Memorial Monday: Our “Combat Rock” Sound Check

In honor of Memorial Day, we bring you our Sound Check, originally published 11 years ago, on rock’s finest anti-war protest music.

“Somewhere there’s a war, sometimes there is art,” sings Jeff Tweedy on “Shake It Off” from Wilco’s latest LP, Sky Blue Sky. And sometimes there are both. Whether it was Bob Dylan standing over the metaphorical graves of the Vietnam-era profiteers on “Masters Of War,” Jimi Hendrix turning his guitar into a lethal weapon for peace on “Machine Gun,” the Soft Boys warning a generation they were “dying to get killed” on “I Wanna Destroy You” or Public Enemy’s Chuck D railing at the government for daring to send him a draft notice on “Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos,” musicians have long taken up instruments, pens and voices in service of a decidedly pro-human agenda. The following six albums represent rock’s finest anti-war protest music.

Continue reading “Memorial Monday: Our “Combat Rock” Sound Check”

Sound Check: Beatles Vs. Stones

Before Oasis battled Blur and Kanye West wrestled 50 Cent, there was this: the ultimate pop-music rivalry. The Beatles represented Northern England, taking up the mantel for all the marginalized country folk whose ways and accents marked them as separate from the cosmopolitan London manifested by bad-boy R&B purists the Rolling Stones. That said, despite the well-publicized differences between the bands, they had a lot in common. Both shared a fondness for some of the same old rock ’n’ roll, employed overlapping session musicians, lost their ’60s catalogs to the same shyster (Allen Klein), worked with the same movie director (Michael Lindsay-Hogg, who was behind the Let It Be movie and the Stones’ ill-conceived Rock And Roll Circus program) and used “hold me, love me” as a lyric. The Stones may have long since allowed their sell-by date to expire while improbably outliving half of the Fab Four, but back in the ’60s, this rivalry resulted in an amazing run of classic albums. Are you ready to rumble?

Continue reading “Sound Check: Beatles Vs. Stones”

Sound Check: Lost In Translation

Let’s cut right to the chase: Everybody hates world music. Even David Byrne. (The Talking Heads frontman, who’s perhaps most responsible for expanding the genre’s audience via his Luaka Bop label, once penned a somewhat apologetic editorial for the New York Times saying as much.) Nothing conjures pretentious, self-satisfied yuppiedom quite as vividly as world music, but for whatever reason, foreign-language albums are invariably tarred with its brush. Here are six discs whose charms can’t be held down by a language barrier.

Continue reading “Sound Check: Lost In Translation”

Sound Check: Sophomore Slumps



You’ve spent years honing your songs on the booze-stained stages of derelict clubs. Your debut album earns critical praise and popular support, elevating your group to buzz-bin status. So what to do for an encore? If you’re the six bands here, you give critics the ammunition they need to forecast your follow-up as a sophomore slump. These records are the most unfortunate examples of the dreaded second-album syndrome.

Continue reading “Sound Check: Sophomore Slumps”

Sound Check: Guilty Pleasures



Chomping your way through a Big Grab of Doritos. Compulsive viewing of The OC. A deep, abiding love of chick lit. These are the guilty pleasures we take pains to keep secret, the embarrassing little indulgences to which we treat ourselves when we think no one is paying attention. Music is no exception: For all of your carefully selected stacks of rare vinyl or devotion to Sonic Youth’s obscure Japanese imports, you also have to admit you own a copy of Rush’s Moving Pictures. The following represent the best of rock and pop’s guilty pleasures from the last three decades—not in that hipster, irony-laced, sure-I-dig-Neil-Diamond kind of way, but albums that stubbornly remain in rotation despite all critical evidence suggesting otherwise.

Continue reading “Sound Check: Guilty Pleasures”