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Introduction/A List From the Vault

Cleaning out my attic and office, I came across one of my favorite things I’ve written or worked on and which seems to have disappeared completely from the internet. I’ve been thinking of creating a new blog for a long time, always concluding  I don’t have time for that. And I don’t. But a wish to give this piece a home finally made me do it.

The blog name comes from Elvis, when he was asked, upon first showing up at Memphis Recording Service, just what kind of music he sang. I had another short-lived personal blog of the same name about a decade ago, then it became the name for the music/film/pop culture blog at The Memphis Flyer when I was a writer/editor there. The Flyer discontinued that blog shortly after I left, so I’m taking the name back unless someone tries to stop me.

Don’t expect frequent posts here or very much new writing. But it’ll be a landing spot for old writing I don’t find embarrassing and that seems in danger of disappearing from the public record and various music and movie lists I’ve done in the past either for publication, on social media or, in some cases, as email exchanges with like-minded friends. There’s also a new list project I have in mind that I’ll likely post here. This site is for personal amusement. If others out there are interested, that’s fine, but it’s mostly just for me.

This piece is a “100 Greatest Moments in Rock-and-Roll” list. Not historical moments, but moments on records themselves: Riffs, lyrics, vocal flourishes, etc. It was written in 2001 and is a collaboration with my great college friend Addison Engelking. We stole the idea from the Chicago Reader, which had done a similar list half a decade before, and they stole it from Roger Ebert, who had done a film-themed one.

We had a lot of fun brainstorming and constructing this and, despite the title, we didn’t then and wouldn’t now claim that these are the 100 greatest moments in rock and roll. If we re-did this tomorrow, even sticking to a 2001 cutoff, we might come up with 100 totally different moments. But I still stand by pretty much all of these. A few caveats we published in the original intro, and then the list:

We’re both musical generalists who believe in the big-tent view of rock and roll. We excluded pre-rock forms like blues, jazz and country to make the project simpler. We tried to be as ecumentical as possible, but this is a subjective list and our biases and obsessions show. We like ’60s soul and early rock and roll, punk and pop-friendly hip-hop. We think Chuck Berry and Motown are the great American music. We don’t care much for second-tier “classic rock” or much that tends toward the “progressive” or jammy.

100. Claudine Clark singing, “I see the lights! I see the party lights!” on “Party Lights.”

99. Drummer Moe Tucker’s “Helloooo … You’re my very special one” on the Velvet Underground’s “Afterhours.”

98. Liz Phair’s dry vocals on “Divorce Song.”

97. “Got no money/Got no car/Got no woman/And there you are” — Young MC laying it all out for the eighth-graders who bought “Bust a Move.”

96. Wilson Pickett’s overpowering vocals on the Falcons’ “I Found a Love.”

95. Chrissie Hynde yelping “I’m not the kind I used to be/I’ve got a kid/I’m 33” on the Pretenders’ “Middle of the Road.”

94. The bicycle-chain downbeats on Martha & the Vandellas’ “Dancing in the Street.”

93. Tie: “Luv L-U-V” from the New York Dolls and “Girlfren G-i-r-l-f-r-e-n” from the Modern Lovers. Bad spelling: How punk rock!

92. A prepubescent Michael Jackson exclaiming “Just look over your shoulder, honey!” on the Jackson Five’s “I’ll Be There.”

91. “She said, ‘Dear boy, I’m gonna make you a man’” — The most passionate moment on the Kinks’ “Lola,” Ray Davies’ eternally coy gender-bender (or is it?).

90. Fats Domino singing “Sunday morning my head is bad/But it’s worth it for the times that I’ve had” on “Blue Monday.”

89. Johnny Rotten’s mad raving at the end of “Holidays in the Sun.”

88. “People say you look like MC Hammer on crack, Humpty!”

87. “Take a piece of paper, ball that motherfucker up … and play with it.” — Coolio explains the rules of “paper ball” on “I Remember.”

86. Alex Chilton singing, “I didn’t find it on a Saturday night/I found it in the Sunday morning light” on the Box Tops’ “I Met Her in Church.”

85. The in-progress opening thunder of the Ramones’ “Sheena is a Punk Rocker.”

84. Steve Mackay’s sax skronk on the Stooges’ “Fun House.”

83. The howl at the end of “State Trooper” from Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska.

82. The will-o-wisp materialization of chords into song as CCR kicks into “Born on the Bayou.”

81. Poly Styrene’s spoken intro to X-Ray Spex’s “Oh Bondage, Up Yours”: “Some people say lit’el gurls should be seen and not heard/But I say OH BONDAGE UP YOURS.”

80. Iris Dement’s singing — every bit of it — on “No Time to Cry.”

79. “No, my first name ain’t ‘Baby’/It’s Janet/Ms. Jackson if you’re nasty.”

78. The piercing guitar on Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth.”

77. “Arrested on charges of unemployment/He was sitting in the witness stand” — Chuck Berry introduces the “Brown-Eyed Handsome Man.”

76. “What key? What key?” — Little Stevie Wonder grows up on the false ending of “Fingertips Pt. 2.”

75. The false start on “Milk Cow Blues,” where Elvis declares it’s time to get “real, real gone.”

74. Justine Frischmann taunts an impotent lover — “Is it just that I’m much too much for you?” — on Elastica’s pointedly titled “Stutter.”

73. The earliest bit of rock criticism, from the Showmen’s “It Will Stand”: “Don’t nickname it/You might as well claim it/It’ll be here forever and ever/Ain’t gonna fade/Never, no, never.”

72. “And you could have a change of heart” — Steely Dan’s hipsters plead an everyman sentiment on “Rikki, Don’t Lose That Number.”

71. The hiccup vocals on Buddy Holly’s “Rave On.”

70. The prolix, pretentious and true lyric “Every generation throws a hero up the pop chart” on Paul Simon’s “The Boy in the Bubble.”

69. The first two notes of “Brown Sugar.”

68. Otis Redding singing “Theeessse arms of miiine.”

67. The vocal blues sample on Moby’s “Honey.”

66. The rock-and-roll haiku of Big Star’s “In the Street.”

65. “No, I don’t wanna see your thong/I kinda dig them old school, cute, regular drawers” — compassionate (sexual) conservatism, courtesy of Outkast.

64. “It’sjustlikeajunglesometimesitmakesmewonderhowIkeepfromgoingunder.”

63. Al Jackson Jr.’s drumming on almost any early Al Green record.

62. “It’s better to burn out than to fade away” — Not a death sentence, from Neil Young on Rust Never Sleeps.

61. Little Willie John singing “Write it down on a paper so it can be read to me” on “Need Your Love So Bad.”

60. Rakim rapping “Even if it’s jazz or the quiet storm/I hook a beat up/Convert it into hip-hop form” on Eric B. & Rakim’s “I Ain’t No Joke.”

59. Jay-Z expanding Rakim’s turf grab with the Annie sample on “Hard Knock Life.”

58. “Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine” – the first line of the first song on Patti Smith’s first album.

57. Run-DMC converting “Walk This Way” from a guitar record to a drum record.

56. The little speech at the beginning of the Contours’ “Do You Love Me.”

55. “Each record that I make/Is like a record I have made/JUST NOT AS GOOD” — Randy Newman, voice of a generation, on 1999’s Bad Love.

54. Frankie Lymon’s wondrous “uh-uh-oh-ohs” after finishing the alphabet on “The ABCs of Love.”

53. “This is not my beautiful house/This is not my beautiful wife” — David Byrne’s existential dilemma on the Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime.”

52. The evanescent lyric “We could be heroes/Just for one day” on David Bowie’s “Heroes.”

51. Elvis Costello snarling “I want to bite the hand that feeds me/I want to bite that hand so badly/I want to make them wish they’d never seen me” on “Radio, Radio.”

50. When all three instruments lock into place at the beginning of Husker Du’s Zen Arcade: Something big is about the happen.

49. The opening charge of Jimi Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower.”

48. The menacing instrumental intro to the Rolling Stones’ “Stray Cat Blues.”

47. The unmistakeable, familiar-as-your-own reflection notes that lead off “Stairway to Heaven.”

46. “Number 47 said to number 3/You’re the cutest jailbird I ever did see.”

45. The crowd’s screams after the first “triiiaahhh me” on James Brown’s Live at the Apollo.

44. All of the stray sounds during the breaks on Sam & Dave’s “Soul Man,” especially the interjection “Play it, Steve!”

43. Courtney Love delivers the “fuck you” of an answer song that Yoko Ono didn’t have in her with “Celebrity Skin.”

42. All of the little kids singing on the Bar-Kays’ “Soul Finger.”

41. The organ riff on “96 Tears.”

40. The first chord on the Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night.”

39. The shout of “Okay, let’s give it to ’em/Right now!” on “Louie, Louie.”

38. The harmonica at the end of “Tangled Up in Blue”: Hope springs eternal after all that misery.

37. “All the leaves are brown (all the leaves are brown)/And the sky is gray (and the sky is gray)” — the best moment of hippie peacenik pop is actually a moment of decay, courtesy of the Mamas and the Papas.

36. Jerry Lee Lewis clearing his throat and sounding like the world’s most musically talented rattlesnake throughout Live at the Star Club, Hamburg, Germany.

35. The remarkable transition in Clarence Carter’s “Making Love (At the Dark End of the Street)” — from country corn to the deepest soul.

34. “Shanghai Lil never used the pill/She claimed that it just ain’t natural” — inexplicable joy at traditional values on Rod Stewart’s “Every Picture Tells a Story.”

33. Kathleen Hanna shrieking “In her kiss/I TASTE THE REVOLUTION” on Bikini Kill’s “Rebel Girl.”

32. The brass sweep that closes out and lifts up “When a Man Loves a Woman.”

31. The aside at the outset of Eminem’s “The Real Slim Shady”: “No, wait/You’re kidding/He didn’t just say what I think he did/Did he?”; the startling blast of rhyme that ends the same song.

30. Tie: The first electronic synth sigh of “Little Red Corvette” and the smoochy sounds on the chorus of “Kiss” — both unmistakably the work of an Artist.

29. Kurt Cobain singing “Teenage angst has paid off well/Now I’m bored and old” to lead off In Utero.

28. “Knockin’ me out with those American thighs” — the gospel according to AC/DC.

27. “My smile is my make-up I wear since my break-up with you.”

26. From the Clash’s “Complete Control”: Mick Jones and Joe Strummer sing together, “Complete control/Even over this song!” and then Jones rips into a brief, revved-up rockabilly solo, which Strummer cuts off by shouting “You’re my gee-tar hero!”

25. The guitar and piano exchanges on “Sweet Home Alabama.”

24. D.Boon singing “Me and Mike Watt, playing guitar” on the Minutemen’s “History Lesson, Pt. II.”

23. “One child grows up to be/Somebody who just loves to learn/And the other child/Grows up to be/Somebody you’d just/Love to burn” — Sly Stone’s uncomfortable truths on “Family Affair.”

22. “The Dark End of the Street”

21. Little Richard’s microphone-shattering scream before the sax solo on “Good Golly Miss Molly.”

20. The onomatopoeic opening of Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On.”

19. The call-and-response between Ray Charles and the Raelettes on “What’d I Say.”

18. The electric piano intro to “I Never Loved a Man (The Way That I Loved You),” topped only by the first line as it leaps from Aretha’s mouth.

17. The group vocals on the chorus of The Band’s “The Weight.”

16. The opening “Hello, I’m Johnny Cash” on At Folsom Prison.

15. The instrumental opening of the Who’s “I Can’t Explain.”

14. Sam Cooke’s and Lou Rawls’ call-and-response vocals on “Bring it on Home to Me”

13. Corin Tucker’s and Carrie Brownstein’s call-and-response screams on Sleater-Kinney’s “I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone.”

12. Hal Blaine’s drums cutting through the kiddie-music intro of the Beach Boys’ “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.”

11. From The Million Dollar Quartet, Elvis talking about seeing Jackie Wilson do “Don’t Be Cruel”: “He had already done ‘Hound Dog’ and another one or two, and he didn’t do too well, you know. He was trying too hard. But he did that ‘Don’t Be Cruel’ and he was trying so hard that he got better, boy.”

10. Elvis’ casual “mmmm. …” sliding out of the first chorus of “Don’t Be Cruel.”

9. Otis Redding whistling off into immortality on “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay.”

8. The bass and guitar together, first 10 seconds of “My Girl.”

7. “Sweet little sixteen/She’s got the grown-up blues”: Chuck Berry explains rock-and-roll in a single couplet.

6. Hal Blaine’s heartbeat drum into to the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby.”

5. The eternal guitar riff on the Velvet Underground’s “Sweet Jane.”

4. The harmony “ahs” morphing into a scream of exhilaration on the Beatles’ version of ‘Twist & Shout.”

3. The raging climax of Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone”: “You’re invisible now/You have no secrets to conceal/How does it feel?”

2. “The record company, Rosie, just gave me a big advance!”

1. The roots of hip-hop, clear as a bell, on the instrumental break during James Brown’s “Funky Drummer.”

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