The 500 Greatest Songs of the 1990s – 230 to 221
30. “Small Town Saturday Night,” Hal Ketchum. Songwriters: Pat Alger, Hank DeVito; #2 country; 1991. Hal Ketchum’s life journey took him from upstate New York to Austin to Nashville, where the former cabinet worker released his major label debut album at the age of 38. Music City songwriters Pat Algers, who wrote several hits with/for Garth Brooks, and Hank Devito penned “Small Town Saturday Night,” a song with a theme and a melody reminiscent of “Midnight Girl – Sunset Town” by the Sweethearts of the Rodeo. The lyrics chronicle the type of small town boredom where you have to “be bad just to have a good time” and when people leave, they never come back. Ketchum, “I didn’t want to cut ‘Small Town Saturday Night.’ The demo was kind of like this reggae, funky, folky kind of thing. (Producer) Allen Reynolds just took me aside and said, ‘Hal, I’m afraid I’m gonna have to insist. You’ll thank me for it.’ I can’t thank him enough!”
229. “Love Untold,” Paul Westerberg. Songwriter: Paul Westerberg; Did Not Chart; 1996. Paul Westerberg had one of the more commercial sounding singles of his career with “Love Untold,” another tale of unrequited love. Greg Kot of the Chicago Tribune, “In many ways, it’s the song that Westerberg keeps rewriting, the story of the missed opportunity, the shaggy dog stumbling home alone in the rain, ‘the saddest love of all’ and ‘We were gonna meet on a crummy little street . . . but it never came to be.’ Winding up into the last chorus, Bland evoked Hal Blaine’s epic percussion for Phil Spector, and Westerberg twisted his voice a little higher, a reminder of the greatness still within his reach.” Westerberg, “The breakdown at the end of ‘Love Untold,’ it could have been redone to make it more dramatic or something, but that’s really how it was. We just all sort of stopped playing. It was real. It was passionate. You know, you write music, you string together notes and sounds, and you’re trying to capture a spirit, the essence of rock ‘n’ roll. And I think I did that pretty well.”
228. “Velouria,” Pixies. Songwriter: Black Francis; Did Not Chart; 1990. The Pixies formed in Boston in 1986 and quickly found a following for their surf and punk influenced hard rock sound, along with their “loud/quiet” song structures that Nirvana replicated so successfully on “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” The band, which always had a significant international following, had a Top 40 hit in the U.K. and in New Zealand with “Velouria,” a sci-fi song with some wonderfully transporting opening guitar licks. Doug Moore of Stereogum, “Velouria is the ‘Bossanova’ album’s strongest track and a great example of Pixies’ disciplined adventurism. It features a theramin, the early electronic instrument whose warble brings spookiness to countless early science-fiction movies. Most bands would spotlight the shit out of a theramin guest appearance. Like a violin or a bagpipe, it’s not the kind of instrument that you can easily hide. but true to Pixies form, ‘Velouria’ doesn’t ballyhoo the theramin. It’s not even the first thing you notice about the song — that would be Joey Santiago’s shimmering riff, the triumphant chorus, or even its lyrics (an ode to an unshaven Northwestern hippie girl … who might be a time traveler).”
227. “Nearly Lost You,” Screaming Trees. Songwriters: Mark Lanegan, Gary Lee Conner, Van Conner; Did Not Chart; 1992. “Nearly Lost You” is a sweet combination of garage and psychedelic rock with a more pop friendly chorus than much of the music labelled as grunge. Bassist Van Conner, “It’s basically about being on acid and how you can lose control of your mind. I stopped using drugs a long time ago, but there’s this place you get, if you do the right kind or the wrong kind or too much, where you really feel like you know what an insane person feels like — where you see demons and hell and just fucking crazy shit. Basically, I was referring to that point where you’ve gone too far and then you make it back somehow.” Film director Cameron Crowe, “’Nearly Lost You’ was a perfect bridge from great rock as we knew it pre-Seattle, and a perfect representation of the super-committed new direction music was taking. Like (Alice in Chain’s) ‘Man in the Box,’ it’s one of those important records that show the rise of the Northwest in the early ’90s wasn’t just about Cobain and Vedder.”
226. “Last Stop: This Town,” The Eels. Songwriters: Mark Oliver Everett, Michael Simpson; Did Not Chart; 1998. The Eels were never really a band, they were a revolving group of musicians hired to fulfill the vision of Los Angeles songwriter Mark Oliver Everett, also known as simply “E.” “Last Stop: This Town” was a collaboration between E and Michael Simpson of the Dust Brothers and it sounds like something They Might Be Giants would have produced if they would have fully flung themselves into ‘90s alt-rock. The inspiration was much weightier than a listener would assume. E, “It was written just after I’d returned from my sister’s funeral in Hawaii. I lived in this weird little house in Echo Park, and my landlady, a very old woman named Francis, lived right next door. I had told her I was leaving town for a few days, but I didn’t say anything about my sister dying or why I was going on the trip. The day I returned, Francis saw me getting out of the taxi in front of my house and she came over to my door immediately after I’d walked in. ‘Um, E… I don’t know if you know this about me, but I see apparitions and I thought you should know that while you were gone I saw a young woman walk into your house.’ Initially this frightened me. In an effort to get to sleep and feel less spooked that night I imagined that it was my sister coming by for a friendly goodbye, that it wasn’t something to think of as scary.”
225. “I Palindrome I,” They Might Be Giants. Songwriters: John Flansburgh, John Linnell: Did Not Chart; 1992. With more bounce to the ounce, the terminally clever They Might Be Giants announce, “Someday mother will die and I’ll get the money/Mom leans down and says ‘My sentiments exactly/You son of a bitch’/I palindrome I.” The song is not only replete with palindromes (such as, “Egad, a base tone denotes a bad age”), but also uses a word palindrome, a form of antimetabole. Rock critic Karen Schlosberg on the impact, “It’s like Edgar Allen Poe and David Lynch meeting the Monkees.” Running time for the tune? A zippy and apropos two minutes and twenty two seconds.
224. “Debonair,” Afghan Whigs. Songwriter: Greg Dulli; Did Not Chart; 1993. Rock critic Michael Nelson of Stereogum, “We get the funk, we get the searing guitars, and we get the fury: ‘Debonair’ is everything the Afghan Whigs had to offer, and Greg Dulli expresses his anger in clearer terms than ever before. He’s not making amends, he wants blood: ‘This ain’t about regret, my conscience can’t be found. This time I won’t repent, somebody’s going down.’ It’s all outward aggression, hurting for hurt’s sake, and it’s clear there’s no going back. ‘Tonight I go to hell for what I’ve done to you.’ Jeez.” Songwriter Greg Dulli, “I really liked the riff to the Jackson 5’s ‘I Want You Back,’ and I had become a big fan of ‘Twin Peaks.’ And ‘Debonair’ was my attempt to marry the riff from ‘I Want You Back’ to the chord progression of the Twin Peaks intro.”
223. “Harvest Moon,” Neil Young. Songwriter: Neil Young; Did Not Chart; 1992. Neil Young returned to his most commercially successfully niche, Neil the Folkie, for his 1992 “Harvest Moon” album and went double platinum in the process. The album title and title track referred back to Neil’s 1972 album “Harvest,” which included “Heart of Gold,” his biggest pop hit. “Harvest Moon” is a love song dedicated to Young’s wife Pegi and, reinforcing that 1970’s feel, Linda Ronstadt provided backing vocals. From the website Classic Rock Review, “The song celebrates longevity in relationships and love affairs with a flawless melody backed by a perfect music arrangement. From the upfront acoustic riffing to the picked steel guitar, subtleties of ethereal sounds, soft brush strokes on the drums, and beautiful background vocals, this song captures the essence of beauty and romance as well any song ever.” The single was a #5 pop hit in Canada and has been performed live by both Pearl Jam and The Mavericks.
222. “Glory Box,” Portishead. Songwriters: Portishead, Isaac Hayes; Did Not Chart; 1995. The electronic band Portishead was mining the same trip hop territory that Tricky did on his “Maxinquaye” album on their #13 U.K. hit “Glory Box.” In fact, both Tricky’s “Hell is Round the Corner” and “Glory Box” are based on a sample from Isaac Hayes’ 1971 track “Ike’s Rap II.” Beth Gibbons’ vocals have been compared to Eartha Kitt, Nina Simone, and Edith Piaf, and it is the physical longing in her voice, not the atmospheric guitar work, that is at the heart of “Glory Box.” Despite what your filthy mind may suggest, “Glory Box” is an Australian term for a marital hope chest. Geoff Barrow of Portishead, “We had a row with the record company because we didn’t want to release it because it felt too commercial. Fine in a body of work, but not as a standalone track. We lost the argument really. But we bought houses! (laughs) It’s great, but the other side of that, when you play live, I feel like a bit of a performing monkey sometimes.”
221. “Clay Pigeons,” Blaze Foley. Songwriter: Blaze Foley; Did Not Chart; 1999. Blaze Foley, Austin’s favorite homeless drunk and duct tape obsessed songwriter, spent more time getting kicked out of Austin clubs than performing inside of them. However, a reported dump of a venue on Guadalupe known as “The Outhouse” was proud of its eclecticism and Blaze recorded a live gig there in late December of 1988. Foley was killed approximately six weeks later and a cassette of the performance was released in 1989 to assist with funeral expenses. As Foley became more popular in death than he ever was while breathing, that cassette transformed into a CD release in 1999. “Clay Pigeons,” his most popular song, combines the adrift sadness and shaggy dog humor that is typical of a John Prine composition. In fact, Prine’s cover version is one of the highlights of his 2005 “Fair & Square” album.