Top 100 Favorite Songs - Part 1

I guess I just can't let the music go just yet.  

As I was working on my list, my best friend Todd and I were talking about my list.  He was asking me about some songs he knew I loved and wondered if they were on my list.  When I said no to a few, he was confused.  I tried to clarify:  my list was for the best songs of my lifetime, not my Top 100 favorite songs.  Still noting the confusion on his face,  I explained further.  "Clocks" by Coldplay is a great song - perfectly written, crafted and performed.  Critics around the world would agree with my placing it on a Top 100 list.  It's a great song and it's one of my favorites.  "Baby Got Back" by Sir Mix-a-Lot is another favorite of mine, but even I couldn't make a case that it's a great song.  I just happen to love it.  So that's my distinction between great and favorite.

After I explained it to him, he then had a simple request.  "Your list is great and all, but I want to know your Top 100 favorite songs."  I gave it some thought (probably more than I should have) and decided that was a great idea.  You musical purists out there might want to skip this one, because I put them all up there for consideration, even the embarrassing ones (yep - Celine Dion).  Because I'm a big pop music fan, there are lots of empty calories on this list (which I have to admit embarrasses me a little bit).  But I wanted to be honest, so you've got my musical tastes on a platter, deep fried Twinkies and all.  To my credit, though, there's also a great juevos rancheros on the platter, too. 

So Todd, in your honor, here are my Top 100 Favorite Songs of my lifetime (not already on the other list, since that would be a bit redundant and boring). 

I'll do them in batches of 25, so I can get them out quicker.  So here are the first twenty-five, purely in alphabetical order.

Anthrax - I'm the Man
Opening with Sam Kinison's iconic scream, Anthrax decided to mix metal and rap in an inventive way.  Instead of hardcore lyrics, they poke fun at everything, especially themselves.  The fact that Charlie can't seem to get his rhyming scheme right cracks me up every time.  Throw in a metal "Hava Nagila" and you can't go wrong.

Asia - Heat of the Moment
My first real favorite band, Asia got me with their power chords, lush keyboards and rich harmonies.  Add on top of it John Wetton's powerful voice, and Asia had it all for kid with budding musical tastes.  "Heat of the Moment" ties it all together and sounds just as good almost thirty years later.  And you know if the guys on South Park do a tribute to one of your songs, you've hit one out of the park (pun intended...).

Barenaked Ladies - It's All Been Done
Speaking of power chords, BNL unleashes a few of their own.  This is a seriously great pop song, and then you add the playful "wooo hooo hooo" in the chorus to give it that BNL slice of whimsy.  This has been a staple of their live shows ever since, because it's just so damn fun.

Beastie Boys - Hey Ladies
Although "Sabotage" is the Beastie Boys' best song, "Hey Ladies" is my favorite.  The killer guitar line, mixed with their trademark vocal style where each guy delivers part of a line, makes you want to get up and rap along with them.  And I do - every single time..  The Beastie Boys had done fun, fast-paced lyrics before, but with the production genius of The Dust Brothers on the entire Paul's Boutique album, it took that fun to a, dare I say, artistic level, even with goofy lines like "I got more hits than Sadaharu Oh."

Blink 182 - All the Small Things
I'm a sucker for killer guitar riffs, and Tom DeLonge's one in "All the Small Things" had me at hello.  For those who decry the entire pop-punk genre, this may be prosecution exhibit #1, but I'd argue that it's a killer pop song played perfectly well.  And although that flies in the face of punk, their "Na na na na na na na na" is straight out of The Ramones playbook.  Add on top of it all the video they did that lampooned all the boy bands, which is absolutely hilarious, the music world's a better place because "All the Small Things" is in it.
(Funny aside:  At first I thought it was a joke, but apparently it's not.  The identical twin duo, Jedwad, did a cover of this song for their first album.  Apparently, their parents decided against passing on the irony gene.  The hand claps are a nice touch, though.)

Bon Jovi - Wanted Dead or Alive
It was a coin flip on whether this song or "Livin' on a Prayer" would be on my list, and "Wanted" lost out.  I could've easily made a case for this song as well.  Taking a leisurely stroll down the neck of his acoustic guitar, Richie Sambora invented an intro that is essential for anyone wanting to learn guitar.  If cowboys in the 1880's had amps and big ass drum sets, they would've written songs like this one.  Luckily for us, Jon & Richie did, paying tribute to America's rich heritage while making a great rock song.  Yeah, Jon, my face has been rocked.

Cast of Rent - La Vie Boheme
If I lived in the "musical world," where my friends and I could all sing and dance, and the idea of breaking out into song in the middle of dinner wasn't borderline insane, this is the kind of song that I'd like us all to sing.  Pure fun and comraderie, "La Vie Boheme" takes the original La Boheme opera as a blueprint, throws it in a blender, and brings it to late 80's New York.  The result is a catchy, provocative song that shows you that can be young, poor - even sick with the AIDS virus, and have a great dinner with friends.  Youth and hope are a great combination.

Ray Charles & the Blues Brothers - Shake a Tail Feather
Another song from a very different musical, this one has Ray Charles as the owner of a music store, showing a doubtful Jake and Elwood blues just how good a certain electric piano is.  The result is a classic version of The Five Du-Tones original song, and in my mind the definitive version.  Taking us through all of the famous dance crazes from the 50's and 60's, Ray brings an infectious soul groove to the movie, having me thisclose to jumping into the aisles and joining the fun.

Kelly Clarkson - Behind These Hazel Eyes
I've never been into American Idol, but this song from pop star (and season 1 winner) Kelly Clarkson has it all for me.  There's the great guitar hook, nice tempo changes that don't feel awkward, and her stellar voice.  She captures the true spirit of a lover scorned - wistful remembrance, anger, insecurity and depression, all within a four minute song.  Add to that a lethally catchy tune, and you've got all the ingredients for success.

Marc Cohn - True Companion
For all of us guys who wish we could write a song worthy of the women we love, guys like Marc Cohn take one for the team and write one for us.  With a simple piano refrain, he tells the story of any of us guys, all of us guys. It's the story we all wish we could live, even when we're old and gray.  The lyrics are poetry, to be sure, but real poetry, not the fairy tale poetry of Shakespeare and others."And when I look in your eyes / I'll still see that spark / Until the shadows fall /Until the room grows dark."  "True Companion" is a song I hope I can live out with the rest of my life.

Okay, one quick aside - Why can't musicians who write amazing love songs about their true loves, you know, stay together?!

Jude Cole - Madison
When you pick a song that you want to dedicate to your girlfriend/wife, you want to pick something that's personal and not too popular.  You want it to be your song, not yours and four million other people's.  "Madison" is a special song for me & Jennifer, not because of the cheatin' lyrics, but because it's a wistful remembrance of her hometown, Madison, Wisconsin.  Top it off with the fact that Jude Cole can write great songs in his sleep, and we've got ourselves a keeper.

Harry Connick Jr. - She
Not many people know the funkier side of Harry.  For most, he's the crooner of old standards and new ones that sound like old ones.  But he's so much more than that, and "She" is the living proof.  The full bass, disco guitar, tricked out drums sound like anything but a Harry Connick Jr. song.  Then at the end, when they let loose the reigns and tear into a dizzying instrumental break, it's a great reminder that you don't always need words.  I wish he did more stuff like this.

Elvis Costello - Pump It Up
I've already talked about the bass line, but if you only focus on that great bass, you miss out on the relentless pace of a seriously great song.  There's some great keyboard, and Elvis' voice couldn't be more different than his namesake, but I mean that in a good way.  At the end, I know I'm pumped up, and ready for another spin.

Counting Crows - Angels of the Silences
Another band not really known for their heavy side, Counting Crows shows that all they care about is making great music.  Right out of the box, original guitarist, David Bryson, and brand new lead guitarist for the Recovering the Satellites album, Dan Vickrey, let loose and show you what you can really do with two talented guitarists.  "Angels" is a rocker from start to stop, with a killer guitar solo thrown in that is the last thing you'd expect from Counting Crows.  Even when the song slows for a bit, it's only to build up to the frantic bridge and chorus.  Throw in Adam Duritz's powerful voice and lyrics, and "Angels" is a winner for any rock fan.

Dan Reed Network - Baby Now I
The who Network?  That's the question I usually get from people when I mention this band.  But trust me, this Network is worth tuning in for.  Filled with tremendous musicians and a lead singer (that'd be the Dan Reed) whose gravelly voice can rip out a rocker as well as tenderly deliver a ballad, Dan Reed Network may be one of the best bands you've never heard of.  I stumbled upon a 99 cent promo tape of theirs in early '88 and have been hooked since.  Some bands you're glad when they make three albums and then fade away.  Too bad for me, for us, this is not one of those bands.  "Baby Now I" kicks down the door from the start with some thunderous drums and then never stops kicking - but in that good way.

Def Leppard - Photograph
From the opening memorable guitar riff, Def Leppard proved that you could play metal (or pseudo-metal as some would call it) and have it sound like, well, actual music.  Producer Mutt Lange brought production values to a genre of music that had never cared much for them, while Def Leppard wrote songs that were poppy enough to be catchy, but serious enough to rock. The chorus just keeps building until you think Joe Elliot's voice may explode his own larynx - but in that good way.  The harmonies were straight out of The Beatles, but dropped into a great rock song.  It's like chocolate and peanut butter - a match made in heaven.

Depeche Mode - Strangelove
Another coin flip song from my other list, I love the musical intricacy of "Strangelove."  Lots of unexpected musical twists and turns married with Dave Gahan's seemingly out of place rich baritone.  But it works - in hundreds of songs, and especially in "Strangelove."  Depeche Mode shows that they know how to build a song, musically, but just like the guys at Pixar (where story always comes first), it's the music that's important.  "Strangelove" has a great musical foundation that they built upon to make it a great song and a very interesting song all at the same time.  And just like the guys at Pixar, they make it look easier than it is.

Celine Dion - That's the Way It Is
I tried to fight it, I swear.  I wanted to be an elitist snob and scoff at Celine Dion.  I wanted to hate her for the pop fluff and drippy ballads that she recorded.  But I just couldn't help it.  "That's the Way It Is" is a pure pop-perfect song, and I think I was powerless to resist it from the start.  Even then, I was going to ditch it, out of pure embarrassment mostly.  But my co-workers said,  "You may not want to.  But if it's really one of your favorites, you kinda have to, huh?"  Fine!  Here it is!  I am cloaked in shame!  Curse you Celine Dion!  (But it really is a great song...)

Eagles - Life in the Fast Lane
Another tale from the dark side off of Hotel California, the Eagles tell the tale of a couple living life on the high wire.  Starting with Joe Walsh's terminally pretty guitar riff, is the Eagles best rock song.  With Henley's lyrics, like "He was brutally handsome, and she was terminally pretty," "Life" paints a vivid picture of the difference between desire and destruction is only as thin as a piece of paper, at times.  You'd think that we'd all learn the lessons from those who came before us, but like the saying says, "Those ignorant of history are doomed to repeat it."  I have a feeling Lindsay Lohan never went to history class much.

Eurythmics - Would I Lie to You?
Never really a group known for its guitar work, Dave Stewart of unleashed a wickedly contagious one at the beginning of this song.  Annie Lennox gets to let loose vocally, showing that although she had that wonderfully ghostly voice on earlier tracks, she can belt it out with the best of them.  She channels Aretha Franklin in this performance, verbally attacking her lover, much like Aretha did in "Respect."  Eurythmics and "they rock" had never been put in the same sentence before, but Dave and Annie proved that, in fact, they do.

Everclear - Rock Star
Opening with the typical rock star dogma, "Look at me!", Art Alexakis pokes fun at himself and the rest of the narcissistic music industry with some pretty biting lyrics.  You can't write a song called "Rock Star" and have it not rock, and fortunately Everclear doesn't need to worry about that.  It starts off rocking and just keeps going.  And while he's poking fun with his lyrics, there are countless "musicians" out there who live with their own dogma, "I don't wanna be a loser / I don't wanna be an almost was."

Fall Out Boy - Our Lawyer Made Us Change the Name of this Song So We Wouldn't Get Sued
Never ones for brevity in song titles, Fall Out Boy took the style of the moody emo genre and decided to kick it in the ass, making their own guitar driven modulation.   And although bassist Pete Wentz gets most of the press, the musical force behind Fall Out Boy is lead singer and rhythm guitarist Patrick Stump.  He might look a bit, well, normal, for a rock band, but he can put together a killer guitar riff and melody like few others.  Pulsating drums and a solid bass give the song the perfect foundation on which to make a perfect pop song that also happens to rock hard core.

Five for Fighting - 100 Years
As I said in my blog, I like loud more than quiet, but "100 Years" became an instant favorite for me the first time I heard it.  With its simple, yet brilliant, piano line, combined with John Ondrasik's perfect tenor, it takes you through the life that most of us have lived - or want to live.  It's the universal message to savor life as it passes by.  The rest of the music (drums, bass, guitar) are all nice, but it's the piano and vocals that steal the show in "100 Years." 

Peter Gabriel - Kiss of Life
If you've got a great drum beat, I'm listening.  This is a more obscure Peter Gabriel song, but the rhythm of "Kiss of Life" is the star, which is perhaps why it never became too popular.  Drummer Jerry Marotta shows some serious chops as his drum line is the true star of the show.  Peter's melody melds well with the rhythm, while the bass and guitar are the ones that actually establish the musical foundation, taking a back seat to Jerry's drums.  Infectious from the start, his drums keep a blistering pace that makes you want to dance around and maybe learn how to play the drums.

Genesis - Invisible Touch
If you haven't figured it out yet, I'm a sucker for a pop-perfect song.  I know many musical purists see pop songs as disposable fluff, but they forget that The Beatles were a pop band.  "Invisible Touch" is Genesis most pop-perfect moment, and I was hooked from the start.  For three guys in a studio, Genesis sure can create some lush musical arrangements.  When you have the talent of Phil Collins, Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks, there's not much you can't do musically.  And scoff if you want - you know you want to sing along, "She seems to have an invisible touch, yeah!"



Wow, that was a lot more complicated than I thought it was going to be when I started.  Originally, I figured I'd just write a paragraph or two about each song making my case for its greatness, but before I knew it (probably around #90, Duran Duran's "The Reflex") I realized that I wanted to go more in depth about each of these songs.  So what started out as glorified blurbs ended up being heavily researched, fully realized essays.  My wife often wondered aloud, "Does someone really need 1,500 words to talk about "The Reflex"?  For me, and for those who've told me how much they like my blog, the answer is an unqualified "Yes."

So how did it get so out of hand?  That's an easy question to answer.  As I was doing research on each song, I'd do all sorts of Google searches on the songs, the bands that did them, the albums they came from, and so on.  What I found is that while some songs had extensive Wikipedia* entries, not many of them did.  There were other mini-reviews of the various songs on various sites, but nothing with the detail I find fascinating.  (I'm the guy that buys a movie's special edition DVD with three commentaries, four making-of featurettes and the music video, and watch every minute).  I love finding out how things were made and why they were made that way, and I didn't see a ton of it out there.  So I decided to throw my 2¢ on top of the pile.

For the two of you out there who were wondering about the process, I'll break it down in as many words as possible (I'd say, just kidding, but I'm probably not...).  It all started with lots of research.  I read tons of Wikipedia pages, read lots of magazine articles and transcripts of interviews.  I listened to each song at least a dozen times during the process and then, finally, began writing.  Many posts started out a bit strained, and I found myself forcing to find a voice for what I wanted to say.  Often I’d just throw away all I’d done and start fresh – or at least copy it down way down at the bottom of the post and then compare the two.  Inevitably, though, when I’m thinking why am I even doing an entry on this song, the juices would start flowing and the words would start to spill out.  Slowly, at first, and then my fingers would have to rush to keep up with the ideas that were leaping onto the page.  

Sometimes I’d just write down the main sentence of the thought to flesh out later while I rushed to get the next thought down before it escaped into the ether.  The funny thing is that many of these disparate sentences ended up being natural cousins of others, putting paragraphs together that I hadn’t even fully considered.  It’s a fun process when it’s really going.  The next thing I know, I’m typing the sum up and then I’m done.  I generally don’t have to edit it much more after that, but sometimes upon rereading it, some major reconstruction has to take place, because the introduction doesn’t really get to the summation in a way that makes any real sense.

But when the dust finally settles, I breathe a sigh of relief and smile.  “That’s a pretty good one,” I’ll think to myself, as I start doing the searches for the next post.  It’s weird that I’m done and there are no more to do.  It’s been a year and a half process, and I’ve loved almost all of it.  I hope that you’ve enjoyed reading them as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them.   I think it was Aristotle who said that you are what you do repeatedly.  If that’s the case, then I’m a writer who loves his family very much.

I can live with that.

Here's a little extra stuff for you stats fans out there.

If you look closely, there were only four artists that had more than one song on my list.  They are:  Metallica (2), Peter Gabriel (2), Prince (2) and U2 (3).

After I was done putting my list together (and since it was a snapshot of my entire life), I got curious about which songs came out at what point in my life.  Being an Excel geek, I decided to put a chart together that broke it down.  (To see 2003-07, you're going to have to click on the picture of the graph)  Go ahead and roll your eyes now, Jennifer.

It was no big surprise to me that the year I graduated high school, 1987, had eight entries.  I'd wager that for most music fans, the songs they listened to in high school are among their favorites.  What did surprise me, though, was that my sophomore year of 1985 had no songs on my list.  Other than that, I'm pretty proud of the even distribution of songs throughout my lifetime.  It shows that I'm open to all sorts of music, no matter what the copyright date on the album says.  It also shows me that I'm not too old yet, so that's pretty nice to see.

The longest song?  If your're counting the live recordings, then it's Peter Gabirel's "Secret World," ticking in at 9:11.  Next to that is "Won't Get Fooled Again?" by The Who, at 8:33.  The shortest?  No surprise.  The Ramones' "I Wanna Be Sedated" is a trim 2:29.

* The stuff on Wikipedia is pretty great, but what it lacked was a cohesive voice, a subjective voice, and humor.  I like to think I added all to my posts.

1. U2 - Where the Streets Have No Name

(Author's Note:  For those who know me well and know my tastes in music, it wasn't a question of whether a U2 song was going to be #1 on my list, it was which U2 song was going to be #1 on my list.  I was tempted to put "Hotel California" #1 just to be difficult, but who am I kidding?  U2 is the greatest rock band of all time and they deserve the top spot.  Just being contrarian for no good reason is a waste of energy.  I've been waiting a long time to get this one on the books, so I won't dally any longer.)

As much as you can label and differentiate different kinds of music, it all really boils down to one choice - quiet or loud.  Pretty much any song can be dropped into one of those buckets.  When all else fails, loud trumps quiet.  Upon looking at the breadth of this list, it's clear that if given the choice, I'm going to pick loud over quiet.  Of the 100 songs on this list, only fifteen are quiet songs.  Everything else gets to various levels of loud, some louder than others.  But it's not just a me thing or a rock & roll thing.  Being a moderate fan of classical music, I'm still prone to like the loud ones.  I'll take Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" over his "Piano Sonata No. 14, Op. 27/2."  While both are great, I'm going for the loud.  Sure, Albioni's "Adagio in G Minor" is a wonderfully contemplative song, but when you put on Orff's "Carmina Burana-O Fortuna,"* that's when my ears really prick up.  (And I'm not just name-dropping for effect.  All these songs are on my Ipod.)

But for me, the ones that really seem to flip my switch are the songs that start quiet and get loud, like "O Fortuna."  I love the build-up of a song that makes you feel like it might be a ballad, but before you know it, you're singing along at the top of your lungs or banging your head.  Going back on my list, you'll see quite a few songs that fit this musical blueprint. The thing about songs like this is that they're building to something, and when they get there, the payoff works.  Much in the same way a preacher will start his sermons low and slow, building up to a raised voice and vigorous gestures, a good band can bring things to a fever pitch and inspire thousands.

Most rock songs are built with the music as the foundation, followed by the lyrics.  This song was no different.  The main musical force behind "Where the Streets Have No Name" is U2's guitarist, The Edge.  Edge is considered by many to be the most creative guitarist in rock today.  He's like the professor on Gilligan's Island, always tinkering to find out a better way to do things.  He gets sounds out of a guitar that are unique, and does so often.  Bono once said of Edge's guitar playing, "I put my fingers where he puts his and do the same thing, but I've never made it sound the same."

In the case of "Streets," Edge was in his home studio, working on demos and basic tracks for what would end up becoming U2's The Joshua Tree album.  I could paraphrase, but Edge says it best:

At first nothing came.  I was recording onto a four-track tape machine, working alone, sequencing keyboards to the drum machine.  I was starting to get desperate and thinking about the next tour.  I imagined being at a U2 show and tried to dream up what I would want to hear [as a fan].  It was my attempt to conjure up the ultimate U2 live song.  It was a strange feeling when I finished the rough mix, because I thought I had just come up with the most amazing guitar part and song of my life, but I was totally alone in a big house with no one to share it with.  I remember listening to the complete silence of the house for a few seconds after the music had stopped and then doing a dance around the room punching the air.
The funny thing is that although "Streets" ended up being arguably their most powerful live song, the process for recording it was anything but easy.  Co-producer Brian Eno estimated that of all the time spent recording The Joshua Tree, almost 40% of that was spent tinkering with "Where the Streets Have No Name."   Co-producer Daniel Lanois, at times, had to stand at a chalkboard with a pointer, conducting the band through the song like a schoolteacher.  At one point, Eno was so frustrated with the recording process that he wanted to erase all the tapes in an "accident" and start all over again.  Luckily, he was convinced otherwise (it's said that physical restraint was needed).

I know you're probably saying, "This is fun stuff on how the song was done, Kent, but why is this song #1?"  And in cribbing a great line from Bill Cosby, "I told you that story to tell you this one."  I think you need to understand how something great was created to really discover why it's indeed great.

Starting with Brian Eno's simple organ introduction, the song starts with a hymnal quality to it.  Then Edge plays his moving guitar arpeggio as the song continues to build.  Bassist Adam Clayton drops in (and down the neck of his bass) to kick the song into gear, where The Edge and Larry start to let go.  After almost two minutes, Bono finally breaks in, belting out, "I wanna run...  I wanna hide..."  From this point on, the song keeps a relentless pace until the end, when The Edge's arpeggio leads the fade out.  At the end, you're invigorated - you want to listen again.  As you may have noticed, my musical breakdowns are usually more descriptive.  That's because what I described was just the album version.

Don't get me wrong, "Where the Streets Have No Name" is a great song on The Joshua Tree.  But that's not how you're really meant to listen to it.  Since Edge was dreaming of the perfect U2 live song, it's a song that you need to listen to live.  That's where the song has come into its own.  Larry was asked about the process of making "Streets." 

It took so long to get that song right.  It was difficult for us to make any sense of it.  It only became a truly great song through playing live.  On the record, musically, it's not half the song it is live.
He's right.  The song that took them so long to craft finally took wing when they had to figure out how to replicate the studio version in front of an audience.  The answer was - don't!  U2 decided to keep many elements of the album version, but also let the song develop into what Edge had envisioned in his mind in his empty house - the ultimate U2 live song.

There are two definitive live versions of "Streets."  The first is an early live recording from their movie, Rattle and Hum, recorded at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona back in 1987.  It starts with the organ of the album version, but then Larry comes in with his sticks and high hat cymbal, clicking his way through the introduction while rhythmically hitting the high hat until Edge comes in with his arpeggio.  When Adam comes in with his bass, the pace of the song picks up to a feverish pace, with Larry's tom toms pounding until Bono's vocals come in.  Bono's voice lends itself to live performances, because he can convey emotion with an immediacy that you just can't replicate in the studio.  U2 also adds some nice harmony vocals by the Edge during the choruses.

In the album version, the second verse is just a carbon copy of the first, but live, Larry kicks it into a more powerful groove, pounding on his snare drum with a martial beat.  Edge then gives his guitar some extra musical muscle to keep up.  Adam's bass is higher in the mix (and on the neck), adding a musical pulse that keeps your heart rate up.  Edge really shows what he can do with a guitar as the song hits its apex, alternately muting the strings as he plays, then letting them loose with that great delay/echo effect he created in the studio.  When you hear this version, you realize that this is what Edge had planned all along, it just took them a while to find it.

The second live version that's become an iconic performance of "Streets" is the one that U2 performed at halftime of Super Bowl XXXVI, in New Orleans, just a few months after the terrorist attacks of 9/11.  It's in this performance that the lyrics really became more of the central focus of the live performance.  Although there have been various interpretations of what the lyrics to "Streets" mean, Bono's always been pretty straightforward as to their origin:
"An interesting story that someone told me once is that in Belfast, by what street someone lives on you can tell not only their religion but tell how much money they’re making - literally by which [part] of the road they live on, because the further up the hill the more expensive the houses become. You can almost tell what the people are earning by the name of the street they live on. That said something to me, and so I started writing about a place where the streets have no name...."
It was a vision of a world where equality and humanity were more important than the acquisition of wealth and power.  It was a vision where religion was a unifying force, not a wedge that drives us apart.  U2 has always been advocates for peace, patience, and tolerance, and the lyrics to "Where the Streets Have No Name" reflect that.  Bono's lyrics have often told of places of peace, hope and love that are just out of reach, but still he strives to find them.

The city's a flood and our love turns to rust
We're beaten and blown by the wind
Trampled in dust
I'll show you a place
High on a desert plain
Where the streets have no name

 He urges us to never give up the fight - the fight to recover our humanity, even in the face of tragedy and strife.  And at no other time in my lifetime were those words more necessary than on that Super Bowl Sunday.  The United States was still trying to recover from the tragedy of the attacks, and instead of trying to get people to forget their troubles, U2 had us face them head on.  Instead of the organ intro of "Streets," U2 played "MLK" as an introduction to the song.

As the song starts, the names of those killed in the attacks started to scroll up a screen that soared into the rafters of the Superdome, remembering all who perished, both on the doomed flights and in the towers themselves.  At first hundreds, then thousands of names scrolled into their deserved place in the heavens as Bono yelled to his adopted home, "America!"  He then let out a scream in anguish, one conveyed the anger, frustration that was inside of us all.  Yet at the same time there's a glimmer of hope in his voice that comes through, echoing the optimism that we tried to cling to.  As Bono sings the song, he sings of a place he longs for, a place where love can be rebuilt after a fall.

And that's why "Where the Streets Have No Name" is the greatest song of my lifetime.  It's a song that was born in a moment of sublime inspiration, went through a troubled adolescence in the studio, and then finally found its place on the stage.  It's a song that is a testament to musicians everywhere that a great song can come from anywhere - sometimes you just have to carve through the marble to get to the statue that was inside the block the whole time.  U2 has written hundreds of songs, but if I only had one to keep from this point on, "Where the Streets Have No Name" would be my choice.  It's a song that speaks to my soul - fluently, because I think we're all searching for that place in the world where everything might not be perfect, but the odds aren't stacked against so many to really make something of their lives. 

It's a dream that's been around for as long as people have been around.  Really, it's what people call "the American dream."  The dream that no matter where you come from, or who you are, if you're willing to work hard enough and treat people with respect along the way, anything is possible.  It's a dream I want my sons to believe in, and I want to be there when they realize their dreams.  That's why this song is so powerful.  It's hope.  It can't be taken from you.  You can only give it away.  So cling to your hope, folks, because that's the only thing that's really going to change the world in the long run.

* Yes, most of us know these pieces from the movies they've been in, rather than being actual classical music fans.  I'm a bit of both.  But in case you were wondering, "Ode to Joy" is probably best known for the vault opening scene in Die Hard, and in about a dozen other movies.  "Piano Sonata No. 14," also known as "Moonlight," was in Immortal Beloved, Misery, Crimson Tide and The Pianist.  "Adagio in G Minor" was in The Doors and Flashdance, while "O Fortuna" has been in countless movie trailers, but also opened the first Jackass movie (I know- Orff rolling over in his grave and all that, but it was damn funny!).

Three videos for this #1.  The first is the music video for the album version.  The second is the Rattle and Hum performance, while the third is U2's performance from Super Bowl XXXVI.

(Fun Fact #40:  I was in my senior year of high school on March 7th, 1987.  As I drove into school, I was listening to a tape, not the radio, so I missed the announcement that my favorite band, U2, was going to film their latest video not twenty miles from my high school.  After class that day, I finally heard from a friend about it, and we jumped in his car and headed down.  We got a little lost in downtown L.A. so we missed most of their set.  We did, however, get to hear the the second half of their last performance of "Streets", plus "Pride" on top of that liquor store.  Adam Clayton said of the shoot:  "The object was to close down the streets. If there's one thing people in LA hate, it's streets closing down, and we've always felt bands should shake things up. We achieved it because the police stopped us filming. Were we worried about being arrested? Not at the time..."  Thank goodness they weren't, because I think the police may have had a mini-riot on their hands if they'd tried.)

One Last Interruption Before #1

Just like they make you wait in TV shows, "The results of the [vote, weigh-in, judge's deliberations, etc.] are coming up, right after this...", I'm going to make you read one more post before I get to the #1 song of my lifetime.  But it's not because I'm trying to grease some money from a sponsor via commercials or build up some false anticipation for something.  It's because I'm in San Francisco for work, while also getting some time to visit my brother, Scott, who's probably the biggest fan of this blog.

Scott loves food.  He loves trying all different types of food and is constantly on the search for the hidden gems that you can find in the smaller restaurants that nobody knows about yet.  He likes to document his quest for great food by taking pictures of his meals.  He's a great photographer and the pictures he takes almost always make me jealous that I wasn't there to share in the meal - they all look so good.  If you give him a chance (i.e. just ask him), he'll talk your ear off about his meal in vivid detail, his enthusiasm making your mouth water.  I've always encouraged him to do his own blog where he breaks down the great meals he eats, complete with his amazing photography.  I, for one, would love to have my mouth water more often.  Hopefully for all of us, he'll be inspired and decide to share his culinary adventures with us all.

Scott lives here in San Francisco, which is, next to New York, the greatest American food city.  Especially when you consider that The City (which is what they call SF here) is only seven miles by seven miles, it's amazing how many different quality restaurants from so many ethnicities are available to you, often with only a block's walk.  So when I knew I was going to spend the weekend here, I knew good food was in my future.  In fact, that was my plan the whole time.  Scott worked 'till 10pm on Saturday, so the first part of my culinary adventure would be solo.  No problem, though, since I used to live here, too.

So on Saturday afternoon, right after I landed and picked up my rental car, I headed straight to the iconic Ferry Building, which is now the "Ferry Building Marketplace."  It's like a mall where the food court and the shops are flip flopped, Bizzaro style, and there are mostly restaurants and food places, while just a few non-food establishments.  So the Ferry Building is a great place if you love food. There are all sorts of specialty shops that sell things you can’t get anywhere else.

One place that was on my have-to list was Bocalone, chef Chris Cosentino’s salami shop. It’s not just salami, though. It’s pretty much every kind of cured pork product you can imagine. If you’re a fan of salami, and in case you didn’t notice, I am, you’ve got to stop by. They have a salumi (yes, that's how you spell it) cone that gives you a few slices each of three of the day’s meats. This fine day, the selection was salami pepato, mortadella with pistachios, and some smoked prosciutto. The salami was about the best I'd ever had.  It had enough fat to complement the meat, but not too much to make it really chewy.  The mortadella was smooth as silk, with the crunch of the pistachios adding a nice change in texture.  The prosciutto was milder and less salty than most I've had, really making it easier to focus on the taste of the pork. The cone only puts you back $3.50, and I snacked on it while I figured out what to have for lunch.

It took me a while to finally settle on what to eat, since there were so many options.  I was also distracted by the specialty food shops all around, where you could get everything from cheese to chocolate to an entire shop devoted to mushrooms.  After going down one of the hallways that criss-cross the marketplace, I smelled that wonderful smell of fresh corn tortillas.  I followed my nose to a place called Mijita, where I perused the board and made my choices:  carne asada taco, bowl of albondigas soup, chips and salsa.  I sat down with my agua fresca and dug in.

Whenever I go to a new Mexican restaurant, I want to try the carne asada.  It's one of the staples and if a place does it well, chances are they do everything else well.  This specific carne asada taco was probably the most expensive one I've ever ordered - $4.25 for a single taco!  I've been to upscale Mexican restaurants where I've spent $12 on three, but never this much for a single taco.  After finishing it, though, I have to say it was worth it.  The meat was excellent, and I loved the pickled vegetables they put on it as well.  But what did it for me (and why I'm now salivating a little) were the tortillas.  They were arguably the best corn tortillas I've ever had.  Since it's a Mexican style street taco, it's wrapped around two tortillas, so it doesn't disintegrate on you when you're walking down the street.  Since I was sitting comfortably at a table, after the first bite I removed the outer tortilla to enjoy as its own course.  Maybe I'm one for overstatement, maybe I'm not, but go get one of these tortillas as fast as you can!

The other parts of my meal were also excellent.  The chips were authentic chips that you'd get in any good place in the likes of Cozumel or Mazatlan, with salsa that had a nice kick, but not so much it detracted from the food.  But the highlight of the meal was the albondigas soup.

It's a Mexican meatball soup where they (generally) add rice to the meatballs and serve them in a flavorful broth, full of vegetables.  It's the lesser known sister of chicken tortilla soup, and in my mind the underrated one.  I'm kind of an albondigas snob, and order it whenever I can, testing each restaurant that has it by the taste of their albondigas.  It's my carne asada experiment taken to the obsessive level.  I've had dozens of different albondigas soups, and outside of The Burnt Tortilla in Gardena, CA, this was the best albondigas I'd ever had, and it may be even better.  The broth would have been enough for me on its own, so rich and complex was its flavor.  Some places have simpler broths, preferring to let the meatballs take center stage, but I think that's kind of a cop out.  On top of that, the meatballs were nice and tender, with not so much rice that they fell apart.  Crunchy vegetables were plentiful throughout, and they added warm (but not fried) strips of their amazing tortillas to complete the bowl of Mexican perfection.

After waddling out after lunch (yes, I ate more than I should have, but can you blame me?), I headed to check in to the Phoenix hotel, where Scott and I would stay for the weekend.  Since Scott was working late, I relaxed a little and then had a late dinner at a restaurant in the Castro district called Frances.  It's a restaurant that's just over a year old, but has received raves from critics all over town.  Chef Melissa Perello has put a nice, modern touch on some French favorites, as well as some favorites of her own.

My meal actually started with meeting a great guy named Jeff, who was in town for a chef convention.  He's a chef at an exclusive country club in Connecticut and he loves to try other chef's creations when he's on the road.  One item on my bucket list is to have dinner at Thomas Keller's The French Laundry in Napa.  Jeff has been lucky enough to have dined there seven times, and he agrees that it's indeed the finest restaurant in the United States.  Jeff and I were single diners who showed up at the same time and ended up sitting next to each other at the bar.  He was great company and we talked about food for the entire meal.

We both went with three courses.  His first course was an appetizer of frittes (above left), classic French fries, except these were made with chickpeas.  Jeff loved the lightness to them, while also complimented the crunchy/soft texture combination.  I had the applewood bacon beignets (above on the right), which came with a maple/chive creme fraiche dipping sauce.  These also had the crunchy/soft texture and the bacon didn't overwhelm the flavor of the dough.  The dipping sauce was so good, I was tempted to use my bread to sop the rest of it all up.  Speaking of bread, they only serve bread on request (to save on waste), so make sure that you ask for some.  The bread they were serving this evening was a wheat sourdough with a great thick crust on the outside.  I'm a big fan of the thick, crunchy crusts, so they must've known I was coming.

Both of us had the dungeness crab salad for our second course, which was absolutely lovely.  It had a light buttermilk dressing with a nice touch of lemon and tarragon.  I know buttermilk and light don't normally go together, but this wasn't your typical thick buttermilk ranch, it was a delicate dressing that didn't overwhelm the delicate crab, and that's a tough feat.  Also in the salad were some surprise mandarin oranges, that gave a nice extra shot of citrus when you wanted it.  The salads weren't all that big, so it made it easier for Jeff and I to eat all of them with no guilt.

Since I'd had a big lunch, I skipped the entree and headed straight towards desert.  I'd read that the Lumberjack cake was to die for, so that's what I zeroed in on.  Jeff, meanwhile, had the duck entree which he thoroughly enjoyed.  My cake was similar to a fruitcake (which I don't really like at all), but had a much lighter texture to it, with shredded coconut and apple in it, rather than the denser jellied fruit you find in a fruitcake.  Served alongside it was some housemade maple walnut ice cream, which went perfectly with the slightly warm cake.  When you took a bite, the cake started to melt the ice cream just a little as it hit your tongue.  The critics were right - Frances is not to be missed.

Brunch on Sunday was at a German restaurant called Suppenk├╝che. It's kind of a hangout place for Scott and his friends, but not, apparently, for the superheroes that the name led me to believe would be there for a meal.  I didn't know Germans really did brunch, but it was a tasty meal.  Both Scott and I got the chicken schnitzel, obviously made with chicken rather than the pork or veal that's normally used in weinerschnitzel.  Alongside were some great roasted potatoes and a simple butter lettuce salad with a tasty vinaigrette.  The chicken was perfectly cooked and they served it with a German mustard that was fantastic.  I'm a big mustard fan* and I ended up going through two little cups of it.  Scott's best friend Trey and his girlfriend Dana were delightful company for the meal, echoing one of my Mom's sayings, "Meals aren't really about the food, they're about the company."  Then she would pause, and add "Okay, well maybe it's about the food, too," with a smile.

After playing around the city for a while, Scott and I went to get him a new computer, since his five year-old Compaq had finally been taken off life support and passed away quietly in its sleep.  Outside of San Francisco's Best Buy (there's only one in the city), I spotted the El Tonayense taco truck, parked in its usual spot on Harrison.  Scott had been raving earlier about their food, so in the mood for a mid-afternoon snack, I went over to get a taco.  They had all the standards, but since Scott had said how good everything was, I decided to take a bit of a gamble and ordered a taco de lengua.  That's right, Spanish speakers, I went with the tongue taco.

I'd had a tongue taco before, but from a place that didn't prepare it well.  It was gamey and tough, while being so chewy that it took me two minutes to finish two bites.  And with those two bites, I was done.  I've always prided myself in being open to trying anything food related at least once, but I thought my beef tongue chapter had been open and closed.  But this taco was excellent.  It was perfectly tender, rich in flavor like most organ meat is.  If you hadn't told me what it was, I would've quickly (and happily) finished off the entire taco.  It was served street style as usual, with the two corn tortillas, cilantro, raw onions and the hot salsa I selected.  While the tortillas were nowhere near as good as the ones at Mijita, the tongue really was tasty.  So I'm back on the wagon again as far as tongue goes - I'll just make sure I get it at a place I can trust.

After getting Scott's new computer (and me helping him get it all set up), we went to the Walt Disney Family Museum, at The Presidio.  I'm a big Disney fan and had just finished Neal Gabler's fantastic biography of Walt a few months ago+, so it was great to be able to see so many of the things that I had read about.  If you ever went to Disneyland in the early 70's and loved it the way I did, you have to visit this museum.  There's one thing in particular that will blow your mind.  I don't want to ruin it for you, but you seriously should go there if you're anywhere remotely near San Francisco.  Okay, enough of that, back to the food.

The last stop on our culinary trip through San Francisco was at Memphis Minnie's barbecue in the Lower Haight district.  Both Scott and Trey had raved about the food, and they hadn't done me wrong yet.  After driving around for twenty minutes looking for a parking spot in the rain on a Sunday night in San Francisco in a residential neighborhood where everybody was probably already in for the night, I was really hoping they were right.

They were.  It was great barbecue.  I got the sampler plate, so I could try three different meats.  I couldn't finish them all (you're welcome, arteries), but the brisket was probably the best I've ever had.  The spareribs were excellent and extremely tender.  The only slight disappointment was the pulled pork.  Don't get me wrong, it was very good, but also very standard tasting.  It didn't differentiate itself from a dozen others I've had.  The sides, though, were a highlight.  Some barbecue places spend so much time getting the meat right that they let the sides suffer.  Not at Memphis Minnie's.  The mac and cheese was sumptuous and the baked beans were very tasty with chunks of meat in them.  The cornbread was so good I was tempted to go back and spend $1.25 for another muffin.  My stomach vetoed that idea.  Scott was nice enough to share a bite of the coleslaw with me and its slightly sweet vinegary marinade shined through with every crunchy bite.  I could've eaten a meal of just sides if I wasn't addicted to barbecued meats.

They have three different sauces to put on their meat.  I always try the meats first on their own to truly see how good they are, and the brisket was so tasty that I didn't need to put any sauce on it whatsoever.  There's South Carolina inspired mustard sauce, which was my favorite - probably not a surprise, huh?  The Texas Red is slightly sweet and was my second favorite.  The third, a North Carolina vinegar based sauce, was my least favorite.  After a quick try, it was far too vinegary with no additional balance of taste for me to put it on this great barbecue.  All in all, the meal (and the company) was fantastic.  I'd go to Memphis Minnie's again and again if I lived anywhere close - and by anywhere close, I mean Fresno.

So in just two days, Scott and I filled a weekend with all sorts of culinary treasures.  I ate more than I probably should have, but considering the quality of everything I ate, maybe I didn't eat enough.  If you ever find yourself in San Francisco in the Upper Haight with an adventurous spirit and an empty stomach, stop by Amoeba records on Haight street and track down Scott.  Hopefully, you can talk him into going to lunch or dinner with you, but at the very least, pry a restaurant recommendation out of him.  He won't steer you wrong, this post is living proof.

* I'm such a big mustard fan, in fact, that my wife, Jennifer has limited me to ten mustards in our fridge.  I tried in vain to argue that regular yellow mustard shouldn't count since it's a kitchen staple that should always be there.  Jennifer pointed out that yellow mustard is, in fact a mustard, and should absolutely count.  I hate it when she makes sense.  So when I found the mustard they use at New York's famous hot dog stand, Nathan's, I had to jettison my Trader Joe's wasabi mustard to make room.  It took a lot of resolve, but I held back the tears as I tossed it.  Did I happen to mention that I love mustard?

+ Gabler's biography tries to paint a realistic picture of Walt Disney, rather than the stylized one that we've all heard about and wish were true.  Walt Disney was much more complicated than the cherubic grandpa many of us remember from the Wonderful World of Disney shows, and Gabler prefers to show the complete Walt, warts and all.  Walt's life was an intricate blend of seeming contradictions - a fervent Republican and anti-communist, Walt was a passionate advocate for the arts - all arts.  While some of Disney's family clearly had issues with it (who wants to hear that their dad was a total asshole at times?), I highly recommend it.