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“Dolby’s Top 100 Jam-Rock Tracks of All Time”

100 Grateful Dead – “Man Smart, Woman Smarter” (Download Series Vol. 9: Live at Civic Arena, Pittsburgh, PA / April 2, 1989)

Wikipedia has “Man Smart (Woman Smarter)” slotted as a “calypso song… variously credited as being composed by Norman Span… D.L. Miller, F. Kuhn, and Charles Harris,” with Span being who “first recorded the song in 1936.” One thing that jumps out to me and, in light of the song’s anachronistic birth date, is the “Bo Diddley Beat” that drives (kick drums and typically guitar stabs on the first, fourth, seventh, 11th and 13th eighth note of a phrase) and that maybe we should rethink our nomenclature of this beat, seeing as Diddley didn’t start recording until about the 1950s. Anyway, geeking out aside, it’s a glorious staple of the band’s live show in their latter days that would have featured Brent Mydland on keyboard and vocals and a fatter but more focused, more mature Jerry, probably not without some compassion for heartbroken men for the predicament outlined in the song’s primary message.

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99 Umphrey’s McGee – “Andy’s Last Beer” [Hall of Fame: Class of 2018 (Live)]

Possibly the most licentious of all of our jam cohorts in terms of song structure, Umphrey’s takes what was originally a five-minute tune (and one of their classic, early songs, what’s more) and stretches this sucker out into 12 and a half, the second track on their 2018 “Hall of Fame” (which takes selected individual songs performed live within that particular year) that follows a near-19-minute song called “Kabump.” Yeah, this band can be rather, uh, jolting, and intrusive on your free time, what’s more, but never fear: “Andy’s Last Beer” makes great use of their charming penchant for vocal harmony and interplay and, also, true to form, toggles between Iron Maiden prog metal and Phish-y funk rock with an impressive zeal and sangfroid. 

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98 Frank Zappa – “Big Swifty – Live” (You Can’t Do That on Stage Anymore, Vol. 1)

One part original, one part impressive and one part just weird, tailoring spontaneous full-band metamorphoses into things like marching band music and psychedelic rock, “Big Swifty,” originally the 18-minute opener on Waka/Jawaka (1972), prances in here more concisely and with more focused intensity. Presumably, Ian Underwood gets things going with an extended keyboard solo (although there’s like 12 people credited as having played keyboard on this album), bleeding in then to one of Frank Zappa’s great guitar solos — a great foray in funk rock with wah-wah pedal wizardry bending and impaling almost every sound.

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97 Bela Fleck and the Flecktones – “The Sinister Minister” (Bela Fleck and the Flecktones)

Nashville’s Bela Fleck and the Flecktones are surely one of the prouder mainstays in jam rock, cementing the style with a commendable genre tinge in the way of their busy-fingered background in jazz. “The Sinister Minister” is a solid instrumental on their self-titled debut from 1990 that shows off their pithy knack for arrangement, pitting a flugal horn against Fleck’s banjo in majestic vibrato for an entrancing rhythmic explosion.

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96 The Allman Brothers Band – “Mountain Jam” (live) (Eat a Peach)

There’s this Saturday Night Live skit from three or four decades ago with Dan Aykroyd where he’s talking to someone who’s on a bad acid trip, trying to calm them down and talk them out of their hallucinations and torments. One thing he asks them is “Have you got any Allman Brothers?” and I don’t think there’s any question that this track in particular would qualify as an active antidote in such a situation. It’s basically just an endless jam where Jai Johanny Johanson’s busy drums are muffled into the background (this is a live recording so they were probably on a stage and just strategic in how they miked everything) and every band member takes turns soloing, from guitar, to organ to bass. Actually, for a while I really didn’t feel like writing about it, or about anything, so I just sat back and listened to it and it’s really like a full-body experience for its hypnotic, rhythmic effect of oxidation and replenishment. 

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95 The Disco Biscuits – “Pilin’ it High” (Steele’s Reels, Vol. 8: 12-5-2001)

Philadelphia’s Disco Biscuits have always been a pretty hard band to pin down, aside from their main m.o. of wanting to do jam rock and do it in lengthy fashion. A deeper listen to their catalogue though does unearth a pretty impressive array of influences, from trippy Pink Floyd stuff to “Pilin’ it High,” which reminded me a little more of Detroit blues-rock like Ted Nugent or The Stooges superimposed onto a patient, funky beat and tailored for extensive song soirees deliverable to an audience full of psychedelia and not going anywhere for a while. 

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94 Phish – “Bouncing around the Room” (A Live One)

Phish’s breakthrough live album A Live One from 1995 takes the interesting technique of selecting the final song on their studio album Lawn Boy, “Bouncing around the Room,” and positioning it first, and then moving the first song, “The Squirming Coil,” to last, and oddly, it kind of works, as I guess the inaugural and the closing spots each necessarily contain an element of dramatic grandiosity as to make them interchangeable, in a sense. In general, “Bouncing around the Room” stakes claim to Phish’s quintessential way of marrying the romantic and the psychedelic in a way that’s infectious and seminal and not clumsy, with me being a special sucker for that 16th-note riff that governs the song’s final minute and a half or so.

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93 North Mississippi All Stars – “I’m in Jail” [Do it Like We Used to Do (Live)]

Spotify has the first album from North Mississippi Allstars as having issued in 2000. With this being the case, the live album Do it Like We Used to Do is a bit of an artifact, not to mention an ironic title, since with performances from 1996 to 2008 it encompasses much of their tenure as a band when they were still scrapping for floors to sleep on and for a record deal, more than likely. Regardless, it seems that “I’m in Jail” captures them holding true to their title’s mantra, as this track flails and rocks along like a wild Southern banshee with thundering drums and relentless steel guitar setting the groundwork for Luther Dickinson’s rabid calls of “Make me a Christmas present / I’M IN JAIL!”

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92 Grateful Dead – “Tennessee Jed” (Europe ’72)

I don’t think in my life I’ve ever been more surprised that there weren’t a Wikipedia page on a certain song than encountering that snag with the great “Tennessee Jed.” It just seems so classic and ubiquitous to me, which of course might be because of my parents being hippies, but also from the fact that it just plays as the perfect classic rock song, with its general sense of mourning and disaster funneling into that incredibly hummable, simple and memorable chorus. This Europe ’72 finds the band especially nailing the run-through, with Jerry Garcia not over-emoting on any of the vocal parts rather delivering the song’s true DNA as it seems it was originally conceived. “Tennessee Jed” is an apt showcase of Europe ’72 being GD’s prime, then, at least in terms of combining their typical noodley and verbose jamming with some commendable songwriting sustenance that could be covered by The Jonas Brothers and hold water.

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91 Galactic – “Moog Marmalade” [We Love ’em Tonight (Live at Tipitina’s)]

If you thought maybe New Orleans had some funk runnin’ through its veins, you’re certainly on to something. The Big Easy’s own Galactic should represent ample proof of this, with their magnum opus live album They Love ’em Tonight hurling itself like an orb of funktified pleasure through your ear drums. “Moog Marmalade” slots in at track two, a lengthy instrumental jam that’s true to form with a tapestry of organs and synths setting the melody, but also set a grooving bassline, anchoring the whole thing and sure to get your toes tapping.

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90 Frank Zappa – “Strictly Genteel” (You Can’t Do That on Stage Anymore, Vol. 6)

To be honest, I’ve been stuck on this first Frank Zappa tune for a while. In truth, I don’t think anybody really ever knows what Zappa’s up to. I’ve been trying, for instance, for the longest time, myself, to figure out if he’s being serious or sarcastic in the song “Broken Hearts are for A**holes.” My Frank Zappa Companion book offers verbose essays by Englishman along the lines of “In defense of the absurd,” et. al. Well, absurd, Zappa definitely was. He was also one of the greatest guitarists of all time, as this You Can’t Do That on Stage Anymore series aptly details. This “Strictly Genteel” version comes on the final installment in the series, number six, comprises the exact final track of the series, in fact, and weaves an astonishingly intricate web of instrumentation toward music that communicates direct, distinct emotions and feelings, even using no words.

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89 Neil Young & Crazy Horse – “Cowgirl in the Sand” (Everybody Knows This is Nowhere)

On his first album with his full band, Everybody Knows This is Nowhere (1969), Neil Young seemed to bubble up out of the woodwork like a prodigal son destined to chafe people who don’t like jamming — like, really chafe them. Most of this album, and this project in particular, seems pretty much predicated on endless guitar noodling, with some pastoral, iconic lyrics thrown in there. The thing is, though, and part of what earmarks Young as a special songwriter and musical craftsman, is that this stuff isn’t really PSYCHEDELIC. It’s the anti-Pink Floyd: it’s gimme some shi**y guitars and drums, a garage and a four-track and let me show you how poetic I can become, everything improvised but that little skeleton of chord progression and lyric that emanates every couple minutes. “Cowgirl in the Sand” would go on to be covered, to some notoriety, by The Byrds, for one. 

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88 Leftover Salmon – “Midnight Blues” (The Nashville Sessions

From high on the mountains of Boulder, Colorado, Leftover Salmon dispatch with some bluegrass-tinged jam juice that blends a keen mixture of spirit and melancholy, authenticating a title like “Midnight Blues” while still giving people a sense to get up and groove. Credit dual vocal lineup of Vince Herman and Drew Emmitt, too, for emitting a special sort of spice on the music. This stuff has a communal feel and also the idyllic beauty of the Colorado mountains.

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87 Rusted Root – “Ecstasy” (When I Woke)

You don’t typically think of Pittsburgh as a place that could bequeath a jam band but truth be told, it is a da** beautiful place, abutting the Appalachian mountains with rolling hills and three major rivers flowing through. Rusted Root call this “rust belt” city home and really hit on some songwriting gold for their second album, When I Woke (1994), which bestowed us the smash hit “Send Me on My Way” as well as this gem, like an ephemeral and nervous spasm of joy and confusion as to how to react to “living in a world of ecstasy”. 

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86 Jimi Hendrix – “We Gotta Live Together” (Band of Gypsys)

“We Gotta Live Together” caps off the searing and invincible Band of Gypsys live album, which is a sort of self-titled album insofar as this is just what Hendrix usually called the band of himself, Buddy Cox and Billy Miles. The track opens with a segment of jamming which just features noodley guitar, thumping bass and audience hand claps, before diving back into the groove, undergirding warm, hearty vocals from Billy Cox calling for a “Home sweet home / Home sweet home”. Perhaps these words are fitting, since, originally driven to England to play “loud” with the Experience, Hendrix had finally earned the right to return Stateside and fill arenas with these American ragamuffins, using the tried and true format of blues rock to showcase his extraterrestrial guitar skills.

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85 Frank Zappa – “Sharleena” (You Can’t Do That on Stage Anymore, Vol. 3)

As far as I’ve been able to gather, “Sharleena,” which opens the third installment of Zappa’s mastodon, authoritative live series You Can’t Do That on Stage Anymore, can’t be traced to any original studio album before the live version. But then, isn’t it just like Zappa to unleash some tune, replete with background vocals, full lavish instrumentation and, believe it or not, his son playing the guitar solo, and have it be good enough to land on a Jethro Tull live album? There, that oughta spawn another 50 years of Transatlantic rancor. 

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84 Frank Zappa – “Let’s Make the Water Turn Black/Harry, You’re a Beast/The Orange County Lumber Truck” (You Can’t Do That on Stage Anymore, Vol. 1)

A hodgepodge of a couple of early mothers tunes, this track exemplifies Zappa’s penchant for tender melody, blending trumpet, keyboard and other textural fanfare for a bright, kitschy masterpiece. Whoever’s playing drums on this track (I apologize but there are eight different individuals credited with drums on this album) is quite tight with those fills, too, for just a little virtuosity under the otherwise modest and belying band cohesiveness. 

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83 Umphrey’s McGee – “2×2” (06.28.15 Peoria)

Truth be told, the BEST version of this song happens to reside on an unreleased bootleg type thing called Songs for Older Women that we used to spin on CD circa 2001, when this band was still getting going. But I try to be egalitarian here and include all tracks that are available on Spotify (the Neil Young ones generally being ubiquitous enough to skate by with immunity), as part of my “Miller High Life” approach to blogging. Anyway, this song has one of those quintessential Umphrey’s choruses that pares itself down to a statement that’s hypnotically simple and vaguely trippy, also validly interpreted as pertaining to drug use, which is probably par for the course for these gents. 

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82 Phish – “Guelah Papyrus” (Hampton Comes Alive)

Originally springing from the band’s 1992 opus A Picture of Nectar, arguably their first great studio album, “Guelah Papyrus” ingratiates itself to the authoritative live boxed set of these guys with a syncopated guitar part, a brilliant chord progression, and, of course, some unsettling, expressionist lyrics from the band’s lyricist Tom Marshall: “Absorbing all she can / From every member of her clan / Expanding exponentially / Like some recursive virus”. “Guelah Papyrus” is an interesting example of a Phish song where, ironically, given the generally prevailing parameters of the style, my favorite part of the tune is actually the verse/chorus binary and the songwriting rudiments themselves, the “guitar solo” then acting as a mere buffer for or interlude from the song’s gratifying melodic infrastructure.

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81 Grateful Dead – “Sugaree” (Pacific Northwest ’73-’74: Believe it if You Need it)

Like “Mexicali Blues” and “One More Saturday Night,” “Sugaree” is a Dead standard that began on a track on a band member’s solo album, in this case Jerry Garcia’s eponymous 1972 album simply titled Garcia. This Jerry Garcia album makes a strong case for best LP he ever recorded in a studio, with or without the rest of the band, but, true to form, this live run-through of “Sugaree” gives it a run for its money, with the typical wild, verbose guitar runs seeping through all the dormant cracks of the song and painting a textural canvas across our minds like only Jerry Garcia could. And in general, this live album Pacific Northwest ’73-’74: Believe it if You Need it, is a pleasing feast of Dead, including a slow, haunting and intriguing run-through of “He’s Gone,” no less.

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80 Frank Zappa – “The Deathless Horsie” (You Can’t Do That on Stage Anymore, Vol. 1)

The first installment of the You Can’t Do That on Stage Anymore Zappa live series, and undoubtedly the best, ranges in culled concert date from 1969 to 1984, with “The Deathless Horsie,” a track corralled from 1981’s Shut up ’n Play Yer Guitar (a directive likely assigned by many who were tired of Zappa’s concept album shtick and lewd storytelling from Joe’s Garage, a year earlier), residing at the chronological culmination of this range. Over a minimal piano run and scattershot, shifty drum fills, Zappa unleashes some of the most cathartic, infernal guitar playing you’re likely to hear from him, or any other mortal human, for that matter. What’s more, the song’s time signature sidles along in five/four, reinforcing the sustaining tenet that there just wasn’t a conventional bone in Frank Zappa’s body. 

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79 Bela Fleck and the Flecktones – “Zona Mona” (Live at the Quick)

It’s amazing to think that for all the prowess and acclaim of Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, their career-defining statement is a live album that was recorded entirely at one show, the Quick Center for the Arts in Fairfield, Connecticut, 2000. By this time, anyway, not inconspicuously, our personnel section has evolved to listing a “Gibson Mastertone 75 banjo” as the instrument of choice for Fleck, likening itself to a front-porch hillbilly progressed to drinking Johnny Walker Blue next to a gold-plaited spittoon, more or less. “Zona Mona” gallops along with childlike glee and jazz-tinged complexity, anyway, hence illustrating the compelling artistic balance this band was capable of grafting, when their ideas met and did on-stage battle with the combustive force that was their technical instrument skill.

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78 Leo Kottke & Mike Gordon – “I Am a Lonesome Fugitive” (Clone)

Georgian guitarist Leo Kottke, now age 76, and Phish bassist Mike Gordon, are by this time routine collaborators, owning to three studio albums created in tandem with each other. Clone (2002) was the first of the bunch, sending both men into uncharted territory, and, as such, yielding results that were almost always exciting and memorable. On the title track, Gordon, in true eerie Phish form, laments constant exposure to his rogueish, immoral clone, in life, but “I am a Lonesome Fugitive” steals the show, a gentle, Western ballad and ode to the big, aimless highway of life that Willie Nelson would have been proud to write. 

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77 Phish – “Roggae” (Hampton Comes Alive)

“Roggae” pounces onto the venerable live boxed set Hampton Comes Alive (1999) from the trippy, epic psych-rock studio album The Story of the Ghost (1997). Intriguingly, it finds increasingly psychedelic wings within this live version, boasting a several-minute piano solo amassing its second half, with curious modifications on chord progression and gorgeous texture from Page McConnell’s piano, all adding to the stew, and a nice mix balancing Mike Gordon’s bass and Trey Anastacio’s guitar catering to repeated, soothing listens. And of course I’ve always been a sucker for that chorus hook: “If life were easy / And not so fast / I wouldn’t think about the past”. 

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76 moe. – “Seat of My Pants” [L (Live)]

Around 2000, there was certainly quite the gaggle of jam bands prevalent on national  touring circuits in the U.S., with The Disco Biscuits, Sound Tribe, Galactic, The String Cheese Incident and many others finding their career arcs take shape around this time. With this being the case, it’s tempting to sweep Buffalo, New York’s moe. under the rug as just another also-ran cashing on the scene. More than any track, perhaps, “Seat of My Pants,” from their magnum opus live album L, will lay these ambitions to waste, ranging in style from grunge, to metal to reggae, with a two-minute noise intro, all melding into one strange, incandescent stew of rhythm of melody that ends up endearing itself to the realm of “jam” better than it has any right doing.

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75 Phish – “Prince Caspian” (Billy Breathes)

Fitting with the recurring theme of water and a sort of blissful feeling pervading Phish’s best studio album, “Prince Caspian” sends things off beatifically into the night with the simple declaration: “Oh / To be Prince Caspian / And float upon the waves”. The closeur on the album, “Prince Caspian” might take the crown from all the tracks in terms of production, opening with a sound bite of water splashing, leading then into a beautiful guitar/piano confluence that would probably make most bands jealous already, just sonically. My personal favorite part of the song, anyway, is probably at the first verse addendum, when finally the five (dominant) chord is introduced in direct confluence with the word “demons” in the line “With nothing to return to / But the demons in their caves”, finally advancing the two-chord interface that had subsumed the song up ’til now, as well as proving that a music theorist can nerd out over Phish, too, if he tries hard enough.

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74 Grateful Dead – “Deal” (Dead Set)

An album mate of “Sugaree” from Garcia (1972), “Deal” explodes into commendable fruition on Dead Set (1981), probably my favorite live Grateful Dead album of them all. Garcia is fully subsumed in his sage persona on this cut, issuing precious gambling wisdom off-the-cuff like it’s supremely undeniable and also not really THAT important, to then traverse a refreshing chord progression for the brief, simple chorus, which produces these three-note guitar frills that in their own little way prove the genius of his song construction abilities. As is the case with most cuts on this album, as well, the guitar solo is brilliant, maybe not outpacing “Little Red Rooster” but still tickling your ears and making for an entrancing listen. 

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73 Phish – “Divided Sky” [St. Louis ’93 (Live)]

St. Louis ’93, a Phish boxed set released in 2017, has the curious mission statement of comprising all of the concerts played by the band in that city in 1993, which total two. I’m not sure if there’s just something in the air in St. Louis that brings out electric performances, or would possess the band to compile this project as an official document, but this is absolutely my favorite version of “Divided Sky” of all time, and what’s more, one that bleeds gorgeously into the little a capella mini-jaunt “I Didn’t Know,” which immediately follows, in extra-trippy fashion. As for a study in this song itself, once I hack away all the mental foliage of my friends treating it like the second coming of Christ in high school, I hold the intro in high esteem but reserve my real reverence for Trey’s endless, soaring guitar soloing, this track perhaps being the most vividly illuminating platform for that enterprise of any in the band’s catalogue.

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72 Frank Zappa – “Stink-Foot” [Apostrophe (’)]

“Stink-Foot” is the bizarre, inappropriate, grotesque and ultimately quintessentially “Zappa” closeur on Apostrophe (1974), arguably the best album of his career. And, as is usually the case with him, the lyrics, imagery and wavering attempts at satire are all but drowned out by the instrumental music itself, particularly Zappa’s guitar playing, which sizzles out of the speakers with a singularly furious amalgamation of sonic manipulation and frenzy. It’s the subtleties you have to look for in a track like this, though, like those eerily dissonant piano chords flanking the background during Zappa’s little conference with a canine figure named “Fido.” Or there’s that funky effect on that guitar halfway through that makes it sound like some cheap, kitschy Casio keyboard — oh, the brilliance to be found in the absurd, with this dude. Or the absurdity inherent in his brilliance… whatever the case may be.

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71 Leftover Salmon – “Funky Mountain Fogdown” (Euphoria)

It’s just like Boulder, Colorado’s Leftover Salmon to go and get all gleeful and blissed-out on bluegrass 100-yard-dashes like “Funky Mountain Fogdown,” which instrumentally mans the mid-section of their best album, Euphoria (1997). Make no mistake: bluegrass is done right, and best, up in the mountains, where any number of unknown substances and potable or breathable concoctions might make for an especially uninhibited mindset for connecting with the jangly rhythmic gods of the night. This band might just be Colorado’s best answer to the art form, then, originally borne 1,500 miles East in the high, lonesome Smokies.

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70 String Cheese Incident – “’Round the Wheel” (’Round the Wheel)

Combining funk and instrumental eclecticism with their ephemeral pop writing sense, the ’Round the Wheel title track, to me, best suffuses String Cheese’s various attributes into one ultimate, memorable blend. One thing I like about this track is that they stay relatively organic, letting piano, ambient percussion and banjo do most of the yakking, over a drum beat that remains pretty steady and innocuous. Perhaps a shade less consistent than their fellow Coloradoans Leftover Salmon, String Cheese is nonetheless a significant bastion of the jam touring circuit and festival mainstay with an energetic live show in their palette. 

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69 Umphrey’s McGee – “Yoga Pants” (Live at the Beacon Theatre 1.17.15)

In 2007, Umphrey’s released a stellar live album, Live at the Murat, which, truth be told, is probably my one authoritative document for summing up that band’s career and sound, if I had to choose just one. Decidedly, then, I gravitated strongly to indie rock after right around that time, and it seems like, for the most part, jam rock has just been resting on its laurels, since then. The exception, or little satyr foray back into energy, anyway, might be this instrumental, apparently mourning the degradation of female attire in our society (truth be told the tune does possess a kind of melancholy tinge… so that’s how I take it) and amassing itself into an endless string of noodley, elaborate jams, like only this band of Hoosiers can do.

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68 Bela Fleck and the Flecktones – “Ovombo Summit” (Live at the Quick)

“Ovombo Summit” is the first major “ethnic aside” on Live at the Quick, if you will, to eventually, of course, be upstaged by the inimitable “Alash Khem (Alash River Song).” “Ovombo Summit” is direct and hypnotic, though, in rare amalgamation thereof, complete with ambient, background tom and bongo comprising pretty much the whole mix other than the foreign vocal lines, in all their comely levity and purity. 

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67 Leftover Salmon – “Highway Song” (Euphoria)

“Highway Song” comes jam-packed with melody and inspiration, galloping along on a bongo-sounding snare drum and really, pretty plain instrumentation of acoustic and electric guitars, by Leftover Salmon standards. Other than a couple brief blips of viola, “Highway Song” is pretty standard dad-rock fare, with very warm production, at that, and some intrinsically innocent lyrics from Drew Emmitt that seem like the result of the kind of revelation that would have yielded this fleeting, gorgeously spherical music.

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66 Grateful Dead – “Bertha” (Veneta, OR 8/27/72: The Complete Sunshine Daydream Concert)

As far as I can find, “Bertha” doesn’t grace any Grateful Dead studio album, but it is a wonderful, incessant staple of their live shows, as well as setlists by Grateful Dead cover bands across the world. This Veneta, Oregon version finds a pretty clean, polished mix and set of production techniques, nonetheless anyhow brandishing copious guitar frills filling the cracks in the verses, and pretty much everywhere, as if Jerry couldn’t wait for the solo to show off his chops and knack for slinging melody like it’s Jackson Pollock paint.

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65 Jimi Hendrix – “Who Knows” (Band of Gypsys)

It’s certainly hard to believe, but Wikipedia is reporting that Band of Gypsys is comprised of just three individuals, in total: Jimi Hendrix on guitar and vocals, Billy Cox and bass and vocals and Buddy Miles on drums and vocals. With the songs more spread out, bluesy and raw, too, it can’t help but play as Hendrix’ kiss-off in terms of a project that no longer primarily showcases him as some godhead, but rather finds him just as a bandmate, jamming with a couple guys he likes and can really wail. “Who Knows,” the opener on the invincible 1970 live album, toggles effortlessly between call-and-response vocals featuring Hendrix and Cox, and guitar playing, or “slaying,” to be more specific, frills and licks packed tightly into splintered crates of hard rock, with the wah-wah pedal contributing more than its fair share as well.

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64 Galactic – “Shibuya” [We Love ’em Tonight (Live at Tipitina’s)]

I think that’s harmonica fed through an effects pedal making all that crazy racket throughout this track. One thing is for sure: this New Orleans band is da** fun, is still doing it and almost never needs vocals to retain your attention. The jams balloon out endlessly and raucously, with saxophone and smooth keyboard establishing the perfect mix companion to that twisted, bugged-out harmonica that sounds like the instrument itself is drunk on Southern bourbon. Make no mistake though: this band rocks out sharp as a tack, even weaving themselves through some abrupt starts and stops with impeccable exactness.

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63 moe. – “Captain America” [L (Live)]

“Captain America,” as well as being a classy, catchy song, perhaps moe.’s best, is also a cool spot on the list where the band stops trying to be too fancy or long-winded and just leans back and rocks, straight from the hip. The guitar sound is median and docile, to probably not sound out-of-place on Third Eye Blind’s self-titled debut. And really, this kind of no-frills directness aligns perfectly with the lyrics of this song, which bemoan being the subject of the American machine, which has a way of rendering you “in the middle,” or within a position in life that sometimes can seem interchangeable with so many other mundane predicaments. And it’s the casual way they get this point across, and then sidle into a smooth but busy and rocking guitar solo, that makes this a memorable and also unique version.

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62 Bela Fleck and the Flecktones – “Scratch & Sniff” (Live at the Quick)

To be honest, Wikipedia lists a lot of musical instruments for the track “Scratch & Sniff” and I’d say I’d be able to identify about half of them. Anyway, Victor Wooten is undeniably irreplaceable on bass, either way, an instrument that strongholds a significant chunk of the soundscape here, splitting time with Jeff Coffin’s tenor saxophone for musical sovereignty. And then, of course, the banjo of the leader himself, Bela Fleck, tends to steal the show when it comes in, sounding almost impossibly rich and resonant for an implement meant to occupy the outlying fringes of American musical culture. 

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61 Grateful Dead – “Franklin’s Tower” (Dead Set)

There’s just nothing like the guitar sound Jerry Garcia gets on this track — actually it sounds like he’s playing way up the neck close the body, with its celestial clarity. This version features gorgeous background vocals in the chorus courtesy of Brent Mydland and, again, a guitar solo around every corner it seems, with Garcia sweetly savoring the last few days and months before he’d succumb to heroin addiction and find himself in prison. 

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60 Umphrey’s McGee – “Out of Order” (Live at the Murat)

For all its sprawling jams and puerile goofiness, there is this three-song string on disc two of Live at the Murat that stands as about sovereign in showcasing the band’s abilities in songwriting, riffing, jamming and lyricism — a pretty stalwart creative diamond, when they’re all jibing together. “Out of Order” runs smack in the middle of the three, riding on a Pearl Jam-likening riff over an extra skittish, complex drum beat, collecting beautifully, as par for the course, around a catchy Brendan Bayless chorus that recognizes the perils involved in our everyday lives. Yeah, they’re show-offs. That’s all there is to it.

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59 Neil Young – “Southern Man” (After the Gold Rush)

The man who stuck a stick in the spokes of my Spotify playlist for this post rears his head here, delivering some awkward, herky-jerky compunction on the racist South that would go on, of course, to spawn that set of lyrics in “Sweet Home Alabama” of “I hope Neil Young will remember / A Southern man don’t need him around”. As is the norm with Neil, anyway, drum fills are pretty much non-existent, as is that ephemeral concept of “production” I’ve been hearing so much about, Young’s purposeful, bulbous songwriting swagger acting in unilateral authority over the speakers and your ear drums.

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58 Galactic – “Lumpology” [We Love ’em Tonight (Live at Tipitina’s)]

This authoritative live album from New Orleans’ favorite jam-funkers plays as an all-encompassing ride in glove-tight grooves and instrumental chops, with “Lumpology” taking things in a tense, eccentric direction, if only to break up any monotony that would otherwise manifest from too much ease and “grooviness.” The whole band stop and start in blues riff, yielding a Hammond Organ caterwaul altogether jazzy in its aimless dissonance, and a throaty rhythm guitar cloaks the mix in mellow timbre, all over one of Stanton Moore’s best, punchiest drum beats. Perhaps more than any other track, “Lumpology” would get people who haven’t heard this band turning their heads and saying, “They don’t sound hopelessly stoned!”

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57 Frank Zappa – “Advance Romance” (You Can’t Do That on Stage Anymore, Vol. 3)

“Advance Romance” takes the baton from “Lucille Has Messed My Mind up on the #3 installment of Zappa’s front-loaded but verbose live album series, sustaining Ike Willis’ hearty vocals but definitely obviating Zappa’s presence as a satirical lyricist biting through platitudes and clichés prevalent in our society, true to form. And seeing as it precedes “Bobby Brown Goes down” and “Keep it Greasey,” this track provides some much-needed respite from the sort of semantic onslaught all we Zappa fans still fear a little bit. More than anything, the guitar soloing is superb, cataclysmic stuff. But you already knew that.

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56 The Disco Biscuits – “Highwire” (They Missed the Perfume)

Wikipedia lists They Missed the Perfume (2001) as the fourth album from Philly’s Disco Biscuits. It follows Bisco Lives (2000) by only a year, which seems odd considering the new, rejuvenated feel the song takes toward hallucinogenic, psychedelic satisfaction through traveling back in time. On “Highwire,” Jon ‘The Barber’ Gutwillig, credited with sole guitar duties but splitting vocals with two other band members, plays a clean, treated axe through an echo chamber, and the result is like that of a little kid who’s gotten his hands on something he shouldn’t have — they overdo it, but in a way that’s fun, and for a song about being young, the shamelessly muddled and spliced groove makes a strange, trippy sort of sense.

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55 The Allman Brothers Band – “Jessica” (Brothers and Sisters)

Even in the wake of the newly departed Duane Allman, the hits kept coming for the Macon, Georgia soul-rock aficionados on the poignantly named Brothers and Sisters (1973). Unfortunately, Dwayne’s presence is missed somewhat on that relatively noodling, aimless guitar solo, but the melodic sense and full-band purpose seem intact and more ardent than ever, moving to carry on Dwayne’s legacy with songs like “Jessica,” which seems to carry more emotion and meaning than almost any other instrumental song of our time. Chuck Leavell steals the show on the piano solo, too, beautifully embodying the idea of “jam” being a platform inviting and showcasing otherwise underdog, unexpected faces.

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54 moe. – “Yodelittle” [L (Live)]

Great jam-rock has always been about blending two or more different styles, or entities, into one. This “Yodelittle” track on moe.’s classic live album is a great example of this, with a groove resting on reggae rhythms, an incessant, simple guitar riff that calls to mind Black Sabbath, and, of course, that redneck chant of “Yodelittle lady who…” And ya know, I’ve listened to this album about a million times and I never even noticed that this track was 15 minutes long. The same kind of hypnotic concept of time moving fast applies to the show I saw of these guys, too — their energy and tightness are so infectious that they seem to take time and suck it up through a vacuum. Surprisingly, “Yodelittle” is not a retake on an old redneck traditional, put was penned entirely by the band, themselves.

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53 Bela Fleck and the Flecktones – “Hoedown” (Live at the Quick)

This tune is a rehash of a classic old country song, with Fleck and company treating it with hearty, spirited fiddle that marches in lockstep with guitar to hammer out the song’s primary melody, ad infinitum. Paul Hanson’s bassoon even chimes in briefly, mimicking the other two melodic instruments, Victor Wooten’s bass is subtle but stalwart and funky, and hey, we have a… gosh I sure wish I knew a word to describe a good-ol’-fashioned country shin-dig.

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52 Grateful Dead – “Throwing Stones” (In the Dark)

Starting in with Jerry Garcia’s signature jangly guitar sound, which by this post-prison Dead period had come to sound like such a sweet siren of life, “Throwing Stones” gallops with energy, fervor and one killer chorus chord progression to diagram the maladies and depravities of men: “The darkness never goes / In some men’s eyes”; “Click flash blade in ghetto night / Rudy’s looking for a fight / Rat cat alley roll them bones / Need that cash to feed that Jones / And the politicians throwing stones / Singing ashes ashes all fall down / Ashes ashes all fall down”. One reason that this song is so cool to me is that Bob Weir’s singing it relatively late in his career, about 22 years after the band started, or so, but it still seems to be so full of the kind of resignation to the intrinsically wavering morality of men that must have been a hard pill to swallow, if not for the swaggering rock and roll traction on which it’s planted.

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51 Umphrey’s McGee – “White Man’s Moccasins” (Live at the Murat)

Placid, majestic and surreal, “White Man’s Moccasins” rounds out the classic trifecta of songs on Live at the Murat I mention briefly in the “Out of Order” mini-blurb. It begins with a grunge jam pretty prototypical of the band, Jake Cinninger even busting out some distortion pedal like Jerry Cantrell or Kim Thayil might. The song’s sole lyrics, then, encompass this one verse that begins around the one-minute mark and culminates with the lines “And looking at your sources / The simple piece is fractured / And left to guess the question / Should I even try?” From there, things are led into celestial, mournful oblivion, with some piano soloing from Joel Cummins, some bongos, and, of course, one of those solos from Jake Cinninger that seems to defy description for the sheer fact that you don’t want to talk while it’s going on.

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50 War – “City, Country, City” (The World is a Ghetto)

“City Country, City” is the sprawling mess that rounds out side A of War’s mournful fifth album, The World is a Ghetto. It plays like a travelogue, with smooth, peaceful and melancholic episodes flanked by busy, jostling and hectic funk juxtaposed then to represent the “city” aspect. This is true “jam” in every sense of the term — there are no vocals in this entire 13-minute trek and replacing them is a bongo/saxophone texture that would seem to threaten to get boring with any band with lesser chops than this.

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49 The Jimi Hendrix Experience – “Tax Free” (Winterland)

“Tax Free” marks a bulbous side B jam on from my original Live at Winterland instrumental in just keeping the energy of the whole thing going and of course showing off Hendrix’ otherworldly, rubber-fingered talent. It’s not quite as slow and overly embellished as “Red House,” plotting along at a disciplined pace but still finding the groove and the ear-splitting guitar shredding sharing a comfortable likeness with each other, for the jam that Hendrix credits to two Swedish cats Hanson & Carlson, strangely enough.

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48 Wilco – “Spiders (Kidsmoke)” (Kicking Television: Live in Chicago)

The first time I heard the studio version of “Spiders” it was such a jolt — rendered so closely with all this defiantly acoustic folk rock was all of a sudden this techno-groove-sounding thing more aligned with Kraftwerk. In general, I found the song to make enough sense to work (definitely not too much sense), but the live version, as is par for the course, just has an added energy about it as well as a raw, organic sound. Plus, I love how raw and weary Jeff Tweedy’s vocals get, adding a much-needed human element into this electronic Frankenstein-monster-turned-rock-song.

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47 Grateful Dead – “Friend of the Devil” (Dead Set)

I’m referring back here to what’s kind of my flagship Dead album, Dead Set, with this “Friend of the Devil” version being one among a bevy of classic folk songs being delivered with this crystal clear guitar sound and flawlessly mixed vocals. Thanks to Wikipedia too for transforming the legend of Garcia hearing it slowed down and mimicking that tactic into a “Wikipedia fact,” which is typically conclusive enough for the blogosphere, as we all know. 

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46 Ween – “The Argus” (Live in Chicago)

It’s my somewhat peculiar tactic here now to select the live version of this song in lieu of the studio version — actually I did the same thing for a couple of Phish and Grateful Dead numbers. No doubt, the live setting is just beautifully fitting for this entire enterprise of “jam,” which should inherently be an operation free of excessive production or recording high jinks. This would earmark it distinctly from Pink Floyd, as it were, which is ironic since Ween to me is about the closest any earthly mortal has come to harnessing the trippy wizardry of our favorite London mad psych-rock scientists. On the live version here, the guitar sound bubbles out as a little more watery and shapely, and in general the track just has this surreal, ephemeral quality that I thought warranted its inclusion on this list. Typically, though, Ween is fairly measured and formulated, hence making it kind of a head-scratcher that they’re always lumped in with the “jam” crowd (between you and me, it’s a huge favor to the jam world that they are).  

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45 Neil Young & Crazy Horse – “Powderfinger” (Rust Never Sleeps)

“Powderfinger” marks the track on the timeless, near-perfect Rust Never Sleeps (1979) when the proceedings change from acoustic to “godfather of grunge” territory, and, in doing this, ushers in a four-track sequence of some uncompromising songs that often take on dark, lurid themes. This track fits the bill then proudly with a story about a murder by the riverside, told from the point of view of a gunman who’s lost control of his nervous system, apparently, and lets some shots fire that he can’t take back, all in a panic. It’s Young’s craft in storytelling from the point of the view of the poor, down and out, combined with the bulbous, sweeping statements he makes in his guitar solo, that combine to send this track into a really memorable zone.

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44 Frank Zappa – “Willie the Pimp” (Hot Rats)

Hot Rats (1974) is pretty much what I’d consider Zappa’s “jam” studio album, with most of the songs being instrumental and pretty much all carrying themselves in wayward, rhythmically unique ways. This cut comes in second and kind of carries the flag with some stock, two-bit humor that seems designed as cheap to fit in with the subject matter. As usual, I guess, I’m going to hold at arm’s length the notion of what EXACTLY Zappa’s trying to do, or say, here, but the product checks out as ever, with some wicked jamming in the song’s innards and some spicy wah-wah pedal to wake you up.

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43 The Allman Brothers Band – “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” (Idlewild South)

A proud intruder into the A Decade of Hits 1969-1979 party, this instrumental coasts along light and care-free, with a strong Hammond Organ run dominating the upper register and some lithe, busy bongos insulating the proceedings. Around the minute-and-a-half mark, then, it changes tempo and bounces into brisk funk-rock, calling to mind the experimental jams that War were doing around this time like “City, Country, City.” There’s also a jazzy tinge to the way this song’s chords and melodies are set up — an eclectic, grooving stew from front to back.

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42 Phish – “The Mango Song” (Hampton Comes Alive

I’ll always associate this Hampton Comes Alive with the wintertime and doing acid, for some reason, and just feeling and perceiving this incredible sense of renewal about the world around me. “The Mango Song” is one of the stronger cuts from the whole collection, originally a A Picture of Nectar (1992) denizen and overall just a harebrained and beautiful testament to phrasing ridiculous, chord changes and a figure with a certainly quirky bodily quirk: “Your hands and feet are mangoes / You’re gonna be a genius anyway”. Absurdist humor is allowed to foment here with psychedelic rock brilliance on a pretty much unprecedented level.

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41 Talking Heads – “The Great Curve” (Remain in Light)

I might get some eye-rolls for selecting songs from this Talking Heads album, Remain in Light (1980), for this list. Well, the songs are long, complex and really weird, so that should work in my favor. “The Great Curve” is pretty much the quintessential Remain in Light cut, then — busy, bulbous and even cumulative of that hilarious, horrified take on neuroses initiated on Fear of Music: “She loves the world / And all the people in it / She shakes them up / When she starts to walk”. As is par for the course, the African, tribal element looms large here, buoyed by some rhythmic and unintelligible background vocals in the song’s second half, at which there’s so much going on from trumpet, to bongo, to warring vocal parts that your brain turns to mush and you just go with it.

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40 Frank Zappa – “The Mammy Anthem – Live” (You Can’t Do That on Stage Anymore, Vol. 1)

Track four on the first installment of You Can’t Do That on Stage corrals some pretty sweet metal grooves for its initial groundwork, before regressing into a profuse wilderness of guitar shredding, which, based on my semi-conclusive research, has Steve Vai’s fingerprints on it. One thing setting this track apart from a lot of its cohorts, anyway, along with the synchronized guitar/synth riffs, is the watery sound that the rhythm guitar takes on (which I believe to be Zappa’s), giving it a trippy, psychedelic quality, and, of course, a welcome break from his highness’ vindictive semantic tirades.

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39 Phish – “Stash” (A Live One)

“Stash” to me is the quintessential Phish song — long, spooky, and, truth be told, more intricate than anything else the Grateful Dead ever did (with the Dead’s bent lying closer to world-weary, anthemic folk rock). Opening with a stylish, killer guitar riff from Trey Anastacio, the song collects tendrils and momentum like an avalanche, climaxing in the jolting lyrical query from Anastacio of “Control for smilers (sic) can’t be bought / The solar garlic starts to rot / Was it for this my life I sought? / Maybe so maybe not”. It’s a showstopping piece, leaving the listener confused as to whether to raise a lighter to the guitar noodling or hunker down in philosophical angst before the qualms being spouted in the vocals.

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38 Galactic – “Villified” [We Love ’em Tonight (Live at Tipitina’s)]

Rich, throaty saxophone and a bass played through a wah-wah pedal rule the roost on my highest ranking Galactic track on this list, with Theryl DeClouet’s vocas acting as king of a humorous aside, as if it doesn’t really matter what he says because the vibe will still be tight behind this band’s funky groove. Jeff Raines deserves some props, too, for a brief but toothy guitar solo, one that toggles wah-wah and and good-ol’-fashioned shredding like a hurried UPS driver bustling to make all his rounds of turning out your ear drums.

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37 Frank Zappa – “Zomby Woof – Live” (You Can’t Do That on Stage Anymore, Vol. 1)

This medical dictum addressing a very serious condition known as “a zomby woof behind your eyes” is better known for kicking off side B of Zappa’s ’73 album Over-Nite Sensation, reincarnated here as just embellished, in a general sort of way, that seems, not even better or worse, but just ruder. The tempo is jacked up, the volume, there’s more crazy, half-unneeded background vocalists lending spirit to the stew, and all 20 of Zappa’s fingers are working overtime, splitting time between splicing Cubist atoms of rhythm and phrasing and good ol’ lazy grooves with killer solos. Is that what people think Jeff Beck is so good at? 

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36 Frank Zappa & the Mothers of Invention – “Get a Little” (Weasels Ripped My Flesh)

Sometimes it seems the objective of Frank Zappa studio albums is just to confuse the sh** out of you. This certainly seems to be the case with the angular, disconcerting Weasels Ripped My Flesh (1970), which opens with a sort of musique concrete slab of unadulterated nonsense, follows that with a strikingly normal old blues cover (which is excellent), and, from there, makes like a little kid wandering around a playground — skipping over between every genre, mood, style and set of malicious intentions under the sun, for a journey that’s nowhere near enjoyable as it is scattershot. For whatever reason, “Get a Little,” seems like the masterpiece, a guitar-heavy, swampy classic rock instrumental, like “On the Bus,” which seems to extol the ubiquitous practice of seedy, hardcore sex, ahem, also like “On the Bus.” 

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35 Rush – “YYZ” (Exit… Stage Left)

Moving from instrumental to instrumental here (I kind of have a proclivity for instrumentals, perhaps because I’m just so sick of the hackneyed popular rock song narrative… talking to you Lumineers), we come to our favorite Canadian prog-rockers Rush, who are featured scantily on this list but not for lack of rocking prowess and rubber-fingered skill. Indeed, despite their long songs and penchant for playing verbose lines, most of their songs are rigidly structured, lending themselves less to improvisation, which is a prerequisite for “jam.” This song takes the baton, though, for its polymorphousness through meter shift, key change, endless instrumental jamming and of course that classic Hammond organ part toward the end, which is like a runner taking a breather with his hands on his knees, marveling before the physical accomplishment directly preceding.

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34 moe. – “Plane Crash” [L (Live)]

Am I an a-hole if I don’t CARE what moe. studio album this was originally on. Did moe. even make studio albums? I hold that this live album L is so authoritative and all-encompassing of what the band did, on a virtuosic level, that all else within their catalogue is moot (especially if “Nebraska” is any indication). My highest ranking moe. track stretches to 11 minutes and 32 seconds and caps off the first disc (that’s a reference to the artifact known as “CD’s,” for any interested parties) of L in grandiose, stylish fashion, with some neurotic panic about getting on an airplane, and, of course, more enticingly, the quintessentially dumb jam band play on words of “Drive across the country / I get too fu**in’ high”. 

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33 Grateful Dead – “He’s Gone” (Europe ’72)

The benefactor of the pervasive Dead mantra “Steal Your Face,” “He’s Gone” sidles along easily, in unassuming midtempo steadiness, as the second overall track on Europe ’72, arguably the band’s best live album. Now, my Europe ’72 spiel, at least my primary one, handles how it’s composed of TOO MUCH climax — like, for instance, “He’s Gone” is a track that easily comprise a classic ending to a live jam album, like “The Squirming Coil,” or, like, ya know, “Ramble on Rose”; “Jack Straw”; “Morning Dew”; “Tennessee Jed”; ad infinitum. In this way, though, even if Dead Set (1982) flows better, Europe’ 72 lends itself just as well to this list, a precocious, melodic and impreccably produced (Owsley Stanley) live album featuring this version that barely edged out the andante, world-weary and sublime run-through that pops up on Pacific Northwest ’73-’74: Believe it if You Need it.

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32 Rusted Root – “Send Me on My Way” (When I Woke)

Well, is this song really “jam”? I suppose it’s debatable — I proceed with the tabbing of it as such partly because of its aesthetic, that care-free acoustic rock that all but begat Jack Johnson and Ben Harper, and also for its ample element of eccentricity. That is, the expressive, elated vocals from Mike Glabicki (amazingly I think just now was the first time I’ve ever got wind of whom the Rusted Root singer was) position themselves as virtuosic, outside of the range of rock radio, as it were. Midway through, we get bongo, a strange instrument which I believe is a “penny whistle,” and more of that rustic, mountain type of drum beat, so the instrumentation is nothing if not eclectic. Still, give Bill Bottrell credit for giving the bass in this mix some solid muscle — Rusted Root’s bass sound is a bit of a dark horse element in mid-’90s jam.

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31 Phish – “NICU” (Hampton Comes Alive)

Around my sophomore year in high school, I could be writing “Phish sucks” on my notebooks, then flooding with mixtapes with Goldfinger, The Suicide Machines, Green Day and The Offspring, per extracurricular turns of events. Things changed a little bit my junior year — I started experimenting with certain substances, in my laboratory, of course, and I heard some Phish songs that were actually GOOD (I love Phish but don’t think they always have the best filtering system for judging their own material). With “NICU,” then, and particularly this showstopping version on their definitive boxed set Hampton Comes Alive, it was a crossing of the proverbial Rubicon — I was nailed in as a Phish devotee, witnessing the songwriting sharpness, the cooky and awesome phraseology being employed in the verse, and of course the savvy, rhythmically sound knack for lyricism, constructed by Tom Marshall and sung by singer/guitarist Trey Anastacio. Actually, there was so much going on in this song that I never even noticed that the drum beat would be complex even by the standards of an Octopus attending Juliard. Indeed, John Fishman does typically name this tune as his favorite of the band’s to perform.

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30 The Allman Brothers Band – “Dreams” (The Allman Brothers Band)

I guess it’s just the curse of putting out Eat a Peach and At Fillmore East that your other albums seem to go unheralded and unappreciated. “Dreams,” which ironically buddies up to album-mate “Whipping Post” at the very end of A Decade of Hits 1969-1979, springs from the band’s self-titled debut, their only album issued in the 1960s, and seems to accordingly explode out of the speakers with an added element of wild fearlessness, as if, despite not having matured fully in realms of putting different ideas together, the band were nonetheless siphoning and energy that were rawer and purer, for this cathartic gem that’s got Dwayne’s axe-prints all over it.

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29 Grateful Dead – “Eyes of the World” (Pacific Northwest ’73-’74: Believe it if You Need it)

Rounding out the set of two Dead tracks on this list to come from this particular live album, which interestingly just came out in 2018 and is actually very good, front to back, “Eyes of the World” seems like that kind of mutt Grateful Dead song — it’s a ubiquitous staple of their live set, with the anthemic chorus of “Wake up to find out / That you are the eyes of the world”, but still, it’s hard to pin down the one definitive version to represent its legacy. Pacific Northwest might stand in handily with exuberant, surprisingly funky bounce and this liquid, surreal tone to Garcia’s guitar.

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28 Jimi Hendrix – “Machine Gun” (Band of Gypsys)

Very much epochal in that it’s impossible not to take it as a response to the Vietnam War, “Machine Gun” plays as probably Hendrix’ primary political statement of his career, a nice companion piece to the twisted, dystopic take on the “Star Spangled Banner” on Live at Woodstock. In truth, every version of this song this band ever did probably rips it, including the one on the live album that’s actually called Machine Gun: The Fillmore East First Show, but I choose this version in a way to showcase this album in particular, which, like the original Live at Winterland concert showcasing of the Experience, plays as a succinct, flawless snapshot of the at-gig virtuosity of the greatest pedal rocker of all time. Drummer Buddy Miles helps out on vocals, too, lending the track a warm, earthy quality, with their rich timbres and emphatic delivery.

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27 Talking Heads – “Crosseyed and Painless” (Remain in Light)

Like “The Great Curve,” this tune’s album mate and list mate, “Crosseyed and Painless” is an essentially unstructured piece of music, whereas, short of actually calling them better songs than “Once in a Lifetime,” which would obviously be a pretty unorthodox opinion, I deem them fitter for this particular blog post for their apparently oblivious disposition before the enterprise of rock radio (of which “Once in a Lifetime” is obviously a potent denizen). Wielding three different choruses and ambling along with steady, funky swagger, “Crosseyed and Painless” seems to exude its name of ironically rendered, narcotic mental entropy, amidst so much bulbous instrumental intricacy.

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26 Grateful Dead – “Ramble on Rose” (Europe ’72)

Fitting with my general, annoying spiel that this album has TOO MUCH CLIMAX and otherwise could contend for best Grateful Dead album (their best live album would likely double as their “best album, by default, I’d say), “Ramble on Rose” plays as the perfect show finale, as do three-quarters of the songs on this album. The lyrics seem so Cubist and schizo, with lines like “Just like Mary Shelley / Just like Frankenstein / Break your chains / And count your change / And try to walk the line” that they can’t help but come off as meaningful. The track opens with one killer piano riff from Keith Godchaux, the chorus is catchy and classic like “Tennesse Jed”; “Sugaree” or any other number of Dead staples, but, unsurprisingly, it’s Jerry Garcia’s soloing that really cements this track as something your kids are sure to get sick of from overexposure.

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25 Bela Fleck and the Flecktones – “Big Country” (Live at the Quick)

Bela Fleck opens “Big Country,” the centerpiece of the band’s flagship live album Live at the Quick, with celestial-sounding banjo delivered with rubber-finger mastery. Soon after comes trippy, undulating synthesizer (Wikipedia pithily dubs it a “Synth-Axe Drumitar”), to be followed by fiddle and bassoon, all collecting around that same, repeated theme which governs the entire song. Things go in phases, then, as the middle of the song finds Bela Fleck and Future Man not so much duetting and dualing, on their instruments, for an aerated glade of ambience within a richly busy, eclectic, ultimately dizziness-inducing song. A beautiful, descending fiddle riff then chirps in, toward the end, before one return to the final, main theme, amidst some crowd noise, and more goosebumps on your arms and legs than there are joints being passed around in the crowd.

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24 Eric Clapton – “Cocaine” (Slowhand)

Too rude, rhythmic and beery for the unplugged album, “Cocaine” is one of those songs that for me contains a sort of cinematic value, for me. I come from a town, South Bend, Indiana, that’s a huge partying town, in terms of filling your body with any number of select intoxicants, and this Clapton cut will forever, for me, represent the perfect pub song, laced with just enough machismo and worship of the great, ubiquitous debauchery ideal, to get everyone’s head nodding, no matter their race or what they’re wearing. I categorize this tune as jam, perhaps precariously, by virtue of its extended guitar solo, which lasts for 24 bars and close to a whole minute. I don’t know of a longer guitar solo in any song that’s a lasting mainstay of rock radio and who better to unleash it than the original guitarist of Cream, who, likewise, crash this list with some riffing that qualifies with its swagger and not its song length or instrumentation.

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23 Umphrey’s McGee – “Push the Pig” (Live at the Murat)

I don’t know what it is about this Live at the Murat performance (in reality, Indianapolis crowds are pretty cool… like a mixture of the high energy/gratitude of Chicago and the relaxed comportment of Denver) but these guys really get cookin’ by disc two, whereas disc one never made too much impression other than juvenility and pointless experimentation. So much is this the case that Google (not sure whether we’re listening to Google now for all our music recommendations) names this version as the authoritative take on “Push the Pig,” an old Umphrey’s classic that borrows not lightly from the riff in Primus’ “Shake Hands with Beef,” despite the fact that this is a tune they had been doing live at least since 2002. I happen to personally just adore this song and see it blow my mind, for the trippy way the band seem to shirk melody and dance in lockstep rhythm on the vocals, which are all about gut-check experiences of growing up, to only sweeten the pot.

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22 War – “The World is a Ghetto” (The World is a Ghetto)

The World is a Ghetto (1972) was War’s fifth album and so, with this being the case, totes a little more world-weary wisdom, to compliment the travelogue structure of the instrumental “City, Country, City,” which toggles between pastoral and frenetic in concordance with a hectic touring lifestyle. At large, every song on this album that exceeds five minutes got picked for this list — “City, Country, City”; “Four Cornered Room” and “The World is a Ghetto,” in order in which they appear on the album. The title track, for its own right, comes in eclectic and full of strings and horns, then transitioning to some beautiful background vocals delivering the heartbreaking lines of “Did you know / That it’s true / That for me / And for you / The world is a ghetto”. 

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21 The Allman Brothers Band – “Blue Sky” (Eat a Peach)

Getting back to that SNL theme of Allman Brothers being the perfect music to antidote a bad trip, this song slides in duly to said functionality, containing naught but good vibes and sunny optimism, to spice the endless, time-stopping guitar solo from Duane Allman. Lots could be said, I suppose, about the lead guitarist’s death preceding the release of this album, but then his technical earmarks abounding therein and all buy buoying the band’s artistic credibility (or, certainly, at least their CONSISTENCY). Regardless of the surrounding drama, this will always be that classic rock track that just elevates the listener into the special realm of innocent, unadulterated joy, primarily the main impetus of jam-rock, in general, to richen the song’s anatomical prowess.

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20 Phish – “Chalkdust Torture” (A Live One)

Phish goes pretty hard with the live albums and boxed sets, typically — it’s rare to find a song for which every fan will agree on the DEFINITIVE version. “Chalkdust Torture” might be a notable exception, a tune that begins to masquerade as James Gang power pop before devolving, on this November 1994 Ann Arbor version, into this otherworldly, wolverine guitar solo from Trey Anastacio. It’s got that classic structure, too, of revisiting the chorus after a seemingly endless guitar solo, like “Blue Sky,” the result here pumping out of the speakers with even a little more rhythm and energy, the half-sci-fi, half-noir comedy flagship statement of the band.

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19 Frank Zappa & the Mothers of Invention – “Montana” (Over-Nite Sensation)

“Montana” is the absurdist (or just absurd) and bulbous closeur to Over-Nite Sensation (1973), the companion piece to Apostrophe (1974), and so a prized possession of mine for this very reason. The song begins as a generally regrettable paean to dental floss production in the lonely Rocky Mountain state, laden with these schmaltzy, annoying trumpet and xylophone sounds, with a typically ornate drum beat from Ralph Humphrey. A couple minutes in, then, almost as a joke, the band jettisons into this straight-ahead, blue-collar blues jam, with Humphrey’s beat all of a sudden going Crazy Horse on us (which means really simple, excuse me), and Zappa illustrating why he’s my fifth-favorite guitarist of all time, almost breaking his axe in half with noxious, unbelievable shredding that he couldn’t even wait until the first official bar of the allotted solo to commence.

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18 Blind Faith – “Can’t Find My Way Home” (Blind Faith)

It’s not often you look on Wikipedia and find the words “the only studio album,” as typically if a band is famous enough to have graced Wikipedia, it goes without saying that they would have made more than one album, in total. Well, this sparseness of catalogue was certainly nothing to do with laziness or lack of initiative — in fact Steve Winwood might be the only person ever to have a hit single with four different monikers (Spencer Davis Group, Traffic, Blind Faith, solo act), unless of course his Blind Faith bandmate, Eric Clapton, repeated the stunt, which come to think of it I believe he did (Cream, Blind Faith, Derek & the Dominoes, solo act). There’s a lot to scratch your head at, here, even aside from that topless 13-year-old girl on the cover (I’m guessing they got the idea from Jimmy Page), but anyway, this band is about as 1969 as it gets, bridging the gap beautifully from Cream to Led Zeppelin with some mournful, celestial compilation that seems to primarily emphasize Clapton’s guitar, and so crash the party of this list for that reason. 

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17 Argent – “Hold Your Head up” (All Together Now)

To be honest I’d never heard of this band until last year or so when I heard this song playing in the liquor store and decided to Google the lyrics to find out whom it was. This is a track with an immediate, supreme sort of appeal, like a glorious amalgamation of the freewheeling approach to song structure associated with the ’60s and ’70s and a sort of gritty perseverance factor you typically find primarily in black music. Gorgeous, pristine Hammond Organ opens this track, allowing an incredibly simple, almost Meg-White-like drum part from Robert Henrit, and in general, this track plays out like the song Traffic always wanted to make — beautiful, textural and experimental, but possessive of a firm backbone of conviction, for pummeling through all the situations in life that are, ya know, a bummer, man.

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16 Grateful Dead – “Touch of Grey” (In the Dark)

Yeah, there’s a guitar solo, so it qualifies as jam. That’s a crappy reason, I know. But this song, you could argue, also encapsulates the overall SPIRIT and m.o. of the greatest jam band ever — it’s this unflinching automated statement of supreme innocence, non-judgmental human relations and comfort in one’s own skin. If you’re looking for zesty live versions, you could certainly do worse than Truckin’ up to Buffalo, from an ’89 show, which I don’t think is on Spotify but really plays as pretty great from front to back, with a killer version of “Man Smart, Woman Smarter,” too. Anyway, this studio run-through always does it for me, probably singlehandedly at least inserting In the Dark into the discussion of best Dead studio albums, riding a Hammond Organ and cow bell into one killer groove and a spirited but simple, hypnotic pedal steel solo. It’s the perfect melodic exhalation to follow Garcia’s brief time in prison and to usher the band into what would be their final, though gratifying and distinct, years of their existence.

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15 Frank Zappa – “On the Bus” (Joe’s Garage)

Joe’s Garage (1979), by and large, though certainly more than a little scattershot, plays generally as a concept album about being in a band. And trust me, this is far from some idealistic or “PG” account of professional rockers — directly preceding this track is a song called “Crew Slut,” hence diagramming a prospective career for willing young girls, with “On the Bus,” then, playing out per the narration of the title character, Joe, getting on the bus with a female stranger and, well, I don’t think they were playing chess on there. The hilarious thing to me is that “On the Bus,” while being a pretty groovy psychedelic jam, also could double as porno music, for how smooth, hypnotic and rhythmic it is. 

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14 Neil Young & Crazy Horse – “Down by the River” (Everybody Knows This is Nowhere)

The beginning of Neil Young’s career, and really the entire outplay of his career at large, plays almost like a deliberate ploy to keep throwing people off. Everybody Knows This is Nowhere, his first album with this band the Crazy Horse, follows a gentle, acoustic solo album and encompasses cranked-up, almost grunge-y rocking that would presage the “godfather of grunge” epithet that would be applied to his late-’70s work with the Horse, such as the live album Rust Never Sleeps. Known for preferring drummers who “don’t know how to play” to ostentatious session musicians capable of complex beats, Young favors clear, stark statements like “Down by the river / I shot my baby”, noir scenes accentuated by the albums’ stripped-down production and Young’s insistence on being, well, a crappy garage band.

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13 Frank Zappa – “Apostrophe” (Apostrophe)

At some point my music taste evolved from liking catchy, homey and comforting pop songs to this thing that was like GENRE, which of course is still championed beautifully by their metal/hip-hop/jazz/electronic Facebook posts. The title track on Apostrophe (‘) (1974), Zappa’s masterpiece, is one of the last prominent documents in our music history to vouch for basic rock and roll music as a GENRE, in and of itself. An instrumental song, “Apostrophe” finds Zappa exploding into dizzying shredding sessions, on his axe, and at the next moment, rocking out systematically, in sync with his band, like some unruly marching drum player who’s in line one moment and the next moment breakdancing over by the football team.

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12 Grateful Dead – “Jack Straw” (Europe ’72)

In the shocker of the century, here’s a track on Europe ’72 that’s really full of CLIMAX. The lyrics seem to paint this entirely cinematic scene, full of little vistas of the great, wide-open American West (“Gotta go to Tulsa / First train we can ride”/”Jack Straw from Wichita / Cut his buddy down), culminating in the great, ever-present mantra of corporate America: “My ol’ buddy / You’re movin’ much too slow”. As far as songwriting itself goes, it’s hard to find a better slab of pure, unadulterated Dead than this one, with the production on Europe ’72 nice and spare, accentuating the great melodies and hooks. My game ball, though, goes to Phil Lesh, who on that bass does a great job of cementing the whole groove as something that preternaturally repels your “fast-forward” finger.

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11 The Jimi Hendrix Experience – “Killing Floor” (Winterland)

Hendrix’ maniacal, 100-yard-dash take on the old Howlin’ Wolf standard tends to be one of my favorites because the groove just seems so default Hendrix, a little brisker than anything he’d get to on Band of Gypsys with his band… of gypsies, and full of frantic, desperate energy, and the sort of pungent desire for freedom you get on a “Manic Depression” or “Stone Free,” just the same. Now, we luck out with this cut, too, because on this Winterland boxed set, which has, to my chagrin, replaced the near-perfect live album that used to be called Live at Winterland and spanned only one awesome, succinct and mistake-free disc (and also housed this particular version), only features one version of “Killing Floor,” so you’re not in danger of stumbling across a curated version in which Hendrix actually forgets some of the lyrics, which I did, regrettably, find in the case of certain other numbers.

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10 War – “Four Cornered Room” (The World is a Ghetto)

There’s nothing quite like the feeling being conveyed on “Four Cornered Room,” a jammy, flare-driven tune about squalor and the quest of passing the time with very little means. The song is adorned beautifully in its intro by harmonica, and, far more sparely, Hammond Organ and saxophone. It’s a long, woozy and surreal introduction, spanning over two minutes and graced sidelong by some “Ooh-ooh-ooh” vocals, until the vocals come in and it sounds like an army of men singing “As I sit / In my four-cornered room”, as if obviating that, whoever was doing the bored sitting with nothing to do, they at least had hearty, groovy thoughts of some fellow brothers to buoy their morale along the way.

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9 Cream – “Politician” (Live Cream II)

“Jam” wasn’t usually Cream’s exact m.o. and really its on tenuous grounds at best, even, that I include this particular track on this list. Anyway, like with the Blind Faith tune, and with “Cocaine,” as well, even, Clapton’s guitar just seems to lord over the proceedings with such authority and swagger that it can’t help but bleed its way into the “jam” family. The lyrics don’t hurt its cause, either, indignant lashes against straight-laced lawmen who will seem to avoid taking any kind of firm stance of any kind as long as it means they’ll get reelected. This live version is also handy for the cool outro the band penned for the stage setting, with the studio version orchestrating a fade-out at its finale.

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8 The Doors – “When the Music’s over” (Strange Days)

Now, with The Doors crashing the party here, it’s almost like some backyard basketball game where the little brother was winning the entire game and then the big brother rattles off 10 straight, with body blows and devastating blocks, to take the championship. But it’s true: the songwriting, with them, was typically at such an elite level that they didn’t need instrumental virtuosity. And really they don’t need it here: it’s just that the subject matter, similar to “The End,” with its wild, Dionysian embrace of the apocalyptic, lent itself to this 10-minute song structure to the point where the unhinged disposition of the song, from an organizational standpoint, endears it to this list. The lyrics shift beautifully, too, from logical, to metaphorical, right out to philosophical” “Before I sink / Into the big sleep / I want to hear / The scream of the butterfly”. 

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7 Frank Zappa – “My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama” (You Can’t Do That on Stage Anymore, Vol. 4)

I think I found this version just in time for including it in this post and boy am I glad, because Zappa hits this awesome chord progression in this particular rendition that he didn’t do on the version from Shiek Yerbouti, like a thoroughbred rocking 3-7-4, I believe. In this way, this version takes a great, hard-nosed disposition to the amusingly noxious subject matter: “Then when I tried to call you / She said you wasn’t there / She said don’t bother to call no more / Unless I cut off all of my hair… My guitar wants to kill your mama”. And yeah, I guess I feel young, touting this ostensible frat-boy anthem as something that’s musically viable. But it does hold up, all in all, and what’s more, finds Zappa’s sense of humor at arguably its most accessible and concrete, thankfully enough.

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6 Frank Zappa & the Mothers of Invention – “Fifty-Fifty” (Over-Nite Sensation)

“Fifty-Fifty” closes out side A of Over-Nite Sensation in zany, flippant fashion, like some weird, frantic Vaudeville funk session, throwing shade at improvisational, self-proclaimed experts on lyricism with pretty sharp wit, in the process. The vocal shrieks of Ricky Lancelotti are so shrill and visceral they almost provide a musical instrument of their own, and from their this track balloons into a full-on instrumental onslaught, complete synth and a wicked violin solo from Jean-Luc Ponty. True to form, though, Zappa more than steals the show with a guitar solo that I’m pretty sure got Jaco Pastorious’ grin a little more tight-lipped than usual. I don’t really know what the other instruments are that I’m hearing on this track but maybe that’s kind of the point: it’s an exercise in the absurd, an expressionist devotion to the tacky and a celebration of people fighting losing battles in life. 

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5 Grateful Dead – “Wharf Rat” (The Closing of Winterland)

“Wharf Rat” is the highest ranking Dead song on this list for many reasons. Of course, the whole thing features a nice and hypnotic guitar riff, and some great background vocals pop up at various points in the song. The drum beat from Mickey Hart is constantly undulating, changing meter to reflect the multifarious mood of the song itself. But lyrically, I think, this is one of Garcia’s all-time great achievements, detailing a “wharf rat,” if you will, a bum he meets and who tells the story of getting locked up “For some motherfu**er’s crime”, sung in such welcoming language. The guy then gets to talking about his woman, who, he says “I know… has been true”, with the narrative then following Garcia around in his ensuing journey, to ruminate in the exact same fashion about his own significant other: “I know that she’s been true”. Garcia’s proclamation is sung with tongue in cheek, as well, and the song takes on this surreal element of Garcia feeling like he’s on the verge of collapse, aimless, helpless before the world and clinging only to the melody and the music for his survival raft.

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4 Stevie Wonder – “Living for the City” (Innervisions)

Oh yeah so this list has some Stevie Wonder songs on it, by the way. Well, the very concept of there ever having been a better American songwriter than Wonder is absurd, so, again, the impetus and need for the “showing off,” the endless noodling and destruction of song structure isn’t typically in order. Anyway, Innerversions (1973) will show off Wonder’s typically lively, buoyant approach to production, with the singer himself performing the grooving, hypnotic drum beat (he also performed all the instruments on “Superstition,” so I heard), and barking tales about hard times in urban landscapes like only he can do. The chord progressions are jazzy and in general this is music that takes in pretty much everything around it as an influence, right down to a satisfaction/frustration binary that seems to be the song’s overall resonant theme. 

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3 The Allman Brothers Band – “Whipping Post” (At Fillmore East)

On a seven-song live album that spans about 80 minutes, or a full CD length, “Whipping Post” concludes the proceedings, with an extra-snarly guitar riff getting things going initially in 11/8 time, dissolving into one of Butch Trucks’ best, breeziest drum beats and some guitar/organ dueling to set the soundscape. This is hardly a shocker, then, but Duane Allman takes the baton on lead guitar and just does some nasty stuff to your ear drums. Really, writing about this song seems like a cardinal sin. It was meant to be enjoyed while sitting back and letting your mind to mush before its psychedelic, virtuosic glow. This performance took place less than five months before Duane Allman would be killed in a motorcycle accident.

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2 Stevie Wonder – “Maybe Your Baby” (Talking Book)

Ceding by a slight margin to Music of My Mind (1972), which came out just before it and in the same year, Talking Book vies strongly for strongest Stevie Wonder LP (actually the both followed closely after his divorce, from what I read), and furnishes this truly special, structurally unique rocker that rides the wah-wah pedal like it’s going out of style and pumps in with some of the funkiest, most unruly bass you’re likely to hear this side of Parliament/Funkadelic. The really amazing thing about this song is how funky and powerful it comes out when… uh… it doesn’t really like HAVE a drum beat, at least for most of the key parts of the verses. Not surprisingly, Wonder is in rare form, exerting the utmost vocal catharsis on heartbreak (the “your” in the title could likely be subbed for “my” and make even more sense in that way, truth be told), pumping out a brief but trippy guitar solo and then extending this repetition of the chorus for a full three minutes or so, which has always been my favorite aspect of this tune, like a pledge to the absurd just to prove that the artist could do it. 

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1 Frank Zappa – “The Torture Never Stops” (You Can’t Do That on Stage Anymore, Vol. 1)

Zappa’s catalogue is certainly a hard thing to wrap your head around and with me, I feel like I’m just now starting to get some firm footing in my Zappa referring/listening/gawking-at high jinks, for betteror worse. With this being the case, I was well versed in Roxy & Elsewhere and Zappa in New York, two key Zappa live albums, and considered myself, next to the average person, kind of an expert on the subject. This You Can’t Do That on Stage Anymore series had always sort of been lingering in my mental periphery like some taunting gossamer, to which I’d retort, palms sweaty and voice shaky, “You’re probably not that important!” Well, the good thing is that Spotify makes this whole masquerade a little easier and more convenient, so I can, as sort of a “fu** you” to the outside world, and, secondarily, toward artistic enrichment, sit here for endless hours listening to Zappa and really not get bored. 

Still, this “The Torture Never Stops” version even threw me for a loop, as I was getting acclimated to all the other tracks on this collection and series. “The Torture Never Stops” was a number I recognized from the excellent, gripping and irreverent Zappa in New York Live album and had always stood out as a rare instance in which Zappa’s handling of the lurid and garish actually takes on an element of the sympathetic, rather than just mocking and satirical. Finally, on this track he is just one of us, corralling in every metaphor under the sun, along the way, but coming to a head with the line “All men be cursed” and, no, really, one killer guitar solo. No, really! Where you going? 

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