Great songs, according to me (Part 31)
Here is an archive of the first 15 parts. Here is an archive of the second 15 parts. Now, onward!
I've mentioned this before, but doing these in alphabetical order means you get some weird synchronicity. Therefore, I have three songs by my favorite band on this list, two songs by one of my favorite bands, and a song by the ex-lead singer of my favorite band. Sorry - that's just the way it goes!
301. Jerusalem (by Sinéad O'Connor on the album The Lion and the Cobra, 1987): One would think this would be a soothing song, but it's really not, as O'Connor turns her rasping angry voice on lyrics that sear you with their ragged honesty. This is a woman broken down by the system, and O'Connor makes us feel every nerve. The music twists its way through the song, simultaneously exotic and simple. There are a lot of great songs on this album, and this is definitely one of them.
302. Jesus Christ Pose (by Soundgarden on the album Badmotorfinger, 1991): This is one of my five favorite Soundgarden songs, because Cornell's screech is just so perfect and the lyrics are so devastatingly cool. "And I swear to you I would never feed your pain, but you're staring at me like I'm driving the nails." Excellent stuff. The boys in the band up the ante with the the hard-driving beat and wailing guitars, too, and everything keeps building in intensity. It's a wonderfully nasty song about martyrdom and self-righteousness. Those are always good to hear!
303. Jigsaw (by Marillion on the album Fugazi, 1984): This is one of a handful of great love songs that Marillion has written over the years (their best is a few songs down, but this might be second-best), and it never fails to give me a good gut-wrenching. Fish's lyrics are odd but not impenetrable, like a lot of songs on this album, and the music is both uplifting and depressing, which is a neat trick. The chorus is wonderful, too, and toward the end, when Fish sings, "We reached ignition point from the sparks of pleasantry; we sensed the smoke advancing from horizons. You must have known that I was considering an escape" before busting into the chorus: "Stand straight, look me in the eye and say goodbye; stand straight, we've drifted past the point of reasons why," it's a magical moment. A great, great song.
304. Johnny Q (by the Crazy 8s on the album Still Crazy After All These Beers 1984-1993, 1998): The Crazy 8s were a Portland band for a decade, and when they released this greatest hits album, I picked it up. They're kind of ska punk, as was trendy back in the day, but they have a harder edge than some of the bands who actually hit it big with that sound. Most of all, they're a fun band, the kind of group I would have loved to see live. This is their best song, probably (it's certainly the best one on the greatest hits album), with its excellent beat, insightful lyrics about everyday living, and great horn section. Mike Sterling likes the Crazy 8s, and that should be enough for you! You can get the reissue of their first album on Amazon. You can get the greatest hits album, too, but it's 50 bucks. Gadzooks!
305. Junkie (by James on the album Pleased to Meet You, 2001): The last* James album has some very excellent songs on it, and this is one of them. It's like a lot of James songs, in that Tim Booth's lazy and nasal singing style helps the lyrics greatly, and the sly music gets under your skin. The lyrics are a big part of why the song is great, as Booth sings of all the things that addict us, making sure we don't get too big for our britches. When he gets to the end, singing "Everyone's a junkie" as the fuzzy music plays behind him, it completes a wonderful statement on our materialistic society.
* Although, apparently they're back together. Excellent news, that. I can't wait for the new album.
306. Just Good Friends (Close) (by Fish on the album Internal Exile, 1991): This is the kind of song Fish does really well - it's a sentimental tune with strong, major-chord music and wistful lyrics about something that has been lost. That doesn't make it any less great, but it does mean that Fish does these extremely well. It's a song about two people, one of whom wonders if he should declare his love for a girl with whom he's been friends for years. It's a universal problem, and Fish makes it personal for all who hear it. He doesn't get too maudlin with his vocals, either, which helps, because lyrics like "So are we left to chance meetings, is that all we can depend on?" are sad on their own, and don't need him sounding self-pitying. The balance he strikes is why this is a great song.
307. Just Like Fred Astaire (by James on the album Millionaires, 1999): It's odd to hear such a transcendent love song from a band like James (or any band, for that matter) that isn't slow and syrupy. This song isn't a stripped-down, quiet affair about how much some guy loves his girl, it's a celebration of love, a celebration of being happy with that perfect person, and how glorious, rapturous love can survive in the modern world. The lyric "'Cause when I hold her in my arms, I feel like Fred Astaire" sums up the song beautifully, speaking of a Hollywood romance that we can all experience, if we believe in it enough.
308. Just Say (by the Fastbacks on the Hype! motion picture soundtrack, 1996): This is a very good soundtrack to a very interesting documentary about the Seattle music scene in the early 1990s, and I love the two Fastbacks songs on the album. In two-and-a-half minutes of pure pop, this song is a devastating look at a relationship gone wrong. It feels more charming than it is, and the band powers through it wonderfully. There's nothing wrong with writing three minute rock tunes, and the Fastbacks do it very well.
309. Kayleigh (by Marillion on the album Misplaced Childhood, 1985): This is my favorite love song ever and one of my top five favorite songs. Like most of the songs on this album, Fish tempers his flair for metaphor and impenetrable lyrics by simplifying the words yet still keeping them beautiful. From the beginning, when he sings, "Do you remember the cherry blossoms in the market square; do you remember, I thought it was confetti in our hair," you feel the nostalgia for lost, idealized love, but the images he evokes are perfectly plausible in the bloom of a new romance. The end is devastating: Fish sings: "Kayleigh, I'm still trying to write that love song; Kayleigh it's more important to me now you're gone; Maybe it will prove that we were right or even prove that I was wrong." The music fits the song perfectly, subtle and aching when Fish sings of his past, heart-rending when he sings the chorus. This is almost a perfect song.
310. King (by Marillion on the album Afraid of Sunlight, 1995): Yes, it's another Marillion song. Sorry! This song, off their oddest offering (definitely not their worst, just oddest), ends the album superbly. It begins with cacophony, with wailing keyboards and raucous guitars, and then suddenly goes quiet, which is when Hogarth starts singing. This is the kind of song he does well - a story, starring a character who has it all, but then watches things go bad. It's a song about a rock star who wonders if he's a fraud. The song builds in power, driving inexorably toward its conclusion, as Hogarth sings, "But the fire in your belly that gave you the songs is suddenly gone." He almost screams the final lyrics, as the cacophony returns backing him, and then the song suddenly ends in a flurry of white noise. It's a brilliant ending, because we're expecting a final, major chord on a piano not unlike "A Day in the Life," but Marillion doesn't give it to us, leaving us at the height with nowhere to go. Just like the character in the song. Very neat.
Again, I apologize for the narrowness of the selections this time, even though they're all great songs. Chime in with your objections to my selections ... if you dare!