Top 100 Favorite Songs, Part 2

Here's the second group of 25 for the Top 100 Favorite songs.

I'll say it again, 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 - Chesney Hawkes!).  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, pint of Cherry Garcia and all.  To my credit, though, there's also some great spaghetti bolognase on the platter, too. 

Go West - King of Wishful Thinking
I've always been a big fan of Peter Cox's voice.  There's a richness to it that adds so much to what may just be a pop standard.  Lesser vocalists would be overwhelmed by the rich production, but his voice is so strong that it not only holds up to it, but soars over it.  Lyrically, "King of Wishful Thinking" is a hope for the best story of a man left by a lover, but you can tell that his wishful thinking is just that.  So the somber lyrics are a yin to the yang of the upbeat melody and music.  Instantly catchy, "King" still comes across fresh.

Goo Goo Dolls - Slide
Johnny Rzeznik not only has a great voice, but he can belt out some great tunes with his rich, raspy voice.  His vocals really make the lyrics about a guy who's desperately in love truly shine.  So many of us guys have wanted a woman to take that leap of faith and go down the slide with us.  Adding some strong musicianship to a catchy song is never a bad thing, and in the case of "Slide," it's what helped make it one of my all-time favorites.

Grandmaster Melle Mel - White Lines
Most early rap was about having fun, dancing and goofing around.  Grandmaster Melle Mel wanted to tell real stories from the streets where he lived.  And he did not have a Bel Air or Manhattan address.  What he did have was a cautionary tale for the kids in his neighborhood, because he knew they wouldn't get the preferential treatment that the folks in Bel Air would get.  It's the classic mode of subterfuge - wrap your serious message in a fun way, and kids will listen.  And damn, is this one catchy song.  As a twelve year-old, I didn't really know what white lines were, but I knew I loved this song.  Twenty-eight years later, I know what white lines are and I still love this song.  I bet you do, too.

Chesney Hawkes - The One and Only
Sorry.  I knew at some point, I was going to Rickroll you all, but I never had the guts to do it in a serious post.  If you clicked on the link above, you already know what I'm talking about, if not, click on the Rickroll link to read on.  Anyway, I did it on this song, because "The One and Only" is admittedly a pretty vapid, useless pop song.  The problem is - I can't get enough of it!  This one may be even worse than Celine Dion, but I had to be honest.  And like Celine, Chesney didn't even write it (that honor would go to underrated pop artist Nik Kershaw).  But if you like pop music, this will hit the spot nicely. 

Don Henley - Sunset Grill
In many ways, there wouldn't have been a "New York Minute" without a "Sunset Grill."  It was the first time that Don Henley put a really complex instrumentation together.  It's funny that the drummer would embrace the drum machine, but it adds a nice texture to the rest of the song.  Add some great bass work by Pino Paladino.  With the classic line, "What would we do without all these jerks / Besides, all our friends are here," Don sings of that Cheers-like place where everybody knows your name, even if they bug the crap out of you.
Listening to the solo at the end of the song, I always thought it was a keyboard or some funky effect on a horn.  In reality, it's a funky effect on a guitar.  Brilliant!  And that's this song from start to finish.  Brilliant.

Hoobastank - Same Direction
Always a sucker for a killer guitar riff, Hoobastank opens with the toned down version of a great guitar line and then takes the training wheels off to really kick the song into high gear.  Many would consider a song like this to be cookie-cutter rock, a la Nickelback and Creed, and they may be right.  But for me, this song rocks and I'm falling for it.  Singer Doug Robb has that great rock voice that works best when he really unleashes it.  Good thing for us all that his voice does indeed go to 11.

Billy Idol - To Be a Lover (Mother of Mercy Mix)
Once again, it's a killer guitar riff that pulls me in.  The album version of "To Be a Lover" is great, but in this remix, guitarist Steve Stevens unleashes a guitar riff that makes me want to go down to Guitar Center and pick up a guitar and follow his lead.  The first time I heard this mix (it was on a cassette tape), I had to look again to make sure it was the right song, since the guitar couldn't be for this song.  But after listening to the whole thing, I found that although it's vastly different than the rest of the song, it still totally works, because Billy Idols growl of a voice holds up to it.  If I'd give up a pinky finger to play like Richie Sambora, I'd give up the other one to play like Steve Stevens. 

INXS - What You Need (Extended Remix)
It's interesting what happens when you put things in alphabetical order.  Two remixes in a row.  Again, the album version of "What You Need" is great, but this remix is perhaps the greatest remix ever.  That's not hyperbole.  Listen to it and find me one that's better.  Sure Men at Work were the first Australian band to use saxophone in pop music, but it was INXS who perfected it, with Kirk Pengilly bringing some serious rock sax to the party.  Tim Ferris' great guitar work and Garry Garry Beers bass propel the song forward so Michael Hutchence's vocals take center stage - right where they belong. 

Iron Maiden - The Trooper
For all the flack that they got for "Number of the Beast," Iron Maiden was always the thinking man's metal band.  Covering subjects from the Native American battle against the invading United States, and a retelling of Rime of the Ancient Mariner, lyricist and bassist Steve Harris brought Tennyson's Charge of the Light Brigade to a new audience with "The Trooper."  Harris plays the bass so hard, it sounds like he's literally shaking the strings loose.  The two-headed guitar beast that is Dave Murray and Adrian Smith brings a great depth to any song, and they often play you-go I-go solos that are among the tops in heavy metal.  Singer Bruce Dickinson has such a strong voice, that you believe that he's a soldier on the field of battle, railing at the horrors of war.  "The Trooper" is not a rallying cry for war - it's an indictment of the senselessness of it all.

Janet Jackson - If
Heavy guitar riffs don't often work well in dance songs, but in "If," it's a well choreographed combination.  Laying down a heavy sonic layer that the hip-hop beats bounce off of, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis craft a hard-hitting instrumentation that goes extremely well with Janet's sexually aggressive lyrics.  The sample from The Supremes' "Someday We'll Be Together" caught me by surprise at first, but in the highest compliment I can pay, I listen to The Supremes' version and think it's the derivative version.  That's how well it fits in the musical landscape of "If." 

Michael Jackson - Jam
For both Jackson siblings, it's the harder, funkier songs that are my favorites.  In "Jam," an exquisitely produced track off of his Dangerous album, Michael takes what he started with "Beat It" and "Smooth Criminal" and takes it to a harder, funkier level.  He even makes sleigh bells funky.  I love it when Michael uses his voice as a percussive instrument, and he's at his best in "Jam."  Hidden behind the weirdness, the musical genius that was Michael Jackson was only visible to those who looked hard enough.  Being a huge music fan, I looked.  And with every interview I saw or read, I saw the relentless perfectionist who was always looking to craft that perfect song.  With "Jam," and with dozens of others, he succeeded.

Jackson 5 - I Want You Back
Most of the time, a bass player mimics the guitar line to give it some extra heft.  Not often do you have a bass player working with a piano to give some more thump.  That's the great combination in "I Want You Back."  Add in that great soul/disco guitar, and there's a great musical foundation that the Jacksons added their strong vocals to.  Of course Michael was the driving force with his tremendous vocals - and all this from a kid who hadn't even hit puberty yet!  I can't really imagine what kind of girlfriend he may have had at the time that he needed back, but we'll just let that slide because this is one of the best soul/R&B songs of all time.

Howard Jones - Things Can Only Get Better
One of the most innovative and talented musicians from the British "New Wave," Howard Jones took serious musicianship and married it with catchy pop songs.  That great slap bass line, combined with those percussive horns add that pop to the lush musical background.  Howard's talent on the keyboards knew no equal in his day, but his underrated vocal talent and production skill really shine in "Things Can Only Get Better."  I always loved the lyric, "And do you feel scared?  I do, but I won't stop and falter."  To admit fear is something that the self-help gurus want to avoid, but in real life, you need to confront it, deal with it, and then overcome it.  For a skinny British kid with crazy hair, Howard lived these lyrics and found himself a pretty successful music career thanks to all that hard work.

Journey - Separate Ways
In stark contrast to "Don't Stop Believin'," which started slowly and built up to a faster pace, "Separate Ways" starts fast out of the gate and never slows down.  Michael Cain's punchy keyboard intro is quickly built upon with Neal Schon's beefy guitar line.  Steve Perry holds nothing back vocally and just kills it with every single word.  When you add the layered harmonies of the rest of the band, it's almost an embarrassment of riches.  The perfect marriage of pop sensibilities and melody with a solid rock foundation, Journey makes "Separate Ways" look easy.  It's not.

Journey - Higher Place
"I didn't know Steve Perry was back in Journey," was what I thought to myself the first time I heard this song.  He wasn't.  In 2000, it was Steve Augeri handling the vocals, but if you didn't know it, you'd have been fooled, too.  With a pulsating opening, Neal Schon starts out with some guitar picking, before unleashing some serious power chords.  As always, Ross Vallory uses his bass to augment Schon's guitar, and the result is a sound that makes this song even fuller.  From an album that didn't even go gold, if you're a big classic Journey fan and haven't listened to 2000's Arrival yet, do yourself a favor and give it a spin.  It stands up with some of their best work.  (Quick aside:  After Augeri's departure, Journey hit the Steve Perry sound-alike lottery again with the discovery of Philipino singer, Arnel Pineda on YouTube.  Check out his version of "Don't Stop Believin'."  This is starting to get scary.  I can't wait to hear 84 year-old Gladys Washington fronting Journey in 2018, sounding frighteningly close to that Steve Perry guy.)

Judas Priest - You've Got Another Thing Comin'
With arguably the greatest heavy metal voice ever (but definitely the best metal scream ever), Rob Halford proved through countless performances that he had earned his monicker "The Metal God."  With "Another Thing Comin'," Judas Priest took what may have been a catchy rock song and added pure metal to the mix.  Rarely does a three-chord combination become synonymous with a song, but if you hear these three together, you know what song you're listening to.  Another two-headed guitar beast, KK Downing and Glen Tipton, sometimes play the same quick strum, giving the song its pulsating heartbeat.  With the greatest scream in the history of metal, Rob makes his voice its own instrument, and in the end, we're almost as spent as he is.

Nik Kershaw - Somebody Loves You
A great pop artist that most people don't know about, Nik Kershaw has always been able to put a catchy tune together.  A talented musician who can play every instrument you'd need in a pop song, he did some great songs in the 80's.  But it wasn't until the late 90's that he put his best work together.  "Somebody Loves You," from his 1999 album 15 Minutes, is a deeper, more powerful song than he'd ever done before.  There's still a catchy chorus, but the subject matter - finding empty solace with your "friends" on TV speaks in a more profound way than he ever had before.

Kid Rock - Bawitdaba
Lifting the chorus from the Sugarhill Gang's "Rapper's Delight," Kid Rock took that phrase and not only turned it on its head, but then blew it the hell up.  Anthrax mixed rap and metal with humor, but Kid Rock kept both hardcore, with fantastic results.  The first time I heard it, my first thought was, what the- wait- is that "Rapper's Delight?"  What the hell is this?  Then Kid unleashes his monicker in the scream of the decade and the song kicks into gear with some serious bass and a completely badass guitar line.  Rapping about the people he grew up with and knew best - the freaks, topless dancers, meth heads, even cops, he tells the story of the streets more eloquently that you'd expect from a Detroit kid.  But as he's shown with his career since then, he doesn't usually do what you expect.

Alison Krauss - When You Say Nothing at All
Three different artists have made this a hit song (including Chris Whitley and Ronan Keating), but Alison Krauss' angelic voice really captures the heart of the song best.  Everything about the song is tender, from the opening quiet guitar, even the drums are muted, so as not to distract.  But it's Alison's delivery of the melody and lyrics that make you feel special.  Even though I know she's not singing to me, my heart disagrees.  And although the arrangement is mostly country, it crosses musical genres and becomes a song that can speak to anyone in love.  I'm not sappy very often, but when it's a song like this, I'll make an exception.  Boy do I love my wife....

Julian Lennon - Now You're in Heaven
Comparisons with his father are inevitable, but I always thought that Julian Lennon got the short end of the stick.  Although his first album was pretty poppy, his later albums were much more sophisticated in their music and lyrics.  "Now You're in Heaven," from his third album Mr. Jordan, has his usually catchy melody, with a great sing-along chorus.  He channels a little bit of Elvis while there's a great one-two guitar punch in the verses.  Musically, it's a very interesting song to listen to, with many sonic layers that I'm sure make his Dad proud.  (Quick side note:  If you take your finger and cover Julian's eyes on the cover of his Valotte album, he's a dead ringer for my brother, Scott.)

Kenny Loggins - Conviction of the Heart
In 1991, after going through a divorce, Kenny Loggins realized that he needed to make a difference in the world that he was leaving his children.  Seeing the damage that his own generation was doing to the planet, "Conviction of the Heart" was his call to action.  Starting with a great guitar strum, and then giving his vocals a personal, powerful voice, Kenny challenges us all to do what we can to help.  Lyrically, he's direct without being too judgmental:  "You say you're aware, believe and you care, but do you care enough?"  The chorus builds up to his pleading refrain, "If we only try..."  He made me want to try, and I have. 

Madonna - Open Your Heart
(Shhh.... don't telly anybody, but I think I regret putting Madonna's "Holiday" on my Greatest list instead of this song.  Oh well...) Coming out fast right out of the gate, Madonna has a voice that can keep up with the full production of "Open Your Heart."  A Britney Spears or Avril Lavigne would sound like the kids they are trying to keep up.  Even though Madonna wasn't as involved with the music on this particular song, her fingerprints are all over the True Blue album (and all of her other ones, too).  I've always liked punchy brass in dance songs, and in "Open Your Heart" they add that extra richness that elevates what would've already been a great dance song.

Marilyn Manson - The Beautiful People
Following the lead of guys like Trent Reznor, Marilyn Manson became a master of mixing subdued, creepy music and vocals with the unleashed terror of screams and heavy guitar.  It's a nice dichotomy that he weaves perfectly in "The Beautiful People."  Starting at a slow simmer, he quickly rails against all sectors of conventional society - religion, capitalists, pretty people, judgmental people.  This is not a "Happy, happy, joy, joy" song, it's a "Fuck you, fuck you, hate, hate" song.  Many disaffected youth relate to the subject matter, being teased and ostracized for being different, and for them, "The Beautiful People" has become an anthem of sorts.  Now I'm neither disaffected nor ostracized, and so I realize he's most likely singing about me.  But I don't care, because it's a kick-ass song.

Marillion - Incommunicado
With me being a sucker for songs that start slow and build to a climax, "Incommunicado" was made for guys like me.  Starting quietly with Mark Kelly's keyboard intro, which builds to a trademark Steve Hogarth guitar crescendo. Mark then gets to really unleash his 'board with a blazing fast, intricate "solo."  Lyricist and lead singer Fish paints a scathing indictment of today's celebrity lifestyle (and this was back in '87, three weeks before Lindsay Lohan's first birthday).  With lyrics like, "I've got an allergy to Perrier, daylight and responsibility," he's not only mocking other rock stars and celebrities, but himself as well. 

Marry Me Jane - You Didn't Kiss Me
Although Gwen Stefani got the notoriety for her break-up anthem, "Don't Speak," another great one is "You Didn't Kiss Me," which came out at almost the same time by a band you probably never heard of, Marry Me Jane. Being a happily married male, you'd think that I'd avoid songs like this, but the way that singer Amanda Kravat delivers her deeply personal lyrics almost moves me to tears, and that's saying something.  "I know you don't care, you made that clear enough when I was leaving," she sings, heartbreak in every syllable.  Yet she still misses him.  A tremendous song about the dichotomy of being in/thrown out of love.  You should read the lyrics - they're pure poetry.
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