"Gorecki" by Lamb, 1997

Friday, February 28, 2014

(Boy was I off on the year with this one. I didn't hear this song until about 2001.)

As I work my way down this list, I've been pretty confident with my choices. A few absences, and a few cuts I might replace with a different cut by the same artist, have been apparent, but not glaring and I'm not even 100 percent confident that I'd make any change. With this track, though, I'm a little hesitant to include.

Until I opened my iTunes and put it on. And from the very first trip-hop strain, it's pretty perfect and impossible to turn off. It's all atmosphere and beats and sultry breathy vocals and symphonic (Henryk Górecki's Third, to be specific) samples, more and more intense as it climbs through its almost three and a half minutes. I only wish it didn't fade out at the end. It ought to have a proper finish.

"Get Older" by Matthew Sweet, 1995

Thursday, February 27, 2014

This is my favorite Matthew Sweet song, unless my favorite Matthew Sweet song is "Someone to Pull the Trigger." It probably depends on how morose I'm feeling at any given time.

Right from the jangly opening into the blast of (Richard Lloyd's? Robert Quine's? Anyway some brilliant lead player from the CBGB scene) lead guitar line to the vamping and throbbing one-piano-note finish, this song is pure Matthew Sweet pop perfection. Also its lyrics are straight-up It Gets Better like fifteen years before the It Gets Better campaign.

"Frank Mills" by James Rado, Gerome Ragni, and Galt MacDermot, 1967

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Hair was a great obsession of mine, somewhere in the middle of my high school years. I saw it produced live twice, but opportunities to do so were rare, so typically I appeased myself by listening to the Broadway soundtrack over and over. And over. (Never the movie soundtrack, which was deeply inferior.)

Most of that LP I can take or leave nowadays, preferably leave, but "Frank Mills," being an understated, sweet-without-being-sickly, perfect little pop song, has stuck with me. In college, when I'd probably all but forgotten about Hair, I stumbled across the Lemonheads version, and it all came rushing back to me. (Evan Dando has a talent for picking great songs to cover.) Still, in spite of my love for all things Lemonheads, the original soundtrack recording is still and by far the best version I've heard. Shelley Plimpton's voice is the perfect one for this song, and she kills it.

"Fool in the Rain" by Led Zeppelin, 1979

Monday, February 24, 2014

The last single of the band's lifetime, and never performed live, "Fool in the Rain" is not a typical Led Zep song. It's in 12/8 time, and has a little bit of a samba feel happening, far removed from the heavy blues-based sound we normally think of as Led Zeppelin. Sure, it's 1979, so we've already seen Houses of the Holy and Physical Graffiti, both of which were nothing like the blues-only days of the turn of the previous decade, but "Fool in the Rain" also has a sense of humor, in its melody, rhythm, and lyrics, which is something Led Zeppelin hadn't done much before, but did plenty of on In Through the Out Door, their 1979 LP and the album I listened to most toward the end of my intense Zeppelin fandom.

How much do I really have to say about Led Zeppelin? The music:

"Children Will Listen" by Stephen Sondheim, 1986

Saturday, February 22, 2014

(This song caused an alphabetizing burp because the version on my iTunes is called "Finale: Children Will Listen.")

Into the Woods is probably my favorite musical. It's a close call with other Sondheim, who is really the only Broadway composer I can listen to repeatedly and often. I saw the show on Broadway twice, once with the original cast and then again when Vanessa Williams played the witch in 2002. I prefer Bernadette Peters, who opens this song in the original cast before it becomes an ensemble piece.

But what's so effective about this song is its quietness, which is why I often would rather hear a singer alone perform this. The haunting lyrics warn the listener in that way Sondheim does so well. (See "Not While I'm Around" for another prime example.) Children will listen, Sondheim tells us, but not to lectures and rules. Rather they listen and learn those things we wish they wouldn't: Careful before you say "Listen to me," and it's all done to a lilting lullaby of a melody.

I can't link to the Broadway version, but it's on Netflix and turns up with about 6 minues left in the show.  Found it!

Here's Mandy Matinkin hamming it up on Larry King:

And here's Bernadette in a live performance:


Thursday, February 20, 2014

An (undoubtedly) incomplete list of songs sung by men in a dramatized attempt to get a woman (or girl) who has probably already said no into bed:

"Only the Good Die Young" by Billy Joel
"What's Your Name" by Lynyrd Skynyrd
"Your Love" by the Outfield
"Paradise by the Dashboard Light" by Meatloaf
"Come on Eileen" by Dexys Midnight Runners (which I wish had a comma in the title but doesn't and is therefore even grosser)
"Blurred Lines" by Robin Thicke, obviously
"Baby, It's Cold Outside" by just about everyone
"Please Please Me" by the Beatles, which is debatable but read the lyrics

Add more in the comments.

"Famous Blue Raincoat" by Leonard Cohen, 1971

(This time, I had no idea of the year.)

I am not a Leonard Cohen fan, and this time I'm being very upfront not about my distaste for his music, which is not the case, but about my lack of education in the man's work.

This song came to me through Twitter only a couple of years ago, when I asked for help coming up with songs to add to a playlist meant to put me in mind of winter for a work-for-hire book I was writing that I wanted to have a bleak and wintery feel. (The playlist worked well. It's a very bleak book.) At the time, I knew only "Everybody Knows" and "Hallelujah," songs I'd known at least peripherally since college and that never really interested me much. If I'm honest, I don't think "Famous Blue Raincoat" would have interested me much in my younger days either. I'm sure young Leonard Cohen fans exist, but I needed a few more years of life experience to get it.

"Fallin'" by De La Soul and Teenage Fanclub, 1993

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

(I missed the year by one.)

I knew there's be a TFC song on this list, but I never thought it would be this one. I listened to Bandwagonesque, Thirteen, and Grand Prix many times, and every track was eventually whittled off the list.

This track, though, which is really more of a De La track, I suppose, refused to be cut.

The soundtrack to Judgement Night, a movie I've never seen, had very high ideals. Though the rock-rap thing had begun years before (I'm thinking Run DMC and Aerosmith), the rock press has often given this soundtrack credit for a lot of the late 1990s and early 2000s rap-rock/nu-metal/Limp Bizkit sound.

Maybe it's true. I can hear it a little in the Helmet/House of Pain cut "Just Another Victim." But it's definitely not apparent in this track, which is laid back and relaxed, without an iota of the aggression typical of the rest of the LP or the genre that came to be known as nu metal. ("Just Another Victim" is the only other track on the soundtrack I like, but it didn't hold up well enough to make the Top 100.)

Anyway here it is, Daisy Dukes* and all. (It's mortifying how much TFC looks like the Spin Doctors in this video.)

*The video I find has a fade out a little earlier than the LP track, so we don't get to here Plugs One and Two praise the girls with the Daisy Dukes on at the end, which is too bad 'cause they're having a lot of fun.

"Extraordinary Machine" by Fiona Apple, 2005

Monday, February 17, 2014

(Got the year right again. NBD at this point, I know.)

I am not a Fiona Apple fan. I don't have anything against her, you understand. It's just that nothing she's recorded has really leapt out at me, from the very beginning to the present day, with one exception: the title track from her 2005 LP Extraordinary Machine.

The first time I heard this was probably December of 2005. I was in Maine, in the backseat of a friend's car on the way to do some skiing, and I couldn't believe it was Apple when he told me it was. He tried to play the rest of the LP for us that ride, and maybe he did a little, but I know I had him play "Extraordinary Machines" over and over, as well.

This song is magical. It's like some alternate-dimension version of what pop music on Earth sounds like. The orchestration, the style of her voice, the lyrics, the rhythm of the vocal part: it's all so distinct, not only from other popular music, but from Apple's other music. The rest of LP reaches for this quality, but never quite gets there. If the top-100 list were to be trimmed to only ten, this track would almost definitely remain. It's special.

"Drown" by Son Volt, 1995

Sunday, February 16, 2014

(Got the year right again. This one's especially easy because I know this record's promotional copies went out the summer of 1995 when I was an intern at Mammoth Records' New York publicity office. Son Volt weren't a Mammoth act, but publicists and PR people send each other promo copies pretty regularly, and one of the two paid people in the office, the head of press then for Mammoth, had this LP in the regular office rotation. It got under my skin.)

This was my first exposure to "no depression," the genre, sometimes called alt country, and from here I got my hands on every Uncle Tupelo LP, Wilco, and then some. (I even started an alt country band the second I finished college. We weren't half bad.) But Jay Farrar has always been the best this bunch has to offer. His work with UT is their best work. His post-UT band Son Volt, though nowhere near as successful as Wilco, was to me far more compelling, and his solo LPs are more challenging, more interesting, and more important (sorry) than anything else in this paragraph.

"Drown" was the single off Son Volt's first LP Trace. I don't think it's the best song on that LP, and I don't know why it made this top-100 list instead of "Windfall," for example, which has a much stronger significance in my mind on a personal level. The only real memory I have of "Drown," aside from its obvious rockingness, is when my then-girlfriend and then-drummer decided that it sounds like Everclear, making me hate them both for at least one evening.

"Driveway to Driveway" by Superchunk, 1994

Saturday, February 15, 2014

(Once again I knew the year without looking it up. I'm beginning to think the odds of that happening are tilted extremely in my favor since most of the songs on the Top-100 list hold some kind of personal significance that I can trace to a specific era of my life. In this case, I was DJing at WHRW, the public radio station on campus at SUNY-Binghamton (now Binghamton University, puke).)

So. I've been looking forward to this song on the list. Not sure why. Maybe because it has a pretty sweet video to link to. Maybe because I feel like it's so atypically Superchunk: Yes, it does boast a pretty sweet lead guitar line whose time signature is a little wacky, but its aggression and angst levels are way below the Superchunk average, and it's SO SLOW.

Anyway, that lick and the chiming second guitar that strolls along with it and extra guitar that rings out at the end of the lick and the drunken vibe of the whole song and the falling rhythm guitar of the chorus and the one-chord chunking to close the chorus and the lonely bass line and ding-dong rhythm guitar at the end of the song. That wasn't a sentence. Here's the video:

"Delicious Demon" by Sugarcubes, 1988

I love this song from the Icelandic band's debut LP for three distinct reasons:

1. Bjork.
2. My brother was three years old when I was born and for at least a little while couldn't say "Baby Steven." He said, "Baby Demon," and my family, father especially, continued to call me that well into my teens.
3. The last 18 seconds, when the off-kilter drumbeat collapses into a straight back-beat as Bjork shrieks, "Delicious OH! Here he comes again! WAOHH!", is the best thing ever.

"Crazy Love, Vol. II" by Paul Simon, 1986

Thursday, February 13, 2014

First of all, very proud of myself for knowing the release year of Graceland without having to google it. Second, it is my only slightly educated opinion that said LP is Paul Simon's best work as a songwriter. His lyrics are inventive, direct, crisp, and moving. The use of visual imagery and metaphor is above and beyond most of else I've heard from him or otherwise. (See the previous entry for the one singer-songwriter that I feel competes with this LP, and probably she wins, but I digress.)

"Crazy Love, Vol. II" begins with perhaps my favorite lyric of all time: "Fat Charlie the Archangel sloped into the room." As an author it has been my career-long dream to work "sloped into the room" into a manuscript without blowing it. I hold out hope.

Beyond that, the playful lead guitar line, the song's sense of humor, the rich cast of characters, including Fat Charlie, the narrator (probably one and the same), and their soon-to-be-ex-wife, create a song that is, at its heart, deeply unfunny, yet manages to feel like the lightest--the airiest--track on this LP. (Maybe "You Can Call Me Al" is lighter. It's certainly poppier. Lighter is debatable, but I think it's unfair to call that song lighter because Chevy Chase is in the video and I know that's what you're thinking.)

Anyway, here's "Crazy Love, Vol. II":

"Cracking" by Suzanne Vega, 1985

Thursday, February 6, 2014

It's an odd little song. It's short at two and a half minutes, but feels much shorter, and Vega talks the lyrics like a poet, rather than sings them, and it's on her eponymous debut, which also has the minor hit "Marelene on the Wall" and the song that should be on my top-100 but for some reason isn't, "The Queen and the Soldier."

"Cracking" opens the LP, and it does it masterfully. Because it's mostly spoken instead of sung, and because it's so sparsely arranged, with almost no drums, and with a casual bass line and long-sustaining synth calls, "Cracking" brings the listener into the record carefully, like the lyrics say--walking on ice. And between each verse, Vega coos a lilting "ahh," until the last verse (there is no chorus), when the bass begins striking its fifths.

The listener has the impression that our narrator--the voice we'll listen to for the next 35 minutes--is afraid, tentative, and that mood pervades the whole album, with one major exception, which this song sets up: those lilting "ahh"'s, and that last verse, which Vega sings instead of speaks, bringing out the melody as if it had been there all the time if only she hadn't been so afraid. Throughout the LP, the melodies are either stark and jagged, or they are lilting and beautiful, and where one feels afraid, the other feels in love.

That's the theme of the song's lyrics, too, of course: finding the beauty after moving tentatively through the fear.

I could go on and on about this LP. It's one of the best ever recorded. The following track, taking its cue from "Cracking"'s ice themes, is called "Freeze Tag." That track snaps, "I will be Dietrich and you can be Dean," and is followed by that minor hit "Marlene [Dietrich] on the Wall."

Here's "Cracking" live: