Description: You've got to admire his temerity, don't you?
Publication Date: 30 January 2004
24. "Gravity of the Situation," Vic Chesnutt (1995). The song begins "Well we blew past the army motorcade, and its abnormal load haulage/The gravity of the situation/came on us like a bit of new knowledge." You never get much closer to the epiphany; the means are illustrated, but not the nature. His distinct diction (he hits the /k/ in motorcade hard, and occasional migrates north in the midst of a vowel) is another means of detailing mystery. Although there are another half-dozen VC songs I like almost as much, like "Bug" or "Soggy Tongues," I'm discontinuing the "alternate" feature cause it was stressing me out (comma, man).
23. "More than This," Roxy Music (1982). Jumping 41 spots on the strength (funny word) of Bill Murray's karoke version in Lost in Translation. The movie gets part of the Romantic yearning of the song, which is a yearning which could never be made flesh but once glimpsed, never forgotten.
22. "Back in Black," AC/DC (1980). Holy Writ of a generation of pot smoking, head banging, shiftless white boys. I might know a little about this sociological group.
21. "Tumblin’ Dice," Rolling Stones (1972). This is what Plato was talking about when he invented Rock and Roll. (Lame joke on ideal forms-- it's ragged, brash on the side of tender; therefore, I'd argue, the perfect rock song and, following from its perfection, above comment.)
20. "Tonight I Think I’m Going to Go Downtown," Flatlanders (1972). My flimsy justification for this ordeal is that I'm building notes toward an aesthetic. I've noticed a penchant for understatement and melancholy. Words like mournful, yearning, and plaintive seem to crop up, along with restrained and measured. This song's a good example of both--following some presumed heartbreak, the singer goes downtown with small hope of something new.
19. "Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos," Public Enemy (1988). But on the other hand, I also admire power and bluster. This song doesn't have the braggadicio of later rap or earlier hard rock, but they should put a wav file of Chuck D in the multimedia dictionary under gravitas. (With his cameo on "Kool Thing," Carleton Ridenhour is one of the few artistes to make a second appearance on the list, or maybe the only. A great honor for him, I'm sure.) This prison-break narrative is also one of the great story songs I know, attaining the state of political parable.
18. "Louisiana 1927," Randy Newman (1974). The South. The arrangement of this song creates a broad, cinematic feel. The lyrics reflect a Southern stoic fortitude which isn't clearly admirable: "they're trying to wash us away/they're trying to was us away."
17. "Try a Little Tenderness," Otis Redding (1966). It's that explosion halfway through. If you know the song I doubt if you need any more justification.
16. "In the Midnight Hour," Wilson Pickett (1966). I think that sixties soul music has become the official 'music that everyone likes.' As such, this pick seems kind of obvious to me, but the first line is one of the great vocal entrees I know.
15. "Best is Yet to Come," Sinatra (1961 or 1964, conflicting info). Another sentimental favorite, though certainly a good song by any standard. There's something silly and sad in wishing you liked a particular kind of music, but sometimes I wish I had a better appreciation of the classic American songbook-- Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, those guys. I'm not sure how this song even fits in to that tradition, coming a little later, but it's cool as gin and the version with Count Basie sure does swing. Kitty-cat.
Thirty-six down, fourteen to go. With a rush and a push I might finish next week and move on to other things.
read: The Story of Lucy Gault by William Trevor, Bardic Ethos in the American Epic Poem
listening: Outkast, The Kills, and above, particularly Randy Newman's Good Old Boys
watched: Spellbound, The West Wing first season
"The Rock" 19
"Rhythm and Blues" 5
"Blues/Country Blues of Days of Yore" 3
"The Great American Songbook" 1