Ten Tunes I Still Crank

January 22, 2019 by

I have a running bit with some of my friends and colleagues about songs we would blow up and eliminate from the mass of human consciousness. (That list for me will always begin with “Celebration” by Kool & the Gang.) But I’m tired of all the negative energy, so let’s talk about some tunes that, no matter how many times they’re jammed in my ear-holes, I still can’t get enough. Now that classic rock and 80s pop seem to be the background music of our lives, some of the greatest rock songs of all time have been coopted for marketing campaigns (the Cadillac Led Zeppelin and Nike “Revolution” campaigns come to mind). But all the over-exposure and marketing film-flam can’t extinguish the glimmer from some very special gems. I still crank these ten tunes when they come on. (Presented in the order of their release date.)

“Dream On” — Aerosmith (released 27 June 1973)

If my sister hadn’t already ordered Aerosmith from Columbia House, this would have been the first record I ever purchased. (That auspicious title goes to Fly Like an Eagle) I was in junior high in the late 70s and this was an epic slow-dance number at dances. If kids weren’t grabbing ass to “Stairway,” it was “Dream On.” I think those fond(ling) memories probably help keep this track fresh for me. Here are Boston’s bad boys on Midnight Special in ’74:

 

“The Chain” — Fleetwood Mac (released 4 February 1977)

The Mac had to be represented, as the powers that be are destroying pretty much all their singles. I’m pretty sure certain channels on satellite radio would implode without Johnny Mac’s crew. But list-guru Brian and I agree that they just can’t break “The Chain.” This haunting and swampy bit of schizophrenia was always my favorite track on Rumours. Crank up the solo section in this live clip from their ’77 tour of Japan. Old-school shaggy Lindsey, and Stevie with her typical enchantress routine:

 

“Hotel California” — Eagles (released 22 February 1977)

I too would throw Jeff Bridges’ The Dude out of my cab, if he told me he hated the fucking Eagles while this classic-rock epic was playing. This is the mother of them all for me, and the very inspiration for this list. We’ve never really been given the opportunity to miss this song, not even while we were waiting for hell to freeze over. I had Hotel on self-recorded bootleg cassette (backed with Sgt Pepper) and I wore the magnetization off that sucker. I especially love the “weern-whiiit” bit from Joe Walsh during the solo section. Here’s a great live clip from ’77, featuring froed-out Henley:

 

“Just What I Needed” — The Cars (released 29 May 1978)

This was the lead single from The Cars’ debut album and it changed my life. I was 14 and all the music I heard on AOR rock radio seemed like other people’s music. This track, sung by my boy the late Sexy Ben Orr, was a new sound that was just for me and my friends. It was hooky and synthy, and still rocked hard enough. Even if I’m shopping at Walgreens, I’ll still stop and count to remember when the opening riff switches to two guitar hits (it’s the fifth time). Not surprisingly, this song way-outlasted Circuit City. Here’s the “official video”:

 

“September” — Earth, Wind & Fire (released 18 November 1978)

I was a marching band dork in high school and I always thought this would be a great tune to march around to, not sure why. (We did use a different EW&F song one year, “Fantasy.”) But the biggest reason I love this song is because my lovely and amazing wife Monica was born on “the twenty-first night of September.” Love has definitely changed the mind of this pretender.  An amazing hybrid of jazz, pop, soul, R&B, disco and funk, this track was world music way before it was a thing. It’s even survived repeated viewings of Trolls with my kids. Ba-de-ya, Maurice White!

 

“My Sharona” — The Knack (released June 1979)

The summer of ’79 was all about Doug Fieger’s leering grin and the adolescent sexual innuendo of The Knack’s first record. I was a 15-year old boy and this song was literally written from my perspective. I think it got imprinted in my pubescent brain somehow. Many years later I had the pleasure to meet guitarist and co-writer Berton Averre in a Starbucks in Pacific Palisades. He was happy to hear that I still love the song that continues to generate enough residuals to allow him to focus primarily on regional musical theater and rotisserie baseball. Here’s a ’79 clip from Top of the Pops:

 

“Panama” — Van Halen (released 18 June 1984)

“Reach down… between my legs. Ease the seat back…” Still sounds good to me. The Dave Halen stuff just never gets old. I could put just about any of the tunes off those first six records on this list, but this is a particular fave of my friend and 360 contributor Phil Childers. I’m on record as saying that whenever Edward Van Halen plays, the room should be full. And I crank every VH v. 1.0 rocker in his honor (not so much the Sam Halen… actually, not at all). Here’s the classic music video that I saw like 5 million times (and it’s still just as fun today):

 

“Sweet Child o’ Mine” — Guns n Roses (released June 1988)

Summer of ‘88 was without a doubt the summer of GnR. The dish-dog at my work looked just like Duff and he turned us all on just as Appetite for Destruction was breaking. We saw them open for Aerosmith on the hill at Pine Knob and Aerosmith needn’t have bothered. It was all about Axl and his redneck slithering. ”Sweet Child” with its killer intro, guitar melody and “where do we go” bridge was the centerpiece. Say what you want about Axl, this is a tender lyric and melody that transcends the hard rock genre. And when Slash greases up the Crybaby wah in the solo the arc is complete. Let the thunder and the rain loudly pass you by-ee-eye. Here’s the official video:

 

“Smells Like Teen Spirit” — Nirvana (released 10 September 1991)

If you don’t still love this track, you suck. No, I’m serious. There is nothing more I can say about this stone-cold classic. Here’s an amazing live clip from ‘91 at The Paramount in Seattle:

 

“Seven Nation Army” — The White Stripes (released March 2003)

This song had to be on the list, as its main riff has become ubiquitous as a chant at sporting events. So common has this chant become that, whenever I hear the actual song, I’m like, oh yeah this is an actual song. And it still rules! When Jack hauls out the Cream-of-Clapton slide in what stands in for a chorus, I go to Wichita. So, even though everyone from the Queen of England to the hounds of hell knows about it, this Grammy-award winner still works my straw. See if you can count all the triangles in the official video (supposedly Jack has a thing for the number 3):

 

According to an article by Mark Joseph Stern, “researchers have uncovered evidence that suggests our brains bind us to the music we heard as teenagers more tightly than anything we’ll hear as adults—a connection that doesn’t weaken as we age.” (read the Slate article here.)  So I guess it’s no surprise that many of the tracks on this list are songs that moved me as an adolescent. But honestly, screw the science, I just really dig these songs. I’d love to hear tunes that you would add to (or subtract from) this list. Shoot me an email!

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