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: Paul Maroon, guitarist of The Walkmen. The band just released album three, A Hundred Miles Off, and they've been busy with some less serious projects, too: Maroon and his bandmates are writing a novel (John's Journey) and recently recorded a song-for-song cover of Harry Nilsson's 1974 album Pussy Cats; it'll be released later this year.
Johnny Cash, "When He Comes"
Paul Maroon: I don't know this one. Oh, it's got mariachi horns, that's great! I'm an enormous Johnny Cash fan, so I've got 450 of his songs on here. Walt [Martin, Walkmen keyboardist] burned all of the '60s records onto the iPods for us, off of his vinyl… That's the best Johnny Cash stuff, I think. The movie [Walk The Line] was really hard for me, because he really means a lot to me, but I thought it was pretty good. You can't get your panties in a knot about whether it's going to ruin Johnny Cash for you. It was weird, because they sort of sang better and better, and by the end it was just completely indistinguishable. There was a big Sotheby's auction [of Cash memorabilia] about a year ago, and we were determined to get something, but the prices got out of control. But we got one of June Carter's shawls, this great brown hip-shawl, then lo and behold, we found a picture of her in it.
Bob Marley, "Chances Are"
PM: This is good; I'm not getting embarrassed. Early Bob Marley stuff, like the '60s stuff, is probably my favorite music. The trumpet on this song is so amazing. He has these sort of slow shuffles, these slow 6/8 songs… The sound and the melodies on these early Bob Marley songs is an example to us all. We're just constantly trying to take stuff from his melodies. I simply cannot believe how many great songs he wrote, even as a 19-year-old. I just love the way it's recorded. You don't think for a second about them being in the studio—it just sounds like a band playing. If we ever do something that's just a 30th as good as one of these songs, we'll be happy.
The Shins, "Weird Divide"
PM: It's a shuffle! The Shins are a good band. I haven't listened to it that much, but… I teach guitar lessons, and this student brought a song in and I really liked it. It's just sort of delightful music, you know? My friend Pete says that the delightfulness becomes a little too delightful after a while, but for a couple of songs, it's really refreshing.
The Beatles, "Piggies"
PM: Is that Paul? I think it's Paul. [It's George. —ed.] It's got a harpsichord, for Christ's sake! Does it mean anything? "Have you seen the little piggies crawling in the dirt?" Is it a metaphor, or is it about pigs? I think it's about LSD! [Laughs.] Cops on LSD. I can't get through The White Album, it's so spotty.
Ramones, "Rock 'N' Roll High School"
PM: It starts with a school bell. School bells and airplanes landing are the two best ways to start rock songs. Maybe we should combine those.
The Walkmen, "Everyone Who Pretended To Like Me Is Gone"
PM: Ahh, look at that! Let me get reminded of it; all I know is that it's got strings on it. [Listens.] It's got the beat from Led Zeppelin's "Rock & Roll." It's also got about 19 vocal tracks. This is probably one of my favorite Walkmen songs, actually. It's quite busy, a little overproduced, but it's nice. It's the third song on our first record. I really like the drumming. I wonder why the record's named after it. On the last record, one of the songs was "Bows & Arrows," and I think we named it that because we wanted to end the record with it, but we were a little afraid it would get lost, because we really liked that song. We named the record after it so it would get a little attention on its own.
PM: Listen to that guitar part! He's in trouble! It's so thick-sounding; it's like molasses. Nirvana's like Neil Young; it's good and you know it's good, and it's so much better than a lot of stuff, but it's never quite good enough. I can't stand the way [Nirvana] sounds; I can't stand when the snare drum's as big as a freight train. It's not mysterious enough. Maybe I should revisit it, because 99 percent of the stuff I listened to in high school and college, I'm so embarrassed by now.