For as long as I can remember, I’ve made “Best of” compilations, through which I seek archive the best music of that particular year. This must’ve started about the time I got married and no longer was making CDs for anyone who dropped a pencil in my general vicinity (there are times when a man just needs to make a mix!) I obsess about these compilations, hoarding possibilities all year long until trimming the list each December. I know I’m not alone in this activity, though I will confess a strong sense of pride in the results…which typically lasts until about a week after I mail them out. Looking back on some recent best of compilations, I’ve made some colossal mistakes (The Everybodyfields?) If I mined the best of the best ofs, though, the greatest hits would make a killer mix.
I thought I’d reveal the Best of 2013 with the liner notes, starting with #20. I’ll do five at a time.
One caveat (because there are always caveats): not all of the songs were released during the year the compilation is chronicling; some are old but new to me (e.g., “Go All the Way”) or songs that for various reasons worked their way back into my consciousness this year (e.g., “Highwire Days”).
Part I: #20-16
20. “Shake Some Action,” Flamin’ Groovies/”Go All the Way,” The Raspberries. If I had to pick a favorite genre of music, it would be “power pop” (think Big Star, Tommy Keene, Teenage Fanclub.) I don’t know why I like it so much, but in my frustrated musician dreams, I’m always the frontman for a power pop band. I recently came across a reference to a book called Shake Some Action: The Ultimate Power Pop Guide, by John Borack, which traces the history of power pop and compiles the best albums and tracks of the genre (it must’ve been so fun to write.) I want this book. And it’s out-of-print. I found a partial version on Google Books, and I set upon it it as if it were a musical Rosetta Stone. It quickly became apparent that Borack revered the Flamin’ Groovies and The Raspberries as progenitors of the style. In my estimation, these are their best tracks. You’ve probably heard them before. It’s easy to hear their influence on bands like Matthew Sweet, The Posies, The Smithereens, etc.
19. “Turn,” New Order. I love New Order. I was under the impression that they hadn’t released anything worthwhile since “Regret” (1993), and I’m still mostly right. However, this gem, from Waiting for the Sirens’ Call (2005), is 4.5 minutes of pop-rock perfection. The video seems to have been edited by a graduate student in film school.
18. “White Sands,” Mount Moriah. Everyone hip to the local music scene is waiting for Mount Moriah to blow up, and if there’s any justice in the universe (and if bands actually “blow up” anymore), this band deserves it. Heather McEntire is a local legend in Durham and Chapel Hill and locally known as a kind, unassuming, wonderful person. And she rocks. The DIY video includes some “interesting” directorial choices (what’s up with the Seven Brides for Seven Brothers dancers?), but this song smolders.
17. “22,” Taylor Swift. I know, I know…but it’s so catchy. Try as I might, I continually fall prey to Taylor Swift’s “genuineness,” even though I’m subconsciously aware (can you be subconsciously aware?) that it’s all sheen applied by the music industry machine (or what’s left of it). Confession: I actually prepare a “Best of (Guilty Pleasures)”; it’s kind of a parallel universe disc compiled by AlternateLee, who is much less hip but undoubtedly much more well adjusted and self-satisfied. I make this separate disc so that my former suitemate and music-industry friend Ian (whose opinion I court with a fervor reserved for zealots) will actually (maybe) listen to the compilations all the way through. Including this song outright would send him into an apoplectic rage and cause him (yet again) to question the necessity and relevance of our friendship. I can hear him sputtering right now, “Have I taught you nothing?!?!?” and preparing an intervention which will include force-feeding me the entire Stooges catalog.) Ian has a thing about how I only like music (indie or otherwise) by well-groomed musicians (apparently using steel drums isn’t as edgy as I once thought.) And who is more well-groomed than Taylor Swift? No one. I’ve embraced it. [And yes, Ian, putting Taylor Swift one notch above Mount Moriah was intentional.]
Confronted by this photo, I am now wondering if this song will be The Everybodyfields of 2013.
16. “Sunshine in Chicago,” Sun Kil Moon. Mark Kozelek (formerly of Red House Painters and a member of Stillwater in Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous) is a genius. His music is melodic, layered, delicate, and literate. This is a beautiful song. If you like this song, check out his masterwork Ghosts of the Great Highway.