Sunday, 8 February 2015

My 100 Favourite Song (30 - 21)

Something that I've been having a good time with when making this list is making it not only a list, but a playlist. As I review each song, I listen to it over and over again in a playlist, so the order in how these songs play has become fairly important to me. If a transition from one song to the next is jarring, that's not something I want to experience over and over so I make the overall arc of my list part of the enjoyment of it. You might think I'm over thinking this, but have a listen. My eventual goal when this is all done is to put together a proper Grooveshark playlist or something along those lines so you can listen at your own leisure.
Today's collection carries me through a series of emotions, but there is a certain sadness to many of the songs here with the exception of a few. The songs are fairly solemn, particularly near the end, but I decided to finish today's collection with some optimism. This shows the complex relationship people have with music. Some of these songs sadden me, yet I adore them for this very reason. Am I a glutton for punishment or is there an amount of strength I find in past and present pain? Or do I find humanity in my weaknesses? Elton John did sing that “sad songs say so much.” (No, that's not on the list.) I think that in any art, musical or otherwise, we find truth. And finding truth brings an amount of satisfaction in the journey.

30.) Radiohead – Like Spinning Plates (2001)
There are very few songs that have struck me with sheer emotional brute force like Radiohead's exhilarating “Like Spinning Plates,” their darkest moment from their gloomy 2001 release Amnesiac, but this song pulls at me and haunts me like no other piece of music has. It's a spiritual experience every time. There was one day where emotionally it just overwhelmed me and brought me to my knees. It was a strange moment, but unforgettable.
The creation of this song is fascinating, with their, at the time, unreleased song “I Will” played in reverse as the main backbone of the song. Also, Thom Yorke learned to sing the song in reverse and recorded it as such, then flipped it around. This gives a ghostly effect to his singing and also is the reason why at times you can't understand what he's saying. That being said, I can't imagine that being an easy thing to do and it worked out fairly well.
The song talks about a divorce, like spinning plates referencing the the dividing of assets, or perhaps a more violent alternative of a literal throwing of plates. Most of all, it captures the emotional core of broken relationships; the darkness, the confusion, the dispersion of identity. It makes me feel like I'm sinking and drowning.
Song writing of this calibre is not common. To be so experimental yet so precise in the emotions that they evoke just reaffirms that Radiohead are among the best musicians of this generation. I consider them one of my favourite bands ever and as such, they will get another entry on this list.

29.) Röyksopp – Röyksopp's Night Out (2002)
Melody AM was an exceptional debut album from electronic Norwegian band Röyksopp and probably its finest moment is “Röyksopp's Night Out,” a dark and dramatic instrumental with a forceful energy charging it the whole way through. It takes a pretty amazing musical theme and builds on it and strips it down so it goes through movements of build up and a build down into a noir sci-fi ambiance. The whole time the throbbing beat keeps it all connected. But my favourite moment of the song is after it's all stripped down it erupts again into a grand, fully energized finale.
At seven and half minutes, it's far from overstaying its welcome. It evolves and changes often and so naturally that it's hard to even recognize how many movements it goes through. It is truly an amazing piece of work.
An amusing memory with this song was quite a few years ago when I lived with my brother. It was late at night and I was listening to this song and enjoying it far too much. So, I started to dramatically drum to it without a care in the world. My brother walks by, looking for something else, making me stop quite suddenly. He continues what he was doing but says “Too late. I saw it.” Anyway, the point is that the music is so good it elicits a physical response from me. Every time I hear that percussion, I feel the same urge to thump along to it. And I still gladly do when I think I'm alone.

28.) Rob Dougan – Clubbed To Death (1995)
To specify, the song I'm referring to is the most famous version of this song, the Kurayamino Variation. The original contains quite a few of the same elements but tonally is quite different and suited more for club music, hence the title “Clubbed To Death.” This version was the second track on the original single CD release and was the one that made its way into pop culture, heard by many in the soundtrack to The Matrix, which is where I first heard it.
I did at one point almost find myself sick of this song, but thankfully I avoided such over saturation. This was around the time where all of a sudden it was in tons of movie trailers, which was easily over ten years after the song was initially released. I think that's because when it came out it was ahead of its time. This was an electronica song worth taking seriously in a time when club music was pointless and shallow.
I've told the story a few times on Sour Grapes Winery on how I was literally searching for this song for years and I don't feel a need to reiterate the story. Check out my review on Rob Dougan's album Furious Angels if you want more on that. But I will say that despite knowing it for so long and hearing it probably hundreds of times, there is something extra special about this piece of music. The way that dark synthesizer bursts into the song still sounds amazing and the dramatic turns the song takes are poignant and dramatic. It moves from string arrangements to synthesized beats, then into a piano solo and then back into the electronic hook. It's the kind of song that makes you want to drive around in a music video through highways at night. It's the cinematic quality of the song; it naturally evokes imagery like that, which is probably why it was used in as many trailers as it was.
Furious Angels is amazing from start to finish, but its only understandable that, as this was the song that brought me that album, in a sense, it is the one that is closest to me. That being said I almost went with his track “Chateau” from The Matrix: Reloaded soundtrack because that's one I can play over and over again also.

27.) Ashley Slater – Private Sunshine (2002)
There is a bitter sweetness to this song for me. When I originally put it on the list, it was just wonderful, but now there is this layer of sadness that it brings. It's not off putting though. If anything it is encouraging. I don't know exactly how to describe how this makes me feel, but I'll explain why. This was a song that I dedicated to my wife and while we were dating I put it on a CD compilation for her. It is a song that I still feel is connected to her and I don't know if that will change even though we're no longer together. The sentiment of a 'private sunshine,' to me, implies a beauty that is hidden away, so only he can see it and I think at times I really connected to that notion.
I first heard it on the often wonderful Nu-Jazz compilations called Saint-Germain-des-Prés Café. This one was the final track on volume 2 and it struck me enough that I sought out more from Ashley Slater. Finding a copy of his album was a bit of a challenge, but I found a copy through his record label Plush. They even threw in a copy of the “Private Sunshine” single.
Musically I find this song quite moving. It is truly genuine and unique. It mixes orchestral elements with jazz rhythm and mood, and on top of it there is a glitchy electronic component which adds a distinct flavour. On top of that, Slater's voice seems ideal for jazz, with a relaxed smoothness that is naturally romantic. It's one of the most beautiful songs I know and I feel that it's tragically overlooked by many. But for me, it is a classic.

26.) Passengers – Slug (1995)
Passengers, for those of you who don't know, was the short lived side project of U2. But for this album, which was called Original Soundtracks: Volume 1, they opened themselves up to collaborating with many artists and had their regular producer Brian Eno contribute as a full songwriter. The vision of the album was to create music for fictional movies, which feels like it fully justifies the radically diverse collection of songs on here. I love this album. The more I hear it the more I admire it. It's U2's secret art project. And while I said that I would only have two songs per artist in my list, I don't really consider “Slug” to be a U2 song because I do feel that Eno has a distinct mark on the music. Unless you know before, you wouldn't hear this song and necessarily make the connection that it was Bono singing particularly because he sings in a lower register than his usual vocals. And I have to admit that I really like the way he sounds in this song. During the 90's he seemed more willing to do some different things with his voice, singing both high and low depending on the song, and that fell in line with the adventurous spirit that U2 had during that era.
But what a fantastic piece of music “Slug” is. Held together with a deep thumping rhythm and glossy synthesizers, the smooth production is only half of what makes the song work. The other half is that real sense of longing and desperation that is conveyed through the vocals and music. It comes across as very personal and almost sweet in its sentiment.
I get really nostalgic listening to it. I've loved it for easily ten years and it makes me think of a girl that I really liked in grade 12. And it also makes me think about myself and who I was at that point of time in my life, as there is a touch of self reflection in the song. And I can't help but feel that the lyrics of this song convey some of my personality in them. Perhaps this is the songs that reflects me the most.

25.) David Gray – Please Forgive Me (1998)
In my write up of Collective Soul's “Run,” I talked about the notion of a long lost song, one that we hear at a point in our lives and we seek it out, but have no success finding it until years later. Well, I also had that experience with David Gray's “Please Forgive Me,” the first track off of his break through album White Ladder. I remember I saw a live version of it late at night on TV and I didn't catch who it was or the name of the song. Then later I heard it on the radio and missed that vital bit of information again. Quite some time later, and this is over the span of a few years, I was used CD shopping and a friend plugged this into the store's stereo and it was another moment of “THIS SONG!” He bought the album, not me, so I had to pick it up a little later, but it was good to reconnect with it.
And I have to admit that this song is so good that it almost sets up the rest of the album for failure. Not to say that the music is bad, it just isn't as initially rewarding and might leave impatient listeners unimpressed. I will say that White Ladder grew on me and is quite good, but nothing is really quite as beautiful as “Please Forgive Me.”
It's a case where it's really a straight forward song with a lot of very simple elements pasted together, but it's so well constructed. Simple ideas can make great songs. His selection of chords is beautiful and emotive, and the beat gives your head something to bounce to, but in such a way that it's more contemplative than dancey. Gray's voice is filled with passion and desire, selling the song on an emotional level. And it top it all off, the lyrics are really beautiful and impossibly romantic. And in a way, it seems realistically romantic also, in that there is a very real layer of sadness through the track that gives the song weight and meaning. Upon more consideration, I suppose really the song isn't that simple or straight forward. In fact, it seems to capture the complexities of emotion and love all too well.

24.) The Verve – Bittersweet Symphony (1997)
How can anyone not love “Bittersweet Symphony?” The Verve were one of the most promising acts to make big splash in 1997 with their hugely successful album Urban Hymns. And it is a very good album, though admittedly this big hit is a little misleading as far their musical direction goes, but not really in the mood and quality of their music. I remember not really liking this song too much when it was really big, probably because it played so much, but a few years later I heard it again and realized how brilliant it is.
What The Verve pulled off in this song was really quite interesting, in that they created a pop song with a level of gravitas and weight, but there is a strange emotional disconnect between the singer and listener. He seems aloof and distant, but for some reason it seems relatable. What a strange contrast, not unlike the feeling of something bittersweet. I suppose that means it's quite fitting.
At the risk of sounding like an old man, I have to say that they really don't make music like this anymore. What on the radio these days comes anywhere close to the quality of “Bittersweet Symphony?” (Actually, 1997 had some really classy hits all in all, a few of which are on this list.) It's got emotional and cultural significance, a beat that you can move your head to, and a certain timelessness to it in that it doesn't sound like a product of the 90's. This is truly one of the great one hit wonders, though I do feel like they deserved so much more. Didn't help that The Verve broke up after the release of Urban Hymns and didn't reunite until over a decade later... and then they released another album and promptly broke up again. It's a shame when a band clearly makes really good music together, but can't actually get along for the life of them.

23.) Simple Minds – Don't You (Forget About Me) (1985)
What I find most interesting about this song is it's creation. "Don't You (Forget About Me)" was written by some guy to be released for The Breakfast Club and was brought to several artists such as Bryan Ferry and Billy Idol, who said no, and Simple Minds were the next in line and they finally agreed to record it. Well, apparently they declined originally, but their label encouraged them to do it so they eventually agreed. And it became their biggest hit and easily their most remembered song. But they never actually cared that much about it. They rarely played it live, didn't include it on an album, and barely even acknowledged its existence. They just continued making what kind of music they made which wasn't what “Don't You (Forget About Me)” sounded like. I guess to them this song was just a job and turned out to be a well paying one. And what's interesting about it on a personal level is that, generally speaking, their moody art rock style is a little more in line with what kind of music I enjoy. But they took this cheesy synth-pop style and really worked it well so I can't help but love this song. It's a really great poppy New Wave classic, but I wouldn't recommend this to represent Simple Minds. Take it for its own entity.
But one has to admit, for a song made for a paycheque, they sure hit it out of the park. I'm totally sold. Near the end, when he breaks into his “lalala” portions, I just want to put my hands up in the air and shout it out. It holds such passion and charisma. And what is kind of interesting is that, while it feels like a dance song, there is a sort of dark, emotional complexity to it that really makes it easy for me to connect to. And that's fair enough because I think that the music almost contradicts the lyrical substance, so good on Simple Minds for capturing that ambivalent quality of the song and making it a strength. I can't help but wonder what a Bryan Ferry version would sound like though. I think he could have make it work too.
Okay, and one final note on this... I hate it when a song has a title and then they finish the title in brackets. Just... is the song called “Don't You” or “Don't You Forget About Me”? Either works. Just pick one.

22.) The Notwist – Consequence (2002)
Some songs move me, some songs cool me down, and other songs, like this one, I find emotionally devastating. Like, it just rips me open and spills my guts out all over the floor, but I can't stop listening to it despite this. Or maybe I can't stop listening due to this. If what makes music good is its sincerity and ability to make a listener feel, then this is perfect music.
The same could be said for much of The Notwist's Neon Golden, their critically acclaimed break through album which had a couple songs that could have made this list. Particularly, I feel it's worth mentioning “One With The Freaks” as a runner up. But as far as sheer emotional impact and beautiful musicality, ultimately I am more invested in “Consequence.”
And much of what sells this song is the harrowing vocal performance of Markus Acher. He so naturally carries the song with heartbreak and bereavement that one can help but wish to weep along side him. Yet, he is restrained and I never feel overwhelmed with melodrama. Something about the whole production of this song feels very natural and it progresses with an emotional arc of sorts, starting off mellow and building into what feels like a pretty grand conclusion. But the music services the emotions, which are accentuated by the lyrics. Truly some great breakup lines are in here, such as “Fail with consequence, lose with eloquence and a smile.” But very few musical moments resonate quite like the chorus of the song as he sings in a subdued, defeated fashion “Leave me paralyzed, Love. Leave me hypnotized, Love.”
This was one of those cases where, when I first heard it, I knew that this would be one of my favourites. Sometimes songs need some time for one to realize that it means a lot to me or me and a song need to go on some sort of journey together first, but with The Notwist's “Consequence,” I knew when I heard it that it clicked for me. I got this song and I felt this song and that's only grown more with time.

21.) David Meece – The Water Is Fine (1987)
This is one from the deepest depths of my childhood. I don't remember a time when I didn't know this song, but my favourite memory of it is when I was in the car with my family and we had the cassette tape of Candle In The Rain, the album which this is from. “The Water Is Fine” was my favourite song at the time, but I had no idea what it was called so I asked that we play the one with the “deeerrr naaa naaa deeeerr naaa naaa” part. I was referring to a synth part in the chorus, but I must have done a really bad job of imitating the sound that I liked so much because neither of my parents had any idea what I was talking about. I was disappointed then, but now it's an amusing memory and I often this of that when I hear this track.
As I mentioned in previous instalments of this series, I went through a phase of rediscovering old songs and albums that I heard when I was a kid and I got back into listening to David Meece with mixed results on how I felt about his music. I think he really hit his stride with his last three albums, this one is the first of that bundle, but it's hard to have a real objective opinion on these albums because they were such staples of my childhood. Finding a copy of Candle In The Rain on CD was difficult. I only found one on eBay and it was a little too rich for my blood. I think the guy knew he had a rare CD, so all power to him. I wasn't biting, so luckily iTunes had it. And upon hearing the album again, I quite enjoy it and wouldn't you know, “The Water Is Fine” is still my favourite track, but for very different reasons.

There is a very dramatic, grandiose feel to this song while keeping it relatively downplayed. It doesn't feel like he's trying to make a 'big' song, it just elevates very naturally. I love the thick bass and the tapping sound which is either guitar or synthesizer, I'm not really sure. Truthfully, it's a little bit dated, but it doesn't bother me in the least. It's a great song that lifts me up and leaves me optimistic.  

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