74 Minutes or Less #1: Guitar Heroes

welcome to the first installment of 74 Minutes or Less.

74 Minutes or Less is the weekly supergig playlist. the concept is simple: i pick a theme, i choose at most 74 minutes of music that fits the theme, and i discuss it here. if you, or i, or anyone else thinks the playlist is so awesome that it deserves to be compiled and burned to CD for posterity, it won't be a problem--because it's no longer than 74 minutes.

this week's theme is Guitar Heroes: music from the Guitar Hero video games. i love playing Guitar Hero. a lot. i'm not particularly good at it...i'm a solid Medium player, but my fingers still can't handle Hard very well. the premise [for anyone who has spent the last two years living under a rock] is fantastic: pretend to be a guitarist, follow the dots on the screen, push the right buttons on a guitar-shaped controller, and rock out to your favourite songs despite your lack of guitar-playing skills. instead of living vicariously through my favourite rock stars, i can suspend disbelief and pretend that my rendition of that intricate guitar solo is awesome enough to make the crowd roar. it's genius.

there are a lot of good songs on the Guitar Hero games, but here are the best of the best.

  • "Arterial Black" by Drist (3:15)
    • some of the unlockable tracks from unknown artists are amazing. i can thank Guitar Hero for exposing me to several great yet underrated bands, including Drist. this wasn't the first Drist song on a Guitar Hero game; "Decontrol" could be unlocked on Guitar Hero 1. it rocked pretty hard, but "Arterial Black" was the song that put Drist on my musical map for good. "Decontrol" had loud guitars going for it...but "Arterial Black" had the memorable melody and vocal lines to back up all that shredding.
  • "Avalancha" by Héroes del Silencio (3:59)
    • somehow i missed this song when it first came out back in 1996. i owe it to Guitar Hero 3, and to my friend Phil's insistence on playing this song a lot, that i finally discovered it eleven years later. i vaguely remember the existence of the mid-to-late 1990s "rock en español" scene; maybe i would have paid more attention to it if the snippets from it that i heard were as good as "Avalancha." i love Enrique Bunbury's voice...it has almost the same plaintively pleading tone as Cool for August's Gordon Vaughn. Gordon Vaughn has one of the best rock voices i've ever heard...so that's an amazing compliment.
  • "Beast and the Harlot" by Avenged Sevenfold (5:41)
    • unlike most Guitar Hero players i know, i had heard this song before i ever started playing Guitar Hero 2...the song was a morning mainstay of mine back in the fall of 2005. i didn't have a radio, so sometimes i'd turn on MTV2 and this song would be on. i got to the point of turning on MTV2 in the mornings specifically to hear this song while getting ready for school; rarely was i disappointed. the chorus is catchy, and the key change at the end of the song is perfect--every time i listen to the song, i spend the entire second half of the song in giddy anticipation.
  • "Godzilla" by Blue Öyster Cult (3:40)
    • imagine Webster's Dictionary had an audio version. you pick up this dictionary and look up the word "groove." the dictionary would play the main riff from this song. go ahead, give it a listen. not only does it anchor the song perfectly, but you also feel ten times cooler than you felt before you started listening to the song.
  • "Hangar 18" by Megadeth (5:12)
    • it's a song about aliens. the guitar part sounds like machine guns. in other words, this song makes testosterone supplements obsolete. it's even more macho than a song about drinking beer and scratching your balls--it doesn't need to stoop to such obvious depths. it's comfortable in its manliness, and exudes it with pride.
  • "I Wanna Be Sedated" by The Ramones (2:30)
    • this song is pure, distilled fun. even though the lyrics are a sarcastic indictment of apathy in modern society, the song still makes the sillier side of me want to forget about everything that matters, jump around, and act like a frivolous goofball. plus, whenever i hear it, i remember when my littlest brother was eight or ten years old, running around the house singing the "bam bam bam-bam" part. that was just funny.
  • "Minus Celsius" by Backyard Babies (3:35)
    • i was over the moon when i found out they were putting this song on Guitar Hero 3. i first heard this song back in 2004 on radio.wazee, the internet radio station that kept me sane through my mind-numbingly boring job barcoding books in a law library. the lyrics are trite, but the music makes up for it. it's the kind of rock that begs you to scream along while you are flying down the highway at eighty miles an hour. i should know...my friend Megan and i have done exactly that many times. the song [and, really, anything on their album Tinnitus] is enough to convince me that grunge isn't dead...it just moved to Sweden, crawled under the bleachers with arena rock, and had a sleazy bastard son.
  • "Monkey Wrench" by Foo Fighters (3:54)
    • this is my favourite Foo Fighters song, and has been since high school. it's a quintessentially 1990s masterpiece of angst. it makes me want to push people and throw things...in fact, i'm pretty sure it's the song that made me start referring to particularly aggressive songs as "push people and throw things music." also, anyone who can scream their way through that bridge section without taking a breath must have the most miraculous lung capacity.
  • "One" by Metallica (7:40)
    • i didn't appreciate Metallica very much until i was older: maybe age 20 or 21. still, even when i was a teenager, i knew this song was something special. it's still my favourite song of theirs. it impeccably captures the anger and futility of being alive but not actually being able to live...listening to the song, you feel trapped in the impenetrable fabric of the steadily pounding guitars. it's not guitar virtuosity for its own sake: it's guitar virtuosity that sets a difficult, powerful, and captivating mood.
  • "Paint It Black" by The Rolling Stones (3:45)
    • i've loved this song since i was in kindergarten, when i listened to nothing but the Oldies station. if it came on during the day, it was fine. i could appreciate it for the great song i knew even then that it was. but, at night, the song was a different animal. i'd keep the Oldies station on all night, and sometimes it would come on in the wee hours. the song scared me. i would look at the clock radio, so old that the digits were flipping cards and not digital lights. it would read three, four, five in the morning. i would hide under the covers, shaking in fear and covering my ears until the song was over. only then could i catch my breath, listen to the next song on the radio, and fall back asleep.
  • "Story of My Life" by Social Distortion (4:44)
    • i can never decide which Social D song is my favourite: this one or "Ball and Chain." i waver back and forth. both of them are brilliant showcases of Mike Ness's voice, which finds a happy medium between gravelly and melodic. his is one of the few voices i know that manages to be both without sacrificing either quality. both songs also lyrically strike a chord with me as i grow older and realise that my youth is less what is happening to me than it is years upon which i'm left to reminisce. "Ball and Chain" isn't on any of the Guitar Hero games, so i wasn't forced to make a decision about which song i like better.
  • "The Way It Ends" by Prototype (5:22)
    • most songs that impress me for their beauty impress me because of the vocal lines. this is unsurprising--i'm not a guitarist. i'm a singer. however, this one has a gorgeous guitar part. the singing isn't terrible...i could take it or leave it. the guitar , however, is brilliant. it is fast and heavy without losing its continuously ebbing and flowing melodic line. this is what melodic heavy metal guitar should aspire to. the music is just as suited for a daydream as it is for a mosh pit.
  • "Through The Fire and Flames" by DragonForce (7:21)
    • the merest thought of this song is enough to give me post-traumatic carpal tunnel syndrome--i have only ever attempted the song on Medium, and at that level it's still a virtually insurmountable screenful of dots. this unfortunate effect aside, it's a fantastic song. it sounds like really good 1980s speed metal--except that it's not from the eighties. the band has only existed since 1999, and this song came out in 2006. again dusting off that audio version of Webster's Dictionary, this song would play if you looked up the word "victory." if i ever win some kind of award and have to stand on a podium to accept it, this is the song i want playing.
  • "Thunderhorse" by Dethklok (2:32)
    • Metalocalypse is an amusing show. it's a hilarious take on heavy metal stereotypes. but, the people who make it clearly kid because they love; why else would the original music for the show be so good? this song is the aural equivalent of Nathan Explosion with a Viking helmet and a battle axe...and therefore perfectly suited to the section of the cartoon that it originally accompained.
  • "War Pigs" by Black Sabbath (7:55)
    • no song on any of the incarnations of Guitar Hero is more fun to play than this one. the outro riff [from 6:34 through the end] is probably my favourite guitar part ever. the song is timeless...it's hard to believe that it's almost forty years old. the music is strong and heavy even by today's standards, and the lyrics are [sadly] as topical as ever.
total time: 71:05.

[if any of you who happen to read this are Guitar Hero completists, i know--there's nothing on this list from Guitar Hero Rocks the 80s. there's a reason for that: the game sucks. i'm not a fan of most eighties music anyway, and it's like they didn't even try to find the good stuff for that game. they neither went for the fun, popular party songs...nor any underappreciated diamonds in the rough. it was thrown together, and it was terrible.]

that was 74 Minutes or Less #1: Guitar Heroes. if you've got a thematic idea for a future playlist, comment or email me at superherogirl@gmail.com.

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