In which The A.V. Club asks its favorite rockers, writers, comics, or whatevers to set their MP3 players to shuffle and comment on the first few tracks that come up—no cheating or skipping embarrassing tracks allowed.
The shuffler: Frank Portman, better known to the punk world as Dr. Frank, snotty frontman and wordsmith for The Mr. T Experience. For 20 years, the band created snarky songs with little commercial success, watching as fellow Bay Area bands like Green Day went on to conquer the world. Much to his own surprise, Portman has gotten more attention as an author than he ever did as a rocker. His hilarious debut novel, King Dork, follows a high-school outcast who obsesses about music.
Donovan, "Age Of Treason"
Frank Portman: It's one of his finger-pickin', sensitive folksinger songs where he does the "Crimson And Clover" voice. It's about his childhood, about being a teenager who lives in a little shack where he "dreamed his dreams and hung his jeans." And he has arguments with his mom about peace and love, and the symbol of the dove, and she doesn't understand. And his dad tells him words of worker wisdom from the pages of Marx, but in the end of the chorus, he keeps repeating, "I done right disgrace to the working classes." [Laughs.] I know how he feels, I guess. I don't have a personal story about Donovan, I'm afraid. I wish I did. Who knew so much Donovan was lurking not only in my iPod, but in my head?
Wing, "Back In Black"
Wing is this Chinese lady who sings in a very high-pitched, shriek-y whine, and she kind of has a cult following. She appeared on an episode of South Park. But she's an actual real elderly Chinese singer who has probably the most annoying voice ever, and I say that as a connoisseur of annoying voices. She does recordings of Chinese songs, but occasionally she'll do pop songs, and I found this on the Internet from some MP3 blogger. It's her doing "Back In Black" with a sort of Casio background, and I actually put this on a CD and brought it to a radio show I was appearing on a ways back and made the DJ play it, and people called in saying, "This is the worst thing I've ever heard. Take it off! Take it off!" It is hard to listen to, but strangely thrilling. If you get something that horrible, that clears a room that easily, and makes radio listeners call in with bomb threats, then I think you're doing all right. It's frightening. It's disturbing. But it's one of those things you're just glad it's there. [Laughs.]
Boston, "Rock And Roll Band"
FP: Maybe at one point, like when I was 9, I believed that that song really was an accurate depiction of what it was like to be in a rock 'n' roll band: "Rock and roll band, everybody's waitin' / getting high, anticipatin'." Okay, that part is true. But then: "Love music / play, play. Play, yeah, yeah, yeah." My experience of rock 'n' roll is, "Hey, we got a new record!" Then there's silence. And yawns.
Cock Sparrer, "Working"
FP: This is about being on the dole in England, where if you don't work, they pay you money. It's about how you can still have a job if you do it secretly: "I've been workin' all day for me mate on the side." I listened to that song hundreds of times before I understood what the hell it was about. "I've been working for my maid? What?"
Noel Coward, "Mad Dogs And Englishmen"
FP: It's got great lyrics. I think I'm going to have to quote you a lyric: "In Bengal, to move at all is seldom if ever done / But mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun." That is the sort of song that if you're in a van with your rock band and it comes on, and they realize you're responsible, they will turn to you and stare at you in disgust and horror.
Rose Tattoo, "Let It Go"
FP: They were the great-grandfathers of Australian hard rock. Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, this song is one of the weirdest ever recorded by them or anyone. You have to listen to it on headphones to understand what I'm talking about: There's a guitar on the left, there's a guitar on the right, and there's a singer in the middle of the stereo image. None of them seems to be aware of the key that the others are playing in.
The Bomb Bassetts, "Please Don't Die"
FP: It's not quite as embarrassing as if it was my own song that came up, but I did play guitar on this. It's an awesome song, actually. When I get off the phone, I'm going to listen to it again. "Like Romeo said to Juliet / Oh baby, oh baby, oh baby." [Laughs.] It's a great, great lyric. Dallas Denery, the singer, is a great guy.
Robyn Hitchcock, "Victorian Squid"
FP: That song is just a crazy psychosexual 19th-century sort of poem/word collage involving H.G. Wells and couples strolling on the beach in their Gay '90s outfits and everything. And there's old H.G. Wells lying in bed with his new housekeeper. It's an awesome song.
Dondero High School A Capella Band, "Fox On The Run"
FP: This is the best version of "Fox On The Run" that I've ever heard. This is great. It's a medley of "Fox On The Run" and "Sunshine Of Your Love." They're using their voices to mimic the effects of the original. The drum is so charmingly retarded that every time it comes on, I keep repeating it. It'll totally cheer you up, I promise.