High & Dry: My Top 5 Radiohead LPs

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“Hey, here’s the new Radiohead album”, a friend offered few months ago. I put it on, listened. So this is how they sound now. Interesting, I thought. But theirs is not the kind of music that I need. At least for now. Some people find meaning in lyrics that reflects the despairing things happening around the world. I already had enough of that—not from music, but from other things.

I need music to unwind, to unplugged myself from the system—by plugging in to another. I listen to songs that could remind me of things that “brighten up the corners“, not songs that reminds me of the opposite.

What is this called? Neo-classical-rock? Wikipedia says it’s considered art-rock. Art-rock, but not as in Mellon Collie and Infinite Sadness‘ prog-meets-jazz-meets-metal-meets-grunge art-rock. It’s just old Radiohead cut in half, then half of them replaced with strings, orchestrations and whatever. Which can also be said of their other albums starting with Hail to the Thief. Hail to the Thief is half electronic, half guitars; In Rainbows is half made with laptop, half made with live musical instrument; TKOL is half old Radiohead, half beats.

And no, I’m not trashing their newer albums in favor of the old ones. Unlike with Foo Fighters, I just cannot dismiss the last three albums just because I didn’t like them. Radiohead is one of my favorite bands too, and “interesting” is probably the worst I could say of their last two or three releases. And this isn’t rare—that I like OK Computer but not In Rainbows or The King Of Limbs. Some people I know started liking the band with In Rainbows and finds anything before it inaccessible. Some even went as far as saying that Pablo Honey is the only decent Radiohead album, that all the rest reeks of arena-rock grandiosity.

So how would I rank all of Radiohead’s LP’s? Which one’s the best? I can’t rank all of them. I haven’t really listened to their last two albums. But from those that I have listened to, I’d pick my top five. Here it is.

OK Computer
1997. We were so into rock music. And boy bands. Green Day, Blur, The Smashing Pumpkins, our semi-charmed kind of life. Radiohead’s OK Computer descended upon us in the form of a cassette. And a news article on a broadsheet proclaiming “Radiohead returns to save the universe” on its headline. The tape was passed from one to another, never returned to its original owner. I spent a week playing it in the old radio cassette player. I never heard anything like it before or since (until Hail to the Thief). Then it disappeared. Like a dream. Never saw that tape again. Never knew who it ended up with. But the music haunted me in my wakeful dreams.

The Bends
“High and Dry” and “Fake Plastic Trees” are my most favorite Radiohead songs. They’re the equivalent of “In My Life” and “Here, There, and Everywhere” by the Beatles. To me, at least. They were my favorites even before OK Computer; even before I recognized that the song played in Romeo+Juliet’s closing credits was “Exit Music (For A Film)”. This album also got them riffs (i.e., Just, The Bends), more than Jonny Greenwood’s chugging guitars right before the chorus of “Creep” (the part which Parokya Ni Edgar replaces with “coughs” in the parody “Trip”).

Hail to the Thief
2005. This is the very first Radiohead album I owned. And this is the album that introduced me to Radiohead’s electronic-rock. It’s the post-90s album of theirs I found easiest to like. And it sounds like a direct follow-up to both OK Computer and Kid A / Amnesiac. This would be the last time a Radiohead album would grab me right on the first track. It leaves a lasting impression too: of dread, hopelessness and gloom, a wolf at the door. It’s probably the last true physical rock record I bought before the internet totally took over the music industry, or whatever’s left of it.

Kid A / Amnesiac
This would make five a six. Whether they should be counted separately or… Yeah, I’m just lazy, that is. But yeah, they’re twin albums, a year apart. Just like The Strokes’ Is This It? and Room for Squares, just like tide/edit’s Lighfoot and Foreign Languages. It’s electronic-rock, like Radiohead trying to be DJ Shadow or Aphex Twins. Kid A plays like one big song, without much peaks and troughs—it’s very consistent. Amnesiac is a little less. But with the highlights (Pyramid Song, Knives Out, You and Whose Army?, I Might be Wrong) reaching higher highs than those in the first.

Pablo Honey
1998. Pablo Honey, or the tape I borrowed from someone who also borrowed it from someone and never returned. I wanted to listen to The Bends, while “No Surprises” haunted my dreams. But there I was, stuck with the album that houses that well-worn hit “Creep”. It has a few hidden gems (Prove Yourself, I Can’t). Then I remember Rico Blanco, in the middle of one of their songs, singing a few lines from “Stop Whispering” (And the thin man said I don’t wanna hear your voice) in one Rivermaya gig in Saguijo. And it was such a spiritual experience, being one of the few souls in that specific moment, who knew the words he’s singing and from what song they’re taken.

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Picture of the floppy from feelnumb.com.

Rock is Dead, Mellon Collie & The Nicene Creeders Slackerful Mysteries

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Despite all the press, an MTV hit and all other atrocities ascribed to them during their heyday, Pavement was one of those bands whose popularity (or rather lack thereof) flew under my radar during the nineties. And I’m rather thankful for that.

I am endlessly grateful that I’ve had Stone Temple Pilots, Silverchair, Green Day, The Offspring, The Smashing Pumpkins—the “alternative” bands of the nineties. That a friend lent me his Mellon Collie and The Infinite Sadness so I could spend hours and hours of boredom listening to the said double album, rather than someone hand me a tape of Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain or Wowee Zowee. Because I would have probably made the mistake of dismissing these slackers as unrelatable, lousy and lame. Or simply because they’re no Better Than Ezra. But missed them totally I did not. For when the second single off Brighten the Corners hit the DWEB weekly countdown two Saturdays in a row, I was all ears—listening to “Shady Lane”, trying to separate the song from the noise, beneath all static and radio hiss, which was due to poor reception (DWEB was four hours drive from home). That became my then only Pavement experience. And to think of it now, the experience was not so different from listening to Westing or Slay Tracks—because the version of “Shady Lane” I knew was all wrapped up in static and white noise.

brightenAside from my broken radio experience, there were other things, from which I came to know of Pavement’s existence. There was this music magazine “Hot Hits” that features the lyrics of “Stereo” and “Shady Lane” and a picture of the band. The band’s picture was almost nondescript—any group of regular looking guys could actually pose as them. And on the last page of the mag was the previous week’s Billboard Modern Rock Tracks, in which both songs had charted, among other unfamiliar songs and bands. The magazine’s main feature and the reason I bought that issue in the first place were The Smashing Pumpkins, with the complete lyrics and chords for all the songs from Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. There was also a Jim DeRogatis article about the said double album, reprinted from Rolling Stones (with permission I suppose). Later, on a separate issue of the same magazine around early ’98, there was an article in which the editor proclaimed that rock is dead; that aside from Radiohead’s OK Computer and Pavement’s Brighten the Corners, 1997 was filled mostly with duds. Or simply, most alternative bands got boring and people already grew tired of grunge. Hence, the “Rock Is Dead, and electronica is taking over” banner. In reality, it was really more like, the Backstreet Boys and N’Sync took over.

My re-discovery of Pavement took longer time than Spiral Stairs could have ever imagined. It was somewhere between the release of LA’s Desert Origins and Sordid Sentinel Edition that I was able to listen to “Shady Lane” again. This time, with the other eleven tracks on the album—from the opening basslines of “Stereo” down to the “Infinite Spark” fade-out.

I was looking for the band’s hits compilation then (this was years before Quarantine the Past). While I read mostly high recommendations for Pavement’s first three studio albums, I decided to go with Brighten the Corners because of “Shady Lane”. I also read somewhere that it is their most accessible LP, so I thought I’d give a try. Initially, I was only interested on the hits and someone told me to check the first three or four songs on the album, but also suggested that I might as well check the whole album. So spin the whole album I did. And since then I found myself sitting stuck in this Velcro seat, every time I play it.

To be continued…(Maybe.)

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Baby I’m-A Want You

Screenshot_2016-08-11-16-48-26Not All Songs with the Word Baby Are Wussy

The word baby, like love, is one of the most frequently abused words in popular music. From Peter Frampton’s 1975 single “Baby I Love Your Way”, to the annoyingly ubiquitous Big Mountain cover of the same in the mid-90’s, to Ed Sheeran’s 2014 hit “Thinking Out Loud”, there have been countless times the word appeared in songs’ lyrics and titles. Needless to say, the word has been used and abused by singers and songwriters, especially in the pop and R&B genre. So that when someone posted a question on the internet, asking about songs that have the word baby in the lyrics, someone answered that it’s probably easier to list down songs that don’t contain that word.

Overusing the word in songs surely cheapens its meaning and intended impact. The good news is, creativity knows no boundaries. Yes, there are countless forgettable songs with the word baby in them, but there are also songs that made use of the word in ways more imaginative than just rehashing same old variations of “baby, I love you”.

Below is a list of songs that use the word baby, but not in a way most songwriters have used them. This list will not include songs that go along lines of Bon Jovi’s “Always” or Guns & Roses’ “Patience”. So, songs like Pearl Jam’s “Last Kiss”, a straight-ahead cover of an old 1961 non-hit that eventually became the Pearl Jam’s highest charting single; 3 Doors Down’s maudlin and watered-down post grunge ballad “Here Without You”; and Mariah Carey’s “Always Be My Baby”, which is actually fine, will not be included. And definitely not “Thinking Out Loud” – because even at its best, Mr.Nice Guy’s song sounds like a low-rent version of Van Morrison’s “Crazy Love”.

Screenshot_2016-08-11-17-26-14“Can’t Lose You”, F4

That one song that has a chorus that sticks to your head like glue – even if you don’t understand the lyrics except for the words, my and baby. Forget about what they’re actually singing in it. In the years before Google Translate and smartphones – good looks, hair mousse, catchy chorus and the lines “Oh baby, baby, baby/my baby, baby” were enough to make a hit as big as this Mandopop meteorite.

Screenshot_2016-08-11-16-59-02 “…Baby One More Time”, Britney Spears/Travis

Britney Spears’ 1999 hit made the cut mainly for Travis’ sort of impromptu and knowing cover version of it. On second thought, the original gets half a point for having the words hit me and baby in the same line – undeniably, an artistic achievement in teen pop music. Some people mistook it for S&M, some, misogyny. Turns out the guys behind the hit only meant “call me”. So, despite all the suggestive dance routines in a school girl outfit, it’s actually quite harmless. But Travis’ version is hilarious, and probably the best version there is. Like the audience in that concert, I had good laugh the first few times I heard it.

Screenshot_2016-08-11-17-29-01“Tender”, Blur

Before Vampire Weekend, Mumford & Sons, and [insert recent cool indie band here], there was Blur. And before Blur, there were Faces, The Kinks, and well, The Beatles. “Beetlebum” and “Song2” may be their most recognizable songs, especially in the US, but the band is way much more than the noise-guitar band that they were in 1997; as can be heard on their previous singles like “The Universal” and “Girls and Boys”, and on this first single off their 1999 album 13. “Tender” was a departure from the sound of Blur (the album that houses “Beetlebum” and “Song2”), and features both Damon Albarn and Graham Coxon on vocals (with Coxon singing the “oh my baby”-part) backed by the London Community Gospel Choir. With all the aggression that dominated rock in the late nineties, this break-up tune with the line “Love is the greatest thing (that we had)” was like a beacon of hope shining across the dark Nu Metal-infested landscape.

Screenshot_2016-08-11-17-03-07“Antukin”, Rico Blanco

There’s a very thin line between clever and lame and Rico Blanco probably crossed it more than once on one of the best tracks off his debut Your Universe. This is one of those where he played all the instruments (and he was splendid on drums!) And whether the lines “Gumawa na lang tayo ng paraan/Gumawa na lang tayo ng (baby)” is clever or not, this remains as one of his all-time bests – a hopeful love song that acknowledges his keyboard-man role in Rivermaya and pays homage to his namesake thru its Tag-lish lyrics and one off-color joke.

Screenshot_2016-08-11-17-09-02“Radiation Vibe”, Fountains of Wayne

You probably knew them for “Stacy’s Mom”, a.k.a. the MILF song, which is also their most popular hit. The music video for which, pays homage to Fast Times At Ridgemont High. Outside of the said song, Fountains of Wayne is hardly the type of band that thrives on peddling sophomoric jokes, as one might assume based on that song. Most of their songs tell stories (i.e., Leave the Biker, Hackensack (yes, the one covered by Katy Perry)), but Fountain of Wayne’s first single “Radiation Vibe” is lyrically ambiguous. And that’s probably the reason it was a minor hit, despite the ear-worm melodies and knockout musicianship. The lines “Baby, baby, baby/Come on, what’s wrong?” aren’t really the most ingenious part of this song – it’s the melody with which Chris Collingwood sing those lines. It’s the way the song transitioned from the seemingly bottled up verses then burst into the chorus like an exploding bottle of soda. Sounds exactly like the kind of vibe the song is referring to.

Screenshot_2016-08-11-18-28-03“Kaliwete”, Eraserheads

Here’s another song that pays tribute to the one and only Rico J. Puno. The inspiration for the song came one time the Eraserheads did a show with him. The lines “Mag-ayos lang daw ng upo”, according to them, came from one of Rico’s joke that night. Whether the joke was about sitting in general or specifically about sitting on the toilet, we don’t know. What I know is that the word baby is uttered somewhere in this song. And I didn’t catch it until about…a few months ago? Sticker Happy came out in 1997 and I’ve been listening to this song sporadically for almost twenty years. (Damn, I really need to quit on loud music now and go visit an ENT specialist before I totally lose my ears.)

Screenshot_2016-08-11-17-12-47“Superstar”, Carpenters/Sonic Youth

Whether it’s the 1971 Carpenters version or Sonic Youth’s fuzzed up tribute to the former, one can never go wrong with this classic. Written and first recorded in 1969 (by a bunch of musicians who were so in loved with themselves that they had to write a song about a groupie longing for someone who’s really good with guitars – someone like Eric Clapton), Richard Carpenter took the song and turned it into what is now the most popular version of it. One might think that this made use of the common “baby, I love you” line and does not belong in the list. But it’s not a cutesy boy-who-plays-guitar-meets-girl kind of story. More like rockstar-meets-groupie-had-one-night-stand-and-then-goodbye. Of course, I don’t hear it that way. What I hear is just a good schmaltzy song – a bit naïve, romantic and sweet. And that’s the kind of magic only Karen Carpenter could make. The same magic Sonic Youth destroyed and reconstructed in the 1994 version.

Screenshot_2016-08-11-17-34-06“Stereo”, Pavement

The most sentimental song on the list, Pavement’s “Stereo” is actually the long lost answer to the previous song – the Carpenters classic. “Hey, listen to me! I’m on the stereo! Stereo-oh!” is definitely about a guitarist addressing someone who’s listening on the radio (i.e., the groupie). And on the next line, Stephen Malkmus appropriated Karen Carpenter’s “Baby, baby, baby…” line, before shouting “Give me malaria! Hysteria!”

Wait, that didn’t sound right.

Okay, maybe this isn’t really the answer to “Superstar”, but that doesn’t change the fact that this is one of the greatest slacker songs ever—not to mention having the balls to make fun of Geddy Lee’s impossibly high register. Which isn’t really surprising given that they once dissed both The Smashing Pumpkins and Stone Temple Pilots before, in one of their songs. Which only proves that, Pavement is ultimately, definitely, and absolutely rad.

Shady Lane – Japan Tour Ed. (Pavement, 1997)

IMG_20160428_125020Japan could be last bastion of selling tangible music. Not only because Japanese people still love to buy CDs and LPs – but also because a lot of people from outside Japan go there just to buy these stuff and to see Ochanomizu‘s great collection of guitars. And the girls of AKB48 are cute. Maybe not all of the above are true, but I’m sure one thing is absolute – Shady Lane, the EP exclusively sold in Japan, is really awesome – it’s rad. It’s almost as good as the full length album that preceded it. There’s an alternate mix of “Stereo” (by Steve Fisk), just as awesome as the original, a pair of Meat Puppet-inspired numbers – “Slowly Typed” (countrified version of “Type Slowly”) and “Cherry Area” – and an instrumental number about an epileptic seizure – all rare materials every good boy like you and me deserves. PhotoGrid_1463488158097And if you look really hard into the back cover, you’ll find an Easter egg, you’ll find a hidden EP, inside. Shady Lane EP in itself is already nice. But an EP within an EP? That’s Last Year at Marienbad! So, we got four more bonus tracks. The first about Salem Witch Trials isn’t that bad – it’s one of the best pop songs Pavement ever released – if only Malkmus could sing. Then we have the oddest of oddball oddities – “Gangsters and Pranksters” and “Saganaw” – the best freakout fillers outside of Wowee Zowee. And d’you know what’s not fair? That short sweet song about moving to Australia (“I Love Perth”) – they also gave it to Japan.