I Don't Hear a Single 01
Track-surfing the old-fashioned way
I've always been suspicious of singles, not to mention A&R men; I don't like to be told what to listen to, and I've always found the release of singles in itself to be a redundant way to peddle one's audio wares. With that in mind, I present I Don't Hear a Single: a round-up of non-single tunes that were either (a) too long to be a single, (b) too good to be a single, (c) too obscure/unreleased to be considered for single status, or (d) too jarring in one way or another to be singled out for mass consumption. Let's F-ing do this.
We don't do a ‘Track Review' section here at TMT, and I'm glad because I personally would rather be gang-raped by a clan of Chilean farm workers than read about those individual songs the labels say we're supposed to like. Reviewing the latest Jay-Z singles and then reviewing the album seems a mite redundant, don' it? Besides, we never even reviewed the new Jay-Z in the foist place 'cause we (or at least I) jus' don' give a fuck about commerc rap (or about the first and last letters of most words). YOU HEAR ME YO, we jus' don' giv' fuc' ‘bout ‘da beginnin' o' en' o' wordz!!!
Oh god, I'm totally gonna get fired for that little lash-out. Fuck it; if I'm gonna get the ol' axe wound anyway, I might as well start a new column. The idea is to compile the best individual songs I've heard in, say, the last five minutes. Or the last, oh, 25 years. I actually don't even own a lot of these gems anymore, but I've got them all stored right heya [I'm pointing to my right temple right now, mind you].
The reasons this column is necessary? Well, there aren't any. But with all the talk of The Death of The Album, I must say I don't give a baker's fuck; as much as I love listening to In the Aeroplane Over The Sea or The Ramones without interruption, I'm also VERY attention-deficient. Friends tell me to ease off the ‘skip' button all the time, as I normally don't even let a song finish before I'm rushing to dust off another disc and share one-eleventh/one-twelfth/etc. of its content. With that in mind, you, the reader, replace the people on my couch and get to hear all about my favorite tracks, whether they be album cuts, bonafide singles, or bootleggin' B-sides (and no, I'm not going to try to ‘introduce' you to “Marquee Moon” or “Nights in White Satin”; I'm going to assume you're worth your goddamned salt, oh knowledgeable reader).
After all, it's a simple fact: Most albums have one, maybe two great songs, and the sooner you admit that to yourself, the sooner you'll realize that you don't really need The Arcade Fire's Funeral, you just need “Neighborhood #1: Tunnels.” You don't really need The Impossible Shapes' Horus, you just need “Forever Alone.” You DEFINITELY don't need the entirety of RBX's hard-fronting solo debut, you just need to hear the Snoop/Dr. Dre-dissin' “A.W.O.L.”.
Get it? Got it? Good... and off we go! Here are a bunch of great songs that deserve to be heard AGAIN and AGAIN, or, in many cases, liberated from the crappy toss-offs they are surrounded by:
“Already Dead” by Bushwick Bill, from Phantom of the Rapra - 1995
Hard as it must be to imagine a six-foot-tall guy afraid of a wee-lil' midget, when I was in high school I was deathly afraid of Bushwick Bill. He was a major contributor to the most grizzly gangsta group EVER, The Geto Boys, a unit that didn't rap; it shouted about gruesome, bloody mayhem, not topped bludgeon-for-bludgeon until Brotha Lynch Hung — whom I thought was an Asian-American rapper upon first hearing his name as Brother Lynn Chung — hit the scene with tales of “deep-frying baby nuts” in Nine-Five. So despite the fact that Bushwick is/was barely three-feet tall, I cowered as I listened to him spit-shine his mic, and his sophomore album contained THE definitive Halloween gore fest-slash-skull-fucking-murder-ballad “Already Dead,” which wobbled dizzily over slasher-flick synth loops, random cries of victims [?], bass that weaved like the metal-gelatin effects from Terminator II and a hilarious opening line about his glass body part: “Look into my eyes / or should I say my eye” (another great pun: “Ever since birth I've been given the short hand”). Bushwick had been more graphic and, for that matter, biographic in the past — debut Little Big Man contained accounts of the shooting that cost him said eyeball — but he was never scarier than on “Already Dead.”
“What in the World's Come Over You,” Jack Scott, from What in the World's Come Over You - 1960
Speaking of the Geto Boys, I'd like to see them tangle with country singer Jack Scott in his prime and come away bragging. After all, it's one thing to tote toughness while rapping about shooting people in the face; it's another to sound bad-to-the-bone when you're imploring your lady friend to change her mind. Scott was as tough as Cash and grittier than the contents of a classic tobacco spittoon. “What in the World's Come Over You” tells, in plain language, the tale of an ornery fella who just doesn't understand the words coming out of his woman's mouth. What's most amazing is how rankled and rumpled Scott sounds even while telling his woman “You're still my angel from above.” Occasionally spun on oldies stations to this day, I found this delightful country classic on a four-LP set of Klassic Kountry Kowtippers (not the actual title) for 50 cents at an antique store and never looked back. You should probably get yerself a copy too, varmint.
“Mr. Scary” by Dokken, from Back for the Attack - 1987
I remember this track well because it was the last song on side A of the cassette tape. To hear it, I had to fast-forward through five terrible tracks, most notably “Heaven Sent,” which had this pungent vocal at the very end of the song that I had to endure rather than keep fast-forwarding and risk going too far. But all this trouble was worth it for “Mr. Scary,” an excellent instrumental with Vai/Malmsteen/Hoey guitar theatrics by guitarist George Lynch, who would leave after this album to form the LEGENDARY Lynch Mob (kidding, kidding). This track lives up to its title in a way other Dokken tracks couldn't — seeing as Don's womanly singing ruined their songs. Much like the above-mentioned Bushwick track, “Mr. Scary” used haunting notes and pitch to create a mood you didn't want to be left alone in a room with. Although Dokken are easily one of the furriest, most-washed-up and irrelevant bands in the history of hair metal and music in general, at least they had a couple o' killer jams, “Mr. Scary” being easily the best.
“Prepare Yourself” by Mindbomb, from Mindbomb - 1993
This song has NOT aged well. Its guitar distortion is tinny, the drums canned and pickled like yer grandma's beets, and Matt Mercado's vocals are futuristic-sounding, but only for the year 1993. Still, when I heard this song on a life-changing — and now-defunct — Sunday night radio show called Metal X (which introduced this frightened then-Mormon to Cannibal Corpse, Death, Carcass, Entombed, and of all things, The Melvins) out of Denver it spoke to me. It bridged the chaotic digital vigilance of Ministry with the harmonies of, hell, Cracker? That might not be an appealing comparison, and again, this lil' artifact hasn't aged well, but that doesn't change the fact that at the time this song ruled all denominations of ass. Another band that simply disappeared, Mercado and friends can at least be happy that SOMEONE remembers...
“The Brazilian” by Genesis, from Invisible Touch, 1986
While the name of this song now conjures images of wax and body hair and bald-ass (literally) perfection — oh baby — it USED to be the name of the one song from Invisible Touch that didn't befoul the Genesis legacy. “The Brazilian” was a lovely instrumental track that was just too cheesy-but-fun to not bob along to. It is firmly entrenched in the '80s to be sure; note the corn-doggin', multi-layered synths, the hysterical electronic drums -- and while you're at it, note how easily the concoction brings emotion and old memories to the surface. In fact, it's possible you've heard this song on a "world music" radio station without knowing it. It was hard to stomach including a Genesis song on this list due to Phil Collins' GLORIOUS contributions to the Tarzan movie soundtrack. Unfortunately, it was even more difficult to leave it off the list. So I didn't!!!
“Crime Story” by 24-7 Spyz, from Strength In Numbers, 1992
While we're talking about songs that don't age well, we might as well talk about a genre that has wrinkled and dilapidated faster than a banana in a scorching-hot room: rap-rock (alternately called g-core, rap-metal, nu-metal, et al). When New York's 24-7 Spyz came out HARD with this track rap-rock was but a gleam in some white executive's eye, so give this group the small nod they deserve despite your (and everyone's) hatred for the genre to come. While they were more of a funk/R&B-metal hybrid than anything — which can sometimes be even worse than a rap-metal hybrid — they wrote a few songs that championed the whole rap-over-distorted-guitars thing loooooong before Fred and other white dudes took the approach to the fookin' bank (though 311, in all fairness, released a strictly rappin' and rockin' record in '93 that was more of a pure example of the vag-having genre to come). The lyrics are pretty rote by today's standards, concerning the plight of “another brother shot down in the streets,” but hey, it sounded pretty revolutionary at the time and I listened to a cassette recording of this track constantly, its crunchy riffs and soulful chorus revealing a new approach to rock music. And yes, I desperately wanted to be black at this point in my life. And yes, it hurts.
“Raining Down” by Astral, from Orchids - 2003
A so-so album to be sure, Astral's Orchids DID have one redeeming quality: “Raining Down.” Near-perfect in its retelling of the traditional shoegaze narrative, this song — inexplicably buried at #9 in the track listing — marries all the elements you might expect from a band indebted to Ride and their ilk: chiming guitars, a plodding tempo that NEVER changes a la “Dreams Burn Down,” and somber girl vocals. The Cranes have written at least half-a-dozen songs with the same formula and to better effect, but many of you have heard that band. Can you honestly say you've heard Astral? Probably not.
“Who Do I Kill” by Hater, from Hater - 1993
I didn't like ALL the side projects of the poopy — but so goddamned lovable — grunge era. Okay okay, I did, but Hater, featuring members of Soundgarden, Devilhead, and, gulp, Monster Magnet, stood out to me because everyone else, ahem, hated on them except my junior-high buddy Ryan Leaf, a guy I trusted to keep me in the loop (he introduced me to Sepultura, Ministry, Bad Religion, etc.; don't laugh, it was a big deal then!). Their self-titled debut was definitely rough around the edges, but one song in particular, which is in fact one of three or four proper, ACTUAL singles on this list, was a smashing good time, an ideal substitute for the Nuggets compilations I wouldn't happen upon for a good half-decade. One of the most swinginest elements is Matt Cameron's delicious drumming. I stand by an old statement I made about him: he is one of the only modern drummers that can carry Keith Moon's torch without badly burning his hands. Another delightful surprise were the guitars, clean as a whistle without a hint of distortion. Considering that this was mistakenly being called strictly a Soundgarden side-project, it was a huge shock to hear such crisp swaths of six-string. The deadpan vocals tie the package up and add a ribbon; find this and hear the direct link to Cameron's The Wellwater Conspiracy.
“Wonderful” by The Beach Boys, from the ORIGINAL mix of Smile - 1967
I'm not sure whence it came, but back when Audiogalaxy was rocking ever-lovin' ass fer free — before it became yawnworthy subscription service Rhapsody — I found an unbelievable recording of The Beach Boys' Smile sessions, divided into two sides like a cassette. Although it was obviously less fleshed-out than the larger-than-life version released in 2004 (dubbed SMiLE), it also boasted something the new version doesn't have: A young, nubile Brian Wilson that didn't sideways-mouth/croak through his vocal parts. Not only that, but this version flexed the muscles of each Beach Boy rather than the stellar-but-cheese-dipped Wondermints, who, with others, backed Wilson on the newer, completed version. “Cabinessence” is one of the stand-outs on this older, skeletal version of Smile, but the alpha-track is definitely the original take of “Wonderful,” a song that perfectly encompasses Wilson's obsession with child-like melodies and lyrical innocence so pronounced many assumed it spelled madness (and as we all know, artists obsessed with children don't always age gracefully). And it did. But the girl Wilson's describing, who is “loving her mother and her father,” perhaps possesses the naivety Wilson would have had if his life weren't so fraught with troubles. She's simple and in awe of the world, but she still has to face reality when a “boy” bumps into her and possibly changes things for her. Less noticeably and willfully weird than other period compositions like “Vega-tables” and “She's Going Bald,” “Wonderful” was so sublime in its early version the redux just doesn't cut it; in fact, the same thing could be said about SMiLE in general... seek out the original!