The natural order of things has been on Britt Daniel’s mind of late. A greatest hits collection is usually the exclusive preserve of bands that are bringing the curtain down, so how could Spoon be reasonably expected to piece one together when they’ve not only recently marked their 25th anniversary, but have done so off the back of a career-high one-two of They Want My Soul and Hot Thoughts?
“I was listening to one album a night to try to get this thing together, which was a serious trip,” laughs the Austin stalwarts’ frontman. “There were a lot of things I’d forgotten. I don’t recognise the guy who made Telephono any more. But, on the whole, there’s a lot I still like, and that meant that the initial list of songs for this album was a really long one.”
Ultimately, Daniel and his bandmates realised that a comprehensive overview of their colourful history wasn’t what the moment was calling for; instead, Everything Hits at Once, named after the opening track from 2002’s Girls Can Tell, is a punchy introduction to the work of one of the century’s great indie rock outfits. There’s an emphasis on immediacy; the bluesy crackle of ‘Rent I Pay’, the groovy strut of ‘I Turn My Camera On’, the freewheeling thrills of ‘The Underdog’. It’s a carefully selected and lovingly presented set of songs, one that Daniel says was “a hassle” to narrow down.
The same was true of his Nine Songs, which, when they first arrived by email a few days before we spoke, numbered twelve. By the time he picked up the phone in Texas, he’d managed to lop off three picks and decided he wanted to swap another one out to make sure that his favourite LP of 2019 was represented; for the sake of posterity, the four that were axed from the original rundown were Norma Tanega’s ‘You’re Dead’, Joan Jett’s ‘I Love Rock ’n’ Roll’, A Giant Dog’s ‘Jizzney’, and Stevie Wonder’s ‘My Cherie Amour’.
Those that did make the cut meanwhile, were “totally the first songs that came to mind – just nine that I love right now” and yet they still offer an incisive insight into the inner workings of one of America’s most prolific, talented and underrated songwriters.
“Welcome to the Terrordome” by Public Enemy
“I can’t say this about every song on this list, but with this one I was quite aware of what the band were doing when it came out. I wouldn’t say Public Enemy are my favourite band, but it’s pretty close, and when this record was released, they were the most important group in the world as far as I was concerned.
“They were the most interesting, the most intelligent, and at the time, nobody was more controversial than Chuck D. They were so original; they were breaking new ground with every recording. Before It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, there just wan’t music like this.
“That record came out six months before Fear of a Black Planet, and it still felt so sharply of its time because Chuck was talking about everything he’d gone through in the months leading up to it – the controversy with Professor Griff, and everything else. Later on, he said something like, “Public Enemy is CNN for black people,” and you get that with this song. It’s totally brutal, totally brilliant, and totally of the moment. In the winter of 1990, they just meant everything.
“I’ve put this one on plenty of mixtapes. Plus, is that a Frankie Goes to Hollywood reference in the title? It’s got to be, right?”
“Killing Me Softly with His Song” by Roberta Flack
“This was a song that I’d hear on the radio quite a bit when I was growing up. It wasn’t a current song, but it was one of those that had legs, and they just kept on playing it.
“The reason it was on my mind is because I pulled it apart the other day. I do that when I’m trying to get into work mode. I might have been hanging with friends, or dealing with business or talking to my mom, so when I want to switch over to the kind of mindset where I need to be receptive to musical ideas, it sometimes helps me to just play a song that I really love – not one of my own – and pick at it. What are the chords doing here? I’m asking that kind of question.
“I heard the Fugees version – which is what brought it to mind – but the Flack one is my favourite. To get to that place in my head when I’m working, I need to do something physical, like sing and strum the guitar on a track that’s not mine and just figure out what makes it tick. So in terms of ‘Killing Me Softly’, there’s this cool trick – this cycle of fifths – where you play a chord, and then go a fifth up, and then another fifth up, and it sounds as if it’s going down at the same time. You don’t hear that very often, but it’s on songs like ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ and ‘You Never Give Me Your Money’.
“At first glance, you might say this is a sad song, because of the tone and approach, but it’s not. It’s just somewhere to go if you’re looking for an emotional experience, because it’s pure soul.”
“Penetration” by The Stooges
“I first got a copy of Raw Power in high school, so this was my first exposure to Iggy and The Stooges. At that point, I was more familiar with the more overt versions of punk, like the Sex Pistols or The Band, and as much as I knew that The Stooges were punk rock they just weren’t described in those terms, and that felt about right. They somehow felt more sensual – they were harder to define. It seemed as if they were teetering on the edge of something the whole time.
“This song is a perfect example of that. Is it a ballad? Is it a rock song? Is it a soul screamer kind of thing? Really, it’s all of those and it says a lot about my limited understanding of the style at the time that it didn’t sound like punk to me when I first heard it. It’s maybe the most feminine, least male-aggressive track on there. It’s not ‘Search and Destroy’, and it’s not ‘Your Pretty Face Is Going to Hell’. I mean, he’s saying “penetrate me!” It’s my favourite song on that record.”
“Bring It to Jerome” by Bo Diddley
“I first heard this one in 2000, or maybe 2001. My girlfriend at the time, Eleanor, had a Bo Diddley compilation that I think she got from her brother. I was grown by then so it wasn’t like I was listening to Bo in the crib, you know? But I came around to it.
“For a long time, I wasn’t a fan of the blues, because my limited understanding of it was cover bands on Sixth Street here in Austin – that version of the genre was just white guys trying to imitate Stevie Ray Vaughan. I think Bo transcended blues though. There’s so much more going on; there’s pop elements, there’s pure rock and roll elements.
“What I love about him the most is that he’s all about the maracas. That’s something that I’ve snagged, for sure, they’re the coolest percussion instrument. He went on The Ed Sullivan Show with a four-piece band, and one of them was just there to play maracas – that’s how essential it was to the sound. On this song, Jerome himself is the maraca player and he’s singing the response vocal – singing his own name. I love that.”
“Out Of My Mind on Dope and Speed” by Julian Cope
“My favourite Julian Cope is loose Julian Cope. Back in the day, I was already a fan of his, because of World Shut Your Mouth and Saint Julian; those were great records, not super loose, but very rock and roll. Then, he put out My Nation Underground, which I was pretty dissatisfied with. It had its moments, but it was too produced, and so ’80s. I think even he’s disowned that one now.
“After that, I’d be surprised, because I’d be going to the record store and he’d be putting out these albums with no announcement. One of them was Skellington, which this song is from. That record was huge for me, to the point that I named one of my early bands after it. Droolian came after that and it just felt like, when he really hit his peak with Peggy Suicide and Jehovahkill, it was those previous two albums that really laid the groundwork.
“They were totally loose and off the cuff, he was mumbling the lyrics and the liner notes said that he hadn’t ever really finished them. They’re not commercial records and that made them all the more fascinating to me. They’re more human. It was a lesson – not every record has to be polished. You don’t need to appeal to everyone who’s known you up until then. It’s good to throw up the occasional roadblock.
“Plus, at that moment in time, he was doing the whole “Being a rock star” thing better than anybody else. I hung off of anything he had to say; it felt like nothing he was saying wasn’t extraordinary. I mean, the title of the song says it all. He’s just an amazing character.”
“Moody” by ESG
“This record is just so unique. All I know is that it’s the kind of album where you could put any song from it on at a party and everybody starts dancing.
“I’d been hearing this song at parties for years and I never knew what it was, other than that I loved this particular sound. Finally, one night, I asked the DJ, and it turned out it was these sisters from The Bronx, doing something totally fresh in the late ’70s and early ’80s. It must have come very naturally to them, because it sounds like nothing else I’ve ever heard.
“It’s almost bizarre; nearly all of it is just percussion and vocals and the occasional dub element. It’s minimal, and so singular, and you just have to dance to it. I guess that’s testament to how good the drummer was.”
“Ain’t Talkin’ ’bout Love” by Van Halen
“If you’re thinking I don’t seem like a big Van Halen guy, then you’d be right. I liked parts of what they did, but what this is really about is a moment in 2017.
“Whenever Spoon play, we’ll go through the same process in the build-up to stage time. The clock is ticking, we’re sipping tequila and we’re blasting music, turning it up a little louder with each track. The tour manager comes in, tells us we’ve got five minutes, and then it’s time to pick one last song before we go on. For a while, this was it. It got us going! It was Alex (Fischel) who picked it, I think. It’s sort of a David Lee Roth mission statement; all those fucked up lyrics, “my love is rotten to the core,” and “you’re semi-good looking.”
“We’ve had other pump-up songs – it was ‘I Wish’ by Stevie Wonder for a while – but this is one of those ones that makes you appreciate the art of the riff. You have to write a lot of them before you land on one this good. It’s pure ’70S rock and roll. I feel like we need some more of that nowadays.”
“Bored and Razed” by The Raconteurs
“The appeal here is exactly what we were talking about with the last song – it’s just pure rock and roll and it sounds so good. It’s what I call ‘lake music’. I don’t know if you guys go to the lake out there, but in Texas, that’s what we’d do. The lake was about twenty, maybe twenty-five minutes from my hometown, and the whole way there, you’re blasting exactly this kind of music – loud, raw, uncompromising rock.
“I love anything that makes me feel that way. There’s nothing subtle about this track; those massive ringing chords that it begins and ends with? Come on, you only have to hear the chorus once before you know it, but I still love the lyrics – what a great way to write about a place that you loved, but have left. “I’m Detroit bored and razed / but these days I’m living with another.” That’s so well put.”
“Reveries” by Karen O and Danger Mouse
“I was just thinking last night, after I’d already sent you the list of songs, “Why didn’t I put that Lux Prima record in there?” It’s my favourite of the year so far.
“The first time I heard this song it knocked the wind out of me. Where did that melody come from? I’d never heard it, and yet it felt like it had existed for all eternity. By the time the track’s over, it’s already ingrained in you.
“Something else I love about this album is that it starts with a couple of songs that have you thinking that you know where the record’s going, and then it takes this hard right turn. I love that! Why don’t bands do that more often? You think of Ziggy Stardust as being this big rock record, but you forget that all of the big rock songs are saved for the back half. Side one is all soul and pop. I like that kind of sequencing, where the band is being deliberate, where they know they’re handling a piece of art.
“I think, with us having just put together Everything Hits at Once, I relate to that more than ever – that sense of wanting the album to gradually take the listener somewhere.”