Sunday, December 4, 2011

Favorites? Favorites, more favorites ... Hmm.

What's your favorite band? Who is your favorite singer? What is your favorite song?

Common questions. Sucky questions. For the music addict, those questions can be nearly impossible to answer.

But we're all friends here, and we can take the time to discuss the most mundane things and the most challenging things alike. After all, you're reading a blog ... you don't have anything better to do! :)
My wife and I sort of got this ball rolling when she said that her favorite Rolling Stones song was "Beast of Burden." That got me to thinking about what my favorite Rolling Stones song is ... and I didn't know then. And I still really don't know, now.

The Rolling Stones ... the world's greatest rock and roll band. Well, at least they get that billing. They've never risen to the top of the pile in my book, though I like them a whole lot. I've always preferred the Beatles. The Stones were always a good singles band in my book, with hits collections doing a good job of giving people their best bits.

After the deluxe rerelease of "Exile on Main St," I began to re-assess the Rolling Stones. And that got me into actually filling in holes in my collection. I've got all the Sixties albums now, a big chunk of their Seventies albums, "Steel Wheels," "Voodoo Lounge" and "A Bigger Bang." I've still got some work to do to get the full collection, but I've got enough of their albums (and best-of collections) to be able to speak semi knowledgeably about their work. I still have no idea which song I'd select as my favorite. But "Exile" stands as my favorite, so far. It's a great "entry" album for getting cool deep cuts.

This isn't an entry about the Rolling Stones, though I'd be cool with it if anyone wants to discuss them further. I'm using the Stones as an example of a band with enough material to justify a "favorite" reaction. Favorite album? Favorite song? Favorite guitar riff? Favorite video? Heck, you can do favorite singer too (though picking Keith over Mick for vocals might be a stretch ... although Keith is my favorite Rolling Stone ... heh, see what I did there?).

Some favorites are pretty easy for me. Favorite Monkees song? "Pleasant Valley Sunday." Favorite My Chemical Romance album? "The Black Parade." Favorite Queen song? "Don't Stop Me Now." Favorite Nirvana album? "In Utero."

I can defend them all, I know exactly why they work for me. "Pleasant Valley Sunday" is catchy, pithy, has great guitar work (courtesy of Mike Nesmith) and meaningful lyrics. "The Black Parade" is powerful, artistic, moody, at times operatic and at times comic, and a damn good time. "Don't Stop Me Now" captures so much of Freddie Mercury's mercurial (heh) spirit, sounding tired at the beginning and becoming manic toward the middle, then hopeful at the end ... with a beat and energy that never fail to revive me even when I'm at my lowest. "In Utero" has so much rage and noise and organic material, with hooks and melody that cut right through the distortion and feedback to insinuate itself deep into the ear.

Other favorites depend upon my mood. Favorite Pink Floyd album? Either "The Final Cut" or "Wish You Were Here." "The Final Cut" has so much texture, vivid storytelling, political and social relevance. "Wish You Were Here" has fluid beauty, jagged riffs, cold observation ... If I want to be engaged, I go with "Cut." If I want mood, I go with "Wish."

And I think it's the "it depends" thing that most people would go to for picking a favorite. And that's totally cool, as there are a lot of "it depends" kinds of situations. Ask people for their favorite Beatles song. I've heard people say, "Well, my favorite LOVE song of theirs is ..." or "My favorite rock song of theirs is ..." or even "My favorite drug song is ..."

That's the problem with picking a genuine favorite. Giving a definitive answer means negating what some music can mean to you, or minimizing it.

Brian Wilson may have written some of the most beautiful music ever written, as well as some of the most fun songs out there. I've seen him three times. Each time was amazing, very moving and are highlights of my concert-going life.

But my favorite concert I've ever attended was Paul McCartney in 2005. Why? Lots of reasons. Sir Paul gives a hell of a show. Half of his show is Beatles songs, 40 percent is composed of solo or Wings' era greatest hits, and the remainder are newer songs. His band is top notch (as is Wilson's), and the music stays alive. Paul commits, he's belting out the lead vocals, jumping around and having a ball. He's charming.

Brian Wilson? Well, he sometimes smiles, sometimes laughs, sometimes has really great shows. And at other times, he's wooden and looks like he'd rather be anywhere else. Part of you empathizes with Wilson, because of his history and his experiences and his mental issues and his drug problems and all the losses in his life. But when you go to a concert, you want to soak in that historical vibe AND be entertained.

Paul ... he entertains. A Beatle. Plenty of history, plenty of loss, plenty of history. But he still gives his audience ticket value. No getting around it. Brian? Very much a great show, with a lot of emotional and spiritual heft. But if you want a rollercoaster show that consistently delivers? The edge goes to Paul.

See? Got my reasons. But I still feel like naming my favorite somehow reduces the significance and awesomeness of the three Brian Wilson shows I've seen. And I've seen a couple dozen other concerts, all very cool for different reasons. (Am I becoming defensive? Sorry.)

Choosing a favorite Beatles song, or Beach Boys song, is next to impossible for me. I throw in waaaaaaay too many variables. "This would be my favorite song if I was stuck on a desert island, in the middle of July, with plenty of drinking water ... and this would be my favorite if I didn't have drinking water ..." That kind of thing.

As with everything, experience can affect one's appreciation for a work too. I'm not the world's greatest Guns 'n Roses fan, but I love the song "Don't Cry" because of a former flame's use of the song one night. Now I can listen to that song and remember how I felt then, and still love it. I love it more than I would have loved it if I discovered it on my own. So it's probably my favorite GNR song.

Conversely, I used to love the heck out of "Kashmir" by Led Zeppelin. But some drunk guys a couple years back decided they had to sing the guitar riff at the top of their lungs outside my apartment. It was funny, for about 15 seconds. Annoying after a minute. Rage inducing after two minutes. Now I can't listen to the song without that association. A pity, as I really liked the song.

So ... my favorite Led Zeppelin song? "What Is And What Should Never Be" is probably the front runner. But I do love the singing on "Hey Hey What Can I Do."

What are your favorites (albums, songs, vocals, singers, guitar solos, etc.)? Do you hate that question? Or is it easier for you? I'm very curious to know what people enjoy, and why they enjoy it. I'm also curious about the stuff people hate.

So let's get some discussion going! Lay your favorites and hates on me! There are no right or wrong answers, only cool music worth listening to and discussing!

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