Oh, excuse me. Sorry, I got a little tied up. I was just beating the sh** out of a radio behind my house, Office Space style, like they do to that copy machine. I hate it with a seething passion, see, as any reader of this blog knows.
Why? Hell, it stole my heart. Motown isn’t even like Zen — it’s BETTER. It’s like this impossible creation of beauty and heartbreak, transmitted by copper wire upon the most hopeless American metropolis, once piping with optimism and commerce. What we have left is those sound waves — what we have left, is this large scale perfection, this ubiquitous American brilliance on wax, manifest as the minutest, most misunderstood gestures, every day, in normal, sensitive people like us. But then, that’s why we escape in the first place.
Dishonorable mention: Huey Lewis & The News – “I Want a New Drug”
I’ll admit… I pretty much hate the ’80’s. New wave to me is tantamount to like bestiality porn. Lots of these guys were just hard working rockers, though, as this song proved, and this chord progression, very similar to the Talking Heads’ “Take Me to the River” (which I know is a cover, excuse me), could have been superimposed on pretty much any decade… and hot damn what a guitar solo!
100 Dre. Dre – “Nothin’ But a G Thang” feat. Snoop Doggy Dogg
Man, there is something EVIL about the bass in this song. It’s almost as twisted as the backing steps of “Purple Pills,” which was produced by, oh, guess who? The archetypal, quintessential beat-maker proves his chops behind the controls more so than ever, but this whole thing was a production from the heart, even before the movie.
99 Oasis – “Rock N’ Roll Star”
Sorry, I know this is kind of a stupid selection, but I just heard this song in a bar one time and it was just absolutely the perfect song for the occasion in every way imaginable. Yeah, drinkin’ in the middle of the day in a bar. That’s what alcohol’s for.
98 Foo Fighters – “My Hero”
This is about as grunge as LA gets: slow and low, the bass and drums’ thundering alone enough to make the moment monumental and unforgettable. Amidst rumors that it is indeed about Kurt Cobain, what really makes it memorable is the steely ’90’s alternative persona about it, music with a swagger and attitude that doesn’t care about anything but rocking.
97 Stone Temple Pilots – “Down”
There’s such thing as heavy guitar and drums. This is more like black strap fu**ing molasses guitar and drums, the mad villainy of production great Brendan O’Brien. Check the following track on this album, “Heaven & Hot Rods,” for an even more compelling arrangement that jogs along a little quicker, but anyone who said they expected the Pilots to come this hard on their followup to Tiny Music is full of it.
96 Toto – “Africa”
DID YOU KNOW… he says the words “Kilimanjaro” and “Serengeti” in this song? DID YOU KNOW… he pronounces them each incorrectly? DID YOU KNOW… this is actually a manifestation of geographical places’ meaninglessness when rendered before the poignance of true love? Yeah, I didn’t either.
95 Dandy Warhols – “Bohemian Like You”
This single has an interesting, possibly totally unequaled, relationship with its respective album (which as far as I know didn’t produce any other singles). The Dandy Warhols, per their name, per their androgynous shtick evident in both musical style and lyrics, per their entirely unapproachable tracks named after baroque philosophers and deities, are basically a hipster draw, deliberately alienating the listener when they can, and probably painting an at-large artistic concept message which is occluded by so much tongue-in-cheek humor as to render it almost meaningless. Still, if you take this album as just having this song to offer, and nothing else, the joke is on you.
94 The Cranberries – “Dreams”
That’s right, this is when divas sang over electric guitars and live drums. It’s Kurt Cobain’s worst nightmare: the commercial co-opting of male frustration, the zenith of “alternative rock.” This is the greedy, imperial Brits at their worst, some mad scientist molding all these things together which would appeal to, well, pretty much anyone, such a plangent and poetic message of love and reverie and crazy hyena catcalls… and a music video which actually doesn’t make the song worse, which is a rare thing.
93 4 Non Blondes – “What’s up?”
This chick was just born to be a rich non-blond. I mean you want to get mad at her for hating this whole sector of female humanity, but then you hear that voice… she’s like Macy fu**ing Gray, she’s like Gwen Stefani, just such a great singer. No matter your ideology, liberal or conservative, she guides you home on this one, taking you to elevated places with her pipes alone.
92 R.E.M. – “Nightswimming”
“These things they go away” mutters Michael Stipe in his signature deliberate melancholy “Replaced by every day.” So true, and like all great songs, this song gets us to that impossible mode of just facing what’s next in our life: the miracle of truly being ourselves, wanting nothing but just to keep this feeling of solace we have, knowing true progress as backwards in time to the last time we heard this song.
91 AronChupa – “I’m an Albatraoz”
Ah, tomboys. At least, I think that’s what this chick is. I mean, I’d probably have to look on National Geographic to ascertain identity here. Oh yeah, this song is about albatrosses, and obviously, never really leaving high school.
90 Beastie Boys – “Body Movin’”
This song sort of got buried among many discussions when this came out: of the lead single “Intergalactic,” of the puzzlingly feminist “Song for the Man,” of the ballistic sirens on “The Move” and the eerie twistedness of “Grasshopper Unit,” but it seems like every time I listen to this cut I notice something new, and just when you think the barely-there chord progression is finally emerging as part of your holistic impression, there comes a line like “Came out rappin’ when I was born / Mom said work it ‘til the break of dawn.”
89 The Breeders – “Cannonball”
Wanna pi** off some crazy Ohio bit**es? Don’t let ‘em be in your band with guys. And then stand back as they pick up guitars, take dead aim and attack. This stuff puts the Pixies to shame.
88 Del Amitri – “Roll to Me”
I really don’t know much about Del Amitri, all I know is I heard this song pretty much every day on the bus to elementary school in ’95, and learned this dude’s name like last year, in 2015. Now, if that doesn’t sum up being a pop star, I don’t know what would.
87 Warren Zevon – “Werewolves of London”
And mind you, I don’t really buy the idea of this being Zevon “going pop,” condescending to the catchy world of radio when his real muse is up his sleeve in the form of epic concepts, because I would have noticed those epic concepts by now, and god damned if those rapscallions get your head moving like this.
86 Fabolous – “Baby Don’t Go” feat. T-Pain
Fabolous was just born for the spotlight: handsome face, immortal flow, I mean the songs are just so damn FUN, they could be about a Donald Trump dinner and I’d still buy the CD’s.
85 Electric Light Orchestra – “Don’t Bring Me Down”
Jeff Lynne is literally superhuman, with a voice that sounds black, with uncanny ability enabling him to render stupefying musical arrangements like “Shine a Little Light,” so maybe it makes sense that he’d be attracted to this giant tacky blow-up doll looking figure which graces the video. Or, no, I don’t think so. It still doesn’t make sense.
84 Young Jeezy – “My Hood”
I’ll admit, I never really got to analyze this guy too much, just always appreciated the production of the songs and the slick beats courtesy of… well, a bunch of different cats.
83 The Calling – “Wherever You Will Go”
I just looked up, and saw that this album came out in 2000. Yet, it seems like I was almost done with high school (I was class of ’02) by the time I heard this song. And I think this sort of sums up the curiously hard-working, real-as-the-day-is-long vibe I get from this song — even though it seems so simple, such conventional subject matter and message, it’s just simply not something everybody can do.
82 Coldplay – “Paradise”
Chris Martin has a way of sounding younger than ever on this cut (2011), and gravitational pop songs like this have a way of making everything feel epic, to the point where you lose sense of your body, and start truly living, without fear. After which point, of course, you wake up in the drunk tank, but at least you have an anthem for it all.
81 Cat Stevens – “Wild World”
As much as I love this song, I do know other people who like Cat Stevens even more than I do, so I’m going to abstain from commenting on it, behind the reasoning that its reputations precedes it — but I would just like to say that Stevens seems at his best when he’s at his most compassionate and selfless like this.
80 Metallica – “Enter Sandman”
And the moral of the story is: don’t, uh, be surrounded by all this weird crap. James Hatfield’s yowl almost reminds me of a rap here, possibly influencing Limp Bizkit in more than one way.
79 Collective Soul – “The World I Know”
Collective Soul’s Ed Roland strikes me as a dude who’s seen a lot more than me, and in the urban landscape of this video, all I could think of is Philadelphia, and then all that creepy Bill Cosby stuff. That’s sort of an underlying message in this song, I think, the necessity of heightening composite human virtue, but more than anything it is a selfish act of narcissism, albeit a very inspiring one.
78 Goo Goo Dolls – “Flat Top”
It’s hard to know what to say about a great song like this, other than that it’s a shame that “Name” is the most famous song from this album. Quintessentially New York (Buffalo, to be exact), these guys leave no cultural stones unturned, indicting hippies, indicting “cowards,” but most of all, anticlimactic alternative rock like the Gin Blossoms.
77 Tom Petty – “Free Fallin’”
Like with many of these songs, I’ve known this one pretty much since I was in the crib, and for a while I started naming “Learning to Fly” as my favorite by Petty just for this one’s absurd simplicity, but got sold all over again this one night in this bar, for the simple directness, but also two key parts: the skewed/percussive shuffling of the third verse, and the banjo rockabilly revival of the bridge toward the end. More than the sum of its parts, for sure.
76 Aerosmith – “Walk This Way”
Among the misanthropic KISS and the awkward misogyny of other classic rock, THIS was the real late-’70’s white R&B, which would still sound fresh over a decade later, when Run-DMC would pointlessly crash the party.
75 Pearl Jam – “Jeremy”
Nice and overproduced, just like radio singles should be. Having a music video to it, just like radio singles in the ’90’s should be. This song actually embodies everything Pearl Jam would come to NOT be with its best material, but its visceral plea for redemption is undeniable, a band so loaded with potential it had to make a video of blood letting equally as scary.
74 Live – “Lightning Crashes”
I’ve made the point on this blog before that rock ‘n’ roll, at its core, IS sadness. This song, you might say, takes it a little further, dispatching straight from the ‘Sh** Towne” of York, Pennsylvania, diagramming a morose state of mind likely to kill the feebler hearted, and suspended in a chord progression so simple as to irreversibly prove its genuineness.
73 Incubus – “Warning”
Brandon Boyd is stupid. That’s all there is to it. But that’s why we love him. One album he’s telling us “Consequence is a bigger word than you think,” the next he’s telling us to live it up. It reminds me of the Phish song “Character Zero”: “I was taught a month ago / To bide my time and take it slow / And then I learned just yesterday / To rush and never waste a day.” Well, can we really say which is better? I mean really? Eventually I guess being a pop star is doing what is depicted on the cover of Incubus’ last album: walking a tight rope, whereupon logic has the tendency to dissipate. Whatever.
72 Ace of Base – “All That She Wants”
Strangely exuding an impression of the noble savage, especially when you see the starkly low-budget music video mixed with the song’s reggae elements, the group builds up a curiously sophisticated arrangement here, incorporating a wealth of different synths (one of which sort of sounds like a piccolo), and more random instrumentation something like an oboe or bassoon. Still, they never missed a “beat” with the pop world of ’94.
71 Beck – “Loser”
Beck recorded this album in his living room. You can hear his fingernails scraping against the guitar strings. Well, it’s a hip-hop album, so…
70 Buffalo Springfield – “For What it’s Worth”
If seeing Neil Young’s face on the album cover looking content, vocally inactive, and hell, actually IMPRESSED, isn’t amazing, I don’t know what exactly would be.
69 Fastball – “Fire Escape”
One of my favorite albums here despite the fact that “Better Than it Was” verbatim rips off the melody of The Jesus and Mary Chain’s “Happy Place” (or maybe BECAUSE of that, for that matter). I’ve never really met a person who liked Fastball that much, other than my dear old Dad. Fine with me.
68 Tracy Chapman – “Talkin’ ‘bout a Revolution”
Now, don’t overestimate this song here. Chapman is holding something back dearly here as an artist, and the cover photo of her as a younger girl looking down at the ground is probably no accident. Hence her opinion of all of us, and the world at large, still, everything is what you make it into.
67 Third Eye Blind – “Jumper”
I dunno, this song just rocks: it’s probably not my favorite 3EB song (that might go to “Wounded” off their next album Blue, a non-single), and it doesn’t even feature my signature 3EB whistle-wetter, which is Kevin Cadogan’s immortal guitar riffs (Cadogan would tragically leave the band after Blue), but these Stephen Jenkins lyrics are even better than beat poetry, a true humanitarian paean from what had been that false land of flowers in the hair.
66 Counting Crows – “Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby”
There’s something mystifying about just staring at Adam Duritz’ face when he sings in this video: you get to thinking of all the emotional roller coaster rides he’s taken us on in the past, but this song is so good, and epic, MUSICALLY, that the question is indeed begged as to whether it even matters what he’s saying. Almost as if he foresees this, he tells of smashing glass bottles in bars, and the desperate need for an outside, replenishing muse, in times of weirdness, which seems to be pretty much all the time.
65 Moby – “Porcelain”
“In your dreams,” Moby. Like we care about your dreams. When are you gonna stop being so self-centered, get out there and really LIVE, like the rest of us? Moby’s music is the very epitome of what it is to be white — it’s made on a computer, it steals from blacks, and for this reason is relatively unpopular in the Midwest where I’m from. But it takes all kinds to move the world, and some vacuous droids just know that they’re vacuous droids. The result of this music is continually enjoyable and thirst-quenching, anyway.
64 Erykah Badu – “Tyrone”
Self-produced, here, and self governed to an undeniable extent too, dabbling in nasty things like profanity, prostitution and homosexuality, a musical edifice for a human interaction in which bodies are commodities, in a way that, if it’s beautiful, sure comes at quite a price, monetarily, physically and emotionally as well.
63 The Who – “Who Are You?”
This is The Who’s dancing along with the rest of the world: they’d changed the landscape of rock with operas and paeans, and no one seems to care, so they’ll just go R&B just like Aerosmith and KISS, and to top it off be pretty freakin’ lewd too: “I spill out like a sewer hole / And still receive your kiss.” Anyone know what the hell they mean there? No, but you better buckle your seatbelt if you’re coming along for the ride on this one.
62 Amy Grant – “Good for Me”
This mix, though garish, always struck me, ever since I was 10, as well balanced and disciplined, lots of sounds intermingling and no element becoming shrill or excessive, except, of course, the undeniable statement of love. Is that sort of thing still legal?
61 The Doors – “Riders on the Storm”
Yes, I have heard this song, but it was late at night, which, of course, at that point became a SPOOKY sort of night. Really underrated album in general, their swan song L.A. Woman.
60 The Four Seasons – “December 1963 (Oh What a Night)”
Now, I really thought, I really thought, that this song came out in like ’94 or ’95, because it sounds like Del Amitri, or the Barenaked Ladies, or something, and the girls in my elementary school class were like all about it. And then, I was able to just start liking it again, like last week or so.
59 Harry Chapin – “Cats in the Cradle”
A lot of these artists, I think, are classically trained guitarists, which can often be evident from things like introductory arpeggios, as well as obviously the garish production complete with string riffs and such — but the moral efficacy of this song is undeniable, even if it is about the hopelessness of getting old. Whew.
58 Aaliyah – “Are You That Somebody?” feat. Timbaland
“I gotta watch my body” pontificates Aaliyah on this joint, “‘Cause I’m not just anybody.” Less than two years later, she’d be dead in a plane crash, but I think this song was a consensus banger in ’99 that put her on top of the world, giving Timbaland a chance to shine as beatmaker, but as always, the carnal queen doing damage on the mic and showing where the real authority lies.
57 Green Day – “Basket Case”
This one narrowly beats out “When I Come around” for me for its sheer inclusion of a case of giving oneself the creeps. How can you deny that? And set it to ebullient, major-chord punk rock? Kurt Cobain didn’t even do that. Nope, not quite. And that’s important.
56 Everclear – “Everything to Everyone”
I think an element present in all of these songs is balance, sort of like how on this song Art Alexakis is sort of being a drama queen, but that swagger, that raw, world-weary tone in his voice just speaks that this stuff had to come out, or we would have had some sort of mutiny on our hands. This is Kurt Cobain as even more boy-ish, the whiny brat whose world is just too damn REAL to deny.
55 Outkast – “So Fresh So Clean”
People like Andre 3000 better than Big Boi. Any particular reason? Yeah, this song. This song is a rap song the way a mural is a painting — the format of rap is buried down so deep here beneath these fathoms and fathoms of unthinkable sexual personality (it gets even weirder too, hell see that damn album title).
54 Neil Young – “Heart of Gold”
Deliberate and rocking. Did I mention Neil Young was a lover of cars? One of the finest moments in music I’ve ever experienced (I don’t own a record player, sadly), was hearing “Long May You Run” on my Mom’s Decade LP at her place. A similar tune, in a way, but I mention cars to sort of typify the methodical, but undeniably powerful, m.o. of Neil Young here — chugging along like something totally regular but amazing too, sort of like a human heart.
53 Toad the Wet Sprocket – “Good Intentions”
This was the other alternative rock in the ’90’s, more reliant on rockabilly organs and spitoon cans than face-melting solos and the BOMBAST of grunge, and in fact these guys paved the way for Counting Crows, for The Wallflowers, for Fastball — when there was just so much melody to get out of our systems that not only did we not drown it in “new wave” or drug culture, we made it deliberately dorky, just to say we did.
52 Yes – “I’ve Seen All Good People”
Oddly working class and blue collar despite the high voice, filling in the cracks of psychedelia’s idealism with a little damaged soul, Yes created here something totally inimitable and irreplaceable within the rock canon, melding chess themes with everyday life, but also, sort of, showing how the “pawn” can live just as much as anybody, if he realizes that life is a big rat race full of indescribable stimuli.
51 Fleetwood Mac – “The Chain”
Half British and half American, just like the Jimi Hendrix Experience and The Pretenders, the band finds this delicate arrangement evincing images of the desert akin to their home of Southern California, flanked by the flooded emotion of a relationship, and the juvenility everyone tries to avoid, at the relationship’s wrecking ball demolition.
50 Janet Jackson – “What Have You Done For Me Lately?”
Surprising, Quincy Jones didn’t work on this album Control, since it’s artistically similar to and roughly contemporary with Bad, though it came a little before, so perhaps some sibling rivalry there feeding Jacko’s intensity on the latter? Don’t think he didn’t know what kind of business it is.
49 The Five Stairsteps – “O-O-H Child”
Granted, this song strikes as opportunism in many regards, but one of these is the unfurling quality the singer’s voice has upon embarking on the chorus, like a butterfly forming and coming out of the cocoon, and the way the whole thing seems to evade race and cultural niche: or be pop, in other words.
48 Jimmy Eat World – “The Middle”
This song narrowly edges “Sweetness”… why, I’m really not sure. It does after all lack the line “Slipping into sweet uncertainty,” and none of these lyrics are particularly stupendous. It’s just the airtightness of it all — the fluid motion with which the song approaches its end, in all phases a sugary, blistering rocker which obliterates self-doubt and teenage awkwardness. I was a teenager at the time it came out, and a little more so, even, while listening to it.
47 Jay-Z – “Money Ain’t a Thang” feat. Jermaine Dupri
The essence of this song just EXUDES a fast pace, and while the emphasis is on having wealth, there is also the vision there, the need to LIVE, and to do so without being overly careful.. ‘cause you’ve probably seen through it all anyway.
46 Heart – “These Dreams”
Artistic expression is definitely encouraged out West, like in Heart’s native Seattle, so maybe there is some sociological force spawning Ann Wilson to belt it out here and sing a bit out of her range… but the melody is so undeniable and archetypal that it’s impossible to imagine our world without it.
45 TLC – “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg”
I just like the genre specificity of this cut over their more mellow numbers, the New Jack Swing of it all (as far as I know New Jack Swing is not represented anywhere else on this list, despite its prominent effect in informing late-’90’s R&B like KC & Jo-Jo, whatnot). Somehow less perverted than Salt & Pepa (though I know not exactly how), TLC prove their group versatility here, each member sounding a little different, and contributing with rough equality.
44 Nirvana – “On a Plain”
I once called this the white man’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” but when it’s heard on the radio, what’s overwhelming is not whatever droll message of optimism you can glean from it, but just how fluid and un-produced it sounds: it’s punk rock insofar as being a straight, unadulterated message of cathartic release straight from an artistic mind. But then, once you reach that music, the omnipresent question still remains: “What the hell am I trying to say?”
43 Pharrell Williams – “Happy”
I swear to God, I’ve heard this song in public places SO many times, I actually didn’t even have a firm conception of it — in fact, I thought the verse sucked. Well, now I know that the verse is great, after having actually given it its due attention, and this song is a classic example of that reverse, counterintuitive rule: it’s not AHEAD of its time, it sounds like it could have been made in the ’70’s, a fact which speaks to its rock-hard integrity and feeling. The universal language, indeed.
42 Madonna – “Cherish”
Listening to Madonna always, especially her ’80’s stuff, comes with a little twitching, and maybe a couple nervous chuckles. It’s like, well, what caustic, divine relationship hellfire is she going to rain down on us now? So it’s indescribable how relieving it is to here hear her so content, soothing and soothed, like a veritable tamed beast.
41 DMX – “What’s My Name?”
Yeah, this beat does sound a little low-budget. Huh? Working class, just like Pharoahe Monch leans toward. This is the only music my Mom ever made me turn off.
40 Bruce Springsteen – “Born in the U.S.A.”
The Boss, as we all know, has his fanatics, and while I must say I am not necessarily one of them, I do find it equally impossible to deny his importance, despite his total, egregious immersion in the ’80’s. I’m not sure what’s more hideous, those jeans or that snare sound. Or that country he’s singing about. Whoops, wasn’t ‘sposed to say that.
39 The Proclaimers – “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)”
500 miles, eh? Well you’re probably gonna wanna get on the M6, which should be smooth passing as long as those blokes at the station haven’t got it bottled up. And sure, that’ll get you to the bloody Southern tip of the UK, Plymouth, from where you’re positioned there in Leith, Scotland, where, I’d imagine, there’s nothin’ much to do but walk around. Anyway, God damn is that some energy. In the song, I meant.
38 Johnny Nash – “I Can See Clearly Now”
Such disparate influences! He’s from Houston, yet he’s a “reggae” musician, yet he’s doing something very far, or at least pretty far, from reggae, here. Also, though handsome he exudes a rough, football player type image, yet his voice is so high and dainty, fitting and nestling into those note niches with uncanny, zooming style.
37 Alanis Morissette – “You Learn”
Nakedness, and jagged pills in stomachs, it’s like some weird cross between La Femme Nikita and The X-Files, to briefly name two ’90’s TV shows. And sure, Morissette tended to wield a somewhat cinematic perspectives on her relationships and stuff, but I wouldn’t say she was as bad in this regard as Fiona Apple, or if she is, at least she just TALKED about getting naked, instead of actually doing it.
36 Jethro Tull – “Living in the Past”
Just a little nugget, food for thought, as if you need any more when it comes to Jethro Tull: they wrote this song while in America on the Stand up tour, in response to I guess the especially conflictive high jinks they saw about them, ingratiating themselves more to the minorities than the white folks, but the song would not surface until the album of the same name, which in turn embodied a best-of collection, featuring as it does “Song for Jeffrey,” and thereby essentially living in the past, if you will. You wouldn’t be, like, fu**ing with our American heads, would you, Ian? Never!
35 Badfinger – “No Matter What”
Keeping it in Britain for this one, I turn now to some great lovers of melody, plangent but stately and deliberate, the writers of the song “Without You” (“I can’t live / If living is without you / I can’t live / I can’t live anymore”), a sap-fest which is in fact one of their very worst songs (see hits and non-hits alike, a la “Come and Get it,” “We’re For the Dark,” “Day After Day,” etc.
34 Bjork – “Human Behavior”
When alternative stopped being rock, rock stopped being alternative, which troublingly, was pretty damn early in things: 1993. Bjork really knew how to work her quirky nationality and accent, and use it to her favor, with the balls to present herself as a vulnerable diva before the throes of humanity.
33 Eminem – “Without Me”
I really like this: when rappers speed things up for albums following big, marquis projects (see Black Milk’s “365,” Beastie Boys’ “Ch-Check it out.” This song gallops along with blinding, torrential power, laying Limp Bizkit and Moby to shame, not really sounding called-for or semantically justified so much as just scary, menacing.
32 Soul Asylum – “Black Gold”
No, this is not Rush’s “Fly by Night,” Soul Asylum probably owes them a massive royalty check. No idea what to say about this song, other than that my Dad used to always take us out to pizza around this time, and this was pretty much my favorite song to hear in the car — it was as angry as I was, but it seemed to have a certain patience to say it wasn’t going anywhere, and would see me through.
31 Justin Timberlake – “SexyBack”
I have to admit, I’m still a little surprised that Justin Timberlake is at all seen as a sex god — I remember thinking him incredibly awkward looking dating back to his N’Sync says. Well, I guess I’ll take it… Humphrey Bogart could have sung over this Timbaland arrangement and sounded like a heartthrob.
30 Bush – “Comedown”
This is the British outdoing us Americans at our own game, grunge, some nondescript producer laying down a perfect, pummeling drum and bass sound, which propel the song into velocity until the gnashing guitar comes in, and Gavin Rossdale shows us what the precipice of emotion really sounds like.
29 Buddy Holly – “Everyday”
With percussion that comes by way of Holly’s producer slapping against his thighs, “Everyday” marks a deviation from the usual brisk Holly pace, but also presages the stripped down arrangements which would follow in the next decade such as The Beatles’ “Blackbird.”
28 Michael Jackson – “Smooth Criminal”
This is tense, nervous, impoverished northern Indiana to a tee — it’s dark, it’s weird, and its musical incisors cut through the rest of the nation with the greatest of ease, taking it by storm and reinventing “cool.” Wear leather and a slick hat, dance well, and god damnit, just keep movin’.
27 Sarah Mclachlan – “Building a Mystery”
Whoo! Chick is workin’ it on this one. Did it just get hotter in here? And dispatching from Canada, of all places. Ok I kinda hate this guy she’s singing about, except that he seems so insane (“You wear sandals in the snow / With a smile that won’t wash away / Can you look out the window / Without your shadow getting in the way?”) She’ll leave us to stew in the juice of her imagery and muse, but with a great, multifaceted arrangement featuring a stringed bass, and a whole lot of mesmerizing inflections.
26 The Temptations – “The Way You Do the Things You Do”
Picked up in the Motown revival of the late-’80’s by UB40 right along with George Michael and “Where Did Our Love Go?”, this is definitely one of those songs that’s ingrained in all of our psyches, and those background vocals, a true lost art, make it just so perfect.
25 Master P – “Make ‘Em Say UHH!” feat. Fiend, Mia-X, Silkk the Shocker and Mystikal
Ah, great memories of this song… this one was playing the first time I ever got stoned. I was at this dude’s house who had this huge Pulp Fiction poster of the black-haired Uma Thurman lying on the bed, and my conception of cool was being obliterated right before my eyes. True to form, Mystikal would emerge as the most successful solo emcee to originally grace this cut, and he gives great meaning to “flamboyant” here as elsewhere.
24 Hootie & The Blowfish – “Time”
Damn, Darius Rucker, now THAT’S what I call a baritone. His voice is of a timbre that’s undeniable here, the forgotten musical instrument that actually catalyzes the rest of the mix, while spewing out pure, life-laden heartbreak we all can relate to. I choose this song partly for the nondescript subject matter, and the free association, almost stream of consciousness type lyrics.
23 The Wallflowers – “Three Marlenas”
If anyone was gonna break down walls in our minds with two chords, it was definitely gonna be Bob Dylan’s son. I recently saw him interviewed about this album, and he was inimitably humble, saying that it was basically a case of a lot of things falling into place as to why Bringing down the Horse, a T-Bone Burnett creation, turned out so well. Well, it wouldn’t have been quite the beast it was without this song.
22 10,000 Maniacs – “Candy Everybody Wants”
This song, already great, is spiked and buoyed by the sophisticated orchestral arrangement — trumpets, oboe, and many other things keep piping in, keeping things fresh, yet forceful and gravitational, at the same time. And this is really saying something, given Natalie Merchant’s little-girl-next-door persona.
21 Marvin Gaye – “What’s Going on?”
Yup, he really does say “Father father / We don’t need to escalate,” only to find his father murderous of him in the immediate years to come. It was a song of optimism so doomed, but yet the only thing that the artist could have done in said mortal position. With this being the case, how is it supposed to sound? It’s the sound of a man fighting an impossible battle in life, presaged appropriately by the din of clamoring voices in the introduction.
20 Tasmin Archer – “Sleeping Satellite”
We have liftoff… pure perfection on wax, period. One of many black divas to pave the way in her own niche, out of Britain of all places, for the Shawn Colvins of the world, for the Joan Osbornes of the world, for the… my alcoholic playlist formationing… of the world.
19 Bone Thugs-n-Harmony – “Crossroads”
The video for “Crossroads” is appropriate: it begins in a church, but then it just turns fast paced and crazy, too much so to even describe, just like the streets of Cleveland. The beat is so simple as to be noteworthy for that very fact, in a way, because truly, if the only beat were these guys’ immortal flowing, the song would still hold up.
18 Diana Ross & The Supremes – “Can’t Hurry Love”
I like to point out that this rhythm gave birth to the one in Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life,” and then in The Strokes’ “Last Night,” but for some reason, people don’t usually like to talk about Iggy and The Strokes in the same conversation as this old classic Motown, and I don’t really get why. I mean it as a compliment, obviously.
17 Jimmy Cliff – “The Harder They Come”
Jimmy Cliff has one song about an actual war, a song with the title “Vietnam,” but “The Harder They Come” is about the immediate war you fight every day in your normal life, where nothing is guaranteed, and people run rampant who try to take what you have from you. On the strength of an undeniable melody, it’s able to eschew median style by foraying into reggae, thereby somehow retaining some lustrous power despite being, as far as genre goes, the sound of lazy stoners. All the better for pulling it off.
16 Bette Midler – “Wind beneath My Wings”
Didn’t get through this one with dry eyes last time I gave it a spin, and I don’t think you’re meant to. Don’t ever listen to this song before work, and if you do, order extra pizza for lunch.
15 U2 – “One”
I had “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking for” in place of this one for a while, before switching it, and in fact it’s sort of interesting to juxtapose one song with another here. It’s almost like he finally found what he was looking for, but lost it, and now the anguish of knowing how good life can be is plaguing him in this romantic valley he’s experiencing. It’s a game of give and take, with some great songs thrown in there in the meantime.
14 A Tribe Called Quest – “Sucka Ni**a”
Whoo! Boy did this list need some boom bap. R.I.P. to Fife Dawg. More of the same sh**, just being on the block and being real. I did see Ali Shaheed Muhammed is still doing production project by way of some recent album appearance of some other artist, so that’s good to see. As far as back in the day goes, no group was more influential upon The Roots than the Tribe.
13 Rolling Stones – “19th Nervous Breakdown”
Some mesmerizing guitar work goin’ on here big time with the riffing steel meshing with the trippy but simple intro, perhaps the best Stones intro of all. And the thing just seems to move a long so briskly — it’s mean, and real, it’s brass-tough: it’s everything the streets are.
12 Al Green – “Let’s Stay Together”
D’Angelou might look better with his shirt off, but Al Green laid down a smoother track here, one of the very pillars of chord change genius and a vocal seeming to have just layers and layers of surface, like a musical instrument within the vocal chords.
11 Disturbed – “Down with the Sickness”
Disturbed is tall and phallic in stature, just like their native city of Chicago. It is a song of frustration, about wanting life to be simple but having problems “dealing with these changes,” around you, a song about battling demons and just wanting things to get back to being settled. The extended, non-radio version is a real trip.
10 Talking Heads – “Once in a Lifetime”
Yeah, this is one of those early videos, which I sort of hate even for their passing relationship to “Video Kill the Radio Star”… would this song sound appropriate without MTV? Does it even belong on the albeit classic Remain in Light? Well, how is a brother to know? It’s forever changed our lives, a cosmic zooming out on a life so uncontrollable, always changing yet strangely, always staying the same.
9 Prince – “Diamonds and Pearls”
This song is basically what every song is about — a feeling. It’s a feeling in the muse of metaphysical invincibility of undeniable certainty of vision and intention, and he’s administering it here to someone he loves, who, just to be inclusive, happens to be a “boy or a girl.” And that’s the way it should be, truly.
8 Otis Redding – “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay”
Name checked with brilliance by GZA in Wu-Tang’s “Intro (Shaolin Finger Jab) / Chamber Music,” this song was once named by one of my friends as the hardest song of all time to cover, and I think he’s right. It’s catchy and infectious, yet filled with miles of uncertainty and anxiety the average man will probably never truly know, but in this melodic, expedited form.
7 House of Pain – “Jump around”
Of course, Cypress Hill popped up in an ad right when I went to this song on youtube. House of Pain expose Cypress Hill here as the biters that they were, and truly take the crown of stoner rap in the early ’90’s between Pete Rock and Wu-Tang, and I’ve gotta admit, I am just a sucker for that damn video. Everything about it is cool, from the harassing of the cops, to the Celtics jersey, to the weed smoking, to the fact that one single dude is spitting all these lines, and managing to sound invincible the whole way through.
6 Led Zeppelin – “Rock and Roll”
How the hell is John Bonham doing that — playing that many hat hits, and that many snare hits, at the same time? “Rock and Roll” shares an album with “Four Sticks,” on which Bonzo uses just that for his drum part, but he sounds equally octopus-like on this cut, and yeah, it was on a car commercial, whatever it’s still great.
5 Lou Reed – “Walk on the Wild Side”
Almost so mellow it should be illegal, almost so cool it should be censored, this is a laconic, infectious survey of the hopelessness of human identities, of how we all truly, secretly envy the drag queens, and those who shamelessly evade all classifications in life, even, in this case, that of “indie” rocker.
4 James Brown – “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag”
Picked this one for the guitar riff in the verse, ain’t gonna lie. Great cinematic placement: Face Off with John Travolta and Nicholas Cage. I keep hearing “The Payback” at work, which culls from the soundtrack to Lock Stock and Two Smokin’ Barrels”… hell if they played “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” there’d probably be a damn riot or something.
3 Stevie Wonder – “Sir Duke”
Just perfection here, no real reason to say too much… it’s the type of song you appropriately hear in early June, at the end of school, like some assembly song sort of like “Overjoyed” (which I considered putting on).
2 Chuck Berry – “Oh Babydoll”
Rock and roll IS sadness. Well, sh**, get up and start living, like Stephen Malkmus said, Stephen Malkmus who topped my albums list. No matter so few artists make great albums. Any average Bob Dylan interview is bound to dissipate into a Chuck Berry discussion, and without him we do not have the Keith Richards style as we know it at all.
1 Wilson Pickett – “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love”
It is, mind you, the Wicked Pickett version the Blues Brothers picked up for their soundtrack, fast, sinful and infectious, pure Detroit, or Chicago, in the Blues Brothers’ case. Sorry, I’m from South Bend, Indiana, right betwixt the two great (hellhole) cities, I get a little sentimental for these things, especially on years when the Bulls miss the playoffs, and the Pistons barely make a moribund showing (the Pacers forever screwed by the refs, in my opinion)… oh God where am I going with this? this Wicked Pickett version contains so much NOISE, it would literally horrify my grandmother if she were to hear it, yet it was actually sung, here in this version, by an upstanding young man FROM the motor city, from approximately the last time it was ever thriving, ever had anything going for it. The objective? VROOM! Full speed ahead. And that’s what Wicked Pickett did, a veritable Mario Andretti of pop music to send off the night on a frenzied, vibrating note.