The Daily Square

Certain Songs #553: Guided by Voices – “I Am A Scientist”

May 23rd, 2016 · No Comments

GBV I am a Album: I Am A Scientist EP
Year: 1994

My theme song.

You have no idea how much I almost let that be the entire post. But I decided it wasn’t really fair to the song. Or to me, I guess.

Here’s the thing: when y’all have the party to celebrate my passing (currently scheduled for the 2070s), you can play pretty much any of the Certain Songs, but this is the only one I’m requesting, as not even Paul Westerberg wrote a lyric that I relate to as much.

I am a scientist
I seek to understand me
All of my impurities and evils yet unknown

I am a journalist
I write to you to show you
I am an incurable
And nothing else behaves like me

Of course, when you do play it, make sure you use the version on the I Am A Scientist EP, and not the one on Bee Thousand. I mean, the one on the album is fine and all, but the recorded-live-in-the-studio (by the incomparable Andy Shernoff) version is where the music is as powerful as the words.

And I know what’s right
But I’m losing sight
Of the clues
For which I search and choose to abuse
To just unlock my mind
Yeah, and just unlock my mind

On this version, the band is solid, the guitars are loud and Robert Pollard’s singing is forthright, as it damn straight better be as he sings the second verse knowing that he’s speaking not just for himself, but the people who somehow feel like his band have uncovered some new link to their own souls.

I am a pharmacist
Prescriptions I will fill you
Potions, pills and medicines
To ease your painful lives

I am a lost soul
I shoot myself with rock & roll
The hole I dig is bottomless
But nothing else can set me free

“The hole I dig is bottomless.” That was true. I was 31 when “I Am a Scientist” came out, and I’d been digging a rock & roll hole with my life for more than half of my life. Everything was about rock & roll. Spending all of my money on albums and shows and music books and magazines. Becoming a DJ and a clubrat and drummer and a writer — it was everything I was, and everything I ever wanted to be. A big dumb rock guy.

“But nothing else can set me free.” Maybe. But even in 1994, that was going away. After all, I didn’t want to be a DJ in the world of tight corporate playlists; I’d moved from my hometown club scene; I wasn’t a very good drummer; and every time I thought I was getting traction as a writer, something happened with the publication I was writing for.

But here’s the thing: I was still trying. I was still trying to make shit happen with it. Which is why I also related to the optimistic ending of “I Am a Scientist.”

Everything is right
Everything works out right
Everything fades from sight
Because that’s alright with me

After all, that whole World Wide Web thing I’d been reading about seemed interesting.

“I Am A Scientist” (EP version)

“I Am A Scientist” (Album version)

Every Certain Song Ever
A filterable, searchable & sortable database with links to every “Certain Song” post I’ve ever written.

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Certain Songs Spotify playlist
(It’s recommended that you listen to this on Spotify as their embed only has 200 songs.)

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Certain Songs #544: Green Day – “Warning”

May 22nd, 2016 · No Comments

Green day warning_large Album: Warning
Year: 2000

Once the mega-ballad “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” confirmed to Billie Joe Armstrong that he didn’t have to play by the loud fast rules anymore, Green Day followed it up with the Warning album, which featured three of best singles this stellar singles band have ever recorded: the wistful “Waiting,” the angry “Minority,” and my favorite of all, the Kinksy “Warning.”

Ray Davies got so much mileage from stealing riffs, it was fine by me for Billie Joe to acknowledge what was no doubt a key influence by stealing one of his.

Actually, two key influences: when he shouts out “Sanitation, expiration date,” it’s a clear shout-out to the Replacements “Waitress in the Sky,” as well. That said, the crazily catchy chorus was all Billie Joe.

Warning, live without warning
I say a warning, live without warning
I say a warning, live without warning
I say a warning, live without warning
Without alright!

When Warning came out I was dealing with the worst commute of my life — Oakland to to Sunnyvale, 40 miles in each direction — and one of the few memories I’ve allowed myself of what was basically 3 hours of hell every day was digging “Warning” every single time it came on Live 105 or the Warning CD I probably made from downloading the album from Napster. Because it was the fall of 2000, and everything was just about to change.

Though maybe not. I honestly don’t remember. But after Dookie, Insomniac and Nimrod I’d pegged Green Day as a singles band, and figured that the next album I would buy would be their greatest hits collection. Which, by the way was a good call, as International Superhits is probably their best album.

That said, in the fall of 2000, I had no idea just how many ideas that Billie Joe Armstrong was going to steal from Ray Davies, or how much everything was going to change in a relatively short period of time. I just knew I was going to continue to enjoy Green Day’s singles.

Official Video for “Warning”

Every Certain Song Ever
A filterable, searchable & sortable database with links to every “Certain Song” post I’ve ever written.

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Certain Songs Spotify playlist
(It’s recommended that you listen to this on Spotify as their embed only has 200 songs.)

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Certain Songs #543: Green Day – “Longview”

May 21st, 2016 · No Comments

green day dookie Album: Dookie
Year: 1994

Dookie is where being a punk rocker became a valid career choice.

This sounds a bit like an insult, I know, but as I wrote after seeing them at Lollapalooza in 1994 is that the mid-1990s success of Dookie and its fellow third (or fourth) (or fifth) generation punk rock brethren meant that — like metal before it — punk rock had achieved perpetual motion.

Part of which meant that an ambitious guy like Billie Joe Armstrong could choose punk rock as his initial form of expression, and ignore whatever limitations and restrictions that would have previously been inherent to that choice.

Of course, punk rockers had been ignoring the restrictions of punk rock since The Clash, so this was nothing new, but the ongoing success of Green Day felt like something new, because they clearly weren’t visionaries or revolutionaries but rather a super tight band that featured an ace songwriter with a keen melodic sense.

And “Longview” was where it all kicked in: exploiting the quiet loud quiet formula with a loping bassline and rolling drums dominating the verses and guitar explosions and drum rolls in the chorus.

It wasn’t anything new, but it sounded fucking amazing on the radio, which was where Green Day really made their mark. Radio loved their singles, and while the airplay saturation they got didn’t really translate into singles sales — they didn’t have an actual Billboard Charts hit single until “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” it certainly translated into album sales.

But most importantly, I think, is that Green Day provided a contemporary entry into punk for a generation of kids who otherwise might have figured that it was a dying genre.

“Longview”

Every Certain Song Ever
A filterable, searchable & sortable database with links to every “Certain Song” post I’ve ever written.

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Certain Songs Spotify playlist
(It’s recommended that you listen to this on Spotify as their embed only has 200 songs.)

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Certain Songs #542: The Grateful Dead – “Sugar Magnolia (Paris, 1972)”

May 20th, 2016 · No Comments

Grateful Dead Europe 72 Album: Europe ’72
Year: 1972

I saw The Grateful Dead three times in the 1980s. The first time was in February 1982 at Pauley Pavilion on the UCLA campus with Tim & Larry, though exactly why, I’m not sure, since most of my road trips around that time were to see folks that were higher in my personal pantheon, like The Who or The Kinks or Bruce Springsteen or Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

Guessing that Larry, who spent more time than anybody probably should have playing Dead music for me, had something to do with that one.

The next time was a few months later, as Tim & I saw them open the final day of the US Festival with a set that was advertised as “Breakfast with The Grateful Dead”.

Since I spent the entire US Festival subsiding on hot dogs & Coca-Cola, I kinda wish they had actually served breakfast during their set.

In any event, both shows were totally enjoyable, even if I was immune to having my mind blown. The final time I saw them was at the Oakland County Coliseum in the summer of 1987 the dire “Dylan & The Dead” tour in 1987.

The best thing about that show was that I got a totally cool Dylan shirt (with a picture of him that was on Biograph) that almost instantly shrunk on me, so I had to give it to my brother Joseph.

None of which has anything to do with this tremendous live version of “Sugar Magnolia” from the Europe ’72 triple-live album.

On American Beauty, “Sugar Magnolia” Bob Weir continues to chant “sunshine daydream,” as the song fades out, but on this live album, that section becomes almost an entirely new song, following an absolutely crackling full-band jam where every single member is firing on all cylinders.

Jerry Garcia’s solos have always gotten the brunt of the praise (and blame) when people talk about their long improvisations, but while his solo is utterly tremendous on this version of “Sugar Magnolia”, the whole band — especially pianist Keith Godchaux — are utterly smoking.

Hell, drummer Bill Kreutzmann gets so carried away he ends up double-timing his snare and actually ends the rave-up a measure too soon, but almost instantly catches himself and ends when everybody else does, a mistake they rightly left on the album.

After the audience starts cheering at the false ending, they leap back into “Sunshine Daydream” section, which is basically a repeat of the preceding jam, but now with Donna Godchaux singing “sunshine daydream” in imperfect harmony with Bob Weir. It’s so much fun that for a few minutes I take back everything bad I’ve ever even thought about hippies.

“Sugar Magnolia (Paris ’72)”

Every Certain Song Ever
A filterable, searchable & sortable database with links to every “Certain Song” post I’ve ever written.

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Certain Songs Spotify playlist
(It’s recommended that you listen to this on Spotify as their embed only has 200 songs.)

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Certain Songs #541: The Grateful Dead – “Playing in the Band (Live 1971)”

May 19th, 2016 · No Comments

grateful dead skull & roses Album: Grateful Dead
Year: 1971

How many Grateful Dead live albums are there by now? Dozens? Hundreds? Thousands? Early on, they realized that their ability to take the same song in different directions on different nights was something their fans treasured, and from 1969 – 1973, they released eight discs worth of live recordings.

For most bands, this would have been seen as flooding the market, but for Deadheads it wasn’t nearly enough, so — with the band’s blessing — the taping and trading of shows abounded, which was an awesome community-building (and keeping) concept that probably arose from a combination of understanding fandom and hippie anti-materialism.

And while the hallmark of the taping and trading policy was “no commercial gain,” that clearly didn’t extend to the Dead, so in the early 1990s, they started bootlegging themselves, which has continued strong for the past quarter-century.

Of course, all of this was still in the embryonic phase when the Dead put out the Grateful Dead live album in 1971. This is the album that is commonly known as “Skull & Roses,” as it was the first Dead artifact to feature of of their most iconic images — a skeleton with a crown of roses.

They’d had skeletons on their album covers, they’d had roses on their album covers, but this is the first time they had both!

It was also the first time “Playing in the Band” made it to record. What I like about this version is that it feels kinda sketchy and tentative, as if the gorgeous ringing guitar duets that Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir are throwing together are happening for the first time ever.

Which, probably not, especially since Wikipedia sources the song to 1968. Also, when you listen hard, you can hear how disciplined their guitars are being. But only if you really listen hard, and even then, things are always on the verge of going haywire.

And along with the typically rough harmonies, that sense that things could fall apart even they’re doing everything they can to keep it together is part of the charm of a song like “Playing in the Band.”

“Playing in the Band (Live 1971)

Every Certain Song Ever
A filterable, searchable & sortable database with links to every “Certain Song” post I’ve ever written.

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Certain Songs Spotify playlist
(It’s recommended that you listen to this on Spotify as their embed only has 200 songs.)

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Certain Songs #540: The Grateful Dead – “Friend of The Devil”

May 18th, 2016 · No Comments

grateful dead american beauty Album: American Beauty
Year: 1970

If I was forced at gunpoint to choose my favorite song by The Grateful Dead (and seriously, who would ever actually do that?), it would be the outlaw fantasia “Friend of The Devil,” one of the key tracks on their 1971 classic American Beauty.

I’m definitely not alone in this, of course, and while I don’t really remember “Friend of The Devil” being on the radio in the same way as its contemporaries such as “Casey Jones” and “Truckin,’” over the years, it’s the song that has come to define the Dead for me.

Or at least the Dead I like the most: easy-rolling mostly-acoustic songs with rough vocals and intricate guitar work. So basically Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty.

I set out running but I take my time
A friend of the devil is a friend of mine
If I get home before daylight
I just might get some sleep tonight

As Jerry Garcia is singing Robert Hunter’s myth-making lyrics, there’s a hint of amusement in his voice, as if he’s giving away that the words he’s singing — about borrowing money from the devil, who almost instantly demands payment (at least he didn’t charge interest) — have absolutely nothing to do with the life he actually lives, but he’s also fine with you thinking it is his real life.

This is most apparent in the bridge:

Got two reasons why I cry
Away each lonely night
The first one’s named sweet Anne Marie
And she’s my heart’s delight
Second one is prison, baby
The sheriff’s on my trail
And if he catches up with me
I’ll spend my life in jail

The (American) beauty, of course, is that the actual veracity of a song like “Friend of The Devil” doesn’t even matter. Because Garcia is so clearly enjoying imagining himself as this polygamous outlaw who will probably ask the devil for a bong hit the next time they see each other, it allows us to imagine ourselves having that kinda of freewheeling lifestyle, regardless of the details.

Which, I guess, is one of the reasons it feels like such a key text in the Dead’s mythology: songs like “Friend of The Devil” probably helped people decide to dedicate their lives to following them around, hoping to capture the thrill of the endless life on the road it so effortlessly described.

Some of them might even have.

“Friend of the Devil”

Every Certain Song Ever
A filterable, searchable & sortable database with links to every “Certain Song” post I’ve ever written.

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Certain Songs Spotify playlist
(It’s recommended that you listen to this on Spotify as their embed only has 200 songs.)

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Certain Songs #539: The Grateful Dead – “Cream Puff War”

May 17th, 2016 · No Comments

grateful dead Album: The Grateful Dead
Year: 1967

I’m not even sure where to begin with The Grateful Dead. So let me start with this: regardless of how I’ve ever felt about their music, I always loved how much they understood and respected their fans.

In terms of creating and fostering a community — especially their deep understanding that fans recording and sharing their shows was the best thing possible for their music — around their music, they were absolute role models, emulated by bands like R.E.M., Wilco & The Hold Steady.

That said, it took me a long time to get into their music, and while the excellent work by my Grateful Dead spirit guide, Larry, really helped, the first Grateful Dead album I really loved was mostly atypical from their later work.

Unlike pretty much everything else they recorded afterwards, their self-titled debut was full of speedy garage rockers and crazy-wild rave ups. Sure it had the mandated-by-1960s-law cover of “Morning Dew,” but it also had “Cream Puff War,” a song that would be a highlight of any 60s proto-punk compilation.

Just dig the opening sequence: a dueling guitar and organ sequence highlighted by Jerry Garcia absolutely shredding chords on the guitar with Pig Pen’s organ’s tumbling across the room from the sheer force of that guitar. And with the drums never quite finding a beat to stay with as Garcia shouts:

No, no! She can’t take your mind and leave
I know it’s just another trick she’s got up her sleeve
I can’t believe that she really wants you to die
After all it’s more than enough to pay for your lie

Then the song slows down into a waltz time — a fast waltz time, to be sure — for a couple of measures, because why not, but that’s thrown out the window as the speed kicks back in and with a strangled “ahhhhhh!” Garcia launches into a raggedy and jagged guitar solo, with each note that spews his guitar acting surprised to even exist.

The first time I heard “Cream Puff War,” I was absolutely floored. The universe is, of course, filled with bands who started off garagey and got more and more sophisticated, but that primitive period was part of their legend. In 1981, at least, this period of the Dead seemed like a secret.

I wonder if it still does. I also wonder how Deadheads feel about it. Do they despise it like Radiohead fans slag Pablo Honey in light of their later work, or do they love it, like Who fans have always treasured the rough pop songs on My Generation?

My guess is that it’s the latter, as Deadheads don’t strike me as being as nearly as snobby as, er, Radioheads are, and of course, none of the singles from The Grateful Dead did anything to break them the way that “Creep” broke Radiohead.

Anyways, if you completely associate The Dead with long guitar solos, classic acoustic folk songs, or even that unlikely hit single about growing older, here’s completely different side of their music.

“Cream Puff War”

“Cream Puff War” performed live in 1966 (audio only)

Every Certain Song Ever
A filterable, searchable & sortable database with links to every “Certain Song” post I’ve ever written.

Check it out!

Certain Songs Spotify playlist
(It’s recommended that you listen to this on Spotify as their embed only has 200 songs.)

Support “Certain Songs” with a donation on Patreon
Go to my Patreon page

File Under: The Daily Square

Certain Songs #539: The Grateful Dead – “Cream Puff War”

May 17th, 2016 · No Comments

grateful dead Album: The Grateful Dead
Year: 1967

I’m not even sure where to begin with The Grateful Dead. So let me start with this: regardless of how I’ve ever felt about their music, I always loved how much they understood and respected their fans.

In terms of creating and fostering a community — especially their deep understanding that fans recording and sharing their shows was the best thing possible for their music — around their music, they were absolute role models, emulated by bands like R.E.M., Wilco & The Hold Steady.

That said, it took me a long time to get into their music, and while the excellent work by my Grateful Dead spirit guide, Larry, really helped, the first Grateful Dead album I really loved was mostly atypical from their later work.

Unlike pretty much everything else they recorded afterwards, their self-titled debut was full of speedy garage rockers and crazy-wild rave ups. Sure it had the mandated-by-1960s-law cover of “Morning Dew,” but it also had “Cream Puff War,” a song that would be a highlight of any 60s proto-punk compilation.

Just dig the opening sequence: a dueling guitar and organ sequence highlighted by Jerry Garcia absolutely shredding chords on the guitar with Pig Pen’s organ’s tumbling across the room from the sheer force of that guitar. And with the drums never quite finding a beat to stay with as Garcia shouts:

No, no! She can’t take your mind and leave
I know it’s just another trick she’s got up her sleeve
I can’t believe that she really wants you to die
After all it’s more than enough to pay for your lie

Then the song slows down into a waltz time — a fast waltz time, to be sure — for a couple of measures, because why not, but that’s thrown out the window as the speed kicks back in and with a strangled “ahhhhhh!” Garcia launches into a raggedy and jagged guitar solo, with each note that spews his guitar acting surprised to even exist.

The first time I heard “Cream Puff War,” I was absolutely floored. The universe is, of course, filled with bands who started off garagey and got more and more sophisticated, but that primitive period was part of their legend. In 1981, at least, this period of the Dead seemed like a secret.

I wonder if it still does. I also wonder how Deadheads feel about it. Do they despise it like Radiohead fans slag Pablo Honey in light of their later work, or do they love it, like Who fans have always treasured the rough pop songs on My Generation?

My guess is that it’s the latter, as Deadheads don’t strike me as being as nearly as snobby as, er, Radioheads are, and of course, none of the singles from The Grateful Dead did anything to break them the way that “Creep” broke Radiohead.

Anyways, if you completely associate The Dead with long guitar solos, classic acoustic folk songs, or even that unlikely hit single about growing older, here’s completely different side of their music.

“Cream Puff War”

“Cream Puff War” performed live in 1966 (audio only)

Every Certain Song Ever
A filterable, searchable & sortable database with links to every “Certain Song” post I’ve ever written.

Check it out!

Certain Songs Spotify playlist
(It’s recommended that you listen to this on Spotify as their embed only has 200 songs.)

Support “Certain Songs” with a donation on Patreon
Go to my Patreon page

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Certain Songs #538: Grant Lee Buffalo – “The Hook”

May 16th, 2016 · No Comments

grant lee buffalo Album: Fuzzy
Year: 1993

You young’uns who only know Grant-Lee Phillips as the Stars Hollow town troubadour in Gilmore Girls might be surprised that — for a short while in 1993 — Grant Lee Buffalo felt like the most important band in the world.

That’s because of the initial impact of their debut album Fuzzy, which somehow felt like the first album full of what Mike Scott of The Waterboys called “The Big Music” since The Waterboys abandoned the — well, “genre” is far too strong of a word but it’s all I got here — genre with Fisherman’s Blues.

And even more remarkable, Grant Lee Buffalo created huge anthems with mostly acoustic instruments, their secret being Grant-Lee Phillips electrified acoustic guitar, allowing him to go from gorgeous acoustic to howling electric in the blink of an eye.

That said, the song that most grabbed me was the all-acoustic “The Hook,” where it’s just picked acoustic guitar and brushes on a snare as Phillips starts:

There’s one thing I tell you, friend
I don’t believe in supermen
Who fly through the clouds above the rest
I don’t believe in the best

But it was the chorus of “The Hook” that I was singing to myself at 3:30AM as I was walking home from some post-gig party — usually at that guy (I think) John’s house — in the Tower District, being sure to stay middle of the street so if anybody was going to attack me I might have a chance to outrun them.

‘Cause this is the hook that drags you
This is the hook in the crook of your neck
It’s the hook that snags you
This is the hook

The beautiful melancholy in Phillips’ voice as sang that chorus totally matched my mood then: 1992 had been an incredibly tumultuous year for me, and the spring of 1993 was considerably quieter, even as 30-year-old me had no idea what was going to happen next, which was somehow comfortable, frightening and sad all at the same time.

Of course, the seeds for my future were already being sown: I’d started seeing Rox, and I had bought my first personal computer, where the first thing I did was start connecting with other music fans from around the country, some of whom might be reading this post at this moment.

But of course, I had no idea about any of that, all I knew for sure was that Fuzzy was an album that hooked me by the crook of my neck.

I also remember seeing Grant Lee Buffalo — with The Miss Alans opening — at the CSUF Satellite College Union at some point after Fuzzy came out, and thoroughly enjoying them.

“The Hook”

“The Hook” performed live in Frankfurt, 1994

Every Certain Song Ever
A filterable, searchable & sortable database with links to every “Certain Song” post I’ve ever written.

Check it out!

Certain Songs Spotify playlist
(It’s recommended that you listen to this on Spotify as their embed only has 200 songs.)

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Go to my Patreon page

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Certain Songs #537: Grant Hart – “Is The Sky The Limit?”

May 15th, 2016 · No Comments

grant hart the argument Album: The Argument
Year: 2013

Despite immediately following the break-up of his band with the 2541 EP and Intolerance, Grant Hart has only recorded sporadically in the intervening years.

There were the Nova Mob albums in the mid-1990s, which showed that for all of his melodic gifts, his rock tunes could use a great drummer & guitarist to make them less generic, and he then followed those with a pair of solo albums, 1999’s Good News For Modern Man and 2009’s Hot Wax.

And while I think I might have underrated all of these records — my 1994 review of the second Nova Mob album snidely wondered if he was really only good for 3 or 4 good songs per album — I was always rooting for him, even contributing to the Kickstarter for Gorman Bechard’s Every Everything documentary. (Which I still think shoulda been called Dead Set on Destruction, or even Keep Hangin’ On, but that’s just me.)

Anyways, I’m glad to report that Grant Hart’s 2013 album, The Argument, is easily the best record he’s made since Warehouse: Songs and Stories, and is chock full of great songs.

Based upon both Milton’s Paradise Lost and a lost William S. Burroughs sci-fi short story, The Argument would completely fall under the weight of its own pretentions, both musically and lyrically, except that Hart wrote a whole bunch of off-kilter pop songs to carry it.

“Is The Sky The Limit?” is a perfect example, as it is short, spacey and trancey, starting out with what I think is a zither over a slow drum beat, and adding instruments and vocals as the song marches menacingly to its conclusion.

As a whole country of overdubbed Harts chant “radiate / radiate away” over what is either a sample of crickets or some kind of alarm, “Is The Sky The Limit” achieves the weird symphonic grandeur that it feels like Hart has been aiming for during his entire solo career.

Having long given up on any kind of Hüsker Dü reunion (even as I ran out and bought a New Day Rising T-shirt I couldn’t find in 1985 from their newly-booted merch store), I can only hope that The Argument is the beginning of the same kind of late-period renaissance that Silver Age marked for his ever-erstwhile partner.

“Is The Sky The Limit?”

“Is The Sky The Limit?” performed solo acoustic in 2013

Every Certain Song Ever
A filterable, searchable & sortable database with links to every “Certain Song” post I’ve ever written.

Check it out!

Certain Songs Spotify playlist
(It’s recommended that you listen to this on Spotify as their embed only has 200 songs.)

Support “Certain Songs” with a donation on Patreon
Go to my Patreon page

File Under: The Daily Square