Political Beats

By National Review

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Not Political
 Dec 8, 2018
A wonderfully deep podcast on the subject of various rock bands. The scope is massive, from The Beatles to Arcade Fire. Each episode is with two constant podcasters Jeff and Scot and one invited guest reviewing each album chronologically


Scot Bertram and Jeff Blehar discuss ask guests from the world of politics about their musical passions.

Episode Date
Episode 119: Noam Blum / Tool

Introducing the Band:
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) are joined by Noam Blum. Noam is Chief Technology Officer at Tablet Magazine and co-host of the Ambitious Crossover Attempt podcast and of All Crossed Out on the Callin app, both of which deal with pop culture, media, and politics. Find him on Twitter at @neontaster.

Noam’s Music Pick: Tool
Since Political Beats dealt with one of Gen Z's niche musical obsessions last episode in tackling The National, we've decided to double down in the new year and finally go after one of the Millennial generation's more beloved (and also, as we grant on the show, derided for their sincerity) bands with a discussion of Tool. Driven by the lyrical vision of Maynard James Keenan, the guitar geometrics/visualizations of Adam Jones, and the drumwork of Danny Carey, Tool was/is (though "is" is notional proposition, given that they've slowed their work pace to one album a decade) progressive heavy metal in their approach, a genre we haven't covered at all here on the show yet. We have dealt with many of their progenitors, particularly King Crimson (compositionally and musically) and Husker Du (lyrically and spiritually). And one day we'll get to Metallica, we promise. 

But Tool in many ways represents the final flowering of that line of intellectualized hard rock that began in the '70s, became unfashionable in the '80s, and then reemerged in the '90s. Their heavy sound and emotionally involuted lyrical obsessions would become endlessly imitated by many lesser groups seeking to recreate the intensity of their music, but those would be pale imitations. Here's the genuine article, a tool to use for yourself. Use wisely.

Jan 31, 2023
Episode 118: Phil Wegmann / The National

Introducing the Band:
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) are with guest Phil Wegmann. Phil is White House reporter for RealClearNews and RealClearPolitics. Check him out on Twitter at @PhilipWegmann.

Phil’s Music Pick: The National
Let us tell you, we have had *a bunch* of listeners ask us for an episode on The National, and we are nothing if not responsive to our fans. Neither one of your hosts previously was extremely familiar with the band, which is why we called in our ringer, Phil Wegmann, who earlier helped to lead our path through the Creedence Clearwater Revival show.

Looking at Wiki's description of The National -- “The National has been compared to Joy Division, Leonard Cohen, Interpol, Wilco, Depeche Mode and Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds” -- you could be forgiven for thinking this already was one of Jeff’s favorite bands. And that doesn’t even take into account the fact there’s a lot of Arcade Fire in this music, as well.

Much of your opinion of The National could hinge on how you feel about lead singer/lyricist Matt Berninger and his classic baritone voice. There’s not a ton of vocal modulation on these tracks! That, of course, makes for a distinctive sound and separates the band from many of its peers.

The band’s self-titled debut is a bit of an outlier – there are sounds there they never quite would return t0 – but after that, a fantastic string of albums begins with Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers, one Scot argues actually is among their best. Alligator, Boxer, and High Violet make the case for The National becoming one of the most consistent acts of the decade while continuing to tweak their songwriting and performance at each stage. 2013’s Trouble Will Find Me ends up as a top choice of all three of your hosts.

Maybe you’re new to the band, too! Don’t worry. Jump in and experience The National through the eyes of a superfan and two other hosts who were in the same position you’re in. And if you already love The National, well, there’s a decent chance our takes will somehow manage to irk each and every one of you in some way. We can’t all be “Mr. November,” after all.

Dec 19, 2022
Episode 117: Andrew Fink / Otis Redding

Introducing the Band:
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) are joined by guest Andrew Fink. Andrew is a member of the Michigan House of Representative (District 35 -- Branch & Hillsdale Counties). Prior to that, he was the district director for Senate majority leader Mike Shirkey. Follow him on Twitter at @AndrewFinkMI.

Andrew’s Music Pick: Otis Redding
Ladies and gentlemens, we are so happy to be here with the Love Crowd tonight because we gotta gotta gotta gotta turn it loose about soul giant Otis Redding, a man whose recorded legacy looms large not just in the history of soul and R&B but in modern popular music as a whole. Redding is universally acknowledged as one of the greatest R&B vocalists of all time, and as a "soul giant," but what is far too less appreciated about him is that he was the first truly modern African-American popular musician, a man self-consciously carving out a sound, pushing sonic boundaries and the traditions of his genre, and working self-consciously to craft albums as complete statements at a time when absolutely no other black artist in the country outside of jazz was thinking along those lines.

Redding's early singles established him, simply on their own terms, as an early Sixties soul great. ("Pain In My Heart," "Mr. Pitiful," "That's How Strong My Love Is," "I've Been Loving You Long," and "Security" are the sorts of timeless Redding soul belters that went immediately into the working books of countless English R&B bands, notably including The Rolling Stones.) His mid-Sixties albums demonstrated that he, alone among all major soul/R&B artists of his era -- long before Stevie or Marvin moved for their artistic freedom -- had a sound and vision that belonged to something more than a series of singles. And the music he was making before he suddenly died (in a December 1967 plane crash while flying between shows) was mutating both into chart-topping contemplative folk-pop ("(Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay," his only #1 single) and forward-looking hard funk ("Hard To Handle"). Four albums of posthumous Redding material were released between 1968 and 1970. Much of it is great work. But one can only imagine where Otis would actually have been by 1970. He was growing so quickly as an artist.

Join us this week, as we open with a long discussion of Stax/Volt and the nature of its "sound," and then engage in a celebration of one of the greatest popular musical artists of the Sixties -- and perhaps the most heartbreaking loss of modern musical history, in terms of what we likely missed when that plane went down on a cold winter's day in December 1967. Hail to The King of Soul.

Nov 07, 2022
Episode 116: Noah Weinrich / Weezer

Introducing the Band:
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) are with guest Noah Weinrich. Noah is director of communications for Heritage Action, the grassroots and advocacy arm of The Heritage Foundation. Check him out on Twitter at @weinrich_noah.

Noah’s Music Pick: Weezer
What kind of a band starts its career with two stone-cold classic albums, takes a nearly five-year hiatus, and then returns to mixed results for a 20+ year tail? We're about to find out. Covering the good (Maladroit! Everything Will Be Alright In the End!), the bad (Make Believe!) and the ugly (Raditude!), we try to lend some perspective on what made the band great, why perceptions have changed over the years, and what keeps them going.

Of course, we spend a huge portion of the show discussing Weezer’s twin pillars of excellence: the debut (Blue) and Pinkerton. One beloved from the moment of release and the other taking years for fans and critics to fully appreciate. The response to Pinkerton clearly changed the trajectory of the band and influenced musical decisions for years to come.

The second self-titled (Green) album heralded a comeback in 2001, but it was a different kind of band, divorced from much of what made the first two albums so consequential. Regardless, fans, some new and some old, embraced most of these sonic moves. There’s lots to discuss about the last 20 years and how Weezer should be considered so long after the early success.

There’s also Rivers Cuomo’s lyrical journey from sharing ultra-personal thoughts and desires to crafting pop songs from spreadsheets and syllable counts. It’s . . . weird. 

One of the longest-lasting rock bands of the 1990s, but should it be considered one of the best? That question and many more get tackled on this Political Beats.

Oct 20, 2022
Episode 115: Jesse Walker / Willie Nelson [Part 2]

Introducing the Band:
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) are with guest Jesse Walker. Jesse is books editor at Reason and author of two books, The United States of Paranoia and Rebels On the Air. He can be found on Twitter at @notjessewalker.

Jesse’s Music Pick: Willie Nelson
In Part Two, we pick up Willie’s story at his commercial breakthrough, Red Headed Stranger (1975). This opens a window in which Willie records frequent number one albums on the country charts and often dents the pop charts with his records, as well.

What’s changed? Well, Willie stops writing music for himself for an awfully long stretch. It’s somewhat ironic that his biggest successes in this era will come from other people’s songs after Willie’s writing helped so many artists move product in the years prior.

Near the height of “Outlaw Country,” Willie takes a sharp left turn by recording an album’s worth of compositions from the Great American Songbook. Stardust becomes a huge hit and allows Willie to do what he wants. Specifically, that means a series of tribute albums and duet albums in the late '70s.

The '80s would bring a string of crossover hits like "On the Road Again," "To All the Girls I Loved Before," "Pancho and Lefty," and "Seven Spanish Angels.” Always on My Mind was a HUGELY popular album at the time but signaled the end of a certain creative era for Willie. He writes again on Tougher Than Leather to mixed returns and the rest of the decade would see occasional hits among a plethora of releases.

The 1990s kick off with Willie’s tax trouble and a pretty great release meant to raise money to pay back the government. We dive into Who’ll Buy My Memories and other highlights from an interesting decade of music, with Across the Borderline, Moonlight Becomes You, Spirit, and Teatro (with Daniel Lanois producing) among his best work.

Willie has continued his firehose release schedule to this day, with a new album on the shelves just a couple months ago. We skim through the latter portion of his career, stopping to shine a light on a few of the more worthwhile albums.

Over two parts and more than six hours, we hope to give both die-hard Willie fans and those new to the artist an overview of what made him so great.

Sep 26, 2022
Episode 115: Jesse Walker / Willie Nelson [Part 1]

Introducing the Band:
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) are joined by guest Jesse Walker. Jesse is books editor at Reason and author of two books, The United States of Paranoia and Rebels On the Air. He can be found on Twitter at @notjessewalker.

Jesse’s Music Pick: Willie Nelson
Sure, in the past here on Political Beats we have dabbled in country-ish music. We've dipped our toes in the water of alt-country and country rock. But this, friends, is a full-fledged belly flip into the world of COUNTRY. Welcome to Willie Nelson, Part One. The show may never be the same.

In Part One, we take Willie from his early songwriting days up through Phases and Stages. That’s right -- it’s 3+ hours and we don’t even get to Red Headed Stranger. That’s how much we have to say about Willie.

We discuss much more than the music in this one. For example, we ask why country music's greatest albums are not considered among popular music's greatest as well? Why do we cabin them off to one side? How should we consider the songwriter versus the performer? Why would someone like Willie, early on at least, successful at one but not the other. And the voice. The delivery. What makes Willie truly Willie?

From Liberty to RCA to Atlantic, all of Willie’s record labels are represented on the show. It's a straight-up crime that some of these records aren't routinely listed among the greatest American albums of all-time. However, that's the silo country music finds itself in, at times. We try to bust through that silo.

It’s an exciting mix of styles and eras with entertainment and information for newbies and hardcore fans. Relax in any way you see fit, grab a bit of yesterday’s wine, and be amazed at how time slips away when you listen to Political Beats. You can even stay in your underwear, if you like.

Sep 05, 2022
Episode 114: Steve Miller / Mott The Hoople

Introducing the Band:
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) are joined by guest Steve Miller. Steve is a veteran journalist and a reporter at RealClearInvestigations. He's also the author of Detroit Rock City: The Uncensored History of Rock 'n' Roll in America's Loudest City.

Steve's Music Pick: Mott The Hoople
Do you remember the Saturday gigs? We do, we do! Mott The Hoople are known outside of specialist rock audiences these days either as "one of those weird bands from That Weird Era with one of those memorably weird names" or as a putative 'one-hit wonder' performing a song most people associate with David Bowie. 

So that's where you're wrong, kiddo. 

Mott The Hoople was a band that managed to set Britain (and particularly London) afire during the early Seventies, even as they consistently eluded chart success. They were brought together by famed rock & roll madman/record-jobber/A&R man/heavy drinker Guy Stevens, who realized his dream of creating a band that sounded like both The Rolling Stones AND Bob Dylan simultaneously by pairing a chubby Dylanesque vocalist/pianist (Ian Hunter, hiding his insecurity behind enormous shades) with a workaday gigging band that hailed from within spitting distance of the Welsh border (the Doc Thomas Group, with Mick Ralphs).  

From that fusion came Mott The Hoople, and their 1969 self-titled debut album. The pure rock & roll energy -- gruff, with zero pretensions, utterly available to the fans and the audience, yet strangely literate and aspirational as well -- was there from day one. The only question was whether Mott could ever properly harness it in the studio. The gang argues that they actually did quite a good job during their pre-Bowie years (especially on Brain Capers, an album of such loopily memorable hard-rock ferocity that it must be heard to be believed), but the record-buying public certainly didn't agree.

Which is where David Bowie stepped in, rushing to save the band after they'd announced their own dissolution in the UK music press. His song "All The Young Dudes" became their most famous number, and yet on this episode everyone is at pains to argue that neither the song nor its namesake album are the real highlight of Mott's career. So let us explain to you how a band you've more or less never heard of recorded one of the greatest albums of the entire decade after their involvement with David Bowie as we sing you the ballad of Mott The Hoople. And if it seems we've lost just a little bit on the journey, then please treat us kindly. 

Aug 15, 2022
Episode 113: Andrew Heaton / 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Introducing the Band:
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) are joined by guest Andrew Heaton. Andrew is a comedian and political satirist you might know from Reason TV. He is the host of The Political Orphanage, a funny policy analysis show for people tired of tribalism. You can find him on Twitter at @mightyheaton.

Andrew Music Pick: “Weird Al” Yankovic
You should know a few things about Al before we start. First, Al is super smart. He was two years younger than all the other kids in grade school and was going to be an architect before music intervened. Second, Al is super nice. There are no bad stories (that we know of!), no scandals. He doesn't even do a parody unless the artist gives the "Okay," even though there's no particular reason for him to do that. Three, Al is a super-good songwriter. You might think of parodies when you think of “Weird Al,” but a goal of this show is to convince you that his originals & pastiches are even better. 

The short Al story begins with the “Dr. Demento” radio show. Al was a fan. He passed him a cassette tape with some songs when the Dr. visited his high school, one of which then was played on the show. After that, Al continued to contribute and people took some notice. Well before the first album was released, he got national airplay with the singles "My Bologna" and "Another One Rides the Bus" -- the latter was recorded live on Demento's show and not even re-recorded for the debut. That '81 performance also is where Al met his long-time drummer. The rest of the band was put together in '82 and they've been together since.

Not bad when it comes to longevity and loyalty.

There are essentially four types of "Weird Al" songs:

1. Straight parodies (think "Eat It," “Fat,” “Smells Like Nirvana”)

2. Pastiches (song in the style of REM, Devo, Talking Heads, Cake, Bob Dylan, etc.)

3. Pure originals

4. Polka medleys of current or past hits

There are certain recurring themes – food, TV, movies, the sad sack in love, lyrics with escalating comedic situations -- but through Al’s lengthy career, he’s shown the ability to adapt to whatever is in front of him, both musically and culturally. There are ups and downs to be sure, but his last album, Mandatory Fun (2014), was Al’s first number one album, a sign he still commanded a sizable fanbase of nerds and weirdos. Of which all three of us are, of course.

Join the crowd, shout it out loud! Dare to be stupid with Political Beats and “Weird Al” Yankovic.

Jul 04, 2022
Episode 112: Scott Immergut / Squeeze

Introducing the Band:
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) are joined by guest Scott Immergut. Scott is the CEO of Ricochet.com and the Ricochet Audio Network. He is the long-time producer of the Ricochet Podcast and the GLoP Culture podcast with Jonah Goldberg, Rob Long, and John Podhoretz. He’s also the Executive Producer of The Hoover Institution’s Uncommon Knowledge with Peter Robinson andGood Fellows, with Niall Ferguson, H. R. McMaster, and John Cochrane. 

Scott’s Music Pick: Squeeze
They might do it down on Camber Sands and at Waikiki, but in the mainland U.S., Squeeze was mostly a rumor for much of the band’s career. Highest charting album? #32. Just two Top 40 singles. Squeeze, unfortunately, was destined to join the long list of very British bands that never quite crossed over to the States.

If you know Squeeze at all, it might be because of the placement of “Tempted” on the soundtrack for Reality Bites. Or, perhaps a roommate at college had the Singles 45's and Under collection on CD, as most roommates seemed to in the 1990s. But there’s a heck of a lot more to the story.

This is, of course, where Political Beats steps in to solve the problem. Because the truth is you won’t find music any better than what Squeeze produced, particularly at their peak from 1978-1982. The highly literate lyrics of Chris Difford, filled with sharp storytelling and British allusions, paired perfectly with the beautiful, melodic, and sometimes quite complicated music written by Glenn Tilbrook. Tilbrook’s soulful tenor took most of the leads (except, famously, on perhaps the band’s best-known song, “Tempted”) while Difford’s deep croaking voice contributed backing vocals.

The duo were called the heirs to the Lennon/McCartney songwriting throne, though the comparison never really fit and actually harmed the band’s output, as we discuss on the show. But they were something special, producing some of the finest pop songs of the era, like “Another Nail In My Heart,” “Pulling Mussels,” “Up the Junction,” and “Is It Love”.

The band broke up in 1982, making way for a pretty awful Tilbrook/Difford duo album that was a naked reach for the charts. Squeeze reunited in 1985, fell apart in 1999, got back together in 2007 and remain a recording and touring entity to this day. Pick up almost any album from their collection and you’re going to hear at least a handful of well-crafted, melodic, memorable tunes.

If nothing else, you’ll learn about a whole bunch of British slang, like “argybargy,” “up the junction,” “that’s not cricket,” and “slap and tickle.” But we’re pretty sure you’re going to love this music, as well. It’s not just an East Side Story, it’s one everyone can enjoy on Political Beats.

Jun 13, 2022
Episode 111: Eli Lake / Prince [Part 3]

Introducing the Band:
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) are joined by Eli Lake. Eli is a contributing editor at Commentary, and fellow at the Clements Center at UT-Austin. Follow him on Twitter at @EliLake.

Eli’s Music Pick: Prince, Pt. 3 (1992-2016)
Eli rejoins the gang as they resume their discussion of the career of Prince Rogers Nelson, or as he was known for a significant part of this period covered during this episode, "[unpronounceable symbol]." Yes, this is the era where long-simmering tensions finally boiled over and Prince went to war with his record label Warner Brothers, resulting in his infamous decision to change his name to an unmarketable, unpronounceable "love symbol" ("The Artist Formerly Known As Prince" is the best people could do back then) in order to diminish the commercial impact of his work.

What the gang are at great pains to explain here, during this final episode of our Prince spectacular, is that even though Prince was willfully obscurantist or difficult during this period, the music remained every bit as good as it had been during the earlier phases of his career. You never heard most of this music on the radio, and unless you were already a Prince fanatic at the time you likely didn't purchase it either, but up through 1999 or so, at least, there was no perceptible diminution in his talent. Welcome to the part of our Prince journey, where you'll be hearing music you had no idea even existed.

May 23, 2022
Episode 110: Eli Lake / Prince [Part 2]

Introducing the Band:

Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) are joined by Eli Lake. Eli is a contributing editor at Commentary, and fellow at the Clements Center at UT-Austin. Follow him on Twitter at @EliLake.

Eli’s Music Pick: Prince, Pt. 2 (1985-1991)

Join us once again as we deepen our Strange Relationship with Prince! Eli rejoins the gang as they pick up their discussion of the amazing career of Prince Rogers Nelson in the aftermath of Purple Rain and Around The World In A Day and Eighties megastardom. Having conquered America his own way, yet endlessly restless and ambitious, Prince proceeds to wander through an ill-begotten movie project (Under The Cherry Moon, with the wildly underrated album Parade attached) and a period of indecision and various scrapped projects until finally he emerges with Sign O' The Times in 1987. 

Now widely hailed as his greatest achievement, it didn't sell at the time and inaugurated a period where Prince would increasingly go to war both with himself and his record label. Hear the early results on this episode, as we discuss the fascinating narrative that leads to Lovesexy (a CD he insisted be released as one single 44-minute-long track, to prevent listeners from skipping around), then Batman, then another unfortunate movie tied to a fantastic album, and finally his great commercial revival with Diamonds And Pearls. Yes, the dire rhymes of Tony M. are discussed. Yes, all the outtakes and discarded projects are discussed. And the story will only get stranger in our final episode, next time.

Apr 18, 2022
Episode 109: Eli Lake / Prince [Part 1]

Eli’s Music Pick: Prince

Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called Life. Electric word, "Life," and it's a mighty long time, but I'm here to tell you, there's something else: Prince Rogers Nelson. Known to the world by his first name, Prince was a self-made musical polymath who performed the singular trick of somehow altering the world to accommodate his eccentricity and musical genius rather than the other way around. We know Prince in our cultural memory as one of the classic 1980s MTV megastars alongside Madonna, Michael, and Bruce, but what is less appreciated is just how remarkable it is that he managed to vault himself so easily into that rarified company despite being so unapologetically weird.

A Minneapolis kid who refused to ever give up his roots, Prince was so determined to carve his own path through the musical world of the late Seventies and Eighties that he recorded nearly every single note of all of his albums during this era. From his origins as an upstart in the R&B charts (as an heir to the autonomous tradition of Stevie Wonder, with crossover ambitions to match) to the avant-garde outrage of Dirty Mind  and Controversy, to the world-conquering success of 1999  and Purple Rain, Prince moved with such method and purpose that the gang is almost in awe of the scope of his growth from 1978 to 1985. Join us for Part 1 of a three-part series where we celebrate the transcendent genius, and oddness, of The Purple One, his Royal Badness. We're living the pop life over here on Political Beats for the next few episodes.

Apr 04, 2022
Episode 108: Mike Long / Robbie Fulks

Introducing the Band:

Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) are joined by guest Mike Long. He wrote the sort-of-bestselling book The Molecule of More and he teaches writing at Georgetown University, but mostly he writes things for other people to put their name on. He’s on Twitter at @mikewrites.

Mike’s Music Pick: Robbie Fulks

This is almost certainly the most obscure artist we've ever covered on Political Beats. Yet, when the three hours are up, we think you'll also consider him one of the best. Ladies and gentlemen, please say hello to the incredibly talented Robbie Fulks, an artist who would be a household name if there were any justice in the musical world. 

Scot has been a fan for more than 20 years, dating back to finding one of the artist's CDs in a stack he was to review for his college radio station. Jeff’s new to the music, but hit on something by describing Robbie as “the country Elvis Costello.” Like Elvis, Robbie has an encyclopedic knowledge of multiple decades of music and isn’t afraid to jump from genre to genre in his work. And like Elvis, his lyrics and stories can often take center stage with creative wordplay and rhyming.

Whether you are a rock (Let’s Kill Saturday Night), folk (Upland Stories), bluegrass (Gone Away Backward), country (Country Love Songs, Georgia Hard), pop (50 vc. Doberman), or, in Jeff's case, post-punk fan, there's going to be something here for you to grab a hold of. And we haven’t even mentioned what might be his best album, Couples In Trouble. No, none of them have been hits on the charts, but the consistent quality of the music will impress any listener.

Robbie has a keen ear for creating stunning instrumentals and picks wonderful partners for occasional duets. He can make you laugh out loud during one song while moving you to cry in your beer over the next song. He’s adept at road songs, love songs, murder ballads, and cheating laments. And if you’re not careful, he’ll even turn you on to some of the underloved classic country artists of the past.

If you’ve never heard of Robbie Fulks, we’ve provided the perfect introduction. Join us and you’ll soon be a fan.

Mar 14, 2022
Episode 107: Rory Cooper / Paul Simon

Introducing the Band:
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) are joined by guest Rory Cooper. He’s a partner at Purple Strategies, a corporate reputation and advocacy agency in Alexandria, Va., a former George W. Bush and Eric Cantor aide, and a longtime Republican strategist. He’s on Twitter at @rorycooper.

Rory’s Music Pick: Paul Simon
Here comes rhymin' Simon, right onto his own edition of Political Beats. This is the rare episode in which neither of your two esteemed hosts were intimately familiar with the artist’s music before preparations began for the show. Thankfully, Rory Cooper is here to fill in our blanks and guide us through Simon’s career.

We begin with an overview of Simon’s partnership with Art Garfunkel (though the music itself largely will wait for a specific S&G episode) before the break-up which led to the self-titled solo debut (Ok, Ok, there was a Paul Simon album in 1965, but that really belongs to the S&G story) , an album that immediately engages the listener and highlights the artist’s firm grasp an the American musical songbook.

As Jeff points out early in the show, Simon’s music is largely about rhythm and finding different places and sources to get that rhythm. His second effort, There Goes Rhymin’ Simon, features one of the best and purest slices of '70s pop in “Kodachrome”. Following a Grammy Award for Album of the Year for Still Crazy After All These Years, Simon took five years off before returning to mixed results, though Jeff makes the case for Hearts and Bones as a minor classic. 

Simon’s career renaissance would come via a cassette handed to him by an artist he was supposed to be helping. Instead, he fell in love with the music and stole/borrowed the idea to compose and record an album inspired by the sounds. This would be Graceland, a miracle of an album that still holds up well today. Yes, we discuss the circumstances surrounding the recording, the accusations of “cultural appropriation,” and much more.

That album served as a template for much of the rest of his career (though the less said about Songs From The Capeman the better). Simon continued producing quality albums every five years or so with a handful of gems and no real embarrassments up until what appears to be his final new studio album in 2016, Stranger to Stranger.

Hop on the bus, Gus, and come along for the ride. There is a need to discuss much about Paul Simon on Political Beats.

Jan 31, 2022
Episode 106: Andrew Prokop / Kate Bush

Introducing the Band:

Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) are joined by Andrew Prokop. Andrew is Senior Politics Correspondent for Vox, and you can find his work here. Follow him on Twitter at @awprokop.

Andrew's Music Pick: Kate Bush

Who? Unless you're an art-rocker, Englishman, or Lisa Simpsonesque girl-poet-dreamer, the name "Kate Bush" quite likely means nothing to you. Bush is something close to a beloved institution in the United Kingdom, where she has grown up in public to become the nation's officially designated Eccentric Bookish Aunt, but in the United States she is almost a pure cipher outside of music fanatics, a weird lady with a flute-like voice who occasionally shows up on '80s-era Peter Gabriel singles.

Well get ready for a massive course-correction then, because this is an episode of Political Beats that has been brewing since the day the show began. And it doesn't take a psychic to figure out which of your hosts has been quietly lying in wait, ready to explain the deeply committed art-rock genius of Kate Bush to you for four years now. Bush began her career as a downright creepily preternatural child prodigy (she was writing at age ten, recording by age 13, professionally recording at age 15, and released her debut LP at age 18), swiftly gathered up complete creative control into her hands, and went to work from 1980 onwards shaping a career that stands for so many things, but perhaps most of all for the miraculous idea that gallery/exhibition-level art and "pop music" can still coexist within the same skin without shedding representation altogether. Instrumentally, this is piano-based music, but the real instrument here is the Fairlight CMI, a synthesizer program set that allowed her to retreat into near-complete isolation and play every single note of any instrument herself; Bush, more than nearly any other rock or pop artist with mainstream success during the 1980s, is the sound of Virginia Woolf's A Room Of One's Own made good.

Ah, but it's not just about art! It's about love and beauty! Bush balanced all of her arty instincts with an achingly pure lyrical vision that magpied from every influence imaginable to take form in her own unique style: a literary fascination with artifice -- with the self-construction that knowledge and imposture makes possible -- combined with an elementally deeply fascination with men and the inscrutable mysteries of masculine anxieties, ambitions, and inchoate needs. 

So here we go! It's coming for us through the trees! Take your shoes off, throw them in the lake, click play, and before you're 20 minutes in, hopefully you'll be two steps on the water as well.

Jan 10, 2022
Episode 105: Bruce Edward Walker / Warren Zevon

Introducing the Band:

Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest Bruce Edward Walker. He’s Midwest Regional Editor for The Center Square. He has written extensively on popular culture, literature and public policy for reference books, newspapers, magazines, and websites. He’s on Twitter at @bruceedwalker.

Bruce’s Music Pick: Warren Zevon

The show begins its 2021 finishing kick with a long-requested episode featuring the music and career of the great Warren Zevon. Zevon is an artist with passionate fans who, at the same time, also can prove to be difficult to grab onto for newcomers. We hope to provide a path.

As a singer/songwriter, Zevon can be difficult to pigeonhole. He’s a cynic, yes. He writes about portions of society -- outlaws, sociopaths, drug dealers, villains -- that many others might like to forget. He’s full of humor and wit. He writes biographical songs yet also has a wonderful way with literary narratives. He was a drunk. He recovered. He was a drunk again. Personal demons often got the best of him. Yet the work stands up.

As Scot mentions on the show, a trip through his discography is like a series of mini “We Are the World.” Zevon, for most of his career, was able to attract the biggest California rock stars and the best session musicians around to contribute to his albums. Hey, there's Bonnie Raitt! Lindsey Buckingham! Leland Sklar! Ben Keith! Don Henley! David Lindley! Jackson Browne! Linda Ronstadt! Jeff Porcaro! Steve Lukather! J.D. Souther!

The three of us have very different opinions on various portions of Zevon’s career, so this one can be a spicy listen. Send lawyers, guns, and money … and get ready for Warren Zevon.

Dec 13, 2021
Episode 104: Charles C. W. Cooke / Fleetwood Mac [Part 2]

Introducing the Band:
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) are joined by our old friend Charles C. W. Cooke. Charlie is a Senior Writer for National Review, and you can find his work wherever quality Charles C. W. Cooke products are sold (i.e. mostly right here on this website). Follow him on Twitter at @charlescwcooke.

Charlie's Music Pick: Fleetwood Mac
"Oh sure," you think as you read what artist we're covering this week, "I know them. Everybody knows them." Well yes . . . and no. You know the hits (everyone does -- new generations of teens have been "rediscovering" Rumours since the early 1980s at least), but what you might not know about is the sheer artistic drive of this, the latter-era version of Fleetwood Mac. That force came from the addition of none other than guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Lindsey Buckingham and vocalist/songwriter Stevie Nicks. Buckingham and Nicks were also a long-time romantic pair just then slowly beginning to come apart at the seams when they joined Fleetwood Mac, a fact that would have certain consequences for their music and their career.  

Even though the story only covers a handful of albums, the journey is vast. From the 1975 self-titled album (a fitting title for a true rebirth of the band) to the world-dominating pop-rock perfection of Rumours to the willful obscurantism of Tusk and the retrenchment from Mirage and onwards, the Buckingham/Nicks-era Fleetwood Mac is populated with landmarks of modern music, and attests not only to the restless studio genius (and technical perfection as a guitarist) of Lindsey Buckingham but of an entire group. They were a three-headed songwriting behemoth backed by the finest and most organically creative rhythm section in all of popular music. The soap opera is the stuff you probably already knew -- though you might not have known the Stevie Nicks cocaine factoid Jeff lays on the audience during the show -- so come and stay for an appreciation of the greatness of this music. We'll save you a place.

Nov 15, 2021
Episode 103: Charles C. W. Cooke / Fleetwood Mac

Scot and Jeff discuss the first part of Fleetwood Mac’s career (1967-1974) with Charles C. W. Cooke.

Introducing the Band:
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) are joined by our old friend Charles C. W. Cooke. Charlie is a senior writer for National Review, and you can find his work wherever quality Charles C. W. Cooke products are sold (i.e. mostly right here on this website). Follow him on Twitter at @charlescwcooke.

Charlie’s Music Pick: Fleetwood Mac
“Oh sure,” you think as you read what artist we’re covering this week, “I know them. Everybody knows them.” Well yes . . . and no. You know the hits (everyone does) but what most who only started paying attention with 1975’s chart-topping Fleetwood Mac album fail to realize is that the Mac had been together for a full eight years of legendary madness and great music prior to finally breaking big in America.

From a hardcore electric blues band to a preternaturally self-assured and professional pop-rock act, from the East End alleys of London to Los Angeles, from a five-piece band featuring three separate lead guitarists to a shellshocked husk of a group without a single one . . . the story of Fleetwood Mac is one of the wildest, most improbable, least believable stories in rock history, and that’s all before Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks join the group. This is a band whose manager once sent a fake version of the band out on tour to impersonate them, for crying out loud.

And the music is utterly superb. Early Fleetwood Mac feels somewhat schizophrenic due to their rapid mutations and personnel changes, but every era of this band up to the 1990s brought something of value and there are few treats more pleasurable than the sound of founder and original bandleader Peter Green’s blues-guitar playing. From blues, to art-rock, to ’50s pastiche, to prog-rock, to solid Fleetwood Mac-style pop, this was a band that could play in pretty much every style due to the versatility of its rhythm section. Come along and join us on an exploration of the wonderful forgotten years of Fleetwood Mac — back when their secret weapons were a songwriter whose favorite lyric to use in songs was “la,” a balding SoCal post-hippie burnout, and a woman who was literally born Perfect.

Oct 25, 2021
Episode 102: Daniel Gullotta / Michael Jackson

Scot and Jeff discuss Michael Jackson with Daniel Gullotta.

Introducing the Band:
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) are joined by guest Daniel Gullotta. Daniel N. Gullotta is a Ph.D. candidate (ABD) in American Religious History at Stanford University. He is completing a dissertation on how religious politics influenced the rise of Andrew Jackson and the formation of the Democratic and Whig parties. His writing has appeared in The Washington PostThe BulwarkThe HillNational ReviewThe Critic, and many other publications. He is also the host of the Age of Jackson podcast. Follow him on Twitter at @danielgullotta.

  Daniel’s Music Pick: Michael Jackson
In this episode the gang tackles the discography of none other than The King Of Pop himself, and we refuse to stop ’til we’ve gotten enough. After the requisite throat-clearing (yes, you can’t talk about Michael Jackson without addressing the bizarre circus that was his life or the allegations of abuse that dogged him later in his career and after his death) Political Beats turns its attention to what our show always focuses on: the music. And what an incredibly rich career it is! From his earliest days as the biggest child star of the pop-music era (Jackson had four #1 singles, three with his family group the Jackson 5, before he even reached the age of 13) to his post-adolescent emergence with the explosively danceable Off The Wall, to the biggest-selling album in world history and all that followed, Jackson always focused his singular talents on conquering the world commercially, and pretty much succeeded. (As the gang jokes, 1/6 of the entire United States bought Thriller back in the mid-1980s, and the remaining 5/6ths correctly calculated that if they wanted to hear it all they had to do was turn on the radio, which was playing every single track.) The myth, the media, and the mess all have tended to obscure the power of one of the biggest and most influential artists in the modern era of music, so this week we want to take you back to how it felt to listen to someone sing a love song to a murderous pet rat, or explain to you why a solid 25 percent of American kids were wearing one white glove and a white fedora for Halloween during the late ’80s. Get up, get out on the dance floor, and let Political Beats burn this disco out with you.
Oct 04, 2021
Episode 101: Matt Lewis / John Mellencamp

Scot and Jeff discuss John Mellencamp with Matt Lewis.

Introducing the Band:
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) are joined by guest Matt Lewis. He’s a senior columnist for The Daily Beast, author of the book Too Dumb to Fail, and host of the podcast “Matt Lewis & The News”. Follow him on Twitter at @mattklewis.

Matt’s Music Pick: John Mellencamp
In an episode with the biggest singer name confusion since our Pixies show, Political Beats takes on the music and career of Johnny Cougar/John Cougar/John Cougar Mellencamp/John Mellencamp.

This is one that Jeff was not necessarily looking forward to, but an episode we hope many of you are excited about. Scot and Matt do their best to convince Jeff of the worthiness of Mellencamp’s catalog, while Jeff begrudgingly admits yes, there are some outstanding albums to be had.

Mellencamp’s career began with a series of albums that stiffed (except in Australia!) before finally hitting paydirt with American Fool. He followed that with a run of classic LPs, Uh-HUH, Scarecrow, and The Lonesome Jubilee, in which his lyrical focus jumped from a being a tough-guy ne’er-do-well to bemoaning the state of American farms and the living conditions for many lower-class people in the U.S. In that transition he also moved from a Stones-meets-Springsteen presentation to introduce fiddle, banjo, dobro, and many other folk/country instruments not usually heard on rock tracks.

An argument is made that while Mellencamp is not the greatest lyricist, he is a great storyteller and is able to convey the feeling of his songs effectively. Even in his more “protest”-minded songs, he’s able to craft a narrative that avoids finger-pointing (for the most part) and focuses on the problem at hand. And he has a knack for writing melodies that are hard to forget.

You can’t tell the story of 1980s and 1990s rock without including multiple songs by Mellencamp. One word of caution: if you’re a fan of his output for most of this century, well, you might be disappointed. All of us have tried to get into the recent albums that feature a more stripped-down folk sound but, unfortunately, we have very few compliments to throw around concerning that music.

Whether you’re from the big town or a small town, John Mellencamp’s music likely resonates on some level. Check it out . . . and check out this episode of Political Beats.

Aug 30, 2021
Episode 100: Andrew Fink / The Allman Brothers Band

Scot and Jeff discuss The Allman Brothers Band with Andrew Fink.

Introducing the Band:
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) are joined by guest Andrew Fink. Andrew is a member of the Michigan House of Representative (District 58 – Branch & Hillsdale Counties). Prior to that he was the district director for Senate majority leader Mike Shirkey. Follow him on Twitter at @AndrewFinkMI.

Andrew’s Music Pick: The Allman Brothers Band

Have the risers for the twin drum set-up been properly double-bolted? Have all the lines into the amps and board been checked? Is the organ plugged in? Then there’s no need for a soundcheck as we move through the dog days of August with a trip to Hot ‘Lanta! Today we celebrate the greatness of The Allman Brothers Band, a little group originally out of Jacksonville, FL (and later Macon, GA) put together piece by piece during the late Sixties by brothers Duane (the elder) and Gregg (the younger).

The Allmans are regularly described as one of the greatest “Southern Rock” or “jam” bands to have ever existed. The irony, of course, is that they disdained both labels: on the one hand, “Southern Rock” didn’t even exist as a genre until these guys invented it, and was a reductivist label that put them in a box they didn’t properly belong to. And on the other hand, in the words of Gregg Allman, “we aren’t a jam band, we’re just a band that jams.” What the Allmans were really about was incredibly hard, sweaty electrified blues-rock, electrified in a way nobody had ever heard prior to their emergence onto the scene in late 1969. With a twin-guitar attack (Duane and co-lead guitarist Dickey Betts), a double drum engine-room churning away behind them (Butch Trucks — perhaps the most quintessential “southern rock” name ever — and Jai Johanny Johanson), eloquently melodic bass counterpoint (Berry Oakley), and Gregg Allman on organ and lead vocals, what the Allmans came up with was a fusion of blues, rock, and jazz that took three old and hallowed genres and somehow managed to create something new out of them.

Join us this week as we travel through the prehistory of the Allmans (all those early bands, Duane’s amazing career as a session guitarist, etc.), their glory years (including one of the greatest live albums in the history of popular music), and their extremely “tabloid drama” decline (yes, Cher is somehow involved). For the first five years of their career these guys never set a foot wrong despite having to survive not one, but two tragic motorcycle deaths, and if you aren’t already familiar with the music then don’t keep yourself wonderin’, just dive in and eat a peach for peace.

Aug 16, 2021
Episode 99: Randy Barnett / Traffic & Steve Winwood

Scot and Jeff discuss Traffic/Steve Winwood with Randy Barnett.

Introducing the Band:
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) are joined by guest Randy Barnett. He’s the Patrick Hotung Professor of Constitutional Law at the Georgetown University Law Center where he directs the Georgetown Center for the Constitution. His most recent book, The Original Meaning of the 14th Amendment: Its Letter and Spirit, will be published by Harvard University Press and is now available for preorder on Amazon. Follow him on Twitter at @RandyEBarnett.

Randy’s Music Pick: Traffic/Steve Winwood
We return after a lengthy lay-off with a look at the career of one of the most talented musicians we’ve ever covered on the show, Steve Winwood. Joining The Spencer Davis Group at the age of 14, Winwood had a voice well beyond his years and was more than proficient at multiple instruments. After a few years and a couple of hits, he left to form Traffic, the band at the heart of this episode.

Traffic’s blend of folk, rock, jazz, and soul were driven by the partnership of Jim Capaldi and Steve Winwood, along with the talents of Chris Wood. Dave Mason became the Rachel to the band’s Ross through the years, joining and leaving multiple times. 

Beginning in 1967, the band first turned out eclectic pop singles flavored with psychedelic influences. Traffic emphasized Winwood’s organ and piano and the reed instruments played by Chris Wood. After a first break-up, members reconvened following Winwood’s trouble crafting a solo album. In its second iteration, Traffic developed into a band that favored extended jams, leaving room for jazz-like improvisation. Perhaps best-known in the States now for “The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys,” the band frequently touched the Top Ten album charts during the 1970s.

On this episode, you’ll hear music and discussion involving Spencer Davis, Traffic, Blind Faith, Steve Winwood, and Dave Mason plus special appearances by The Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix. It’s a veritable Rock and Roll Stew around here.

Jump in and enjoy the program. You’ll be feelin’ alright in no time flat.

Aug 09, 2021
Episode 98: Jeff Dufour / Neil Young [Part 3]

Scot and Jeff discuss the third part of Neil Young’s career (1980–2021) with Jeff Dufour.

Introducing the Band:
 Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) are joined by guest Jeff Dufour. Jeff is the editor in chief of National Journal. Find him on Twitter at @dcdufour.

Jeff’s Music Pick: Neil Young (Part 3)
If you need a podcast to sample and hold or feel rockin’ in the free world, then settle in and prepare to devote a full four hours of your life to the gang’s account of the final (to date) 41 years of Neil Young’s career, from the dawn of the ’80s and the Reagan Era all the way to the present day. Thirty-eight albums! And somehow we manage to discuss a full thirty-four of them in depth. This is the period where Neil started zooming all over the map stylistically, from trad country music to synthpop to rockabilly to horn-soaked nightclub blues to just good old-fashioned Neil Young-style hard rock and folk. These 40 years had incredible highs and legendary lows, but we’re here to explain to you why it all makes much more sense than it might have seemed at the time, and why so many of these albums are actually hidden gems. (Trans, my friend. Trans.) Buckle up as we drive you through one of the more remarkable musical journeys in rock history.

Jun 21, 2021
Episode 97: Jeff Dufour / Neil Young [Part 2]

Scot and Jeff discuss the second part of Neil Young’s career (1973–1979) with Jeff Dufour.

Introducing the Band:
 Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) are joined by guest Jeff Dufour. Jeff is the editor-in-chief of National Journal. Find him on Twitter at @dcdufour.

Jeff’s Music Pick: Neil Young (Part 2)
Grab a bottle of tequila, an inflatable palm tree, and a rack of honey slides to prepare yourself for our discussion of Neil Young’s latter Seventies career, which begins after the early 1973 Harvest/Time Fades Away tour with a plunge straight into darkness, despair, and alcohol-sodden musings on death and redemption. Yes, we’re talking about none other than the infamous Tonight’s The Night. The album was so disarmingly bleak and bizarre that he decided not to release it for several years after recording it (even though he toured it across the world!), and instead turned around to record On The Beach (which Jeff argues may well be the most stoned album of the Seventies, and perhaps coincidentally also Neil’s greatest ever work) and reunite with a re-formed Crazy Horse to play on and off with for the rest of the decade. This was also the era when Young began to record so prolifically and become so indecisive about his material that no less than three “lost” albums were prepared for release and then shelved. But what he did release was the most sterling work of his career: from Tonight’s The Night to Rust Never Sleeps and the canonical Live Rust, this era represents Neil Young’s undisputed, where his creative winds are blowing like a hurricane. Please take my advice, come along with us, and try not to stub your toes on any garbage pails as we take you through one of the most impressive explosions of creativity from any popular musician of the last 60 years.

May 31, 2021
Episode 96: Jeff Dufour / Neil Young [Part 1]

Scot and Jeff discuss the first part of Neil Young’s career (1963–1973) with Jeff Dufour.

Introducing the Band:
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) are joined by guest Jeff Dufour. Jeff is the editor-in-chief of National Journal. Find him on Twitter at @dcdufour.

Jeff’s Music Pick: Neil Young
Step aside and open wide as we begin a long journey through the past of the profoundly great career of The Loner himself, Mr. Neil Young. The opening episode of this three-part series covers the first decade of a career that continues to this day. Young traveled a vast distance from obscurity to fame during this period, from his early Sixties origins as Canadian surf instrumentalist to a failed Ontario folkie, to playing lead guitar for Rick “Superfreak” James, to co-founding one of the Sixties’ great “lost” bands in Buffalo Springfield, to a solo career that began as a quirky oddity and then turned him into #1 chart-topping superstar after his profile was raised to household-name status by spending time in Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. And then, just as he had conquered America, he intentionally took an immediate hard left turn into the ditch.

This is a tale of a man who almost always refused to compromise, who only bothered to make music that personally pleased him, and yet who somehow managed to amass a worldwide following and a musical influence that lasts to this day. Rest assured, we’ll be back for more next time to continue covering his career – this is not our last dance.

May 17, 2021
Episode 95: Helaine Olen on Rilo Kiley/Jenny Lewis

Scot and Jeff discuss Rilo Kiley/Jenny Lewis with Helaine Olen.

Introducing the Band:
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) are with guest Helaine Olen. Helaine is an opinion writer at the Washington Post. Find her on Twitter at @HelaineOlen.

Helaine’s Music Pick: Rilo Kiley/Jenny Lewis
So it turns out Hannah Nefler from Troop Beverly Hills and Ronnie Pinsky from “Salute Your Shorts” aren’t played by just talented child actors after all. 

Those actors, Jenny Lewis and Blake Sennett, went on to form one-half of Rilo Kiley and were responsible for writing the music and lyrics for the band. And it all started out because actor/comedian Dave Foley offered to pick up the tab for recording a group of demos. While Rilo Kiley never sold a ton of albums, they became a successful and artistically interesting group that made waves in the indie rock community. 

Jenny Lewis began her solo career before her band officially ended its run, with the superb Rabbit Fur Coat, released in 2006. Rilo Kiley produced one more “grab for the brass ring” album, titled Under the Blacklight. By that point, though, it was clear Lewis’ talent meant more solo albums were on the way. Rooted in a California/Laurel Canyon sound, Lewis rarey repeats herself on record. Her voice has matured over the years to become a true musical weapon. Many of her friends, like Beck, Elvis Costello, Jonathan Rice, Benmont Tench, and others pop up on songs here and there. 

Whether you’re new to this music or simply taking a deeper dive, be more adventurous with us and listen to the Political Beats take on Rilo Kiley & Jenny Lewis.

May 03, 2021
Episode 94: John J. Miller on The Afghan Whigs/The Twilight Singers

Scot and Jeff discuss The Afghan Whigs/The Twilight Singers with John J. Miller.

Introducing the Band:
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) are with guest John J. Miller. John is director of the Dow Journalism Program at Hillsdale College and national correspondent for National Review, plus host of the NR podcasts The Great Books and The Bookmonger. Find him on Twitter at @heymiller.

John’s Music Pick: The Afghan Whigs/The Twilight Singers
Your attention, please. We haven’t got all night. And these three gentlemen hosts of Political Beats wish to sell these bands to you.

The Afghan Whigs and The Twilight Singers are the vehicles for the music of Greg Dulli, chief songwriter and singer for both groups. The Whigs were in operation from 1986–2001, at which point Dulli launched The Twilight Singers. That band created music for about a decade until a reunion of the Whigs led to new music from Dulli and bassist John Curley.

While never tasting mainstream success, the bands developed a devoted following. The dark, angst-ridden narratives of bad relationships and addictions of various kinds lent an uncommon edge to the music. Dulli thought and wrote in cinematic scope; his recorded aren’t recorded, they are “shot on location.” Musically, the Whigs found influence from the great ’60s soul and R&B acts. The band created a fusion-rock sound that manifested itself in different forms on each album.

The Twilight Singers, meanwhile, largely de-emphasized the waves of guitar that marked the Whigs’ sound in favor of a keener sense of rhythm and groove (though neither were previously in short supply). And while the hosts are “meh” on one of the two reunion albums, the other gets a very big recommendation. 

If you missed them the first time, we’re here to fill you in. Black out the windows, it’s party time with The Afghan Whigs and The Twilight Singers.

Mar 29, 2021
Episode 93: Christopher Scalia / Spoon

Scot and Jeff discuss Spoon with Christopher Scalia.

Introducing the Band:
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) are with guest Christopher Scalia. Christopher is co-editor of Scalia Speaks: Reflections on Law, Faith, and Life Well Lived and On Faith: Lessons from an American Believer. He’s also the Director of Academic Programs at the American Enterprise Institute. Find him on Twitter at @cjscalia.

Christopher’s Music Pick: Spoon
This band from Austin has a case as one of the greatest American rock bands of the past 25 years, but we suspect there are some music lovers who might not be familiar with them. The guys attempt to remedy that situation in this episode.

Spoon, essentially, is vocalist/guitarist Britt Daniel and drummer Jim Eno, the only consistent members of the group. And there’s that word: consistent. As you’ll hear during the show, it’s perhaps the best description of Spoon’s output. They’ve never released a bum album. They’ve never taken a wrong turn sonically and continually put out interesting music.

Over the years, the band has evolved from early efforts with clear Pixies/Pavement influences to clearly identifying a “Spoon Sound” — songs constructed with only the most essential elements, featuring shifting rhythms, tight drums, and rock-solid bass lines. Daniel’s skill as a lyricist is in finding couplets and phrases that rattle around your head weeks after you’ve heard a song. 

Since GIRLS CAN TELL, the band has subtly added new elements to its songwriting, leaving behind a string of albums that all have their own identity yet that live up to high standards previously set. It’s great album after great album, great song after great song. And, it’s argued on the show, perhaps one of the greatest efforts of the decade of the ’00s.

We let the music do a lot of the talking on this episode. Give it a listen, and we’re convinced you’re going to come out the other side as a fanatic.

Mar 15, 2021
Episode 92: Mark Hemingway / Nirvana

Scot and Jeff discuss Nirvana with Mark Hemingway.

Introducing the Band:
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest Mark Hemingway. Mark is is a writer at RealClearInvestigations and RealClearPolitics. Find him on Twitter at @heminator.

Mark’s Music Pick: Nirvana
Perhaps you’ve heard of these guys. With a single song, Nirvana knocked Michael Jackson off the top of the charts, essentially killed the hair-metal genre, and laid a blueprint that would launch “grunge” nationwide and influence an entire second wave of knock-off bands.

Nirvana was, of course, more than just one song or one album. The three-piece from Aberdeen, Wash., first made noise with Bleach, released in 1989. Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic were present, but the band was still churning through a series of drummers, a merry-go-round that would end in late-1990 with the addition of one Dave Grohl, who has been featured previously on the show via his work with Foo Fighters. That’s the lineup which would create the iconic Nevermind, an album that some on the show argue owes as much to The Beatles’ brand of pop/rock than any burgeoning Seattle scene. “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” “In Bloom,” “Come As You Are,” and “Lithium” are still played on rock radio stations everywhere. Heck, Sirius/XM directly named their 90s rock channel after the latter song.

Amid spiraling drug problems for their leader, Nirvana pressed on, releasing the caustic, abrasive In Utero and recording an iconic live performance for MTV’s Unplugged. That album would be released following Cobain’s suicide, which occurred on April 8, 1994. The argument is made on the show that it’s one of the best live albums in history.

It’s a short, yet fulfilling, career and we cover all of it on this episode.

Feb 15, 2021
Episode 91: Damon Linker / David Bowie [Part 3]

Scot and Jeff discuss the third and final part of David Bowie’s career (1982-2016) with Damon Linker.

Introducing the Band:
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest Damon Linker, Senior Columnist for The Week. Read Damon’s work here and follow him at @DamonLinker on Twitter.

Damon’s Music Pick: David Bowie

Political Beats knows when to go out, and when to stay in, and we’re asking you to stay in and listen to us discuss the brilliant adventure of the latter part of David Bowie’s career from the moment when he first became a true multi-platinum global superstar with Let’s Dance. He then lost the plot for several years after getting captured and trapped by his newfound audience, and struggled to work himself back up into wakefulness in fits and starts, first with his hard rock pseudo-democratic band Tin Machine, then with a series of variant 1990s albums that openly nodded toward his younger peers, and finally with a completely new and full bloom of genius in the 2000s with Heathen, RealityThe Next Day, and his swansong Blackstar. This is the story of a man who finally achieved everything he ever wanted only to realize it was a largely Pyrrhic victory, but then slowly rebuilding himself back up to artistic greatness once again. David Bowie left us in 2016 at a peak equal to anything he had done during his Seventies heyday, and with his final album placed a capstone on an artistic legacy that stands uniquely among the modern era’s musical landscape. Join us as we celebrate it, and drink to a better future.

Jan 18, 2021
Episode 90: Damon Linker / David Bowie [Part 2]

Scot and Jeff discuss the second part of David Bowie’s career (1974–1981) with Damon Linker.

Introducing the Band:
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest Damon Linker, Senior Columnist for The Week. Read Damon’s work here and follow him at @DamonLinker on Twitter.

Damon’s Music Pick: David Bowie
It’s not the side effects of the cocaine, Political Beats is thinking that it must be love as it throws itself into the whirlpool of David Bowie’s latter-Seventies career, taking our journey all the way up through Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) and one of the greatest one-off artistic collaborations between two musical giants during the rock era (hint: it’s not “Dancing In The Street”). David Bowie was an artistic giant all the way through his entire recording career, and was making stirring music up until the day he passed away — that will be addressed in our upcoming third part of this retrospective — but Jeff for one makes no secret of the fact that this era is his favorite by far. From songs about the lives of young Americans, girlfriend-eating television sets, new careers in new towns, and being heroes just for one day, to swingin’ along to the good life as a boy, sailing to the piratey hinterlands, or being hunted down like just another piece of teenage wildlife . . . this is the era where David Bowie traveled a vast yawning gap of artistic growth and transcendence. This is the sound of greatness.

Jan 11, 2021
Episode 89: Damon Linker / David Bowie [Part 1]

Scot and Jeff discuss the first part of David Bowie’s career (1967–1974) with Damon Linker.

Introducing the Band:

Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest Damon Linker, Senior Columnist for The Week. Read Damon’s work here and follow him at @DamonLinker on Twitter.
Damon’s Music Pick: David Bowie
Look out, you rock ‘n’ rollers! Pretty soon now, you’re gonna have to turn and face the strange as Political Beats begins a long journey, tackling the career of David Jones, who might have kept that name if a certain Monkee hadn’t beaten him to celebrity. Instead, he became David Bowie, and became many other things besides, so many that this is going to be a three-part extravaganza exploring the full scope of Bowie’s career. Part one covers his early days, from Anthony Newley-esque orchestral pop to folk-rock to Led Zeppelin moves to . . . well, Ziggy Stardust. This is a massive undertaking, but we’re ably assisted by Damon Linker, so whether you’re a Bowie fanatic of long standing or someone who only knows about “Space Oddity,” give us your hands — because you’re not alone! You’re wonderful!

Dec 21, 2020
Episode 88: Steve Singiser / Living Colour

Scot and Jeff discuss Living Colour with Steve Singiser.

Introducing the Band:

Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest Steve Singiser. Steve is a contributing editor at Daily Kos Elections. Find him on Twitter at @stevesingiser.

Steve’s Music Pick: Living Colour

That riff is indelibly inked on your brain. You know the one. The first musical notes put to vinyl/tape/compact disc by Living Colour, kicking off “Cult of Personality.” That riff that comes just after a quote from Malcolm X and carries through to famous orations from JFK and FDR. Yes, from the start, this all-black rock/funk/soul/metal band from New York really was something different. 

The band was driven by the guitar heroics of Vernon Reid, who would put his signature all over various tracks through the band’s existence. Lead vocalist Corey Glover featured rare range and power, and the rhythm section of drummer Will Calhoun and bassist Muzz Skillings (later replaced by Doug Wimbish) held down the bottom end. VIVID, the debut album, sold more than two million copies, presenting a foursome with solid melodies, street-smart lyrics, and an incredible intensity. Mick Jagger was such a fan he produced two songs on the record and invited the band to open for the Rolling Stones.

The follow-up album, TIME’S UP, didn’t miss a beat, featuring guests such as Little Richard, Queen Latifah, Doug E. Fresh, and others. The songs were just as satisfying, and lyrically the band dove deeper into the political, including social commentary on racism in America. The subsequent offering STAIN, features a darker, grittier sound. The band would split soon after. 

Three post-reunion albums of varying quality are covered on the show, but more importantly, we offer an appreciation for a band that has somewhat slipped through the cracks but deserves a second, or for some, a first look.

What’s your favorite color?

Nov 23, 2020
Episode 87: Brad Birzer / Genesis [ Part 2]

Scot and Jeff discuss second part of Genesis’s career (the Phil Collins years) with Brad Birzer.

Introducing the Band:
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest Dr. Brad Birzer. Brad is the Russell Amos Kirk Chair in American Studies and Professor of History at Hillsdale College. He’s the co-founder of, and Senior Contributor at, The Imaginative Conservative. And he’s the author of a number of books, including Neil Peart: Cultural (Re)Percussions. Find him online at bradbirzer.com or @bradleybirzer on Twitter.

Brad’s Music Pick: Genesis
After joining us to celebrate life of Neil Peart and the career of Rush back at the beginning of the year, Brad Birzer returns to discuss his other great musical love, Genesis. We pick up where we left off last time with Patrick Frey, telling the story of Genesis from the departure of Peter Gabriel after The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway to the present day.

And what an amazing musical tale it is, the story of a niche British progressive rock band that was all but left for dead by the musical press after Gabriel’s departure, only to immediately come blazing out of the gates with one of the most impressive albums of the Seventies in 1976’s A Trick Of The Tail. With their diminutive balding drummer (a gent you may be familiar with by the name of Phil Collins) accidentally promoted to the role of lead singer during the sessions for that album, Genesis went on to not only weather the loss of their lead guitarist Steve Hackett, but to improbably ascend to the heights of worldwide commercial superstardom with Phil as their frontman. Genesis was ubiquitous during the 1980s, and in a good way: as Scot, Jeff, and Brad all argue, NONE of these albums have dated much at all, and in fact their stature has grown over the years (not even Patrick Bateman jokes could prevent it). Welcome to Political Beats’ loving conclusion to a tale that spans from Genesis to Revelation, one of the great underdog stories of the rock era . . . a band that spent 30 years making new music, evolving constantly, and never getting lost in a changing world.

Nov 02, 2020
Episode 86: Patrick Frey / Genesis [Part 1]

Scot and Jeff discuss Genesis (1967-1975) with Patrick Frey.

Introducing the Band:

Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest Patrick Frey. Patrick has been a blogger of national repute since 2003 and is still committed to the form, even though it has been dead for years. Read his work at Patterico’s Pontifications and follow Patrick on Twitter at @Patterico.

Patrick’s Music Pick: Genesis

We’ve been waiting here for so long to discuss this band, and all the time that’s passed us by? It hardly seems to matter now, because Political Beats is finally tackling the first half of Genesis’s career (the Peter Gabriel years; 1976-1997 will come in our next installment) with the sort of reverent fervor that only happens when one of the show’s two hosts is discussing their single favorite group of all time. No prizes for guessing which of the two co-hosts feels that way about them. During this era Genesis — originally formed by a group of 16-year-olds at a genteel London-area private school — rapidly evolved from a halting group of adolescent pop songwriters (failed pop songwriters, mind you) into one of the biggest progressive rock bands of all time. Later, after the years discussed in this episode, they would also become one of the biggest commercial successes on the planet as well, without ever really losing the core of what made them uniquely Genesis. But for now, buckle up as the gang travels through tales of Tony Banks, Mike Rutherford, Peter Gabriel, Anthony Phillips, Steve Hackett, and a young drummer you might have heard of by the name of Philip Collins. This is some of the best, most well-composed, goofiest, and most profound music ever made during the 1970s, extremely British but also universal in its eternal musical verities. For the next three hours we will enjoy selling you England by the sound.

P.S. Don’t worry, none of you are going to die. But you may need to make a visit to the Doktor when all is said and done. If you think that that’s pretentious . . . well then, you’ve been taken for a ride.

Oct 19, 2020
Episode 85: Christian Schneider / Ramones

Scot and Jeff discuss Ramones with Christian Schneider.

Introducing the Band:
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest Christian Schneider. Christian is a reporter for The College Fix, contributor to The Dispatch, The Bulwark, USA Today, and sometimes National Review, and author of 1916: The Blog. Find him on Twitter at @Schneider_CM

Christian’s Music Pick: Ramones
1, 2, 3, 4! In an episode we joked should only last two minutes, to honor the band, the Political Beats crew take a look at the music and career of Ramones. Formed in Queens in 1974, Ramones have been credited as the first punk rock group, and we tackle that question in the course of the conversation. The band’s first four albums are essentially unimpeachable; short, quick melodic tracks, paying deep debt to the rock music of the late ’50s and early 1960s, The Beach Boys and surf music, and, of course, the magic of fast, loud, downstrokes on the electric guitar. We discuss why the band’s songs often are deeper and more complex than on first listen and dismiss the criticism that “all their songs sound the same.” An unfortunate experience with Phil Spector is forgiven, as all of us heap praise upon the somewhat forgotten PLEASANT DREAMS. At some point, the idea of “quality control” does escape the band’s grasp, and some of the band’s drama becomes more interesting than the recorded output. Still, Ramones stand as one of the most influential groups in rock history and continue to inspire despite the early deaths of all four original members. It might not be a two-minute show, but the time will fly by. Gabba Gabba Hey!

Sep 28, 2020
Episode 84: Steven Levy / The Doors

Scot and Jeff discuss The Doors with Steven Levy.

Introducing the Band:
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest Steven Levy. Steven is editor at large of Wired magazine and author of Facebook: The Inside Story. Follow him on Twitter at @StevenLevy.

Steven’s Music Pick: The Doors
It’s been oft-observed that the day destroys the night while the night divides the day, but no matter how much Political Beats tried to run and tried to hide, we could not avoid breaking on through to the other side with our episode about The Doors. In many ways The Doors are the most controversial artist that the show has ever covered, for the simple reason that they are so polarizing: People tend to either adore them or hate them with a fiery splenetic passion. Which makes this episode one of the most fun and interesting ones we have ever done, because you get three perspectives on Jim Morrison & company: a true super-fan who was there at time (indeed in the audience at several of their concerts) in Steven, an ex-fan who doesn’t hate them but definitely has criticisms in Jeff, and then . . . well then there’s Scot. Is this The End for Political Beats? No, we’ll be back at it again soon enough, but now that summer’s almost gone we figured we’d send it out with a bang, and keep at it until the music’s over and we’ve turned out the lights.

Aug 31, 2020
Episode 83: Andrew Feinberg / Hüsker Dü

Scot and Jeff discuss Hüsker Dü with Andrew Feinberg.

Introducing the Band:
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest Andrew Feinberg. Andrew is a Washington, D.C.-based journalist whose coverage of the White House, Capitol Hill, and other political venues and matters of import has appeared in The IndependentNewsweekBreakfast Media, and Politico Magazine. Follow him on Twitter at @AndrewFeinberg.

Andrew’s Music Pick: Hüsker Dü
Is this your celebrated summer? You might not think so given the state of the world in 2020, but Political Beats is here to convince you that it still could become true if you immerse yourself in the music of one of America’s most fearlessly inventive, creative, and critically adored indie bands, Hüsker Dü! (Don’t let the exotic-sounding name throw you off: These were three Minneapolis-St. Paul kids naming themselves after a Scandinavian board game from the 1970s.) The Hüskers — Bob Mould (guitars, vocals, songwriting), Grant Hart (drums, vocals, rival songwriting), and Greg Norton (bass, peerless mustache) — emerged from the MSP-area D.I.Y. punk scene to first become the most fearsome hardcore band on the planet, and then swiftly developed into one of the most ambitious and melodic groups of the entire 1980s. From their early years as punk neophytes to their era as the world’s most intensely ear-shredding hardcore band to their creative zenith to their legendarily bitter collapse and break-up, the Hüskers blazed a path through rock music that remains unique to this day, and left behind some of the finest music of the decade. Searingly personal, buoyantly poppy and melodic, skin-rippingly hardcore . . . and often all three of these things simultaneously: Join us on a journey beyond the threshold as we (most likely) introduce you to the work of Hüsker Dü (and also quite a bit of solo Bob Mould).

Aug 17, 2020
Episode 82: Dan McLaughlin / Bruce Springsteen [Part 2]

Scot and Jeff discuss the second part of Bruce Springsteen’s career (1980-2020) with Dan McLaughlin.

Introducing the Band:
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest Dan McLaughlin. Dan is a Senior Editor at National Review and you can find his work, well . . . here! Just click on that tab over there, it’s not hard to figure out! Find him online at @baseballcrank on Twitter.

Dan’s Music Pick: Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band

Maybe you had a brother in Khe Sanh fighting off the Viet Cong, but after forty years from 1980 onwards to the present day as we resume the second part of our Springsteen summer spectacular, Bruce is still there, and we’re all gone. Part Two witnesses Springsteen’s explosion from cult favorite, critical darling, and sometime-chart-entrant into The Biggest Musician Of The Eighties sweepstakes (it’s a four person standoff between him, MJ, Prince, and Madonna). From Nebraska to Born In The U.S.A. to Live 1975-85 (a five record set that entered the Billboard charts at #1) to the deeply personal Tunnel Of Love, Springsteen owned the decade like few other artists, and his retreat from that during the Nineties (and subsequent reclamation of both the E Street Band and the massive concert audiences from 1999 onwards) is only part of an incredibly complicated and rewarding story set out in musical form. Join us as we run through all of it — not just the albums, but the outtakes, the live performances, the archival releases, heck even the autobiographies — on this epic installment of Political Beats, bringing our survey of The Boss to a close. And after you’re done, assuming you’re the last one out, make sure to shut out the light.

Part Two of Two.

Aug 04, 2020
Episode 81: Dan McLaughlin / Bruce Springsteen [Part 1]

Scot and Jeff discuss the first part of Bruce Springsteen’s career (1972-1980) with Dan McLaughlin.

Introducing the Band:
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest Dan McLaughlin. Dan is a senior editor at National Review and you can find his work, well . . . here! Just click on that tab over there, it’s not hard to figure out! Find him online at @baseballcrank on Twitter.

Dan’s Music Pick: Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band

Summer’s here and the time is finally right for racing in the street. Yes, Political Beats is finally throwing its arms around the single most-requested artist in its three-year history: Mr. Bruce Springsteen, an artist who achieved a modest amount of fame during the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, ’00s, and ’10s (and most likely the ’20s as well). Who is Bruce Springsteen? Well, if you only know Springsteen from his years of mega-stardom and commercial ubiquity during the Eighties then you’re missing out on a long, winding artistic evolution that he underwent during the Seventies, the decade that Jeff for one asserts was truly his. From “the new Dylan” to Van-Morrison-meets-the-Jersey-Shore to The Future Of Rock And Roll to dusty roads littered with broken dreams, Political Beats takes you on a lovingly detailed tour of Bruce Springsteen’s evolution, over the first eight years of his career, into The Boss. Outtakes? Obscure live performances? Surprising amounts of Danny Federici on accordion? This episode has it all, a story about a guy in a town full of losers pulling out of there to win.

Part one of two.

Jul 20, 2020
Episode 80: Randy Barnett / The Zombies and Argent

Scot and Jeff discuss The Zombies and Argent with Randy Barnett.

Introducing the Band:

Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest Randy Barnett. Randy is the Carmack Waterhouse Professor of Legal Theory at the Georgetown University Law Center, where he directs the Georgetown Center for the Constitution. He also writes at The Volokh Conspiracy. Follow him on Twitter at @RandyEBarnett.

Randy’s Music Pick: The Zombies and Argent
It’s summertime, and the livin’ is easy, which also means that it’s the time of the season to discuss not one, but two of the great semi-forgotten bands of pop-rock era in The Zombies and their progressive-rock sequel Argent. The Zombies — led by keyboardist Rod Argent, bassist Chris White, and lead singer Colin Blunstone — may have gotten inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame very recently, but odds are that unless you are a Sixties music snob you still aren’t aware of just how brilliant they actually were as a band, how underrated Argent and White were as pop songwriters and lyricists, and how shockingly great their entire discography is. As Jeff says during the show, even though The Zombies scored three big hits in America (trust us, you’ve heard “She’s Not There” and “Time Of The Season” even if only subliminally, and you probably know “Tell Her No” as well), the rest of their career exemplifies most bizarre losing streak in rock history, because practically every single one of the songs they released (and several that they didn’t!) were top-tier pop and art-rock compositions, and they ended their career with what ranks among the finest albums of the decade in Odessey And Oracle.

But the story doesn’t end there! After The Zombies broke up due to lack of commercial success and critical recognition (both would eventually come, albeit too late for the group), Argent and White went on to form a new band, the eponymous Argent, based around the songwriting skills of Rod and Chris and with the added strength of lead singer Russ Ballard bringing his own music to bear. Argent rapidly moved away from the bright, brisk pop-rock of The Zombies into the piano/organ-based art- and progressive-rock style of the Seventies, and yet still managed to put out a remarkable amount of fine music on their own. Click play and enjoy — is this the dream band you’ve been crying out for?

Jun 29, 2020
Episode 79: Lynyrd Skynyrd / Mark Davis

Scot and Jeff discuss Lynyrd Skynyrd with Mark Davis.

Introducing the Band:
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest Mark Davis. Mark is a talk show host at 660 AM The Answer in Dallas-Ft. Worth and can be heard filling in on shows nationally for the Salem Media Group. He’s also a columnist for the Dallas Morning News and Townhall.com. Find him online @markdavis on Twitter.

Mark’s Music Pick: Lynyrd Skynyrd
What song is it you want to hear? If you answered “Free Bird!”, chances are this episode on Lynyrd Skynyd is for you. The band, pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd, of course, formed in Jacksonville back in the 1960s and essentially invested their own genre of music, fusing blues, rock, country, and “swamp music” to define 1970s southern rock. Ronnie Van Zant wrote the lyrics and led his band to a major label deal following years of honing their craft for hours a day in the “Hell House.” What emerged were two of the finest albums of the classic rock era and a string of memorable tales while working for MCA. We discuss the band’s not-so-secret weapon in Ed King and dive into the back stories of “Sweet Home Alabama.” Tragically, the band’s prime years were cut short following a plane crash in 1977, just months after adding guitarist Steve Gaines to the lineup, reinvigorating the group’s sound. Van Zant, Gaines, his sister Cassie, and three others were killed; other band members suffered brutal injuries. The less said about subsequent reunions, the better, though it is covered in the show. Give a fresh listen to the music of one of the finest American rock bands of all time. Don’t forget to turn it up!

Jun 15, 2020
Episode 78: Jeff Pojanowski / Crowded House

Scot and Jeff discuss Crowded House with Jeff Pojanowski.

Introducing the Band:
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest Jeff Pojanowski. Jeff is a professor of law at Notre Dame Law School. He also writes about administrative law, legal interpretation, and philosophy of law. Find him online @pojanowski on Twitter.

Jeff’s Music Pick: Crowded House
You might think of Crowded House as a one-or-two-hit wonder in the U.S., but by the end of this episode you’ll be falling at their feet to praise their body of work. The band started with the demise of Split Enz in the mid-80s, leaving main songwriter Neil Finn to carry on by focusing on a stripped down, back-to-basics style of music. The debut featured a couple of songs you might have heard — “Don’t Dream It’s Over” and “Something So Strong.” Crowded House failed to follow up that success in the states, but found interested audiences in the U.K. and their homelands, Australia and New Zealand. Finn and the band wrote and recorded some of the best pop music of the era, then added two surprisingly good reunion albums in the late ‘00s. Those songs are carefully crafted, well-produced, and feature incredibly melodic hooks. We also briefly touch on Neil Finn’s solo records and his work in Split Enz and the Finn Brothers. Listen alone or with a group of friends as you quarantine in your own crowded house.

May 18, 2020
Episode 77: Nick Gillespie / The Byrds

Scot and Jeff discuss The Byrds with Nick Gillespie.

Introducing the Band:

Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest Nick Gillespie. Nick Gillespie is an editor at large at Reason and the co-author of The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What’s Wrong with America. Find him online at @nickgillespie on Twitter.

Nick’s Music Pick: The Byrds
Today the gang is soaring high in the friendly skies as they contemplate the career of one of the greatest and most important bands in the history of post-’50s rock music, The Byrds. Jeff is at pains to emphasize how The Byrds are not just a “Dylan covers act,” but rather one of the most influential acts of the entire era, sparking three separate musical revolutions in popular music with folk-rock, psychedelia, and country-rock. Nick adds that there is true pathos to the story of The Byrds, who brought forth such an effulgence of musical beauty (particularly on their first six albums, a run which represents one of the best winning streaks in pop music history), and yet were always crippled by warring egos and human frailties that prevented them from reaching even higher. But what they did achieve is staggering nonetheless; if for some reason you have remained ignorant of the greatness of what Jim (now Roger) McGuinn, David Crosby, Chris Hillman, Gene Clark, and Michael Clarke accomplished during their heyday, click play and prepare for takeoff.
Apr 27, 2020
Episode 76: Cam Edwards / Fountains of Wayne

Scot and Jeff discuss Fountains of Wayne with Cam Edwards.

Introducing the Band:
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest Cam Edwards. Cam is the editor of Bearing Arms, the host of Bearing Arms’ Cam & Co, and the 40 Acres & A Fool podcast. Find him online @camedwards on Twitter.

Cam’s Music Pick: Fountains of Wayne
Are you alone now? Did you lose the monkey? Good. Then you’re prepared for the Political Beats dive into the music of Fountains of Wayne. This special episode is in honor of the late Adam Schlesinger, the bassist and co-songwriter for the band. Nominated for the “Best New Artist” award at the 2003 Grammys, Fountains of Wayne had been active for nearly a decade prior to that point. Their output was remarkably consistent; power pop through and through, with bright chords, innovative rhymes, and huge hooks. The band had only one Top 40 song to their credit (“Stacy’s Mom”), but any number of these songs will remain in your head for weeks after listening to this episode.

But that’s not all he did! Though FOW is the focus, we also touch on his work in movies and television, plus his creative efforts with other bands. Schlesinger clearly was one of the most prolific and talented songwriters of his generation and his absence will be sorely missed.

Apr 13, 2020
Episode 75: Ben Domenech / The Who [Part 2]

Scot and Jeff discuss the second part of The Who’s career (from 1970 to 1982 and afterwards, thereabouts) with Ben Domenech.

Introducing the Band:

Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest Ben Domenech. Ben is the publisher of The Federalist and also writes a daily newsletter, The Transom, which you can subscribe to at thetransom.com. Follow Ben on Twitter at @bdomenech.
Ben’s Music Pick: The Who
Today the gang resumes its discussion of the greatness of The Who with . . . well, all the stuff that you’ve probably heard on classic rock radio since you were wearing diapers! Yes, Who’s Next is a mainstay of radio (and television ads, and shows starring David Caruso . . .) and while nobody here is really going to say a bad thing about it, what would you think if someone told you it wasn’t even The Who’s best album from this era, or even in the top two? Yes, there will be a person who makes this hot take on the show, because this is the adulthood of The Who’s career, when Pete Townshend turns his writing and conceptual talents towards far more serious matters than deaf dumb & blind boys, Roger Daltrey graduates from a cub to a lion in the vocal department, John Entwistle doubles down on his incredible bass-playing with an awful lot of horn charts, and Keith Moon remains the best “Keith Moon-style drummer” for as long as he possibly can. The Who released what at least one member of this show (okay, it’s Jeff) considers to be the single greatest rock album of all time during this period, and unless you’ve been following him for years on Twitter it’s probably not the one you’re thinking of. And they didn’t really fall off that much afterwards. We give a brief mention to Pete Townshend’s solo career (but alas, there just wasn’t time to delve too deeply), but as for the rest, well . . . rest assured: This is not a group of people just taking The Who by numbers.

Apr 06, 2020
Episode 74: Ben Domenech / The Who [Part 1]

Scot and Jeff discuss the first part of The Who’s career (from 1964 to 1970) with Ben Domenech.

Introducing the Band:

Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest Ben Domenech. Ben is the publisher of The Federalist and also writes a daily newsletter, The Transom, which you can subscribe to at thetransom.com. Follow Ben on Twitter at @bdomenech.
Ben’s Music Pick: The Who

Today the gang is talkin’ ’bout its generation as they cover the first part of the career of one of the greatest and most important bands in the history of rock music, The Who! Yes, the ‘orrible ‘Oo, more or less the definitive power trio (despite the fact that they had four members), innovated in so many different ways — instrumentally, lyrically, vocally, conceptually, and also in terms of writing songs about masturbation and dog-racing — that it takes us a little over three hours to cover the explosively imaginative first six years of their career, up through Live At Leeds. Sit back, relax and let your mind roll on over all your problems as Political Beats brings you Emergency Quarantine Relief by revisiting the glory of a band that you might have known, during their early years, mostly for anthemic proto-punk singles, but which was also by equal turns inspiring and charmingly goofy. We promise we will not put a car in your swimming pool.

Mar 30, 2020
Episode 73: Alfred Schulz / The Pogues

Scot and Jeff discuss The Pogues with Alfred Schulz.

Introducing the Band:

Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest

Alfred Schulz. Alfred is a former SiriusXM host and producer and current podcast producer and, for eight years was the senior producer and on-air contributor to Stand Up with Pete Dominick and host of Sit Down with Alfred and Chris, covering the 2012 and 2016 Republican and Democratic conventions, the elections, and debates. Find him online at @alfredschulz on Twitter.

Alfred’s Music Pick: The Pogues

Happy St. Paddy’s Day! Okay, so you probably didn’t get to attend a parade (and we hope for prudence’s sake that you ‘socially distanced’ yourself on Saturday instead of hitting the bars), but let Political Beats keep you company this Monday instead as consolation as the gang covers the most Irish band of all time that is actually ironically composed mostly of English people, The Pogues! Yes, most of them had Irish blood running through their veins, but the fascinating thing about Shane MacGowan & company was how they actually emerged into prominence during the mid-’80s as rebellious standouts in the London music scene, where their fusion of Irish traditional music and punk drumming and speeds stood miles apart from everything else out there. Combining a magnificent touch for traditional and Irish covers with the magnificent lyrics and concepts of Shane MacGowan (whose self-presentation as a stumbling bad-toothed drunkard in no way disguised his literary skill), The Pogues redefined what was possible in terms of mixing popular and traditional music and also helped define a nation’s modern musical tradition in doing so. As Alfred points out: People will often put The Pogues on for St. Patrick’s Day, or maybe Christmas, but it’s music that deserves to be listened to all year ’round. Póg mo thóin, ladies and gents.

Mar 16, 2020
Episode 72: Sean Hackbarth / Tears for Fears

Scot and Jeff discuss Tears For Fears with Sean Hackbarth.

Introducing the Band:
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest
Sean Hackbarth. Sean is a long time blogger — so long they were called, “weblogs,” —
and currently is a writer and editor at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Find him online
@seanhackbarth on Twitter.

Sean’s Music Pick: Tears For Fears
There are some (many?) out there who might only think of Tears For Fears as a one-
album wonder. Songs from the Big Chair was rightfully a smash, with three
massive hits. But the boys at Political Beats are here to tell you why it’s well worth while
to dig into the rest of their discography. Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith made great
music both before and after the massive chart success. And, in fact, why one album from
the 1990s and one from the 2000s deserve space in the conversation about the band’s
best work. You could say there will be a lot of hurting, as we’ve been laid so low and
broken down again in our attempts to fully appreciate Tears For Fears’s work. Come
along, shout the lyrics if you know them, and leave yourself open to the possibility that
you’ll fall head over heels for some previously unheard music.

Feb 24, 2020
Episode 71: Brad Birzer / Rush

Scot and Jeff discuss Rush with Brad Birzer.

Introducing the Band:
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest Dr. Brad Birzer. Brad is the Russell Amos Kirk Chair in American Studies and Professor of History at Hillsdale College. He’s the co-founder of, and Senior Contributor at, The Imaginative Conservative. And he’s the author of a number of books, including Neil Peart: Cultural (Re)Percussions. Find him online at bradbirzer.com or @bradleybirzer on Twitter.

Brad’s Music Pick: Rush
Following the death on Neil Peart, Jeff has agreed to lift his embargo on listening to the music of Rush (an old joke he explains on the show) and take a closer look at the Canadian power trio. What’s clear from even the early going is the superb musicianship of all three members — Geddy Lee on bass and later syths, Alex Lifeson on guitar, and Peart on drums. Peart also took the duties of writing the words for the band’s music, and while there’s some different opinions about the early albums, all agree he found his voice and became a top-notch lyricist. Over the course of 40 years, the band was incredibly consistent in its output and became legendary for its live performances. This episode should serve the interests of both die-hard fans as well as newbies like Jeff. Listen and enjoy. Conform or be cast out.

Jan 20, 2020
Episode 70: Vincent Caruso / Roxy Music

Scot and Jeff discuss Roxy Music with Vincent Caruso.

Introducing the Band:
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest Vincent Caruso. Vincent is a writer and community manager at the Illinois Policy Institute, a nonpartisan state-based think tank focused on fiscal policy and good government. Vincent is on Twitter at @vin_jc.

Vincent’s Music Pick: Roxy Music
We wish you a Ferry Christmas and a Roxy New Year as Political Beats closes out its third (!) year of existence with a tribute to one of the most influential art-rock and glam-rock groups (though were they really “glam?” The topic is discussed!) of all time, Roxy Music. This is a band that is thought by many to just be “that group Brian Eno started out in,” but in truth it’s always really been lead singer/songwriter/pianist Bryan Ferry’s baby. And he steered them — with the help of superlative art-school weirdos Andy Mackay (saxophone & oboe) and Phil Manzanera (originally their roadie, who quickly became their lead guitarist) — through a series of legendary albums in the early to mid-1970s and a later turn-of-decade revival as a much softer, dancier band. There is something immediately disarming about the unapologetic eclecticism of early Roxy — the first two albums with Eno that sound like they’ve been put together with a staple-gun like a glam Frankenstein’s monster, and the three later ones where the band came even more into their own — but it you like incredible musicianship, a deeply committed lyrical approach (centered around the ennui of the era of post-European dominance and the emptiness of romance), and an occasionally ridiculous sense of humor . . . well, then it’s quite likely you know about Roxy Music already. If for some reason you don’t, then get ready to have your mind blown like an inflatable love doll. And then after that Ferry turned the band into suave, smooth balladeers putting out albums like the legendary Avalon, a record (as Jeff says) seemingly designed solely for middle-aged people who have seen it all and are tired of it all but still keep coming back for more against their better instincts. Come join us on our final episode of 2019, and we hope you too will feel the thrill of it all.

Dec 23, 2019
Episode 69: Jane Coaston / Jimi Hendrix

Scot and Jeff discuss Jimi Hendrix with Jane Coaston.

Introducing the Band:

Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest Jane Coaston. Jane is Senior Politics Reporter at Vox with a focus on the GOP, conservatism, the far-right, and white nationalism. Jane is on Twitter at @cjane87.

Jane’s Music Pick: Jimi Hendrix

Excuse us while we praise this guy. Jimi Hendrix’s career lasted only four years while alive (with decades of posthumous releases to follow), but he remains one of the most influential guitarists in history. He pioneered new uses of the guitar, experimenting with feedback, distortion, and effects on a higher level. The songs weren’t so bad either, of course, kicking off with the single releases of “Hey Joe” and “Purple Haze” and continuing through Are You Experienced? and Electric Ladyland. Hear Jeff and Jane fight over the relative merit of Noel Redding’s songwriting contributions to the band! And as for those posthumous releases? We spend specific time discussing First Rays of the Rising Sun and Blues, along with various live releases. So much has been said about the music of Jimi Hendrix, but we find new angles for you to consider on this edition of Political Beats.

Dec 09, 2019
Episode 68: James Poulos / The Smashing Pumpkins

Scot and Jeff discuss The Smashing Pumpkins with James Poulos.

Introducing the Band:
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest James Poulos James is the executive editor of The American Mind, author of The Art Of Being Free: How Alexis de Tocqueville Can Save Us from Ourselves, and also the lead guitarist and singer/songwriter for the band Vast Asteroid. Follow James on Twitter at @jamespoulos.

James’ musical pick: The Smashing Pumpkins:
It’s time to set the ray to Billy as the gang covers one of the ’90s biggest alt-rock acts, and one of the very few with a staying power that has lasted beyond those hazy flannel- and gloom-soaked years. James, an accomplished musician in his own right, declares Billy Corgan (lead singer/songwriter/dictator of the Chicago-based Smashing Pumpkins) to be the only musician he’s ever felt unworthy of approaching in public and talking to, that’s how much in awe he is of his talents. And it’s hard not to agree once you take in the full range of the Pumpkins’ output during that decade: the sprawl, the deep resonant feeling, and the almost comical megalomaniacal ambition (Jeff describes SP as “a clown car filled with My Bloody Valentine gets into a head-on collision with another clown-car filled with the late ’80s members of The Cure, and then both get suddenly hit by the Guns ‘N Roses Use Your Illusion-era tourbus). In the 1990s, Corgan took the Pumpkins from shaggy psychedelia to diamond-hard alt-rock to sprawling quasi-operatic triple-LP opus to shockingly great acoustic/danceable introversion and all the way back around again, and did it all in the teeth of inexplicable critical hatred among the hip press. And in the doing, turned himself into what James argues is the first true rock poet of suburban kids. This is an episode where we don’t simply give the Pumpkins their due, we try to come to grips with what they meant, and why it mattered. And it did. Listen tonight.

Tonight, tonight.

Nov 11, 2019
Episode 67: Ben Jacobs / Gram Parsons

Scot and Jeff discuss Gram Parsons with Ben Jacobs.

Introducing the Band:

Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest Ben Jacobs. Ben is senior political reporter for Jewish Insider. Ben is on Twitter at @BenCJacobs.

Ben’s Music Pick: Gram Parsons

Considered to be one of the godfathers of country rock, Gram Parsons had his own name for what he was trying to achieve: “cosmic American music”. That meant country, blues, soul, rock, and folk all rolled into one. Parsons’ output during his short time on earth is staggering for its quality and quantity. Before his death at the age of 26, Parsons had formed the International Submarine Band before leaving to join The Byrds. After only a few short months in that band, he quit to create the Flying Burrito Brothers. Following his dismissal from the Burritos, he crafted two immaculate solo albums with the help of Emmylou Harris. None of the records sold very well at the time, but virtually all have become classics of the genre. It’s entirely possible, even as a music fan, you’re entirely unfamiliar with Parsons oeuvre. No worries! We’ll walk you through the catalog, explain what’s important and why, and celebrate the vision of an American original: Gram Parsons. 

Oct 07, 2019
Episode 66: Kevin Madden / The Cars

Scot and Jeff discuss The Cars with Kevin Madden.

Introducing the Band:

Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest Kevin Madden. Kevin is the executive vice president of Arnold Ventures. He’s a Republican strategist and former advisor to President George W. Bush, Governor Mitt Romney, and Republican House leaders John Boehner and Tom DeLay. Kevin is on Twitter at @KevinMaddenDC.

Kevin’s Music Pick: The Cars

The team at Political Beats mourns the death of Ric Ocasek by doing what we do best: obsessively listening to and breaking down his career in The Cars. This is a nice, tight compact show, like the best of their hits. In fact, we dove so deep into their discography that you might think we’re foolish. All three of us are really big fans of the debut album and Ben Orr’s vocals. And all of us choose a different second-favorite album alongside the consensus number one, THE CARS, one of the best debut albums of all time. Why don’t we know Ric’s real age? Why did “You Might Think” win the first MTV Video Music Award, beating out “Thriller”? How did Elliot Easton score a solo album deal in the 1980s? Answers to those questions and much more on this week’s tribute to Ric Ocasek and The Cars. 

Sep 23, 2019
Episode 65: Anthony Fisher / Elvis Costello [Part 2]

Scot and Jeff discuss Elvis Costello (Part 2, from King Of America through to the present day) with Anthony Fisher.

Introducing the Band:
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest Anthony Fisher. Anthony is the politics editor for Insider and Business Insider and a producer/co-conspirator for The Fifth Column. You can find him on Twitter at @anthonyLfisher.

Anthony’s Music Pick: Elvis Costello
This week the gang covers the latter-day adventures of Declan Patrick (Aloysius) MacManus, better known to the world as Elvis Costello. This is the era, starting with 1986’s King Of America, where Costello conspicuously lost the ability to edit himself, putting out not only a series of extremely lengthy albums but a panoply of side-projects and ambitious cross-genre collaborations taking in everything from string-quartet chamber music to jazz to hip-hop. But for all the ostentatious self-indulgence of logorrhea of EC’s later career it’s impossible to argue with the results given that many of these records represent his finest work, particularly King Of America, Blood And Chocolate, Brutal Youth, All This Useless Beauty, and The Delivery Man. Have you ever been looking for a Virgil to guide you through the dense morass of Elvis’ later career? You’ll find three of them here on this episode! Ever wondered why you should bother with albums like the neo-classical The Juliet Letters or (the ridiculously titled) Momofuku? All is explained. Curious as to the best music from Costello’s mature period? You will be absolutely stunned by how much fantastic music he put out from 1986 onwards, and still is to the present day. Come join us at the other end of the telescope as we finish our tribute to one of the finest songwriters of the past 50 years.

Aug 26, 2019
Episode 64: Anthony Fisher / Elvis Costello [Part 1]

Scot and Jeff discuss Elvis Costello (Part 1, from My Aim Is True through to Goodbye Cruel World) with Anthony Fisher.

Introducing the Band:
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest Anthony Fisher. Anthony is the politics editor for Insider and Business Insider and a producer/co-conspirator for (what has apparently now become Political Beats’ informal sister podcast) The Fifth Column. You can find him on Twitter at @anthonyLfisher.

Anthony’s Music Pick: Elvis Costello
This week the gang covers the early adventures of Declan Patrick (Aloysius) MacManus, known to the world as Elvis Costello. All three of them are massive EC fans of long-standing, but they each have rather nuanced takes on this early period where he garnered his greatest critical (though not commercial, ironically enough) success. Behold, as Jeff claims the blowback from the Ray Charles Incident was justified “instant karma”! Behold, as Scot perversely argues that Imperial Bedroom is overrated! Behold, as Anthony dismisses “Pump It Up”! Behold, as all three of the gang wish the Attractions had played on My Aim Is True!

If you’re already a fan of Elvis Costello, then not only do these references make sense to you, hey: you’re already listening. If for some reason you’re not, let us take the time to explain to you why Britain’s most literate and craftsmanlike songwriter of the past 45 years combined with one of its most explosive backing bands to produce an album catalogue that no music-lover can afford to be ignorant of. Oh, we just don’t know where to begin.

Aug 12, 2019
Episode 63: Jeff Dufour / Rolling Stones [Part 2]

Scot and Jeff discuss The Rolling Stones (Part 2, from 1969 through to the present day) with Jeff Dufour.

Introducing the Band:
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest Jeff Dufour. Jeff is the Editor-in-Chief of National Journal.  Jeff is on Twitter at @dcdufour.

Jeff’s Music Pick: The Rolling Stones
This week the gang somehow manages the nifty trick of covering a full FIFTY years of musical history in under three and a half hours as they discuss the post-Brian Jones era of The Rolling Stones’ career, encompassing everything from their legendary U.S. 1969 tour, the Mick Taylor era, the addition of Ronnie Wood, and Keith’s infamous drug bust in Toronto to their fracturing and reunion in the 1980’s and subsequent career as stadium-rocking megastars (still selling out 60,000-seat venues to this very day). In between all of these things they also happened to put out several of the most famous and critically acclaimed rock albums of all time, which is more than just an important footnote. From Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out! all the way to Blue And Lonesome, Scot, Jeff and Jeff take you on an epic journey just about a moonlight mile down the road. Click play and start it up.

Jul 29, 2019
Episode 62: Harry Khachatrian / Rolling Stones [Part 1]

Scot and Jeff discuss The Rolling Stones (Part 1, through LET IT BLEED) with Harry Khachatrian.

Introducing the Band:
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest Harry Khachatrian. Harry is a contributor at The Daily Wire and his writing also can be found at harrykhachatrian.comHarry is on Twitter at @harry1T6.

Harry’s Music Pick: The Rolling Stones
The fog of war is thick and heavy, and the storm is threatening my very life today, so allow the Political Beats look at the Brian Jones era of The Rolling Stones send you all looking for shelter. And a beverage. And perhaps headphones, if you’re in a crowded area. You’ll want to crank this one. Scot, Jeff, and Harry lead you through the first eight years or so of the band, starting with its origins as an R&B/blues cover outfit, through the singles era, into THEIR SATANIC MAJESTIES REQUEST, and out the other side as the greatest winning streak in rock and roll history begins with BEGGARS BANQUET and LET IT BLEED. We do our best to explain the divergence between the US and UK versions of the Stones’ early discography, and Jeff makes an impassioned plea for all of you to pay attention to how special the Jones era was and how important his contributions were throughout this time. If you want to talk about Mick, Keef, Brian, Bill, Charlie, and even Stu. . . then without further ado, let’s just get right down to it. And this is just Part 1; there’s 50 years to go in Part 2!

Jul 22, 2019
Episode 61: Matt Welch / The Beach Boys [Part 2]

Scot Bertram and Jeff Blehar discuss the second part of The Beach Boys’ career with Matt Welch.

Introducing The Band:
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@scotbertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest Matt Welch, former editor-in-chief and current editor-at-large of Reason, and co-host and self-described “provost” of “The Fifth Column” podcast. Follow Matt on Twitter at @MattWelch and check out The Fifth Column podcast (whose members Political Beats likes so much that we’ve had literally every single one of them on as a guest) here.

Matt’s Music Pick: The Beach Boys
The Summer Spectacular continues as Political Beats wraps up its coverage of The Beach Boys’ career with Part Two: The Beach Boys Get Weird.  Beginning with the legendary 1966 #1 hit single “Good Vibrations” and the equally legendary lost album Smile (now at least somewhat ‘found’ since the 2004 release of Brian Wilson’s solo take on the project and archival Smile Sessions boxed set), the Beach Boys rapidly shift from “fun in the summer sun” to a bizarre, uniquely Southern California morass of bad drug trips, transcendental meditation albums, Manson family hijinks, and the occasional guest appearance by John Stamos.

This was the period of their great commercial collapse, and Brian Wilson’s concurrent mental collapse, but here’s the paradox: both Jeff and Matt believe THIS phase of the band’s career to contain much of their most fascinating and rewarding music. From Smiley Smile and Wild Honey all the way through to Holland and the weirdness of the man-child directness of The Beach Boys Love You, the boys’ later career reveals equally as much amazing music as their earlier, more famous material.

And yes, everyone hates “Kokomo.”

Jul 08, 2019
Episode 60: Matt Welch / The Beach Boys [Part 1]

Scot Bertram and Jeff Blehar discuss the first part of The Beach Boys’ career with Matt Welch.

Introducing The Band:

Your hosts Scot Bertram (@scotbertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest Matt Welch, former editor-in-chief and current editor-at-large of Reason, and co-host and self-described “provost” of “The Fifth Column” podcast. Follow Matt on Twitter at @MattWelch and check out The Fifth Column podcast (whose members Political Beats likes so much that we’ve had literally every single one of them as a guest) here.

Matt’s Music Pick: The Beach Boys

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time for some Game Theory (if you get it, you get it…) as Matt Welch returns to the show and Political Beats begins its Summer Spectacular by returning to the place where it all pretty much started for the show: with The Beach Boys, a band that Jeff has been known to discourse about on Twitter. We invite you to celebrate the official beginning of summer by immersing yourself in the magnificent, groundbreaking music of Brian, Carl, Dennis, Mike, and Al (and also Bruce).

One thing the gang are at pains to make clear, as they lovingly cover the scope of The Beach Boys’ first five years of existence (from 1961 through to Pet Sounds) is that, even given the Legend of Brian Wilson, Lonely Genius, the band is still somehow underrated compared to their peers. If you thought Brian Wilson’s talents were more or less limited to Pet Sounds, “that lost album,” and a few songs about cars and surfing, then this show will hopefully be an education for you in what the sudden flowering of musical genius sounds like. If you already know just how good The Beach Boys were, then this show will be a glorious celebration. Catch a wave, ho-daddys.

Jun 24, 2019
Episode 59: Scot Bertram & Jeff Blehar / Soundtracks

Scot and Jeff discuss their favorite soundtracks.

Introducing the Band:

Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with . . . no guest at all! Yes, this is a Very Special Episode of Political Beats, in which Arnold learns to avoid the local bike shop and Jessie finds out about the very real dangers of caffeine pills. In other words, this is PB’s second format-bucking episode where, instead of having on a guest to discuss her favorite artist, the subject is Scot and Jeff’s favorite soundtracks of all time.

To give a general sense of how the show is structured, we begin by discussing soundtracks composed of all-new material then move to soundtracks made up of older songs, previously released. Finally, we look at the hybrid soundtracks with both vintage and fresh material. What makes a great soundtrack? Why aren’t certain candidates on our lists? Are there any that actually appear on both Scot and Jeff’s Top Ten? Listen to find out!

Jun 11, 2019
Episode 58: Matt Murray / Randy Newman

Scot and Jeff discuss Randy Newman with Matt Murray.

Introducing the Band:

Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest Matt Murray. Matt is editor in chief of the Wall Street Journal and is the author of the book The Father And The Son: My Father’s Journey Into Monastic Life.  Matt is on Twitter at @murraymatt.

Matt’s Musical Pick: Randy Newman

It’s lonely at the top when you’re one of America’s greatest modern songwriters, but the case of Randy Newman is an even stranger one than most: a professional songwriter since 1962, a celebrated solo artist since 1968, and one of Hollywood’s go-to men for movie soundtracks (including, yes, all those Pixar movies) since 1981, Newman is still arguably hugely underappreciated by the public at large. We suppose that’s inevitable when you sing like a bullfrog and your greatest commercial success was a quasi-novelty song about loathing diminutive folk, but Matt, Jeff and Scot are at great pains on today’s episode to explain why Randy Newman is in fact one of the most profound (profoundly acerbic, profoundly cynical, profoundly hilarious, profoundly moving, you name it) artists of the modern popular era. From the halting orchestral experiments of his youth to the deep exploration of the dark weird corners of America during his prime to the scabrous wit of his political and social commentary, Newman is one of the most truly American musicians of the past fifty years, and his musical legacy reveals truths both uncomfortable and undeniable about our national psyche. Dive on in with us — and you can leave your hat on.

May 20, 2019
Episode 57: Michael Brendan Dougherty / Ben Folds Five

Scot and Jeff discuss Ben Folds Five with Michael Brendan Dougherty.

Introducing the Band:

Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest Michael Brendan Dougherty. Michael is a senior writer at National Review and is the author of the new book My Father Left Me Ireland: An American Son’s Search for Home.  Michael is on Twitter at @michaelbd.

Michael’s Music Pick: Ben Folds Five

Were you never cool at school? Are you a fan of Elton John, Billy Joel, Bruce Hornsby, and Todd Rundgren? Well, Ben Folds Five might be the band for you. You must know a few things upfront, though: There are only three members of Ben Folds Five (it just sounds better than Ben Folds Three), and there is no guitar used on any of the band’s proper albums. Piano, bass, and drums. That’s it. Ben Folds, Robert Sledge, and Darren Jessee use those instruments to cover a wide range of styles and dynamics. Jazz? Sure. Rock? Yep. Power pop? Sure? Prog rock? A little. Singer/songwriter laments? Absolutely! We take a deep dive into their output prior to the band’s breakup in 2000 and also cover Ben Folds’ solo work and the band’s reunion album in 2012. Join us Underground, where everything is heavy and everyone is happy.

May 06, 2019
Episode 56: Kmele Foster / Marvin Gaye

Scot Bertram and Jeff Blehar discuss Marvin Gaye with Kmele Foster.

Introducing The Band:
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@scotbertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest Kmele Foster, co-host of “The Fifth Column” podcast and a partner at “Freethink,” where he helps produce original content about the people and ideas helping to reshape the word. Follow Kmele on Twitter at @kmele and check out The Fifth Column podcast (whose members Political Beats likes so much that we’ve had literally every single one of them as a guest) here.

Kmele’s Music Pick: Marvin Gaye
This week, Political Beats asks whether they can get a witness as they tell you what’s going on with the incredible, sprawling genius of Motown soul/R&B giant Marvin Gaye. Gaye came to prominence as the original cornerstone of Motown’s pop crossover success (a fact which did not prevent him from constantly butting heads with Motown founder Berry Gordy — not even marrying Gordy’s sister could prevent that) in the Sixties. Then he made his name even more solidly by rebelling against the chop-’em-out Motown factory style and the tyranny of Gordy’s “don’t bore us, get to the chorus” hitmaking formula in the Seventies, beginning first with the legendary What’s Going On and continuing all throughout the decade with a series of fascinating (and often fascinatingly unmediated and painfully honest) records.

Marvin Gaye — the man, his demons, the dizzying heights to which he ascended and the personal lows to which he plunged — is a topic so vast that you might think it impossible to properly throw your arms around the complexity of the man’s work in a mere two hours and change, and yet with the expert assistance of guest Kmele Foster we somehow managed to do justice to every phase of his career. How sweet it is.

Apr 22, 2019
Episode 55: Tim Miller / LCD Soundsystem

Scot Bertram and Jeff Blehar discuss LCD Soundsystem with Tim Miller.

Introducing The Band:

Your hosts Scot Bertram (@scotbertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest Tim Miller, communications consultant, GOP operative, contributor to The Bulwark, and co-founder of America Rising. Follow Tim on Twitter at @Timodc.

Tim’s Music Pick: LCD Soundsystem

This week, Political Beats is selling its guitars and buying turntables, and then selling its turntables and buying guitars, as we explore the brief but dense discography of LCD Soundsystem, one of the premier acts of the 21st century, and finally back in business after a long hiatus. The band is the brainchild and primarily the work of one James Murphy, former Brooklyn DJ and middle-aged rock snob/producer who finally decided in 2003 to say screw it and start releasing his own music rather than just produce it for other people. His first single, the hilariously self-deprecating music snob’s lament of “Losing My Edge,” became a indie phenomenon and launched LCD Soundsystem on a career path that took it all the way from the New York City hipster underground to selling out the entirety of Madison Square Garden before a breakup and recent reunion that finds Murphy and his friends sounding as vital as ever. Jeff labels LCD Soundsystem’s music “a journey to the end of rock music,” a terminal point for an entire era of musical creativity and fusion, but what a glorious one. If you’re already a fan, then get ready to hit the dance floor with the gang this week. If you’ve never heard LCD Soundsystem before, or know them only from their immense critical reputation, then get ready to experience one of the true greats of the modern century. As for me? I was there. I was there.

Apr 08, 2019
Episode 54: Cameron Joseph / Jackson Browne

Scot and Jeff discuss Jackson Browne with Cameron Joseph.

Introducing the Band:

Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest Cameron Joseph. Cameron is Talking Points Memo’s senior political reporter, where he covers Congress and the permanent campaign. You can find him at talkingpointsmemo.com and at shows standing back by the soundboard. Cameron is on Twitter at @cam_joseph.

Cameron’s Music Pick: Jackson Browne

One of the faces of the 1970s west coast singer/songwriters movement, Jackson Browne is the writer and performer of some of the most literate and moving songs of his era. His self-titled debut was the work of a man who had spent some six years honing his craft. A Top Ten hit, “Doctor My Eyes,” was emblematic of what was to come over the next decade: a series of preternaturally mature and affecting songs about, life, love, and death. Browne had a rough transition into the 1980s artistically, though his albums continued to sell well for the first half of the decade. A bounceback with I’M ALIVE proved he still had some gas in the engine. Literate, direct, and armed with a tremendous gift for observation, Jackson Browne can sing the soundtrack for your life, if you’ll let him.

Mar 25, 2019
Episode 53: Jay Cost / The Black Crowes

Scot and Jeff discuss The Black Crowes with Jay Cost.

Introducing the Band:

Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest Jay Cost, visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and co-host of National Review’s Constitutionally Speaking podcast. Jay is on Twitter at @JayCostTWS.

Jay’s Music Pick: The Black Crowes

They’ve been called the “The Most Rock ‘n’ Roll Rock ‘n’ Roll Band in the World,” and The Black Crowes did their best to live up to the title. Success, label fights, lineup changes, warring brothers, drugs, break-ups, hiatuses, triumphant returns, epic live shows, and unreleased albums. Heck, these guys had their “Behind the Music” on VH1 before some band members had turned 30. Through it all, The Black Crowes turned out some of the best music of the 1990s. We cover it all on this episode, from the initial platinum-selling albums to the unreleased gem, THE BAND, and two extremely well-received albums reunion albums in the 00s. Both Scot and Jay count the Crowes as their favorite band of all-time and bring the passion and knowledge to this episode. They weren’t just Rolling Stones rip-offs; The Black Crowes paved their own road in their career and didn’t care who stood in the way.

Mar 11, 2019
Episode 52: Jeff Pojanowski / Pavement

Scot and Jeff discuss Pavement with Jeff Pojanowski.

Introducing the Band:

Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest Jeff Pojanowski, professor at Notre Dame Law School. Jeff is on Twitter at @pojanowski.

Jeff’s Music Pick: Pavement

Political Beats has been dressed for success for a long time, but success it never comes. Finally it arrives with their episode on Pavement, a band that Jeff (Blehar, that is) considers to be the single greatest of the entire 1990s. The discussion carries the gang from Pavement’s early lo-fi EPs and debut album (complete with a ’70s hippie burnout on drums and behind the producer’s desk) to their more assured (but never ‘straight’ or particularly commercial) mid- and late-’90s material. This is a band that, for all their practiced inscrutability and just-don’t-care posing, never set a foot wrong over their entire career (five EPs, five albums, and countless B-sides and outtakes) until the end — a record of near-perfection that makes them one of the most essential bands of the rock era. Join us as we go back to those gold soundz, and you don’t even have to keep your advent to yourself.

Feb 18, 2019
Episode 51: Stephen Miller / U2

Scot and Jeff discuss U2 with Stephen Miller.

Introducing the Band:

Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest Stephen Miller. He is a contributor to National Review, Fox News, and a well known social media raconteur. Stephen is on Twitter at @redsteeze where he will calmly insult your music tastes, among other things.

Stephen’s Music Pick: U2:

The gang gets its Irish up this week as we cover a small Hibernian band of little renown known to the world as U2. As Stephen jokes, they’re the biggest band in the world (still) and yet everyone pretends to hate them. In this epic installment of Political Beats we trace the story of Bono, The Edge, Larry Mullen, and that guy who Jeff used to mistake for a notorious New York City Congressman from their beginnings as a Dublin hooligan gang to world-saving musical superheroes. And in the telling we explain why, even though their most recent albums signal a seemingly permanent decline, you secretly love them too. You know it’s time to go, across the sleet and driving snow, across the fields of mourning light in the distance.

Feb 04, 2019
Episode 50: Jack Butler / The Electric Light Orchestra (ELO)

Scot and Jeff discuss The Electric Light Orchestra (ELO) with Jack Butler, host of Ricochet’s Young Americans podcast, sidekick of The Remnant with Jonah Goldberg, and a freelancer writer living in D.C.

Introducing the Band:
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest Jack Butler, host of Ricochet’s Young Americans podcast, sidekick of The Remnant with Jonah Goldberg,  and a freelancer writer living in D.C.  Jack  is on Twitter at @jackbutler4815.

Jack’s Music Pick: The Electric Light Orchestra:
What began as a dream of Roy Wood and Jeff Lynne to fuse modern pop songs with classical touches became a hit-making machine through the mid-to-late-1970s and early-1980s. Wood left after album number one, leaving the creative direction to Lynne alone. And direct he did! From the prog-rock stylings of ELO II to the full-on, sugar-sweet, pristine production on OUT OF THE BLUE, to the synth-driven concept album TIME, ELO managed to sell more than 50 million albums in little more than a decade. The music has been used endlessly in the past 20 years in movie trailers and commercials, keeping the band in the public view. Heck, we also make time to discuss Lynne’s turn as “producer to the stars” in the 80s and 90s. Rev up the technicolor spaceship and set your vocoder to “high” — it’s time to dive in to ELO!

Jan 21, 2019
Episode 49: CJ Ciaramella / The Clash

Scot and Jeff discuss The Clash with CJ Ciaramella, a criminal justice reporter for Reason Magazine.

Introducing the Band:
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest CJ Ciaramella. He is a criminal justice reporter for Reason Magazine. CJ is on Twitter at @cjciaramella and you can read his work at reason.com.

CJ’s Music Pick: The Clash:

The gang wraps up its second year of Political Beats with a discussion of The Only Band That Matters! From rock to pop to reggae to ethno-fusion to, well, “Fingerpoppin’,” The Clash belie their reputation as one of the greatest punk acts of all time with the startling diversity of their music. And what a weird career arc it is, encompassing not only one of the most important punk rock records of all time (their self-titled debut), one of the greatest double albums in any genre of modern music full-stop (the glorious London Calling), and one of the worst TRIPLE albums in history (the fascinatingly failed Sandinista!).  Scot, Jeff, and C.J. love much of this music passionately and are deeply confused and dismayed by some of it as well (please, dear reader: never listen to Cut The Crap) but celebrate all of it anyway.

Happy Holidays to all of our listeners, and we’ll see you again in January!

Dec 17, 2018
Episode 48: Adam White / Queen

Scot and Jeff discuss Queen with Adam White, law professor and a think-tank researcher.

Introducing the Band:
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest Adam White. He is a law professor and a think-tank researcher, writing on law and democracy for outlets like the Wall Street Journal, the Weekly Standard, National Affairs, many other publications, and occasional legal journals. Adam is on Twitter at @adamjwhitedc.

Adam’s Music Pick: Queen
Could examining the subject of the #1 movie in America make this the #1 podcast in America? Who knows! But it’s worth a shot. Scot and Jeff welcome Adam White to dig deep into the catalog of Queen. Each host has a different favorite era, which means no segment of the band’s career is overlooked. Yes, we discuss the amazing Freddie Mercury and his death. Yes, we talk about LIVE AID. Yes, we even spend multiple minutes examining if Adam Lambert is a good fit as lead singer for the current incarnation of Queen. It’s all here, for the die-hards and the new fans.

Dec 03, 2018
Episode 47: Molly Ball / Radiohead

In this episode, Scot and Jeff discuss Radiohead with Molly Ball, TIME magazine’s national political correspondent and a political analyst for CNN.

Introducing the Band:
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest Molly Ball (@mollyesque). She is TIME magazine’s national political correspondent and a political analyst for CNN.

Molly’s Music Pick: Radiohead:
Ahoy! In the deepest oceans, the bottom of the sea, Captain Ahab (aka Jeff) finally goes after his white whale and does an episode on the band people most associate him with, Radiohead! And he is in excellent company this week as the gang is joined by Molly Ball, another Radiohead mega-fan — and this is a group which has spawned an extremely dedicated, devoted fanbase which sits apart from its mainstream praise — to explore the full career of one of the greatest bands of all time. From Pablo Honey all the way to 2016’s A Moon Shaped Pool, the gang charts its way through an odyssey of music. There are stopovers to discuss the B-sides, the unreleased outtakes, the song that got ruined in the studio…this is one not only for people who are new to Radiohead, but also people who have been obsessed with them their entire adult lives, as Jeff and Molly have. A true labor of love.


Nov 19, 2018
Episode 46: Jamie Kirchick / Elton John

In this episode, Scot and Jeff discuss Elton John with Jamie Kirchick, author of The End of Europe.

Introducing the Band:
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest Jamie Kirchick (@JKirchick). He’s a Brookings Institution Visiting Fellow, author of The End of Europe, and columnist for Tablet magazine.

Jamie’s Music Pick: Elton John:
Allow us to simply quote from this recent Vulture piece on Sir Elton:

He had seven No. 1 albums in a row in the U.S. These albums, in a three-and-a-half-year period, spent a total of 39 weeks at No. 1, a bit less than a quarter of that overall span. By Billboard’s rankings, he is by far the biggest album act of the 1970s (despite the fact that he didn’t have a top-ten album after 1976). He is also Billboard’s biggest singles act of the decade, and the magazine’s third-biggest singles artist of all time, with nine No. 1 singles and 27 top-ten hits, which is a lot. In all, he’s sold more than 150 million albums and 100 million singles.

We cover his classic period in-depth, discuss works through Too Low For Zero, and then do our best to summarize the remainder of an amazing career.

Oct 29, 2018
Episode 45: David Lowery / Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker

In this special episode, Scot and Jeff discuss Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker with David Lowery, the main singer/songwriter and bandleader for both groups.

Introducing the Band:
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest David Lowery (@DavidCLowery). He’s the main singer/songwriter and bandleader for Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker. David also is lecturer in music business at the University of Georgia, chief muckraker at The Trichordist, an artist rights activist, and 2014 Chamber of Commerce Global Intellectual Property Champion.

David’s Music Pick: Camper Van Beethoven/Cracker:
How did we do this? We have David Lowery joining the show, the ringleader of two of the best bands in the past 35 years. Camper Van Beethoven merging of punk, folk, ska, and world music was unlike anything else happening at the time and, frankly, just about anything happening now. Cracker took a step forward when Camper broke up, embracing Americana and country along with traditional rock ‘n’ roll elements. David spends more than three hours with us, walking us through the beginnings of CVB to the most recent releases from both band. We ask about some random CVB/Cracker trivia and also discuss music in the modern streaming era, copyright law, and the Music Modernization Act, which has been one of David’s causes for years now.

No, really. The actual David Lowery is on this podcast with us. You must listen.

Oct 15, 2018
Episode 44: Jessie Opoien / Old 97s

Scot and Jeff discuss Old 97s with Jessie Opoien, political reporter with the Capital Times in Wisconsin.

Introducing the Band:
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest Jessie Opoien (@JessieOpie). She’s a political reporter for the Capital Times in Wisconsin and host of the Wisconsin politics podcast, “Wedge Issues,” featuring interviews with candidates, strategists and other players in the Wisconsin politics world.

Jessie’s Music Pick: Old 97s:
One of the seminal alt.country bands of the mid- and late-90’s, Old 97s continue releasing vital albums to this day. Celebrating 25 years together, the band has consisted of the same four members for the entire time, each with his distinctive qualities — Rhett Miller’s front-man good looks and incredibly detail-oriented songwriting, Murry Hammond’s muscular bass and perfect harmony vocals, Ken Bethea’s surf/country approach to guitar, and Philip Peeples insistent drumming. From the classic country-influences of the early years, to the power pop-leaning of Fight Songs and Satellite Rides, to the band’s incendiary live shows, all is covered in the episode. Are they the best band you might never have heard of?

Oct 01, 2018
Episode 43: Dave Weigel / King Crimson

Scot and Jeff discuss King Crimson with Dave Weigel, political reporter for the Washington Post.

Introducing the Band:
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest Dave Weigel. He is a political reporter for the Washington Post, writer of the new campaign newsletter, The Trailer, and author of the recent book The Show That Never Ends: The Rise and Fall of Prog Rock. Follow him on Twitter @daveweigel.

Dave’s Music Pick: King Crimson:
This week the gang softly sings three lullabies in an ancient tongue on Political Beats as they enter the court of King Crimson, the first true ‘high progressive’ act covered by the podcast. And they couldn’t have a better guest for the journey than the one who joins them today, Dave Weigel (@daveweigel). Dave isn’t just a national politics reporter for the Washington Post, he’s a man who loves prog so much that he recently wrote a book about it called The Show That Never Ends: The Rise and Fall of Prog Rock. Buy it!

But first, come join us as we travel through the career of the most fearless, most stubbornly mutagenic progressive act of them all. King Crimson never sold as many albums as its three “major” Seventies prog confreres (Genesis, Yes, and ELP), but they had a more lasting influence on later artists than all of them and have outlasted all comers as a band, still touring and making relevant music to this day in 2018. Since setting the tone for an entire genre of music with their 1969 debut album (and immediately collapsing, something which would become a ongoing theme), Crimson have gone through at least seven different iterations, wild shifts in musical approaches, and have cycled personnel in and out of the group with only one constant: the restlessly visionary guitarist and bandleader Robert Fripp. The gang are men with an aim this week: we somehow manage to get through the entire scope of KC’s majestic career in under 2 & ½ hours, which is frankly a miracle given that this isn’t merely Dave’s favorite band, it’s one of Jeff’s as well. Long live the Crimson King.

Sep 17, 2018
Episode 42: Robert VerBruggen / Guns N’ Roses

Scot and Jeff discuss Guns N’ Roses with Robert VerBruggen, deputy managing editor of National Review Online.

Introducing the Band:
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest Robert VerBruggen. He is deputy managing editor of National Review Online. Follow him on Twitter at @RAVerBruggen

Robert’s Music Pick: Guns N’ Roses:

You know where you are? You’re in the jungle, baby. But if it’s a jungle with wi-fi, you’re in luck! This week the crew tackles the rock ‘n’ roll excess of one of the biggest bands of the late 80s and early 90s. Guns N’ Roses exploded out of the Hollywood club scene with the biggest-selling debut album of all time, created some of the most iconic music videos on MTV, then spent the better part of two decades laboring over Chinese Democracy. It’s all here, including a discussion of how we should look at GN’R’s musical legacy. Political Beats: where the grass is green and the girls are pretty.

Sep 03, 2018
Episode 41: Andrew Kirell / Bob Dylan [Part 3]

Scot and Jeff discuss Bob Dylan with Andrew Kirell, a senior editor at The Daily Beast overseeing breaking news, political media, and occasionally music coverage. Part 3 of 3.

Introducing the Band:
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest Andrew Kirll. He is a senior editor at The Daily Beast overseeing breaking news, political media, and occasionally music coverage. Follow him on Twitter at @andrewkirell

Andrew’s Music Pick: Bob Dylan:
In this part three of three, we pick up with Dylan’s Gospel Era and Slow Train Coming. The less said about the 80s, the better. But against all odds, Dylan stages a major comeback in the late 90s. We discuss all the way up to the present day and include talk specifically about the Bootleg Series.

Aug 20, 2018
Episode 40: Andrew Kirell / Bob Dylan [Part 2]

Scot and Jeff discuss Bob Dylan with Andrew Kirell, a senior editor at The Daily Beast overseeing breaking news, political media, and occasionally music coverage. Part 2 of 3.

Introducing the Band:
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest Andrew Kirll. He is a senior editor at The Daily Beast overseeing breaking news, political media, and occasionally music coverage. Follow him on Twitter at @andrewkirell

Andrew’s Music Pick: Bob Dylan:
In this part two of three, we pick up with Dylan’s turn toward country (and a new singing voice) on Nashville Skyline. The 70s begin with Self Portrait and continue with the creative peak of Blood on the Tracks. We close this edition with Street-Legal and the live At Budokan, the final albums before The Gospel Years.

Aug 13, 2018
Episode 39: Andrew Kirell / Bob Dylan [Part 1]

Scot and Jeff discuss Bob Dylan with Andrew Kirell, a senior editor at The Daily Beast overseeing breaking news, political media, and occasionally music coverage. Part 1 of 3.

Introducing the Band:
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest Andrew Kirll. He is a senior editor at The Daily Beast overseeing breaking news, political media, and occasionally music coverage. Follow him on Twitter at @andrewkirell

Andrew’s Music Pick: Bob Dylan:
Following our trip through the music of The Beatles, we decide to tackle an artist who is just as important and influential, but with a discography roughly four times as long. What could go wrong? In this part one of three, we tackle Dylan’s career from Bob Dylan (1961) through John Wesley Harding (1967), one of the most prolific and successful periods of any artist in history.

Aug 06, 2018
Episode 38: Charles C. W. Cooke / The Beatles [Part 2]

Scot and Jeff discuss The Beatles with Charles C. W. Cooke, editor of NationalReview.com and the author of The Conservatarian Manifesto. Part 2 of 2.

Introducing the Band:
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest Charles C. W. Cooke. He is the editor of NationalReview.com and the author of The Conservatarian Manifesto. Follow him on Twitter at @charlescwcooke

Charles’s Music Pick: The Beatles:
Charles returns to finish our lengthy conversation about the Fab Four. Part Two begins with the “Paperback Writer” / “Rain” single and takes us through Abbey Road. Yes, we discuss the albums in the order they were recorded, so Let It Be comes first. An enormous amount of music means we crack the three-hour mark in length. Listener be warned.

Jul 16, 2018
Episode 37: Charles C. W. Cooke / The Beatles [Part 1]

Scot and Jeff discuss The Beatles with Charles C. W. Cooke.

Introducing the Band
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest Charles C. W. Cooke. He is the editor of NationalReview.com and the author of The Conservatarian Manifesto.

Charles’s Music Pick: The Beatles
There’s this band you might have heard of called The Beatles. It’s Paul McCartney’s old group. Anyway, if you’re not aware of them, or their music, Scot, Jeff, and Charles turn the spotlight on this foursome that broke up nearly 50 years ago and then slowly faded from the public’s consciousness. Oh, come on! It’s The Beatles! John. Paul. George, Ringo. We’re going to spend two episodes just scratching the surface of their catalog. Part One takes us through Rubber Soul and the double A-side single “We Can Work It Out” / “Day Tripper”.

Jul 09, 2018
Episode 36: Christopher J. Scalia / Cheap Trick

Introducing the Band
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest Christopher Scalia. He is co-editor of Scalia Speaks: Reflections on Law, Faith, and Life Well Lived, the New York Times best-selling collection of his late father’s speeches. He works at a public relations firm in Alexandria, VA, and has written reviews and political commentary for the Washington Post, NRO, Weekly Standard, Wall Street Journal, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter at @cjscalia.

Chris’s Music Pick: Cheap Trick
Scot, Jeff, and Chris have not forgotten the magnetism of Robin Zander, the charisma of Rick Nielsen, or, most importantly, the tunes! We celebrate the music and career of Cheap Trick, power-pop masters and occasional hard rock purveyors. Join us for the ups (the 70s), the downs (the 80s), and the highly-respectable late-career albums. One of us even tries to defend “The Flame.”

Jun 18, 2018
Episode 35: Jon Gabriel / New Order

Introducing the Band
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest Jon Gabriel, co-host of the Conservatarians podcast and editor-in-chief of Ricochet. Follow Jon Twitter at @exjon.

Jon’s Music Pick: New Order
This week the gang gets pumped full of drugs as they discuss New Order, the rock legends who emerged from the ashes of Joy Division to spend an entire decade shaping the sound of modern dance music.

May 28, 2018
Episode 34: Mark Joseph Stern / The Velvet Underground

Scot and Jeff discuss The Velvet Underground with Mark Joseph Stern of Slate.

Introducing the Band
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest Mark Joseph Stern covers courts and the law for Slate. Follow him on Twitter at @mjs_DC, and find more here.

Mark’s Music Pick: The Velvet Underground
Scot, Jeff, and Mark find their respective mainlines and nearly overdose on a large helping of The Velvet Underground. Widely respected as one of the most influential bands of all time, The VU has a short but distinctive discography. As Brian Eno said, while their debut album sold only 30,000 copies in its early years, everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band.

May 14, 2018
Episode 33: Kevin Madden / Wilco

Scot and Jeff talk to Kevin Madden about Wilco.

Introducing the Band
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest Kevin Madden, Republican strategist, CNN Commentator and former advisor to President George W. Bush, Gov. Mitt Romney, Republican House Leaders John Boehner and Tom DeLay.” Follow Kevin on Twitter at @KevinMaddenDC.

Kevin’s Music Pick: Wilco
This week the gang gets a shot in the arm as they celebrate Wilco, one of the great genre-transcending American groups of the past quarter century. This is a band that had a cult and critical following long before they emerged into wider prominence in the 21st century, and co-host Scot was there from the start: Wilco is one of the bands nearest and dearest to him in his entire life. Kevin tells the story of sitting in Yonkers city hall during his years as an aide to the city council president and having his head turned around by hearing a song on the radio: “California Stars,” which set him on the path to lifelong fandom. Jeff tells a more familiar story for many, one of finding Wilco due to the hype surrounding Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and being mildly perplexed at first until the eventual discovery of Summerteeth clicked everything into place for him.

Too Far Apart: Uncle Tupelo and the origins of Wilco
As much as the gang would have loved to, there just wasn’t any time to seriously discuss Uncle Tupelo, the groundbreaking band from southern Illinois led by Jay Farrar that formed in 1989 and ended up defining the entire subgenre of alt-country. Instead, Scot gives a brief rundown of their career and points out that by far the more important thing, as far as the present episode is concerned, is that Uncle Tupelo also happened to contain a second key member in the quiet, retiring bassist Jeff Tweedy, who began writing more and more songs as the band’s career progressed. This led to incurable friction with Farrar, and when Tupelo eventually collapsed and Farrar quit, Tweedy took the rest of the band with him and renamed it Wilco. Farrar began a new band named Son Volt, and for the next two records, a ‘battle of the bands’ (as Kevin calls it) was on between Son Volt and Wilco.

The overwhelming critical consensus is that Farrar won round one in a knock-out with Son Volt’s magnificent debut Trace; Wilco’s 1995 debut A.M. was seen by most as an afterthought — a middling continuation of the Uncle Tupelo sound — and proof that the real magic in the band came from Jay Farrar. In retrospect we now know that not to be the case, but the gang argues that A.M. is itself an underrated record in its own right, far too quickly dismissed by critics and fans (and even the band) for failing to advance much on Uncle Tupelo’s original sound. Scot and Kevin praise the guitarwork of Brian Henneman (on temporary loan from the Bottle Rockets) in particular, and note that the embryonic “Tweedy style” of lyrical introversion is found in so many of the highlights of this record, like “Box Full Of Letters” and “Should’ve Been In Love.”

Misunderstood: Jay Bennett and Being There
All talk of Wilco as an also-ran in the alt-country scene immediately ended with their second album, 1996’s sprawling 2CD masterpiece Being There. And yet with this record Tweedy was already declaring, on songs such as “Misunderstood” and “Sunken Treasure” (which, as Jeff notes, tellingly open disc 1 and disc 2 respectively), that Wilco was not content to be a mere alt-country act anymore. The impetus behind this shift was Tweedy’s for sure–all of the songs on this LP are solo songwriting credits–but a major reason for the success of Wilco’s sudden musical complexity must be laid at the feet of their newest member, Jay Bennett. Originally hired to be the band’s lead guitarist, Bennett immediately revealed a passion for piano and keyboards and used his skill with them to bathe nearly every song on Being There with graceful and haunting coloristic touches. From “Red-Eyed And Blue” (which Jeff is passionate about) to “Outta Mind (Outta Site)” (which sounds more like a Beach Boys Christmas album outtake than anything else), Bennett’s impact as a performer and an arranger are instantly felt, and his creative contributions to the band would rapidly rise to the level of a near-even collaboration with Tweedy on subsequent records. All three of the gang are effusive in their praise of Being There, a record which finds Wilco stepping into a much larger world of art-rock while still keeping its feet solidly in the world of country balladry and sprightly rockers that had been the Uncle Tupelo calling card. What impresses even more than the variety of this record is its consistency: as a double album with 18 songs, it should drag and yet there few if any perceptible weak spots.

A Shot in the Arm: Mermaid Avenue and Summerteeth
On tour, Wilco ran into venerable UK political guitar-folkie Billy Bragg and predictably hit it off. Thus, when Bragg was approached by Woody Guthrie’s daughter with the opportunity to work with a huge tranche of Woody’s unpublished lyrics and write new music to it, he decided to recruit Wilco to collaborate with him and bring American roots authenticity to the project. The result was an unalloyed triumph: the gang argues that two volumes of Mermaid Avenue are no mere side-project (though neither Scot nor Jeff have much time for the Billy Bragg material on these two discs), but a key part of Wilco’s discography and the connective material that bridges the gap both between Being There and Summerteeth (in the case of Vol. 1) and Summerteeth and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (in the case of Vol. 2). Jeff argues that Tweedy and Bennett were liberated by having such eloquent texts to craft music around, and that the result are songs that often times feel ‘more Wilco than Wilco’, particularly on gems like “California Stars” (again, one of Kevin’s favorites), “At My Window Sad And Lonely,” “One By One,” “Airline To Heaven,” and the epic “Remember The Mountain Bed.” At the time of its release, Mermaid Avenue was celebrated by critics as a stunning reassessment and recontextualization of Woody Guthrie’s art; in retrospect, it is also obvious that it is a key link in the chain demonstrating the process by which Tweedy and Bennett were reassessing and recontextualizing their own music with Wilco.

The results of that reassessment are, by universal agreement between Jeff, Scot, and Kevin, the true masterpiece of Wilco’s career, the glorious Summerteeth (1999). Fans whose last checkpoint for Wilco was (the wonderful, but still largely rooted in well-worn alt-country sounds) Being There must have been completely shocked by the mutagenic growth on display with Summerteeth, a sonically complex, glossy, almost summery-sounding album of art-rock, art-pop, and weirdly crabbed balladry. Scot gets emotional talking about this album, as it is a part of the fabric of his young life – he remembers the first time he heard and spun “I’m Always In Love” on his college radio station, blown away by the complete shift in style after Being There. Jeff is fascinated by the contrast between the vibrantly arranged and produced music (he affectionately calls it the “Jay Bennett goofy synthesizer album”) and the naggingly recurrent darkness of the lyrics: Tweedy is singing about death, doubt, inability to communicate, dashed hopes, the frustration of unrequited faith, and broken relationships, but you would have to listen very carefully to find that in, say, the ethereally pure beauty of “A Shot In The Arm,” which may just be the greatest song of their career. The gang spends a full twenty minutes rhapsodizing about Summerteeth, from “Can’t Stand It” all the way to “Candyfloss,” and all we can say to you is: please listen to this album.

The Late Greats: From Yankee Hotel Foxtrot to A Ghost Is Born 
This brings the gang to the great white whale of the Wilco discography, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2001). As Wilco’s most famous and widely-praised album, and a record with not one but two compelling narratives surrounding it, its place in the critical firmament of 21st-century rock is fixed. Nevertheless, Scot, Kevin and Jeff are all in agreement that YHF is at least somewhat overrated, and none of them rate it as the band’s best work (they are unanimous in choosing Summerteeth instead). Jeff is the most direct in his critique, arguing that this record and the next witness Jeff Tweedy at his (intentionally, one presumes) slackest in terms of vocal approach and commitment to melody. Even on the nominally uptempo numbers on this record, Tweedy’s singing is slack, seemingly stoned, and delivered with a whispery flat affect that betrays hints of deeper demons underneath the surface. Meanwhile much of the music (e.g. “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart,” “Radio Cure,” “I’m The Man Who Loves You”) relies far more on the interest of their backing tracks–specifically the tape loops and various percussive cacophonies that wind in and out of the songs–than they do on the melodic interest of the writing.

That said, these criticisms feel small compared to the breathtaking scope of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, an album as purely consistent in tone and mood as any in Wilco’s career. Kevin cites to “Ashes Of American Flags” in particular as representative of the whole of YHF: a ghostly, almost evanescent melody (Jeff isn’t even quite sure it’s a ‘song’ per se), a descent into noisy chaos at the end of the track, but an overall atmosphere of aching beauty and grandeur. Jeff prefers the more lyrically direct material like the wistfully nostalgic “Heavy Metal Drummer” and the lyrical “Poor Places,” while Scot declares that “Pot Kettle Black” is the album’s masterpiece and dares all comers to fight him on the matter.

It’s impossible to discuss YHF without discussing the documentary I Am Trying To Break Your Heart, filmed during these sessions. It caught the band in the midst of twin crises. First up was their record-label disaster: at work on what would become the band’s universally-acknowledged masterpiece, Wilco found the final product rejected by their label Reprise, and dropped as recording artists. (The resulting outrage from critics, who had been given copies of YHF by the band’s manager, created a huge backlash and secured them a new deal with a different label in short order…and also generated enough buzz to make the record Wilco’s first real chart success.) More importantly, the cameras documented the painful dissolution of the relationship between Jeff Tweedy and Jay Bennett; Bennett was a full participant in the sessions and co-wrote most of the album’s songs, but would be fired by Tweedy immediately afterwards, and the film captures their ongoing communication breakdown in a particularly poignant way. Scot insists that when Jay Bennett left Wilco he took a certain amount of their special magic with him, but Jeff isn’t quite so sure…he thinks Tweedy was being driven by different demons during this era.

Just exactly what that was became painfully apparent by the time of 2004’s A Ghost Is Born: the record’s release was delayed at the last second because Tweedy needed to check into rehab to rid himself of an addiction to prescription painkillers acquired over the last several years of self-medicating to ward off panic attacks, migraines, and clinical depression. A Ghost Is Born is the sound of that exhaustion, and while Scot disdains it, Jeff rates it highly, seeing in its exhausted and paranoid tones and outre experiments the last truly fearlessly experimental record of Wilco’s career. Sure, nobody needs to hear the hopelessly misbegotten “Less Than You Think” (a middling folk song married to 12 minutes of boring tuneless noise serving no worthy end), but drug-exhausted chance-taking pays off wildly elsewhere on songs like “At Least That’s What You Said”–whose “clever song + guitar freakout” format would establish a template Tweedy carried forward on the rest of their career–and the singular “Spiders (Kidsmoke),” an out-of-nowhere tribute to Krautrock (the specific reference points are Kraftwerk and especially Neu!) that sees Wilco pushing out into genres they had never before even hinted at attempting and succeeding wildly.

P.S. None of us can really figure out what “Muzzle Of Bees” is supposed to be about either. You are not alone.

On And On And On: From Sky Blue Sky to Schmilco, and the Present Day
Jeff Tweedy’s post-rehab career with Wilco encompasses a full five albums — fully half of their studio discography — so it may seem presumptuous to place all of these under the same heading. And yet, on another level the grouping feels correct: the healthy, happy, sober Jeff Tweedy made music with Wilco that felt fundamentally different from the more tortured, crabbed music of their career up to A Ghost Is Born. Wilco loses a significant amount of their weirdness and settles into a series of well-written, well-produced albums full of quirky tunes and impressive guitar solos that nevertheless lack the same sense of danger as their early career (this is, not without reason, sometimes referred to by critics as the “dad-rock” phase of Wilco’s career). Dad-rock or not, Kevin insists on the quality of 2006’s Sky Blue Sky (the first record released by the stable present-day lineup of Wilco) and rates it among their finest work. Scot likes this record a lot more than he thought he did back in the day, and cites “Side With The Seeds” in particular as a standout, while Jeff goes with the haunting album closer “On And On And On,” an immensely moving song about mortality.

With “Wilco (the song)” off of Wilco (2009) the band unexpectedly scores a rock ‘trifecta’ (album/song/band all of the same name, e.g. Bad Company or Talk Talk), but aside from the title track (which Kevin notes is a perniciously listenable earworm), the gang agrees that this is a much more unfocused record than the previous one. Still, this song is as professional and assuredly listenable as all of Wilco’s late period records, with highlights like “One Wing” (Jeff’s pick), “You And I” (Kevin’s favorite) and the disguised Civil War tale of “I’ll Fight” (Scot’s favorite, and one of his five favorite Wilco songs ever). Unfortunately, The Whole Love (2011) is as close as Wilco comes to sounding generic in their career, with only “Art Of Almost” standing out. (Jeff damns it thus: “Very professional. Very tasteful. Very likable. Dad-rock.”)

That leads us to the present day and the one-two punch of Star Wars (2015) and Schmilco (2016), which were recorded at the same sessions and then divided after the fact into two very different sounding albums: Star Wars (yes, Tweedy named it after one of the most famous movies of all time–for absolutely no reason whatsoever–and then put a painting of a cat on the cover), released for free online as a surprise record, is by gang consensus the better of the two, a left turn into harder rock sounds than either the sedate The Whole Love or the unrepentantly folky Schmilco. Scot likes Star Wars quite a bit (its tightness brevity is a real plus), in particular the groove of “Random Name Generator” and “Taste The Ceiling.” Jeff and Kevin both agree (Kevin shouts out to “You Satellite”), and all are agreed that the soft Schmilco is the weaker half of these sessions, barely rising above a whisper (though “Cry All Day” is a fine song).

Kevin, Scot, and Jeff each name their two key albums and five key songs by Wilco.

May 07, 2018
Episode 32: Ellen Carmichael / Dire Straits

Scot and Jeff talk to Ellen Carmichael about Dire Straits.

Introducing the Band
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest Ellen Carmichael, president of The Lafayette Company and contributor to National Review and Forbes . Follow her on Twitter at @ellencarmichael, and find more here.

Ellen’s Music Pick: Dire Straits
Creators of one of the most iconic guitar solos (“Sultans of Swing”) and music videos (“Money For Nothing”) of all time, Dire Straits recently was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The distinctive finger-picking guitar style and songwriting of Mark Knopfler helped drive the band to tens of millions of record sales worldwide.

Apr 23, 2018
Episode 31: Christian Schneider / Pixies

Introducing the Band
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest Christian Schneider, columnist for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel and USA Today. Follow him on Twitter at @Schneider_CM, and read his work here.

Christian’s music pick: Pixies
It’s time to gouge away as the gang attacks the Pixies, a band that was around for only a few short years (minus a 21st-century profit-taking reunion tour or two) but managed to influence an entire generation of musicians with the music they created during that brief span.

Apr 16, 2018
Episode 30: Matt Murray / Talking Heads

Scot and Jeff talk to the WSJ‘s Matt Murray about Talking Heads.

Introducing the Band
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest Matt Murray, executive editor of the Wall Street Journaland author of The Father and the Son: My Father’s Journey into the Monastic Life. Follow Matt on Twitter at @murraymatt.

Matt’s Music Pick: Talking Heads
This week the gang stops making sense as they tackle Talking Heads, a band that resolutely defies easy classification. Beginning as the most self-consciously quirky (yet appealingly melodic) band on the New York CBGB punk/new-wave scene of the mid-1970s, they gradually transformed into pioneers of complex polyrhythmic Afrobeat fusion under the auspices of producer Brian Eno until suddenly remaking themselves once again as a pop band. All throughout, they were guided by the singular muse of lead singer (and guitarist) David Byrne, whose lyrical concerns ranged from quotidian to the profound and frequently encompassed both simultaneously. Matt tells the story of his exposure to Talking Heads, first as a child with ’77, and then how they were ubiquitous on the college scene in 1983 with Speaking In Tongues. Jeff remembers to this day the moment he first became aware of the group: having his senses assaulted as a 10-year-old by the famous music video for “Once In A Lifetime” and barely being able to believe it wasn’t some sort of elaborate practical joke VH-1 was playing on him.

From CBGB to ’77: The Formative Years
Scot and Jeff run through the brief history of Talking Heads’ formation: songwriter and guitarist David Byrne was in a band with drummer Chris Frantz while the pair were students at Rhode Island School of Design. After moving to New York City along with Frantz’s girlfriend (and later wife) Tina Weymouth, she is cajoled into learning to play the bass from scratch. She was a quick study and completed them as a trio just in time for them to be present at ground zero for the birth of the American punk/new-wave scene in New York City, centered around the Manhattan club CBGB and featuring such legendary artists as the Ramones, Television, Patti Smith, the Voidoids, and an odd-duck group that never quite fit in: Talking Heads. While the other groups in the scene were deeply confrontational, either playing loud and aggressively or adopting transgressive lyrical poses, Talking Heads were…downright nice. David Byrne’s terse, naively childlike quasi-Aspergers approach to lyrical themes immediately set him apart from the snarling contemptuousness of the rest of the American punk scene, while the band’s herky-jerky compact melodicism and clean crisp rhythms were miles away from the snarl of, say, Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers.

Little wonder, then, that they were very quickly given a major-label record deal and immediately began to make good on it. Their only officially-released recording as a trio was their debut single “Love -> Building On Fire” (the title alone gives fair indication of how Byrne wrote), at which point they expanded to a quartet with the addition of keyboardist/guitarist Jerry Harrison (formerly of the ahead-of-their-time Modern Lovers), who rounded out their sound. This is the group that would record their debut album Talking Heads: ’77 (no prizes for guessing which year it was released). Jeff thinks this is their most underrated album, unfairly neglected because it falls outside the upcoming “Eno trilogy,” and chockablock full of wonderful, weird tunes. Matt and Jeff spend a lot of time discussing why David Byrne is so compelling as a lyricist. Matt says that he is an artist in the truest sense of the word: trying to take the familiar things in this world and see them with fresh eyes. Jeff agrees and compares the seeming lack of artifice in Byrne’s vocals and lyrics to outsider art. He also adds that Talking Heads’ lyrics during this era make sense the moment you realize that they are meant wholly unironically: “New Feeling” is about a new feeling, “The Book I Read” is about a book David Byrne read, and “Don’t Worry About The Government” is a song that suggests that you shouldn’t worry about the government. Matt and Scot also note that “Pulled Up” is exactly what it purports itself to be: an earnestly cheerful song of thanks from Byrne to his parents for pulling him up from the doldrums of depression.

The Brian Eno Era: More Songs About Buildings and Food, Fear of Music, and Remain in Light
Enter Brian Eno. Fascinated by the rhythmic and lyrical approach he heard on Talking Heads: ’77 (so much so that he wrote an anagrammatic tribute to them on his own Before And After Science called “King’s Lead Hat”), Brian Eno came to the band and offered to produce their next album, beginning one of the most well-known artist/producer collaborations of the rock era. More Songs About Buildings And Food (1978) draws primarily from the same first batch of songs the group had written as far back as 1975, so structurally these songs sound the same as those on ’77. Sonically, however, Eno brought them a quiet revolution: without attempting to remake the band in his own image (at least not yet), he lends them a sheen and in particular a percussive attack — most obviously on the hit single “Take Me To The River” — that was entirely absent from their previous work. Scot is a bit skeptical of More Songs but Matt and Jeff are both agreed that this is actually the band’s best album: unwaveringly consistent, still written in that disarmingly weird early Byrne lyrical style, and brilliantly sequenced. Jeff in particular singles out the joy of listening to “The Girls Want To Be With The Girls” tumble directly into “Found A Job” and realizing just how in command Talking Heads are over their artistic self-presentation. Scot considers TH’s version of “Take Me To The River” to be one of the greatest cover songs of all time (something that comes as no surprise to anyone who has heard our “Covers” episode), marveling at how the band and Eno slow the song down to an absolute crawl and yet retain its essential funk. Matt emphasizes that it is here where you can first begin to hear the ensemble sound that would fully bloom years later on Remain In Light: so many of the great moments on More Songs (“Artists Only,” “I’m Not In Love,” “Warning Sign,” “Found A Job,” “Stay Hungry”) are built around lengthy passages where the band just cuts loose and plays, hypnotically.

Fear Of Music (1979) is a departure for Talking Heads in many ways; the second record of their Eno trilogy finds Byrne working up a new batch of lyrics for the first time since the 1975-76 era, and his response was to create a concept album that most people never even realize is a concept album. This is “fear of”-music: songs each written about specific topics of potential neurosis. (Literally just add the words “(fear of)” as a parenthetical to every single song on the record outside the instrumental opener and you’ll get the point.) It’s hard to know whether Byrne is channeling his own feelings on songs like “Air” or “Memories Can’t Wait” or “Animals,” or speaking in an imaginative voice as on “Psycho Killer”, but the result is a glorious catalogue of modern paranoia. One that feels like it comes from a more personal place is “Heaven,” Byrne’s meditation on the afterlife. Jeff raves over the brilliance of the conceit — heaven as an eternity of boredom and ennui as you are spoonfed your “favorite things” over and over again without variety until you loathe them — and thrills to the way the ice of the click-clock metronomic arrangement finally cracks when Chris Frantz roars in frustration heading into the final chorus. Scot proclaims this their greatest album, citing Byrne’s vocal performance on “Mind” especially. Matt gets an enormous laugh out of “Life During Wartime” and “Air,” a song where (as he points out) Tina Weymouth’s backing vocals feel for all the world like they’re mocking David Byrne’s neurotic fear of very environment around him.

As it turned out, the one song on Fear Of Music that pointed toward the band’s future was the mostly instrumental opening track “I Zimbra.” Without it, nothing would have prepared anyone for the landmark Remain In Light (1980), where the band as previously known nearly disappears, to be replaced by a polyrhythmic hydra. This album (inspired in large part by the recordings of Nigerian music legend Fela Kuti) basically invented the subgenre of rock/world-beat fusion, and yet has never itself been equalled in critical esteem. Which makes it all the more interesting that all three of the gang argue that this record, for all its universal critical adulation, is significantly flawed: the back end of the album is glutted with forgettable music and failed experiments. (“The Overload” = interesting in theory, pointless in practice.) But who cares, as Jeff says, when the first half of it is so perfect? The gang spends time discussing every song on Remain In Light (except for “Born Under Punches,” a fantastic song that we sadly could only spare a lone “TAKE A LOOK AT THESE HANDS!” for), but it’s “Once In A Lifetime” and the epochal “The Great Curve” that naturally come in for the most praise. If Scot is right that Remain In Light is not the place for neophytes to begin with Talking Heads because of its density and weirdness (and he is), this is nevertheless an album that all serious music lovers owe it to themselves to hear. But then the same could be said for all four of Talking Heads’ early albums.

Hiatus and Return: The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads, Speaking in Tongues and Stop Making Sense
At the peak of their artistic powers, at the moment of their greatest critical praise . . . Talking Heads disbanded and took a hiatus from the studio for three years. This was telling as to the state of interpersonal affairs within the group (the developing bad blood between Byrne and Weymouth would eventually become the stuff of legend), but the upside of it is that the band took this time to release the live retrospective The Name Of This Band Is Talking Heads (1982). Matt and Jeff both urgently importune you: buy this album in its 2CD expanded reissue, as it is literally the single greatest record Talking Heads ever released. Yes, that’s right, a live album is your proper one-stop introduction to Talking Heads, as this is is a brilliant, copiously thorough (141 minutes in its reissued form) survey of Talking Heads at every stage of their live career, from 1977 all the way to the expanded ensemble heard on the 1980/81 Remain In Light tour. One of those secrets that only Talking Heads fans fully understand is that they were one of the great live acts of their era (or any era for that matter), and that, as well produced as their early records were, they came across even more vigorously and joyfully onstage. Jeff considers The Name Of This Band to be one of the four or five greatest live albums ever released, and he’s not alone in that sentiment. Check it out.

In 1983, the Heads finally returned with Speaking In Tongues. Shorn of Eno and now self-producing, this represented their commercial and critical peak, although in retrospect all three of the gang agree it hasn’t aged as well. Still, this is Talking Heads working in a deep art-funk mode, with songs like “Making Flippy-Floppy” and “Girlfriend Is Better” rolling through oceanic grooves (“Burning Down The House” was inspired by Parliament Funkadelic and sounds like it). The gang is also less effusive in its praise of the critically beloved “live” album Stop Making Sense (1984) than most others: the word live is in scare quotes back there for a reason (everything was re-recorded in the studio except for the drums, pretty much) and all agree that it works far better as a visual experience (you really need to SEE David Byrne in his “big suit”) than as a purely auditory one.

What Happened? Little Creatures, True Stories and Naked
The last seven years of Talking Heads’ career span three albums and, if you believe Jeff, only four truly great songs. You may disagree with assessment, but what is beyond dispute, as all in the gang agree, is that the tail-end of the band’s career is for the most part a curiously astringent affair, as David Byrne retreats from the funk and afro-beat stylistics of Remain In Light and Speaking In Tongues for more direct ‘pop’ song structures that are largely uncompelling. Little Creatures (1985) is perhaps the best of these records, if for no other reason than that it begins and ends with two of Talking Heads’ all-time classics: “And She Was” (a subversively cheery hit single about a pedestrian suburban acid trip) and the fearless ode to nihilism of “Road To Nowhere.” True Stories (1986) is even worse, a nadir for the band — who were tasked with recording a series of songs that Byrne wrote for his vanity film of the same name, which ironically is far better than the album itself — unrelieved by a single good track outside of the musically splendid “Wild Wild Life.” Finally, Naked (1988) ends the band’s album career with a misbegotten attempt at returning to a more groove-based approach, but the feeling is gone…with one exception. And that sole exception is actually one of Talking Heads’ greatest achievements (and Byrne’s finest lyrics), the delightfully funny anti-ecofetishist anthem “(Nothing But) Flowers.”

Matt, Scot and Jeff each name their two key albums and five key songs by Talking Heads.

Apr 09, 2018
Episode 29: Terry Teachout / The Band

Scot and Jeff talk to Terry Teachout about The Band.

Introducing the Band
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest Terry Teachout, drama critic for the Wall Street Journal, author of the plays “Satchmo At The Waldorf” and “Billy And Me,” and author of, among others, The Skeptic: A Life of H.L. Mencken and Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington. Follow Terry on Twitter at @TerryTeachout, check out his excellent books of cultural and musical criticism here, and read his most recent work for the WSJ here.

Terry’s Music Pick: The Band
This week the gang hops on board the mystery train and takes a journey deep into the unknowable heart of America as they discuss The Band, one of the true sui generis phenomena of the rock era. The Band is a rock group that, despite their relatively short (and variable) major-label career, has called forth more profound verbiage from music and cultural critics than most other North American artists save Bob Dylan, so the gang understands that they are walking paths already trodden solidly into shape by others (hello, Greil Marcus!). Nevertheless, attention must be paid: Terry, a child of the ’50s growing up in southeast Missouri, tells the story of growing up in a non-‘rock’ household and suddenly becoming cognizant of the great cultural ferment playing out on the radio and on vinyl. An early ’70s purchase of the original edition of the Rolling Stone Record Guide having piqued his interest, he mail-ordered The Band’s first two albums and nothing was the same after that.

Terry talks about how, as he went on to become a gigging jazz bassist in his college days and afterwards, he returned to much of the rock he had absorbed earlier to find it trite and ephemeral….but what had not aged for him was The Band’s deeply authentic take on the American tradition. Jeff comes from a much later generation (born in 1980, a tail-end Gen X’er) but feels exactly the same way despite telling a different story, one about being exposed to The Band (simultaneously with Dylan) by his father, who was a Sixties folkie at heart. All agree about how preternaturally uncanny The Band’s skill was at creating music and lyrics that evoked the true, beating heart of the American historical experience — music both current and modern, yet inexplicably timeless — despite the legendary irony that 4/5ths of the group were actually Canadians.

From the Hawks to The Basement Tapes: The Pre-History
Jeff argues that few artists have an actual history more compelling than The Band’s pre-history, and Terry agrees. Their story begins as a group that came together piece-by-piece in the early Sixties as the backing ensemble for Ronnie Hawkins (a rockabilly musician from Arkansas who made his name playing in Ontario, Canada, bringing people an authentic sound otherwise unavailable in the Great North). Rick Danko (bass), Richard Manuel (piano), Garth Hudson (organ/keyboards), and Robbie Robertson (guitar) were all from the Toronto area; only Levon Helm (drums) was an American born-and-raised — and, tellingly, a Razorback just like Hawkins. After they struck out on their own as Levon & The Hawks, they recorded a series of singles that made no impression on the charts but came to the attention of one Bob Dylan, who had just decided to shake off the shackles of folk-protest music and was looking for a touring band.

What happened next is truly the stuff of music legend, and yet the legend is actual history: working as Dylan’s backing band during the moment of his most transcendent cultural importance, they participated in the recordings of the Blonde On Blonde (1966) era, and then went on tour with him as he visited the United Kingdom and played one of the most infamously confrontational series of concerts in the history of modern music. The protest-music lovers and Trotskyists roundly booed Dylan and The Band on a nightly basis for “selling out” to electrified music — “JUDAS!” — even as they were churning out a miasma of sound that still sounds to this day like (to quote Dylan himself) “thin white mercury music.” Levon Helm actually bowed out of the tour, tired of the brickbats he’d received on Dylan’s American gigs and unwilling to play music being denounced as the second coming of the man who sold out Christ. (Adding to the legend of the group, he ducked out of the music business entirely and went to work on an oil rig in Louisiana.)

The true story of The Band as an independent entity (outside of Levon & The Hawks) really begins after this point, when Dylan crashed out of the music scene in 1967 (nominally in a motorcycle accident, but more accurately in a bid to escape from the pressure of the unanswerable expectations placed upon him) and began recording demos with The Band in the basement of a curiously-colored house in Woodstock, NY. These of course became The Basement Tapes (perhaps the most famous bootleg recording of all time, before they saw an adulterated release in 1975 and a full and proper one in 2015). Jeff talks about how Robbie Robertson must have been influenced by watching Dylan come in, day after day, with traditional ballads, obscure covers, and then finally with new lyrics that were entirely out-of-step with the prevailing psychedelic trends of the time. (The way he set Richard Manuel’s “Tears Of Rage” to a lyrical theme of parents heartbroken by the callousness of an ungrateful daughter is the quintessence of this.)

We Can Talk About It Now
At this point the show notes will become briefer and less narrative, simply because The Band’s main-label career begins and all agree that this is music that speaks so eloquently for itself that, outside of our discussion on the podcast, too much further commentary feels pointless. Music From Big Pink (1968) is that rare musical earthquake that still retains its power to shock a half-century later: it felt so natural, so fundamentally real — as Scot says, “people conversing with each other about things that matter” — that it shook the entire pop/rock firmament out of its bloated psychedelic complacency and hastened the dissolution of several major bands (most notably Cream and The Beatles). Jeff singles out “Tears Of Rage” and “We Can Talk,” Scot singles out “The Weight” and “Lonesome Suzie,” and Terry still thrills to “Chest Fever,” but these citations are as beside the point as those for the next few albums will be; you quite simply need to hear and absorb Music From Big Pink, and you are not musically literate unless you have. There are only handful of pop/rock albums that actually ALTERED the shape of the music scene and sent many of its top talents off on a different course. This is one of them.

History As Mystery
As great as Music From Big Pink was (and as much of a cultural landmark it was), The Band (1969) is *still* incomprehensible as a follow-up: one of the most perfect albums in the history of popular music. Jeff, Scot, and Terry really want to make clear that this is not casual hyperbole. This is not fannish enthusiasm (Scot in fact thinks that The Band is TOO good, because it overshadows everything else they subsequently did). What the gang discusses during this segment is one of the finest albums ever recorded, a magical document of the reality and myth and mystery of the American experience, effortlessly running north to south, east to west, from post-bellum Virginia to the midwestern Grange to storm-battered Cleveland to Lake Charles, LA. Listen to Terry, Scot and Jeff discuss the individual songs — “Rockin’ Chair,” “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” “When You Awake,” “King Harvest,” etc. — but most of all please listen to this album. It is as if magical spell is being worked upon you.

N.B. Jeff and Terry both agree that Joan Baez’s (more well-known, hit single) version of “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” is on the shortlist of the Most Benightedly Awful Covers Of All Time.

See The Band with the Stage Fright
Stage Fright (1970) is the moment where most people commonly signal the downfall of The Band after their alchemical glory of 1966-1969), but Terry insists that this is one of his favorites. John Simon is missed as producer, yes, but Terry especially singles out “Daniel And The Sacred Harp” as a powerful allegory. Jeff agrees that the darkness of Stage Fright is immediately obvious (drug problems, Richard Manuel’s psychological recession from the core of the band, particularly as a songwriter), and frankly dislikes the entire first half of the record. Robbie Robertson (then asserting himself as the group’s sole songwriter, filling the gap left by Manuel and Danko) even wrote a song about Manuel’s state of mind: “The Shape I’m In.” But Jeff emphasizes that the album’s title track is among their greatest songs, and that “The Rumor” is the beautiful sound of the curtain falling on The Band’s era greatness.

The Wilderness
The Band’s fourth album Cahoots (1971) is almost universally panned by critics, but Jeff ruefully admits that he doesn’t it dislike as much as he’s supposed to. And Scot and Terry agree, at least insofar as “Life Is A Carnival” (with its horn arrangements) and “4% Pantomime” (with its prime-era Van Morrison) is concerned. Furthermore, “When I Paint My Masterpiece” (with Levon on lead vox) may actually be their best Bob Dylan cover. That said, it cannot be denied that the rest of this album is almost appallingly generic…not bad, per se, but generic. Scot speaks up in favor of “Smoke Signal” and Terry wants to single out “The River Hymn” as well but, as Terry says, this is the undeniable point where The Band (in his words) “goes out of focus.”

This was clearly evident than in their next release, Moondog Matinee (1973), an album of “classic covers.” It has long been Jeff’s personal thesis than unless your name is Bryan Ferry, the recording of a “covers album” is an admission of creative exhaustion (see: Bowie, Costello, etc.), but what is most depressing about Moondog Matinee is the fact that The Band should have actually nailed this kind of foray: who better to delve into the deep taproot of American rock culture than a group seemingly to the manor born? And yet so many of these covers are merely passable. The one exception, as Terry is at great pains to stipulate, is their version of “Mystery Train,” the classic ’50s rocker about the inarticulable loss of death (first made famous by Elvis, with a hundred subsequent takes to follow). Terry argues that, at least on this one song, The Band knew they had come up with something special, not only in terms of arrangement but in terms of performance and singing. And Terry is right.

At a loss for inspiration during this period, The Band fell back upon something comforting and familiar: working with Bob Dylan and supporting him as his backing band. A proper discussion of Dylan’s Planet Wave (1973) and the subsequent tour album Before The Flood (1974) will have to wait until Political Beats’ inevitable Dylan episode, but for the present moment the gang agrees that Robbie, Rick, Richard, Garth and Levon provide stunningly sympathetic accompaniment to Bob on the record, no more obviously so than on its most famous song “Forever Young.”

Northern Lights/Last Waltz
The story of The Band would look like an obvious tale of a long apprenticeship followed by an early transcendent peak and a quick flameout were it not for Northern Lights — Southern Cross (1975), their late-period comeback record which is arguably as good as anything they did after The Band. Jeff isn’t quite willing to go that far, but he does note that it’s not just the critically-acclaimed songs on here (“It Makes No Difference,” “Ophelia”) that are worthwhile, it’s also less heralded moments like the vaguely progressive “Jupiter Hollow.” Terry, drama critic that he is, compares Northern Lights to late period Edward Albee: he seemed dried-up after Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? and then, after years of deplorable playwriting, returned to form with Three Tall Women. So too did The Band here, and Scot agrees, saying that even on nominal trifles like “Ring Your Bell” they sound like they’re returning to the headspace of the early records.

The gang dispenses quickly with Islands (1976) a contractually-required record which feels likes the odds-‘n’-sods outtakes release that it is, but inevitably must spend time on The Last Waltz, the 1977 biopic/soundtrack that nominally was meant to herald The Band’s end as a touring act, but (rather obviously, if you’ve seen the film) also ended up heralding the end of The Band. The gang gives it a surprisingly mixed review given its critical reputation — the sort of ambivalent review that could only come from serious fans of The Band’s music and lyrics, as opposed to their reified ‘Hollywood’ myth — but all happily admit that some of these Last-Concert-Ever performances really are among the finest of their career…in particular, Levon drumming and singing his heart out on “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.”

Terry, Scot and Jeff each name their two key albums and five key songs by The Band.

Apr 02, 2018
Episode 28: Mark Davis / Paul McCartney and Wings

Scot and Jeff talk to Mark Davis about Paul McCartney and Wings.

Mar 25, 2018
Episode 27: The Cover Version Special

Introducing the Band
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with . . . no guest at all! Yes, this is a Very Special Episode of Political Beats, where the gang learns the true meaning of Christmas as well as a valuable lesson about the importance of friendship. In other words, this is PB’s first format-bucking episode where, instead of having a guest on to discuss their favorite artist, the subject is Scot and Jeff’s favorite cover songs of all time. And they’ve also canvassed the opinions of all their former guests as well!

Instead of a formal set of show notes like we would do for a typical episode, we feel it’s better to let this show’s surprises unfold themselves organically, but to give a general sense of how the show is structured, we begin by discussing Peter Gabriel, then move to covers of Beatles songs. Then: Al Green, coming and going; Motown; covers done with toy instruments; bands that jam econo; repurposed late ’60s pop; the great singer-songwriter book; total demolition/reconstruction cover versions; The Jimi Hendrix Problem; and finally our last few favorites that didn’t really fit into any category but just had to be cited to.

Throughout the show we refer to the picks of our former guests, but for posterity’s sake, here are the picks they submitted to us:

– SEAN TRENDE: The Gourds, “Gin & Juice”; Van Halen, “You Really Got Me”; Dwight Yoakum, “Ring Of Fire”

– TIM MILLER: Fugees, “Killing Me Softly”; Gary Jules, “Mad World”; Talking Heads, “Take Me To The River

– JANE COASTON: Nine Inch Nails, “Physical”; Soft Cell, “Tainted Love”

– DAN MCLAUGHLIN: Aretha Franklin, “Respect”; The Beatles, “Rock & Roll Music”; Bruce Springsteen, “I Want You (live 2/5/75)”

– JAMES POULOS: Helmet, “Army Of Me”; Creedence Clearwater Revival, “I Heard It Through The Grapevine”; The Byrds, “Mr. Tambourine Man”

– MARK HEMINGWAY: Jimi Hendrix, “All Along The Watchtower”; Eef Barzelay, “Faithfully”; Bettye Lavette, “Love Reign O’er Me”

– PHILIP WEGMANN: Jimi Hendrix, “All Along the Watchtower”; Johnny Cash, “Hurt”; Jeff Buckley, “Hallelujah”

– JAY COST: Joe Cocker, “Feelin’ Alright”; The Band, “Don’t You Do It”; The Rolling Stones, “Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)”

– MATT WELCH: Jimi Hendrix, “All Along The Watchtower”; The Beach Boys, “Sloop John B”; Jeff Buckley, “Hallelujah”

– ANTHONY FISHER: Merry Clayton, “Gimme Shelter”; Amy Winehouse & Mark Ronson, “Valerie”; Nirvana, “Ain’t It A Shame”

– EZEKIEL KWEKU: The Slits, “I Heard It Through The Grapevine”; McCoy Tyner, “My Favorite Things”; Woven Hand, “Ain’t No Sunshine”

– STEPHEN MILLER: Jose Gonzales, “Heartbeats”; Noel Gallagher, “To Be Someone (Didn’t We Have A Nice Time)”; The Flaming Lips, “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head”

– ERIC GARCIA: Jimi Hendrix, “All Along The Watchtower”; The Ramones, “Baby I Love You”; Emmylou Harris, “For No One”

– BRUCE ED WALKER: Santana, “She’s Not There”; Patti Smith, “Gloria”; Was Not Was, “Papa Was A Rolling Stone”

– JOHN J. MILLER: Calexico, “Love Will Tear Us Apart”; The Ataris, “Boys Of Summer”; The Afghan Whigs, “My World Is Empty/I Hear a Symphony (live medley)”

– KAROL MARKOWICZ: Sinead O’Connor, “Night Nurse”; White Stripes, “One More Cup Of Coffee”; Jeff Buckley, “The Other Woman”

– JULIE ROGINSKY: Derek & The Dominoes, “Little Wing”; Led Zeppelin, “Traveling Riverside Blues”; After The Fire, “Der Kommissar”

– ROBERT DEAN LURIE: Afghan Whigs, “Band Of Gold”; Bryan Ferry & Todd Terkel, “Johnny and Mary”; Isaac Hayes, “By the Time I Get to Phoenix”

– JAY CARUSO: Johnny Cash, “Hurt”; Stevie Ray Vaughn, “Voodoo Chile”; The Rolling Stones, “Not Fade Away”

Mar 19, 2018
Episode 26: Jay Caruso / Foo Fighters

Jeff and Scot talk to Jay Caruso about Foo Fighters.

Introducing the Band
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest Jay Caruso, editorial writer & board member at the Dallas Morning News and co-host of the Fifth Estate podcast. Follow Jay on Twitter at @JayCaruso, check out the Fifth Estate here, and read his most recent work here.

Jay’s Musical Pick: Foo Fighters
This week the gang dusts up the ashes from Nirvana’s auto-combustion as they cover Foo Fighters, Dave Grohl’s wildly successful follow-up band. Jay talks about how he got into the Fighters Of Foo via ’90s radio play, initially skeptical when he heard “Big Me” as “the next big single from the drummer of Nirvana” and then SOLD SOLD SOLD once “Everlong” checked, he bought The Colour Of The Shape, and was in for the long run. Scot, as a DJ, was familiar with them from jump, but for once it’s Jeff who is coming to a band on Political Beats as a true tyro: to him, the Foos were merely a namechecked “ex-Nirvana” band until *literally* three weeks ago, at which point he dove into their discography and realized that he’d been a terrible, terrible fool. Everyone appreciates the fact that, while they take their music seriously, they don’t take themselves seriously — which anyone who’s seen any of their music videos already figured out.

From mere colour to real shape: Foo Fighters and The Colour and the Shape
The gang discusses how the band’s first album emerged from the wreckage of Nirvana, with Grohl recovering from depression after Kurt Cobain’s suicide to go in and record a demo tape of his favorite self-penned songs all by his lonesome: drums, bass, guitars, vocals, the whole shebang. That tape was so good that it became, after a mere remix, Foo Fighters (1995): a debut album for a band that wasn’t, at that point, actually even a band. But everyone loves this one and considers it among the Foos’ best, particularly Jeff, who considers it a My Bloody Valentine tribute record in all but name outside of “This Is A Call,” which is the most Nirvana-like song Nirvana never recorded.

The big hosannahs are reserved for 1997’s The Colour And The Shape, however. Suddenly the Foo Fighters are an actual band: Grohl recruited the rhythm section of the newly-defunct Sunny Day Real Estate and added ex-Nirvana (touring version) guitarist Pat Smear — but then subtracted the Sunny Day drummer to re-record his tracks himself! — and came up with one of the finest albums of the late ’90s, and one of the most long-lasting as well. We’ve collectively forgotten the vast majority of the alt-rock/hard-rock acts from that era, but Shape lives on, all the way from “Dolls” to “New Way Home.” Jeff adores the whiplash contrasts of “My Poor Brain” and the earned anthemicism of “My Hero,” while Scot and Jay both single out “Everlong.” Scot and Jeff strongly disagree about the merits of “Hey, Johnny Park!” (“in my notes, there’s a big equals-sign saying ‘Goo Goo Dolls'” — Jeff), but there is universal agreement about the utterly consistent greatness of the rest of Colour And The Shape, whether it’s “Monkey Wrench,” “Up In Arms,” or “Wind Up.”

Something Left to Lose
Opinions differ about the Foo Fighters’ 1999 follow-up (recorded as a drums/guitar/bass trio) There Is Nothing Left To Lose. Jeff thinks this is nearly as good as The Colour And The Shape, and labels the two-song sequence of “Generator” and “Aurora” as the backbone of the Foos’ entire career. Scot thinks this LP reminds him most of The Lemonheads, but strongly dislikes “Breakout.” Jay (a drummer himself) praises the addition of Taylor Hawkins on drums. And everyone loves “Learn To Fly” especially the ridiculously goofy music video (the final three seconds of which, freeze-frame and all, tell you everything you need to know about how down-to-earth the Foos are).

The band famously dislikes the follow-up album One By One (2002), though Jeff (the newbie listener) actually thinks it’s an unfair rap. The Foo Fighters re-expand back to a four-piece by adding Chris Shiflett on guitar, and come up with two radio-dominant singles in “All My Life” and “Times Like These” (you know it as “oh…I’m a new day rising” song). But while Scot, Jay and Jeff all agree that the back-end of this album is sludgy and unmemorable, Jeff really thinks “Tired Of You” and “Halo” are excellent songs.

Foo Fighters: In a Folk Mood
The header there is a reference to the infamous Pat Boone: In A Metal Mood record, which is how all three of the gang (including a hardcore Foos fan, a conversant listener, and a sympathetic neophyte) think about fully half of the unfortunate In Your Honor (2005). Honor makes the mistake of dividing itself into two discs (the Foos’ longest record to date), the first electrified and heavy, the second acoustic and poncy. Scot actually thinks disc 1 on In Your Honor is among the Foos’ best material, particularly the three-song run of “No Way Back,” “Best Of You,” and “D.O.A.” But they all agree that the second ‘acoustic’-ish disc is as close to embarrassing as the Foo Fighters ever got, almost entirely unrelieved by a single decent song.

Patience Rewarded
Jeff argues that Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace (2007) is a massive upswing from the doldrums of In Your Honor, and Jay is on board too. Scot isn’t so sure — he prefers the “rock” half of In Your Honor — but what everyone agrees on is the monumental impressiveness of “The Pretender,” the album’s leadoff track. (“The Foo Fighters that I fell in love with are back'” — Jay.) Combining subtly-deployed strings with a truly compelling song-structure and at least three separate memorable hooks, “The Pretender” announced that Grohl was not done as a songwriter. Jeff also is a big fan of “Let It Die” and particularly the wonderfully goofy “Cheer Up Boys (Your Make Up Is Running),” a pure pop delight that should be ranked among their greatest hits.

There was some disagreement about the merits of Patience. But none of the gang disagrees about Wasting Light(2009), an album so shockingly great, so late in the Foo Fighters’ career, that both Jay and Jeff argue that buttresses any argument to be made about them as a truly great band. Back to basics, recording analog in Grohl’s garage with Butch Vig behind the board, Wasting Light is a brutally powerful tour of everything that made the Foos worth hearing up until this point: naggingly memorable hooks, overwhelming (yet still well-measured) sonic attack, and an appealing lack of bombast. “Rope” comes in for major praise by Scot and Jay; Jay and Jeff both salivate over the Bob Mould collaboration of “Dear Rosemary”; everyone loves “Arlandria”; and “I Should Have Known” is the song about Kurt that music journos had been accusing Dave Grohl of secretly writing for 14 years.

Sonic Highways to Concrete And Gold
The Foos’ two most recent albums get far more mixed reviews from the gang, but recency bias is partly in effect. Scot and Jeff don’t have much good to say about the odd conceptual music travelogue Sonic Highways (2014) — Scot does like “Something From Nothing” — but Jay argues that the album makes a heck of a lot more sense if you watch the 8-hour documentary upon which the recordings ultimately released on the record were based. Jeff is skeptical about having to invest that much time for a 42 minute record that seems otherwise unprepossessing. The same applies, at least in Jeff’s opinion, to the Foos’ very recent release, Concrete And Gold (2017): moderately interesting music that doesn’t repay too much attention. Jay notes the lead single “Run” is a seeming answer song to Wasting Light‘s, “Walk,” and contends that everything on it sounds far better live than on the record.

Jay, Scot and Jeff each pick their two key albums and five key songs from Foo Fighters.

Mar 12, 2018
Episode 25: Ezekiel Kweku / Talk Talk

Scot and Jeff talk to Ezekiel Kweku about Talk Talk.

Introducing the Band
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest Ezekiel Kweku, politics editor at New York magazine. Follow Ezekiel on Twitter at @TheShrillest, and read his work here.

Ezekiel’s Music Pick: Talk Talk
What if one of the most important, most rewarding bands of the 1980s was a band you had most likely never heard of, or knew only as a one-hit wonder? The gang argues this week for the genius of Talk Talk, which many (if not most) listeners know, if at all, from a No Doubt cover song. But while Scot is new to them, Ezekiel and Jeff are hardcore fans and will argue that this band — widely acknowledged by musicians and critics as one of the most influential of its era, in the long run — are one of the finest, most moving and transcendent, groups of their era or any era for that matter. Beginning as catchy UK synth-pop and ending as one of the most profoundly unique progenitors of post-rock, Talk Talk followed a singular evolution that makes them one of the most fascinating bands of the decade. From The Party’s Over in 1982 all the way to Laughing Stock in 1991 (or Mark Hollis in 1998), Talk Talk worked its way from worldwide popularity to intensely beloved insular niche jazz-art-rock, with every step along the way perfectly understandable in light of the prior one.

Ezekiel argues, intriguingly, that Talk Talk isn’t necessarily a band for everyone; he doesn’t mean that in the condescending hipster sense, rather in the sense that their music begins in one niche genre (early ’80s New Romantic/postpunk synthpop) and ends in another (early ’90s visionary jazzy post-rock), so it isn’t exactly Top 40 hit material. But Jeff, ever-voluble proselytizer that he always is, disagrees: this music should be for everyone, he thinks, and if he can introduce just one more person to The Colour Of Spring or Spirit Of Eden, then he’s done God’s good work. Jeff also notes that Ezekiel (who has a background as a DJ) made a fantastic, beautifully sequenced mix of artists influenced by (or influencing) Talk Talk called “Watershed,” and we recommend it heartily to you.

All You Do to Me is Talk Talk: the Synth-pop Years
Talk Talk began life as a synth-pop band springing out of the same ’80s UK ‘New Romantic’ scene that spawned Flock Of Seagulls, Culture Club, and Duran Duran…but right from the jump there was something ineffably different about them. Maybe it was the songcraft, which was a well-considered cut above the rest of their peers despite the occasionally dated synth line on their earlier records. Maybe it was lead singer/songwriter Mark Hollis’ remarkably breathy vocal approach: a man who sounded for all the world like he was inhaling his own life essence every time he sang a note. Or maybe it was just the fact that they were one of the rare groups (in the USA, at least) score the legendary ‘trifecta’: a hit single/album/band all sharing the same name. (As Jeff authoritatively announces: “‘Talk Talk!’ Off the album Talk Talk! By the band Talk Talk!”)

But while the gang agrees that The Party’s Over (1982) is merely adequate as a debut — halting, a bit chintzy, and dated aside from the still-memorable hit single “Talk Talk” and “Today” — they also agree that its follow-up It’s My Life (1984) is a major leap forward. Unless you, intrepid listener, are a big post-rock/art-rock fan, you know Talk Talk primarily through No Doubt’s cover of their hit “It’s My Life” (which Ezekiel still rates as one of their best songs), but the ominously nagging “Dum Dum Girl” and “Tomorrow Started” (where Jeff notes the ‘hook’ is merely a two-note guitar, oscillating up and down) are every bit as good. And “Renee” is, as Ezekiel points out, the first moment where Mark Hollis embraces the idea of ‘space’ and quietness within his productions.

Chameleon Day: Talk Talk Discovers the Colour of Spring
One thesis that both Jeff and Ezekiel are at pains to emphasize during this episode is just how smoothly natural (even telegraphed) Talk Talk’s evolution from album to album was, no matter how radical those shifts must have seemed at the time. In retrospect, you can clearly hear the seeds of what was to come embedded within the songs on It’s My Life. Still, it’s hard to overemphasize what a massive leap forward The Colour Of Spring (1986) was — a masterpiece of the decade, an album that all three of the gang emphatically agree on, and to this day an album Jeff has been known to thrust upon unsuspecting strangers with a creepily zealous gleam in his eye. Ezekiel starts by noting that the opening seconds of the first song, “Happiness Is Easy” are the moment where listening chronologically through Talk Talk’s discography pays off: suddenly they are breathtakingly organic, acoustic, and touchingly original (the purity of slightly out-of-key children’s choir in the chorus slays Jeff every time). Scot is bowled over by the painstakingly methodical unfurling of “I Don’t Believe In You.” “Life’s What You Make It” was a hit single written to order, proving (as Ezekiel speculates) to Mark Hollis that he could do it if he wanted. And “Time It’s Time,” which closes the album on a storm of keyboards, harmonica, church choir, and *children’s recorder*, may just be Talk Talk’s single most transcendent moment — at least within the bounds of standard song format. The Colour Of Spring sold two million copies worldwide and was Talk Talk’s biggest commercial hit, and yet few today are familiar with it in the way they should be. We plead with you: buy this album.

The Rainbow: Spirit Of Eden
Spirit Of Eden (1988) is an album that the gang spends several minutes discussing and trying to describe, but honestly, it describes itself more eloquently than any them can properly muster. A massive left-turn (even though, again, the turn was telegraphed by songs like “April 5th” and “Chameleon Day”) from the commercially potent fusion of art-rock and pop of The Colour Of Spring, Eden was essentially a six-song suite fusing rock with neo-classical, jazz, and post-rock conceits into one preternaturally organic whole. There are songs here, to be sure, and lush melodies and constructions to marvel in, but you will spend days with this record until you realize, for example, where “The Rainbow” (Scot’s favorite) end and “Eden” begins, or where “Eden” ends and the cold-hot explosion of “Desire” begins. (Tellingly, on the original vinyl release all three songs were tracked as one unbanded whole on Side A.)

After the Flood; Laughing Stock and Mark Hollis
For those who thought Spirit Of Eden was just a bit too beholden to pop/rock commercialism, Talk Talk presents their swan-song Laughing Stock (1991): a six song record that has completely slipped the surly bonds of formal song-structure, a series of lengthy sonic collages assembled via post-production into “tracks.” This is one of the most beloved and influential albums of the last thirty years among tastemakers, critics, and (most importantly) musicians…but it is it for everyone? Jeff for one is not so sure; despite loving this sort of music on general principle, he finds it to be more unfocused and discursive than Spirit Of Eden, with two key exceptions that the rest of the gang also agree upon: the hypnotic churn of “After The Flood” and the wind-in-the-willows breeze of “New Grass.”

Mark Hollis (1998), delivered years after Talk Talk had been formally dissolved and almost as if by surprise, is the sound of Mark Hollis almost consciously trying to fade away, and daring you to follow along (Ezekiel: “if you put it on in the background, you can easily forget it’s playing”). None of which should be taken as criticism.

Ezekiel, Scot and Jeff each name their two key albums and five key songs by Talk Talk.

Mar 05, 2018
Episode 24: Eric Garcia / AC/DC

Jeff and Scot talk to Eric Garcia about AC/DC.

Introducing the Band
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest Eric Michael Garcia, reporter for Roll Call. Follow Eric on Twitter at @EricMGarcia, and read his work here.

Eric’s Musical Pick: AC/DC
The gang breaks out their schoolboy uniforms and disconcertingly tiny shorts as they get dosed with ten thousand volts of AC/DC, one of the quintessential hard-rock groups of all time. After an opening debate on whether they’re properly an Australian or Scottish band, Eric, Scot and Jeff talk about the glory of brothers Angus (lead guitar) and Malcolm (rhythm guitar) Young as reliably great purveyors of riffage with a dark edge and a sure sense of ridiculousness. Jeff emphasizes that, while they were the key blueprint for Spinal Tap, it should never be forgotten that AC/DC was always in on the joke, with self-consciously silly over-the-top lyrics combined with deadly serious guitar playing. Eric celebrates them as a band without any pretensions that seemed made directly for “the knuckleheads like me.”

The Aussie Years: High Voltage, T.N.T. and Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap
From small things big things one day come, and all are agreed that AC/DC wasn’t really sure quite what they wanted to be on their Australian-only debut album High Voltage (1975). Their cover of “Baby Please Don’t Go” is pretty snappy, but elsewhere they experiment with glam-rock touches (and even make a laughable attempt at a ‘pretty’ power ballad in “Love Song”) and generally don’t seem to know where they’re going. Their lead singer, a chap named Bon Scott, seems to have very little idea of how to even carry a tune — but that would change very soon.

Everyone is much more positive about the band’s second album, T.N.T. (1975), where the band scores their first real classic in “It’s A Long Way To The Top” (featuring Bon on bagpipes) and generally sounds ten times more competent and self-assured. Only the rather stifled production (Jeff says “Live Wire” sounds like it was recorded in a tube sock) and a few obnoxiously repetitive songs — to wit, Scott’s ode to venereal disease “The Jack” — let it down. Scot loves the ‘boogie’ sound on this album – not quite the blazing metallic hard rock of their later career, still more openly bluesy. Eric draws attention to the interplay between Malcolm and Angus as guitar players, weaving in and out of one another all over this record, and particular on the title track (oi! oi! oi!).

While T.N.T. eventually gained international release outside of Australia (in an adulterated version that was, confusingly, called High Voltage and included two songs from the debut record), their 3rd album was rejected by American record executives and kept away from U.S. audiences. The irony is this record was Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap (1976), the record where many believe AC/DC really put it all together for the first time. (Certainly, most readers will be familiar with the fascinatingly charismatic grunting of the title track.) Scot avers that the record company might have had their reasons, not only because the album is still a bit unformed (with a few generic tracks), but also because it’s a deeply, deeply sleazy record, with songs like “The Squealer” about which the less you understand lyrically, the better. Jeff agrees but nevertheless cannot help loving wonderfully stupid dirty jokes like “Big Balls,” which is pretty much about exactly what you think it is. (Jeff declares Bon Scott to be “the Leonardo da Vinci of singing about balls.”)

Let There Be Rock: AC/DC Find Their Sound and are Fully Unleashed
A healthy quotient of fans would argue that the band didn’t really become the AC/DC we all know and love until Let There Be Rock (1977), an album that is a sonic revolution for the band. Not only is their playing tighter and more focused, but their production is improved tenfold and finally the guitar sound is that wild, overcharged, lightning-bolt AC/DC sound that went on to define the group for the rest of their careers. Jeff loves every song on this record, yes, even the one called “Crabsody In Blue” (no points for guessing what it’s about). But Scot loves the title track (which is self-mythologizing sort of ‘gospel of rock & roll’ song that every self-respecting metal band needs) and points out that songs like these are long because Angus Young genuinely has interesting things to say. Jeff agrees and says he has never been more interesting than on “Whole Lotta Rosie,” and that his brother’s rhythm guitar is nearly as impressive.

Scot thinks that 1978’s Powerage might even be better, from its delightfully silly cover on downward. One of the few AC/DC albums that gets away from goofy sex songs and clowning around for more hardscrabble serious lyrical concerns by Bon Scott, the Young brothers match it with an all-out guitar assault on songs like “Riff Raff” and “Down Payment Blues.” There isn’t a single bad song on Powerage, and indeed Scot claims it as the best AC/DC album.

To Hell and Black Again
Enter Mutt Lange. Up until this point, AC/DC had been produced by the Youngs’ older brother George, but in a bid for a commercial breakthrough in the United States, they turned to the future Mr. Shania Twain and the result was Highway To Hell (1979), a record which accomplished the job in spades, largely due to its legendary title track becoming a massive radio hit. But Jeff and Eric insist it isn’t even close to the best song on the album: Jeff goes with the remarkable “If You Want Blood, You’ve Got It” (Scot agrees), while Eric is all about “Girls Got Rhythm.” But that only scratches the surface of Highway To Hell, where Lange’s production opens up new sonic worlds for the Young brothers to conquer with their guitar on songs like “Shot Down In Flames” and “Get It Hot.” The gang also discusses “Night Prowler” and the subsequent Richard Ramirez controversy that would erupt over it five years later.

Jeff makes it a point to salute what a fantastic rock singer Bon Scott finally became on Highway To Hell, a vast difference than his tentative beginnings back in 1975. This made his death in the beginning of 1980 that much more of a loss for the band – he was cut down in his prime. The man AC/DC found to replace him, Brian Johnson, was a freak of nature vocally: capable of shrieking the highest notes of the male range, at top volume, and in key. And the result was Back In Black (1980), an album that saw AC/DC recovering from the death of Bon Scott without missing a single beat. This is their most famous and best-selling album, with their single most famous song (“You Shook Me All Night Long”), and nothing the gang can say about it is going to change your opinion of it.

But the gang presses on anyway, because they love the dickens out of this from start to finish. Jeff explains that Back In Black is the most *ridiculous* rock album of all time, a riotously funny joke of insanely extreme hyper-riffage, hyper-sexuality, and hyper-activity that directly inspired Spinal Tap (“Let Me Put My Love Into You” is simultaneously one of the most absurdly on-the-nose lyrics in history and an amazing hard-rock song). Eric loves “Hell’s Bells” and Scot thinks “Back In Black” (the title track) may be one of the band’s most effective moments ever. You probably own this album already. If you don’t, you probably should.

AC/DC’s Lost Decade, then Sudden Revival on The Razor’s Edge
The gang rolls through the post-Back In Black years with a gimlet eye, pointing out that even though For Those About To Rock We Salute You (1981) may have gone to #1 in the Billboard Charts (the band’s only number one record), the album itself is distressingly generic, and sounds like AC/DC has run out of ideas for the first time in their career. Flick Of The Switch (1983) is even worse, a back-to-basics album that Jeff, alone among the gang, is willing to defend. But nobody has a good word to say about the appalling Fly On The Wall(1985), where Brian Johnson’s vocal cords have totally given out on him and he sounds like a dying cat yawping along to generic hard-rock. The lone bright spot of this era is the fantastic one-off “Who Made Who,” which the band recorded for the soundtrack of the so-bad-it’s-good Stephen King-directed film Maximum Overdrive in 1986.

Nobody wants to spend much time on Blow Up Your Video (1988) either, but everyone is surprised by AC/DC’s big comeback The Razor’s Edge (1990), which doesn’t rise to the same heights as Back In Black (nothing ever could), but still has “Thunderstruck,” for cryin’ out loud.

The Final Years
The gang desultorily covers the denoument of AC/DC’s career, from the disastrous Ballbreaker (the long-delayed 1995 follow-up to The Razor’s Edge that dissipated whatever momentum the band might have had) all the way through to 2014’s Rock Or Bust.

Eric, Scot and Jeff each name their two key albums and five key songs by AC/DC.

Feb 19, 2018
Episode 23: John J. Miller / The Police

Scot and Jeff talk to John J. Miller about The Police.

Introducing the Band
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest John J. Miller, director of the Dow Journalism Program at Hillsdale College and national correspondent for National Review. His latest book is “Reading Around: Journalism on Authors, Artists, and Ideas.” Follow John on Twitter at @heymiller, buy his book here, and read his work here.

John’s Musical Pick: The Police
The gang shows up with peroxide dye jobs this week as they tackle one of the most successful acts of the entire postpunk era, The Police. Where to begin with a band universally agreed upon as one of the all-time greats? Well Jeff, for one, isn’t quite sure they belong in the pantheon; while he praises the impressive musicianship of Sting (bass, vocals), Stewart Copeland (drums) and especially Andy Summers (guitar), he argues that most of their albums are extremely hit-and-miss, with classics sitting alongside utter trash. John isn’t having any of this, however, and pronounces them one of the greatest bands of all time.

Faux-punks: Outlandos D’Amour
What every member of the gang agrees on is the greatness of The Police’s debut album, Outlandos D’Amour (1978). This is The Police masquerading as punks, despite the fact that their musical skills and individual pedigrees made it clear that they were far more suited to more complex material. Jeff notes that they really got into reggae (which became their early signature) because they wanted something more interesting than three-chord punk rock to play. But there nobody can say a seriously bad word against this album, even though Scot doesn’t care for “Born In The ’50s” and yes, there is always the song about the blow-up doll to reckon with. Otherwise, from “Next To You” all the way to “Masoko Tanga,” the sheer energy of Outlandos overwhelms all other considerations. “Roxanne,” “So Lonely,” “Can’t Stand Losing You,” “Truth Hits Everybody” – you know these songs and love them for a reason.

White Reggae: Reggatta De Blanc and Zenyatta Mondatta
With their combination of tricky guitarwork, complex polyrhythms, and reggae style, The Police had found an approach that was singular enough to call their own, and they leaned into it hard with Reggatta De Blanc (1979) — the title is a portmanteau that literally means “white reggae.” John thinks this is either their best album or close, while Scot identifies “Message In A Bottle” as the quintessential Police song. Meanwhile, Jeff is on the opposite side, labelling it as one of their worst albums, stuffed with faceless and unprepossessing material. Outside of “Message In A Bottle” and “Bring On The Night,” there is very little agreement between Scot and John and Jeff about the merits of these songs: Jeff and Scot both rate “Walking On The Moon” as one of The Police’s least deserving hits (“there’s barely a song there at all” — Scot) while John claims it as one of his favorites. What they all agree on is that Stewart Copeland is more than a mere drummer – his contributions to Reggatta are among the album’s highlights, particularly the spacey “Contact.”

Then it’s Jeff’s turn in the barrel as he goes to bat for Zenyatta Mondatta (1980) as one of The Police’s greatest records while John and Scot disagree. They find much of the music on this one to be forced and generic, whereas Jeff considers it the fullest expression of the great Robert Fripp-like sound that Andy Summers brought to the band with his guitarwork. “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da” may occasionally be mocked for its title, but Jeff hails it as a postpunk marvel, with “When The World Is Running Down” and “Driven To Tears” not far behind. Scot salutes the peppy ska of “Canary In A Coalmine” while otherwise downing on what he perceives as the increasing ponderousness of Sting’s socially aware lyrics.

Bring on the Horns: Ghost In The Machine
Disagreement reigns again as John’s favorite album, 1981’s Ghost In The Machine, is Jeff’s least by far. They all agree that “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” is a masterpiece (Jeff rates it as The Police’s single finest song) and that “Omegaman” is the best thing Andy Summers ever wrote, but from that point onward Jeff departs from the the gang by rating the horn-soaked middle 20 minutes of Ghost as among the most gormless and charmless music of the band’s entire career, pure filler. John couldn’t disagree more, citing to “Invisible Sun” and “Spirits In The Material World” as well as the funk workouts of “Demolition Man” and “Rehumanize Yourself” as peak Police. What all agree upon is that Ghost marks a fundamental shift in the band’s sound, away from the pure ‘trio’ presentation of the first three records toward a more “produced” sound.

Ending on Top: Synchronicity
Synchronicity is an album that needs little introduction, seeing as how most of the United States bought a copy of it during the years 1983-1985. Everpresent though The Police may have been in the middle reaches of the pop charts prior to this, nothing before or afterwards approached the era-defining dominance of “Every Breath You Take,” Sting’s ode to creepy obsession that features (in Jeff’s words) Andy Summers playing like a “postpunk Steve Cropper.” The rap on Synchronicity (aside from the pretensions of Sting’s lyrical conceits) is that the album as a whole fails to live up to the quality of its famous hit singles — “Every Breath,” “Wrapped Around Your Finger,” and “King Of Pain” — but John and Scot both love this record and even Jeff grudgingly admit that its less famous songs (like “Tea In The Sahara” and “Walking In Your Footsteps”) have grown on him over time. The gang agrees, however, that “Mother” is an abomination and “O My God” is undistinguished mush. They do single out “Synchronicity II” for special praise despite (and maybe even because of) the fact that it incorporates The Loch Ness Monster into the core of the song’s meaning.

The gang wraps up by discussing The Police’s ill-fated 1986 remake of “Don’t Stand So Close To Me” and Sting’s less-than-impressive solo career. While each of them can identify songs from Sting’s post-Police days that they enjoy, they agree that by and large it lacks the urgency or importance of his work with Copeland and Summers (Jeff identifies one exception, the immensely moving “All This Time”).

John, Scot, and Jeff each name their two key albums and five key songs by The Police.

Feb 12, 2018
Episode 22: Eli Lake / Steely Dan

Introducing the Band
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest Eli Lake, columnist for Bloomberg View. Follow Eli on Twitter at @EliLake and read his work here.

Elis Musical pick: Steely Dan

From Brill to Can’t Buy A Thrill: the formative years

Steely Dan tries to be an actual band, then thinks better of it: Countdown To Ecstasy and Pretzel Logic

The transition into studio obsessionalism: Katy Lied and The Royal Scam

Aja and Gaucho: from the perfection of jazz-rock fusion to the drawn-out hangover

Aftermath and reunion: Fagen’s The Nightfly and the reunion albums

Eli, Scot and Jeff each pick their two key albums and five key songs by Steely Dan

Feb 05, 2018
Episode 21: Bruce Walker / The Monkees

Scot and Jeff talk to Bruce Walker about The Monkees.

Introducing the Band

Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest Bruce Walker, policy advisor for the Heartland Institute, contributor to The Federalist and host of the Acton Institute’s “Upstream” pop-culture podcast.  Follow Bruce on Twitter at @BruceEdWalker.

Bruce’s Musical Pick: The Monkees
Here the gang comes, walking down the street, getting the funniest looks from everyone they meet as this week they discuss the Monkees. Long dismissed as a “fake band,” the Monkees underwent a critical renaissance in the late ’80s and early ’90s as a new generation of fans discovered the ’60s TV show that spawned them and the older generation of listeners who had once dismissed them returned to their music shorn the cultural preconception that once burdened them and discovered just how consistently great it was.

Bruce was there from the beginning, listening to them as a kid in the late ’60s, while Jeff and Scot (who are roughly the same age) remember them from their late ’80s revival era. All are pretty emphatic that this was a pretty great band, and are entirely uninterested in questions of “authenticity” that mean even less in the modern era than they did back in the ’60s, despite noting that the band had managed to wrestle complete creative control away from their creators after a mere year into their career.

The Prefab Four: The Monkees and More Of The Monkees
Between late 1966 and 1967, the one band that owned the U.S. charts wasn’t the Beatles or the Stones, it was The Monkees, who spent a whopping 36 weeks at #1 in Billboard between October of 1966 and December of 1967. The band started, obviously, with the TV show of the same name introducing the four guys: Mickey Dolenz (vocals, “drums”), Davy Jones (vocals, “percussion”), Peter Tork (vocals, “bass”) and Mike Nesmith (vocals, “guitar”). The scare-quotes are intentional, but not entirely accurate: Dolenz couldn’t play drums and Jones’ instrumental contributions were little more than the occasional shake of a tambourine, but Tork and Nesmith were actual musicians and Nesmith in particular had been playing (and pioneering) country-rock on the local Los Angeles scene for years before he got cast in the show. The stubbornly independent streak of the latter two would soon assert itself, but for these two records they were primarily singers, and aside from Nesmith (who as a songwriter got to record his own numbers) they were performing songs written for them by professional songwriters.

But so what? These are great albums. The gang rolls its eyes at schlock like “I Wanna Be Free” or “Gonna Buy Me A Dog,” sure, but you’d have to have a heart of stone not to enjoy “Last Train To Clarksville” or “Take A Giant Step,” or the assured proto-country-rock of Nesmith’s “Sweet Young Thing” and “Papa Gene’s Blues.” And More Of The Monkees (an album, as Scot points out, that the band didn’t even know was being released until they saw it on store shelves) is even better. “I’m A Believer” is arguably the best song Neil Diamond ever wrote (Bruce and Jeff want you to check out the Robert Wyatt cover version!), but that’s only the loss-leader; “Sometime In The Morning” is a lovely ballad, “She” and “Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow)” are incredibly catchy could-have-been singles, Nesmith’s “The Kind Of Girl I Could Love” again signals his country allegiances, and “Steppin’ Stone” is so punkish that it didn’t sound out of place being covered by the Sex Pistols.

Masters of Their Own Destiny: Headquarters and Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones
After the release of More Of The Monkees behind the band’s back, Tork and especially Nesmith put their foot down and demanded more artistic input into the music. To make a long story short (recounted by Jeff on the podcast) that is exactly what they got on Headquarters (1967)an album the band recorded with complete creative control, writing over half the songs and playing every single instrument themselves. A lot of Monkees fans consider this to be their best record, and while the gang doesn’t quite agree, they think it’s a great record nonetheless. Nesmith in particular is unleashed during these sessions, with four songs (“You Told Me,” “You Just May Be The One,” “Sunny Girlfriend,” and the B-side “The Girl I Knew Somewhere”) that rank among the Monkees’ finest. Tork gets his first songwriting credit and in doing so manages to come up with what would become the TV show’s end credits theme in “For Pete’s Sake.” And Mickey Dolenz, who had literally never written a song before in his life, ends up writing the album’s sole hit single, the ridiculous “Randy Scouse Git,” which Jeff observes sounds exactly like the sort of thing a non-songwriter would have come up with, and is all the more interesting for it.

As good as (and as important a declaration of independence) Headquarters was, the gang agrees that it’s not a patch on the remarkable Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones, Ltd. (1967), which the gang agrees should be regarded as one of the classic albums of the Sixties. Scot laments that people don’t recognize this record as one of the greats of its era, citing to Nesmith’s drug-pusher ode “Salesman” and intense psychedelic hysteria of “Words.” Bruce, Scot and Jeff all align on Nesmith’s “What Am I Doin’ Hangin’ ‘Round?” as one of the best songs of the Monkees’ entire career and one of the truly great founding tracks of the entire country-rock genre. Jeff amuses himself by pointing out to people how pivotal the Monkees were, via Nesmith, in laying the groundwork for country-rock that other bands like the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers later took credit for. But he’s got bigger fish to fry on Pisces, raving about Nesmith’s other amazing contributions to the record, namely the pastel sci-fi of “The Door Into Summer” and the heavy rock workout of “Love Is Only Sleeping.” And with all of that said, there’s still “Pleasant Valley Sunday” (one of the band’s finest singles), and “Goin’ Down” (their best B-side and a favorite of Scot’s). Buy this album.

Drifting Apart: The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees and Head
The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees (1968) was the first Monkees album released after the cancellation of their show, and (not coincidentally) the first one not to reach #1 on the Billboard charts. But that wasn’t the only reason for its lesser commercial performance: the gang agrees that this is an unusually fractured and unfocused record, the sound of the group splintering and going their separate ways, recording their own material with their own chosen musicians in separate studios. Nesmith’s four songs on The Birds sound almost like their own discrete EP that got trapped within a larger LP: each one showcases a different compositional style ranging from avant-garde psychedelia (“Writing Wrongs”) to yodeling 78RPM country-folk (“Magnolia Simms”), and all are fine songs…but it’s hard to see how they fit in amongst the almost uniformly unbearable harpsichord slop of Davy Jones’ contributions. (The sole exception: the hit single “Daydream Believer,” which tellingly was actually an outtake from the Pisces and is the only time Tork even appears on the record.) Dolenz’s work is more of a mixed bag, but the Grace Slick imitation of “Zor And Zam” and the bouncy “I’ll Be Back Up On My Feet” are both great, and “Valleri” was one of the band’s last hit singles.

The Birds should have marked obvious beginning of the Monkees’ decline phase, and it would have were it not for the singular Head (1968), the soundtrack to the Jack Nicholson-written/Bob Rafelson-directed Monkees movie of the same name. Jeff takes this time to make a serious pitch for the film Head as a bizarro landmark of counterculture cinema and a key signpost on the way to Easy Rider (which is not really a stretch given the people who made it), but he also praises the album as nearly The Monkees’ best despite the fact that it contains only six actual songs glued together by sound collaged excerpts from the film assembled by Jack Nicholson. The music on this record is, quite simply, among the best The Monkees ever recorded. (In the case of “As We Go Along,” it is among the best recorded by any band during the 1960s, period.) But the manner in which this music and sound is all assembled into a 29-minute-long record, with all of its cleverly self-aware juxtapositions and recursions, turns it into one of the more weirdly compelling (and inexplicably thought-provoking) cultural artifacts of the immediate post-hippie era. Compiled at the precise moment when the liminal innocence of the Summer Of Love was curdling over into the dark cynicism of the “1968 generation,” Head is that least expected and least comprehensible of things: a genuinely profound cultural statement from The Monkees, of all people.

Denouement: Instant Replay, Present, Changes and the Reunion Albums
The final two years of the Monkees’ original career feel mostly like a footnote to the musical bounty of the previous three. Tork leaves the group after Head, and the three-piece band delivers 1969’s Instant Replay, which barely troubles the lower reaches of the charts. Of interest, however, is the magnificent Nesmith-sung “I Won’t Be The Same Without Her” (an outtake from the sessions for the 1966 debut album, tellingly), and the have-to-hear-it-to-believe-it collaboration between Davy Jones and Neil Young (yes, that Neil Young), “You And I.” By the time The Monkees Present rolled around in late 1969, the Monkees’ record label had ceased really caring about the group, which freed Mike Nesmith to indulge in all of his country-rock desires. That led to at least one clear success: “Listen To The Band,” the last truly great song of the band’s career. The less said about 1970’s Changes, a pure contractual obligation, the better.

In subsequent years there have been several reunions, both partial and complete, of the band. The one the gang is most interested in singling out as (almost shockingly, after all these years) a legitimately fantastic album is 2016’s Good Times!. This is no mere cash-in, but a collection of remarkable songs brought to the band by everyone from Noel Gallagher and Paul Weller to XTC’s Andy Partridge and Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo. People: it will shock you how great a record this is.

Bruce, Scot and Jeff each name their two key albums and five key songs by The Monkees.

Jan 29, 2018
Episode 20: Guy Benson / Billy Joel

Scot and Jeff talk to Guy Benson about Billy Joel.

Jan 22, 2018
Episode 19: Karol Markowicz / Pulp

Scot and Jeff talk to Karol Markowicz about Pulp.

Introducing the Band
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest Karol Markowicz, opinion columnist for the New York Post and elsewhere. Follow Karol on Twitter at @karol and read her work here.

Karol’s musical pick: Pulp
The gang has decided to meet up in the year 2018 and marvel at how strange it is now that they’re all fully grown and discussing Pulp, a fixture of both Karol’s and Jeff’s younger days back in the 1990’s. Karol reminisces about living in Scotland during the era of Britpop and Pulp’s greatest ascendancy, and closing down countless dance floors and discotheque’s to the sounds of “Disco 2000,” while Jeff recalls the awkwardness of high school and how he couldn’t help but feel that songs like “Mis-Shapes” were speaking directly to him.

Ten Years in the Wilderness: Pulp 1981-1992
The gang discusses Pulp’s early, awkward years – a full ten-plus years of struggling as an on-again/off-again regional act for Jarvis Cocker and his band as they sought to figure out who they were as musicians, what the band’s lyrical vision would be, and how to actually write a catchy melody. From the wispy folk-rock of the 1983 debut It to the overwrought gothicism and gloom of Freaks and Master Of The Universe to the breakthrough (in terms of sonic blueprint at least) of Separations, an album that sat in the can for two years after its 1989 recording.

Pulp Put it Together: the Gift Recordings and His ‘N’ Hers
Almost miraculously, in 1992 Pulp finally figure out the right synth tones, the right guitar-layering, the right production, and the right songwriting craft: nothing in their previous discography had ever sounded as assured, joyful, well-produced, or instantly, memorably catchy as 1992’s “O.U. (Gone, Gone)” and this the moment where “modern” Pulp truly begins. That continues with His ‘N’ Hers (1994), which Jeff considers their finest record even if it’s the least well-known of their four mature-period works. “Lipgloss” may just be the best song they ever recorded.

Becoming Cultural Icons: Different Class and “Common People”
With the release of Different Class (1995) Pulp go from being just another band on the Britpop scene to cultural immortality in the United Kingdom. Jeff thinks this their most overrated record, but Karol and Scot think he’s seized with contrarian folly and rank it as Pulp’s greatest. That’s in keeping with general critical opinion in the UK, where Different Class is ranked as one of the best (if not the best, full stop) albums of the 1990s, and certainly the one with the most sociological/cultural import. That import can be heard in all of the remarkably precise, savagely observant Jarvis Cocker lyrical commentaries of this record (“Sorted For E’s & Wizz,””Bar Italia,” “I Spy,” etc.), but no more perfectly so than on “Common People”: a song that encapsulates its era, both lyricaly and musically, better than all others.

The Sound of Someone Losing the Plot? This Is Hardcore
Pulp’s labored follow-up to Different Class was This Is Hardcore (1998), a record far darker and more crabbed than its predecessor. Gone are the glossy upbeat anthemic sounds of songs like “Disco 2000” or “Common People,” replaced with tales of sodden sexuality, suffocatingly paranoid grooves like “The Fear” and the title track, and the occasional lament about being over-the-hill (the glorious “Help The Aged”). Pulp’s mass audience fell off after this album, for obvious reasons, but the entire gang loves it and Scot and Jeff in particular rate it among Pulp’s best work (and Cocker’s best set of lyrics). They also take time to praise some of the non-album material from this era as well: Scot loves “Cocaine Socialism” (a scathing attack on the high decadence of Blairite Labour during the late ’90s) and Jeff rhapsodizes about “Like A Friend.”

Pulp Crashes Out at Dawn: We Love Life
Pulp’s final record, 2001’s We Love Life, is usually treated as a junior partner to the trio of records that precede it, but Jeff’s not sure that’s fair. He thinks this is their most underrated record and finds it to be a strangely appealing act of coming full circle for the band: after years of synth and dance-based musical approaches, Pulp’s last album feels in some ways like a bit of a throwback to their first, It: a guitar-based album full of neo-acoustic folk touches and gentle strings. The only failing is that Cocker doesn’t seem to have written melodies as good as the instrumental tracks which surround this music.

Karol, Scot and Jeff each pick their two key albums and five key songs by Pulp.

Jan 15, 2018
Episode 18: Julie Roginsky / Led Zeppelin

Scot and Jeff talk to Fox News’s Julie Roginsky about Led Zeppelin.

Dec 25, 2017
Episode 17: Stephen Miller / Oasis

Scot and Jeff talk to Fox News’s Stephen Miller about Oasis.

Introducing the Band
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest Stephen Miller, co-host of The Conservatarians podcast, opinion contributor to FoxNews.com, formerly of National Review and IJR. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @redsteeze and read his work here and here.

Stephen’s Musical Pick: Oasis
It’s time to break out the cigarettes and alcohol as the gang talks about one of the definitive Britpop acts (and arguably one of the biggest bands in the world during the 1990s), Oasis. Stephen cheerfully predicts this will be our “least popular episode ever” as he labels Oasis a band that people love to hate, despite the objective quality of their music. Stephen celebrates them not only as one of rock’s great “troll” bands (anyone familiar with the public interviews and appearances of brothers Liam (lead vocals) and Noel Gallagher (lead guitars, vocals, songwriting) will immediately understand the label), but as a refreshingly straightforward answer to the pretensions of the rest of contemporaneous rock scene: a bunch of guys who unashamedly wanted to be rock stars and had the songs to match. Jeff reminisces about being on the other side of the great Blur vs. Oasis “Britpop Wars” of the mid-’90s (truthfully, he was with the weirdos and theater-kids who loved Radiohead), and how it kept him from giving them a chance for years.

“The band you were waiting for your entire life”: Definitely Maybe and the Creation of Britpop
Definitely Maybe (1994) eleven tracks of straight-ahead, tightly-constructed three-chord meat & potatoes RAWK — is considered by many Brits to be one of the greatest debut albums of all time, and none of the gang are going to run counter to the conventional wisdom here. Jeff thinks it might just be a touch overrated (he thinks it’s a tad monochromatic, and oh lord the brickwalled sound can get hard on the ears), but that’s about it for criticism; Scot labels this their finest record. Jeff celebrates the gloriously boneheaded lyrics of songs like “Supersonic” and Stephen agrees, chalking it up to the sound of a band who simply wasn’t even the slightest bit insecure about who they were or what they wanted to be. Stephen also points out how refreshing it was to hear Definitely Maybecoming out of high self-seriousness of the Grunge era (In Utero, Vs., even the miserabilism of Pablo Honey-era Radiohead). Everyone cites to “Columbia” as the finest song on the album (though Jeff regrets now he didn’t mention “Slide Away,” which is nearly as good), and Scot considers “Live Forever” to be their greatest anthem.

KEY TRACKS: “Rock ‘N Roll Star” (Definitely Maybe, 1994); “Columbia” (Definitely Maybe, 1994); “Live Forever” (Definitely Maybe, 1994); “Supersonic” (Definitely Maybe, 1994); “Cigarettes & Alcohol” (Definitely Maybe, 1994); “Digsy’s Dinner” (Definitely Maybe, 1994); “Slide Away” (Definitely Maybe, 1994); “Whatever” (A-side of single, 1994)

First Britain, then the world: Oasis conquer the globe with (What’s The Story) Morning Glory
Definitely Maybe may have made Oasis megastars in Great Britain, but it made only minor ripples in the United States (where their tour was aborted when Noel quit the band after several incidents of asinine behavior by his brother Liam). Their big breakthrough would have to wait until next year, when Oasis truly became one of the biggest bands on the planet with (What’s The Story) Morning Glory? (1995). Stephen is a bit tired of this record due to its ubiquity, but since Jeff was a latecomer to Oasis he never had the chance to get tired of it and loves nearly every single song on it, including, yes, “Wonderwall.” But it’s really the Beatley jangle of “She’s Electric” that makes him swoon, while Stephen prefers “Some Might Say” and Scot goes for the epic hook of “Don’t Look Back In Anger.” Stephen points out that bands like Blur and Radiohead may have been the choice of Oxford students and bedsit-room musos, but when the people of Manchester got together to publicly remember the lives lost in the recent Manchester terror bombing, it was “Don’t Look Back In Anger” that the crowd spontaneously broke out singing: this was music that resonated, and still resonates with the masses.

KEY TRACKS: “She’s Electric” ((What’s The Story) Morning Glory?, 1995); “Roll With It” ((What’s The Story) Morning Glory?, 1995); “Don’t Look Back In Anger” ((What’s The Story) Morning Glory?, 1995); “Cast No Shadow” ((What’s The Story) Morning Glory?, 1995); “Some Might Say” ((What’s The Story) Morning Glory?, 1995); “Wonderwall” ((What’s The Story) Morning Glory?, 1995); “Champagne Supernova” ((What’s The Story) Morning Glory?, 1995)

The Masterplan: Oasis as one of the great B-side acts of rock history

No understanding of Oasis’ career makes even the slightest bit of sense unless their stunningly impressive passel of otherwise unavailable B-sides are considered, which is what the gang does now. Many (but not all, by any means) were eventually released on the 1999 compilation The Masterplan, and that is probably the best place to collect most of the songs they reference, but Jeff loves the acoustic version of “Up In The Sky” (which he dopily misnames as the similarly titled “Underneath The Sky” during the show) and Stephen picks “D’Yer Wanna Be A Spaceman” as one of his five favorite Oasis songs — and you’ll have to go find the singles or the deluxe reissues if you want to hear those. Please listen to every one of these songs.

KEY TRACKS: “Up In The Sky (acoustic version)” (B-side of “Live Forever,” 1994), “D’Yer Wanna Be A Spaceman?” (B-side of “Shakermaker,” 1994); “I Am The Walrus (live June 1994)” (B-side of “Cigarettes & Alcohol,” 1994); “Half The World Away” (B-side of “Whatever,” 1994); “Talk Tonight” (B-side of ‘Some Might Say,” 1995); “Acquiesce” (B-side of “Some Might Say,” 1995); “Rockin’ Chair” (B-side of “Roll With It,” 1995); “The Masterplan” (B-side of “Wonderwall,” 1995)

Popping the Balloon: the Monumental Self-Indulgence of Be Here Now

Jeff notes that the only thing missing from the “rock excess” car-in-a-swimming-pool cover of Be Here Now(1998) is the giant bag of cocaine that clearly fueled the poor decisions made during this album’s recording sessions. (Scot: “it’s there, you just can’t see it because it’s already up their noses.”) Be Here Now is usually treated as one of most legendary own-goals in rock history: the universally-anticipated follow-up to one of the most beloved albums of the last 40 years that ended up as a spectacularly self-indulgent, flatulently long (72 minutes!) flop that failed to yield a single song the band considered good enough to put on their later “best-of” compilation Stop The Clocks (2006). And yet! The gang is willing to defend some aspects of Be Here Now. Yes, it’s hideously overlong — five of its eleven songs are over 7 minutes long, and not a single one is under 4m20s — and yes, the mix sounds like it was done amidst a blizzard of cocaine and whiskey. But there’s something interesting going with nearly every one of these songs, Scot, Jeff, and Stephen each come up with their attempt to ‘redo’ Be Here Now to make it palatable, but it’s Stephen’s (cut a bunch of songs and use some of the songs foolishly already given away for non-LP B-sides) that most tracks with Noel Gallagher’s own alt-history take on it. Also, Stephen reads from Noel’s Gallagher’s self-written edits to his own Wikipedia entry.

KEY TRACKS: “D’You Know What I Mean?” (Be Here Now, 1998); “My Big Mouth” (Be Here Now, 1998); “Stand By Me” (Be Here Now, 1998); “Don’t Go Away” (Be Here Now, 1998); “All Around The World” (Be Here Now, 1998); “Stay Young” (B-side of “D’You Know What I Mean?,” 1998)

Digging Out from the Mess: Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants and Heathen Chemistry
Neither critics nor bandmembers have much good to say about 2000’s Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants. (Noel Gallagher says nowadays it should never have been released, and that he was in a bout of songwriting lethargy due to recently detoxing from the drug-fueled insanity of the Be Here Now era.) But both Jeff and Scot are actually quite fond of Oasis’ turn towards woozy psychedelia, finding a far more interesting development that the band were given credit for at the time. Neither is nearly as impressed with its “back to basics” follow-up Heathen Chemistry (2002) with the exception of “The Hindu Times” and Liam’s “Songbird,” but Stephen loves “She Is Love” and Scot enjoys “Little By Little.”

KEY TRACKS: “F***in’ In The Bushes” (Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants, 2000); “Go Let It Out” (Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants, 2000); “Put Yer Money Where Your Mouth Is” (Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants, 2000); “Gas Panic!” (Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants, 2000); “Where Did It All Go Wrong?” (Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants, 2000); “The Hindu Times” (Heathen Chemistry, 2002); “Songbird” (Heathen Chemistry, 2002); “She Is Love” (Heathen Chemistry, 2002); “Little By Little” (Heathen Chemistry, 2002)

The Best Band You Never Heard in Your Life (If You’re an American): Don’t Believe The Truth, Dig Out Your Soul, and Oasis’ Collapse
Oasis’ last two albums are almost entirely unknown to American audiences, where they did middling business. But they were still huge stars in the United Kingdom and Don’t Believe The Truth (2005) was one of the fastest-selling albums of all-time in that nation, even in an era where CD purchases were quickly being eclipsed by illegal downloads. And the gang wants you to know that it’s a rather underrated record, particularly the delightful Kinks pastiche of “The Importance Of Being Idle.” Jeff is an equally big fan of Andy Bell’s chiming “Turn Up The Sun.” Jeff is also at pains to emphasize that this is the moment when Oasis became far more democratic in terms of songwriting contributions, mostly because Liam was finding his voice as a writer and drummer Andy Bell (formerly of the shoegaze act Ride) was a gifted songwriter in his own right. The gang is even more enthusiastic about Oasis’ swan-song Dig Out Your Soul (2009), a fantastic record that serves as a damn fine epitaph for the band, even if it wasn’t necessarily intended as one.

This leads up to the collapse of the band (short version: Liam behaving like a prat again, Noel finally saying “that’s it, I’ve had enough”), and therefore to wrap things up, the gang has a discussion about the elephant in the room: the wildly compelling, tabloid-famous sibling rivalry between Noel and Liam Gallagher. Is this the most entertaining sibling rivalry in all of rock history? (Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Black Crowes, and the Beach Boys all have compelling candidacies as well.) That gang thinks so, if only because both Liam and Noel are spectacularly fun (and extremely vulgar) interviews, but also because unlike, say, Tom and John Fogerty (who were truly estranged), you always get the sense that one day Noel and Liam will patch things up…and then promptly fall out with one another again next week.

KEY TRACKS: “Turn Up The Sun” (Don’t Believe The Truth, 2005); “Guess God Thinks I’m Abel” (Don’t Believe The Truth, 2005); “Lyla” (Don’t Believe The Truth, 2005); “The Importance Of Being Idle” (Don’t Believe The Truth, 2005); “Bag It Up” (Dig Out Your Soul, 2008); “The Turning” (Dig Out Your Soul, 2008); “The Shock Of The Lightning” (Dig Out Your Soul, 2008); “I’m Outta Time” (Dig Out Your Soul, 2008)

Stephen, Scot and Jeff each name their two key albums and five key songs by Oasis.

Dec 18, 2017
Episode 16: Josh Jordan / Pearl Jam

Scot and Jeff talk to Josh Jordan about Pearl Jam.

Introducing the Band
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest Josh Jordan, writer for various outlets. Follow Josh on Twitter at @NumbersMuncher.

Josh’s Musical Pick: Pearl Jam
Break out the flannels — it’s time for the gang to tackle a long overdue episode on Pearl Jam, the most durable (and arguably best — sorry, Nirvana fans) band of the famed Seattle grunge era of the ’90s. But Pearl Jam were so much more than just a “grunge” act, and have remained consistently great (as well as a legendarily top-shelf live act with a fanatical cult-like following) all the way up to the present day. Josh is almost a ‘ringer’ of sorts — a bona-fide megafan who has been to over 70 Pearl Jam shows since the mid-’90s. Josh talks about how he, like most people whose adolescence came during the early Nineties, got into Pearl Jam at the jump via Ten and immediately started using Eddie Vedder’s “poetry” in middle school English class. Jeff was of a similar vintage, but his fandom was interrupted: he fell off after Vitalogy when he discovered The Beatles and classic rock in high school, and only returned to them years later thanks to the fortuitous purchase of the well-curated compilation Rearviewmirror.

Ten, Vs., and Pearl Jam’s role in the Seattle grunge scene
Scot quickly covers the origin story of Pearl Jam: Seattle act Mother Love Bone collapses when its lead singer Andrew Wood dies of an overdose, surviving members Jeff Ament (bass) and Stone Gossard (rhythm guitar) recruit hugely talented lead guitarist Mike McCready into the fold, and a demo tape from San Diego-based sensitive surfer bro Eddie Vedder finds its way into their hands. Vedder was brought into the band just in time to add lyrics and lead vocals to a series of songs already written by Gossard and Ament, the result was Ten (1991) and the rest is history.

Perhaps surprisingly, the gang isn’t particularly enthusiastic about Ten, which most casual fans regard as Pearl Jam’s greatest album (it is certainly their most famous, one that nationally defined the sound of the grunge revolution). Jeff violently hates its quasi-hair metal anthems (even “Even Flow,” a great song, sounds like sludge on the record). He considers “Black” to be faux-sensitive tripe and is authentically offended by the terribleness of “Deep,” though he relents when it comes to “Jeremy” and the straight ahead dash of “Once.” Scot isn’t much more complimentary, noting that so much of PJ’s music is compulsively listenable but he never feels the need to return to Ten. Even Josh isn’t an enormous fan, though he defends many of these songs as live juggernauts (particularly “Release” and “Porch”). Josh notes that the album’s production (which feels more “late Eighties” than grunge) is the primary culprit, and that producer Brendan O’Brien (who joins the band on Vs.) was a savior for the group.

The gang is vastly more positive about Vs. (1993), an album that looms nearly as large in the legend of early ’90s grunge as Ten and which is approximately twenty times better-sounding and more consistent. Jeff calls this their “classic rock album”: Brendan O’Brien’s crisp production blasts away all of the chintzy reverb heard on Ten and the band comes up with a set of massively catchy, memorable hard-rock tunes. Jeff prefers the remarkably sensitive lyrical conceit of “Daughter” (Vedder writing from the point of view of a young girl) and the hilarity of “Glorified G” — if you’re gonna work political messages into your music, this is the way to do it: with a smile. Scot is all about the titanic chorus of “Dissident” and the propulsiveness of drummer Dave Abbruzzese’s “Go.” And as the gang remarks on how an album with so much cursing on it managed to get flood-the-zone radio airplay, Josh tells the story of trying to convince his dad that Eddie Vedder wasn’t singing exactly what he is actually singing on “Leash” by futilely showing him the CD’s censored lyric sheet.

KEY TRACKS: “Release” (Ten, 1991); “Even Flow (single version)” (A-side of single, originally from Ten, 1991); “Jeremy” (Ten, 1991); “Alive” (Ten, 1991); “Once” (Ten, 1991); “State Of Love And Trust” (Singles – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, 1992); “Go” (Vs., 1993); “Animal” (Vs., 1993); “Dissident” (Vs., 1993); “Daughter” (Vs., 1993); “Glorified G” (Vs., 1993); “Leash” (Vs., 1993); “Rearviewmirror” (Vs., 1993)

Pearl Jam revolts against their fame and nearly implodes: Vitalogy and No Code
Kurt Cobain’s 1994 suicide not only brought the curtain down on the Grunge Era with shocking immediacy, it forced Pearl Jam to stop short and reevaluate who they were, who they wanted to be, and where they were going. The result was 1994’s perversely compelling Vitalogy (1994), a record famous not merely for being so good but also for simultaneously being so, so terrible. Jeff is fascinated by the Jekyll-and-Hyde personality of Vitalogy; he considers it their first truly great, essential LP because half of its music is among the best this group would ever record…but the other half of the record is mind-bogglingly pungent offal, and quite clearly intentionally so. Everybody needs to hear “Corduroy,” “Not For You,” “Better Man,” “Nothingman,” etc. But this record also features flatulent abominations like “Tremor Christ,” “Satan’s Bed,” a boneheadedly stupid sound collage called “Hey Foxymophandlemama, That’s Me,” and a song where Vedder literally plays an out-of-tune accordion and mumbles about bugs for four minutes. Scot ventures that the band was trying to escape the shackles of their success by putting out such an intentionally compromised record. But the good half of Vitalogy is PJ’s best music: “Corduroy” is arguably the greatest rock song of the entire decade, Scot loves their Husker Du tribute “Spin The Black Circle,” Jeff talks about the emotional power of “Nothingman,” and Josh can’t quite believe that Eddie Vedder had “Better Man” in his back pocket for nearly a decade before finally letting the band record it.

Perhaps the real problem with Vitalogy was that the band was at war with itself; this was the era where Vedder was forcefully asserting himself as the leader and lead songwriter of a group he had invited to join a mere four years earlier, and it shows up not only in the strangeness of the record but in the songwriting credits, a full 50% of which are his alone. Vedder forced out the band’s drummer Dave Abbruzzese (for buying the wrong car, more or less — not a joke), incited a war with Ticketmaster that was doomed to failure, and forced Pearl Jam to take a hard left-turn into weirdness with their next record, No Code (1996).

Not that Jeff is complaining, though! He loves No Code, considering it not only Pearl Jam’s most underrated album but also one of their two best. There’s exactly one “classic PJ”-style rocker on No Code (the roaring “Hail, Hail,” which careens through a truly innovative chord progression in its riff/chorus) and the rest is a mixture of eastern-tinged mysticism, tribal beats from new drummer Jack Irons, soft electro-acoustic ballads, and surly, ostentatiously uncommercial punk and hard-rock songs. Lord, is it ever a delight. Jeff cites the entire first half of the album, but particularly salutes “Sometimes” (where PJ flips the script by opening on an ominously soft note), “Who You Are,” and “In My Tree”: four minutes of luminously rapturous catharsis. Scot points to the sequence of “In My Tree,” “Smile” and “Off He Goes” as the linchpin of the album: if you like them, you’ll like this record. Josh remembers radio DJs playing “Who You Are” as the leading single of No Code and making fun of how terrible it was (how little they knew); he suspects Pearl Jam was daring people not to buy this record, which they still did…but tellingly, this was Pearl Jam’s last #1 album during the CD era.

KEY TRACKS: “Not For You” (Vitalogy, 1994); “Spin The Black Circle” (Vitalogy, 1994); “Corduroy” (Vitalogy, 1994); “Last Exit” (Vitalogy, 1994); “Nothingman” (Vitalogy, 1994); “Better Man” (Vitalogy, 1994); “Long Road (live from The Concert For Heroes, September 21st, 2001)” (originally from Merkinball EP, 1995); “Sometimes” (No Code, 1996); “Hail, Hail” (No Code, 1996); “Off He Goes” (No Code, 1996); “Who You Are” (No Code, 1996); “In My Tree” (No Code, 1996)

Pearl Jam learn to live with themselves, and with their fame: Yield, Binaural and Riot Act
Jack Irons was more than just Pearl Jam’s new drummer; he was also a stabilizing force within the band, a bridge between Vedder and the McCready/Gossard/Ament contingent. Irons got them talking again and helped them establish a modus vivendi. That newfound internal peace shows up immediately on Yield (1998), and it’s telling that all three members of the gang agree: this is their greatest album. Scot, Jeff, and Josh can’t praise Yield enough, as Pearl Jam’s most consistent, effortlessly melodic effort, a record that combines muscular professionalism with a continuing ability to surprise and put a dazzling new spin on an old formula. Scot and Jeff rave about “Faithfull,” a song known only to the band’s fans, as the sine qua non of what made Pearl Jam great during this era: a mesmerizingly assured mid-tempo rock song that starts at a whisper and then raises its energy level until it explodes into a gale-force wall of sound in its chorus. Jeff also singles out “Brain Of J.” as one of the band’s greatest rockers and laughs about how his wife, unfamiliar with the band, immediately recognized “Given To Fly” as Christian Rock worship music by any other name when she first heard it. Josh speaks out in favor of some of Yield‘s more underappreciated songs like “Low Light” and “All Those Yesterdays.”

Binaural (2000) and Riot Act (2002) are records that divide the gang somewhat: Jeff likes both of these records quite a bit, but understands that they are flawed; what he appreciates is that even the songs that don’t work fail to work in interesting ways. Still, he singles out “Light Years” on Binaural as one of Pearl Jam’s most moving ballads. Scot thinks that Binaural is too compromised by failed experiments, but favors “Of The Girl,” as an experiment that works extremely well. Josh’s choice is “Parting Ways.” Riot Acthas much the same problem, but it kicks off with one of Jeff’s favorite pieces in the ghostly “Can’t Keep.” Jeff also ruefully admits to enjoying the anti-Dubya philippic “Bu$hleaguer” for the creativity of its music alone and wishes “Thumbing My Way” had closed the record. Scot wonders why “I Am Mine” isn’t more well-loved than it is. Josh is more negative on Riot Act than the others, citing “Get Right” and “Help Help” as being particularly obnoxious.

Between the discussion of Binaural and Riot Act the gang (and Josh in particular, veteran of countless Pearl Jam concerts) takes time to discuss the band’s live act and their continuing durability to the present day. This was the era where the band actually released every single show from their 2000 and 2003 tours commercially so that fans could get a professionally-recorded souvenir. They also debate which of Pearl Jam’s many drummers was their best.

Faithfull” (Yield, 1998); “Brain Of J.” (Yield, 1998); “Wishlist” (Yield, 1998); “No Way” (Yield, 1998); “Given To Fly” (Yield, 1998); “In Hiding” (Yield, 1998); “Low Light” (Yield, 1998); “Breakerfall” (Binaural, 2000); “Of The Girl” (Binaural, 2000); “Light Years” (Binaural, 2000); “Nothing As It Seems” (Binaural, 2000); “Insignificance” (Binaural, 2000); “Parting Ways” (Binaural, 2000); “Can’t Keep” (Riot Act, 2002); “Love Boat Captain” (Riot Act, 2002); “I Am Mine” (Riot Act, 2002); “Thumbing My Way” (Riot Act, 2002); “Bu$hleaguer” (Riot Act, 2002); “All Or None” (Riot Act, 2002)

Pearl Jam in the 21st Century: Pearl Jam, Backspacer, and Lightning Bolt
The gang’s discussion of Pearl Jam’s last three records keeps returning to this basic point: “huh, these albums are all surprisingly good, aren’t they.” Scot and Jeff in particular hadn’t paid nearly as much attention to PJ’s post-Riot Act era and were deeply surprised to return to these three records in the past week or so and be reminded how unfailingly consistent each one of them is. Jeff thinks Pearl Jam (2006) — usually known as the “Avocado” album because of its front cover image — is probably the weakest of them, but even there “World Wide Suicide” and “Gone” are both superb, and Josh rates “Inside Job” especially highly as perhaps the band’s finest album-closer. Jeff appreciates the brevity of Backspacer (2009), a 37 minute album from a band notorious for their inability to edit themselves, and Scot singles out the buoyant surfing-as-zen anthem “Amongst The Waves” and the likely unwitting Donald Rumsfeld tribute of “Unthought Known.” Really, Jeff argues, the only problem with Pearl Jam’s post-2002 material is that it lacks any real sense of risk: the extended time they now have to put these records together means that no howlers slip through, but that the sort of pressure that can churn up “Can’t Keep” or “Faithfull” isn’t on them, either.

KEY TRACKS: “World Wide Suicide” (Pearl Jam, 2006); “Gone” (Pearl Jam, 2006); “Inside Job” (Pearl Jam, 2006); “Johnny Guitar” (Backspacer, 2009); “Amongst The Waves” (Backspacer, 2009); “Unthought Known” (Backspacer, 2009); “Sirens” (Lightning Bolt, 2013); “Lightning Bolt” (Lightning Bolt, 2013); “Infallible” (Lightning Bolt, 2013); “Sleeping By Myself” (Lightning Bolt, 2013); “Yellow Ledbetter” (B-side of “Jeremy,” 1992)

Josh, Scot and Jeff each name their two key albums and five key songs from Pearl Jam.

Dec 11, 2017
Episode 15: Philip Wegmann / Creedence Clearwater Revival

Scot and Jeff talk to Philip Wegmann about Creedence Clearwater Revival.

Introducing the Band
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest Philip Wegmann, writer for the Washington Examiner. Follow Phil on Twitter at @PhilipWegmann, and read his past work here.

Philip’s Musical Pick: Creedence Clearwater Revival
It’s high times on the bayou as the gang discusses Creedence Clearwater Revival, a band that sounded like it crawled out of the swamps of Louisiana despite being composed entirely of guys from Nowheresville, northern California. Is it possible for a band with multiple #1 albums, five #2 hit singles and scads of nearly ubiquitous radio hits to be underrated? If so, then CCR fits the bill: a great band that is still somehow underappreciated as the superlative album act that they were. Maybe it’s because they packed all of their creativity into a brief span of time in the late ’60s (with six classic albums released in the span of two calendar years). Maybe it’s because their constant presence on the radio erroneously led people to think they were a singles act. Maybe it’s because they made it look too easy, pumping out songs with deceptively simple chord changes and instrumentation. Maybe it’s because their record label was famously awful. Maybe it’s because John Fogerty is kind of a jerk. Who knows. All that matters is that Creedence is one of the greatest American rock groups of all time, and it’s downright strange how few people realize that.

As for Philip, he describes the joy of discovering CCR as a kid from downstate rural Indiana, listening to honest and plainspoken songs that spoke to his experiences growing up in what, culturally, is more South than Midwest. (If Phil’s parents are reading this, he would like to apologize for blowing out the family speaker system by blasting “Up Around The Bend” on max volume all the time.) Jeff can’t remember a time when Creedence wasn’t part of his life, from his dad’s old CD edition of Chronicleonwards. Only later did he get into the bands albums and realize that nearly every one of them was stuffed full of amazing music. Scot is perplexed that the popular perception of CCR as a singles act has no relationship to the quality of their full body of work.

KEY TRACK: “Up Around The Bend” (Cosmo’s Factory, 1970)

The Long Hard Road from Tommy & The Blue Velvets to Creedence Clearwater Revival
Creedence may have had a brief but prolific reign as megastars, but they had been preparing for their shot at the title for years. Jeff briefly recounts CCR’s prehistory: the band, comprised of John Fogerty (vocals, lead guitar, songwriting/managing/autocracy), older brother Tom Fogerty (rhythm guitar), and junior high school friends Stu Cook (bass) and Doug Clifford (drums), had been playing together since 1959. From sock hops to dive bars, high school proms to thankless opening gigs for bands with regional hits, the quartet paid their dues in a thousand different places just like the one described “Lodi,” even temporarily adopting the dire (and offensive) name “The Golliwogs” in order to pass themselves off as a faux-British Invasion act in 1964. John Fogerty and Doug Clifford even got drafted into the Army, and went and served two years in the Reserves while still trying to make it work. Finally, with their stints in the armed services finished, the band were finally given an opportunity by their record label’s new owner to record a full-length album. One condition: the name had to change. Thus The Golliwogs happily became Creedence Clearwater Revival, and John Fogerty was dead-set determined that they wouldn’t waste the chance they had finally, after nearly a decade of non-stop gigging, finally been given.

The result? Creedence Clearwater Revival (1968), a self-titled debut album as impressive as any of the Sixties. Jeff argues that this is CCR’s most underrated record by far, with nary a wasted second on its brief 33 minute running time outside the clumsy instrumental jamming in the middle of “Susie Q” (the group’s first hit single, present here in a ‘spacey’ 8 minute long extended version). Scot disagrees somewhat, arguing that as entertaining as the debut album is, Fogerty’s songwriting isn’t there yet: the best songs in his opinion are the covers, particularly “I Put A Spell On You” and “Ninety-Nine And A Half.” Scot and Philip point to “Porterville” as the true turning point for the band, not only in terms of their soon-to-be-iconic instrumental sound, but in terms of Fogerty’s newfound ability to tell stories that feel authentic and real — in large part because they do draw upon the well of his personal experiences. Jeff also takes time to salute Fogerty’s lead guitar playing (perhaps the most overlooked part of the entire CCR equation), particularly the Neil Young-like guitar tone he gets on songs like “The Working Man.”

KEY TRACKS: “I Put A Spell On You” (Creedence Clearwater Revival, 1968); “Ninety-Nine And A Half (Won’t Do)” (Creedence Clearwater Revival, 1968); “Walking On The Water” (Creedence Clearwater Revival, 1968); “Porterville” (Creedence Clearwater Revival, 1968); “The Working Man” (Creedence Clearwater Revival, 1968)

An Explosion of Creativity: Creedence Clearwater Revival’s 1969
There are few musical acts more impressive in their bravura-level prolificity than Creedence Clearwater Revival’s amazing run during the year of 1969. Driven by Fogerty’s manic fear that the band would blow the opportunity they had been given, CCR released not one, not two, but three classic albums during this year, each of them stacked with some of the most famous songs in the history of rock music.

The gang is all agreed that the first of them, Bayou Country (January 1969), is the weakest of this legendary trio, too heavily dependent upon long bluesy instrumental jams that ramble on without going anywhere particularly interesting. But then it’s hard to care too much when this is the album that also contains “Proud Mary,” one of the greatest pieces of American popular music ever written. Jeff can’t even quite believe that “Proud Mary” was written; surely this song has been sung by people on Mississippi River for a hundred years or more, no? Scot loves “Born On The Bayou” and both he and Phil laugh at the fact that these guys were so amazingly good at counterfeiting Louisiana roots despite never having been within a thousand miles of the state. Jeff also shouts out to “Bootleg,” surely one of the most hypnotically simplistic rhythm beds ever laid down Sixties rock.

If Bayou Country was impressive but flawed, there are no flaws on its follow-up Green River (August 1969). The gang agrees that Green River is such a titanic achievement that it almost defies standard commentary: these are songs that you have been singing your entire life, simple, elemental, immensely moving, with tinges of darkness and foreboding lurking in unexpected corners. Jeff calls “Wrote A Song For Everyone” one of the most devastating social comments — when interpreted on either a personal level or a more public/political one — ever written in rock. Scot marvels at “Bad Moon Rising”‘s ability to pack some of Fogerty’s bleakest lyrics into one of his peppiest instrumental tracks (a contrast which actually makes the lyric more grimly effective). And everyone pauses to pay their respects to “Lodi,” which may as well have been Creedence Clearwater’s pre-1968 autobiography.

Three months after Green River Creedence was back at it again, with Willy And The Poor Boys (November 1969). Jeff refers to this as CCR’s “political” album, but considers the politics to be brilliantly subtle and infinitely more durable than the contemporaneous ventures of CCR’s San Francisco-scene counterculture rivals like Jefferson Airplane. “Fortunate Son” isn’t even an anti-war song, properly understood, so much as it is a coruscating commentary on class struggle: the working man paying the price and bearing the burden that the rich elite are insulated from. (“Don’t Look Now” is even more on-point in this regard.) Phil notes just how many sheerly bad protest songs there are out there, and how remarkable it is that not only are CCR’s uniformly excellent, they’re all radio hits too. Scot thinks that “The Midnight Special” is “Proud Mary” in reverse: instead of being an original that sounds like it’s been around for 70 years, it’s a 70-year-old song that CCR masters so perfectly that it seems pointless to cover it anymore.

KEY TRACKS: “Proud Mary” (Bayou Country, 1969); “Born On The Bayou” (Bayou Country, 1969); “Bootleg” (Bayou Country, 1969); “Wrote A Song For Everyone” (Green River, 1969); “Green River” (Green River, 1969); “Commotion” (Green River, 1969); “Lodi” (Green River, 1969); “Bad Moon Rising” (Green River, 1969); “Fortunate Son” (Willy And The Poor Boys, 1969); “It Came Out Of Sky” (Willy And The Poor Boys, 1969); “Don’t Look Now (It Ain’t You Or Me)” (Willy And The Poor Boys, 1969); “Down On The Corner” (Willy And The Poor Boys, 1969); “The Midnight Special(Willy And The Poor Boys, 1969)

1970: Creedence reaches the summit of the mountain, and then begins to tumble down the other side
When it comes to Cosmo’s Factory (1970), Jeff sums it up right from the start: “this is an album I think we’re going to be falling all over each other to agree about.” And indeed, the gang agrees that if you don’t own and adore Cosmo’s Factory then you pretty much have no taste. Out of 11 songs, exactly one is less than magnificent, and a full SEVEN of them are instantly recognizable hits. The gang’s discussion of Cosmo could have ended by just listing them (“Travelin’ Band,” “Who’ll Stop The Rain,” “Run Through The Jungle,” “Up Around The Bend,” “I Heard It Through The Grapevine,” “Long As I Can See The Light,” and “Lookin’ Out My Back Door”) and threatening you to punch you in the face if you don’t immediately go listen to it. But they continue anyway because Jeff needs to sing the praises of “Ramble Tamble,” a 7 minute long opening jam that demonstrates CCR’s artistic growth, a sophisticatedly layered and structured guitar showcase that departs from their formula and comes up aces. Phil is happy that John Fogerty finally seems happy for once in his life with the joyful country-pop of “Lookin’ Out My Back Door.” Scot observes that half of these songs are now used, essentially, as the movie/documentary-approved Official Soundtrack To Vietnam.

At this point the gang discusses CCR’s unfortunate struggle for artistic acceptance among their counterculture peers in the SF rock scene, and how drove Fogerty in particular to distraction. The tribalism of the contemporaneous hippie disdain for CCR’s plaid-flannel-shirt meat & potatoes hitmaking ways is a sad comment on the same in-group/out-group dynamics that seem to operate eternally, and this led inevitably to Pendulum (1970), the last classic CCR album, where Fogerty insisted that every track be self-penned (to prove his artiste credentials) and in doing so sabotaged it with inexplicable album-concluding noise collage “Rude Awakening #2.” But the rest of the record remains a piker. Scot loves the smoother, organ-based Stax/Volt sound that defines most of Pendulum and all agree that “Have You Ever Seen The Rain?” might just be one of CCR’s finest songs. Phil notes the poignancy of the lyric, which was written about the internal turmoil in the band (primarily John’s worsening relationship with his older brother Tom) and how, even at this moment of triumph, all involved had to have known they were playing a song that signaled the death-knell of the band.

KEY TRACKS: “Ramble Tamble” (Cosmo’s Factory, 1970); “Lookin’ Out My Back Door” (Cosmo’s Factory, 1970); “Who’ll Stop The Rain” (Cosmo’s Factory, 1970); “Run Through The Jungle” (Cosmo’s Factory, 1970); “Long As I Can See The Light” (Cosmo’s Factory, ,1970); “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” (Cosmo’s Factory, 1970); “Pagan Baby” (Pendulum, 1970); “Have You Ever Seen The Rain?” (Pendulum, 1970); “Hey Tonight” (Pendulum, 1970); “It’s Just A Thought” (Pendulum, 1970)

The End: Mardi Gras, the Collapse of Creedence, and John Fogerty’s Intermittent Solo Career
When the Reaper came for Creedence, he didn’t waste his time. The band really ended, at least in terms of being a quality group, almost immediately after Pendulum, when Tom Fogerty declared he’d had enough of his younger brother’s autocratic ways and quit the band. After a year spent touring that left CCR’s final release to be the almost perversely bad Mardi Gras(1972), where Fogerty petulantly responded to the longstanding requests for greater creative input from his bandmates by spitefully turning around and insisting that not only could Cook and Clifford contribute their own songs to the new album, they had to — in fact, they had to each write and sing a full third of the record. Given that neither Cook nor Clifford were John Fogerty, this necessarily meant that 2/3rds of Mardi Gras is near-unlistenable garbage, almost offensively bad. But even Fogerty’s songwriting/singing contributions seem distracted and second-rate; “Sweet Hitch-Hiker” is merely adequate as a Creedence rocker and the only real highlight, as Phil and Scot point out, is “Someday Never Comes,” an openly autobiographical song. It was such an unfortunate way to wrap up the legacy of a truly great band. And for what? All agree that John Fogerty’s solo career is mostly pointless, an intermittent affair that never resulted in a single album of any great worth and threw up only one song that anyone will remember ten years from now: the great baseball ode “Centerfield.”

But at least they left us with all this great music.

KEY TRACKS: “Sweet Hitch-Hiker” (Mardi Gras, 1972); “Someday Never Comes” (Mardi Gras, 1972); “Centerfield” [John Fogerty] (Centerfield, 1985)

Phil, Scot and Jeff each name their two key albums and five key songs from Creedence Clearwater Revival.

Dec 03, 2017
Episode 14: Nicholas Confessore / Ryan Adams

Jeff and Scot talk to Nicholas Confessore about Ryan Adams.

Introducing the Band
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest Nicholas Confessore, investigative reporter for the New York Times, writer at large for the NYT Magazine, and MSNBC contributor. Follow Nick on Twitter at @nickconfessore, read his past work here, and also please do set aside some time for this remarkable long-form piece here.

Nick’s Musical Pick: Ryan Adams
The gang is extremely excited this week to be covering rocker/country-rocker/all-around-hyperprolific-polymath Ryan Adams, for this is not only one of our guest’s favorite artists, but perhaps co-host Scot’s as well. Scot explains how a chance encounter with Adams at a Chicago in-store performance back in 2000 led to a copy of Heartbreaker and a lifetime of fandom. Nick credits his buddy @JoshuaGreen for introducing him to Adams during their days as fellow wage-slaves at the Washington Monthly. Nick never thought of himself as a fan of country or country-rock, but he was fascinated by Adams’ guitar-playing and quirky songwriting style and before he knew it was teaching himself every song on Heartbreaker. Jeff found Ryan Adams immediately after 9/11, when a friend gave him a copy of Gold as a gift and “New York New York” was just the right song at the right time for him.

KEY TRACKS: “Amy” (Heartbreaker, 2000); “New York, New York” (Gold, 2001); “Jacksonville Skyline[Whiskeytown](Pneumonia, 1999/2001)

Origins: Whiskeytown, the Classic Debut Heartbreaker, and the Overstuffed Follow-up Gold
Valiant fools that the gang are, they have set for themselves an impossible task: dealing with the ridiculously enormous Ryan Adams discography in less than five hours. This is a guy who released, like, sixteen albums in 2005 alone after all (the numbers there may be a bit off). That means that certain parts of Adams’ career must, alas, get short shrift, and the sting is felt in his original pre-solo career group, the great alt-country band Whiskeytown. Scot, Nick and Jeff all love this material, but there just isn’t time, so Scot gives his “60 second history of Whiskeytown” (extremely talented country-rock group driven by Adams’ singing and songwriting that collapsed under record label disasters and its own sheer gravity).

Then it’s on to Heartbreaker (2000), and the gang could have spent an hour on this album alone. Is it one of the greatest debut albums of all time? One of the greatest country-rock albums of all time? Is it even country at all? (Jeff, for one, thinks it owes far more to Bob Dylan and Neil Young than Nashville, despite Adams’ country background; already he was spreading his wings and refusing all stylistic straitjackets.) Scot declares Heartbreakerto be one of his favorite albums of all time, perhaps even his #1 pick. (Scot: “I can’t even be rational about it.”) Nick raves about how Adams creates an entire world with his soft, thoughtful folk melodies and lyrics: a New York City that isn’t quite New York and a Carolina that isn’t quite the real Carolina, but a magical, idealized version of both. Jeff marvels at how every song on Heartbreaker sounds like a standard — like people have been playing them for decades. And yet some young punk who came pretty much out of nowhere wrote them all, and did it on his first album. Jeff can’t even quite believe that “My Winding Wheel” was written; it just feels like it’s been kicking around Appalachia for a century or so.

Gold (2001) was Adams’ big grab for the brass ring (as Scot characterizes it), and its failings are telling, the gang agrees: here the first problematic tics of Adams’ career show up: over-prolificity, overstuffing his albums, and being a questionable judge of the quality of his own material. (Nick complains that many of the best songs were left off the original album and only released on a “Side 4” bonus disc that isn’t even commercially available anymore — and he’s right!) But Jeff will walk through fire to defend Adams’ big attempt at a pop hit “New York New York,” and also points out that Adams’ straight rock moves (like “Nobody Girl” and “Enemy Fire”) actually work extremely well, proving how capable he was of playing in genres outside of country and folk.

KEY TRACKS: “To Be Young (Is To Be Sad, Is To Be High)” (Heartbreaker, 2000); “My Winding Wheel” (Heartbreaker, 2000); “Oh, My Sweet Carolina” (Heartbreaker, 2000); “Come Pick Me Up” (Heartbreaker, 2000); “New York, New York” (Gold, 2001); “Nobody Girl” (Gold, 2001); “Enemy Fire” (Gold, 2001); “La Cienega Just Smiled” (Gold, 2001); “When The Stars Go Blue” (Gold, 2001); “Firecracker” (Gold, 2001); “Gonna Make You Love Me” (Gold, 2001);

The Weird Years: Demolition, Love Is Hell, and Rock N Roll
Political Beats gets spicy, as Scot, Nick, and Jeff all bounce off of one another like pinballs on bumpers debating the merits of Ryan Adams’ mixed-up muddled-up shook-up middle period: Demolition (2002), Love Is Hell (2004) and Rock N Roll (2003). Jeff thinks Demolition (which was infamously assembled like a Frankenstein’s monster out of the pieces of four rejected albums) is a dog’s breakfast, but Nick loves its rockist moves like “Starting To Hurt.” Then it’s Nick’s turn to be outraged: he threatens to hang up over the fact that Jeff thinks Love Is Hell (recorded in 2003, but not released until 2004) is one of Ryan Adams’ finest albums. Nick is wrong, of course; Love Is Hell is as far as Adams ever successfully migrated away from his country-rock roots (its key reference points are folk and British postpunk), and Jeff loves it for precisely that reason (even the cover of “Wonderwall” is amazing).

“Successfully” is the key word in the preceding sentence, since Rock N Roll (2003) — recorded in an amphetamine-rushed two weeks after his record label rejected Love Is Hell — is of course Adams’ Big Major Rock Statement. Few albums are more controversial in the Adams discography than Rock N Roll, and Scot lines up with the general fan consensus that it’s embarrassing musical cosplay, Ryans Adams wearing The Strokes as a skin-suit. Nick is having none of that, however, and loves “rock Ryan,” with particular praise for “Do Miss America” and “This Is It.” (“This was the guy that I loved doing more of the thing that I loved that he did.”) Jeff falls in the middle; he doesn’t think this is a great album, but he’s pretty much willing to forgive all its sins simply because of the existence of “So Alive,” one of the finest songs (and vocal performances) Adams will ever reel off in his life. People, go watch Adams’ live performance of this on the David Letterman Show. The link is below. Click it.

KEY TRACKS: “Starting To Hurt” (Demolition, 2002); “Dear Chicago” (Demolition, 2002); “Chin Up, Cheer Up” (Demolition, 2002); “Hallelujah” (Demolition, 2002); “Tennessee Sucks” (Demolition, 2002); “Afraid Not Scared” (Love Is Hell, 2004); “This House Is Not For Sale” (Love Is Hell, 2004); “Love Is Hell” (Love Is Hell, 2004); “Wonderwall” (Love Is Hell, 2004); “Please Do Not Let Me Go” (Love Is Hell, 2004); “I See Monsters” (Love Is Hell, 2004); “This Is It” (Rock N Roll, 2003); “So Alive” (Rock N Roll, 2003); “Burning Photographs” (Rock N Roll, 2003); “Anybody Wanna Take Me Home” (Rock N Roll, 2003); “Do Miss America” (Rock N Roll, 2003); “So Alive (live on David Letterman, January 5th, 2004)” (previously unreleased, 2004)

2005: The Year of the Three (Yes, That’s Right, Three) Ryan Adams Albums
In early 2005, the world greeted Ryan Adams’ declaration that he would be releasing, not one, not two, but THREE new albums with snickers. And then he silenced nearly every one of those skeptical voices by making two of those three records among the finest he ever recorded. Cold Roses is a double album inspired by Adams’ discovery of country-era Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia, and amazingly it somehow manages to lack nearly any filler. (The title track, which Nick loves anyway, might be as close as it gets: “he called it a night halfway through the songwriting, was like ‘yeah….it sorta rhymes? We’ll go with it’.”) Otherwise, the gang is agreed on the greatness of Cold Roses: a great album full of extremely well-written songs performed by a crack band. It is telling indeed that all three of them cite to different songs as their favorites — proof, if any were needed, that this is a record with something to offer everyone. Also, everyone loves The Cardinals, the fine new band Adams put together to back him on this and subsequent records.

Nick, Scot, and Jeff are equally enthusiastic about Jacksonville City Nights, and lament the fact that people might be avoiding it because it was marketed as Adams’ “trad country” album. Yes, there are pedal steel guitars on nearly every song here, but this is as far from a generic country album as could be imagined: a warm, vibrant collection of some of Adams’ finest songs and (in particular) his finest lyrics. Nick wants people to own this album for no other reason than “Dear John,” Adams’ emotionally devastating collaboration with Norah Jones. Scot could talk about every single song on this record, but particularly adores “The Hardest Part” and Adams’ lived-in, casually country scansion on pieces like “The End.” All agree that this is part of the core Adams discography, which is more than they can say for the final Ryan Adams album of 2005, the mopey concept-folk LP 29. Jeff suggests that Adams was better off not pushing his luck beyond the two classics he already released, and the gang agrees that this is the least worthy, and most mannered, of all Adams’ records up until this point.

KEY TRACKS: “Magnolia Mountain” (Cold Roses, 2005); “Cherry Lane” (Cold Roses, 2005); “Mockingbird” (Cold Roses, 2005); “Let It Ride” (Cold Roses, 2005); “Cold Roses” (Cold Roses, 2005); “Sweet Illusions” (Cold Roses, 2005); “Meadowlake Street” (Cold Roses, 2005); “If I Am A Stranger” (Cold Roses, 2005); “Friends” (Cold Roses, 2005); “The Hardest Part” (Jacksonville City Nights, 2005); “Silver Bullets” (Jacksonville City Nights, 2005); “Don’t Fail Me Now” (Jacksonville City Nights, 2005); “Trains” (Jacksonville City Nights, 2005); “The End” (Jacksonville City Nights, 2005); “Dear John[with Norah Jones] (Jacksonville City Nights, 2005); “Strawberry Wine” (29, 2005); “Night Birds” (29, 2005); “Carolina Rain (live June 23rd, 2011)” (Live After Deaf, 2012; originally from 29, 2005)

Ryan Adams Sobers Up: Easy Tiger and the Cardinology Sessions
After years of drug addiction (which clearly fueled his manic creativity), Adams finally sobered up after 2005 and slowed down his pace. 2007 saw Easy Tiger, which marks the end of an era in many ways — it’s an album that neither Jeff nor Scot can muster particularly strong feelings about (though Scot still loves Ryan when he’s in his Big Dumb Rock Riff mode, c.f. “Halloweenhead”), but Nick insists that “Everybody Knows” is one of Adams’ finest songs. Jeff tracks with most fans in having little time for Cardinology (after which Adams disbanded The Cardinals), but Scot makes an impassioned plea for it, and for “Magick” in particular. Nick pithily disposes of the later semi-archival double album III/IV, which consists entirely of outtakes from Cardinology: “it’s the same album, except it just gets worse and worse.”

KEY TRACKS: “Halloweenhead” (Easy Tiger, 2007); “Pearls On A String” (Easy Tiger, 2007); “Two” (Easy Tiger, 2007); “Everybody Knows” (Easy Tiger, 2007); “Born Into A Light” (Cardinology, 2008); “Go Easy” (Cardinology, 2008); “Magick” (Cardinology, 2008); “Cobwebs” (Cardinology, 2008); “Dear Candy” (III/IV, 2010)

To the Present Day: Ryan Adams Reclines then Roars Back
Were it not for the final album (taking us up to the present day), this period might have represented Ryan Adams’ curious dotage as an artist. First there’s Orion (2010), a hardcore/heavy-metal (yes, you read correctly) album that is little more than a deeply embarrassing genre experiment. (Jeff: “please do not listen to this.”) Then there’s the undistinguishedly mellow Ashes And Fire, a perfectly cromulent album of sedate folk ballads that none of the gang can muster real disdain for, but which also doesn’t earn any higher praise than “a nice record to do the dishes to.” Ryan Adams (2014), however, is praised by both Scot and Nick as the beginning of a comeback, with far more sonic and textural interest than his past several records.

At this point Jeff steps in to make a 100% serious plea for people to give Ryan Adams’ track-for-track re-recording of Taylor Swift’s 1989 (2015) a chance, no matter how utterly ridiculous the idea must sound. A good song is a good song, and Adams’ entire point in recording and releasing his version of 1989 (where he recasts many of its most famous songs as brutal Nebraska-era Springsteen ballads) is to emphasize to those who might otherwise dismiss pop music what a fine songwriter Taylor Swift actually is. The gang concludes with high praise for Ryan Adams’ most recent album, 2017’s Prisoner. All are impressed by the vigor and vitality of this music from an artist who has already released well over 200 original songs in the past 17 years — as well as the fact that (my God!) he might actually finally be learning to edit himself.

KEY TRACKS: “[This Is What Every Single Song On Orion Sounds Like]” (Metal Machine Music [Lou Reed], 1975); “Dirty Rain” (Ashes & Fire, 2011); “Invisible Riverside” (Ashes & Fire, 2011); “Gimme Something Good” (Ryan Adams, 2014); “Trouble” (Ryan Adams, 2014); “My Wrecking Ball” (Ryan Adams, 2014); “Bad Blood” (1989, 2015); “Shake It Off” (1989, 2015); “To Be Without You” (Prisoner, 2017); “Do You Still Love Me?” (Prisoner, 2017); “Shiver And Shake” (Prisoner, 2017)

Finale: Nick, Scot and Jeff Each Name Their Two Key Albums and Five Key Songs from Ryan Adams
Nick’s albums: 1) Heartbreaker (2000); 2) Cold Roses (2005) | Nick’s songs: 1) “Magnolia Mountain” (Cold Roses, 2005); 2) “Oh My Sweet Carolina” (Heartbreaker, 2000); 3) “Dear John” (Jacksonville City Nights, 2005); 4) “Everybody Knows” (Easy Tiger, 2007); 5) “16 Days[Whiskeytown] (Strangers Almanac, 1997)

Scot’s albums: 1) Heartbreaker (2000); 2) Jacksonville City Nights (2005) | Scot’s songs: 1) “Come Pick Me Up” (Heartbreaker, 2000) ; 2) “Please Do Not Let Me Go” (Love Is Hell, 2004); 3) “Let It Ride” (Cold Roses, 2005); 4) “The Hardest Part” (Jacksonville City Nights, 2005); 5) “Rosalie Come And Go” (Gold, 2001)

Jeff’s albums: 1) Heartbreaker (2000); 2) Love Is Hell (2004) | Jeff’s songs: 1) “My Winding Wheel” (Heartbreaker, 2000); 2) “New York, New York” (Gold, 2001); 3) “So Alive” (Rock N Roll, 2003); 4) “Afraid Not Scared” (Love Is Hell, 2004); 5) “Meadowlake Street” (Cold Roses, 2005)

Nov 20, 2017
Episode 13: Michael C. Moynihan / The Smiths

Scot and Jeff talk to Michael C. Moynihan about The Smiths

Introducing the Band
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest Michael Moynihan, correspondent for Vice News Tonight on HBO and member of the Fifth Column podcast, Follow him on Twitter at @mcmoynihan and read his past work both here and here.

Michael’s Musical Pick: The Smiths
“Is it wrong not to always be glad?” This is the question Jeff poses as the gang launches into Lucky #13: the long-awaited blockbuster Political Beats tribute to The Smiths, legendarily reputed as one of the ’80s most literately mopey bands. (Jeff also pays tribute to a classic Mystery Science Theater 3000 bit in passing.) But Michael is immediately at pains to argue with The Smiths-as-miserabilists rap, and he explains that one of the reasons he loves them like no other band in the pantheon is Morrissey’s remarkable wit. Michael talks about getting into music as a kid, discovering postpunk in 1987, quickly finding his way to Newbury Comics in Boston and acquainting himself with the pride of Manchester: The Smiths. Like many a budding Smiths fanatic from the late ’80s and early ’90s, this involved a copy of The Queen Is Dead and an older brother questioning his heterosexuality. The rest is history, including Michael relocating temporarily to England and imbibing the mythos firsthand.

Jeff’s intro to the band came later: college and a chance encounter with an eccentric friend who refused to lend her Smiths CDs to him because she valued them like other people value family heirlooms. Jeff emphasizes his love not only of Morrissey’s literate, playful lyrics, but actually elevates Johnny Marr’s contribution above it: even if only by a 51-49 margin, Jeff argues, this was Marr’s band, and his love of the eternal verities of melody, production, arrangement, and rock and pop are what make nearly every Smiths track from their beginning right up until the end worth hearing.

KEY TRACKS: “The Queen Is Dead” (The Queen Is Dead, 1986); “William, It Was Really Nothing” (A-side of single, 1984); “Rusholme Ruffians (alternate version)” (unreleased, originally from Meat Is Murder, 1985)

Morrissey meets Marr: The Formation of The Smiths and the Troubled Debut Album
For an album as hailed as The Smiths (1984) is, it had an exceedingly troubled genesis and to this day gets mixed reviews from hardcore fans. The story goes thus: Johnny Marr (guitars, music) introduces himself to local scenester Stephen Morrissey (vocals, lyrics) and says they should form a band. Andy Rourke (bass) and Mike Joyce (drums) are then inducted into this inchoate group and the so-called “Smiths” record a single in a local studio on spec: without a recording contract in hand, but confident enough in their talent to pay out-of-pocket and send it around to various labels in search of a record deal. The name of the label that bit was Rough Trade; the name of the song is their legendary debut single “Hand In Glove.” But the obligatory album follow-up was a much bigger problem: after recording a full version of the debut LP with Teardrop Explodes guitarist Troy Tate producing, The Smiths scrapped it and re-recorded the entire thing from scratch with John Porter.

And nobody in the gang can agree on its merits! Scot grants Jeff’s point that the Tate version of “Reel Around The Fountain” is magisterial, but he thinks this is the worst of The Smiths’ four proper studio LPs. Jeff thinks it’s their best studio LP, even better than The Queen Is Dead, and explains why in detail. Michael is in the middle: he loathes “The Hand That Rocks The Cradle” with eloquent passion, but praises the obscure B-sides from this era like “Accept Yourself,” “Wonderful Woman” and “Jeane.” How deep does the rabbit-hole go? This deep: Michael spends time praising Sandie Shaw’s (Smiths-produced) covers of “I Don’t Owe You Anything” and “Jeane” (and Jeff agrees)! Michael also calls out Andy Rourke’s follow-the-bouncing-ball bassline on “Pretty Girls Make Graves” and laughs about the song’s conceit as a Beach Boys number gone horribly wrong. He then spends time discussing his personal experiences with Rourke, and the cosmic unfairness of his lack of appreciation (including a depressing story about watching Rourke open for a Smiths cover band where some other guy was pretending to be Andy Rourke).

KEY TRACKS: “Hand In Glove” (A-side of single, 1983; The Smiths, 1984); “This Charming Man” (A-side of single, 1983); “What Difference Does It Make?” (The Smiths, 1984); “Reel Around The Fountain” (The Smiths, 1984); “Still Ill” (The Smiths, 1984); “You’ve Got Everything Now (live at the BBC June 26th, 1983)” (Hatful Of Hollow, 1984); “Suffer Little Children” (The Smiths, 1984); “The Hand That Rocks The Cradle” (The Smiths, 1984); “Wonderful Woman” (B-side of “This Charming Man,” 1983); “Jeane” (B-side of “This Charming Man,” 1983); “Pretty Girls Make Graves” (The Smiths, 1984);

The Smiths as the Last Great Non-Album Singles Band; Hatful Of Hollow and Smiths Compilations in General
No discussion of The Smiths is complete if all you consider are their formal studio albums; this was one of the all-time great non-album-single acts of the rock era, and Jeff argues that they share the sad distinction with New Order of being the last great one. The gang has a hearty chuckle over the gloriously funny, self-parodying lyrics of “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now” and salute Andy Rourke’s lovely bass work, then ponder whether “William It Was Really Nothing” (with its two B-sides “Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want” and “How Soon Is Now?”) is the greatest non-album single ever released during the 1980s. Michael takes a contrarian turn by insisting that he’s actually rather bored by “How Soon Is Now?” — the most famous Smiths song in the United States — but come on, now.

This inevitably leads to a long and loving discussion of The Smiths’ adventures in repackaging. Few bands are better known for their sheer compilatory fury (especially given the relatively small overall discography) than The Smiths, but it actually makes sense given how nearly a third of their output was never released on an album. Jeff lays his cards down and declares Hatful Of Hollow (1984) to be the single greatest Smiths album ever released, even though it’s not even really an album: it’s essentially a revision of the debut LP and its various associated session recordings using impressively muscular, raw BBC takes in place of the overproduced studio versions. Add in all those great 1984 singles A’s & B’s, and in Jeff”s opinion you get the best value-for-money proposition in the band’s entire catalogue. Michael is a Louder Than Bombs (1987) man, which makes sense given that this was the USA’s (later) answer to Hatful and thus the one he grew up with: a sprawling 2LP set collecting a slew of non-album singles, B-sides, and obscurities.

As the gang is talking about the wonderful miniatures of The Smiths’ B-sides and BBC sessions, Michael takes the opportunity to point out how terrible Morrissey is when working in longer form. Particular attention is paid to the self-indulgence of his autobiography (which he insisted on having released as a Penguin Classic) and his even worse attempt at fiction, List Of The Lost. (List is so bad that it won an award for “worst sex scene” and yes, we are required per Jeff’s promise on the podcast to inflict it upon you here).

Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now” (A-side of single, 1984); “How Soon Is Now?” (B-side of “William, It Was Really Nothing,” 1984); “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want” (B-side of “William It Was Really Nothing,” 1984); “London” (B-side of “Shoplifters Of The World Unite,” 1987); “These Things Take Time (live at the BBC June 26th, 1983)” (Hatful Of Hollow, 1984); “Oscillate Wildly” (B-side of “How Soon Is Now?,” 1985); “This Night Has Opened My Eyes (live at the BBC September 14th, 1983)” (Hatful Of Hollow, 1984); “Back To The Old House (live at the BBC September 14th, 1983)” (Hatful Of Hollow, 1984)

The Smiths Go Rockabilly (?!) on Meat Is Murder
Yes the lamentably stupid title track (people: Morrissey moos) would make all but the most devoted vegan run directly to Ruth’s Chris and order a juicy rare steak, but Michael and Scot both contend that The Smiths’ proper sophomore album Meat Is Murder is actually their most underrated record. Jeff really isn’t into the “behold, I am now Scotty Moore!” rockabilly trip that Johnny Marr is suddenly on with tracks like “Rusholme Ruffians” and “Shakespeare’s Sister,” but Scot has high praise for the puckish insouciance of “Nowhere Fast.” Much more to Jeff’s taste is the shimmering depression of “That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore” and the child abuse dance epic “Barbarism Begins At Home,” which is surely playing on repeat somewhere in Hell’s Discotheque. What everyone agrees on is that “The Headmaster Ritual” — written about, and no this is not a joke, Morrissey’s hatred of high school gym class — features one of the best guitar riffs Johnny Marr ever wrote. All agree that “Meat Is Murder” is the stupidest song ever written by anyone in the history of modern recorded music.

The Headmaster Ritual” (Meat Is Murder, 1985); “Barbarism Begins At Home (live March 18th, 1985)” (previously unreleased, originally from Meat Is Murder, 1985); “That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore” (Meat Is Murder, 1985); “Nowhere Fast” (Meat Is Murder, 1985);

The Smiths Commit Regicide: The Queen Is Dead
Before the gang gets to The Smiths’ most famous record, Jeff insists on stopping to recognize the greatness of their finest and most emblematic B-side: “Rubber Ring.” This is a song by Morrissey both about the songs he listened to as a child, and also self-consciously about how he realizes future generations will regard The Smiths themselves. Observant, warm-hearted, and catchy as heck, it explains nearly as well as any single song they ever recorded why this band has a cult surrounding them.

But all that is prelude to The Queen Is Dead, which to this day remains the band’s most beloved album. Jeff states outright that the first four songs on Queen are actually garbage (he feels someone is pouring soil on his head every time he has to sit through “I Know It’s Over”) but “Cemetry Gates” may just be the single greatest thing they ever did and the rest of the album miraculously maintains that level, even the inevitable rockabilly number. (Seriously, “Vicar In A Tutu” is actually a good song.) Morrissey’s humor is in full flower here: he knocks on his own plagiarism issues with “Cemetry Gates,” commits majestic self-martyrdom on “Bigmouth Strikes Again,” and somehow ejects himself from his own home on “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out.” Michael and Jeff wonder how people could have ever misunderstood the winsome, open-hearted humor of “There Is A Light” — double-decker buses and ten-ton trucks aside, this is a song about being transported by the heights and depths of romantic emotion that still manages to undercut its own self-seriousness. And then the LP ends with an extended fat joke.

The gang quickly surveys the four post-Queen singles the band released in 1986 and 1987, as they were working their way towards their swan-song. Everyone agrees that the highlight is the epochal “”Panic,” a song inspired by Morrissey’s appalled reaction to the BBC Radio 1 announcer who segued from announcing the Chernobyl meltdown to Wham’s new big hit single “I’m Your Man.” With Aztec Camera’s Craig Gannon on second guitar and a riff nicked from T. Rex, “Panic” somehow manages to end with a children’s choir singing alongside Morrissey about the urgent need to lynch all DJs, yet still sounds like a glorious triumph. Michael unpacks the suspect racial undertones of “Panic” with reference to some of Morrissey’s later solo provocations, and Scot singles out “Half A Person” as the great late Smiths B-side.

KEY TRACKS: “Rubber Ring“/”Asleep” (B-side of “The Boy With The Thorn In His Side,” 1985); “Cemetry Gates” (The Queen Is Dead, 1986); “Bigmouth Strikes Again” (The Queen Is Dead, 1986); “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out” (The Queen Is Dead, 1986); “Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others (live December 12th, 1986)” (B-side of “I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish,” 1987); “Panic” (A-side of single, 1986); “Speedway[Morrissey] (Vauxhall & I, 1994); “Half A Person” (B-side of “Shoplifters Of The World Unite,” 1987)

To the Madhouse with Them: Strangeways Here We Come Ends The Smiths’ Career
Jeff loves The Smiths. Fans and critics adore The Queen Is Dead. But Morrissey and Marr insist, to this day, that The Smiths’ greatest achievement was their swan-song Strangeways, Here We Come. Are they blinkered or do they have a point? Jeff isn’t buying it, though he of course adores the wry humor of “Girlfriend In A Coma” (which also has the Spectorian virtue, as Michael observed earlier, of saying everything it needs to say in two minutes then going home). The standout track for Jeff is the exact opposite of “Girlfriend”: the messiest and most musically emotive song they ever recorded in “Death Of A Disco Dancer.” For all of Morrissey’s later attempts at political and social comment, this is the most brutally concise he ever got: “Love peace and harmony?/Very nice, very nice, very nice…but maybe in the next world.” Michael also praises the power pop of “Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before” and the skiffle shuffle of “Unhappy Birthday” (though he finds material like “Death At One’s Elbow” to be disturbingly generic) and Scot concludes the discussion by saluting Morrissey’s jealous valediction to Marr, “I Won’t Share You.”

KEY TRACKS: “Girlfriend In A Coma” (Strangeways, Here We Come, 1987); “Death Of A Disco Dancer” (Strangeways, Here We Come, 1987); “Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before” (Strangeways, Here We Come, 1987); “Unhappy Birthday” (Strangeways, Here We Come, 1987); “I Won’t Share You” (Strangeways, Here We Come, 1987)

Michael, Scot and Jeff each pick their two key albums and five key tracks by The Smiths.

Nov 13, 2017
Episode 12: Anthony Fisher / Pink Floyd

Scot and Jeff talk to Anthony Fisher about Pink Floyd.

Introducing the Band
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest Anthony Fisher, writer/reporter for The Week, Daily Beast and others, producer of The Fifth Column podcast, and Writer/Director of the award-winning indie feature film “Sidewalk Traffic” — a comedy drama about new fatherhood, depression, and holding on to your dreams and letting go of your baggage. Available on iTunes, Amazon, Youtube, Google Play, and most major VOD platforms. Follow him on Twitter at @anthonyLfisher and read his work here.

Anthony’s Musical Pick: Pink Floyd
Gravity bongs at the ready — it’s time to travel out into interstellar space, as Political Beats finally covers one of the true big beasts of classic rock, Pink Floyd. Anthony’s introduction to the band hits a lot of the same notes that most younger fans will recognize: hearing “Comfortably Numb” as a kid, with his mom saying “ugh this music is boring” as he sits there listening to Dave Gilmour soloing, transfixed. Jeff tells his amusingly quotidian “intro to Floyd” story, which could alternately be titled “the first time Jeff got high.” (Yes, it too involves “Comfortably Numb.”) Jeff then goes on to discuss how, as his musical tastes developed (and his preference for avant-garde wackiness grew), he found himself hanging on to Floyd’s earlier, ropier, more improvisational and instrumental years over their later commercial mega-hits.

KEY TRACK: “Comfortably Numb (live August 1988)” (Delicate Sound Of Thunder, 1988)

From Blues-Rock (?!) to Space-Rock: the Syd Barrett Era, 1965-1968
Fans know this already, but the rest of you may not: Pink Floyd, the sine qua non space-rock/psychedelic/hyper-stylized programmatic group of the classic-rock era, began life as a BLUES band. And they were terrible! Just truly, goofy, silly-sounding stuff. Floyd really only found their voice with the emergence of doomed frontman Syd Barrett’s songwriting voice, a highly psychedelicized British pastoral style supplemented by the band’s predilection for lengthy live instrumental freakout jams. The gang is actually surprisingly ambivalent about the Barrett era of Floyd, despite the fervor of its cult fans: neither Scot nor Jeff have much time for the tweeness of Barrett’s songs about gnomes, the I-Ching, and currant buns, but everyone enjoys the bonkers insanity of “Bike” and Anthony points out that “Astronomy Domine” is one of the most muscular, threatening psychedelic masterpieces of an era rife with them. Jeff points out that he owns 27 separate performances of “Interstellar Overdrive” alone, by way of arguing that this is the true masterpiece from Floyd’s debut LP The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn (1967), while Scot and Anthony also single out “Lucifer Sam,” a song about a housecat that is way better than that description might make you think it is.

During this part of the show, Jeff works an interstitial conversation in about Pink Floyd’s five early non-album singles, all of which he considers top-shelf. “Arnold Layne” and “See Emily Play” are already well-loved (and well-known) enough as Syd Barrett tunes to need no introduction or defense, but Jeff is at great pains to point out that “It Would Be So Nice” and “Point Me At The Sky” are, if anything, even better, and inexplicably underrated by both band and fans alike. Jeff also points out how pivotal Rick Wright was to Floyd at this point in their career; Roger Waters was actually an afterthought in 1967-68, and it was Wright who carried the most singing, performing, and songwriting weight behind Barrett until 1969. People, go listen to the wistful sadness of the B-side “Paintbox.”

The discussion of Wright carries the gang into A Saucerful Of Secrets (1968), where all agree that his “Remember A Day” is a highlight (indeed, probably the best song on the record). Jeff rates Saucerful significantly higher than either Anthony or Scot do, but then he has an avowed preference for horrible noise. The gang discusses Syd’s fade into non-functionality, with “Jugband Blues” as a key track signalling Barrett’s creepily altogether-too-on-the-nose farewell to the Floyd (and to sanity).

KEY TRACKS: “I’m A King Bee” (The Early Years 1965-1972, 2016); “Arnold Layne” (A-side of single, 1967); “Astronomy Domine” (The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, 1967); “Lucifer Sam” (The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, 1967); “Bike” (The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, 1967); “Interstellar Overdrive” (The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, 1967); “See Emily Play” (A-side of single, 1967); “Apples And Oranges” (A-side of single, 1967); “Paintbox” (B-side of “Apples And Oranges,” 1967); “It Would Be So Nice” (A-side of single, 1967); “Remember A Day” (A Saucerful Of Secrets, 1968); “Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun” (A Saucerful Of Secrets, 1968); “A Saucerful Of Secrets” (A Saucerful Of Secrets, 1968); “Jugband Blues” (A Saucerful Of Secrets, 1968); “Point Me At The Sky” (A-side of single, 1968)

The Soundtrack Era: More, Ummagumma, Atom Heart Mother, Meddle, and Obscured By Clouds (1969-1972)
This is Jeff’s favorite era of Pink Floyd, though he’ll be damned if he can give you a rational justification as to why. More (1969) is the middling soundtrack to a forgettable film of the same name, but its atmospheric instrumentals are interesting and Anthony and Jeff agree that “Cymbaline” (a fully-realized, catchy verse/chorus/verse construction) is the first sign of things to come in terms of Roger Waters’ songwriting ability. The gang ponders whether Ummagumma (1969) is the worst double-album ever released by a major band (Scot cites to a recent Red Hot Chili Peppers album as “obviously worse”), but Jeff perversely considers it one of their two essential records. All agree that the studio half of Ummagumma is mostly a flaming dumpster fire (Jeff singles out Gilmour’s “Narrow Way” suite, Scot has praise for part of Wright’s “Sysyphus”), but the real point here is the live disc, a four track example of Pink Floyd in early 1969 playing their exploratory repertoire in absolutely commanding fashion. Jeff loves early live Floyd — it is his primary obsession with the band — and considers this one disc so obligatory as to justify the rest of the studio garbage.

Nobody has much good to say about Ummagumma‘s 1970 follow-up Atom Heart Mother either (Jeff can barely believe that it hit #1 in the UK record charts), though Anthony will stand up for the early unadorned “band-only” version of the title suite. The one piece that everyone agrees on is Rick Wright’s “Summer ’68,” a criminally forgotten piano ballad hidden away on the middle of the record that suggests that, as late as 1970, Wright was still bringing the best music to the Floyd collective.

It’s hard to think of an about-face reversal as abrupt as the transition from Atom Heart Mother to Meddle (1971), however. Sure, “Echoes” has too many minutes of ‘whale noises’ in the middle. Sure, we probably didn’t need to hear about Seamus the dog. But otherwise, Meddle is a crowning achievement of pre-Dark Side Pink Floyd, from the terrifying proto-industrial grind of “One Of These Days” to the dreamy diurnal epic of “Echoes.” Jeff also rhapsodizes about “Fearless” for several minutes until Anthony points out that he sounds just like a stoner from a Richard Linklater film.

The final album of Floyd’s transitional pre-Dark Side phase is another movie soundtrack, Obscured By Clouds (1972). This one is usually beloved by hardcore fans as a secret gem, but the gang isn’t too terribly impressed — they’re all already tired of Roger whining about his dead dad (yeah, war sucks, we know) in “Free Four.” But Anthony loves “Childhood’s End” (he just wishes Roger had written the lyrics, to make them sharper), Jeff and Scot both dig on the instrumental “Obscured By Clouds”/”When You’re In” pairing, and everyone praises the two unabashedly pop songs on the record: “Wot’s…Uh The Deal” and Rick Wright’s “Stay.”

KEY TRACKS: “Main Theme” (More, 1969); “Green Is The Colour” (More, 1969); “Cymbaline” (More, 1969); “The Narrow Way, Pt. 1” (Ummagumma, 1969); “The Narrow Way, Pt. 3” (Ummagumma, 1969); “Sysyphus, Pt. 2” (Ummagumma, 1969); “Careful With That Axe, Eugene (live May 2nd, 1969)” (Ummagumma, 1969); “Interstellar Overdrive (live May 2nd, 1969)” (outtake from Ummagumma, 1969); “Summer ’68” (Atom Heart Mother, 1971); “Fat Old Sun” (Atom Heart Mother, 1971); “Atom Heart Mother (alternate version)” (The Early Years 1965-1972, 2016); “One Of These Days” (Meddle, 1971); “Fearless” (Meddle, 1971); “Echoes” (Meddle, 1971); “Obscured By Clouds“/”When You’re In” (Obscured By Clouds, 1972); “Wot’s…Uh, The Deal” (Obscured By Clouds, 1972); “Childhood’s End” (Obscured By Clouds, 1972); “Stay” (Obscured By Clouds, 1972)

Eclipse: Pink Floyd Become International Superstars with Dark Side Of The Moon, Wish You Were Here, Animals and The Wall
The gang has a laugh about how comically impossible it is to say anything new about Dark Side Of The Moon (1973). It’s all been done! But they plow forward gamely nonetheless, emphasizing that although the big ‘radio hits’ on this record have been played into the ground (“Time,” “Money,” etc.), all the rest is still immensely powerful, and evidence that Floyd, under Waters’ influence, had transitioned into a much more musically focused phase that would pay enormous commercial and critical dividends. Still, Jeff, Scott and Anthony can’t help but point out that the best contributions to Dark Side remain Rick Wright’s…those slow, patiently developing piano chords are wildly effective not only on “Us And Them” (which had been kicking around since 1970) but also on “The Great Gig In The Sky” as well. Anthony praises Roger Waters’ lyrical and metric sensibility on the “Brain Damage”/”Eclipse” suite, while Jeff points out that if you want to know why Dark Side is considered the hi-fi gold standard for audiophile production, you need merely listen to these two songs.

People get tired of Dark Side Of The Moon. People get tired of The Wall. Some people have never had any time at all for Animals. But nobody has gotten tired of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side follow-up, the Syd Barrett tribute (and music industry lament) of Wish You Were Here (1975). This one gets a unanimous thumbs-up from the gang (even Jeff, who openly writes off this era). Scot talks about the pleasures of the title track and how it slowly unfolds into its final chorus, and argues that “Have A Cigar” features one of Gilmour’s finest guitar solos. Anthony calls this the ultimate “teenage blacklight” get-blazed album. We would recommend this album to you, but then again how on earth could it be possible that you haven’t already heard this album?

Animals (1977) is the very odd, very strident next step in the Pink Floyd discography: Roger Waters takes over with a series of thinly veiled Orwellian allegories (is there even a veil on “Pigs (Three Different Ones)”?), but the gang overlooks that because the music is still so endlessly, recombinatively creative. Anthony and Jeff both agree that “Dogs” is one of the best Pink Floyd songs ever recorded, and the “jazz chill”-cum-“raving and drooling” slice of rage that is “Sheep” also comes in for praise.

The Wall (1979) is where the gang sharply departs from critical and commercial consensus. Popular opinion holds The Wall — Roger Waters’ opus to the alienation he experienced from life as a world-famous rock star — to be their crowning achievement. Meanwhile, none of the gang likes it that much (Jeff memorably describes it as a “meticulously crafted piece of shit”). Jeff, Scot, and Anthony are all a little bit turned off by Waters’ rock star trip on this album (Scot also points out how utterly shot Roger’s voice sounds throughout the record), and argue that the turn toward highly programmatic musical theater hamstrings the band. That said, all agree that there are several great moments to be found on The Wall, though they also agree it’s telling that most of them are ones where David Gilmour has an outsized involvement. (The one exception may be Anthony’s pick of “Nobody Home,” which was itself written by Waters about Rick Wright, whom Waters kicked out of the band at this time.) Still, despite the bombast, it is an amazingly well produced and sequenced album — Jeff thinks the segue from “Happiest Days Of Our Lives” into “Another Brick Pt. 2” may justify the entire mess.

KEY TRACKS: “The Great Gig In The Sky” (Dark Side Of The Moon, 1973); “Money” (Dark Side Of The Moon, 1973); “Us And Them” (Dark Side Of The Moon, 1973); “Brain Damage/Eclipse” (Dark Side Of The Moon, 1973); “Have A Cigar” (Wish You Were Here, 1975); “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” (Wish You Were Here, 1975); “Wish You Were Here” (Wish You Were Here, 1975); “Dogs” (Animals, 1977); “Sheep” (Animals, 1977); “Comfortably Numb” (The Wall, 1979); “The Happiest Days Of Our Lives”/”Another Brick In The Wall (Part 2)” (The Wall, 1979); “Mother” (The Wall, 1979); “Goodbye Blue Sky” (The Wall, 1979); “Hey You” (The Wall, 1979); “Nobody Home” (The Wall, 1979); “Run Like Hell” (The Wall, 1979)

Collapse: The Final Cut and the Post-Waters Era of Floyd
It’s tough sledding ahead as the gang tries to make sense of Pink Floyd’s post-Wall era. Nobody can offer a rational defense of the unmusical, maudlin, self-regarding politicized tripe that is The Final Cut (1983), an album that is almost bizarrely unlistenable outside of a few isolated tracks. Anthony sums it up by pointing out that “The Fletcher Memorial Home” features Roger Waters putting all of his political enemies into a gas chamber and then flipping the switch to “on,” like an alt-right meme…except deadly serious. As hard to justify as The Final Cut is, the gang can’t really find that much more to say in defense of the first Gilmour-only Floyd album A Momentary Lapse Of Taste…erm, I meant Reason (1987). This is just elevator muzak, yuppie lullaby mush, and even if “Learning To Fly” is a nice little toe-tapper it certainly doesn’t sound like Pink Floyd. Neither does The pision Bell (1994), really, although both Jeff and Anthony are willing to go to bat a bit more for it. “Poles Apart,” “What Do You Want From Me?,” “Coming Back To Life,” and “Marooned” are all nice little songs. But the spirit is gone, and this sounds like David Gilmour solo work rather than proper Floyd. A brief discussion of the Wright-posthumous Endless River wraps things up. 

KEY TRACKS: “The Gunner’s Dream” (The Final Cut, 1983); “The Fletcher Memorial Home” (The Final Cut, 1983); “Learning To Fly” (A Momentary Lapse Of Reason, 1987); “What Do You Want From Me?” (The pision Bell, 1994); “Marooned” (The pision Bell, 1994); “Coming Back To Life” (The pision Bell, 1994); “Poles Apart” (The pision Bell, 1994); “High Hopes” (The pision Bell, 1994); “Autumn ’68” (The Endless River, 2014)

Anthony, Scot and Jeff each name their two key albums and five key songs by Pink Floyd.

Nov 06, 2017
Episode 11: Robert Dean Lurie / Hall and Oates

Scot and Jeff talk to Robert Dean Lurie about Hall and Oates.

Introducing the Band
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest Robert Dean Lurie, author of No Certainty Attached: Steve Kilbey and The Church and We Can Be Heroes: The Radical Individualism of David Bowie. Producer and performer on the tribute album The Dark Side of Hall and Oates. Read Robert’s work in the pages of NRO, the Federalist, and on his own website.

Robert’s Musical Pick: Hall & Oates
This week, the gang is excited to be discussing one of the most underrated musical acts of the ’70s and ’80s (at least to the extent that any group that scored SIX #1 singles and over 30 chart hits can be considered underrated): Hall & Oates. Robert contends that today’s podcast represents Important Work: correcting the slander that has been directed at Hall & Oates over the years as “disposable pop” when even a brief survey of their career makes it immediately obvious that they are so much more than that. Jeff remembers his introduction to Hall & Oates as a child no moreso than any living creature remembers its first “introduction” to oxygen; their music was always just there, on the radio, in the family’s CD collection, on TV…ubiquitous, in the best possible way.

KEY TRACK: “Maneater” (H2O, 1982)

Folk-rock and Philly soul: the Atlantic Years: 1972-1974
Before Hall & Oates became multiplatinum megastars in the early 1980s, they were a scrappy, semi-experimental folk duo signed to Atlantic Records, a label which allowed them to indulge their initial folk-soul fusionist predilections with the help of the finest musicians and orchestration Atlantic’s legendary producer Arif Mardin was capable of rustling up for them. While all agree that the duo’s first LP Whole Oats (1972) is tentative, Scot cites “Fall In Philadelphia” and “Lilly” as two that distinguish themselves from the rest. Jeff argues that “it sounds like The Grass Roots, and not in a good way” (he then mis-cites to a Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds song, because of course he does). However, as the sucker for piano ballads that he is, he argues that the gorgeous “Waterwheel” is the highlight.

There are no such reservations about H&O’s second record, Abandoned Luncheonette (1973). Jeff argues that this is their finest album, despite the fact that, sonically, it’s miles away from their classic hitmaking-era stuff like Voices or H20. Soulful, assured, with weird progressive touches to boot, there isn’t a single subpar track on Abandoned Luncheonette as far as he’s concerned, and on top of all that it also happens to contain one of greatest singles ever recorded in the history of American popular music. Robert shares his dark reading of “I’m Just A Kid (Don’t Make Me Feel Like A Man)” and notes that Luncheonette is Hall & Oates as a true duo: both write an equal amount of material, and both members’ contributions are sterling. Jeff praises the obscure corners of this record, from “Laughing Boy” (Daryl Hall alone at a piano, with a flugelhorn) to

The final record of Hall & Oates’ Atlantic era is the extremely bizarre War Babies. Those hints of prog heard on Abandoned Luncheonette (which recur throughout H&O’s 1970s career) come further to the fore with this LP, produced by Todd Rundgren and featuring his progressive-rock band Utopia as the backing band. There’s a reason you’ve never heard of this record; despite a much more modern-sounding production, it’s such a weird thematic left-turn that it sticks out like a sore thumb from the rest of their discography. Jeff admits that, no matter much he genuinely loves the song, he has difficulty recommending a song named “War Baby Son Of Zorro” to others and expecting to be taken seriously. Robert likens War Babies‘ casual oddball fusion to a proto-“Beck” aesthetic — an easy junk-shop mashup of styles that flopped at the time but sounds better and better as time goes by.

KEY TRACKS: “Fall In Philadelphia” (Whole Oats, 1972); “Lilly (Are You Happy)” (Whole Oats, 1972); “Waterwheel” (Whole Oats, 1972); “When The Morning Comes” (Abandoned Luncheonette, 1973); “Las Vegas Turnaround (The Stewardess Song)” (Abandoned Luncheonette, 1973); “I’m Just A Kid (Don’t Make Me Feel Like A Man)” (Abandoned Luncheonette, 1973); “Laughing Boy” (Abandoned Luncheonette, 1973); “Everytime I Look At You” (Abandoned Luncheonette, 1973); “She’s Gone” (Abandoned Luncheonette, 1973); “You’re Much Too Soon” (War Babies, 1974); “’70s Scenario” (War Babies, 1974); “War Baby Son Of Zorro” (War Babies, 1974); “Better Watch Your Back” (War Babies, 1974)

The Commercial Breakthrough: Darryl Hall & John Oates and Bigger Than The Both Of Us
Hall & Oates hire a new manager (Tommy Mottola, later to gain additional fame for discovering–and marrying–Mariah Carey) who pushes them to get it together and put out some tighter, more commercial material. They respond with aplomb, and the result is the duo’s commercial breakthrough, Daryl Hall & John Oates (1975)…a record which also contains a snarky tribute to Mottola in the obscure gem “Gino (The Manager).” But “Sara Smile” is the one everyone remembers from this record, and even though Jeff doesn’t care for it, Scot and Robert are all in favor. Scot in fact prefers this to Abandoned Luncheonette, particularly due to the presence of “Camellia,” one of his favorite H&O tracks.

Bigger Than The Both Of Us (1976) was where Hall & Oates really broke into the mainstream, and it’s all because of “Rich Girl,” which children after 1976 are actually required to be born knowing under Federal law. Aside from that #1 hit, however, there is a remarkable amount of top-shelf material on an album that is otherwise neglected. Robert calls out “Crazy Eyes” (one of John Oates’ best songs) and both he and Jeff cannot rave enough about “Falling,” which in its gorgeous, ghostly playout sounds more like Genesis circa-A Trick Of The Tail than anything you would ever associate with Hall & Oates: prog-soul. That, as you will soon see, was no accident.

KEY TRACKS: “Camellia” (Daryl Hall & John Oates, 1975); “Sara Smile” (Daryl Hall & John Oates, 1975); “Gino (The Manager)” (Daryl Hall & John Oates, 1975); “Rich Girl” (Bigger Than The Both Of Us, 1976); “Crazy Eyes” (Bigger Than The Both Of Us, 1976); “Do What You Want, Be What You Are” (Bigger Than The Both Of Us, 1976); “Falling” (Bigger Than The Both Of Us, 1976)

Sacred Songs and the Late ’70s Dip in Fortunes
As it turns out, Daryl Hall had always harbored a secret yearning to make progressive-rock, a side of him that had been showing up on the duo’s records in fits and starts ever since Abandoned Luncheonette. That was finally given a voice in Sacred Songs, Hall’s 1977 solo collaboration with Robert Fripp (of King Crimson). As prog-soul (a heretofore unknown genre), Sacred Songs is one of the most underrated records of its era, a true cult favorite known only to particularly tuned-in prog-rock fans, a position it was destined for after Hall’s manager Tommy Mottola suppressed it and prevented its release for fear it would damage Hall’s commercial reputation with H&O. That led directly to Beauty On A Back Street (1977), a record which both Daryl Hall and John Oates loudly claim to dislike (they even kept it off their 4CD boxed set) but which Jeff and Robert actually think might be one of their finest records. Loud, rockist, angry and surprisingly weird (scan the lyrics of “Bad Habits & Infections” someday), Back Street is the secret gem of the H&O catalogue and it’s a shame that pretty much nobody except the sorts of people who would tape this podcast have even heard of it.

Scot, on the other hand, is a bigger fan of 1978’s Along The Red Ledge, which finds H&O recording with a star-studded array of guests and allies (Todd Rundgren, Robert Fripp, George Harrison, and Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick, among others) and coming up with their one great commercial success of the era, the sparkling “It’s A Laugh.” Scot really enjoys the Cheap Trick-isms of “Alley Katz” as well, and singles out “August Day” as another one of those arresting “Daryl Hall at a piano” moments strewn throughout the Hall & Oates discography. The more dance-oriented X-Static (1979) is a comparative disappointment, but Robert loves “Wait For Me” (he argues that the best way to appreciate it is in its occasional Daryl Hall solo performances), and he’s even more spun around by an outtake from the record: the perfect pop confection “Time’s Up (Alone Tonight).”

KEY TRACKS: “NYCNY” (Sacred Songs, 1977); “Something In 4/4 Time” (Sacred Songs, 1977); “Babs And Bads” (Sacred Songs, 1977); “You Burn Me Up I’m A Cigarette[Robert Fripp] (Exposure, 1978) “You Must Be Good For Something” (Beauty On A Back Street, 1977); “The Emptyness” (Beauty On A Back Street, 1977); “Bad Habits & Infections” (Beauty On A Back Street, 1977); “Winged Bull” (Beauty On A Back Street, 1977); “It’s A Laugh” (Along The Red Ledge, 1978); “Alley Katz” (Along The Red Ledge, 1978); “Don’t Blame It On Love” (Along The Red Ledge, 1978); “August Day” (Along The Red Ledge, 1978); “Wait For Me” (X-Static, 1979); “Running From Paradise” (X-Static, 1979); “Time’s Up (Alone Tonight)” (outtake from X-Static, 1979)

Megastardom: Voices, Private Eyes, H2O, and the 1980s
Sick of their relative misfortunes amidst the dominance of disco and dance music in the late ’70s (which had the effect of dampening the commercial prospects of their own brand of ‘rock & soul’ pop), Hall & Oates decided to quit trying to compete with the trends and, in doing so, ironically began to set trends themselves. Voices (1980) was the duo’s move toward a fusion of new-wave spareness, soul, and pop, and the results turned them into superstars. Jeff spends over a minute patiently explaining why “Kiss On My List” is a work of pure genius from a songwriting perspective, while Robert chimes in to point out that it is, for all intents and purposes, a demo recording with overdubbed voices. Scot is even more enthusiastic about the Devo-goes-pop twitch of “You Make My Dreams” and praises Hall’s preternaturally catchy vocal tics. Jeff thinks that half of Voices is actually fairly dodgy (which is what you get from an album that is basically a set of self-produced demo recordings), but who cares when the other half has stuff like “How Does It Feel To Be Back”?

If Voices was a flawed triumph, there are no such questions from the gang about Private Eyes (1981): Robert, Scot, and Jeff are unanimous in agreeing that this is one of the greatest Hall & Oates albums ever, and in fact one of the greatest early ’80s pop-rock albums full-stop. “Private Eyes” (Scot: “If you don’t clap your hands along to the chorus, I don’t think you’re cool”), “Did It In A Minute,” “Your Imagination,” “Head Above Water”…this record is great from start to finish. Jeff mentions the importance of Sara Allen (Hall’s longtime partner) and her sister Janna as co-writing partners during this era, and also praises the classic #1 single “Billie Jea”–erm, wait, he meant “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do).” (The story of how Michael Jackson nicked the bassline of “I Can’t Go For That” is recounted.)

Scot, interestingly enough, does not care nearly as much for H2O, the platinum-selling followup to “Private Eyes” (and home of “Maneater,” among other famous singles), citing a mechanical feel and downing particularly on “Art Of Heartbreak” and “Open All Night.” Robert is having none of this, however, claiming that he has been waiting his entire life to mount a defense of this record — which he then does, admirably. Jeff mostly just can’t believe that Mike Oldfield (he of Tubular Bells fame) wrote a Hall & Oates hit single.

After Jeff takes time to praise the non-album hit “Say It Isn’t So,” the band addresses Hall & Oates’ final hit album, Big Bam Boom(1984), and then wraps up the rest of their career. All involved agree that it’s all about “Out Of Touch” (both Scot and Jeff even identify it as one of their five key H&O tracks); so much of the rest of Big Bam Boom is sabotaged by unfortunate ’80s production choices. The gang then concludes by reflecting on the remainder of Hall & Oates’ post-1984 output. All agree that there are still good songs to be found, but that the fire had gone out of Hall’s heart in a lot of ways.

KEY TRACKS: “How Does It Feel To Be Back” (Voices, 1980); “Kiss On My List” (Voices, 1980); “You Make My Dreams” (Voices, 1980); “Everytime You Go Away” (Voices, 1980); “Private Eyes” (Private Eyes, 1981); “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)” (Private Eyes, 1981); “Did It In A Minute” (Private Eyes, 1981); “Mano A Mano” (Private Eyes, 1981); “Head Above Water” (Private Eyes, 1981); “Maneater” (H2O, 1982); “One On One” (H2O, 1982); “Family Man” (H2O, 1982); “Go Solo” (H2O, 1982); “Say It Isn’t So” (Rock ‘N Soul, Part 1, 1983); “Dance On Your Knees” (Big Bam Boom, 1984); “Out Of Touch” (Big Bam Boom, 1984); “Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid” (Big Bam Boom, 1984); “So Close (unplugged)” (Change Of Season, 1990)

Robert, Scot and Jeff each pick their two key albums and five key tracks by Hall & Oates

Oct 30, 2017
Episode 10: Jane Coaston / Nine Inch Nails

Scot and Jeff talk to Jane Coaston about Nine Inch Nails.

Introducing the Band
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest Jane Coaston, formerly political writer for MTV news, now featured in the New York Times and ESPN News, among others. Follow Jane on Twitter at @cjane87 and read her (older) work here.

Jane’s Musical Pick: Nine Inch Nails
Perch those toasters precariously close to edge of the bathtub and prepare to slide into a downward spiral, as the gang tackles one of the 90’s most influential acts (and one whose massive mainstream success was frankly surprising), Trent Reznor’s Nine Inch Nails. Jane has loved them ever since she first found The Fragile as a teenager — a gay kid in Catholic school, more than a bit confused about her place in the world — and immediately bonded with Trent Reznor’s anger and sadness. Jeff marvels at the fact that he had never really listened to NIN before Jane pushed it on him a couple months ago, and calls them one of the most wonderful (belated) musical discoveries he’s made in the last several years. In particular he taken with the technical excellence of Reznor’s production, from the endlessly layered synth sounds all the way to the overdriven guitarwork.

KEY TRACKS: “The Fragile” (The Fragile, 1999); “Head Like A Hole” (Pretty Hate Machine, 1989)

Beginnings: Pretty Hate Machine and the Hardcore Turn of the Broken EP
Jeff gets a huge kick out of pointing out that, technically speaking, Nine Inch Nails is an EIGHTIES band. And it’s true! Even though we don’t think of them or Reznor as belonging to that decade because how much he went on to define the sound of the ’90s. But the entire gang actually enjoys Pretty Hate Machine quite a bit (though Jane thinks its final two tracks are the worst NIN ever did). Jeff points out commercial this music really is — “Head Like A Hole” was Reznor’s first hit for a reason — and frankly loves the way Reznor mutated the typical industrial genre by deigning to actually, you know, write songs with catchy hooks in that mode.

If Pretty Hate Machine is sometimes dismissed by aficionados of industrial music for its New Order/Depeche Mode synth-pop underpinning, nobody does that with Broken, an EP that Reznor recorded in secret while trying to escape from under the thumb of his original record label. Broken is only 21 minutes long (31m if you count the bonus tracks), but in many ways it remains one of the most definitive industrial ‘statements’ ever released and is also the most impressively brutal thing Nine Inch Nails released. Everyone loves “Wish.” Jeff argues that the unexpectedly quiet transitional instrumental “Help I Am In Hell” is the moment where Reznor’s conceptual ambition (and genius) first emerged. And Jane wants you to watch the video for “Pinion.”

KEY TRACKS: “Terrible Lie” (Pretty Hate Machine, 1989); “Sin” (Pretty Hate Machine, 1989); “Something I Can Never Have” (Pretty Hate Machine, 1989); “Wish” (Broken EP, 1992); “Help Me I Am In Hell” (Broken EP, 1992); “Gave Up” (Broken EP, 1992); “Suck” (Broken EP, 1992)

A Beautiful Corpse-Flower: The Downward Spiral and the Album as Art-Form
In some ways there’s not much to say about The Downward Spiral that hasn’t already been said elsewhere: this is the one Nine Inch Nails album everyone should own, and the one that will, from track 1, completely subvert the received stereotype of Reznor as a mere noise-merchant. Jane, Jeff and Scot all marvel at the layers and layers of sound that Reznor one-man-bands into a titanic groove on songs like “Piggy” (Jeff’s favorite) and “Closer” (Jane wants to a erect a shrine to the instrumental playout alone). The gang laughs at how Jeff was scandalized by the lyrics of “Closer” as a bluenose teen, and Jane points out that far too many people fail to realize the song isn’t supposed to be a seductive song at all. Then the inevitable discussion of “Hurt” where (perhaps surprisingly) the whole gang agrees that, as great as NIN’s version is, Johnny Cash ended up doing it better. Buy this album.

A brief sidebar ensues as Jane is invited to discourse on the significance of NIN/Reznor’s many remixes and remix albums (e.g. Fixed, or Further Down The Spiral), and why NIN stands apart from nearly every other band in rock history in the critical importance and value of their remix work, which is rewriting much of the time.

KEY TRACKS: “Closer” (The Downward Spiral, 1994); “Piggy” (The Downward Spiral, 1994); “March Of The Pigs” (The Downward Spiral, 1994); “The Becoming” (The Downward Spiral, 1994); “Reptile” (The Downward Spiral, 1994); “Hurt” [Johnny Cash] (American IV: The Man Comes Around, 2002); “Hurt (quiet)” (Further Down The Spiral, 1995); “Closer To God” (Closer To God EP, 1994)

Drugs, Darkness, and The Fragile
After a long layoff, during which the commercial momentum of The Downward Spiral had dissipated almost completely. Meanwhile, as Scot points out, the rest of the musical world had greedily absorbed Trent Reznor’s signature sounds and innovations, NIN emerged from seclusion in 1999 with The Fragile, a record criticized at the time for its sprawl and difficulty (no immediate chart classics here, oh no not so), but which has since achieved a reputation nearly equal to that of The Downward Spiral. This is Jane’s favorite album and she insists that anyone giving NIN a shot begin here, and just listen to the entire adventure. And an adventure it is, agrees Jeff, who finds himself strongly drawn to its subtleties and its combination of quality with genuine lack of compromise. The one track everyone agrees is a mess, though, is the Marilyn Manson potshot (that seems to cop his style, to boot) of “Starf***ers, Inc.”

With Teeth divides the gang. Scot enjoys this one immensely, whereas Jeff feels like, for the first time, Reznor has made a semi-generic-sounding NIN album.

KEY TRACKS: “The Day The World Went Away” (The Fragile, 1999); “The Wretched” (The Fragile, 1999); “We’re In This Together” (The Fragile, 1999); “La Mer” (The Fragile, 1999); “The Great Below” (The Fragile, 1999); “Where Is Everybody” (The Fragile, 1999); “Starf***ers, Inc.” (The Fragile, 1999); “The Hand That Feeds” (With Teeth, 2003); “Only” (With Teeth, 2003); “Right Where It Belongs” (With Teeth, 2003)

The Mid-2000s Outpouring and the Comeback LP
After kicking a nasty heroin habit and winding up his record deal with Interscope, Trent Reznor suddenly goes from a “once per presidential administration” release pattern to dropping three complete records within the span of 2007-2008. Jeff is not a fan of the overtly elaborate concept album Year Zero (2007) or the holding pattern of The Slip (2008), but he utterly adores the release that came in between the, the purely Eno-esque collection of instrumental themes and fragments Ghosts I-IV. This is work that carries on the finest tradition of Music For Films or Discreet Music, and is easily NIN’s most underrated release. Jane enjoys it as well and cites to Reznor’s ‘solo’ work doing soundtrack work for the films of David Fincher and Ken Burns’ Vietnam documentary as a key fruit of Ghosts.

Everyone has strong praise for NIN’s “comeback” album Hesitation Marks however, released in 2013 after Reznor temporarily retired the NIN name (from boredom or exhaustion). Hesitation Marks is the sound of a man who actually seems reasonably well-adjusted and comfortable in his skin for once, and the result is a record that recaptures many of the sonic subtleties of his ’90s era work with a new commitment to melody and structure.

KEY TRACKS: “6 Ghosts I” (Ghosts I-IV, 2008); “Letting You” (The Slip, 2008) “Lights In The Sky” (The Slip, 2008); “Find My Way” (Hesitation Marks, 2013); “All Time Low” (Hesitation Marks, 2013); “Copy Of A” (Hesitation Marks, 2013); “Everything” (Hesitation Marks, 2013)

Jane, Scot and Jeff each name their two key albums and five key songs by Nine Inch Nails

Oct 23, 2017
Episode 9: Mark Hemingway / The Replacements

Scot and Jeff talk to Mark Hemingway about The Replacements.

Introducing the Band
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest Mark Hemingway, senior writer at The Weekly Standard. Follow Mark on Twitter @Heminator and read his work here.

Mark’s Musical Pick: The Replacements.
Grab a bottle cheap whiskey, a case of Grain Belt beer, and an electric guitar, because it’s time to talk about the Great Lost Cause of the American indie-rock scene, The Replacements (or The ‘Mats, a nickname that makes more sense the drunker you get). Mark talks about discovering them right after they had broken up in 1991. Jeff explains that he both loves the ‘Mats and hates them as well…more accurately, he resents them for wasting their amazing talents and sabotaging their careers. But they sure did leave us with a lot of great music regardless.

KEY TRACKS: “Talent Show” (Don’t Tell A Soul, 1989); “Bastards Of Young” (Tim, 1985)

The Early Years: from Punk to Hardcore to . . . Hootenanny?
The gang discusses the early Replacements, from their origins as Just Another Punk/Hardcore Band on the Twin Cities music scene (their main competition was St. Paul’s Hüsker Dü). Mark isn’t a big fan of this era of the ‘Mats, but Jeff is, finding in it a period where their proclivity for drunken, devil-may-care wildness was still in harmony with the music they were actually making as an up-and-coming indie band. Jeff salutes the surprising consistency of their debut LP Sorry Ma, Forgot To Take Out The Trash while Mark argues that it’s too well-produced to be a true hardcore document. The Stink EP (1982) is where The Replacements go fully hardcore — Jeff says it sounds more like mocking ‘musical drag’ than a true commitment, citing to the hilarity of “F**k School” — and while Mark and Scot agree it’s a detour, they both love the flagship track “Kids Don’t Follow,” a response-song to U2’s “I Will Follow.”

Everybody loves Hootenanny (1983), however, which is a hoot-and-a-half: the ‘Mats suddenly start displaying diversity (Westerberg even uses synths and a demo electronic percussion track on the LP). The result is a record that fuses their early, goofy punk loutishness with promising stabs at maturity in songs like “Color Me Impressed,” “Within Your Reach,” and “Willpower.” And Jeff will always love “Mr. Whirly,” if only for the Beatles parodies.

As an aside, both Mark and Jeff are passionate fans of Bob Mehr’s book Trouble Boys: The True Story Of The Replacements, which is no mere quickie rock biography, but rather a true work of journalism: the comprehensively definitive result of years of research, over 200 interviews, access to the Replacements’ outtake vaults, and participation of nearly every living relevant actor (including bandmembers’ friends and family). If you like The Replacements beyond mere casual enjoyment, we cannot recommend this book to strongly enough. It is the last word on the band.

KEY TRACKS: “I’m In Trouble” (Sorry Ma, Forgot To Take Out The Trash, 1981); “Takin’ A Ride” (Sorry Ma, Forgot To Take Out The Trash, 1981); “Johnny’s Gonna Die” (Sorry Ma, Forgot To Take Out The Trash, 1981); “Kick Your Door Down” (“this song was written 20 mins after we recorded it” – Paul Westerberg) (Sorry Ma, Forgot To Take Out The Trash, 1981); “Kids Don’t Follow” (The Replacements Stink EP, 1982); “F**k School” (The Replacements Stink EP, 1982); “Go” (The Replacements StinkEP, 1982); “Hootenanny” (Hootenanny, 1983); “Within Your Reach” (Hootenanny, 1983); “Lovelines” (Hootenanny, 1983); “Buck Hill” (Hootenanny, 1983); “Willpower” (Hootenanny, 1983); “Color Me Impressed” (Hootenanny, 1983); “Mr. Whirly” (Hootenanny, 1983)

The ‘Mats Grow Up, at Least as Much as They Ever Will: Let It Be, Tim, and Pleased To Meet Me
This is the true golden era of The Replacements, as all agree. Jeff still thinks the ‘Mats never made a truly great album and argues that Let It Be (1984) is a frustratingly apt example of that: genius music like “I Will Dare” and “Androgynous” sits right next to half-hearted thrashy nonsense like “Gary’s Got A Boner” and “Tommy Gets His Tonsills Out.” This is material that the Replacements would have been more comfortable doing in an early, less ambitious era, but which sits uneasily along the serious gems by this point. Mark and Scot think Jeff is wrong (Mark: “you are high”), and claim Let It Be as the best of the ‘Mats, right in line with general fan and critical consensus.

With Tim (1985), The Replacements’ major-label debut, Jeff thinks the problem is even more acute: is there really any better song in the entire corpus of American 1980’s indie-rock than “Bastards Of Young”? (Answer: no.) “Kiss Me On The Bus,” “Here Comes A Regular,” “Hold My Life,” “Left Of The Dial”…half of Tim is comprised of anthemic explanations of what rock (and adolescence!) was about in the ’80s. But then you also have to sit through “Dose Of Thunder” and “Lay It Down Clown” and “Waitress In The Sky.” Was it that The Replacements were fundamentally limited as a band, or was it more about self-sabotage?

1987’s Pleased To Meet Me suggests that it was probably self-sabotage, as this is the one that the gang agrees is right up there with the best The Replacements ever did. Fresh off of firing lead guitarist Bob Stinson (it’s a very sad story) and manager Peter Jesperson, the ‘Mats are somehow wrestled into making an extremely assured, varied, movingly smart album that proves what they could’ve accomplished with more discipline. Jeff and Mark agree that even though the lone Replacements song any non-fan is likely to know is “Can’t Hardly Wait,” well, that’s not a bad thing. “The Ledge” finds Paul Westerberg writing about teen suicide from a deadly serious perspective, and while Mark argues that there was no universe in which this could ever have been a hit single — circa-1986 teen suicide news stories notwithstanding — it’s still one of their best. Scot loves “I.O.U.,” not just because of the muscularity of its music but also because its lyric feels like a veiled argument about Stinson and Jesperson (“I owe you nothing”). The gang remarks on the irony of “Alex Chilton,” a song about a legendary failed band that never reached its full potential performed by a legendary failed band that never reached its full potential.

KEY TRACKS: “I Will Dare” (Let It Be, 1984); “Androgynous” (Let It Be, 1984); “Unsatisfied” (Let It Be, 1984); “Black Diamond” (Let It Be, 1984); “Answering Machine (live February 4th, 1986)” (For Sale: Live at Maxwell’s 1986, 2017); “Sixteen Blue” (Let It Be, 1984); “Bastards Of Young (live on Saturday Night Live, January 18th, 1986)” (originally from Tim, 1985); “Left Of The Dial” (Tim, 1985); “Hold My Life” (Tim, 1985); “Kiss Me On The Bus” (Tim, 1985); “Here Comes A Regular” (Tim, 1985); “Skyway” (Pleased To Meet Me, 1987); “Can’t Hardly Wait” (Pleased To Meet Me, 1987); “Alex Chilton” (Pleased To Meet Me, 1987); “I.O.U.” (Pleased To Meet Me, 1987); “The Ledge” (Pleased To Meet Me, 1987)

The Collapse: Don’t Tell a Soul and All Shook Down.

Opinions are highly mixed on the overproduced/overmixed Don’t Tell A Soul (1989), yet another troubled production given an ultra-slick commercial sheen by the record label. “I’ll Be You” was actually the band’s best-charting single, but it’s telling that nobody really talks about it as ranking among their best songs nowadays. Mark can’t defend Don’t Tell A Soul rationally, but he will always love it as his first ‘Mats album and points out that a lot of the songs themselves are excellent ones, merely sabotaged by production choices. Jeff also argues that the real issue is that Westerberg was no longer really writing “Replacements” songs, he was writing “Paul Westerberg solo songs.” To that end, he enjoys “Talent Show” and “Rock ‘N’ Roll Ghost,” both soft numbers, while Scot singles out “Darlin’ One.”

As for All Shook Down? Well it’s a Paul Westerberg solo album in all but name, with the “Replacements” brand affixed to it for various commercial reasons. The one full-band ‘Mats song is “Attitude,” a skiffle-folk number that isn’t exactly typical Replacements style but which all agree is pretty good nonetheless. Other than that, the rockers seem forced on All Shook Down (e.g. “Merry Go Round”) and it’s only on the quieter piano/acoustic tunes where any sense of direction comes through…it was just a direction leading inexorably away from the band.

KEY TRACKS: “I’ll Be You” (Don’t Tell A Soul, 1989); “Asking Me Lies” (Don’t Tell A Soul, 1989); “Darlin’ One” (Don’t Tell A Soul, 1989); “Rock ‘N’ Roll Ghost” (Don’t Tell A Soul, 1989); “Merry Go Round” (All Shook Down, 1990); “When It Began” (All Shook Down, 1990); “Attitude” (All Shook Down, 1990); “The Last” (All Shook Down, 1990)

Paul Westerberg’s Solo Career
This leads inevitably into a bonus discussion of Paul Westerberg as a solo artist. Jeff lays out here, as he doesn’t know the material, but both Scot and Mark have strong opinions on what gems to hunt for in a rather hit-and-miss career. Scot in particular pushes hard for the double-CD release Stereo/Mono, where Westerberg in his opinion finally comes up with two albums’ worth of top-shelf material, humbly produced in his basement studio but standing on its own musical merits despite the lack of any production trickery.

KEY TRACKS: “Black Eyed Susan” (14 Songs, 1993); “It’s A Wonderful Lie” (Suicaine Gratifaction, 1999); “Best Thing That Never Happened” (Suicaine Gratifaction, 1999); “Only Lie Worth Telling” (Stereo, 2002); “Let The Bad Times Roll” (Stereo, 2002); “Silent Film Star” (Mono, 2002)

Mark, Scot and Jeff each name their two key albums and five key tracks from The Replacements.

Oct 16, 2017
Episode 8: Dan McLaughlin / Tom Petty

Scot and Jeff talk to Dan McLaughlin about Tom Petty.

Introducing the Band
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest Dan McLaughlin, contributing columnist at National Review, attorney, and baseball fanatic. Follow Dan on Twitter at @baseballcrank and read his work here.

Dan’s Musical Pick: Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
Yes, it’s a sad day for us at Political Beats as we mark the sudden passing of rock legend Tom Petty, taken too soon by a heart attack. But Dan is here to sing his praises, and the gang has decided to celebrate his music instead of simply moping about. Dan explains how he first got into Petty, and amusingly enough it more or less mirrors Jeff’s entry into Pettydom despite the fact that they’re a decade apart, age-wise: the hallucinogenic “Don’t Come Around Here No More” music video, and then the ubiquitous Full Moon Fever.

KEY TRACK: “Don’t Come Around Here No More” (Southern Accents, 1985)

It Crawled from the South: The Early Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
From Gainesville, FL to Los Angeles, CA. A band named Mudcrutch collapses due to having too many songwriting cooks gathered ’round the stewpot, leaving only frontman Tom Petty, who gathers a few of his ex-bandmates back together along with a couple new additions to create one of the finest rock groups in history: The Heartbreakers. The gang discusses Petty’s origins and his first two pre-superstardom records, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers (1976) and You’re Gonna Get It! (1978). Jeff, Scot and Dan are all agreed that Petty came out of the gate pretty much fully-formed (though Jeff notes that he did indeed serve a musical apprenticeship, i.e. his Mudcrutch years). Dan cites to “Breakdown” as an example how singular and weird Petty’s singing voice truly was, running the gamut from a slurry drawl to a smooth Roger McGuinn tenor all the way up to an excited, Sam Kinison-like screech (Jeff calls it the “chicken-squawk.”). Jeff argues that You’re Gonna Get It! is the most underrated record of Petty’s career, and delightfully brief to boot. Scot cannot help but point out what compellingly UNattractive guy Petty was, which was just another part of his strange rock appeal.

KEY TRACKS: “Breakdown” (Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, 1976); “American Girl” (Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, 1976); “The Wild One, Forever” (Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, 1976); “Strangered In The Night” (Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, 1976); “When The Time Comes” (You’re Gonna Get It!, 1978); “Hurt” (You’re Gonna Get It!, 1978); “Listen To Her Heart” (You’re Gonna Get It!, 1978)

At War with the Record Label: the Damn The Torpedoes/Hard Promises Era
Normally when an artist goes to the mattresses against their own record label it portends doom for their career. Not so for Tom Petty, who came up with what many believe to be his finest record, Damn The Torpedoes (1979), while suing MCA for absorbing his record contract from his original (failing) label against his will. Jeff takes this moment to single out the Heartbreakers’ lead guitarist Mike Campbell, not just for his peerlessly tasteful guitarwork, but for the massive songwriting contribution he made to Petty’s records (“Refugee” and “Here Comes My Girl” are both his on Damn The Torpedoes). Scot emphasizes that the songs you haven’t heard from Damn The Torpedoes like “Shadow Of A Doubt” and “Century City” are just as good as the ultra-famous ones you already know, and Dan agrees, chiming in with “Louisiana Rain.”

The story behind 1981’s Hard Promises is that MCA wanted to charge an elevated “superstar artist” price of $9.98 for it, so Petty threatened to name the record $8.98 to humiliate them unless they relented. Yet again, he won his fight against his label, and came out with a triumph. Scot raves about “The Waiting,” naming it perhaps his single favorite Heartbreakers song. Jeff adores this record as well, and laments that the only way most people know about it is through the (admittedly classic) episode of The Simpsons where Homer wants to buy a gun. So much good material was available from these sessions that Petty was even able to give away “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” to Stevie Nicks. Dan salutes the glimmers of hope that are always imbued in the stories of the protagonists of Petty’s songs (“Nightwatchman” is a good example of this on Hard Promises) and Jeff agrees, contrasting him favorably to the depression-chic of, in his words, “wannabe-John Steinbeck-era Bruce Springsteen.”

The gang is somewhat less enthusiastic about Long After Dark (1982), the last album of this early era of The Heartbreakers, though yet again nobody can really find too much to criticize. What stands out is the interesting synthesizer attack of “You Got Lucky” and the killer album track “Straight Into Darkness.”

KEY TRACKS: “Refugee” (Damn The Torpedoes, 1979); “Even The Losers” (Damn The Torpedoes, 1979); “Here Comes My Girl” (Damn The Torpedoes, 1979); “Don’t Do Me Like That” (Damn The Torpedoes, 1979); “Louisiana Rain” (Damn The Torpedoes, 1979); “The Waiting” (Hard Promises, 1981); “Something Big” (Hard Promises, 1981); “Nightwatchman” (Hard Promises, 1981); “A Thing About You” (Hard Promises, 1981); “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around[Stevie Nicks/Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers] (Bella Donna, 1981); “You Got Lucky” (Long After Dark, 1982); “Change Of Heart” (Long After Dark, 1982); “Straight Into Darkness” (Long After Dark, 1982)

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers Spin Their Wheels with Southern Accents and Let Me Up
The first major hiccup in Petty’s career comes with the long-delayed Southern Accents, a half-realized attempt at a concept album that Jeff deems a failure upfront. Whether it was due to creative confusion, drugs, or some combination of the two, this is an album that doesn’t quite work in his opinion. But that doesn’t mean it lacks for classics! “Rebels” and “Don’t Come Around Here No More” are as good as Tom Petty ever got (even if that electric sitar on “Don’t Come Around” is as far from Petty’s signature sound as he would ever get on one of his big hits). Dan emphasizes that the backwater American South that Petty was writing about on songs like “Rebels” is a world that simply no longer exists in Florida: Gainesville in the 1950s and ’60s was a vastly different place than it is today or even was by the mid-Seventies and Eighties.

If Southern Accents was a flawed-yet-worthy record, its follow-up Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough) is the first (and maybe last) truly poor album of Petty’s career. None of the gang has much good to say about this album outside of the lead single (co-written with Bob Dylan) “Jammin’ Me.” Jeff observes that it’s the only LP of Petty’s career that is saddled with classically “Eighties” production tics (drum sounds, synth tones, etc.) and it does it no favors. This sounds like a band at the end of its rope, and it’s no surprise that Petty took a break from the Heartbreakers for several years afterwards.

KEY TRACKS: “Rebels” (Southern Accents, 1985); “Don’t Come Around Here No More” (Southern Accents, 1985); “Spike” (Southern Accents, 1985); “It Ain’t Nothin’ To Me” (Pack Up The Plantation – Live!, 1985); “Jammin’ Me” (Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough), 1987); “Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough)” (Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough), 1987)

Tom Petty takes a holiday from The Heartbreakers and revives his career: Full Moon Fever and The Traveling Wilburys. After two albums of diminishing returns with his band, Petty stepped away from them, hooked up with ELO’s Jeff Lynne as a producer, and found the joy in making music again. First up was Full Moon Fever, a ‘solo’ album (though every Heartbreaker except drummer Stan Lynch makes an appearance) that just so happened to be stuff with some of the most famous, tuneful, and immediately catchy songs of Petty’s career. His record label rejected the record at first, claiming “there was no single” on it. Millions of listeners would be to differ, since this is the home of “Free Fallin’,” “Runnin’ Down A Dream,” “I Won’t Back Down,” and several others. Scot remarks that Petty seems awfully happy for a guy whose house had just been burned to the ground by an arsonist. This is Dan’s favorite Petty LP for reasons that need little explanation (he even defends “Zombie Zoo!”). Jeff is less enthusiastic, musing about whether it’s possible for an album to “perish through absorption”; in other words, for it to be so embraced by radio, so folded into what our standard definition of ‘classic rock’ is, that it almost becomes superfluous to listen to anymore. Perhaps it’s our fault for loving it too much.

Although Full Moon Fever was mostly in the can by mid-1988, it was held back because Petty was fully ensconced in another project, the delightful Traveling Wilburys. The Wilburys were basically the super-est supergroup to ever exist: Petty, George Harrison, Roy Orbison, Jeff Lynne, and Bob Dylan. And yet Traveling Wilburys, Vol. 1 is the opposite of a pompous, bombastic ego-trip: it’s a breezy, charmingly low-key record full of pop/rock songs and sly humor. The entire gang agrees that you’re missing out on one of the finest rock albums of the ’80s (of all time, in fact, Dan would argue) if you don’t own this record.

This era concludes with Into The Great Wide Open (1991), Petty’s reunion with The Heartbreakers. Jeff likes the big singles, but is down on the record as a whole, arguing that it’s more of a Tom Petty/Jeff Lynne solo LP than it is a true Heartbreakers record. But Dan really loves the rockers on the record like “Out In The Cold” and “Makin’ Some Noise”: tributes to rock & roll for its own sake.

KEY TRACKS: “Free Fallin’” (Full Moon Fever, 1989); “Runnin’ Down A Dream” (Full Moon Fever, 1989); “I Won’t Back Down” (Full Moon Fever, 1989); “Yer So Bad” (Full Moon Fever, 1989); “The Apartment Song” (Full Moon Fever, 1989); “Last Night[The Traveling Wilburys] (Traveling Wilburys, Vol. 1, 1988); “You Got It[Roy Orbison] (Mystery Girl, 1989); “Learning To Fly” (Into The Great Wide Open, 1991); “Two Gunslingers” (Into The Great Wide Open, 1991); “Makin’ Some Noise” (Into The Great Wide Open, 1991); “Into The Great Wide Open” (Into The Great Wide Open, 1991); “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” (Greatest Hits, 1993)

Into the Firmament
The post
Greatest Hits era: from Wildflowers all the way to Hypnotic Eye. With the release of 1993’s Greatest Hits, Petty solidified his place in the firmament of the rock world. But that wasn’t the end of Petty’s greatness. Wildflowers (1994) may be 20 minutes too long (or so Jeff thinks), but the title track, “You Wreck Me,” and “It’s Good To Be King” are all classics on par with the best of his work. The gang talks about the effects of Petty’s divorce and his (long-concealed) mid-’90s heroin addiction on the lower gear of much of the music from this era, though Jeff thinks of She’s The One as the last great, authentically energetic Heartbreakers album. Scot begs to differ and cites to Echo (1999), which he thinks is even better. Everyone agrees that “Room At The Top” is a masterpiece, but Scot also points to “Echo,” “Lonesome Sundown,” and two or three others. The gang generally dismisses the sour The Last DJ as being the album equivalent of the Simpsons meme “Old Man Yells At Cloud,” but Dan is a huge fan of the final two Petty albums, Mojo (2010) and Hypnotic Eye (2013).

KEY TRACKS: “Wildflowers” (Wildflowers, 1994); “You Wreck Me” (Wildflowers, 1994); “It’s Good To Be King” (Wildflowers, 1994); “A Higher Place” (Wildflowers, 1994); “Walls (Circus)” (Songs and Music from the Film “She’s The One”, 1996); “Angel Dream (No. 2)” (Songs and Music from the Film “She’s The One”, 1996); “Change The Locks” (Songs and Music from the Film “She’s The One”, 1996); “Room At The Top” (Echo, 1999); “Lonesome Sundown” (Echo, 1999); “Echo” (Echo, 1999); “Swingin’” (Echo, 1999); “High In The Morning” (Mojo, 2010); “Running Man’s Bible” (Mojo, 2010); “Fault Lines” (Hypnotic Eye, 2013); “American Dream Plan B” (Hypnotic Eye, 2013)

Dan, Scot and Jeff name their two key albums and five key songs by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers.

Oct 05, 2017
Episode 7: Jay Cost / The Kinks

Scot and Jeff talk to Jay Cost about The Kinks.

Introducing the Band
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest Jay Cost, author of A Republic No More: Big Government and the Rise of American Corruption, contributing editor at The Weekly Standard, and yinzer. Follow Jay on Twitter at @JayCostTWS, read his work here, and buy his book on Amazon here.

Jay’s Musical Pick: The Kinks
How did Jay get into them? Jay talks about discovering the Kinks in college, once he finally got enough disposable income to hunt down their CDs. They’ve never left his life since, an endless well to dive back into and discover new things. Jeff talks about his experience in high school as a ‘classic rock kid’ who avoided the Kinks because nobody ever talked about their classic-era records. A chance purchase of The Kink Kronikles led to a follow-up used CD version of Village Green Preservation Society and after that all bets were off. Jeff recalls being thrown for a loop by Ray Davies’ social and lyrical concerns, which were as un-‘rock’ as anything he had ever heard up until that point.

KEY TRACK: “The Village Green Preservation Society” (The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society, 1968)

The Early Garage-Rock Years: Massive Singles and Dodgy Albums
The gang surveys the early (1964-1965) era of The Kinks, when their albums were mostly-appalling collections of half-competent covers and lame ‘originals’, while their non-album singles were one titanic landmark of early British Invasion rock (and proto-punk) after another. Nobody has much other than laughter for Kinks and Kinda Kinks outside of the mega-hit singles found on each, though Jeff offers praise to “Something Better Beginning,” the conclusion of Kinda Kinks. But those amazing singles! “You Really Got Me,” “All Day And All Of The Night,” “Tired Of Waiting For You,” “Set Me Free,” “See My Friends,” “I Need You,” and the list goes on and on. Before the Kinks became the textbook example of an “album act,” they were one of the truly legendary singles acts in UK history.

The gang spares more of an ear for the Kinks’ third record, the transitional Kink Kontroversy. The originals still aren’t very sophisticated, outside of the single/B-side and a track or two, but they’re getting more refined and “Milk-Cow Blues” is maybe the only great cover the Kinks ever recorded. Also, The Kink Kontroversy sports one of the coolest, sleekest album covers of the entire pre-psychedelia pop era. Check it out here.

KEY TRACKS: “You Really Got Me” (Kinks, 1964); “All Day And All Of The Night” (A-side of single, 1964); “Nothin’ In The World Can Stop Me Worryin’ ‘Bout That Girl” (Kinda Kinks, 1965); “Tired Of Waiting For You” (Kinda Kinks, 1965); “Something Better Beginning” (Kinda Kinks, 1965); “Set Me Free” (A-side of single, 1965); “See My Friends” (A-side of single, 1965); “Milk-Cow Blues” (The Kink Kontroversy, 1965); “Where Have All The Good Times Gone?” (The Kink Kontroversy, 1965); “I’m On An Island” (The Kink Kontroversy, 1965)

The Kinks become The Kinks
“Dedicated Follower Of Fashion,” Face To Face, and the Davies brothers’ retreat from prevailing psychedelic trends into a sharp commentary on the nature of ‘progress’ and its effect upon British society. This is where the Kinks become THE KINKS as Jay, Scot and Jeff all agree. Scot cites Face To Face as the Great Leap Forward for the Kinks. Jeff says that the dividing line should be moved a little further back to early 1966 with their non-album single “Dedicated Follower Of Fashion.” Jay suggests that the real key to the Kinks’ early years was their secret weapon: Dave Davies, brusquely effective lead guitarist, underrated songwriter, and sneaky-good hoarse-voxed singer. But all agree that Face To Face is the first truly great ALBUM the band ever released, a varied diverse kaleidoscope of instrumental colors, musical approaches, and lyrical concerns. The only song you might have ever heard from it is “Sunny Afternoon” unless you’re a serious fan. But nearly every other track is equally as good. (Have you heard “Dandy”? “Session Man”? “Holiday In Waikiki”? If not, why not?)

The halting flirtation with psychedelic touches found on Face To Face are abandoned completely after this point, yet the Kinks keep rising from artistic triumph to triumph even as their commercial fortunes decline. First with “Dead End Street,” a brilliantly catchy pop single written about the horrors of living in a tenement slum, and then with Something Else By The Kinks, home to twelve deft character sketches of life in mid-sixties Britain. Jay thinks that Face To Face marks Ray’s initial lamentation of the costs of modern ‘progress’ for the simple dreams of ordinary folks, but doesn’t proffer a solution: the solution, at least as Ray sees it, is put forth on Something Else and Village Green Preservation Society. Jeff thinks “Death Of A Clown” and “Situation Vacant” are Something Else‘s best songs, but of course Scot and Jay point to “Waterloo Sunset,” often hailed by other musicians as the most beautiful pop song ever written in the English language. Scot marvels that a song so highly rated by Davies’ peers (and by critics) is actually relatively obscure in terms of radio airplay. The Kinks’ US performance ban (and its effect on Ray Davies’ delve into a highly British songwriting obsession) is discussed, and the primitive production stylings of Shel Talmy are lamented.

KEY TRACKS: “Dedicated Follower Of Fashion” (A-side of single, 1966); “Party Line” (Face To Face, 1966); “Rosie Won’t You Please Come Home” (Face To Face, 1966); “Dandy” (Face To Face, 1966); “Session Man” (Face To Face, 1966); “Fancy” (Face To Face, 1966); “Sunny Afternoon” (Face To Face, 1966); “I’m Not Like Everybody Else” (B-side of “Sunny Afternoon,” 1966); “Dead End Street” (A-side of single, 1966); “David Watts” (Something Else By The Kinks, 1967); “Waterloo Sunset” (Something Else By The Kinks, 1967); “Death Of A Clown” (Something Else By The Kinks, 1967); “Situation Vacant” (Something Else By The Kinks, 1967); “Susannah’s Still Alive” (A-side of single, 1967)

The Kinks reach the full flower of their maturity, join the Sherlock Holmes English-Speaking Vernacular, and observe the Decline and Fall of the British Empire. It’s not a unanimous decision for the #1 spot (Jay still prefers Muswell Hillbillies), but everyone agrees that The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society is one of the most magnificent achievements not only in The Kinks’ discography, but in pop music history. Ray Davies finally dedicates himself to an actual concept album, built around the cultural and social concerns on display over 1966-1967, and the result is flooring. Unless you’re a Kinks fan, you might not have even heard one single song on this record, and yet nearly all of them are masterpieces. Jeff talks about how “Do You Remember Walter” is the most devastatingly realistic requiem to childhood dreams ever written…and yet it ends with a hopeful conclusion. He also cites to “Picture Book,” “Monica” (a joyful song about the local town prostitute!) and especially “People Take Pictures Of Each Other,” which even to this day explains ‘selfie culture.’ Jay praises Village Green as the record where Ray Davies actually provided a constructive answer to his critique of society advanced on Face To Face and Something Else, even as VGPS is essentially a lament for a world slowly being destroyed by modern capitalist commercialism.

Jeff thought he was going out on a limb by dismissing Village Green‘s critically adored 1969 follow-up Arthur, Or The Decline And Fall Of The British Empire (perhaps the ‘critical consensus’ choice as their best record) as a flabbily substandard album, but he finds a surprising ally in Jay. Scot likes the album (a concept piece originally conceived for a TV special about one man making his way through the wreckage of the post-war, post-Empire British dream), but Jeff insists it’s an ominous example of Ray subverting musical quality in favor of ‘conceptual unity,’ and cites to the Dave Davies B-sides of this era as proof that far better work was being discarded in order to service a premise. Jay agrees that musically it’s a dip between the albums that bracket it, but is taken by the surpassing gloom and pessimism of the album’s defeated protagonist. That said, all rational human beings love “Victoria,” and “Shangri-La,” and particular respect is given to the pathos of the title track “Arthur.” (“Arthur the world’s gone and passed you by, don’t you know it?/You can cry all night but it won’t make it right, don’t you know it?”)

KEY TRACKS: “Do You Remember, Walter?” (The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society, 1968); “Picture Book” (The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society, 1968); “Johnny Thunder” (The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society, 1968); “Last Of The Steam-Powered Trains” (The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society, 1968); “Animal Farm” (The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society, 1968); “Monica” (The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society, 1968); “People Take Pictures Of Each Other” (The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society, 1968); “Days” (A-side of single, 1968); “Victoria” (Arthur, Or The Decline And Fall Of The British Empire, 1969); “Yes Sir, No Sir” (Arthur, Or The Decline And Fall Of The British Empire, 1969); “Brainwashed‘” (Arthur, Or The Decline And Fall Of The British Empire, 1969); “Mindless Child Of Motherhood” (B-side of “Drivin’,” 1969); “Shangri-La” (Arthur Or The Decline And Fall Of The British Empire, 1969); “Arthur” (Arthur, Or The Decline And Fall Of The British Empire, 1969)

Lola and Muswell Hillbillies: The Kinks Complete Their Golden Era
Critics and fans sometimes like to dismiss the Lola album as a step down from Arthur — just “Ray Davies bellyaching ‘PAY MEEEE!!!'” (as Jay puts it). The gang is having none of it. All three of them think Lola Versus Powerman And The Moneygoround (1970) is a superb record, one of the Kinks’ finest, and Jeff and Jay consider it superior to Arthur. Scot calls out to Dave’s magnificent “Strangers” and has no idea why classic rock radio programmers aren’t playing “Powerman” on heavy rotation. Jay considers the record to be a morality tale about being “seduced by the serpent,” the serpent in this case being the music industry and its promise of fame, fortune, and self-fulfillment. To Jay, “Lola” isn’t just a goofy novelty song about a transvestite, it’s a song about an outsider liberated from shackles and illusions, someone who’s just got to be free. Jeff agrees with Jay about Lola‘s fundamental unhappiness, and finds it best expressed in the forgotten (except by Wes Anderson) album track “This Time Tomorrow,” where the loneliness of a touring musician is treated without bathos or self-pity.

Scot is indifferent towards Muswell Hillbillies (1971), but Jeff is not; while it’s not his favorite Kinks record, it’s up there, and it’s certainly their last truly great LP even if it’s a left-turn away from radio-friendly commercialism into a unique fusion of country and jazz-tinged music-hall. Jay then takes over to sing the praises of Muswell, his single favorite Kinks album, the one that fully diagnoses (as Ray sees it) the illness of modern society. “This is the album where Ray basically says ‘they’re coming for you’…there’s no getting away from the People In Grey.”

KEY TRACKS: “Lola” (Lola Versus Powerman And The Moneygoround, 1970); “Strangers” (Lola Versus Powerman And The Moneygoround, 1970); “Get Back In Line” (Lola Versus Powerman And The Moneygoround, 1970); “Apeman” (Lola Versus Powerman And The Moneygoround, 1970); “Powerman” (Lola Versus Powerman And The Moneygoround, 1970); “This Time Tomorrow” (Lola Versus Powerman And The Moneygoround, 1970); “20th Century Man” (Muswell Hillbillies, 1971); “Skin And Bone” (Muswell Hillbillies, 1971); “Oklahoma U.S.A.” (Muswell Hillbillies, 1971); “Acute Schizophrenia Paranoia Blues” (Muswell Hillbillies, 1971); “Have A Cuppa Tea” (Muswell Hillbillies, 1971); “Muswell Hillbilly” (Muswell Hillbillies, 1971)

The ‘Theatrical’ Years
Scot refers to Everybody’s In Show-Biz, as “the drunkest album ever recorded” and he’s got a point. It’s not a cliff-dive after Muswell Hillbillies, but it is a noticeable drop-off as Ray’s songwriting shifts to conceptual concerns and begins to consciously retread ground already covered before. Neither Scot nor Jeff (especially Jeff!) is a fan of this era — Scot names “Jack The Idiot Dunce” as his least favorite Kinks song of all time — but Jay makes a bold defense of them, and recommends the live shows from this era. To be fair, the individual songs he singles out are…actually pretty darn good.

KEY TRACKS: “Celluloid Heroes” (Everybody’s In Show-Biz, 1972); “Sitting In My Hotel” (Everybody’s Show-Biz, 1972); “Sitting In The Midday Sun” (Preservation Act 1, 1973); “One Of The Survivors” (Preservation Act 1, 1973); “Sweet Lady Genevieve” (Preservation Act 1, 1973); “He’s Evil” (Preservation Act 2, 1974); “Salvation Road” (Preservation Act 2, 1974); “Slum Kids (live March 1979)” (originally an outtake from Preservation Act 2, 1974); “Everybody’s A Star” (Soap Opera, 1975); “Holiday Romance” (Soap Opera, 1975); “Ducks On The Wall” (Soap Opera, 1975); “No More Looking Back” (Schoolboys In Disgrace, 1975)

The Commercial Revival
The Kinks’ late ’70s/early ’80s commercial revival: Sleepwalker, Misfits, Low Budget, and Give The People What They Want. New label + internal band rebellion = Ray returns to a more commercial sound…or at least a series of records that aren’t dependent upon arch theatrical conceits. The gang really enjoy Sleepwalker and Misfits even though they don’t get any airplay anymore. Ray actually seems happy as a songwriter, for once! Plus a lot of the band’s radio hits still hold up. Jay thinks of Misfits as the ‘happy ending’ that the Kinks deserved but never quite got. Jeff singles out “Black Messiah” as a fascinatingly troubling song that could never in a million years be written today.

KEY TRACKS: “Life Goes On” (Sleepwalker, 1977); “Life On The Road” (Sleepwalker, 1977); “Sleepwalker” (Life On The Road, 1977); “Misfits” (Misfits, 1978); “Permanent Waves” (Misfits, 1978); “A Rock ‘N’ Roll Fantasy” (Misfits, 1978); “Black Messiah” (Misfits, 1978); “(Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman” (Low Budget, 1979); “Destroyer” (Give The People What They Want, 1981); “Better Things” (Give The People What They Want, 1981); “Come Dancing” (State Of Confusion, 1983); “Do It Again” (Word Of Mouth, 1984)

Jay, Scot and Jeff each name their 2 key albums and 5 key tracks by The Kinks.

Oct 01, 2017
Episode 6: James Poulos / The Eagles

Scot and Jeff talk to James Poulos about The Eagles.

Introducing the Band
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest James Poulos, author of The Art Of Being Free: How Tocqueville Can Save Us From Ourselves, contributor at American Affairs, and lead singer/songwriter for Vast Asteroid. Follow James on Twitter at @jamespoulos and buy his book on Amazon here.

James’s Musical Pick: The Eagles
How did James get into them? James discusses the Eagles’ consummate craftsmanship and demands that they be given their due. James identifies personally with the Eagles mythos as one who followed in the footsteps of Glenn Frey as a Detroit boy-gone-Los-Angeles, and suggests they are better understood as a nonpareil singles act rather than as the AOR band they normally get labeled as. James also goes on to praise the spaciousness of their instrumental mix–so unlike the wall of sound of today’s modern dad-rock acts–and the concise nature of their songs. Jeff resolutely declares his Dude-like opposition to the Eagles, citing them as emblematic of the decay of the eclecticism of ’60s SoCal rock scene into the ’70s “El Lay” scene…while admitting that he does like several of their songs anyway.

(N.B. The terrible country-rock supergroup whose name Jeff can’t remember is Stephen Stills’ godawful ‘Manassas.’)

KEY SONGS: “Doolin’ Dalton” (Desperado, 1973); “The Best Of My Love” (On The Border, 1974)

The Early Country-Rock Years
Jeff thinks this might be the best era of the Eagles, but then you might not want to trust him as an avowed non-fan. Eagles (1972) comes in for qualified praise: Jeff can’t stand “Peaceful Easy Feeling” but likes most everything else, saluting its democratic approach to writing credits and the variety that results from that. Scot thinks the Gene Clark co-write “Train Leaves Here This Morning” may be the best song the record.

Jeff thinks the cover of Desperado (1973) is (inadvertently) one of the funniest damn relics of the entire Los Angeles soft/country-rock era (Bernie Leadon awkwardly cradling that shotgun is a particular delight), and thinks its title track’s sole value is as a punchline in a classic Seinfeld episode. Scot can never hear it again without the skip that was on his parents’ original vinyl version.

KEY SONGS: “Take It Easy” (Eagles, 1972); “Train Leaves Here This Morning” (Eagles, 1972); “Witchy Woman” (Eagles, 1972); “Peaceful Easy Feeling” (Eagles, 1972); “Desperado (Seinfeld version)” (Desperado, 1973); “Tequila Sunrise” (Desperado, 1973); “Bitter Creek” (Desperado, 1973)

The Hitmaking Era Begins with On The Border and One Of These Nights
Glyn Johns is out as a producer, and in comes Bill Szymczyk, with his peerlessly smooth Los Angeles studio sound. The middle era (golden era?) of the Eagles begins with On The Border (1974), which nobody in the gang likes that much except for Jeff . . . and, predictably, Jeff hates the #1 hit single that the record is most known for (“Best Of My Love”). Jeff also can’t quite get past the way the Eagles saddled one of their best rock instrumental tracks (“James Dean”) with one of their stupidest lyrics.

One Of These Nights (1975) is where Don (“Mr.” to Don Henley) Felder joins the Eagles, where Bernie Leadon finally calls it quits, and where the band truly breaks out big, with the title track and the sappy-but-beloved “Take It To The Limit.” Jeff is meh on it but Scot and James both love it. Jeff feels the need to point out that the Swedish hardcore Frank Frazetta-style album cover is hilariously out of place given the band’s style, more “Eagles of Death Metal” than “Eagles.” James salutes any song where Don Henley sings about the Devil be it implicitly or explicitly, and considers “One Of These Nights” to be one of those songs.

KEY SONGS: “Already Gone” (On The Border, 1974); “Midnight Flyer” (On The Border, 1974); “James Dean” (On The Border, 1974); “My Man” (On The Border, 1974); “Good Day In Hell” (On The Border, 1974); “One Of These Nights” (One Of These Nights, 1975); “Journey Of The Sorceror” (One Of These Nights, 1975); “Take It To The Limit” (One Of These Nights, 1975)

You can check out anytime you like . . . Hotel California
Jeff will never be mistaken for an Eagles fan, but not even is going to try to pretend that “Hotel California” isn’t a great song, although he credits it more to Don Felder and Joe Walsh’s guitar heroics than Don Henley’s pretentious/portentous cod-Robbie Robertson lyrics. (That said, at least it’s not as miserably bad as “The Last Resort.”)

But the rest of the album is pretty great as well! The big difference this time of course is the addition of Joe Walsh, who flexes his muscles on “Life In The Fast Lane.” But really this is a pretty consistent record all the way through. Scot speaks up for “Wasted Time,” as a soulful ballad from Don Henley that rings true. James points out how Hotel California finds him finally acquiring a truly authentic writing voice, writing about how the fantasy of the band’s fans was becoming their prison.

Since the gang is pretty sure they’ll never get a chance to do an episode specifically devoted to Joe Walsh, they take some time to sing his praises — not just as a musician, or as a guitarist, but as a personality. A hugely underrated ’70s artist who might have only contributed to two classic-era Eagles albums, but was a force in his own right. People, listen to the amazing full-length version of “Life’s Been Good.”

KEY SONGS: “Hotel California” (Hotel California, 1976); “New Kid In Town” (Hotel California, 1976); “Wasted Time” (Hotel California,1976); “Life In The Fast Lane” (Hotel California, 1976); “The Last Resort” (Hotel California, 1976); “Life’s Been Good” [Joe Walsh] (But Seriously, Folks…, 1978)

The Long Run, the Long Collapse, and the History Of The Eagles
Nobody can quite understand how the Eagles went from their greatest commercial triumph to a three-year layoff to The Long Run, a record universally regarded as a failure (“cocaine,” James avers). Nobody has too much praise for it aside from the title track, which is an authentic mid-tempo classic, though Jeff has a weak spot for the Timothy B. Schmit number “I Can’t Tell You Why” and James makes an impassioned plea to The Killers to cover “In The City” and redeem their recent, middling musical output.

Nobody has much other than eyerolls to offer for the Eagles’ post-1994 reunion efforts (“Get Over It” comes in for some mockery), except for Scot’s observation that it probably saved Joe Walsh’s life. However, James, Scot and Jeff are united in their love of the remarkable documentary movie History Of The Eagles, done with the full participation of every member of the band, most of whom currently dislike one another and let it show to great effect. Jeff offers the highest praise possible to History Of The Eagles: “I don’t even like this band, and it’s one of my favorite music documentaries ever.” It’s available on Netflix so don’t miss out. It’s a hoot and a half.

KEY SONGS:”The Long Run” (The Long Run, 1979); “I Can’t Tell You Why” (The Long Run, 1979); “In The City” (The Long Run, 1979); “Get Over It” (Hell Freezes Over, 1994)

James Scot and Jeff name their two key albums and five key songs from the Eagles.

Sep 25, 2017
Episode 5: Chris Hayes / Beck

Scot and Jeff talk to MSNBC’s Chris Hayes about Beck.

Introducing the Band
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest Chris Hayes, host of MSNBC’s All In With Chris Hayes and Editor-at-Large of The Nation. Follow Chris on Twitter at @chrislhayes and watch All In on MSNBC every weeknight at 8:00pm Eastern.

Chris’s Musical Pick: Beck
How did Chris get into them? Chris talks about finding Beck at the special moment in his adolescent years where music can truly make a permanent impact on you. His first album was Odelay, bought for him by a high school buddy (who, coincidentally, went on to become Extremely Famous). Beck as the musical epitomization of that late ’90s “irony/post-irony/New Sincerity” moment that other artists and authors were also wrestling with. Jeff emphasizes Beck’s work ethic, and how it sits completely at odds with his early ‘slacker’ musical reputation.

The Lo-Fi Indie Years
Before there was Odelay, before there was Mellow Gold, there were a series of lo-fi self-produced indie-rock records: Golden Feelings, Stereopathetic Soulmanure, and One Foot In The Grave. Where do they sit in the Beck pantheon? Jeff is a huge fan of difficult, badly-produced D.I.Y. noise (he cites to Pavement’s early EPs and records) so he’s on board. Chris is too, and still has fond memories of finally managing to hunt down a copy of One Foot In The Grave back when it was impossible to find in record shops.

KEY TRACKS: “No Money No Honey” (Golden Feelings, 1992); “Rowboat” (Stereopathetic Soulmanure, 1993); “Asshole” (One Foot In The Grave, 1994); “Satan Gave Me A Taco” (Stereopathetic Soulmanure, 1993)

Beck makes it big, and then self-consciously gets weird
Soy un perdidor, baby. With “Loser,” Beck busts into mainstream consciousness and never entirely departs from it. Is there really that much difference between Beck’s major-label debut Mellow Gold (now often dismissed as a Pablo Honey-like “one hit and a bunch of detritus” record) and his critically beloved follow-up Odelay? Neither Jeff nor Scott are all that convinced that there is. Jeff thinks it’s deeply underrated, and shows remarkable commercial focus given his earlier lo-fi recordings. Chris points out how funny Beck could be, and how that humor comes through loud and clear on Mellow Gold. The danger is that sometimes he can seem like he’s doing a bit.

Jeff would like to tell you that Odelay is overrated and is really second-rate compared to the rest of Beck’s discography, but alas, he cannot. It is every bit as good as its reputation. Scot and Chris note the influence of a quality producer in sparking Beck’s creativity: the Dust Brothers on Odelay, and then later Nigel Godrich. Still, Scot concedes that it is not quite an ‘album’ so much as a collection of excellent songs. Everyone thinks “Ramshackle” is one of the finest songs of Beck’s career, and particular love is shown for “Jack-Ass,” a song built off a transcendent sample of Van Morrison doing a Bob Dylan cover — with all the layers of ironic meaning that entails.

KEY TRACKS: “Loser” (Mellow Gold, 1994); “Truckdrivin Neighbors Downstairs (Yellow Sweat)” (Mellow Gold, 1994); “Nitemare Hippy Girl” (Mellow Gold, 1994); “Blackhole” (Mellow Gold, 1994); “Hotwax” (Odelay, 1996); “Novacane” (Odelay, 1996); “Jack-Ass” (Odelay, 1996); “Where It’s At” (Odelay, 1996); “Ramshackle” (Odelay, 1996)

Beck’s Mutation: Mutations and Midnight Vultures
The gang has nothing but praise for Beck’s sudden left-turn away from Odelay‘s commercially potent sampling and hip-hop fusion pastiche signalled by 1998’s Mutations, a low-key record of slow, folky, exotically tinged ballads based around acoustic instruments. Scot argues that this is his best record, and nobody can really take issue with the choice. Chris calls “Tropicalia” an excellent example of musical cosplay. Jeff insists that Mutations is Beck’s most “Pavement-like” album, and notes that Beck probably had the right instinct in wanting to release this as an indie-label record rather than a “major-label” release: as great a record as Mutations was, it killed Beck’s commercial momentum.

As for Midnite Vultures, everyone appreciates the wild fusion aspects of the record, but both Chris and Jeff note that there are perils here as well. Jeff is tired of everyone citing to “Debra” as a standout track when it’s at best something like the 20th-best song Beck ever wrote, and essentially Beck wearing silly musical drag, taking ironic homage to a ridiculous extreme. Chris agrees; while he likes it, he thinks it comes weirdly close to an uncomfortable ‘blackface’ vibe — the comparison to David Bowie on Young Americans is hard to avoid. There is more to Midnite Vultures than just “Debra,” however: “Milk And Honey” may be one of the best songs of his entire career.

KEY TRACKS: “Nobody’s Fault But My Own” (Mutations, 1998); “Canceled Check” (Mutations, 1998); “Tropicalia” (Mutations, 1998); “Sexx Laws” (Midnite Vultures, 1999); “Debra” (Midnite Vultures, 1999); “Hollywood Freaks” (Midnite Vultures, 1999); “Broken Train” (Midnite Vultures, 1999); “Milk And Honey” (Midnite Vultures, 1999)

Sea Change
Beck returns after a long layoff with his gloomiest, dreamiest album yet. Also maybe his best. An album full of glum dirges about heartbreak (inspired by the end of his long-term relationship). Beloved by critics, met with general bemusement by consumers, 2002’s Sea Change gets a huge thumbs-up from Scot, Jeff and Chris. This is Chris’s favorite Beck LP, and he raves about the sonic and aesthetic coherence of the record. Jeff loves the fact that once you strip away the strings and oceanic production from Sea Change, it’s basically a country-folk album — dig those pedal steel guitars all over the record! Jeff also reflects upon what it really means to say that Beck is an “eclecticist,” and cites to the gap between Odelay and Sea Change as embodying that vast range. Buy this record today, people.

KEY TRACKS: “The Golden Age” (Sea Change, 2002); “Paper Tiger” (Sea Change, 2002); “Lost Cause” (Sea Change, 2002); “Guess I’m Doing Fine” (Sea Change, 2002); “Sunday Sun” (Sea Change, 2002)

Guero, The Information and the long afternoon of Beck’s ’00s-’10s career
Jeff feels that Guero is a competent but otherwise uninspiring return to his “Dust Brothers” form. Scot speaks up in favor of The Information, particularly the amazing track “Strange Apparition.” Chris pushes for Modern Guilt as one of the Beck records he likes to put on the most — good for most any mood. Jeff salutes Beck for being ahead of the paranoia-conspiracy-Alex-Jones zeitgeist with “Chemtrails.” Nobody is too terribly enamored with Morning Phase, but hopes are high for the upcoming album.

KEY TRACKS: “Girl” (Guero, 2005); “Missing” (Guero, 2005); “Strange Apparition” (The Information, 2006); “New Round” (The Information, 2006); “Dark Star” (The Information, 2006); “Modern Guilt” (Modern Guilt, 2008); “Chemtrails” (Modern Guilt, 2008); “Say Goodbye” (Morning Phase, 2014)

Chris, Scot and Jeff each pick their two key albums and five key songs from Beck’s career.

Sep 17, 2017
Episode 4: Matt Welch / R.E.M.

Introducing the Band
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD), with guest Matt Welch, former Editor-in-Chief and current Editor-at-Large of Reason and co-host of The Fifth Column podcast. Follow Matt on Twitter at @MattWelch and read his work here.

Matt’s musical pick: R.E.M.
How did Matt get into them? Matt tells his story of being a kid in 1983 and having a friend hand a copy of Murmur to him. He explains how he learned to play guitar by spinning early R.E.M. records, and how their music followed him all through his life, from an auto-body shop in North Long Beach all the way to eastern Europe during the post-Communist ’90s. Jeff marvels at how R.E.M. was the one American indie band from the ’80s scene to gain escape velocity and make it big.

The Early Years
The gang discusses R.E.M.’s early mysterious LPs, the foundation of their legend. Is Murmur the greatest debut album of all time? Jeff certainly thinks so; whereas Scot doesn’t even think it’s the best of their first two records. preferring the more energetic Reckoning. Matt nominates “We Walk” for his upcoming compilation disc entitled Songs That Singlehandedly Ruin Otherwise Perfect Albums. Attention is given to the fully-formed nature of the band’s sound–it didn’t come about by chance, as it turns out–and the hints of impending gloom found on songs like “Camera.”

KEY SONGS: “We Walk” (Murmur, 1983); “Wolves, Lower” (Chronic Town EP, 1982); “Gardening At Night (different vocal mix)” (Eponymous, 1988); “Laughing” (Murmur, 1983); “Perfect Circle” (Murmur, 1983); “Sitting Still” (Murmur, 1983); “Talk About The Passion” (Murmur, 1983); “Harborcoat” (Reckoning, 1984); “So. Central Rain (I’m Sorry)” (Reckoning, 1984); “Pretty Persuasion” (Reckoning, 1984); “Camera” (Reckoning, 1984)

R.E.M. in Transition: Fables Of The Reconstruction and Lifes Rich Pageant
The gang celebrates Fables Of The Reconstruction as the height of R.E.M.’s ‘southern gothic’ approach, as Matt explains how its rolling textures and chords actually sound like the landscape they seek to evoke. Jeff, meanwhile, explains that he doesn’t entirely trust people who dislike the song “Driver 8.”

Scot focuses on the underrated greatness of the record’s 1986 followup Lifes Rich Pageant, and everyone heartily agrees that it is mysteriously neglected. Jeff explains why it was a record that should have failed: heavily reliance on old/recycled material, a curiously odd instrumental, a cover track — and yet none of that matters. Matt singles out the effectiveness of the album’s environmental and political themes: powerful without ever seeming preachy.

KEY SONGS: “Driver 8” (Fables Of The Reconstruction, 1985); “Maps And Legends” (Fables Of The Reconstruction, 1985); “Feeling Gravity’s Pull” (Fables Of The Reconstruction, 1985); “Auctioneer (Another Engine)” (Fables Of The Reconstruction, 1985); “Fall On Me” (Lifes Rich Pageant, 1986); “Superman” (Lifes Rich Pageant, 1986); “Cuyahoga” (Lifes Rich Pageant, 1986); “These Days” (Lifes Rich Pageant, 1986); “Swan Swan H” (Lifes Rich Pageant, 1986)

R.E.M. breaks into the big-time with a big new sound. Document and the major-label debut of Green.
Jeff just can’t think of enough bad things to say about Document, the R.E.M. album that broke the band into the mainstream with its two major radio hits, and Matt tends to agree. Scott appreciates it a bit more as the first record where he really became aware of the group, but all agree that “King Of Birds” is quietly one of R.E.M.’s most underrated songs.

It also points the way toward Green, their big-boy-pants major label debut for Warner Brothers. Matt is similarly iffy on Green but Jeff is a big fan, insisting it be understood as two EPs–a catchy rock one and a visionary oddball folk one–that rammed into one another in a head-on collision.

KEY SONGS: “Finest Worksong” (Document, 1987); “The One I Love” (Document, 1987); “It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” (Document, 1987); “Disturbance At The Heron House” (Document, 1987); “King Of Birds” (Document, 1987); “Stand” (Green, 1988); “Orange Crush” (Green, 1988); “Hairshirt” (Green, 1988); “The Untitled Eleventh Song” (Green, 1988); “World Leader Pretend” (Green, 1988)

Chamber-pop: R.E.M.’s artistic culmination, or the beginning of the end?
Okay, so nobody wants to defend KRS-1’s rapping on the extremely cornball “Radio Song,” but otherwise the gang has high praise for Out Of Time, R.E.M.’s mega-smash #1 album that established the in the top commercial rank of rock acts. Jeff has a weak spot for well-recorded chamber-pop with odd conceits, and defends “Belong” in particular. Matt and Scot theorize that Mike Mills did such a good job singing lead vocals on the record (with “Near Wild Heaven” and “Texarkana”) that he doomed himself from ever getting another lead again (ah, intra-band politics).

Automatic For The People, the band’s universally-praised follow-up, surprisingly divides the gang far more: Matt boldly stakes out his position as That Guy and argues that it’s not that great of a record, not even among R.E.M.’s top five albums, and marks it as the Beginning Of The End. Jeff is having none of that however and singles out “Sweetness Follows” in particular as the sort of song he is simply in awe of. Everybody defends “Everybody Hurts.”

KEY SONGS: “Losing My Religion” (Out Of Time, 1991); “Radio Song” (Out Of Time, 1991); “Texarkana” (Out Of Time, 1991); “Near Wild Heaven” (Out Of Time, 1991); “Belong” (Out Of Time, 1991); “Me In Honey” (Out Of Time, 1991); “Drive” (Automatic For The People, 1992); “The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight” (Automatic For The People, 1992); “Everybody Hurts” (Automatic For The People, 1992); “Sweetness Follows” (Automatic For The People, 1992); “Man On The Moon” (Automatic For The People; 1992)

The disastrous faceplant of Monster, the revival of New Adventures In Hi-Fi, Bill Berry’s departure and the long slow sunset of the band
The gang discusses the unexpected flop that was R.E.M.’s “hard rock”/we’re-a-live-act-again move, Monster–to date the the most returned CD of all time–and speculate on why it failed so miserably. Scot memorably describes it as a record that “sounds good . . . once.” Matt suggests that they didn’t fully understand the genres (grunge and glam) they were trying to cop, while Jeff speculates that they just couldn’t go home again; they had changed into something else during their evolution and there was no return.

Jeff has high praise, however, for its follow-up New Adventures In Hi-Fi, which he considers the last truly great record the band ever released. Matt and Scot are less impressed, but this merely means that they are wrong. (N.B. Jeff writes the show-notes.) Jeff also praises Up as an admirable attempt to react to the loss of Bill Berry, who retired from the group in 1996 after a brain aneurysm, and while Matt can see the argument he thinks the band should have hung it up at this point. All three agree that R.E.M. lost something critical with Berry, something that renders their last four records (and the final decade of the career) a curiously unnecessary appendix.

KEY SONGS: “Strange Currencies” (Monster, 1994); “I Don’t Sleep, I Dream” (Monster, 1994); “Be Mine” (New Adventures In Hi-Fi, 1996); “Bittersweet Me” (New Adventures In Hi-Fi, 1996); “Leave” (New Adventures In Hi-Fi, 1996); “New Test Leper (acoustic version)” (B-side of “Bittersweet Me,” 1996); “Wall Of Death” (Beat The Retreat – A Tribute To Richard Thompson, 1994); “Lotus” (Up, 1998); “Walk Unafraid” (Up, 1998); “Hope” (Up, 1998); “All The Way To Reno (You’re Gonna Be A Star)” (Reveal, 2001); “Beachball” (Reveal, 2001)

Matt, Scot and Jeff each name their 2 key albums and 5 key songs by R.E.M.

Sep 11, 2017
Episode 3: Tim Miller / Arcade Fire

Introducing the Band

Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD), with guest Tim Miller, former Jeb! Bush 2016 communications director, co-founder of @AmericaRising, Partner at Definers Public Affairs, cheerful practitioner of the political dark arts. Follow him on Twitter at @Timodc.Tim’s Musical Pick: Arcade Fire

How did he get into them? Tim and Jeff relive their musical young adulthoods. Tim talks about finding Arcade Fire after his Widespread Panic phase, plunging into ’00s indie-rock scene. Jeff recounts his quasi-LCD Soundsystem “Losing My Edge” tale of watching them bomb HARD in Washington, DC as an unknown opening act in the pre-Funeral era.

KEY TRACKS: “Wake Up” (Funeral, 2004)

Funeral: a Debut Album That still Ranks with the Greatest of All Time

The gang discusses why this is a hip indie album that still resonates: songwriting, thematics, instrumentation — a record made by young, inexperienced men and women that somehow sounds like the culmination of a long career, not the beginning of one. The purity of Win Butler & Regine Chassagne’s lyrical conceits, the maturity of the band’s song constructions, arrangements, and production . . . an album that seemingly landed on earth as if from another, better universe.

KEY TRACKS: “Rebellion (Lies)” (Funeral, 2004); “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)” (Funeral, 2004); “Crown Of Love” (Funeral, 2004); “Neighborhood #2 (Laika)” (Funeral, 2004); “In The Backseat” (Funeral, 2004)

Neon Bible: the Sophomore Act
Jeff, pre-show, was a veritable seven nation army in converting Tim to the underrated greatness and variety of Arcade Fire’s followup to Funeral. Scot singles out “Intervention” as a truly fantastic song, Tim cites to “The Well And The Lighthouse,” Jeff loves it all but particularly insists that the entire planet recognize the low-key tension of “Neon Bible” (the title track) and sweeping grandeur of “No Cars Go.”

KEY TRACKS: “Intervention” (Neon Bible, 2007); “The Well And The Lighthouse” (Neon Bible, 2007); “Neon Bible” (Neon Bible, 2007); “Black Wave/Bad Vibrations” (Neon Bible, 2007); “No Cars Go” (Neon Bible, 2007); “Windowsill” (Neon Bible, 2007)

The Suburbs: Where Subtext Becomes Explicit Text
Scot. Tim and Jeff violently disagree about the merits of Arcade Fire’s “Album Of The Year” Grammy-winning 2010 record. Scot and Tim rank it among their favorites. Jeff thinks a full third of it should have been pruned away and labels at least one song “pure garbage.” All agree, however, that one song in particular pointed the way towards a bright future for the band.

KEY TRACKS: “The Suburbs” (The Suburbs, 2010); “Ready To Start” (The Suburbs, 2010); “Rococo” (The Suburbs, 2010); “Modern Man” (The Suburbs, 2010); “Half Light II (No Celebration)” (The Suburbs, 2010); “We Used To Wait” (The Suburbs, 2010); “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” (The Suburbs, 2010)

Arcade Fire Throws a Curveball: Reflektor and the Move Toward Dance
Jeff thinks it’s overstuffed like Suburbs, but agrees with Tim nevertheless that it marked a profoundly exciting move by AF, sidestepping a potential rut by moving into a fearless groove-oriented future. Scot talks about how the title track is a relentless earworm. Tim speculates on the influence of LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy as a producer. Scot and Tim think “Porno” should have been cut from the record but they are oh-so-tragically wrong in Jeff’s opinion. Everyone loves “Afterlife” while Jeff discourses on the esoteric philosophical discourse underpinning the title track and the immensely moving Eurydice/Orpheus suite. Please listen to this record.

KEY TRACKS: “Reflektor” (Reflektor, 2013); “Here Comes The Night Time” (Reflektor, 2013); “It’s Never Over (Hey Orpheus)” (Reflektor, 2013); “Porno” (Reflektor, 2013); “Afterlife” (Reflektor, 2013); “Supersymmetry” (Reflektor, 2013)

The New Album: Everything Now
Controversy abounds in 2017! Tim is not a fan at all, but Jeff loves it aside from “Chemistry.” Scot suggests that AF has lost that deep sincerity that set them apart earlier in their career, but Jeff cites to the heartbreak of “We Don’t Deserve Love.”

KEY TRACKS: “Everything Now” (Everything Now, 2017); “Creature Comfort” (Everything Now, 2017); “Put Your Money On Me” (Everything Now, 2017); “We Don’t Deserve Love” (Everything Now, 2017)

Finale: Two Albums and Five Songs
Tim, Scot and Jeff each name their two key albums and five key songs from Arcade Fire.

Sep 03, 2017
Episode 2: Bob Costa / Dave Matthews Band

Introducing the Band

Your hosts @ScotBertram and @EsotericCD, with guest Robert Costa, national political reporter for the Washington Post and moderator of Washington Week on PBS: follow him on Twitter at @CostaReports and read his reporting here.

Bob’s Musical Pick

Dave Matthews Band. How did he get into them? Jeff recounts his conversion from snobbish dismissal to admiration.The Band’s Early Years

Bob & company discuss DMB’s scrappy early years, how they grew from a local southern Virginia act to a college rock phenomenon through relentless gigging and fan-friendly taping policies at their concerts. An appreciation of Before These Crowded Streets leads into a discussion of the two earlier albums that set it up: Under The Table And Dreaming and Crash.KEY TRACKS: “Rapunzel” (Before These Crowded Streets, 1998); “Stay (Wasting Time” (Before These Crowded Streets, 1998); “Don’t Drink The Water” (Before These Crowded Streets, 1998); “Halloween (live 12/21/02)” (Warehouse 5, volume 3, 2003); “Crush” (Before These Crowded Streets, 1998); “Warehouse” (Under The Table And Dreaming, 1995); “Ants Marching” (Under The Table And Dreaming, 1995); “#41” (Crash, 1996);Dave Matthews Band As a Live Act

This is really where the action is with DMB, as all agree. Scot singles out Tim Reynolds as Matthews’ key collaborator outside the band, with a nod to the Live At Luther College album. Jeff goes on an extended rant about Boyd Tinsley’s awfulness as a live performer, both as an uninspired soloist and an out-of-tune clodhopper whose questionable violin pitching slaughters promising material around it. Bob vehemently disagrees and cites evidence!

KEY TRACKS: “Minarets (live 2/6/96)” [Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds] (Live At Luther College, 1999); “Crash Into Me” [Dave Matthews & Time Reynolds] (Live At Luther College, 1999); “Don’t Drink The Water (live 4/22/07)” [Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds] (Live At Radio City, 2007); “#41 (live 12/19/98)” (Live In Chicago, 2001); “Last Stop (live 6/21/98)” (Boyd Tinsley at his absolute worst); “Lie In Our Graves (live 8/15/95)” (Live At Red Rocks, 1997)

The Lost “Lillywhite Sessions,” and the Problematic Follow-ups

The gang discusses the Great Lost Dave Matthews Album, the collapse of which in 2000 turned DMB to a much more simplified, pop-oriented songwriting path. Jeff still thinks that “Grey Street” is a great song, though.

KEY TRACKS: “JTR” (The Lillywhite Sessions, 2000); “Sweet Up And Down” (The Lillywhite Sessions, 2000); “Monkey Man” (The Lillywhite Sessions, 2000); “The Space Between” (Everyday, 2001); “Everyday” (Everyday, 2001); “Grey Street” (Busted Stuff, 2002)

To the Present Day
Is DMB in its inevitable twilight phase? Has the band recovered from the death of saxophonist LeRoi Moore? Jeff cites his friend’s theory of the DMB’s evolution as a fractured or reverse-bildungsroman (it’s less pretentious than it sounds, but still pretty pretentious). The gang discusses whether their live act has kept up with its classic earlier tours and Bob names his favorite live era of DMB.

KEY TRACKS: “Grux” (Big Whiskey & The GrooGrux King, 2009); “Why I Am” (Big Whiskey & The GrooGrux King, 2009); “Belly Full” (Away From The World, 2012); “Sweet” (Away From The World, 2012);

Final Thoughts
Bob, Jeff and Scot present their “2 albums and 5 songs” recommendations for DMB.

Aug 28, 2017
Episode 1: Sean Trende / Van Halen

Scot and Jeff welcome Sean Trende from RealClearPolitics to talk about his love of Van Halen.

Introducing the Band
Your hosts @ScotBertram and @EsotericCD, with guest Sean Trende, Senior Elections Analyst at RealClearPolitics: follow him on Twitter at @SeanTrende and read his work here

ean Trende’s Musical Pick:
 Van Halen
How did Sean get into Van Halen? His first introduction: “Spanish Fly” (Van Halen II, 1979)

The David Lee Roth Era: From Van Halen (1978) to 1984 (1984). KEY SONGS: “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” (Van Halen, 1978); “Eruption” (Van Halen, 1978); “You Really Got Me” (Van Halen, 1978); “I’m The One” (Van Halen, 1978); “Runnin’ With The Devil (goofy isolated vocals-only version)” (Van Halen, 1978); “Little Guitars” (Diver Down, 1982); “Sunday Afternoon In The Park” (Fair Warning, 1981); “So This Is Love?” (Fair Warning, 1981); “Panama” (1984, 1984); “Jump” (1984, 1984), “I’ll Wait” (1984, 1984)

Ranking Eddie Van Halen Among Rock Guitarists
Jeff emphasizes how EVH’s guitar tone became the Sound Of The Future for so many bands, even those outside the hair metal genre (especially Bob Mould of Husker Du: example #1example #2).

Van Hagar” — the Sammy Hagar Era
The guys discuss the era that brought VH to their commercial peak, groan over Sammy Hagar’s amazingly rockheaded lyrics, but give credit where it’s due. KEY SONGS: “Summer Nights” (5150, 1986); “Best Of Both Worlds” (5150, 1986); “5150” (5150, 1986)

Question: Is Sammy Hagar the worst rock lyricist ever?
Scot makes a compelling case! And Sean chimes in with emphatic agreement. A rueful discussion of the most embarrassing poesy to ever come from the pen of Mr. Samuel Roy Hagar. Jeff loses it when Scot recalls Sammy’s classic line from “Why Can’t This Be Love?” Sean scoffs as Jeff makes a bold stand in favor of “Right Now,” or as he calls it, “The Diet Crystal Pepsi Theme Song.”

KEY SONGS: “Why Can’t This Be Love” (5150, 1986); “Black And Blue” (OU812, 1988); “Source Of Infection” (OU812, 1988); “Poundcake” (For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge, 1991); “Right Now” (For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge, 1991); “Amsterdam” (Balance, 1995)

The infamous “no brown M&Ms” contract rider story
Sean explains that there was actually a good reason for this seemingly diva-like contract stipulation, but Jeff is disappointed and wishes they were just being jerks: what’s the point of being an ’80s hard-rock megastar if you can’t act capriciously?

Sean, Jeff, and Scot each offer their “two key albums and five key songs” intro. to Van Halen.

Aug 18, 2017