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11. "Fond Farewell", Elliott Smith: When From a Basement on a Hill finally came out, I expected the album reviews to be more ghoulish, sifting through the lyrics of the songs to read it as a premonition of his death. This one's lyrics actually say, "A little less than a happy high/A little less than a suicide". Thankfully, most critics seemed to shun posthumous psychoanalysis, and no one said, "This song serves as a 'Fond Farewell' to Mr. Smith and his legacy", though you could really do worse for your last great song.
I have an old live recording of him doing "Fond Farewell", back in 2001, with slightly different lyrics. Elliott is wavering, and sounds tired and upset, which some might blame on drugs. I think he's actually frustrated by the two fans who keep yelling out the same request over and over. "Clementine!" "I Figured You Out!" "Clementine!" It's enough to make you want to stab yourself in the chest, I tell you.
12. "Queen Bitch", David Bowie:
The Life Aquatic exposed me to this one. It's one of the only times I have enjoyed Wes Anderson's bizarre fetish for having his characters walk in formation for no reason, because it allowed this song to play in its entirety. This song is kind of like a Velvet Underground parody/homage/upgrade. I didn't know what Bowie was singing in the chorus for a good while. Then I read the lyrics, and I'm still not completely sure what the queen bitch is supposed to wearing - "satin and tat"? "Bibberty bobberty hat"? I am fairly sure this is the oldest song on my list.
13. "Extraordinary Machine", Fiona Apple:
I could do without the bridge where Fiona Apple is singing so high the lyrics are almost unintelligible, but the rest of the song sounds like it was unearthed from a musical from an imaginary time in a past that never existed.
At this point in my list, I am struck by the amount of stuff I like here that's actually sincere, not self-mocking. Could this be the dawning of the New Sincerity Movement?
14. "Papa Was a Rodeo", Magnetic Fields:
It's a gay cowboy love ballad with a surprise ending. Magnetic Fields specialize in songs that manage to be simultaneously funny, sincere, heartbreaking, and sarcastic. This song has lines like, "I see that kiss-me pucker forming/ But maybe you should plug it with a beer"; "Home was anywhere with diesel gas/ Love was a trucker's hand", and "After all these years wrestling gators/ I still feel like crying when I think of what you said to me". Yet, the whole ridiculous premise ends up still being a moving, tender song, helped no doubt by Stephen Merritt's singular vocals.
15. "Desperado", Langley Schools Music Project:
Sometimes I get unduly influenced by movie characters, or more accurately, movie characters embraced by Docta V. Dirty Harry hates ketchup on hot dogs, so it's mustard all the way. In the same way, Jeff Lebowski's hatred of the Eagles has made me sell them short, if only subconsciously. I never loved their music, but The Big Lebowski may have shoved the band into "hate" territory. It didn't help that my mom used, "Get over it!" as a personal catchphrase for a good two-and-a-half years after the "Hell Freezes Over" tour.
Hearing this lisping Western Canadian middle-school girl sing "Desperado", minus the overblown 70's production, only accompanied by a piano, the song is finally meaningful and pretty to me. I think it helps a lot to have a female vocalist, even if she's only 11.
16. "Huddle Formation", Go! Team:
The Go! Team is what you'd get if you recruited a band to jam on covers of 80's TV adventure show theme songs, and fronted the group with a British woman named "Ninja", who rapped, sang, and led cheers. When I saw a clip of a live performance of this song, I was blown away by how many people were on stage. Two drummers, a guitarist, a bassist, a melodica player, a dancing lead singer, and three teenagers in track suits shouting cheers and doing cartwheels. I highly recommend their entire album, but this track has the sweetest melodica part.
17. "Take Off", Bubba Sparxxx:
OK, this song has very little artistic value. It's the story of a white rapper from the rural South and his fear of flying; truly a relevant tale for our post-9/11 era. I think this is the most dramatic, overdone production I've heard on a rap song since Ice Cube's "Fuck Dyin'", where Korn provides the instrumentals and Cube calls the Grim Reaper a cocksucker.
Behind Bubba, there are classical strings and dramatic singing, possibly in Latin. And here are the poetic lyrics they're backing up:
"The in-flight movie today is 'Gladiator'/ But I can't afford the headphones, it's cool, I'll catch it later".
"Hey stewardess, I can't handle all this turbulence/ The ride's getting bumpy, and that shit don't help my nervousness".
"Now they fixin' to serve the meal, I think I'll go with steak/ Every fucking choice is crucial, and we all know the breaks - in this game".
Eventually Bubba weighs his need to take a piss against his anxiety about standing up, and sheds "tears of jubulation" upon landing safely in Georgia.
18. "Everything Hits At Once (for discos)", Spoon:
It was either this song or "The Agony of Laffitte", both of which are on the B-Sides to Girls Can Tell. "Lafitte" is a song that angrily attacks Spoon's old A&R man at Elektra Records, Ron Laffitte. Supposedly there's a companion piece called, "Laffitte Don't Fail Me Now". That song has the better back story, but the "disco" version of "Everything Hits At Once" is an upgrade on an already unstoppable song. The faster pace and the hand claps put this one a smidgen above the original version.
19. "Joy Without Pleasure", Daniel Johnston:
Daniel Johnston is bipolar and quite eccentric. He's kind of like Wesley Willis, plus artistic talent, minus 150 pounds. Yo La Tengo covers one of his songs, "Speeding Motorcycle", and there is a classic recording of him calling into a radio show and singing along with the band (who he greets with, "Hi Band!".
On "Joy Without Pleasure", it's just Daniel, playing piano and singing about how "joy without pleasure, ain't no fun, ain't no fun at all". The whole thing is extremely lo-fi, and may have been recorded on a $59 boom box. My lyrical highlight comes when he sings, "The son of Charles Dickens and a little red hen/Danced the Watusi like it was a sin". Then, after the last note fades, Daniel quietly informs his listeners, "That song was about pre-marital sex".
20. "Daft Punk Is Playing At My House", LCD Soundsystem:
This song was more descriptive of my life between 10/02 and 10/04, when I lived with Eugenio, and the Discovery album was never far from the CD changer. In 2005, LCD Soundsystem's song played slightly more often than any individual Daft Punk song at my house, my house!
21. "Distortions", Clinic:
"I love it when you blink your eyes."
22. "Bitches Ain't Shit", Ben Folds:
According to Folds, "It's about a guy that goes to jail, and while he's in jail his prostitute girlfriend's been sleeping with his cousin." That about sums it up. There are lovely harmonies on, "I ain't been out a second, and already I gotta do some fuckin' chin-checkin." And, the sparse piano really underscores his heartbreak upon finding the ho with his cousin, while still conveying his loc'ed, shit-uncocking anger.
When I saw him live, Folds led the crowd in harmonizing on, "Bitches can't hang with the streets". It was a beautiful moment in the history of Davies Symphony Hall.
Honorable mention: The song about the proper usage of "its" and "it's", from the "Strong Bad's Rhythm 'n' Grammar" CD.