My neighbors have a love/hate relationship with me, I’m certain.
I’m certain they love me after the snow falls as I’m the only able-bodied adult male in my apartment complex who grabs a shovel and clears the walks. Prone to some gender-specific role-playing, I feel it’s my duty to break out the shovel and hump the ton of white stuff off the path from our front doors to the parking lot.
Two of my neighbors are elderly and their unsteady gait is hardly optimal for trudging through deep snow. Another neighbor has an infant daughter and I hate to think of her navigating snow and ice while she balances the baby carrier with bags of groceries.
My mixture of X and Y chomosomes mandate that I get out there and dig us out — it’s not just a good idea, it’s the law.
I do it because it needs to be done, not because I want to be a good neighbor. Which leads me to the hate.
I am prone to playing my music loud, at times. It’s a tic, pretty much, that leads my hand to twist the volume knob on my stereo’s amplifier when certain songs come up. Not trying to be a bad neighbor, I am powerless when a song calls to me to crank up the volume.
I guess admitting I have a problem is the first step to recovery. Alas, I doubt that I will ever seek treatment.
The complete list of songs that beg to be played loud is far too lengthy to include here (much to the frustration and consternation of my neighbors, it’s a very long list) but some highlights should illuminate the extent of my addiction.
“Raw Power” by Iggy and the Stooges. Listening to this at low volume is like leaving a bowl of batter under a desk lamp for an hour and saying you baked a cake. From the recorded belch that opens the song and beginning lyrics, “Dance to the beat of the living dead/Lose sleep baby and stay away from bed,” the song is as rude as it is celebratory, a clear, “I’m not sitting down, I’m dancing,” declaration to the seat-sitters in the back row.
“Go” by Tones On Tail. The infantile, “Ya ya ya ya ya ya ya ya ya,” chorus should be enough to scream, “Crank it up!” but the fuzzy bass guitar that opens the song makes punching up the volume a clear edict.
“The Message” by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. One the breakout rap songs from the early ’80s, it continues driving my wrist to turn in a clockwise direction. With its “Don’t push me cuz’ I’m close to the edge/I’m trying not to lose my head/It’s like a jungle/Sometimes it makes me wonder/How I keep from going under,” chorus is a sinister reprise on a dark reflection of ghetto life — and death.
“Personal Jesus” by Depeche Mode. The best cut on their best album (Violator), Depeche Mode really rocks on this cut — and they rarely really rocked. Never a fan of mid-’80s alternative dance music, this song redeemed Depeche Mode in my eyes.
“Pump It” by Black-Eyed Peas. With it’s clever opening (sampling the opening from Dick Dale’s “Miserlou” — forever tied to the opening credits of “Pulp Fiction”) the song stretches its theme far beyond what should be its logical conclusion. Of course, “Pump It” is a unmistakable direction to play it loud.
“Let’s Go Crazy” by Prince. Having established his Rock credentials on his previous 1999 release, the opening cut on Purple Rain rocked harder than almost anything else in 1984; the fact that Album Oriented Rock (AOR) formats refused to play it was a clear indication of the racism inherent in AOR programming at the time. Yes, Prince is primarily known for funk and dance music but this cut is Rock, plain and simple, and demands to be turned up to ear-bleeding levels.
“Keep the Car Running” by Arcade Fire. A tale of paranoia and isolation underscored with driving guitars and a mandolin, it feels like a Bruce Springsteen song for the indie nation. I keep waiting for a follow up to Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible (their last album) — rumor has it, a new release is due out in May. As if I didn’t have enough reason to wait for May (no more shoveling for the neighbors).
“School’s Out” by Alice Cooper. When I was 12, this was the ultimate rock song and remains one of the most demanding when I’m debating the wisdom of rattling the windows and shaking the plaster off the walls. More than that, it continues to be an anthem for kids fed up with school and I smile to myself every time I hear kids shouting out the lyrics.
“Black Dog” by Led Zeppelin. The time-frame reference is the same for me, early adolescence and a need to annoy my parents. Also (along with “School’s Out”) the awesomest song ever to my young ears. With the accapella opening (“Hey hey mama said the way you move/Gon’ make you sweat, gon’ make you groove.”) to some of the most thundering guitar work ever put down on vinyl, there is a law in 34 states against playing this song at a low volume. OK, I’m kidding about that but there ought to be a law.
“Baba O’Riley” by The Who. Otherwise known as “Teenage Wasteland” due to its reprise, the song begins innocuously enough, with a frantic synthesizer line, which runs smack-dab into a wall of pounding piano and guitar with Pete Townsend windmilling his way through The Who’s most ferocious guitar work on any record. Anthemic and powerful, playing this song at low volume is akin to taking a leisurely drive down the 5 in Los Angeles.
“Should I Stay or Should I Go” by The Clash. I remember being at a Halloween frat party, about 50 people crammed into the living room of an old row house, when this song came on. It had just been released earlier in the month and when it came on — turned on loud enough to bring the cops — every body in that room leaped into the air as the floor literally bounced to the music. I was almost afraid that we were all about to end up in the basement at that moment but, caught up in the ecstasy of the moment, was not at all concerned that we’d go crashing down a floor into a bruised and bloody heap.
“Mannish Boy” by Muddy Waters. Every version of this song is necessarily played loud but my personal favorite is the version cut with Johnny Winter on the mid-’70s Hard Again release. Nailed down with the beat of a thumping kick-drum, a heavy, on the beat, foot-stomping rhythm and a single chord blasting out the melody, there’s no reason to listen to this at a polite volume. To keep it turned low would be like deciding to eschew oxygen for some kind of air-free diet.
“You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb” by Spoon. Not sure how I feel about Spoon’s new album (just released last week) but I’m pretty sure it’s not as good as Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, the album this song is from. A rhythm-and-blues romp in the tradition of the Rolling Stones, Graham Parker or the J. Geils band, it presents the sonic assault of a huge firecracker. With lyrics like, “So there you go again/Out in your dressing gown/Get yourself to bed/Blow out that cherry bomb/Oh, life could be so fair/Let it go on and on,” the song is essentially asking why anyone, given the pyrotechnics, not light the fuse and let life blast with joy and noise.
“Hash Pipe” by Weezer. A clever jab at taking ourselves too seriously, the crunchy guitar and tight harmonies make me wonder why these guys aren’t at a popularity status of say, an AC/DC or Van Halen — they’re just as talented and tuneful, hard rock played with an ear towards pop sensibilities. With a sneering, lyric, it drips with contempt at the whiners of the world, offering up a solution that, while definitely not recommended by school counselors, is certainly better than indulging in endless griping.
“Girl U Want” by Devo. Of all the twisted melodies created by Devo, this is the craziest. Wound around a crazy synth line riveted to a steel girder of fuzzed out guitar, the song is Henry Moore sculpture painted day-glo yellow. “She sings from somewhere you can’t see/She sits in the top of the greenest tree/She sends out an aroma of undefined love/It drips on down in a mist from above,” the lyrics match the melody — perverse, twisted and infinitely danceable.
“Everyday I Love You Less and Less” by the Kaiser Chiefs. In the vein of “Girl U Want” except on the flip side of the coin, “I can’t believe once you and me did sex/It makes me sick to think of you undressed/Since everyday I love you less and less,” but with the same debauched and warped organ and guitar heavy nod to ’80s new wave. It’s the kind of song I would have loved in 1983 (while claiming to detest New Wave) and that was no different in 2005 except I no longer had to hide my questionable tastes that late in life.
The benefit of living awhile is that social respectability loses its appeal and we can finally walk around, conscious and contrarian, in the clothes we borrowed from the Emperor, “Yes, I like this ... got a problem with that?”
“Voodoo Chile” by Jimi Hendrix. Saving the best for last, this sits at the top of my list of songs that absolutely must be played loud. This is not the “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)” version — the second on the Electric Ladyland album (and known to most modern listeners by the Stevie Ray Vaughan cover version) but the one finishing Side A of the first album.
Recorded live in the studio (with Traffic’s Steve Winwood and the Jefferson Airplane’s Jack Casady playing beside the Experience), it’s a 15-minute blues jam that erases any doubt that Hendrix was (and remains) the greatest Rock guitar player in the world.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve crawled out of bed in the morning, growling with a reptilian hiss, then put this song on, just to hear it loud, just to announce to the rest of the world that, “... I stand next to a mountain/I chop it down with the edge of my hand/I pick up all the tiny pieces and make an island/might even raise just a little sand/’Cos I’m a Voodoo Child,” as a warning to the rest of humanity that my day is getting kick-started with a bracing shot of bravado.
Playing it loud is simply us announcing that we love a song and we don’t care who knows. For me, it’s not about imposing my tastes on everyone else but in the sheer joy of hearing the song exactly as it was meant to be played — at maximum volume and the adrenaline rush that comes with the noise.