Chris Isaak – Blue Hotel

Chris Isaak - Blue Hotel

Attack of the Killer Track! is a series that explores tracks from artists from a variety of genres. Some of the tracks were singles, some of them were obscure b-sides or long forgotten album tracks. One thing is certain – all of them are killer tracks.

Chris Isaak – true original or Sun Records knock off? There are compelling arguments for both sides, but my opinion lies firmly in the former. Chris Isaak’s 1st two records sometimes get overlooked due to the worldwide success of his later records (and who hasn’t heard or seen the video for 1989′s Wicked Game?). They show an artist honing his craft, taking his influences and spinning them into something he could call his own. David Lynch was certainly a fan – he featured Isaak’s music in several of his films and cast him as a lead actor in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. The 1987 single Blue Hotel embodies everything that is great about the music of Chris Isaak – surf guitar, 50′s vibe, impassioned singing – all married to a melody that is insanely memorable. Watching the video and listening to this tune, I can’t help but think of another artist that was inspired by Isaak’s penchant for 50′s noir – Lana Del Rey. The way Isaak belts out the lyrics “Blue Hotel, on a lonely highway / Blue Hotel, life don’t work out my way / I wait alone each lonely night” and marries it surf guitar licks delivered with urgency is perfect. The song was a minor hit overseas when it was released as single and never cracked the charts in the US.

Ryan Adams – Gimme Something Good b/w Aching For More

Ryan Adams - Gimme Something Good If anything, you can’t fault Ryan Adams for lacking pure enthusiasm when it comes to his recording career. He has attacked disparate genres with gusto, though his later records have mostly settled into a pop rock alt county feel (not counting his metal side project, Orion). His recent records aren’t bad by any means, they just seem to lack that certain “it” factor. Perhaps a bit workmanlike, perhaps a little too serious. It’s been 3 1/2 years since the release of 2011′s Ashes & Fire which is absolute eternity in the world of Ryan Adams. Here we are with a new single and exclusive b-side, tasters for the upcoming self titled album. How do the tunes stack up?

Gimme Something Good is a slice of John Mellencamp inspired Rock ‘n’ Roll. For the cool kids at home reading this, you can think of it as Bruce Springsteen inspired Rock ‘n’ Roll. The track has a roots rock based vibe, building into a chorus that will get lodged in your head in no time at all. Honestly, the chorus was slightly underwhelming the 1st time I heard it, but I can’t deny that I’ve been singing the tune since the 1st time I heard it. This a good sign for the full length record. For Ryan Adams fans, think back to the 3 albums he released in 2005 (29, Cold Roses, Jacksonville City Nights) – that’s the feel of this single. Grateful Dead by way of Gram Parsons by way of John Mellencamp. Aching For More is more acoustic based and tones down the Rock ‘n ‘Roll vibe in favor of an alt-country feel. It is a nice counterpart to the A side. All in all, this new single has me looking forward to a new Ryan Adams album in a way that I haven’t felt since the mid 00′s.

Verdict: Something Great

For Fans of: Whiskeytown, Gram Parsons, The Byrds, Wilco, Uncle Tupelo, John Mellencamp, Bruce Springsteen

LL Cool J – Mama Said Knock You Out

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Attack of the Killer Track! is a series that explores tracks from artists from a variety of genres. Some of the tracks were singles, some of them were obscure b-sides or long forgotten album tracks. One thing is certain – all of them are killer tracks.

It’s hard to believe, but Mama Said Knock You Out by LL Cool J is fast approaching its 25th anniversary. Even harder to believe, LL Cool J is still in his 40′s for a few more years. In 1990, LL Cool J was trying to figure out his place in the hip hop community. 1989′s Walking With a Panther had been a commercial success, but a critical failure. Even worse, LL Cool J’s peers were critical of the “softer” love ballads that peppered the album. LL discussed his plight with his Grandmother – lamenting the rise of gangsta rap and his insecurity in light of harsh words from several up and coming rappers. His Grandma replied “Oh baby, just knock them out!”, which fueled the inspiration for the title track from his 1990 record, Mama Said Knock You Out. Raw and aggressive, the song is a an absolute classic. In some ways, it is an updated version of LL’s 1987 single I’m Bad. LL Cool J spits out the words as if he is being chased by the Devil himself, the music equally frantic. Samples scattered throughout the song are courtesy of James Brown, Sly & The Family Stone, and the Chicago Gangsters. As if this song wasn’t impressive enough coming from a seasoned 22-year-old music veteran, LL Cool J delivered a performance on MTV Unplugged that managed to outdo the studio cut. The immortal words “Don’t call it a comeback / I been here for years” still bring me joy to this day. The song hit #17 on the US charts and earned Todd Smith aka LL Cool J a Grammy.

First Aid Kit – Stay Gold

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Nostalgia has become a funny thing in this age of “the social network”. We have Throwback Thursdays, Flashback Fridays, and other movements accompanied by their #hashtags seem to be popping up weekly. What does it all mean? For every person in their mid to late 30′s (my age group) looking at the past through rose-colored lenses, the present slips away just a bit. Was everything really better 10 to 15 years ago? Or is it easier to believe that it was, given that we have overcome those struggles and face new ones in the present? I’m not really sure what the answer is, but it has been an ongoing thought process for me, watching daily nostalgia come over on my various social network feeds. First Aid Kit have entitled their 3rd record Stay Gold - after lines from the famous Robert Frost poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay”. Quite possibly, First Aid Kit also looked to the film The Outsiders as inspiration, as the scene with Ponyboy reciting Frost’s poem to The Karate Kid is something that has always stayed with me. Hues of Technicolor and gold.

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Into the Sun With The March Violets

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Every so often someone will tell me about a band that I somehow either missed the 1st time around or hadn’t taken the time to delve into their catalogue. I have a few weaknesses, one of them being bass heavy post punk from the late 70′s into the 80′s (and let’s be honest, all the various revivals from the last 15 years or so). A friend of mine in the city of Angels buzzed me a few years ago asking if I’d heard that The March Violets had gotten back together. I’d heard the name (Sisters of Mercy connection in the early years) but sadly hadn’t heard any of their records. Somewhat hard to find, though not impossible in these glorious days of the “world wide web”, I quickly became a huge fan as I indulged in the early singles & records.

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Radiohead – Street Spirit (Fade Out)

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Attack of the Killer Track! is a series that explores tracks from artists from a variety of genres. Some of the tracks were singles, some of them were obscure b-sides or long forgotten album tracks. One thing is certain – all of them are killer tracks.

Radiohead easily could have ended up as 1 hit wonders from the 90′s based on their hit single Creep from the debut album, Pablo Honey. Angst filled lyrics, Nirvana-esque music – it was a perfect single that embodied the early to mid 90′s. The Bends - released in 1995 – was a reintroduction of sorts. A progressive element seeped into the music, with the abrasive songs balanced out by haunting melodic gems. Street Spirit was the 3rd single lifted from the record, and the 1st Top 5 UK hit for the band. For me, this song embodies everything that Radiohead would become over the next 20 years. Ghostly & emotional vocals by Thom Yorke backed by a band firing on all cylinders. The guitar refrain has to be one of the most haunting riffs Radiohead has ever created. In fact – I’ll go so far as to say that this remains my favorite Radiohead song. The lyrics present a contradiction of sorts, bleakness followed by the light. “All these things into position / All these things we’ll one day swallow whole / And fade out again and fade out again / Immerse your soul in love”. The video for the track adds to the emotional resonance of the song (embedded below). As a side note, my 2nd favorite Radiohead song is Talk Show Host - a b-side to the original single release of Street Spirit (Fade Out). It also succeeds admirably in creating its own atmospheric universe of isolation. Both tracks can be found on the deluxe reissue of The Bends.

Ryan Adams – Wonderwall

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Attack of the Killer Track! is a series that explores tracks from artists from a variety of genres. Some of the tracks were singles, some of them were obscure b-sides or long forgotten album tracks. One thing is certain – all of them are killer tracks.

Following the dissolution of Alt-Country greats Whiskeytown, Ryan Adams immediately made an impact with his 1st two solo records, Heartbreaker and Gold. Those albums continued the roots based vibe, while adding a slightly more mainstream flavor that the Whiskeytown records had only hinted at. The accolades and good vibes were put to the side for the most part when it came to the Ryan Adams records of 2003 and 2004. Rock N Roll was Ryan Adams as The Strokes while Love Is Hell combined two EP’s that seemed to be a nod towards UK indie melancholy. Most of it didn’t really work for me, to be honest, but the cover of Wonderwall (originally by Oasis) is one of the best cover songs I’ve ever heard. The classic Britpop tune with nonsensical lyrics is here transformed into an acoustic lament. Liam Gallagher’s sneer is replaced by Ryan Adams’ country-ish twang. The song was released as a single and hit #27 in the UK. It even inspired Oasis to adopt the Ryan Adams version in concert for a short time. This is how cover versions should be done.

Neil Young – A Letter Home

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Like clockwork, about 18 months after the last Neil Young album arrives the new one, A Letter Home. Early rumors had pegged this one as a duets record with Jack White, but those proved to be unfounded. Jack White IS involved – he duets with Neil Young on two tracks and the record is out on White’s Third Man Records. Recalling Young’s experimental 80′s phase, this record comes with its own idiosyncracies – an album recorded entirely in a refurbished Voice-O-Graph box dating from 1947. The Voice-O-Graph (as shown on the album cover) is reminiscent of a telephone booth with barely enough room to accommodate Neil Young and his guitar. The standard edition is a direct to vinyl recording, warm crackles & pops present on the vinyl, CD, and download versions. The deluxe box set features an audiophile edition – just Neil and his guitar in glorious mono. You’d think this might come off as gimmicky – but it doesn’t. In fact, it is the 4th Neil Young record in a row that is an above average effort.

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