Get your notebook paper and YouTube ready, it’s time for a list!
Hm, I haven’t done a list in awhile. I thought about doing just the standard “favorite songs” thing, but that would mean spending a lot of time trying to nail down what songs are my favorite, and trying to figure out what one song from my favorite artists represents them best. That, and just a favorite songs list is kinda boring, and really fluid.
Instead, I thought I’d do a list of…hm, think of it as “my one hit wonders”; songs that I really like by artists that I don’t really listen to, pay attention to, or care about. The songs on here are ranked by how much I like the song and how much I know the artist, so I might really like a song, but rank it in the middle because the artist is one that I’m more in tune with than others. Anyway, let’s get started!
10. My Chemical Romance – Cancer (2006)
I’ve had an antagonistic relationship with MCR since they burst on the scene in 2004. None of their stuff that I’ve heard has really resonated with me in a long-lasting way, even songs like “Helena” or “Welcome to the Black Parade” that I actually liked.
Then there’s “Cancer” from the heart of their landmark The Black Parade album. One of the routine comparisons for the album is Queen, and the multitracked vocals and dominant piano of “Cancer” speak to that. On an album that’s deceptively more MCR-y than most pretend it is, this song stands out as being different from most anything the band has done before or since. Gerard Way writes enough macabre lyrics that their impact occasionally gets dulled, but he found a keeper in “Baby, I’m just soggy from the chemo”, which captures the hellish tone of the therapy and in the song in one clever line. But the other part of “Cancer” that made it stay with me was the vocal descend around the two minute mark with the string flourish. It’s one of those little moments I can listen to again and again. You’re not all bad, My Chem.
9. U2 – Sunday Bloody Sunday (1983)
A few years ago, I kind of tried to get into U2, but it just didn’t take. Then I realized I don’t really know anyone who loves them, and theorized that everyone’s got those, like, three U2 songs they really like. I still haven’t found what I’m looking for with the other two, but “Sunday Bloody Sunday” never gets old for me in the way that most U2 does. From The Edge’s famous guitar riff that sounds like the world’s ending to the martial drums to the song’s constant forward motion, make “Sunday Bloody Sunday” a winner. Oh, and all of the Nice Guy Humanitarian jokes aimed at Bono, he nails it in his utterly pissed off and kickass speech during the Rattle & Hum version of the song.
8. Rihanna – Disturbia (2008)
Rihanna has singles on the charts so often, she might as well pay rent for her own spot in the Hot 100. The catch is that while most of her singles are alright, there isn’t a lot of worth to revisiting them; I don’t remember anyone clamoring to hear “Don’t Stop the Music” after 2008. “Disturbia”, though, has the distinction of being a Rihanna song I actually want to hear years after its been released. It occupies kind of a singular spot in the Rihanna discography; it isn’t blatantly about love or sex, and it has a darker edge that gives it a little more weight than most of her other singles. And it’s got that killer “bum bum be dum” hook that just won’t get out of your head. Even if you’ve heard it before.
7. The Killers – Spaceman (2008)
The Killers are one of those groups that I always feel like I should be into way more than I am, but never struck me right. I find a lot of Killers stuff bloated and inert, but there’s a certain giddiness to “Spaceman”‘s frantic drumming, damn near punk guitar, and delightfully erratic melody that won me over from the first listen. A lot of Killers’ uplifting songs rely on solemn, earnest, first in the air rally calls, whereas “Spaceman” opts that “the starmaker says it ain’t so bad” and “The spaceman says everybody look down, it’s all in your mind”. It’s not exactly a light song, although it doesn’t wear itself out over a surprising 4:45 runtime, either. Underneath everything, “Spaceman”‘s an ultimately one of The Killers’ best pop songs.
6. Placebo – Drag (2006)
I’m more familiar with Placebo than most artists on this list: their album Meds–which “Drag” is from–will make habitual trips to my “now playing” section during the winter months. So why is “Drag” on here? Well, Meds aside, I know absolutely nothing of Placebo, and I fucking love “Drag”.
Honestly, were it not for my familiarity with Placebo, “Drag” would be ranked higher (the two qualifiers for the ranking system are how much I like the song and how familiar I am with/like the artist). The music is sweet in a gloomy, post-punk sort of way, and lyrics like “You got A’s on your algebra test/I failed and they kept me behind” or “I just gotta get off my chest/That I think you’re divine” are clumsy, but awkward and endearing in a “dumb teenage love” way. Were it not for the song’s energy, it’d be a little flat, but as it stands, “Drag” does anything but.
5. Julia Nunes – Stairwell (2008)
Sandwiched between two artists on the list I know fairly well is one of the artists on the list I know or care the least about. Julia Nunes is one of the more successful/least annoying YouTube artists out there. A few years back, I had a good friend really get into her, and like a good friend, tried to get me in on Nunes as well. Most of it didn’t take; Nunes didn’t strike me as an especially interesting artist then (or now), but “Stairwell”‘s made its way onto just about every mellow or sad playlist I’ve ever made. The descending chord progression doesn’t sound particularly happy or sad, and the song sounds kind of cute at first “I’m lying here on the floor/Just like the man on the yellow cone/Guess the floor was wet”. I love songs with a punchline, and and “Stairwell” ranks up there with the third verse reveal “Perhaps I didn’t trip/I’ve been having troubles lately/And I got something to admit”. It’s quietly heartbreaking.
4. +44 – Baby, Come On (2006)
I’m kinda fascinated by +44’s When Your Heart Stops Beating album, but “Baby, Come On” is on this list pretty much for the same reason that “Drag” was: It’s one of my all-time favorite songs. In an interview I read earlier this year, Mark Hoppus called this song one of the best he’s ever written, and it’s hard for me to disagree. The chorus sounds absolutely huge, and the song has some great lyrics. “The past is only the future with the lights on” is a great and highly quotable line, but in what is essentially a relationship song, I find the pleading in “Isn’t there something familiar about me?” way more affecting. It’s affecting because “Baby, Come On” as a whole is desperate to make a difficult relationship work; the verses talk about how they sort of need each other, but something’s in the way. Also helping “Baby, Come On” in my book is that it’s possibly about one of my favorite movies.
3. Carole King – It’s Too Late (1971)
I’ve never put an effort into getting into Carole King–I probably couldn’t tell you how many of her songs I’ve heard–but long ago I heard “It’s Too Late”, and it’s stuck with me ever since. It’s one of the more all-encompassing Break-Up Songs I’ve heard: you get a little bit of sadness, some reflecting on how things used to be, some positivity looking ahead, and a lot of honesty. Instead of focusing on any one of those, the song looks at the break up like, “Well, this sucks, but there’s no where else to really go, is there?”. In other words, “It’s too late baby/Now it’s too late/’though we really did try to make it”. The music hits all of those emotions as well, it’s poppy enough, catchy, but still sorrowful. It’s a classic for a reason.
2. Regina Spektor – The Bronx (2003)
If I ever made a list of artists I really wish I liked more, Regina Spektor would be towards the top. Maybe I just keep listening to the wrong albums, but aside from a song or two, none of her material really stays with me. Then there’s “The Bronx”, a live-only cut that clocks in at under 2 minutes that I love the shit out of. It’s a silly, dreaming little number that most artists would consider barely more than a demo, but it doesn’t need anything else added to it. My favorite part is at “Come downstairs!”; it’s so sudden and the sixteenth note piano chords leap forward with importance, like this is really what the character in the song wants. It’s a cute story wrapped up in catchy but unique music, and it always makes me want to listen to more Regina Spektor.
1. Incubus – Stellar (2000)
Oh, Incubus. You are the poster child of artists I don’t really care about. I don’t know what it is about them, but I just can’t find it in me to feel anything towards this group; they could release the year’s best album or break up next week, and I wouldn’t feel any better or worse either way, so long as I still have “Stellar”.
It’s hard to pinpoint what really makes “Stellar” click for me where something like “Drive” doesn’t. I’m not particularly attached to any one element of the song, but I guess it’s more just how everything works together. A love song about love IN SPACE sounds ridiculous on paper, especially with Brendan Boyd’s potentially wonky lyrics. But it led to lines like “We could spend a night/Watch the earth come up” or “Meet me in outer space/I will hold you close/If you’re afraid of heights” that work. The music’s strong, particularly the guitar, which hits a great balance point between pretty and heavy ala The Smashing Pumpkins. As a vocalist, Brendan Boyd always sounds at his best when he’s wailing and selling a song’s big emotional point, and it’s great for a love song. I might not care for Incubus on most everything else they’ve ever done, but I find “Stellar” out of this world.