OCTOBER MIX by Rick Moody
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Fifteen songs, just fifteen that I’m playing now, that are in heavy rotation today? Too easy. So I have chosen fifteen songs that I actually liked when I was fifteen. This is an embarrassing proposition for the following reason: I turned fifteen in 1976, and where I was going to high school, in New Hampshire, punk had not yet happened, and so there was an awful lot of wretched music out there, and I liked some of the wretchedest, the most conspicuously awful. I would offer the observation that I liked this music because it was difficult, it was somewhat ambitious, and because it didn’t sound like everything else. And this is often what I like about music now too. I like things that don’t sound like everything else. So there’s that.
I may have liked some really awful shit when young, but I didn’t like Frampton Comes Alive. And I always kind of hated Billy Joel, Turnstiles above all other albums. And the Eagles have always repelled me. And all the girls in my high school always seemed to love Dan Fogelberg, whom, at the time, I would willingly have hanged in effigy. But it’s true, I did like some appalling music. Some of which I still love, if only because nothing provides the Proustian rush like a song you liked as a fifteen-year-old:
1. “Inca Roads,” Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention (One Size Fits All)
An incredibly strange and complex song with lots of different time signatures, and then a soaring, aching guitar solo in the middle. I could have chosen many, many, many songs by Frank Zappa for this list. I could have made a whole list of Frank Zappa songs, but this is possibly my favorite ever.
2. “Free Hand,” Gentle Giant (Free Hand)
Jonathan Coe, who wrote the tremendous novel What a Carve Up! also loves and knows way too much about this band. I sort of assume, most days, that no one knows or cares about them at all except me, but Jonathan Coe recently challenged me to name my favorite pre-John Weathers drummer in Gentle Giant, and if this was designed to make me feel uninformed, well, it succeeded.
3. “Baker Street Muse,” Jethro Tull (Minstrel In the Gallery)
I know, they are very, very hard to like. There’s some real lyrical pretension there, and some self-aggrandizement. But this song has its sweet and tender sections, I swear, and is rather loving and detailed about London. I was a kid who had never been to London, and this opened some vision of what it might be like. I remember singing it to myself when I stayed near Baker St. on a British book tour.
4. “Supper’s Ready,” Genesis (Foxtrot)
It’s kind of a masterpiece, I swear. The spooky twelve-string work, divided between Steve Hackett and Mike Rutherford, always kind of makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up, and Peter Gabriel had a real way with the uncanny lyrics that cycled through all kinds of surrealism before arriving back at romantic longing. They were never quite this good again, although the next album, Selling England By the Pound, has some great stuff on it too.
5. “Baby’s On Fire,” Brian Eno (Here Come the Warm Jets)
Brian Eno, as far as I’m concerned, could do no wrong, and never did do any wrong until sometime in the late eighties, and even lately he still has his moments of astonishment and surprise. This song sort of prefigures punk and the art rock of the late seventies by several years, but has many elements of each: witty satirical lyrics, a real rock rhythm section, and absolute noise and sonic assault. A truly great song by anyone’s standards.
6. “In Every Dream Home a Heartache,” Roxy Music (For Your Pleasure)
I think For Your Pleasure is one of the greatest rock and roll albums ever made. Bryan Ferry later became a sort of feckless lyric writer. The late-period Roxy lyrics were bland and only mildly interesting. But on the first two albums he really set himself a task, and here succeeds with great aplomb. The lyrics to this song — dark, devastated, funny, icky, provocative — are as good as anything anyone was writing at the time, and since.
7. “Woodstock,” Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young (Déjà vu)
This supergroup was horrible in so many ways. Steven Stills just seems pretty horrible to me now. But still. Hard to believe that people so young could be so ambitious, and so good at it, and then never really get it right ever again.
8. “Birds of Fire,” Mahavishnu Orchestra (Birds of Fire)
My sister really liked this album. I didn’t know anything about jazz at the time. I just liked it because it was scary.
9. “Kashmir,” Led Zeppelin (Physical Graffiti)
The year this album came out, 1975, is probably the best year for music ever. I could have put so many more songs from that year on here. I could have made a whole playlist of 1975, and it would have been astounding.Physical Graffiti is a slightly windy album. It’s one of those double albums that has one side too many (“In My Time of Dying,” e.g.), but this song, in its melding of Arabic melodies and rock and roll has to be one of the great moments of in popular music. The drumming is astounding, the arrangement is astounding, even Robert Plant, whose vocal chords were a bit diminished by this point, is eerily fascinating. A genuine triumph, I’d say. Even if you hate this band.
10. “Heart of the Sunrise, Yes (Fragile)
Yes made a few great albums between 1970 and 1976 and then completely imploded. Totally lost their way. But this record, which is sort of dashed off, compared to some of the others, is really rangy and self-confident. My mother actually bought this album. That’s how I heard it. I was ten when it came out. Forty years ago now. I have no idea what young people think of this sort of thing. It must sound completely bizarre. Feel free to fill me in.
11. “Wish You Were Here,” Pink Floyd (Wish You Were Here)
If I never heard this song ever again, that would be fine with me, but at the time, right when it came out, it was the saddest, scariest thing ever. I knew nothing about mental illness at the time. I didn’t know, for example, that I myself would suffer with mental illness. That mental illness would play a large role in my twenties. All the darkness seemed very distant and creepy then. These days, what I love about Pink Floyd is Syd Barrett himself. But in 1976, I loved songs about Syd Barrett. Editors note: due to all the suits behind rock ‘n roll (and, fine, copyright ‘n compensation), Pink Floyd is unavailable on Grooveshark and we’ll have to settle for Radiohead’s cover
12. “Karn Evil 9, First Impression,” Emerson, Lake & Palmer (Brain Salad Surgery)
There’s no excuse for this at all. But I’m being honest. Meanwhile, if you want to make yourself happier for the rest of the day, watch this video.
13. “We Are the Champions,” Queen (News of the World)
I’d put “Bohemian Rhapsody” on this list, which had a huge impact on me at about the same time that “Kashmir” did, but in a way, in my crew of outcasts, this was the bigger song. We felt like champions because we had each other, and this song attached a feeling to that, and it’s hard not to be grateful.
14. “TVC15,” David Bowie (Station to Station)
I liked all that androgynous glam stuff too. This and T. Rex and Mott the Hoople and Queen. And this one had a sci-fi futurist component as well.
15. “Slip Kid,” The Who (Who By Numbers)
I could also, as with Frank Zappa, put many, many songs by Pete Townshend on this list, including at least two others (“Squeeze Box,” and “Blue, Red, and Grey”) from this very album. But you know how the first song you really know by a band somehow remains the one you really love ever after? Well, excepting Elton John’s rendition of “Pinball Wizard,” this was the first song by The Who I really listened to. And I happen to think — even though it’s on an album no one much listened to, unless you were a diehard — that it’s still moving and powerful. They only ever played it live once, I think, because Keith couldn’t play the rhythm very well.
— Rick Moody’s newest novel is THE FOUR FINGERS OF DEATH, from Little, Brown. He has a new solo album out, called THE DARKNESS IS GOOD, released on Dainty Rubbish Records. Moody also plays music with The Wingdale Community Singers, whose recently released album is called SPIRIT DUPLICATOR. Both albums are available at Amazon, iTunes, and CDBaby.com.
Need more music? Check out other EL Mixtapes:
September Mix by Jason Diamond
August Mix by Melissa Febos
July Mix by The Faster Times
June Mix by Helen Phillips
May Mix by Benjamin Hale
April Mix by Fiona Maazel
March Mix by J. Robert Lennon
February Mix by EL Staff