Saturday, November 19, 2016

Top 100 Songs: 75-51


75. "Mess of Me" by Switchfoot (2009) - Prev. #99
- My first introduction to Switchfoot was their great 2003 album The Beautiful Letdown, which probably never left my car CD player for months. Despite my love for that entire album, it's Switchfoot's 2009 single "Mess of Me" that has stuck with me longer. I find the lyrics are written directly to me, "I am my own affliction...the sickness is myself...I've made a mess of me" as I have a tendency towards self-destructive behaviors. Most laments of self-destruction come in slow and contemplative songs, but Switchfoot turns their self-destructive lament into the scream of an electric guitar. I like that choice. If Rock & Roll is about sticking it to 'the man', then Switchfoot is correct in writing a rock song sticking it to the real man most responsible for our problems, ourself.

74. "Layla" (Unplugged Version) by Eric Clapton (1992) - Prev. #58
- It has moved back a bit in my top 100 (mostly as a result of new songs), but I still find Clapton's acoustic version of "Layla" an enjoyable and eminently singable song. Aside from the awesome electric guitar riff of the Derek and the Dominoes version, I prefer this acoustic driven one. 

73. "Lovely Day" by Bill Withers (1977) - Prev. #94
- Sorry "Ain't No Sunshine" fans, I much prefer this brighter and groovier Bill Withers song. I first encountered the song being used ironically in the film 127 Hours and I've loved it ever since.

72. "Mr. Jones" by Counting Crows (1993) - Prev. #42
- This is one of those handful of songs that really define the 90's to me. It's hard to imagine this sound coming out of any other decade. I was a bit late getting into pop culture since my family lived in Japan for four of my childhood years, but this was one of the first "rock" songs I remember enjoying.  
Counting Crows
71. "Your Love is Everything" by Chris McClarney (2008) - Prev. #14
- Whenever I am wearied in my faith, whenever I am tired and need reminding of the "why" behind my life, this song reminds me. It brings me back to Christ's love and back to my time as a student and minister in Tallahassee when we use to play this song often during worship services. 

70. "When You Say Nothing at All" by Alison Kraus (1995) - Prev. #217
- A finer country love song is hard to find. Alison Kraus' clear vocals and the stripped down instrumental accompaniment improves upon the also stellar original by Keith Whitley. 

69. "Thunder Road" by Bruce Springsteen (1975) - Prev. #101
- The first Springsteen song in the top 100 is a great song in its own right, but feels a bit lacking without its companion piece, another Springsteen song on this list. Springsteen strikes me as a pop version of Bob Dylan with blue collar concerns.
On a sidenote, along with Sinatra's "My Funny Valentine" this might be one of the few popular songs to actively diss the lover it is ostensibly about. In the first verse of the song, Bruce sings,
 "You ain't a beauty but hey you're alright, Oh and that's alright with me." Hard to decide if it's refreshingly honest and real, or just a bit too honest - a bit like this scene in Liar Liar 

68. "Oh, Pretty Woman" by Roy Orbison (1964) - Prev. #113
- It's not "Only the Lonely" that "Thunder Road" sings about, but from the moment the drums kick in and the familiar bass line comes on it's really hard not to start tapping your toes to this Orbison classic. The song shot back up to popularity with the release of the Julia Roberts film Pretty Woman and unfortunately I think many people just associate as a "film song" and not for the classic rock song it is. I love the construction of the song, with consecutive segments that step the song down in speed (you can see my lack of music vocabulary in that description there) accompanied by a different Orbison vocal style, until it returns again to the toe tapping hook it's famous for. 

67. "Across 110th Street" by Bobby Womack (1973) - Prev. #117
- Similar to a Tupac Shakur song that will come later in this list, this is one of those songs that do a great job in laying out the real struggles surrounding life in poor neighborhoods where crime and drugs have become common. What I appreciate about songs like this, beyond the great musical quality, is the ability to tell the story that educates and helps you empathize without glamorizing or without excusing the situation. That's a very hard balance to strike. Unlike a film that may demand 2 hours of your time, a song like this has the ability to musically and lyrically drop you into a world you've never been and let you re-emerge with something new; all in the span of 4 minutes.
Bobby Womack
66. "I Want to Hold Your Hand" by The Beatles (1963) - Prev. #53
- Outside of "Yesterday", this is perhaps the most recognizable and popular Beatles song on the list. 53 years after it's release, it still remains a perfectly crafted piece of popular music. It doesn't have the gutsy, full-tilt vocal performance of "Twist and Shout", nor does it put a bigger grin on my mouth than "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da", but it's a better song overall than either of them. The verses are catchy, the chorus unforgettable, and the harmonies infectious. Turn this song on while riding in the car with friends and I have a hard time not seeing everyone tapping toes, smiling, and singing along. Isn't that what a great pop song is supposed to do?

65. "Freebird" by Lynyrd Skynyrd (1974) - New Entry
- It took me a while to come around to this southern rock epic, something Queen might have put out if they had grown up in Alabama rather than Britain. My first association with the song came from a pretty dark and depressing moment in Forrest Gump. Honestly, it's taken me quite a while to openly embrace things from the late 60's through the 70's because television and film has made the entire time look like an apocalypse of drugs, murderers, disco, an overflow of hair, and unsightly bell bottoms. Seriously, if you only knew the decade from movies that depict it, would you want to embrace it?

64. "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow" by The Shirelles (1960) - Prev. #134
- I've put the Shirelle's motown sound version of the song on this list, but Roberta Flack's slow version is just as good. As I put this list together, it surprised me how many 60's songs with a great hook, singable nature, and simple emotion fought for a spot on the list. The song is so catchy and simple, without being so simple it's worthless. I feel like that's kinda gotten lost in today's pop landscape where so much is heavily produced and self-aware.

63. "Rolling in the Deep" by Adele (2010) - Prev. #145
- Adele has said she wanted to make a song like The Rolling Stones "Gimme Shelter" (NSFW) and I think she made a better one. The song sounds great and its intensity matches the level of scorn the singer has for ex-lover. It's now become cliche that Adele writes songs about love gone wrong, but this was her first gigantic hit in that vein and I think it remains her best.
Adele
62. "You Don't Know Me" by Ray Charles (1962) - Prev. #139
- It's no secret that I'm single and don't really have anything on the immediate horizon. In fact, I've never had a significant romantic relationship in my life. Long story short, those who I have been interested in pursuing haven't been interested in me and those who have been interested in me, I've had no interest in pursing. Bummer amiright? In that sense, I've connected strongly with this song by Charles who sings, "You give your hand to me, And then you say hello, And I can hardly speak, My heart is beating so, And anyone can tell, You think you know me well, But you don't know me." It's a feeling I've had often, though never the pleasure of having it returned.  Notice the song has jump about 70 spots since I last did this list. I'm thinking the longer I remain single. the higher this song will jump ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

61. "Mr. Blue Sky" by Electric Light Orchestra (1978) - Prev. #61
- Came across this song in the trailer for the stellar 2004 film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Ever since then I've associated it with having fun as the song is impossibly infectious.

60. "Mirrors" by Justin Timberlake (2013) - New Entry
- As you will no doubt begin to notice the more this list plays out, I have a preference for easy listening songs with nice beats, melodies, and memorable hooks. I think this is Timberlake's finest pop song.  

59. "Hallelujah, I Love Her So" by Ray Charles (1956) - Prev. #69
- Ray's swing sound meets R&B classic encapsulates the emotion of having someone to love you and depend on...at least I assume it does :)

58. "Can't Help Falling Love" by Ingrid Michaelson (2008) - Prev. #54
- There isn't a single Elvis Presley song in my top 100 though "Suspicious Minds" does find itself in the 101-200 bonus round. Ingrid Michaelson's stripped down version of this Presley classic (and sure, UB40 classic) I find superior in nearly every way. It's one of my favorite love songs.

57. "The Times They Are A-Changin'" by Bob Dylan (1965) - New Entry
- A great protest song that continues to speak to this day.  It's not perfect, as I think it leans a bit too heavily on the idea that the younger generation all knows something the older doesn't. In that sense,  I'd suggest pairing it with The Beatles "She's Leaving Home" to rough out the edges. Still, there's an important truth to the urgency and immediacy Dylan cries for in the song - a folk prophet.
Bob Dylan
56. "Something" by The Beatles (1969) - Prev. #68
- The best love ballad in The Beatles catalog wasn't written by Paul or John, it was written by George Harrison late in the life of the band. Coming later in their careers, it's not a surprise to find the lyrics less idealistic and a bit more restrained. A friend of mine once said he would've included this song in his wedding reception if it weren't for the lyrics, "You're asking me will our love grow, I don't know, I don't know. You stick around now it may show, I don't know, I don't know." While Harrison's honesty might not be suitable for weddings, it's remarkably refreshing in the Beatles catalog of love songs, which tend to be either full in love or in the midst of a breakup. Thankfully, this isn't the honesty mentioned earlier in Springsteen's "Thunder Road".

This song strikes a very authentic (to me) note of someone who doesn't feel capable of saying how the relationship will be in the future, not because he isn't committed, but because he's jaded by life; that's a place of humility to me. Oh yea, the song sounds great as well. Slow verses give way to a percussive and building chorus that gives way to a beautiful guitar solo. It then circles back around to the verse with a renewed purpose and power until it finally lets out. Great song.

55. "Strawberry Fields Forever" by The Beatles (1967) - Prev. #40
- The second straight Beatles song and fourth so far in the top 100,  I consider "Strawberry Fields Forever" John Lennon's artistic peak. I don't believe there is a better song that displays Lennon's strengths while being absent of his weaknesses. I find Lennon's biggest weakness is his penchant for lyrics that are meant to mean nothing and are purposefully cryptic. It's source of major frustration for me, something I made a big deal about it in my Beatles Top 100 commentary many years ago. 
In "Strawberry Fields Forever", Lennon eschews the exercise in lyrical pointlessness and loads up on some of the most meaningful, authentic, and heart-breaking words he's ever penned. Lennon has said he has always felt different than most people and that others were really never able to get him. He felt this meant he was either gifted in a unique way or crazy. Lennon filtered these thoughts into the song writing,"No one I think is in my tree, I mean it must be high or low. That is you can't you know tune in but it's all right That is I think it's not too bad." That creativity comes across in the sound of the song as well; one that borders on psychedelic but ultimately is a lush guitar and drum song surrounded by horns, strings, and other instruments. No other song combines Lennon's lyrical honesty and reflection alongside his ability to experiment with rock sounds, all while remaining POP. It's mature, deep, and more importantly for me, still accessible.

54. "For Once in My Life" by Stevie Wonder (1968) - Prev. #20
- The exact lyrical opposite of Ray's "You Don't Know Me", Wonder sings here of finding the perfect person who perfectly knows him. The peace and hope in this joyous song is a welcome addition to most every playlist.

53. "Landslide" by Fleetwood Mac (1975) - Prev. #57
- It's nothing as intense as Elaine's boyfriend and "Desperado", but there's something bewitching to me about this song. The guitar sets a hypnotic contemplative/melancholy mood and Nick's reflective/uneasy lyrics are performed perfectly; you get the sense she is standing on the precipice of an emotional cliff jump she's making learning to make peace with.

52. "Viva La Vida" by Coldplay (2008) - Prev. #35
- "Clocks" might have the slightly better hook, but I find "Viva La Vida" to musically and lyrically superior. This is a basic lament of losing a relationship through dumb dishonesty, but it's dressed up with imagery of kings and empires falling throughout history. It's smart, catchy, and once the final chorus crescendos you realize it has drawn you in and engaged you from beginning to end.

51. "Rock With You" by Michael Jackson (1979) - Prev. #29
- Perhaps it's a little ironic that both songs to make my Top 100 list from the "King of Pop"aren't really pop songs. The first Jackson song to make my top 100 is "Rock With You", an excellent disco/R&B song that still plays great to this day - even better with headphones. My most distinct memory of listening to this song was in high school jamming out to it on a nighttime car ride back from Disney's Epcot with my friend Jimmy Wall. 
Michael Jackson



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