November 13, 2011

The Top 200 Pop Songs of the ’90s: 80-61

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The first record store I ever really loved was an unforgiving shithole in Adams Morgan, DC, called DC CD. They sold independent music, which wasn’t true of most other places in the city, but they almost certainly didn’t have the album you went there looking for, which meant – to avoid walking away empty-handed after a long Metro ride, I ended up spending hundreds of dollars there on totally random shit by bands I’d heard of but never actually listened to like (memorably) Galaxie 500 or Karate or Low or, failing that, anything that had appealing album art or a cool name.

This was in no way a bad thing.

DC CD closed down sometime in the early aughts, partially because it was really not a very good record store, and by that time I had learned to love some other, shinier and better stocked emporiums – notably Rasputin Records in Berkeley and Plan 9 in Richmond, VA – but I still think of DC CD when I think about how much I miss shopping at record stores. The very best ones were the ones that had just the right imperfections.

Let’s do 20 more songs from the list:

Achtung Baby80: U2, “One”

The thing I want to say about U2 is that (despite, or perhaps because of their being the world’s only remaining supergroup or whatever) they tend to get passed over when it’s time to talk about what was important about the ’90s.

All I knew at the time (1991) was that Achtung Baby was a major, major event. And that they had to do the video for this song (it was the one with the cars with the painted people on them) like 5 times before they got it right, because, like, this was “One” and “One” was possibly already the defining moment of our young decade. Anyway, it’s not like it isn’t a marvelous piece of music, even if U2 is very earnest and monolithic and our modern tastes prefer something with a bit more irony.

Everybody Else Is Doing It So Why Can't We79: The Cranberries, “Linger”

I like Dolores O’Riordon’s accent. I mean, I really like her accent. And the way she hangs onto those “r”s and draws them out like she doesn’t want to let them go is obviously pretty perfect for this song.

Soul to Squeeze78: Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Soul to Squeeze”

From the Coneheads soundtrack, no less, but oddly one of the Peppers’ most affecting songs. Even the obligatory funk breakdown mid-track (not to mention the impromptu Anthony Kiedis scat session) feels somehow necessary and extends rather than interrupting the soulful tone established by John Frusciante’s idiosyncratic opening riff.

If you watch the video closely, there is a Conehead and also Chris Farley in it, which I always found somewhat incongruous for such a dark, mournful song that is apparently about circus people?

Eve 677: Eve 6, “Inside Out”

Eve 6 did this weird thing where they just kind of elbowed their way in out of nowhere with this song while everyone was listening to Sum 41 and Jimmy Eat World and Lit, and then just as quickly wandered off, never to be heard from again. Rendez vous then I’m through with you.

Keep it Like a Secret76: Built to Spill, “Carry the Zero”

One disadvantage of going to college in a small town in Scotland essentially prior to the Internet was that it was hard not to occasionally miss stuff – even if you were a borderline obsessive about it. So I kind of missed Keep It Like a Secret at the time, and my metropolitan American friends (who could have let me in on the secret) were busy ignoring Built to Spill because they had signed with a major label a couple of years earlier (back in the olden times, we all thought it was super important that bands not get paid for their work).

Anyway, I’ve since made up for that oversight. This song’s a scorcher.

Sixteen Stone75: Bush, “Glycerine”

All I remember is that there was some argument at the time amongst my friends as to whether including all those violins in this song made it too “maudlin.” Which is so missing the point.

The Real Thing74: Faith No More, “Epic”

Faith No More famously went on tour with Metallica and Guns & Roses in 1992 and were booed so relentlessly by asshole G&R fans that they gave up even trying to play the piano part at the end of “Epic” – the part where the fish flops around in the video. Which is a shame, because that part is fucking awesome.

Throwing Copper73: Live, “Selling the Drama”

I have a vivid memory of hearing this song for the first time on the radio on the way back from school and freaking out because I thought R.E.M. had come out with a new album. R.E.M., it turns out, were very much finished with making songs that sounded anything like this, but Live reeled me right in with that sleight of hand, and Throwing Copper (and, weirdly, Mental Jewelry) ended up on extremely heavy rotation on my shitty little Sony boombox for most of 1994.

As Good As Dead72: Local H, “Bound for the Floor”

Single-handedly responsible for introducing an entire generation of young people to a five-dollar SAT word.

71: Weezer, “Undone (The Sweater song)”

Roughly 3 years earlier, I had worn my very favorite red Bugle Boy(?) sweater to school one day and had it maliciously destroyed by two boys who, literally, held this thread while I walked away. So “Undone” (to this day my favorite Weezer song) has always held a bit of extra poignancy for me.

Fun fact about this (Spike Jonze) video: The band was filmed in one take playing a sped-up version of the song, then the footage was slowed down to make it look like they’re playing in slow motion.

Summerteeth70: Wilco, “She’s a Jar”

Summerteeth was another album that just kinda showed up one day in the tiny CD store in Scotland where I bought pretty much every new release I could afford. I brought it home and immediately loved the sad songs (this one, and “How to Fight Loneliness”) and then I loved all the songs, and then I basically loved anything Wilco ever did, just like everybody else.

Under the Pink69: Tori Amos, “Cornflake Girl”

It’s difficult to really explain how much Under the Pink meant to me when it came out in January of 1994. As a (bad but dedicated) piano player, I was intermittently fascinated by what Tori was pulling off with the keys on songs like “Yes, Anastasia,” but mostly I was just interested in listening to songs like “Pretty Good Year” and “Past the Mission” and being very, very sad. And amidst all of that, the (extremely unlikely hit single) “Cornflake Girl” is the song that holds it all together.

Relevant fact about this song: Tori Amos was in a Cornflakes commercial in 1985. (!!!)

Elliott Smith68: Elliott Smith, “Needle in the Hay”

Speaking of being very, very sad ….

Incesticide67: Nirvana, “Sliver”

Incesticide was a lot more raw and noisy than The 13-year-old me expected, but I persevered with it (because, fuck, it was Nirvana), and it paid off in a big way. There’s a run near the beginning of this album that starts with “Sliver” and ends with two Vaselines covers that’s way, way better than any B-sides and Outtakes compilation has any right to be.

Automatic for the People66: R.E.M., “Nightswimming”

I spent part of a summer in Winterthur, Switzerland when I was 17 and I don’t remember a ton about it except that there wasn’t much to do at nights except sneak a beer or two and climb over the fence of the town’s public pool for some illicit lap-swimming. The whole thing felt pretty dangerous at the time, but I bolstered up my courage with the thought that it had an implicit endorsement from R.E.M.

For what it’s worth, “Nightswimming” is 4 minutes and 18 seconds of pure, industrial-grade nostalgia, so you can probably use it to conjure up a glossy memory polaroid of your own, even if it doesn’t happen to have actual night swimming in it like mine does.

Amplified Heart65: Everything but the Girl, “Missing”

I’m not sure it’s really quantifiable, but you have to figure that the deserts miss the rain, like, a lot. Also, Everything but the Girl is a really good band name. There’s a story behind it.

Marcy Playground64: Marcy Playground, “Sex and Candy”

There is some backstory to this song about how the singer actually did smell sex and candy this one time and remarked on it and someone was like, “you should make a song about that,” but none of that explains how they managed to come up with that ridiculously infectious hook.

Puzzle63: Dada, “Dizz Knee Land”

Pitch-perfect execution of a really good idea (despite the distracting spelling). I’ve loved this song since the first day I heard it almost 20 years ago.

Core62: Stone Temple Pilots, “Plush”

The second major rock concert I ever went to was The Flaming Lips, The Butthole Surfers, and STP, touring off of Core. We bummed some Marlboro menthols off of a disapproving grownup and managed to convince another one to buy us a beer from the concessions stand, which would have been enough to make it pretty much the best day ever even if Stone Temple Pilots hadn’t closed their set with this song.

Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star61: Sonic Youth, “Bull in the Heather”

When I go to heaven, it’ll probably just be Kim Gordon saying random numbers over and over forever.

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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.