June 03, 2004

Rock Therapy - Johnny Burnette Trio

Sometimes, listening to certain pop songs can actually pull me out of low-level depression. I'm not talking a vague or subtle change of mood: I mean a slight, but quite real, mental change that I can almost feel physically. There's like a little internal click, and I'm doing slightly better than I was before. One song is not sufficient, but a combination of a few in a row can be quite powerful.

I can't analyze all the ins and outs of how or why this can happen. It has to do with past associations, of course, but I don't think that's the whole story. Some of the songs on my rock therapy list have far more numerous negative associations than positive, partly owing to the fact that they have been used as rock therapy so often at various low points in my fragile emotional life. Sometimes I wonder whether the sounds themselves, rather than context or content, are as big a factor as anything. I don't know. Maybe it's just that anything that can stir any sort of reaction-- happy, sad, bitter, silly, lovely, excruciating-- within one's cold, dead soul results in an improvement, just because there's something happening in there. As I mentioned before, when I was trying to figure out why "Celebrated Summer" always provokes a big emotional response despite the fact that I don't really understand it, I'm not that interested in analyzing the phenomenon. I just enjoy, and make use of, the mystery.

Sometimes whole albums can do it for me, just as they are. I've listened to the Village Green Preservation Society album to cheer me up and simultaneously make me miserable so many times since I was around 12 that it's like a mechanical ritual now. I put it on and hardly realize I'm doing it. Or I stop as I'm putting the record player arm down and think to myself: look what I'm holding in my hands-- I must be kind of depressed now. And it turns out: I am. I used to have a tape that I would take on tour that had the Soft Boys' Underwater Moonlight, Invisible Hits, and the first four songs of Can of Bees: I would listen to the tape on my walkman over and over. That tape, exclusively. It lulled me into a comfortable trance, which is a precious, precious thing in a tour van. I still love listening to those albums, but touring is a state in between reality and whatever its opposite is, so they always make me feel a bit "liminal" even in my living room.

Some albums I have decided only to listen to on those (pretty rare) occasions when I am feeling ebullient, unaccountably happy, content and well-adjusted, so that they won't get tainted by darkness and will always "work." (Captain Beefheart's Safe as Milk and Robyn Hitchock's Respect are at the top of that short list. I put on Safe as Milk just the other day when my brain was really enjoying itself: I guess it's like recharging a battery.) I know I'm a strange, messed up, weird little man. Maybe you are too, though.

Anyway, there are certain songs from different albums that can "work" in combination if you listen to them in a lump. Like you're flirting with yourself and making yourself a mix tape. I thought about it and here are 50 of them. 25 or so can fit on a CD (if you leave off You Doo Right, which is like 25 minutes long.) I'm not saying they're The Greatest Songs Ever Recorded (though many of them probably are); or that they necessarily represent the "best of" anything except effective rock therapy; they're not even necessarily my "favorite songs" though I guess many of them kind of are. On a different day, I might come up with a different list. But I just put them on an iTunes playlist on this relatively grim, hopeless morning, and I "clicked" at around Roll Away the Stone. Yes.

Your results may vary, of course. But it's cheaper than Paxil and has no sexual side effects. That I've noticed anyway.

Fifty songs:

1. Quark, Strangeness and Charm - Hawkwind

2. Queen of Eyes - Soft Boys

3. I've Never Gone to Bed with an Ugly Woman - Bobby Bare

4. King Kong - Kinks

5. Drop Out Boogie - Captain Beefheart

6. Rhythm of Cruelty - Magazine

7. Deteriorata - National Lampoon

8. The World of Pauline Lewis - TV Personalities

9. We are Normal - Bonzo Dog Band

10. Wig Wam Bam - The Sweet

11. Armenia City in the Sky - The Who

12. The Rockford Files Theme - Mike Post

13. Roll Away the Stone - Mott the Hoople

14. Uncle Harry - Noel Coward

15. The Bells of Rhymney - Byrds

16. Fight the Power - Isley Brothers

17. Whiskey in the Jar - Thin Lizzy

18. The Lone Ranger - George Jones

19. Electric Guitars - Prefab Sprout

20. You Doo Right - Can

21. Duchess - Stranglers

22. Songs of Love - Divine Comedy

23. Dirty Love - Frank Zappa

24. The Hindu Times - Oasis

25. Strawberry Letter 23 - Brothers Johnson

26. Working - Cocksparrer

27. Drinking Wine - Gene Simmmons

28. Highway Star - Deep Purple

29. The Bottomless Lake - John Prine

30. Truck Driving Son of a Gun - Dave Dudley

31. EZ Action - Rick Derringer

32. She Sells - Roxy Music

33. Bill Morgan and his Gal - New Lost City Ramblers

34. Start Again - Teenage Fan Club

35. Wouldn't You Miss Me? - Syd Barrett

36. Cities on Flame - Blue Oyster Cult

37. Good Times - Nobody's Children

38. Jungle Love - Steve Miller Band

39. Political Science - Randy Newman

40. Jam Up and Jelly Tight - Tommy Roe

41. I Wish - Stevie Wonder

42. Ecstasy - Raspberries

43. Night of Fear - The Move

44. Kiss Like a Nun - The Boys

45. You Set the Scene - Love

46. Some Broken Hearts Never Mend - Don Williams

47. Hot Stuff - Rolling Stones

48. Beer City - Pee Chees

49. Wall of Death - Richard and Linda Thompson

50. Oh Bondage, Up Yours - Xray Spex

Posted by Dr. Frank at June 3, 2004 06:54 PM | TrackBack

Thank you for that list. I love lists, they make me explore new things. All through college and law school, whenever I had long papers to write, I always put on Abbey Road and let it play over and over. I don't even really like the Beatles, but something about that album just fits my writing groove. Actually there was another album I also wrote to but I hesitate to mention it. It was a dopey Disney thing where some anonymous choir of children sang folk songs of the world. Why this should appeal to my creative side I don't know, but there ya go.

Posted by: nancy at June 3, 2004 07:19 PM

Have you ever heard the Michael Stipe cover of Wouldn't You Miss Me (aka Dark Globe)?

Back in the olden days (early 90s), Sassy magazine published an issue that included a flexi with the Dark Globe cover on it. At one point I managed to find it on Napster, but have since lost it to the usual computer mishaps. It's a lot more melodic than the original... definitely worth checking out if you happen to stumble across it.

Posted by: dusty at June 3, 2004 07:46 PM

You're not a weird little man. Anyone who clicks at Roll Away the Stone is semi-ok.

Posted by: Paul at June 3, 2004 09:03 PM

There's a Clear Channel station in Los Angeles that has begun playing a lot of music that no Clear Channel station should ever play. "Oh Bondage, Up Yours" came blaring out the other day. Still a great song, but there's something irksome about all music being equally reduced to commodity (although I sadly bow to the inevitability of this idea).

When you're listening to a radio station whose stock in trade is the latest song by Ben Kweller or Jet, and suddenly X-Ray Specs comes on, what is that? Are people actually NOSTALGIC for late-70s punk rock?

Posted by: kandyd at June 3, 2004 09:12 PM

That list brings back memories, Frank -- you turned me on to about half those songs way back in the KALX days. I'm surprised, though, that the Odd Couple's version of You're So Vain didn't make the cut.

Posted by: Aaron at June 3, 2004 11:03 PM

Hmmmm. Never heard of most of that stuff except for the common groups like the Eho, Deep Purple, the Byrds, Gene Simmons and all of those late 60s/70s bands that I loathe.

Posted by: Zaphod Beeblebrox at June 4, 2004 12:43 AM

Hmmmm. Never heard of most of that stuff except for the common groups like the Who, Deep Purple, the Byrds, Gene Simmons and all of those late 60s/70s bands that I loathe. Mayne I'll give it a try.

Posted by: Zaphod Beeblebrox at June 4, 2004 12:45 AM

Hmmmm. Never heard of most of that stuff except for the common groups like the Who, Deep Purple, the Byrds, Gene Simmons and all of those late 60s/70s bands that I loathe. Maybe I'll give it a try.

Posted by: Zaphod Beeblebrox at June 4, 2004 12:45 AM

You know Frank, you can publish your playlist for everybody to listen to on iTunes now. Or so theres a way.

Posted by: Billy Valentine at June 4, 2004 12:49 AM

Yeah, Aaron, "You're So Vain" could totally be on there-- except that I don't have it in digi-form so it wasn't easy to playlist it. As you know, there are easily 50 more.

Zaphod: the more you say it, the more true it is.

Kandyd: there certainly is late '70s punk rock nostalgia. There's mid-90s punk nostalgia. I just hope those guys are making a couple of bucks from it. That would be nice...

Posted by: Dr. Frank at June 4, 2004 01:34 AM

An interesting list of songs there. I do agree it can be theraputic, although I really wouldn't have guessed "Oh Bondage!" on such a list. Not that it's a bad song, It's actually pretty cool, Just not something that ever got me through a lull. Ah well to each their own.

I will say almost anything by Husker Du will change or at the very least suit a mood.

Posted by: Rich at June 4, 2004 02:34 AM

For me the sounds in the music I listen to are often THE most important thing. Like say, THE JOHNNY BURNETTE TRIO: just listening to the sounds of Paul Burlison's guitar when he takes some of those crazy solos makes me feel better. Maybe I'M weird here, but music has always been a very visual experience for me. I can't really explain it, but my favorite sounds in music have always been those that leave the most favorable visual images in my mind. What sucks is that I have yet to come up with a way of verbalizing those images...so I'm not going to even try, lest they start taking measurements for my straight jacket. Not something I talk about much, simply because nobody else seems to relate to this. Any of you? (Two of my favorites, btw: the tin whistle and steel guitar.)

Posted by: Dave at June 4, 2004 03:31 AM

Songs of Love, a great song from an even greater show.

Posted by: Mike at June 4, 2004 11:35 AM

wow, i could totally go for a mix cd like that right now.

"songs of love" suprises me somewhat. for some reason i don't think anybody actually likes (or knows about) the divine comedy.

"king kong" is one of my personal theme songs. it must always be listened to as loud as possible.

Posted by: kendra at June 4, 2004 04:55 PM

Kendra, I like a lot of the DC stuff, and "Songs of Love" is a great song. But probably the main reason it's an effective mood-swinger is because the instrumental section was used as the theme music for one of the most beloved TV shows ever, Father Ted.

Posted by: Dr. Frank at June 4, 2004 05:02 PM

Frank, I had exactly the experience you describe while walking home from the bus stop yesterday. I was listening to the Rhino 70s punk rock box set, and Two Tub Man by The Dictators came on. Right before the line "I've got Jackie Onassis in my pants," there is this funny little triplet guitar riff -- I don't know why, but it just put me in a good mood. That song doesn't have any particular meaning or significance in my life -- it was more that the sounds themselves triggered some kind of chemical reaction in my brain, like a drug. Weird.

Posted by: Aaron at June 4, 2004 05:04 PM

Sorry Frank there was some sort of glitch on my end. I must say with a certain certainty that it was Marvin's fault.

Posted by: Zaphod Beeblebrox at June 4, 2004 05:27 PM

Mmmm, Blue Oyster Cult.

Tastes like cowbells.

Posted by: Sigivald at June 4, 2004 07:55 PM

Dave- Many rockabilly geeks with too much time on their hand will contend that it wasn't Paul Burlison but the great Nashville studio guitarist Grady Martin that played on most of the Rock n Roll Trio's records.

Posted by: Josh Maxwell at June 4, 2004 11:29 PM

jungle love?...you and homer simpson i guess.

the sweet are indeed quality though,i have an old
tape(not a mix it was just put out that way)
of The Sweet and 1910 Fruitgum Company songs
a friend pawned off on me. I dig it up when I'm
feeliing particualarly sappy.

Posted by: just me at June 5, 2004 12:45 AM

Dude. MASSIVEly dynamite list. I even like the haiku-like power of the names of bands and songs I never heard of. I lust to investigate them, pursue them, run them to ground, HAVE them. But time is tight, and listening opportunities fleeting and asymptotically approaching nullity, so they will remain wisps. But even at that these strange syllables reconfirm that the world remains full of promising doors yet unopened, curtain number threes as it were, with who knows what lovely prizes behind them? That renewed certitude in itself is as good as, even, a damaged box of Yodels for a quarter, or to be truthtul SO much better, really.

A phase I'm in which I hope you never reach is where you get so little time for music and your system is so drained and music-parched, that one truly great song hits you like a massive dose of some drug and you find yourself getting a head rush, or weepy, or the giggles, or pangs of nostalgia which are intense and flashback-like. I heard Wire's "Dot Dash" just the other day for the first time in ages and ages. Majestic, epic, vast. I'd forgotten. And the room rotated on its axis and a mist fell about me and it was 1981 again and the arm was descending onto an import single in a dorm room ... . Same thing happened with New Order's "Ceremony" a while ago. Shadows of Night, "Dark Side" provoked strong emotions -- there was a girl involved. I married her, but I was thinking of a long time ago ... .

Music is powerful juju. Plato said that. He was right.

Posted by: Lexington Green at June 5, 2004 04:59 AM