Full disclosure: This is not a top 25 of songs released in 2011, or played on the radio in 2011.
Those of you who know me know that I love statistics and numerical patterns. iTunes seems to share my obsession, and one of my favorite things every time I synch the iPod up to load a new playlist is seeing how my top 25 most-played songs has changed. Since the year is now over, I’ll reset statistics tomorrow, but first I wanted to review the past year. Consider it my Holiday present to you, dear readers…
Here, without fear and favor (and in alphabetical order to further reduce the favoritism) are my top 25 most-played songs in 2011 (links mostly to live versions, but feel free to play the originals if you’ve got ’em!):
All Along The Watchtower (Bob Dylan, Before the Flood)– This is a live version with the Band from a tour album Dylan released in the 70s. It’s one of 6? 7? versions I have in my library. Not my favorite version (that would be the original), but there’s a soft spot in my heart for this album, as listening to it on my parent’s record player after school was the start of my induction into the glories of classic rock.
Batman (Jan & Dean, Surf City: The Best of Jan & Dean)– I can testify, I did end up listening to this a lot this year. Every time has been as delightfully silly as the first. I’ve got to hand it to Jan & Dean, though, this song evidences a better understanding of the uncanny darkness of the character than the campy 60s TV series did.
Could You Be The One? (Husker Du, Warehouse Songs & Stories)– The thing about all these 80s nostalgia kiddies around now is that they had no idea just how bad it was. Overproduced top 40 was everywhere, TV, the movies, the Mall. There was no escaping it. The only way you could find anything different unless you were in a big city was in a small record store that you had to learn about from friends that had a locked case in the back with a few alternative rock cassettes. Then, maybe, if you were lucky, you could find something like this bubbling up from the underground, keeping rock just barely alive in an era that had prefab slickened it to within an inch of its life.
Darkside (Tanya Donelly, beautysleep)– I’m a big fan of the Pixies and Throwing Muses, and all solo careers that have flowed from there, hence their strong presence in my playlist. The album that this is from, by Throwing Muses co-founder Tanya Donelly, came across my path immediately following my separation in 2002. It was like a beacon of light, giving me faith that a life of shimmering beauty and deep meaning was waiting out there somewhere past the darkness…
Down By The River (Neil Young & Crazy Horse, Decade)– Ah, Neil Young, one of my all-time top 5 musical artists (along with Dylan, the Who, the Pixies and Nirvana, in case you’re wondering). There’s also something hauntingly beautiful, yearning and melancholy about this. Easily my favorite shooting down your lover song. Which is a distressingly crowded genre!
Full Moon, Empty Heart (Belly, Star)– Belly was the group Tanya Donelly formed in the mid-90s after being with the Breeders for their first album, which came after her exit from the Throwing Muses. Like all the best of her work, this is evocative, full of gauzy beauty, and underlined by serrated guitar that underlines its delicacy with steel.
Ginger Park (50 Foot Wave, Golden Ocean)– One good Muse deserves another, in this case in the form of 50 Foot Wave, the current vehicle of Tanya’s half-sister and fellow founding Throwing Muse Kristin Hersh. The combination of the harsh shred of her voice and the guitar, backed up with the lyrics (I don’t belong there/ I guess I never will/ I don’t belong anywhere) simultaneously makes me feel chilled and crawlingly itchily warm.
Green (Throwing Muses, In A Doghouse)– And now here they are together! Albeit this is one of the rare songs written and sung by Tanya Donelly that the Muses did. Hence, I imagine, her eventual decision to split and go solo. There’s a driving urgency behind this song, a sound that’s like someone just on the edge of really losing it.
A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall (Bob Dylan, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan)– This album, Dylan’s big original breakthrough, was another of the ones raided from my parent’s that started me on my musical journey. While it was written in an attempt to cram in everything he thought and felt as the world seemed on the edge of holocaust during the Cuban Missile Crisis, it’s no less affecting today. The poet as prophet, after all, inherently taps into a timeless space.
Her Majesty (the Beatles, Abbey Road)– One of many cute little snippets from Abbey Road that kind of makes you wish they’d been developed to full length. Although I’m not sure how long you could sustain this ditty of a love-song to the Queen.
I’ll Cry Instead (the Beatles, A Hard Day’s Night)– Most of my favorite early Beatles songs tend to be John’s. There’s just more anguish and edge to them, as here, where he’s simultaneously crying over the loss of his girl and boasting about his ability to break and load every girl in the world. Oh Johnny…
I Don’t Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met) (Bob Dylan, Another Side of Bob Dylan)– Early Dylan has a lot of bitter telling-off a theoretical gal songs. I don’t think of this as being one of my favorites, but apparently it snuck into my playlists pretty often. Also a fine example of the “Dylan nearly cracks up in the middle of a song” genre, which could generate a playlist of its own.
I Should Have Known Better (the Beatles, A Hard Day’s Night)– Remember what I said above about John Lennon’s early Beatles songs? Ditto here. It’s a sweet straightforward love song, but just underneath the surface you can tell something’s a little wrong. And isn’t that what the urgency of early love is so often like?
I Walk The Line (Johnny Cash, The Legendary Sun Records Story)– I would have been mighty upset if some Johnny Cash hadn’t made it in to this list. I love his early Sun stuff, there’s something very simple about the songs musically and they’re lyrically totally straightforward. But despite that, or maybe because of it, they’re full of depth.
Lay Lady Lay (Bob Dylan, Nashville Skyline)– Sometimes this song doesn’t quite do it for me, since it tends to get overplayed. But there’s something about Dylan’s country croon, bright ringing guitar and tender entreaty here that wins out. Besides which, my parents played it at their wedding, so this song practically conceived me. Doubly so since they were married December 26th and I was born September 28th of the following year.
Lovely Rita (the Beatles, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band)– Not one of my favorite Beatles albums, it suffers for me from the overplay and overhang of “this is the most important, popular music-changing album of all time”. That all being said, this is one of my favorite songs. There’s something very swinging 60s about seducing the meter maid, and a winning contrast between McCartney’s poppy presence and the slightly sinister distorted Lennon backing.
Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds (the Beatles, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band)– The very heart of Beatles overplay. For me too, apparently, since it’s on this list! So, not one of my favorites, but there is something undeniably arresting about the musical layering and surrealistic imagery.
Night Flight (Led Zeppelin, Physical Graffiti)– I maintain that Physical Graffiti is one of the most sonically perfect albums ever recorded. I also have a theory that it represents a kind of capstone of Classic rock, a point at which nostalgia for the passage of flower power past officially replaces the living actual feeling that something great and wonderful was about to happen. This song is that to a T.
Paint It Black (the Rolling Stones, Aftermath)– Through some glitch of iTunes, this song ended up on every playlist I downloaded, even though it wasn’t included in the playlists themselves in my iTunes library. The result, of course, was that I ended up listening to it a lot. Not a bad thing, really. Take away the 60s nostalgia and you can see it for what it is, one of the most creepily nihilistic expressions ever committed to record by a popular group.
Ready Steady Go (Generation X, No Thanks! The 70s Punk Rebellion)– Speaking of 60s nostalgia, here’s a song that’s a conscious repudiation of it, and yet, in it’s poppy bounciness recalls the best of the British Invasion. It’s also a reminder that Billy Idol once had something going for him.
Sexy Results (Death From Above 1979, You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine)– The 2000s have been a rough period, musically. Kind of as dismal at the mass market level as the 80s, maybe even more so. But even in the worst eras there’s always something going on somewhere, as DFA’s re-imagining of heavy metal as dance music is here to remind us.
Speedy Marie (Frank Black, Frank Black 93-03)– Speaking of the dearth of something going on in the 2000s, one of the best albums I bought last decade was this collection, which chiefly features songs from the 90s. What can I say, I’m a fool for the Pixies, and the solo work of their former front man as well. This is not one of my favorite songs by him, but it does go down super-smooth, with a strange aftertaste from the phrasing of the highly literate lyrics.
Subliminal (Suicidal Tendencies, Suicidal Tendencies)– Yes, I was an 80s alternative kid, but I think everyone should love the album this is from. I mean, really, listen to it. it was released in 1983, and everything that would actually become popular in the 90s amalgamation of punk and metal into grunge is already here, with a little shout out to rap metal as well from an era when hip-hop itself was in its infancy.
To Be Alone With You (Bob Dylan, Nashville Skyline)– Nashville Skyline is one of my favorite albums and this is a bright and shiny little gem from it. It just rolls along, so uncharacteristically cheerful. Plus, I perennially love that, “Is it rolling Bob?” that kicks it off.
Won’t Fall In Love Today (Suicidal Tendencies, Suicidal Tendencies)– Opportunity to repeat everyting I said above about Suicidal Tendencies. Only faster, since this song clocks in at 1:00 exactly!
So there you have it. This may tell us as much about the algorithms of the iPod as it does about me, or popular music. But I am pretty proud of the nearly half-century span of music (from I Walk The Line in 1956 to Sexy Results in 2004) on display here. Happy New Year all, and happy listening to come in 2012!