62. Peter Gabriel - Secret World (Live)

On July 22, 1993, I attended the best concert of my life. It was Peter Gabriel's Los Angels performance on his Secret World (Live) tour supporting his album Us. It was a performance unlike any I'd ever seen before, or since. Sure it was a rock concert, but there were theater aspects to it that were fresh and sophisticated. I never got a chance to see Genesis live when Peter was their lead singer, but from what I've read, he did much of the same with Genesis concerts. But this concert was even more. Instead of weird costumes that he would wear, there were stage elements that were used for specific songs, adding a depth of meaning that just playing a live version of the album version alone could not provide.

He ended the main body of the concert (before the encores) with a song I knew, but didn't really know, "Secret World." The song closes the Us album, but I wasn't that familiar with it. But as I listened to it, I thought, "This song is amazing!" I asked my best friend, Todd, during the song what it was and he reminded me. When we were walking back to the car, I asked him about it.

"How come I don't remember that song from the album?" I asked him.

"Cause the album version's lame," he told me.


"Yeah. Totally. It's amazing how much better he does it live. I can't believe it's even the same song."

To prove his point, we listened to the CD in the car (yes, Todd was a techno-geek like me who had a CD player in his car long before everyone else). We skipped on to Track 10 and he turned to me and said, "Shh. Listen." And listen I did. It was bad. Okay, not bad, but definitely not good. And compared to what we just saw live, well, it was bad.

The album version sounds like it's the song in demo form. There's a muffled quality to the whole thing and his vocals are rudimentary. The drumming is moderately interesting, but inconsistent. There are piano parts that seem as if they're things that he just left in there to perhaps develop more fully later on. The production values sound as if the song was recorded in the next room with the door open and a microphone placed in the doorway. So there's a reason I didn't really remember the song. It isn't very memorable.

There's a reason this version is #62 on my list. He takes the song and transforms it into an experience, not just the visual one we saw at the concert (and you can see on the video below), but the instrumentation and vocals become a wholly greater experience. Instead of comparing the two part by part, I'm just going to extol the virtues of this live version. I'm not going to talk about how cool the performance is visually, since that's not really why this song is on the list. But I encourage you to watch the video because all the performers really shine.

It starts off with some nice keyboards that establish the atmosphere, while each instrument quietly comes in, with nobody taking a lead role. They're all just laying down layers of cohesive sound that Peter adds his vocals to. The song is about the secret world of relationships that lays just beneath the surface that everybody sees. Peter wrote the song as his relationship with actress Rosanna Arquette was heading towards a breakup and the music mirrors that. The keyboards and drums establish that surface layer of music, while so much is going on beneath and around it. Bits of music pop in and out, without that constancy that most songs have. So you have Peter playing little piano parts here and there, while guitarist David Rhodes adds seemingly random guitar fills, giving the song an almost conversational feel.

It gives the listener the feeling that it's just random back and forth, but all the while everything is calculated, much like many conversations you may have with your significant other. On the surface, it may seem like you're both talking about the groceries or a kid's soccer game, but there's that extra layer of calculated non-verbal communication that goes on as well (the snarky smile, the roll of the eyes) that makes what seems casual and flippant much more than that. That's the genius of the instrumentation of this song, it takes the simple and gives it much more complexity and meaning.

The lyrics are really poignant as well. They take something simple and mundane yet add the deeper meaning to it.

So I watch you wash your hair
Underwater, unaware
And the plane flies through the air
Did you think you didn't have to choose it
That I alone could win or lose it
In all the places we were hiding love
What was it we were thinking of?

There's blame enough to go around for both people. I especially like the line "all the places we were hiding love" because so many of us hold things back for fear of being vulnerable and hurt, but in the end, holding things back in a relationship causes the hurt.

The song then builds to a frenetic bridge, echoing perhaps an argument that the couple has where things devolve into hurtful words hurled at each other. The lyrics match that feeling:

Oh the wheel is turning spinning round and round
And the house is crumbling but the stairways stand

With no guilt and no shame, no sorrow or blame
Whatever it is, we are all the same

You reach a point where you know that you both could have, should have, done something more, but it may be too late. It's not anyone's fault, the both of you made it the way it is. There's the resignation that goes with the knowledge that a relationship has reached the end.

The song then breaks down to some simple piano when Peter singing about making one last attempt to work things out. He starts it with a simple, "Shhhh, listen."

It's here that the song really tears loose. It starts with guitarist David Rhodes' guitar and again builds layers. But instead of layers of atmosphere, all the musicians get to tear it up a bit. Tony Levin gets to flex his bass muscles, while drummer Manu Katche shows why he's one of the premier drummers on the planet. Then the song breaks back down as it comes to an end, and at the concert there was this cool part where the band all disappears into a suitcase that Peter's put on the stage, with everyone seeming to fit into the singe bag. Then Peter picks the suitcase up and heads offstage.

So a song that probably wouldn't have even made my Top 100 Peter Gabriel songs now becomes one of the Top 100 Songs of My Lifetime. It goes to show you that putting in extra work to make a song better can really pay off.

Fun Fact #114 (When Todd played the song for me, the "Shh, listen" was a quote from the song that I didn't get until the DVD for Secret World Live came out in 1994. Peter says it just before the amazing instrumental break two thirds in (he also says it in the album version, but it's too quiet for me). So I guess Todd's funnier than I gave him credit for, and he's pretty funny.)

Fun Fact #25 (If you watch the video of the performance, you may recognize his backup singer. It's Paula Cole, who went on become a renowned musician on her own, recording the hit song "I Don't Want to Wait," which went on to become the theme song to Dawson's Creek.)

Fun Fact #67 (Wow! Three fun facts on one song! Anyway, you may notice that the bass parts have an interesting sound. It's actually Tony Levin playing his bass with a device he invented called funky fingers. It's basically short sections of a drum stick that he's attached to a cover that he puts on his fingers. So basically he's slapping the bass strings with a drum stick!)

63. R.E.M. - Nightswimming

When you talk to people who are big music fans, there are always debate of X vs. Y. Beatles or Rolling Stones? David Lee Roth or Sammy Hagar? Keytar or tamborine (the lamest musical accompaniment ever)? And for my generation, there's the much less publicized U2 or R.E.M.? Much like the the Beatles/Stones question, it's an exclusionary preference. You may like both, but you can really only love one. It's a Coke/Pepsi thing. You're either in one camp or the other. For me, I'm a U2 guy*. Don't get me wrong, I can appreciate the talent of R.E.M., but their music doesn't speak to me in the way that it does to people who love R.E.M. I'm not exactly sure why, but that's just how I'm wired.

So that's why "Nightswimming" is the only R.E.M. song on my list and I haven't even gotten to the first of my U2 entries (yes, there are more than one). I've listened to dozens of R.E.M. songs and "Nightswimming" is the one that speaks to me the most. I realize that those in the R.E.M. camp are already ticking off fingers of other R.E.M. songs that are better than this one and should be much higher on any Top 100 list. "Everybody Hurts," "The One I Love," "Man in the Moon," "It's the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)," "Losing My Religion." And those are just some of their big hits and even a Grammy winner. So who am I to argue with critics and the Grammys? My response: Milli Vanilli as Best New Artist of 1990 and the critical acclaim lavished over Bob Dylan's voice. So "Nightswimming" it is. Enough prologue, let's talk about this great song.

The piano opening, hell, all of the piano in this song is just amazing. It reminds me of Michaelangelo. The pure genius of his ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. The stunning splendor of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. But Michaelangelo always thought of himself as a sculptor. Mike Mills is R.E.M.'s bassist. He just plays the keyboards when the songs call for it. But in "Nightswimming," the piano is the song. Musically, without this brilliant piano line, there wouldn't be much to it, or anything to it. I'm not entirely sure what guitarist Peter Buck does during this song, and that's a shame, because he's a brilliant guitarist. But being the ultimate team player, he sits to the side on this one and lets his bandmates shine. To be honest, even with me being such a big U2 honk, I've never seen The Edge take a break like this.

The song actually starts with the common musical warm up that you'd hear an orchestra do, signaling that this isn't going to be your typical rock song, or even R.E.M. song. Mills plays it like a concerto, and there are punctuations of strings throughout the song that add a welcome richness to the piano. R.E.M. isn't so pretentious to compare their work to that of the orchestral masters, but they don't mind playing in their pond occasionally.

Michael Stipe has a unique vocal style and it shows again on "Nightswimming." When he sings the opening line, the way his voice cracks on the word deserves is vintage Stipe. His phrasing as he sings is also so atypical in a rock band. He'll reach the end of a line and blend it in with the beginning of the next line, much like hip-hop artists often do. The vocal melody echoes the piano in its repetition. Some might think that it's lazy to repeat a single melody repeatedly in a song, but in this song, with the subject of the lyrics especially, it works really well.

Lyrically, the nightswimming that Stipe is singing about is the skinny-dipping days of the summer of our youth. Not just in the actual season of summer, but in the prime of our youth, before real life and the obligations and stresses of being a grown up invaded all of our lives. There's a fond remembrance of the past but also the melancholy of the knowledge that those precious moments can't be recaptured.

Nightswimming, remembering that night.
September's coming soon.
I'm pining for the moon.
And what if there were two
Side by side in orbit
Around the fairest sun?

The line "September's coming soon" really speaks to me. The knowledge that the great times that you're having aren't going to last forever. We know we need to make the most of the time that we have and there are occasions in our life when we know we've squandered those opportunities.

The photograph reflects,
every streetlight a reminder.

Lyrics as poetry is overused too much. Just because songs are written in verse, they may technically be poetic, but it doesn't make them poetry. They lyrics that Michael Stipe wrote for "Nightswimming," however, definitely qualify as poetry. The thing I like about good poetry is that part of the poem immediately speaks to you, but other parts take multiple rereads to get to the marrow. The lyrics of this song read as an ode to summers past, and the seemingly contradictory pining for the innocence those "illegal" skinny dips shows that the past is as we remember it, not as it happened.

The more I write about this song, the more I realize that I need to listen to more R.E.M.. There's a uniqueness to their music that deserves more of my attention and me, the lyrical ignorer, needs to give Michael Stipe's poetry some more attention. That's what great music is supposed to do. It's supposed to inspire you. "Nightswimming" has inspired me to pay more attention to a band that I thought I just wasn't that into.

And I'm looking forward to it.

Once again the official video won't let me embed here, but this is the link. And I have to apologize for the commercial that you'll have to watch.


If you want to stay on my page, click on this person's video that is simply the song with the lyrics on the screen.

*I couldn't put this in the body of my post, because it has about as much to do with my argument as the price of tea in China, but how come it's not an U2 guy? Every other vowel that starts a word gets the an before it. U just gets stiffed. Not completely, but just way too much. I even stiffed it again with "a unique vocal style." I was a journalism major in college and I guess I should probably know the answer to this, but I just wanted to share my confusion with you all.

64. Beastie Boys - Sabotage

With the fuzzed out, distorted bass line that opens "Sabotage," the Beastie Boys took their music further in a direction that they'd started with their Check Your Head album. "Sabotage" was the first single from their fourth album, Ill Communication, and the Beastie Boys continued with their revolutionary musical stance (at least for rap music). They played their own instruments. Mike D wailing on drums, MCA actually playing lead on bass and Adrock ripping on the guitar.

Once they had mastered the art of sampling and layering all of those disparate samples (as they did on Paul's Boutique), they didn't rest on their laurels. They went back to their punk roots and started playing their instruments again. They introduced it on 1992's Check Your Head, and haven't stopped since. But with "Sabotage," they put together a kick-ass rock record where the lyrics are screamed, rather than sung. Then again, many would argue that all of punk rock and heavy metal are screamed, rather than sung.

Like many great songs, "Sabotage" was a song that just barely made the album that it was on. They had Ill Communication all set to go, but had this great instrumental that they had come up with to go on top of a bass line that MCA had brought to the table. They realized they needed vocals on top of it, so Adrock put some lyrics together and just belted them out into a crummy 8 track recorder and presented them to the band. When it all came together, they knew that they had something special. So on to Ill Communication it went.

It begins with that amazingly distorted bass, with those punctuated gunshot snare drums. There's a punchy layer of guitars on top of that before they just tear it loose with Adrock's ear-piercing lyrics. You wouldn't think that a guy with that whiny a voice could pull something like this off. But what he may lack in a bass timbre in his voice, he more than makes up for with pure volume. I would think that after performing this live, Adrock would need some serious tea with honey.

Mike D's pounding drums are exclamation points throughout the song. They keep pushing the song forward, propelling with sheer force. It reminds me a lot of how Keith Moon would play the drums, like they'd slept with his Mom and he was gonna lay on a beatin'. And then they all just stop. Gotta catch my breath. After that pause in the song that my friend Todd B. loves so much, MCA gets another chance to show off that great bass line and then Adrock just lets go vocally with a drawn out scream of "Whyyyyyyyyy?"

Lyrically, it's all about frustration and subversion. When you have someone who is undermining what you're doing, that frustration level can reach epic proportions. So Adrock's vocals mirror the sentiment of the lyrics:

I can't stand it, I know you planned it
But I'm gonna set it straight this Watergate
But I can't stand rockin' when I'm in this place
Because I feel disgrace because you're all in my face

And it ends like it began, thunder in, thunder out. Except at the end, there's just a bit of noise at the end, reminding me of the light that just barely escapes after you've slammed a door. This entire song is a slammed door, over and over. It's when you're frustration is so high that you slam it, then open it back up just so you can slam it again. The whole feel of the song hinges on getting the theme of frustration across. And "Sabotage" does it again and again, never letting us rest, even with that cool pause in it to catch our breath. It's not even three minutes long, but so much is crammed into it that it's bursting at the seams. Who could take five minutes of this? I think Adrock would have a coronary if he had to sing that long. But that's where "Sabotage"s genius lies. It tears off at a breakneck pace and ends just when we think we can't take anymore. And that's the sign of a great song.

Okay, I promised myself that I would have to make the case for this song without mentioning the video, since this isn't the 100 Greatest Music Videos of My Life. Because if it was, "Sabotage" just may be #1. Some call the video for "Sabotage" a parody of 70's cop shows like Hawaii Five-O, The Streets of San Francisco and Starsky and Hutch, and it is. But it's more of a tribute parody, much like the movie Galaxy Quest was a loving parody of the Star Trek universe. The video, directed by Spike Jonez, who went on to direct brilliant movies like Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, has each of the band members plays a different role, running and jumping and kicking ass the whole time. They never play for the laugh, and that's why I find myself laughing over and over.

It starts with the names for their characters: MCA is Sir Stewart Wallace who plays himself. MCA also portrays Nathan Wind who plays Cochese. Adrock stars as Vic Colfari, who is "The Rookie" Bobby. Mike D is Alasondro Alegre, who's "The Chief." Classic names, all of 'em. The video has that editing style of a movie trailer, with lots of action and smash cuts. It also has all of the 70's cop show standards: the bust in a sleazy motel, cops running down alleys, cops chasing perps through backyards, cops going undercover for a collar, police brutality, cops sliding across the hood of a car, cops in car chases, and most importantly, cops eating donuts. It's got them all. I've probably seen the video fifty times, and I can still punch it up on the computer another couple of times without getting bored.

So enjoy a great song, and perhaps the greatest music video:

Just in case you think I'm overstating things, here are some comments from YouTube from just the last couple of days:

holy f*ck that is awesome, Spike Jonze is a f*cking beast..

This music video is the greatest achievement of all mankind

Así quisiera ver los milícos en Uruguay.

For that last one, not being fluent in Spanish, I had to get someone to translate it for me. It translates as, "Just wanted to see the soldiers in Uraguay." Um, okay. Well I guess you can't get any bigger of an endorsement than that.

(Fun Quote #45: This is a great one from Adrock: The ideal Beastie fan is a 92-year-old woman with buckteeth. They slam dance a lot, and obviously we reduce the rate for OAPs. We don’t want to alienate our hardcore fans. [OAP is an acronym for the government program, Old Age Pension. I swear it's true. Old Age Pensioners!])

65. Metallica - For Whom The Bell Tolls

This song is another instance where I'm putting a specific version of the song on my list, not simply the album version. I love hearing different versions of a song that a band does. Live versions, remix versions, even covers done by other bands. But in this case, I'm not putting the version from Ride the Lightning on my list. Don't get me wrong, the album version of "For Whom the Bell Tolls" is really good, but I don't think it would make my list without the brilliance of adding the orchestra. The specific version of "For Whom the Bell Tolls" that I'm talking about is the one that Metallica recorded for their 1999 album S & M.

Here's where the hardcore Metallica fans start screaming, swearing at their computer screens and thinking about transforming themselves via some sort of Matrix move into energy so that they can travel through the internet and jump out of my computer screen just so they could pummel my lame ass. "Nooooooo!" they're screaming. I can hear it, I swear. Okay, maybe not enough people are actually reading this for that to happen. And I'm pretty sure of the ones who are reading this, there aren't any really hardcore Metallica fans, so I guess I'm safe. But I know the argument: "S & M is where Metallica officially jumped the shark and entered Spinal Tap territory. Are you serious about playing with an orchestra? What the hell's hardcore about a goddamn viola? And don't even get me started on a motherf'in timpani! First they cut their hair and now this? Cliff Burton is rolling in his grave hearing this sh*t. Binge and purge this crap! Metallica has just become lamer than my dad! And he likes Neil Sedaka!"

Before I debunk the above argument, let me tell you about this great song. "For Whom the Bell Tolls" comes off of Metallica's second album, Ride the Lightning. It's the record where the band tried to add more melody and musical diversity to their songs, instead of just playing as fast as they could and having lead singer James Hetfield just scream the lyrics. It's a song based on Ernest Hemmingway's seminal book of the same name, set during the Spanish Civil War of the late 30's. The lyrics are about the horrors of war and the notion of dealing with the certainty of death, a death that you see coming up the hillside. How do you handle those last few thoughts? Musically, it was a serious step forward for the band. The intro guitar chromatic progression isn't actually a guitar at all, but bassist Cliff Burton's bass run through a wah-wah effects pedal with some serious distortion on top of it. Okay, I'll get back to the song in a minute, but I've got to get back to the whole orchestra thing.

For those slamming on the idea of performing metal songs with an orchestra, consider this: the entire idea of rock & roll and especially heavy metal is to be contradictory and do what you want to do. It's to rage against the establishment and do something revolutionary. (This is all in theory, of course, because there's not much revolutionary about the career arc of Nickelback) So the idea of doing something as seemingly absurd as playing thrash/metal music with the backing of a clarinet is exactly what metal's all about. It's like when U2 did their album Pop, which was heavily influenced by the techno music scene. A lot of people thought it was too much of a departure for them and it was ridiculous. But Metallica, like U2, at least had the balls to try. And in my opinion, with S&M, they succeeded. And for those of you thinking Cliff would've vomited had he heard the idea? The idea actually was Cliff's. Cliff Burton was a huge classical music buff, and he thought it would be amazing to do metal with an epic orchestral background. So the idea of S&M started fifteen years before in the mind of their hardcore bassist who tragically died in a tour bus accident in 1986. It's a tribute album to Cliff. So suck it, haters. I set you up with the Cliff quote above.

And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming...

Michael Kamen, film composer of many notable films, including Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, put the orchestration together and it really works. Hearing the string section really pump up the opening, it strikes me how much cooler the song sounds with the added orchestration. True, I'm a fan of musical complexity, but not just for complexity's sake. Everything that Kamen did adds to the overall epic feel of the song, rather than just add superfluous layers of "stuff" just because you can. The wail of the french horn at 1:17 in really punctuates what the orchestra could add to the song. When I heard about this project, I thought that the brass and percussion sections would dominate, a la Fleetwood Mac's "Tusk," because of the sheer volume of those two sections, but there's much more of a symphonic balance in the entire performance.

It's hard to believe that an orchestra could make a badass song even more badass, but that's what happens here. And the band realized that they just needed to play the song the way they usually do, just let the orchestra add to the overall sonic richness. If you listen to both the album version and the S & M live version, you'll hear that James Hetfield's voice is much richer than it used to be, with a fuller vocal timber to it. It seems as if screaming Metallica songs for all those years has done good things to his voice. Watching the YouTube video, it looks like drummer Lars Ulrich may not be working as hard as you'd think a metal drummer would, until you realize that you can't see his feet doing some amazing double bass drum work. Lead guitarist Kirk Hammett plays flawlessly, as if he may have been born with a guitar in the crib. Cliff Burton's replacement, bassist Jason Newsted does a great job of playing the great bass riff at the beginning of the song and adding that great lower end sound that most metal songs have.

Lyrics about war are common in metal music, but the complexity of Hetfield's words show that Metallica was going for something more than just the aggression of war matching the aggression of metal music. The following lines are some great imagery of what a soldier faces in his last moments before he falls to the enemy:

Take a look to the sky just before you die, it's the last time you will
Blackened roar, massive roar fills the crumbling sky,
Shattered goal fills the soul with a ruthless cry

It's the knowledge that your death is imminent and that even though you've paid the highest price a soldier can pay, your sacrifice is in the shadow of a failed mission. Hetfield does such a good job of putting complete images into your brain that work so well with the frantic, pulsing pace of the music. There's lots of confusion in war, lots of noise, and that's echoed in the pace of Metallica's playing. Even the string section plays with a harried abandon that you almost never hear in an orchestral setting.

Overall, "For Whom the Bell Tolls," and this orchestral version in particular, is a glowing example of why metal music didn't die the death of disco, but became an enduring style of music that may not be for everybody, but it could be. So even if Metallica isn't your cup of tea (or bottle of beer, if you were to ask the band), click on the video below and give it a good listen. You may not be converted, but you also may just appreciate the talent that Metallica brings, just in a different package.

(Again, not really a fun fact, but an argument on behalf of the literary genius of the heavy metal music world (okay, genius may be too strong a word, but I'm all riled up). Say what you want about metal, but the lyrics of metal bands are some of the most literarily sophisticated ones that you'll find, taking inspiration from classics throughout the ages and bringing those classics to new minds. There's "For Whom the Bell Tolls," of course, but there's also Metallica's "One," an amazing lyrical journey through a soldier being wounded in battle and losing his arms, legs, sight, hearing and voice (heavily influenced by Dalton Trumbo's Johnny Got His Gun). Iron Maiden's "The Trooper" is inspired by Alfred Lloyd Tennison's "The Charge of the Light Brigade," while they take Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" and make it a musical opus. Queensryche released the lyrically complex concept album "Operation Mindcrime" and the politically scathing "Empire." Rush probably started it all with their own concept album, 1976's 2112. I could go on (and probably have done so more than you'd like), but I think I've made my point. So before you denigrate heavy metal music as loud screaming on top of loud music that doesn't mean anything, realize that there's much more below the superficial layer that makes you whine to your friends that metal isn't really music at all. It may not be your musical genre of choice, but metal may just be inspiring young metalheads to read classics from all over the spectrum of literary history. Sure, you've got your Beavis and Buttheads, but true metal fans can appreciate the depth of their music of choice. You should at least concede that point, don't you think?)

Well, okay, I guess I need to also concede the point that the vapid shallowness of AC/DC's "For Those About to Rock (We Salute You)" and Kiss' "Rock 'N' Roll All Nite" is legendary. They want to rock and roll all night, and party every day. But both of these will always fall in the head-to-head battle of the ridiculous to the penultimate magnum opus of stupidity, "Space Cowboy" by N'Sync.

66. Coldplay - Clocks

"Clocks" is another song that almost didn't make it onto the album from which it became a huge hit. When Coldplay was working on their second album, A Rush of Blood to the Head, and came up to the deadline that their record company had placed for the album's completion. They had a bunch of songs in various stages of development that they put aside in a folder labeled "Songs for #3 (songs for their third album, which turned out to be the equally good X & Y). But the band, and their label, weren't completely satisfied with the album as it was, and they delayed the deadline. Now having more time, they started working on other songs from the "Songs for #3" folder, and their manager heard the snippets for what would become "Clocks." He insisted that this was one they needed to finish now, and he was right. "Clocks" ended up on A Rush of Blood to the Head and became a huge hit for the band. So even though we probably would've heard "Clocks" one way or the other, the release in late 2002 gave the band something to build on for their next album. Enough backstory (even though it may be interesting). Let's get on to the song.

The piano intro for "Clocks" is one that immediately brings you into the song and makes you want more, and thankfully, more is exactly what you get. The song, like many of Coldplay's, is sonically lush, with each instrument getting to flex its muscles throughout. While in many bands, the lead singer's instrument playing is rudimentary at best (yes, I'm talking to you, Bono), but singer/keyboardist Chris Martin's work on the piano and keyboards is a vital part of Coldplay's sound.

With that haunting, yet immediately memorable piano line, "Clocks," by Coldplay, opens with a pronounced musical metaphor of time ticking away. The punch of the piano on the beat that Chris Martin plays is then echoed by the drum and bass line throughout the verses, mimicking the quick passage of time. Time that is passing us by quicker than we'd like. We're trying to catch up - to get the things done that need to be done, but it time won't slow down for anyone. The pace in "Clocks" is even more urgent than the second hand ticking away, so the sense of urgency is heightened.

Lyrically, the song is not nearly as direct about the time theme as the music is, but there's still the sense of urgency about time's passage. In really listening to the music and lyrics closely while playing it, I found myself nervous and uncomfortable - the song was doing what Coldplay wanted it to, I think.

Confusion never stops
Closing walls and ticking clocks
Gonna come back and take you home
I could not stop that you now know

Then there are some lyrics that talk about wasting time and opportunity. I think we've all done that throughout our lives and wonder whether we're making the world a better place than before we came. Is our western consumerism culture killing the planet or making it better, even at a cost to others? Are we to blame? And even if we are, is there anything we can do about it? I have no idea whether that was Martin's lyrical intention, but that's how I interpret these lyrics:

Come out upon my seas
Curse missed opportunities
Am I, a part of the cure
Or am I part of the disease

On listening to most of these songs for this list, I immediately wanted to listen to them again after the first time. For this one, though, it was a little different. Before examining "Clocks" in such detail, it was just a cool song that I really liked. But now, it's become a song that goes past the pop music surface of my brain and works its way much deeper. It makes me anxious now when I listen to it, and more than a little bit guilty at the time I may be wasting throughout my day. I don't necessarily want to listen to it again right away. But the song has had a deeper affect on me than I thought it would, which I expect is the point that Coldplay had in the first place. Pop music is good and fun, but if they can do it and change the way you look at things, they have succeeded on every level that a musician can aspire to.

So in the end, Coldplay became what Oasis aspired to: a popular, yet critically lauded band who not only established a foothold in America, but a sincere and rabid following similar to what they enjoyed back home in Britain. So if there was a "they're the new Beatles" badge to be worn, Coldplay has a much better argument to wear it rather than the squabbling brothers Gallagher.

An interesting side note is that this song is much more of a rocker when you hear it live. The drums and guitar are much more in the front of the mix, giving the song a much more rock rather than esoteric fusion pop feel to it. You can hear the crashes of the cymbals and the crack of the snare on the album version, but when Coldplay performs "Clocks" live, you hear them much more in their glory, with restraint thrown aside. So check out the this video to see the difference.

I had this one all published and then I ran across this version that Chris Martin did with Buena Vista Social Club. Just goes to show you how different you can make a song with just some tweaking.