On this day a decade ago, my 13-year-old self registered an account on a little-known website that I had been lurking at for a while and what felt like a goldmine after having built up an obsession with music charts since I was a kid who’d religiously watch the Top 40 countdown. I gave myself a terrible moniker that was a combination of my 2 then-favourite rock bands and immersed myself with the depths of the archives of chart history that the site had to offer. That website was of course charts.org.nz and had just updated its archives to include the entire history of single and album charts in my country of New Zealand until the year 1975 when the RIANZ took over the compilations of NZ’s music charts. It was also a pretty lonely site with not much on it besides said archives but lucky for me the site was also part of a portal to a bunch of chart sites for a whole load of different countries, one of which was for my neighbours and creator of the TV show Neighbours Australia. Over here there was more of a community brewing as well as a less ugly colour scheme that made it much more visually appealing, plus the entries for songs and albums had their review sections filtered to show all the other English-language reviews on the portal and I got to see first-hand all the opinions I sharply disagreed with and began writing away hostile reviews about how the things other people liked sucked or why the things other people hated were good with the occasional ad hominem remark and a fair share of caps lock and exclamation points thrown in there. Granted, I was 13 and still very much at the age where nuance is impossible but was also in the middle of a really difficult year in my own personal life too. My tastes were just starting to reject the dodgy rockism that I had indoctrinated myself in and was still dominant of my male friends and classmates and it was quite cathartic in a way to be able to vent on a website that nobody had ever heard of to nobody who knew me personally about all the opinions I still couldn’t admit to the people in my social group for fear of ridicule.
In the 10 years since then I’ve gotten a degree in music from a polytechnic which I graduated from a year ago, played in bands, performed in barbershop chorus competitions in Las Vegas, came out as both bisexual and gender non-binary and exposed myself to an ever-increasing range of music and people to play and share music with. For a while I spent very little time on this particular site but found myself drawn back into the group of folks who post on here 2 years ago when I discovered half of them had Twitter accounts. I had already made one for myself to look at political news and post occasional opinions to about 5 people who followed me, but reconnecting with so many of the people I had seen on here (and occasionally fought with) as an adult in my early 20s has been a really enriching experience and I now consider many of the online community of this site to be lifelong friends.
Earlier this year I tweeted an announcement which may or may not have been influenced by some form of inebriation that I was going to deliver a complete list of my Top 500 songs of all time this year and picked this milestone of an anniversary as the deadline to start writing the list by. I’ve always been inspired by the commitment so many on here have towards making lists be it from all-timers to end-of-years to the regular updating of weekly personal charts (the latter is astonishing to me because I barely feel like I listen enough new music in a year to make a personal chart of reasonable length) so I’ve been compelled to give a list of my own. It’s a large project of course but one I’ve wanted to challenge myself to in order to show my own growth in understanding of what makes great music exceptional. Reading reviewers I admire (some of which will be quoted in my entries at times) and applying my own analysis of music I hold in regard has been an important part of my own growth as a musician myself, and I often find reviews that take a very thorough look at the way melody, rhythm, harmony, structure, production and performance contribute to the merit of a piece of music to be helpful in setting my own goals within those areas of music-making. The longlist of songs went well beyond 500, but I’ve kept the list to this length because I feel like anymore would take forever to complete, and any smaller number wouldn’t feel complete enough.
So ladies, gentlemen and non-binary folk, here it is: the 500 songs that I, Ben Evans from Wellington, New Zealand, 23 years of age, consider to be my personal top-rated of all time. In the future I may plan to do an albums list in a year or so that includes the great records whose tracks are not featured here because there’s still so much music not included simply because I haven’t yet gotten around to it, and I feel guilty for excluding at times, but this is what it is for now. Hope you enjoy.
In addition to it having been ten years since I first logged onto this site, it’s recently passed ten years since the incident that sparked the global debate on whether or not this song in fact had one of the best videos of all time. I mean it is a pretty good video, certainly a memorable one, but the real star of the show will always be the song’s hyperkinetic energy. Most of the best Beyoncė singles from before she made her official transition into an Album Artist in 2013 were defined by their physicality and “Single Ladies” is no exception. Every sound within it is designed to evoke movement within the listener from the fast-paced handclaps to the syncopated kick drum rhythm and those weird loops that sound like clockwork toys unwinding. There’s also the sparing use of snare which only comes in on the 8th beat and creates a lot of rhythmic suspension also helped by the synth swooshes and bass notes, also deployed sparingly in the verses so when they appear you notice them. It’s a rare case of a pop-R&B hit in the late 00s with remarkable, unusual production, arriving at a time when Timbaland had ran out of interesting ideas and pop as a whole was turning to much more homogenous synth sounds.
There’s also Beyoncé’s hooks of course, of which the song couldn’t have been a hit without. From the call-and-response of the opening that gains a new harmony with every repeat to the iconic chorus whose underlying synth chords later on take it into a different chord progression than what would normally be used and the wa-oh-ohs of the post-chorus (love telephone_junkie’s review on RYM that says “every one of those "whoa-oh-oh oh-oh oh-oh"s is like watching something you dislike being zapped out of existence forever”). Much like the beat, they’re also delivered to invoke as much kinetic movement as possible, and I can totally sympathise with those who’d find it annoying (It’s a song where it’s basically impossible to sit still when listening to it). If there’s one part of the song I find a wee bit flawed, it’s the bit at the end of the bridge where Beyoncé jumps back into the call-and-response hook from the opening a little too early where she could have waited just one more bar and released the tension from her backing harmonies a bit more naturally. Otherwise, the song remains a bop that’s graced us with some of the weirdest sounds to grace the upper ranks of the pop charts to this day.
499. Green Day - Basket Case
One of the best examples of Billie Joe Armstrong’s talent for making excellent melodies combined with the band’s ability to combine them with an energetic attack to match the tension and release in those melodies. Chugging through the Pachelbel's Canon-ite chord progression asking if we have the time to listen to him whine, he’s joined by a pulsing hi-hat and Mike Dirnt’s harmony for the chorus “sometimes I give myself the creeps, sometimes my mind plays tricks on me, it all keeps adding up” and then Tré Cool unleashes one of the wildest drum fills ever on “I think I’m cracking up!” and suddenly the whole band is in motion. Everytime that moment in the chorus arrives it creates an amazing accelerating rush (an article about this song’s recording from Sound On Sound remarked that Tré’s drums on this track were especially hard to record in time) but it’s not the only treat we get here. As the song continues we get Billie Joe’s bisexual frustrations (“I went to a whore, he said my life’s a bore, so quit my ‘cause it’s bringing her down”) a punchy riff the band lock on after the second chorus and more awesome drum moments from Tré (love the build-up-and-halt in “grasping to control… so I better hold on”). Songs like these make me wish I was even close to being a decent drummer in real life. Done well enough for myself on the guitar though.
498. The Chemical Brothers - Block Rockin’ Beats
It may seem weird to those who would define the genre more strictly, but this song won the Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental Performance in 1998 (and therefore being one of the few songs to ever win that award that anyone’s ever heard of). But one of the main thrills of listening to this song and the big beat genre it epitomises is its very undeniably rock energy in there from the bassline and highly active drum beat that does, in fact, rock the block. Even the lead synth lines in the wail like sirens in the choruses have a guitar-like aggression to them and could find a way to be replicated by Tom Morello sooner or later. There’s also a hip-hop-equse vibe to the beats as well which is reflected in the main hook which is a sample of rapper Schooly D from his song “Gucci Again”. And those screams which aren’t so much genre indicators but add to the song’s already impressive amount of super-loud high-energy hooks. My favourite moment is from 3:00 - 3:08 where the drums play a chaotic fill that’d be too hard to play organically with the frantic snare and cymbal before dropping out for the main hook to declare itself again over a swelling synth about to enter another round of block rockin’.
497. Aly & AJ - Potential Breakup Song
One of the best and most underrated pop singles of the late 2000s. I’m still surprised that this was actually released by a then-Disney Channel-based artist because it’s so far ahead of all other pop music produced by the network’s acts at the time and has only become less of a guilty pleasure and more of a legit bop since. The synth production here is fantastic with the retro analog-circuit-sounding bass line that’s aged better than any other synth tone on the radio at the time, and the blippy runs in the treble range and in a alien-sounding vibrato line buried in the utterly fire choruses to colour things in. There’s some surprisingly energised drum fills in the song’s transitions suggesting the player had also studied a bit of Tré Cool before and some neat additions of guitar from the weirdly ska-influenced rhythm to the echoing chord stabs dropped in-between lines in the choruses perfectly and the pop-punkish solo in the bridge.
Although there’s a bit of the typical late 00s Auto-Tune effects in the verses that don’t really need to be there and it basically the only thing that dates it. The rest of this song is full of really good and creative singing that utilises the interplay between the 2 singers brilliantly. From the pre-chorus where Aly oscillates around a minor triad on “the-type-of-guy-who-doesn’t-see-what-he-has-until-he-leaves” followed by AJ interjecting “Don’t let me goooo!” afterwards and the choruses which I’ve already mentioned are fire and they are fucking fire: those runs at the end of “You’re not living ‘til you’re living! Living with meeeee-eeeeee” are thrilling. There’s also the playful taunting over the solo (“you can try, you can try, you know I know it’d be a lie”) and the cheeky shout-out in the bridge (“this is the potential break-up song our album needs just one”) and the “la la la la la la”’s that open and close the song. A potential breakup song, but a definite banger.
496. Madonna - Don’t Tell Me
One of the highlights of post-80s Madonna, with a production job that merges the acoustic and synthetic worlds brilliantly. I love how the opening guitar figure is both cut up to sound like a skipping CD but also forms a great rhythm and groove in its own right when matched up with the electronic drum beat which also makes some stuttering snare rolls throughout the track. The synths alternate between vocoded lines are woozy swells in the lower end. But my favourite part has to be the strings that sound like they’re from the score of an old movie where the camera pans across an open field with a clear blue sky. They really take the song outside and make a perfect accompaniment for Madonna’s vocal and melody which is one of her more relaxed, from those hums in the opening verse to the second chorus where she sings a-capella for a moment before those strings return to the mix carrying a real sense of peacefulness. Last edited:
OMG I totally forgot you were doing this! Looking forward to seeing how this will pan out. How often do you plan to post, btw? Hopefully I can make some great discoveries because I think I'm going to update my BOAT next year as well.
I'll endeavour to listen to each song and post my thoughts!
Single Ladies: I DID NOT notice that snare drum on the 8th beat! I couldn't resist waiting out for it throughout the rest of the song. That's cool. I'll admit I'm not the biggest fan of this song, although my dislike of it 10 years ago stemmed from a negative reaction to its ubiquity and constant praise, which I did not understand. I still find the accompaniment a bit too sparse for my satisfaction but I did enjoy it enough in that last listen just then. At least, it's good enough that it won't kick me off the dancefloor (which is a criteria that not many songs pass, to be honest!).
Basket Case: Definitely enjoyed it more as it got going. The vocal melodies are definitely quite appealing.
Block Rockin’ Beats: And now I realise that Nicky Romero - Toulouse samples this. It's all coming together now! Admittedly, I haven't spent any time getting to know The Chemical Brothers but I hope this was a good introduction of them for me.
Potential Breakup Song: A very respectable offering. Those verses remind me of another song, though. I can't quite remember and it's going to frustrate me for a while.
Don't Tell Me: WAIT,IT'S THIS SONG?! ...At least, I'm fairly confident I've heard this before. Thanks to Logo, it's been fascinating tracking Madonna and Mariah's "transformations" with each era and I've been really impressed with how confidently they've triumphed each new musical style. This song, unmistakably late 1990s/early 2000s, is no exception yet it still feels authentically Madonna.
Thanks for the replies! I’m trying to post 5 entries every day or 2 in hope that this doesn’t take forever to complete. Hopefully my commitments to work/course/band/holidays don’t get too much. Always trying to write on the go, should have my next 5 tonight Last edited:
Perhaps the most well-known Deftones song and the highlight of their 2000 album White Pony, “Change” stands out as one of the most sinister rock hits of its day. The quietly-burning guitar, the eerie ambient notes from turntablist Frank Delgado and Chino Moreno’s menacingly breathy vocal set a disquieting atmosphere from the opening verse. The chorus hits and the guitars burst into thick walls of distortion and the melodic bend of “I watched a chaaaaaange in you!” establishing a truly ominous-yet-cathartic mood. The whipsery vocal of the verses take us into sadism in the second verse (“I pulled off your wings, then I laughed”) and receiving his retribution in the final verse (“give you the gu, blow me way”) almost perishing completely in the latter line. Those sensual sighs added into the later choruses are truly something else too. Best moment in the song, however, is just after the second chorus ends and all the distorted guitars drop out and the ambient echoes return like a disturbing yet unclear incident has happened in a horror film.
494. Pearl Jam - Alive
One of the big radio staples from Ten, and rightly so. With a great riff that slides between a chunky chord and a hummable melody, a neat little counterpart in the bass, lyrics that tackle all of the safest, least controversial topics of missing parents implied incest and trauma a chorus hook that finds some solace in still being, well, alive. What makes this just that more special of course is Eddie Vedder’s performance who sings the line in the second verse “I can’t remember anything to this very day, except the look… the look” like he’s still recovering from the shock and how that leads into entering the next chorus more emphatically with “now I can’t see I just stare”. Then in the thrilling coda he adds some wordless ad libs that builds the momentum while Dave Krusen ramps up the drums and Mike McCready plays one of the most iconic guitar solos of the 90s that’s just one awesome lick after another. Who knew a song with this subject matter could be so life-affirming musically?
493. Red Hot Chili Peppers - Otherside
I find it a bit difficult to enjoy Red Hot Chili Peppers these days. It’s partly a result of them being a sacred cow amongst the kind of every-dude white-male rock crowds I’ve spent much of my life socialising in and have endured hearing almost all their hits played to death around me for years (exactly how U2 get so much flak for being a dinosaur band with an annoying frontman and not the Chili Peppers is beyond me). “Otherside” however is the biggest exception to the rule, and an impressive example of pop-rock songcraft. It starts off rather unassumingly with just a simple guitar-bass counterpoint playing single notes over a 4-chord progression but in there lies a lot of room for the song to later grow into. Anthony Kiedis’ gives one of his best choruses (dig the way he wavers on “separate my sii-ii-ii-ii-ide) ending on an unfinished “slit my throat it’s all I ever-“ which creates anticipation for later development. That later development comes in the form of this song’s secret weapon - Fruciante’s backing vocals. They first enter the third verse doing long cries over Kiedis’ words but take gaps when he finishes them. They return to the final verse climaxing after the bridge holding notes constantly and combined with Fruciante’s continued high-pitched guitar line brought out of the brief solo, there’s also a great moment where is follows Kiedis on a harmony during “don’t believe it’s baaad”. It’s a great way of both sustaining interest but also depthening the mood.
The verses are also great. Flea and Frusciante’s have another sparse counterpoint for the verses and Kiedis delivers the finest lyrics I’ve heard from him, digging up the loss of his late friends (“I heard your voice through a photograph, I dug it up and brought up the past”) and painting his struggle with addiction in surreal images (“a cemetery where I marry the sea, and stranger things have never changed my mind”). Another noteworthy part mid-way through the second verse where the drums continue for a bit on their own, which also deepens and adds weight to the mood of the song. Their best song from their best album.
492. Madonna - Open Your Heart
The second part of the opening 1-2 punch of True Blue, bursting open with snare hits and a goofy yet charming kung-fu from Madonna herself. A bright, chiming keyboard riff announces itself backed by funk guitars and some punctuated synth brass. One of Madonna’s most rhythmically energised hits further helped by the gated synth bass keeping at a 16th note pace in the verses that’s balanced by some well-toned chord voicings in the upper ranges. There’s also some wonderfully crisp reverberated chord strikes that are placed perfectly in the verses as heard first at 0:42. The guitar then follows Madonna on a funk rhythm through the pre-chorus to the chorus which pinnacles with a glorious “open your heart to me-ee-ee, darling” and she’s joined again by the synth horns doing little chords and quick-runs. And then it’s back to that keyboard riff again.
Madonna’s performance is noteworthy for more than that hook, however. She begins with the lower range she starts exploring with this album and sings with a little dejection “See you on the street and you walk on by, you make me wanna hang my head down and cry” and gives a hint of sexual lust unrequited with “if you gave me half the chance you’d see my desire burning inside of me… but you choose to look the other way”. And then how she feels empowered and flirtatious with “don’t try to run I can keep up with you”. Oh and that lock/key innuendo in the chorus? Excellent. Her ad-libs in the outro are also a delight, with repeated kung-fu vocalising to everything from brief squeals to smooth humming. One of the highlights of arguably her best album.
This also has what is easily my favourite music video of hers.
491. Television - See No Evil
The opening track of Television’s 1977 post-punk classic Marquee Moon. An album that defined the genre and has defined the use of “interlocking guitars” for some people. And indeed the interplay between Richard Lloyd and Tom Verlaine is incredible, including here. The clash of 2 riffs - one stop-shart chord, one cyclic, self harmonising lick - over a driving rhythm section sets the stage for Verlaine’s vocals, another star of the show. He kind of gives the vibe of a geeky Mick Jagger with how he has the same snarl but with a more eccentric personality. He declares his wants to fly fountains and jump mountains in the first verse and claims “I understand all destructive urges” with the backing vocals repeating “I see no” with him and concluding with the lead guitar playing an arpeggio and the rhythm still doing its chords. Then the drums and bass stopping for all vocals to declare “I see no.... EVIIIIIIIIIL!”. As the pitch scoops up Verlaine’s guitar has started a wicked descending line. God that’s great, as is the fucking awesome guitar solo that some very knotty arpeggios some great melody lines and great for an air-guitar. And that outro, man, where they repeat the final hook of the chorus on repeat in the outro where the descending guitar line is playing with it and Verlaine “I’m runnin’ wild with the one I love, I’m runnin’ crazy with the one I love” over the top of it all, getting much darker shortly afterwards. An excellent track of one of the essential albums for understanding development of alternative rock music. Last edited:
There’s a weird irony for The Police’s catalogue for me that their worst album, Synchronicity, contains for me their best individual songs. One of them of course The Obvious One although it missed the cut for this list, another is this lesser-known follow-up single written during Sting’s first marital separation. This one gives a reflective, night-sky gazing mood from the start with a piano and Sting’s bass rocking back and forth between 2 chords a tone apart accompanied by some timekeeping xylophone and some ambient synth textures. Sting delivers one of his best melodies that captures the vibe of its musical backing perfectly, opening with the lyric “There’s a little black spot on the sun today, it’s the same old thing as yesterday” (and yes despite mentioning the sun I stand by the assertion that this is a great night-time song) followed in later verses by more bleak nature images from a dead salmon frozen in a waterfall to a butterfly trapped in a spiders web. Those later verses are joined by wistful backing vocals responding to every line with “that’s my soul up there” that’s melancholic but also creates a warm sense of processing personal pain through a sense of connection to the outside world.
Another great contribution to the song is Andy Summers’ guitar. In the verses he copies Sting’s melody in a upper-range riff in his signature crispy tone and gives an unexpectedly active chug to the chords in the chorus that push the rhythmic drive without disrupting the mood. One favourite moment in the song is after playing a solo of the verse melody after the bridge he quietens down to some gentle chord voicings in the same rhythm of the chorus while some pretty and melancholic piano lines fill in the mix like stars at night-time. Sting segues into his final verse ending with another magic moment where he repeats his opening line from the first verse with no accompaniment besides the moody ambient synths from the intro. A very calming, colourful tune great for personal contemplation.
489. Paramore - Part II
Even though Paramore were commercially lumped in with the 2000s pop-punk/emo scene, they often displayed a taste for the post-punk in their interplaying guitar work. This track from their 2013 self-titled masterpiece - named so as it is a sequel to Riot! album cut “Let The Flames Begin” but is such a drastically improved sequel that it feels like the other song never existed - brings those influences to the forefront by beginning with some icy guitar arpeggios and a lead line so perfectly Joy Division-esque Bernard Sumner is probably up at night wishing he came up with it. Echoes of their earlier song appear in William’s lyrics from the opening line “what a shame we all remain such fragile broken things” (as opposed to “became such fragile broken things”) and repeated somber refrains of “oh glory” in the calm-before-the-storm pre-chorus. This one however boats a stronger production from those guitar sounds to the tasteful use of synths in the background and an explosive chorus with a momentous melody and a fantastic lyric in “dancing all alone to the sound of an enemy’s song” to boot . Ilhan Rubin - the session drummer for the album due to Zack Farro’s departure from the band at the time - gives a tight post-punk beat for the verses before exploding in those choruses and delivers some powerful fills in the bridge while fragments Williams’ chorus vocals play over like echoes, leading into the outro. Williams sings “like the moon we borrow a light, I am nothing but a shadow in the night” over a synth pad glowing like a full moon, and her slightly sharp pitching on “If you ask me I will catch fire” leaves an oddly powerful bitterness to end the song on.
488. Jimmy Eat World - Sweetness
The musical equivalent to being tossed in one of those slingshot rides. You’re sent up in the air with the mammoth opening hook “IF YOU’RE LISTENING WA-OH-OH-OH-OH” before plummeting back down when the band crashes in with their distorted guitars. You’re swung back up again for the follow up “SING IT BACK WA-OH-OH-OH-OH” with Jim Adkins bringing a briskly strummed Fsus2 chord into the mix and back down it goes again. Adkins’s vocal hooks start overlapping with each other and the snare rhythm becomes increasingly prominent and as ear-grabbing as the vocals. It’s already more infectious than 90% of most bands’ best choruses and it’s only the first verse, and the song’s hooks just keep delivering after that. I love how in the bridge after a round of “ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh” lines they add in a pulsing piano track in there just for that moment, and how Adkins lyrics have words as energised as his melodies: “String from your tether unwinds”; “I was spinning free”; “what a dizzy dance”; and indeed I am doing and feeling all of those things every time I’m listening to this everytime I put this song on. Simple and absolutely collossial at the same time, and one of the thrilling rides in pop-punk.
487. Liz Phair - Fuck And Run
You might think a song with this kind of title would be a fierce riot-grrrl anthem in the vein of Bikini Kill or even early Yeah Yeah Yeahs, but this highlight of Phairs 1993 debut Exile In Guyville is instead grounded in a steady groove of crips, clean-toned guitar chords. It’s a simple backing for Phair’s lyrics to take the stage, lamenting the singer’s struggle to find a genuine relationship in her adult life:
Whatever happened to a boyfriend The kind of guy who tries to win your over? and Whatever happened to a boyfriend The kind of guy who makes love ‘cause he’s in it? I want a boyfriend I want a boyfriend I want all that stupid old shit like letters and sodasI
She sings “boyfriend” in a shy mutter as if feeling a sense of embarrassment at the admission of wanting one. And note the cuteness of that last line and the ringing chords that enter for that line in particular which add a perfect touch of longing to it. And listen to how the repetition of “whatever happened to a boyfriend” along with the “I didn’t think this would happen again” line from just before the quoted passage become memorable hooks without ever sounding like they’re trying to be and her turn towards desperation in the bridge with “I can feel it in my bones that I’m gonna spend my whole life alone”. That line leads into the infamous hook “It’s fuck and run, even when I was 17, fuck and run even when I was 12”, yet as disturbing as that line initially sounds, the context around it becomes more about her cognitive understanding of power dynamics than lived experience (Phair herself has clarified this).
486. D’Angelo & The Vanguard - The Charade
A highlight of D’Angelo’s long-awaited 2014 comeback album Black Messiah. “The Charade” emerges out of a lush mix of guitar noodles and keyboard chords with a steady backbeat provided by Questlove and vocals that out as hazy murmurs but progress to a sweet melody backed with the guitars forming a subtle but colourful chord pattern around it. The drum beat gets augmented by a reversed effect leading into a handclap, and an excellent bass line enters the mix 40 seconds in which establishes a light, breezy vibe for the song, though it’s still unclear what D’Angelo’s lyrics are. As one could imagine for a song with its title, masked behind the instrumental are some remarkably bleak lyrics about the state of system racism facing black Americans to this day: “Degradation so that you can’t hear the sound of our cries, all the dreamers have gone to the side of the road which we will lay on” for just a teaser. The song starts to sound darker in both the chords and melody for the chorus as the lyrics get more direct about how the reality of police shootings has exposed the perception of modern day racial equality as an illusion:
All we wanted was a chance to talk ‘Stead we only got outlined in chalk Feet have bled a million miles we’ve walked Revealing at the end of the day… the charade
And yet despite the lyrical bleakness, the song turns towards empowerment and hope for emancipation in the bridge: “with the veil of our eyes we’ll truly see, and we’ll march on, and it really won’t take us long, and it really won’t take us very loooooooooong”. Questlove’s drums build tension with the band in the second half of that line until being released on that final line and the vocals scoop upwards into wavering falsetto. A dark song but not a despairing one, with the courage to still find hope that things will get better one day.
It was nice to read that little back story there to see how your taste in music and approach to life has changed over the last decade or so. I have to say that I'm probably in the same boat, and it is great to look at music and art from a fresh perspective as you evolve through time.
I'm really keen to see how the rest of this list plays out, but I'm loving the very detailed descriptions already!
The signature song and biggest radio staple of the favourite band of at least 20% of the heterosexual men I know in my life, this one stomps around in a swinging groove and an awesome riff with those little extensions to it that you first hear at 0:56 and 1:07 and those neat harmonics too. There’s the awesome melody which invokes a mood of suspicion and has some remarkably cool sounding falsetto. There’s Dave Grohl’s thrilling drum rolls through the choruses (“And I re… al… ise… you’re… mine!”) which end on a kick-ass chord thrashing; a little riff fest for the bridge and a kick-ass solo section with the guitars and drums soloing together and even some fills on the bass. So it’s got all the hallmarks of a great hard rock song, but there are some cooler minor details that make it a little extra special: the backing vocals both in the harmonies and those whispered overdubs throughout the whole track, they add a slight taste of sinister to the track that really comes alive on headphones. The addition of a backing string section behind the soloing build-up. That section leads up to a breakdown to just a grunting bass and Josh Homme begins a final verse with “heaven smiles above me” in a subtly menacing way, but sounds remarkably anxious on the closing like “gift that you give to me… no one knows”.
484. Justin Timberlake - Let the Groove Get In
The most successfully realised track of Timberlake’s 2013 comeback album The 20/20 Experience. Where most of the extended-length songs of that album are structured on having a conventional 4-5 minute pop song with an extended coda added at the end to take it to 7 or 8, “Let the Groove Get In” is focused on being a properly transportative piece of music making a journey from Part A to Part B through its rhythmic development. Building upon a repeated vocal chant with a melodic motif played on a guitar and horn section and a syncopated drum beat from Timbaland that synchs well with the vocal but leaves an ambiguity on where the starting beat of the bar is. Things build until 1:22 in when a minor breakdown happens and a foreshadowing hook “(let the… grooooooove get you!”) after another verse-chorus build there’s a great pre-chorus with a great melody and some great backing harmonies, synth loops and horn lines. That part is linked by some vocal harmonies to another breakdown with the low-sounding piano-chord groove giving more hints. By 3:54 the groove has built until it leaves its vocal chant behind and switches to a new percussion rhythm with a new 1 beat. Once it breakdown after that part, the piano groove emerges again and starts to build itself with gleaming synth chords and the transformation is complete at 5:31 where Timberlake unveils some irresistible hooks of “all night loooooong” that make for one of the finest outros to a pop song this decade.
483. R.E.M - Catapult
One of the most playful cuts of R.E.M.’s incredible 1983 debut Murmur, “Catapult” opens with a sturdy bass riff from Mike Mills and begins its verses with a classically confusing mantra of “ooooooh we were little boys, ooooooh we were little girls” with a little guitar riff following the bass. Then there’s MIchael Stipe declaring “It’s 9 o’clock don’t try to turn me off” afterwards and in the next verse “your mother remembers”; the build-up in the repetition of “Did we miss anything?” in the pre-chorus and the fantastic play of syllables as they sing the song’s title in the chorus: “Cat-a-PULT!” sings Stipe before Mills’ reply of “Caaaaaaa-ta-pult!”. Peter Buck plays some great guitar lines throughout all that, playing a riff of joyous release for the chorus. There’s a great rush in the bridge with Stipe’s “March could be darker” and the cyclic guitar arpeggios matched by 16th note hi-hats from Bill Berry. What does it all mean? I still haven’t figured it out, but I still wonder if I’ve missed anything.
482. Daft Punk - Get Lucky
The big hit song from 2013 that felt for a while that it had united the world. “Sound of the summer” they called and it has maintained the honorable title ever since. It’s hard not to see why - from a long-awaited comeback album from 2 of electronic music’s biggest icons, grandfathering themselves in the music pantheon by collaborating with other artists who achieved the same. In this song’s case it was with none other than Nile Rodgers giving his brilliant rhythm guitar work. I love his little flourishes before settling in the groove in the first 20 seconds and how he makes a simple 4-chord progression sound irresistible with his rhythmic scratch - individual fragments in each chord are scattered out so clearly as if they were planned to be at those specific moments in a way that’s mind-blowing yet so deceptively simple. The pocket groove of the bass is great too and I like how the drums maintain an ever-so-slight retaining of the clubby beats of Homework if you listen closely. And there’s the vocal from Pharrell Willaims, although a bit held back by a slightly lazy second verse, he still sings one of the best melody lines of the decade with “weee’ve come to faaaaar to give uuuuuup who we aaaare” and in the chorus somehow makes its core lyric about getting laid - “we’re up all night to get lucky” - into a communal mantra. I love the rhythmic build up in the electric piano at 3:18 during the transition into the bridge where Daft Punk bring back their trademark vocoders to the forefront in the classic Discovery sound and Rodgers’ guitar starts chugging tighter making higher chord voicings. And I love that closing synth line in the outro - it’s like watching the sunset on a long day of celebrating. The time they played this at the Grammy awards in 2014 alongside Stevie Wonder and hard the entire room singing and dancing together remains one of my favourite televised music performances ever.
481. Radiohead - Reckoner
One of the highpoints of Radiohead’s In Rainbows (warning: this list will contain a lot of Radiohead, I know, you’re shocked). With a spacious drum beat with syncopated touches of cymbal and reverberated clacks on the snare rim that feel like drops of rain splashing in a rainforest (and the shaker percussion being all the other raindrops in the distance), Thom Yorke plays a simple rhythmic chord pattern - note the way the top note occasional bends ever-so-slightly upward on the D chord - and delivers one of his truest and most direct melodies in his prettiest falsetto. He adds some great harmonies later on in the verse which fully blossom in the middle eight breakdown where he sings “because we separate like ripples on a blank shore” and a surrounding chorus of backing vocals sing the title of the album alongside the addition of strings to a haunting effect. The song returns to its main theme afterwards with an utterly breathtaking moment at 3:32 when the strings re-enter the song and Yorke sings “taaaaake me wiiiiith yooooou” in one of his most beautiful and longing moments of recorded singing ever. For all the talk of Radiohead’s weird or experimental leanings, the truth remains that they can also write super simple songs that are just as exceptional. Awfully kind of Thom Yorke to dedicate it to all human beings.
- ooh Single Ladies #500. Must admit I really didn't like it at the time but do find it a lot of fun when it comes on nowadays. - that Chemical Brothers song is good. Although not a favourite. - Don't Tell Me is a surprise! It's not a favourite of mine but I do also like the sound like a skipping CD + electronic drum beat too. - Otherside would be one of my favourites from Red Hot Chili Peppers so I'm glad it's one of your favourites too. - Open Your Heart is another unexpected Madonna choice but I like it a lot too, more than Don't Tell Me haha. - Get Lucky <3 <3 <3 I remember strongly the feeling of excitement when it first came out and when it became a #1. Love so much about it I imagine it would feature highly in a greatest of all time list of mine and an end of decade also
Opener of the band’s 1969 landmark of the same name, a joyous, celebratory groove punctured by group singing of the title and lingering wordless vocals following them (“Stand! -eeeeeeeee”) and empowering and hopeful lyrics for both personal struggles (“In the end you’ll still be you, one that’s done all the things you set out to do/There’s a cross for you to beat, things to go through if you’re going anywhere”) and the socio-political struggles that can be defeated (“For the things you know are right, it’s the truth that the truth makes them so uptight”). These lines are married to a sturdy melody line leading through many effective chord changes and are joined by colours of background horns, electric pianos and distorted guitar riffing at the ends of the phrases. There’s the massive build-ups in the chorus chants of “Staaaand!... Staaaaand! STAAAAAAAAAAND!” joined by the drums, handclaps and some powerful vocal wails from Sly Stone. In the third and final chorus, however, things unexpectedly switch course to a totally new groove that even Emperor Kuzko could get down too, with a funky riff brought in from the guitar and bass, joined later by an organ. The vocals continue their chants with a new hook in “Stand! - na na na na na na na na na na!” followed by the trumpet filling in the gaps with some high-pitched accents. Abrupt transitions are a risky move in my book, but when they’re executed this well the effect is glorious. Suddenly all the radical optimism of the late 60s in spite of all the chaotic events unfolding at the time can be felt in an instant.
479. Pixies - Tame
One of the most intense and frightening rockers on Doolittle, this song employs a clever trick of using a 3-bar measure cadence. The way the chord progression returns to the first chord quicker than expected results in some increased tension that makes for an intense 1 minute and 55 seconds of this song. Frank Black whispering “got hips like Cinderella” over anxious picking of the bass from Kim Deal makes for an ominous mood ready to explode as Black’s whisper turns into a scream of “TAAAAAAAAAAAME!” and the guitars crash in with Joey Santiago’s one thrashing dissonant noise in the left channel. Note the way the hi-hat in the second verse alternates between 16th notes for the first bar of every measure to 8th notes in the other 2, until playing all 16th notes in the final measure before the chorus. Then there’s Frank breathing to the rhythm of the bass in a panicked breath joined by Kim Deal, turning it into sounding like a dead-sounding laugh which turns into an alarm sound of sorts in the final exploding chorus topped by Frank’s screaming turned utterly maniacal and terrifying. Tame? Anything but.
478. R.E.M. - Harborcoat
Bursting open R.E.M.’s sophomore album Reckoning with a snare roll and a robust chord progression from Peter Buck who turns to the verses to make some smart chord rhythms interwoven with Michael Stipe’s ambiguous lines of “they crowded up to Lenin with the noses worn off” and “there’s a splinter in your eye and it reads ‘react’” among others (also dig the guitar figure Buck plays after each verse, one of my favourites from his). Bill Berry’s drums never let up their pace from that opening snare roll Stipe and Mill’s vocals overlay each other in the choruses so well they feel like two streams of water occasionally meeting and parting ways. The bridge picks up the pace with Buck’s guitar making some frenetic 16th note picking of guitar harmonics to compete with the pace of Berry’s drum alongside the addition of a harmonica to the mix for tonal colouring. There’s also the way Stipe’s phrasing becomes more playful through each succeeding verse from the spelling out of “react” in the third verse and the delivery of “then we ditched the books with the middle cuh-uh-ut out” and his descending “oooh-ooh-ohh” before each of those glorious choruses.
There’s a great clip of the band performing this song in their early years that I love. Michael Stipe making David Byrne-inspired moves in a sharp blazer with bleached blonde hair, keeping all his eccentric vocal mannerisms from the album recording intact. And there’s Peter Buck’s restless movement while playing all his guitar noodling (That twirl he does 18 seconds in!). As great an example of the kind of unique energy they had in the mid-80s as anything. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sehg7gEbgyU
477. Kanye West - Family Business
One of the best examples of the warmth and sweetness that runs throughout much of West’s 2004 debut The College Dropout. Not actually about Kanye’s family but instead of that of Terry Torae who sings the chorus here - and a wonderful chorus that is, helped by the “all that glitters is not gold” lines cut out of different samples and the wonderful gospel harmonies from the same family members discussed in the song. The song also conveys the vibe of being around your extended family for a special occasion by having a piano track that sounds like the old, slightly out-of-tune upright piano you’d play on at your elder’s house (well my elders had one like that), as well as the lyrics which recall memories of having to share a bed between 6 and mentions of favourite dishes (monkey bread) and digging out the photobooks. Most poignant however is the first verse dealing with having family members separated from you due to incarceration, and even the loss of those who have passed away in lines like “this is family business, and this is for the family that can’t be with us” and “as kids we used to laugh, who knew that life would move this fast? Who knew I had to look at you through a glass?” alongside the admission of wanting to cry in “somebody please say grace so I can save face and have a reason to cover my face”. The emotional sincerity of it all makes it such an incredibly comforting song, one I always get a teary smile when listening to and where moments that could feel cheesy like the “rain rain rain go away” interpolation for the bridge still sound beautiful.
476. Siouxsie and the Banshees - Halloween
It’s very fitting that I come across this entry on the list in the same month the occasion it’s named after takes place (Siouxsie and the Banshees are one of the best bands for halloween, along with The B-52’s). A dark post-punk rocker of the 1981 album Juju featuring a razor-sharp riff from guitarist Don McGeoch and a Joy Division-esque bass counterpoint, Peter Eric “Budgie” Clark plays an agile drum beat taken to new heights at 1:55 with some utterly frenetic tom-tom rolls. Siouxsie Sioux gives a captivating performance with urgent hooks of “trick or treat, trick or treat, the bitter and the sweet” with Budgie’s snare punching in-between the gaps and; singing “I wear my silence like a mask ad murmur like a ghooooooooooost” and the word “Halloween” as if she has been possessed and the rather grim delivery of “I wonder through your sadness”. Best of all though are the haunting “oooooooooooooh”’s whose building intensity is also matched by the band’s performance, from the tom-tom rolls mentioned earlier to the end of the song where the guitar and bass parts become so overloaded it turns chaotic. Gothic and totally badass. Last edited:
Love No One Knows and Stand! #476 is one I always have trouble remembering the tune but I think I like this one too. Hmm will check out Family Business, I really like The College Dropout and over time have warmed to this album far more. It's probably my favourite album from him aside from My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (although admittedly, I haven't listened to his last four albums in their entirety - Yeezus, The Life of Pablo, Ye and whatever the new new one is called - is it out yet?).
Never felt the Daft Punk track unfortunately, and couldn't understand its popularity at the time (not rueful of it, just I normally like this sound - I think it was its ubiquity at the time).
Also yay for lots of Radiohead, although I don't know this track, I will know it shortly.
Deftones - Oooh this really is an eerie rock track. I mostly like it aside from the "creepy voice" sections. That detracts it a little for me.
I always had high regard for Alive but Logo recently ignited a lot of actual enjoyment when I listen to it.
Otherside - OH IT'S THIS SONG. It only peaked at #31? Wow, this sure gets heaps of radio airplay despite its chart performance. This is definitely one of their better ones, though, as it benefits from not being too over the top imo
Madonna - oh this is nice and groovy, and also solid and consistent without going for too much. I haven't heard it much before, although I do recognise the introduction being used in a Nekci Menij episode
See No Evil - Hmmm, this one didn't do much for me
The Police - Oh damn I really need to check out their discography. This is extremely impressive! I really like the mellow vibe and that marimba adds a nice touch. And I love how it continues to build without losing that initial mood. All round fantastic
Paramore - Another fantastic effort. They haven't really done much wrong, I wish I gave them more attention.
Jimmy Eat World - Another band that I've heard plenty about but don't actually know very well. This is decent, although I didn't find it particularly remarkable. I'm sure they'll have plenty that I'll really like.
Liz Phair - I do like the clean guitar work here and her vocals are also very pleasing, but lyrically this isn't for me.
D'Angelo - The stuff of his I have heard I've actually really been impressed by, and this is no exception. I need to get around to this album because there's definitely stuff in there that would make an updated EOY. *Adds this to 2014 EOY Spotify Playlist*
Oh definitely get Black Messiah, it's probably the second best album of 2014 that I've heard behind 1989. D'Angelo is admittedly one of my less-listened-to-in-private artsts here because neo-soul and his music was huge at the polytechnic I got my degree in (except "Untitled (How Does It Feel?) which I've always loved to play a lot). I'm still slowly discovering it in a way.
I wrote something but then I forgot to Ctrl-C my text and then I lost it when my account timed out
So from what I vaguely remember:
QOTSA - I'm pretty sure I haven't heard this before Good groove but there's nothing else in it for me.
JT - Oh this is cool, but it sounded really messy and chaotic at first - a case where the production is a little OTT and there's too many things happening. Was definitely enjoying it by the end, though.
Daft Punk - Nice.
Radiohead - I ashamedly haven't filled out probably my biggest blindspot in Radiohead, but if your countdown is going to help then I'm all for it! *Adds this to 2007 EOY Spotify Playlist*
My favourite kind of Roxy Music songs are the glam-stompers that pile-drive a massive groove throughout, such as my 2 favourite songs of their 1973 album For Your Pleasure. One we will meet later in the list, the other is this. Beginning with a sturdy chord progression from the electric piano chord progression followed by a charging snare and the whole band slamming along to it. Bryan Ferry gives a vocal so glamtastic you can basically hear his image. He playfully makes the one acceptable use of the phrase “boys will be boys” ever made with “boys will be boys will be boy-yoy-yoys” and some seriously smart wordplay:
They say love's a gamble, hard to win, easy lose And while sun shines you'd better make hay So if life is your table and fate is the wheel Then let the chips fall where they may In modern times, the modern way
His ends on a “way-ee-ay-ee-ay-ee” that leads into the complete madness of the solo section. Starting with a wild saxophone solo from Andy Mackay leading into an even wilder synth played by the one and only Brian Eno that screams and screeches all kind of frequencies but is absolutely thrilling to listen to. My favourite part is how Eno ends it on a final high screech and guitarist Phil Manzanera getting a squeal of feedback at the same pitch to complete the trade over.
Going into its next set of verses with more charging snare, Bryan Ferry returns to the spotlight to give an utterly fabulous “wooo” at 2:29 and then saying “this crazy music drives you insane, this way” leading into another brief solo from the organ that doesn’t overstay its welcome. And then Bryan Ferry does a brilliantly mocking affect of “love me, leave me, do what you will” and follows the remaining verses with some helpful yet bizarre advice, whilst sounding badass the whole time:
Who knows what tomorrow might bring? Learn from your mistakes is my only advice And staying cool is still the main rule
Don’t play yourself for a fool Too much cheesecake too soon Old money’s better than you No mention in the latest Tribune And don’t let this happen to youuu-uu-uu
The band charges into a suspenseful chord whilst sax and guitar play their final lead lines before finishing on the root chord. After the song ends it feels like a whole night of wild dancing has transpired, and it is often the case for me when I listen to this song.
474. Radiohead - Just
The first Radiohead song I fell in love with. In a way that will no doubt make me a pariah to some fans, it was the song that grabbed my attention in the TV commercials for their greatest hits in 2008 when I was all about loud guitars bro. Seeing the video on YouTube later made my commit to growing my hair long and imitating Jonny Greenwood’s untamed guitar moves from his headshakes to his arm-snaps. And indeed “Just” was practically the best introduction to him as a rock guitarist from the moment tremolo-picked line rises upwards like a chainsaw (Fun Fact: the intervals in that guitar riff make up the Diminished Scale in C, very important for when you may solo over diminished chords which in my degree was a lot). The writing process of the song was described by the band as “a competition between Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood about how many chords they could fit into a song” which resulted in a lot of chords (C, Eb, D, F, Am, Ab, Bb, G, Gb, E, Dbm in order of first appearance) but also lots of awesome moments of guitar playing: The stop-start opening chords; clean fills in-between Yorke’s phrases in the verses; those picked notes in the chorus chord progression; the wobbling chords from Ed O’Brien in the second verse; Greenwood’s solo in the bridge which switches from being aggression to a clean harmony with Yorke in a return to the soft chord progression leading into those roaring descending chords afterwards (It’s like those moments in comedy-action movies when 2 people are having a violent fight in a building but stay calm and collected for a few minutes when they both enter the elevator but go back to attacking each other). It’s also noteworthy how Yorke’s vocals in those choruses get increasingly snarly on the world “seeeeelf” by the final chorus adding a hiss at the beginning and adding a wild shriek at 2:57. He starts belting the word higher as Greenwood’s riff climbs higher and higher beyond the fretboard with the use of a Whammy pedal, ending on a gloriously high-pitched squeal of a final note, held for an almost implausibly long time. And just when you’d think he’s run out of ideas, he and the boys bring the song out to a concluding solo that’s a twisted mix of harsh bends (on an album called The Bends, no less. A damn awesome song to this day.
473. LCD Soundsystem - Get Innocuous!
Kickstarting LCD’s 2007 classic Sound of Silver with a dance groove for the ages. That beat made up of little electronic circuits and a gated synth pulse slowly emerging in the mix revealing a riff similar to that of Kraftwerk’s “The Robots” and a repeated keyboard chord hitting every 2nd beat following shortly afterward. The groove gets taken to a higher being joined by a live drum kit and suddenly there’s so much forward movement in the song it feels like I could embark on an endless walk with it still playing in my ears and I wouldn’t get tired of it (seriously, this song is great for long walks). 2 minutes and 10 seconds in, we’re finally treated to the verses where James Murphy sings murky lines in low harmonies like they’ve been transmitted from a weird dream (“away in the half life” indeed). Yet they gain some clarity for a moment when the keyboard changes to the IV chord and he sings “when once you have believed it, now you see it sucking you in!” as you continue to get more immersed in the still-building groove thanks to Murphy’s drums (love the hi-hat at 3:38, and his kinetic snare riffs). After Murphy’s second verse ends Nancy Whang repeats a playful hook of “you can normalise, don’t it make you feel alive?” in a robotic chant before dropping the song’s title which leads into the sweeping build-up of the outro. A chugging electric guitar enters the mix while the synth bass begins bubbling up again yet as it continues it frequencies shift into the treble-region, eventually abandoning the bass altogether and sounding like ray-gun effects. As they fade we discover what the weird unease underneath all that was - ominous, dissonant strings! A banger and a half.
472. Kraftwerk - Europe Endless
The opening of Kraftwerk’s 1977 landmark Trans Europe Express. A nine minute journey into a new, optimistic day in a futuristic city in musical form. All the component synthesisers are used so colourfully and tunefully that the long length feels like an afterthought. Starting with an incredibly pretty line of echoing staccato notes that tinker like LED’s and even have charming moments when the echoing goes a bit off key but doesn’t dissonante. 40 seconds later we are given a like swell in the bass region and 1:10 in to some choir synth though still obviously synthetic still sound appealing, and will become more warm sounding later on as chords change. The glorious melody of the lead synth finally makes its presence known at 1:42 and it is a glorious melody, so incredibly happy like its a past self having their best day of summer, and with a timbre that feels like it was being bowed yet still obviously an old synthesiser. Ralf Hütter starts singing the title and is echoed by robotic voices repeating the word “endless” afterwards, and then repeat the full title after every line in later verses. He makes observations of “parks, hotels and palaces”, “promenades and avenues” and “real life and postcard use”, declares that “life is timeless” and seeing beyond the materialistic world to see simply “decadence and elegance” all while sounding human in timbre but machine-like in delivery. The song also changes its keys as it goes on, from G to F# (or Gb depending on your preference) and B. The tinkering echoes from the beginning continue to spark as ever and the choir synths make lush chords and the lead synth continues it’s sky-gazing pieces of melody lines, some blue-skied, some night-skied. A great start to my favourite Krafterk album (I’ve heard Autobahn and The Man-Machine but not the others), makes me want to have an eventual long-distance rail trip someday.
471. System of a Down - Chop Suey!
Man I used to love these guys in my early adolescence, and I mean early adolescence like before I ever registered on here. They initially seemed a bit silly to me, and the absurdly brash and un-subtle vocals of official New Zealand resident (and guy who’s appeared in the photos with a few friends of mine on Facebook, also a Green party member) Serj Tankian and the chaotic thrashing of the band was a bit amusing at first but also oddly intriguing and eventually compelling. I don’t revisit them often but their albums are still fun to listen to on the off, and this - their signature song - probably remains the definitive summary of their strengths as a band.
Beginning with unusually sombre acoustic guitars strumming a minor-keyed chord progression, it’s joined by crispy electric guitar from Daron Malankian and later a tom-rolling drum beat and slowly-rising electric mandolins, building a perfect amount of tension of relentless metal riffing combining the low-slung tunings of nü-etal with the rhythm of trash. The chords oscillate rapidly back-and-forth between semitones to make it feel almost atonal, yet stuck to a conventional-enough chord progression at the same time. And of course we get Tankian’s iconic verses of screaming a morning routine in unusual phrasing: “WAKE UP! GRABABRUSHANDPUTALITTLE MAKE-UP!” with added details like the whisper repeating “hidethescartofadeawaytheshakeup” and call backs of “YOU WANTED TO!” from the other band members. Then suddenly it goes back to the sombre chord progression and instruments of the opening for its chorus he is joined by Malankian for a surprisingly compelling melody despite the bombastic word-choices, switching back to the chaos in the verses on “I cry when angels deserve to DIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIEEEE!!!”. Even better is after the second chorus Tankian sings the last word softly on a paused chord but the band then start to thrash even wilder than before (note how Malankian is no longer muting his guitar) and then the 2 vocalists both make anguished cries of “FAAAAATHERRRRRR!”. This all leads into the wonderfully high-drama final chorus where the chord progression is being blasted by loud electric chords and Tankian begs said father “why have you forsaken me” emphasising those last words melodically until a glorious fourth and final one (“FOR-SAAAY-KEEEEN! MEEEEEE-OH!”). They sing the chorus main mantras blaring out those slow chords with stadium-level bomast while being joined by strings, the acoustic guitars, mandolins and a piano that adds an extra sense of gothic pathos to the song’s mood. It’s a rare moment of high melodrama in rock pulled off to be a bit charmingly ridiculous but also remaining artistically tasteful at the same time. Last edited:
470. Sly & The Family Stone - I Wanna Take You Higher
Another highlight of “Stand!” and an awesome funk-soul jam with hooks for days. Opening with the massive riff from the guitar and bass, re-entering after every chorus and ending with those chants of “Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey!” each time. Listen to how the verses see each non-Sly vocalist sing a line each of the lead melody in their own unique vocalising (Freddie: “feeling’s getting stroooonger!” Larry: “music’s letting longer toooo-oo-hoooo” Rose: ”music is flashing meeeee!”) then Sly builds into those huge harmonised “HIIIIIIGHER”s in the chorus, and how dirty the fuzz distortion on that bass sounds in the choruses as it continues its vamp from the verses. To say nothing of the “boom laka-laka-laka”s that bridge the chorus to the main riff, or the awesome-as-expected horn riffs organ and guitar chording, (the countering note during the verses also noteworthy). There’s also one of the most awesome uses of harmonica I’ve ever heard on this track, howling over the top of the main riff and getting its own wicked solo from 1:38 to 1:56. For the last third of the song it becomes an all-out jam of solos from the guitar and trumpet and vocals repeating the “boom laka-laka-laka” and “HIIIIIIGHER” hooks from the chorus and keeping the momentum continue.
469. Dionne Warwick - Walk On By
Few songs articulate the pain of seeing one’s ex in public post-breakup as elegantly as this. Over a very andante minor-key piano progression and muted guitar accents, Wariwick sings “If you see me walking down the street and I start to cry each time me meet, walk on by” leading to a trumpet line played in a rather unusual staccato instead of holding the notes for longer, and a subtle addition of a vibraphone in the backing chords for that part. The contrast to how the music invokes a sense of composure while the lyrics are unable to even muster a brave face is a very moving one. In the next verse she briefly sings “foolish pride!” with a flash of confidence only to undermine it immediately afterwards with “that’s all that I have left so let me hide the tears and the sadness you gave me when you said goodbye” drawing the last syllable effortlessly into the simultaneously pretty and weirdly doomy piano arpeggios of the chorus and the staccato backing vocals (“Don’t!... Stop!”) underpinning her as she sings the title. There’s also some wonderful string arrangements here, notably the poignant melody line they play in the bridge after the release of the vocals continuing the final “byyyyy” of the second chorus, and the beautiful way they’re quietened down after that moment to allow the song to comfortably return to the initial “walk on by” hook of the verses. I’m not yet familiar with many Burt Bacharach/Hal David songs as of now (kudos to The White Stripes for introducing me to “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself”) but the quality of songwriting here definitely demonstrates why they remain some of the most beloved songwriters of the 60s.
468. The Beatles - I Want To Hold Your Hand
The one that knocked the door down on the Hot 100 in 1964 and led the charge for the British Invasion to follow. The melodic sophistication and compositional smarts were all there from the revving-up of the opening chords. Listen to the little counterpoint in the middle of the verse chord progression between the little chromatic figure from the low end and the higher-pitched guitar twang that follows it, and the tension in the final B chord while Lennon and McCartney’s harmonies fly up on the word “haaaaand”, preparing us for the chorus’ delightful fluttering of “I wanna hold your ha-aa-aa-aa-a-a-and”. Listen to Harrison’s delicate arpeggios during the bridges (“and when I touch you I feel happy inside”) and how the band return to the revv-up from the opening repeating “I can’t hide! I can’t hide! I can’t hiiiiiiiiiide”. One confused Bob Dylan heard that moment and thought they were saying “I get high!” only to meet them for the first time and discover none of them had done any drugs (yet) (he said of this track “They were doing things nobody was doing. Their chords were outrageous, just outrageous, and their harmonies just made it all valid”). Oh and the way the final chorus sees them falling back on the B chord from the verses to deliver the penultimate “haaaaaand” before the big triplet hits for the finale. I’m admittedly not that much of a Beatles expert on the whole and am yet to digest the entirety of their discography. But I think the quality of landmark singles like this one show that although some find the fact that so many books still name The Beatles as “the greatest or most significant or most influential” rock band ever as evidence of how far rock music is from becoming a serious art (well at least one infamous Itallian critic does), they really were pretty damn important in the evolution of pop music in the 20th century on the whole.
467. Elton John - Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding
An 11 minute-9 second long opening to 1973’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. An unexpectedly proggy rocker from the man who may be considered more a part of pop than rock today. Out of some misty, windy noises to indicate a chilly night comes a synthesiser imitating a churn organ playing at a funeral ceremony, with treble-range chords coming later that sound like they’re imitating trumpets though their similar in timbre to the faux-organ. It dies down to a slow, softly played piano figure with some guitar swells and picks up with the drums and arpeggiated synthesisers (you can hear Muse taking notes at this point to use these more often). The guitar continues to play a dramatic but poignant melody for a solo before another breakdown (Davey Johnstone, the guitarist for this album, is all over the show on this track). John starts a new fast-paced piano riff, and the band starts charging along with him, and synths that feel like a light flashing through the sky (you can hear Muse take more notes here), and even some nice use of clicking percussion! The melody raises its tension to the E chord and slows down for more guitar noodling (you can even hear Metallica take notes by this point). That stops again for a small bit and then the fast piano is back at it again playing an ascending chord progression and then a really cool and complex riff from Johnstone’s guitar joins it along with the drums. Now at halfway we make it to the “Love Lies Bleeding” side of the song, and it’s a more conventional glam-rock song but got a great tune and awesome riff from both the piano and guitar. Elton John delivers some witty lines like “I was playing rock and roll and you were just a fan, but my guitar couldn’t hold you so I split the band!” and some great backing vocals. There’s another breakdown to just the piano riff in the new major-keyed chord progression being joined with some damn beautiful twinkles of echoing synths that sound like birds, and the guitar solo immediately after it. And I also love the wordless vocals in the outro from the “waaaooooooooh”s to the falsetto’d “oooh-ooh”s with the band rocking into the distance at the end. I still haven’t completed my driving lessons, but I tell you this would be awesome as hell to play on a road trip.
466. Manic Street Preachers - Motorcycle Emptiness
I still haven’t dipped into the actual albums of the Manics that much, but I’ve taken note of individual songs, this early single from 1992 being the pick of the bunch so far. It’s got one of the most robustly tuneful guitar lines in 90s rock that keeps climbing higher and benting those key notes beautifully. There’s the sunny chord progression from the rhythm section (important fact: even really common chord progressions can be truly great and even exceptional depending on the way it’s played). The melody sounds effortless yet achieves the seemingly impossible task of working around word combinations of “under neon loneliness, motorcycle emptiness” and that’s not even getting to the verses! A poetic polemic of capitalism’s oppressive nature in a way that plays like a more detailed version of the iconic Bittersweet Symphony lyric “you’re a slave to money then you die”, it starts with “Culture sucks down words, itemise loathing and feed yourself smiles” which could have sounded so “we live in a society” if it weren’t for the sweetness and flexibility of that melody. I love the verse-chorus transition where James Dean Bradfield sings “life sole cheaply forever” repeating the “ever” into the evening sky, and the bridge’s change into more contrasting chords and another great melody in “all we want from you is the kicks you’ve given us” joined by plucked strings and pianos. A song with some of the most uplifting musical surroundings for some of the bleakest lyrics: “drive away and it’s the same, everywhere death row everyone’s a victim”.
I was a bit late for this one because I had a pretty busy weekend but I am gonna get back into the habit of dropping them more regularly. Hope y'all had a good weekend Last edited:
Oh wow some real bangers here - although they're kinda the opposite of bangers due to being supremely sad but I love them all the same! Love a little Roxy Music, grew up on their first two albums (my mum had a mad crush on Bryan Ferry which I found ... jarring, but nonetheless, the music is good. LOVE Just! Walk On By is a right jam - and lovely to see some Dionne Warwick in the list. It's amazing seeing her breadth of hits both in terms of time and style. An underrated hit-maker in my eyes for sure. I Want To Hold Your Hand is just a jam. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road is probably my favourite Elton John album (I've listened to about exactly half of them thus far and it's my favourite - well either this one of Captain Fantastic...) and Motorcycle Emptiness is one I've only discovered recently and it's such a good track.
Like an idiot, I had never actually listened to Rumours until this year despite the constant exposure of the big singles and the obvious melodic excellence on display in those songs. This opener, however was also just as captivating with its galloping acoustic guitar strum underpinning its building rhythmic drive matched by the way the drums become subtly more prominent throughout the track. Another acoustic guitar colours in the chords with chiming higher-pitched voicings and Lindsey Buckingham sings an absolutely ace melody, joined by a harmony from Stevie Nicks for a rhythmically hooky line in “when times go bad, when times get rough, won’t you let me in on the tall grass and let me do my stuff”. This leads into the addictively catchy “bam bam bam” hook of the chorus. The song’s crescendo builds in the second chorus with the addition of an electric guitar ringing over the top of the band and the fantastic outro climax of “I’m just second hand news I’m just second hand newwwwwws yeeeah!” with ascending backing vocals and being topped off by a soaring electric guitar solo. A fantastic opener to a fantastic album.
464. Tiki Taane - Tangaroa
Although I am a New Zealander, I’ll admit I’ve been fairly slack at listening to much music made by artists from my own country. This year however I started to buck the habit a bit and give a lot of well-known NZ albums that I’ve slept on their final due. One of them was Tiki Taane’s Past, Present and Future and although it is most well-known for the acoustic-guitar driven NZ megahit “Always on My Mind”, the album is home to a load tracks in different styles with this one being perhaps the most unique. A haka performed by Taane’s father accompanied by forboeding electronic sounds from an eerie vocal sample to the trickling echoed synths. The haka for “Tangaroa” is about the Māori god of the sea, one of the children of the parents of the earth Ranginui (the sky) and Papatūānuku (the earth) and gives the commands of “Tu mai te ihi, Tu mai te wehiwehi, Tu mai te wanawana e” ordering us to stand and be amazed, trembled and frightened before his forces. I love the way the percussion and bass build throughout the track in a way that gives the feeling of something moving closer towards us, the and the glitchy synths that arrive midway through the song that sound like the cries of native birds. It all invokes an atmosphere of being there before Tangaroa himself and immersed in the nature surrounding you.
463. Kraftwerk - The Robots
The opener to their 1978 album The Man-Machine and perhaps the definitive example of the Kraftwerk aesthetic. An intro that sounds like electric signals being transmitted to the robots to turn them on, and a bubbling synth line setting the groove for the song immediately afterwards. Kraftwerk’s skill for perfectly-composed countermelodies is also intact with the staccato line that starts 45 seconds in, and the synthesised vocals here are the most, well, robotic they have ever sounded, and somehow turn the “we are the robots” hook into something effortlessly catchy (like how the line gets lower in the second half of each chorus). The bridges see them revert to the signal-sounds of the opening and to their native language of German for “ja tvol sluga, ja tvol rabotnik” (“I’m your servant, I’m your worker”) but perhaps the definitive lyric is the second verse’s “we’re functioning automatic, and we are dancing mechanic” both a cool rhyme and also what the song succeeds at - being both consciously mechanical yet undeniably danceable. The song continues its bubbling synth groove and sparse beat for 6 minutes, and yet it feels like it continue over the horizon forever if it wanted to.
462. Aphex Twin - To Cure a Walking Child
“My, feet, my, arms, and, my, ears, and, your, feet” repeats the single line in this highlight of 1996’s Richard D. James - the gentlemen behind the Aphex Twin moniker’s name, y’see. Each word it cut from a sample of Jame’s own voice and pitched to sound like a child and sequenced in a slightly jumpy way. It sets the mood for the track which both has a sense of childlike wonder in its melodic components and is but is also a journey into some truly bizarre sonic territory of which Aphex Twin was an unparalleled creator of at the time. The drums stutter and twitch everywhere and makes all sorts of bizarre timbres, being both unbelievably detailed and complex but still incredibly ear-catching and memorable (listen to how wild they get from 2:09-2:40 and how warped the vocal line sounds afterwards). And yet the melody lines from the vocal line and the surrounding synthesizers are all remarkably pretty and colourful and invoke the sense of discovering what magical sounds can be made on all the digital technology that was arriving in the 90s. I particularly love the shimmering line first heard at 1:08 and the lead melody line that forms at 1:22 until the percussion solo at 2:09.
461. Nirvana - Come As You Are
This one probably doesn’t need much explanation as it’s the second single of the game-changing milestone album Nevermind. But it bears one of my favourite guitar sounds in Nirvana’s discography in the murky underwater-sounding guitar riff. Cobain gives a poignant melody adding a longing to lines like “as a friend as an old memory” and the repeats of that last line that follow (also worth noticing Dave Grohl’s drum rolls in-between those repeats). I love how the guitars maintain their underwatery tone even as they go into overdrive in the latter half of the song, especially during the rendition of the verse melody in the guitar solo. I also love the distant echo of the harmony line for “and no I doooon’t have a gun” appearing at the end of the chorus as Cobain sings his final “memory”. As great a second most well known song of a classic album as any.
The third track Elvis Costello’s 1978 classic This Year’s Model and as good a display of Costello’s lyrical wit and the instrumental talents of The Attractions as any of that album. Bruce Thomas plays some neat bass lines through the guitar chord progressions and Steve Nieve adds whislty keyboard lines over the top of them while Costello references the opening line of “Summer Holiday” only to rhyme it with “vigilantes coming out to follow me”. There’s the catchy call-and-response of “on the beat” from Elvis and his Attractions then Pete Thomas sends the song charging down the chorus with his drums matching Bruce’s descending bass in G major through Costello’s chorus line of “have you been a good boy, never played with your toy? Though you never enjoy such a pleasure to employ” leading out on an E chord and yet another great hook in the repeated chants of “see your friends!” finishing a chorus with 3 major distinct hooks and sections within it. The bridge is also a delight with Steve Nieve’s nifty keyboard line and Costello’s lyrics go further down the sexual frustration in the barely-hidden innuendo from the chorus, getting to its most masochistic with the classic-Costello line “I don’t wanna be your lover, I just wanna be your victim”. The band’s energy builds up again after that and Costello draws out “Did you think you were the only one who was waiting for a caaaaallll? On the beat!” leading into another round of the chorus. Not just one of my favourites from Elvis Costello, but also one of his most quintessentially Elvis Costello-y songs.
459. Taylor Swift - Fearless
“There’s something ‘bout the way the street looks like when it’s just rained, there’s a glow off the pavement, you walk me to the car, and you know I wanna ask you to dance right there in the middle of a parking lot, yeah!”
That’s the opening line for both the song “Fearless” and its album of the same name. The way it seeks to find the romantic in the everyday shows that there was an ambition to Taylor Swift’s songwriting even when she was still in her late teens, and has of course gone on to extend those ambitions further on later albums. While musically it sits comfortably in the album’s pop-country style the little electric guitar figure, mandolins and acoustic guitar all gleam as if they were that glow from the pavement. The rain and dancing return in the chorus with “and I don’t know why but with you I’d dance in a storm in my best dressed, fearless” viewing the rain as something enlivening rather than melancholic. Listen to how excited and almost blushy she sounds in the verse line “run your hands through your hair, absent-mindedly making me want you!” or in the bridge’s “my hands shake… no I’m not… usually this… waaayyyy but” while the backing band intensify. I also love the drum fills made from the second verse-chorus transition (“capture it! remember it!”) to the aforementioned bridge and another touches like the chord hits in the final chorus and even the snare that kicks the whole song off. An exciting early show of talent for what would become one of the biggest forces in pop history.
458. Alice In Chains - Rooster
A highlight of Alice In Chain’s 1992 classic Dirt, written as a tribute to guitarist and core songwriter Jerry Cantrell’s father who served in the Vietnam War and gained the nickname that makes the song’s title. The opening with its lush guitar chords, neat little bass counterpart and falsetto harmonies oohing a gorgeous little melody line create an image of witnessing a setting sun on a hot day out in the desert. Layne Stayley sings of enduring the pain and exhaustion in “ain’t found a way to kill me yet, eyes burn with stinging sweat” in a weary voice, rising up to an anguished vibrato in “the bullets screeeaaaaam to me from somewhere”. That leads into the chorus’ harmonic build-up of “heeeere they come to snuff the roosterrrrrrrr” getting released on a particularly badass “YEEEAAAAAAAH!!!” and a surge of heavy guitars to crash in afterwards and Stayley unleashing a cathartic “YOU KNOW HE AIN’T GONNA DIIIIIIIIIIIIE!!!!!!”. It’s a thrilling moment, one that goes against the dread and despair of much of Alice In Chains material, and that chorus only continues to kick in harder each time with the thunderous build-up of the drums appearing in the later ones under the looming chord changes. Also dig the military-sounding snare during the second verse and the way the song calmly ends in a similar way to its sunsetty opening, like it’s nearing its end and about to go into the night.
457. Deafheaven - Dream House
Kicking of Dearheaven’s 2013 landmark album Sunbather of the ever-so-broadly-known subgenre of blackgaze, a combination of shoegaze and black metal. With dreamy night-sky washes of guitar chords which sound louch even when strummed at a thrash-level speed. And the absolutely fucking relentless stampede of the drums that never lets up besides a few breakdowns. It’s music that makes you feel transported through space when you listen to it (apologies for the questionable sobriety of this entry). I understand that some will be put off by the screaming from vocalist George Clarke, but I like how it’s mixed a lot lower and in an airy pitch so it sounds more like a scrape across the colours of the guitar chords and lead lines reminiscent of post-punk. It’s difficult to make out by ear and the lyrics in print seem more like typical metal overuse of metaphorical language that comes off at high minded, but I don’t care when I listen to it. I just feel empowered by the sound of the distant screams themselves. 5 minutes there’s a brief moment of calm with some delicate and slyly intricate guitar arpeggios. Then the band comes crashing in at a slower, heavier tempo and the most audible line is screamed as “I’m dying! Is it blissful?”) (I know I normally illustrate the vocal feel using bold and italics, but it would be ridiculously long here!). Unexpectedly, he turns to the more optimistic half by finishing it off with repeats of “I want to dream!” and the guitar line ascends to the stars and the chord changes increase in tension until the final ring-out of the guitars after 9 minutes. Of the album Sunbather but in my mind equally as much of a stargazer.
456. Queen - Killer Queen
I admit that I have a bit of a difficult relationship with Queen at this point in life. The way they’re treated as a sacred cow by so much of the general public helped me love their hits as a kid but make me a bit uncomfortable as an adult now. As someone who’s grown out of their rockist shell from adolescence, the way they’re treated as unquestionable musical messiahs and also weapons against almost all modern day pop music by some people became made their appeal more troubling. It was like them being campy and poppy but still a rock band made them the example people could use to show that they were open minded to pop while still hating it. And by “it” usually “everything modern, moreso if it’s effeminate (e.g. boybands), female sung, or black”. Plus there’s just way too much overplaying of almost all their hits for me to possibly want to listen to them in private anymore. Yes objectively “Bohemian Rhapsody” is a fantastic song, but subjectively it’s been praised by enough people with pretty vulgar music opinions and sung by too many groups of White People At Parties for me to want to include it in this list (although there are still come obvious White People At Parties songs on this list that I still personally love).
“Killer Queen” is a rare exception in that it well-known but a bit less overplayed than most Queen songs in my experience, but is just such a well-crafted presentation of their talents that I find it hard to deny. Lyrically it’s easily the smartest Queen song with its clever wordplay and rhymes from the chorus’ “She’s a killer queeee-eeeen! Gunpowder gelatine! Dynamite with a laserbeam!” (dig the flange effect added to the last line and to the “wanna tryyyyy” parts after that) to the verse’s alliteration of “Khrushchev and Kennedy” and rhyming of “cigarette and etiquette” among many others. The melody is absolutely ace as are the bouncing piano chord progression. There’s some fantastic bass runs from John Deacon, and some great drum rolls from Roger Taylor in the second verse and the chord hits after the choruses with Brian May’s guitar bends over the top of them. I absolutely love the part near the end where the harmonies get extra animated singing “drive you wiiiiiiiillllllld! Wiiiiiiiiilllld!” with more great drum rolls from Taylor underneath. It covers an awful lot of compositional ideas in only 3 minutes up to and including its final seconds where Brian May plays a cyclic solo lick panning in the left and right.
Come As You Are and Fearless. Loooove! Don't like Killer Queen as much as I should, fantastically weird but just something I struggle to listen through tbh. And I haven't heard that Tiki Taane track in FOREVER! Wow!
455. Everything But The Girl - Missing (Todd Terry Mix)
You can thank the Logo game for giving me a late reminder of this song’s greatness before I finalised this list (speaking of, I’d be keen to see its return to the forums). The single mix that we voted for remains the definitive version for me - it’s one of the best examples of how adding dance elements can actually increase the melancholy of a song rather than counter it. The moment the house beat starts it already feels like you’re outside late at night walking past the clubs on the street. The synth chords have a danceable rhythm to them whilst still being incredibly sad sounding. The floating synth line that shifts between sounding like a violin and ambient swells only makes the song feel all the more darker and lonelier. At the centre of it all is Tracey Thorn’s vocal which carries so much emotional weight almost effortlessly. The chorus hook of “I miss you, like the deserts miss the rain” is one of the most devastating expressions of loss in a pop chorus, but just as harrowing are the verse’s detailed of the subject’s absence that barely need any poetic devices added to them: “I look up at your house and I can almost hear you shout down to me where I always used to be” is a real gut-puncher, as is the confession to “hanging around your old address” and the conclusion of the first and final verses that “you’ve found some better place” left with the perfect amount of heartbreaking ambiguity. “I miss you, like the forum’s missed The New ARIA Logo”.
454. Aaliyah - We Need A Resolution
Aaliyah’s is, for me, one of the most tragic deaths in music history, not least because of how young she was at the time - I’m already a year older than she was on the day of the fatal plane crash on August 25th, 2001. But beyond her age, she had just released a fantastic self-titled album mere months before, and had already recorded some of the best and most innovative R&B music of its era, in no small part to her creatively fruitful relationships to some of the most cutting-edge producers of the day, most famously of course being Timbaland. Although he was less of a creative force on her final album, he still contributed 3 excellent tracks to it, including this fantastic opener. Like a lot of Timbaland productions, this track draws from Middle Eastern motifs for its melodic and instrumental components in the string loop that climbs up the harmonic minor scale; and a beat constructed of beat boxed vocals that are mixed so well with the hi-hat and snare they become almost indistinguishable from each other without close listening, and pings of bell noise here and there. Aaliyah however remains the star of the show with her vocal performance that conveys the lyric’s uneasy sense of romantic distrust and uncertainty with endless memorable hooks to boot that respond to each other much like the contrasting instrumentation, from the opening accusation of “Did you sleep on the wrong side? I’m catching a bad vibe” to the brilliant self-interplay in the chorus. Harmonised lines of “Am I supposed to change? Are you supposed to change?” are responded with wavering lines of “Who should be hurt? Who should be blamed?” and closed by quick eighth-note runs of “We need a resolution, we have so much confusion”. There’s also the brilliant melody lines in the 2nd verse (“I want to know, where were you last night?”) backed by a swelling synth riff that comes to the surface in the song’s outro after Timbaland’s admittedly filler-y rap verse. The brilliant use of the harmonic minor scale throughout all these melody lines is that there’s a constant air of tension throughout that never gets the resolution the lyrics so desperately seek out.
453. Michael Jackson - Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough
One of the most beloved hits from Off The Wall, bursting into a joyous disco jam 14 seconds after the syncopated bassline and that iconic “you make me feel like… oooooooh!!!”. Those up-and-down runs of violins that are responded to in the lower ranges by cellos and the triumphant swells of horns announcing themselves over irresistibly danceable cowbell-laden beat and a chicken scratch guitar. Jackson’s high-as-helium melody soars atop it all, counterbalanced by adding some wonderful lower-register responses you first hear at 0:50. The instrumental keeps finding new things to add along the way whilst still sticking to the groove, from the trumpet lines in the chorus, the zippy guitar solo in the bridge that flashes like disco lights, the smooth legato string lines in the second verse, the fluid bass runs and how the trumpets start mimicking and accentuating the guitar riff in the third verse creating a sense of triumph to the whole thing. The funky guitar scratch starts to develop a harmonised counterpoint of its own building up as the rest of the track fades out, ensuring the dancing won’t stop after the song does.
452. The White Stripes - Ball and Biscuit
One of (and/or arguably) the last of its kind - the track of a big-selling rock album that’s a showcase for a revered guitarist to demonstrate their chops to the fullest extent. This 7-minute deep basement blues-rock jam on Elephant remains the definitive recording of Jack White’s guitar work. From the crispy riff and wobbly fills in the quieter parts to the explosive, screaming leads in the soloing sections that sear like a blowtorch thanks to White distortion-on-distortion crunch and pitch-bends from the Whammy pedal. But “Ball and Biscuit” is great for more than just its guitar playing, it’s also home to some of White’s smartest, funniest lyrics which see him flirting to a woman in some rather unusual one-liners: “It’s quite possible that I’m your third man girl, but it’s a fact that I’m the seventh son!”; “Right now you could care less about me, but soon enough you will care by the time I’m done!”; “Tell everybody in the place to just get out, and we’ll get clean together and then I’ll find a soapbox where I can shout ‘em”; the latter perhaps having the dirtiest use of the word “clean” I’ve ever heard. There’s also Meg White’s minimal backbeat who’s simplicity creates loads of space for Jack to fill in while steadily stomping forward in a powerful and rather, uh, Elephant-like way.
451. LCD Soundsystem - North American Scum
Not the first song of Sound of Silver that I’ve written about already, but it’s the first of an absolutely astonishing 3-song stretch on that album with few contenders. “North American Scum” is LCD Soundsystem at their most goofy with lyrics that poke fun at the weird aspects of (North) American life and culture, although a lot of it is fairly specific to LCD’s home city New York (he claims in the third verse “New York’s the greatest if you get someone to pay the rent! And it’s the furthest you can live from the government!”). Many lines are interjected by a ridiculous emphasise-all-syllables hook of “North! A! Meri! Ca!” and the lines that don’t sound even funnier with the way James Murphy awkwardly concludes them (“And for those of you who still think we’re from England, we’re not... no”). Meanwhile the backing music is a constant 3-chord build with scratches of muted guitar and a sharp hi-hat groove and a nimble bassline, eventually exploding in the choruses where the aforementioned 4-syllable hook transitions into the wicked backing vocals dragging a high-pitched “aaaaaah!” over the top and Murphy wails in fastello on lead. I particularly love his lines at the end of the final verse (“Yeah I love this place that I’ve grown to know, alright North America! And yeah I know you wouldn’t touch us with a ten foot pole, ‘cause we’re NORTH A-MERI-CAAAANS!” and the brief shout of “don’t blame the Canadians!” just before the song ends. Bandit Keith’s favourite song, probably. Last edited:
Thriller’s list of reasons for why it’s so beloved by so many are so obvious that it almost seems silly to even mention them - that it crossed over to so many different audiences by incorporating different genres (rock, adult contemporary, dance, r&b) and was exceptional at doing so almost every time, spinning off 7 singles (all of which made the US top 10) and earning its crown of the best-selling album of all time. One discovery I got to make on my own about this album, however, is that it’s production is perfect to listen to at night time, with “Human Nature” being perhaps the best track for the occasion (side note: a lot of early-to-mid 80s pop is also great for the night-time including Thriller’s rival Purple Rain, though Madonna’s self-titled opus is the antithesis of this and is perfect on a hot sunny day). As soon as that opening synth melody that sounds like a bunch of distant streetlights starts over those chords and the neatly-placed guitar counterpoint buried underneath and Jackson sings “reaching out across the night-time” it feels like you’re there witnessing the evening glow of a city and thinking about your past and future. The vocal melodies synth pads and crisp guitar keep the mood continuing with lyrics of wanting to explore (“If this town is just an apple, then let me take a bite”) and connect to people and a wistful chorus who’s descending line is so pretty Jackson starts singing it wordlessly by the end with it sounding just as wonderful. With the longing, nocturnal mood this song evokes, it’s no wonder it remains one of MJ’s most sampled songs. Stay tuned if a song that samples it appears later on.
449. Taylor Swift - Style
Another song great for commuting through the city late at night. With a squiggly guitar line to open the song showing you who listened intently to “Get Lucky” the year before. Glammy neon-light synths radiate and drive a rather, well, stylish beat. Taylor Swift’s however is still worried and uncertain in the verse’s melody and lyric:
Midnight, you come and pick me up, no headlights, Long drive, could end in burning flames or paradise Fade into view, it’s been a while since I had even heard from you
And yet as the song’s pre-chorus breakdown to sparse chords and the riff, she somehow manages to being conflicted about her partner (“And I should just tell you to leave ‘cause I, know exactly where it leads but I, watch it go round and round each time”) and the guitar line ascends to a higher, happier note pivoting the song into its radiant chorus where the synths glow again and Swift describes her love for the image or their relationship, the aesthetic in a way.
You got that James Dean daydream look in your eye And I got that red lip, classic thing that you like And when we go crashing down, we come back every time 'Cause we never go out of style, we never go out of style You've got that long hair slick back, white t-shirt And I got that good girl faith and a tight little skirt And when we go crashing down, we come back every time 'Cause we never go out of style, we never go out of style
There’s one of the trademark production tricks from 1989 of using heavily-reverberated and high-pitched backing vocals to colour in songs like a synth would for the last 3 words at the end. The second verse returns to the minor-key uncertainty and balances attraction to his appearance (hear that “mmmm yeah” after witnessing him take his coat off) with the shock of hearing rumours of infidelity (“some ooother girl?”). And yet somehow even then, the pair depicted in the chorus are too hot to abandon each other. (“Hey says “what you’ve heard is true but I can’t stop thinking ‘bout you and I” I said “I’ve been there too a few times”). Riding that glorious chorus again to the glorious bridge (the catharsis in those “take me home!”s!) and beyond. One of the best songs of 1989 and what made such a milestone in pop music.
448. Amerie - 1 Thing
“”1 Thing” is a song without a center, without a floor or ceiling; it seems to hover in midair for four minutes” wrote Pitchfork writer Douglas Wolk for its #32 entry on their top songs of the 2000s list, back in 2009. That pretty much nails the essence of this song for me. Produced by Rich Harrison of “Crazy In Love” fame, and like that song it exploits a funk sample - in this case a rollicking drum riff from The Meters’ “Oh Calcutta!” (the part from 1:41-1:50 if you’re curious) - and stretches it enough to substantiate a 4-minute pop song to it, going back-and-forth between the lighter cymbal-riding groove and the tumbling tom-heavy fills; and spiked with bongo and cowbell. The only harmonic content to anchor the song are some sparse chanks of guitar chords, leaving the melody suspended and left to dance around the drum beat and doing so in a stunning way, with some excellent wordless hooks like opening “na-na-na-na-na-oh”, the oscillating “uh-oh-uh-oh-ohhh!” and “oh-oh-oh-oh-oh”s. There’s also the unusual syllable emphasis in the chorus’ “it’s-THIS-one-THING that caught me slipping” creating the hyperkinetic sense of movement like in Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies”. More harmonic content is eventually added after the second chorus with the gorgeous burst of backing vocals and stirring, strings that leave the harmonies ever-so-slightly uncertain. One of the best R&B hits of the 2000s and one I feel has become underrated.
447. Kylie Minogue - Confide In Me
I was aware that Kylie Minogue’s career arc involved starting as a typical teen-pop star and transitioning into a more “serious” pop star later on, but I was actually a bit unprepared for the pivoting to occur as early as 1994 with a grandiose trip-hop song (trip-hop was perhaps one of the easiest ways to be read as “serious” music in the 90s). Of course that made sense later - pop music of the early 90s teen pop kind was pretty rare by 1994, and she was already a bit older than she was on her last record. After a dramatic intro with orchestral backing and nylon guitar, the strings make a brooding melody and the busy trip-hop beat finally arrives. Kylie Minogue’s vocals are the real show-stealer, however, and exude a wise and ethereal presence that’s very enchanting. Assuring us that “we all get hurt by love, and we all have a cross to bear” and shooting into the night sky with “but in the name of understanding now, our problems should be shaaaaaaarrred” soaring the choruses’ “confiiiiiiiiiide iiiiiiiiiin meeeeeee!” as the strings rise again and the sitar and electric guitar add their touches. There’s a wonderful violin solo at the 3:37 mark played over faint flickers of keyboard, the song ends as a fade out as the chorus continues its journey to the end while the sitar becomes more elaborate and Minogue’s voice becomes even higher and more angelic.
446. The White Stripes - Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground
Kicking open The White Stripes’ 2001 mainstream breakthrough White Blood Cells with a squall of feedback and an utter sledgehammer of a guitar riff backed by a stomping drum beat shortly afterwards. The guitar quietens down for some gentle chords and arpeggios and Jack White delivers one of his best vocal melodies (I love the way he repeats the last line with a darker chord progression for the final measure). His lyrics are also at their quirkiest and emotionally sincere simultaneously with “thirty notes in the mail box will tell you that I’m coming home” and “every breath that is in your lungs is a tiny little gift to me”. Each verse in intersect with a chorus of chord blasting and over the pounding thump of the bridge Jack gives a heartfelt yearn of “I didn’t feel so bad ‘til the sun went dooooown, then I come hooome, no-one to wrap my arms around!”. The song turns to its final verse and he becomes self-effacing about his own proclamations of love (“well any man with a microphone can tell you what he loves the most”) and quietly ends. The band’s roots in DIY punk, blues, classic rock and folk all present in this definitive hit of the band.
Opening their 1986 classic Master of Puppets with an ominous acoustic chord progression, met by a lead melody that becomes unusually prettier each time it gains a new harmony. It establishes both a dread-heavy mood and builds enough melodic content for the explosion into electric guitars to arrive perfectly, continuing the chords and harmonised melody in searing distortion. We are then taken to James Hetfield’s relentless thrash riff and the band charge behind it at full force through the verses to the chorus where Hetfield shows his development of melody-making in “slashing through the boundaries, lunacy has found me, cannot stop the BA-TTE-RY!” and “cannot kill the family battery is found in me” without breaking from the song’s pummelling attack. My favourite moment in the song however comes later on after Kirk Hammet’s frenetic second guitar solo and the band hammer on those gnarly chromatic power chords, a terrific increase in tension.
444. D’Angelo & The Vanguard - Ain’t That Easy
Opener of Black Messiah and one of D’Angelo’s most rock-influenced and funkiest songs, from the oscillating feedback at the beginning giving way to the low-slung funk-rock guitar riff that maintains D’Angelo’s taste for weird chord progressions, and the thwack of the synthesised handclap on the eighth beat augments the funkiness of Questlove’s drum beat. There’s an ominous guitar chug in the verses appropriate for the lyrical temptations of “Take a toke of smoke of me as you dream inside, let your days slip away come with me and ride”. Meanwhile the choruses contain some excellent countering bass lines, backing vocals that make great interplay with D’angelo’s lead melody (“give yourself a chaaaaance (you can’t leave me!) No waaaaay (it ain’t that easy!)”) and a funky as hell “ow ow ow” hook to finish it. Although the lyrics don’t contain the political overtones of many other songs on Black Messiah, they’re still hinted at in lines like “Ever hit with a choice that you can’t decide? Which direction left or right?” and help set the kind of mood for the later songs to explore further.
443. U2 - Until the End of the World
One of the many highlights of one of the albums I’ve loved the longest, Achtung Baby. Starting off with some weird kind of synthesised screams before Adam Clayton starts a nifty groove with Larry Mullen’s congas and drum kit. The Edge’s guitar makes some murky swipes across the strings that sound like something swimming underwater before surging into the bright flashy riff. Bono sings in a lower register than usual with a conversational tone while still holding a memorable melody. His lyrics retell the betrayal of Jesus from Judas in the character of the latter, with some modernised lines (“I took the money, I spiked your drink, you miss too much these days if you stop to think”) among references to the original story (“In the garden I was playing the tart, I kissed your lips and broke your heart”). There isn’t a chorus, yet Bono paraphrases the title in the final line of each verse in a way that turns it into a memorable hook (from the first verse: “everybody was having a good time, except you, you were talking about the end of the world” - god it’s easy to feel like that guy at times!) with Edge’s riff returning to drive the song onwards. His chord changes and textures here create almost as many colours as there are on the Achtung Baby cover, and like in the intro continues to sound like it’s swimming through water, rising to the surface for the flashy and melodic solo before plunging back in with a filter effect on the riff; eventually taking us to the thrilling coda where it sounds like it’s forming a whirlpool around Larry Mullen’s seismic drum riff. He starts circling a “na na na na” hook over the top of it which only makes the coda sound more cathartic. The end result is a song that sounds very much like the end of the world as it plays.
442. Car Seat Headrest - Destroyed By Hippie Powers
The best euphemism for getting stoned ever? Probably, but beyond that this song is also perhaps the most straight-up rocking song from the band’s excellent 2016 album Teens of Denial. From the get go this song just explodes with the kind of gloriously loud guitar chords that are played with such physical power, reignited again to back the wordless melody lines in the pre-chorus and for the massive riff in the chorus. Will Toledo starts of sounding reserved and anxious in the verses but cuts loose mid-way through the second (“The guy I kinda hate is here, should not have had that last… woo! Hit of DMT!” leading into a glorious “Laaaaa la la laaaaaa” hook for the second pre-chorus backed with both a vocal harmony and a jangly guitar counteracting the power chords; and then to just one of the most flat-out-fucking cathartic moments in recent rock history in “WHAT HAPPENED TO THAT CHUBBY LITTLE KID WHO SMILED SO MUCH AND LOVED THE BEACH BOYS? WHAT HAPPENED IS I KILLED THAT FUCKER AND TOOK HIS NAME AND GOT NEW GLASSES!!!!” yelled from the top of his lungs, with the chorus after that hitting just as hard. Then there’s the awesome treble-range riff introduced in the breakdown that takes the song through to its coda with the band exploding beneath it. I love the way the rhythm guitar plunges into the low E chord for the first part of the coda riff but then just copies the rest of it, making for both the most air-guitar-worthy moment in the song, but possibly for the whole Teens of Denial album.
441. Wolf Alice - Heavenward
As soon as the opener of Wolf Alice’s 2017 sophomore and Mercury Prize winner for the following year Visions of a Life comes in after 30 seconds of ambient feedback, its like diving deep into a waterfall lake in the middle of a rainforest. Suddenly immersed in the pools of Joff Odie’s shoegazed guitar chords and the trickling of water from Joel Amy’s drum beat while vocalist Ellie Rowsell adds dreamy “ooooh”s over the top creating a mistiness to the atmosphere. A tribute to passed-away friend of the band, Rowsell completely sells the majestic chorus (“Go heaaaaavenwaaaaard, like all Earrrrrrth angels should”) and in the second verse as the band quietens down sings “I’m gonna celebrate you forever” with a beautifully understated wistfulness like she’s gazing upwards at the stars at that moment. Odie’s guitar textures continue to shine in the latter half of the song from the hazy sustain of his notes in the solo while still carrying a pretty melody, to the chiming pings of high notes over the outro as Roswell repeats “I see you dancing on”. A beautifully crafted piece of modern shoegaze and my favourite Wolf Alice song so far.
My favourite of the mega-hits spawned off of The Fat of the Land. Like a lot of big beat hits, this one brings a clear rock influence to the forefront with the guitar-like synth line and build up in the intro and breakdown sections and the wah-wah guitar sample from The Breeder’s “S.O.S” (not an Abba or Rihanna cover sadly). What’s also remarkable is how that sample, along with the “hey hey hey” (sampled from Art of Noise’s “Close (to Edit)”) and the sinister synth tones placed each of Keith Flint’s lines in the verses all contribute to an eerie atmosphere in the song as much as they add to the momentum carried by the frantic breakbeat. Notice how the first beat of the breakbeat always sounds like something’s bursting, how the dotted synth pulse in the breakdowns helps build up so much tension to be released when the beat hits again, and the synth squelch in the outro that plays like a stab of power chords. But on top of all that, what’s also crucial to bringing the uniquely punk rock energy to the song is the vocal from the late Keith Flint, with the irreverent snarl of “I’m the bitch you hated, filth infatuated! yeaaaah!” and even turning a bit paranoid and unhinged on “I’m the self-inflicted, mind detonator!”.
439. The Avalanches - Since I Left You
A wonderful walk through a sunny day where the end of spring and start of summer merge (so definitely a great one to play at the time of writing this!). The string sections and wordless vocal harmonies - mixed subtly with a bit of vinyl static to accentuate the vintageness of the samples - and the bits of dialogue create so much scenery in the first minute, like walking through a park in a busy city with trees blossoming, sparse clouds in the sky and people meeting up with friends (and the opening flamenco guitar being a street busker you’ve just passed by on the away). That’s before we get to the absolutely beautiful flute melody and the vocal hook that evokes such a content and peaceful state of mind, and the tinkering of xylophone added just to add more blissfulness to the hook. There’s the keyboard riff that accentuates the danceability of the beat along with the subtle but groovy bassline that enters alongside it, but my favourite moment of all is the bird-like whistle noise at 3:16 which by that point I feel completely lost in the blissfulness of it all.
438. The Stone Roses - I Wanna Be Adored
The opener of The Stone Roses self-titled 1989 debut begins like someone arriving towards you from the horizon on the dawn of a cold day. Foggy clouds of reverberated amp static passing like chilly winds and an immortal bassline slowly getting louder in the mix. Some glimmers of pretty guitar noodling peek through like early glimpses of sunlight, and the kick drum and hi-hat start pulsing, bringing the whole thing nearer to you until finally arriving 1:30 where the song finally comes to life and plays its iconic, enigmatic guitar riff. Ian Brown sings “I don’t need to sell my soul, he’s already in me” and barely needs any more lyrics than that besides singing the title for a chorus (love how he reaches a higher note for “a-doooored” in the later choruses). There’s enough presence in his delivery of those few lines to almost carry the remaining 3 minutes on their own, though the rhythm section and John Squire’s icy jangle-pop inspired guitar lines continue to drive the song just as well, driving out the song with a breakdown that builds up to a tremendous finale.
437. Primal Scream - Loaded
“Just what is it that you want to do?” “We want to be free! We want to be free to do what we wanna do! And we wanna get loaded and we’re wanna have a good time! And that’s what we’re gonna do! We’re gonna have a good time! We’re gonna have a party!”
That’s the dialogue sampled from the movie The Wild Angles that opens the centrepiece track of Primal Scream’s 1991 dance-rock landmark Screamadelica and also gets spat out of the mouth of a drunk Simon Pegg in the climax of The World’s End. It basically sums up the whole mood of the early 90s rave scene that was thriving in the UK in the early 90s with an awesome 7-minute jam perfect for any party. Constructed out of samples from their previous album’s cut “I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have” with a beat augmented by (according to the song’s Wikipedia page) an Italian bootleg remix of Edie Brickwell’s “What I Am” and a gospel hook sampled from The Emotions’ “I Don’t Want To Lose Your Love”. Everything falls into place effortlessly: the beat; the bassline setting the I-bVII-IV progression; the rock-soul piano chords who’s bouncing rhythm fit perfectly in the framing of an early 90s dance track; the slide guitar that’s reverberated in a way that brings a lot of space to the mix; the chunky electric guitar riffing (especially the big chord strikes during the breakdown; the string line used in the first half and most importantly the triumphant and trumpets that turn it all into a glorious fanfare. Also dig that one moment at 4:51 when Bobby Gillespie turns up to give one “Ahhhhh yeah!” just for that moment.
436. Kraftwerk - Showroom Dummies
Although Trans Europe Express is bookended with optimistic, blue-skied tracks in the aforementioned opener “Europe Endless” and closer “Franz Schubert/Endless Endless” (not on the list but still great), the interior of the album is easily the darkest Kraftwerk I’ve heard thus far, perhaps best represented by this closing track on side A. It’s minor-key synth melody is backed by a choppy drum track and backing synth pulse that are almost sinisterly mechanical (also listen to how the latter’s frequencies get higher towards the end as the lead melody becomes more elaborate), and choir synth that gives a far more ominous mood than it had on the album’s opener. Then there’s the vocal track which although human-sung have an almost unsettlingly uncanny-valley delivery to them, in both the central “we are showroom dummies” hook and the lyrical hints at sentience in the verses: “we’re being watched, and we feel our pulse”. The most unsettling moment however may be after the lines “we start to move and we break the glass” followed by an actual sound of glass shattering. One of the best examples of electronic music’s exploration of the human/machine dichotomy, of which Kraftwerk - the first fully electronic band no less - practically invented.
Ooh missed a few here - never been big on Missing although I think it's because I feel like it's a song I should like more but just can't get into. A lot of mid nineties dance is like that for me - but can certainly see the appeal! Great to see Aaliyah, loved We Need A Resolution when it came out, she had some real bangers. Great MJ tracks, strangely not tiresome for me despite being so long. Human Nature is fantastic, a really pretty backing tune and not as done to death as some of the other Thriller tracks. Nice to see TS in here, Style is not one of my faves from 1989, although I do like the driving beat and the pre-chorus refrain - I do love all the singles from 1989 though (besides Bad Blood, inexplicably frustrating). 1 Thing! Whew! What a jam! Still sounds so fresh and her voice just works. Confide In Me is an absolute highlight in Kylie's career something a bit different for her and one that really gives substance to Kylie's timeline imo (well the whole mid-90's Kylie era I think). Not huge on the next five, #440 and #439 are fantastic though, and I do enjoy the abridged version of Loaded. Good stuff thus far!
The definitive track of Metallica’s album of the same name, exploding on impact with the iconic “DUN! DUT-DUT-DUUUUN!” in the opening and leading into one of James Hetfield’s most intricate riffs with its subtle chromatic climb. He also gives one of his best performances as a frontman here, with lyrics depicting drug addiction as a villain by the same name of the song and album’s title (“Master of Puppets I’m pulling your strings, twisting your mind and smashing your dreams”) and some of his best melody and hook writing ever from the iconic “Master! Master!” to his delivery of “how I’m killing youuuuuuuu!” before the chorus. Then three-and-a-half minutes in the band’s thrashing comes to a temporary halt and a slowed-down, mellow instrumental of guitar arpeggios forms and Kirk Hammet plays some of his most beautiful and mournful lead playing with the harmonised line and brief solo. The melodic beauty of the instrumental passage segues into the menacing bridge as the guitars get loud again, then transitioning back to the thrash riffing to drive the song to its final third (note the way Lars Ulrich’s drum frill at 5:35 matches the original tempo of the song, allowing the transition to occur naturally without feeling forced). A fantastic showcase of Metallica’s talents from their peak period.
434. Neutral Milk Hotel - In The Aeroplane Over The Sea
The title track of the most beloved cult-classic of indie rock, and a song that exemplifies many of the key components to its belovedness. Grounded by a super-simple acoustic guitar strum of 4-chords that’s probably caused it to become a couple of RYM users personal “Wonderwall”. Joined later by the drums, fuzzy bass and various horn lines, the song also deploys perhaps the most unusual instrumentation on this list so far in the form of a singing saw played by band member Julian Koster that creates a bunch of whistle-y tones over the top of the track. Jeff Magnum’s lyrics tackle an existential contemplation of life and death while still relishing the romance he’s experiencing in the present, articulated perhaps most eloquently in the second verse:
And one day we will die and our ashes will fly From the aeroplane over the sea But for now we are young, let us lay in the sun And count every beautiful thing we can see
The lyrics turn to more disturbing imagery in the bridge with “now how I remember you, how I would push my fingers through your mouth to make those muscles move” which could be interpreted in a variety of ways, to say nothing of the Anne Frank reference (of which the album is infamous for) made in the verse before. Yet even that moment is balanced by the section’s later lyric “All secrets sleep in winter clothes with the one you loved so long ago” and the final verse’s “and when we meet on a cloud I’ll be laughing out loud, I’ll be laughing with everyone I see”. Magnum’s singing is an equally powerful force too, unabashedly belting the chorus melody (“soft aaaaaand sweeeet!”), drawing out the “me” at the end of the second one into a remarkable melodic cadence. Romantic, tragic and ultimately a testament to the need we have to find meaning in our human lives: “can’t believe how strange it is to be anything at all”.
433. Crowded House - Don’t Dream It’s Over
One of the most beloved musical creations from both sides of the Tasman, and a song that tons of people have turned to for comfort during their bleakest moments. I found myself turning to this song a lot this year after one of the most shocking and devastating acts of violence in my country’s history happened, which had lasting effects on my own state of mind for many months afterwards. Hearing those warm, delicate guitar chords and that indelible melody with the rousing “hey now hey now” refrain in the chorus, and lyrics with one of the most touching expressions of solidarity in “there’s a battle ahead, many battles are lost, but you’ll never see the end of the road while you’re travelling with me” helped me cope with the grief, and I’ve become very grateful for this song’s existence since then. Even now after having processed most of it, it still remains a treat to listen to on its own terms with other details like the organ that enters the second chorus bringing a smile to my face. “They’ll come, they’ll come to build a wall between us, you know they won’t win” is something a lot of us need to hear in this point of history.
432. Daft Punk - Da Funk
The best track of Homework and the best summation of the late-night street-life vibe of the album. The iconic synth riff is of course untouchable, with a uniquely elastic tone and melody that is indeed funky as hell. The beat behind it is a perfect blend of their house and hip-hop sensibilities with its crisp hi-hat, punchy snare, staccato synth chord stabs and the kick and bass that keep lurching forward like their coming from outside a club you’re waiting in line to enter. The momentum continues with the addition of another kickass synth riff morphing through the squelchy tones and frequencies (note the little zippy slide in the middle of it too), becoming an amazing counterpoint when the opening riff returns to overlap it. And the shimmering upper-range synth note that carries out the last 2 minutes is the perfect finishing touch. Like walking through the streets with all the bars and clubs during the peak hours of the night, but with better music to soundtrack it.
431. Fatboy Slim - The Rockafeller Skank
Many scholars have pondered the meanings behind the rivetingly poetic lyric “right about now, the funk soul brother, check it out now, the funk soul brother”. One Dylan Moran interpreted it as “There was someone to arrive and everyone was terribly excited, maybe he was bringing cake or something, but he hasn’t arrived yet” and described the accompanying song as “It sounded like a million fire engines chasing ten million ambulances through a war zone” but coldly reviewed it as “I’m not saying it’s a bad song at all, all I’m saying is you could get a broom and dip it in some brake fluid, put the other end up my arse, stick me on a trampoline in a moving lift, and I would write a better song on the walls, that’s all I’m saying”. He’s wrong about the latter point, of course, but he is right in that this is an absolutely fucking chaotically energising track even for big beat. That vocal sample set to that amount of motion to the big beat and the surge synth, surf guitars, and that other “RockRockRockRock” vocal sample. I love the bit about 2:30 in when the guitars get chopped up and then they disappear to leave the beat to continue on its own for a bit, that’s a minor hint to the later turning point when it slows down to an absurdly digtal way and turns in to a siren (when Tom Ewing described it as “the sound equivalent of a stuck keyboard keyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy” I could hear the sound in his typing). It gets back to the beat, but with a slower tempo and a shorter guitar part. A loopy atonal synth swirl is played just to add more to the weirdness of this song at this point and then the “‘bout now”s start to loop on themselves as the song gets faster and faster until it’s just the “right about now ‘bow” samples. It hurls back into the beat with a big made even more physical by the addition of bright cymbal hits for a return to the chorus, and that beat and chopped vocal sample charge us out to the end with the latter getting even shorter and loop around the the filter frequencies. It’s one of the songs that when they come on in a party I dance so intensely I become absolutely exhausted by the end (think Will Butler on stage levels of energy). One of the hardest bangers ever. Last edited:
I think it shows how divorced I’ve been from popular homegrown music that I actually don’t find DDIO that overplayed in my public life. I’m not as bad my boyfriend though (he didn’t even know who Six60 were!)
Announcing the arrival of Kanye’s heavy stylistic shift as the lead single of 808s & Heartbreak. While that album’s shift away from rapping to singing about the grief from his mother’s passing and break-up through Auto-Tuned vocals over sparse 808-generated production is well-documented, it was a big stepping stone in expanding Kanye’s talent for melody writing, using vocal timbres in creative ways, and approaching music through the lens of different genres that would pave the way to the ambitions of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and Yeezus. This song builds from a slow-beating heart of the drum machine with a piano chord progression that comes out of West’s vocal melody into the crescendos of tribal percussion in the chorus, ending with West making anguished, pitched-up cries over the outro that sound like distant bird screams. Another noteworthy effect applied to West’s voice is the distortion in the first verse on “‘till we lose control, system overload, screaming no-no-no-no-no” combining with the Auto-Tune to make an almost Kraftwerkian moment of invoking machine malfunctioning to express human emotion. That sense of fear about loss of sanity in his relationship is reflected in other lyrics like “I can’t keep myself and still keep you too”, and his concluding lines to the second verse (“no more wasting time, you can’t wait for life, we’re just wasting time, where’s the finish line?”) are some of my personal favourites from him.
429. MGMT - Time To Pretend
Few things make me feel as nostalgic for my early adolescence in the late 00s the hits of Oracular Spectacular. Although “Kids” and “Electric Feel” got and continued to receive more airplay, it’s this one that stands out as the best of the bunch. It captures the same kind of childlike wonder in its synthesiser tones and arrangements, from the bubbling opening sounds to the chirping main riff; the heavily buzzing synth bass in the verses, the alien-high frequencies over it; the dreamy little arpeggios you can spot in the choruses, the insect-like trickling of synths in the second verse’s breakdown. Also wonderful for the arrangements (and made also synth) are the subtle backings of horns in the track (love the little trumpet line that peeks through the mix in the second chorus at 3:08, and the way the build up the chords in those choruses), as well as a massive, propulsive drumbeat with a very forceful snare, hit hat and crash cymbal and some great build-ups in those choruses. Like the naïve nature of the music, the lyrics sing of aspiring the classic young musicians dream of superstars, the love affair we were all caught up in until Lorde’s “Royals” came along. I particularly relate to the line “Yeah it’s overwhelming but what else can we do? Get jobs at offices and wake up for the evening news?” as someone who’s pursued a degree in music and still aims to get a career in it. Then of course the second half is all the self-destructive consequences of those dreams, even forseeing something that could kill them in “We’ll choke on our vomit and that will be the end”. Yet the song is so fantastical (and fantastic obviously) with such a wonderfully happy melody that even that lyric doesn’t sink the mood, and they carry out into the sunset with those “yeah yeah yeah” hooks.
428. Kanye West - Gorgeous
It seems like every Kanye super fan goes through a period where this song becomes their favourite of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, and I think I have an understanding as to why. On initial listen it feels like one of the more unassuming productions on the album when compared to the extravagance of “Power” or “All of the Lights”. Its musical components are still worthy of praise of course with the organ, that guitar riff and the muted crunches on every other beat that play like a ticking clock, the slightly melancholic strings and the way the percussion builds a kind of marching pace in Raekwon’s final verse. However, it’s gained most of its adulation in fan circles for Kanye’s own performance as a rapper, with lyrics that have become a quick reference point to win an online argument with someone trying to starwman Kanye’s lyrical content with his silly one-liners. He opens his first verse with some of his most sophisticated rhyming and wordplay ever with “Penitentiary chances, the devil dances and eventually answers to the call of Autumn, all them falling for the love of balling, got caught with 30 rocks the cop looked like Alec Baldwin” and continues to fire off endlessly quotable lines throughout the verses: “Is hip-hop just a euphemism for a new religion? The soul music for the slaves that the youth is missin’?”; “But this pimp is at the top of Mount Olympus, ready for the world’s games this is my Olympics”; “‘Cause like a Crip said, I’ve got way too many blues for any more bad news”; “they re-write history, I don’t believe in yesterday and what’s a black Beatle anyway, a fucking roach?”; and the always-useful “It’s not funny anymore, try different jokes”. And then there’s Kid Cudi’s hypnotic little chorus meloy throughout it all. An excellent track, and not even in the top 5 songs of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy!
427. Tame Impala - Let It Happen
Quite easily my favourite Tame Impala song. I heard Lonerism and enjoyed it a few times but it was a bit too retro for my tastes even though I wore a lot of tie dye at the time, but hearing this on my country’s alt-rock-ish station in 2015 as the lead single off Currents and it stuck out as easily the best new song on their playlist. A trippy transient groove with a flickering light of a guitar rhythm and a three-bar chord progression like the one used in the Pixies’ “Tame” at #479 on this list. With the song’s title making a great hook in the verses, an effective mood-capturing lyric in the second verse (“I heard about a whirlwind that’s coming round, it’s gonna carry off all that isn’t bound”) and a remarkably lush melody and chord progression for the choruses (“All this running around, I can’t fight it much longer”). The song then unleashes a kickass synth riff that bridges us to the coda by repeating itself with little skips in the long notes until it almost sounds like a broken record and fades out to a backing pulse to reveal a low, sombre string line (note the little arpeggio formed by the looping at around 4:45). Then the coda of vocoded harmonies from Kevin Parker arrive singing words that listed incomprehensible on lyric sites until recently (I always could parse out “try to get through it, try to bounce to it” and “take the next ticket, take the next train” however). Then the absolutely badass guitar enters the groove that just impossible not to move to. The way the song overlaps its vocoded harmonies with another lead melody from Parker and the return of that guitar riff make for an absolutely magical final 45 seconds. A psychedelic, summer-skied jam for the ages, even when you’re not high!
426. Oasis - Live Forever
I admit I do kind of hate Oasis a lot of the time (a stance that becomes easier to have the more asinine quotes from the Gallagher brothers you read). I’d quite easily declare one of the five most overrated bands in the rock canon. But I will concede that they did manage to write some excellent songs, with this staple from debut Definitely Maybe being my favourite of them. Backed by a spacious drum beat and guitars with an unusual amount of clarity to their tone as opposed to being amped up for the sake of loudness, Liam sings a glorious melody that conveys the proud defiance of the lyrics while also being unexpectedly graceful in how it leaps from the crack in “we’ll see things they’ll never see” to the falsettoed “you and I are gonna live for-evaaaaah”. The little guitar figure added in the second verse is a delight, as is the solo’s melody that’s just as wonderfully tuneful as the vocal. The song starts to sound darker towards the end changing to a minor-key chord progression and Liam’s “forevaaaaah”s turn from a falsetto to a more anguished belt, with a melancholic guitar line to close the song. The defiance and passion of the song still remains, however, making “Live Forever” perhaps the best representation of Oasis’ brand of brash confidence. Last edited:
The hardest-rocking song of The Strokes’ 2001 indie-garage-rock game changer Is This It. The opening crescendos of guitar feedback and drum hits build anticipation from the opening seconds before rushing into the most aggressive riff on the album matched by the frenetic pace from Fabrizio Moretti’s drums while Julian Casablancas gives a warm-up vocal adlib that’s both energising and humorous (“OH!... I meant… aaaaaah! No I meant nothing at all… oooooooh”. His playful delivery continues in the verses (“even though it was only one night it was… fucking strange”) and Nikolai Fraiture provides some neat counterpoint to Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond Jr. guitars in the pre-chorus (this band had the coolest names for their memebers ever) and the band charges through the chorus while Casablancas sings the hook “New York City Cops, they ain’t too smart”. Sadly this song had the misfortune or seeing US release on an album after the September 11 attacks, aka the least acceptable time to knock the NYPD in history (just ask Shihad’s Jon Toogood) and so was left off the tracklisting in the States by the band for that reason. After that chorus we get a classic pissed-off-Tom-Verlaine solo from Nick and the fantastic release of energy in the second verse where the band stopped for just the drums which continue to pound away for a few bars and then come back even harder than before while Julian belts “YES I’M LEAVIIIIIING! CAUSE IT JUST WON’T WOOOORK!”. An absolutely ace moment of rock’n’roll energy.
424. Björk - Army of Me
Time for some fun facts about music theory. Those of you reading this may already be familiar with scales, and some of you may also be familiar with the types of scales known as “modes”. Separate from more recent modes of the Depeche or Sicko kind, they’re basically variations of the major scale with select notes altered (usually flattened except for Lydian which has a sharpened 4th note - used in the Simpsons theme song (doo-do-do-do-doo…) as an example), have a fancy sounding Greek name like Dorian or Aeolian and create a range of tonality with the major/minor dichotomy. They become quite handy if you’ve ever been tasked with playing Jazz, which during my degree was a lot.
Anyway, the weirdest and most uncommon of them all is the Locrian mode in which all but the 1st and 4th notes are flattened, going beyond minor-key sounding into diminished territory with its flat 5th. As a result, it’s a very difficult mode to use in the context of a pop song, and as one YouTuber found in his attempt to find a hit song that uses the mode (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q6JBsOzOFaQ) the closest example he could find was the verses to this song by Björk, a fitting result for one of the weirdest musicians in pop music. And yeah that unusual tonality to the driving industrial bassline and her vocal melody really adds to the looming nature of the music and lyrics that see her ending her draining support for a self-pitying individual (“stand up, you’ve got to manage, I won’t sympathise anymore”). The militant stride of the drums combined with that distorted bassline turn it into one of the most rocking solo Björk songs in her discography, only strengthening its attack in the guitar-like descending line and the accented hits on the snare as she belts “and iiiiiiiif you complain o-o-once more, you’ll meet an army of me!… *!*”. When you have a song that goes as hard as this, you barely even need an army.
423. Radiohead - Pyramid Song
Continuing the theory nerdery of this part of the list, here’s a song that exemplifies Radiohead’s unique sense of timing. The piano chord progression rests on unconventional beats that’s lead to a lot of speculation about the song’s time signature, yet still manages to sync in 4/4 or “common time” but with an unusually symmetrical rhythm (like a pyramid!). This observation was made by the same YouTuber in the link in Björk’s entry (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MdZSOoOF5Ms). Its rhythm and top note that slowly wavers between 2 semitones over the chords create a sense of drifting enhanced by the way they're mixed with the background strings that invoke being at sea with a beach in the distance I think there’s a bit of field recording mixed in). Thom Yorke coos a mystical melody line and sings about swimming in a fantastical river:
I jumped in the river, what did I see? Black-eyed angels swam with me A moon full of stars and astral cars And all the figures I used to see All my lovers were there with me All my past and futures And we all went to heaven in a little row boat There was nothing to fear and nothing to doubt
He hums the wordless melody line now joined by the string section and Phil Selway makes some jazzy triplets to announce himself in the song and turning it to a swingy groove. He repeats the verse joined by more strings and bubbling electronic effects that sound like they’re underwater. One of Radiohead’s most easing songs sung from a place of contentment rather than the fear and sadness many people associate with Radiohead.
422. U2 - The Unforgettable Fire
The title track of U2’s 4th album and first with Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois as producers. The album sees them pivot from the post-punk of their first 3 albums to building the sonic landscapes that defined The Joshua Tree, with this track being their most sonically immersive song at that point. Opening with tinkering keyboard arpeggios and distant guitar echoes. Some very ambient synths colour in the chords as Adam Clayon and Larry Mullen Jr. set in into a driving and slightly dancey groove. Edge icy guitar plinkering is matched by his breathy backing vocals that sound the way breath steam on a chilly day looks. Bono sings “Ice, your only rivers run cold, these city lights, they shine of silver and gold, dug from the night, your eyes as black as coal” and it’s like you can picture the images with him. A gliding major-keyed piano chord progression carriers the chorus with Bono’s “walk on by, walk on through, walk till you run and don’t look back for here I am” soaring over it. I love the joyous way he sings “Staaaaay this time! Stay the night!” in an unexpected falsetto. The string arrangements in the bridge enhance the mysterious atmosphere on the track’s instrumental, with a cello line helping the song darken in mood after the second chorus ends on a tenser chord progression, then building up to the loud and bombastic orchestral hits to come later. And note the uncertain tension they leave at the end of the song. If you’re ever around those goons who are daft enough to try to write U2 out of the canon (of which there are an alarming amount of in my experience) this is one of the best songs to pull out to shut down their argument.
421. Weezer - Say It Ain’t So
One of the mega hits of Weezer’s self-titled debut (more famously known as The Blue Album to most people) that’s been a staple of parties and social events since my teen years. It may be the alt-rock soft-verse-loud-chorus dynamic structure at its most karaoke-able, and arguably its most air-guitarable as well. The gentle guitar figure for the opening, the steady bass line and guitar chords that flicker like an LED the “oh yeah alright” hook that’s effortlessly catchy, the hint-at-getting-loud “wrestle with Jimmy!” line in the first verse. Suddenly the song explodes into the lunging power chords and belted vocals of the chorus that make the rhyme “heart breaker/life taker” sound better than it has any right to be in print, and of course there’s those awesome guitar bends made between the lunging power chords in the later choruses! The song is also one of Cuomo’s most intimate songs, being quite a raw and vulnerable struggle with his father’s alcoholism. In the second verse he goes from nervously uttering “I can’t confront you, I never could do” to belting “THIS WOOORLD! Is a waterslide away from me that takes me further every day!” making for yet another karaoke-able moment. And that bridge that carries the power-chord lunging through a diminished progression ending on the “LIKE FATHER! STEP FATHER! THE SON IN DROWNING IN THE FLOOOOOOOD! YEAH YEAH YEAH! YEAH YEAH!” making it the second song after “Chop Suey” to have dramatic and passionate belting of “Father!”. A kick-ass guitar solo follows (love the lay that lick near the end has its own overdub to sound like an echo) leading into a smashing final chorus with extra special final-chorus added harmonies and vocalisations (like the last time they sing “soooo-oh-oh”) and the gentle guitar from the opening concluding in the rubble of decaying guitar chords and feedback. Last edited:
Whereas the previous Pixies (and by extension Doolittle - I haven’t heard the other albums, don’t @ me) entry “Tame” showed the band’s visceral rock dynamics at their most terrifying, “Here Comes Your Man” plays to the opposite end of the band’s strengths and sticks out as the album’s sweetest piece of pop pleasure. From the almost jangle-pop guitar line to its breezy backing guitar strum. Frank Black delivers a melody that utilises his vocal eccentricities while also being very cheery and positive while being backed by tuneful guitar arpeggios. There’s the wonderful way he and Kim Deal overlap their voices on a line that ends with a harmony “there is a wait so love (so long so long) you never wait so loooooooong!” to the high-range guitar line. I love how the band gains in momentum for the bridge with Black’s wordless “aaah-ooooooooh”s leading the way. And the galloping snare rolls in the outro as Black and Deal stretch out there harmonies on “here comes your maaaaaaaa-aa-an”. As great an example of the infectious hookiness of the Pixies’ material as anything off of Doolittle.
419. Taylor Swift - Clean
The final track of 1989 (the standard tracklisting, anyway), making for a perfect closing for an album that completed Swift’s journey from teenage countrygirl to the defining pop songwriter of her time as a young adult. The synth chords feel like the neon-light bliss that defined the album have decayed and are now only giving dim low-range woozes. The treble-range keyboard line songs like a synthesised thumb piano and hits like raindrops (fitting for the song’s chorus) the digital percussion hits and the fatigued “ah ah” vocals in the lead and backing throughout. What’s really striking about this song however is how the lyrics sound like bleaker versions of the lyrics she might have penned on Fearless.
The drought was the very worst When the flowers that we’d grown together died of thirst It was months and months back and forth You’re still over me like a wine-stained dress I can’t wear no more Hung my head as I lost the war And the sky turned black like a perfect storm
Note how much has changed in her use of flowers and dresses since the days of “Love Story”. What’s still stayed however is her use of the rain for cathartic effect, much like she was doing on “Forever and Always”, though this time it’s not to describe her pain from the relationship but the alleviation from it: “The rain came pouring down when I was drowning that’s when I could finally breathe, and by morning gone was any trace of you I think I am finally clean”. The water imagery expands to a flood in the second verse which peaks with “the water filled my lungs, I screamed so loud but no-one heard a thing”. Closer or no closer, it’s still one of the best examples of 1989’s excellence and proof of her indelible lyrical ability
418. Azealia Banks - 212
The fierce, expletive-ridden banger that’s just as thrilling now as it was as I saw it named the best song of 2012 be New Zealand’s most infamously hard-to-please music critic: Simon Sweetman. That guy has a pretty bad reputation for being a cynic with lots of unnecessarily hostile reviews of artists, but even he couldn’t deny this song’s brilliance. That galloping hip-house beat sounds sounds like all of the best bits about club beats at the start of this decade and builds to hint at a climax before breaking back down again by the end of Banks’ verse. That verse is already ear-grabbing from the opening “hey, I can be the answer” all the way to the profane “I get that c****s getting eatin’” delivered and repeated with an almost-audible devilish grin on her face. She remains commanding in her explicitness through the second verse (“I’m a rude bitch, n**** what are you made up of?”) succeeding at getting through 2 verses without a chorus thanks to her sheer presence. And at that moment a surprisingly excellent low-sung melody (“Ayyyyo”) builds up to give us the thrilling shouted hook for the chorus (“BITCH THE END OF YOUR LIVES ARE NEAR! THIS SHIT BEEN MINE! MINE!”). Bravado at its most badass, and its most filthy too.
417. Kimbra - Settle Down
It’s been nearly 10 years since I first heard this song premiere on my country’s now-defunct music TV channel in its last full year (RIP C4, much love) and felt like a much-needed breath of fresh air in mostly-uninspired sea of commercial homegrown music getting rotation at the time. Heavily influenced by vocal jazz with a plethora of layered backing vocals building from the opening “boom b-boom-ba” to support Kimbra’s sinuous lead melody. Listen to the way she draws out the word “knows” at the end of the first verse and the building of tension in the second verse with the backing vocals as her lead vocal gets more animated and muscular on “she’s got a fancy car, she wants to take you far, from the city lights and sounds deep in-tooo the daaaark!”. This leads into the girl-group-esque chorus hook (“star so light, star so bright”) with its descending “aaaaah” counterpoint. And I haven’t even gotten to the instrumental which is also remarkable with the subtle bouncy swing of the drum beat; the brassy swell in the bass after the first verse; the plucked strings buried in the chorus and the quick runs they make in-between Kimbra’s phrasing; and the accented piano notes that play off the “hey, oh oh” hook in the bridge. Totally unlike anything on mainstream airplay either at home or abroad, and the start of the career of one of our most eccentric artists.
416. New Order - Regret
This later-period 1993 hit for the band carries an air of regained hope after enduring a life of Blue Mondays. Opening with a back-and-forth between clear-skied synth chords from Gillian Gilbert and Bernard Sumner’s crisp guitar riff, Stephen Morris sets a danceable 16th-note groove on the hi-hat and Peter Hook plays one of his trademark upper-range countermelodies on his bass, and a remarkably tuneful one at that. Sumner continues to use the modesty of his voice to sell the newfound sense of contentment in the lyrics (“maybe I’ve forgotten the name and the address of everyone I’ve ever known it’s nothing I regret”) perhaps most succinctly put in the chorus:
I would like a place I could call my own Have a conversation on the telephone Wake up everyday that would be a start I will not complain of my wounded heart I was upset you see almost all the time You used to be a stranger now you are mine
The sheer simplicity of the desires expressed in the first 3 lines are all turned into achievable goals worthy of treasuring, all sung in such a casually friendly way that feels effortless. The band’s highest charting single in the US, cracking the top 30 which itself made for a small triumph at the end of the band’s zenith.
Making up half of the title of Kendrick Lamar’s 2012 masterpiece good kid, m.A.A.d city and one of the hardest-hitting songs off of it. As soon as the “YAWK YAWK YAWK YAWK” jolts out of the ominous intro we’re taken to that unstoppable beat with the stirring string-line, vocal samples that sound like they’re echoing and perhaps the most gripping verse on the entire album, one that Kendrick Lamar delivered on the stage of the 2014 Grammy Awards in a performance that managed to achieve the impossible by making me like Imagine Dragons for 5 and a half minutes. Lamar retells the horrors of being exposed to the world of gang violence at a young age straight down to a real-life murder he witnessed (“seen a light-skinned n**** with his brains blown out, at the same burger stand where *beep* hang out” - that name is censored for a reason, also check out the hi-hat behind him during that line) while also utilising an astonishing amount of alliteration (“You f*cking punk, picking up the f*cking pump, picking off you suckers, suck a d*ck or die or sucker punch”) and internal rhyme (“Bodies on top of bodies, IV’s on top of IV’s, obviously the coroner between the streets and the Isleys”).
And that’s just the first verse! Suddenly after the chorus hook and another “YAWK YAWK YAWK YAWK” we get a beat switch using TV static like someone was changing station and going to a slower, stylish, and with a self-consciously classic West Coast feel. You’ve got good light distortion on the drums, the bass with the tiniest hint of funkiness and the dramatic strings and the guitar parts from the little melody line to the watery sounding muted glissandos. Despite the retro vibe the song the lyrics feel like they’ve moved forward in time and find Lamar within the gang culture that like many moments on good kid m.A.A.d city make you wonder how much of the story is autobiographical. The use of police sirens and gunshots as MC Eiht starts his verse adds to the cinematic atmosphere as if you could imagine this playing as a movie. Kendrick’s following and final verse sees him in the present and starting confessionalyl with admissions of the terrible things he has done in the past, but then flips it around in an optimistic way about the chance to redeem yourself out of it:
If I told you I killed a n**** at 16, would you believe me? Or see me to be innocent Kendrick that you seen in the street With a basketball and some Now & Laters to eat If I mentioned all of my skeletons, would you jump in the seat? Would you say my intelligence now is great relief? And it's safe to say that our next generation maybe can sleep With dreams of being a lawyer or doctor Instead of boy with a chopper that hold the cul de sac hostage Kill 'em all if they gossip, the Children of the Corn They realizing the option of living a lie, drown their body with toxins Constantly drinking and drive, hit the powder then watch this flame That arrive in his eye, listen coward, the concept is aim and They bang it and slide out that bitch with deposits And the price on his head, the tithes probably go to the projects I live inside the belly of the rough Compton, U.S.A. made me an angel on angel dust, what
I absolutely love the way the pitch of his voice is artificially lowered to sound like a recording of a historical speech and then back up to slightly higher than his normal voice. Lamar then gives himself a mini-fanfare of some classic G-Funk synth lines complete with samples of “Compton!” used on The Chronic just to accentuate the homage to Dre.
414. Smashing Pumpkins - Today
Arguably the biggest radio staple of the Pumpkins’ 1993 alt-rock touchstone Siamese Dream. The blissful clean guitar line gives way to the major-keyed chord progression and Billy Corgan declaring “Today is the greatest day I’ve ever known”. But of course this song is famous for contrasting its dark, ironic lyrics of depression and suicide with a deceptively happy tune, and the lyrics that follow that first line reveal just that: “can’t live for tomorrow, tomorrow’s much too long, I’ll burn my eyes out before I get out”. In those last 2 words the melody rises in tension with the chord progression to lead into the more outwardly grim verses with some excellently-placed note bends from the guitar in between the lines (“I wanted more *!~~~~* than life could ever grant me”). This goes back and forth between soft faux-happy choruses and loud angsty verses for 2 rounds but surprisingly the later choruses actually genuinely feel happier and not even ironically! From the way he sings “daaay-oooooooooooooh” at 2:19 in the third chorus or how the final minor-key verse is simply an A Day In The Life reference (“I want to turn you on *!~~~~*” - also awesome guitar lick in the transition) delivered with more determination and the way he interplays with his lead guitar lines in the final chorus that actually feels genuinely triumphant. Like his awful day actually did get better for him. Sometimes the world isn’t a vampire after all?
413. Prince - Kiss
One of the most beloved Prince hits and probably the most likely one to be played at dance parties. It’s also one of his most unique pieces of pop production (and that’s saying a lot) most notably how the synth chords and drum beat invoke the feeling of warm air being compressed in a machine. There’s also the sparse but intriguing use of synthesised marimba in both the upper and lower ranges, making nice little counterpoints. And the funk guitar adds a few touches like the D6/9 chord played at the end of the chorus before Prince sings the title, and the solo that utilises his chicken scratch abilities to lead lines. But most striking in the song is Prince’s arrestingly high falsetto in the song, something Matthew Bellamy was 100% listening to when coming up with “Supermassive Black Hole” (though not as effective sadly). His melody is irresistible and his extra-high but delicate lead vocal in the second verse and chorus riding over the backing vocals carrying the main tune and the wild histrionics in the final chorus are both great treats. Another one of the endless gems from the best musician of the 80s.
412. Arcade Fire - Reflektor
Although I had been aware of Arcade Fire for their acclaim and comparisons to U2 and Radiohead and their unexpected Album of the Year win at the Grammys, it wasn’t until Reflektor that I actually finally started paying attention to their music and they became my favourite band as I left high school. I still remember seeing the bobble-head video in the TV at a McDonald’s that I had been to at a lunch stop on a school trip. I had already loved Achtung Baby but yet to hear Remain In Light but this release was a perfect way to discover the latter. With a disco-ey conga-laden beat and nocturnal-sounding synths it sounded like right in the disco-revival of 2013 but also like nothing else around.
I discovered the billingual beauty of Regine Chassange (“Entre la nuit, la nuit et l'aurore Entre les royaumes, des vivants et des morts - between the night, night and dawn, between the kingdoms, of the living and of the dead.) and the band’s ability to climax, which they pull off here twice! So past the treats of the chorus and the weight of guest horn player Colin Stention (check out the haunting background rasp at 1:44!) and the guitar line in the catchy choruses. Will Butler makes squelches that sound like satellite transmissions over bursts of guitar reverb and the chords get louder and switch to a major I chord and Win Butler starts urgently repeating “just a reflection of a reflection or a reflection… but I see you on the other side”. Then once died down again after another verse and chorus (featuring the lovely lyric “our song it skips on little silver discs” which makes for the best image of breaking up using technology in the song, which has a few admittedly on-the-nose-lines the “staring at a screen” one has a whiff of “we live in a society” to it), we make our way to the David Bowie cameo (“thought you were praying to the resurrector, turns out it was just a reflektor”) over the descending horn line. An awesome keyboard riff declares itself and before we realise it we’re in the second climax, with the piano line changing to 90s-house style chords, the strings getting higher and Win Butler’s vocals getting even more urgent than before. Listen to how he draws out the title’s last syllable between 2 notes and the way he ends the final “but I see you on the other side!” before the band pushes through to its end with Jeremy Gara’s snare run. The song quietens down in a rather eerie way with the tink of the cymbal and the conga that’s been there from the beginning and the strings going dissonant and left to decay when the percussion stops.
411. Beastie Boys - Sabotage
It may be just because of that iconic video that’s earned itself a Sesame Street parody on YouTube made out of footage from the Follow That Bird movie (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZNomhZFaWWI), but that intro with those drum hits and harmonic-laden guitar strikes invokes the image of witnessing a wild police chase so perfectly in a rock song that it comes to mind when I listen to later rock hits like Shihad’s “Comfort Me” and Royal Blood’s “Out of the Black” which have similar openings. This song blows those 2 out of the water though, and keeps the momentum coming with that wild, unrestrained vocal from Ad-Rock (“IIIIIIIIIIIIIII CAN’T STAND IT! I KNOW YOU PLANNED IT!” to say nothing of how he and the boys deliver the title) the turntable sounds that feel like a warning siren and even that gloriously amateurish guitar solo in the middle of the second verse. And the build-up after the brief breakdown after that verse with the distorted bass gives way to one of the hugest moods ever in Ad-Rock’s scream of “WHYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” god-damn that’s just exhilarating. One of the most high-energy-at-parties songs in rock.
The opener of 808s & Heartbreak and scene-setter for the album’s morose, gloomy atmosphere. Tom Ewing brilliantly described the album’s sound as “flat, metallic musical tundra” and that description fit this song’s winter-chill mix of choir synth with sparse piano chords and the drum machine’s oscillating between 2 tinkering notes nearly an octave apart with just the right amount of dissonance to each other, and appearing in the right and left channel respectively. The drum beats toms and hi-hat have an oddly defeated lo-fi quality to them as if too fatigued to emulate the physical feel of real drums like many of Kanye’s drum sounds often do. The despondency of the music is reflected in Kanye’s melody from the “hey hey hey hey”s in the choruses to the verses which describe having an hook-up with the ex-girlfriend he misses (“Why would she make calls out the blue? Now I’m awake sleepless in you”) revealed by the final verse to be a fantastical escape from his own sadness (“I wish this song would really come true, I admit I still fantasise about you”). At 3 minutes he stops his singing but the track continues for another 3 with just the backing music. Normally I’d find extending to such a length without adding anything a weakness but in this case it allows the listener to get inside the mood and atmosphere of the album, absorbing the scenery of the musical tundra without needing to focus on Kanye’s vocals, making it a perfect scene-setter for the album.
409. Drake feat. Rihanna - Take Care
I was a huge Drake fan in my later years in high-school. I spent many nights during year 13 in my bedroom listening to the low-key and quiet moments of Take Care and letting the melancholic but comforting melodies and production help me through my own pain of feeling quietly ostracised by my main friends group that I’d eventually part ways with when school finished. While I enjoyed that album and Nothing Was the Same which came out later that year, since then I’ve found Drake’s output somewhat less compelling with his albums turning more into bloated streaming-methodology-for-album-chart-loophole-exploiting slogs although he can still pump out an excellent single on occasion (“Nice For What”). Plus like some artists I was big on during my teen years, I’m still somewhat in the process of re-evaluating my own thoughts about the music I liked at the time, though I’d still consider his 2011-13 output worth a listen.
This title track to Take Care however - also my favourite song of his back then - is still one I hold in unambiguously high esteem that represents the best aspects of his music during those years. The background to this song is a minor history lesson in its own right, being based from a sample of Jamie xx’s remix of Gil Scott-Heron’s cover of Brook Benton’s recording of the Bobby Bland-penned song “I’ll Take Care of You”. Instrumentally it’s nearly identical to the Jamie xx remix using the house piano chord progression, pulsing bass and the absolutely beautiful guitar line played by fellow xx member Romy Madley Croft. Differences lie in the way the drums are sequenced into a more conventionally Top 40 beat, while also building in a way that hints at a climax that never comes. Instead it breaks down for the tender, downbeat chorus from the original now sung in a new melody by Rihanna, who gives one of her prettiest but also most understatedly sad performances ever (everytime she sings “I’ve loved and I’ve lost” just kills me). There’s still some wonderful echoes from Scott-Heron’s voice in that chorus, as well as the remix’s combination of vocal fragments used here as a bridge that builds excellently with the drums. On top of all that are Drake’s vocals, detailing a fraught relationship between 2 people hurt by the pressure of their social groups and their current unsatisfying relationships (“they won’t get you like I will, my only wish is I die real, ‘cause the truth hurts and those lies heal and you can’t stop thinking that he lies still so you cry still”) and their inability to confess their feelings about each other publicly (“can’t deny that I want you but I’ll lie if I have to ‘cause you don’t say you love me to your friends when you ask me, even though we both know that you do”). Drake combines his melody with a rhythmic pace of his rapping and blurs them to make a remarkably conversational tone, with some wonderful melodic phrases set to warm-hearted phrases like the recurring “don’t be so ashamed, I’ve had mine you’ve had yours we both know”. What’s also remarkable about “Take Care” is how it sounds like someone took the template of the early-2010s club pop single with the keyboard chord progression, drum beat (and the way it plays of lines like “one time be in love one time, you and all your friends go to a club sometimes”) and RIhanna chorus, but changed the tone and mood inward to reveal the tender and vulnerable lives beneath those songs.
408. Björk - It’s Oh So Quiet
I do admit to feeling a bit guilty about putting this song on here. Given that in a lot of cases it’s the only song of Björk’s that most people have heard of, and how as a big-band Betty Hutton cover it doesn’t represent the body of Björk’s highly-acclaimed music at all, so proclaiming love for this song can sometimes feel like telling someone your favourite Radiohead song was “Creep”. I’ll also admit that I’ve only properly listened to Debut and the singles of Post and yet to get to the rest, which may disappoint Björk fans even more. And yet I can’t help but love this song. It’s true that this cover is instrumentally practically identical to the original going from the calm, drifting progression in the verses (and that childlike music box in the later ones) to the irrepressibly vibrant and cheerful choruses with those bursts of horns. But having the song a bit slower than the original with Björk’s vocal eccentricities really does take it to new heights. She sounds so much cuter in the verses when she does her “shh”s and so jovial in the choruses and those screams are so unhinged it’s unbelievable (my favourite is the 3rd choruses “gee this is swell you almost have a fit, this guy is gorge and I got hit! There’s no mistake THIS IS IT!”). Also note how the longer pauses in the verse-chorus transitions and vice versa help make the chorus feel even bigger than it normally would, and add more relief to when Björk calms back down to “‘till it’s over, and then”. Makes me want to burst out dancing in a car rental store. Zing Boom!
407. The Knife - Full of Fire
My first time listening to this song was in 2014 in the middle of a plane ride to Las Vegas (to partake in the barbershop convention with my chorus Vocal FX, we came 10th!). It was flying through the night and had already been long enough at that point where I’d normally fall asleep, but alas I discovered my inability to do such a thing on that flight, and instead put on Shaking the Habitual and got to this track. That first time was one of the most terrifying and mind-blowing listening experiences of my life: A constantly developing drum beat with some of the most warped and twisted synth sounds I’d ever heard and a weirdly menacing vocal from Karin Dreijer: “sometimes I get problems that are hard to soooo-oooooolve, what’s the story? That’s my opinion”. There are so many grippingly weird moments throughout this song’s 9-minute run that naming all of them would be exhausting but some I love are: the bass swells that come in 1:28 and start to swell in harsher frequencies later on; the bizarre synth oscillations at the 3-minute mark and the high pitched tones that start to sound more like dissonant strings; Dreijer’s singing becoming more assertive in “now living and always moving” and the interplay with a weirder alien voice’s “not a vagina, it’s an option, the cock had it coming”; The return of the twisted synth oscillations in wider, more powerful tones all keep the forward motion going; Dreijer making a distorted and even more unnerving take of xer* opening lyric; and xe being of the few musicians who can pull off a cool fire/desire rhyme with xer delivery of “when you’re full of fire, what’s the object of your desire?”; and those siren-like wails that up the tension in the final minute. That’s only the beginning, and while there’s likely some of you already who will avoid listening to this sort of thing because they know they’re not for this music, those who think they might should try it out for themselves.
*xe and xer are neopronouns used by some nonbinary people and are pronounced with a “z” sound. Although I am nonbinary I usually use he/him in day-to-day life.
406. The Walkmen - The Rat
One of the great one-hit-wonders (arguably) from the 2000s garage-rock-and/or-post-punk revival movement. This song has such an immediate explode-on-impact energy to it with the frenetically-strummed guitars, the shimmering organ backing it like some digitally-manipulated reverb, and the unstoppable charge of Matt Barrick’s drums that sound like Joy Division’s Stephen Morris with a rocket up his arse with its hyperactive drum rolls and hi-hat pace. And then Hamilton Leithauser’s melody and vocal just grabs you by the neck and never let’s go (“YOUUUUUU’VE GOT A NERRRRVE TO BE AAAAAAASKING A FAAAVOUR!”). The continued unstoppability of the band with new chord changes being met with more intense drum rolls and unrestrained singing (“CAN’T YOU HEAR I’M BLEEDING ON THE WALL!”). Even when the band breaks down for the bridge, the momentum never stops, and the band re-builds with precision to keep it charging in its latter half. Pitchfork called it “a St. Valentine’s Day Massacre of relentless drums, bass and guitar” in it’s ranking on their top 200 songs of the 2000s at #20. Hard to describe it a way more succinct than that.
One of the highlights of Kendrick Lamar’s seismic 2015 album To Pimp A Butterfly which dropped on my 19th birthday and perhaps remains the best birthday gift I’ve ever received for that reason, and also one of the funkiest. With an immortal bassline played by acclaimed bassist Thundercat that ranks as one of the best of this decade and sounds fucking amazing coming out of loud bass-heavy speakers and gets the funk in you not by the time you hear the next pop in th 3rd chorus, but by the first second, set to a beat joined by the springing accents from a flexatone (I think) and some fantastic vocals from Whitney Alford that respond to Kendrick’s lines (“I’m mad - he mad! - but I ain’t stressed”). As the song progresses there are colours of backing vocals in the low-range adding some wooziness to the bass line and a steady but slightly anxious guitar twitch over the top, and who can forget the badassery of the ending guitar solo?
And there’s the lyrics! Forgive me for sounding like a Rap Genius annotation but the title refers to the fictional black slave from the 18th century who had his foot cut off to prevent him from being able to escape. And yet the way he turns this reference on its head into something empowering is masterful “Bitch, where you when I was walkin’? Now I run the game got the whole world talkin’, King Kunta everybody want to cut the legs off him, Kunta, black man taking no losses”. A symbol of black oppression becomes a symbol of black resilience. In the verses he plays with the different meaning of “yams” (“the yam is the power that be, you can smell it when I’m walkin’ down the street”; “the yam brought it out of Richard Pryor, manipulated Bill Clinton with desires”) and takes some witty shots at his contemporaries in hip hop (“I swore I wouldn’t tell, but most of y’all sharing bars like you got the bottom bunk in a two-man cell”). And his defiant boast in the final verse: “I made it past 25 and there I was a little nappy-headed n***** with the world behind him”. Not even Old Gregg had think much funk.
404. The 1975 - Love It If We Made It
The most topically 2018 song by a band named after a year 43 years earlier. Emerging from a quietl synth pulse meeting a massive stadium rock backbeat and Matt Healy giving all-caps singing of social and political terms used over the past few years, from hateful alt-right edgelords (“fuck your feelings, truth is only hearsay”) to the racial injustices that fueled the Black Lives Matter movement (“selling melanin and suffocate the black man”), truly devastating world events (“a beach of drowning three year olds”) the tragic death of a young rapper who died at 21 (“Rest In Peace Lil Peep”) and the cursed tweet that demonstrated the fall from grace for my generation’s greatest musician (“Thank you Kanye, very cool!”) that’s amazingly cathartic. The continued momentum of the beat and the synth and guitar arrangement is a triumph too with the trilling keyboard runs in the verses, plucked strings accenting the synth pulse, that always-walking bass, the padded notes in the early choruses and the arrangement of synthesised vocals in the later ones (love the high-pitched note bend that sounds like a child much like an early Kanye West soul sample) and the funky guitar chords underneath. More than anything though I love how Healy’s exasperated “modernity has failed us!” before belting out the title for the cathartic chorus hook, which may be the most exuberant expression of despair I’ve ever heard. A very 2018 feeling, and a very 2019 one too.
403. Arctic Monkeys - Do I Wanna Know?
The Arctic Monkeys’ fifth album from 2013 AM became a rarity of the 2010s - a mainstream rock classic that was not only commercially successful enough to go platinum in all major countries while also being critically respected and admired by most publications. It crossed over to pop fans in a way few rock bands have in the past 10 years while churning out massive singles which brought a healthy supply of memorable music-shop-ready guitar riffs on the way. The biggest being this opener with at the time of writing over 700 million Spotify streams and almost one billion YouTube views. And its opening riff is a killer of course, with a swaggering tune and pinch of Queens of the Stone Age-style desert rock. But it’s also the R&B and hip-hop inspired elements here also explored on the rest of the album that elevate it to a new level: The beat made out of processed samples of stomps and handclaps; The vocal melody and the falsetto’d backing vocals responding to it in the pre-chorus, the buzzing bass in the second verse and that G-funk synth-mimicking guitar line at the very end! These all help increase the potency of the riff and the band’s build-up through the song strongly to the end (I also love the slow-burning sustained guitar drones in the background, and the subtle use of a pinging keyboard octave in the second chorus) with Matt Helders’ drum march sounding colossal by the end of the song. Alex Turner sings of drunk dialing an ex flame with his trademark method of singing word-heavy lines with melodies capable of accommodating the length (and ability sadly mostly absent from Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino) as shown in “have you no idea that you’re in deep? I dreamt about you nearly every night this week” and “Been wondering if your hearts still open and if so I wanna know what time it shuts”. I love the way the chorus acknowledges the ridiculousness of the situation (“maybe I’m too busy being yours to fall for somebody new now I’ve thought it through”) while still being part of a massive chorus hook. This decade may feel a bit light on rock hits that feel unambiguously like future entries to the canon, but this song definitely does.
Also has one of the best music videos of the decade.
402. Green Day - When I Come Around
Often you hear from Green Day haters is that they’re music is “simple” and “basic” and only requires rudimentary music knowledge to pull off. The fact that Nirvana and Weezer somehow don’t get anywhere near the same level of critiques for these reasons is only further proof that Green Day haters are some of the most clueless and annoying music fans in existence (especially since Green Day have made more ambitious music than either band), but the thing about that belief that really misses the mark is that Green Day have a remarkable talent for making great use of the basic components of a pop song - melodies, chords rhythm etc. - within a guitar/bass/drums set up in unique and sophisticated ways. Radio staple from Dookie “When I Come Around” is one of the best examples of this and an exceptionally concise and tightly-written 3 minute pop-rock song. Listen to how its guitar riff brings life to the traditional I-V-VI-IV chord progression with its distinctive, slightly syncopated rhythm and how it’s supported by wonderful little counter-melody lines from Mike Dirnt’s bass guitar between each chord. Tré Cool provides a steady backbeat throughout while still inserting his trademark fills and triplets in little bits here and there without overdoing them, and to top it all off is Billie Joe Armstrong’s effortlessly memorable melody. Those brief choruses - where Armstrong and Dirnt harmonise on the word “found” over a drum roll before the band comes to a brief halt as Armstrong sings the song’s title and Dirnt plays that little two-note pull-off - just kill me every time. If you think any rock band can learn 4 chords and pull off something of this level of craft, you’re daft.
There’s also the lyrical content. And while accusations of Green Day’s music being of a juvenile worldview are not completely unfounded given that they broke though on an album called, y’know, Dookie, there’s actually a remarkably understated maturity to the understanding of relationships and how to make them work in “When I Come Around” that Billie Joe Armstring had even by his early 20s and remained somewhat elusive to the likes of Rivers Cuomo. Written by Billie after a fight with his girlfriend and later wife Adrienne that had them spending time alone for a bit, the lyrics acknowledge the issues both parties need to work on while remaining casual and self-deprecating such as the second verse:
I’ve heard it all before, so don’t knock down my door I’m a loser and a user so I don’t need no accuser to try and slap me down because I know you’re right So go do what you like, make sure you do it right You may find out that your self-doubt means nothing was ever there, you can’t go forcing something if it’s just not right
For all their relationship troubles, there’s still and underlying hope that the relationship can repair itself, put succinctly in the title-dropping chorus refrain. Given that Billie and Adrienne have gotten married since releasing this and are still together today, I think they managed to make things work after this song was written pretty well.
Still awaiting Todd’s very long essay about this song
401. Sly & The Family Stone - Africa Talk To You “The Asphalt Jungle”
The longest jam of Sly & The Family Stone’s 1971 masterwork There’s a Riot Goin’ On. And one who’s lyrics and hook convey the bleakness of the state of social politics after the optimism of the late 60s. The chorus consists of a chant that sounds part gospel part slave worksong described by RYM reviewer Iai as “sounding like Satan’s little helpers welcoming an unusually fucntioning apocalypse”:
Timberrrrrr-errrrrrrrrr! All falls down! Timberrrrrr-errrrrrrrrr! Who’s around? Watch ouuu-ouuuut ‘cause the summer’s getting cold! When tooo-daaaaay gets too old
And that’s not the end of the bleakness, the verses convey the feeling of being fatigued and overwhelmed by the struggle to fight for social justice with the final lines in the 2nd verse sounding close to despair: “When life means so much to you, why live for dyin? If you are doing right, why are you crying?”. Yet after 2:43 in the second chorus ends and the song practically turns into an instrumental, luckily we are treated to the consistently-involving musicianship of the band: The beat augmented by a drum machine (the album has some of the earliest uses of them in pop music); the tangled guitar lines, the spidery keyboard lines and dense rhythm of its chords, and some damn funk-tastic bass work. Even the vocals get involved with the layering with imitations of wah-wah guitars, raspy falsettos and cries of “timbeeeeeeer” in an even more exaggerated voice. The harmonised guitar lines first starting around 3:08 and building until that powerful ascension at 3:52 are magnificent, used again in the track’s last 2 minutes and topped with the keyboard climbing over it to play its highest lick. An excellent jam and a fantastic representation of the question asked through all of There’s a Riot Goin’ On: When it gets harder than ever to win, why do you keep going?
Finally getting around to having a look and commenting, excuse the basic commentary
- I Want To Hold Your Hand is an interesting one, that I initially didn't like but it did grow on me although I prefer many others of theirs. - I actually like Come As You Are a fair bit more than Smells Like Teen Spirit so good to see it in here! - I do like Killer Queen, more than Bohemian Rhapsody in fact. I usually groan when I hear Bohemian Rhapsody at parties or karaoke - Missing <3 missing Logo - that Aaliyah song is good but not a favourite admittedly - Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough is totally my thing so good to see it here! - Style is by far my favourite Taylor Swift song so I'm really happy to see it here! - 1 Thing was truly a fantastic pop moment and I agree it's way too overlooked - Confide In Me is amazing of course - I'm a little surprised to see The Avalanches make it in here, but that's not a bad thing. I like other songs of theirs more but I can definitely appreciate Since I Left You making an appearance in here - I've always liked Don't Dream It's Over more than Better Be Home Soon so it's good to see it here - Da Funk <3 I like Around The World more haha but Da Funk is fantastic too. - The Rockafeller Skank appearing in another list! - Love Lockdown is one I haven't given enough appreciation too, would be one of my Kanye favourites - Let It Happen might be my favourite Tame Impala song! - I haven't listened to enough Björk but I do know Army Of Me and like it! - whatever feelings I may have about Azealia Banks, I absolutely can't knock 212. - I haven't listened to enough earlier Kimbra unfortunately, much more familiar with her stuff 2014 onwards Settle Down is a good one - Kiss <3 Always been a Prince favourite of mine and great to hear at parties - Reflektor is fantastic and one I didn't give enough credit to until my mid-decade came around, and I'm sure it'll make an appearance in an end of decade mine - Take Care is my favourite Drake song and a favourite from that particular year <3 - It's Oh So Quiet is a good one too, even if 9 year old me would be horrified by this sentence - I've always been into King Kunta and it still sounds fantastic four years on - I like Do I Wanna Know? and it's definitely interesting how successful that era was for Arctic Monkeys - When I Come Around is one of my favourite Green Day songs
If I get the time I might have to check out some of the stuff I'm not familiar with!
Wow! I completed writing my first 100 entries! That’s already quite a proud achievement for me and there’s been quite a lot of other things I’ve been committed too since I started this list. Admittedly there have been complications that made new entries arrive a bit later than I hoped, but I’m still happy with the progress and feedback so far! Anyway, back to the list:
400. Destiny’s Child - Say My Name
The strongest contender for the group’s signature song, this single from 1999’s The Writing’s on the Wall, with a chorus iconic enough to be referenced in at least 2 Drake songs which I don’t think I’ll need to explain the hookiness of besides remarking on the way the harmonic work depthens as each chorus develops. What’s equally remarkable to me though are the pre-choruses where the whole track feels like it’s accelerating with the squiggly runs of vocal, synth string and bass lines and the beat accentuated by popping sounds, a bit of flexatone percussion and wind chimes with far more precision than they’re normally used in songs. The return to the chorus after all that makes the simple back beat feel suddenly strident with those backing synth strings and glitchy wah-wah guitar scratch. And one quick acknowledge to the woozy chords in the lower range in the verses before we get to Beyoncé’s lead vocal. I don’t much care for her ad-libs in the later chorus admittedly, but her ability to quickly sing rhythmically kinetic phrases in a limited range in the verses (example: “every other word is “uh-huh, yeah okay” could it be that you are at the crib of another lady?”) highlighted alongside my previous Beyoncé entry by New Yorker writer Jody Rosen. I like it so much I might just leave it here in full:
“Listen to the slippery rap-style syncopations in “Say My Name,” to the melodies that float and dart over the thump of “Single Ladies,” to the jarring timbral and tonal variations in “Ring the Alarm” and “1+1.” Those sounds didn’t exist in the world before Beyoncé. If they sound “normal” now, it’s because Beyoncé, and her many followers, have retrained our ears.”
Her vocal versatility shown here shows how her potential to become the acclaimed and beloved solo star was there from the beginning days, and why she made such a great face of her band.
399. Car Seat Headrest - Fill In The Blank
Opening up Teens of Denial with a bang after a fan informs you that you are in fact listening to Car Seat Headrest. Led by the soaring guitar line and backed by the upbeat motion of the drums, Will Toledo sings an almost self-effacing portrait of his angst with the listless title-dropping opening line “I’m so sick of - fill in the blank” and his declaration “if I were split in 2 I would just take my fists so I could beat up the rest of me”. Then by the chorus he sings back all the ways he’s been talked down to by his elders about his mental health (“You have no right to be depressed you haven’t tried hard enough to like it”) turning it into something cathartic and tuneful with the repetition of “it hurts it hurts it hurts” and “hold my breath, hold my breath, hold it”. And yet despite all his angst and pain he still finds room for humour in the massive build up of the bridge singing about getting signs from the cops, the audience, and even God to “stay the fuck down”. The opening guitar riff then makes a glorious return an octave higher and with the addition of some wonderful wordless harmonies, the band return to the final chorus where Toledo duets with the lyrics from his previous choruses, responding to the dismissals with a jaded outlook:
I’ve got a right to be depressed I’ve given inch I had to fight it I’ve seen too much of this world yes and it hurts it hurts it hurts it hurts And I will never see the light that I’ve seen shining in your eyes You just wanna see me naked so I’ll hold my breath, hold my breath hold it Hold my breath hold my breath hold my breath
398. Nelly Furtado - Say It Right
One of the definitive hits of Loose, an album which unfortunately never received the same level as acclaim as the other Timbaland-produced blockbuster from 2006 FutureSex/LoveSounds but is actually on par with it. With ethereal synth chords tat may be the most ambient sounds used in a Timbaland hit ever, enhanced by some subtly-mixed water-running sounds in the lower end. Timb’s distant “eh”s although soon to become a gratuitous addition in his hits from a year afterwards, do add to the atmosphere here. And his kick snare and hi-hat choices are as excellent sounding as ever. What really elevates “Say It Right” is Furtado’s simultaneously mystical and intimate performance, sounding like a previously closed-off person opening themselves up to another person for the first time in a long time. From the oddly enchanting delivery of “you don’t mean nothing at all to me” in the chorus and the addition of “but you’ve got what it takes to set me free”; to the gorgeous backing vocals in the second verse (“and all of what I feel (feel) I could show (show you) you tonight”) and the intimacy offered in the final lines (“from my body I could show you a place God knows, you should know the space is holy, do you really wanna go?”). Oh and that descending guitar line introduced in the second chorus that re-emerges in the outro is absolutely fucking gorgeous.
397. Jeff Buckley - Last Goodbye
One of the most beloved and breathtaking songs of his 1994 classic Grace. Although his most renowned talent was his singing ability, his guitar playing was an equally remarkable talent of his and equally as important to his songs. And is watery rhythm guitar strum sets the perfect motion for the song to be in, alongside the fluid bass riff and the gorgeous string lines, especially when they mimic part of the verse melody later on in the song (and the sustained guitar slides in the opening are fantastic too). He sings of the pain of breaking up in the moment it happens and regretting that he can’t have more romance with them (“this is our last embrace, must I always dream and see your face?”), hitting some of his prettiest falsetto moments (and that’s saying something) in the chorus’ “kiiiiiis meeeee pleeee-eeease kiiiis me-ee but kiss me out of desire babe and not consolation!”, gracefully (no pun intended) returning back to his lower register in the following “oh, you know it makes me so angry ‘cause I know that in time I’ll only make you cry, this is our last goodbye”. Then there’s his imagining of his ex-lover on the other side of the relationship in the 4th verse that makes things extra poignant:
Did you say “No this can’t happen to me!” Did you rush to the phone to call Was there a voice unkind in the back of your mind Saying “maybe you didn’t know him at all”
The tender beauty in this song means that even though it’s specifically about a break-up from a relationship, listening to it can help with processing all pain regarding losing or missing someone.
396. Frank Ocean - Pyramids
“We’ll run to the future shining like diamonds in a rocky world” sings Frank Ocean a minute and a half into this 10 minute epic. Coming after that fantastic and iconic synth riff and accompanying synth ripples that precede it, marching to a groove of neon funk with the suspended synth chords from the intro that sound like choirs of ghosts, the fluid bass synth and the reverberated handclaps it’s also what that song sounds like at that very moment. Futuristic as this song is, its lyrics tell a time-transcending story of Egyptian historical figure Cleopatra seeing her fall from power in the ancient past to a sex worker in the modern day who enchants the narrator who intends of pimping her but gos on to fall in lover with her. After the song changes gears to a nocturnal slow-cruising jam with a lush transition of sunsetting synth chords and arpeggios. Ocean gives us a new laid-back hook over stargazing synth-lines and a club-friendly hi-hat like he’s tuned out of most of the sounds of the club and in a quiet pocket outside by himself. He then sings of the lifestyles of the pimps he grew up around, dating the references to his upbringing (“Floor model TV with the VCR”) and dropping the boastful façade in the final verse to show his infatuation with her:
You showed up after work I'm bathing your body Touch you in places only I know You're wet and you're warm just like our bathwater Can we make love before you go The way you say my name makes me feel like I'm that n***** But I'm still unemployed You say it's big but you take it Ride cowgirl But your love ain't free no more, baby But your love ain't free no more
Just when the song couldn’t possibly include any more ideas in its long journey, it closes on some gorgeous interplaying lines of guitar from John Mayer and Ocean’s own wordless Auto-Tuned runs over the continued night-time glow of the synth chords underneath. A journey in a half through music, time and storytelling.
395. LCD Soundsystem - New York I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down
Closing out Sound of Silver’s run of dance-rock jams with a melancholic ballad and a sparse piano chord progression as its foundation. James Murphy sings the title in a, dejected, cracking voice and sings lyrics that sound like they’re invoking infamous Smashing Pumpkins-isms (“like a rat in a cage, pulling minimum wage” - though sung from a place of sorrow rather than rage) and speak of disillusionment towards the city’s problems with power-abusing police (“But they shuttered you stores when you opened the doors to the cops who were bored when they ran out of crime”) and gentrification by the rich (“Your mild billionaire mayor’s now convinced he’s a king, so the boing collect, I mean all disrespect, in the neighbourhood bars I once dreamt I would drink”) and its impact on the city’s culture (“there’s a ton of the twist but we’re fresh out of shout”). And yet he tenderly concedes his affection for his city in the beautifully sad line “but you’re still the one pool where I’d happily drown”. The song is also the only song of Sound of Silver to be backed by a full-bodied band rather than have Murphy play all instruments, and throughout the verses quoted above he’s backed by a slow and steady 6/8 drum beat from Pat Mahoney and some neat bass figures underlying the chords, as well as some wonderful additions of wind noise mixed in the background throughout the track. He’s joined by a guitar line from Justin Cherano as he jumps into a higher register for “And ohhhhhh! Take me off your mailing list” exploding into loud, physically powerful chords with Mahoney’s drum fills for the stunning climax. A beautiful and poignant display of Murphy’s songwriting talents and what makes him one of my favourite lyricists.
394. U2 - Bad
The centrepiece of the second half of The Unforgettable Fire that also became the soundtrack to their iconic Live Aid moment where the band continued the song for 12 minutes - double the length of the studio recording - while Bono waded into the crowd to find someone to dance with (Fun fact: the rest of the band had no idea where he was or what he was doing the whole time, and because the length meant they had to cut “Pride” - their biggest hit song at the time - from the set, they were absolutely furious with him and convinced they had fucked up in front of millions of viewers, turns out they had done anything but). Anyway “Bad” may have The Edge’s most distinctively Edge-ian riff ever in his signature delay sound with the way it creates a subtle ripple in the muted phrases and echoes the pierced high notes. The riff also establishes my favourite basic chord progression of the continual I-IV that makes the perfect foundation for the band to build the sweeping crescendos that would come to define The Joshua Tree, with Larry Mullen Jr.’s drums building sixteenth-note rhythms on his toms and hi-hats over the marching pulse of his kick, subtly invoking the militarised motion of “Sunday Bloody Sunday” into something slow-burning. Bono sings obliquely of the drug addictions present in the lives of people in his hometown (“colours crash, collide in bloodshot eyes”) and over the course of the build ups delivers falsetto coos to Edge’s twinkling high notes; gives a series of “tion” rhymes (“this desperation, dislocation, separation, condemnation, revelation, in temptation, isolation, desolation”) that makes you wonder if he thought of one more that didn’t fit the mood and so waited until 2000 to write a song with it as the title; and reaches the highest of his belting range for the choruses’ “I’m wiiiiiide awaaaaaake” at which point the song breaks from it’s 2-chord progression into a new lifeful mixolydian bIIV chord as the apex of all the tension built up, resolving it back to the I as Bono returns to a calm “I’m not sleeping”. As that iconic performance proved, these crescendos could last forever and not lose any of their power.
393. Carly Rae Jepsen - Call Me Maybe
Before she became the niche pop star both respected on RYM and adored by Twitter gays, she gave us the unexpected world-dominating smash of 2012 with a chorus as instantly memorable as it was instantly meme-able (straight down to there being shirts made with George Micheal Bluth on them titled “Call Me Maeby”. Although it strangely feels like a world away from the Carly Rae Jepsen on E.MO.TION-onwards, it represents her talents for adorably joyful, pop songwriting just as well as anything that’s gotten bolded on RYM since. Hell I’d argue that this is still her second-best song, behind… well, you’ll see. Even though I was still too cynical about the kind of unabashedly sugary pop this song represented at the time, it still felt highly out of place with the pop world in 2012. Sounding like it was recorded in a home studio, there’s a feeling of someone accidentally crafting a perfectly-written pop song by accident, and yet despite it’s home-studio-ish sound those shrill synth string lines in the chorus and disco guitar still manage to sound like nothing else. And the groove of the chord progression remains irresistible throughout. But it’s the jovial, febrile performance of Jepsen that sells it above everything else. I’ve heard a few music critics describe the quality of her singing as “you can hear her smiling” and it’s harder to put it more succinctly than that. There’s the lustfulness of how she describes the guy’s appearance in the pre-chorus (“your stare was holding, ripped jeans skin was showing”) the blushiness of “it’s hard to look right at you baaaaby!” + “and all the other booooooys try to chaaaase me!” in the chorus. But my favourite part are the post-choruses where she sings “before you came into my life I missed you so bad” over a glorious descending guitar line. It’s such a silly line and yet it captures the infatuation in her song so perfectly it works. Remains one of the 21st century’s finest pure pop megahits.
392. Radiohead - There There
Lead single of the band’s 2003 release Hail to the Thief, a record which feels a bit lower-rung amongst Radiohead’s albums but nonetheless contains some out-of-the-park cuts within. The krautrock-inspired rhythm of toms and rim hits played with guitarists Ed O’Brien and Jonny Greenwood adding additional drums over Phil Selway’s kit creates a murky atmosphere or walking through the woods at night (just like the video), helped by the ominus sustained notes from Thom Yorke’s guitar and his delicate riff. In his trademark falsetto, he warns of deceiving comfort in the second verse’s “there’s always a siren singing you to shipwreck, steer away from these rocks we’d be a walking disaster” intercut with lower-registered backing vocals warning “don’t reach out, don’t reach out” and delivers the emotionally ambiguous chorus refrain “just ‘cause you feel it doesn’t mean its there” with the backing vocals adding “there’s someone on your shoulder” the second time round. The climax at the end is stunning, with Greenwood playing some delicate arpeggios as Yorke sings in a simultaneously warm and ominous voice “Why so green and lonely? Heaven sent you to me”. Greenwood unleashes one of his best guitar solos with the arpeggios turning louder and intercut with beefed-up lead lines, Selway’s drums level up with some of his best fills and Yorke drives the whole thing to its conclusion with the anguished refrain of “We are accidents waiting to happen”. A tender, haunting and powerful track that proves that throughout all of Radiohead’s genre experimentation in their discography, they remain one of the best rock bands of their era.
391. The B-52’s - Dance This Mess Around
To get an idea of how insanely good the A-side to The B-52’s self-titled debut is, this song is my least favourite song of the 4 on that side, yet kicks enough ass to warrant a place on here. One of the best showcases of the unique and unusual vocal talents of all 3 vocalists Cindy Wilson, Kate Pierson and Fred Schnider. The former sings the opening verse in an unusually low, sombre voice “remember when you held my hand? Say, remember when you were my man?” over a low-key keyboard organ and bass from Pierson, sparse guitar notes from Cindy’s brother Ricky Wilson and the addition of a toy piano of all things from Schnider. But then unexpectedly her voice turns to an anguished scream of “WHY WON’T YOU DANCE WITH ME??? I’M NOT NO LIMBURGER!!!!”. It’s ridiculous and yet strangely compelling at the same time. The keyboard and guitar continue to form a hypnotic groove with Keitch Strickland’s drums ass all 3 vocalists fire off a bunch of made-up 60s-style dances (“They do the Shu-Ga Loo! Do the Shy Tuna! Do the Camel Walk! Do the Hip-o-Crit!”). Listen to the way the tension builds through the vocal interplay such as Schinder and Pierson’s “what you say?” being replied to by Wilson’s “well I’m just asking” followed by a sudden hit of crash cymbal from Strickland, hinting at a climax to arrive later. The cymbal hit is repeated a few more times joined by Pierson’s shouting “shake!” then offset by harmonised “ohhhhh”s from her and Wilson. After another verse of naming more dances they build back up to the moment before the first crash cymbal, finally reaching that climax with a glorious hailstorm of “yeahyeahyeahyeahyeahyeahyeahyeahyeah”s from Wilson and Schnider and Pierson belting the song’s title, shooting the final “arouuuuuuund” into the stratosphere. A ridiculous, bizzarre, funny, groovy, punky, dancey, hypnotic and utterly commanding song, with plenty more from the album that fit all those adjectives to come.
One of the rock-radio hits of Soundgarden’s masterful 1994 album Superunknown. It bears all the hallmarks of Soundgarden’s unique style: unusual guitar tuning in EEBBbb; unusual time signature in how it alternates between ⅞ and 4/4, a perfect match for the riff’s descension of chromatic power chords; lurching drum grooves from Matt Cameron; moments of beauty in the delicate opening guitar lines from Kim Thayil; and an absolutely phenomenal vocal performance from the late and great Chris Cornell, utilising his range, physical power and ability to compose excellent melodies that fit the shape of the weird time signatures. He sings of the paralysing effects of depression and the desire to fight against the forces that keep him down soaring during the cathartic choruses which darkly concede to the injustices that have made life harder for him and many others (“The day I tried to live, I wallowed in the blood and mud with all the other pigs”). And yet as disillusioned as he is here and in his belting of “I should have stayed in beeeeeeeeed!” in the bridge, he still finds the will to try in the post-chorus refrain of “One more time around might do it”, making the song a powerful and realistic depiction of one struggling with their mental health, and what made Cornell such a powerful frontman who’s passing of suicide from 2 years ago saddens me to this day.
389. The Jam - That’s Entertainment
One of the signature songs of this new wave and mod revival band off the 1980 album Sound Affects, and a fantastic showcase of frontman Paul Weller’s lyrical talents. Musically it’s backed by briskly strummed acoustic guitar chords, bass from Bruce Foxton, percussion limited to shakers and sparing snare hits played by Rick Butler and a small addition of reversed electric guitar in the 6th verse. Lyrically, Weller takes the magic-in-everyday-life topic and knocks it out of the park, starting with simple observations of “A police car and a screaming siren, pneumatic drill and ripped-up concrete” create an image of a busy English city as they go on, for instance the back-alleyway description of “Paint-splattered walls and the cry of a tomcat, lights going out and a kick in the balls”, all going back to the chorus refrain of the title, rising into a falsetto in “That’s entertainmeh-ehhhhhhhhhhhnt! La la la la laaaaaaaah” that’s just fucking magical. In later verses he turns the images to describe a more romantic and wistful state of mind in lines like “Waking up from bad dreams and smoking cigarettes, cuddling a warm girl and smelling stale perfume, a hot summer’s day and sticky black tarmac, feeding the ducks in the park and wishing you were far away”. Seizing the romance around you: “Two lovers kissing masks a scream of midnight, two lovers missing the tranquility of solitude”. One of my dad’s favourite songs.
388. Kanye West - We Don’t Care
“Oh yeah, I got the perfect song for the kids to sing” announces one 26 year old Kanye at the start of the first song of his 2004 debut The College Dropout before unleashing the ridiculous chorus of “drug dealing just to get by, stack your money ‘till it gets sky hiiiiiigh”. The first of many times throughout both the album and Kanye’s discography where he plays with people’s stereotypes of rappers, made all the more comical by its musical surrounding with the cheerful chord progression and bass lines, the vocal sample of “I Just Wanna Stop” by The Jimmy Castor Bunch which sounds lyrically indecipherable, the string loop which builds up to the release of the echoing sax note and the other sax line at the end of the progression. All of which create a jovial and childlike piece of music accentuated of course by the addition of a children’s choir to sing that chorus. Kanye’s lyrical testament to the drug hustle is filled with digs at the problems with the education system (“you the kids ‘gon act a fool when you stop the programs for afterschool”), the kind of ridiculously lame puns that become oddly charming in spite of themselves (“the drug game’s bulimic, it’s hard to get weight”) and a defiant attitude against the social disenfranchisement that caused their predicaments in the first place, most clearly in the second line of the chorus: “we weren’t supposed to make it past 25, jokes on you we still alive” and the “we don’t care what people say” mantra. With the positive energy and humour throughout it all, the backing music ends up not feeling dissonant at all despite the subject matter. And the additional developments later in the song with an added sax lead in the final verse and string lines over the final chorus are wonderful. Everytime Ye says “Sometimes I feel no-one in this world understands us” I can’t help but smile.
387. Iggy Pop - The Passenger
One of his signature songs from his 1977 record Lust for Life. Somehow manages to be both incredibly simple in its construction - with its simple-strumming vi-IV-I-V chord progression, simple swinging drum beat and vocal melody of very limited range - and yet so unmistakably its own thing at the same time. The rhythm of the chords - occasionally ending on a more tense III chord - and the consistent delivery of well-timed drum rolls and cymbal hits make the momentum feel unstoppable, and Iggy’s vocal on here carries the exact kind of casually assured swagger the song needs. His “la la la la lalala la” hook of a chorus is an impossibly addictive earworm, and his delivery of the verse lines of seeing the bright and hollow sky and the city’s ripped backside are potent enough you don’t even realise they’re repeated in almost every verse. When he goes into a relatively higher register for “and everything was made for you and me” he feels like he’s belting them with all the bravado of a stadium-filling frontman. A massive tune from one of the most larger-than-life performers in rock. He’s the passenger, and he rides and he rides.
Siouxsie and the Banshee’s cover version is also great fun. Pretty similar but with some great horns in there, and Siouxsie’s performance is also as fabulous as you’d expect.
386. Elvis Costello & The Attractions - Radio, Radio
Perhaps the definitive song for Elvis Costello’s public image in the late 70s. Its radio-bashing lyrics and performance on Saturday Night Live - which went against the requests of Costello’s record company and had him banned from the show for 12 years afterwards - helped tie the not-quite-punk-rock musician to the punk moment of the day in terms of sheer attitude. And that attitude is certainly here alright with the second verse’s admission “I wanna bite the hand that feeds me, I wanna bite that hand so badly, I wanna make them wish they’d never seen me!”. Once again the energy brought by The Attractions is phenomenal, with the bass and keyboard locking in on that opening riff and the muscular revv-up in the drums and guitar chords, but also unusually restrained for much of the time while building tension throughout. The chorus opens with the big hook “Radio is a sound salvation!” to a loud start, but the band coil the energy back up and get tenser until the return to the riff at the end. And listen to the synced hits from the band at the end of the second verse, with the chord progression getting higher with it as Costello sings some of his most incisive lyrics:
You either shut up or get up, they don’t wanna hear about it It’s only inches in the reel-to-reel And the radio’s in the hands of such a lot of fools trying to anesthetise the way that you feel!
How many songs do you get to hear the word “anesthetise” in the lyrics and sung with such a sneer? A slamming rocker for the ages and a curious glimpse of new wave from before it changed the sound of pop music and was openly antagonistic with the industry.
The first song proper of Outkast’s best album, 1998’s Aquemini. With an ominous and cinematic beat that sounds from an actual old gangster movie in a way many rap albums before and since have aspired to. There’s the low hum of the organ, the cruising beat and bassline, the bleak tension in the strings and the addition of horns - particularly the muted trumpet - that really capture the movie-score vibe of the song. There’s some machine-gun noises that sound like they’re from a war documentary, and perhaps weirdest of all, a harp, introduced with a dreamlike glissando fitting for Andre 3000’s line “time travelin’, rhyme javelin’, mind unravelin’” (more on his verse in a bit) and playing some gentle arpeggios throughout the remainder of the song. And the way the chorus hook rises into a falsetto in “Gangstaaaaaaaah… ooooooooh” is the perfect match for the mood. The opening verse from Andre is one of his best ever, and one of Talib Kweli’s top 25 favourite verses too (https://talibkweli.tumblr.com/post/33242672635/25-of-my-favorite-hip-hop-verses-of-all-time). He keeps commanding your attention by bookending his cadences with the hooks “Return of the gangsta, thanks ta” and the increasingly authoritative “get down!” while firing off impressive rhymes of the line quoted above as well as “Them n*****s that think you soft and say y’all be gospel rappin’, but they be steady clappin’ when you talk about bitches and switches and hoes and clothes and weed”, “Got enough to buy an ounce, but not enough to bounce them kids to the zoo”, “The wrong impression of expression, then the question”. The last line leads into my favourite part of the song where goes into an exasperated rant of “What’s up with Andre? Is he in a cult? Is he on drugs? Gay? When y’all gon break up? When y’all gon wake up? N**** I’m feelin’ better than ever what wrong with you? You! Get! Down!”. Big Boi’s verse is also a worthy addition to the song with great lines in “A playa just want to kick back with my gators off and watch my lil’ girl blow bubbles” and “Sticking together like flour and water for that slow dough” with the addition of child laughter underneath the former being a great addition. A great slice of what made these ATLiens so out of this world at their peak. “Everytime I try to get a peace of mind, n****s wanna get a piece of mine”.
384. Car Seat Headrest - Vincent
The second track of Teens of Denial and the last of the opening triple-punch to appear on this list (but we’re not quite done with songs from the album yet). The opening 2 minutes build up a whole load of tension and anticipation with that repeating guitar oscillation slowly joined by twinkles of harmonics, a distant hi-hat’s 16th-note pace gradually getting louder and eventually reaching the strikes of guitar chords ready to announce the entrance from the whole band. Will Toledo gives one of his best vocal and lyrical performances churning out rhythmic hooks in the repetition of “pure sadism!” and “Intoxicano in the verses (as well as “yeah it helps to describe it” after mentioning the sight of Van Gogh’s portrait on the Wikipedia page for clinical depression), some of his smartest lyrics in “In the back of a medicine cabinet you can find your life story and the future in the side effects” and the terrific interplay in the choruses with lead guitarist Ethan Ives’ backing vocals (“I don’t have the strength (I don’t have the time) I poured myself a drink (I told myself a lie)”) building up with drummer Andrew Katz’s snare rolls into the thrilling release of “Now I have nothing to SAAAAAAAY!!” followed by thrilling chord stabs, more elaborate drum fills from Katz and the addition of a trumpet into the mix from Jon Maus. That bit where he goes “half the time I’M LIKE THIS!” before shouting out to his real-life friend Matt, nicknamed “Captain Trash” over squalls of guitar feedback is excellent as hell too (his self-written Genius annotation for that lyric - “A friend of mine told me he dreamed I had a song with these lyrics in it, referring to another friend of mine named Matt, whom he had never met. So I put it in the song. Sorry, Matt.” is for now my favourite annotation on that site’s history); as are the tape-echoed vocals added in the background as the band then builds back up to another climactic chorus for the song’s finale.
383. ABBA - Waterloo
The breakthrough hit of the Swedish pop behemoth, bringing their country to victory in the Eurovision Song Contest in 1974, and one of the flashiest and liveliest hits of their career. The song’s DNA can be traced to the glam rock of the early 70s (you should also check out the B-side this single was paired with - “Watch Out” - which is the closest ABBA have gone to hard rock with a T.Rex-esque glam stop), particularly in the riff the guitar and bass lock onto in the chorus and the saxophone lead’s that suggest they’d enjoyed a fair share of Roxy Music, while still unmistakably synthesised into the distinct pop style that made ABBA a global force. There’s the way the BB half of the group strike those chords in between the gaps of the AA half’s melody lines (“My my - *!* *!* - at Waterloo” - played like an echo) along with the plinkering piano lines in the pre-choruses, and they way they counter the ascending melody line before the chorus hits with a descending chord progression (“I feel like I win when I looooose”). And of course the tune which everyone reading this has probably heard their mums sing along to thousands of time is so obviously joyous and animated that I couldn’t possibly try to explain it away any further.
382. The Jimi Hendrix Experience - All Along the Watchtower
Despite being a guitarist myself with both a degree in music and a love for noisy feedback-drenched sounds, I had never actually listened to a Jimi Hendrix experience album until this year when I finally got round to Electric Ladyland. And a phenomenal album it is indeed, with songs that would’ve undoubtedly be on this list had there been enough time for them to marinate in my brain before I started writing this list. Anyway, this is a cover of a Bob Dylan song played so explosively it’s effectectively eclipsed the original in the canon and public consciousness. From the very beginning of those chord strikes and Mitch Mitchell’s drum rolls it’s both so raw and so crisp - the reverb coming off the acoustic guitar and the percussion (a vibraslap played by Brian Jones) mixed in with the beat feel like burst of air - and Hendrix’s lyrical guitar leads begin to shine shortly afterwards. He sings Dylan’s lyrics with come of the most casually assured badassery you’ll likely ever hear with every verse ending on a “HEY!” (the last verse getting an extra special line “The WIND begins to howl!” beforehand) as electrifying as his guitar before unleashing another solo over Mitchel’s earthquaking drum fills and Noel Redding’s fat bass lines. The solo from 1:42 - 2:48 is a minor masterpiece on its own going from a solo like the ones heard before than adding trippy echoing slides, unleashing his wah-wah and then playing some twangy rockabilly-influenced than get higher until he ends the solo brending his highest notes until they scream. While there have many guitarists more personally important to my own musical history so far than Hendrix, there’s a reason why his music remains a portal to pass through when growing as a musician, and it’s not just for his guitar playing.
381. U2 - A Sort of Homecoming
Opening up The Unforgettable Fire and announcing the arrival of Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois into the band’s world. It opens with the forward-moving drum beat of Larry Mullen Jr. already established as one of the band’s signature qualities, but blossoms into a sky of lush chords built around Edge’s guitar - having gone from the fierce crunch of War to the cavernous reverb and chiming echo of this record (his unique choice of guitar pick - with a textured edge uses to scrape across the strings to create a chiming sound is also a secret weapon) - and the slightly-ambiguous bass counterparts from Adam Clayton. When I listen to them I imagine early dawn on a sunny day outside, with the sky colours gradually fading into blue and some murky clouds filling in the space. Bono’s melody begins in an unexpectedly lower register that matches the awakening early-morning feel of the song, opening with “And you know it’s time to go, through the sleet and driving snow, across the fields of mourning, lights in the distance”. He returns to his signature belting fashion for the soaring chorus (“ohhhhh ohhhhhhhh ohhhhhh, on valley land we ruuuuuuuuun!”), rises to a breathy falsetto for the bridge’s “I’ll be there tonight” over a bIIV chord and a scratchier guitar rhythm that creates an almost breezy atmosphere before singing “toniiiiiiight” over the main chords in a belt that held onto for a long time, ending in a tender falsetto, and creates more great hooks on the way in a low-sung “oh come away” chant. His verses lyrics continue to paint images of the landscape transforming in ways that are bleak (“The city walls are all gone down, the dust a smokescreen all around, see faces ploughed by fields that once gave no resistance”) but reaches into his higher range for “The wind will crack in winter time, the bomb-blast lightning waltz, no spoken words, but a screaaaaaam!” leading into a chorus with modified lyrics that turn hopeful:
Tonight, we’ll build a bridge across the sea and land See the sky, the burning rain She will die and live again Tonight
The portrayal of the natural world in a state where it could change for the worse, but maybe still regenerate for the better is a very vivid feeling of this point in history regarding climate change, regardless of their actual intention. A sort of materful opener to a sort of great 4th album: “And your earth moves beneath your own dream landscape”. Last edited:
Another great song by an artists I’ve only started to explore, several years overdue. One of the most beloved songs by the band of their 1994 sophomore Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, even named the best song of the 90s by Pitchfork. On that list entry, Mark Richardson writes: “The first two words are "go back," and that's exactly what it does: It was easy, light, and tinged with nostalgia, with a radiant guitar tone and drums that float along, joyously uncommitted.” and indeed that breezy melody from Stephen Malkmus that floats just outside of 4/4 time alternating back and forth with 6/4 and those jangling guitar arpeggios from him and Scott Kannberg are incredibly wistful and invoke nostalgia for your fondest summer memories. There’s also Malkmus’ cheeky self-deprecating humour in “It has a nice ring you laugh at the low life opinions, and they’re coming to the chorus now” before the band do just that. And what a sweet chorus it is! “I keep my address to yourself ‘cause we need secrets”, followed by the way he repeats the last syllable (“we need secrets-crets-crets”). Also must needs be remarked is the jangle guitar solo at 1:16 that leaves you longing for every following note as the guitars untangle and one plays a clear melody. All leading up to the beautifully romantic line and one of the most beloved lyrics in indie rock: “So drunk in the August sun and you’re the kind of girl that I like, ‘cause you’re empty and I’m empty and you can never quarantine the past”. A gorgeous summer song, and one I see continuing to rise in my own list of best 90s songs.
379. Weezer - Only In Dreams
Closing out The Blue Album with an 8-minute epic after an album of power-pop anthems (ones that Serious Music Fans feel comfortable liking because of the band having a geek-rock rather than a mall-punk image). Built over a hypnotic bass line from Matt Sharp with a gentle metronic drum beat and acoustic guitar strum backing it, and a delicate and also slightly hypnotic electric guitar line introduced in the opening verse. Rivers Cuomo sings about a cute fantasy of meeting a crush at a dance helped by some sweet and charming backing vocals (“You can’t avoid her, she’s in the air - in the air - in be-tween molecules of oxygen and carbon dioxide”), and the addition of some very gentle guitar feedback in the second verse. The big power chords of Weezer’s signature arrive for the chorus, rising to a higher chord at the end as the fantasy fades (“but when we wake it’s all been erased, and so it seems… only in dreams”) and leading back into the opening bass line. Once the verse-chorus form is done, the guitars explode once again, doubling up the bass progression with strident octaves played with immense physicality and Cuomo belting the title in anguish (“ONLY IN DREEEEEEEEAMS!”), then the band quietens down again and takes us to the real gem of the song: the glorious slow-building climax of the coda. Still locking on the bass riff, two guitars quietly play octaves in the left and right channel, getting higher and louder in a delicate way, with the distortion burning slowly through them. Sharp’s bass revs up to a 16th-note rhythm and Patrick Wilson gently pounds away at the drums, gradually going to a louder cymbal and building the snare to match the crescendo of the guitars. After a minute and a half of incredible tension, the crescendo finally completes itself and the band release all their pent-up energy gloriously. The strident march of the riff from before returns and the guitar leads continue to pick away at the high notes before Cumomo plays one of his best, most earned guitar solos over Wilson’s drum fills. And then the song finally quietens down again, with the instrumentation exiting one by one until all that’s left is the opening bass line, which finally resolves the harmonic tension it’s been carrying all this time by finishing on that final Gb note. One of the most satisfying final notes to a rock song ever.
378. Public Enemy - Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos
One of the cornerstones of Public Enemy’s 1988 masterwork It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. Built over a beat with a rather sinister looped piano trill (a snippet of Isaac Hayes “Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic” now that seems precocious!), a funky bass and some added reversed noises mixed in with the sharp and driving drum beat - appreciate the hits in between verses, as well as the dirty record scratches. But the song is one of the best showcases of Chuck D’s strength as a commanding MC in both his voice and storytelling ability, telling a fictional story about a prison break. From the opening line of his first verse (another one of Talib Kweli’s faves) “I got a letter from the government the other day, I opened up and read it, it said they were suckers, they wanted me for their army or whatever, picture me giving a damn - I said never!” you are hooked by his voice and he sustains your interest through 4 verses. His pitch modulations throughout the words is incredible and unparallelled, he gets a bit gravelly when he lowers his voice which adds more anger to his sound, and rises to higher-pitched belts like a revolutionary giving a speech. I especially love the way he repeats certain pitch changes in his rhymes just to give that extra emphasis in “The reasons are several, most of them federal!”, “I’ve got a tier where no tears should ever fall” and “I’m serious, call me delirious”, the points he makes about the injustices of the prison system (“Four of us packed in a cell like slaves, oh well, the same motherfucker got us living in his hell, you have to realize, what its a form of slavery, organized under a swarm of devils”), and how the story becomes more movie-like in its development by the final verse (“And then I threw up my steel bullets flew up, and to my surprise the water tower blew up, who shot, what, who, what, the bazooka was who, and to my rescue, it was the S1Ws”) - S1Ws being Public Enemy’s security guards whose initials mean “security of the first world”). One of the best examples of what made Public Enemy both such a politically vital and simultaneously entertaining band: “Nevertheless, they could not understand that I’m a black man, so I could never be a veteran”.
377. OutKast - A Life in the Day of Benjamin André (Incomplete)
On The Love Below, Andre 3000 sent most of the time on his album of the band’s split double-album away from rapping, and trying out pop, funk, jazz and a plethora of other styles, but he makes a return to rapping on this closer, and yet ends up delivering what is still one of the weirdest songs on the whole album, and OutKast’s entire discography. Over a kinetic beat who’s syncopated kick drum and hand claps make me wonder if The-Dream and Tricky Stewart got their inspiration to write “Single Ladies” here, our only harmonic content comes in ghostly, high-frequency, enchanting winds of synth chords that evokes a feeling of mystery and even sound a bit frightening, especially when they change to the more dissonant B section with those atonal lines. André gives a non-stop autobiographical verse over the song’s four and a half minutes that remains incredibly engaging throughout despite not a single line or phrase being repeated! He recounts his previous relationships from the person he lost his virginity to (who the song is addressed to) and as he calls her “Erykah ‘On and On’ Badu”, his career with OutKast, and his recent fatherhood with some of my personal favourite rhymes in “We're young, in love, in short we had fun, no regrets, no abortion, had a son, by the name of Seven, and he's five, by the time I do this mix, he'll probably be six”. Elsewhere he bends words and phrases around the 1 beat (“To get in your pants was a Mission Imposs...sible”, “Move to the South but this isn’t a Kodak - Moment”), a perfect pop culture reference in “I felt you that were getting off to work, or either when you’re on your way to school, we started hanging out like Ernie and Bert”, and impressive rhymes spiced with puns!: “I’d meet Muslims, gangstas, bitches, rastas, and macaroni n****s, impastas”. He’s also makes unusual imagery in “Description is like 15 doves, in a jacuzzi catching the Holy Ghost, making one woozy in the head and comatose, agree?” and describes his introversion as an imaginative but troubled child in “You kinda fast for that fella in class who used to draw, and never said much 'cause half of what he saw was so far from that place you wanna be, that words only fucked it up more, follow me”. The song ends with an abrupt fade out after Andre caps his rapping with “and that’s as far as I got”, and André has even admitted that the song could’ve gone longer, but was satisfied with its length enough to include it on the album anyway! Even at the length it is, though, it’s mind-boggling.
376. Radiohead - Everything In Its Right Place
It was the perfect way to open up Radiohead’s new change in style of Kid A with this song. A heavily digitised Prophet 5 synthesiser playing a hypnotic sequence and chord progression in 10/4 over a faint pulse, with warped snippets of Thom Yorke’s voice made to sound like transmitted messages from aliens. In a song from a band with 3 guitarists, there was none, and rhythm section was absent too - like all the other band mates have vanished and all Yorke has are these faulty replicas of his voice in some post-apocalyptic future. But Yorke insists on insuring us with his lead vocals that everything is in fact in its right place, with a more major-keyed chord progression behind it too! He sings “Yesterday I woke up sucking a lemon” all on one note like a robot who’s yet to learn melody, and the second verse’s lines “There are 2 colours in my head, what was that you tried to say”. There’s enough humanity and confusion in these lines to still find some human connection to the song, and Yorke repeats “Tried to say” as the warped vocal samples get busier, the synth tone swells up, and his voice builds with the tension until it’s released by a simple synth riff played in the chorus chord progression. It’s like waking up in a new digital musical world with only the smallest connection to the present. Everything in its right place, and nothing in its right place at the same time. Last edited:
375. Taylor Swift - We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together
God I love that opening acoustic guitar riff. Listen to how the back-half of each arpeggio is actually backmasked yet still sequenced to sound like it were being played naturally (the cute percussive taps on the guitar’s body between the chords help keep the “natural” sound too). Not only is it a risky idea for a lead single, one of my favourite production details in any pop hit of the past decade, but it’s remarkable in the context of Swift’s discography - as the leadoff single from Red that announced her pivoting from the “country” Swift of her first 3 albums to the “pop” Swift of her later work, what’s a more symbolic way to signal that change by opening with a digitally manipulated recording of an acoustic guitar? It’s a combining of the acoustic and the digital that resembles the acoustic guitar track in Madonna’s “Don’t Tell Me”
There’s also great rhythmic tension in the song alternating between sixteenth notes from the bass and hi-hat in the pre-chorus creating a rush of excitement which Swift builds upon with “this time I’m-telling-you-I’m-telling-you!” before they switch to a huge-strident quarter-note march for her gargantuan melody, one of the most triumphant and lifeful in pop music this decade. And speaking of her singing and melody, there are other stunning moments like the unbridled joy and sheer release of the “weeee-eeeee” and the “oooooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh”s and how she plays of the thwack of the snare during “you go talk to your friends talk to my friends talk to me”.
Now I understand the song can be off-putting for some due to its teenagery snark (“like, ever"). Personally I don’t mind them but will admit using the phone-call segment to fill the bridge wasn’t the strongest move (though I like the way the track fades down for a bit after she says “never say neverrrrrr”) and the *tsk* at the very end is one affectation too far, but in the verses they’re interwoven within the melody perfectly and raise a few smiles on my in lines like “Then you come around again to say ‘baby I love and I swear I’m gonna change, trust me” and “you would hide away and find your piece of mind with some indie record that’s much cooler than mine” with it’s own snarky giggle to underpin it. It playfully depicts the frustrations of a bad relationship going nowhere and rather than undermining the strengths of the rest of the song actually help contribute to its very millennial sense of exuberant confidence and the joy of being alleviated from one.
Oh and one more thing I like? How in the choruses amongst the synths and acoustic guitars, they still sneak a bit of banjo into the mix. Delightfully devilish Swift!
374. Elvis Costello & The Attractions - Pump It Up
Perhaps the best-known song of the lesser-known Elvis, with a riff I was first introduced to through the 2005 Rogue Traders hit “Voodoo Child” (ah, memories of NOW 19). And the strut of that descending chromatic chord progression paired with the flashy faux-organ of Steve Nieve and the pile-driving drum beat from Pete Thomas is utterly irresistible. Bruce Thomas’ nimble bass lines through out are also fantastic, and his climb up the higher frets during the choruses as the other not-blood-related Thomas revs up the kick and snare does indeed pump me up everytime. The unstoppable strut of The Attractions makes the perfect backing for Costello’s vocals, who sneers a “Subterranean Homesick Blues”-style chant exhuming his sexual frustrations in clever rhymes like “I’ve been on tenterhooks, ending in dirty looks”, “you wanna torture her, you wanna talk to her” and masturbation euphemisms in “down in the pleasure centre, hell-bent or heaven sent” and the chorus hook of “Pump it up, until you can feel it, Pump it up, when you don’t really need it”. And the extra unhinged snarl of the final verse (“you put your passion out uhhhh-nder the pressure pin”) is the perfect icing on the cake. “Fall into submission, hit-and-run transmission, no use wishing now for any other sin”.
373. Aphex Twin - Xtal
Opener of his debut album Selected Ambient Works 1985-92, which is both a very modest title but extraordinary in its own way. If the en.wikipedia article on Richard David James is correct about his date of birth being 18th of August 1971, then this track - and every other track on that album for that matter - could theoretically have been made when he was 13 years old or at the very oldest, 21, and even that age makes this 23-year-old envious of the talent he had on display that young. And despite being made any time between 34 and 27 years old, it sounds like it hasn’t aged a day, with those snaps of hi-hat, the reverberated pulse behind the track that sounds like, playing like calming raindrops hitting the ceiling of your house along with the expansive snare sound and the low boom of the bass drum, the synth chords playing like foggy clouds outside made of synthesised human voices. There’s also tiny melodic fragment on a lead vocal that’s just the perfect amount of melody, and the glow of streetlights in those pretty and kind of horn-ish timbre-wise synths that first enter at 1:49. It’s like driving outside at night-time through the city when it’s pouring with rain.
372. Coldplay - The Scientist
One of the standout songs of Coldplay’s excellent 2002 sophomore A Rush of Blood to the Head and a song so beloved even people who hate Coldplay admit to liking. That to me is actually quite surprising to me given it’s a piano-driven ballad, and not the kind of thing that would excite someone who calls them “boring” but maybe that’s just a sign of how wonderful this song is. The piano chords may be the most autumnal sounding recording of that instrument I’ve ever heard in my life. You can imagine it playing in an old wooden house by a forest and see all the orange and brown leaves covering the grass (and the low slide-guitar-esque line in the mix during the second verse adds more to that natural vibe). Chris Martin sings perhaps the greatest melody he’s ever written, ending his phrases on a wistful ache (“you don’t know how lovely you aaaare”), and entering his falsetto for the chorus’ “no-body said it was eeeas-ayyy”. The chorus ends on a longing C7 chord, returning back to its root chord of F major with the addition of warm acoustic guitar chords from Jonny Buckland and a wonderfully slow-churning electric guitar by the end with Martin’s wordless falsetto lines to top it off. His lyrics are also some of his best ever, avoiding problems with sentimentality or clichés sometimes found in other Coldplay songs with perfectly judged lines like “I was just guessing at numbers and figures, pulling the puzzles apart, questions of science, science and progress, do not speak as loud as my heart”. With over 700 million Spotify streams, it’s proven to have grown in power as Coldplay’s career has continued, and deserves the adulation it’s earned. Fantastic video too.
371. The Beach Boys - Wouldn’t It Be Nice
An impeccable summer anthem for the ages, with the opening harp sequence in the key of A transmitting dreams and past memories of going to the beach. And then with a hit of reverberated snare, we’re taken to a completely different key of F major for the verses and a lush layer of accordion, piano guitar and horns blended into one instrument of harmony. The drums (played by legend Hal Blaine) keep a swaying but forward-moving beat with great use of the snare and toms mixed with timpani. And then there’s the melody itself, one of the most irrepressibly happy sounding melodies I’ve heard, but never feeling grating, with some barbershop-inspired backing vocals behind it. The falsetto harmonies in the chorus lines “I wish that every kiss was neeeeee-ver endiiiiiing” fill me up with so much joy to this day. Maybe the way the lyrics still have the smallest trace of sadness in that they’re longing for a more desirable future than their present. At the height of the era of music those annoying teenagers wish they could have grown in, Brian Wilson actually wished he was older than the time he was at his peak as a musician, a theme also explored in the self-explanatory “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times”. They return back to the dreamy harp of the intro, carried out by accordion and horns for the bridge and change keys again D major. More wonderful melodies, excellent backing vocals echoing phrases, the twinkles of glockenspiel and the increasingly noticeable playfulness in the bass. And as they return back to the chorus it slows down to make longer pauses on those harmonies while mandolin-guitars hold long tremolo notes, sounding almost like violins! No amount of crappy use in Cadbury adverts can subtract from the quality of this song. Last edited:
I’ve had a theory about the long and sometimes fraught history of attempts to combine hip-hop and rock over the past 30+ years, in that with a few exceptions, the results are almost always more successful when it’s a hip-hop-based artist incorporating rock sounds than the other way around. I think that’s partially due to the different recording methods for either genre - one being based on electronic programming and the other on live instrumentation - that makes one approach to the hybrid more successful than the other, but regardless of how it must needs be remarked that “99 Problems” rocks damn hard. With producer Rick Rubin returning to his iconic, skeletal and streetwise rock-hop sound he laid for rap groups like Run D.M.C. and Beastie Boys to rap on, the guitars and drums are heavy and distorted and still retain their physical qualities not just in spite of them being obviously sequenced but because of it, with those guitar chords just hammering in more and more to the end like something breaking through a wall. The sparse turntable scratches and even the cowbell sound super hot too, but the beat ain’t the only thing great about this of course. “99 Problems” is one of the best examples of understanding the appeal of the underclass-to-success appeal of Jay-Z’s rapping. He defends his right to be opulent in “If you grew up with holes in your zapatos you’d celebrate the minute you was having dough” makes fun of people stereotyping of rap music in “Critics say he’s money cash hoes, I’m from the hood stupid, what type of facts are those?” and “If you don’t like my lyrics you can press fast forward” and jokes about the way he’s exploited in the capitalist world he partakes in with “rap mage use my black ass so advertisers give ‘em more cash for ads”. But that’s just the first verse, and the second of course has him comedically reciting a time he was profiled by a cop when he was still living as a drug dealer (“The year is ‘94 and my trunk is raw, in the rearview mirror it’s the motherfucking law”) interacts with another voice of his pretending to be the cop in “Son do you know what I’m stopping you for?” to which he sarcastically quips “‘Cause I’m young and I’m black and my hat’s real low, do I look like a mind reader, sir? I don’t know” to say nothing of the cop’s lines of “Well you was doing 55 in a 54” and “Are you carrying a weapon on you? I know a lot of you are” and Jay’s clapback “Well I ain’t passed the bar but I know a little bit, enough that you won’t illegally search my shit”. And with another final verse of muscular energy and a instantly-memorable line in “You know the type, loud as a motorbike, but wouldn’t bust a grape in a fruit fight” and a classic hook that has everything and nothing to do with the song, the song remains an iconic classic with the public. When he was booked to headline Glastonbury festival in 2008 and caused a load of controversy for being the festival’s first rap artist, after opening with a smarmy singalong to “Wonderwall to say fuck-you to Noel Gallagher (well deserved) he bursted open with this song, and even had his band play the riff to “Back In Black” during the second verse to further tease the festivals rock audience. Remains one of the festival’s most iconic sets.
369. Young Thug - Wyclef Jean
Opener of Young Thug’s 2016 masterpiece JEFFREY (initially titled No, My Name Is JEFFREY) and while it’s not actually the song of that album to feature Wyclef (that’d be the also-misleadingly-titled “Kanye West” or “Pop Man”) a perfect introduction to the trippy, surreal, melodic and extremely humourous world of the album. The echoing reggae skank and rich bassline establish a relaxed dubby vibe to the track to say nothing of the gorgeous trickling of treble synth that appears during section transitions. And the sparse swell of synth horn in the low-end adds a bit of momentum too. Young Thug delivers a massive chorus with hooks for days, exploring his range and making responding vocalisations to his lines, and the reggae-style backing vocals in the post-chorus in “I do lie yeaaaah I do” are fantastic (and when the aforementioned synth-trickle goes over the top of that section! - wonderful). His melodicism also informs his verses which helps bring out his sense of humour too, such as in “Wyclef Jean” with lines like “She can’t hide that motherfucker, even if she divided the motherfucker, man even if she minused the motherfucker, join in get demolished motherfucker” (love the way his pitch picks up at the end) and “Spent racks on my son and his squad, daddy boy never play with toys, better not play with ‘em boys, new AK with em boys, new feng shui with theboys, drippin’ all day for the boys” (why brag about your own success when you can do so about your son’s?). While “cicada hi-hats” can sometimes be a sign of a generic trap beat, here they’re mixed lower and play a more interesting rhythm that actually invokes the feeling of cicadas chirping naturally. An excellent opening to the best trap album I’ve heard so far and one of the most imaginative hip-hop albums of the past 5 years, and also one of the best albums to listen to while high.
368. Sonic Youth - The Sprawl
The third track of Sonic Youth’s 1988 alternative rock masterpiece Daydream Nation. The perfect album to listen to when commuting to work in a busy city during cloudy or windy weather, capturing an atmosphere described by Canadian music critic Marshall Gu (aka marsbars on RYM) as “urban claustrophobia”. Indeed those guitars from the get go feel like getting up on a cold but sunny morning where those who work early get their way to work, getting backed by Steve Shelly’s motion-driving backbeat. Kim Gordon takes to lead vocals and lyrics this time and she gives a great performance whose chorus hook that plays as consumerism and prostitution (“Come on down to the store, you can borrow some more-more-more-more”) a first verse that drops instantly-memorably profane lines in “I wanted to know the exact dimensions of hell, does this sound simple? Fuck you! Are you for sale? Does “fuck you!” sound simple enough?” and a second verse that describes the sight of the factories near her old shotgun house
I grew up in a shotgun row sliding down the hill Out front were the big machines Steel and rusty now, I guess Out back was the river And that big sign down the road That's where it all started
What’s noticeable amongst all this is way the guitars turn from the cool morning sun into more grey-skied and urgent motifs in the choruses and interludes, carrying the momentum of the backing drums. Yet 4 minutes in after 2 verse-chorus runs the song suddenly stays still. Emerging out of the fog of guitar comes a cyclic, hypnotic guitar figure from Thurston Moore, shaded in by clouds from Lee Ronaldo’s guitar, a gentle bass counterpoint and washes of cymbals washing in and out. There’s also a surprisingly gentle mix of guitar feedback and scraping sounding like a lost radio transmission and adding the noisy counterpart to the gentle guitar figure without detracting from the section’s overall calmness. In 2017 when I was in my final year of my music degree, I had to find things to “research” as part of my body of work assignment of original music, and chose Daydream Nation (alongside My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless) to write about for it (they had a pretty broad definition of what could be used as a resource) and I found both of their 33+1/3 entries from the Wellington Library and read them. This album’s book was written by Matthew Stearns and had vivid descriptions for every song and the album’s overall atmosphere, and describes the calm coda of “The Sprawl” so well I’ll leave it here:
“The drums decompress, the bass and guitars go calm and ruminative, all elements seem to sigh and drift into dissolution. The track spends the next three and three-quarter minutes hovering and swaying in a freeform interweaving of melody, tone and noise - the overall effect is striking in its fragile and precarious beauty. There is a mournful, contemplative aspect to this section, while the music itself threatens to vaporise at any moment. Steve’s hushed cymbal flurries hiss gently across the decaying, out-of-breath guitars as Kim’s bass figures lean and swoop into their distorted, frayed permutations. In the distance, charted yawning traces of feedback ache for air and fuller expression as the track finally fades into nothingness, its sonic traceries disappearing into the atmosphere like spent, forgotten clouds.”
367. Prince - Darling Nikki
Another review quote that describes what makes this song work better than anything I could write, from Pitchfork’s Carvell Wallace: “The whole song seems to operate at three different tempos simultaneously, leaving no part of your body or spirit quite able to escape its savage grasp”. And indeed this song’s 3 different tempos are the slow-dancing guitar and string synth line and the drum beat which remains sparse but filled with notably varied accents and fills, the head-bopping funk riffery and flashing synths of the choruses, and the frenetic kick-pulse added to the drum beat in the song’s thrilling coda. Prince’s guitar playing is amongst the most metal-influenced in his discography, firing off shredding solo and all in a robust distortion. And his lyrics here are of course some of the most notoriously filthy ever written by the man known for many filthy songs. He does nothing to hide what the song’s subject is up to on the opening lines in “I knew a girl named Nikki I guess you could say she was a sex fiend, I met her in a hotel lobby masturbating with a magazine” and only gets more risqué from there with sex toys (“She had so many devices, everything that money could buy”) and hints at BDSM in “I can’t tell you what she did to me, but my body will never be the same”. His sings it all with all the sexual rawness needed, scooping up to a falsetto when singing “griiiii-iiiiiind” in the choruses and his delivery of “Her loving will kick your behiiiiiiiind” and the increasingly thrilled way he sings “Nikki”, the almost-exhausted delivery of the 4th verse and the utterly thrilling distorted falsetto screams in the song’s climax. One of the thrilling highs of his undeniable classic Purple Rain.
366. Nirvana - Scentless Apprentice
In Utero was purposefully made as a raw and nasty follow-up to the polished sound of their mega-selling breakthrough Nevermind, and “Scentless Apprentice” is perhaps the most raw, nasty and utterly thrilling song off the whole album. Opening with my personal favourite drum riff from Dave Grohl (from when he was first and foremost a powerful rock drummer rather than a tedious blowhard of a frontman), the lurch of the kick rhythm and the attack of the snare set up enough physical power in the beginning measures that this is gonna be an explosive track. Kurt Cobian deploys a fiercely chromatic riff across the top strings over Kirst Novoselic’s rumble of a bass. They both lock in on a dirty, sludgy riff in sync with Grohl’s drums and dive into it inbetween Kurt’s verse lines of surreal, dark and crude imagery (“Every wet nurse refused to feed him, electrolytes smell like semen”). There’s also the way the guitar carries a single note up a B major scale on the fretboard before charging with Grohl’s snare rolls into the main riff and Cobain’s chaotic and terrifying screams of “GO AWAAAAAAY!!!”, and the equally chaotic and terrifying interlude of feedback screeches. And Kurt’s line in the final verse “You can’t fire me because I quit” both makes me laugh and unnerved by what sounds like and has been a song of someone at the end of their tether. So raw you could probably catch salmonella from listening to it, keep food safe when listening to it.
One of the hits of Rumours that practically everyone knows, and a song so obviously brilliant in a way that can feel hard to describe when forced to when making a list. But that 2-chord bass groove is so simple yet so perfect for the song to build itself upon. There the the reflective chimes of vibraphone low in the mix in the pre-chorus, some great momentum-forwarding-but-still-relaxed drum fills from Mick Fleetwood and Lindsey Buckingham’s elegant guitar track with a plethora of melodic counterpoints to Stevie Nicks’s lines making extensive use of volume control to almost make them sound like bowed strings. Speaking of faux-strings there’s also the faint drone from Christine McVie’s Vox Continental organ playing like a still violin over the top of the chorus creating a reflective atmosphere as if the song’s situation were something having passed a while ago and remembering it to learn from it. All the more fitting for the chorus’ iconic lyrics that make even the simplest mantras (“Thunder only happens when it’s raining, players only love you when they’re playing”) sound like revelations. The melodies throughout the song are a prime example of their A-grade melody making abilities from their peak. The backing vocals added in the pre-chorus are a great touch from “like a heart beat that drives you mad (beat), in the (still)ness of remembering (ness) what you had” to the “ooooh”s that fade in like a dream as Nicks sings “what you lost”. Even though I’ve listened to the ‘Mac a lot less than many music fans I know, and a lot of the artists on this list, a quick listen to this song reminds me of how much their music deserves its wide adoration. “And have you any dreams to sell? Dreams of loneliness”.
364. Childish Gambino - Redbone
Talk about an unexpected smash hit in the late 2010s. I hadn’t paid much attention to the music of the man named Donald Glover this decade, and prior to this song’s ascension up the charts I had mostly heard him being raved about as a rapper by the kind of white folks who almost never listened to any rap music besides him, which basically established him in my mind as someone to be cautious about. I certainly had no expectation for him to take a sharp turn to a Sly & the Family Stone-style psychedelic funk and soul hybrid and to turn out a massive crossover hit in the process, but here we are. What struck me about “Redbone” was that for how retro its style and influences were, those blippy synth lines and squelchy synth bass tones still felt futuristic, as well as the vocal track from Gambino himself which sounds as if it had been shifted up in pitch in a Frank Ocean’s “Nikes” kind of way but actually hadn’t and was merely him utilising an unusual timbre, with a melody that arrests you from the go and leaves you with enough hooks to keep you up at night. I especially love those 2 chord strikes on the keyboard after his yelping “ooooooh” and just before he starts 2nd chorus starts. The psychedelia really ramps up by the song’s coda however, a fuzzy, trippy and funky as hell guitar line loops around a 3-chord progression (i.e. one shorter) and gets alternately harmonised in D major and minor. The bass is squelchier in tone as well, some underwatery synths making bubbling treble lines plus some faint high notes that sound like stars in the night sky. The second bass guitar counterpoint is phenomenal and completes it perfectly, and there’s still some piano chord plonking to come, and of course Gambino’s “Stay woke!”s from the chorus re-enter the song one last time to top it all off. What’s striking to me is that in the era of acts like The Weekend and Anti-era Rihanna being the crossover r&b of the day, he arguably moved away from the pop-radio friendly side of r&b music and stuck closer to the genre’s roots, to the point where it earned him a Grammy for Best Traditional R&B Performance. Playing that guitar solo live in a band playing it as cover? As someone who has done that, I can say it makes you feel like a god. Awesome song.
363. The 1975 - The Sound
There are times in a music listener’s life when they realise they were wrong about an artist they had an initial dislike of, and The 1975 kind of are one for me. When I was first aware of them in 2013 my taste in indie rock was starting to evolve and although I had became far more poptimist by this point at the end of my final high school year, I still had a chip on my shoulder about bands that were popular with teenage girls and mainstream psuedo-indie rock and pop bands who felt like major-label-ised versions of the bands I liked. There was one song that thought was really good (we’ll get to that one) but that was it for me, although there was little I thought was outright bad it still felt a bit “boy-bandish” (the descriptor I sometimes used that I wish I hadn’t). Although I had been rid of most of the fungi of rockism, I was still holding onto the spores and when they returned with I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it in 2016 to unexpectedly positive reviews from publications who had been mixed or even negative to their self-titled intrigued me. The level of ambition of that album with them trying out ambient electronica, post-rock, shoegaze and even gospel to largely successful results certainly surprised me but it was still the crowning standouts that showed me that still shone with their ability to make killer pop songs above all else.
For starters, what a chorus! Emerging from a distant digital snippet of the chorus before it arrives in full band mode, a gospel choir backing Matt Healy’s cyclic earworm of a chorus hook, joined by the steady motion of the drum beat, the step of that chord progression, the pinging keyboard notes in the treble and those synth tones that sound like chirping and manipulated slide guitar. As joyous as his melody is, his lyrics are a deeply acidic and full of scathing digs at his ex-partner (“You’re so conceited, I said “I love you! What does it matter if I lie to you”) and at himself (“This is not reciprocation this is all about me, a sycophantic, prophetic, Socratic junkie wannabe”) and pettiness from the other end as well (“She said ‘I got a problem with your shoes and your tunes but I might move in’ and ‘I thought that you were straight, not I’m wondering’”). There’s so much comedic apathy between the two in the lyrics and how much they can’t stand each other it almost feels like a piece of Seinfeld-ian comedy. As the song continues there are bubbly guitar scratches that pick up the pace in the verses and chorus, and then emerging out of the filtered breakdown after the second chorus an absolutely glorious and melodically triumphant guitar solo that bears resemblance its fuzzy, compressed tone and squiggly pitch modulations to Adrien Belew. What strikes me about The 1975 is that although a lot of their material is close to the “pop” end of the pop-rock spectrum, they always give off the attitude and ambitions of a rock band and I’m glad to see how rock critics have started taking them more seriously. They’re proof that poptimism is still important for evaluating rock bands.
362. Sonic Youth - Silver Rocket
The second track of Daydream Nation and perhaps the punkiest song of that record. The opening ominous guitar arpeggios from Thurston Moore (played in a classically Sonic Youth-ian tuning of ACCGG#C) charging into the power-chord surge of the chorus. Moore conjures up images of electronics malfunctioning violently (“Snake in it, jack into the wall, TV amp on fire, blowin’ in the hall”) in the verses while Steve Shelly makes frantic snare rolls beneath them, and gets sexaully cahrged the chorus hook (“You got it, yeah ride the silver rock it, I can’t stop it, burning holes in your pocket”). Then suddenly a minute and a half into the song the band slam into a terrifying breakdown of chaotic noise. Screams of guitar feedback wails against dissonant tremolo picking, picks scraping across strings, effects sounds that sound like malfunctioning equipment and drum fills mixed with what sounds like windows breaking all last for over a minute creating a very disorentating and frightening atmosphere like a blizzard has just hit the city in the middle of a train ride. And yet when the entire form of the song nearly seems lost the verse guitar riff starts to rev up in the background and begins to pick up a pulse with the fast-paced kick and charging snare from Shelly, slowly overcoming the noise and building up an incredible amount of tension until finally charging back into the chorus chord progression. Moore’s lyrics in the final verse, “Can’t forget the flashing, can’t forget the smashing, the sending and the bending the atmosphere re-entry” feel like a summation of everything that’s just transpired in the past 2 minutes.
This performance of the band playing this song on TV (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=05ygl9-5dvA) is one of my favourite and most utterly chaotic TV performances that I’ve seen. They have their manager Don Flemming playing gratuitous keyboards while wearing a blue cowboy hat and leather jacket, and when the noise breakdown hits, Thurston Moore throws his guitar around manically and ad-libs his lyrics (“I’ve got a date with a girl named Cher, we’re gonna see Cats, see you there!” - now that’s a prophetic lyric!) Steve Shelly provides enough form in his drum fills for the other band members to latch on to. The bit where Moore and Lee Ranaldo roll on top of each other while they’re building the song back up is priceless and the kind of off-the-wall rock energy I crave. As one YouTube comment says: “Everything I know about playing guitar I learned from this video” and sometimes I wish that were true of me!
361. Kendrick Lamar - Backseat Freestyle
Another one of the uncharacteristically awesome songs of good kid m.A.A.d city, and the album’s hardest banger. It commands attention from the distorted opening “a rin kin kin” sample from The Chackachas “Yo Soy Cubano” and gets carried by energised drum hits that play like live drums to the massive beat of clanging glass bottle noises, the low hum of the bass, the fills of drums that sound like someone hitting on sheets of metal, the snare augmented by a radar-like beep, and the short vocal samples incorporated in parts. Kendrick Lamar demonstrates his talents for memorable inflections of words with the opening “Martin had a dream! Kendrick have a dream!” chant and the way his voice slowly rises and lowers in pitch across the whole of “all my life I want money and power respect my mind or die from lead shower” followed of course by the knowingly outlandish line of “I pray my dick get big as the Eiffel Tower, so I can fuck the world for 72 hours!”. It bears a clear influence from Chuck D’s own vocal modulations but done in a way so undeniably Lamar’s. He also plays around with onomatopoeia in the first verse (“start up that Maserati and vroom vroom I’m racing!”) and the way he distorted his voice building the tension along with his faster pace and those iconic tradeoffs between the exaggerated “BEOOOTCH!” with the “no way”s and “go play”s and ending the verse with the spelling out of his hometown in “C-O-M-P-T-O-N I win the ball at your defeat, C-O-M-P-T-O-N my city mobbin’ in the street”. I also appreciate the addition of low, intimidating “oooh” backing his rapping in parts of the verses and choruses. A perfect song to play for those moments you need a high boost of energy to your day.
There are few albums I’ve had as close a relationship with than I have with Silverchair’s 4th album, 2002’s Diorama. I had taken curiosity in them ever since I heard “Straight Lines” back to back with “Tomorrow” on my country’s music channel at the time (C4) and being intrigued how a band could sound so different than they did at the start of their careers (I also saw a playlist on that channel of all their previous hits and “Straight Lines” and finding a lot of their early videos kind of scary). I would then get more interested in that progression in 2009 reading on Daniel Johns’ difficult personal life and feeling inspired that someone could go through so many problems with their physical and mental health and still persevere and carry on making music. I got Young Modern in 2012 and though I definitely liked the first half, a lot, the second half felt a bit overstuffed and made less than the sum of its parts (I didn’t want to admit it though, I resented the flak it got from really boneheaded hard rock fans who dismissed it as a “sellout” or “pop” like a bunch of morons). But I thought of them again and got Diorama in 2015 from when I bought a lot of used CD’s (I think I finally picked up Green Day’s American Idiot that visit too). And that time I knew I had picked the best Silverchair album. In a way, although I had avoided conceding much to early teen-grunge Silverchair for quality, the fact that this record still holds onto a small amount of their early grunge material, feeling like the angst being cleared for more positive emotions and adding some weight to even the most chamber-pop-inspired end of things. There is one song in particular high up that is special to me for very personal reasons, but I very much love the rest of the album too.
“World Upon Your Shoulders” does represent a lot of what I love about the album. From the first second we hear the glorious sparkle of Daniel Johns’ Rickenbacker 12-string guitar (a guitar he plays all over the album and sealed the guitar as my dream purchase), playing a glorious little melody until the first verse starts. Over wistful and reflective guitar chords he sings “All the bridges in the world won’t save you, if there is no other side to cross to” and then as the chords get warmer and dreamier he leads into the chorus “When you’re not feeling ugly, the world’s not too much… take the world upon your shoulders” both making almost an inversion of how those phrases are normally said and rising into a soaring falsetto in the chorus and impassioned repeating of the word “burn” evoking a mood both comforting and oddly looming at the same time. Although the band more famously started working with Van Dyke Parks on this album, “Shoulders” is one of 3 songs with orchestral arrangements from Larry Muhoberac, which are less in the melodic foreground and function more to create atmospheric soundscapes such as the shimmering in the second pre-chorus (after Johns’ wonderful perfect 4th harmony in the second verse’s “half full glasses lost in empty houses”) and the tinkering piano notes and strings in the bridge over John’s arpeggiated chord progression with a sense of mystery to it. The song turns more dramatic at this point as John’s voice grows from a quiet whisper to a gravelly belt of “A world that’s big and violent!!” and plays a fluid guitar solo over more dramatic and sombre orchestration. He goes between flashy lead lines and enchanting chord changes, howling on falsetto before the song breaks down for it’s final chorus. Just one example of the emotional beauty of the album.
359. Fleetwood Mac - Go Your Own Way
And what you have it as I was just done writing about “Dreams” in my previous block of 5, I now meet its counterparting smash from Rumours! Lindsey Buckingham gives his kiss off to Stevie Nicks over robustly strummed acoustic guitars shining like sunlight, light chugging on the electric guitars and a tom-heavy groove from the drums in the verses from the opening “Loving you isn’t the right thing to do” delivered with a nervous precaution with what would come of the song. He gives an absolute belter of a chorus as most would already know, getting extra unhinged in his repeats of “go your own waaaaay” while Fleetwood’s drum backbeat revs up the pace. There’s also the lyric in the second verse “Packing up, shacking up’s all you wanna do” which angered Nicks enough to make her wish for him to remove it from the song to no avail. Buckingham’s lead also progressively blossoms throughout the song with a lead line introduced in the second verse given its chance to shine in the bridge and unleashing a guitar solo as tuneful and unhinged as his chorus singing for the song’s final minute, like he’s making his guitar sing!
358. The Velvet Underground - I’m Waiting for the Man
One of the touchstone songs for what is argued by some to be the first ever “Alternative Rock” album. Generally speaking I actually disagree with the conventional notion that alternative rock begins in 1983 with R.E.M.’s Murmur and instead consider post-punk (along with certain new wave acts) to be the earliest examples of the genre, though making a dividing line between that and the punk movement is a bit harder. But it does nonetheless feel like a seed was planted in that Velvet album in 1967 that has blossomed in a whole lineage of left-of-the-dial music since then from glam to punk to post-punk to noise rock to indie rock and beyond. This 2nd track on the album moves forward on pounding drums from Maureen Tucker so minimalistic they make Meg White sound like Mitch Mitchell, a guitar chord progression played on raw, scratchy distortion with a crispy clean arpeggio to counterpart it, and a gentle backing pulse of piano chords. There’s that countering bass line as the chord progression moves to its final chord before it starts over in the verses, and Lou Reed introduces his vivid retelling of meeting his drug dealer, creating a world around him with his sensory observations around and inside him (“26 dollars in my hand, up to Lexington, 125, feel sick and dirty, dead than alive”) and recounting an interaction with a local (“Hey white boy, what you doing uptown?”) and his dealer being common knowledge in his community (“Up to a Brownstone, up three flights of stairs, everybody’s pinned you but nobody cares”). To finish the song off, Reed concludes his final chorus with “Walkin’ home” and the piano chords slowly become more dissonant an ominous, the bass makes more counterpoints and the distortion of the rhythm guitar gets harsher.
357. Radiohead - A Wolf At the Door
Although I had bought Hail to the Thief when I was first getting into Radiohead a decade ago, I quickly started viewing that album as lower-rung among the Radiohead albums. And while it’s true the album does suffer a bit from weaker tracks throughout and feels a bit less than the sum of its parts (plus there’s not much of a shared atmosphere that the songs exist in like Kid A, OK Computer or even The Bends, with the wide-ranging diversity in the tracklisting being partly responsible for that). Yet returning it for the first time in a long time this year has found me evaluating it better. There are moments that really capture the bleakness of the political landscape in 2003 like no other music in that year (for example the repeated “we can wipe you out anytime” in “Sit Down, Stand Up” along its climax) which feel very much relatable to the bleakness of the world politics in 2019, none which hit harder than “A Wolf at the Door”. Over ominous minor-keyed guitar and organ arpeggios, Thom Yorke adapts an almost Beck-like style of semi-speaking a stream of consciousness where he experiences a darkly comedic beat-down of a day (“Flip the lid, out pops the cracker, smacks you in the head, knifes you in the neck, kicks you in the teeth, steel toe caps, takes all your credit cards, get up, get the gunge”) alongside repeatings of “The flan in the face” and ending the verse on “Help me, call the doctor, put me inside” repeating the last 3 words as if losing your mind and becoming institutionalised. And the chorus with its Beatles-esque melody gives us a glimpse at the subjects fears and turn the song mood outright terrifying:
I keep the wolf from the door but he calls me up Calls me on the phone, tells me all the ways that he’s gonna mess me up Steal all my children if I don’t pay the ransom And I’ll never see them again if I squeal to the cops
It’s equally chilling knowing how much these lyrics can apply to the tragedies people in the world right now are facing today. And the wordless vocal melody that carries the bridge to the 2nd verse, getting louder with drum fills and an ondes Martenot sounding like a trumpet. In the 2nd verse Thom Yorke quasi-rapping gets angrier spouting some powerful images (“walking like giant cranes”) and a despairing indictment to the hopelessness felt being in an underclass in a capitalist society (“City boys in first class don’t know we’re born at all! Someone else is gonna come and clean it up, born and raised for the job, someone always does!”) while a tremolo picked guitar line from Ed O’Brien ominously scrapes across the sky, and concluding on “turn your tape off!” like he’s just can’t take any more. The ending of the second chorus may be the most tragic of all, adding at the end “So I’m just gonna-” and going into a wordless falsetto instead of finishing it, he has no solution. Few moments of political music in the 2000s captured the feeling of despair quite as candidly as that moment does.
356. Arcade Fire - Intervention
We’re not done with 2000s political music yet though! This centerpiece of Arcade Fire’s 2007 sophomore Neon Bible encapsulates the album’s studio environment of being recorded in a church by opening with a cavernous church organ and acoustic guitar chord progression. Win Butler’s lyrics however are very critical of the political influence of the Christian right, singing as a soldier being forced to fight for his country which he does not agree with. Opening with “the king’s taken back the throne, the useless seed is sown”, his melody is tinkered over by pings of xylophone from WIn’s butler Will, and recriminations at his countries institutions in “You say it’s money that we need, as if we are only mouths to feed, but no matter what you say, there are some debts you never pay”. The chorus lyrics also take an emotional punch as they put it in these devastating terms:
Working for the church while your family dies You take what they give you and you keep it inside Every spark of friendship and love will die without a home Hear the soldier groan, "We'll go at it alone"
There’s also the tremolo picked and reverbed guitar from Richard Reed Parry (an underrated guitarist, one of the downsides to Arcade Fire’s multi-instrumental lineup is their unique guitar work gets overlooked but is still full of unique invention) playing under WIn’s lines and a 3-note descending melody from the xylophone after each one finishes, joined by Sarah Neufeld’s violin in the 2nd chorus). The song builds as the song goes on, with Win leaping up an octave midway through the 2nd verse (“Who’s gonna throw the very first stone… oh who’s gonna reset the bone?”) and on the last line of the 2nd chorus. Then the glorious key change from C to G major (Arcade Fire’s ability as pulling off non-cheesy key changes is well-documented of course with… something coming up later) repeating the previous verse’s opening line “I can taste your fear, it’s gonna lift you up and take you out of here”. That key change is matched by intensifying the lyrics for the 3rd and final chorus (“Been working for the church while your life falls apart! Been singing hallelujah with the fear in your heart!”) and having the band echo the end of those lines to the descending xylophone melody. The widening of the orchestration and the rising of the guitar and violin lines makes it for a tremendously powerful climax. Making more proof that Arcade Fire are arguably the best rock band of the 21st Century so far.
I’m far too late to be finally starting my Joni Mitchell journey, but I finally started listening to Blue regularly this year (funnily enough a friend of mine who’s the frontman of Wellington band ELK who won this year’s nationwide Battle of the Bands (my band The Vermillion Poets came second!) has nicknamed himself Blue). I started getting more curious to hear her music as I discovered she had been a major influence on 3 of my all-time favourite artists who sound nothing like each other - Taylor Swift, Prince and Sonic Youth of all acts! (The unorthodox guitar tunings which Sonic Youth built their guitar innovations on were inspired by Joni Mitchell’s own use of weird tunings, and there’s a song on Daydream Nation which… you’ll see). Like a heathen I’ve still yet to listen to her other albums but have found a great podcast from 2 music reviewers from Canada who have done an episode on her (one of them considers her to be their country’s greatest musician).
Anyway, “A Case of You” is considered one of the towering highs of that album for good reason. Another great showcase for her unique guitar playing, with a central part than sounds like a mandolin in the upper melody line being accompanied by acoustic guitar chords but are in fact on one Appalachian dulcimer. Although she’s joined by a backing acoustic guitar from James Taylor the hypnotic beauty of her instrument doesn’t get diminished, and there’s a gentle hand-percussion sway behind them from Rus Kunkel. But her lyrics and singing here are another story entirely. Singing about a delirious infatuation, she begins her verse sounding shy but humourous in “Just before our love got lost you said ‘I am as constant as a northern star’ and I said ‘Constantly in the darkness, where’s that at? If you want me I’ll be in the bar’” before blossoming with a breathtakingly elegant draw on “I drew a map of Canada, oh Canadaaaaaa-aaaaaaah!” and returning to a cute “with your face sketched on it twice”. So poetic yet so casual and friendly to listen to, she begins choruses with an effervescent “You’re in my blood like holy wine” in her higher register and then lowers it to proclaim “I could drink a case of you, and I would still be on my feet”. But in the repeating choruses she extends the “you” to yet another beautiful run in her high voice, showing just how impeccable she is at knowing how to sing each individual word so perfectly. And I’m haven’t even gotten to the way she admits admiration for her subject’s bravery in the 2nd verse (“I’m frightened by the devil, and drawn to those who aren’t afraid”) or the caution from an ex-lover in the 3rd:
I met a woman She had a mouth like yours She knew your life She knew your devils and your deeds And she said “Go to him, stay with him if you can But prepare to bleed”
The soundtrack to entering head-first into a love that could be wrong for you, but you’re so enchanted by them that you rush at the chance. Beautiful song.
354. Earth, Wind and Fire - Let’s Groove
This has been one of my go-to party songs for years! One that’s stuck with me since the time as a kid, I watched the Criterion Classic direct-to-video follow-up to The Emperor’s New Groove, Kronk’s New Groove when he makes bread and falls in love with a woman who then dance to this song (at one point superimposed over lights that match that of the bi pride flag!). (And although I don’t plan on revisiting that movie again the dance scene does make me smile still, I still love quoting the hell out of The Emperor’s New Groove though). As soon as that bass line with the vocoded synths start playing (one of my favourite retro-futuristic uses of synth in the early 80s) it’s time to stop whatever I was doing before and start dancing. The bass line sets up such a great chord progression and the tune is irresistible, with triumphant and celebratory horn lines backing them up in the verses. I love how they add that call-and-response from the backing vocals in the fantastic chorus (“It’s all right - all right - aa-aa-all right!”), the little guitar figure in those choruses, the beat from the drums with those hand claps over the sanre, the drawn out vowels in the verses (“Just mooooooove yourseeeelf” “Then you looooh-ooh-ooose yourseeeelf”), and when the low vocoded synth returns after the bridge. The horn lines that follow that section feel then like witnessing jovial dancing in front of you. If you’re not dancing by that point, or the final chorus where they overlap all the hooks from beforehand atop of each other, blending between their masculine and feminine voices to intoxicating effect. Both a band updating their sound for a new decade, and a classic vintage piece of synth-funk.
353. Depeche Mode - World In My Eyes
Although the most beloved songs from Depeche Mode 1990 landmark Violator (an album that perhaps symbolises the transition from the ‘80s to the ‘90s more so than any album from that year, combining the sound of ‘80s synth pop with the attitude of ‘90s alt-rock) are “Personal Jesus” and “Enjoy The Silence”, both great songs that almost made the list, the favourite from that album for me has always been the opener. The opening synth riff with every note after the first 2 beat cutting off for a short gap of silence before moving to the next note, and a little touch of countering synth notes in the treble range, before being joined by the popping and ticking beat and the twitchy synth pattern that almost plays like a chicken-scratch guitar line (on the one single from Violator without a prominent guitar part). David Gahan sings of sexual intimacy, joined by a perfect countering synth bending up and down like a digitised guitar string: “Let your mind do the walking, let my body do the talking, let me show you the world in my eyes *bu-wah-oh-wah-oh-wah-oh-wah-oh-wah-oh*” and then a city-lights synth line in the following interlude that could have been slipped into The Killer’s debut Hot Fuss 14 years later without aging a bit. As the song goes on there are more backing synths than slowly stir like strings and create the murky, mysterious chords of the chorus (“That’s all there is, nothing more than you can feel now, that’s all there is”). Through all the synth texturing the create an intimate night-time-y atmosphere of exploring somewhere new, retaining a warmth through all the dark chord changes, perfect for the seductive nature of the song’s lyrics: “All the islands in the ocean, or the heaven’s in the motion, let me show you the world in my eyes”.
352. Carly Rae Jepsen - Run Away With Me
The leadoff track from Jepsen’s critically beloved sophomore E.MO.TION which became a rare case of an artist becoming more culturally relevant despite becoming less commercially successful. She gained a sort of underdog status that allowed people who were not normally listeners to top 40 pop music found they enjoyed, perhaps because it was less ubiquitous or because of the involvement of hip names like former Vampire Weekend guitarist Rostam Batmanglij or some of the still built-in prejudices against pop stars in the mainstream (I still maintain the belief that Taylor Swift’s 1989 is the best pop album - almost best album, period - of the mid 2010s), but if the songs were ignored by the radio, they weren’t ignored by a lot of musos, or the gay pop stans on Twitter. For me however, although I do enjoy a lot of songs from that album (the title track, “Making the Most of the NIght” and “Let’s Get Lost” are some of my favourites), it’s this opener that remains the shining jewel in the crown. While it’s tempting to compare Jepsen more to the aforementioned Taylor Swift because of them releasing ‘80s influenced pop records in a close timeframe, Jepsen’s best music feels more in-line with the best qualities of Madonna’s zenith, particularly the joyous, febrile energy in the singing (though definitely not uncommon with Swift’s music), and the way certain production elements recall the production of her early albums in particular (note the “Lucky Star”-style synth ripples used as snippets in “Cut To the Feeling” - another near-list maker).
So anyway, “Run Away With Me” opens with that famously meme-able synth horn riff that made itself into a million Vine memes (RIP) that’s undeniably a bit goofy yet still so melodically beautiful. The padded synth chords start off unusually quiet in the opening verse, feeling like distant streetlights of the city you’re slowly approaching on the highway while Jepsen begins singing in a low hush of a register, repeating the last word of her lines twice (“you’re stuck in my head, stuck in heart, stuck in my body body”) as the drum track’s shuffling pulse develops alongside it. She jumps back into her eager high voice for the magnificent pre-chorus (“You make me feel like I could be driving you all night, and I’ll find your lips in the streetlights, I wanna be there with youuuu”) with key notes backed by twinkling synth notes, the tension building until that massive reverberated snare it explodes into the massive chorus. There’s the return of the synth-horn, the synth bass rhythm creating a loud neon pulse, Jepsen’s exclaimed singing (“Baby! Take me! To the! Ceiling!”) and the drum machine rolls under the backing repeats of the song’s title that create an exciting rush of acceleration. My favourite moment of all however may be when the synths die down for a bit in the bridge and Jespsen softly sings “Over the weekend, we could turn the world to gold”. A song to soundtrack the most euphorically romantic moments in your relationship
351. Soundgarden - Superunknown
One of my standout tracks of Soundgarden’s 1994 grunge landmark of the same name. Much like the album’s most famous song, it makes for an impressive demonstration of Soundgarden’s ability to combine their hard rock sound with a remarkable pop sensibility, this time trading Beatles-esque psychedelia with an almost power-pop-ish melodic vibe. Chris Cornell and Kim Thayil’s knotty guitar riffage combines with Matt Cameron’s up-tempo and oddly bouncy drum beat to establish an unexpectedly danceable feeling to the song. Cornell belts near the heights of his unbelievable vocal range a high-octane vocal melody in the verses (“If this isn’t what you seeeee! Doesn’t make you bliiiiiiind!”. They even change to a major-keyed I chord in the pre-chorus and raise the melody line’s key note up to the major 3rd to further the sugary rush of the hooks. The lyrics reframe the signature angst of grunge into a less hopeless frame of mind (“If this doesn’t make you feel, it doesn’t mean you’ve died”). But the chorus is the most exhilarating part of it all, repeating an endlessly pogo-able hook of “A-LIIIIIIVE IN THE SUPERUNKNOWN!” over an equally pogo-able guitar riff. Things deviate from the frenetic energy of the song for a bit in the bridge as the guitars so some low-registered arpeggios over Middle Eastern-inspired drum riffs, but the band charged back into the final chorus once more, hammering that massive hook more and more before it’s concluding “First they steal your mind and then they steal your” coming to a halt before Chris Cornell belts the final “Souuuuuul!”. I haven’t seen this song show up much in discussions of Superunknown’s highlights but it remains a clear jewel in its crown in my eyes. Last edited:
The middle point of an impeccable 3-song stretch of tracks 2-4 on American Idiot. One I’d even consider en par with the 3-song stretch I mentioned earlier in the list about Sound of Silver, or even My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. This one also happens to be one of the earliest songs I’ve ever loved, exploring popular music for the first time at 9 years old in 2005, at a family friends’ home playing the CD and at that point I was vaguely aware of the title “American Idiot” track. But that swinging, fluid melody made me interested in rock music as a genre of music for maybe the first time ever (I also loved the video too, seeing the band pretend to drive a car recklessly over a backdrop made me laugh and imagine how much fun it would have been to film it). It swung along to a simple chord progression with its “The Passenger”-style chord progression, turning it into something lifeful. And with that melody they utilised “The Passenger”’s alternating with the more intense major-keyed V chord (III in its enharmonic Ab major) with those harmonised lines at the end of the chorus (“This is the dawning of the rest of our liiiiiiiiives”) picking up my ears in a way nothing had before. The way they locked on the riff in the bridge with the guitar’s power chords lined up note for note with not only the bass but with the drums too, creating a very unified energy and giving the riff a sense of motion and mobility gave it a new depth. That segues into a guitar solo that’s not technically flashy yet plays an irresistibly tuneful melody over more colourful and complex chord progressions and even being backed by Beach-Boys-esque backing vocals oohing wordlessly halfway through! I couldn’t have explained it with that level of precision obviously but the melodic and rhythmic skills of Green Day in there still resonated and the older I get, the more I’ve came to hear it (ironic for a band some stigmatise as one you grow out of when you’re older, but I beg to dream and differ from the hollow lies). Another strength in this song is that although I do think that the political content is one of the less important aspects of American Idiot’s quality, I do like the way Billie Joe Armstrong contrasts uneasy images with darker images that show the injustices of the war in Iraq: “Hear the sound of the falling rain, coming down like an Armageddon flame, and shame the ones who dies without a name”; “Hear the drum pounding out of time, another protestor has crossed the line to find the money’s on the other side” and the “Hey!”s and that “Amen!” in the second verse. And in that breakdown in the bridge where Mike Dirnt’s bass continues to play the riff from earlier, creating a menacing vibe with it’s muted sound and the muscular drive of Tré Cool’s drums as Billie Joe Armstrong gives a satirical chant with a starting line of “Seig Heil to the president gasman” which in the current political climate has aged terrifyingly well. It remains one of the most melodically robust songs in Green Day’s often melodically robust discography. “Saaaaay! Heeeeey! *Cha!*”
A funny story I have is that in 2012 my high school band played in the youth venue (the only place to hear music when you were under 18) Zeal and there was a band playing on the same night as us, and they covered this song. They were competent enough at playing but the singer sounded awful! He was singing the melody an octave below and sounded almost like a frog! A few years later I finish high school to do a degree at a Polytech in music and a guy who looked like the singer becomes my best friend while studying there, but it took me years to realise it was him! Even though Green Day being his favourite band should’ve been an obvious enough sing. Luckily he’s improved his singing a lot from that time! And we even performed our final year’s body of work together with both of us on lead guitar and vocals in our own bands!
Speaking of holidays, I hope everyone reading this had a wonderful Christmas day! This won’t be the only “Holiday” song on my list!
349. Lil Uzi Vert - XO Tour Llif3
Trap music made its way from a genre first making mainstream recognition around 2012 to becoming one of the defining sounds of pop music in the late 2010s, with this year’s biggest hit song seeing the genre go into country territory of all things. But while I still maintain a fondness of “Old Town Road” despite its constant ubiquity (the banjo sample taken from a Nine Inch Nails song and the whistling are great touches, and the melody is so easily sing-able - I sung along quietly to myself to keep myself calm during a busy hour at work! Also, shout out to Hijinx’s great review of it!) out of all the big crossover hits, it’s been this song that remains its greatest big name pop song, with a chorus that ranks among the best of any song to make the upper ranks of the charts this decade, opening with that immediately-arresting “I don’t really care if you cryyyyyy!” to the unexpected beat-skip of “She said ‘baby I am not afraid to… die’” and the repeated mantras of “push me to the edge, all my friends are dead” taking the grim and despondent emotions even further. His melody making continues in the verses using vocal tricks learned from the most elastic vocalist from trap and arguably popular music as a whole this decade, Young Thug, with the octave jump midway through the verse (“She said I’m insane, yeah, I might blow my brain out!”) taking things to a higher level of anguish, and Lil Uzi Vert continuing to sing in that higher register through the 2nd chorus and verse, where he returns to more standard braggadocio while keeping his voice animate (“Fast car! NASCAR! race on em!”) until returning back to his calmer, lower voice for the brief “She said ‘you’re the worst, you’re the worst’, I cannot die because this my universe”. I understand some people might find the switch to a more flippant mood and content off-putting, but I like the way it shows how darker emotions can still co-exist with hedonistic fantasy, as humans often have the ability to live with different moods co-existing within us. There’s also the musical details of the beat, from the incredibly sad arpeggio of echoing synth notes that play like plucked strings over a night sky, the lullaby-esque celesta melody and the more bowed-sounding faux-string line that adds a further cinematic atmosphere to it. As they join the hi-hat, snare and booming bass of the beat, they allow a uniquely dystopian vibe of urban darkness to materialise in the song, capturing the hazy, purple-filtered tone of the video. I’m with Todd in the Shadows’ prediction that this will become the song people will define 2017 with in years to come. Let’s hope.
348. Nelly Furtado - Promiscuous
The leadoff single from Loose which announced Nelly Furtado’s Timbaland-helmed new sound to the world. When discussing the productions of Timbaland the three collaborators most often mentioned are Missy Elliot, Aaliyah and Justin Timberlake, and while he’s undeniably make incredible music with each of them in ways that also allow their artistry as performers to flourish as well, his work with Nelly Furtado is just as deserving as those praises. The drum beat here is one of Timb’s finest examples of his ability to craft a rhythmically compelling beat with ultra-precise and crisp use of kick, snare and hi-hat, creating a spidery groove with all the rhythmic density, set to that little keyboard line anxiously wavering between those four notes without ever settling. And then there’s that chorus where Timbaland having played of Furtado’s spoken flirting in the verses actually provides a decent vocal presence that he rarely demonstrated when given a shot at lead vocals (even adding a bit of inflection in “Promiscuous giiiiirl, you’re teaaasing meeee!”). The clash of Nelly’s and Timb's vocal timbres enhance the strength of the melody with the former sounding a bit mystical in “Promiscuous boy, you already know, that I’m all yours, what you waiting for?”. Those synth chords gleam like lights on the water of the ocean, and the gentle mix of sighing backing vocals adds more harmonic colour to the song. While the cheeky interplay in the verses may not be immensely poetic, they're full of memorable moments that both amuse and work as hooks ("”I want you on my team”, “so does everybody else?” Shit!" "’Bring that on!?’ ‘You know what I mean!’" and of course the repeated "Do get mad, don't get mean!" at the start of the 3rd verse). I particularly love how swept away and entranced Nelly sounds in the final chorus in "But you're driving me crazy the way you're making me fay-aint!", and that weird instrument at the end that doubles on the synth motif from the verses and Furtado singing along to it with a wordless vocal.
347. Radiohead - Fake Plastic Trees
One of the biggest rock radio staples of The Bends and arguably the album’s signature song. A lot of the stunning developments Radiohead made on their sophomore album are evident here. Thom Yorke has gone on record saying that this was the song where he found his lyrical singing voice, and his rise into falsetto in the first verse (“In the fake plaaaa-aaaaaaastic Earth”) is a heavenly moment that shows immediately how much more delicacy is in his voice, as well as the quiet and melancholic chorus of “it wears her out” joined by a gentle addition of organ from Jonny Greenwood, who’s uniqueness with exploring keyboard parts also began with this album. I absolutely love the weird rotary organ phasing in the second verse after Yorke sings “She lives with a broken man, a cracked polystyrene man, who just crumbles and burns” and at that point making the lyrical development from simple but affecting images of natural things and turning it more poignant and following it up with the more humane and helpless “He used to so surgery for girls in the ‘80s, but gravity always wins”. And after the rounds of “It wears him out” Thom Yorke soars an “It weaaaaaaaaaaaaaaars!” into the triumphant and loud final verse! Though it is common for rock ballads to get loud and bombastic, the band do it marvelously. The loud guitars are strummed with the fierce and famously physically aggressive arm snaps of Jonny Greenwood and Ed O’Brien’s chords churning alongside him and Yorke’s acoustic guitar. Yorke admits his own attraction to the artifice in our s o c i e t y he critiques: “She looks like the real thing, she tastes like the real thing, my fake plastic love” as Greenwood slashes a melodic guitar line slowly climbing up his fretboard. That’s followed by Yorke belting “But I can’t help the FEEEELING!” and Greenwood does his harshest chord lunges. And as the verse finishes the band quietens down to the final quiet chorus with just Yorke with his acoustic guitar and the organ, repeating “It wears me out”. And in this touching denouement he cracks into his bittersweet falsetto once more in “And if I could be all you wanted, all the time” making for one of the most beautiful moments in Radiohead’s discography.
346. Silver Apples - Oscillations
The year zero of electronic music is considered by some to be Kraftwerk’s 1974 album Autobahn - branching out of the thriving krautrock scene of the early ‘70s in Germany to create an album sonically crafted almost completely by synthesisers. But that isn’t to say that album was the first synthesiser music of any kind, and there had been innovative uses of the instrument from other bands in the krautrock movement as well as Pink Floyd’s “On The Run” from Dark Side of the Moon released the year before with it’s oscillating synth runs turning into helicopter blades. And in 1968, there was the debut album by this act from New York released, whose opening track feels uncannily like a predecessor to the electronic stylings of Kraftwerk. The track still utilises a “rock” rhythm section for its foundation with the driving, syncopated and vamping bassline that creates a hypnotic groove perfect for the tonally ambiguous vocals and their lyrics which are able to convey the feeling of machinery as well as the Kraftwerk songs I’ve written about on this list with the chorus hook of “Oscillations, oscillations electronic evocations of sound’s reality” - oscillators are the parts of analogue synthesisers with generate the audio signal to be sent to the filters, sequencers and envelopes to customise the sound and tone, y’see. And the sound of those synthesisers! From the opening tremolo synth line get higher in tone and frequency (hearing that after Radiohead’s “Fake Plastic Trees” reminded me a bit of the opening of “Bones” which follows immediately afterwards on The Bends!) to the distant bleep which plays like a distant alarm in a space station and the sharp high notes which play like a warning and make the perfect amount of dissonance with the vocals. The sound of the song becomes increasingly chaotic towards the final minute, with the bass line getting fuzzier, the drums build in intensity and the vocals starting to sound more sinister than before. The synths get busier in the mix at this point as well, creating more dissonance and looping on themselves as if they were malfunctioning, creating the feeling of a real-life computer breaking down. Even though it’s a 51 year old piece of recorded music, it’s incredible how futuristic it still sounds, and how much music has been made possible because of it in the years since.
345. Kanye West feat. Jay-Z - Diamonds from Sierra Leone (Remix)
One of the best examples of Kanye West at his most cinematic, with the orchestration of instruments over the Late Registration track’s beat pointing forward to the most extravagant parts of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. The opening line of synth line twinkles like a starry night sky, and is joined by the sample of Shirley Bassey singing the Bond theme “Diamonds Are Forever” turned unusually eerie and the growing orchestra forms dark ominous clouds around it, with the hits before the main chorus flashing like bright lights or lightning bolts (“Have no fear that they might desert me… *!*!*!* *!* *!* *!*”). And the way the way the chorus moves from the triumphant hook of “Throw your diamonds in the sky if you feel the vibe” to the suspenseful C major chord, a semitone above the song’s key of B minor as the sample’s melodic contrast becomes more dramatic and Kanye repeats “forever ever” going higher in pitch, taking the moment in Andre 3000’s verse in “Ms. Jackson” from 5 years earlier and turning it into something more foreboding is magnificent, and the hurried, cyclic string lines added to the build-up in the latter half even more so. There’s also the plinkering of piano and harpsichord, the pulsing synth bass and the high-pitched fragments that sound like distant screams and the little alien-sounding line in the verses, touches of tremolo guitar at the start of the second verse and - get this - a drum beat made of live drums played by - of all people - Michel Gonfdry (He’s the French music video director behind many of the greatest music videos of the ‘90s and ‘00s - “Let Forever Be”, “Everlong”, “Fell In Love With A Girl” and a lot of Björk videos, as well as NZ band Steriogram’s “Walkie Talkie Man”)! All of which are phenomenally judged additions to the song’s ominous atmosphere.
“Diamonds” is also home to some of Kanye’s best lyrical examples of his conflicting feelings about his place in the world as a public figure and famous black man in the American Elite, a conflict still present even in his admittedly much sadder controversies now. Here (well in the remixed version - the bonus track version has less interesting lyrics that weren’t as compelling and more of a response to the controversy he has already began to court from the cycle of his first album, stuff that almost feels quaint today) he confront his own materialistic tendencies with the reality of the unjust wars that enable the trade of blood diamonds. “Good morning, this ain’t Vietnam, still people lose hands, legs, arms for real” opens his first verse followed by lines like “Over here it’s a drug trade, we die from drugs, over there they die from what we buy from drugs” and “I thought my Jesus piece was so harmless, ‘till I seen a picture of a shorty armless” that see him linking the dots from the culture he participates in or knows people who do to the atrocities on this other side of the world. In the second verse, however he passes the mic over to his long-standing idol and friend Jay-Z who enters as the beat briefly stops (“Yup, I got it from here, Ye, damn!”) and delivers a fired-up and energised verse with his own supply of memorable lines from “How could you falter when you’re the rock of Gibraltar? I had to get off the boat so I could walk on water” (and the orchastral motif that builds during that line is fantastic too!), “People lined up to see the Titanic sinkin’, insteady we rose up from the ash like a phoenix” and of course the “I’m not a businessman, I’m a business! MAN! Let me handle my business, damn!”. One of the best examples of West’s incorporation of classical and orchestral music into hip-hop on Late Registration, and an example of why he remains the 21st century’s most innovative musician.
344. Massive Attack - Safe From Harm
Opening up the debut album of Massive Attack Blue Lines, a landmark in establishing what would go on to be one of the most hip music genres of the ‘90s in the British mainstream - trip hop. And with that immortal bassline in constant motion set to that spacious hip-hop beat and with the wind noises mixed in, creates a heady atmosphere that’s both busy yet relaxing at the same time. The additional touches of keyboard from the glacial synth pad to the echoed pings scattered around and the record scratches take the atmosphere further, but most arresting of all is the vocal melody from Shara Nelson and her impassioned singing fitting with the nocturnal mystery of the musical surroundings. Listen to the way she drops into a lower register in “Well I can’t do anything ‘bout that, no-ohhhh” or how vulnerable she sounds on “But if you hurt what’s miii-iii-iiine” leaving the warning of “I’ll sure as hell retaliate” afterwards stick in your mind, and how absolutely stunning the chorus is. The funky bits of elasticated guitar samples added later on in the interludes are another fantastic addition. A beginning of a decade of innovation from not only this act but succeeding acts like Portishead and Tricky.
343. U2 - Red Hill Mining Town
Whenever I think of a passage of music on The Joshua Tree that sums up what the album feels like as a whole, musically, the chorus of this song is what comes to mind immediately, moreso than any of the iconic radio hits from the A-side! It just sounds so widescreen and immersive The glorious widescreen melody that’s given so much space in the mix with those massive backing vocals that sound like long stretches of faint clouds in a bright cyan summer sky, and The Edge’s guitar pinging those chords that feel massive but still intimate, like your right there next to him on a hill in the outdoors. The song’s construction is both so grandiose and yet so understated at the same time, in a way that U2’s many imitators have missed the mark in terms of the latter quality. In the verses you can practically hear The Edge’s finger slide across his guitar strings as he slides along the lowest string, with the accompanying country-fied arpeggios to counterpoint it and the surrounding synth chords that play like stretches of blue sky above. The rhythm section keeps at a steady pocket that’s prominent but subtle enough to create the wide space for Bono’s melody to flourish in, entering the song 30 seconds in with a sublimely subtle crescendo. Lyrically Bono sings from the perspective of one of the labour miners who striked in 1984 against Thatcher’s overturning of their jobs, with lines like “Through hands of steel and heart of stone, our labour day has come and gone, they keep me hanging on in Red Hill Town” showing the importance of the subject’s work to their lives. The verse after the first chorus then shows the way their alienation from their work impacts their personal relationships:
The glass is cut, the bottle run dry Our love runs cold in the caverns of the night We’re wounded by fear, injured in doubt I can lose myself, you I can’t live without
I also love Bono’s change to a lower-register for the final pre-chorus (“We wait all day for night to come… and it comes… like a hunter, child”) before belting the chorus once more, adding more bombastic lines that feel earned rather than cheesy (“Looooove! Slowly slipped away! Looooove has seen its better day”) and as he repeats “Lights go down on red hill” it feels like you’re viewing a sun set on a distant hill, still soaking up the beauty in the moment amidst all the struggling. An example of what makes The Joshua Tree such a uniquely immersive and outdoorsy album.
342. Joni Mitchell - California
What is it about the name California that makes it such an omnipresent place name in pop music? From hits by the Eagles, Katy Perry and about 10 billion Red Hot Chili Peppers songs, it’s a place singers can’t get enough of, alongside the competing powerhouse of American culture New York, and that fact may make my initial question seem a little obvious, but whenever I hear Joni sing the state’s name in the chorus I only think how delightful it sounds just as a series of syllables. The way she hits that high note on the third (and most stressed in speech - a very important aspect of good singing) syllable is just perfectly graceful, and the accompanying use of Applilachian dulcimer and acoustic guitar just like other the other song of Blue to make the list manages to create the feeling of walking through a busy but scenic area of a city on a sunny day, as if you really were sitting in a park in Paris, France reading the news as she says in the opening line. It also helps that her fast pace of words and her dipping into a lower register during parts of the verses creates the feeling that she’s having a conversation with a friend about her current life (“He gave me back my smile, but he kept my camera to sell”). There’s also the gorgeous touches of pedal steel guitar throughout the track that just adds to the sunniness of it all. And her falsetto in the outro as she sings “Take me as I aaaaam!” are just magical.
341. Liz Phair - 6’1”
Opening up Phair’s 1993 indie rock classic Exile in Guyville with a light but driving rocker lead by her crisply strummed guitar chords and Brad Wood’s active drums that are able to add ear-catching fills effortlessly without distracting from the steady backbeat or Phair’s vocal (listen to the one he plays at 0:53 at the start of the second verse). She sings through a busy chord progression a continuous line of “I bet you fall in bed too easily with the beautiful girls who are shyly brave and you sell yourself as a man to save, but all the money in the world is not enough” making each segment of it hit hard as a blow to the song’s subject. She rises into a higher note at the end of the second verse that she repeats as she enters the pre-chorus: “And all the bridges blown away keep floating uuuuup! It’s cooooold! And roooooough!” before finishing the chorus with wonderful melodic bends of “I” leading into a boastful stance in “And II-iii-II-ii kept standing 6 feet 1, instead of 5 feet 2, and I loved my life and I hated you!” and Phair’s guitar plays a riff alternating between 2 chromatic chords. And the addition of a spoken line in the start of the second chorus (It’s cooooold - out there! - and roooooough!”) with Wood’s drum fill at that same moment is just another damn awesome moment to cherish. The perfect opener to the debut of one of the most beloved indie rock songwriters of the ‘90s. Last edited:
The grand and joyous opening to Weezer’s self-titled debut that now ranks as my favourite of both that album and the band’s discography. The bright opening acoustic guitar arpeggios (written by former early-stages band member Jason Cropper) leading into the loud power chords playing away at the I-V-VI-IV chord progression over the 6/8 rhythm with an unabashed joy that Weezer could bring to their pop-rock tunes at the time. Rivers Cuomo’s vocals are just one great hook after another with some instantly-memorable moments in the second verse like “But they’re still making nooiiise! making nooiiiise!” and “Tell me what to do, now the tank is dry, now this wheel is flat, AND YOU KNOW WHAT ELSE!” and the glorious repeating of “Workers are going home!” in the bridge as Cuomo, along with guitarist Brian Bell and bassist Matt Sharp expand their harmonies over it. Listen to how tuneful the guitar feedback sounds after the 1st chorus as they bring back the acoustic guitar riff before the second chorus, and the fantastic build-up of energy in the guitar and then harmonica solos as the drums keep revving up behind them, driving the energy ‘till the very end. Weezer are a band I have sometimes encountered mixed feeling for as I’ve gotten older, and as a result despite loving their first 2 albums a lot as a teenager are actually one of my less listened-to artists on this list (despite my love for Pinkerton at the time, I’m still somewhat in the process of re-assessing how I feel about it and as a result did’nt include any songs from it on this list, though I still consider it at least a good album) but the craft and melodicism in songs like this one are impossible to deny even now.
339. Talking Heads - I Zimbra
Kicking off Talking Heads’ third album, 1979’s Fear of Music with a foray into the incorporation of African rhythms and the continued collaboration of frontman David Byrne with producer Brian Eno they would explore further on the following Remain In Light. Opening with a jittering guitar scratch muted until it sounds like hand pops just at the end of the fretboard trickling over a shuffling drum and conga rhythm then joined by a cyclic counterpointing guitar riff and sparse pockets of bass from Tina Weymouth and then a jittery funky chord pattern that channels Nile Rodgers into the post-punk realm. Vocally the band chant a poem by dadaist Hugo Ball called “Gadji Beri Bimba” with a staccato-laden rhythm that sounds as if it were indeed a tribal call (“Ga! Dji! Beri bim! Ba! Clandridri!”). The layering of overlapping melody lines continues as yet another guitar countermelody is added in the verses, as well as the oscillating synth lines that enter about 2 minutes in that are impossible for me to describe. The song’s culmination of its overlapping parts becomes something intoxicating and immersive, especially in the last 30 seconds where it breaks down to just the guitar and drums of the opening and then re-introduces each layer back in for the finale. An exceptional snapshot of the Heads at their most unique and danceable.
338. Frank Ocean - Bad Religion
This one is a bit of a personal one for me. When Channel Orange was released in 2012, my 16-year-old self had yet to come to terms with my own LGBTQ identity, and although Frank Ocean was certainly not the first queer artist to have a significant role in my life, his confessional songwriting on this song was a revelation for me, and became the soundtrack to a few sad nights of unrequited love for other people in the years since. The clarity of those lonely opening organ chords that turn more melancholic as he reaches the pre-chorus (“Allah Akbar, I told him ‘don’t curse me’”) along with the additional piano chords and string lines that follow set up an intimate musical surrounding ready to make the chorus tear me to pieces as he croons in falsetto “Unrequited love, to me it feels like nothing but a one-man cult, and cyanide in my styrofoam cup, I could never make him love me” repeating the last 2 words more and more heartbreakingly. The handclaps in the second verse and the slow-build of marching drums in the following chorus as he sung this time in his chest voice created just the right amount of crescendoing without losing the intimacy, allowing Ocean to top it off with a belted wail at the end. A beautiful piece of confessional songwriting that saw many night in my headphones late at night in my bedroom, definitely not crying.
337. U2 - Running to Stand Still
Closing out the first side of The Joshua Tree with a quiet ballad that feels like a whisper after the explosive war-zone rock of “Bullet the Blue Sky” before it. The gentle slide guitar of the opening feels like warm waking up, using the rootsy tinges of folk music to add texture to the sweeping soundscapes of the album’s production. and leads into the sparse musical setting of barely-declared piano chords with a quiet muted guitar chug backing it. Bono sings in a lower and quieter voice well away from the urgent belting of the tracks before, with a calm and restrained “Ha la-la-la-dee-day” refrain for the chorus. In the verses he sings of a woman in Dublin’s struggle with heroin addiction with some of his best ever lyrics with references to the Ballymun Flats that Bono had grown up around (“I see seven towers but I only see one way out”) in the second verse that’s followed by “You’ve got to cry without weeping, talk without speaking, scream without raising your voice” that describes the suppressed pain felt in the subjects and the struggles many people face in the present day so poignantly. Although one of the quietest songs on the album it share’s the other songs’ focus on creating slow crescendos with subtle addition of instrumentation, with distant pings of notes before the second verse, light shades of strings at 1:53 and the introduction of Larry Mullen’s drums for the bridge that much like the song above add momentum to the song without letting it climax too bombastically, while the slide guitar makes its return and Bono reaches into his falsetto to belt a gorgeous and graceful wordless hook and then gives some of his most vivid imagery for the final verse which sees the band quieten back down at the end:
She runs through the streets with her eyes painted red Under a black belly of cloud in the rain In through a doorway she brings me White golden pearl stolen through the sea She is raging, she is raging And a storm blows up in her eyes She will suffer the needle chill She’s running to stand still
The harmonica solo that closes out the song as the piano and guitar chords continue into the fade is just the perfect finishing touch to one of the defining deep cuts of The Joshua Tree and what makes it such a vital album to this day.
336. Madonna - Borderline
One of the towering highs of Madonna’s 1983 self-titled debut, exemplifying the album’s immaculate synth production (this is one of the best albums to listen to while high, folks) and the animated, irresistibly joyful singing of Madonna’s early years. After a 14-second intro on the electric piano that plays like a condensing of the chorus to come, the synth riff that arrives into the song with the drums and the glide of piano chords is just glorious - like skipping across a wide open field on a flawlessly sunny day (Madonna is a perfect sunny day album, and “Borderline” may by the album’s sunniest cut-and that’s saying something). Then there’s the nimble bass lines, the stabs of synth chords in-between Madonna’s vocal lines in the verses, the tangled arpeggios underlying the pre-chorus and the synth brass chords that give an extra sense of triumph to the chorus as the chord progression modulates in a way that hints at a climax that never comes, fitting for the core lyric of “You just keep on pushing my love over the borderline”. Madonna’s singing is as effervescent as anything on that first album, sounding swept off her feet from the very first line of “Something in the way you love me won’t let me be”. Then there’s her slight distortion of “Stop driving me away! I just wanna stay!” in the second verse, the way she reaches a higher note in the chorus as she repeats “Borderline, feels like I’m going to loose my mind” a second time, and the utterly breathtaking vocal additions at the end of the song as she sings “Keep pushing me… keep pushing me… keep pushing my looooooove! Come on baby… come on darling… yeeeeeeaaaaaah!” sounding completely lost in herself, calming down as the tracks fades out with some lower-registered “la la la la”s. And it’s still only the third best song on her debut album!
A big-hearted and celebratory rock anthem from this Canadian guitar-and-drums duo’s 2012 album Celebration Rock which is both one of the best titles to a rock album ever, but also the name of a podcast hosted by one of my favourite music writers in Steven Hyden, who has indeed discussed this band among many others on his show. The band channels the spirits of punk rock and classic heartland rock with this song that feels like Bruce Springsteen fronting Hüsker Dü (a band whose songs unfortunately missed the list but are undeniably worth checking out - Zen Arcade is a great concept double-album in punk where the sum of the album’s journey exceeds any individual tracks). Singer and guitarist Brian King’s melody slightly recalls “Born In The USA” with some added pop-punk vocals giving “oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh”s in-between stanzas, while plowing through his guitar chords in a robust, saturated distortion similar to the tone of the aforementioned Zen Arcade album with David Prowse’s drums charging triplets behind it. His lyrics speak of an unabashedly positive determination that feels greatly empowering in today’s bleak cultural landscape, with lines like “I happened on a house built of living light, where everything evil disappears and diiiiiiiies” blasting away all negative emotions in their delivery. And then there’s the perfect mantras for the chorus in “When they love you and the will (and they will!), tell ‘em all they’ll love in my shadow! And if they try to slow you down (slow you down!), tell ‘em all to go to hell!” that’s some of the best prose in modern rock around. “Blush of our bodies in the heat of the night, all day the day after, reddened the skies”. A song that truly lives up to the title of the album it’s from.
334. Kanye West - New Slaves
One of the early teases of Kanye’s Ugly Twisted Nightmare follow-up to MBDTF in 2013 that warned us in advance of the dark, frightening, dangerous and bizarre atmosphere of the album that was soon to follow. With a syncopated synth-percussion line for its foundation that never settles and builds in a way that brings the orchestral elements of its predecessor and Late Registration into the glitchy electro of the album’s signature, with samples of timpanis and stacked gothic choir voices layered over the riff as the song progresses. There’s also the accelerating loop of chopped-up vocals in the intro and the glitchy synth sounds at 50 seconds in that made me think I was gonna hear a dubstep drop on first listen that never arrived (given there were rumours that Skrillex had worked on Yeezus). Instead we are given West’s intense polemic of the confounding issues of racism he sees as a black man in upward class mobility. One of the things that made Kanye so eye-opening to me at the time was his ability to link the public perception and stereotypes of rappers to structural racism and the way their culture has been commodified by both the elites in the fashion world (“What you want? a Bentley? fur coat? A diamond chain? All you blacks want all the same thing!”) but also himself as a figurehead in the way he opens his 2nd verse with “I throw these Maybach Keys, I wear my heart on my sleeve” giving a new added meaning to the normally cliché expression. That verse builds so much tension in how he then repeats the mantras of being the new slaves, and seeing the blood on the leaves to spitting back racist accusations as if they had just been said to his face (“Y’all throwing contracts at me, you know that n****s can’t read!”) and then raising his voice into a near-scream that still leaves me feeling deeply unnerved everytime I hear it (“Y’all n****s can’t fuck with Ye!”) which then takes him to his gloriously unhinged take down of the media circus surrounding him and the injustices of the prison system:
So go and grab your reporters so I can smash their recorders So they’ll confuse it with some bullshit like the New World Order Meanwhile the DEA teamed up with the CCA They tryna lock n****s up, they tryna make new slaves See that’s that privately owned prison, get your piece today! They prolly all in the Hamptons bragging ‘bout what they made
That of course leads into the infamous lines of stealing and fucking the Hampton spouses of the song’s targets. And yet as vulgar as those lines are, they presented almost like a dare to see what the media will respond to, the provocative objectification or the systemic injustices he just called out, in a way that makes me think about the infamous outro to The New Radicals’ “You Get What You Give” of all things. And then the song suddenly collides into a massive coda of a completely unrelated musical segment, creating a visceral change of mood in the abruptness and playing like a loping rock cover of Cher’s “Belive” as West and later Frank Ocean vocal ad-lib over it, with West’s lines (“I can’t lose, ‘cause I can’t leave it to you, so let’s get to high again”) summarising the most hedonistic aspects of both the album and West’s music as a whole.
333. Phoenix - 1901
One of the most joyful successes of the breakthrough of indie rock into the mainstream in the 21st century. A single that reached #1 on the Billboard alternative chart during a pivotal moment for the format and helped drive its parent album, the cheekily-named Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix to gold status in the US while being released on an independent label and written and performed by a group of French dudes. That it became the song of all the indie-publication end-of-year-lists favourites from 2009 to top of the radio chart in its succeeding year is wonderful, and understandable in how its stop-start guitar riffs and counterpoints and use of buzzing synths were heard on previous alt-rock radio hits from The Strokes and The Killers. There’s also the drum track that keeps things propulsive while still a tiny bit mechanical. Although singer Thomas Mars has a slightly nasal voice sometimes common in indie rock, he still makes use of it’s tone well (like the wavering of “awaaaaay” in the verses) and makes references to the displeasing reaction the French had to the Eiffel Tower when first constructed (“Watch them build up a material tower, think it’s not gonna stay anyway I think it’s overrated”). And the chorus is just simply magical. The way the band revs up on their root note with one guitar overlapping slightly with a rhythmic pattern before building to the V chord as Mars sings “Going hey hey hey hey hey hey!” before releasing it with the final “Fold it! Fold it! Fold it! Fold it!” (or is it “Fallin’”?) hook as the synth line shoots into the sky in a moment of pure joy. And the sweetness of lines like “I’ll be anything you ask and more” and “Lie down you know it’s easy, like we did all summer long” really play like vivid memories of the best moments you’ve had with your friends.
332. Muse - Time Is Running Out
As you can probably tell by my username on this site, a decade ago my 13-year-old self was a supermassive (pun intended) fan of Muse. I was in a way just at the right age and right time for them - they had become the favourite band of my age group at school and were about to reach the culmination of their popularity which had been building with each of their first 5 albums. Their wildly over-the-top music and performances were dazzling to me, and Matthew Bellamy was one of the few 21st century rock frontmen who felt like a proper Rock God, and his off-the-wall stage energy was a huge inspiration for me as a rock guitarist at the time (I did many YouTube benders of their live performances at the time, trying to learn both the guitar work and the stage moves at the same time like it were choreography). Unfortunately, unlike my other favourite bands at the time - Radiohead and U2 - my love for their music hasn’t lasted with me nearly as much, and it didn’t help that their apex in popularity in 2009 with The Resistance would mark what felt like the beginning of the end. By the time they followed it up in 2012 with The 2nd Law their music suddenly felt a lot more grating to me. While the decision to incorporate dubstep was what initially sounded off the alarm bells to my then-16-year-old self (which was admittedly due to me having a dumb and shitty prejudice against the genre), the album’s problems ran deeper than that, which saw the band upping the Queen-aping bombast to preposterous and unlistenable extremes (“Supremacy” and “Survival”) or making lesser retreats of their previous work without the same spark (“Liquid State” sounds more like a generic no-name band trying to be Muse than Muse themselves). And after that, they followed that album up in 2015 with Drones that somehow managed to be even worse, a Mutt Lange-produced “return to rock” album with cringeworthy Reddit-tier social commentary hollered over it by Bellamy, who was continuing to use his technical virtuosity as a musician as a weapon to inflict physical pain on the ears, resulting in one of the most agonising and awful albums I have ever heard. The sad thing about these disappointments however was that they in a way took a lot of the shine off their work in the 2000s for me as well, as the problems they had with relentless cheesiness and ridiculous conspiracy-theory-baiting lyrics were also abundant in their albums from back then too, just turned up to 12 (after already being up to 11 in almost every conceivable way) in their second decade of music (for the record, I haven’t checked out Simulation Theory but I doubt I’m missing out much, especially if that album cover is any indication).
Am I sounding a bit harsh? I probably am. I do think it’s important to remember artists by the good music they released even if their output becomes disappointing later on. And while I do have my problems with the albums they released from 2001-2006, I’ll admit there’s still enough quality in there to make them good albums that are worth a listen. At his peak, Matthew Bellamy was able to deliver an arsenal of great riffs, good hooks and incorporate his background in classical music into his songs in interesting ways (like the piano solo in “Butterflies and Hurricanes” and the melody of the riff in “Plug In Baby” - his most famous riff for a reason), and the band was able to deliver a fierce amount of energy, and Chris Wolstenholme is a great bass player with remarkable use of effects to create fat, distorted and sometimes synthy bass lines that were able to drive a lot of their best songs. This leadoff single from 2003’s Absolution was my most played song of theirs when I was super into them and it remains my favourite from them to this day. Although it was unfortunately also the first song where I noticed the frequency of Matthew Bellamy’s quick breaths (it can be distracting when I listen to it nowadays) it does a great job nonetheless showcasing their ability to create great pop-rock structured songs with a sweep of the epic that they often attempt in their proggier numbers. There’s the groove of Chris’ bass played through a synth pedal in the opening and final verse creating a low-frequency resonance that feels like it’s passing through the dancefloor, accentuated by the band adding clicks and handclaps and pointing forward to their further exploring funk and r&b with the Prince-lite “Supermassive Black Hole” and other later tracks. But equally remarkable is the thrilling build-up of its choruses, where the hooks keep building momentum and tension with the pre-chorus’ “Bury it, I won’t let you bury it…” line. Dominic Howard gives one of his finest drum riffs behind it and lets it charge of the powerhouse main chorus that has such an urgency and sounds like the 00s mainstream rock sound at its best, which is then followed by the falsetto-ed “ooh ooh ooh yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah” with a tense chord progression, finally peaking with a signature Bellamy falsetto wail to a roaring Emajor (Major V in A minor) chord. The way the song’s energy builds from an 8 to a 9 to a 10 to an 11 at just the right amount is perfect and remains the most earned moment of bombast in their discography. I also love the synth line that backs the “you will be the death of me” hook in the first verse and the piano line in the third verse/breakdown (I like the way he recreates them as guitar lines with effects when playing it live), and the heaviness of the bass in the second verse. A mammoth of a rock song. You can’t push it underground. You can’t stop it screaming out. Matthew James Bellamy, (almost) all is forgiven.
331. Missy Elliot - Work It
Perhaps the defining song of Missy Elliot as a personality and one of the weirdest of her often-weird hits. That sample of Rock Master Scott & the Dynamic Three’s “Request Line” and the hard-slamming snare create an attention-grabbing opening that proves misleading, instead taking us to a pair of squirmy counterparting synth lines and a beat that samples the little drum machine that opens Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” (Thanks to Daniel09 for pointing that out of Twitter!). But the weirdness of the song really belongs to Missy’s hooks in the chorus, where “I’ll put my thang down, flip it and reverse it” becomes famously backmasked immediately afterwards, and the use of of an elephant noise for obvious phallic innuendo just ads more to the absurdity, the riskiness (and risquéness) of the whole song. And the verses are filled with so many funny, silly and instantly-memorable lines that make it one of the best rap songs to do at karaoke: “Ra-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta! Sex me so good I say blah-blah-blah, Work it! I need a glass of water, boy-oh-boy it’s good to know ya!” and of course the famous “ba-bonk-ba-bonk-bonk” and “ga-don-ka-donk-donk” hooks in the second verse, all while adding some empowering advice to her female fans in how they treat themselves “If you’re a fly gal, get your nails done, get a pedicure, get your hair did!” and handle their careers “Get that cash, if it’s 9 to 5 or shaking your ass, ain’t no shame ladies do your thang, just make sure you’re ahead of the game”. And as the song’s 4 minutes and 23 seconds come to a close, there’s a quick beat switch to what sounds like a mix of chiming wine glass just to allow it to go out in style.
In 2011 when Pitchfork were commemorating their 15th anniversary. The had a feature where one of their staff at the time wrote about one significant song from each of the years since the publication’s inception in 1996, and pop music writer Tom Ewing - who’s taste I’d imagine was probably at odds with much of the publication’s own content a lot of the time - wrote a fantastic piece on this song for his given year of 2002. I’ll leave the link to whole article here: (https://pitchfork.com/features/lists-and-guides/8016-15-writers15-songs/) and leave what he wrote about this song down below:
“I was running a music bulletin board when "Work It" leaked. We went head-over-heels for the track-- the thread filled up with posters bouncing off each other with delight. It was an instant, obvious winner-- a series of slogans from Missy at her imperious best, and a gleeful Timbaland diving back into his hip-hop boyhood. Though, to be honest, most of our "commentary" was just blaring the best bits at each other: "GET YOUR HAIR DID!" Then strangers started to join in-- Google had looked kindly on our ravings and turned a firehose of traffic our way. But the random visitors weren't looking for the song, they wanted to know what the lyrics were-- and specifically what was going on in that backwards chorus. What was a "fremme neppe venette"? A filthy act? A particularly desirable coffee? The secret of the universe? We were the top search result for the phrase, and the thread kept expanding. So I went in search of answers the only way I knew how-- standing in a London pub on a Friday night singing a Missy Elliott track at karaoke. It was as good a performance of "Work It" as a beardy white British guy is likely to give-- I wasn't pelted with fruit, in other words. But I was only really interested in one thing: What would the karaoke machine do when the chorus came around? I waited, and there it was: "It's your fremme neppe venette." Vindication!
The summer of 2002 was studded with so many terrific pop, rap, and R&B singles that it now feels like that time was the peak of something. And as new ways of distribution break down old musical habits, there are calls for us to revive past ways of experiencing music. It's easy to become reactionary. But the snowball excitement of a leak was something new and giddy then-- tens and hundreds of people, first friends then strangers, discovering and thrilling to a track all at once. Pop waxes and wanes, but that communal joy stays with me.” Last edited:
One of the most recognisable hits of UK pop powerhouse (although “Jump” was their only single to chart in NZ, this was played a lot on TV at the time) who helped revitalise the UK pop scene in the 2000s thanks to the ambitious productions of Xenomania which gave them a level of critical acclaim that would seem almost impossible for a girl group formed by a reality TV show to receive, a perfect act for the rise of poptimism. This song is one of the most unconventional hits they ever had, with a structure that throws the verse-chorus format out the window. The opening piano stop and swing beat feels like a chorus in its own right with an arresting hook from Nadine, but it suddenly switches gears for the song’s main groove: a sleek forward moving beat and elastically-toned bass line that feel like driving along a futuristic highway. From there we get a potent pre-chorus where the melodic tension never resolves from the holding of the 4th note throughout lines of being physically overwhelmed (“Your mind’s flying blind with your head and your face getting red”) and raising back up to it instead of holding on the major 3rd at the end of every “closer”. It leads into a one-time-only chorus that most pop acts would die for with a classic ABBA-esque melody (“We give it up and then they take it away”), some fantastic “ooh”’s of backing vocals join the track along the way to add to the breezy bliss of it all, and we’re transported from there to the classic call and responses that make up the new chorus introduced after that where Nadine, Nicole and Sarah belt out mantras (“You can’t mistake my biology!”) and Cheryl and Kimberley reply with confident spoken-word phrases (“The way that we talk! They way that we walk! It’s there in our thoughts”). Just when the song’s given us chorus segments for days, it switches back-and-forth with the first and last choruses, transitioning between them seamlessly like the song’s moving in a non-linear direction. A pop song structured like a David Lynch film.
329. U2 - Beautiful Day
If you saw me on here a decade ago, you’d know that this would be about 328 positions higher on my personal best-of-all-time songs list. And before I rush to delete old message board posts to save face, I’ll admit that part of my unkillable love for that song back then feels a bit cute nowadays, and my U2 priorities in terms of their albums has shifted a fair amount over the years since where nowadays I don’t really care for most of their post-Zooropa output. This song in a way also feels like it marks the beginning of U2 as The Classic Rock Band That Everyone Hates, where they continued to release more musically conservative albums while trying desperately to regain the commercial success of their zenith period, which perhaps reached its most embarrassing nadir in 2014 with that goddamn album that showed up in everyone’s iTunes library that was basically a complete musical non-event. That combined with backlash to Bono’s neoliberal philanthropy had led to U2 being almost completely dismissed by my generation in a way it seems that no other band in the canon has been. While there are definitely understandable reasons for that backlash as mentioned above that the band are somewhat to blame for, there are also many ways in which it’s utterly preposterous. I mean fuck, as much as people love to make fun of Metallica’s latter-day failures, at least they know that their discography from the ‘80s and early ‘90s had merit. It wouldn’t hurt to do the same for U2, just saying.
Anyway, despite all that, I’ve still been spreading the word that U2 Are Good Actually to friends and have slowly made more converts along the way. But because of a lot of the stuff mentioned above, I don’t normally refer to “Beautiful Day” when showing U2 to people who are sceptical of them. But I think it still deserves praise and recognition as a great late-period comeback single nonetheless, with one of the richest production jobs from Brian Eno on a major U2 single. Although it’s sometimes regarded as a return to the “classic” U2 sound of the ‘80s, it still shows the developments they made in the ‘90s of incorporating electronic elements in the opening verse with the sequenced keyboard progression and synth-strings that play like cracks of the sun through clouds with a pulsing drum machine behind it. There’s the decayed ambient loop that enters 35 seconds alongside Edge’s gentle guitar counterpoint. His adds a calming falsetto behind parts of Bono’s lines who’s still singing on a lower register (“You thought you found a friend to take you out of this place”) and as Bono leaps up to belt the chorus refrain the song explodes into an exuberant blast of guitar chords whose rhythm is backed by Larry Mullen’s drum accents, with a soaring cry of “daaaaaay” from Edge over the top like a ray of light soaring across a clear sky (The one at the start of the final chorus isolated and mixed with the opening strings is magical). The post-chorus sees him bring back a chiming guitar riff that harks back to the band’s early post-punk days, played on his primary guitar from that era, the Gibson Explorer, while Bono nicks a hook from the lesser known a-ha hit (“Touch me!”). Then there’s the gleaming pitched-up guitar lines in the bridge that sound like keyboards and bear an influence from then-recent Biggest Band In The World mantle-carriers Radiohead, and the boost of volume in the bass for the finale after the final chorus (“What you don’t have you don’t need it now!”). With all the musical craftmanship on display I find it hard to resist the song’s big-hearted sentiment, and Bono’s lines of self-preservation and redemption stay empowering rather than fall into cheesy self-help, with the joyous singing to sell it (Ree-ee-ee-each me, I know I’m not a hopeless case”) but my favourite line is actually the opening one he sings in a low, understated register which sums up the whole song in that moment: “The heart is a bloom, shoots up through the stony ground”.
328. Taylor Swift - Lover
I didn’t keep up with much new music last year. I’ve never been that good at keeping up with the newest and most talked-about releases unless it’s been the really major stuff. As I said in my introduction, the fact that y’all can keep up with music well enough to publish weekly personal charts for years astounds me, where I tend to just subject myself to a couple of albums or artists, sometimes old and sometimes new, and just focus on that for a good couple of months or years so I can feel like I’ve properly absorbed it. So as I was compiling this list with the deadline to have it ready by my site registration’s 10th anniversary, I paid little attention to anything new being released because I didn’t really want to discover a new song or album, fall in love with it, and then think about where it ranks with all the other songs I’ve known for longer (I’ve also been doing a lot more digging of older decades in the past few years too, especially focusing on the early alt-rock canon of the late ‘70s and ‘80s which I think the list has already shown a fair amount of). As a result, I was planning to wait until I had compiled and started writing about this list before I would start listening to anything of Lover, even though Taylor Swift is one of my all-time favourite musicians. Her bemusing choices of singles to lead out the era made me a bit doubtful if there would be anything from the new album on the level of Red or 1989 (though I will state that “Me!” and “You Need to Calm Down” are not that bad, and have some musical ideas worth appreciating: the stacking of vocal harmonies in the latter that’s clearly derived from “Royals” but sounds good anyway, and the crescendo of militarised drums in the former that builds up quite well in the pre-chorus especially (“One of these things is not like the others”) even if the tune is very corny and the bridge is indeed a monumental atrocity).
But when my sister played this, the third single (so far) for me, I was simply floored, and I knew that Swift had written another all-time classic. As disappointing as the Reputation era was, which saw her trying to answer all of her celebrity drama in ways that felt completely antithetical to her songwriting talent, a seriously under-discussed aspect to that album was that the songs that didn’t comment on her, y’know, reputation and focused back of her relationships saw her writing from a place of comfort and optimism that hadn’t been as visible in her music since the pre-Red albums where she both younger and more naïve. I actually nearly put the closer “New Year’s Day” on this list, given how touching I found its core lyrical theme of wanting and hoping a relationship will last long-term (“I want your midnights, but I’ll be cleaning up bottles with you on New Year’s Day” is a wonderful lyric indeed). And this song here feels like a successor to that song lyrically, taking the sentiment even further by turning it into one of the most Capital-R Romantic songs she’s ever written. The production alone is incredible in the way it sounds like every instrument was recorded in an old, large mansion on an autumnal day. The drums boom with a warm an airy reverb like it’s being echoed by the walls around it. Inside that cavernous reverb are faint but clear mix of guitar, pianos, bass, and slight bits of strings and ethereal backing vocals, resulting in a similar feel to Mazzy Star’s dream pop classic “Fade Into You” (that almost made this list). All parts are mixed with enough distance to imagine these instruments being played in different rooms in the house, much like the wonderfully colourful video. The space that’s created by the instrumental allows Taylor Swift to deliver one of her finest singing and melody making ever with a chorus whose each melodic fragment I utterly cherish. The slow rise into falsetto in “Can I go… where… you… goooooo… Can we always… be… this… cloooooose?” and the responding “forever and ever and ahh” that just kills me everytime. She sounds both infatuated and anxious at the same time, the latter mood changes to a triumph in the back half with the poised, rhythmic dipping in and out of falsetto in “Take me out, take me hooome!” and the gorgeous repeating of “You’re my, my, my, my, my…” performing a wonderful melodic oscillation over it as the chord progression descends. She closes the chorus with a brief acapella and low-sung “Loverrrr” to resolve it, recalling the choruses on her earlier albums where she would draw out the last word that way (“Baby just say - yes” in “Love Story” for example), and the backing vocals that join the chorus as it repeats only makes it even more enchanting. In the verses, Swift highlights the growth of a long-term relationship with pieces of domestic comfort from leaving Christmas lights up until January and letting friends crash in the living room. She still has moments of doubt (“And I’m highly suspicious that everyone who sees you wants you”) and wonder for him (“And there’s a dazzling haze, a mysterious way about you dear, have I known you 20 seconds or 20 years?”). The bridge sees her turn to a higher register over plucked strings, giving triplets in falsetto with words that feel like a wedding vow (“Ladies and gentlemen will you please stand? With every guitar string scar on my hand?”), and then inflects the title to a higher note unlike the chorus (“I take this magnetic force of a man to be my - loverrrrr!”) and even re-contextualises an old cliche in a way some might find corny but I appreciate (“My hearts been borrowed and yours has been blue, all’s well that end’s well to end up with you”). What really strikes me about this song is how it gives us a throwback to the older and more optimistic Taylor Swift after a period of writing about more complex and difficult relationships in Red and 1989, yet the maturation remains. A love song about having hope for a successful long-term relationship, and how wonderful it is to have lasted as long as it has. “I’ve loved you 3 summers now honey, but I want them all”.
I must admit this song is kind of perfect for me at this point in life because I am nearing the 2-year anniversary of my first-ever serious relationship with my boyfriend. I do love him so <3
327. Jay Z - Takeover
One of the seminal tracks on Jay-Z’s masterpiece The Blueprint, famously released on September 11th 2001 and was #1 selling album in the week after, selling over 420,000 copies and making a trivia fact that uses 2 of the internet’s favourite numbers. It’s an album that is badly under-served by my list despite the fact that I’ve enjoyed this album for years (maybe I’ll make things right with an all-time top albums list later, though it definitely won’t be 500 entries long!). Seminal on the album for being one of the tracks produced by Kanye West, who got his breakthrough as an in-demand hip-hop producer with his beats for this album. He samples The Doors’ “Five to One” syncopating the bass, brings out the urban vibe of the keyboard riff, clips the guitar solos into small fragments and turns Jim Morrison’s vocals into elastic wordless backing hooks. In here lies the interest in inspiration in rock music that Kanye would go on to explore further in the 2010s. But this song is of course also one of hip-hop’s most famous diss tracks and Jay-Z’s most iconic for sure. He raps lines that have turned into the titles of Fall Out Boy hits and most importantly, crushes his targets with such effortless boasting it becomes exciting to hear. From the general “We kill you motherfucking ants with a sledgehammer” in the first verse and the iconic “Roc-a-fella is the army, better yet the navy” which Rihanna would shout out to in Rated R track “G4L” which would then go on to be the namesake for her online fan army, to tackling Mobb Deep in the second verse and the sarcasting taunting in his delivery of “We don’t believe you, you need more people”. But the verse directed at Nas is the undeniable pinnacle, with Kanye adding some hyper-exaggerated interpolations of David Bowie’s hook on “Fame” turned into the damning “LAAAME!” adding to Jay-Z’s ripping into his discography. He imitates the hook of a then-recent song of his in a silly voice in “Fell from top 10 to not mentioned at all, to your bodyguard’s “Oochie Valley”’s verse being better than yours” and taking the mockery even further with “Matter of fact, you had the worst flow on the whole fuckin’ song but I know the son don’t shine, the son don’t shine that’s why your - LAAAME!”. And that’s not even getting to the point where he trashes all his albums bar Illmatic. I also love the infectious chorus hook (“We running this rap shit!”) and his closing statements for everyone else not addressed: “And for you other cats throwing shots at Jigga, you only get half a bar, fuck y’all n****s!”.
326. Paramore - Ain’t It Fun
If you told me in 2012 that a year later Paramore would write a hit song that successfully incorporates funk and gospel to a new wave-inspired sound, and that it would be one of several unprecedented genre experiments on a highly ambitious and diverse album that I’d think was brilliant, I would’ve probably laughed at you. But happened it did, giving them a US top 10 hit and winning a Grammy for Best Rock Song that alerted the members of some hideous nu-metal/post-grunge band who got big on the radio a decade before who complained on their Facebook page in the process. Lead by a xylophone riff of all things that gets backed up by Taylor York’s guitar, there’s a bounciness to this song similar to that of early No Doubt (this song could’ve been on Tragic Kingdom and would’ve been the best song on that album) helped by the fluid bass of Jeremy Davis and the slick groove and swung 16th-note fills from Ilan Rubin (I love the one before the final chorus after the handclaps (which also sound great!)) Hayley Williams gives a vocal performance which like much of the rest of the album was far too good for the mainstream rock landscape with one of her most playful and cathartic singing ever, with a jazzy R&B melody and lyrics that poke fun at herself and the bandmates Paramore had lost after Brand New Eyes. I love her delivery of the pre-chorus line “What are you gonna do when the world don’t orbit a-round you?” and the bit in the 2nd verse where she sings “You could ring anybody’s bell and get what you want” like were worldless scat, the massive chorus and the little xylo-guitar line that fills in the pauses. To say the least, the songwriting partnership of Williams and Taylor York has worked terrifically for this band. And to take things even higher, for the bridge they bring out a gospel choir to build up a mantra of “Don’t go crying to your mama, ‘cause you’re on your own in the real world!”. It should be ridiculous, and it is a bit, but at the same time it feels so good and uplifting despite the snark of the lyric. And the guitar line that plays as they bring the choir back for the outro is a gem too!
The 2010s was often a rare time for rock songs making the top 10, and it’s pretty common for rock fans to really object to the classifications of what songs that do. I’ve definitely seen some pretty ludicrous genre classifications in Billboard’s genre charts, (though it’s definitely not just the rock charts!) but I do think that sometimes the people who complain have a definition of the genre that’s a bit too narrow. As I mentioned before, Paramore winning a Grammy for Best Rock Song with this song riled up the nu-metal band Trapt who complained that them winning the award was part of “a conspiracy to destroy the essence of what rock was all about” from their Facebook page that remains one of the most embarrassing social media posts by a professional musician I’ve ever seen. I won’t define the genre’s criteria for anyone else but I would classify out of the US top 10 hits from the 2010s “Radioactive”, “Demons”, “Ain’t It Fun”, “Take Me To Church”, “Centuries”, “Shut Up + Dance”, “Ex’s and Oh’s” “Heathens” and “Believer” (on the fence with “Pumped Up Kicks” or “Feel It Still”, I won’t be taking questions at this time). That’s not exactly the most exceptional line up of song, personally, although there are a few other winners in there. Paramore proved that writing a rock song that crosses over while still being excellent was still possible even in the new 10s. Last edited:
The Velvet Underground & Nico brought many innovations into rock music, many of which can be found in this song. The instantly-hypnotic groove of the guitar played in Lou Reed’s famous “ostrich tuning” (where nearly every string is tuned to the same note, also the type of guitar tuning used in the Goo Goo Dolls’ “Iris” believe it or not) combined with Sterling morrison’s bass, the droning electric viola from John Cale and the loping kick-drum-and-tambourine beat from Maureen Tucker; makes for a perfect backdrop to Reed’s lyrics of sadomasochism. The title itself is from the name of a book written by Lepold von Sacher-Masoch published in 1870 (the word “masochism” is derived from his name, y’see) and the story’s protagonist, Severin von Kusiemski is also referenced in the lyrics (“Ermine furs adorn the imperious, Severin, Severin awaits you there”). I love the way the chord progression changes for the chorus as Reed sings of dreaming in “I am tired, I am weary, I could sleep for a thousand years, a thousand dreams that would awake me” then returning back to the hypnotic groove for the final line “Different colours made of tears”. I also love Cale’s viola solos after the 3rd and 4th verses, and Reed’s delivery of “Taste the whip now bleeeed for me!” in the latter. A snapshot of what made the Velvets so musically and lyrically innovative in the rock canon: “Strike, dear mistress, and cure his heart”.
324. OutKast - Da Art of Storytellin’
Part 1? Or Part 2? Well in the words of the famous El Paso commercial-turned-meme, why not both? Together they make arguably the centrepiece of Aquemini while both offering completely different moods and atmospheres in either half. The first part is a wonderfully summery track with a beautifully toned and sun-kissed synth line that feels like the evening sun hitting your back at a barbecue. It’s backed by lush chords from a bass guitar and an also-perfectly-toned drum track that feels relaxing while simultaneously creating forward motion for the song (listen to subtle mix of congas with the sifting hi-hat panned to the right headphone with some note being accentuated by being doubled-up in the left. Big Boi’s verse flow is as excellent as any OutKast highlight, recounting an affair with a promiscuous woman and selling lines like “Let’s say her name was Suzy Screw, ‘cause she screwed a lot” and the internal-rhyming “Straight laid her, slayed the bitch like Darth Vader, made her” into memorable hooks, and delivers the song’s effortlessly singable chorus hook with Sleepy Brown. But André 3000’s verse is what really elevates the rapping to a higher level with his ability to inflect melody into his lines without compromising the rap flow and giving more in-depth portrayal of his verse’s protagonist, from how he introduces her name (“Sa-shaaa Thum-paaaa”) and how his melodic bend sells the wistfulness of “Well it was more like spend the night, three in the morning, dancing under street lights” and the beautiful lines of “I said “What you wanna be?” She said “Alive” It made me think for a minute then looked in her eyes” before ending with a tragedy of disappearing into an abusive relationship and dying of a heroin overdose:
I came back home to find lil' Sasha was gone Her mama said she with a n**** that be treating her wrong I kept on singing my song and hoping at a show That I would one day see her standing in the front row But two weeks later, she got found in the back of a school With a needle in her arm, baby two months due Sasha Thumper
The second part - arriving after the skit that closes out the first part - is the frantic, night-time counterpoint to the relaxing sunniness of the first half. The piano figure plays like dark grey clouds in a almost-black sky with a high-pitched synth line added over the top like a light beaming against the darkness and later some spanish guitars to accompany the piano. The drums pound harder and create a fearsome urgency of trying to run away from something, fitting for the second part’s apocalyptic theme (“Mother Earth is crying and dying because of you” from Andre’s verse), and pushing both rappers to give more panicked verses through vocal distortion. Big Boi’s verse is the more remarkable one this time, grabbing you attention from the opening line “The sky is falling, nobody balling, they done gave back they guns” through his triplet-laden rhythm and the slight exaggeration of his voice in “But I’m stabbing” and the delivery of the ending line in “I got in the booth to run the final portion, the beat was very dirty and the vocals had distor - tion!”. The pitched-down vocal hook for the coda (“All’s welllllll, nothing’s well”) closes out the track with record scratches, playing like a voice booming from under the oceans.
It might’ve been a bit sneaky of me to put 2 separate tracks as one entry in the form of the larger grouping, given they are indeed 2 very distinct songs (the first one even being its own single with a smooth verse from Slick Rick which I’ve admittedly not listened to often due to focusing on the album version for this list). But I had so much I didn’t want to leave out I felt like it was a way around it. Either way, both tracks are a fantastic representation of the musical world of Aquemini, the greatest OutKast album.
323. Young Thug feat. Duke - Webbie
Speaking of extremely sunny sounding hip-hop, this song - my favourite off of JEFFERY - is also a perfect jam to play on a hot summer’s day. The woozy synths and cicada-like-but-in-a-good-way trap drums characteristic of JEFFERY are also present here, with some muted piano mixed with the synths to make a blissfully chilled-out chord progression. But the wonderful acoustic guitar figure added to the mix is what really gives the song that extra sun-soaked vibe. “Webbie” is also perhaps the best example on the album of Young Thug’s elastic and eccentric vocalisations which combine with the trippy production to create a uniquely fun and surreal atmosphere. There’s his joyous chorus whose line heard in the 3rd go-round (“This politician is so fake! They’re politickin’ ‘bout their cases!”) manages to be laugh-out-loud funny mean everything and nothing at the same time. There’s also the way he plays around with vowels at the start of his second verse (“I’ll pop at your mayun-mayun-mayun”) and his audible scoffing during “got foreign car like a white beetle, *pfft* acting like she like people!”. The infectious energy he brings to the track also rubs off well on his guest feature Duke, who brings a dancehall-like flow to his verse while Thug interjecting little vocal ad-libs to bolster it (the bit after Duke goes “I lost some friends, that was so fucked up and I know that they hate me” where Thug just yells “Fuck! Fuck!” always makes me laugh). It may all read like nonsense on paper, but it’s the kind of compellingly bizarre nonsense with the inventive production backing it up that few artists have managed to pull off as well as Young Thug has: “I used to do this shit to maintain, ‘til I started using 14% of my brain”.
322. Robyn - Be Mine!
“It’s a good thing tears never show in the pouring rain” a perfect opening lyric for the best song of Robyn’s self-titled kickstart to the Act II of her career as acclaimed electropop singer-songwriter. The backing synth cello is a masterstroke of both sounding organic while still being clearly digitally sequenced, with a spartan urgency in its 8-note pace that never lets up and extends to both the countering string lines that build atop of it in the verses and the sparse but constantly energised drum beat, with sparing use of kick and 16th-note hi-hat on certain beats while the snare carries the beat alone on others. The rhythmic tension of the track is the perfect backing for her mix of anger and sorrow in lyrics like “It’s a cruel thing you’’ never know all the ways I’ve tried, It’s a hard time faking a smile when I feel like I’m falling apart inside” (note the background “When I’m with you” at the end of the line that feels like a fragment of a happier time in the relationship) and the extra emphasis in the chorus in “‘Cause you never were and you never will be miiiiine!” all to stunning melodies. There are wonderful hooks harmonies throughout, the pre-chorus’ “And now you’re gone it’s like an eeechoooo iiin myyy head” being a favourite. And the legato strings that smoothen out the tension in the choruses without drowning out the rhythmic drive are a great touch. Despite the aforementioned anger and sadness of Robyn’s vocal and lyrics, the bridge sees her take a break from anger to a wistful spoken word bridge with the chorus hook repeating in the background:
I saw you at the station, You had your arm around what's-her-name She had on that scarf I gave you And you got down to tie her laces ('Cause you never were, and you never will be mine) You looked happy, and that's great (No you never were, and you never will be mine) I just miss you, that's all
The passage hints to where she would go lyrically with future hit and what has come to be a signature song for her and the 2010s. The change in mood to wistfulness from the anger and heartbreak of the remainder of the song, a wonderful bridge to a wonderful song.
321. Pavement - Range Life
Much like the hip-hop songs in this group of entries, “Range Life” is a wonderfully sunny song perfect for a summer playlist, and easily the most infamous song Stephen Malkmus ever wrote. The lyrical dig at the Smashing Pumpkins in the final verse enraged an often-enraged Billy Corgan to the point where he refused to play the 1994 Lollapalooza tour unless Pavement were removed from the line-up. But the line itself is so self-deprecating with the lazy switch in pronouns (“On tour with the Smashing Pumpkins, nature kids I-they don’t have no function”) that’s it’s hard to find it malicious in any way. Stone Temple Pilots also get a shout-out, described as “Elegant bachelors, they’re foxy to me, are they foxy to you?” with the same bemusement of seeing the alternative rock movement turn into a commercial juggernaut packaged as a “revolution” from the height of its halcyon days. Entirely fitting for a band whose brush with mainstream success was limited to a sole alt-rock radio hit from the same album (“Cut Your Hair”) and then remained an under-the-radar concern for the remainder of their career. But this song isn’t so much a big commentary on the state of alt-rock at the time as such as that verse is merely another component of the general disillusionment of modern life as a working musician and finding beauty in the domestic side of things. The band play a warm alt-country backdrop with jangling guitar arpeggios from Malkmus and Scott Kannberg that capture the wistfulness perfectly (listen to how they create just the right amount of dissonance to each other 9 seconds into the intro) while Malkmus gives a longing chorus of “I want a range life, if I could settle down” that finishes with a short breakdown to the final acoustic guitar chord and returns to the verses with an ascending bass line that’s as perfect a chorus-verse transition as anything in indie rock music. In the verses Malkmus goes from stardom to the daily grind of touring in the opening “After the glow, the scene, the stage, the set”, makes the most perfectly onomatopoeic delivery of “Out on my skateboard the night is just humm-in’” in the second verse and later sings out “Don’t worry we’re in no hurry!” in a bit of pure open-hearted joy. As he goes through all these content and reflective moods in the song, he creates the feeling of being happy enough of where you are while still hoping for or it something greater could come, ending his final verse on repeating the word “Dreamin’” as a reverbed backing vocal enters like it were from an actual dream and the band builds up more energy for its final measures with the percussive piano and more active bass guitar. Last edited:
One of the most charming one-hit wonders in 90s alt-rock, with yet again - as I start to sound like a broken record at this point in the list - a perfect tune for the summer. As you hear that blissfully clean electric guitar, with an added bounce to it from a subtle delay effect, and the bright acoustic guitar which starts its light-on-the-feet chord progression, it feels like being outside on an open field on a flawless summer day. And the melodies that follow from the guitar and singer Shannon Hoon are just irrestistably happy, with the dreamy harmonies as Hoon sings “It’s not saaaaane” and “Escaaaaape”, the latter blends into the wonderful guitar solo. There’s the special detail in the verse leading up to it where the guitar line descends lower in the first half (“And I don’t understand why I sleep all day...”) but switches to ascending in the second half (“And all I can do is read a book to stay awake”). And the lyrics have such a naïve wonder to them with the sweetness of the chorus’ romantic longing being the perfect touch: (“I just want someone to say to me-oh-oh-oh-oh “I’ll always be there when you wake””) and the following line “You know I’d like to keep my cheeks dry today” being almost cute in a way a great Taylor Swift lyric feels (and that’s a good thing!) and resolving in an even cuter “So stay with me and I’ll have it made” for the final line.
My favourite moment is after the final chorus where Hoon repeats “I’ll have it made” and leaps into a falsetto at 3:03 which just sets my heart alight every time. Few rock hits are as unabashedly joyful.
319. Aretha Franklin - April Fools
One of the instant stand outs on Aretha’s fantastic 1972 album Young, Gifted & Black, and one that’s also a delightful release of joy. The opening title-dropping hook may be a bit saccharine to some, but the song delivers us so many melodic and instrumental colours that it’s almost impossible not to warm up to. The nimble drum beat with the lightly funky bassline and the chords from the guitar and the Fender Rhodes, also played by Franklin, set up such a breezy mood, like walking through a park on a sunny day, and Franklin sings a flawlessly pretty melody from Burt Bacharach. But the orchestral arrangements are what bring the most colour to the song. Listen to the trill of the flutes behind the strings that feel like fluttering birds (and the little guitar slide interjected Franklin’s pause in “Are we juuuust April Fools (!) who can’t see all the danger around?”), the string lines in the post-chorus that respond to the backing vocals (“April fool, true love’s found us now”) and the legato lines they add to the chords in the second verse. But listen to the 2nd half of the song where the drums feel like they’re accelerating and the fluttering flutes make their return for the second post-chorus while the strings are backed by horns, and the quick-descending string lines that dive through the song in the final post-chorus and coda while Franklin sings some joyous releases of vocal overdubs without going overboard with them.
318. LCD Soundsystem - How Do You Sleep?
Now we suddenly pivot from shiny, happy tunes to are dark, night-time-y track with the best song from LCD Soundsystem’s 2017 comeback album American Dream. The opening drum beat is arresting enough to repeat and command your attention just by itself. In the first 2 minutes the beat is joined by eerie creaks of electric violin and reverberated booming on the 1 beat in the drums every 8 bars, the rattling of cowbell is oddly potent as it builds a sense of nervousness in the rhythm, and aquatic synth arpeggio that feel a little underwater-y. While the title to this song is the same as a famously bitter John Lennon song aimed at Paul McCartney, LCD’s song also sits in a similar lyrical lane with James Murphy baring his anguish over his falling out with co-founder of his record label Death From Above Records (not to be confused with the 2-piece band) Tim Goldsworthy. His pained delivery of “Standing by the shore facing eaaaaaaaaast! I can’t hear you” and “I remember calling you frieeeeeeeend!” with the violin anxiously bowing the sustained high notes above it in the latter, carries an almost Ian Curtis level of gloom also found in the quieter repeat call of “I still remember” at 3:18 after singing it so loudly the first time. In that moment you’re carried by the return of the aquatic synth arpeggios into the utterly massive synth riff repeating in a 3-chord cycle and accentuating the key hits in the drum beat, combining to make a titanic hook perfect for a long drive at night. Higher notes get added to the riff as it goes on like brief flashes of light, and an army of backing James Murphys arise when he sings “I’m hiding, where there’s more for you” with the last 4 words repeating like a threat, and the “One step forward/And six steps back” refrain in the final stretch of the song. The momentum of the song continues for a whole 9 minutes, with a brightening glow of synth chords building with the riff, beat and hook around the 7 minute mark which are almost pretty sounding despite being in a song as dark as this, helping accentuate Murphy’s brief reach into a tuneful falsetto at 7:28 after singing “If we meet again tomorrow, just like nothing went wrong” and bringing the song to it’s destined climax, fading into a pierced line of plucked strings as it finishes.
317. Kendrick Lamar - DNA.
While we’re still in 2017. Here’s the finest track of the 4th album of the best new talent in popular music to emerge in the 2010s. With no chorus but a boatload of conviction, Lamar grabs you by the pitch-modulated “I-got-I-got-I-got-I-got” hook and keeping a continuous internal rhyme in his verse from the opening “Loyalty, got royalty inside my DNA” to lines that depict the potential for all moral and emotional outcomes in life (“I got power, poison, pain and joy inside my DNA”; “I know murder, conviction, burners, boosters, burglars, ballers, dead, redemption”), and I also love the contradictory but empowering line “I’m gon’ shine like I’m supposed to, antisocial extrovert”. The beat during this verse is a perfect car-ride-at-night material with the classic booming bass and aquatic synth loop, but the beat switch that follows as Lamar samples and quotes a racist condemnation of hip-hop music from FOX News commentator Geraldo Rivera (“This is why I say that hip-hop has done more damage to young African Americans that racism in recent years”) as Lamar’s opening lyric is looped like a broken record with a clipped “fuck your life” thrown in and with a pitch-stretched countdown we’re thrown into the second verse with a heavier beat (dig the way the vocal sample of Rick James shouting “Gimme some ganja!” is hammered repeatedly to make the track go even harder) and some of the most visceral anger Lamar has ever packed into his voice and picking up a pace in his flow that’s almost breathless. “My DNA not for imitation, your DNA an abomination”; “You ain’t shit without a body on your belt, you ain’t shit without a ticket on your plate, you ain’t sick enough to pull it on yourself, you ain’t rich enough to hit the lot and stake”. Although I felt DAMN. was a bit of a step down from the incredible double-whammy of good kid m.A.A.d city and To Pimp A Butterfly. It earning Kendrick Lamar a Pulitzer Prize was still an amazing milestone for hip-hop music and this song exemplifies why he’s earned such an accolade
316. Wu-Tang Clan - Bring Da Ruckus
Opening Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) and setting the scene for the group’s versatile talents as MC’s but also RZA’s dark but uniquely cinematic productions. The opening sample of dialogue from the 1983 Hong Kong film Shaolin and the Wu Tang - utilised throughout the rest of the album of course - is reflected in the way the track feels like it’s been mixed from an old movie, with the drum beat spiked with clicks and that loud but distant boom applied on the snare on accented beats, the ominous film-noir-esque piano track added in the second verse and the eerie synth lines that really feel like exploring a dark chamber in a horror movie, and finally the stuttering horn samples that feel like a crashing computer (and near the end they made the song feel like it’s playback is broken). Further details include the stumbling piano sample added underneath GZA’s verse.
The vocals from the group ought to be remarked again of course! From RZA’s commanding and intimidating hook of “Bring da mutherfuckin’ ruckus!” looped throughout and Ghostface Killah’s opening verse with the beat re-entering the song on the booming snare at the end of “My glock burst, leave in a hearse, I did worse” that’s perfectly timed (“It’s like, hang up your ass, you’ve been out-cooled forever and ever and ever” - Nathan Wisknicki, known on RYM as LimedIBagels). The assonance on “I come rough, though like an elephant tusk, your head rush, fly like Egyptian musk” and the brutal takedown of Nixon (“However I master the trick just like Nixon, causing terror, quick damage your whole era”) are highlights too, mastering the irreverent hardness needed to kick off the album! Raekwon’s verse carries the torch with the energy reaching into that falsetto in “Wu-Tang, yo, sooooooo represent!”. Inspectah Deck brings ups the tension with his higher and more intensive voice making the alliteration in lines like “I roll with groups of ghetto bastards with biscuits”, and delivering “I’m hectic” with a bit of terrified conviction. GZA’s verse delivers as well from the opening “Yo, I’m more rugged than slave man boots” and the stressed emphasis on “I break loose, and trample shit, when I stomp!” and the audible “Choppin’ through your back *swish* givin bystanders heart attacks” adding great hooks along the way. An excellent introduction to one of the most beloved albums in 90s hip-hop.
The first proper song off of Late Registration after the “Wake Up Mr. West” skit, the last half of that title echoing into the start of this track as Kanye’s drum beat starts. Here we’re treated to perhaps his prettiest and most flat-out beautiful production ever. That piano line does those gorgeous runs on the high notes and balances out its sweetness with the minor chorded part near the end of its cycle, and it’s joined by fragments of fat but smooth-toned synth bass and fingerpicked acoustic guitar chords. The chorus may be one of the best examples of the extent of West’s skill in maximising his collaborations as he somehow manages to make the lead singer of the whitest band in history sound genuinely soulful in his falsetto “ooooh”s and his melodic extensions to the line “Nothing’s ever promised tomorrow today” with the concluding line “It hurts but it may be the only way” selling the bittersweetness of the song’s sentiment.
Kanye’s verses tackle the bleak state of racism and inequality, like many songs of his. But here he narrates it like someone who’s discovered hidden truths about the world and trying to express them to his audience, like the conspiracy-baiting “And I know the government administers AIDS” line which is obviously partly nonsense, but is still rooted in a lot of pain felt on behalf of communities that truly were let down horrifically by the US government during the AIDS crisis (I’m still amazed a song with that line in it actually made it onto Top 40 radio!). And in classic Kanye fashion, he positions the aspirationality of hip-hop culture as a way out from the reality of these injustices that still feels out of reach for many black Americans:
So I guess we just pray like the ministers say Allahu Akbar and throw 'em some hot cars Things we seen on the screen are not ours But these n****s from the hood so these dreams not far Where I'm from, the dope boys is the rock stars But they can't cop cars without seein' cop cars I guess they want us all behind bars, I know it
And yet despite the lyrical bleakness, the melodic sweetness of the song still ads some hopefulness to his delivery in the 2nd verse, where he inflects his pitch in “They say people in your life are seasons, and anything that happens is for a reason” that almost feels like it were sung rather than rapped.
My favourite detail in the song however are those twinkling notes added over the piano line in the latter third of the song that sound like they’re from a toy keyboard. Just so incredibly (I sound like a broken record I know) pretty, makes me wanna cry and smile at the same time.
The video with animations from Bill Plympton is one to watch as well,
314. The Flaming Lips - Do You Realize??
The most well-known song by the Oklahoma art-alt-rock band, and the official “State Rock Song” for the state too, and a wise choice at that. It’s belovedness stems in large part because it helps people deal with the difficult topic of death in an uncharacteristically compassionate and uplifting way (“The happiest song ever written about dying?” wrote RYM reviewer Iai, placing it 6th on his own top 500 songs of all time). After a dreamy vocal countdown, the robustly-strummed acoustic guitar chords fill out so much airy space, being joined by sci-fi synth swells, glistening synth strings and a pushing drum beat that keeps things in suspension with its hi-hat and syncopated tom-tom notes, so when Wayne Coyne sings “We’re floating in space”, it really does feel like that. And the big communal hook of “Do you realiiiiiiiise?” sung by a mass of layered vocals that feels like a whole crowd of friends singing to you. I love when they briefly change key into Eb major as they return to the chorus refrain with their voices rising higher and the joyous “ohhhhhhhhhh” that follows it, and the massive drum fills that build with each chorus till the one at the end. The final line of the middle eight, “You realise the sun don’t go down, it’s just an illusion caused by the world spinning round” is one of the most wonderful ways anyone’s expressed the idea of life continuing after one’s own death. Happiness [that] makes you cry.
313. David Bowie - Beauty and the Beast
Opening the second of Bowie’s Berlin trilogy, “Heroes” and my favourite song of that album besides the main attraction (FTR, at the time of compiling this list I’ve still hardly touched Bowie’s albums besides this one and Blackstar). With Brian Eno on boards and guitar contributions from Robert Fripp, David Bowie delivers a mammoth glam-stomping track accentuated by the added colouring from Eno and Fripp. The opening keyboard progression revving up with Fripp’s fuzzy guitar bends notes around it as the drums and Bowie’s voice build the tension into the verses, with the squirmy synth/guitar riff playing off of the keyboard vamp and airy synthesisers filling in the higher range. Bowie sings in a lower register lyrics of violent and disturbing unease (“Something in the night, something in the day, nothing is wrong but darling something’s in the way, there’s slaughter in the air, protest on the wind, someone else inside me, someone could get skinned”) and the chorus has backing vocals so exaggerated and high-pitched they almost sound like screams (“MYYYYYYYY MY!”). Fripp’s guitar continues buzzing around the place, providing a solo at 1:35 that zips around like a lead synthesiser. Despite the grimness of those above lyrics, Bowie assures us in his final verse “Nothing will corrupt us, nothing will compete, thank god heaven left us standing on our feet”. Decadent and delightful. Someone fetch a priest!
312. Britney Spears - Toxic
RYM made history on September 18th last year when this single became bolded on their database (basically a release gets bolded if it enters the top 5000 highest rated albums or singles on the site), which given the site’s history of often embarrassingly shitty reviews of hit pop songs by reviewers on that site, particularly before 2013, is something that would’ve seemed unimaginable at the time it was released. But this song has continued to grow in respectability as poptimism become a more widely-accepted worldview among music critics in the 21st Century, and it’s not hard to see why it’s became the Britney song it’s okay to go to bat for, as the production contains many unique and unusual ideas that have always made it stand out. The string loops, the elastic synth basslines, the flamenco acoustic guitar rhythm and surfy electric guitar that could’ve been used in a Bond theme are all fantastic of course, but often still under-discussed is how Britney’s higher register in the pre-chorus (“Too high, can’t come down”) and the wordless vocal lines scraping across the upper range in the bridge makes for some of the most ethereal use of her voice ever. And even without those cool production details, the chorus melody just straight-up slaps. Certified bop.
311. Nas - Life’s A Bitch
The second track of Nas’ landmark debut, 1994’s Illmatic, and one that captures the album at its most wistful. Backed by synths that feel like streetlights at night time and a warm bass line, the song bears the only feature on the album with AZ, who delivers the arrestingly bleak chorus hook (“Life’s a bitch and then you die, that’s why we get high, ‘cause you never know when you’re gonna go”) and the opening verse that applies internal rhymes to a melodically ear-grabbing vocal: “Visualisin’ the realism of life an actuality, fuck who’s the baddest, a person’s status depends on salary” my personal favourite: “Keepin’ this Schweppervescent street ghetto essence inside us” and the extra pitch inflections and pause used to sell the last line before the chorus “Keepin’ it real, packing steel, getting high, ‘cause life’s a bitch and then you… die”. Nas’ verse takes a more optimistic view of his situation, making triumphs and victories of his own survival in the hostile world he raps of while continuing the internal rhyme techniques of AZ’s verse: “I woke up early on my born day, I’m 20, it’s a blessin’, the essence of adolescence leaves my body now I’m fresh and my physical frame is celebrated ‘cause I made it, a quarter through life, some godly-life thing created”. The song closes unexpectedly with a gorgeous muted trumpet solo played by none other than Nas’ own father Olu Dara, which makes the perfect addition to the wistful, night-drive mood. “Time is illmatic, keep static like wool fabric”.
Such an absolute honour to be noticed by you, mars!
310. Beyoncé feat. Jack White - Don’t Hurt Yourself
One of the towering highlights of Beyoncé’s best album Lemonade, an album which demonstrates the best versatility of Beyonce’s music and singing, and in the spooked backing vocals that dip in after those 2 keyboard chords trickle in the right and left channel respectively, and the uneasy tension in the “When The Levee Breaks” sampled drum beat and sparse bass line makes you feel like your anxiously walking down a hallway and feeling a bit unbalanced on the way, resulting in the most genuinely fearsome Beyoncė song from the go. Her lead vocal has a guitar-like distortion on it, and when the backing vocalise eerily rise into that E chord as she sings “You just gotta let it be, let it be” as the drums explode and take us to the Jack White-sung chorus (also credited with playing the bass on this song). I imagined his presence as a well-respected rock star on the song drove Beyoncé to unleash an previously-unheard rock firepower in her voice, who gives the most viscerally angry vocal in her discography in her screaming of “WHO THE FUCK DO YOU THINK I AM!” before the 2nd chorus. As always, People On The Internet were outraged by this song receiving a Grammy nomination for Best Rock Performance, but with the muscle of the rhythm section, a Jack White feature and that vocal, it more than earned it.
309. The Beatles - Eleanor Rigby
A career landmark in a career with no shortage of them, and in a rare case of a Beatles single also being an album track (on 1966’s Revolver, paired with arguably the album’s most divisive song in “Yellow Submarine” for the single). Eschewing rock instrumentation for a string quartet arranged by Geroge Martin, and setting the standard for how strings on pop songs are used (When talking about the making of the OK Computer song “Climbing Up the Walls” Jonny Greenwood claimed “I got very excited at the prospect of doing string parts that didn’t sound like “Elanor Rigby”, which is what all string parts have sounded like for the past 30 years”). The the way the ominous staccato rhythm continues even in sections where it’s blanketed in legato lines that feels like a continued tick of time passing in a way that people sometimes feel at their most isolated and alone. I love how Tom Ewing described them in his Popular entry for the single (“tense and fussy... the strings bring to mind sewing, or sweeping the steps, one of those little daily things you do unthinking, or instead of thinking. They also sound a little like a horror film soundtrack”). Paul McCartney sings an impeccable as ever lead melody, alternating between the Dorian and Aeolian modes as the chord changes from Em to C (“Eleanor Rigby, Picks up the rice in the church where a wedding has been, lives in a dream”), giving glimpses of her and the song’s other character Father McKenzie’s lonely lives (“Look at him working, darning his socks in the night when there’s nobody there, what does he care?” for the latter). Note the way he reaches into a higher falsetto note in the 2nd half of the chorus 9“All the lonely people, where do they all belong?”) with the harmonised refrain “Ah, look at all the lonely people” echoing around it in the song’s ending. Giving the lonely people their own drama, and bringing unprecedented emotional depths to pop music in the process.
Eleanor Rigby Died in a church and was buried along with her name Nobody Came Father McKenzie Wiping the dirt from his hands as he walks from the grave No-one was saved
308. Roxy Music - Virginia Plain
One of the all-time greatest career debut singles, not just for the band, but also for Brian Eno, who after playing synthesisers on their first 2 albums before leaving, who go on the be a pioneer of ambient music (I like Music For Airports a lot but I didn’t find it’s tracks compatible for this kind of list) and producing seminal albums for David Bowie, Talking Heads and U2, which have songs I’ve already written about on this list so far. This was the first single he’d ever been involved in to be released in 1972 and reaching #4 on the UK singles chart. He plays a VCS3 synthesiser which pulses throughout the verses and plays highlighted moment like the zippy descending line after the first verse and the squelchy arpeggios in between band hits in the breakdown driving the song to its final verse. But this song is a whole display of colours form the band, from Bryan Ferry’ s shimmering piano and distorted bass notes from Rik Kenton in the song’s intro that sound like a fanfare to a new era of music, to the oboe from Andy Mackay that wavers in the high-range like a singing bird in the verses and his saxophone’s solos which compete with Phil Manzanera’s guitar. Check out the part at 1:18 where the bass guitar plays a pronounced and reverberated descending line while the sax reaches a screeching high note, and the recording of a motorcycle of all things at 1:41. Bryan Ferry delivers his verses with a casual stylishness that feels in-between singing and speech, sounding melodic almost as if it were by accident, and without a chorus to return to. His vibrato in “We are flying down to Riooooooo” and his lyrical imagery in lines like “Flavours of the mountain steamline, midnight blue casino floors, dance the cha-cha through till sunrise, open up exclusive doors oh wow!” keep you captivated throughout the song until he finally drops the title in the last line at the abrupt ending “What’s her name, Virginia Plain”.
307. Pearl Jam - Black
One of the major hits of Ten that wasn’t ever released as a single, as Eddie Vedder considered it to personal to release as such (they were quick to become wary of the level of fame and visibility they had as they inadvertently rode the waves of the grunge phenomenon to become the biggest band in the US, especially after the exposure of the “Jeremy” video). And yet it’s become one of their biggest radio staples anyhow. Bringing the power ballad into the grunge world was a move that Pearl Jam were perhaps the best-equipped to do, being the most steeped in classic rock of the big 4 of the scene. The veres carry a warm and romantic atmosphere helped by the Stevie Ray Vaughan-esque guitar flourishes and the Hammond organ played by producer Rick Parashar, as Eddie Vedder sings of reminiscing his former love (“Sheets of empty canvas under sheets of clay, were laid spread out before me as her body once did”) and in classic Vedder fashion makes an unusual emphasis in the following line “All five horizons revolved a-round her soul as the Earth to the sun”. But the key change in the pre-chorus met with ominous clouds of distorted guitar as he sings “And all I taught her was everythiiiiiing” signal the sadness now felt in the present. The melodic fragment of the chorus line “And now my bitter hands chafe beneath the clouds of what was everything” is backed by a piano line, foreshadowing its use in the coda after Vedder’s singing becomes more powerful and dramatic (“I know you will be star in somebody else’s sky but why, why whyyyyyyy can’t it be, can’t it beeeee miiiiiiiiine?”) being played on Mike McCready’s lead guitar and being repeated in Vedder’s falsetto as the band play a building 3-chord cycle looping in on itself. My favourite part is at 4:48 when they skip the Em chord and return to the D major earlier as Vedder wordless vocal overdub reaches its anguished high note, incredibly powerful.
306. Sleater-Kinney - The Fox
I discovered this song after finding the official Spotify playlist for the Zootopia character Nick Wilde, of all things, though he is indeed a charming red fox. As the opener of their 2005 record The Woods you’re treated to their sheer raucous power as a rock band with explosively loud guitars bursting out of the gate with a heavy, noisy chord progression and Carrie Brownstein’s scuzzing guitar line sliding chromatically up the fretboards and sounding like an approaching tornado. Corin Tucker plays some uneasy, dissonant chords in the verses and showcases her commanding vibrato as she belts “Laaaaaaaaaaand ho!” and those high notes in the choruses with impressive physical power (“OH FOOOOX! Is this loooove?”). The muscular drums of Janet Weiss are in full force too, amassing as much noise as the guitars with her stampeding drum fills like the one midway through the second verse and in the bridge which push the guitars and Tucker’s vocals to put even more energy into their performances, the latter basically screaming her words with maximum ferocity. Although I’ve got a lot of Sleater-Kinney left to explore, songs like these exemplify just how unbelievably visceral their sheer sound as a rock band can be.
The second track of the impeccable A-side of The B-52’s debut, and one that really exemplifies their seriously underrated strengths as a rock band with perhaps their most conventionally punkish song, one which has even been covered by The Offspring. Ricky Wilson brings the 3-chord progressions to life with his rhythm guitar track which, despite (or rather, because of) being light on distortion, he makes sound potently jagged with his strumming rhythm for each chord, with a countering guitar track played by Kate Pierson. With no vocals from Fred Schnider this time, Pierson and Cindy WIlson sing in tandem a list of women’s names (though not as many as the song advertises - only 23 girls!), playing around with the syllables by stretching some out long and quickly singing through others (“Effie, Maaaaaaaadge, Mabel, Biiiiiiiddiiiiie”) to say nothing of the stretching of “Phoebe and Jaaaaaaaaack, Jackie ohhhhhhhhhh-ohhh-ohhh-ohhh”, and the playful singing technique is also used in the pre-chorus (“Theeeeeeese are the giiiiiiiiiirls of the… U!... S!... Aaaaaaay!”). Keith Strickland’s drums keep up a frenetic pace while maintaining a surprisingly complex kick drum pattern, his riff added in the chorus as Pierson and WIlson’s vocals split into a harmony (“Can you nay, nay-aaaame, nay-aaaaaaay-aaaaaame name them today!”) is a perfect build and release of tension throughout, as are the riffs added in the final verse (“Betty and Brenda *dun* *du-dun* *da*... Suzie and Anita *dun* *du-dun* *da*”). My favourite part of the song however is the final 20 seconds, where a little keyboard hook is introduced and Ricky Wilson’s guitar gets even more rugged, slicing between his power chords and muted scratches and leaving on an unresolved chord away from the root. Both an instantly-enjoyable novelty and a piece of post-punk of the highest order with hooks for days.
304. My Bloody Valentine - Blown A Wish
One of the many heavenly tracks on My Bloody Valentine’s 1991 shoegaze masterpiece Loveless, an album whose immersively lush treatment of electric guitars matches the mood of its iconic album cover perfectly (a bunch of photos of a guitar being strummed back and forth blurred on top of each other and soaked pink filter), perhaps more so than any other album. And this song is one of the most heavenly sounding tracks on it. Kevin Shield’s gliding, glistening reverb of his chords creates a dreamy atmosphere reminiscent of the Cocteau Twins before them, and the layered vocals of Bilinda Butcher with the “ooh ooh”s appearing and disappearing behind the hazy layer in the music for the chorus along with the backing falsetto “ooh” in the verses (and the final one they add in the outro is wonderful too!). Her lead vocal in the verses is so distant but close enough to vaguely discern the lyrics (as is common on Loveless) to make her feel like a mystical presence like a voice arriving in a dream and making the intimacy of her words “Midnight wish blow me a kiss, I’ll blow one to you” sound enchanting despite their relative simplicity. T bit in the verses where they turn out of the diatonic chords in E major to a G chord, (“Make like this, try to pretend it’s true”) is a wonderfully colourful touch, as are the warping synth keyboard samples they add to the chorus to enhance the wash of sound.
303. Green Day - Longview
As some know, Green Day’s name comes from a term used when someone spends an entire day stoned on cannabis (there’s even a song called “Green Day” on their 1990 debut album 39/Smooth that includes a recording of someone lighting a bong in the opening). No strangers to drugs, Mike Dirnt’s iconic bass line for “Longview” - my vote for the best bass line of 90s rock - was initially written while high, though instead of weed this time he was tripping on acid, and tried to recall it to the best of his memory the day after. Yet regardless of whether or not it was what he initially came up with, it remains just an incredibly bouncy and playful series of notes that complements Tré Cool’s swinging floor-tom drum beat perfectly. The chilled-out vibe of the verses gets interrupted by Billie Joe Armstrong’s machine-gunned power chords for the massive chorus where he gives the greatest lyrical ode to masturbation I’ve heard so far (“Bite my lip and close my eyes, take me away to paradise”). Mike Dirnt’s bass keeps developing over the song’s run with another bass line emerging after the choruses and creating more movement in the bridge where the energy builds up with Armstrong’s pause in his singing of “No time for a motivation, smoking my inspir… aaaaaation! Huh!” releasing into another round of the thrashing power chords. The guitar line that plays in the coda as the song fades out is a perfect final touch, almost sweet sounding in how it reaches its highest note (I love how there’s a subtle overdub for just that note in the mix) as it closes a song about boredom and masturbation.
302. Missy Elliot feat. Ludacris - One Minute Man
In which I follow up one of the great songs about masturbation with one of the great songs about premature ejaculation, as its Wikipedia page informs me very matter-of-factly about (“Incorporating elements of oriental music, the song deals with premature ejaculation” - "A sentence" - Daniel09). Admittedly the extent of such subject matter in the song is more or less contained in the title as used in the chorus hook (“Break me off, show me what you got, ‘cause I don’t want no one minute man”) yet it’s still such a devastating blow to the insecurities that fuel so much male sexual bravado in music, and a testament to her ability to assert sexual dominance over men in an industry almost always going in the opposite direction. Ludacris’ verse plays off of this dynamic brilliantly, who’s taken to her challenge to prove he’s worthy (“It’s time to set your clock back ‘bout as long as you can, I stop daylight, it’s Ludacris the maintenance man”) plus his delivery of “They so wet that they body started leaking and shit” always makes me laugh. And to boot, Timbaland gives one of the most mesmerising productions in a career with tons of mesmerising productions (though it incorporates considerably less amounts of “oriental music” than a lot of his other work at the time did). The way the bass line and acoustic guitar track accentuate the off-beat creates a off-kitler strut to its rhythm (also dig the muted guitar scratches added in there too) and the addition of Missy Elliott’s vocalisations (“shhhha oooh”) just enhances the carnality of the song even more. All that however is just a foundation for a series of increasingly weirder synth riffs that still sound like they’ve arrived from 50 years into the future, turning the song into feeling like a piece of avant-garde electronica.
301. Sonic Youth - Schizophrenia
Opener of the Youth’s 1987 record Sister, one of their defining albums in the ‘80s and their predecessor to their most acclaimed album, the already-discussed-on-here Daydream Nation. It showcases the growth the band has made in terms of songwriting from their earliest no wave days, with the opening drum beat being both relaxing and in motion at the same time and the guitar chord progression that follows being so much calmer than a song with that title from this band would initially seem. Thurston Moore sings in a low and dejected voice a melody that’s genuinely pretty despite the delivery and incredibly sad, and perfect for the lyrics that describe a surreal and depressing experience of mental health in both the subject and narrator:
I went away to see an old friend of mine His sister came over she was out of her mind She said Jesus had a twin who knew nothing about sin She was laughing like crazy at the trouble I'm in Her light eyes were dancing, she is insane Her brother says she's just a bitch with a golden chain She keeps coming closer saying "I can feel it in my bones Schizophrenia is taking me home"
As he finishes the verse with his voice at his most deflated, we’re taken to an instrumental section of guitars getting darker and more brooding until they change to a new motif of sweet and delicate harmonics over Steve Shelly’s rolls on the floor tom, and Kim Gordon gives a verse that feels like a reply to Moore’s verse with the opening mantra “My future is static, it’s already had it” and concluding with “I had a dream and it split the scene, but I got a hunch and it’s coming back for me”. Then the band coil up their energy again while still staying incredibly delicate with the guitar melody bigging again on harmonics, and as Shelly’s drums pick up a pace, they release the tension in the final minute in a genuinely slow and relaxing coda where the guitars go in and out of sounding pretty and dissonant. Listen to Lee Ronaldo bending his low D string up and down under Thurston’s diminished riff and how it scoops down to its lowest pitch as the song ends. Last edited:
Opener of the most beloved album from this enchanting Scottish dream pop act Treasure, one aptly named album if there ever was one. The enchanting and otherworldly vocals of Elizabeth Fraiser, who sings pretty but mystical melodies to words that are picked from different languages past and present and combined as if they are forming their own new indecipherable language. And fittingly, the music feels otherworldly too. The cavernous drum beat with the compressed snare that gives a metallic boom, the sturdily strummed acoustic guitar chords, the electric guitar line playing in the chorus and the hiccuping voice that pops in between Fraiser’s phrase which sounds like an unusual animal making its call. Her lead vocal goes into a high falsetto in the verses but changes to a chest voice for the chorus which brings out the gaelic accent in her voice, which is further brought out in the bridge between the 2nd chorus and 3rd verse, with the chiming glockenspiel adding more atmosphere to the track. And the instrumental bridge near the end where the electric guitar rouchens up and picks away at those notes as the drums and cymbals become louder and more explosive is masterful.
299. Nirvana - Heart-Shaped Box
Lead single of In Utero and introducing the world into the darker sound of that album. With its brooding riff who’s chord progression remains one of the most distinctive in 90s rock, Kurt Cobain gives some of his most intimate sets of lyrics, invoking both his and Courtney Love’s star sings in his wordplay (“She eyes me like a Pisces when I am weak”, I wish I could eat your Cancer when you turn black”) and who’s title-dropping line “I’ve been locked inside your heart-shaped box for weeks” that’s such a sad line about a romantic relationship. He depicts his sensitivity in the 2nd verse with the line “Cut myself of angel hair and baby’s breath” and delivers those anguished yells in the thrilling loud chorus which are matched with the bends in his guitar riff (“Hey! Wait! I’ve got a new complaint!”). Grohl and Novoselic bring a sturdy backing to Cobain’s guitar and vocals during the verses, with the latter’s bass copying the riff in its down-tuned, murky tone, and the former’s lurching drums tempering itself with snare rimshots over the final chord of each line. And after they crash into the loud choruses, they drive its momentum further as they rock harder as Cobain repeats “your advice” over those 2 chords. And the fuzzy, brief guitar solo is a welcome touch too. Although I’m don’t mythologise Cobain in the way many rock fans and journalists do, songs like these exemplify what made him such a fascinating rock frontman.
298. Arcade Fire - Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)
The third of an Arcade Fire tradition during their zenith period - an anthemic banger placed as the 2nd-to-last track on is respective album, and a pivotal one introducing the dance-rock stylings they would explore on Reflektor. While that album marks the most noticeable start to the backlash that would intensify with the disappointing Everything Now album (I still love the first singles on Reflektor (as evidenced by my prior entry on the title track) and enjoy a fair amount of the rest of it but there are criticisms of it I agree with) this song remains a towering high point of the band’s career. Many comparisons to Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” have been made, and that’s noticeable enough in the similar chord progression, high-pitched melody sung this time by Regine Chassangé, and synth-laden instrumentation, but Arcade Fire’s song is less disco-ey and more muscular, building like their anthemic rockers in the classic U2/Brian Eno way - start loud and get louder (in the words of LimedIBagels). With fat-toned synth bass and an acoustic guitar mixed into the chord progression, Chassangé sings of being alienated by the working life as an artist:
They heard me singing and they told me to stop Quit these pretentious things and just punch the clock These days my life it feels it has no purpose But late at night the feelings swim to the surface
And as she sings the first “sprawl” to close out the verse, a glittering range of tones enter the synths with the crashing cymbal creating a subtle swell as they enter the chorus. It’s line “Living in the sprawl, dead shopping malls rise like mountains beyond mountains and there’s no end in sight” is one of the most powerful lyrics about the era of late-period capitalism we’ve been living in this century. The second verse sees new synth arpeggios join the mix as Regine sings romantic memories (“We rode our bikes to the nearest park, sat under the swings, we kissed in the dark”), and like “Heart of Glass” goes through some varied time signatures matched by drum fills that gives the song a more physical drive to it. Then there’s the decaying strings that are glistened over by glossy synths which take the track into a temporary key change before returning to its final verse, the way Regine sings “Sometimes I wonder if the world’s so small!” with more physical power with each succeeding verse; and the strikes of electric guitar that enter for the coda alongside triplet-running drum machine tones making for a grand end to the crescendo before it fades out. An open-armed quest to find beauty, art and colour in a world that tried to suppress it, and one of the many examples of how Arcade Fire were able to create such an communal reach in indie rock.
297. Ariana Grande - Breathin
Although “Thank You, Next” and “No Tears Left to Cry” tend to be the songs used to summarise Ariana Grande’s status as a pop star who’s overcome a lot of personal struggles while in the limelight, but I think this remains perhaps the most sincere and moving song she’s ever done. Entering the song after a calm, underwatery synth arpeggio, she sings “Some days things just take way to much of my energy” with a despondency that’s accentuates in the spaced-out syllables of “I look up and the whole room’s spin-ning”. The vulnerability in her words and voice make it feel like someone is confiding their anxieties and fears (“Feel my blood running, swear the sky’s falling, how do I know if this shit’s fabricated?”) with someone they trust and love deeply. And that chorus feels so intimate in how it reminds itself and the listener of the most basic thing to do in situations that take us into fight-or-flight mode. I love the pause at the start of those later choruses that leave her voice briefly a-capella to accentuate the vulnerability before crashing back in behind her (as Todd in the Shadows puts it, “When that beat drops it feels like the world shakes”), and the massive synth solo that flashes like a strobe light while she builds the momentum of the track alongside it with her “m-my my air” hook. I hear this played a lot at my work, where we used to have the pop music station TV channel but then had to switch to a repeated loop of music videos when it closed (to make matters worse, Maroon 5’s “Girls Like You” is one of the videos in said loop), and yet this song has helped me get through plenty a difficult shift when it plays, and I’ve yet to get sick of it. “You remind me of a time, when things weren’t so complicated, all I need is to see your face” - what a heartfelt thing to sing!
296. The Police - Synchronicity I
My favourite song from The Police, opening the album of the same name with a fast-paced sequenced marimba that bears a clear influence from Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians, one of my favourite pieces of classical music. While Synchronicity does suffer a bit from the diminished role of the band as a collective force (resulting in some labelling the album as Sting-chronicity), here Stewart Copeland’s drums keep up at a frenetic pace in 6/4 to match the motion of the marimba sequence and Sting’s bass. Stacked harmonies of Sting sing the cryptic and intriguing lyrics “With one breath, with one flow, you will know Syn-chro-ni-ci-ty, a sleep trance, a dream dance, a shared romance, Syn-chro-ni-ci-ty”. Andy Summer brings chiming chords to the chorus as the chord rises from Cm to Fm and two sets of harmonised vocals start responding to each other in the left and right and overlapping each other as the prior line’s last vowel is held onto: “A connecting principaaaaaaaal!, (Linked to the invisibaaaaaaal!) Almost imperceptibaaaaaaal! (Something inexpressibaaaaaaal!)”. It builds so much power and tension in this change of key for the chorus, that when they change to an Am after the second and third choruses it feel incredibly cathartic, especially after the last chorus (love that bit at 1:57, when the drums feel like they’ve deliberately stumbled for a bit but that leads into some powerful hits to lead it out) where the harmonies rise up after the chord changes. By then Andy Summers has brought in a guitar line from the final verse, and the layered Stings repeat “SYN! CHRO! NI! CI! TY!” emphasising every syllable with equal gusto. Summers adds some crisp, chiming touches to Sting’s bass riff for the coda, closing out one of the exhilarating album openers of the ‘80s.
It’s at this part of the list where I admit to being way behind on Stevie Wonder’s discography. I’ve been meaning to dive into his zenith period in the ‘70s, but couldn’t do so in time for this list. So for now here’s the biggest hit and most obvious choice for a best-of-all-time list to represent him here. The song may be the definitive piece of funk music in the public consciousness, and rightly so. Once that crisp drum beat starts it’s pretty much impossible not to move to it, and that riff played on the Hohner Clavinet that feels like a chicken scratch guitar that backs Wonder’s instantly-identifiable melody. The clav riffs are met with counterpoint lines played on horns and doubled up on the and bass taking the funkiness to new levels. And those drum fills Stevie plays to build the tension in the chorus are amazing, leading to the big descending horn lines as the song returns to its groove. The very definition of effortless cool. Now off to discover the rest of Talking Book.
294. Aretha Franklin - Oh Me Oh My (I’m A Fool For You Baby)
The phenomenal opener to Franklin’s phenomenal Young, Gifted and Black. Originally a blue-eyed soul ballad from Lulu from 1969, her version slows the tempo and builds a gradual but utterly majestic crescendo of immaculate instrumentation. From the piano opening where every note feels placed perfectly (much like Jeff Buckley’s guitar playing, Aretha Franklin’s piano playing was a talent remarkable enough in its own right that ended up becoming underrated due to the power of their singing). A light touch of guitar is added during her first verse, and the backing vocals enter as she resolves from that tension-building yet still romantic sounding Gb chord as the drums stealthily build into the next verse. The strings then follow in that verse as she sings “And although I ain’t got no tune, my show ain’t gonna fly” (ironic for how tuneful the song has already been). An organ declares itself at the start of the chorus where the bass becomes more rhythmically active and the backing vocals make dreamy echoes of Aretha’s lines, reaching the end of the chord progression with the longing “C’mon let your love light shiiiiiiiine on me (shiiiiiiiine oooon meee)”. There’s the glorious responses from the strings in the next verse from the slide up to a high-note after “We’ll blow a genie from a cigarette” and the mystical trills that follow “And then we’ll take a magic carpet ride”. But the build-up in the final minute as the guitar revs up on that tenser chord with the hi-hat, for 3 repeated round of that line as the strings and vocals expand upon them, pushes the song over the edge and makes the final chorus an incredible release of unbridled joy with Aretha’s powerful voice climaxing with the music perfectly.
293. Gorillaz feat. Del the Funky Homosapien - Clint Eastwood
One of the signature songs of this virtual band that would be one of the most idiosyncratic acts in pop in the 2000s (I admittedly only know the singles well, so apologies for obvious choices). Bursting through the gate with those iconic cymbal crashes, the beat’s groove is paired with an ominous but streetwise keyboard riff and countering bass, and the project’s creator Damn Albarn gives an instantly-memorable chorus with both a slacker attitude in his singing and lines (“I ain’t happy, I’m feeling glad” “I’m useless but not for long”) while still feeling foreboding as it ends with “The future is coming on”. This song’s MC is one our community met again during the Logo game in 1992 with his hit “Mistadobalina” and he gives off some excellent verses that feel effortlessly cool in his delivery while creating the feeling of a surreal presence fitting for its narrative (I don’t know anything about the character’s storylines btw, and think the musical qualities alone are enough to sell it without some nerdy genre-fic analysis) with the opening lines “Finally, someone let me out of my cage, now time for me is nothing ‘cause I’m counting no age, nah I couldn’t be there, you shouldn’t be scared” and the internal-rhyming “Intangible, bet you didn’t think so I command you to”. The second verse is just hooks galore from “Rhythm, you have it or you don’t - that’s a fallacy” and “For me as a guide, y’all can hear me now ‘cause you don’t see with your eyes, you perceive with your mind” and the lamenting to capitalism in “I see destruction and demise, corruption in disguise from this fuckin’ enterprise, now I’m sucked into your lies” to the whispered “No squealing, remember - that it’s all in your head” to end it. The track builds with his verses, adding a more ominous low piano note on the 1 beat and ascending synth-string lines that feel have a looming surrealness to them as well, and the harmonica that sounds very much like it could be from the score of a movie by the song’s title! It captures a dystopian image of life in the late-capitalist 21st Century that would only go on to be further demonstrated on an even bigger hit to come.
292. Rihanna - Umbrella
I still remember where I was when I first heard this song. I was 11 years old and listening to one of the country’s Top 40 station’s nightly top 20, they deviated from the list to premiere a new song they had just added to their playlist, and it was this. Although Rihanna had already been established as a star (“Pon De Replay” and “SOS” were favourite singles of mine in my earliest years with pop music), but even my age at the time I felt that this was gonna be bigger than normal. And it was, being number one everywhere for weeks and finishing 2007 as the biggest single of the year on my country’s end-of-year chart, and elevating Rihanna from star to superstar status. It’s not hard to see why, as “Umbrella” marked the first time she mattered as a pop vocalist with the iconic “ella ella aye” hook in the post-chorus marking the utilising the unique qualities of her Barbadian accent into wordless hooks that would go on to become of the most distinctive vocal stylings of pop music in the 21st century. But it wasn’t just there, there’s also the way she picks up slightly in pitch at the end of the first 2 lines of the verses then balances it in the next 2 with her melodic cadence (Jay-Z’s opening verse is widely seen as unnecessary, but him phoning it in at the beginning kind of helps make Rihanna’s newfound charisma all the more apparent by making us forget it ever happened). And the production, helmed by songwriters The Dream and Tricky Stewart was one of a kind! Nothing else sounded like the massive drum heat with that hi-hat bursting on the first beat despite it being sourced from GarageBand of all things (“Vintage Funk Kit 03”) slowed down to 90 bpm. The beat combined with the deep buzz of the distorted bass guitar gives the track an unusually rock-influenced edge, the latter also making the perfect counterpoint to the treble-range synths that do indeed have a rainy-day feel to them. I even like the brief glimmer of sunshine in the bridge which on its own is pretty generically 2000s r&b yet serves as the perfect bit of relief before it crashes back into that F chord before the final chorus as Rihanna’s singing becomes more impassioned (“I’ll be all you need and mooooooooooooore-OOOOOOOOOOORE BECAUSE!”). And notice the way the final chorus’ chord changes are ever-so-slightly more dramatic than the earlier ones, making it feel like there’s more at stake and making the promise of undying friendship all the more urgent.
291. Taylor Swift - Blank Space
One of the most arresting moments in Taylor Swift’s transformation from a teenage country star to the biggest force in all of pop music which was making its completion with 1989. While songs about critics and haters had already been established in her oevre even before the album’s lead single “Shake It Off” (side note, but people who use the less-serious lyrical content songs of hers like that one to discredit all merit from her music are fucking embarrassing, especially since SIO is a damn great song too, melodically and sonically), this song took things evern further and took her negative image in the tabloids (getting into Swift’s music during the Red era when people would insinuate that she dated men solely to monetise the break-up by writing a song about it was a distasteful experience to put it mildly) and satirised it in a way few pop stars have ever done (it funnily enough bears a parellel to some of Kanye West’s self-mokery in bits of Twisted Fantasy and Yeezus!). Weirdly enough, however is that her ability to do it so well here would not be repeated, with disappointing and even flat-out embarrassing singles trying to make her image darker and play into her celebrity feuds (“Bad Blood” - still can’t believe she promoted the worst song on her otherwise near-perfect album so much! And of course “Look What You Made Me Do” and similar themed songs on Reputation).
I guess the difference here is that she’s not wasting energy on the petty and pointless stuff of celeb drama (i.e. most of it) but something genuinely unfair and sexist in her portrayal in the media, and that her songwriting talents are clearly here too. The way she balances a rhythmic one-not cadence (“nice to, meet you, where you’ve, been”) with a melodically expansive hook to counterpoint it in the verses (“I could show you incredible things”) and the dichotomy of lines like the chorus’ “So it’s gonna be forever or it’s gonna go down in flames” or the second verse’s excellent “Rose, garden, filled with, thorns” and just how well she conveys the humour and ridiculousness of it all in her singing especially in the “Got a long list of ex-lover who’ll tell you I’m insane” or the snarky spoken-word “Darling I’m a nightmare dressed like a daydream” (If you listen closely to the end of the 2nd verse you can almost hear her on the verge of cracking into laughter but maintaining it just well enough). There’s also the ways she enhances the melody in the chorus with the “mmm” added in the middle of lines and the reverberated backing vocal that accentuates “‘Cause I know your love the players, and you(!) love(!) the(!) game(!)” in an almost anthemic way; and the backing music itself which creates so much space within the airy synth chime and the booming drum beat with the occasional addition of acoustic guitar feeling like a ray of sunlight into the mix. Becoming self-aware was the final thing needed to achieve before conquering the world. Last edited:
Few songs make me feel as cheerful and teary as this song does. Of course a lot of that is due to the real-life context of Kanye’s mother passing away 2 years after this song was released on the Late Registration album, how much of an impact her death had on him, and how beautiful it is that she got to hear it while she was alive. With such a sweet melody helped like the “la-la-la-la” sample (from “Today Won’t Come Again” by Donal Leace) which is harmonised by chirpy pitched-up versions of itself and a distorted vocal line countering it; the chord progression with it colourful use of a major II chord; the wonderful “aaaaaaaah-ow!” he adds while singing the chorus and heartfelt lyrics that are undeniably a bit saccharine yet are so sincerely and proudly expressed (“Maya Angelou, Nikki Giovanni, turn one page and there’s my mommy!” - worth noting that Donda West was a phenomenal woman who broke the colour barrier in academic departments as an English teacher), it’s hard not to smile while trying to hold ‘em back simultaneously. And it’s helped by the beautiful details in the production. Listen to how the drums sound like they’re being played on sheets of tin (Kanye’s knack for drums that feel physically real isn’t just for his louder rock-inspired stuff), the glimmering chords of synthesised xylophone that have feel like they’re from a music box, and my favourite addition at 3:14 in the synths that share the tone of analog synths but flow as if they were being bowed like string instruments, really bringing a new meaning to “synth strings”.
His performance of this song at the Grammy awards on February 10th 2008 (https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x4c7hf), only 3 months after his mother’s passing, is still one of my favourite TV performances ever, from an artist with no shortage of those. The lyric he adds to the song in this performance “Last night I saw you in my dreams, now I can’t wait to go to sleep” and just how tearful he sounds rapping “As we knelt on the kitchen floor I said “Mommy I’ma love you ‘till you don’t hurt no more, and when I’m older, you ain’t gonna work no more”” makes it one of the most beautifully sad performances of music history. I’ve never been able to watch it with dry eyes.
289. Aphex Twin - 4
Opener of Richard D. James (ranked by RYM reviewer LimedIBagels as the best album of the ‘90s) and making a perfect introduction to the album’s sonic palette. The elastic snare oscillating between a fast rattle and a skipped skitter gives the track a forward-moving pulse while being surrounded by synth strings that blur the line between sounding artificial and feeling organic while playing wonderful melodies over each other. The counterpoint by the synth bass line first heard 22 second in is a welcome addition too, and the melody is primarily carried by a bird-like synth that feels like it’s navigating around the drums and strings to find its own melodic cadence around them. I love the way the drums stumble on themselves when the main melodic phrase nears its end, making it feel like the time signature has suddenly changed. The part at 1:33 when you can hear Richard James himself say “yeah” as the beat comes to immediately reboot itself for another round summarises the way this song reflects the digital curiosity felt in the beginning of the internet era at the time of this album’s release.
288. Janet Jackson - Rhythm Nation
The jewel of Janet’s 1989 record Rhythm Nation 1814, updating the communal funk of Sly & the Family Stone into the late ‘80s with a massive industrialised beat that never stops slamming with a jagged guitar riff, squiggly synth lines and distorted Public Enemy-esque sounds mixed in with it. And the awesome intro that’s described perfectly here by marsbars: “That’s one of the greatest intros to any popular song ever: the punctuated “Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah” followed by a split-second squeal that nabs your attention; the panned command for you to get off your feet to dance, again punctuated; the drumroll immediately after that doesn’t launch directly into the groove as you’d think; the sly call back to “Nasty” and that second drumroll. They accomplish so much – building up so much anticipation – in just 12 seconds, such that when the groove hits, it hits so hard.”. Janet matches the massive groove with a commanding vocal that makes the lyrics feel like a genuine call-to-action for a political revolution. Listen to the part where she goes into some brief acapella harmonies in the 2nd verse (“It’s time to give a damn, let’s come together”), her assertive “Say it!” in the choruses before the rallying mantra of “We are a part of a rhythm nation” from the backing vocals which she adds some fantastic ad-libs over the top of, and how high she gets singing the bridge. A musical and lyrical mood that feels more urgent now than ever.
287. Paramore - Future
Another genre that I couldn’t have imagined Paramore pulling off before 2013 that they do here amazingly at the end of their self-titled: post-rock. Opening with a delicate acoustic guitar figure playing over a metronome that along with the band member’s dialogue, feels like a demo being recorded on a device. It forms an intimate and very close-sounding tracks that’s fit for Hayley Williams’ calm and wistful melody while contemplating the future and hoping for things to improve. Listen to the dreamy synthesisers that colour in the mix and give a night sky-gazing atmosphere to the track, and the wordless melody lines Williams adds in-between verses and the wavering on “You’ll get away from here, you get away ev-eh-eh-entually” that’s soundtracked many nights of my late adolescence wondering where my life would lead me after I finished high school. Taylor York’s acoustic guitar chords get cloaked in more layers of reverb 3 minutes in when a monstrous stoner metal/post-rock hybridised riff blasted out in full force by the band gradually mixes into the track like it’s coming from another room until it takes over completely, forming more waves of raucous dystortion and pounding drums as its lead guitar melody scrapes over the top like it’s bravely storming forward into an uncertain future. The band carry the rest of the song in this mode with a fake fade-out that resurges into a fade-in with the lead guitar scraping to higher and higher notes until it finishes its soloing in an anguished scream. Listening to this song 2020 and it captures the feelings I’ve had of wondering what the fate of the world will be after this year’s US elections and beyond - anxious and fearful but also determined and empowered to survive it.
286. R.E.M. - Moral Kiosk
One of the most arresting songs of Murmur that represents the unique chemistry R.E.M. had as a band in their early years. The opening guitar riff sets a rhythmic propulsion in its chunky chords that is carried by the drum beat and the accented hits of percussion between vocal lines (listen to how clear and precise they sound!), and Mike Mills’ countering bassline played in those breaks too. And a chorus where Michael Stipe and Mike Mills’ vocals playing off each other with Stipe’s words (“Inside(!) cold(!) dark(!) fire(!) twilight(!)”) punching through Mill’s “ooh-oh”s; while Bill Berry’s drums start propulsing further on the toms and Peter Buck’s guitar chords keep pushing along with it. The individual components from each band member are so exceptionally tied together without there being a clear lead instrument resulting in a dense landscape where the booming percussion, vocal parts and guitar chords all filling in pace around each other. Also listen to the harmonies and chords they play after the second chorus before they return to the opening guitar riff, and the way Stipes slowly raises his voice in the next bridge before the final chorus wordlessly, bringing more tension as the guitar jangles higher and the bass turns murkier. “Scratch the scandals in the twilight, she was laughing like a Horae”.
Released as the second single of Public Enemy’s 1990 masterpiece Fear of a Black Planet. In the context of that album it comes on after an interlude which took actual complaints made on conservative radio about the band that enrage you with their thinly-veiled racism (The first guy who begins saying “I saw them open up for the Beastie Boys last year” makes me shudder to think of the white people I knew growing up who wouldn’t respect rap music unless it was Eminem (or god forbid Macklemore). Fittingly, its lyrics are a vicious response to the band’s media controversy at the time (although the racist smearing was unjest, they also had to fire the band’s researcher Professor Griff after anti-semitic remarks in an interview with the Washington Post). Opening with a funky horn riff synched with bass and drums (sampled from T.S. Monk’s “Bon Bon Vie”) before unleashing an unstoppable beat with a synth that sounds like an alarm in a sci-fi movie going off with vocal samples (dig that rallying “would you join me please in welcome-in-ing!”) and record scratches surrounding it (“This is a journey through sound” - yes indeed). Chuck D proves again why he’s one of the best rappers at hooks and pitch shifting from the opening line (“I got so much trouble on my mind re-fuse to lose!”) and provides some great internal rhymes in “Laser, anaesthesia, maze ya/Ways to blaze your brain and train ya/The way I’m livin’, forgiven, what I’m givin’ up”. And in the 2nd verse he addresses the controversy of his former band member that remain perhaps his most controversial bars:
Crucifixion ain’t no fiction So-called chosen frozen Apologies made to whoever pleases Still, they got me like Jesus
As the song progresses you get scraps of funky guitar bends that move over a funky drum break after the third verse. And the choruses utilise a wary sustaining of vocal vibrato as Flavor Flav provides hype-man hooks (“Come on down!”). And the final verse sustains the momentum with Chuck’s emphasising of “Watcha do, get your head ready/Instead of getting physically sweaty” and “Controllin’! Fear of high rollin’!” standing out as hooks and reaching the refrain for the chorus at the end in “Move as a team, never move alone - but welcome to the terrordome!” which summarised the revolutionary energy of Public Enemy as succinctly as any other lyric of theirs. Preaching the message over commanding music: “I don’t smile in the line of fire, I go wildin’/but it’s on bass and drums, even violins”.
284. Prince - If I Was Your Girlfriend
One of many incredible songs from Prince’s 1987 sprawling masterpiece Sign “O” the Times, which is my favourite album of his, my favourite double album of any kind so far, and my favourite album of the entire 1980s. This song is also perhaps Prince’s most unique expression of gender and sexuality, imagining himself as to what kind of intimacy he’d have with his partner if he were a platonic female friend instead. With his voice pitched-up to that of a more feminine-sounding timbre (meant to be of an alter-ego called “Camille” used elsewhere on the album) a perfect-crafted-as-usual drum machine track and a pretty but melancholic synth-string line, he years “If I was your girlfriend, would you remember to tell me all the things you forgot when I was your man?”. He seeks small aspects of platonic intimacy he finds elusive in their own relationship with “Would you let me dress you? I mean help pick out your clothes before we go out” before adding “Not that you’re helpless but sometimes those are the things that being in love’s about” which leads to “If I was your one and only friend, would you run to me if somebody hurt you? Even if that somebody was me?”. Along with the Camille voice singing lead, he also pitches his voice lower for countering vocal lines like chorus refrain or the super-exaggerated “That would be so fine” at the end of the bridge under the lead melody.
Being Prince, the song doesn’t stay platonic all the way through, and the spoken outro sees him become more suggestive (“I mean, we don’t need to make children to make love, and we don’t have to make love to have an orgasm”) while still continuing the song’s theme of imagining more comfortable intimacy (“Listen, for you naked I would dance a ballet, would that get you off? Then tell me what will! If I was your girlfriend, would you tell me?”). A stirring synth builds tension throughout the coda getting higher and more frantic as he gets more and more explicit, peaking as he says “I’ll do it so good I swear I’ll drink every ounce and then I’ll hold you tight and hold you long and together we’ll stare into silence!”
283. The Angels - My Boyfriend’s Back
In which a girl group from the ‘60s sing what is perhaps the most lyrically sadistic song to reach #1 on the Hot 100. They play with and against their name with the cheerful “Hey laaaa, hey laaaa my boyfriend’s back!” refrain which call and respond to utterly vicious threats from lead singer Peggy Santiglia to the song’s subject for spreading rumours of her having an affair with him after she rejected him, and how her boyfriend will beat the shit out of him. Some jaw-dropping moments include the 2nd verse’s “You’re gonna be sorry you were ever born… ‘cause he’s kinda biiiiiiig and he’s awful strong!” or the “Yeah! He knows I wasn’t cheating! Now you’re gonna get a beating!” in the following bridge, or even just the smirking delivery of “Now he’s back and things will be fine” before the first quoted line. There’s the powerful drums from Gary Chester under those bridges with the machine-gunned hits of snare and the horn lines that declare themselves more as the song goes on but still feel like they’ve come out of nowhere in the final bridge. What’s also remarkable is how surprisingly raw the recording is, even for the early ‘60s. And the recording was indeed initially intended as a demo for The Shirelles (the closeness of the handclaps also brings out the stark quality even if they might annoy a little). But I think for a song with this kind of attitude, it suits it quite well.
282. Frank Ocean - Thinkin’ ‘Bout You
“A tornado flew around my room before you came, excuse the mess it made, it usually doesn’t rain in Southern California” is surely one the great opening lyrics of any album from the past decade, and here it humbly opens channel ORANGE after a simple string line, backed by watery swelling synth chords and an echoing drum machine that creates a musical space as close and intimate as a real bedroom. He shifts between staccato and legato as he sings “My eyes don’t shed tears but boy they pour when…” leading into the hook-filled pre-chorus (“Thinkin’ ‘bout you, you know know know”) and the pleading “Do ya? Do ya?” before he leaps into that beautiful, graceful falsetto in the chorus where even the little echo added in the pause feels just right (“Or do you not think so far… ahead? (...ahead) ‘Cause I’ve been thinkin’ ‘bout forever”). I love the way he tries to be standoffish in the 2nd verses after baring his soul in that chorus with the obviously untrue boasting (“Got a beach house I could sell you in Idaho” - a landlocked state, y’see), the I’m-definitely-not-admittig-feelings of “Since you I think I don’t love you, I just thought you were cute, that’s why I kissed you” and ultimately calling his own bluff in the double entendre “Got a fighter jet, I don’t get to fly it though, I’m lying down” which only makes him more charming, and the confessional pleaing of the chorus and bridge all the more moving (“You were my first time, a new feel” - not even particularly poetic but it kills me). One of the greatest songs about love and heartbreak, and my favourite Frank Ocean song: “We’ll go down this road ‘till it turns from colour to black and white”.
281. Portishead - Numb
Although “Sour Times” and “Glory Box” are more well-known singles from Portishead’s 1994 trip-top landmark Dummy, this song was actually released as a single before either of them. It was a pretty bold choice for a lead single if you ask me, as this may be one of the scariest sounding songs on an album that’s pretty unnerving even in its most accessible moments. The organ track conveys enough night-time eeriness on its own with its twitchy echoes in the verses and the ominous swell of those chords in the chorus. The muted bass and looming drum beat with its filtered snare bring out the same atmosphere, along with the alien-esque synth arpeggios mixed with the chorus chords and scratched samples scattered throughout. Beth Gibbons vocals are some of her most haunting on an album with plenty of haunting vocals with the way she shifts and holds on to the vowel in the chorus line “‘Cause the child rose’s li-eeeeeeeght” evoking a very weird and unusual mood, and simple lines in the verses like “I’m ever so lost, I can’t find my way” and “I can’t understand myself anymore” sounding genuinely unnerving. And the way she reaches her higher register in the coda has a truly mystical quality to it. As dark and creepy as its parent album’s cover.
Lead single and opening track of the band’s 1985 sophomore Songs From the Big Chair, showcasing the band’s ambition and musical muscle which few could rival in the new wave scene. It keeps building and building over the course of its six and a half minutes with its growing instrumental mass. From the fat synth bass and industrial percussion in the opening chorus to the voice-like synthesisers in the first verse which trade off with the bass and guitar in a solo section 3 minutes in, to the organ that joins the mix just before that section and the addition of ringing guitar chords and a live drum kit in the chorus after it, with fills that keep driving the onward march of the song forward along with the guitar solo introduced 4 and a half minutes in. All the while that massive mantra of a chorus keeps getting bigger and bigger (dig the way Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith change up the melody a little bit while remaining in unison in the chorus before the guitar solo comes in “These are the things I could do with-out, coooooome on!”). Great music for going on long walks to, feeling like there’s a growing storm around you as you walk.
279. My Chemical Romance - Welcome to the Black Parade
And now we get to the band who I was going to see live on their reunion tour next week before the global pandemic forced all public mass gatherings to be cancelled (on the plus side, it may give me a lot of time to complete this list). It’s a shame, because I find the way this band’s belovedness from my generation has only grown in the time since their initial disbandment quite wonderful. I’ve heard the sound and aesthetic of MCR summarised as “Queen Day” and this song - their biggest and best single - is the perfect distillation of that, a exuberantly theatrical and operatic pop-punk bomb that’s equal parts “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Basket Case”. With a pop-punkified Pachelbel’s Canon chord progression and grandiose multi-tracked vocal harmonies galore and that instantly-recognisable piano melody to kick it all off. The guitars play Brian May style lead lines in the intro and add some neat harmonics in the verses in between the power chords, while drummer Bob Bryar plays Tré Cool-style drum fills throughout (like the one played in the second half of every chorus). And that marching band snare continuing after the colossal finale, continuing for a little bit longer before the final boom - fantastic!
But more than anything else, I find it remarkable just how joyous and uplifting this song’s sentiment is. At the time of their peak in popularity, MCR were tied inextricably with the “emo” culture of the 2000s, and a lot of people shittly dismissed their music on that association, which was so preposterous given how unabashedly fun and even intentionally humourous this band often was. Sure there’s the melodramatic fixation on death for which the Black Parade album’s concept is based around, but the actual lyrics here celebrate the will to live and the human desire to memoralise people after they pass away as the immortal chorus says: “And though you’re dead and gone, believe me your memory will carry on”. The resilience of the bridge mantras (“Do or die, you’ll never make me, because the world will never take my heart”) make the key change that follows feel that much more powerful. And I think that’s a big reason why the band’s cult following has carried on (pun intended) for so long after their cultural dominance. Giving a cheer for all the broken. From the second best Rob Cavallo-produced pop punk rock opera of the mid 2000s.
278. The Cure - Lovesong
Much like some other beloved artists in my list like Stevie Wonder, I’ve still got a lot of Cure on my listen-to list (which is frankly inexcusable as someone who loves 80s alternative rock as much as I do, though I’ve also got to get around to The Replacements at some point too) and have represented them on this list entirely by one of their biggest radio staples and what was their highest charting hit the US. But nonetheless this song is a perfectly crafted pop music who’s key instrumental components do their job perfectly, from the quiet and intimate organ and understated bass countermelodies to the little guitar riff and the icy lines of synthesised plucked strings that create an atmosphere much more sombre than a song of its title would imply. And Robert Smith sings his declarations of love in a despondent voice, as if his relationship provides a comfort that is completely missing elsewhere in his life. It really sells the simple lyrical structures of “Whenever I’m alone with you, you make me feel like I am home/whole/young/fun again” for the verses and “However far away/long I stay, I will always love you” for the choruses.
277. Neutral Milk Hotel - King of Carrot Flowers
Opening In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, with an iconic strum-along riff mic'd up close. Jeff Mangum sings in a faux-celtic accent an instantly singable melody with lyrics that depict him following in love with vivid imagery (“When you were young you were the king of carrot flowers, and how you built a tower tumbling through the trees, in holy rattlesnakes that fell around your feet”) and a contrast of violent and disturbing imagery of his love’s fighting parents with the most wonderful lyric about losing your virginity that I’ve ever heard: “And your mom would stick a fork right into daddy’s shoulder, and dad would throw the garbage all across the floor, as we would lay and learn what each other’s bodies were for”. As he finishes that line he’s joined by a warm organ (or organ-like instrument - I’m not exactly sure what it is) which harmonically expands until Mangum’s voice soars at the end of the second verse (“Each one a little more than he could dare to tryyyyyyyy!”) holding onto the last word and forming a wonderful melodic cadence to repeat on its final vowel.
And that’s just the first part, its own standalone track! The hum of the organ continues across to the beginning of the track for the song’s 2nd and 3rd. And over a little arpeggio from an electric banjo Magnum loudly proclaims “I love you Jesus Christ!” which is sold with maximum conviction even if it could come across as ridiculous. And then suddenly Jeff Mangum’s guitar blows up into speaker-blowing distortion as Jeremy Barnes announces himself on the drums. And with a triumphant trumpet and winding echo noise joining them as they build in tension, Mangum and Barnes pummel through their chords and frenetic drum fills as Mangum sings more verses with continued surreal images in “I will float until I learn how to swim, inside my mother in a garbage bin” and drawing out the final vowel for its own melodic hook for each verse like the end of part 1. Combined, they make a mini-epic of their own.
276. Sinead O’Connor - Nothing Compares 2 U
The widely-known and widely-beloved rendition of a lost Prince song by this Irish singer who’s second most widely known piece of media was her still-incredible denouncement of The Pope on SNL. Originally released on the self-titled debut of Prince’s side project The Family in 1985, though the original demo from a year earlier was released as a single in 2018, 2 years after his tragic death. And although the original is a great lost Prince gem, with the same cinematic bombast in its arrangement that defined Purple Rain, I still find this cover to be the definitive version. The switch to a gentler backing track of floral chords of bowed strings was a good move, and the way the “oh oh oh oh” vocal line which is given a lot of weight in Prince’s original - being copied as a riff - lightly wavers over the top of the strings was a brilliant interpolation of that motif. But the vocal performance from O’Connor herself is a true class of its own. Where Prince’s (and The Family’s for that matter) vocal on the original stays in the same mode of expression glum heartbreak, O’Connor stretches the range of moods expressed in the words in a way that gives nearly every line its own distinct sentiment. She adds a false veneer of joy that quickly fades away to hopelessness in “I could put my arms around every boy I see… but they’d only remind me of you”, and the anger at “I went to the doctor and GUESS what he told me!” and the almost snarky quoting in “Girl, you better try and have fun no matter what you do” followed by that dismissive “but he’s a fool” which enhance the grief expressed in the song, along with that bitter embellishment at the end of “I know that living with you baby was sometimes hard, but I’m willing to give it another tryy-yyyyy-yyyy”. And the way she breaks from conventional phrasing by zig-zagging the syllable emphasis in the chorus hook “no-thing compares” and the way she tries to merge 2 syllable into one in the following “tooyou!” that’s left melodically suspended and unresolved is a masterful transformation of the refrain, repeating itself in the coda growing sadder and more desperate. Last edited:
The signature song for both the band and arguably the trip-hop genre as a whole, with every element evoking the relaxed, meditative atmosphere perfectly. The opening drum beat pulses like a ticking heartbeat and the vinyl static it’s mixed with creates a warmth to the track as if you were cosying up to a nearby fireplace. Then the harpsichord riff slowly fades its way to the foreground before those deep, sonorous piano chords follow, crementing a distinctly cinematic atmosphere in the track, to saying nothing of the spacey echoes scattered around the track. Notice the barely-declared basslines under the track that makes the song feel woozy even if you don’t immediately notice it.
And now for something I didn’t know about this song until today: the lead vocal on this song is by the lead vocalist of the Cocteau Twins (the band responsible for #300 on my list) Elizabeth Fraser! Her unique accent and melody is utterly perfect for this music. Somehow capable of being comforting or haunting to me personally depending on my mood (the video definitely helps the latter feeling). Her opening line in print “Love, love is a verb, love is a doing word” which may look silly written down, but sung feel enchanting and ambiguous enough in her enunciation they could be heard as other things entirely. I would have never picked out “Feathers on my breath”, but given how intimate the song feels, hearing it as it plays now sounds a lot more seductive to me from looking it up. And the simple image in the chorus line “Teardrop on the fire” that couples with the prior line becomes an unusually powerful image.
Other details that emerge after the vocals start are the stirring synth lines that become increasingly underwatery and fill up more space in the arrangement. The way they play off the piano chords becomes a truly immersive counterpoint and when they build up to that G chord as Fraser sings the final refrain “You’re stumbling in the ark” it creates an incredibly suspenseful build up of tension before being reduced back to the opening beat and static. It rebuilds the track back up for a bit to calm the tension in its final minute, and finishes on a very relaxing final F chord.
274. The Flaming Lips - Race For the Prize
Few opening seconds to a song are as instantaneously arresting and captivating as this opener for the Lips’ 1999 landmark The Soft Bulletin: a short countdown from someone in the studio and then suddenly the massive BA-DUM-BA of the drums bursts the song open and unleashes the synth riff that will be one of the most cheerful and joyous things you will ever hear, bending in pitch like a guitar lick and toned almost like birdsong. With childlike keyboard chords also in the mix, Wayne Coyne sings of 2 scientists trying to find a cure for an unnamed disease that will save humanity (a very topical list entry in the current global situation, this), and with some neat little guitar arpeggios that play under the answering lines in the verses (“Both of them side-by-side, so determined”), he brings a warm optimism that’s reflected in the song’s exuberant arrangement, singing the sweet refrain “Theirs is to win, if it kills them, they’re just humans with wives and children” for the chorus before the drums explode again in their raw, trash-can banging energy and the riff returns being joined by more layered lines of wordless falsetto vocals. A sonorous piece of psychedelic pop that also rocks with immense physical power.
273. Eurythmics - Sweet Dreams (Are Made of Theses)
Everyone has their widely-played classic hits of which they can no longer stand to listen to due to public overexposure, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this song is one of those for a lot of people, given that it seems to be played on an hourly basis to this day on oldies radio. But I’ve never gotten tired of it, and still regard it as one of the most unique synthpop hits of the ‘80s. The synth riff is indelible with the fluctuations of volume between each note creating the feeling that it’s fading in and out simultaneously. And the lead melody from Annie Lennox is equally as indelible and sells the sinister mood of the lyrics “Some of them want to use you, some of them want to get use by you, some of them want to abuse you, some of them want to be abused” which some artists have tried to milk in their cover versions that try to make the song sound darker by slowing it down (hello Marilyn Manson) that misses the way this song puts you in motion while also evoking both the glossy sheen and underlying dread that defined its decade. The passages between the verses with Lennox’s ghostly falsetto over chords of layered vocal harmonies seeping in and out further the underlying dread, and the synth lead that makes a brief solo of sorts in the middle of the song is neat too. But my favourite moment in the song is the heavily reverberated melisma at 2:32 behind the penultimate chorus as the synth riff drops out briefly, both soulful yet with a primal anguish to it at the same time.
272. Dizzee Rascal - Fix Up, Look Sharp
The biggest hit of Dizzee’s 2003 debut and grime milestone Boy In Da Corner, immediately arresting you from his opening “OOOOOOOOI!” and introducing its massive drum beat that bridges the gap between the skeletal beats of The Neptunes at the time and the rock-influenced beat that Jay-Z rapped “99 Problems” over that same year from the other side of the Atlantic. A sample of “The Big Beat” by Billy Squier, with the opening vocal hook entering the track after Dizzee delivers a potent chorus of his own with his pitch inflections on the lines “Fix up, look sharp! Don’t make me get the blitz out, get dark! Hear the bang, see the spark!”; and the drum track gets accented by perfectly-timed “whooo!”s, handclaps and a countering drum riff played over the top at certain moments. Dizzee’s commanding voice as shown above in the chorus runs through his verses, turning out memorable lines galore from “Being a celebrity don’t mean shit to me, fuck the glitz and glamour hit ‘em with the Blitz and Blamour” (funny hearing him saying this as a 17 year-old in 2003 knowing what he’d end up becoming at the end of the decade), “Flushing MC’s down the loo, if you don’t belive me, bring your posse bring your crew”, “I stay sweet as a nut, sweet like Tropicana, when the hammer hits your head splits like ba-nar-nar”, “I’m old school like Happy Shopper, I fight old school bring your bat and your chopper” among many others. And I dig the echoing applied to the track in the final minute, which make the beat feel like it's simultaneously building up and winding down.
271. U2 - Mysterious Ways
One of the biggest singles and radio staples from Achtung Baby in which the band discover some newfound funkiness with Adam Clayton’s bass line (as common as it is in U2 discourse to make fun of Clayton’s anonymity within the band’s sound, he’s still got a decent arsenal of great bass lines) and The Edge’s chunky guitar chords that remains far and away the best sounding envelope filter I’ve ever heard, swallowing each chord in a synthesised sweep (I’ve still yet to come across an effects unit that can recreate that sound halfway as good… I guess I still haven’t found what I’m looking for *ducks*) over the album’s most dense and layered dance beat. And while the lyrics include the kind of barely-hidden sexual innuendos rampant throughout the album, mixed with religion here (“If you wanna kiss the sky, better learn how to kneel - on your knees boy!”), at its core “Mysterious Ways” is actually a song about living without sex or romance and the loneliness in the opening line “Johnny take a walk with your sister the moon, let her pale light in to fill up your room” is a lot more poignant than it initially sounds. And while the bridge is also excellent with the way those synth strings are struck over that F chord and the funky guitar scratch that’s used as a brief solo for just the right amount of time, it’s the choruses that are the biggest gem here. The “It’s alright, it’s alright, alllriiight” refrain gathers more surrounding harmonies with each passing chorus until it feels like a gospel vamp by the final one, and from there Bono adds more R&B-influenced ad-libs that build upon the groove and hooks into something exhilarating, concluding on a final mantra “Lift my days! Light up my nights!”, damn right.
This performance of this song from their Live in Sydney concert film from the ZOO TV tour (If I could get one rock concert from history I wasn’t old enough to experience it’d be on that tour) (link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bR6_8DFpotc) is one of my favourite moments in the show! Bono takes off his Fly shades and the band share the stage with a belly dancer, being projected through the giant TV screens (even nearly 30 years later, that tour looks like a technological marvel!). There are some charming moments like when Bono and Edge share the mic for the final chorus, and there’s an extended coda with an awesome slide guitar solo from Edge while Bono’s vocal riffing as he interacts with the belly dancer that I often reach for when seeking the song out. Last edited:
The opener of this beloved cult alt-new-wave act’s 1978 album Drums And Wires that gave an anthem for all the Nigels and friends of people named Nigel. Terry Chambers gives us an amazing drum riff with the 8th notes on the floor tom and the syncopated accents on the hi-hat before the snare (also note the flanging effect added to it in the opening measure before the band comes in, and with a well-placed synth handclap that doubles up the cymbal crash in the verses and making it sound more explosive. With jittery post-punk guitars, a bass revving on the same 8th note pace of the floor tom and a quirky tune about Nigel’s hopeful future in the British Steel industry enhanced by even quirkier additional hooks bounced off by the backing vocals. From the falsetto “ooh” added to every line in the verses to the one at the end of the chorus which mimics the accompanying guitar line to the bellowed “In his world” in the bridge, but my favourite parts are the super-high-pitched falsetto lines that takes the final verses in the coda to a higher level. And with Colin Moulding repeating “Nigel” over and over for the final 30 seconds, the song provides a never-ending barrage of hooks for days. Was covered by Robbie Williams in a 1997 B-side to “Old Before I Die” who’s version sounds a bit like Placebo of all things.
269. Lauryn Hill - Doo Wop (That Thing)
The amazing leadoff single from Hill’s 1998 hip-hop-meets-neo-soul blockbuster The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, and a song that merges the sensibilities of R&B music in the ‘90s with that of the ‘60s as effortlessly as its music video demonstrates. As great and timeless as those choruses are, with the way she embellishes in the repeating of “that thing, that thing, that thi-i-i-ing” and the harmonies stacking on the words “watch out” and “about” beforehand, I love sections adjacent to them - with the big chord grooves on the bass and horns it with the drums adding those propulsive hits and the vocals bouncing off those “yeah yeah” hooks off it - just as much. Like many vocalists who exchange between rapping and singing, Lauryn’s rapping in the verses contain a melodic flow in her lines, while being backed by plinkering 8th-note piano chords in a high register with the lower piano notes trading of with the sparse but fluid bass guitar in the low end of the mix. She blends the vowels at the end of every line in the first verse to ease the rhymes while keeping you following her lines of “Talking out your neck sayin’ your a Christian, a Muslim sleeping with the jinn(/gin), now that was the sin that did Jezebel in” somehow defying the preachy conservatism in the content and making promiscuity sound like a spiritual journey; and then repeats “How you gon’ win when you ain’t right within’?” at the end of the 2nd verse to make it a memorable hook in its own right. Second best Hot 100 #1 of the ‘90s.
268. The Beatles - Penny Lane
The Paul McCartney-helmed half of what is often cited as the best pair of A-sides ever released as a single (certainly an obvious answer but an undeniably true one). With one of the most colourful and cinematic arrangements of any #1 hit I’ve ever heard, it really does feel like you’re walking through an old English town and absorbing all the sights around you, as its chorus hook says (“Penny Lane is in my ears and in my eyes”), bringing all the images of barbers and bankers to life as if you were passing them on a walk. With the bouncing rhythm begging on a gorgeous bass line countering McCartney’s flawless melody and stacks of chords from woodwind instruments that passes to the piano when the chords get darker, with RIngo Starr’s perfectly placed hi-hats beneath it at that point. Listen to the flute answering the end of Paul’s melody before it resolves itself at 0:15, and the triumphant horns that echo his chorus lines, and the use of the handbell that sounds like there’s a small shop right beside you! John Lennon’s harmony during the second half is as clear as the blue suburban skies he’s singing of, and the way it modulates back down to a tenser chord (“In summer, meanwhile back”) makes the key change for its final chorus feel not just earned but necessary. The oboe that doubles the melody and the final cheerful trumpet lines in that chorus are just the icing on the cake.
267. Danny Brown - Ain’t It Funny
A nightmarish banger from Danny Brown’s 2016 opus Atrocity Exhibition, an album with a fair supply of nightmarish bangers at that. Instantly blaring its heady swarm of ominous synthesisers to the low frequency swell of the bass and drum beat that starts to build a very lurching pace with a horn that throws you off balance with its timing in relation to the beat. And Danny Brown demonstrates his unique knack for being simultaneously funny and scary in his rapping to a standard only matched last decade by Kanye West circa Yeezus. The sheer tone of his voice evokes a bug-eyed grin that indicates that someone’s decadent impulses are turning self-destructive to an alarming degree, and he sells weird boasts like “Locksmith of hip-hop, appraisal the wrist watch, the rocks ‘bout the size as the teeth in Chris Rock’s mouth” and makes the refrain “Ain’t it funny how it happens? Who ever would would imagine? That joke’s on you but Satan the one laughing!” and the way he repeats the first question in that line for the chorus hook in a more desperate voice all the more harrowing. “Staring in the devil face/But ya can’t stop laughing”.
266. M.I.A - Paper Planes
The breakout single from her 2007 sophomore Kala that became one of the most critically beloved and culturally unifying hits of the 2000s, cracking the top 5 of the US Hot 100 while also making the top 20 in the mainstream, rhythmic and alt-rock radio panels. With a sample of The Clash’s “Straight to Hell” turned into something spacier with the high-pitched guitar scraping across the sky, sounding like a bird’s call as it bends its pitch over the choppy chords echoing beneath it. M.I.A. sings about the vulgar stereotypes of immigrants with an almost child-like melody which she gets what sounds like a group of kids to sing alongside the sounds of gunshots and cash registers in the ever-attention-grabbing chorus in the vein of Kanye West’s “We Don’t Care”. The dark humour that runs throughout the song from the aforementioned chorus to the bridge (“I’ve got more records than the KGB, so uh, no funny buisness” followed by the creepily cheerful way she sings “Some some some a some I murder, some a some I let go”) also carries a defiance to it, where the absurdity of the fearmongering she and many others have faced is met with the pride that comes in succeeding in a country hostile to your existence (“Everyone’s a winner, we’re making that fame, bonafide hustler making my name”) while still lamenting the bleakness of the situation (“We pack and deliver like UPS trucks, already going to hell just pumping that gas”). Last edited:
Kicking off the second half of Daydream Nation with a song who’s title brings the song’s singer Lee Ronaldo’s influence from Joni Mitchell to the forefront. The guitar hum of the opening 20 seconds joined by the sounds of birds feels like the dawn of a sunny day that’s suddenly changes gears into the charging blizzard of guitars alternating between, muted scratches and tangled arpeggios (listen to the delicate arpeggios of harmonics Thurston Moore first plays after the first verse) and Kim Gordon’s surging bass while Ronaldo calls out to Joni to break from the constraints of time and embrace the present (“These times can’t add up, your life is such a mess, forget the past and just say yes”) and turns to more surreal imagery as he describes her in the 4th verse:
Shots ring out from the center of an empty field Joni's in the tall grass She's a beautiful mental jukebox A sailboat explosion A snap of electric whip crack She's not thinking about the future She's not spinning her wheels She doesn't think at all about the past She's thinking long and hard about that wild sound And wondering, will it last?
The breakdown after that verse where Thurston introduces a new riff and Steve Shelly sends his snare charging down with it while Ronaldo’s guitar colis up into a frantic tremolo pick and brings a new melody atop of it, all leading up to his visceral delivery of “My head burns but I know you’ll speak the truth! HEY!” is an utterly thrilling section that makes for one of the most exhilarating moments on Daydream Nation. And as the song carries out its outro, Ronaldo says a bunch of random years in a non-linear order (“It’s 1963, it’s 1964, it’s 1957, it’s 1962”) throwing them into free-association. Put it all behind you.
264. Sugababes - Freak Like Me
One of the coolest backstories to a hit song ever: A young girl group having just been dropped by their label after only one album due it falling short of expected sales, along with losing and replacing a member due to internal conflict, gets enlisted by electronic producer Richard X to record the vocals of his bootleg mashup “We Don’t Give A Damn About Our Friends” which pairs the the original “Freak Like Me”’s vocal track from Adina Howard over the music of Tubeway Army’s “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?” in order to release the mashup commercially, and sends the band straight to #1 in the UK charts as the lead single of their 2002 sophomore Angels With Dirty Faces, helping rejuvenate British pop music along with the earlier-on-this-list Girls Aloud who were still publicly forming on the Popstars reality show. And yet even without knowing all the background behind it, this song has always been a thrill to listen to, and remains my favourite incarnation of either song involved in the mashup. The main synth riff gets buried under effects* and segues after some beeping and bubbling synths into the beefed-up drums which turn the riff into something that genuinely rocks, taken even further by the stabs of guitar chords that strike like jolts of electricity. And the way the melody plays off the new chord progression surrounding it, making lines like “If you are that kind of man, ‘cause I’m that kind of girl” sound that much sexier as the riff goes to the lower chord. And the coda that’s led out of the second chorus from Heidi Range’s “It’s all good for me!” sounds triumphant as hell and the way they bring back the pre-chorus lines over the top of it is a perfect way to end the track*
*Both of these details are specific to the album version, which I prefer slightly to the other mix you hear in the song’s YouTube video, though both slap anyhow.
263. Arcade Fire - No Cars Go
The second of Arcade Fire’s Penultimate Track Anthems - this one from Neon Bible - and perhaps the song that exemplifies their signature method or creating sweeping anthems with a constantly crescendoing instrumental mass, from the album that arguably utilises their multi-instrumental lineup to the fullest extent. Lyrically simple, with the group telling you of a place where no cars, planes, ships, spaceships or submarines go that exists “Between the flick of the light and the start of the dream” though ironically Jeremy Gara’s drums with his snare runs make me feel like I’m on a long drive there through the mainland. With a grand melody line played in unison from the strings, horns, organ, accordion and who knows what else and the mass-shouted “Hey!”s that would become emulated on the pop charts 5 years after its album’s release thanks to some bands with an Arcade Fire-lite sound crossing over, Richard Parry doing his shimmering guitar lines in the high ranges and Win Butler's bass guitar revving underneath it all. The band bring in new attractions on the way - the bass line and the fluttering flutes at the 2 minute mark, and the brief chipper guitar solo from Parry at the 3 minute mark - until they prime their gears for the grand climax in the song’s final 2 minutes. With Gara’s drums picking up a bit of a gallop as they continue their charge on the snare, the band unify around yet another grand melody in their wordless vocals while the orchestral instrumentation gradually overpowers them in the mix, making for yet another cathartic-as-hell finale from the band.
262. Talking Heads - Burning Down The House
Opening Talking Heads’ 1983 record Speaking In Tongues with what would be their highest charting hit in the US and only top 10 hit and what may be their most immediately party-ready song ever. The short build up of those opening 20 seconds with the acoustic guitar fading in, airy synth that leaves you anticipating something big, a loud hit of a drum and then a building drum fill takes us to the massive chord strikes in the verses and David Byrne belting those hooks (“WATCH OUT!”) doubled up by a lower-octave harmony and stressing every syllable for maximum emphasis in “I’M! AN! OR! DI! NA! RY! GUY! - BURNING DOWN THE HOUSE!” utilising his eccentric vocal talents to their fullest effect (also love that “Fighting fire with fire - ahhh!” in the song’s bridges) while Chris Frantz follows the title-dropping hook with another big drum fill to bring the energy into the next verse. A squelchy synth enters the track 55 seconds in which gets its own solo moment a minute later where the verse that follows it just sounds extra massive (“MY HOUSE! Is out of the ordinary! THAT’S RIGHT! Don’t wanna hurt nobody!). After the final bridge the song goes back down to the pulsing synth bass and the airy synth lead from the opening, but with Frantz’s dums still brining the energy, the track builds itself back up in its final minute, keeping the momentum going as it fades.
But as fantastic as the studio version of this song is, the live version from Stop Making Sense - quite possibly the greatest concert film of all time - is even more amazing. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FBUe_v6Mi70) The arena-scale arrangement bolstered by the additional musicians just makes the energy even more contagious. I love the bit near the end where Byrne and guitarist Alex Weir start running on the spot together as the band jams out the final minute - that brings me the joys that come from playing music on stage with other people as any personal experience of doing just that.
261. Madonna - Express Yourself
This may be an unpopular opinion, but I find the album version to be the definitive version of this song, and I’m not actually as big on Like A Prayer compared to Madonna’s first 3 albums (another unpopular opinion?). I find a lot of its genre experiments have more varying levels of success even if a lot of it is admirable, compared to the more well executed diversity on True Blue. But this one is a big exception to the rule, thanks to how it translates the energy of her dance-pop numbers to more live instrumentation and still creates the rhythmic sweep felt on hits like “Into the Groove” and “Open Your Heart”. Opening with a fill from a live drum kit that gets into the driving groove (pun intended) of the song with joyous and juicy horns with a funky guitar scratch and a bass line that remains synthesised that doesn’t clash with the organic instrumentation. Madonna gives one of her most energised and visceral vocals, getting throatier in parts of the verses (“You deserve the best in life so if the time isn’t right then move on!” - and the organ backing her at that moment!) and the muscular “hey hey hey hey” in the post-choruses. I love the funky riff the band locks onto in the bridges how Madonna descends down the line “And when you're gone he might regret it” like it’s interweaving with it. And while I could’ve done without the low-register male voice at the end of the verses, it remains a passionate, empowering and humanising song.
The 4th of the band’s Penultimate Track Anthems, this time from Reflektor, and what seems to be the last universally beloved song the band wrote before the critical backlash started to emerge when the album dropped and intensified significantly with the disappointing and sometimes embarrassing Everything Now in 2017. It’s understandable that this song remains the most agreed-upon of its album, though, as it shows the band writing one of its most open-hearted anthems within the dance-rock stylings they were experimenting with. A song that tackles life and death and love and heartbreak all with such a simple line for its chorus: “Can we work it out if we scream and shout ‘till we work it out?” which could scan as cheesy yet is able to evoke so many different and contrasting emotions and situations - like a couple on the verge of breaking up, hoping that continued arguing will bring the passion needed to save it but going nowhere, or someone trying to find a greater meaning to life as they contemplate its end (“After all the breath and the dirt and the fires that burn”) and of those who remember you passing away too (“After all the hangers on are done hanging on in the deadlight of the afterglow”) only to realise that celebrating the time you are alive is the best you can do to give it meaning.
Musically, the song is easily the most rhythmically dense and danceable song on the album with its drum beat played across 2 kits from Jeremy Gara and Richard Reed Parry and the massive drum riff that comes in at the start of every chorus (“I’ve gotta know!”) I’ve read some critical reviews of the last 2 Arcade Fire albums that consider their drumming inadequate for the dance-rock style they’ve pursued, but this song is a huge exception to that criticism). The added congas, staccato keyboard chords that flicker like a disco ball, the sweet little “ooh ooh-oo-ohh” vocal hook that reappears throughout and even the vibrato effect on Tim Kingsbury’s guitar in the verses all add to the song’s irresistible, danceable groove, making the song all the more celebratory, urgent and bittersweet as it gathers more hooks in the later choruses (“But you say ‘ohhhhh-oh-oh-oh when love is gone where does it go?’”). And the way the drums transition into the coda on the off-beat and shift the kick drum and snare into a new rhythm makes for a wonderful payoff to the song’s building groove, with even Win Butler’s gasps of breath (something he often overdo’s elsewhere on Reflektor) playing off the snare rhythm by the end. Reflektor in its sound but Funeral in its spirit.
259. Augie March - One Crowded Hour
My introduction to this Australian classic came from a review I read from British RYM reviewer Iai (who for a non-Australian has some pretty good taste in Australian music) though it ended up resurfacing in one of the QLVG rounds I participated in. A true gem of lyrical storytelling set to a rousing chamber pop waltz, the delicate Jeff Buckley-esque guitar arpeggios supporting a melody that’s able to adapt to Glenn Richards’ long-worded lines where he describes being attracted to someone while being unsure if it’s attraction (“If love is a bolt from the blue then what is that bolt but a glorified screw? And that doesn’t hold nothing together”), with a quiet hush of choir vocals entering the mix in the first verse hinting at a grander climax to come as he transitions into the chorus with its grand melody where Richards tells of a transformative one night stand that would lead to heartbreak afterwards:
But for one crowded hour, you were the only one in the room And I sailed around all those bumps in the night to your beacon in the gloom I thought I had found my golden September in the middle of that purple June But one crowded hour would lead to my wreck and ruin
The band join in the second verse, the drums making a steady waltz and the piano and later organ adding more potency to the chord changes while Richards lands a reference to a nursery rhyme and pulls it off (“Now I know you like your boys who take their medicine, from the bowl of a silver spoon, who run away with the dish and scale the fish, by the silvery light of the moon”). Then that’s followed by the added distortion to the guitar in the bridge which plays a robust, jangly guitar solo after its build up of tension and a really cinematic organ line that responds to it (has a bit of a Disney-score feeling to it). The lyrics in the third and final verse (“They put me in a cage full of lions, I learned to speak lion, in fact I know the language well I picked it up while I was versing myself in the languages they speak in hell”) manage to feel like a stream-of-consciousness yet still so poetic at the same time, and sung so passionately as the song has built into something so much louder than it’s opening verse. And that loudness continues into the immense final choruses. The snare rolls David Williams brings on his drum kit (I have an irl best friend with the same name!) while hitter harder on the cymbals as the rest of the band plays more intensely creates an instrumental sweep en par with the best Arcade Fire songs from around the same time this was released.
258. Simon and Garfunkel - Baby Driver
One of the many Simon & Garfunkel songs I remember my mum playing a lot when I was younger, and this track of 1970’s Bridge Over Troubled Water was my favourite at that age and about decade later would be utilised at the end of one of the biggest movies of 2017 with the same name (great movie too, with a plethora of musical moments of course). This one’s got a swinging acoustic guitar rhythm (whose tangled solo at the beginning is also a highlight) and bass line with some rhythmically infectious stomps and handclaps for percussion. Paul Simon sings a sturdy melody with some Beach Boys-influenced harmonies with Art Garfunkel that juice up the first half of the chorus before the awesome way the chord progression descends chromatically as Simon belts “What’s my number?” followed by the flirty innuendo of “I wonder how your engines feel” and the brief line of scat from Garfunkel after that. I also love the instrumental interludes after the choruses, with the wordless falsetto harmonies after the first one and the loud and brassy horns after the second; and the way they mix in the sound of a race car driving into the song’s coda as it fades out. One of the great acoustic rock’n’roll songs. “I was born one dark grey morn with music coming in my ears” damn right.
257. Talking Heads - Psycho Killer
The signature song of the Head’s debut album from 1977, named after the band and its year of release, and is often the song of their most likely to show up in cover band setlists. It’s easy to see why, as the stark simplicity of the bass line - Tina Weymouth pioneering the addictively simple bass riff a decade before Kim Deal of the Pixies would carry the torch - the guitar chords which are still strummed in a uniquely Talking Heads way, and the simple drum beats that keeps stomping forward with those stark quarter notes on the hi-hat and snare. But there are some extra details in the bass like the figure he plays in the chorus and the descending line in the first half of the bridge. David Byrne showcases himself as one of the most unique vocalists in rock early on with how every line in the chorus is a ridiculous-yet-awesome, from the gratuitous French that would also be used by the Pixies to great effect a decade late (“Psycho Killer, Qu'est-ce que c'est”) and the following “Fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-far better”, and the hollered “Oh oh oh ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! Aye-ya-ya-ya ooh!” at the end. He sings in French again for the bridge where the chord progression becomes major-keyed and sees Byrne’s voice change to sounding triumphant before returning to the goofy yet slightly unhinged anger also felt in the second verse as he returns to English with “We are vain and we are blind! I hate people when they’re not polite!”. And to top it off the coda sees Jerry Harrison make some unusual bends with his whammy bar on his guitar, a great final touch for a very weird yet unforgettable hit song. Arguably the first alt-rock song to chart of the Hot 100 (in my inclusive definition of the word, anyway).
256. Faith No More - Epic
A question that has been asked by many of the great philosophers throughout history. From Socrates to Plato, Aristotle, Hegel, Kant, Marx, David Hume, John Stewart Mill, Freud, Michel Foucalt, Natalie Wynn, Oliver Thorn and of course Chidi Anagonye. What - in the final analysis - is it? And yet the most succinct answer of all came from none other than a band fronted by Mike Patton: “It’s It!” they shouted in unison as Patton continued to ask them the question in the post-chorus of their 1990 alt-metal crossover chart smash over a thrash-inspired guitar chug and blasts of the grand faux-organ keyboard from Roddy Bottum. In the verses over a funky one-note bass line Patton raps in the most ridiculous yet oddly charming voice I’ve heard in a hit song: “Can you see it? Feel it? Hear it today? If you can’t then it doesn’t matter anyway! You will never understand it but it happens too fast, and it feels so good it’s like walking on glass!” (I certainly don’t know anyone who thinks walking on glass feels good, sir) and proclaims in the monumental chorus “You want it all but you can’t have it, it’s in your face but you can’t grab it”. Guitarist Jon Hudson adds some more great touches to the song along the way, the riffage in the later verses and the chromatic, spidery line before the chorus, and the solo that wails like dramatic guitar solos from the late 80s often did, yet pulled off in a melodically potent way (also love the mini solo Billy Gould’s bass playing underneath the second half of it!) and the leady lines added after the final chorus as they repeat the “It’s it!/What is it?” hook to add more melodic hooks (dig the backing “yeah yeah yeah” from the chorus that gets repeated more in this section. And the piano solo the track slowly fades into finishes the song on an unusually poignant note. Such a knowingly ridiculous and silly song, yet so inventive and unique with its weirdness while being good on pop smarts hook-wise. Although this song is very well-loved on this site, I have had friends I’ve played this song to who’ve initially hated it (though I hope it’s grown on them nowadays) and while I obviously don’t agree, I can understand why it could be really obnoxious (and Mike Patton can certainly be an obnoxious musician at times). But it brings a personality rare in either alt-rock or metal and has only been close to emulated with System of a Down’s “Chop Suey” since. It is indeed - in the final analysis - it, and also one of the milestone chart hits of the early alt-rock era. Last edited:
255. Tears For Fears - Everybody Wants to Rule the World
Another one of the massive hits from Songs From the Big Chair and one of the most unabashedly tuneful hits of the ‘80s. The shuffling beat and chord progressions that enter after the opening guitar riff make a perfect backdrop for Curt Smith’s jovial, fluid melody, reaching into a falsetto for that high F# note before belting it stronger in the choruses. The song is chock full of other delights too, from the massive bridge that arrives after the second chorus with the loud guitar that turn its lyrics sung by both key band members together (“There's a room where the light won't find you, holding hands while the walls come tumbling down, when they do, I'll be right behind you”) into something genuinely empowering, to the wonderful vocal-synth melody line introduced at the 2:18 mark to the 2 wicked guitar solos. The first one a run of crisp harmonies, the second a flashier, rockier solo that ends the song with gusto, both as richly melodic as the main melody itself.
254. Smashing Pumpkins - Cherub Rock
Although we’re not yet at the greatest Smashing Pumpkins song, “Cherub Rock” is usually the first song I turn to when in need of a fix of their sound and the definitive Smashing Pumpkins rock song. The one that introduces firsthand the grunge-gaze walls of guitars that would define Siamese Dream. It arrives in those first 30 seconds - a pair of circus-style drum rolls give way to that humble, clean-sounding opening riff, the drums return to back it up, followed by the bass and then the distortion pedals hit all the guitar tracks and the whole thing suddenly becomes MASSIVE! (My favourite description of the sound of all those guitars has been RYMer LimedIBagels calling it “a swarm of bees on fire against a cyan sky”). It’s a sound both loud and ferocious but simultaneously lush and textured thanks to all the overdubbing.
That’s just the first 30 seconds. After the gates blow wide open the song’s real signature riff forms and Billy Corgan gives us those snarky quips at his former indier-than-thou peers: “stay cool, and be somebody’s fool this year” “hipsters unite, come alive for the big fight to rock for you!” and of course the big chorus “who wants honey? As long as there’s some money” but set to a fantastic tune. That guitar solo is also classic Corgan - every note bend, vibrato and squeal (love that one at 3:17!) sounds as enormous as the swarms of rhythm guitars behind it. And the way he sells those extensions to the later choruses - the “LET ME OUT!”s starting after the 2nd chorus while plowing through a new riff, and those lines after the guitar solo (“TELL ME ALL OF YOUR SECRETS!”)? Excellent. “Freak out, give in, doesn’t matter what you believe in”.
253. Eminem - Lose Yourself
I did admittedly feel a bit weird about including Eminem on this list. He’s what I’d call one of the worst great artists ever, in the sense that he has undeniably made some great music that deserves a place in the canon. But has also gone on the make some of the most horrendous music ever made from not even that far into his career (starting only 2 years after this song was released), and that the shock value appeal he’s had since the beginning (practically being what made him a star in the first place) along with being the biggest name in terms of commercial success of a black-originated genre of which a lot of people have been apprehensive about enjoying or even respecting (the fact that he was the first rapper who’s albums I properly listened to after having a shitty “rap is crap” phase in my early adolescence does make me a bit ashamed in retrospect, though one Kanye album in 2010 would help me to start undoing the injustice) has resulted in him having one of the most toxics fanbases of any artist in my lived social experiences. But I felt that since he’s still an artist I’ve grown up with and how I’ve given other acts I often dislike or resent spaces on the list, he can earn a few entries with some obvious picks.
And this enormous hit that everyone with the most basic knowledge of popular culture will know, is certainly an obvious pick at that. The first rap song to win the Academy Award for Best Song, and now something of an internet punchline thanks to a certain meme about one of its lyrics. There’s also the hilarious story in NZ where the National Party used a sound-alike track in their ad campaigns in 2014 that led to a lawsuit from Eminem’s publishers and ensuing court case that has its own Wikipedia article (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eight_Mile_Style_v_New_Zealand_National_Party). But no matter the oversaturation or in-jokes, it remains an exceptionally composed and potent track. The sombre piano in the intro mixed with the vinyl static gives a cinematic atmosphere to the song before the muted chug of the guitar riff that’s so simultaneously looming and empowering from the moment it starts playing. Those stabs of synth chords in the choruses feel like puffs of pyrotechnic smoke as they build upon the momentum from the riff. And Eminem’s performance atop it all, beyond all the quotable lyrics and vivid storytelling, remains one of the most momentum-building uses of a rapper’s rhythmic cadence. The way he increases the emphasis on his rhyming syllable throughout each verse creates an almost elastic movement to his words such as the second verse’s “Lonely roads god only knows he’s grown farther from home he’s no father, he goes home and barely knows his own daughter”. Most thrilling of all is the climax in the final verse as he gets faster midway through and builds more tension in his voice that keeps getting stronger and more as he returns to the anthemic cadence from before as he raps “Too much for me to wanna stay on one spot, another day of mo-not-ony’s gotten me to the point I’m like a snail, I’ve got to formulate a plot or end up in jail or shot, success is my only motherfucking option! failure’s not!”. Powerful stuff, and will remain so no matter how hateable most of the rest of Marshall Mathers’ output is.
252. Roxy Music - Do The Strand
“There’s a new sensation, a fabulous creation, a danceable solution to teenage revolution” begins this storming opener to Roxy Music’s 1973 masterpiece For Your Pleasure, with the piano and guitar revving up on that weird but grooving chord progression and a ripping roar on the saxophone filling in the gaps. Then the drums send the band plowing through the glam-stomp groove as Bryan Ferry continues to advertise this new dance craze “It’s the new way, that’s why we say Do The Strand”. The back and forth between the 2 sections continues as Ferry name-drops other famous dances (‘Tired of the tango? Fed up with fandango?”) and former kings of France in double entendres (“Louise Seize(/says) he prefer Laissez-faire le Stand”) until the band’s groove evolves into a chaotic stampede 1:18 in, with a descending chromatic bassline and a roaring lead line played on Phil Manzanera’s guitar (and I think also Brian Eno’s synth?) lasting for a whole minute until the breakdown where Ferry’s piano arpeggiations temper the chaos before going into another round of verses with Andy Mackay’s sax unleashing a wild screech at 3:28 after Ferry sings “Weary of the waltz? And mashed potato schmaltz?”. A decadent banger to end all decadent bangers.
251. The 1975 - Somebody Else
So many late night bus rides I had from my polytech where I studied for my music degree were spent listening to a passage from I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it that would always have me coming around to this song as it stopped by the train station, with the opening synth chords and vocal synth pad panning left and right sounding like the sparse streetlights beside me as I waited and looked at the surroundings, that it’s become an image that always springs to mind when I hear or even think about this song. That chorus line “I don’t want your body but I hate to think about you with somebody else” is such a perfectly precise articulation of a specific feeling of post-breakup grief that it barely needs more to it, though Matt Healy builds a damn fine chorus around it indeed (that airy cry of synth over the top of it is a perfect melancholic touch). I love the added digital vocal effects and samples used in the second verse from the short “I know” and the heavily bitcrushed echo of “c’mon baby” at the 2-minute mark that sounds like pixelated audio and the pitch-altered echo of “place” after the next line. Ditto the stuttering sample introduced in the bridge and the radiant guitar solo that follows it. An impressively detailed and layered synthpop track, and one of the band’s most deservingly beloved.
The other big UK #1 single from The Chem Bros’ Dig Your Own Hole (and their whole discography). Here they draw influences from the psychedelic realm of rock in what was perhaps the group’s distinguishing aspect in the late 90s rock-infused big beat electronica scene (Prodigy sourcing punk and Fatboy Slim sourcing surf for that song previously on this list). Updating The Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows” into the current era of rock and electronic music. That hypnotic and never-settling drumbeat becoming CRUSHINGLY LOUD and rocking harder than the hardest rock bands on the radio in 1996. The synths and sounds have the same trippiness as they did 30 years and an oscillating motion. There are screaming synth lines that sound like guitars turned into laser beams with a Whammy pedal (The Edge pulled off something similar on his guitar with the above effect and reverb on U2’s “Mofo” - a very Chemical Brothers-influenced song and possibly the only song on Pop worth keeping). Noel Gallagher, a known Beatles worshipper of course, sings an obscure Oasis demo track from their 1992 demo called “Comin’ On Strong” who’s melody fits the musical surroundings nicely. The way his voice soars over the track in the breakdown as he drops the title in “You’re showing your colooooooooour like a Setting Suuuuuuuuuuuuuun” like light travelling across the sky is followed by the overloaded oscillator that precede Ed O’ Brien ending “Karma Police” in a similar way with a delay effect. And the way the synths in the final 30 seconds alternate between sounding like glittering sprinkles and screeches of feedback is a fantastic final touch. The best thing Noel Gallagher has ever been involved in.
Pretty weird video too! Both funny and unnerving at the same time. I love the shot of the poster of the Jacques Tati film Les Vacances de M. Hulot (“Mr. Hulot’s Holiday”). And that’s just before the terrifying bit when the woman sees a clone of herself looking at her with a serial killer-esque glare.
249. Kanye West - Good Life
Graduation is the unfortunate contender for my least-favorite and least listened-to of Kanye West’s first 7 solo albums. I’m not gonna declare it his worst since I’m in need of re-evaluating it but it does contain some of his worst songs (notably frequent whipping-boy “Drunk And Hot Girls” and easily his most commercially overrated song ever until the awful “I Love It” in lead single “Stronger”). That said, there are still highs that can rank alongside his best songs, and this second single has always been the favourite. With the most late 2000s chorus feature in the form of T-Pain, this song defies the genericness of many late 2000s pop-rap hits. It’s an incredibly joyous and feel-good song with T-Pain sounding unexpectedly charming as he sings “Now throw your hands up in the skyyyy-yyy”, recites a line initially used in College Dropout cut “School Spirit” (“I’ma get on this TV I’ma, I’ma, I’ma put shit down”) and call-and-responds to Kanye’s “Ayyye”’s. Musically, West takes a sample from the coda of Michael Jackson’s “P.Y.T.” with the vocal synth chirping as cheerfully as in the original song and the bass slowed down and bolstered by fat synths into something buoyant. I love the squelchy synth lines added in the first half of chorus and the string line that’s joined by the synth bass at the chorus’ end and carries a bit of the orchestral grandeur from West’s previous album Late Registration. And as simple as his verses are here, the feel-good energy in him shouting out to all the major US cities (“It feel like NY, Summertime Chi”) and quoting a line from 50 Cent, the same rapper he’d end up beating to #1 that year on the album chart, which signified the change of the guard in hip-hop music in the process.
248. The B-52’s - Love Shack
The career-defining hit from this band’s 1989 crossover hit Cosmic Thing and one of the greatest party bangers ever made. While it definitely showcases the party-ready side of the band’s music to a tee, it has little traces of the weird post-punk and kitsch culture elements that made them such a unique rock band a decade before, though Keith Strickland’s guitar - switching to the instrument from drums after the tragic death of Ricky Wilson from AIDS - draw from surf music much like their other signature song “Rock Lobster” did. No problem for the song’s quality however, which is packed with so many glorious vocal hooks and moments from Cindy Wilson, Katie Pierson and Fred Schnider who’s as goofy and camp as ever. Beyond the awesome chorus (dig the way session drummer Charley Drayton hits harder on the snare as they sing “We can get together” too), there’s Fred’s introduction “If you see a faded sign on the side of the road that says “15 miles to the…”” that Cindy cuts off as she belts “Looooooove Shack!”, her “Glitter on the mattress, glitter on the highway” lines in the second verse, and my favourite part of the song: the break down where the girls sing “Bang, bang on the door baby” getting louder and louder with Fred’s call-and-response until the massive “BANG BAAAAAAANG!” accented by the crashing cymbals. Oh and the bassline courtesy of session player Sara Lee is awesome too.
247. The Breeders - Cannonball
The biggest hit of Kim Deal’s post-Pixies band that landed a Hot 100 hit of which her other band never had. And like the best Pixies songs, it’s a compact and hook-tastic pop song where every instrumental component makes its own memorable hook in the arrangement. Even the opening that sounds like a warm up on a demo provides a sequence of memorable parts from the distorted “a-oooooh-ooh” vocal which gets reused in the song after the whole band joins in, to the drums hitting the snare rim and drum stands and the bass sliding up the fretboard before it plays its main bassline as the proper song starts. There’s the driving chord progression from Kim Deal and the sliding guitar line from her twin sister Kelley, and they sing silly but ear-catching lines that become hooks in their own way, with the band dropping out briefly to highlight “I’m the last splash” dropping name of the song’s parent album in the process. And what a chorus! With Kim’s distorted vocal shouting “Want you! Coocoo! Cannonball!” over the rush of power chords followed by muted crunches that are occasionally backed up by the snare in the first half, and the sweet countering “In the shade” hook from Kelley and the backing “hey now…” from bassist Josephine Wiggs in the second half, making 2 halves of one of the most infectious choruses in ‘90s alt-rock. Other cool moments in the song is the slight pause after the 2nd verse after they sing “The bong in this reggae song”, and the distorted referee whistle before the first verse that sounds like the old dial-up connection sound, which may be the most ‘90s thing to occur in a ‘90s alt-rock hit.
246. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Do You Love Me
This song from 1994’s Let Love In is a favourite of my boyfriend, having played it a lot in the car during rides across Wellington late at night. Experiencing the song that way really brought the cinematic late-night atmosphere in the verses with the bass line, dramatic piano lines and the cavernous drums and keyboards; as well as the sinister crescendo into the massive chorus with those chords coming out of the verse building so much tension as Nick Cave goes “The bells from the chapel went Jingle! Jangle!” before the guitar and cymbals crash into the chords of the chorus, synced to the words of the hook (“DO! YOU! Love me!”) sung en masse by The Bad Seeds’ backing vocals and often followed by a snare roll before it repeats. And listen to how he stretches the length of that pre-chorus after the 3rd verse. Cave’s lyrics carry a sense of high drama as is often the case with him (“I found god and all his devils inside her”, “Our love lines grew impossibly tangled”), and turn to more disturbing imagery in the 3rd verse “Ah here she comes blocking the sun, blood running down the inside of her legs” combining an image of the lunar eclipse with one of menstruation, differentiating it from the violence described in his murder ballads, of which he would do an entire album of next.