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My Thirty Favorite Watershed Songs - by Tom Linzel

Watershed is performing at Ace of Cups, Columbus OH, Saturday, Aug 15th

 

Last summer a guy named Nick Jezierny, in a clever twist on Colin Gawel's ranking of every Cheap Trick song, ranked every Watershed song recorded.  He included live albums and even some bonus tracks.  This was great reading, especially the notes from the band &  Ricki C. and links to videos. It inspired me to make my own list.  I have known these guys since grade school, before they picked up their instruments and decided to form a band.  I have no idea how many times I have seen them play live, but I am sure it is more than a hundred shows.  Now, I'm not going to rank every song.  "What??" you say. "What a rip off!" Really, who wants to write or read about songs that are just ok? Are we going to argue about the 40th vs 41st best football teams? Ain't nobody got time for that! So here are my top 30 songs - the ones I would put on a mix tape (CD) for someone who has never heard the band.  

For the record, there are 56 songs on the five studio albums the band has released, so 30 out of 56 that I really love is not too shabby.  I included the album and release date, as well as the main vocalist. Watershed is somewhat rare in having two front men, besides some notable bands like, oh, Kiss and The Beatles. When they started out as The Wire, they always had a lead singer:  a charismatic, David Lee Roth-type guy (first Paul Webber, then Ron Severance). When they went off to O-State, they said F-it! We can do this. They taught themselves to sing while playing instruments and kept on rocking. I believe that typically Joe or Colin will bring a song to the band they have worked up on acoustic guitar with lyrics and chords to finish in rehearsal. While they would likely poo-poo the notion of my song vs. his song, I think it sets up interesting contrasts in vocal quality, song content, mood and structure. I would love to see them do a set where each one sings only the other guy's parts. Without further ado:

30.    Everywhere I Turn    From: Twister (1995)        
    Main vocals: Joe
Notes:  When you are the first song on the list (at the bottom of the table, for you futbol aficionados) there are always going to be several songs nipping at your heels, trying to get you relegated to the near-miss list.  Good drums, good guitar, but it is the chorus that gets this one in the top thirty. See the near-miss list at the end.

29.    Superstressed        From: Star Vehicle (1997)    
    Main vocals: Colin
Notes:  Great lyrics, really heavy guitar sound with nice Rick Nielsen-style flourishes. Herb's big drums and Joe's bass set up a rock solid back line for the guitar that goes from rhythm to leads and back seamlessly. Well-produced and nicely balanced. This seems a little low on the list right now. I think Colin is an under-appreciated guitarist and this is exhibit #1.

28.    Half Of Me        From: Star Vehicle (1997)    
    Main vocals: Joe
Notes: This is one of many Watershed songs that you can just imagine someone already famous making into a huge hit.  Super clever lyrics, of course. Probably the closest they have come to writing an old school country song. I also like how at shows they sometimes play it slow and twangy, and sometimes fast and punky. This would work as bluegrass, hip hop, anything. 

27.    Sad Drive        From: Twister (1995)        
    Main vocals: Colin
Notes: Their first full length studio release, Twister is holding up much better than expected, and it gets a bad rap from the band for its production.  This recording really captures the essence of one CG's early standards - take another listen to it, loud in a car or with real headphones. Perfectly balanced and so simple: Colin's vocal and guitar strumming, mirrored by Joe's bass, share center stage over the high hat.  Starts to crescendo towards the end with guitar leads, then fades out. One of their best ever produced songs. I also like when they used to extend the ending and rock this out in concert.

26.    Wallflower Child    From: The More It Hurts, The More It Works (2002)    
    Main vocals: Colin
    Notes:  And of course, one of Joe's early standards.  This one meant so much to Joe that he got it tattooed on his shoulder.  And why not?  Clever lyrics that perfectly capture the band's early high school dorks not getting laid ethos.  *Interestingly, this is one of the very few songs that the singer (at least in the album version) is not the songwriter.  Joe usually sings this live, in much more punk style. I am not including the live albums (or ranking different versions separately) on this list, just focusing on the songs. Having said that, this isn't my favorite version of this song, but I appreciate mixing up the style for some variety on the album - they can't all be rockers. This song makes the list on it's strength as a live performance in my mind.  

25.    You Need Me        From: Twister (1995)        
    Main vocals: Colin
    Notes:    In Nick's list (he ranked this 22), Joe and Colin point out that the sweet drum intro was very similar to Van Halen's "Everybody Wants Some."  I had never picked up on that, but I hear another influence: The Dragsters "Nitro Jungle Woodie."  My brother Pete had a killer surf rock band in the late '80s/early '90s and they opened a show at Stache's with a similar, but quicker drum beat and sax solo.  When the guitar and cymbals kicked in, the floor in front of the stage absolutely exploded with girls dancing, almost like it was choreographed.  You never forget that.  It is also a great way to open your major label debut: we do need them.

24.    Mercurochrome    From: The More It Hurts, The More It Works (2002)    

      Main vocals: Joe

      Notes:  Just a poppy little number about suicide.  Sort of a hard-rockin' commercial jingle,             but rock it does!  This may be the only song that I rank same as Nick, for whatever that is             worth.

23.    The Best Is Yet To Come    From: The Fifth Of July (2005)    
    Main vocals: Colin
    Notes:  It sure is, brother - on this list anyway.  This song ends what is in my opinion their very best album, The Fifth of July. Is the best yet to come from the band? We shall see, but that will be tough to do.  More on that later.

22.    Sweet Kisses / Bitter Scars    From: The Single Series Vol. 2 (2001)
    Main vocals: Colin
    Notes: In the liner notes to this EP, they call this song "loud, proud, and bound for obscurity. Probably the best Watershed song to never make an album."  That statement is correct.  In fact, it's the only song not from a full length studio album to make my top 30.  I would love to see a master list of all Watershed songs ever written & performed. I am sure they have more than double the 56 that made albums. I bet Biggie has such a list.

21.    My Lucky Day        From: The Fifth Of July (2005)
    Main vocals: Joe
    Notes:  Such rich and efficient lyrics, I started quoting it until I realized that I would have to transcribe the whole damn song here.  Not gonna do that - go listen to it right now.  This song is just tight, tight, tight. Also fantastic drums, guitars, production, everything. I have special place in my heart for a rock song that is also positive and upbeat. This song may be underrated at 21, but competition is getting stiff.

20.    Little Mistakes    From: Brick And Mortar (2012)
    Main vocals: Joe
    Notes:  Another catchy anthem from the pen of Joe. The first of three in a row from their most recent album Brick and Mortar (what a great album title, by the way).  They just happened to get ranked sequentially.  More on how I compiled the rankings at the end.  Not sure why this album only gets 3 on the list, the highest at 18, but these are the songs I have heard performed live the least so that may explain it.

19.    Broken        From: Brick And Mortar (2012)
    Main vocals: Colin
    Notes:  Excellent production here too.  Fairly complex mix, with Joe adding harmonies throughout.  A lot going on in the background that adds depth, like the other Joe (Peppercorn's) keys. Colin's songs tend to have a darker hue, but this strikes a good balance between the lyrics, the tempo and chords.

18.    Words We Say    From: Brick And Mortar (2012)
    Main vocals: Colin
    Notes:  Have you every noticed on the later Beatles albums like Abbey Road and Let It Be that you can start to hear hints of future Lennon & McCartney solo recordings?  This song feels like a Colin Gawel and the Lonely Bones song to me - not that there is anything wrong with that.  It may be that I have heard it live with the Bones more than 'Shed.  Is Brick and Mortar the last Watershed album?  I doubt it, and certainly hope not.

17.    Getting Ready    From: The Fifth Of July (2005)
    Main vocals: Colin
    Notes:  Pretty sophisticated arrangements to these ears, lots of variation - pensive and quiet to all out and loud.  I think that's what really appeals to me here. I also love where Colin sings "something will go wrong" and Joe is in the background with "nothing will go wrong." One of many songs that make me think it must be difficult to date or be married to a song writer:  "Really, Colin?  You're getting ready to lose me?"  Probably pretty hard to get to sleep next to a murder mystery writer too.

16.    Over Too Soon    From: The More It Hurts, The More It Works (2002)
    Main vocals: Joe
    Notes:  Fairly slow paced for a "Joe song," but as usual well-crafted lyrics. Like many of their songs, it seems like one that could be covered by someone and turned into a hit, as noted by the boys in Nick's list. The production seems a little over-wrought here (apologies to Mr. Patalan).  Save the strings for the Beatles.

15.    Anniversary        From: The More It Hurts, The More It Works (2002)
    Main vocals: Colin
    Notes:  Probably a controversial ranking here. There was a time when this was the undisputed champion of Watershed songs.  In fact at one point the band did a March Madness-style 64 song tournament bracket for fans to vote on their favorites and this won.  Still a great one, but has not held up quite as well as some further up this list.  Then again, there have been three more albums of material to compete against since then.  Maybe I've just heard it too many times by now. What this song does well is take advantage of the fairly unique two-headed monster that is Watershed vocals and songwriting.  This song is a sort of duet/call and response.  I love it when they are both singing different things at the same time.

14.    Just For Show    From: The More It Hurts, The More It Works (2002)
    Main vocals: Joe
    Notes:  "I'm automatic here in my room, can't put one over on YOU!"  This song swings as well as rocks.  The chorus has a Todd Rundgren feel to it, which is kind of a cool link between the punk delivery of more Joe nuggets like "I'm just glad for the day Buddy made glasses cool" and "double-wide cheek bones slice up your face."  Besides being clever lyricists, the 'Shed boys are masters of self-deprecation.

13.    Laundromat        From: The Fifth Of July (2005)
    Main vocals: Joe
    Notes:  Power pop gem - this song has nowhere to go but up.  Grrrrrreat guitars on this one. I won't keep bothering you with lyric shout-outs but (who am I kidding, of course I will), how about this one: "I'm tryin' to get some change, for the dryer and the Pac-man game, 100 grand high score, triple A the name."  So, so sweet: see the dude who made the high score didn't even bother to put in his or her initials.  As I said before, I do have an affinity for the upbeat ones.  While I was honing in on my top 30, I was worried it would be too heavy on the Joe songs and light on the Colin songs. However, lo and behold, quite on accident they fall exactly 15 for each. How about that?

12.    Star Vehicle        From: Star Vehicle (1997)
    Main vocals: Colin
    Notes:  Another great start to an album, this a response to being dropped by Epic. I don't know how many albums put the title track first, but hats off to that. I do know another one that does: Dream Police, but more on that one later. Somewhat slower tempo, but boy does it rawwwwwk. Excellent production, great bass, drums, and guitars.  However, leading into the guitar solo with "alright, rock." used to really annoy me.  I am thinking now it may be part of the song's witty commentary on the corporate music business.  Please tell me I'm right on this, Colin.

11.    Give A Little Bit    From: Star Vehicle (1997)    
    Main vocals: Colin
    Notes:  This album is such good power pop - can't stress that enough.  Credit to producer Frank Aversa and the band.  Everything is right in front but nothing drowns out anything else. God dammit, why wasn't this a hit?  This song is just waiting to break into the top ten - a few more listens and it might.  CG is also a really good harmonica player.

10.    If That's How You Want It    From: Twister (1995)    and Star Vehicle (1997)
    Main vocals: Joe
    Notes:  Probably the first song by Watershed that made me think they would make it big. I visited them in NYC while they recorded Twister and hearing this through the studio speakers on top of the huge mixing board at the Power Station really puts the stars in your eyes.  It is interesting to listen to both recordings back to back - Star Vehicle version is a smidge quicker, but sounds more raw.  Twister is more polished - and probably my favorite. The line "we'll never just be friends" is so elegant and so good.

9.    I'd Be A Liar        From: Star Vehicle (1997)    
    Main vocals: Colin
    Notes: Hard driving, no compromise. This one brings it. "No, I wouldn't cheat my friends in playing cards / But honey, cheating on you well that ain't as hard, not as hard." Woo! Explain that line to your honey.  Interesting side note: according to iTunes the albums Twister, The More It Hurts The More It Works, and Brick & Mortar are in the genre "Pop" while albums Star Vehicle and The 5th Of July are in the genre "Punk."  Perhaps their way of saying the band straddles both.

8.    The Habit        From: The Fifth Of July (2005)
    Main vocals: Colin
    Notes:  Yep, this one might be what puts 5th of July into the punk genre. The band loves Green Day, but this beats anything by them for me. This album, besides dominating my top ten, puts me in danger of getting speeding tickets. For my 50th birthday, I want the band to play a show with at least the top half of this list.

7.    Can't Be Myself    From: The More It Hurts, The More It Works (2002)
    Main vocals: Joe
    Notes:  One of their best live songs - getting the crowd to sing the "I don't know how long I can hold out" part while Joe runs through the verses - wow, it's giving me goose bumps just writing about it. Another one where both singers are singing different parts at the same time - this always works.

6.    Slowly Then Suddenly    From: The Fifth Of July (2005)
    Main vocals: Joe
    Notes:  Dave's drums rule this one, but guitar and bass just barely get beat out, like Ricky Relish breaking the tape before Kelly Ketchup and Mickey Mustard at a Columbus Clippers baseball game. Another great memory (as the boys noted in Nick's list): the band was working on these songs and rehearsing in a vacant storefront on the now-thriving Gay Street in downtown Columbus.  They had a party there and played a show in the round, facing each other like they would in any practice space while the crowd surrounded them in this high-ceilinged future restaurant.  A magical experience, and like hearing some of the songs on Twister for the first time in the studio in NYC, this will always give this song extra meaning for me. 

5.    New Depression    From: The Fifth Of July (2005)
    Main vocals: Colin
    Notes: This song does indeed get me high.  Like all of the songs in the top ten, could be a smash hit with the right breaks or covered by the right person.

4.    How Do You Feel     From: Twister (1995)
    Main vocals: Colin
    Notes:  How Do You Feel was written about 25 years ago, and it is holding up just fine.  Again I must come to the defense of Twister and it's production. This song and this recording will still be good 25 years from now.

3.    Obvious    From: The Fifth Of July (2005)
    Main vocals: Joe
    Notes:  Another great album lead-off song. Another should have been hit.  Great bass, great guitar, great drums, great chorus, verses that mesh with the melody. Joe claims in the notes to Nick's list that this isn't about hooking up with an underage girl, and I don't dispute that.  It IS about hooking up with a girl old enough to have her own apartment, but obviously much younger than the protagonist.  Otherwise, it wouldn't be obviously wrong, right?

2.    5th Of July    From: The Fifth Of July (2005)
    Main vocals: Joe
    Notes:  The absolute definition of power-pop.  So tight - perfect match between lead vocals, backing vocals, and instruments.  If you're not keeping count, this makes 5 of the top 10 from The 5th of July, and 9 out the 11 songs on the album in my top 30.  Safe to say I consider this the zenith of Watershed studio releases. More about the other two later.  But I would put the first four songs on this album up against the first four songs from ANY album by ANY band.  Don't believe me? Let's try a few: In this corner, from Columbus Ohio, representing The 5th Of July (Obvious, The Habit, 5th Of July, Slowly Then Suddenly). The challenger: Kiss, Destroyer (Detroit Rock City, King Of The Night Time World, God Of Thunder, Great Expectations). Well of course 1 and 3 crush, 2 is ok, but 4 gives this bout to 'Shed. Next up: Bruce Springsteen, Born To Run (Thunder Road, Tenth Avenue Freeze Out, Night, Backstreets). Hoo boy, no one can accuse me of lining up tomato cans to face 5th Of July. 1, 2, and 4 are some of the most important rock songs ever written and performed.  Song 3 is good, but not better then the first four on 5th - The Boss wins, but only 2-1-1. How about Cheap Trick Dream Police? (Dream Police, Way Of The World, The House Is Rockin', Gonna Raise Hell).  Well, I'll give this one to Trick 3-1, but Watershed certainly weren't embarrassed out there.

1.    New Life    From: The More It Hurts, The More It Works (2002)
    Main vocals: Joe
    Notes:  This song gives me chills.  This has everything that makes Watershed great: the dual singing, power chords, killer drums, tight lyrics, anthemic chorus.  According to Joe and Colin's notes on Nick's list, Tim Patalan gets a lot of credit for this one. You don't have to agree with me that this is their Number One song, but if this doesn't at least scare your top ten, then you and I have very different ideas about rock and roll music.

 

How they were ranked:  To start with, I brought all of the CD's on our road trip to Myrtle Beach to see the band open for Cheap Trick. I played them all start to finish.  Back at home I went album to album making yes, maybe and no lists.  The yes's and no's are easy, but where do you draw the line on the maybe's?  After much listening, I had it down to 30.  From there, I sorted them into top ten, second ten, and third ten. Then I subdivided the groups of ten into groups of 3 (1-3, 4-6, etc down to 28-30). Next I decided the order within these groups of three which gave me a an ordered list. At that point, I stepped back to see if certain songs should be ahead of others.  There were some shifts up, which of course sent some down.  

Near Misses:    So those songs I talked about nipping at the heels of Everywhere I Turn? 
Suckerpunch: so, so close - but 30 is such a nice round number. I-65: one of the last ones bumped - a better song in person.  I've Been Looking Everywhere: a great start, but seems to be just a chorus, or could be kind of an instrumental. Would love to see this fleshed out.  Kind of Who-like.  Then they fade into a version of Born To Run that I used to hate, but have come to accept. You have to admire the moxie and earnestness.  Colin changes up the phrasing and tempo a bit to make it their own, for better or worse (worse.) Black Concert T-shirt: probably will get shit for leaving this one out, but that smug chorus is what keeps it out for me. Set The World On Fire: like the rest of Brick & Mortar, I think I just need to see these played live more.

The banished ones:  (Caution - feelings might be hurt!) I have left three songs out of my iTunes library of Watershed Albums.  The two I alluded to from The 5th Of July: Small Doses and Going Through The Motions.  On Small Doses, I just don't like how Colin sings the words "small doses" - it just rubs me the wrong way.  Otherwise a good song.  Maybe if Dave Grohl was screaming it out? When they play this live, which seems like every show (and every Lonely Bones show), it's time to go to the restroom and buy a beer.  But I always hear squeals of joy from the crowd - so some people must love it. Maybe the women, or maybe the younger fans.  No one I have talked to about it does.  Going Through The Motions is actually quite good.  Maybe too good.  Makes me wonder if I am going through the motions.  I never have to hear this song again. And lastly, my least favorite Watershed song, which ironically also seems to be a crowd and band favorite: American Muscle. I want to punch this song in the balls.  Arrogance that makes me root against the overdog. Endless double entendres that would make Gene Simmons blush, such as "put the liquidity in your assets " and "whip my fat wad out." Ham-handed metaphors everywhere I turn.....my eyes hurt from all of the rolling. Joe's lyrics are usually clever, but this song comes off like something from an undergrad English major with a financing minor.