Sunday, May 27, 2007

Whiskeytown (1997)

After my initial discovery of, and major infatuation with, the major bands in the alt-country genre (The Jayhawks, Uncle Tupelo, Son Volt, Wilco), I began to feverishly seek out anything else that would satiate my newfound obsession. To this end, I became a subscriber and regular reader of No Depression, the alt-country bi-monthly named for Uncle Tupelo's debut and The Carter Family song of the same name.

I noticed a few ads for the latest album by a band that I thought had a fairly trite name for the genre. Still, I was curious enough that, when I stumbled across said album on sale at the Natick Newbury Comics for $8.99, and briefly previewed it at their in-store listening station, I decided to give it a chance. Whiskeytown's Strangers Almanac would go on to easily earn the top spot on my year end list for 1997.

That summer, I would also see what I still consider to be my best free show ever (not including shows for which I attended free because I was on the guest list, of course), Whiskeytown and Hazeldine at Bill's Bar on Lansdowne Street. The stories were already circulating that Ryan Adams' unstable personality would often lead to erratic performances, but he and his bandmates didn't disappoint that night. Hazeldine was impressive as the opening act as well, so I proceeded to the merchandise table, where Caitlin Cary sold me a copy of, and raved about, their latest, How Bees Fly.

A few years later, as a solo artist, Adams would again deliver one of my most memorable shows ever, an acoustic performance at the Kendall Cafe, which had a capacity of about 50 people. This was obviously before Adams' popularity had peaked, and we were lucky enough to secure the second closest table to the stage by making a dinner reservation. David Ryan played a tremendous set of songs from his solo debut, Heartbreaker, as well as some Whiskeytown favorites, and was charismatic and hilariously entertaining, even telling a story about how, while riding the train down south, an older African-American lady had made fun of his mop-like hair by referring to him as Edward Scissorhands.

Unfortunately, Whiskeytown wouldn't release another album until after their breakup in 1999. My intense desire for new Whiskeytown sounds was partially satisfied by the reissue of their debut, Faithless Street, in 1998. 2001's posthumous (so to speak) release, Pneumonia, would prove to be another masterpiece, even if it did stray somewhat from their country-rock formula, with many of the songs heading in a more pop-oriented direction.

Maybe Whiskeytown's perch atop most, if not all, bands in this genre (in my opinion) is due in part to their short history. They released only three proper albums, and all three are outstanding. There will be no Fab 40 double-duty for Ryan Adams, though. Despite his masterful solo debut, Heartbreaker, and some worthy material beyond this, his recent solo career has proven to be a disappointment. Maybe this is evidence that, had they remained together, Whiskeytown would've eventually disappointed as well, but they are the beneficiary of their brief existence and remain, quite possibly, my favorite alt-country band ever.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Steve Earle (1996)

The second outstanding recommendation of 1996 was Jud's suggestion that I check out I Feel Alright. We were hanging out before or after a Varnaline show at TT the Bear's. He also recommended Colossal Head by Los Lobos that night, and both albums placed in my top ten that year, but the Steve Earle recommendation would prove to much more significant.

I've considered Neil Young to be the king of my musical world since the early 90's, but in the late 90's and early 00's, I frequently pondered the question of who played second fiddle. There are a few others who first came to mind when I would think about this, including Jay Farrar and a certain former alt-country icon turned indie singer-songwriter known as much for his spoiled brat attitude as anything else (more on him later), but shortly after the release of 2000's Transcendental Blues, I decided that Earle was the unsung hero in this discussion. He's since fallen from this perch, but he's still among just a handful of artists whom I've considered my second favorite. I rarely ever bother to consider this question anymore.

I Feel Alright would also introduce me to Lucinda Williams, on the amazing duet "You're Still Standing There", and it would also kick off a run of four consecutive albums by Earle that would land in my top ten. I'm pretty sure this is a record, although my taste was pretty narrowly focused during those years. All four of these albums, the aforementioned I Feel Alright and Transcendental Blues, as well as 1997's El Corazon and 1999's The Mountain (on which Earle collaborated with The Del McCoury Band) would take their turns at being my favorite album of his.

In 1999, on his tour with The Del McCoury Band, Len and I wore our Varnaline t-shirts to his show at the Somerville Theatre, for which we had seats in the second row but to the right of center stage. I had previously read an interview with Earle in which he stated that the two bands he most wanted to sign to his E-Squared label were Marah and Varnaline. He had already signed Marah, so we thought we would subtly advocate for Varnaline. I don't think he looked at us once. A week later, I saw him up close at the Newport Folk Festival. He was playing the main stage, but was hanging out talking and signing autographs for people near the side stage where his younger sister, Stacey, was playing. I didn't have my Varnaline shirt on, but Anders didn't need my support anyway, because he would eventually sign with Earle's label.

Scott's younger brother, Eric, came to the Somerville Theatre show with us. We had an extra ticket, so I called him fairly last minute and he came up from Plymouth on the Commuter Rail/Red line. He was in his late teens, but he still seemed psyched to be going to a show in a hip neighborhood with two of his older brother's best friends. This is one of my top three favorite Eric moments. The other two being when he signed the thank you card he sent me for his high school graduation gift, "the younger brother you wish you had", and when, at age three, he was convinced my name was Bruce because that's what we all called each other back then. This, of course, was in reference to a Monty Python skit. Despite the fact that everyone was Bruce in our small circle, I was the only Bruce to Eric and when someone called me Dan, he spoke up by saying, "That's not Dan! It's Bruce!" Scott and I are the only ones from that group who still call each other Bruce to this day.

Anyone who knows a little something about Steve Earle knows he is a man of conviction. His political stances are fairly well documented and often provide the subject matter for his songs. However, I'm not going to discuss Earle's politics here, but I will commend him for one particular event that comes to mind. Scott, his girlfriend Sarah, Len and I had tickets to see him at Pearl Street in Northampton several years ago. Two or three songs into his headlining set, he stopped and said he couldn't continue. He was having problems with his voice and was unwilling to mail it in with a performance that didn't measure up to his high standards.

Everyone would get a full refund, less Ticketmaster charges of course, despite the fact that the opening act, Garrison Starr, had played a full set, so I'm sure that Earle ended up having to pay her. I'm not sure how much money he lost by not performing that night, but I'd definitely seen Jeff Tweedy endure voice-related problems at least twice and think nothing of it. Maybe this isn't such a big deal, but it proves to me that the Hard-Core Troubadour is a standup guy, and someone I still admire.

Trivia Part 4

Note: This post has been edited since it was first published on 5/24.

Well, this trivia question has turned into quite the fiasco. When I noticed my initial omission of four "lesser" members of two different bands on the list, in my haste to quickly acknowledge the error, I neglected to thoroughly research the status of all four of them.

As it turns out, despite the fact that various sources, including the inconsistently reliable Wikipedia, call them full-timers, I have come to believe that two of them might have only been part-timers. That is, they were full-time members of one band on the list, but only part-time members of a second. I actually emailed one of the guys through his web site, and he confirmed my suspicion. Despite this, I still think this falls into a gray area that is dependent upon the definition of an official member.

For the question, I did define an official member as someone who was considered a full member of the band for at least one album. These two guys come close, but apparently fall short of meeting this criterion. So, here's the deal. I’m still going to ask you to name all 11 to win the trivia contest, but I’m going to give a hint regarding the two debatable answers. Both are/were indisputably members of one band, but for the other band they played with, their involvement consisted of playing on the vast majority of songs on one album and touring to support said album.

I apologize for my lack of exhaustible research on this one. I could probably defend the excuse that this falls into the category of a gray area if not for the fact that I call myself a librarian. Anyway, I look forward to your efforts to answer this now very confusing question, and I'll explain further once we have a winner.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Trivia Part 3

Since I'm curious who's working on the answer to the trivia question, I'm going to offer up what amounts to be a bit of a hint. Anyone who sends me the number of answers they have so far will get a response indicating whether they are right or wrong. Numbers only, no actual guesses. I'll tell you if you have the number right, which may or may not help your cause. Remember, there are 11 answers in total.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Joe Henry (1996)

1996 was a year in which I received two excellent recommendations for albums by artists who would eventually make this list. The first of these came from Anders while watching him play a solo show at a bar in downtown Poughkeepsie. I believe it was called Brady's. The thing I know for sure is that we frequented this bar often while in town, and the guy behind the bar was almost always a younger Arlington alum whose name escapes me, though I recall his nickname was "Bird"...and he was not Brian McBrearty.

Speaking of McBrearty, I saw him a few years ago, for the first time in a long time, at Gary Griffiths' wedding. The story he was most anxious to recount from our past was when we played Big League baseball together. Brian had just hit what was probably the only home run in his baseball career. The opposing pitcher had to be extremely embarrassed because, while Brian was a pretty good pitcher, he had about as much bat speed as...well, he couldn't hit. his next at bat, he got knocked down as the opposing pitcher attempted to regain what was left of his pride. Apparently, according to Brian, I was coaching first base and went off like a time bomb, yelling at the pitcher or the umpire...or maybe both, as I wasn't the model of composure back then. Brian seemed to always remember that I "had his back", not that it would've meant all that much.

So, back to that night at Brady's. Between sets, Anders recommended that I check out Joe Henry's Trampoline. I followed up on this recommendation, and it would become my #1 album in the inaugural year of my top 10 list. Most every track was at least a birdie in my book, and the closing track "Parade" was definitely an eagle, to reference Len's favorite method of evaluating songs. Those of you who play or know golf can probably figure it out, but I'll get to an explanation of the system later. I still consider Trampoline to be Henry's best, though some are partial to the two strong alt-country albums he had released in the early 90's with the help of The Jayhawks' Gary Louris and Marc Perlman, Short Man's Room and Kindness of the World.

The magic of Joe Henry would peter out shortly thereafter. His next two albums, Fuse and Scar, were pretty good, but far from great, in my estimation, and the only time I saw him live, at the House of Blues in Harvard Square, wasn't very memorable. Madonna's brother-in-law makes this list, however, on the strength of Trampoline being my first ever official album of the year, though Son Volt's Trace would unofficially achieve that notoriety for 1995, and for the pleasure I would derive from exploring his back catalog.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Wilco (1995)

Wilco didn't start out as strongly as Son Volt, but obviously Jeff Tweedy has easily outshined Jay Farrar with his post-Tupelo success. He's certainly shown a greater ability to branch out from the alt-country idiom, and this has resulted in Wilco achieving not only commercial success, but also critical acclaim.

The first time I saw Wilco live was at a small rock club called Saratoga Winners, in the northern Albany suburb of Latham...or Cohoes, I'm not sure which. But, they're pretty much the same town anyway. The club was so named because of its proximity to the horse track in Saratoga Springs, the idea being that downstaters would stop off on their way back to the highway before leaving town. Len and I went to this show together and crashed that night at Scott's place, while he was out of town. Coincidentally, the second time I saw Wilco was at Avalon in Boston, with Scott, and we spent that night at Len's, while he was out of town.

The Wilco performance at Saratoga Winners was one of the most memorable shows of my life. Ever since the days of our early teens, Len and I were always fixated on the discussion regarding the best concert double bill we'd ever seen. It was pretty slim pickings back then that I think I considered Blue Oyster Cult and Uriah Heep to be on my list, because I kind of liked that Abominag album, which had the most hideously satanic album cover I've ever seen. In college, I saw a Rush and Blue Oyster Cult lineup in Philadelphia that would've easily been the best up to that point, if not for an abbreviated set of only 7-8 songs by BOC. I think it was one of those lame "special guest" situations.

The Saratoga Winners show was special because the opening act, the Scud Mountain Boys, would not only make this the double bill to beat all comers...though there have been a few competitors in recent years...but also it would lead to our discovery of one of my favorite songwriters ever. I'll get to that later. The other major factor that was always in play to take a good show to that next level was great playing enhanced by great showmanship. Tweedy was at his peak in that respect, and since his ego had yet to reach its apex, after performing an arena rock version of "Box Full of Letters", he allowed the band's roadie to come on stage for two great covers, "The Immigrant Song" and "Sweet Leaf". I recently came across an online setlist for this show that includes "I Wanna Be Sedated", which I now vaguely remember, but fails to list the other covers. I'm positive this is in error. Back me up on this one, Len.

But let's not forget the unsung hero in all of Wilco's success. In order to state my case, here are my personal ratings of their six studio albums:

A.M. (1995) B+
Being There (1996) A
Summerteeth (1999) A
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002) A
A Ghost is Born (2004) C+
Sky Blue Sky (2007) C+

What's the common denominator here, you ask? Jay Bennett was Tweedy's right hand for Being There, Summerteeth and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. I really don't want to go off on some Jeff Tweedy bashing tangent, except to say that he's the George Steinbrenner of indie music...I guess that makes John Stirratt the equivalent of Joe Torre...sort of. Weird comparison.

Anyway, as I said, I'm not going to spend a lot of time criticizing Jeff Tweedy, but I will recount one particular incident that demonstrates the relative coolness of Jay Bennett. A couple years later, Tweedy and Bennett toured as a duo, and Len and I caught their act at the Middle East upstairs. It was another great show and, once again, they were in the mood to perform a few covers. After a fine version of Big Star's "Thirteen", Tweedy was asking the audience for suggestions. He scoffed when I called out "Sweet Leaf", but Bennett satiated me by playing the opening guitar riff on his acoustic.

Yes, I've seen "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart" in all its anti-Jay Bennett glory, but I still insist Bennett got a raw deal. More importantly, Tweedy lost a collaborator who seemed to have a better vision of the direction Wilco should have headed than the bandleader himself. That's just my opinion, of course, and probably Bennett's as well.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Son Volt (1995)

Scott and I were in agreement that Jay Farrar was our favorite of the co-leaders of Uncle Tupelo, and their respective post-UT albums did nothing but reinforce these opinions. Wilco's A.M. was very good, but Son Volt's Trace was a masterpiece. We first heard it when the Varnaline boys dropped by, passing through Albany while on tour. Anders had a cassette with him, and I remember the album's opener, "Windfall", gave me goosebumps upon my first listen. Still in my amateur homebrewing days back then, I named one of my recipes Windfall Novemberfest. A maltier and hoppier version of the Octoberfest style, the beer's slogan was inspired by the lyric "May the wind take your troubles away".

That fall, I went on a solo vacation to Burlington, VT, where my sister and her family were living, followed by a couple nights of camping in Acadia National Park and a brief visit to Scott's family on Cape Cod, but made sure to return to Albany in time to see Son Volt at Bogie's. This was probably the first of many shows for me where my fandom of obscure bands was rewarded by allowing them to be seen at such small venues. The biggest reward, of course, was sharing a few words with drummer Mike Heidorn, while using the urinal next to him during one of the songs he didn't play on. Years later, the double edged sword of witnessing the rise in popularity of some of our favorite artists would be a common topic of conversation between me and Len.

Another song on Trace would also come to have special meaning to me. Hearing "Drown" always pulled me out of a bad mood, and also became my anthem for saying "fuck you" to past regrets. One of the many nights that Scott and I spent drinking and playing pool on Lark Street was marked by one of those moments. Still lamenting "the one that got away", Scott tried to coach me to learn and move on, but it was Jay Farrar who convinced me of this as he sang the simple but poignant, "When in doubt move on, no need to sort it out". It was that night that I made my decision to leave Albany.

In hindsight, Trace's follow up, Straightaways, is one of Son Volt's weakers efforts, but I was still so enamored that I had another goosebump moment upon first hearing it. It was at Rock Bottom Records in Portsmouth, NH, and I was excited because both Son Volt's and The Jayhawks' new ones were coming out on the same day. Long before franchised music stores developed more sophisticated methods, Rock Bottom had a rack of new CDs and a couple of portable CD players with cheap headphones on which customers could preview albums before buying them. Of course, I bought both of those CDs that day, and although I was initially disappointed in the direction The Jayhawks were going with Sound of Lies, I came to realize it was a much better record than Straightaways.

After 1998's Wide Swing Tremolo, Son Volt essentially disbanded. Seven years later, they reformed for Okemah and the Melody of Riot, and have since followed that up with this year's effort, The Search. I consider these past two records to be better than their two post-Trace 90's albums. Despite this, it's a completely different band, other than Jay Farrar, of course, and nothing could ever feel as special as the 90's edition of Son Volt, the first alt-country band with whom I was on board from day one.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Uncle Tupelo (1995)

The (almost) perfect setting for my introduction to Uncle Tupelo was a rural highway just outside of South Bend, Indiana. I was traveling for work there and driving a rental car while listening to a cassette that Anders had sent me and Scott. On one side was Guided By Voices' indie rock breakthrough, Bee Thousand, which didn't do it for me at the time. However, the flip side was possibly the most unique and awe-inspiring album I have ever heard, the album that inspired the modern alt-country movement, Uncle Tupelo's No Depression.

While I would give Guided By Voices the nickname Blighted By Noises, only years later to come to appreciate them, I had never heard anything like No Depression's blend of country and punk that, recorded in 1990, wasn't the first example of such a combination, but certainly preceeded the trend of hipster punk rockers embracing Johnny Cash and the like. If pressed to name the most important (to me) artist on this list, Neil Young would get the nod, but if I had to pick one album, Uncle Tupelo's debut would be it.

Uncle Tupelo would quickly become the house band at 43 Dove Street. In a March 16-20, 1995 tribute to UT, inspired by the title of their third album, we would feature one of their four studio albums each day. The math didn't quite work out on that one, so I'm not sure what we did on the fifth day...probably nurse our hangovers.

Speaking of hangovers, Scott and I were probably a little too quick to embrace the working class drunkard themes in Uncle Tupelo's songs, particularly those penned by Jay Farrar. I would take this fascination a bit too far when I drowned my sorrows after the breakup of a short-lived relationship by drinking a bottle of Southern Comfort while making the quintessential Uncle Tupelo drinking mix, aptly titled "I Fell Down." The only reason I didn't fall down was the fact that I was sitting and drinking on the floor while compiling the mix.

At the time, I was working the late shift, dispatching for Ryder at Grand Union in Waterford, while still pursuing the professional umpiring dream, so the drinking and recording took place from 3 to 6am. Scott returned home from spending the night at his girlfriend's to the ominous sign of the empty bottle lying on its side on the living room floor. For some strange reason, though I have no problem drinking vodka to this day, Southern Comfort is another story. This is at least in part due to a previous SC incident more than a few years prior in which I hit on Scott's mom, kicked his foot that had just been operated on, and broke the door handle off of Rob's car as he and Beau tried to stuff me into it.

Uncle Tupelo had already split up by the time Scott and I became fans, but this wouldn't be the last we would hear from Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Space Needle (1995)

At first glance, the inclusion of both Varnaline and Space Needle on this list might seem to be a gratuitous nod to my friends...but it's not. They both remind me of the beginning of a period that I was turned on to a wealth of new music that, of course, was much better than the Spin Doctors. Space Needle, though, more than any other band, including the Velvet Underground, represents the experience of my mind being opened to music that I would have otherwise overlooked.

I have to admit that, if I had no connection to the band members, I probably wouldn't have given Space Needle a second listen. But, as I sit here listening to "Before I Lose My Style", easily my favorite song of theirs, I realize this would've been a huge mistake. Back in the mid-90's, even if I was beginning to branch out a little, my taste remained fairly mainstream, and Space Needle's brand of lo-fi post-prog was definitely a stretch.

It all started with a home recorded cassette of Voyager that Jud sent Scott during the time we lived together in Albany's somewhat hip Lark Street neighborhood. Tacked on to the end of this mix as bonus tracks were two memorable covers, of Neil Young's "Birds" and U2's "Stay (Faraway, So Close!)", songs I wouldn't hear again until a Space Needle rarities mix that Jud made for me a few years ago. In hindsight, their version of "Birds" is a little too lo-fi for my taste, but their take on "Stay" is on par with, if not better than, the original. Seriously, I'm sure most people, including Jud himself, will disagree with this somewhat outlandish claim, but there's no disputing the fact that Space Needle's version is a unique interpretation that still captures the spirit of one of Bono's best songs.

I only saw Space Needle live once, and I have a feeling Jeff Gatland is mostly to blame for this. In fact, I've made futile attempts to book a show at the Middle East in Cambridge that would also include Afshin's math/physics rock band Shore Leave on the bill, thus combining their modest local popularity with SN's cult following. Who knows, maybe the reason such a show could never happen is the fact that I plastered the men's bathroom at the Middle East Downstairs with Space Needle stickers the one time they played there.

Space Needle only released two studio albums, the aforementioned Voyager and 1997's The Moray Eels Eat the Space Needle, on which Anders Parker joined up as the second guitar player and Roger Dean provided strikingly similar artwork to what he did for Yes' Keys to Ascension, Vol. 2. While Voyager is my personal favorite, Moray Eels seems to be the touchstone of SN's cult following, including being named recently as one of Magnet Magazine's 75 most underappreciated albums of the last 14 years.

Maybe last year's compilation, Recordings 1994-1997, released by California based indie label Eenie Meenie Records, jogged some people's memories, but this is a band that should not be forgotten.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Varnaline (1995)

The first time I saw Anders play, circa 1988, he was on the drum kit as part of one of the many lineups who backed up Beau's band on the Arlington High School party circuit. Or, maybe it was at Senior Follies in a band that included him and Sean Thompson, with neither of them as lead vocalist. That band also included Anders' younger brother, and eventual Varnaline member, John on bass, but the singing duties were left to none other than Mark Lublin.

It wasn't until years later, and the previously mentioned mixed tape that Anders sent Scott, which included "Return of the Grevious Angel", that I was introduced to Anders' songwriting talents. On that tape, one side consisted of songs by other artists, but the other side was devoted to a mix of Anders' originals, with various other collaborators making appearances on a few tracks.

Scott and I were both in agreement, and probably still are to this day, that "Slow Breathing" was one of the best songs we had ever heard. I'm not sure exactly why, but we likened it to Neil Young's "Look Out For My Love", which became one of Scott's favorite Neil songs after I mistakenly put it on a mix I made for him. [I meant to include "Comes a Time", but decided to go with it even after recognizing the error.] There were several other quality Anders tunes on that tape, but "Slow Breathing" was the only one that would turn up on a later recording, Varnaline predecessor The Ballad of...Lowboy, though Scott and I were not as enamored with this version.

Varnaline's debut, Man of Sin, was first released by the now defunct Zero Hour Records (who still owe Scott money for his brief gig as Varnaline roadie) in 1995. AllMusic calls 1996 the release date, but what do they know? They also refer to Varnaline as the alter superego of Anders Parker...whatever the hell that means. Jud, who would become Varnaline's drummer after the debut, was instrumental in helping Anders get signed to the label that his band, Space Needle, was presently recording for. Unfortunately, Jud's efforts to get The Doids a deal fell short.

"Thorns & Such" was clearly this album's "Slow Breathing", although I would express my affinity for "Want You" by including it on an ill-fated mix that I would make for a woman who will remain nameless. Later, I would consider sending her a mix of just two songs...Uncle Tupelo's "Cold Shoulder" and England Dan & John Ford Coley's "I'd Really Love to See You Tonight", although the Flying Burrito Brothers' "Christine's Tune (Devil in Disguise)" would've been more fitting. File that one under mixes never sent.

Of course, Len, Scott and I would see Varnaline live numerous times, but I have to say that, when the trio was in full force (Anders, John, Jud), these were among the most enjoyable shows I've seen. Obviously, the music was a big part of this, including a stirring rendition of "Cortez the Killer" at the Met Cafe in Providence in 1997, but the hanging out before and after shows was as well. It was during this time that Jud and I would discover our common fanaticism for baseball in general, and the Yankees in particular, and forge a friendship that has witnessed two near-perfect games together. Come to think of it, it must be Jud's fault that neither of these came to first flirtation with a no-hitter was a successful one, Dave Righetti's July 4, 1983 gem, attended with Rob and his dad. I also recorded the final putout of Mike Ferrari's no-hitter for Edison Motor Inn in 1982, so it can't be me who's the jinx.

The Varnaline era is now over. Anders has continued as a solo artist, John is hiding out somewhere in the lower Catskills, and, unbeknownst to Magnet Magazine, Jud is a high school math teacher in Brooklyn. I'm sure there will be reunions though, and hopefully not just at dive bars outside of Poughkeepsie where Scott Tyner and Tony Fusari can be seen doing their Jim Morrison impersonations. I'll be patient though.

Monday, May 07, 2007

The Velvet Underground (1994)

I was probably in 8th or 9th grade when I first heard "Sweet Jane" while at that famous Martin Drive hangout, the Ciccone's house. Mike was two years older than I, but his taste was way ahead of the curve for someone his age. He and Chip Elsasser were the two older kids in the neighborhood who always had the best record collections. In fact, along with Johnny Kranik, Chip was another indirect influence on my penchant for creating lists and ranking music. Near the end of one summer, Chip declared Abacab his "album of the summer," and that last summer the Eagles Live had reigned supreme.

I had never heard of The Velvet Underground the first time I heard Mike mention the name of the band. I wouldn't really check them out until many years later. Once again, it was during the Albany days, and Scott owned a copy of their self-titled third album, and later purchased The Velvet Underground & Nico. Scott also introduced me to the legend that the latter, the Velvets' debut, only sold about 600 copies, but everyone who purchased it went on to form a band. He also made some questionable comparison between VU and The Doors, which had nothing to do with the fact (rumor?) Nico had once had a fling with Jim Morrison.

It was also while living with Scott in Albany that I mastered the fine art of falling asleep to music to drown out noise from my surroundings. In our mid to late-20's, and certainly not as young as we used to be, Scott was considerably better than I was at staying out until 3am but still getting up at 7 to get ready for work. The Velvets' first and third albums seemed likely candidates...fairly mellow and without major fluctuations in the volume of the songs...that is, until "The Black Angel's Death Song" and "The Murder Mystery," the second to last songs on these albums, respectively. It took me quite a few times before I realized these noisy and somewhat disturbing (to wake up to) songs had a more adverse effect on my ability to sleep than Scott's boots stomping around on our hardwood floors.

More importantly, it was The Velvet Underground's sonic experimentation that opened my ears to discovering there are bands out there who are a bit of an acquired taste, but worth the patience it takes to really appreciate what's going on. That said, my favorite album of theirs', Loaded, is probably their most conventional and certainly their most commercially successful. Still, even their most avant-garde material retained a solid song structure that I've always considered a major criterion in everything I listen to, no matter what the genre.

Although the post-Lou Reed and John Cale version of The Velvet Underground he belonged to is not generally considered to be an official VU lineup, Walter Powers, is a former co-worker of my friend Macee's. Apparently, in recent years, Walter has become a big fan of my year-end compilations and has even stolen one of them from her. Well, actually he borrowed and failed to return it, but I prefer to believe that a (sort-of) former Velvet Underground bassist is actually (kind of) a fan of mine.