Stephen King on his picks for best music of 2005
I don’t think it’s possible any longer just to talk about the best albums of the year and leave it at that; albums may not be as dead as the dodo, but they’re certainly an endangered species. I bought about 50 in the year just past (for the purposes of these best-of columns, my year runs roughly from one Turkey Day to the next), but only a dozen in actual stores. It amazes me to write that, but it’s true. Most were downloaded…and through perfectly legitimate pay-then-play sources, I hasten to add. Copyright is my bread and butter, and I do not cockadoodie where I eat.
The point, dear Constant Reader (and Constant Listener), is that the old ways they are a-changin’: I find myself more and more often buying specific songs rather than whole albums, and surveys show that I’m not alone. That I am, in fact, just one of many. Why? For the same reason a dog licks his…er, lower stomach, I suppose: Because we can. In any case, that’s why there are two lists this year, one of the best albums and one of the best singles…which weren’t always singles and weren’t always released in 2005. That’s just when I heard them and fell in love with them. So sue me. And if you expect me to apologize for my occasional lapses into childish taste (as well as Childish Things), you’ve come to the wrong guy. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: I’m not a critic, I’m a consumer.
6. DELIRIUM TREMOLOS, Ray Wylie Hubbard
Alt-country with its slow groove on. Takes a while to get a hold on you, but then it doesn’t let go. ”Cooler-N-Hell” could be the Great Lost ZZ Top Track; ”The Beauty Way” will break your damn heart.
5. SOLO ACOUSTIC, VOL. 1, Jackson Browne
Clear, calm, and beautiful; sane music for late at night. Doctor, I think the fever has broken.
4. KICKING TELEVISION: LIVE IN CHICAGO, Wilco
I was a Wilco doubter for the longest time, especially after Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, which seemed both dissonant and self-indulgent to me — a keep-your-distance slap in the face at their fans — but this live set is just about right, swinging between tender and angry. Best cut? Maybe ”Handshake Drugs,” probably ”At Least That’s What You Said.”
3. ALL JACKED UP, Gretchen Wilson
Best country album of the year, hands down. ”I Don’t Feel Like Loving You Today” is beautiful and old-school, but the one I keep coming back to is ”Skoal Ring.” The subject is ridiculous, but those sweet harmonies are total Opry.
2. CHILDISH THINGS, James McMurtry
The cut that people talk about is ”We Can’t Make It Here,” but what amazes me is the narrative brilliance of songs like ”Memorial Day” and ”Holiday.” Like Dylan’s early tales, McMurtry’s songs bear repeated listenings.
1. IF YOU DIDN’T LAUGH, YOU’D CRY, Marah
An apt enough title, when you consider that this is probably the best rock band in America that nobody knows. Am I being an elitist here, trying to one-up my audience? Nope. Marah is great in the scat, bop, and jive way Springsteen was great on The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle. One listen to songs like ”The Closer” and ”Fat Boy” on this amazing record and I think you’ll agree. These guys are either the American U2 or close enough for government work.
AND THE SINGLES
8. ”SUGAR, WE’RE GOIN DOWN,” Fall Out Boy
Sweet-heavy pop that sounds like a lost track from American Idiot.
7. ”MY HUMPS,” The Black Eyed Peas
Stupid and juvenile? So what’s your point?
6. ”LAND LOCKED BLUES,” Bright Eyes
Maybe the saddest song of the year, but gorgeous in its spare misery, and imagery.
5. ”4TH OF JULY,” Shooter Jennings
The perfect evocation of America’s holiday, and maybe the best fusion yet of rock and country, by Waylon Jennings’ son…a chip off the outlaw block, by the look and sound of him.
4. ”IF I EVER LEAVE THIS WORLD ALIVE,” Flogging Molly
A couple of years old, but I never caught up with it until this fall. This is a total Irish rave-up. Try to listen and stay sitting down.
3. ”MARIA’S BED,” Bruce Springsteen
Devils & Dust may not have been the Boss’ finest hour, but there’s never been a better celebration of ”Oh God, tonight I’m gonna get lucky.”
2. ”WE CAN’T MAKE IT HERE,” James McMurtry
This is how America appears when you’re looking up from the bottom, and every word rings true.
1. ”I SUMMON YOU,” Spoon
In the end, the best songs defy explanation or analysis. I played this one over and over in 2005 — on my computer, on my stereo, and in my truck. I never understood it, never got tired of it, and never failed to get a chill at the line ”I summon you here, my love.” For me, that was the summer of ’05. We should all have someone to summon us once in a while, I guess.
Those are my picks for the year’s best. I guess they won’t put me on the cover of Rolling Stone, huh? Oh, and one more: As the year winds down, I plan to cue up my Santa Mix, the one that starts with ”I Want an Alien for Christmas,” by Fountains of Wayne.