The Universal Language



Once upon a time, in a country far, far away, the immortal Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart carefully advised another immortal, Franz Joseph Haydn, to not visit England. “Oh, Papa, you have no education for the wide world.” To this concern the elder master replied, "but all the world understands my language."

I'll grant that comparing the wordless symphonic complexities of the great classicists to twentieth-century English-language 4/4 rock and roll tracks is an exercise in surface futility, but dig deeper and you'll find at the core of each form the human condition itself. This language is indeed universal.

I can count them on one hand

 
"Seriously? I mean do you actually like being stuck in a car with me eight hours a day every day? I don't think so. I mean, I drive too fast and listen to the same five albums over and over and over again and... and... and I sing along and I know I'm annoying and I know that."
-- a distraught, fearful, epically ranting Dean to Sam, Yellow Fever

Because music is one of the vital currents fueling this show both on screen and off (I can’t speak for you ladies, but watching Sam and Dean do nothing but drive cross country for 40 minutes a week wouldn't be all that thrilling to this bloke), and because I watched that episode just the other day, I got to thinking about the answer to the unspoken question. For as we all know, nothing is more fun than speculative meta focusing on minutiae.

As those who've previously read my other, often scattershot, ramblings know, I have a problem narrowing down lists of subjects various and sundry, but I promise to try to try laying out no more than five albums, as difficult a task as that is. Do you have only five favorite albums? I didn't think so; neither do I, and let me be permitted to add this important caveat: this is the opinion of one yokel, and one yokel only, today only. Please feel free to offer your own suggestions because unless it's been confirmed canonically, I could be 179% incorrect.
 
Bang your head!

SAM: Dude, you gotta update your cassette tape collection.
DEAN: Why?
SAM: Well, for one, they are cassette tapes. And two, Black Sabbath, Motörhead, Metallica... it’s the greatest hits of mullet rock.
DEAN: House rules, Sammy. Driver picks the music. Shotgun shuts his cake hole.
SAM: Sammy is a chubby 12 year old. It's Sam, okay.
DEAN: Sorry, can’t hear you. The music's too loud.

Preach it, Brother Dean. As for Sam, he rattled off arguably the three most important bands in metal history: the originators of doom and gloom, the peddlers of lethal, punky speed and the early codifiers of architectural possibility. Kudos, Kripke, and I would also wager that at least one, if not more, of the mythical (perhaps rhetorical, ghost sickness can mess you up something fierce) five can be found amidst this thunderous triptych.

Finished with my woman
'Cause she couldn't help me with my mind
People think I'm insane
Because I am frowning all the time
-- Black Sabbath, Paranoid

DEAN: Jo, you’ve got options. No one in their right mind chooses this life. My dad started me on this when I was so young, I wish I could do something else.
JO: You love the job.
DEAN: Yeah, but I’m a little twisted.

Twisted and frowning, without a woman. A permanent one anyway, at least until the apocalypse is no longer nigh, right, Lisa? As has been pointed out by Dean early on in the series (Skin), and Sam much later (Jump the Shark), the life of a hunter isn’t a reasonable facsimile of fun and games, let alone domestic bliss. Thus, if we take into account the CW's budgetary limitations (neither Zep nor Aerosmith, for starters), we can look at which artists have received the most broadcast airplay and one conclusion can be drawn: like his trademark laugh-in-the-face-of-danger defense mechanism, Dean likes his music to be loud, full of big riffs and major key joie de vivre. In other words, very 70s and very American. It was, after all, the decade of bralessness, weed and bitchin’ Camaros. Even if some of the acts have roots in the bleak and foggy English fens, but why quibble over details.

At the very top of the list, unsurprisingly, is AC/DC, arguably the finest no-frills hard rock outfit in music history. Other artists who've blasted out of the speakers more than a few times have been Foreigner, Bad Company and Lynyrd Skynyrd. And Kent State's own (Ohio! Woo!) Joe Walsh, if we combine solo and group compositions.

With slightly fewer appearances we have arena rock masters Boston, the rootsy, often dark, Americana of Creedence Clearwater Revival, 80s glamsters Def Leppard and literate hard rockers Blue Oyster Cult.
Quick digression. I know it was done for plot purposes, and I hate to be too nitpicky concerning one of my all-time favorite episodes, but wouldn’t Dean have immediately recognized the latter’s logo? Damn writers. Anyway, given that John Winchester was about Dean's age pre-parental advisory (technically, even younger) we know that, chronologically later acts aside, he listened to the same artists and we can plausibly add other legends such as Jimi Hendrix, the Allman Brothers Band, the Who, the Doors and the Rolling Stones to the mix.

If it keeps on rainin’, list’s gonna break

Witness Dean incredulous at Sam's apparent lack of familiarity with the timeless works of Robert Johnson in Crossroad Blues, or his give-and-take with FBI agent-cum-siren Nick Monroe on the loving thievery of Led Zeppelin in Sex and Violence. There's gotta be a Robert Lockwood Jr. or a Son House cassette in that box. Since most post-British Invasion rock and/or roll is constructed on a bluesy bedrock, I’d be downright flabbergasted if there wasn’t a copy of Robert Johnson’s The Complete Recordings hiding in the Impala. I don’t believe that was ever released on cassette, but again, why quibble over details. Want to complain about plot holes, phone Chuck.

 
DEAN: All right, if you’re gonna be talking now, this is a very important phrase, so I want you to repeat it one more time.
LUCAS: Zeppelin rules!

The spectre of the mighty Zeppelin has hung over Supernatural since year one. Even you kids too young to remember their 1985 Live Aid appearance know the score. And as mighty as the mighty Zeppelin is, and mighty they are, even the most ardent fan of said troupe would have a difficult time choosing only one. This isn't The Highlander. So, deftly using a combination of deductive reasoning and cheating, I'm imagining a young Dean thrilled at the prospect of being able to leave Sammy engrossed in his Thundercats reruns in order to absorb himself, along with space and a Whole Lotta Time, within the Led Zeppelin box set, originally released in 1990. Why this? The first official, non-bootleg appearance of Traveling Riverside Blues which is, as we all know, one of his two favorite songs.

And what of the rest? AC/DC's Back In Black is the next logical choice, for it doesn't get more anthemic than that, though I'm partial to the Bon Scott years, myself. It's A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Hunt, er, Rock N Roll). Sprawling, upbeat, power chord & pop workouts perfectly parallel the yellow lines on the interstate, so cue up Boston's eponymous debut. On second thought, how about Deep Purple’s Machine Head for blasting the serendipitous Highway Star? In Swan Song, during his heartfelt framing of the Impala's history, Chuck relates how Sam and Dean once drove quite a distance in order to check out an Ozzy concert. The singer’s first group was mentioned in the very first episode and given the plethora of unbreakable riffs found in its macabre grooves, Black Sabbath's Paranoid could most certainly be album number four. As for the last, Supernatural is a universal hero tale to be sure, but with a distinctly American flavor, and the band widely considered our nation's finest, at least the most popular, hard rock ensemble during the 1970s was unquestionably Aerosmith (until the otherworldly Van Halen came along, usurping the coked-out Bostonians), and given the ubiquitous appearance of Sweet Emotion and Walk This Way on classic rock radio, staples -- let me emphasize, FCC-mandated staples -- to this day, 'tis Toys In the Attic. Appropriate, since I suppose Old Scratch now views Sam and Dean as the true Toxic Twins.

Aside from the presence of Led Zeppelin and AC/DC, which I assume most of us would agree is so logical it would impress both Spock and Supernatural's own resident Star Trek geek, the rest are certainly ripe for calm discussion, vigorous arguing or the occasional bout of fisticuffs. There are hundreds of possible choices and though the most commonly accepted way to a man's heart is through his stomach, the ears can carry an equal clout. Speaking as a man who loves music -- the very antithesis of cold, mathematical precision (be quiet Bach fugue-sters, his stuff moves my soul, not my calculator), the most ephemeral and personal of art forms -- trust me on that.
 
Now, grab your copy of Master of Puppets and turn it up to eleven.