Sunday, December 30, 2007

My Top Ten Albums of 1997 and What I Think of Them Now...

Sophomore year of high school. I'd finally begun to write about music in the student newspaper and was more focused on music than ever before. I still had my list caveat where the last two spots would be records I'd merely "discovered" that year...not necessarily released that year.

(I'm somewhere in there)

1. TastyDemolition Doll Rods
The Doll Rods were hard to not totally dig as a 15-year-old. The white dude from the Gories, tasty garage rock riffage, primal drums and barely-covered tits is a pretty solid combination. With Mick Collins and Jon Spencer splitting the production duties, this record is still important to me. I remember hearing stories of the album release show (at the Magic Bag in Ferndale) where the band wore copies of the LP as their stage costumes. Totally fucking genius. Wish I had been there. I loved the vinyl so much that I actually went out and bought a CD copy too, certainly one of my earliest concessions in the battle of coolness versus ease/frequency of playback.

The cavalcade of hits here is undeniable…"Motor City Dragway", "If You Can't Hang", "Queen Bee, Drag Racin'", "Maverick Girl", "Raw", "This Little Monkey", "Psycho Kitty"…there's nary a dud on here. Now if they'd included the (still-unreleased) studio version of "I Wanna O.D." (the best song the Doll Rods ever had by a mile) the album would surely equal perfection. Still, for me, this album is, well, tits. The cover, with sunglassed Mick devouring the girls on a hot dog…it's so camp and the colors so vibrant, easily one of the most memorable album covers of the decade. And to view it on the full-color gatefold LP that almost bankrupted In the Red Records is all the more tantalizing. I'd challenge anyone to argue the Doll Rods were ever better than on Tasty. Matador is where In the Red bands go to die and it was clearly shown on TLA. After that they seemed to play the same set in Detroit for the next three years.

As I listen to the album ten years later, I detect a whole other layer of complexity to it all. There's a braveness to the tempo on these songs. The temporal Link Wray slob of "Raw" is begging to be sped up, but the Doll Rods soldier on with what could almost be called an anti-tempo. Same could be said about the plodding, chiming "Motor City Dragway." In the same way Flipper killed hardcore music by playing as slow as possible when everyone else in the underground was battling to be the fastest band in the world, the Demolition Doll Rods debut album is a proud middle finger to everything else happening around it.

As a teenager I'd thought that Tasty was a loose concept album about drag racing as no less than three songs deal with the subject. With perspective, it's clear that while drag racing is rote lyrical fodder for garage rock, its meaning takes a subversive bent with the Demolition Doll Rods. With the confrontational cross-dressing outfits worn by Danny Dollrod, (including, but not limited to, pasties, g-strings, wigs, make-up) the duality of the word drag and its conflicting definitions in terms of racing and dressing becomes the perfect summation of the Demolition Doll Rods and Tasty itself. The fact that Dan had wholly intentioned this and that just yesterday admitted he doesn't remember anyone ever making the connection previously is all the more beautiful.

The lyrics to "If You Can't Hang" capture it brilliantly. Dan sings "If you want you can call me a fag" as if without a care in the world. In that one line, where he succinctly pays no mind to one of the harsher put-downs one could level to an American male, he stakes a claim against all the misogynistic, empty and tired mid-nineties garage rock cliches (think naked devil girls, flame decals, songs about beer) and renders them impotent. To not only attack but destroy the basis of an entire genre under the guise of that which they hold sacred...drag racing, is unheard of. It's akin to waltzing into enemy territory in broad daylight with your colors flying high and taking the motherfuckers out with their own weaponry.

This record deserves far more props than it has ever received. It put all that bullshit Estrus Records, Coop artwork, hot-rod driving pathetic garage schlock into a coffin and paved the way for more-cerebral, ultimately more pleasing bands of the era to take foot. And for that, I think we all owe the Demolition Doll Rods a small thank-you.

It's rare to have an album still be fresh and interesting and revealing new facets after ten years of listening, but Tasty does all those things. In my opinion, it's still the best album of 1997.

2. Retreat From the Sunthat dog
I still regret going to see the Melvins at the Shelter when I could've seen that dog opening for blur (talk about the lowercase utilizing band pairing of the century) at Clutch Cargo's. I actually thought the Melvins might be on their way out. Anygay, I bought this at Musicland (or was it Sam Goody by then? Does anyone know?) during their legendary "dog" sale. If you don't remember, anything remotely dog related was automatically $7.99 or $9.99 or some fairly low price. So if there was a song that had dog in the title or was a picture of a dog on the cover or anything dog anything you got this super deal. Big huge posters of dogs all around the store, signs notifying customers of said promotion plastered every three feet…it did seem to be the most subversive a national music chain ever got. Anyway, I bring the disc up to the counter and somehow, the skin wastes there tried to ring up the CD at full-price (which was usually $16.99 there). I politely reminded them of the omnipresent sale going on and I got my discount. Seriously, how many copies of Alice In Chains' self-titled album did they sell during this disastrous promotion? Whatever. The music here is classic. I still love it…"Hawthorne" and "Did You Ever?" both still particularly enjoyable. "Minneapolis" is filled with cultural landmarks (the Jabberjaw, 7th St. Entry) that would become familiar in my coming years. "Long Island" is shimmering and stellar. I remember seeing the video for "Never Say Never" on Mtv. Oh youth…the harbinger of infatuation and dedication.

3. The Colour and the ShapeFoo Fighters
The first time I heard "Monkey Wrench" on the radio is one of the few true "holy shit!" musical moments I've ever had. I literally had no idea what would come next with that song…the weird stops, frolicking guitar weedle, the final verse screamed impossibly without Grohl taking a breath. "Doll" was perfect on teenaged mixtapes and "My Poor Brain" (apparently known on early live tapes as "Chicken Derby") is how I imagined arena rock could be good. Still a good album, but I've kinda soured on the production in my old age.

But the b-sides here kill…

I've written here before how badass the song "The Colour and the Shape" is and how cool it was not to include the title track on the album. Add covers of Vanity 6's "Drive Me Wild", Gerry Rafferty's "Baker Street" and Gary Numan's "Down in the Park" were all treats back then and collectively solidifying when compiled for the quickly overlooked/forgotten tenth anniversary reissue of this.

I saw them live at Clutch Cargo's on this tour. It was the first live show I'd witnessed where I was a little let down, thus preparing me for years of seeing local openers play before the Dirtbombs.

4. HonkyMelvins

Merely on the list because it is a Melvins album. I dug "Mombius Hibachi" as the ascender to the throne abdicated by the live absence of "Honey Bucket." Anyone around here know that Dan John Miller of Blanche makes a cameo in the video for said song? Search it out on YouTube. "Lovely Butterflies" is pretty swank too. But this album would most definitely not make my list if I made it with ten years hindsight.

5. Ghettoblaster Vol. 1 – V/A
The inclusion of two "Dirtbombs" tracks (really demo shit Mick was doing for Warner Brothers) makes this aces. "Wheatland" is inspiring in it's two-chord magnificence and retarded drum fills. We keep threatening to record this and as much as I want to, I don't think we'll ever top this version. "Encrypted" is cool too. The Hentchmen doing the Oblivians "90's Girl" and their own "Yesterday's Trash" are both vital. Jim Diamond's Pop Monsoon "Personality" is the best thing he's ever done. They gave away free copies to the first 25 (50?) people in the door for the release show. I wasn't there.

6. Ghost of Tom Joad – Rage Against the Machine
I guess I thought there was a lack of decent full-lengths this year. I resorted to the free 7" the Rage fan club mailed me. The cover version of the Springsteen call-to-arms is re-crystallized as genuine and moving here.

7. Hype Soundtrack – V/A
I was going by the 7" boxset, not the CD issue. And for me, you could really just limit it to the first two slabs…U-Men, Soundgarden, the Wipers, Mudhoney and Nirvana. I mean, are you fucking kidding me? How awesome is that shit? I don't care it's all old, re-released junk. The combination of those bands alone on a single release in 1997 warrants their inclusion on my list. Colored vinyl too? Forget about it.

If I had known about the CD release at the time…shiiiit.

8. Singles # 1-12Melvins
I think I was just pissed that I didn't know how to get in on the Melvins Singles Club. Still missing a few of these singles and decent offers will be entertained. The first one, "Lexicon Devil" b/w "Pigtro" is the best of the bunch. And "Theresa Screams" is beautiful in its own demented way. But really, two Melvins albums on my top ten list? I could've joined a cult at that point. The singularity of my musical vision was only rivaled by my undying loyalty and dedication to the artists contained therein.

9. The Jet-Age Genius of… - Goober and the Peas
Bought this one used at Hot Hits original Roseville location. You'd be surprised how good some of these songs are…"Loose Lips", "Cordially Invited", "Moanin'" and "One Last Kiss" are all legitimate…whether you dig the schlocky humor or not. Never saw 'em live but the vids proved it was a riot. Honestly worth the money you'll have to pay to get on on eGay. But what about the boxes upon boxes of sealed copies in Dan Miller's garage?

10. Ask For ItHole
I dug the Wipers cover ("Over The Edge") ignored the Velvets cover ("Pale Blue Eyes") and totally frothed over the demonic live spout of "Drown Soda" (rhyming "soda" with "Minnesota" blew my mind) while covering the Germs and Beat Happening with the medley assault of "Forming" and "Hot Chocolate Boy" is one of my favorite moments of anything ever. But honestly, had I been aware, the (w)Hole compilation My Body, the Handgrenade would have easily knocked this EP off the list.

(the actual hand-written list courtesy of the Smithsonian National Archives)

If I had to make the list today, it would read something like this…

1. Tasty – Demolition Doll Rods
2. Wolf Songs For Lambs – Jonathan Fire*Eater
3. The Colour and the Shape – Foo Fighters
4. Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space – Spiritualized
5. Retreat From the Sun – that dog
6. Dig Me Out – Sleater-Kinney
7. Broad Appeal – The Hentchmen
8. OK Computer – Radiohead
9. Planet of the Wolves – Guitar Wolf
10. My Body, the Handgrenade - Hole

What would your Top Ten of 1997 look like?


Anonymous said...

The Picture: The hair gives it away. That all-too familiar right-to-left sweep across the forehead.

1997 list:

This is when Record Buying really stepped-up a level for me, this exact year, late Sept. 1997 and I spent the last cash I had that month on the Jonathan Fire*eater album, it was £9.99 in Virgin Magastore and I was skint for...well, from that point until now. And every single one of these albums has been played to death:

01. Jon Spencer Blues Explosion - Controversial Negro
02. Mogwai – Mogwai Young Team
03. Blur – Blur
04. Prodigy – The Fat Of The Land
05. Wu-Tang Clan – Wu-Tang Forever
06. Jonathan FIre*eater - Wolf Songs for Lambs
07. Pavement – Brighten In The Corners
08. Death In Vegas – Dead Elvis
09. Radiohead – Ok Computer
10. Spiritualized – Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space
11. Primal Scream – Vanishing Point

Anonymous said...

This is a great post. Your best and worth the wait.

My list IN 1997 would have looked like this:

1. Ok Computer
2. Dig Me Out - SK
3. Portishead-P.head *
4. Kings of Yeah - 84 Nash
5. Mag Earwhig! - GbV *
6. Baduizm
7. Be Here Now -Oasis*
8. The Carnival - W. Jean
9. Urban Hymns - The Verve*
10. Double Plaidinum - Lagwagon*

The starred items would no longer make the cut and I rationalize my then-fondness of them to the following, respectively: a prolonged break up, misplaced loyalty, group think, general girliness, and youthful exuberance.

Today, they would be replaced with Time Out of Mind, that Spiritualized record, Either/Or, Bjork's Homo, maybe Modest Mouse's Lonesome Crowded West or possibly Wu-Tang 4EvR.

Anonymous said...

"Dig Me Out" - for sure.


gr3ggles said...

This exercise has been both painful and informative. Man, 1998 was just so much more my shit.
1. Supergrass- In It for the Money
2. Headcoatees- Punk Girls
3. Yo La Tengo- I can Feel the Heart...
4. Pavement- Brighten
5. Nick Cave + BS- Boatman's Call
6. Belle + Sebastian- If You're Feeling Sinister
7. Spiritualized- Ladies & Gents...
8. Stereolab- Dots+Loops
9. The Makers- Hunger
10. Jungle Brothers- Raw Deluxe