April 2012

Tommy Tutone – “867-5309/Jenny” – (1981)

Here’s a classic 80s tune that slipped through the cracks back when we had our big 80s countdown. This was a top five hit on the Hot 100 in 1981 and it made a lot of people call the phone number 867-5309 and ask for “Jenny.” I bet it still happens, too. And anyone with that number is either A. clueless B. an idiot or C. desperately hoping someone will call them. Depending on who you ask, the song was written about someone named Jenny and that was her actual phone number. I think you’d get sued pretty quick in for trying a stunt like that today. Some businesses actually seek the song out because they are guaranteed callers. It’s a great prank, and a decent 80s track.

The Brian Setzer Orchestra – Songs from Lonely Avenue – (2009)

Brian Setzer is a brilliant musician and, somehow, this is his first album made up of entirely original material. He usually stuffs his albums with covers – er, his own take on songs from rockabilly to pop classics. But he has done something wonderful here by writing all his own songs. Listen to this album from start to finish and it will play like a movie. I’ve never listened to anything and thought I was watching a movie with my eyes closed. It’s the perfect score to something from the beautiful genre of film noir. “Lonely Avenue” is one of the best tracks on the album and it sets the mood perfectly. There are plenty of upbeat numbers as well, including the back-to-back “Mr. Jazzer Goes Surfin’” and “Mr. Surfer Goes Jazzin’.” I’ve been meaning to feature this album on the site here since it came out (three years ago!). Well, I finally got around to it.

We’ve added a new feature which will (hopefully) stay up-to-date. It’s called the “Ultimate Playlist” and you can a link to it at the top of the page. It’s every song we’ve featured and its purpose is, essentially, to be the perfect place to come if you lost your music collection and need to know which songs are a “must” to go out and get again. Eventually, the list will be massive – if I have my way, we’re talking thousands of tracks. But it will take forever to get to that point. As it stands, there’s some pretty good stuff in there. And if you think it should function in some other way, let us know!

#1 – Nirvana – “Lithium” – (1991)

I’m wondering, if Nirvana knew how big this album would turn out to be, would they have changed the album cover at all? It’s not the content, but look at the typeface of “Nevermind.” It looks incredibly cheap, like this album was made in someone’s basement. Maybe it looked okay at the time, but it certainly hasn’t aged well. I guess it’s kind of irrelevant seeing how timeless this album has become. I’ve known a few gigantic Nirvana fans in my life and every one of them has called this their favorite song from the band. And I have to agree. There’s a lot of Kurt just yelling “Yeah!” over and over, dragging it out and such. The rest of the lyrics are pretty good too, “I’m so happy ’cause today I found my friends – they’re in my head. I’m ugly but that’s okay ’cause so are you.”

Nirvana was the biggest thing – and most important thing – in rock music in the 1990s. This might not be their signature song but it’s damned fine and a great example of their work. What an era grunge was. To have been in the Pacific Northwest in the early 1990s must’ve been one hell of a time.

#2 – Metallica – “Enter Sandman” – (1991)

While grunge was gaining steam and becoming the newest form of popular music, good old heavy metal was coming down off of its hair-crazed 80s-ness and resuming just being heavy and metallic. This is one of Metallica’s most popular songs and if you come across someone that has never been introduced to the music of Metallica, this is the song to send them to as it is the perfect introductory course. It hit #10 on the Mainstream Rock chart and then it went mainstream, hitting #16 on the Hot 100 and #1 in countries such as Canada, Finland and Norway. The song itself is about children’s nightmares. There is an eerie part where a kid is saying his bedtime prayers, and then the lyrics turn a lullaby into this: “Hush little baby, don’t say a word. And never mind that noise you heard. It’s just the beasts under your bed, in your closet and in your head.” And then right on into the chorus, “Exit light, enter night. Take my hand, we’re off to never never land.”

#3 – Toadies – “Possum Kingdom” – (1994)

I don’t think rock songs can get much better than this. What riffs! This song seriously rocks. “Don’t be afraid, I didn’t mean to scare you. So help me Jesus.” This is the Toadies’ most well-known song and it was a top ten on the Mainstream and Modern Rock chart. It just keeps building and building as the song goes – or at least it seems like it does, which is a good thing for a heavy grunge song such as this. You get the feeling that it’s going to explode at some point. The Toadies aren’t household names like the artists with the top two songs on the lists, but the song stands right there with them.

#4 – Smashing Pumpkins – “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” – (1995)

This is the most well-known song from the Smashing Pumpkins. Starting with the lyrics: “The world is a vampire” and continuing through the chorus, “despite all my rage I’m still just a rat in a cage.” It was the lead single from the fun sounding album Mellon Collie & the Infinite Sadness, hitting #22 on the Hot 100 and becoming a top five hit on the Mainstream and Modern Rock charts. This song appears on multiple “Top Lists” from the likes of VH1 and Rolling Stone. There’s no denying it’s an awesome song and one of the best rock songs of the decade.

#5 – Soundgarden – “Spoonman” – (1994)

“Feel the rhythm with your hands – steal the rhythm while you can. Spoonman” This was the first single from Superunknown, Soundgarden’s best album. This album had their biggest hits and “Spoonman” was among them, hitting #3 on the Mainstream Rock chart and #9 on the Modern Rock chart, helping establish Soundgarden as a legitimate mainstream rock band. The song is about a guy who plays the spoons and there used to be such a guy here locally who was quite old and quite well-known in certain parts of town – and I became familiar with him about the time this song was popular. You don’t see many people playing the spoons anymore – and even less do you hear grunge songs written about them.

#6 – Presidents of the United States of America – “Lump” – (1995)

“Lump sat alone in a boggy marsh, totally motionless except for her heart. Mud flowed up into Lump’s pajamas. She totally confused all the passing piranhas. She’s Lump, She’s Lump, She’s in my head.” This is a rocking song by PUSA, another great Seattle band. The lyrics are bizarre to some extent but there is no mistaking that the music is awesome. It also inspired on the better Weird Al Yankovic parodies – “Gump” about Forrest Gump.

#7 – Pearl Jam – “Jeremy” – (1991)

Pearl Jam’s Ten is one of the seminal albums of the 1990s. And this is one of Pearl Jam’s signature songs. It was a top five hit on the Mainstream and Modern Rock charts and – because of the content, caused a bit of controversy when it came out. The song was written after Eddie Vedder saw a story about a 15-year-old boy who killed himself in front of his class in Texas. The video takes places in a school and the ending had to be edited and it becomes vague as to what happens – whether he (“King Jeremy the Wicked”) shoots his classmates or himself. After the 1999 Columbine school shooting, MTV more or less hid this video away. But it’s still a great song and a brilliant example as to why Pearl Jam is rock royalty.

#8 – The Cranberries – “Zombie” – (1994)

Dolores O’Riordan’s voice is unmatched when it comes to female rock vocalists of the 90s. This song is why. This was the band’s follow-up single to their hugely popular hits “Dreams” and “Linger.” This song was also less pop-y and more grunge than the previous two. Thus it hit #1 on the Modern Rock chart but was also a top 20 hit on the Top 40 Mainstream chart. In other words, it was a big hit and it is intensely kick-ass. Lyrics: “It’s the same old theme since 1916. In your head, in your head they’re still fighting. With their tanks and their bombs and their bombs and their guns. In your head , in your head they are dying.”

#9 – Alice in Chains – “Man in the Box” – (1990)

Alice in Chains produced the best combination of heavy metal and grunge with songs like this. Another band to come out of Seattle in the late 80s, they were a mainstay of early-to-mid-90s rock radio and this song was a top 20 on the Mainstream Rock chart. It’s one of their best known songs and might be the one song that is most associated with the band. Layne Staley’s vocals are spot on and I’m not sure Jerry Cantrell has ever rocked harder on the guitar.

#10 – Radiohead – “Karma Police” – (1997)

Originally, I had “Creep” at this place on the list. Then I realized, “why do I have ‘Creep’ on the list when ‘Karma Police’ is eligible?” Damn good question, self. I’ve never been a big Radiohead fan, and my knowledge of their music catalog is limited. But this is a brilliant song and further proof that the best rock songs come from England. You can hear Oasis in this song if you listen and you can also hear Coldplay (if you’re a Radiohead nut, please ignore that sentence). It’s quintessentially British in composition. It’s haunting and powerful and it rocks. It was a top ten in the U.K. and a top 20 hit in the U.S. (on the Modern Rock chart). It wasn’t huge but it’s widely recognized as great – and rightfully so.

#11 – Incubus – “Drive” – (1999)

When I went to check my list to write this post, I thought I had made a mistake. I could’ve sworn this song was in the top 25 of our Top 200 Songs of the 90s countdown. But it wasn’t – so in that regard, I had made a mistake (I think it was actually left off that list because, although Make Yourself was released in 1999, “Drive” wasn’t released as a single until 2000). Either way, this song is amazing. This was a top ten on the Hot 100 and Mainstream Rock chart as well as a #1 on the Modern Rock chart. I like songs from Incubus from before this album, and after. But nothing they’ve done matches this, as far as I’m concerned. It’s mellow and not overly heavy but I think that is to its advantage. “Would you choose water over wine? Hold the wheel and drive.” These wonderfully delivered lyrics by Brandon Boyd really help make the song and give it the relaxed vibe that it has.

#12 – Nine Inch Nails – “Closer” – (1994)

Parental Advisory, indeed. A couple of days ago I talked about certain people feeling the need to censor music to protect others. Well, it’s because of songs like this. Any song that whose chorus exists mostly of “I want to f*** you like an animal” is bound to draw the ire of over-protective parents, or, well, just parents in general. If you want an introduction to industrial rock, this is as good as it gets. Trent Reznor, the go-to man for recent Oscar-winning film scores, is the man behind Nine Inch Nails and this was his biggest hit. In fact, I recently heard a heavily-edited version of this song on a “mix” radio station not too long ago. It was sandwiched in between something like Ace of Base and Duran Duran, which was weird. The music video raised even more hell than the song, which is why you need to log in to YouTube to view it. At any rate, this song is completely badass.

#13 – Rage Against the Machine – “Guerrilla Radio” – (1999)

Grammy Award-winning “Guerrilla Radio” was the first of three big singles from The Battle of Los Angeles. Rage Against the Machine was a pretty political band and I’m sure there is some fine meaning behind this, but I don’t care enough to figure it out. Rage only released one album after this, but this was their final album of original songs and this was the best of them.

#14 – Beck – “Loser” – (1994)

“Loser” was originally released independently by Beck but once it got picked up on the radio Beck received a record deal and the song was released again, which catapulted it to #10 on the Hot 100 and #1 on the Modern Rock chart. It was Beck’s first single of note and it made him a huge star (it also remains his biggest hit to date). The song sounds really simple musically and Beck’s monotone rapping really offsets it. “I’m a loser, so why don’t you kill me,” might stand as one of the most un-inspiring lyrics of all time.

#15 – Limp Bizkit – “Break Stuff” – (1999)

Limp Bizkit was huge at the end of the 1990s. I don’t remember hearing their music much on the radio (not this album, anyway) and especially not this song, which is packed full of profanity. Censoring music isn’t something I enjoy (I loathe it). I can see why people want to do it – all in the name of “protecting” the youth. Whatever, this is a song that you must listen to uncensored. It’s so angry and it was the ultimate pump-you-up song to listen to before sports games. It still works, too. Fred Durst just yelling about having a bad day is a great thing. You can totally relate and on days like that, this is the perfect song to listen to. You couldn’t find bigger rock stars in 1999 than Limp Bizkit and this remains my favorite song of theirs. The music video has a bunch of cameos from people popular in the day, like Seth Green and Pauly Shore.