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499. Squeeze – Another Nail in My Heart
“And here in the bar, the piano man’s found another nail for my heart,” Jools Holland’s Farfisa blending magically and intensely with Chris Difford’s distorted guitar. One of the most texturally beautiful moments in recorded music history. Never mind the fact that it’s a killer new wave pop hit. From Argybargy, 1980; mp3s are everywhere.
498. Lloyd Cole – Brand New Friend
Cole’s one classic album, 1986’s Easy Pieces, was produced by the same team that did Elvis Costello’s Punch the Clock, who gave its gorgeous, upbeat, snarlingly literate songs a similar robust, frequently horn-driven sheen. Suddenly it looked like Costello had some competition. Sadly for Cole, it was pretty much downhill from there. This is a gorgeously swaying, understatedly bitter, accordion-driven expansion on an old Jim Morrison lyrical riff. Mp3s are everywhere; the link above is youtube clip of the original video.
497. King Crimson – Starless
Arguably the great British art-rock band’s finest twelve minutes or so, a suite that starts out wistful and eventually goes starless and bible black, John Wetton’s bass climbing deliberately and murderously as Robert Fripp holds down the suspense with his guitar. Classical music devotees will recognize a theme from Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time – figures that Fripp would be a fan, doesn’t it? From the Red lp, 1979; the link above is a torrent.
496. John Prine – Down by the Side of the Road
Prine at the peak of his drawling, narrative power, an offhandedly scary, death-obsessed tale of a woman’s long fall that leaves her in the song’s title – a shot rings out, a pickup truck pulls up and the rest is left up to you. Nice tune, too. From the Pink Cadillac lp, 1979, reissued on his own Oh Boy label. The link above is a torrent of the whole thing.
New York noir rocker Russo’s arguably strongest suit as a songwriter is how she cuts to the chase: she doesn’t waste a note or a word. This big, corrosively powerful antiwar anthem lopes along on a growling Middle Eastern melody – and then it modulates. Sweetly evil, chromatically-fueled lead guitar from Lenny Molotov. From the Live at Sin-e cd, 2005; the link in the song title above is the stream at deezer.
494. King – Taste of Your Tears
Members in good standing of the Zager and Evans Hall of Fame, these wimpy British “new romantics” were the last band you would ever expect to deliver this beautifully wistful 1986 epic pop hit bouncing along on layers and layers of gorgeously watery, staccato wah-wah guitar. Neither the band nor frontman Paul King in his blip of a solo career would ever create anything remotely as good. Mp3s are everywhere; the link above is to the original video (check out those ridiculous haircuts!).
493. Gruppo Sportivo – Mission a Paris
The Dutch rock satirists are haunting despite themselves here on one of their biggest European hits, a spy story spoof with one of the saddest major-to-minor hooks ever, carried by an organ line that manages to be cheery and brooding at the same time. Originally on the 10 Mistakes lp, 1979; there’s also a nice live, mostly acoustic version with accordion instead of the organ on the 1997 Second Life cd. The link above is a torrent of the whole album.
492. Burning Spear – Marcus Garvey
If you’re a reggae fan, you know this one, the prophetic 1974 title track from what might be the greatest roots reggae album ever. Yet the best version ever may be the one the band was doing in concert in the late 90s, amping it up to ska speed with a much more darkly direct, fiery horn chart. Look for a bootleg – the 1999 Central Park Summerstage version is transcendent.
491. Jenifer Jackson – Dreamland
This gorgeously dark, brooding ballad went through a bunch of permutations before Jackson brought the tempo down for the sparse, mysterious version on her career-best 2007 live-in-the-studio cd The Outskirts of a Giant Town. It’s about coming thisclose to getting what you long for and then…
490. The Electric Light Orchestra – The Way Life’s Meant to Be
70s British art-rock meets noir Phil Spector with a little flamenco feel on this understatedly anguished survivor anthem from the vastly underrated if lyrically bizarre sci-fi themed Time lp, 1981. For this you need a good system: check out Jeff Lynne’s baritone guitar solo…and the kettle drum! The link above is to the youtube stream.
489. System Noise – Daydreaming
Our pick for best song of 2006, it began as an exercise in dynamics, the band exploring what might happen if they wrote a song that started quiet, got loud and then quiet again. This slow, towering, magnificently macabre anthem is the result, Sarah Mucho’s anguished yet brutally self-aware voice soaring over a maelstrom of guitars: “Loneliness is all I have tonight.” From a forthcoming cd; bootlegs abound, including the 2008 video above.
488. Elvis Costello – All the Rage
This furiously defiant, soul-inflected 6/8 kiss-off ballad is the centerpiece of Costello’s 1994 “comeback” cd with his old band the Attractions, Brutal Youth. Still a concert favorite, with one of his most revealing lyrics:
Don’t try to touch my heart
It’s darker than you think
And don’t try to read my mind
Because it’s full of disappearing ink
487. DollHouse – Anymore
With their haunting four-part harmonies and a killer songwriting team in frontwoman Lisa Lost and bassist Frankie Monroe, these noir rockers were arguably New York’s best band for a couple of years in the late 90s and early zeros before calling it quits for good in 2002. This is their finest moment, a heartwrenching requiem kicking off with a characteristically gorgeous, soaring Monroe bassline followed by Lost’s anguished, subdued vocals. The person eulogized here is actually a cat. From their classic 2000 cd Touch the Moon. The link above is to an audio stream of the song.
486. The Saints – Brisbane
Lead guitarist Ed Kuepper’s finest moment in the band. This slowly burning epic is one of the great summer songs of alltime – it just radiates heat and defiance over listlessness. On an unexpectedly prophetic note, the song is subtitled “Security City” – little did the band know what was to come in the following decades. From the 1978 album Prehistoric Sounds.
485. Rachelle Garniez – Quality Star
Arguably the noir-inclined, multistylistic New York chanteuse’s finest hour. It begins all starlit and atmospheric with eerie music-box piano, subtly building to an explosion on the chorus:
You say monsters like us don’t make good husbands and wives
Lead such interesting lives
And I don’t know what you’re hoping the future might bring
Make the best of everything
And the outro is pure redemption, pure revenge for anyone who’s ever been betrayed. From her classic 2003 cd Luckyday.
484. Ward White – Hole in the Head
I need this job like a hole in the head
I need a hole in the head to keep this job
And I need a head for some reason that escapes me now
There’s no escaping you
Arguably the New York underground songwriter’s most lyrically pulverizing moment, a venomous swipe at corporate greed and selfcenteredness, more apt than ever in these early days of the depression. Beautiful, sparse melody too. From his brilliant 2006 cd Maybe But Probably Not, streaming at his site.
483. Rachelle Garniez – Crazy Blood
Title track to her superb 2001 cd, a haunting, minor-key blues as anguished as anything Bessie Smith or Nina Simone ever wrote – and as uncharacteristically direct as the great New York noir songwriter/multi-instrumentalist has ever been:
No one knows the trouble I’ve been
Torn up, twisted, time and time again
Had a chance to make changes but I threw it away…
482. New Model Army – 225
Fast Lillywhite-beat anthem from the 80s…of course. Justin Sullivan’s prophetic lyrics reprinted in full below:
She stares at the screen at the little words of green,
Tries to remember, what to do next
There’s a trace of frustration, that crosses her face
Searching for the key she should press
And I would help her, if I only know how
But these things are a mystery to me too
And it seems that the corporate eyes they are watching.
She fears for her job and the moments are passing
I stare at her nametag and think to myself
Both you and I
We never asked
For any of this
So let’s take a walk
Up past the chemical works
Where the sky turns green at night
And we’ll talk
About getting away from here
Some different kind of life
But even in the freshest mountain air
The jet fighters practice overhead
And they’re drilling these hills for uranium deposits
And they’ll bury the waste for our children to inherit
And though this is all done for our own benefit, I swear
We never asked
For any of this
This golden age of communication
Means that everyone talks the same time
And liberty just means some freedom to exploit
Any weakness that you can find
Well turn of the TV just for a while
Let us whisper to each other instead
And we’ll hope that the corporate ears do not listen
Lest we find ourselves committing some kind of treason
And filed in the tapes without rhyme, without reason
While they tell us that it’s all for our own protection,
We never asked
For any of this
This was 1989, folks. From the album Thunder and Consolation. Here’s a cool video.
481. The Go Go’s – Here You Are
Jane Wiedlin at the absolute top of her game as a songwriter, this time with a gorgeously haunting, atmospheric, Beatlesque ballad:
So if you lose control
And burn a bridge too far
No matter where you go
Here you are
From the band’s triumphant 2001 comeback cd God Bless the Go Go’s. The link above is a download.
480. The Coffin Daggers – Besame Mucho Twist
Some claim that the original is the most widely recorded song of alltime. The Ventures’ surf version was good but nothing like this. By a long shot, the New York surf punks’ savagely macabre cover, a staple of their live set circa 1999-2004, is the best, bringing out every menacing chromatic in the old 1940s Mexican bolero hit. Never officially released, but there are bootlegs kicking around.
479. The Fixx – Driven Out
Songs like this just make you shake your head and wonder, if the band could write something this great, why didn’t they do it again? But they never did. In this fiery, apocalyptic backbeat anthem from their now-forgotten 1988 lp Calm Animals, they finally let the guitars roar free, with a bitter, angry lyric: “Castaways have silent lives with a strength to rival you all.” There’s also a nice acoustic version by the wonderfully named Lenape Fire Turtle.
478. The Slickee Boys – Here to Stay
Old song from the 70s resurrected on their 1989 Live at Last lp. The twin guitar attack of Marshall Keith and Kim Kane is characteristically scorching, with one of their trademark eerie garage/punk melodies. The group – what’s left of them – was still doing annual “reunion” shows in their native Washington, DC area as late as the early part of the zeros. A particularly wild, somewhat loose version of this song is up on the band’s myspace.
477. The Secrets – How to Be Good
A legend in the making: dark New York rock at its purest and catchiest, a downcast, fatalistic anthem built around an irresistible minor-key hook, frontman Brian Stabile chronicling the story of a guy who somewhat defiantly refuses to resist temptation. True to their name, the band rarely played out and didn’t leave much in the way of recordings other than this track from the just-released, gloriously good 2009 NYC underground rock compilation Beefstock Recipes. It’s also on the band’s myspace along with more intriguingly good stuff.
476. Bruce Springsteen – Adam Raised a Cain
Here’s a number completely in touch with the Boss’ working-class roots, from his raging late 70s peak, Darkness on the Edge of Town, 1977, a study in violence getting passed down through the generations: “You’re born into this life paying for the sins of somebody else’s past.” The best version out there is actually the ferocious live take from the multi-lp set, 1985. Good luck finding it online – there’s probably as much Bruce as Dead floating around limewire. The link above is a decent live take from Boston, 1999.
475. Randi Russo – Drowned Crown Revolution
Hypnotic post-Velvets jangle into an aptly ominous chorus that stays just this short of macabre. It’s the closest thing to an actual call to arms that the NY noir rocker has ever written, a warning to anyone who dares question the powers that be:
They’ll hold you back
While holding you down
They’ll run the water
Over your polished crown
They want to see it tarnish
They want to watch it rust
Put your head in a harness
And watch you kick up dust
While they drown you
Unreleased, but it’s a frequent staple of her live show.
474. Leonard Cohen – Who By Fire
Early Cohen at his most deathly: this is the literary person’s People Who Died, predating the Jim Carroll song by a couple of years. One of Cohen’s most haunting numbers, even if his voice hadn’t yet reached foggy bottom and the production is stereotypical late 60s faux-Dylan. From the New Skin for the Old Ceremony album, 1974. Mp3s are everywhere.
473. The Electric Light Orchestra – Showdown
Not the 1973 British blues-lite hit from the On the Third Day lp – this is the careening, absolutely out-of-control live version the band was playing circa 1977-78, building to a swirling cauldron of noise with all the strings going full tilt right before the last chorus. Then they do it again at the end. Worth digging through the files at limewire or elsewhere: the dodgy sound only enhances the mayhem.
472. Otis Rush – All Your Love
Arguably the greatest Chicago blues guitarist, Rush is lefthanded. Perhaps partly for that reason, like Hendrix, Albert King and Randi Russo, his playing has a distinctively dark feel. In Rush’s case, it’s a combination of screaming, tortured bent chords and ominous passing tones that mingle in his flights up and down the scale, giving his sound a special eeriness. If you’re a blues fan, you know this one, scary intro and outro making a somewhat jarring segue with the upbeat boogie in the middle. Mp3s are everywhere. Like all the best blues guys, Rush is at his best live: the 1975 Live in Japan version is choice, but there are other equally good versions (Chicago Blues, NYC, 2001, for example) floating around in bootleg-land. The link above is a characteristically expansive live take.
471. The Coffin Daggers – The Forgotten Prisoner
From the NYC surf instrumentalists’ third self-titled release (and first full-length cd, or at least the longest one they did), from 2004, this is an original and it’s arguably the high point of their career, Peter Klarnet’s bass looming ominously under a cauldron of distorted guitar and horror-movie organ.
Desperate, alienated, minor-key noir 60s-style pop amped to redline with scorching guitars by the brilliant Washington, DC psychedelic punk band. From their classic 1983 lp Cybernetic Dreams of Pi, still available from TwinTone as a download. As late as a couple of years ago, the band was still doing holiday-season reunion.
469. Jethro Tull – Black Sunday
From the nuclear apocalypse concept album A, from 1980, comes this uncharacteristically terse anthem about “the one day I would trade for a Monday,” as Ian Anderson puts it. The record was supposed to be a solo effort, but as it turned out he ended up putting the whole band on it with him. That’s Fairport Convention’s rhythm section doing the prog-rock thing, if you can believe. Mp3s are everywhere; the vinyl surprisingly makes an appearance in the dollar bins from time to time. And it’s actually excellent – no Dance of the Gnomes, no Viking battle songs, no minstrels in the gallery annoying everyone in the wee hours with their interminably longwinded Scottish ballads.
468. The Passengers – My Sad Day
The legendary Australian new wave pioneers’ frontwoman Angie Pepper once said that she meant every word she sang, a claim that was never more apparent on this anguished yet catchy 1979 pop song blending jangly guitar with ominous Doorsy organ. From the 2001 It’s Just That I Miss You reissue compilation on the Aussie Citadel label, also on the French Revenge cd of rehearsal outtakes, floating around in mp3-land. The group remains active, releasing the haunting, mostly acoustic cd In the Garden of Good & Evil late last year as a trio in Australia.
467. Saint-Preux – Concerto Pour Une Voix
This is sort of like Freebird for vocalese. Just so you know, we deleted Someone Saved My Life Tonight by Elton John to make room on the list for this bittersweet 1969 song without words, iconic in Europe but little-known elsewhere, Danielle Licari soaring into the uppermost ranges as the orchestra swells behind her. Covered by every obscure golden-voiced woman who’s ever posted anything to youtube, the original remains the best.
466. 10 CC – For You & I
This artsy 70s British band alternated between cloying pop and a kind of nerdy Genesis-lite. This is their finest moment, one of most beautiful examples of synthesized orchestration that actually worked, understated epic grandeur rather than cheese. From the 1978 Bloody Tourists album, download it here
465. Absinthe – Messed Up Likes of Us
Not the goth-metal band but the vastly more haunting solo project of soulful baritone crooner and BoDeans frontman Sam Llanas. The longing and anguish in this bitter, Orbisonesque breakup anthem is visceral. From the band’s lone, classic cd, 1999’s A Good Day to Die.
464. The Undertones – When Saturday Comes
Uncharacteristically complex, darkly jangly new wave guitar rock from the Irish band’s 1981 lp Positive Touch. The album version is pretty, but the scorching live version the band was doing circa 1981-83 is absolutely lights out: the video link above only hints at it. Singer Feargal Sharkey would go on to some infamy working for British Music Rights, sort of the UK version of the RIAA.
463. Absinthe – Still Alone
This bitterly and brutally evocative portrayal of life among the down-and-out and soon to be down-and-permanently-out is the centerpiece of the band’s one classic album, 1999’s A Good Day to Die, arguably BoDeans frontman Sam Llanas’ finest moment as a songwriter – and he has many.
Not the most interesting lyric, but what an exhilarating, beautiful song, with all those layers of gorgeous, jangling, twanging, roaring guitars. Along with the Slickee Boys, True West were the best of the “Paisley Underground” of early-mid 80s neo-psychedelic bands, driven by the frequently fiery interplay of Richard McGrath and Russ Tolman’s fretwork. From the classic Drifters album, 1984; there’s the cd reissue Hollywood Holiday Revisited out there as well. The link in the title above is to the stream at deezer.
461. The Alan Parsons Project – Day After Day
About 35 years ago, British songwriter/keyboardist Eric Woolfson wrote a song cycle based on several Edgar Allan Poe short stories (hey, don’t laugh, it was the 70s). One thing led to another and it ended up being recorded in 1976 by a group featuring most of the powerpop band Pilot, put together by producer Alan Parsons (hence the name). The lp, Tales of Mystery & Imagination, was a surprise hit, so the group decided to follow it up with a vaguely sci-fi themed, more pop-oriented one, I Robot, that spawned a couple of big radio singles and established the band as a sort of poor man’s Pink Floyd for the next eight years or so. This is its centerpiece, a beautifully wistful 6/8 ballad about looking for lost time.
The title track to the NYC noir art-rockers’ classic 2004 cd Botanica vs. the Truth Fish – the only album by an American band not named Rasputina to thoroughly condemn the Bush regime for 9/11 – it’s a scathing broadside addressing the “code orange bullshit of Machiavellian ordeals” of the ensuing months and years, a fiery gypsy dance mutating into a phantasmagorically swinging cabaret tune and then back again. The link in the title above is a ferocious live clip from a recent European tour. It was sort of the theme song from Botanica frontman Paul Wallfisch’s legendarySmall Beast residency at the Delancey in New York.
459. Blondie – Angels on the Balcony
Jimmy Destri’s sweeping layers of synth give this sweet powerpop gem a gorgeously lush feel: you don’t even notice how off-key Debbie Harry’s voice is. From Autoamerican, 1980; mp3s abound.
No other song by a New York band so perfectly captures a struggling musician’s dilemma than this laugh-out-loud, bitingly funny number by the great carnivalesque rocker: how to get a better gig than an 11 PM Monday night slot where the promoter expects the band to draw at least 40 people? From his criminally underrated 2006 cd May I See Some ID?
457. Hot Tuna – Mann’s Fate
Recorded live to two-track in a crowded San Francisco coffeehouse in 1969, this instrumental captures ex-Jefferson Airplane guitarist Jorma Kaukonen and bassist Jack Casady at the peak of their fiery improvisational powers. From the duo’s debut lp; as you’d imagine, there are innumerable versions floating around and they’re all excellent. The link above is a vintage youtube clip from around the time the album came out (although the visuals don’t sync).
Matching the jangle and clang of the Byrds, the epic grandeur of Pink Floyd and the visionary lyricism of Elvis Costello, the Church were arguably the best rock band of the 80s and are inarguably one of the best of alltime. This isn’t frontman Steve Kilbey’s first song about a ghost, but it is one of his best, punctuated by a rich, watery Peter Koppes guitar solo. Twelve-string player Marty Willson-Piper sings. The Field of Mars referred to here isn’t the one in Paris, it’s a cemetery in Sydney, Australia. From The Blurred Crusade, 1982 (link will take you to a download). Look for the band on US tour in summer 2009, and a new album as well as solo efforts from Kilbey and Willson-Piper.
455. Richard Thompson – I Still Dream
The greatest rock songwriter ever? The greatest rock guitarist ever? Many would say that the answer to both questions is no-brainer and it’s this guy. This wrenching Britfolk-style ballad is a showcase for all kinds of chops: lyrical, compositional and musical. From the Amnesia album, 1987. The link above is a stream of the studio version; here’s a slightly lo-fi but still sweet live take from four years later.
454. Siouxsie & the Banshees – Arabian Nights
John McGeoch’s beautiful, haunting, watery guitar floating floating over a pounding rhythm section, carrying Siouxsie’s eerily microtonal, accusatory vocals. From the Juju album, 1982; the link above is a youtube stream of the original video. Mp3s are everywhere.
453. The Moonlighters – Blue and Black-Eyed
From the longest-lived and arguably the best of the crop of oldtimey bands that sprang up throughout New York during the late 90s, this is an absolutely haunting, period-perfect, original late 19th century-style ragtime song by bandleader Bliss Blood (formerly of teenage S&M hardcore band the Pain Teens). It’s the sad tale of a prostitute who hurls herself to her death from the fire escape at the notorious dive bar McGuirk’s Suicide Hall on lower Bowery (now a “luxury” condo soon to be a crack house) when she discovers she’s pregnant. Henry Bogdan’s steel guitar solo will give you chills. From the Dreamland cd, 2000.
452. The Sex Pistols – No Feelings
This one you know. Don’t be fooled into thinking it’s a justification for rightwing selfishness – it’s just a raised middle finger at conformity. “I kick you in the brains when you get down to kneel and pray, you pray to your god!!!” This link is to the version from their last-ever show with Sid Vicious, Winterland, 1977. In case you’re unfamiliar, Bananarama’s deadpan 1981 cover – from when they were still ostensibly punk girls – is hilarious.
451. Steve Earle – F the CC
“Fuck the FCC!” Steve and the band howl. “Fuck the FBI, fuck the CIA, we’re living in the goddamn USA!” A blow for first-amendment rights by one of the Constitution’s hardest-rocking advocates. From the classic 2004 cd The Revolution Starts Now.
450. Robert Cray – Smoking Gun
Wherein the great bluesman decided to write a REM song and succeeded wildly. Like nothing he ever did before or after – maybe that’s a good thing. Love that catchy bassline. And notice how, on the solo, he goes from matter-of-fact swing to absolute redline in a split second? Wow. From the Strong Persuader album, 1986; mp3s are everywhere.
449. Al Stewart – Life in Dark Water
For several years in the 70s, when he was at the top of his game this British rocker was sort of a one-man Pink Floyd. Produced by Alan Parsons and backed by several of the crew who would later be the Alan Parsons Project, his songs were dramatic, historically imbued and gorgeously orchestrated. Stewart is also a notorious thief: he never met a good idea he didn’t want to blatantly steal. Here it’s the “ping” from Echoes by Pink Floyd, put to good use in this haunting, aptly watery epic about the 19th century ghost ship Mary Celeste. From the Time Passages lp, 1978; torrents abound. The link above is a stripped-down acoustic version that only hints at the grandeur of the original.
448. The Stooges – No Sense of Crime
In many cases Iggy & co. did the opiated Exile On Main St. major key bluesy rock thing even better than the Stones and this is a prime example, circa 1972, beginning as an elegiac acoustic ballad and building to a hypnotically pulsing anthem, James Williamson doing a spot-on version of Keith Richards. It’s been anthologized to death (the Kill City lp from the late 70s was the first); mp3s are everywhere.
447. Simon & Garfunkel – Richard Cory
Despite using some pretty primitive amps, a lot of 60s bands got an amazing bass sound and this has some of the best, both boomy and clicky at the same time. Makes you wonder who the player was and what he or she was playing: a hollowbody, no doubt. Then there’s the lyrics, Edward Arlington Robinson’s offhandedly savage poem about the guy who had everything, who went home one night and put a bullet through his head. From Sounds of Silence, 1966; mp3s are everywhere. The link here is a youtube clip.
This ferocious, stomping, pitchblende anthem is arguably the great noir rocker’s darkest moment, driven by Dave DeCastro’s gleefully macabre, swooping bassline. From Wynn’s best (or at least his longest) album, Here Come the Miracles, 2001, which you’ll see on our upcoming Best Albums of the Decade list sometime this year. Although the studio version of this song is probably the best, the cut on the live Heilbron Burgerhaus cd from 2004 is choice, and there are dozens of other superb versions up at archive.org.
445. Mychael Danna – Field 4
Bone-chilling Armenian-flavored instrumental from the score to the 1994 Atom Egoyan softcore porn film Exotica. The soundtrack is rustic and exquisite, a precursor to the Everything Is Illuminated score. The film apparently features a young Mia Kirshner doing stripteases in a Catholic schoolgirl outfit.
444.The Goodie Mob – Cell Therapy
“Who’s that peeking in my window? Blam, nobody now!” A savagely offhand call for privacy rights set to a supremely eerie piano sample by the Atlanta group who made a mark in the mid-90s blending hip-hop with oldschool 70s soul. From the Soul Food cd, 1995; mp3s are everywhere. The link above is the original video.
443. Angelo Badalamenti – Twin Peaks Theme
As a classical composition, the way the composer takes its central four-note motif and builds around it is nothing short of brilliant. Deservedly one of the most iconic melodies of the late 80s/early 90s. From the 1989 soundtrack to the great, phantasmagorical David Lynch noir show (imagine David Lynch on network tv now, the idea is preposterous!), mp3s are everywhere.
442. Body Count – Cop Killer
Over a melody that very cleverly quotes Los Angeles by X, future tv character actor Ice-T talks justice and revenge in the wake of the Rodney King scandal, 1992. The right-wing backlash was so vitriolic that the label caved in, recalled the album and reissued it without the track; copies from the era are a collector’s item (we have one). Mp3s are everywhere.
441. DollHouse – No Babies for Bonnie
Bonnie can’t have babies because every time Bonnie got pregnant, she had an abortion. And now it’s too late. New York noir songwriting at its best, part savage punk sarcasm, part genuine angst over a catchy minor-key melody punctuated by bassist Frankie Monroe’s soaring low-register lines, the band’s contrapuntal, four-part harmonies absolutely macabre: “No babies, no babies, no babies!” From a rare ep circa 2000. Frontwoman Lisa Lost would go on to become the doyenne of New York vocal coaches; Monroe is still active, most recently backing Jamaican-American reggae/pop songwriter Newsville Washington.
440. Robin Lane & the Chartbusters – Send Me an Angel
The water runs deep
Under the cold concrete
Empties all its waste
Into the harbor
Beyond the music, you know what else is great about punk and new wave and so many bands of the era? The relevance. The fearlessness, the unwillingness to look away, to confront the ugly reality. This is a Boston band, of course. Chanteuse (and ex-Neil Young pal) Robin Lane was an early 80s star in New England, foreshadowing the janglerock era by a few years. This minor radio hit ’s ominous, hypnotic, repetitive opening riff and Lane’s throaty, passionate vocals are typical of her other work, and with the twin guitar attack of Asa Brebner and Leroy Radcliffe (from the Modern Lovers), the band was killer. Lane and Brebner each continue to perform around the Boston area. From the Imitation Life lp, 1981; mp3s are out there, but you’ll have to dig.
439. Conformorama – A Pocketful of Stones
Here’s a real obscure one that you’re not going to find anywhere online. It’s a ferocious, punkish, minor-key stomp driven by a tightly unwinding contrapuntal melody between the guitar and bass with a lyric that updates a Faulkner theme from Go Down Moses, a bridge jumper taking the plunge in order to avoid dying in a nuclear holocaust. The best available version from this artsy postpunk band is on a virtually impossible-to-find cassette-only live recording from CBGB. Written by the bassist, who would go on to play country, rock, surf music and jazz with innumerable other popular and obscure New York groups.
438. Lloyd Cole – Rich
The wildly catchy opening track on Cole’s lone classic album, 1986’s Easy Pieces gleefully depicts a rich old codger abandoned and alone on the California coast, finally getting what he deserves, “forsaken, grey and giving it away.” The link above is an actually decent live version from British tv, 1985. Mp3s are out there.
437. The Creatures – Venus Sands
When Siouxsie and Budgie aren’t busy with Siouxsie & the Banshees, they do this frequently scary minimalist project. This is that group’s best song, a ghastly, marimba-driven, atmospheric evocation of death from above that actually succeeds at what Hitchcock was trying to do with The Birds. From the Boomerang cd, 1989; mp3s are everywhere. The link above is the stream at last.fm.
436. Arlo Guthrie – Presidential Rag
What did Nixon know? In 1974, everybody wanted to know. This was back when Presidents who broke the law were impeached. How times changed over the next thirty years. Over a beautiful, minor-key shuffle tune that grows from wah-wah blues to a lush, orchestrated ballad, Woody’s kid chronicles everything that went wrong during a decade that’s now fetishized in indie rock:
People still are hungry
People still are poor
An honest day of work these days
Don’t feed the kids no more…
The schools are still like prisons
Where they don’t learn how to live
And everybody still wants to take
They don’t know how to give….
Hell yeah, you’ll be remembered, you’ll be remembered very well!
From his self-titled 1974 lp; mp3s are everywhere. The link above is the song at youtube.
435. LJ Murphy – Geneva Conventional
Like Clampdown by the Clash, ultimately this is about selling out. Over a stark E minor blues, the great New York noir rocker reveals what happens when you trade your conscience for whatever it is you think you need more of: “Kiss the ground, cry your tears, see what’s come of your best years.” From the classic Mad Within Reason cd, 2005.
434. The Stranglers – Always the Sun
By the time these growling, keyboard-driven British new wavers released this on their 1986 Dreamtime album, they were pretty much out of gas. But this ominous, hauntingly atmospheric number ranks with their best songs, Hugh Cornwell’s baritone rising just over the nocturnal swell of Dave Greenfield’s string synth.
433. LJ Murphy – St. James Hotel
Set to one of Murphy’s catchiest yet most haunting melodies, this is a characteristically brilliant noir narrative, a WWII vet slowly losing it in a Times Square SRO hotel:
I got down upon my knees
And listened to the voices in my head
Telling me I should never fear
Except whatever’s moving in my bed
Unreleased, and Murphy rarely plays this live anymore, although there are bootlegs kicking around.
432. The Contras – Dead Guy
Snarling Americana-inflected punk from Minneapolis, 1987, one of the most obscure tracks you’ll ever find. Kid’s on his way to school, worried about some physics test. And then a grisly sight suddenly puts everything in perspective. Followed by an offhandedly savage guitar solo by lead player Mike Crabtree. If you ever run across a copy of their lone release, the self-pressed Ciphers in the Snow album, grab it. The one song on it that’s made it to digital (sort of) is their tongue-in-cheek cover of Abba’s SOS.
Suspense story set to ferocious Telecaster clang and crash from the leaders of the 80s’ so-called “Paisley Underground,” 1983. The Sacramento band spun off of Steve Wynn’s earliest pre-Dream Syndicate band the Suspects and in their brief lifespan with the original lineup released two classic vinyl albums plus a third posthumously that was excellent as well. Lots of reissued stuff out there, plus the surviving members reunited for some live dates in 2008. Let’s hope they keep it up.
430. Jimi Hendrix – Love or Confusion
Arguably the most straight-up song he ever wrote, as gorgeous for its layers of wild, wind-whipped guitar as for Noel Redding’s soaring bassline. From Are You Experienced, 1967. Mp3s everywhere.
Revenge anthems don’t get any more satisfying than this big, crescendoing, sinister janglerock song about lying in wait til the time is right. It might be the great literate rocker’s best song, unavailable other than this lusciously leering live acoustic take on youtube in the title above.
428. Catspaw – Southbound Line
The New York rockabilly/surf trio’s signature song is their best, and it’s a classic, frontwoman/guitarist Jasmine Sadrieh’s haunting account of a woman going nowhere slowly on the Jersey Transit train from hell…or to hell. From their playfully titled 2005 debut cd Ancient Bateyed Wallman, still in print and available at shows.
427. The Stooges – Louie Louie
At the end of Joy Division’s cover of Sister Ray, you can hear Ian Curtis saying, “You should hear us do Louie Louie.” No doubt this is what he was referring to, Iggy’s absolutely filthy, completely politically incorrect version from the 1976 live Metallic KO album. You can hear him complain about getting hit by a beer bottle for a second at the end of the song.
426. Penelope Houston – Voices
Slow, haunting, 6/8 ballad from the Avengers’ frontwoman’s excellent 1986 acoustic solo debut album Birdboys (still available on cd and high quality cassette!). It’s an ominous meditation on getting old – which Houston seems incapable of becoming.
425. Buddy Woodward & Nitro Express – Lost in Austin
Before starting the Dixie Bee-Liners, the great Americana songwriter fronted this deliciously twangy New York “country combo” outfit that also featured the superb Danny Weiss (now with Reckon So) on lead guitar. This was their big crowd-pleaser, a characteristically clever but wrenching ballad. Recorded and unreleased but occasionally podcasted. By the way, you can win free VIP tix to Dixie Bee-Liners shows this summer – plus tix to their cd release show in Nashville this fall.
424. Squeeze – Labelled with Love
Chris Difford at his most keenly perceptive with a sad country ballad from West Side Story, 1981. This is an actually commonplace tale, a WWII bride who “learned from a distance that love was a lesson,” who ends up taking up her husband’s bad habit back to the UK, ultimately finding herself completely and absolutely alone with a bottle “labelled with love.”
423. Mary Lee’s Corvette – Herculetta
This is a song about hubris – and about being casually crushed by a world that couldn’t care less. That’s what’s so cool about frontwoman Mary Lee Kortes’ songwriting – as with Elvis Costello, there are so many levels of meaning in everything she writes. Nicely ornate ELO-ish chamber-pop arrangement, too. From the 700 Miles cd, 2004.
422. Industrial Tepee – Lake 48
Long, ominously jangly, slightly Dylanesque southwestern gothic ballad from circa 2000-2001 by this brilliant New York band who never achieved the mass audience they deserved. The roads are all backed up for miles, everybody on their way to…where? The vacation of a lifetime, or something else entirely? Miss your exit and end up at Lake 47 instead, lots of people there too… Frontman Tom Shaner continues as a solo act and remains one of the most casually smart songwriters out there. The link in the title above is a live version from CB’s.
421. Steve Wynn – Invisible
The ultimate wee hours walk home song, bars all closed, sun coming up, and you’re feeling completely bulletproof:
I’m alone but I’m surrounded by predators and prey
They all turn to butter by the light of day
Nobody sees me as I spread their remains
On my toast in the morning
From the 1999 Pick of the Litter cd.
420. Jack Grace – Let Your Mind Do the Talking
The charismatic New York country singer’s finest and darkest hour as a songwriter. This is a haunting, somewhat epic minor-key anthem about a guy out in the sticks somewhere slowly and inexorably losing it. There’s a rough mix on Grace’s Staying Out All Night cd, as well as a live bootleg or two kicking around: in the years when he was a regular in the band, the late Drew Glackin would play lapsteel on this one, bringing the intensity to redline with his fiery solos.
419. Botanica – Good
Our predecessor e-zine’s pick for best song of 2004 was this towering, anguished 6/8 anthem, the centerpiece of the New York noir art-rockers’ classic 9/11-themed album Botanica vs. the Truth Fish, frontman Paul Wallfisch’s organ roaring in tandem with John Andrews’ reverb-drenched guitar. “I need a respite, just a moment of respite, I thought I caught it but now it is gone…”
418. Siouxsie & the Banshees – Playground Twist
Throughout the best years of the punk icon’s career, her persona was that of an outraged witness and this is characteristic and offhandedly savage. As Margaret Atwood put it, to little girls, other little girls aren’t cute. They’re lifesize. From the classic Join Hands lp, 1979; mp3s are everywhere.
417. Tom Waits – Everything Goes to Hell
We argued back and forth over whether to keep this one on the list. Of course Waits is great, everybody loves Waits. Which is why the debate arose – why give space on the top 666 to somebody so well-known when we could give a shout out to a great band that nobody’s ever heard of? In the end, Waits won out: this eerie, vibraphone-laced poison pill is pretty much his definitive song. From Blood Money, 2004; mp3s are everywhere. The link above is the stream at grooveshark.
416. Pink Floyd – Pigs
Here’s another band that was extremely well represented on this list when we first dug it out of the drawer and decided to make it a daily feature here. Then we then decided to repopulate the list with brilliant obscurities in the place of songs from the accepted canon. So you won’t see Atomheart Mother, or Shine on You Crazy Diamond, or even Echoes here. Hubris? Without a doubt. But this one we had to keep, the whole band at the absolute top of their game, towering, majestic, hypnotic and raging, all the way through to one of the most sonically ugly endings in the history of recorded music. From Animals, 1977; mp3s are everywhere.
415. The Dream Syndicate – Now I Ride Alone
Steve Wynn’s haunting, allusive backbeat widower anthem from the surprisingly mediocre Out of the Grey lp, 1986. As good as the studio version is, there are transcendent live versions out there. Here’s one from archive.org; the link above is an even better one from a bit later on.
414. Sielun Veljet – Turvaa
One of the most innovative bands of the early 80s, these wild, scorching Finnish rockers imbued overtone-laden PiL-style noise-rock with murky Nordic tonalities. This one screeches along on a darkly distorted, snapping bassline. The title sarcastically means “saved.” Best version out there is on their 1983 double live album, long out of print, although there are mp3s out there. This one’s on our wish list: what’s the Finnish word for “torrent?”
413. Public Image Ltd. – Think Tank
After Keith Levene left the band, John Lydon’s post-Pistols project floundered, the noise-rock pioneers running through a forgettable series of guitarists that included Steve Vai for one album! But toward the end, former Banshee John McGeoch did some time in the band, and it’s his ferocious, distorted chords and completely unhinged solo that make this anti-fascist anthem so brutally potent. Kiss this, Heritage Foundation. From their surprisingly good swan song That What Is Not cd, 1992; mp3s are everywhere. The link above is live in New York, 1992.
412. The Sex Pistols – No Lip
Another iconic band who occupied much more space on this list than they do now, before we cleaned house and replaced all the obvious suspects with some less obvious ones: after all, you don’t need us to tell you how great the Pistols were, do you? But this is a less obvious treat, Steve Jones turning Dave Berry’s old 1964 British R&B song into fiery, fractured pseudo-funk. From the Great Rock N Roll Swindle soundtrack (and a million bootlegs); mp3s are everywhere. Here’s a clip; this is the original version.
411. The Pogues – Misty Morning, Albert Bridge
Shane MacGowan at his best: this big orchestrated Irish ballad in swaying 6/8 time has as much sadness, longing and authenticity as anything he ever did. From Peace & Love, 1988; mp3s are everywhere.
410. Peter Gabriel – Signal to Noise
A scream for sanity in the midst of idiocy set to a haunting, south Asian-tinged melody from Gabriel’s career-best album, Up, from 2006. The crescendoing roar of the orchestra as they make their way up the scale is viscerally intense. Gabriel used to do this live with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, so there are a bunch of live takes of the two of them on youtube.
409. The Sloe Guns – Guardian Angel
One of the most beautifully savage kiss-off anthems ever written, by these fiery two-guitar New York Americana rockers, from their 2004 cd Last Will & Testament, still a staple of their reliably bracing live show. “You’d never stab me in the back, unless you thought that I deserved it.”
408. Chris Thomas King – Bonnie & Clyde in D Minor
Best known for his deadpan portrayal of the blues singer in O Brother Where Art Thou, Chris Thomas King has also had a prolific career as a songwriter, spanning soul to acoustic blues to hip-hop. He’s also an excellent guitarist, one of the few who claim to be influenced by Albert King who actually play with the same kind of soul and restraint. The murderously intense, layered guitar leads on this track would make Albert (no relation) very proud. From The Legend of Tommy Johnson cd, 2001; mp3s are out there.
407. Supertramp – School
One of the best bands of the 70s, Supertramp alternated between catchy (and occasionally cloying) pop songs and lushly orchestrated art-rock anthems. This is one of the latter, driven by Rick Davies’ incisive, percussively bluesy piano. A majestic epic for nonconformist kids everywhere, it has as much resonance today as it did thirty years ago. The original studio version from the 1974 Crime of the Century lp is decent, but it’s the live version on the 1979 Paris album that’s the classic. Mp3s are everywhere.
406. Neko Case – Guided by Wire
The great Americana chanteuse has been through many different phases; this song dates from the tail end of her Loretta Lynn period from the Furnace Room Lullaby cd, 2000. This backbeat-driven loner anthem reaffirms that the tenderest place in her heart is for strangers, a tribute to great radio songs and the “nameless and other surrogates” who sing your life back to you in them.
405. Simon & Garfunkel – Hazy Shade of Winter
Pretty much every rock guitarist – every real rock guitarist, anyway, not those indie rock dilettantes who only use two or three strings – knows this one, one of the alltime iconic hooks with those beautiful 12-string textures. Nicely aware, apprehensive lyric that things might be tough going after the band’s vogue (or after college). By far the hardest-rocking and most psychedelic number the duo ever did, from the otherwise dismal Bookends album, 1968. A million bands have covered this; the Slickee Boys’ characteristically ferocious version is by far the best. Mp3s are everywhere.
404. Blue Oyster Cult – Wings Wetted Down
Throughout the 1970s, this artsy Long Island band was arguably the best heavy metal act on the planet. Augmenting their richly layered guitar attack with classically inflected piano, they bridged the gap between boorish Led Zep stomp and ornate Pink Floyd artistry with a menace rarely found in bands of the era. This is a quiet, methodical, absolutely bloodcurdling midtempo ballad from the classic Tyranny and Mutation album, 1973. Buck Dharma’s watery guitar solo through a Leslie organ speaker is a classic. Mp3s are everywhere.
403. The Psychedelic Furs – Heaven
One of the iconic 80s band’s closest approximations of a radio hit before that one song was hideously remixed and stuck into that fascist John Hughes movie, this is a ridiculously catchy, offhandedly blithe account of nuclear armageddon punctuated by a ruthlessly efficient, noisy John Ashton guitar solo. From the Mirror Moves lp, 1983; mp3s are everywhere. The Ninth House cover is also worth owning.
402. Blue Oyster Cult – Nosferatu
Gorgeous, majestic, epic grand guignol vampire anthem from the legendary 70s artsy metal band, marvelously lowlit by Allen Lanier’s darkly graceful piano cascades. From the otherwise forgettable 1979 Spectres lp; mp3s abound.
401. Pink Floyd – The Final Cut
The “real” Pink Floyd’s final 1983 studio album remains disavowed by some fans and that’s too bad because it’s arguably Roger Water’s finest hour as a songwriter, a venomous antiwar statement inspired by Margaret Thatcher’s disastrous adventures in the Falklands. This is its centerpiece, a characteristically lush, ornate ballad chronicling the narrator’s descent into despair and suicide…or not?
400. Radio Birdman – Descent into the Maelstrom
One of the legendary Australian garage punks’ finest moments, this combines the surfy stomp, eerie chromatically-charged guitar fury and over-the-edge, desperate feel that defined them. The studio version from Radios Appear, 1978, is blissfully good; the link above is a characteristically ferocious live take.