Beck, "Loser" (Geffen; 1994). iTunes
Art Brut, "Formed a Band" (Fierce Panda; 2004). iTunes
The Dandy Warhols, "Bohemian Like You" (Capitol; 2000). iTunes
Pulp, "Mis-Shapes" (Island; 1995). iTunes
The Cribs, "Hey Scenesters!" (Wichita; 2005). iTunes
The Libertines, "Boys in the Band" (Rough Trade; 2002). iTunes
The Brakes, "Heard About Your Band" (Sanctuary; 2005). iTunes
Pavement, "Cut Your Hair" (Matador; 1994). iTunes
Camper Van Beethoven, "Where the Hell Is Bill?" (Pitch-a-Tent; 1985). iTunes
Cake, "Rock 'n' Roll Lifestyle" (Volcano; 1994). iTunes
Harvey Danger, "Flagpole Sitta" (Arena Rock; 1997).
Stone Marmot, "Cool Is for Poseurs" (Stone Marmot Enterprises; 2003). iTunes
Billy Joel, "It's Still Rock and Roll to Me" (Columbia; 1980). iTunes
Spoon, "Small Stakes" (Merge; 2002).
Talking Heads, "Life During Wartime" (Sire; 1979). iTunes
The Velvet Underground, "Sweet Jane" (Rhino; 1970). iTunes
Smashing Pumpkins, "Cherub Rock" (Virgin; 1993).) iTunes
American Analog Set, "Cool Kids Keep" (Arts & Crafts; 2005).
Ride, "Dreams Burn Down" (Warner Bros.; 1990). iTunes
Angels of Light, "The Kid Is Breaking" (Young God; 2005). iTunes
Bon Jovi, "Never Say Goodbye" (Mercury; 1986). iTunes
Music is inextricably linked with fashion. Ask Malcolm McLaren, from whom I've stolen my first line and inspiration for this playlist. His Sept. 18 New York Times essay on the so-called second swindle of rock accompanied photos of this season's men's sartorial trend, the pretty-boy rocker look. McLaren's piece came only three days after Cocaine Kate splashed the Mirror's pages with her Babyshambling "secret"—a moment of Situationist synergy fit for a punk icon, sigh.
Autocritique has always been part of the pop music world, and movements like punk, new wave, and indie rock often shone best in jest. But there's something different in a song like the Brakes' "Heard About Your Band," a lyrical mix of "Bohemian Like You" and "Cut Your Hair" with the unpolished songwriting of Camper Van. It's like the sonic embodiment of what went wrong with Spin magazine—it starts hating everything and its time, even itself. Once you're done snickering, what's left?
The Cribs and Art Brut tried a little cleverness, and American Analog Set cooed so smooth that "cool kids" sounds less sneering and more like half of the dichotomy against which "we" once protected ourselves. That's why "Loser" launches this. At the time, it seemed such a mantra that it swept the whole one-lettered generation. Now there's another wave celebrating trashy rock, blow, and funny haircuts, which somehow reminds me more of Bon Jovi than, I don't know, Ride.
There have always been funny sunglasses, cocaine nose jobs, and slacker waiters in the rock and roll lifestyle biography, but what has separated the good reads from the bad is how the hero situates himself. From Lou Reed to Pete Doherty (cool kids setting bad examples) to Billy Joel and (early) Billy Corgan (snubbed outsiders gazing in at the party), good songwriters somehow winked about the whole silly business of building up the rock myth. For the others, "hanging out and being cool" is not just a pose—it's actually all they seem to be able to talk about. Picking the poseurs from the real rockers in this mix, you have to wonder who's actually being swindled.
Daphne Carr is the music features editor of Stop Smiling and a graduate student at Columbia University.