May 29, 2012

The Top 200 Pop Songs of the ’90s: 40-21

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I used to dress up for shows. The only time I dress up now is for weddings, so it’s weird to think, but I used to cogitate pretty hard about whether my tight (probably polyester) pants were too tight or just the right tight, and which T-shirt had the right (probably pretty vague) message for the occasion, and which of my 30,000 track jackets was just the right level of washed out and frayed at the edges to suit the rigorous demands of the Mooney Suzuki/Makeup/Ruby Dare/Delta 72s show I was headed out to that night in my Dad’s 1991 Toyota Camry. (I used to dress up for raves too, but that’s a different, horrifying, and certainly baggier story.)

And there’s definitely something that’s pretty silly and even maybe slightly distasteful about that (which in fairness was not a thing that I was totally unaware of at the time), but there is also something I miss about it – the idea of belonging to a thing that seemed so important that you had to have a uniform for it. I’m sure that this is a function of growing older and not a function of, like, “people don’t dress up for shows anymore”, but I’m also sure that it’s a bit different every time and that the way in which it was different in 1998 (or thereabouts) was pretty fucking sweet.

Here’s 20 more songs:

The Las40: The Las, “There She Goes”

“There She Goes” was actually released in 1988, but didn’t gain traction until the Steve Lillywhite remix hit the charts in 1990. All that being said, this song didn’t really mean a whole lot to me until it appeared on the soundtrack to So I Married an Axe Murderer, which at the time I thought was probably the greatest movie soundtrack ever created, despite the fact that I had (a) not enough money to purchase it and (b) a nagging sense that maybe buying movie soundtracks wasn’t all that cool of a thing to do.

Oh, also, on the same soundtrack (and just to be confusing), you will also find the Boo Radleys version of this song, which, frankly, is pretty much the same except maybe a bit more noisy than it strictly needs to be because the point of the song is that it is clean and crisp and poppy as fuck.

Dookie39: Green Day, “Basket Case”

In high school we had this punk band that later became The Rejects but who were originally called PJS, short for “Pearl Jam Sucks”, and they used to go around carving slogans into desks and tables that indicated their infinite disdain for anyone lame enough to listen to shitty, corporate not-really-punk music like Green Day.

Which was a great sentiment and all, but it certainly made me very confused and ashamed and conflicted about the fact that I really liked this song and “Welcome to Paradise” and the other hit, whatever that was, and pretty much everything else on Dookie. Liking things was so much more fraught in the 9th grade.

Welcome to Wherever You Are38: INXS, “Beautiful Girl”

I didn’t come to truly love this song until I revisited INXS in college and discovered that they had a ballady side that was a lot more my speed than stuff like “Devil Inside” or whatever. I remember that at the time someone told me this song was about a hooker, which adds a darkness and a sadness and a poignancy to “Beautiful Girl” that I’ve always liked. For what it’s worth, Wikipedia insists that it’s actually about (keyboardist) Andrew Farriss’ baby daughter, but fuck Wikipedia.

Feeling Strangely Fine37: Semisonic, “Closing Time”

This is a great song to play when you need folks to leave your party, and I mean, obviously people were always going to start playing this at the end of their shifts and so forth, but the sentiment isn’t all in the lyrics – this is just a magnificently crafted pop song. Fun Fact: Singer Dan Wilson also wrote “Someone Like You” for Adele, so the man clearly has a gift for writing a song that captures a moment.

Dirt36: Alice in Chains, “Would?”

I used to like to make a joke that Cantrell and Staley were the greatest singer-songwriting duo since Simon and Garfunkel – mostly just to piss people off, but it’s true that I’ve always been a sucker for the idiosyncratic way those dudes harmonize with each other (see “No Excuses” for a great example).

My first real encounter with AIC was when I saw them headline Lollapalooza in 1993, which (aforementioned) was a pretty formative experience for me. This is the best song they ever wrote.

I Can Feel the Heart Beating as One35: Yo La Tengo, “Autumn Sweater”

I Can Feel the Heart Beating as One was another purchase I made at Rasputin Records during an incredibly fruitful musical period for me in Berkeley where I was doing Ancient Greek in the summer of ’00. I’d never been all that into YLT before then, but this album and I hit it off pretty much immediately and it helped me through more excrutiatingly irregular verb forms than I can count.

Heart Beating as One is packed with goodies, but “Autumn Sweater” has that almost ravey baseline that hits you halfway through, as well as that line “Is it too late to call this off?”, and both of them kind of make me sweat.

Gentlemen34: Afghan Whigs, “Gentlemen”

It took me years to figure out that everything I hated about Greg Dulli’s chaotic vocal style was everything that makes this band awesome. I’m not sure that totally makes sense, but the point is that you can’t really appreciate the gloriousness of this album until you let him work his entropy on you. “Gentlemen” is a good place to start.

Sunny Day Real Estate33: Sunny Day Real Estate, “8″

This song on my Sony Discman over and over and over again, walking, huddled, through the Baltic fucking winds of a St. Andrews winter on my way to and from class just waiting for that glorious crescendo to hit at 1:12 and warm me right up in a flash. “Drives me …. CRAZY.”

Regretfully Yours32: Superdrag, “Sucked Out”

I like the way he says “feeling” in this song more than I like almost anything in any song. So much and so little feeling all at once and also the creeping feeling that maybe it was me who sucked out the feeling by not being cool enough, and Superdrag won’t ever let me forget it.

Souvlaki31: Slowdive, “Dagger”

I discovered Slowdive through a Creation Records kick in college and actually had a hell of a time getting my hands on copies of Souvlaki and Just for a Day because, you know, no Internet to speak of in those days. Souvlaki became the soundtrack to whatever I was going through while I was struggling with my dissertation, but “Dagger” was always already the song that plays in my head when I’m dreaming.

Last Splash30: The Breeders, “Cannonball”

In 1994, I went to my second Lollapalooza to see the Pumpkins and Green Day and The Beastie Boys, but it was The Breeders who unexpectedly stole the show. One of those rare moments of realizing that you were in the presence of a band whose greatness you somehow hadn’t properly registered before. Obviously “Cannonball”, but also “Driving on 9″.

Washing Machine29: Sonic Youth, “The Diamond Sea”

When I saw them on tour for this album, they played the 20-minute version of this, which is about 3 minutes of song and 16 minutes of chaos and 1 absurdly cathartic minute of song again, during which process you have time to realize that you are the motherfucking Diamond Sea. Time takes its crazy toll.

Funeral at the Movies28: Shudder to Think, “Red House”

Originally on 1991′s Funeral at the Movies with a really awful sound mix (unless my copy’s just fucked, which is entirely possible), but re-released on 50,000 B.C. in ’97 so that a (slightly) larger audience could experience Craig Wedren’s wail and that moment when he says “Someone I want bad. But. Can’t. Have.” and you suddenly feel like you need to throw something heavy at someone. Or maybe that’s just me.

The Downward Spiral27. Nine Inch Nails, “Hurt”

Certain songs find you in odd ways, and the important thing about “Hurt” for me is not that everyone lost their minds about The Downward Spiral in 1994 but that there’s an episode of Homicide that uses it at the end in a way that is just devastating. Later popularized by Johnny Cash LOL.

Kerosene Hat26: Cracker, “Low”

This is embarrassing to admit, but I initially loved this song because I thought it was super cool how David Lowery was referencing “being stoned” like it was this awesome secret between me and Cracker, who were clearly the only other people who’d ever gotten high before. Turns out that’s not even what he’s saying, but the song still stands up.

Parklife25: Blur, “Parklife”

Like anyone from the U.K., I’ve had a tumultuous relationship with Blur over the years, but there’s never been anything that’s not perfect about “Parklife”, song and album.

Violator24: Depeche Mode, “Enjoy the Silence”

My first encounter with Depeche Mode (weirdly) involved seeing posters for their Violator tour everywhere I went in Germany during a memorable family vacation in 1990. I’m not sure I really had any idea what their music was about at the time (or even if I actually heard any of it), but it stuck in my mind that whatever this thing was, it was something that was big and important and way cooler than my 11-year-old brain could really take on board.

So anyway, it was another 6 years or so before I actually managed to enjoy the silence as it were, but it was worth the wait.

Where Have All the Merrymakers Gone23: Harvey Danger, “Flagpole Sitta”

Word to the wise: If you’re planning on working in a record store during the summer of ’98 like I did, you may want to get used to people coming in and humming the chorus to “that ‘paranoia paranoia’ song” at you. This can also double as a cautionary tale for bands who are thinking about giving their scorchingly awesome new hit single a whimsical name that doesn’t even appear anywhere in the lyrics.

Live Through This22: Hole, “Miss World”

Jesus, Courtney Love was so angry – so unrelentingly furious about everything and nothing but mostly herself. If you have the chops to channel a maelstrom like that, it makes for one hell of a fucking record.

OK Computer21: Radiohead, “Paranoid Android”

Everyone has already said most of the things about Radiohead and especially about OK Computer, but I can’t even begin to describe the strange and maybe slightly frightening experience of watching the world premiere video of this song (my first taste of the album, a month or so before its release) and realizing that music probably wasn’t ever going to be the same again.

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One Response to “The Top 200 Pop Songs of the ’90s: 40-21”

  1. I just been reminded of Sonic Youth. A great list.

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Once the executive branch of a thriving government, I am now a lonely wanderer, floating rudderless on a sea of discontent. Or a swamp. A swamp of malaise. A slough of despair, bitches. Rudderless.