The 500 Greatest Songs of the 1990s: 190 To 181
190. “All Just to Get to You,” Joe Ely. Songwriters: Joe Ely, Will Sexton; Did Not Chart; 1995. Joe Ely wrote several songs with Will Sexton, the brother of long time Dylan guitarist Charlie Sexton, for the 1995 album “Letter to Loredo,” Ely’s last major label release. That duo penned “All Just to Get to You,” a recounting of physical and geographical obstacles and frustrations that Ely has overcome to get to “you,” which may be about a romantic interest or may be about the elusive mass audience that Ely hoped to find. Ely, reflecting on his songwriting, “There’s a certain kind of romance that I have in me as far as when I start dealing with characters and landscapes and everything. I like to tell stories. I like to take things that happened to me and things that I have witnessed and create characters and put the characters in a scene, and then I follow them around and just try to see what they would do.” New Jersey singer/songwriter Bruce Springsteen provides backing vocals on “All Just to Get to You” and fellow Texan Pat Green kicked off his 2012 album “Songs We Wish We’d Written II” with his cover version. Someday, I plan on singing this song to my government retirement certificate.
189. “Helpless,” Sugar. Songwriter: Bob Mould; Did Not Chart; 1992. After the breakup of Hüsker Dü, Bob Mould released two solo albums, then returned to the rock trio format with his 1990s alternative rock band Sugar. “Helpless” was a Modern Rock hit in the U.S., a hooky wall of guitars number with lyrics about a mutually destructive relationship. Rock critic Eric Harvey, “(A) huge pop-rock anthem in the mold of Cheap Trick’s “Surrender”, but slowed down a beat, drenched in murky grunge fury, and bathed in a hiss of sustain and ride cymbal. ‘Helpless’ rides its giddily ascending verse melody without need for a chorus.” Musician Scott Sorry, “This is another play on how Bob Mould is the king of contrast. The catchline is ‘I feel so helpless’ – that’s what he’s singing over the chorus. But the music is so uplifting.”
188. “Why Won’t You Stay,” American Music Club. Songwriter: Mark Eitzel; Did Not Chart; 1991. Mark Eitzel, describing the inspiration for “Why Won’t You Stay” in the type of quote you don’t get every day, “This song is watching someone sleeping and saying ‘When we’re asleep/They’re going to bury us in peace.’ It’s about watching someone comatose after a week. They’re all true stories.” Musician Tim Mooney on this ode to a lifeless angel, “It’s funny to be playing that song as a drummer and actually be choked up when you’re playing it.” Well, perhaps, not laugh out loud funny.
187. “Waiting for the Sun,” The Jayhawks. Songwriters: Mark Olson, Gary Louris; Did Not Chart; 1992. The Minnesota alt-country act The Jayhawks were inspired by The Everly Brothers and The Byrds, taking their approach to singing from the former and their lyrical approach from the latter. Gary Louris, “Being a child of the 60s and 70s, I still am drawn to that very uplifting melody and that’s usually contrasted with a somewhat melancholic, darker, introspective vocal.” “Waiting for the Sun,” which also shows a strong Neil Young influence, was the lead track from the bands third album, 1992’s “Hollywood Town Hall,” and is a fine representation of their contrasting bright/melancholy sound. Still, “Waiting for the Sun” became a bigger hit when Tom Petty rewrote it, while adding a riff from Cheap Trick’s “The Ballad of T.V Violence,” and called it “Mary Jane’s Last Dance.”
186. “Mas Y Mas,” Los Lobos. Songwriters: David Hidalgo, Louie Perez; Did Not Chart; 1996. Los Lobos moved away from their traditional Spanish/Mexican American sound during the 1990s to bold sonic experiments, to include their offshoot project The Latin Playboys. “Mas Y Mas” is funky, hard rocking blues number, something like Carlos Santana partying with Tower of Power at Peter Green’s house. Rock critic Matthew Greenwald, “One of the most bruising rockers from the Los Lobos canon. The razor-sharp riff from David Hidalgo’s electric guitar sounds like Eric Clapton on his best day — if he were Spanish. The lyrics are what co-writer Louie Perez describes as Spanglish, and it’s another of his stream-of-consciousness lyrics that doesn’t seem to make sense at first but becomes clearer eventually. A low-key bridge that gives way to a stunning series of vocal screams and guitar solos from Hidalgo, ‘Mas y Mas’ (‘More and More’ in English) lives up to its title. Scary, brilliant, and beautiful, all at the same time.”
185. “The Way,” Fastball. Songwriters: Tony Scalzo, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty, Jewel Kilcher, Shep Pettibone, Madonna Ciccone; #5 US Radio Songs; 1998. “The Way” was the biggest pop hit that Elvis Costello never had, as the song mimicked a typical EC minor to major key change structure while using a more accessible/radio friendly chorus. The lyrics were inspired by a missing elderly couple, with Tony Scalzo giving “a romanticized take on what happened…taking off to have fun, like they did when they first met. Author Rosemary Pratka with the gory details, “’The Way’ is a shimmering piece of story-song ala Elvis Costello/Squeeze, fantasizing what may have happened to an elderly missing couple Tony Scalzo had read about in the newspaper. The song has an eerie David Lynch quality to it, as one pictures the couple winding down the road into the sunset to the sound of Fastball’s South of the Border Latin beat. In reality the couple was found dead at the bottom of a canyon.”
184. “In Liverpool,” Suzanne Vega. Songwriter: Suzanne Vega; Did Not Chart; 1992. With the assistance of producer and future husband Mitchell Froom, Suzanne Vega moved more from a spare folk production to a contemporary pop sound on the 1992 gold album “99.9F°.” “In Liverpool” is a melodic look at lost love or insanity. Author Nial McMurray, writing from the U.K. perspective, “’In Liverpool’ proved to be a revelation. Beginning quietly – possibly so as not to scare long-time fans – it was a gentle introduction to the musculature that was being added to Suzanne’s sound. Home to one of her most beautiful melodies, the realization that something different is happening occurs at 2:07 and the end of the second chorus – a beefy, faintly menacing guitar line storms in, rocking the boat. Maybe the title makes me think of the Albert Docks, but I always imagine this song taking place on a tugboat in choppy waters as the Royal Liver Building comes into view.”
183. “Feel Like Going Home,” Charlie Rich. Songwriter: Charlie Rich; Did Not Chart; 1992. After his hot run during the 1970s ended, Charlie Rich went over a decade without releasing any new material. With music journalist/long time friend Peter Guralnick serving as executive producer, the 1992 “Paintings and Pictures” release was the type of blues leaning material that Rich always loved to perform. The Rich composition “Feel Like Going Home” was originally the b-side to the 1973 #1 single “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World.” On the reworked version, Rich sounded like a weary traveler who is ready to go the promised land, even tossing in a gospel choir and church organ. The final song on his last album, “Feel Like Going Home” sounds like Rich’s epitaph, rendered with a longing mix of pain and hope. Three years after this album was released, Rich passed away, leaving a legacy as one of the country music’s most talented and complicated artists.
182. “Everything Flows,” Teenage Fanclub. Songwriter: Norman Blake; Did Not Chart; 1990. Scottish power pop/indie rockers Teenage Fanclub clang away blissfully on life-is-confusion “Everything Flows.” Author George Chesterton, “When Teenage Fanclub get it right – not something you can rely on – they can climb to within an A flat major 7th of the sublime. And they are all the more enigmatic precisely because they have been so inconsistent. Even though ‘Everything Flows,’ their first single, forms part of what you might call their harder early sound, it is certainly one of those moments when the boys from Lanarkshire got close to the divine light. The raga drone of ‘Everything Flows,’ offset with the melodic lead guitar of Raymond McGinley, hinted at an exciting new hybrid. That rough magic is all here in ‘Everything Flows.’ It promised so much and, occasionally, they delivered on that promise.”
181. “Katy Song,” Red House Painters. Songwriter: Mark Kolezek; Did Not Chart; 1993. Songwriter Mark Kolezek has the post relationship hopelessness blues on “Katy Song,” reflecting and wondering, “Where you walked away/And left a bleeding part of me/Empty and bothered//Watching the water/Quiet in the corner/Numb and falling through/Without you what does my life amount to?” Katy was about a real life girlfriend of Kolezek’s who passed away at a young age. Kolezek, “When someone important to you, someone that’s played a big role in your life, when they’re gone… When you write about them or pay tribute to them, you want to do it in a way that’s thoughtful. I think I just felt that way with this record. Songs that I wrote about her in the past – ‘Katy Song,’ ‘Summer Dress,’ ‘San Geronimo’ – some really beautiful things… And I think I wanted to continue that, where I want beautiful songs to be written about this person.” Vocally, Kolezek sounds like Lou Reed with a more understated flair for the dramatic.