by Sam Smith
The Features, "Leave It All Behind"
If Nashville had its own Local Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I imagine The Features being the inaugural inductees. You know the story , now I have to pick a song. Even before the long-awaited release of Exhibit A, the band's first full-length record after years as a band, fans knew The Features' songbook like the back of their hands. Some of these classics would be left in the primordial sludge or only heard on bootleg copies of the Mahaffey sessions. One song that made it past band's figurative adolescence was "Leave It All Behind," which encapsulates so many of The Features' defining attributes: larger-than-life arrangements and instrumentation, Matt Pelham's vocal cries (which sound like he's just woken up, wrestling with an epiphany from a disturbing dream), and most of all the triumphant hook of a sing-along chorus that involves the audience in only the way Features songs so famously do. It still feels so good to sing along.
Songs I almost picked: "Button My Shirt," "Exorcising Demons," "33 1/3," "Contrast"
The Nobility, "Riverboat"
I have to pick a song from The Nobility — first known as Jetpack — simply because they don't get the respect and fandom that they deserve (although a Jetpack song did make it into Tracy Moore's BLRSE post), and they've always been one of this town's finest rock 'n' roll bands. Frontman and songwriter Sean Williams carries a distinctive yet modest presence that lands somewhere between John Lennon and Wes Anderson, and onstage now more than ever he lets rip years of pent-up passion and melodic genius, alternating with ballads that reveal one of the damned prettiest and most classic-sounding voices in any local rock band. Williams always seems one step away from procuring the perfect four-piece live band, but a power-pop disciple like me can't help but mourn the absence of the audience a band like The Nobility deserves. For whatever reason, power-pop bands in Nashville seem perpetually cursed. But that hasn't stopped The Nobility, and I hope it never does. Like The Features, they carry a flame.
Appears on: The Mezzanine
Songs I almost picked: "Worth Your While," "I Refuse," "My Best
The Privates, "I'm Telling"
The Privates have already been picked twice, but as they're another of my favorite Nashville bands ever, I couldn't omit them. And they'll be picked again, just as they were when, at a Mercy Lounge show devoted to local bands covering other classic songs, they were covered a record four times in one night. But as we know, The Privates were supposedly never the main priority of any of its band members. Can this possibly explain the energy of Rollum Haas, Keith Lowen, Ryan Norris and leader Dave Paulson playing together, or or the deceivingly prolific output (Three EPs and one LP) that they issued, with the constant threat of extinction? There are way too many melodies, hooks and downright brilliant songs to choose from, so I'm borrowing one of Ashley Spurgeon's darts and randomly selecting "I'm Telling" from Barricades. A departure (arragement-wise) from the standard Privates two-minute pop opus, it's a furious and steadily growing crescendo of melodic and harmonic power that leaves your jaw on the floor. I know I'm not alone in hoping that a "last Privates show" is still a ways off.
Songs I almost picked: "We Are Really Rocking Now Haven't We," "Motion," "Tangelo," "Heart's Got a Hole"
Lambchop, "Up With People"
When I saw that no one had called this song yet, I almost jumped with surprise, because we all know it belongs in the discussion. At least, if you're a true Nashvillian you know it. Lambchop is a Nashville institution, and Kurt Wagner's traveling band of rogues is world-renowned. The most recent batch of band members is all well known here for various other prominent and peripheral projects, and themselves only represent one generation of a lineup that has evolved over the many years of the band's career. Yet they wear a sort of invisibility cloak, rarely performing in their hometown and only prompting confused stares when brought up in casual conversations with any musician new to town. "Up With People" was their "hit." In that it had a video and a single and everything (via their longtime caretakers Merge Records), but also, through all the years, the stylistic changes, the lineup changes and the recent era of a more solemn and understated Lambchop, it has remained the up-tempo showstopper that entire set lists seem to build to. Their "Thursday," if you will. After a typical set of masterful dynamic minimalism it's a nearly derailing locomotive of repressed energy. Listen to the original version, from their essential "Nixon," then see how far the song has come in this now-legendary performance from their appearance at 2009's Merge XX anniversary concert in Carrboro, NC.
Appears on: Nixon
Songs I almost picked: "Your F***ing Sunny Day," "Nashville Parents," "The New Cobweb Summer," "My Blue Wave"
Joe, Marc's Brother, "Apocalypse Girl"
Joe Marc's Brother isn't just my favorite band from Nashville — they're my favorite band, and if I were ranking this list solely by song, JMB might take all five slots. Arriving from Philadelphia in the mid-'90s, Joe Pisapia and his brother Marc started anew in Nashville and became arguably the era's most beloved band. David Mead began his career as the Fifth Man during the peak of the early JMB era. A structural reboot not only recontextualized some of the band's most iconic power-pop anthems (like "Feel") in a new, more raw and cosmic sound that produced its own new hits ("True Love"), but also introduced us to Joe and Marc's longtime friend Hags (James Haggerty) who now joins them as Nashville sideman royalty.
Picking one song to represent your favorite band feels downright impossible, and while songs like "Feel" and "True Love" represent JMB at the peak of their pop majesty on both ends of their sonic spectrum, I must offer their late-career psychedelic opus "Apocalypse Girl" as the song to go in the time capsule. Inspired by a dream in which an all-knowing nymphomaniac goddess visits our narrator at "the end of time," this visionary epic represents JMB at the peak of their powers: the cosmic yearning in Joe's lyrics; the way the trio sang together; the balance of precision, freedom and dynamics within the rhythm section; and Joe's guitar playing, symbolizing here an act of lovemaking that will determine the fate of all human existence ("Unconcerned with impending doom / She wants to grind to the crash and boom"). Needless to say, the solo reaches orgasmic heights, even in this extant recording which finds JMB in their stripped-down mode. Nevertheless, the most powerful thing about this song remains its content; the dreamer experiences total primal fusion of sex and artistic creation, but this bombshell lingers: "She asks why I didn't get my message to the world, and why they're fighting right now."
Appears on: unreleased Hum Depot sessions, unreleased 8-track recordings
Songs I almost picked: "Feel," "True Love," "My Me," "This Blind Faith," "Fall Leaves Fall," "Tell Me You're Mine"