Best Local Rock Songs Ever, Part One [MEEMAW, Lone Official, The Features, How I Became the Bomb, AutoVaughn]

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There can only be one ... eventually. Well start off with a bunch.
  • There can only be one ... eventually. We'll start off with a bunch.
Not so long ago, I tweeted something or other about MEEMAW's "Blue in the Black Light" — along with every song ever by Lone Official — setting my personal standard for excellent, enduring local rock music. Our town has seen scores of rock bands come and go — some going on to attain international celebrity, others existing in obscurity and then vanishing altogether, many of them ending up somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. But whether these bands burn out, keep on trucking or rocket to stardom, in their wake remains a trail of songs, many of them very, very good. And that's what I'd like to explore.

In this series, which I've of course dubbed "Best Local Rock Songs Ever," my colleagues and I will dip into the finest songs ever made by Nashvillian rock artists. While I am indeed a Nashville native, my first-hand knowledge of locally created rock 'n' roll music doesn't chronologically extend much past, say, the days of Jason and the Scorchers or Joe, Marc's Brother or Self. We will thus be calling on many of our older, more distinguished cohorts to enlighten us in regard to some of the 20th century and/or deep-cut stuff.

So, what say we do this thing in batches of five songs at a time? If you've got suggestions, complaints or kudos in regard to the Best Local Rock Songs Ever, let us know. We're gonna keep plugging away at this thing, and who knows? Maybe by the time we get up to 40 or 50 or 100 songs, we'll have a vote to see which ones are officially the best. As for now, allow me to start it off ...

MEEMAW, "Blue in the Black Light"

Listen: MySpace | YouTube (live, poor quality)

The song that was the impetus for this whole damn series. MEEMAW — a now-defunct garage-punk outfit featuring Daniel Pujol (now of PUJOL), Wes Traylor (now of Natural Child) and Jessica McFarland (now of Heavy Cream) — was somehow transcendent in their amalgam of DIY gusto, lo-fi earnestness and genuine knack for pop melodies. "Blue in the Black Light" is not only the best track from 2008's eight-song Glass Elevator, but one of my personal favorite punk songs of all time — right up there with the Pistols' "Holidays in the Sun," Buzzcocks' "Ever Fallen in Love," The Jam's "In the City" and Green Day's "When I Come Around" (yeah, I said it). The song's semi-cryptic and contagious lyrics showed us where Pujol was heading; the lead-like, rubbery bass line revealed Traylor's talent; McFarland's primitive but urgent and visceral drums were a sign of Heavy Creams to come. All of those acts will no doubt wind up with songs in this here series, but MEEMAW was the seed from which a great big portion of Nashville's burgeoning garage-rock scene sprang. "Blue in the Black Light" was — and as far as I'm concerned, still is — that scene's anthem, and what a treat it was to see performed live. One of these days, I'll get MEEMAW to play it at one of the Cream anniversary parties.

Lone Official, "Le Coq Sportif"

Listen: YouTube | Spotify

Honestly, any song from Tuckassee Take could make it into the Best Local Rock Songs list. From "Amelia Earhart" to "Lost My Ass," Tuckassee is a weird, memorable, well performed, well written record about horse racing and being an adult and everything and nothing. It's got that Pavement-esque thoughtful surrealism over tunefully strange guitars — the kind of idiosyncratic sound that was born in the '90s and has been so poorly executed by so many bands ever since. Lone Official nailed that weirdness: frontman Matt Button's elusively sharp speak-singing, Ben Martin's creative drumming, Sami Elamri's subtle lead parts, Eric Williams' solid low-end backbone, Ryan Norris fleshing it all out on organ (by the way, Norris will absolutely show up again in this series). Lone Official could very well be my favorite local rock band of all time. They don't play all that much anymore, but when they do, you need to go and see it.


The Features, "Thursday"

Listen: YouTube | Vimeo (live)

Released as a 10-inch vinyl single in 2000, "Thursday" has since become a staple in The Features' live set. You can hear the evolution of the song in the difference between the original recording (YouTube) and the 2009 in-studio Lake Fever performance you see above. (Yes, fellow Cream Teamer Adam Gold and I are among the crowd of backing vocalists/fans in the video.) "Thursday" is the sort of hopeful, bighearted, unabashed power-pop that made The Features local institutions, and it remains a fan favorite set-closer for Matt Pelham & Co.


How I Became the Bomb, "Secret Identity"

Listen: Spotify | YouTube

This track from 2006's Let's Go kind of represents everything that How I Became the Bomb does right when they're firing on all cylinders: It's comic-book-style nerdy (though not quite as nerdy as Let's Go's "Kneel Before Zod"), it's brief and glossy, it's urgent and upbeat with a four-on-the-floor beat. Now, perhaps the most noteworthy song from this release was "Killing Machine," which got a lot of press because it predated Spoon's song "You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb" — a tune that sounds eerily similar. Comments sections were aflame with accusations, denials, comparisons, the Nashville Number System, music law jargon ... and while "Killing Machine" is indeed a solid (and influential?) song, it's "Secret Identity" that has remained in my head for the past six-plus years.


AutoVaughn, "A Million to One"

Listen: YouTube

I know. Didn't see it coming, right? Truth be told, AutoVaughn's glistening, radio-ready pop rock was never the cup of tea I liked to sip on. That said, this cut from 2010's Science of Our Time is hopeful, optimistic and sentimental with a catchy guitar hook and chorus — undeniable pop moments cannot be denied. Of course, three of AV's original four members are now a part of the jokey, faux-post-grunge band LazerSnake, which actually kind of reveals their inherent knack for making accessible pop music. "A Million to One" is cheesy and maybe a touch precious, but I'd absolutely rather listen to it than any of the songs in Billboard's Top 10 at the moment. And that opening riff? Come on, so catchy.

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