Lake Country Publications Sports Director JR Radcliffe provides tidbits and details from the Lake Country prep sports scene to the Wisconsin sports world at large. His weekly column presents exclusive interviews, commentaries and observations.
Drummers are the point guards of rock music. Just as the point guards aren’t often registering eye-popping point or rebound totals, drummers are seldom the face of the band, and yet they are the backbone of the operation. They are the beat that keeps everything on pace.
Neil Peart would have made an excellent point guard.
The Rush drummer, considered one of the best-ever at his craft, will join his band mates next year as a new inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio. The Canadian band’s hit “Tom Sawyer” is easily Rush’s most familiar song, and it occurred to me recently what a great track that would make on a pregame mixtape for a varsity basketball game. Of course, I imagine most kids in high school don’t know a whole lot about Rush.
I wonder who gets to make those warmup arrangements for basketball games. If I were on a team, I would insist to play the role. It would surely be my greatest contribution to the team.
I’m a child of the 90s grunge and post-grunge environment, and “Tom Sawyer” probably wouldn’t make my final cut. But as I think about bands I loved which haven’t yet hit eligibility for the Hall of Fame (the debut single must have been released a minimum of 25 years ago), I present to you my warmup mixtape. It's my chance to introduce the great music of the 90s to the kids of today. Nope, you aren’t going to find songs that are on the radio today.
Firestarter by Prodigy. With a Sex Pistols-inspired flamboyance and a sound that deviated from the traditional, the British rockers brought synthesizers and drum machines to their sound, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t know how to rock. The opening chords of this 1996 song create an instant association with the up-tempo beat to follow and the sort of “evil clown” look put forth by lead singer Keith Flint, one that made the band a temporary sensation in the states.
Blind by Korn. The Californians arrived in the early 90s as pretty much the embodiment of teenage melancholy, both looking the part and singing cheerless songs about the cruelty of their existence. They needed to cheer up, quite frankly. But their best song, “Blind,” is perhaps the greatest arena song of all time. The 1994 release starts with a simple guitar chord, with new elements introduced upon each repetition, then launches forward as lead singer Jonathan Davis howls, “Are you ready?” You can look out at the crowd and just see the rippling waves.
“Where the Streets Have No Name” by U2. The band U2 (already in the Hall of Fame) sells out arenas routinely, makes enough money to challenge the gross domestic product of some nations and also spearheads humanitarian efforts to help those nations. Their impact on the world is pretty significant, and yet I can’t help but think they reached their peak musically with the first track off the 1987 smash album “The Joshua Tree.” When I hear the guitar arpeggio kick in after a delay during the song’s magnificent opening sequence, it feels to me like the sun rising or the moments before something big is about to happen.
“Brain Stew” by Green Day. Simplicity is sometimes best, and Green Day had that figured out by the early 90s. At a time when grunge was sort of caving in on itself, the three-man band began offering basic but catchy material. This song is all about the simple repeating guitar riff, heavy and aggressive, that continues throughout as instruments are added and the intensity escalates. Released first in 1996, this wasn’t initially one of the band’s signature hits, but I think it has evolved to that status.
“Higher” by Creed. I’m no longer the biggest Creed fan, but in 1999, the Florida-based band was playing at the U.S. Cellular Arena in Milwaukee. It became my first “real” concert experience (I won’t count state fairs or concerts attended with my parents), and I can’t possibly forget the moment they ripped into this song, which at the time was their current single. It’s probably the most popular song the nu-metal band produced. Though Creed devolved musically and frontman Scott Stapp’s ego became the subject of punch lines, this can be experienced as a pretty inspiring song. Plus, it’s wholesome, so mom and dad in the stands won’t mind.
“Machinehead” by Bush. This is one of those bands that was huge for a while but has faded enough where if I ask someone in college today, they’ll tell me they’ve never heard of them. It makes me cringe. I do honestly remember where I was the moment I first heard this opening riff. It came at a time when I knew Bush was out there, but I didn’t call myself a fan. Boom, I’m converted. As the most energetic song on the tremendous “Sixteen Stone” album, the band created what I consider an iconic guitar intro.
“My Hero” by Foo Fighters. The Foo Fighters are so great. Once the drummer for Nirvana, Dave Grohl engineered the concept as essentially a one-man band, and though the band has undergone a number of lineup changes over the years, the consistent brilliance of Grohl has made this project so successful. Off the 1997 album “The Colour and the Shape,” this is one of the band’s most familiar tunes, with an easy sing-along chorus. It’s a tribute to ordinary people who are heroes – seems to fit the high-school sports landscape to a degree.
“Bulls on Parade” by Rage Against the Machine. When the conversation of “greatest guitarist ever” comes up, I’m not sure how often we hear Tom Morello’s name, but we should. The innovative mastermind at the heart of Rage gives us, in my opinion, the Greatest Riff of All Time with this song. RATM momentarily made political activism an acceptable rock theme, even though you had to be very liberal and very smart to appreciate what was being said beneath the heavy layers of metaphor. I certainly wasn’t that smart, but nothing fires me up like this song and the riff that ignites it.
What's on your warmup mixtape?