In Random Rules, The A.V. Club asks some of its favorite people to set their MP3 players to shuffle and comment on the first few tracks that come up—no cheating or skipping embarrassing tracks allowed.
Shuffler: Matt Friedberger is half of The Fiery Furnaces and a newly minted solo artist, having just simultaneously released two new albums, Winter Women and Holy Ghost Language School.
The Fiery Furnaces, "We Wrote Letters Everyday"
Matt Friedberger: This is my grandmother's record [Rehearsing My Choir], some unmastered version of the record with my grandmother, who wrote letters every day. It sounds nice. She's sick today, actually. She isn't feeling too well. She's in the hospital, but she sounds good here, healthy. This is me playing the piano.
The Meters, "Cardova"
MF: That sounds real good, when the guitar comes in, playin' the same as the bass. Course, it's the drum and the drum sound that everybody likes. This one has a great chorus. I don't know if it's really the chorus, but the bass player and the drummer start playing eighth notes together on the same thing, du-du-du-du-du-du-du. They play these staccato little notes together, so the drumbeat stays the same all the way through.
Handel, [Unidentified Italian track]
MF: See, if it was a Handel oratorio in English, I could tell what it is. These Italian operas, I can't tell what the hell they are.
AVC: Do you have a lot of Handel?
MF: Well, yeah, because that stuff is good. Those things are very expensive, these operas. Fifty dollars.
The Beach Boys, "Wouldn't It Be Nice"
MF: This is the vocal-only version from the Pet Sounds Sessions CD that came out a few years ago. I don't know if you've ever seen that, it's four discs, they edit it a little bit, but it's the session takes. A little bit of vocals, but mostly it's them going through to get the arrangements right—Brian Wilson testing out what to play and stuff. Especially when they don't have it together, it sounds, you can… When they do have it together, it still sounds weird, but you've heard it a million times. But when they don't have the arrangements together, you really notice how strange everything sounds. My favorite Beach Boys song, I'll have to admit, even though it's kind of embarrassing, is "Sloop John B" on Pet Sounds. It's not the best, but it's my favorite one.
Rameau, [Unidentified French aria]
MF: There's nothing worse than singing in French. It ruins everything. It's so nasally, and they have to accent everything so weird. I've got a lot of non-classical music. The problem is, when you rip these opera CDs, they're all 30 tracks, because they split them up into every little bit that they can possibly split up, and they index them like that, so they dominate your shuffle. There's a lot of 45-second tracks before the song starts.
MF: Here's a real nice Handel thing. Some good bits, some exciting stuff, some good pop music, but from the 18th century, I'm afraid. Where's all my rock music?
Lemma Demissew, "Astawesalèhu"
MF: Finally, something different. From Éthiopiques, Volume 8. You know, some French guy started collecting Ethiopian pop music from before '75, and now there are like 25 albums. Some of them are pop music, some of them are different vernacular recordings. They sound great. The funny thing about them is, on a couple of them, a lot of the horn bands—you know, the police bands, because the police and militia would always organize marching bands, so a lot of these rock bands would be auxiliary cops. They would be a lot of the talent that would make the pop records, the veterans of the police bands. So a lot of this stuff on some of these Éthiopiques records is normal rock music, but totally opposite. Everything is normal, it sounds like Curtis Mayfield, but different because of the Near Eastern singing, and the fact that it's policemen, you know, what you think of as the opposite of rock people.
Harry Nilsson, "Coconut"
MF: Here's a funny one. On here somewhere, I've got the Muppets version of it, too. And the Muppets one is better, actually. This is the original one. He sings, "She put the lime in the coconut…" In the Muppets one, they—I don't know who's singin' it, it's not Miss Piggy—but they sing, "Froggy put the lime in the coconut."
This Heat, "Horizontal Hold"
MF: Oh, here's a great song. This Heat is a British band from the '70s, a rock band, but they don't sound dated at all. This song's got this neat stuff where they shift between these live recordings and studio recordings, so it shifts sounds, the texture of it shifts a lot. They were really one of the best bands that ever existed, for sure. I think they're one of those bands that will become even more famous in the next few years.
Les Chanceliers, "La Génération D'Aujourd'hui"
MF: This is some French rock. The title means something very common, like, I can't remember. Maybe "the generation of now."
AVC: I thought you didn't like French.
MF: French rock is okay, because it sounds super-snooty. French is actually a good language for rock music. Very ironically, it's terrible for classical music, because the language is so ugly and artificial-sounding. But it's great for rock music, because the language is so ugly and artificial-sounding. But the French have not excelled in rock music, unfortunately. They really need to step it up, if you ask me. They so hate the fact that English has become the language of business and pop culture, but if they would improve their rock bands, maybe they could improve the standing of French in those areas.