PPS Presents… Fuck Eric Clapton! The 50 Best Guitarists Since ’76

He made this face every time he fucked George Harrison’s wife.

When I pick up a “[Some #] Greatest Guitar Players” list, I dread having to wade through the usual soup of Clapton, Hendrix, B.B. King, etc. to get to those names lurking at the fringes who have really expanded the possibilities of the instrument in the years since the blues and “classic” rock ruled the roost, the ones I haven’t heard absolutely beaten to death by greyhairs who insist rock hasn’t been great since [insert year they turned twenty-five]. So here is my semi-scientific list of what I consider to be the top 50 rock-related guitarists (or guitar tandems) since the advent of punk in 1976, which is a nice arbitrary dividing point. Continue reading

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Vol.30: Last Kind Words Blues


Geeshie Wiley – Last Kind Words Blues (1930, Paramount)

(while I’m sure all destitute old black women from the Great Depression South look alike to some, the picture on this vid is NOT Geeshie Wiley)

Why It’s Perfect: The human love of recording originates in our own constant awareness of the passing of time, and by extension our own lives. It’s an attempt to defy Heraclitus’ hoary old chestnut that “No man ever steps in the same river twice.” The moment is preserved, and so we may return to that moment at will. Record collectors take this property of stasis and turn it into an obsession. They must have not only the contents of the record, not only the object itself to anchor them to that time and place, but a sound specific to that object. But since you last listened to (or read or watched) a recording, you have changed, and so for that matter has the recording. It degrades, decays, loses frequencies, becomes over years a unique sonic artefact. And so, ironically, what the record collector most keenly wishes to preserve is actually the function of change itself.

Geeshie Wiley’s 1930 recording of Last Kind Words Blues is one of the holy grails … Continue Reading

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Filed under 1930s, blues, country blues

Vol.29: 007 (Shanty Town)

Note the nifty pyramid/compass motif on the single. Nice understated design choice.

Desmond Dekker & The Aces – 007 (Shanty Town) (1967, Pyramid)

Why It’s Perfect: Ask most people what reggae sounds like and you can bet dollars to donuts (or cash to cannabis, if you prefer) they’ll think of Bob Marley. I’m not excluding myself here; I might drop a little knowledge during this post, but don’t be fooled, I don’t really know dick about this genre. What I do know is that all genres go through stages of differentiation from the genres that spawned them. Rock, for example, started out as a combination of R&B and country, and if you listen to Berry or Holly or early Elvis, you can see where the parts haven’t quite fused together yet. Within a few years, the blues and country had been melted so thoroughly that only their synthesis, the streamlined, adjective-less rock, remained. By the time Marley became a superstar, reggae had hit that point, and moreover, his music was so influential and beloved that his particular style had become synonymous with the genre itself.

What I like about early ska and reggae is that it doesn’t yet inhabit its own universe … Continue Reading

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Vol.28: Vienna

ultravox, synth pop, vienna, 1981

Ultravox cordially invite you to misery.

Ultravox – Vienna (1981, Chrysalis)

Why It’s Perfect: When I was younger, I somehow got it into my head that Vienna was actually Austria’s national anthem. Can you imagine if there were a country whose anthem sounded like this? What a strange place it would have to be. The thoroughly processed majesty of its chorus sounds like a kitsch Also Sprach Zarathustra, the climax of an old commercial for high-end consumer electronics: BEHOLD the new Phillips Magnavox CD player! The most pristine digital audio device on Earth, now no larger than a toaster oven!

“THIS MEANS NOTHING TO MEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!”

Continue reading

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Vol.27: How High the Moon


Les Paul & Mary Ford – How High the Moon (1951, Capitol)

(This video is actually Paul and Ford playing live over the original recording. I include it because it includes a bit of Paul explaining how the song was recorded.)

Why It’s Perfect: How High the Moon is a single from 1951, but it doesn’t sound like it’s only sixty years old. It’s like a radio transmission that’s travelled far beyond our solar system, the signal decaying imperceptibly over the lightyears until only the highest, whitest musical frequencies remain. A sort of ghost image of a pop song.

How High the Moon’s trebly lunar sound is a result of guitarist and recording genius Les Paul’s meticulous, labour-intensive way of making records. At a time when most performances were usually recorded to a single track and overdubbing was almost unheard of, a man of Paul’s talents could easily have made his way in the business purely on the strength of his musical ability. But Paul was a recording nut, and he loved to work with the newest audio technology in order push it beyond its makers’ intentions. Continue reading

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Filed under 1950s, american songbook, pop standards

Vol.26: Wolf Like Me

howlin' forever

There are no wolves on this sleeve.

TV on the Radio – Wolf Like Me (2006, 4AD)

Why It’s Perfect: Blast this song on a good sound system and I doubt anyone could make it through even the opening fourteen seconds without wide eyes and a pounding pulse. It’s a mammoth beat this song rides, and Kyp Malone’s bass buzzes and thrums like Interpol on amphetamines; alone, these elements would be enough for a runner to disappear in, a dancer to sweat through. It’s a foundation for any number of things; gleaming, Bloc Party-ish buzzsaw guitars, or maybe a sort of rockist club banger. Yet as much as the song is a galvanizing, nostril-flaring experience, it also a weirdly thick, work-as-assemblage bit of genrefuck.

What do you call this noise? It starts simply enough, with that drum and bass barrelling forward, gradually layering on new elements until it’s built enough momentum that the weight of those additional sounds becomes not a burden, but a battering ram. It’s this genius build-up that makes Wolf Like Me not merely exciting but overwhelming, intoxicating, consuming. It starts with producer Dave Sitek’s guitar. Realizing that simply doubling up Malone’s bass would be redundant (it’s just such a fat fucking sound he’s got), he instead begins squalling out textures and these piercing tremolo riffs, filling out the high end of the production and providing a useful contrast to all of the rumble and lurch below. To this, you can add the thick, unsourced electrical hum that Sitek loves to coat his productions with.

But it’s Tunde Adebimpe’s unmistakable, ever-so-slightly whiny wail that makes Wolf Like Me one of the greatest singles of its era. He seems to lope over the beat, agile, graceful, precise in his phrasing and pitch, yet toothy and slavering, right at your heels and gaining. It’s a hell of a lyric too; Baby doll I recognize that you’re a hideous thing inside / If ever there was a lucky kind it’s you you you you. The whole thing is this churned up mix of sex and violence, blood and milk, something a lot more like passion than, say, Love the Way You Lie (one of the most bullshit songs ever, by the way).

And then, right as it seems like the whole song is going to explode, it turns in on itself. The bridge is a cloud passing over the moon, all of the weird soul and ambient and sound collage stuff that’d been buried under the punk bombast coming out to say hi; shimmering, clinking metal noises and undulating waves of oooohing vocals and undulating synths and then it’s allllll moving quickly again and Tunde’s going nuts and Kyp Malone is chiming in with crazy howling harmonies and there are horns and teeth and you’re writhing in your riding hood and Wolf Like Me has run its course right through your ears and veins, and you’ve no choice but to let your sweat cool on your skin, or hit play again, when ready, and do it one more time.

Defining Moment: Here comes the moon so let it show you, shooooww youuuuu noooowww… BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM

Other Great Songs by TV on the Radio: Sometime after dropping Dear Science (didn’t that record useta have a comma?) to near universal acclaim, TV on the Radio went from one of indiedom’s most dick-rode (dick-ridden?) bands to one of its most commonly dissed and dismissed, and I’ve never been quite sure why. I mean, and I don’t think I’m overstating this, they’re like the only indie rock band with black guys that sounds like it has black guys in it. I’m not advocating some kind of bullshit rockist affirmative action here; if there were a black band of deadringers for mid-period Belle & Sebastian or Death Cab, I wouldn’t give a damn about their skin and neither would you. But TV on the Radio have got singers in Tunde and Kyp who can draw from the rich histories of black popular music without sounding like daytripping crackers ransacking Otis Redding’s plane. And you can feel that history being referenced, reintroduced and productively fucked with in TVotR’s best songs, a short list of which would include the entire Young Liars EP, King Eternal, The Wrong Way, Dreams, Ambulance, Province, Blues from Down Here, I Was a Lover, Crying, DLZ and Will Do.

OH GOD THEY’RE JUST SO GREAT he says

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Filed under 2000s, alternative, indie, post-punk, soul

Vol.25: Shake, Rattle and Roll

Ass-shaking rock n' roll, brought to you by, uh, Grimace.


Big Joe Turner – Shake, Rattle and Roll (1954, Atlantic Records)

Why It’s Perfect: This is rock n’ roll, regardless of what Peter Frampton and his pasty ilk might have you believe. It’s kind of mindblowing that adjective-less “rock” has been bleached to the point many discerning music fans avoid it like the plague, because the driving boogie at its heart remains irresistible in the right hands. Big Joe Turner’s take on Shake, Rattle and Roll is a milestone recording, a watershed in both the evolution of the genre and in the development of swagger. I mean, goddamn does this man have his swag on or what? He wakes up in the morning, tells his woman to clean herself up and start cooking, calls her the devil and then shake, rattle and rolls her again. If just one day in my life could unfold like that, I’d be twice the man I am today. Thrice, possibly.

Shake, Rattle and Roll was state of the art rock n’ roll and a breakthrough recording for Big Joe, but he’d been active on various regional circuits since the late ‘20s, and he hadn’t yet met a rhythm he couldn’t comfortably shout over. The musical foundation here is Turner’s familiar jump blues, a springy, horn-based R&B sound that just makes you want to sway along on the balls of your feet with your hips swinging ridiculously* (* may be just a “me” thing), but it all seems to roll in some new, un-blues way, the simple handclap n’ snare percussion landing on a different dance beat. There isn’t much guitar I can detect, but between the percolating piano and heaving brass you don’t really notice, while Sam “The Man” Taylor’s shit-hot sax solo thunders up the middle like a leatherheaded running back.

It’s easy to ridicule the moral crisis early rock n’ roll incited given how tame this all sounds now, but there was an unabashed sexual joie de vivre to this stuff that frightened the buttoned-down white culture of the time. I mean, by the standards of the time Shake, Rattle and Roll is absolutely filthy. “I’m like a one-eyed cat peepin’ in a seafood store” has to be on any list of rock’s greatest double entendres (One-eyed… like you know, his… oh, never mind), and the way Turner just about licks the line “I can look at you till you ain’t no child no more” buries R. Kelly in the smut sweepstakes. Edgier still (and notably absent from later, cracker renditions) is the line “I’ve been holdin’ it in, way down underneath / You make me roll my eyes, even make me grit my teeth”, which Turner particularly slurs so as not to incur the censor’s wrath. But he’s definitely making reference to his staying power. By which I mean, his ability to withhold ejaculation while under the tender duress of a vagina. I love living in 2011.

Shake, Rattle and Roll was written by the only black man on Atlantic Records’ payroll, the rock n’ roll songwriting pioneer Jesse Stone (under a pseudonym), became Turner’s signature hit, and helped shape the music we all listen to today. As if I care; I jam this just about every week because it’s just a damn fine pop song, and I encourage you to do the same.

Defining Moment: Has to be the “one-eyed cat” verse. It’s a perfectly skewed turn of phrase.

Other Great Songs by Big Joe Turner: Big Joe recorded for nigh on sixty years, so his catalogue is formidable, if not all that diverse. To borrow a term from the awesome George Starostin, Big Joe Turner was King of “Creepy Black Guy Music.” If you were to condense his best stuff into one disc, it’d blow away most any other record of its time(s). Between the fierce piano boogie of “Roll ‘Em Pete,” “Cafe Society Rag,” “Around the Clock,” “Corrine, Corrina,” and “(I’m Gonna) Jump for Joy,” you’ve got a great set of jump blues primers.

Here’s a TV appearance of the man performing his song. Great fun! (Does anyone under 60 say ‘great fun’?)

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