Best of May 2012: Reader picks include King Crimson, Squackett, Styx – but no Beatles

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Progressive music simply dominated the Top 10 for May 2012, as readers celebrated new music (and interviews!) from Squackett, UK, Asia and Spectrum Road. Items featuring Chris Squire, Steve Hackett, John Wetton and Spectrum Road’s Vernon Reid took up an amazing six spots.

Wetton’s return to UK and Asia, the two bands he participated in after a celebrated four-album tenure in King Crimson, led to a pair of interesting talks with Something Else! — both of which made this month’s reader’s poll. The new Squackett project — a collaboration between prog-rock titans Chris Squire (Yes) and Steve Hackett (Genesis) — ended up placing twice in our Top 10: As interest built toward the album’s release date, a preview of the advance Record Store Day single caught fire, then it rose again once the A Life Within A Day album debuted. News of tandem work for Squire with Yes alum Billy Sherwood on a prog-rock project eventually gave the legendary bassist three different appearances here.

Rounding out the list: Interviews with Styx co-founder James “JY” Young, Reid and the late Gene Clark of the Byrds, a look into one of the more memorable lost sides from Steely Dan, and a re-evaluation of Paul McCartney’s 1971 release Ram.

Speaking of the Beatles, though, here’s a stunner: For the first time since it was published in late December 2011, pissed-off Fab Four fans couldn’t push “Gimme Five: Songs Where the Beatles, Well, Sucked” — our rumination on the times they didn’t quite live up to our expectations — into the Top 10, ending a record run of arguments over the relative merit of icky fare like “The Long and Winding Road.”

Here, then, are your Top 10 reader-selected items from May 2012, based on page views. Click through the titles for more …

No. 10

STEELY DAN – “THE SECOND ARRANGEMENT” (1979, UNRELEASED): Fans flocked to our discussion on one of the great lost Steely Dan tracks, a polished, groove-oriented dancefloor number that would have fit in perfectly but nevertheless didn’t make the cut for 1980’s Gaucho. Why? In late December 1979, a junior engineer accidentally erased about 75 percent of the track. There were attempts to re-record it but none of those takes were satisfactory to Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, so they abandoned the song altogether. It comes off as an improved “The Glamour Profession,” the track that would have likely been left off had “Arrangement” had not been unintentionally executed, since the two are most similar in style. — S. Victor Aaron

No. 9

SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: JOHN WETTON OF ASIA, KING CRIMSON AND UK: A new interview with John Wetton, this time focusing on King Crimson, helped push this item from last month back into the Top 10. The well-traveled Brit rose to early fame collaborating with childhood friend Robert Fripp in King Crimson between 1972-74, before co-founding UK in 1978 and then Asia in 1982; he has also worked as a sideman with Roxy Music, Wishbone Ash and Uriah Heep over the years. He goes in depth on reuniting with UK, the progressive-rock era’s last supergroup; the enduring joys of collaborating with Geoff Downes with the 1980s prog-pop hitmakers Asia; and how turning away from alcoholism changed everything. — Nick DeRiso

No. 8

SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: VERNON REID, OF SPECTRUM ROAD AND LIVING COLOUR: Founding Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid is playing a different tune these days – a hard-driving jazz-rock tune alongside an all-star cast of Jack Bruce, John Medeski and Cindy Blackman-Santana. Together now as Spectrum Road, the quartet has taken the idea of paying tribute to Tony Williams Lifetime to its zenith on their self-titled debut. Rather than following the grounding-breaking fusion template set forth by Williams, who passed away in 1997, Spectrum Road is instead using his music as an inspirational framework. The results are inventive, triumphal, thunderous – a combination of the sounds associated with Jack Bruce’s Cream, Living Colour, Medeski Martin and Wood and Blackman-Santana’s memorable stint with Lenny Kravitz, but at the same time nothing like them at all. — Nick DeRiso

No. 7

SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: GENE CLARK, CO-FOUNDER OF THE BYRDS: On the anniversary of his tragically early passing, we returned to a classic conversation with the rock and roll legend, held in the late 1980s. Out of all of his recordings, Clark cited his 1974 solo project No Other — the saying that would eventually adorn Clark’s simple headstone in his hometown of Tipton, Missouri — as being one personal favorite, saying that it held up as a good piece of poetry and music. He also favored the initial two Byrds longplayers, Mr. Tambourine Man and Turn! Turn! Turn, both from 1965. An animated Clark also discussed adapting from one genre to another in a career that always made a winning combination of folk, country and rock ‘n’ roll — the lasting impact of the Byrds, and his genre-melding creative process. — Beverly Paterson

No. 6

SQUACKETT, WITH CHRIS SQUIRE AND STEVE HACKETT – A LIFE WITHIN A DAY (2012): Pop gems like “Perfect Love Song,” “Divided Self” and “Can’t Stop the Rain” remind us how both of these men emerged from the intricate layers of classically inspired 1970s rock in Yes and Genesis to scale the pop charts a decade later. There’s more to the album than that, however: “Divided Self,” for instance, comes crashing down toward song’s end into a brilliantly spooky, broken-Moviola dirge. The duo packs in more than a few fantastical moments, too, notably on “Aliens” and “A Life Within A Day” — songs that are perfectly in keeping with the serpentine, darkly mysterious Roger Dean landscapes that we always assumed would be waiting for us at this late date in the future. “Stormchaser,” meanwhile, possesses what can only be called an ass-whipping thump — sounding, as does the title track at times, like nothing so much as their interpolation of prog-rock Zeppelin. — Nick DeRiso

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No. 5

PAUL AND LINDA McCARTNEY – RAM [DELUXE REISSUE]: This album was initially criticized for everything that makes it sound unexpectedly bold, fascinatingly unedited and utterly misjudged today. Skip to “The Back Seat of My Car,” its soaringly constructed, yet desperately sad closing track, and you’ll see why. Sure, like the rest of Ram, the song is a little unfocused — too overstuffed with ideas, too reliant on multi-tracked McCartneys, not as rustic as his solo debut and somehow tossed-off sounding anyway, simply too long — yet it remains a homespun, wildly inventive gem: Gutsy and unprecious at one point and then a testament to Paul’s enduring pop sensibilities at others. There is a sense of limitless possibility. Sure, Ram would have benefited from having someone else to bounce ideas off of, but its essential pop magnetism — its compulsively listenability — simply can’t be denied. — Nick DeRiso

No. 4

SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: JAMES “JY” YOUNG, CO-FOUNDER OF STYX: “JY,” the only member to have been in every different incarnation of Styx, takes to the concert trail with same passion he always did. Actually, maybe more: “In these troubled times, when you’re looking for a place to go to sort of be reminded of how great it is to be alive in a country like the United States, come on out to a Styx show and leave your troubles at the door,” Young told us. “We’re all gonna be surfing away with joy by the end of the night. It’s therapeutic. It’s uplifting. And it’s just a heck of a good time.” Elsewhere, Young talks about Styx’s impact on generation after generation of fans, and how they keep things fresh on stage. — Donald Gibson

No. 3

BILLY SHERWOOD REUNITES WITH FORMER YES BANDMATE CHRIS SQUIRE FOR PROG PROJECT: In our latest SER Sitdown with Sherwood, he discusses working with Chris Squire again. “We kind of lost touch there for a good many years,” Sherwood says. “He moved to England, and I was doing my thing. As life happened, we weren’t working together. But I gave him a buzz, to see if he wanted to participate in this thing – and he did. It just so happened that he was getting ready to rehearse for a Yes tour and coming to LA for a few weeks.” Squire eventually put down tracks for two upcoming Sherwood-helmed projects, and there’s talk of resuming their side project Conspiracy. — Nick DeRiso

No. 2

SOMETHING ELSE! SNEAK PEEK: SQUACKETT, “SEA OF SMILES”/ “PERFECT LOVE SONG” (2012): Our initial preview of the Squackett record, focusing on the Record Store Day advance single, remains a high charter until the full album review appeared. And with good reason: “Sea of Smiles” is, quite simply, a tour-de-force — this brilliantly collaborative narrative that underscores everything fans of both Yes and Genesis have been hoping for from the Squackett project by Chris Squire and Steve Hackett. Their voices, and then their instruments, tangle and untangle through a series of tempo and atmospheric changes — opening up a stirring vista of discoveries on repeated listenings. — Nick DeRiso

No. 1

JOHN WETTON TALKS KING CRIMSON – THEN AND NOW: Prior to joining Asia, Wetton was part of a quartet of seminal Crimson albums, 1973’s Lark’s Tongue in Aspic; 1974’s Starless and Bible Black and Red; and 1975’s live document USA. The period saw Robert Fripp’s long-standing prog-rock amalgam make some of its most experimental and influential early recordings, but also begin to lose sales momentum. The posthumous concert recording USA would be the King Crimson’s last output until 1981’s Discipline — which, with the addition of second guitarist Adrian Belew, would take Crimson on a more modern bent. By then, Wetton was in the midst of launching Asia, but he’s kept an eye on his former band. He stopped by to talk about his time in King Crimson, and what he thinks about the way things turned out. — Nick DeRiso

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