Well, a list of only 50 Robert Pollard songs by Robert Pollard was never going to be enough, was it?
Those knowledgeable types on the Strong Lions mailing-list and more Guided By Voices fans who have kindly made comments on the Robert Pollard Facebook page and even on our very own blog have made it very clear that the jury is still very much out on my original list.
One thing is for sure; such a mammoth back catalogue is undoubtedly an endless source of delight and surprise. You need these songs. Let them in.
Through a raft of correspondence dumped at Wizard HQ, over 50 songs have been nominated for subsequent additional inclusion. These have been collated, pressed, printed, stomped and, er, strategically ordered alphabetically this time. Some key moments have also been highlighted for your disapproval below.
Those missing songs in full
(All You Need) To Know (from the album Elephant Jokes) – the combined guitar and keyboard sound on the main riff is just sublime.
Arrows And Balloons (Moses On A Snail) – the urgent guitar on this is great.
The Big Make-Over (Kid Marine) – a really sad vocal line draws you into this one, “Gotta get spazzed/ And walk into the sunset”.
Boxing About (Normal Happiness) – I love the delivery of the line “I need more defiance”.
Built To Improve (Fiction Man) – the drums that boom in at 40 seconds are fantastic.
Catherine From Mid-October (Zoom EP) – without the military drum of the Boston Spaceships version, this is a much gentler song – the film dialogue at the end works really well too.
Chance To Buy An Island (Not In My Airforce) – great distorted vocals on this, especially on the repeated final line “And hey, don’t think twice”.
Children Come On (Fiction Man) – the incongruous xylophone (?) in the background is great.
Confessions Of A Teenage Jerk-Off (Robert Pollard Is Off To Business) – 2 minutes in and the ‘strings’ kick in and it’s clear you are listening to a major piece of work. Amazingly the song continues to build in drama from there right up to the end.
A Constant Strangle (Moses On A Snail) – “It’s the way I talk to you/ It’s the way you talk to me/ It’s a constant strangle”. Nuff said.
Current Desperation (Angels Speak Of Nothing) (Coast To Coast Carpet Of Love) – Another great guitar riff on this one.
Dancing Girls And Dancing Men (From A Compound Eye) – How could you listen to this and not shake and shimmy? A fantastically upbeat song. Have a listen to it below and decide on your favourite bit yourself. “If you please I may / Escort you all the way/ Just sit you down and say/ Be thankful everyday”.
Did It Play? (Not In My Airforce) – less than a minute, but full of mystery. I love the sound of the line “One year ago today”.
Dr. Time (Mouseman Cloud) – another song that does its stuff in under a minute – the chord changes are fantastic.
Dumb Lady (Coast To Coast Carpet Of Love) – “You pushed me away/ Don’t write me no more” – heartbreaking delivery.
Far-Out Crops (Kid Marine) – This is all about Bob’s singing of the title. From the high notes he effortlessly hits to the extended a cappella vocal at the end of the song. Great stuff.
Flat Beauty (Not In My Airforce) – On reflection, this song should be in my top 50. Great delivery of the line “She’s got a lovely line on her spine” and a neat little guitar solo to boot.
Flings Of The Waistcoat Crowd (Kid Marine) – Great guitar lines throughout this and the layered vocals work a treat. “That is our game/ To brag and complain”.
Folded Claws (Standard Gargoyle Decisions) – About halfway in Bob gives it loads on the line “Heal my head / So scream the masses/ Heal my head” and I believe.
Give Up The Grape (Normal Happiness) – Another definite shoulda been in the original list, this song is probably my favourite track from this bunch. A fantastic vocal performance, especially on the chorus, and on top of that the song includes the word ‘cahoots’.
Good Luck Sailor (Not In My Airforce) – “And now no great philosophy prevails/ May the cold wind always ripple your sails”. Testify.
Hammer In Your Eyes (From A Compound Eye) – a great keyboard hook that features heavily in the extended instrumental coda on this.
I Surround You Naked (From A Compound Eye) – the guitar riff grabs the listener by both ears from the start and doesn’t let go.
Imaginary Queen Anne (The Crawling Distance) – another heartbreaking masterpiece, “The child of our love/ Is going away now/ Out from your head/ Almost like suicide”. Wow.
It’s Only Natural (Fiction Man) – An earworm of a chorus AND the killer line “With an appetite to roam/ Like a narcoleptic truck/ As a 21st century what the fuck/ It’s only natural.” Great guitar solo too.
I’ve Owned You For Centuries (Not In My Airforce) – Some excellent drumming from Kevin Fennell on this, kicking in after about 20 seconds and reappearing after a brief hiatus in the middle of the song.
Jimmy (Elephant Jokes) – At 33 seconds there is a great noise that cuts across the speakers. Nice too to hear a reprise of the ‘supersonic love gun’ line previously heard on the Acid Ranch As Forever LP.
Just Say The Word (Waved Out) – I really like the squelchy percussion sound on this. Sounds like someone getting their chops slapped about a bit. Nice.
Living Upside Down (Kid Marine) – there’s a compelling synth drone throughout this song that merges into a disturbing little riff at about 1’30”. I like it very much.
Maggie Turns To Flies (Not In My Airforce) – I’d really like this song to be about the rotting corpse of Margaret Thatcher, but I have a feeling it probably isn’t. It does feature a great percussion sound courtesy of Jim Pollard though that at 40 seconds launches into a fantastic guitar sound and relentless rhythm. No wonder GBV included the song in their setlist over 50 times (thanks, GBVDB).
Moses On A Snail (Moses On A Snail) – an epic, where “Daddy’s got his laughs forever”, with a demented guitar solo to die for at 2’30”.
Night Of The Golden Underground (Fiction Man) – an uplifting melody despite the resigned vocals telling it’s all about “What I can’t give you/ What I can’t see”.
No One But I (Robert Pollard Is Off To Business) – a great chorus that’s launched into with a great guitar sound and suitably grandiose vocals “No one but I/ Can offer you a practice space/ To question all you can/ On why I’m here and not here”. Exactly.
No Tools (Mouseman Cloud) – I love the fact Bob includes the word ‘onomatopoeia’, and who else would rhyme this with ‘Caligula’? Then, of course, there’s the aspsssssssss.
Obvious #1 (Mousman Cloud) Why is this a great song? “It’s fucking obvious.”
The Original Heart (Robert Pollard Is Off To Business) – great phrasing on this song and it is propelled along by an attractively nagging guitar riff, but it’s the final line that gets into my head “They don’t listen so loud”.
Prom Is Coming (Not In My Airforce) – another acoustic track from the second half of NIMA that is all about Bob’s heartfelt delivery on lines like “And I will stay/ To help you prepare/ For what it was/ You said I could not afford to miss” that leave the listener wondering.
Quicksilver (Not In My Airforce) – from the fist side of NIMA, it’s the line “And then you went away/ And then you dicked my life” that seals the deal on this one.
Rhoda Rhoda (Normal Happiness) – with his anglicised vocals on the chorus, Bob lays another party song on us that I defy you not to sing along to.
The Right Thing (From A Compound Eye) – building on an old demo, this song really kicks in at 1’05” with some bizarre percussion and a great keening vocal line. A key part of Pollard’s live set throughout 2006 – I’d have to say it’s the live version on ‘Moon’ that really does it for me.
Serious Birdwoman (You Turn Me On) (Normal Happiness) – the melody sounds old-timey to me and Bob’s extension of the final syllable of each last line is fantastic.
Silence Before Violence (Lord Of The Birdcage) – Bob goes all preacher on us with his “Make it rain!” Also, I bet there isn’t another song out there that makes use of the hangman’s favourite word ‘syzygy’. (Hangman, as in the game, obviously.)
Silk Rotor (We All Got Out Of The Army) – a great guitar riff on this, but the line “‘cos you’re a rube” makes me think of that Kaiser Chief’s song and the appropriation of that for that no mark Mr Potato Head footballer. So I still prefer the B-side.
Slow Hamilton (Coast To Coast Carpet Of Love) – really beautifully sung this and I really like the chorus “We’re not here without you/ To know without you/ A life beyond slow Hamilton’s scheduled day”.
The Spanish Hammer (Motel Of Fools) – seemingly inspired by a story about, presumably, el martillo, this multi-movement song is not for everyone. For me, it’s the part that starts with “Thrown by a hand/ The ball came down” up to “Are you still there?” with its simple piano backing that works best. Interestingly, the record cover suggests the song was co-written by Rat Bastard. Excellent.
Stiff Me (Elephant Jokes) – saucy Bob at his best here. I really like the stuttery guitar sound on the chorus and the way he sings “expensive heroes”.
Submarine Teams (KId Marine) – with its unique ‘gibberish’ backing vocal, this is a long-time Guided By Voices live favourite – played over 100 times – and, again, it’s the live version that I prefer. There are some stand out lyrics here, of course, like “Shocked by a whaling umpire’s trumpet/ The starter gargles/ The salt brine” and a great guitar sound courtesy of Bob himself.
Supernatural Car Lover (Normal Happiness) – a great catchy riff and the none more Bob chorus of “supernatural car lover”. Of course, supernatural car lover.
To The Path! (Robert Pollard Is Off To Business) – is that another cello? It’s very neat whatever it is. Then there’s the way sings “the water is fine”, makes me feel “I’m hip/ I’m with him”.
Tomorrow Will Not Be Another Day (Normal Happiness) – a great upbeat feel to this song. I really like the little guitar echo at the end of each line.
Touch Me In The Right Place At The Right Time (Space City Kicks) – another great singalong chorus so “don’t think twice”. “That would be nice.”
Wealth And Hell-Being (Robert Pollard Is Off To Business) – From the metaphasis of the title to the use of the phrase “coexistent number”, this song is a lyrical treat. It also has a kick-ass (yes, I have now appropriated this term) refrain that harks back to Alien Lanes.
Zoom (It Happens All Over The World) (Zoom EP) – there’s little else that sounds like this in the great Pollard canon – is that a drum machine? In any case I have been whistling the tune all afternoon. Ah, just have a listen yourself:
Those overlooked LPs
8 tracks from – Not In My Airforce
6 – Normal Happiness
5 – Kid Marine, Robert Pollard Is Off To Business
4 – Fiction Man, From A Compound Eye
3 – Coast To Coast Carpet Of Love, Elephant Jokes, Moses On A Snail, Mouseman Cloud
2 – Zoom EP
1 – The Crawling Distance, Lord Of The Birdcage, Motel Of Fools, Space City Kicks, Standard Gargoyle Decisions, Waved Out, We All Got Out Of The Army
Where possible the tracks have been included in the following Spotify playlist, but you should definitely hunt down the ones that are shockingly unavailable (all those from Normal Happiness, Not In My Airforce, Coast To Coast Carpet Of Love, From A Compound Eye and Waved Out).
So over 100 songs later, have I listed all the Robert Pollard songs you need to hear? Have I fuck.
The man himself has almost certainly written another album’s worth of material in the time it has taken to read down to here. No, you’ll just have to keep tuning in to find out more.
I just hope we get to hear more of Bob on guitar (and Demos on bass) like in this snatched extract from ‘The Who Went Home And Cried’ DVD.
Damn right they did.
love the clip on the porch at the end…some of the song picks, not so much.
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