The 2017 Memorial Playlist
Welcome to the second annual year-end Memorial Playlist, a concept I shamelessly cribbed from a trainer friend of mine who creates them each year for her spin class. The concept is pretty straight-forward: make lemonade out of lemons by compiling a playlist of some of the artists who passed away during the year. Sadly, this year’s playlist is a Who’s Who of rock legends, from Chuck Berry to Gregg Allman to Tom Petty to Chris Cornell.
This playlist is available on Spotify.
Gregg Allman – “Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More.” I have to start with Gregg Allman. As I noted in a post to Fine Tuning Fans shortly after his death, I have seen the Allman Brothers Band live more times than any other band, including numerous shows at the Beacon Theater in New York City with my oldest friends. When I heard the news of Gregg’s passing, I immediately thought about those concerts, how I was transported far away from everyday existence, hovering over myself, feeling the music pour through me, utterly incredulous, exhausted when it ended. I thought about how music is much more than a way to block out inane conversations on the commute to work, or to fill an otherwise quiet house with sound while cooking dinner, or to help pass the hours of an endless road trip. At its best, music makes you feel fully present in the moment, mindful of your physical existence, and grateful to be alive. I thought about how the Allman Brothers conveyed to me that sense of unmitigated joy. And what a precious gift it was.
Tommy Keene — “In Our Lives.” I don’t know much about Tommy Keene other than that his 1986 album, Songs From The Film, for a time in high school was my favorite album. And there was a time in middle school and the beginning of high school when my best friend was a kid named Alex. Alex turned me on to Tommy Keene and so much other music on our trips down to the West Village where we would spend hours combing through record store bins. Alex made me a cassette tape of Songs From The Film that I still have. He copied the album on to one side of a 90-minute Memorex tape; R.E.M.’s Life’s Rich Pageant is copied on the other side. Alex’s beautiful calligraphy-like print adorns the cassette jacket. He was so passionate about music and one can sense the seriousness, the meticulousness, with which he approached his passion, in that exquisite penmanship, still perfectly maintained 30 years later.
When I heard Tommy Keene had died, I cued up Songs From The Film for the first time in decades and thought of Alex. Alex died of cancer in 2012 at the stunning age of 42. He and I spent so much time together listening to music, including to Songs From The Film. Listening to that record now, firmly rooted in mid-life, I am transported to a very innocent place, to the time just before Alex and I fell under the sway of the Replacements and other edgier bands with which we would soon identify. I smile at my 16-year-old self’s love of catchy pop tunes and I mourn for my best friend with whom I shared the sweetness of boyhood and the struggles of adolescence. Though we grew apart near the end of high school and lost touch afterwards, listening anew to Songs From The Film underscores for me how our friendship, forged in the most formative of years, is in large part the foundation of who I am.
[For a remembrance of Alex and the Replacements, click here.]
Tommy Keene — “Kill Your Sons.” Did I mention I love Keene’s Songs From The Film? I also love Lou Reed and this is a fantastic cover of a relatively obscure Lou Reed tune. Be sure to stick around for the rollicking guitar outro.
Tommy Keene — “As Life Goes By.” Too much? I don’t think so.
Chuck Berry – “Roll Over Beethoven.” What more can you say about Chuck Berry? It all started with him and that duck walk.
J. Geils — “Wait.” You can draw a straight line from Chuck Berry to so many artists that came after him, including the J. Geils Band, a preeminent rock and blues band long before “Freeze Frame” and “Centerfold.”
George Michael – “Father Figure.” Purists will note at least two things about this choice: First, George Michael died not in 2017, but in 2016, on Christmas Day no less; and second, George Michael is not a rock artist, but a pop icon. Both are true enough. But the 2016 Memorial Playlist dropped before he died, and I love George Michael even if he was a pop star. There, I said it. The shame I have carried with me since 1987 when I asked the hipster clerk at Tower Records for the 12-inch dance version of “I Want Your Sex” has melted away.
Butch Trucks — “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed.” Trucks was a drummer and founding member of the Allman Brothers Band. This track, devoid of lyrical interruptions, showcases as much as any, Trucks’ masterful craft, propelling the band forward.
Tom Petty — “The Waiting” (Live). One of the preeminent songwriters of our time, Petty never penned a tune that didn’t become a hit or at least have some memorable riff. Although I was not a huge fan, I, like many rock enthusiasts, know so many of his songs by heart. They are penetrating.
Fats Domino — “The Fat Man.” One of the originals. This track, released in 1949, was one of the first break-through rock ‘n roll records.
Malcolm Young — “The Jack.” Rhythm guitarist and songwriter for AC/DC. I selected this track, from the band’s first record, High Voltage, to showcase AC/DC’s roots in the blues. Everything comes from the blues!
Gord Downie — “Wheat Kings.” The creative force behind the Canadian rock band, The Tragically Hip. I am new to the Hip’s music, having recently been introduced to it by a friend, but this track is a keeper, for sure.
Grant Hart — “The Girl Who Lives on Heaven Hill.” Hart was the drummer in the 1980’s pioneering alternative rock band, Hüsker Dü, in which he also shared singing and songwriting duties with Bob Mould.
Walter Becker — “Pretzel Logic.” Guitarist, songwriter and sometimes bassist for Steely Dan. I have always liked this track. Again, everything starts from the blues, even Steely Dan’s funky, jazz-like aesthetic.
Pat DiNizio — “Blood and Roses.” Frontman for the Smithereens. The MTV generation knows (and even maybe loves) this band, notwithstanding they fell by the wayside with the advent of grunge.
Chris Cornell — “Fell on Black Days” (Live acoustic). The singer, rhythm guitarist and songwriter for Soundgarden, one of the seminal grunge bands of the 1990s. This track lays bares the demons that tragically consumed Cornell, causing him to take his life at the age of 52. The voice, the craftsmanship, the virtuosity, the darkness; they are all packed tight in this one. Take a moment to commune with it.
So there you have it. Fine Tuning’s fond farewell to 2017. Here’s wishing everyone a happy and healthy New Year filled with soul-affirming music.