Today we have a whole bunch of songs from the 90s and early 2000s, along with the only pre-1964 track to make the list. Though as I write that, I realize that I really should have thought more seriously about including classical music. Bach for sure would have been on here. Maybe some others. Oh well…
Spotify playlist with (almost) every song from this project.
50. Black Synagogue – Angel Haze (2014)
At her best, Angel Haze is probably my favorite rapper in the world. And this is very much her best. “Black Synagogue” is full of rage and empathy and she spits it all out at 150 MPH.
49. Last Stop: This Town – Eels (1998)
Electro-Shock Blues is one of the darkest, most painful albums of the past few decades. It’s also one of the most hopeful. This song is the linchpin, the heart of its duality. It’s a death rattle, a wish for one last night with his sister—who had recently committed suicide. A chance to share all the impossible beauty of the world one last time. It’s driven by that truly gorgeous melody, punctuated by glitches and scratches, which makes you believe that anything is possible. That even in the face of the most tangible tragedy, there is still something else out there. A reason to live.
48. Birdhouse In Your Soul – They Might Be Giants (1990)
Flood is easily my favorite TMBG album. I was first introduced to the band via Tiny Toons, as I’m sure was the case for many others of my generation. But it was a couple years more before I actually heard the whole album. And it was kind of a eureka moment, actually. Like any kid, I enjoyed a good goofy song now and then, but I still assumed that there was a clear dividing line between ‘real’ music and novelty songs. Flood blew that distinction to bits–showing me that silliness could live side by side with philosophy, and that simple could also be incredibly complex. There’s no song that exemplifies that more than this one. Clever, wonderful, deeply emotional, light as air.
47. Emma Blowgun’s Last Stand – Beulah (1999)
I love the intro to this song. Two minutes of slow unfurling, and then those horns kick in, and it feels like the first day of spring after a long cold winter.
46. Anti-Manifesto – Propagandhi (1993)
Punk rock will never die, because one of its most fertile subjects is the death of punk rock. It’s an eternal positive feedback cycle of decline and rebirth. And it’s never been better executed than here. How to Clean Everything is not only the best punk record of the 90s; it’s one of the best records of the 90s, full stop.
45. Idyllwild – Trembling Blue Stars (2007)
“A girl whose favorite thing is snow – snow and being alone.” The whole song is gorgeous, but this is the line that absolutely devastates me. Somehow, those eleven words manage to build an entire universe. I see her sitting by the window, watching the snow fall. I sense the depth of her love, but also the weight of her loss. The world is painted white and she curls up tight, trying not to think about what waits beyond that blanket of snow.
44. Blue Train – John Coltrane (1958)
The first time you hear this song, it already feels like an old favorite. Like Coltrane is simply jogging your memory, calling to mind a melody you’d long since forgotten. And with each subsequent listen, that feeling only grows. And yet, its closeness defies comprehension. It pierces us on a level that exceeds the conscious mind–a realm of pure mathematics and impossibly complex equations. It speaks a truth that we can feel without ever quite understanding.
43. Mayonaise – Smashing Pumpkins (1993)
When I discussed If You Leave earlier in the list, I said that it struck me as the definitive song of the 80s. In which case, I think Mayonaise one might count as the definitive song of the 90s. It clearly surfs the wave of Nirvana-driven alt rock, but draws heavily on many of the other traditions that dominated the era. Loud/soft dynamics, a shoegazy wall of guitar noise, a pitch perfect melodic structure. It’s all here.
42. Taxi Ride – Tori Amos (2002)
When I made my list of the top 50 songs of the 2000s, I inexplicably left this one down in the honorable mentions. What on earth was I thinking? This is an all-time great song, the work of an artist at the height of her powers, whose ability to balance piano and voice is on the same measure with Raphael’s ability to balance color and shape.
41. Yulia – Wolf Parade (2010)
“They flip one switch at mission control, and I’m never coming home.” The madness of the endless cosmos, the realization that you have already died but are left to drift alone in the dark reaches of spaces – and that there is only one person far behind who will think of you. All tinged with a sense of awe to simply be out there. What a horrible, wonderful, deeply sad way to die…