S-Tier Songs, Vol. 19

Once again it’s time to add to the list of S-Tier songs. For the list as of now and the basic guidelines about it all, head here.

Today’s entry is quick and to the point. It’s about two minutes long, it’s about being unable to “perform” while drunk, and that’s really about it.

Elastica – Stutter

As I said, this one is pretty cut and dry. It’s a simple punk tune, though delivered with smooth women’s vocals as opposed to some shouty drunk guy. The song is expertly constructed in its simplicity and walks a fine line between hard and catchy while getting both sides right. No need to reserves space to evaluate a guitar solo here, this song is out just a quick as it came in.

The lyrical content, while simple in two verses and the chorus, doesn’t quite “come and go.” The song is about a well-known phenomenon where a fella can’t quite get to business after having too much to drink. I suppose “erectile dysfunction” is the proper medical term here. Vocalist Justine Frischmann, also the songwriter, handles the problem in stride, she seems willing to encourage her down and out lover rather than be too upset about it. Though it’s clear she’d also prefer to get to some action.

Stutter was released as a single before Elastica had recorded a full-length. The single was packaged as a limited run of 1,500 records and they flew off store shelves. A series of British media articles shined more attention on the band, and the meteoric rise to fame was on. Two more singles would light up UK charts in 1994, then their debut album released to smash success in early 1995.

The powers that be delayed the release of Stutter in the US until late 1994, a move that likely paid off as the full-length was close to release at that point. Stutter did nominally well on the Billboard charts at position 67, though it did hang out on the charts for 9 weeks. It also broke the top 10 of the alternative rock chart. Subsequent singles would climb higher on both UK and US charts.

The music video was a simple yet effective shot that was in heavy rotation on MTV and other video channels in 1995. Stutter served a number of outlets at the time – “post-grunge” was coming in and Elastica were exactly in the right place at the right time for that. And Britpop was a movement with legs around this time. While Elastica’s sound might not “vibe” with what most consider Britpop, they were undeniably a successful act on the scene at the time. And they were one of the more successful Britpop outfits in the US, second in sales only to the mass success of Oasis. Also, Elastica even outdid Oasis in their shared home country of England – Elastica’s debut album outsold Oasis’ Definitely Maybe, handing Elastica the crown of “highest-selling debut album” in the UK until the Arctic Monkeys came around over a decade later.

There is one other bit of trivia surrounding Stutter that also, uh, sort of involves the Britpop phenomenon. It is widely speculated that the song’s lyrics might be about another of the luminaries of the Britpop movement. Justine Frischmann was an early member of Suede and was in a relationship with that band’s frontman Brett Anderson. Frischmann wound up leaving Anderson for Damon Albarn, frontman of Blur (and later Gorillaz). Frischmann and Albarn were together for a handful of years and were linked at the time Stutter was conceived.

So the question is often asked – is Stutter about either Anderson or Albarn? No answer has been provided and I doubt one ever will. It’s the fodder of endless speculation on ye olde Internet, but it’s also pretty slimy in a way. It’s not like I’d ever ask Justine that question were I in the same room as her. Kind of personal stuff there.

And also – it’s entirely possible the song has nothing to do with either Anderson or Albarn. It might have just been an idea that Frischmann ran with. I thought about not even including this part of the post, but honestly the post was kind of short for my tastes and it’s not like Frischmann is gonna read this and be like “you’re gross.”

Why is this an S-Tier song?

Stutter is a short and to-the-point affair that communicates its message in a clever and coy way despite the aural assault of the music. Justine Frischmann lends some subtle qualities to her vocal delivery that makes the song work in a more playful manner, even though she’d prefer her lover to get to business. The song was a moment in time that fit the time perfectly, as 1995 was a period of transition out of the darker air of the early 90’s. Elastica were in a great place to offer up a ligher-hearted and funny take on an issue not really getting airplay in the grunge years, and the result was very well-received.

An Album A Day – Week 1

It’s time to debut my new series, An Album A Day. As I mentioned before, this is a way to do something like what book people do – rather than read 52 books a year or what have you, this is listen to 365 albums a year, or one a day.

I’ve barely started and I quickly realized something – this is easy street. Listening to 365 albums in a year is not some kind of lofty goal, it’s taking candy from a baby. I’m gonna roll with this whole thing since it’s a fairly easy way to generate some new content and also cover stuff I don’t normally talk about, but this is not a challenge at all.

Anyway, this first post covers the first week of 2023. The next 52 weeks will be filled with – stuff. My missives on these will be brief but there will be several of them so I can still be too wordy.

Opeth – Watershed

It’s been awhile since I listened to anything besides Blackwater Park so I took the time to sift through the 2008 album that was widely hailed as a masterpiece. There’s a lot going on, as there often is with Opeth, but this is a grand moment in their catalog. The Lotus Eater is one of the best songs they’ve ever done, and Hessian Peel offers a grab bag of everything Opeth.

Jane’s Addiction – Nothing’s Shocking

This is one I listened to “back in the day,” though that day was in the mid-90’s and nearly 10 years after its release. And I don’t think I’ve played it in at least 20 years. It was nice to revisit this one, a cool “vibes from the youth” kind of thing. The notable tracks from this are The Mountain Song and the signature Jane Says, but the whole album is a pretty cool offering.

Kalmah – 12 Gauge

Back to a band I was very into in the early 2000’s, Kalmah are a huge part of the Finnish melodic death metal scene, alongside Children Of Bodom. While the bands draw comparisons to each other, I was always more drawn to Kalmah. This 2010 album saw the band combine their early melo-death stuff with the more harsh sound they took on just prior to this. I played this while on a long bicycle ride and it was a great compliment to the ride.

An Abstract Illusion – Woe

This is one from the very long list of “stuff I missed in 2022.” And this was a pretty huge miss. A progressive death metal album, this does draw favorable comparisons to Opeth’s prime era, but there’s also a lot more going on here. This is one of those that needs a lot more than one listen to properly digest and discuss, and it’s one that really was a true miss for me last year. Something I’ll be visiting again for sure.

Jimi Hendrix – Los Angeles Forum April 26, 1969

This is the most recent release in the eleventy hundred posthumous Hendrix albums. This one is pretty nice, it is a very jam-based album with most of the songs being extended improv renditions. There is also some pretty cool stage banter from Jimi, including a call for stage crashers to get off the stage or the show will be shut down. I am of the “wannabe Hendrix completionist” school so I don’t mind the countless releases and this show seems to have some cool stuff that stands out from the clean presentation of the more landmark live gigs.

Suede – Autofiction

This is another from 2022 but wasn’t a miss for me – rather, this was most likely album 11 on a list of 10. I suppose we’re calling Suede alt-rock now rather than the movement they helped create and now can’t stand, that being Britpop. Suede explored some different sounds on their last effort in 2018, but on Autofiction they got back to basics and put out a kick ass alt-rock album. No one was expecting Suede to be bad, but this blew past peoples’ expectations and was monumental.

Jerry Reed – Super Hits

I ended week one with a greatest hits collection of a country star from years past, and also the hilarious bad guy in The Waterboy movie. Reed had a fair few hits in his music career, including When You’re Hot, You’re Hot and She Got The Goldmine (I Got The Shaft). Of course, his most well-known work is probably the theme song from the hit film he also starred in – East Bound And Down from Smokey And The Bandit. Reed was also a pretty underrated guitar player on top of his songwriting prowess. And, to top it all off, listening to Reed reminded me of a story from way back when, so I’ll get a whole other post out of this.

That covers the first of 52 rounds of this new format. While the “goal” idea of it wound up being silly, this does feel like a worthwhile thing to do so I’ll keep at it. It’s a nice way to cover some more ground that I don’t typically get to in a few posts a week and it can occasionally plant the seed for a new post idea. And it doesn’t take up a huge amount of my time to write, so this whole thing is truly off to the races.

Bronson Arroyo – Covering The Bases

I’m gonna close out 2022 with a curveball from 2005. A few weeks back I was doing a write-up on a song when I discovered the existence of this curiosity. After looking into it a bit I decided to take the plunge and get a copy so I could see what’s up with it.

This album of cover tunes comes from Bronson Arroyo, a former Major League baseball pitcher who had a long career from 2000 through to 2017. He was a part of the 2004 Boston Red Sox World Series Championship team, which rankles me because I’m a St. Louis Cardinals fan. Arroyo was the guy trying to tag Alex Rodriguez in game 6 of the ALCS when A-Rod slapped the ball out of his hand, that was a pretty infamous baseball play.

Arroyo spent the bulk of his career with the Cincinnati Reds, which also rankles me because I’m a St. Louis Cardinals fan. At any rate, Arroyo had a pretty nice career – he lasted a long time as a pitcher and was durable for the bulk of his stay in Cincinnati, only having issues through the 2010’s when he hopped around on a few teams before his retirement in 2017.

What I wasn’t really aware of was that Arroyo was also a musician and had cut a covers album in 2005, when Arroyo was still a member of the Red Sox. This isn’t some rinky-dink project either – dude had to have spent some serious coin on this album. There was an entire production team and some world-class session musicians were brought in to play, including Michael Landau, Kenny Aronoff and Leland Sklar. Also appearing on a few tracks is Mike Inez, of Alice In Chains and Ozzy fame. Arroyo sticks to singing on this album but does play guitar.

Covering The Bases offers up 12 songs, all of which are pretty well known in some regard. Most all of them besides the final track are alt-rock standards of the 1990’s, letting us know where Arroyo’s tastes evolve from. I’ll go ahead and run through everything here to see what we’ve got, it’ll be a long post but whatever. I’m not familiar with a handful of the originals but others I know pretty well.


Originally a big hit for the Goo Goo Dolls in 1998, Arroyo’s album leads off with what sounds like a very faithful rendition of the OG tune. I’m not radically familiar with the original nor am I a fan of the band but I’d say Arroyo and company nailed this one.

Down In A Hole

The Alice In Chains classic is how I came across this album. I was gearing up my post about it when I noticed that Bronson Arroyo was listed as having done a cover version. This is pretty well done, the music hits the song and stays accurate to the original. Arroyo and his backing singers keep stuff at a lower register, which is understandable as few people are going to touch Layne Stayley and Jerry Cantrell’s voices. It is curious that Mike Inez played other songs on this record but not on the one from the band he is in, but there’s no real info to go on about that.

Also of note – the title is misprinted as “Down In The Hole” on the back cover and inner booklet.

The Freshmen

This was originally done by The Verve Pipe. I recall the song but I’ve never sat and listened to the band so I’m not overly familiar with it. It’s not something I really want to jam out to but I’ll say that it fits the album Arroyo has put together pretty well.


No real introduction needed, this is the massive Foo Fighters hit. It’s an accurate version of the song, it’s all performed true to the original. There is a brief spoken word bit from Stephen King on here, which is odd but a nice touch.


This is a Pearl Jam song, I’m sure I say to people who know that damn good and well. I’m not at all a fan of PJ so I’ll bow out of this one, other than to say this cover sounds like I guess it’s supposed to.

Pardon Me

One song from the year 2000 here, this was the big hit that launched Incubus into superstardom. It’s done well here but I was never a fan of Incubus and I actively dislike this song so I’m moving on.

Something’s Always Wrong

This tune comes from Toad The Wet Sprocket. This is a band I’m honestly not familiar with at all. This song was a hit in its day but I don’t remember it in the least. I do recognize their big hit All I Want but it took a minute and that’s the only one I recall. Anyway, this version Arroyo does is good and again sticks with the original in execution.

A bit of fun baseball trivia here – playing guitar is Theo Epstein, who was general manager of the Boston Red Sox when Arroyo was there. Not many albums can boast Theo as a cameo player.


The massive Stone Temple Pilots hit gets a rendition here. No more “I don’t know or like this” for me – this is an amazing song. Arroyo handles the vocals well here, not an easy feat considering the prowess of the late Scott Weiland.


Up next is the initial hit from alt-rockers Fuel. I did kind of listen to these guys a bit way back when though it’s been a very long time since I’ve heard their stuff. It’s a nice change of pace here to have something more uptempo and it’s again a well-done version of the song, pretty well in line with the original.

Hunger Strike

Now this Temple Of The Dog cover could have been scary, as while Bronson can sing pretty well, his range isn’t going to get into Chris Cornell territory or anywhere near it. But there is nothing to fear as the group surely knew their limitations and brought session musician Amy Keys in to handle the higher range parts. This one is a bit divergent from the original, as Bronson handles the bulk of vocals, as if Eddie Vedder had done the lion’s share of the original. Overall it works well for all involved.

Best I’ve Ever Had (Grey Sky Morning)

This was a song from Vertical Horizon, who I’m not familiar with and I really want to be. Bronson gets up into a bit of a higher range here and the song fits the other selections to keep a pretty unified feel going, but I can do without the song itself.

Dirty Water

The album ends with a different tune – this goes back to 1965 and The Standells. The song is a Boston sports anthem which makes it a logical conclusion here. Bronson is not alone for this swansong – fellow Red Sox Johnny Damon and Kevin Youkilis are along to shoot the breeze about random stuff through the song. It’s a fun way to end the record and a nice tribute to Boston from Arroyo fresh off the World Series win.

While this is a bit of a curiosity project, I’d say overall it turned out pretty well for Arroyo. He got people who knew what they were doing to execute faithful versions of the songs, and it’s clear that Bronson has talent as a musician. While there were no real chances taken on the album and everything was played as it sounds, this isn’t at all a bad effort. I think Bronson and company did a good job of selecting songs that flow well together and give this the feel of an album, as opposed to just being a collection of cover songs as so many of those wind up being. There was clearly a high level of thought and care put into this.

It is a bit “ironic” perhaps that Arroyo shows Boston so much love on the final song and in the liner notes – in less than a year after releasing this album, the very guy who played guitar on Plush would trade Bronson to the Reds. I’m sure that’s not a big deal all things considered, as Arroyo got a ring in Boston and obviously enjoyed his time there, but it’s a bit of a funny thing to point out.

This is, to date, the only album Arroyo has released. He has played out live plenty of times, including hosting a concert of Pearl Jam covers after his final MLB game in 2017. But, after all this time, he hasn’t chosen to cut another album. Obviously that’s his business, but it does seem odd that he hasn’t done something else since he threw down on this one so early in his career.

As I close, here’s a note – this isn’t available on streaming that I know of and the YT videos I posted are bootleg links so they might go away. The only real way to have this is to get a physical copy, which set me back $4.25, and $4 of that was shipping. I will say I’ve spent far more on far worse, Bronson did a pretty good job on his album.

Why did Tower Records go out of business again?

Album Ranking – Tool

Today I present another quick and easy album ranking. It’s really easy when the band has been active for over 30 years but only has 5 albums to show for it. The “inspiration” to do this post mainly came from seeing people talk shit about the band, which in fairness is a common thing.

Tool formed in California in 1990 and … yadi, yadi yada, here were are at the end of 2022 with the album ranking. I did not rank any sort of EP or extended single release, this ranking only takes into account their 5 full-length studio albums. No point in lollygagging, let’s have at it.

5 – Lateralus (2001)

With such a thin discography, the bottom of this list is the “least great” as opposed to being genuinely bad or anything. Tool did morph into a new form on this record, offering much longer songs and dispensing somewhat with conventional song structure. It can make for a challenging listening experience, one which caused some to dismiss the group, but there is enjoyment to be had in the song selection here. The Grudge and Schism are more “conventional” Tool songs, while Parabola saw the band flex their creative muscles.

4 – Undertow (1993)

Tool’s debut put them all over MTV and in the mix of the early 90’s alt-metal crowd. Sober was the song that got everyone paying attention and it still endures as one of their signature moments. The album was a staple of of the scene back in its day and remains a worthy listen even as the band have moved on to other waters.

3 – 10,000 Days (2006)

Here Tool took the groundwork laid on Lateralus and went even further with it – long, winding songs that flied in the face of mainstream music conventions, yet the album was a number one Billboard chart topper and a multi-platinum success. Singles Vicarious, Jambi and The Pot were well-received and the title track is a masterful tribute to Maynard James Keenan’s late mother. (It was also a prior subject of my S-Tier songs series).

2 – Fear Inoculum (2019)

It was a 13 year wait between albums for Tool but the wait turned out to be worth it. The album features 7 main songs, each over 10 minutes in length. It doesn’t sound like something that should work but it does, for me certainly and for plenty of others. Other Tool albums have plenty of weird bits and interludes to them, here everything works to forward a concept of some sort and feels like a unified whole. Songs like 7empest and Pneuma felt worth the extremely long wait.

1 – Ænima (1996)

Tool’s second album arrived just as the “alt-metal” phenomenon was being shown the door, but Tool themselves would find staying power with this set. The album was inspired by the recently departed comedian Bill Hicks, especially the quasi-title track masterpiece that begs for California to fall into the ocean. Many other Tool staples reside on this album, including Stinkfist, Eulogy and Forty Six & 2. This isn’t a daring choice for the top spot, as many consider this album Tool’s finest moment.

That’s about all there is for this album ranking. This likely won’t be the final word on the Tool discography, though they certainly are fond of taking their time anymore. I’m sure the ticking clock of mortality will lend them to finding the studio before another 13 years has passed.

Album Of The Week – December 19, 2022

This week’s pick is the album that saw a change in style for a long-running band and a shift that would pay massive dividends. The band was on the verge of ending and instead launched one of rock’s most successful albums in the genre’s commercial peak.

Whitesnake – self-titled

Released March 23, 1987 via EMI/Geffen Records

My Favorite Tracks – Still Of The Night, Crying In The Rain, Here I Go Again

The giant success of this record wouldn’t come without drama and turmoil. David Coverdale had been plunged into depression over Whitesnake’s prior lack of success and personal issues with his band. While guitarist John Sykes helped write the album, Sykes and the rest of the band were out before touring on the white hot record. The group that appeared in the mega-successful videos for this album was not the same group that made the album, save for Coverdale and Adrian Vandenburg’s involvement in recording Here I Go Again.

There are several different versions of this album – it was self-titled in North America and other places, while in Europe and Australia it was called 1987. Japan had yet another name for it and there are different track lists across the disparate versions. For simplicity’s sake I’ll cover the 9 track US version.

Crying In The Rain

The opener marks one of two songs redone from the 1982 Saints And Sinners album, both re-recorded songs would be hits. Originally a blues-based rocker, John Sykes reportedly despised blues music and turned it into a heavy metal riff fest. The lyrics are a depressing look inside Coverdale’s mind through a divorce, dude was down in the dumps a lot apparently. While the premise of crying in the rain seems silly, the song’s riffs and presentation keep it from slipping into parody.

Bad Boys

A standard fare, fast rocker about being a bad boy, a pretty common offering for 80’s rock. It’s a good offering for the “wild in the streets” theme that was ever-present back then.

Still Of The Night

The album’s lead single was a modest chart hit but would serve to generate interest in the album and was a very popular music video. This song is a fantastic composition with John Sykes going full on guitar god and the full album version of the song is a nice series of movements with the violins and build up back to the rocking at the end. The video was the first of three from the album to feature future Coverdale wife Tawney Kitaen, who would become one of music video’s most iconic performers for the videos.

Here I Go Again

The other re-recorded song from Whitesnake’s earlier days and one of the mega hits from this album, this is the most widely-known song from the Whitesnake discography. The song about venturing on one’s own has remained in cultural consciousness enough to be meme material these days. The video was a monster hit and features the late Tawney Kitaen’s most memorable video performance.

The song topped the Billboard Top 100 and was in constant MTV rotation. And yes, the album cut and single version are two different recordings with some differences, I’d personally take the album version.

Give Me All Your Love Tonight

Another single, this one didn’t quite crack the top 40. It’s an uptempo rocker about love, which in hair metal parlance means sex, as I’m sure everyone is aware. The single release is noteworthy as it features a redone guitar solo from Vivian Campbell, marking the only time he contributed music to Whitesnake material.

Is This Love

The album’s other massive hit single originated when Coverdale was trying to write a song for Tina Turner. David Geffen told Coverdale to keep it and here we are, with the track going to number two on the charts. The song couldn’t be any more elementary in its concept but again its presentation is fantastic and it’s one of time’s honored power ballads.

Children Of The Night

It’s another badass rocker about going out and getting in trouble. It’s a track worthy of partying and headbanging to.

Straight For The Heart

Getting toward the end of the album with this rocker about Coverdale going to get his girl. This song definitely jumps the hair metal shark a bit but it’s still a fun time.

Don’t Turn Away

The US album closes with a power ballad that keeps the rock going in full effect. It offers a nice inspirational message that hooking up with David Coverdale will cure whatever ails you.

Whitesnake was a monster success, launching the band from the brink of extinction to the toast of the town. The album would go on to eight US platinum certifications and would peak at number two on the Billboard 200, being blocked from the top spot by monster albums like The Joshua Tree, Whitney and Bad. It was a stunning reversal of fortunes for Coverdale, who was despondent after failing to break through significantly with his prior work. The rising tide of this album would lift other ships, most notably Slide It In, which went from a modest gold certification to multi-platinum.

While the album and singles did very well in traditional markets, Whitesnake’s videos were perhaps the most iconic part of this album cycle. The trio of videos featuring Tawney Kitaen were all over MTV. The band dressed the part of ’80’s rockers for their videos, something Coverdale admits was pandering to fashion. But hey – no arguing with the success of it. You were rockers in the 80’s, might as well go all in.

Whitesnake is an interesting band in that they found success almost all at once, with the self-titled album outshining the modest success that the US release of Slide It In had. The band’s music is a lynchpin of classic rock radio but it’s stuff from these two albums that comprises the entirety of those playlists. The old blues rock albums are well-regarded but also left to be discovered by the active seeker. Albums after the self-titled wouldn’t land quite the same way, though in retrospect 2003’s Good To Be Bad was a critical success and catalyst for a new era of Whitesnake.

But at the end of the day, it is this album that serves as Whitesnake’s defining legacy. The group shot out of a cannon and landed square in the rock/metal prime of the late 80’s and hit on a success not seen by all that many others. Leaving behind the blues-based rock and injecting a metal guitar hero’s sound into the mix lend to some staggering results, even if said guitar hero was booted from the group before touring behind the record.

My Top 10 Albums Of 2022

It’s that time of year for album lists. For me, things snapped into place pretty easy this year. I haven’t had to deliberate much on what should be here or what order it should go in.

Most of this stuff hasn’t really been discussed here, beyond a glimpse from one of my preview posts. I’ve only discussed two of these albums at length this year and a few weren’t mentioned at all. Covering new music is tough and requires a lot of time so it’s something I do very sparingly.

Last year I split this up and gave the album of the year its own post, this year I’m keeping it simple and doing everything at once. Let’s get to it and see where all this stuff ranks.

10: High Command – Eclipse Of The Dual Moons

This is some very nice dirty thrash that also pulls influence from a lot of ’80’s metal legends and also incorporates a fantasy story arc across its lyrics. It can be enjoyed on a surface level for its great music and can also be explored further for the story. Really great stuff here.

9: Witch Fever – Congregation

This is the debut full-length from a group billed as punk but playing a harsh version of doom, noise and grunge. The album takes aim at institutions of power, especially religion. It’s a great, pretty unique sound Witch Fever have going on here and hopefully there are great things to come for the English group.

8: Undeath – It’s Time … To Rise From The Grave

What’s old is new again, and this year old school death metal returned in a big way. That was thanks in large part to Undeath and their much-hyped second album. This album slots in nicely alongside the death metal classics of the early ’90’s and is a signpost for a new generation of death metal mayhem.

7: Lorna Shore – Pain Remains

This was one of the most anticipated releases of the year after the hype over To The Hellfire in 2021 went to a whole new level for deathcore. Lorna Shore delivered by avoiding the trap of trying to recreate what they did a year prior and mixing things up a bit. The ending Pain Remains trilogy of songs is some majestic stuff.

6: Mother Of Graves – Where The Shadows Adorn

It’s been awhile since I’ve heard some good death/doom, yet here it is in a new form from a newer group out of Indiana. This hits all the right notes and shows its influences while still very much being its own thing. A really great album that, in a way, kind of came out of nowhere.

5: Blind Guardian – The God Machine

The German power metal legends returned with their first proper studio album in seven years and they came back in a huge way. This album is very to the point and direct, no mucking around here. The band haven’t lost their touch and have re-explored some of the speed metal elements of their earlier career. This album is a true highlight of an already impressive catalog.

4: Chat Pile – God’s Country

Chat Pile had built a healthy amount of buzz over the past few years and delivered on that this year with their first full-length record. This sludge/noise offering is a disturbing listen that looks at the less savory side of life in Oklahoma and nails the perspective. The music and themes aren’t for everyone but those who get it, get it.

3: Lamb Of God – Omens

I was one of several who had thought Lamb Of God’s best days were behind them, I hadn’t been wowed by a release in quite awhile. All of that is out the window now – Omens is a sharp, stark return to form for the groove metal legends. This is an ass kicking from start to finish and I was totally blown away by it.

Omens is the only album from this list that I covered as an Album Of The Week, that post is here.

2: Scorpions – Rock Believer

Now, you want to talk being surprised and impressed by some old dogs? The Scorpions coming out in 2022 with this absolutely killer set of tunes was not something I saw happening. While they’ve had some moments in the past few decades, this band was long thought to be in their twilight. But no, they totally reinvigorated their sound and came out fresh despite being literally older than dirt. Klaus Meine sounds fantastic here and he’s older than a lot of old rock singers that have lost their voices. And the songs are some of the best they’ve done in a long, long time.

I did cover this album in more detail a bit after its release, here is that post.

Album Of The Year 2022

Cave In – Heavy Pendulum

The New England group known through the 2000’s for metalcore, post-rock and/or whatever you want to call it had been quiet through the 2010’s and suffered the loss of bassist Caleb Scofield in a car accident in 2018. The band reconvened with Converge bassist Nate Newton handling those duties and recorded their return album through the course of the pandemic.

Cave In’s return was nothing short of a massive success. Heavy Pendulum visits all points of Cave In’s past and works with a variety of sounds to shape concepts in the 2020’s. It’s a monster of an album at 71 minutes but everything here works, especially the epic album closer Wavering Angel. The bag of riffs on this album is of insane size and visits about every kind of rock and metal you can think of.

That wraps it up for the 2022 stuff. I did more last year but I think just doing the album list is fine enough. Only a few weeks until it’s time to stary worrying about what 2023’s top albums will be.

A Story And A Song – 3 AM

Today’s song and story come from a recent holiday drive. The song is 3 AM, one of the hit singles from the debut Matchbox Twenty album Yourself Or Someone Like You. In an odd bit of trivia, the song did not chart on the Billboard Hot 100 only because it was not released as a physical single in the US. But the song did very well and the album was a super smash hit.

Matchbox Twenty were a pretty important band at the time. While I think their proper classification is alternative rock, the term “post-grunge” is used a lot when talking about them. This was the shape of rock after grunge flamed out in the middle part of the 1990’s.

The story goes back to Thanksgiving Day, which was was back like two weeks ago here in the US. We were driving back from a Thanksgiving dinner in a car with me, my girlfriend, her sister and her sister’s kid (my girlfriend’s niece).

We were coming from a fairly remote part of southwest Missouri back to the one city in the region that we live in. Finding something on the radio on forlorn highway roads is always a chore. These areas are known for having country, talk radio or religious programming on the dial. And of course, FM stations tune in and out very easily out in these rural areas.

At one point a rock station came on and the song in question was playing. After a bit, my girlfriend’s sister asked her daughter what she thought of the song. Her response?

“It’s fine. It sounds like country music.”

It was a pretty funny observation to the rest of us in the car, who have all been plenty exposed to country music. But after a second I realized how telling of a statement it was from a 13 year old kid who probably isn’t up on the history of country music.

The point is obviously about the state of modern country music – is this where it’s at? Someone not alive in Matchbox Twenty’s heyday thinks that their stuff is representative of a different genre of music?

Country music takes a lot of hits these days. The bro-country phenomenon of the past several years was awful. There has been a long-running battle between the entrenched machine of the Nashville industry and artists wanting more creative freedom. Country also takes a lot of flak for representing “older” values as well as a slant towards conservative politics and a lot of the worse things associated with those, both fairly and unfairly.

But when someone on first listen to an old alt-rock song thinks it sounds like your genre? I think it speaks volumes about the genre. Granted, I’m not very up on country these days and if I do pay attention, it’s to more independent artists who aren’t part of the Music Row network. I don’t really know what’s playing on mainstream country radio these days. But from the bits and pieces I’ve picked up, it’s not a far leap to suggest that today’s country is yesterday’s alt-rock. That’s not an absolute statement, of course, but it’s probably fair.

There are probably a lot of larger issues about country music that warrant discussion but that’s not really what this post is about. It was just a funny comment that made me think “Wow, is that what country has come to?” And there may not be as much to it as I’m speculating, but I’d say there’s something to it.

I could wrap up by posting Rob Thomas’ actual biggest hit, but I won’t do that to myself or anyone else. Instead let’s bow out with a bit of country.

S-Tier Songs, Vol. 17

It’s yet another installation of the S-Tier Songs series. The list of entries so far and the basic tenants of the exercise can be found on this page.

Today’s offering is one of the finest moments of the grunge movement. Even with being “grunge,” it is a suiting power ballad that evokes sadness and despair in a way not a lot of artists can touch.

Alice In Chains – Down In A Hole

Our song today hails from the album Dirt, the 1992 masterpiece of the Seattle-led grunge period. The album sold millions and was ever-present on radio and video airwaves. It qualifies as “classic rock” today and is still in rotation far and wide.

Down In A Hole was the fifth and final single from the album. It was released as a single almost a full year after the album arrived. The single sold over a million copies and charted in several countries. On Spotify it is the third-most streamed song from Dirt, behind only the mega-hits Rooster and Would?

The song begins very softly, almost in a way that departs the hard-edged album it is from. But it remains within the Alice In Chains lexicon, with suitably melancholy guitar work from Jerry Cantrell and the sheer power of the vocals of Layne Stayley, with harmonies provided by Cantrell. The singing has always been a highlight of AIC and both Stayley and Cantrell shine especially bright on this song.

The lyrical content of a song called Down In A Hole is, of course, pretty downtrodden. Though not from the doom genre per se, this could easily be considered a doom song thematically. It sounds like someone in the grip of utter despair and hopelessness. Every line is awash in depression and soul-crushing anguish. Lines like “See my heart, I decorate it like a grave” and “You don’t understand who they thought I was supposed to be, look at me now I’m a man who won’t let himself be” are jewels in this crown of misery.

Jerry Cantrell, the song’s sole writer, shed some light on the song’s origins in the liner notes to the band’s 1999 box set Music Bank. He states that the song was written about his girlfriend at the time and the realities of a long-term relationship and how they clash with being in a band. While there are plenty of songs about that and about life on the road in general, I don’t know how he got Down In A Hole out of that. But hey, I’m glad he did.

Down In A Hole has been a staple of the Alice In Chains setlist, with one major caveat to that – they did not often perform the song when Layne Stayley was alive. It was not a regular part of the setlist on the band’s tours in the early 90’s, and the group did not tour much after that due to Stayley’s health issues. A vast majority of Down In The Hole performances are from the band’s modern incarnation with William Duvall at the vocal helm.

One notable exception was the 1996 MTV Unplugged performance. This did feature Layne and the song worked very well in the unplugged setting. Alice In Chains were always a proficient acoustic act anyway, so having this version of the song is a massive plus.

Why is this an S-Tier song?

Down In A Hole is both beautiful and soul-crushing. It communicates absolute sadness but in a very majestic way. It showcases the main strengths of Alice In Chains, those being the voice of Layne Stayley and the musicianship and songwriting of Jerry Cantrell. It is an amazing work that got huge airplay despite being such a depressing affair.

2022 Spotify Wrapped

The quick and easy posts continue this week as it’s that time of year for Spotify Wrapped.

I’ll add a quick bit of context before getting into mine – this year I used Spotify for two main purposes – small playlists of 6 or so songs when I go on bicycle rides (which is most every day) and to check out new releases. I figured my wrap-up would be distorted this year based on the small series of 30 minute playlists I constantly rotate through, but as it turns out I can say the results were fairly representative of my listening habits.

First up the is genres. Not a whole lot to get into here, besides whatever “post-doom metal” is. Music descriptors get awesome these days when everyone is trying to invent a new term for a sound that sets even somewhat apart from the rest. I’m also not entirely sure what they’re referring to with “country rock” but that’s a more understandable term.

Now on top artist. Not really shocking to me – I have a handful of LoG songs in my playlists and then when Omens came out in early October I played the hell out of it. I’ve liked them for a long time but the new album really knocked me over and likely explains how they took my top artist crown this year.

And here is the overall Wrapped sum-up. Kind of funny that my top played song in 2022 was the same one as from 2021. My only real “huh?” moment is Muse being in my top artist list – they put out a new album this year which didn’t really hit with me, though one song off of it is pretty awesome. I guess that one new song and whatever sprinkling of others I have in my playlists put them over the top. None of the others register any surprise to me all.

Here is one other little bonus that was going around in the past few days leading up to Wrapped – the Instafest lineup. It essentially takes your Spotify data and generates a three day festival based on what you’ve played. Here is mine.

I’m honestly pretty happy with mine. Now, I do love Oasis, but in no universe would I book Iron Maiden as an opening act for Oasis. I’m sure plenty of people would have my head for that. But beyond that, I would pay huge money to attend that fest. It lines up with what I like pretty nicely. The only oddball? I don’t know the artist “Lord” as listed on the festival bill. No clue who that is referring to and I’m not getting any easy answers on Spotify.

That covers my Spotify Wrapped for 2022 and also the bonus Instafest thing. As a preview for my end of year stuff, I’ll do my top albums of 2022 on December 12, in place of the regular Album of the Week feature. I’ll probably do a small Songs of the Year list too, maybe three or five, don’t know yet. On through the ass end of 2022.

Album Of The Week – November 21, 2022

This week’s pick is a monumental album from 1985. It saw an established artist break through record label politics and define his sound on his own terms, and kicked off a run of success that would form the creative peak of his career.

John Mellencamp – Scarecrow

Released August 5, 1985 via Riva Records

My Favorite Tracks – Rain On The Scarecrow, Minutes To Memories, Small Town

John Mellencamp had been at war with music executives seemingly from the start of his career. What to record and release was one battle, what to call himself was another. His label had insisted on the “Cougar” moniker for whatever reason and had tried to shoehorn him in as a Neil Diamond-like act.

As chart success came, Mellencamp was able to pivot to doing his own thing, and Scarecrow marks the beginning of a run that would contribute greatly to a series of music movements perhaps best described as alt-country. While the start of alt-country and its associated subgenres is a topic of unsettled discussion, it’s clear that Mellencamp made a huge imprint on everything.

While “Cougar” would still sit on the album’s cover, this was a John Mellencamp album. The useless nickname would take a few more records to disappear, but Mellencamp had truly and finally arrived with what was technically his eighth record.

Today I’ll run down the original version of the album, comprising eleven songs. There are various reissues and bonus tracks available, including a super deluxe set that was just released a few weeks prior.

Rain On The Scarecrow

The opener gets straight to the point – this haunting tale speaks about the loss of small-scale farming, a massive issue in the 1980’s. Single-plot farmers were caught in loan and insurance issues that caused many to lose their land, stock and equipment. In what can’t be a coincidence, decades later much of US agriculture is owned by a few mega corporations.

While mournful, Rain On The Scarecrow is also heavy. It is hard rock and even bordering on heavy metal in its stark delivery. It was an attention-getter on airwaves in 1985 and, while the battle for farmland seems to have been a losing one, did bring the issue to the attention of a far wider audience.

A brief traditional song Grandma’s Theme appears next.

Small Town

One of the album’s three Top-10 hits, Small Town has been a staple of rock radio since its release. The song is a simple and pleasant look at life in rural America, this time simply recounting the experience as opposed to fighting off a corporate oppressor. Mellencamp’s experience of growing up in small town Indiana is translated nationwide for anyone in a small town. While there would be a huge melancholy vibe in a lot of Mellencamp’s music, this song leaves that behind to simply extol the virtues of a simpler life.

Minutes To Memories

Though not a single, this song about an older man advising on the fleeting nature of time and life has been featured on greatest hits packages and in live setlists. The topic can be unsettling to think about but the song is presented in a motivating, upbeat way. Might as well toughen up and grind it out, one day it will all be memories.

Lonely Ol’ Night

A very simple tune that recalls Mellencamp’s earlier hits, this track joins Small Town as the best-charting singles from the record. This song leaves behind the look at society and instead focuses on a few lonely people who inevitably cure their loneliness together.

The Face Of The Nation

The rocking, upbeat music belies the harrowing lyrical fare. This is a recount of the pain and suffering seen around and how everything is changing into something not very good. For its dire message it is a very snappy tune.

Justice And Independence ’85

Another bright rocker that personifies the title concepts as well as that of Nation. Again the lyrics aren’t quite as peppy as the tune, as Nation stumbles in his life to the dismay of his parents Justice and Independence. The song does close out on an uplifting note.

Between A Laugh And A Tear

One of what would become many Mellencamp songs about how life can be crappy and weigh you down, and the struggle to get through it all. The ultimate message is inspirational and the music is a bit of a preview of what Mellencamp would sound like on future albums.


Another Top 40 single, this is yet another snappy rocker that is examining a hard life and the attempt to move on from it. It’s another great presentation of grinding through the crap and failure to move on to a better tomorrow.

You’ve Got To Stand For Something

The Heartland rock is in full effect here with the song’s title communicating its simple yet important message. This song title would be a country hit for Aaron Tippin several years later but the two songs are not otherwise related.

R.O.C.K. In The U.S.A. (A Salute To 60’s Rock)

The album closes with another Top 10 hit, this time a homage to the rock Mellencamp grew up with and what the band played a ton of before recording this album. While this diverges greatly from the album’s pretty grim themes, the song is an obvious crowd pleaser and another of many Mellencamp tunes that still see regular airplay.

Scarecrow was a huge success for John Mellencamp. Besides the well-received singles, the album peaked at number 2 on the Billboard 200, sitting only behind the Miami Vice soundtrack. Scarecrow has gone on to 5 times platinum in the US and also has several Australian platinum awards.

More than anything, this marked where Mellencamp truly set out on his own as a songwriter and began shaping his true musical legacy. The blueprint laid for “alt-country” here would be expanded upon on his next release and the pair of albums would go on to forge a great deal of what are considered his greatest songs. It’s hard for the record label to argue with you when you bust the singles and album charts with music on your own terms.