Picking ten favorite songs is a labor that I do not envy. Yes, it is easy to name ten, dash them off of the top of your head, but are those ten you could live with? Ten you love now, will continue to love a decade from now, and would have loved a decade before their release?
However tempting it might be to rattle off a list of greatest hits by my favorite ten artists, these songs are more than just that. I might not pick these songs as the ten I would bring to a desert isle, but they would undoubtedly be the ones stuck in my head while I was there. Not really the best, and not all my favorites, but definitely ten of the most enduring songs in my collection.
My list is rooted in the 90’s, where my taste was truly formed, but for me they are about moments, not tastes. Each chord is a suspended image, and each image a thousand words I could never hope to express so succinctly as they are summed up by a melody or hook. Please excuse my attempt to sum each up in a single paragraph.
Lisa Loeb, Stay
-There is something remarkable about a song with no chorus and no hook that can capture the nation’s imagination so completely that it goes to number one without any label backing at all. Every songwriter hopes to write one song so perfectly formed; the irony is that Lisa actually has dozens.
David Bowie, Ziggy Stardust
– I do not like concept rock, or epic rock, but Ziggy Stardust is both without being either. Petite and digestible, half autobiography and half imagination, it is the centerpiece of one of the most subtly crafted concept albums of all time.
– Coming at what is now the middle of a career, Vogue is a snapshot of all that is Madonna; at once celebrating and debunking glamour, cribbing musical notes from the latest dancehall trend, and turning something that should have failed (her classic spoken word interlude) into a mark in the public’s consciousness. Not as simple as “Lucky Star” or as incendiary as “Like a Prayer,” but still a perfect pose to strike.
Ani DiFranco, Untouchable Face
– Such a simple kiss off, but only so much as it was an attempt to outwardly distance herself from someone that was not so far away as she might have liked. The eight seconds of silence that come before the first reverbed chord are the sweetest anticipation in my entire collection.
The Supremes, Stop In The Name of Love
– I challenge any five-year-old to not want to mime along to the chorus. Pop in it’s most undiluted form.
The Beatles, Oh Darling
– How do you choose one song by the Beatles rather than an entire album? I hardly know, but I do know that every time I hear this I feel the wind in my hair as my mother and I speed across the Whitman, bound for cheap hotels and salt water taffy. Each note triggers another frame of the ride; the song is an 8mm film strip, peeling at the edges as Paul’s voice reaches its own.
Sheryl Crow, All I Wanna Do
– Alanis might have been the angry woman of my generation, but Sheryl was our beatnik. Later proclaiming that love was in fact a good thing, her lateral advancement of sound never surprises me so long as I keep this in mind; how all the good people in the world floated away like so many balloons in the video, finding themselves suddenly weightless in the face of this carefully careless tone poem.
Carole King, I Feel The Earth Move
– Yes, she may have penned the now-clichéd words that have become as famous a feminine mantra as Aretha’s demand for Respect, but echoes of these clanging chords and chunky guitars can be heard all the way from Tori Amos to Garbage; it seemed excessive to list my favorite songs from that when I could just as easily include this one.
Weezer, Say It Ain’t So
– How can a song about sharing an apartment and reminiscing about an estranged alcoholic father be so primary in my personal glossary of rock? Because, perhaps, it is a perfect marriage of angst and that glimmer that there is perhaps something beyond. Until then, though, you are drowning in the flood of distorted guitars quoting riffs back and forth into a stunning crescendo that slowly leave you the way it began – minor, discordant, and so simple that it cannot help but be familiar.
Veruca Salt, The Morning Sad
– There are a lot of songs about the morning after, whether it be literal or figurative, and for me this one is symbolic of them all. How wrenching, when you know that an attachment so vital has suddenly lost its luster, so that you find yourself suddenly trading on the afterglow of what you once felt to even register a reaction. Perfect rhythms, perfect harmony – perhaps one of the finest pop songs never to have hit its mark and, sadly, effectively the last single of Veruca Salt as it was once known. I wonder, could they have known how apt their words would be in a few years time?
I’m sure I could come up with a different list tomorrow. I’m sure next week I will kick myself for leaving off “Morse Code Love,” “You Wanna Be Starting Something,” “Hallelujah,” “Losing My Religion,” or “Closer To Fine.” To artificially reduce your love of music to a list of ten is the most artificial of exercises, to be sure, but through it you might grow to understand exactly why the undertaking seemed so hard in the first place.
(Per Desh’s nod to this week’s XPN countdown.)