Thursday, February 24, 2011
This Changes Everything
I'd only recently become aware of the Odd Future collective when I clicked "play" on the video for Tyler the Creator's "Yonkers" a couple days ago. I immediately sensed that I was watching something significant, a game-changing work of art that will eventually have an enormous impact on pop music and on popular culture as a whole.
The electrifying moment brought similarly revelatory past experiences to mind. I'm not the world's greatest prognosticator, and I've slept on the initial stirrings of countless groundbreaking movements- I failed to grasp grunge, for instance- but I've created a list of twenty things that I recognized as crucial when they were brand new. In other words, things that subsequently altered our perception of everything else.
Interestingly, my list doesn't include a lot of the stuff I treasure. The influence of my favorite indie rock and alt-country projects seems incremental rather than immediately revolutionary. And jazz, classical and so-called world music didn't make the cut only because the impact of each endeavor (save #19) is so limited.
1. The Ramones (1976, album)
The Ramones' debut caused me to trade in my Emerson Lake & Palmer and Kansas albums. I remember chanting "Beat On the Brat" as I bullied kids on my way home from school.
2. The Sex Pistols- "Anarchy In the U.K." (1976, 12")
I've never listened to the Sex Pistols for pleasure. Didn't like 'em then. Don't like 'em now. But shortly after I bought this pre-Never Mind the Bullocks imported 12" out of curiosity, I knew that I might never listen to my collection of Paul McCartney albums again.
3. Talking Heads- Fear of Music (1979, album)
The Talking Heads combined two of my favorite things- the Ohio Players and "new wave"- to make something new. Until 1979, that simple premise seemed to have been against the rules.
4. Laurie Anderson- "O Superman" (1981, song)
"You'd better get ready." How was this a hit? I'm still not sure, but this fluke and Gary Numan's "Cars" launched a new subset of popular music that I still don't particularly care for.
5. Prince- 1999 (1982, album)
"I Wanna Be Your Lover" was a staple of dances at my school. It wasn't until 1999, however, that Prince changed everything. In addition to breaking down racial barriers, he brought synth-rock into the mainstream.
6. Run-DMC- "It's Like That" (1983, song)
"It's Like That" was probably the first hip hop song that immediately resonated with me. The Grandmaster Flash and Kurtis Blow stuff had sounded kind of corny. This didn't. LL Cool J's stunning Def Jam singles were still two years away.
7. Michael Jackson- "Billie Jean" (1983, video)
You know how countless experts rhapsodize about the impact of this song at MTV? It's all true. I grew up watching the Jackson 5's cartoon show on Saturday mornings, but this was something else entirely. And everybody knew it.
8. The Police- Synchronicity (1983, album)
It's almost impossible to comprehend today, but when Synchronicity was released in 1983, the Police were still considered a weird and vaguely threatening "new wave" band. Within a year, many of its songs were staples on radio and MTV. I hate to admit it, but Synchronicity collapsed the barrier between "classic" and "alternative" rock.
9. N.W.A.- Straight Outta Compton (1988, album)
Although I've since made my peace with it, I hated this album for years. I preferred the (self-)righteous Public Enemy. Everything about N.W.A.'s message disturbed me. Everything, that is, save Dr. Dre's production. While guys like Schooly D had been performing gangsta rap prior to 1988, it was Dre's contribution that brought it to the masses.
10. Beck- "Loser" (1993, song)
While attempting to ape hip hop. Beck came up with something entirely new. This odd hit made the endless recycling of music socially acceptable.
11. Britney Spears- "...Baby One More Time" (1998, video)
When I saw the teenage trollop's video on MTV, I instantly knew that we'd entered a new era of lasciviousness. God help us all.
12. Mystikal- "Bouncin' Back" (2001, song)
The Neptunes go to the Dirty South. Even after T.I. took over, the song remains mind blowing. (Pharrell, obviously, is not an Earthling.)
13. Missy Elliott- "Get Ur Freak On" (2001, song)
Wait... what just happened? High concept, museum-quality hip hop hits the mainstream.
14. Wilco- Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002, album)
How I hated this album the first three times I listened to it! Most of what's touted by NPR's All Things Considered and Paste magazine is at least tangentially related to this project.
15. Kanye West- The College Dropout (2004, album)
I still remember almost driving off the road immediately after purchasing this future icon's debut album.
16. Run the Road (2005, album)
The grime compilation introduced me to Dizzee Rascal, Lady Sovereign and the Streets. The influence of the icy approach to hip hop was soon heard in the music of the Gorillaz, Thom Yorke, Air and Bjork.
17. Lil Wayne- "A Milli" (2008, song)
He'd been around for years, but in 2008 Lil Wayne proved that swag and a beat were all that's necessary to create a monster hit.
18. M.I.A.- "Paper Planes" (2008, song)
You already know what it is. "Paper Planes" ushered in the long-awaited era of truly international pop music.
19. Esperanza Spalding (2009, performance)
And the heavens parted. That's how I felt when I witnessed Spalding's concert at the Folly Theater. I know my wishful thinking can and will be mocked, but Spalding is "The One." Mark my words...
20. Tyler the Creator- "Yonkers" (2011, video)
Smart, funny, anarchic and irredeemably nihilistic. The end is nigh.
My Middle of the Map festival band-of-the week is Tamaryn.
I'm falling way behind on new releases. The new Brad Mehldau is near the top of my list.
Kansas City Click: Ben Rector performs Thursday at the Record Bar.
Jamey Johnson opens for Kid Rock at Sprint Center on Friday.
Malevolent Creation is at the Riot Room on Saturday.
Ron Ron is among Rick Ross' support acts Sunday at the Sprint Center.