Songs 20-11 of my 20 favorite songs of all-time below the jump. I changed my mind; part two will come out next Friday.
20 “Born to Run” – Bruce Springsteen, 1975.
I have this theory, still in its infancy mind you, that all American rock groups must follow one of two models: Van Halen or Bruce Springsteen. They need to be focused on either having a good time for the sake of having a good time (VH), or on having a good time while talking about some important things with friends along the way (The Boss). Like I said, it’s new and I don’t know if it makes any sense at all.
In recent years, several indie rock artists, most notably The Arcade Fire, have mentioned Springsteen as one of their musical role models. When you examine Springsteen’s career, and see the sacrifices he made early on to maintain control of his music, and then the choices he made later without care for how it would affect his record sales or airplay, it makes sense that the indie kids would love him, even if they don’t write anthems meant to be sung by 18,000 people at once.
19 “She Sells Sanctuary” – The Cult, 1985.
One night, back in the day, a few of us gathered at a Kansas City restaurant to dine and drink. By chance, I ended up seated by one of my many brothers in music, David V. Sir V. and I drank and talked and drank and talked some more. Eventually one of us brought up The Cult’s “She Sells Sanctuary.” As legend has it, we spent the next 30 minutes discussing the brilliance of that track. Any song that elicits a 30 minute conversation deserves to be on my list of favorites.
Like just about every Cult song, this sounds phenomenal. But when you start digging into the lyrics…well, there just wasn’t much there. But damn can that Ian Astbury dance!
18 “Bitter Sweet Symphony” – The Verve, 1997.
One of the all-time great alt rock anthems – and a fitting coda to the Brit Pop era – it also sums up the career of The Verve nicely. A band with tremendous promise that was constantly derailed by bickering, egos, and drugs, they finally put it all together on their 1997 album, Urban Hymns. However, they failed to properly secure the rights to the sampled orchestral loop “Bitter Sweet Symphony” was built upon, and ended up losing all the royalties from this massive hit. Like clockwork, the band disintegrated, Richard Ashcroft went on to carve out a moderately successful solo career, and they’ve just decided to give the playing and recording music together thing another crack this year.
17 “Last Goodbye” – Jeff Buckley 1995.
There’s something about a great break-up song. Even when the breakup has passed, the heart has healed, and you’ve moved on, hearing it again reminds you of how you survived that rough patch and emerged a little wiser, a little tougher.
This undeniably beautiful tune is a classic break up song. It carries the extra weight of being Buckley’s only hit single before he slipped into a Memphis river for a late-night swim on May 29, 1997. While “Last Goodbye” was climbing the alt rock charts, I was in a particularly difficult stretch of my young, romantic life. The lines I’ve selected seemed to speak to my situation back then, and they still carry a bittersweet wallop today.
16 “Under the Milky Way” – The Church, 1988
A perfect melding of sound and title, this song came along just after I learned how to drive and had the freedom to roam around on warm summer evenings, with no plans or destinations, wondering what I was looking for.
15 “Welcome To The Terrordome” – Public Enemy, 1990.
When PE assembled to record their third studio album, the band was reeling. They had been called racists, anti-semites, anti-American, and were accused of seeking to turn an entire generation of black youths into domestic terrorists. And then they got us white, suburban kids listening and people really got pissed.
“Terrordome” was a fierce response to many of those charges. But it wasn’t just Chuck D. firing back at his critics. It was also a man explaining himself and his actions, and calling out the black community to take responsibility for ending the injustices he railed against. While the model for reacting to negative attention in the 1990s became that of Cobain/Vedder (retreating, looking inward), Chuck was thrusting his chest out saying, “Here I am. Here’s what I stand for. If you don’t like it, come and get me.”
14 “Battle Flag” – Lo Fidelity All Stars featuring Pigeonhead, 1998.
I’m not a big electronica fan, but the power of this song is undeniable. It’s been used in movies, TV shows, video games, and commercials, yet remains as essential today as it was a decade ago.
13 “Love Will Tear Us Apart” – Joy Division, 1980.
I think there’s a law, perhaps unwritten and only understood, that if you’re putting together a “best of” list that is primarily based on alternative rock, this song has to be included. Lennon may have sewn the first seeds for alternative rock in “Tomorrow Never Knows,” and the punks of 1977 may have nourished those seeds. But this song was the moment when alt rock truly took root and demanded its own place in the rock music family tree.
It’s a great song, there’s no denying that. However, you can’t discuss this song without at least acknowledging the rock ‘n roll martyr factor. A month after the song’s release, singer Ian Curtis took his own life. Guilt or morose fascination or just realization that there was far more to the song than was first apparent? Something after Curtis’ death made this stand up as the song that launched a genre.
12 “Raspberry Beret” – Prince, 1985
I had a very hard time picking out a Prince track. And there had to be a Prince track on the list. He’s had a ridiculous number of great songs over the years, and I probably listened to no artist more in the 1980s. This got the nod over songs like “Purple Rain,” “I Wanna Be Your Lover,” “I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man,” etc. It’s nearly a perfect pop song, nicely blending Prince’s twin influences of Beatlesque pop and classic R&B. It’s so perfect, in fact, that it probably took me 15 years to really appreciate it. And I wasn’t one of those haters back in 1985 who said, “It’s not Purple Rain II, so it sucks.” I liked it back then. I only learned to love it recently.
11 “If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next” – Manic Street Preachers, 1998.
We needed some Welsh representation on the list. It just so happens that these Welshmen may have put together the finest anti-war song this side of the Vietnam era. Bonus points for taking the road less travelled and writing about the Spanish Civil War, something only The Clash had the guts to do before the Manics.
I used to call this the most pretentiously titled great song ever. However, while doing some reading, I learned that the title was actually taken from a Republican recruiting poster during the war, which showed a child who had been killed in a Nationalist bombing raid, with that phrase stamped at the bottom. The second half of the lyric I quote below was the reason a Republican soldier gave for enlisting.
Singing against war never sounded so glorious as the final two minutes of this song.