Wednesday, 4 February 2015

My 100 Favourite Songs (100 - 91)

I have to say that this challenge I took on to find my 100 favourite songs ever proved to be more difficult than I could have imagined. Listening to my entire music collection alone is literally months of work right there, and then compiling a list is difficult... and next thing you know you have way more than 100 songs on that list. Knocking some off has been a really tough call and I was even toying with the idea of having a list of 110 favourite songs, but that felt like cheating.
The purpose behind this list is simple enough; I just want to show you some of the music that has had a significant impact on me and tell you why, allowing you into a bit of my personal psyche. These are the songs that aren't just the flavour of the week and have been favourites of mine for a long time, sometimes well over a decade. There are some newer songs, but I find that a fair number of them are from the late 1990's and early 2000's because that was a time in my life that was fairly influential and it's only natural that the music from that era would be significant to me. Many of these songs are tied to certain memories or a specific time in my life that I reflect fondly on... or maybe not so fondly and that song reminds me of relief from the more difficult times. There are a whole life's worth of experiences in here and as such, the styles of music change often as well.

Now, let's get a few things out of the way. First, you're not going to like everything on my list and that's fine. Let it go. These are my favourite songs, not necessarily the 'best' songs. You are welcome to make a list of your own, just keep in mind that it took me just over two years to get my list into a place that I'm comfortable with. I still can't shake the feeling that I'm forgetting something crucial. Truth is that I'm still editing this list as I write it.

There are bands in here that are not represented that make a lot of top lists. I'm not saying that these bands are not good or that I don't like their music, but they just didn't make my personal list. This might be blasphemy to some, but I don't have any of The Beatles on my list. I just didn't grow up with much of their music and I don't connect with a lot of it. I like their stuff, but it's not my favourite. I'm sorry. But if you must know, my favourite Beatles song is “I Want You (She's So Heavy)” Other bands like The Who had a song in the short list, but I couldn't keep it just due to the limitations. “Won't Get Fooled Again” is missed, but this honourable mention makes me feel a little better. I mean, how can you not love that classic rock 'n roll “Yeeeeaahhh!!!”? Another honourable mention would be David Bowie's “Sunday” which is a very solid, eerie song with a heck of a dramatic build up. The last song I wound up cutting was Duran Duran's “Ordinary World,” which is one of the major high points in the very mixed career of the 80's pop legends.

So, I know not everyone is going to like everything on the list, but the good news is that I also have plans for a few music lists that are more objective and more universally appreciated. The rules that I gave myself were that every band can only get one entry, except for a select few artists who I consider my favourite; they get two. This was to make the list more balanced. Some of these songs are pretty obscure, some of them are very well known. The order the songs are in is based on least favourite to favourite, but it is very loose. It's really too hard to make that kind of call definitively. But anyway, this is my list of 100 favourite songs.

100.) St. Germain – Sure Thing (2000)
Sometimes hit albums come out of nowhere and while St. Germain's Tourist wasn't a huge chart topper of an album, the fact that it was the year 2000 and an electronic jazz album would go on to sell 4 million copies world wide is an achievement. I remember when my brother picked up this album, though I don't really remember where he heard of it from. I was mostly unfamiliar with jazz music at that time, so Tourist made for a great introduction to the old genre in a new context. “Sure Thing” was always the highlight of the album for me. Admittedly, it's quite different from most of St. Germain's material, rooted more in blues than in traditional jazz. It's relatively simple in construct, carried mostly by a simple bass and synthesized bit. The rest is mostly just guitar noodling and scat singing. But the beat is so compelling that it never gets boring. I recommend it very highly even if you're not a huge jazz fan.

99.) The Strato Ensemble – Empowering Gamesake (2007)
I have gushed about this song before when I reviewed the album it comes off, Drawn Straws, but I had to have it on this list. This is easily the longest song on this list and probably the most experimental. “Empowering Gamesake” is a 24 minute long epic of a song on an improvised journey. It's spontaneous, beautiful, and showcases how tight professional musicians can be when they work well to each other and know how to listen and contribute to the song. But I've discussed the technical prowess before. This song to me reminds me of better times. There was a point where I was rediscovering my faith, reconnecting with a good friend and exploring my own passion for making music. My friend and I spent a week house sitting for friends of his and that time of relaxation and independence really left a good impression on me. At that time, I was getting into real independent music and Drawn Straws, and this song in particular, really stood out to me. I brought a small handful of CDs to listen to at the house and this album was one of them. My life was full of endless potential and I was really content with the direction it was going in. I still get that feeling when listening to this piece of music.

This video is only the introduction to the song. I recommend finding and listening to the whole thing.

98.) The Doors – Break on Through (1967)
I'm not always sold on the classics. There are classic albums or songs that I'm supposed to know and don't really and that doesn't bother me. But there are classic songs that I hear and understand why everyone likes them and why they are remembered. Few songs are more recognizable and infectious as “Break on Through” by The Doors. I have mixed feelings about the band as a whole, but I own an enjoy their first two albums quite a bit. But nothing beats “Break on Through.” Don't know it? Yes you do. Just look it up. Trust me. At just two and half minutes long, this is a tight package full of energy, passion, and an unforgettable hook. They just don't make rock songs with this much gusto and gumption anymore. It's well over 40 years later and it's still very well remembered, likely in part due to it's usage in countless soundtracks. I don't know about you, but I instantly think of the Vietnam War and maybe Forrest Gump. Was it in that soundtrack? I wouldn't be surprised.
Anyway, I love it.

97.) The Most Serene Republic – The Men Who Live Upstairs (2007)
One of the things I admire the most about “The Men Who Live Upstairs” by The Most Serene Republic is the structure of it. There is no chorus to verse structure. It's a song that builds and builds from a subdued contemplative piece into a glorious, grand explosion of sound. The melodies are beautiful and the lyrics are intelligent. It's something I can come back to over and over and never get bored, which is typical of songs of this list. But what is special about this song is how uplifted it makes me feel. My emotions swell up with the music every time. I actually had grand plans to put into a scene of movie I wanted to make. Whether or not I will make it is currently up in the air, but this piece fit so well with what I envisioned. This was the first song I heard by the band and it was a free single from iTunes. One of the best they've sent out if you ask me. And I liked it so much I basically had to get their whole discography. That's only partially true of course... I think two of them were given as gifts, but that was because I declared that The Most Serene Republic were the best band that I didn't own any albums of. That changed quickly.
Unfortunately, due to the limitations of this blog, I can't get the better link for the song so this one has sound problems. In the description there is a link to a better version.

96.) Supertramp – Just Another Nervous Wreck (1979)
My mom was a big Supertramp fan so when she picked up Breakfast In America I was pretty keen to give it a spin and see what all the fuss was about. Apparently the album was a huge hit at the time, charting #1 in almost a dozen countries. I didn't really get it, but mind you this was back in 2004 or so when my taste in music was still developing, let's say. But the one song that always stood out to me out of the pack was “Just Another Nervous Wreck” which neared the end of the album. Something about the dramatic build up and the excitement in the shouting in the chorus just pulls me right into the song. Supertramp's personality and song writing skills really shine in this track and I feel that it's often overlooked in their catalogue because it's over-shadowed by some of their mega-hits. I will say that with time the Breakfast in America album has really grown on me, but nothing did surpass this track for me.

The video I have here is a live version because I couldn't find a studio version on Youtube, so please forgive the quality. It's a better song than this video shows.

95.) Mercury Rev – Racing The Tide/Close Encounters of the 3rd Grade (1995)
I am cheating a little bit here, but when I was originally going to put in “Racing The Tide” in the list, I felt kind of unsatisfied with it. But when I considered cutting it from the list, that didn't sit well either. What I had determined was that these two songs are integral to the success of one another. “Racing The Tide” fails to satisfy in its lack of conclusion and “Close Encounters of the 3rd Grade” hardly feels like a complete song at all. But together they are amazing and compelling and complete. And it makes for a much more interesting journey, ranging from lush orchestral arrangements to wild psychedelia, not to mention that the latter track carries themes from the former. Of course, Mercury Rev's album See You On the Other Side is a crazy journey as a whole and it's tough to remove any tracks from it. It wasn't too well embraced in 1995 when it came out and tanked, leading the band to nearly break up until 1998's album Deserter's Songs brought the band out of the slums and into recognition. But I love the whole vibe and vision of the album. It's so raw, chaotic and beautiful and it is at it's best with these two joined songs. The best parts for me is the horn section in “Racing The Tide”... or perhaps it is the nutty sounding theremin in “Close Encounters.” Whatever the case, you need to listen to all 10 and a half minutes of Mercury Rev brilliance.
Unfortunately, finding a video of "Close Encounters..." is difficult, but you should dig this album up anyway. It's a gem. 

94.) Beck – Cell Phone's Dead (2006)
I remember when in 2005 Beck released Guero and came back into the charts and impressed critics. Then in 2006 he came out with another album called The Information and suddenly Guero seemed like weak sauce in comparison. That's how I felt anyway. It didn't sell as well, but that's okay. The best track by the opinion of many I would say is “Cell Phone's Dead,” a frantic and psychedelic track that switches from funky hip-hop song into a crazy dance party. You can hear Herbie Hancock's influence in the deep bop bop bass bits during the main portions of the song, but the song really wins me over in the last minute and a half when it goes complete nutty and builds into a frenzy of beautiful Beck madness. Very few artists have the natural brains and know how to pull of making this kind of music, but Beck just dives into his song writing with pure fearlessness and raw talent. Make sure that you listen to the full version of this song because, while the music video is pretty cool, it does cut out a lot of the ending which is really the pay off of the track. I picked the alternate video off of the double disc album for that very reason.

93.) Goo Goo Dolls – Black Balloon – (1998)
1998 was a great year for the Goo Goo Dolls and their album Dizzy Up The Girl was the smash hit they were waiting for. But “Iris” and “Slide” were the big hits off the album, reaching #1 in quite a few countries. “Black Balloon” was successful, but I always felt that it was a bit under appreciated and in the shadow of the bigger hits. But for me, it was always much more compelling and personal. This was one of the tracks that really stood out that year for me and has stayed with me since. The lyrics are poetic and sincere, the music is adventurous and dynamic, all while maintaining a pop accessibility.
It brings back memories of being driven around in my mom's old blue van and listening to the radio back when the radio still played some decent songs.
My feelings about Goo Goo Dolls have changed with time and I appreciate a few of their albums, but my interest in their music had dissipated because I didn't hear too much evolution in their sound the last decade or so. I guess they found what they were good at and stuck with it. That being said, “Black Balloon” always holds a special place in my playlist.

92.) The Moody Blues – Question (1970)
I always knew the name Moody Blues, but didn't really know anything by them until I started reviewing music. And then when at my dad's place one day I saw that he owned a couple of their albums including A Question of Balance, which I picked up first because I liked the cover art so much. A big hit at the time, “Question” was one of the more grand songs on the album, which was all together quite stripped down. I like the structure of the song and I still haven't really heard anything like it since. It starts off with a fast paced guitar and orchestral arrangement and then after about two minutes it moves into a much more subtle and contemplative section which actually takes up quite a bit of the song's run time. And then as that movement comes to a close, it charges back into the fast paced sound that opened the song. It's surprising how natural they make it feel. And what is uncharacteristic of this sort of music, is that it doesn't really force much beyond that. Often progressive bands of that era try really hard to make a song accomplish more, but this one does what it needs to just fine and still does something original and different.
And I like this song because it just reminds me of time hanging out with my dad and discovering the kind of music he liked to listen to when he was younger.

91.) The Presets – Promises (2012)
This is probably the newest song on the list, but this song entered my life at the right time for me to connect to it. Australian duo The Presets released their third album Pacifica almost a year ago and I found this song from it this year in April when I saw a short film with this song as its soundtrack. At the time I just liked how it sounded. But it wasn't until my wife told me that she wanted to split up in June that the sentiment of the song really hit home. It builds from the idea of a romance gone wrong, the singer wishing for reconciliation, but the wounds left from their mistakes run too deep and it seems impossible. It's a sorrowful confession disguised as a dance song it moves me, sometimes to tears. The words are simple, unpretentious, but raw and emotional. So, if The Presets ever read this, know that if you wanted to reach just one person with this track, wanted someone to really connect with it, it's probably me.

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