A hundred songs, a hundred reasons


7 oct. 2006, 13h55m

Yes, here's yet more cataloguing of my gravitation towards obsessive list-making. I guess it speaks for itself, so I won't need to add much.

I will say that my original intention was for a bare 100, instead I went with comments for all. Even if I did want to paint it as some sort of noble quest after varacity, a need to explore my own soul in a bid to find the reasons for a profoundly spiritual connection, it's not even close to being anything like that. No, the only reason was in hope that I might receive more beautiful words of praise from Jenny, so I could sit and ponder what exactly I did to deserve such affection from such a delightful lady. In light of her recent, utterly flattering dedication to me on these hallowed pages, I owe it to her to offer my own, humble, but sincere expression of love. This one's for you, again.

So here we go...

100. Maybe

This one was chosen mainly to appeasea member of the board it originally appeared on, but the immaculate vocal expression of regret and pained loss make it well worth its spot.

099. 'Tain't Nobody's Biz-Ness If I Do

A voice that can truly make the hair's on the back of your neck (or anywhere else, for that matter) stand up, in defiantly fiery mood here. Poor grammar though.

098. This Is Love

Expertly pounding rhythm, as Ms. Harvey attempts to convince her erstwhile listener of the purity of feeling towards the object of affection mentioned in the song. Well, fuck off Polly, it's lust and we all know it. The song is impressive enough to gloss over the deceit.

097. You're A Customer

If you're buying EPMD, that's not a bad thing! The superficiality of culture laid over a very worthy bass line. Keep bouncing.

096. Machine Gun

Dreamy. Like laying your head on a fluffy pillow and dreaming of the captain of the High School football team.

095. I Could Have Loved a Tyrant

Dreamy. Like gazing out of a rainy window and creating love narratives for every person you see walk by.

094. Aerosol Burns

I'M FEELING SO MIXED UP! The madness of Lora Logic, her astonishing voice as ever capable of ascending greater peaks than the most focused of mountain climbers, making the most nonsensical ramblings seem utterly, wildly captivating. And musically, it's punk as it should be - containing a saxophone.

093. Mom & Dad

Incomprehensible. Still, I'd want to meet the guy with parents like this.

092. Plastic Bag

Musical schizophrenia, lyrical hysteria (my mind is like a switchboard with crossed and tangled lines.... I don't know what's going on - it's the operator's job, not mine) - sheer, uninhibited fun.

091. Birdland

Rambling, perhaps; bizarre, certainly; poetic, undoubtedly. Above a sparse piano line, Patti chucks out a lucid, opaque narrative filled with lyrically evocative lines. It screams at you; if you're not on drugs you should be! And then we can all run through the fields dreaming in animation, perhaps.

090. I Am Oozing Emotion

Constructed from a series of strange noises (including quite prominantly the vocals), tis actually rather a sweet little song; behind its irreverence there is the rather pained idea held within the title - a sense of damage so large that the emotion just keeps pouring out. Should be the indie kid staple for unrequited love, for one.

089. Carson

Fierce! Takes the phrase "liar liar pants on fire" to its logical, murderous conclusion. You gotta dig.

088. In Particular

Yes, I tell myself it's only music! Yes, it does blow my mind when it's like that! Despite the rather nifty riff, this wouldn't be in the 100 if it didn't elucidate so beautifully the drive after new songs.

087. Symphonique #6 (Good for Goodie)

A beautiful juxtaposition of beat-heavy jazz and string-laden classical. Excellently evocative.

086. Oriental

Like submitting to an invasion of weirdly cute Japanorama miniature dolls. The band takes its general no-frills energetic punk rock and effortlessly, almost brazenly adds a leitmotif of "the mystical far east". Good on them.

085. Little Weird Grrrl

Nice sound, but it's all about the lyrics here. Designed as a note to a small girl delineating the hypocrisy and prejudice she'll have to face, and how to triumph through it all as an inidividual. A song to give to your niece as she awakens as a teenager.

084. Damaged Goods

"But I know it's only lust" - see Polly? The song is no worse because of this admittance. In fact, it's a clever device that reveals a certain hollowness to Western culture's constant emphasis on love and marriage.

083. Needle In A Haystack

A rarity in that it's a 60s girl group song that is actually disparaging towards the opposite sex. And with good reason. Superbly produced and sung, this one. There's very little better girl group.

082. Venus in Furs

Sado-masochism never sounded so right.

081. Vitamin C

Do I really need to say anything about Can? Fucking owned rhythm.

080. For Tammy Rae

The only Kathleen Hanna song really worth anything. Seriously, what's the hype about? This, though, is beautifully judged, and excellently emotive.

079. Autumn Sweater

The sense of alienation from everyone, the temptation to slip away with one person, and lose yourself in them. It's really about fear of external pressures, a feeling that anything could crush your seemingly unperturbable love. But isolation never works, and the narrator's resigned delivery shows he knows that full well.

078. Beauty

It's the luscious, elusive flute that really does it. It rises over the expertly measured beat excellently, almost allowing you to touch the thick, sepia-toned atmosphere (my, I'm repeating myself again). And then the verses - an intellectual spin on the hip-hop staple of self-aggrandisement, and then a surrealistic dreamscape where beauty is forever elusive, available to be manipulated by shadowy, cartoonish villains. An oddity, but as with the album, a tight, psychadelic masterpiece.

077. Le Pain Perdu

The temerity of these girls! Making a modern Big Band inflected song way before Radiohead even thought of it, and then giving it a stupid, crassly irreverent title as they did! How postmodernism always should be.

076. Sex Bomb

Filthy and pointless. It's the musical accompaniment to nailing Courtney Love.

075. N.Y. State of Mind

Best sparse, jazz-inflected beat ever. And extra cool points for pulling off the line I never sleep, cos sleep is the cousin of death with full sincerity.

074. Ping-Pong Affair

A typically breezy Slits rhythm, backed up this time by a hilarious tale of hysterical mistrust, one that really hits social stereotypes bang on.

073. No Thing On Me (Cocaine Song)

Total deconstruction of myths propagated by blaxploitation films, achieved in the soundtrack for one of the more famous examples. Seriously, how'd he do that? This song, as well as having the requisite extraordinary arrangement, is so shamelessly life-affirming that it manages to touch even my cynical bastard heart.

072. Fairytale in the Supermarket

A Flaubert-esque recognition of the role of popular literature in constructing and affirming our social constructions; it's pretty clever, really. That might be lost in giddy devouring of the hysterical chants, the screeching violins and wounded guitars, instruments liberated from their normal means of expression, and a generally breathtakingly unique aesthetic expression, a paen to the joys of creation.

071. Mr. Tambourine Man

I mean, just listen to the last verse. Fucking brilliance.

070. Lady Scarface

Breathtaking posturing. A strange dismembered jazz tune plays host to a woman lying her way out of taking blame for her possessive sexuality. I'll allow it.

069. And I Live In A Town Where The Boys Amputate Their Hearts

Everything about it, from the music to the violence-filled lyrics, just screams dissafected slackerdom. A song for when cultural superficiality just seems too much to bear.

068. We Don't Play Guitars

A band at times very interesting sonically, at others rather rote - here they're just hilariously fun.

067. I'm Still Here

Short and sweet, oh so very sweet. Love as a gentle reminder, essentially.

066. t.r.o.y

An eloquent expression of loss, with some fucking spectacular horns. Not enough songs have good horns, I think.

065. Shoot the Singer

Young, brash, and utterly fresh; Malkmus spits out his lyrics with nothing but traces of irony, and dares us all to find an overriding meaning to it all. Special mention must be made of the rather delectable Saloon cover, too.

064. I Know You Got Soul

As always, Eric B. lays down a thoroughly brilliant beat. As always, Rakim spits out his verses with that matchless laconic style of his. I put this above their other, usually brilliant tracks, then, because I think it does a better job than most of advancing the links between the performer, the medium, and the audience, which were utterly integral to the development of hip-hop.

063. Optimo

Ah, the beats.

062. No Sense

A thick, melancholic atmosphere pervades as Chan sings of estrangement from those who should be closest, as she looks at those she has always loved and sees only the shells they inhabit. This is the world where nothing makes sense, and nobody elucidates its contradictions better than Chan.

061. One Nation Under a Groove

Funktastic! Pity the idea expressed in the title never quite materialised. I blame the rednecks.

060. Repetition

Beautiful control over tempo, texture and rhythm; the repetition's not in the music, it's in the lyrical content, an evocation of an abusive domestic relationship. The flippant manner in which the tale is related (I guess the bruises won't show if she wears long sleeves) might be unsettling, but I find it's rather just an excellently smart manner of suggesting how commonplace such scenes of abuse are. Despite it's coolness, it's a very confrontational song.

059. I Hate You

Garage rock at its most abrasively fun. And an integral message to boot - you're hated because of you, dipshit!

058. Childhood Memories

A very lovely guitar line, making this possibly the best anti-nuclear power song ever.

057. Buddy

Yes, it's really very silly. But is that such a bad thing? The aural structures of the black public sphere brought to bear once again in this collaboration between two of the most progressive hip-hop groups, and an anthem of riotous fun is crafted in the process.

056. Marquee Moon

Restlessly twitching guitars, surrealistic lyrics; the matchless iconicity of Television laid down for all to bear witness. Step back, all ye inferior sound-a-likes.

055. Lady Day and John Coltrane

Beautiful soul delineates the ability of music to profoundly enter someone's lives. Here it's about how the two figures in the title could provide strength to African-Americans as they faced all manner of hardships and struggles. A reminder to all those who would have it otherwise that music is deeply socially meaningful.

054. Not Moving

Pulverising. Like having your brain sawn in half as the practitioner explains that there's really no point in doing so.

053. Star Power

Backwards love, I tells ya.

052. I Found a Reason

A ready-made riposte to all those who would have Chan as merely a maudlin bitch caterwauling into a microphone about past relationships; here she takes a Velvet Underground song and strips it of much of its running time, instrumentation, shifts emphasis on the lyrics completely, and comes away with a song of simple elegance, and stunning beauty.

051. Oh Yeah

Ass-shaking greatness, a song to make you scream oh yeah! as if yr life depended on it (hence the title, I guess). If I could write a rhythm half as good as Can, I'd be so fucking ecstatic my head would probably explode. I can't, so instead I'll dance like a twat.

050. Lazy In Love

"Lydia Lunch's mutilated blues band." Apt.

049. Born in Flames

A positively weird band teams up with a singer possessing one of the most unique cadences in punk music for the soundtrack to a feminist film - how could this not have turned out great! Seriously, the driving guitar line is fucking astounding, and the way Lora Logic dances over it like a skipping nymph is something to behold. Brilliant.

048. Boulder to Birmingham

The elegance of mourning. Restrained passion in the vocals, music playing respectful enough to do nothing other than support Emmylou's fractured, emotive singing; it adds up to a beautiful tune.

047. (Take Back) The Revolution

Sleazy, menacing, and assertive. If they played this on demonstrations I might actually enjoy going to them.

046. Strange Fruit

Tragfically sad and boldly defiant in equal measures, Lady Day takes it to a violently racist society, and at least comes out as the dignified victor. But the pain of actions is clear for all to see.

045. Split

Like children maniacally shouting nonsense words; and we're placed in the position of the psychiatrist who needs to make sense of it all. Eventually the realisation dawns that you're never going to work out when they're saying real words and when they're just blurting out ridiculous noises, and besides there's no point to it all anyway. Just relax and let the insanity engulf you.

044. The NWRA

A narrative dealing with when the North of England conquers the South - I'm down!

043. Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands

A lyrical behemoth, with expressions ranging from poignantly tender to fiercely critical, reverent to bitterly cynical without once stepping outside the thematic tapestry Dylan creates for the song. That boy could certainly write.

042. Jennifer

Almost overhwhelmingly sentimental, but more than good enough musically to pull it off. Like lying back, closing your eyes, and letting the memories flow, soothing your present pains.

041. Sister Ray

Kudos to any song that advises against murder on the grounds that it'll ruin the aesthetics of the carpeting. The lyrical highlight of perhaps the most hilarious art-rock narrative song ever crafted; musically that's at about 14 minutes, when it all slows down before starting up again, reminding the listener just how good its rhythm is. As if it needed to.

040. $1000 Wedding

To put it quite simply, this is amongst the finest, heart-wrenching narrative-based songs I've heard. Gram takes his ever-excellent musicianship, and with an almost painfully sincere warmth unravels a story of seemingly perfect love gone horribly awry. Emmylou is lovely, but then when is she not?

039. This Side of the Blue

One of the most interesting musicians of modern times in all her effusive, Camus-name-checking glory. However long it takes to get used to the voice, it's worth it. Smart lyrics, interesting arrangements, and curious instrumentation are the ingredients that merge into something rather lovely indeed.

038. Passing Me By

Weird. Not the song in itself, which is a really beautifully measured tale about unrequited, unrealistic love, with music that impressively gives the sense of fading memories. But, I mean, this comes right after Ya Mama, a song filled with crass, irreverent insults of the most base kind. Clearly a band of many talents.

037. Kimberly

Amidst a tender, yet foot-tapping guitar line, Patti delves into some of her finest, warmest lyrics yet. A tale of two lovers standing, gazing into each others eyes even as the fabric of the universe crashes all around them, unaware that time is ending, because these moments are eternal.

036. Iron Galaxy

A song so good, with MCing so brutal, and beats so large, that it needs warning tones.

035. Dirt

Best drum roll ever. From there it gets better; the assualting guitars of the rest of the album toned down into a relatively sparse, superbly rhythmic tune, and Iggy sings lyrics that probably count as introspective in his twisted world - "I've been dirt, and I don't care." To be fair, when the music's this good, I don't care if he is a violent, drugg-addled bastard. Just adds to the fun.

034. I Wish I Never Saw The Sunshine

The eloquence of pain. Simple, yet almost brutally effective; the production provides the perfect surroundings for the impassioned vocal performance, the lyrics unpretentious and utterly heartfelt. Same for the song, which with basic materials perfectly sums up the emotions of an aborted relationship. Sometimes, simplicity is everything.

033. Rebel Without a Pause

BASS! Chuck D manages to dominate so thoroughly a beat fiercer than a hurricane, to the point he has to be kept in check by his own band members. Shit, to use a reasonably vulgar expression, is ripped up.

032. He's Misstra Know It All

The piano is delectable, the melody a sumptuous base for Stevie's passionate call for unity, for communal understanding, and against deceptive, lumpenised individualism. Shit like that ruins black communities, you see.

031. Contort Yourself

"Assault jazz" is pretty much the best description I've heard of this band. Even so, that does no justice to the startling, innovative, exhilarating, and goddamn filthy iconicness of this song. Blissfully noisy, beautifully nihilistic.

030. C.R.E.A.M

Ghetto blues, shown on the news, now performed by a group with a rough enough aesthetic to do justice to a complex phenomenon. For a band with such a laissez-faire approach to merchandising they sure did a fine job delineating the divisive effect of money on tight communities.

029. Here

Malkmus ditches the irony and drops a song of painful sincerity, acknowledging to the unnamed subject that, however hard he tries, whatever he does is never sufficient. I still like him, though. Does that count for anything? I doubt it.

028. Good Morning, Captain

The temperature has just dropped. There's nothing akin to being siezed by this chilling bassline.

027. In Love With All My Lovers

There's something hiding behind this crass title and guitar cacophony, and it's not what you may expect. Instead of being treated to the staple Bratmobile posturing vitriol, Allison sings a song of heartbreak, of isolation, most of all of insecurity, reliving the depths of lost loves, nonplussed as to how it could all have ended this way. It's extremely blunt, as is always the case with these girls. I doubt they know any other way. It's also brutally honest, and I think they lack the technical capacity to have it any other way. Proof that expression comes in many different forms, and this is no less beautiful for coming in a more abrasive package than most.

026. Europe Man

Texture! Seriously, how many guitars did these guys use... 118? Worked well here in its evocation of sectarian New York cool. And let's face it, with the music emanating from that city in the late 70s - early 80s, its inhabitants could piss on anybody they fucking wanted to. Europeans, ha!

025. You Can't Be Funky

A killer bassline and astounding rhythm. Really immaculate fusion of various stylistic trends from the No Wave era, working with the new possibilities that period opened up for the guitar, as well as the new experimentation with the texture of beats. And it's funky alright.

024. Electric Relaxation

The ultimate attainment of freshness within hip-hop, I believe. The beat is fabulous, the rhymes playful and oh so chic. This vital, patchwork genre has thrown up plenty of iconic classics in its short existence, for me this sounds better than any of them.

023. Sea of Love

The source material is a slightly mawkish 50s ballad, twee lyrics and all. The instrumentation is frankly weird (seriously, what the hell is she playing?). She did this on purpose, just to emphasise how damn spectacular her vocals are. And fucking hell, does she ever make them fly! Her vocals are filled with an amazing cathartic longing, as if she were drawing upon her entire stock of remembered loves, displacing all her past pains, joys, and regrets into this one, slight frame. Impressively, it never threatens to break under the pressure, and the twee lyrics are suddenly invested with an earth-shaking significance. Only her voice could do that.

022. Teen Age Riot

Flippantly anthemic. Think about that, because it's a pretty impressive thing to achieve. It's also a breezily iconic love song to anybody who dares to dream, an ode to slackerdom, the aesthetic realisation of a whole generational philosophy, or whatever else you want it to be for you. Scores most cool points.

021. No One's Little Girl

The band seem to have overdosed on versions of this song; I have to say, it's not without reason. The melody is tender, driven by the oddly rhythmic, and, of course, occassionally screeching, yet always resonantly beautiful violin. Overlaid are Gina Birch's vocals; softly whispered, but irrevocable, fully defiant of what her culture tells her she must be. And the very aesthetic newness of the song, the combination of omnipresent Raincoats trademarks with a headfirst dash into new territory (for the band, and perhaps beyond), shows that they had no problem finding alternate channels to express themselves, to construct their own sense of individuality. In such matters The Raincoats were uniquely well-equipped.

020. Don't Talk Like

Seems strange to me that this band should be excessively painted in musical discourse as a politically committed one; the appeal of the "angry-indie-vegan-rocker-girl thing" quickly dies down, especially since they've never really gone beyond trivialities in their cultural critiques. Some things pass too quickly. Some things, however, are too persistent to ever retreat into forgotten shadows: Don't Talk Like plants itself firmly in one such element of human experience, and paints a devestating canvas of heartbreeak and isolation; impassioned, futile love. Corin sings alone, but whereas on later albums she would accelerate into pointless vocal pyrotechnics, she keeps everything simple here; the deftness with which she sings the words allowing for a full recognition of how wounded they really are, how draining her devoted love became when nothing was returned by its recipient. Fittingly, the emotive apotheosis comes not when she resorts to shouting for recognition, but in the resigned sigh afterwards; there's a part of me that's you, the words falling from her lips almost regrettably, the outpouring of love they represent tempered by the acceptance of the futility of their expression.

019. Die Matrosen

Slightly industrial looking Swiss-German women lay the beat down with total confidence in their own sound, and create probably the most groovalicious jazz-inflected post-punk song of all time. I'm down.

018. Ice Hockey Hair


Seriously, it is.

017. Halleluwah

"A clinic in rhythm." Suitably precise remarks from the atease list-master; I won't try to expand, since there's no real reason. It's Can, for fucks sake.

016. That's the Way Boys Are

Sweet; the soft melody and acapella are lovely. Sorrowful; apropos the resigned manner in which the various petty wrongs committed by the male are accepted. Shockingly macabre; as halfway through the song the projected outcome of the naturalisation of such masculine transgressions are accepted becomes clear, as in the middle distance a woman screams repeatedly for her life, a horrifying sound that becomes no less vigorous when the instrumentation kicks in, the baritone ukelele and amplified toy piano sounding sinister in a way they never did previously. This song is fucking weird. But, it's incredibly daring, and pulled off with wondrous skill.

015. Mississippi Goddam

I refer, of course, to the version on the spectacular 2 disc Anthology. The stage is set so perfectly; the name of this tune is Mississippi Goddam, (loud laughter) and I mean every word of it (muted, nervous laughter). Turns out she did, her furious vocals damning racial inequality in American society. The best part is, undoubtedly, when she knowingly turns to the crowd and playfully jokes I bet you thought I was kidding, didn't you, before launching into an astonishingly intense tirade, dropping the previous emphasis on personal woes and breaking points, to expounding the real threat of violence rising out of the ruins of prejudice, and an implication that any fuiture woes are on everybody's heads. Fierce lady.

014. Pale Blue Eyes

Amidst the prettiest melody the band ever conceived of, Lou Reed sings a love song that is no less beautiful for all its ambiguity, self-doubt, and even pensiveness. For all concerns are swept aside the moment he catches himself staring into those eyes once more, reassured by their everlasting freshness.

013. We The People Who Are Darker Than Blue

An immaculately soulful call for unity, where Mayfield attempts to open new doors within minority discourse, and build new bridges between the aural black public sphere (which so often has been the only form of public recognition the African-American populace has had) and other movements striving for social equality. As if to underscore his refusal of restriction to a singular voice, the music shifts from a soul aesthetic filled with lush instrumentation, in particular the mournful horns, to a style driven by a tribal-esque drumbeat, and then back again. The recognition is that essentialist definitions of black culture cannot cut it in the face of its superbly diverse polyphony, and that under the banner of the oppressed there is room for many contestatory voices. In the hands of Curtis, an impassioned stylistic unity at least can be achieved. What else, he could only hope for.

012. You Set the Scene

Quite apart from how spectacular the opening section to the song is, it's restless guitars twitching as Arthur Lee's death instinct plays itself out in the lyrics once more, the stylistic shift into a triumphant, horn-blazing aesthetic is a moment of true brilliance. Still, nothing is ever perfect. Whilst Lee might be prepared to face the present and refuse to be cowed by the crushing banality, the endless destruction that he sees as surrounding him always, it is still with the knowledge that all things must pass, that death awaits no matter how purposeful he chooses to make his life, even if he manages to transcend the evils that cloud the world. And the challenge for the listener to rise up and forge their own triumph remains unavoidably present, the ominous gauntlet that is thrown down with such ferocious intensity.

011. God Only Knows

The aesthetic culmination of centuries of expressions of transcendental love.

010. Expressway to Yr. Skull

It pretty much does what it promises. Feels like it burrows into your subconscious and extracts all the dreams from it, replacing them with really quite wicked thoughts. There's no differentiation between passions; everything finds itself gravitating towards a singular point of reference, everything leads to a realm where the outcome of feelings is no longer important, as long as they're true.

009. The Classical

Fuckface? That MES is pretty harshly insulting for a man who can barely sing for shit. The moment when everything The Fall ever did right came so wonderfully good, the totality of their aesthetic gathered here as MES sneers his way through his lyrics, implicating everybody in that haughty manner that only a man of his brilliance could possibly pull off. It's perfection, and yeah, we're all fuckfaces for not being able to do it ourselves. Leave it to the hip priest.

008. Living For The City

Too talented for his own good. The intro promises funk which the song more than delivers, but allayed to the musical difference is a very pointed social critique; past and present colliding in a historical narrative surrounding the migration of emancipated blacks from hostile areas in the rural south to the urban centres of the industrial north, finding that reality never quite conforms to dreams. Stevie recognises the association of this journey with a redemptive entry into the state economic realm, and delineates instead the resulting ghettoisation of blacks in contemporary city centres, focusing on the various evils of urban areas in order to dismiss any illusions still held in their democratic spirit. The bastard could do everything.

007. Orphans

As brutal an assault on the senses as has ever been made. Lydia Lunch has a hard job screaming her lyrics through the guitar cacophony, and considering just what it is she's singing we may have been a whole lot healthier if she had been inaudible. Why is it that orphaned children should be running through blood-soaked snow? Extreme.

006. Heroin

The guitars, as ever, are just perfect. The restraint in the rhythm which allows for the accelerated periods of noise demonstrates how well the band complemented each other, how much the sound was forged through a combination of elements, even as the two "geniuses" receive the major credit and attention. Still, the acerbic, iconic coolness with which Reed delivers his vocals must be acknowledged, the lyrics a near emotionless detailing of the effect of the most foul of all drugs as it begins to flow through his body, with no adherence to decorum, no consideration of any negative effects apropos social messages. He just lets it all out, and it came out perfect.

005. Maggot Brain

Some things you just can't expect. Funkadelic, a band with a tremendously scatalogical sense of humour, whose entire aesthetic seems devoted to ass-shaking positivity, produced the most measured, superbly conceived guitar solo in history. It's not even a case of asking who says a funk band can't play rock?. The guitar work is so gloriously intricate, so astonishingly effusive, that it's more pertinent to ask; who could have thought so much emotion could come from one man's playing? Play like your mother just died, was the notorious command from George Clinton to Eddie Hazel, and the trance-like spell that Hazel weaves, the music slowly dispersing into the air, suggests a powerful state of feeling that goes beyond everyday emotions.

I've seen this live, you know. It was heavenly. For about a quarter of an hour I was locked into the groove as it happened, experiencing the outpouring of emotion as it charged through the entire crowd. I couldn't find words to adequately express it, but that moment, amidst the riotous fun that was on offer for the rest of the 3 hour set, transcended the limitations of the time and space we all were in. I guess it is those moments we all look for, when the music seems capable of propelling your soul into the cosmos, to the place where truly nothing matters but the lived moment. that is what is so marvellously expressed in Maggot Brain.

004. Colors and the Kids

I don't think it's much of a stretch to say that nobody does sad like Chan Marshall. The evasive juxtaposition of lyrics, the plaintive tone of vocals, the deftly mournful piano melody; these elements in the song advance the melancholic path traversed by Moon Pix, the album on which this song is found, and build upon the sense of longing after unattainable people, places or things. And in keeping with the aesthetic of that album, the music is soft, and always subordinate to the emotional rigour held within Chan's voice, as she sings in her highly sensual manner, opening herself fully to the listener. On Colors and the Kids she at times sounds utterly defeated, singing lines which need hope even as she is well aware there isn't any left to cling to, lost in an incomprehensibly large world, more importantly lost within herself.

It may well be a stretch, then, to say that nobody does happy like Chan Marshall. But, for me it's always present in this song, and perhaps has the power to triumph over the sorrow and insecurity expressed. Of course, it's never utopian; that would be too naive. Chan wouldn't allow herself any more than a fragile optimism; perhaps she could become someone better, and maybe it's her exhausting love for those people in the city that'll allow her to lift herself out of her self-contempt; perhaps life can be about more than pain, perhaps it doesn't have to entail constant regret. The lines are quickly, nervously dropped as the song meanders further down its path, showing the lack of total confidence in them, but ideas can sprout from the tiniest of seeds, and coy optimism may grow into something much more substantial. Colors and the Kids is planted within the shadow, but it manages to rise above them at times. It is at once both a catharsis and a becoming.

003. Like a Rolling Stone

The kick, the pause, then the full-on smash; cluttered instrumentation surrounds the culturally ubiquitous once upon a time, as Dylan spits it out with utter contempt for those profligate idiots with their foolish human belief in the stability of the future. Once upon a time you dressed so fine, threw the bums a dime in your prime... The determining phrase is the first, that which effects a rupture with the past even as it ties it so irrevocably to the present, so that things are distinguishable even as their linearity is assured, even as there is a logical continuity between them all. But the progression in this case makes it abundantly clear that the fairytale is over; that the time for vanity has completely passed, be it personal narcissism that leads to showy clothes, or self-congratulation over a pittance passed to the poverty-stricken. The rupture in Rolling Stone is half carnivalesque; the rich have become that bum sitting on the streets with no concrete guarantee as to their next meal, but they've just joined everyone else in wallowing in destitution. Even Napoleon, that ultimate symbol of power in the civilised world, is left with only rags to hide his fragile humanity from the rest of the world.

The eternal verities, the inevitability of certain events in life; these are of no consequence. In fact, considering how quickly everything can reverse in this world of appearances, they are essentially falsehoods. As such, that once upon a time is an entirely vacuous statement, since all that matters is the present, the true significance residing in the how does it feel? Of course, the challenge is repeated throughout, the additions to the catalogue of social brutality increasing its potency with every disdainful delivery. And the great levelling inherent in the song means it's impossible to hide behind self-gratifying consumer goods; their built-in obsolescence will destroy any such idea. It's the vapidity of disposal culture which really pisses Dylan off, and he's not about to let anyone off on that count.

Throughout history there has prevailed a reasonably odd discourse; flying in the face of ideas of aristocratic nobility, of Platonic essences, of bourgeois materialism, there has existed a positive valorisation of the poor; usually taking the form of exaltation of their noble qualities in the face of destitution, their basic morality invigorated by their lack of access to corrupting goods. The roots go far back, but perhaps most importantly they find themselves weaving through the more radical teachings of Christianity; it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven, for example. Jesus, the Jewish insurrectionist, facing a totalitising empire, preached that his followers should give all their possessions away to the rest of the world, he preached that the poor, not the meek, shall inherit the earth. Essentially, when all the trappings of modernity wear off, it is the poor who will be resourceful enough to survive, the poor who can start anew. It is the poor who are the true dynamic force in history, since they live in the world more immediately than any of us. There now stands Napoleon in rags; power stripped of its meaning, or power entrusted to the right person?

Foucault teaches that discourse on the history of popular revolts usually posits some determining factor - peasants rise up in anger because of an increase in the price of bread, as if the masses could dream of a full stomach but not of seizing power for themselves. Dylan's Napoleon isn't the genius Empire-builder Napoleon; he isn't a madman standing in his own filth raving about his evidently lacking greatness. The Napoleon in rags is the sage who sees past the superficial veneer of culture, the person who can use their mind for themselves. There's no direction home, but that doesn't matter; home is the place where eternal banalities are proscribed, where myth is enshrined in everyday knowledge - home is a repository of useless and pointless knowledge. It's time to become liberated. Now how does that feel?

002. In Love

In Love is a love song; more accurately, it is a transcendental love song, i.e, it is about expressing love as somehow beyond everything, as possessing a power that can't be fully fathomed even as it defines the discursive space between two people so profoundly, and so absolutely. As such, it suffers from a problem; it is a post- God Only Knows love song, that being the moment where it really reaches it aesthetic apogee; the simple beauty of the melody, the unerring poignancy of the lyrics, the encapsulation of all the major themes into one economical phrase: god only knows what I'd be without you - it all suggests a perfection, matchless because of its very simplicity. Other singers have had success with sincerity in the vocals and/or lyrics - Cat Power being the supreme example here - whilst others have simply foregone the transcendental aspect, and grounded their love songs in more banal surroundings, emphasizing insecurity, inadequacy, or simply desecrating the very idea of love. But, all is subordinate to the timeless elegance of God Only Knows.

So here is In Love. It's an abrasive oddity: screeching guitars, toneless vocals out of sync with each other, pounding drums, and that bizarrely wounded violin, each isolated element held together by the most tenuous of threads, ever threatening to fall apart under the slightest of pressures. The debut S/T is full of music like that; near-shambolic, both tender and discordant, unrestrained in its passion. At times it was destructive, too, liberating instruments from their usual roles, allowing words and sounds to leap around in a daring game of hide and seek. In Love is certainly like that; nothing is constrained, voices leap around, entranced by finding their own outlet for expression, for a time the ugly becomes the apotheosis of beauty. Being in love usually means being unable to distinguish between the two anyway, and this song is about those moments when everything seems untouchably perfect.

The Beach Boys had mastered the existing aesthetic - it took a band with the conventional inadequacy of The Raincoats to imagine a completely different one. It is fitting that even within their names there is carried the hint of thesis and antithesis; corresponding to differing realms of experience that nevertheless derive from the same overall source. In Love refuses the template proffered by God Only Knows, tearing through its own melody without a hint of dulcet harmony, refusing to be cowed by the prospect of having to send Platonic forms crashing to the ground in order to release their own voice into the discursive realm. When it reached there all was enriched by these hysterical chants, half-formed sentences, sweet and rough music; this new, unexpected form of beauty.

001. Desolation Row

Here lies the beauty of the countdown form in lists; you get a chance guage the full diversity of the product before hitting the less imaginative top section. Like A Rolling Stone was, for a substantial period of time, my pick for number two, before In Love managed to worm its way up my affections that little bit more. I should like to think that nobody would believe this is due to some sort of inordinate hero-worship on my behalf, that, looking over the rest of my list, it should become obvious that this was the result of a fully honest decision, that it is a natural reaction based on simple judgement.

Anyway, on with the justification. As if it's needed. They're selling postcards of the hanging; it gets down to business with the very first line, superbly satirising a culture for whom death is meaningless when it happens to somebody else. It's a form of entertainment, even an opiate; we can see this in the political manipulation of discourses of good and evil, where the destruction of an enemy is something to be cheered, something to be proud of your nation for achieving. The intricacies of the hanging - why the decision was made, what impact it'll have on those outside, even who it is who's neck is in the noose - these are trivial factors which distract from the sense of community the event engenders, which ruin death as spectacle. Nobody could pack as much meaning into a single line as Dylan could, nobody could manipulate the signs in our cultural discourse with as much skill, orchestrating isolated images into a meaningful whole. And the whole is so often contained within the singular here.

The whole is defined by destitution. Many figures pass through the song, enjoying their moment of glory as linguistic signifier, and whether they are excavated from fiction or recognisably real, from history or the present, or simply just social types, each can offer nothing beyond the slow march of humanity towards Desolation Row, that place that everyone decries even as its allure causes them to sneak away to it. Such is its ubiquitous presence in our culture, such its overwhelming influence on all of our actions, that it is quite inescapable, that even our greatest minds find themselves an inextricable part of it. If Desolation Row is a concrete place, then it stretches over the majority of the world; sorrowful and destitute, it is in the main a world defined by its violence towards itself.

I am forever reminded of Walter Benjamin's angel of history. The relevant passage:

His face is turned towards the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. This storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.

The history of humanity is not a history of linear, logical progression towards a new, just society. Humanity approaches each new event and inscribes its violence into it; humanity refuses to shake itself away from the initial catastrophe. The moment when somebody takes it upon themself to destroy another life is the moment when yet more debris flies through the air, destroying further the soul of that creature which wishes to restore our goodness. The farce that continually plays out in the human world is tragic by its continued repetition.

Desolation Row - the concrete place, the force of history. Dylan collapses the two so any distinction is meaningless, so that each can play its own role in the discursive realm of the present. Systems of thought, modes of being; all is laid out in this most polyphonic of songs. But the voices he's giving play to aren't always positive; Einstein is hiding within the discourse of Robin Hood, Ophelia is stifled by the singular monotony of religious expression, Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot find nothing but friction when their competing discourses are pitted against each other. This is life as we know it, the gates of eden little more than a cruel joke as we propel ourselves down the shadowy road of sorrow and destruction. Death is the only comfort in this world we've created, and Dylan can't do anything beyond forcing ourselves to consider what it is we can do. And, of much more importance, what it is we want to make of ourselves.



  • jentizzle

    hello, love! I've made it here at last, as it seems as though my desire to please certain debonair young gentlemen has overruled my usual shyness about writing anything other than half-assed rants on the internet. Actually, I don't even trust myself not to turn this into kind of a half-assed commentary. But that's 'cause I only know maybe a handful of the songs and it's not exactly easy following your lead. Here goes nothing! #99 I just heard this the other day, and not being terribly familiar with the rest of this woman's repertoire (is it all gut-wrenchingly sad?) I don't even know how valid my judgment is. While I can acknowledge her defiant tone, my attention was mostly focused on the kind of sorrowful wail of a woman who's been marked by society and generally roughened up by circumstance. I'm already a big fan of John Lee Hooker and wash-basin blues in general, so I definitely can see myself getting into more of work...but only after preparing to be emotionally flattened. By the end of the day, usually work and school have taken care of that one. #97 Yay. It's so hard to go wrong with EPMD - beats me why they ever broke up. I think I'm more skeptical than most about the future of rap, and it's mostly because stuff like this from the 80's, which in my mind, represents a golden era for the genre. It's like the established thing now to sample rock/pop hits of the 70's, but it seems like EPMD and a few other old school acts were able to do it and actually create a completely different song. I also like that they kept the back track/beat simple and the vocals never sound like they're trying too hard. Oh, for the days when rap encompassed cool ! #94 Never heard them, but I'm digging the name. That's usually more than enough for me to wanna give a band a listen (I'm hinting at something here, don't you love when I'm eye-rolling-ly obvious about stuff?) #93 I have to agree with you. This, along with Computer Love are the only two songs on that album I'm still puzzling over. #84 Word is (unfortunately) that this is the only song the reunited GoF plays with any of their original flair. I've obviously got to verify this for myself, but I'd wager the whole performance would be worth it if they still got this right. There are few finer examples of ass-shaking greatness My only beef is with kids today and the fact that my generation translates ass-shaking greatness as Justin Timberlake (and other such tripe), but never stuff like this. Or maybe I'm going to the wrong parties... #82 The one song off of VU & Nico that I immediately loved (I hope your opinion of me hasn't dropped drastically low as a result). Weirdly toe-tapping and simultaneously meditative. It goes without saying that this is another perfect song to (slowly) get drunk to, preferably with a pilsner of some sort. Well, at least it would be if I had any tolerance for alcohol (I've three-drink limit!) #80 Haven't heard this one, but I'm gonna answer your query concerning Kathleen Hanna. I liked songs here and there from Bikini Kill (e.g. Rah!Rah! Replica, Reject All American, White Boy) but in high school I fucking [i]adored[/i] Le Tigre, particularly Feminist Sweepstakes. You've got to appreciate her vocal range - from frighteningly barbarous to that saccharine, little girl, pop-punk sound. Also consistently incorporating that unapologetic, no holds barred political message is admirable to me (compared to bands with spottier track records like Sleater-Kinney, as you pointed out earlier). I haven't yet decided whether my Le Tigre mania died because of my regrettable habit of listening to albums I'm enthralled with on a continuous loop or because, as with Sleater-Kinney, my love thinned out as I became more aware the music wasn't that substantive. #76 Aw, Courtney does get a hard time of it, doesn't she? I do like that she's kind of like a thorn in the eyes of Hollyweird (and incidentally, I've heard Winona Ryder's worse). Brilliant coinage, nonetheless. #70 haaaaaa. I enjoy your reasons for liking this one very much :) I think strange dismembered jazz tune captures it perfectly. #51 I'm probably just going to have to join you in an embarrassing display on the dance floor. But we've got to give ourselves credit, because dancing in general to Can is pretty fucking complicated. #46 More pull the blanket covers over your head and cry blues exploring an issue that is still (surprise surprise) entirely relevant. It's too bad we never really got finished with Reconstruction, eh? I think I need some ice cream and a small, fuzzy kitten. #44 Could I trouble you to shed more light on this rivalry? #42 I must concur. And it makes me feel a bit better about the overwhelming banality of the name my parents chose for me... #36 Indeed! Now I just need to get through the rest of that album. #32 Duly noted. I do enjoy the careful attention you pay to lyrics. #30 Oh yeah, you gotta pay homage to a true classic. In high school, it was this song (and I must admit rather shamefully, Big Pimpin) that you busted your car stereo speakers playing after that Californian rite of passage, the driving test. I must weep for the young'uns who began adolescence after The Wu's mainstream success faded and they finally split for good. #28 Yes, yes and yes. #22 hahaha I think I see my influence here (even if it's not, I do enjoy padding my ego once in a while). Beautifully put, as always. #17 Hurrah for the third Can song on your list. I might just have to ask you to marry me again. #08 Mmm-hmm, yes. #07 It's vaguely disturbing how comforting I find this song when I'm pissed off. #04-01 Clearly, I need to get listening to Bob Dylan and Cat Power...

    7 nov. 2006, 21h02m
  • jentizzle

    PS #61 I am truly embarrassed to say the only version I've heard features Ice Cube. But in response to the idea expressed, California is its own funk nation! ...well, except for maybe Orange County

    7 nov. 2006, 21h07m
  • FloydG

    Nice. I won't engage with everything in detail, since I've got a friends list to manage (a couple of worthy addtions, if they're watching), and a film to watch (my second Chantal Ackerman! I'm psyched! man I love that word). But to deal with the obvious issues that require a touch suturing... Bessie Smith - yr quite right to point out the sorrow in her vocals. I mean, this is the blues. She's an interesting figure whom I discovered through my (meagre) research into Langston Hughes - Hughes recognised the potency of mass forms against high cultural forms (encapsulated in his famous utterance apropos the artistic movement he was such an integral part of - the ordinary Negro never heard of the Harlem Renaissance, and if he had, it didn't raise his wages any [we'll ignore the privileging of male experience for now]), and was very excited about Smith in particular. However, upon meeting her he was surprisingly dismayed to hear her preaching of the virtues of the Blues in helping her gain more money than she could possibly hope to achieve. I think perhaps Hughes thought this detracted from an assumed purity which is untenable, and Smith's emotional power should not be undervalued simply because of her attempts at earning money through the medium. If anything, her assertive independence on the issue adds more flavour to a personality oppressed twice, and raging with an appropriate fury for this. The VU & Nico: drop of opinion, no, but I still wish to say grrrr! North vs South, aha. It's a very real divide in this peculiar, irrelevant island I call home (well, others call it home for me), existing most profoundly within the socio-economic realm: the South quite simply is a site of much greater prosperity than the North. Interestingly enough, industrial decline has led to certain cities in the North of England, and in Scotland, becoming repositories for various initiatives essentially involving the imposition of culture upon an area in the hope that yuppies will be drawn to the area like the useless flies they are (it's worked quite a lot in Newcastle - Gateshead). But, in popular discourse, it's still all Southern poofs and Northern monkeys. Jennifer - in all honesty, my favourite name. I've always been rather fond of the sound of both Jennifer and Jessica (helped by the latter being my first cruch, I must admit); of course your presence has secured top spot irrevocably for that Faust song title. Teen Age Riot - yes, the ode to slackerdom was my little homage to you. The rest is just my standard hyperbolising about that song. Cat Power - well, I was in love with this woman for quite some time. I couldn't possibly express how excited I was to be simply standing near her when I went to see her for the first, and as yet only time. Should you approach listening to her, I will say avoid the most recent and earliest work. And ready yourself for Moon Pix as thoroughly as you would for the blues, because it really feels like a modern-organic form of that music. Dylan - where have you been?! Not one artist do I spend more time laughing at just how spectacularly good he is - even Tago Mago's considerable delights fail to entrance as much as Dylan's breadth of lyricism. And with that I shall have to utter a resigned farewell once more. They aren't becoming any easier. Ta ta.

    9 nov. 2006, 20h05m
  • Maeldun

    quite impressive.. must have taken you quite some time to put this together.

    25 mars 2007, 19h01m
  • ImATumbler

    great list, but no beatles!?

    2 juin 2007, 4h00m
  • nickwafer

    there are some great songs on that list and I'm glad you kept it diverse. i'm usually find list-making pointles (See High Fidelity) but I can tell you are someone who really thinks about his music.

    18 sept. 2007, 19h56m
  • seawar

    This list is great.

    16 oct. 2007, 18h09m
  • FloydG

    Lists are useless, sure. This one's obsolete now, and Tomorrow Never Knows does feature somewhere or the other in my last 300-strong effort. But in general, I mean, fuck The Beatles.

    27 oct. 2007, 16h30m
  • tima

    I couldn't agree more on your n° 87!

    6 jan. 2008, 23h26m
  • adman5189

    I just stumbled upon this from the "Sex Bomb" page... incredible list!

    2 déc. 2008, 16h21m
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