Thursday, May 17, 2007

10 Songs (and counting) that do bad things to socks

Ryan requested this as "5 songs that rocked your socks off" then proceeded to double the amount (and venture into territory that I think exists far beyond the boundaries of straight "rock"...and I'm going to follow his lead on this.)

The catch: these are in no particular order and aren't quite my "favorite" songs, but rather songs I'm amazed by, influenced by, wish I could write/play/sing, or played a huge part in my life.

10. Fuel - "Shimmer". I first heard this song in the spring of 1998. I was a senior in college, with acceptance letters from UGA and Colorado, and couldn't decide where to go. Musically, the song's hardly groundbreaking: pretty harmonically simple, E minor-keyed alterna-rock, albiet with a surprisingly middle-easter influenced chorus (you don't expect the G# to show up) and some nice strings. But it was catchy as hell, and the song played more than any other while I was picking schools (and yes, the line in the bridge about "too far away" was one I'd come to sing along with often when I eventually decided I didn't want to be 1,000 miles away from friends, family, and the girl I had a crush on.

9. Pantera - "Cemetery Gates". My cousin Matt played this for me sometime between 7th and 8th grade. Prior to hearing it, Metallica was the be-all end-all in heaviness in my book, and Kirk Hammett was to my novice guitarist ears what Eric Clapton was to thousands decades prior: an inhuman, guitar-shredding deity. Then I heard the pinch harmonic-ladden riff that opens main portion of this tune. It was, at the time, the coolest shit I'd ever heard on a guitar, and worse, Dime's solo: sounded better than Hammett's (it would be only a year later when Matt would play a Dream Theater CD for me, really opening my ears to what badassery on guitar sounded like.) But my use of tiny, sharp, Dunlop Jazz III picks goes back to 92-93, and hearing that riff.

8. Marillion - "Invisible Man", "Interior Lulu", "Ocean Cloud" (tie). These are three late-Hogarth-era Marillion tracks all over 13 minutes in length. I picked all three rather than one because they each combined to teach me a lesson about lengthy rock songs: they need not be repetitive music with pages of lyrics (often great lyrically but boring as hell musically) a la Bob Dylan, or 2 minutes of vocals setting up 12 minute wankfest (such as several more recent Dream Theater songs.) Instead you get lyrical depth--a story about coping with the strangeness of life juxtaposed with lyrics that evoke the heartwrenching fear of being forgotten by the one you loved that was also at the core of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind; a song about a 'strange little girl' that morphs into a metafictive rumination on using real life for inspiration in songs; and a story about the first man to cross the Atlantic ocean single-handedly--and music that can make the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. Imagine the bastard offspring of Pink Floyd and OK Computer/Bends-era Radiohead.

7. Stravinsky - "Rite of Spring". There were riots when it premeired, and not soley because of pre-existing political tensions. This ballet (yes, ballet) is some of the most brutal music in the western canon, and parts more than hold their own against the most brutal death metal. Sure you can trace metal to Sabbath and Led Zep, but the syncopated, odd-meter pounding here is a good root too. "Primal" gets tossed around a lot in discussions of it, but if you hear a good performance, you'll see why.

6. Marvelous 3 - "Every Monday". Modern pop songs don't get much better than this gem from Mr. Butch Walker. It was catchy as hell when I first heard it, and also set a light off over my head "oh, so that's what a great song is supposed to sound like" (background: I was listening to mostly instrumental rock and Dream Theater at the time). Also, the arrangment and production opened my ears: so many different guitar sounds/textures, all based on a simple descending chord progression. It's some of the catchiest and best three minutes out there.

5. John Coltrane - "My Favorite Things". And speaking of melodies, here's one I loathed growing up (fact: I'm not a big fan of most musicals, and I really loathed being roped into watching The Sound of Music on NBC or whatever as a lad.) Except Coltrane took the familar refrain, and...did an astounding number of things to it. Only on some of his late period, hourlong live performances did it seem to my ears like he lost the melody completely. It has probably taught me more as a soloist and improvisationalist than any other song.

4. Guns n' Roses - "Welcome to the Jungle". I don't know if my parents' parents rebelled against my mom and dad listening to the Beatles, but I know it happened to a lot of parents because I've watched entirely too much VH1. They didn't like Guns n' Roses though. And I got my first real taste of what rock and roll was really about. Sure, they'd had no problem little their little grade-schooler listen to 96Rock when it was Def Leppard or Bon Jovi...but Axl screeching "I wanna watch you bleed" and that other line about "serpentine" that I thought was about his weewee? No can like any other kid GnR became the shit to me. And the sheer amp-you-the-fuck-up energy in the song's still there: even if I have to see a good GnR cover band to get it.

3. Jeff Buckley - "Hallelujah". Lately I've been working on singing and playing guitar at once. I'm not bad doing one at a time, but both would be better. I would LOVE to be able to pull this off, but know I'm light years away. I am not ashamed to admit I've cried listening to this song. Emo kids? Give it a listen: this is real emotion, real heartache, real pain...and real beauty. And plus, I figure if I could pull this off (and maybe Ryan Adams "Memories of you" or "wonderwall") I'd never be single again.

2. Queen - "Bohemian Rhapsody". They don't write 'em like this anymore. Not that they really ever (outside of say, some other Queen songs, like "March of the Black Queen") wrote them like this before either. No band before or since has quite had the giant ape balls big enough to write a trptych song, with ballad, opera, and hard rock sections, and then release the whole thing as a single. The "opera" section alone probably has more key changes and complex harmonies than every other song on the "rock block" power hour combined. And a footnote: Freddie Mercury doesn't hit the high note, the drummer does. And the rumor that the tape was overdubbed so many times it was clear? That's true.

1. Faith No More - "Epic". Ok, I lied, there's one "favorite" here. Since I first saw the video this has been one of my favorite songs (and that was over a decade and a half ago). Prior to the 1990s, FNM mixed rap, rock, and funk--with cool harmony guitars and a gorgeous classical piano outro. In two years this song will be over 20 years old, but it still sounds fresher than 90% of modern rock radio.

So go to iTunes, buy these tracks if you haven't already, and share your favs...I'm stopping at 10 for now, but there's many I want to include, so this may be a weekly thing.

1 comment:

Ryan said...

Yeah, I would have included the Stravinsky too...but, technically, it's not a "song." It's more properly a "piece." Ah, the things you learn dating a classical musician.