100 Songs, or How I Wasted A Sunny Day In Seattle

2960 words written by dylan
Posted June 14, 2003 @ 08:57 PM

After the nutty VH1 Top 100 of the Last 25 Years list came out, fellow blogger Mark Hasty did a song by song analysis of the list, mocking their ludicrious choices. I suggested that we offer our own lists of 100 songs. That was Wednesday. Thursday I put together my list, unranked. I spent last night and almost all of today ranking them, including comments. I now respect VH1 and all these orgs that do these sorts of rankings. The top 10 or 15 are obvious, but you get further down and you spend precious minutes debating whether Garth Brooks should go above or below The Gap Band. Meanwhile, the Rev finished his list and posted it last night. So, finally, at almost 9pm PDT, a day late and dollar short, I'm done. Here goes....

1. "Smells Like Teen Spirit," Nirvana -- Probably the only place VH1 and I will agree on song and position. I can only think of three other "rock" songs that literally shifted the direction of popular music -- "I Want To Hold Your Hand," "Billie Jean," and "Walk This Way."

2. "Unfinished Sympathy," Massive Attack -- This is a dance song? This? It has strings, soaring vocals, and an organic emotionalism that feels warm and real compared to the cold electronica emerging from house music at the time. Moby has been plagiarizing this song his whole career.

3. "Every Breath You Take," Police -- In 200 years, people will still be singing this song, probably because elevators will still be playing it.

4. "One," U2 -- It's about gays and the Church. Reminds me of a night in church where the prayer leader said something about thanking God for protecting the church from homosexuals... and a twentysomething woman on my row got up and stormed out. I hesitated, then got up to tell her that that wasn't what the church was about... but she was gone. "Did I ask too much?/More than a lot?/You gave me nothing/Now it's all I've got"

5. "Walk This Way," Run DMC -- On one hand, it finally knocked the barrier between whites and rap (and, in the long run, between whites and black music). On the other hand, it revived Aerosmith's career. I'm in a forgiving mood, though.

6. "The One I Love," REM -- I can explain. No, I can't. Look, it's the ultimate spite and malice song. It's not REM's best by a long shot (it's not even top three on Document), but from the moment Bill Berry bangs the drums twice, you know it's REM, and you know all the words (which is surprising, being that Michael Stipe could never enunciate).

7. "Brimful of Asha (Norman Cook remix)," Cornershop -- Look, if it seems way too high up the list, I suggest you find a copy and listen to it. Fatboy Slim turned into a caricature of a DJ within days of "The Rockafella Skank" turning into the soundtrack of every commercial in America, but for these three minutes he was Phil Spector. There are hooks in this song that grab onto you like Velcro. All from a song by an obscure Indian-Brit band. Everybody needs a bosom for a pillow.

8. "Billie Jean," Michael Jackson -- What happened to him?

9. "1952 Vincent Black Lightning," Richard Thompson -- If it weren't for the references to motorcycles, this song would have been huge in 1552. "There's nothing in this world/that beats a '52 Vincent and a red-headed girl."

10. "I Love Rock 'n' Roll," Joan Jett -- After 30 years of rock and five years of punk, a woman finally steps up and kicks the boys in the rear.

11. "I Need Love," Sam Phillips -- If only for "And I need God/Not the political church." T Bone Burnett always saves his best tricks for his wife.

12. "Don't Dream It's Over," Crowded House -- The Finn brothers are brilliant songsmiths. I hated this song when it first came out, but now I don't understand why I felt that way.

13. "Bastards of Young," Replacements -- A cliched selection, but despite Chris Mars' off-rhythm drumming, the chaos is focused (at least until the last 30 seconds), and the result is anthemic.

14. "Creep," Radiohead -- The Rev and I disagree about the placement, but I think it belongs high. Someone finally beats the Cure and the Smiths at their own game. It feels out of place with the rest of Radiohead's body of work now, but I think it's because they knew that not only did they not want to replicate the sound, they couldn't.

15. "Tender," Blur -- 7.5 minutes of slow-building breakup song. Oasis could only dream of something so elegant and emotional.

16. "When You Say Nothing At All," Alison Krauss -- The best love song of the last 25 years by far. Could someone explain why Shania sells ten times as many records as Alison when nothing she's produced is one-tenth as good as this song?

17. "A New England," Billy Bragg -- And there are those who wonder why the Guthrie family would choose him to interpret Woody's unrecorded songs.

18. "Fight The Power," Public Enemy -- It's got a good beat, and it makes you ashamed to be white.

19. "Bittersweet," Big Head Todd and the Monsters -- A homer choice (being a CU grad and all), but a great live band that arrived at the jam band party a few years too early. The original recording, with syncopated drumming and a sparser production, is the one I like.

20. "When Doves Cry," Prince -- See #8.

21. "Sandusky," Uncle Tupelo -- Only instrumental on the list. You want a definition of Uncle Tupelo's sound? Here it is.

22. "Rapper's Delight," Sugarhill Gang -- Ranked high for is historical significance, not for lyrical greatness.

23. "Jeremy," Pearl Jam -- This was grunge's peak -- everything after "Jeremy" just doesn't measure up.

24. "Sit Down," James -- House music, Madchester, rock festivals... all merged into an extremely catchy chorus.

25. "Settled Down Like Rain," Jayhawks -- The Rev goes with "Blue," which is a fine song, but I'm more partial to this one.

26. "Tempted," Squeeze -- Using a litany as a hook: Great idea.

27. "If I Had A Rocket Launcher," Bruce Cockburn -- He took a lot of flak for saying "some son of a bitch would die" were he to possess said weapon. But it's righteous anger, right?

28. "Man On The Moon," REM -- From a pop song standpoint, the crowning moment on "Automatic for the People," although the two songs that follow it on the album ("Nightswimming" and "Find the River") are better from a purely musical standpoint.

29. "That's Just What You Are," Aimee Mann -- How this ended up on the Melrose Place soundtrack is beyond me.

30. "Everyday I Write The Book," Elvis Costello -- He wanted to be Bacharach long before he'd admit it publicly.

31. "With Or Without You," U2 -- I mean, I love the song, but it's starting to wear on me.

32. "Ana Ng," They Might Be Giants -- "I don't want the world/I just want your half."

33. "Private Conversation," Lyle Lovett -- The show-stopper for a musical about Lyle and Julia's short marriage.

34. "Should've Been In Love," Wilco -- A lot of heartbreak songs on this list, aren't there?

35. "Just Like Heaven," Dinosaur Jr -- in which a Cure song gets turned on its head. Robert Smith sings it in an "Oh I'm so mournful and goth that you left me" voice. J Mascis sings it the correct way, full of all the anger and vengance you should expect from a "YOU LEFT ME!" song.

36. "More Than This," Roxy Music -- This is getting covered to death of late, but that doesn't detract from the original.

37. "Fast Car," Tracy Chapman -- 1987-1992 was a very fertile and diverse musical period, but you never see anyone write about how many new styles and voices emerged and changed popular music.

38. "This Must Be The Place (Na´ve Melody)," Talking Heads -- The "No Surprises" of the 1980s.

39. "Talk of the Town," Pretenders -- Choosing a Pretenders song is difficult, especially since "Back on the Chain Gang" is the conventional and probably more important choice. But "Talk of the Town" doesn't have the baggage of "Chain Gang," and I think that helps it a bit. Having Garbage do a close to note-for-note cover ("Special") helps too.

40. "Wildwood," Paul Weller -- Weller never has made a significant impact in the States, but one could argue that he is the father of Britpop. In a parallel universe, Norah Jones is covering this song.

41. "Skyway," Replacements -- Anyone else think they lifted the guitar lick from "Afternoon Delight?"

42. "(What's So Funny About) Peace, Love and Understanding?," Elvis Costello -- Still a good question, even if rhetorical.

43. "Refugee," Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers -- All about accepting someone despite their relational baggage.

44. "Love Is Not The Only Thing," Mark Heard -- Died on stage just days before he was to sign with Bruce Cockburn's label, dooming him to obscurity even within the Christian music circles he played in. He may well have been the best lyric writer of this 25-year period.

45. "All Apologies," Nirvana -- Also known as "Kurt Cobain's Suicide Note."

46. "One," Metallica -- Heavy metal's triumphal moment ruined by a bunch of English flute-playing hacks.

47. "Deep Red Bells," Neko Case -- So lonely, so empty, and yet so warm.

48. "Here Comes Your Man," Pixies -- Seems kind of ironic that they were being pushed aside by Nirvana when they broke up.

49. "Cry," Sundays -- They've done a lot of great songs, but this one edges them out. Death done in a non-trite way.

50. "Pancho and Lefty," Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard -- Townes Van Zandt represents! Waaaay overproduced, but Willie doesn't let that stop him.

51. "Everlong," Foo Fighters -- The riff, the kinetic drumming, Nirvana's dissonance as if translated by Hal David.

52. "Someday Someway," Marshall Crenshaw -- Another vastly underheard songwriter.

53. "Lawyers Guns and Money," Warren Zevon -- So many Zevon songs, but this one is him at his wryest.

54. "We Float," PJ Harvey -- One of three songs that was in continuous rotation on my MP3 player in the days after 9/11. The other two? "Revelator" by Gillian Welch and "Last Good Day of the Year" by Cousteau.

55. "She's Already Made Up Her Mind," Lyle Lovett -- The country music establishment turned its back on Lyle (c.f. the derision at him winning the Best Country Album in 1996), but when he wanted to be country, he could put even George Strait to shame.

56. "Gun," Uncle Tupelo -- Too many choices, so I went with the single.

57. "I Think I Need A New Heart," Magnetic Fields -- Another one of those decisions: this or "I Don't Want To Get Over You?" Blown expectations in a relationship, combined with low self-esteem and a Cuban beat, equals quirky and sweet.

58. "No Surprises," Radiohead -- The "This Must Be The Place" of the 1990s.

59. "Outtamind (Outtasite)", Wilco -- A great, great 70mph sort of driving song.

60. "Caroline," Concrete Blonde -- A song for a jilted girlfriend sung by the previous dumpee.

61. "Interstate Love Song," Stone Temple Pilots -- Another great driving song a la #59.

62. "Sleep the Clock Around," Belle and Sebastian -- Their tribute to Stereolab.

63. "Age of Consent," New Order -- A dance song twenty years ahead of everything else. Compare this to its contemporaries "Don't You Want Me" and "Tainted Love." Both those feel immensely dated, but "Age" could have been recorded this morning.

64. "32 Flavors," Ani DiFranco -- The most outspoken of the 90s crop of singer-songwriters takes on herself -- and effectively punts.

65. "Sitting Still," REM -- This is the third REM song on the list and the toughest to pick.

66. "Ms Jackson," Outkast -- Mr Hasty hasn't heard this, but I have, and it's brilliant. It's amazing how the "absent black father" has become so engrained into African American (and general American) culture in just 30 years. Moment a man says he'll support the child, suspicions arise. "I'm sorry Ms. Jackson/I am for real"

67. "1979," Smashing Pumpkins -- After a while, doing these comments gets repetitive. Good song. Great song. Underrated. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. It's hard to come up with something creative at every turn. "1979" is a good song, but there's not much more I can say about it. It's ambiguous, D'Arcy probably has her best rhythm line as a bassist, but otherwise, it's just a good song. In fact, all 100 of these songs are good. Rinse. Repeat.

68. "Train In Vain," Clash -- This is a good song. OK, I'll try harder. You know what makes this song work? That harmonica. Holds the whole song together.

69. "Time Capsule," Matthew Sweet -- Another of those "why hasn't someone covered this" songs, especially considering how cogent the lyrics are.

70. "Fell In Love With A Girl," White Stripes -- Remember how different this sounded when it first came out? The garage band thing came and went quicker than rockabilly in 1982.

71. "Misguided Angel," Cowboy Junkies -- This, or Hem's "Beautiful Sea?" In the end, I go with the dark and organic arrangement of the Junkies. Margo Timmins sings like a weary lover or sister.

72. "Angel of Harlem," U2 -- Their third appearance. Horn sections have been used ("No Reply at All") and abused (pretty much every Phil Collins solo record), but here they're used appropriately, rhythm section and carrier of the melody on the bridge.

73. "Where Do I Begin," Chemical Brothers -- I wanted to make sure Beth Orton made the list, even if she only sang the same four verses over and over and over again.

74. "That's Entertainment," The Jam -- So many Jam songs to choose from, but I'll go with this one, the definitive statement on the nature of British domestic life.

75. "Mmmbop," Hanson -- Even the mention of the song title reawakens that horrid earworm, doesn't it?

76. "Atomic Dog," George Clinton -- Ditto.

77. "Ashes To Ashes," David Bowie -- Major Tom (slight return).

78. "Cheap Sunglasses," ZZ Top -- Their glory days were already behind them (and their days of eighteen times a day on MTV ahead), but, well, this is a good song.

79. "You Will Be Waiting," Barenaked Ladies -- A tender ballad sung by one country to its separatist province.

80. "Dance The Night Away," Mavericks -- By 1998, country couldn't figure out what to do with Raul Malo. Makes you wonder if the "she" in the song is an ex-girlfriend or their A&R woman.

81. "Haven't Got A Clue," Dramarama -- Woulda coulda shoulda been big, but they sounded like T.Rex when America was more inclined to grunge.

82. "I Don't Believe You Want to Get Up and Dance (Oops, Up Side Your Head)," Gap Band -- By far the longest title on the list.

83. "Heroin Girl," Everclear -- They've only made two songs in their entire career, this one, and the one song they've rerecorded and retitled, oh, 60 times or since "Heroin Girl" came out.

84. "You Don't Treat Me No Good," Sonia Dada -- Proof that too many musicians doesn't always spoil the pot. Hummable.

85. "September," Earth Wind and Fire -- I had this stuck in my head for two weeks, and I hadn't heard it in ten years.

86. "Never Talking To You Again," Husker Du -- Yet another group I struggled to pick one song for.

87. "(Keep Feeling) Fascination," Human League -- A strange selection, admittedly, but this is one of those rare times where two vocalists complement each other well enough to make you forget that they're singing in different keys.

88. "Ain't Nuttin But A G Thang," Dr Dre -- If Issac Hayes or Marvin Gaye rapped, this is the kind of song they'd create. Laid back, hip, smooth.

89. "The Lonely 1," Wilco -- "Every Breath You Take," fan club edition.

90. "Close To Me," Cure -- Robert Smith proves he's capable of not sounding like he's about to kill himself.

91. "Guitars, Cadillacs," Dwight Yoakam -- What many people forget is that he was the one who dragged country kicking and screaming out of the "Urban Cowboy" era.

92. "Singing In My Sleep," Semisonic -- It's about mix tapes. Gotta like that.

93. "Coming Up Close," Til Tuesday -- The first sign that Aimee Mann wasn't just a one-hit wonder with a rattail.

94. "Friends In Low Places," Garth Brooks -- See #20.

95. "Empty Baseball Park," Whiskeytown -- Ryan Adams is not a genius or the reincarnation of Gram Parsons, but here he restrains his wannabe rock star self long enough to produce a beauty -- and without Caitlin Cary to bail him out.

96. "Wind of Change," Scorpions -- The last gasp of 80s metal, the last gasp of Communist Europe; enough to make you overlook the horridness of the production.

97. "F**k Da Police," NWA -- Gangsta rap at its harshest moment.

98. "King Of All The World," Old 97's -- Forever doomed to be bumper music for talk shows.

99. "I Want It That Way," Backstreet Boys -- Damn you, Diane Warren. Damn you all to heck.

100. "One Night In Bangkok," Murray Head -- Everyone has their guilty pleasures. Plus, it was written by Benny from Abba.

And there it is. I hope I never have to do that again.


  1. errrr -- you REALLY have oo much time on your hands. When does that camera of yours get back here?

    Posted by: Kat | June 15, 2003 07:17 AM

  2. Mmmm... Allison Krauss at the 17 spot. If there was a list of the Top 100 Country Music of the past 25 years, she would definitely be representing.

    There's not that many major quibbles here. There's a definite alt-country influence.

    If you must have something from the Chess soundtrack, "I Know Him So Well" is a better pick. However, the Head song is very good indeed.

    Posted by: Kennedy | June 16, 2003 09:11 AM