Monday, October 10, 2005

A Theory of Relative Coolness

Driving today and listening to satellite radio, I heard a DJ fire off The Clash's version of I Fought the Law.

It's a great version of the old Bobby Fuller Five song and a fine rock tune, but I would have preferred some earlier, harder, punk-rock Clash.

Then I realized that it could have been worse, that he could have played Rock the Casbah, one of the few Clash songs you ever hear on commercial radio. That one is also a good song, but has almost been ruined through repetition.

It got me thinking about gradations of cool in choosing tunes to play by bands like the Clash or, for that matter, The Dead, Phish, or other popular but far-from-the-mainstream bands. (Note to younger readers: This will be true for today's great bands; it just takes a little time for things to get to this point. These are the ones I know about from my generation.)

If you really want to play a great rock song by the Clash, you should play something from an early album. I prefer things like Safe European Home or White Riot. But those are tunes for purists. I Fought The Law is a safe, middle-of-the-road choice. Those who don't really care will play Rock the Casbah.

There are levels of cool in cases like these.

Coolest is something from early days that shows the promise and potential of a band, but came out before they became widely known.

Pretty cool would be something from when a band started to make an impact on the larger audience.

A little lame is to play that first hit song, the one that brought he general public into the audience.

Lamest is to play the song that many people like, but a majority of those folks would hate the band's earlier stuff.

Yes, I am a music snob.

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