Top 100 Favorite Songs, Part 4

Okay, this is the last I'm going to be waxing on (and on and on, I'm sure some of you probably think) about music for a while.  This the last 25 in my Top 100 Favorite Songs.

I'll say it one last time, you musical purists out there might want to skip this one, because I put them all up there for consideration, even the embarrassing ones ("I'm Your Man" by Wham! immediately comes to mind).  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, Quarter Pounder and all.  To my credit, though, there's also a great bread pudding with vanilla-whiskey sauce on the platter, too. 

Todd Snider - Beer Run (Live)
I've always been a fan of people who can be funny in a song.  Putting the funny into a "good" song, though, is harder than it looks.  Todd Snider's always been good at putting handfuls of humor into his songs, but with "Beer Run," he decided to go whole hog and make the entire song damn funny.  The cool pneumonic of B double E double R U N got me laughing from the start, and when he lets loose "the guys both took it pretty hard," I was on the floor.  When I need a laugh, this is usually the first song I play, with Adam Sandler's "Hanukkah Song" not far behind.

Stone Temple Pilots - Vaseline
I have no idea what this song is about and I don't much care, because it's just a great song.  With that so-simple-you-can't-believe-someone-didn't-use-it-before opening guitar riff, STP catch you from the start.  Scott Weiland has one of those great rock voices that works so well in a balls to the wall song like "Vasoline."  As a band, STP was more of a rock band than your standard grunge band, so their songs hold up a little better than some of their compatriots.  I've listened to it a few more times in the last hour, and I still don't know what it's about.  And I still don't care.

Styx - Too Much Time on My Hands
Critics railed on Styx for being "corporate rock."  One critic compared one of their albums to "a parking lot full of whale vomit."  Brilliant analogy aside, I think they were too hard on the band.  As I made my case in my Boston post, I think bands like Styx made the records we all wanted to hear.  Fun is okay.  Everybody doesn't need to be Dylan.  And fun is all over "Too Much Time on My Hands."  With my propensity for procrastination, I always loved the line "I've got nothing to do and all day to do it."  Sure, the hand claps in the chorus sound cheesy, but there's an inherent cheesiness to the song that works for me.  So, music purists, go listen to Dylan and Tom Waits.  I'll have another cup of Styx, please.

Sugar Ray - RPM
I never knew Sugar Ray could rock until I unearthed the gem that is "RPM."  The way guitarist Rodney Sheppard does a dueling banjos thing with an actual motorcycle engine is brilliant.  At first, I thought singer Mark McGrath's voice wouldn't stand up in a full blown rocker, I was glad to see I was wrong.  He's more restrained in songs like "Fly" and "Every Morning," but he shows he can belt it out when the song calls for it.  I've always like the slightly quirky drum beat, so "RPM" became a favorite of mine on all levels.  If you are in the mood for another Sugar Ray rocker, check out "Glory."  That song kicks ass, too.

Talking Heads - And She Was
David Byrne is one of those quirky geniuses that can always catch you off guard.  While earlier albums had a much more alternative feel to them, "And She Was," the lead track off of their Little Creatures album, was their version of a pop standard.  With me being a pop music groupie, it was right up my alley.  While Byrne's voice is anything but pop, the way he delivers his vocals has that quirky cheekiness that really works.  Jerry Harrison's simple guitar gives off a kids song vibe, but it works so well with the song as a whole.  The "hey hey hey" vocals also have that I-can't-remember-the-words-so-I'll-just-say-hey thing that kids love to do.  As a grown up kids song, I was hooked from the start, and I still am.

James Taylor - Fire and Rain
Although I love lush musical arrangements with top-notch production values, I also realize that sometimes all you need is a guitar and a great voice to make an amazing song.  Armed with just those, James Taylor talks of life's struggles in such a mature way, acknowledging the difficulties while also trying to see some hope amid the despair.  I love that he can encapsulate an entire life where he's seen "sunny days" and "lonely times" in just two lines.  The heartache of "I always thought I'd see you again," touches me every time I hear it, especially after the death of my mother.  There's a lot of meat to the barebones arrangement, and while fun songs are great, sometimes you need something to make you think.  For me, it's not Bob Dylan, it's James Taylor that I turn to.

Tears for Fears - Broken
This song has a killer bass line as well as a great guitar line.  When played together, it's a sonic dance where the instruments blend perfectly.  You'd think that each line is so distinctive that it'd take away from the other, but the combination is flawless.  For many, "Broken" is merely the intro and outro to their popular hit "Head Over Heels," but for me, it's "Head Over Heels" that's the interruption of a great song.  I even made a mix of the songs, removing "Head Over Heels" in its entirety.  To catch the real ending to the song, check out this clip, and fast forward 4:10 into the song.  I love hit pop songs, but America got it wrong.  "Broken" was the real hit here.

Third Eye Blind - Graduate (Remix)
This is another remix where the album version is beefed up, and the underrated Third Eye Blind bring some great guitar to the party, and I especially love the neck slide after the initial chorus.  "Semi Charmed Life" is a great song, but it pales in comparison to "Graduate," a more complex rocker that really shows what guitarist Tony Fredianelli can do.  The stuttering drum and bass part at the end of Tony's guitar solo is another favorite part of mine.  Stephan Jenkins has one of the more versatile rock voices that can let loose, like on "Graduate," but also handle the more mellow stuff, like "How's It Going to Be."  Songs like "Graduate" appeal to me because they're great straightforward rockers with a great sonic subtext of complexity.

Traveling Wilburys - End of the Line
Okay, you've finally got me giving Bob Dylan the thumbs up.  I've always been hard on him for his voice, but with fellow Wilburys Tom Petty, George Harrison, Roy Orbison and Jeff Lynne, his voice works for me (in small doses).  Of course it helps that Harrison, Petty and Orbison sing the lead parts in "End of the Line," while Dylan's only vocals are of the background variety.  Sorry, Bob.  Anyway, with the simple, yet instantly classic, guitar opening, "End of the Line" is a great singalong song that catches your attention right away.  In the video, they're all just sitting around singing, and with a song like this, it makes me wish I could be there singing along, too.

I don't know if I mentioned this in any of my regular posts, but I'm a pretty big U2 fan.  Okay, they're the best group in the history of rock & roll.  So when it comes to favorites, you know you're getting more U2.  Here are three more great ones that easily could've made my Top 100 best songs list.

U2 - City of Blinding Lights
In November of 2004, I was in Los Angeles, taking care of my mother who was very sick and would end up passing away the day before Thanksgiving.  My wife was home in Colorado and I missed her very much.  In this sad and depressing time, I needed something to lift my spirits.  The first time I heard "City of Blinding Lights," the lyrics touched me in a profound way.  U2 combined what I loved about "Where the Streets Have No Name" and made it a love song.  "And I miss you when you're not around."  As simple a lyric as it is, I was living it at that exact moment.  Another simple, yet meaningful lyric was "Oh, you look so beautiful tonight."  I think that so often when I look at my wife, and listening to it when she wasn't there brought back the good and happy memories I needed in that dark time.  She still looks beautiful every night and I'm the luckiest guy in the world.  I'm glad that there's a song now that is a constant reminder of that.

(Quick fun fact:  The musical basis for "Blinding Lights" was a song they worked on during their Pop sessions.  That song was a tribute to singer-songwriter Scott Walker.  That's my older brother's name.  Cool, huh?)

U2 - Elevation (Tomb Raider Mix)
"Elevation" is yet another case where the remix (this one was done for the Tomb Raider movie) kicks the ass of the album version. To rip off the line from Spinal Tap, the remix takes the song to 11.  It was always a rocker, but they brought much more rock to the party with the Tomb Raider mix.  The acoustic guitar is gone from the chorus, and there's just so much more oomph to the rest of the song.  Listen to them both and you'll see.  I love the self-deprecating line, "Can't sing, but I've got soul."  Edge has always been able to bring an arena rock guitar riff to the table, and "Elevation"'s is one of his best.  Bono's "woo hoo"s were just made for audience participation, so it's no surprise that this song will always be a concert staple. 

U2 - I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For
This song was my last cut when I decided I didn't want to have more than three U2 songs on my Top 100 list.  Edge said that "Still Haven't Found" was their attempt to write a gospel song.  They succeeded in spades, especially with Bono's heartfelt vocals and the lifting harmonies of the chorus.  The quest for finding something to fill our God-shaped hole is something that is something we all relate to.  Even for Atheists, the hole may not be God-shaped, but it's still there.  Musically, the song is relatively simple by U2 standards, and I mean that in a good way.  You don't want to screw up the beautiful simplicity of the melody with a bunch of extraneous stuff.  I'm sure it was hard, especially for The Ede, to keep the music relatively simple, but in the end, U2's gospel song is one that will still speak to people decades later.

I'm one of the few Van Halen fans I know who was just as happy with Sammy on vocals as I was with Dave doing the same thing.  I think that they did great albums with both lead singers.  (I originally thought Gary Chereone was a good choice for VH III, but it just didn't work out).  So I've got two of my Van Halen favorites, one from each guy. 

Van Halen - Judgement Day
Van Halen has always been a great rock group, but I always wished that they would rock just a little bit harder.  Eddie finally gave me what I was looking for with "Judgement Day."  His guitar has a harder edge to it than ever before, and the song just kicks ass.  Sammy has that great voice where he can be screaming lyrics but still hit the notes of the melody.  Not too many vocalists can bring both talents to the same song.  While some may scoff at the poppy harmonies in the pre-chorus, I think it adds a great change of pace to the out-and-out rocker that is "Judgement Day."  There was talk that this song was in contention to be in Terminator 2, rather than "You Could Be Mine," by Guns N Roses.  They both would've been excellent choices, so try muting your TV and put on "Judgement Day" while watching T2.  It's pretty cool.

Van Halen - Panama
Great guitar riffs are like chocolate for me, it's impossible to have too much.  Eddie's guitar riff for "Panama" is one of his catchiest, and when you combine it with Dave's vocal (and literal) acrobatics, the song hits it out of the park.  Alex plays the drums like they've pissed him off and he's punishing them while Michael holds down the bottom end with fierce efficiency.  When Dave squeals alongside Eddie's guitar squeals, I'm as giddy as a little schoolgirl.  Only David Lee Roth can pull off the spoken word bridge where he'll "reach down between my legs, and ease the seat back."  Oh, and what the hell does Panama have to do with anything?  I dunno, but since it's a Van Halen song, it doesn't much matter, does it?

Velvet Revolver - Slither
The song title is so appropriate, because Duff McKagan's bass line that opens the song really does slither along the grimy floor like a snake would.  Slash adds a great pulsing guitar riff that Duff beefs up with his bass.  I always thought Scott Weiland's voice fit better with Velvet Revolver than with STP, and it shows in songs like "Slither" and "Illegal I Song," where Scott channels Perry Farrell.  I know lots of people were happy when STP got back together, but I was a little bummed.  Two albums just wasn't enough for me.

Vertical Horizon - Everything You Want
Another pop rocker that would embarrass some, I happen to be a huge fan of "Everything You Want."  The chorus is instantly imprinted in your brain (luckily for me, happily imprinted) and you can sing along by the end of the song the first time you hear it.  There's that great delay effect guitar intro that's augmented by a strong rhythm section where drummer Ed Toth plays a slightly quirky rhythm that I find fascinating.  Matt Scannell's lyrics about unrequited love are so familiar.  You've got a good friend that you've liked, even loved, for ages, but she doesn't see what's in front of her face.  So as she pines for others, you finally let out, "I"m everything you want!"  It's a tough position to be in, but many of us guys have been there way too much. 

Joe Walsh - Life's Been Good
Brevity may be the essence of wit, but if you're as witty as Joe Walsh, you can take a full eight minutes for a song.  With a reggae feel to the choruses and an almost plodding pace, you'd think it'd be annoying.  But since the subject of the song is the oblivious narcissism of rock stars, he's in on the joke.  Plus you've got that great guitar line that weaves throughout the song.  Even the guitar solo is indulgent, so it plays right into the mood of the song.  Lyrically, the song is pure genius.  From the opening, "I've got a mansion, forget the price.  Ain't never been there, they tell me it's nice," to the end where he says "Everybody's so different.  I haven't changed," it's poking fun at yourself to the nth degree.

Wham! - I'm Your Man
Sure, this song is full of empty pop calories, but it's also tons of fun, too.  I'll overlook the now-known subtext of what "I'm Your Man" means (the fourteen year-old me would've said, "Wait?  George Michael's gay?!!!, while the forty year-old me would point to George's shorts in the "Wake Me Up Before You Go Go" video, complete with day-glo gloves and say, "Come on....") and focus primarily on the music. This song is pop perfect to the core.  An elementary drum beat keeps time while the bass line pops up and down, not-so-subtly commanding your body to do the same.  Many dance songs hide the singer's deficiencies, but George has such a strong voice that it's able so take center stage, right where it belongs.  Sure, "I"m Your Man" would never earn (or deserve) a Grammy, but fun songs come in way more handy than Grammy winners, in my life.  So I'll take another dose of "I'm Your Man," please, homoerotic subtext and all.

Andrew WK - She Is Beautiful
While I think Andrew's vocal performance (the choice of going kinda death metal with the melody) is a bit absurd, it's the riveting guitar riff that gets me every time.  I like the melody, and would like it even more if he delivered it in a more conventional way, but even with that, this song is still a favorite.  The addition of the piano in a song like this is just the kind of whimsy I love.  But for me, it all comes down to that guitar.  It's a simple distorted guitar in the intro that morphs into an overdubbed embarrassment of riches in the verses with some extra thump from the matching bass line.  I just can't get enough of it.  More, please...

White Zombie - More Human Than Human
Rob Zombie was one of the pioneers of mixing techno rhythms with heavy metal guitar riffs, combined with that "I just gargled gasoline" vocal style that would make Linda Blair in The Exorcist proud.  "More Human Than Human" has that aggressive vibe that I love in heavy songs, and the great one-two punch of guitar and bass that punctuates the verses makes me pump my fists.  If I'm working out and need some extra motivation to keep up the pace, this is the perfect song.

Steve Winwood - Back in the High Life Again
When "Back in the High Life Again" came out, I had no idea that the voice behind this song was the same voice that rocked out "Gimme Some Lovin'."  The versatility of Steve Winwood, both musically and vocally is astounding.  While many thought that this period was the low point of Winwood's career, I disagree.  Just because he wanted to go in a singer-songwriter direction, it's not necessarily a bad thing, especially when you do it this well.  From the great mandolin to that great accordion "solo," there's so much more than you'd normally expect from a pop song.  When you add on the great backing vocals from James Taylor, "Back in the High Life" gives you so much to listen to that you find yourself putting the song on again just to soak it all in.

Yes - Owner of a Lonely Heart
For many Yes fans, "Lonely Heart" was where they jumped the shark.  Obviously, considering that it's one of my favorite songs ever, I disagree.  Sure, it's a much more poppy sound for them.  Some would call it elementary in its structure, and when you compare it to prog-rock opuses like "Roundabout," I'd have to agree.  But I'd continue to argue that simple isn't always bad, and a great melody will always win out over over-complicated puffery.  Don't get me wrong, I love "Roundabout," but also have room in my musical tastes to embrace both.  Guitarist Trevor Rabin's influence is all over "Lonely Heart," which was actually going to be for his side project with other Yes members Chris Squire and Alan White.  During the recording, however, former lead singer Jon Anderson and keyboardist Tony Kaye decided to join the production and Yes was reformed.  Anderson does a great job with the vocals and Rabin's iconic guitar intro became instantly famous.  So from the ashes arose the phoenix of Yes' biggest ever hit.  Pop?  Sure.  Great?  Absolutely.

Paul Young - I'm Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down
Paul Young has one of those voices that seems to be so much richer than you'd expect from a pasty British guy.  Belting out songs like "Playhouse" as well as delivering tender performances like "Wherever I Lay My Hat," he shows a talent and versatility that I always found criminally underrated.  Pino Palladino's great bass line becomes the main musical focus (and if you had a bass line that memorable, it'd be the focus, too) while Steve Bolton's wailing guitar is a great addition.  This remake of Ann Peebles' original stays true only to the melody, taking the music and really amping it up.  No offense, Ann, but listening to your original after hearing Paul's version is like watching bowling on TV.  It just doesn't work for me.

Hans Zimmer & Lisa Gerard - Elysium/Honor Him/Now We Are Free
This one isn't a cheat.  It's not really three songs, it's one song in three parts.  This music is the score from the climax of the movie Gladiator.  Zimmer's always been one of my favorite movie composers (it's a crime he's only won a single Academy Award, for The Lion King) and this is him at his best.  Working with Dead Can Dance vocalist Lisa Gerard, he uses her voice as another instrument, giving the quieter parts an angelic introspection while also bringing inspiring power and drama to the climax.  It's a wonderful duet of sorts that I was skeptical of at first, but once I heard it, it immediately became a favorite of mine.  (Quick side note:  I've always wondered what the translation was of what Lisa was singing.  Turns out that there is none.  She sings in a made-up language from her childhood.  Here's a cool article about it.)
If you like what you hear, check out some other of Hans' brilliant scores, like Backdraft, Crimson Tide Batman Begins & Inception.  Any of those could've been on this list, too.

ZZ Top - La Grange
This is one of those ZZ Top songs that I knew as a kid, but never knew it was the ZZ Top I knew as a teenager.  You know, the "Sharped Dressed Man" and "Legs" ZZ Top.  I'd heard it on the radio a bunch, but L.A. rock DJ's were pretty bad at telling you who did the songs (or I was too young to care very much).  "La Grange" has that great guitar line that becomes the heartbeat of the song.  It's a bluesy guitar that's rocked up with an early version of that great ZZ Top guitar sound.  Billy Gibbons sings the song as if he's on the back side of a three day bender, but the vocal style goes perfectly with the song.  One of the great driving songs of all time, "La Grange" always gets me to push a little harder on the accelerator as I head down the highway.
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