The Over/Under: Guided By Voices

gbv_5301Our friend Roob (you’d know him if you saw him) convinced us that he’s the foremost authority on Guided By Voices. (He claims to possess 257 GBV bootlegs, which is probably 256 more than Bob Pollard owns.) Somehow, that qualifies him to make the following list of the five most overrated and five most underrated GBV songs.

:: The Five Most Overrated Guided By Voices Songs
1. “Hot Freaks” (1994)
This is a novelty song jutting out awkwardly from the middle of the greatest record ever made. “She told me liquor.” Ha ha, get it? Liquor? Lick her? Think about the songs surrounding “Hot Freaks” on side one of Bee Thousand. “Hardcore UFOs,” “Buzzards And Dreadful Crows,” “Tractor Rape Chain” and “Goldheart Mountaintop Queen Directory” precede it, and “Smothered In Hugs,” “Yours To Keep” and “Echos Myron” follow it. What’s wrong with this picture? People who don’t really get what GBV was about love “Hot Freaks.”

2. “Bulldog Skin” (1997)
Mag Earwhig! was the one record between Tobin Sprout-era GBV and nu-GBV, and it actually has some great stuff on it. The problem with “Bulldog Skin” is that unlike most of the Mag tracks, it sounds like Bob Pollard fronting Cobra Verde. But for some reason, this generic mid-tempo guitar rocker was the song Matador pushed for radio airplay and was one of the few Mag tunes that Pollard and Co. continued playing after the GBVerde lineup was no more. You have to have bulldog skin to not skip this clunker.

3. “King And Caroline” (1995)
I know, Alien Lanes is perfect and it’s blasphemy to say otherwise. But delete “King And Caroline,” and it’s even more perfect. There’s one cool part, when Pollard sings, “The scenarioooooo … ” So now we’re two seconds in and we’ve used up the one good bit. I’m not philosophically opposed to a song with no chord changes, but if you’re going to write one, don’t include a line like, “Roll over like an egg.” What’s the deal with Pollard’s egg fixation, anyway?

4. “Cut-Out Witch” (1996)
First, let’s separate “Cut-Out Witch” the live track from “Cut-Out Witch” the song on Under The Bushes Under The Stars. Live, it was a lot of fun, since it has great dynamics and everybody got to yell out the “two-three-four” part and be all important because they barked it out at the right time and got to high-five the guy next to them. But let’s face it, it’s by far the worst track on the record. I wonder how many people sang along without realizing Pollard was actually singing, “Say pretty please, and I think she might.” “Pretty please”? You can’t use “pretty please” in a rock song.

5. All of Tonics And Twisted Chasers (1996)
The Airport 5 stuff that Pollard and Sprout did is fantastic, but Tonics is jammed with tuneless leftovers that are so unremarkable, it’s hard to believe this is the work of those two guys. “Dayton, Ohio – 19 Something And 5” is brilliant, and “Key Losers” is great, but other than that? Tonics is revered by many GBV fanatics mainly because of the format: Pollard and Sprout sitting around with guitars making an informal, off-the-cuff record full of little snippets and half-baked ideas. It should work. It has to work. It doesn’t work.
“Look, It’s Baseball” from Tonics And Twisted Chasers:

:: The Five Most Underrated Guided By Voices Songs
1. “A Trophy Mule In Particular” (2003)
If you dismissed Earthquake Glue without really paying attention, you missed some terrific stuff. It’s a late-period classic, overstocked with off-kilter prog gems like this. “A Trophy Mule In Particular” is the ultimate grower, one of those Pollard tracks that you can listen to 100 times before you realize, “Holy crap, this is incredible.” It builds and builds from a bubbling, quiet start into its cataclysmic middle section, and by the time you’ve realize what’s happened, it’s dark and brooding again.

2. “Little Lines” (1997)
Pollard can do prog and he can do pop and he can do all sorts of weird musical idioms better than anybody. But once in a while, he can also unapologetically do straight-ahead sledgehammer arena rock. The muscular “Little Lines” is one of the best of the bunch, and—like fellow Mag Earwhig! tracks “Jane Of The Waking Universe” and “Not Behind The Fighter Jet”—22,000 kids should have been pumping their fists to it in NBA arenas across the land. And it might have the slickest transition from verse to chorus in the Pollard canon.

3. “Things I Will Keep” (1999)
In recent years, Pollard’s strongest compositions have been the mid-tempo tracks that he sprinkles through each record. “Things I Will Keep” is such a brilliant song, it overcomes the muddy Do The Collapse production and soars skyward until it crescendos with the best solo that guitarist Doug Gillard ever conjured up. Pollard loves to take traditional song structure and smash it to bits, and he does that brilliantly here. Instead of another verse and chorus after the solo, he just repeats a couple lines and then that’s it, it’s over.

4. “Bright Paper Werewolves” (1996)
“Come on polluted eyeballs, stop scouting out the fields.” What a vivid image; maybe the best opening line of Pollard’s life. Some of his most powerful songs are just stripped-down guitar and voice: “I’m Cold,” “Liar’s Tale,” “Speak Like Men.” “Bright Paper Werewolves” is at the top of that list. But it’s no acoustic strummer; it’s a brief-yet-dynamic journey up and back down, ending with a final twist: a vaguely unresolved chord. Pollard’s songwriting was off the charts circa Under The Bushes, and “Bright Paper Werewolves” is evidence he was at the peak of his powers.

5. “Sometimes I Cry” (1986)
There’s a live recording of GBV from a 2003 show in Hamburg, Germany, where some guy in front yells out for “Sometimes I Cry.” Pollard begins an impromptu vocal of the “Gardening At Night”-esque track from Forever Since Breakfast, quickly followed by Gillard, who joined GBV about a decade after the record was released and really had no business knowing the chords. That’s as close as GBV ever came to performing anything from Forever Since Breakfast, at least once the band was known outside Dayton. It’s a shame, because “Sometimes I Cry” is bursting with the promise of the legendary band GBV would soon become, and it would have sounded killer with the Gillard/Nate Farley/Tim Tobias/Jim McPherson lineup.

Coming next Tuesday: Roob picks the five most overrated and five most underrated non-GBV Pollard songs.

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