Thursday, 5 February 2015

My 100 Favourite Songs (90 - 81)

The feedback from my first instalment of this new series was fairly positive and I'm glad that this is the case. Though, I had a friend who said that if he knew I was taking on such an undertaking, he would have warned me against it. I can understand that. As a fellow music lover, he's aware of how much music one listens to in their lives, and it's far more than you know. And indeed, I might have gone insane if I didn't take comfort in knowing that my list had to have room for error. This was a project that I had to go into knowing that I would never be 100% satisfied with. The truth is that there is too much amazing music being made and there is so much that I haven't even heard.

As to why I'm doing it? I don't really know. I just kind of wanted to. It's not for me to show off what kind of awesome music I like, in fact, sometimes I think it's the opposite. To some degree I think it leaves me a bit vulnerable because not all of the music that I like people would consider “cool.” You'll see some of those in this chapter.

Remember, the order of the songs is really loose. I don't know if there is any significant difference between how much I like #90 versus how much I like # 85. Really, just the fact that these songs are on the list is honour enough in my opinion.

90.) Fleetwood Mac – The Chain (1977)
I enjoyed this song before I really knew who Fleetwood Mac were and how big an album Rumours was. It was just one that kept on reappearing and each time I heard it, the song became more and more compelling. I'm not the biggest Fleetwood Mac fan, I have to confess. I haven't heard much except for the extremely successful Rumours, and I enjoy that album, but I can't say that I love it with the exception of “The Chain”, which is easily the best song on the album by far and away. It's got a much more serious and darker tone. There is a country twang to the sound, but at the heart of the song, it's blues. “The Chain” is a two act song, with the first act delivering the hooks and the meat of the song, but the second act is just as good. A dramatic build up to a climatic finish, complete with excellent guitar solos. From the album, it's the least poppy and the most ambitious and it pays off big time.

89.) Sigur Rós - Hjartað hamast (1999)
I instantly became a Sigur Ros fan when in 2005 I heard their album Takk... and was struck by its intense cinematic quality. After a little bit of research, I found that the next album of theirs I wanted to check out was Ágætis byrjun, their second album from 1999. And what was most shocking to me was how amazingly different it was from Takk... in mood, instrumentation and ambition. But the track that stood out the most as a unique entity was “Hjartað hamast” which translates into “The Heart Pounds.” It's a dark and moody song, opening with a strange and quirky synthesized riff and a harmonica of all things. They make it work though. It sounds almost charming until the song reveals its true colours and becomes quite dramatic as the thunderous guitar enters, a sound created by playing the electric guitar with a cello bow. The end result is fascinating and nothing short of heart-stopping. Well, I guess it didn't really stop my heart and I'm grateful for that. This song is truly an original pleasure. I never heard anything like it before or since.

88.) Ian Pooley feat. Esthero – Balmes (A Better Life) (2001)
What's great about Ian Pooley's “Balmes” is that it is a perfect dance song. So much so that it makes the flaws of modern dance hits so obviously apparent. Admittedly, it's a shallow song, just there to have a great beat, a good hook, and sexy singing. But that's like every dance song, is it not? Yes, but this is just so much better. The hook is incredible, the beat is infectious, and the lyrics are sexy, but in no way crude or explicit like so many hits today. And to top it all off, Pooley teamed up with one of the best vocalists in the business, Esthero, who is in no need of auto-tune to sound incredible. It is a completely unpretentious, fun, pop song that knows its demographic really well. Its sentiment is that we all want a better life and that is somehow achieved on this very dance floor. I can only assume it's because any dance floor is better with this song playing. Dance floors go downhill once Flo Rida starts playing and you're reminded of how futile a life of partying is, but that's neither here nor there.
Truth be told, this is the only song I've ever heard by Ian Pooley despite a lengthy discography. I just never thought to hear more stuff from him. But that's because I didn't realize how much I loved this song until years after it came out. I always liked it, but I think what puts it in this list is how long I've really enjoyed it. I have continually enjoyed this song for 12 years and it has only gradually gotten better. And that's something special because pop and dance music is created for short term fulfilment. It's catchy and once that loses its appeal, you move onto the next flavour of the week. But clearly there is a lot more to appreciate in “Balmes.” Is is Esthero's voice? Is it the Latin influenced guitar? Is is the quotable words? Personally, I think it's just the right combination of everything.

87.) Air – Universal Traveller (2004)
Trying to figure out my favourite song by Air was really tricky. I almost picked “Radio #1,” but wound up siding with “Universal Traveller,” one of their more memorable and mellow tracks off of 2004's Talkie Walkie. This song just always demands my attention. I almost feel like I need to drop what I'm doing and pay attention to it and really listen to it. It could work as background music, but I feel like I need to concentrate and absorb it. Every time I do it rewards me. The song brings feeling of peace and tranquillity, lightening my day and calming my spirit. It's carried by acoustic guitar, gentle vocals (with a French accent, I might add), and a beautiful synthesized sound. In fact, I think it's the synth sections that really sell the song, thick with reverb and composed with a sure footedness, mixed with a feeling a spontaneity.
Actually, the whole Talkie Walkie album is great. While many cite Daft Punk as pioneers of modern electronica, Air were making great albums around the same time, bringing out emotionally provocative and artistically credible music that never quite hit the mainstream, but pleased fans and critics alike. That's a good place to be in, in my opinion.

86.) Mylon & Broken Heart – Trains Up In The Sky (1985)
Hey, don't judge me. I'm totally allowed to have ridiculous 80's Christian rock on this list. It's my list. Can't be helped. I grew up on this stuff and not all of it aged well. Admittedly, “Trains Up In The Sky” is one that didn't age so great, but it sure does encapsulate what Mylon & Broken Heart were all about. And even then, I have no shame in admitting that I love some ridiculous 80's music. I only wish that bands had as much gumption these days as they did back then. This song takes your guitar solo and raises you a keytar solo. I think for the full affect you need to watch the music video. It really just puts everything into perspective.
When I was a kid, we had a VHS of Mylon & Broken Heart music videos along with a bonus video, a very very early song by Newboys. This song was definitely my favourite in the collection. And my brother and I watched these videos all the time. It really takes me back. It also reminds me of looking at all of the cover art to my parents' record collection. Things that captured my imagination then make me snicker now, but the faux-digitalized picture of the band was pretty cool back then. Now? Well, like I said, not everything ages gracefully. I have that very vinyl copy of Sheep In Wolves Clothing in my collection right now though. How could I get rid of it?
It might sound like I'm poking fun at Mylon and the boys a bit, and maybe I am, but I do have a lot of respect for the band. They're one of the groups that I purposefully sought out when I went through a phase of rediscovering my old childhood albums. I have no regrets over finding them again.

85.) Sondre Lerche – Two Way Monologue (2004)
Sondre Lerche's “Two Way Monologue” works because at the end of the day, all preferences aside, it is a fantastically written song. There really is something special about it. A good friend of mine sent it to me, and I could always trust her taste in music. This was back when people sent each other MP3's through MSN Messenger and didn't just post Youtube videos of songs on friend's Facebook walls. It's one of those little details of life that evolved before I knew what happened. This song takes me back to those days actually. It was an era where my taste in music was going through a real evolution as I transitioned from a highschool kid to a college student. My mind was opening up. And while “Two Way Monologue” didn't particularly feel like a landmark in my life musically at the time, it has lasted pretty well over the years and prevailed while my interest in some other bands has waned. And part of that is because, like I said, it's a well written song. It's got personality and energy. It's contemplative, but humourous. It's catchy, but breaks formula. It was so good that I bought the album. The rest of said album isn't quite as instantly gratifying as its title track, but it's got a lot of great songs on it that have a lot of personality and charm. But it's hard to beat “Two Way Monologue,” the song that just keeps on giving.
The video is great, but I like the full version of the song much better.

84.) Limahl – The NeverEnding Story (1984)
Limahl's primary claim to fame is being the lead singer of Kajagoogo, known for their song “Too Shy.” But he also had a hit song as a solo singer, the promotional single and title song of The NeverEnding Story. First off, I love that movie. I think it's one of the best family films ever made, but I've reviewed it before so if you want to see more about that, read that. But the point is that it was a film that I grew up with and meant a lot to me. As such, “The NeverEnding Story” song evokes a lot of excitement from me. I instantly get the image of foreboding clouds, a picture that fascinated me as a child. And while the song is a fair bit dated, there are still a lot of strong ideas in it and a great execution. It's just a great pop song, carried by a smart combination of chords and soaring vocals. Though, I must confess that I grew up thinking that it was sung by a black woman, but no, he's just a gay man with a very memorable bleach blonde mullet. Admittedly, the song is a bit... fluffy, but it's tied to the right memories to make it on my list. I remember sitting at my Grandparents' house, browsing their selection of movies, only a few of which were of any interest to me back then. The NeverEnding Story was always at the top of our list to watch, along with the Star Wars trilogy naturally. You know, I wish I could browse that movie collection again. My grandparents are appreciators of cinema and I imagine that it would be a quality collection that would interest me a lot more now.

83.) Moist – Underground (1999)
Moist were a band that were a big deal in Canada, but I'm not sure if they took off anywhere else. I was a bit too young to appreciate their music when they were at their peak, but I do remember catching the video to “Underground” on Much Music and really liking it well before I knew who Moist were. It always stuck with me and I sought to find the track again and wouldn't until years later. Turns out that I was always close to finding them as I was a bit of a David Usher fan in the early 2000's when he spawned a few hits. As it turns out, he was the lead singer of Moist and had an even more successful solo career after the band stopped producing music. “Underground” gets major points for having a great introduction before the meat of the song even really kicks in. What is interesting about this song is that it's a little hard to peg which section of the song is the chorus and which is the verse. There is a heavier section and then a lighter section, both of which are very compelling and really lock me into the song. David Usher's singing is part of the song's success as he is a very emotive and unique singer. But I don't want to give him all of the credit because it's just generally a very well put together track. Also, the string section in the end is a nice touch.
As a whole, I could take or leave most of Moist's music, but I feel that “Underground” is an indispensable piece of Canadian music and should be a better known rock classic.

82.) Filter – Take A Picture (1999)
Unlike “Underground” by Moist, when “Take A Picture” came out, I was instantly enamoured with it. Someone once told me that this song was about a father walking in on his son masturbating, but that apparently isn't true. It's about an episode the singer on an airplane that somehow involved him taking his clothes off. That's much better of course. Well, in any case, “Take A Picture” is probably the only song by Filter I actively enjoyed, but I really do enjoy it. I just love the whole vibe and style of it. The percussion has a sort of tribal feel to it, the way the vocals are processed in the chorus is strangely appealing, and sometimes I really like the sound of acoustic guitar in a rock song. Something about the way this song is written and produced just really works for me. It just seems to have the right balance of everything in it. It's kind of cool when you can just tell that a producer has done his job really well and maximized the potential in a track.
Not a lot of specific memories attached to this song because I've been listening to it for a lot of years, but I do remember, at the beginning of the last decade, when the song was about to be played on the radio, the DJ saying “I can't believe this song is already a year old!” Well, now I can say “I can't believe this song is 15 years old!” Because seriously...

81.) Massive Attack – Risingson (1998)
Massive Attack's Mezzanine is considered a trip-hop essential album and spawned a few successful singles, this was one of them. But I find that people remember the song “Teardrop” the most, propelled by the fact that it was used as the theme to the hit show House. But it's their dark club anthem “Risingson” that always struck me as the winner of the collection, which is saying a lot considering how solid the album is. But there is something really dramatic and foreboding about the two rappers, likely due to the fact that they're voices just sound really cool. The bass line is deep and creepy. but the icing on the cake is that synthesized loop at the end, which is one of the best sounding synth-loop I've probably ever heard. It's gritty and full of reverb, and gives the song a really cool dramatic flare. The whole song is just a masterpiece of modern electronica, capturing the fascinating darkness of 1990's trip-hop, leaving not a sense of hopelessness, but a strange feeling of wonder and awe.

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