This is not a new idea. The iPod dates back to late 2001, and a cursory Google search turns up examples of the "first ten songs on your iPod shuffle" meme dating back to early 2004. Still, as per the previous post, I've been looking for a re-entry to writing about music, and sometimes things catch on because they're just plain good ideas.
I thus give you the first installment of what I hope will be a weekly feature here at Tin Ear, inspired by that classic meme and Greil Marcus's Real Life Rock Top Ten, it's a journey through my record collection, ten songs at a time: "The Tin Ear Ten."
1) "Doin' It" - LL Cool J (1995)
Some post-peak bedroom rap from James Todd Smith. "Doin' It" makes it into my collection not from 1995's Mr. Smith, but from the absolutely essential greatest hits collection All World from the following year, on which it is one of the least essential tracks despite being a #9 pop hit in early 1996. "Doin' It" opens with 30 seconds of foreplay, establishing the moody, echo-laden, reggae-derived keyboard hook (from Grace Jones' "My Jamaican Guy") while LL whispers sweet nothings about dropping the track evoking erotic moans from an unknown female companion. That companion turns out to be never-was Tommy Boy recording artist LeShaun, with whom this is something of a coital duet (per the chorus, he represents Queens, she was raised out in Brooklyn). LL's first line is "It's our first time together and I'm feeling kinda horny," and it just gets dirtier from there as we're essentially eavesdropping on a lovemaking session, complete with orgasmic moans from LeShaun at the end as LL chuckles to himself. Safe sex bonus points for the exchange, "You use a rubber?" "Damn right."
2) "Miami Vice Theme" - Jan Hammer (1985)
Remember when TV theme songs used to become hit songs? Hell, remember when TV shows used to have theme songs? This instrumental is all keyboards and drum machines, but was a #1 pop hit for the Prague-born Hammer, his only top-40 hit and evidence of just how much Miami Vice dominated the culture of the mid-80s. (Side note: years ago I was trying to explain the genre of prog rock to my now wife, then girlfriend, and when I was done she said, "yeah, I get it, but why to they call it Prague rock?") Although he's remembered as a one-hit wonder, Hammer had a long career as a session man and fusion artist after coming to the US in the wake of the communist invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. Since his association with Miami Vice, however, he's made most of his money through other soundtrack work for TV, film, and video games.
3) "Neil Jung" - Teenage Fanclub (1995)
Pleasant strummy power pop about a dysfunctional relationship sung in the second person by a third-person observer. There's certainly a Neil Young influence, particularly in the slightly scronky outro solo, but the title exists as much for the pun as anything else. Rich, warm, mid-tempo, and generally unexceptional.
4) "Who Are You" - The Who (1978)
The Who are one of my favorite bands, but that's largely because of their work up through Who's Next. After that, they became a bit too bombastic. "Who Are You" is one of the best examples of that. Despite clocking in at 6:21, there's not much song here, and most of the middle of the track is wasted on noodling and ineffective atmospherics. Lead singer Roger Daltrey, who had been oversinging since 1974's Quadrophenia, isn't so much singing as growling here, something the song, a prog-rocky mess of synthesizers, doesn't warrant. This was the title track of the band's last album with drummer Keith Moon, who would be dead by the time the song cracked the American top-40. Moon, who had famously eschewed the use of a hi-hat for most of his career, leans heavily on the hi-hat here, while bassist John Entwistle fails to make his presence felt, robbing the band of its dynamic of four virtuoso performers. Guitarist and songwriter Pete Townshend seems largely concerned with his layers of synths save for some lightning-quick picking in the noodle-y middle section. Townshend made early and tasteful use of synthesizers on Who's Next, but he's lost his way here.
5) "Your Sister Can't Twist (But She Can Rock 'N' Roll)" - Elton John (1973)
This is one of the lesser tracks from John's double album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. An up-beat 12-bar-blues pastiche that sounds about how you'd expect glam-rock-era Elton doing an early-rock tribute song to sound, though it's not nearly as annoying as "Crocodile Rock" from Don't Shoot Me I'm Only The Piano Player, released earlier the same year. "Your Sister Can't Twist" rocks harder than that hit, but lacks a strong hook and, in making direct allusions to such oldies as "Twist and Shout" and "Palisades Park," some of which come via what seems to be intentionally choppy editing, sounds more like concept-album filler than a song able to stand on it's own merits. On the album, it gives way to "Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting," making it all the more forgettable.
6) "No Remorse" - Metallica (1983)
You can count me among those who believe that Metallica were at their leanest, meanest, and best on their debut, Kill 'Em All. "No Remorse," isn't among the album's best tracks, however, in part because the song's structure is somewhat haphazard. There are a handful of solid riffs in here, but the better ones come and go too quickly or arrive too late in the track, almost as if the song was a storehouse for leftovers from the rest of the album. The song's fairly generic anti-war lyrics surely owe a debt to Black Sabbath's Vietnam-era "War Pigs." Generic as they may be, however, they're sadly more relevant now than when they were written.
7) "Shakin' All Over" - The Who (1970)
From Live At Leeds, one of the few absolutely essential live albums, comes this riff-heavy blues that the Who make their own. Written by Johnny Kidd (born Frederick Heath) of Johnny Kid and the Pirates and originally released by that British beat band on the B-side of a single in 1960, "Shakin' All Over" has become a standard thanks largely to this electric Who performance. As with the rest of Live At Leeds, Daltrey is in prime voice, properly menacing but never excessively growling, Moon is in syncopated perpetual motion, Entwistle holds things down out of the left speaker with a fuzzy bass tone that nearly doubles as a rhythm guitar (Entwistle takes the first solo on this song), while Pete Townshend turns in some of the best guitar work of his life out of the right speaker. It's hard to believe that you're listening to a simple four-piece, essentially a power trio plus vocals. The album also boast tremendous sound, as the presence and tone of each instrument cuts right through to the bone (do yourself a favor and track this one down on vinyl). There are a few missed notes along the way, but this track is an absolute classic.
8) "TV Party" - Black Flag (1981)
Henry Rollins-era Black Flag was pretty bleak, but this track from Damaged is downright goofy. Playing the part of a group of beer-swilling couch potatoes (or, using a phrase from the day, "televidiots"), Rollins and company hide from the outside world and watch their "favorite" shows ("That's Incredible!," "Hill Street Blues," "Dallas," "Saturday Night Live," "Monday Night Football," "Jeffersons," and something that sounds like either "Vegas" or the short-lived SNL knockoff "Fridays," both of which were on the air at the time--the version used for the classic low-budget video substitutes "Dynasty" for "The Jeffersons"), until their TV breaks, which really bums them out. It's a sing-songy gang vocal and a hardcore classic.
9) "Too Young To Fall In Love" - Mötley Crüe (1983)
A pop metal classic from the Crüe's best album, Shout At The Devil (see my retrospective of the band on the sidebar), this track was inexplicably left off both Decade of Decadence and their 1998 Greatest Hits. Despite that repeated oversite, it's one of their best. Driven by Tommy Lee's half-time beat and a great Nikki Sixx-penned riff, the lyrics, also by Sixx, pull the old trick of having metal verses ("Run for the hills/Were both sinners and saints/Not a woman, but a whore/I can just taste the hate/Well, now I'm killing you/Watch your face turning blue . . .") with pop choruses that simply repeat the title three times. The video, an early MTV staple, appears to have been inspired by Samurai movies (it's supposedly set in Shanghai, though its actual New York location gives it more of a Chinatown feel) and features a brief cameo by a 21-year-old Michelle Yeoh as a sword-wielding woman who is "punched" by Sixx as the band apparently "win" a conflict that is never established. Evidence of their victory is given when the characters at the end of the video all sport two black stripes of makeup on their cheek to match Tommy Lee's look at the time (this "one of us" trope was quite popular in early hair metal videos). The Asian theme of the video is curiously foreshadowed by Mick Mars' guitar solo, which opens with a flury of tightly bunched notes that have something of an Asian pentatonic scale feel to them. Easily my favorite Mötley Crüe song.
10) "Battle Without Honor or Humanity" - Tomoyasu Hotei (2000)
Like many of the pieces Quentin Tarantino and RZA dug up for the Kill Bill, Vol. 1 soundtrack, which is how this song made its way into my collection, this instrumental has since become overexposed in commericials and at sporting events (see the Wikipedia entry for examples). Originally used in the Japanese film Another Battle (Shin jingi naki tatakai) starring Hotei, a famous singer and guitarist in his native Japan, the song is a brief instrumental based around a group of chugging, reverb-laden single-note guitars under which appear a pulsing base and hip-hop beat and over which a series of horn blasts and riffs develop something not far removed from the James Bond theme, which is its obvious inspiration.