MAGNET Feedback With Dean Ween

MAGNET asked me to give my opinion on, like, 20 songs that they mailed to me. You see, I’m promoting my new record, Rock2, under the name the Dean Ween Group, which means once again, I have to do press to help convince you to buy it. I’ve been playing music for 34 years now, and I hate doing “press.” Although it could be a lot worse: I could be blowing dudes inside a bathroom stall at the Trenton bus station like the people at MAGNET—and your mom-mom—for meth money. But then I come to find out that I have to interview myself! Write all of this shit down in an email and send it over to the admittedly nice people at MAGNET. They gave Ween a lot of great reviews over the years—they even put us on the cover once and named one of our albums the best of the year. This was back in 1958, though: the good years, jobs, peacetime conditions, baby boomers, Ween making our 14th record, etc. So I did this for that reason only. The questions—or song choices—were all loaded, too. They picked all music that I publicly either hate or adore. If this is a means to an end, if it helps me sell 1,200 records and get 90 Vevo views … well, here goes. —Deaner

The Beatles “Helter Skelter”
​This song totally rocks, obviously. When you add the Manson factor, it’s kinda the most punk-rock song ever because it made dumb people on acid kill other people. I don’t condone that or anything by any means, but it means it’s at least important enough to listen to. This song and Altamont pretty much caused the end of flower power. At least that’s what it says on the internet.

David Bowie “Moonage Daydream”
Obviously, MAGNET picked these songs for me specifically. Cuz I have so much to say about this one, and I’ve played it live, like, 5,000 times. And it’s always the last song in the set. “I’m a mama-papa coming for you, I’m the space invader” or some shit. “I’ll be a rock ’n’ rollin’ bitch for you”? One of my favorite songs—ever! I’m being set up here, I can tell. Also, “Rock ’N’ Roll Suicide”—just wanted to mention that one, too.

Black Flag “TV Party”
I grew up with this track, both the EP and the album Damaged. Despite what anyone says, though, I consider the real Black Flag ​when Rollins was on the mic on the albums after this; this is the early Flag with Rollins. This song is fun but also kinda silly compared to what came starting with My War. The shit with the earlier singers is all awesome, too, but it wasn’t the high art of what Rollins and Ginn made together later. Whatever time we’ve dedicated to our craft, it doesn’t even add up to one percent of what Henry Rollins gave to his. My War? Slip It In? Loose Nut? 350 gigs a year every year? I allow no one to diss that dude. When he did work, you got destroyed. I heard Michael Jackson once say that there was no separating him from his art—and I know that was true with Rollins in the Flag years. You got 110 percent of the man, and that’s about the highest compliment I can give to anyone. I saw Black Flag 103,000 times and have tried to live up to their work ethic ever since. And Mike Watt’s, too.

Butthole Surfers “Sweat Loaf”
The greatest lead track ever. A classic. But not even the best song on the greatest record they ever made. Try “Graveyard” or “22 Going On 23,” and then we can talk. “I’m 22 … going on … 23” …. yet she sounds like she’s 85 years old. The most upsetting record ever made. Easily their best. It’s not even open for discussion, and I’m getting hip to what MAGNET is trying to get out of me now. One of the rare occasions when I don’t even think of a cover song as being a cover song, too. I’ll use that word again that best describes this album: “upsetting.”

Funkadelic, “One Nation Under A Groove”
​Yeah, this record is just OK??!!?? Not like the main record I grew up learning to play guitar to or anything? Whoever sent these stupid questions should come over and be forced to watch me half-assuredly play along with these entire albums note for note, poorly. I just about drove my mom out of the house playing along with this record and Hardcore Jollies. Two of the greatest guitar records ever—and funky as it gets. I’m really pissed off that anyone can get this music now on iTunes or YouTube so easily because in the mid-’80s, I had to have my older friends with cars drive me around the fucking tri-state area to find these records. Yeah, again, one of my faves. What a hit job this article is.

Grateful Dead, “Dark Star” (Live/Dead version)
​The very greatest Grateful Dead record ever recorded—the very definition of what was great about the Dead. At their best, the Dead were punk rock! Not just punk-ass bitches high on coke and tea-tree oil. ​This is a desert-island disc for me. ​I’m tempted to say more right now, but the jam scene pays my bills …

Jimi Hendrix, “Purple Haze”
​Yeah, it’s just OK. You asses. The most psychedelic riff of all time. C’mon, guys? Really? How do I feel about “Purple Haze”? Do I have to answer that, really? Think about it: What are the most psychedelic guitar riffs ever made? This is—and always will be—number one. It has to be.

Billy Joel, “You May Be Right”
Billy Joel is one of the few people that, given the opportunity, I would fuck him up. With a brick. In the head. I would smash his hands with a ball-peen hammer so he could never play “Piano Man” again. To understand my hatred of this, I need to explain, because my hatred for “BJ” is unlike anyone or anything else. It just grew, like a tumor. His music … I was mostly indifferent to it at first when I was young (like when I was two years old), then I started really hating it, and then the more I heard what the guy had to say about himself it turned into pure black loathing with me. Then not only was his music that personally offensive to me, it became inescapable. And this was 56 years ago, so imagine how I feel now. Also, ​I fish a lot, at the Jersey Shore. I also live down there a good part of the year. Fuckin’ assholes from Staten Island and Queens, Mets fans (we call them Bennies) come down and sing “Piano Man” at beach-bar karaoke. “And the waitress is practicing politics … you’ve got us feeling all right” …. oh la di di da di di da!​ We have Bruce, the Boss, and he pops up all the time around the Jersey Shore, at his old haunts, and he belongs to us. Well, for the obnoxious and rude Long Islanders and people in the Hamptons—you can have this piece-of-shit guy all to yourselves, as long as you keep him and his broken-ass ball-peened hands up there. I’m praying now Elton John is retiring that this motherfucker calls it quits, too. Ugh.

Pink Floyd, “Echoes”
Yeah, like, wow. I’ll bite. This is obviously my fave concert recording of all time. I have a band called Echoes that just does this one song. I was just in the colosseum in Pompeii last March with these tripping Canadian kids there for the same reason as me. Me and a douchebag ​tourist ​from Toronto (who lent me his guitar) played and sang the entire thing, and then I drove back to Rome. ​I technically performed “Echoes” live at Pompeii. ​

Queens Of The Stone Age, “No One Knows”
Best rock ’n’ roll single since “Back In Black.” The one true rock ’n’ roll band left out there. Watching these guys make this record​ and being a small part of it is a great, great source of pride for me. Yes, I played on this motherfucking record (thanks)—not this track, but three or four others. ​Again, ​I’m so very proud of it, too.​ The best song on the record (which is filled with all great songs). ​The songs that Mark Lanegan sings on this album are some of my favorite rock songs ever recorded.

Sonic Youth, “Superstar”
I ​play a version of this song where I try to make it sound like “Maggot Brain.” But in all fairness, they did it way before me—and did it well.​ I think I even remember seeing them do a video for it. The original Delaney & Bonnie version sounds nothing like either of our versions, so I guess this must be a really great song?​ The Carpenters own it, though, any way you slice it.

Matt Sweeney And Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, “I Gave You”
Who the hell is Matt Sweeney? No one knows that guy. And how did he and Prince end up jamming?​

Van Halen, “Spanish Fly”
This is a very strange choice of a song to send me, because it’s completely atypical of any other Van Halen song in their entire catalog. It’s only a minute long if I’m remembering correctly, and it’s a flamenco/metal/acoustic instrumental. Sorta like sending “Revolution #9” as a Beatles track? I just don’t get it, but every single song from the first album through 1984 has a special place in my heart, as they were my favorite band in the world up until Diamond Dave was out. Except for “Jump” (which I still don’t understand; it’s so dumb, from the title on down) and some of the goofier stuff on Diver Down (which was mostly covers and clocks in at something like 20 minutes anyway). The song “Intruder” makes up for that album, though not even the same track or the same album you sent me for review. Hey MAGNET? Remember the last piece you did on me? Because this is it.

MAGNET Feedback With Lydia Loveless

I am, generally, exceedingly reluctant to critique music publicly. Privately obsess over it or sarcastically shit-talk a sentimental line here and there? Yes. But criticizing someone’s music in the written word only leaves me wide open to it myself. I generally don’t like to be listening to music all the time, or quickly hear something and move on to the latest “amazing” release of the week. I like to get a new record and absorb it, slowly, and generally I’m only comfortable doing so when I’m not torturing myself over my own latest creative project. It sounds like a made-up excuse for being lazy and insular, but it really is true that it’s hard to hear your own music when there’s a lot of noise in your head. Still, I’d be a lying asshole to say I don’t have times when it’s all I want to do. I love analyzing production, why someone chose to sing a line a certain way, a simple-but-heartbreaking guitar part. And I love the moments when you realize a certain song can forever take you back to a moment or even an entire year. Music makes a mark on you. Without further ado, here’s my opinion. I hear they’re like assholes. —Lydia Loveless

Ke$ha, “Blind”
“Without me, you’re nothing” is such a shitty thing to say, but you get the sense in this song that the person deserves it. When Ke$ha sings it, it’s painful and moving; when your shitty ex-boyfriend says it, it’s reprehensible. I feel like that goes for most things, though. Obviously, I love this song as I’ve covered it. It’s dripping with emotion even through the clubby “doink, doink, doink” sounds people love to add to songs.

Echo & The Bunnymen, “The Killing Moon”
This song ruined my life—ha ha ha! I love it, but ever since we covered it, people often tell me it’s the best thing I’ve ever done, which is just depressing. I think this song is the definition of moody, isn’t it? It creates its very own setting. That’s an accomplishment. Not many people get to write such a song in their lives.

The Replacements, “Here Comes A Regular”
I love this song. It’s so Midwestern. It was the first song I ever sang at karaoke, and about halfway through, I thought, “What the fuck am I doing?” It’s the worst karaoke song ever, but damn if it isn’t great to listen to at the end of a day on tour. Especially as someone who’s been in bars since the age of nine, it’s gut-wrenching, really. Maybe not everyone finds it quite so relatable, but hearing it never fails to make me tear up.

Hank Williams, “There’s A Tear In My Beer”
17-year-old me couldn’t get enough of this one. You can’t really go wrong with Hank, and this is his simple ability to capture heartbroken misery at its finest. Is it corny? Yes. Is it still great to sing to yourself in the throes of self-pity? Absolutely.

Laura Jane Grace, “The Best Ever Death Metal Band In Denton”
I couldn’t love this more. A blend of two of my absolute heroes. John Darnielle’s music got me through some of the worst years of my life, as did Laura’s. Anytime I hear either of them sing, I am instantly transported to my shitty restaurant job at 18—the only job I was able to hold for more than a couple days. I was such a shit show. I’m grateful for them.

The Ramones, “Chinese Rock”
Probably one of my least-favorite punk songs. I know, I suck. I do appreciate the sort of mythological aspect as far as who wrote it. It’s almost Biblical. Or maybe I’m making that up.

Loretta Lynn, “Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ On Your Mind)”
One I used to cover. Who knew my romantic tribulations would one day reverse and I’d be more like the subject of the song than the writer … Ha! Loretta Lynn is obviously someone who really packs a punch in a song, and she’s also really been through some shit. It’s why her songs are so influential to me even as I move away from country. She’s the opposite of social media, really. She uses every bit of her life to make her art.

Dungen, “Ta Det Lugnt”
I want to like this song more than I do because I love the language and the label (Kemado). It’s a fun song, but it doesn’t stick with me.

Elvis Costello, “Down Among The Wines And Spirits”
This sort of production on songs doesn’t grab me so much in my old age. Even though I like the song, it makes me feel like I am at a horrible, early-afternoon street festival surrounded by hippies wearing baby carriers and drinking $10 IPAs.

Times New Viking, “No Room To Live”
Makes me feel 17, raging with social anxiety at a house show. Because Columbus? It’s nostalgic for me, even though I never particularly listened to this band. It’s probably because I am a sucker for jangly melancholy—or at least it feels melancholy to me.

MAGNET Feedback With Nada Surf’s Matthew Caws

My standard icebreaker with anyone from a cab driver to stranger at a party is, “What was your favorite music when you were 16?” I love to hear people talk about their enthusiasms. When I like something, I’m given to listening to it on repeat for hours. I can’t always say what it is about a particular song that makes me want to do that, and I think that’s part of the adventure: We can be surprised. I’m always looking for the next thing to love. I also don’t believe in skeletons in the closet. I think one shouldn’t be ashamed about liking anything. The fine folks here at MAGNET sent me a list of 15 songs and have asked me to write about 10 of them. I turned it to 11. —Matthew Caws

The Breeders, “Happiness Is A Warm Gun”
As a fervent Pixies fan and as someone harboring a rock crush on Kim Deal, I bought the Breeders’ debut as soon as I could and rushed home to listen to it. Pod delivered on all imagined promise. From the mysteriously sexual cover (4AD’s visual mastermind Vaughan Oliver doing a fertility dance wearing a belt of eels) to Steve Albini’s explosively present production that falls just this side of lovely, the album seemed to occupy a world similar to the Pixies’, though further from the Bible and aliens and with sludgier tempos. Track three starts with a lighter lighting something before Slint drummer Brad Wal- ford (recording here under the nom de sticks Shannon Daughton) enters in a crescendo. From there on, and getting out before the original’s theatrical doo-wop end chorus, their take on the Beatles is a knockout, kicking the chorus up a few notches of intensity while dialing the singing back, in what would turn out to be classic Breeders fashion. Though the Beatles are the most covered group in history, the bands that I was listening to almost never seemed to play their songs. (Nothing comes to mind apart from the Feelies’ “Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey.”) I may be wrong about that, but it was my impression at the time and contributed to my feeling that the Breeders were being audacious, and pulling it off. There are only three times I’ve heard a song that was not yet a hit and knew incontrovertibly that it would be an enormous one before getting through the first listen. One was Bruce Hornsby’s “The Way It Is,” heard on a car radio. Another was “Yellow” on then-unheard-of Coldplay’s first album while driving in the tour van with everyone else sleeping, having been given a promo copy at a college radio station we’d visited that day. But by far the most striking occurrence, and the only live one, was hearing “Cannonball” for the first time when the Breeders played Town Hall in New York in 1993. It was like hearing and see- ing perfection unfold in real time.

The Cars, “Drive”
I’ve listened to this song more closely when I’ve heard it recently. I was alienated by it at first, finding it forbidding in some way. Let me be clear about my relationship to the Cars: I adore them. My older sister bought all of their records as they came out, and I stared at the band photos while listening. They looked cool and the songs were giving me everything I wanted and more: mega-hooks, cold-frosted sound, short visual phrases and hot-rocking guitar solos. The fact that I would, 15 years on, meet Ric Ocasek while walking out of the Knitting Factory and give him our first demo tape; that he would invite me over to his Gramercy townhouse two weeks later (I was so excited I missed the street sign’s pole and locked my bike to nothing); that he would turn out to be one of the warmest and most generous people I’d ever met, and that he would end up producing our first album, is still completely and totally bonkers. In my teens, as I heard “Drive” come out of every radio, I could tell it was an indisputably beautiful song and melody, but its sadness was so clear that I reflexively tried to keep my attention away, probably assuming I wasn’t into the high-gloss state-of-the-synth production. Diving in now, the orchestration of those synthesizers is a wonder. It’s kind of the East Coast version of Don Henley’s “Boys Of Summer,” released the same year, with fewer guitars and less hope. And more indoor time, too much of it in a bar at the end of the night. And colder weather. Ben Orr’s dramatic vibrato carries “Drive” like a torch song. I hope the story took a turn for the better somehow.

Bob Dylan, “Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again”
So much has been written about Bob Dylan that a book was published in 2014 entitled The Dylanologists, which is, among other things, a book about people writing books about Bob. I’m not a scholar, so I’ll keep it simple: I love his music. He would definitely be my desert-island artist. The first live playing I experienced was my Aunt Peg (who later gave me my first guitar) singing “Blowin’ In The Wind” to me when I was a toddler. Years later, while parking my first band’s van at night, “Desolation Row” came on the radio. I’d never heard it. It was freezing out and I needed to get back in the building, but the song kept going. I was totally mesmerized and waited the 11 minutes until the end. Though shorter at seven minutes, “Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again” has that same quality that runs through Dylan’s whole catalog: a bounty of imagination, a generosity of energy, wit and feeling, one brilliant line after the next. Each of the nine stanzas is a perfect and cohesive detail-rich vignette. Each could be a scene from a different story, or all part of one. This isn’t the kind of thing I could venture a guess about. I just stand in the wind tunnel as the song blows around and past me.

The Ramones, “I Wanna Be Sedated”
Ramones fandom, event one: 1980, best friend Philip’s older brother Michael asks us 13-year-olds if we’d like to listen to some records in his room. We say yes, of course. This feels like a special event because Michael is usually away at boarding school, and in an apartment otherwise full of old paintings, his walls have modern art and rock ’n’ roll posters on them. He sits us down and plays for us, in order and in their entirety, Talking Heads’ Remain In Light, Ramones’ Rocket To Russia and the Velvet Underground’s Loaded. I am marked by every minute of the experience and feel a new reality start to open. Event two: 1982, walking along 8th Street and turned talking to a friend, I bump into someone much taller, face-first right into a striped-shirt and leather-jacketed chest. Joey Ramone evad- ing a bee. Event three: 1997, we record “Sick Of You” for We Will Fall, an Iggy Pop tribute record. The record company calls and asks if we’d back Joey up for his version of “1969” at the release party, and could we also learn “I Wanna Be Sedated.” Cue incredulous and giddy band hysteria and a week straight of playing those two songs. Practice at Context Studios. We’re nervous and probably grin- ning. Joey arrives and is beyond sweet. His friend, producer Daniel Rey, is along playing guitar and (very understandably) counts off the song at Ramones concert speed. Our drummer Ira doesn’t start, insisting we play it like the record, the way we’ve been practicing it, which is much slower at this point. Joey smiles after we run through it, says it reminds him of the old days. He really said that. The record release show goes really well. After we play, Joey says, “If you guys want, learn your six favorite Ramones songs, and at the end of your next show in town, I’ll get onstage and sing them with you.” We happen to have a show at Coney Island High two weeks later! That night there are some new faces in the audience, and people look happy and expectant; word must have gotten out. We play our show and then tell the audience that we want to bring out a special guest. After that it’s a blur in my memory. I mostly remember ecstasy. “1969,” “Judy Is A Punk,” “Cretin Hop,” “Teenage Lobotomy,” “Do You Remember Rock ’N’ Roll Radio?” “Bonzo Goes To Bitburg,” “I Wanna Be Sedated.” Forgot to talk about the song I guess. It’s one of the best ever.

The Runaways, “Cherry Bomb”
The Runaways, “Cherry Bomb” Legend has it Joan Jett wrote this song on the spot for Cherry Curie to sing during her audition to be the Runaways’ singer. On the spot. Watch Jett in the promo video. Good lord. There’s no right answer to the question, “Who’s the most rock ’n’ roll?” But it’s harmless fun to ask it, and the few seconds you get to see her play are the beginning of a fine case that she’s as good an answer as any. I love that pop and rock music occupy such an enormous space of possibility—storytelling, social commentary, love, lust, hardship, pure celebration and everything in between—but in terms of its details, I love that a hook can come in any form, from a melody to a beat to a lyric to, in the case of “Cherry Bomb,” half a syllable: “ch.” Did it come from David Bowie’s “Changes” five years before? Was it the vocalization of Jett’s palm-muted chugging playing style? Doesn’t matter. It’s catchy, and the song rocks. Like Dee Dee Ramone over on the other coast, Jett is a deft master of the simple chordal riff and indelible melody, neither of which are easy to write. It hadn’t occurred to me until recently how much they sound like a blueprint for the Sex Pistols, especially instrumentally.

Lou Reed, “Dirty Blvd.”
I met our drummer Ira when bassist Daniel and I used to go see the Fuzztones play in the mid-’80s. I met him again when I was interning at the Magic Shop recording studio on Crosby Street. My main duties were making coffee, getting the door and putting all microphones and cables back in their place at the end of the night. I didn’t end up becoming an engineer (my curiosity about electronics was lagging behind my interest in music), but I had some really great experiences and learned a lot in different ways. Ira was the Smithereens’ drum tech, and they’d come in for a month to make an album and we reconnected then. Lou Reed came in to play some guest guitar for a couple of days. I remember his amp and effects rig—this is aside from any speakers—being literally the size of a standard refrigerator. We weren’t to address him. One night I was charged with bringing cassettes of the day’s session to his apartment on Christopher Street. I knocked on the door. He opened it wordlessly, took the tapes and closed the door. I didn’t mind; he seemed complicated, and that was fine. A few years later, I sat with him in his office and interviewed him for Guitar World, who he always granted an interview with. My given mission was to get him to talk about anything but gear. I asked him about lyrics and early rock ’n’ roll music. He was a real sweetheart. Why am I telling you these things that have nothing to do with the song? Maybe because, like Dylan, Reed is such a towering figure over modern music’s landscape (and mine) that I hardly know what to say, and if you’re reading this magazine it’s likely you love him, too. The third verse of “Dirty Blvd.” is all too relevant now: “Give me your hungry, your tired, your poor, I’ll piss on them/That’s what the Statue Of Bigotry says/Your poor huddled masses/Let’s club ’em to death/And get it over with and just dump ’em on the boulevard.”

Kate Bush, “Wuthering Heights”
On a rainy afternoon in May 1990, I got a call from my friend Tom Shad. “Meet me at Avery Fisher Hall. We’re going to see a show, we’re going to scalp tickets. It’ll probably be 50 bucks each, but I promise you it’ll be worth it.” “What are we going to see?” “Just trust me.” Tom was a consummate musician whom I’d met when both our bands (I was in the Cost Of Living and he was in Cowboy And Spin Girl) were on a compilation called Eastern Shores. He was plugged into the Hoboken and Boston scenes, both of which I was fascinated by (he’d go on to play in Dumptruck with Seth Tiven, Kevin Salem and future Helium drummer Shawn Devlin), and immediately made an impression on me with his breadth of knowledge. I decided I should trust him and put on my rain jacket. A hundred dollars later, we sat down in the sixth row, right in the middle. Out walked 23 women in colorful folk costumes. With a nod from their conductor, they all began to sing at once. The sound was shocking. With almost no vibrato, they formed dense, droning and sometimes dissonant chords that they’d hold before turning on a dime, while soloists took turns embellishing with stunning complexity. It was loud and otherworldly. The melodies were sad, but the whole was so beautiful that you couldn’t help but feel joy. This was the Bulgarian State Radio And Television Female Vocal Choir. I’m grateful to Tom to this day for the experience. A compilation from 1975 called Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares had been recently re-released and a follow-up volume two had just won a Grammy. I bought both at the newly opened CD(!) store down the street from my house. I also bought a Kate Bush album that day, The Sensual World. I’d heard a few songs of hers and was curious, and the cover grabbed me. Back home, what should I hear on track nine, “Rocket’s Tail,” but a smaller version of that same sound from the week before! Kate was backed on that track by the Trio Bulgarka. I quickly became obsessed with that song (if you’re a David Gilmour fan, you’ll want to check out the outro) and also with “Love And Anger,” which I sang to myself so regularly from then on that we ended up covering it 20 years later. I’ve ventured out to other periods in Bush’s career, but I’ve always returned to The Sensual World. There’s no denying countless other songs of hers, including, of course, debut single “Wuthering Heights.” Something that I love about her music is how, despite the high-wire nature of her best melodies, I’m convinced they came to her fully formed, in one go. Maybe it’s the powerful sense of place in her songs, making one think she could imagine herself there and just start singing. Some songs get paired in my mind like sister cities. This one’s partner has always been Michael Penn’s “No Myth.” They reference the same book but, more importantly, both have unmistakable and serpentine chorus melodies. Another pair of sisters are Elvis Costello’s “Veronica” and XTC’s “Mayor Of Simpleton,” both top-shelf examples of British pop released a year apart. Bonus triplets: “My Perfect Cousin” by the Undertones, “David Watts” by the Kinks and “Geoffrey Ingram” by the Television Personalities, all different takes on the kid who has it all. Here is a degraded TV spot on Kate and the Trio Bulgarka in the studio.

Death Cab For Cutie, “You Are A Tourist”
Seeing Death Cab For Cutie play at Brownies in New York on tour supporting second album We Have The Facts And We’re Voting Yes happened at just the right time for me. It was May 2000. Dropped by Elektra Records after our second album, The Proximity Effect, hadn’t seemed to them worth releasing in the U.S., I was working in a record store, writing songs and trying to figure out a path forward. Death Cab were loud, catchy, literate and complex without being fussy. I bought their albums at the merch table near the exit and went home inspired and energized. Two years later, our third album, Let Go, would come out on their same label, Barsuk Records, two of the tracks having been mixed by guitar player/producer Chris Walla. He was sick that day and on a short break between tours, so it was very generous of him to do (on the cheap as well!). Of possible interest to recording enthusiasts: Chris spent two hours getting sounds and volume and compression levels on our song “Happy Kid.” He then hit play on the multitrack and record on the two-track. That’s it; he didn’t touch a fader or mute button. I was standing right there. It’s not a flat arrangement, either; there are plenty of dynamic shifts. Chris went on to produce our follow-up, The Weight Is A Gift. The whole band made us feel really welcome on the label, our home for 15 years now, even taking us on tour. We’ve become good friends, and we’re really glad to know them. “You Are A Tourist” is a perfect example of what the band does best. They manage to sound powerful and meditative at once. The band chugs along like a warm machine, drummer Jason McGerr bringing an edge of funk that percolates without starting a separate party, as complex playing so often does. Bassist Nick Harmer joins him in pushing the groove while adding hooks, Chris brings the atmosphere and repeating themes, and Ben Gibbard offers the melody and message. An old Brooklyn music friend, Howard Fishman, recently wrote this about Cat Stevens in The New Yorker, and I think it could just as well be said about Death Cab and Ben in particular: “Indelible melodies, beautiful production, emotionally committed performances, and, most of all, a gentle wisdom, a repudiation of the status quo, a sense that we were not alone. Here was someone who was trying to make sense of life, too; he may not have had the answers, but he was looking for them, and we were encouraged to join him. Here was a friend.”

Guided By Voices, “The Official Ironmen Rally Song”
The first song I heard by Guided By Voices was “My Impression Now” on the Fast Japanese Spin Cycle EP. Aside from being a fantastic song, what really struck me was the bass playing. The first 45 seconds are magic, all deft support, sweet touches and an additional killer melody. After that it falls apart a bit before pulling it together for the finish. What makes the song’s opening so special is that it’s clear that whoever was playing bass was making it up on the spot and hitting a moment of deep and lucky grace. They could have done another take, but I know from experience that the beginning would never have been as good. That move, not redoing it, made me believe in them. I was hooked. I’ve since fallen for literally hours of their songs. Their shows are a non-stop hit parade. Like Ron Sexsmith, Robert Pollard is one of those writers who seems to have hit an absolutely inexhaustible vein of memorable melody and can marry those melodies to words that will stick. I’m sure I’ll forget lots of music, but I know that if in 20 or 30 years I read, “To dine alone/To build a private zone/Or trigger a synapse/And free us from our traps,” I’ll be able to sing it straight away. Our fourth member, the amazing Doug Gillard, is back playing guitar with them, but we’re happy to share. Long may they run!

Phoenix, “1901”
There’s a great podcast called Song Exploder that focuses on one song per episode, talking to the artist and sometimes the engineers and others involved about any and every aspect of that song’s writing, construction, recording, etc. Individual tracks are singled out, demo versions are listened to, etc. Phoenix did one recently for the title track of their new album Ti Amo. I had a feeling they’d have some pretty sweet processes going, based on their sound, but they exceeded my expectations. They sample every note of every synthesizer in their collection, share a server with all their music files so they can trade off and all work on the same track at once, run cheap dictaphone mics through fancy gear, etc. These guys are advanced. I imagine them turning in their albums ahead of schedule while managing to have a nice lunch every day sitting outside somewhere. “1901” is one of my faves, along with the whole album it’s on, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. What’s striking is how well-arranged their songs are. Landscapes and sounds change at just the right time, the tones are always sweet, and everything stays exciting. “Love Like A Sunset” I could listen to on loop. They win the award for best English lyrics by a French band, sharing that distinction with Stereolab (if Laetitia Sadier makes the latter count). They also make exactly the kind of music I’d want to dance to if the club we played turned into a rock disco after the show.

Nada Surf, “Popular”
Were other folks who’ve done this column offered one of their own songs? [Nada. —ed.] Ack, what do I do? Am I not being a good sport if I don’t write about it? Do I seem self-centered if I do? This was a last-minute assignment, I’m writing on a deadline and can’t spend much time on this choice, so here we go. This was the only song most journalists wanted to talk to us about for at least the first five years of our career, but a lot of time has gone by now. What might someone want to know? It was 1993, and I was working the graveyard shift at an investment bank called Bear Stearns, 1 a.m. to 9 a.m. five days a week, typing and making pie charts. Miserable job but good pay, which I invested in the band. It also gave me plenty of hours that felt like free time if I was willing to forego a little sleep. I was fooling around with a four-track one afternoon, trying to write a guitar part that sounded like Sonic Youth. I got something going that was part of the way there, not dissonant exactly, but circular and a little haunting, with two notes ringing in repetitive unison. Next to me on the table was something I’d just picked up at the Goodwill store on the corner, a teen advice book by Gloria Winters called Penny’s Guide To Teen-Age Charm And Popularity. It had “Glamour Editorial Department” stamped on the inside and cost me 25 cents. There was counsel in it about how to end a relationship: “Three important rules for breaking up: Don’t put off breaking up when you know you want to, prolonging the situation only makes it worse. Tell him honestly, simply, kindly but firmly, don’t make a big production, don’t make up an elaborate story … “ (I don’t have the book with me right now and can’t check if that quote is verbatim, but that was the spirit of it). What struck me as strange was how on the one hand this was sensible advice, but on the other was presented so plainly, with no allusion to the difficulty of teenage (or any) love. The advice got stranger from there: “You can date that same person again after a month; they will appreciate your fresh approach.” “Being attractive is the most important thing there is. Wash your hair at least once a week.” I started to think there was a song in there. I tried to imagine what kind of chorus someone who bought into all this would sing. “I’m head of the class/I’m popular/I’m a quarterback/I’m popular/My mom says I’m a catch/I’m popular/I’m never last-picked/I got a cheerleading chick.” We started to play the song at shows, asking our more dramatic friends to come up out of the audience to read passages from the book on pages we’d marked for the verses, signaling them to pause while I’d sing a chorus. When it came time to record, I tried reading from the book, but it felt too stiff. I put it down and just started making it up. I’d looked at the pages so much that a lot of what I said was verbatim. We had our school friend Catherine Talese come over to read some passages as well. The idea was that my voice would be buried on one side, hers on the other and the words would only really be discernible on the chorus. A more muddled version of something like the Velvet Underground’s “The Gift” or Pavement’s “Fame Throwa.” When Bryce Goggin was mixing our first recording of it, I explained what I was imagining. Ten minutes later, he called me back into the control room. He’d turned Catherine’s vocal off, had put mine in the middle and turned it up. “Oh, no, no, wait, turn me down!” But he kept his finger on the fader and made me listen. Over the volume, he said, “That’s a pop song.” He was right. We were sending up a half-imagined culture, but on our first tour after the song’s release, football players and cheerleaders were down front partying. We stopped singing it for a while, when it was the only song anyone knew, but now I like to do it every night. I still think it’s funny. It’s a lot of words, though!

MAGNET Feedback With Lee Ranaldo

MAGNET sent me than 20 songs and asked me to choose and write about 10. A refreshing change from the “let’s hear about your top 10 albums/songs of all time,” which is rather tedious and changes all the time. A catchy tune on the radio and I’m slayed. I’ve been working so much on my new album, Electric Trim, that I’ve only sporadically been listening to other stuff at the moment. But there’s no doubt that all the music I’ve heard and loved over a lifetime of listening has always had a strong impact on whatever I find myself doing at any given moment. Some tunes/LPs stay around forever, others are here-and-then-gone but no less significant. Here are some off-the-cuff impressions selected from MAGNET’s choices. —Lee Ranaldo, Rio de Janeiro

The Beatles, “The End’
A fitting title for the last song on the last Beatles album ever? I think so. (Let It Be came out last but was recorded before Abbey Road, which was the band’s attempt to go out on the right foot after the unpleasant experience of trying to make a record on a soundstage.) Is this Paul trying to tie a knot on the end of one of the most fabulous rides in the history of entertainment? The social impact of what the Beatles achieved can’t be measured by music alone. By the time they were recording “The End,” they had changed the consciousness of the culture (with help and stage-setting by many like-minded individuals across the globe; I’ll name Dylan and Ginsberg and Kerouac as only a few of the influentials from our side of the pond—see Sgt. Pepper cover for more, including Gandhi, who was airbrushed out by EMI) in profound ways on every level—helping to introduce the hallucinogenic experience, Eastern mysticism and other pertinent topics to the larger straight world. If “cute Beatle” Paul could admit to using LSD, how bad could it be, really? This track contains Ringo’s only recorded drum solo, all the more powerful for its brevity, which leads us into a glorious round-robin section trading guitar leads (I believe it’s Paul, then George, then John, and then around again) for a nice democratic ending. It’s sobering to realize that the Beatles’ public career lasted all of about seven years, from 1963 to 1970, and that these four men who always seemed sophisticated beyond their years weren’t yet 30 years old when they called it quits. Amazing.

David Bowie, “Moonage Daydream”
A song from Ziggy Stardust, an album that’s so important to me now but to which I came a bit late. I wasn’t swept up in glam music at the time of its release, but when I finally came around to David’s early records, most especially this one and Hunky Dory, I was completely transfixed. The production on these records still stands out as groundbreaking and monumental to me—not to Sgt. Pepper extremes, but this music is very carefully considered, with great arrangements and so much detail. I’ve played this album more times than I can remember, know every second of it by heart—a record that changed lives and defined an amazing period, both in his own career and in the lives of all of us who found our way to it.

The Cribs, “Be Safe”
I was unaware of the Cribs’ music until they invited me to sing on “Be Safe” from their Men’s Needs, Women’s Needs, Whatever album. Actually, I was invited to recite—to do spoken word rather than sing—on the song. We spent a day in the studio in New York with Alex Kapranos from Franz Ferdinand producing. I really didn’t know what to expect but immediately became tight friends with the brothers Ryan, Gary and Ross. I wasn’t sure how my poetic ramblings would fit with the music of this power-pop band, but it worked great and we’ve stayed close since then. I love watching them play—somehow they seem to synthesize the best elements of American indie rock with a U.K. power-pop sensibility. They shot a short film of me doing my bit for this song, which they’ve projected on tour since we cut the track. I’m constantly being sent links to videos of their live shows, with my big face hovering over the band for “Be Safe”! These guys rock!

Ornette Coleman, “Free Jazz”
I love Ornette’s music; it’s so wide-ranging. The first album of his that really grabbed me was Dancing In Your Head, in part because it contains some music he and great music writer Robert Palmer recorded in the village of Jajouka in the Rif Mountains of Morocco—the same place that pulled in William Burroughs and Brion Gysin, and Brian Jones of the Stones, who made the first recordings of the Master Musicians Of Jajouka. Much later, I was able to go to the village myself—a real thrill. That combination of Ornette’s horn with the traditional instruments of Morocco (rhaita, guimbri and drums) was kind of mind-blowing, every bit as psychedelic as what was happening at the Fillmore West at the time. Free Jazz opened even more doors—not least because of the conceptual conceit of the recording: two complete quartets, one in each speaker. Fully composed works that still allowed for plenty of free blowing. And what a lineup! Charlie Haden, Eric Dolphy, Freddie Hubbard, Don Cherry and many other greats—Ornette was making connections far and wide, as he’d continue to do throughout his magnificent career, and blowing the roof off the place, as this record documents.

Bob Dylan, “I’m Not There”
This Dylan song had been floating around in the bootleg universe for a while, having been written during the fertile Basement Tapes period. It didn’t even appear on some of the highly sought Complete Basement boots. It seemed a holy grail of sorts for Dylan-obsessed fans, being one of the many amazing songs that for one reason or other he chose to hold back from the public. In 2006, I was tasked with recording music for Todd Haynes’ fantastically experimental Dylan biopic of the same title, which was a great experience and which included surreal moments such as recording classic mid-’60s electric Dylan music with Stephen Malkmus on vocals that later came out of Cate Blanchett’s mouth in the film. When it came time to put the soundtrack album together, Todd asked Sonic Youth if we would record a version of this song, and we jumped at the task. But rather than have to seek out a bootleg recording from which to learn the tune, we were surprised when Dylan’s office casually sent over the master of this long-sought gem. Bob’s version finally made its long-awaited debut on that soundtrack album, alongside our own version.

Joanna Newsom, “Sapokanikan”
I’m fascinated by Joanna Newsom and all of her work. It contains so much mystery and myth to me that I’m not always sure what’s going on, or what the stories are, but I’m always captivated. Sonic Youth shared a couple bills with her early in her career, in Scandinavia, after her first album had come out, and I’ve seen her perform a few times since. She’s always amazing and unexpected. Her references range far and wide—from what I gather, Sapokanikan is a place name, a Manhattan-located Native American place, with lyrics referencing things I’m not always clear on—from ancient Egypt to the Dutch masters. The song’s video—by director Paul Thomas Anderson, in whose film Inherent Vice Joanna appears—shows her tripping through the streets and alleys of Manhattan, maybe in search of lost spirits from another time. I picture her in the woods somewhere, with perhaps fantastical tiny creatures known only to her gathered round her feet. Her music is an acquired taste for some but one well worth the effort. A completely unique voice and talent.

Sleater-Kinney, “Jumpers”
A fantastic song from an album that is happily no longer S-K’s “finale” since their recent reunion. I love the music that Corin, Carrie and Janet make, and spent a lot of time with this album, The Woods, when it came out. Sonic Youth played a lot of shows with support from Sleater-Kinney, and they were always amazing to watch for their musicianship, style and, of course, songs. This one is a prime example of the way they can rock, with vocals shared between Corin and Carrie (probably Janet, too—all great singers). So fierce and smart.

The Stooges, “Down On The Street”
Gotta pick this one, right? All hail the Psychedelic Stooges (their original name)! This killer track opens one of the greatest albums of all time: Fun House. Iggy, Ron and Scott Asheton and Dave Alexander kicking out the jams in an L.A. studio but fully representing the sounds of Detroit Rock City, 1970. This album, its self-titled predecessor and Raw Power (which came third) are in my DNA at this point. These records set the stage for punk, new wave, “minimal rock” and basically, along with the Velvet Underground, defined an entire period of American music. These albums are among the greatest ever made, and I’ll be listening to them forever.

Sharon Van Etten, “Taking Chances”
Sharon’s music is so beautiful and lush, led by her amazing voice. She and I were travelers in the same musical community, but we’d not officially met until sometime in 2016 when I reached out to her about possibly singing on some of the songs on my then-in-progress album, Electric Trim, which is finally seeing release after a long gestation. Little did I know that Sharon was a Sonic Youth fan and immediately agreed. She ended up singing on six songs, and we even did a duet together. Her voice adds so much to my music; I was so pleased that she had the time to do it. I’ve heard a couple small bits of new music she’s been working on and can’t wait to hear more.

Neil Young, Arc
Arc, along with its companion Weld, came out shortly after Sonic Youth toured with Neil for three months back in 1991. We were really amazed that he asked us to tour with him. I’ve loved his music since forever; it means so much to me. We experienced our first taste of a big-time rock tour, with buses and hockey arenas and a “pro” crew that was not always too welcoming (at least at first) to noisemakers such as ourselves. But Neil got it—he dug what we were doing and gave us encouragement even as the hippies in the crowd tried to boo us offstage in their impatience to hear him. We were especially digging the far-out, end-of-song noise jams that Neil was getting into with Crazy Horse on that tour. The story goes that Thurston suggested to Neil that he make an album of only noise, culled from those jams, with no songs to get in the way. Some months later Weld and Arc hit the shelves—one full of songs (Weld), the other (Arc) containing edited excerpts from his many noise jams on that tour. Needless to say, we were all over it. Another experiment in his long and rangy career. Neil is one of our true treasures.

MAGNET Feedback With The Dears’ Murray Lightburn

I generally don’t listen to much music at all, especially when I’m in “creation mode.” I like silence. It allows me to dream and give the music already in my head some space to breathe, thus maintaining whatever is left of my sanity. Even when I do listen to music, there’s hardly anything on the record player that was made past 1987. It’s kind of sad, probably. I listen to way too much Motown and almost anything with a harpsichord on it. When I saw this list, my first thought was “No Sly? No Miles? Oh well … ” As “white” as this list is, I’m surprisingly pretty familiar with all this stuff, and some of it even brings back memories. —Murray Lightburn

Leonard Cohen, “First We Take Manhattan”
I love the production of this and much of this era of Leonard Cohen’s work. As an artist, it’s easy to want to be like him. Being a poet is not easy. Being a great poet is a fantasy. Somehow, Leonard Cohen makes the fantasy of being a great poet a reality while making it look easy. Plus, I want those backup singers.

Serge Gainsbourg And Brigitte Bardot, “Bonnie And Clyde”
The string arrangement on this track is not something you hear often, especially in rock music. It almost puts the listener in a trance. It’s a perfectly trippy ’60s pop jam, and so perfectly French. You’ll hardly ever hear anything this authentic or so well put together today. I went through an intense Gainsbourg phase right around the time we recorded our first album, End Of A Hollywood Bedtime Story. That was almost 20 years ago, and I still play his records on a regular basis.

Al Green, “Let’s Stay Together”
I can literally listen to this guy all day long. This era of his work is untouchable. It seems that the idea of staying together through thick and thin is not something to which many adhere today. The previous generation, like my parents, really believed in “’til death do us part.” It’s easier to just give up, especially if there isn’t a lot of deep entanglements like house, kids, finances. Even then, people seem more drawn to looking after themselves these days as opposed to looking after “us” as part of themselves. It’s a bit heartbreaking. This track is very, very much in line with what we’re on about on Times Infinity, both sonically and conceptually.

Joy Division, “Ceremony”
When I was much younger, I played in a band that played a lot of covers, and this one we played a lot. I have a deep appreciation for Joy Division’s work. Stephen Morris is one of the greatest rock drummers of all time, and I never hear anyone talk about that. Today you hear tons of drummers trying to do what he does on this track and not come close.

Kirsty MacColl, “You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet Baby”
First, this song and main lyric is one of my all-time favorites that I continually love to quote. Normally, I’m not a huge fan of covers. Listening to this, I realize that is mostly due to the type of song and who is doing the cover. I no longer hold that feeling as of right now. I hadn’t heard Kirsty MacColl’s version before and, frankly, it is fantastic. I should be turned off, but I am not in the slightest. It’s wonderful.

Pixies, “Head On”
I was a Pixies nut when I first heard them. I saw them a couple of times back in the late ‘80s. I knew a lot of the songs on guitar, too, and I still play “Velouria” on the guitar when it’s my turn at every Dears soundcheck and no one knows what I’m playing. That said, I don’t know why they bothered with this cover. I don’t really like it at all. I like the Jesus And Mary Chain original so much more. See above.

Prince, “When Doves Cry”
Oh, man. This is a track that is in my blood, in my soul and tattooed on my heart. Everything about it is perfect. I love Prince. He changed my life, 100 percent.

Roxy Music, “Jealous Guy”
Again, right cover, right artist. I love Roxy Music to death. “Jealous Guy” is one of my all-time favorite songs! This is impossible to go wrong with, even with that cheesy, chorus-y electric piano.

Stars, “Ageless Beauty”
Of our contemporaries, Stars are probably our closest and oldest friends out there. We love these people to bits, and I remember when they were working on this track all the way back then. I knew it was going to be a big one for them, too. The very first time we met, a million years ago (1999), I was drunkenly way over-enthusiastic in expressing my feelings to Amy (Millan) about her voice. To this day, she lords this over me, reminding me all the time: “You said ‘[vulgarity]’ … Do you remember that?” God, I’ll never live it down, I reckon. Thing is, I still feel that way now and I’m pretty sure even Natalia (Yanchak, Dears keyboardist and Lightburn’s wife) is OK with it. I mean, who doesn’t get those feelings from that voice? Amy is amazing.

The Stone Roses, “I Am The Resurrection”
I got to meet Ian Brown many years ago when we were on the same festivals and he was doing a solo thing. Sweet guy. His band played a bunch of Stone Roses tunes and I, along with the audience, was just losing my shit. That record was a big deal for me, and this track is beyond classic. There is something both fresh and familiar with the guitar work, but mostly it’s incredibly melodic. These days, it’s hard to find a good singable melody out there. John Squire has that shit in spades—singalong guitar lines. Jesus.

MAGNET Feedback With Matthew Sweet

I am woeful at anything even approaching rock journalism. In the dark on most records, I guess I have enough tormenting music in my head that I mostly prefer silence when I’m not working. And here I find myself faced with providing commentary for a host of artists that deserve to be analyzed by someone much more informed than I. This is making me really nervous for some reason. I’m gonna try my best to say something about 10 songs suggested by MAGNET, who kindly tried to gauge what kinds of things I might be familiar with. They did a pretty good job, actually! But still nervous. Melody is so much easier than words … —Matthew Sweet

The Bangles, “A Hazy Shade Of Winter”
The Bangles are one of the great girl groups, and this is a badass cover. I think Rick Rubin might’ve produced this for a soundtrack if I remember correctly. Sometimes people mistake the Bangles for a Susanna Hoffs vehicle, and I love Susie, but they truly are a group of people whose musical chemistry and voices combine to make real magic. I was a fan from the very beginning. Bangles drummer Debbi Peterson recently made the trek and played some great drums on my new album, Tomorrow Forever, out here in Omaha at Black Squirrel Submarine.

The Beach Boys, “Sail On, Sailor”
According to Beach Boys lore, “Sail On, Sailor” was the song Brian Wilson always was playing at parties, and apparently there were many different people who had shared the piano bench in a festive moment and so thought they wrote the song with him. I sang this song with (Hootie & The Blowfish’s) Darius Rucker, a lovely guy, for a Brian Wilson tribute at Radio City Music Hall. I flew on an airplane for the first time in eight years to do the song on Letterman and then sing on “Good Vibrations” with Brian. Brian’s daughters were so sweet to me. They knew I had a serious fear of flying!

The Beatles, “She Said She Said”
I just love this song and recording. Trippy and melodic in an irresistible way. Revolver was the first Beatles album I really got into. Before it, I only knew the soundtrack album from Help! (which was, of course, also great). “She Said” was a big part of Revolver to me, really my favorite song on the album. As a teen, I would often listen to one side of a vinyl album on headphones as I was falling asleep. The night John Lennon was shot, it was the side of Revolver that ended with “She Said She Said.” I had just fallen asleep to it when my dad came in my room to tell me come see the news. I really do see it as an easy coincidence now, but at the time it felt downright spooky.

Bee Gees, “Massachusetts”
It’s fun to imagine I was four years old and this was a number-one radio hit. I don’t remember the song that well, but it’s amazing to think of these Australian brothers tapping into the hippie lore of San Francisco 1968 and scoring a massive hit. There’s something quaint about its plaintive vibe. The album itself, Horizontal, is pretty interesting overall but predates some of my favorite stuff yet to come. “World,” the song that opens the album, is pretty compelling and quite inventive.

Big Star, “September Gurls”
What can I say that hasn’t been said about the incredible Big Star? It’s wonderful how everybody seems to know how great they were at this point. I got to sing “Big Black Car” at a New York City performance of Big Star’s Third. But “September Gurls” (I love the spelling; so Alex) really shows them at their best. I was first given a cassette tape with both #1 Record and Radio City on it when I was in high school. I really liked the dB’s and a friend said I’d better check out Big Star. I was completely taken with the music. Guitar jangle like I’d never heard before, the loopy drum fills, inventive melodies, beautiful singing, with moods from witty to so earnest. It really kind of blew my mind. Such a classic track. And they were American! To top off the experience, I ordered the 45 of Chris Bell’s “I Am The Cosmos,” which was pure magic.

The Byrds, “I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better”
When we were making my album Girlfriend, I was pretty focused on Revolver as some kind of working sonic guideline. But it was the late, great Robert Quine who made sure I realized how awesome the Byrds were, playing stuff of theirs and making me tapes throughout recording. Again, here is a group that was a sum of its incredible parts; so many talented guys were involved over multiple lineups. This song always picks me up with its transcendent effect of ultra jangle. Just love it. The Byrds are, deservedly, one of the great “B” groups we think of today. Beatles, Beach Boys and Byrds.

Tom Petty, “You Don’t Know How It Feels”
I had Damn The Torpedoes as a teenager and always looked up to Petty as a super-cool dude. He played 12-string electric guitar, which only helped elevate him in my innocent eyes. Wildflowers was a great record for him. I remember hearing “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” on the radio while I was out doing promo somewhere in Texas, and I totally dug it. This record sounds amazing, and this is where I first heard Jim Scott’s name, who I was lucky enough to work with later on. I love the sentiment, spelled out in the title, that idea of trying to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. I think of Paul Westerberg’s song “I’ll Be You” as well as my own “We’re The Same” as attempting a similar switch of perspective.

The Pretenders, “Brass In Pocket”
This was such a great, great album. My older brother played it for me for the first time, and it was wholly unique. The band was killer, and Chrissie Hynde was an instant classic with her snot-nosed sass mixed with gentle sincerity. “Brass In Pocket” was the radio hit as I remember it, and though it didn’t exactly represent the full rock potential of the band, it still could barely contain Hynde’s punk attitude and sly sexuality. The song is the ultimate come-on. I particularly love hearing album track “Lovers Of Today” these days; it’s so haunting and deep. As a teen, I traveled with some friends to see the Pretenders live in Kansas City when the second album had just come out. James Honeyman-Scott was a true guitar god. I got all their autographs on the first album cover by handing it to Chrissie through their town-car window as they were leaving the venue through a back alley. Years later, when I was on tour with the Golden Palominos, I hung out for a few hours with Syd Straw and Chrissie in her hotel room in Toronto. I can’t remember who partook, but I’m pretty sure I smoked a ton of pot while listening to those girls converse for what seemed like hours. I was maybe 20 or 21 years old and in awe of both of them.

R.E.M, “Perfect Circle”
It is impossible to overstate how important R.E.M. were to the entire realm of ’80s indie rock that was about to become the bona fide genre of alternative rock. R.E.M. were an inspiration to myself and so many other budding songwriters. Here was a band that was American, had their own sound and did things their own way. For indie-pop nerds like me, just the fact that they were produced by the legendary Mitch Easter was of note. Seeing it was produced by Easter, I ordered from an ad in New York Rocker the first R.E.M. single on Hibtone Records, “Radio Free Europe” b/w “Sitting Still.” “Sitting Still” really caught my ear. I was able to see R.E.M. live at a local club in Lincoln, Neb., get my 45 signed and ask about Easter, who I later corresponded with and eventually met. They loved that I knew who Mitch was. By the time R.E.M. came to play the Drumstick (chicken restaurant by day, rock club by night) again, Murmur was coming out, and Let’s Active was opening up for them, soon to release their own debut on IRS Records, where R.E.M. were by then signed. “Perfect Circle” is such a beautiful song, and its gently cascading chorus takes me right back to a time when the world seemed new and R.E.M. were leading the way to a melodic and mysterious future where a wide range of styles would combine to transcend the college charts and land in the mainstream. A special song from a very special band.

Bruce Springsteen, “Born To Run”
I like Springsteen, even though I’ve never really followed him closely or known most of his records particularly well. But over the years, whenever I’ve heard “Born To Run,” it has a big impact on me. This is a record packed with so much energy, so much wrenching passion it should be a goal for all of us to try to match in our own music. It’s like a Phil Spector opus, it’s like a teenage symphony but wholly creates its own world, where young lovers rage against life. When he cries, “It’s a suicide pact,” the effect is transcendent in the best of ways. A truly great song, a truly great recording and a truly great artist in his prime combine to reach the zenith of rock crescendo and release. My friends know I’ve never been too big on saxophone, but here even it gets a pass!

MAGNET Feedback With Joseph Arthur

Ever since Peter Gabriel beckoned him to New York City, singer/songwriter Joseph Arthur has been compulsively creative. This year marks the 15th anniversary of Redemption’s Son, the Akron, Ohio, native’s third album of heavy melodies and mood-enhancing arrangements. It represents a point in Arthur’s career when he was a little too prolific; aside from the 16-track album, material from the sessions spilled out onto four subsequent EPs, and this year’s reissue of Redemption’s Son (Real World) adds nine bonus tracks. MAGNET is not the least bit surprised that Arthur took this month’s Feedback in his own direction.

My manager said, “Hey, I need that piece for MAGNET by Monday.”

“Oh, cool,” I replied. “I’ll knock it out. As long as I don’t have to write a Shakespearean play, I can’t imagine having a problem with whatever it is.” We were loose. It was Friday.

On Monday morning, I realized the guilt, shame and remorse for knowing I had boldly said yes to a lengthy writing assignment sight unseen and it was due today. The voices flooded in: “Why did you say yes?” The toxic shame, like an expert archer, took aim at the center of my skull as I opened the emailed assignment: MAGNET would like you to write about 10 or 15 of these tracks:

The Afghan Whigs, “Gentlemen”
The Band, “The Weight”
The Black Keys, “Tighten Up”
Blondie, “Rapture”
Coldplay, “Viva La Vida”
Bob Dylan, “As Time Goes By”
Brian Eno, “Needles In The Camel’s Eye”
Genesis, “Back In N.Y.C.”
George Harrison, “Isn’t It A Pity”
Diana Krall, “Glad Rag Doll”
The National, “Bloodbuzz Ohio”
Liz Phair, “Never Said”
Lou Reed, “Romeo Had Juliette”
The Rolling Stones, “Rocks Off”
Suzanne Vega, “Tom’s Diner”

My palms got sweaty. My heart raced. A lifetime flashed before me. I got a case of the hiccups and peed my pants a little. I looked over the list. Oh, no! Please don’t say it’s one of these things where I gotta say how much I like this or that. I mean, I like “The Weight” as much as the next guy, but how am I gonna come up with a paragraph on it?

“I remember that time I sparked up a doobie, and it was a full moon, and it was our summer of love, and there were all these butterflies in the parking lot and we had just dropped acid, and it was coming on and we were out in your Corvette. You had the radio on, and the DJ on the classic-rock station we always listened to said, ‘And now this one is from Robbie Robertson and the Band.’ And then that song. That song that’s everybody’s favorite song at one point or another. Transcends race. Transcends time. A great song has a spirit in it. This one is so identifiable and profound that it almost feels wrong to speak on it. But it does make me want to take acid and drive around in a Corvette.”

Normally, I might call Greg Dulli in a time like this. He’s always got a good take on things, funny and dark, and then we just wind up talking about girls we are both in love with on Instagram. I remember the Afghan Whigs’ Gentlemen came out and I listened to it on my CD Walkman. There were beneficial limitations back then. You know how sometimes you lock a certain memory with a certain album? That album always reminds me of a flight I took and listened to it the whole trip. That was the good thing about not having endless options. It made you focus on one thing. I focused on Greg’s voice and lyrics. I was just starting to write songs at that point, so I listened with intention all the time. I was still forming my own musical identity. If I had to put my feelings about what Greg does in a quip designed for bathroom fodder, it would be this: He’s original. And he’s rock ’n’ roll. Plus, he’s from Ohio. Which I notice quite a few folks in this list are.

I texted my manager: “Hey, Keith, happy Monday. Gimme a shout on that MAGNET thing. It’s a real pain to write about songs. Can you imagine writing a paragraph about a Coldplay song? Or even about one you like?”

He didn’t and still hasn’t responded. Cheap joke on Coldplay. I don’t actually feel that way. Everyone knows Chris Martin can make melody his bitch in ways that are unique to him, and let’s face it: It’s endlessly appealing. Besides, no one’s ever gonna be cooler than the Replacements anyway, so who really cares? I guess the price of ubiquitous fame and fortune is that you become a punching bag for people in moments like these. I’d take that trade.

My manager never got back to me, so I decided to take a few bong hits and go skateboard. I ride my longboard along the Promenade in Brooklyn, overlooking the whole of Manhattan. From Red Hook to DUMBO and back again. For some reason, I had the Kiss song “Black Diamond” in my head. But not their own version—the version that’s on Let It Be by the Replacements. Neither of those bands were even on the list. I couldn’t just talk about any band I want all willy-nilly. There had to be some measure of control in this piece. I looked long and hard at myself when another Replacements song ran through my mind: “Unsatisfied.” But it’s not on the list, so why won’t this song leave me be?

“Look me in the eye and tell me that I’m satisfied/Are you satisfied.” Or however it goes. What’s with Minneapolis and the best songwriters in history? Dylan and Westerberg. Dylan’s on the list, but Westerberg’s not. Hmm. Pieces are adding up. Things people said. Fragments I had forgotten about. I started picking up things in the street and putting together a cap made out of tinfoil. But just then a song started blaring, as if the tinfoil hat had been a finely adjusted radio antenna picking up only one song, and it was screaming now as if it was coming from Manhattan itself. Like the buildings were all signing it to me all at once. And it was “Needles In The Camel’s Eye.”

I love weird rock songs by English geniuses. And this is one of the best. Why is the city singing this one? Eno’s on the list. I guess it triggered something. Now the Empire State Building is swaying back and forth to the beat. I’m frazzled at this point, like a fighter who’s beaten but just won’t stay down. I gotta get out of this. Need to write my manager and tell him I just can’t think of a creative way to write this piece.

“Tell them I said sorry, Keith.” Still waiting for a response.

MAGNET Feedback With Robyn Hitchcock

Like a colander scooping up green peas, I intersect with many of these artists; some arrived before me, some arrived after. Some helped to shape me, others say I helped them to form. We’re all midwives to each other’s talent. Robyn Hitchcock

Fiona Apple “Every Single Night” from: The Idler Wheel…
The Medusa of psychodrama; several times I had the immense challenge of following her onstage at Cafe Largo on Jon Brion’s show. Her eyes, her hair, her voice and the spirit that fuels them make her the most intense performer I’ve seen, this side of vintage Captain Beefheart. When she sings “Cry Me A River,” you sweat one.

Syd Barrett “Terrapin” from: The Madcap Laughs
There’d be no me as a musical entity without Syd Barrett. His words, his tunes, his guitar playing are so pictorial I could almost eat them. So dark, so funny, so full of … him. This song is a relaxed meander around a sunlit fish tank, waving a fin at your passing loved one. It’s also not in the key that it’s in—one of the many magical facets of the man they call Syd who spent most of his life being Roger. He started and named Pink Floyd, then lived invisibly for 35 years in the back streets of Cambridge.

The Byrds “Eight Miles High” from: Fifth Dimension
Like much of the best music of 1966/7, this captures the acceleration of liftoff—on a jet plane, a culture or by any other means available. It’s a blissful amalgam of jazzy 12-string lead guitar, impressionistic lyrics about flying from L.A. to Swinging London and formal, choral harmonies. It took three people to write it, and this was their only creation.

The Decemberists “Down By The Water” from: The King Is Dead
Colin and the girl and boys generally manage to encompass the Stones, XTC, Morrissey and me without sounding like any of them. It takes a boy from Montana to be that British. They rock history like no one has since the Band, to my ears. This song leans to R.E.M. in the guitars, giving Colin the platform to declaim across the music like the Colonial-era soldier who must be his spirit guide. Where Britain lost America stand the Decemberists, just checking to see if it really happened.

Bob Dylan “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” from: Bringing It All Back Home
Bob Dylan in his momentum years could cram a song with so many conflicting feelings and fly it straight into your heart. Here he stirs contempt, cruelty, regret, humor, sarcasm, sadness and his trademark resigned wisdom into an exhilarating four-minute farewell to…himself? Joan Baez? The human spirit? There are more flavors in this than in the mint vanilla cinnamon Oxford latte I’m cradling here in my local coffee groovarium.

Feist “1234” from: The Reminder
I was on a floating Russian hotel with Feist—and many other artists and scientists—off the coast of Greenland in 2008. We were taken there to witness the vast glaciers melting into the sea. They’re still melting today, faster than ever; according to current climate projections, all our coastal cities will be underwater in 150 years time, if no other catastrophe has demolished them. But back in the here and now, this is a very catchy song.

Katrina And The Waves “Walking On Sunshine” from: Walking On Sunshine
Kimberley Rew, who wrote this, was in the Soft Boys with me some years back. He was incubating this and other songs while the SBs played my material—the SBs being essentially my band. But “Walking On Sunshine” would never have been the monster hit it became with me singing it. Kim told me later that he wanted to take a slice of 1965 into the 1980s and, by Jove, he succeeded. A brilliantly simple idea, like a child’s drawing, that it took Kim to actually have.

The Kinks “God’s Children” from: Percy
There’s an unusual connection here: Ray Davies wrote this for the soundtrack for the 1970 British movie Percy, which was based on a book written by my father, Raymond. The story concerns a young man who receives a penis transplant and tries to track down the donor. This takes him awhile, but it’s a fun saga in all its vintage Brit libido way. The song is one of the best of Davies’ “I’m a human, get me out of here” type from that era. That’ll be 12 guineas, Ray.

Alison Krauss And Gillian Welch “I’ll Fly Away” from: O Brother, Where Art Thou?
A simple connection here: I’m  writing this in an East Nashville coffee shop to which Gillian herself introduced me. I love to hear her sing with Dave Rawlings more than anybody, but she—like Dave—is a generous and frequent collaborator, and this performance with Allison Krauss is exquisite. Both singers avoid over-emoting and let  the feel of a song come through un-fussed. I just love Gill; I always have.

John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band “Woman Is The Nigger Of The World” from: Some Time In New York City
Not my fave John Lennon track, partly because the n-word now grates coming from any white lips (no fault of John’s, but time draws new lines) and partly because of the sax, my un-favest rock instrument. However, Lennon remains my favorite rock singer, whether he’s singing soft or hard, and Yoko’s input is showing in his feminist tone here. The lyrics are spot on: “While putting her down we pretend that she’s above us.” Right on, brother.

Nick Lowe “Cruel To Be Kind” from: Labour Of Lust
I always wonder which bits Nick composed here and what was the input of Ian Gomm, his former bandmate in Brinsley Schwartz. It’s a catchy hit that Nick performs to this day. I saw the Brinsleys open for McCartney & Wings in 1973; five years later, Nick and I were both briefly on Radar Records, and 20 years after that I ran into him in a cheese shop in West London. He introduced me to my current label, Yep Roc, and we were neighbors for many years. These days I get mistaken for him as I pad around East Nashville: My hair and glasses echo his. So weaves the thread of time.

Neutral Milk Hotel “Two-Headed Boy” from: In The Aeroplane Over The Sea
I’ve never met Jeff Mangum, but I think he and I probably have similar record collections. Legendary Athens, Ga., alumni find their own world in the woods and sing it.

Beth Orton “Stolen Car” from: Central Reservation
Beth Orton was the first musician I heard in the 1990s who made me feel the new-wave police had finally lost their grip on Britain. Great track, this one: I love the backwards-y guitars and the lyrics “Your fingers like fuses, your eyes were cinnamon.” She has a kind of downbeat cheeky rage that murmurs East Anglia, quite loudly.

R.E.M. “We All Go Back To Where We Belong” from: Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage 1982–2011
This is a beautiful elegy from the  last days of their career. Rather touchingly, they seem to hang out together much more now they’re not tethered to each other professionally. This wistful Mike Mills tune reminds me of their Automatic For The People era. So many people measured out their lives in R.E.M., myself included, and I was grateful to be part of their extended family. Fare forward, travelers…

Sleater-Kinney And Fred Schneider “Angry Inch” from: Wig In A Box: Songs From & Inspired By Hedwig And The Angry Inch
Penises! Can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em. Whether viewed as part of a trans parable, a primal boy terror or a desire to know how it feels to be the Other, this is a surprisingly fun song for an ode to genital mutilation. Fred Schneider fits in well here, and the Sleater-Kinney dames play like demons.

Patti Smith Group “Pissing In A River” from: Radio Ethiopia
Patti Smith is another intense performer, though she stops short of psychosis. She’s always struck me more live than on record; I can’t take my eyes off her onstage. Lenny Kaye is a great performer, too—still as magnetized by the music as he was when they started playing together in 1971. A few years ago, I was on a terrifying bus ride round a twisting Norwegian fjord a 1,000-foot sheer drop above the sea when my phone rang: It was Barre, Patti’s tour manager, asking if I’d like to join them onstage in Bergen for the encores. An hour later, we were belting out “Gloria” in a bright wooden hall. Terror and excitement hold hands so often.

The Smiths “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out” from: The Queen Is Dead
Some people can generalize their pain, others merely bore you with it. Morrissey, like John Lennon, is one of the former. With a lot of help from Johnny Marr (his McCartney?), the agonies and bitchings of this shy, gay, erudite Manchester lad resonated with teenagers the world over, just as Dylan and Lennon’s once had. And this song, with its unpredictable chords and candid vocal, is so Manchester that you can practically feel the damp night air and see the bleak, menacing underpass. Also, perhaps, the double-decker bus that might drive into the motoring couple to end their pain. At a recent Marr gig, my Australian girlfriend was very moved by the sight of a roomful of gruff Englishmen leaping up and down as they sang along to this vision of a romantic death on a Northern back road.

TV On The Radio “Happy Idiot” from: Seeds
“I’m a happy idiot, to keep my mind off you.” This is a hymn to the beauty of dejection. Driving, uptempo and sad. The racing-car sounds are an echo of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Baby Driver” for a more somber era. At least the future has happened—so far. I met TVOTR’s frontman Tunde Adebimpe on the set of Jonathan Demme’s indie hit Rachel Getting Married, in which Tunde sings a poignant a cappella version of “Unknown Legend” by Neil Young.

XTC “Senses Working Overtime” from: English Settlement
Knowing Andy Partridge a little bit as I do now—in a gradual English way—I’m inclined to take this literally. He’s a sensitive man who can get capsized by the intensity of his feelings; but he’s buoyant and strong—he floats back up the right way soon enough and continues to mine his creative seam. We’ve had some great sessions in his shed in Swindon, and hopefully one day we’ll actually finish something together. A pop maestro is Andy.

MAGNET Feedback With David Bazan

I’ve spent most of my life consuming and making music, and yet I feel my musical understanding has only just begun to mature. I have a lot to look forward to. We all do. It was joyful and challenging to carefully listen to and write about these songs MAGNET curated for me. I’m grateful for the opportunity. Peace and love to us all. —David Bazan

Cat Power, “The Greatest” from: The Greatest
One fall night in 1998, after playing our first show ever in the Twin Cities with my band at the time, Pedro The Lion, we drove across the river to the 400 Bar in Minneapolis to catch Cat Power on her Moon Pix tour. Accompanied by a drummer and guitarist, her hair covering her face pretty much the whole set, Ms. Marshall captivated me (and everyone else in the room) with those great early tunes and her coy charm, but most of all with her unbelievable voice. Now, having been an active fan for 19 years, I sit and listen to 2006’s The Greatest, and I notice her voice is loaded with even more ache, more mournful knowing than before. I’ve heard this song many times but apparently without ever actually giving myself over to it the way one does listening in headphones, alone in one’s room, focused on nothing else but the river of sound and feeling. Turns out this river really breaks me up. I don’t literally understand what she’s singing about and, as usual, heavy thoughts flow through anyway. I hear a funeral march, I mourn the wasteful hubris of youth, I accept that lasting wisdom is hard because it flows from loss. “Secure the grounds for the later parade.”

Bob Dylan, “Saved” from: Saved
This song, whose lyrics imply the basic Christian doctrines of original sin and salvation through faith in Christ, really moves. Dylan is channeling some blessedly rowdy gospel music here, and holy mother, the rhythm section is on fire, pounding out their shifting accents with enough desperate conviction to make you almost believe him … almost. Look, I’m not saying I think old BD was insincere at the time; it’s just a natural pitfall of manically expressing that “just been born again” enthusiasm. Eventually, one has to come back down the mountain and live life, and something about real life makes it hard to take extra-fervent expressions like this seriously as much more than an artifact of a previous understanding. (Whoa, I really bring the baggage.) So, yeah, for me that’s the internal wrestling match I experience listening to “Saved.” Dylan is a transcendent performer and lyricist, this is a great song, and the rhythm section kicks so much ass. So I get to try to turn that other part of my brain off and just feel the righteous energy. And when I can’t do that, I don’t mind wrestling.

Leonard Cohen, “Hallelujah” from: Various Positions
This is one of the great songs of all time. So good that there are two distinct versions of the song in circulation, the difference between them being only a change in the lyrics of the third and fourth verses. The lyrics in the “cover” version, first compiled and performed by John Cale (from extra verses sent to him by Cohen), though probably made popular to folks my age by Jeff Buckley, evoke in me the longing of a possibly doomed but deep romantic love to a degree nearly unrivaled in popular song. (“Love is not a victory march/It’s a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah”). By my calculation, this version is heard more often, in part because it’s the one performed by most who cover the song, and in that sense is the more popular of the two. But for me, the version found on the album Various Positions is the even rarer gem, the one that saves my life a little bit. It lays out the size and shape of a crisis of faith line by line, one disconnecting doubt at a time, in a way that might leave one in despair if not for the defiant implication that all reaching out is meaningful even if no one ends up being there to reciprocate.

Ben Gibbard & Aimee Mann, “Bigger Than Love” from: Former Lives
“Stranded in Asheville/Failing to fix a broken head/You’re in California/Doing the work of lesser men.” This song is so lonely. Male and female voices taking turns filling in the details of years of disconnection in their relationship, almost like long-distance couples therapy. Painful. The signature ache in Mann’s voice really adds depth to the melancholy. But the very catchy chorus, “It’s bigger than love/Brighter than all the stars combined/It’s dwarfing the sun/Burning within my heart and mind” supplies the listener with an unexplained source of light at regular intervals that alternates with the bad news in the verses: bittersweet but overall leaving me with a sense that this is a postmortem. But then the tail end of the bridge lifts and connects with the final chorus, and a modest gain is achieved: By the end of the song they’re singing together. I’m a sucker for love. It feels like a start to me.

Damien Jurado, “The Way You Look” from: I Break Chairs
This song brings back a flood of fond memories. Jurado and I started playing in a band together in 1991, both still in high school. After years of playing in the different forms of that band together, then solo and band projects apart, he asked me to produce the album that became I Break Chairs for him in 2002. “The Way You Look” is from that LP. This song (and album) represent a rowdy but sweet rock ’n’ roll side of Damien that he hasn’t often shown, which is more than OK because the musical vein he’s currently mining both with Richard Swift-produced LPs and live with a band or solo is special to me, too. It all is with Damien, so I’m glad we captured it a little. I’m a fan of the dude’s tunes. He consistently makes music that inspires me.

Radiohead, “Let Down” from: OK Computer
For some reason, I didn’t want to like OK Computer when it first came out. One day, within a month of its release, my roommate, sensing my resistance, recommended that I go up to his room and listen to “Exit Music (For A Film)” and “Let Down” one after the other, turned up loud, on his nice stereo amplifier and his Yamaha NS-10 speakers. I’d heard “Let Down” wafting around here and there and liked it, if a little reluctantly, but this would be the first focused listen all the way through. So I took his advice, and it stands as one of the most memorable musical experiences I’ve ever had. I quickly fell in love with OK Computer. “Let Down” is still a top-five favorite song of all time for me.

The Long Winters, “Shapes” from: When I Pretend To Fall
I watched my friend and Long Winters songwriter/frontman John Roderick play this song solo electric one night in the summer of ’06 at an outdoor venue in an ancient town square in Zaragoza, Spain. I remember the hammer-on guitar playing vividly; so musical and inventive without being distracting. John’s warmth and wit come through so clearly here (as in all his work, really). There’s a playful, sparring almost-vulnerability in his lyrics and vocal delivery that never fails to pull me in. One of my favorite songwriters. Speaking of “pulling me in,” later that night I had the bizarre pleasure of being pulled behind a carful of my tour mates, hatchback open, me riding in Vic Chesnutt’s wheel chair, holding the back of the car Back To The Future style through the streets of Zaragoza, en route to the hotel.

Neutral Milk Hotel, “King Of Carrot Flowers Pts. 2 & 3” from: In The Aeroplane Over The Sea
Like with so many others of my favorite records, this one took a minute to sink in. “Jesus Christ, I love you” was hard for me to relate to initially for some reason. Maybe I couldn’t tell if he was mocking or sincere and couldn’t easily deal with the ambiguity. Still not totally sure. But at some point I found a way to open up to it all, regardless, and I’ve since had some pretty wonderful and heavy times listening to Aeroplane Over The Sea. There’s a sort of feral earnestness to all these songs, a desperate frankness that indicates just how enormous the stakes are. One of the heaviest records I can think of.

Joni Mitchell, “Blue” from: Blue
This is the first time I’ve listened to this song all the way through to my knowledge (now half a dozen times in the last couple days). There are many gaping holes in my musical education, and I’m realizing now that Joni Mitchell is a huge one. The first thing this song says to me is that anything is possible in folk songwriting, and that I’m uptight without even knowing it. The freedom and fluidity of the musical phrasing is stunning. I hear a formidable thinker and experiencer of the world communicating at peak level. I believe my Joni Mitchell immersion phase just began.

The Shins, “New Slang” from: Oh, Inverted World
Before she was in kindergarten, I took my daughter to see the Shins play at Showbox Market in Seattle. (She loved the song “New Slang” more than any other at the time and could often be heard chirping the falsetto vocal hook around the house.) Night of, we got bundled up, met a buddy for dinner before the show, had a little dessert, then finally found a spot near the back of the main floor to watch the band (kiddo up on my shoulders). They played “New Slang” within the first four songs, and she was ecstatic. She grabbed my chin with both hands and yanked my head up so that my eyes were looking straight up into hers: “They’re playing it!” Tears in her upside down eyes as she started singing along. Once the next song started, I felt a tap tap tap on the top of my head (our signal for when she was ready to go home). “I’m still hoping to hear ‘Caring Is Creepy,’” I pleaded. “OK,” she said, “Three more chances, then can we go?” I agreed to her very reasonable terms. “Caring Is Creepy” is the next song they played. She grabbed my chin again. Tears in my eyes this time.

MAGNET Feedback With Wesley Stace

Promoting a record these days involves much filling up the internet and magazines with your own writing, unpaid. Sorry if that sounds cranky, but it’s true. It’s actually even worse when you’re a fiction writer—you write the novel, then you have to write it all down again in explanation for the internet and magazines. Even interviews nowadays often come in the form of an email Q&A, which you could just bash out, but you’re a writer, so you want it to make sense. And two hours later, you wish you’d just been on the phone for 20 minutes. Anyway, most of this extracurricular writing is a drag, but (as often, where MAGNET is involved) this one was fun. They gave me 20 song titles by 20 artists and asked me to write about 10 of them. It was a mix of people I’d worked with, people I’m friends with, people who’ve appeared on the Cabinet Of Wonders, people who I might be assumed to like and people whom I’ve written about enthusiastically elsewhere on the internet (perhaps even for MAGNET).  So I picked 10 or so. I tried not to write about people on whom I have given my enthusiastic opinion previously. I literally have no thoughts on Amy Winehouse (I don’t know her work!) and very few on Andrew Bird (he’s good!); whereas my thoughts on Elvis Costello and Bruce Springsteen are, for quite different reasons, perhaps not easily digestible into a few words. So I thank MAGNET for reminding me about these 10 or so songs, and I should think they’d make a pretty good playlist, to which I now supply sleeve notes. —Wesley Stace

Bob Dylan, “John Wesley Harding” from: John Wesley Harding
I know this is meant to be primarily about the song, but I remember first seeing this album not as a record or cassette or eight-track but as a songbook in B&T Keyboards in Hastings, where I bought my first guitar, a black EKO Ranger (which now belongs to a young friend who continues to play it; it retains the same Release Nelson Mandela and Help The Hospital Workers stickers from 1984). When I saw the songbook, I thought: Weird; my name; Bob Dylan; and something to do with John Wesley, the founder of Methodism. It turned out that the real-life version of the entirely fictional cowboy Dylan sings about was John Wesley Hardin, a brutal killer whose name never had the extra “g” Dylan provides. There are various theories as to why this is (among which that it was a typo), but my own is that Dylan had dropped so many “g’s” (Blowin’ and a-Changin’) that he thought he’d add one to even things out, and Hardin was the beneficiary. No one needs me to tell them about this song, but—despite being great—there’s a reason very few people have covered it. McKendree Spring did a version, and the Stones maybe did it once live: It’s a funny little song, as many of the songs on John Wesley Harding, with three foursquare verses not adding up to much except in the listener’s mind: very simple and no chorus, except it’s all a chorus, like “All Along The Watchtower,” which people cover all the time. My first album, It Happened One Night, has a picture of John Wesley Hardin on one side of the label and a picture of his killer, John Selman, Sr., on the other. The hole in the middle went right through Hardin’s head.

Bee Gees, “To Love Somebody” from: Bee Gees’ 1st
I love all Bee Gees, though this song might not even be in my top 20, perhaps because it’s so fantastic it’s transcended even being a Bee Gees song. But it’s not quite how I think of them. Barry Gibb has maybe the greatest catalog in popular music. (You should have seen the comments section in the Philadelphia Inquirer when I made that fairly uncontroversial suggestion in a review of Barry’s solo show.) That show by the way was amazing (and given that the next concert I saw in the same hall was Stevie Wonder doing Songs In The Key Of Life, it was a good year for shows). I remember a Bee Gees tribute in San Francisco a million years ago, and no one did anything after the first few albums, which were at that time the only Bee Gees one was possibly allowed to like, and hardly even that—all except Scott Miller (R.I.P.) who did something much later, maybe “Jive Talkin’,” and wore a shiny jacket to sing it. The thing with the Bee Gees is: Main Course is perfect; the bridge of “Nights On Broadway” is perfect; the groove on “Jive Talkin’” is perfect; “Edge Of The Universe” is perfect; “Fanny” is perfect. So however great all those other early records are, and however great all those amazing songs on Odessa and Idea are, you still have to deal with the fact that Main Course is perfect. I am such a sucker for it all—Trafalgar? Spirits Having Flown? Cucumber Castle? All so great. And finally maybe they’re now going to reissue them properly, not just the first few. (I hear Barry isn’t keen on outtakes. I really admire that. I was very excited to hear his recent solo album and … it’s OK!)

Kirsty MacColl, “Days” from: Kite
I have lovely memories of Kirsty. Somehow we were in each other’s orbit, and so we had her sing on more or less the very first band demos I ever did, with Tom Robinson at his studio in Hammersmith. And her voice is therefore dripping all over “Affairs Of The Heart,” which ended up on Here Comes The Groom, my first Sire album, which we didn’t record quite enough songs for and so I used some we’d recorded earlier (including “Bastard Son,” “Dark Dark Heart” and “Affairs Of The Heart).” (I also remember that an engineer at the recording session lost a whole slab of her vocals due to, and it’s possible I’m imagining this bit, being stoned. And so we just kept recording and she did them all again, but we didn’t tell her she wasn’t actually doubling, but replacing.) It wasn’t long after “Fairytale Of New York,” but she was already a legend for “They Don’t Know,” which remains one of the greatest ever songs, and “Chip Shop.” I remember going round to her house and she played me the recordings of vocals she’d just done in New York for David Byrne’s album Rei Momo, and I just felt unbelievably privileged and awestruck. And then she died so tragically. “They Don’t Know” is on my jukebox. And, of course, I didn’t even notice that the song I’m actually meant to be talking about here is a cover of “Days” by Sir Ray Davies. (He was always a Sir, wasn’t he? We didn’t really need it made official.)

Pete Seeger, “Little Boxes” from: Pete Seeger’s Greatest Hits
Pete Seeger—whose music I very rarely listen to but which I genuinely love—is one of the greats of the 20th century, and it was thrilling that Bruce Springsteen threw some late glory and attention his way. At the induction of Woody Guthrie into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, we were upstairs, practicing, maybe rehearsing or even “jamming” with various Braggs and Robbinses and DiFrancos and all these people, and I played a little harmonica solo, sitting on an alcove by a window, on “Hobo’s Lullaby.” And later that night we were onstage at the gig playing the song. Seeger said, “Play a little harp for us, Wes,” which I’d had no idea about because I’d thought we were simply playing earlier rather than rehearsing, but somehow it had got in his head that I’d played the harmonica, and so he asked again on that big stage and luckily—and it was pure luck—I had the same harmonica in the same pocket and so I played a solo. And it was a very beautiful moment for me. I emceed one of his last ever appearances in NYC—the “Folk City” exhibition benefit at the New York Academy of Medicine—and I offered him a hand going up to the stairs to the stage (which I was on and which he was trying to get to), but he was so old, and so near death, that his entire concentration was on actually getting up the stairs to the stage. He didn’t even hear me or see me. It was pure determination. And he got to the stage, and we played “Goodnight, Irene.” I recently re-created, at a lower-school assembly at my kids’ school, some of the music from the March On Washington, when MLK told us about his dream—and so I played “We Shall Overcome” (which Joan Baez sang that day) and “If I Had A Hammer” (Peter, Paul & Mary sang that and “Blowin’ In The Wind,” while Dylan sang two new songs nobody really knew), etc. It’s almost impossible for me to sing these songs without tears, because of the young kids listening and the state the world is in, unimproved, as if nothing has been learned. And also because they’re such great songs. Even Trini Lopez singing “If I Had A Hammer” is too much if you really think about how that last verse comes together. “Little Boxes” is one of those songs, too.

Rosanne Cash, “Seven Year Ache” from: Seven Year Ache
I adore this song, and I’m lucky to have sung it with Rosanne Cash a few times. I had a song called “Spaced Cowgirl” on my first U.S. album that was absolutely my attempt—wordy and botched but sincere—to write the same kind of thing. And I was once playing pool with a guy in a bar in Jersey, and he said, “That song of yours sounds kind of like it’s based on ‘Seven Year Ache,’” and I knew to fear that man very much because he was right and no one else had ever mentioned or thought of it. “Seven Year Ache” is such a clever lyric, and the melody is so seductive. And the combination of the synths (or whatever they are) and the more traditional country instruments, pedal steel and whatnot, is very happy. And it’s really a very wordy song, a cascade of them, but it never sounds wordy, which many of my songs do even if they’re basically instrumentals. Anyone who has read Rosanne’s memoir knows that the good writing doesn’t stop with lyrics: Her sentences are so clean.

GOAT, “I Sing In Silence” from: Requiem
GOAT might be my favorite contemporary band; certainly right up there. I liked the second album a bit less than the first one, purely because the production was less punchy, but the third album is terrific and a nice development, too: It’s a little more acoustic and vibey and Incredible String Band-y. They also put on an amazing show. This isn’t my favorite song on the new record by a long chalk, but the whole album runs so beautifully that you can’t really begrudge any particular song. Also, the colored vinyl is very nice.

The Mekons, “Ghosts Of American Astronauts” from: So Good It Hurts
I think maybe among the people I admire most in music are Jon Langford and Sally Timms (and their Mekons) and Scott McCaughey (and his Minus 5, etc.). It isn’t about the music so much, though of course it is about the music (you don’t continue to do it unless you write great songs like this one), but about the attitude to continuing to make the music: the ways of keeping everything fresh and approaching it from a new angle so it can keep working, and of inviting other people to be part of your thing, as you are then invited to become part of theirs. These people are both great hosts and great guests—you want to be around them—and it doesn’t matter to them which they are. They inspire people to do the same; they make people more generous with their time and energies. I write as one such person who has been inspired.

Graham Parker & The Rumour, “Watch The Moon Come Down” from: Stick To Me
GP is another I hugely admire—from having him on the Cabinet Of Wonders (“You Can’t Be Too Strong” is a strange song to duet, but we keep doing it, and another favorite is “Back In Time”) to seeing him play in San Francisco solo, or with the Rumour in Philly, or back in the day at the Town And Country Club in London. It’s the way he’s been able to remain focused for so long, just so constantly ready to keep being annoyed about things in his songs. It’s really admirable. I suppose it’s very foolish to diss a record company in a song, but he’s certainly the guy to do it. And I’ve had the pleasure to get to know him, and he’s exactly what you’d hope. I loved all the Rumour records; Live At Marble Arch is one of my favorite live albums; and then there was the brilliant Mona Lisa’s Sister, which was maybe a comeback, but every single one of those records—even the ones that kind of went by quite quickly—has some totally fantastic songs on it, with hooks and snarky lyrics. “Passion Is No Ordinary Word”; anger is an energy. And he’s got such a fantastic voice. This song’s from Stick To Me, which is a great album. Truth to tell, he’s my favorite of all the people of that age and British ilk. When I see him live, I always want to hear him do “I Want You Back”: It’s one of my favorite covers ever.

Parquet Courts, “Dust” from: Human Performance
Love all Parquet Courts. Brilliant lyrics. Hooky songs. Funny. The poster of the same chord over and over—the sheet music for “Sunbathing Animals” that came with the seven-inch single—is a beautiful thing. “Dust” may not be my most favorite PC song, but it’s really beautifully recorded, and it’s all about dust, so that’s interesting, and it does have a great hook. So who cares whether it’s the best one or not? I could listen to “Pretty Machines” from Content Nausea almost all day, particularly those fun horns. And “Master Of My Craft” from Light Up Gold. I haven’t seen them live yet. Not sure why. I’d like to.

Matthew Sweet And Susanna Hoffs, ”I’ve Seen All Good People” from: Under The Covers, Vol. 2
I love all these Sweet/Hoffs covers, my favorite being the Marmalade song “I See The Rain,” which I have begged Ms. Hoffs to sing at a forthcoming Cabinet Of Wonders (which request seems to have been successful). I think Steve Howe even plays guitar on this. (The last time I saw Yes, he looked so like Mr. Burns from The Simpsons and played phenomenally well. I really like a solo album by him called Beginnings, on which another of my favorite bands, Gryphon, plays on a song called “Lost Symphony.”) Anyway, Yes. You don’t need me to persuade you how great Yes are/were. I don’t need to persuade Matthew Sweet—who wrote “Someone To Pull The Trigger,” a heartbreaking classic—or Susanna Hoffs. Last time I saw Yes, they had a reserve Jon singing (not Anderson but Davison) who did a very good job, making me wonder all about what really matters when you see bits of old bands reformed and with members missing, and rogue different versions of those bands, and when, even with original members (though these are ever-decreasing), it becomes a tribute band and if it even matters. I’m glad they’re getting into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame because they seemed really obsessed about it: That in itself isn’t very dignified, given what a pile of bullshit it is, but they did seem to be lobbying heavily for inclusion. I’m glad it paid off. I’d even consider seeing Anderson, Rabin And Wakeman, to see how it compares. I thank Dag Juhlin for getting me into Yes. He did that single-handed by sending me a cassette with Going For The One on one side and Steely Dan on the other. His tactic was 50-percent successful.

John Prine, “Sam Stone” from: John Prine
Steve Goodman and John Prine were the two songwriters I really aspired to be when I first picked up a guitar, which I first picked up really just to write songs. That, and I wanted to perform like Loudon Wainwright, who I used to get to see quite often in England. I loved the songs on which Prine and Goodman duetted (“Souvenirs” and so forth), and I could play, literally, every song on every one of their records. I used to busk a lot, and my repertoire was entirely those three artists. I hardly bothered playing Bob Dylan songs. Well, “Sam Stone” is on the first side of the first Prine album, so it’s classic, peak Prine (though the standard of his output has been high throughout his career), but I’m not even sure I fully understood half of it when I first heard it because it’s such Americana: “little pitchers have big ears”—I had no idea what that meant at all. But it’s a great song—the casual brutality of the images—and the simple beautiful melody. I love the Swamp Dogg cover of this song, too. I love all Swamp Dogg covers. “Lady Madonna” by Swamp Dogg! And how about Bobby Goldsboro’s “World Beyond,” by Swamp Dogg? Now I just want to talk about Swamp Dogg. In fact, I’d rather be writing about the music I like now than almost all of this stuff, if I’m honest, because I feel like I may have written all these things before about how much I love John Prine and Steve Goodman and Bob Dylan and so forth.