In the Before Times, when music on the radio was not analogous to commercial interruption, a band of musicians had a three-minute window to set the world on fire. Many groups took this responsibility with great gravitas, crafting an introduction to their big number that would grab listeners by the scruff of the neck and pull them uncomfortably close for the duration. These were songs that made turning the dial impossible.
And to state the utterly obvious, they don’t make ’em like this no more.
1. “Boilermaker”, Jesus Lizard, Liar
It was love at first listen.
The first time I heard “Boilermaker” I fell madly in love with Jesus Lizard.
BUH! It’s as though the song begins with lead singer David Yow kicking you square in the chest. I’LL CALM DOWN! I’M CALM NOW, BUT I’M SHAKING!!!
I heard this in a Savannah record store and bought Liar, the album it kicks off, before the song ended. I wasn’t disappointed; the rest of the LP ranged from good to great. The only complaint I could level against it is that the insane energy of the first half is impossible to sustain over a full album. Some may complain that Yow sounds like he’s eating a sock, which I like, or about that whole “dick tricks” deal on stage a few years back. (I only ever managed “The Wristwatch” and “The Schooner”. Nobody liked it when I did either, probably because no one wants to watch anyone play with their dick.)
2. “Search & Destroy”, The Stooges, Raw Power
I can’t speak for women, but for red-blooded American men like moi, the opening guitar pang of this song grabs you by the root of your cluster and yanks. It’s like a shot of adrenaline to the main aorta. This fucking tune is older than I am, and it sounds truer and better than anything that’s called itself Rock this century.
If you’re younger than 25, you might hear this song and notice that there is no current-day comparison to it. That’s because every circumstance that led to its creation has been sanitized and sublet to predatory sociopaths. Congratulations, you now understand why none of the music you like is tolerated by guys like me. That sick feeling in your gut right now? That’s the realization of freedoms that were taken away before you were even born. Now you know how I feel when I watch Easy Rider.
3. “Hot For Teacher”, Van Halen, 1984
2015 is far closer to Orwell’s novel than the year 1984 was. Most of what I recall is Transformers, Buckaroo Banzai, and Temple of Doom-related. And as if that weren’t fabulous enough, we were blessed with the Holy Configuration of Van Halen, blissfully unaware of the pretenders to the throne steadily making their approach.
Drummer Alex Van Halen kicks off this masterpiece of raunch-rock with a jackhammering of double bass. It is the sound of God taking the Greatest Dump of Relief, resonating in the Holy Bowl, almost inconceivable by us lesser beings.
Brother Eddie is summoned by the stir of offbeat toms, and cuts loose a bevy of furious, writhing snakes from the fretboard of his awesome guitar. They dart and slither into your earholes by the dozen. YOU LOVE IT.
Then the bass kicks in.
Every great bass player is a minimalist at heart, and no one has ever rung more out of a single note than Michael Anthony. It’s my firm belief he should be canonized Patron Saint of Aspiring Bass Players. Les Claypool and Geddy Lee are still the jokesters, however masterful. Michael Anthony’s basslines are as efficient as starving piranhas. (We’ll be here all day if I start on “Running With The Devil”, which lost by a hair to this entry.)
By the time David Lee Roth begins his master-of-ceremonies patter, you should be punch-drunk. Speaking of which, are those bottles clinking? Are they supposed to be drinking in class? How the hell was I supposed to turn out, after absorbing this at 12 years old?
Without the video, I thought the pandemonium outro with DLR screaming “OH MY GOD” indicated that the teacher was a gigantic monster-woman that entered the classroom and squashed him with her giant butt. I don’t know, man, I was 12.
4. “Red”, King Crimson, Red
This might be a divisive entry, as it’s more personal, I guess. The opening of this instrumental has scared and unnerved me well into adulthood. If I discovered an underground animation made by some hippie who did too much acid, and he went insane, and everyone who saw the cartoon went insane too, because it was just horrific demons emerging from bodies or some such, and “Red” was the intended score, let’s just say I’d be unsurprised. Nonplussed, even.
I love this tune for its ability to raise gooseflesh on each listen. It sounds to me like the fanfare to something bad and sleazy that’s beginning to happen. Not quite the “old stripper coming to life” feeling of Bo Harwood’s opening to Cassevettes’s The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, but in that rundown neighborhood. These are all compliments, by the way.
You’ll have to find this one yourself, as it gets pulled from YouTube, which only confirms my suspicions about its dark power.
5. “Tom Sawyer”, Rush, Moving Pictures
There is only one kind of people that do not get excited at the synth note that begins “Tom Sawyer”. Dead people.
Whereas I have likened the original VH to Gods, Rush represents the humble pinnacle of Man. This song is the Highest Height. For crying out loud, you can hear it. It’s all right there.
In weaker moments, I’ve suggested this song as the official anthem of Planet Earth. Occasionally this has resulted in fisticuffs.
It’s worth it.