For the better part of a decade, if you went to a show at DC’s Black Cat any night of the week, there would be a large homeless gentleman with a booming voice at the door, and as you approached, he’d say, “Black Cat! Black Cat! Spare some change for the homeless.” Depending on what show you were planning on seeing, he’d throw in a reference for good measure: “Modest Mouse, baby! Spare some change for the homeless.”
I must have seen dozens of bands play at the Black Cat during that era – particularly DC bands like The Make Up, Trans Am, Tuscadero, Circus Lupus, and Dismemberment Plan – as well as a who’s who of indie bands from around the country who made their annual pilgrimage to the legendary venue. The Black Cat has since moved down the street to a larger space, and the homeless dude who announced the shows doesn’t seem to be there anymore, but it’s still one of the best best best places in all of Washington, D.C., and long may it last.
Here are 20 more songs from the list:
60: Nirvana, “Dumb”
When In Utero finally came out, MTV essentially devoted their entire day to talking about it – I remember numerous segments of confused “person on the street” interviews where everyone was like, “What’s the deal with ‘Rape Me’?”
Turns out there’s a whole lot more to In Utero than whatever the deal is with “Rape Me”. The album’s unifying factor is that it’s a document of a band who are extremely uncomfortable (to the point of rage) about the ludicrous expectations that the whole world has suddenly placed on them. And right at the center of the storm that this produces is “Dumb,” which feels like the perfect sentiment for the moment.
59: Beck, “Lord Only Knows”
I bought Odelay and Pulp’s Different Class on the same trip to a Virgin Megastore in London in the summer of 1996, which – that was just a really successful trip to the record store. A lot of the songs on this album are the best songs on this album, but “Lord Only Knows” stands out as having some of the finest Beckisms. You’ve only got one finger left, and it’s pointing out the door.
58: Dinosaur Jr, “Not the Same”
In, I’m going to say 1993, my next door neighbor and I made frisbees out of all the random terrible CDs that he had accidentally gotten by failing to mail back albums to Columbia House. The idea was to see if we could get them to bounce off the roof of my house and end up in the driveway.
About 6 months later, a more musically enlightened version of myself was digging through that same pile of now-gravel-encrusted rejects to pull out “Where You Been” and hope against hope that it was still at least semi-functional. As a result, my version of this album has always been a bit skippy, but that seems kind of appropriate for a band as raw and punchy as Dinosaur Jr. “Not the Same” is a rare moment of quiet beauty on an album that is otherwise packed with ferocious J. Mascis shredding.
57. Elastica, “Connection”
The fact that the opening riff is (according to the legal settlement) actually a Wire riff only adds to how fucking cool this song is.
56: Matthew Sweet, “Girlfriend”
The Matthew Sweet rule is, I think, that only every other album is good. Which may just be an unfair dig on 1993′s “Altered Beast”, which has the misfortune of being sandwiched between the equally magnificent Girlfriend and 100% Fun. Regardless, it is fairly clear that Matthew Sweet knows what he’s doing at least 66.6% of the time.
55: Pavement, “Range Life”
Pavement first turned up in our lives during high school thanks to the ministrations of a hip drama teacher, and I’ve been through a lot of different phases with them since, but “Range Life” is the song I come back to the most.
I like the whole “Elegant bachelors” thing and that this is on some level a Smashing Pumpkins diss track and that you can almost, for a second, believe Stephen Malkmus when he says that all he wants is to settle down. Except, clearly, that you can’t.
54: R.E.M., “E-Bow the Letter”
As an admittedly fanatical fan of this band, I say this advisedly, but “New Adventures in Hi-Fi” has to be the most underrated album of all time. This is one of 14 reasons why.
53: Tool, “Sober”
In all honesty, alt-metal was a byway that was probably not worth exploring in the short history of modern music, but it did have quite a promising start before everything all went horribly wrong. Almost anything by Helmet, for instance, and Alice in Chains at their best, and (occasionally) Living Color. But particularly this moody, broody, buildy-as-fuck masterpiece by Tool.
52: My Bloody Valentine, “When You Sleep”
If I could create a perfect band, they would sound a hell of a lot like My Bloody Valentine. They would play me the songs they had made for me and I would be like, “More distortion!!” “Layer your vocals, for Christ’s sake!” “Pedals, damn you! I need more pedals!” That is what I would be like.
51: Galaxie 500, “Hearing Voices”
I came across This Is Our Music at a record store in DC a few years after Galaxie 500 broke up. That was the day that I learned it was possible for music to be really, really good and really, really slow at the same time.
50: Sonic Youth, “Sunday”
Everyone has a different Sonic Youth. Mine is Daydream Nation, Dirty, Experimental Jet Set, Washing Machine, and A Thousand Leaves. Each one of those albums has some amazing moments, but the transition, on A Thousand Leaves, between Kim Gordon frantically yelling about kittens on “Contre Le Sexism” and the opening bars of “Sunday” has a strong case for being the best of the best.
The video is also a keeper. It has Macauley Culkin in it.
49: Third Eye Blind, “Semi-Charmed Life”
The first time I did crystal meth this song came on the radio and it surprised the shit out of me. In those days, I thought drug references (and by extension, drugs) were a lot cooler than they probably are, but “Semi-Charmed LIfe” still holds up exceptionally well.
48: Oasis, “Don’t Look Back in Anger”
I remember reading a newspaper article claiming that Oasis was the vanguard of a full-on third British Invasion and waiting excitedly for the rest of the troops. Which, I guess, Blur and Pulp and Suede to a small extent, but by the time Morning Glory came out, it was clear that Oasis were doing most of the legwork, as far as the Americans were concerned. This was by far my favorite of their many laudable efforts to win over the Yanks.
47: Eels, “Novocaine for the Soul”
Eels secretly went on to make excellent, rich, and engaging albums for years after their one big hit, which shouldn’t be such a big surprise given the promise of this track.
46: Blind Melon, “No Rain”
Shall we watch the bee girl again? Let’s watch the bee girl again.
45: Belly, “Feed the Tree”
I followed Tanya Donnelly’s lovely airy voice and her quirky sensibility from her early stint with The Breeders through both of Belly’s fantastic albums and well into her solo career (and later, all the way back into the Throwing Muses’ back catalogue) and obviously “Feed the Tree” is a major highlight, but it’s worth pointing out that there is an awful lot more where this came from.
44: At the Drive-In, “Napoleon Solo”
In, Casino, Out was released in the summer of 1998 and I was desperate to get my hands on a copy in the U.S. before heading back to school in the wilds of St. Andrews, Scotland, where such a feat was more or less unthinkable.
I ended up having to send my long-suffering father to a dingy indie record store in DC to purchase it and mail it to me a few months later. I have vivid memories of finally getting the album in the fall and listening, particularly to this song, over and over and over until my roommate told me to shut it the fuck down before he throttled me.
43: Shudder to Think, “X-French Tee Shirt”
DC natives, Shudder to Think were graduates of the Field school, where I always wished I went because it had girls at it and because it was alternative and cool, unlike my own high school, which was full of monks and which made us wear suit jackets. You can kind of tell that they’re nerdy DC private school kids just by listening to their records, which is probably a big part of why I love them so much.
42: They Might Be Giants, “Birdhouse in Your Soul”
I probably listened to TMBG more than almost any other band through the mid ’90s. Once I started listening to louder, shoutier stuff, my mom would beg me to put on a TMBG album instead because she liked the lyrics so much. Pretty much anything on their first four albums is still my favorite song.
41: The Posies, “Dream All Day”
If they made a soundtrack to the whole ’90s, this song would be the centerpiece. The Posies were always meant to go on to more great things, but the ’90s was just too jealous of its favorite creation to ever truly let them go. Is how I see it, at any rate. Here they are with all their bittersweet beauty still intact, trapped in amber.