noalternative

Because it’s August and you have nothing better to do than jump into a discussion of the best songs of a compilation CD that is almost old enough to drink – yes, “No Alternative” will turn 21 in October — please follow RandBallsStu (aka Steve Neuman of MPR/American Public Media) and I down this rabbit hole.

[This has nothing to do with sports, so be warned].

We will both give our rankings of the best songs on the disc, and I will even *temporarily* suspend the use of the royal we in order to make this less confusing. Stu gets to go first because he sent me this about a week ago and I’ve been slacking. Our different tastes in music should put to rest rumors once and for all that we are the same person. We are not. [Language warning on the links].

RandBallsStu’s No Alternative Power Rankings

  1. “Unseen Power of the Picket Fence,” Pavement. This was my first exposure to Pavement: a weird, clattering, stagger of a song about R.E.M. and the Civil War that doesn’t mention picket fences or have a chorus. So it’s perfect. I think I read that they were going to perform this on MTV and Michael Stipe wanted to dance in the background so they decided against it. HIGHLIGHT: The way they sing “G-G-G-G-G-G-GEORGIA” towards the end.
  2. “All Your Jeans Were Too Tight,” American Music Club. Pedal steel guitar and despair work just as well in an alternative rock song as they do in a country song. At least, I think it’s pedal steel. Either way: wonderful tune, woefully underlooked band.
  3. “Sappy,” Nirvana. Hidden track! Nobody does hidden tracks anymore! Cracker’s Kerosene Hat had about 80 of them.
  4. “Take A Walk,” Urge Overkill. ONE OF US: Both Nash Kato and King Roeser of Urge Overkill are Minnesotans. So, they’re in.
  5. “Joed Out,” Barbara Manning. I re-listened to the CD in order to make a better judgment on these power rankings for you, the reader, and remembered how much I enjoyed this track by one of the relatively lesser-known acts on the record. Kind of a somber Liz Phair vibe if you’re into that sort of thing. (Yes, I know she pre-dates Liz Phair.)

Honorable Mention/Notes

  • Of the remaining covers on this thing, the best one is CCR’s “Effigy” by Uncle Tupelo.
  • I enjoy the Goo Goo Dolls’ take on the Rolling Stones’ “Bitch,” but the former have done so much wrong in the intervening years that I cannot in good conscience rank them. I remember the theme song you wrote for Good Morning, Miami, Johnny Rzeznik. You thought you could distract everyone with that superfluous “z” WELL GUESS WHAT THAT DIDN’T HAPPEN.
  • Patti Smith’s contribution is touching and easy to admire, but listen to “Gloria” instead. “Gloria” is amazing.

RandBall’s No Alternative Power Rankings

  1. “Verse, Chorus, Verse,” Nirvana. Yes, we can argue about whether we should call this song by its other title, “Sappy,” but to me it’s always VCV. And more importantly, it’s one of the five best songs ever recorded by one of the five best bands that ever picked up guitars and sang. So it easily tops my list even before factoring in that it’s the best hidden track this side of Beck’s “Debra.” I don’t know how you would hide a track on iTunes, but someone should figure this out because I WANT TO BE SURPRISED.
  2. “All Your Jeans Were Too Tight,” American Music Club. The thing that sparked this whole back-and-forth was a tweet I sent while driving to Mankato (don’t tweet and drive) noting that I always think of this song on that drive because of the lyric “Trying to make you feel better is like trying to trick St. Peter,” and the drive takes you through St. Peter. That’s ridiculous, but it’s true. I’m weird and that’s how my mind works. Just a fantastic song, though.
  3. “Glynis,” Smashing Pumpkins. For a long time, I tried to pretend that I did not like the Smashing Pumpkins. Did. Not. Like. Nirvana was everything, and they were just some watered down version of everything. But even before I could admit that I liked Smashing Pumpkins, I really liked Gylnis. IN SECRET.
  4. “Unseen Power of the Picket Fence,” Pavement. As Stuart notes, this is one of the most Pavement songs ever. And I love Pavement. I saw them like 15 years ago. I’ve forgotten like 80 percent of everything that happened at all the shows I’ve gone to, but Pavement is vivid. Malkmus can name-check anyone he wants.
  5. “Iris,” The Breeders. This song is only great for about 45 seconds, but when it’s great it’s so, so great. Speaking of name-checking, I saw the Breeders many years after their prime, and they were fabulous. My friend Jayme shared a cigarette with one of the Deal sisters. At least that’s how I remember it. [Seal the Deal joke self-deleted]. But really, it was a great show.

Honorable Mention/Notes

  • As Stu also notes, the “Effigy” cover and Urge Overkill’s “Take a Walk” are very good.
  • I also very much like the Soundgarden song “Show Me,” but there are better Soundgarden songs in their ample catalog and therefore they miss the cut.
  • I really don’t like the Bob Mould song or the Soul Asylum cover of Sexual Healing. I’ll just move to Wisconsin now.
  • Basically, I compiled these rankings based on a quick re-listening of all the songs, plus my memory of which ones I skipped over always, which I skipped sometimes and which I was particularly excited to get to.
  • I came across this Straight Jacket Fits song in the course of my research, and I think you should listen to it.