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“Dolby’s Top 25 Meat Puppets Songs”

The Meat Puppets are a great American band and should absolutely be viewed as such. I know, I know, there’s a lot to sift through here. There’s their self-titled debut from 1982 which is basically close to being a bona fide bath of hardcore punk except the vocals sound like a chicken being castrated. There’s their mind-bogglingly weird second album from which Kurt Cobain, in probably a Purple Heart-level act of bravery, culled some covers material for Unplugged. From there they’d get more melodic (as was basically obviated) but would continue to largely confuse and addle listeners, forming sometimes these album titles (“Up on the Sun”; “Forbidden Places”) that almost automatically seem to ensure an unapproachable listen.

They’re not so much a band as an humanistic phenomenon — they played with Nirvana on their most high-profile concert, yet they’ve also been relegated to approximate obscurity their whole career, had a member get his thumb smashed in a van on tour and also had a member arrested and jailed for a brawl with a cop. They’ve been, in my opinion, severely misunderstood, a malady which while understandable on a certain level is also enough of a cause of umbrage for me that I wanted to put this list together. For some reason, too, it’s the perfect music for the start of football season, and for fall, when the whole Northern hemisphere reflects before the ensuing darkness.

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25 “The Mighty” (Mirage)

The Mirage album came in 1987 when the band had done a pretty decent amount of tours and was starting to hone their craft in not only songwriting but also instrumentation and production. On “The Mighty,” we get a strong suggestion of their plurality of guitar arsenal, with this thin, trippy, Don Henley-sounding riffing giving way to the more utilitarian hawing of the rhythmic Fender, later on.

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24 “Reward” (Meat Puppets)

I put this on sort of as an honorary nod to the band’s first album, the hardcore self-titled debut: it’s the first song on their first album and… well… they hadn’t quite honed their songwriting knack yet. Or they were just really pi**ed off. But it’s fun sometimes for if you wear out all your Bad Brains records, which I think we’re all prone to doing.

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23 “Roof with a Hole” (Too High to Die)

Residing at the inconspicuous status of directly preceding “Backwater” on Too High to Die, “Roof with a Hole” by contrast harks back to the band’s earlier days, stylistically, eschewing arena-rock power chords for the sort of underdog, psychedelic noodling we got on their late ’80s work. Still, the concision of the song’s main theme seems like something newly won, the simple mantra of “Everything’s been ruined by the rain”.

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22 “The Wind and the Rain” (Mirage)

This song carries again that sort of noble savage charm we get in the best spots of the band’s fourth through sixth albums, or so, the good ol’ nature boy spiel of “No one can buy / The wind and the rain” guiding the song toward a kind of soothing innocence.

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21 “Blanket of Weeds” (Sewn Together)

Batting second on the curiously kinetic and listenable Sewn Together from 2009 (which followed by two years their big “comeback” album Rise to Your Knees), “Blanket of Weeds” trots along rather mindlessly but richly too, painting pastoral pictures in the listener’s mind and utilizing some choice guitar sound.

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20 “Everything is Green” (Out My Way)

The instrumental on this cut, this song is REALLY made a red-headed step child by the fact that it’s over eight minutes, it’s a bonus track AND its album, or EP turned album by way of reissue, can’t even be found on Spotify. This is really a shame, since Out My Way is a divine listen and an authoritative, complete road trip album, at least in ’99 Rykodisc CD reissue form.

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19 “Confusion Fog” (Mirage)

“Confusion Fog” you’d have to say is QUINTESSENTIAL Puppets, combining the impossible-to-amalgamate styles of country and post-punk into one uniquely Arizona stew, which is powered all the more by its penchant for not resting or posturing but rather speeding out of the speakers in an altogether blissed-out frenzy.

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18 “The Void” (Monsters)

This song you have to give its props because it basically IS hair metal — it sounds like a song that could be by Warrant for the first 15 seconds, so the fact that it’s actually the nobody-punks from Arizona is rather amusing. Curt Kirkwood gets down on some serious distortion pedal and it seems clear that the band has relinquished the incentive of getting political in favor of just having some fun.

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17 “Meltdown” (Monsters)

Presaging maybe the alt, almost metal-ish riffs that would pop up on Too High to Die’s punchier moments, “Meltdown” comes across almost as hard-rock kitsch with a riff that’s pretty aggressive and insistent by their standards, so that the instrumentation shoulders enough load that Curt Kirkwood’s slightly timid vocal still holds some water.

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16 “I’m Not You” (Sewn Together)

Like I say briefly earlier Sewn Together is of an unexplainably high level of songwriting focus and intensity and “I’m Not You,” while being a satisfying sort of kiss-off to fans or industry people getting too much into his business, also rocks along with a purposeful energy and balloons out into this augmented-phrase chorus that gives it its own distinction.

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15 “Other Kinds of Love” (Out My Way)

It broke my heart when I found out Out My Way wasn’t a real album because it’s got the coolest cover art and the coolest songs. Like The Velvet Underground before them, the Meat Puppets here take a sort of loose affinity for and belief in the general, abstract entity of “angels,” constructing this ephemeral reality for them and revering them therein in hazy, lazy psychedelic rock.

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14 “Violet Eyes” (Too High to Die)

“Violet Eyes” pumps Too High to Die out from the speakers as its magnanimous, assertive opener, the slick production and full guitar sound indicating that the band’s come full circle and hasn’t lost their scrappiness or songwriting moxie in the process.

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13 “Walking Boss” (Meat Puppets)

The first three songs on the self-titled debut are obviously like hilariously hideous, caterwauling hardcore punk by a singer who even sounds amateurish by punk standards, so when this sort of Western stomp “Walking Boss” comes in it makes an impression just for easing off the gas and having any guitar lines you can actually make out. But Curt Kirkwood still isn’t singing like a choir boy… that much is sure.

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12 “Swimming Ground” (Up on the Sun)

A lot of people might be surprised at me tepid treatment of album three Up on the Sun (to say nothing of my caustic disposition to Meat Puppets II which I’ll gladly defend for multiple reasons). “Swimming Ground,” anyway, seems pastoral and authoritative in its own right, and more focused and disciplined than the insanely boring titled track on this album… also it should be credited for having spawned the sister tune “Not Swimming Ground,” which is also pretty solid.

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11 “Things” (Too High to Die)

A great hazy, reflective number on side b of Too High to Die that poignantly follows “Backwater,” “Things” seems purposefully midtempo in order to showcase the lyrics, which happen to be also nonsensical in a psychedelic sort of way: “Things we must not do / Must not walk through walls”; “Make me go away / Take me to a place/ Do some things to me”.

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10 “Sewn Together” (Sewn Together)

Written as sort of a melancholy but playful plaint to himself (“You only wanna be alone”; “You’re livin’ like a dusty bones”), this titled track opener fully earmarks the band’s ultimate immersion in melodic pop, with its guitar-heavy disposition cementing it as fully within the band’s traditional m.o., at the same time.

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9 “Never to Be Found” (Too High to Die)

With the exception of “Backwater” I think either the band or the label, whoever was in charge, did a terrible job of selecting singles off of this album — this song would have indeed been a fine choice, with its elaborate, quintessentially alt-rock intro riff reducing down into a beautiful, catchy and hummable chorus again replete with charmingly rambunctious guitar frills.

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8 “Out My Way” (Out My Way)

Even though this EP gets swept under the carpet, it’s hard to find too many people mouthing negative words about it or about this titled track, on which Curt Kirkwood adopts the funny habit of emitting like one-vocal syllable for every million noodley, rhythmic guitar stabs, or so it seems.

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7 “Get on down” (Mirage)

Ok I’ll just be honest — I ranked this one so high for the intro’s hilarious way of precisely mimicking Steve Miller Band’s “Fly Like an Eagle” in both guitar sound and arrangements. Then it happens to be a rocking song on a solid album too and it seems like “getting on down” is something this band is all about, with endless songs about water, swimming and country-ish things like that.

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6 “Light” (Monsters)

“Light” masterfully encompasses track two on the excellent, Dolby-recommended Monsters, with beautiful but willfully discreet background vocals cloaking basically the entire song and again that methodical guitar riff upholstery flanking the whole project and giving it some alt-rock muscle.

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5 “Incomplete” (Lollipop)

I know I’ve once listened to Lollipop and enjoyed it but couldn’t get into it on my last try — the same doesn’t go for this beautiful, catchy and textural opener which seems to celebrate the very concept of incompleteness as a necessary and beneficial thing to accept in life.

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4 “Flaming Heart” (Too High to Die)

Again, with the rich, full sound and professional production, Too High to Die marks a key turning point for the band and generally the songs tend to do their studio budget justice quite well. On “Flaming Heart,” one of my favorites, an incessant guitar riff sets the theme, some great dual vocals cement a classic chorus but most importantly the guitar solo is robust and neverending, like a wild rainstorm of rock glory.

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3 “Sapphire” (Sewn Together)

A sort of centerpiece on this commendable album Sewn Together, “Sapphire” features possibly the band’s chorus ever lain down, a beautiful endorsement of friendship and acceptance which is also curiously, and laudably, built around a satisfyingly tense and dark chorus.

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2 “On the Move” (Out My Way)

This one is just an old favorite of mine — I fell in love with the sense of freedom and reckless abandon right away the first time I heard it, a true treat on the bonus track section of Out My Way. Again, it’s indeed a crime that this stuff isn’t on Spotify — if you can’t find it it doesn’t mean you’re losing it.

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1 “Backwater” (Too High to Die)

The only Puppets song I’ve ever heard on radio (I’m pretty sure I’ve encountered it on both FM and satellite at some point), this one would be sort of an obvious choice but one I’ll stand by anyway. It’s got an impressive plurality of rock techniques, like these metal-ish guitar stabs in the verse which almost mimic Alice in Chains (the riff pattern is a little more subtle than Nirvana tends to be), and then this glorious, overarching and memorable chorus that puts them at least in comparable territory to the grunge demigods who invited them on their unplugged set. Man, imagine if anybody actually knew who did this song… it would really be taking over the world.

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