Stephen King on the songs you should download
The first thing I used to turn to in this magazine was the movie reviews. No more. Since my youngest son showed me how to burn CDs and my daughter-in-law taught me how to use my computer to get music online (to a geezer like me that’s a beautiful thing, like sucking songs through a magic electronic straw), I immediately hunt for the ”Download This” box in the Music section of each new EW. I don’t like everything, but that’s okay; many music download services offer you a little taste — that spoon, that spoon, that spoonful — so you can try before you buy.
I’ve made close to 40 CDs for friends and relatives in the 18 months or so since I discovered this splendid toy, and I don’t consider a moment of the time wasted. Why would I? In my mid-50s I was slowly drifting away from music, and I didn’t know how sad that was — how much I was missing — until I was lucky enough to find my way back via the cyberhighway. Most of the music columns I’ve done for this magazine have been informed by these new explorations, and lit by my joy at discovering that there is indeed life after Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits.
I can’t share my goofy happiness in this new thing by teaching the world to sing in harmony, can’t even give it a Coke (although I guess I could manage a smile), but here’s the CD I’d send you this spring if I had your address. The bad news is I don’t have your address — or a gazillion blank CDs, for that matter — but there is good news. This is terrific music, and all of it’s downloadable, so you can make your own CD. Here’s the playlist, complete with title (cribbed from DBC Pierre’s excellent novel Vernon God Little):
STEVE KING’S ”FATE SONGS” CD
Dance With Me by Michael McDermott. Crazy-mad, obsessive dance track. McDermott, who sounds a little like Springsteen and a little like Bono but mostly like himself, has never quite happened (yet). This track is the most recent evidence of why he still could. And should.
California Stars by Billy Bragg & Wilco. The best track on Mermaid Avenue, the album with lyrics written by Woody Guthrie. Should be next to ”sweet, lonesome, and in love” in the dictionary.
To Be Young (Is to Be Sad, Is to Be High) by Ryan Adams. Ryan Adams can do just about everything, okay? This just happens to be everything together, boiled down to three minutes and change.
City of the Damned by the Gothic Archies. Do I need to explain what’s great about a heavy metal group called the Gothic Archies?
Castanets by Alejandro Escovedo. This song rocks harder than anything since the Stones did ”Brown Sugar,” and expresses (at least according to a female friend of mine) the dream one-night stand from the male point of view: ”I like her better when she walks away.”
Our Love by Rhett Miller. Bouncy, funny, sharp, and impossible to get out of your head — perfect power pop, in other words. The best song of its ilk not found on a Fountains of Wayne record.
Tell Mama by Savoy Brown. Savoy Brown was one high-tension cocktail: a jigger of Grateful Dead and two shots of The Band. This is maybe the best evidence, five minutes of pile-driver, truck-stop rock & roll.
Diamonds and Rust by Judas Priest. You can download the Joan Baez version, but be the first on your block to get the one by the band that did ”You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’.” Pretty cool.
Blue on Black by Kenny Wayne Shepherd. A lowdown and dirty rock-country-blues hybrid. This is the kind of music you do ”The Snake” to when the lights are low and just before last call.
Manifesto No. 1 by Shooter Jennings. This one’s a joyous rock-country-gospel hybrid, although…”Let your hair down/Get out of that skirt/But leave them high heels on”…hmm, neither Hank Williams nor the Mighty Clouds of Joy were ever quite like that. All the same, I think you’ll say amen.
What I Got by Sublime. Rappy, slaphappy, obscene, and delightful. So nice you gotta play it twice.
Don’t Leave Me This Way by Thelma Houston. I loved disco with a love that was deep, unabashed, and unashamed; I love it still. Of the maybe two dozen tracks I revere (”I Love the Nightlife,” by Alicia Bridges, for instance), this is the best, its powerful beat overtopped by Houston’s amazing pipes and that heartfelt ’70s cry: Get over here, honey, and finish what you started!
We Can’t Make It Here by James McMurtry and the Heartless Bastards. Stark and wrenchingly direct, this may be the best American protest song since ”Masters of War.” Love it or hate it, you’ll never forget it…and this one’s actually a free download, at McMurtry’s website.
Yeah (Pretentious Mix) by LCD Soundsystem. Yep, this one comes to you directly from EW’s own ”Must List,” and all I can say is if this is where disco went when it died, then it was very good and went to heaven. It’s 11 minutes of funk.
That’s 63 minutes of total bliss that will fit easily on most blank CDs. Just remember who gets the credit when you play it for your friends, and also remember your Uncle Stevie’s motto: It all sounds better when you turn it up to 11.