If you see a dead link, tell us – last time this was overhauled was 2010 and many have probably bitten the dust since then.
666. Twin Turbine – Susquehanna
Darkly intense, backbeat-driven anthem that recasts eastern Pennsylvania as Twin Peaks territory. Frontman Dave Popeck’s eerie, percussive chords as the verse builds to the chorus are a high point in New York rock history. From the 2006 cd Jolly Green Giant.
665. The Shadows – Man of Mystery
The Shadows got their start backing British pop star Cliff Richard in the 50s before branching out as an instrumental unit, playing twangy, reverb-laden surf and theme music in the same vein as the Ventures. This is arguably their best, a deliciously ominous series of major and minor chords working their way down the scale. Easily found on the file-trading sites; if you’re looking for an album version, it’s on 20 Golden Greats and The Shadows Are Go.
664. Fay Ray – Heatwave
Not a cover of the Martha Reeves R&B hit. This is an original, a fast, growling, minor-key new wave/powerpop song from 1980 by an obscure British band that surprisingly never went anywhere. This was when nuclear weapons were kept under lock and key by central governments rather than being sold openly on the black market. And people were still scared to death. Can you believe? “I didn’t kill, I didn’t fight, I’ll never get home tonight,” frontwoman Sheila Macartney wails. You’re going to have to look hard for this one, perhaps because it was never issued on cd: the only available file seems to be on youtube.
663. The Dog Show – All About Wrong
Like a whole bunch of late 90s/early zeros New York bands, the Dog Show was a spinoff of the late, lamented Douce Gimlet: frontman Jerome O’Brien was Douce Gimlet’s bass player. This is a beautiful, bitter, slowly crescendoing kiss-off ballad, pretty subtle until it hits the point where O’Brien stars railing that if he ever thinks of getting back in touch with the woman in question , he’ll rip the phone off the wall. One of his most potent lyrics. The sonically best version is on the first Dog Show cd, simply titled Demo. While the song isn’t available on the file-sharing sites as far as we can tell, there are plenty of bootleg versions floating around: the best is live at the C-Note in New York in 2001, featuring Kurt Leege (future founder of the brilliant System Noise) doing a rare and absolutely gorgeous cameo on piano.
662. The Bee Gees – New York Mining Disaster 1941
Who says people in their teens can’t write classic songs?
In the event of something happening to me
There is something I would like you all to see
It’s just a photograph of someone that I knew
Have you seen my wife, Mr. Jones?
Do you know what it’s like on the outside?
Don’t start talking too loud, you’ll cause a landslide, Mr. Jones
One of the most haunting pop songs ever written, even if the mining disaster in question was actually in Wales, 1940 (non-American bands of the 60s would Americanize their songs whenever possible just to score a hit). Gently macabre, bell-like minor-key guitar with just a touch of natural distortion from whatever cheap amp 17-year-old Barry Gibb was using in Australia in 1966. This is as far from Saturday Night Fever as Sympathy for the Devil is from the hedge fund that the Stones promoted during their most recent tour. Available at all the file-sharing sites; a nice stereo version is on the Bee Gees Greatest Hits, Vol. 1 album, easily found in the cheapo bins at your local used vinyl purveyor.
661. Mike Oldfield – Tubular Bells
Not the gaseously self-indulgent, sidelong suite complete with an interminable, spoken introduction of the various instruments. This is the one that horror fans know by heart, the edited, three-minute instrumental single that was the theme to The Exorcist. One of the catchiest macabre melodies ever . Believe it or not, this was actually a big top 40 hit in 1973. Available at pretty much all the file-sharing sites: you’ll know which is the single and which is the full-length version by the size of the file (guessing around 3 or 4mb). Because the single was so popular, it’s not impossible to find one in fairly decent shape at used vinyl stores that carry 45s.
660. Black Sabbath – Electric Funeral
Dismiss this song as part of the soundtrack of every 13-year-old stoner’s life and miss out on the fun. Sure, Geezer Butler’s lyrics aren’t exactly poetic, but they make a point – this is an antiwar song! The various parts of the suite are loaded with those eerie chromatics that early Sabbath loved so much. Sure, there’s that brain-dead guy from that reality show singing, but this song came out thirty years before he became synonymous with dubious tv instead of dubious music. And as just about anyone who’s ever been in a band knows, this song is a blast to play (and just about everyone can – that’s what makes it so much fun.
659. Melomane – Far Out
For a band who traffic in lushly orchestrated, majestically epic art-rock, this New York crew sure are funny. This is a nasty slap upside the head of a trendoid about to emerge from his luxury condo for a night on the town: “You have the most exquisite bedhead to go with your sleepy mind,” frontman Pierre de Gaillande taunts. From the Solresol cd, 2006.
658. The Dog Show – Masterplan
An obscure treasure from circa 2002, New York City, Lower East Side. Cynical, politically charged, artsy mod punk that builds from one of the alltime great guitar hooks. Toward the end, it breaks down into a morass of guitar noise, but then Andrew Plonsky’s soaring bassline emerges from the maelstrom and brings it back to earth. Unreleased and for that reason unavailable at the usual sources, although there are bootleg versions kicking around: get friendly with a clubrat from the era and you might own it someday.
657. John Prine – Mexican Home
“Last night it got so hot outside, you could hardly breathe,” Prine drawls in this death-obsessed, viscerally intense country-rock dirge driven by haunting organ and a sweet horn chart that rises as the chorus kicks in. Obviously, he never intended it to have the universality it’s taken on in the age of global warming. Available at most of the file-trading sites; if you prefer an album version, check your local used vinyl store (beware the horribly remastered cd reissue) for the 1973 album Sweet Revenge.
656. The Blend – The Prize
An uncharacteristically gripping southern rock epic from 1979 by the only New Hampshire band not named Aerosmith ever signed to a major label. Ominous psychedelic intro, ostentatiously bluesy guitar throughout and a long, sizzling twin guitar solo out that beats anything Molly Hatchet ever dreamed of. As it turns out, when the hunter finally tracks down the bear, he doesn’t shoot! “What a lovely creature! How could you kill him, my friend?” The only available files appear to be on youtube, including a good live take from the band’s final show (possibly the last song they ever played together). Originally on the Blend’s second and final MCA album Anytime Delight: check the dollar bins at your used vinyl place. In keeping with the spirit of the times, the lp also contains also the brief, catchy, sarcastic anti-nuclear power anthem For Crying Out Loud.
655. Shattered Faith – Reagan Country
Written in the aftermath of John Hinckley’s failed 1981 assassination of Ronald Reagan, this simple, homicidal punk rock anthem spoke for a generation of disenfranchised kids watching 200 years of democracy being destroyed by Ed Meese and the rest of the California mob who ran the country for eight years. VOTE REAGAN, IN 1984!!! Available at all the file-trading sites.
654. The Kinks – Killing Time
Beautifully pensive, sardonic, somewhat obscure janglerock ballad from their mostly forgotten 1986 album Think Visual, Ray Davies at his incisive, populist best. The link above is a torrent to the whole album; check the dollar bins at your local used vinyl purveyor.
653. Bob Seger – The Fire Down Below
Not the single, a clichéd piano/guitar blues that so-called “classic rock radio” still plays from time to time. This is the ferocious, searing live version from Seger’s 1981 album Nine Tonight. The production is stupendously good – it’s hard to tell, at least on the vinyl album, where the guitar and where the sax are. Blended together, they make a single evil, screaming voice. Play this LOUD for maximum effect. Available at all the file-sharing sites (the live version is about 1mb longer than the studio version), or check the cheapo bins at your local used vinyl purveyor.
652. Marty Willson-Piper – Forget the Radio
One of the two lead guitarists in legendary Australian art-rockers the Church, Marty Willson-Piper is perhaps the greatest twelve-string player of our time. He’s also a first-rate songwriter, if not a particularly prolific one. This one from his 2000 cd Hanging Out in Heaven does double duty as both celebration of the joys and pleasures of vinyl, and as a swipe at commercial radio. It made a good theme song then for the millions who’d tuned out in disgust, and still has resonance for the millions more who’ve found a home in the world of internet, college and pirate broadcasts.
The best-known song by this excellent, literate janglerock songwriter (a Faulkner scholar and author, now a professor at Kent State University). First released as a cover by the Posies in the mid-90s, the best version of this harrowingly terse breakup song can be found on Dore’s lone cd, Perfect City, released in 2002.Her beautiful, twangy voice perfectly captures the alienation of being alone at the one time of the year when most Americans are supposed to be surrounded by people, no matter how dysfunctional. The song doesn’t seem to be on any of the file-sharing sites, but the cd is still in print.
650. The Sloe Guns – Dillon
From the first few notes of lead player Mick Izzo’s soaring slide guitar, this beautifully crescendoing outlaw ballad just grabs you and won’t let go. Built around one of the great hooks in rock history, it has the same kind of melancholic grandeur as the Wallflowers’ Sixth Avenue Heartache. Not available on any of the file-trading sites, but the band’s debut cd Loaded, from 2000, is still in print and available at shows.
649. Iggy Pop – Rock N Roll Party
An obscure treasure, the only remotely good cut on an otherwise dreadful 1981 album. When the Igster gleefully poses the immortal question, “Where we gonna go tonight?” he speaks for a generation of drunks and degenerates. Former Patti Smith sideman Ivan Kral’s chord work toward the end of the song is ferociously intense. The album version (didn’t see any live takes) is available wherever mp3s are found.
648. Devi – Welcome to the Boneyard
Debra, the band’s frontwoman and one of the great guitarslinger sings this wrenchingly beautiful ballad from the point of view of a ghost whose body lies in the smoking hole at Ground Zero after 9/11:
Welcome to the boneyard
Welcome to the place where they look for me
You can try to find me
All you’ll find are the pieces of a broken dream
But the ghost can’t find her way to the loved ones who wait, hoping against hope. From their 2008 debut cd: the layers of guitar, particularly with the Leslie speaker, are exquisite.
647. Amy Allison – Dream World
This is one of the offhandedly chilling “should I go to sleep or kill myself” Americana-pop songs that Allison writes so well. Much of her material is hilarious; this isn’t. Even the song’s homeless people seek solace in dreams, passed out on the sidewalk. From her 2009 album Sheffield Streets.
646. Iron Maiden – Powerslave
Arguably their greatest shining moment. Anyone who thinks all heavy metal is stupid needs to hear this haunting, chromatically-fueled, Middle Eastern-tinged epic. When bassist/bandleader Steve Harris rises from the ashes to introduce the bridge with a terse, stately hook and then twin lead guitarists Adrian Smith and Dave Murray take over, the effect is intense. Nicely macabre, completely over-the-top ending too. All the file-sharing sites have several available: the studio version with all the overdubs (probably the smallest file since most of what’s out there is live) is the best.
645. Melomane – The Ballot Is the Bullet
The zeros’ counterpart to #655 (Reagan Country by Shattered Faith), this one a dark, sobering minor-key art-rock anthem with a great organ solo and equally homicidal intent (the lyric sheet reads “assassinate the precedent,” but that’s not how the vocals go – and since Obama is now President, we now find ourselves where we should be, on the side of the chief exec, not against him.). A braver statement in the face of fascism than you may realize – the band could have been killed for releasing this and the murders never would have been “solved.” From the 2007 cd Glaciers.
644. The Ramones – Needles & Pins
Their best song was the one they didn’t write or play on (simple as it is, studio musicians had to be brought in to do the backing track). An accidentally brilliant, wrenchingly gorgeous reworking of the early 60s Searchers hit. Seriously: can you imagine Johnny Ramone playing an acoustic guitar this cleanly…or Dee Dee discovering that his bass could create a tone that could cut through the mix so beautifully? At least that’s really Joey on vocals. Available at all the usual sites.
643. Melomane – O Mighty Orb
Arguably this is the New York art-rockers’ most savagely beautiful, majestic epic – and they have many. The centerpiece to their 2008 cd Look Out! it’s the most successful number in frontman Pierre de Gaillande’s ongoing “disaster song cycle,” this one about death via global warming. The satirical false ending adds characteristic black humor.
642. Matthew Grimm & the Red Smear – 1/20/09
This is the one we tried to add to our myspace page, but myspace wouldn’t let us. Hmmm. That bittersweet day when 5.9 billion voices and glasses actually were raised came and went, replaced by the reckoning that we’ll have to start digging out of the wreckage. But all hope is not lost:
I know you won’t soon be troubled with states of reflection
Still a cloistered and dull trust fund kid
You’ll never be hungry or called out or held to the laws
That hang others who do what you did
But maybe one shiny day
We’ll see each other again in The Hague…
From Grimm’s career-best 2009 cd The Ghost of Rock n Roll.
641. Nick Cave – The Mercy Seat
Potently sardonic anti-death penalty art-rock anthem originally recorded in 1985. “And anyway I’ve spoiled the fun with all these looks of disbelief,” the wrongfully condemned man in the electric chair tells the witnesses. The best version available may be a recent one: there are scores of live takes floating around the usual places (Nick Cave fans are obsessive and generous with their files). Considering the vigor and intensity of Cave’s recent shows, look for something new.
640. Gruppo Sportivo – PS 78
“Do you remember PS 78?”
A sarcastic faux cheerleader anthem from the legendary Dutch new wave satirists, 1979, with peppy organ and girlie chorus, chronicling a bunch of spoiled brats with “rich daddies and big tits” being Ugly Americans during their summer in Europe. Deezer is the only site that seems to have it. If you want the vinyl, look for 10 Mistakes at your local used vinyl store but be careful, only the European version has the song.
639. The Strawberry Alarm Clock – Incense, Peppermints.
A strange and beautiful coincidence of terseness and over-the-top 60s excess by these veteran LA jazzcats trying to cash in on psychedelic rock like just about everybody else was doing in 1967. “Who cares what games we choose/Little to win and nothing to lose.” Yeah, whatever. But the song’s Farfisa, and that bassline, are killer. Available for the taking at all the usual places online; if you’ve got the equipment, you could even tape something nice and analog off your local oldies radio station. Or look for an Erica Smith bootleg: her band used to do an amusingly deadpan version (the drummer sang!).
638. Sham 69 – Hey Little Rich Boy
Classic punk rock from the UK, 1977, with a 60s garage feel. Lead player Dave Parsons turns in one of his characteristically incisive, all-too-brief solos behind Jimmy Pursey’s antagonistic vocals. Put this on a ghetto blaster, crank it and walk down Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg (or Portobello Road in London). The best-sounding version, of course, is on the band’s first vinyl album, Tell Us the Truth; mp3s can be ripped from the usual sites.
637. Marianne Faithfull – The Ballad of Lucy Jordan
This harrowing, if dated, synthed-out 1980 new wave-era tale of a woman slowly losing it was written by none other than children’s book author Shel Silverstein! It resonates even more if you recall the song playing over the opening scene in Dusan Makavejev’s greatest film, Montenegro, Susan Anspach staring into the water and wondering if she should jump. The lp version is on Broken English; if you’re willing to settle for a mp3, rip one from one of the usual places.
636. System Noise – Prom Night
An absolutely bloodcurdling, chromatically-fueled anthem inspired by the film Carrie, from the New York art/punk/noise rockers’ 2007 self-titled debut cd. Frontwoman (and cabaret star) Sarah Mucho’s voice wails vengefully over a bloodfeast of tortured guitars.
635. The Dream Syndicate – Halloween
The best song on the first album by Steve Wynn’s legendary noise-rock band was ironically one he didn’t write (lead guitarist Karl Precoda did). Kendra Smith’s matter-of-fact stalker bassline sets the stage for the dueling twin guitars’ savage slasher attack. Play this one with the lights out. The original album cut is the best, but there are numerous live versions by both the Dream Syndicate and Wynn and his band, many of them absolutely transcendent, at archive.org.
634. Patti Smith – Citizen Ship
Even for Patti, this excoriating, chromatically-charged, semiautobiographical anthem is intense, her own checkered trail from Chicago, 1968: “Everybody up against the wall, show your papers boy!” to her arrival in New York: “Oh what the hell, I fell I fell, it doesn’t matter to me” a metaphor for what happened to the whole country. From the Wave lp, 1979; the link above is a torrent of the whole thing.
633. The Grateful Dead – Brokedown Palace
Gorgeous slow sad country-inflected ballad, the Dead at their most focused and therefore most intense. “Listen to the river sing sweet songs to rock my soul,” when all else has failed. As with virtually everything the band did, there are innumerable live versions available: the best we know of is from the 1981 Dead Set double lp. Tons of stuff up at www.dead.net and archive.org as well. If you know of a better one please don’t keep it to yourself.
632. Randi Russo – Invisible
Nobody writes more resonant outsider rock anthems than this New York indie rock siren, and this song is one of her best, a particularly triumphant one: “I am, I am invisible/I feel, I feel invincible.” And what a gorgeous, glimmering tune. Unreleased, and although it hasn’t made it to the usual file-sharing sites, there are numerous bootlegs floating around.
631. True West – 20th Room
One of the finest of the psychedelic revival bands of the early-to-mid 80s, True West’s live shows are the stuff of legend. This lo-fi concert recording validates their mythic status. Both the band’s guitarists played Telecasters, Richard McGrath’s fluid, melodic lead lines soaring over Russ Tolman’s furious, psychotic noise and chordal work and this is a prime example, a supremely eerie anthem. Originally from their posthumous 1989 lp West Side Stories. In a delightful stroke of fate, the surviving original members reunited this year with a concert in Portland, OR, and there’s an absolutely killer live show from Germany available for streaming here.
630. Karen Dahlstrom – Galena
In 2011, The Bobtown guitarist put out a sensationally good, dark album of original folk songs set in her native Idaho, and this is the best of them, a bitter, gorgeously lush, period-perfect elegaic waltz with Old West vernacular that’s not in the least bit corny. Times were tough in the Gold Rush days!
629. The Ozark Mountain Daredevils – Better Days
Put cynicism aside for a moment and rejoice with this delightfully fun, obscure, upbeat, optimistic country-rock number from 1975. The B-side to the Jackie Blue single, it was reissued on cd in the late 90s and can be found at all the usual sites.
628. Iggy Pop – The Passenger
Iconic in the purest sense of the word: the Passenger here is a metaphor for something far deeper, the Sales brothers’ rhythm section teaming with guitarist Ricky Gardiner to perfectly evoke it. Who said Iggy wasn’t deep? From The Idiot, 1977; the link above is a youtube stream.
627. The Walkabouts – Promised
Long, heartbreaking, exhausted steel guitar-driven country dirge by this extraordinary Seattle band from the late 80s/early 90s who started out sort of punkabilly like X, then went way, way dark and these days, since relocating to Germany about ten years ago, have been mining a beautifully brooding orchestrated rock vein. One of frontman Chris Eckman’s best lyrics: “Never played the main event/always played the sideshow tent.” From the 1994 cd Setting the Woods on Fire; the link above is a torrent of the whole album.
626. Golden Earring – Twilight Zone
An eerie (if completely and utterly misproduced) spy epic from the early MTV era by this usually generically bluesy Dutch “hard rock” band popular in Europe but only a two-hit wonder here. Hard to believe that a better band hasn’t discovered this gem and given it the full-throttle treatment it deserves. Although the pickslides – which make this song – have to stay. Easily found at the usual sites (look for smaller files, because there are considerably longer, inferior live versions kicking around). If you want a sonically superior vinyl version, check the dollar bins at your local purveyor for the 1983 album Cut.
625. Public Enemy – By the Time I Get to Arizona
Infuriated that Arizona’s Republican Governor Fife Symington wouldn’t allow his overwhelmingly white state to observe the Martin Luther King holiday, PE frontman Chuck D wrote this scathingly homicidal response. “20 thousand niggy, niggy brothers in the corner/Of the cellblock – but they come from California,” he noted, considering what an infuriatingly high percentage of the black population there is behind bars. The eerie synth loop behind the tirade is absolutely perfect. From the cd Apocalypse 91: The Empire Strikes Black.
624. Fordfalconblue – Eldorado Road
Exhilarating, vividly imagistic good-to-be-alive anthem from these underrated late 90s/early zeros NYC Americana rockers, lead player Eric Alter (who would go on to acclaim in the Sloe Guns) mixing it up nicely as frontman Richard Wallace’s 12-string clangs magnificently in the background. Never officially released by the band, although there are bootlegs kicking around; Wallace has a solo version on his site.
623. Dumptruck – Alive
The exhilaration of walking out into a cold New England autumn day perfectly captured in three reverberating, jangly minutes by this Boston indie quartet, 1984. REM only wish they ever sounded this good. The mp3 is easily obtained, but nothing beats the deliciously echoey production of the vinyl. From the band’s first album, reissued in the late 90s and not impossible to find where used records are sold; the link above is a torrent of the cd reissue including bonus live tracks from CBGB which aren’t that good.
622. The Electric Light Orchestra – Boy Blue
Jeff Lynne didn’t write many political songs, but when he did he absolutely nailed them. Here’s a blazing, lushly orchestrated riff-rocker further reinforcing the fact that vets are invariably the most fervent antiwar activists. From the 1975 ELO album Eldorado, the best album you’ll ever find used in the dollar bins. And you might.
Obscure, hazily jangly treasure from the legendary Australian art-rockers’ equally obscure 1988 collection of b-sides and rarities, with one of bassist/frontman Steve Kilbey’s most visionary lyrics:
I asked you for a midnight
You gave me a high noon
When winter puts her hands on you
It must be autumn soon
Church fans are notoriously obsessive collectors: mp3s aren’t as difficult to find as you might think.
620. Erica Smith & the 99 Cent Dreams – See You in the Morning
About as obscure as a song can possibly be. It doesn’t appear that the panstylistic New York rock goddess has ever played the song live, and the only versions extant are unreleased studio outtakes which, predictably, are nowhere to be found online. It’s a terrifyingly sad 6/8 narrative with an early 60s noir pop feel, told from the point of a little girl who’s just lost her mother. Simply one of the most scary, beautiful songs ever written, perhaps explaining why it may never see general circulation.
619. Nightcall – Blackwater
Moonlighters frontwoman Bliss Blood started this short-lived “crime jazz” side project toward the end of the Bush regime: this is a tersely scorching, noir 60s style broadside about the mercenaries from Blackwater, Halliburton and other private armies getting away with murder in Iraq. Available at Nightcall’s myspace
618. Jello Biafra & Mojo Nixon – Nostalgia for an Age That Never Existed
Biafra at the peak of his his scathingly funny powers, calling bullshit on kitsch from the 50s onward as the piano tinkles sarcastically behind him. From their 1994 cd Prairie Home Invasion.
617. Television – The Fire
Long, slow, beautifully melodic janglerock: why Television was ever associated with the punk movement (other than that they got their start at CB’s) is anybody’s guess. This is a whole lot closer to the Grateful Dead, with a stinging, slowly crescendoing Richard Lloyd solo out that will make your spine tingle. Available at all the mp3 sites; if you’d prefer vinyl, good luck finding a copy of their 1978 album Adventure.
616. Les Thugs – Bulgarian Blues
These adventurous, artsy, sometimes minimalist French punk rockers hit their peak in the late 80s. Their English lyrics are not their strong suit, but at their best they wrote assaultive, frequently hypnotic songs with layers and layers of roaring reverb guitar. This one from 1988 is their best, with a long, incendiary instrumental outro that goes on and on. Both the superior studio version as well as some intriguing but sonically dodgy live takes are available at the usual mp3 sites.
615. Jenifer Jackson – We Will Be Together
The now Austin-based songwriter is unsurpassed at intricate, beautifully melancholy, jangly pop and this is one of her best, a quintessentially New York song written in the days after 9/11, a woman gazing longingly at Manhattan and what seems to be completely out of reach there:
…I make a wish and cast it from the water’s edge
I watch the saddest season change
From my side of the river
I know that nothing stays the same
But we will be together
From the 2005 cd So High. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to track down a live version: there are several terrific ones out there, but you’ll have to dig for them.
614. Curtis Mayfield – So In Love
Long, lush, absolutely gorgeous keyboard-and-guitar-driven soul ballad from 1972. The song gets bonus points for being the prototype for the Stones’ Fool to Cry. Available at the various mp3 sites; if you must have a cd version, it’s on most of the greatest hits packages out there.
613. John Cale – Half Past France
Every now and then, Cale will actually get specific and write a gem like this: a refugee on a train bound somewhere out of Europe contemplates getting out of the war zone, with considerable trepidation. And his family is still back wherever he’s coming from: will he ever see them again? Absolutely riveting, with some sweet lead guitar. Check your favorite mp3 site; also available on the 1973 album Paris 1919.
612. U2 – Another Time, Another Place
At the risk of alienating the diehard obscurantist following here, we give you something popular but perhaps not so obvious. This is by far the best song – maybe the only good song – that the band ever recorded. It’s a strangely jangly, uncharacteristically melodic anthem that for one reason or another sounds a whole lot like Television – and like absolutely nothing else U2 ever did before or subsequently. Available at all the mp3 sites and also in the dollar bins at your favorite vinyl retailer – it’s on the Boy album, from 1980.
611. REM – Camera
Typically obtuse Michael Stipe lyric, but what a gorgeously slow, watery janglerock ballad this is, less jangly than it is fluid. It drips alienation. At all the mp3 sites. From the 1983 album Reckoning which is easier to find than you might think: check your local vinyl source.
610. The False Prophets – Suburbanites Invade
Hilarious and sadly prescient reggae-punk from this theatrical LES New York band, 1986, a snide tale of spoiled brats turning working-class New York City neighborhoods into their own private Babylon (as in Babylon, Long Island). From their first Alternative Tentacles album; check the usual mp3 sites. Because they were such a good live band, many of the live takes are even funnier than the original. A regrouped version of the band with a couple of original members continues to tour.
609. Jenifer Jackson – Through Leaves
The panstylistic rock goddess was living in New York and really on a roll, songwriting-wise when she first started playing this gorgeous, hypnotic nocturne live in the days before 9/11. In the weeks that followed it took on an even more poignant significance: “Through leaves I see a body.” From her 2005 cd So High.
608. Iron Maiden – Only the Good Die Young
Uncharacteristically terse (four-minute), snarling, absolutely macabre reverb-guitar anthem galloping along on one of the band’s mightiest sledgehammer hooks. Sure, the vox may be totally Dungeons and Dragons, but the tune and especially the end of the song are scrumptious. At all the usual mp3 sites. Because the original’s sonics are so delicious, it’s worth seeking out the 1988 album Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, available cheap at pretty much any used vinyl place.
607. The Leaving Trains – Creeping Coastline of Lights
Like Cortez the Killer, for awhile this song was all the rage as a cover version for indie bands circa 1993 or so. This LA band’s 1984 original from the early indie era is vastly superior to any other version, the song’s beautifully contrapuntal, minor-key janglerock melody perfectly capturing the glimmer of the title. Check your favorite mp3 site but make sure it’s the original; good luck finding the vinyl album, long out of print. And note that the version on the band’s myspace is also a lousy live take.
606. Paula Carino – Lucky in Love
The New York janglerock siren’s greatest shining moment, so far. This is an uncharacteristically quiet, rivetingly haunting 6/8 ballad with one of Carino’s trademark, wickedly metaphorical lyrics, not about the kind of luck the title would imply. Highly recommended for people who like ice cream and beer. From her 2010 cd Open on Sunday.
605. Penelope Houston – Living Dolls
The Avengers’ frontwoman has also enjoyed a spectacular good if vastly underrated career as an acoustic songwriter. This is one of her best early solo songs, a darkly imagistic, minor-key tableau, figures hiding in the shadows in some nameless terror state. Even more relevant than when originally released in 1985. From the cd Birdboys (also still available on high-quality cassette!).
For almost forty years, Burning Spear AKA Winston Rodney has been making brilliant, socially conscious roots reggae. This one from 1982 is arguably his finest song, a wicked slap upside the head of anyone who ever claimed that Columbus “discovered” America. “What about the Arawak Indians?” Spear asks pointedly over one of his most memorable melodies. The album version is fine, but check the usual sites: Spear fans are compulsive collectors, and there are many sensational live versions out there. One particular ten-minute version from Manhattan Center in 1994 with a spectacular piano intro is the best we’ve heard to date.
603. The Act – The Art of Deception
Obscure, cynical, lyrically-fueled treasure from this fiery two-guitar British band’s lone 1982 album Too Late at 20, with David Gilmour’s kid brother Mark playing lead guitar. Sadly, frontman Nick Laird-Clowes would soon abandon his amped-up Costello-style rock for the lite FM sound that would make him a one-hit wonder with his next project, the Dream Academy. Never released digitally (although occasionally a dodgy homemade mp3 or two will turn up); you’ll have to hunt this down on vinyl, most likely in the bargain bins.
602. NWA – Fuck the Police
This one you know, it’s a rite of passage, a staple of every 13-year-old boy’s playlist, but when it came out in 1988 it was just short of revolutionary. Straight Outta Compton wasn’t the first gangsta rap album (that was Ice-T’s first one), but it’s probably the best and this is what got them in so much trouble (and sold them so many records), Ice Cube, Eazy-E and Dr. Dre all determined to piss off as many people as possible and succeeding brilliantly. MP3s are at all the usual sites although the vinyl version sounds best, especially if you have a system with good bass boost.
601. The Yayhoos – Baby I Love You
The most touching love song ever written…heh heh heh. It’s got a sweet little early 60s style pop melody and nicely swinging guitar from its author, Eric “Roscoe” Ambel from Steve Earle’s band. “I love you baby, just leave me the fuck alone.” From the Yayhoos’ 2002 cd Fear Not the Obvious. Ambel almost always plays this live when he does shows with his trio: check the Lakeside calendar.
600. Tammy Faye Starlite – I Shaved My Vagina for This
The cult artist/comedienne/chanteuse/agitator is the closest thing to Lenny Bruce that we have today, someone who never fails to find her mark because she’s so damn funny. This one, from her first cd, is a typically clever, drop-dead hilarious feminist rant disguised as a country song.
599. Ronnie Earl – Eddie’s Gospel Groove
Although best known for his thoughtfully intricate jazz work, the Boston guitarist got his start in blues and for years worked with Chicago luminaries like Jimmy Rogers. This is his best composition, a startling, ferocious stomp kicked off by one of the great hooks ever. From Language of the Soul, 1994; note that the youtube link above is only a fair approximation of how great this song can get.
598. David J – Bouquets Wreaths & Laurels
The Bauhaus and Love & Rockets bassist is also a terrific songwriter, with the expected noir sensibility. This one from his sensationally good 1992 cd Urban Urbane is one of his best: somebody’s just gotten out of jail and is hellbent for…something. Jazz Butcher guitarist Max Eider turns in some of his finest, most gorgeously fluid lead work here. Available at all the usual sites. There’s also a song on David J’s myspace called Spalding Gray Can’t Swim…
597. Amy Allison – Turn Out the Lights
Lucid Culture’s pick for best song of 2007 is one of cult artist Allison’s finest – and she has many – a stark and eerily glistening (if totally misproduced) hit that sounds like a suicide anthem but is actually a kiss-off to the music industry:
In my room
Far from the crowd
My bed’s a tomb
My quilt’s a shroud
I’ve had my fill
Of restless nights
I’d just as soon
Turn out the lights
From the cd Everything and Nothing Too. At her myspace, Allison also has a hysterically funny song about Amy Winehouse smoking crack.
596. Patricia Vonne – Blood on the Tracks
It takes a lot of nerve to steal a title like that, but Mexican-American ranchera-rock siren/actress Vonne – a fierce advocate for immigrant rights – has plenty. This is her best song, a viscerally affecting, guitar-fueled escape anthem galloping along on a fast shuffle beat. “We ain’t never coming back/Our hearts have been scarred, there’s blood on the tracks.” From her 2003 full-length debut cd.
595. The B Loud Three – The Letter
Not a cover of the Box Tops/Joe Jeffrey top 40 hit. When popular 90s New York punk/popstresses the Maul Girls split up, guitarist Leah Roblin AKA Leah B. Loud started a project of her own, a brilliantly guitar-driven, funny punk/pop trio which would be a quintet by the time their lone 2002 cd came out. This long, wrenchingly dark breakup epic is its high point, one of the most evocative portrayals of late-night, strung-out despair. Not available at the usual sites. Good as the recorded version is, there are equally good bootlegs kicking around: keep your ears open. Roblin has since moved on to the world of classical music…in China.
Released just months prior to 9/11, this courageous underground NYC hip-hop joint paints a stark tableau in the wake of a Rudolph Giuliani assassination. Retaliation from then-mayor Giuliani and his thugs came quickly: Screwball was quickly picked up – ostensibly on a drug warrant – and thrown into solitary confinement. From the cd Y2K: The Album; mp3s are floating around the usual sites.
593. REM – Disturbance at the Heron House
Mainstream, 80s style, but good. A slow, methodically jangly, lustrously growling anthem from Document, the 1986 album where they turned up the guitars for the first time. This is one of the first REM songs with any kind of antiwar, anti-authoritarian feel, amorphous as the lyrics may be. Available wherever files are shared.
592. Bob Dylan – Hurricane
Here’s an iconic one, no great surprise, but a song that the list wouldn’t be complete without. And arguably Dylan’s most courageous moment, a song that helped free an innocent man from a life sentence. Email this to anyone who says music can’t change the world. Nice Balkan violin work from Scarlet Rivera, too. Available wherever files are shared; if you’re looking for vinyl, it’s on the otherwise mediocre 1975 album Desire. The link in the title above is a torrent.
Post-Summer of Love madness, the Airplane at their most focused and intense, Jorma Kaukonen’s twelve-string sailing over Jack Casady’s crescendoing, growling bass. From After Bathing at Baxter’s, 1968; mp3s are at all the usual sites, but look for a smaller file; much of what’s out there is live and very dodgy-sounding.
590. Cypress Hill – Looking Through the Eyes of a Pig
Shockingly lucid, sympathetic, cynical view of a day in the life of an honest cop just trying to do his job against all temptations. Play this for anyone who thinks all hip-hop is biased against law enforcement. Available at the usual sites; the best version is from the surprisingly good Live at the Fillmore rap-rock cd, considerably longer than the studio take.
589. Paula Carino – Saying Grace Before the Movie
Her beautifully calm, stoic vocals sailing over the song’s bouncing rockabilly beat, New York underground rock siren Carino relates one of her characteristically lyrical, richly allusive tales. In this sardonic yet heartwrenching account of loneliness and alienation, a woman sits alone in a theatre, watching the sad story of a life that might be hers. From her Open on Sunday cd, 2010.
588. Steve Ulrich & Jeremiah Lockwood – The Children Rejoice
Written by Lockwood, the multistylistic guitar genius behind Sway Machinery, this absolutely gorgeous, twangy, reverb-laden instrumental gets really eerie with just a hint of klezmer. One of the best tunes that this duo used to play during a riveting series of shows around NYC circa 2006-07, Big Lazy frontman/guitarist Ulrich adding his own trademark sinister touch. Unreleased, although there are a few bootlegs kicking around.
587. Dead Prez – They Schools
A hip-hop companion piece to Schools Are Prisons by the Sex Pistols/Ex-Pistols. This is a terse, defiant and spot-on look at why so many inner city residents find public school absolutely irrelevant, simply a type of incarceration preparing kids for life behind bars and nothing else. From the 2000 cd Let’s Get Free.
586. The Sea Devils – Viper
Truth in advertising: one of the great modern-day surf music classics, this ferocious minor-key instrumental has fangs. Sea Devils frontman/lead guitarist Andrew Wendel’s intent was to stitch its segments together much in the same way that his hero Duke Ellington composed, and a close listen validates the comparison. Available at the band’s myspace; there are also some live bootleg versions circulating around.
585. History of Brazil – Movie Tune
Don’t bother googling this – the only place you’ll find it is streaming occasionally on Chicago’s marvelous Radio Luxotone. This scorching guitar-and-keyboard anthem from the Maine band’s 1983 cassette-only debut ep blends the majestic fire of 70s art-rock with skittish new wave. Hard to imagine a stronger candidate for inclusion on a “best obscurities ever” compilation. Keyboardist Alan Walker would later go on to found another cult band, retro NYC R&B/Americana revivalists the Brilliant Mistakes.
584. Douce Gimlet – The Well
New York’s best band from the late 90s and early zeros could play virtually any style they wanted: sad country ballads, cheery janglerock, jazzy pop hits, instrumentals, you name it. This is just about their darkest song, a slow, grinding, art-rock dirge with a screaming, anguished, noisy guitar solo by frontman Joe Ben Plummer. During their almost ten-year existence, Douce Gimlet officially released only one vinyl single, so this is nowhere to be found online. In fact, a studio version of this song may not exist, although there are several terrific live takes floating around. However, the cd Douce Gimlet recorded at Jerry Teel’s legendary Fun House Studios, unreleased during the life of the band, is available for free download here.
583. The Walkabouts – On the Beach
Neil Young cover, even better than the original. Frontwoman Karla Torgerson relates old Neil’s random, threatening images with a casual menace as organ hovers hauntingly in the background: “Get outta town, you know you gotta get outta town…” From the band’s relatively obscure 1990 Sub Pop ep Where the Deep Water Flows.
582. Graham Parker – Disney’s America
The lone good cut on the uncharacteristically weak 1995 album 12 Haunted Episodes is one of Parker’s most beautifully savage. Inspired by a plan to rip up the Virginia countryside to build a Disney theme park, Parker recounts a metaphor-laden tale of a romance that went sour and “drifted like runoff into the Chesapeake Bay:”
You can’t get too excited
You can’t get too enthused
From Dismal Land to the Tragic Mountain
We are not amused
Available at all the usual places. The link here is a nice solo acoustic version on youtube.
581. The Outnumbered – Boy on a Roof
One of the first out gay rockers, future Pansy Division frontman Jon Ginoli got his start playing generic janglerock with this band… this deliriously catchy, reverb-fueled gem with one of the sweetest reverb guitar solos ever is an exception. Originally issued on the Battle of the Garages Vol. 1 lp in 1984; most of the usual sites have the mp3. Parasol has a cd reissue of the 1985 album Surveying the Damage, which also includes this track.
580. Des Roar – Ted Bundy Was a Ladies Man
Gleeful, savagely cynical, pounding anthem by this great New York garage/punk band. As defiantly un-PC as Son of Sam by the Dead Boys, 2008 style. We had this song on the Lucid Culture myspace for months because we never got sick of it. From their demo ep and also available at the band’s myspace.
579. Joni Mitchell – Harry’s House/Centerpiece
Literally the centerpiece of the vastly underrrated 1975 Hissing of Summer Lawns lp, this excoriating dismissal of yuppie smugness and status-grubbing is as potent today as it was then.
578. The Notorious BIG – The Long Kiss Goodnight
The most chilling thing about Biggie Smalls’ writing was that he could see his death coming a mile away; it’s all over side four of Life After Death. This sinister, antagonistic gangsta number finds the man who was arguably the greatest hip-hop lyricist of alltime at the absolute top of his game. At any of the file-trading sites.
577. The Dead Kennedys – Terminal Preppie
This backhanded hardcore punk anti-yuppie puppy broadside resonates today just as much as it did 25 years ago. Except maybe substitute Dave Matthews for the Springsteen reference? From the classic 1983 Plastic Surgery Disasters album.
576. Depeche Mode – Somebody
Terminally depressed 1984 piano-and-voice ballad, a staple of every goth’s collection. Keyboardist Martin Gore, who sings here, is all too aware how maudlin he sounds:
Though things like this make me sick
In a case like this I’ll get away with it
The samples of industrial noise and a train leaving the station end the song on a viscerally chilling note. Available everywhere.
575. The Sweet Bitters – Clocks Fall Back
One of the best songs of recent years perfectly captured what life was like in New York City this year, the careless extravagance of wealth juxtaposed against crushing poverty. Sharon Goldman’s characteristically terse, crystallized lyric soars with harmonies from her bandmate Nina Schmir over a gorgeous, retro 60s folk-pop melody somewhat reminiscent of Simon & Garfunkel’s Hazy Shade of Winter. From the duo’s 2009 full-lenght debut cd, also at their myspace.
574. The Coffin Daggers – Mr. Moto
The best version of what may be the greatest surf rock instrumental ever, even if the Coffin Daggers never officially released this particular one. Theirs is scorching punk rock with distorted guitar and eerie Wurlitzer organ, sounding something like Hunter S. Thompson gingerly getting out of bed, gun in hand, the shadows just beginning to fall outside. Not at the usual mp3 sites, although frequently bootlegged. Surf around (pun intended) and see what you find!
573. The J. Geils Band – Angel in Blue
Believe it or not, the Boston bar band responsible for the odious Angel in the Centerfold – the bestselling single of 1981 – also gave us this absolutely beautiful, backbeat-driven ballad pulsing along on a gorgeous Hammond organ riff (from the same album, even). Needless to say, quite a contrast, with a nicely cynical lyric: use people and you get used in return. At the usual mp3 sites; if you want vinyl, look for a copy of Freeze Frame in the cheapo bins.
572. James McMurtry – We Can’t Make It Here
Hideously mained vets from Iraq and previous wars filling the sidewalk; shuttered factories; ghettos sprawling; small businesses going under; homelessness rising while CEOs make millions and pay no taxes; corporate media, churches and antidepressants masking the harsh reality; kids gone off to be cannon fodder for Halliburton since the ruling classes sent all the jobs overseas. It’s all here in five brilliant minutes, the most tersely accurate critique of the Bush years you’ll ever hear. “Take a part time job at one of your stores, betcha can’t make it here anymore.” From the Childish Things cd, 2005; there are also several riveting live versions on youtube including this one.
571. Steve Wynn – I Don’t Deserve This
A recurrent theme in the great noir rocker’s work: just when he’s about to go postal, he has an epiphany. In a word, it’s transcendent. Our pick for best song of 2008, this darkly orchestrated backbeat-driven haunter is on his latest cd Crossing Dragon Bridge (there are also several equally transcendent live versions up at archive.org as well).
570. The Clash – Clampdown
Ultimately, this song is about selling out. “So you grow up and you come down and you’re working for the Clampdown.” Play this for anyone who doesn’t think Joe Strummer was a visionary. Or for any old punk friend who’s gone soft and rightwing as the years have accumulated. Available at all the file-sharing sites, although many of the files are sonically dubious live takes. The link above is a youtube clip for the original album version.
569. The Clash – The Magnificent Seven
The opening cut on Sandinista, the band’s first venture into hip-hop is definitely the funniest thing they ever recorded. Over a delicious Norman Watt-Roy bass loop, Joe Strummer catalogues the various ways the upper classes were keeping the lower ones down, UK style, 1981. Not much has changed since.
568. Willie Nile – Sing Me a Song
Scorching nouveau-mod anthem from underground NYC rocker Nile’s 1980 debut lp. Pure adrenaline bliss when the long outro kicks in, with all those slamming guitar overdubs. The best version is the original studio take, although the live one from Nile’s Archive Alive cd, recorded in New York’s Central Park, is also tasty. The link above is a torrent of the whole album; it’s also worth checking the dollar bins at your local vinyl joint.
567. Heather Nova – Throwing Fire at the Sun
The corporate labels tried to package this siren as Lilith Fair-style folkie, Sheryl Crow with minor keys, and dance-pop, and for probably all of those reasons, failed miserably. And for all of those reasons you may never have heard of her, which is too bad because left to her own devices, she can give you chills. The version of this aptly tilted anthem from her 1995 Live at the Milky Way ep seems to be Nova at her essential best, holding nothing back, letting that unearthly wail fly for all it’s worth. Keep your eyes open for a new cd due out this year.
566. The Slickee Boys – Dream Lovers
Along with True West, this DC quintet were the best of the psychedelic revivalist bands of the 80s. While their California colleagues mined a janglier vein, the Slickee Boys were faster, more punk and even more intense. On this scampering alienation anthem from their uncharacteristically lacklustre 1985 lp Uh Oh No Breaks, lead guitarist Marshall Keith opens it up with one of his typically sizzling, soaring riffs and then takes a killer solo out. The best version is the one from the album (still available!), although there are a bunch of live tracks out there as well. The band still regularly plays “reunion” shows in the DC area.
565. Stiv Bators – The Last Year
The Dead Boys’ frontman’s not-so-secret wish, never fully realized, was to be a dark powerpop singer. This is his finest moment in that role. Mid-60s noir style songwriting at its darkest and most affecting. Bators would live four more years after singing that this would be his last. Originally released on his superb 1988 solo lp Disconnected, also floating around in mp3land; the link above is a stream at imeem.
564. The Chantays – Pipeline
The original 1963 version of the surf classic is arguably the best, and it’s the electric piano – absent from most every cover version – that makes it. Available everywhere you would expect it to be. If you prefer a vinyl version, the song’s been reissued hundreds of times on compilations: worth a look through the K-Tel albums in the dollar bins at your local used vinyl purveyor. The Agent Orange version is also very cool.
563. 28th Day – Burnsite
Defiantly multistylistic, pioneering indie rocker Barbara Manning (check out her latest project, the Sleaze Tax) got her start in 1984 with this jangly REMish trio produced by True West frontman Russ Tolman, which sounds absolutely nothing like any of her solo work. In this brisk, rather horrific tale, Manning follows guitarist Cole Marquis’ evil, crescendoing, raga-esque solo with one of the most bloodcurdling screams in the history of rock. Good luck finding the vinyl, out of print for years along with the incomplete “complete recordings” cd once available from artistdirect. Although amazon is still selling the mp3 (a check of the usual share sites didn’t turn up anything.
562. Procol Harum – New Lamps For Old
You know this band, at least from their big 1967 hit Whiter Shade of Pale, a staple of oldies radio. The legendary art-rockers distinguished themselves from the era’s legions of wanky “prog” groups via a darkly ornate, noir, even macabre sensibility, spooky Hammond organ looming in the background. This is one of their lesser-known but most haunting tracks, the band’s intricate interplay perfectly evoking Keith Reid’s disillusioned, despairing lyric. Originally on the 1975 lp Exotic Birds & Fruit; the best version is on their Live on the BBC cd, a 1974 recording finally issued in 1999. Check the usual sites for mp3s. The band still tours Europe albeit sans most of the original members.
561. The Vice Squad – Last Rockers
These early 80s British oi-punks fronted by one Beki Bondage built their career on this pummeling apocalyptic anthem bookended by a ridiculously simple, deliciously ghoulish guitar hook. Available wherever mp3s are traded; if you want the vinyl, the band’s first lp is very difficult to find over here, although the song also appeared on a bunch of 1983-era punk compilations.
560. The Skatalites – You’re Wondering Now
Iconic ska ballad from the early days, 1964, Doreen Shaffer’s stoic, subtly haunting vocals over a sweetly bitter oldschool R&B melody. Covered by everybody but the original is the best, available wherever files are shared. Amy Winehouse, eat your heart out (might do you good – you could stand a little extra weight).
559. Walter Ego – Sunday’s Assassin
One of the rare cover versions on this list – and one of the rarest songs here – this is an LJ Murphy song that Murphy shelved a long time ago before the New York rocker (Murphy’s old bassist) resurrected it. It’s one of the most powerfully evocative portraits of clinical depression ever set to music, a killer pondering whether or not to escape his certain fate when the cops look under his fingernails. Presently unreleased; it doesn’t seem to have made it to youtube either.
558. Love – A House Is Not a Motel
Characteristically eerie, weirdly trippy, artsy chamber psychedelia from Forever Changes, 1967: “The water’s turned to blood, and if you don’t think so, go turn on your tub.”Available wherever mp3s are traded.
557. Randi Russo – Head High While You Lie Low
When the New York indie rock siren had her band together, they would playfully refer to this one onstage as ”the Immigrant Song” because of the Led Zep echoes on the outro. It’s a characteristically scorching, three-part art-rock suite that builds to a dark Middle Eastern-inflected dance driven along by an insistent, macabre bass riff. Unreleased, but there are bootlegs kicking around.
556. The Stooges – Dirt
Slow, haunting, classically-tinged dirge from Fun House, 1972: you can hear Ian Curtis hearing this for the first time and thinking to himself, hmmmm….. The live version on Iggy’s 1979 live TV Eye album is just about as good. If you’re looking for an mp3, prepare for some sifting and look for a smaller file. Ron Asheton, we miss you; some nice footage in the youtube link above.
555. The Clash – Somebody Got Murdered
A sad, thoughtful anti-violence anthem from Sandinista, 1981. Part of Joe Strummer’s genius was how intuitively he grasped how interconnected we are within the fabric of society, and how – in the case of this song – a seemingly random killing suddenly becomes anything but if you consider the consequences. Somebody please put some headphones on Fraulein Lipni and blast this loud.
554. Jenifer Jackson – Saturday
The multistylistic songwriter/chanteuse is also a painter, and as she adds layers of narrative to this slowly unwinding, beautifully epic anthem, the portrait of anguished loneliness that emerges packs a wallop that transcends the song’s quiet understatement. In other words, typical Jenifer Jackson. This one is on her career-best The Outskirts of a Giant Town cd, recorded live in the studio in 2007.
553. John Lennon – Working Class Hero
You probably know this one, Lennon at his most tersely visionary: a stinging, minor-key acoustic broadside from a guy who always had an uneasy relationship with his blue-collar roots: “You’re all just fucking peasants as far as I can see.”
552. The Crippled Pilgrims – Oblivious & Numb
By the time this song came out on the Washington, DC band’s only full-length lp, Under Water, in 1985, they’d broken up. One of the best of the first jangly wave of indie rock bands, Parasol Records happily reissued their complete recorded works as a single cd. Gorgeously chordal bass work from ex-Government Issue player Mitch Parker.
551. Roy Orbison – In Dreams
“Candy-colored clown! Candy-colored clown!” Dennis Hopper pants, huffing some mysterious substance as a kidnapped Kyle McLachlan observes, apprehension building to absolute terror. One of the many classic scenes from Blue Velvet, right up there with “PABST BLUE RIBBON!!!” Out of context, the song is still awfully good, Orbison at his darkest. MP3s are everywhere you would expect them to be; your best shot at getting this on vinyl is on one of the innumerable greatest-hits comps rather than the original 1963 lp.
550. The Dukes of Stratosphear – 25 O’Clock
This is XTC pseudonymously doing a loving, spot-on parody of 60s psychedelia (particularly the Electric Prunes) while making great fun of stoners with what seems like a million tracks of backward masking, phased guitars, keyboards, echo and reverb effects. Listen to this high and the joke is on you. The title track from the band’s 1985 vinyl ep, it’s available wherever mp3s are.
549. Agent Orange – Mr. Moto
The only song that appears on this list twice (the Coffin Daggers’ organ-stoked version is #574), this is a terse, scorching, distortion-fueled version of Paul Johnson’s surf classic. Every note, every beat of this song counts for something. One of the extra tracks on the cd reissue of the band’s lone classic album Living in Darkness, from 1981; if you’ll settle for a mp3, they’re available at the usual sites.
548. The Sex Pistols – New York
The way Chris Thomas produced all those layers of Steve Jones’ guitar is one of the great studio achievements ever. Except that it left the grand total of two tracks for Johnny Rotten, who blew out his voice on the first take of the first song…and then had to do the rest of the album. And maybe sounded better for it. “A kiss, a kiss, sealed with a kiss, kiss this,” he snarls, dismissing his old tourmates the New York Dolls. Sweet pickslide by Jones to wind up the song. At all the mp3 sites; you may have to sift through several dodgy live versions.
547. Bruce Springsteen – Atlantic City
Many consider his stark, acoustic 1983 album Nebraska to be his best. You probably know this song, the hitman casually explaining that’s he’s got a little job to do: “Everything dies, baby that’s a fact, but maybe someday everything comes back.” Available wherever mp3s are traded; look for a small file, as there are a ton of live versions out there and most are not very good.
546. The Larval Organs – Joyless Now
The Larval Organs were arguably New York songwriter Daniel Bernstein AKA Cockroach’s best project to date, a ferociously lyrical punk/metal outfit that played around circa 2002-04 and put out one classic ep, Posthumous. This is one of their more melodic numbers with a characteristically brilliant, surreal, desperate lyric, a chronicle about completely losing it,“with a heartache the size of a great lake.” The song remains a staple of Bernstein’s live show; the link in the title above is a solo version.
545. The Act – Get It While You’re Young
This catchy, warmly anthemic track from this fiery two-guitar British band’s lone, brilliant 1982 album Too Late At 20 still rings true more than 25 years later. Frontman Nick Laird-Clowes would go on to Zager and Evans Hall of Fame infamy a couple of years later with the Dream Academy and Life in a Northern Town. He makes movie music now, a considerable improvement. The album was never issued on cd; scour the dollar bins at your local vinyl emporium. The link above is a homemade mp3 download.
544. Telephone – Telephomme
By far the best cut on the French rockers’ 1977 debut, it’s far closer to the Boomtown Rats than the amped-up second-rate Chuck Berry stuff on the rest of the album. The song’s theme (and the pun of its title) deal with the frustration about being unable to communicate. Louis Bertignac’s long, screaming guitar solo is amazing.
543. No Trend – Teen Love
Classic obscure no-wave punk epic from this one-hit wonder Washington, DC band. Listen close and you’ll realize that this isn’t just a very smartly rewritten version of the Shangri-la’s Leader of the Pack, it’s a parody of lifestyle capitalism, i.e. the various conformist personas packaged by corporations for high school kids to “choose” from. As funny now as it was when first released in 1982. Available at the usual mp3 sites; if you find the original twelve-inch 45 RPM ep, grab it, it’s rare. And don’t believe the blogosphere: this is NOT proto-emo. It’s black humor.
542. The Dickies – Infidel Zombie
Slinkily dark 1980 punk classic set to a faux spy theme fueled by the late Chuck Wagon’s blaring sax. For a band whose original raison d’etre was to be a parody of punk, they sure kicked some serious ass. From the album Dawn of the Dickies; available wherever mp3s are found, such as the piratebay link above
541. Noxes Pond – Ska (The Art of Walking)
This has absolutely nothing to do with either ska or walking. It’s more than ten minutes of classic noise-rock from this late 90s Lower East Side New York power/funk trio, featuring one of the alltime great nails-down-the-blackboard guitar solos, at least eight paint-peeling minutes of distorted, feedback-drenched madness over a head-bopping groove. This one is extraordinarily hard to find – the version that counts is on a very obscure cassette-only ep. The guitarist would go on to even further greatness in brilliant art/punk/noise rockers System Noise; the drummer now runs a company that manufactures fantastic, high-quality speakers.
540. Radio Birdman – Found Dead
Thirty-plus years after they started, the legendary Australian punk/garage monsters are still as vital as ever on this macabre, midtempo guitar-and-organ-driven gem. “Said we gotta go far away from here…can you make it alone, now can you? Can you?” singer Rob Younger intones. From their comeback cd Zeno Beach, our pick for best album of 2006.
539. Johnny Thunders – You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory
You know this one: about ten years ago every indie rock band was covering it (and usually butchering it). One of the saddest songs ever written, by a guy who for one reason or another knew a lot about that particular emotion. The original is available wherever mp3s are (avoid the lame, lo-fi solo acoustic outtakes); Rachelle Garniez also does an inscrutably haunting version which is also floating around in bootleg-land.
538. The Great Society – Darkly Smiling
This was Grace Slick’s band before she joined Jefferson Airplane in 1967. By far the best song they ever did, Slick’s vocals on this gorgeously dark, jangly garage-rock smash are a little wobbly, but it’s the melody that slams you upside the head. Her (soon-to-be ex-) husband Darby Slick’s casually crescendoing guitar strumming into the chorus is absolutely killer. Originally from a posthumous double live album from 1970 (the band’s only official release) , it’s surprisingly available at the usual sites.
537. Blue Oyster Cult – Joan Crawford
Surreal, bizarrely comedic art-rock masterpiece about what happens when Joan Crawford rises from the grave: ornate classical piano intro, all kinds of weird effects (“Christina! Mother’s home!”) and a killer bassline by lead guitarist Buck Dharma. From the 1981 lp Fire of Unknown Origin, typically found in the dollar bins wherever vinyl is sold; also available wherever there are mp3s.
536. Lou Reed – Kill Your Sons
Bellevue treated me pretty good
Creedmoor was even better…
All those drugs that we took, they really were lots of fun
But when they shot me up with Thorazine
I’d just smoke and talk like a sonofagun
Dontcha know they’re gonna kill, kill your sons.
Remember, this was 25 years before Prozac. The 1973 album version is on Sally Can’t Dance; mp3s are everywhere you would expect. The link above is a neat live take from Italy, 1983 with the late Robert Quine on lead guitar.
535. Steely Dan – Any World That I’m Welcome To
“…is better than the one that I come from.” Brooklyn may know the charmer under Donald Fagen, but it also knows the contemptuous outsider who obviously didn’t feel very at home there and wrote this somewhat plaintive, uncharacteristically straightforward piano ballad about it. And for good reason: this was 1975 and the borough was in many respects as provincial as rural Alabama. For that matter, parts of it still are: ask someone from Williamsburg. From the album Katy Lied; also available wherever there are mp3s.
534. Rachelle Garniez – Magic Time
The multi-instrumentalist New York chanteuse invariably packs a wallop. This hypnotic number with a hilariously New York-centric intro is one of her more inscrutable songs until you listen closely. Intensity has never been more casual. “I’m walking through this torture garden, smiling,” Garniez sings gently, without a hint of anguish. From the 2004 cd Luckyday.
533. Howlin Wolf – I’ll Be Around
Name another more powerful male singer. No, you can’t. This one features perhaps his most anguished, bitter vocals: “Yeah, I’ll be around, to see what you’re puttin’ out.” The ferocity of Willie Johnson’s lead guitar matches up. Mp3s are out there; the 1954 vinyl single is strictly a collector’s item, although MCA reissued it on the More Real Folk Blues album in all formats in the mid-80s (download the whole thing with the link above).
532. Boogie Down Productions – Bo! Bo! Bo!
Three years before Body Count did Cop Killer, KRS-One wrote this triumphant hip-hop anthem about a black kid out minding his own business and then having to deal with a homicidal, racist cop. From the 1989 cd Ghetto Music: The Blueprint of Hip-Hop.
531. The Smiths – What Difference Does It Make
Guitarist Johnny Marr’s finest moment, a striking noir 60s melody almost going over the top of the wave into the surf with all that delicious reverb. And it’s as close as Morrissey would ever come to dropping the affectations and actually singing from the heart. From the band’s 1984 debut lp.
530. The Bongos – Numbers with Wings
The 1982 title track to the Hoboken band’s excellent ep, this is an uncharacteristically haunting if lyrically nonsensical janglerock anthem, Richard Barone’s watery guitar soaring over a brisk dance beat.
529. Ozzy Osbourne – So Tired
It’s hard to type this beneath the deluge of spitballs and rotten vegetables. Ozzy Osbourne, on the alltime top 666?!!!!? Yup. It’s Ozzy’s producers’ brilliantly successful attempt at an ELO-style orchestrated rock ballad, and to his credit, the Ozz-man actually sings it well. Sweet piano, strings and even the bass player stops phoning it in and sounds like he’s having fun. Download it wherever mp3s are found; the vinyl version is available in the bargain bins for a dollar or less on the 1984 Bark at the Moon album.
528. The Supremes – You Keep Me Hanging On
Holland-Dozier-Holland – the black Beatles – were just as good at writing haunting, classically-inflected minor key songs as they were at R&B and this one’s proof. Forget the gazillions of covers – didn’t Bananarama do one at some point in the 80s? – the 1966 hit is the classic. James Jamerson – jazz bassist playing rock – what else is there to say.
527. The Stooges – I’m Sick of You
Absolutely evil proto-punk from 1974, Iggy getting snuck out of heroin rehab to do vocals, James Williamson’s offhandedly vicious guitar over Ron Asheton’s bunker-buster descending progression on the bass. It’s on a million compilations on both vinyl and cd; mp3s are everywhere.
526. The Beatles – Blue Jay Way
Full disclosure: when we inherited this list in its embryonic form from our predecessor e-zine, there were a lot more Beatles songs on it then than there are now. In tweaking and updating it, the consensus was to give as much space as possible to lesser-known artists who might pique your interest far more than hearing for the umpteenth time just how great the Fab Four were. In fact, in order to keep the list at a total of 666, we jettisoned pretty much every well-known, overplayed oldies radio song we could find. But we couldn’t get rid of this one, George’s hypnotic, psychedelic one-chord salute to nonconformity. “Please don’t be long, please don’t belong.” Best song on the vastly underrated 1968 Magical Mystery Tour album, whose cd sales earn the remaining Beatles zero royalties and therefore without exception should be downloaded for free rather than purchased.
525. Elvis Costello – Episode of Blonde
The King at his vitriolic best, an endless catalog of a pinup’s vices and failings and ultimately a slam at the corporate media who still believe that the Paris Hiltons of the world are sufficient to distract us while the Madoffs rob us blind. Originally released on the 2002 When I Was Cruel, the best version of this song is on the live cd My Flame Burns Blue from three years later.
524. Midnight Oil – E-Beat
Late-period brilliance from the legendary Australian art-rockers’ Breathe cd, 1996, Jim Moginie doing double duty adding both eerie lead guitar and eerie oldtime analog synth while the band clangs and roars behind frontman (and current Australian Environment Minister) Peter Garrett. You want prophetic? “We gotta prick that bubble in the shopping arcade.”
523. The Move – No Time
Contemporaries of the Who and the Kinks, the Move’s crazed stage antics and instrument-smashing inspired Townshend & Co. to follow suit. Like many of their contemporaries, the band followed a trajectory that took them from mod rock to proto-metal to toweringly beautiful orchestrated songs. This one, written by future ELO frontman Jeff Lynne is a gorgeously wistful track with acoustic guitar and flute from their final full-length studio album, Message from the Country, from 1971. MP3s abound.
522. Bob Dylan – Masters of War
As with the Beatles (see #526), when we inherited the embryonic version of this list from our predecessor e-zine, it contained a whole slew of Dylan that we deleted to make room for more obscure acts that you’d probably never discover anywhere else but here. But this one we had to keep: “And I’ll stand over your grave til I’m sure that you’re dead.” For Dick Cheney and all of his collaborators. The link in the title above is a torrent of the whole album; if you want a cover, see if you can track down a bootleg of the jazz version done by Erica Smith & the 99 Cent Dreams (it’s in 5/4 time!).
One of the funniest and most dead-accurate anti-trendoid rants ever recorded, this is a furious call to all the cool kids to start a new scene that has nothing to do with fashion, celebrity or inherited wealth. Even better than Costello’s I Don’t Want to Go to Chelsea. “I don’t wanna go to Northsix…I don’t wanna hear the fucking Hold Steady!”From the brand-new 2009 cd The Brooklyn What for Borough President.
520. Radio Birdman – Remorseless
A brooding, midtempo haunter from these legendary Australian garage punks’ volcanic 2006 comeback cd Zeno Beach (our pick for best album of the year). The tension of this burning, funereal midtempo song never lets up, punctuated by a characteristically bone-severing solo from lead guitarist Deniz Tek.
Dark, serious and beautiful, it’s a meditation on violence:
Tell me what you done it for
No I won’t tell you a thing
The 1974 recorded version on Mars Hotel is actually not bad, but as with pretty much everything the Dead ever did, nothing beats a good live take. Portland, Maine, May 1985 maybe?
518. Radio Birdman – We’ve Come So Far to Be Here Today
From the band’s triumphant comeback cd Zeno Beach, our choice for best album of 2006. Everyone in this legendary Australian band except the drummer were over fifty by the time they’d recorded this searing, pounding, macabre punk/surf/garage masterpiece. And they rocked harder – and still do – than most people half their age. The link above is to their myspace where you can hear it.
517. Genesis – Home by the Sea
Don’t laugh: keyboardist Tony Banks’ swirling, ominous organ tune has a beauty that transcends the presence of both a drum machine AND Phil Collins, no small achievement. MP3s are everywhere; if you’re looking for vinyl, dig through the dollar bins for Genesis’ 1983 self-titled album.
516. Badfinger – Baby Blue
The greatest powerpop song ever written? Maybe. One of those songs that pretty much every band alive – every good band, anyway – knows and has run through in rehearsal at least once or twice, because it’s so much fun. MP3s are everywhere; if you’re looking for vinyl, good luck finding the 1972 Straight Up lp.
515. Rocket from the Tombs – 30 Seconds Over Tokyo
The legendary, theatrical Cleveland proto-punk band that spawned both the Dead Boys and Pere Ubu released two studio versions of this paint-peeling evocation of the WWII Tokyo firebombing raids, one on a lo-fi compilation of tinny digitized 1974 rehearsal tapes and another on the lacklustre 2004 reunion cd Rocket Redux. Best to look for a bootleg: their version from the second 2003 Maxwell’s show is the best we’ve heard.
514. Procol Harum – Wreck of the Hesperus
Written and sung by organist Matthew Fisher, the centerpiece of this towering, haunting two-keyboard, proto-goth anthem is an anguished, minimalist fuzztone solo from guitarist Robin Trower. What a colossally good band. From the Salty Dog lp, 1969; mp3s at the usual spots.
513. The Moody Blues – Peak Hour
An uncharacteristically hard-rocking, deliciously scurrying evocation of midday business-district madness driven by bassist John Lodge’s furious flights, keyboardist Michael Pinder ending it mischievously with the last four chords from the famous Bach Toccata in D. MP3s everywhere; if you’re looking for vinyl, it’s on the 1967 lp Days of Future Passed, frequently found in the dollar bins. The link above is a youtube clip with about two minutes of the mediocre movie soundtrack-style orchestration that segues into the song.
512. The Gotham 4 – 3001
Ninth House guitarist Keith Otten originally released this towering, savage, flamenco-inflected anthem on the 1997 debut cd by his Kotten project, but it’s his 2006 two-guitar version with this later band that really burns down the house. Unlike what you might think, it’s not a sci-fi epic; the title refers to the number of days in a marriage.
511. Plan 9 – Man Bites Dog
These long-running Rhode Island garage/psychedelic revivalists’ claim to fame during their 80s heyday was their swirling, incandescent five-guitar live show, a high standard that their studio albums didn’t often live up to. This is an uncharacteristically terse, jangly and beautifully produced anthem with some sweet bass work from their otherwise mediocre 1987 lp Sea Hunt. The link above offers a choice of torrents.
510. Eddie & the Hotrods – Get Outta Denver
The British pub rockers’ finest moment, a tense, blazing live version of the Seeg’s Chuck Berry style hippie anthem, ending with the amps howling with feedback: “You gotta GOOOOOOO!!!” Originally released on the UK-only Live at the Marquee ep, 1976, the following year on the almost as hard-to-find Teenage Depression lp. MP3s abound, and good luck finding the original – although you can use the link above for a torrent of the band’s first four albums.
509. System Noise – No One Saw What I Saw
The New York rockers’ finest moment to date is this savagely macabre, ornately orchestrated six-minute art rock anthem replete with all kinds of tempo shifts, a million layers of volcanic guitar licks swirling around each other, and wild crescendos from frontwoman Sarah Mucho. Unreleased, and once a staple of their live show; what the future holds for this, we’ll see.
508. David Bowie – Rock N Roll Suicide
The whole point of suicide songs is to discourage anyone considering it – those who write that kind of song typically do so as an alternative. Has this anthem ever saved a life? Wouldn’t bet against it. YOU’RE NOT ALONE!!! Last cut on Ziggy Stardust, 1972; mp3s are everywhere.
507. Elmore James – Cry for Me
One of the most technologically advanced artists of his era, James was multi-tracking in stereo as early as 1956! Not to be confused with the boogie Cry for Me Baby, this is a fast, sinister shuffle featuring the great Chicago blues guitarist in terse, fast, minor-key mode without his trademark slide. Mp3s are out there, but be prepared for some sifting.
506. Ian Hunter – Rain
If you count everything in the guy’s prolific post-Mott the Hoople career, Hunter’s got a pretty impressive catalog of gloomy, Lou Reed-ish glamrock. This is a big, swirling, stately, elegaic anthem with towering, monumental post-Sandinista production by the Clash’s Mick Jones. Mp3s are kicking around; if you’re looking for vinyl, it’s on the Short Back and Sides lp from 1981.
505. The Dukes of Stratosphear – Vanishing Girl
One of the greatest hits of the 60s…except that this deliciously twangy, slyly Beatlesque two-guitar pop hit was written and released by XTC in 1985 as part of their Dukes of Stratosphear psychedelic parody project. Love that booming Colin Moulding bassline. MP3s are around; originally issued as the title track from a three-song vinyl ep.
504. Derek & the Dominoes – Layla
No way, no way, no way. This can’t be one of the alltime top 666. “Classic rock radio” has burnt this to toast. Oh yeah? Every year, a new generation of gradeschool kids discovers it with fresh ears. And did you know that for all intents and purposes, the hack who gets all the credit for it basically didn’t write it? That opening guitar lick? Stolen straight out of Personal Manager by Albert King. All those layers of crazy slide guitar overdubs? Duane Allman. And the piano part? That was written and played by the drummer, Jim Gordon, who later went nuts, killed his mother and remains institutionalized in California, 25 years later. Contrarians should check out John Fahey’s lovely 1984 acoustic guitar instrumental version.
One of the greatest Australian bands of the late 70s, the Passengers tragically never achieved the fame they so deserved. With their haunting guitar-and-keyboard garage-pop sound and the chillingly direct, wrenchingly heartfelt vocals of frontwoman Angie Pepper, they were on the brink of releasing their first album when their label discovered that Pepper had secretly married Radio Birdman mastermind Deniz Tek. Fearing that she’d relocate to the States (they were right), the album was never released and the master tapes mysteriously went AWOL for years (but happily resurfaced, ending up on the 2001 Citadel cd reissue It’s Just That I Miss You). In the interim, all that had remained of the band’s recorded output was a single rehearsal tape, released on cd in 1985 on the French Revenge label. Despite the dodgy sound quality, the otherwordly quality of Pepper’s voice against the cascades of electric piano on this song will give you chills. On an even more auspicious note, Pepper resurrected the band in 2006 as an acoustic act; other than the new-ish recordings on their myspace, it remains to be seen how far they’ll go with it. The link in the title at the top is an imeem stream for the song.
502. The Notorious BIG – My Downfall
“Yeah, pray and pray for my downfall,” the greatest hip-hop lyricist of alltime taunts over a well-chosen, haunting sample loop, at the same time all too cognizant of how fragile his existence was. No other artist ever saw his death coming so fast, or managed to get in as much intensity before it happened. From Life After Death, 1997; mp3s are everywhere.
From the Momento cd, the great noir rocker’s 2001 collaboration with this Spanish rock band, one of the first albums to be recorded collaboratively on separate continents over email. This is its high point, a gorgeously Byrdsy individualist’s anthem told from the point of view of a bum in the park who triumphantly stands outside it all. “This is my life, ain’t nothing gonna bring me down, I’m the King of Riverside Park.” Strangely, nothing up in the Steve Wynn section at archive.org (297 live shows and counting!), although it’s on a live at Lakeside bootleg from 02 or so.
500. The Notorious BIG –You’re Nobody Til Somebody Kills You
This isn’t about fame. It’s about being forgotten. As great a storyteller as he was a poet, Biggie never would have written any kind of prosaic “get out of the game” cautionary tale. Instead, with last song he ever released, he offered the brutally ironic tale of dead gangster, recalling what he looked like, who he hung out with, his hairstyle, his fashion sense, what he drove, his drug problem, everything but the guy’s name. RIP.
For songs #400-499 click here
For songs 300-399 click here
For songs 200-299 click here
For songs 100-199 click here
For songs 1-100 click here
ABOUT THIS LIST
Every day for almost two years, we counted down these songs, one day at a time, from #666 to the greatest song of alltime. We inherited this with a lot of other stuff from our predecessor e-zine when we started Lucid Culture in the spring of 2007, and then sat on it for a year and a half. Beyond the fact that it wasn’t annotated and nobody had the time to do it, and that it was written on a lark (trying to look busy at work while searching for another job), it was also woefully incomplete. It hadn’t been updated since 2004, it totally ignored jazz, classical and world music, didn’t have much in the way of reggae or hip-hop, very little before 1960 and nothing at all before 1950. Then in October, 2008 the stock market crashed and suddenly we lost two-thirds of our readership. Drastic times, etc.
In an effort to jump-start the site, we decided to revisit the thing. After all, if you go to the other music blogs, the most popular posts are almost always the lists. And a little surfing revealed something completely unexpected: as flawed as this list is, it totally kicks the ass of any other best-of list for rock music anywhere on the web. So, voila. As with every best-of list, take this with a grain of salt: you could undoubtedly come up with something like this and it would be every bit as good. This is strictly for fun, and to help spread the word about some great songs and artists that may have slipped under your radar. Until now. For those who feel that we’ve abdicated our mission as multiculturalists, there are innumerable best-of lists for jazz, classical, world music, ska, narcocorridas and just about every ethnic, regional or period style out there, easily googled.
Several common threads run through this:
1. In keeping with the spirit of Lucid Culture, we’ve done our best to focus on songs you may have never heard of, especially from New York artists. That meant that if we were going to limit the list to a total of 666, a lot of stuff you already know, especially the classic rock, had to go. Consider: would we be serving any useful purpose by going on and on about how great the Beatles are? Of course they’re great. Our goal is to introduce others who may be just as good, but whom you’d never discover anywhere else but here.
2. Because these are scary times, a lot of the songs here reflect that. You won’t find many songs here that are lackadaisical, carefree or for that matter very gentle. It’s a pretty dark list: among the first seven songs here are a murder ballad, a spy theme, a song about nuclear armageddon, a kiss-off anthem, a pop song about a bunch of men trapped in a mine, the theme from the Exorcist and a Black Sabbath epic about the end of the world. Frequently riveting but not particularly happy stuff.
3. Initially we tried to arrange the songs in some kind of hierarchical order but quickly realized that would be a fiasco.
4. We’ve since moved on to a new daily gimmick, counting down the 1000 best albums of all time, which if we last that long will be done sometime in 2012.