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Raise your hand if Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon," for better or worse, left burn marks on your psyche.
You know how it is: you hear the word "lunatic" and shudder at the memory it evokes of the album's titular song; anytime you hear a cash register go "ca-ching" you fight the urge to shout "Money! It's a hit..."; you still get nervous your mom is going to bust into your room and demand what the hell it is you're listening to.
It happens, and it knows few boundaries. Though this record was released in 1973, it clings to popular culture like a Lovecraftian barnacle. It even made its way into my circle of pals in high school, clamoring onto our parties' rotations even in the Grunge Years of 1994 and 1995. For whatever reason, we late Gen Xers shared a penchant for classic rock back in high school. I blame Oliver Stone for that. Or maybe our (my) Woodstock-attending Boomer parents.
Which is fine, except that one too many listens of "Dark Side" is one of music-dom's most nefarious earworms. Nothing like contemplating mortality drenched in the cold sweat of existential doubt over a few beers at the latest hootenanny, am I right?
So I swore off the record sometime in mid-college, which doesn't mean that I don't acknowledge how very inventive and provocative it is. This is a concept album's concept album; a journey into the subconscious with a rock and roll soundtrack.
In recent years we've seen new iterations of "Dark Side": in remasters; laser light shows (she said, dating herself); covers; and pairings with films like "The Wizard of Oz" ("Whoa! 'Money' starts when the film's first scene in color comes on!")
And then bands like Phish and the Flaming Lips started covering it, oftentimes live. But the absurdly creative Lips — whose coolness goes beyond even avant guard level — didn't stop there. It dared to take another cannonball into the murky soup of "Dark Side" by crafting what the band is calling a "companion piece" to Pink Floyd's original opus. They released it at the end of last month. (Listen to it all synced up here; sans Floyd here.)
The band states in a release, "Designed as an immersive companion piece to the original 1973 album, 'Dark Side of the Moon,' listeners are encouraged to listen to the new Lips album while listening to 'Dark Side of the Moon' at the same time. 'Flaming Side of the Moon,' was also carefully crafted to sync up perfectly with the 1939 film, 'The Wizard of Oz.' For ideal listening conditions, fans are encouraged to seek out the original Alan Parsons' engineered quadraphonic LP mix of 'Dark Side,' but it will work with the album on any format. Available now through all participating digital outlets."
How's THAT for a new spin on music? Even better is that it works, somehow softening and intensifying the overall experience that is "Dark Side." The overall effect is an added modern edge to Floyd's post-flower-child, Jungian dystopia, and it matches the original just fine. You'll hear those first heartbeats as the album begins, but take note of the weirdo synth the Lips lace over it. Nothing's stomped on, just amplified. Lovely timpani-like effects urge the record on, and then we're off to Crazytown but those new layers by the Lips make a symphony of the psycho-rock. (Things really get cooking around five minutes in.)
Musical wizardry aside, how convention-floutingly cool is it that this is what the Lips are up to between tours? People this creative and musical, I suspect, are alien hybrids, which is totally fine by me (see also: Jimi Hendrix, and let's not forget the whole notion of Ziggy Stardust and Buckaroo Banzai). Rock and roll is like that — it's a unifier, species notwithstanding.
So in honor of the Flaming Lips' super cool move, I've decided to offer my working list of some of rockdom's coolest songs. There's a page in one of my notebooks where I note these tunes when I catch them on the radio or elsewhere in the world. There are others, of course, but I'm on deadline, so I went with the heavy hitters first. I'd also love to hear your picks. For these academic purposes, "cool" here means several things: it could be an infectious beat or bass line; a world-weary, disaffected savvy; clever lyrics; or just pure raw rawk — anything that injects a sense of art into the messy human condition. Something wildly creative and understated at the same time. That's cool. And often, I believe, we become better citizens of the world for having heard these songs.
See you on the dark side of the moon.
Here we go:
Queen's "Under Pressure" features two of modern time's coolest rockers: the unforgettable, irreplaceable Freddie Mercury and the White Duke himself, David Bowie. Add in the bass line that made Vanilla Ice a star and you've got a no-brainer for this list.
"Voodoo Child" by the Jimi Hendrix Experience should require no explainer (Hendrix = instant cool), but what sets it over the edge is the song's opening lyric: "Well, I stand up next to a mountain/ And I chop it down with the edge of my hand."
Leonard Cohen is one of Canada's great gifts to the world. His lyrics cut to the center of the human heart in a way the Beat poets never did. And then there's that voice. With several options for this list available, I give you "Everybody Knows" for its overall savvy and great title.
As far as I'm concerned, INXS died with lead singer Michael Hutchence. Thankfully, long before he died, the band recorded its very sexy song, "Need You Tonight." Both its beat and Hutchence's whispery, sultry vocal create instant cool. The segue on the album to "Mediate" (the video of which pays homage to Bob Dylan's "Subterreanean Homesick Blues" in the video) seals the deal.
Here's the thing about Carlos Santana: he and his band rocked long before any duets with Rob Thomas happened. And Santana himself is STILL rocking. But in 1971's "No One to Depend On" we encounter a feast of cool: a meandering intro, the percussion, the lyrics (some in Spanish), and Santana's guitar shredding, which culminate in the tightest of endings.
So much by The Pixes is super cool, it's tough to select a standout, but many may remember the closing song to the equally cool film "Fight Club," as He Who Was Tyler All Along and Marla watch building after building explode. Even the title is cool: "Where is My Mind?" Dig that wild guitar and Kim Deal's haunting background vocal.
I was way too young to be watching MTV when I first saw the video for The Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)." Enthralled by Annie Lennox's bright orange hair, youngster me logged the song as something special. Years later, older me would jam out to it at a college party and stand agog at the synth part, the disco tinge, and the lyrics and vocal ("...everybody's looking for something..."). It's stayed with me ever since. Note to Marilyn Manson: Thanks but no thanks for the remake.
Dire Straits wins a spot on this list for a few reasons: first, they have one of rock's best band names; second, one of rock's best song titles; third, the lyric, "...And the Sultans played Creole..."; and the overall cool, cool, cool laconic groove of the entire song. Just sit back dig it.
The Beatles "Come Together" offers a cool twofer: super cool bass line and those sardonic, occasionally nonsensical, lyrics spat out by John Lennon.
In "Just Listen," The Day's music writers share their playlists of favorite recordings and invite you to share your comments and your playlists. Each blog includes Spotify tracks of the music in play. You can stream the music, then add your comments in this blog. Spotify is a free music service.