The 90 Minute Guide: Losing My Edge

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LCD Soundsystem

Last month, LCD Soundsystem ended their decade-long run as a band, closing the book on an incredible run by playing a lengthy, comprehensive ending performance at New York’s Madison Square Garden. As a band that Treble has championed and admired for most of our existence, it only seemed fitting to give our own humble send-off to the band (whose members will probably continue making music in some form or another), via their own 90 Minute Guide.

Rather than compile a mix strictly consisting of LCD Soundsystem songs, however, I took a page from James Murphy and decided to celebrate the band through their influences. Murphy often wrote songs that nodded to other artists, such as The Fall (“Movement”), David Bowie (“All I Want”), Brian Eno (“Great Release”) or The Eurythmics (“I Can Change”). And the band’s debut single, “Losing My Edge,” is, itself, a lengthy music nerd in-joke and celebration of some very hip (if also sometimes a bit obscure) music.

With this guide, I present 90 minutes of music by artists mentioned in “Losing My Edge,” including Captain Beefheart, Gil Scott-Heron, Scott Walker, Can, The Sonics, David Axelrod and, of course, Daft Punk. LCD Soundsystem got off to a strong start with this anthem for insecure hipsters, and gave us another nine years of amazing music thereafter. LCD Soundsystem may be done as a full-time touring entity, but they’ll always be playing at my house.

LCD Soundsystem – “Losing My Edge” – 7:53
[found on LCD Soundsystem]

James Murphy wrote a lot of songs about insecurity, growing old and often both topics in the same song. “Losing My Edge,” though, is the only one to simultaneously be one of the funniest, most satirical and most painfully true of these songs, providing a caricature of hipper-than-thou music nerds while simultaneously sympathizing with them, and realizing that no matter how cool you are, a later generation will always pass you up at some point. Though these themes of insecurity would come to play a big part of some of LCD Soundsystem’s biggest and best songs (“All My Friends,” “I Can Change”), what may have sometimes gotten lost in some of the in-jokes is that, at its heart, it’s really just a celebration of music. James Murphy names off more influences and reference points in one song than you could possibly fit into a month of vinyl hunting trips, and proves that, even if there’s a smirk in all of this, he probably does have one of the coolest record collections you’ll ever see (purely speculation, of course). And it’s also one of LCD Soundsystem’s best songs, with its escalating, pulsing groove and endlessly quotable lyrics (“I heard you and your band have sold your guitars and bought turntables/ I heard you and your band sold your turntables and bought guitars“). And, of course, it doubles as a record-swap shopping list.

Can – “Oh Yeah!” – 7:23
[found on Tago Mago]

I was there in 1968… I was there at the first Can show in Cologne

Can, much like the Velvet Underground, is an act that launched a thousand bands. I don’t know for sure how many people started up a rock group after hearing Tago Mago or Ege Bamyasi, but when you consider that elements of these songs pop up as often as they do, it has to be a pretty decent-sized number. You can hear a little bit of LCD on “Oh Yeah,” but more explicitly, you hear The Fall, whose Mark E. Smith borrowed Damo Suzuki’s vocal melody on their tribute to the singer, “I Am Damo Suzuki.” And you also hear Radiohead, who used a similar backward-vocal intro to “Like Spinning Plates” and more or less made a 21st Century Can record on Kid A.

Suicide – “Ghost Rider” – 2:34
[found on Suicide]

I was there in 1974 at the first Suicide practices in a loft in New York City/ I was working on the organ sounds with much patience

And what an organ sound it is! Although, the beauty of Suicide is that Martin Rev’s organ sounds so dirty and buzzy, it’s too punk rock to be a careful, methodical construct. Nonetheless, the New York City had a well-defined aesthetic, and an awesome one at that. No doubt it freaked some people out at first, which led to the infamous show in Brussels in which an unruly crowd basically hijacked the band’s set. History was made, Elvis Costello was pissed, and over time, Suicide’s first album has come to be viewed as an essential. If you’re not mesmerized by the first few seconds of “Ghost Rider”‘s distorted hook, rock ‘n’ roll might not be your thing.

Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band – “Zig Zag Wanderer” – 2:43
[found on Safe as Milk]

I was there when Captain Beefheart started up his first band/ I told him, ‘Don’t do it that way, you’ll never make a dime.’

Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band went through various stages and phases, their most infamous being the spastic noise-jazz breakdowns on Trout Mask Replica, which are much more carefully planned than they sound. In fact, Beefheart was something of a perfectionist, and strictly forbade any members’ drug use while in the band. Nonetheless, they knew how to get down when they wanted to, as on this psychedelic blues jam from the relatively more accessible Safe as Milk. So, kudos to Murphy for steering the Captain in this direction (HA!).

Daft Punk – “Da Funk” – 5:30
[found on Homework]

I was the first guy playing Daft Punk for the rock kids/ I played it at CBGB’s/ Everybody thought I was crazy.

Daft Punk is playing at James Murphy’s house, you know.

Beach Boys – “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times” – 3:16
[found on Pet Sounds]

Every great song by the Beach Boys…

Narrowing down ‘every great song’ by the Beach Boys is a fool’s errand. Start with Pet Sounds and Surf’s Up, start moving in either direction and you’ll run into a long string of winners. Still, this hard-luck ballad seems most appropriate here, a kind of lament that works as a much more melancholy version of the more celebratory ruminations on aging and being out of touch that James Murphy has penned. Nobody has managed to make sadness seem so beautiful and romantic like Brian Wilson did in the ’60s.

This Heat – “A New Kind of Water” – 4:57
[found on Deceit]

Beginning with the template laid down by krautrock outfits like Can and Faust, This Heat put a progressive spin on post-punk, twisting its song structures in odd ways and focusing instead on rhythmic shifts and the occasional long passage of repetition. “A New Kind of Water” is sort of like a punk rock take on “Sing Swan Song,” but scarier, sharpened and much more intense. Thirty years later, not many bands have been able to capture the off-kilter fire of This Heat, though a few, notably Liars, have come close. But today’s generation would be well served with a vinyl reissue of Deceit.

Pere Ubu – “Navvy” – 2:43
[found on Dub Housing]

Murphy mentions Pere Ubu twice in “Losing My Edge,” though not in immediate succession. The Ohio band certainly deserves a couple of nods, even if their sound was so bizarre that even among post-punk’s numerous rabble-rousers they seemed pretty dang weird. Like their home-state neighbors in Devo, but more erratic, and with more Captain Beefheart records, Pere Ubu didn’t so much create music you could dance to as music to which you could throw yourself into an epileptic fit.

Nation of Ulysses – “Spectra-sonic Sound” – 2:31
[found on The 13-Point Plan to Destroy America]

Whenever anyone does anything daring, exciting or dangerous in indie rock, it’s probably a safe bet that Ian Svenonious did it first. In fact, despite being a totally badass band in their own right, Refused more or less borrowed their schtick from Nation of Ulysses. The Washington, D.C. post-hardcore band had a short lifespan, but in those few brief years they combined searing punk rock with jazz and experimentation, not to mention a highly stylish appearance. “Spectra-Sonic Sound” is as good an introduction to the band as one will find, all razor sharp guitars and shout along choruses. Punk rock hasn’t been the same since.

Public Image Limited – “Memories” – 5:05
[found on Second Edition (Metal Box)]

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where dancepunk truly began (though it’s basically somewhere between New York and London in the late ’70s), but the first solid dancepunk album to emerge was Public Image Limited’s Second Edition (or Metal Box as it was originally released). John Lydon had ceased his fashionably snotty Sex Pistols persona and morphed into a wailing banshee of a frontman as Keith Levene’s guitar screeched and bassist Jah Wobble hammered out pulsing, throbbing grooves over ‘s hi-hat riding drums. The result is a series of songs like “Memories,” a little creepy, a bit arty, and much closer to disco than anything in punk rock up to that point… yet still worlds away.

The Bar-Kays – “Soul Finger” – 2:21
[found on Soul Finger]

Memphis, Tennessee’s Bar-Kays, formed as a Stax session band in the 1960s, played the kind of upbeat, feelgood funk that could make anyone smile, not unlike that of New Orleans’ Meters. And “Soul Finger” is a prime example of why. Aside from having a superb three-chord groove (a little like “Daft Punk Is Playing at My House”), the song just sounds like a party, people hollering the song’s title and just generally overflowing with merriment over its two-minute span. It’s music engineered for good times.

The Human League – “The Things That Dreams Are Made Of” – 4:18
[found on Dare]

It’s pretty safe to say that LCD Soundsystem would not exist had The Human League never been formed. And listening to the anthemic opener to their 1981 synth-pop masterpiece Dare, it’s impossible not to hear parallels to much of LCD’s work. Not only does it name drop three of the Ramones, make a reference to New York and generally compile a system of human needs and desires into a hand-clapping powerhouse of a song, it grooves like hell.

The Normal – “Warm Leatherette” – 3:21
[found on “Warm Leatherette/T.V.O.D.”]

The Normal’s “Warm Leatherette” is a bit of a strange obscurity from the late ’70s. The sole single released by Daniel Miller, founder of Mute Records, “Warm Leatherette” is a cold and disturbing bit of mechanized new wave that more or less marked the beginning of the lesser known minimal wave movement. It’s all sex, death and disfigurement, emotionless chanting and two notes of whirring analog synth. It’s essentially J.G. Ballard’s Crash set to a bare-bones Moog sequence. And it’s definitely weird. But in its own hypnotic way, it’s strangely alluring.

Scott Walker – “The Old Man’s Back Again” – 3:43
[found on Scott 4]

There probably isn’t an artist on this mix that has undergone as radical an artistic change as Scott Walker has. I realize that’s a bold statement when placed up against The Beach Boys, Can and Captain Beefheart, but I’m pretty confident in saying his transformation was the most dramatic. A pop crooner who got his start in the Walker Brothers, Walker (born Scott Engel) made several albums of stunning, orchestral art pop in the 1960s, all titled Scott and, with the exception of the first, the number corresponding to the order it was released. Each one has its own argument for being his best, with Scott 3 and Scott 4 earning the bulk of praise. I tend to favor the latter, with its eerie, powerfully arranged tracks such as this one, which is also pretty funky at that. It’s a strange wonder Walker actually has severe stage fright, because the dude sounds completely badass here.

Monks – “Monk Time” – 2:45
[from Black Monk Time]

An American band formed in Germany in the 1960s, Monks made one of the weirdest and most incredible garage rock debut albums with 1966’s Black Monk Time. Built on scratchy banjos and trippy, droning organ, their songs were psychedelic but quirky, a little abrasive, but altogether fun. And this is their theme song of sorts, a ditty that’s just a little unhinged but makes for a great singalong. “It’s beat time! It’s hop time! It’s monk time!”

Joy Division – “Transmission” – 3:35
[found on Substance]

Long before DFA or LCD Soundsystem existed, Joy Division was getting skinny white kids to dance in the UK. Sure, some of their music was a bit too dark and dirgey to be danceable (see: “Atmosphere,” most of Closer), but they had some dark, sexy singles to their name as well, like this immortal standout, a post-punk classic that boasts the chorus, “Dance, dance, dance dance dance to the radio.” It’s sinister, even a bit manic, but it’s one of the best examples of one of goth-rock’s godfathers inciting people to get up and move. And frontman Ian Curtis had some moves, himself. I once recall seeing a bumper sticker that read: “My child is a graduate of the Ian Curtis school of dance.”

Sun Ra – “Nuclear War” – 7:48
[found on Nuclear War]

When Sun Ra wrote “Nuclear War,” he legitimately believed he had a hit on his hands, or so the folklore goes. If so, that’s pretty bold of him, considering how many times he says “It’s a motherfucker” and “You can kiss your ass goodbye.” And while Cold War paranoia certainly made for good hit fodder (see: “Every Breath You Take”), Sun Ra’s take is a little more abstract, weird and, for that matter, vulgar. But, you know, it is catchy, a little funky, and progresses in much the same way “Losing My Edge” does – a laid back groove slowly escalates while some guy talks some shit and builds from there. What’s not to love?

Eric B & Rakim – “I Ain’t No Joke” – 3:52
[found on Paid In Full]

Is there a more amazing duo in hip-hop history as Eric B & Rakim? I’m inclined to say no, though Gang Starr is certainly in the running. Even though Paid In Full is 24 years old, and rap music has gone through a pretty advanced evolution since then, tracks like “I Ain’t No Joke” remain unstoppable classics. It goes without saying that Rakim’s flow isn’t to be trifled with, but let’s not discount the talents of Eric B, whose sparse production serves to intensify the verses with each scratch and each horn-laden loop.

David Axelrod – “The Human Abstract” – 5:35
[found on Songs of Experience]

David Axelrod occupies a sort of strange, unique place in pop music history. His 1960s albums Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience present a cool amalgam of funk and jazz, orchestral arrangements and psychedelia. His arrangements were something like a more abstract take on Lalo Schifrin’s film and TV scores, and most of his compositions seem to soundtrack cop dramas that were never put to film. Nonetheless, Axelrod’s music is something impressive to behold, as evident by “The Human Abstract,” which some might recognize from DJ Shadow’s “Midnight in a Perfect World.” But that was just a brief bit of piano. This five and a half minute piece is stunning on the whole, delicate but funky, warm but distant. And very, very cool.

Gil Scott-Heron – “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” – 3:09
[found on Pieces of a Man]

When James Murphy speaks Gil Scott-Heron’s name in “Losing My Edge,” he punctuates all three parts with an exclamation point: Gil! Scott! Heron! And rightfully so. Scott-Heron’s unique blend of spoken word, soul, jazz and funk played a massive role in the birth of hip-hop, and his cynical, politically-driven lyrics not only placed a higher emphasis on urban social awareness, he did so with humor and wit. “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” is a prime example of that, as he makes statements like “The revolution will not give your mouth sex appeal” and that there will be no replay on the 11 o’clock news, nor will its anthem be written by Francis Scott Key or Jimmy Webb. That Gil Scott-Heron’s first new album in many years, I’m New Here, is as fresh and innovative as ever just goes to show how far ahead of the curve the guy is, even after a long absence.

Soft Cell – “What?” – 2:51
[found on Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret]

Or The Soft Cell, as Murphy says. It’s hard to overstate the importance of Soft Cell as a pioneering synth-pop act. Though their discography is much more limited than that of New Order or Depeche Mode, the duo carved a path somewhere between the eerie minimalism of Suicide and the more radio-friendly pop sounds of later acts like Pet Shop Boys and, again, Depeche Mode. Their material ran a broad range from heartbreaking sentimentality (“Say Hello Wave Goodbye”) to some pretty fucked-up BDSM (“Sex Dwarf”), but this track is a happy medium, danceable but still aesthetically arty and pretty accessible at that.

The Sonics – “Strychnine” – 2:13
[found on Here Are the Sonics!!]

Murphy drops The Sonics’ name a grand total of four times in “Losing My Edge,” so the emphasis on the legendary Seattle garage rock band seems to be that much greater than most of the artists dropped in the song. Maybe it just sounded good at the time, or maybe it’s because the band’s raucous style was a precursor to grunge, punk and most of rock ‘n’ roll post-1965. This two-minute raveup finds the band extolling the virtues of getting wasted on poison. If that’s not punk rock, I don’t know what is.

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