Top 100 Favorite Songs, Part 3

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

I'll say it yet 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 - Sir Mix-a-Lot!).  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, Awesome Blossom and all.  To my credit, though, there's also some great braised short ribs with rosemary polenta on the platter, too. 

John Mayer - Bigger Than My Body
First time I heard this, I had the same thought you did.  Is that a guitar?  Turns out it was.  Using a great guitar effects unit, the AdrenaLinn, Mayer opens the song with that fantastic sound, unlike anything we'd ever heard before.  But it's not just a flashy intro, there's a great rest of the song as well.  Inspired after seeing Coldplay in concert, John felt the compulsion to create something better, bigger - hence the title.  I think he succeeded.  It's musically complex, but accessible and easy on the ears.  For my money, that's a winning combination.

Sarach McLachlan - Sweet Surrender
Leaving her comfort zone of slow, singer-songwriter type songs behind (at least for a song), Sarah McLachlan quickens the pace a bit in "Sweet Surrender."  Her vocals, strong, but still with a ghostlike quality, give the song a dreamy feel.  Especially with the rich harmonies of the chorus, she shows how much a talented singer can bring to an already great song.  I have a feeling she could sing the phone book, and I'd still sit and stare, entranced.

George Michael - I Want Your Sex (Parts 1 & 2)
After messing around with a drum machine and sequencer in the studio, George Michael accidentally created the trippy beat that opens "I Want Your Sex."  Mixing soul vocal performances with pop sensibilities, George created a song that crossed all sorts of musical genre barriers.  Controversial at the time, the song was actually about the sexual advantages of monogamy, so the criticism was a bit off base.  Part 2 is just an extension of the original song, punctuated with some great horn and slow jam breakdown that's a tribute to his soul influences.  It's one of the best dance songs of all time. 

Mike + the Mechanics - All I Need Is a Miracle
Another pop perfect song, most music critics saw this song as a heaping mound of cotton candy - sweet with no substance.  But I love cotton candy!  I still don't see the problem in making a great pop song without a deep emotional undertone.  Look at "I Wanna Hold Your Hand," by The Beatles.  You won't confuse that with Kafka, but it's still a great song.  And that's what "All I Need Is a Miracle" is.  Using keyboards that are so powerful they're almost a percussion instrument, the band puts together a British pop version of an old standard like "It's the Same Old Song" with Paul Young's powerful voice.  Combine that with the fact that they had another lead singer with a great voice, Paul Carrack, and you can't really go wrong with any song you listen to by Mike + the Mechanics.

Alanis Morissette - Ironic
Starting off like your standard "Lillith Fair" type song, with sorrowful lyrics and a halting vocal delivery, Alanis takes things to another level with her soaring chorus.  And when she sings the line, "It's like meeting the man of your dreams - and meeting his beautiful wife," with a little "hmmmph" of resigned sadness at the end, the emotion really pours through.  The best songs succeed when you feel like you've stepped into the artist's soul.  Alanis Morissette is one of the best artists at opening up herself to us, and that's what makes a song like "Ironic" especially great.
(Okay, now that I've got that out of the way, the writer in me has to take some issues with Alanis and her lyrics.  The irony is that most of her lyrics lack the very thing she claims the whole song is about.  Isn't that ironic, don't ya think?  Coincidence and crappy timing do not equal irony.  Check out this great article by Matt Sturges about her attempts (and successes) at irony.)

Mr. Mister - Kyrie
This song was me at my best in regards to lyrical ignorance.  I was a faithful Christian in 1985 (and hopefully still am), when "Kryie" came out and had no idea that the song was about God.  All I knew was that it was a great pop song with killer keyboards and Richard Page's soaring vocals.  The drums pop and the guitar adds power chords when needed, but it's Page's stellar vocal performance that keeps me coming back again and again.  And looking back, twenty-five years later, Richard can hold his head high, knowing he was the one member of the band who didn't grow a mullet.

New Order - Blue Monday '88
One of the greatest dance songs ever released from a new wave band,"Blue Monday" starts with that great drum machine beat, slowly augmented with that repeating keyboard line.  The bass line, while simple, practically commands your body to move.  I'm at work right now with my tie on, trying to restrain myself (and failing).  Like any great dance song, it takes over two minutes before Bernard Sumner gets to sing anything, but when he does, it's worth the wait.  When it comes to keyboards, New Order is right up there with the boys from Depeche Mode on intricate layering.  I especially like the keyboard that sounds like an accordion on crack.  Seven and a half minutes later, you're exhausted from either dancing or fighting the urge to dance. And you want to do it all again.

Offspring - Pretty Fly For a White Guy
Tongue placed firmly in cheek, Dexter Holland, main songwriter, guitarist & lead vocalist of The Offspring pokes fun at his white friends who lived their lives as urban "black" youths, a la Steve Martin in The Jerk ("I was born a poor, black child...).  All of us know guys like this.  "He may not have a clue, and he may not have style.  But everything he lacks, well he makes up in denial," Dexter sings.  Musically, it's just as much fun as the lyrical content suggests.  In the same way that Anthrax thrashed out "Hava Nagila," the guitar riff in "Pretty Fly" reminds me of a Jewish standard tipped on its head.  Blasphemy?  Sure.  Fun?  Absolutely.  (Quick side note:  If you love killer guitar riffs, check out the intro to "The Kids Are Not Alright." )

Oingo Boingo - Dead Man's Party
Oingo Boingo are at their best when they're playing live, and they played their best live at their annual Halloween shows.  I was lucky enough to see a few of them and the highlight was always Dead Man's Party.  Taking a page from rock, new wave, punk, ska and even pop, Oingo Boingo developed their own kind of music.  Backed by a full horn section and with bassist John Avilla rocking the bass line out on a keytar, Danny Elfman's "all dressed up and nowhere to go."  He always performs with that half-smile, half-sneer, and it's clear no one's having a better time than him.  Musically, Oingo Boingo was one of most talented group of musicians of their era, born to play live.  If they ever decide to get back together and do another Halloween show, I'll be first in line.

OK Go - Here I Go Again
This song might've made my list based solely on the video, but it's a great song on top of that. It opens with that killer straightforward guitar riff, rounded out with the complimentary bass line, and then just keeps pounding away.  The guys do a great job with the vocal harmonies in the choruses, while lead singer Damien Kulash's voice reminds me of a young Elvis Costello on just a little bit of helium.  I love that the guitar solo is actually chord based, rather than the cacophony of notes that you normally get from a guitarist.  It's a fun, tightly put together song that reminds me a bit of early Beatles stuff.  And then there's the video!  How come nobody ever thought of that before?!  Genius!

Pearl Jam - Corduroy
At first, I thought the song was about a woman.  It's not.  It's a scathing attack on the people who became "fans" of Pearl Jam because they were popular.  The song was inspired when Eddie Vedder saw a "designer" copy of the corduroy jacket he paid $2 for at a thrift store on sale for fifty times that.  For those fans, he says "I don't want to take what you can give."  He can unleash scathing poetry full of vitriol like no other.  And then he spits them out an anger, railing against the "fans" who are so oblivious, they don't know this song is about them.  The music is fast and frenetic, serving the lyrics and Eddie's vocal performance well.  And if you want to know, I started out as a Pearl Jam one of these same "fans," but now I'm just a regular fan.

Robert Plant - Tall Cool One
Containing samples from Led Zeppelin songs, "Whole Lotta Love," "Dazed and Confused," "Custard Pie," "Black Dog," and "The Ocean," Robert Plant poked fun at the artists sampling Zeppelin songs for their own use and created this addictive mash up of his own.  Singing over samples of his own voice (and having Jimmy Page play guitar as well), he winks at all of us while having a total blast.  This song oozes fun from start to end as he consoles his lover, "Lighten up baby, I'm in love with you."  From the great keyboard opening to the spoken word, "You stroll, you jump, you're hot and you tease," Plant takes what could have been a parody and turns it into a dance/rock standard that everybody I've ever met loves.

POD - Boom
While they got lumped in with the alt-metal crowd when this song came out, I always respected POD for being true to their faith, even while being denigrated as poseurs by the hardcore fans of the genre.  They weren't, though.  They were just loved this kind of music and happened to also be Christians.  The band took that backlash and channeled it into a forceful retort to those detractors.  "Is that all you got?  I'll take your best shot," raps Sonny Sandoval, while Marcos Curiel's guitar propels the song forward with a menacing growl.  The guitar line even bobs and weaves like a prizefighter, taunting you to bring it.  With, "Boom," POD definitely brings it, leaving the real poseurs on the mat.  And a ping pong video!  Classic!

The Police - Don't Stand So Close to Me -
Starting off slow with an almost hesitant guitar and atmospheric keyboards, you think this might be a much more moody song.  Sting sings the verses with an almost verbal pout, echoing the coy student in the lyrics.  But the wheels come off in the choruses, where the mood is positively jubilant, playing against the uncomfortable lyrics, "Please don't stand so close to me."  It's the schoolteacher being ecstatic and uncomfortable at the same time.  Sting, a former schoolteacher himself, delivers his vocals to match the various moods of the lyrics.  Combined with Stewart Copeland's vastly underrated drums and Andy Summer's almost jazzy guitar, it's clear they passed the test.
86 Version
It's not cheating if it's the same group doing the same song, so here goes...
After breaking up in 1984 to pursue their own solo careers, The Police reunited for the Amnesty International concerts in June of '86 and went in the studio shortly thereafter to see if they could rekindle things.  After a tense couple of weeks, they realized that they couldn't and the reunion was short-lived.  What survived, though, was this moody, quirky, awesome rerecording of "Don't Stand So Close to Me."  While the original juggled excitement with caution, this version is all about the foreboding consequences of teacher/student love/lust.  A perfect yang to the original's yin, it shows how much a band's attitude can influence their music.

Iggy Pop - Lust for Life
For me, the love of this song didn't begin with those lame Royal Caribbean commercials, or even its prominent use in the movie Trainspotting.  Nope, for me it was the Jim Rome sports radio show that introduced me to Iggy Pop.  The opening riff of "Lust for Life" opens each hour of Rome's show and immediately after I heard it for the first time back in '94, I had to find out what it was.  Thankfully, a friend recognized it, and I bought the album.  The great drum track, paired with an almost rockabilly guitar makes the instrumental part of the song hold up on its own.  Then you add in Iggy's snarling lyrics, you realize his lust for life is actually a lust for heroin, which he was trying to kick back in '77.  It's about trying to quit something that you know will kill you, but the lust for it is so compelling.   Even decades later, I bet it's still a daily struggle for Iggy.

Powerman 5000 - When Worlds Collide
Mixing techno with thrash metal is a ballsy move, since both camps are fiercely territorial, but Powerman 5000 mixes the two so well, I don't think either side can complain.  It's like dipping your french fries into your chocolate shake.  Sure it sounds weird, but if you've tried it, you know what I'm talking about.  Starting out with a pulsing dance beat, you think you know what you've got yourself into, but then the chorus throws it all out the window.  Before you know it, amped up guitars and vocals are smacking you in the head.  And you don't mind because in the end, just like chocolate shake french fries, it all works.

Elvis Presley - A Little Less Conversation
Yes, it was the movie Ocean's Eleven that introduced me to this song.  But just like Steven Soderberg, who directed the movie, I couldn't believe that there was this cool of an Elvis song that I'd never heard of.  A great dance drum beat with some nice guitar work, Elvis does his best, well, Elvis, in singing, "A little less conversation, a little more action, please."  (Pssst....  He's talking about sex!  Don't tell anyone!)  It made me want to find other gems from artists I thought I knew.  Have found a few great ones ("Time" by INXS and "New Star" by Tears for Fears spring to mind) and I'm still looking.

Prince and the Revolution - I Would Die 4 U
For those of you who think drum machines and sequencers are the devil, I would offer up this song as Exhibit A as I mounted my defense.  The great shimmying "high hat" that is the rhythmic basis for the song is infectious.  And I love the percussive hand clap that permeates the song.  The great harmonies with the ladies in The Revolution (mixed with Prince's own backing vocals) augment his strong vocal performance.  As if Purple Rain didn't already have one of the greatest dance songs ever in "Let's Go Crazy," Prince decided to put another all-time great - on the same album!  Genius, indeed.

Queen & David Bowie - Under Pressure
I don't care if they stole the bass line from Vanilla Ice, I still love this song.  But seriously, folks...  Roger Deacon's simple bass line laid a great foundation for the immense vocal talents of Freddie Mercury and David Bowie.  Throughout the song, they both get to sing in all sorts of vocal styles, with Freddie hitting that great high note at the crescendo of the song.  Brian May, whose guitars usually stood front and center in the mix, knew that for this song, he needed to hold back a bit because this song was all about the vocal performances.  And in that regard, "Under Pressure" is a vocal extravaganza that I've never tired of.

Queensryche - Eyes of a Stranger (Live) w/ Anarchy Xtra (Start 1:30 in on the video)
Being a sucker for an anthemic guitar line, I chose the live version of these songs because they're melded into a cohesive opus of metal.  Geoff Tate may be the most talented of all his contemporaries, because he can pull off the quiet stuff (like "Silent Lucidity") as well as the screaming metal stuff as well.  Playing harmoniously together, Chris Degarmo and Michael Wilton show how having two great guitarists in a metal band ends up with the whole being greater than the sum of the parts.  Starting about 7:20 into the video, Wilton & Degarmo begin their buildup to what may be my favorite guitar part of all time.  Paired with Scott Rockenfield's martial drums, it always gets me going.

Red Hot Chili Peppers - Get Up and Jump
I talked in my blog about wanting to play guitar like Richie Sambora.  For drums, it'd be Neal Peart of Rush.  For bass?  A no brainer.  Flea is the god of bass for me and I'd love to play with his passion and technical brilliance.  The bass line in "Get Up and Jump" is so forceful, you either recoil from it or jump in with both ears.  Travis Barker of Blink 182 plays the drums the same way.  Both guys take seriously their responsibility in the rhythm section, but also know how to add a lot of fun to it as well.  This is the Chilis at their infancy, but Anthony Keidis' rap-sing vocal style comes across as inventive and entertaining at the same time.  When he blurts out, "Jam bob, jim bob, slim bob boogie. To the tune of slima billy, lookin’ like you’re mighty silly," its as if he's using his voice as another instrument.  Fast paced and nothing but fun, "Get Up and Jump" makes me want to.  Check out this great remix, too.

Run DMC - It's Tricky
This is kind of a two-for-one deal for me, because I get the great guitar line from "My Sharona" (another song that I love), with the incomparable back-and-forth of Run & DMC.  No rap group before or since has been able to match the seemingly odd (but in the end perfect) combination of their two voices.  Run's voice, up at the top of the register, plays perfectly off DMC's rich baritone.  When they both deliver lines (or in this case, words), it's that sweet and salty vocal perfection that works so very well.  They say that it's not that easy.  They're absolutely right.  But with a song like, "It's Tricky," they show that putting a great song together can be done.

Rush - Bravado
Complexity is the hallmark of most Rush songs.  All three members can make great rock songs while also adding intricate instrumentation.  "Bravado," however, isn't one of those songs.  All of the parts are very straightforward, especially for Rush, but at its heart, "Bravado" is just a great song.  I love the relatively simple guitar intro, which is interspersed throughout the song, and Geddy Lee's vocals hit the sweet spot of his more mature voice.  The lyrics talk about the people whose lives end up changing the world.  Even in the rubble of failure, they persevere and try again.  These people realize that there's a cost, but the desire for success overwhelms them, propelling them to eventually succeed.  It's a lesson that few really learn.  I don't think I've completely learned it, but I strive every day to get better at it.

Paul Simon - You Can Call Me Al
When Paul Simon recorded Graceland, he was greatly influenced by the African rhythms he'd been exposed to by a friend.  "You Can Call Me Al" is a relatively standard "quirky" Paul Simon song, but when you add the great bass line and African backing vocals, it becomes that great burger with a twist that you have at your favorite restaurant.  The lyrics are great, stream-of-consciousness type stuff that Paul's really good at, and his voice comes across as an everyman's voice (just one with perfect pitch).  In what may be the funniest music video ever, Chevy Chase elbows Paul out of his own song, stealing the show while Paul adds his own moments of resigned humor.  Twenty-five years later, I still know every word to this one.  That's a favorite song if I've ever heard one.

Sir Mix-a-Lot - Baby Got Back
"Oh my God.  Becky, look at her butt."  You know how it starts.  You might want to pretend you don't, but you do.  And you love it.  You know you do.  It's the guilty pleasure that everyone I know will begrudgingly admit to.  They'll sadly shake their head up and down.  "Yeah, I do love 'Baby Got Back.'  I just can't help it."  To use a Friends analogy (no, not that one), it's like the scene where the guys call Rachel on the fact that while she claims that Dangerous Liasons is her favorite movie, in reality it's Weekend at Bernies.  We all have a Weekend at Bernies, and for me, it's "Baby Got Back."  It's absolutely irresistible.  When it's on, even the ladies are rappin' out "My anaconda don't want none unless you've got buns, hon."  Some songs have that DNA that invade your brain like a virus.  Most of them make you want you to try and poke them out with an ice pick.  But with "Baby Got Back," for me, if this is being sick, I don't want to be healthy.  I'm puttin' it on again.  It's okay.  You can do it, too.  I won't tell anyone.
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