Songs that made me Zombie, Part 3.

Craig Finn hits the nail on the head:

I guess you’re old enough to know.
Kids out on the east coast.
Roughly twenty years old.
Got coaxed out by a certain perfect ratio.
Of warm beer to the summer smoke.
And the meat loaf to the billy joel.
Certain songs they get so scratched into our souls.

She goes low on the seats when she gets high in her car.
She looks shallow but shes neck deep in the steamy dreams of the guys along the harbor bars.
She’s pulling out her shirttails and jacking up her socks.
Stern and stoned and confident, coming up towards the jukebox.
Born into the only songs that everybody finally sings along.
B-1 is for the good girls.
It’s only the good die young.
C-9 is for the making eyes.
It’s paradise by the dashboard light.
D4 is for the lovers.
B12 is for the speeders.
And the hard drugs are for the bartenders and the kitchen workers and the bartender’s friends.
And they’re playing it again.
Ellen Foley gives us hope.
Certain songs they get scratched into our souls.

– [ ] 11 Babe, Styx

Wait, wait, hear me out.  This will make sense, believe me.  This is an odd one out.  This is a song that I LOATHE; but that intense burning hatred is no less formative than the love I have for the other songs in this list.

FWIW, Styx is the first real rock concert I ever went to.  A couple of years after seeing them, they released the follow up album, Cornerstone, which contains this hairball.

The treacly electronic piano, the smarmy lyrics and unctuous delivery; it’s the epitome of Dennis DeYoung’s vision of a rock band crossover MOR ‘hit’.  His leather-lunged proto-Kenny G delivery is awful.   I don’t blame the rest of the band for kicking him out.

Of course it was a hit, and was omnipresent.  You couldn’t listen to the radio without hearing this tripe.  It still forms a blueprint for soft-rock hits, and that keyboard sound still makes me retch.  It formed the basis of a hatred that endures to this day, and is probably a significant reason I have little tolerance for mellow music.

At least Styx has stopped playing the song.  No, I’m not linking to it.

There was a time MTV played music videos.  It’s True!

And this video was one of the first ones I ever saw.  You see, MTV took the music industry unawares, which is little surprising.  Clueless twits.  But like the 24 hour news channel, programming 24 hours of music presented a need for videos.  Lots of them.  And American music weasels were preoccupied with pushing playlists onto radio.  However, the British music labels had been making cheap promotional videos for all the new wave bands to play on the variety shows and in the nightclubs, so MTV used them, providing a huge boost to the newer sounds.

Among all the sideways haircuts and cheesy synths, The English Beat was part of the Two-Tone ska revival, melding reggae with pop songcraft and enjoying popularity in England.  Much less so here, but among a certain group of people, the ska bands were massively popular, and I was one of those people.

The Beat, and ska music, helped to articulate some of those youthful feelings of optimism and equality, and still provides part of the soundtrack of my days.  A few months back, I wrote this post about the English Beat playing in town, and talked a bit about those days; and how the Beat, even down to one original member, could still bring back those feelings.  That, my friends, is magical to me.

This may seem an anomaly among the other songs; I was turned on to this British band by a friend I worked with in high school.  I was attracted by the sardonic humor, the sophisticated popcraft, and the kitchen-sink approach to musicianship.

This, along with their singles, is one of their songs that tends toward straightforwardness. Although the lyrics are funny.

In this song, and others by this band, it started to become apparent how music could be less serious affair, setting the stage for other punk bands and, of course, Free Hot Lunch. We’ll get to them presently, o yes we will.

In the eighties, Minneapolis became a hotbed of music.  Prince, of course, but there was also a thriving punk scene centered in the industrial district.  Playing mostly for themselves and a small circle of friends, alternative rock developed out of these hardcore bands, groups like the Replacements, Husker Du, and Soul Asylum.

This song is from their first major label release, Hang Time. While the label support allowed them a major producer, it seemed the label otherwise kept their hands off. Maybe they were hoping the band would flop; you might think that, if you knew that the major label was A&M, Herb Alpert’s label, and that the band’s previous EP cover was a parody of a cover of a Herb Alpert album.

Did it almost make you feel

that something’s got to happen soon,

when you wake up feeling lost in your own room.

If you’re crying in your beer you’re gonna drown,

if you think we’ll rise above,you’d better look around,

you’ll see.

It’s a mountain made of sand crumbling under me.

Soul Asylum is the only one of these bands still together (although Murphy has retired, leaving Pirner the only original member). Heroin and success broke the other bands up, and their bright flares of youthful energy gave way to experience and competence.In fact, SA didn’t cope so well with success, either.  Dave Pirner had a tabloid relationship with Winona Ryder, their subsequent albums did not fare well with the critics or the fans.  They went on an indefinite hiatus, Pirner living in New York while Dan Murphy stayed in Minneapolis.  But after Pirner moved to New Orleans, he found a new vitality in the music scene (as well as an amazing drummer, and they got back together to release The Silver Lining, a great album.

Maybe I’m chasing shadows on the wall,

they loom so large,but make me feel so small so hard,when you’re chasing your own tail spinning your own wheels.And a time to leave,and a time to stay,I guess the things I look away.Did it almost make you feel that somethings gotta happen soon.You’re in the movies now and I’m in your cartoon.

Murphy and Pirner sing together like drunken angels recovering from a weekend bender.  This song is a propulsive blast, featuring them singing together almost all the way through.  I can almost never resist the urge to turn this one up and sing along.  It also features one of my favorite lyrics ever:

There’s a ringing in my ears that’s heaven sent.
There’s a beast out on the ruins,
some broken down lover’s lament.
It goes on and on but it won’t go away.

I’ve seen the band several times, both before and after the big hit, and they never fail to deliver. Saw them once in MPLS at First Avenue, The Figgs opening.   They almost never fail to play this song also.

    – [ ] 15 London Calling, The Clash

    This album came out at the end of my high school tenure, and I was starting to explore some more diverse music, something other than Boston and Foreigner.  My friends were no longer willing to let me pick music, for the most part, because I tended to play more New Wave than they were comfortable with.

    I bought this album…. well, I don’t even remember exactly how I ended up buying it.  They certainly weren’t being played on the local radio.  I’d guess that I read about the Clash in Rolling Stone or something…. and the Clash insisted on selling this double album at a regular album price.  It seemed like a worthwhile gamble.

    Boy, was it.  From the moment the fire alarm urgency  of London Calling came out of my speakers through four sides of short, urgent songs and ending with Train in Vain, a nearly pop gem that should have been a massive hit;  I was entranced.  I had never heard anything that sounded like this.  Four English blokes reached down into my brain from half a world away and rewired what I thought music should be, and what it should sound like.

    I played it for my friends, and they hated it.  I didn’t care, and soon I moved out into a larger world, a noisier world, and this album has come along with me.

    Damn, I miss Joe.

    I was crawling around in my head in the haze of a trance.
    Till Rico said, “I’ma turn you onto a sound, cool out your head.
    And this is the sound from Camden town.”

    And then I heard it like a shot through my skull to my brain,
    I felt my fingertips tingle and it started to rain,
    When the walls of my bedroom were tremblin’ around me,
    This ramshackle voice over attack of a bluebeat,
    And tellin’ me he’s only looking for fun.
    And this was the sound of the very last gang in town.

    As heard by my wild young heart, like directions on a cold dark night,
    Sayin’, ‘Let it out, let it out, let it out… You’re doin’ all right.’
    And I heard it in his chain gang soul.
    And it wasn’t just the same sad song.
    Saying, ‘Let it out, let it out, let it out you’re doing all right.’
    And you’re doing all right, are you doin’ all right?

    And I carried these songs like a comfort wherever I’d go.
    They was there when my summers was high, there when she left me alone.
    Saying… ‘The soul is hard to find.’

    And I never got to tell him so I just wrote it down,
    I wrapped a couple chords around it and I let it come out,
    When the walls of my bedroom trembled around me,
    This ramshackle voice over attack of a bluebeat,
    And a girl, on the excitement gang.
    And this was the sound of the very last gang in town.

    That was the sound…
    Do you hear the sound…
    I hear the sound…
    Of the very last gang in town…


11 responses to “Songs that made me Zombie, Part 3.

  • paleotectonics

    Among all the sideways haircuts and cheesy synths, The English Beat was part of the Two-Tone ska revival… …here, but among a certain group of people, the ska bands were massively popular, and I was one of those people.
    I got into Madness, starting because of The Young Ones, but given my usual preference for fast and crunchy, I headed toward skapunk and skater stuff (not a skater myself, though – D&D/band nerd.)

    10CC – In Scotland in 1989-90, they were a healthy presence on bar jukeboxes. Also where paleo acquired a taste for scotch (wasn’t difficult, you could say I took to it like a duck to scotch.)

    List very much so good so far. Fail us not now.

  • Zelmo

    I love the “Songs That Made Me Zombie” series. Part confessional, part autobiography, and 100% ode to great music (including Styx!), I will read this every time you post it.

    • zombie rotten mcdonald

      well, I don’t recycle too much, but the subject came up in another discussion and since I am trying to increase the content here in advance of the Gig of Big, I thought it made a decent fit, so copy and paste it is!

      …wait. what do you mean ‘confessional’? Confession implies wrongdoing!

  • Zelmo

    If enjoying the musical stylings of Styx isn’t wrongdoing, then I don’t know what is.

  • zombie rotten mcdonald

    still not sure. Are you saying that enjoying Styx is WRONG?

    Given what I know of you, that seems out of character…

  • Zelmo

    How can it be wrong when it feels so right? I am an unabashed lover of all things Styx.

    However, in your case, attending a Styx concert would definitely be considered “wrongdoing”, and I was unaware that you had until you confessed it just now.

    I see you in a whole new light. It appears that there is a chance to reawaken your dark side and nurture your latent love of cheesy 70’s arena rock. To the Classic Rock Stage!!

    • zombie rotten mcdonald

      In Zombieland, there is no such thing as a Guilty Pleasure. Regardless of your jealous attempts to make me feel remorse, that was the Pieces of Eight tour, and they rocked like motherfuckers.

      But that show still falls far short of making this list. I don’t even know what we’re arguing about.

      • zombie rotten mcdonald

        In any case, Zelmo, ya gonna have to click the “Notify Me” buttons down below so’s you get yourself notified when there are new posts and new comments. Gonna be hard to keep up with the Gig otherwise!

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