The 500 Greatest Songs of the 1990s – 290 to 281

Written by | September 2, 2020 4:30 am | No Comments


290. “Wrapped,” Kelly Willis. Songwriter: Bruce Robison; Did Not Chart; 1999. Kelly Willis may have been too hip for the room on her 1999 “What I Deserve” album, covering Paul Westerberg, Nick Drake, and Paul Kelly, while being backed by Chuck Prophet, Mark Spencer, and John Dee Graham. Despite the usual lack of airplay, the album peaked at #30 on the country charts, her best showing at that time. While Willis publicly displays an attitude that says “keep your distance,” she’s the vulnerable one on her cover of husband Bruce Robison’s “Wrapped,” a song about grappling with emotions that you would rather not have. George Strait’s covered “Wrapped” for a #2 country hit in 2007. Iman Lababedi in 2013, “After 17 years of marriage, I wonder if Bruce Robison ever wakes up in the middle of the night, looks at his wife and thinks to himself, ‘Holy hell, that’s Kelly Willis’? I can’t see there ever being a time when a woman as stunningly beautiful as Kelly gets taken for granted. He must be in a constant state of amazement.”


289. “She,” Green Day. Songwriters: Billy Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt, and Tré Cool; Did Not Chart; 1995. Billy Joe Armstrong displays his melodic skills on “She,” basically writing a power pop song for the alt-rock era. Armstrong, “I always say that power pop is the greatest music on Earth that no one likes.” Lyrically Armstrong was influenced by a feminist girlfriend, “She was telling me about the way women have been objectified for so many years, and I was just listening. I wrote this as a love song to her, but it was also about learning about her activism. When it says ‘Scream at me until my ears bleed,’ I was kind of going, ‘I’m here to listen.’” William Goodman of Billboard, “The loud-soft dynamic is used to dramatic effect here. Armstrong opens the track to a rollicking bass riff, before exploding with shrapnel guitars. And the sing-songy lyrics address a young woman sticking it to the man.”


288. “Sink to the Bottom,” Fountains of Wayne. Songwriters: Chris Collingwood, Adam Schlesinger; Did Not Chart; 1996. There’s no indication that the world was pining for a wry power pop band in 1996, but songwriters Chris Collingwood and Adam Schlesinger forged ahead in their imminently catchy direction, becoming minor legends in the process. Billboard magazine, “’Sink to the Botto’” failed to chart stateside, but did respectably in the U.K., peaking at No. 42 and (oddly enough) hitting the top 10 in Finland.” Adam Schesinger, ‘Apparently, it was in some Finnish beer commercial. I think No. 7 in Finland is literally about 1,000 records, so we’ve been living off that for a while.’ His self-deprecation aside, it’s hard to think of a more prototypically 1996 radio-rock song than ‘Sink to the Bottom’ — despondent yet triumphant with a melodic fuzzbomb of a chorus.”


287. “I Threw It All Away,” Elvis Costello. Songwriter: Bob Dylan, Did Not Chart; 1995. Elvis Costello’s 1995 release “Kojak Variety” is an album of covers, demonstrating the former Angry One’s eclecticism by hat tipping both the Supremes and Mose Allison. “I Threw It All Away” is a straightforward lost love number that Dylan recorded for his 1969 “Nashville Skyline” album and Costello sings his heart and lungs out on his cover. The title might have had a different meaning than a romantic failure for Costello. From his book “Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink,” “By 1984, The Attractions and I had missed most of the last trains to Memphis, Clarksdale, or anywhere else, and we’d run out of money and luck. We were also pulling in five different directions at once, and there were only four of us in the group. I hated the record we’d just recorded (‘Goodbye Cruel World’) but didn’t know how to stop the wheels from turning. I’d only held it all together because I didn’t know how to let it fall apart. So, I went out and played a run of solo concerts, singing anything I could remember and some things that I could not. Some nights I even sang Bob Dylan’s ‘I Threw It All Away.’”


286. “Too Pure,” Sebadoh. Songwriter: Lou Barlow; Did Not Chart; 1996. Songwriter Lou Barlow ponders whether drug addiction is impacting his romantic relationship on “Too Pure,” a song that Barlow has described as being about “smoking way too much pot.” Musically, it sounds like Neil Young with a less impressionistic lyrical voice. Barlow, “Neil Young is sort of an enduring singer-songwriter for me, and there is just a beautiful simplicity behind his best work. I just like it when I can understand things and the simpler it is the easier it is to understand. I think a lot of times when things are really clever or obscure, even musically, too, it loses that immediacy for me.”


285. “Criminal,” Fiona Apple. Songwriter: Fiona Apple; #21 pop; 1997. Fiona Apple was one day shy of her twentieth birthday when she released “Criminal,” a song about using sex as a weapon written by a victim of sexual assault whose public image screamed “heroin chic.” Author Heather Wood Rudolph, “’Criminal’ showcased her brooding, brilliant style. It had a killer hook. It placed Apple in a sweet spot among the Lilith Fair-ready artists of the time, somewhere between Tracy Chapman and Alanis Morissette. It made her a star, possibly a bigger star than she was ready to be. She was a girl becoming a woman, finding her voice, and forming an opinion about it all at the same time. Apple has described ‘Criminal’ as a song about using her sexuality to get what she wants — sex, power, attention. Her lyrics imply that these actions are involuntary, but regrettable. She’s telling herself, either with conviction or as a warning (we can’t be sure): ‘You don’t need sexual game play. You have talent. You’re smarter than that.’ But she’s also feeling guilty for giving into what she knows she doesn’t need to do. Many among us can relate.”


284. “West Texas Plains,” Rosie Flores. Songwriters: Leroy Preston, Rosie Flores; 1992; Did Not Chart. Rosie Flores collaborated with a variety of esteemed songwriters on her 1992 “After the Farm” album, including Guy Clark, Duane Jarvis, and Jimmie Dale Gilmore. However, her best effort was a collaboration with Asleep at the Wheel’s 1970’s secret weapon Leroy Preston. “West Texas Plains” is a folk ballad, with musical shading provided by steel guitar specialist David Lindley, where Rosie hopes that the infamous Texas winds can blow away her romantic pain. Despite never having had a breakthrough hit, the eclectic, self-described “Rockabilly Fillie” has never stopped touring and recording. Flores, “I like the journey that I’m on. It always helps to like what you’re doing. I certainly never made it to big star status, but my message is to empower, and I think that also makes me feel good about performing and about myself.”


283. “When It Comes to You,” John Anderson. Songwriter: John Anderson; #3 country; 1992. Mark Knopfler was a major star in rock music as the leader of Dire Straits, known for their international hits “Sultans of Swing” and “Money for Nothing.” Knopfler often used a country influenced finger picking guitar technique and his music publisher was able to translate his songwriting style into the world of country music. Highway 101 (“Setting Me Up”), Mary Chapin Carpenter (“The Bug”) and John Anderson all had country hits with previously released Dire Straits album tracks. Knopfler even played guitar on Anderson’s brooding, good loving gone bad “When It Comes to You.” “When It Comes to You” sounds like a throwaway number on the 1991 Dire Straits album “On Every Street.” Anderson’s singing makes every line land with impact. Knopfler continued to work in Nashville, releasing highly regarded collaboration albums with Chet Atkins and Emmylou Harris.

282. “Drive South,” Suzy Bogguss. Songwriter: John Hiatt; #2 country; 1992. Fourth time was the charm for “Drive South,” first released by songwriter John Hiatt in 1988, then by Kelly Willis in 1990, The Forester Sisters in 1990, and it became a #2 country hit, her highest charting release, for Suzy Bogguss in early 1993. Does part of my love this song because it contains possibly the filthiest lyric to ever slip by country radio programmers? Color me guilty. Bogguss on her take, “I had to sing that thing a million times to come up with a melody line for some of the high parts because John Hiatt is completely fearless. He’ll just screech out whatever he wants to, but I don’t sing like that. So, I had to just sort of make stuff up to take it where I needed to take it.” This was the last of Hiatt’s three Top Ten country credits as songwriter, following Rosanne Cash’s 1987 #1 hit “It Hasn’t Happened Yet” and the Desert Rose Band’s 1989 #3 release “She Don’t Love Nobody.”


281. “Antares,” Omniverse. Songwriters: Claudio Rispoli, Ricky Montanari; Did Not Chart; 1991. If you’ve been reading these posts waiting for an Italian hypnotic deep house instrumental dance song, wait no more! Omniverse was a short term collaboration by two Italian DJ’s who developed a sound similar to Chicago house music on “Antares,” a song that has been described by dance music expert Michael Freedberg as “good vibes and beats, sentimental dance.” DJ Claudio Rispoli on separating art and commerce, “So I start to work for myself and I take first a little 8-track and the first mixer. I start with a little studio. Then I change something every year. And I come big now, I have a board. Very big, 64-channel. All at home, I don’t sell the studio to anyone. This is great. Everything is great if you don’t need to live to eat from the music. Everything. Because it’s something that is very dangerous, you know, because you have to run on yourself. If you need to eat from your work, after some time, you put the shit on the music.”



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