Drew’s “40 at 40” (part 2): Let the culture wars begin

Part 1 of this musical retrospective has already lit up my inbox with debate — as it should. Vive la difference in the world’s tastes, what what? My dear brother laments that while my thought exercise is a good idea, it’s “too bad most of the songs suck.” But he’s bound to say that. He’s about a decade and a half older and as he says “what a difference 3/4s of a generation makes.”

Too true. And this side of the list only steps a little deeper into modern territory thus ripping apart the thin threads that bound our tastes together anyway.


1. Emerson, Lake & Palmer: Karn Evil 9

When musicologists speak of “progressive rock” this is the band that, like Rome, all roads lead to. From hymns (“Jerusalem”) to tone poems (“Pictures at an Exhibition”), these guys never met a song their Moog synthesizers (and I) didn’t love. This is just a 5-minute snippet of the 30-minute song.

2. Yes: Leave It

The great thing about Yes was that their later album that came out in middle school connected me to their earlier albums listened to by my older siblings. I liked having something in common with them — even if they never gave a hoot about the poppy evolution of the prog-rock band they once knew.

3. Eurythmics: Would I Lie to You?

Oh, what a killer locomotive engine in this song. It’s unstoppable and an essential background in my high school memories.

4. Annie Lennox: Primitive

Kimberly and I listened to a lot of music after we got married. We sat on a hand-me-down couch in our German Village coach house, pumping the air full of tunes as she plowed through yet another graduate school tome. The “Diva” album was on heavy rotation, and, in retrospect, this reverie reflected my mood about the limbo we found ourselves in.

5. Luscious Jackson: Naked Eye

My friend Andy Hall once wrote me a letter to say: “I dare you to take a chance on a band called Luscious Jackson.” This song reminds me of that challenge, and the inspiring friendships I’ve had with people who inspire me to be more creative.

6. Paul Simon: Me and Julio Down by the School Yard

Paul Simon has been a major influence on me. I wrote a report in 7th grade on “The Boxer” to prove I was a Man of Substance. But that song was too long to fit on this CD. “Julio” is a welcome understudy.

7. Sting: Fields of Gold

More music played while reading with my wife in our early marriage days. I guess that’s why the romantic air of this song resonated with me.

8. Rusted Root: Food & Creative Love

(Only a wobbly live version on Blip.fm… really loses something off the album.)

Went through a big Rusted Root phase after I had kids and my consumption of new music began to slow down. The whole “When I Woke” album is a powerful speeding Buick from beginning to end.

9. Sons of Never Wrong: Sun Song

(Not to be found anywhere on Blip)
Our friends Chuck and Margaret introduced us to this Chicago folk trio. How many folk tunes pull in ska and gospel like “Sun Song”? And how many songs address the bad omens that presage a disastrous relationship? Yeah. Smart stuff here.

10. Small Potatoes: The Best Things in Life Are Free

(Not to be found anywhere on Blip)
Another Chicago folk group, this time a duo with a style they dub “eclectomania.” We’ve seen them in coffee shops, community halls, and even at an Evanston park where we had hired them to bid farewell to our departing friends who had introduced us to the band in the first place: Ken and Beth, our world-circumnavigating sailor pals.

11. Rodrigo y Gabriela: Tamacun

In 2006, I was sitting in another room of our house when I heard this guitar duo absolutely light up the Letterman show. Their fiery fury caused me to get out of my chair and run to see the fuss. I play this album when I need to get something done.

12. Us3: Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia)

I was tooling around Columbus, Ohio, in 1993 when this jazz-sampled humdinger blazed over my radio. Music like this on the stereo made our time in that town more palatable.

13. They Might Be Giants: Istanbul (Not Constantinople)

Can’t escape college without a TMBG tune stuck in your head. Some call them a gimmick band, but they have real musical chops and are always up for an experiment. This tune always seemed to get air time at marching band gatherings.

14. Alabama 3: U Don’t Danz 2 Tekno Anymore

After I joined Star Farm Productions, a busy little company crammed into a residential living room, I spent long stretches of time with headphones on writing the heck out of my chapters in the Edgar & Ellen books. An Alabama 3 CD was on a bookshelf and I took a chance on it. The twisted songs of drinkin’ and drugs and “sweet , pretty country-acid house music” fueled my fingers for most of the creation of “Under Town” and “Pet’s Revenge.” Probably not a healthy input to inspire children’s books, in retrospect.

15. Fishbone: Lyin’ Ass Bitch

(An unfortunate live version)
I was introduced to ska in high school, and I couldn’t believe how cool it was to have a full brass backup as part of such a scorching sound. Man, this song just makes me laugh every time.

16. Squirrel Nut Zippers: Good Enough for Granddad

Like Alabama 3, the SNZs mix up their influences. I can’t recall who introduced this to us, but I do recall using its manic energy to keep me working that damn Nordic Track treadmill we had when we lived on Cleveland Street.

17. Mighty Blue Kings: Meet Me in Uptown

(Not to be found)
Buoyed by the zeitgeist of the “Jump, Jive an’ Wail” Gap commercials in 1998, swing enjoyed a revivial. This Chicago hipster band was our personal local connection, and we actually saw them perform at the Green Mill … in Uptown, natch.

18. Prince and the New Power Generation: My Name is Prince

Oh, come on. The Little Purple Man had to be on this list, and I can think of no better tune than this, the most self-assured, self-addressed love letter to one man’s self-funkiness. This album got frequent replays in the years leading up to parenthood, perhaps as a not-too-subtle reminder of the party lifestyle I was about to leave behind.

19. Bobby Darin: Beyond the Sea

Once again, riding with dad in the convertible, listening to 8-tracks. Bobby Darin never seemed cornball to me, even though his storytelling songs have that gleaming ‘50s earnestness about them. For me, this is comfort music from a very safe time.

20. Howard Shore: Into the West

The coda to my favorite movie series of all time, “The Lord of the Rings.” I don’t usually cotton to modern tunes tacked onto the end of movies with period soundtracks, but this graceful song — playing over the credits of the final film — tasted like lime sorbet after a hot and hearty meal.

1 Comment

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One response to “Drew’s “40 at 40” (part 2): Let the culture wars begin

  1. bezer

    I wish to retract some of my private email and say some of your songs aren’t as sucky as I first surmised. Actually, if you consider artists, we have an amazing similarity in our lists. Maybe our ‘songs’ are different, but that explains the decade and a half anomaly in our ages. Music changes, we change, sometimes for the worse. I’m sorry Mom wouldn’t let you see the concert you wanted, but on my 14th birthday I got to go see the Beach Boys, The Buckinghams, and I think Ike and Tina. I was really pissed I forgot my glasses, and I borrowed Mike Kennedy’s.

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