The Dream Syndicate: What I’m Listening To
In the early 1980s, Steve Wynn rose to prominence as the lead singer and primary songwriter of seminal Los Angeles band the Dream Syndicate. Founded partly on Velvet Underground’s improvisational soundscapes, Television’s loud guitar dominance and the jingle-jangle of the Byrds, the Dream Syndicate are rightfully considered among the most notable bands of the so-called Paisley Underground scene, which also included the Bangles, the Rain Parade and the Three O’Clock.
With a constantly revolving lineup, label and sound, the Dream Syndicate released four studio albums over the course of the 1980s ,including their classic debut, The Days of Wine & Roses (1982) and the majestic and ambitious sophomore The Medicine Show (1984). The blistering live album, Live At Raji’s (1989), captures their ferocious onstage energy, but also turned out to be their swan song. The Dream Syndicate paved the way for more successful bands like Nirvana and the Pixies, without cashing in on the indie/guitar resurrection in the 1990s.
In 2012, they finally reunited, and five years later they released the critically acclaimed How Did I Find Myself Here? Their first album in 29 years was a triumphant return for a band that never lost its spark. Now they’re following up with These Times (Anti) described by Steve Wynn to TIDAL as “the late night, 2 a.m. moody and hypnotic sibling to the last album’s more strident 10 p.m vibe.”
“These Times feels almost like something I might have heard on late night radio when I was a kid, transistor FM underneath the pillow,” Wynn says.
TIDAL invited Steve Wynn to create an annotated playlist of some of the artists crucial to his band’s sound.
Television, “See No Evil”
I can’t even begin to describe the thrill I get every time I hear the opening riff of this song, because I know what’s going to follow. Maybe the best all-time opening track ever on what might be my favorite album of all time.
If a Martian landed on earth and wanted to know what a guitar can do and why anyone should care, I would hand the little extraterrestrial being a copy of Marquee Moon, tell him to take it back to his planet, and I would be pretty confident that there would be a CBGB on Mars by the end of the month.
The Rolling Stones, “Rocks Off”
Another great opening track. And a perfect way to get the party started. The opening theme to a Saturday night that should never be forgotten but may not be quite remembered in detail. Like most of my favorite music, it puts you in a time and place that’s not quite your own. It takes you on a trip — a trip with Keith Richards riding shotgun in the passenger seat. Good luck making it to the other side.
Miles Davis, “Right Off”
Strangely enough, one of my favorite guitar songs ever is on the Miles Davis album Jack Johnson. The six strings of John McLaughlin bite, they swear, they argue, they seduce and do every one of those things with such mastery that you don’t feel like you’ve been manipulated or coerced. This is a classic rock album that would never be filed under ‘Rock & Roll.’ To hell with genres and boundaries!
Filthy Friends, “Last Chance County”
I’ll never pass up the chance to draw attention to my friends, especially when one of the friends is my wife. Linda Pitmon (a.k.a. Mrs. Wynn) rocks the mighty beat on this new album by a supergroup from Portland, Oregon, featuring Peter Buck from R.E.M and Corin Tucker from Sleater-Kinney. Strangely enough, the release date on their latest album, Emerald Valley, is exactly the same as our album, These Times. We keep the beat together even when we play apart.
Chris Forsyth and the Solar Motel Band, “High Castle Rock”
Speaking of friends, speaking of great guitar music, this is an exhilarating workout by Chris Forsyth from Philadelphia. I heard this one a few years ago and it blew my mind. It was the soundtrack for every walk I took around New York City in the months that followed. I ended up writing about it online and Chris got in touch and we’ve been friends ever since, united by our love for six strings, sweaty clubs and even baseball!
Sly and the Family Stone, “Family Affair”
Talk about an album that builds its own unique universe! I never get tired of listening to There’s A Riot Goin’ On. It’s beautiful and terrifying, life-affirming and horribly sad. It wasn’t until recently that I realized that the unique, murky sound of the record is due to Sly’s obsessive (and chemically induced) need to record and re-record and overdub and revise on the same two-inch tape for months and months. Hey, there are just some things you can’t do in the digital world. Viva analog!
The Kinks, “This Time Tomorrow”
A song that sounds like childhood. A song that sounds like flight. A song that sounds like being alone. I’m a sucker for nostalgia. What’s that quote? ‘Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be.’ So true. And this song breaks my heart and takes me away just like it did when I was 11 years old and bought Lola Vs. Powerman and the Money-Go-Round, the album from which it’s taken, from a record store in Westwood Village, California.
Roxy Music, “Prairie Rose”
I was an avid music fan from a young age. I was already hanging out for hours in record stores by the time I was eight. But my building blocks of musical fandom came from what I heard on the radio: cool stuff like the Who and the Rolling Stones and the Kinks. But it wasn’t until I heard Roxy Music at age 14 that I realized there was an underground, a music not living on the surface. It the first band that felt like My Band — and this is the closing song on the first album that I ever heard by them (Country Life). It still sounds like freedom.
J. Dilla, “Workinonit”
He samples 10CC (“The Worst Band In The World”). I think that’s what drew me in. I’m a sucker for early ‘70s art rock. The song is from Donuts, which has become one of my favorite all-time records. It’s hard to categorize. It’s made by a hip-hop producer, but it’s not hip hop. It’s simply a DJ digging through his record collection to come to grips with and tell the tale of his impending demise (he was dying as he made the record). We use the tools we have to make it through.
The Clash, “White Man in Hammersmith Palais”
Quite possibly the best and most definitely the loudest concert I ever saw was the Clash in San Francisco in 1979. It felt like the apocalypse. It wasn’t. But as far as Joe Strummer was concerned, it very well may have been. The anger, the humor, the insight, the fearlessness on this song makes me miss him terribly. We could most certainly use him now.
The Oh Sees, “The Dream”
This song just makes me want to bust shit up, drive at double the speed limit, stay awake for 72 hours and, well, take lots of drugs. I did a lot of that when I was younger and I appreciate having music today that does all of the dangerous work for me, vicariously taking me through the paces.
The Stylistics, “People Make the World Go Round”
I’ve been obsessed with this song lately. I mean, I’ve been playing it almost every day for the last six months. Is it the groove, the somewhat dated but also endearing simple — hey, gents, you have NO idea how bad things are going to get — message? The gorgeous vocal? Yeah, all of that. But most of all, it’s just the way the last three minutes just repeat endlessly. It’s like ‘70s soul Steve Reich. I can’t get enough.
Ira Kaplan, “Wharf Rat”
A hidden gem and a rare solo turn from my pal and member of Yo La Tengo. It’s on the marathon Grateful Dead tribute record. I mean, this collection is almost as long as an actual Dead show. And you gotta find the best tracks. This is one of them, and hardly coincidentally one of my favorite songs by the band. I’m in a fantasy baseball league with Ira. He’s in first place. All props to Ira.
Buddy Miles, “Down by the River”
OK, while we’re talking about covers, Buddy Miles digs deep on his rendition of the Neil Young classic. Maybe she did drag him over the rainbow. Maybe she did send him away. Something about this version makes me believe every word that he sings and didn’t actually write. And that worries me, it really does.
Joni Mitchell, “The Last Time I Saw Richard”
Possibly the best ever song about forgetting your ideals, selling out and the danger of making bold claims when you’re young; you may have laid out your own best evidence for your eventual betrayal. Not me. I married a drummer, not a figure skater and we always dim the lights at cocktail hour.
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, “Jubilee Street”
I’m always appreciating anyone who can still strive for new career peaks and levels of artistry decades after their first album. It’s not easy. The hunger subsides, perspective fades, other priorities in life push the creativity further down. But every so often an artist comes along who can find new and better ways to tell the story. Dylan did it with Time out of Mind. Tom Waits did it with Rain Dogs. And Nick Cave continues to do it. This song from Push the Sky Away is one of his best and really takes off in concert.
House of Freaks, “40 Years”
I miss Bryan Harvey.
Steely Dan, “Here at the Western World”
I rank Walter Becker and Donald Fagen as my favorite lyricists right up there with Dylan, Paul Simon, Chuck Berry and Leonard Cohen. They pull off a neat trick that I often employ in my songs, telling a tale with just enough detail and clues to make you almost, but not quite, know what’s going on. This song feels like peeking through a foggy window at 3 a.m. on your tippy toes and wishing, just wishing you could get inside.
John Coltrane, “Afro Blue” (Live at Birdland)
I practiced guitar to this album, an Albert Ayler collection and Marquee Moon just about every day in the year before making The Days of Wine and Roses. McCoy Tyner and I had some great chemistry. I should tell him someday.
Bob Dylan, “Highlands”
Speaking of Dylan and late period peaks. I dream of covering this song someday. It’s as close as rock & roll comes to James Joyce and T.S. Eliot. It’s 18 minutes long. But that wouldn’t stop me. I just might do it at my next show. You’ll have to come by and find out for yourself. See you at the gig.
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