I thought from the beginning that the 1950s would be the most difficult decade in the entire Best of… project, and I was not wrong about that. It took me as long to put together these three lists as it has entire past decades. There’s lots of reasons for this, but the biggest is that albums weren’t very popular yet, so most artists released multiple singles in a year, and for that reason it’s a lot more difficult to track down definitive lists of music released in each of these years.
I picked 1954 as a starting point since it is widely considered the start of the rock ‘n roll era, and it’s the first year that Elvis started releasing music, so it seems a natural starting point for the 50s. The rules for the mix tapes are basically the same, except I added one period-specific rule this go around.
- The “mix tape” has to fit on an old school Maxell 60-minute cassette. The time limit makes me appreciate simple beauty of the 3-minute pop/rock song. Some decisions will inevitably be made based on run time, so if I’m deciding between two songs, a shorter one might get the nod just because it is better fit
- Only one song from one artist per year (also known as the Michael Jackson Thriller rule). This is especially tough with somebody like Elvis in 1954, who released 3 stone classic singles that year, with B-sides that were arguably better
- Songs chosen have to be on Spotify, so that limits things a bit.
- There are certain genres of music that just aren’t my jam. In the 80s it was hair metal. In the 70s you will be find little to no “prog rock.” The 1950s were littered with “novelty songs” that I tried to avoid. I’m looking at you “Davey Crockett”
- No live albums. I added this for the 70s, since bands got into the habit of cranking out live albums (or, more horribly, double live albums). There’s only a handful of decent ones ever, so it’s just easier to eliminate them outright
- No “white wash” versions of classic R&B songs. Artists like Pat Boone made a pretty nice living releasing cover versions of recently released songs from black artists, and very often they were more popular than the originals because they were considered more appropriate for white audiences. We’ll have none of that racist nonsense here, thanks
One other difference you’ll notice is that I’m covering multiple years at once and I’m not doing individual write-ups for each year. I know a lot about music, but there’s some stuff in here that I just can’t talk too intelligently about, so I’m not going to try. I’ll do a summary for each year that covers what I consider the highlights from each.
With that settled, here’s 1954. Like I said, I could have populated about 1/3 of this list with Elvis Presley singles, but I had to pick one, and That’s All Right is a personal favorite. Quite frankly it feels weird thought not to put songs like Blue Moon of Kentucky or Good Rockin’ Tonight on a best of list though. Big Joe Turner was a victim of one of the most egregious “white washings” of all time, with Bill Haley and the Comets rising to fame on a song that Turner originally recorded, Shake, Rattle and Roll. Turner’s superior version is here, and quite frankly there’s no contest between the two. Here’s the Spotify playlist for your listening/subscribing pleasure. (Hey, this is one that my mom might even like! Bonus?).
1955 sees R&B artists like Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Little Richard, and Bo Diddley all started to come to prominence, which inspired guys like Keith Richards and John Lennon to take an interest in American blues and rock, with obviously seismic results later on. Another one of my very favorite artists from this era, The Platters, put out multiple great songs this year, but The Great Pretender is a great one to settle on in the end.
For me the highlights of 1956 have really nothing to do with rock, as classic jazz albums from Jimmy Smith, Thelonious Monk, and Miles Davis all hit that year. 1956 was, however, the year Elvis completely blew up and some guy named Johnny Cash released I Walk the Line, so rock and country were doing ok as well.
Ok, so that’s it for the first three years of the rock and roll era. Hopefully the next post won’t take quite so long to put together, but no promises. I’m eager though to get into the 60s and wrap this project up for good though.
Any favorites of yours that I missed?
This will come to no surprise to anyone who lives in or has visited the fair city of Orlando, FL, but we have the worst drivers in the world, bar none. Orlando gets a bad rap a lot of the time, but it’s actually a very cool place to live, but this driving thing is no joke. Maybe it’s the toxic mix of seasoned citizens, drunks, baffled tourists, and frazzled locals, but the list of things I’d rather do than drive in Orlando at rush hour is long and varied, including pulling out hairs in my arm one at a time, staring at paint drying, and listening to Nickelback for a week straight for charity. (Well, maybe not that last one, but seriously, some brave soul is actually doing that. The maker bless him.)
Now that you know this startling fact about my town, here’s a list of the drivers to watch out for when you are out and about town, or if you come visit to pay homage to the Mouse and the Boy Wizard, as is required by law apparently. (Not included in this list is driver that completely freaks out, slows down and turns on the hazard lights at the first sign of rain, because these folks are found throughout Florida and are not exclusive to Orlando. Watch out for them nonetheless.)
Lost tourist: These people mean well, and we love them since their tax dollars mean we don’t pay state taxes in Florida, but they are a menace. Usually seen driving shiny, white, late model American cars that can only be rental cars, looking exasperatedly for the exit to Disney, and driving the wrong way down I-4.
Jesus fish displayer: You’ve seen these people, with their Jesus fish medallions and “safe for little ears” stickers. You would think folks that advertise their love and admiration for the Prince of Peace would be a little nicer on the roads, but they drive with an abandon and confidence that only you only find from those who are sure they going to be rewarded in the next life.
Jetta owner: What the hell is it about owning a Jetta that makes people completely lose their mind on the road? You can usually find this person when two lanes of traffic are merging together, trying to go as far as possible in the lane that is ending before cutting in front of you in the next lane, thereby saving themselves 3 seconds of waiting. If you see a Jetta with a Jesus fish, just do yourself a favor and pull over to the side of the road and wait for assistance.
Seasoned citizen driver: They favor American sedans at least 300 feet long with the left blinker permanently engaged, and, like the old Seinfeld gag, no longer fear being killed in a car wreck since they have presumptively lived long and fruitful lives already. Not so much a threat if you are in a car on the road, but watch out if you are sitting on the first floor of a building near a window within 100 yards of a road, since that is their favorite parking spot.
Stick figure family van/SUV owner: These folks can be recognized by their distinctive fondness for stickers with cryptic numbers with decimals (13.1, 26.2, etc). These vehicles generally can be found within 10 feet of a Starbucks or Crossfit center at all times (admittedly, it’s pretty much impossible these days not to be these days), and driven by my old friends, the Lululemom. They are often distracted by the amount of glitter in their eyes, because they are reliving the glory days running through old cheerleading routines in their heads, and/or by the well worn Dave Matthews band cd they are jamming out to while trying to drown out Brayden, Tina, Dylan, and Heather screaming in the back seat.
Would be writing his name in snow if he could guy: You know this guy all too well, and he may be the most dangerous of the bunch. Generally drives the largest truck legally allowed on two axles, has multiple charming “Assault Life” stickers on his overly tinted back window next to silhouettes of automatic weapons, presumably says “Bro” a lot, and drives to and from the LA Fitness in the left lane going 10 miles below the speed limit, until you try to pass him, at which point he hits the red “turbo” button on the dash and drives past at 100 miles and hour, leaving only a faint whiff of Drakkar Noir and Nickelback.
Anyway, should you choose to drive in the City Beautiful, just keep your eyes out for folks and should be just fine. Just be sure to keep your insurance current.
Another decade down, and only one and half to go, give or take a few years. And not a moment too soon if I’m honest. Don’t get me wrong, I love making mixes and playlists, but sticking to one theme is starting to test even my patience. Getting into the homestretch though, so no point in stopping now. Up next I’m going to do some kind of condensed version of the 50s, since the term “rock and roll” didn’t really latch on until later in the decade, even if it had been used earlier. I’ll probably end up starting around 1954 or maybe 56, but we’ll see. After that, I’m finishing up with the 60s, which will be no easy task.
Here’s the cumulative Best of the 2000s mix to put a nice tidy bow on that decade. The usual restrictions don’t apply to this one, other than the one song per artist rule, and I’m not going to write more about each song since that was covered in the individual year mixes, which you can find collected here.
All My Friends – LCD Soundsystem
Stuck Between Stations – The Hold Steady
LDN – Lily Allen
Apartment Story – The National
Summertime Clothes – Animal Collective
Useful Chamber – Dirty Projectors
Daniel – Bat for Lashes
Paranoia in B Major – The Avett Brothers
The Rip – Portishead
O Valencia – The Decemberists
Portions for Foxes – Rilo Kiley
The Rat – The Walkmen
Neighborhood #3 (Power Out) – Arcade Fire
This Mess We’re In – PJ Harvey
Such Great Heights – The Postal Service
Maps – Yeah Yeah Yeahs
I am trying to break your heart – Wilco
The Rising – Bruce Springsteen
For Nancy (‘Cos It Already Is) – Pete Yorn
In the Sun – Joseph Arthur
Mass Romantic – The New Pornographers
You’re No Rock n’ Roll Fun – Sleater-Kinney
I Wish I was the Moon – Neko Case
Dashboard – Modest Mouse
How to Disappear Completely – Radiohead
Here’s the Spotify playlist for your listening/subscribing pleasure.
After a bit of a lull in 2008, 2009 came back strong, serving up one of the most interesting and diverse years musically of the decade. It makes for a great way to close out the 2000s, no doubt, and that means that the finish line of my insane little mix tape project is in sight, with only the 1950s and 1960s left to tackle. Then again, those are likely to be the two most challenging decades of the bunch, so, as my high school basketball coach was fond of saying, there may well be a light at the end of this tunnel, but it just might be a train. Oh well, on to the goods.
Summertime Clothes – Animal Collective
The Internet pretty much collectively lost its mind when Merriweather Post Pavilion came out, and with good reason as it turned out. Here’s the standout track from that album.
The Boys Are Leaving Town – Japandroids
You know what you are getting from Japandroids, and odds are it’s going to be loud, fast, and pretty amazing.
Actor Out of Work – St. Vincent
Actor was another ring in Annie Clark’s evolution into the queen of the known universe, and a mighty fine record to boot.
Useful Chamber – Dirty Projectors
There’s nothing that quite sounds like a Dirty Projectors record. Listen as this song morphs from a hipster Brooklyn version of an R&B song into a full on Led Zeppelin jam around the 5:15 mark.
DC Comics and Chocolate Milkshakes – Art Brut
Nobody lets the nerd flag fly quite like Art Brut.
Young Adult Friction – The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
There’s a lot to love about the TPOBPAH, especially if you’re a fan of Echo and the Bunnymen, Jesus and Mary Chain, etc.
Heads Will Roll – Yeah Yeah Yeahs
This is, dare I say, borderline pop? Certainly not what you’d expect to hear from Yeah Yeah Yeahs, but it works.
I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris – Morrissey
Ah, Moz. You certainly don’t make it easy on yourself, but it’s hard to stay mad when you’re still capable of gems like this one.
Not Fair – Lily Allen
This song wraps everything great about Lily Allen up in a neat and tidy bow.
What Are You Willing to Take – Lucero
I’m a giant sucker for a rock song with a horn section and an organ, no doubt.
Daniel – Bat for Lashes
Love, love, love me some Natasha Khan. Sweep the leg, Johnny! (See the video.)
Two Weeks – Grizzly Bear
I loved this record a little too much when it came out, and then put it on the shelf and never really listened to it again. It’s nice to come back to it and listen to it with fresh ears.
1901 – Phoenix
Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix was a juggernaut of a record at the time, with two or three pretty killer singles. 1901 is a favorite.
Wilco (the song) – Wilco
Wilco (the song) from Wilco (the album) by Wilco (the band) is perhaps a little too cute for its own good, but a good tune nonetheless.
Empire State of Mind – Jay-Z, Alicia Keys
There’s no reason to fight this one. It’s the Hey Ya! of the year and one you’ll be hearing for years to come whenever there’s footage of NYC to be shown. And thanks for the kid friendly radio edit, Shawn. Long live the World Trade.
Don’t Forget Me – Neko Case
I would never, ever forget you Neko. Ever. Try this one out on repeat with headphones on, sitting alone in the candlelight darkness, and let the gospel vibe just wash over you. It’s the equivalent of a juice cleanse for your soul.
And that’s a wrap on the 2000s, with only the best of the decade to follow. That’s a pretty cool year of music, no? When all is said and done this is one of my favorites of the last 15 years, so, enjoy it.
Which one of you favorites did I miss?
2008 was always going to seem like something of a let down after the juggernauts of 2006 and 2007, but it was a pretty pedestrian year for music on its own. When the primary description you read about a year is something along the lines of “it was a great year for disco” I guess that is to be expected. The year is not without its charms, but there wasn’t a ton of depth beyond what’s included here and I really can’t think of much of anything that is missing that I feel bad about excluding. (All of 2007-2008 has an asterisks though since Radiohead’s sublime In Rainbows isn’t available on the service).
Constructive Summer – The Hold Steady
This is a great THS song, but I’d probably include it even if it were garbage just for the line “Raise a toast to St. Joe Strummer / I think he may have been our only decent teacher.” Amen.
The Rip – Portishead
Portishead’s 3rd was really the only truly great record that came out this year. Pretty amazing stuff.
White Winter Hymnal – Fleet Foxes
Fleet Foxes got a ton of attention, much of deserved, but giving us Father John Misty as a solo artist is probably their greatest achievement.
This is How You Spell “HAHAHA, We Destroyed the Hopes and Dreams of a Generation of Faux-Romantics” – Los Campisenos!
I truly dig Los Campisenos!, and this song deserves to be remembered both for its frankly amazing title and the epic spoken word bit that shouts out a “final, fatal Live Journal entry,” which is just about as quintessentially late 2000s as you can get.
Teen Creeps – No Age
I had forgotten about this little gem until putting this list together, so it was nice to rediscover this record along the way.
Lights & Music – Cut Copy
See the line above about this being a good year for disco.
Agoraphobia – Deerhunter
I’ve never quite completely bought in on Deerhunter, but this is a pretty good song (and album, Microcastle), I must admit.
Hiphopopotamus vs. Rhymenoceros – Flight of the Concords
Don’t get me wrong, I love me some Flight of the Concords, but when what is essentially a comedy album is one of the best records of the year, then it’s probably a sign that it wasn’t that great of a year for music. That being said, the loaded pause and throat clearing after “I’m the Hiphopopotamus, my rhymes are bottomless” is one of the best lines ever. Be more constructive with your feedback!
Dancing Choose – TV on the Radio
As much as I claim not to be that much into TVOTR, I think this is the third or fourth song of theirs that’s made a mix tape, so maybe I am a fan after all.
In the New Year – The Walkmen
There is no question, though, about my love for The Walkmen. Another great song and really good album from them.
Breathe Something / Stellar Star – Flying Lotus
Just a sonic trip of a tune. Flying Lotus makes the most consistently interesting, genre-hopping records in recent memory.
Cold Son – Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks
This isn’t particularly great, but pretty good Malkmus is more than good enough for me.
Bang On – The Breeders
Again, not the best Breeders record by a long shot, but pretty dang good Breeders blows most records out of the water.
Sausalito – Conor Oberst
A pleasant, jaunty little gem of a tune.
Gamma Ray – Beck
Beck’s world must be a really interesting place to live. Or maybe just visit once in a while.
Carpetbaggers – Jenny Lewis
Elvis Costello drops by and helps elevate this one above the rest of a pretty average record by Jenny Lewis’ standards.
Hollow Man – R.E.M.
After the unmitigated flaming disaster that was Around the Sun, it was extremely reassuring for R.E.M. to come back with a record like Accelerate. Not nearly a great R.E.M album by any measure, but they set the bar for that description impossibly high. I really love this tune regardless of when it was released though and consider it one of the two or three best of their post-Bill Berry output.
I Stand Corrected – Vampire Weekend
Ok, Vampire Weekend’s debut record isn’t nearly as good as was claimed when it was released, and sometimes their music is way overly precocious and pretentious, but this is an undeniably great song. No matter how much you may want to punch each member of the band in the nose.
There you go. A solid, entertaining, and ultimately somewhat forgettable batch of 18 songs. Here’s the Spotify playlist for your listening subscribing pleasure.
Which one of your favorites did I leave out?