The Top 88

Deeply sorry to all the hip-hop, death metal and especially psychobilly fans out there. Just not my thang. Here’s the extremely backward-thinking (nothing here post-1990) list of my favourite popular songs ever recorded at the moment. Some are so good, they might even warrant individual posts. 88 is just a lovely, round number.

The Weight – The Band
When You Awake – The Band
Sloop John B – The Beach Boys
I Want You (She’s So Heavy) – The Beatles
The Ballad of El Goodo – Big Star
Don’t Fear the Reaper – Blue Oyster Cult
Suffragette City – David Bowie
A New Career in a New Town – David Bowie
Expecting to Fly – Buffalo Springfield
Draft Morning – The Byrds
La Princesse Perdue – Camel
Oh, Lonesome Me – Ray Charles
Suzanne – Leonard Cohen
Janie Jones – The Clash
Many Rivers to Cross – Jimmy Cliff
Ramble Tamble – Creedence Clearwater Revival
Layla – Derek and the Dominoes
Northern Sky – Nick Drake
Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright – Bob Dylan
Visions of Johanna – Bob Dylan
Tangled Up in Blue – Bob Dylan
Born in Time – Bob Dylan
The Killing Moon – Echo and the Bunnymen
Stay With Me – Faces
I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You – Aretha Franklin
Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler) – Marvin Gaye
Uncle John’s Band – The Grateful Dead
Forget Me Not – Roy Harper
Little Wing – Jimi Hendrix
Not Fade Away – Buddy Holly
Disorder – Joy Division
The Village Green Preservation Society – The Kinks
Waterloo Sunset – The Kinks
Tea for One – Led Zeppelin
When the Levee Breaks – Led Zeppelin
Ten Years Gone – Led Zeppelin
Strawberry Flats – Little Feat
Mercenary Territory (Live) – Little Feat
Alone Again Or – Love
Carey – Joni Mitchell
And it Stoned Me – Van Morrison
Hiroshima Nagasaki Russian Roulette – Moving Hearts
Personality Crisis – New York Dolls
Living Without You – Randy Newman
Rosemary – Randy Newman
Local Girls – Graham Parker
Hearts On Fire – Gram Parsons
San Tropez – Pink Floyd
Time – Pink Floyd
Elvis Presley – Treat Me Nice
Darlin Nikki – Prince
Hello in There – John Prine
Far From Me – John Prine
Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay – Otis Redding
My House – Lou Reed
Radio Free Europe – R.E.M.
Replacements – Bastards of Young
Sympathy for the Devil – The Rolling Stones
You Can’t Always Get What You Want – The Rolling Stones
Loving Cup – The Rolling Stones
Graceland – Paul Simon
Family Affar – Sly and the Family Stone
The Headmaster Ritual – The Smiths
Cemetry Gates – The Smiths
Incident on 57th Street – Bruce Springsteen
Rosalita (Come out Tonight) – Bruce Springsteen
King of the World – Steely Dan
Aja – Steely Dan
As – Stevie Wonder
He’s Misstra Know-it-All – Stevie Wonder
Every Picture Tells A Story – Rod Stewart
The Rainbow – Talk Talk
See No Evil – Television
When I Get to the Border – Richard Thompson
Rock and Roll – The Velvet Underground
And You And I – Yes
Ambulance Blues – Neil Young
Lookout Joe – Neil Young
Powderfinger – Neil Young
Pocahontas – Neil Young
Lawyers, Guns and Money – Warren Zevon

Here’s Little Feat’s Mercenary Territory performed live. Wait ’till the 1:55 mark where things get truly eargasmic.

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Buckets of Rain

IMG_3557 (1)Blood on the Tracks

Bob Dylan’s 15th studio album is one of great emotional weight. The beauty of this record is its offhand, shaky musical attitude: at roughly the 4:02 second mark in Tangled up in Blue, either the bassist or guitarist hits a wrong note. I always listen out for this moment, as to me it is one of the great affirmations of one of my essential rules of truly great popular music: Sometimes imperfections can create the greatest perfection of all. As the song gradually becomes more frantic and desperate, this accidental wrong note (spurred by that general attitude of despondent musical indiscriminacy that permeated the album’s recording) ends up carrying the greatest meaning.

Blood on the Tracks, though I rather dislike the angry, rambling Idiot Wind and Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts, remains the most honest 51 minutes of Dylan on record. I must mention that the rest of the album is pure gold as well, and is music of unfathomably vivid, hypnotic and commanding lyrical and songwriting power. It is recorded and produced in such a way that gives a kind of murky, comforting background ambience: Listening to it on a rainy, winter evening in dim, warm light is among the most evocative experiences offered by any record.

Here’s Meet Me in the Morning; maybe the exemplar of this atmosphere I describe. Check out the magnificent solo of what I believe is a fuzzed-out pedal steel…

Bad Fog of Loneliness

IMG_3336

This concert recording from Massey Hall, Toronto 1971 shows Neil Young at his most contemplative and singer-songwriter-ish. Don’t let that put you off early Neil, as even at this stage he had the edge, darkness and wit to make James Taylor and Jackson Browne look like singing nuns.

Part of what’s special about this album is its early showcasing of songs from Harvest, which would later become popular classics; Old Man, Heart of Gold, etc. As an extended showcase of Young’s songwriting and acoustic guitar ability, this live record, to me, is unparalleled. The feint, shy backstories he gives about the origin of the songs and the beauty and depth of the songs themselves show that this man’s lyricism and songwriting capacity seems inexhaustible. Not even Dylan could approach the raw honesty and indecipherably complex flow of emotion in Young’s work, let alone sustain it almost without falter for some 50 years. Even his flops have meaning. ‘I know that some of you don’t understand’, he sings with despondent sorrow in The Needle and the Damage Done.

Live at Massey Hall shows us better than almost any album Neil Young’s modesty and humility towards his audience. He neither tries to desperately entertain them nor shuns them in uncaring gloom. He simply plays and lets his emotion flow directly from his voice and fingers, totally naked. He treats the performance not merely as a setlist but as a 67-minute travel through his mind in all its angst, happiness and obscurity. As the original review in the Toronto Star says: ‘There is, not to put too fine a point to it, no crap about him.’

But even Neil knows you should always end a show with a stompin’ hoedown…

And even his hoedowns are deeply personal.

On the video above, the song lasts around 2 minutes, and the raucous applause goes on almost ceaselessly for 3 minutes. Make of that what you will…