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299. The Go-Betweens – You Can’t Say No Forever
Haunting, percussive, janglerock cautionary tale about the dangers of succumbing to the lure of marriage. An apt companion piece to the Fun Boy Three’s Tunnel of Love…and a million blues and country songs. It doesn’t sound much like anything the artsy Aussie pop band ever did before or after. From 16 Lovers’ Lane, 1989; mp3s are everywhere.
298. The Rolling Stones – Black Limousine
A poignant requiem for a good time, Ron Wood’s warmly fluid blues solo one of his finest moments in the band over a neat hesitation-step series of basic blues changes. From Tattoo You, 1981; mp3s are everywhere, and don’t be shy about downloading it because like all major label releases, this one will never make the band any more money. Not that they need it anyway. The link above is a spirited live version from the tour of the same year.
297. Telephone – Au Coeur de la Nuit
The title translates as “heart of the night,” which to songwriter Jean-Louis Aubert’s credit transcends cliche here. One of the most iconic songs in French rock, it’s a blistering requiem, title track from the Parisian rockers’ 1981 lp. Which you can download all over the place; the link above is a careening live version from German tv.
296. Zager & Evans – In the Year 2525
OK, some of you may find this cheesy and over-the-top. But we think the 1969 one-hit wonder is spooky in a psychedelic California Dreaming kind of way. Whatever you think, the video above is hilarious – and it screams out for someone with a little more depth to cover the song and bring out all its apocalyptic angst. By the way, the song was a last-minute addition to the band’s first album (if you find it, pick it up, it’s rare). Available for taping off your favorite oldies radio station as well as all over the web.
Arguably the iconic indie rock siren’s signature song, this is a bruised, towering anthem about being left behind. And the injustice and cruel irony of it. From her classic Solar Bipolar cd, 2000; the link in the title above is the considerably faster but still dangerous version from the Live at Sin-e album, 2005.
294. Amy Rigby – Rode Hard
Culture shock has seldom been more amusingly, or more poignantly portrayed: fearless big city girl goes south and she doesn’t understand the natives any better than they understand her. She might be jealous of their brightly lit homes and seemingly secure lives, but she’s not sure. And are there any eligible guys within a hundred mile radius? Is there one? From the Sugar Tree cd, 2000, which you could download, or you could get at her site, she’s an independent artist so none of your money will go to any sleazy record label exec.
293. Erika Simonian – Bitter & Brittle
Best song on the classic 2003 All the Plastic Animals cd by the NYC underground songwriter/chanteuse and Sprinkle Genies guitarist, grimly yet wittily contemplating a fullscale breakdown with one of her characteristically gemlike lyrics.
292. Elvis Costello – Love Went Mad
“Do you know how I feel? Do you have a heart, do you have a heart of iron and steel?” the King inquires with a savage amphetamine insistence. A fast, anthemic smash from Punch the Clock, 1983, driven by Steve Nieve’s incisively bright piano. The link above is a torrent of the whole album.
291. Curtis Eller – After the Soil Fails
Apocalyptic opening track on the fiery NYC banjo rocker’s 2008 cd Wirewalkers & Assassins:
This time the dream is a Russian oil tanker
Fidel Castro and Cuban sugarcane
Richard Nixon’s having the same old nightmare
Jack Ruby’s black secret crawling up through the drain…
When the hurricanes finally take out New Orleans
And scarlet fever has finally left Philadelphia bare…
There’s a ghost that we remember hanging in the air
290. Ninth House – Your Past May Come Back to Haunt Me
Catchy, swaying Nashville gothic existentialist cautionary tale: “I know all your secrets,” frontman Mark Sinnis intones ominously. From Swim in the Silence, 2000; a new version is due out on the band’s forthcoming spring 2010 release.
289. Elena Zazanis – Stingray
The highly regarded indie film actress is also a terrific singer and songwriter, with a powerful alto wail and a haunting chromatic edge that reflect her Greek heritage. For a few years during the early part of the decade, she led a first-rate, dark New York powerpop band and this is their finest moment, a towering anthem vividly depicting a surreal nightmare scenario that doesn’t end well. Never recorded, although live bootlegs exist.
288. REM – Find the River
Arguably their best song, about as far from their indie roots as they ever got, lush and anthemic with a string section. It’s about getting old, and failure, and death. “All of this is coming your way.” From Automatic for the People, 1992. Click on the video in the link above.
For about a year the British rock press were all gaga over this lyrically brilliant, Costelloesque band who were one of the first to bring Afropop flourishes into rock. This is probably their most straight-up rock song, a bruising anthem about Albert Goldman’s hatchet-job John Lennon bio. From the Modern Times lp, 1985. The Pip Hoyle style organ solo out is luscious. Frontman Steve Skaith now fronts his own band, continuing to play and record intriguingly polystylistic, lyrical songs. The links in the title above are to Skaith’s band and then a torrent of the whole album.
286. Flash & the Pan – Restless
A few years after their legendary 60s garage-pop band the Easybeats had run its course, Australians Harry Vanda and George Young led this pioneering, truly extraordinary dark new wave studio project best known for their big 1979 hit Hey St. Peter. This apocalyptic number sets a haunting Middle Eastern melody to a fast, hypnotic dance beat, the lyrics as offhandedly disconcertingly as ever. From the classic Lights in the Night lp, 1980, more easily downloaded than you would think – the link above is a torrent.
285. The Room – Naïve
Best song on probably the best ep ever made, the Liverpool new wave legends’ 1985 release Jackpot Jack. This updates noir 60s pop with a jazzy tinge and haunting Hammond organ, Dave Jackson’s ominously breathy voice and characteristically biting lyrics. It’s also a great drinking song – who knew beer goggles could be so lyrical. Jackson and bassist Becky Stringer would carry on in the equally captivating Benny Profane and currently the Nashville gothic act the Dead Cowboys. The link above is a torrent for the 1985 In Evil Hour album.
284. Procol Harum – Homburg
Very British, very stately, very subtle slap at authority from 1967, ominous organ and piano beneath Gary Brooker’s deadpan voice and one of lyricist Keith Reid’s best early ones. The single had to wait til 1974 to be released on album on Procol’s Best; mp3s are everywhere. The link above is the unintentionally hilarious original promo video.
283. Stiv Bators – A Million Miles Away
Haunting, majestic epic, the best song and sort of title track to Bators’ solo debut Disconnected, recorded as the Dead Boys were self-destructing around 1980 but not released til a few years later. RIP.
282. The Vapors – News at Ten
Furious, exasperated punk rock from the classic New Clear Days lp from 1979 (the same one that spawned their lone American hit, Turning Japanese), a generational battle taken up close and personal: “Still I can’t hear you!!!”
281. Al Stewart – Man for All Seasons
One of the popular 70s British art-rock songwriter’s most epic moments – and he had a bunch of them. This is a classic of existentialist rock, one of his darkest lyrics, slide guitar in the background providing lusciously ominous atmospherics. From the Time Passages lp, 1978, frequently found in the dollar bins at your favorite used vinyl purveyor. Mp3s are everywhere.
280. The Dead Boys – Detention Home
Never recorded in the studio, this careening, menacing number was a live showstopper and one of the punk legends’ best songs. The best version is on the classic Night of the Living Dead Boys album from 1981, Jimmy Zero and Cheetah Chrome’s guitars screaming with feedback as the late Stiv Bators snarls his murderous lyrics.
279. Roxy Music – Out of the Blue
Haunting, swaying minor-key art-rock anthem, one of Bryan Ferry’s darkest numbers despite the upbeat lyrics. The studio version on the Country Life lp isn’t bad, but in concert the band went nuts with it. The link above is a tasty live clip from 1976. There are also delicious versions on the Roxy Music Live lp from the same year as well as the 2002 live reunion double cd, but the best is from the first live reunion cd featuring one of Phil Manzanera’s most exhilarating solos ever.
278. The Doors – The End
Listen closely: this is a pop song that morphs into a raga. Sure, it’s a “classic rock” standard, but deservedly so. Ray Manzarek’s swirling, funereal Balkan organ in tandem with Robbie Krieger’s evil guitar runs over John Densmore’s equally evil, crashing drums make the vocals almost an afterthought. “Mother, I want to fuck you!!!” Whatever.
277. The Church – Life Speeds Up
This macabre Syd Barrett-inflected epic was a mid-80s concert staple for the extraordinary, still vital Australian art-rockers. As Steve Kilbey has noted, the studio version on the 1988 double lp retrospective Hindsight is a bit stiff, but it’s still great. And there are bootlegs out there: Church fans are obsessive and generous with their files.
276. The Damned – Plan 9 Channel 7
The punk legends’ best song is this ornate, darkly anthemic masterpiece. The lyrics don’t make much sense – they seem to be about falling asleep with the tv on – but the raging guitar against a haunting organ backdrop are one of the high points in goth music. There are a million live tracks kicking around, many of them excellent, but it’s the 1979 studio version from the impressively diverse Machine Gun Etiquette lp that’s the classic.
275. The Church – The Maven
The Australian art-rock legends long ago proved that they didn’t need a major label behind them to succeed – in fact, the opposite is true, and this scorching, crescendoing broadside wastes no words in making that apparent. The clanging, crushing roar of what sounds like a thousand guitar tracks as the song reaches a peak at the end is one of the most majestic, sonically exquisite passages ever recorded, in any style of music. “Just turn the light off when you go, just tell the jury all you know,” Steve Kilbey snarls. From Sometime Anywhere, 1994.
274. Radio Birdman – Hand of Law
If you’ve been following this list from the beginning, you may have noticed that Australian garage-punks Radio Birdman’s classic 1979 album Radios Appear is very well represented here – and here we go again, with another cauldron of guitar fury, almost five minutes of paint-peeling, macabre, screaming intensity from Deniz Tek and Chris Masuak.
273. The Saints –Follow the Leader
The studio version (see the link above) on the Out in the Jungle album is decent, but when the band were at their peak – as a janglerock unit, for about ten years starting in the early 80s – they transformed this catchy, swaying number into one of their most beautiful songs. The version that opens the 1985 Live in a Mud Hut lp is transcendent, a feast of jangly guitar textures and lushly metallic overtones.
272. The New Race – Love Kills
The New Race were a Detroit supergroup of sorts, Ron Asheton and Deniz Tek on guitars, Warwick Gilbert of Radio Birdman on bass and Dennis Thompson from the MC5 on drums. They did a couple of Australian tours and then ruined what should have been a phenomenal live album with studio overdubs. But their two other subsequent live cds both effectively capture the band’s transcendent, unearthly power. This is one of Tek’s most vividly lyrical songs, a deathly winter road trip from Chicago to the Murder City. The stark, semi-acoustic studio recording by Radio Birdman is unforgettable, but the New Race version from The First To Pay, driven by Gilbert’s roaring, distorted bass chords, is even better. And very hard to find in a digital format other than the grooveshark stream in the title above. Here’s a live Radio Birdman take; here’s another.
271. Radio Birdman – Monday Morning Gunk
The original, released as a single by Radio Birdman mastermind Deniz Tek’s first Australian Band TV Jones in 1972 (and included on the 1988 Tek retrospective Orphan Tracks) is a blazing, somewhat woozily psychedelic masterpiece. Others prefer Radio Birdman’s even more scorching, professionally recorded version, released on the European version of the classic 1979 Radios Appear album some nine years later.The multitracked guitars of Tek and Chris Masuak on the solo are hit a literally unreal crescendo.
270. Howlin Wolf – Sitting on Top of the World
The iconic bluesman’s 1954 studio single hews much closer to the Mississippi Sheiks’ rustic version from the 20s that he probably learned it from. But believe it or not, his best version was on the 1969 London Sessions album with none other than Eric Clapton on guitar – given sufficient inspiration, even a hack can sometimes rise to the occasion. The link above is a rivetingly laid-back 1974 live version in a Chicago club.
269. Bob Dylan – Positively 4th St.
The prototypical anti-trendoid anthem. Hypocritical as it may have been, Dylan had nothing but contempt for class tourism and most of the hippies who shared his comfortable upper middleclass background. And it’s obvious that a lot of them didn’t like him either since being one of them, he sussed them out. “You’d rather see me paralyzed” – how true. The link above is a random torrent of Dylan’s Greatest Hits, the first album on which it appeared.
268. The Velvet Underground – After Hours
Listen closely: this is a twisted Broadway song. A very subtle parody, maybe? Just imagine if Maureen Tucker’s unforgettably stoic, off-key vocals had been replaced by, say, Streisand. Of course, then song’s wrenching, understated angst would have been lost. “People look well in the dark.” Don’t we.
267. REM – South Central Rain
Wherein Peter Buck strapped on his Vox Teardrop and played one of his most hauntingly beautiful hooks while Mike Mills’ bass soared over the poignancy of the jangle and clang. The link above is the original video – for some reason, Buck is playing what looks like a hollowbody Gretsch. From Reckoning, 1984; mp3s are everywhere.
266. The Moody Blues – I Know You’re Out There Somewhere
This song is about losing your muse, or your voice, and then rediscovering it. The original 1988 single is a shitshow of glossy studio electronics, but onstage the band ripped this big, jangly, crescendoing anthem to shreds, Justin Hayward slamming out those big guitar chords for all they’re worth. The version on the 1992 Live at Red Rocks cd (see the link above) isn’t bad, and there are even better bootleg takes floating around. The Moody Blues continue to tour and with all of the original band members well into their sixties, are reputedly still vital.
265. Son Volt – Tear Stained Eye
This plaintive, twangy escape anthem is one of the great moments in alt-country: “Saints don’t bother with a tear stained eye.” The studio version on Wide Swing Tremolo is probably the best; the link above is from the 1998 live album recorded at Irving Plaza in New York.
264. Radio Birdman – Aloha Steve & Danno
This riff-rock smash interpolates the Hawaii 5-0 theme within the chorus, a fan favorite and one of the surfiest things the legendary Australian garage punks ever did. From the 1979 classic Radios Appear; there are also a million live takes out there and virtually all of them are pretty amazing as well. The link above is a vintage 1978 live take; here’s one from a recent reunion tour.
263. Queen – 39
From the last band you’d ever expect to be capable of poignancy, here’s a stunningly sad, evocative, country-flavored time travel ballad, once a staple of classic rock radio: spaceman returns home only to find the place is completely different and everyone he knew is dead. The layers of Brian May’s acoustic guitar against John Deacon’s upright bass are exquisite. From A Night at the Opera, 1976 (yup – the one with Bohemian Rhapsody on it).
262. The Move – Blackberry Way
One of the most haunting pop songs ever written, Roy Wood’s 1968 orchestrated rock lament was the band’s only #1 UK hit – strangely, the band never reached anything more than cult status stateside. After going even deeper into loungey pop, frontman Carl Wayne would leave the band to pursue its darker, louder side on the excellent albums Looking On and Message from the Country. But this foreshadows what lay even further ahead in ELO.
261. The Boomtown Rats – Living in an Island
Gleefully morbid existentialist new wave hit, fiery reggae-rock lit up by Garry Roberts’ guitar over Pete Briquette’s ominous descending bassline. From the classic 1978 lp A Tonic for the Troops.
260. Jethro Tull – Skating Away on the Thin Ice of a New Day
With their tricky time signatures, artsy flourishes, electrified Scottish jigs and often impenetrably weird or pretentious lyrics, Jethro Tull were the last band you’d ever expect to have a radio hit. Yet back in the 70s they had several. This was once a big FM radio standard, a bitingly surreal, lushly jangly, bracingly existentialist lament. From the otherwise disappointing 1974 Warchild lp; mp3s are everywhere.
259. Bob Dylan – Visions of Johanna
This song is one big ellipse: who is Johanna, and why is she missing? And what’s up with Louise? It also happens to be one of the most evocative songs ever written: in the deathly stillness of the organ and the mesh of the acoustic guitar, the wintertime ambience where “the heat pipes just cough” could not be more vivid. From Blonde on Blonde, 1966; the link above is a random torrent.
258. Richard Thompson – Yankee Go Home
The iconic guitarist/songwriter defiantly resisted the vogue of Americanizing his music back when British artists were doing that in order to court an American audience, and he’s never held back from criticizing the US, particularly during the Bush regime. This gorgeously catchy broadside dates from his 1987 Amnesia lp, telling Reagan to get his troops the hell out of the UK.
257. The Clash – London’s Burning
Best song on the band’s first album, a volcanic bedlam of guitars half-drowning Joe Strummer’s snarling lyrics: “London’s burning with boredom now.” Killer ending, too. Download away – nobody’s getting any royalties from this.
256. The Rolling Stones – Just My Imagination
Alongside the Sex Pistols’ version of My Way, this ranks as one of the great cover songs ever, adding hypnotically ringing guitar fury to the Temptations’ pretty but tame top 40 hit. As great as the 1977 version from Some Girls is, there are plenty of intriguing live takes from the era which are just as good: peek around.
255. Bruce Springsteen – Darkness on the Edge of Town
The vivid chronicle of a compulsive gambler slowly and inexorably losing it – when it comes to verisimilitude, Tom Waits has nothing on this. Title track from the 1977 album, which isn’t bad, but the Byrdsy janglefest on the 1985 live box set is completely different, somewhat more understated and therefore in its own strange way even more menacing. There are a million versions out there, most of them live, some good, some less so. Have fun digging around.
254. Pink Floyd – Us & Them
Arguably the band’s best and most definitive song, Roger Waters’ visionary antiwar lyric set to Rick Wright’s hypnotic, fluidly symphonic, Beatlesque melody: “Forward he cried from the rear, and the front rank died.” Interestingly, it remained a staple of classic rock radio throughout the Bush years – apparently, even a fascist in office can’t stop corporate radio from giving audiences the Floyd they know and love so well.
253. Bruce Springsteen – Point Blank
When Springsteen wasn’t mythmaking, there are few other songwriters who’ve had such a handle on life on the impoverished fringes, or such compassion for the people who live there. This is an anguished gutter ballad from the River, 1980: guy watches his druggie ghetto girlfriend slip away despite his best efforts. The late Danny Federici’s organ swirling like a cauldron behind Roy Bittan’s poignantly incisive, minimalist piano is one of the band’s alltime high points. A million versions of this out there, good luck: the studio track is unbeatable.
252. Erica Smith – The World Is Full of Pretty Girls
This could be the great lost track from American Beauty, the NYC Americana chanteuse at the absolute top of her game as understatedly charismatic siren and haunting lyricist. Behind her, Jon Graboff’s pedal steel tones mingle with Dann Baker’s understatedly resolute Jazzmaster lines as the bass rises with a melody all its own. From her classic 2008 cd Snowblind.
251. Bruce Springsteen – Stolen Car
The tension on this song is so tight you could cut it with a knife, Max Weinberg’s kettle drum reverberating hauntingly in the background as the Boss calmly, fatalistically narrates his protagonist’s descent into what would justifiably be called madness. Arguably the best cut on the River, 1980, the studio version remains unbeatable.
250. Big Lazy – Theme from Headtrader
This haunting, noir Mingus-meets-Morricone reverb guitar instrumental takes its title from the episode of the network tv detective drama where it first aired. Released on the band’s classic 1996 debut, back when they were called Lazy Boy (the furniture manufacturer threatened to sue, causing them to adopt the sarcastic new name), this has guitarist/composer Steve Ulrich, bassist Paul Dugan and then-drummer Willie Martinez at the absolute peak of their macabre powers.
249. Roxy Music – The Thrill of It All
The title says it all, pure exhilaration perfectly captured in a little more than five careening minutes in one of the legendary British art-rockers’ loudest numbers. From Country Life, 1974; mp3s are everywhere.
248. Richard Thompson – Meet on the Ledge
One of Thompson’s signature songs, this white-knuckle-intense, death-obsessed ballad for absent friends was originally recorded by Fairport Convention in 1969. But it’s arguably the solo acoustic version on the live 1984 Small Town Romance album (reissued on cd in the late 90s) that’s the best. “
247. The Act – Long Island Sound
Future Dream Academy frontman Nick Laird-Clowes fronted this ferociously good one-album punk/powerpop band in the early 80s featuring David Gilmour’s brother Mark on lead guitar. This is the best song on their 1981 gem Too Late at 20, an escape anthem that ranks with the best of them. “I belong to the ones that got away.” You’ll really relate if you grew up in the area.
246. King Crimson – Epitaph
Best song from In the Court of the Crimson King, their 1969 debut as a symphonic rock band. With the mellotron going full blast and Michael Giles’ transcendent drum work, it’s a chilling apocalypse anthem.
245. Matthew Grimm & the Red Smear – Hey, Hitler
As the leader of New York-based Americana rockers the Hangdogs, Matthew Grimm carved himself out a niche as sort of a funnier Steve Earle or a more country Jello Biafra, skewering the right wing at every turn with equal amounts obscenity-laden wit and wisdom. This is the standout track from Grimm’s post-Hangdogs solo debut, the ferocious Dawn’s Early Apocalypse, 2005:
If there’s a Hell you’re burning, in anguish for eternity
But your spirit lives in every chanting, trust-fund baby, Brown-Shirt-esque fraternity
244. Israel Vibration – Pay Day
Reggae fans know the story, and it’s a heartwarming one: three polio-stricken Jamaican teens discover Jah Rastafari, leave the orphanage for the bush and quickly become one of the greatest roots reggae harmony groups of all time. This defiant number bounces along on one of the most gorgeously jangly guitar tune ever to come out of the island. The essential version is on the band’s first live album, Vibes Alive, from 1992 – the link above is the studio version.
243. The Kinks – Cliches of the World (B Movie)
Savage, artsy, proto-metal minor-key riff rock, Ray Davies in characteristically populist mode from State of Confusion, 1981.
242. The The – This Is the Day
You know this one, the iconic, haunting concertina-driven new wave hit from 1983, sun blasting through the windows, the song’s hapless narrator knowing that nothing’s really going to change after all. Mp3s are everywhere.
241. Penelope Houston – Everybody Knows
Yeah, Leonard Cohen wrote it, and his 1988 synth-goth version’s awfully cool, but it’s the tightlipped, furious acoustic cover that the once-and-future Avengers frontwoman was doing in the early 90s that’s the best. Of everyone who’s tackled this song, she’s one of the few with the depth to really get it and make it her own. Unreleased, but Houston’s widely bootlegged – if you see this out there, tell us!
240. Al Stewart – Mermansk Run/Ellis Island
Best track on the British art-rock songwriter’s otherwise pretty forgettable 24 Carrots lp, 1981, a two-part WWII epic welded together by a transcendentally good, crescendoing Peter White guitar solo. “Save our souls, river of darkness over me!” The link above is the stream at deezer.
239. Willie Nile – The Black Parade
One of the most vengeful songs ever written, this slowly burning anthem is the New York underground legend’s greatest number and the centerpiece of his triumphant 1999 comeback album Beautiful Wreck of the World.
238. Bob Dylan – Like a Rolling Stone
Yeah, this is a classic rock standard. But if you’ve ever heard this on a vinyl record playing through a good system, ask yourself, is there any sound any warmer than that offhandedly rich way Dylan’s electric guitar kicks it off – and then Al Kooper’s organ comes in! And it’s also an anti-trendoid anthem. No wonder they hate Dylan in Williamsburg!
237. Randi Russo – So It Must Be True
Careening, otherworldly, somewhat flamenco-inflected epic from the greatest writer of outsider anthems of this era. The studio version on the classic 2001 Solar Bipolar cd is great, but it can’t quite match the out-of-control intensity of the live version from Russo’s Live at CB’s Gallery cd from the previous year.
236. Erica Smith – Pine Box
The multistylistic New York rock goddess has been off on a sultry jazz tangent lately, but five years ago she was writing lusciously jangly Americana rock and this is a prime example, ecstatically crescedoing yet dark and brooding as the title would imply. Recorded and leaked on a few bootlegs, but officially unreleased as of now.
235. The Electric Light Orchestra – From the Sun to the World
You can hear echoes of this clattering, frenetic suite in a lot of obscure art-rock and indie rock from the last thirty years. Jeff Lynne’s scary, out-of-focus apocalypse anthem kicks off with a Grieg-like morning suite, followed by a warped boogie and then an unhinged noise-rock outro that falls apart once it’s clear that it’s unsalvageable. From ELO II, 1972; mp3s are everywhere.
234. X – Nausea
The combination of Ray Manzarek’s organ swirling dizzyingly under Billy Zoom’s growling guitar and Exene’s thisclose-to-passing-out vocals is nothing if not evocative. From Los Angeles, 1980; mp3s are everywhere.
233. Stiff Little Fingers – Piccadilly Circus
Big punk rock epic about an Irish guy who gets the stuffing knocked out of him by a bunch of knuckleheads on his first night in London. From Go For It, 1981; there are also a million live versions out there, official releases and bootlegs and most of them are pretty awesome too.
232. The Wallflowers – Sixth Avenue Heartache
Elegiac slide guitar and organ carry this surprise 1996 top 40 hit’s magnificent eight-bar hook, the best song the band ever did and the only standout track on their disappointing sophomore effort Bringing Down the Horse. Mp3s are everywhere.
231. Bruce Springsteen – The Promised Land
This backbeat anthem makes a killer (literally) opening track on the Boss’ 1977 Darkness on the Edge of Town lp, perfectly capturing the anomie and despair of smalltown American life. In the end, the song’s protagonist speeds away into the path of a tornado. A million versions out there, most of them live, but it’s actually the album track that’s the best.
230. The Moody Blues – Driftwood
Towering powerpop anthem from the band’s 1977 “comeback” lp Octave, opening with a big whooosh of cymbals and lush layers of acoustic guitar. And Justin Hayward’s long electric guitar solo out, over the atmospheric wash of the strings, is a delicious study in contrasts. Many different versions out there, some of them live, and they’re all good (the link above is the studio track).
229. David Bowie – Diamond Dogs
Surreal, Stonesy apocalyptic anthem from the Thin White Duke’s vastly underrated 1974 lp. Did you know that’s Bowie on all the guitars – and the saxes too?
228. Mary Lee’s Corvette – 1000 Promises Later
Centerpiece of the NYC Americana rockers’ classic True Lovers of Adventure album, 1999-ish, this was a live showstopper for frontwoman Mary Lee Kortes and her steely, soaring, multiple-octave voice for several years afterward. It’s a rueful breakup anthem sung with typical counterintuitive verve from the villain’s point of view.
227. New Model Army – Luhrstaap
Written right as the Berlin Wall came down, this ominous, bass-driven, Middle Eastern-inflected art-rock anthem accurately foretold what would happen once East Germany tasted western capitalism: “You can buy a crown, it doesn’t make you king/Beware the trinkets that we bring.” From Impurity, 1989; the live version on 1992’s double live Raw Melody Men cd is even better (the link above is the studio version).
226. David Bowie – Life on Mars
Soaring epic grandeur for anyone who’s ever felt like an alien, from Hunky Dory, 1971. Ward White’s live Losers Lounge version (click on the link and scroll down) is equally intense.
225. Telephone – Ce Soir Est Ce Soir
Absolutely creepy, methodical epic nocturne that wraps up the legendary French rockers’ 1982 Dure Limite lp on a particularly angst-ridden note. ”Ce soir est ce soir/J’ai besoin d’espoir [Tonight’s the night/I need hope].”
224. Al Stewart – Bedsitter Images
The live acoustic track in the link above only hints at the lush, orchestrated original, a big radio hit for the British songwriter in 1969, Rick Wakeman doing his best Scarlatti impression on piano. It’s a masterpiece of angsted existentialist songwriting, the song’s narrator slowly and surreally losing it, all by himself in his little flat.
223. LJ Murphy – Pretty for the Parlor
Our precedessor e-zine’s pick for best song of 2005, this blithely jangly yet absolutely sinister murder anthem perfectly captures the twistedness lurking beneath suburban complacency. Unreleased, but still a staple of the New York noir rock legend’s live show.
222. Wall of Voodoo – Lost Weekend
Creepy, hauntingly ambient new wave string synthesizer ballad from the band’s best album, 1982’s Call of the West, a couple gone completely off the wheels yet still on the road to somewhere. Frontman Stan Ridgway soldiers on as an occasionally compelling if sometimes annoyingly dorky LA noir songwriter.
221. Randi Russo – House on the Hill
One of the New York noir rocker’s most hauntingly opaque lyrics – is she alive or dead? In the house or homeless? – set to an absolutely gorgeous, uncharacteristically bright janglerock melody. Frequently bootlegged, but the version on her 2005 Live at Sin-e cd remains the best out there.
220. The Wirebirds – This Green Hell
Our predecessor e-zine’s pick for best song of 2003 is this towering janglerock anthem, sort of a global warming nightmare epic as the Church might have done it but with amazing harmonies by songwriter Will Dial and the band’s frontwoman, Amanda Thorpe.
219. The Psychedelic Furs – House
“This day is not my life,” Richard Butler insists on this pounding, insistent, anguished anthem from the band’s best album, 2000’s Book of Days, the only post-Joy Division album to effectively replicate that band’s unleashed, horrified existentialist angst. Mp3s are out there, as are copies of the vinyl album; check the bargain bins for a cheap treat.
218. X – See How We Are
The link above is the mediocre original album track; the best version of this offhandedly savage anti-yuppie, anti-complacency diatribe is the semi-acoustic take on the live Unclogged cd from 1995.
217. The Sex Pistols – EMI
Gleefully defiant anti-record label diatribe from back in the day when all the majors lined up at Malcolm McLaren’s knee. How times have changed. “Unlimited supply,” ha!
216. Amy Allison – No Frills Friend
As chilling as this casually swaying midtempo country ballad might seem, it’s actually not about a woman who’s so alienated that she’s willing to put up with someone who won’t even talk to her. It just seems that way – Allison is actually being optimistic here. Which is just part of the beauty of her songwriting – you never know exactly where she’s coming from. Title track from the excellent 2002 cd.
215. X – Johny Hit & Run Paulene
One of the greatest punkabilly songs ever, nightmare sex criminal out on a drug-fueled, Burroughs-esque bender that won’t stop. From Los Angeles, 1980; mp3s, both live and studio, are out there.
214. The Sex Pistols – Belsen Was a Gas
Arguably the most tasteless song ever written – it’s absolutely fearless. The lp version from the 1978 Great Rock N Roll Swindle soundtrack lp features its writer, Sid Vicious along with British train robber Ronnie Biggs. There are also numerous live versions out there and most of them are choice. Here’s one from Texas and one from San Francisco.
213. Randi Russo – Battle on the Periphery
Russo is the absolute master of the outsider anthem, and this might be her best, defiant and ominous over a slinky minor-key funk melody anchored by Lenny Molotov’s macabre, Middle Eastern guitar. From Shout Like a Lady, 2006.
212. The Dead Kennedys – Holiday in Cambodia
True story: Pepsi wanted to license this song for a commercial despite its savage anti-imperialist message. Jello Biafra said no way – which might have planted the seed that spawned his bandmates’ ultimately successful if dubiously lawful suit against him. So sad – when these guys were on top of their game they were the best American band ever. From Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables, 1980.
211. X – Los Angeles
One of the great punk rock hooks of all time, title track to the 1980 album, a perfect backdrop for Exene’s snide anti-El Lay diatribe. Ice-T and Body Count would sneak it into their notorious Cop Killer twelve years later.
210. The Sex Pistols – Anarchy in the UK
Yeah, you know this one, but our list wouldn’t be complete without it. As lame as the rhyme in the song’s first two lines is (Johnny Rotten has pretty much disowned them), this might be the most influential song of all time. If not, it definitely had the most beneficial effect. Go download Never Mind the Bollocks if you haven’t already: the band isn’t getting any royalties.
209. The Clash – London Calling
OK, an obvious choice, but what a great bassline…and that majestic production. “I live by the river!” A lot of us will be in our forties or older by the time the waters start rising as the polar icecaps melt, and by then whoever‘s left in the coastal cities probably deserves to die anyway – at least if Michael Bloomberg and others like him get their way. But Joe Strummer predicted all this first.
208. Roxy Music – More Than This
“More than this, there is nothing.” In a sense, Bryan Ferry’s quintessential song. Uninhibited, fearless, yet knowing there will be a comedown. Lush atmospheric beauty from the Avalon lp, 1982.
207. David Bowie – Because You’re Young
“Because you’re young, you’ll meet a stranger some night.” The Thin White Duke in wise old rake mode, consoling the “psychodelicate girl” and the guy who might or might not be the right stranger. A gorgeous, bittersweet anthem from Bowie’s best album, Scary Monsters, 1981.
206. The Grateful Dead – Bertha
The prototypical janglerock anthem, the Dead at their best and tersest – what a killer riff. Bertha (probably not her real name) was a groupie; this is an understated message to her to stay the fuck away. Look for a bootleg (and avoid the debacle on the Steal Your Face album) – may we suggest Sept 1991 at Madison Square Garden? Or else check archive.org.
205. Kelli Rae Powell – Don’t Look Back Zachary
The road trip that for a minute looked like an escape from hell turns quickly to hell. But she can’t go back. The oldtimey siren’s minutely jewelled, gracefully haunted memoir with ukelele. From her 2009 album New Words for Old Lullabies.
204. LJ Murphy – Saturday’s Down
The New York noir legend’s biggest hit is this uncharacteristically quiet, haunted narrative of what’s left of a weekend watching Brooklyn’s parade of lost souls circle around Williamsburg’s McCarren Park circa 2005, before the trendoids and the yuppies took over. From his 2006 cd Mad Within Reason; there are also a million bootlegs out there and many of them are very good.
203. Elvis Costello – Black Sails in the Sunset
Graceful, haunting, understatedly vengeful, with some of pianist Steve Nieve’s finest work. “Do you make me sick, or was I just forcefed?” Originally released on the Tokyo Storm Warning ep in 1986, since then anthologized several times.
202. Midnight Oil – Stars of Warburton
Some claim this song has healing properties (and when thousands of other compositions have been proven to have healing properties, the proposition becomes less farfetched). Is it the layers of lushly jangly Rickenbacker guitar? The chords as they rise to breaking point? From Blue Sky Mining, 1990.
201. Bobby Vacant & the Weary – Never Looking Back
Our pick for best song of 2009, it’s tersely metaphorical, bitter yet defiant to the end, the high point of the expat American songwriter’s darkly intense album Tear Back the Night. And the lyric at the end sounds unmistakably like, “Went from my home, went from my friends, went from the land where the polygraph spins.” The link above is the stream at Radio Luxotone.
200. The Move – Message from the Country
Jeff Lynne’s magnificent 12-string guitar anthem, title track from the 1972 album, is a call for preserving the environment. And would get him labeled an eco-terrorist by the right wing if it was released today. Rick Price’s rumbling, gritty bassline underneath it all is tasty beyond words. “Gotta stop your burning, now!”