The Fifth Element #46 The Winners: 5–8
1. "A Whiter Shade of Pale," Booker and Reid, Procul Harum.
2. "If You See Her, Say Hello," Bob Dylan.
3. "Scarlet Begonias," Hunter and Garcia, The Grateful Dead.
4. "The Promised Land," Bruce Springsteen.
5. "Can't Find My Way Home," Steve Winwood, Blind Faith.
SIX: Ollie Powers
1. "Yesterday," Lennon and McCartney. From The Beatles, Help! (1965).
What needs to be said? The perfect song, with melodic, harmonic, and structural elegance, and emotional power. Yes, I am aware that it was probably 100% Paul McCartney, but Paul and John had agreed to share writing credit for all their songs as The Beatles, and so it stands.
2. "Whispering Pines," Manuel and Robertson. From The Band, The Band (1969).
Another song where everything comes together, including The Band's haunting performance. Richard Manuel is truly missed.
3. "A Salty Dog," Brooker and Reid. From Procol Harum, A Salty Dog (1969).
I was in high school when this song came on an L.A. "soft rock" station, and I was immediately struck by its soaring and original chord progression—and I became a life-long listener to Procol Harum because of it. (How many other songs have been written about sailors dying at sea and going to heaven?) The ending string tremolos sul ponticello dissolving into seagulls can still raise goosebumps.
4. "San Jacinto," Peter Gabriel. From Peter Gabriel, Security (1982).
Late one night I thought I had discovered the world's greatest FM radio station. Then I found instead that it was an ordinary station that had been playing straight through one of the world's most extraordinary albums, Security, by Peter Gabriel. This is one of the most powerful of the songs featured on it. (Had the list gone to 10, I would have added Wallflower as well.)
5. "Summer's Cauldron," Andy Partridge. From XTC, Skylarking (1986).
Finding XTC (which I came to quite late, in the nineties) was like finding a gold vein, and Skylarking was where I started. Although Andy Partridge sometimes camps it up vocally (reminding me every now and then of nothing so much as an English Danny Elfman), his and Colin Moulding's songwriting abilities have kept my interest for a long time, creating songs that rock with great intelligence and originality.
Dr. Ollie Powers
SEVEN: James Weise
Dear John Marks,
Thanks for a few hours of mental entertainment. We must be products of a similar time, as only one of my tracks escapes the 1970s. I tried to reach out to further time extremes, but these songs ultimately touched me deeper. Far from your thinking that you picked only the best tracks, most of this list consists of other low lying fruit. Within the rules set forth I believe these songs best speak to the collective human condition.
1. "1952 Vincent Black Lightning," Richard Thompson (1991).
"Red hair and black leather, my favorite color schemes." Replace the motorcycle with a stead and the story dates back dozens of generations. The rebel outlaw with a passionate heart and the woman who loved him, unto death.
Coulda Binna Award: "Beeswing," Richard Thompson.
2. "Growin' Up," Bruce Springsteen (1973).
"When they said come down, I threw up." Now there's a writer who is deeply in touch with his inner teenager. When we are full of angst and confusion, but still "combed my hair till it was just right."
Coulda Binna Award: "The River," Bruce Springsteen.
3. "If You See Her, Say Hello," Bob Dylan (1975).
The world is loaded with love songs, but few are from a post-breakup perspective. Obviously in love, "I always have respected her...", he's also keenly aware that they will never be together again, "for doing what she did and gettin' free" It's the flame we can never extinguish.
Coulda Binna Award: At least a dozen other Dylan tunes.
4. "Father and Son," Cat Stevens (1970).
Youthful spirit of wonder and adventure confronts the fatigued voice of reason and contentment. It is time to finally sever the umbilical cord. "If they were right, I'd agree, but it's them they know not me"
Coulda Binna Award: "Dayton, Ohio," Randy Newman.
5. "Working Class Hero," John Lennon (1970).
The lyrics are cynical and direct, I was stunned when I first listened to them. They hate you if you're clever and they despise a fool. They continue to reflect my cynicism today. The lyrics are far truer than I would like.
Coulda Binna Award: "The Train," The Roches.
Hope you have fun and gain new insights when reading all these lists.
EIGHT: Wayne Fukuhara
Here is my list of 5 songs for the contest described in the February 2008 issue. Thanks for making me really read and think about lyrics—something I had not done in a long time...
1. "Hissing of Summer Lawns," John Guerin and Joni Mitchell (1975).
He put up a barbed wire fence / To keep out the unknown / And on every metal thorn / Just a little blood of his own. A somewhat haunting song, which highlights Joni Mitchell's existential songwriting on a hot sunny summer day.
2. "Alfie," Burt Bacharach and Hal David (1966).
What's it all about when you sort it out, Alfie? / Are we meant to take more than we give / or are we meant to be kind? Cover by Dionne Warwick. Also excellent rendition by Ron Isley. Burt himself admits this is one of his own favorites—and why not? It captures the wonderment of life in a sweet fashion amid the turbulence of the '60s.
3. "In a Small Moment," Carly Simon (1978).
Just a little lie that slept beside her/ as she tossed and turned in her alibis. With dreamlike melody and well-crafted metaphors, this is Carly Simon at her best.
4. "In My Life," Lennon and McCartney, Beatles (1965).
There are places I'll remember / All my life, though some have changed / Some forever not for better / Some have gone and some remain. As I get older I always feel a little sad when I hear this song but it never fails to stir me. The beginning guitar chord has the ability to identify this song from a million miles away.
5. "Doctor Wu," Becker and Fagen, Steely Dan (1975).
Are you with me, Doctor Wu? / Are you really just a shadow of the man that I once knew? / Are you crazy, are you high or just an ordinary guy? / Have you done all you can do? There are many theories about what this song is about—I like to think Dr. Wu is a personification for reaching out for help—even though it might be the wrong kind of help. However the lyrics and the song are quintessential Steely Dan.