Chris, Paola and Alex introduce a new feature, their top 5 songs! Each edition will feature a different genre or criteria, starting off this time with our personal 5 favourites!
Pearl Jam – Yellow Ledbetter
This is one of those songs that ‘got me’ right from the first play – back in the days when the internet didn’t exist outside MIT, when bands still sold CD singles with extra tracks that we would insist in referring to as ‘B-Sides’. A friend from Norway had posted me a cassette with a live Pearl Jam album, and at the end of the tape she’d put in a couple of extra songs. Yellow Ledbetter was one.
I’m not a musician and so I lack the technical jargon to try and analysis what exactly it is about this song that struck a chord. But, to use a Blake-ism, it simply twisted the sinews of my heart. Never mind that I had no idea of what Vedder sang, because – as I’ve already said – that was back in the days when you couldn’t just ‘Google’ stuff.
Fast forward about…12 years. Reading Festival 2006 – PJ are headlining. I finally get to hear this song live…Eddie has changed all the words, it’s about George W Bush and bodies in a box and political stuff that goes right over my head, but the emotions the music evokes inside me are still the same. And during that song, my PJ obsessed boyfriend puts his arms around me, and that’s the nearest I’ll ever get to a slow dance with him. So…it was totally worth it.
Martha Wainwright – BMFA
It was….several years ago when I went to see Rufus Wainwright at my local concert hall. Back then, his little sister, Martha, was the support act. She opened with Bloody Mother F*****g A*****e and simply blew me away. Why this song? Because a couple of lines really really speak to me:
“I wish I wish I wish that I was born a man
so I could learn how to stand
up for myself
like those guys with guitars
I’ve been watching in bars
who’ve been stamping their feet to a different beat
to a different beat”..
Do I need to really add anything? Play this song NOW.
Alice in Chains – Don’t Follow
Can a song be more heartbreaking and poignant than this one? Back when I hardly knew who AiC were – knowing only the track ‘Would’ which had featured in the ‘Singles OST’ I was introduced to the mellower, more acoustic side of the band via their EP ‘Jar of Flies’, which I’d somehow been compelled to buy without actually having the faintest idea of what it was going to sound like.
Almost 20 years later, ‘Don’t Follow’ is a song that still breaks my heart at every listen. It’s a song built around a simple, stripped down melody and AiC’s trademark use of vocal harmonies; but it is really the lyrics that make this one of the band’s most memorable and underrated efforts.
It doesn’t matter if your own personal demon is teenage angst, substance dependency, a broken heart or just the sheer realisation that life, very often just sucks: this song encapsulates all those feelings and more.
Like all of AiC’s work – with the exclusion of 2009’s ‘Black Gives Way To Blue’ – it’s almost impossible not to draw parallels between art and real life, and maybe this is where Layne Staley’s ghost lingers the most, because, as we all know, he never did come home. I have no intention of following down the path of self-destruction, but there have been plenty of times in my life when misery felt … so hollow.
Hey, I ain’t never coming home
Hey, I’ll just wander my own road
Hey, I can’t meet you here tomorrow
Say goodbye don’t follow
Misery so hollow
Nirvana – All Apologies
I’m picking this one because I always end up quoting one of its lines – “I wish I was like you/easily amused” – words that spoke to me 20 years ago and that still speak to me now. When Nirvana became famous in Europe, the charts were full of dreadful 90’s techno – the kind of stuff that my friends danced to in cavernous discos as they tried to impress members of the opposite sex. Hell, were these people easily amused. I was already listening to pretty dark stuff – Nick Cave, The Cure – bit it was these words from one long haired kid from Aberdeen, Washington that truly made me feel a little bit less alone.
Oh and – it has to be the Unplugged version, of course.
My Chemical Romance – ‘Welcome to the Black Parade’
Of my ‘5 Songs’ this is the most recent entry. I never really gave MCR much thought until I saw them at Reading Festival back in 2006. Then I saw Gerard Way belt out this song – one foot firmly planted on the speaker in front of him in, totally rocking it – and MCR became my kind of band. WTTBP opens quietly – Gerard’s voice and the piano – but soon turns into something truly epic and makes you want to wear black and march down the streets of London and take over the world. Or something like that.
“Son, when you grow up
Would you be the savior of the broken
The beaten and the damned?”
I don’t know about you, but I would totally want to be a savior of the broken.
Too many…I give up.
Chevelle- The Red
As I’m sure is the case with Alex and Paola’s lists, all the songs in my Fave Five (Booker T ©) struck a chord with me personally and I suppose reflect different parts of my personality and history. I was a particularly angry teenager (still am, just with the teenager part removed) and while there were a lot of songs that connected with my angst-y nature, this one combined an expression of the explosion of feelings when the red mist (fortunately something I no longer get) descends combined with an anthemic harmony in the chorus. The chorus also contains a simple line which sums up perfectly the reality of mental illnesses in the face of ‘pull yourself together’ dismissals; “The threat is real”.
Foo Fighters- Everlong
I was so determined to hate FF when they first started gaining momentum in the UK. I was just hitting secondary school and so completely enamoured with Nirvana and Kurt Cobain that the idea of their drummer being successful without Kurt offended my adolescent sensibilities. Then I heard Everlong. The soft verses where Dave Grohl demonstrates an ability to really get you to listen to what he says sucked me in and once again an anthemic chorus (see a theme developing?) just blew me away. It gains extra points for showing a love song doesn’t have to be saccharine.
Hannah Sheehan/No, Really- Rust
There are a couple of versions of this song around online and while they’re both good, I think the lyrics are superior on this version. It’s a fantastic revenge and empowerment song and Hannah’s vocals are absolutely soaring throughout. I could listen to this on a loop for days. Without realising it at the time I went through a phase a few years ago where all I listened to were female solo artists and while a number of them still stick around on my playlist, Rust is guaranteed an outing every time I listen to music. I really wish Hannah Sheehan were better known because stuff like this really needs a bigger audience but from what I can tell she’s not someone who seeks a great deal of publicity. All her stuff is available for free though on various websites, a choice she made to eschew any creative control she might have to concede if signed to a label.
Alice in Chains- Rooster
I love a song with meaning behind it. This was written based on the experiences of AIC’s guitarist Jerry Cantrell’s Father’s experiences fighting in Vietnam. In one night his entire squadron was killed except for him, the Rooster, the only one who saw the dawn. It’s lyrically simple, quite reminiscent of Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA in places, but it contains the full gamut of emotions Cantrell’s Father went through, everything from missing home, seeing his friends die, avoiding malaria and praying to make it home in one piece. Layne Staley’s vocals never sounded better or clearer, the band were musically so sharp at this point in their careers and combined with a magnificent video using documentary footage and reconstructions, I don’t think anybody could not be moved in some way by Rooster.
Nirvana have better songs lyrically and musically, but they were never about technique or finish. For me this is perfect Kurt and perfect Nirvana, raw, unpolished, laid bare and bursting with almost existential angst. It’s vocals about a kid being babysat by his grandparents are easy to dismiss but something much deeper and darker is there under the surface which is open to interpretation. Personally I think it’s showing how those early anxieties never went away and were by this point exploding, how that early fight against what was happening had never really ended and a desire at the root of it all to just go back to being a child who could feel safe waking up in his Mother’s arms and not have to fight anymore. It’s an allegory of where the conception of depression, anxiety and feeling hopeless come from. It just packs a punch I can’t resist!
Honourable mentions- Same as Paola, far too many. Most of Alice In Chains and Nirvana’s back catalogue for one.
What sort of deranged sadist asks a man for his top 5 songs ever? I can’t even decide my top 5 songs of this week! So in either a wise precaution or a rubbishy cop-out, I am providing the disclaimer that while I can provide this list today, it could be drastically different tomorrow and the following year it could break my heart that I found such derivative piffle in any way meaningful. Seems unlikely though, as the following are certifiably “dope”!
Nirvana- Smells Like Teen Spirit
When I was at school on the rugby team our captain was a pretty unique kid in that every member of the team of hormonal teenagers looked up to him. He was a charismatic dude and a damn good rugby player. As kids we were all pretty shocked to watch him snap his leg during a match. You could hear the crack, it was pretty grim. The whole team went into a huddle after he’d been taken to hospital, we were a bit shocked and we had to talk about the rest of the match. The teachers were elsewhere deciding if the game would continue or not and we made this circle of muddy kids, arms round each others shoulders and heads bowed so we had our own tiny little world. No one was speaking, and then one of the other kids starts humming the opening riff to Teen Spirit and then all of a sudden we’re all humming, bowbowdowing and acapella singing this song, watching our breath come out in the cold. That’s just one memory this awesome record evokes. I don’t care it was too commercial for Kurt’s liking, I don’t care everyone liked it, it’s a darn good song. PROTIP: Every other year or so, I’ll dig out my picture disc vinyl version and play it just a couple of notches lower pitch than 33rpm and it highlights the haunting quality of the song.
Queen- Princes of the Universe
If you haven’t at any point thrown your arms wide and looked up at the sky and sung at the top of your lungs “Here we are! Born to be kings!” then you Sir, have not lived.
Jedi Mind Tricks & R.A. The Rugged Man – Uncommon Valour
War is hell. It’s known for it across the board; it’s dark, muddy and disorganised. Some musicians have written entire albums about how war is terrible and not fun to take part in. The first verse in this snappy two-verse hip-hopera follows pretty much the above theme, garnering pity for the poor dude on the front line while condemning the idea of going to war at all. When R.A. The Rugged Man, Hip-hop’s answer to Andre the Giant bursts in for verse two this all goes out of the window. Maybe you don’t like rap, maybe you do, but even for the non-fan it’s impossible not to admire the breath control on this frankly sick verse about how war is actually a blast. At first.
Gza – Living in the World Today
I don’t think I’ll ever hammer out my who my favourite rapper is, or my favourite rap track, or my favourite hip-hop album. I love hip-hop too much, it’s like choosing between your kids. Pound for pound though, I do think Gza is amongst the best lyricists hip-hop has ever seen. Dark new york production, sharp on-point rapping; I still pick up new bits and pieces from this album years later. This joint breaks backs like Ken Patera, exemplary Wu-tang work.
Jeff Wayne – The Eve of War
It’s iconic, it’s dramatic, it’s 80’s-tastic, it’s got aliens in it. War of The Worlds is all turn of the century literature and Richard Burtony and pew pew pew and uuuuuuuuuulllaaaaaaaa and it is a song with a very strong (In this case very explicitly stated) narrative. But perhaps best of all is that the whole message of the song speaks to me deeply and represents a message that we need to hear today more than ever, basically: “We thought everything was fine. We were wrong.”
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