Cheap Trick – “Dream Police”
Cheap Trick released five albums between 1977 and 1979 with at least ONE classic song, and the beauty of Dream Police is that it’s the final of these, when the band still hadn’t really hit it that big (have they yet even really hit it big?), but like Tom Waits they were “Big in Japan.” A lot of their early stuff was cloying at unwitting bystanders — “kiddies,” “mommy,” “daddy,” and of course the amorousness of “Oh Caroline,” but by ’79 matters had come crashing down on Robin Zander’s OWN head, maybe he started feeling how every inch forward in life is met with clamorous opposition by the jealous grey masses, and the selling of your soul (maybe in Seoul) is the only real way ahead in life… anyway I guess partly the backstory is why this whole thing entertains me.
Bob Dylan – “I Shall Be Released”
Live 1975 with the Rolling Thunder Revue is neither an infallible centerpiece of Bob Dylan’s career nor an overly arcane souvenir for completists, but it does have a precocious way of creeping into the Dylan fan’s, and the classic rock fan’s, psyche with some poignant climaxes. None is more vital, or disturbing, than disc one’s closeur, which came to birth by way of the Hawks’ pianist tooling the chord progression on piano, a few short months before he would commit suicide. I recommend the Rolling Stone article by Greil Marcus for full details of this story, and unfortunately the piece isn’t full text online.
Led Zeppelin – “The Rain Song”
Every time I listen to “The Rain Song,” by the time it’s over I come to questioning as to whether anything ever truly existed outside of that seven and a half minutes. It’s got the trippy, delicate intricacy of III’s “Tangerine” or IV’s “Going to California,” but this time the movements are sweeping, epic, towering and unforgettable.
John Lennon – “Mind Games”
John Lennon showed us all how to live, and eventually, on a horrible day in 1981, showed us all how to die. “Love is the answer” is his paean on this heart-render, over the sort of catalyzing key change that would come to inform the m.o.’s of future torch bearers like My Morning Jacket and even Phish, any relentless rock acts with a stalwart take on the form.
Tom Petty – “Free Fallin’”
Google and iTunes were each troublingly unhelpful in their efforts to tell me whether “Free Fallin’” was by Tom Petty or Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, not to mention whether the title had an apostrophe or not. In a delicious twist of irony, though, I’ve found that his most heartbreaking moment came WITHOUT what would be the aptly titled backing band, and also deceptively late in his catalogue, on a 1989 album called Full Moon Fever. Full glory of this song should be had in a bar with a great PA, leaving your default state of consciousness for a while, and it hits you — you can’t live with or without women, and you can’t live with or without yourself, life is constantly a reinvention, and through thick and thin, through the heady, auxiliary percussion ramifications of the third verse, and through the bellowy, bucket-next-door twang of the pre-culmination guitar burp, you’ll always be free fallin’.
Pink Floyd – “Learning to Fly”
Classic rock. Nobody can ever take it away from us, but unfortunately, sometimes I wish someone WOULD take it away, like in moments of Heart’s neverending, masturbatory guitar solo in “Magic Man,” or Foghat vapidly insisting “I Just Wanna Make Love to You.” Somewhere between the overt, syrupy mysticism of George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” and the coked-up groupie-bowing of unfortunate late-’70’s acts lies this late Pink Floyd track, whereon the guitars climb like translucent oak branches, providing a structure both inimitable and familiar, but most importantly, of which no two parts are the same.
The Pretenders – “Back on the Chain Gang”
As rock and roll continued to evolve, and so many imitators thought that their instruments were material objects in the spatial realm, and not lyres of laurel investment, in came future Rock and Roll Hall of Famers The Pretenders with a simple statement: though we feel it all, though we’ll never be this, we’ll never be that, we’re back in the fight, we’re back on the chain gang. There’s an effortless, natural toggle in this song between Hynde’s simple beckoning and the fluid, beautiful lines of Robbie McIntosh’s guitar, so that it plays more like poetry than any deliberate reaction to anything that would bring you down in life.
Rolling Stones – “She’s a Rainbow”
I knew Mick Jagger could fall in love eventually. See, on Monday he’s a “street fightin’ man,” Tuesday he’s driven to plea “gimme shelter,” Wednesday he’s got a “spike right through my head,” Thursday he’s stricken a mother who “needs something to calm her down,” Friday he’s the unwitting witness of a “19th Nervous Breakdown.” It’s all over now, though, still, because it never started, he just went straight to the recording studio.
Yes – “Perpetual Change”
Unlike most of these tracks, this one benefits a lot from its album (The Yes Album), and the idea of “perpetual change” is alluded to in the opener “Yours is No Disgrace”: “If the summer’s changed to winter / Yours is no disgrace.” “Inside out / Outside in / Every day,” beckons Jon Anderson in the chorus, flanked in true artistic form by psychedelic adaptations of phrasing, rock expanding of the mind, right down to the very take on what the musical form can be, all the way.
Neil Young & Crazy Horse – “Thrasher”
I add the “Crazy Horse” moniker to this name, but it’s a misnomer, because it’s just Young, his guitar and his harmonica. But oh, the orchestral, cathedral sound — this is the Vatican of rock and roll from one of its legendary godfathers. Similar to “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” the song doesn’t really have a chorus, just a point-counterpoint sort of structure, a back and forth yin and yang conversation, with lyrical rumination about lost friends and vague, impending impressionist horror. But don’t worry, just chill and smoke a cigarette.