The other day I saw that Pitchfork Media did a staff list of their top 500 songs of the last decade so I decided it would be fun to make my own (much more esoteric) list. As with most lists like this I make, while it is not merely a list of my favorite songs and I do make these lists with a degree of objectivity, it is also very much a biased list. I also put far more emphasis on sheer musicality and songwriting than I do on popularity or "social significance" and therefore don't expect many people to agree with my choices...but that's why it's fun, right? Anyway I'll be posting a series of five entries in the next five days counting down my own person top 50 songs of the last decade in increments of 10...starting with 50-41:
50. System of a Down - Tentative
When I started getting into more underground/DIY (and, thus, better) music, I sort of wrote this band off. Even though they were still one of the few "nu metal" bands I thought had some merit, I didn't much care for them anymore. One day not too long ago I decided that a lot of the music I'd written off as I became more immersed in the DIY scene was music that I had been convinced didn't matter as opposed to deciding it didn't. Shameful indeed. So I decided to...you know...write it back on, I guess? Whatever. The point is that during that time I discovered that System of a Down's Mesmerize/Hypnotize double album--an album I never really bothered to check out since it came out when I was all DIY holier than thou--was actually the best thing they had ever done...and it wasn't even close. Well, actually maybe it was kinda close but only because the two albums had a lot of...I don't want to say "filler" because they're good, listenable songs; but songs that don't measure up at all when compared to brilliant tracks like "Revenga", "Violent Pornography", "Question!", "Sad Statue", "Lost In Hollywood", "Attack", "Dreaming", "Hypnotize", "Lonely Day", "Soldierside"...or this song. The first time I heard the haunting bridge of this song my jaw literally dropped and I had to listen to it like 10 more times in a row. The chilling relevance of Serj Tankian crooning "where do you expect us to go when the bombs fall?" fell on my chest like a cinder block and left me gasping for air under its emotional weight. Accompanied by a raucous, vintage SOAD verse and a characteristically (for this double album) epic chorus, this is perhaps the most shining example on either disc of guitarist Daron Malakian's growth as a songwriter...and that's saying a lot.
49. Ben Folds - Zak and Sara
No one does quirky piano pop like Mr. Folds himself and you'd be hard pressed to find as exhilarating a romp in his catalog as this. From the second that exhuberant piano line kicks off the song, you can't help but wear a big, shit-eating grin. As he muses about "Sara-spelled-without-an-H...getting bored on a Peavey amp in 1984" and how "Zak-without-a-C tried out some new guitars, playing Sara-with-no-H's favorite songs" you feel yourself start to wish that you were there in this mythical guitar shop with Zak and Sara. The whole song just feels like a "becoming good friends/falling in love" montage from a romantic comedy and drips with heartfelt nostalgia--complete with la-la-la's and ooo-ooo-ooo's. Ben Folds is a pop music messiah.
48. The Hold Steady - Chips Ahoy!
Much the same as Against Me!'s "As the Eternal Cowboy" album, there's a part of me that feels like The Hold Steady's "Boys and Girls In America" could have been better served to have this song open the album. As great as "Stuck Between Stations" is as an opener, this song really has a lot more of a "kick things off" feel to it, especially as the keyboard swings the track from warm-up mode to first gear. One fantastic opening line ("She put $900 on the fifth horse in the sixth race...I think his name was Chips Ahoy") kicks it into second gear just as fast. Before you know it the song is at full speed ahead with a joyous, anthemic chorus that becomes somewhat of a theme with this album. Craig Finn croons "how am I supposed to know that you're high if you won't let me touch you...how am I supposed to know you're high if you won't even dance" over an exuberant chorus of whoa-oh-oh's that you just can't help singing along to. Bar rock has never been this much fun.
47. Neil Perry - Fading Away Like the Rest of Them
Ah, so we come to the first of many very esoteric selections on my little countdown. HEY, STOP SKIPPING AHEAD. Neil Perry is a very unheralded, largely unknown screamo band (that's REAL screamo...as in Funeral Diner, Circle Takes the Square, City of Caterpillar...bands you've probably never heard of...NOT My Chemical Romance or Hawthorne Heights or whatever new shit band is doing that style on MTV6 now) whose lifespan was a mere five years (1998-2002) and who produced a great number of songs during that time--40 in total, all of which fit on one disc of their discography entitled "Lineage Situation", about seven of which are actually really good...at least in my opinion. This is the best of those seven without question. Definitely the least disjointed and complex of the first seven songs on "Lineage Situation", "Fading Away Like the Rest of Them" relies less on piercing screams than any of the others and more on haunting melodies and a straight-forward time signature. It also has some of the most breathtaking drum work you'll ever hear and one of the most epic breakdowns as well. Seriously, go download this song and tell me you don't get goosebumps when that spellbinding drum solo comes crashing into the soaring vocal harmonies of "the same wayyyyy."
46. The Assistant - Training Wheels or No Hands
Another highly esoteric track out of the screamo genre by a band with an equally short lifespan (1999-2003). This one, however, is far less accessible than the Neil Perry entry. It relies a lot more on disjointed, complex timing but don't let that fool you because there is a healthy dose of melody here as well, including a beautiful recurring keyboard melody (played in piano mode, so it's not cheesy or anything). But really the star of the show any time you're listening to The Assistant is drummer Ross Olchvary, one of the great technical drummers that no one has ever heard of. What makes him such a great technical drummer (and a great drummer in general) is his tremendous feel for tempo, his impeccable, innate, subconscious internal metronome...a crucial and rare trait in a drummer, especially nowadays. You'll see what I mean when the pretty, melodic opening minutes of the song run head-first into...well...you'll see...
45. A Perfect Circle - 3 Libras
Now we jump from two largely unknown bands back into the mainstream full force with a hit single from A Perfect Circle. OK, maybe it's not a hit single but it's certainly one of the most beautiful songs that's ever made its way onto the radio waves. To me this song sounds like a sailboat sailing off into the sunset. I can recall listening to this song in my headphones on the metrorail ride home from high school on friday afternoons and how perfectly it captured the peaceful joy I felt looking forward to the weekend--especially long weekends. I also feel a special affection for this song because it's about unrequited love--"difficult not to feel a little bit disappointed and passed over when I've looked right through to see you naked but oblivious and you don't see me" Maynard James Keenan sings in his flawless trademark croon--which is a subject very close to my heart.
44. At the Drive-In - One Armed Scissor
I have to admit that when I first heard this band they weren't really my cup of tea. The guitars were kind of weird and not that heavy (this is when I was all into Korn and Limp Bizkit and all that bullshit). But the more chances I gave it, the more I loved the intricate guitar work and the irrepressible urgency of this band, no better packaged in any song than this one, complete with an ultra-catchy chorus. I can recall seeing a video of the band performing this song on the Conan O'Brien Show some time after they had broken up and wanting to kill myself for never having seen them live. I guess I still have a chance to see The Mars Volta but that could never possibly be the same.
43. Thrice - The Earth Will Shake
In the liner notes of Thrice's 2005 magnum opus "Vheissu", singer Dustin Kensrue cites a CD of old chain gang songs as the main influence for this song (although I think Isis might have had something to do with it as well...specifically the chorus). You can really hear that bluesy influence shine through in this song, especially vocally. Obviously it's most evident in the "call-and-response" style passages in the intro and bridge of the song but you can hear it in Dustin's voice through the whole song. The roaring Isis-esque 7/4 time chorus is so achingly powerful you almost forget that Kensrue is screaming in your ears: "heartbroken we found (a gleam of hope) harken to the sound (a whistle blows) heaven sent reply (however small) evidence of life (beyond these walls) born and bred (in this machine) wardens dread (to see us dream) we hold tight (to legends of) real life (the way it was before)."
42. Eminem - Guilty Conscience
No, it's not "My Name Is." No it's not the song that put Eminem on the map. It is, however, a much better song, conceptually as well as lyrically. It's also, in my opinion, the song that put Eminem over the top. "My Name Is" is, in spite of its lyrics, a very poppy song, much like "The Real Slim Shady"...and it's songs like this that kept Eminem on MTV and radio waves. However this song better established his credibility as a real MC with some scathing lyrics and a guest appearance by Dr. Dre. The proverbial "angel and devil on the shoulders" storyline of this song is compelling and creative...and who doesn't love the surprise ending that MTV had to censor due to its obvious negative moral turpitude.
41. Andre 3000 - Hey Ya!
This song was a phenomenon unlike anything we've seen this decade, even if it wore out its welcome before long. No one song of the 2000s became such a sensation so immediately. For what seems, in retrospect, like a week tops, this song was absolutely EVERYWHERE. And why shouldn't it be? It's also probably one of the 10 catchiest songs of this decade as well...and certainly one of the most quotable (go ahead and try to find someone who actually goes out of their house and can't correctly answer the question "What's cooler than being cool?"). Not only is it catchy but it's brilliantly written and overwhelmingly fun and accessible...a combination Outkast have shown time and again they have a very unique talent for.
tune in tomorrow for 40-31