My 1000 favourite songs: #900-876

#900 — Tell Her About It, Billy Joel (1983)

Things that are good: Billy Joel, early 60s Motown, Billy Joel aping early 60s Motown. It’s not exactly a great pastiche, but add up enough things I like jammed together, even in a C+ fashion, will still make my brain happy.

#899 — West Covina, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (2015)

The entire existence of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is a delight, and it’s incredibly impressive how many songs they’ve pushed out in a two-year span that combine jokes and plots and character, in a wide variety of styles, although most of the songs are too intentionally derivative of a specific genre/trope to be really enjoyable outside of the context of the show.

But because I’m a sucker for introductory songs in a musical, I like this one quite a bit, especially how it combines setting up the big themes of the show (the de facto bridge where Rebecca is denying her love for Josh is outstanding) with great, quick jokes about Applebee’s and a middle school music program and the overall void that is a suburban city in southern California.

#898 — Dreaming, Blondie (1979)

Timeless New Wave. The drum intro is great, the lead guitar line is great, the precision of lyrics in the first verse is great, the lead guitar floating above everything as Debbie Harry tackles the chorus is great, and then we get pass the first minute, and the rest is just sort of there and repetitive, but extremely listenable.

#897 — Pink Houses, John Mellancamp (1983)

The mid-1980s were a great time for heartland rock that subtly critiqued the creeping ennui of working-class America and its unrealized dreams, but wrapped in a package where a virile man shouted “Born in the USA,” or “Ain’t that America, land of the free” confidently in the chorus, and so it became a staple of optimistic Americana instead.

In any case, I appreciate how Mellancamp takes his time with the song and lets it amble without becoming too loose. And bonus points for that episode of Glee where Kurt puts on a trucker hat and spits out the lyrics with wonderful malice.

#896 — Tombstone Blues, Bob Dylan (1965)

Dylan doing his mid-60s thing of finding a nice groove, repeating the verse and chorus again and again, and finding something to earn his spite in a series of lyrically-dense rejoinders — in this case, the general theme of authority. There’s not enough of a melody or plot or musical variation to really jazz me, but it’s Dylan in 1965: you can nitpick things while realizing an artist is operating on a plane few people have ever been on.

Incidentally, it’s one of five songs from Highway 61 Revisited in my top 1000, the most of any single rock album depending on how you count individual songs from the medley in Abbey Road, but we’ll get to that!

#895 — I Won’t Say I’m In Love, Hercules (1997)

Disney movies have had 80 years of great music, but until recently very little of that was sung by female characters because somehow an all-male writing and animation staff had difficulty creating women who had more than one dimension to them of mysterious reasons, but the Disney Renaissance starts changing that a bit, and one of the best efforts is this one, where screwball-inspired Meg gnashes her teeth about the fact she’s falling for the big stupid handsome guy.

Which, okay, isn’t the most COMPLEX idea in the world, but it’s a well-developed character, and a nice chorus, with motivations that make sense.

#894 — Wind Beneath My Wings, Bette Midler (1989)

This is some A+ melodramatic shlock, lemme tell you, but Midler wrings every bit of feeling out of it, and makes you believe nobody has ever felt this deeply about another human being before.

Also, this was in a big piano book of famous songs from movies I bought when I was 15, and it’s a really fun song to play on the piano, with dramatic minor seventh chords and an interesting melody that keeps developing. Is that a *good* reason to like a song? I suppose not, but there you go.

#893 — 1979, Smashing Pumpkins (1995)

Billy Corgan slows down, calms down, simples down, lets the beat carry the song, and is a nice reminder why the phrase “less is more” is used: does 1979 ever really get out of second gear? Does it really matter? Quickly, tell me what the song is about? THAT’S RIGHT YOU DON’T KNOW BUT YOU STILL ENJOY IT.

#892 — My Kind Of Love, Buffalo Springfield (1966)

A track Buffalo Springfield recorded but never released until their 2001 box set (but performed by Richie Furay’s band Poco in the interim), this is more pleasant bluegrass-tinged, Merseybeat-tinged stuff that feels ready to go completely unmoored at anytime, but never does.

#891 — Fire And Rain, James Taylor (1970)

James Taylor was 21 when he wrote this, which is sort of perfect, because it holds the type of surface-level wisdom and weariness that 21-year-olds can produce after working really hard on that introspective acoustic guitar song they’re going to debut at the next open mike night, and Taylor nailed it, and then never nailed anything as good again in his life, and that’s okay! It is perfectly pleasant!

#890 — Ol’ 55, Tom Waits (1974)

Here’s the first song from Tom Waits’ first album, and I know he went on to a lot more interesting things, but this is a wonderfully crafted little ballad, with his vocals giving the song just enough vulnerability.

Plus, the very first line includes the phrase “lickety-splicky”, which as far as I can tell, had never been uttered before in pop culture before, and hasn’t been since, but just works.

#889 — Baby You’re A Rich Man, The Beatles (1967)

Love that introduction, with the simple piano lines and the thumping percussion and the Clavioline coming in and vamping all over the place.

And then the song is mostly generic Beatledom, with an accusatory Lennon verse mashed with a jaunty McCartney chorus, but “generic Beatledom” in 1967 is really really good.

#888 — Cabinet Battle #1, Hamilton (2015)

Would you like to hear another white musical theatre fan who does not normally listen to rap music gush about Hamilton? Well strap in!

Let me, fellow citizens, tell you what makes a good rap battle: I have no earthly clue, other than “rhymes are made” and “Justin enjoys himself.”

So I can’t say on any technical level why Cabinet Battle #1 works for me, other than my very base enjoyment that the device is used to summarize how Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson battled over how states’ rights would be applied to commerce going forward in their new country.

What I can talk about is how — and this next part will be even more insufferable — I felt while watching Hamilton on Broadway with the original cast, and this song in particular.

Part of my fun in any show I see live is how I experience a song in person for the first time, after listening to it 61 times on a cast recording. How is it staged? Are the deliveries different? Does the audience react to the parts I do? Does have a different presence in person than it does as part of an album?

And truthfully, I felt the same way listening to most of the songs in Hamilton in New York as I did while in my home. Except for Cabinet Battle.

There were chunks of audience participation here and there through the musical. But the wall between the stage and crowd was fully erased in Cabinet Battle and the moment George Washington begins his opening spiel, addressing all 1,319 people in attendance and making me, already delirious with the fact I’m experiencing a moment I’ll never forget, a little part of the show, oohing and aahing with hundreds of others, as Lin-Manuel Miranda and Daveed Diggs trade lines I’ve memorized.

There were parts of Hamilton I enjoyed more, and were more emotional towards. But in person, there may not have been a single moment I was happier in than the moment Washington said “you could have been anywhere in the world tonight, but you’re here with us in New York City.”

#887 — Bobby Jean, Bruce Springsteen (1984)

This is like, at best, the 6th best known song on Born in the USA, but it’s one of the best, a nice simple song about friendship and goodbyes and memories and regrets, with sincere lines that are less histrionic than other Springsteen stuff, if that’s the sort of thing that annoys you, and less over the top synth than other Springsteen stuff of this era, if that’s the sort of thing that’s appealing, and ends with a great Clarence Clemons solo, and that’s enough to be enjoyable in my book.

#886 — Shoebox, Barenaked Ladies (1996)

Great, inconsequential, BNL patter in this song, with a hooky riff and a beat that doesn’t let up, and verses that build to an exploding chorus, which makes it incredibly listenable, even there’s really nothing to listen to.

#885 — Burn, Hamilton (2015)

An exercise in barely controlled rage, Burn is not really situated to be a showstopping song — it’s the “80% through the musical piece that combines exposition and a somber mood to prime the audience for the climax” number, but it kicks butt because Phillipa Soo has just the right delivery, growing from clipped sentences to full throated screams, and the line “I’m erasing myself from the narrative” was worth 685 words alone on alone.

#884 — Working Class Hero, John Lennon (1970)

It’s just Lennon in a good groove, free from what were (to him) the shackles of The Beatles by 1970, and he goes dark with this simple message, one that was still bracingly personal for its time.

#883 — I’m Writing A Novel, Father John Misty (2012)

This is one of the best examples of a modern artist completely ripping off a Beatles tune, as Misty rollicks along to a song that bares more than a passing resemblance to Ballad of John and Yoko.

But that’s okay, because it has more musical flourishes than its inspiration — including an organ adding some nice texture — and goofy lyrics that fits the rollicking beat more than Lennon’s overly satisfied and overly martyred lyrics did 40+ years earlier.

#882 — Across The Universe, The Beatles (1970)

Aaaaaaaaand back to The Beatles we go, with Lennon attaining higher consciousness, in one of those times where the lyrics, music and vocals mesh together incredibly well, unless you think that it’s way too precious and over the top, and if that’s the case, then FINE, I guess, but I like my over the topness, even if 98% of people listening have no early clue what “Jai Guru Deva, om” means.

#881 — Such Great Heights, Iron and Wine (2003)

Slow it down and add some finger plucking, and the stately simple chord progressions and overly romantic ideals simply work better for me, allowing the strengths of the song to rise up instead of being quickly glossed over.

#880 — Iris, Goo Goo Dolls (1998)

This was never the #1 song in America, but managed to be #1 on the Canadian Singles Chart for SIX WEEKS in 1998. It was Canada’s Song Of The Summer, which makes me have questions about our national tastes, even if I enjoy this song more than I probably should.

Anyhow, I enjoy the over-stylized strings and the exploding chorus and the PASSION in John Rzeznik’s overwrought delivery about nothing, but really I think I enjoy just because it was everywhere when I was 11 years old, and does a lot of musical things I vaguely like, and so it’s just sort of stuck with me.

#879 — Wonderwall, Oasis (1995)

Hey, speaking of songs that were everywhere when I was a child!

This is an overplayed song, but is still a good song, and it’s important to remember that about overplayed songs even when you’re listening to Chad strum it AGAIN in front of the campfire, or listening to Paul Anka do a weird swing version of it that is secretly delightful.

Where was I? Oh right, this song. Another thing to appreciate here is the restraint in the delivery and instrumentation — they knew they had a hit, and while it’s not stripped down, per se, it’s filled with way fewer 90s flourishes than most.

#878 — Bad Moon Rising, CCR (1969)

Just some solid meat-n’-potatoes swamp rock, with just enough menace in John Forgerty’s voice to mesh with the lyrics, and make a song that is just six lines long work well.

(Side note: In 1969, Bad Moon Rising released three (!) albums, which included Green River, Bad Moon Rising, Lodi, Born On The Bayou, Proud Mary, Down on the Corner AND Fortunate Son. That is, um, prolific.)

#877 — Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?, She and Him (2008)

For a vanity side project by Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward specializing in low-fi homages to music last popular in 1968, She and Him have put out a remarkable amount of music (six albums), but this is the best known song, with a fun descending chord structure and enough little wrinkles with the background instruments/vocals to keep it fresh through it’s 2:30 runtime.

#876 — Fields Of Gold, Sting (1993)

No you’re secretly a 52-year-old woman who loved The Police growing up and then learned to love Sting almost as much during his long Adult Contemporary Phase.

This is also the only romantic song I know of where repeated invocations of “barley” are made, so there’s that. And otherwise, I dunno, it’s a nice ballad.

Categories: Top 1000 Songs

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