you have never heard them. As usual the playlist can be found on my YouTube channel. Here is my Ultimate Playlist for Television:

Ain't That Nothin'
Venus
Call Mr. Lee
Friction
The Fire
Little Johnny Jewel
No Glamour for Willi
Elevation
Adventure
Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door
Shane, She Wrote This
The Dream's Dream
Torn Curtain
Glory
Guiding Light
1880 or So
See No Evil
Foxhole
Prove It
Marquee Moon

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Ultimate Playlists 6: Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks


Have you ever been to a concert and wished the band had played certain songs? I know I have. The reality is, you'll never get exactly what you want. However, you are free to build any playlist you like. I have decided to write a series showcasing the Top 20 songs from some of my favorite bands.

For those of you who are old enough to remember cassette tapes, you'll know the terrible anguish of trying to fit the songs together. How annoying when the last song you picked was still playing as the tape ran out! Those days are over and it's now a simple task to throw together a playlist using your computer, iPod or a USB. I know that having USB capability has enhanced my driving pleasure because it's so easy to update a list of songs.

But there's also more to creating a playlist than simply deciding which songs to include. Like an actual concert, or even a single song, a good playlist features changes in mood and tempo. If a band opens with the three songs that the audience most wants to hear, the rest of the performance might fall flat. My own particular method of creating a playlist has a number of considerations:

  • Mix up the duration of the songs
  • Put space between songs from the same album, unless the two are better when played in sequence
  • Build to a natural high, slow it down again, and finish with a real flourish
  • Put in some newer songs close to the start, assuming there are newer songs worthy of inclusion
  • For bands with more than one vocalist, mix up the sequence depending on who is singing
  • Speed and style matters, so mix it up unless there is a good reason not to
  • Albums often have a great choice of opening and closing song that work best in that particular spot 
  • The final three or four songs might resemble an encore if it was a real concert
  • Leave the listener satisfied and wanting more 

The first post-Pavement Stephen Malkmus album grabbed my attention from the start, but I lost my way for a while after that. Pig Lib and Face the Truth seemed decent enough, but I set them aside for years. Then came the release of Real Emotional Trash and everything changed. The band toured with Janet Weiss on drums and I found myself seeking out the earlier albums and enjoying the concerts more than ever before. Mirror Traffic and Wig Out at Jagbags contain plenty of great songs too, so I finally realized something that should have been obvious:

Stephen Malkmus writes brilliant songs.

The lyrics are full of humor. His quirky delivery is unmistakable and isn't dramatically different from his days with Pavement. Here's the shocking thing though; as much as I adore Pavement, I listen to the Jicks more often. There isn't a song that I want to skip. So on the rare days that I am not listening to Modest Mouse, it's the Jicks that are most likely to be my fall back option.

Figuring out which songs to include in the final 20 for this playlist was far from easy. I found myself agonizing over which favorites to cut. Just listen to Malkmus play the guitar and you'll hear how distinctive his style is. The vocals may put off some, but I love his delivery. If you like alternative rock and guitar-driven songs, there's plenty to like here. If you're a fan of clever lyrics that make you smile, there's no shortage of those either.

Without further ado, here is my Jicks playlist which can be found here on my YouTube Channel:

Dragonfly Pie
It Kills
Church on White
Cinnamon and Lesbians
Hopscotch Willie
Stick Figures in Love
1% of One
Post Paint Boy
Black Book
Tigers
Baltimore
Witch Mountain Bridge
Independence Street
Baby C'Mon
Out of Reaches
(Do Not Feed the) Oyster
Discretion Grove
The Janitor Revealed
Senator
Real Emotional Trash




Friday, March 11, 2016

Ultimate Playlists 5: Joy Division


Have you ever been to a concert and wished the band had played certain songs? I know I have. The reality is, you'll never get exactly what you want. However, you are free to build any playlist you like. I have decided to write a series showcasing the Top 20 songs from some of my favorite bands.

For those of you who are old enough to remember cassette tapes, you'll know the terrible anguish of trying to fit the songs together. How annoying when the last song you picked was still playing as the tape ran out! Those days are over and it's now a simple task to throw together a playlist using your computer, iPod or a USB. I know that having USB capability has enhanced my driving pleasure because it's so easy to update a list of songs.

But there's also more to creating a playlist than simply deciding which songs to include. Like an actual concert, or even a single song, a good playlist features changes in mood and tempo. If a band opens with the three songs that the audience most wants to hear, the rest of the performance might fall flat. My own particular method of creating a playlist has a number of considerations:


  • Mix up the duration of the songs
  • Put space between songs from the same album, unless the two are better when played in sequence
  • Build to a natural high, slow it down again, and finish with a real flourish
  • Put in some newer songs close to the start, assuming there are newer songs worthy of inclusion
  • For bands with more than one vocalist, mix up the sequence depending on who is singing
  • Speed and style matters, so mix it up unless there is a good reason not to
  • Albums often have a great choice of opening and closing song that work best in that particular spot 
  • The final three or four songs might resemble an encore if it was a real concert
  • Leave the listener satisfied and wanting more 

Joy Division formed in 1976 as Warsaw, releasing an album of the same name. I considered all of those songs for the purposes of this playlist. The band's sound started as something that wall slot neatly into the punk category, but evolved into a dark and majestic thing that I had never heard before. Interpol did a pretty good job of revisiting that style on their early albums, but I believe Joy Division to be in a league of their own.

Ian Curtis was the lead singer and most of the songs deal with what he was feeling when he was in love with two different women. Other songs touch on such joyous subjects as epilepsy. I know a lot of people who think that Joy Division's music would be a good choice if you were planning on slitting your wrists, but I can't agree. This music just soars, despite the rough edges of Curtis' vocals. Peter Hook's bass is an essential element of the music and some songs feature bass leads. Bernard Sumner (guitar/keyboards) and Stephen Morris (drums) complete the lineup.

For a band named after a Nazi brothel, with a lead singer who committed suicide, I find Joy Division's music surprisingly uplifting. The sounds is so dense and layered. If you check out the excellent movie, Control, you'll almost certainly appreciate the music even more. These songs are about real things that mattered enormously to Curtis.

With just two studio albums (plus Warsaw), compilations and live releases, we were robbed of what was at the time, a unique sound. As with all great artists, I find myself wondering what they would have produced had they been around much longer.

I would urge any fan to go and hear Peter Hook and the Light perform these incredible songs. It's as close as you're going to get to the original sound if you weren't around at the time. I was at an Unknown Pleasures show a few years ago and every hair was standing on end. I'm hoping that Peter Hook will play Closer in Toronto before I die, but I'll be there this November for Substance.

So let's get to the playlist. The order wasn't obvious for this one because with just two studio albums, you'll expect to hear the songs in the order from the album. I've created this with a live show in mind, with the last four tracks being the encore. If you're a fan, I would love to know what you think. Here's my YouTube playlist of these 20 songs.

Dead Souls
Disorder
Isolation
Day of the Lords
Atrocity Exhibition
Novelty
Insight
Colony
She's Lost Control
Heart and Soul
Interzone
Passover
New Dawn Fades
Means To an End
Shadowplay
Decades
Love Will Tear Us Apart
Twenty Four Hours
Transmission
Atmosphere 

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Ultimate Playlists 4: Pixies


Have you ever been to a concert and wished the band had played certain songs? I know I have. The reality is, you'll never get exactly what you want. However, you are free to build any playlist you like. I have decided to write a series showcasing the Top 20 songs from some of my favorite bands.

For those of you who are old enough to remember cassette tapes, you'll know the terrible anguish of trying to fit the songs together. How annoying when the last song you picked was still playing as the tape ran out! Those days are over and it's now a simple task to throw together a playlist using your computer, iPod or a USB. I know that having USB capability has enhanced my driving pleasure because it's so easy to update a list of songs.

But there's also more to creating a playlist than simply deciding which songs to include. Like an actual concert, or even a single song, a good playlist features changes in mood and tempo. If a band opens with the three songs that the audience most wants to hear, the rest of the performance might fall flat. My own particular method of creating a playlist has a number of considerations:

  • Mix up the duration of the songs
  • Put space between songs from the same album, unless the two are better when played in sequence
  • Build to a natural high, slow it down again, and finish with a real flourish
  • Put in some newer songs close to the start, assuming there are newer songs worthy of inclusion
  • For bands with more than one vocalist, mix up the sequence depending on who is singing
  • Speed and style matters, so mix it up unless there is a good reason not to
  • Albums often have a great choice of opening and closing song that work best in that particular spot 
  • The final three or four songs might resemble an encore if it was a real concert
  • Leave the listener satisfied and wanting more 

Pixies formed in 1986 and released four full-length albums, an EP and several singles before breaking up in 1993. In 2004, the band reformed with its original lineup, allowing a new generation of fans to hear the music live. Kurt Cobain once remarked that Nirvana were just ripping off the basic Pixies style.

I remember the band announcing a 2004 UK tour and tickets selling out in 8 minutes. Luckily, I secured mine. 2013 saw a new album, but bassist Kim Deal has since left the band.

Not many bands hook me instantly the first time I hear their music, but Pixies did that to me when I first heard Vamos. I bought everything they had ever released within a few days of that initial exposure.

Choosing 20 songs for this playlist was almost impossible. Even being a strict as I possibly could, I was still struggling to cut the final 11 songs until this morning. In truth, a Pixies playlist would probably contain more songs than just 20, but I'll stick to that format for this series for the sake of consistency.

The band's sound ranges from rant, to pop, to rock, but there is something else, almost beyond description in some of the songs. There is an almost mystical quality that suggests searching for something just beyond reach. I might describe it as atmospheric, but that doesn't do it justice. Many of these songs make my hair stand up on end. The basic structure is so simple, but that doesn't make it any less essential.

Here are the final 20 songs in my preferred order and a YouTube playlist which consists mostly of great live versions of the songs:


Debaser
Where Is My Mind
Is She Weird
Crackity Jones
Cactus
I've Been Tired
Wave of Mutilation
Velouria
Broken Face
No. 13 Baby
Nimrod's Son
Bone Machine
Subbacultcha
Hang Wire
Gigantic
Gouge Away
Monkey Gone to Heaven
The Happening
Tame
Vamos