48. Oingo Boingo - Who Do You Want to Be?

When you have an older brother who's into music (and parents who aren't so much), the first bands that you like aren't really yours, they're his. I like Rush because my brother liked Rush. I like U2 because my brother liked U2 (although I ended up loving U2 way more than he does). His influence on my musical tastes, especially my early musical tastes, can't really be understated. He exposed me to all sorts of bands that were under the radar and talented. The funny thing is that if the band actually became popular, his interest usually waned, while I continued on enjoying their music. So although his tastes don't influence mine as much anymore, his philosophy still does. I'll give any music a listen to and try not to dismiss it just because I don't like "that kind of music."

But as an early teenager, I wanted bands that were my bands. Bands that Scott didn't care for, but they did speak to me. I embraced new wave music independent of my brother and one of the bands 75]that became one of my bands was Oingo Boingo. I listened to a lot of radio on KROQ, the iconic alternative radio station in Los Angeles, and Oingo Boingo was a band that KROQ played a lot. The more I heard, the more I liked. They had what seemed like fifty guys in the band, with everyone playing with precision but also with abandon. The songs were complex yet approachable and the lyrics were controversial and strange. Contradictions abounded with Oingo Boingo. They played some seriously punk minded songs, but also had keyboards, a full horn section and even broke out the xylophone for their song "Grey Matter."

Even as a teenager, I was into musical complexity and production. I would listen to songs on headphones and try and isolate certain instruments or production techniques. In another life, I may have ended up a sound engineer at a studio somewhere in L.A. So Oingo Boingo gave me hours and hours of enjoyment with those huge 80's cans over my ears, savoring every nuance. And while there are too many great Oingo Boingo songs for me to mention, their greatest comes off their 1983 album Good for Your Soul, and is called "Who Do You Want to Be?"

The album version of "Who Do You Want to Be?" is good, but the definitive version really is the one that appears on their album Alive. Quick plug - if you like Oingo Boingo at all and do not have Alive (released in 1989), I can't urge you enough to get it. Since Oingo Boingo is such a good live band, they decided to record Alive live in the studio. Each song is a live recording, but with studio quality production. The result is a stellar double album that captures the magic of their live show but sounds amazing. So buy it today and you won't be disappointed. Okay, back to our regularly scheduled blog entry...

First you have Steve Bartek's frantic guitar opening. Then the guitar is punctuated by John "Vatos" Hernandez's blistering drums. Finally, there's the wailing solo by the trombone section. That's right, a trombone solo. And it's awesome. There's even another trombone solo later in the song. Oingo Boingo lets all of its musicians shine, and the horn section is no exception. Taking a page out of the ska handbook (and maybe taking it a step further), Oingo Boingo uses horns liberally in almost all of their songs. In their live show, the horn section doesn't just sit around for the few songs that they're used, those guys get one heck of a workout.

"Who Do You Want to Be?" starts at a fast pace and never slows down. Even the instrumental breakdown two-thirds in with Bartek's guitar is still at that feverish pace. Oingo Boingo is full of world-class musicians and if you listen closely, you'll hear all sorts of musical complexity from every single instrument, from the bass to the horns and everywhere in between. Vatos' drums are a gunshot throughout the song, propelling you along like the freight train's locomotive. It seems so often that bass players pull the short stick in songs, just holding the rhythm section down and adding fullness to the guitar part. But in Oingo Boingo, bassist John Avila does the dirty work but also gets to flex his musical muscles often. In "Who Do You Want to Be?" there aren't too many examples of his bass acumen, but it's still there if you listen for it.

Vocally, Danny Elfman handles the lead vocals (as well as being the primary songwriter), but the band has some great vocal arrangements. You don't hear it as much in "Who Do You Want to Be?" as you would in "Only Makes Me Laugh" but Steve and John add some vocal depth to a strong melody which has lyrics to match.

Considering it was written in 1983, the lyrics for "Who Do You Want to Be?" are absolutely prophetic. Back then, before reality TV and 150 channels, you actually had to be talented in something to be put on television. In today's America, people can be famous just for being famous and nothing else. Would Paris Hilton have made the slightest media blip in 1983? She would've been another spoiled brat walking down Melrose or 5th Avenues, full of herself and blissfully ignorant of the real world that surrounded her. Now it's the same, but that attitude is amplified across the airwaves and broadcast into the rooms of impressionable little girls who want to be just like her.

The song starts with these lyrics, a right cross to the jaw of Paris Hilton and her ilk:

Who do you want to be today?
Do you want to be just like someone on TV?

For an America that uses television for escape, Elfman nails the satire with these lyrics:

Oh boredom is so terrible, it's like a dread disease
Nothing could be worse
Than when there's nothing on TV
I'd rather be a cowboy than to stare blank at the walls

I have to admit that I like watching TV, so these lyrics jab at me as well. I like getting "lost" with the passengers of Oceanic 815 and have to admit that Survivor is regularly on my DVR. But I also get out of the house and take my kids to the park for running and swinging, so I'm not completely hopeless. And Danny Elfman isn't beyond satirizing himself as well. He takes shots at the politically powerful and even lead singers of rock bands (I think Bono might concur). The last verse ends with:

Would you rather push the buttons
And be feared by all humanity
Or perhaps you'd like to be a bum
Do you wanna be stupid, just like me!

The song ends as it began, with a blast and it's over. Three minutes, twenty-one seconds of non-stop action and every one of those seconds is fast and fun. So here's hoping I can turn the tables and get my brother to like a band that I like. So Scott, go pick up Alive. You work at a record store so it shouldn't be too tough to find. If you don't like it, I'll pay for it. If you do, then we've come full circle. No pressure, though...

The video below is really weird, but it's the Alive version of the song, so that's all that matters. I think if you're a little high, this video might just be what the doctor ordered. I'm not advocating drug use, mind you, but I understand....

(Fun Fact #87: Oingo Boingo lead singer Danny Elfman may be better known now for his work post band, even if you might not have known it. Elfman has gone on to be a prolific film composer, doing 62 scores to date with no sign of slowing down. And many of them you know. He's done almost every Tim Burton movie, including Pee Wee's Big Adventure, Batman, and Planet of the Apes. But he's also done the scores for Dick Tracy, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Mission: Impossible, Men in Black, all the Spider Man movies, Terminator Salvation and the upcoming Green Hornet movie. He's been nominated for four Academy Awards but is still looking for his first win. Bonus fun fact: Elfman's bandmate in Oingo Boingo, guitarist Steve Bartek, does all of the orchestrations for Danny's movie scores.)

49. Green Day - American Idiot

Okay, so here's where the Ramones lovers are going to smack me big time. I can just hear it: "#49? Green Day?! The Ramones are 97, but Green Day deserves #49?! At least you had the smarts to put Blink 182 at only #86. Idiot! There wouldn't even be a Green Day without The Ramones!" True as it may be, there wouldn't be a Ramones without some lame garage band in New Jersey that may have influenced them but we've never even heard of. I already made my argument for the Ramones and I stand by it, so I'll move on and make my case for the greatest song on one of the greatest albums of the 00's.

After the slight disappointment that they felt with their 2000 album, Warning, Green Day entered the studio in 2003 to record the follow-up. They recorded almost a full slate of songs when the master tapes from their initial attempt went missing. Their producer, Rob Cavallo, asked them if the missing songs were their best effort. The three band members, lead singer and guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong, bassist Mike Dirnt & drummer Tré Cool had to admit that it wasn't their best effort. So they threw it all out and started from scratch.

The album that they ended up making, American Idiot, is arguably one of the best albums from the last decade. They took their punk rock roots and married it with the concept album influence of classic and progressive rock mixed with the most anti-punk genre, the musical, a la West Side Story. So you get a three minute punk rock anthem that is the title song as well as two nine minute plus opuses, each with five parts. I was half-waiting for some sort of concerto at the halfway point. It's just that they went off on a limb, but instead they're Wile E Coyote, five feet past the end of the limb, legs spinning frantically, not realizing that they're about to fall to their demise. But they didn't fall. They hit the bottom of the ninth grand slam home run to win the seventh game of the world series by selling over 14,000,000 copies worldwide and winning a Grammy. (Does anybody need any more metaphors?)

The album starts out with the title track and #49 on my list, "American Idiot." It's a no-holds-barred punk anthem that clocks in at the prerequisite time of "less than three minutes." It starts off with Billie Joe's blazing guitar played with old-school punk effects, tipping a hat to those Ramones influences, which he then almost immediately transforms into the more thunderous guitar of modern punk music. Billie Joe's joined by blazing drums and bass for the rest of the intro before all of the instruments (save the bass drum) drop off for the song's first lyrics, "Don't want to be an American idiot."

And that line sums up the attitude of so many of today's young Americans. They think that the America they are growing up in is part of the problem and not part of the cure. Our American lifestyle perpetuates a consumerism mentality that ends up with a feeling of entitlement. Obviously that's a grand overstatement, but it also isn't without merit. Billie Joe sings about not wanting to be part of the pervasive attitude of the close-minded, homophobic, racist attitude that still has a strong heartbeat in the American heartland. And the media that Green Day is actually a part of (to a certain degree) gets its share of the blame for the perpetuation of those ideals. You can see it in the lyrics:

Well maybe I'm the faggot America.
I'm not a part of a redneck agenda.
Now everybody do the propaganda.
And sing along in the age of paranoia.

The chorus comes across more as a bridge, with the verses seemingly the actual choruses. So they took the verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge format of most pop music and turned it on its ear. The lyrics also turn things on their ear. They're about the fact that the kids are not alright and something needs to change. There's both hopelessness and hope in them:

Welcome to a new kind of tension.
All across the idiot nation.
Everything isn't meant to be okay.
Television dreams of tomorrow.
We're not the ones who're meant to follow.
For that's enough to argue.

The music is as simple and direct as the lyrics. Although they stray into wider musical styles on the album American Idiot, they stick to their punk roots on the song, "American Idiot." Guitar, bass, drums, vocals. That's it. No keyboards, strings, or any superfluous production. Sure it sounds clean and powerful and is produced well, they don't let anything else get in the way. Although the lyrics are very pointed and critical, the melody has a strong pop sensibility to it

The guitar solo is so typical of punk songs. Nothing too fancy, just a chance to tear loose a little bit. After the solo, the song brings back the early punk guitar while Tre gets to flex his muscles a bit and take some of the spotlight musically. Then the song rips back into its powerful guitar and then comes to a close like so many punk songs do. It's as if someone just pulls the power cord and that's it. Song over.

So although Green Day owes a serious debt to the bands that influenced them (The Ramones, The Clash, Sex Pistols, etc.), American Idiot, both album and song, show that they've taken those influences and built on them. What they built was an album that is both a tribute to punk rock and at the same time the progression of punk rock into something more complex and substantial. The message may remain the same, but the transmission has evolved into something much more sophisticated and powerful. That may seem to be the antithesis of the roots of punk rock, it's very punk to rebel against everything, even if it includes railing against long-standing punk rock conventions.

"American Idiot," to a certain degree, is the "Anarchy in the UK" for American punks in the new millennium. Although this album was released before the current dire economic state really took hold in the United States, its theme and lyrics speak to the youth of today. Our country has to come to terms with its problems and stop sweeping them under the rug, because many of today's young people know that they're the ones who are going to be left to clean up the mess. Barak Obama as president is a sign of that acknowledgment of responsibility for the future. Younger Americans voted in much larger numbers than ever before because they realized that being oblivious and apathetic are no longer acceptable states of mind. As so many American musicians in the sixties turned a critical eye to their own country, a new generation of songwriters have taken the baton and tried to shine a light on the changes that need to come. Hopefully the modern group will share some of the successes that their predecessors did.

By the look of American Idiot, it seems like they're well on their way.

(Fun Fact #726: Since I talked about The Ramones and punk rock earlier, I wanted to punctuate just how short punk songs are, every single one of the tracks on the Ramones' debut album are under two and a half minutes long, and six are even under two minutes. All fourteen songs total up to 29 minutes, four seconds. Fourteen songs!)

50. Sting - Desert Rose

In late 1999, Sting released a new album called Brand New Day. He released the title track as its first single and although I was (and still am) a big Sting fan (both in The Police and out), I heard the single and wasn't too excited. Don't get me wrong, it's a good song, but it sounded very similar to other Sting hits and I guess I just wasn't in the mood. So I put off getting the album until early in 2000, and even then didn't listen to it right away. It just sat there in my collection waiting for me.

When I finally got around to listening to the album, I was surprised by the first track, "A Thousand Years." That song was more of a departure for Sting and harkened back to his earlier albums where he mixed pop, jazz and other musical styles more consistently. So far I was liking what I was hearing. Then came track 2 and my perception of Sting changed forever. It started with a lilting keyboard and some simple drum loops. Then began some singing that sounded to me like either Arabic or Hindi, and the singer was definitely not Sting. The drums became much more tribal and the influence of world music was clear. This was not your father's Sting song.

It isn't until 53 seconds in that you even hear Sting. And that is precisely why I chose this song as my entry for Sting. He's done tons of great songs and he's done lots of different styles of writing as well (pop, jazz, classical guitar, reggae, etc.). But "Desert Rose" was such a welcome departure for him that I had to reward it with this entry. Don't get me wrong, if it wasn't a phenomenal song on top of all that, it wouldn't make this list (a la "Mofo" by U2, a stunning departure musically and a great song, but not one worthy of this list). But the songwriting in "Desert Rose" would probably stand up on its own even if Sting did it in another musical style. There is justification for putting this song at #50.

Musically, "Desert Rose" is as lush as the desert it talks about is barren. You've got that intricate keyboard loop that weaves its way throughout the song like that desert creek that just refuses to be swallowed up by the desert sand. The drums, both acoustic and electronic match the intricacy of the keyboards, giving the song a texture similar to earlier Police songs, but with a decidedly world feel to it. The drums are played by the brilliant Manu Katche, who also played drums on #62, Peter Gabriel's "Secret World Live." His drum playing evokes his African heritage, even though he was born just outside Paris. He even uses an udu, a Nigerian percussion instrument that you can especially hear at the beginning of the song (it's the drum that almost has a "boing" sound to it).

There are strings that have that Middle Eastern flair to them, mixing perfectly with Cheb Mami's vocals. Sting pulls a Prince and plays bass, guitar, keyboards and even a vg-8 guitar synth. So even though he uses other musicians and leans heavily on their talents, Sting's fingerprints are all over this song.

The lyrics also lean heavily on the Middle Eastern influences of the entire song. It's a song about finding a loved one is the midst of a vast desert. Is it all a dream or is she real?

This desert rose
Whose shadow bears the secret promise
This desert flower
No sweet perfume that would torture you more than this

Even Cheb Mami's Arabic lyrics translate to the same yearning.

Oh night oh night
It's been too long
That I've been looking for my loved one

But the lyrics ultimately confirm that it's all a dream. The yearning will be unfulfilled. And like so many who are looking for that true love, it remains elusive and can only live in dreams.

I dream of rain
I dream of gardens in the desert sand
I wake in vain
I dream of love as time runs through my hand

Sting is one of those men that guys like me want to hate. He's a world-class musician, a talented lyricist and devilishly handsome to boot. But his self-effacing attitude makes him likable, even when he lives in a castle in the English countryside and can have sex for, like, eleven hours. And in previous albums, Sting had become, to me at least, a bit predictable. But with a song like "Desert Rose," he had an unlikely huge hit that brought the limelight to an artist that seems happy whether he's in it or not because he's always made the music that he wanted to make, be it popular with the masses or not. In staying true to himself, he surprised me with an amazing album (and Grammy winner) that had my #50 greatest song of all time.

(Fun Fact #38: Stage names abound in this song. Everybody knows that Sting isn't his given name. Most people know that his real name is Gordon Sumner. What's less well known is that Cheb Mami, who sings the Arabic vocals, isn't his given name either. Cheb is actually a moniker for people who sing rai music, like a rapper who uses MC. His given name is Ahmed Khelifati Mohamed.)

51. Kanye West - Jesus Walks

I was lucky enough to grow up for the birth of rap & hip-hop. As a ten year-old I remember hearing "Rapper's Delight" by the Sugarhill Gang and thinking, "What the heck is that? That is soooo cool." I'm sure it's like the kids who heard Elvis or The Beatles for the first time. No, I'm not comparing the fun-loving Sugarhill Gang to the earlier musical giants, I'm just saying that the type of music was nothing you had ever heard before. It showed me that music can constantly change you and surprise you. It's supposed to change you and surprise you.

But as rap begat hip-hop, the music became more predictable and less original, and I make that statement completely ignoring the criticisms about music sampling. In the late 90's and early 00's, so much hip-hop was formulaic, where it was take an obscure sample from a James Brown song, layer in some keyboards and then rap about how awesome you are, how much all the haters suck, who you're going to shoot and who you're going to fuck. That's when rap and hip-hop lost me for a bit. I never completely abandoned them as musical styles that I liked, but my standards were not met by so many artists. A cool name and gangsta street cred do not a groundbreaking artist make.

Then, in early 2004, a friend of mine said, "Look, I know you're disillusioned with hip-hop, but you have to check out this record from this new artist." It was a friend whose musical tastes I trusted, so I downloaded the debut album from Kanye West called The College Dropout. Again, I relived that Sugarhill Gang moment and realized that hip-hop had just been changed forever. The production values and complex arrangements that Dr. Dre started in the early 90's were being taken to the next level. And the man who would change the way I saw hip-hop was indeed a college dropout. He left college because his need to write, produce and perform music was just too strong to be suppressed any longer.

"Jesus Walks" was actually the third single released from The College Dropout, but it was the song most responsible for my epiphany. It took all of the rules of acceptable hip-hop and set them ablaze. That the song discusses Jesus in a way that wasn't just taking his name in vain should have been strike one. That it had a choir singing the "Jesus walks with me" refrain should've been strike two. And the fact that all of this was coming in the form of a debut album should've been strike three. But instead of striking out and putting out a song that very few ever heard, Kanye West went on to capture a Grammy for it and become one of the exciting new voices of hip-hop.

The first time I head the vocal intro, I immediately thought of the chain gang chants that you hear about. And then when I saw the video, that's exactly what Kanye's got - a chain gang chanting and marching to the beat. As the subtle drum beat carries on, there's the choir that comes in with the "Jesus walk... Jesus walk with me," adding to the vibe of an old negro spiritual. But Kanye's lyrics don't have the hope and confidence of those old spirituals. This is a man in conflict with his God, his world and himself. You can feel his desperation as he raps, gradually getting more and more animated. His words echo that:

God show me the way because the Devil trying to break me down
The only thing that I pray is that me feet don't fail me now
And I don't think there is nothing I can do now to right my wrongs
I want to talk to God but I'm afraid because we ain't spoke in so long

The music is sparse, letting the words and Kanye's rapping of them to shine. The chant continues throughout the song, punctuated with "ooooos." Then there's some vocals sequenced through a keyboard, giving them an almost yodel feel. The drums continue to be understated, but at the same time complicated, throughout the song, letting the chanting to actually keep the main beat.

Kanye even addresses the potential dangers that his subject matter may have on the commercial success of his record. But he was undeterred:

They say you can rap about anything except for Jesus
That means guns, sex, lies, video tapes
But if I talk about God my record won't get played Huh?
Well let this take away from my spins
Which will probably take away from my ends
Then I hope this take away from my sins
And bring the day that I'm dreaming about

Rappers have almost never shown themselves with such vulnerability. It's usual the peacock puffery of self-important lyrics, with a more than healthy dose of bombast throughout. Self-doubt and retrospection are as taboo as rap's trademark misogyny would be on a Sheryl Crow album. That's what really caught my ear with The College Dropout and "Jesus Walks." It took all of the rap and hip-hop traditions and threw them out the window, creating a new sound that I'm sure old rock fans might have felt the first time they heard The Beatles.

Aw, crap. That means that I'm old. Oh, well....

(Fun Fact #523: While listening to the song the first time, I thought the lyrics below were such a scathing retort to so many ignorant people who verbally berate others:

They be asking us questions, harass and arrest us
Saying, "We eat pieces of shit like you for breakfast"
Huh? Y'all eat pieces of shit? What's the basis?

It's a great line, but it struck me as familiar. Hopefully Kanye didn't steal it and it's just a coincidence, but that line is an almost word for word quote from the dramatic masterpiece that is Adam Sandler's comedy Happy Madison.)

52. Def Leppard - Pour Some Sugar on Me

Some of the songs that I've written about for this list have had some very deep and meaningful lyrics. They're songs that not only want to move you with their music, but they want to change you with their lyrics. "Pour Some Sugar on Me" by Def Leppard is not one of those songs. The lyrics are about as deep as a puddle of spilled beer. So they're not trying to change you, they're just trying to entertain you. Def Leppard is the summer blockbuster of music. You go because you just want to turn your brain off and enjoy yourself. No Nazis, no mentally challenged fathers, no abused children. It's asteroids, superheroes and sequels up the yingyang.

I'll stay with the movie metaphors. Before Titanic was the money pit of movies, Hysteria was the money pit of albums. After their huge success with their 1983 album, Pyromania, the band went back into the studio to take it to the next level with their follow-up. Pyromania producer John "Mutt" Lange was too burned out from his previous workload and wanted to take some time off. The band tried another producer and even tried to produce the album themselves, but both proved inadequate. Production costs were soaring and they didn't have anything that was worth putting on an album.

Then, to top it all off, drummer Rick Allen was in a life-threatening auto accident that resulted in him losing his left arm. The band didn't want to replace him, but they didn't know what they could do. As Rick himself put it in his Behind the Music interview, "Well, I've lost my arm..... and I'm a drummer." But you've never met a more persistent man than this one armed drummer. He invented a radically new style of playing the drums where he played all of the beats that would have been played by his left arm with his left foot. So they hooked up an electronic drum kit that was tied into a series of kick pedals for his left foot and he set off to practice. And practice. And practice.

All the delays ended up working in the long run because after Mutt's prolonged break to recharge his batteries, he returned to produce Hysteria. So the band went back into the studio with their uber-perfectionist producer and went to work. A process that had already been drawn out ended up taking over three years, and I should know because I was one of those anxiously awaiting their new album. The production costs skyrocketed, and it was reported that the album would have to sell at least two million copies just to break even. So it was double platinum or bust for Def Leppard.

"Pour Some Sugar on Me" was the fourth single from Hysteria. The first three had been met with mixed success, but it was "Pour Some Sugar on Me" that really catapulted Hysteria into that super successful arena. The song was a huge hit and became the signature song from the album. The version that I think is the best is not the one that appears on the album. The album version was actually the last song recorded for the album and Mutt Lange remixed it for the single version, and that's the version that I think is the best. The band agrees, because it's the remix version that was released both as the single and video.

The remix uses all sorts of studio embellishments to give the song a much more polished feel to it. There are echoes and reverbs, stereo separation, serious vocal layering, instrumental isolation and more. People complain about how music became less soulful in the 80's with the advent of modern production techniques, but I think it just gave musicians more tools at their disposal to make more interesting sounding songs. The same people usually complained about visual effects ruining modern movies, but they forget that Citizen Kane and 2001: A Space Odyssey used cutting edge effects to give their movies a look never seen before. Same thing with The Beatles. They used new production techniques (like stereo recording) to give their albums a new and exciting feel. Read about Sgt. Pepper's. That album was a revolution in music production. So if polished is bad, then go ahead and listen to your poorly produced 60's albums that give great songs lackluster production and watch movies like Easy Rider. I'm all for progress, so I'll listen to Kanye West and I'll go see Avatar.

Musically, the song is exactly what Mutt beat out of the band with countless takes - perfect. It starts out with Joe Elliot's bouncing vocals interspersed with Steve Clark's pulsing rhythm guitar punctuated with Phil Collen's screaming lead guitar. Then you get the song's signature guitar riff, pulling you fully into the song. Joe Elliot has just enough of that I've-smoked-fifty-packs-of-cigarettes-today voice to give the vocals a great hard rock feel without taking it to the I've-just-gargled-two-gallons-of-gasoline voice of AC/DC's Brian Johnson.

Rick Allen on the drums would come across as pretty basic at first, until you realize that this guy's only got one arm! Even so, as the song progresses, his drumming becomes more complex and even more amazing considering his predicament. The electronic nature of his drums don't detract from the song, and given the song's impeccable production, they actually add to the song. There isn't really a guitar solo, just a section where the song breaks down to some simple guitar picking and drums. It's kind of like the anti-solo.

Lyrically, as I mentioned before, this song will not change anyone's perspective on, well, anything. It's a song all about hooking up - a lot. A sampling:

Razzle 'n' a dazzle 'n' a flash a little light
Television lover, baby, go all night
Sometime, anytime, sugar me sweet
Little miss innocent sugar me, yeah

And all the other lyrics are just other ways of talking about getting with a girl and having a gooooooooood time. Then, later on after the anti-guitar solo, they break into some lyrics that I always misunderstood. Apparently I was the only one. The actual lyrics are:

You got the peaches, I got the cream
Sweet to taste, saccharine

I heard it as:

You got the beat, 'cause I got the heat
Sweet to taste, sad for me

In my defense, I think the beat/heat thing I came up with works lyrically. As far as the saccharine line goes, Def Leppard is from Britain where they pronounce the word saccharine (which we in America pronounce sack-ah-rinn), sack-ah-reen. And I knew that sack-ah-reen wasn't a word, so I just made up my own. My wife Jennifer, just shakes her head at me, but I think I make an okay case for myself. You be the judge.

The video that the band did for the song is a live performance that matches the tremendous energy of the song. The guys are running around, playing with gusto, having nothing but a good time throughout. That's what rock n roll is all about, especially hard rock. If you can't have a good time, you're not doing it right. And Def Leppard, as a band, has been doing it at such a high level for a long time.

Here's a little advertisement/endorsement: They haven't had a huge hit album in a while, but they've put out some really solid ones out lately. Their latest, Songs from the Sparkle Lounge, is a really good album. If you haven't listened to any new Def Leppard in a while, give it a chance. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

(Fun Fact #85: In an act of sheer hubris, Def Leppard released their first single for "Women" that had a cover that was a section of the album cover of Hysteria. They broke the album cover down into three rows and three columns, and each single was one of those sections. So in order to reproduce the entire album cover, they would have to release nine singles from the album. They wanted Hysteria to be the hard rock version of Michael Jackson's Thriller, where every song could be a single. At that point in history, only Thriller had ever released as many as seven singles. Def Leppard didn't quite make it to nine, but they still equaled Jackson's record, releasing seven singles from Hysteria, a stunning achievement from the album that many thought would be a disaster. Their record didn't stand for long, though. They were eclipsed by the artist they were emulating, Michael Jackson, who released all ten songs from his album, Bad, as singles.)

53. The Verve Pipe - Colorful

There are songs that I listen to and wish I could have written them for my lovely wife, Jennifer. She deserves angelic choruses for all that she has done to make my family the wonderful one that it is (and I don't just mean our two awesome sons, she's done lots to help with the family I had before she came along). I'm an okay writer, I think, but I can't really craft a song with any skill. So a poem I might be able to create, and a passable one at that, but putting it to music is beyond my capabilities. Listening to talented songwriters frustrates me a bit, with jealously rearing its ugly head. But after I get over it, I can appreciate their talent and enjoy their odes to the ones they love. Then I just tell my wife, "Well, if I could write a song worthy of you, it'd be this one."

"Colorful" by The Verve Pipe is that song for me. If there could only be one song that I could dedicate to my wife, this would have to be it. The words that singer and songwriter Brian Vander Ark wrote are ones I wish I could've written for Jennifer. I'll steal them, though, as we all have, as a proxy for my own feelings.

"Colorful" is a song about having someone who is dedicated to you truly in both good times and bad. Most people say it at their wedding, but do their later actions actions match those words spoken years before. In this song, she certainly has lived up to them. The protagonist of the song is Van der Ark himself, writing to his beloved about when his fair weathered "friends" abandoned him, she stood by his side:

And all the random hands that I have shook
Well they're reaching for the door
I watch their backs as they leave single file
But you stood stubborn, cheering all the while

The song starts off slowly with just a simple acoustic guitar playing simple chords. Brian (I would say Vander Ark, but Brian's brother, Brad, plays bass in the band) then comes in with his wonderful melody paired with the perfect lyrics. Just a guy with his guitar, singing to his true love. That's the purest form of songwriting, writing a song for the one who brightens your day when the clouds, both in the sky and in your head, seem like they'll never go away.

Slowly instruments are added, starting with some subtle keyboards, then a tamborine, then a pulsing guitar until the drums kick in and pick up the pace a bit. The echoing electric guitar adds to the atmosphere of the song, and near the end there is a violin solo, rather than some stock guitar solo. You don't often see violins highlighted in songs, and it gives the song some extra flavor.

Brian sings with passion, mirroring the emotions that flood through him, barely controlled by his own levees of restraint. In the end, the emotion spills over and shows in his performance.

You are more beautiful when you awake
Than most are in a lifetime
Through the haze that is my memory well
You stayed for drama though you paid for a comedy

After building to a rich climax, then the instrumentation breaks back down, leaving both the electric and acoustic guitars to take us out where just the acoustic guitar brought us in. The song fades away and leaves your heart fuller than it was just minutes before. And if you have a love of your life like I do, a smile can't help but break out on your face. You are loved probably more than you deserve, but you are appreciative and grateful every day.

Okay, in full disclosure, I found out about this song only because it's featured prominently in the movie Rock Star, starring Mark Wahlberg and Jennifer Anniston. I know many people think it's an inane motion picture, but it's a guilty pleasure for my wife and me. If you don't take it too seriously (which it certainly doesn't), it's a lot of fun and it has a pretty good heart to it as well. It surely doesn't hurt that it's about a hair-metal band in the 80's and I was a pretty big fan of hair-metal music (although I don't hold a candle to the king of chronicling 80's metal, Chuck Klosterman. Another quick recommendation: if like 80's metal and haven't read Klosterman's Fargo City Rock, you've missed out big time. Go get it, today. My favorite part is where he lists albums not for how much he likes them, but by how much money you'd have to pay him to never listen to that album again. So, homework metalmaniacs: Rock Star and Fargo City Rock. There will be a test next week and you can earn extra credit by doing an essay on the environmental impact of the chlorofluorocarbons released into the atmosphere by hair-metal bands.

(Unfortunate Fact #4: Sometimes the internet sucks. You find out things that you don't want to know. While doing research for this entry, I discovered that like many songwriters who write fantastic songs for the ones they love, it often doesn't last. Brian Vander Ark and his beloved from "Colorful" did in fact break up, and it was extremely painful for him. He chronicled the flip side to "Colorful" with a track on his first solo album, Resurrection, titled "And Then You Left." I won't do another entry on that song, but I will give you some lyrics and a video link:

There were no signs
There were no warnings
Saying that it's over
All you left behind was everything

Unfortunately, it looks like she didn't stay through all the drama.)

54. Limp Bizkit - Break Stuff

I have to give you a little background on me in order to help you understand why I ranked this song as high as I did. I grew up in suburban Los Angeles with two parents who loved me and supported me and gave me all the tools I needed to grow up into a productive positive member of society. They encouraged individuality (which is why my two brothers and I are all very different from each other) and a thirst for learning. There was no violence in my young life and I've never felt alienated or disaffected. The thought of hitting someone in anger is something that is completely alien to me (unless someone did something to my sons or my wife, and then all bets are off). I am a relatively fun-loving white guy who considers himself one of the luckiest men on the planet for the parents I had growing up and the wife and children I now have as an adult.

So with all that prologue, "Break Stuff" by Limp Bizkit makes me want to kick someone's ass, and keep kicking it until I'm done. And if anyone has a problem with that, they're next. When I listen to it, it has to be really loud, and I should probably be alone. As the song goes on, I turn it up more and more, getting worked up to the point that violence against another seems to make serious sense.

Of course, I would never, but considering that the only fight I've ever been in was a fistfight in the sixth grade that lasted five whole punches (luckily, mine was the last), the fact that I can get that worked up by a song is saying something. And it's not just me. Plenty of people have gotten worked up by "Break Stuff." It started with Jack Bauer in the first season of 24. "Break Stuff" was used in the promos for the new drama, and CTU agent Jack Bauer had lots of pent up aggression that he would come to unleash (and unleash, and unleash, and unleash) on various enemies of the United States. But probably the most prominent example of the influence of "Break Stuff" came in the summer of 1999, at the Woodstock festival.

Limp Bizkit was playing their set when the time for "Break Stuff" came up. It was nearing the end of the festival and the 200,000 music fans were already pretty worked up. "Break Stuff" basically took their raucousness to the next level. They started tearing down the plywood walls that framed the sides of the stage and crowd surfing on them. The mosh pits became frenzy pits and sporadic vandalism broke out. Fred Durst told the crowd to "take all that negative energy... and let that shit out of your fucking system." I don't think he was trying to incite a riot, he was just trying to encourage people to let their frustrations out. Of course, when the song is called "Break Stuff," the audience might actually take you up on it. And the idiot fans at Woodstock did just that.

It goes to show the power of music and the power of a crowd. When you have lots of people in a crowd, they feed off of each other's energy, both positively and negatively. So a guy like me, mild mannered and pretty well behaved might just shove someone extra hard in a mosh pit with the right motivation, and music can be that motivation.

So that's why "Break Stuff" is #54. Music is supposed to move you, challenge you, affect you. And Limp Bizkit does this in spades. It might not be in the conventional, Beatles or Bob Marley type way, but it's powerful in its own right. They've given a voice to countless teenagers who feel like the world doesn't give a shit about them and it's right back at'cha, world. They're mostly young, white males who parents are either divorced or unhappily married. The only attention they get is negative attention, so that's why they act the way they do - any attention is good attention to a child starved of it. That's not to explain away their actions, many of which are harmful to themselves and others, but it's a causal effect. They weren't born alienated, someone ignored and/or berated them, constantly. And now we all have to clean up the mess.

But for me, I see the song as a way for me to let of some steam just by rocking out and making a fool of myself when I listen to it. I scream along with Fred and headbang harder than I do to any other song. I let my rage out through my "performance" and feel better about things when the song's done. I don't usually listen to it more than once because I've already let the steam out of my internal pressure cooker. I don't know of another song that does it as effectively for me.

Okay, enough talk about mass hysteria and the psychology of "the crowd," let's get to the song. Guitarist Wes Borland starts it off with that great guitar slam. It's simple, yet powerful. The bass mimics the guitar line, giving it that extra thump. Since this was one of the early rap-metal songs, and Limp Bizkit one of the pioneers, the mixture of the severely distorted guitar with hip-hop elements of scratching and drum machines was new and exciting.

Fred Durst's vocal style with the almost falsetto vocal upswings were an interesting way to hear rapping, rather than the established low timbre rap style that we'd heard so many times. You can see influences from Cypress Hill, but it's taken to a more sophisticated level. It's borderline singing the way he weaves his way around a sort-of melody.

The lyrics match the urgency and frenetic nature of the music and vocals.

It's just one of those days
When ya don't wanna get up
Everything is fucked
Everybody sucks
And you don't really know why
But you wanna justify
Ripping someone's head off

The lyrics are about as subtle as the chainsaw that Fred compares himself to later in the song. This is a song about anger and the release of that anger. Everyone in your life has treated you with disrespect and antipathy, and it's time for payback.

"Break Stuff" continues at its breakneck pace until it slows down for the bridge. But this isn't you usual break it down bridge, it's like an arsonist's fire, starting slowly and then building and building until it just becomes an inferno.

I'm like a chainsaw
I'll skin your ass raw
And if my day keeps going this way, I just might break something tonight

Fred repeats the line, his anger growing, and as it builds up, the wording of the last line explodes with:

I just might break your fuckin' face tonight
Give me something to break!
How 'bout your fuckin' face!

The band tears through the rest of the song, with Durst's vocals becoming more and more intense (as if that was even possible), finally punctuating with a screamed out, "So come on and get it!"

I always finding myself breathing a bit harder at the end of listening to the song, even if I haven't used it as a form of anger management and headbanged for the entire song. And if I've screamed along with Fred Durst and pumped my fist and yelled at the world, I feel a little less angry and know that my stress level has eased some. So for me, it's a way of getting really pissed, but not doing anything to anyone, and then just letting it go at the end. For others, however, it's a way for them to get angry and pissed and then go out into the world and see what happens. I don't think you can blame Limp Bizkit for the people who do stupid things while listening to their music, just like I didn't think you could blame Judas Priest for the troubled kid who killed himself while listening to their music.

We may not all be grown-ups, but we all can control how we're affected by the things we watch and listen to. If you're so easily corruptable that a band can get you to beat the crap out of someone, then it's your own damn fault, not Limp Bizkit's. Don't blame your parents or your brothers or some rock band. Take responsibility for your own actions and live with the consequences. The world doesn't owe you anything. It was here first. Welcome to real life, buddy.

I used the below video not for the thrill of watching people hurting themselves, but to show the stupid things that weak-willed people can get talked into doing, almost always influenced by others into doing it. Limp Bizkit can definitely be one of those influences. So the challenge is to listen to the song without becoming the song. Some just aren't up for the challenge. Here's proof.

This next video is Limp Bizkit's performance from Woodstock '99 where you can see for yourself the influence (or lack thereof, depending on how culpable you find Fred Durst) that "Break Stuff" had on the audience there.

55. Lenny Kravitz - Are You Gonna Go My Way

This world's going to hell in a handcart and we need someone to lead us. We need someone who will teach us a new way of thinking - change the paradigm of present day humanity. Our problems have become so complex and overwhelming that we need to look at a shining example of how we should live our lives, not only by their words, but by their actions. We need..... Lenny Kravitz?

Apparently we do. Just ask him.

I was born long ago
I am the chosen I'm the one
I have come to save the day
And I won't leave until I'm done

Well, that's good to hear, I guess. The saying always goes, "Lead, follow or get out of the way," and Lenny's definitely placing himself at the front of the pack. He's got long hair, just like Jesus, and he's probably closer in complexion to Jesus than so many of the European produced likenesses we've been hammered over the head with (Really? An Israelite with blue eyes?). He's got the dreads that Jesus probably would've had if he'd lived in these hipper times. He's even a musician, so he's got the John Lennon thing going too, and Lennon said that The Beatles were bigger than Jesus, so that's an appropriate example to aspire to. And like Lennon, he's got his message:

So tell me why we got to die
And kill each other one by one
We've got to love and rub-a-dub
We've got to dance and be in love

Finally, someone we can.... wait.... Did he say "We've got to love and rub-a-dub?" What the hell is that supposed to mean? Aw, hell, if it works for Lenny and Ellen Degeneres, it works for me. She likes to dance, right? At least we'll all be dancing, and rub-a-dubbing……

Okay, all kidding aside, Lenny Kravitz has written one of the greatest kick-ass rock anthems of all time. It just happens to have that ridiculous but at the same time kinda cool "rub-a-dub" line in it. And in tribute to Lennon, he's produced it in a sixties style melded with some seventies sensibilities, and then added 90's production techniques. You can see the influences from The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and even early Prince stuff. To mix up such diverse influences usually ends up in a hodgepodge mess, but this song is as tight as the snap of the snare drum and a tribute to all of those influences.

It starts with that anthemic guitar riff that absolutely will not be ignored. You instantly hear the influence of the early multitrack recordings where producers could finally mix stuff in stereo. You'd hear the guitar in one ear, while the bass drum was in the other and the drums and vocals were in both ears. It was a gimmick early on that made way to more subtle and sophisticated mixes in the seventies and especially the eighties, but the old school technique works perfectly for this song. So the guitar stays in your left ear for most of the song, then you get extra harmonic streams of guitar in your right ear. He even plays around with the vocals jumping around in each ear. But with the retro feel of the song, it works perfectly.

The drums have that feel like they were recorded in a huge warehouse with the drums on one side and the actual microphone on the other, a la Keith Moon with The Who. They’re perfect sounding rock drums to go with that perfect guitar riff. Sure you hear the same riff 88 times throughout the song, but if you had a riff that was that killer, you’d play it 88 times too. The bass is typical sixties bass, where it’s just there to lay the foundation for the rest of the song. Nothing too fancy, but that’s not what this song needed. If there was a Geddy Lee type bass line here, your brain might just explode.

As the ultimate tribute to those late sixties songs, Lenny flanges it out for the bridge. Not only is the guitar fuzzed to the extreme, he’s done it with the drums, too. It gives the whole bridge that I’m going through a dark tunnel while someone’s playing some awesome guitar and drums feel to it, and who hasn’t experienced that? Then it’s off for some more riffing in both your ears before the song ends with a bang – from both the guitar and the drums.

If you listen to this song and don’t bob your head up and down, then you’ve just had spinal reattachment surgery and you’re in one of those metal contraptions with the pins in your head. And even if you’re the unlucky one to be wearing the metallic halo, you’re still rocking your whole upper body back and forth, because you jus t can’t help yourself. So go ahead, listen to “Are You Gonna Go My Way” and appreciate what a killer rock and roll song is all about. And listen to it with headphones on, but not those newfangled earbud things, go get yourself some old-fashioned cans that cover your whole ear (and stick out four inches on each side) so you end up slapping yourself with the cord because you’re rocking out so hard. Don’t worry, you can find ‘em on ebay or craiglist. You won’t regret it. I know I don’t, and I just finished listening to it eleven times in a row. I’d go back for twelve, but that would just be too much, don’t you think?