It Might Get Loud indeed, when three generations of rock guitarists convene for the ultimate six-string summit. Jimmy Page (representative of 1970s stadium rock and, with Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton, part of the canonical trinity of guitar heroes) joins The Edge (child of the punk/new wave era but also paradoxically a bit of an egghead) and Jack White (student of Americana and freewheeling blues-rock of The White Stripes and the Raconteurs). The three had no doubt crossed paths before now, but probably never had a chance to pick each other’s brains, let alone trade licks and jam.
Director Davis Guggenheim also made the Al Gore documentary An Inconvenient Truth and the soccer drama Gracie, but the core concept came from Thomas Tull, producer of Batman: The Dark Knight. As White quips in one of the DVD bonus features, he thought Page would make a fine Joker.
Throughout, White is considerably more witty and spontaneous than the others, both verbally and in his effortless improvisation. In comparison, The Edge sometimes seems reticent and comparably tongue-tied. Page is quite the dapper English gentleman, despite his notoriety as the man that introduced cod-Satanism and Tolkien into Led Zeppelin’s lyrics and iconography. He arrives in a chauffeured Rolls, while White and even The Edge drive themselves to the set.
While Page and White share a background in the blues, The Edge comes from somewhere else altogether. He’s long been more interested in sonics and textures than in impressing audiences with fleet-fingered technique. Page was, for a time, one of the biggest rock stars in the world, but of the three, The Edge has enjoyed persistent fame the longest. He states with total conviction that This is Spinal Tap was, for him, not funny at all: “it’s all true.” A deleted scene answers a question I’ve long had: U2’s nicknames date back to their childhood, and now even The Edge’s mother now no longer calls him David.
There’s no need for an onscreen interviewer when no one else would know better what to ask these three men than each other. When guitarists get together for gabfests, a natural topic is to wistfully reminisce over their first instruments (The Edge and White still own and play theirs). Their conversation is interspersed with short animated sequences and priceless early footage, with relics including embarrassing very early footage of U2 as gawky teenagers.
All three have enjoyed comfort and success for quite some time, so it comes as a rather awkward shift in tone when they are called to reflect on times of crisis in their careers. None were instant stars. Page’s early anxieties are the most interesting; he became a highly successful session guitarist fairly early on (working largely in the now-forgotten musical genre of skiffle), but realized he was looking at a creative dead-end. He found release in The Yardbirds, a fertile cauldron that famously also included Beck and Clapton at various times, and arguably invented hard rock. The hair came down, the pants flared, and the cello bow came out.
Multi-instrumentalist White recounts a childhood sleeping on the floor in a room too crowded with drums to leave room for a bed, and founding his first band while working the lonely job of furniture upholsterer.
The Edge recalls the contemporary political turmoil of Ireland as a backdrop to his anxiety over being “just a guitarist” and possibly never a songwriter. From this crisis of confidence came the politically charged U2 standard “Sunday Bloody Sunday.” His substantial contributions to U2 were deliberately obscured by the unusually democratic band; it’s only recently that they have begun to talk more openly about their internal division of labor (generally, Edge demos the music, Bono supplies the lyrics, Larry works alongside the producer, and Adam is resident sartorialist).
The natural wish is for the three to strap on their guitars and jam. So as each is celebrated as much for their songwriting as for their chops, they take turns teaching the others one of their signature tunes. The Edge’s chiming “I Will Follow” riff fails to take off, but Page’s “In My Time of Dying” provides a bed for some fantastic slide-guitar solos from all three players. The climactic closing tune is ill-chosen; The Band’s “The Weight” is without a doubt a great, classic song, but not much of a guitar showcase.
I own (or once owned) a whopping 26% of these overrated (so they say) canonical classics! Hey, Chalkhills, what did I ever do to you? I love XTC (Apple Venus and Wasp Star being two of my all-time favorite albums, hands-down), so my tastes can’t be all bad, can they? But having read your list, I find that for every one of your selections that brings steam out of my ears, there’s another with which I have to begrudgingly agree.
So here’s my annotated list, including, for fun, the format in which I purchased each offending title and whether or not I eventually discarded it:
2. U2 – The Joshua Tree 20th Anniversary Edition boxed set U2’s true masterpiece Achtung Baby was yet to come, but the complex depth of that record wouldn’t have been possible without the unironic earnestness of The Joshua Tree. And yes, maybe I’m a snob (not to mention old) for upgrading to the remastered anniversary edition, but just the other day I listened to the revived recording of “Mothers of the Disappeared” with my jaw literally hanging open and the proverbial chills running up and down my spine.
3. Nirvana – Nevermind cassette (discarded) It was a gift, I swear. While I intellectually understand what the mass-market breakthrough of Nirvana did for music (basically, sparking a fresh explosion of so-called “alternative” music comparable to punk’s effect on a stagnant world of disco and stadium rock in the early 1970s), I always preferred the rock ‘n’ roll songcraft of Pearl Jam to the loud ‘n’ sloppy depression of Nirvana.
5. The Beatles – Let It Be cd, The “Naked” version Any antipathy towards the Beatles seems a bit strange coming from an XTC fansite — surely Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding are acolytes. Do I still have to discard Let It Be if I own the McCartney-approved “Naked” edition, as opposed to the original with Wall-of-Schmaltz orchestral overdubs by Phil Spector? Let it Be is not my favorite Beatles long-player (that would definitely be The White Album), and obviously one the lads tossed off at the tail end of their (actually quite brief) association. But how is that any different, really, from their early quickie LPs recorded in mere hours with the aid of amphetamines?
7. The Police – Synchronicity cassette (discarded) I agree with Chalkhills’ assessment that Synchronicity is a surprisingly dark album for a mainstream platinum hit, but I believe that’s exactly what makes it special. What other band, at the peak of their commercial success, released such a paranoid, neurotic album? OK, maybe Radiohead’s Kid A.
8. Lou Reed – Transformer vinyl Agreed. “Walk on the Wild Side” and “Satellite of Love” are both masterpieces, but I couldn’t name a single other song from the album. Am I redeemed by owning the vinyl edition? It must be said that it earns extra Cool Points for being produced by David Bowie, but the back cover photograph of Lou with the boner in his tight jeans is just plain gross.
9. Miles Davis – Bitches Brew Complete Bitches Brew Sessions boxed set Yes, I am that poseur that owns the Complete Sessions boxed set. I have to very, very strongly object to Chalkhills’ dismissal here (and I do I detect a strong anti-jazz bias?). Miles changed music forever when he plugged in to rock, fusion, and funk. Trying to pretend Bitches Brew never happened is as fruitless as still complaining about Bob Dylan going rock (or country, or Christian, etc…) or The Sex Pistols giving the world the finger. The difference is that it still sounds fresh and new.
12. Led Zeppelin – Physical Graffiti vinyl I love me some Zeppelin, but I have to agree that Physical Graffiti isn’t a keeper. It is, however, better than its follow-up Presence (but that’s not saying much).
19. Beck – Midnite Vultures cd (sold) Agreed. I listened to it once, and then sold it as quickly as I could. Blech!
21. Derek and the Dominoes – Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs cd (sold) I could not agree more: two brilliant songs in “Layla” and “Little Wing,” padded out with a forgettable batch of filler. Legend has it the substance-abusing Clapton literally does not recall recording the album.
22. The Who – Tommy vinyl (triple gatefold with lyric booklet) I don’t disagree that Tommy is loaded down with a lot of silliness and filler, but hey, it’s a rock opera, and the first one at that. What do you expect?
26. U2 – Zooropa cd I firmly, absolutely disagree. Zooropa may be a product of its time (the cut ‘n’ paste postmodern media overloaded 1990s), but it includes some of U2’s all-time best songs, including the title track and Stay (Faraway So Close). The multilayered production by Flood and Brian Eno may make the songs “sound weird,” but it also rewards a lifetime of repeat listens.
32. The Flaming Lips – The Soft Bulletin cd I regrettably agree. Give me Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots any day, but I just can’t get into this one.
34. Dave Brubeck – Time Out cd Blaspheme! Blaspheme! Again with the jazz hate! I was not aware anybody disliked this album. What’s wrong with you? If you had included Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue on your list, I think I would have had an aneurism.
39. Wilco – Being There cd (sold) Like the rest of the world, I loved Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, so I sought out some older Wilco albums. And I suspect like most of those people, I got rid of them.
42. The Police – Zenyatta Mondatta cd Disagree! Zenyatta Mondatta is my favorite Police album. Granted, “De Doo Doo Doo, De Da Da Da” is the epitome of pop silliness (except for maybe “Louie Louie” and R.E.M.’s “Stand”), but the rest of the album is full of classic reggae-inflected new wave pop.
44. Jane’s Addiction – Nothing’s Shocking cd As Perry Farrell himself once sang, “Stop!” Jane’s Addiction’s debut studio album Nothing’s Shocking is a fantastic batch of songs. Perry Farrell’s wild persona and Dave Navarro’s famously louche lifestyle got all the press, but my god, haven’t you listened to the rhythm section? Jane’s Addiction proved that prog could live without shame in a new world after Led Zeppelin, and they got even better in their next album Ritual De Lo Habitual (before self-destructing, alas).
50. Cocteau Twins – Heaven or Las Vegas cd I don’t have a really strong opinion about it, but I enjoy listening to it from time to time. I didn’t even know it was especially popular. Sorry, jeez.
51. Radiohead – I Might be Wrong cd It’s a fair statement that most live albums begin life as contractual obligations. But what actually does bother me more about I Might Be Wrong is that it’s basically an EP sold at LP prices. That said, the performances are strong, and prove that the weird, arty music on Kid A and Amnesiac can and really do come to life on stage.
54. Tori Amos – Under the Pink cd (sold) I loved Tori’s official solo debut Little Earthquakes, but I suspect my sensitive teenager self may have been crushing on the cute & quirky redhead at the piano.
55. Arrested Development – 3 Years, 5 Months, & 2 Days In The Life Of… cd (sold) “…non-threatening rap-lite for sensitive white liberals who want to “keep it real” and experience hip-hop safely.” Zing! Busted.
64. Pink Floyd – The Dark Side of the Moon 30th Anniversary SACD Again, blaspheme! Yes, enough copies of Dark Side of the Moon exist on this planet to form their own continent, but don’t you think there is a reason for that? Mere momentum alone can’t be enough to explain its appeal. If you want to single out one Pink Floyd album for being overrated and overpurchased, please allow me to direct you to The Wall, which unlike most other Floyd albums, appeals to sullen immature teenagers but does not grow in sophistication as they do.
65. Sarah McLachlan – Fumbling Towards Ecstasy, Surfacing cds (still on my shelf but I really ought to sell them) Ouch! You got me here. I once liked both of these, but quickly fell out of love with them. I maintain there are some decent songs underneath the slick adult contemporary overproduction.
69. U2 – War vinyl U2 charts no less than three times on this haters list, rivaling the Beatles and the entire genre of jazz for raising Chalkhills’ bile. I suggest revisiting “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and tell me if the drums don’t make the hair on the back of your neck stand up.
80. R.E.M. – Out of Time cd OK, maybe it’s not their best, and it is especially disappointing for having come right after the legendary, essential album Green. But “Shiny Happy People” is maybe the best 3/4-time pop song ever, and the whole second half is superb.
83. Grateful Dead – any album Reckoning (lp) & Infrared Roses (cd) Yep, I picked up a secondhand vinyl copy of Reckoning for pennies and it’s pretty loose and rambling, even for the Dead. But I do dig the crazy electronic jams on Infrared Roses, man.
90. Sting – Ten Summoner’s Tales cd (sold) I’ll cop to liking “Fields of Gold” back in the day. Oh god, did I just admit that out loud on the internet?
There, done. Finally, I just want to say that yes, I do have a sense of humor and I get the point of Chalkhill’s rant. Responding to their List of Hate was just an excuse for me to scribble out a few words about some of the dustiest old artifacts from my music collection. Thanks!