Go Solo

Several years ago, while at a party, a friend of mine remarked that musicians tend to fare better once they go solo after having been in a band. I think his statement was something like, “I should just go solo; everybody does better once they go solo.” This prompted us to start listing examples and counter examples. It dominated the conversation at that party and well beyond.

Recently, while attempting to bring some order to the files on an old hard drive, I found the list we made and was again amused. Since I now have a blog, I can post it here! And hopefully the comments feature will allow the list to grow.

I’ve added my current commentary in brackets.

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First, the rules we gradually established were:

  • The band cannot have contained the solo artist’s name (e.g. Paul Simon / Simon & Garfunkel doesn’t count)
  • The band must have temporally preceded the solo career (e.g. George Harrison / Traveling Wilburys doesn’t count)
  • Solo career means solo MUSIC career (e.g. Keanu Reeves / Dogstar doesn’t count)
  • Solo career also means SOLO career (e.g. Cracker / Camper Van Beethoven doesn’t count)
  • Success/popularity is measured by record sales (I’ve been using the RIAA database to figure gold/platinum sales — thanks, Eric [Roston, I assume? Also, this database seems a lot crappier for doing this kind of research now.])

Where there has been controversy, I’ve relayed the RIAA stats as the ratio of the number of solo records that went either gold or platinum to the number of band records that did.

[Additionally, I’ve now italicized examples on this list I find highly suspect, but that, due to the aforementioned crappification of the RIAA database, I am too lazy to do the math for.]

Ryan Adams (Whiskey Town)
Beyonce (Destiny’s Child)
Bjork (The Sugarcubes)
Bobby Brown (New Edition)
Busta Rhymes (Leaders of the New School)
David Cassidy (The Partridge Family)
Nick Cave (The Birthday Party)
Eric Clapton (Cream)
George Clinton (Parliament Funkadelic)
Phil Collins (Genesis)
Dr. Dre (NWA)
Danny Elfman (Oingo Boingo)
Eminem (D-12)
Brian Eno (Roxy Music)
Roky Erickson (The 13th Floor Elevators)
Peter Frampton (Humble Pie)
Peter Gabriel (Genesis)
Juliana Hatfield (Blake Babies)
Lauryn Hill (The Fugees)
Billy Idol (Generation X)
Michael Jackson (The Jackson Five)
Joan Jett (The Runaways)
Janis Joplin (Big Brother)
Paula Kelly (The Drop Nineteens)
Ben Kweller (Radish)
Kool Moe Dee (Treacherous Three)
Ted Leo (Chisel)
Aimee Mann (Til Tuesday)
Ricky Martin (Menudo) [This one’s weird — isn’t Menudo still a “band”?]
Natalie Merchant (10,000 Maniacs)
George Michael (Wham!)
Van Morrison (Them)
Ozzy Osborne (Black Sabbath) — 47:27
Iggy Pop (The Stooges)
Lou Reed (The Velvet Underground) — 2:0
Lionel Ritchie (The Commodores)
Diana Ross (The Supremes) — 19:5
Elliot Smith (Heatmiser)
Will Smith (DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince)
Rod Stewart (The Faces)
Sting (Police) — 32:25
Justin Timberlake (N’Sync)
Tupac (Digital Underground)
Steve Winwood (Traffic)
Neil Young (Buffalo Springfield)

And the even more controversial:
Morrissey (The Smiths) — 3:3
Peter Murphy (Bauhaus) — 0:0
Stevie Nicks (Fleetwood Mac) — I’m leaving this up here for history’s sake, but 17:46.
Frank Zappa (The Mothers of Invention) — 1:1

Go Solo

My favorite music of 2008

My friend Mike inspired me to do this. Here are some of my favorite records that came out in 2008, in alphabetical order:

Agathe Max “This Silver String”
Bohren & der Club of Gore “Dolores”
The Breeders “Mountain Battles”
Brightblack Morning Light “Motion To Rejoin”
The Bug “London Zoo”
Dan Friel “Ghost Town”
Goslings “Occasion”
Growing “All The Way”
Health “Disco”
Ho-Ag “Doctor Cowboy”
Hot Chip “Made In The Dark”
Icy Demons “Miami Ice”
Meho Plaza “Meho Plaza”
Mount Eerie “Black Wooden Ceiling Opening”
Parts & Labor “Receivers”
Santogold “Santogold”
Thunderhole “Animals, Monsters, & Fat People”

Great records I discovered this year but didn’t come out this year include:

Amy Winehouse “Back To Black”
Animal Hospital “Memory”
Aphex Twin “Selected Ambient Works Volume II”
Apples In Stereo “New Magnetic Wonder”
Brian Eno “Here Come the Warm Jets”
Can “Delay 1968” and “Ege Bamyasi”
A Certain Ratio “Sextet”
David Bowie “Low” and “Heroes” and “Lodger”
Delta 5 “Singles and Session 1979-1981”
Dri “Smoke Rings”
Evangelicals “The Evening Descends”
Health “Health”
Justice [the title is a cross and I’m not sure how to do that]
T. Rex “Stars and Cars”
The Meters “The Meters”
The Microphones “The Glow Pt. 2”
Red Bennies “Announcing”
Six Finger Satellite “Severe Exposure”
The Slits “Cut”
A Sunny Day in Glasgow “Scribble Mural Comic Journal”
Television “Marquee Moon”
Unwound “Leaves Turn Inside You”

My favorite music of 2008

Clipse is a Fine Wine

The chorus to the song “Trill” by Clipse goes thusly: “Bitch, I’m trill. Bitch, I’m so trill. Nigga, I’m trill. Nigga, I’m so trill.”

According to the Urban Dictionary, “trill” is either true + real or some contraction of “truly ill”. Either way, the word has positive connotations. So, ostenibly in this context, do the words “bitch” and “nigga”, whose meanings and etymologies I think we’re all familiar with at this point.

I’m a white American woman. While I could probably cry reclamation with regard to the word “bitch”, I certainly can’t for “nigga”. As it stands, I use neither word. The word “bitch” specifically seems like a real linguistic trap. Either I use it as an insult and thereby insult 51% of the population including myself, or I use it as a term of endearment and end up suggesting that the negative stereotypes of women being bossy or nagging or manipulative are worthy of celebration.

All of that said, I really love the song “Trill”. I love a lot of songs whose lyrics are reprehensible — reprehensibly cheesy, reprehensibly misogynist, etc. — but this song really gets to me by weaving these culturally complicated words so casually into its irresistable refrain. And it makes me feel conflicted.

On the one hand, I’m flatly alienated by the cultural signifiers at work in “Trill”. Not only are its lyrically stated values almost exactly not my values, but this music isn’t even intented for me. My demography is like the spandrel formed through the negative space of everything that Clipse positively embodies. I’m pointedly, deservedly excluded from their party.

On the other hand, this song is tops. The musicality of the language is undeniable. Clipse masterfully wields a diverse palette of syllables against a dark, squirming canvas of beats and synths. While not at all “funky” in the sense of what funk has come represent stylistically, you can see where a word like “funk” came to be a positive signifier in the context of music. This song is musically disgusting in the best possible way.

A few years ago I would have dismissed the song out of hand for the “on the one hand” elements above, but I’m at this point now where I sort of relish the discomfort. I relish the complexity of my relationship to this song. It’s like a very complicatedly flavored wine or chocolate or salad. It’s not an easy, but is absolutely an enjoyable, listen.

Clipse is a Fine Wine

Pop & Heavy Metal: The Case of Jesu

I heard Jesu for the first time about two weeks ago, the self-titled record. I had no context for them at all; I didn’t know they were ex-Godflesh, had never heard Godflesh anyway — basically, I had no metal reference points whatsoever, just the music.

And it sounded mostly like mid-nineties British shoegaze to me. I would have readily filed it sonically somewhere between Blur’s Leisure and My Bloody Valentine’s Glider, with a bit of spacerock (Spacemen 3?) thrown in for good measure.

I’ve since done some homework, which has been instructive, and now I’m midway through listening to Jesu’s newest record, Conqueror. Despite all this, my mapping of Jesu sonically hasn’t changed much, if my view of them culturally is very different now. (I had a similar trajectory with Harvey Milk — coming at it from a sort of avantgarde perspective, and then gradually conceding the more overtly metal aspects as my interest in them grew.)

I’m not very schooled in metal, but have found moments in it that I really enjoy. Culturally, however, it might as well be in another galaxy for me, being for the most part male-dominated, often nurturing aggression, fascinated with violence, etc.

But the whole thing has brought up a perennial question for me with regard to the relationship of heavy music to pop, and with regard to musical subgenrification (perhaps this cultural engine has a better name I don’t know?) in general. That is, the many genres of popular music seem to be ghettos rather than friendly neighboring boroughs. Clearly boundaries are constantly shifting; yet there’s also a persistent rigidity.

As someone who loves the physical experience of heavy and loud music, but who also viscerally appreciates a good hook and a sad melody, I find myself longing for a music that seems to not exist. Or, I’m having to satisfy myself with bits and pieces of songs from here and there — like trying to fill myself up on pomegranate fruit.

Pop & Heavy Metal: The Case of Jesu