Two words: Weed King. Guided By Voices' breakthrough album Propeller is one stadium track after another. Other than one throwaway, Propeller is great all the way through, and any fan who claims it is the ultimate GBV album would have some choice cuts to back that claim. Not quite totally lo-fi yet, Propeller is the nicest sounding album until Under the Bushes Under the Stars shows up in 1996. Did I mention Weed King yet? This song has the greatest claim to the Best of album released in 2003 of those tracks not selected. A song with four distinct parts that build on top of each other until the very end when you are left helpless against the urge to play air guitar while Pollard sings "for the dreams of the Weed King we all sing"...
As great as Weed King is, there are also some also excellent songs on Propeller. It kicks off with the brilliant Over the Neptune/Mesh Gear Fox. The first part (which fans will recognize as Kisses to the Crying Cooks from Fast Japanese Spin Cycle) has The Who written all over it (you can actually see Pollard do an air kick when he yells "Hey!"). The latter half of the song is a beautiful power ballad. Together they clock in at over five minutes, and are definately a GBV epic.
Quality of Armor has a great chorus, and shows off Pollard's pop genius. Lethargy is a heavy, ripping minute and a half which has Pollard belting "Lethargy!" over and over during the last twenty seconds. Unleashed! The Large Hearted Boy is GBV's take on a punk song. It has an extremely catchy bassline, and brooding vocals.
Slowing down the album is the eighth track, Red Gas Circle. It took a while, but the song has grown on me. When Pollard starts singing "Hey are you coming?/Please don't be late", the song becomes simply beautiful. 14 Cheerleader Coldfront has multiple vocals (Pollard and Sprout?), and is another gorgeous GBV acoustic track. It may have fit better on Vampire on Titus with its poor recording quality, but has since become a fan favorite track. According to Pollard, this is the only track that he and Tobin Sprout actually sat down and worked on together.
Back to Saturn X Report is extremely frustrating as it is a bunch of clips from which appear to be really good songs (including an early version of Buzzards and Dreadful Crows). I understand that some of these songs can be found in Suitcase and other places. Circus World is another pretty cool song. Soft verses mixed with a kick ass chorus, and some cool guitar soloing at the end.
Particular Damaged is a throwaway, plain and simple. It is actually hard to listen to the whole thing, and that is a shame because the rest of the album is so good. That leads me to two more of my absolute GBV favorites:
Some Drilling Implied has the best opening in the GBV canon. It starts off with a slow, pulsing bassline and pounding drums. And when Pollard belts "The new corn belt" (from gbvdb), it starts all over again. This is one of my favorites. The other track I'm talking about is Exit Flagger. The last all-out rocker played live by Guided By Voices (maybe due to its simple four chord structure which makes it easy to play drunk), it has been a concert staple since its creation. Everything about this song is simple, and that is what makes it great.
Propeller is mind-blowingly good. It is an essential member of any GBV collection, and should be one of the first purchases for a new fan. Over the Neptune, Weed King, Exit Flagger, Some Drilling Implied, 14 Cheerleader Coldfront; this album is full of great songs.
Tracklisting (songs in bold made the playlist/box set):
01 Over the Neptune/Mesh Gear Fox
02 Weed King
03 Particular Damaged
04 Quality of Armor
05 Metal Mothers
07 Unleased! The Large-Hearted Boy
08 Red Gas Circle
09 Exit Flagger
10 14 Cheerleader Coldfront
11 Back to Saturn X Radio Report
12 Ergo Space Pig
13 Circus World
14 Some Drilling Implied
15 On the Tundra
Propeller at Amazon