'Obsessively Specific': The A.V. Club's Book Of Lists

Cover of 'Inventory' i i
Cover of 'Inventory'

Lists abound this time of year: 10 best books, 10 worst movies, most overlooked albums or overblown celebrity egos. Just in time, The A.V. Club, a Web site "from the faceless corporation that brings you The Onion," has a new book of lists called Inventory.

Actually, the book's full title is Inventory: 16 Films Featuring Manic Pixie Dream Girls, 10 Great Songs Nearly Ruined By Saxophone, and 100 More Obsessively Specific Pop-culture Lists.

Obsessively specific? They're not kidding. Inventory's lists include "13 movies with key scenes featuring characters watching other movies," "10 things the Ramones wanna or don't wanna do," and "6 Keanu Reeves movies somehow not ruined by Keanu Reeves."

At the top of that last list? Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure.

According to Josh Modell, the managing editor of The A.V. Club, Reeves manages not to ruin Excellent Adventure because "it's essentially Keanu Reeves playing Keanu Reeves, just kind of this dumb, nice guy. He's really great at being kind of this empty guy, which is why he's great in The Matrix as well."

Inventory: 16 Films Featuring Manic Pixie Dream Girls, 10 Great Songs Nearly Ruined by Saxophone, and 100 More Obsessively Specific Pop-Culture Lists
By The A.V. Club
Paperback, 256 pages
Scribner
List price: $18

Reeves doesn't play any of the "22 ridiculous horror-movie adversaries" in the list cheekily titled "Night Of The Killer Lamp" — the title refers to a floor lamp possessed by Satan in Amityville 4: The Evil Escapes — but that doesn't mean the movies avoid ruin.

"Some of them are so, so worth seeing," says Modell. "Some of them you should watch one minute of."

Which ones should be avoided?

"Death Bed: The Bed That Eats," says Modell. "People go and lay on this bed and often there's some hanky-panky on the bed and then the bed just sort of sucks them in and turns them into a skeleton with some yellow goo. ... It's just one of those movies that you watch and you feel sorry for the people that made it, but at the same time you're watching some of the greatest unintentional comedy ever."

Read An Exclusive List

'I Wanna Bite That Hand So Badly: Eight Songs About Hating the Radio'

Many of the lists themselves walk the fine line between irony and sincerity. Take the list of "13 particularly horrible fast-food innovations." Modell says his staff contains "a few writers who are very interested in fast food and unashamedly eat fast food. And when new ones come out, we're really compelled to try them."

On that list: Oreo pizza from Dominos and a doughnut-flavored drink from Krispy Kreme. Modell says that particular abomination was the company's response to the Atkins diet craze, introduced "shortly after they overbuilt Krispy Kremes all over the country. ... They did taste like doughnuts, but then [Krispy Kreme] discovered that people didn't want to have doughnut drinks."

Despite the specificity of many of the lists in Inventory, not every topic, no matter how narrowly defined, makes for a good list. The book's final list comprises ideas that the editors rejected before they got around to actually compiling the lists. Modell says most of the entries — examples include "21 classic country songs that objectify men" and "76 great moments where hammy actors yell things at the sky" — were jokes. We wish they'd write them anyway.

'I Wanna Bite That Hand So Badly'

Eight Songs About Hating The Radio

Inventory: 16 Films Featuring Manic Pixie Dream Girls, 10 Great Songs Nearly Ruined by Saxophone, and 100 More Obsessively Specific Pop-Culture Lists
By The A.V. Club
Paperback, 256 pages
Scribner
List price: $18

LANGUAGE ADVISORY: This list contains language some might find offensive.

AVClub.com — the arts-and-entertainment section of The Onion — just released a book of slightly skewed pop-culture lists called Inventory: 16 Films Featuring Manic Pixie Dream Girls, 10 Songs Nearly Ruined By Saxophone, And 100 More Obsessively Specific Pop-Culture Lists. Since Weekend Edition was kind enough to interview Managing Editor Josh Modell about the book, we thought we'd create an exclusive, radio-themed list for NPR.org.

1. Elvis Costello And The Attractions, 'Radio, Radio'

Elvis Costello was too much a square peg for anyone to categorize as punk or new wave when he first started recording in the late '70s. It would make sense for him to be grateful for any sort of airplay, but the snarling 1978 single "Radio, Radio" makes good on its lyrical promise to bite the hand that feeds him by criticizing the commercialization, homogenization, and play-it-safe policies of the recording industry and their radio partners. "You either shut up or get cut out," Costello sings, and while that might not have endeared him to his label or radio stations, it scored him plenty of cred among those similarly fed up. (The song took on added infamy when Costello unexpectedly launched into it after starting a different song during a 1978 appearance on Saturday Night Live.)

2. Stiff Little Fingers, 'You Can't Say Crap On The Radio'

According to journalist Gordon Ogilvie's liner notes for All The Best, "You Can't Say Crap On The Radio" was based on a DJ's "horrified reaction" during a Metro Radio interview, when singer Jake Burns let that relatively tame profanity fly. Standards may have loosened since the early '80s — and thanks to Howard Stern and his ilk, nowadays you could probably take a crap on the radio without losing your sponsors — but the sentiment is still the same: You can't say "shit" on the radio, but the DJ "can play shite all day." Ultimately, which is worse?

3. Neil Young, 'Payola Blues'

One of only a handful of originals on 1983's Everybody's Rockin' — Young's confounding rockabilly album, recorded in the midst of his "up yours, Geffen" phase — "Payola Blues" harkens back to the (supposedly) bygone era when the only way to get your song on commercial radio was to bribe the DJ. Lyrically, it fits right in with the album's ersatz '50s theme, even including a shout out to Mr. Payola himself, Alan Freed. But coming as it did during Young's infamous "unrepresentative" era, when no one could figure out why he was messing around with Vocoders and one-off bands like The Shocking Pinks instead of making the next Harvest, he may as well be talking about himself when he sings, "I never hear my record on the radio"—though it probably would have taken a lot more than "three thousand" or a "new Mercedes-Benz" to make this one a hit.

4. Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers, 'The Last DJ'

Tom Petty has griped about the venality of the music industry often in interviews and boardrooms alike, but he took his fight to the public with "The Last DJ," an angry rocker about the way the voices and choices of individual human beings are being driven off the airwaves in favor of corporate-selected playlists and pre-recorded jocks. Petty spits: "As we celebrate mediocrity / All the boys upstairs want to see / How much you'll pay / For what you used to get for free." It may seem disingenuous for a major-label millionaire to complain about showbiz profiteering, but it's hard to question Petty's conviction here. The man is pissed.

5. Rush, 'The Spirit Of Radio'

Rush's salute to the Toronto progressive rock station CFNY begins with a string of happy thoughts, as Geddy Lee sings about how "the magic music makes your morning mood" and he offers evocative images of invisible airwaves crackling with life and bright antennas bristling with energy. But the vision darkens by the end, as Lee starts raging against the machine-tooled music and "endless compromises" that are ruining radio (at least circa 1980). The song ends with a pithy Rush rewrite of Simon & Garfunkel's "The Sounds Of Silence," as Lee sings, "For the words of the prophets / Are written on the studio wall / And concert halls / Echo with the sounds ... of salesmen." Ooooh ... salesmen!

6. Dead Prez, 'Turn Off The Radio'

Perpetually apoplectic political rappers Dead Prez feel so strongly about the sad state of the airwaves that they've titled three mix tapes after their incendiary 2002 track "Turn Off The Radio." Opening with a war whoop and lively percussion, the duo rips into commercial radio as "propaganda, mind controlling, putting it on is like putting on a blindfold." The chorus admonishes free-thinking revolutionaries to reject the materialistic pap propagated by greedy stations and "Turn off the radio / Turn off that bullshit." Gosh, guys, how do you really feel?

7. Public Enemy, 'How To Kill A Radio Consultant'

Back when hip-hop was still considered too dangerous for drive time, almost every rapper had a beef with the radio and the way it ignored rappers in favor of pop-oriented R&B and "new jack swing." (See also: Ice Cube's "Turn Off The Radio," released the year before.) "Damn, gimme rap / No band, I want some X-Clan," Chuck D. demands, blaming the lack of real hip-hop on the airwaves on whatever "sucker in a suit" is programming for a neighborhood he doesn't even live in, then calling for that dude's head. Of course, eventually said sucker must have developed a survival instinct (or more likely, a business sense), because these days you'd be hard-pressed not to "hear a rhyme" on the radio. (It could always use more Eric B., however.)

8. Steely Dan, 'FM'

Steely Dan's title track to FM — a justly forgotten, Robert Altman-inspired 1978 comedy that tries to pass off Foreigner, Foghat, and REO Speedwagon as paragons of rock rebellion — at first sounds like an extension of that movie's middle-of-the-road sounds. But, as usual with The Dan, there's bite beneath the smooth licks and fussed-over production. FM always plays "somebody else's favorite song" and mostly serves as the soundtrack to disposable seductions. "The girls don't seem to care what's on, as long as it plays 'til dawn," sings Donald Fagen. Rock doesn't rock so much as just hang in the air, like cheap weed or stale cologne.

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Inventory
Inventory

16 Films Featuring Manic Pixie Dream Girls, 10 Great Songs Nearly Ruined by Saxophone, and 104 More Obsessively Specific Pop-Culture Lists

by A. v. Club, Chuck Klosterman, Josh Modell, Keith Phipps and Tasha Robinson

Paperback, xiii, 233, [5] p. | purchase

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