“Odds and Ends” into “Truth Hurts” is a bit of a tonal shift, but I think it works.
“Odds and Ends” into “Truth Hurts” is a bit of a tonal shift, but I think it works.
Another year, another bunch of songs I listened to over and over and over again on my iPod. As per usual, I’ll hit the ol’ reset button on the iPod after posting this list, making it possible for new songs to reign supreme in 2013.
25. Moxy Fruvous, “Boo Time” (23 plays): This was one of my favorite bands in college, and I still (obviously) enjoy putting their songs in playlists or just listening to entire albums. The album this particular gem is off of, You Will Go to the Moon, is fun and serious and silly and touching and everything else, all at the same time.
24. Dr. Dog, “Lonesome” (23 plays): I dunno how iTunes decides what song is in what position when they’ve all got the same number of plays, but it decided to put this one in at number 24. I love the dobro part (it sounds like a dobro. Might just be a regular acoustic, but I dunno).
23. Better Than Ezra, “At the Stars: (23 plays): Another of the 23 Plays Club, this one a classic (can I use that word for a song that came out during my lifetime?) from a quintessential ’90s band.
22. Paul McCartney, “Brown Eyed Handsome Man” (24 plays): This is one of those songs I just love singing along to. I defy you to listen to it and not bounce along merrily. You can’t do it.
21. Mumford & Sons, “Little Lion Man” (24 plays): I tend to think of these guys as “Dave Matthews with a banjo,” ’cause that’s all I hear when this guy sings. And now you’ll hear it, too, and you won’t be able to un-hear it.
20. Led Zeppelin, “Hey Hey What Can I Do” (24 plays): I’ve always liked the folky side of Zeppelin, when they bust out the acoustics and get a little more down-home. This just happens to be one of the best “my woman ain’t no good” songs out there, and it’s fun to play on the guitar (even if I can’t hit the high notes like Robert Plant).
19. Charlie Sexton, “Regular Grind” (24 plays): The Dylan guitarist and near-legendary session man from Austin is something of a perennial favorite of mine, and this is one of the best songs off of the excellent Cruel and Gentle Things. Isn’t it about time he did a new solo album?
18. Bruce Springsteen, “Two Faces” (24 plays): I feel like Springsteen’s late ’80s/early ’90s albums are rather unfairly maligned. There’s some great songs on them (and some crap, too, to be quite honest), and though they definitely suffer from the production style of the time, you can find some stuff worth listening to. “Two Faces” is such a song: heartfelt, sad, a little bit angry, but with a great organ solo in the outro.
17. Richard Thompson, “Beeswing” (25 plays): Just a beautiful, sad song. The live version is even better than the original studio recording.
16. fun., “Some Nights” (25 plays): What? I’m allowed to like things that are popular sometimes, even if I think most of the rest of the album is absolute rubbish.
15. Woodkid, “Iron” (26 plays): I like it exclusively for its use in the trailer for Assassin’s Creed: Revelations. Don’t judge me.
14. John Fullbright, “Satan and St. Paul” (26 plays): Probably my favorite song off of his first studio album, From the Ground Up, which you might recall was one of my favorite albums of the year.
13. Deer Tick, “Easy” (26 plays): A holdover from last year’s list, when it was #1 with a bullet, this song still held me captivated for a good chunk of the year. It’s just a damn good song, and pretty sinister.
12. The National, “Ashamed of the Story I Told” (28 plays): An amazing cover of an old Polaris song, one of those rare instances where the cover truly surpasses the original.
11. The Wallflowers, “Sugarfoot” (30 plays): Say what you will about the Wallflowers debut album (and believe me, I know it was a flawed effort), this song is just awesome and clearly firing on all cylinders.
10. Of Monsters and Men, “Little Talks” (31 plays): I was amazed how much I actually ended up liking their full-length album when it came out this past year. Much stronger than I’d thought it would be, even if I did forget and leave it off my end of the year list.
9. The Gaslight Anthem, “Stay Lucky” (31 plays): The disappointment that was Handwritten drove me back to American Slang and this particular track, which I always have to listen to more than once when it comes up on rotation.
8. First Aid Kit, “The Lion’s Roar” (31 plays): The title track from their debut album (which I did remember to include on my list of albums for 2012) is just a masterclass in how to do awesome Americana. I’m rather in awe of these two (barely out of their?) teens from some cold country in northern Europe.
7. Dan Auerbach, “My Last Mistake” (32 plays): I think next year I may have to disqualify songs that were in the previous year’s list, ’cause otherwise you end up with nothing new to say about a song other than, “Yes, it’s still awesome, what do you want?”
6. The Black Keys, “Sinister Kid” (32 plays): I think it’s all down to the “Uhn!” that starts the song. I could care less what happens after a start like that, so it’s just gravy that the rest of the song is so damn awesome.
5. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, “Hometown Blues” (33 plays): One of the best Tom Petty songs you probably don’t even know. It’s off their debut album from way back in the ’70s, and obviously gets overshadowed by hits like “American Girl” or “Breakdown,” but it’s just a damn fun song.
4. Josh Ritter, “Girl in the War” (33 plays): A beautiful, melancholic tune about loss and war and fighting for what is important to you. It’s a very moving song, really.
3. Josh Ritter, “See Me Through” (36 plays): A great acoustic number from Ritter’s 2012 EP “Bringing in the Darlings” (if more of So Runs the World Away had sounded like this, I’d have liked it a lot more). I could sit and listen to the chorus of this song for days.
2. Gin Blossoms, “Pieces of the Night” (36 plays): Look, I’m not proud. I know the #2 song on my list is a Gin Blossoms song. About drinking so heavily the night before that you don’t remember jack squat the morning after. I realize all this, okay? I’m not proud of it, but I own up to it, at least.
1. Old 97s, “Champaign, Illinois” (38 plays): It’s an authorized rewrite of Dylan’s “Desolation Row,” only replaced that song’s sense of sadness and desperation with a kick-ass yowl and beefed-up alt-country rhythm and lyrics about Illinois and being on the road. And the chorus is just perfect.
So, there you have it: the twenty-five songs I listened to the most in the year 2012. Thoughts? Favorites? What did you keep hitting repeat on this past year?
When I’m doing most of the things I do, such as writing, I tend to also listen to music. Music’s always been pretty important for me, and I find it difficult to concentrate when I’m doing certain tasks without music. TV just doesn’t cut it: I get too distracted, want to watch what’s going on.
With that in mind, here’s a playlist I put together a week or two ago to write my novel to. The songs have absolutely nothing to do with the actual novel or its themes or anything, just a loose collection of songs I’m enjoying at the moment.
1. The Cranberries, “Linger”: Who doesn’t love ’90s Lilith Fair fare?
2. Bob Dylan, “Paths of Victory”: This piano-based tune feels as much like a Woody Guthrie tune as anything Dylan ever wrote.
3. Paul McCartney, “Brown-Eyed Handsome Man”: I myself have brown eyes and am a man. Draw your own conclusions.
4. Willie Nelson, “City of New Orleans”: Who doesn’t love train songs, especially from the point of view of the train?
5. Andrew Bird, “Three White Horses”: One of the best songs off the recent Hands of Glory EP, this is just a fantastic tune in a style rather different from Bird’s usual sound.
6. Woody Guthrie, “Dust Pneumonia Blues”: I just watched Ken Burns’s Dust Bowl documentary last week, and the use of Woody Guthrie songs in that got me in a Woody mood.
7. Lodger, “The Good Old Days”: Classicist Brit-pop? Yes, please.
8. Mark Knopfler, “Don’t Crash the Ambulance”: Humorous song about the passing of the torch of the presidency to the next guy? With Mark Knopfler’s baritone drawl and beautiful Strat fills? What’s not to like here?
9. Allison Krauss & Union Station, “Restless”: I feel this way when I write sometimes, so it seemed appropriate.
10. The Temptations, “Papa was a Rolling Stone”: I think it’s that saxophone part that does it for me.
11. Panic! At the Disco, “Nine in the Afternoon”: Don’t you dare judge me.
12. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, “It’ll All Work Out”: I love the mandolin in this one. It’s one of the prettier Heartbreakers tunes.
13. Calexico, “Ocean of Noise”: Calexico putting their indie-mariachi spin on one of the best songs from Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible. Brilliant.
14. Miles Davis, “It Never Entered My Mind”: My favorite Miles Davis song, from the criminally-underrated Workin’ album. Just absolutely amazing stuff.
Every year, I reset the playcount on all the songs on my iPod. But before I do that, I count down what the top 25 most-played songs on the iPod were for the year.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is time for that once again. Here they are, in descending order:
25. Elliott Smith, “Baby Britain,” from XO (13 plays): I love me some Elliott Smith, as does my wife. He’s one of the few artists we completely agree on, and makes a great compromise when we’re in the car and want something to listen to. The man had a way with words and a deftness and nimbleness in his guitar playing that I absolutely loved.
24. Amanda Palmer, “Oasis,” from Who Killed Amanda Palmer (13 plays): This is quite possibly the best song about date rape and a trip to the abortion clinic you’ll ever hear, though that’s probably a pretty short list of songs to begin with, I’d imagine. Palmer offsets the seriousness of the situation with one of the brightest, poppiest melodies you could imagine (with Ben Folds on backing vocals, no less!), and the bouncy rhythm really makes you think there is something seriously wrong with Amanda Palmer in the best possible way.
23. Moxy Fruvous, “The Present Tense Tureen,” from Wood (15 plays): There was a time in college – probably about six to nine months – when I listened to nothing but this Canadian band, and it may have broken me. I mean, how many songs do you know about a guy walking along a creek, encountering an elf, and getting relationship advice while waiting for a stew to boil that isn’t actually in the tureen? Just this one, I assure you. Plus, it features the line, “Then he giggled in French/That’s what he did,” and that is possibly the best line in anything ever.
22. Counting Crows, “Mr. Jones,” from August and Everything After (15 plays): Several of the songs that pop up on this list (including this one) are songs on the playlist I designed specifically for my wife, because the alternative was she would always have to listen to Bob Dylan (or we’d be divorced; I imagine it’s a one thing or the other sort of situation) in the car. Anyway, we both enjoy this song, and it features a Bob Dylan reference, so I’m happy.
21. The Arcade Fire, “Intervention,” from Neon Bible (15 plays): Another song off the playlist for the wife. She identifies it as her favorite Arcade Fire song, while I love the prominent use of church organ.
20. Harlem Shakes, “Sunlight,” From Technicolor Health (17 plays): This band’s place in my music collection seemed like a bit of an anomaly, though I’ve never been able to really articulate why. They don’t really sound much like any other band I listen to much, and I don’t really care for any other bands that play their particular style of indie-guitar rock, and yet…I really love this album, and this song in particular. Dunno why.
19. The Gaslight Anthem, “Stay Lucky,” from American Slang (18 plays): Okay, these guys, I know exactly why I like. Anyone doing straight-ahead Bruce Springsteen-inspired rock is okay in my book, and these guys have finally grown beyond just aping their influences (the aforementioned Bruce Springsteen). This is a great song for driving to, though I do have to pay attention not to drive too fast when it’s on. Also, way too much fun to sing along with at the top of your lungs.
18. Creedence Clearwater Revival, “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?,” from Pendulum (19 plays): Let’s speak plainly: Pendulum is not a good CCR album. Hell, it’s not a particularly good album, full stop. It’s bland and does not have a clear identity, something CCR albums usually never suffer from (Mardis Gras is pretty mediocre, too). However! However, it does feature this particular song, which is a slice of redemption so powerful, so beautiful, so perfect, that I am willing to forgive the existence of the album based solely on the presence of this single song. Also, “Hey Tonight” is pretty good.
17. The Asteroids Galaxy Tour, “The Golden Age,” from The Golden Age – EP (19 plays): Yeah, it’s that song from the Hieneken commercial. I am highly susceptible to the music used in advertisement, if not the product (I don’t really care for Hieneken, for instance). Plus, it’s fun.
16. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, “Kings Road,” from Hard Promises (20 plays): Tom Petty has been one of my favorite musicians since I was a young, young man (one of the first concerts I ever went to, in fact, was a Tom Petty concert). He’s one of the best songwriters in rock and roll, and Mike Campbell is one of the most criminally overlooked and underappreciated lead guitarists in music. Campbell’s guitar parts always fit the song perfectly, and he doesn’t solo to show off his skills, he solos to meet the needs of the song. I think it’s safe to say I’ll buy any album these guys put out.
15. Cream, “Badge,” From Goodbye (20 plays): Between this and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” I think it’s safe to say that the Eric Clapton/George Harrison songwriting partnership is one that should have been much more fruitful. These guys did some of their best work together, but never really got around to doing many songs with each other. I call it a tragedy.
14. 8in8, “One Tiny Thing,” from NightyNight (21 plays): Take three musicians and one Neil Gaiman, sit them in a recording studio for a night, and see what they come up with. It’s a beautifully simple concept, and one that created several of my favorite songs this year. This particular tune, “One Tiny Thing,” is an excellent example of what they accomplished: simple, direct, but perfectly captured, a little slice of four friends working together to create music that is both fun and emotionally engaging.
13. The National, “Think You Can Wait,” from the Film “Win Win” (21 plays): I will listen to pretty much anything the National puts out. Seriously, it could just be Matt Berninger reading the phone book over Bryan Devendorf’s drums, and I would listen to it and declare it wonderful.
12. The Avett Brothers, “Will You Return?,” from Emotionalism (21 plays): Harmonies and banjos? Yes, please.
11. The Pixies, “Here Comes Your Man,” from Doolittle (23 plays): I never really listened to contemporary music when I was in high school, so I completely missed out on bands like the Pixies in the ’90s. My wife, on the other hand, was a bit of a Pixies devotee, so I’ve since been indoctrinated into their holy communion. This is probably my favorite song of theirs; I just love the harmonies in the chorus.
10. Josh Ritter, “Golden Age of Radio,” from Golden Age of Radio (23 plays): I think the record will show I love me some Josh Ritter (even if his last record was a little bland). This song is just fantastic: thumping percussion, a great chord progression, and a spirited vocal delivery from Ritter. Plus, it name drops Patsy Cline and Townes Van Zandt.
9. Florence + the Machine, “Dog Days are Over,” from Lungs (23 plays): I really only play the guitar, but I am apparently a sucker for a stripped-down, bone-rattling drum beat. This song has that, plus Florence Welch just sings with such gusto. That woman can belt it and has no fear, which I appreciate in a vocalist (possibly why I like Dylan so much).
8. Stephen Stills, “Wooden Ships,” from Just Roll Tape (24 plays): More a demo than anything else, this rough draft version of the Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young AOR staple is stripped down and simple, just Stills and a guitar. But stripped of harmonies and bombast, it’s still a great song. The core of the tune – the chord progression, the melody – is strong enough to make this just as great as the version everyone knows.
7. Dan Auerbach, “My Last Mistake,” from Keep it Hid (24 plays): While it may just be a simple song about screwing up a relationship, there’s something universal about the concept that musicians keep coming back to for a reason. And hell, this is just a great tune. The chord progression is catchy, the bluesy lead is pitch-perfect, and Auerbach’s vocals really deliver the emotional punch the song needs. It’s a simple song, but it’s a simple pleasure that really satisfies.
6. The Beatles, “Chains,” From Please Please Me (25 plays): Is this the best Beatles song? No, not by a long shot. Is it even the best song on this album? Heck no (I mean, there’s “I Saw Her Standing There,” For crying out loud). However, it’s a perfect distillation of what’s great about early Beatles: a great beat, excellent melody, and some of the best upper-register vocals you’ll ever hear. Plus, it’s got George on the lead vocals, and he didn’t ever get the love he deserved in that group, man.
5. Colin Hay, “Beautiful Word,” from Scrubs (Original Television Soundtrack) (27 plays): This song was used to great effect in the TV show Scrubs, but even standing on it’s own, it’s beautiful. The melody is gorgeous, and the simplicity of Hay’s delivery (and the stripped-down arrangement of just his voice and acoustic guitar) makes it all the more affecting. It’s one of those sad, sweet tunes I could just listen to over and over, and obviously did this year.
4. Drive-By Truckers, “Everybody Needs Love,” from Go-Go Boots (29 plays): Again, a pretty universal theme (people want to be loved) that’s been tackled hundreds, even thousands, of times in popular music, but this is just the sort of anthematic song you can’t help but sing along to at the top of your lungs when it comes on.
3. The Decemberists, “Don’t Carry it All,” from The King is Dead (29 plays): I have a pretty solid music crush on the Decemberists. I will listen to any album they put out, though I’ve always been a little disappointed they went the prog-rock concept album route instead of focusing on smaller, single-song stories. Well, The King is Dead was something of an answer to my prayers, and “Don’t Carry it All” was the hallelujah. It’s the loosest and most joyful I’ve ever heard them be, and it’s just fun to listen to (I know, not a word I’d really associate with the band, either). Honestly, The King is Dead is a strong contender for my favorite album this year, and it’s mostly on the strength of this one song.
2. The Hollies, “Just One Look,” from The Air That I Breathe: The Very Best of the Hollies (33 plays): A great little unrequited love song full of harmonies and a great bridge. If you can listen to this song and not want to sing along, I think you might actually be dead inside.
1. Deer Tick, “Easy,” from Born on Flag Day (35 plays): This song has consumed me in the past few months. Everything about it is amazing, from the feedback that opens the track to the use of the vibra-slap, the deep throb of the bass line under those riffs in the intro, to the Telecaster twang of the guitar and the growl in the singer’s voice. This is a song full of despair, gloom, doom, and a sense of overwhelming frustration and anger. It’s brilliant: in under 4 minutes, Deer Tick deliver one of the most affecting songs I’ve heard in a long time. As soon as the song is over, I want to hit the back button and hear it again. And the harmony in the second verse? Gets me every time. It’s perfect, and it’s the song I’ve listened to the most times this year.
I always reset the play count on all the songs in iTunes at the beginning of a new year, but first I like to look back at the songs that received the most play over the course of the year. Here they are, along with the final play count for 2009.
1. The Replacements, “Alex Chilton” – 38
2. Steve Earle, “More Than I Can Do” – 37
3. The Gaslight Anthem, “Say I Won’t (Recognize)” – 36
4. Jakob Dylan, “Will It Grow” – 33
5. A.C. Newman, “Like a Hitman, Like a Dancer” – 32
6. The Gaslight Anthem, “Senor and the Queen” – 32
7. Daniel Lanois, “Where Will I Be” – 31
8. Elvis Costello, “Pump It Up” – 29
9. The National, “So Far Around the Bend” – 29
10. Bon Iver, “Skinny Love” – 28
11. Neko Case, “People Got a Lotta Nerve” – 28
12. Death Cab for Cutie, “The Sound of Settling” – 26
13. Statler Brothers, “Flowers on the Wall” – 26
14. Creedence Clearwater Revival, ” Wrote a Song For Everyone” – 25
15. The Grass Roots, “Temptation Eyes (Original)” – 25
16. Modest Mouse, “Satellite Skin” – 25
17. Band of Horses, “The General Specific” – 24
18. The Submarines, “You Me and the Bourgeoisie” – 23
19. Talking Heads, “Once in a Lifetime” – 22
20. A.C. Newman, “Take On Me” – 21
21. Bruce Springsteen, “All the Way Home” – 21
22. Michael Andrews & Gary Jules, “Mad World” – 21
23. Bellamy Brothers, “Let Your Love Flow” – 20
24. Bon Iver, “Blood Bank” – 20
25. The Envy Corps, “Story Problem” – 20
With it finally being after Thanksgiving, I feel more comfortable with the idea of listening to Christmas music now (it concerns me that they start the Christmas stuff – music and decorations and whatnot – the day after Halloween now). To that end, I’ve put together a playlist of my favorite holiday tunes.
1. The Royal Guardsmen, “Snoopy vs. the Red Baron”: not a holiday song per se, but I had this Christmas tape growing up that had a whole series of songs about the conflict between the German World War I flying ace and everyone’s favorite cartoon dog, so I’ve always associated the song with Christmas.
2. Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town (Live)”: growing up in a household devoted to ye ole Classic Rock, this song was always something of a Christmas gimme.
3. Barenaked Ladies, “Green Christmas”: even if it came from that atrocious Grinch remake, the song itself is pretty good and a nice encapsulation of the Grinch story. And funny, to boot.
4. Bing Crosby, “White Christmas”: isn’t this just sort of a no-brainer when it comes to Christmas? I mean, the holiday season without this song isn’t the holiday season, really.
5. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, “Christmas All Over Again”: doesn’t really do anything that Petty and the Heartbreakers don’t do on pretty much every song they’ve ever released, but when your sound is that good, it doesn’t have to. Lyrics are a little goofy, but there’s a lively tempo, a sense of warmth and humor, and Petty gives us his Christmas list at the end (surprisingly devoid of illicit drugs, even).
6. The Eagles, “Please Come Home for Christmas”: using an R&B-style rhythm for a Christmas song is pretty clever, actually.
7. Vince Guaraldi Trio, “Linus and Lucy”: even though the song wasn’t written specifically for the Charlie Brown Christmas special, it’s sort of synonymous with that particular special and just way too much fun not to include.
8. Death Cab for Cutie, “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)”: I’m allowed at least a couple of random indie songs on the list, right?
9. Dean Martin, “Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!”: not as ubiquitous as the Bing Crosby number, but it still ranks up there as one of the all-time greats.
10. Barenaked Ladies and Sarah McLachlin, “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen/We Three Kings”: what’s probably must surprising about this track is just how bouncy it is. This tune swings, baby!
11. Burl Ives, “A Holly Jolly Christmas”: Burl Ives is pretty synonymous with Christmas, y’know? Not having a Burl Ives song on here would’ve been a crime.
12. Over the Rhine, “All I Ever Get for Christmas is Blue”: an indie Americana tune that’s mellow and sad. Very pretty.
13. Bob Dylan, “Must Be Santa”: zydeco Dylan Christmas song? How could this not be pure, distilled awesome?
14. Thurle Ravenscroft, “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch”: another of those classic Christmas cartoon specials comes through with a fantastic, witty song about the humbuggiest of them all.
15. Frank Sinatra, “Mistletoe and Holly”: man, those old crooners really did some great Christmas songs, didn’t they?
16. Jack White, “Christmas Time Will Soon Be Over”: a folk blues Christmas song from the Cold Mountain soundtrack (Jack White’s involvement in the soundtrack was the best thing about that film).
17. John Lennon, “Happy Christmas (War is Over)”: another of those classic rock Christmas songs that we heard every year at the ol’ homestead. The anti-war message is as relevant today as ever, sadly.
18. Bing Crosby & David Bowie, “Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth”: has there ever been a stranger duet? I think not.
19. Neko Case, “Christmas Card From a Hooker in Minneapolis”: again, not one of those songs that’s really about the holidays, but it’s such a great cover of a Tom Waits tune and the title does have Christmas in it.
20. Paul McCartney, “Wonderful Christmastime”: the most saccharine song on the list, but not horrible for all that.