Wednesday, July 11, 2007

20 Years of Watching the Watchmen (and The Simpsons)

Well, the first issue came out in '86, but it's somewhere around the 20th anniversary of the final installment of Watchmen, or maybe of Watchmen being published in trade paperback, or...something, I'm sure. And I wrote a thing at The Fake Life about the imminent Watchmen movie. So go read it. And join the discussion. Unless you haven't read Watchmen, in which case, go read that first. I first read most of it in one sitting during the dead hours of an all-night shift, and damned if it wasn't one of the best reading experiences I've ever had.

2007 is also the 20th anniversary of The Simpsons. Yep, in 1987, the first Simpsons cartoons aired on The Tracey Ullman Show, one of the scattered programs that were populating the fledgeling Fox network. Could anyone have guessed at the time that they would go on to be the longest-running (and arguably the best) sitcom in TV history?

And 1987 was a signifigant year for me, as I went off to college, and even though it was a small, conservative school in the middle of nowhere, I was happy just to be out of the house, you know? So by now you may have figured out that this post will be another excuse for my OCD listmaking. And here it goes...

Favorite 1987 albums:

1. The Red Hot Chili Peppers - Uplift Mofo Party Plan. I like the first four RHCP albums, but UMPP is the only truly perfect one. Freaky Styley, a close second, feels a little too lethargic, perhaps due to George Clinton's production, and Mother's Milk is a bit too heavy handed, the young John Frusciante lacking the light touch of the late Hillel Slovak. The first album has some great songs on it ("Get Up and Jump"), but also some lousy ones ("Baby Appeal"). And yeah, I think they started sucking on Bloodsugar Sex Magick, but let's not get off point here.

Uplift Mofo just blazes from start to finish. It's the kind of album that it's hard to even pick a favorite song from. At first, my favorite was "Organic Anti-Beatbox Band," a bouncin' off the ceiling party out of bounds funky rock anthem, but after a while I gravitated more toward "Backwoods." I even remember hearing that song when I saw them live, a few weeks before the album dropped. It starts with this nasty metal riff, and you think it's going to go into a straightforward rock beat, but instead they kick in with this funky beat that totally threw me for a loop. It was like a splash of water in the face.

2. Camper Van Beethoven (s/t). One of the best pot smoking albums of all time. Great road music, too. This was their third album, and it feels like the first one where they really NAILED it. I like how it starts out as relatively normal deadhead rock, and slowly gets trippier as the album goes on.

3. Throwing Muses - The Fat Skier EP. My second-favorite jangly alternative pop band of the 80's, and this is easily their best (and weirdest) record.

4. Sonic Youth - Evol. Building on the sound of their previous masterpiece Bad Moon Rising, but beginning to flesh pop songs out of the chaos, most notably the amazing "Expressway to yr Skull" and "Shadow of a Doubt" (although there's still some nice abstract stuff like "Marilyn Moore" to balance it out).

5. Eric B. and Rakim - Paid in Full. My favorite of several records released in '87 that could be considered the "next step forward" for hip hop. The beats are a little funkier and more complex than, say, Run DMC's, especially on "I Know You Got Soul," and Rakim's rhymes are as tight as anything that had been heard up to that point, but with a cool understatement to them that swerved away from the booming style popular in that year.

6. Prince - Sign o' the Times. His double album masterpiece has a little of everything: spiritual ballads ("The Cross"), thumpin' party jams ("Housequake"), psychedelic pop ("Starfish and Coffee"), and great singles ("U Got the Look," "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man"). And best of all, "Hot Thang," a sexy grinder that regularly battles it out with "Darling Nikki" for the title of my favorite Prince song.

7. Butthole Surfers - Locust Abortion Technician. Their noisiest, most experimental, and most difficult album, LAT doesn't really hold together as well as some of the others, but the high points are amazingly high. There's "Sweatloaf," which reworks Black Sabbath's love song to pot, "Sweetleaf," into a musical demolition derby, at the beginning. There's the hilariously disturbing "22 Going On 23" at the end. And there's "Kuntz," which overlays a Thai folk record with an overdose of echo effects that could turn any trip bad.

8. The Replacements - Pleased to Meet Me. Maybe not the best Replacements album (doesn't have the raw energy of Let It Be or Hootenany), but their best collection of songs.

9. Boogie Down Productions - Criminal Minded. "South Bronx! South South Bronx!" KRS-1 and company grab the mic and COMMAND attention.

10. The Cure - Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me. I didn't really think about the Cure much. Liked 'em better than The Smiths, not as much as REM. But at college, my friend Will was into this album, and it rubbed off on me. Starts with "The Kiss," a sort of anguished goth version of "Maggot Brain," and I'm sure they were thinking of Maggot Brain because it then segues into the gentle, catchy pop tune "Catch," much like "Maggot Brain" segueing into "Can You Get to That." There's a lot of hippy jams on the record ("If Only Tonight We Could Sleep," "The Snakepit"), some great singles (I'm sure you know them), and my favorite, an odd little tune called "Like Cockatoos."

Other stuff:
Public Enemy - Yo! Bumrush the Show! Their sound is still incomplete, and the record feels patched together, but the high points are classic: Chuck's first attempts at militant political lyrics on "Rightstarter (Message to a Black Man)" and "My Uzi Weighs a Ton," Flav's trash talking on the title track ("We'll stomp a mudhole in yo ass, BITCH!"), and my favorite, Chuck's rap about his car, "My 98 (You're Gonna Get Yours)."

REM - Document. I bought this a few days before heading to college. It was the first REM album I bought (most of my friends were bigger fans than I, so I always just taped theirs). So even though I would rank it as a middlin' REM album, it holds some meaning for me still.

Guns-n-Roses - Appetite For Destruction. This was THE big hit album for the entire four years I was at college. It was just everywhere. I'm sometimes puzzled by the continuing interest in this band, who never did anything very good after this, but I have to admit that Appetite rocks.

Metallica - Garage Days Revisited: The $5.98 EP. Master of Puppets is their best, but this is my favorite. Especially that version of "The Wait."

Janes Addiction (s/t). Not as solid as Nothing's Shocking, and I could do without the goth ballad "I Would For You" and the unnecessary covers of "Rock n Roll" and "Sympathy for the Devil" (although Navarro does lay down a pretty sweet psychedelic solo in the latter), but for "Chip Away," "1%" and the superior version of "Pigs in Zen," a great debut.

Redd Kross - Neurotica. Finally realizing their ambitions, Redd Kross deliver an album of awesome psychedelic glam rock.

Big Black - Songs About Fucking
Dinosaur Jr. - You're Living All Over Me
Volcano Suns - Bumper Crop
. Three great, diverse indie rock albums, in case you forgot.

V/A - Less Than Zero OST. I hated the movie (maybe I owe it another viewing now that I'm older), but this is one of the best soundtracks ever assembled from new pop songs. From LL Cool J's "Goin' Back to Cali" (still one of the best slowride carjams I've ever heard) to The Bangles'stroke of genius adding a heavy metal riff to Simon and Garfunkle's "Hazy Shade of Winter," to Slayer's thrashing of "In A Gadda Da Vita," all great stuff, but of course the centerpiece is Public Enemy's "Bring tha Noize." It completely took hip hop to the next level, and sounded like nothing anyone had ever heard. SPIN dedicated an entire column to singing the praises of this one song (comparing it to "Satisfaction," "Subterranean Homesick Blues," "Sex Machine" and "Anarchy in the UK"). I think they had already released "Rebel Without a Pause" as a single or something? Not sure, but that's where we segue into the next year of music.

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