Wednesday, August 31, 2011

5 Best Songs of All Time

I used to have this notion that the five best songs of all time were all written and released by alternative bands from the UK in the 1980's. I have since hired a team of engineers to run a series of tests and can now say fairly conclusively that this is a proven theorem. That's right theorem. Okay, full disclosure.  I am actually reading Dawkins right now. I still really do not understand the difference between "theory" and "theorum," but this prelude was a good reason to drop both into text and now I have not only name dropped a prominent atheist scientist completely out of context, but also essentially buggered up a blog title which otherwise was probably interest tweaking enough to stand on its own.

So yeah, the title and the subsequent tests are accurate. This builds on previous blogs where I rage at length about overplayed classic Skynyrd Zep type rock and once again pontificate to the effect that music really became interesting in 1977 when The Clash and Talking Heads released their respective debut albums. There is a whole other discussion or debate one could have with respect to the 80's as a musical decade. Very quickly, it quite possibly represents extreme cases for both some of the best and worst music ever released. Joy Divison and Richard Marx in the same decade. Try doing the math. It's a bit bonkers.

The music you listen to in late Jr. High and running into High School  is often the basis for the direction of your taste. There is a natural refinement that happens in university or the early twenties, but the path is set in High School. If you were a big Staind or Puddle of Mudd fan in grade 11, you're pretty much toast. Pure music nerds cut their teeth on good music much earlier (I was listening to Simple Minds when I was in grade 5 in 1982),  but that is also another blog pending.

Metal fans (of which I was one during the same years I was listening to the bands I am about to list) will always refer to the Big 4. This of course being Megadeth, Metallica, Slayer and Anthrax. I submit, likely not as a brand new idea, that the real Big 4 of music in general are The Smiths, New Order, The Cure, and Depeche Mode. I want to spend the balance of the post on the songs, but to me these four bands (and one of the band's original line ups) created truly unique sounds and ideas that had not really been heard or explored quite the same prior to them arriving and evolving into their optimal influential selves.

The 5 Best Songs Ever
(in no strict order and titles are You Tube clips due to pesky copyright embedding stuff).

Joy Division - "Love Will Tear Us Apart"

This one I will not dwell on, given my previous declaration on this very blog here that it is essentially the greatest song ever written.  It still is for all the reasons noted and likely others. I will however, at least offer an alternate version and clip this time.

So much cross audience appeal in one song.  The minor chords and offbeat percussive bits offer the goth and industrial DM fans the haunting feel they were missing since earlier works like Black Celebration. The beats, synths and hooks were on point for text book dancey Mode fans. The texture of the guitar work juxtaposed with some of Dave's smoothest and most heartfelt vocal work lends credibility to the sincerity and human-ness that perhaps has not been heard since in electronic based music. Like all of the songs on this list, "Enjoy The Silence" not only holds up well, but in retrospect was also never previously or subsequently matched in its perhaps accidental originality and comfortable slickness.

The Smiths were not my favourite band when they were making and releasing music for that brief period in the 80's. I am not sure who even was my favourite band at that time (I want to say Rush, but maybe I shouldn't) and I am also not sure when The Smiths took the title, but they remain my favourite band today without question. So many choices for what in fact qualifies as the best Smiths song, so by arriving on this one, it is safe to say it belongs in this list handily. The Smiths sound common to a lot of people, largely I think because they have been borrowed from and ripped off so many times. It was also a pretty basic equation with guitar, vocals, bass and drums all centred around seemingly simple jingle jangle pop songs. "There Is A Light..." embodies everything perfect about clever, witty, cheeky, melancholy, and endearingly simplistic pop music. When Morrissey sings "If a double decker bus crashes into us, to die by your side is such a heavenly way to die", I believe him. There are hardly a handful of artists currently writing songs with the audacity not only to write words like that, but to mean it. Layer that on top of Marr's signature I dare anyone to say they could write a better song.

Deserving of top five best ever, but also worthy of the most beautiful song I have ever heard. Smith's lyrics and delivery are in keeping with that heartfelt theme of the other tracks on this list, but the combination of sounds lend hope to his inherent sadness. Even the opening chimes somehow signal a story of retrospective contemplation. The combination of guitar hooks in the opening bars are undeniably the work of The Cure, and the shift at opening vocals to brighter chords cloak the larger theme of regret in clouds of optimism tempered with what ifs. A beautiful song that always sounds like far more musicians should have been involved in both its composition and performance.

There was a level of objectivity and respecting this whole exercise with this choice, since I am not entirely sure this is my favourite New Order song (most days it could be). Depeche Mode changed the way electronic music was made and performed live. New Order revolutionized those elements as well as how it was heard and integrated into other sounds and genres. "Blue Monday" epitomizes the apex of where electronic music was able to get to and the focal point for where it went and how it was influential. Indie music (this used to mean bands on independent labels - now it just means... well ... alternative... I guess) has expanded in the last number of years to really showcase electro pop bands like Cut Copy, Hot Chip, Zoot Woman, and Junior Boys. There is not one of these bands or their countless counterparts who don't owe much of their raison d'etre to "Blue Monday" specifically. Handily the most influential electronic song ever, and still wonderful for shaking so much ass if you're inclined.