31 December 2010

GREAT THINGS

Time for one more top 10 list this year, and since I couldn't think of more than five favorite television shows (Boardwalk Empire, Mad Men, The Walking Dead, Bored to Death and Dexter, in case you're interested), how about we run through my favorite comics of 2010?

I can't lie: Most of my favorites are published by Image. We wouldn't be putting them out if I didn't like them, after all, and beyond that, we do some pretty awesome stuff...

1. Richard Stark's Parker, Book Two: The Outfit by Darwyn Cooke (IDW)
2. Daytripper by Fábio Moon & Gabriel Bá (Vertigo)
3. The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard & Cliff Rathburn (Image)
4. iZombie by Chris Roberson & Michael Allred (Vertigo)
5. The Bulletproof Coffin by David Hine & Shaky Kane (Image)
6. Invincible by Robert Kirkman & Ryan Ottley (Image)
7. Chew by John Layman & Rob Guillory (Image)
8. Emitown by Emi Lenox (Image)
9. Orc Stain by James Stokoe (Image)
10. Scott Pilgrim's Finest Hour by Bryann Lee O'Malley (Oni Press)

Have fun, be safe, and see you on the other side.

30 December 2010

IT WAS A VERY GOOD YEAR

With only a day and change left for 2010, I guess I can probably tally up my favorite films of the year. Haven't made it to see a few I wanted to catch before year's end (Somewhere, Made in Dagenham, The King's Speech), but I'm not sure how much different my top 10 would have looked either way...

1. Winter's Bone
2. True Grit
3. Black Swan
4. Get Low
5. The Fighter
6. Inception
7. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
8. The Runaways
9. Kick-Ass
10. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part One

29 December 2010

WEDNESDAY GIRL

Olivia Wilde

28 December 2010

IT'S A YOUNG MAN'S GAME

Straight talk from Paul Heaton, courtesy of his excellent new album, Acid Country:

No corner shop, no launderette
No pound shop by the lights
No betting shop, no flower shop
No garage late at night
It's a road of many colours
But none of them so bright
It's Perry's "For the Good Times," children
But Booker's "Time is Tight."

See I can still tie up my laces
I can read a book
I can show you precious love
If you choose to look
But reading books and tying laces
Can't do me much good
Not compared to feeling you
Just pumping through my blood.

No milk round, nor no paper round
The post comes once a week
The rain runs down so regularly
Like kisses don't on cheek
It's a life of opportunity
But none of them so bleak
As the feeling you're the only one
In a game of hide and seek.

I can't fix no motor car
I can't change no light
I can't do much anything
But hold you close each night
I can't bend down quite so low
I can't reach so high
I can promise you the earth
But no longer the sky.

It's a young man's game
Just join that social club, don't complain
As life goes speeding by
Wipe the tear from your eye
It's a long way back from here to Lover's Lane.

No chatting round a homemade fire
No warmth of nodding caps
The allotment and the shed I knew
Were both dug up for flats
We're deaf as posts, we're bald as coots
We're blind as bleeding bats
It's Eddie's "Hey There Lonely Girl"
But "Hey there lonely chaps."

No post office, no telephone box
Communication's gone
It's a lively conversation
With participant of one
No cat or dog just passing by
No neighbor once in a while
No pat or tap on window pane
To force you into smile.

It's a young man's game
Just join that social club, don't complain
As life goes speeding by
Wipe the tear from your eye
It's a long way back from here to Lover's Lane.

At nine, you that 29
Is pretty close to death
At 20, think that 45
You're nearing your last breath
Suddenly at 40, 50 rushes in
55 and 65
You wipe like spit from chin
But 75 and 85
That dribble's part of grin
A grin that life turned upside down
And passed to next of kin.

So bees to the hive, go the over 65
On promise of the last crumb from tin
Wasps to the nest, go the least welcome of guests
On the scent of tepid tea and iceless gin.

It's a young man's game.

27 December 2010

BABY DOLL

I've been looking for artists for a few upcoming projects recently, and a friend of mine linked me to Jakob Westman's page at deviantart.com. There's so much great stuff to look at in his gallery, but one thing that instantly caught my eye was this awesome illustration of Emily Browning as Baby Doll from the upcoming Sucker Punch...

26 December 2010

MODERN ART

More cool Olly Moss posters: Following on from his recent series of classic retro-styled posters designed for the 2010 Alamo Drafthouse/Levi's Rolling Roadshow tour, he's turned his attention to the original Star Wars trilogy for Mondo:

More about Olly Moss at ollymoss.com.

25 December 2010

WONDERFUL CHRISTMAS TIME

I read an article about annoying Christmas songs recently, and it listed Paul McCartney & Wings' "Wonderful Christmas Time" as the most cloying offender. (Just ahead of "Baby, It's Cold Outside," apparently...) Personally, I can think of dozens of more annoying holiday songs, but what I actually find more interesting is the stark difference between Macca's effort and John Lennon & Yoko Ono's, "Happy Christmas (War is Over)." Both are joyful and melodic, but the latter song is clearly the more thoughtful and reflective of the two. It's also the track more widely regarded as a genuine "classic," and is probably the most played song from Lennon's solo career after "Imagine." Is that because of the song's more sombre tone, or is it just because it has a more timeless sound than the "Wonderful Christmas Time?" Do gospel choirs just win out over tinsely synths? I'd like to think it's because of the song's message, but whatever the case, here are videos for each of them. Happy Christmas!



24 December 2010

IT'S CHRISTMAS TIME

My top 10 favorite non-traditional Christmas songs...

1. Belle and Sebastian - "Are You Coming Over for Christmas," (digital single, 2007)
2. Harry Nilsson - "Remember Christmas," (Son of Schmilsson, 1972)
3. John Lennon & Yoko Ono - "Happy Xmas (War is Over)," (single a-side, 1971)
4. The Flirtations - "Christmas Time is Here Again," (single b-side, "Nothing but a Heartache," 1968)
5. Saint Etienne - "I Was Born on Christmas Day" (singe a-side, 1993)
6. Otis Redding - "Merry Christmas, Baby," (single a-side, 1968)
7. The Pretenders - "2000 Miles," (Learning to Crawl, 1983)
8. Manic Street Preachers - "Christmas Ghost" (digital single, 2007)
9. Spearmint - "Howling Christmas," (Oklahoma!, 2000)
10. The Beatles - "Christmas Time (Is Here Again)," (fan club single, 1967)

23 December 2010

DOUBLE TROUBLE

Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly:


Bowie and Bing:

22 December 2010

WEDNESDAY GIRL

Kelly MacDonald

21 December 2010

MILES APART

Spent some time this weekend flipping through some of my albums with an eye out for particularly eye-catching designs that had an effect on me at different points in my life. I'm going to post more of them over the next few days, but I wanted to start off with some of my favorite Miles Davis album covers.

I'm not going to lie: My gateway to modern jazz, and Miles in particular, was through The Style Council's Café Bleu and my burgeoning interest in all things related to the '60s. I was also on the lookout for sleeve designs that evoked the same kind of feeling I got from other records, assuming that if there was common denominator in the overall presentation, the music must be good as well. In some cases, this approach took me down some pretty dodgy paths, but my instincts were dead on the money where Miles was concerned.

'Round About Midnight was the first Miles Davis record I saw, at a library, of all places, and the cover image was so arresting, I knew I had to check it out and give it a listen. Released in 1957, it was the first of his albums for Columbia Records and the clear line of demarcation between the beginning of his career and his greatest period of artistic and commercial success. It was also one of the first Miles Davis to, I dunno, walk the walk, as well as talk the talk? For me, the design of this album is every bit as important as the music. The lighting, Miles in his Ivy League suit (Miles and Ivy would be virtually synonymous up through the early '60s), affecting just the right pose, the understated type... Everything about this sleeve said this was a talent demanding to be heard, so through impeccable style, I had my first brush with jazz of real substance.

Miles' effortless cool was once again on display on the sleeves of his next two Columbia releases, 1958's Milestones and from the following year, his all-time classic, Kind of Blue. The latter cover is probably the more iconic of the two, but I've always been partial to Milestones, if only because he's just exuding so much attitude in that photo.

Alongside his Columbia output, Prestige was also releasing records by the Miles Davis Quintet, and these two were my favorites in terms of design: Steamin' from 1959 and Workin' from 1961. He made some great records after that, some of which looked fantastic, but in terms of this particular style, I think the presentation of his image was at its peak here...

20 December 2010

TIME OF THE SEASON

And speaking of covers, here's Paul Weller and band performing a lovely version of The Zombies' "Time of the Season" on KCRW last month...

19 December 2010

AND YOUR BIRD CAN SING

Christmas always makes me think of The Beatles for some reason, so how about a rundown of my top 10 favorite Beatles covers?

1. Steve Wonder - "We Can Work it Out," (Signed, Sealed and Delivered, 1970)
"Try to see it my way," indeed. Stevie Wonder's funked up treatment of this Lennon/McCartney classic is worlds away from the original in terms of arrangement, but that's exactly why I love it so. In fact, I'd actually go so far as saying this beats out the Fabs' version.

2. Harry Nilsson - "You Can't Do That," (Pandemonium Shadow Show, 1967)
Too clever for some, a young Harry Nilsson manages to cram quotes from a dozen other Beatles songs into this cover of an early Beatles B-side. "I'm Down," "You're Going to Lose That Girl," "Good Day Sunshine" and more all wind their way through this track, which wasn't even the only Beatles cover on the excellent Pandemonium Shadow Show. (He also included a lovely take on "She's Leaving Home.")

3. Paul Weller - "Sexy Sadie," (single b-side, "Out of the Sinking," 1995)
Between the release of The Beatles' Anthology and Noel Gallagher's regular pillaging of the Beatles songbook, there was a welcome resurgence in appreciation of the Fab Four during the '90s, and in addition the various homages in Oasis songs, there were covers aplenty. Paul Weller was ahead of the curve, though, and this soulful, yet more or less straight interpretation of one of my all-time favorite Beatles track still sounds great today.

4. Tomorrow - "Strawberry Fields Forever," (Tomorrow, 1968)
Less overtly psychedelic than Lennon's original, Tomorrow's version is transformed into a thundering rocker propelled thanks to the fancy fretwork of future Yes guitarist Steve Howe.

5. Mutato Muzika Orchestra - "Hey Jude," (The Royal Tenenbaums soundtrack, 2001)
There are a number of instrumental takes on Beatles tracks (and there's another one later in this list), but this one from Wes Anderson's 2001 film, The Royal Tenenbaums, is easily my favorite. The arrangement by Mark Mothersbaugh is just right; I especially like that it's evocative of the late '60s without resorting to pastiche.

6. Elton John - "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," (single a-side, 1974)
When I was growing up, there two Beatles covers I heard more than the original songs: Joe Cocker's "With a Little Help from My Friends" and this mid-'70s hit for Sir Elton. I know there are many fans of the former, but for me, all I can think of when I hear it is the late John Belushi's none-too-flattering impersonation of Cocker. Elton's version is nice update of the original, complete with Lennon on guitar, and maybe it's just nostalgia, but in some ways, I prefer it to the original.

7. Roddy Frame - "In My Life," (Instant Karma: A Tribute to John Lennon, 2002)
One of the lesser known covers on the list, this is by Aztec Camera's Roddy Frame. Recorded for a CD included with Uncut back in 2002, it's one of the more effective readings of a big Beatles classic, despite its simplicity: Just Roddy, his guitar and John's lyrics.

8. The Score - "Please, Please Me," (single a-side, 1966)
Raunchy freakbeat that borrows from both the Stones and the Yardbirds (check the "Shape of Things to Come" intro) on the sole release by one of the mid-'60s' more obscure bands.

9. Otis Redding - "Day Tripper," (Complete & Unbelievable: The Otis Redding Dictionary of Soul, 1966)
Liverpool by way of Memphis – or psychedelic Stax, take your pick. Otis Redding and the Stax house band - including Booker T. & The MGs, along with Isaac Hayes – tear it up and turn it loose on this one, replacing the original's signature guitar riff with bleating horns and the rhythm of a runaway freight train.

10. Ramsey Lewis - "Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except for Me and My Monkey," (Mother Nature's Son, 1968)
Another instrumental, this one from the inimitable Mr. Lewis' 1968 album of White Album covers. (Which sadly does not include a stab at "Revolution 9.") As with Stevie Wonder's take on "We Can Work it Out," this is a wonderfully wild and funky interpretation of this song that manages to retain the frenzied spirit of the original. In fact, the whole album is something of a minor masterpiece, and highly recommended.

18 December 2010

THAT WAS THEN BUT THIS IS NOW

If there was a comic book store in Tacoma, Washington when I was growing up there, I never saw it. At least, I don’t think so. I have a vague kind of half-memory of this place we used to drive past that had a tattered Spider-Man poster in the window, but it very well could have been a used bookstore. Even now, I think there are only two or three comic book shops in Tacoma, and Comic Book Ink is the only one I’m certain of. Back in the late ‘70s? I’m almost positive there wasn’t anything even resembling a comic book specialty shop.

Comic book stores were actually just coming into their own when I was discovering comics back then. The Direct Market was showing the first signs of being a light at the end of the tunnel of economic desperation comics were traveling down at the time, and comic book publishers themselves were slowly beginning to take advantage of the new market. It would take a few years before things really took off, though, and by most accounts, the Direct Market wasn’t really swinging until the early ‘80s. In the meantime, I bought comics wherever I could find them, and at that time, there seemed to be plenty of options.

7-11 was a frequent source, but it wasn’t the only one. See, the further I was drawn into the world of comics, the more time I spent obsessing on ways to find more of them. And it didn’t matter where I was going with my parents (and when you’re a kid, you’re always going somewhere with your parents – usually someplace dead boring); I always found a way to convince my Dad to pull over at some likely spot to check for comics. Sometimes, I just had a hunch that a certain supermarket or drug store would have comics, but just as often, I’d been given advice from any number of my comics-mad friends. That’s how I found out that the McChord Air Force Base Exchange (BX, for short) had a magazine section crammed full of comics, for instance, or that the Hallmark Shop adjacent to the local Fred Meyer (local chain store, kind of similar to Wal-Mart, but on a much smaller scale) had a well-stocked spinner rack right next to the cash register. Fred Meyer carried comics, too, as did K-Mart, but they were sold in bags of three for a dollar and the trade dress on the covers had been altered so that the price and issue number of each book was displayed in a big, fat diamond. Seen through the always critical eyes of youth, these comics looked a little weird and plus, everyone at school said they were “reprints.” Never mind that many of our favorite comics – Marvel's Greatest Comics, Marvel Tales, Marvel Triple Action – actually were reprints; we were kids, and logic wasn’t exactly our forte at that point. And ultimately, if some comic I desperately needed was in one of those bags; corner diamond be damned, it was mine!

There was something that troubled me greatly, though, and that was the fact that I’d seen all these ads for things like Origins of Marvel Comics in various comics, but the books themselves were so elusive they didn’t seem to exist. One of my friends had a copy of the follow-up to that book, Son of Origins (which he’d taken apart and assembled into individual comic books, incidentally. I still remember him lending me his copy of “Daredevil #1”...), but when I asked where he got it, he hadn’t a clue. His Mom bought it for him, and that was that. I was fascinated by the fact that he had it, though, because it represented tangible evidence that these things I saw in my comics were real. And if they were real, that meant they were sold somewhere. The big question now was…where? Quite the puzzle for the burgeoning mind of an obsessive young comics fan.

Things have changed a lot since then, though, and comic book shops have become as much a part of our cultural landscape as video rental chains and record stores. Unfortunately, a sad thing comic book shops have in common with those types of establishments is they are all, alas, in steep decline as a presence in our communities. This isn’t news. The number of comic book shops in the United States has been in recession since the ‘90s. I’ve seen figures stating there were over 10,000 Direct Market outlets at one point, but you would have to shave two thirds off that and then take off a little more before you got an accurate picture of the current statistics. And sure, part of that is down to the fact comics and graphic novels are readily available in most bookstores and you can order them online or read them on your phone or whatever, but the truth of the matter is the market has shrunk considerably over the years. Comic book shops aren’t as common as they once were and in some places, the options for comic book readers are as limited as those I had as a boy.

Up until recently, I felt pretty lucky that I worked in Downtown Berkeley, due to the fact one of the absolute best stores in the country, Comic Relief, was mere blocks away. Lately, though, Comic Relief is but a grim signpost to the past. Fortunately, there’s still Dr. Comics & Mr. Games in Piedmont, and crossing the bridge to my home in San Francisco, there’s Brian Hibbs' wonderful Comix Experience and James Simes' Isotope. There's also Mission Comics, Al’s Comics and Neon Monster, just to name a few. A good comic book shop is a good comic book shop, after all, and if you’re immersed in comic book culture enough to be visiting this site and reading my rambling blog posts, visiting one is probably something akin to dropping in on an old friend or going to church.

Even thought I don’t buy as many comics as I used to (funny how one gets more selective with time, innit?), I still get a real buzz off being in a shop on new comics day or dropping by a store to find it bustling on the weekend. It’s the same thrill I get from visiting my favorite record stores or going to a good film or seeing a great band play live. There’s just something real about being there amongst my fellow travelers, joining in the Holy Communion of Comics, and it’s an experience I don’t get from ordering something online or picking something up from a chain store.

So, if the weather’s agreeable wherever you are (often a challenge, this time of year) and there’s a shop nearby, do yourself a favor and drop on by. Bask in the glory of a place made especially for you, and while you’re at it, remember that not too very long ago, these temples to the power of the unbridled imagination weren’t part of the landscape at all.

17 December 2010

ALL YOU DO IS TALK

Another installment of "The Bleeding I" is up over at bleedingcool.com. What's "The Bleeding I," you ask? Basically me answering questions about comics. Image Comics, in particular. If you're into comics, check it out. If you're not into comics... Well, you should be.

16 December 2010

REAL BAD NEWS

Wrote the following as a response to this factually challenged article in the East Bay Express, but who knows if they'll actually run it, so...

I'm always happy to see comics getting some local press, but after reading your recent article about East Bay institution Comic Relief, my only reaction was, "What a pile of horse shit.

"One of Rory Root's surviving family members is going to buy the store and save it? Are you kidding me? That's like saying you're going save a shooting victim by putting him in front of a firing squad. They own the store now, and I am beyond puzzled that someone could research and write an article about Comic Relief's current predicament without understanding that.

Having known Rory Root since I first started working in comics in the early '90s, I can tell you that as much as I loved the guy, he was far from perfect. He kept Comic Relief alive and kicking, though, often against significant odds, because he understood the business and had a deep-rooted love and understanding not only of comics, but of the people who bought and read them. As a result, there were people willing to do favors for Rory simply because it was Rory. Rough around the edges though he was, Rory was a magnetic personality and he engendered a tremendous amount of goodwill. There were few greater ambassadors for comics, and since Image Comics moved to Berkeley in 2004, it was the pleasure of our entire staff to shop at his store.

Until recently.

A seemingly never-ending series of colossal blunders by Rory's family have put the store on life support, and now the store is a shell of what it once was. Comic Relief hasn't received new product in weeks. For anyone even the least bit familiar with the business of selling comics, it should be vodka clear: No new books means no business. No business means no store. And far from being some sort of solution to the store's troubles, the Roots are actually the cause. They took the store over against Rory's wishes and have run it into the ground with such force, you'd think they were blasting for oil.

You see, here's the thing: Rory had a number of health issues, and he was well aware that he was living on borrowed time. The topic of his death and the future of the store came up often – not in terms of "if," but "when" – and no matter who he was talking to, he always made it a point to say that the store would be left to long-time general manager Todd Martinez. He repeatedly said it was documented in his will: The store goes to Todd.

But when Rory passed away in 2008, a funny thing happened: His family claimed they couldn't find a copy of the will in his house.

Now, let's for a moment give the Roots the benefit of the doubt. Maybe Rory really did lose the will. He wasn't exactly known for his organizational skills, after all, and stories of the clutter in his house were legend. But even so, his wishes were widely known. Rory was a public figure and he was not shy about sharing the details of his life. It was no secret he wanted to leave the store to Todd, and one would think, will or no will, his family – of all people – would have enough simple decency and respect to honor his wishes.

But, no, despite having zero experience running a comic book store, the Roots elbowed Todd out of the way like it was raining hundred dollar bills, and started making decisions regarding the store's future that insured nothing but its eventual ruin, beginning with the immediate dismissal of Kathleen Hunt – Rory's attorney and best friend – as executor of his will. They either fired or forced out good employees, they gave up prime real estate at key conventions and best of all, they hired Chris Juricich to manage the store, demoting Todd Martinez – Rory's right hand man for well over a decade – in the process. More staff quit in frustration, and visiting the store was like a trip to Dr. Doom's castle. For Rory's friends and Comic Relief's regular customers (very often, one and the same), watching this sad spectacle unfold has been nothing short of heartbreaking.

The one bright spot in all of this is that I personally am not a short-sighted idiot, so while the Roots failed to recognize Todd's value, I did, and seeing how demoralized he was under Juricich's and the Roots' supervision, I hired him to be Image Comics' Sales & Licensing Coordinator.

Meanwhile, Rory's family continue to stomp on the legacy of their brother, as the wonderful store he created staggers ever closer to its slow and inevitable death.

Whether it's the writer's inability to filter truth from lies or, y'know, actually do some repoting and check some basic facts, I don't know. Maybe this is just a cynical attempt by Juricich and the Roots to cast themselves in a better light. Whatever the case, I'm calling bullshit on this pathetic rewrite of recent history. The customers who've supported Comic Relief over the years deserve better, the store itself deserves better, and most of all, Rory deserves better.

15 December 2010

MORE AND MORE

More Emma Watson, evoking '60s-era Twiggy, Mia Farrow and Edie Sedgwick whilst still looking very much herself.

WEDNESDAY GIRL

Emma Watson

14 December 2010

THE LOVED ONES

For anyone still craving live music in swanky surroundings after catching Agent Ribbons (along with Social Studies and Amores Vigilantes – it's an Antenna Farm Birthday celebration, don'tcha know!) at the Burritt Room on Friday night, '90s Bay Area favorites The Loved Ones (featuring singer/songwriter and Burritt Room booker Bart Davenport) are getting back together for one night only at the same venue. Oh, yeah: There's no cover.

The Loves Ones @ The Burritt Room inside The Crescent Hotel, San Francisco
Special guests: Love Dimension & DJ Primo
Saturday, 19 December • 9:00 pm

The Crescent Hotel is located at 417 Stockton Street, about a block up from Union Square.

RAY

I wanna be this cool when I grow up...

13 December 2010

STORYTELLING

Apropos of absolutely nothing, here's a quick and dirty rundown of my favorite Kinks tracks from the 1970s onwards. As with most of the Kinks' best material, Ray Davies' songwriting is the main attraction, especially his unparalleled knack for constructing such fully-realized stories within the context of the three-and-half-minute pop song. To be sure, Davies did his finest work in the mid-to-late '60s, but there's still plenty to like about what came next...

1. "This Time Tomorrow" (Lola versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, 1970)
Lola versus Powerman and the Moneygoround was a pretty big disappointment for me when I first heard it, but over the years it has become my absolute favorite Kinks album of the '70s. "Lola" was a massive hit, obviously (and the band's first top five single since 1967), but this little wonder was always the highlight of the album for me. Ray's wistful lyrics and the chugging acoustic guitar imbue this track with a joyous melancholia that still gets me every time. Dusted off a couple years back for Wes Anderson's The Darjeeling Limited, this is without a doubt a lost Kinks Klassic.

2. "Where Are They Now?"
3. "Sweet Lady Genievieve"
4. "Sitting in the Midday Sun" (Preservation Act 1, 1973)
These three songs are all from an unwieldy (and incredibly uneven) concept album based loosely on themes first explored on the band's 1968 classic, The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society. (And yes, there is a Preservation Act 2, which I highly recommend avoiding.) It's easy to dismiss Preservation Act 1 when considered as a whole, but these three gems (all attributed to a character known only as "The Tramp," Ray's thinly-veiled persona within the overall concept) wouldn't sound out of place alongside the Kinks' mid-'60s output. The best of the lot is Ray's paean to the lost summer days of the '60s, "Where Are They Now?", an oddly affecting roll call of Swinging Londoners, Mods, Rockers and Teddy Boys that name checks everyone from Mary Quant to Christine Keeler.

5. "Have a Cuppa Tea" (Muswell Hillbillies, 1971)
This is from another album I didn't take to right away, and it's basically a good-natured ode to the healing properties of England's national beverage. Steeped in working class hall tradition, this track never fails to get me humming, not to mention thirsty for a nice, warm cuppa...

6. "A Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy," (Misfits, 1978)
I've never really cared for songs about rock and roll. Things like The Who's "Long Live Rock" or "It's Only Rock 'n' Roll" by the Stones just get up my nose, and don't get me started on road songs! Why, then, do I find "A Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy" so poignant? Written right around the time of Elvis Presley's death, this is less a "rah rah, rock 'n' roll" anthem than a tuneful bit of self-analysis by Ray, sounding in places like an appeal to carry on. What I like about this most, though, is the music. This is one of those songs that keeps changing into something else, building and building until it finally climaxes with the Beach Boys-esque harmonies on the bridge at the end and some beautifully understated guitar work from the often-underrated Dave Davies.

7. "Good Day," (Word of Mouth, 1984)
The Kinks had a lot of success in the U.S. during the late '70s/early '80s, and while I can find things to like about albums like Low Budget and Give the People What They Want, I was fast losing interest by the time the aptly titled State of Confusionwas released in 1983. I seem to recall Word of Mouth being touted as a return to form at the time, but really, there's just this one track, which I'd rate over hits like "Come Danging" or "(Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman" any day.

8. "God's Children," (Percy, 1971)
Written for the soundtrack to a British comedy about a penis transplant. That's right: a penis transplant. I've never seen the film, so I don't know if it's as crap as it sounds (although I'm assured it is), but the accompanying album contains a handful of quality compositions from RD, and this string-laden call for a return to nature is the best of them.

9. "The Hard Way," (Schoolboys in Disgrace, 1974)
I don't actually own the album this first appeared on, as I only sought the track out after learning its main riff provided the inspiration for The Jam's "A-Bomb in Wardour Street." While that's most certainly the case, this is also a pretty great song that harkens back to that earlier part of the Kinks' career when they cranked out riff-based rock like nobody's business. A lot of people prefer the live version (available on One for the Road), but I think I like the original best.

10. "Scattered," (Phobia, 1993)
This is from the Kinks' final studio album, and musically, it isn't a million miles away from "This Time Tomorrow." Maybe it's the intro, or just Ray's National steel acoustic. Whatever the case, this would have been a highlight on any Kinks album between the time it was recorded and the early '70s. Sadly, there's nothing else onPhobia that comes even close to matching the quality of this track, but the esteemed Mr. Davies seems to have caught up with his muse again for his recent solo material...