The 500 Greatest Songs of the 1990s – 270 to 261
270. “Faster,” Manic Street Preachers. Songwriters: James Dean Bradfield, Nicky Wire, Sean Moore, Richey Edwards; Did Not Chart; 1994. Manic Street Preachers were so popular in the U.K. that they could get the arcane rant of “Faster” (“So damn easy to cave in, man kills everything”) into the Top Twenty of their pop chart. Emily Mackay of The Guardian, “The song sounds like a revolution engine starting up, a fearsome exhilaration energy, with a shrieking, leaping, grating guitar line, a machine-gun staccato verse cramming in Richey Edwards’ every word. Its darkly rushing chorus is a perfect example of how (guitarist) James Dean Bradfield’s music lifted Edwards’ lyrics into something that, though harsh, was also full of an almost joyous energy, a mile-a-minute thrill and a sense of limitless audacity.”
269. “N.Y. State of Mind,” Nas. Songwriters: Nasir Jones, Chris Martin; Did Not Chart; 1994. Hard, hard, hard, hard, hard. Rolling Stone, “No track better sums up Nas‘ ability to spin dense, dazzlingly lucid verse. ‘N.Y. State of Mind’ is no anthem or ode to the city; it’s a detailed narrative about a Gotham gunfight, delivered in a nearly 60-bar run that Nas later broke up for the song. ‘He did the whole first verse in one take,’ recalled DJ Premier, who produced the track. ‘He stopped and said, ‘Does that sound cool?’ And we were all like, ‘Oh, my God.’” Aaron McKrell of HipHopDX, “He paints a Scorsese-worthy picture of life on the streets over DJ Premier’s menacing production. His detailed imagery of a jammed gun induced fear over whether Nas would survive the cut, proving the impact of his lyrical wizardry. The game was never the same.”
268. “She is Gone,” Willie Nelson. Songwriter: Willie Nelson; Did Not Chart; 1996. Two musicians perform on this simple tale of lost love – Willie and sister Bobbie Nelson. Bobbie Nelson’s piano style has a gospel influence, befitting the theme of death, and Willie works over his nylon strings while coping with his grief. “She is Gone” has no chorus, no happy ending, but its stark message is overshadowed by the song’s sheer beauty. Reportedly written after his mother passed away, “She is Gone” was first recorded by Nelson as “She’s Gone” in 1985, but the original lacks the soulful poignancy of this brother/sister take.
267. “God Will,” Patty Loveless. Songwriter: Lyle Lovett; Does Not Chart; 1991. Patty Loveless went Top Five country twice in 1991, first with the spunky “That Kind of Girl” (not the lady in red, not the girl next door) and the relationship rebound of “Hurt Me Bad (In a Real Good Way).” “God Will” had been a #18 single for Lyle Lovett in 1987 and Loveless began performing it in concert before she ever recorded it. From an attitude standpoint, Loveless sounds somewhat like her reported distant cousin Loretta Lynn on her version, letting her cheating man know that God has all the forgiveness in the world, but she doesn’t. Lovett, “Unconditional love and unconditional forgiveness are hard things for people to live up to.”
266. “Our Town,” Iris Dement. Songwriter: Iris Dement; Did Not Chart; 1992. Dement, “I remember passing through this little town that was your typical dead town there in the Midwest, a lot of boarded-up windows, little white buildings with peeling paint, all the life had gone right on out of it. And that was the first time in my life that I felt a song coming on like it wasn’t just me trying to make something happen. It felt very different. I just started seeing all these visions of the life that had gone on there. When I got home from that trip, it might’ve been a day or two later, I remember sitting down on the floor and I had had all those images in my mind. I guess my brain had been working … on the trip, and next thing you know, this song came out, and it came out just exactly as it is now. It was just there, and it was my first song.” “Our Town,” a wistful farewell to a once thriving community, was used in the final scene of the last episode of the hit television series “Northern Exposure.”
265. “Box Full of Letters,” Wilco. Songwriter: Jay Farrar; Did Not Chart; 1995. “Box Full of Letters” feels like a mixture of the Byrds (or perhaps Tom Petty) with an aggressive hard rock sound. Kicking out the jams, Americana style, as it were. Author Sam Goldner, “In the wake of Uncle Tupelo’s dissolve, Tweedy was left with an entirely new sense of independence, a band all his own, and a big question mark as to where to take his project stylistically. Though (the) ‘A.M.’ (album) may be the most Tupelo-esque entry in the Wilco canon, it’s hard to argue with the feeling of freedom surging through a song like ‘Box Full of Letters,’ which comes crashing through the gates with its dueling guitars and classic rock zeal. Tweedy sings, ‘I just can’t find the time/To write my mind/The way I want it to read,’ and it’s that feeling of uncertainty and possibility that lends this early gem such a vital energy.”
264. “Red Right Hand,” Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Songwriters: Nick Cave, Mick Harvey, Thomas Wydler; Did Not Chart; 1994. Nick Cave borrowed the phrase “red right hand” from poet John Milton and used non-traditional instrumentation (timpani, bells, an oscillator) to develop a dramatic goth sound for this 1994 single. Author (how’s this for a name) Hardeep Phull of the New York Post, “Cave didn’t think much of the song’s repeating groove at first, but was persuaded to reconsider by his band, and eventually wrote lyrics about a shadowy, alluring, and manipulative figure, stalking the land and striking a combination of fear and awe everywhere he goes. He’s seemingly part deity, part demon.” The song has been featured in several films and serves as the theme song for the BBC “Peaky Blinders.” Songwriter Mick Harvey when asked about the protagonist on this Tom Waits influenced number, “I still find it all mysterious. I don’t want to know the details, and I’d never ask Nick. Sometimes it’s better to think ‘what the hell’s that all about?’ It’s better that it’s unknowable and spooky. The song has its own life, now.”
263. “Thunderbird,” Shaver. Songwriter: Billy Joe Shaver; Did Not Chart; 1999. Billy Joe Shaver’s discography isn’t a model of efficiency; he has often released re-recorded versions of his compositions. “When the Word Was Thunderbird” was first recorded for his 1976 “When I Get My Wings” album and it flops around like a landed fish desperate for water. Shaver righted himself on the streamlined 1981 cut, reminiscing about the days when the word was thunderbird and the price was forty twice. Shaver, a Texas recycling pioneer, also included “Thunderbird” on the 1999 “Electric Shaver” album and on the 2012 “Live at Billy Bob’s Texas” set. The 1999 version features the contributions of his son Eddy Shaver, who Billy Joe pulled out of high school as a teenager to perform in his band. Eddy’s guitar work adds a dark edge to the song, making the concept of tethering lost love to the price of cheap wine more ominous than comical. Eddy was no stranger to darkness, he died in a Waco hotel of a heroin overdose in 2000.
262. “New York City,” They Might Be Giants. Songwriters: Robynn Iwata, Lisa Marr, Lisa Nielsen; Did Not Chart; 1996. “New York City,” a song about young love and a tuneful advertisement for The Big Apple, was penned and originally performed by a Vancouver, British Columbia trio named cub (yep, no capitalization, maybe fans of e.e. cummings). The song bursts with the youthful energy of discovery – what could be more fun than exploring NYC while in the throes of newfound romantic infatuation. John Linell of They Might Be Giants, “It seems to be written from the perspective of people who once visited New York, and a lot of the song indulges in this extreme level of fantasy, where a lyric will say that the ‘streets are paved with diamonds.’ Some of it lists places you go to; some of it is just made up. It’s a wonderful fantasy of New York and it’s become one of the most sentimental songs in our show.”
261. “Heavenly Pop Hit,” The Chills. Songwriter: Martin Phillipps; Did Not Chart; 1990. The Chills are a New Zealand indie pop act that formed in 1980 and have evolved into a revolving cast of musicians who support the muse of songwriter Martin Phillipps. The Chills released seven Top 40 singles in their homeland, but only had international success with the smile inducing “Heavenly Pop Hit.” Rock critic Amy Hanson, “All sweet pop, lush and undeniably perky, with wonderful backing vocals from Donna Savage, ‘Heavenly Pop Hit’ sounds incredibly fresh, even as it borrows the very essence of a hundred chart-topping 1960s bubblegum bands. Despite the trappings of innocence, however, there is a nice bite lurking in plain view, with loaded lyrics – ‘It’s a heavenly pop hit — if anyone wants it … For those that still want it.’ But, for sheer pluck, this song absolutely transcends pop, even as it remains overtly hummable, hooky, and catchy across lines like ‘I’m so bloated up happy I could throw things around me.’”