For songs #500-666 click here
For songs #400-499 click here
For songs #200-299 click here
For songs #100-199 click here
For songs 1-100 click here
399. John Cougar Mellencamp – Rain on the Scarecrow
Too bad the heartland rocker’s fallen on hard times, sinking to doing tv commercials instead of music because back in the 80s and 90s he was sort of a poor man’s Springsteen, putting out several albums of smartly crafted highway rock. Driven by one of the juiciest bass hooks in history, this is one of his best songs, a snarling Reagan-era broadside about a farmer losing his land to foreclosure. Title track from an otherwise forgettable 1985 lp frequently found in the dollar bins. Mp3s are everywhere.
398. The Dickies – Nights in White Satin
The comedic California band first saw light as a punk parody (their logo was the silhouette of a flaccid penis), but quickly became one of the late 70s/early 80s’ most ferocious live acts. This one, from the 1980 lp Dawn of the Dickies is one of the alltime classic punk covers, ripping the old Moody Blues hit to shreds. A regrouped version of the band fronted by original singer/keyboardist Leonard Graves Phillips still tours occasionally.
397. Manfred Mann – Living Without You
Randy Newman cover by the 1970 version of the British band responsible for three of the most ridiculous hits in rock history: Doo Wah Diddy, The Mighty Quinn and, as “Manfred Mann’s Earth Band,” Blinded by the Light (you know, “wrapped up like a DOUCHE!!!”). But this sad midtempo ballad is nothing like that. The contrast of the gently skeletal texture of the acoustic guitar against some of the most booming bass ever recorded is exquisite; nice Badfinger-esque slide guitar too.
396. The Vapors – Letter from Hiro
Best known for the inscrutable new wave hit Turning Japanese (a song you won’t find on this list), the British band actually put out two brilliant albums of fiery, artsy, Clash-style punk rock. This majestic, epic antiwar anthem from 1979’s New Clear Days is told from the point of view of a WWII-era Japanese kid saved from kamikaze duty by freak chance.
395. Auntie Christ – Bad Trip
This punk trio fronted by X’s Exene Cervenka (who also played guitar) and Matt Freeman from 90s faux punks Rancid released one classic cd, 1997’s Life Could Be a Dream. This is its best track, a typically metaphorical road trip through hell.
394. Mary Lee’s Corvette – Redemption Day
The dark, sparse, haunting version released on the NYC Americana rockers’ 2004 cd 700 Miles is excellent, but it’s the ferocious riff-rock version that the band – then featuring Mellencamp lead guitar god Andy York – was doing circa 2000-01 that’s the best, blasting out of the gates with a massing Ziggy Stardust-style hook and frontwoman Mary Lee Kortes’ literally redemptive lyrics. Look around – bootlegs exist.
393. The Electric Light Orchestra – Dreaming of 4000
As with A Day in the Life, the drummer owns this one. In this case it’s Bev Bevan (who later played with a version of Black Sabbath!) who’s taking this raw, starkly haunting epic to the next level, his matter-of-factly evil cymbal work driving the outro. From the strangely beautiful On the Third Day lp, 1973, surprisingly often found in the cheapo bins. Mp3s are all over too, but the vinyl – as it always does – sounds best. The link above is an outtake that differs very slightly from the album version; there are also some cool live tracks floating around.
392. Telephone – Cendrillon
The title is French for “Cinderella.” This uncharacteristically quiet ballad from the 1982 Dure Limite lp was a huge hit for the French rockers, electric piano glimmering evilly behind Louis Bertignac’s elegaic lead guitar as frontman Jean-Louis Aubert matter-of-factly narrates her descent into drug abuse and death in the back of an ambulance. The link in the title above is the album version; here’s a tasty live take.
391. The Cure – M
Spookiest thing they ever did, and it’s the sheer nonchalance that makes it that way. “Ready, for the next attack,” Robert Smith says, evoking Peter Lorre’s character in the unforgettable Fritz Lang film. Swooping, ominous organ, gunshot drum machine and killer Laurence Tolhurst bassline with all those chords. From the band’s best album, Seventeen Seconds, 1983; mp3s are everywhere. The link above is an intriguing live clip from Mexico City, 2005.
This is just about the best breakup song ever written. Not maudlin at all, just haunting and resigned and absolutely heartbroken, Jackson’s gentle, wounded vocals nebulous and somewhat shellshocked over a swaying Ticket to Ride beat and pulsing layers of guitar and keys. From her So High cd, 2005. The link in the title above is the stream at last.fm
389. The Jam – Smithers-Jones
Bruce Foxton’s sarcastic, quintessentially British chronicle of downsizing has taken on new relevance in these depression days. Several versions out there, all readily downloaded: for rockers, there’s the single with characteristic melodic Foxton bassline, also some even fiercer live takes. But the one we love best is the version from Setting Sons, 1979, with the string quartet in place of the band. Which we couldn’t find a stream of: the link here is the rock version.
Singer/actress Foley rode her famous cameo on the Meatloaf monstrosity Paradise by the Dashboard Light to considerable European top 40 popularity before hooking up with Mick Jones. He and Joe Strummer produced, wrote and played on her 1981 lp Spirit of St. Louis (she’s from there) – it’s the great lost Clash album. This is one of its most riveting moments, a slow, wrenchingly haunting ballad written by frequent Strummer collaborator and violinist Tymon Dogg. Foley continues to record and play the occasional New York show. The link in the title above is a video from Hungarian tv; mp3s are kicking around if you do some digging.
387. Patty Ocfemia – Misspent Youth
Fearless, majestic, absolutely unrepentant anthem that serves as the centerpiece to this vastly underrated New York songwriter’s excellent 2008 album Heaven’s Best Guest, her voice indomitable and resolute over a lush bed of acoustic guitars that fade out gracefully at the end:
Not like old lovers
No permanent scars
No fixed agenda
No heavy hand
Or privileged truth
No guilt or shame
For my misspent youth
386. The Reducers – Fistfight
New London, Connecticut’s finest export is this fiery, long-running quartet whose 80s heyday saw them as a sort of a cross between the Jam and 70s British pub rock bands like Ducks Deluxe, putting out several generally excellent albums. Fueled by the twin guitars of Hugh Birdsall and Peter Detmold and Steve Kaika’s busy, melodic, Bruce Foxton-esque bass, this is their greatest shining moment, a blisteringly catchy look at smalltown anomie and its consequences. From Cruise to Nowhere, 1985. The band still performs frequently in southern New England.
385. Al Stewart – Roads to Moscow
Sympathy for the devil? Well, this is sympathy for the Nazis, at least for one clueless draftee who finds himself deep in Russian territory, about to be taken prisoner by the Soviets and probably scapegoated for everything Hitler did, General Guderian standing at the front of the road staring down the end. The massive art-rock anthem ends on a single ominous note by future Elvis Costello bassist Bruce Thomas. From the Past, Present, Future lp, 1974; mp3s are everywhere.
384. The Replacements – The Ledge
Paul Westerberg bragged that when the band was first getting started, he’d drag out old Stooges songs and teach them to his bandmates, claiming that they were his. Here’s one that actually succeeds at evoking a Stooges vibe, Naked Bob’s searing, metalish guitar swirling over a pounding rhythm section as the jumper on the roof ponders whether or not to end it all. We’re not going to spoil the ending. The only good song on the otherwise cloying Pleased to Meet Me album, 1987; mp3s are everywhere. The link above is the original video that MTV refused to play because – OMG – it addresses a serious topic like suicide.
383. Siouxsie & the Banshees – Bring Me the Head of the Preacher Man
Strong case for the argument that this band’s best period was around 1983-86 with Robert Smith from the Cure moonlighting on guitar. This is a marriage made in heaven, Siouxsie at the absolute top of her game as outraged witness, Smith tossing off one eerie Arabesque after another in this absolutely hypnotic, macabre, epic masterpiece from the Hyaena lp, 1983.
A slowly swaying, actually pretty mesmerizing, artsy country ballad, with that warm, gentle voice singing your pain away:
Love is an ocean
Love is a stone
Love is a wish that you make on your own
If all of these ghosts would just leave me alone
I know that I could be free
From Birds, 2002; the link in the title above is the stream at last.fm.
381. Black Flag – TV Party
With the litany of all those long-forgotten network tv shows from the early 80s, it’s a little dated, but the hardcore anthem still packs a punch, Henry Rollins showing off a sense of humor that very rarely made it into any of his songs. “I couldn’t live without my tv for a day, or even a minute/Don’t even bother to use my brain anymore, there’s nothing left in it!” From Damaged, 1981; mp3s are everywhere. The acoustic version by the Asylum Street Spankers has more current references and is just as savagely funny as the original.
Poignant careening intensity: leave it to Steve Wynn to invent that style. He says this song is about nostalgia, but it’s deeper than that. This is a requiem for lost time, particularly memorable for anyone lucky enough to have heard his old band the Dream Syndicate as they were coming up: the song nicks the opening hook from Tell Me When It’s Over, the first cut on the legendary 1981 Days of Wine and Roses album. From Here Come the Miracles, 2001. The link in the title above is a choice stripped-down duo version version from Philly, 2003.
379. Graham Parker – Chloroform
Parker has maybe more animosity toward the major labels than any other artist, dating from his Mercury Poisoning days of the late 70s. This song gleefully and vengefully documents the decline, fall, and ugly dying days of an unnamed label exec from the point of view of an artist he screwed. From the excellent, sarcastically titled Songs of No Consequence, 2005.
378. Al Stewart – The News from Spain
This haunting organ-fueled epic, set in a nebulous Spanish Civil War milieu, is as goth as it gets, complete with symphonic strings and the lovelorn narrator rushing off at the end to be killed in battle. Sisters of Mercy and the Dresden Dolls have nothing on this! From the import-only Orange lp, 1971, as well as a couple of anthologies; you may have to download the whole album to get the track, but it’s worth the time.
377. The Larval Organs – Mansion of Your Skull
Let’s face it – most love songs suck. Here’s a rare one that doesn’t, with murderously good double entendres and a tiny bit more of a glimmer of hope than is usually the case from the band’s frontman Daniel Bernstein, backing away only slightly from his usual themes of death, anguish and madness. “My heaven is a hall in the mansion of your skull that I wander through.” Nice snarling post-REM backbeat melody too. From the NYC punk/metal band’s classic Posthumous cd, 2004, now out of print; good luck finding it.
376. Lucky Dube – Victims
The great roots reggae songwriter and keyboardist triumphantly lived through the dismantling of apartheid in his native South Africa, only to be murdered in 2007 in an attempted carjacking. Little would he know how eerily prophetic this heartbreaking tale of the aftereffects of violence – a mother grieving for her dead son and all the others like him – would be. Title track from the 1989 album.
375. Bruce Springsteen – Independence Day
In this brilliantly elliptical, organ-fueled anthem, a son leaves home defiant but bitter, brutalized and only a step away from the violence he grew up with. Anyone who might confuse Springsteen’s art with the yahoos who make up so much of his fan base needs to hear this. From the River, 1980; mp3s abound, and the studio version is the best. Although the link above, an early live take from 1978, isn’t bad.
374. The Lyres – The Only Thing
Uncharacteristically complex, anguished, completely noir 60s pop anthem with remarkably eerie Vox organ by the otherwise hellraising Boston second-wave garage revivalists. From Lyres Lyres, 1987; the link above is a torrent of the album.
373. Public Image Ltd. – The Flowers of Romance
The Flowers of Romance were Sid Vicious’ first, short-lived band (he was the drummer – they never recorded anything). This macabre, sketchily chromatic masterpiece, a sort of tribute from his best (and apparently only) friend in the Sex Pistols is the 1980 title track to PiL’s best album. The best version out there is actually the screechy live take on the 45 RPM Live in Tokyo lp from 1985 (click the link above), journeyman Louis Bernardi fighting to replicate Keith Levene’s corruscating, overtone-laden guitar part.
372. Bob Dylan – Sooner or Later
Big, lush organ-and-guitar ballad from Blonde on Blonde, a vivid reminder how Mr. Zimmerman’s talents as a hookmeister have always been every bit as formidable as his lyrical abilities. The way the Hammond hits that crescendo at the end of the verse…wow. The link above is a torrent of the whole album.
So many versions of the iconic noir rocker’s killer kiss-off anthem floating around out there. The best of the acoustic cuts was released on the vinyl-only, now rare Straight to the Swapmeet ep, 1989. Tons of stuff up at archive.org, like this one from around the same time; the studio version on Kerosene Man is surprisingly stiff. Wynn still pulls this gem out of the woodwork at live shows.
370. Public Image Ltd. – Acid Drops
From the surprisingly good and final PiL cd That What Is Not, 1992. Listening to the sample of John Lydon intoning “No future, no future, no future” from God Save the Queen at the end of the song around the time the album came out – during Bush One’s gulf war – was nothing short of scary. Somehow we survived and we have this blistering, multitracked guitar firestorm as a memento. And in the intervening years the Sex Pistols actually got back together. Who would have predicted it. Mp3s are everywhere.
369. The Move – What
From the two menacing piano chords that open it, this is as darkly beautiful as a 70s art-rock epic could possibly be, future ELO frontman Jeff Lynne eerily musing about “how the overture is burning all the faces of the people in the churches of the land.” From the Looking On lp, 1971.
368. Public Image Ltd. – The Order of Death
Brooding Italian movie theme from 1983 with layers of synth over a drum loop, John Lydon intoning the mantra “This is what you want, this is what you get,’ which ended up serving as the album title after guitarist Keith Levene either quit the band or was fired depending who you believe. Some fans prefer the more poignant but less ominous acoustic guitar version from the Commercial Zone lp released by Levene as retaliation in 1985.
367. Ninth House – Long Stray Whim
Opening with a massive blast of distorted guitar (an update on an old Stone Roses riff), the NYC art-rock/Nashville gothic band’s escape anthem takes anguish and makes exhilaration out of it. What if you questioned your banal everyday existence and discovered you couldn’t live with it anymore? “It’s like all those times you don’t ask why…turn it on to something new!” The best version the band released is an early live take with Dave Cavaliere on guitar, from the sadly out-of-print Aerosol cd; there’s a far slicker version on the 2007 Realize And It’s Gone cd. A fan favorite, the band still frequently opens their shows with it. You decide what’s best, the album version in the title above or this scorching live take.
366. The Velvet Underground – Run Run Run
A NYC classic, best song on the Velvets’ first album. This careening, hypnotic sprint through a junkie 1965 East Village of the mind harkens back to when there was no telling what a person could find at Union Square, no Whole Foods, no Trader Joe’s and no undercover cops either.
365. The Jesus & Mary Chain – Deep One Perfect Morning
Appropriate that this one would follow the Velvets on the list, considering that’s who they wanted to be. This one nails the doomed ambience, a bracing, semi-acoustic early autumn reflection chilly with existential angst. From Darklands, 1986, at all the file-trading sites.
364. Fairport Convention – Sloth
Richard Thompson once dismissed this as “an instrumental written by the bass player,” and whether it was Tyger Hutchings or Dave Pegg playing on it, the bassline is to die for. Yet ultimately it was Thompson who would always set this psychedelic antiwar epic ablaze. The 1969 studio version is excellent, but of the zillions of live versions out there, possibly the best is on the Live Convention reissue from 1974.
363. The Rolling Stones – The Lantern
Finally, three hundred and twenty-three songs into this list, a Stones tune. Why so few? Because you don’t need Lucid Culture to tell you how great the Stones were. When we first dug the list out of the drawer and decided to put it up online one song at a time, there were a ton of Stones tunes on it. But we figured it would be karmically smarter and vastly more useful to feature more obscure artists rather than just listing Stones song after Stones song, ad nauseum. This one happens to be delta blues reinvented as macabre psychedelia from Their Satanic Majesties Request, 1967, Brian Jones’ greatest moment in the band. Mp3s are everywhere and since this was a major label release, don’t feel guilty downloading it.
362. Radio Birdman – Murder City Nights
Ferocious garage punk from the Aussie legends’ second and best album, Radios Appear, 1979, bandleader/lead guitarist Deniz Tek contributing a characteristically intense, lightning-fast solo.
361. The Sex Pistols – My Way
Probably the greatest cover song ever: “To think, I killed a cat, and may I say not in a gay way.” The Great Rock n Roll Swindle soundtrack credits this to the Pistols; others credit it to Sid, backed by Cook and Jones, mocking Sinatra so hilariously that this version would eventually supplant the original in the public consciousness. Talk about appropriating the language of the oppressor.
360. Pink Floyd – Comfortably Numb
OK, this is supposed to be Obscure Music Central, and here we go with a classic rock standard. But every year, a new generation of kids discovers it – that hypnotic, slowly crescendoing David Gilmour intro, that visionary lyric:
When I was a child I had a feeling
Out of the corner of my eye
I turned to look but it was gone
I cannot put my finger on it now
The child has grown, the dream has gone
Download The Wall somewhere – the band isn’t getting any royalties from it.
359. The Byrds – The Times They Are a-Changing
Just imagine for a second how much more amazing Dylan would have been if instead of the Band, he’d had the Byrds playing behind him. “Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command.” No, they weren’t, actually – many of them would grow up to vote for people like Bill Clinton and Dick Cheney. Still, you gotta love the sentiment. The best album you’ll find this on is The Byrds Play Dylan reissue compilation from 1999.
358. The Choir – It’s Cold Outside
Maybe the quintessential noir 60s pop song, set to a beautifully clanging 12-string guitar melody. The Stiv Bators cover of his fellow Clevelanders’ lone hit is good too. First issued on album on the original Nuggets anthology, mp3s are everywhere.
357. The Clash – Garageland
This could be the Lucid Culture theme song:
I don’t wanna hear about
What the rich are doing
I don’t wanna go to
Where the rich are going
They think they’re so clever
They think they’re so right
But the truth is only known
They were a garage band, they came from garageland and so do some of us. Only one of the reasons why we love them.
356. Aimee Mann – Humpty Dumpty
The haunting George Harrisonesque opening track on Lost In Space, 2001, the pantheonic songwriter’s meticulously inflected voice both soothing and absolutely heartwrenching:
So let us take the keys
And drive forever
Staying won’t put these
Pieces back together
All the perfect drugs
Wouldn’t be enough
To pull me up to zero
355. The Clash – Lost in the Supermarket
As we get closer to #1, you’ll recognize more and more of these. Like this one, Joe Strummer’s pretty, watery rail against mindless materialism. From London Calling, 1979 (or 1980 if you believe Rolling Stone).
354. C.W. McCall – There Won’t Be No Country Music
If this bizarrely spot-on, apocalyptic banjo tune had been released this year instead of in 1976, the right wing would be calling this guy an eco-terrorist. Believe it or not, this followup single to Convoy, his monstrously popular CB radio novelty hit, actually got some airplay on both country and rock radio. Imagine that happening now! Only one of the reasons why nobody listens to corporate radio anymore…
353. LJ Murphy – Sleeping Mind
Equal parts cautionary tale about the perils of complacency and haunting examination of the psychology of clinical depression, set to a catchy midtempo soul tune. Unreleased, but there are bootlegs out there, and the great New York noir rocker often plays it live.
352. The Act – Zero Unidentified
Fiery, gorgeously melodic new wave rock anthem from the British band’s lone and absolutely classic 1982 album Too Late at 20. In mathematics, zero is defined as unidentified, and frontman Nick Laird-Clowes (later of the Dream Academy) wants to keep it that way – he won’t take no for an answer. “Let’s get together tonight!” The link here is a homemade digitized version of the whole album.
351. Ice Cube – Ghetto Vet
Over one of the eeriest piano samples in the history of rap, Cube bitterly narrates one smalltime thug’s descent from menace in the hood to wheelchair-bound crack addict. Mp3s all over the place. From the War cd in the 1998 two-cd War & Peace album.
350. The BoDeans – Idaho
Kurt Neumann’s savagely sardonic lyric about a rocker’s random encounter with redneck hell, set to a beautifully anthemic blue-sky melody. The best version out there is, believe it or not, a soundcheck that turned out so good it became the opening cut on the Americana rockers’ blissfully good 1995 double live cd Joe Dirt Car; the version on the live Homebrewed cd from 2006 is also pretty damn good. As is this 2008 live take in the link in the title above.
349. The Avengers – Second to None
Classic San Francisco punk rock from 1979. Considered by many to be the American Sex Pistols (an apt comparison, considering that this song was produced by the Pistols’ Steve Jones), frontwoman Penelope Houston fortuituously resurrected the band in 2005 and has done frequent transcendentally good shows with them since. This is one of their most ferocious, defiant numbers, and Houston sings it even better now than she did thirty years ago.
348. Linton Kwesi Johnson – Story
This is a song about facades, the great Jamaican/British dub poet matter-of-factly chronicling their usefulness and how problematic they can be while his great band, and his violinist in particular, provide a haunting roots reggae backdrop. From the Tings and Times cd, 1991.
347. The Avengers – The End of the World
When Penelope Houston first revived her legendary punk band, it was as the Scavengers (hopes of reuniting all four original members were still high at the time). This classic apocalypse anthem was first released – some 20 years after Houston wrote it – on the Avengers Died for Your Sins compilation, 1999. The link above is a live take from a recent reunion tour; here’s another.
346. Love – The Daily Planet
Arguably the best song on the classic psychedelic orchestrated rock album Forever Changes, 1967. Gorgeous janglerock melody and one of the most savagely dismissive, anti-conformist lyrics ever written. As much acid as Arthur Lee was doing at the time, he still managed to find a rare kind of lucidity. The link here is to a live version from late in Lee’s career.
345. Andy White – The Walking Wounded
On his 1986 album Rave On Andy White, the Irish songwriter went for a Dylan ripoff right down to the cover photo. But this track’s completely original, a beautifully orchestrated, organ-fueled, ferociously unsparing attack at both sides of the Troubles. “Maggie and the terrorists sign the death warrant, you can watch the execution for free.” We’ve got the vinyl but nothing digital on this one: can somebody please youtube this?
Before starting Black Box Recorder, Luke Haines fronted these fiery noir 90s British art-rockers. Driven by a simple, mean tremolo guitar hook, this relentless, offhandedly brutal look back in anger might be the band’s best song. From their debut cd New Wave, 1993. The link in the title above is a youtube clip.
343. The Rolling Stones – Waiting on a Friend
In the process of editing the list, this one fell off for awhile…and then fell back on because it’s so good. Talk about perfectly capturing a mood – Pharaoh Sanders’ pensive yet contented sax and Keith’s guitar, wow. And it’s a New York song: the link above is the video made at the now-defunct St. Mark’s Bar in 1981.
342. Ruefrex – Mr. Renfield Reflects
With its lush layers of interlocking guitar, this is one of the greatest janglerock songs ever. Mr. Renfield is a character in Dracula, cruelly musing on who gets to stay and who gets to go. From the Flowers for All Occasions lp, 1986 which the British music press went nuts over but then pretty much sank without a trace in the months that followed. Hard to find online other than the myspace stream above.
341. Angie Pepper – Last Chance
Frontwoman of Australian new wave legends the Passengers – still active as an acoustic trio – Angie Pepper remains one of the world’s most potently captivating voices, perhaps even more compelling than she was during her band’s brief late 70s/early 80s heyday. This song was written by her husband, Radio Birdman mastermind Deniz Tek, originally released on Tek’s Orphan Tracks lp, 1988. When she finally drops her tightlipped composure and cuts loose at the end of the song, she will give you chills: “This might be your last chance!”
340. The Walkabouts – Up in the Graveyard
Pacific Northwest gothic from the genre’s finest practitioners. Gulf War vet comes home to avenge his dead father in a perverse but beautifully logical way. One of frontman Chris Eckman’s finest lyrical moments: “You can change the darkness into something proud.” From Setting the Woods on Fire, 1994, arguably one of the ten best albums ever made.
339. Squeeze – I Think I’m Go Go
A Samuel Beckett reference? Wouldn’t put it past Chris Difford. Darkly swooping, deliciously ominous synthy new wave from Argybargy, 1981. Mp3s are everywhere.
338. The Clash – The Sound of the Sinners
Joe Strummer wrote lots of funny songs and this is one of the best, a spot-on parody of gospel music from Sandinista, 1981, Bill Price’s pricelessly echoey, churchy production a perfect fit for Strummer’s scathing satire: “The message on the tablets was valium.”
337. Oasis – Rock n Roll Star
Many of you will want to smack us for including this one, but here it is anyway. It’s the first track the band ever released, from 1994’s Definitely Maybe, and it’s the best – you could say it was all downhill from there, although they did have a decent run until late in the decade as a boisterous, less amusing version of the Rutles. The link above is the studio version; here’s a drunken, coked-out trainwreck of a live take which in its way is absolutely brilliant.
336. The Doctors of Madness – Noises of the Evening
Scorching, angsted, guitar-and-violin-fueled druggy art-rock epic from these glam-ish mid 70s art-rockers, a UK sensation but virtually unknown here. The long crescendo at the end is amazing. From the band’s second album, a self-titled double lp, part rehab concept album – pretty ahead of its time for 1978, huh? Frontman/lyricist Richard Strange would subsequently pursue a solo career as a cult artist in the 80s.
335. LJ Murphy – Bovine Brothers
Like a lot of the NYC noir rock legend’s other songs, this scathing anti-fascist broadside’s been through a lot of incarnations. The latest is a slow, 6/8 blues ballad. But the fiery, Costelloesque version he was playing circa 2002 or so is the best, a nightmare urban tableau where “a sermon blares from the roof of a radio car.” Unreleased, but there are bootlegs out there.
334. Boris Grebenshikov – Real Slow Today
The legendary frontman of Aquarium – the courageous, pre-glasnost Russian Jethro Tull – released one English-language album, Radio Silence, in 1989, which pretty much disappeared without a trace after it came out. This lush janglefest is its centerpiece, a thoughtful reflection on how revolutions begin, from someone who knows a little something about that firsthand. We’ve got the vinyl – who’s got the digital version? Does one exist?
333. Supertramp – The Logical Song
One of the great anticonformist anthems, Roger Hodgson’s corrosive lyrics over Rick Davies’ eerie Arp electric piano, a top ten hit in 1979 and surprisingly still a staple of classic rock radio. From the Breakfast in America lp; mp3s are everywhere.
332. Midnight Oil – Blue Sky Mining
Janglerock heaven. This is a snarling tale about an Australian asbestos mine abandoned by its greedy corporate owners after they’d poisoned their employees along with the surrounding land and its inhabitants. Martin Rotsey’s all-too-brief, offhandedly vicious guitar solo after the bridge is exhilarating. “Nothing’s as precious as a hole in the ground.” Title track to the 1992 album, mp3s are everywhere.
Nightmare wee-hours NYC subway platform scenario with one of the most guitarishly delicious, reverb-drenched intros ever. The rats are everywhere, and they’re on the attack. Finally the train comes, but in typical MTA fashion, it doesn’t stop! From The Sky Is Falling and I Want My Mommy, the Dead Kennedys’ frontman’s otherwise so-so 1989 collaboration with the dadaesque Canadian punk band. The link in the title above is a youtube clip of the full track.
330. The Dead Boys – All the Way Down
The last song the iconic punk band released – on a 12″ single in 1986 – is one of their best (even if it was totally misproduced), a bitter midtempo cautionary anthem about a “poison lady.” If only the guy who sang it had actually taken the lyrics to heart, he might be alive today.
329. The Dream Syndicate – Boston
Of all the great anthems Steve Wynn has written, this is one of the best, still a concert favorite over 20 years since the studio version was released on Out of the Grey. From those two crashing chords that open it, it’s intense all the way through to the la-la-la outro that the band often uses as an excuse to go crazy. A million versions out there: here’s a good one with too much bass; here’s another (contrary to what the page tells you, it’s not the take from the excellent 1989 Live at Raji’s cd).
328. Procol Harum – As Strong As Samson
An unusually caustic world-is-going-to-hell commentary by lyricist Keith Reid (who didn’t play in the legendary British art-rock band but went to all their shows) set to a wrenchingly beautiful organ melody. The studio track from the 1974 Exotic Birds and Fruit album (above) is fine, but the best version is on their Live on the BBC cd, a 1974 recording finally issued in 1999. Frontman Gary Brooker continues to lead a considerably more heavy metal version of the band.
327. Radio Birdman – Hit Them Again
Characteristic pyrotechnics from the Australian garage-punk legends’ Radios Appear album, 1979, a co-write with Ron Asheton. Deniz Tek’s excoriating noise solo as the song burns its way out is pure adrenaline. Mp3s are everywhere – and here’s the Visitors doing the song in 2008 live!
326. Bob Dylan – Subterranean Homesick Blues
You don’t need us to tell you this is a great song any more than you need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows – back when Dylan wrote that, it had an even more contemporary resonance. No attempt at an alltime best songs list could be complete without it. The link above is a random torrent.
This is the unpredictable, compelling multistylistic songwriter at her best, an uproariously funny but savagely insightful faux Brill Building pop song about selling out, relationship-wise. “You don’t suck, so I’m cynically yours.” From the Sugar Tree cd, 2000. The link in the title above is the full track at last.fm.
324. The Walkabouts – Life the Movie
A gorgeously brooding art-rock dirge that happens to be the most succinct, intelligent indictment of the entertainment-industrial complex ever written. “Why do we advertise that we have lost this race?” the great Pacific Northwest/Slovenian art-rockers’ frontman Chris Eckman wants to know. From the Ended up a Stranger cd, 2001.
323. The Room – Bated Breath
These psychedelically-inclined Liverpool new wavers hit their peak around 1984-85. This one’s the high point of their promising but uneven 1981 debut lp, a calmly menacing account of a killer on the prowl that builds to a deliciously nasty ending. The band’s nucleus, singer Dave Jackson and bassist Becky Stringer would continue in the similarly dark, lyrical Benny Profane and currently the Nashville gothic band the Dead Cowboys. The link in the title above is a torrent for a compilation of 1980-86 tracks.
In July of 1932, with the depression in full swing, thousands of World War I veterans marched on Washington to protest the Hoover administration’s refusal to let them cash in their service bonus bonds ahead of schedule. Because Washington, DC is not a state, the Posse Comitatus Act did not apply, and on July 28, a battalion commanded by Gen. Douglas MacArthur attacked them with poison gas. The vets fled to the Hooverville they’d built across the Anacostia River; dozens were massacred and the encampment was burned to the ground. This rousing, furious anthem commemorates the atrocity. From the Beware of Dog cd, 2000, still in print.
321. The Jam – Down in the Tube Station at Midnight
Evocative account of an encounter with a gang of neo-Nazis from All Mod Cons, 1978, back in the day when the London tube was a lot more dangerous. Bruce Foxton’s bass scurries along like a tube train…or a bunch of thugs who’ve just left their prey – a guy on the way home to his wife with his takeaway curry – lying in a pool of blood.
320. Lenny Molotov – Freedom Tower
Inspired by plans to replace the World Trade Center, the version imagined by the great New York blues guitarist and steampunk songwriter here is actually a giant prison. From his exceptionally good 2010 album Illuminated Blues.
319. Bob Dylan – Not Dark Yet
Hypnotic existentialist masterpiece from his big comeback album Time Out of Mind, 1997, curmudgeonly yet poignant:
I was born here and I’ll die here against my will
I know it looks like I’m moving, but I’m standing still
Every nerve in my body is so naked and numb
I can’t even remember what it was I came here to get away from
Don’t even hear the murmur of a prayer
It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there
The link above is a random torrent of the whole album.
318. The Rolling Stones – Memo from Turner
Originally credited to Jagger solo, this first appeared on the soundtrack to the cult film Performance with the Stones’ frontman playing a supporting role. Recorded during the sessions for Beggars Banquet, it’s one of their funniest songs: is he gay or isn’t he? Also incidentally one of Brian Jones’ most stinging moments in the band.The link above has the song playing over an amusing pastiche of clips from the movie. Mp3s are everywhere, but you’ll have to sift through a lot of dodgy outtakes. If you want something better sonically, it’s on a million European vinyl Stones anthologies.
317. Katie Elevitch – Kindling For the Fire
If she keeps doing what she’s doing right now, someday the powerhouse New York rock siren will rank up there with Nina Simone and Patti Smith. The version on Elevitch’s live-in-the-studio 2008 cd is excellent as it is – and as its bassline menacingly rolls out, she and the band jam this out live into a witches’ sabbath. “Slaves stillborn gather round the hearse – kindling for the fire!”
316. Big Star – September Gurls
This one fell off this list and then fell back on because it’s so damn pretty and poignant. Don’t dismiss the song because it’s revered in the indie world, or because the band is overrated. This might be the greatest powerpop song ever written – and it wasn’t even a radio hit. Mp3s are everywhere: apparently it was on the soundtrack to a Fox tv show from the 90s.
315. Changing Modes – Moles
We 86’d Transient by the Church to make room for this one. Our pick for best song of 2010, it’s a brisk, ridiculously catchy punk rock classic. Frontwoman/keyboardist Wendy Griffiths breathlessly relates the grim daily life of “mole people” living beneath the New York City subway over snarling guitar and chirpy organ, and adds one of the alltime great screams in the history of rock and roll. From their most recent album Here.
314. Elvis Costello – Worthless Thing
This came out in 1985 on the vastly underrated Goodbye Cruel World album, the same year the Dead Kennedys did their anti-corporate music rant MTV Get off the Air. Both reach the same conclusion, Costello a little more elegantly. The Rhino reissue from the 90s has a whole bunch of interesting outakes (including a transcendent solo version of Richard Thompson’s Withered and Died); otherwise, there are mp3s at all the usual places.
313. Michael Caine – It’s Over
The Roy Orbison original may be a classic, but it’s the version by Michael Caine in the 1998 film Little Voice that’s the best. Caine’s character is a villain, a drunken clubowner singing this song onstage with his house band in a moment of particular unease, and his acting is amazing. Caine is actually a decent singer impersonating someone who can’t hit a note to save his life, imbuing a pretty despicable character with some actual humanity. Here’s a torrent of the whole movie.
312. Chicha Libre – Sonido Amazonico
The greatest one-chord jam of alltime, a melody that will someday be as well-known as, say, Fur Elise or Satisfaction. Although the band is American, Chicha Libre have almost singlehandedly resurrected chicha, the intoxicating Peruvian hybrid of Colombian cumbia, American surf music and psychedelia that was wildly popular in the Amazon oil boom towns of the late 60s and early 70s. The original by Los Mirlos (available on the amazing Roots of Chicha compilation) is a lot of fun but it’s this version, the title track to Chicha Libre’s 2008 debut cd, which is the best, keyboardist Josh Camp’s vintage Hohner Electrovox adding a hypnotic swirl.
311. Elvis Costello – No Dancing
Here the preeminent musical psychopathologist of our time dissects what being a killjoy is all about over wickedly catchy, slightly doo-wop inflected janglerock. From My Aim Is True, 1977. The link above is the album version; here’s a fascinating live video with the Attractions from what looks like the following year.
310. Elliott Smith – Bled White
The best song ever written about scoring heroin, maybe, over gorgeously watery, crescendoing George Harrisonesque guitar played through a Leslie organ speaker. From the XO cd, 1999, mp3s abound.
309. The Rolling Stones – Citadel
Where Sgt. Pepper was a quintessentially British, somewhat satirical slap at conformity, the Stones’ rejoinder, Their Satanic Majesties Request was unabashedly savage. In this frequently covered riff-rock masterpiece, Jagger has been taken prisoner by the enemy. Candy and Cathy, wherever you are, if you ever existed at all, this one’s for you. The link above is an intriguing alternate take in a slightly more folk-rock vein.
308. Pink Floyd – Dogs
Not only one of the great stoner songs of alltime but a characteristically magnificent, towering, practically sidelong antiwar epic. “Dragged down by the stone, stone, stone…” ad infinitum. Go ahead and download the 1977 Animals album somewhere if you haven’t already; if you want to hear it first, it’s on youtube in two sections here and then here.
307. The Boomtown Rats – Diamond Smiles
Savage new wave/punk sarcasm from The Fine Art of Surfacing, 1979, the sarcastically glossy tale of a girl who had everything but did herself in. Sadly, the late Jay Bennett quoted a lyric from the song in the title of his final, unfinished album, Kicking at the Perfumed Air. The link above is the original video; here’s a live take.
306. American Ambulance – Ain’t Life Good
Hungover and unexpectedly transcendent Sunday morning tableau in the wake of a week of drudgery at some deadend dayjob unforgettably portrayed in these New York Americana rockers’ towering anthem. Nice soulful Erica Smith vocal cameo too. From the Streets of NYC cd, 2005.
305. Squeeze – This Summer
Love songs suck, don’t they? They’re supposed to be so evocative but 99% of the time they’re schlocky and maudlin and just put you in a hateful mood. Here’s a rare one that doesn’t, Glenn Tilbrook’s soaring melody vividly capturing the thrill of it all, the rush of finally getting with someone you’ve wanted to get with for a long time. It never lasts, of course. From the Ridiculous cd, 1995.
304. Joy Division – Walked in Line
“All dressed in uniforms so fine/They drank and killed to pass the time/Wearing the shame of all their crimes/With measured steps they walked in line.” Nazis as metaphor for conformity as a whole, stepping to a ridiculously simple, potent descending punk riff. An early, 1977-era song released on the posthumous 1981 Still lp, available in a ridiculous number of live and studio versions: peek around.
303. Dick Dale – Misirlou
The lefty guitar genius and surf music pioneer is Lebanese-American and probably heard this iconic Greek melody as a kid in the 50s. Nice to see him healthy again and back on the road. New York Greek party rockers Magges also do a tremendously fun version.
302. The Dog Show – If I Laugh Anymore I’ll Break
Blistering and catchy, sort of a cross between the Dead Boys and 50s R&B. One of the more obscure tracks here, this is on a rare ep by the NYC mod punks from 2003 or so and well worth seeking out, whether on a live bootleg (they exist) or otherwise.
301. Elvis Costello – Riot Act
One of Steve Nieve’s finest, most poignant moments in the band with all those hauntingly restrained piano arpeggios. From Get Happy, 1980; mp3s are everywhere.
300. The Grateful Dead – Days Between
Every now and then, Jerry and co. would pull out the gravitas and this is a prime, extremely poignant example from right before the end, an elegiac epic that in its dark, determined way might just be their best song. Not that it really mattered, but the Dead never released it during their lifetime as either a studio or live recording. So you need to go to dead.net or archive.org, where this 12-minute gem resides in several places.
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