Friday, 6 February 2015

My 100 Favourite Songs (60 - 51)

So far it's been a lot of fun listening to and discussing my favourite songs. But what does music really mean to me? While I feel that I have a broader knowledge than some on the technical level of music as well as the history and context of the albums and songs that are out there, I don't think there is anything particularly special about my actual ability to enjoy the music. I think that to the general public, music is more about the feeling it gives you, whether it's the urge to dance or a sadness and I don't feel that I'm any different. Like so many people, I react to music on an emotional and physical level to varying degrees.
The songs in this portion of this list are quite diverse in how they appeal to me, but I find that there are two main types of songs on here. There are the escapism songs that I appreciate strongly on a very physical level. They make me feel excited and energized and never cease doing so. But there are some that provide me an opportunity to find something deep inside myself. They help me learn and grow.
So, what does music really mean to me? I suppose like everyone, it helps me feel.

60.)The Killers – Bling (Confessions of a King) (2006)
Picking a favourite song by The Killers was actually surprisingly difficult and I have to say that “Smile Like You Mean It” almost took this spot, but in the end “Bling (Confession of a King)” made the top of my list because there is a certain compelling energy to it. It's the kind of song that takes you by surprise with how good it is because you wouldn't know if from the introduction. It's not really that spectacular at first, but once that chorus comes in, everything fits together. That chorus is pitch perfect with a knock-out synth sound paired with sweet guitar chords and a thumping bass beat. I should discount the verses though. That bass section that rolls down sounds great and every time I hear it I feel compelled to air-bass guitar it. It almost forces a physical reaction out of me and that's when I know that something about this song really works.
I liked the album Sam's Town, which this song came from, but I did feel it was a somewhat disappointing follow-up to their very strong debut Hot Fuss. But this track stood out instantly as the strongest of the collection and could easily stand up to the strongest moments in Hot Fuss.

59.) Led Zeppelin – Trampled Under Foot (1975)
Wouldn't you know it, my favourite Led Zeppelin song isn't “Stairway To Heaven.” And it's not that I don't like that song, it's just there are a handful of Zeppelin songs that I like a lot more. And the top pick was pretty close, with their “Song Remains The Same” being a close runner up, but there is something about “Trampled Under Foot” that really appeals to me. Sometimes I feel that the band gets a little bit caught up in their riffs and how awesome they are that they forget to cut their song's run time off at a reasonable length and forget to have a bit of fun while performing it. And that goes for a lot of the songs off of Physical Graffiti, the album which this track originates from. But man, when they hit it, they hit it out of the park. It's the energy and the playfulness of this song that really make it and, while it's longer than the typical pop song, “Trampled Under Foot” has enough gusto that it's far from running out of steam. It feels so unpretentious, yet sort of sophisticated. Frantic, but under control. They seem to play it straight, but it's quirky as hell. An underrated Zeppelin classic in my opinion.

58.) Miracle Fortress – Hold Your Secrets To Your Heart (2007)
And now for something completely different, we have Miracle Fortress, a band that I discovered when they opened for Stars back in '07 or '08. Their debut album Five Roses is not an amazing record, but it grew on me and I've come to appreciate the out-of-the-box song writing approach that they had. But individually, there are only two really exceptionally good tracks on the album and the best of those two is “Hold Your Secrets to Your Heart.” I knew it was great when I heard it live and the album version doesn't disappoint.
Conceptually it's not too ambitious. It focuses entirely around a single lyrical hook, as if there is no verse and just a chorus. But they build around that hook and tinker with the sounds as it goes. It's kind of fascinating. It works because that hook is strangely compelling, both catchy and passionate. It resonates with me.
The best part of the song, where the hook reaches its maximum potential is at the 1 minute 45 second mark where it all seems to mesh together perfectly. It's music to my ears... literally, I suppose.
By the way, the other really good song off the album is “This Thing About You” in case you were curious.

57.) Battles – Atlas (2007)
Math rock outfit, Battles, really scored with their lead single, though, the full album version is far superior to the single edit. “Atlas” is unlike anything you've heard before; complex, catchy, and quirky beyond anything that makes any sense. You have to ask yourself, what were they thinking?! Only brilliant thoughts, my friend. They dared to make something different from anything else you heard that year and it was a success. Well, it was a success critically, making a lot of top lists for 2007 and the decade. Commercially the album did well enough, getting the attention of music nuts and the like. I think that the ingenuity and pure gumption that this song is something to be admired and also, when it comes down to it, it's a really fun and catchy tune. That's something kind of rare actually and I think that's what makes “Atlas” work as well as it does. Usually when you hear progressive or experimental music, you don't instantly think 'fun and catchy.' Being able to blend those elements is something that's fairly unique and worth remembering. It's something that the 1980's King Crimson, Talking Heads, and David Bowie were able to do, which is good company to be in, but Battles give it a distinctly modern edge in a time where such talents are rare.
Did I mention that the vocals sound like an army of robot hamsters? Yeah, that alone makes it worth your time.

56.) Michael W. Smith – Old Enough To Know (1986)
Michael W. Smith's third album The Big Picture was an album that I heard a lot when I was a very young child because my mom loved it and had the record. 20 or so years later when I was rediscovering vinyl, my mom let me take the albums from her collection that interested me. I listened to a lot of records, many of which didn't really interest me that much, but rediscovering the couple Michael W. Smith albums was a treat, particularly The Big Picture. The music is fairly dated by today's standards, but it's still sharply produced, well written, and extremely earnest.
The highlight of the album for me is “Old Enough To Know” which, despite its catchy hook and energetic beat, actually is very sad. It stirs me up emotionally, telling the story of a Christian girl battling with sexual temptation as the man she loves is pressuring her to give in and sleep with him. And while many readers may be like “uhh, so what?” I think that this rings very true as a problem still prevalent in Christian culture. It's about compromising values and boundaries and what I connect to in this song is that I've been on both ends of that story, to a lesser degree, but still much to my regret. It actually makes me very sad, but in such a way that builds character, if that makes sense. I feel that this song makes me vulnerable and inspires me to ponder life and the world we live in. This struggle is not something everyone goes through because our culture is very accepting of premarital sex, it is the norm, and the song admits that with the line “You're a breed of few and far between, holding onto your romantic dream.” But for those of us who face that battle, this song is a very honest and telling piece and well worth listening to and reflecting on.

55.) White Town – Your Woman (1997)
Back in 1997 I never thought much about it, but now it seems more and more strange that White Town's “Your Woman” was a hit. There are so many strange elements that work when it seems like they shouldn't. First, it samples a really old timey jazz song's muted trumpet part, puts it to an electronic beat, and then has a man singing from a woman's point of view much to listener's confusion. And for whatever reason, it sounds terrific.
I guess despite the fact that he's singing as if he were a woman, Mr. White Town gives a very honest and passionate vocal performance. He's not an obvious vocal talent, but he knows how to make his sound work. The music is actually pretty well written, with a great selection of chords and great thumping beat. And it takes a few interesting turns on occasion while remaining an accessible pop song. It's just like he takes the scenic route through the song, allowing musical asides which don't feel superfluous and actually wind up being quite memorable.
And more personally, there isn't a specific memory with this one because at the time it was on the radio so much, but it more takes me back to that particular time in my life. Seems to me that the radio played much better stuff around that time. Or maybe that's just what I choose to remember, but with songs like “Your Woman,” it sure makes a compelling case.

54.) Roxy Music – Same Old Scene (1980)
I love Roxy Music. There is something about their edgy, romantic groove that affects me in such a subtle, yet blissful way. It's my parents fault really; they both really enjoyed their final album Avalon quite a bit so it was a staple of my childhood music. And while that album is much more personal to me, there are few tracks that I would say stand out from the collection. The albums before was entitled Flesh & Blood and I heard it much later in my life, but I enjoyed it quite a bit. But off that album there was one song in particular that really stood out as Roxy Music's masterpiece: “Same Old Scene.”
This is a dance track through and through. If you don't feel like you have to move your body when listening to this song... well, I won't believe you. You look me in the eye and tell me that you get nothing from that bouncy synth part or that thumping bass line. You come here and tell me that Bryan Ferry's voice doesn't romance you into bed. Go on, say that the saxophone solo doesn't your soul soar to new heights.
That's right... you can't. So, basically, if you really want to see me dance, just put this track on and I'll have no choice. Use this power wisely.

53.) Yeasayer – 2080 (2007)
It was 2007 and my brother and I were preparing to go to the Sasquatch music festival. And by preparing, I mean we were looking at what bands would be there and finding the ones we didn't know and listened to some of their songs to see if they were worth checking out live. We found a few favourite bands that year and one of them was Yeasayer, a New York act full of eccentrics who decided that they wanted to put together an odd experimental folk album called All Hour Cymbals. Just to let you know, that album is great, but I remain the most fond of the first track I heard by them, “2080.”
And come on, just listen to that guitar riff. It's fast, complex, and absolutely beautiful. I could listen to just that on repeat for a good 20 minutes. That's probably just me though and fortunately Yeasayer are better song writers than that. All together “2080” forms an anthemic, near ethereal experience that borrows sounds from that past and turns them into ideas from the future. There is a lot of classic folk instrumentation, but the composition is something truly unique and exciting. It's also lead with melancholy lyrics and the frantic vocals of Chris Keating who is an oddly charming front man, if not a bit manic.
If you ever find yourself losing faith in modern music, Yeasayer are an act worth turning to.

52.) The Dandy Warhols – Plan A (2003)
What was so brilliant about Welcome to the Monkey House, The Dandy Warhols' fourth album, was that it was so completely different than anything else they had done before. Not to discredit their past albums of course, they were wonderful, but their music in general was very straight forward catchy rock 'n roll. With this album they delved into a bizarre New Wave/Synth Pop sound which aggravated some fans, but appealed heavily to others, including myself. I always love it when bands try something new and adventurous.
The song that caught me instantly from that album was “Plan A,” a song that's carried by a chant rather than a chorus. It's also shows lead singer Courtney Taylor-Taylor's ability to sing falsetto, which I actually really enjoy. The tune feels unambitious and straight forward, but it actually kind of has an unusual structure for a track that feels like a pop song. It has an introduction and then goes through all of the verses, one after the other, and then the chant “All of us sing about it!” carries the song right to the end. It's quick, it's effective, and it's unbelievably catchy. This song gets in my head and always feels welcome to stay there. It's the kind of song you just can't help singing along to. It helps that the lyrics are pretty easy to remember.

51.) Jeff Buckley – Mojo Pin (1994)
Grace is an album that has become something of a legend amongst music lovers. It's sacred ground to many. You can't bash it. You're simply not allowed. Jeff Buckley, son of musician Tim Buckley, also had the instincts of a song writer and released a single album before he tragically died in 1997 at the age of 30. The album he left behind initially didn't sell too well and received mixed reviews, but has garnered popularity over the years and is now a critical darling and has made all kinds of 'best of' lists. So, all that aside, is Grace really a good album? I'm going to tell you the truth right here, right now.
There are a lot of superb moments within it, but in my opinion its finest moment is the very first track, an emotional powerhouse of song called “Mojo Pin.” You know how sometimes you hear a song and you realize that you're listening to something really special? This song is special. It is an exceptionally well written rock song, playing with tempo, dynamics, and all that fun stuff, but it never feels like that's what they're trying to do because it all serves the emotion of the song. The sincerity of the songwriting comes first. The very atmosphere draws me in. It is an amazing rock song because it is earnest first, and crafted finely second.
What a gorgeous piece of music. The more I listen to it, the more I wonder why it's not even higher on my list. When I was putting this section together, this made sense, but even now as I listen to it, I'm reminded just how much I love this song. Whatever... here it is.
If you're still not sold on the song, it's simple; just listen to Jeff Buckley's singing at the 3:55 mark. That is all.

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