As Robert Pollard reminds us in his masterpiece Psychic Pilot Clocks Out, there are times when we “feel life passing on by us”. No time to waste, better get on with it.
Just as well then that the man has the ability to pen great songs that cut to the chase without any superfluous distractions. I reckon that Guided By Voices have released 160 different songs of 90 seconds or less. Here are the 50 best.
Only got fifty-eight minutes to spare? Let the countdown begin.
50. Canteen Plums (Sunfish Holy Breakfast EP) – a great strumalong melody with the drawn out delivery of “it’s a sign of the times” a favourite bit.
49. Amanda Gray (Down By The Racetrack EP) – the highlight of this EP for me – Tobin’s vocal is unbelievably delicate.
48. Delayed Reaction Brats (Superchunk/Guided By Voices Split EP) – I love the manic guitar that comes in after the line “You’ve got the right to bite / The hind that feeds you”. Yes, hind.
47. Please Freeze Me (King Shit And The Golden Boys) – another beautiful song this time sung by Bob. “She’s a little disturbed again oh no / And I’m feeling down again so it goes”.
46. Starfire (Class Clown Spots A UFO) – another Tobin vocal and a great keyboard (strings?) riff that follows the line “worlds are falling down like raindrops”.
45. Mag Earwhig! (Mag Earwhig!) – I love the ‘wahhh’ sound and the line “the bastard of an ex-warhorse kicks”.
44. Jar Of Cardinals (Vampire On Titus) – a tumbling guitar riff and the pay off line “Hush now seedling, don’t you cry / Maybe I’ll be coming home quite soon for you”.
43. God Loves Us (Let’s Eat The Factory) – a hidden treat on the first GBV comeback album. What a riff. They are, indeed, living proof.
42. Matter Eater Lad (Clown Prince Of The Menthol Trailer EP) – Bob’s super-hero song. Suitably mad and singalong. Excellent astronomy knowledge too “Now he’s eating Ansonia / Now he’s eating Andromata”.
41. Bite (KIng Shit And The Golden Boys) – I love the full-force vocal on this and the really dirty guitar sound on the solo. “I drink myself into a drunken mess”. Hmm.
40. Look, It’s Baseball (Tonics And Twisted Chasers) – This song has come to mean more and more to me as I have discovered baseball over the last few years. A story of life and relationships.
39. Wire Greyhounds (Universal Truth And Cycles) – yes, it’s about cunnilingus. Yes, it fucking rocks. One of my favourite GBV album openers.
38. Ha Ha Man (Tonics And Twisted Chasers) – the great 40 second version isn’t available online, so here’s the epic 2 minute version – “It’s a ridiculous concept, and everyone’s laughing but me”.
37. Top Chick Silver Chord (Tonics And Twisted Chasers) – a haunting guitar line and great lyrics taking us up to the line “Embraced, released and then ignored”. Bob’s vocals are sublime.
36. How Loft I Am? (Same Place The Fly Got Smashed) – Once heard you can’t get this out of your head. “Maybe baby, maybe baby, you will see”.
35. Straw Dogs (Alien Lanes) – “We are the willing supporters / And we’d like to know / Why everything is so unkind”. Damn right.
34. White World (B-side to Keep It In Motion) – great bass line and trumpets. Trumpets! Fucking trumpets!! “As good as gold.”
33. Tropical Robots (Hold On Hope EP) – just beautiful. “Let them go on their way /Don’t spoil their fun”.
32. North American Vampires (B-side to Glad Girls) – the guitar sound suggests some terrible foreboding that is never explained. “On the westbound trail / The wind in their sails / On the other end of the spectrum, tainted blood”. Some films take nearly 3 hours to do this and rarely do it as well.
31. Indian Fables (Fast Japanese Spin Cycle EP) – I love the ‘yeah’ on the end of the first line. A strange little song that I have heard hundreds of times and still don’t know what it’s about. Possibly Incas.
30. An Unmarketed Product (Do The Collapse) – great lead-in guitar that rockets us off into a rant against commercialisation. Possibly. Ironically, this song appears on the most ‘commercial’ sounding GBV album. “How do these things come in to our lives so obtrusively? / Why do they change their prices so accordingly?”. Well?
29. They And Them (Class Clown Spots A UFO) – Tobin again. This time with a cello backed ballad with, yes, more trumpets. A really lovely coda.
28. You’re Not An Airplane (Bee Thousand) – The finest GBV closer to the best GBV album. I love everything about this 33 seconds.
27. Demons Are Real (Bee Thousand) – “Squeaky was a sad child – the product of neglect”. This is one of Rebel Rikkit’s favourite GBV songs. I love the wild vocals and all the fantastic background noises.
26. Choking Tara (Mag Earwhig!) – great guitar sound and more fantastic lyrics, like “Today when every “fake it” decides to make it / They just can’t take it away / Shove it, cus I’ll just stay like an ugly unwanted stray”.
25. The Ascended Master’s Grogshop (B-side to I Am A Tree) – great piano and an unusually high vocal. Over before it really begins and still really moving. I think this is basically a ‘fuck you’ song.
24. They’re Not Witches (Alien Lanes) – More great peripheral noises on this one. “Don’t seek to burn them / They are not witches / Just spoiled little children / Out on a lucky streak”.
23. The Head (Let’s Go Eat The Factory) – this is all about the keyboard sound that comes in just the twice at around 40 seconds for me. There was a fantastic video on youtube that used images of Keith Emerson giving it loads at just the right time, but I can’t find it anymore. Listening again as I write, I think this should be higher. They found a fucking head for fuck’s sake!
22. A Good Flying Bird (Alien Lanes) – a real Tobin-led classic, with great harmonies from Bob. “Fools and kings decide / Ways to live your life / This is just the way we want to be”.
21. Zap (Universal Truths And Cycles) – another killer bassline and some great percussion. A melancholy song that questions “And if you sleep / And the pressure is then off / Where has it gone?” before giving us hope with the pay off line.
20. Volcano Divers (Fast Japanese Spin Cycle EP) – this was the first GBV song I ever heard. I love the strange echoey noise and the line “You’ve got a lot to say / But, hey, don’t say it”. Then there’s the weird guitar solo. I was smitten. The late great John Peel played it on his World Service programme and I chased the record down. Of course, I had never seen pictures of the band and so I assumed the bloke on the back was probably Bob. He wasn’t.
19. Red Gas Circle (Propeller) – another beautiful vocal on this and some strange lyrical images that still continue to move me. “You see it falling and now it’s crumbling to the cold unforgiveable ground”. I really like the electric guitar that comes in for the last 20 seconds or so too.
18. Lethargy (Propeller) – a very different song from the same album as the previous selection. This is fist-shaking chin-jutting GBV with one of my all-time favourite lines “I wish I could give a shit / Just a little bit.” Mega guitar on this one too. A real killer live.
17. Marchers In Orange (Fast Japanese Spin Cycle EP) – the Vampire On Titus version is on the playlist, but I prefer the EP version – what a great guitar riff and opening line of “The white lines are tracers for the facers of the aftermath / Positioned in the situation, lost in battles of love”. Yep, that’ll do for me.
16. Blue Babbleships Bay (Class Clown Spots A UFO) – another great new song. “Get out your Cleopatra shoes”. Oh, yes. Great spindly guitar lines underneath a really angry Pollard vocal. Difficult to know what exactly has got to him, but whatever it is, it really has.
15. Awful Bliss (Bee Thousand) – more poetry from Tobin. “I wouldn’t dare to bring out this awful bliss.” It is also the beautiful bridge between Goldstar For Robot Boy and Mincer Ray.
14. Bright Paper Werewolves (Under The Bushes Under The Stars) – another heartbreaking delivery from Bob, particularly on the section of the song that starts with “they want to get out of here, but they can’t find the exit”. A real lyrical tour de force.
13. Kisses To The Crying Cooks (Fast Japanese Spin Cycle EP) – Played over and over as part of my first GBV record. I love this song, mostly for the opening line “Onion lady blows her precious prose /And so it goes”. Indeed, it does. I also really like the snippet of electric guitar at the end.
12. Auditorium (Alien Lanes) – Bob’s delivery of the title of this song is magnificent, but it is mostly up this far in my list because it is irrevocably linked with the following song on Alien Lanes. Have a listen below. Oh, but then there’s the opening punch of “Post-punk X-Man parked his fork-lift / Like a billion stars flickering from the grinder’s wheel” and the funny ‘echo’ joke in the middle. Yep, it’s pretty damn good.
11. Aim Correctly (Guided By Voices/Cobra Verde Split Single) – I really love the urgent guitar on this and it’s another song I have listened to over and over on first hearing it. “It’s a bullet investment from a bleeding heart”.
10. Yours To Keep (Bee Thousand) – just this:
“To see you sight unseen is worse
Then pick you up because you’re first
And go where the whistle blows
And go where the captain knows
Is just a lie
To train the bear to not get up
Slay the beast and win the cup
And stay with the sweet flesh prize
A necklace of 50 eyes
Is yours to keep”
9. Kiss Only The Important Ones (Tigerbomb EP) – an oft-overlooked gem with some great J&MC type feedback and a great vocal that peaks with the line “You’ve always been a marionette / So go alone / Cut your own strings”. It really gets to me every time.
8. Mute Superstar (Mag Earwhig!) – what a killer opening guitar riff. And there’s whooshing noises. And there’s “We hope these cables will serve you well / We hold these truths and they’re not to sell”. Great drumming too. Even in a song 84 seconds long, there’s a key change to stop you in your tracks. “Approach me now!”
7. I Am Produced (Mag Earwhig!) – great droning keyboard sound from the outset and the fantastic lyric:
“I am pressed, printed, stomped
And strategically removed
I am everybody
Insane without innocence
I am trapped, tricked, packaged
And shipped out
I am produced.”
6. Wondering Boy Poet (Peel Session, 28/7/96) – the Vampire On Titus version is on the playlist, but it’s the piano-led Peel Session version that kills. I taped it off the radio 17 years ago and it still sounds great. THIS is poetry and it would work just as well a cappella.
“Dream on child of change
Throw your javelin through the sun
Pierce the heart of everyone
Though we push to slave the days
This is not reality, this is just formality
The cup is only being filled
For a chance to have it spilled
Flowing–just like the days
Sailing–just like the days”
5. Pimple Zoo (Alien Lanes) – “Sometimes I get the feeling that you don’t want me around.” I get that. I also really get the emotion in Bob’s delivery. The fact that the recording is so lo-fi just makes it even greater.
4. Kicker Of Elves (Bee Thousand) – “Dee dee dee dee dee dee dee, kicker of elves…” Yep, I really really like this one. An early favourite, this song has buried itself deep into my consciousness over the last 17 years never to leave. A bit like “The parasites, the bugs of gold.”
3. A Salty Salute (Alien Lanes) – I very often start introductory mixes to Guided By Voices with this song as I try to convert just about everyone who crosses my path. I remember giving one such mix CD to an Irish jazz fan and telling him he’d find something to like. About a week later I asked him what he had thought of the CD. He told me that he had been unable to listen to more than the first song because he wanted to keep listening to the bass line. In any case, “proud brothers… the club is open”.
2. Peep-Hole (Bee Thousand) – it’s the line “I’m looking inside your brain / and Christ it’s a cluttered mess / I love you, I must confess” that makes me love this song so. I also like the strained vocals and the slightly out of tune guitar. Fantastic.
1. Shocker In Gloomtown (The Grand Hour EP) – the most exciting 86 seconds can get in my world with or without chemical assistance. The Breeders do a great job with this, but this is the dog’s bollocks. I have just had to temporarily stop typing to leap around the room while this song is on. “Were you there / Were you kicking / Alive in aisle twelve / Gimmick of the century / In boxes and jars / And giveaway cars”. If you haven’t heard this before… how the hell did you miss it?
P.S. Dump your boyfriend.
Other Guided By Voices blogs
Guided By Curses – Robert Pollard IS King of the Cuss
The 50 best Robert Pollard songs – released under the name Robert Pollard