Thursday, 23 July 2009

Top 100 favourite songs of all time [Part 2: The 60s]

Let's begin the list with my favourite songs of the 1960s.

The Band - Whispering Pines
Heavenly vocals courtesy of the late Richard Manuel, this is the melodic high point of their excellent eponymous album. Makes me feel nostalgic for a time I was never part of.

The Beach Boys - God Only Knows
Commonly regarded by critics and musicians to be one of the finest compositions of all time, and who am I to argue? The combination of Brian Wilson's gorgeous melody and Tony Asher's romantic lyrics is a match made in heaven, but it's Carl Wilson's angelic vocals which are the icing on the already delicious cake.

The Beatles - While My Guitar Gently Weeps
Picking a favourite Beatles song is a difficult task, but this has always been a personal favourite of mine. Credit needs to be given to Eric Clapton for the amazing lead guitar (and solo), but what I love about this song is that it's a George Harrison composition (and vocal performance). This song showed that he had what it took to compete with his older and more experienced bandmates Lennon and McCartney.

David Bowie - Space Oddity
A timely entry in the list, as Monday was the 40th anniversary of the moon landing. This song was rush-released on July 11 1969 to coincide with this amazing moment in history. 40 years later, it still sounds out of this world.

James Brown - It's A Man's Man's Man's World
James Brown (a.k.a. The Godfather of Soul) was more well-known for his upbeat funk numbers, but this beautiful ballad from 1966 is his masterpiece. While the title and lyrics can be considered a bit chauvinist, I like to interpret it as a positive song towards women. Yes males have invented a lot of things in history, but without the women there to support them, their lives would have accounted for nothing. Probably not what JB meant, but it's a wonderful song all the same.

Johnny Cash - Folsom Prison Blues [Live]
Hello, I'm Johnny Cash. Is there a better opening line? Kicking off the classic At Folsom Prison live album is this rollicking number about life on the wrong side of the tracks. This song is such a classic piece of rock 'n' roll history that even Krusty the Clown parodied it in the Simpsons. Despite the fact that the prisoner cheers after the "I shot a man in Reno" line were apparently overdubbed, it's still a goosebump raising moment.

Bob Dylan - Ballad of a Thin Man
Picking the best Bob Dylan song was an incredibly tough decision, up there with the Beatles. But this song sums up the surreal poetry of his mid-60s work perfectly. The melody is interesting enough, but the lyrics! How many songs can you name that include the following themes: Geeks, lumberjacks, lepers, crooks, F. Scott Fitzgerald, sword swallowers, one eyed midgets? Okay, maybe a few Tom Waits songs. I think this song is G-E-N-I-U-S. Do you, Mr Jones?

Fairport Convention - Who Knows Where The Time Goes?
Rockers may know Sandy Denny from her guest vocal appearance on The battle of Evermore by Led Zeppelin. But she was also a part of folk-rock combo Fairport Convention, and this song from their Unhalfbricking album contains one of the finest vocal performances I have ever heard. The lyrics are wistful and nostalgic. A fine effort all around.

The George Baker Selection - Little Green Bag
Reservoir dogs is probably my favourite movie of all time. This song is played at the start of the movie, as the jewel thieves are strutting down the street in slow motion after discussing Madonna over breakfast. I remember falling in love with that amazing opening bassline the first time I heard the song. This song will always remind me of the opening of that movie, and that makes me happy.

The Jackson 5 - I Want You Back
The Jackson 5 recorded this song when little Michael was only 11 years old. Not only is it probably the finest Motown song, but it's the definitive "single". With a length of 3 minutes and not a wasted note, this is everything that a catchy pop song should be and more. I'll always be amazing by the breadth of talent that is demonstrated in this song.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience - Little Wing
Jimi Hendrix is arguably the finest guitarist who has ever lived. With the Experience, he recorded a lot of classic rockers (Purple haze), blues numbers (Red house) and ballads, of which this is his finest example. This song only runs at a little over 2 minutes, but it manages to combine everything that defined the Experience - psychedelic lyrics, understated rhythm and Jimi's amazing guitar work in the finale. Perfect.

The Kinks - Dead End Street
Definitely a "hidden gem" in their catalogue. I could have quite easily chosen Waterloo sunset, also one of the finest songs ever written. But this song has always been special to me. I love the lyrical content (pretty much a description of living in a "shit hole"), the catchy chorus and the general vibe of the song.

Simon & Garfunkel - The Boxer
Along with Bridge over troubled water, this is probably the finest production on any Simon & Garfunkel song. It's definitely got the Phil Spector "wall of sound" thing happening. The wistful, biographical lyrics of the verses are juxtaposed perfectly with the "Li la li" lyrics and tribal drumming of the chorus. A perfectly constructed song.

Sly & The Family Stone - Stand!
The greatest interracial soul band of all time? I believe so. I could have put almost any Sly & The Family Stone song from their greatest hits here, but this song just makes me happy. The lyrics are life-affirming, positive and with an excellent message. And the music and vocal performances are simply exhilirating.

Dusty Springfield - Son Of A Preacher Man
Another song I got into through a Quentin Tarantino film, this time the classic Pulp fiction. I have subsequently purchased the Dusty in Memphis album that contains this song, and it is a masterpiece which I would recommend to anyone. Dusty is probably the best white female soul singer of all time, and this song is one of her crowning achievements.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Top 100 favourite songs of all time [Part 1: Introduction]

Every year, Australian radio station Triple J run a poll called the Hottest 100, where listeners get to vote for their favourite songs of the year. On Australia Day every year, they have a countdown of the 100 highest voted songs, and soon after release a 2CD package of the highlights of the hottest 100.

Every so often, Triple J also ran a poll to determine the hottest 100 songs of all time. Well, they just finished one recently, and the results are in. A fairly predictable selection overall, if you ask me. While there are undoubtedly some classics on the list, there were some pretty amusing selections as well.

The nosebleed section by the Hilltop Hoods at position 17? Is this song really better than A day in the life by The Beatles, which only made it to position 24? Anyway, discussions like this are fruitless. This was a democratic poll of the opinion of Triple J listeners, and who am I to argue with the opinions of the masses?

I decided it would be an appropriate time to compile my top 100 favourite songs of all time. It was a difficult task, made much easier by the star ratings on my iPod. I started by setting a few ground rules:

  • I could only include a single song by each artist/band. This was done mainly to keep it more interesting; otherwise the list would be full of songs by The Beatles, Radiohead and The Smiths (amongst some of my other favourite musicians).
  • I would not even try to attempt to order the songs. This rule was imposed mainly for my own sanity. I find it difficult enough to order a top 10, let alone a top 100. My obsessive-compulsive nature would have driven me to insanity, and in many cases it would have felt like I choosing which child I preferred more.
  • I would only choose songs that I legitimately own on iPod/CD. There are lots of classic songs which I don't own yet, for some reason or another. These are not eligible. And if it's on my iPod, I already own it on CD.
I have categorised the songs into separate posts based on the decade that they were released in. The next post will be the 1960s, the earliest decade which my favourite songs lie in.

Within a particular decade, the songs are sorted alphabetically by artist/band name.

Next to each entry, you'll see my very brief Twitter-esque synopsis of the song. This is also for my own sanity, as I don't want to spend months writing long descriptions of each song.

Please chime in with your personal favourites from each decade on the relevant post.

I hope that you enjoy the list!

Friday, 10 July 2009

Eye fillets #002

It's been a long time since my last (erm...first) eye fillets post. Just over 2 years by my calculations.

For those new to the game, eye fillets is the dodgy pun I use to describe "choice cuts". The eye fillets post series works this way:
  1. Put my iPod on shuffle
  2. Navigate to my "Eye fillets" playlist (which contains all my 5-star rated tracks)
  3. Write a commentary about the first 5 songs which come up
  4. Provide downloads of the 5 songs (for evaluation purposes only)
Please delete the songs after you have listened to them. And if you like the music, support the artists by buying their music.


1. Super Furry Animals - Hermann Loves Pauline [Link removed]

SFA are almost synonymous with quirky, and this is a typically quirky rocker that is a perfect encapsulation of what made me fall in love with this Welsh band. This is from their 1997 masterpiece Radiator, which was the first SFA album I ever heard (after Pete generously lent it to me).

Everything that makes SFA great is in this song. There's the oddball yet strangely intelligent lyrics ("An asthma sufferer like Ernesto Guevara"), the psychedelic acid-rock, and a melody that most bands could only dream of writing. There's so many indie bands out there who try to make music as intelligent and entertaining as this, but SFA are so far above their contemporaries that it's not funny.

While they are still releasing excellent music, none of their 2000s output has been able to capture the magic that they conjured up on some of their early songs like this one. The finest song they ever released, and it even includes a bonus biography of Marie Curie.

2. The Exploding Hearts - Sleeping aides and razorblades [Link removed]

Oregon band The Exploding Hearts only released one album before most of the band members died tragically in a car accident in 2003. The album Guitar romantic is thoroughly charming and entertaining, despite the fact that it wears its punk-pop influences so proudly on its sleeve.

On the surface (and on the initial spins), they don't sound very different to other punk-pop bands of the era like Green Day. Their sound is indebted to late-era Clash, Buzzcocks and Only Ones. There's nothing particularly innovative about the band, and it's quite likely that if they survived the accident they would have quickly faded into insignificance.

But after a few spins of the album, gems like this little number start emerging from the woodwork. This song has a great stop-start melody which for some reason reminds me of late-60s Motown, despite the fact that it's as far away from a soul/R&B number as you could imagine. There's great use of space in this song, and it just has a nice dynamic about it.

3. Crowded House - Whispers and moans [Live] [Link removed]

This is the live version from the bonus disc which came with my edition of their best-of, Recurring dream. While the studio version on Woodface is also excellent, this live version was the first one I heard and I have always liked it more.

Crowded House were a great live act, and this performance is from their original line-up, which included the sadly deceased Paul Hester. While I have seen them live since they reunited, I can't help but feel sad that I never got to see them before they broke up the first time.

Whispers and moans is one of my favourite Crowded House songs - a beautiful ballad with raunchy overtones, it's one of those songs that should probably have been as big as Weather with you and Don't dream it's over. But most fans, including myself, are quite happy for it to remain a hidden gem in an amazing career.

4. Antony & The Johnsons - You are my sister [Link removed]

I am a bird now was my favourite album of 2005, and this was one of my favourite songs of the same year.

I have always thought of the album as a conceptual piece about androgynous Antony being trapped in a world not meant for him. This stunningly gorgeous duet between Antony and Boy George has always been the emotional centrepiece for me, an integral part of the journey that he takes on I am a bird now.

A beautiful song from a stunning album that any open minded music listener needs to hear.

5. Belle & Sebastian - Get me away from here, I'm dying [Link removed]

A song which nicely brings this list full circle, this is the B&S equivalent of the first (SFA) song on this list. Like the SFA song, this is the highlight on their second (and best) album.

Scottish indie pop collective Belle & Sebastian are certainly a different band thesedays than what they used to be. Starting out as the 90s version of the Smiths, they had the perfect formula: the sad, witty and poetic lyrics of Stuart Murdoch, melodies to lose yourself in, and an amazingly talented collective of musicians to back it all up.

If I had to introduce someone to the genius of B&S, this would be the song I would play to them. If you like this song, I strongly recommend that you pick up any of their first four albums. In many ways, I wish that B&S would return to the sound of their earlier work, but they have clearly moved on.

Update: Song links removed.