Here’s the finale: songs ten through one on my 100 favorite songs countdown.
10. Bob Dylan- Don’t Think Twice, it’s Alright
“I ain’t sayin’ you treated me unkind/ You coulda done better, but, I don’t mind/ You just kinda wasted my precious time/ But don’t think twice, it’s all right.“
I adore Dylan as an influence, how could you not when so many of your favorite artists view him as an inspiration, but there’s only one song of his which actually stops me in my tracks. “Don’t Think Twice, it’s Alright” captures Dylan telling his girl that he’s leaving, and that he is doing it because of her. It’s the chance of getting hurt in the relationship that scares everyone, and Dylan goes through a bad one here where the girl “Just wasted [his] precious time”, and Dylan blames her for it because she didn’t do enough to try and make it work. Still, he makes sure to let her know that she doesn’t need to worry about what she’s done to him, because this is a risk that he knew about going in. He’s going to be able to get over this. There’s no desire to see her again, and he knows that she never really had the intention of hurting him in the first place, it just didn’t work out, and that’s alright.
9. The Velvet Underground- Heroin
“Oh, and I guess that I just don’t know.”
This list was made before the death of Lou Reed, but it’s difficult to not take that route while writing about it now. When Reed passed I had to learn about it through social media posts which took an overly symbolic approach to the subject, and as people re-explored his catalog they searched for the lyrics which suddenly looked more meaningful than previously thought. It’s cool that people found these connections, but I hated it because that overly-symbolic look wasn’t what Reed was about at all in my eyes. This wasn’t the man who tried to hide anything in his music, he was the guy who’d actually done it and wanted to let you how what it was. On “Heroin” we get a look at the the hope in the music alongside the gradual buildup and rush of the instruments which ultimately leads to the song’s ‘high’, but it never fails to fall back with what is in my opinion the best lyric that Reed ever wrote: “And I guess, that I just don’t know”.
8. Animal Collective- Fireworks
“They’ve got two flashing eyes and they’re colored why/ They make me, feel, that I’m only all I see sometimes.”
There’s so much joy in “Fireworks” once you learn what to appreciate in it. The narrator is an observant and self-aware man who dreams one day of having a family he can take to the beach, to watch the fireworks. In his current life though he’s dealing with the same monotony as the rest of us and he’s learned the routine of how to ignore the repeated questions and tasks he encounters every day. Instead he gets lost in thought about what he hopes for, he thinks about what his kid will think the first time that he sees the fireworks, and all the wonder that will be in his eyes at that point. But what if the child was color blind and just wasn’t able to comprehend what he witnessed? This view on experiential learning reminds him that what he views in the world is completely shaped by how he happened to view it when he was growing up, and leads him to think that “I’m only all I see sometimes”.
7. Of Montreal- The Past is a Grotesque Animal
“Things could be different, but they’re not.”
This song is not fair. I previously covered my love for “A Sentence of Sorts in Kongsvinger” because of the absolute joy which it covered about the hope of escaping from depression, but that feeling doesn’t last for very long as the opening, ugly noises of this track quickly let you know that not only is the joy gone, but the attack is about to start. It’s painful to listen to in this context, as the high leads directly into a twelve minute long breakdown for Kevin Barnes about everything that’s haunted him in his life. There’s so many lines in here that are unprecedentedly open and honest on the subject, and you almost have to laugh at the insanity of Barnes in constructing the entire episode into a twelve minute pop song.
6. The Pixies- Debaser
Everything sounds perfect from the product to the premise. Frank Black saw the film “Un Chien Andalou” when he was in high school and witnessed the crazy things that happen in that film, including the infamous scene where a girl has her eyeball sliced open by a razor (“Slicing up eyeballs, I want you to know!”). “Un Chien Andalusia!” even becomes a repeated lyric and the buildup to the point of the song where Black has decided he wants to be when he grows up: a Debaser. Forget about being a musician, forget about being a singer, Black wanted to be the guy who re-defined how people looked at the world. “Un Chien Andalou” is a great film because it forced people to challenge their own moral codes about what was acceptable and what wasn’t, and this song is Francis’ way of saying that he wants to be that person for music. It’s the Pixies at their high, and it’s an amazingly fun and energetic song.
5. Neutral Milk Hotel- Holland, 1945
“The world just screams and falls apart.”
There’s a reincarnation theme in “Holland, 1945” as it begins with Anne Frank living as the “the only girl [he] ever loved”, but he had to watch her transition from being born with “roses in her eyes” to being buried alive through the hiding and persecution forced upon her. In the song’s present the time has come for each to accept their death and return as new individuals, so it’s time for each of them to “pack up every piece of the life we used to love, just to keep ourselves at least enough to carry on”. Things just end up re-setting, which is hard to accept, but Mangum wagers that it’s better than an end in contrast to the dark brother who ends up stating that as he’d rather just observe the Earth from afar after what he’s witnessed. Mangum returns and sees that the qualities which he loved in Anne Frank aren’t common among people, and he laments about how “It’s so sad to see/ The world agree/ That they’d rather see their faces fill with flies/ All when I’d want to keep white roses in their eyes”.
4. Bright Eyes- Landlocked Blues
“I found a liquid cure/ For my landlocked blues/ It will pass away like a slow parade/ It’s leaving but I don’t know how soon”
A track which is pure poetry, “Landlocked Blues” progresses from stanza to stanza only to grow more ambitious and declarative. The entire stage for the song gets set in the opening lines where Oberst states “I don’t want to risk our paths crossing someday, so you walk that way I’ll walk this way.” It’s a song about the passive desire to escape, brought into the context of love (“A good woman will pick you apart…) and war (“With the noise in the background from a televised war”). In that way the song looks upon our meaninglessness as well, and Oberst grows more angry as he works his way up to that point because it furthers the need to find a way to peacefully end our issues. The end of the song sums up his discontented viewpoint, “I just want to make, a clean escape, I know I’m leaving but I don’t know where to”.
3. Modest Mouse- Teeth Like God’s Shoeshine
“You should be ashamed to be so proud of what you’ve done”
This song ends up being the favorite Modest Mouse song by a lot of people who claim that the band is their favorite, and although I can’t speak on their behalf, it became mine because it symbolized when I really understood Modest Mouse. It starts out as an absolute rocker with classic Modest Mouse self-cancelling lyrics (“From the top of the ocean/ To the bottom of the sky”) and a personal favorite in “You should be ashamed to be so proud of what you’ve done”. But then that rock sound suddenly drops out and we get a softer Modest Mouse, singing to us about what would happen “if you could compact your conscience and sell it”, how we “go to the grocery store, buy some new friends” and how “the malls are the soon to be ghost towns, well so long, farewell, goodbye”. Modest Mouse sings about the destruction of ourselves and the destruction of the west as they effortlessly weave in between different song styles over the span nearly seven minutes, and this is just the album opener. This song is the best representation of their sound that’s out there.
2. LCD Soundsystem- All My Friends
“You spent the first five years trying to get with the plan/ And the next five years trying to be with your friends again.”
“All My Friends” is becoming a defining song of our generation by everyone who’s actually heard it. It’s a song where once you notice it’s playing you either have to shut up or sing along, because while it’s not overly complex or catchy it finds a way to be an incredibly genuine self-examination about the way a life is spent and the fears that go along with it. It looks at the phases we pass through of trying to be social and trying to accomplish work, and the realization later on that it never was a cycle because you were a different, older person every time you went through it. Eventually you get to the point where you’re to old to continue the process because there are to many other obligations that you’ve set up for yourself, adults have important things to do, but this has all forced the narrator to look back on the friends he used to have and the irresponsible things they used to do which made everything seem worth it. He misses when he could do those dumb things, and he “wouldn’t trade one stupid decision, for another five years of life” even today. Now he has to be past the age of spontaneity because he’s become a dad, and by all accounts the rest of his life is going to be about him getting to watch his children grow to the same point in their life where he’s stuck right now. It’s sad, but my experience is that most of the people who celebrate this song are those who are currently making the bad decisions, meaning that Murphy not only created a track about the dreaded drift into obscurity but an anthem for the youth, and a promise that you don’t end up regretting the dumb s*** you did.
1. Guided by Voices- I am a Scientist
“And I know what’s right/ But I’m losing sight of the clues/ For which I search and choose to abuse/ To just unlock my mind, yeah and just unlock my mind”
I grew up in a house that played Guided by Voices a lot, and the only track that I learned the lyrics to as a kid was “I am a Scientist”. Back then I didn’t really comprehend the song (I just thought he was trying to be funny and write about being a scientist) but it still engraved into my brain a track which would grow to become my favorite song ever. The point of this song is that Pollard is indeed a scientist, and how could he not be so long as he “seeks to understand [himself]”. What more is life than an experiment to learn how you function, and that makes all of us a scientist in some sense of the word. The same is true with us all being pharmacists who self-medicate, us all being journalists trying to report our unique perspectives to the masses, etc. It’s a more complete view of the world outside of labels where we all recognize each other’s capabilities.
Still, the most important of these capabilities is that “I am a scientist, I seek to understand me”, and that is because of the difficulty of being your own highest authority. It’s a daily struggle where the individual “Know[s] what’s right/ But I’m losing sight of the clues/ For which I search and choose to abuse/ To just unlock my mind/ Yeah, and just unlock my mind”. Even after you find a way to define things so that they work it’s difficult to stay true to your own set of morals, true to the things you focus on, and true to the things you chose to ignore. None of us are going to be able to actually solve our own placement, but there has to be some process going on to try to justify it anyway. Think of Sisyphus who has been punished to push a boulder up a hill with an impossibly tall incline for the remainder of eternity, making every coming day in his life futile. Albert Camus looked at that story and decided that Sisyphus didn’t have to have a meaningless life, because as long as he believed that one day he would be able to get the rock to the top of the hill then he still had a reason to exist. Music doesn’t solve many issues on it’s own, but there are things within it that sound like an answer, and that in itself is enough to allow music to have therapeutic powers. “I am a lost soul/ I shoot myself with rock & roll/ The hole I dig is bottomless/ But nothing else can set me free”.
The overarching viewpoint here is that we’re all a scientist in some way who is trying to find a justification for their own life. Why are we not a collective if we are all the same species seeking the same answer? Because “I am an incurable, and nothing else behaves like me”. I don’t think there’s a song out there that has more universal truths in it than this one.
Thank you everyone for following along with this list, it was a lot of work to come up with the descriptions weekly but I really enjoyed throwing it together. Ultimately I agree with the viewpoint that in two years time where songs are placed on this list will likely mean very little towards my musical tastes on that day, but I still enjoy the task of trying to capture and order the songs which are significant to me at this point in my life. If you ever want to consider doing a similar project for yourself, my suggestions are to focus on how long you’ve known and loved a song for, then try and work on a general order for those songs and place them. After that the key is to constantly revise everything that you do, and see that the list and descriptions end up working out as long as you spend time on them. Realize that It’s never going to be perfect, but if you can make a good self- representation then small things won’t bother you as much (The only omission I had which is bugging me now is “Lua”, Oberst will have to live with the multiple other songs of his listed). If you missed the rest of the list the links are set up below, and I encourage you to continue to check out our blog throughout December to see our end of the year lists!