We’d gladly choose a double root canal over a conversation with the Detroit rock ’n’ roll fashionistas about their favorite records. Hell, most of those records nobody’s ever heard of anyway. But, when you get them to talk about their favorite No. 1 records, the conversation gets a little more down to earth. When we asked some of the players at the upcoming Rock City Festival to chat about their favorite No. 1’s, it blurred the line between confessional and nostalgia trip, and, somehow, not even a single vote for Seger’s Against the Wind.
Saturday Looks Good To Me
Guns N’ Roses: Appetite For Destruction
Billboard pop album No. 1 in 1987, 1988, 1989
“Perhaps the equivalent of Thriller with the trailer park set, G N’ R’s 1987 debut album opened new doors and put the world in a screaming, terrifying new perspective for me. Imagine that you’re 12 years old and, in your young mind, the only concept of music you have is your parents’ Bob Dylan records and whatever’s on the Top 40 station while you’re driving with your sister to Farmer Jack or whatever. The accessible melodies tempered with seething guitar sounds, and an overall sonic warmth serving as a frame for Hollywood gutter fairy tales of debauchery and Axl’s ridiculous(ly powerful?) vocals all converged in my mind, signaling that it was time to change from boy to burnout. I bought a pair of British Knights and an electric guitar and nothing has been the same since.”
The Monkees: Headquarters
Billboard pop album No. 1 in 1967
“Without hesitation, I choose The Monkees. My love affair with them developed in my high school years, and was red-hot! There were a lot of albums to buy with babysitting money, and, one after another, I managed to find their entire catalog in one summer, and swallowed it whole! The Monkees had four No. 1 albums, but Headquarters is my favorite for many reasons. Historically, it was the first album the boys wrote and played on all their own material, in which Mike Nesmith really shines. But think of it — Micky Dolenz. An actor, hired to learn to play the drums and sing. Then, in between recording, tour around the world and play rock ’n’ roll shows. He’s my hero, and the inspiration for my having the nerve to audition to play drums for Outrageous Cherry in the first place!”
Stevie Wonder: Talking Book
Billboard pop album No. 1 in 1972
“Its extension of what he had started to do on Music Of My Mind and his freedom from the overbearing Motown quality control system. ‘Superwoman’ had been gorgeous, but ‘I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever),’ ‘You And I,’ and ‘You Are The Sunshine Of My Life’ are an unmatched trilogy of love songs. Overall you can feel that he was digging deep inside his life and his past to form lyrics of love, heartbreak and the state of both his world and the entire globe.
“Sonically, his use of Arp and Moog synthesizers put it in a league of its own, not to mention he also cut drums, percussion, harmonica, piano, vocals and produced the whole record. But if you really only need one reason, ‘Superstition’ is hands down one of the funkiest tunes ever put to tape. ‘When you believe in things that you don’t understand, then you suffer / Superstition ain’t the way.’
“Indeed, my brother.”
Pearl Jam: Vs.
Billboard pop album No. 1 in 1993
“Following up something as majestic and earthshaking as Ten seemed an impossible task. But, instead of delivering an album of 11 more over-the-top grunge classics about kids killing themselves in front of their class and being all still alive and shit, Pearl Jam went and got all difficult on our asses, offering up fucked-up chants like ‘Rats’ and creepy political rants like ‘W.M.A.’ In between the experiments, they managed to crank off some of the best songs of their career, namely the raucous ‘Animal,’ the driving ‘Rearview Mirror’ and the sweeping ‘Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town.’ Perhaps the fluffy animal on the cover was a well-placed guise, as Pearl Jam’s second record proves that under the sheep’s fur lay a gnarly wolf waiting to get out. (Also, I have this album on TAPE, bitch!)”
Prince and the Revolution: Purple Rain
Billboard pop album No. 1 in 1984, 1985
“Your dirty little Prince is up to something. He’s back with another dose of subversive pop and sex-laden funk, this time as an accompaniment to the feature film Purple Rain. With heavenly organ and a reading of deranged wedding sentiment, ‘Let’s Go Crazy’ opens the LP. Crunchy guitar riffs, organ freakouts and an insistent beat build to a final minute-long guitar solo. He may channel equal parts Sly Stone and Jimi Hendrix, but Prince turns rock on its hearing aid with synth foundations and soulful screams. ‘When Doves Cry’ is an exercise in minimalism with haunting lyrics and a convincingly cold delivery.
“Sure, sex oozes from ‘Darling Nikki,’ though that is merely indicative of the times. After all, who hasn’t masturbated in a hotel lobby lately? But there is also a bit of bone for the God-fearin’ folk to sink their teeth to: ‘I Would Die 4 U.’ With a few well-placed ‘darlings,’ it seems the perfect teen love theme. Closer lyrical inspection reveals a first-person messiah complex. The title track, a sweeping eight-minute ballad, closes the album in characteristically self-indulgent fashion. Prince and his Revolution have polished this collection to an exquisite pop masterpiece, one certain to leave you naked and spent, crawling across the bathroom floor.”
Nirvana: In Utero
Billboard pop album No. 1 in 1993
“I was in sixth grade when Kim Sikora (my then-girlfriend) gave me the cassette for Christmas. I was initially disgusted; somehow ‘Heart-Shaped Box’ didn’t sound like its music video. It threw off my concentration while playing Nerf bedroom basketball alone. And it’s a decidedly dark album, all biological bodies and sickness. But I learned to like that. Side 2 is visceral to the point where it hurts. The whole thing sounds like flesh being ripped from the bone and tossed to a school of piranhas.
“An In Utero poster remained unmoved on my bedroom wall for over ten years. I never grew out of it. That original cassette is warped now, but I still fall in love every time I listen to it. With two copies each of the CD, LP and cassette, ‘Radio Friendly Unit Shifter’ is still back-breakingly thunderous, quixotic and poetic. I don’t (can’t?) go more than a month without listening to In Utero.”
Donna Summer:Bad Girls
Billboard pop album No. 1 in 1979
“A five-minute long song about hookers goes No. 1? Besides, my favorite Summer song, ‘Dim All The Lights,’ is on this one … and Ms. Summer wrote it all by her lonesome.”
Led Zeppelin: III
Billboard pop album No. 1 in 1970
“It is by turns majestic, badass, acid-folkie, tragic and beautifully wistful. All this and a hats-off to a very deserving Roy Harper. What more could a girl ask for?”
Credence Clearwater Revival: Cosmo’s Factory
Billboard pop album No. 1 in 1969
“The record opens with a hopped-up Memphis rocker ‘Ramble Tamble’ that goes into an awesome, slowed-down, power chord bridge. Next up is ‘Before You Accuse Me,’ juke joint blues with an almost Hound Dog Taylor feel and ‘Travelin’ Band’ is a Little Richard-style rocker with a screaming guitar break that brings to mind the Beatles live at Shea Stadium. ‘Ooby Dooby’ and ‘My Baby Left Me’ are more electric and R ’n’ B than the Sun originals but still country enough for hippy-hating rednecks with pick-up trucks and AM radios.
“Speaking of rednecks and AM radio, ‘Looking Out My Back Door’ celebrates fantastic creatures and Buck Owens with a song that we are likely to hear on the radio for the rest of our lives. On Side 2, ‘Who’ll Stop The Rain’ is connected with the counterculture intellectual as well as everyday blue-collar working folk, who found it soothing in a spiritual kind of way. ‘I Heard It Thru The Grapevine’ maintains a stripped-down soul groove (for 11:05 minutes), sort of psychedelic Wes Montgomery with jungle drums and gospel vocals. The closing tune, ‘Long As I Can See The Light,’ is straight-up R ’n’ B, very soulful with piano and horns. Again the singer is testifying, but this time with hope and optimism. From a purely rock ’n’ roll standpoint Cosmo’s Factory has great guitars, great songs, great vocals and is recorded really well.”
Gretchen Wilson: Redneck Woman
Billboard country single No. 1 in 2004
“Oh, man, of all time?! You know what? I’ll pick something current. It’s a great song, it’s called ‘Redneck Woman’ by Gretchen Wilson. She’s just this awesome bad-ass woman who came out of nowhere. It’s just about being redneck and all that crazy stuff, drinkin’ beer and all that stuff. She’s connected to Kid Rock in some way. …”
Rolling Stones: Exile on Main Street
Billboard pop album No. 1 in 1972
“A flood of great songs, from killer rock ’n’ roll to smokin’ blues. Hands-down the best Stones songs in their 30-year-plus history. If I were being shot into the atmosphere tomorrow and could only bring five albums with me, I wouldn’t even have to think about it, Exile would top the list. Reminds me of the days of burnouts vs. jocks, hot summer days and cut-offs.”
Fiona Apple: When The Pawn …
Billboard Internet album No. 1 in 1999
“Many girls I know grew up with Joni, Billie, and, unfortunately, Janis. Avril and Norah? Gimme Fiona. Her phrasing just kills me. With Jon Brion producing, how can you go wrong? And sure, there are some lines of pure cheese (‘So put away that meat your selling’) but, for me, that’s what makes it great. … I once had a girl sit me on her bed and play me ‘Paper Bag.’ At the time I wasn’t amused to be a paper bag, the empty promise. And damn was I no man, just some little boy. Oh well, call me a pussy. I’ll take Fiona’s purr over Iggy’s boring bark any day.”
The Rock City Festival happens Saturday, June 19, and Sunday, June 20, behind the Majestic Theater (4140 Woodward Ave., Detroit). Aside from the aforementioned acts, scheduled to appear are Detroit Cobras, Paybacks, Brendan Benson, Blanche, Gold Cash Gold, The Elevations, Man, Inc., Audra Kubat, Hentchmen, esQuire, Easy Action, Witches, Greenhornes, the Go, Human Eye, Grande Nationals, The Avatars, Back in Spades, the Valentinos, the Thread Counts, Rants, Southpaw and more. Call 313-833-9700 for info or go to rockcityfestival.com.