Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Top 10 Project

My colleague and dear friend D. is teaching  High Fidelity this semester to the highest class in the ESL department at work.  I am teaching the lowest class and that is a leap and a bound linguistically.  D. asked me to compose a list of my top 10 songs of all time.  Easy, I thought, then came home a few weeks ago and compiled a list of 22 songs.  Making the top 10 was a lot harder than I thought it would be.  Music in its own right is a bitch to simply just categorize as it is, but then having to take 34 years of listening and loving many a song and dwindle it down to ten is even harder.  But, I did it.  And, I'm sure that a year from now, even five years from now, I'll still love these songs.  They may hold less weight than they do now, but they will still resonate with me.  After I list mine, I'll list D.'s and Favorite Librarian's too.  It would be great if you, my faithful reading community, could list yours as well and I think we would have a pretty great collection of music to revisit or further check out.  Mine are listed in alphabetical order.  D's are listed by year of release and I'm not sure exactly how FL listed hers.

Here it goes:

1.  Atlantic City- Bruce Springsteen
Nebraska is a heartbreaking record.  I re-visited it in the fall of last year for the first time in a long time and was going through some serious shit at that point.  Yet, this song doesn't have meaning at all from that exact moment of last year.  I think this song was introduced to me by one of my best friend's, C., who had something in common with me.  We both had dead dads from a young age and the line, "Everything dies, baby, that's a fact.  But, maybe everything that dies some day comes back," had such resonance with me.  It literally brought my dead pops back to me at the age of 19.

2.  Straight to Hell- The Clash
I don't really know how to explain this one.  The first time I heard this song it simply electrified me.  I've been living in NYC for 11 years now and the parts about The Lower East Side affect me in such a way because I still can remember when it was fucked up, when you really didn't want to go to Avenue D due to fear of getting fucked up and mugged.  Yet, you would to score some stuff and be glad to get out of there.  Then, after living in Japan for a year, the Asian aspect of it even meant more to me, though I am sure the song was talking about an entirely different region and aspect of Asia.  But, man those raw drums, the synth and the opening of the song.......

3.  Ziggy Stardust - David Bowie
This song is just one that sounds so different from others.  It used to be my ringtone on my old phone and will be as soon as I can figure out how to do that on my new G1.  Just love it.  Moreso, it is a fable of failure and self-consumption, which I feel like all of us fall into at times.  People see that.  It is about being good at something, but loving that you are good at something too much and knowing it.  You can never be that "good" at anything.

4.  Cortez the Killer- Neil Young & Crazy Horse
I saw Neil Young last December at MSG and nearly shit myself.  The last time I saw him was in high school.  He played an acoustic set.  So, in a way I still haven't really seen Neil Young yet because I haven't seen him with Crazy Horse.  Yet, he played this song and it was one that I forgot how much I loved.  Sitting next to me was a couple, a gorgeous one at that.  The boy was 18 or 19, studying music at Juliard and his lady friend was so into his explanations of Neil Young songs.  I drifted all the way back to high school, remembered the Honda Prelude, the make out sessions in that car.  I remembered straight up youth.  That is why I loved this song.  It carries so  many good memories.  Moreso, it is such a kickass long song.  The guitar work in it is nuts as well as the consistent/sloppy (but meant to be) drumming by Ralph Molina still put me into a dreamy trance.

5. Summer Babe- Pavement
1992 was a summer I will never fully forget.  It was a summer I actually spent most of in Pittsburgh, PA.  For years before that fateful summer, I spent my summers in Worton, MD at Echo Hill, my childhood haunt and summer camp.  I felt like my personality developed the most there.  It made me.  So, in 1992, I was not asked back as a counselor.  That was the summer before my senior year.  Then I discovered Pavement.  Holy Shit!  Slanted and Enchanted opened with this song and it was perfect.  It is a sarcastic song about what exactly I don't know, but it mentions lyrics from a Vanilla Ice song, it is about drinking, it is about loving someone who doesn't love you back.  It is bitter.  It was summer of 92'.

6.  Wish You Were Here - Pink Floyd
This is another one of those ones I don't really know how to explain how or why it means so much to me.  When I was young, it took me a long time to get into this band with the exception of The Wall.  Then it hit you, or maybe the drugs hit me.  Nonetheless, this album is a pretty good one for late Floyd.  These days, I really like their early stuff with Barrett, but man, this one song is definitely in its place.  FL has it on her list as well and she had said that she wouldn't mind this song playing at her funeral.  I couldn't agree with her more.

7.  Purple Rain- Prince
I will never forget hearing Prince's Let's Pretend We're Married from the 1999  album.  My sister and I were latchkey kids and we had that double album on vinyl.  Prince's brown eyes were where the spindle went through.  The previously mentioned song was the first song I had ever heard the word "fuck" in.  We used to huddle around the huge stereo in our dining room and listen to it over and over again, giggling every time he dropped an f-bomb.  I sincerely want to fuck the taste right out of your mouth, do you relate?  I mean come on!  I was 8 years old and loved it.  that was 1982.  Them in 84, the motherfucker comes out with Purple Rain, makes a semi-autobiographical film and does it with Apolonia.  What is a 10 year old to do?  This song was one of the only one's my pop's liked off of the soundtrack/album and he took me to see the movie to boot, all the while hating everything the man stood for and the dirtiness he represented. 

8.  Sympathy for the Devil- The Rolling Stones
Just one of the best sounding songs ever recorded.  I had this dream: 140 bodies moving at once under a strobe light. Dancing, moving under a strobe light.  Others are making out in corners of a screened structure.  The bodies gyrate madly, almost in unison, dripping sweat on a hot, sticky August evening.  They are all in love with each other in some way.  Some are young. some are older.  None are truly old.  The djs are wild.  There is some screaming.  People bump into one another in a crazy frenzy of wildness.  Lightning is in the distance.  Beers are beckoning.  Maybe some bourbon, too.  Wait, that wasn't a dream at all.

9.  Tom Sawyer- Rush
This song makes me feel so young.  This was my sister's favorite song back in the day.  We were working class Pittsburgh and for some reason this song sums up the Burgh in so many ways for me.  It is an old tale made modern.  Geddy Lee is just nuts and I recall my big sis lovin' this song and a boy named Bobby Koch to tears.  It was 1981 and I hadn't really heard anything like it.  Still haven't.  My sister used to rock to this, really and we had this on Vinyl.  Later in life, when my sis was really mean to me, I went into her room and broke a few of her records.  It was a brutal sibling fight and this was one I broke, along with a Pat Benatar record.  I still shudder when I think of those actions.

10.  Pale Blue Eyes- The Velvet Underground
Oh man.  This song has lots of weight.  Perhaps it is that the first two girls I truly fell in love with had blue eyes, yet not pale.  I first heard this song in Brooklyn back in high school on a visit to see a girlfriend from a distant place.  Some drugs were taken and it was so obvious that we were from different places, different worlds and we broke up.  I cried most of that night while I was all fucked up.  This song is gorgeous but it is also a bitch slap to most things you feel like you are sure of.  Even the tambourine is haunting.  One of the most beautiful songs every recorded, ever.

So that is KumoD's top 10.  Here are D's and FL's.

These Arms of Mine- Otis Redding (1962)
Blackbird- The Beatles (1968)
Hickory Wind- Graham Parsons (1969)
Life on Mars- David Bowie (1971)
Mother of Pearl- Roxy Music (1973)
Sylvia Said- John Cale (1974)
Just Like Honey- The Jesus and Mary Chain (1984)
From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea- The Cure (1992)
Teeth Like God's Shoe Shine- Modest Mouse (1997)
Two-Headed Boy Part 2- Neutral Milk Hotel (1998)

Respect- Aretha Franklin 
Please, Please, Please- James Brown
Happiness is a Warm Gun- The Beatles
One More Cup of Coffee- Bob Dylan
Wish You Were Here- Pink Floyd
Sympathy for the Devil- The Rolling Stones
There is a Light- The Smiths
Burning Down the House- The Talking Heads
My Wondering Days Are Over- Belle & Sebastian
Crossbones Style- Cat Power

And yours...........................


Doug.Dickens said...

Favorite Librarian's list is great. I'm so jealous that she managed to get the smiths on there. Man! And Belle and Sebastian. (When I lived in Flagstaff, I used to play open mic and this bar and that was one of my favorites to play. Hippies like it, but they don't know why. I guess they think it's some dead song they never heard. Top three Belle and Sebastian songs, GO!: Ummm...Lazy Line Painter Jane, le pastie de la bourgeoisie, and I Know Where the Summer Goes.) Shit! I'm forgetting something.

Boo to the business world. You know a girl who's tax-free on her back and making plenty cash.

And you love like no body around you.
How you love and the halo surrounds you.

No one likes a smart arse
But I've seen a pattern emerge
I will race you up the hill
Where the boy who made records out of postcard messages
And flowering cherries rain on kids like you!

I battled with Happiness is a Warm Gun (I finally decided against it because I think I might like the Breedes' rendition more. Ooooh. Blasphemy! I know. Do I even LIKE music?)

I agree with both of you on your choice of sympathy. But as Jon discussed regarding his song, it didn't have the right memory association.

What a great Dylan song. I think I kept him out of my top ten because he's just so damned overwhelming. But if I had to put him in, it would have been Positively 4th Street. But I do love that Arabesque sound of One More... At least I think it Arabesque.

Jon's list --

Jon, you are the only person I will not scream at for putting Rush on your top ten. I've learned from years of debates (mostly drunken) that if you feel strongly about something, there's not point in arguing. But shit, man. Shit.

The Clash! Wow. I'm really jealous of this too. I wanted to put them up on my Top Ten, but I just couldn't find the right song. What a choice. I hadn't listened to them for ages (the ubiquitous should i stay and rock the casbah being the only exceptions. aspirin please.) but when I played your list on the subway, Straight to Hell made a link to the specific moment, so I know I'll see the jaundiced tint of the F train every time I hear that song.

Nebraska. Great great record. Would have chosen Nebraska. Okay everybody. Raise your hand if you have 20 million great memories associated with Born in the USA. That's what I thought. And yet, is anybody going to put anything from it on their top ten. That's what I thought. So snobby, we.

Wish you were here. Yes.
Pale Blue Eyes. I've got the same Dylan problem. Too much. Besides, And Venus in Furs? I mean really, 1967. Holy goodness. Nothing like it.

Sympathy. This song will play at the end of the world. I have no doubt.

Okay. So now I've written a whole lot of shit on Jon's blog. I think I'm going to go through my list in a second comment. But you don't have to read it. Jon, you do.

Doug.Dickens said...

This is my second comment, but like I said, don't read it if you're all like, "this isn't your blog, doug." or "why don't you add this to that lame-ass blog you've got." or "Man you have superlatively delicious thighs."

Well I know. But I'm writing and flexing anyway. So bug off.

These Arms of Mine- Otis Redding (1962)

I blasted this from my pick up in college. It was my way of playing ironic, but also getting attention. Most people blasted Creed. So I blasted Otis. This was 1995.

Blackbird- The Beatles (1968)
This song is so simple. I could do without the chirruping at the end, but whatever. This is a song of hope and love. Paul and Neil are just two of those people who seem to be able to pull songs out of the air. I mean, like the song always existed and Paul just caught it and played it for us.

Hickory Wind- Graham Parsons (1969)
One of the most beautiful songs I've ever heard. I have all of these memories where trees are a significant part of the back drop. I don't want to explain why fully here, but in short, I've lived in a lot of different places and there is an ominous silence that trees have. And it's different around the world and usa. But the line, "It makes me feel better..." Every time I hear those four words, I want to jump out of my skin and run around small towns in my newfound, adermal nudity, slapping people on the back and proclaiming, "There is a heaven and you're going to be there."

Life on Mars- David Bowie (1971)
It's the composition that put this song in the top ten. Come on. Can you beat it?

Mother of Pearl- Roxy Music (1973)
Bad Ass. I'm still trying to figure it out. The intro guitar rock used to bug the shit out of me, but I don't think I could do without it now. It just creates a strong juxtaposition for the main part of the song. The song is long and droning in a way. But if you listen to it enough you'll hear lots of cool tidbits. Like the one-time double hand clap. And the cabasa after "my favorita" is really cool. I think the song is about loving something with all of your might that others only see as "semi-precious." Oh Mother of Pearl, I wouldn't trade you for the whole world!" This battles for first place.

Sylvia Said- John Cale (1974)
This song makes me look like a VU aficionado, but Jon is much more of one. I think it is a B-side to "The Man Who Couldn't Afford to Orgy." (So much false humility.) It's definitely that B-side. A John Cale song, not VU. At first the music seems corny and unimpressive but I'd like to point out a couple of genius moments: 1) All of the words of the last verse; 2) There is a guitar solo that disintegrates into a piano solo; and 3) the way John Cale sings, "I'll cope with you...oooo."

I heard this song from an old friend of mine, with whom I have parted ways. He was a really good music...librarian. I remember listening to this in his apartment (a tidy, dim, little hobbit hole in Dallas, TX) and getting news that a friend of mine died. The song filled me with sorrow and hope at the same time. I think Pale Blue Eyes might do that too. It doesn't surprise me that Cale had his print on both. Most people hear this song and say, "Well, I don't really feel it." To them I have this advice: get a bottle of wine, some cigarettes, hole yourself up in a room of your own and listen to it again and again. Not necessarily back to back. In fact, it's best spread amongst other songs. But try it out. You'll never be able to stop thinking about it. It's not a song that makes a lightening bolt impression. It's more like a Grand Canyon process. After time, you won't be able to deny it's indelible force, despite its apparent absence.

Just Like Honey- The Jesus and Mary Chain (1984)
You have to love them.

From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea- The Cure (1992)
The guitar.

Teeth Like God's Shoe Shine- Modest Mouse (1997)
This song is so powerful and so well-composed. I don't like later MOdest Mouse stuff. But this song is an ass kicker. In fact this whole album is an ass kicker. Shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit! I'm on the corner of this and this and this and this.

Two-Headed Boy Part 2- Neutral Milk Hotel (1998)
Magnum is a genius. Or at least he was able to tap the inner genius to write this album. God is a place you will wait for the rest of your life. The imagery is incredible and the first bar of the verses are simple and perfect. I wish I had written this song.

I have to pee.

Charles Simone said...

Damn It, John! I'm in the middle of another project, which has sidetracked me from a different project altogether. Why did you have to go and appeal to my tangential nature?!?

Leigh said...

I don't really think I am up for explaining my entire top ten right now but I will start with the first song. Respect is the song that as a tweenster my friends and I would always play and sing to eachother loudly and obnoxiously on the jutebox at Johnny Rockets (a Fake 50's diner) in suburban MD-DC. So in that sense it is intrinsically tied in my mind to being free of all parental control...However, that being said, it is also perhaps the most feminist song of all time being sung by the biggest diva of all time... I also picked this for my top ten before I even knew she was singing at the Innaguration, how awesome was that hat?

Lee said...

1. "Magical Mystery Tour" - The Beatles
My favorite song (and record) as a kid. I left the gatefold album out in the rain once while the vinyl played safely inside.

2. "Black Dog" - Led Zeppelin
If you're not into this song, then you never really bang your head.
If you never really bang your head, then you're not into this song.
You're into "Black Dog" if and only if you really bang your head.

3. "Swastika Girls" - Fripp & Eno
This was my first punk rock moment. Funny, since this song might be the polar opposite of punk rock (if such a thing is possible).

4. "Night Moves" - Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band
Me and a few of my friends were tripping one night and decided we should each pick the greatest song ever recorded, and then somehow secretly play each one on the stereo. The "secret" part was nearly impossible, but this was my choice that night.

5. "Sucker M.C.'s" - Run-D.M.C.
First time I heard this a bunch of dorky kids were playing it on their front stoop. I couldn't believe what I was hearing (or seeing)...

6. "Damage, Inc." - Metallica
If you're not into this song, then you never really bang... oops, already used that one. I used to spit on indie rockers that hated Metallica. Now I buy coffee from them.

7. "Glider" - My Bloody Valentine
Had a real mind-melter listening to this on the L.I.E. bombed on cough syrup. Then had to see them live to confirm that the song was even real. It was, and it is.

8. "Everything Flows" - Teenage Fanclub
After the grunge and indie rock was left to rot in the landfills, this song is still alive and kicking.

9. "Criminology" - Raekwon & Ghostface
I felt like I waited my whole life to hear this song. It's never been topped since.

10. "Exactly Where I'm At" - Ween
After falling onto the train tracks at 59th St, I crawled out and home to listen to this. I still haven't decided if the song saved my life or ruined it.

Honorable mentions: "Thrasher" - Neil Young, "Bobby James" - N.E.R.D., "I Heard Her Call My Name" - Velvet Underground

slimgilla said...

1. Eno: Becalmed, Another Green World
The beginning of my love affair with the instrumental and Eno.
2. The Flaming Lips: There You Are, In a Priest Driven Ambulance
Not necessarily my favorite Lips song but one of my first experiences with the band. I’m no purest with any band except this one.
3. Royal Trux: Bits and Spurs, (First)
This song was probably my first introduction to ‘lo-fi’. It is certainly not their best but it holds the highest spot in my heart of all of their songs.
4. Sleater-Kinney: Her Again, Self-titled
A big Heavens to Betsy fan and disappointed by their break-up, I was ready to dismiss Sleater-Kinney; but this album and the ones that followed at least equaled and many times surpassed my love for H2B (not to mention Excuse 17).
5. The Fall: Container Drivers, Grotesque
The first song I heard by The Fall. Their albums have the benefit of always sounding like the same great band with the same great energy but manage to step it up to a higher cause with each record.
6. ELO: Telephone Line, A New World Record
The basis of love for big sounding pop music for me.
7. Kinks: Shangri La, Arthur
Another beginning to a long bout of happiness in pop music.
8. Roxy Music: Just another High, Siren
So many reasons: probably my favorite singer, one of the bands I played in covered this song, and it was the song my husband and I danced to at our wedding.
9. Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti: Grey Sunset, The Doldrums
It has it all including the ability to hold my tongue when it comes to younger artists; and it is the epitome of lo-fi, hi-pop-sensibility songs.
10. X-Ray Specs: Germ Free Adolescents, Germ Free Adolescents
This song is an aberration from the rest of an endlessly fun record but still my favorite. It was so different for me at the time and made me wonder what their world was like.
11. Eric B & Rakim: Paid in Full, Paid in Full
One of my faves, I can still recite all of the lyrics.

KumoD said...

Just got a new set of ten from Tom Williams in Atlanta.

I don't know how to post this to your blog thingy. So here we go. I hope this list changes within the next year. I mean the reflective nature of this exercise makes me feel like this is sort of an "end of life" exercise. Anyway, in no particular order:

1. "I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight", Richard and Linda Thompson
2. "London Calling", The Clash
3. "Pedro Navaja", Ruben Blades
4. "Return of the Grievous Angel", Gram Parsons
5. "Red Headed Stranger", Willie Nelson
6. "Playa Giron", Silvio Rodriguez
7. "Kathleen", Townes Van Zandt
8. "Ambulance Blues", Neil Young
9. "Radio, Radio", Elvis Costello
10. "Green Onions", Booker T. and the MGs

There's a lot of honorable mentions. Something by Hector Lavoe, Vic Chesnutt, Norman Blake, The Who, The Replacements, Johnny Cash, Elvis (the other one), Lucinda Williams, Dolly Parton, Joe Ely, Nick Lowe, The Bothy Band, Hank Williams, Billy Bragg.

Hopefully next year's list will be all new songs.

KumoD said...

So, this is from Erin Buckley in Pittsburgh, PA

OK, so I don't know how to post to a blog either, but I loved reading everyone lists and was reminded of many I miss, and saw some new ones to check out. I'm not sure I have my order perfect here, and these were hard to choose!

Here's mine:

10. Bruce Springsteen: "I'm Going Down"
Bruce Springsteen was my first concert. I was nine and my parents took me to see him at 3 Rivers Stadium and I has a t-shirt with a picture of his butt on the front. He, along with Davey Jones and Gillligan, was one of my first loves. This fire was rekindled almost 2 years ago, when I met my now fiance, Ben. He's from central Jersey. (Enough said. ) So I was brought back to this song-it's such an awesome tune with good contrast of upbeat music mixed with the whole theme of losing/disconnecting from a lover.

9. Billy Bragg-"Tank Park Salute"
My Dad died last summer, my brother played his guitar and sang this song at the funeral. It's just a beautiful song, and for anyone who has lost a parent, it's a good one to get lost in for a bit.

8. Wolf Parade "I'll believe in Anything" My brother recently introduced me to Wolf Parade. It's kind of noisy and quirky, like me.

7. Prince " I could Never Take The Place of your Man" Prince is awesome, period. I love lots of his stuff, but this one I can't get enough of. It's not the lyrics, I think it's the beat. Very Dancy, very 80's. Honorable mention to "Raspberry Beret" and "Kiss".

6.Social Distortion "Story of My Life" Overplayed, sometimes. Awesome? Always.

5. The Go! Team "Everyone is a VIP to Somebody" All instrumental-Go! Team is really fun music-this one is sweet and I like the harmonica in it. It's one of those songs that I can play and no matter what, it never annoys me. Perhaps it's the lack of voices.

4. The Smiths' "Please please let me get what I want" tied with "Half a Person" and "There is a Light"
I have so much of my youth tied up in the Smiths, it's hard to pick.

3. The Beatles-Again, I may cheat here. I can wear out almost the entire Rubber Soul album over and over , so I will give in honorable mention. Song? "We can work it out." The soul remake version is pretty awesome also.

2. Fleetwood Mac "Songbird" Another one from being super little-Christine McVie sings it beautifully. it's just a great love song.

1. The Pogues."Fairy Tale of New York" Honorable mention to "Rainy Night in Soho,""Sally MacLennane," and "Old Main Drag."
I think I actually like the other songs better, but fairy tale is a true classic.

Webstar said...

I am all about #3, 7 & 9 and I don't give a flying ... what anyone says about rush! My mind is not for rent.

KumoD said...

Webstar, send me an e-mail so I can figure out your identity.

Thanks, KumoD