After the massive success of the Ben Weasel top 10, I decided to do a Dr. Frank top 10 as well. I took some time to compile and sequence this list in March when I stayed at my parents’ house. I forgot all about it and I couldn’t access it for months because of the virus. But now it’s here! A few days after I had made the list, Frank did a track-by-track of MTX Forever a few days later and mentioned some things I had written a few days before and it gave me a confirmation that I had understood some of the songs. This would’ve been a cool article to post around the time of the release, but you can’t always get what you want- Rene
1. “Hey Emily” (Alcatraz, 1999):
I feel like people really hated my Ben Weasel list; that’s why I need to take it a step further with my Dr. Frank list. This time I needed to set some ground rules; only one song from each album and solo records had to be included. I’ll start with the obvious choice. Not only is “Hey Emily” my favorite Dr. Frank song, or my favorite MTX song, it’s my favorite song by anyone ever. It sort of has “God Only Knows” by the Beach Boys lurking around at second place. So, how much I love this song can’t even be described any better than that. Picking this song as my favorite might say something about my taste in music, that I generally like to listen to upbeat and fast albums as a whole, but it will always be the slower song that stands out as my favorite. I have a feeling that is something that will dominate this list to some degree. “Hey Emily” doesn’t have a dull moment, it has a strange solo from an instrument I don’t even recognize and Dr. Frank’s falsetto. The melody is beautiful and instead of having a steady rhyming scheme with rhyming couplets and end rhymes, it’s like a word starts, and then something rhymes with that word very soon after that, you don’t get to suck on “any two” until you get to “you” and then you lose your breath at “go through”, and you need to call an ambulance at “do”. And then it starts all over again, and magically goes from “the end” to “everything”. It’s almost like rap in that way, even if the days of rhyming “pointless” with “avoid it” were over for the pop punk rhyme-smith.
2. “Book of Revelation” (Milk Milk Lemonade, 1992):
Neither Phil Collins nor Peter Gabriel, in spite of the latter’s biblical name, made me want to read Genesis, Bob Marley and the Wailers might have made me curious about Exodus, but it’s MTX that really makes me want to read the Book of Revelation. If the song is this good, I suppose the book and its creepy apocalyptic foresight must be good as well. The lyrics to this song are somewhat ambiguous. At first glance, it seems like a confused person finding religion and getting left with an overwhelming feeling of ambivalence. Looking at it closer, this is a song about a girl! I’m assuming this is a dude taking a look into this girl’s diary or journal, because she was sloppy with hiding it, finding her big secret! We don’t really get to know if this secret carries news for our guy here, but knowing how she feels hits him really hard. So maybe her diary is as apocalyptic as the bible. The music is also fantastic, the baroque intro (that might be the same instrument as in “Hey Emily”, it sort of sounds like it!) and a breathtaking melody. Songwriters that are inspired by Holy Scripture, take notes! Maybe we need more rock music based on the Bible, one of the Pauls like Simon and McCartney or Westerberg should write something on the Corinthians. Oh and the Fastbacks do a cool cover of this song and Kim from the Fastbacks sings on the MTX version as well.
3. “Who Needs Happiness? (I’d Rather Have You)” (Revenge is Sweet, and So Are You, 1997):
I wrote a lot about this in the Revenge Is Sweet… album pick, but yeah, this has always been one of my favorites and I especially love how it sounds like some weird chords are played in the intro and chorus, but the chords, as far as I know, are pretty common, maybe it’s the second guitar does it, but it’s an interesting little effect. Like I wrote in the article (now you don’t have to sit through that thing), the title is a reference to the song “If Paradise Was Twice as Nice” by Amen Corner and where Paradise rationalizes love as something not always perfect. Happiness downright says it makes you miserable, but what can ya do?
4. “The Dustbin of History” (Our Bodies Our Selves, 1993):
The blend of acoustic and electric guitars is what made Our Bodies, Our Selves such an intriguing album. And I think “The Dustbin of History” does this best and to top it all it has handclaps. It feels like this song can do nothing wrong! Hearing this song for the first time right before I turned 18, the lyrics spoke to me, even if I had no idea what they meant. The lyric sheet didn’t help me as they replaced the song’s lyrics with a text about extraterrestrial dangers. Like “Book of Revelation”, I feel like Dr. Frank does what he does best, writes a song about a girl in new and different ways. The expression “dustbin of history” was popularized by Bolshevik intellectual Leon Trotsky and I think there’s something very sad about the way it’s used in the song. The expression refers to something that has been forgotten by history and it exists in a place where it’s no longer relevant. The song is wistful and promises love and happiness, but this love only exists in the dustbin of history. Such a hopeful sentiment turned so gloomy so quick. I often mishear the lyrics as “When you’ve finished a raisin, there won’t be much left”.
5. “Big Strange Beautiful Hammer” (Yesterday Rules, 2004; Eight Little Songs, 2003):
Like “Book of Revelation”, “Big Strange Beautiful Hammer” gets religious, and mixes those love feelings of secular affection with the love for God or a deity. The phallic object; the hammer, serves as an omniscient being that penetrates you and fills you both with fear and comfort at the same time, and also gives you the feeling of devotion as well as independence. I also think the song describes life itself in a perfect way “Existence is a test/we try to do our best, but we’re on our quest to be demolished”. I think this is what people a bit younger than me call “wordporn”. The music is folk-esque and I feel like if it was introduced to that kind of crowd, the melody would really hit the nail on the head, like hammers do. Like I initially said, I tried to include both the solo records along with MTX albums in this list, and I found that hard, I really wanted to include “You’re Impossible Baby” because I absolutely adore that song, but I also wanted a Yesterday Rules song on the list, so I found a loophole and included a song that is on both the Eight Little Songs and Yesterday Rules releases, and “Big Strange Beautiful Hammer” is also the superior song, sorry “You’re Impossible Baby”.
6. “Bitter Homes and Gardens” (Show Business Is My Life, 1999):
I wrote a lot about this in my Show Business Is My Life album pick (the most underrated Dr. Frank album!). I think what I wrote back then, was that the solo sounds inspired by George Harrison in the year 1964 and that the title is a pun on the magazine Better Homes and Gardens. A part that still sticks with me over all these years is “All that happened here/ Just evidence for arguments I lose against the mirror”. The more I think about it this song probably deserves to be higher on the list, but it was hard to compete with the five first ones.
7. “Sackcloth and Ashes” (Love is Dead, 1995):
One can learn a lot about the Bible from Dr. Frank’s lyrics, even if most of those songs are actually mostly about a girl. This particular girl looks pretty good in blue (maybe it’s the same girl Debbie Harry sang about twenty years earlier). The guy in the song, however, wears sackcloth and ashes; attire worn in the Old Testament to show grief. It’s the classic story of the guy who tries to be nice and just instead ends up with a head full of evil thoughts and a terrible fashion sense, for those that care about that kind of thing. The biblical and the modern meaning of these clothing items are damn clever. The song is the opener on the band’s biggest album Love Is Dead, an album that to me falls short of most of their catalogue, but it’s undeniable that “Sackcloth and Ashes” is a great song!
8. “I Was Losing You All Along” (…And The Women Who Love Them, 1994):
Like I said, I’m a sucker for slow jams. “I Was Losing You All Along” is strange in that regard. It starts off like a normal tempo pop punk song and I don’t even know how or when it turns into a ballad, but it does and it does so beautifully. Something that is a common thread in many of Dr. Frank’s lyrics is counting stuff, such as days and people (“Our Days Our Numbered” and “Population: Us” and more I assume), and promises (“All My Promises”, “The Future Ain’t What It Used to Be” and “I Made You so I Can Break You”). “I Was Losing You All Along” manages to do both, even though the protagonist fails at both, as he fails his quest on the first day. I think what the song does best is the use of the common ballad tricks, like the cool little “solo” thing that fits perfectly in a ballad. I wonder if this is what people refer to when they say “epic”.
9. “The Girl Who Still Lives at Home” (Making Things With Light):
I think this was the song I was happy to make room for when I found my brilliant Yesterday Rules/ Eight Little Songs loophole. A song that really shows Dr. Frank’s talent as a storyteller, the same thing Ray Davies or Johnny Cash would do before him. The song is about a girl who still lives with her parents when all her friends have all moved away pursuing other endeavors. Even in the first line of the song we get the feeling something ain’t right. Something bad has happened to this girl and we don’t know what, but it makes it difficult for her to move on with her life and instead she holds onto her safe childhood with stuffed animals and watching TV with her parents. Musically, there’s a lot of riffing and soloing like there was in those early MTX songs. The melody is strong, especially in the ending with LA Law and cable television. After making two albums and some EP’s before this release, it’s to me on this song that Dr. Frank really showed what he was good at and what greatness would come in the future.
10. “Hello Kitty Menendez” (‘Big Black Bugs Bleed Blue Blood‘ EP re-release 1997:
I left some songs off this list: no songs from the two first albums, no songs from King Dork Approximately, Punkémon or “Andromeda Klein”. A lot of great songs were left off the list, but a song that did make it though was “Hello Kitty Menendez”! A song about Kitty Menendez, who was killed by her two sons Lyle and Erik along with her husband. I remember hearing the song at 18 or 19 and I didn’t dare hear it again, thinking “this song is evil!”. Getting the Shards cd later though, I realized it is actually quite brilliant. I think it’s a satirical song about how people use other’s misery, in this case, crazy and depressing stories from Court TV, to get away from their own troubles and know that others have it worse. Musically, the coolest part of the song is keyboard solo, or is it glockenspiel? So yes, that’s my list. I should probably apologize.