"There's a New Girl in Town" by Linda Lavin, 1976

Friday, August 30, 2013

I don't even know what to say about this song, the third* song--alphabetically--on my Top-100 Songs list, the theme to the CBS sitcom that ran from 1976 till 1985, Alice.

My mom watched it for a few of those year. I remember that. I watched it with her a handful of times. We all remember "Kiss my grits!", right?

But I sure didn't remember (or particularly care about) the theme song. Then the internet and an explosion of mp3s turned up. I think it was in around the year 2002 that I downloaded from some website of probably ill repute a huge collection of TV theme songs. A few stood up for nostalgic reasons--like Silver Spoons, the theme of which should probably be on this list too but as of right now isn't; Alf, a show so miserably bad that I can hardly believe I watched every episode; Family Ties and Growing Pains, both with theme songs that have truly stood the test of time but still sound remarkably of their time, if that's possible--but Alice's theme stood out by sounding nothing at all like a TV theme, at least to my ears.

Linda Lavin, the show's star, sings the theme, which is an uptempo bluesy thing with a country tinge and lyrics aiming right at the heart of 1970s feminism. (The sitcom was based on the film Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, which I've never seen but I suppose I should one of these days.)

*In my iTunes, this song is listed as "Alice," rather than as "There's a New Girl in Town." That's why it's third on the list. Forgive me!

"Alarm Call" by Bjork, 1998

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

In 1993, a handful of CDs rotated in and out of my CD player. Their jewel case booklets decorated my dorm room's door. They were Hey Babe. They were Red Heaven. They were Blind. They were Star. They were Last Splash. They were Copacetic.

And they were Life's Too Good.

I loved this record. My sophomore year roommate has told me that, to this day, several of the CDs I put on repeat during my marathon afternoon naps/depressive states still bring him down, reminding him of the dark and musty room. Perhaps the Breeders, though I think he's a fan. Probably Belly. Definitely the Throwing Muses. But I cannot imagine that the nordic pop madness of the Sugarcubes could possibly bring him down. Bjork's infectious pixie voice and Einar Orn's mad rantings, along with a sound so exotic that compared to the distinctly American music I normally listened to, made this record and this band seem to soar above all the rest like heat lightning. Sure, it was already five years old by 1993. But it was new to me, and I spent hours on end with the CD on repeat, drifting in and out of NyQuil hazes and dreaming in Icelandic.

I'll probably say more about this album later, specifically "Delicious Demon," since it too is on the Top-100 List.

But in 1993, something else important happened, something I was really looking forward to: Bjork's Debut.

I hated it. HATED it. Where her voice used to bring girlish psychedelia to a frenetic new wave sound, here it was, on the first single "Human Behaviour," accompanied by an obnoxious techno--a dirty word among my ilk in 1993--tympani's BOOM BOOM and a video so bizarre that we'd often switch off 120 Minutes when it popped up, which it did quite often those first few weeks. I was done with Bjork--besides listening to Life's Too Good, which I still did.

So we fast forward. We fast forward to the new millennium, in fact, and we meet Vespertine through a friend at work. This was my second entree to Bjork and her genius. Yeah, I said it. Genius. Today I consider her one of the most original and groundbreaking artists in music. Vespertine became my new Life's Too Good in many ways. I let this album, full of electric clicks and unidentifiable sounds, somehow woven together to create some of the most beautiful and unusual music I'd ever heard, wash over me for weeks. During those weeks, I looked backwards--at Debut and Selmasongs, the soundtrack to a movie I'd loved, Post, full of amazing songs that nearly made the Top-100 as well, and finally Homogenic.

I loved them all, though probably not as much as Vespertine's magical beauty. Last year, though, as I worked through draft after draft of a new novel, a protagonist of which is a girl verily obsessed with Bjork's music, I found myself and the character returning to "Alarm Call." It was my character's ring tone; it became my ring tone. It's a song about humanity and joy, about finding happiness in music and by merely enjoying life, as if it's very simple. The song--and the character in the novel--would say it is very simple. A radio. Good batteries. A joyous tune: Free the whole human race from suffering.

Also it's got that "Beep beep. Beep beep. Beep. Beep beep. B-b-b-beep beep" thing. I car-dance to this one.

"A Sunday Kind of Love" by Etta James, 1961

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The first on the Top-101 List, in alphabetical order, is this standard song as performed (most famously) by Etta James.

I'll be totally up front: before a certain commercial that played incessantly in the year 2003 or so (I think it was for men's pants), the only Etta James tune I'd have known was her other perennial favorite, "At Last." But Beth and I spent a tremendous amount of time in 2003 watching TV. We watched all of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. We watched Sex and the City. We also watched Trading Spaces till our eyes bled. I'm assuming TLC ran the pants commercial a lot. "A Sunday Kind of Love" became one of our favorite songs, and probably our first "our" song. We connected with the lyrics--with this idea of the right, relaxed, long-term kind of love--so well, that when we got married in 2006, it was our first-dance song.

My 100 (and one) Favorite Songs of All Time

If you're my Facebook friend, you might have noticed, for much of the months of April, May, and June of this year, I was obsessing over a list of my own creation: My Favorite Songs of All Time.

These are not the best songs of all time. In fact, I consider a lot of my personal favorite songs to be, well, not very good. Several of my favorite bands (like Helmet and Hum) didn't make the list at all.

I went through my iTunes and my memory, adding songs as I went. At one point the list was over 300 songs. It took a good long while for me to narrow that down to a list close enough to 100 (104, to be precise) that I felt it was as tidy a list as I could make. I shared it on Facebook on June 15.

I've made a few changes to the list since then, removing a song or two, adding a song or two. (I knew it was time to remove something if, while listening to the playlist I made of these songs, I tended to skip a certain song. For several weeks, I listened to only this playlist, so this was by no means an easy test to pass. The songs that remain on the list have play counts now in the triple digits in the last couple of months alone, and I'm still not sick of them somehow.) The list now stands at 101 songs.

Over the next few months, I intend to blog as often as I find the time on each song from the list. But for today, I'll share a few statistics. Of the 101 songs on the list as it stands now (for it's never really final):

43 songs feature a woman (or girl) on lead vocals
2 songs have no vocals at all
20 songs have at least one guitar solo
5 songs have three guitar solos
7 songs feature a steel guitar
6 songs have no discernible guitar playing at all
10 songs are shorter than 2:30
2 songs are longer than 6:00
1 song won a Grammy
1 song has me singing back-up vocals

So watch this space for the complete and final (for now) list, day by day (when I have time).