I've allowed a few days for the first batch of songs to sink in. I'm looking at the spreadsheet and I think to myself, "This might be the best decade for music, ever." I probably said this same thing in November 1999 and December 1989, so take it for what it's worth. I love music and there were so many songs by so many great artists these past 10 years that, like my cat Lily when she feels too much love, I feel like hissing at the magnificent universe around me. But I have work to do:
90. Lloyd, I'm Ready to Be Heartbroken - Camera Obscura (2006)
I love a good answer song. On December 31, 2008, I sat at a poker table in Las Vegas playing a tournament in which I would finish 3rd, profiting several hundred dollars which I would later give back to several other people at several other similar poker tables. I had my iPod on. I had recently synced my iPod with a friend's iTunes list. (This is unusual for me - relying on someone else for my music but I had a new laptop and was still in the process of combining my four different iTunes accounts on three different computers and one flash drive.) I had created an acceptable song list of 993 songs, many of which I have never owned. (This is a long-winded way of explaining why these particular songs played on my iPod.)
Anyhow, as I sat there in dirty Vegas with the iPod set to shuffle, Sykynyrd's Sweet Home Alabama played. Good song. Rollicking. Then, the iPod shuffler chose Southern Man by Neil Young, the very song Sweet Home was written in response to. From nearly a thousand possibilities, the random (and yes it really is random) little music machine chose the one song that the answer song had been addressed to. Yes, it would be far more impressive if Old Neil was played first and then Lynyrd but I can't have everything.
I tell you this story because it's the rare example of both the first song and the answer song being really good. Here's another example: In 1984, a young Brit named Lloyd Cole writes Are You Ready to be Heartbroken? Twenty-two years later, a Scottish band led by winsome/comely Tracyanne Campbell and her gravity-fucking-with bob haircut answers him:
89. Chamchu - Cornershop (2009)
Such an enigmatic entry. This song has no lyrics. No video, official or unoffficial exists. It cannot be found streaming and is not available for quick immediate sly illegal download. Granted, Cornershop are rock gods in Britain and their triumphant (and triumphantly titled) new album Judy Sucks a Lemon for Breakfast is being pumped out of Jeep windows kingdomwide. Still, in this age of clickable happiness (a good thing, by the way), I have no choice but to not link or embed, to leave you wanting more.
88. John Allyn Smith Sails - Okkervil River (2007)
If, years ago, you told me that an Austin, TX-based band would write a song about the 1972 suicide of poet John Berryman, who jumped off the Washington Avenue Bridge into the icy Mississippi River on the campus of the University of Minnesota (my two-time alma mater) and that this song would end with a rollicking rendition of the Beach Boy's Sloop John B, I would have anointed such song a guaranteed top ten spot in a best-of-the-decade list. The fact that it only makes it to #88 should not be seen as a negative for the song because, as you know, it's pretty awesome. No, it's just been a great 10 years for music.
If you don't want a camera-shaking headache, don't watch this link; just close your eyes and listen:
87. Stuck Between Stations - The Hold Steady (2007)
If, years ago, you had also told me that a Brooklyn-via-Minneapolis-via Edina, MN band would release another song about John Berryman and that this song would open the album that was the follow-up to their album Separation Sunday which may or may not be my favorite album of the decade but is most certainly in the top 3, then I would have peed my jeans and rushed to the store to buy the physical CD - not just get the download - because that's how much I would want it and no I wouldn't have changed my jeans. But this song - though awesome - is merely #87. (Although it's comical how many times The Hold Steady and its predecessor band Lifter Puller will appear on this list.)
Which song came first? Although this song came out in October - two months after the Okkervil River song - I remember hearing Craig Finn pontificate (as he does so well) about Berryman before launching into this song at a Hold Steady concert I attended in February 2006. So...
86. Makes Me Wonder - Maroon 5 (2007)
You're likely thinking "WTF AF? A freaking song by freaking Maroon 5 being ranked higher than the 2 Berryman songs?? What have you become?" Let me tell you a story.
I recently told someone (a someone who knows a lot about music) that I really really liked the new Fiery Furnaces album. This someone told me that the Fiery Furnaces were "yesterday's news" and that I should support something different and less buzzed-about, you know something like obscure local post-rock bands and neu-world music collectives.
Now, I happen to know for a fact that this same person would, in a heartbeat, attend, say, a weekend-long revisionist celebration of overrated 80s no-wave and post-punk bands. I also know for a fact that this person would see no contradiction in lapsing into swoons when a song first made popular in 1979 Great Britain plays on that college radio station that you can only hear if the radio is on that side of the room.
But I didn't mention any of that. No, all I said was that it doesn't matter to me where the song comes from or who else likes it... it doesn't matter to me if the song is commercially popular or depressingly underappreciated... if the song is huzzawed-for by hipster blog aggregators or ignored by everyone but me. Over the radar / under the radar / on the radar / under the table where the cutting edge of the radar just misses... none of it matters.
All that matters is the song: the words and the music. As Eddie says in Eddie and the Cruisers: "Words and music, Wordman. Words and music." (Okay so the performance of the words and the music matter too but you get my point.) But for me, it's about the truth and the only truth is the song. This is why, for example, my statistically and artistically sound list has 3 consecutive songs from 2007 and more than 10% of the list is made of songs written by this guy>>>>>>>>
Actually, I didn't say any of that to my friend. All I said was "you're yesterday's news." So I like a Maroon 5 song, so what? (Note: Being that I have many friends who wouldn't know that Maroon 5 is a commercially popular band, much loved by present-day teenagers, college students, and young mothers with nape tattoos, let me make it clear that, in my particular thesis, Maroon 5 is like Mr. Mister was back in '85 and Okkervil River and the Fiery Furnaces are like Aztec Camera and Robyn Hitchcock & the Egyptians. Respectively. Oh and the guy in the picture up there to the right is not from Maroon 5.) Go here for the SONG (embedding disabled.)
85. Can You See - Mark Eitzel (2001)
The first song to appear on this list performed by a Facebook friend of mine, Can You See is a lovely love song about universal themes like truth, love, memory, and stuff like that. Go to his blog. Buy his new album called Klamath, titled for that spot "where the Klamath River meets Indian Falls." I hope I get to see that place some day.
84. Beanbag Chair - Yo La Tengo (2006)
In 1998, I was at the club First Avenue in Minneapolis. I was there to see the Magnetic Fields who were opening for Yo La Tengo. As I stood there rapt in attention as Stephin Merritt of the Magnetic Fields sang song after brilliantly written song, I seethed as the two guys next to me booed every MF song and screamed for Merritt to get his ass off the stage so "Yo La" could get on stage. I was a believer in non-confrontation back then so I just let it go and said not a word. Today? I would have kicked their asses (if not physically, then most definitely mentally, with cleverly constructed insults) and wait, STOP.
Did my last parenthetical statement really have FOUR adverbs in it? I need to rein it in. I have to remember that I'm writing this for YOU, not for myself.
Actually, if that incident happened today, I would have booed along with those two guys because the last two Magnetic Fields albums have kind of sucked and Yo La Tengo keeps rolling along, putting out great songs like this one about that most awful thing in the world, the beanbag chair: There are no good videos but go here for a free legitimate download from the band's official site.
83. Remind Me - Royksopp (2002)
There should be an umlaut over the 'o' in the band's name. Can't figure out to do that in Blogger.
82. Sunshowers - M.I.A. (2004)
There's that one Facebook thing where you can choose the 5 people you want on your side in a bar fight. Why didn't I put M.I.A. on my list? I suppose I could do it again. But then I'd be making lists and then reneging on my original list. A bad precedent would be set.
81. The Crystal Lake - Grandaddy (2001)
I feel like I am listing this song too low. I feel like it should be higher. I look at my spreadsheet. I shake my head. I can't find another better spot for it. I go back to work, go back to myself. I feel the shivers that come when the instrumental bridge at 1:25 hits. Wow.
(I made you click on the link to hear the thing at 1:25, didn't I? Is that a theremin?)