Since way back in 2004 a couple of good mates and me have had a Top 10 Songs of the Year night. Our friendships stretch back to the dawn of the 80s (and even earlier) and we know each other pretty, pretty, pretty well. Comfortable just hanging out, sharing laughs and curious to hear what songs have caught each other’s ear. For some reason our Top 10 is a Top 12. I can’t even remember why. We also include another five songs.
The five “extra” songs thingy is not meant to imply that they could not make the Top 12. We added this dimension to the night back in 2014. You see, Dylan had recently released The Bootleg Series Vol. 11: The Basement Tapes Complete. So we decided we needed to hear each other’s five faves from that magnificent stew. Since then we have treated the five extras as a chance to play some songs that had a more personal connection or that might distract the flow of your Top 12. Or whatever.
So, without further ado, here’s my 2019 “extra” five…
Lonesome Whistle, Hank Williams – in 2019 Ken Burns released his latest documentary series, this one focussed on the history of US country music. Friend and fellow Top 12er, Matt, ain’t a dyed in the wool country fan but does not put cloth in his ears when country music is played. Well, he watched the Ken Burns doco on country. And he fell heavily for Hank. And he came around to our place one night and we played the hell out of Hank. Hours and hours. A magnificent night. Hank is as good as it gets, across any genre of music or even any art form. He is known as the Hillbilly Shakespeare. On Lonesome Whistle you can hear everything that makes him great. The greatest actually.
I Won’t (Matt Wallace mix), The Replacements – as reckless a band as rocknroll ever produced. Cited as the best rock band of the 1980s. The little band that could but wouldn’t. Last year a box set entitled Dead Man’s Pop, of one of their lesser albums, Don’t Tell a Soul, was released. Dead Man’s Pop was the working title of that album. In 1988 when Don’t Tell a Soul was released everybody was barracking for The Replacements to break through in the manner their main 80s competitor, REM, had done. This was the album they banked on. The record company shined up their production and sound and that record came out. No one fell for it. The Replacements were not shiny, happy people. They were a drunken mess. Their music would soar on the back of sublime talent crashing into each other or just crash. On the Dead Man’s Pop box set we get the original Matt Wallace produced album. And this song, a throwaway, finally sounded the way I heard it in my head over 30 years ago. Not as a polished turd but as a missing The Who track that can barely hold itself together. Hanging on by a thread, that being a most simple but catchy as chorus: “Do you want me to send a letter or a note? I won’t, I wo-wo-wo-wo-wo-wo-won’t”.
No Good Can Come of This, Dave Warner – While I have been a fan of Warner’s music a very long time I had never read one of his crime novels. Until last year. I read his latest, River of Salt. It’s a ripper. Page turner, as they say. And the pay-off, as good crime novels must surely have is well worth the immersion into Blake Saunders story. Along with the novel Warner released a song. In a rather clever cross promotion Warner wrote a song that the lead character, Blake, in River of Salt has written for his band. Neat idea. The song stands on its own. It is distinctly different than the sound (and lyrics) you would generally associate with the Suburban Boy. A clever, catchy croon that doesn’t overstay its welcome. It’s Dave expressing his inner Sinatra. Reading River of Salt, you appreciate how the song’s layers interlink with characters, themes and the main arc of the story.
Western Stars, Bruce Springsteen – Bruce has routinely been applauded for aspects of his art, such as his live shows, his guitar playing and his role as the diarist of the working class. In this song you can get lost in the depth of Springsteen’s understanding of the socio-political idea and reality of the US. We have seen it in his work previously. In songs like My City of Ruins, Philadelphia, and Tunnel of Love Springsteen takes us respectively, into capitalism’s fault lines, gay rights and marriage as a construct. In Western Stars Bruce holds the mirror to himself, to privileged older white men, and to current US politics. He muses on the “incredulity of the metanarrative” of male hegemony. Without hectoring and inside five minutes. With soaring strings and pedal steel that softens WS core ideas (what Ann Powers calls “the poignancy of modern masculinity’s fatalistic drift”). And a punchline of a chorus that can be interpreted simultaneously as meditative and ironic.
Bad Reputation, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts – one of the concerts of 2019 – Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, at the Mornington Racecourse, as part of the Red Hot Summer concert series. Most of the other acts were ho-hum (except for The Living End). Then Joan came on and blew the day away. Somewhere in her set a penny the size of the bleeding obvious hit me hard. Joan Jett is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and she has been touring since the late 70s. And she looks like she is having more fun than anyone at this gig man. Great tunes, great energy, great presence. Bad Reputation is her pinnacle. Yeah, you try climbing even half way to there. We had attended the concert in respect of my sister (a mad Joan Jett fan) who passed away in 2018. So there I was, standing in the mosh-pit, digging the vibe, singing my lungs out to a feminist mantra from 1980. A song that attracted Jo like a magnet all those decades ago. It took me, oh, I don’t know, another 38 years to be brought to my senses with its raw electrical currents. At Mornington racecourse the palpable, visceral surge from the stage, the performer and the song made me wistful for my sister and delirious for the power of rock and roll.