Sunday, August 21, 2005

Well I'm Glad That's Over

I promise never to do it again. All future top 10 or top 5 lists will be short, punchy, and contained within one post.

When I started out, I truly intended to do my top 10 over the course of 10 consecutive days, with a short commentary explaining why each one gained its place. As it turned out, I couldn't restrain my natural verbosity and ended up writing a mini essay on each song. So I apologise to my regular readers (all 15 or so of you) for making this so drawn out.

It has been an interesting process, though, because I've been forced to think hard about the merits of each song and try to explain what's so great about it. Unfortunately, this may have caused me to end up likeing some of them slightly less--in striving to understand something, you can sometimes destroy it.

It's also missed out more than its captured. As I said, the top two or three songs are pretty set, but the rest are more contingent, and are based on shifting, somewhat arbitrary criteria. Now they're set down, the ones that missed out seem all the more attractive--somewhat as the talented attacking player who can't quite find a role in a winning team seems even more dazzlingly skilful. I therefore feel the need to acknowledge some of the unlucky ones.

Some songs missed out on the shortlist partly because of the mood I was in; it turned out there was no place for great unrequited / jilted anthems like "I Don't Want to Talk About It" (Rod Stewart / Everything But the Girl) or "Walk Away Renee" (endlessly covered; most versions are horrible apart from the Left Banke's 1966 violin-and-harmonies original).

In the category of songs which make you jump on the dancefloor at an 80s disco and drunkenly shout "this is a classic!", there could really only be one entry. Including "Back on the Chain Gang" blocked off sentimental favourites like "Drop the Pilot" by Joan Armatrading, Mr Mister's "Kyrie" and, sadly, "99 Luftballoons" by Nena (star of even more German magazine covers than David Hasselhoff).

Yet it seems strange that "Just Like Heaven" seems to be the only, and not necessarily even the most worthy, representative of all the 80s and early 90s left-of-centre guitar bands I was into. From the UK: the Smiths; the Jesus & Mary Chain; Teenage Fanclub; the Stone Roses ("Fool's Gold", "Waterfall", "Sugar Spun Sister" and the vastly-underrated B-side, "Mersey Paradise"); Suede ("the Wild Ones"); Radiohead ("Fake Plastic Trees"). No room even for the La's' "There She Goes", which definitely has one of the top 5 riffs of all time. From the US: Violent Femmes; Dinosaur Jr; the Pixies; the Lemonheads; Pavement (no "Summer Babe"--Simon Doherty would be appalled).

Dear me, there's not even any Billy Bragg ("Greetings to the New Brunette" a longtime favourite), despite me having a bit of an epiphany after seeing him at the Liverpool Dock Workers Benefit gig in Willesden Green, about how it's possible to remain a totally sound bloke in a confusing world.

"Throw Your Arms Around Me" and "Distant Sun" filled spots for the antipodean mainstreamish guitar sound, shutting out Dave Dobbyn, the Muttonbirds et al as well as the Warumpi Band's "My Island Home" (another word-of-mouth Australian classic). But what of all the Flying Nun stuff from Dunedin and Christchurch I was so into at university? The Clean, the Strangeloves, the Bats, Straitjacket Fits? I had considered this issue and decided that it was more about the sound, the style and seeing the bands live--none of the songs were ever really among my absolute favorites. Then, when it was too late, I remembered--how could I forget?--the 3Ds' "Outer Space". What a classic slab of distorted pop--it probably should have been on the list.

And it's puzzling that there is no spot anywhere for REM ("You Are the Everything", "I Believe"), nor Counting Crows ("Anna Begins", "A Murder of One"), nor even U2 ("Sunday Bloody Sunday", "Bad", "Running to Stand Still"). All could have been there on a different day.

Amongst the guitar-hero rockers, it was bad luck for Led Zeppelin ("Black Dog", "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You", "Going to California"), Jimi Hendrix ("Foxy Lady", "All Along the Watchtower"--though that would really have been stetching the Bob Dylan connection) and even Santana (the seductive "Samba Pa' Ti" was the instrumental closest to getting on the list).

The 60s were quite well represented, with Nos 1 and 2. But it's still quite odd that there's no Simon & Garfunkel ("the Boxer", "I Am a Rock"). Not quite room for those Rolling Stones tough-fragile ballads ("Ruby Tuesday", "Wild Horses"). And though I've never been a huge Beatles fan, George Harrison's "Here Comes the Sun" has long been a favourite, and just missed out (an ex-girlfirend once told me that when she heard it, it reminded her of me...).

For someone who spent so much time playing in an "Irish" band, it might seem surprising that there's nothing in that genre. But of the Pogues' stuff, only "A Rainy Night in Soho" is remotely close. I love the Waterboys' lyrical epics "A Bang on the Ear" and "the Whole of the Moon", yet couldn't squeeze them in. And yes, even a great song can be totally ruined by overexposure. So no "Brown Eyed Girl" (how could it ever survive endless drunk, not particularly attractive women squawking "This is my song! This song is about me!").

Finally, amongst my more recent stylistic preferences, Manu Chao is much more of an album artist--"Clandestino" is not quite the same without the rest of the CD. And though I'm a huge salsa fan, I really just like whatever they play. The only ones that stand out are la India's "Seduceme" and "Un Montón de Estrellas" by Polo Montañez--the latter a recurring presence during nights in the discotecas of Peru and Colombia.

So that's it, qualifications and all. I'm the first to confess certain limitations to my list. It was always going to be guitar heavy; there's only one song with a female vocalist (Sarah McLachlan's live version of "Hold On" was next closest--it's been special ever since it soothed my carnival-working mental and physical exhaustion on a lonely Greyhound driving through the dark Saskatchewan night); and the artists are pretty much all white. But what can you do? Whether your preferences are due to your inherited archetypes, constructed cultural location, or what kind of hymns they had at church when you were a kid, they end up operating at gut level and you're stuck with them.

I'm keen to keep receiving people's own top 10 lists (thanks, Kevin, for your three separate lists). It's certainly an interesting exercise, as you end up creating this little narrative about yourself. What does it all mean? Not even Nick Hornby has a clear answer, and I certainly don't.

1 comment:

Susan said...

Don't apologise for the length - the essays were great! I see your lengthy list of "didn't quite make it" has included lots of my favourites as well. And they were all white guys with guitars because that's what rock music is. My list included a female (white) singer/songwriter I hope you noticed. I'm going to do my top 10 of folk/country in the near future.
You are so right about spoiling things you love by subjecting them to analysis. Music does not in fact demand an intellectual response, though it can be part of it. For much the same reason I always shied away from studying books I had previously enjoyed though enjoyment of reading is rather more cerebral than music I guess.