I was 15 years old when I entered the local rock scene in 2002, bade by some super-cool 16-year-olds to come to a blowout show at The Muse. And while I may not be intensely familiar with the heyday of The Scorchers or Government Cheese, I sure do know a hell of a lot about the sort of nonsense you'd expect to come out of The Muse, Indienet and Next Generation between the years 2000 and 2005. I'm talking bands like Oliver's Army, Scatter the Ashes, Popular Genius (remember that band? And their flute?), Stuck Lucky and Sadie Hawkins.
None of those bands show up on my list, but that may just be because I can't find a damn Oliver's Army song anywhere on the Internet (by the way, if anybody wants to send me some Oliver's Army and Breakdown songs, I would not turn them away). These songs may not be the most technically proficient tunes our city has to offer, but they were nothing if not influential. And isn't that the real barometer for “best"? No? Well, y'all are just gonna have to deal with it until Jim Ridley gets behind the wheel and schools us on some classics.
Silent Friction, "Fathers, Hide Your Daughters"
This song doesn't appear to be available online anywhere, but as a consolation prize, here's SF's original Angelfire page.
Silent Friction set the standard for bratty power pop in Nashville during the previous decade. For what they lacked in maturity, the band that unleashed a teenage Matt Friction (neé Bell) on the world made up for in ramshackle, guitar-forward power pop. The Weezer comparisons were endless, but for good reason: They shared an aesthetic of sorta dopey pop songs about the sort of things young people dream up — a minor wanting to get freaky with you because of your rock band, sad-sack anti-love songs, drug ballads. But as far as I'm concerned, the pinnacle of the band was the opening track to their debut (and final) LP, The Thought That Counts. “Fathers, Hide Your Daughters” may have been a goofy song about being a teenage home-wrecker, but it sure was a well-made goofy song about being a teenage home-wrecker.
Diarrhea Planet, "Ghost With a Boner"
Speaking of “wildly immature,” I'm not sure if Nashville has churned out a song I've listened to more times in a row than Diarrhea Planet's “Ghost With a Boner,” a catchy rager about spectral erections. The first time I saw DP play this song, it ended with the entire crowd onstage, singing and shredding along to a then three-guitar punk rampage. Bands like Diarrhea Planet — no matter how much you hate their name (and no, nobody cares that you do) — perfectly reflect the simple joy of a high-quality punk band. In a city where most people take themselves very seriously (because they are very serious artists), bands like Diarrhea Planet and MEEMAW are boons to Nashville specifically because they know how to have fun. And what's more fun than shrieking “Ghost With a Boner” at the top of your lungs over and over and over and over again?
The Clutters, "You'll Never Be Famous"
Back when I tumbled out of the scene because all of my favorite bands broke up (boo hoo hoo), it was The Clutters that brought me back into the fold. I bought T&C immediately after seeing them tear up the Grimey's parking lot with songs like “You'll Never Be Famous,” a snarling punk ode to failure that combined mountains of distortion with high-contrast Farfisa highlights. I don't know what it is about that aesthetic of clean keyboard notes cutting through the noise and grime that Doug, Stef and Jake play so well, but The Clutters are brilliant at it. So much so that in the brief period where they reverted back to a three-piece, my brain automatically filled in those melodies when I saw them live. Now that's a good song.
Save Macaulay the Band, "One-Speed Confessional"
Before Caitlin Rose was Caitlin Rose, she was performing precocious folk-punky tunes like “One-Speed Confessional” as Save Macaulay the Band — which I can only assume she changed to avoid drunken requests for ska covers of “Come on Eileen.” And although “One-Speed Confessional” never made it through Caitlin's transitory period to the classier, more polished sort of country music she now performs, it still stands as one of my all-time favorites. Though rough around the edges, “One-Speed Confessional” is classic Caitlin Rose: a bittersweet song about heartbreak, sung with total frustrated clarity. Both the Dead Flowers EP and Own Side Now are fraught with more mature variations on that theme, but I'm infinitely charmed by the childish sweetness buried in this one.
JEFF the Brotherhood, "U Got the Look"
You can all stop panicking now: JEFF has finally landed on the list. While bands like Diarrhea Planet (along with other nouveau-Nash punks like Fox Fun, Frank the Fuck Out and No Regrets Coyote) excel in total youthful exuberance, bands like JEFF the Brotherhood and MEEMAW paved the way for their existence in Nashville's music scene. Maybe this was just my perspective as a Muse rat, but Nashville's punk scene mostly amounted to intimidating mohawked street punks and unpredictable bands like Moral Decay, setting fires and nearly killing everyone. The music wasn't exactly great, but it was serviceable for being young and angry. When JEFF moved away from pure wonky psychedelia, it opened a world for ennui-affected suburb-dwellers who didn't connect with grizzled gutter punks and hardcore bands. “U Got the Look” is immediately accessible as pop music and as Descendents-style suburban punk rebellion. Not only is it a great song from a great record, it's also important for understanding the place collectives like Infinity Cat and Nashville's Dead have in the local rock scene.