Sunday, 15 February 2009

101 Songs ... some further thoughts

1. I can't believe I didn't put 'Don't You' by Micah P Hinson on both lists - it's perfect. I must be crazy.
2. Lame of me not to include 'Come On Eileen'. 'Come On Eileen' is way greater than any of that Bob Dylan shite.
3. Frith, you might be right about 'Unfinished Sympathy' but I'm not putting any Sparks or Pet Shop Boys on instead

Friday, 6 February 2009

101 Songs

I make lists. I've always made lists. Not useful lists which help me sort my life out, not shopping lists or to-do lists or lists of my life's ambitions, but useless lists - great footballers, great films, and more than anything else great songs. I made my first '50 favourite songs' list when I was 12 (I think there were 22 songs by Madness on it) and the problem just grew and grew. Before I knew it, I was up to '100 favourite songs' and you know how it is when you're a teenager, temptations are hard to resist, things spiral and, it shames me to say it, but at the age of 19, I was a full-blown '500 favourite songs' listmaker.
Don't cry for me, I'd only myself to blame.
Something needed to be done, and with God's help and the indulgence of some of the finest institutions this country has to offer, I conquered, or shall we say becalmed, this terrible affliction. My lists became more vague, less forceful, less numerical, and more importantly, shorter. By the age of 25 I was capable of just, you know, writing down the names of a few songs I liked and maybe making them into a compilation tape. No big deal, I could handle it, I only did it socially.
And then came iTunes. iTunes changed everything. Suddenly you could put together playlists in seconds, suddenly it could put together playlists for you, suddenly with the Most Played feature, you were being told what your favourite songs were without deciding for yourself. The true Age of the List was over.
Even in music magazines, there are a lot fewer 'Greatest 100s', 'Top 50s' etc it just becomes more meaningless, more subjective, there is just so much music these days and there's so much access to it, you just can't tell people what the best is anymore, they can decide for themselves.

So, what's this then? It's a blog based around lists. Call it the last stand of an old fool, a lister for life, but there was just something in the back of my mind that wouldn't quit, some unfinished business, and it was finally set off by hearing 'Sitting On the Dock of the Bay' and thinking "That's a classic, a timeless song, truly one for the ages" and then thinking "but actually there are 100s of songs I like better, which i'd rather listen to right now". So what's the difference between songs I see and recognise as great and those which are my favourites?
So I decided to list 100 songs, the 100 greatest songs of all time, not my 100 favourite songs, but the songs of our age which will stand the test of time, which are seminal, definitive or unique (or damn well deserve to be). I tried to view it from as dispassionate a point of view as possible, utilise all the years poring over music magazines, try to put on several music critic heads at the same time. Consequently, if someone looks at the list, and sees rather a bland "rock snob" orthodoxy to it, that's rather the point. On the other hand, there was no fucking way I was putting 'Bohemian Rhapsody' on a list of mine. So there had to be rules - I did have to like the song, really like it, have loved it at some point (to be honest, I did love 'Bohemian Rhapsody' when I was 14 but that's a whole different shameful story). I had to truly be able to explain why it was great myself, rather than just accept someone else's claim for its greatness. It couldn't be a phoney list. I saw 'Tutti Frutti' top a Mojo list of the 100 Greatest Songs of All Time once, and for the life of me, I stll just hear a silly, minor, quite fun song. So no 'Bohemian Rhapsody', no ''Tutti Frutti' - that was my rule. And no Elvis, that was another rule. No fucking Elvis. Most overrated man since Roy Keane. Silly voice, wrote no songs, there are billions of Elvis impersonators because Elvis is easy to impersonate. You don't find any Jeff Buckley impersonators. To borrow from and completely miss the point of the lyric in one of the songs on the list, Elvis was a hero to most, but he never meant shit to me ...(Having said that, as will be seen, I almost broke this rule - everyone has one cracker in them or indeed two)
Like I say, though, on viewing the list put together, it would be easy to think "what a boring man with boring taste in music" and while the first part of that is thoroughly true and I'm happy to accept, the second part I would fight to the death to refute. I love my taste in music, I think it's the best thing about me, (apart from my unerring capacity for self-righteousness) so to redress the balance, I thought I'd also include a list of 100 favourite songs too. For this, of course, I had a readymade list, namely my iTunes Most Played, which is pretty inescapable evidence of personal taste, so, within reason, I've followed that pretty closely. It's only from the computer I've had for around a year, so it's quite heavy with recent music, but what is one's favourite music if not the stuff you love right now? Songs go in and out of favour every week. Again, i didn't include anything which I currently don't like but had listened to fairly recently and gone off (Elbow's 'One Day Like This', Paul Weller album tracks) and did put in a few things which i hadn't listened to much in the last year but knew had been filling my ears for years previously and had just escaped my mind recently.
The fact there is not much crossover between the two lists is partly deliberate in that when finalising the second list, I would eliminate something on the first list in favour of a new track for reasons of space, but it's also very much just the way the cookie crumbled. The main discrepancy is the weight of Bob Dylan in the first list and his absence in the second. While I'm quite sure he's written more great songs than anyone else by a long way and while i'm quite sure i've listened to Dylan in my life more than anyone else, these days, not so much. In some ways, he doesn't really suit iTunes. I won't expand on that fatuous point.
So anyway, here we go, two lists, each with 101 songs on them. Why 101, not 100? Is it some attempt to escape from the tyranny of the decimal system, to invoke Albert Hammond, George Orwell, or the current fashion for lists of ' .... holiday destinations to bungee jump at sunrise before you die when you're 30" to use the number 101? No, it's simply that I could not get down from 101 to 100, I just couldn't do it, i refused to eliminate that last song from either list. Even 102 to 101 was a bit of a nightmare, but 'Umbrella' ended up getting the push just because it looked like one self-consciously 'pop' song too many, and to be honest, I like it, but not that much.
So 101 it is. And since this is a blog, a log, i realised I should push this a bit further, shouldn't stop at songs and I should probably test myself by coming up with some more 101s, whatever they might be. We'll see.

As for the specifics of these lists, I initially wanted to go old school and put them in order, 1 to 101, but again, I found that simply cheapening and impossible. The difference between the 74th and 75th greatest song of all time? Not really. And also, it would just give too much about myself away, wouldn't it?
Having said that, I suspect that I think 'Over the Rainbow' is the greatest song of all, which doesn't make me a friend of Dorothy, I just can't imagine the history of song without it, and you hear it in everything from Starman to the Flaming Lips to anyone that, in song, longs for something better, something they used to have, something they hope to have - which is pretty much every good song ever.
And, i have, at the bottom, tried to say what my 5 favourite songs are, the songs which have most consistently hung around my consciousness between my hearing them and now - so i'm slightly having my cake and eating it.
To start with, i'll just list the songs, but the chances are I will come back to this and provide various explanations as to why, for example, I've chosen 'Live Forever' over 'Slide Away' which I much prefer, or why 'We Can Work it Out' over, say 'Strawberry Fields' - answer, because i like it a lot better. This is an inexact science.

The 101 GREATEST SONGS OF ALL TIME (as in, the last 70 years or so) ARE .... in no particularly particular order

Sitting on the Dock of the Bay - Otis Redding
Over the Rainbow - Judy Garland
Sheena is a Punk Rocker- The Ramones
Who Knows Where the Time Goes - Fairport Convention
Float On - Modest Mouse
Fight the Power - Public Enemy
She's a Jar- Wilco
First Day of My Life - Bright Eyes
America - Simon & Garfunkel
From the Morning -Nick Drake
Idiot Wind - Bob Dylan
God Only Knows - The Beach Boys
Like a Rolling Stone - Bob Dylan
(Love is like a) Heatwave - Martha Reeves & the Vandellas
Be Not So Fearful - Bill Fay
Somewhere - (Leonard Bernstein)
Dry the Rain - The Beta Band
Hummingbird - Wilco
The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll - Bob Dylan
Send in the Clowns - (Stephen Sondheim)
Down in the Tube Station at Midnight - The Jam
Born to Run - Bruce Springsteen
There She Goes - The La's
Shining Light - Ash
Debaser - The Pixies
Going Underground -The Jam
Moon River - (Henry Mancini)
Hallelujah - Jeff Buckley
Redemption Song - Bob Marley
There is a Light That Never Goes Out - The Smiths
Rebellion (Lies) - The Arcade Fire
Crying - Roy Orbison
Lose Yourself -Eminem
River Deep, Mountain High - Ike and Tina Turner
Waterloo Sunset - The Kinks
Be My Baby - The Ronettes
Mysteries - Beth Gibbons
Every Grain of Sand - Bob Dylan
Life of Mars? - David Bowie
Wichita Lineman - Glen Campbell
I Want You - Elvis Costello
I'm so Lonesome I Could Cry - Hank Williams
Many Rivers to Cross - Jimmy Cliff
Visions of Johanna - Bob Dylan
Doo Wop (That Thing) - Lauryn Hill
Perfect Day - Lou Reed
We Are Your Friends - Justice vs Simian
Motorcycle Emptiness - Manic Street Preachers
Yes - McAlmont & Butler
Holes - Mercury Rev
Temptation - New Order
Live Forever - Oasis
Us - Regina Spektor
I Will Dare - The Replacements
Smells Like Teen Spirit - Nirvana
Everybody Hurts - REM
To be Young (is to be sad, is to high) - Ryan Adams
The First Time Ever I Saw your Face - Roberta Flack
I am the Resurrection - Stone Roses
Oxygen - Willy Mason
Crazy in Love - Beyonce ft JZ
Anyone who had a Heart - (Bacharach/David)
Time to Pretend - MGMT
Don't Worry Baby - The Beach Boys
A Case of You - Joni Mitchell
Oh Boy - Buddy Holly
Let's Make this Precious - Dexys Midnight Runners
Jump - Van Halen
Such Great Heights - The Postal Service
Billie Jean - Michael Jackson
Mr Tambourine Man - Bob Dylan
A Brimful of Asha - Cornershop
Ever Fallen in Love - The Buzzcocks
Heroes - David Bowie
Chinese Rocks - Johnny Thunders
Groove is in the Heart - Deee-Lite
The Revolution Will Not Be Televised - Gil Scott-Heron
Search and Destroy - Iggy and the Stooges
Pictures of Success - Rilo Kiley
The Ace of Spades - Motorhead
Jolene - Dolly Parton
We Can Work it Out - The Beatles
The State That I Am In - Belle and Sebastian
If You Could Read My Mind - Gordon Lightfoot
Someone to Watch Over Me - (George/Ira Gershwin)
A Day in the Life - The Beatles
Paint it, Black - The Rolling Stones
To Ramona - Bob Dylan
I See a Darkness - Bonnie "Prince" Billy
The Man Don't Give a Fuck - Super Furry Animals
Tiny Dancer - Elton John
Hurricane -Bob Dylan
Emily - Joanna Newsom
Unfinished Sympathy - Massive Attaack
Love Minus Zero - Bob Dylan
Boulder to Birmingham - Emmylou Harris
Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head - (Bacharach/David)
Les Fleurs - Minnie Ripperton
Into My Arms - Nick Cave
I Think it's Going to Rain Today - Randy Newman
I Want to see the Bright Lights Tonight - Richard and Linda Thompson

Since I initially came up with list, I've given serious thought to the following
A Change is Gonna Come - Sam Cooke
London Calling - The Clash
Move on Up - Curtis Mayfield
Let's Stay Together - Al Green
Crazy - Gnarls Barkley
Hey Ya - OutKast
Suspicious Minds - Elvis Presley
Always on My Mind -Willie Nelson
Close to You - The Carpenters
To be honest, while they may all merit being there, they don't quite merit replacing anything that was already there. Well, maybe Move on Up and London Calling do. Maybe two Jam songs is a bit much, but I told people for years that 'Tube Station' was the most perfectly structured song, so i couldn't not include it.


You and I are a Gang of Losers - The Dears
Blue - The Jayhawks
Tonight - Lykke Li
No one's Gonna Love You - Band of Horses
The Trapeze Swinger - Iron & Wine
Sons and Daughters - The Decemberists
First Day of My Life - Bright Eyes
With Arms Outstretched - Rilo Kiley
Piazza, New York Catcher - Belle and Sebastian
Smile - The Jayhawks
Lost in the Plot-The Dears
Flightless Bird, American Mouth -Iron and Wine
Massive Night - The Hold Steady
Halloweenhead -Ryan Adams
Lose Yr Frown - Electric Soft Parade
Godspeed - Jenny Lewis
St Patrick - James Yorkston
Dreamy Days - Roots Manuva
Bryte Side - The Pernice Brothers
Llorando - (Mulholland Drive soundtrack)
The Middle - Jimmy Eat World
Kathleen - Josh Ritter
I Want to be a Christian - The Proclaimers
Us - Regina Spektor
More Adventurous - Rilo Kiley
Jesus was a Crossmaker - Judee Sill
You Broke My Heart - Lavender Diamond
Paper Planes - MIA
Listen, Listen - Sandy Denny
Ice Hockey Hair - Super Furry Animals
Float On - Modest Mouse
Time to Pretend - MGMT
When I See Your Eyes, I Swear to God that Worlds Collided - The Young Republic
You Got Yr Cherry Bomb - Spoon
Lloyd, I'm Ready to be Heartbroken - Camera Obscura
The Engine Driver - The Decemberists
When the Brakeman Turns My Way -Bright Eyes
Grace - Jeff Buckley
Mr November - The National
She's a Jar - Wilco
Underneath the Weeping Willow - Grandaddy
Rise - Josh Rouse
Patience - Micah P Hinson
Oxford Comma - Vampire Weekend
Mykonos - Fleet Foxes
Sad Eyes - Josh Rouse
Don't You - Micah P Hinson
LES Artistes - Santogold
Be Not So Fearful - Bill Fay
Downtown Train - Tom Waits
So Here We Are -Bloc Party
The Kiss - Judee Sill
Martha - Tom Waits
Alternative to Love - Brendan Benson
Hold on Hope - Guided by Voices
Lay your Head Down - Keren Ann
Grumpus - Lambchop
Overcome by Happiness - The Pernice Brothers
My Wandering Days are Over - Belle and Sebastian
Diamonds and Rust - Joan Baez
That Lucky Old Sun - Johnny Cash
Bloody Motherfucking Arsehole - Martha Wainwright
People Ain't No Good - Nick Cave
Take Me Anywhere - Tegan and Sara
Hummingbird - Wilco
Cheated Hearts - Yeah Yeah Yeahs
The State That I Am In - Belle and Sebastian
Thunder Road - Bruce Springsteen
It's a Motherfucker - Eels
Emily - Joanna Newsom
The Mercy Seat - Nick Cave or Johnny Cash
On & On - The Longpigs
If I Could Only Fly - Merle Haggard
Van Occupanther - Midlake
From the Morning - Nick Drake
Fidelity - Regina Spektor
Saint Simon -The Shins
The Only Living Boy in New York - Simon and Garfunkel
Ashes of American Flags - Wilco
Black-winged Bird - The Cake Sale
The World Should Revolve Around Me - Little Jackie
Darling Be Home Soon - The Lovin' Spoonful
Better Son/Daughter - Rilo Kiley
Pictures of Success - Rilo Kiley
On and On and On - Wilco
Morning Theft - Jeff Buckley
Honey and the Moon - Joseph Arthur
Blue - Lucinda Williams
Drop the Pressure - Milo
Myriad Harbour - The New Pornographers
Northern Sky - Nick Drake
Dinner at Eight - Rufus Wainwright
Candy's Room - Bruce Springsteen
Lithuania - Dan Bern
Everyone I Know is Listening to Crunk - Lightspeed Champion
Calimero - Super Furry Animals
Somewhere - Tom Waits
Amsterdam - UNPOC
Fun Fun Fun - The Beach Boys
Brickbat - Billy Bragg
Red - Elbow

and of these, my FAVOURITE 5 SONGS EVER EVER, I'm fairly certain, are ...

Bryte Side - The Pernice Brothers
From the Morning - Nick Drake
She's a Jar - Wilco
Rise- Josh Rouse
People Ain't No Good - Nick Cave

and of those, my favourites are the top two
And that's quite funny really, because I've listened to, read about, poured over, thought about literally 100s of 1000s of songs, and that I should end up with these two, which are not, on first listening, particularly remarkable - mid-tempo, standard length, nice melody, could pass you by in the flash of an eye, says everything you need to know about why lists are going out of fashion.