The Fifth Element #46 The Winners: 9–12
This was challenging, but great fun...I'm narrowing to five with immense difficulty as I could easily give you another ten right off the top of my head. The longer I wait to reply, the more I change my list, so here goes without any editorializing:
1. "All This Useless Beauty," Elvis Costello.
2. "The Modern Adventures of Plato, Diogenes and Freud," Al Kooper.
3. "The Farthest Lights," Freedy Johnston.
4. "We Walk On," Tonio K/John Keller.
5. "The Same Sad Smile," Jules Shear.
All the best and have fun with this—I did.
TEN: Steve Schmidt
Here is my list of 1st 5, and, taking the same liberty as John Marks, my 'coulda binnas' or 2nd 5:
1. "A Day in the Life," Lennon and McCartney, (1967).
Hard to top for combined haunting beauty, poetic ambition, unforgettable melodies with unpredictable complexity. Probably Lennon's best (he and Paul mutually acknowledged this as almost solely John's work).
CBA: "Eleanor Rigby," Lennon and McCartney, (1966).
2. "Suzanne", Leonard Cohen (1967).
Great even as stand-alone poetry, written by Leonard Cohen but known from slightly more vocally palatable hit version by Noel Harrison (not generally regarded as a singer but an actor)...she's wearing rags and tatters from Salvation Army counters...you've touched her perfect body with your mind.
CBA: "Taxi," Harry Chapin (1972).
3. "Vincent," Don McLean (1972).
Qualifies via great lyrics, poignant vocalizing, and heart-rending reference to a real-life tragic figure (short-lived artist van Gogh). A silver thorn, a bloody rose / lie crushed and broken on the virgin snow / I could've told you, Vincent, this world was never meant for one as beautiful as you.
CBA: "Sam Stone," John Prine (1971).
4. "Sounds of Silence," Simon and Garfunkel (1965).
Turned a lot of us Boomers on to 2nd-derivative folk as kids. And the sign said the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls...
CBA: "The Wall," Kansas (1977).
5. "Joanne," Mike Nesmith (1970).
After evolving up from a Monkee, Nes combined twangy proto-country-rock (see First National Band LPs) with clever turns of a phrase: broke down her desires like a light through a prism / into yellows and blues and a tune that I could not have sung
CBA: "Same Old Lang Syne," Dan Folgelberg (1980).
Steve Schmidt, a long-time Stereophile reader, record collector, and music history buff.
ELEVEN special mention for insouciant cheekiness): Larry Inouye
1. "Waiting Around to Die," Townes van Zandt.
Song about bad happenings and choices made in life, which are, nonetheless, better than just "waiting around to die."
2. "The Ballad of Lucy Jordan," Marianne Faithfull.
Song about desperation leading to suicide: At the age of 37 she realized she'd never ride / through Paris in a sports car with the warm wind in her hair. / So she let the phone keep ringing / as she sat there softly singing / little nursery rhymes she'd memorized in her daddy's easy chair.
3. "The Boy in the Bubble," Paul Simon.
Song about how technology connects all of us in the world today, including the ultimate example of isolation (a boy in a plastic bubble), who is utterly dependent on technology, but then so is everyone else. "It's a Small World" done as a scary lullaby.
4. "Midnight in Paris," Michael Hurley, et al
The juxtaposition of a country hick singing about a Parisian romance is funny enough, but the following lyric puts it over the top: I'll use your bidet / and you'll wear my beret (pronounced bee-ray) / cherie / I'll be clean you'll be free / Oh how happy we'll be / Toujours l'amor.
5. "Every Grain of Sand," Bob Dylan.
Whether or not one believes that God watches over us all and nothing is left uncared for or unaccounted for, this is a beautiful song.
"Cold Missouri Waters," James Keelaghan.
Perhaps not a great song, but the kind of song that is unjustly overlooked. It is a first-person narrative about the first time a forest-fire fighter set a fire around himself to starve a bigger conflagration that ended up killing 13 other firefighters who did not join him.
"H.A.T.R.E.D.," Tonio K.
I chose this song to "honor" your Jackson Browne example. It is a "love-gone-wrong" song, but one not so reflective, and a whole lot more typical of the sentiments of us non-poetic types: I wish I were as mellow as, for instance, Jackson Browne / but "fountain of sorrow" my ass motherf***er / I hope you wind up in the ground. By the way, "Life in the Foodchain," the title track, and, "Funky Western Civilization" are actually better cuts off the album.
TWELVE (special mention for just what the hobby needs): Sarah Witkowski
Dear Stereophile/John Marks:
My name is Sarah Witkowski. When I read about your competition I was very excited! (and still am.) I'm 16 years old and I like to call myself an "apprentice" audiophile. My dad is an audiophile and he encouraged me to enter this because apparently all I ever talk about it music. I would LOVE it if you published my list because I'm not Stereophile's average reader, and it might be fun to compare my list to someone my dad's age. I'm the only kid I know with a turntable in their room. (It's pretty awesome, it has this really cool Grace tone arm on it.) When I was trying to decide what songs to choose I decided to choose all rock and roll songs since that's what you seem to be looking for, but I'd also like to note that songs like Dusty Springfield's "Son of a Preacher Man", the Righteous Brothers "Unchained Melody" and "You've Lost that Lovin' Feelin'" and The Carpenters "Superstar" would be on my list if this wasn't more geared towards rock. Since those songs are more pop and soul, I thought it would be best to leave them out.
Well, here's my list:
1. "Gimme Shelter," Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. From The Rolling Stones, Let it Bleed (1969).
"Gimme Shelter" is everything that a great rock and roll song should be, making it my number one. It is musically strong and the lyrics capture the protest of the late '60s over the Vietnam War and the need for love. War Children, it's just a shot way / Love sister, it's just a kiss away. It is a song that anyone can listen to and enjoy.
2. "Behind Blue Eyes," Pete Townshend. From The Who, Who's Next (1971).
Although "Behind Blue Eyes" is played a lot on the radio, it is still one of the greatest songs ever written. Townshend provokes emotion with lyrics that everyone can relate to; the climax of the song is amazing, the feeling that I get when I hear the electric guitar roar and Daltrey sing, When my fist clenches, crack it open..., it is just indescribable.
3. "Crystal Ship," Jim Morrison. From The Doors, The Doors (1967).
The way Morrison's eerie voice seems to be whispering to you in the beginning is just perfect. The piano in this song is wonderfully composed. I can't say anything else but wow! This is one of The Doors' best songs.
4. "Heroin," Lou Reed. From The Velvet Underground, The Velvet Underground and Nico (1967).
This is one of the most powerful and intense songs ever written. The way the guitar and drums slow down and speed up really have a large emotional effect on the listener. Reed's lyrics are very real and make you feel the song. At the end, when the drums go way off beat and the feedback from the guitar is screeching demonstrates the confusion and feeling a heroin addict must feel. It is one of the best songs written about drug use.
5. "Here Comes the Sun," George Harrison. From The Beatles, Abbey Road (1969).
I chose "Here Comes the Sun" for number five because it is, in my opinion, the best happy/feel-good song ever written. Unlike many other Beatles songs, this one doesn't have to do with love, politics or drugs; it's just happy. That is why this one made the list and "I Want to Hold Your Hand", "Come Together" or "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" did not.
PS. I hope my list was audiophile-ly enough!