John Mayer – No Such Thing
Hate the singer, love the song. Before John Mayer spoke to “Playboy,” I used to think he spoke for me. His songs, at the time, were sensitive but insightful, the kinds of songs I hoped to write, the kind of persona I hoped to project. (Remember, this was back when he used his mouth for singing.) Like Mayer, I wanted to defeat the real world, to not let its conformity choke my creativity, to shatter the doors at my 10-year reunion, 10 years wiser, cooler, sexier… until I gently opened those doors and remembered my classmates were really nice people.
Natalie Imbruglia – Torn
I read enough blogs to know what’s good: innovative, experimental, and inscrutable compositions that push the boundaries of music (art itself?) so far beyond the traditional verse-chorus-bridge structure (constriction?) of most multiplatinum pop songs (garbage?) that most brainwashed, spoon-fed, and bleating consumers (automatons?) will never hear them, let alone enjoy or buy them, thanks to a lifetime of conditioning by the recording industrial complex (the axis of evil?).
I also know what I actually like: songs so sticky I sing them for years, pretty (models?), poppy (bagels?), and perfect (models eating bagels?). This catchy little ditty is a masterpiece. Period.
Johnny Cash – Folsom Prison Blues
From frat boys to bikers, pop tarts to cowboys, everyone longs to be this bad. To shoot a man, to watch him die, to do this deed in Reno… the Man in Black in all of us is capable of anything, even though, for most of us, our only crime is tunelessness. To the crime of off-key hooting and hollering, the defendant pleads for you to join in. But wait! There’s more (to this ballad than murder)! Along with the thrill of vicarious bad-assery, there’s also the sting of vicarious remorse, the tragedy of train tracks rolling by without you.
Ice Cube – It Was A Good Day
-Why do you like gangsta rap so much?
-Um, look at you. Clearly, you’ve never “used an AK.”
Can’t I just appreciate it? Can’t I just enjoy it as escapist entertainment?
-But it’s so offensive.
Not this song.
-Isn’t it an exception?
Maybe. But that only makes it even more exceptional. For one perfect day, in one perfect song, nothing bad happens, and all this cool stuff happens instead. His team wins. A blimp has his name on it. “Yo! MTV Raps” is on. Who wouldn’t want a day like that? Who wouldn’t want to hear this story?
Frank Sinatra – New York, New York
The goddamn Yankees won again. Indulgent, arrogant, rude, they won. Their moxie was contagious. And yet, the Midwesterner didn’t cheer. Instead, he watched the fans stream out, light-blind, star-struck, flying to the moon, feeling much happier than cheering could convey, bopping along to Frank’s benediction. He was there, in old New York, an intern at a magazine. He was writing. He was living. Closer than he’d ever been to really truly making it. He’d make it anywhere. Sinatra promised. His magic was less dangerous.
He didn’t know he’d peaked, plateaued. It isn’t the song’s fault he hasn’t made it back.
Journey – Don’t Stop Believin’
For most of my readers, like most of America, Journey’s importance isn’t debatable. There’s nothing cheesy about our devotion. When we’re down, they pick us up. When we’re listening, we’re singing and smiling. (Even the sad songs make us happy. Their ballads, yes, empower.) What more can you ask of a band? What more can music do for you? This song’s transcendence isn’t deniable. I believe – I’ll never stop – it’s more than merely a personal favorite. No, it’s one of the all-time best. (At closing time, we belt it out, straining to hit the highest notes.) We’re all streetlight people.
Jay-Z – 99 Problems
Lyrically, I can’t relate. My problems are innumerable. Musically, I count them out, the ways this song assails me:
1) The riff is heavier, more metallic, than any song ever I’ve heard that doesn’t mention Satan. Someone sold their soul for this, or had it stolen forcibly.
2) The cowbell rings out like a slaughterhouse phone. The cowbell tolls for thee.
3) The rhythm of those lyrics is relatable to everything: footsteps, heartbeats, gunshots, blood. One hand clapping. Fallen trees. (No one’s around to read these words.)
4) Problem 100: My words fall short. I’m not the poet Jay is.
N.W.A. – Straight Outta Compton
I’m singing the same song over and over. Rather, I’m repeating the same old excuse. “Sure, it’s vile and hateful but…” …it’s only entertainment? …it voices my rage? …it’s no worse than a gangster film (and oftentimes it’s better)? Don’t hate tha playaz, hate tha game? White, suburban, comfy, I’m guilty, part of the problem that causes this music. Plus, I’m male, so I’m really The Man. “Sure, I can’t relate but…” …why not try? …why not pretend? …why not drop the critical pose? Knowing better (knowing nothing?), I crave this artwork in ways unexplainable. The beat kicks in and…
Aerosmith – Dream On
A funny thing happened after Nirvana. Instead of discovering that band’s favorite bands – all of them indie, or downright obscure – I happily “discovered” the world’s biggest bands. If classic-rock radio played it, I loved it. If I heard it all day, every day, even better. That just made it easier to memorize, better to blast while learning to drive. Now, I’ve mostly blocked out this rock block, except for those bands (and songs) that transcend it, the music of life and love (and dreams). How is a song so magical possible? How does a dream get a melody so scream-able?
Sir Mix-A-Lot – Baby Got Back
Look, I’m a dork. I admit – no, embrace – it. Who else would write 10,000 words that perhaps 10 people read? Who else would waste 100 words on burger jokes (“I want ‘em real thick and juicy, so find that juicy double!”), unconvincing feminist rhetoric (“By dissing the whitewashed beauty standards in ‘Cosmo,’ this knight of the ‘round and big’ table figuratively and literally broadens our definition of acceptable femininity…”), and supposedly embarrassing revelations (“I know it, I rap it, I quote it, I love it!”) that 1,000 people already know? I just can’t help myself. I’m writing like an animal.