As I have stated on this blog, I am somewhat of an obsessive list maker. Not in an OCD kind of way, but in a brain exercise kind of way. At least that is what I tell myself. One list I have strangely fixated on is the Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Song compilation, which was put together in November of 2004. I was pleasantly surprised at some of their selections (Big Star, Toots and the Maytals.) And horrified by others (Eminem twice and the Pixies once?).
I began to break the songs down in my head by element. Who had the better singer? Who had the best rhythm section? What were the best lyrics?
Lyrics are the element I have decided to tackle as my first major blog list. Lyrics and the song as a whole may seem somewhat difficult to separate, however when you spend time thinking about it, things get subtle real quick.
For example, “Back in Black” could not be a better song. It is truly great. Now, think about the lyrics….Exactly. And if you are thinking, “I’m not sure what they are. Maybe if I looked them up they would be great.” Sadly….no. One of my favorite all time performers is Sam Cooke. I cannot even convey to you how much I love Sam Cooke. If I listened to “Twistin’ the Night Away” everyday, I wouldn’t get tired of it. I can read the lyrics once and never feel the need to again.
With this list I want to put together the 100-500 (depending on my willpower and your participation) songs whose lyrics pull you in and really make you interested in what the singer is on about. Songs that make you dig into them and investigate or lyrics that you find yourself going over in your head like a zen koan. My mom would probably respond, “What’s wrong with songs that are just fun?” Nothing, except in a Neil Postman ‘the problem with
There are some parameters, for clarities sake, that apply to the songs included here.
1)No hip-hop. I love hip-hop too much. What I value in hip-hop lyrics seems so different to me than what I do in more singing oriented music, so I will make a hip-hop list later. Plus the first 50 songs would all be whatever came out of MF Doom’s mouth anyway. Of course, these lines are blurry. Where they are (The Roots, Mos Def) I will ere on the side of caution. I still can’t decide about the Fugees however.
2)No folk/bluegrass/traditional. I also love folk/bluegrass music but, there are so many different versions of songs with related lyrics that they would deserve a better contextual telling than I can provide for this list. That will make me cut out Woodie Guthrie, which sucks, but keep Billy Bragg. Maybe it is not all logical.
3)English Only. I would love to include Japanese songs, but then people would love to include Spanish and Finnish and then everyone would understand only a third of the list.
4)I think that is all for now.
So what I need is for people to bring up songs I might not know, or remind me of songs that I have forgotten. There are also many songs that I remember but I can’t find the lyrics to. I need help with that as well. Where you kind provide links to lyrics or MP3s, please do. Feel free to provide short commentary as well. If songs that you are kind enough to dig up don’t make it onto the list, it is only because I am a angry bitch and I believe my taste in music is greater than everyone’s. Prove me wrong.
(Things I need help with! I can't find any 1.6 Band, Car Vs. Driver, Action Patrol or Radon lyrics, although I remember them being great. If you know any sources for them, let me know.)
(Problem-- I have reached what I will call "the REM dilemma." I think they are great. I htink their lyrics must be. But who knows? Should I include them by going on what I guess that they are saying?)
The list will begin with tentative rankings that will grow and change as the list grows and changes. Maybe we will get to 500. Surprise me.
Tentative 20 songs. Will change greatly.
1)Bob Dylan-Don’t Think Twice it’s Alright
2)Billy Bragg- A
4)Daniel Johnston-Silly Love
5)Belle and Sebastian-Seeing Other People
6)Ted Leo-Me & Mia
7)Minutemen- History Lesson Pt. II
8) Big Star-Thirteen
10)Built to Spill-Car
11)Nation of Ulysses-(all of the songs together)
12)The Pogues-If I Should Fall From Grace with God
16)Macy Gray-I Try
17)Rolling Stones-Dead Flowers
18)Tracy Chapman- Fast Car
19)Leonard Cohen- Hallelujah
20)Edythe Wayne and Ron Dunbar-Band of Gold
21) The Clash- (White Man) In Hammersmith Palais
22) Operation Ivy-Unity
23)Bob Marley-No Woman No Cry
24) The 1.6 Band- Pushing Shit Back Into my Ass
25) Shawn Colvin- I Don't Know Why
26) The Cure- Boys Don't Cry
27) The Smiths- How Soon is Now?
28) Lungfish- Samuel
30)Born Against-El Mozote
33)The Mr. T Experience-Love American Style
34)Chisel-Your Star is Killing Me
35)Smart Went Crazy-A Good Day
36)Fugazi-Do You Like Me
37)Belle and Sebastian-Stars of Track and Field
38)The Ramones-My Brain is Hanging Upside Down(Bonzo Goes to Bitburg)
39)Johnny Cash-Folsom Prison Blues
40)Modest Mouse-The Ocean Breathes Salty
41)The Postal Service-The District Sleeps Alone Tonight
42)Braid-A Dozen Roses
43)Talking Heads-Once in a Lifetime
44)Born Against-Mary and Child
45)Dead Kennedys-Holiday in Cambodia
46)Paul Simon-Mrs. Robinson
47)Billy Bragg-Greetings to the New Brunette(Shirley)
48)Bob Marley-Redemption Songs
49)Jawbreaker-Do You Still Hate Me?
50)The Isley Brothers-Fight the Power
51)Ben Folds Five-Philosophy
52)Palace Brothers-I am a Cinematographer
53)Born Against-I am an Idiot
54)Cap'n Jazz-Little League
56)Sally Timms and Jon Langford-Horses