The 500 Greatest Songs of the 1990s: 200 To 191
200. “Stolen Car,” Beth Orton. Songwriters: Ted Brett Barnes, William N Blanchard, Beth Orton, Sean Read; Did Not Chart; 1999. U.K. singer Beth Orton mixed electronic and folk sounds, making her sound somewhat like Tracy Chapman at a rave. Evan Sawdey of Pop Matters, “’Stolen Car’ burns with nervous energy. Ben Harper’s wild electric guitar texturing gives the song drive and verve, highlighting descriptive lines like ‘You were sitting/Your fingers like fuses/ Your eyes were cinnamon’ – simple, sharp, and precise details that set the scene but never tell you directly what to feel. It’s moments like this that make Orton as effective a storyteller as she is, luring you into the nature of the moment instead of telling you the moral of the story.” Orton has described her music as having a “mantra-like quality,” a most fitting description of the seduction without climax sound of “Stolen Car.”
199. “Hey Jealousy,” Gin Blossoms. Songwriter: Doug Hopkins; #25 pop; 1993. The Arizona based band the Gin Blossoms were somewhat the Grass Roots of the 1990s, an act who understood the pop music of its era and always improved radio playlists. Their breakthrough hit “Hey Jealousy” was written by guitarist Doug Hopkins about possible reconciliation with a girlfriend. Sadly, Hopkins had a serious drinking problem, was removed from the band before “Hey Jealousy” became a hit and committed suicide in December of 1993. Still, he was a significant reason for the success of the band, penning both “Hey Jealousy” and “Found Out About You,” the Gin Blossoms’ second hit. Ernie Smith of Tedium on this tale of a drunken man with no place to go, “Unlike Nirvana or Pearl Jam, the darkness of the lyrics wasn’t matched by a darkness in the melody—the tune, in fact, had more in common with a melodic tune from R.E.M. or The Lemonheads than the sludge from Seattle. But lyrically, the tune did not come from a good place.” Author Greg O’Lear, “Behind the bright, jangly guitars is a musical cry for help, made more profound by an exquisitely plangent vocal performance by Robin Wilson.”
198. “Two Lovers Stop,” Freedy Johnston. Songwriter: Freedy Johnston; Did Not Chart; 1994. You’ll never hear a more melodic, relatively upbeat song about a suicide pact that “Two Lovers Stop,” where a young couple whose relationship lacks parental approval decide not to fear the reaper. Freedy, the 1995 Rolling Stone Songwriter of the Year, on his approach to his craft, “I write pop songs…my lyrics are kind of dark. That just is the way it gets. To me, I need that kind of contrast. I think it really is for me, it’s like, hey this song will tell you what it wants. You know, the song, I really do listen to the songs. I work them to death before I get the real meaning out of it.”
197. “Haven’t I Been a Fool,” Grant McLennan. Songwriter: Grant McLennan; Did Not Chart; 1991. Grant McLennan, using the name G.W. McLennan, released his first solo album, titled “Watershed,” after the breakup of the legendary Aussie pop band the Go-Betweens. The album cut “Haven’t I Been a Fool” is a classic pop number, bright chords strumming while McLennan wryly describes his broken heart. Nice touches – the ‘60s trash organ sound on the intro and outro and the female backing chorus at the end. Sometimes a well crafted, ear pleasing tune will overcome those romantic woes.
196. “Radar Gun,” The Bottle Rockets. Songwriter: Robert Parr; Did Not Chart; 1994. “Radar Gun,” a look at both sides of the speed trap math equation, was penned by Robert Parr, a member of the pre-Bottle Rockets act named Chicken Truck as a tribute to John Anderson. The song mentions longtime Jefferson County, Missouri law enforcement officer William “Buck” Buerger and skips no administrative details – “Please remove your license, find your registration/And what is the name of your insurance plan?” Producer Eric Ambel on Brian Henneman finishing the solo with five strings, “I think it was the High E that popped out at one point in the song. Guitar went a little out of tune but there was no way we were gonna fuck with that thing. It was hot to touch!”
195. “Cream,” Prince. Songwriter: Prince; #1 pop; 1990. T-Rex peaked at #10 on the U.S. pop charts in 1971 with “Bang a Gong (Get It On)” and a 1985 cover version by Power Station also hit the Top Ten. Prince had the biggest hit with the song, rewriting it as “Cream,” and scoring his fifth and last #1 pop hit. Author Andrew Harrison’s summation, “A showcase for the moans, groans, whimpers and squeals of Prince’s overtly priapic guitar, it’s also surprisingly warm of spirit, restating the core Prince belief that sex heals everything and everyone.” Prince didn’t look far for his inspiration. According to the liner notes of “The Hits/The B-Sides” compilation, he “reputedly” penned the tune “while standing in front of a mirror.”
194. “Enlightenment,” Van Morrison. Songwriter: Van Morrison; Did Not Chart; 1990. Van Morrison seems to be both spoofing his main theme of spiritual discovery (“I’m in the here and now, and I’m meditating/And I’m still suffering but that’s my problem/Enlightenment, don’t know what it is”), but also telling the listener to find his or her own path (“Enlightenment, don’t know what it is/It’s up to you”) on this 1990 album title track. With Van, it feels like the spiritual journey is always more meaningful than the destination, but perhaps that journey and the pursuit of spiritual transcendence has ultimately been his life’s work.
193. “Cybele’s Reverie,” Stereolab. Songwriters: Tim Gane, Laetitia Sadier; Did Not Chart; 1996. Raymond Cummings of Stereogum, describing the multi-tiered beauty that is “Cybele’s Reverie, “I always think of ‘Cybele’s Reverie’ as fairytale Stereolab, one of the Groop’s fanciful stabs at a pop Disney fable. Everything about this song is playfully calibrated for maximum wow: the vocal lines enveloping one another like mutant kudzu, the killer wasp tickle of effects pedals, the strings a-swooping just so. Even at the chorus, when ‘Reverie’ pauses to catch its breath and pulls its propulsive punches, dazzlement remains the name of the game, with sweet sweeps of orchestration and synth tone piling up swiftly and adroitly, like Jenga blocks in the hands of a master.” Weird mood music for intergalactic club hopping.
192. “Bears,” Lyle Lovett. Songwriter: Steven Fromholz; Did Not Chart; 1998. Lyle Lovett’s 1998 offering was “Step Inside This House,” a double album of material composed by his Texas peers. Songwriter Steven Fromholz had his biggest commercial success penning Willie Nelson’s 1976 #11 country hit “I’d Rather Be Crazy” and released three solo albums on Capitol Records during the 1970s, but never developed significant traction outside of his Texas cult. “Bears” was on Fomholz’s 1976 album “A Rumor in My Own Time” and its offbeat wit made it a natural fit for Lyle Lovett. While the original arrangement sounds like cartoon bluegrass, Lovett places more emphasis on the lyrics while encouraging the listeners to take a bear to lunch. Fromholz, the 2007 Poet Laureate of Texas, was the first and perhaps only person to rhyme “Arkansas” with “eating babies raw.”
191. “4 X 10,” Loudon Wainwright III. Songwriter: Loudon Wainwright III; Did Not Chart; 1992. It’s not optimal timing to drop your best album after two plus decades in the music business, but that’s what Loudon Wainwright III did with his 1992 “History” album. He covers his commercial failures (“Talking New Bob Dylan”), parental jealousy (“A Father and a Son”), parental lapses (“Hitting You”), the impact of divorce on children (“Between”), and the death of his father (“Sometimes I Forget”). On “4 X 10,” Loudon explains his failed romantic relationships – “It’s not strange, no mystery/You and I are history/I put up my protective wall/It’s 4 feet thick and 10 feet tall.” On Loudon being Loudon, he notes that he has no intention of changing. Stuart Henderson of Pop Matters, “The story goes that, in front of some journalists in 1992, Bob Geldof and Bruce Springsteen got into an argument over Loudon Wainwright III’s new record called ‘History.’ Both agreed that it was the best album of the year, so that wasn’t the contentious issue. Rather, the problem was that each one claimed the sole copy in the room as his own. Here were two of the biggest rock stars in the world (for wildly different reasons, mind you) arguing over who got to throw this folk-singing troubadour’s CD into his bag after the press conference.”