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Echoes’ John Diliberto picks his top ten greatest songs of the New Millenium (and explains why!)

Ulrich Schnauss at Glastonbury 2013 - Photo by Nat Urazmetova
Ulrich Schnauss at Glastonbury 2013 – Photo by Nat Urazmetova
John Diliberto is the host of the long standing public radio show Echoes, broadcast on XPN, Monday-Thursday at 11 P.M. John also hosts Sleepy Hollow on XPN every Sunday morning from 6 A.M. to 8 P.M. The following article appears in the Echoes blog. We asked John to submit his top ten songs of the new millenium (songs from 2001-present) for this year’s 885 countdown. Voting ends next Monday, September 16 at midnight. Submit your votes here. If you vote, you’ll be entered into a contest win a trip to see John Mayer in Los Angeles at the Hollywood Bowl.

Here’s John’s “Greatest Songs of the 21st Century… So Far: An Idiosyncratic List.”

The thirteenth year of the 21st century doesn’t seem to be the right time to look back on the best of the millennium. Those lists usually come on the decade and quarter century marks. But I was asked to compile another Top Ten list for Echoes affiliate, WXPN in Philadelphia. This time, the impossible assignment was picking the Top Ten Greatest Songs of the New Millennium for their 885 Greatest Songs of the New Millennium Countdown. This is never an easy task but it made me think of the songs I keep coming back to, the songs that haven’t left my iPhone where music is constantly being cycled off to make room for new material.

One thing I like about this list is it takes classic rock, new wave, progressive rock and just about everything else I grew up with out of the equation. In my 885 Best Rock Songs list I picked The Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction” as number one and wrote that “I think any of 10 tunes by The Rolling Stones could be on this list.” On this list, there aren’t any great new Rolling Stones tunes in this century. Nor are there any great new Pink Floyd, The Who or Hendrix tunes to be found. Six of my ten songs are from artists who began recording in the 2000′s

Because it is greatest “songs,” I left out instrumentals, except for one, which, in an admittedly idiosyncratic move, I made number 1. For some reason, several of the tracks are from 2008. It’s not much like the lists of other XPN hosts, and will certainly be nothing like the list that comes from their 885 Greatest Songs of the New Millennium Poll with listeners, but it’s my list. Follow the link to vote for your own. Voting ends September 16. At the bottom, I’ve got a Spotify Playlist of John Diliberto’s Top Ten Songs of the New Millennium, So Far.

1 – Ulrich Schnauss – “Clear Day”
StrangleyWhat a great way to start this list, a wash of white noise obliterating all that came before, then slowly a syncopated 4/4 snare groove rolls in, droning synth chords, a chilling melody and one of those classic Ulrich Schnauss choruses that hooks you on a train ride to ecstasy. This is one of several tracks from Schnauss’ 2003 CD A Strangely Isolated Place that I could’ve picked. (See Five Best Ulrich Schnauss CDs). Somebody should write lyrics for this. It’s waiting to be a hit.

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Yes is a dinosaur band that has been reborn: John Diliberto reviews Yestival

Steve Howe photo by John Diliberto of Echoes
Steve Howe photo by John Diliberto of Echoes

This review of the Yestival by John Diliberto, host and producer of Echoes, originally appeared in The Echoes Blog. Listen to Echoes on WXPN Mon-Thursday evenings from 11PM-1AM.

In 1971 I went to the Orpheum Theater in Boston for a double bill of Yes and King Crimson. Being too hip for the room, I was there to see the Islands edition of Crimson. Yes, of course, were just too pop for me. I mean, they had actual hits with “Roundabout” and “I’ve Seen All Good People.” Krimson gave a good performance, although this was the least interesting edition of the band. But Yes, this night anyway, wiped them off the stage with a combination of charisma, impeccable musical virtuosity and Jon Anderson’s choirboy yearning. I walked out a fan, and would have to wait for the Lark’s Tongue edition of Krimson for them to catch up.

I found myself in a similar place this past Saturday night at the Yestival, a one day festival of progressive rock headed by the latest iteration of Yes, and the most controversial. This band always had trouble holding its personnel together, but there was always at least one constant, the signature voice and lyrics of Jon Anderson. But Anderson was effectively booted from the band in 2008, due to a combination of illness and apparent lack of commitment. With the absence of signpost members like drummer Bill Bruford and keyboardist Rick Wakeman, I felt like I was seeing a shadow of this band, no more credible than the Genesis tribute band, The Musical Box, who opened. This couldn’t be the Yes of Fragile or Close To The Edge. This was just a touring paycheck machine.

Uh, I was wrong, which was something that about 5500 people at the Yestival in the Susquehanna Bank Center in Camden, NJ already knew. Anderson’s replacement, (his second actually), Jon Davison, is frighteningly good. The singer for the American symphonic prog group Glass Hammer, he sounds like a clone of Anderson, except a clone who hits all the notes, sings with passion and ties the band together with his stage presence. By the time they hit the “Total Mass Retain” section of Close to the Edge, no one was missing Jon Anderson and no one was thinking Davison was a substitute. He is the lead singer of Yes.

Since this was a festival, Yes was slated to play only two albums straight through instead of the three they’re performing on their solo tour. But they decided to throw in the third album anyway playing Close to the Edge, Going for the One and The Yes Album. What magnificent works they are and beautifully performed. Bassist and co-founder Chris Squire and guitarist Steve Howe, a member of Yes beginning in their classic years, anchored the band. Howe switched between electric guitar and lap steel, whipping out the slides of “Going for the One” and nailing the intensity of “Starship Trooper.”

Yes photo by John Diliberto of Echoes
Yes photo by John Diliberto of Echoes

Still an underrated player, Howe matches fleet fingered runs with beautiful tone. Squire stalked, grimaced and yowled stage left, ripping out those chunky bass-lines that are such a Yes signature. Neither keyboardist Geoff Downes nor drummer Alan White, both members of later Yes editions, took much of the spotlight, but they provided the orchestral color and rhythmic thrust so essential to this group, who, for all their odd time signatures and multi-movement works, really drives as hard as any rock band. I don’t care about the excess; nine keyboards stacked up just have a certain gravitas and power that the smaller keyboard set-ups of Volto! and Renaissance couldn’t match. I can’t say the same for Chris Squire’s triple necked guitar he pulled out at one point. One Rickenbacker bass is really all he needs. Continue reading →

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Required Reading: John Diliberto of Echoes lists his ten greatest rock songs!

This fall WXPN is counting down the 885 Greatest Rock Songs, as voted on by our listener community. How is “rock” defined? Well, that’s entirely up to you. It can be 50s rock. It can be hard rock. Heck, it could be rock opera. Read our host picks and staff picks to get the wheels turning, and if you’re all ready set to vote, you can do so here. If you need a bit more time to contemplate, we urge you to take a look at what John Diliberto, longtime host of Echoes at WXPN, had to write on the subject. His nationally syndicated program might broadly specialize in what he likes to call “soundscapes” – ranging from ambient electronic to free jazz and acoustic folk – but don’t pigeonhole Diliberto, since his knowledge of music runs deep and spans the musical spectrum. He recently shared his thoughts on the concept of “rock songs” over at the Echoes Blog, and he defines it, quite literally, as songs that rock:

It’s the sound screaming out the window of my mother’s 1970 yellow Comet riding up Rte 93 to Hampton Beach in the summer. It’s the songs that I still turn up whenever they come on the radio, even though some of them never come on the radio, but you know what I mean. In other words, when I think “Greatest Rock Songs” I think songs that rock. There’s no ballads, no heart-felt anthems.

Read Diliberto’s entire essay (and see his top ten) here; then, cast your own vote. The polls are open until Aug. 24!