75. Lyle Lovett - Nobody Knows Me

I praised the last song on the list, #75's "Wonderwall" for starting simple and then building complexity on top of it, all the while remaining the original strong foundation of the song. This one, Lyle Lovett's "Nobody Knows Me" is like the anti-"Wonderwall." It starts simple and stays simple. The song is a painful lament full of guilt about a man who cheats on his significant other.

In just a few lines, Lovett establishes such a rich depiction of a strong, comfortable relationship:

And I like cream in my coffee
And I like to sleep late on Sunday
And nobody knows me like my baby
And I like eggs over easy
With flour tortillas
And nobody knows me like my baby

It all looks so wonderfully normal. It's your standard relationship that many have. Maybe the comfort of it is what causes the infidelity. Who knows. But infidelity ruins the relationship, as it often does, and our singer is left to ponder the consequences of that affair "south of the border." Again, with painful brevity, Lovett sums up his regrets:

And I like cream in my coffee
And I hate to be alone on Sunday
And nobody knows me like my baby

He knows he's blown the best thing he's ever had. But that's what he's left with: a future of solitary Sunday mornings with a cup of coffee and no eggs over easy. As a writer, I can really appreciate the ability Lyle has to sum up a relationship (and the destruction of that relationship) in just a few lines of verse. It's a simple song that cuts to the core.

Usually I have a kind of template about each of these entries. Talk about the artist, talk about the music, sum up, hopefully be funny somewhere in between. For this song, though, the lyrics are the core of why I love this song so much and that's why I address them first. Musically, it's extremely simple, maybe even deceptively so. There's the simple finger-picked acoustic guitar. Session keyboardist Matt Rollings plays a melancholy piano with an almost tentative, embarrassed feel to have interrupted. It's really nice. It's kind of like the feeling that we're kind of embarrassed as listeners to have interrupted the relationship in the song. There's some cello as well that gives a little bit of sonic depth to the song, but never too much.

Lyle sings the song with his earnest tenor, evoking an almost overwhelming regret when he sings, "Nobody knows me like my baby." He's singing with a broken heart, even more broken by the fact that he broke it himself. There are songs that are fun to listen to again and again, and other songs that are meant to move you, or at least provoke you. This song is definitely in the latter camp, and it touches me and makes me think every time I listen to it.

(Fun Fact #146: Not only is Lyle Lovett a great singer/songwriter, but he dabbles in acting as well. He's been in over a dozen movies, including many of Robert Altman's. His performance in 1992's The Player, alongside Whoopi Goldberg, as Detective DeLongpre, was his first, and he's actually pretty good in it.)

No video for this one other than the official one, so here's the link:


76. Oasis - Wonderwall

The acoustic guitar refrain that starts this song seemed comfortable and familiar the very first time I heard this song, but I mean that in a good way. It's simple in the way that so many songs from the 60's were. There was just a guitar and vocals, with nothing else to get in the way, but also nothing more to hide behind, so you'd better be good. As the song progresses, the song adds layer after layer. There's a single cello weaving in and out of the melody. Then that almost hip-hop drum beat that might detract from the song, but I think adds a welcome layer of unpredictability and complexity to the song.

"Wonderwall" really does have that sound that you think The Beatles might have had in the 90's. The comparisons to The Beatles were abundant back in the 90's, especially in the UK and the band itself, especially guitarist Noel Gallagher, did nothing to diminish them. He even said that he was obsessed with The Beatles and compared every song he wrote to The Beatles standard of excellence. Liam even named his son Lennon. There are a couple of problems with those comparisons. Firstly, and obviously, Oasis isn't as talented as The Beatles were (but then again, who is? But most of the others don't go comparing themselves to The Beatles). Secondly, Noel Gallagher wrote almost every single Oasis song, so there was no McCartney to his Lennon (or vice versa, depending on whether you're a John guy or a Paul guy). Thirdly, Oasis, however popular they were in Britain, had only one Top 10 US hit, and this was it. One similarity, though, is that the two leaders of the band, Noel and his brother, lead singer Liam, hate each other, which mirrors Paul & John's out of the spotlight relationship. There are so many examples (and so many of them public) of their fractious relationship that I couldn't even begin to do it justice here.

But contentious relationship aside, they have put out some great records and songs, with "Wonderwall" being, in my opinion, their best. Holding yourself up to comparison to The Beatles may be a fool's folly, but they are definitely a talented band. I love songs that have different layers of musical complexity in them, and this song executes that at an extremely high level. There's the drum beat I mentioned earlier and also the piano that plays its refrain through the last part of the song, adding a musical partner to the earlier cello phrasing. The bass line does what bass lines do best, give the song a foundation to weave other song elements around. Bassist Paul McGuigan does get to have a little fun with the bass line, though, and it adds yet another layer of interest to pay attention to. And don't forget the tamborine!

Lyrically, the song's brilliance lies in the fact that the lyrics are open to the interpretation of the person who listens to it. Now most songs are like that, but this one, in particular, covers two of life's most precious relationships, your best friend and your significant other. Depending on how you're feeling at the time, the song can be seen as one about how much you care for someone else and want the best for them. It's a love song that never mentions the word. The lyrics are fraught with insecurity, with the singer wondering if his love is matched on the other side. The confusion shows in these lyrics:

And all the roads we have to walk along are winding
And all the lights that lead us there are blinding
There are many things that I would
Like to say to you
I don't know how

"Wonderwall" does a great job of having the lyrics play to your life. Like most great songs, it feels as if it were written about your or a specific relationship in your life. Great songs are relatable, and "Wonderwall" has so many interpretations that its lyrics have almost universal appeal. When you feel so strong about your emotions in a relationship, who hasn't felt like this?

I don't believe that anybody
Feels the way I do
About you now

Emotions can run so strong that all of us at some point have probably felt that way about someone.

So even if they fall short of the ridiculously high bar of The Beatles, Noel has written a fantastic song that engages you both musically and lyrically, which is quite a feat. Even I, who still doesn't pay much attention to lyrics, can realize that doing both at an extremely high level is an accomplishment that needs recognition. So that's why "Wonderwall" is, without a doubt, one of the greatest songs of my lifetime.

(Fun Fact #635: There are so many examples of the Gallagher brothers' hate/hate relationship that you can Google, but here's a nice little blurb from ninemsn.au:

The rat-bag Manchester brothers who ruled the '90s Britpop scene. Each had one talent: Noel could write brilliant Beatles-inspired anthemic pop songs. Liam could sing them. Brit Pop was all about big hits, big egos and big opinions — three things the Gallaghers had no trouble delivering.

The pair transformed the music scene through touching and eloquent songs such as 'Wonderwall' and 'Champagne Supernova'.

They also managed to capture the public's imagination through their colourful social commentary, for example Noel's delicate assertion that: "People ****ing hate ****s like Phil Collins, and if they don't they ****ing should."

Family feud
The Gallaghers are the yardstick to which all rock sibling relationships are measured. Their disagreements and feuds have become legendary, at times being included as tracks on bootleg albums.

In the early days of the band, during a US tour, Liam decided to ad-lib the lyrics to the songs in order to both offend the audience and Noel. While the audience got over the insult, Noel was not as impressed and a post-gig discussion worthy of a Jerry Springer Show episode ensued, with a chair thrown and everything. Noel walked out on the tour, though rejoined the group later.

Liam may have learnt an important lesson from this incident, but it wasn't evident. During a European tour six years later, Liam had an interesting theory about Noel not actually being the biological father of his daughter, Anais. Noel, in homage to the world of professional wrestling, punched Liam and knocked him down. Once again Noel walked out on the tour, only to return again later.

Fame hog
It would be difficult to say one brother is more famous than the other, primarily due to fear of one of them finding out they're considered less famous and taking violent head-butty retribution. While they are a set, each of them has their own niche. UK music mag NME has claimed Noel is the wisest man in Rock, which, considering the monumentally stupid things rock stars do, may not be the biggest accolade. Meanwhile Liam is part of another rock sibling couple, the Appletons, having had a child with his partner All Saint Nicole Appleton. )

77. LL Cool J - Going Back to Cali

I heard the wail of the muted trumpet and looked at the cassette cover again. Side 1, check, track four, check. Yep, it says LL Cool J, "Going Back to Cali." What the hell is going on? A few more seconds, and then the scratching comes in. That definitely sounds like a rap song. But then the trumpet continues, trading jabs with the DJ's scratching. A final round of scratching and then LL starts his rap, "I'm going back to Cali, Cali, Cali. I'm going back to Cali. Hmmm. I don't think so."

With less than forty seconds, James Todd Smith (LL's real name) changed the way I looked at rap music forever. It was 1988 and this song was on the soundtrack to Less Than Zero. Having been a big fan of Bigger And Deffer, LL Cool J's breakout album, I was looking forward to hearing this song. It confused me, but in that "Holy crap, this is really awesome!" way. The trumpet, the scratching, the lyrics, all of it. For the next few days, with probably a dozen listens, I never even made it to Side 2 of the cassette.

The song appears to be so very simple when he gets to the first verse. There's a drum machine with a high hat & bass drum beat and the scratch insert of a guitar chord as LL raps with an almost lackadaisical and conversational cadence. The video captures this style perfectly, with LL cruising along in a convertible, turning to us and just rappin'. It's like the simplicity of some songs in the 60's, with the acoustic guitar and simple beats. This one's just done in the hip-hop style. But there's this cool, intermittent "boing" sound that pops up throughout the song, especially in the instrumental break two minutes in. I don't know what it is, but I find myself listening for it as I'm listening. And any rap song that uses trombones, trumpets and saxophones has to be pretty awesome.

Rick Rubin did the production on this one and you can tell he really wanted to push the envelope with the style of the song. In fact, the whole album has a schizophrenic stylistic feel that many reviewers complained about. But I think that Rick and LL were trying to get all of their ideas and influences on one single album. That's why the album has "Going Back to Cali" as well as "I'm That Type of Guy," "I Need Love" and "Big Ole Butt." There's a musical buffet that would go on to be continued on with other albums like the Beastie Boys' Paul's Boutique.

Lyrically, the song's all about returning to California, because as cool as New York is, there are things that you just can't get there. So back LL goes to the Golden State, looking for beaches and babes. There are great lyrics all around, but this verse is the best:

I'm going back to Cali, rising, surprising
Advising realizing, she's sizing me up
Her bikini - small; heels - tall
She said she liked the ocean
She showed me a beach, gave me a peach
and pulled out the suntan lotion

Lyrically, they're very cool, but the way he performs them is even cooler. The way he does "She said she liked the ocean" is just perfect. With the music not being overly complicated, the rhyming and the lyrics really need to stand out. And in "Going Back to Cali," LL Cool J brings it. More than just the usual "I'm so great and you suck" lyrics that lots of raps songs have as their base, he paints a real lyrical picture of hanging out in L.A. and soaking it all in. And the "Hmmm, I don't think so" line is classic as well. He doesn't want to do the normal Cali, he wants to do it on his terms. White wine and shopping on Melrose? Hmmm, I don't think so.

Rap music changed for me that day in late 1988. That's the day that I realized that rap could be more than drum machines, samples and boisterous lyrics. It meant that rap (and later hip-hop) was not just a fad that had overstayed its welcome, but a legitimate music genre that was here to stay. And thank God for that.

(Fun Fact #83: Not so much a fun fact as much as an endorsement. The soundtrack album that I mentioned earlier is definitely worth seeking out. It's got a great mix of all kinds of music. You've got Aerosmith kicking it off with "Rockin' Pneumonia & Boogie Woogie Flu." There's Poison covering Kiss' "Rock N Roll All Night," Public Enemy's original "Bring the Noise" as well as The Bangles doing a kick ass version of Simon & Garfunkel's "Hazy Shade of Winter." Check it out. It's a great cassette. Oh, I guess you could get the CD if you must.)

(Fun Fact #16: Most rap fans know this, but for the uninitiated, LL Cool J stands for "Ladies Love Cool James." If you could find a lamer origin for an MC name, I'd love to hear it, because this one is ridiculous!)

78. Vanessa Carlton - A Thousand Miles

It starts off like a piano concerto that you walked into that you didn't mean to. I wanted to listen to this song that everyone's talking about and I get some Chopin that someone did at an allegro tempo? But then the melody the piano plays starts to get you. Then the drums kick in and Vanessa starts singing. End of lesson. Let the fantastic song begin.

Vanessa Carlton grew up in a house where her mother loved the piano and classical music, while her father was a classic rock fan. So in this song, she takes the classical music sensibilities of her mom and adds the rock/pop influence of her dad and blends them perfectly, so both mom and dad are undoubtedly proud. Getting pop music fans to listen to classical music is a tough sell, much like vegetables and children. So like the moms that add shredded carrots to brownies, Vanessa exposes us to music that we wouldn't normally listen to and makes it sound so great that we're thirsty for more.

Vanessa came up with the piano intro and played it for her mother, who called it a hit, but then she hit some writer's block and shelved the idea. A few months later, she finished the basics for the song in a whirlwind hour session. The song she came up with at that session, however, wasn't the one that ended up released on her album, Be Not Nobody. It took lots and lots of work to get it to work just right. With all the disparate elements that the song had, a lot of production and tweaking was needed to make it sound cohesive. This is one of those times where lots of hard work paid off. The result is a great pop song, from the unlikeliest of inspirations, classical music.

With as much work as they had to do on it, there's none of the overproduction that lots of songs that are worked on this much can fall prey to. Musically, the piano is the star and Vanessa knows it. There's some nice drum work and simple, but effective, guitars, but they are supporting players and they know it. There are some additional violins for punch in some spots, atmosphere in others.

Lyrically, the song is pretty simple. She's rushing home to be with her love. The only problem is that she's not sure whether the feeling is mutual or not. She's willing to "walk a thousand miles" but fears that it may all be wasted effort.

It's always times like these
When I think of you
And I wonder
If you ever
Think of me

The not knowing is the hardest part. Is he thinking of me? Does he love me as much as I love him? This song's upbeat styling belies the uncertainty of her future with her boyfriend. Many women sympathized and it became a kind of anthem for the romantically unsure.

Since this has been her only Top 20 US hit, some may consider her a one hit wonder, but if you listen to her albums, you'll see that there's lasting talent there. From her second album, Harmonium, check out the song "San Francisco." It's one of my favorites by her.

So even though it's referred to in the Wayan Brothers movie, "White Chicks," as "like, the whitest song ever," it's still a great song, and one that I could probably listen to once a week for the rest of my life.

Here's her video link from Youtube:


And this is one that you can see with the lyrics:

79. OutKast - Hey Ya!

I would’ve posted this one sooner, but the Blogger site apparently has it in for OutKast. This is the fourth time that I’ve done this post. The Blogger interface wouldn’t autosave and would just delete my entire post without warning. You’d think I would have learned after the first couple of times, but I tend to trust technology more than I should. So who wants my ATM PIN number? Anyway……

Before I get into the specifics of “Hey Ya!”, I wanted to talk about the album that it came from, because that’s a cool story, too. “Hey Ya!” comes from the 2003 double album by OutKast, Loveboxxx/The Love Below. But it wasn’t really an album by OutKast. It was solo albums by each member of the band, Loveboxx by Andre 3000, and The Love Below by Big Boi. They said they wanted to release it as an OutKast album to keep the songs under the OutKast umbrella. Stephen Thomas Erlewine, of allmusic.com (a great music site) compared it to if the Beatles had released The White Album as a double album with a Paul record and a John record. Interesting argument, but let’s get back to “Hey Ya!”

Dance songs tend to have two strikes against them when it comes to calling them musical genius. It’s as if the mere fact that they’re dance songs remove them from the discussion. It’s much like comedies in the Academy Awards. But genius this song is. I would normally just point to the fact that it won a Grammy, but I’ll give you more. With the exception of the female voice saying “Yeah?”, every single voice you hear is Dre’s. He recorded many of the lines up to forty times to get different feels and takes on each. I listened to the song five times in a row and discovered something new in the vocals each time. There’s also the kid’s keyboard sound that you can’t help but love as well as that great bass line (that was actually recorded with a synthesizer). So even though it's a dance song, it's a audiophile's dance song. There's lots of musical meat on the bones.

The lyrics are about having a great night with a woman, thinking you might be falling in love, and then wondering if you’re the “falling in love” type of guy. Andre tends to not have concrete ideas down when he starts doing lyrics for a song, and this song was no exception. Don’t get me wrong, he has a solid idea of what the song is going to be about and how he wants to get it there, but there’s just no wrenching over individual words in order to create lyrical poetry, a la U2’s Bono. So as he’s at the microphone, he just lets it fly and sees what happens. For Andre, it works, and in this song, works brilliantly. Here’s a sample of what he came up with:

And we goin' to break this thing down in just a few seconds
Now don't have me break this thing down for nothin'
Now I wanna see y'all on y'all’s baddest behavior
Lend me some sugar', I am your neighbor
Shake it, shake, shake it, shake it (OHH OH)

Shake it like a Polaroid picture

The “shake it like a Polaroid picture” line is genius (and the one everyone quotes), but the one I really like is “lend me some sugar, I am your neighbor.” The Polaroid line is cool, but the sugar line is FUN. Most people like to be cool, but I’m much more of a fun guy than a cool guy, so Andre’s got something for all of us.

Fun Fact #642 (When asked about his taste in music, presidential candidate Wesley Clark said in 2004, “I don't know much about hip-hop, but I do know OutKast can make you shake it like a Polaroid picture." I couldn’t talk myself into basing such an important vote on something this silly, but I came this close to voting for Clark just for that.)

Fun Fact #124 (In the last ten years, of the fifty nominees for the Academy Award for Best Picture, only two have been out-and-out comedies. The two? I’ll give you a second to think about it…….. Juno (2007) and Little Miss Sunshine (2006))