For songs #500-666, or an explanation of what this list is all about (other than just fun), click here
For songs #400-499 click here
For songs #300-399 click here
For songs #200-299 click here
For songs 1-99 click here
199. The Church – Myrrh
The Australian art-rock legends’ classic 1986 Heyday album was inspired by the band’s disastrous US tour the previous year, and this is the opening track, pulsing hypnotically as frontman Steve Kilbey deplores what he found. “Privilege on privilege, an unwanted discovery.”
198. Gil Scott-Heron – B Movie
The great soul/jazz poet at the peak of his powers, a savage dismissal of lightweight Hollywood candidate Ronald Reagan released just after the disastrous 1980 election. From the Secrets album, 1981; the link above is the complete eight-minute diatribe on youtube. There’s also a killer version on the Live Somewhere in Europe album from the early 90s.
197. Radio Birdman – All Alone in the Endzone
This has nothing to do with football, Australian or otherwise – it’s just under two minutes of vicious, chromatic 1979 garage punk driven by one of the catchiest hooks ever written. That’s bassist Warwick Gilbert playing it on the studio version on the Radios Appear lp; the link above, a lightning-fast live take from a recent tour, features Jim Dickson from the New Christs.
196. The Rolling Stones – Jumping Jack Flash
Trivia question: you know Jagger wrote the words, but who wrote the music? That would be Bill Wyman. And it makes sense, if you listen to how the bass looms out of the chorus, all those haunting, magnificently echoey chords. Pure low-register transcendence.
195. Bob Dylan – Memphis Blues Again
The best epic on Blonde on Blonde. “And me I sit here patiently, hoping to find out what price/You gotta pay to get out of going through these things twice.” The link above is a torrent of the whole album.
194. The Electric Light Orchestra – Look At Me Now
Eleanor Rigby done more lucidly and far more macabrely, from the ELO debut lp No Answer, 1972. That’s Roy Wood on all the cello overdubs – a one-man Rasputina.
193. The Kinks – Rock n Roll Fantasy
Gorgeously catchy backbeat anthem, and a vivid reminder why sometimes musicians deserve to take themselves seriously. Their fans need them! “Don’t want to spend my life living on the edge of reality!” From the Misfits album, 1976, not to be confused with the Bad Company atrocity of the same title.
192. REM – Cuyahoga
A darkly Wire-inspired tribute to the river that caught fire, arguably bassist Mike Mills’ most beautifully inspired moment in the band with all those chords. Will some good band please cover this and give it the wild intense treatment it screams out for? From the otherwise mediocre Life’s Rich Pageant album, 1987.
191. The Electric Light Orchestra – Whisper in the Night
Roy Wood’s greatest moment in the band is this towering, haunting anthem, a rustic mix of plaintive acoustic guitar and a million cello and other string overdubs. Also from No Answer, 1972.
190. Elvis Costello – Red Shoes
Trivia question – in 1977, on My Aim Is True, Costello was backed by what future million-selling, cringeworthy 80s hitmakers? Answer: Huey Lewis & the News! To the King’s infinite credit, he gets them to do a credible Byrds imitation here.
189. Erica Smith – Jesus’ Clown
Sean Dolan’s lyric is a clever fly-on-the-wall take on the Stations of the Cross from a nonbeliever’s perspective. Behind Smith’s understatedly haunting vocals, Love Camp 7 guitarist Dann Baker adds a forest of searing overdubs that do Neil Young one better. Unreleased but ostensibly due to see the light of day sometime early in this decade.
188. The Sex Pistols – Did You No Wrong
Musically, with all those searing layers of Steve Jones guitar, it’s arguably the Pistols’ most interesting song, an outtake from Never Mind the Bollocks first issued on Flogging a Dead Horse in 1978. Which begs the question, why was it left off Never Mind the Bollocks? Maybe because it’s a Glenn Matlock tune?
187. Angelo Badalamenti – Moving Through Time
The haunting centerpiece of the 1992 Twin Peaks Fire Walk with Me film soundtrack, Bill Mays’ macabre piano cascading around an eerie two-chord chromatic vamp.
186. The Dead Kennedys – Too Drunk to Fuck
Not only is this one of the funniest songs ever written, it’s also one of the alltime great garage rock hits. And also the #1 song of the year in Finland, 1981 – must be all that vodka. “Take out your fucking retainer, put it in your purse!”
185. The Rolling Stones – Fool to Cry
Slow, haunting, Curtis Mayfield-inspired ballad from the underrated 1975 Black & Blue album, all those layers of electric piano, organ and synth absolutely gorgeous.
184. Bloodrock – DOA
The web abounds with dumb sites which cite this bloodcurdling nine-minute dirge about a plane crash as one of the worst songs ever written. The studio version was a surprise 1972 radio hit for this otherwise forgettable Texas “hard rock” band, but it’s the version on their live album from the same year that’s the classic, ambulance siren sample woven into organist Stevie Hill’s lines as he steals a melody straight out of French organ composer Jehan Alain’s notoriously macabre Trois Danses.
183. The Rolling Stones – Gimme Shelter
Yeah, the studio version is great, but the best was the one the band played at Altamont (Bill Wyman on bass rather than Keith), growling with a menace that even by these guys’ standards was intense. Look for an Italian bootleg from the 90s, incorrectly titled the Gimme Shelter soundtrack (it isn’t – all it has is the Stones songs on the movie soundtrack, but those alone are transcendent).
182. Dan Bryk – City Of…
In a Toronto of the mind, Canadian-American rocker Bryk sets the stage for the most amusing and heartbreakingly accurate state-of-the-music-world address ever recorded. It rocks, too. From his superb 2009 album Pop Psychology.
181. Pink Floyd – Mother
This might have supplanted Hotel California as the national anthem of busking if it wasn’t so depressing. It appears in the movie conveniently just in time to wrap up side one of The Wall.
180. Elvis Costello – Accidents Will Happen
Costello at the peak of his powers as psychopathologist, here dissecting the poisonous union that resulted in an unwanted pregnancy. Lush, anthemic new wave at its best from Armed Forces, 1979.
179. The Boomtown Rats – Rain
Fearing that American audiences might misconstrue the Rats’ big 1985 Roxy Music-inspired UK hit Dave as a love song from one man to another (it’s not – it’s a sympathetic cautionary tale directed at a friend whose drinking has gotten the best of him), the band’s label had them redo the song with a new title, Rain. One has to wonder why, because as with the rest of the band’s UK hits, it didn’t go anywhere stateside. From their last dismal gasp of an lp, In the Long Grass.
178. Scott Morgan’s Powertrane – Rock n Roll, Rest in Peace
Morgan is a legend in Detroit, a pioneer dating back to the 70s whose inimitable style blends gritty soul vocals with raw, uncompromising Murder City rock. This bruising anthem, with its endlessly, ominously circling series of chords on the way out, is a highlight from Morgan’s all-star crew Powertrane, a band that once featured both Ron Asheton and Radio Birdman’s Deniz Tek.
177. Elvis Costello – Party Girl
The world’s greatest lyrical psychopathologist at his most dismissive, fiery janglerock band behind him. “I could give you anything but time.” From Armed Forces, 1979.
176. Ninth House – Death Song
This one is one of the great macabre anthems: a slowly unwinding dirge that picks up with relentless, manic angst, frontman Mark Sinnis’ ominous baritone and guitarist Bernard SanJuan’s reverb-drenched guitar joining in a funeral choir. Play this one on the plane as you’re taking off – or landing. From The Eye That Refuses To Blink, 2006.
175. String Driven Thing – Starving in the Tropics
Labelmates of Van Der Graaf Generator, British folk/blues rockers String Driven Thing are best remembered for their 1972 cult album The Machine That Cried. This one’s a searing, bluesy eco-disaster anthem from the Keep Yer ‘And On It lp, 1975. Frontman/guitarist Chris Adams still maintains a myspace page for the band.
174. Gil Scott-Heron – We Almost Lost Detroit
Based on the John G. Fuller expose, this is an understated, haunting look at a narrowly averted nuclear disaster that almost took out a major American city. Now there are actually global warming activists who support the use of nuclear power. How quickly we forget – can anybody say “Chernobyl?” From the South Africa to South Carolina album, 1975; there’s also an even tastier live version on the No Nukes concert anthology.
173. Bowdoin Rocks – Waiting for the Breakdown
While students at Bowdoin College, bassist/singer Wendi Mitchell and keyboardist Alan Walker (later of the Brilliant Mistakes) recorded a lo-fi demo of this haunting, artsy pop gem. Years later, Walker’s ex-bandmate George Reisch of Luxotone Records would add some badly needed guitar and suddenly an underground classic was born. The link in the title above is the stream at Radio Luxotone.
172. The Clash – Gates of the West
English punk apprehensively sets out for America, knowing that it’s a long way, literally and figuratively, “from Camden Town Station to 44th and 8th…stealing cross the shadows, will I see you again?” Joe Strummer wants to know. The searing layers of Strummer and Jones’ guitars are exquisite. Originally issued as a bonus single packaged with the first American release of the Clash’s first album, it’s on a bunch of digital compilations as well.
171. Young Marble Giants – Salad Days
Just so you know, we deleted Romans by the Church to make room for this one. It’s the catchiest cut on the influential postpunk band’s 1980 debut Colossal Youth, a spiky lo-fi gem with eerie deadpan vocals from frontwoman Alison Statton. The link above is a considerably ironic, dodgy live clip from a 2008 reunion show in Barcelona.
170. The Jam – Mr. Clean
“And if I get the chance I’ll fuck up your life, Mr. Clean,” Paul Weller snarls. One of the great anti-yuppie diatribes ever; sweet Bruce Foxton bass groove too. From All Mod Cons, 1978; Foxton and drummer Rick Buckler continue to play this one live in their From the Jam project.
169. Elvis Costello – The Other Side of Summer
The one standout track on the otherwise forgettable Mighty Like a Rose album, 1991, this gorgeous janglerock gem is a richly sarcastic swipe at sunniness in all its forms. Believe it or not, it was once used in an episode of Beverly Hills 90210.
168. The Church – I Am a Rock
The iconic outsider anthem, Paul Simon’s best song, gets a deliciously watery, chorus-box guitar treatment by the Australian art-rock legends on the 1983 Sing Songs ep, finally reissued digitally eighteen years later.
167. Elvis Costello – Peace in Our Time
Written at the height of the Falklands War, this 6/8 broadside namechecks Neville Chamberlain while condemning both Maggie and Ronnie for bringing the world one step closer to Armageddon. The lyric is one of Costello’s best; the production on the album version from 1985’s vastly underrated Goodbye Cruel World is ridiculously, completely wrong, so look for a live version like the solo one in the title above (Paris, November 1983 is transcendent if you can find it).
166. The Church – Authority
As usual with these guys, many levels of meaning at work here in this somewhat woozy, hypnotic janglerock anthem from Sometime Anywhere, 1994: it’s about being unable to resist a muse, even as the world collapses around you. And could that muse be up to no good as well?
165. Elvis Costello – Charm School
You and I as lovers
Were nothing but a farce
Trying to make a silk purse
Out of a sow’s arse…
Didn’t they teach you anything
Except how to be cruel
In that Charm School?
One of the best cuts on Punch the Clock, 1983.
164. Radio Birdman – Smith & Wesson Blues
Deniz Tek’s surreal wee-hours scenario unfolds with offhandedly savage chromatic guitar and one of the great bass hooks of alltime, courtesy of Warwick Gilbert. Yet another classic track from the iconic 1979 Radios Appear album. To hear the song click the link above, then click on the top “opening” link on the page.
163. The Dead Boys – Caught with the Meat in Your Mouth
This furious, filthy, barely two-minute Chuck Berry-inflected punk classic is actually a remake of lead guitarist Cheetah Chrome’s Never Gonna Kill Myself Again, by Chrome’s old (and current) band Rocket from the Tombs, who continue to reunite and tour every couple of years. The best of the Dead Boys versions is probably the one on Night of the Living Dead Boys; the studio track on Young Loud & Snotty features mixing engineer Bob Clearmountain playing bass, uncredited, and doing a creditable job.
162. Telephone – Ordinaire
The title is French for “cheap wine;” this is an unhinged, Middle Eastern flavored tribute to the joys of drinking and driving by the iconic French rockers. From the 1981 Au Coeur de la Nuit album; the link above is a live version that segues into one of their big early hits, la Bombe Humaine.
161. String Driven Thing – Suicide
Just so you know, we deleted Decades by Joy Division to make room for this somewhat more direct, fiery blues-rock song by the cult band responsible for the 1972 The Machine That Cried album. This one’s from the band’s 1992 Live in Manchester reunion tour cd, a bitter rocker’s graveside tableau:
The T in contract
The I in impasse
The M in muzak
The E in Ex-lax
The S in suicide
The long, Dave Swarbrick style violin solo winds this up ferociously.
160. The Church – Mistress
“All my songs are coming true,” Steve Kilbey laments on this death-obsessed, apocalyptic, surreal art-rock number from the iconic Aussie rockers’ classic Priest = Aura album, 1992.
159. Rachelle Garniez – People Like You
Arguably the greatest anti-trendoid broadside ever written: the New York underground chanteuse sarcastically goes after the suburban tourists and trust fund babies who poisoned her old, working-class latino Lower East Side stomping ground in the early zeros. Very subtle – if you don’t listen closely you might think this is just a blithe, finger-poppin’ Rickie Lee Jones jazz-lite hit. From the classic 2007 cd Melusine Years.
158. Richard Buckner – Lil Wallet Picture
She backs up the U-Haul and within minutes he’s gone out on Route 99:
That takes so many lives
One of them was mine
Hand me that little wallet picture from 1985
One more time
The indie songwriter’s best song, from the Devotion and Doubt album, 1997.
157. The Rolling Stones – 2000 Light Years From Home
Acid-warped gothic blues masterpiece from the cult classic Their Majesties Satanic Request, 1968, the Stones’ attempt to outdo Sgt. Pepper with black humor – and succeeding beyond their wildest dreams. That’s Keith on bass – and keys too!
156. The Slickee Boys – Marble Orchard
The Slickee Boys are sort of the American Radio Birdman, a ferocious garage-punk outfit with a fondness for eerie chromatics. This sepulchrally matter-of-fact epic from the classic 1983 Cybernetic Dreams of Pi lp (still available as a download from TwinTone) features lead guitarist Marshall Keith playing swirling funereal tones on a Casio above a river of guitars.
155. Richard Thompson – Mascara Tears
Big vicious rock anthem from the iconic British guitar god’s 1992 Mirror Blue cd, one of his best:
Mascara tears, bitter and black
Spent bullet through a hole in my back
Salt for the memories, black for the years
Black as forever, mascara tears
The link above is a torrent of the whole album.
154. The Dixie Bee-Liners – Roses Are Grey
Just so you know, we deleted The Elephants’ Graveyard by the Boomtown Rats to make room for this one. The Dixie Bee-Liners, purveyors of a uniquely rustic yet cutting-edge style of Bible Belt noir, have been burning up the bluegrass charts for the last couple of years. This is a particularly haunting, nocturnal one, frontwoman/guitarist Brandi Hart absolutely nailing the lyric’s deadpan despondency…so when redemption comes, it hits you like a tsunami. From their debut cd, 2006.
153. Barry McGuire – Eve of Destruction
Written surprisingly by born-again El Lay scenester songwriter P.F. Sloan, this snarling Summer of Love single embodies yet transcends every folk-rock cliche of the era. You gotta love that kettledrum. The Dickies’ hardcore punk version is also a lot of fun; if janglerock is your thing, check out the Red Rockers’ 1984 cover.
152. The Dead Kennedys – This Could Be Anywhere
Not only is Frankenchrist a great album, it’s also an irreplaceable historical document, a vivid look at what it was like being a kid during the Reagan years – the division between rich and poor growing ever wider, the dispossessed underclass distracted by media-generated fear of immigrants, punks and smart people in general. This song captures that era better than any prosaic description ever could. It also has a ferociously good bassline.
151. John Lennon – Scared
“Hatred and jealousy gonna be the death of me.” This was 1973, the Walls & Bridges album, could Lennon have seen it coming? Probably.
150. McGinty & White – Rewrite
When he’s at the top of his game – and he usually is – there’s no better songwriter than Ward White. This is one of his more lyrically pyrotechnic efforts – breaking the fourth wall, loading on as many savage double entendres and puns as he can summon – from his excellent 2009 retro-60s psychedelic pop collaboration with keyboard genius Joe McGinty. The whole album is streaming at the link above.
149. The Church – Dome
From the band’s iconic 1992 Priest = Aura album, this is a deceptively simple, tersely hypnotic psychedelic gem. It’s frontman Steve Kilbey at his most apocalyptically visionary: no matter how high you build the wall, eventually the marauders outside will find a way over it.
Bleak, metaphorically loaded yet wry lyric set to a big, towering 6/8 minor-key anthem with wrenchingly beautiful vocals from the New York indie rock siren. From her breakout 2009 album Songs About Birds and Ghosts. The link in the title above is the video, an amusing Blair Witch parody.
147. The Room – Jackpot Jack
The somewhat epic title track from arguably the greatest ep ever made, from these psychedelic Liverpool new wavers, 1985. Over Becky Stringer’s ridiculously catchy, hypnotic bass groove, frontman Dave Jackson snarlingly recounts the last hours and ugly death of a hack corporate musician. It’s sweet revenge for purists and good songwriters everywhere. The link in the title above is a Peel Session take that is decent but isn’t quite as venomous as the ep version.
146. Elvis Costello – You Bowed Down
The Byrdsiest thing Costello ever did, a savage slam at an unnamed music business type, from All This Useless Beauty, 1998. That’s Roger McGuinn on twelve-string. The link above is live with McGuinn.
145. The Fabulous Poodles – Suicide Bridge
Absolutely haunting, scurrying, morbid violin-driven new wave from the surreal British band’s Think Pink album, 1979. The way the violin solo trades off to the guitar is transcendent. No streaming audio that we can find; the album was finally re-released digitally as a two-pack with the band’s first US release, Mirror Star,in 2008. We’ll post a torrent when we can find one.
144. REM – It’s the End of the World As We Know It and I Feel Fine
Like Subterranean Homesick Blues and other songs before it, the lyrics to this one became part of the public consciousness (something that used to happen a lot before corporate music completely took over commercial radio and everybody stopped listening). Not bad for a rapidfire apocalyptic indie rock song released at the nadir of the Reagan years, Mike Mills wailing plaintively in the background, “Can I get some time alone?” High point of the essentially one-sided Document album, 1986. The Suicide Machines’ snotty 1998 punk-pop cover isn’t bad either.
143. The Coup – Underdogs
No other song as succinctly and accurately captures the raw desperation of inner city poverty as well as this Clinton-era classic from the Oakland hip-hop crew’s 1999 cd Steal This Album. “I’d tear this shit up if I really loved you – and so would you.”
142. Nektar – It’s All Over
Art-rock at its most epic and majestic from the remarkably forward-looking Recycled album, 1976 – when guest keyboardist Larry Fast’s layers of string synth rise up swirling against the stately clang of frontman Roye Albrighton’s guitar, it’s beautiful – and haunting – beyond words.
141. Midnight Oil – Put Down That Weapon
The great Australian art-rockers at their most concisely epic, from Diesel and Dust, 1988, Jim Moginie’s ominous organ anchoring the anthem. “And it happens to be an emergency.”
140. The Strawbs – New World
Future Beegee Derek Weaver’s mellotron roaring into the verse and then out of the chorus of this titanic anthem by the otherwise usually much mellower Britfolk/rock band might be the single most intense crescendo in any rock song. “May you rot, in your grave new world!” The centerpiece of the Britfolk rockers’ loudest, artsiest and most psychedelic album, Grave New World, 1972.
139. Barclay James Harvest – Suicide
The poor man’s Moody Blues’ best song. The big epic is a mystery with a trick ending – when the guy gets out of the elevator on the top floor, does he or doesn’t he? We won’t give it away. Decide for yourself. From the Octoberon album, 1976.
138. Procol Harum – Fires That Burnt Brightly
With the organ and the piano and all those murky gypsyish melodies, these guys could get completely macabre and this is one of their most ominous numbers, especially with the Swingle Singers’ phantasmic vocalese in the background. The last truly great song the band ever wrote, from the Grand Hotel album, 1973.
137. The Thought – Rapture
This goth-ish Dutch new wave outfit did two excellent New Order-inflected albums back in the 80s and this is from their second, 1985 self-titled one. It’s a towering, sweeping anthem written from the point of view of a deity who finds himself completely alone, isolated and in the grip of madness. “I live in a penthouse high above creation/See little creatures squirm, out of boredom or sheer frustration.“ The link above is a download of the whole album.
136. Siouxsie & the Banshees – Nightshift
The version on the 1982 Juju album isn’t bad, but it’s the towering, macabre epic on the 1985 double live Nocturne album that’s the most horrific, Siouxsie at the peak of her powers as outraged witness, in this case a hooker who kills her prey. Steve Severin’s watery chorus-box bass chords underneath only enhance the ambience.
135. The Dead Kennedys – Cesspools in Eden
The most musically interesting song the band ever did closes side one of their final, haphazardly assembled studio album Bedtime for Democracy, 1986. It’s a big, towering ecocide epic driven by Klaus Flouride’s savage, roaring, distorted bass chords.
134. Siouxsie & the Banshees – Icons
The centerpiece of the band’s 1979 WWI-themed Join Hands album kicks off with the rumble of cannon fire behind a fiery wall of guitar. And then the bass comes in and they’re off. “Icons feed the fires, icons falling from the spires!”
133. The Sex Pistols – Pretty Vacant
“And we don’t care!!!!” With all those layers of guitar, Chris Thomas’ production turned the band into a punk orchestra. The link above is a live clip from their 1996 reunion tour.
132. The Grateful Dead – Loser
Some would remark how ironic it is that Jerry Garcia’s simple, incisively bluesy break in this swaying, ominous backbeat minor-key country song might be the best guitar solo of all time. The version that has it is the cut from the vastly underrated 1981 Dead Set album, live in New York; the link above is a somewhat inferior but still good live clip from 1976. You can basically point at your computer blindfolded and no matter where your finger goes, there’s Grateful Dead – have fun sleuthing!
131. The Wild Swans – Bible Dreams
Haunting anthem from the British band’s 1988 goth-inflected album Bringing Home the Ashes, chorus crashing in as the bass takes it down the scale:
Soldier boy, soldier on
Your eyes are cold, the spark has gone
They’ve chosen you to bear the stain
Though God has left this world bereft, the scars remain
The link above is a dodgy live clip from what seems to be a fairly recent reunion show. You’re going to have to look around for this if you want the studio version, digital versions are hard to find.
130. Joy Division – Interzone
Fast, scurrying, manic-depressive punk rock with a sweet minor-key hook from Unknown Pleasures, 1979. “And I was looking for a friend of mine.”
129. The Church – Antenna
Gorgeous, majestic 6/8 Rickenbacker guitar art-rock anthem from the band’s best-known album, Starfish, 1988, with a particularly excoriating lyric by frontman Steve Kilbey.
128. The Wild Swans – Now & Forever
Nonchalantly chilling new wave pop semi-hit from 1988 from the Bringing Home the Ashes album, an overcast British wintertime tableau that doesn’t exactly exude optimism:
You want the life you can’t afford, after all that you’ve been through
Soon it will be over
Boy has this town crippled you
127. The Electric Light Orchestra – Bluebird
Genius in the studio: Jeff Lynne processes the word “work” as it repeats over and over again to replicate the sound of a dog barking. In the context of the song (a big, uncannilly pretty janglerock anthem) and the lyric (all this backbreaking work for nothing, essentially), it packs a punch. From the last good ELO album, Secret Messages, 1983.
126. The Clash – Cheat
Joe Strummer at his most savagely punk, 1977 – the track appears on the British and Canadian versions of the band’s first album, but not the American one (it’s on the first Black Market Clash ep from 1981) . Hmmm… By the way, this song is about cheating the system, not cheating your neighbor.
125. Elvis Costello – Pills and Soap
Savagely astute commentary on the distinctions that the haves make between themselves and the have-nots, and the logically deadly consequences, over Steve Nieve’s minimalist faux-martial piano. From Punch the Clock, 1983.
124. Ninth House – The Company You Keep
Bitter, brooding, careening art-rock dirge that at first comes across as a revenge anthem – or just an attempt by the New York rockers to get as uber-goth as they can. Bernard SanJuan’s sepulchral reverb guitar arpeggios, as it slowly winds up, are intense. From The Eye That Refuses to Blink, 2006.
123. Elvis Costello – Crawling to the USA
Gleefully recorded in Australia a la Back in the USSR, this is one of his hardest-rocking songs, pretty much what you’d expect from the title. Originally issued on Taking Liberties in 1981. The rare live version in the link above has an even more ominous lyric.
122. Procol Harum – The Dead Man’s Dream
It’s hard to imagine a much more macabre song than this: Chris Copping’s swirling funeral organ and Gary Brooker’s eerily incisive piano set the stage for a truly nightmare scenario. And a trick ending. “The lights went dark in the deathroom…” From the Home lp, 1970.
121. The Geto Boys – City Under Siege
Over a haunting James Brown electric piano sample, Bushwick Bill, Scarface and Willie D insightfully and brutally analyze why the “war on drugs” is such a dismal failure – when you have one government agency fighting to keep them out while the other is not-so-secretly bringing them in, it’s a zero-sum equation. From their controversial Rick Rubin-produced self-titled 1990 album, a smart, funny companion piece to Jello Biafra’s Full Metal Jackoff.
120. The Stooges – Gimme Danger
The studio take on Raw Power (click the link above) is great, but the best is the live version from the 1978 posthumous (at the time) Metallic KO album, Ron Asheton’s mournful, classically tinged bassline foreshadowing Joy Division, Iggy dropping his guard for once and delivering his most anguished vocal ever. Wonder where Ian Curtis got most of his ideas?
119. Pink Floyd – Paranoid Eyes
Quiet, understated, picture-perfect alienation ballad from the vastly underrated Final Cut album, 1983. That’s Michael Kamen on subtle, tasteful gospel-infused piano.
118. Elvis Costello – Ghost Train
The Nathanael West-tinged tale of Maureen and Stan, two showbiz wannabes destined to fail, maybe spectacularly, right from the song’s first watery, swaying guitar chords, Bruce Thomas’ bass filtered to make it sound like a tuba. Another classic track from Taking Liberties, 1981.
117. Elvis Costello – Tiny Steps
The psychology of child abuse has never been so succinctly or hauntingly portrayed as in this Farfisa-fueled new wave classic from Taking Liberties, 1981.
116. Bob Marley – Burning & Looting
We could easily have included a couple dozen Bob Marley songs on this list, in fact, maybe twice that many if we really wanted. Why didn’t we? Well, isn’t his Legend anthology one of the bestselling albums of alltime? Do you really need us to remind you how great Jah Bob is? Of course you don’t. But this is his best one, a spot-on reminder of how revolutions fail. Imagine: Bob Marley singing “All of those drugs are gonna make you slow!” He did here. Best version we know of is on the self-titled 1975 live album.
115. Supertramp – A Soapbox Opera
The lyric to this one is at best inscrutable and at worst doesn’t make much sense at all. It’s the melody – Rick Davies’ hushed, upper-register piano against lush string synth orchestration – that makes this swaying backbeat ballad so wrenchingly beautiful. Originally released on Crisis? What Crisis? in 1975, the best version is on the 1979 live Paris album. The link in the title above is a torrent of the whole thing.
114. Bob Dylan – Mississippi
Essentially, this is his self-penned obituary, a cynical, anguished requiem for the promise of an era gone forever:
Cold as the clay
You can always come back
But you can’t come back all the way
113. The Saints – Grain of Sand
One of the great janglerock hits of alltime, and also the most evocative cocaine anthem ever written. It doesn’t exactly romanticize the drug. From All Fools’ Day, 1989, the band’s high point as a jangle band.
112. Bob Dylan – When the Ship Comes In
Revenge has seldom sounded more sweet than it does here: “And they’ll piss themselves and squeal, when they know that it’s for real, the hour that the ship comes in.” From The Times They Are A-Changing, 1964 – why haven’t more bands covered this one?
111. Phil Ochs – The Scorpion Departs but Never Returns
Like the Thresher, the Scorpion was a US nuclear submarine that went down off the coast of New Hampshire. Ochs uses the story as a springboard for his own tale of departing and never returning: “I’m not screaming, I’m not screaming, TELL ME I’M NOT SCREAMING!!!” The piano-based art-rock version on the classic Rehearsals for Retirement album, 1968 is pretty intense, but others prefer the janglerock guitar version on the live Edmonton album, recorded the same year but not released until the 90s.
110. Ninth House – Put a Stake Right Through It
In our predecessor e-zine’s first year of publication, 2000, this was their pick for best song of the year, a despairing, exhausted, Rachmaninoff-esque guitar-and-string-synth-fueled portrait of complete emotional depletion. From the Swim in the Silence cd.
109. The Dead Kennedys – Dead End
Written by guitarist East Bay Ray, this is a rare non-political song for these guys, but still a great one, all trebly reverb-drenched guitar with characteristically melodic bassline and morbid lyrics. From Plastic Surgery Disasters, 1983.
108. Midnight Oil – Mountains of Burma
The haunting, apocalyptic centerpiece to the Australian art-rockers’ possibly career-best 1990 Blue Sky Mining album is an epic touching on topics as diverse yet interconnected as genocide, womens’ rights and global deforestation, all in six-plus crescendoing, funereal minutes.
107. The Dead Kennedys – Saturday Night Holocaust
Grisly, sludgy noise-rock intro giving way to one of the most ferociously powerful, reverb-drenched punk choruses the greatest punk band of them all ever wrote, with characteristically relevant lyrics (and some that aren’t so relevant: “Up and down your spandex ass….). First released on album on the 1989 Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death anthology.
106. Otis Rush – Double Trouble
The original 1956 Willie Dixon-produced single with a big horn band might be the eeriest noir blues song ever. Yet in the decades that followed, the lefty guitar legend has outdone himself at every turn – a ten-minute live version from Chicago Blues in New York as recently as 2000 (which we had the good fortune to get our hands on) is transcendent, as are probably hundreds of other bootlegs. Look ‘em up.
105. The Boomtown Rats – Watch Out for the Normal People
The artsy Irish punk rockers open the song with one of the most savagely beautiful guitar hooks ever recorded, then tease the listener til they finally bring it back at the end. In between there’s some tasty, stomping riff-rock. “Watch out for the normal people, there’s more of us than there’s of you.” From the British version (and also the late-90s cd reissue) of their classic 1978 lp A Tonic for the Troops.
103. Elvis Costello – Goon Squad
Listen to this on headphones – the whispery doubletracked vocals on the chorus are absolutely homicidal. Costello’s worn a lot of stylistic hats over the decades, but he’s always been as reliable an anti-fascist as you could ever want on your side. From what may be his best album, 1979’s Armed Forces.
102. Graham Parker – Temporary Beauty
The British rocker’s best song remains this casual, midtempo piano pop tune, a sympathetic yet brutally cynical examination of the psychology of shallowness and and narcissism and the society that breeds it. From Another Grey Area, 1982.
101.Richard Thompson – Can’t Win
Arguably Thompson’s most ferocious song, among many, is this scathing, nine-minute anti-conformity, anti-fascist epic. “The nerve of some people!” The studio version on the 1987 Amnesia album is fine (see the link above), but it’s a live showstopper. Look for a bootleg, the longer the better because the guitar solo will be especially intense.
100. The Beatles – Eleanor Rigby
Where in the span of about two minutes they simultaneously invented art-rock, chamber pop and goth music. Name another band who could do all that.