This week has been quite a busy one for me. Besides work on an upcoming project and the Cobra Starship post from Tuesday, I’ve also had reviews of The Wicked + The Divine and Adventure Time: Masked Mayhem go up at PopOptiq. I also had my first comics piece go up at The Rainbow Hub, which is an essay on why Kate Bishop speaks to me as a character. All and all, pretty solid for me.
It does make me excited though that the Friday post falls so closely to a day close to my own heart. Tomorrow, November 14th, just so happens to be the birthday of one of my very favorite artists and people on the planet. That being singer-songwriter, producer, general badass, and fellow Cartersville native Butch Walker! He’s turning 46, which means I’ve been telling people my mom’s age wrong since March. It also means I get to count down my six favorite albums from his vast discography. Would you actually believe I had nearly every song he recorded at one point? Yes, including Southgang and that one cover he did with Chris Jericho’s band Fozzy. None of those are on the actual list though, so let’s get to it.
Only ranking so low on the list due to its position of being an EP, but that doesn’t cut in on the impact Peachtree Battle has as a release. Written to cope with his father’s failing health, Peachtree Battle was unfortunately released shortly after the death of “Big Butch” Walker. That kind of story makes it sound like it would be a morbid affair, but it’s more bittersweet than anything else. There is a sadness there of living without a loved one, but also a hope of being able to let go of pain and live life still. ‘I’ve Been Waiting For This’ and ‘Let It Go Where It’s Supposed To’ bring this home especially.
When I reviewed it in 2014 as part of my year end wrap up of 2013, I said, “I cried like a baby listening to this EP. I’ve cried even harder hearing these songs live. Butch has always been an emotional songwriter, but Peachtree Battle drives right to the heart.” It was true then and it’s true now, especially in the light of the documentary Out of Focus and the full length follow up Afraid of Ghosts.
I also consider the ‘End of the World (One More Time)’/’Battle vs. War’ single to be part of this EP since those songs were recorded around the same time. It was a pretty rad single, so I suggest checking that out as well.
Favorite Tracks: ‘I’ve Been Waiting For This,’ ‘Peachtree Battle,’ ‘Let It Go Where It’s Supposed To’
Oh Maya, the red-headed stepchild of Butch Walker’s discography. I remember wanting to get in fights with everyone over this misunderstood post-punk experiment that featured Walker on bass, Darren Dodd on drums, and Michael Guy Chislett on guitar. Kind of hard to find physically now (though I have confirmed that the album is on Amazon Digital and iTunes), 1969’s only outing is a dark and moody affair that is also strangely sonorous. It’s not really like anything Walker had done before at that point or since, but it did feel a bit like a precursor to how Afraid of Ghosts would play out sonically. Not to mention that cover of James’ ‘Laid.’
It really is a shame that the album isn’t better known because along with being this sonically chill/lyrically emotional album, it also has two of my very favorite songs in Walker’s catalog: ‘Wreck Me’ and ‘Ready To Explode.’ The latter especially brings me straight back to my Freshman year of college, which also happened to be my first year in Atlanta.
Favorite Tracks: ‘Ready To Explode,’ ‘Wreck Me,’ ‘Am I Still On?’
I didn’t discover Butch Walker until 2006, so I was way past the heyday of the Marvelous 3. Not that I could have really appreciated them then either being 10 years old. Still, listening to them now, it was easy to see that the power-pop outfit was somehow both too early and too late for their time.
This was especially evident on their final album, ReadySexGo. A culmination of the sound they had been building since 1997’s Math and Other Problems, ReadySexGo was a fun and flirty guitar driven rock record that somehow both called back to their influences in power pop, glam, and metal and precursed an entire generation of pop-punk kids looking to evolve their sound. Though, some of that might be due to the late Jerry Finn working alongside Butch to produce the album.
The album is snotty, sassy and wild, but there was foreshadowing to just the sheer amount of emotional depth that exists with in Walker with the album’s closing track ‘Cigarette Lighter Love Song.’ To this day, I still tear up a little whenever it gets to the chorus that borrows it melody from ‘All The Young Dudes’ by Mott The Hoople.
Favorite Tracks: ‘Cigarette Lighter Love Song,’ ‘Grant Park,’ ‘Radio Tokyo’
Though really, if you’re going to talk about albums vastly different from the rest of Walker’s catalog, the king of this category is 2006’s glam rock inspired The Rise and Fall of Butch Walker and the Let’s-Go-Out-Tonites! Parting from the melancholy atmosphere of 2004’s Letters, The Rise and Fall… was all glitter and guitars. Don’t be fooled by the sound though. Backed by a collective known as The Let’s-Go-Out-Tonites, Walker used a genre that signified debauched decadence to poke holes in the dream Los Angeles life that a lot of media pushes. Songs like ‘Bethamphetamine (Pretty Pretty)’ and ‘We’re All Going Down’ speak directly to the fucked up party culture that exists out there. It was the gist of The Fame Monster before Lady Gaga had even hit.
Not to say that it’s all secretly a downer record. Songs like ‘Hot Girls in Good Moods’ and ‘Taste of Red’ are some of the most fun and sexy songs in Walker’s discography, ‘Dominoes’ is a cryfest right in the middle of the album, and ‘When Canyons Ruled The City’ is the best show closing sing along ever. Hands down though, my favorite track on this album and through Walker’s entire discography is ‘Ladies and Gentlemen… The Let’s-Go-Out-Tonites!’ So much so that the line “make up your own version… sing along” was my first tattoo.
Favorite Tracks: ‘Ladies and Gentlemen… The Let’s-Go-Out-Tonites!,’ ‘Hot Girls In Good Moods,’ ‘When Canyons Ruled the City’
Don’t you just love it when an album just comes together so flawlessly that you can’t stop listening to it? That’s The Spade for me. A follow up to 2010’s I Liked It Better When You Had No Heart, The Spade tightens up what that album was going for. Instead of being the gentle and melodic album that I Liked It Better was, The Spade is a raucous 34 minute journey that lets all of the band known as the Black Widows get in on the fun. You’d be hard pressed to find another album of the rocking singer-songwriter genre that was having as much fun as The Spade was.
If there’s anything I’ve learned from Walker over the years though, it’s that fun doesn’t mean you have to take away the sincerity or that it has to be all serious to mean something. There are emotional tracks on this album like ‘Day Drunk’ and ‘Closest Thing To You I’m Gonna Find,’ but they don’t sound like a typical ‘piano in an empty room’ songs. Instead, they fill with sound and melody to create complex works. The horns especially in ‘Closest Thing To You I’m Gonna Find’ prove to be exemplary punctuation marks on the struggle to fill a hole in ones heart.
Most people will point to ‘Synthesizers’ as the most notable song on the album and for good reason. It is a catchy song remarking on the changes to the music industry with a video featuring Matthew McConaughey. However, I think that honor needs to go to ‘Dublin Crow,’ a driving alt-country song inspired by Celtic folklore and ballads about finding your way when you’re lost and confused in life. It’s not lost on me that Walker writes a song about life and trying to find ones way that deliberately calls upon mythological knowledge bearers and sigils of death.
Favorite Tracks: ‘Dublin Crow,’ ‘Closest Thing To You I’m Gonna Find,’ ‘Sweethearts’
This album isn’t just my favorite Butch Walker album. It’s one of my favorite albums of all time and one that always brings me back to a certain time and place more than anything else. It’s my first “desert island” record and one that continues to teach me lessons seven years after its release. It also happens to be the album that inspired this retrospective since it’s seven year anniversary was earlier this week on the 11th.
Coming out of one of the most tumultuous times in Walker’s life, Sycamore Meadows swings back to the tones of Letters while incorporating the country and rock influences that would define Walker’s later records as well. Named for the street that Butch’s house that he lost in the 2007 California Wildfires was on, Sycamore Meadows is an album about transitional periods, reflecting on the past and on loss, being afraid of the future and counting your blessings. The fact that this album has so many songs about the ending of a relationship was not lost on 18-year-old me, who was coping with her parents ending their 20 year marriage. The opening song, ‘The Weight of Her,’ about not being taken advantage in romantic relationships is also not lost on current 25-year-old me, who’s finally been letting a broken heart stitch itself back together instead of running back into the fray.
It’s not all downer endings though. ‘Closer to the Truth and Further from the Sky’ is a bittersweet anthem about the journey of finding yourself that is the best song Bruce Springsteen never wrote. ‘A Song for the Metalheads’ and ‘The 3 Kids In Brooklyn’ teases old metalheads and hipsters in equal joyfully sarcastic measure. ‘Ponce De Leon Ave.’ is the drunk night every Atlanta resident has had. Really though, if there’s any song on the record that has the most hope, it’s ‘Going Back/Going Home.’ Butch may not be 38 anymore, but the sentiment of finding what really matters after tragedy stays true seven years on.
Favorite Songs: ‘The 3 Kids in Brooklyn,’ ‘Closer to the Truth and Further From the Sky,’ ‘Summer Scarves’
Happy Birthday, Butch. To paraphrase one of your songs like the loser that I am, if living like you do at 46 is a bore, then god please, may you have 46 more.