Sunday, May 29, 2011

My Top 12 Songs of All-Time...Right Now: #6

Pearl Jam
Single from the album Ten
Single release date: August 1992
Billboard Modern Rock Chart Peak Position: 5
Billboard Mainstream Rock Chart Peak Position: 5
Rolling Stone's 100 Greatest Pop Songs Since The Beatles: 48

Even though I was two years old when Pearl Jam’s Ten was released and grunge was taking over the world, “Jeremy” was still a song that followed me through my childhood and my ever-changing musical lens. Like for many others, my first exposure to “Jeremy” was the very moving and highly controversial music video, back when MTV still lived up to its name. The song and the music video are almost inseparable, as the video illustrates the shocking story of quiet 15-year-old Jeremy Wade Delle, who shot himself in front of his English class in 1975. Lead singer Eddie Vedder read a small paragraph in the newspaper about the tragedy, and felt that he needed to give this incident more importance. Vedder elaborates: “It came from a small paragraph in a paper which means you kill yourself and you make a big old sacrifice and try to get your revenge. That all you’re gonna end up with is a paragraph in a newspaper.” The result is “Jeremy”, one of Pearl Jam’s most powerful songs and certainly the song that has kept me a Pearl Jam fan for years.

The song and music video both begin eerily, foreshadowing the inevitable. Vedder describes the boy in the verses, mentioning that “Daddy didn’t give attention” and “Mommy didn’t care”. The narrator recounts that he clearly remembers picking on Jeremy, and the one day he retaliated by punching him in the jaw, “dropped wide open / Just like the day / Oh, like the day I heard.” The narrative is telling enough, but the chorus is utterly chilling, with the simple repetition of “Jeremy spoke in class today,” resonating deeply with any listener as an otherwise innocuous statement that tells the whole story. The song becomes a bit of an epic, gradually propelling towards the end until all the “Whoa”s, “Uh huh”s and “Ai ai ai”s overwhelm, as if personifying the maddening of Jeremy leading to his tragic suicide. “Jeremy” is always a tough listen because the song, unlike the inspiring newspaper article, does the incident plenty of justice and it is difficult not to empathize and perhaps relate. Many have experienced or witnessed taunting and bullying in school, but very few realize the profound impact it could have on an individual. Vedder drives home the takeaway message of the song: “The best revenge is to live on and prove yourself. Be stronger than those people. And then you can come back.” All of this combined to lift Pearl Jam out of the Seattle grunge scene and among the rock elite…and more microcosmically, among my favorite bands.

Monday, May 23, 2011

My Top 12 Songs of All-Time...Right Now: #7

A Perfect Circle
"3 Libras"
Single from the album Mer de Noms
Single Release Date: February 13, 2001
Billboard Modern Rock Tracks Peak Position: 12
Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks Peak Position: 12

How does one begin to succinctly describe A Perfect Circle, Tool’s Maynard James Keenan’s little sideband that could? The band even defies simple genre labeling, as the all-too-generic “alternative rock” does them no justice whatsoever. Art rock is certainly a step up, but still, maybe they evade pithy categorization. As with every song on this list, “3 Libras” represents my carefully selected favorite song of the artist in question.

Like many of the songs in my Top 12, “3 Libras” definitely packs an emotional punch as a song that gets to me after every listen. Right off the bat, the melancholic violin and acoustic guitar set the tone before Keenan yearns about unrequited attention or love. Every word that Keenan croons is powerful, hitting home with any listener as a fundamental albeit awful raw emotion. The song slowly crescendos, but even early on, lines like “Difficult not to feel a little bit / Disappointed and passed over” resonate deeply. However, it is that last minute or so that could make even the coldest-hearted person misty-eyed. He laments that “apparently nothing” occurs “behind the eyes of a fallen angel” before the truly cathartic ending of “You don’t / You don’t / You don’t / See me!” repeats until the end. The song is truly a thing of beauty and highly relatable to anyone who has gone unnoticed to someone else. With all of that said, I would absolutely kill to see this song live.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

My Top 12 Songs of All-Time...Right Now: #8

Single from the album The Marshall Mathers LP
Billboard Hot 100 Peak Position: 51
Billboard Hot Rap Songs: 22
Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All-Time: 296
VH1's Greatest Hip-Hop Songs of All-Time: 15

The eerie Dido sample, the six-and-a-half minute length, the subject matter and concept of the song. Everything about “Stan” immediately set itself apart from Eminem’s previous work. When an artist strays from his or her comfort zone, it can either fail miserably (see: Lil Wayne attempting rock) or set the bar even higher for the artist. Luckily, the latter was true for “Stan”, clearly Eminem’s best song, a landmark song that is only loosely defined as “hip-hop.”

Even the staunchest hip-hop naysayers have to at least appreciate “Stan” as great storytelling, a knack that Eminem has showcased dating back to The Slim Shady LP (“My Fault” is the rare, dichotomous comedy-tragedy, with more emphasis on the former; “’97 Bonnie & Clyde” has Em talking to his baby daughter as they go dump the dead body of her mother, Kim). True, there are better examples of Eminem as a straight-up rapper (“Still Don’t Give a Fuck” and “Marshall Mathers” are two of my favorites), but the powerfully engrossing story of Stan as the unstable, obsessed fan launches the titular song into its own stratosphere.

As Stan writes to Eminem in the first three verses, the listener can almost relate to Stan’s plight of writing to a celebrity role model in hopes of a response, but to no avail. Stan epitomizes the blindly obsessed admirer, taking Eminem’s lyrics literally (drinking a fifth of vodka, putting his girlfriend in the trunk etc.) A scary, sad tale, but through the fiction is some fact: Some people take Eminem’s ridiculous lyrics to heart (who didn’t he piss off with The Marshall Mathers LP?) Em’s response in the last verse reveals a level-headed guy who is "sayin' that shit just clownin’, dawg”. “Stan” has it all: A great story that gradually builds with detectable emotion that is matched by the melancholic raindrop background. In the brutally honest “The Way I Am”, Em laments that he will never be able to top “My Name Is”. That’s a mistake. He will never be able to top “Stan”.

Friday, May 20, 2011

My Top 12 Songs of All-Time...Right Now: #9

The White Stripes
"Seven Nation Army"
Single from the album Elephant
Single Release Date: March 7, 2003
Billboard Modern Rock Tracks Peak Position: 1
Rolling Stone's 50 Best Songs of the 2000s: 6
Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All-Time: 286
Pitchfork's Top 500 Songs of the 2000s: 30
2004 Grammy Award for Best Rock Song

Some songs are forever recognized by a singular guitar riff. When the opening to “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” begins, it is instantly identifiable and infectious. Likewise, the seven-strum simplicity of the opening to “Seven Nation Army” permeates the entire song. Contrary to its sound, the riff was made using a guitar and not a bass, an instrument the band has never used. The White Stripes always made the simple combination of guitar and percussion seem so impressive and innovative, effortlessly crafting garage rock anthems, bluesy numbers and soft, acoustic songs. Their six-disc library should almost be considered in awe considering the unsophisticated method to their greatness. Their run of excellence is untarnished and almost mythical in a way, making their unexpected dissolution almost tolerable and understandable. When a band stops making music, their works are suddenly analyzed under a microscope as their place and impact on music history is determined. With or without this critical lens, “Seven Nation Army” will stand as The White Stripes’ magnum opus in a sea of excellent songs.

Beginning quite literally bare bones, the verses slowly add some minimal percussion until the two collide into encapsulating guitar solos. In fact, this raucous axework is, for all intents and purposes, the chorus of the song, punctuating the verses with that skeletal introductory riff amplified to eleven. The song as a whole really is a thing of beauty, but more importantly it is the definition of an “air guitar” song, subconsciously inducing headbanging regardless of location. The early 2000s saw a garage rock revival littered with a myriad of “The” bands of varying quality. Not only did The White Stripes outlast and out succeed, they stand in a class of their own, both in their genre and in the greater confines of rock music.