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News and Views for Authors. The primary voice of Booksquare is Kassia Krozser. She is a kind-hearted, gentle soul with a wealth of patience for the foibles of humani–wait, that’s not true at all. Kassia has never had an opinion she didn’t wish to express, nor has she ever been shy about telling the emperor that his clothes are, well, transparent. This is her way of expressing love, and she lavishes all of her adoration on the publishing industry because, like a child who needs firm, corrective guidance, publishers and writers need Booksquare.
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1. Certain Songs #601: The Hold Steady – “You Can Make Him Like You”

hold steady boys Album: Boys And Girls in America
Year: 2006

This is my favorite song on Boys And Girls in America.

“You Can Make Him Like You” is everything I could want in a rock ‘n’ roll song: catchy, smart and anthemic, and not for a second does it ever stop moving and changing, even as it builds to a fist-pumping, screaming-at-the-top-of-your-lungs climax.

It comes roaring out of the gate with a balance of stinging guitars and big piano hook, before dropping into a quietish first verse where Craig Finn’s giving some pretty sketchy advice:

You don’t have to deal with the dealers
Let your boyfriend deal with the dealers
It only gets inconvenient
When you want to get high alone

You don’t have to know how to get home
Let your boyfriend tell the driver
The best way to go
It only gets kind of weird
When you wanna go home alone

I can’t deny it, there is a bit — maybe even a lot — of meanness in “You Can Make Him Like You,” but the second the full band roars back in between those first two verses, I’m gone. I’m totally and completely gone, so I’m going to make the excuse that this song is about a specific, damaged person.

You don’t have to go to the right kind of schools
Let your boyfriend come from the right kind of schools
You can wear his old sweatshirt
You can cover yourself like a bruise

For four verses, “You Can Make Him Like You” gets more and more intense, so when Franz Nicolay adds a soaring organ and piano triplets to the mix for the chorus, all I can do is sing along.

If you get tired of the the car he drives
There’s always other boys
You can make him like you
If you get tired of the music he likes
There’s always other boys
You can make him like you

At that point, the music drops into a “Candy’s Room” drumroll and piano duel for the bridge, and Finn makes one last observation:

They say you don’t have a problem
Until you start to do it alone
They say you don’t have a problem
Until you start bringing it home
They say you don’t have a problem
Until you start sleeping alone

And then, “You Can Make Him Like You” trumps itself one last time by going into a full-throated stop-time singalong of the chorus:

There’s always other boys
There’s always other boyfriends
There’s always other boys
You can make him like you
There’s always other boys
There’s always other boyfriends
There’s always other boys
You can make him like you

It’s so huge and anthemic that maybe it comes across as empowerment. After all, who wants to deal with the deals or the drivers or the status. Let him deal with all of that shit, and if he turns out to be a dud, find somebody else.

Maybe. All I know is that except for “The Swish,” the ending of “You Can Make Him Like You” is the part of any Hold Steady concert where I lose it the most, just shouting that chorus at the top of my lungs for all I’m worth.

“You Can Make Him Like You”

“You Can Make Him Like You” performed live at Glastonbury 2007

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2. Certain Songs #600: The Hold Steady – “First Night”

hold steady boys Album: Boys And Girls in America
Year: 2006

Boys and girls in America.

I’m sure I’m conflating a bunch of different memories into a single moment, but I still have a memory of the first night I felt part of the Fresno Tower scene. It was a warm summer evening in 1985, and it was at the Wild Blue.

Boys and girls in America.

I don’t recall who was playing: it coulda been Aqua Bob or The Wayne Foundation or Western Chapter or somebody else. It doesn’t really matter, because there was as much going on outside as there was inside.


Boys and girls in America.

And by “as much” of course, I meant that there were a lot of college girls hanging around outside, not old enough to get in. Some of them I’d met at CSUF, others I hadn’t. All of whom were smart and interesting and — maybe not on that first night — were coming to the realization that maybe us boys and girls were all becoming part of something bigger, even if we couldn’t define exactly what that was.

Boys and girls in America.

But in the meantime, let’s walk over to Mayfair market across the street and get some beer so we could sit on the warm asphalt and talk.

Boys and girls in America.

When Craig Finn referenced Jack Kerouac for the title of this album — and made it a refrain in this song — he was drawing a line straight through decades of American youth, creating scene and spitting white noise for a time, and then watching it all disintegrate over time, because that’s the only possible outcome.

Boys and girls in America.

Of course, you don’t know that on the first night. Instead, you’re completely overwhelmed by the sea of possibilities, and want it to last forever just so you can experience every single one.

But of course that sea narrows down to a trickle.

Boys and girls in America.

And I think that’s what the slow, piano-driven ballad, “First Night,” is about: about coming to terms with that inevitability. And while the details of the song are different than the details of my life, the feeling it evokes is utterly spot-on.

Holly’s inconsolable
Unhinged and uncontrollable
Because we can’t get as high as we got
On that first night

So I watched our scene coalesce, climax and crash within the space of several years, and then got the hell out of town because I didn’t know what else to do, but have always wondered who I would have been if I hadn’t.

Boys and girls in America.

“First Night” performed live

Every Certain Song Ever
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3. Certain Songs #599: The Hold Steady – “Chips Ahoy”

hold steady chips ahoy Album: Boys and Girls in America
Year: 2006

“Chips Ahoy” was the first single from “Boys and Girls in America,” and like “The Swish” and “Banging Camp,” Craig Finn is trying to fit all of his words in and around Tad Kubler’s big-ass power chords.

The result is one of those Hold Steady songs that sounds like one of of the rockers from The River had that album been made by a Springsteen influenced not by 1960s frat-rock, but rather, The Clash.

So it’s guitar guitar guitar until Finn comes in.

She put $900 on the fifth horse in the sixth race
I think its name was Chips Ahoy!

At that point, the guitars crash louder, drummer Bobby Drake does a couple of rolls, and for a second, we’re all wondering what happens next.

Came in six lengths ahead,
We spent the whole next week getting high
At first I thought that shit hit on some tip
That she got from some other boy
We were overjoyed

Whoa-uh-oooooh-ooh-ooh-ha-ho!
Whoa-uh-oooooh-ooh-ooh-ha-ho!

And so here’s the thing about “Chips Ahoy!” It’s so permeated by those “whoa-oooooh-ooh-ha-hos,” plus massive guitar chords and organ flourishes, you’d be completely excused if you used all of the upbeat joy they signify to ignore the plaintive chorus.

But then again, good luck ignoring this:

How am I supposed to know that you’re high
If you won’t let me touch you?
How am I supposed to know that you’re high
If you won’t even dance?
How am I supposed to know that you’re high
If you won’t let me touch you?
How am I supposed to know that you’re high
If you won’t even dance?

Later on in the song, Tad Kubler and Franz Nicolay have a horse race of their own, trading off solos like they’re Jon Lord & Ritchie Blackmore, but again, it just leads back to the unspoken question posed by the chorus, which is this: why am I even here?

Official Video for “Chips Ahoy!”

“Chips Ahoy!” performed live on Later With Jools Holland

Every Certain Song Ever
A filterable, searchable & sortable database with links to every “Certain Song” post I’ve ever written.

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Certain Songs Spotify playlist
(It’s recommended that you listen to this on Spotify as their embed only has 200 songs.)

Support “Certain Songs” with a donation on Patreon
Go to my Patreon page

The post Certain Songs #599: The Hold Steady – “Chips Ahoy” appeared first on Booksquare.

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4. Certain Songs #599: The Hold Steady – “Chips Ahoy”

hold steady chips ahoy Album: Boys and Girls in America
Year: 2006

“Chips Ahoy” was the first single from “Boys and Girls in America,” and like “The Swish” and “Banging Camp,” Craig Finn is trying to fit all of his words in and around Tad Kubler’s big-ass power chords.

The result is one of those Hold Steady songs that sounds like one of of the rockers from The River had that album been made by a Springsteen influenced not by 1960s frat-rock, but rather, The Clash.

So it’s guitar guitar guitar until Finn comes in.

She put $900 on the fifth horse in the sixth race
I think its name was Chips Ahoy!

At that point, the guitars crash louder, drummer Bobby Drake does a couple of rolls, and for a second, we’re all wondering what happens next.

Came in six lengths ahead,
We spent the whole next week getting high
At first I thought that shit hit on some tip
That she got from some other boy
We were overjoyed

Whoa-uh-oooooh-ooh-ooh-ha-ho!
Whoa-uh-oooooh-ooh-ooh-ha-ho!

And so here’s the thing about “Chips Ahoy!” It’s so permeated by those “whoa-oooooh-ooh-ha-hos,” plus massive guitar chords and organ flourishes, you’d be completely excused if you used all of the upbeat joy they signify to ignore the plaintive chorus.

But then again, good luck ignoring this:

How am I supposed to know that you’re high
If you won’t let me touch you?
How am I supposed to know that you’re high
If you won’t even dance?
How am I supposed to know that you’re high
If you won’t let me touch you?
How am I supposed to know that you’re high
If you won’t even dance?

Later on in the song, Tad Kubler and Franz Nicolay have a horse race of their own, trading off solos like they’re Jon Lord & Ritchie Blackmore, but again, it just leads back to the unspoken question posed by the chorus, which is this: why am I even here?

Official Video for “Chips Ahoy!”

“Chips Ahoy!” performed live on Later With Jools Holland

Every Certain Song Ever
A filterable, searchable & sortable database with links to every “Certain Song” post I’ve ever written.

Check it out!

Certain Songs Spotify playlist
(It’s recommended that you listen to this on Spotify as their embed only has 200 songs.)

Support “Certain Songs” with a donation on Patreon
Go to my Patreon page

The post Certain Songs #599: The Hold Steady – “Chips Ahoy” appeared first on Booksquare.

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5. Certain Songs #598: The Hold Steady – “Stuck Between Stations”

Hold Steady+Stuck+Between+Stations+-+Clear+399660 Album: Boys and Girls in America
Year: 2006

Welcome to my favorite album of this century.

Actually, (and yes, I’m “actually”ing myself), welcome to my favorite album since Nevermind & Achtung Baby!, which makes Boys and Girls in America my favorite album of the past quarter-century.

And if I could somehow prorate the age I was when this album came out against the age I was when I first discovered all of the albums I would otherwise put into my all-time top 20, it would definitely be in the conversation.

On Boys and Girls in America, their sound thickened. If Franz Nicolay’s keyboards were used for color and flavor on Separation Sunday, now they were an integral part of a thick stew.

It’s all right there in the opening of the first song on the album, “Stuck Between Stations,” which opens with a guitar stab that is almost instantly countered by a rolling piano and a kick drum build into the song proper, at which point Craig Finn essays his thesis statement for the entire album.

There are nights when I think
That Sal Paradise was right
Boys and girls in America
They have such a sad time together

It’s a classic rock ‘n’ roll subject, of course. The classic rock ‘n’ roll subject really, but Finn infuses his tales of young love and lust with a specificity that resonates beyond the individual people he’s writing about.

She was a really cool kisser
And she wasn’t all that strict of a Christian
She was a damn good dancer
But she wasn’t all that great of a girlfriend
He likes the warm feeling
But he’s tired of all the dehydration
Most nights are crystal clear
But tonight it’s like he’s stuck between stations

On the radio

In fact, it resonates beyond generations. I mean, in the age of digital tuners, getting stuck between stations is a near-impossibility, and yet anybody who hears this song knows exactly what he’s on about. And it also helps that Nicolay’s backing vocals come in just perfectly throughout.

And the stinging guitar that Tad Kubler brings in after the chorus doesn’t hurt, either.

There was that night that we thought
John Berryman could fly
But he didn’t, so he died
She said “You’re pretty good with words,
But words won’t save your life”
And they didn’t, so he died

I didn’t know who John Berryman was, but I sure got the Jim Carroll reference, and either way, that verse was funny and poignant at the same time, and has always killed me, maybe because I’m always worried about whether or not I’m going to need my words to save my life, as well.

It’s only a guess, but the mix of wit and full-bore rock — even during the piano breakdown — that defines “Stuck Between Stations” is probably why it’s probably the consensus favorite Hold Steady song as far as the fanbase is concerned.

It’s not mine, but it is a helluva way to begin a helluva record.

Official Video for “Stuck Between Stations”

“Stuck Between Stations” performed lived on Late Night with David Letterman

“Stuck Between Stations” performed live on Later With Jools Holland

Every Certain Song Ever
A filterable, searchable & sortable database with links to every “Certain Song” post I’ve ever written.

Check it out!

Certain Songs Spotify playlist
(It’s recommended that you listen to this on Spotify as their embed only has 200 songs.)

Support “Certain Songs” with a donation on Patreon
Go to my Patreon page

The post Certain Songs #598: The Hold Steady – “Stuck Between Stations” appeared first on Booksquare.

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6. Certain Songs #597: The Hold Steady – “How a Resurrection Really Feels”

Hold Steady Separation-Sunday Album: Separation Sunday
Year: 2005

Despite putting out their records in the era of shuffled playlists, The Hold Steady have had a tradition of ending their albums with an epic, multi-part song.

And given that it was concept album, Separation Sunday is no exception, capping off with the haunting “How A Resurrection Really Feels,” which kicks off with a lengthy curlicue guitar riff as Craig Finn lets us know what’s up with one of the major characters, Halluejah, who the kids call Holly.

The priest just kinda laughed
The deacon caught a draft
She crashed into the Easter mass
With her hair done up in broken glass
She was limping left on broken heels
When she said, “Father, can I tell your congregation
How a resurrection really feels?”

And as Holly’s story gets told, augmented by the guitar riff and even some horns, the guitars ebb and flow until the inevitable breakdown and resurrection of the song into something else entirely different.

That’s when Franz Nicolay’s keyboards starts floating through the track like a ticking clock and the backing vocalists start chanting “Walk on back, walk on back,” like a pair of hoodrat Dionne Warwicks who’d only heard her song on the radio that one time.

That’s when Craig Finn ends the album with the perfect mix of the sacred and profane, looking at this woman who’s clearly had a some kind of epiphany and noticing the exact wrong thing.

Hallelujah was a sexy mess
She looked strung out but experienced
So we all got kind of curious …

After that, Tad Kubler comes in with a long guitar solo fighting for space with the chants of “Walk on back” and the horns and the endless tick-tock of the keyboards, and it’s utterly gloriously sexy mess in and of itself, not to mention the perfect way to end this sprawling, ambitious sexy mess of an album.

Separation Sunday was easily my favorite album of 2005, and probably the 2000s, and if you were to ask me in early 2006, I would have said that it was quite possibly the best album of the decade, or at least in the conversation.

One thing I was certain about, there was no way The Hold Steady was going to be able to top it. Until they did.

“How A Resurrection Really Feels” performed live in 2009

Every Certain Song Ever
A filterable, searchable & sortable database with links to every “Certain Song” post I’ve ever written.

Check it out!

Certain Songs Spotify playlist
(It’s recommended that you listen to this on Spotify as their embed only has 200 songs.)

Support “Certain Songs” with a donation on Patreon
Go to my Patreon page

The post Certain Songs #597: The Hold Steady – “How a Resurrection Really Feels” appeared first on Booksquare.

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7. Certain Songs #597: The Hold Steady – “How a Resurrection Really Feels”

Hold Steady Separation-Sunday Album: Separation Sunday
Year: 2005

Despite putting out their records in the era of shuffled playlists, The Hold Steady have had a tradition of ending their albums with an epic, multi-part song.

And given that it was concept album, Separation Sunday is no exception, capping off with the haunting “How A Resurrection Really Feels,” which kicks off with a lengthy curlicue guitar riff as Craig Finn lets us know what’s up with one of the major characters, Halluejah, who the kids call Holly.

The priest just kinda laughed
The deacon caught a draft
She crashed into the Easter mass
With her hair done up in broken glass
She was limping left on broken heels
When she said, “Father, can I tell your congregation
How a resurrection really feels?”

And as Holly’s story gets told, augmented by the guitar riff and even some horns, the guitars ebb and flow until the inevitable breakdown and resurrection of the song into something else entirely different.

That’s when Franz Nicolay’s keyboards starts floating through the track like a ticking clock and the backing vocalists start chanting “Walk on back, walk on back,” like a pair of hoodrat Dionne Warwicks who’d only heard her song on the radio that one time.

That’s when Craig Finn ends the album with the perfect mix of the sacred and profane, looking at this woman who’s clearly had a some kind of epiphany and noticing the exact wrong thing.

Hallelujah was a sexy mess
She looked strung out but experienced
So we all got kind of curious …

After that, Tad Kubler comes in with a long guitar solo fighting for space with the chants of “Walk on back” and the horns and the endless tick-tock of the keyboards, and it’s utterly gloriously sexy mess in and of itself, not to mention the perfect way to end this sprawling, ambitious sexy mess of an album.

Separation Sunday was easily my favorite album of 2005, and probably the 2000s, and if you were to ask me in early 2006, I would have said that it was quite possibly the best album of the decade, or at least in the conversation.

One thing I was certain about, there was no way The Hold Steady was going to be able to top it. Until they did.

“How A Resurrection Really Feels” performed live in 2009

Every Certain Song Ever
A filterable, searchable & sortable database with links to every “Certain Song” post I’ve ever written.

Check it out!

Certain Songs Spotify playlist
(It’s recommended that you listen to this on Spotify as their embed only has 200 songs.)

Support “Certain Songs” with a donation on Patreon
Go to my Patreon page

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8. Certain Songs #596: The Hold Steady – “Stevie Nix”

Hold Steady Separation-Sunday Album: Separation Sunday
Year: 2005

While The Hold Steady usually get described as being somewhere between Bruce Springsteen and The Replacements, there is a surprising amount of Led Zeppelin in their music.

And while in retrospect, that should be somewhat obvious — the b-side of their first single was a cover of “Hey Hey What Can I Do,” — in 2005, I was totally surprised by the big-ass Zep riff that Tad Kubler unleashed for the epic “Stevie Nix,” which they could have easily titled “In My Time of Living.”

You came into the ER
Dinking gin from a jam jar
And the nurse is making jokes
About the ER being like an after bar

Of course, and given that riff is framing vivid scenes that could be entire songs in and of themselves, you could be excused for thinking that “Stevie Nix” is just another story about the the kids and what they were doing during their unconstructive summer vacations.

Instead, it gets heavy as it gets druggy, as Finn conflates one of rock ‘n’ rolls most enduring urban legends and a real life tragedy:

She said you remind me of Rod Stewart
When he was young
You’ve got passion and you think that you’re sexy
And all the punks think that you’re dumb
The guys around the lockers
Got a story about the stomach pump
And the guys behind the theater
Found a body in the garbage dump

And just like that, “Stevie Nix” completely breaks down.

And as Franz Nicolay makes like Roy Bittan for awhile, just noodling around the piano, letting us know that nothing is ever going to be the same again. And when Craig Finn finally comes in again, the entire mood of the song has gone from aggressive and cocky to wistful and philosophical.

She got screwed up by religion
She got screwed by soccer players
She got high for the first time at the camps
Down by the banks of the Mississippi River
Lord, to be seventeen forever

“Lord, to be seventeen forever.”

I mean, right? I mean, when I was seventeen when I graduated from high school, and I would of course love to have that endless potential and infinite energy forever and forever, but if we could keep the potential & energy but skip all of the subsequent fuck-ups, that would be OK, please and thank you.

She got strung out on the scene
And she got scared when it got druggy
The way the whispers bit like fangs
In the last hour of the party
Lord, to be thirty-three forever

“Lord, to be thirty-three forever.”

Of course, that was the age that Jesus died, and for me, 33 was the age where I realize that I needed to at least and try to become a responsible adult. And so, to me, being thirty-three forever means forever delaying the decision to grow up, once and for all.

Not that growing up (to the extent that I have) in the last 20 years has been so awful, but there is always going to be something about balancing on that precipice of youth and maturity that defined the mid-1990s for me that I’m always going to treasure, especially because I fell in the right direction.

Meanwhile, “Stevie Nix” ends with a long, twin-guitar elegy just so you can reflect on growing older while remembering being younger.

“Stevie Nix” performed live in 2009

Every Certain Song Ever
A filterable, searchable & sortable database with links to every “Certain Song” post I’ve ever written.

Check it out!

Certain Songs Spotify playlist
(It’s recommended that you listen to this on Spotify as their embed only has 200 songs.)

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9. Certain Songs #595: The Hold Steady – “Banging Camp”

Hold Steady Separation-Sunday Album: Separation Sunday
Year: 2005

It starts with that riff: just a couple of Tad Kubler power chords, banging from speaker to speaker until they create a third one and the drums kick in.

And suddenly, the snare drum appears in between those chords for an infinitely infinitesimal moment at a time, and “Banging Camp” is already near perfect before Craig Finn opens his mouth.

But you know that Craig Finn always opens his mouth.

Holly wore a string around her finger
She said it helps her to remember
All the nights that we got over
And besides, it ties her outfit all together
Holly wore a string around her finger

There are strings attached to every single lover
But they still can’t even tether us together
Listen to the back of the theater,
I think they really love one another
There are strings attached to every single lover

In the space of two verses, we’ve gone from a single string to the invisible ties that bind us to our past even when we’ve completely broken them. And the whole time, those two-plus-one chords have never stopped, not even for a second, suddenly, the riff breaks into a lead guitar over Franz Nicolay’s circus organ as “Banging Camp” tries to get away from itself.

When they say great white sharks
They mean the kind in big black cars
When they say killer whales
They mean they whaled on him
’til they killed him up in Penetration Park

But the riff is too strong, so it comes back, as Kubler adds even more guitars and we get to one of my favorite lyrics in all of Separation Sunday, as the hoodrat chicks sing with the riff.

La-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la
La-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la
La-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la
La-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la

As the song moves on, alternating between the chords and the build, suddenly there’s a breakdown. You’ll notice that all of these great Hold Steady songs have a breakdown at some point.

At least on Separation Sunday, they weren’t so much about verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-solo-verse-chorus out, but rather verse-verse-almostachorus-verse-solo-breakdown-whateverman.

So on the breakdown there’s a dual guitar solo that sound like rain falling on the banging camps and when the rest of the band kicks in, it’s with churning guitars, church organ and even a horn section taking the song higher and higher and higher, as Finn conflates two different kinds of ecstasies.


I saw him at the riverbank
He was breaking bread and giving thanks
With crosses made of pipes and planks
Leaned up against the nitrous tanks

And he said take a hit
Hold your breath and I’ll dunk your head
Then when you wake up again
Yeah, you’ll be high as hell and born again

And with that, “Banging Camp” just stops dead, dunked under the river.

And when it resurfaces, gasping for breath, it’s with the riff, because what else is going to make a song like “Banging Camp” born again to run?

“Banging Camp”

“Banging Camp” performed live in Minneapolis, 2005

Every Certain Song Ever
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Check it out!

Certain Songs Spotify playlist
(It’s recommended that you listen to this on Spotify as their embed only has 200 songs.)

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Go to my Patreon page

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10. Certain Songs #595: The Hold Steady – “Banging Camp”

Hold Steady Separation-Sunday Album: Separation Sunday
Year: 2005

It starts with that riff: just a couple of Tad Kubler power chords, banging from speaker to speaker until they create a third one and the drums kick in.

And suddenly, the snare drum appears in between those chords for an infinitely infinitesimal moment at a time, and “Banging Camp” is already near perfect before Craig Finn opens his mouth.

But you know that Craig Finn always opens his mouth.

Holly wore a string around her finger
She said it helps her to remember
All the nights that we got over
And besides, it ties her outfit all together
Holly wore a string around her finger

There are strings attached to every single lover
But they still can’t even tether us together
Listen to the back of the theater,
I think they really love one another
There are strings attached to every single lover

In the space of two verses, we’ve gone from a single string to the invisible ties that bind us to our past even when we’ve completely broken them. And the whole time, those two-plus-one chords have never stopped, not even for a second, suddenly, the riff breaks into a lead guitar over Franz Nicolay’s circus organ as “Banging Camp” tries to get away from itself.

When they say great white sharks
They mean the kind in big black cars
When they say killer whales
They mean they whaled on him
’til they killed him up in Penetration Park

But the riff is too strong, so it comes back, as Kubler adds even more guitars and we get to one of my favorite lyrics in all of Separation Sunday, as the hoodrat chicks sing with the riff.

La-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la
La-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la
La-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la
La-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la

As the song moves on, alternating between the chords and the build, suddenly there’s a breakdown. You’ll notice that all of these great Hold Steady songs have a breakdown at some point.

At least on Separation Sunday, they weren’t so much about verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-solo-verse-chorus out, but rather verse-verse-almostachorus-verse-solo-breakdown-whateverman.

So on the breakdown there’s a dual guitar solo that sound like rain falling on the banging camps and when the rest of the band kicks in, it’s with churning guitars, church organ and even a horn section taking the song higher and higher and higher, as Finn conflates two different kinds of ecstasies.


I saw him at the riverbank
He was breaking bread and giving thanks
With crosses made of pipes and planks
Leaned up against the nitrous tanks

And he said take a hit
Hold your breath and I’ll dunk your head
Then when you wake up again
Yeah, you’ll be high as hell and born again

And with that, “Banging Camp” just stops dead, dunked under the river.

And when it resurfaces, gasping for breath, it’s with the riff, because what else is going to make a song like “Banging Camp” born again to run?

“Banging Camp”

“Banging Camp” performed live in Minneapolis, 2005

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11. Certain Songs #594: The Hold Steady – “Your Little Hoodrat Friend”

Hold Steady Separation-Sunday Album: Separation Sunday
Year: 2005

So like most people who have a writing bent, I’ve tried my hand at writing fiction.

I’ve written a couple of unpublished short stories, and I started a novel in the early 1990s that had I been able to somehow finish then (ha!) would have been a contemporary novel about being young and if I would be able to finish now (double ha!) would now be a pure nostalgia piece.

And as you can imagine, all of the fiction was just thinly-disguised versions of all of the crazy shit we were up to in the 1980s, just as Craig Finn’s best lyrics feel like they were based upon real people and incidents.

Your little hoodrat friend makes me sick
But after I get sick I just get sad
‘Cause it burns being broke, hurts to be heartbroken
And always being both must be a drag

Delivered over a relentlessly chugging guitar — think “Just What I Needed” — that verse sets up the rest of the song, and here’s the thing. I’d never ever heard the word “hoodrat” before this song. Maybe it was an age thing, maybe it was a regional thing.

Luckily, Finn’s right there with some telling details

Tiny little text etched into her neck
It said “Jesus lived and died for all your sins”
She’s got blue black ink and it’s scratched into her lower back
Says “Damn right, He’ll rise again”
Yeah, damn right, she’ll rise again
Damn right, you’ll rise again<

By the time Tad Kubler ditches the Cars guitars for the big guitars, I know exactly who this hoodrat was, even as I was being by Franz Nicolay tossing enough organ & piano into the mix to make the whole like Pleased to Meet Me as played by The E. Street Band.

Meanwhile, Finn and backing singer Nicole Willis are harmonizing on the defensively catchy chorus:

But I ain’t never been with your little hoodrat friend
I ain’t never been with your little hoodrat friend
I ain’t never been with your little hoodrat friend
What makes you think I’m getting
With your little hoodrat friend?

While Finn is admitting that they got high together and talked about religion and not having sex with each other, she also makes an observation about her scene changing, as they always do. And even those she was still young, you could just hear the weary sigh that accompanied this:

She said City Center used to be
The center of our scene
Now City Center’s over
No one really goes there
Back then we used to drink
Beneath this railroad bridge
Some nights the bus wouldn’t even stop
There were just too many kids

You can see it, can’t you? The bus approaching the stop near the bridge, the driver hesitating for a second, and then deciding “fuck this, it’s just too much trouble,” and driving off, leaving a whole passel of kids with no way to get home.

It’s such a beautiful detail, and while it probably only ever happened a couple of times, it’s still a beautiful way to define those summer nights where everybody just happen to show up for no other reason than there wasn’t anything else to do that night and maybe other people were going to be there.

Which seems impossible in the time of instant messaging, but for years and years and years, I would go to various hangouts in the Tower District without any kind of plan outside of have a drink or a few, never knowing who might be there or who might not be there.

Not every night, of course. I mean there were shows to go to and parties to go to and pre-made plans over the phone, but those were the exception, not the rule. So I guess I was a hoodrat for a time.

“Your Little Hoodrat Friend” performed live

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12. Certain Songs #593: The Hold Steady – “Hornets! Hornets!”

Hold Steady Separation-Sunday Album: Separation Sunday
Year: 2005

“She said ‘Always remember never to trust me.’”

“She said that the first night she met me.”

“She said ‘There’s gonna come a time when I’m gonna have to go with whoever’s gonna get me the highest’”

That was the first thing I ever heard by The Hold Steady. Craig Finn’s voice, ping-ponging between both speakers.

All my life, I’ve been buying music without hearing a note, based entirely on buzz. Sometimes it’s The Clash or Pavement. Most of the time, not so much. And of course, by the time 2005 rolled around, it was mostly the not so much.

So I bought Separation Sunday based entirely on the reviews. Probably at Amoeba, during that time when I was paring down my CD collection while ripping ripping ripping everything I’d acquired over the past 15 years.

And then, after that opening, a swaggering sexy guitar riff kicks in, with the backbeat just fucking strutting down the street, and when a second guitar came in against the first one, and the song was starting and stopping while Finn is continuing his ranting, referencing Lolita and having to concentrate while kissing before he tosses this out:

She mouthed the words along
To “Running Up That Hill”
That song got scratched into her soul
And he never heard that song before
But he still got the metaphor
He knows some people that switched places before

I’m not a words guy. Or I don’t need to be a words guy to love a song. But then when a song sounds like half of my favorite bands rolled up into one, great words are the difference between love and “all-time favorite.”

I like the crowds at the really big shows
People touching people that they don’t even know, yo

And with that, “Hornets! Hornets!” smashes into a wall, and for a second, only Tad Kubler’s guitar survives, ringing woozily until Franz Nicolay’s keyboards & Bobby Drake’s drum crashes recenter him.

Meanwhile, Craig Finn gets even more specific:

I guess the heavy stuff ain’t quite at its heaviest
By the time it gets out to suburban Minneapolis
We were living up at Nicollet and 66th
With three skaters and some hoodrat chick

After this, “Hornets! Hornets!” struts towards its ending by circling back to the opening riff, but with a multitude of guitars now playing around each other with manic precision.

It’s a helluva way to open an album. It’s a helluva way to be introduced to your new favorite band.

And I still don’t know why they called it “Hornets! Hornets!”

“Hornets! Hornets!”

“Hornets! Hornets!” performed live in 2009

Every Certain Song Ever
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Certain Songs Spotify playlist
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13. Certain Songs #593: The Hold Steady – “Hornets! Hornets!”

Hold Steady Separation-Sunday Album: Separation Sunday
Year: 2005

“She said ‘Always remember never to trust me.’”

“She said that the first night she met me.”

“She said ‘There’s gonna come a time when I’m gonna have to go with whoever’s gonna get me the highest’”

That was the first thing I ever heard by The Hold Steady. Craig Finn’s voice, ping-ponging between both speakers.

All my life, I’ve been buying music without hearing a note, based entirely on buzz. Sometimes it’s The Clash or Pavement. Most of the time, not so much. And of course, by the time 2005 rolled around, it was mostly the not so much.

So I bought Separation Sunday based entirely on the reviews. Probably at Amoeba, during that time when I was paring down my CD collection while ripping ripping ripping everything I’d acquired over the past 15 years.

And then, after that opening, a swaggering sexy guitar riff kicks in, with the backbeat just fucking strutting down the street, and when a second guitar came in against the first one, and the song was starting and stopping while Finn is continuing his ranting, referencing Lolita and having to concentrate while kissing before he tosses this out:

She mouthed the words along
To “Running Up That Hill”
That song got scratched into her soul
And he never heard that song before
But he still got the metaphor
He knows some people that switched places before

I’m not a words guy. Or I don’t need to be a words guy to love a song. But then when a song sounds like half of my favorite bands rolled up into one, great words are the difference between love and “all-time favorite.”

I like the crowds at the really big shows
People touching people that they don’t even know, yo

And with that, “Hornets! Hornets!” smashes into a wall, and for a second, only Tad Kubler’s guitar survives, ringing woozily until Franz Nicolay’s keyboards & Bobby Drake’s drum crashes recenter him.

Meanwhile, Craig Finn gets even more specific:

I guess the heavy stuff ain’t quite at its heaviest
By the time it gets out to suburban Minneapolis
We were living up at Nicollet and 66th
With three skaters and some hoodrat chick

After this, “Hornets! Hornets!” struts towards its ending by circling back to the opening riff, but with a multitude of guitars now playing around each other with manic precision.

It’s a helluva way to open an album. It’s a helluva way to be introduced to your new favorite band.

And I still don’t know why they called it “Hornets! Hornets!”

“Hornets! Hornets!”

“Hornets! Hornets!” performed live in 2009

Every Certain Song Ever
A filterable, searchable & sortable database with links to every “Certain Song” post I’ve ever written.

Check it out!

Certain Songs Spotify playlist
(It’s recommended that you listen to this on Spotify as their embed only has 200 songs.)

Support “Certain Songs” with a donation on Patreon
Go to my Patreon page

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14. Certain Songs #592: The Hold Steady – “Killer Parties”

hold steady Almostkilledme Album: Almost Killed Me
Year: 2004

“There is so much joy in what we do up here!!”

That’s what Craig Finn would exclaim at some point during live versions of “Killer Parties,” when the massive anthem that closed Almost Killed Me would close their live shows in the early days.

Like, for example, the first time I ever saw them, at the Troubadour in 2006.

By the end of it, of course, half of the audience was on stage, the other half was taking pictures, and the rest of us were singing the words at the top of our lungs.

And if she says we partied
Then I’m pretty sure we partied
I really don’t remember
I remember we departed from our bodies
We woke up in Ybor City

On Almost Killed Me, “Killer Parties” sounds like they wanted to close the album with a full-blown U2 anthem, so it’s all echoing guitar and loping bass at first, as Finn reminds us that living life at the pace he’s been describing for the whole album has consequences:

Killer parties almost killed me
Killer parties almost killed me

And the killer parties that I remember always seemed to be at the same places. And always thrown by some guy named John, and I never could figure out why the cops never came, especially those parties in Clovis, where people spilled out of the house and into the street, all fucked up on various substances.

And those nights in the Tower, where I walked home down the middle of the street just so I had the advantage of seeing anybody who might want to do me harm and could start running if they came after me. Not that it ever happened.

Killer parties almost killed me. The 1980s almost killed me.

But they didn’t. Not because I was smart or indestructible, but because I was lucky.

Lucky to never take the wrong thing. Lucky to have a scene to be a part of. Lucky to never in the wrong place at the wrong time. Lucky, lucky lucky.

It’s these memories that I access when I listen to The Hold Steady, accessed from the safe space of my middle-aged life where the last bit of my rebellion is the same as my first bit of rebellion: growing out my hair.

So I love these early Hold Steady songs not just because I lived them, but because I stopped living them.

“Killer Parties” performed live in Glastonbury, 2007

Every Certain Song Ever
A filterable, searchable & sortable database with links to every “Certain Song” post I’ve ever written.

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15. Certain Songs #591: The Hold Steady – “Barfruit Blues”

hold steady Almostkilledme Album: Almost Killed Me
Year: 2004

One of the ironies of Certain Songs is that the song “Certain Songs” isn’t a Certain Song.

While the sentiment — “certain songs, they get so scratched into our souls” — is the ethos that powers this entire project, honestly compels me to point out that it’s not one of my favorites musically.

So just in case one of you other Hold Steady fanatics was waiting for the collision of Certain Songs and “Certain Songs,” my deepest apologies.

Meanwhile, there’s “Barfruit Blues,” in which over a rumbling bassline and lead guitar comments Craig Finn describes a pretty dodgy bar scene:

Kids with broken hearts
And kids with broken bones
Kids with kidney stones
Giving birth to bloody stereos

Systems are all dripping wet
With gristle piss and swizzle sticks
Mary’s got a bloody nose
From sniffing margarita mix

As the guitars multiply, mixing recontextualized Chuck Berry rhythms and flat-out Thin Lizzy leads, “Barfruit Blues” gains forward momentum. Meanwhile Finn hops from kid to kid, telling just enough of their stories to leave us wanting more.

Went down with like fourteen bucks
And woke up with like sixteen grand
Went down with some crust punk junk
And woke up with a straight edge band
That’s not how he planned it

And at that point, the whole world changes, and time is suspended as Tad Kubler hits a chord and holds it steady, and then hits it again for good measure, as Finn continues:

Holly can’t speak
She don’t feel all that sweet
About the places
She sometimes has to go to get some sleep
She said I’m sorry people think I’m pretty

And then Kubler come in with a guitar lead — really a solo — that encapsulates all of the sadness and desperation that every single one of these kids are feeling, which he keeps up for the rest of the song.


These clever kids are killing me
For one they ain’t that clever
Number two, it really sucks
When you get stuck here with these travelers
This was supposed to be a party

And then — while Kubler is still playing that solo like his life depended on it — maybe my favorite of all of Craig Finn’s couplets, defining the perfect audience for his band:

Half the crowd is calling out for “Born to Run”
And the other half is calling out for “Born to Lose”

In 2004, it was weird for any indie band to so overtly shout out to Bruce Springsteen, much less in tandem with Johnny Thunders, which was why some of earliest things I read about The Hold Steady were seemingly-in-denial stories about how their classic rock references were “ironic.”

But they never were: the moment of punk bands ironically covering classic rock songs thankfully ended in like 1984, and instead what was great about The Hold Steady was that they treated classic rock and punk rock as points on a line that started with Chuck Berry, wove its way through the Rolling Stones and Sex Pistols and Replacements and was now going through them.

That’s the line I’ve always walked, which is why I’m not all that surprised it led me directly to The Hold Steady.

“Barfruit Blues”

“Barfruit Blues” performed live at Ybor City, 2008

Every Certain Song Ever
A filterable, searchable & sortable database with links to every “Certain Song” post I’ve ever written.

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Certain Songs Spotify playlist
(It’s recommended that you listen to this on Spotify as their embed only has 200 songs.)

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16. Certain Songs #590: The Hold Steady – “The Swish”

hold steady Almostkilledme Album: Almost Killed Me
Year: 2004

I don’t recall 2005 all that fondly.

While it never came close to killing me, I was stuck in a job that I absolutely hated, and we were either dealing with or had just dealt with some terrible neighbors that made even going home from work almost as bad as dealing with work. Hell, I might have even been developing an ulcer.

So I was not in a good place at all. That was about the time that “The Swish” came into my life, and through it, the affection I had already developed for The Hold Steady through Separation Sunday turned into full-out love.

This is not a story about how The Hold Steady saved my life. After all, it was 2005, not 1985, so the idea of any band saving of my life — even metaphorically — at 42 is just plain silly.

Pills and powders, baby, powders and pills
We spent the night last night in Beverly Hills
This chick, she looked just like Beverly Sills
We got killed

No, with the Hold Steady, it was something different: the realization that I could love a brand-new band even as a middle-aged man. Not with the same fire and passion as I loved R.E.M. or The Replacements, but with the knowledge that it was only age that kept that fire and passion from happening.

A different kind of love, but love nevertheless.

Tights and skirts, baby, skirts and tights
We used to shake it up in Shaker Heights
This chick, she looked just like Patty Smythe
She seemed shaky but nice

I’m just stalling here, of course. Afraid that my words will be inadequate to describe my love for this song, which is all sharp angles and sharper elbows, pushing everything out of its way with a pure blast of rock ‘n’ roll balls, smarts and a deep sense of humour. None of which would matter if it wasn’t for Tad Kubler’s riffs that drilled a hole right through the center of the world.

She said my name’s Rick Danko, baby
People call me One-Hour Photo
I got some hazardous chemicals
So drive around to the window

But let me back up for a second. I’d already heard and loved Separation Sunday, because to be a music fan in the age of glut means discovering things out of order, so their second album hit my radar first. So after being blown away by that one, I quite naturally immediately followed it up with Almost Killed Me.

She said my name’s Robbie Robertson
But people call me Robo
I blew red white and blue right into a tissue
I came right over the counter just to kiss you
I came right over the counter just to kiss you

On both records, there was something about Craig Finn’s voice declaiming over Tad Kubler’s guitar that sent me back to the days where the combo of an unique vocalist and an awesome guitar-slinger formed the basis of many of my favorite bands. Page/Plant. Morrissey/Marr. Buck/Stipe. Jagger/Richards. Bono/Edge.

But it had been awhile: for whatever reason, all of the rock ‘n’ roll bands I loved in the 1990s were about auteurs, either single or dueling. Pavement. Uncle Tupelo. Nirvana. Drive-by Truckers. Even Oasis.

Ginger and Jack and four or five Feminax
Psycho eyes and a stovepipe hat
A ray of light through tight white rayon slacks
We got cracked

So there was a moment where I was driving home from that fucking job at IndyMac Fucking Bank, that job where every day I could see a little piece of my soul disappearing over the San Gabriel Mountains, and “The Swish” came on while I was driving on the 134 across the ridge overlooking Eagle Rock, and I couldn’t turn it up loud enough. And I played it again. And again.

Shoes and socks, baby, socks and shoes
We spent the night last night in Newport News
This chick, she looked just like Elizabeth Shue
We got bruised

Like nothing I’d heard in years, “The Swish” felt like the rock ‘n’ roll life I had flirted with. The rock ‘n’ roll life I gave up on after it almost killed not just me but people I loved. It was like like somebody had finally figured out how to make classic rock that sounded like it could only exist right this very moment.

And it didn’t matter if that moment was 1975, 2005 or 2035.

She said my name’s Steve Perry, baby
People call me Circuit City
I’m so well connected
My UPC is dialed into the system

With that snare drum ringing out between the stabbing riff, and the whole song crashing like waves after every line on the verses, it was the most exciting thing I’d heard in years, decades maybe.

She said my name’s Neal Schon
But people call me Nina Simone
Some people call me Andre Cymone
‘Cause I survived the ’80s one time already
And I don’t recall it all that fondly

So hold steady

Hold. Right here.

Right here, at the end of this chorus. Just hold for a second, and listen to how awesome this is.

Right now, the guitars that have been raging all around Craig Finn singing about how he (and I) survived the 80s one time already just explode with the drums into an eternal stop time as Finn cries “So hold steady” and just as the whole song feels like the end of the universe, only then does Tad Kubler take the central riff, switch it from crash mode to momentum mode, and push the “The Swish” even higher.

It’s just a couple of chords played slightly differently and yet, it’s everything.

I got — I get — the same buzz from that moment that I’ve always gotten from The Stones exploding into in the chorus of “Street Fighting Man,” or The Clash’s coda for “Complete Control” or Bruce Springsteen’s “1-2-3-4!” in “Born to Run.”

Not so much a musical moment to die for, but a musical moment to live over and over again.

It was a blockbuster summer
Moving pictures got us through to September
They made a movie about me and you
They made it half nude and half true

It didn’t save my life. It didn’t even change my life. But “The Swish” almost became my favorite song in ages and drove me into the rest of Almost Killed Me, which drove me back to Separation Sunday, and they made me at least feel better just for the fact that I had a band again that I could drive my friends crazy evangelizing about again.

It was a bloodsucking summer
I spent half the time trying to get paid from our savior
Swishing though the City Center
I did a couple favors for these guys who looked like Tusken Raiders

And I survived 2005 one time already, and I don’t recall it all that fondly.

Official video for “The Swish”

“The Swish” performed live in 2011

Every Certain Song Ever
A filterable, searchable & sortable database with links to every “Certain Song” post I’ve ever written.

Check it out!

Certain Songs Spotify playlist
(It’s recommended that you listen to this on Spotify as their embed only has 200 songs.)

Support “Certain Songs” with a donation on Patreon
Go to my Patreon page

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17. Certain Songs #590: The Hold Steady – “The Swish”

hold steady Almostkilledme Album: Almost Killed Me
Year: 2004

I don’t recall 2005 all that fondly.

While it never came close to killing me, I was stuck in a job that I absolutely hated, and we were either dealing with or had just dealt with some terrible neighbors that made even going home from work almost as bad as dealing with work. Hell, I might have even been developing an ulcer.

So I was not in a good place at all. That was about the time that “The Swish” came into my life, and through it, the affection I had already developed for The Hold Steady through Separation Sunday turned into full-out love.

This is not a story about how The Hold Steady saved my life. After all, it was 2005, not 1985, so the idea of any band saving of my life — even metaphorically — at 42 is just plain silly.

Pills and powders, baby, powders and pills
We spent the night last night in Beverly Hills
This chick, she looked just like Beverly Sills
We got killed

No, with the Hold Steady, it was something different: the realization that I could love a brand-new band even as a middle-aged man. Not with the same fire and passion as I loved R.E.M. or The Replacements, but with the knowledge that it was only age that kept that fire and passion from happening.

A different kind of love, but love nevertheless.

Tights and skirts, baby, skirts and tights
We used to shake it up in Shaker Heights
This chick, she looked just like Patty Smythe
She seemed shaky but nice

I’m just stalling here, of course. Afraid that my words will be inadequate to describe my love for this song, which is all sharp angles and sharper elbows, pushing everything out of its way with a pure blast of rock ‘n’ roll balls, smarts and a deep sense of humour. None of which would matter if it wasn’t for Tad Kubler’s riffs that drilled a hole right through the center of the world.

She said my name’s Rick Danko, baby
People call me One-Hour Photo
I got some hazardous chemicals
So drive around to the window

But let me back up for a second. I’d already heard and loved Separation Sunday, because to be a music fan in the age of glut means discovering things out of order, so their second album hit my radar first. So after being blown away by that one, I quite naturally immediately followed it up with Almost Killed Me.

She said my name’s Robbie Robertson
But people call me Robo
I blew red white and blue right into a tissue
I came right over the counter just to kiss you
I came right over the counter just to kiss you

On both records, there was something about Craig Finn’s voice declaiming over Tad Kubler’s guitar that sent me back to the days where the combo of an unique vocalist and an awesome guitar-slinger formed the basis of many of my favorite bands. Page/Plant. Morrissey/Marr. Buck/Stipe. Jagger/Richards. Bono/Edge.

But it had been awhile: for whatever reason, all of the rock ‘n’ roll bands I loved in the 1990s were about auteurs, either single or dueling. Pavement. Uncle Tupelo. Nirvana. Drive-by Truckers. Even Oasis.

Ginger and Jack and four or five Feminax
Psycho eyes and a stovepipe hat
A ray of light through tight white rayon slacks
We got cracked

So there was a moment where I was driving home from that fucking job at IndyMac Fucking Bank, that job where every day I could see a little piece of my soul disappearing over the San Gabriel Mountains, and “The Swish” came on while I was driving on the 134 across the ridge overlooking Eagle Rock, and I couldn’t turn it up loud enough. And I played it again. And again.

Shoes and socks, baby, socks and shoes
We spent the night last night in Newport News
This chick, she looked just like Elizabeth Shue
We got bruised

Like nothing I’d heard in years, “The Swish” felt like the rock ‘n’ roll life I had flirted with. The rock ‘n’ roll life I gave up on after it almost killed not just me but people I loved. It was like like somebody had finally figured out how to make classic rock that sounded like it could only exist right this very moment.

And it didn’t matter if that moment was 1975, 2005 or 2035.

She said my name’s Steve Perry, baby
People call me Circuit City
I’m so well connected
My UPC is dialed into the system

With that snare drum ringing out between the stabbing riff, and the whole song crashing like waves after every line on the verses, it was the most exciting thing I’d heard in years, decades maybe.

She said my name’s Neal Schon
But people call me Nina Simone
Some people call me Andre Cymone
‘Cause I survived the ’80s one time already
And I don’t recall it all that fondly

So hold steady

Hold. Right here.

Right here, at the end of this chorus. Just hold for a second, and listen to how awesome this is.

Right now, the guitars that have been raging all around Craig Finn singing about how he (and I) survived the 80s one time already just explode with the drums into an eternal stop time as Finn cries “So hold steady” and just as the whole song feels like the end of the universe, only then does Tad Kubler take the central riff, switch it from crash mode to momentum mode, and push the “The Swish” even higher.

It’s just a couple of chords played slightly differently and yet, it’s everything.

I got — I get — the same buzz from that moment that I’ve always gotten from The Stones exploding into in the chorus of “Street Fighting Man,” or The Clash’s coda for “Complete Control” or Bruce Springsteen’s “1-2-3-4!” in “Born to Run.”

Not so much a musical moment to die for, but a musical moment to live over and over again.

It was a blockbuster summer
Moving pictures got us through to September
They made a movie about me and you
They made it half nude and half true

It didn’t save my life. It didn’t even change my life. But “The Swish” almost became my favorite song in ages and drove me into the rest of Almost Killed Me, which drove me back to Separation Sunday, and they made me at least feel better just for the fact that I had a band again that I could drive my friends crazy evangelizing about again.

It was a bloodsucking summer
I spent half the time trying to get paid from our savior
Swishing though the City Center
I did a couple favors for these guys who looked like Tusken Raiders

And I survived 2005 one time already, and I don’t recall it all that fondly.

Official video for “The Swish”

“The Swish” performed live in 2011

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18. Certain Songs #589: The High – “Box Set Go”

The High+Box+Set+Go+401054 Album: Somewhere Soon
Year: 1990

Along with Ambulance Ltd’s “Stay Where You Are,” The High’s “Box Set Go” is pretty much the only non- Stone Roses song that gives me the same buzz as “She Bangs The Drums” or “Waterfall.”

It’s a shameless rip-off, of course, but in 1990, outside of the Stone Roses themselves, songs that were my platonic ideal of a jangly guitar jam were few and far between, give or take a “There She Goes,” of course.

And while I would never put “Box Set Go” on the same pedestal as the aforementioned god-like songs — and I remember the rest of the album as being decidedly inferior — never in my life am I going to be able to resist a churning 12-string Rickenbacker riff like what opens and anchors “Box Set Go.”

I have always felt this way
In and out, you’ll hear me say
I have always been afraid
In and out, you’ll hear
Box this sound and the real sound
Government

It was all so gorgeous that mattered not at all that the lyrics didn’t make any damn sense, right down to the title not being in the lyrics. Like some marketing person told them to change it from “Box This Sound” to “Box Set Go” because box sets were just coming into vogue.

Because with a piano weaving in and out adding color and melody around the verses and thesadly-harmonized chorus, “Box Set Go” hit nearly every one of my pleasure centers, right down to the stop-time leading to an ever-so-slight rave-up at the end.

“Box Set Go”

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19. Certain Songs #585: Heart – “Crazy On You”

Heart Crazy_on_You_ Album: Dreamboat Annie
Year: 1976

While the follow-ups “Magic Man” and “Barracuda” were both bigger hits, this is the early Heart single that I truly loved.

With Roger Fisher’s corkscrew riff spiraling over Nancy Wilson’s rapidly-strummed acoustic guitar, “Crazy On You” exploded from the radio in 1976, marking Heart as something different from the very start.

But of course, it’s more that just a riff, as “Crazy on You” never stops changing direction, adding weird bridges, offhand guitar flourishes and of course, lyrics about female desire, sung with both subtlety and power by Ann Wilson.

I was a willow last night in my dream
I bent down over a clear running stream
Sang you the song that I heard up above
And you kept me alive with your sweet flowing loooooovvveee!
Crazy!

The overdub that juxtaposed Ann’s scream of the word “love” with with an equally powerful scream of “Crazy” and the riff kicking back in is still utterly thrilling.

40 years later, it now seems strange how strange Heart seemed. And that’s a good thing. But in the hard rock world of the mid-1970s, a Zep-influenced band fronted by a pair of sisters hardly computed.

So the fact that they had hit singles with slightly weird and completely uncompromising songs like “Crazy on You” made them pioneers and trailblazers in the same way as Patti Smith or The Runaways — both of whom released their first albums in 1976 — who usually get more credit from people like me than Heart for reasons that are far too complicated to unpack here and now.

“Crazy on You” performed live in 1977

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20. Certain Songs #585: Heart – “Even It Up”

heart even it up Album: Bebe Le Strange
Year: 1980

In 1980, we had one of the weirdest micro trends ever: established mainstream artists making their “New Wave” album. Which, depending on the artist, either meant replacing guitars with synths, or streamlining their sound somehow.

So within a few months, we got records like Alice Cooper’s Flush The Fashion, Billy Joel’s (yes really) Glass Houses (which had the execrable “It’s Still Rock ‘n’ Roll To Me”) and of course, Heart’s Bebe LeStrange.

Of course, listening to the great single from Bebe LeStrange, “Even It Up,” it now sounds like their concept of going “New Wave” mean trading Led Zeppelin IV for Sticky Fingers.

Which is fine, and probably why “Even It Up” spoke to me then and now: the chugging guitars, straight-ahead drum beat and even horns on the chorus are eternally up my alley, as are Ann Wilson’s tough vocals and even tougher lyric about a man who ain’t no magician.

Even it up, even it up, even it up
Even it up, even it up, even it up
A good man pays his debt
But you ain’t paid yours yet
Even it
Even it up

When doing research for this post, I went back a listened to a lot of the Heart singles that dominated the radio between “Crazy on You” and “Even It Up,” and I think I underrated them a bit. Obviously “Barracuda” is pretty great, but songs like “Kick it Out,” “Heartless,” and even the discofied “Straight On” are all more solid than I seem to remember.

And some of this could be that old devil nostalgia perched on my shoulder, my guess is that whatever good feelings I had about them at the time dissipated in the wake of their still-shitty overblown power ballad era.

Which is too bad: a string of singles that were tough lean rockers like “Even It Up,” would have been awesome but of course, it stalled at number 33, and they decided to take another route. Now, given that it’s perched between their early name-making singles and their 1980s commercial peak I even wonder if anybody who wasn’t listening to the radio in 1980 even remembers “Even It Up.

“Even It Up

Official video for “Even It Up”

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21. Certain Songs #587: Heavy D & The Boyz – “Gyrlz, They Love Me”

heavy d gyrlz Album: Big Tyme
Year: 1989

When people refer to the late 80s /early 90s as the “Golden Age” of Hip-Hop, I always wonder if that secretly means “when white indie-rock guys like me started listening to it.”

Certainly, the vast majority of hip-hop I’m writing about will come from that period, where even songs like this obvious LL Cool J rip loomed large.

When I came across “Gyrlz, They Love Me” on the MTV — probably on Yo! MTV Raps, but not necessarily — I was instantly attracted to its sparseness, big-ass hook and overall sense of play.

And even more importantly, how Heavy D turned what would be seen as his disadvantage — his size — into a strength. It’s all right there in the call-and-response chorus.

Gyrlz they, gyrlz they love me
(Cause he’s The Overweight Lover Heavy D!)
Gyrlz they, gyrlz they love me
(Cause he’s The Overweight Lover Heavy D!)

As if just by saying it, he would make it come true. Which, I have no doubt, he did, given the amazing amount of confidence he displays.

Basically, “Gyrlz They Love Me” is some serious game disguised as a novelty song.

Official Video for “Gyrlz, They Love Me”

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22. Certain Songs #586: The Headboys – “The Shape of Things To Come”

the headboys the shape of things to come Album: The Headboys
Year: 1979

It’s sometime in late 1979, I’m a senior in high school, and Fresno is blessed with a pretty great free-form rock station, KKDJ. While they weren’t playing straight out punk rock, they were playing everything else, depending on who the DJ was.

Which meant that at any time, I could turn on my radio and hear a song that made me wanna immediately run out and buy the album.

For example, “The Shape of Things To Come,” the almost-hit-single by Scotland’s The Headboys.

Combining new wave guitar and synths with a soaring power pop title chorus, “The Shape of Things To Come” was probably overproduced by half, maybe even three-quarters, but it didn’t even matter.

Sure, it wasn’t strictly necessary to have the synth swirling as they were building to the chorus, or to to have the two piano notes punctuate the massive “Uh-uh-oh, the shape of things to come!”, but it sure as hell worked.

And of course, they were somehow to take it even higher on the organ-drenched bridge:

You live in your dream
I’ll live in mine
Maybe tomorrow, we will collide

At that point they even added a cheesy sound effect under the word “collide,” but it didn’t even matter, because I was too busy shouting:

Uh-uh-oh, the shape of things to come!
Uh-uh-oh, the shape of things to come!
Uh-uh-oh, the shape of things to come!
Uh-uh-oh, the shape of things to come!

Of course, I ran out and bought the album, and while none of the songs were quite as transcendent as “The Shape of Things To Come,” I loved it at the time, and still do, even while acknowledging that maybe it hasn’t aged all that well.

Or maybe it has, as the half power pop / half new wave template seems to be a key influence to a lot of today’s indie rockers.

That said, as I was researching this piece, I discovered that they recorded a follow-up that got junked when they were dropped by RSO, but was released on 2013. I’ve since downloaded it from eMusic, and while it doesn’t seem to have any jams as good as “The Shape of Things to Come” my gut is that I would have enjoyed it as an honorable follow-up.

“The Shape of Things to Come”

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23. Certain Songs #586: The Headboys – “The Shape of Things To Come”

the headboys the shape of things to come Album: The Headboys
Year: 1979

It’s sometime in late 1979, I’m a senior in high school, and Fresno is blessed with a pretty great free-form rock station, KKDJ. While they weren’t playing straight out punk rock, they were playing everything else, depending on who the DJ was.

Which meant that at any time, I could turn on my radio and hear a song that made me wanna immediately run out and buy the album.

For example, “The Shape of Things To Come,” the almost-hit-single by Scotland’s The Headboys.

Combining new wave guitar and synths with a soaring power pop title chorus, “The Shape of Things To Come” was probably overproduced by half, maybe even three-quarters, but it didn’t even matter.

Sure, it wasn’t strictly necessary to have the synth swirling as they were building to the chorus, or to to have the two piano notes punctuate the massive “Uh-uh-oh, the shape of things to come!”, but it sure as hell worked.

And of course, they were somehow to take it even higher on the organ-drenched bridge:

You live in your dream
I’ll live in mine
Maybe tomorrow, we will collide

At that point they even added a cheesy sound effect under the word “collide,” but it didn’t even matter, because I was too busy shouting:

Uh-uh-oh, the shape of things to come!
Uh-uh-oh, the shape of things to come!
Uh-uh-oh, the shape of things to come!
Uh-uh-oh, the shape of things to come!

Of course, I ran out and bought the album, and while none of the songs were quite as transcendent as “The Shape of Things To Come,” I loved it at the time, and still do, even while acknowledging that maybe it hasn’t aged all that well.

Or maybe it has, as the half power pop / half new wave template seems to be a key influence to a lot of today’s indie rockers.

That said, as I was researching this piece, I discovered that they recorded a follow-up that got junked when they were dropped by RSO, but was released on 2013. I’ve since downloaded it from eMusic, and while it doesn’t seem to have any jams as good as “The Shape of Things to Come” my gut is that I would have enjoyed it as an honorable follow-up.

“The Shape of Things to Come”

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Certain Songs Spotify playlist
(It’s recommended that you listen to this on Spotify as their embed only has 200 songs.)

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24. Certain Songs #588: The Heptones – “Book of Rules”

heptones-book-of-rules-front Album: Book of Rules
Year: 1973

While The Harder They Come soundtrack has forever been touted as the essential reggae soundtrack compilation, the 1980 soundtrack to much-less-well-known Rockers was nearly as important to me.

And that’s just for a single song, The Heptones’ otherworldly “Book of Rules”

Definitely on the short list of the The Prettiest Song Ever Recorded, Reggae Division, “Book of Rules” is utterly, unapologetically religious. And like the best reggae songs is mysterious and powerful enough to convert a unreconstructed heathen like me.

Fronted by a bassline that would be the most memorable part of just about any other song and a piano holding down the fort in a deathless staccato riddim, “Book of Rules” features co-writer Barry Llewelyn exquisitely singing the lead:

Look when the rain has fallen from the sky
You know the sun will be only with us for a while

While common people like you and me
We’ll be builders for eternity
Each is given a bag of tools
A shapeless mass
And the book of rules

When the other Heptones come in on the second half of the chorus and go even higher on the wordless “Pow-wha-pow-pow-pow” harmonies that come after, you can hear Jah himself nodding his approval and maybe even singing along.

I don’t think I ever did get around to seeing Rockers.

Fan-made video for “Book of Rules”

Every Certain Song Ever
A filterable, searchable & sortable database with links to every “Certain Song” post I’ve ever written.

Check it out!

Certain Songs Spotify playlist
(It’s recommended that you listen to this on Spotify as their embed only has 200 songs.)

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Go to my Patreon page

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25. Certain Songs #588: The Heptones – “Book of Rules”

heptones-book-of-rules-front Album: Book of Rules
Year: 1973

While The Harder They Come soundtrack has forever been touted as the essential reggae soundtrack compilation, the 1980 soundtrack to much-less-well-known Rockers was nearly as important to me.

And that’s just for a single song, The Heptones’ otherworldly “Book of Rules”

Definitely on the short list of the The Prettiest Song Ever Recorded, Reggae Division, “Book of Rules” is utterly, unapologetically religious. And like the best reggae songs is mysterious and powerful enough to convert a unreconstructed heathen like me.

Fronted by a bassline that would be the most memorable part of just about any other song and a piano holding down the fort in a deathless staccato riddim, “Book of Rules” features co-writer Barry Llewelyn exquisitely singing the lead:

Look when the rain has fallen from the sky
You know the sun will be only with us for a while

While common people like you and me
We’ll be builders for eternity
Each is given a bag of tools
A shapeless mass
And the book of rules

When the other Heptones come in on the second half of the chorus and go even higher on the wordless “Pow-wha-pow-pow-pow” harmonies that come after, you can hear Jah himself nodding his approval and maybe even singing along.

I don’t think I ever did get around to seeing Rockers.

Fan-made video for “Book of Rules”

Every Certain Song Ever
A filterable, searchable & sortable database with links to every “Certain Song” post I’ve ever written.

Check it out!

Certain Songs Spotify playlist
(It’s recommended that you listen to this on Spotify as their embed only has 200 songs.)

Support “Certain Songs” with a donation on Patreon
Go to my Patreon page

The post Certain Songs #588: The Heptones – “Book of Rules” appeared first on Booksquare.

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