Monday, September 26, 2005

To answer Evan's query...

Okay, Evan asked me to get on board with his little listy do-dad there, although I'm not sure he viewed his request as quite the mammoth undertaking that I did. I don't mean that he didn't take it seriously when he made his, I mean that I don't think he fully comprehended how seriously I would take it. I prompt people to do lists like these all the time, and quite frankly, I feel that I wouldn't be an adequate ... ... if I didn't put forth the same amount of effort I expect from those I question. That's not to say that my list is perfect, or even that I was able to exhaust all possibilities. There are undoubtedly great songs that I forgot, and some may not agree with what I put on or left off, but hey, these are my favorites. Evan, just remember: you asked. Here we go.

Oh, and in the interest of full disclosure, I should say that this list is actually going to be a couple of lists. As I said, I cogitated significantly to come up with a list that I felt honestly reflected my favorite applicable tunes. This led to a database in excess of 30 songs. I've split them up into 3 tiers of 10 songs each, from (relatively) least favorite to most favorite, with some leeway given for how much I feel the song fits the criteria. And then one or two bonuses thrown in for no valid reason. It's not complicated once you start reading. Okay, let's see how this works out...

TIER 3 - The Bronze Medalists (in alphabetical order, by artist)

Break Your Heart - Barenaked Ladies
One of my absolute favorite songs of all time. Loses a couple of points because of the fact that I don't really know if this is a "break-up" song -- I mean, the guy in the song is clearly saying that he regrets that he led on a girl who digs him more than he digs her. And he finally sacked up and said "Bitch, step off," and now he's like "You know, it sucks that I made her think I was into her ... but it was much better to just say, uh ... 'Bitch, step off'." Wow, that's big of you, guy.

Best moment: the cathartic screaming by Steve Page (who sadly and clearly wrote better songs when he was an alcoholic) at the end of the bridge.

Apple Shampoo - Blink-182
About a couple that's just grown apart. After you strip away the usual early-Blink pop-punk posturing, it's really a pretty heartbreaking story about two people who have gradually gone from lovebirds to sparring partners, best illustrated by the following lines, which I'm shocked came from the mind of Mark Hoppus:

It isn't exciting reciting the stories
Of kind words turned hurting
When routine gets boring

The Dance - Garth Brooks
Viewed objectively, the song is really fantastic. Truly. But, I mean, it's Garth Brooks. He's kind of a douche, he inflicted "Friends in Low Places" upon an unsuspecting public, and he's sold his soul in order to try and outsell The Beatles. I can't in good conscience put him in the top 10. But that shouldn't take too much away from this, a tune (not penned by Brooks himself, it's worth noting) which recognizes that even though things come to an end, and sometimes quite a painful one, the good times just might have made the whole thing worth it. Bonus points for a piano outro which can only be described as "haunting."

Standing in the Shadows of Love - The Four Tops
The great Levi Stubbs and gang. Best of the Motown groups. So much of the success of the Tops (aside from the dynamite songwriting of the Holland-Dozier-Holland team) comes from Stubbs's incredibly expressive voice. Aside from "Bernadette," this is probably his best performance. Didn't I treat you right, now, baby, didn't I? When you needed me I always there, now, wasn't I?

Separate Ways (Worlds Apart) - Journey
Anyone who doesn't like Journey, quite frankly, isn't welcome to sample the fruits of I guess when you really look at this tune, it's a helluva breakup song. But I've just listened to it too many times, with my fist pumping and a big goofy smile on my face, in order to really think of it that way.

Walk Away, Renee - The Left Banke
Achingly beautiful, although it's probably more of an "unrequited love" song than a "breakup" one. It was apparently written by one bandmate about another one's former girlfriend. Or sister, or something. Whatever, folks, it's about longing. The lead singing is a little too nasal for me to really love it, but that's more than made up for by the tasteful harpsichord, lush arrangement, and Zombies-esque vocal harmonies. A gem of a tune.

Needles and Pins - The Searchers
Once again, a favorite of mine, which loses some points because it appears to be taking place significantly post-breakup, as the singer has run into his former lover some indeterminable time after they've split. As can probably be culled from some other choices and statements I've made on here, I'm a sucker for big-ass moments of catharsis in pop songs, and it don't get much better than the wailing at the end of the bridge: "Why can't I stand up and tell myself I'm stronggggg ... BECAUSE I SAW HER TODAY!" Good times.

Overs - Simon and Garfunkel
Yeah, it's a bit lesser-known, but it expresses one of my all-time favorite, sad break-up sentiments, about a couple in the sad, slow process of growing apart: "We might as well be apart / It hardly matters, we sleep separately / And drop a smile, passing in the hall / But there's no laughs left, 'cause we laughed 'em all / And we laughed 'em all in a very short time." Just the thought of having "no laughs left" ... ugh, it's chilling.

Dyslexic Heart - Paul Westerberg
All about a dude who just keeps getting mixed signals from a chick he's into. I just love the extended use of personification (or its equivalent - whatever) here, as his "heart" keeps "looking" at what she's doing, and he just can't figure it out. "You keep swayin' / What are you sayin'? / Thinkin' 'bout stayin'? / Or are you just playin', makin' passes / Well my heart could use some glasses."

Please Don't Go - Stevie Wonder
Gorgeous, up-tempo song from my personal favorite Stevie album, Fulfillingness' First Finale. "Please Don't Go" is up-tempo to the point of almost sounding happy, until you realize it's about a girl who's leaving the protagonist, and you hear his continued pleas, like "Tell me why, baby, would you want to make me cry?" It's one of the best songs by one of the greatest musical artists of all-time, made at the absolute zenith of his powers.

Bonus Indecipherable Song

I Want it That Way - Backstreet Boys
I still don't know what the hell this song is about. Exactly what way does he (or... they?) not want it? You got me. Great melody, though.

TIER 2 - Close, But No Cigar (again, alphabetically by artist)

You're Gonna Miss Me - The 13th Floor Elevators
I have nothing to add to Evan's statements that is either relevant or true. Except to add that this is a nice little bit of reading about the band. And yes, in the picture, the guy on the far left is blowing into a jug, with a microphone there to pick up the, uh ... "woo" ... sound. But hey, the sunglasses make him look like a total badass. Yeah.

No Reply - The Beatles
Right after recording this, someone told John Lennon, "You know, that's the first song you've written that kind of completes a story. It resolves itself." Or something to that effect. You get the gist. In the song, John's lover seems to be trying to cut off all contact with him, as he "try(s) to telephone" and "(goes) to your door." And guess what he gets? Look at the title, folks. Anyway, he takes to following her or something, and he calls her on her lies, accompanied by George and Paul in some fantastic harmonizing. He knows what's up. And guess what he gets again? You dumbass.

I Want You - Elvis Costello and the Attractions
Creepy as all get-out, with an odd structure, too: it starts off with a few couplets of standard-issue lovey-dovey tuneage, then takes an abrupt turn into the darker story of a man who tries to coax out of his mate the fact that she has been cheating on him. The bitterness is downright palpable. An undeniably fantastic, emotional tune, but you feel kind of dirty after listening to it. And you know what? Sometimes that's okay.

Go Your Own Way - Fleetwood Mac
Who better to write and perform a classic song about breaking up than a band who, at the time of the recording, consisted of two couples who were mid-breakup, and a, uh ... fifth guy. Anywho, this tune is angry and bitter and resentful ... it's just damn tasty to listen to, even a quarter-century later. Not quite as angry and bitter as my single favorite Mac song, "The Chain," but still, you know, right up there. As a sidenote, people always talk about the riff at the center of the song - you know, the one that starts off the tune before the acoustic guitar obscures everything - but I actually think Mick Fleetwood's creative drumming holds everything together. Maybe I'm crazy.

Breaking Us in Two - Joe Jackson
A portrait of a relationship that's dying, as the couple tries to decide if it's really worth fighting for the relationship, or if they should just give up and sever ties. Filled with "maybe if"s and "could we be much closer?"s, but the narrator keeps coming back to the refrain, "Always something breaking us in two..." It just ain't working. Heartbreaking. Bonus points because it just might have the single best vocal melody out of this entire bunch of songs.

It's Too Late - Carol King
Yep, a classic. It basically takes place just after the last song left off: the wondering and soul-searching about whether or not the relationship can be saved has ended, and "it's too late" beat out "maybe we can work this out." It's a shame too. Those kids were good for each other. Best or second-best track on a classic album (1971's Tapestry) which feels like putting on a warm sweater sometime around Christmas. Do I sound like a girl? You bet I do.

Stay - Lisa Loeb
She's hot.


No, seriously.

And the song's good, too. I don't care what anyone says.

Go Now - The Moody Blues
About as atmospheric as a pop record can get, plus, as a bonus, there's nary a sign of the flute and other masturbatory orchestrations which plagued (in my opinion) some of the Moodyseses later work. As anyone who knows me can tell, I'm an absolute sucker for harmonies in pop songs, and this one has near-constant backup "oohs" and "ahs." In fact, lyrically, there's really nothing special about this one, as the message is clear and repeated numerous times: the singer's a complete vag, and he's telling his newly-former-girlfriend to beat it, "before you see me cry." Woman. But the song is still damn fun to listen to.

Soma - Smashing Pumpkins
This is one of the Pumpkins' trademark "this baby's gonna start out real slow, lull you into a false sense of security, and then beat your ass with guitars that have been overdubbed 40 times (That's true, by the way. Yes, 40.)" type of song. My old buddies James Tuttle and Mike Gregory used to compare this song to an orgasm - I'll stay away from comment on that, except to say that the theory is, well ... creative. IRRegardless, this has remained one of my favorite songs throughout the years, a standard semi-power ballad, semi-anthemic 70's-style intricate RAWK song. Does that make sense? I hope so. Quasi-interestingly, the piano on this track was played by REM bassist Mike Mills.

Best moment: the guitar solo. If you are of the opinion that mere instruments can not adequately mirror the emotions present in the best vocal performances, then please do me a favor and listen to the guitar solo from "Soma" within the context of the rest of the song. It's the most emotionally-expressive instrumentation that I can think of.

I'll Be Around - The Spinners
Smooooooooooth. It's virtually impossible ... no no, I'm gonna say it: it's impossible to hear this song on the radio and not sing along. This theory was proved when The Crew came up in November 2003, and while on the way to Greektown this song came on the radio, and we were, of course, singing along. And then Evan and I turned and inexplicably looked into the car next to us, where a guy was singing along to the exact same broadcast. Hey, he's only human. But anyway, this is a pretty standard "We've broken up, but I still carry a torch for you, so if this new cat every leaves, you know, I'm still here" number, performed by what is possibly the most underrated Motown band. Possibly. And you gotta love that chorus.

Bonus Bilingual Selection

Crying - Roy Orbison
A fantastic, fantastically sad song from the guy with the sunglasses and the sad-sounding voice. Pretty famous because he hits that really high note in the chorus. But the thing about the tune is, there's a spanish version from the movie "Mulholland Drive" that is positively exquisite, titled "Llorando," which is, predictably, "crying" in spanish. If you can find it somewhere, take a listen. It's even more emotional than the Orbison version. Even if you have no idea what the chick is saying.

The Top Ten (at least, at this moment)

10.) I Can See for Miles - The Who
I once read someone say that this song was like the beginning of all that 60s psychedelia bullshit in music. Not sure I see that one, doctor: this mofo is as straight-up rock as straight-up rock can get. Maybe it just comes from the pseudo-mystical lyrics. This baby's jacked up with raging guitars, a healthy amount of anger, and spastic drumming from a 20-year old who was probably coked out of his mind at the time. That sounds pretty fucking rock and roll to me. What's the song about? Well, Mr. Narrator knows his woman is cheating on him (or something), because he's ... psychic (or something)? Who the fuck cares: it rocks.

9.) Lover, You Should've Come Over - Jeff Buckley
This cat could frickin' sing. With a simultaneous love for intricate, lengthy, guitar-driven rock songs and extreme vocal theatrics, Jeff Buckley always gave his tunes something the listener could latch onto and really appreciate. This is a basic "We've broken up, but I'm not over you, and I'm not sure I ever will be" song, but Buckley brings his usual uber-passionate vocal stylings to the table, as well as a sensitive set of lyrics. 'Cause, I mean, let's face it: he was a total wuss. Still, I think one of the greatest compliments you can give a musician is that no one else sounds quite like them, and that's certainly true of Buckley. And other than the transcendent version of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," I think this is his best song.

8.) Without You - Harry Nilsson
100% classic. Yes, it's wimpy. Yes, he sounds like a girl, exemplified by Mariah Carey's nearly-indistinguishable (and, therefore, pretty pointless) cover version which came out 25 years later. And yes, you've probably heard it 100-150 times in your life. But it remains emminently listenable, mainly due to its simplicity, in both production and writing. I love this song.

7.) All in Love is Fair - Stevie Wonder
Well, it's one of Stevie's best (if not the best) ballads, which consequently makes it one of the greatest ballads of all time. This song is simply heartbreaking, mostly because of his astounding vocal performance. When you really sit and examine everything about the song, nothing in particular jumps out at you: nothing in the lyric is profound or even non-perfunctory, there's nothing bombastic or revolutionary about the production, and the instrumentation is of Stevie's usual, competent quality. So what the hell is so special, then? It's all in the delivery, man. An amazingly emotional vocal performance.

And as an aside, if you're reading this, and you don't own Stevie's seminal album, Innervisions, well, then there's just something wrong with you. Of course, if I had my druthers, everyone in the world would own the five albums starting with 1971's Music of My Mind and ending with 1976's Songs in the Key of Life. The world would be a better place, I'm telling you. *Off of soapbox*

6.) Bell Bottom Blues - Derek and the Dominos
Everything Evan said, and then double. And interesting that Evan brought up the backup vocals on the chorus; for the longest time, I was con-fucking-vinced that that was Paul McCartney. Take a listen - it sounds exactly like him. Weird. I remember listening to this song over and over and over again throughout one of the most difficult nights of my life. You can probably guess what was happening.

I was pulling an all-nighter studying for a statistics midterm.

I am not making that up.

5.) Can't Stand Losing You - The Police
"White reggae," anyone? Oh shit, that was the title of their second album. On Outlandos d'Amour, The Police were still semi-noticeably punk-influenced ... well, as punk-influenced as a band can be when they 1.) play their friggin' instruments as well as The Police do, and 2.) have a lead singer who is desperately trying to sound like the guy in the Jamaican bar who forgot that he's white. For me, the signature song (and my favorite Police song) is this one, a rollicking, angry tune about ... holy shit, a breakup. It's incredibly desperate and aggressive, and a damn good time to listen to. The opening bassline alone is worth the price of admission, but everything else is awesome, too. Oh, and in the interest of full disclosure, I fell like I should mention that Stewart Copeland is my favorite drummer of all-time. That cat could do things with the hi-hat that friggin' Einstein wouldn't be able to figure out.

4.) I'm Sad Because My Goat Just Died Today - The Frogs

Just wanted to see if you were still paying attention.

4.) Black - Pearl Jam
Yep, we all know this one. You know, back in the day, when Pearl Jam rocked and didn't take themselves too seriously, what with the whole TicketMaster crusade and everything. The more I listen to this song, the more I think it's a big ol' power ballad being played by a bunch of guys in backward caps and flannel shirts. And that's okay, if the power ballad in question is as enjoyable as this one. The best part is clearly Vedder's warble-screamed verselet beginning with the "I know someday you'll have a beautiful life" stuff. Awesome.

3.) For No One - The Beatles
This is such a sublimely melancholic tune, minimally produced and notable because, cripes, how often before this song (or before Revolver in general) were Beatles tunes out-and-out sad and depressing? Shmerg, any ideas? Anyway, it's a breakup song, as tuneful and enjoyable as any other Fab Four record, despite the depressing lyrics and somber arrangement. An exquisite french horn solo shows up twice to accentuate the feel of the song, and damn, it is just the right touch. Love it.

You stay home
She goes out
She says that long ago she knew someone, but now he's gone
She doesn't need him

2.) The Last Polka / Selfless, Cold, and Composed - Ben Folds Five
Hey, look at that! I cheated! Relax, kiddies, I have a very good reason for doing so: I wanted to. You want to force me to pull a Sophie's Choice between these two songs? Well, I'd probably kill you. That's right, just murder you right then and there. That's my answer and I'm sticking to it.

Anyway, about the songs. I left off "Song for the Dumped," which I have to say really surprised me. I guess it just doesn't do for me what it once did. These two have just held up better for me. About "Polka": I said it before on here, but it's ten times as true in this case: I have NOTHING to add to Evan's comments. It's probably still my favorite Ben Folds/Ben Folds Five song, for all the reasons Evan laid out. The energy (there's nothing quite like being there live and seeing Ben beat the shit out of the piano on this song, at all the appropriate moments), the narrative, and the exact verse that Evan cited. It's fantasgreat (TM Nipples), in every way.

Where as "Polka" is more aggressive, "Selfless" is much more resigned. The jazz-fueled piano stylings here are as inapposite from "Polka" as a song could get. In the tune, the narrator is lamenting how his partner (or former partner) seems distant now. She doesn't seem to hate him or resent him - she nothings him, and knowing that someone feels that way about you is about the worst feeling a person can have. He cites some examples before going off and railing against her, begging her to show some kind of emotion toward him, "Just one sign that would show me that you give a shit."

"But you just smile politely, and I grow weaker and I..."

1.) I Just Don't Know What to Do With Myself - Dusty Springfield
Quite frankly, I don't feel that I can really say anything that will do this song justice. Sad but slightly hopeful, with bombastic production, and Dusty's magnificent voice... Mmm, it all comes together for a helluvan affecting song. Hey, it's my favorite.

Wow ... that was ... long. I don't think any of us knew what we were getting into there.



At 11:10 AM, September 29, 2005, Blogger The Diddy said...

Jeezus Christ you VAG. I'm gonna pound that vag so deep in the corner. SO....HELP....ME...GOD!!!!! I'm gonna.

At 11:39 AM, September 29, 2005, Blogger Torgonator said...

Helluva good job, Jack, despite what ToddyBear says. Of course, I didn't know half of the songs you listed, but I didn't ask you to give me a list of songs that I know so it's all good.

A few comments...

1.) You may be right about Paul providing the back-up vocals on Bell Bottom Blues. I actually don't know for a fact that Carl Radle sang the back-ups on that track, I just know that he typically sang the back-ups and I assumed he did the same for that track. I knew that George Harrison played guitar on Cream's Badge, but I hadn't heard of any collaboration with a Beatle on Bell Bottom Blues. I'll have to research this.

2.) Selfless, Cold, and Composed - A great choice. I considered it, but I didn't include it in my list because at the time I put it together I was thinking it was just about a couple that was hitting a rough patch, not that it was necessarily about a break-up. But having listened to it just now, it is definitely about a break-up. I don't know what I was thinking. I would still probably put The Last Polka ahead of it on the list, but it is definitely worthy of being on it.

3.) Black by Pearl Jam - I'm so angry with myself for forgetting this song when I put together my list. You referred to a verselet in your post, and I love the lines here. The message is simple and effective, but it reaches another level the way that Eddie sings it:

I know someday you'll
Have a beautiful life,
I know you'll be a star
In somebody else's sky
But why, why, why can't it be
Can't it be in mine?

4.) Stay by Lisa Loeb - Great song. Good selection.

I was certainly not prepared for the response, but I have to say that I'm thrilled about it. Excellent work.

At 11:55 AM, September 29, 2005, Blogger Torgonator said...

I have researched the back-up vocals for Bell Bottom Blues and found that apparently neither one of us was correct. I consulted my favorite Internet music encyclopedia to find the answer, something I should have done in the first place.

It turns out that the back-up vocals were provided by the keyboardist, Bobby Whitlock, who played a Hammond organ on the track.

Although, I have to say it would have been a lot more intriguing if the vocals had been sung by Paul McCartney.

At 12:54 PM, September 29, 2005, Blogger Jack Fu said...

Thanks Dids. You're a little baby, we know.


I can't think of anything to say. Except thanks. And I'm sorry it was so long (not the first time I've said that to you, by the way). But it was fairly enjoyable to write, although weeding out the chaff from the wheat was difficult.


At 6:03 PM, September 30, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Very impressive list indeed. I absolutely love "Black" by Pearl Jam, so much so that i can put my hatred of Pearl Jam aside while i listen to it. However, as great as the Eddie version is, Aaron Lewis from Staind does a cover of it on the Family Values CD that, in my opinion, is far supperior to Eddie. The raw emotion in Aaron Lewis' voice cannot be matched--add to it being a live performance and you can just picture yourself in the crowd singing your heart while Aaron somehow makes this song seem completely personal to himself. Anyway, take a listen to it and see if you like it better than the original.



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