Why should Gary get to have all of the fun with the listicles? I alluded to this article during the Rock Band episode of Watch Out for Fireballs!, and it's been a joy to create. What you'll find below is a list of my ten most-wanted songs for Rock Band (or any music game, really) presented in alphabetical order. My baseline criteria were that the band couldn't already be heavily featured in Rock Band DLC, and that the songs could include the keyboard (for the purpose of variety).
I can't deny how self-indulgent this whole thing is. It's the weird podcaster's version of creating a mix tape for a very specific audience. The result is confirmation that I'm a total indie snob I guess. Harmonix would lose money on these tracks, but I would be first in line to buy them (and, probably, also be alone in that line).
"7/4 Shoreline" by Broken Social Scene
"Teenage Riot" by Sonic Youth was a great addition to Rock Band 2. It's such a great track that I wish I could ask for it twice, but I will sub in its closest indie alternative instead. "Shoreline" shores up the big weakness of our in-episode wishlist by having a female vocalist (and an incredible one at that). It also has the hallmark of my favorite Rock Band tracks, in that it's a complete wall of sound. Nobody would be bored here, since every single instrument, especially the drums, is doing something energetic that could belong in a song of its own. Can't forget that time signature, either.
"Carparts" by The Long Winters
Any number of Long Winters tracks would work here, so why not go with the first? "Carparts" is exactly in line with what I want from pop rock. It's upbeat while also being melancholy, and it uses backing vocals to really lift up the melody. It's also not afraid to lean on a keyboard to set off the guitar riff. And really, any opportunity to perform a John Roderick vocal part would be a delight. I could also see this resting right in the sweet spot on the difficulty curve, avoiding the pitfalls of either being a snoozer or being too shredding.
"Doin' the Cockroach" by Modest Mouse
There's value in a song that's succinct, but sometimes you want to go on a journey. "Doin' the Cock Roach" covers a tremendous amount of ground, shakily held together with jangly twine until the wheels fall off entirely. I won't lie, I'm mainly interested in the vocals here. Jon Hendren of Something Awful wrote a tweet saying "the guy from modest mouse sings like someone is chasing him with a garden hose" and he's totally right. I can't even begin to describe what happens with the tempo here, but as it slips into a full-on dance number the frenetic muted strumming of the guitar and harmonic jabs act as counterpoint to one of the craziest disco beats I've heard outside of "Everlong". I get the feeling this would be really, really hard on pretty much every part but if it came together how great would that be?
"Fresh Blood" by Eels
There's already an Eels song in Rock Band, against all odds. It's called "Saturday Morning" and everything about it works aside from the obnoxious falsetto vocals in the chorus. "Fresh Blood" is the exact opposite of that song in a lot of ways. It's slow tempo, dark, and brooding. It leads with the bass, has a scant guitar part outside of the chorus, and has an organ that's straight up spooky. All of this would be a welcome departure from what we usually get in a Rock Band track. Give me something that's laid back until it's not.
"Hail, Mary" by Shearwater
If there's any song on this list that's "just for me", it's probably this one. I embedded it into the page because the version that I want (the 2007 remaster) isn't even on YouTube. Shearwater is a band that splintered off of Okkervil River, as a side project for their more laid back songs. It slowly turned into its own venture when organist Jon Meiburg took over the band full time. Meiburg's vocals are the main draw here, hauntingly melodic with incredible emotional range. Before the rest of the band joins in, the guitar is understated but active. When the flood gates open, the organ turns into a devastating weapon and the drums march it to the front lines.
"Heavy Metal Drummer" by Wilco
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is a fantastic album, and hearing it in high school had a huge impact on me. It's a weird listen at first because it sounds completely understated, but there's a lot going on if you're paying attention. The same applies here. The drums don't feature as prominently as you'd expect from the title, but that's the joke. The keyboard part bounces between pop piano and spacey synth, playing along with an almost entirely hidden lead guitar part. This falls into the "Carparts" category: upbeat pop rock is never a bad idea.
"Hush" by Deep Purple
The sad fact of Rock Band tracks is that you need the master tapes in order to make them. If you can't separate out each instrument, the game doesn't work. The cover of "Hush" on Guitar Hero 2 for Xbox 360 was great fun, even if you couldn't play the wacky rock organ or the blues shuffle drums. Even more, while the Harmony Vocals in Rock Band almost never worked out, it's always great fun when the whole band joins in with the melody. This song's "Na-na-na-na" hook would be absolutely perfect for that. I can only imagine that we never got "Hush" on the store because the master tapes are lost to time. That's a shame.
"Lovecraft in Brooklyn" by Mountain Goats
Some bands are guitar bands. Others are vocalist bands. The Mountain Goats are a lyricist's band. John Darnielle leads with the poetry and the music does whatever it needs to do to match its intensity. There's not very much in their catalogue that would be a good fit for Rock Band, since acoustic songs almost never work the way you want them to. But "Lovecraft in Brooklyn" is electric enough that I think it would work quite well. The first thing you notice is that drum part with its frantic ride on the cymbal and unusual syncopation. The second thing you notice is that unlike most Mountain Goats songs, this one is carried by a riff on both guitar and bass. The third thing you notice is that these vocals would be really difficult to chart as a melody, so they would probably have to be talkies (which is a little bit of a bummer).
"Secret Meeting" by The National
Similar to Wilco above, The National is terminally understated. Even though "Secret Meeting" is like an R.E.M. track in that it sounds like everyone wanted to be the lowest in the mix, this is an incredibly frantic song. Just listen to that bass, and the tremolo on the guitar part. It only picks up speed as the drum starts adding new fills in and the vocals get more insistent. I'm not just including The National on here because they're from Cincinnati, I assure you.
"Some Nights" by fun.
Just because a song is overplayed doesn't mean it's bad. You can do a lot, lot worse than Fun when it comes to modern pop. "We Are Young" worked fantastically in Rock Band Blitz, but I don't imagine too many people played that. "Some Nights" is a better song, I think, because it has more of a pulse to it. I used the SNL performance for two reasons. First, I hate the official video. Second, it takes seeing them perform it live to understand that there's a lot happening here instrumentally behind the production. The drums would give us two things we don't normally get, a beat that's a hybrid of martial and afro. The keyboards lead the vocal melody, and the guitar is surprisingly shreddy. "Some Nights" has been my karaoke jam for a couple of years now, and I'm sad we only got its inferior cousin as a playable song.
"Wake and Be Fine" by Okkervil River
What's that Kole? TWO Okkervil River songs? You're mad! No, I'm just a big fan of this band. I'd even say they're my favorite. Even though "I Am Very Far" is a weaker album than some of their others, "Wake and Be Fine" ranks as one of their most powerful tracks. Those drums are thunderous backbreakers, the vocals are apocalyptic, and the guitar parts exist 45 degrees off axis from the rest of the song. During the episode, we talked about how "For Real" would be fun because of those moments where the entire band syncs up for stabs in the chorus. The same thing happens here, in a much more baroque and intricate way.
Hopefully this appealed to someone other than myself. I'm ready to close the book on thinking about Rock Band for now, but who knows what will happen in the future. They're saying it might come back. And maybe that means we'll get some of these tracks after all.
I'll believe it when I see it.