There was more to Duke Ellington than Take the “A” Train. There was more to The Beatles than She Loves You. There is more to Radiohead than Creep. But there’s not much more to The Fall than the ultra-lo-fi 1978 short sharp shock, Bingo Master’s Breakout. The full range of Johnny Cash’s talent, meanwhile, can be found in Folsom Prison Blues. And, frankly, Neil Diamond has rarely strayed successfully beyond the three chords at the heart of Cherry Cherry.
Don’t get me wrong. Bingo Master’s Breakout is a super-cool song and one can hardly blame Mark E. Smith and the gang for refusing to deviate from a winning formula. But formulaic it is, even if that formula belongs exclusively to the eccentric Mr. Smith. Likewise, I have the utmost respect for Messrs Cash and Diamond. Well, except for those Rick Rubin productions. But we all make mistakes.
I also enjoy me some AC/DC, a band that has for over 40 years recycled the same riffs in an admirable effort to avoid a descent into power-ballads all too common among veteran rock and roll combos.
But, well, sometimes, an artist’s entire career can be experienced via a single song. And I don’t mean in a Ballad of Mott or Tower of Song sort of way. I’m talking about songs that so fully encapsulate the depth of a singer or band, as to make everything else in the catalog redundant. And in this time of austerity, that can be handy. Certainly, for the music-lover seeking to augment his or her collection, it can provide an ideal opportunity to cross an artist’s oeuvre off the wishlist with a single purchase. Consistency is your friend, particularly when that consistency comes in the form of familiarity.
After all, as I’ve often said, the greatest rock and roll band of all time is Slow: the Vancouver-based group recorded one single, one album and an obscure Christmas song, toured Canada once, sabotaged its most prestigious gig amid reports of profanity and nudity and promptly called it quits, never to return. A perfect career; something all too rare in the music biz. I mean, even S Sgt Barry Sadler felt he had a second album in him. He didn’t. Yet there it is, in my collection, right next to the first. And it really shouldn’t be.
(The second Mrs. Miller album, on the other hand…)
Would that more bands had taken a page from Slow’s epic burnout.
It’s a thought that came to me as the PA at our neighbourhood mega-grocery store inflicted Aerosmith’s great — sorry, that’s grating — ballad Cryin’ upon unsuspecting shoppers. There was a time when Aerosmith knew how to rock. They didn’t rock particularly well, mind you, but they didn’t churn out dreck like Cryin’ either. There was Dream On, which is pretty classic as classic rock goes. Yet, it occurs to me that for all the albums and CDs Aerosmith has contributed to the world’s landfills, there probably was never any need for more than a single song.
And in that regard, Aerosmith is not alone. Looking to appease guests desperate to hear something by their favourite artist? I am here to help.
Now then, let’s begin. And we may as well begin with Aerosmith, if only to get it over with.
Big Ten Inch Record
I’ve never been sure what the point of Aerosmith is/was. OK, so the band gave Run-D.M.C. its biggest break, and that’s not nothing. But these sub-Stones hacks can hardly be said to have contributed anything more to the rock and roll aesthetic than has the average bar-band. Which is exactly what the Bostonian quintet sounds like on this Bull Moose Jackson cover, which would surely still provide much amusement to adolescent and arrested-adolescent boys alike, if only those lesser Aerosmith songs would stay out of their way. It never got any better than this, kids. Seriously.
At its best, U2 combines Bono’s why-can’t-we-all-get-along sentiments with his bandmates’ deft musical skill at building songs from a whisper to a scream. Nowhere is that better illustrated or more fully-formed than on this gem. U2 will argue it has boldly strayed from the formula a number of times, trying its hand at everything from hard rock to electro-pop. They might not maintain that argument for long, however. Anyway, this song is, as its title indicates, the one — the mission statement, musically and lyrically. You can try to hate; you can try to hate U2. But for all its grand delusion, U2 is a hard band to truly hate. And with One, U2 became a band to embrace. All it took was a single song.
Master of Puppets
Speaking of One, it was also a pretty swell Metallica song. That song, however, was lifted from the middle of this masterpiece, the title track from the band’s third album. Metallica got everything right here, and has not surprisingly been mining Master of Puppets for inspiration ever since, with mixed results. Fact is, just as you never need to see another Tarantino film if you’ve seen Reservoir Dogs, you need only one Metallica song in your collection. If a drunken houseguest insists on hearing more Metallica, simply play it again. There will be no complaints.
The man has given us some great music and many a memorable line, but there’s a lot of Tom Waits out there for the beginner to wade through. Where to begin? With Closing Time of course, the songwriter’s 1973 debut. And if you like, you can end there too. Sure, you might be missing out on some great performances but, well, it all comes back to Martha. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
It’s All in the Game
OK, there are a number of Van Morrison albums that warrant a place in your collection. But, really, this tribute to crooner Tommy Edwards is, in addition to being about the last time Van the Man put some effort into the game, the recording that captures every subsequent fleeting highlight in the singer’s career. Listen with confidence, and save.
There you have it: a complete record collection in five easy steps. Never again need you fret over which of the many Van Morrison or Tom Waits albums you need to own. They will already be yours. Or near enough.