J's Indie/Rock Mayhem

Playlists, podcasts and music from WQFS Greensboro's J's Indie/Rock Mayhem

Thursday, October 16, 2003

Top 20 Songs Of All Time (right now)

1. “Left of the Dial” - The Replacements : Being a college radio dj, this song ought to have meaning anyway. But seeing as how I’m also of the opinion that The Replacements equal the best American rock and roll band of the past 20 year, this song from their peak of creativity is no less important. An ode to college radio, a heartbreaking lead line, and that classic way to open a song: the immediately recognizable guitar riff by itself. I return to it again and again, windows down, wind tumbling in the car, volume up.

2. “Boots of Spanish Leather” - Bob Dylan : I love Dylan unabashedly, but when he’s by himself with a guitar in his early days it is a miracle to behold. He never wrote a finer love song than this. It is the sound of a heart begging and ultimately letting go. “Oh, but if I had the stars from the darkest night / and the diamonds from the deepest ocean / I’d forsake them all for your sweet kiss / For that’s all I’m wishin’ to be ownin’.”

3. “Marquee Moon” - Television : I was reminded of the genius of Television thanks to the recent re-issue of their first two albums. Like no other band during their time and definitely like no band since, Television was punk by being everything punk isn’t now: jazz influenced, beat influenced. Tom Verlaine said he listened to fucking Fairport Convention for cryin’ out loud. How punk is that? Punk enough to cement what is unquestionably one of the pinnacle albums of rock and roll.

4. “September Gurls” - Big Star : Someday when the dust settles, perhaps, Big Star will be remembered to be as influential and as important as the Beach Boys and the Beatles as far as American pop music goes. They are a band, like those two aforementioned groups and the Velvet Underground, whose influence no longer seems as fresh simply because it was long, long ago absorbed into the collective conscious of America. There are very few songs that match the outright beauty of this one.

5. “Highway Patrolman” / “American Skin (41 Shots)” - Bruce Springsteen : So sue me. I knew I needed a song by the boss but couldn’t choose just one. “Highway Patrolman” is a brilliant story telling song, rife with lyrics that stop the heart. “American Skin” is equally heart rendering, but only because of the truth it speaks. “It ain’t no secret / you get killed just for living in / your American skin.”

6. “Under the Milky Way” - the Church : Is it clichéd to truly love a single so much? This was the Church’s only American Top 40 hit. But The Church, at this point, were making album after album of untouchable pop magistry. They were like a beautiful dream set to record, song after song. And this song especially captured what they were capable of doing.

7. “Map Ref. 41 Degrees North 93 Degrees West”- Wire : Wire was so brilliant it hurts sometimes to listen to any of their first three albums. All three are testaments to rejuvenation and renaissance in a dying genre of music. This song in particular is one of their shining pop gems. A song so simultaneously catchy and forward thinking that you can’t help but get giddy every time you listen.

8. “Political Science” - Randy Newman : Pop music’s Jonathan Swift, Randy Newman’s acid tipped pen is nearly forgotten now amidst his numerous movie score songs that seem all the same. But for every theme song to a Disney film, there’s a smart, sharp song like “Political Science,” written nearly 40 years ago, that is still just as relevant now as it was then. For that, he can do what he wants. He’s earned it.

9. “Love is Stronger than Death” - The The.: An acheingly beautiful song that I first heard covered by Toad the Wet Sprocket’s Glen Phillips. I went out and purchased one of the excellent (and relatively cheap) re-issues of the entire The The catalogue and found myself absolutely head over heels. This is undoubtedly Matt Johnson’s love song to life with its haunting pre-chorus line of “everything that dies / shall rise!” Indeed.

10. “Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos” - Public Enemy : I have a deep and unwavering devotion and admiration for Chuck D and the rest of Public Enemy. When I met him last year it was hard to act cool and refrain from telling him what an inspiration he’s been to me on so many levels. “Black Steel..” is a shambling, riot of a song. Its story about the cultural-irony of black men being drafted for the United States army is as vitriolic as it is dead on. If Randy Newman is our Jonathan Swift, Chuck D is our Upton Sinclair.

11. “Windmills” - Toad the Wet Sprocket : The album this song comes from was the first album I ever bought that has had a lasting effect on my life. This song in particular, the title holding up the album’s quasi-allusioning-theme of Don Quixote, is the most beautiful that Toad crafted as a group. Soft, affectionate and longing for the opportunity for redemption, it lingers afterward until it can almost overwhelm.

12. “She” - Gram Parsons : It mainly comes down to when Gram sweetly sings a descending line of ‘Hallelujah’ over a similarly falling pedal steel line that makes this song what it is. ‘Ohh, and she sure could sing.’

13. “Ramblin’ Man” - Hank Williams : There are few songs by Hank that make me feel as lost as this one. His voice was transcendent and the words were mesmerizing. ‘Hillbilly Shakespeare,’ maybe. One of, if not the, best American songwriters of all time? Without a doubt.

14. “Venus in Furs” - The Velvet Underground : Easily one of the moments that stands out from an album absolutely overflowing with them. The ear piercing guitar which cycles through the strumming like a deranged sitar builds this intensity that is indescribable. By the time it’s over, you’re wasted.

15. “There She Goes” - the La’s : One of those picture-perfect pop songs. The melody, the lyrics, the feel of it as a whole. The La’s created one absolutely timeless and flawless record. Then they disappeared. But sometimes, that’s all you need. Any more would only serve to disappoint.

16. “Fairytale of New York” - the Pogues : My favorite Christmas song. The Pogues were like a very loud explosion that went away as quickly as it came, but for at least two albums, they seemed like the unstoppable offspring of every style of music Britain was ever capable of melting together. A very, very close second is “If I Should Fall From Grace With God” from the same album. Both are lasting tributes to their brief but incendiary genius.

17. “Writing to Reach You” - Travis : Travis has made exactly one truly brilliant album: The Man Who. This is the first track from it. It’s the shimmering echo of guitar laid over Fran Healy’s high-inflection and simple song structure that kept this song, not this cd, on repeat in my cd player for many days after I first bought it.

18. “Sparky’s Dream” - Teenage Fanclub : Another vibrant, alive pop song. Teenage Fanclub seems to record album after album of songs that are written like they were the last pop song on earth. This was the first song I ever heard by them and it remains one of my very favorites.

19. “Nebraska” - the Cash Brothers : This one goes hand in hand with Springsteen’s “Highway Patrolman.” An ode to the album from which it came. It sets the portrait of a man, recently let go by the one he loves, sitting at a stoplight. He waits for the metaphoric (and literal) green light. In the meanwhile he sits and listens to Springsteen’s Nebraska. And somehow, it’s alright.

20. “Nautical Disaster (live)” - the Tragically Hip : I note the live version from their Live Between Us album simply because it is superior to the recorded one. It reels and rises far above the earth, bringing in snippets of lyrics and allusions from other sources that add to the overall affect. When the song crashes down, waves on the hull of this disappearing vessel, we are left both on the deck and above the fray. We are witnesses to something greater than the sum of the parts.

And may I throw in my honorable mentions? Superchunk, Pulp, the Stone Roses, Sheryl Crow, the Clash, the Pixies, Depeche Mode, the Housemartins, Afghan Whigs, Del Amitri, John Prine, the Dream Syndicate, Elastica, the Rolling Stones, the Wallflowers, Lucinda Williams, Lyle Lovett, the Mekons, Radiohead, Merle Haggard, Lefty Frizzell, R.E.M., the B 52s, Outkast, the Flying Burrito Brothers and the Handsome Family.

thanks for reading.


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