Yesterday’s passing of humanity’s great friend David Bowie included me as one amongst a great deal of people left ruminating over my favorite Bowie tunes through the years, with this meditation carrying overnight and into my morning commute. Here’s what’s in all likelihood my pinnacle:
That’s an outstanding rock & roll song, in that if someone asked me “what is rock & roll” I would list it without hesitation alongside a preposterously small number of other similarly outstanding works that best embody the genre - rock & roll - to me. That’s not to be confused with “rock” songs, or whatever it was that Elvis was doing, the latter statement spake despite realizing the defensible position that he was actually “rock & roll” and our friend Bowie came closer to garage or underground or that he extended along some other spoke of the enormous umbrella of “rock.” But allaying these concerns, “Suffragette City” could not be the perfect rock & roll song, lacking a proper guitar solo, leading to the inevitable question, “what is the perfect rock & roll song?”
It shouldn’t require explanation that my first stop on this journey was Bowie’s good friend Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground, with the appropriately titled “Rock & Roll,” a similarly outstanding rock & roll song but again short of perfection, the rhythm guitar being acoustic. Nope, sorry, not perfect, though certainly helpful in identifying the necessity of “a rhythm guitar” and subsequently eliminating a host of “Power Trios” and “trio + 1" arrangements, i.e. Pink Floyd, Zeppelin, and The Who, most of which weren’t likely to be identified with the “& roll” moniker anyways.
Iggy Pop was a sensible candidate, “Search and Destroy” being my first recollection of a song that didn’t stray too-too far toward a je ne seis quas that would make it emphatically punk. But even this proved too much, the distortion on the rhythm guitar drowned out all of the strumming vital to a proper rock & roll jam. I promptly realize I never appreciated how much I like a good rhythm guitar.
“Fell In Love With a Girl” from the White Stripes became an outside shot, despite that Jack White is a crazy motherfucker who could probably play 6 guitars at once if he stop changing bands for longer than a month. But as suspected, no rhythm guitar. And among their immediately singable hits, Rolling Stones were probably closest with “Street Fighting Man” or “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” though I didn’t linger on their catalog due to fears that Jagger watches his Spotify activity like a cop at a gas station watches loitering teenagers. I knew “Back in the U.S.S.R.” (The Beatles? Why not!) had the vast majority (if not all) of the on-paper requirements for a good rock & roll song but was disappointed by a vocal track that dominated the mix in a way that was decidedly not rock & roll.
Perhaps the last logical rung I was willing to climb in what was quickly becoming a very tall and narrow ladder was to look cautiously to my left, and look cautiously to my right, before playing “Last Night” from The Strokes -mostly upsetting because The Strokes and their halfway to “Happy Days” brand of rock-ish & roll-ish frankly have no business being mentioned in an article about “perfect anything” as it pertains to actual rock & roll. I then drank a 7:45 AM shot of Jim Beam and smoked a half carton of Marlboros before typing up this personal:
- Kick ass or at least a god damn serviceable guitar solo
- Strong electric rhythm guitar that sounds like a god damn guitar
- Rock & Roll mix where you hear the god damn guitars
- Not frontmanned by god damn Julian Casablancas
- D&D free, as in gratis
Reply with candidates in Sidespin’s god damn comments
Update 1/14: RHYTHM guitar. It can be played as a lead guitar like in NattyClipArt’s suggestion of R.E.M.’s “Star 69" but it’s walking a fine line with The White Stripes probably falling just on the other side. And a good rhythm guitar isn’t just “the guitar that isn’t the lead” it’s, like, strumming chords instead of playing riffs. Something to keep in mind.