The Over/Under: Guided By Voices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

49 replies on “The Over/Under: Guided By Voices”

GBV will always be my favorite band ever and I agree with everything you’ve said for the most part. The only thing I don’t agree with is King and Caroline. I think it served as an excellent opening for Motor Away when they played the Jon Stewart show. However, the SEEEEELLLLLLLL is a little annoying. So fairly said.

Do the Collapse is a pretty bad album in my opinion but there are some good gems on there. Things that I Will Keep is the best song on that album.

I could never really get into Tonics and Twisted Chasers.

There are many songs that you could add to the underrated section including “Useless Inventions” and “Eureka Signs” which are incredible rockers.

Also, thanks for bringing “Sometimes I Cry” to my attention. I’ve never really given Forever Since Breakfast a good spin but this is definitely a good one!

GBV is by far an underrated and overlooked band in general.

I’m on board with most of the over-rated. I like King And Caroline though.
I might choose Secret Star (especially live) from Earthquake Glue, Jane of the Waking Universe from Mag Earwhig and Dragons Awake from Do the Collapse. I’d also go with Hank’s Little Fingers, but there are like 50 amazing underrated songs on Box. Is that the same Hamburg show where Bob in the middle says something like “Let’s get it together Hamburger!” ???

“king & caroline” is definitely one of the most beautiful songs i’ve ever heard. underrated if anything! also heed’s right about tonics.

It’s UNpossible to list FIVE of anything, good or bad, with Pollard.
That being said, V. Nice Try



“Little Lines” is one of the songs reportedly being reworked for the 3-D musical that Steven Soderbergh is directing of the life of Cleopatra (CLEO! written by ex GBV Jim Greer).

There are a bunch of overrated GBV songs, but I disagree about King and Caroline. It’s the type of gem on Alien Lanes that makes it great.

What is with Magnet’s fixation with Guided by Voices? It’s 2009, people! Every issue I get of the magazine, it seems to creak closer and closer to the 90s indie rock version of Goldmine, fawning over records and bands that stopped being new about 15 or 20 years ago. Let it go! (And Wilco isn’t much better, or much more relevant.) I think I’ll quietly let me subscription of six years lapse unless I read a good cover story about a NEW band in the next two issues. You’d think they stopped making indie rock after OK Computer, to read these guys. New flash: there’s some really great stuff out these days.

Hard to disagree with anything you wrote, except with the first few in the underrated part. You could list dozens of underrated GBV songs for the underrated thing and there’d still be more, especially from later-period albums that snobby indie fucks are so quick to dismiss.

Boo to the “Bulldog Skin” dis. First well-recorded example of GBV doing the big-rock greasy swagger thing Uncle Bob had aspired to for years. Thank goodness for the out-of-tune flub during the song’s first line — I like to think that’s Bob way of giving us all a wink, saying, “Yeah, some different players on this record — say hello to the fellas, why don’t ya? — but it’s still me/GBV.”

Good call on Bright Paper Werewolves. I’ve always thought that last line,”they finally got recognized then they left in obscurity and misery.” was eerily prophetic since the “original” band were shit-canned shortly after.
I also firmly agree on Cut-out Witch and Bulldog Skin. Two cringe-inducers. But I vehemently disagree about King and Caroline and Hot Freaks. Worthy classics.

Go ahead Magnet – jump on the ol’ “hot freaks is overrated” bandwagon that started brewing 5 years ago or so. Funny, like Eric and Matt and the rest of you I listened to Bee Thousand the week it came out (college radio DJ) and Hot Freaks was perfect. All this criticism is johnny-come-lately 101; we all loved it in 1994 – and your take on liquor/lick her is a perfect example of an anacronistic ex post facto criticism. I was there on Postal Blowfish in 1995-96-97 and didn’t see any of the criticisms now lodged by GBV enthusiasts. As you well know, at the time it came out and in the context of the rest of the song and album, it was right on. What if the lyric sheet actually said ” She told me lick her; I am a new man” – that doesn’t de facto make it some juvenile lyric. In fact, by having “liquor”, it subjects the song to multiple interpretations, feeling, and imagery. The entire song adn totality of the lyrics in context a classic example of Pollard emotive associative imagery that only now seems suspect because 14 years have passed and the mystery of Bob has been revealed. Magnet’s take only indicates its propsensity for erring on the side of juvenile interpretation and is pretty shallow and short-sighted. And that crack about “people who don’t really get…”. Give me a Fiddlesticking break. Ironically, that preposterous comment is indicative of someone who doesn’t get GBV.

Let’s list out the entire lyric sheet to Hot Freaks and renew this debate.

Yes, the latter parts of Earthquake Glue (see Secret Star) are damn good. You’re way off on King and Caroline (yes, the Jon Stewart performance is proof) as noted above. And to attempt to differentiate Cut-Out Witch “recorded” from Cut Out Witch “live” is like comparing the screenplay for the 400 Blows to the film i.e. it’s a bit absurd to say the song is overrated but the live version kicks arse (which it does; see SXSW 1996 at Liberty Lunch).

Great piece, Magnet. Keep ’em coming. I love arguing my GBV….

SHAHvee is right. It is UNpossible to come up with just 5 things either way. I would agree with almost everything you disliked with the exception of Tonics. It is not that well known beyond the die hard GBV fans. I would offer up something like Hold On Hope. “There rides the cowboy” make me cringe everytime I hear it.

That being said I would take it over 90% of what is being played today. I love GBV and Bob Pollard.

I agree with a lot, but not all of your selections but whole-heartedly agree that THINGS I WILL KEEP is one of the best GBV songs EVER. Many a morning I wake up with that song in my head, it haunts me…

gbv were never a good band and were only ever rated by drunken fratboys anyhoo. all gbv songs are overrated unless your drunk

Thanks for that, Magnet. Good write, Roob. But what would I know…the worst GBV song I ever heard was GLORIOUS! And it’s cool to read about them, too.

Good call on “Hot Freaks” but “King and Caroline” is the shiz. And there’s plenty better on Under The Bushes then “Bright Paper Wherewolves.” Plus I wouldn’t call “Things I Will Keep” under-rated since it did make an appearance on the best of. Overall okay list, C+.

If you’re going to talk about chord changes, you should know at least a little about music theory. Otherwise, skip it. Not that it matters, but the chords in the 1st section are like a slowed-down version of the Husker Du chorus for “I Apologize”… K&C’s not the greatest song, but I didn’t know it was “overrated”.

i agree with a lot of this, roob. nice going. it took balls to come up with just 5.
i do love me some live *cut-out witch* though.

Little Lines, YES!!!! Gillard’s solo always reminded me of a flock of honking geese, but Wayne thought it sounded like a Coltrane horn. Gotta disagree about the K@C, though: Unkie Kev sez if you take the vocal part by iteslf it has the best melody in Bobdom, and I think he may have something there. Plus, one word: Omatic. RULING CLASS!

This article is great fun to read and the comments are too. Nice job. I love Tonics and Twisted Chasers, though. I remember reading that it was Tobin Sprout’s favorite GbV album too.

Most underrated GBV song should include “Underwater Explosions” and “Drag Days”, most overrated is an underestimation of any other song they ever recorded…sound bias? I’m from Ohio and grew up in Dayton, so I must favor the hometown dudes…they SPEAK!

Totally concur that Hot Freak and Cut-Out Witch weaken great albums. King and Caroline is a fantastic song though. I could take or leave Bulldog Skin.

If Roob is the foremost authority on Guided by Voices, I am Abraham Lincoln incarnate. The overrated list is just written to be contrary. No chord changes in “King and Caroline”? Christ, what an idiot. And to claim that any lineup with Nate Farley and Tim Tobias could improve a song is ludicrous. Those two were barely capable of holding their respective instruments. I would come back to read the non-GBV Pollard over/underrated songs, but now I doubt if Roob has ever listened to any.

how anyone can claim to be a expert on gbv and talk smack on “tonics” is beyond me – it is certainly not perfect, but really does have that rough impromptu feel that drew most people to gbv in the first place. i’ll take that record over the last dozen or so records that robert pollard has done with todd tobias (shudder).

re: steve – “Taco, Buffalo, Birddog and Jesus is the most underrated GBV song – hands down.”

seconded – holy smokes, what a fantastic song. i would also throw in “messenger” off the first suitcase collection in terms of under-appreciated tracks.

When She Turns 50
Deathtrot And Warlock Riding A Rooster
A Portrait Destroyed By Fire
Bulldog Skin

How Loft I Am?
Captain’s Dead
The Tumblers
Hey Spaceman

What’s with the King & Caroline dis? The great thing about Hot Freaks is that it sounds like Guided by Voices NOT sounding like Guided by Voices. You can’t take a pieces away from the puzzle… Big production tended to flatten the differences between the songs but my under-rated gems are: Learning to Hunt – how BEAUTIFUL is this? Not behind the Fighter Jet – sounds like Bob tossed it off when he had 5 minutes to spare, but the rest of us would give up if we wrote a song as good as this. Twilight Campfighter – a melody that soars!

By the way, I only saw GBV twice in 2000 SOBER! They were AND REMAIN the greatest rock band I have EVER SEEN! Also in the “under-rated” catagory. What about songs released by side projects that GBV did live? Alone, stinking & Unafraid is awesome. Ditto, Quicksilver, Far-Out Crops…where does it end? Bob is a genius.

Top Chick Silver Chord, Is She Ever?, Ha Ha Man and Knock ’em Flying are all great songs on Tonics And Twisted Chasers.

– Cut-out Witch is a great track on UTBUTS, maybe the intro a littel bit too long 🙂
– Tonics is a great album, I agree with skfl “i’ll take that record over the last dozen or so records that robert pollard has done with todd tobias (shudder)”.
Goddamn. Listen to “Is She Ever?”, “Top Chick Silver Chord”, “Optional Bases Opposed”, “158 Years of Beautiful Sex” etc.
– Underrated. Let’s talk about “Finks” and “Bunco Men”. Songs that were tacked away as Japan-only bonus track and in a goddamn suitcase!! These songs are among the best Pollard ever did.
– WHO KNOWS THE SONG “SPEAK LIKE MEN”?? IT’S NOT EVEN IN GBVDB!! What the hell is “Roob’ talkin’ about?

Lol. Just ribbin you. There are just SO many great GBV songs to choose from. And I like all of the ones in your list very, very much. And “Sometimes I Cry” wasn’t even really on my radar, so thanks for mentioning that one. Also, cheers for including a track from Do the Collapse; an extremely underrated album. And album which, due to the unnecessary “fan” backlash, kept GBV (and Bob) from ever attaining the commercial success they so rightly deserve.

It’s simply not possible to over rate Sir Pollard of Melody on any album from Propeller to Mag Earwhig. King and Caroline overrated?! Blasphemy!!!

King & Caroline…GBV classic!
I’d just say “Half Smiles” is overrated; “Universal Truths” is underrated.
Just so y’all know – Bright Paper Werewolves is about scratch-off lotto tickets…another reason GBV friggin rules…

apparently owning that many boot legs does not make you authority on gbv !!!one of the greatest underated rock song of all time is ”cut-out witch” and maybe ” a bird cage until further notice” the most overated is probably ”by the lake”…READTHEWRITINGONTHEWALLSIR

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