The Fifth Element #46 The Winning Lists: 1–4

ONE: Jim Shearer

I'm no expert, and I'm not quite sure about 'art song', but here are my thoughts:

1. "L'Homme Qui N'Avait pas de Maison," Lara Fabian and Jean-Felix Lalanne; (you didn't say only English songs need apply).
If art is helping you see more than the unattractive surface, then this song about a homeless man has to qualify as art.

Alternates, variations on a theme of love: (I'm a semi-rabid Lara fan)—Lara Fabian and Jean-Felix Lalanne, "Le Tour Du Monde," love just beginning; Carole Cournoyer/Kim Kuzma/Dave Pickell/Eddy Marnay, "Puisque c'est l'amour," the philosophy of love; Lara Fabian/Rick Allison/Mario Parent, "Tu t'en vas," you're leaving; Lara Fabian/Rick Allison, "Tout," I'm leaving; Alice Dona/Serge Lama, "Je Suis Malade" (performed by Lara), seriously messed up love; Lara Fabian/Janey Clewer, "Bambina," sentimental love

2. "In My Life," Lennon and McCartney; no comment necessary.

3. "Big Yellow Taxi," Joni Mitchell; a statement for our time.

4. "Sunny Goodge Street," Donovan (performed by Judy Collins); art in the vein of Picasso.

5. "Ay Caramba!," Natty Bo (performed by Ska Cubano); commentary on life.

Thanks for listening!

Jim Shearer

TWO: Ron Stewart

Hello Mr. Marks,

When I read about your latest write-in competition, I didn't know whether to curse you or applaud you. Each time you hold one, I seem to spend every spare minute thinking about it whether I intend to enter or not. In the end, though, I've concluded that your contests are a good thing. In this case, it made me look inward to try to better understand why I like the songs I do, and having someone provoke my thoughts is always a good thing.

That said, here is my entry.

1. "Hockey," Jane Siberry. From "When I Was a Boy," (1989).
Not a story, but a nostalgic snapshot, and an admonishment to hold onto youthful innocence. Kids playing hockey on a frozen river, with boots for goalposts, a puck-stealing dog, a profanity-laced dispute over the authenticity of an autograph on a stick, and the loss of players to dinner time. For me, it was football in side yards and basketball in driveways and playgrounds, but the feelings are eerily similar. It's a beautiful song, and I get chills every time I hear it.

2. "In Germany Before the War," Randy Newman. From "Little Criminals," (1977).
Who knew Randy Newman could write horror? In a span of three minutes, this song goes from melancholy—I'm looking at the river / But I'm thinking of the sinister—A little girl has lost her way / With hair of gold and eyes of gray / Reflected in his glasses / As he watches her—to tragic and chilling—We lie beneath the autumn sky / My little golden girl and I/And she lies very still.

When I heard this song the first time, it was clear that it wasn't going to be a typical Randy Newman song, but I didn't expect to be John Malkovich'ed in and around the mind of a disturbed man.

3. "Hounds of Love," Kate Bush. From "Hounds of Love," (1985).
Scary movies give most people a few cheap thrills, or maybe some bad dreams. Kate Bush used one (1957's Night of the Demon, quoted in the song's opening lines, "It's in the trees! It's coming!") as inspiration for a song about struggling to overcome a visceral fear of love. (Now hounds of love are hunting / I've always been a coward, And I don't know what's good for me). The lines, Take my shoes off / And throw them in the lake / And I'll be / Two steps on the water perfectly capture wanting to be free of something, but not being able to let it go.

4. "This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)," David Byrne. From Talking Heads, Speaking in Tongues, (1983).
A tender love song and retelling of the "home is where the heart is" cliche from, of all people, David Byrne. (Hi yo you got light in your eyes / And you're standing here beside me / I love the passing of time)

The language is awkward, but apt, because it reflects the difficulty many have with expressing such feelings. I like the The Talking Heads' bouncy, trippy original, but I think I like Shawn Colvin's earnest reading even more.

5. "Halley Came to Jackson," Mary Chapin Carpenter. From "Shooting Straight in the Dark," (1990).
Don't let Mary Chapin Carpenter teach your kid astronomy. Comets don't "flash across the sky" like giant meteors. But that doesn't matter—the science is wrong, but the emotions are on target. In this song, inspired by Eudora Welty's memoirs, a father takes his sleeping infant daughter outside to "see" Halley's comet and makes a wish that comes true 76 years later when the adult daughter views the same comet from the same porch. This song speaks to the hopes and dreams all parents have for their children, the bonds between generations, and the magic and mystery of the night sky. Admittedly, it's a bit corny, but if it doesn't tug at your heart at least a little, it's probably made of stone.


Ron Stewart

THREE: Craig Vogel

Dear John,

The real challenge in nominating the top five Great Art Songs of the Rock Age is to avoid populating one's entire list with those conforming to the general pattern, "Gordon Lightfoot, 'Song XYZ.'" To underscore my point, I have included an unofficial list of Lightfoot songs that can rightly compete with any compilation that you may receive, including my own official one.

It perhaps goes without saying that my Lightfoot list is unofficial because it does not conform to the basis of "creativity and originality" upon which the winning compilations will be determined. It does neither me nor Mr. Lightfoot any good to win in Spirit when those lists that win in Letter are the ones that will see the light of day in your column.

Now speaking on the record, I submit that the following five songs are unmatched in terms of craftsmanship, musicality, intelligence, and emotional impact:

1. "The Last Time I Saw Her," Gordon Lightfoot (1968).
The late Skip Weshner, radio host nonpareil and Lightfoot's personal friend, was particularly enamored with this song. He frequently paired it with your Coulda Binna Award winner, "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," also sung by Gordon. The lyrics, "But that was so long ago that I can scarcely feel the way I felt before/And if time could heal the wounds, I would tear the threads away that I might bleed some more" invariably sent Skip (and your correspondent, at a tender 19 years) into a justifiable tizzy.

2. "Another Gray Morning," James Taylor (1977).
Having struggled myself with severe depression, I can tell you that Taylor captured the feelings as perhaps no other composer could have. No stranger to depression himself, when Taylor says, If another day goes creeping by / Empty and ashamed / Like an old unwanted memory / That no one will claim / The clouds with their heads on the ground / She's gonna have to come down, he knows whereof he speaks.

3. "My Father," Judy Collins (1967).
Mesmerizing in its nostalgic sweetness, Collins' creation causes us to wonder if she truly danced alone once All [her] sisters soon were gone / To Denver and Cheyenne / Marrying their grownup dreams / The lilacs and the man.

4. "Eye of the Hurricane," David Wilcox (1989).
In 1989, Honda introduced its visually stunning, electrifyingly fast Hurricane 1000 motorcycle. Those of us who were similarly without love and with motorcycle in 1989 could surely relate to Wilcox's heroine, who bravely answered the question, Tell the truth, explain to me / How you got this need for speed, with the haunting observation, She laughed and said 'it might just be / The next best thing to love' / Hope is gone and she confessed / When you lay your dream to rest / You can get what's second best / But it's hard to get enough.

5. "Sail Away," Randy Newman (1973).
One of many Newman songs that could have made the list out of pure audacity ("Political Science" is still sadly relevant today), "Sail Away" bites fiercely with brilliantly ironic lyrics that parody the slave traders' empty and evil promises: In America you'll get food to eat / Won't have to run through the jungle / And scuff up your feet / You'll just sing about Jesus and drink wine all day / It's great to be an American.

Off the record, the following songs, taken in toto, define the Art Song of the Rock Age:

1. "The Last Time I Saw Her," Gordon Lightfoot (1968)
2. "Affair on 8th Avenue," Gordon Lightfoot (1968)
3. "Canadian Railroad Trilogy," Gordon Lightfoot (1967)
4. "Softly," Gordon Lightfoot (1967)
5. "If I Could," Gordon Lightfoot (1968)

John, thanks for the opportunity to participate in something so thoroughly edifying. Researching these songs immersed me again in the magic that exists only in the realm of the Transcendent Song.


Craig C. Vogel

FOUR: Elisabeth Daneels

Hello, Having agonized over this ... here is my list of amazingly well crafted POPULAR pop/rock/folk songs written in the last 28 years. I have limited my selections to this period in order to avoid having a stroke :-)

1. "In Your Eyes," Peter Gabriel (1986).

Coulda Binna Award: "Here Comes the Flood," Peter Gabriel (1992).

2. "Ghost," Emily Saliers-Indigo Girls (1992).

CBA: "Galileo," Emily Saliers-Indigo Girls (1992).

3. "Silver Lining," David Gray (2000).

CBA: "Babylon," David Gray (2000).

4. "One," U2 (1991).

CBA: "The Weakness In Me," Joan Armatrading (1981).

5. "Do What You Have To Do," Sarah McLachlan (1997).

CBA "Angel," Sarah McLachlan (1997).

Listen to 'em. You'll see.

Elisabeth Daneels