My 1000 favourite songs: #875-851

#875 — Kashmir, Led Zeppelin (1975)

I respect Kashmir more than I actually like it, because if a song is going to be eight minutes long, I like a touch of jauntiness at some point, instead of non-stop tension build-and-release that doesn’t really go anywhere. But there is so much to enjoy here, from the discordant time signatures (drums are in 2/4, rest is in 3/4), to the cavalcade of strings and guitars and so many things that have little to do with what one normally associates with “rock”, but yet, there it is, as epic a rock song as there is.

#874 — Graceless, The National (2013)

The National is incredibly listenable for me, probably more than any other band this century, but they’re one of those artists I enjoy more in album form than in singles, because I find joy in their variations of form over 60 minutes instead of 4 minutes, which is a nice way of saying they’re not big on the whole crunchy chords/giant hooks/soaring melodies that play well in a single.

The repeating riff underpinning the verses sure are pleasant here though.

#873 — Into Dust, Mazzy Star (1993)

There’s a delicate interplay between the guitar and the cello and Hope Sandoval’s voice, and it they allow it to sit there nicely over the course of five and a half minutes, not really pushing it, but assured in the belief it would be dynamic enough to keep the listener into the pedestrian lyrics, and it does! It’s really pleasant!

#872 — Ruby Tuesday, The Rolling Stones (1966)

Man, the Rolling Stones latching onto the baroque psychedelia of the The Beatles in 1967 is fascinating, because even it is not what the Stones are *about* — partly because Brian Jones went off the deep end, and partly because they realized their signature sound in the album right after Their Satanic Majesties Request — they’re able to pull out something as pretty as Ode To A Groupie Ruby Tuesday, even if it is like 10% too heavy on the Jones’ recorder.

#871 — Go To The Mirror!, The Who (1969)

Yeahhhhh Tommy. Is Tommy still seen as a good album or essential for understanding concept albums/classic rock? I have no idea, but I’m pretty sure there was a time where every teenager getting into rock liked Tommy for, like, six months, until they realized most of the album was bloat and the there was no particular plot and Quadrophenia is better, but this? This still works. It’s a nice mix of early Who character-focused tightness, and later Who arena bombasity, with interesting tone breaks throughout.

#870 — I Love L.A., Randy Newman (1983)

Randy has written many songs about half comic, half serious songs about people and places that sit on the thin line between “novelty tune” and “nuanced take”, but I don’t think any have the Pixaresque joy that this one has, the ode to his hometown, a place you know he could skewer way harder then this, but (mostly) lets off the hook, save for a quip about not caring for the homeless (Look at that mountain/Look at those trees/Look at that bum over there, man, he’s down on his knees), and gets in and out without overstaying its welcome.

#869 — Love → Building on Fire, Talking Heads (1977)

This was essentially the Talking Heads’ first song, and how many bands come so perfectly formed right out of the gate? All bounce and coiled weirdness and enough of a coherent thread through to define popular art rock for the next decade. And 41 years later, “they go tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet like little birds,” is a great bridge in an entirely different.

#868 — Fat Lip, Sum 41 (2001)

AWE YEAH. You want to talk about guilty pleasures? You want to talk about derivative Beastie Boys fused with Linkin Park fused with CanCon rules that meant it was played ENDLESSLY in the summer of 2001? You want to talk about being a milquetoast 14-year-old in Victoria shocked that a verse could end on the word “abortion”?

Nah, let’s not really talk about that. It sounds pretty lame. But hidden beneath all the stupidness is a A+ pop punk chorus, and a nice guitar riff, and it’s amazing how much stupid you can pile on top of those two things and still have a hit song Millennials can still have a nostalgic spot for 16 years later.

#867 — Normal American Boy, Bye Bye Birdie (1960)

Man, Bye Bye Birdie is one of the great B-tier musicals, one that does a great job of satirizing 50s rock (Honestly Sincere), teenage gossip (The Telephone Hour), TV idolization (Hymn for a Sunday Evening), and then there’s Paul Lynde vaping (Kids!) and jazz standards (Put On A Happy Face) and JUST LISTEN TO IT BECAUSE IT’S GREAT BUT LISTEN THE ORIGINAL CAST ALBUM NOT THE FILM WITH ANN MARGARET WHICH, THOSE WELL PRODUCED, CHANGES THE FOCUS TO THE FILM’S OVERALL DETRIMENT

(i have a healthy life)

In any case, I’m saying all that because this is the only song from the show in this list, a nice comedy number riffing on the press/publicist relationship, and how biographies can be spun out of the flimsiest of cloths to construct a celebrity, and how patriotism can be used to overwhelm logic.

But a lot has changed in the last 57 years, so I guess that’s not relevant these days.

#866 — I Can’t Help Myself, Four Tops (1965)

Great Motown beat, great orchestration, great instrumental lift into each verse (those strings!), just a perfect Holland-Dozier-Holland confection, really. Buuuuut the fact it’s just four lines repeating over and over until a weak little bridge halfway through (at which point we go back to the chorus) keeps it at this spot.

#865 — Someone Saved My Life Tonight, Elton John (1975)

About as confessional and personal as Elton John would ever sound, as he recounts considering suicide earlier in his life — and subsequently it’s one of the few peak Elton songs that doesn’t devolve into Bernie Taupin lyrics musing about abstract thoughts or weird characters or plot lines that don’t really go anywhere — and comes with a distinct piano intro that opens every verse, with his melodic ability to go from hook to hook without it sounding forced.

#864 — You Keep Me Hanging On, The Supremes (1966)

Hey it’s more Motown Holland-Dozier-Holland goodness that I have positive feelings but not overwhelming joy for! The entire strength of the song is the famous beeping guitar part and the power in Ross’ voice over the first four lines, but that’s enough when it’s so good and you’ve been listening to it literally your entire life and it still holds up.

Also fun fact! When this song hit #1 in the U.S. in November 1966, #2 was Good Vibrations, and #3 is “Winchester Cathedral” by The New Vaudeville Band, which is, uh, a dropoff.

#863 — House of Cards, Radiohead (2007)

In Rainbows is probably my second favourite Radiohead album, behind The Bends, because I’m A Simple Child Who Likes Melodies And Simple Chords, but there’s plenty on this album that bridges poppy instincts with their typical excellent boundary-pushing, and House of Cards is my favourite on the album: a song that shows that can be eminently listenable even when it sounds like they’re just jamming and putting together a laid back track on the spot, PLUS it re-introduces the youths of todays to the concept of key parties (Throw your keys in the bowl/Kiss your husband goodnight), which is NOT what you expect a Radiohead song to be influenced by, but there you are.

#862 — Care Of Cell 44, The Zombies (1968)

There is so much going on in, zipping from section to section, each with little music flourishes, great background vocals, funky percussion, slinking bass parts, all backed by a delightful piano part, and then the song ends, and you think about what it’s about, and realize it’s a nice letter to a prisoner about to be released, with their partner promising Come up and fetch you, saved up for the train fare money/Kiss and make up and it will be so nice, and then you pause, and don’t really care, because that was a jaunty tune, and DAMN IT ZOMBIES WHY DIDN’T THE WORLD APPRECIATE ODYSSEY AND ORACLE WHEN IT CAME OUT

#861 — Summer in the City, Loving Spoonful (1966)

It’s another one of those “let’s get all of our good hooks and lyrics and energy done with in the first 20 seconds, and just repeat it, because it’s 1966 and that’s good enough to have a number one hit for three weeks,” sort of songs, but that’s fine. Those 20 seconds are really good, and it’s sort of nice that a song released in the summer, called “Summer in the City,” that had as good of claim as any of being Song Of The Summer TM, was actually pretty foreboding and not really summery at all.

(Also, did you know Steppenwolf lead singer is on Canada’s Walk of Fame? I did, because my life is really weird right now)

#860 — God Save The Queen, Sex Pistols (1977)

Just the perfect punk song in message, tone, sound and simplicity, and I would have loved to hear at least a few minutes of the endless hours of BBC programming where people harped on what this would mean for The Culture. And the glee in which Johnny Rotten bleats out “God Save The Queen/‘Cause Tourists Are Money” never fails to amuse.

#859 — Call Me, Blondie (1980)

Enjoyable new wave that’s all about that beat, and the one line, repeated again and again, but that’s fine, even if it doesn’t go anywhere, but then again that’s a lot of popular new wave, so (shrug emoji).

#858 — Stan, Eminem (2000)

Hey look it’s a rap song! Is it by the only artist that mainstream radio stations would play when I was 14? You bet!

In any case, there’s a lot of theatricality to this one, which is probably why I enjoy it, and Mr. Mathers shows off his impish self-awareness, and even someone like me, who had pretty much no exposure to rap growing up, can appreciate his rhyme schemes and flow, and yeah, I know there’s Rakim, Nas, etc. etc. who are also Very Good, but they weren’t cool to my dumb group of middle-class white friends when I was 14, Eminem was, and so that’s what I sometimes listened to and this is the song I can still enjoy today.

#857 — Hello!, Book of Mormon (2011)

Probably the only musical that uses the sound of doorbells as both a plot point and an opening beat to the show, Book of Mormon is often derivative of better musicals, partly because that’s what the South Park guys are more comfortable playing in the oeuvre, and partly because Trey Parker is only so good at crafting original songs.

But this! This is a delightful Sousa-inspired opening number, putting you right into the tone of the whole show, and is endlessly hummable removed from the album.

#856 — Lonesome Day, Bruce Springsteen (2002)

Just some good meat and potatoes heartland rock from Bruce, made in 2002 but sounding like a Born in the USA outtake save for a couple technological upgrades, on his post-911 album The Rising, where the general theme was “things are tough, but we’re going to get to get this together because we have faith and community and memories”, and there’s literally a part in this where he sings “It’s alright, it’s alright” again and again, which did not really hold up in retrospect, but, eh, such are the risks when writing a song For The Moment.

#855 — Bird on the Wire, Leonard Cohen (1969)

A wonderful, delicate, mediation on just trying to live, confident in its ability to never get out of second gear, with Cohen’s lack of real technical singing prowess matching the somewhat halting guitar part, and the strings giving a certain amount of grandeur, but not overwhelming the operation. It has a sentiment and a melody and a sound that you might think for a second you could emulate as a singer, but there’s a reason there’s only one Cohen.

#854 — Black, Okkervil River (2005)

There’s a whole lyrical concept to this song, about someone named Cynda Moore being sexually abused by her father, and the protagonist trying to get closer to her, and trying to reconcile that, and an alt-weekly in Portland did a 5,500-word deep dive interview with the writer Will Sheff about the lyrics, and that’s good, but really, you can enjoy the song because of the tightly wound emotion in his voice and the quick chord changes and the way it rollicks all the way through without needing a quiet part.

#853 — This Jesus Must Die, Jesus Christ Superstar (1970)

There’s the sticky matter, through all of Jesus Christ Superstar, that you know *exactly* what’s going to happen, via that whole Book of Matthew thing, and you know there’s no chance of changing up the plot, so how do you keep tension?

And the solution is, just write a bunch of great songs like this one, with hilarious inquisitive lines (“No riots, no army, no fighting, no slogans/One thing I’ll say for him: Jesus is cool” is A+) and fantastic vocal delivery (the interplay between Annas and Caiaphas is delightful), backed with classic Andrew Lloyd Webber earworm melodies, and really laying out the fact that his death was ultimately a case of realpolitik that sort of, maybe, possibly, backfired.

#852 — Small Town, John Cougar Mellencamp (1985)

Mellencamp, distilled, with a big old snare drum and just enough organ and harmonica to give it some dynamism and make the four minutes pass by very easily. I’m not as fond of the lyrics, where he’s trying to have his cake (gotta move out because there’s nothing to do!) and eat it too (small towns are where NORMAL AMERICANS who DON’T JUDGE live), but the craftsmanship of Dad Rock is so precise here I can’t fault it too much.

#851 — Today, Smashing Pumpkins (1993)

If I was a teenager when the Smashing Pumpkins blew up, I would have been all about their eclecticism and would have yelled to high heaven that they weren’t getting their fair due relative to Nirvana and especially Pearl Jam, but I was 6 at the time so instead I just heard their singles on the radio, letting them pass me by. But now I listen to Siamese Dream or Mellon Collie and delight in how over the place those albums are in a good way, and while today, Today is a pretty standard “lyrics are are pessimistic while music builds to a towering alt-rock anthem,” that’s still good enough for me.

Categories: Top 1000 Songs

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