Friday, April 28, 2017

Psychobabble’s 100 Favorite Guided by Voices Songs!

Thirty years ago, Robert Pollard’s Guided by Voices released their first album. This year, Pollard released his—brace yourself—100th album. Let that sink in for a second. That’s quite a discography for a schoolteacher from Dayton. Pollard recorded those 100 albums with and without GBV, but today, we’re just going to focus on his biggest claim to cult fame, because even I could not keep up with every single release by Go Back Snowball, Lifeguards, Boston Spaceships, Circus Devils, and whatever other Pollard side projects have slipped through my grasp. Hell, I can’t even keep up with Guided by Voices anymore, so you may notice that this list only extends to the end of Guided by Voices’ first official run in 2004. Plus, anything later than that violates Psychobabble’s unbreakable retro code. As you will see, there was still plenty to choose from amongst the countless albums, EPs, singles, and compilations released during their first two decades. As you will also see, I am no GBV snob. I love the fan-fave lo-fi stuff as much as I love the fan-loathed hi-fi stuff, so maybe you should brace yourself for that too. So here goes Psychobabble’s very personal and subjective 100 Favorite Guided by Voices Songs!

100. “Land of Danger” (from Forever Since Breakfast)

We begin our blatant doom trip with an appropriate number since “Land of Danger” is the very first track on Guided by Voice’s very first release. Or is it appropriate? After all, these masters of mixing their multitudinous influences are really just aping R.E.M. on “Land of Danger”. Don’t mistake that for bad news, though, because R.E.M. is awesome and Guided by Voices supply one of the catchiest, most powerful R.E.M. songs that R.E.M. never got to supply themselves.

99. “Perhaps We Were Swinging” (from Hardcore UFOs)

While “Land of Danger” finds early GBV in unusually hi-fi territory, “Perhaps We Were Swinging” swings on more familiar ground. Clearly a Pollard demo rather than a proper band recording (a detail relevant to those who subscribe to the theory that Pollard is not Guided by Voices), this tune recorded around the time of the first GBV album is enchanting in its lonesome, echoing texture and a rather beautiful early indication of what a fine songwriter Robert Pollard is.

98. “Scissors and the Clay Ox (in)” (from Suitcase)

With this Bee Thousand outtake, we’re in true GBV country. With its British Invasion bounce, more-than-Bob arrangement (Hi there, Tobe!), wacky lyricism, and 60-Minute-TDK-cassette-fidelity, the kooky yet totally accessible “Scissors and the Clay Ox (in)” encapsulates the core sounds of Guided by Voices.

97. “#2 in the Model Home Series” (from Vampire on Titus)

However, there is darkness to be found in this Land of Danger too. Intense, minimalistic, incessant—“#2 in the Model Home Series” builds to a psychotic mantra pulled from a serial killer’s marble notebook. “My favorite son has found my gun. My favorite son has found my gun. And now the fun begins, and now the fun begins, and now the fun begins.” It’s not all sunny nonsense with these guys.

96. “Beekeeper Seeks Ruth” (from Sunfish Holy Breakfast)

And here’s another mantra, but unlike the terrifying one of “#2 in the Model Home Series”, the refrain of “Beekeeper Seeks Ruth” is uplifting in both meaning and delivery. Soar away as Pollard chants “The flying party is here.” As fine as the world’s finest paramount pyramid.

95. “Wrecking Now” (from Do the Collapse)

Do the Collapse is the most divisive Guided by Voices disc— the album that unveiled a totally hi-fi band with a hi-fi producer (Rik Ocasek) and songs that finally sounded ready for primetime. The album’s most controversial track, the Lennonesque “Hold on Hope”, was even featured on the primetime sitcom Scrubs. Ex-fans who hate that track failed to recognize how its subversively strange bridges undercut the power-ballad sentiments of its refrain. Perhaps such fans find “Wrecking Now” a more agreeable ballad with its infectious, descending arpeggios and Bob’s effectively emotionally wrecked delivery.

94. “Hank’s Little Fingers” (from Devil Between My Toes)

Perhaps Liz Phair is the only other pop artist as adept with a childlike ditty as Guided by Voices, but she tends to crib melodies from actual playground chants. Pollard’s “Hank’s Little Fingers” is completely original, though you can imagine a circle of kids singing this sweet tune together while hanging off monkey bars on a summer day. The lyrics sound like they were written by kids too, and I mean that in the most complimentary way.

93. “Mushroom Art” (from Do the Collapse)

Back to doing the collapse, Bob once again sounds in a weary state that belies the sad circumstances of which he sings. Straightforward sentiments of despair (“Living without you is difficult”) mingle with sheer surrealism (“A bejeweled crow on a quilted tent; yea at the zenith, our dead dreams awake). Despair prevails, making the lurching “Mushroom Art” a halting emotional experience.

92. “Kicker of Elves” (from Bee Thousand)

“Kicker of Elves” probably sums up what the fans who balked about the TVT era were missing. This maniacal miniature seems to thumb its elfin schnoz at pop conventions by barely crossing the two-minute barrier with a strange arrangement of acoustic guitar and kick drum and a lyric about abusing Santa’s helpers. It’s still as purely pop as anything on “The White Album”. 

91. “An Earful o’ Wax” (from Self-Inflicted Aerial Nostalgia)

Guided by Voices did not wait until the major label/major studio era to go epic. Just dig that wailing wind-through-the-hair guitar solo that finishes “An Earful O’ Wax”. The bonus psychedelic bridge in which Bob’s voice is run through a Leslie speaker (or chorus pedal) is pretty fab too.

90. “Melted Pat” (from Get Out of My Stations)

Another schoolyard ditty for deranged children, or perhaps clinically maniacal Beatlemaniacs, “Melted Pat” is a tune that sounds like it should have existed for decades before it appeared on the Get Out of My Stations EP in 1994.

89. “Wished I Was a Giant” (from Vampire on Titus)

Guided by Voices begin the doomy, dissonant, and scaled-down Vampire on Titus with an anthem as big as “An Earful O’ Wax”. The pounding drums send Pollard into a Daltrey-inspired shouting and hooting frenzy as “Wished I Was a Giant” reaches its gigantic climax.

88. “Cheyenne” (from Universal Truths and Cycles)

Big is also the operative word when discussing the scenic travelogue “Cheyenne”. Bob’s voice and the mesh of chiming guitars are the track’s most audacious elements, but the subtle bells that color the bridge are also integral to its sublime balance of power and beauty.

87. “Chasing Heather Crazy” (from Isolation Drills)

A masterful piece of large-scale pop that travels seamlessly between its contrasting arpeggiated and strutting rhythms, “Chasing Heather Crazy” is a prime exhibit of how much Bob is in control of his traditional song craft. 

86. “Esther’s Day” (from Bee Thousand)

Robert Pollard has been Guided by Voices’ most consistent and crucial element, but here’s some proof that he alone is not Guided by Voices. Tobin Sprout is the band’s second-most prominent member, and his delicate voice and way with melody is on gut-wrenching display on the exquisite “Esther’s Day”. The second verse cuts through the seemingly random surrealism with images of escape in flying cars, and the pitch Tobin hits while harmonizing with himself make it truly transcendent.

85. “Underwater Explosions” (from Under the Bushes, Under the Stars)

Transcendence is also in the cards with the bubbly pop of “Underwater Explosions”. Had this been released as a single in 1966, it would have been a massive hit… well, maybe after a bit of a studio buff and polish.

84. “A Visit to the Creep Doctor” (from Sandbox)

Having recorded millions of songs, it’s little surprise that Guided by Voices have their share of excellent riffs in their catalogue. Perhaps the most severely rocking one is the nagging, ascending riff that gives lift to “A Visit to the Creep Doctor”. Kevin Fennell’s Moon-struck drumming is killer too. 

83. “Can’t Stop” (from Sandbox)

Another forceful rocker from Guided by Voices’ sophomore LP, “Can’t Stop” slips between attitudinal verses and hypnotically unspooling choruses unstoppably.

82. “Skills Like This” (from Isolation Drills)

While we stomp through GBV’s Big-Rock Realm, we cannot ignore the metallic crunch of “Skills Like This”, the most sinister and uncompromising slab of hard rock from their major label/studio era. I wish I woke up with skills like this.

81. “Stabbing a Star” (from Sunfish Holy Breakfast)

Rally the troops and hand them all 4-light-year-long stilettos. Then they too can be like Bob and stab the nearest star. An anthem for the impossible sounds completely possible when played with such fearless vigor.

80. “Tobacco’s Last Stand” (from Suitcase)

Then comes resignation. A lovely song about a weary lack of communication (“You’re coming through like weird electric jive…”). It meanders a bit. Pollard reaches for a just-out-of-reach climax. Then watch it all burn, baby, burn.

79. “If We Wait” (from Sunfish Holy Breakfast)

Then he dips into the closet for a second before popping back out in iconic white gown and blonde wig. Robert Pollard said he was channeling Marilyn Monroe’s “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” serenade when he sang “If We Wait”, and there is a feminine, feline sexiness that offsets the lyric’s despair and self-doubt. Perhaps he was taking a cue from his idol Roger Daltrey, who’d often adopt bizarre poses when singing unusual material, as when he pretended to be Burl Ives to find the right voice for “Happy Jack”!

78. “A Crick Uphill” (from Hold on Hope)

A bit of Christian imagery from a guy who once said “my religion is rock” (we belong to the same congregation, Bob). Is this a sincere plea to the bearded magician who could turn a bottle of Poland Spring into Blue Nun? That’s certainly a trick Pollard would appreciate, but I like to think he’s just playing with words when asking Jesus to give him strength and blow some life into him. The repeated refrain is as infectious as a dose of the clap.

77. “Old Battery” (from Devil Between My Toes)

The first track on the first proper Guided by Voices LP gets things off to a rousing start both rhythmically and lyrically. “To heal you, we have love. To heal you we have love.” A lovely sentiment.

76. “Sometimes I Cry” (from Forever Since Breakfast)

Then walk it back a bit to that debut EP and GBV’s “I think I’m R.E.M.” personality crisis. Again… so what? The stormy “Sometimes I Cry” is the best track Mike, Mike, Peter, and Bill forgot to put on Murmur.

75. “Mix Up the Satellite” (from Earthquake Glue)

Celestial dreaminess sits on one seat of the seesaw. Gales of Who-like power sit on the other. “Mix Up the Satellite” wants to be both beautiful and ferocious. It gets to have its star-speckled cake and eat it too.

74. “Girls of Wild Strawberries” (from Half Smiles of the Decomposed)

Inspired by the beauty of Bibi Andersson and Ingrid Thulin in Bergman’s atypically heart-warming classic, Bob wrote a rapturous cha-cha-cha every bit as sweet and sincere as Wild Strawberries.

73. “Christian Animation Torch Carriers” (from Universal Truths and Cycles)

On the other side of that “Crick Uphill”, Robert Pollard seems to be questioning those who hide in that shallow hole that faith makes safe. The track builds to a hurricane pitch, inspiring believers and nonbelievers alike to hoist torches and Rolling Rocks in unity.

72. “Everybody Thinks I’m a Raincloud (When I’m Not Looking)” (from Half Smiles of the Decomposed)

Guided by Voices began the final statement of their first full phase with one of those throbbing anthems they do so effortlessly. This track makes me so crazy I want to tear my hair out.

71. “Shrine to the Dynamic Years” (from Suitcase)

Arising from a whisper and barely a sliver of melody, “Shrine to the Dynamic Years” explodes into a head-banging chorus as catchy as the shiniest Pollard pop. That chorus could be spliced onto the sound of a lawnmower running out of gas and “Shrine to the Dynamic Years” would still deserve a place on this list.

70. “Watch Me Jumpstart” (from Alien Lanes)

An essential anthem for jumpstarting concerts and Alien Lanes alike. A rhythm that grabs your head and forces it to nod in time. A chorus that demands you shout along through mouthfuls of Milwaukee’s Best.

69. “My Kind of Soldier” (from Earthquake Glue)

Bob’s lascivious gaze at a woman in cut-off Army fatigues birthed a sweet song divorced from its somewhat creepy origins. I love the way Tim Tobias’s bass climbs up on the track’s shoulders after each chorus.

68. “It’s Like Soul Man” (from Under the Bushes, Under the Stars)

Another contribution from Tobin Sprout, and “It’s Like Soul Man” is as boisterous as “Esther’s Day” is placid. Tobe pushes his little voice to extremes to shout above GBV’s soulful boom, and the effect is endearing and invigorating.

67. “Shocker in Gloomtown” (from The Grand Hour)

Like “Get Off Of My Cloud”, “Shocker in Gloomtown” gets its hook from the drums, but the lurching guitar rhythms that drive the verses are just as fierce. Bob also gets off one of his most grin-inducing lyrics in the final verse.

66. “Useless Inventions” (from Earthquake Glue)

As uplifting as a hot air balloon and as weighty as a lead zeppelin, “Useless Inventions” is a smashing rocker with an unusually direct and insightful lyric about our tendency to fill the voids in our lives with stupid devices and doodads.

65. “Back to Saturn X” (from Hardcore UFOs)

Heavier still is this bone-pulverizing riff recorded in 1990. That it is unusually long and repetitious doesn’t matter. You could listen to it to Saturn and back and it would never get old… at least not for Ethyl.

64. “No Sky” (from Under the Bushes, Under the Stars)

As we continue with matters skyward, there’s this expansive piece from Under the Bushes, Under the Stars. With its bright blue washes of guitar and Pollard’s to-the-heavens vocal, “No Sky” delivers the opposite of its title.

63. “Hey, Hey, Spaceman” (from Devil Between My Toes)

Higher in that sky whirrs the tiny UFO of a jolly spaceman. Unapologetically catchy and cheerful in throughout, and packing a message of simple pleasures and serious camaraderie, “Hey, Hey Spaceman” is pure joy (and I suspect, the fruits of spinning The Byrds’ “Mr. Spaceman”). Let’s go!

62. “Redmen and Their Wives” (from Under the Bushes, Under the Stars)

While “Hey, Hey Spaceman” is as instantly gratifying as pop gets, “Redmen and Their Wives” is the definitive slow burn, and it may take quite a few spins for its gloriousness to sink in. When it does, its strength and intensity are unshakable.

61. “Twilight Campfighter” (from Isolation Drills)

A crystalline guitar arpeggio gives way to a swooning, free floating rhythm that the melody dances around like sunlight glinting off of a campground lake. For a guy who often gets called out for spewing surreal nonsense, Bob once again lays down a lyric full of quiet desperation and insight…

60. “Quality of Armour” (from Propeller)

…and then he taps into the primal euphoria of Rock & Roll. Car songs represent escape and freedom, and Bob Pollard has written some of the great ones, as we will see again much, much farther down this list. But for now let’s soak in “Quality of Armour” and its almost idiotically rudimentary yet universally accessible chant: “Oh yeah, I’m gonna drive my car. Oh yeah, I’m gonna go real far.” I call shotgun.

59. “Bulldog Skin” (from Mag Earwhig!)

Here’s another simple sentiment couched in deceptive word salad. As its title implies, “Bulldog Skin” is about standing up to the odds. It’s also Guided by Voices’ most upfront Rolling Stones homage. Notice how it also quotes from the previous song on the list (and no, I did not juxtapose them for that reason).

58. “The Hard Way” (from Same Place the Fly Got Smashed)

You need bulldog skin when you do everything the hard way. One of the most free-faced tracks on Same Place the Fly Gets Smashed maintains that album’s grim and cynical attitude but the fists-forward beat is inspiring and its chorus as sweet as a Rocket Pop on a summer day.

57. “Drag Days” (from Under the Bushes, Under the Stars)

Music and message lock in more obviously on the rhythm dragging “Drag Days”. Yet it maintains GBV’s inspiring melodiousness and lifts its gaze away from its shoes as it hurls into its hopeful and conclusion: those drag days will turn around. Thanks, Bob.

56. “Indian Was an Angel” (from King Shit and the Golden Boys)

An exercise in how an indecipherable lyric can still accompany an absolutely tear-jerking song, “Indian Was an Angel” is seemingly nonsensical but so excruciatingly lovely it will stop your heart.

55. “I Am a Scientist” (from Bee Thousand)

Bob’s statement of purpose. Rock & Roll is his science and he is a scientist. He is an incurable, which is why there are so many great songs on this list and so many others beyond these 100. He is addicted to creating so much wonderful music, but he is also creating it for us. Thanks again, Bob.

54. “Queen of Cans and Jars” (from Bee Thousand)

A melody that sounds like the first phrase of every line is missing skates on an infinite riff. Gorgeous lack of fidelity.

53. “Always Crush Me” (from Alien Lanes)

Another incessant riff, but whereas the one that drives “Queen of Cans and Jars” glows with high-pitched cheer, the one that clangs behind “Always Crush Me” glowers and broods. As dark as Guided by Voices gets. Bob’s bug-eyed delivery of the final chorus makes my eyes bug out.

52. “Sleep Over Jack” (from Half Smiles of the Decomposed)

Guided by Voices dress up in flower-pot hats and yellow coveralls and imagine how they would have sounded as an eighties New Wave combo. Chris Slusarenko’s slippery, sliddery bass line is one for the ages. Also “You’re gonna fuck up my makeup/you’re gonna make up my fuck up” is a great line.

51. “Gold Star for Robot Boy” (from Bee Thousand)

A deluxe toy robot busts out of its crate and rampages through the room in a pop frenzy. We’re left dazed and confused, but with smiles wider than the galaxy on our faces.

50. “Local Mix-Up/Murder Charge” (from Same Place the Fly Got Smashed)

The black, bottomless pit at the core heart of Same Place the Fly Got Smashed s. The longest Guided by Voices track is unrelenting in its bleakness, describing booze-blurred scenes of depravity and ennui. Bob’s voice goes from lifeless to mocking to feral, and it is chilling. The electrifying conclusion.

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49. “Navigating Flood Regions” (from Self-Inflicted Aerial Nostalgia)

A rudimentary two-note riff and all bottles in the room are hoisted. Guided by Voices continually prove that a band does not need high fidelity to make anthemic recordings. “Navigating Flood Regions” is as huge as “Kashmir” and on 1/8 of the budget.

48. “Lord of Overstock” (from Under the Bushes, Under the Stars)

Another great GBV anthem and one with an even more marvelously dragging rhythm than that of “Drag Days”. Big Rock in slow motion so you can really enjoy every note.

47. “Blimps Go 90” (from Alien Lanes)

Bob paints a picture of some sort of bizarre turn of the century rally in which chaps with handlebar mustaches and arm garters race dirigibles with impeccable sportsmanship. A charming, brotherly song and Greg Demos’s violin contributes immeasurably to the olde timey atmosphere.

46. “Captain’s Dead” (from Devil Between My Toes)

Robert Pollard loves The Who, and one of the best reminders of this is “Captain’s Dead” with Peyton Eric’s Keith Moon-mania drumming and Bob’s placid Who Sell Out-style harmonies. I love The Who too and I love “Captain’s Dead”, which brings the first GBV LP to a thunderous close.

45. “Office of Hearts” (from Under the Bushes, Under the Stars)

Under the Bushes, Under the Stars-proper ends with one of those euphoric repeated refrains that could go on forever. Actually, it ends with two as Tobe churns out “He sits down and circulates” while Bob lays over “Come feel the softest parts, the office of hearts.” A perfect finale to a great, great album (at least until we get to those amazing bonus tracks).

44. “How Loft I Am?” (from Same Place the Fly Got Smashed)

The bitterest GBV album ends with one of the sweetest GBV tracks. The distraught drunk of Same Place the Fly Got Smashed finally hits rock bottom... then lifts off to the Great Celestial Resting Place in the Sky, elevated on the angelic wings of this Buddy Holly-indebted gem.

43. “Huffman Prairie Flying Field” (from Half Smiles of the Decomposed)

And yet another final track, and one that was to draw the curtain on Guided by Voices’ career when it finished Half Smiles of the Decomposed. Perhaps it is this distinction that always affects me so much when I hear “Huffman Prairie Flying Field”, because despite the fact that Guided by Voices had since returned in full force, I still get choked up whenever I hear that final round of “Before too long…” An emotion-grabbing end of an era.

42. “Cut Out Witch” (from Under the Bushes, Under the Stars)

Can a riff be evil? There is something insidious in the way that descending three-note lick enters, gradually speeding up to a demonic frenzy as “Cut Out Witch” races into its fang-baring chorus. Was witchcraft used to conjure something so evil? I’d like to think so.

41. “Echos Myron” (from Bee Thousand)

From the terror of a Halloween night to the brilliant joy of unwrapping a new toy on Christmas morning. Had The Beatles started taking acid in 1963, they probably would have included something like “Echos Myron” on their second album. Shit yeah, that’s cool.

40. “Big School” (from Static Airplane Jive)

Don’t blame me. Blame GBV for forcing me to overuse the words “anthem” and “anthemic.” Sometimes there’s no getting around that word when the band populates their endless discography with tracks like “Watch Me Jumsptart”, “Navigating Flood Regions”, and “Big School”. This one is an anthem for pep rallies and Rock & Roll High School-style school detonations alike.

39. “I Can See It in Your Eyes” (from Suitcase)

With its roiling rhythms, syrupy harmonies, and angelic “Bah, bah” choruses, “I Can See It in Your Eyes” recalls The Who at their sweetest. Think of it as GBV’s “So Sad About Us”, which sounds pretty marvelous to me.

38. “Weed King” (from Propeller)

Then think a bit on “Weed King”. Consider its air of pot-wreaking denim, its atmosphere of a late-night D&D session, its lighters-aloft Laserarium climax. “Weed King” is like a two minute, forty-second distillation of the geekiest, freakiest seventies signifiers. The way Bob’s voice drops in pitch at the end of the track will make you feel like you just took a couple hits of Orange Sunshine at a Yes concert.

37. “Dragons Awake!” (from Do the Collapse)

More geeky sorcery is afoot in the beautiful “Dragon’s Awake”. Strings glide over a heartily strummed guitar while Bob does his impression of Paul McCartney singing excerpts from a psychotic’s mash note. Softer tits will greet you, indeed.

36. “Dodging Invisible Rays” (from Tigerbomb)

More elatedly spinning than a merry-go-round, “Dodging Invisible Rays” is as intoxicating, as love-inspiring as pop gets. If I ran into Tobin Sprout after hearing this song, I would not be able to restrain myself from throwing my arms around him.

35. “Exit Flagger” (from Propeller)

Bob’s sloppy drumming does nothing to hold back the uncontainable thrust of this Rock & Roll racer. It’s like a Formula One car blasting off the track and jetting to the moon.

34. “Little Lines” (from Mag Earwhig!)

Let’s keep that high going with this gnarly head banger busting with mullet-headed, devil-horn-waving attitude. If all metal sounded half as fierce as “Little Lines”, I’d like metal a lot more.

33. “My Son Cool” (from Alien Lanes)

“My Son Cool” would be a bracing track under any circumstances, but knowing that Bob wrote it as a valentine to his own son makes it 100 times more affecting.

32. “My Impression Now” (from Fast Japanese Spin Cycles)

Bob fights to formulate his own philosophy amidst a hail of unworkable and unrealistic ideas and creates one of the key Guided by Voices concert staples. “My Impression now” is a flawless piece of power pop… and the band buried it on an EP very few people have ever heard! That there is evidence of an abundance of quality material.

31. “Chief Barrel Belly” (from Self-Inflicted Aerial Nostalgia)

More metal GBV style. On “Chief Barrel Belly”, they channel the plodding power of Black Sabbath on the verses, while the chorus has a standing-on-the-edge-of-a-cliff-wailing-on-a-Les-Paul majesty that is less easy to trace to a specific source. It is thrilling though.

30. “Strumpet Eye” (from Do the Collapse)

Nonsense and extreme tunefulness collide into a ball of irresistible power pop. Terrifically chirpy background vocals and massive might whenever the bass and drums kick in.

29. “Secret Star” (from Earthquake Glue)

Another rare GBV epic, “Secret Star” twists and winds mercurially nearly to the five minute mark. It is an enchanting patchwork of elements: a forceful cha-cha rhythm, celestial imagery, a lengthy breakdown sprinkled with glittering cosmic debris, and a whipping  of chords that takes us through the show-stopping conclusion.

28. “Perch Warble” (from Suitcase 2)

Some riffs are so perfect they don’t need more two notes. “Perch Warble” is a chugging rocker available in a lo-fi version on the first Suitcase box  and a slightly less lo-fi yet speedier version on the second Suitcase. Both will get your neck nodding in time, but I think I prefer the sequel.

27. “Fair Touching” (from Isolation Drills)

Guided by Voices bash out an eardrum-shredding jangle on the enveloping opening track of Isolation Drills. Maybe they repeat the chorus a few too many times. If you’d ever written a chorus like this one, you wouldn’t know when to stop playing it either.

26. “I Am a Tree” (from Mag Earwhig!)

Doug Gillard gets to slip a track onto his first album with Guided by Voices and ends up contributing what may be the most popular thing on Mag Earwhig! Yes, the metaphor is a tad heavy handed and certainly not the kind of thing Bob would have written, but few pop songs will get under your bark like “I Am a Tree”.

25. “Dorothy’s a Planet” (from Suitcase)

I can picture Pollard sitting at the edge of his bed with nothing but his acoustic guitar, a cheap Tascam, and some lyrics scrawled on a piece of note paper. I imagine he then tossed the tape on a pile with all of the other songs he’d written that day, leaving “Dorothy’s a Planet” there until he finally dusted it off for inclusion on Suitcase, like an archaeologist digging up a rare, exquisite, yet roughhewn gem.

25. “Things I Will Keep” (from Do the Collapse)

If Peter Gabriel-era Genesis tried to write a compact, catchy, Beatlesque-pop number, they may have created something similar to “Things I Will Keep”. If that doesn’t sound appealing to you, you probably won’t like Guided by Voices at all and your name most certainly is not Robert Pollard.

23. “Chicken Blows” (from Alien Lanes)

If The Beatles tried to write a song after taking sixty hits of acid, they probably would have created something similar to “Chicken Blows”. Despite a title that sounds like some sort of disgusting, poultry-based method of vomiting, this track is a magical, beautiful, and very warped psychedelic ballad. The “oh, la-la-las” are so Beatlesque I’m always sure that there is an actual Beatles song with the same exact kind of “oh, la la la’s,” but there isn’t. Bob beat them too it.

23. “Buzzards and Dreadful Crows” (from Bee Thousand)

Pollard’s miniature monster movie. He blasts flames from eye sockets emptied by the title birds’ beaks. Guided by Voices’ slam out a metallic horror show behind him. As galvanizing as the Frankenstein Monster getting blasted in the electrodes.

21. “Surgical Focus” (from Do the Collapse)

More mad science is at work on this velvety pop procedure from Do the Collapse. All the drifting bliss of a heavy dose of anesthesia without any of the risk of croaking on the table.

20.  The Closets of Henry” (from Half Smiles of the Decomposed)

Strap your bones to something solid, because there are about to have the marrow rattled out of them. One of Guided by Voices’ most shattering Who tributes appeared on their “final” album, and it is as existentially stirring as anything on Quadrophenia.

19. “Game of Pricks (7” Version)” (from Tigerbomb)

A lo-fi to hi-fi transformation does no disservice to one of the catchiest nuggets on Alien Lanes. A candy shell of sweet melody and crisp production contain a bitter core that blasts liars and knife-wielding pricks.

18. “Glad Girls” (from Isolation Drills)

Robert Pollard constructs a chorus as solid as the foundation of the Empire State Building and hammers it home without respite. Guided by Voices at their bounciest and their lustiest.

17. “Closer You Are” (from Alien Lanes)

The way Bob rolls that tongue-twisting opening lyrics off his tongue with effortless aplomb is irresistible. So is the rest of this biting sing-along.

16. “When She Turns 50” (from Same Place the Fly Got Smashed)

So far we have heard numerous examples of what a superior pop songsmith Robert Pollard is. “When She Turns 50” suggests that there is something even finer at work in the mind of that middle-aged ex-elementary school teacher. With its fluid, complex, almost jazz-like chord phrasing, complimentary melody, and evocative and poetic lyric, “When She Turns 50” could have been a standard in the Cole Porter sense. This is masterful, moving songwriting. Period.

15. “My Valuable Hunting Knife (7” Version)” (from Tigerbomb)

But let’s not diminish the impact of a great old pop song too much. Like “Game of Pricks”, “My Valuable Hunting Knife” is another simple yet magnificently conceived Alien Lanes number that gets extra lift from its high-gloss presentation on the Tigerbomb EP. Wrist restraints will not keep you from clapping along.

14. “Smothered in Hugs” (from Bee Thousand)

With their little four-track cassette recorder, Guided by Voices create the sound of the Earth collapsing below your feet. A smothering, overwhelming noise engulfs Pollard’s sneering vocal. It’s like being bear-hugged by sound. In mono.

13. “Over the Neptune/Mesh Gear Fox” (from Propeller)

Now the concert kicks into high gear. The crowd chants for their favorite band. The band promises to rock, then reneges, then delivers on the original promise ten-fold. “Over the Neptune” is big stadium rock— Wings’ “Rock Show” updated for 1992. Then the flaming stage lights dim, lasers sweep over the crowd, illuminating the tufts of fragrant smoke floating overhead. “Mesh Gear Fox” slows the show to a trippy crawl, and you can practically hear the fans oohing and ahhing in bloodshot concurrence.

12. “Sensational Gravity Boy” (from Briefcase)

Jesus, what were those guys thinking? They didn’t even put this sensational Under the Bushes outtake on the widely available Suitcase! You had to dig up the limited-edition distillation Briefcase to hear one of GBV’s most enthralling poppers… and Kim Deal chiming in under the sensational chorus.

11. “Pendulum” (from Same Place the Fly Got Smashed)

The poppiest thing on Same Place is not spared that album’s desolation. Bob reaches a crazed peak with his out-of-range vocal (the arduous recoding of which was captured on video and patched into the fascinating “documentary” Some Drinking Implied). The bittersweet flavor is as rich and intoxicating as dark-chocolate floating in grain alcohol.

10. “As We Go Up, We Go Down” (from Alien Lanes)

Another perfect blend of darkness and light—an imminently hummable tune tarted up with one of Pollard’s most misanthropic lines (“I speak in monotone, leave my fucking life alone”). The loping rhythm lifts you up and drags you down. The concluding chorus should loop forever.

9. “I’ll Replace You with Machines” (from Earthquake Glue)

Another overwhelming production, but one that comes from the band’s pro-studio phase rather than the on-the-cheap era of “Smothered in Hugs”. Todd Tobias brings life to the grinding gears and puffing steam valves the lyric suggests. Bob’s touching solo voice and guitar demo uncovers the beautiful song underneath the industrial din.

8. “Harboring Exiles” (from Hardcore UFOs)

This Self-Inflected Aerial Nostalgia outtake had to wait more than a decade for release, coming out in 2003 on Hardcore UFOs. Perhaps this rubbery piece of power pop perfection wasn’t released in 1989 because it sounds too much like the biggest hit of 1965 that never was.

7. “Taco, Buffalo, Birddog, and Jesus” (from Suitcase)

GBV recorded the dreamy and moving “Taco, Buffalo, Birddog, and Jesus” for the scrapped Learning to Hunt album, and while lesser songs like “The Qualifying Remainder” and “Slopes of Big Ugly” didn’t have to wait long for release on Self-Inflicted Aerial Nostalgia, this one had to wait eleven years. “Taco, Buffalo, Birddog, and Jesus” deserves to be dug out of the Suitcase and seated amongst GBV’s best-loved songs, and not just because it has the greatest title in the history of song titles. The way Kevin Fennell sweeps the bridge back into the verse sweeps my heart right along with it.

6. “Running off with the Fun City Girls” (from Mag Earwhig! Japanese Bonus Tracks)

Here’s another crazy example of Guided by Voices sidelining their prime material. Initially only available as a bonus track on the Japanese edition of Mag Earwhig!, “Running off with the Fun City Girls” is a sharp lyric in the “She’s Leaving Home” vein and a crunching performance. A crocodile can’t bite and snap the way that bass line bites and snaps.

5. “Teenage FBI” (from Do the Collapse)

Mr. Pollard digs for gold in class, the students catch him, and a modern classic comes flooding out of his nose. Psychobabble loves Do the Collapse. Psychobabble just has to spin whenever “Teenage FBI” gets it started. I’d be picking my nose in public from dawn to dusk if I thought it might inspire something like this. 

4. “Jane of the Waking Universe” (from Mag Earwhig!)

A musical rocket ship, a rainbow arc to the stars, another transcendent capsule of melody, harmonies, and guitars. I’m starting to run out of descriptors, but not adoration of Guided by Voices’ way with a gloriously simple pop tune.

3. “Don’t Stop Now” (from Under the Bushes, Under the Stars)

Bob’s “Ballad of Guided by Voices” is full of inside references (Big Daddy is the cock of the block on the cover of Devil Between My Toes), lighters-in-the-air atmosphere, and mounting power. Guided by Voices expand their voice to let in some chugging cello and echoing accordion. A plea to keep the music coming, and as we near the end of this list, we need it now the most.

2. “Tractor Rape Chain” (from Bee Thousand)

Need more songs? Take this marvel of Townshend-style chording and evasive meaning. Is “Tractor Rape Chain” is an evocation of environmental destruction—heavy machinery tearing up the land—or the collapse of a relationship? The savviest writers allow their songs mean whatever means most to you. No matter Bob’s intention, ”Tractor Rape Chain” is sad and lovely and a chorus to make your heart heavy and burst…

1. “Auditorium/Motor Away” (from Alien Lanes)

…then off it speeds! Heavy machinery tears up the road. Escape. Rock & Roll storming from the AM/FM. The dream of freedom championed by Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, The Beach Boys, The Who, and every other rocker who ever sang the praises of four wheels and a full tank of gas. And there’s no way to turn the ignition of “Motor Away” without using the snappy, suspense-ridden “Auditorium” as the key. Turn it and take off. In the words of Bob Pollard in Guided by Voices: A Brief History: “Motor away, man. See ya!”

See ya.

...And happy birthday, Tobin Sprout!
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